Immolo


AUTHOR: VISION GIRL (aka CHRISSY)
SUMMARY: Cordelia’s the Slayer. Buffy’s the Queen C (Queen B of the Buffettes in this reality) biotch of Sunnydale High. They both have a destiny that’ll tie them together forever, even if they hate each other.
RATING: PG13
POSTED: 24 Jul 2004
CATEGORY: AU / Slayer!Cordy
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A friendship, C/X flirting
WARNINGS: None listed
FICPIC CREDIT: Unkown
AUTHOR NOTES:
1) I revamped this story a few days ago when I realized just how cheesy it was getting. I had a few couples planned but decided otherwise. Some ‘ships might be familiar but I’m not taking the already used route to get them together. So even if you’ve seen/read the couple before, it doesn’t mean that what’ll happen to get them there and what’ll happen to break them up is going to be the same.
2) I totally furked up this verse. Some things might seem familiar, but I am definitely taking things in different directions.
3) Since Angel isn’t necessarily as big of a deal in this version of the Cordyverse as he was originally, I’ve decided to not give him the curse. He was force-fed a soul, sure, but no curse included. Whether that’s a bad decision or not, we’ll all just have to find out together.
STATUS: Incomplete


ficpic_immolo


Part 1
Cloaked in the shadows, the brutish vampire leaned against the brick wall and drew deep on the cigarette in his mouth, inhaling its addictive fumes. Only the red glow of the cigarette sparked in the darkness. His enhanced night vision caught sight of a cuddling couple exiting the movie theater across the street.

They were moving towards the alleyway, obviously looking for some privacy and perhaps a shortcut home.

They always want the shortcut, the vampire mused to himself, dropping the butt of the cigarette onto the ground and putting it out with his polished boot as a grin appeared on his pale features.

Leaning further against the wall to cloak himself in the shadows, the vampire waited patiently and silently as the couple entered the alleyway, moving at a leisurely pace.

When they were barely five feet from him, he stepped out and sported his game face proudly. “Hello, my pets.”

His confidence was short-lived as a flash of bight light blinded him for a moment. A blade cut across his chest and dug into his neck so deeply that it seemed like the blade, sharp and well-kept in all it’s shiny glory, was all that kept his head from falling.

When he recognized the person, their presence, he would have yelled out their name if he had the strength or the ability to speak. Instead he just mouthed, in utter disbelief: “Slayer!”

The figure that appeared before him, jumping from above, most likely from the roof of one of the buildings, had dark russet eyes and toned, chiseled features that were illuminated by the moonlight. She had no mercy and proved it. With one sweeping kick the vampire’s head flew off, falling to dust with the body.

Cordelia Chase sheathed her blade and fixed her top unconsciously, as if it were a routine action, before moving to leave the alleyway. Holding back a growl of frustration when she felt the woman’s hand grab at her arm, she reluctantly turned to face the couple.

“Thank you, thank you.” They both thanked her over and over through shining, tear-filled eyes, a sight Cordelia was disgusted to behold when she noticed the man practically trembling. I guess the whole ‘Man is the protector’ thing is out.

She pointed to his crotch area where it was amusingly evident that he had been scared enough to pee in his pants. “Manly.”

* * *

Only a short minute passed before Cordelia groaned as she shrugged out of her jacket. The reason was the deep rumble of her father. “Where were you, Cordelia?”

Turning to face her father, her brown tresses going just below her shoulder gracefully moving along with her, Cordelia firmed her jaw and tried to prepare herself to deal with her always paranoid father, William Chase. “Out.”

“That’s assuring,” the man with skin as tan and hair as brown as his daughters said, not bothering to even stand up from the comfortable chair he was seated in. While one hand gripped the arm of the maroon recliner, practically ripping at the worn texture that had been replaced several times when the cat had scratched it far too much, the other held a small glass, filled predictably with Scotch. “I thought you’d be smart enough to come up with a better excuse.”

“Well, you know me…always disappointing you,” Cordelia bitingly snorted, turning and moving to go upstairs. She was tired and wanted nothing more than to fall asleep and drown in wonderful, fantasy like dreams that had her back in Los Angeles instead of in the gallingly small town of Sunnydale. “I’m tired and sore, and school starts for me tomorrow, can I just go get some sleep?”

Her father didn’t miss a beat, as usual. Will Chase was never a strict father, always the lenient parental figure in the household when it came to allowing his only daughter to go out and have fun; but since the divorce from his high school sweetheart, Cordelia’s mother, a bitterness had seeped into him, took over and caused him to slowly decay as a human being.

“You need to tell me where you’re going before you leave.”

“Sorry,” Cordelia sighed, and somewhere deep down she meant it. Even if at the moment she was frustrated and covered in dust, she reminded herself that her father was all she had; and what he was going through was just as worse as what she was going through, perhaps even more so.

Miranda Chase promised to call every week and so far she’d kept her promise, but ever since she’d demanded a divorce from Cordelia’s father, she’d been different, distant even.

Cordelia still loved her just as she still loved her father, but truthfully, she wanted nothing more than for everything to go back as it was. “Can I go to bed now?”

“No,” her father said gruffly, so suddenly that Cordelia almost took a step back in surprise. “We need to talk. Tomorrow’s a new start for both of us. School will take up most of your time just as the gallery will take up most of mine. I just…”

Cordelia waited for what seemed like hours for her father to continue speaking after he swallowed hard. But as the seconds, the minutes, passed, his eyes drifted and the only movement he had was his arm lifting his drink to his mouth.

“Dad…?”

“A lot has happened and I just want you to know…” He let his head fall as he closed his eyes, the silence engulfing him and his daughter for the longest time. Finally, he looked up and offered not a smile but not a grim expression either, something that lay in the middle. “Good night, Cordelia.”

Nodding, Cordelia turned and walked upstairs. But once she reached her door, she stopped and turned to look downstairs, where only her fathers feet were visible. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, he finally stood up and cleared his throat before entering the kitchen, most likely to fill his glass with more scotch.

Cordelia’s face fell but she collected herself enough to take what she had and silently bid her father goodnight as she closed the door and went to bed.

* * *

Halfheartedly double checking to see if he had all his books in his pack, Xander Harris gripped the locker door and slammed it shut, revealing his redheaded best friend Willow Rosenberg, much to his delight.

Greeting her with an amicable wave, Xander smiled as he used his other hand to scratch the mop of dark hair on his head absently. “How was your night?” he asked her enthusiastically, tossing the hacky-sack from his right hand to his left and repeating it over and over as the two started to move at an unhurried pace down the hallway of Sunnydale High School.

“I spent some time on my laptop,” Willow shrugged, clapping her hands together. “My mom was in one of those moods so I got out of my grounding. You know, the usual.”

“Any time is a good time to get out of punishments for you,” Xander pointed out benevolently, subtly winking at her as he pulled an apple from his bag and tossed it into her hand just as she pulled out a turkey sandwich from her backpack to hand to him.

Nodding, Willow took a bite of her apple. “Though my mom’s an airhead with ADD and my dad’s never home the shallow teenager in me is glad of the benefits.”

Xander just laughed. “You’re lucky. You’re mom has documented ADD as an excuse to ignore you. My dad needs about five beers in his belly to pay attention to me. But then again, it doesn’t take much for me to disappoint him, which leads to the…”

Willow stopped to get a drink of water, leaving Xander to greet Jesse, who approached them casually. “Hey, guys. What’s the occasion for this festival parent bashing fest?”

“Did you not remember or something? It’s parents day,” Xander mumbled as he took a large bite of his sandwich.

Remaining as nonchalant as he could about it, Xander continued. “Though I didn’t tell my dad this year, my mom’s bound to show up and charm people with her ability in choosing not-so-good but not-so-bad lottery numbers and tell them how much she enjoys spending the twenty dollars she wins every time on cheap, fake nails.”

Jesse raised his eyebrows but wisely kept his mouth shut, detecting the obvious bitterness in his friend’s voice.

Willow pursed her lips as she spoke ever so casually about her own parents, “I don’t even expect mine to come. Isn’t that sad?”

“Lighten up, guys…” Jesse started to say, hoping to cheer his friends up. But the flash of sunlight reflecting on a perfect head of blonde hair caught his attention.

Buffy Summers, with her posse trailing behind her, sauntered down the hallway with her usual poise.

Taking in a deep breath, Jesse took the small ounce of confidence that he had and walked up to Buffy, stopping her in her path. “You going to the Bronze tonight?”

“Why? Are you going?” Buffy asked, looking to her friends with an expression of disbelief on her face.

“Only if you are,” Jesse responded, lowering his voice to sound at least a little intriguing. “I’m still saving that dance for you.”

Snorting derisively, Buffy rolled her eyes. “If you’re there, then I’m not.”

With a nod of her head, Harmony and her other friends walked off. Once they were out of sight, she leaned in and lowered her voice so that only Jesse could hear her. “Maybe the reason so many girls at Sunnydale High ignore you is because of your blatant, and by the way creepy, stalker tendencies.”

Nodding, Jesse couldn’t help but smile. “When I like a girl, I just like to show her. Why don’t you ever talk to me at school?”

Buffy shook her head and spoke in a condescending tone as if he were a child. “It’s not good for my rep,” she reminded him, almost losing her patience for having to have said it for the thousandth time. “No matter how nice you are sometimes, you’re a weirdo. You just need to lighten up and tone down the ‘night-vision goggles and following girls home’ routine.”

Giving him a once over, she couldn’t help but add, “And get a better wardrobe.”

Jesse watched Buffy with his boyishly blue eyes as she sauntered off, her hips moving from side to side in such a graceful manner that he almost forgot her biting tongue. When Xander and Willow walked up, teasing him already through silence, Jesse shook his head in wonder. “I’m going to marry that woman.”

Xander couldn’t help but snort. “Maybe when the entire world changes and you just happen to get into Buffy’s pants, you’ll become like the treasurer of the Buffettes!”

When his friend didn’t respond, Xander shook his head and turned to go, hoping to find some more interesting things to waste his time on. Only he was barely two steps away when he knocked into a shockingly gorgeous woman.

When she looked at him, apologizing quietly under her breath, he was shocked to realize she was a student.

Cordelia struggled to pick up all her things that spilled out of her backpack, hoping that she hadn’t just made an enemy. But when she glanced up at the boy, who eventually knelt down beside her to help pick her stuff up, she realized there wasn’t even a spot of danger in his innocently flickering russet eyes. He had the kind of puppy dog look that, if he had the personality to match, would make for a perfect guy.

Sure, he wasn’t Brad Pitt, but he was more of the subtle kind of handsome, mixed in with the sweet smile he flashed at her.

“Sorry,” he said to her, handing her books to her.

“No problem,” Cordelia shrugged it off, adjusting her backpack to a place where it was at least near comfortable.

Nodding down the hallway, Cordelia took the opportunity to ask the question that had been bothering her all day. “Do you know where the library is? I seriously need a science book or else I’ll fail my first day.”

The casualness she was trying for with the guy was ruined when she stood up holding a stake, curiosity clear in his eyes.

On instinct, Cordelia grabbed the stake from him and turned to hide her blushing cheeks. I knew I shouldn’t have brought this for protection, it’s fricken daylight outside and already a guy’s seen it. Great decision, Chase.

Seeing that she was already turned away and proving that she was hiding the stake from him, Cordelia chose to walk speedily off in the opposite direction, putting as much space between her and Xander as possible.

* * *

Cordelia jolted out of her daydream like trance when the teacher bellowed out his orders. “Turn to page 267, now!”

As the entire class flipped open their texts, Cordelia couldn’t help but outwardly project her lack of being prepared.

A pretty blonde girl next to her offered to share her book with her and Cordelia took the offer wholeheartedly. “My name’s Cordelia, Cordelia Chase.”

Smiling warmly, the girl responded in a casual yet surefooted tone. “Buffy Summers.”

* * *

Just as soon as the bell had rung to dismiss the end of class, hundreds of students filed into the hallway through several different doors. Cordelia followed Buffy Summers out into the hallway, enjoying the fact that she’d met a friendly face.

“Sunnydale might not be the center for all things fashionable but I am definitely the queen of what is fashion in this whole-of-a-town we’re in.”

The way she spoke of herself proved she was more cocksure than simply confident and it brought a falter to Cordelia’s smile. But she remained as casual about it as possible and scratched her nose, hiding her frown until she managed to strain another smile.

When the memory of her former persona, pre-slayerhood, entered her mind, Cordelia decided to give her a chance. “I’m from L.A. and remember how good it felt to be around all that fashion.”

Buffy seemed to have a mini-orgasm when she heard ‘L.A.’ come out of Cordelia’s mouth, nearly snapping her neck from whiplash when she turned to face her, her blonde hair flying through the air. “Why’d you leave? I can’t imagine leaving a place like that. That close to that many shoes? It would be, like, heaven!”

Before Cordelia could answer Buffy’s question however, she continued to speak, almost ignoring the fact that other people had the ability to speak also. “I’ll help you to the library, since you’re obviously not carrying all the books that you need to sleep on.”

Cordelia laughed. Oh, she made a funny. Who woulda thought? “Thanks,” she offered, trying to hold back the urge to choke the girl to death as they nearly ran into a redhead who was drinking from the water fountain.

“Willow!” Buffy exclaimed and for a moment, Cordelia thought they were friends. That lasted about .5 seconds until Buffy continued opening her big mouth to speak. “I love your outfit. I’m really glad that you’ve seen the softer side of Sears.”

“Hi, Buffy.” Willow greeted her almost exhaustingly, as if the entire thing were routine. Cordelia forestalled a grin at the discovery.

When Willow noticed Cordelia, she waved at her cutely. “Hi.”

Just as Cordelia opened her mouth to return the kind greeting, Buffy interrupted her, gripping her arm and forcing her to move away. “We have to go. I’m already getting all squirmy and wanting to talk about school from just being around Willow. Let’s hurry before either of us gets any geekier.”

As Buffy practically yanked Cordelia down the hallway, the Slayer managed to turn her head back at Willow, offering a small grin as she waved a small wave in her direction.

* * *

The library was thoroughly creepy as Cordelia edged into it quietly, alone thankfully. She’d ditched Buffy when she pointed out a bunch of hunky football players, easily distracting the blonde-haired narcissist.

“Anyone here?” she called out as innocently as she could muster, walking over to the counter and looking over it for anyone, any sign of life.

Her senses tingled for a moment, the hairs on her neck rising just seconds before a stodgy looking man in a tweed sweater vest with ‘old-man’ glasses on the bridge of his nose popped up.

“Who are you and what are you looking for?” he asked, his English accent clear in his words.

Tapping her finger on the counter, Cordelia casually crossed her ankles as she twirled a stray hair with her index finger. “Cordelia Chase, and I’m looking for a science book.”

The man froze at the mention of her name, the muscles usually used to smile twitching, the corner of his mouth tugging to grin as he let out a small yet terse laugh.

Before he said anything or before Cordelia could ask why he was looking at her like a pervert, he backed up into his office, disappearing for quite some time.

“Um…hello? Sir? Mister…um, Englishman?” Cordelia called after him, her brow furrowing in confusion.

When he appeared again, Cordelia didn’t have time to let out a sigh of relief. In one quick motion he slammed a large, dusty tome on the counter before her with one disturbing word etched on the front cover:

VAMPYRES

“I’ve been waiting for you ever since I was informed that you were coming,” he exasperatingly explained, for the first time smiling. Though it was small, it was a nice smile, one that surprisingly brought a small tinge of comfort in Cordelia, but that comfort was disturbed by her common sense, her instinct and her overwhelming disturbance of the book before her.

Backing away, she pointed to the book. “That is so the last thing I needed to see on my first day of school.”

It wasn’t that she was afraid; though she was disturbed she admitted that to herself. It was the shock of finding out that there were books written about vampires, that there were other people then Slayers that knew about them…it was all quite overwhelming.

Trying to explain, Giles held his hand out to try and stop her as she started to move towards the door, her eyes moving from the book to him several times. “I was informed by the Watcher’s council, I expected that you were also informed…”

Cordelia shook her head, “Nope. Wasn’t informed about dusty, really big books with the word vampire on it being thrown onto the counter by creepy old Englishmen who wear ugly vests. I—I uh, I have to go.”

Before Giles could protest further, however, she was already out of the room.

* * *

Emerging from the lunch line with her rather pathetic tray full of left-over teriyaki chicken and mashed potatoes, Cordelia winced as she walked out into the sunlight, her mind still reeling from seeing the book being thrown onto the counter in front of her, with the significant word written on top of it.

Her confusion was soon replaced by annoyance and a groan when she noticed Buffy Summers waving at her from a table off in the distance where she was surrounded by similarly blonde and, from the looks of it, ditzy teenagers.

Luckily, and uncomfortably at the same time, the boy she’d ran into earlier walked over to her, blocking Buffy and the sun from Cordelia’s view.

His brown eyes flashed a unique innocence that Cordelia was intrigued by but at the moment she didn’t look too much into it as he spoke to her in a casual yet quiet tone. “Is it all right with you if I ask a question?”

Cordelia just nodded, “It’s fine.”

“I hope you’ll be honest when telling me this, do I have bad breath, an eye booger or any other variation of a booger hanging from my face and/or any other body parts?” he asked her earnestly and with a bit of amusement.

Cordelia couldn’t help but smile inwardly and outwardly, not so surprisingly fascinated by the boy that had a body of a man yet so obviously had the heart of a child in front of her. “No,” she said through a small laugh. “Why?”

Xander shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets and his breath escaping him for a moment when he took in her smile, such a beautiful; perfect one that his heart nearly skipped a beat. “I was just wondering since you and the rest of the school’s population seems to be plaintively ignoring me. Name’s Xander.”

He held out his hand and Cordelia took it, holding back a laugh when she surprised him with her grip. “Cordelia. Cordelia Chase.”

“The gym teacher calls me by my last name. But it’s usually preceded by little and girl. Yep, I’ve been Little Girl Harris since god knows when,” he nodded his head in the direction where he had been sitting, his eyes flashing enough of an invitation that Cordelia couldn’t mistake it as anything but him wanting to be in her company.

Cordelia walked alongside him for a few feet before he stopped and blocked her from moving any further, his face scrunched up in an adorable way as he shook his head vehemently.

“No way are you going to eat that. Two reasons. If you’re like most girls, then you’ll freak when you find out how much of that goes to your hips and secondly? Well, it’s total crap and I have the theory that the cafeteria lady is putting rat poison in all of it. May I?”

He grabbed the tray from her and tossed it into the trashcan, while his other hand pulled a five-dollar bill from his pocket, handing it to her, all in one nonchalant and skillful motion. “My treat? You’d be surprised at how many low-calorie snacks are in the snack machines.”

Cordelia nodded and followed him over to where a dark haired teenage boy, typical height and averagely-cute looks, sat with his back to the redhead who’d been insulted by Buffy earlier.

When she followed where Jesse’s eyes were, she noticed, with much disdain, that his eyes were locked onto Buffy, filing her nails and looking totally clueless off in the distance.

“Hi,” Willow greeted her, looking up from her laptop. When she did a double take and realized it was Cordelia from earlier, she held out her hand. “I’m-”

“Willow, right?” Cordelia took her hand and shook it, gentler than she had with Xander. “I remember. Sorry we couldn’t talk earlier. Buffy’s a little…”

“Yeah,” Willow just nodded, as if the mere implication were enough to end the topic right then and there. Moving a little on the bench, Willow motioned for her to sit, which Cordelia gladly did. “So, I see you’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to meet Xander.”

Xander shook his head and rolled his eyes, “Don’t listen to her, she’s just mad because I ate the last of the playdo.”

It was then Willow’s turn to roll her eyes.

Xander leaned in and whispered in Cordelia’s ear, his tone not without sarcasm. “You’d think she’d forgive me after ten years.”

“Is Buffy usually mean to you guys?” Cordelia asked as she caught on a little too late to Willow’s reluctance to speak about the blonde-y.

Her question was practically answered when the aforementioned uber-bitch strode up to them, her hands on her hips as she looked from Cordelia to the three people she was associated with at the moment. “Seriously, you should never speak to the geek squad without proper de-sanitization of the environment, it’s not safe for your health, or worse, your rep.”

“Hi,” Jesse greeted her.

“Hi,” Buffy said back, but caught her nonchalant greeting soon after. “Loser.”

“Is there a problem here?” Cordelia asked, purposely looking confused.

Buffy cocked her head, “Why does it matter? Are you trying to be some sort of loser-peacemaker? Power to the geeks?”

The way she said it was insult enough but when she threw a mock-fist into the air and rolled her eyes, Cordelia found herself biting back the urge to teach her a lesson. That or maybe break her fingers.

“Is there something stuck permanently up your ass or what?” Cordelia asked her dark eyes burning holes into Buffy’s green ones. “Are you PMSing, because if you are then take some damn Midol and do us all a favor by locking yourself in a room.”

Willow snorted into her orange juice, trying to hide her laughter.

Buffy, lost for words or a proper insult, just scoffed and walked away, throwing her hair in Jesse’s face just to further string him along.

Xander came up behind Cordelia and threw his arm around her neck and Cordelia astonishingly didn’t mind. “I must congratulate you on rendering the Buffy Summers speechless! It’s a goal I set for myself back in junior high but I’ve pathetically failed to achieve since.”

Cordelia just nodded her head, slightly creeped out by the weirdness that was Xander Harris. But in a good way.

Finishing the last of her orange juice and closing her laptop, a light bulb seemed to go off in Willow’s head as she perked up. “Oh! Did you guys hear about the dead guy found in second period gym? He fell out of a locker.”

“Dead guy?” Cordelia reiterated breathlessly, her stomach turning over at the thought. She hadn’t come to Sunnydale to avoid vampires, but she had to admit that she figured in a small town such as Sunnydale vampires would be hard to come by.

She’d killed the vampire attacking the couple and arrogantly thought she was done when really, there were more helpless people out there to help.

“Yeah, he had two bite marks in his neck too,” Willow shook her head. “Weird, isn’t it?”

Cordelia swallowed her disturbance and nodded halfheartedly. “Yeah…weird.”

* * *

Sneaking quietly under the yellow crime-scene labeled tape, Cordelia slinked into the locker room, edging around the room, trying to pick up the scent of blood. As much as her senses had been heightened, she still didn’t possess the unique talent that vampires had to smell blood.

When she came to the aisle where the body remained, Cordelia couldn’t help but wonder if the C.S.I had come yet or why the coroner hadn’t taken the body away. They’re probably waiting till school is out, trying not to make a huge scene.

Kneeling down, Cordelia held back the urge to gag as she lifted the head of the teenage boy, the neck disgustingly flexible.

Snapped neck and… She saw the bite marks and closed her eyes in disappointment. Definitely a vampire attack.

* * *

“Mister Creepy Englishman!” Cordelia bellowed, kicking open the swinging doors leading into the library, her hands clenched into fists and her jaw firm while her dark, russet eyes were fuming.

The librarian walked out of the cage where several books were, obviously the RETURN BOOKS section, and when his eyes locked with Cordelia’s he smiled wryly. “What changed your mind?”

Breathlessly, Cordelia jabbed her finger in the direction of the exit. “Guy in the locker room? Yeah, he’s pretty persuasive for a DEAD PERSON!”

“I heard the rumor that there was a corpse in the girls locker room,” the Englishman shook his head, closing the book in his hand and gently placing it on the cart beside him. “But then again, I try and keep myself from believing any high school rumors. Last time I did that I thought O.J. Simpson was going to be our new Gym Teacher.”

“You better believe this one because I checked and there’s two holes in his neck,” Cordelia said to him, holding back a growl.

“Does it disturb you?” he asked her quietly, looking up with a concerned expression on his face.

Honestly, Cordelia replied. “Ever since I was called I’ve killed quite a lot of vampires with no problem and I always got them before they killed anyone. Sometimes, though, I slip and someone ends up dead. I hate people dying as a result of my ineptness.”

“You’re not inept,” the librarian assured her, his comforting blue eyes looking into her brown ones with an emotion that not necessarily could be categorized as paternal, but pretty close to it. “You just haven’t been properly trained yet.”

“I would have been if that old, wrinkly man hadn’t croaked,” Cordelia shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest and trying to act unaffected by the memory.

“Tonight? We’ll start training.”

Cordelia shook her head, trying to respectfully disagree and provide an explanation. “Can’t. Nighttime is when vamps are out if you’ve forgotten. It’s a good time to Slay and kill and well…’stake’” she made an amusing jabbing movement with her arm before continuing. “Not to be stuck in some library with a crusty old Englishman, no offense, who wears sweater vests constantly when my skills could be put to better use out in the world where the vampires are.”

“Giles,” the man said, walking around her and behind the counter, where removed his glasses and looked down at his feet for a moment before returning his gaze to Cordelia. “My name is Rupert Giles, Giles for short. Not Englishman. Just Giles.”

“My name’s Cordelia,” Cordelia smiled at him, almost sweetly as she walked over and held out her hand over the counter.

Giles took it, smiling at her in almost the same manner. “I already know your name…”

“I know, I just thought I’d introduce myself again. If you have a problem with that you’ll just have to tell me and I’ll try to fight the habit.”

Giles chuckled under his breath as he wiped the lenses of his glasses with his sweater vest before giving in. “Tomorrow morning, before school. Training. Alright?”

Cordelia just nodded.

* * *

“Xander!” came a sweet and feminine voice from behind the teenager, standing at his locker and fixing his arrangement of things.

Turning to see who it was, Xander was more than pleased to discover it was Cordelia approaching him.

“Hi,” he greeted with a lopsided grin.

“Hi,” she said back, smiling at him for what seemed like twenty minutes before she shook out of it. “What’s the deal with ‘The Bronze’?”

Xander groaned in response, hitting his head against his locker door. “You were my last hope for a girl in Sunnydale who wasn’t obsessed with that place.”

“Sorry, I just kept hearing about it around school,” Cordelia shrugged, tilting her head as she looked at him for answers. “Is it that bad?”

“It’s a place for guys with spiky hair, big biceps and IQ’s equal to one’s of toddlers to pick up girls with big breasts and blonde hair who have nothing better to do than starve themselves to make themselves think they’re pretty.”

Xander closed his locker and threw his backpack over his shoulder, shoving his other hand into his pocket as he leaned against the row of lockers. “It’s also headquarters for the Buffettes too. Which is good enough reason to avoid it.”

“Cool. I’ll see you there?” Cordelia smiled teasingly at him before turning away and bouncing off.

Though he started to protest, opening his mouth to say that he was the one person who avoided it religiously, Xander considered it as he watched Cordelia walk off, her movements flowing and her hips swaying from side to side in a way that made him…

She’s worth it; “I’ll be there!”

* * *

Applying a capillary layer of lip-gloss on her bottom and top lips, Cordelia repeatedly glanced at the clock in her mirror, hoping she wouldn’t be late.

Her reasons for going to the Bronze were three fold. Most importantly she was there to prevent some killings, since the place was obviously popular and the area surrounding it would be filled with vampire activity. Secondly she’d be able to spend some quality time with her newfound friends Jesse, Xander and Willow, hopefully to learn more about them.

But the bonus and last reason was the possibility of snarking on Buffy Summers some more, proving to her she wasn’t some little crybaby.

Cordelia Chase stands her ground.

A knock at her door signaled her father’s impending entrance and Cordelia turned to face the door as it opened.

“Cordelia…why are you dressed up?”

“I’m going out,” Cordelia reminded her father, speaking slowly so the possibility that he might wake up and remember it would be more likely. She got off her knees as she spoke, standing up and getting a full look of herself in her floor-length mirror.

Cordelia passed by her father and grabbed her bag before moving to leave her room. But he stood in front of her, his hands immediately snatching the bag from Cordelia’s hands.

The stench of alcohol became evident as he looked through it, breathing heavily through his nose. Will Chase had his alcohol problems but he was never violent and he would never hurt his daughter but sometimes he’d get a little…irrational.

She didn’t know what to expect when he discovered there was nothing suspicious in the bag but somehow, the blank expression on his face was severely unsatisfying. As much as Cordelia loved proving people wrong when they assumed with her, she hated to see her father embarrass himself sometimes.

“I’ll be back by 11…” she said as softly as she could manage, taking her bag from her father and brushing past him to leave the room.

* * *

Closing the front door, Cordelia walked along the line of bushes, throwing furtive glances over her shoulder as she moved nearer to the set of bushes strategically underneath her window. Her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth, Cordelia dug aimlessly through it before her hand latched onto her other bag, the one with her crossbow, quarrels and stakes in it.

* * *

The clicking of her shoes echoed along the alleyway as she strode leisurely down it. While she was looking forward to hanging out with her friends, throwing insults at Buffy, Cordelia couldn’t help but hope that her lack of company and her slow pace while walking down an abandoned, slightly creepy alleyway would attract some vampires to stake.

A noise behind her brought on tingles of anticipation in her stomach. Playing the game with the guise of an innocent, naïve little teenager, Cordelia put on her fearful face as she looked over her shoulder, biting her lip not only to look afraid but also hold back her grin as she knew that somewhere in the shadows was an enemy of some kind thinking he picked an easy prey.

Whoever they are, boy they are in such trouble.Cordelia turned the corner, dropped her bag and launched herself onto the railing above all in one quiet, graceful movement.

A few silent moments passed before Cordelia, adjusting her eyes to the upside-down view, saw a dark, indescribable figure walk below her, looking around for the prey it had picked out a few minutes prior.

Not giving the distinctly male demon a chance, Cordelia dropped from the railing, knocking him down and straddling him, keeping him down with her weight. The stake she held in her overcoat was already in her hands and pressed up against his chest.

Just for fun, she didn’t stake him right away, just to see if he’d put up a fight.

But as the moonlight illuminated the man’s features, she discovered he didn’t have his game face on and what she saw was possibly the sexiest, most handsome man to grace the darkness since Brad Pitt in Interview with a Vampire.

Swallowing her attraction, Cordelia pressed the sharpened piece of wood into his chest to the point where he grunted.

When she saw the casual smile on his face, she couldn’t help but let a flicker of curiosity cross her face.

“Is this how you greet all your new friends?” he asked her, his voice low and not in the least bit menacing. He seemed amused and not near threatened by her, but impressed nonetheless.

“You’re not my friend,” Cordelia snapped back at him. “You’re a vampire and I’ll stake you.”

The vampire that she was straddling smirked, but it was much smaller and more of a honestly sweet one, the kind she’d seen on Xander but with a more intense depth to it, if that was even possible. “You can kill me now and it’ll feel pretty good, but later you’ll regret it.”

“Explain what the hell you’re babbling about,” Cordelia demanded of him in her own version of a low, threatening voice.

“Name’s Angel, I’d extend my hand as a gesture of friendship, but that would be quite inappropriate, considering the position I’m in,” he teased, but his dark eyes gave away a more troubled side to him, one that Cordelia was becoming more intrigued to learn about, much to her displeasure.

He started to shift under her, but she dug the steak not further into his chest, but moved it up to his jugular. “It won’t kill you but it’ll hurt like hell.”

Angel’s face took on a slight color, the vampire’s version of a blush as he tried to explain. “The way you’re positioned on top of me is kind of putting pressure on my…”

Cordelia rolled her eyes as she lifted herself up off of him just enough so that he could move around to find a comfortable spot. “I was sent by a friend of a friend to help you. And I guess I’d like to become your friend in the process.”

“You may be charming,” Cordelia growled at him. “But I don’t befriend vampires.”

“I have a soul,” Angel explained in a more serious tone, the smile disappearing from his chiseled features. “You can smell it just like any other Slayer or demon could. It’s gotten me both in and out of trouble and I’m kind of hoping that in the situation I’m in, being straddled by a pretty young woman who thinks she can handle all the power she’s got, it’ll benefit me.”

Cordelia relented and pushed herself off of him, her muscles still taught and ready to strike as she watched Angel stand up, brushing off his pants. “I’m only letting you up because I know I’ll be able to snap your neck before you even think of hurting me or anyone else.”

Nodding, Angel wholeheartedly agreed. “I know enough about you to agree. You can handle a stake like no other Slayer that I’ve seen.”

“How old are you?” Cordelia asked, her control over her curiosity slipping for a moment.

Nonchalantly, Angel estimated it in his head for a quick moment before returning his gaze back to Cordelia. “Two hundred and some change. I lost count a while ago. Once the number got past the amount I could count on my own two hands I got a little lazy.”

“What’re you here for?” Cordelia asked, cutting to the chase.

“I’m here for two things.” Angel smiled at her, looking to see if she was still listening or if she was imagining the thousands of ways to kill him. An adorably goofy expression crossed his face when he tilted his head, waiting for her reaction. When nothing came, he continued. “To give an offer and a present I thought you’d like.”

Clearing his throat, Angel took a small step forward, so small that he knew Cordelia wouldn’t feel threatened. Or at least not anymore threatened then she already felt. “My offer is to be your ally against the enemies that you’ll inevitably, whether in days, weeks, months or even years, face. And the gift…”

He pulled a small box from his pocket and held it out to her.

Cordelia took it quickly from his hands, not giving him even the slightest chance to hurt her. Opening it, she discovered a silver cross. “Why’d you give this to me?”

Angel shrugged, “In a town like Sunnydale, you could use it. And besides, silver seems like a color that works for you.” He nodded in finality and turned to leave, only the swish of Cordelia’s coat and the sound of her hand gripping tightly the crossbow from her bag, pointing it at him, stopped him from going anywhere.

Raising his hands in the air, Angel turned to face her.

Sarcastically, Cordelia spoke to him with her dark eyes set firmly on his dark eyes that seemed unending, filled with such intrigue and even a little despair. “Though I appreciate the sentiment of your gift, silver isn’t really a color I wear. And besides, soul or no soul, I’m not letting a vampire walk away.”

Angel looked unfazed, not necessarily taking her seriously. “What are you gonna do? Take me to your Watcher?”

* * *

“Giles,” Cordelia greeted casually, half-heartedly waving at her Watcher as she entered the library, Angel following behind her. “I knew you’d be here this late.”

“How do you figure?”

“I got that kind of vibe off of you,” Cordelia chalked it down, removing her jacket and placing it on the counter.

When Giles caught Angel in his eyesight, he looked from him to Cordelia, a reprimanding glare directed at both of them. “I will not stand here and allow you to engage in hormonal teenage activities by going in a corner and fornicating-”

Cordelia waved her hands in the air, stopping Giles from embarrassing both him and her any further. “Whoa. Never ever say the word ‘fornicate’ again. Besides, Angel isn’t that kind of guy-friend, he’s a vampire.”

Choking on his tea, Giles looked at Angel with a wide-eyed expression before looking to Cordelia incredulously. “What were you thinking walking around with him, then?”

Angel smirked, “I didn’t have much of a choice. She threatened to castrate me if I didn’t follow. And I have the chilling feeling that she knows exactly how to do that.”

“Giles, calm down. I came here because I wanted you to do a back-up check on Angel,” Cordelia said to him, stepping into the space between Giles and Angel. “Use some of your books.”

As Giles reluctantly grabbed his Watcher’s diary and started leafing through it, Angel casually perked up. “You might want to look under Angelus.”

At the mention of ‘Angelus’ Giles dropped his book and grabbed the crossbow propped up against the wall beside him, pointing it at Angel in a threatening manner.

“Why are you so freaked?” Cordelia asked, moving to Giles when she noticed him gripping the crossbow. “Sure, it’s a weird name. But jeez.”

“Angelus was the Scourge of Europe in earlier centuries and is the most dangerous vampire alive.”

Angel shrugged as he muttered under his breath, “Actually, The Master holds that title…”

Giles couldn’t help but look confused at Angel’s reference.

Pointing at the book that was poorly spread out on the dirty floor, Angel held back a teasing look. “You’re a Watcher, you should really read the diaries a lot more. It also should state that Angelus was practically force-fed his soul.”

Turning to Angel when she heard what he said, Cordelia asked him, “Are you serious? So…you feel guilty for all the things you did before you got your soul.”

Angel nodded slowly, “In a nutshell? Yeah, I feel pretty damn guilty about it.”

* * *

Xander looked over Willow and turned in his stool to look in the opposite direction, his fingers tapping relentlessly on the table until Willow finally placed her hand on his to stop him from doing so.

Not noticing her hand on his Xander continued to look around, his toe tapping replacing his finger tapping. “You think it was a come-on?” Xander asked out loud absently. “She gave me a look, there was a definite look.”

Being practical and trying to hold back her own personal feelings for Xander, Willow just kind of raised her shoulders in resignation as she let out a long sigh. “Maybe she was being polite…”

She looked at the back of Xander’s head for what seemed like forever, hoping that he would look back at her, to see in his eyes when he looked at her what she knew was in hers when she looked at him. But was an empty wish and had been for her entire adolescence.

Yet Willow couldn’t help but still yearn for her best friend.

Jesse walked over to the pair and greeted them, but neither greeted him back, both distracted by looking for and looking at people who weren’t there literally and figuratively.

Luckily, Jesse caught sight of Buffy, sitting alone at her table obviously waiting for her posse to arrive. Seeing it as an opportunity, Jesse moved through the dozens of people that filled the bottom floor of the Bronze before finally arriving beside her, his arm brushing against hers in a way that brought Goosebumps to his arms but didn’t startle her.

“Hey,” he said to her as casually as possible. “Wanna dance?”

“There’s no music,” Buffy pointed out, taking a sip from her cup and enjoying her virgin margarita to the fullest.

Jesse laughed at his mistake, recovering as coolly as he could manage. “When the band finishes setting up and the right music comes on…then do you want to dance?”

Buffy, placing her cup on the table shook her head. “My friends will be here by then. So…no.”

Firming his jaw to keep his frustration controlled, Jesse leaned in to whisper in Buffy’s ear, his voice surprisingly enticing. “When you get smart and dump those ‘friends’ of yours, I’ll be waiting.”

Before Buffy could even emote a response, Jesse was gone, hoping to make it outside before he kicked anything or anyone.

Once he was out in the dark alleyway, though, he soon regretted coming out there alone when, out of no where, a hard object collided with the side of his face, knocking him into unconsciousness.


Part 2
Slowly closing the book, Giles looked up at Angel who indeed was a vampire with a soul and didn’t prove to be dangerous. For the moment.

His other hand lowered ever so cautiously, letting the crossbow point down at an angle to the ground so that Angel knew he was alright to move freely.

The library was eerily quiet for what seemed like twenty minutes when Giles had searched through the Watcher’s Diaries, looking for the proof that Angel had earlier stated was in there. Yet even after he concluded Angel’s temporary trustworthiness the tension somehow remained as Cordelia neared Angel, ever so cautiously.

“Do you really want to help me?” Cordelia asked Angel, eyeing him so hard that even the most confident of beings would have to take a moment to collect themselves. “Or is this some trick?

Angel sighed, replying sincerely. He actually managed to not blink once as he spoke. “I wanna help.”

Cordelia nodded slowly, taking in what he said and letting it settle in before she spoke out loud of her agreement. “It takes time to earn it, a lot of time. Are you up to it?”

“Yeah…” Angel nodded, a grin playing at his pale lips. “I’m up to it.”

* * *

Approaching The Master with a confident saunter, Darla moved across the cave-like room with confidence that was always evident in her strides.

Licking her lips to get every last drop of blood, she let out a soft little moan at the wrestling she’d just shared with some poor victims she’d picked up the night before, and the sweet taste of their blood…it was all a pleasurable, vivid memory that both her demon and human side cherished.

Leaning against the throne-like chair, Darla casually looked at her nails, desiring to find some blood underneath them in hopes to satisfy her hunger. “An old friend has come to town,” she informed The Master, her voice low and provocative.

Nodding and licking the tips of his teeth absently, The Master let out a disgusted grunt. “Yes, no matter how far underground I am and no matter the large amount of vermin surrounding me I can never miss the stench from that rat Angelus…”

“He doesn’t refer to himself by that name anymore,” Darla reminded her superior distastefully. “He goes by the name ‘Angel’. An ironic fit for his new way of living. With that foul soul of his, he’s no longer the torturous, dark vampire he once was.”

Clearing his throat, The Master shifted in his seat, crossing his legs and placing his chin in his hand. “For now, Angel is of no concern to us. We will focus on the matter at hand, the fresh Slayer.”

Darla put her hand on her paternal master’s shoulder, dropping her voice to a low tone so that the other vampires in the room couldn’t hear her, “That’s the problem.”

The Master’s ears perked up and any remnants of eyebrows on his face rose to new heights. He grunted, nodding his head for his precious Darla to continue.

“One of the spies, picking up a new recruit, saw Angel and the Slayer speaking with one another,” Darla explained, popping her knuckles before The Master brought his calloused hands to hers, stopping her bad habit.

“And by the looks of it, she wasn’t planning on staking him. Not yet anyways. And any Slayer, any female, that doesn’t stake Angel on the spot is bound to be enraptured by his charms.”

Furrowing his brow, The Master pursed his thing, red lips in thought. “Intriguing. Find out more. No immediate action, just some surveillance to get the information we need. That Slayer is to be unharmed; when I feed on her I’d like her fresh and alive.”

* * *

The cool night air lapped against Cordelia’s perfectly tan, soft skin and through her long brown tresses, having them flow naturally to a gentle extent. Her hands in her pockets, she played with some lint in the pockets as she repeatedly glanced to Angel, walking beside her as they moved down the quiet road that lead to her house.

“You didn’t have to walk me,” she said to him, breaking the silence.

They spoke a little after they left the library, mostly about Giles’ over protectiveness of her and being a little apprehensive about allowing Cordelia to walk alone with Angel. But after they got over being sarcastic and making some quick remarks, it had been unbearably quiet.

Cordelia Chase wasn’t one to be quiet for long periods of time, and it became clear to Angel when he saw her desperately trying to find something to say for the past few minutes.

The ensouled vampire just shrugged, “You should stop being so stubborn and just accept a polite offer.”

Shaking her head, Cordelia absently looked up at the glowing moon that illuminated the environment around her before speaking. “Look, I’m a big girl and I can walk myself home.”

Angel just looked at her for a moment, trying to figure her out, but there always seemed to be something more to look at, to think about when it came to Cordelia. “No matter how grown-up you want to act, you’re still a teenager.”

Cordelia looked at him with slight disbelief, but Angel didn’t give her the chance to make a remark, explaining further what he meant. “I admire you for trying to act all mature. But we both know deep down that at the end of the day all you want to do is think about boys and shop. Or whatever kids these days do.”

“Kid’s these days? Who do you think you are? I’d rather be young and fit then old and bitter.” Cordelia exhaled, proud of her ability to keep Angel’s mouth shut.

But when they walked closer towards her house, he finally spoke when he stopped walking. “Don’t wanna get you in any kind of trouble. Can you handle getting there?”

“I sure can,” Cordelia responded, amused when she noticed that it was about five feet to her front door. She stopped after walking up to it to turn to face Angel. She offered a small wave before moving to open the door.

Angel started to walk away, moving down the sidewalk, but he heard a soft rustling and felt a subtle quicken of Cordelia’s already familiar heartbeat.

Glancing over his shoulder he discovered Cordelia was hiding her bag with her supplies in it deep within the bushes surrounding the front of her house.

Holding back a grin, he remained watching her as she wiped off some of the dirt she got on her pants from kneeling on the ground and turned to walk inside.

Angel shook his head as he scratched the back of it. His thoughts remained on Cordelia the entire time he took walking home.

* * *

Walking through the door and closing it all in one quiet and graceful movement was an accomplishment for Cordelia yet at the same time she was thankful for doing it, otherwise she might’ve woken up her father, who was asleep in his chair.

As she neared though, she realized he was more passed out then asleep and his breath reeked of alcohol, something that was a little more than disconcerting. Ever since moving to Sunnydale he’d been drinking excessively and it was a wonder that he was able to go to work every day and not ruin his business. It was also a wonder that he still had custody over her.

Cordelia loved her father but she was afraid of him at the same time. Afraid of the mistakes he might make. Something’ll happen sooner or later and whether it’ll be bad or a shitload of bad determines where Cordelia will end up next year for school. If Cordelia’s mother caught wind of his drinking problem she would gain full-custody of her easily. Not that it was a bad thing.

Pressing a soft kiss on her father’s forehead, Cordelia took the bottle his hand was barely grasping and placed it in the cabinet in the kitchen before heading up to bed.

He needs to stop. Or get help. Or…something.

* * *

The next day at school Cordelia was far from awake. Bags underneath her eyes were covered up by pounds and pounds of cover-up and her sluggish movements were hardly noticeable as she tried to act as casual as possible. Seeing Willow and Xander standing near a row of lockers, Cordelia took her chances and walked up to them, an apologetic expression on her youthful, pretty features. “Hey, guys. Sorry about last night.”

“It’s all right,” Willow said to Cordelia, her voice surprisingly warm and welcoming.

But Cordelia didn’t miss a beat, her worry about ditching her friends and pissing them off getting the better of her. “I got caught up, I would have called but my dad kinda got mad about me getting home late…again.”

“I understand,” Xander nodded, offering her his lopsided grin to assure her his forgiveness was sincere.

“I had to talk to Giles, and he tends to babble on a bit when it comes to sayin’ the details,” Cordelia explained, following Xander and Willow as they started to walk down the hallway aimlessly. While walking, she twirled a stray piece of hair absently, for a split second recalling the feeling in the pit of her stomach she experienced when encountering Angel. She couldn’t quite recall what feeling it exactly was, though, and it pissed her off to even remember herself being so emotionally vulnerable when it came to a vampire.

No matter how much of soul he had or how cute he was, Cordelia wasn’t prepared to let herself completely trust him.

“The librarian?” Willow asked, surprised. “He’s nice but he never really spoke to the students. Unless they had a fine or something.”

Cordelia just smiled, “Giles is cool. Pretty interesting. All he has to do is lose the tweed outfits, makes him seem older than my grandpa.”

Xander nodded, not really taking the man into consideration as something else crossed his mind. “Anybody seen Jesse?”

“No,” Willow replied, obviously just remembering that she, too, hadn’t seen him yet that day. “Last time I saw him was when he left last night after getting turned down by Buffy. Again.”

Cordelia groaned. “What does he even see in her?”

Willow and Xander were both speechless for answers, not really having put too much thought into it before.

“She’s obviously just a cold-hearted bit-” Cordelia couldn’t finish though, for a hand grabbed her and yanked her into a room, the library to be more specific.

Pushing the man who grabbed her away violently, Cordelia formed her hand into a fist and moved to pound on him for grabbing her so aggressively. But she realized it was Giles and her incredulity heightened. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

A moment later, both Xander and Willow poked their heads into the room, looking quite confused.

“Is everything all right?” Xander asked, looking from Cordelia to Giles as if he were watching a tennis match.

Giles, trying to act nonchalant, tried to shoo them away. “I may have had too much coffee but I need to speak with Cordelia alone, please.”

“When you say that you really do ruin a good stereotype,” Xander pointed out.

Cordelia, seeing that Giles was having some sort of panic attack, turned to Xander and Willow, lowering her voice. “I do need to speak with him. I’ll see you at lunch.”

Uneager, Willow and Xander both closed the door and left, leaving Cordelia to turn to Giles and look at him like he was crazy. “What’s so important that you went all batshit?”

“After you and Angel left last night, as I was getting ready to leave, I remembered something that Angel had said to me and it caught my attention…” Giles explained softly, not even bothering to reprimand Cordelia for her use of language.

Cordelia looked at him with narrowed eyes, holding back a smile. “You stayed up all night researching, didn’t you?”

Giles nodded, “Yes. Yes I did.”

“Again, the vibe thing. You seem like a big bookworm, what with the glasses and the proper word-usage.”

Giles ignored her comment and proclaimed in a loud voice, “The Master is what most vampires refer to as the ultimate vampire. Most likely the oldest vampire that still lives and possibly just as powerful too.”

“Is he unbeatable or what?” Cordelia asked, placing her hands on her hips and acquiring a serious attitude as the conversation took a more dire turn.

Giles tried to hem and haw for a moment but Cordelia cocked her head at him, daring him to avoid it. “No known vampire has been able to beat him.”

“Have any Slayers tried to kill him?”

“No,” Giles said almost immediately. “Only few Slayers have been able to hone their powers to the extent that they were able to fight The Master. But by that time The Master had ceased using public streets as a mean for travel so she couldn’t find him.”

Cordelia nodded, “He’s underground then?”

Giles nodded along with her, “He might even be here in Sunnydale.”

Taking a step back at that, Cordelia held her hands up in a slightly defensive manner. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“You’re going to have to handle The Master. Whether now or later, it’ll happen.” Giles explained.

Cordelia shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest and muttering her disbelief for a few minutes until she finally asked a question. “Why is he in Sunnydale?”

“In a nutshell, Sunnydale a hotspot for supernatural activity,” Giles removed his glasses, biting on the end of them.

“If that’s the short version than I’d hate to hear the more complicated version,” Cordelia laughed, but it was a strained laugh that got caught in her throat.

Giles agreed wholeheartedly, “I haven’t had near enough coffee to be able to explain it to you in full.”

Cordelia broke the seriousness by pointing at Giles in an accusing manner, “Ha! So you really do drink coffee!”

* * *

It was nighttime but Angel had never been so exhausted or hungry as he rolled out of his comfortable, king-size bed. Stumbling through the dark as he rubbed his eyes, trying to wake himself up enough so that he wouldn’t dribble blood down his front like he had done the night before and the night before that.

Walking into his kitchen, Angel focused his eyes enough so that he could grab onto t he handle of the refrigerator door and open it in one quick motion. Only to discover that the one packet of blood he had left was gone and a matter of seconds after that discover his whole body went rigid and the hairs on the back of his neck spiked up.

Turning around, he discovered much to his ultimate distaste that Darla was slowly sauntering towards him. Not only was her presence enough to righteously piss him off, but also the fact that she was holding onto his last packet of blood, teasing him purposely, was enough to have his game face form.

But he held back the urge to let his demon side resurface, tightening the reign he had on it as he firmed his jaw.

“If you want it, come and get it,” she teased, running the packet of blood along her neckline, trying to tempt him.

Angel couldn’t help but growl, “I’d rather not. I can last a few months if you won’t simply hand it to me.”

Purposely pouting, Darla leaned against the archway, not yet stepping foot inside the kitchen fully. “You used to love games.”

“Get out,” Angel said to her quickly and not without menace creeping into his tone. “I’m different now and you were the first to find out, the first to banish me. What was it you called me? Oh yeah, ‘filthy’.”

Darla didn’t argue, still pouting to try and get his attention, to try and tempt him to come closer…

“It’s ironic that you, a vampire who takes pleasure in killing and torturing innocents, would call me filthy,” Angel said to her in a low rumble.

“You could easily come back into the fold, come back to me,” Darla said to him, taking a few small steps and getting closer and closer till they were only a breath apart. “All you have to do is proclaim yourself as Angelus once again.”

Firming his jaw to keep from snapping Darla’s neck right then and there, Angel spoke to her through gritted teeth. “No.”

His refusal wasn’t a surprise but Darla couldn’t help but use all her options. She had to try. “I’ll do anything, I’ll even…”

She leaned in and whispered something into his ear, a sly smirk on her soft, eternally young features.

Shaking his head, Angel just looked at her with a smoldering gaze. “I’m starting to feel sorry for you. You’re so damn desperate to get me back that you’ve sunk as low as groveling.”

Offended, Darla took a step back, placing her hands on her hips and looking at him as if he had said something far worse. “Are you actually going to choose that dirty brunette over me?”

“If I were given a choice,” Angel muttered, his voice low and baleful. “I’d choose a piece of trash over you. And if you even try to hurt Cordelia, I’ll snap your neck.”

Darla grinned as he said that, as if feeling accomplished at getting something out of him. “Out of all the things that have changed about you, the biggest difference is that now you give away your emotions too well. It’ll come back to bite you in that delectable ass of yours someday. And I’ll remember your protectiveness over the Slayer the next time I come to the surface.”

Then she left without another word, taking his last packet of human blood with her.

* * *

As people bopped slightly to the soft music, mingling with others and drinking various drinks, Cordelia, Willow and Xander sat a table in the Bronze, looking for something interesting to happen.

“Where’s Jesse? I’m getting kinda worried,” Willow said out loud to Xander, brushing a stray piece of her hair behind her ears and adjusting her striped sweater as she realized too late that it was quite hot in the room. “I called his house and no one’s answering.”

“If he isn’t home, no one’s going to answer,” Xander reminded her. “His parents are out of town again.”

A moment passed and when Xander realized that it’d be a while before Cordelia, who was obviously looking for something, would turn to face them instead of having her back to them just like she had since they got there.

“Why are we here again?” Xander whispered to Willow, but Cordelia surprisingly heard every word.

Throwing a glance back at Xander, Cordelia explained as casually as possible. “I messed up last night and wanted to make it up to you guys tonight.”

While that was the truth in part, Cordelia was there for one more reason other than to hang out with her new friends. She’d been distracted by Angel the night before and didn’t have the chance to have some fun and stake some vampires, saving lives and getting the addictive rush at the same time.

Xander shrugged, “If you wanted to hang out, we could have gone to a movie or gotten ice cream.”

Suddenly, her senses announcing to her that a vampire was entering the room, Cordelia stood up, her eyes darting around the room in search of a target.

But at the sight of Angel, her nerves calmed down. Approaching him, she offered a small smile.

Xander watched her walk over to Angel, more than curious as to whom the mystery man was. “Do you know who that is?”

“No,” Willow said, but tilted her head at the sight of him. “But he’s kinda cute.”

“What’re you doing here?” Cordelia asked Angel as nicely as she could, her curiosity getting the better of her. No matter how glad she was that he was there with her, which was surprising enough, she couldn’t help but figure that there was some reason why.

Angel blended in quite well as he stood, his shoulder pressed against a column holding up the balcony and shadowing him and Cordelia. His black, long-sleeved sweater tight-fitting around his shoulders and emphasizing his toned biceps and chest.

“I had a hunch,” Angel cryptically said, arching his head down so that he was level with Cordelia, who he’d just noticed was shorter without the heels on. “I just wanted to see if you were all right.”

“Thanks,” Cordelia said to him with a polite smile, but couldn’t fight the urge to remind him. “I can take care of myself. If you want to be of any help then go out and patrol. I got this place covered.”

Angel just dismissed her stubbornness for the moment, “How’d you know I was here? The minute I walked in you turned to me.”

Cordelia pursed her lips, trying to find the right way to explain it. “I get these weird tingly feelings whenever a vamp is around. Kind of like a spidey-sense.”

Angel furrowed his brow at her reference, looking predictably confused.

Trying to elaborate, Cordelia looked at him with an amused expression. “You know, like Spider-man.”

Xander, trying desperately to read their lips to see what they were talking about, perked up when he deciphered Cordelia’s sentence. “I think she just said Spider-man…”

Sitting down on his stool, Xander, in a half-joking half-serious tone, said out loud to himself more than to Willow: “I’m in love.”

But Willow didn’t catch the half-joking part of his words as she slumped onto the table in disappointment. A moment passed and her eyes caught on to a familiar face over by Buffy’s table. “Hey, it’s Jesse.”

“Well, that’s good. But I’m sure he’ll be leaving soon, right after the daily rejection from Buffy.”

“Get lost,” Buffy warned Jesse as her friends giggled, teasing her and Jesse so blatantly behind their hands. Whether she actually wanted him to leave or the influence of saving her reputation was in play, Buffy Summers was resolved to get Jesse to leave before he embarrassed both of them.

His blue eyes, normally impeccant, were brimful of mendaciousness and intrigue, underlined with a confidence that seemed so out of place for Jesse yet so fitting for his new persona. Cocking his head to the side, he smirked at Buffy. “Not a chance.”

Before Buffy could come up with some sarcastic remark, though, his hand grasped onto hers firmly, yet not too tightly to injured her mortal hands. “Dance with me.”

Incomprehensibly, Harmony tilted her head to the side, noting the deepness of Jesse’s voice, something she hadn’t detected before and obviously was intrigued by.

Buffy took notice of it and nodded slowly to Jesse, wondering to herself what the worst thing possible could be as a result of dancing once dance with him. He’s suddenly got the balls, so I guess that deserves a dance…

* * *

Angel let out sigh, looking around as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “As a vampire, I sense em’ too. And…” he paused, trying to choose his words right, to not jump ahead if his assumptions were wrong.

Taking notice of her vampire-friend looking around with a curious expression on his chiseled features, Cordelia snapped her finger to get his attention. “What is it?”

“I’m afraid that I’m not the only vamp in here,” Angel said to her quietly, leaning in to whisper it in her ear, as his eyes never stopped moving around the room, searching for a fellow undead individual.

Nodding in agreement, Cordelia let her own eyes roam the Bronze, adjusting to the change of atmospheres from the bar area filled with neon lights to the stage where only subtle colors illuminated the area.

“I don’t understand,” she heard Angel’s deep voice in her ear and turned to him, her voice barely six inches from his as his dark eyes seemingly drowned in hers.

Cordelia tried to ignore it, but for an instant that vanished faster than it had arrived she didn’t feel lonely, different or pressured by the burden of being a Slayer. It was as if one small, undetermined glance from Angel, his dark eyes inundated with such profoundness, was enough to take it all away, to make her feel alive, important yet…simple.

As if they could go eat ice cream and enjoy a good movie with no worries, as if it were that simple.

Finally, a smirk passed across Angel’s face as he finished. “Why you can’t seem to find him faster…”

Hiding a blush, Cordelia elbowed him in his abdomen as she spun around. “Shut up, I already can’t focus with all this music.”

Angel simply snorted derisively, but mostly in friendly teasing.

Then it hit her, a change in the atmosphere, a remote pulse heightened just slightly, as a girl’s would when she would encounter a cute guy and it hit Cordelia when her eyes locked on a pair moving through the crowd towards the door, the exit that would lead them to the dark, empty alleyway.

It was Buffy and Jesse.

Angel noticed Cordelia’s subtle reaction immediately and looked to where she was gaping at, “You know one of them?”

Shaking her head, Cordelia responded with a slightly thwarted voice. “Unfortunately, I know both of them.”

* * *

Jesse grunted as he pressed Buffy against the wall, his nose catching onto the scent that he as a vampire could only detect. Fear, confusion intermingling with her routine perfume…Buffy Summers was the smell of perfection.

Buffy struggled though, much to his distaste, with surprising strength considering she was always so afraid of breaking her nails. “Back off. You said we were going to talk…”

The way she had a catch in her throat encouraged Jesse’s confidence that he was overwhelming her, something he couldn’t have done before he had been turned.

Playfully tapping the tip of Buffy’s nose, Jesse let out a long, cool breath along her neckline as he teased in a low, seductive tone. “You should’ve taken your parents advice…”

“What are you talking about? What advice?”

Jesse looked at her, his eyes brimming with gold as his vampiric features molded onto his face. “To never go out into dark, empty alleyways with dangerous boys. Especially when there’s no one to save you.”

* * *

With Angel following closely behind her, Cordelia shoved, elbowed and kicked her way through the crowded Bronze dance floor towards the exit she had seen Buffy stupidly go through with Jesse.

Unfortunately, Xander stepped in front of her, stopping her in her path. The look on his face was one of dumbfounded shock as he pointed to the exact same door Cordelia had been moving to. “Did you see what I saw?”

Cordelia, holding back an eye roll from impatience, crossing her arms over her chest and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, hoping her friend would get the subtle hint. “What did you see?”

“Buffy. Going out into an alleyway. A dark, empty alleyway. Alone. With Jesse,” Xander explained, as if he still didn’t believe it himself. Throwing his hands up into the air in exasperation, he continued. “Something’s up.”

“Stay inside,” Cordelia ordered Xander with as soft of a voice as she could muster. “I need to handle this alone.”

Xander shook his head before she even finished, “I’ve known Jesse longer and I can talk some sense into him. If he’s going out there to force Buffy…or if he’s going to get his heart broken again, then I’m going to be out there.”

“What’s going on, guys?” Willow asked, walking up to them with a slightly lost expression on her face.

“Nothing,” Cordelia immediately lied, trying to keep her other newfound friend from becoming too curious, at least as curious as Xander was.

“Jesse’s acting weird,” Xander informed her, having no problem in bringing Willow into it, much to Cordelia’s annoyance. “And we’re going out there to see what’s going on.”

Firmly, Cordelia warned him once again. “I’m going out there, not you or Willow.”

Unfazed, Xander turned to leave. “Stop being so stubborn.”

Her frustration going past the limit, Cordelia grabbed Xander securely by the lapels of his button-up, navy blue shirt, slamming him against the wall. Yet when she spoke to him, her voice was a ghost of a whisper. “You don’t want to see what’s going to happen out there and I don’t want you too either.”

Trying to keep calm, Xander firmed his jaw to sound at least a little resolved. “I…Why…You speaking to me like that, all noble and stuff isn’t making me want to go out there any less. And besides—Why does he get to go out there with you?”

Cordelia glanced back at Angel, “Because he knows how to handle this all just as much as I do.”

Angel took a step forward, pulling a hand out of his pocket and raising it, trying to get their attention.

But Xander quickly cut him off, no giving the seemingly mysterious man a chance to have reason over him, “Shut up, this isn’t a conversation you’re apart of.”

“You’re right,” Angel shook his head, stepping back. “I guess it’s rude of me to be interrupting your conversation to say that you’re redheaded friend already went outside.”

* * *

With a swift kick of her leg, putting all her strength and weight into her right foot, Cordelia smashed open the door to the library, walking out with caution. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she instantly caught sight of Willow’s red hair.

“What’s going on, Jesse?” Willow asked, her voice so small that she came off helpless.

Seeing as to where her eyesight was focused to, Cordelia confirmed that Jesse, his face hidden in the shadows, was standing with one arm wrapped around Cordelia’s waist, keeping her close to him and his other hand gripping her neck dangerously tight.

“Willow…” Cordelia said her name as softly as possible, hoping not to make any sudden movements to make Jesse try and hurt Buffy but also to not startle her friend. Cordelia placed her hand on Willow’s shoulder and gently pulled back, hoping her friend would get the hint and back up. “Back up, alright? Let me handle this.”

A deep laugh echoed along the alleyway and Jesse, shifting his weight slightly, revealed part of his smile, his pointed teeth barely visible but visible still. “You’re the new Slayer in town, aren’t ya? Because if you are, then I’m here to prove to everyone that Slayer’s are for dusty old books geeky, bifocal-wearing English virgins who have no lives.”

“Pretty accurate description, considering…” Cordelia pushed Willow back, stepping in front of her and making sure every single movement she took was as unnoticeable as she could manage.

Removing her jacket, Cordelia threw it over her shoulders into Angel’s waiting hands, who never once broke his gaze on Jesse, his firm jaw and gritted teeth enough proof that he was fighting a million urges not to snap the monsters neck on the spot.

“You sure you don’t want me to handle it?” Angel asked Cordelia as she continued to stand her ground between Willow and Jesse.

As if it were that simple, Cordelia just shook her head. Angel didn’t miss a beat, though, taking a step closer to Cordelia, a step too far for the readied Slayer. “Don’t take another step.”

“You sure you wanna do this in front of his friends?”

Xander looked from Cordelia and Angel, far past lost. “What the hell are you guys even talking about?”

“Take em’ back inside,” Cordelia said, glancing back at Angel for a moment, her eyes locking with his. “It’ll only take a minute.”

Buffy, on the other hand, was far from calm as she struggled in Jesse’s tightening, death-grip. Looking up at the monster that looked so much like the Jesse she grew up next door to when she was younger, she couldn’t help but speak with an emotional voice. “What’s going on, Jesse? Why are you doing this? I-If you’re mad…I’m sorry.”

“He’s not the Jesse you guys know,” Cordelia said, her eyes narrowing to slits when she looked at the vampire and the distance they had between them, trying to configure how long it would take to get from where she was and to where Buffy was being choked to death.

“He was fine a few days ago,” Xander said frantically, grabbing Willow and pulling her farther away.

Angel sighed, “A lot can happen in a few days.”

Jesse just laughed, not once loosening his grip on Buffy’s neck. “I’m a little tight on the schedule front and I need to get this done before I get too bored.”

Cordelia snorted, “Cause then it’s no fun, right?”

“Buffy’s fun no matter what,” Jesse admitted, licking Buffy’s ear and visibly taking pleasure in hearing her whimper. “This is far more personal than anything I’ll ever do as a vampire.”

Taking the only opportunity that she saw was coming, Cordelia put all her weight forward and jumped forward, lessening the gap between them in .5 seconds. Grabbing onto Jesse’s right wrist and twisting it to a painful angle, Cordelia pointed to where Angel, Willow and Xander stood, the look in her eyes enough to tell Buffy to go to them.

Absently running into the hunkier man’s arms, Buffy grabbed onto Angel like he was her lifeline. “What the hell is going on?”

“Shh…” Angel mumbled to her, not tearing his eyes away from Cordelia as she skillfully punched, kicked and confused Jesse into being cornered against a wall.

Spinning her right foot around, knocking Jesse further into the wall and yanking the stake from her belt, by the time Cordelia was back on her two feet, she had her stake ready and a moment passed before it plunged into Jesse’s chest without hesitation.

Letting out a long breath of relief, Cordelia slipped the stake back onto her belt as she slowly turned to face her friends, and Buffy.

All three looked at her with the exact same gape mouthed expressions.


Part 3
Leaning onto the chair, her grip firm and enduring, Cordelia let her head fall in defeat as she let out a long, deep breath. Knuckles white, arms sore and her cheeks slightly dingy from staking Jesse, she looked the part of a daughter who’d been wrestling in the mud past her curfew and got caught by her overbearing father.

Giles, hands on his hips and an eerily impassive expression on his aged yet still handsome features, looked at Cordelia for a few moments before finally speaking, his voice even more chillingly even then his stare. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah…I’m sure,” Cordelia looked up, not even bothering to feign a look that would receive sympathy. Deep down she knew what happened and knew that there was no escaping whatever Giles had planned to do or say to her, whether it was to remain spookily quiet or loudly reprimand her for her foolishness. “Xander, Willow and Buffy saw it happen.”

What she got in response was her Watcher shaking his head, apparently trying to organize his thoughts, opinions on the matter, to get an even footing before he jumped in to berate her.

“They pretty much found out about vampires and that I can kill them,” Cordelia explicated in an even voice, trying not to put any more pressure on what was already known.

The library, lit only by a few lamps placed around the room, was quiescent except for the words spoken by Cordelia and Giles nearly echoing off the walls. It was nearly midnight and no one had the strength to muster the courage to ask when he or she was going home, not yet anyways.

“How could you allow this to happen?” Giles asked, removing his glasses and rubbing his temples, a headache coming on. “Part of being a Slayer is to dispense of vampires with secrecy and stealth, not announce to the world of your actions.”

Angel cleared his throat; pushing himself away from the corner he’d placed himself in when they first entered the library, and into the light where his attentive features became visible. “Listen, it’s not her-”

“Not a word from you!” Giles pointed at Angel, stopping the vampire from speaking any further. “It’s exactly your kind that are the problem.”

Having enough, Cordelia pushed herself away from the chair, slamming it violently into the hardwood table. Her hands clenched into fists and her chest heaving as frustration took control, she looked at Giles with a firm stare, not once wavering in her confidence to defend herself.

“I had no choice,” she said, and even though her position and the way she stood showed she was frustrated, her voice was no louder than a whisper, soft and soothing. “If I had one then I would’ve forced Xander and Willow inside. But Jesse had Buffy by the neck and I wasn’t going to risk a life by keeping a stupid secret.”

Turning her head slowly, her visage softened a bit when her eyes came in contact with Willow and Xander, sitting quietly in their seats, expressionless and still quite dazed.

“He’s…a vampire,” Xander muttered, nearly breathless when he spoke the ‘v’ word.

Willow shook her head, “He’s dead.”

Buffy took a step forward, stopping her bad habit of chewing on the ends of her hair when she was nervous by using her mouth for her prized talent: talking. “What the hell did you do to Jesse?”

Jumping only a little bit, Cordelia held back the urge to hold her heart and show any more signs of shock when she looked at Buffy, surprised beyond anything that the blonde was in the library with them and she had yet to notice. “What the hell are you doing there and how long have you been here?”

“Giles is always in here because he has no life and I heard you talking to him when I was getting in my car,” Buffy explained, her fingers twitching, her nails waiting to be bitten. “So I followed you. Not too close that you’d see me but not too far so that I wouldn’t have a good getaway if this place was taken over by more of those bumpy-faced freaks.”

Obviously, she would have gone on but when she caught sight of Angel, standing quietly and obediently, a smile tugged at her lips and her head cocked to the side. The moment passed and she snapped herself out of it long enough to ask her question again. “Seriously, what did you do to Jesse?”

“He’s a vampire,” Cordelia sighed, not even bothering to try and add some seriousness to the revelation. Buffy Summers was far from the kind of person who’d take anything seriously. Unless she was scared shitless.

An odd look crossed Buffy’s face, “You mean, like, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt-like vampires?”

Cordelia groaned, throwing her hands up in the air.

Angel took the opportunity to step forward, not wanting any more stress to be put on Cordelia, or even Willow and Xander. The situation was one that needed consideration to be put into it and he had the strong feeling that Buffy was not one to do so. “I’ll take her home.”

“Just to make sure she’s safe,” Angel explained when Xander threw him a curious look.

Nodding, Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest. “Call me if you find anything useful, alright?”

Though pleased by the choice of escort, Buffy held onto her willpower long enough to remain steadfast in her desire to get answers. “I’ll go as long as someone answers my questions.”

“I will, we just…need to go,” Angel said to her quietly in a slightly condescending tone, but Buffy didn’t catch on as she hooked her arm in his reluctant one, and left the library with him.

Finally, Cordelia thought to herself, sighing as she walked over to Willow and Xander. “You guys okay? I’ll walk you home if you like, when you decide to go of course.”

Shaking himself out of it, Xander stumbled on his words for a few moments before finally managing to speak. “Wow, I just—So are you some sort of superhero?”

Cordelia couldn’t help but let a little grin appear at his stupid, yet totally cute and innocent, question. “Anyone can kill a vampire, I just have reflexes and strength at my advantage.”

“I figured weird stuff was going on in Sunnydale,” Willow scratched her head, still trying to swallow the entire thing. “Maybe not ‘demons and vampires’ weird, but weird nonetheless.”

“If you guys are weirded out by this…well, you can ignore it all and when tomorrow comes, you can ignore me too,” Cordelia suggested, not too pleased by the suggestion, but giving it a shot anyways.

Xander nodded in agreement. “We do have a magic shop, I mean. They sell Holy Water and stuff like that.”

After hearing that revelation, Cordelia turned to Giles. “Go there. Get all you can. If you’re right about this whole town being a hotspot for vampire and demonic activities, we might want to have a few supplies. Just in case.”

Giles blushed slightly, opening and closing his mouth quite a few times before he finally spoke. “Actually, there was something that I managed to forget. The hotspot of the hotspot…the opening of the hellmouth is coincidentally located under the library.”

* * *

“Thanks for driving me,” Buffy said to Angel, checking her nails to see if her constant biting had done any noticeable damage. For a moment, she glanced over at Angel and when she noticed that he too was furtively looking at her, she couldn’t help but grin, allowing a little blush to flood her cheeks.

Angel returned his attention to the road ahead, adjusting his grip on the steering wheel. “Sorry for my driving skills. I’m a little rusty.”

“No biggie, I’m not that good of a driver anyways.”

“Then why do you have a car?” Angel asked, his curiosity getting the better of him once again. “I mean, if you aren’t good at driving, why bother? Sunnydale’s not that big of a town.”

Buffy scrunched her nose in thought for a moment, “My parents bought me this car, so I guess that’s why I use it.”

“For your birthday? They got you a car for your birthday?”

“No, just a Thursday afternoon,” Buffy nonchalantly explained. A moment passed before she finally let out a small huff and turned to Angel. “What was with Jesse’s face? It was all bumpy.”

Shifting in his seat and licking his lips, Angel tried to figure the best way to word his explanation. Finally, he just went for it. “When a vampire gets angry, or they prepare to bite or kill someone, they get what a lot of people call a ‘game face’.”

Though Buffy got her answer, something still seemed to bother her. “I just…I can’t believe Jesse’s dead. You think that maybe we can get a vacuum and get all the dust and just, like, glue him together?

“Did he mean something to you?” Angel asked quietly, managing to get his voice as gentle as it had ever been.

Letting her eyes fall to her lap, Buffy pursed her lips, trying to find the best way to explain it all. “He did. Still kind of does. Back in elementary school, him and me were like, brother and sister. We lived next to each other.”

“Really?”

“Until my dad got a promotion and we moved into a bigger home, farther away,” Buffy explained, her voice distant as the memories flooded back for a moment. “Before I knew it we stopped spending summers together, climbing up trees and seeing who’d do the most damage to their bones by jumping off the high branches…Then middle school and hormones hit. He groped me in the lunch line.”

For what seemed like hours, Angel, his head tilted slightly to the side, just looked at Buffy, seeing an innocent side to her that he hadn’t noticed earlier, an emotion that Cordelia clearly hadn’t been aware of in the time the two of them spent with each other. It was a refreshing thing to see.

But the moment passed and Buffy, obviously not that clueless, took notice to her admittance of deep feelings and cleared her throat, putting on a smile. “It might have been him, I don’t know. Every guy at Sunnydale High is obsessed with me. I’ve lost track.”

* * *

Cordelia closed the door behind her as quietly as possible, slipping out of her boots and trying not to let them make the annoying, and loud, clunk sound every time they came in contact with the hard floor.

Even being as stealthy as she was being, Cordelia still couldn’t get away with getting up to her room before her father realized she had been out late again. He sat at the top of the stairs, staring aimlessly off into space. Surprisingly, he didn’t have a drink in his hand. But it was discovered by Cordelia when she saw the glass shards on the stairs that he probably dropped the glass he had in his hands.

“Your mother called…” he said weakly, finally locking stares with his daughter. “She…sends her love, of course.”

Cordelia cleared her throat to hide the thickness in her voice at seeing her dad so helpless. “You guys talked…?”

“Yep.”

“To each other?”

Will actually let out a small chuckle at that as he ran a hand through his hair. “It’s getting late, Cordelia.”

He stood up slowly, holding onto the railing for support. Before he could go to his room though, Cordelia took a few steps forward and spoke up, causing him to stop in his path, his back still facing her. “I still love you, dad.”

Cordelia’s father’s head fell in response. “Why wouldn’t you?”

It was obvious in the way he asked it that he was just waiting for her to say something about his drinking problem. There was no anger in Will Chase’s voice at all, only pathetic anticipation for the painful truth.

“I just wanted you to know that…” Cordelia stopped when her voice caught in her throat, but managed to clear it and continue speaking. “You’re not alone. Mom may be gone, but I’m still here.”

Again, her father allowed a chuckle to escape his lips. But this time it seemed deeper, more of a rumble. His emotions were slipping from his control and Cordelia swore to herself that she could see his eyes sparkling with tears.

But he didn’t say anything to her, he didn’t turn around and smile or cry, he didn’t say goodnight or ‘I love you’. All Will Chase did was continue walking to his room. The soft thud of his door closing seemed so entirely loud to Cordelia as she stood helplessly at the bottom of the stairs; wondering what it would take to get her father back.

* * *

Closing her door softly so that she didn’t disturb her father, Cordelia entered her room with a blank expression on her face. Her room was as quiet as the rest of the house, which didn’t help the sickening feeling in her stomach.

A few feet into her room she finally took notice to Angel, looking in through the window while kneeling on the roof.

The best part about his presence was that the priceless expression on his face made her grin like a fool as he held out her bag of supplies. “Can I come in?”

Wiping the smile from her face immediately, trying to keep up some type of professionalism between the two, Cordelia nodded. “Yeah. Come on in.”

Taking off her jacket, Cordelia’s tongue poked out of the corner of her lips in a way that made the small, sweet smile on Angel’s face widen, if only for a moment. Cordelia didn’t take big notice to it though, folding her jacket twice before placing it on the chair beside her desk.

“You all right?” Angel asked, taking a look at her room, quite impressed by her tasteful decorations. The dark blue comforters on her bed matching the lighter, yet still elegant blue of her throw pillows were the first thing he noticed and not the last. “I couldn’t help but overhear your…”

“Father,” Cordelia finished for him in a grim voice, one that caught Angel’s attention. But she didn’t dwell on the situation for long as she proceeded to move over to her dresser and pick out a tank top to wear to bed.

“Sorry.”

“It’s all right,” Cordelia dismissed his apology easily as she pulled out a pair of sweat pants and a tank top. For a moment, she forgot about any sense of modesty and started to remove her shirt, but then her senses came to her and she turned to Angel and asked, “Could you turn around?”

Angel laughed his nervousness off when he didn’t listen to her at first and just stood there, waiting for her to continue getting undressed. He finally turned around, immediately apologizing. “Shit, sorry. Forgot about manners.”

“Well, it’s not necessarily manners, it’s just self-control you have to work on.”

Angel’s brow furrowed “What do you mean by that?”

“Well, you were staring.”

“I…I just. I wasn’t staring.”

“Yes, you were!”

“No, I wasn’t. I swear.”

“Just admit it,” Cordelia said in a half-teasing manner.

“I’m serious, there’s a scratch on your shoulder,” Angel pointed out, trying not to show his incredible relief at the coincidence of her having an injury on her back. It was a small scratch, but deep enough to show some concern.

Angel showed more than enough when he turned around and stepped closer to her, Cordelia turning so that her back was to him and he could get a better look at it.

Running his hand along it gently Angel held back a grin when he noticed a slight shiver coming from Cordelia. His voice as quiet as his touch, he spoke to her after a fleeting moment. “One good thing about being a vampire. Your wounds heal faster than you can imagine.”

“What’re the other good things?” Cordelia asked. “You said ‘one of the good things’…what’re the others?”

Angel didn’t have time to answer when the door opened, Cordelia’s father entering. Though Cordelia’s light was on his face remained incredibly shadowed.

“I wanted to apologi-” he started to say, but his eyes narrowed when something caught his attention. “What’s that?”

Cordelia’s heart skipped a beat and she turned around, expecting to see Angel, but she actually discovered he wasn’t there.

“The scratch, where’d you get the scratch?” her father asked.

Cordelia shrugged, “It’s nothing.”

At the sight of his daughter having any kind of injury, Will Chase finally looked half-alive when his eyes looked back up at hers with the utmost concern. “Are you alright?”

“Must’ve scratched it earlier without knowing.”

“As long as you’re alright. Need a band aid?”

Cordelia shook her head, “I already have one. But thanks, dad.”

She assumed, though, that after the mess of her scratch got cleared up that her father would return to what he came into her room for. But he didn’t, and Cordelia sighed in disappointment as she always did when her conversations with her father would always get cut off.

When he left the room without another word, Cordelia decided to just sleep before she thought too much about all that was happening in her life.

* * *

Buffy leaned forward to see inside her locker clearly enough so that she could get the makeup she was searching for. When she lifted her hand to reach inside, she immediately took notice to the extremity at which her hands were trembling.

Fisting them tightly enough that they turned starch white, she returned her attention to grabbing her mascara. Twisting the cap off she lifted the tip of it to her eyelashes and gently moved it up and down, accentuating them as she normally did every day between second and third period.

Cordelia appeared, out of the blue, startling Buffy, which caused her to slip, allowing a long, dark line of mascara to smear across her cheek.

“You doing ok?” Cordelia asked quietly as Buffy frantically tried to wipe away the mascara before anyone noticed.

“I’m doing fine!” Buffy lied in a snappy tone. “I managed to forget what happened last night, too. One of my many talents.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia leaned in so that she only had to whisper for Buffy to hear her. “You don’t have to hide it. You can talk to me if you like.”

Buffy turned to face Cordelia, on the verge of rolling her own eyes as she scoffed. “I’d rather eat cow crap than have Oprah sessions with the freaky new girl.”

“Whatever,” Cordelia shook her head, walking away.

Buffy watched her go, waiting till the brunette turned the corner before returning her attention to her hands, fisting them once again to prevent them from trembling uncontrollably.

* * *

Arms indolently hung over the arms of his leather chair, Angel sat quietly, his dark eyes reflecting the dancing flames of his fireplace as he contemplated the situation.

Though he had been sitting there for hours, the vampire was far from giving up, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, to figure out what the endgame was for whomever they were going to face, for whomever was responsible for turning Jesse.

Darla came to mind immediately. Knowing she was in town was a big enough distraction but when a new friend of Cordelia, the Slayer, was turned into a vampire…it was a sign that Angel just couldn’t ignore.

She’s involved somehow…

An instant passed and then it hit him. The Master.

Not wasting a minute, Angel pushed himself from his chair and moved to grab his jacket. In less than three strides he was at his door, opening it and moving outside. Only the sunlight that caused his hand, the first thing out the door, to catch fire, stopped him from going more than about three inches outside.

Jumping back inside, falling to the ground just outside the sun’s long rays of light, Angel clutches his burnt hand, grimacing slightly.

Great, he thought to himself, knowing that not only was it daylight and he had to wait, but he now had to take care of his hand.

* * *

Opening the door, Cordelia stepped inside her third period class as quietly as possible, hoping that the teacher wouldn’t notice her lateness.

She was relieved to discover that Mr. Roberts had fallen asleep and the class was just chatting away, whether to each other or on their cell phones. But a moment passed and her eyes locked on Xander and Willow who, previously speaking to one another, had paused at her entrance.

A minute or two passed, Cordelia standing with her book in hand, biting her bottom lip, waiting for something to happen or something to be said and Xander and Willow just looking at her with unreadable expressions.

Finally, Cordelia just let it go and moved to sit down in the nearest desk she found, far away from Xander and Willow.

“We saved a seat for you!” Willow exclaimed just as Cordelia started to sit down.

Cordelia, allowing a small smile to appear on her face, nodded and walked over to them. “Thanks.”

* * *

Her forehead was red from being pressed against her palms, her elbows aching from supporting the weight of her head on the table, Cordelia let out a long breath, blowing the stray piece of hair out of her eyes.

Violently and suddenly, she slammed the book closed, ignoring the annoying amount of dust coming from the pages. “Reading dusty books is boring!”

Giles walked out of the office, his eyes glued to the book in his hands as he took a sip from his cup, obviously containing tea. “It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to hear the future generation so adamantly interested and intrigued by the endless information held in literature.”

Taking note of the sarcasm in his tone, Cordelia shrugged. “I…have a lot on my mind, alright?”

“Really, what is exactly on your mind?” Giles asked and regretted doing so when he rightly assumed it was some ‘friends’ drama.

“I feel so guilty about killing Jesse in front of Willow and Xander. I guess it’s just that I made friends and somehow I’ve already managed to run them out of my lives.”

Giles closed his book softly, pursing his lips as he tried to make the Slayer feel better. “Are you so sure that they don’t want to be friends with you?”

“Not really,” Cordelia seemed undecided and it became evident in her unconvincing tone. “They offered me a seat by them in third, but we hardly talked and when the talking happened, I had no idea what they were even discussing.”

“Welcome to my world.”

Cordelia simply groaned, giving up and burying her face on top of the closed tome in front of her. “I’m starting to get tired of being a teenager.”

When the doors leading into the library opened, Cordelia lifted her just slightly to discover Xander and Willow casually entering the library, removing their bags.

Sitting down in front of Cordelia, they both looked around casually.

Xander was the first to speak, “How can we help?”

Cordelia looked to Giles, purposely pouting to get his approval. “Can they help?”

“Fine,” the Watcher relented. “No fooling around. This is research time.”

“I know,” Cordelia assured him, opening the book in front of her. When she saw out of the corner of her eyes that Giles had left to go into his office, she grinned at Xander and Willow. “So, did you guys hear about that girl who got paid to ask out one of the teachers?”

“Didn’t he say yes or something?”

Giles, inside his office, couldn’t help but roll his eyes as he heard the three teenagers continue to chat about meaningless things.

* * *

The sound of the vampire’s cheekbone smashing against the hard, brick wall in the dark, empty alleyway assured Angel his strength wasn’t wavering, even after about two hours of trying to ‘persuade’ the little weasel to spill information about his employer.

“What’s he up to?” Angel demanded, his voice threatening enough. But his grip on the back of the vampire’s neck was also a reason for the vampire to spill, the bones in his neck near snapping.

“Why are you, a vampire, so damn interested in bringing down the vampire when all you have to do is join and get as much power as you desire?”

Angel responded by pulling the vampire back and slamming him once again into the wall, this time breaking his nose. “I’m not into those kind of things anymore.”

“So, you’re the vigilante vamp, huh?” the vampire asked through a laugh. “Angelus, right?”

“I don’t go by Angelus anymore,” Angel informed him. “It’s Angel.”

At the sound of his former name, Angel lost his patience and grabbed the vampire’s wrist, twisting it roughly so that a small whimper escaped the suspect’s mouth.

“Tell me what you know.”

“Fine,” the vampire gave up; his face scrunched up in pain as the bones in his wrist could be heard snapping every second. “You ever heard of a certain prophecy?”

* * *

Leaning against the kitchen counter, Cordelia bit the end of her pencil as she looked at the equation before her. Damn math homework.

Her attention however, was easily distracted when her eyes drifted along the cabinets in the kitchen and noticed one full of bottles of alcohol, all sorts of them. When she thought of alcohol or even saw it nothing came to mind but her father and his depression. Even at work, where he was most distracted, he seemed distant to his customers and so…lackadaisical.

Before she knew it, Cordelia was opening the cabinet. Running her hands along all the bottles, Cordelia made her first choice and pulled the bottle out. A second passed and the cap on it was removed with a loud snap, which allowed all the liquid to spill out of it when Cordelia tipped it over and poured every last drop into the sink.

Not even bothering to read the labels to determine how strong the liquor inside was so that she could poor the stronger ones first, Cordelia continued for another minute to poor three more bottles into the sink until they were all empty.

“What’re you doing?” came a deep, familiar voice behind Cordelia, causing her to jump and drop one of the empty bottles, which crashed onto the floor into a million shards of glass. It was her father, she discovered as she spun around to face him.

He didn’t look happy. As usual. But this time it was different because his dark eyes were fuming at the discovery of his daughter messing with his collection of liquor yet also tearful that she had to resort to pouring them down the sink to stop him from drinking.

“Dad! What’re you doing home? I thought you were working extra hours at the Gallery?”

“Decided to work normal hours today, come home and relax…” he lied. He had a bad headache from the previous night when he didn’t even get an hour of sleep and had almost snapped at work when a customer was pissing him off. Taking the rest of the day off was something he had to do to prevent himself from hurting anyone.

His voice was deep as usual, and not at all edged with anger. Will Chase’s hands were fisted and the veins weren’t bulging in his temple as they usually did when he was pissed off. Seeing his daughter like she was…it was as if he was betrayed. Not by her but by himself. How far had he gone for his daughter to result in destroying every last drop of his liquor to protect him, and herself?

“I just…” she gesticulated with her hands profoundly as helplessness flooded her. It was like she’d been caught with her hand in the cookie jar, only ten times worse. “I hated seeing you so miserable.”

“So you decided to pour down over three hundred dollars worth of liquor?” he asked, almost growled. It wasn’t about what was inside of it anyone, or at least, he didn’t think it was that that mattered. The money he spent on those drinks, some were given to him by friends, was now becoming painfully evident as he heard the last of the liquids go into the drain. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

When he stepped forward, Cordelia took five steps away from him, actually afraid that he might do something to her. “You can’t do this. You can’t get mad at me for wasting liquor. I poured those down because I hate the way you’re acting. You’re drinking so much.”

“Well, just be thankful that I don’t drink and drive. I risk no one’s safety,” he growled, leaning against the sink for support as his mind reeled. “Fuck, Cordelia. What you just did was stupid and irresponsible!”

“Irresponsible?” Cordelia spat, her confidence the only thing she had to hold onto to keep her speaking. Her tone was far from controlled and respectful and she’d never ever spoken to her father the way she was now. It was a refreshing experience yet at the same time one that she wished she would never have to experience again. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Eventually it’ll catch up to you.”

“In what way? My liver getting fucked up?” her dad asked, not taking what she was throwing at him seriously. He turned to her with a hardened face.

Cordelia tried to keep her emotions in control, but involuntarily, her bottom lip trembled as she saw her father, so different from the man she’d grown up to love and respect. “You might…you might get violent. When someone drinks, dad, they get out of control and they get…abusive.”

“I would never hurt you,” he immediately assured her, his voice softening as his face melted slowly. The mere suggestion that he would ever hurt his daughter was enough to push the cost of the drinks out of his mind. And with that thought out of his mind all he had left was the naked truth.

His daughter was starting to get frightened for not only his safety but for her own.

“That’s the point. What’s to stop you from drinking even more than you are now? Nothing, if you don’t listen to me. And if you keep drinking like this, dad, eventually you’ll do something you’ll regret.”

Will Chase took a step back, slowly turning around and leaning against the counter as it sunk in. But denial, always his strongest enemy, kicked in before he could admit to himself that he had a problem. “No…that’s not going to happen.”

He pushed away from the counter and moved to leave through the front door. Cordelia followed until her dad turned around and pointed at her almost threateningly. “Don’t you touch any of those drinks, alright? You’ve already wasted enough of my money.”

Cordelia could barely find the strength to nod as he turned and left, slamming the door so hard the doorknob almost fell off. A small tear escaped her eyes and streaked down her cheek as she stood still, so helpless and numb after what just happened. She’d finally said something to her father, finally stood up for herself and tried to convince him to stop his problem before it went too far. But it didn’t work. It blew up in her face and her father was now pissed off at her.

And fuck, I just wasted 300 hundred dollars!


Part 4
Angel opened the window slowly so that he made barely a noise. Skillful at being quiet, Angel practically tiptoed inside Cordelia’s bedroom so that if she were asleep, he wouldn’t disturb her.

The vampire he’d ‘interrogated’ had given him useful information. Though he wanted nothing more than to get the prophecy himself without bringing any harm to Cordelia, Angel knew he’d need some backup and she was the right person for the job.

Why he was so concerned for Cordelia’s safety was lost to Angel. Sure, she was a sixteen year old girl and it was a given that Angel, what with his soul, wouldn’t want harm to come her way, but it seemed more to him. His actions concerning her were instinctual. No thought was needed to make the decision of finding out what was going on with The Master and Darla when Angel reminded himself that Cordelia was one of their targets.

Sighing, Angel shook his head at his naivety. She can handle herself and I should let her handle herself. She’s a big girl just like any other Slayer, so why should I have to think about her so much.

Through his thoughts Angel managed to distract himself enough so that he didn’t notice where a rug on top of Cordelia’s carpet started. His boot immediately went under it, causing him to trip and fall with a loud thud.

Cordelia didn’t jump up from her sleep, only because she was already awake and on the floor, leaning against the wall so that she was facing the window where Angel had entered from. With thickness in her voice, Cordelia managed to speak without a tremor in her voice. “Dork.”

Getting up, Angel straightened his jacket and cleared his throat, trying to recover from his moment of ‘dorkiness’. “I just can’t seem to make a good entrance like those guys in the movies, huh?”

Cordelia didn’t smile. Though to any normal pair of eyes Cordelia’s face wasn’t visible, Angel could see every feature of her façade and immediately caught on to the fact that she wasn’t in the best of moods. The crease under her eyes and the puffiness and redness of them signified she’d been crying and hadn’t slept in a while.

“You alright?” Angel asked, walking around her bed and sitting on the floor across from her. Though his legs were long he managed to position them in a slightly comfortable way unlike Cordelia’s, which were stretched so that her toes were about a foot from Angel’s crotch.

“I guess…” she hesitated to continue, but when she glanced into Angel’s puppy-dog eyes, she couldn’t help but speak further. “Had a fight with my dad.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re always sorry,” Cordelia rightly pointed out. “You don’t have to keep saying that.”

Angel’s face fell at her abruptness, “Sorry.”

“Can I ask you something?” Cordelia ignored his continued use of the ‘s’ word to try and get something out of his arrival, to bring him to some position of usefulness. If he was going to sneak into her bedroom in the middle of the night he sure as hell was going to provide her with some insight. Even if she would have to twist his arm to get it.

“Sure.”

“Did you ever have a problem when you were human?” she asked, picking absently at a thread on her pajama bottoms. “An addiction, even.”

“Like smoking?”

“Yeah,” Cordelia barely even nodded, her voice getting so quiet that even Angel, with his vampire hearing, had to strain to hear her.

“I was an alcoholic…always had a hangover and the cure for a hangover was getting drunk. At least that was how I looked at it.”

Cordelia looked up at him, not even for a moment, but actually locking stares with him. It was an eerie coincidence at how he had the same problem. But then again, alcoholics weren’t exactly rare in the world. “How’d you get over that problem?”

“How do you know I don’t still have it?” Angel dared to ask her that question.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “Shove it. You don’t smell like you’ve been drinking and you’re too damn smooth to be drunk. Well, not counting the whole ‘tripping on the rug’ bit you just had.”

Smooth? Angel reiterated in his thoughts, surprised at Cordelia’s word choice. “I didn’t really get over it. When I was turned, it was blood that replaced alcohol. Then I was given my soul back. I was so tortured by the guilt from the things I had done that I starved myself of blood. Which you could say was like starving myself of alcohol.”

“So that’s how you go over it? Your soul?”

“Not necessarily. Things changed. Time passed.”

Cordelia nodded, trying to understand. Time wasn’t her friend or her fathers. She was the Slayer and therefore a shortened life was a given. What if she didn’t have the chance to see her father get better? What if he never did?

Finally, Cordelia simply pushed past it and focused on other things. “Do you have something to tell me, or what?” she asked.

“I do,” Angel nodded, though still he wondered why she bothered to ask about him, about his alcohol problem. Angel couldn’t help but question whether or not Cordelia’s home life was fine. But she wanted to change the subject so he did so.

“I… ‘interrogated’ someone and I got some information about a prophecy. An important one that’s pivotal against The Master, a powerful vampire who’s looking for a fight with you, by the looks of it. The prophecy says something and we need to get it, it’s in the Master’s possession.”

* * *

“Are you sure?” Giles asked, nearly spitting into the receiver of the phone, his voice a frantic whisper. When Cordelia spoke, assuring him, he nodded to himself in agreement. “I’ll meet you there. Be careful.”

Nearly throwing the phone back on the jack, Giles spun to grab his jacket, hoping to be fast enough to meet Cordelia and Angel at the place they said to go to before they got too impatient and jumped the gun by going in without him.

Only when he turned to the doorway he nearly knocked himself over when he ran into a dark-haired woman. Quite pretty, she looked at him with a curious expression, her entrancing eyes locking with his. It was Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher.

“What’re you doing here?” Giles snapped, more rudely than he ever spoke with her, even if every time they spoke he was always a little snappish. “I’m afraid there isn’t a computer in here fast enough for your short attention span.”

Not quite affected by Giles sarcasm when he was always around her, Jenny simply rolled her eyes. “Have you seen Cordelia Chase?”

“Why?” Giles immediately asked, but when he noticed his brisk tone, he tried to cover by taking on a more sardonic one. “Did she leave a computer on?”

“That would actually require her to attend a class,” Jenny pointed out, eyeing him with a daring look, as if challenging him to test her. “She wasn’t in class today or yesterday.”

Giles simply shook his head. “I’ll speak with her later about it.”

“Are you a mentor or guardian of hers?” Jenny asked, her eyes narrowing as they discovered one of Giles Watcher’s Diaries open with several phrases jumping out at her and getting her attention. “What’s that?”

She jabbed her finger at the open tome behind the librarian, even taking a step forward, trying to get a better look.

Never turning around nor breaking his gaze with Jenny, Giles closed the book as nonchalantly as he could. “It’s nothing. Nothing at all.”

* * *

Carefully avoiding large puddles and piles of mud, Cordelia arched her back forward so that she could fit through the small, cave-like tunnel. “What’re we doing again?”

Brushing her chocolate tresses out of her face, the young Slayer glanced at Angel, who walked close beside her, expecting an answer. They’d left in a rush from her house, Angel leading the way to where they were now. Fortunately, or unfortunately for Cordelia’s conscience, her father had yet to return home so they were able to leave through the front door with as much gear as they desired.

“One of The Master’s minions has a mansion, which we’re underneath right now and somewhere, at the end of this tunnel, is the prophecy,” Angel explained. “And if you keep forgetting what we’re doing and asking if we’re there yet I’m going to pick you up and throw you back outside.”

Cordelia snorted sardonically, “Don’t you think it’s a little early in our friendship for you to be manhandling me?”

Shaking his head in response, Angel held back a grin, hoping to not allow Cordelia’s sense of humor to get to him, to let the seriousness of the situation cease. “We’re getting close.”

Cordelia nodded, once again brushing some stray pieces behind her ears, even if they weren’t in her eyes. When she noticed Angel’s eyes glance towards her, the dark brown depth of them reflecting in the fading color of the flashlight in his hand, she merely muttered. “It’s a habit.”

“Not a bad one,” Angel said to her before returning his attention to the path they were treading.

Still, Cordelia seemed to have something else on her mind as she stayed close to Angel, just a step behind him. Eventually she spoke, her voice catching in her throat, causing her to clear it and continue. “So…you were an alcoholic?”

“Hmm?” Angel mumbled, trying to act as if he didn’t catch what she was saying. But the look he got from Cordelia, a pointed look with narrowed eyes and her jaw firm, was enough to convince him to stop the charade. But it didn’t mean he was going to give in all the way. “Drop it, Cordelia.”

“Why?” Cordelia asked, grabbing his arm with a strong grip, keeping him from walking away, forcing him to face her. She was quite surprised that he was avoiding the subject now compared to when they were in her bedroom and he seemed so open to explaining his ‘addiction’.

When Angel finally looked into Cordelia’s eyes, he saw there the sincerity of her concern, of her interest in his past, in everything about him. “I’m not the kind of guy that delves too much into his past, alright?”

“No, it’s not alright!” Cordelia protested, placing her hands on her hips and looking at him with an incredulous expression that was barely visible as the flashlight’s bulb continued to flicker and fade.

Angel shrugged, his resolute stance faltering, if only for a moment. “Reminiscing isn’t a hobby of mine…”

“Come on, you gotta tell me stuff about you,” Cordelia pleaded, the adolescent side of her leaking to the surface as she bobbed up and down, waiting for an answer. “You know way more about me, so I think I deserve to-”

“Whoa, whoa whoa!” Angel raised his hands in the air, stopping Cordelia. He wasn’t going to lose the argument. “I don’t know way more about you.”

“You know that I’m a Slayer,” Cordelia pointed out.

“You know that I’m a Vampire,” Angel replied.

Cordelia didn’t miss a beat, “You heard me and my father talking about…stuff.”

Pausing for a moment, Angel cursed himself in his thoughts for taking too long to come up with something else. “I told you about how I used be an alcoholic!”

Cordelia made a ‘ha!’ face, knowing she had the advantage. “You were in my bedroom and probably peeked to see me naked. Which means you saw my ugly-ass scars.”

“You don’t have any scars…” Angel argued, not denying that he ‘peeked’ for a better view. Still, he seemed reluctant to admit more about himself. “I’m not talking about this. So let’s forget it before you get your satin panties in a wad.”

Rolling her eyes, Cordelia just sighed. Only a few moments later, the flashlight in Angel’s hands finally gave in just as he and Cordelia started once again down their paths.

“Ow!” Cordelia grunted. “You stepped on my foot!”

Angel winced when her finger ran into his eye.

“Whoa, bubba. Watch the hands!”

“I didn’t mean to touch that!”

“What, are you saying that you didn’t have the urge to just ‘accidentally’ slip and touch my boob? I don’t know whether to feel violated or insulted.”

“Hey! Little miss ‘Personal Space’, you better keep your hands in your pockets,” Angel nearly jumped when Cordelia’s hand brushed along the groin area of his pants.

“Like you have an excuse,” Cordelia snorted, pointing it out right in Angel’s face, standing still and just inches from him. “You’re taking the darkness to an advantage. What, with your vampire senses and all. Perv!”

Abruptly, Cordelia and Angel’s entire surroundings illuminated from the now revealed ceiling lights and it became apparent that the two had entered a larger cave-like room but hadn’t taken notice because of their bitching.

But the moment of surprise at their location was short-lived as their eyes moved around the room to where five vampires looked at them with sly confidence, as if they were so sure they had the two trapped.

* * *
Xander pushed open the doors nonchalantly, shrugging out of his jacket as he continued to assure his redheaded friend who walked speedily ahead of him. “She’s here, trust me. I gotta feeling.”

“Yeah, in your pants,” Willow rolled her eyes as she crossed her arms and slowed her pace, noticing two shadows spreading across the tile floor of the library coming from the office where Rupert Giles worked.

Turning around the corner she confirmed the two shadows belonged to Giles and surprisingly, Jenny Calendar. Usually during school hours the two of them couldn’t stand to be in the same room as one another for more than thirty seconds. It was an odd site that she would have paid more attention to if she hadn’t realized that Giles was obviously trying to get rid of the unwanted guest.

“Where’s Cordelia?” Xander asked, not quite catching on to the tension in the room.

“She uh…” Giles strained a smile for a moment. Giving both Xander and Willow a look, he simply answered as cryptically as possible. “Got a little caught up.”

* * *

A womanly figure made its slowly but steady way out of the manhole, a scratched, dirty and slightly bloody hand grabbing onto a small rock emerging from the ground for support. Cordelia Chase poked her head out of the hole as Angel pushed her upwards suddenly.

Her face scrunched up, she continued laughing as she rolled on the ground, holding her stomach.

Angel followed close behind her, his duster nowhere in sight, discarded earlier in the fight they had with the five vampires. He was laughing too, a rarity that Cordelia enjoyed seeing more than she expected.

“Did you see the one in the red shirt fall in the fire?” Angel asked her through his laughs, crawling over to his young companion as she lifted her other hand up to her brow to wipe the sweat away.

Ten o’clock at night, the full moon was shining brilliantly in the patch of green grass where a manhole was oddly placed, illuminating Cordelia and her skin that shone with a sheer layer of sweat that made her look even more beautiful.

Nodding, Cordelia laughed as the image of the vampire struggling to put himself out by running into his other companion.

Angel just watched her for a moment, her laughing becoming more tranquil, even soothing as he tilted his head, his eyes locked on her smile that reached from ear to ear.

When her laughing died away, Cordelia’s eyes narrowed just a little bit, a more bashful smile replacing her full-on one. “What’re you staring at?”

“Nothing,” Angel lied until he reluctantly explained. “You have a nice smile, that’s all.”

“Thank you,” Cordelia said sincerely, her cheeks flushing pink for only a moment. “Yours isn’t too bad, either.”

“Not too shabby for Cordy?” Angel teased with a cute grin.

It was now Cordelia’s turn to be silent and just look, as if the mere presence and image of Angel was enough to keep her occupied.

“Now what’re you staring at?”

“No one ever called me ‘Cordy’ before,” Cordelia explained quietly, looking away, off in the distance perhaps as she, for the umpteenth time that night, brushed her hair behind her ears. “At least not that I can remember.”

Angel leaned forward, arching his neck so that he was in her eyesight. “Is that all right with you?”

Nodding, Cordelia smiled a pleasant smile, hoping it was enough for him. But when he remained there, looking at her with an expectant expression on his chiseled features, she reluctantly and verbally agreed. “It’s fine.”

Still, Angel’s expression was serious. It only took Cordelia a few moments to realize that along her right arm was a deep cut, blood slowly trickling down, warming her slightly cold skin. She hadn’t taken notice before, perhaps it was the rush or that she was enjoying a good laugh, it wasn’t clear. But now she knew and she couldn’t help but want to bandage it up and just get it out of her sight.

“We need to get that cleaned up so it doesn’t get infected,” Angel said to her, standing up and holding his hand out for her.

Taking it, Cordelia stood up beside him. “My house?”

“Nah, I know a place a little closer actually.”

* * *

“Wow…” Cordelia whispered as she walked through the large oak double-doors of Angel’s mansion-like home.

Though very few things were in the place, there were a few vases and a piece of artwork here and there along the walls and the oak table he had placed by the fireplace was obviously worth a fortune. The design of the place had a creepy feel to it, but Cordelia felt oddly at home inside along with Angel.

“You have antique-y tastes and it makes your place all cool and well…antique-y.”

Angel let out a small, modest laugh as he walked across the living room floor casually while kicking off his shoes. “I’ll go get some bandages.”

Cordelia looked around from top to bottom, her eyes burning mental images into the back of her mind, as if she had the feeling she wouldn’t be coming there as often as she would like. It wasn’t that she liked the place; it was how easily she had already become attached to it, wanting to come back more often, that surprised her.

Walking around, letting her hand run along the worn yet still soft to the touch fabric of Angel’s couch that faced the fireplace. Though no fire was lit, the soot covering the inside of the fireplace and the warmth that still somehow radiated from it made it known that fires were nearly always burning there.

A scowl crossed Cordelia’s face when her eyes caught sight of a dark, liquid drop on the stone floor, seeming so out of place that she was surprised she hadn’t noticed it before.

Walking closer she realized it was blood and felt a little better, reminding herself before she could jump to conclusions that Angel, though he had a soul, was still a vampire and needed blood.

Moving into the kitchen in search of some paper towels to clean up the small drop, Cordelia scratched absently at the long wound on her arm. The pain was throbbing now but she showed no outward display of it, not willing even subconsciously to admit to weakness, especially in front of an equal fighter such as Angel.

Some called it stubbornness, she called it common sense.

No one would respect her if she let her emotions speak through her actions, became a whiny crybaby that ran into the arms of a burly, ‘protector’ man

The kitchen was smaller than she figured, and it wasn’t as much of a separate room as most kitchens. It was rather connected to the entire living room/dining room area, making it hard to tell when one room ended and the other began.

Curious, Cordelia let her eyes drift along the walls, taking in the features of the unlit room. Noticing the door to the refrigerator was ajar; Cordelia grabbed the handle and closed it out of politeness, only to reveal Angel standing behind it, looking at her with an unreadable expression.

“I saw blood on the floor,” Cordelia explained immediately, pointing aimlessly out into the living room. Holding back the urge to bite her lip, she tried to also hide her frantic attempt to remain unfazed by his unwilling stare, even if his expression didn’t give off an angry vibe. “I thought that I could clean it up while you got the bandages.”

For a moment, nothing happened. Angel just stood there, his dark, endlessly deep eyes looking into hers. But then his face softened and he flashed a mili-second smile at her. “No problem.”

Turning to leave the kitchen, Angel scratched the back of his head absently as his thoughts drifted on a thousand subjects. Cordelia was in his kitchen, she’d seen the blood on the ground, smelled the dried blood that he’d spilled in his fridge a few days before…whether she was disgusted or afraid of him, he didn’t want to know. It just bothered him that a young, beautiful woman such as Cordelia was in his home, seeing the things he did every time he came home at night, getting to know him.

“You…uh, have no blood in your fridge,” Cordelia pointed out as she followed him out into the living room, entangling her fingers with one another nervously, trying to confirm if he was straining his nonchalant ‘tude or if he was actually not bothered by her intruding his space.

“I haven’t had time to get some more,” Angel replied. He turned to face her, motioning to the couch. “You should sit…we don’t want you to lose too much blood.”

Cordelia did as he said and sat down, crossing her legs and sitting in the position she always sat in when she attempted to meditate. Sure, she never actually meditated before, but she tried to quite a few times in hopes of some relaxation. Didn’t work.

After kneeling down in front of Cordelia, Angel grabbed her hand gently with his calloused hand. Lifting a bottle up to pour some liquid on her arm, he paused to run a finger along the side of the wound, making sure it wasn’t swelling past a normal extent.

When he lowered the bottle closer to her arm, however, Cordelia pulled her arm back a little.

Offering a lopsided, comforting grin, Angel looked up at her. “It’s just some medication…”

Though she hesitated, Cordelia gave in, her eyes sparkling a little as she watched the vampire return his attention to her wound, treating it with special care.

Wrapping the bandage around her arm, Angel pressed his fingers along it, making sure it stuck. “Done.”

Looking up at her, Angel’s pale skin looked almost perfect, soft and demulcent and Cordelia had the sudden urge to lift her hand just stroke his cheek, as if that was all she needed to dispense of the throbbing pain in her arm.

Angel broke the silence first, clearing his throat and breaking their locked gazes by focusing his attention on the prophecies in his pant pockets. “We should look at them, get a head start.”

“Before Giles comes in and has a heart-attack trying to translate it,” Cordelia joked.

Pulling out the parchment from his pockets and unrolling it, Angel took a long look before rolling it back up. “Won’t be hard to translate it.”

Though it was the exact opposite of what Angel said, the fact that she made a promise to meet Xander and Willow clicked and she remembered. “Crap, I promised that I’d hang out with Will and Xander tonight. I forgot…”

“It’s my fault,” Angel assured her, hoping she wouldn’t be too hard on herself. “I dropped the bomb about the prophecies and-”

Standing up, Cordelia shook her head, stopping Angel from taking the blame. “Don’t even try to take the blame. It’s my fault. I made friends with them and I’ve already started to flake. Not really givin’ them reasons to stay friends with me, am I?”

Angel stood up along with her, following her as she moved to the door, prophecies in hand. “Don’t think that. You’re enough of a reason for anything.”

Cordelia, not quite getting it as she opened the door and walked outside, turned to Angel and smirked. “When I’m not sweaty and distracted, I’ll figure out what you mean by that and come up with something to say in return.”

Giles raised his hands and pointed to the book, frantically gesticulating, taking the opportunity as Jenny looked at Xander and Willow, her back to him.

“Why would you guys meet Cordelia here? A study group?” Jenny asked, curious.

Getting what Giles was trying to hide, Xander stuttered an excuse. “Yeah, study group. Study groups are fun.”

“That’s why we’re here!” Willow nodded overenthusiastically. “For lots of studying fun.”

Jenny, unconvinced, turned back to Giles, giving him a serious look. “I’ll talk with you later then, in private.”

And then she was gone.

Letting out a sigh of relief, Xander looked from the door that Jenny exited in to Giles and Willow. “I found that strangely entertaining. Lying to my teacher. A faculty member of the school I go to five days out of the week…that’ll eventually get curious because of my plummeting grades and figure out…god, I’m already paranoid.”

Sitting down, Xander placed his head in his hands, laughing to himself.

Seeing the look on Giles face, Willow nonchalantly explained as she shrugged. “Xander always experiences slight paranoia when he’s deprived of sleep.”

“You’ve actually lost that much sleep?” came a voice from the doorway. When Xander, Willow and Giles turned they discovered Cordelia and Angel walking towards them.

“Hey,” Willow waved to Cordelia, half-smiling. “Ms. Calendar’s lookin’ for you.”

Straining a smile and stealing a glance Giles’ way, Cordelia cleared her throat uncomfortably. “Yeah, it’s about something I’ll take care of tomorrow.”

Removing his glasses, Giles smiled at Cordelia, a little too big. “Is this ‘something’ you need to take care of perhaps you’re missing classes.”

Cordelia merely shrugged it off; hoping a change of subject would alleviate the tension. “We got the prophecy.”

Giles nearly choked on his own spit at the revelation, looking at Angel and Cordelia incredulously. Cordelia ignored him though, walking over to Xander and Willow, nervously anticipating them yelling at her. When that didn’t come, instead the innocent looks on their faces, she loosened up a bit. “You guys up for an all-nighter of researchin’?”

Shaking his head, Giles walked in between the three, already protesting the suggestion. “No. I will be researching all night, you will be going home to do homework and sleep. Make sure not to miss any classes also.”

Angel cleared his throat, “I’ll help out. Translating I mean.”

* * *

“Why don’t we go see a move this weekend,” Cordelia suggested as she, Xander and Willow strolled down the sidewalk. It was dark out but no cold air came, unfortunately. Cordelia was still slightly flushed from the fight she had with Angel and the vampires. Sure, it was a rush but sometimes she wanted nothing more than to fight some bad guys in a room with good air-conditioning.

“Sounds good,” Xander nodded, walking in the middle of the two girls, admitting to himself inwardly that sitting in a dark room with Cordelia, perhaps watching a horror movie, would prove excellent for some hand-holding or grasping onto his biceps. Well, whatever sort of biceps I have. “It’ll be fun since the vibe I got from the library was that those prophecy papers are pretty darn important.”

Cordelia simply sighed, “Can’t worry about that too much. I got things like getting my driver’s license on my mind.”

Willow nodded, “I forgot about that. You’d be surprised how distracted you get when you start planning what you’re doing over the summer.”

The word summer struck at something in Xander’s head, his usual mind-numbing curiosity heightening again. “Hey, Cordelia. Why’d you transfer to Sunnydale so late in the school year?”

“My dad’s some sort of bigwig businessman,” Cordelia admitted. “He’s got a lot of cash stowed away in some account and I guess that someone wants it. Doesn’t make sense since it’s all in his will and the only people who have a chance at getting it are those in the will.”

“Well, you’d be surprised at how stupid people are,” Willow reminded her. “Making half-baked plans is a part of the American culture. American movie culture, sure, but culture nonetheless.”

“He nearly died a few times,” Cordelia finished, clearing her throat at the memory of coming home so many nights after hanging out with her friends to see ambulances and cops surrounding her house.

Willow looked at Cordelia with a wide-eyed expression. “Are you serious?”

“Haven’t found out who’s been doing it, though,” Cordelia explained. “My dad chose this place because it’s smaller. The house we have, though still a little big, is smaller than the one we had in L.A. He figures that whoever is trying to hurt him won’t guess to look in a small home.”

Xander took a few large steps and moved in front of Cordelia, stopping her in her tracks. “How is it that you’re not like Buffy Summers? Her dad is rich too and I’m just sayin’…you’re not like Buffy.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Cordelia pushed past Xander casually, teasing him slightly by directing her attention to Willow. But when she did so, she could see the curiosity in her eyes too. “He’s hardly ever home, so I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be around him for long periods of time. He travels a lot for business, which I don’t even know the half of what he does.”

Willow and Xander remained quiet for a moment after she admitted her dad’s usual absence, trying not to come off as rude for pushing her to say it.

Cordelia was the one who eventually broke the silence, though. “Is that why Buffy is such a snotty bitch? Because she’s rich?”

“She was pretty nice in elementary school,” Xander admitted, almost bitterly. “But then her dad put some good money in stocks, added to the promotion at his job and Buffy well…she got ‘proud of herself’.”

“Buffy was actually nice when I first met her, but then I got to know her…” Cordelia admitted while, in her thoughts, wondering why she was trying to convince them when she wasn’t as convinced as she was coming off as. She knew Buffy was a bitch but somehow, she had that urge to justify it. “Maybe her parents just brainwashed her to think she’s better then everyone else. Might not be her fault.”

Merely snorting, Xander looked at Cordelia through the corner of his eye as if she were crazy. “Trust me, it’s her fault.”

Dropping it, Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest and let out a long sigh. “Guess we should head home. We sure have to get a head start on all that is good about being a teenager. Like homework!”

They all mumbled ‘yay!’ sarcastically.

* * *

Giles jumped up from his seats, throwing his glasses up in the air. “I have it!”

Angel pushed himself from the wall where he’d been cross-referencing a phrase he couldn’t understand. “What does it say?”

His face fell for a moment as Giles read the rest of the passage, his blue eyes scanning the parchment as his features softened to a puddle with every word read. “It says something about Cordelia…”

Perking up, Angel leaned forward, trying to read the page himself. “What does it say?”

Silence followed as Giles closed his eyes for a moment, covering his mouth slightly as if he were nauseous. Even his skin was turning pale slightly under the light. Dropping the parchment on the table, Giles choked slightly as he tried to swallow the information. “The Slayer…shall die at the hands of The Master.”

Angel’s head fell as he heard the words come out of Giles’ mouth. Saddened beyond previous limits at the divulgement, even after he cleared his throat his voice still wavered. “What—What are we supposed to do?”

“I don’t know,” Giles responded as honestly as he could, not knowing the answer. “My first instinct is to keep it from her…but that’s just impossible to do. Especially from Cordelia.”

“She’s just a teenager,” Angel rumbled. “She has so much to look forward to in her life. She doesn’t deserve to have it ruined by something written on a piece of parchment.”

Giles wasn’t so easy on the situation, pointing out what they both knew. “There’s no way to avoid it from what it says…if it says she’ll die then she’ll-”

“Are you a Watcher or are you just a cynical old Englishman?” Angel asked gripping the chair the man was seated in tightly, just barely holding back the urge to yank it from underneath him. “She’s a kid with so much innocence that doesn’t deserve to be tainted.”

Giles stood up suddenly, eyeing Angel. In his deep blue eyes it was plain to see he was as affected and caught off guard about the entire thing as Angel was, but he was trying to be at least rational about it. “She’s the Slayer, Angel.”

“I know…” Angel sighed, letting his head fall slightly as it all continued to weigh on him profoundly.

“And because of her being a Slayer, that innocence is always at stake.”

* * *

Closing the door behind her, Cordelia yawned deeply, exhausted.

“Cordelia,” came her father’s voice from the living room, where her father sat in his chair as usual. Only this time he didn’t have his scotch in his hand and he didn’t look angry. In fact, his eyes were red, as if he’d been crying for hours.

“Yeah…?” Cordelia replied hesitantly, not even bothering to walk towards him, keeping distance between the two of them. It wasn’t a matter of her own safety that was behind her keeping the distance, it was of his. He was being so selfish. Her mother had ditched her too and he was acting as if it only affected him. And drinking so much was his way of dealing with it instead of the better alternative like…actually dealing with it.

Their argument brought out her emotional side and his, but at the moment, she was far from teary-eyed.

Will Chase avoided her stare for a moment as his tongue rolled around in his mouth, trying to form the words he so desperately wanted to say. Finally, after moments of silence, he spoke. “I never thought I’d get a reality check from my sixteen year old daughter.”

“Well, I never thought I’d have to give my forty-year old father a reality check either, so it kinda evens out.”

“I love you, Cordelia. You know that right? Nothing will ever change that, even right now. Your mother left both of us and ever since I’ve allowed my bitterness to overwhelm me…to blind me from the fact that my daughter is having as hard of a time with the situation as me.”

“I haven’t exactly been the model for Best Daughter,” Cordelia admitted, shoving her hands in her back pockets as she edged into the living room. “You’re right in saying that this is hard on both of us. But I haven’t been perfect in handling it. In fact, I haven’t really thought too much about it. While you were thinking about it every waking moment I was avoiding it all.”

Her father nodded and a ghost of a smile fleetingly appeared on his aged, yet still quite handsome, features. “I guess we’re both handling this in our own way. But what I’ve realized is that life goes on. If it had been different and we’d lost your mother permanently, if she’d died…life would still go on. I guess I’ve been avoiding that while you’ve embraced it.”

“I guess…”

“The rest of those bottles?”

“I didn’t touch them!” Cordelia defended herself, her voice wavering. It was clear though in her eyes that she wanted nothing more than to destroy them.

“I finished what you started…” Will Chase finished to his daughter, his voice barely a whisper as he stood up. “I stopped myself before I went even further…and I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Well, you couldn’t do a lot of things without me,” Cordelia actually allowed a small grin to appear on her face as her father nervously approached her, hesitating before eventually hugging her warmly. “Remember, I’m the girl who taught you how to make pie!”

Her father laughed whole-heartedly for the first time in what seemed like forever. When they finally broke their hug, his eyes moved from her face to her arm, where her bandage was evident. “What happened to your arm?”

Cordelia didn’t respond, instead she hugged him again, tighter than before. Not only was it a way to detract him from questioning her injury for the time being, but it was a great thing for her to do, hugging her father and him hugging her back. Things weren’t perfect but she sure as hell liked where they were headed.

* * *

Rolling around under her covers, Cordelia grumbled several incoherent words and phrases. The softness of her cotton sheets didn’t comfort her as they usually did in her deep slumber that seemed disturbed every few moments, her body twitching and a sheer layer of cold sweat forming on her skin.

Suddenly, she bolted up, grabbing frantically at her covers, her eyes wide. A lodestar for startlingly realistic nightmares, Cordelia bit her lower lip as she took in a deep breath, hoping to calm her nerves.

Her eyes drifting all along the walls of her room, as if half-expecting a large tarantula to be on them prepared to pounce, she tried and tried for moments that lasted for what seemed like an eternity to figure out what exactly occurred in her nightmare.

All she remembered was herself, a frightened look on her face and pure terror shining in her eyes already brimming with tears.

A dark figure caught her eye and she froze, her impulse to grab the stake underneath her pillow. Her eyes focused and became adjusted to the darkness of her room and she realized that it was Angel, a disturbed look on his face.

Her muscles still taut, Cordelia lifted the covers over her chest, remembering that she was wearing a thin nightie. “Angel?”

Angel just looked at her, remaining spookily quiet.

“It’s a little creepy, you watching me and all.”

“Sorry,” Angel apologized, his voice hoarse. Embracing the darkness, he blinked away the thin layer of tears in his eyes, letting his head fall as his hands played with each other in his lap.

“Are you all right?” Cordelia asked, tightening the covers around herself. It was unsettling, the way Angel was so quiet and without many words. Something was obviously disturbing him and in turn, it was disturbing Cordelia.

Angel halfheartedly nodded, still not looking up from his lap.

“Is there something bothering you?” Cordelia asked, trying to firm her tone, to get it so that he couldn’t help but admit what was on his mind. “It seems like there is.”

Laughing a little under a sigh, Angel’s mouth twitched from a grimace into an unreadable expression. “We’ve known each other for about what, three weeks? I’ve felt a lot better since I met you, about myself mostly.”

“What’re you trying to say?”

Angel finally looked up, not at Cordelia but at the wall opposite of him. Absently clearing his throat, his eyes drifted as if looking into the past. “When I was turned…after I dug myself out of my grave I went to my home where my father, mother and sister were. My sister was the first to see me and the first to…”

He paused, his voice catching in his throat. “She called me an angel. After she invited me in…I killed her.”

Cordelia swallowed hard, her own heart hurting by just hearing the story, seeing the pain the vampire was going through, the guilt he was experiencing.

Angel was in a new light and it frightened her because she didn’t know the reason why he was telling her, why he was spilling his heart out to her when earlier he had so adamantly refused to. “Why are you telling me this?”

Looking down back at his lap, Angel took in a deep steadying breath before replying at length. “When I was ensouled…everything I would have felt, the guilt and regret, when I killed those people came rushing back. But the thing that stuck out was the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I remembered my sister. Taking away all that innocence…”

“I wish more than anything that I could take back what I did to her, taking away her childhood, her adolescence, her future, her innocence… I wanted nothing more than to never do that again.”

“Angel…” Cordelia said his name, her voice a ghost of a whisper. Though touched by his angst, his sincerity in telling her something that was obviously painful, she was frightened as it dawned on her that something was terribly wrong.

He looked up at her finally, his eyes locking with hers as he stood up and held his hand out for her. “Come on, we need to go. There’s something that you need to know…”


Part 5
The library, always quiet during school hours, took on a ghastly guise. The moonlight filtered through the shades, the supple rays illuminated the cheap tile floor

Cordelia sat there, not necessarily knowing what to do. Tears streaked down her face, her lips trembled and she formed fists to keep her hands from shaking. Or at least she tried to form her hands into fists. Her muscles felt numb as she sat down, sinking into the chair as if falling into an abyss. “How…when is it going to happen?”

Angel and Giles had just told her, quietly and somberly, that she was destined to die. To die at the hands of The Master. And this isn’t even a bad prank.

“We don’t know,” Giles answered. “Not yet anyway. If given time, I’ll be able to know more.”

Angel squeezed Cordelia’s shoulder, his voice quiet as he spoke, trying to be gentle and not force her to fully accept it. She was emotional and he wanted her to deal with it sure, but in little bits and pieces. “I didn’t want to tell you. If I had a choice in the matter I would have handled it so you didn’t have anything to worry about.”

“What have you done?” Cordelia asked bluntly, her voice losing emotion as it hardened. “What have you tried to do to prevent it?”

Angel opened his mouth to explain, walking from behind her so that he had to kneel to have his eyes even with hers. Placing his hand on hers, he swallowed hard to get rid of the lump in his throat that formed when seeing the pain in her eyes. “Cordelia, I’ve tried to-”

“Nothing!” she growled, pushing away from him roughly. “You haven’t done anything.”

“Cordy-”

“Have you tried to kill The Master? No!” Cordelia pointed out. Her emotions getting the better of her, she seemed frantic and all of those things, not that she wasn’t allowed to be. “It’s not like I’m asking you to kill him but if you’re going to strut around and act like you care then you better have actual attempts to back up your pile of shit.”

Angel looked at her with a helpless expression. He needed her to calm down so that they could figure something out but it seemed like nothing was able to do that. “Cordy…”

She looked at him with an exact replica of such helplessness, only hers was far more painful to endure. She spoke to him with her voice so low that a mouse skittering across the floor would be easier heard then her. “I’m not even seventeen yet…”

“What am I supposed to do now?” she asked, her voice catching in her throat.

Before either Giles or Angel could answer though, she was out of the room.

* * *

Xander gripped the doorknob for a moment, hesitating to open the door. But Willow’s nudging elbow in his side forced him to finally open it. The door creaked open and Xander swallowed hard.

Cordelia hadn’t been at school in the past two days and every time either Xander or Willow called there was either no answer, her step mom would tell them she hadn’t spoken to Cordelia, or a quiet whimpering sound followed by a deep sob before the conversation would end.

Willow was the first to conclude that something happened and when Cordelia ever managed to pick up the phone she’d sob her way out of it. Something was wrong and they were going into Cordelia’s dark, gloomy room to find out what it was.

Xander stepped inside first. Not that he was the braver one. When he had met Cordelia and become friends with her, he had guessed her room was bright and colorful. But as he entered it, he discovered it to be quite the opposite at the moment.

“Cordelia…?” Xander said her name softly.

“I have all your homework,” Willow finally spoke up, standing close to Xander. The creepy silence sending chills up and down her spine. She placed the papers on the desk beside them. A moment passed before she took a few steps toward Cordelia’s bed where a big lump under the covers signified her sleeping form.

She grabbed the covers carefully and started to pull them back, hoping that if Cordelia was there and asleep, she wouldn’t disturb her. But a moment passed and the covers only far enough back that Cordelia’s mess of brown hair was visible, Cordelia jumped up, sitting upright and frightening Xander and Willow.

Xander grabbed his chest, as if having a stroke, his face slightly pale from fright. “You shouldn’t do that! Sure, I’m only sixteen but heart problems run in my family.”

Cordelia ignored him as she looked at the two of them, her eyes shining slightly and a perfectly doleful expression on her face. “Why don’t we go on a trip?”

“Road trips are fun,” Willow admitted quietly, walking back towards the bed, albeit carefully this time. It was as if she was expecting Cordelia to be a rabid dog just ready to attack, what with the way she was speaking, her tone condescending and all. “But we have school…”

“Oh come on, we’re in 10th grade,” Cordelia whispered desperately, trying to smile only to form a grimace. “It’s not like we’re seniors, we can miss the last few weeks of school.”

Xander opened his mouth to agree but Willow cut him off. “What’s wrong, Cordelia?”

Cordelia let her head fall for a moment before quietly speaking. “I just got some bad news and staying in Sunnydale just isn’t something I want to do.”

“What kind of bad news?’

Cordelia looked up, totally unprepared to explain but she still did, opening her mouth to say word for word what was exactly wrong.

* * *

Shoving his hands in the pockets of his black jacket, Angel shifted his eyes when he entered the Library. When he caught sight of Giles working behind the counter, he cleared his throat and approached.

“Has Cordelia been coming to school at all?” Angel asked quietly, looking at the Englishman intently as he shrugged out of his jacket, folding it and tossing it onto the table, all the while avoiding the rays of sunlight streaking onto the floor. “Since I last checked, I mean.”

“Since yesterday?” Giles merely glanced at the vampire over the rim of his glasses. “No, I haven’t seen her.”

Angel cursed under an unneeded, frustrated sigh.

Giles, for the smallest moment, sympathized with the vampire, feeling sorry for him and what he was going through. He obviously cared for Cordelia and it was plaintively paining him to not be able to help her in some way. Though the look in Angel’s dark eyes made Giles quite sure that, deep down, he was already trying to come up with some sort of plan.

“It’s understandable,” Giles offered, grabbing a few misplaced books and walking around the corner. He stopped right beside Angel for a moment, only glancing at him, not daring to lock his gaze. “A teenage girl, even one as smart as Cordelia, would rather choose what outfit she is to wear for the next of school, not the one she is to be buried with.”

Angel didn’t respond, his face still hardened and his brow furrowed as his thoughts remained focus on what he could possibly do.

Giles shrugged and walked into the cage that held all the returned and damaged books.

Finally, Angel spoke, shaking his head. His voice was quiet, albeit quite gruff; the vampire was obviously frustrated with himself more than anyone. “I should have done something…”

Before continuing, he ran a hand through his hair, growling to himself for a moment. “I didn’t even want to tell her. And what she said was true. I could have done something before dropping this big of a bomb. I could have tried to kill the Master, even.”

Giles opened his mouth to assure Angel that it wasn’t his fault and he did all he could do, but Angel kept ranting on, mostly to himself now as he started to pace around the room.

“I didn’t though. All I did was go to her room in the middle of the night, tell her some sob story of mine and then drag her here to tell her ‘Hey, you’re going to die a little sooner than expected. As in the next few days or weeks.”

“Angel!” Giles had to bellow his name to get the vampire’s attention. When Angel finally looked him in the eyes, he cleared his throat and began to speak.

But in walked Jenny Calendar. Angel stepped in front of her, his eyes narrowed as he gave her a once-over. “You look like…”

“Angel…?” Jenny was frozen like a rock at the sight of him. She knew he was in Sunnydale but what in god’s name was he doing with Rupert Giles. “What’re you doing in a school?”

Angel didn’t answer her question as his eyes shifted; a minute passed and he finally figured it out. “You look a lot like your ancestors…gypsy blood is obvious in your looks.”

Giles just laughed, shaking his head and removing his glasses as he walked past the two. “There’s always something about everyone that they’re keeping from me. I just…I never figured Gypsies.”

Both Jenny and Angel ignored him as Angel continued speaking. “Did…were you sent to-”

“Just to observe,” she assured him, as if it were a good thing. Though Angel seemed quite relieved himself. “Having a soul is punishment enough…for now.”

Angel nodded, “It would’ve been a little too much for them to be up my ass, to be honest.”

“What’s going on?”

Giles hesitated to answer, wondering if it was worth the risk telling her what exactly was going on. But then again, she was quite a smart lady and looked like she could handle herself, if given every last bit of information. And Giles didn’t necessarily want her to get injured. He didn’t know why, all he knew was that he just couldn’t stand a woman like her getting hurt.

Angel saw Giles’ hesitancy and cleared his throat, speaking outright and honestly. “There’s a dangerous vampire in town-”

“I know,” Jenny cut him off, surprising him and Giles. “That’s why I had to speak with Cordelia. But she was either not in class or with her friends.”

“Willow and Xander both know of vampires and Cordelia being the Slayer,” Giles pointed out absently, moving behind the counter and leaning against it.

“Everyone seems to know,” Angel added under his breath.

Angel froze at what he said. Everyone… “Wait. The Master. He knows about the prophecy and the power he possesses of killing her. But that she can stop him.”

Giles laughed, as if the entire situation was becoming ridiculous, which it was. “Maybe we should have told Cordelia that before…well, it might’ve lessened the blow.”

Moving towards the exit, Angel grabbed his coat and stopped right before leaving, looking back at Jenny, who was still reeling from what she’d just been told, and Giles, who was looking at her with an ironic, amused expression. The situation was serious, sure, but Angel knew that the Watcher was overworking himself and he had only the strength to laugh, even if what he really wanted to do was punch a hole in the wall.

“The Master knows everything and I have the feeling we only know a little…” Angel said quietly, trying to soothe Giles’ nerves, to bring Jenny out of her funk. “We need to find out exactly when Cordelia’s supposed to…just do it. I’ll try and get the upper hand. If not than I’ll pay a visit to Darla.”

“Darla,” Jenny spat, her tone not without disgust. “Not to lessen your outlook on me and my position in this whole thing but…I really hoped that that bitch would just die.”

Angel held back a small grin, “I agree….”

* * *

Buffy closed her front door and dropped her book bag, which ironically had not books in it but her makeup and magazines, beside the door as she removed her heels. Groaning, she leaned against the wall beside the closet and rubbed the sole’s of her feet. “Why do I have to be in so much pain for wearing such pretty things?”

Her voice echoed in her mansion-like home and no answer came, even if Buffy would have stood there for hours. Mr. Summers was on a trip in Italy and Mrs. Summers was most likely drowning herself in a bubble bath listening to Sting or Journey.

Buffy’s echoing voice was just another chafing reminder that even if her parents were home, they wouldn’t be there to greet her. On their free time they acknowledged her presence by giving her the credit card. Sure, Buffy wasn’t going to stand there and act like she adamantly refused their offers, but still…she would have nothing to accept if they weren’t offering it all the time.

“I need some Motrin,” Buffy mumbled to herself, nearly tripping over her heels and bag as she moved through her ‘living’ room, the dining room, the ‘business’ room and the family room. And a bunch of other rooms that were hardly, if ever, used in the Summer’s household.

The one most used was perhaps the ‘business’ room, but Buffy could only guess for she would quickly escape out of the house or bury herself in her room whenever her father’s associates came over to talk shop.

“Mom?” Buffy dared to call out the word. A moment passed and she realized just how stupid she was. Her mother was obviously home, based on the on the floral scent of jasmine lingering through the house as it only did when her mother was home and by the shiny BMW parked outside in the driveway.

But of course, predictably, she was far too busy doing ‘something’ to answer her daughter.

Opening the fridge door with her foot as she reached over to the answering machine, Buffy almost sprained her wrist in trying to press the button that would play the messages. Thankfully she managed to meet her goal without any permanent damage done to her body, unlike the incident of ’93 when she tied herself to the dog in an attempt to get around the house faster.

“Hello all! This is your favorite person in the entire world!’ the screeching voice echoed down the halls from the answering machine.

“Masie!” Buffy mouthed in sync with the 65-year old woman’s voice. Through a couple of facelifts and lipsuctions, Masie Homer was still the same person on the inside. Which is an insane old lady!Buffy thought to herself, rolling her eyes. “Gotta love her though.”

Looking up and down inside the double-door fridge, Buffy’s tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she thought hard on what she wanted to eat. “Ice? No, better save that for mom. Beer? Nope. Chicken? Straight to the hips. Non-fat non-dairy soy milk?”

Buffy responded with a gagging noise. She was all for eating healthy and dieting, but when it came to just plain disgusting shit that tried to pass as food, she was far from accepting.

Grabbing a water-bottle, Buffy closed the fridge door and headed up to her room. As she walked up the stairs she caught sight out of the dozens of pictures of her parents in their glory at business events or in some exotic locale of her and the two of them. She was six, young and sweet (or so she was told) and they hadn’t quite hit the ‘rich’ part of her life yet.

Sometimes, quite often, Buffy wished that she was back in that one-story, two bedroom small house in that cute neighborhood in the eastern part of Sunnydale…at least she had a family back then.

* * *

As casually as possible, Xander cleared his throat and strolled down some random hallway of Sunnydale High school, with Willow at his side. Both were eerily quiet and avoiding not only eye contact between the two of them but with everyone else, even inanimate objects such as their lockers, which they walked straight past.

Xander, ever the talker, opened his mouth and finally broke the silence. “So this priest walks into a bar-”

“Shut up, Xander,” Willow said quietly, so quietly that Xander could barely hear her. He didn’t even take offense to it though, for Willow was far more disturbed about it than he was. And boy, am I freaked.

“Not even a joke can take my mind off of…” Willow shook her head, clutching the books in her hand as if they were her only lifelines.

Xander simply shook his head, going the route of ‘denial’ to keep himself from panicking. “She isn’t going to die. She couldn’t. What with Jesse and now…now her.”

He gave in, sighing direly. “It’s not a good year for 10th graders at Sunnydale High is it?”

“I guess that nickname, Sunny Hell, really applies in this situation, doesn’t it?” Willow blinked slowly, trying to stop her eyes from watering. It was too late, her vision already half-blurred because of the unshed tears in her eyes. “Why’re we even here?”

“Because Cordelia told us to act normal, to not let this whole thing affect us,” Xander reminded her, saying it in a tone that proved he didn’t agree with it even as he did exactly what she said.

Willow remained silent for the longest time. Xander did too until he finally spoke up as they reached the Student Union, hoping to get some relaxing quiet time, instead of the nerve-wracking kind they were in at the moment. “Maybe we should go away with her. Or give her money at least. As much as I hate her going away, leaving, I’d rather her be far away and alive then real close and…buried six feet under.”

Willow didn’t have time to answer, her curiosity catching her attention when she noticed something odd. “Why’re the blinds closed?”

Xander, clueless, or perhaps more positive then his redheaded friend, shrugged. “Maybe some jock’s in there getting to third base.”

Not waiting for Xander to list the thousands of possibilities that she knew he’d come up with, Willow turned the doorknob and let the door open.

Other than the quiet creaking of the door, in big need of an oiling, it was dead silent as Willow and Xander stood, disgusted and gape mouthed at what they discovered.

As Willow’s books fell from her hands, somehow in slow motion, she let her eyes move around the room. It was dark, the blinds on the window, keeping out the sunlight, were closed just as they were on the door. It smelled of…well, it smelled of what was exactly in the room.

Dead people and dried blood.

* * *

Rocking back and forth on her bed, Willow clutched at her pillow as if it were all she had left while crying silent tears. The top part of her pillow was damp from aforementioned tears and her heart ached with pain and utter disgust at what had happened a few hours ago.

School had been dismissed early on account of the ten or eleven students found dead in the Student Union, either with snapped necks or two distinct bite marks in their necks. Willow came home and took a shower, the mere memory and image of it all making her feel filthy.

The door to her room opened and Cordelia’s solemn face appeared, and then the rest of her, she looked the part of an exhausted student who’d heard her grandmother had died and still had to study for an important exam.

Both had bags underneath their eyes from sleep deprivation and the countless amount of tears the two of them had shed when alone in their rooms.

Willow didn’t bother to wipe the tears from her cheeks, to clean herself up or pat down her hair. She just glanced at Cordelia once as she silently approached, her eyes saying a thousand, perhaps even a million, words with just a blink.

“Xander called me…explained what happened,” Cordelia explained as she sat on the end of the bed and just folded her hands over her lap, looking at Willow for a few long, silent minutes. “I couldn’t keep hiding in my room, I had to know if you’re alright.”

“I knew some of the people in there,” Willow said as she turned away, her voice thick with emotion and jumping a few octaves every other word or so. “Some were nice to me, others were complete Asses and…god! All that blood.”

Cordelia just looked at her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. Her heart was breaking just seeing Willow as she was, so innocent before and now tainted with that memory of seeing all those dead people. I’m being a crybaby in my room about…whatever. And Willow’s here, having found a dozen dead people in her school, the one place that was always safe…

“Real life is the scariest thing,” Cordelia finally spoke, her voice cracking under the pressure of the unbearable silence. “High school, any school for that matter, always seemed like some sort of safe sanctuary. Sure, it was boring and we all hated it. But we always felt safe there. And I guess…with us, that’s what makes it even scarier. If School’s the place where we feel most safe and something like what you saw happened…what’re we supposed to do, right?’

Willow nodded. “I may not know how it feels to find out that I’m dying in a few days but if it’s any consolation, I feel pretty crappy.”

Cordelia smiled a small smile, hoping to comfort not only her friend, but herself.

When Willow finally turned to her, she swore she saw about a million different emotions hidden behind her green blue orbs…all in one glance.

Finally speaking, Willow seemed as innocent as an infant when she looked at Cordelia with a sad, albeit expecting, stare. “We can go on that road trip now…if you still want to go.”

* * *

Xander pushed opened the doors as violently and loudly as he could manage, announcing his presence. It was a way to make himself feel superior; to force his thoughts away from the fact that he was on the verge of tears and his hands were trembling.

Not only had he seen a dead person for the first time, not only that there was ten others too, but that Cordelia, his friend, was going to die and he couldn’t get his mind off of it.

Giles and Angel sat across from each other at a table, researching from the dozens of books before them, as hard as they could possibly manage.

It didn’t matter how hard they were working to Xander, though. They hadn’t come up with a solution, from the looks of it, and that was reason enough for him to be a little impatient, a little frustrated. “You have a plan ready…or not?”

Angel looked at him with the most exhausted face known to man. For the first time, Angel was actually starting to look his age. “We’re working on it and we’re trying as hard as we can.”

“Then you’re not trying hard enough,” Xander dared to accuse them, stopping just feet from the table, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. He wasn’t an A-student when it came to Gym and he ran all the way from his house to the school. “Not only is Cordelia in trouble but ten people, ten kids, are dead because of some vampire freak, or freaks for the matter!”

Having enough, his patience completely gone, Angel slammed his fist onto the table, sending some books flying off of it as he growled to Xander. “I know! I can still smell the blood…”

Xander remained silent as Angel stood up, just remembering that Angel was about a foot taller than him and his muscles were the size of his head.

“Nothing pisses me off more than the smallest chance that Cordelia could get a scratch on her,” Angel explained through gritted teeth. “I won’t risk her life with some half-baked plan. When we come up with one, it’s going to be fool-proof and perfect.”

“I do too, but obviously you guys aren’t getting too close,” Xander growled, finding some small inkling of assurance and confidence, holding his chin up high as he turned to leave. “I’ll come up with something on my own…”

When he reached the door though, his hand rising to push it open, he paused, his head falling. Though Xander didn’t glance back at Angel, still fuming, or Giles who remained silent, the concern and sincerity leaked into his tone enough so that both of them knew he cared for Cordelia more than in the kind of ‘best friend, teenager-with-hormones’ way. “Keep me informed…”

“Be careful,” Giles finally spoke, looking up at Xander.

But the teenager remained quiet as he pushed open the doors and left without another word spoken.

* * *

Walking speedily down the hallways, Xander clenched his hands into fists, closed his eyes and tried to reassure himself that there was nothing following him and he was going to make it home fine. He was going t o make it home to come up with a plan to help Cordelia.

Pushing open the doors and walking out into the school parking lot, Xander looked over his shoulder, just to boost his confidence in the fact that he was alone and here wasn’t anything after him. Yet the hairs on the back of his neck sure did make it seem like something was wrong, that something was out of place.

Then, a few moments and a couple of steps later, a warm air coursed the back of his beck, a disgusting kind of warm, a hot breathy kind. And a weird stench followed, forcing Xander to once again turn around, slowly this time.

Out of the corner of his eyes he caught sight of what could only be defined as a dirty, green, ugly demon. But that was all he saw, a glimpse through the corner of his eyes, for a hard object collided with his head, knocking him into unconsciousness.

* * *

Licking the tip of her finger, Cordelia turned the page of some random book she was browsing. Reading it was a mere thing to do to distract herself, to try and create the illusion that she was just a normal teenager that was bored out of her mind and in result was reading a book.

But that was far from the reality of the situation. And the eerie feeling the filled Cordelia from head to toe as she laid on her bed, on her stomach, her chin rested on a pillow, was proof of that, a shaky reminder of it all.

Taking in a deep, soothing breath, Cordelia shook her hand, trying to get it to relax, to not be so tense. Yet the uneasiness didn’t subside so she slammed her book to a close and threw it across the room where it collided with some random, most likely breakable things, on a shelf.

As if on cue, the door opened, her father’s head poking inside. Bags were under his eyes and he looked exhausted, but at the same time there was a twinkle in his eyes. It seemed as if he knew something she didn’t. And when he entered, taking Cordelia’s subtly angry expression as her own version of permission to enter, it was revealed that he had a gift for her.

A dress of soft fabrics, dark navy blue and one that Cordelia was sure by the sight of it would be fitting and emphasize her curves in a way she’d like but also one that her father would approve of.

“What’s this for?” Cordelia asked, the breath being taken from her at the sight of the elegant dress nearing her as her father walked towards her. Rolling off the bed, she stood up and held her hands out hesitantly, as if she were trying to make sure it was real. When the tips of her fingers brushed along the soft fabric, she smiled.

“I may not be the best father in the world but I love you and I want you to have some fun in life before you get too old to have any.” He smirked and handed her the dress carefully and gently. “Buying gifts doesn’t make me the father that you deserve, but I hope this is a good start.

Cordelia was still in awe, numb from it and disbelief too. “There’s a dance coming up…how’d you know?”

“School newsletter,” her father replied, shrugging in a bashful manner.

“Wow…” Cordelia blinked slowly, taking in the sight of not only her dress but also her father, trying so hard to be the kind of man who could support his daughter and be cool at the same time. “Sunnydale High has a newsletter?”

Will Chase didn’t respond. Instead, he just leaned in and placed a soft kiss on Cordelia’s forehead before moving to leave the room.

Cordelia didn’t respond, blinking away the thin layer of tears forming in her eyes from not only the sweetness of the gift, but there was hardly a possibility of her even making it to the Prom.

When the door finally closed with a soft thud, she cleared her throat and sat down on her bed slowly, looking around helplessly.

* * *

I need blood; Angel thought to himself, swallowing hard and wishing his mouth wasn’t so dry. The fire slowly died as it usually did every night he watched it. He would either be with Cordelia or at the library, if not he was in his mansion, alone like the outcast he was at heart, watching the fire slowly die. It wasn’t exciting but it was something to do, something to distract him from other things.

Yet it didn’t work at the moment. Angel pushed himself up from his seat and started to pace, entangling his fingers together and wrapping them around his neck as he let out a long, unneeded breath in hopes of calming himself down.

It didn’t work.

Cordelia needed his help and he was sitting on his ass doing shit for work while Giles took over the reigns of research for the night. They needed all the facts and information they needed about the prophecy and The Master to even think of coming up with a plan to prevent Cordelia from dying.

Yet Angel had the eerie feeling that they needn’t even try, Cordelia could take care of herself by leaving town if she thought of it. Though the prospect of her skipping town was a frightening prospect, one Angel hoped he wouldn’t have to face, it made the most sense for a sixteen year old to choose it.

Doesn’t help that the Harris boy thinks he can handle this shitty mess. Hopefully he won’t do something stupid.

“I have to see her,” Angel said to himself as he finally gave in. Before he could go any farther than his kitchen, where he’d tossed his jacket, a knock at the door sounded.

Rubbing his face in frustration, Angel blinked a few times to make sure his eyes would stay awake. He didn’t have time to speak with anyone at the moment and the mere prospect of doing so exhausted him. When he grabbed the doorknob however, his heart skipped a beat then melted at the discovery of a familiar scent.

It was Cordelia and Angel was both glad and disappointed at her sudden appearance. Excited to see her yet saddened by the fact that through the thick doors he could feel her pain, could hear her trying to slow her heartbeat, to swallow whatever difficult emotion she was experiencing.

“Can I come in?” she asked him immediately once he opened the door to reveal her ever pretty face with a faltering smile plastered on it.

Taking a step back, he motioned for her to come in. Once she was inside and Angel closed the door, she turned to face him and tossed a cup of blood into his hands. “It’s pigs blood, so don’t get too excited.”

Her voice sounded sad even when she tried hard to feign friendliness.

“Thanks,” Angel managed to say, backing into the kitchen and moving to place it in the fridge. “You okay?”

Cordelia didn’t respond to him, or at least to his question as she took in a deep breath before letting out a shaky sigh. “I was walking and I saw your place. I also just happened to be right by a butcher shop at the time too…”

Angel offered a smile as he walked back into the same room as Cordelia, immediately moving close to her so that he could remove her jacket. It was almost summer and it was California, yet Cordelia seemed to have a shiver about her. “You planning to stay long?”

“I’ll stay for as long as I’m welcome.”

“That’s going to be a long time, then.” Angel placed her jacket gently on the couch as Cordelia yet again exhaled shakily. It was as if it was all she had left to do in an attempt to calm her uncontrollable emotions.

“Are you alright?” Angel asked her again, calmly and soothingly as he let his hand fall to the small of her back, guiding her around the couch to sit down. She allowed him to guide her but still, she seemed far from aware of his enormous concern. “Giles is at the library working his ass of trying to come up with something. We just won’t want to come up with a faulty plan. It concerns you and we want whatever we’ll come up with to be absolutely foolproof.”

Cordelia remained silent as he continued to speak, avoiding eye contact. Angel had enough and placed his hand on hers, speaking in a voice that made it clear she had to wake up and explain what she was there for, what she needed.

“Is there anything you need to say?” he asked, his voice growing husky as his emotions grew higher at the sight of her so…unlike her usual self. “I’m here to listen.”

Cordelia closed her eyes slowly, allowing a few tears to shed and streak down her cheek. When she opened her eyes, she finally looked to Angel. “My dad…he bought me this dress. Possibly the most beautiful dress in the entire world.”

Angel smiled, “That was sweet of him.”

“There’s a dance coming up…that’s what it’s for,” Cordelia explained. “It’s Saturday. Day after tomorrow. But I don’t think I’ll be able to go.”

“Why not?”

Cordelia turned to him fully, spinning in her position and folding her legs so that she faced Angel completely. “I might not be sticking around.”

“I understand…or at least I want to understand. This is hard for you to go through-” Angel began to say, trying to ease into convincing her to stay, to ‘stick around’. Maybe it was for his own selfish reasons, but if she ran away, she’d have to run forever. And he couldn’t bear for her to have to do that.

“Would I be such a complete coward if I ran away?” she cut him off, desperately searching for his opinion on the matter. She was stronger then him but he was far more wise. Being over two hundred years old makes you like that.

Angel couldn’t even manage to say anything, his heart not able to even respond to her question.

“I was fine being a Slayer for a while. All that power. Saving lives, killing bad guys. It has a rush to it, y’know?” Cordelia began to say, her voice so passionate as her eyes started to light up, albeit weakly, when the memories of her first few weeks as a vampire Slayer. “Maybe I was just cocky, but for a whole I figured because of me being a Slayer, I was so invincible. Nothing could hurt me and I just…”

All Angel could think of was to hug her. And he did, wrapping his strong arms around her as the tears from her eyes escaped and ran down her face; the light leaving her eyes and that passion that Angel loved about her disappeared.

* * *

Willow pressed a few keys on her laptop, trying to find something, anything to distract her from other things. Everything had gone haywire. First Jesse then Cordelia getting the news of her having to face The Master and die. Then her and Xander walking in on dead students.

Slamming the laptop shut didn’t help with her frustration either. Burying her face in her arms, Willow desperately tried to find any sort of willpower left in her to get the strength to move on, to get up and do something. But the images of the dead people, the blood…it all kept returning to her mind, painfully reminding her of the reality of life and death.

God I’m stupid. If Cordelia were here she wouldn’t be sobbing her ass off. Willow shook her head in embarrassment of her inability to move on and remain emotionally strong. Cordelia has a reason to be scared, emotional…she’s only sixteen and she just go the news that she’s going to die.

It isn’t fair for her.

The phone ringing was a relief for Willow, who was glad for a distraction. Picking the phone up, she was surprised to hear Xander’s mother on the other end with a concerned voice.

“…”

“No,” Willow shook her head as her stomach turned over, a sickening feeling taking over her body. “Xander isn’t here. I thought he was at home.”

* * *

Cordelia repeatedly tapped her toe out of impatience, waiting and waiting for Giles to arrive. She’d snuck through the halls into the library, avoiding being caught by the principal or by any teachers over an hour ago. Giles was the last person on her list to speak with before she left. Well, after Willow and Xander, but those two were going to be spoken with together. Why not kill two birds with one stone, right?

Bad choice of words.

“What the hell is your childhood trauma?” came the annoying voice of Buffy Summers. Cordelia groaned as she saw Buffy push the doors open and enter the room like she owned it. Knowing the money her parents had, she probably did.

“Get out of here,” Cordelia ordered her, not so surprisingly not in the mood to deal with the blonde superficial Queen B.

“How do you get away with skipping school, huh?” Buffy asked. She came in there to ask Cordelia if she was all right and this was her way at approaching it.

“I’m not skipping school. I have reasons for not being here.”

“And those reasons are?”

“None of your business.”

“Whose business is it then?”

“God, just shut up!”

For once, Buffy Summers listened to someone and did as she was told. After Cordelia’s outburst a wave of silence engulfed the two of them. Cordelia remained unfazed and still on annoyed by Buffy’s presence while the former slowly closed her mouth and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Please…” Cordelia said, her voice far quieter than before. “I don’t need you in here to annoy me.”

“What’s going on?” Buffy asked, her voice not without concern as she saw Cordelia desperately try to remain impassive and fight back tears as a wave of…something, hit her. It was more than a little disconcerting to see her so affected. Not only that, but Buffy had no idea what exactly was affecting her so profoundly. It certainly isn’t me.

What was more astonishing was that after a few minutes of complete, unbearable silent, Cordelia’s face melted for a moment and she started to open her mouth, possibly to answer Buffy’s question truthfully and without her usual stubbornness.

But the doors to the library opened and Giles’ entrance prevented her from doing so; she seemed far too relieved by his arrival to even begin to deal with Buffy and explain the big mess she was in.

Buffy took the awkward silence and glances thrown her way as not-so-subtle signs that it was her time to leave, and she did, respectfully and quietly.

A moment passed and before Giles could say anything to Cordelia, the Slayer had a moment of weakness and impulsively jumped from her chair and started moving speedily out of the library. Why she was seeking out Buffy was lost to her, but her feet kept moving. The blonde wasn’t acting like the full-on bitch that Cordelia had come to know her as and it was enlightening, if only for a split-second.

Maybe she deserves to know. Everyone else does. She went through exactly what Xander and Willow did with Jesse, apparently. What makes her any less deserving of the truth? Cordelia’s thoughts kept drowning her mind until she realized Buffy had made for a hasty exit herself and all that was left was an empty hallway.

Empty except for Willow Rosenberg, who looked as if she had been crying for hours.

“Willow? What the…?” Cordelia approached her and grabbed her gently by the arm, hoping for some reaction.

“You weren’t at home,” she said to her, her voice atypically loud and uncontrolled. “I came looking for you.”

“Why? What’s wrong, Willow?” Cordelia asked, placing her hands on the redhead’s shoulders to try and keep her calm.

Willow swallowed hard, the mere prospect of even saying what was going on frightening enough to prevent her from speaking. But eventually she managed to form the words as several tears escaped her eyes. “It’s Xander. He’s in trouble.”

* * *

Taking not a sip from his cup of tea but a large gulp, Giles perused the page in his book, trying to patiently wait for Cordelia’s return. She came for a reason, and it pained him to think that the reason was a goodbye. Angel had called, explaining that Cordelia had visited him and suggested running away.

Pushing the thought to the back of his mind, Giles welcomed the sound of the doors opening. But the sight was far from welcome. Cordelia was eerily quiet and Willow…she looked haggard. Emotional was a simple word to describe what she looked like.

“What’s wrong?”

With a firm jaw, Cordelia willingly replied. “This has gotten more personal. What kind of plan have you got so far?”

“What? I…are you willing to go through with it?” Giles stuttered, still lost as to what spun around Cordelia, what changed her decision to leave.

“I’m in,” Cordelia replied through gritted teeth.
Silence was stretched to the limits, the direness of the situation taking on a profound tone in the group of people standing in the library. Angel was running his hand through his hair, trying to keep his cool and trying to be the reasonable one while Cordelia was the exact opposite. Hands on her hips, her jaw firmed and foot tapping impatiently, she stood close to Angel, as if his simple presence was assuring. Assuring for what, only she new.

Having enough of the silence, Angel cleared his throat and took a step forward, bringing attention to himself.

“The Master, or Darla…one of them must’ve known,” Angel said softly, his eyes immediately meeting with Cordelia’s, a silent concern flooding from him to her. “If they even thought you were going to skip town they were going to do something. Either they took Xander on impulse or knew that you were leaving for sure.”

“Well, if they took Xander to get me to come to them, then their plan worked,” Cordelia said, her voice firm and assuring. “I say we go get him. Right now.”

Giles shook his head, “If we rush into this, the chance of Xander’s life ending is far greater. We can’t risk it.”

“Tomorrow then,” Cordelia said immediately after her Watcher spoke, not giving him a chance to delay what she wanted to do any further. Xander was in danger because of her and she was going to make sure he was safe and the person who took him was dead. “Saturday. The weekend. Lots of free time on our hands to do something this big.”

Angel didn’t argue with her, noting the firmness in her voice and the look in her eyes as she spoke. She wasn’t going to have her mind changed. Whether she, or anyone else, liked it or not, tomorrow was going to come and go. It was just a matter of who would live to tell the tale. “I’ll be with you whenever you decide to go in.”

Doing my job and making sure you don’t fulfill the prophecy, was the unspoken words that shone brilliantly in his dark eyes as he looked into Cordelia’s.

Cordelia nodded her agreement and for a moment, her eyes flickered an emotion she hadn’t conveyed for Angel ever before: gratitude. “Giles, you should provide some sort of magical backup for us. And Willow…”

“I’ll help in any way I can.”

“What I want is for you to go home and stay there,” Cordelia said to her friend, crashing the girl’s hopes of helping out, of attempting to save Xander herself.

Willow looked far from understanding. In fact, she looked taken aback. “You can’t expect me to hide when Xander’s in trouble. He’s my best friend.”

“I don’t wanna risk you getting hurt,” Cordelia explained.

“Well, I don’t want to be left out of something that I should be apart of,” Willow crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Cordelia without blinking. “I can help.”

* * *

Willow rolled her eyes as Cordelia nailed the last cross beside her windowsill. “I still can’t believe you’re keeping me here instead of out there, helping you.”

“Better believe it, hun.” Cordelia offered a smile, but Willow didn’t budge. After a moment, Cordelia’s face scrunched up as if she’d just gotten a bad taste in her mouth. “God. I’m being such a ‘mom’ aren’t I? Overprotective. Sure is over the top.”

Willow didn’t find the humor in the situation; neither did Cordelia who only offered a fake laugh to break the ice.

“I don’t want him to get hurt any less then you do, Will. But more importantly, I don’t want you to get hurt either.”

“Why not?” Willow asked bluntly. “I mean, why won’t you get that I probably won’t get hurt. And even if I do, it won’t even be close to what’ll happen to you!”

A long silence followed after she spoke, Cordelia quietly clearing her throat and looking away, trying to act like nothing happened. Willow immediately realized what she said. “Sorry. I didn’t…I didn’t mean it like that.”

“It’s alright,” Cordelia assured her, still not looking her way. Only because she couldn’t really stand looking Willow in the eyes at the moment. With the exception of when she told her what was going on, Cordelia hadn’t really spent some alone time with Willow while discussing what was going to happen to her when she confronted the Master.

She was beginning to take on that role of not only her best friend but her sister. She felt like she had to protect her yet at the same time Willow hated the fact that Cordelia didn’t think she could handle herself.

It all evens out, right? Cordelia tried to assure herself. But sadly, not even the voice inside of Cordelia’s head could make her feel any better.

“Do you play anything?” Cordelia finally broke the silence, offering a stiff smile and turning around to face Willow as she clapped her hands together.

“What?”

“An instrument. Do you play any instruments? Or are you just into computers?” Cordelia was no longer in control of her mouth. Sure, she knew what she was doing and the emptiness inside of her head was gone now and filled with stupid questions. Yet they came out even dumber when she spoke them out loud. It didn’t help when Willow started to look at her as if she were crazy.

“Why are you asking me?”

Cordelia threw her hands up in the air exasperatingly, “I don’t know! I just…we’ve been friends for what? A month, maybe a little longer. It just doesn’t seem like I know a lot about you.”

“I played the flute in sixth grade, but then by eighth I learned that I sucked.”

“You still have it?”

Willow nodded, jumping off her bed and opening her closet doors. After a minute of scourging through random junk she pulled out a flute case. “I actually went to band camp too.”

“Really?”

Willow’s face fell, “It’s dumb, I know.”

“No, it’s not!” Cordelia motioned to take the case from her as she continued to speak. “I had my own ‘band years’ back in elementary school and a year or two in middle school.”

“What’d you play?”

Cordelia hesitated before clearing her throat, opening the case. “Wow, extremely well-polished. I’m sure your band teacher would be proud!”

“Seriously, what’d you play?”

“Um…the trombone…” Cordelia mumbled the last part as quietly as she could manage, deepening her voice so that it was even harder to hear.

“What?”

“The…” Cordelia smiled pathetically. “The trombone.”

“That’s not so bad,” Willow assured her, the muscle at the corner of her lips usually used to make a smile twitching and begging to serve its purpose as she took the flute from Cordelia for some excuse to turn around. When her back was to Cordelia she grinned like a fool.

Before Cordelia could think anything of it, Willow wiped the smile from her face and turned back around, the ‘appropriate’ question that had been lingering in her mind since they’d started rambling on about band slipping through her lips. “Are you avoiding talking about what’s going to happen tomorrow?”

Cordelia swallowed hard and looked down at her hands for a moment. Finally, she looked up not with a teary eyes look but with one of pathetic admittance. “Yeah. I guess you can say that.”

* * *

The throbbing pain in his head and the taste of blood and dirt on the tip of his tongue woke Xander from his painful, dreamless slumber. He blinked his eyes open to reveal the orange glow of fire lighting up the cave-like room he was chained up in. One move and a searing pain reached every inch of Xander’s body. Even when his finger twitched slightly he felt as if he was wiping out on his skateboard.

Grunting, Xander managed to move his eyes, which were hurting just as much as the rest of his body, and focus on the only other person in the room. An attractive blonde. For a moment he thought it was Buffy but thought better of that and realized it was a complete stranger.

It was Darla. Even if Xander didn’t know who she was, her presence was easily just as unsettling as it would be if he did know who she was. When she approached him, he struggled to push himself through the dirt, farther and farther away from her, but his movements were restricted by pain and by the chains that were connected to the wall.

She offered him a gold goblet, actuating the dark, thick liquid within it.

“The one thing I learned from my parents…” Xander managed to speak, his throat scratchy and his voice hoarse. “Was to never accept gifts from strangers.”

Darla didn’t listen however, her right hand grabbing his head and forcing his mouth to open, her fingernails digging into his skin like claws. She poured the liquid into his unwilling mouth and watched in delight as he choked in disgust.

It wasn’t a surprise that he would have a near panic attack in reaction to the blood she had just poured into his mouth, and Darla seemed all the more pleased as she watched him try and spit every last drop of it out of his mouth.

“It’s warm, flowing human blood that was taken from delicious little children,” Darla explained in her sultry, feminine voice. “They were close enough to the sewer entrance for me to grab them.”

She let out a small laugh at his disgust, “Soon you’ll want nothing but the blood of children. To feel that sticky, flowing warm liquid seep into your mouth and caress the roof of your mouth…you’ll become as addicted to it as I am.”

The blood’s thickness preventing him from speaking clearly, Xander merely shook his head emphatically.

“Tell me something. Does the Slayer care for you as much as I think she does?”

Xander remained silent, the image of Cordelia etching into his mind and causing his heart to ache at the thought of him being so stupid as it to get himself captured. Now she had two things to worry about when she deserved to have no worry at all. The way Darla spoke of her, her voice filled with revolting judgment at the word ‘Slayer’, established the flaxen-haired vampire’s disdain for Cordelia and made Xander’s hands tremble far more then they had been in result of the pain he was in.

Obviously a sparkle in his eyes and the continuing silence he gave as an answer was enough for Darla to confirm that he indeed cared for her as she did for him.

“Well, then it’ll be quite delightful to see her squirm at the sight of you dead.”

* * *

Cordelia swallowed the last piece of chocolate. “Mmhhmm, good. Very very good.”

“Thanks, but no more. That’s as much of my stash as I can give away,” Willow slid the box under the floorboard and closed it.

“You know what’s cool about you? The fact that your ‘stash’,” Cordelia licked a small drop of chocolate from the tip of her finger as she spoke, implying the air quotes. “Is chocolate and candy.”

“What else would it be?”

Cordelia looked at Willow incredulously for a moment, but recovered nicely and shrugged it off. “Tomorrow’s the dance…”

“Yeah, I never go. I might not even go to the Prom when I’m a senior.”

“Why not?”

Willow sighed and stood up, walking over to her door and opening it, making sure that no one was in the hall listening. When it was closed again she turned and faced Cordelia, her cheeks more than usually red. “I only want to go with the right guy. And I guess I just haven’t found that perfect guy yet.”

Cordelia just nodded, not really having anything to say in response.

“How about you?”

“Nah,” Cordelia immediately responded, balling the candy wrapper and tossing it directly into the trashcan. “I have bigger things on my mind then boys. Not that I don’t think about them. I just…the dance for me is a big problem.”

“Why?”

“My dad got me this gorgeous dress,” Cordelia admitted, looking out the window, realizing it was getting late and deep down wishing that Angel’s head would be poking inside, for him to be there and just to…say things and…well, be there for her. “But with all that’s going on. I don’t know what to say to him when I’m going to leave the house tomorrow and not be in my dress.”

“Then don’t.”

“Huh?”

“I say you just go in your dress, change when you get to the library.”

Cordelia shook her head, amused by the mere thought of Angel picking her up in a beautiful dress and feeling confused as to why she’s looking so pretty for going to school and preparing to die.

“Just do it. If it’s as pretty as you say it is, then you should at least wear it once.” Willow seemed pretty sure about her suggestion, even if it was obviously a weird one.

Cordelia, however, remained hesitant.

* * *

Exhausted, Cordelia tried to hold back a yawn for when she would get in bed, then she planned on yawning all night long. For her last night of sleep she was planning on sleeping comfortably and all night long. No stupid dreams or midnight visits from Angel. Hopefully.

“Cordelia,” came her father’s voice. He walked over to her, offering a small smile. “Tomorrow, are you going to take a limo? Because I can drive you. My first AA meeting isn’t until Sunday.”

“Um…I’m getting picked up.”

“Okay then.”

“You’re…” Cordelia stopped her father when he turned to go back to his own room. “You’re going to an AA meeting?”

“I told you I was going to get better,” he said to her softly, as if reassuring her that there were still cookies in the cookie jar downstairs. “These meetings are a good thing, right?”

“Of course,” Cordelia replied, the territory of discussing AA meetings with her father still quite new to her. “I mean, obviously it is…I just…about tomorrow, dad.”

For a moment, quicker at disappearing than appearing, her father looked worried. About what, Cordelia didn’t quite know. Maybe he was worried that her date had dumped her the day before the dance or something. Hopefully it was simply a fatherly worry.

The look in his eyes assured her that no matter how concerned he was with her going to a dance, with a boy, or in Angel’s case, a man, there was still that glimmer of respect he held for her that proved he was proud of his daughter like no other.

And when she saw that flicker, that emotion mingling with his high opinion of her, Cordelia hesitated to tell him what she thought she would have an easy time saying. Instead, what came out of her mouth wasn’t exactly what she imagined. “My date. His name’s Angel and he’s real sweet.”

Will Chase gave his daughter a look that said clearly: ‘And?’

“I just don’t want you to give him a rough time when he comes to pick me up, alright?” God, what’s wrong with me, I must be psycho to think that I’m wearing that dress when I fight the Master.

* * *

Drumming her fingers on the desk, distractedly creating a pace and beat that typified her impatience and reluctance to be where she was, Willow bit her bottom lip as she lifted her other hand to the keyboard, typing absently, hoping for some random word to stand out to her and distract her long enough.

Restiveness filling her from head to toe, she cleared her throat, run a hand through her hair and brushed some of it behind one ear before she returned to typing what she was thinking, what she felt, what she wanted in life…none of it was working, though.

It was Saturday afternoon, the sun was setting and all of Willow’s windows and doors were shut and locked and surrounded by holy water and crosses. There was one around her neck too as she spun around every two minutes like clockwork to look outside.

Just double-checking, she told herself, as if she were assuring a crazy person of her actions so they wouldn’t do anything drastic. Nope, no vampires on my roof.

As the moments passed Willow became well aware that it wasn’t necessarily about helping, about gripping a sword in her hands and charging monsters, decapitating them and spilling their blood, it wasn’t about being the first to kick down doors and check if Xander was in there…all she wanted was to know. To know if he was okay, if he was fine or if he happened to be hurt, was he going to be fine later?

“How am I supposed to know if I’m sitting in my room?” Willow asked herself, before laughing out loud and shaking her head shamefully at how pathetic she proved herself to be when she spoke to herself, actually expecting an answer.

She told me to stay put, Willow looked around her room, making a 180 degree turn in her chair, eyeing every last detail of everything in her room, making note of what she owned and what was missing.

The doll she had when she was little was gone, and it only took a microsecond for Willow to remember that when they were ten Xander took his g.i. Joe and shot the head off the doll.

She remembered that day quite well. Sadly, it was possibly the most bittersweet feeling she had ever experienced.

* * *

Pushing the library doors open, Jenny walked in as if she was welcome there. She held back a smirk when she saw Giles freeze at the sight of her. It was fun to annoy him, to act as if she despised him, to argue his opinion with hers. Like a more educated version of how third graders tease each other because they like each other.

“This is not the time for small talk,” was the first thing he said to her, his voice shaky as he looked around, trying to organize things.

It was then that Jenny realized some of the things he was trying to organize weren’t necessarily reading material for students. Watcher’s Diaries and ancient texts were out on the tables and scattered on the counter. Something was going down.

“What’s going on?”

“You’re not going to be staying long enough to discover that, fortunately,” Giles replied, and for the first time it wasn’t a jab at her. As he moved to her, putting his hand on the small of her back and guiding her towards the exit, he actually seemed genuinely concerned for her safety.

“I want to help,” Jenny said, defiantly escaping his grasp and avoiding being pushed out the door. “I can be of more help then you think I can.”

Giles shook his head, “This is a fight that-”

“I’m prepared to be included in,” Jenny finished for him, offering a wry half-grin as she folded her arms over her chest and looked at him expectantly. “We both know you’re not going to be able to stop me.”

All Giles had in response was an expression that Jenny found absolutely priceless.

“You look cute when you’re speechless,” she said to him, that wry grin still on her face as she walked closer to him and took the book barely being held in his hands.

Finally, Giles shook out of it. “D-do you have any books? Any useful ones with spells and enchantments or any sort of information that might be useful against The Master.”

“At my apartment I do.”

“Could you possibly go there and get them? Time is not our friend,” Giles asked her as politely as he could manage.

Jenny nodded, handing him back his book. “I think I’ll enjoy tonight.”

* * *

Cordelia stood as tall as she could, getting the full-length mirror view of her self in the dress that seemed to grow more and more perfect as the seconds passed. She wasn’t poor yet she wasn’t rich, but the dress was expensive and she felt grateful and guilty at the same time.

The last thing my dad ever gets me is expensive and not even going to be used for its true purpose. Just great.

Running a hand along the front of her dress, smoothing it out as her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth, Cordelia blinked slowly, hesitantly, as if afraid that when she opened her eyes again she’d be in sweat pants and be preparing for the next day of school.

Not a bad trade off in her mind.

“Cordelia!” came her father’s voice, loud enough for her to hear her but with a pinch of excitement and a handful of pride for his daughter. “Your date is here.”

* * *

Angel, in a tuxedo he actually rented from a store, stood, his hands behind his back and his posture straight, trying to convey the most polite demeanor to Cordelia’s father, who stood at the bottom of the stairs, calling his daughter down.

A moment of silence passed before Cordelia’s feet appeared, then her fit legs, the hem of her dress, and every last inch of her until she reached the bottom of the stairs. She was beautiful, shapely and her thick brown hair was styled, cascading past her shoulder blades, which were bare and visible in the dress she was wearing with a low back to it.

Every muscle in his body tensed and he fought for control, battled the emotions filling him from head to toe with every bit of willpower remaining in him after so many years. Angel felt his willpower draining away, argued against his obstinacy.

“Angel?” she said as she locked stares with him, surprised that he was her ‘date’. The only thing keeping her from being extremely embarrassed at the fact that Angel was her pretend-date was the way he grinned so brightly, so sincerely that it made Cordelia truly believe that his silent heart was beating profoundly at the sight of her.

She was more flattered then she’d ever been in her entire life and at the same time, her legs had gone weak at the sight of Angel in a tux, looking extremely handsome and nervous at the same time.

Will Chase caught onto the surprise in his daughter’s voice and the flicker of whatever she was feeling mirrored in her eyes. “He’s your date, right?”

A small grin formed on Cordelia’s face as she never broke eye contact with Angel, whose smile faltered at her hesitation to answer her father’s question. She could see clearly now in his eyes and what she saw made her heart skip a beat. If she blew it, blew their cover of ‘going to the dance’, he would be seriously disappointed.

Angel unmistakably wasn’t the kind of man who dressed up in a tux every day and he wouldn’t do so for some silly reason. Again, Cordelia felt that preternatural fervor at the realization that she was far from a silly reason to him.

“Yeah…” she finally answered, the grin on her face growing as her eyes lit up. “Yeah, he is.”

Taking in an unneeded breath for a vampire, but one required to calm his surprisingly jittery nerves, Angel stepped forward, actually offering a corsage to her.

For the first time all day, he forgot about what they were really doing, what was inevitably going to occur.

The sight of Cordelia happy and beautiful and dressed up…it changed his mind on what he planned on doing. He’d brought a spare change of clothes and left them in the bushes in a bag. But standing close to Cordelia, touching her hands as he placed the corsage on one, he didn’t’ know if he wanted the moment to end.

* * *

Once the door was closed and both Cordelia and Angel were outside Cordelia’s wistful demeanor slowly diminished when she turned to Angel, an accusing glint in her russet eyes.

“How did-” she began to ask incredulously, the embarrassment that lacked within her just moments prior when they first greeted each other now reaching every inch of her body as her cheeks flushed red.

Angel didn’t bother to let her finish, politely cutting her off. “Willow told me.”

“She did?” Cordelia asked in disbelief as Angel started to walk across the long, towards the sidewalk. Time wasn’t their ally at the moment and he seemed to be the only one out of the two who remembered that.

Cordelia seemed far too embarrassed to think of anything other then being picked up by a fake date none other then Angel and letting him see her at her most vulnerable side.

Just another reminder that she’s only a teenager.Angel turned to face her, guessing right in assuming that she hadn’t moved an inch even after he started to move away, to walk towards where they were supposed to be headed: Cordelia’s inevitable doom, that is. As painful as it was for him, he’d rather jump in headfirst with the plan that they had and try to keep Cordelia safe for as long as he could manage then delay it any longer.

Maybe the delay was bothering him because the longer he spent with her, seeing her so beautiful, dressed up and wearing a subtle-scented perfume that drove his senses to the brink, he wanted nothing more than to actually dance with her, to take her to the dance and forget, if only for an hour or two, that tonight was going to be hell for both of them.

Angel held out his hand for her, offering her support while acknowledging the fact that they had to leave before it got too dark at the same time.

Cordelia knew why he was being so impatient and she kept the ruse going that she was embarrassed, somehow managing to keep her cheeks flushed and her mind reeling. Perhaps it wasn’t too much of a leap for her to feel flushed, a little weak in the knees at the sight of Angel, offering his hand to her as he stood, illuminated by the faint moonlight, in a tux that made him all the more handsome.

The ruse was growing eerily realistic.

Either she could keep pretending, feigning her abashment and play the part of the giggly, bubbly teenage girl who’s being accompanied by a two-hundred plus year old vampire who didn’t look too bad in black tie wear or she could play herself, the frightened sixteen-year old young woman who was preparing to walk towards her impending death, to face a vampire that she couldn’t beat without dying…

Choices…who needs ‘em?

* * *

Pulling out a book then slipping it back between the other tomes on her bookshelf was the routine Willow decided to pick up for the night to somehow distract herself, to keep her from thinking. Thinking of what? She didn’t know. There were a lot of things that filtered through her head from time to time. Xander. Cordelia. Angel and Cordelia. Xander again. Her as a little kid. Kid Willow playing with Kid Xander was another image that painfully kept floating through her head no matter how hard she tried to dispense of it.

Memories, thoughts, senses as in touches and smells, are burned into a persons mind and sometimes they manage to repress memories. But Willow couldn’t seem to manage that. Because no matter how much she wanted to think of nothing, of darkness and more darkness, she knew that when the next day came, no matter of the outcome of what was going down tonight, she would want those memories to lift her spirits. As painful as it was… she was coping with it.

But as a teenager there was one thing she couldn’t escape: changing her mind in a matter of seconds. And again, she could hardly fight it as she pushed herself away from her bookcase, forgetting about the books, the distractions and just focusing on what she should be doing instead of what she was.

“Cordelia won’t mind if I just…slip out of my room and go help them out,” Willow tried to assure herself, grabbing her wool sweater while the other hand gripped the cross around her neck.

“Hopefully…” she added as she turned to open her door. But just as her hand reached for it, the knob started to turn and Willow, out of impulse, took a quick step back, weirded out by it.

Unfortunately, it was her mom. “Mom? I thought…I thought you were out of town.”

“I rescheduled. I’ve been overhauling myself lately and as much fun as work is…I need a break,” she explained, walking in without asking for permission, as she always did.

For someone who analyzes my thoughts and choices in life, she sure doesn’t know that teenagers, me especially, hate it when parents just waltz into their room.

Apparently, her mother caught something in the way…god Willow didn’t even know. Perhaps it was the way she switched her weight from one foot to the next or how she absently tapped her finger at her side. Or, more likely, it was the uncomfortable silence mingling with the death stare she was throwing at her.

Whatever it was, Sheila Rosenberg took it the wrong way and as a sign of… “Is there a boy in the room?”

“No!” Willow immediately exclaimed, trying to move past her mother, trying to leave so that she could escape another unneeded lecture from her mother and get to the school to help Cordelia. She loved her mother but sometimes…it seemed like the times that her parents weren’t ignoring her they were scrutinizing her. It was finally starting to grate.

“I don’t have a boyfriend either, so there’s nothing to worry about.” Willow said it to her mother to assure her, but as the words slipped from her mouth, rolled clumsily off her tongue, she too late realized her mistake.

Taking on a concerned look that spoke a thousand words like ‘poor girl’, her mother placed a hand on her shoulder and held her in place. “I sense bitterness in that tone of yours. Is it that absence in your life of a strong, loving male figure such as a boyfriend that’s creating deep tension?”

“There’s no tension, mom.” Willow said through gritted teeth, trying to remain calm. No one had seen an angry side of her and she wasn’t about to unleash it upon her mother. And god, if there was ever a time for my mom to speak with me, it sure is now. Right when I actually have somewhere to go!

* * *

Almost punching Angel in the stomach to stop him from walking, Cordelia stopped herself and looked around, her fingers twitching to be wrapped around a stake as her senses picked up something not human approaching them.

At first she thought it was Angel but she knew her senses well enough to know that they would alert her of any danger. Hopefully.

“What’s up?” he whispered, leaning in so that only she could hear her and not whatever it was that was creating the soft rustle in the bushes that only a vampire’s ears could catch.

Though he knew exactly what was going on he still couldn’t fight the urge to ask. Cordelia obviously had a strong connection with her senses, unlike any other Slayer. She could hear things people couldn’t, assume an attack by an enemy that hadn’t even approached them yet… It was something she should be proud of and Angel began to finally realize that she was far from the point where she would realize just how special she is.

Her hand shot behind his head, gripping his neck and pushing forward in a ducking motion as a blade skimmed her hand, scraping her knuckles painfully.

She growled under her breath as she spun around, her left leg rising just in time to come in rough contact with the vampire who had aimed for Angel’s neck with his sword. Falling to the ground, he looked amazed that a woman had knocked him down. Only it last a moment or two before he realized whom exactly Cordelia was.

Unfortunately for Cordelia, a loud rip brought her attention to the fact that, in kicking the damned vampire, she had ripped her dress along her thigh. It ended far enough up her leg to cause Angel, whose eyes immediately locked with her bare legs, to double take.

Because of his distraction he didn’t catch on to the vampire rising to his feet and lunging himself at him. Angel fell to the ground as Cordelia, using the frustration she had that her dress was ruined, formed her hands into fist and went to town on the vampire.

Although she realized too late that the vampire wasn’t some rookie one, he had balls of steel and wasn’t giving in too fast.

Catching one of her hands and twisting it violently in the direction it wasn’t made to go in, he grinned a wicked grin as her face contorted in sheer pain and at the sound of her wrist cracking in two.

He punched her once, twice, three times in the face before he was yanked away by Angel, who rose to the occasion and beat him to a pulp before he, after jumping high enough to reach a branch from the tree beside them, thrust the branch into the vampires’ chest.

Unwillingly, Cordelia fell into Angel’s arms as one hand rose to her lip, which was bleeding and already beginning to swell.

“I’m alright,” she lied. Even with her strong powers and her resolute stubbornness to back her up, she still felt the impact of the vampires fists colliding with her face and her eyes were shining with unshed tears. Bringing her other hand to her face, she wiped her eyes and the tears away before Angel could see her showing weakness.

“I’m sorry I let that happen,” she whispered to her, not letting go as his body drowned in a wave of emotions. His silent heart remained quiet but he swore to himself that if it were physically possible it’d be exploding out of his chest.

As Cordelia calmed down but Angel remained lost as he heard something that soothed yet overwhelmed him at the same time. Cordelia’s heart was beating a simple, beautiful rhythm, like a soft melody that plays as a baby falls slowly asleep.

“Jerk made me ruin my dress,” Cordelia chose the route of being angry, of being sarcastic even, instead of the more emotional route where she’d cry in Angel’s arms and admit the fear she had for a split-second that she’d die right there at the hands of a stupid, badly dressed vampire instead of the more frightening Master.

But she remained as strong as she could and pushed away from Angel; wiping here lip again to make sure she still wasn’t bleeding.

Alas, she still was. Yet this time Angel used the cuff on his jacket to wipe it away, tenderly instead of roughly and quickly. He looked at it for a moment and winced. “Bastard. You’d think a vampire like that would run at the sight of a Slayer.”

“He was either a stupid one or a greedy one,” Cordelia explained, trying to push herself farther away from Angel, to get rid of the close proximity between the two of them that seemed too warm, too great. Her limbs, however, remained still. “Greedy for money. The Master probably paid him a lot of money to try and take down a Slayer.”

“Nah, he wouldn’t do something like that.”

Cordelia finally snapped back into reality and actually took a step away from Angel, her eyebrows rising in surprise. “Y-…Do you know him personally or something?”

Angel hesitated, his bottom lip twitching nervously as his eyes averted to avoid eye contact. Finally, he saw her hand and the profuse bleeding and took the opportunity. “We should clean that up.”

Without waiting or allowing a second to pass, Angel ripped the bottom of his jacket off and wrapped it around her hand. “We’ll get to the library and have Giles look at it.”

* * *

Gripping her jacket tightly, Willow walked through the dark, unlit parking lot. Sunnydale was in clear view yet at the same time far enough away that she began to look over her shoulders every other second to make sure no one was following her. Hopefully if there were someone, they’d be stupid enough to not hide themselves, allowing her to catch sight of them. But on the other hand, Willow reminded herself that some vampires are smart and that they might be following her but in the bushes, in the trees or behind the cars…

Every second that passed amplified her uncertainty on whether or not she made the right choice.

Looking over her shoulder again, Willow took in a deep, albeit shaky, intake of breath to calm her nerves. When it was unsuccessful she twisted her neck back in its proper position so she was looking straight ahead. Only a second too late to prevent her from walking straight into Jenny Calendar.

“Holy Sh-” she caught herself quickly enough to not allow a curse word to escape her lips but the look on Jenny’s face was enough to paint the picture of her heart nearly exploding through her chest in a not-so-good way. “Willow? What are you doing here this late?”

Hesitating, Willow looked to the right, then the left, hoping for something to distract her computer teacher. Nothing came and all that was left was an unbeatable, awkward silence just waiting for Willow’s attempt to break it.

“What are you doing here?” Willow finally spoke, turning Jenny’s question back around to her. “It’s a Saturday.”

“Look. If you’re here for what I think you’re here for, then we’re both here for the same reason.”

Willow’s brow furrowed and she looked at Jenny as if the woman were crazy. “Say that again.”

“I said…” Jenny stopped, her voice catching in her throat as she caught sight of something. Her eyes, if only for a second before she recovered quickly enough, widened. “I said that there’s…um…there’s a whole lot of-”

“Vampires behind you,” Willow finished, her own voice growing weak as she lifted her hand and pointed behind Jenny.

And they were right. Behind Willow were five vampires and the six others were behind Jenny, steadily approaching.

Only a minute passed before the cocky glares from the vampires were wiped from their ‘game faces’. A red convertible car came crashing through one of the groups of vampires and Willow, to her ultimate disgust and relief at the same time, realized it was Buffy Summers. Coming to their rescue.

“Get in!”

* * *

Cordelia held back a wince when she lifted her arm up to push the door open, trying to ignore the pain. Angel took care of some of the pain for her and opened the door before she could put herself through any more pain.

Offering a smile, he merely nodded his head inside, motioning for her to go in while his dark eyes sparkled innocently.

“Thank you,” said Cordelia, under her breath and quiet enough to rival a mouth skittering across a carpet. She tried herself to offer a smile, to assure Angel that she was thankful for his politeness and physically okay at the same time. Her attempt was unsuccessful and she cursed herself inwardly as she walked inside, with him just inches behind her, not bothering to keep any sense of space between his strong chest and her trembling back.

Cordelia wanted nothing more than to soak her feet in warm water, put some ointment or ‘stingy stuff’ on her wounds and call it a day; she wanted nothing more than to have the ability to feign that she was okay when she really wasn’t. But she didn’t have what she wanted and tonight wasn’t about what she wanted either. Good or bad, she had to deal with it.

All of a sudden, the doors at the other end of the Sunnydale High School hallway crashed open in an explosion of sparks and wood chips flying in all directions. What emerged from the sudden collapse was a red convertible car that, albeit the scratches and dents on it, was obviously a once good-looking one that the driver was proud of.

“Buffy?” Cordelia and Angel echoed aloud, both entirely surprised that the blonde cheerleader was in fact the driver of the vehicle. The vehicle of which contained not only her but also Jenny Calendar and Willow. “What are you doing here?”

“You don’t seriously think you’re some sort of actress. Whatever you were hiding from me when we last spoke was something I needed to find out. Was in the parking lot, ready to get out of my car and confront you when I saw a bunch of bumpy-faced freaks and knew that something big was going down.”

Taking in a deep breath when she was finished, Buffy looked at Cordelia expectantly, just waiting, without caring or bothering to care about the dozens of vampires trying to get through the mess, for her to accept that she was there and nothing was going to make her go away.

“Two girls who hate each other aligning themselves to save the world?” Cordelia said aloud, more than a little hesitant. She had enough help already, but then again, there was never a limit to how much help she was allowed to accept. “Irony doesn’t vacation, I guess.”

The next moment they were all in the Library, looking for as many things as they could to barricade the wall.

“Don’t block it all the way,” Cordelia reminded them as she grabbed a random jacket from a coat hanger before that itself was used to block the doors. She ripped the sleeve off and dampened some of the blood on her limbs. “I still have to get to the Master.”

Angel’s hand met her waist, his mere touch bringing her attention to him. “We are going to get the Master.”

All Cordelia could manage at the moment was a simple nod. When she turned and saw Giles, helplessly trying to offer support yet only furthering his ‘out of place’ nature by looking around cluelessly with dusty books in his hands.

“Giles,” she spoke to him as calmly as she could, trying to ignore the sounds of struggles from Jenny, Angel, Buffy and Willow as they lifted heavy objects in front of the doors, trying to ignore the tears forming in her eyes against her will…she was trying more than any other time in her entire life. “Do what you can. That’s all I’m asking. Barricade the door, make sure it stays closed. Buffy can help with that, I guess. And Jenny…”

“I’ll be sure to make everyone do what they can.”

“Thank you,” and this time it wasn’t just a thankful gesture, a look, it was a genuine hug. Tight and warm and seemingly unending if the world’s safety wasn’t threatened.

Cordelia admitted to herself in her thoughts that pulling away from Giles’ embrace was something she was surprisingly afraid to do. In his arms, just like her fathers, she felt safer then ever, impassive to the world around her and protected from ill minds and mistakes. Part of what she thought was true, for when she pulled away, she realized something.

“Crap!” was the first thing out of her mouth. She’d forgotten her supplies at home. Her quarrels, her bow, her special, handcrafted stakes… “Everything’s in my bag at home.”

Angel shrugged, looking out the circular window to see the horde of vampires steadily approaching; taking their time to murder every single person they come across without hesitation. “I guess we’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way. Old-fashioned for me anyway.”

“And what way is that?”

“By snapping their necks. Snapping them hard.” Angel pushed some of the objects far enough from the door so that they both could slip out fast enough for the doors to be safely barricaded within seconds. “You game?”

“I’m game.”


Part 7

As Cordelia looked around at the others, she saw the eager gleam in Willow’s innocent eyes, so delighted to see her friends alive…perhaps not well, but alive at the least.

No matter the dirt or tears on Cordelia’s impassive face, or the blood seeping from abnormal places on Xander, it seemed to the Slayer that Willow was happy to have the chance to spend more time with them, even if a few weeks in the hospital were likely to come from their injuries.

Giles, on the other hand, looked the part of a father seeing his daughter return from college after a year, so happy yet so proud. It all mingled in his tinkling blue eyes in such a subtle way that it brought more tears to Cordelia’s eyes as she kept walking closer and closer…not to them but to what was in the middle of the room, the center of attention coming in secondly only to her.

Angel’s injured hand, the one that staked Darla through the heart to save Cordelia and Xander’s lives, was still at the small of her back, guiding her carefully, not once forcing her to move too far too fast. She appreciated it and wished she could say it, could show it in her eyes, or her smile.

Only thing was that she had no smile. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from The Master’s skeleton, a creepy, symbol of his former power.

His undead existence was over because of her. Because of Cordelia Chase.

Everyone was proud, yet Cordelia was still on the edge, her movements rigid and her senses strong.

“You did it,” they all said at different times and in different ways.

Only Buffy Summers remained silent, her expression as stony as Cordelia’s.

“I…” words slipped out of Cordelia’s aching mouth, sneaking out of her closed, numb lips. She wasn’t speaking for herself yet the words still came. Her mind was blank as a parchment page and yet she kept speaking. She was confused yet curious at the same time. Even if she wasn’t in control of what message she relayed, she still had the power to listen to it and do what she wanted. “He’s coming for me.”

Before anyone could show confusion, surprise, shock, subtle worry over her mental health, Buffy Summers took a step forward, looking at the skeleton inquisitively before locking stares with Cordelia, her green eyes eerily alert. “No. He’s coming for both of us.”

Without a moment to catch her breath, a hand, rough, dark skin, grabbed at her shoulder powerfully and painfully.

Cordelia gasped for air as if coming to the surface after holding her breath for too long, shooting upright in the bed she slept in at night. It wasn’t her bed, obviously. The comforters were a different color, with a different texture to them and far more expensive than the one she slept in at night. The one she was under at the moment was drenched in cold sweat. Pulling the covers off of her with a shaky hand, Cordelia ran her other one through the thick mass of her hair, trying to uncover what exactly the dream was about.

“Fifth time in three days,” she said to herself, making a mental note, too lazy to write it down in her notebook. The one Angel bought her the day after the day after she died.

She’d had a few daydreams, nightmares and was convinced that they meant something. Even if she gagged at the thought of it, she needed to write them down, see the patterns, if there were any. It was Angel’s idea and Giles eventually agreed, after getting over the fact that he didn’t come up with the idea himself.

Her feet were sweaty and stuck to the wooden floors of the guest room of her mother’s house just outside of Los Angeles. She’d moved out of the old one, where they lived as a family, and picked out the first one she saw that was an ugly white. She called it ‘Bakers White’ and Cordelia called it ‘Ugly White’. They had agreed to disagree, thankfully, an hour into the argument.

Turning the doorknob quietly, she slipped into the hallway, trying to not make a sound to alert her mother, who quickly discovered tendency to come home late at night or sneaking out and had decided to keep an eye out at night. Hopefully she’s asleep.

Her hands slipping along the railing, she tiptoed down the annoyingly long, 20-flight staircase into the foyer, where she nearly walked into a wall before deciding to turn on one of the softer lights down the hallway that led to the kitchen.

Unfortunately for her, the calendar was posted right beside the doorway and immediately caught her eye. She shook her head and tried to pass it off as nothing, not a big deal. But it was.

It’s been two and a half months since…

“Two and a half, not a big deal. Call me when it hits three months and then I’ll get my freak on.” Cordelia shook her head again and again; trying to force the thoughts out of her mind, to force the pain of recollection from her head…didn’t work. As always.

Pulling a cup from the cupboard and filling it with nice cool water, Cordelia lifted her head to look outside the window, to see the stars and hopefully distract herself. Only she got more then she bargained for when her eyes caught sight of something out of sorts. A face, but not one of a human, looking at her with crimson eyes and grinning wickedly at her.

A blink or two and it was gone. Walking outside to double check, Cordelia nearly fell off the back porch before she let it go as a hallucination.

Even when she went back inside and drank the rest of her water before heading back up to bed, she still had an odd feeling that the face she saw was connected to the hand that left an impression on her shoulder in her dreams.

And it was only when she fell into bed, aimlessly stretching out, trying to get comfortable, that she discovered the impression wasn’t just mentally. It left a physical blood red mark on her shoulder in the shape of a four-fingered, disfigured hand.

* * *

Buffy didn’t know what she was doing anymore. Usually she didn’t think to speak. She said the first thing that rolled off her tongue, whatever touched her thoughts for only a millisecond and it was done with. But now she had the strangest feeling that she had no control whatsoever on what to say or what not too.

Then she was walking, taking a small step here, a small step there. She was getting closer to Cordelia and for some reason she felt safer, even if what she was talking about frightened her to the limits.

“No, he’s coming for both of us.”

A bolt of lightening or a flash of bright light. Whatever it was, it scared Buffy Summers more. Suddenly, she was able to see clearer and stopped shielding her eyes as she looked down what seemed like a tunnel.

A dark tunnel with the exception of a small white circle at the very end that seemed to be growing closer. It was like it was moving towards her or…the impossible was that she was moving towards it. Her feet weren’t moving but somehow she got the gist that this wasn’t just a dream and she wasn’t just Buffy anymore. Someone was taking over her body or her dream.

The thought of ‘What if this isn’t even a dream?’ scared her enough to distract her from what was behind her. For only a second or two. Then she felt the burning grip of two deformed hands on either side of her, burning into her ribs.

She arched her neck and looked to see who or what was hurting her. Only what she saw scared her more than death itself.

With a thud, Buffy fell off her bed, grunting when her head hit her nightstand. For a moment her eyes rolled back into their sockets and her tongue lolled about in her mouth as she tried to recover from whatever the hell just happened to her.

“What the-” Buffy growled and fumed at herself, getting to her knees and looking over her bed apprehensively. She had never really fallen out of bed before, to her recollection, and she was getting her bearings at the moment. Making a few more indiscernible noises she forced herself to stand up, proclaiming that she needed water for a reason to do so.

Stumbling down the stairs, trying to find an even footing, she looked around, her vision slightly blurry and her surroundings hardly recognizable.

Buffy knew she was in her house, and knew where she was in the house, yet there was still that feeling as if she were in some strange place, some place she hadn’t been in ever before. It remained in the pit of her stomach along with the sinking feeling that she had woken up from a dream she couldn’t remember.

It was a scary feeling, one that she wished to never experience again. Unfortunately, even as she poured herself a nice, cold glass of water and downed it, she couldn’t fight the lingering, eerie sensation in her gut.

Then it happened. Something caught her eye. Right when she looked up her eyes caught onto a glimmer of something the color of blood from the bushes in her front yard. Grabbing the first thing her hand could grab onto, a metal spatula, she moved quickly to the front door, looking through the peephole before unlocking the door to go outside and inspect the front yard.

Buffy knew she wasn’t being brave by going out in the middle of the night with nothing but a spatula for protection. It was just a stupid move on her part, but it was her choice and she knew she could stand to sleep through the night when she had the feeling that there was something out there, watching her.

So the first solution that popped in her head was to go outside and check, regardless of the possibility that someone or something dangerous was waiting for her.

Tiptoeing through the clean-cut grass towards the row of bushes lined along the front lawn, Buffy took in a deep breath, gulped loudly and steadied the hand holding the spatula.

Right when she was just about ready to pounce upon the bushes, to scare whatever was hiding in them, a hand grabbed at her shoulder and she yelped loudly, breaking the silent night air.

“What the-” her voice got caught in her throat when she spun around to see that it wasn’t some psychotic, masked man who was looking to slit her throat or steal her prized possessions.

It was Bobby. Her ex-boyfriend. Buffy found herself neither relieved nor disappointed at the sight of him.

“Hey, babe.”

“Don’t call me babe,” Buffy growled at him in a hushed voice, disgust slipping into her tone as she half-rolled her eyes. “It was stupid when you called me that when we were going out. What makes you think it’s alright to call me that after we’ve broken up?”

Bobby recovered nicely and grinned sheepishly in that way he knew drove most girls crazy.

But Buffy Summers wasn’t most girls and she kept to the topic at hand, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for you. Jake’s having a monster party down by the old warehouses. Music, beer and a lotta fun. Has your name all over it.”

“You’ve obviously lost all of your brain cells,” Buffy rolled her eyes again and pushed him out of her yard. “I’ve never had a drink in my life and I’m not starting with a guy that I broke up with.”

Bobby rolled his eyes, “Shit, Buff. You think I’m gonna fall for your innocent act? Didn’t work when we were going at it. Not gonna work now.”

“Going at it? What’s your child trauma and why does it make you think that we were ever going at it? And besides, it’s not an act. Dumbass.”

She turned to go inside, but his hand shot up, grabbing her wrist and gripping it painfully tight, keeping her from moving any further.

“Like hell it isn’t,” he said with an edge to his voice like no other time she had ever spoken to him. He was intent on getting back in his car with her and it was plain to see that he wasn’t going to disappoint himself. “I know what you’ve done with all the other guys at school and why you broke up with me. Had too much on your plate and decided to scrape some of the less tasty scraps off so you could enjoy the rest.”

Buffy slipped her and from his grip quickly and skillfully without even thinking about it. In fact, she surprised herself that she was able to do it and that when she did she automatically took a few steps back, preventing him from grabbing at her again without having to walk forward. “Go home, Bobby.”

Whatever she saw outside wasn’t Bobby and she was wondering what it was and why she missed it. She had the strange gut feeling that it was no longer around and she tried to figure out how it got away so quickly without her noticing.

Bobby was the least of her problems but at the same time, he just wouldn’t go away.

“Come with me,” he said to her, his voice deeper and more demanding as he made another mistake by stepping forward and reaching out to grab her.

What happened next was a blur for Buffy when her limbs started moving. A moment later and Bobby was on the ground, clutching at his groin area and at his nose, which was bleeding.

Looking at her hands astonishingly, Buffy stuttered a few moments before stumbling towards her front porch. Before going inside, she managed to speak to Bobby for the last time, she hoped. “Go away, don’t come back. And don’t tell anyone about this.”

* * *

Yawning profoundly, Cordelia stumbled into the kitchen, still tired and exhausted from the dreams she had. The curtains were pushed open, allowing sunlight to spill into the kitchen, causing Cordelia to drown in the brightness and attempt to focus her eyes. When she did so she saw her mother, reading the morning paper absently and drinking her usual mocha.

“Morning, Mom.”

“Morning, Cordelia…didn’t think you’d be up anytime soon. But if you want anything, I’m willing to cook.”

“No, it’s alright. Cereal’s good for me.”

Cordelia was lying of course. She would kill for some scrambled eggs with some linguica but didn’t want her mother to go through the trouble. It was a weird sensation, to feel like a guest in her own mother’s home…one that troubled her because of how distanced she was with her now.

Yet, weirdly enough, she was relieved at the same time, accepting the distance between her and her mother.

Because sooner or later her mother would move on, start a new family perhaps, and she’d have to go away. Cordelia knew it’d be easier to keep a certain level of distance so she wouldn’t feel so hurt when her mother would do those things. It was a dumb thing and smart thing to do at the same time.

“I’m going to go get a new vacuum cleaner. The one I’ve had is getting a little old.” Her mother laughed, running a hand absently through her thick brown hair just the same length as her daughters. “I think I’ve had that thing since-”

“You and dad were still married?” Cordelia finished for her, not even bothering to look up as she focused on the empty bowl on the counter in front of her.

Clearing her throat, her mother grabbed her purse and walked over to her, pressing a soft kiss atop Cordelia’s head before pulling away.

“I’ll be back in a few. If there’s anything you need for me to pick up, give me a call. You know the number?”

Cordelia merely nodded.

Before her mother left, however, she snapped her fingers and turned to Cordelia while walking backwards towards the door. “Oh, before I forget. Someone called for you. Angel, I think.”

* * *

Before her parents even considered getting up to go golfing or whatever they did without Buffy, their only daughter slipped out of the house without them knowing.

She’d sat in her bed for an hour or two after she practically broke Bobby’s nose and damaged one of his testicles just thinking about what happened. Because she had no clue as to what occurred. It was as if what she did was a matter of impulse.

Speaking immediately, impulsively…that was what she did.

But kicking a guy twice her size’s ass impulsively? That wasn’t.

Walking into the local coffee shop, Buffy removed her sunglasses and bit the end of them as she looked up at the list of the various types of drinks she could order. They were all some sort of coffee, but somehow, people liked variation, which she didn’t get.

She ordered her usual, tall mocha with whip, and sat down, waiting for it to be given to her. Tapping her foot and her fingers on the table in no certain pattern, she realized how impatient she was.

Being around people, seeing them talk and socialize and do things normal people did…she felt out of sorts, not with them. What they were talking about was some kind of alien language to her and when they smiled or laughed she felt cursed that she couldn’t do that at the moment.

She was also afraid. Afraid that a slip of her control over her hands, over her nerves in her fingers that formed into fists in the middle of the night and hit Bobby Jones straight in the nose, fracturing it more than likely.

Buffy sure as hell wasn’t PMSing but she guessed that a small gesture could insult her and that she might react violently. So when the order of her drink finished and they called out her name, she took it, gave them a 50-cent tip and left as quickly as she could, almost tripping over herself.

Something was going on with her and she was more afraid to even think about it than to admit that she needed help.

The saddest thing about it was that she had nowhere to go and no one for support.

* * *

“Angel?” came that raspy whisper, the one that always drove his body crazy whenever he was around her back in the days of their murderous rampage through Europe.

She looked at him like he was a different person. Which he was, and he was thankful for it on some level. But the look in her eyes, the expression of shock at his ultimate betrayal of her…it was something he’d never seen before. Even when he killed his family, all he saw in their eyes was pure confusion.

Blood was all over his hands and it wasn’t his. It wasn’t Darla’s either, and that’s what pissed him off the most. Cordelia was the one bleeding, the one in pain, and the one trying to be strong even as her impending death grew closer. She didn’t deserve to feel pain, to see her own blood all over herself.

That’s one of the reasons why he finally did what he should have done decades ago. He staked Darla with one of her own quarrels.

As she fell to the ground and her body turned to dust, it was as if time slowed down, as if the entire world stopped just for Angel to witness what he had done. The woman, the vampire, who’d made him who he was deep down, a sadistic demon, and the one who shunned him when he was given a soul…she was gone. He no longer had anyone to blame for his past mistakes but himself.

But then he saw Cordelia, breaking his gaze upon Darla’s crumbling body before it was even over. Looking at her, a wave of confidence spread throughout him replacing any shred of doubt. Staking his sire wasn’t a bad thing at all. One less vampire in the world to take lives.

“Angel…” she said his name just like Darla, her voice throaty. But Angel knew it was only because just moments ago, the vampire now turned to dust had been stepping on her throat.

She opened her mouth to say something more, but before she could even have a chance to, all went black.

The sound of a blaring ring from his only phone woke up Angel from his dream. An actual snarl escaped Angel’s lips as he forced himself out of bed. It was daytime, his time for sleep.

Tripping over his rug as he walked over to the fireplace, where the table that the phone was upon was located near. Picking it up and wiping his eyes, trying to get some sort of bearing on his surroundings, Angel gruffly greeted whoever was calling him, hoping it wasn’t Giles looking for someone to help organize the books in his apartment.

“Hello?”

“Angel?”

Nearly tripping over himself, he moved to sit down, “Cordelia…hey.”

“Am I bothering you?” she asked in a small voice, one so unlike her usual tone. Something was up and it bothered Angel to think that she didn’t just outright tell him. He figured they were past the awkwardness of their friendship and could tell each other anything easily.

But again, he was wrong because he had no idea how a human mind worked anymore, it was slipping past him the fact that a teenage girl wasn’t so easily going to admit her deepest fears to a two-hundred year old vampire.

“No. I was just…,” dreaming about you. “You’re not bothering me at all, Cordy.”

She let out a small, perhaps even nervous, laugh. “Cordy. Wow, haven’t heard that in months.”

“Since we said goodbye.” Angel added, absently losing track as the image of them hugging goodbye floated through his mind. Two more weeks would pass before he would see her again. “I uh…I didn’t know if you would call me back or not.”

Cordelia paused for a moment, “Sorry I haven’t called like I said I would. I’ve been…”

“Busy?”

“Moving on.”

Her blatant response was unexpected to Angel and he tried to hide his surprise. Didn’t work. He stuttered for a response for several seconds before he actually said something. “That’s…um…that’s great. For you. That’s great for you.”

“Well, I haven’t actually moved on yet. Been having a lot of trouble trying to move on,” Cordelia added, her voice giving away her apprehension to speak about it. “The dreams just won’t go away.”

The hint of helplessness in her voice broke Angel’s silent heart. Clearing his throat, he tried to come up with something to say that would make her feel better. But he could never do well at being overly positive and nothing came to mind. “I’m sorry.”

“Angel,” she actually laughed, even if it was only for a split second. “What’d we say about you saying I’m sorry again?”

Angel grinned sheepishly to himself, “That you’d kick my ass.”

“Damn straight.”

They both laughed lightly before silence took over the conversation again.

“And hey, you actually got a phone. Who woulda thought?”

“Well, you were right. Makes it a lot easier to keep in contact. I only wish Giles would stop thinking that I’m so gladly willing to help organize things,” Angel shook his head, finally relaxing into the couch. “First it was his bookshelf. Then his armory. Then his other bookshelf…”

“Angel?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For everything.”

Angel took in an unneeded breath and let out a sigh. “Cordy-”

Cordelia stopped him before he could go too far, catching onto the tone of his. “Angel, stop. Don’t get all modest. I can thank you. And you can say ‘you’re welcome’.”

“Why are you thanking me? I…I couldn’t even save you,” Angel asked her, his voice wavering on the last few words. “If there’s anyone you should thank. It should be Xander. He saved you even when his legs were giving out and he was bleeding from places that he shouldn’t have been bleeding from.”

“You brood too much. You should really learn to accept a thank you when it’s given to you.”

“Not if it’s one that I don’t deserve.”

“God, Angel!” Cordelia growled, growing frustrated. “Can’t you just make it a lot more simple and say ‘you’re welcome’?”

“No, because life isn’t that simple.”

Cordelia scoffed. “It can be if you let it.”

“I couldn’t protect you when I said I would,” Angel reminded her, speaking in such a condescending tone as if he were speaking to a child. Which, when looking at their age difference, it was exactly what he was doing. “When you were lying there, not breathing and with no pulse…I couldn’t give you what you needed. I couldn’t bring you back to life. And if I was alone, if Xander wasn’t there with me, then you would be dead.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird that even though I’m the one who died you’re the one who keeps bringing it up, who keeps making it such a big deal?” Cordelia said to him with a sharp tone, obviously losing her patience. “All I said was thank you. And I wasn’t even thanking you for just that night. I was thanking you for everything. For being there for me. For being my friend.”

“I accept that thank you, but that’s not what-”

“Angel…please. Just drop it. It’ll make this conversation a lot easier to handle.”

Running a hand along his face, trying to soothe his overflowed head, Angel took in a deep breath before finally giving in. “You’re welcome,” he said through gritted teeth, forcing it out.

“I’m just going to go now,” Cordelia said to him, frustrated and exhaling loudly into the phone. “This is just…this is why I haven’t called.”

Before Angel could say another word to her, she hung up.


Part 8

Pressing her shoulder hard against the shelves, the chairs and every last bit of anything that could be used to block the library doors, Buffy grunted and groaned as the vampires on the other side of the doors tried harder and harder to get in. Giles was next to her, showing surprising strength for a man of whatever age he was.

“Push!” he ordered her through a firmed jaw and gritted teeth.

“What do you think I’m doing? Pulling?” Buffy snapped at him, not bothering to keep her biting remarks in check, no matter the seriousness of the situation. She was starting to wonder whether or not she had made the right choice.

If this was the end of the world, she wondered if she was spending her last moments with the right people. When she looked at Giles through her strained eyes she saw the unwillingness to give up.

Across the room she saw Jenny Calendar, the computer teacher who surprisingly was muttering something in Latin, standing beside Willow who was also talking in Latin. Something about doing a spell that’ll help Cordelia and Angel find each other if they’re separated. Both looked nervous, afraid even, but also strong enough to do what they were trying to do.

Then it happened. A bright light, as if lightening had struck, flashed throughout the room and Jenny and Willow, gripping each other’s hands as they continued chanting, tried to stand still as the ground shook.

“That’s not us!” Jenny yelled, referring to the ground splitting in half throughout the library.

The two flew to different ends of the room, both looking quite disoriented. Willow shook it off and stood up, stumbling slightly as the ground continued to shake.

“That was so cool!” she actually screamed, adrenaline obviously seeping through every inch of her.

All of a sudden, something exploded inside of Buffy. She felt it coming, like heartburn leading up to a heart attack. But still, when it came she was as disoriented as Willow was after being thrown across a room and straight into a wall. Her entire life flashed before her eyes as a hand smashed through the circular hole in the library door and grabbed at her hair, her precious hair.

She let out a growl and her hand shot up miraculously fast, snapping the hand in two, causing the vampire on the other side to whimper in pain and retract his hand.

“We need something to block the things, the circular window-things!” Buffy informed the other three occupants of the room as the windows shattered on the other end of the library where all the bookshelves were. Something was going down on the roof of the school too, just above the library.

For a second she thought she saw an ugly looking, costumed freak who had had too much kool-aid to drink.

This time when Buffy woke up it wasn’t so violently. Neither was it a peaceful awakening, but deep down in her subconscious she welcomed the absence of intensity.

Buffy’s eyes blinked open and she gradually sat up in her bed. She rubbed her forehead thoroughly as she shut her eyes, trying to destroy the images of that night at Sunnydale High.

I’ll be back at that hellhole tomorrow.

It was a frightening thing to look forward to. Usually she loved going back to school, seeing some of her ‘friends’ and raising her popularity status. But this year…this year she was afraid to even be touched. At least until she figured out what was going on with her. She could lift her bed without breaking a sweat. She could hear dogs barking a mile away and could see through the night sky without squinting her eyes.

She was no superman, she found out. She couldn’t lift her house up from its foundation but she could move her refrigerator from one spot to another without breaking her back like the man who installed it did.

“Ugh! What the hell’s going on?” was the question she asked herself every time she woke up in the middle of the night from one of her stupid dreams where she relived that night. Sometimes it wasn’t just a recreation of that night though; sometimes it was some creepy vision of something.

Sometimes it was something. What a nice description for the psychiatrists I’m going to have chasing me around if I let anyone know about whatever’s going on with me.
* * *

Cordelia crept quietly to the edge of the rocky lip, peering over to see the path that few walked down, a short cut to the side of Sunnydale where the Bronze was located that teenagers usually preferred.

In the distance she saw two recognizable faces, ones that belonged to her friends, Xander Harris and Willow Rosenberg. Willow looked outright bored and Xander desperately tried to change that by teasing her with some ice cream to the face.

Cordelia couldn’t help but grin at the sight of them so innocently enjoying each other’s company, strolling absently down a path, just wandering along, minding their own business. But the tingling sense along her spine gave off a warning signal and she couldn’t help but scan the area around them.

She’d convinced her parents a week earlier to allow her to take the bus back to Sunnydale. Informing them that it was a test for her, to see if she could handle being alone for a long period of time. And she aced that test. Except for the part where she checked in with her father.

Ten minutes earlier she had arrived at the bus station and caught onto something, a whiff of bad, old cologne that could only belong to a badly styled vampire. She’d followed the trail and there she was, gazing upon her friends.

Using the darkness as her ally, she narrowed her eyes, as if magnifying her vision, and got a closer look at Willow and Xander, who’d stopped walking and were talking about something.

Then she saw the vampire. One that was wearing an ugly brown, suede jacket and blue jeans, totally not matching or even looking good paired with one another. He crept and crawled like the animal he was proving himself to be. Finally, he narrowly escaped their view by hiding behind a tree.

Cordelia pushed herself up and stood perfectly still after that, waiting till one of the streetlights flickered. Timing herself, she tucked and rolled behind a row of bushes, easily providing herself with some cover until she counted to twenty, saw the first flicker of many on the street light that might reveal her, and sped across the grass hill as silent as a mouse.

In a matter of seconds she was about a foot or two behind the vampire, who surprisingly was showing patience as he waited for his own moment to pounce upon the unsuspecting teenagers.

Cordelia didn’t give him a chance though, coming up from behind and wrapping her arm around his neck. With one quick movement, she forced his neck to go too far in one direction, snapping it in two just as Angel had taught her.

Wiping the dust off the front of her brand-new jacket, Cordelia brushed her hair behind her ears and tiptoed around the tree before jumping onto Xander’s back, scaring him shitless.

He didn’t fall straight to the ground, like she expected him too. He actually supported her weight and ran around yelping like a crazy man. Cordelia couldn’t seem to stop laughing.

No matter what troubles she was going to face, she was glad to not only be home, but to be with her friends again.

* * *

Licking his lips and perusing the long line of books in his bookshelf, Giles blinked several times, rubbing his eyes with one hand to keep his eyes open while the other lifted a few more books onto the shelf.

The sound of his phone ringing stopped his chore and he placed the books on his couch before walking over to where his living room met his kitchen at a small little island. Picking up the phone, he tried to sound as warm as possible. “Hello?”

“Giles…hey,” a familiar, feminine voice sounded on the other end of the line. Butterflies fluttered in Giles’ stomach involuntarily and he sat down, stuttering to say hello back while also wondering why the sudden sound of Jenny Calendar’s voice was such a relief.

“Jenny. It’s nice to hear a familiar voice,” he greeted, his voice softening without thought.

“You haven’t had a social summer, I’m guessing?”

“I can’t say that I have,” Giles admitted, a smile tugging at the crease where his bottom lip met his top. “Not to sound rude and unwelcoming, but may I ask why the out-of-the-blue phone call?”

Jenny laughed, hesitating. “I can’t say why because I don’t know why I called you. I got home an hour ago and the first person that came to mind was you.”

Giles nearly fell off his stool when the words fluttered into his ears. It’d been a long while since a woman had told him he was on her mind. And Jenny, he soon discovered by delving deep into his thoughts, was the last person he wanted to forget him.

“R-Really?” he stuttered, his cheeks flushing a soft shade of pink.

Again, Jenny laughed. A melodic sound that not only brought more butterflies to Giles’ stomach but also melted his heart a little.

What am I, a teenager? Five minutes ago I was wondering whether I should organize my tomes by alphabetical or by age. Now I’m sitting here, falling out of my seat and stuttering like a hormone crazed teenager.

“Well, Giles…you have to admit. You and I are about the only tolerable people over the age of twenty-five in Sunnydale,” Jenny admitted.

Nodding to himself, Giles found the sudden urge to continue the conversation until time ended. Talking to an interesting person who also actually wanted to talk to him was a rarity and he wasn’t going to pass up the chance. “How was your summer?”

“Mind-numbingly boring,” Jenny admitted with a sigh. “I guess with all that happened the night Cordelia killed the Master I got a little accustomed to eventful things happening. Then I come here and…blech.”

“Is that even a word?” Giles teased, easing into the conversation.

“How was your summer?” Jenny asked, ignoring his baiting.

“As exciting as yours,” Giles said sarcastically into the phone. “Even if you’d stayed here for the summer you’d have had just as much entertainment.”

“No vampire activity?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” Giles explained, not that sad about it. “The Hellmouth isn’t closed, so it’s quite easy to guess that our problems have yet to end.”

Jenny took a silent minute before speaking and Giles had the strange feeling that she had a sly smirk on her face. “Our problems? So you’re finally including me in the situation?”

“I guess you can say that,” Giles whole-heartedly replied. A lump formed in his throat and he was quiet for the longest time until he realized it was too emotionally dangerous for him to be left alone with his thoughts and began speaking once again to detract away from them. “You said you didn’t know why you called me. Were you telling the truth?”

“It’s killing you, not knowing why, isn’t it?”

“If I say yes will you tell me?” Giles asked, sounding like a little boy, so innocently wanting an answer without being too desperate.

Jenny sighed into the phone, not exactly frustrated but obviously contemplating whether to give classified information to him or not. “Truthfully?”

“Always.”

“Over summer I had a lot of time to think about things,” she explained, her voice getting quieter as each word slipped out of her mouth into Giles’ ear. “My opinions…my feelings.”

Again, Giles lost his balance and nearly fell from his seat. Perhaps it was wishful thinking but the way she was speaking to him about it, he had the notion that the ‘feelings’ she was thinking about were in relation to him.

“I’ve never believed in crossing the line between friend and lover, maybe because I’ve never had to really consider it,” Jenny continued and Giles swore he could hear her heart beating over the phone. Or maybe it was his, beating and thumping against his chest so loudly that it echoed throughout his head. “Giles?”

“Yes?” he asked, his voice almost leaving him.

“You and I…are friends right?”

The silence was breaking by the bookshelf falling forward, crashing onto the floor loudly.

“What was that?” Jenny asked, concerned.

“Um…nothing.” Giles lied, wanting to get back to the topic at hand more desperately than he’d ever suspect himself to be.

“No, I heard it. Sounded like something fell, something broke.”

Giles sighed, looking over his shoulder at the damage. “It was my bookshelf. It fell.”

“Oh. Well, you should really clean that-”

“It can wait,” Giles cut her off, forgetting any sense of control over his emotions.

And Jenny let out a small laugh, obviously noting how much he wanted to continue the conversation. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. First day of school, remember?”

“Right,” Giles ran a hand through his hair, smiling. “Come to the library after school if you can’t get away from your classes, if you like.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

“It’s a date then,” she dared to say, causing Giles to sit up straighter, his free hand gripping the counter.

“Yes…a date.”

* * *

Buffy ran a hand down the front of her shirt, smoothing the wrinkles that she discovered before anyone could see any fault with her outfit.

Sneaking out in the middle of the night after waking up from one of those weird dreams was exactly the remedy to get it off her mind. Shouldn’t have gone to bed so early anyways.

She cleared her throat, popped her knuckles and started to walk again towards the Bronze. Something weird was going on with her but she wasn’t going to let it ruin her social life.

Better to act as if nothing is wrong with me; she had reminded herself while sneaking out of her house. The sign that read ‘Bronze’ flickered as she neared and the door leading inside creaked open. A slight chill ran up Buffy’s spine but she ignored it, gathering as much nonchalance as she could.

Showing no sympathy for the door she pushed it open with a thrust of her hand, almost knocking it off of its hinges as she sauntered into the room, gathering as much attention as she always did.

The first person she saw in there wasn’t one she expected. It was Angel; the cute guy who drove her home after Cordelia killed Jesse. Or ‘staked’ him, whatever. Stake. Kill. Tomato. Tom’ato.

“Angel?” she acted as if she didn’t know him and didn’t know anything about him besides his name. But truthfully, she always wondered about him after that night. And even when Cordelia fought the Master she caught sight of him, caring after her, being with her. A slight amount of jealousy found its way into Buffy’s bloodstream and flowed through her for a moment before she took control.

“Buffy?” he seemed genuinely surprised at the sight of her, his chocolate eyes lighting up for a moment as short as Danny Devito. It was plain to see that he was at the Bronze for other reasons, but he wasn’t necessarily going to tell her to buzz off, which was a relief. “What’re you doing here?”

“I come here all the time.”

“Really, haven’t seen you around.” He surprised her by saying that.

I guess he’s here every night. Never figured that.

Something in her expression obviously gave her away. It didn’t bother her that he could read her so well only because something else was distracting her. Something about him. A feeling in the pit of her stomach that alarmed her. He seemed nice so she ignored it, scratching off the possibility that he was bad news.

“This is part of my patrol. You know about vampires, right? I swear that you were there that night…”

“Oh boy, was I!” She would have spoken further had she not caught sight of Bobby, his nose bruised and covered by a bandage. He immediately backed into the wall and tripped over himself trying to find the exit before she even blinked.

Angel watched him go curiously. “What was that about?”

He’s a curious fella isn’t he? “Nothing. We broke up a few months ago. Still a little weird between us.”

“Oh, okay.” Angel nodded, glancing back at the doorway and replaying the image of the teenage boy running like a girl from a girl. He couldn’t help but allow a ghost of a smile to pass over his face. “I have a feeling it wasn’t mutual.”

“Good guess,” Buffy tried to hide her discomfort, which was slipping fast through her defensive wall. Angel was being nice to her, even if he was a friend of Cordelia’s. The slight sparkle of friendliness in his entrancing, dark eyes surprised her and undid her in a way that she didn’t like, making her uneasy instead of confident, anxious instead of cool.

Plus, the feeling that there was something about him she should know, and if she did she wouldn’t have stuck around, was still floating around in the back of her mind, still gnawing at her insides as if she were hungry. She would have complained about it, lying and saying that she ate bad food and needed to sit down. But to Buffy’s annoyance she didn’t want to bestow her ‘Queen B’ persona upon Angel.

Angel caught sight of the hesitance in being around him, and scratched the back of his head. “You don’t have to stick around and talk with me. You probably have a lot of other people you need to speak with, don’t want you to miss out on some much-needed fun.”

“I guess you’re right…” Buffy sighed, as if disappointed. She looked over his shoulder, then over hers, seeing a lot of familiar faces yet not one that she wanted to approach. “Or, if you’re not in too much of a rush, I can keep you company.”

At first, Angel didn’t respond, as if too embarrassed to turn her down. Before he could say anything, though, Buffy took it as she saw and cut him off with an apologetic tone. “Or not. I mean I’m sure there are lots of vampires for you to…exterminate. Besides, I don’t want to deprive everyone else of my presence.”

She cleared her throat, nodded and then turned to go, thinking whatever conversational relationship she had with Angel ended for good. But Angel’s hand grabbing her shoulder, his grip far from tight, perhaps even comforting, stopped her.

“Don’t,” his voice sent tantalizing chills up her spine but at the same time the touch of his hand to her shoulder weirded her out. The coldness of his hands finding its way through the threads of her shirt to her skin gave off another variation of a warning signal in her mind. Again she ignored it. “I was planning on staying a while. I’d love the company. Unless you really do need to go hang out with your friends.”

“I don’t need to do anything,” Buffy said to him bluntly. “Besides, they can live without me for a night.”

* * *

“When’d you get back?” Xander asked Cordelia when she slipped off his back, still catching his breath.

“Ten or twenty minutes ago.”

“And you came to give us heart attacks first? How generous,” Xander said to her in a mock voice, still rubbing his chest.

Willow nudged Cordelia and whispered, “He’s been a little…testy lately. His lung capacity isn’t so good either.”

“My lung capacity is…dandy!” Xander tried to argue but gave in and smiled, mostly at Cordelia. “Glad you’re back. You’d be surprised at how dull it’s been.”

Cordelia shook her head in disbelief, “You’re kidding. Vampires can be dull?”

“We haven’t seen one all summer,” Willow explained. She seemed so pleased at that so Cordelia decided to leave out the vampire she just dispensed of a minute prior. “Hence the dullness.”

“I actually preferred it,” Xander muttered under his breath. “With the exception of you missing all summer, I enjoyed the line of nothingness we’ve experienced these past months.”

Cordelia nodded. “Sorry if my arrival brings it all back, but I got a feeling that it hasn’t come to an end yet. No matter how much we all want it.”

“Maybe we’ll have some fun now,” Willow said, starting to walk down the path.

Before Cordelia could follow her, though, Xander’s hand grabbed at her shoulder and kept her from moving any further.

Not once blinking or tearing his eyes from her, utmost concern shining in his deep brown eyes, Xander lowered his voice as an indication of the importance of his question. “You doing okay?”

“Now that I’m back, I think I’ll get a lot better.”

“Are you lying?”

Narrowing her eyes challengingly, Cordelia grinned wryly, keeping it to herself when she turned away in response to his question, leaving Xander with nothing to do other then follow right behind her.

* * *

“Goodnight, then.” Buffy turned to walk in the direction towards her house, knowing Angel would go the other direction. But once she walked a few feet, she felt him still behind her, and could hear him trying to form words. Finally she decided to not ignore it anymore and turned around quickly, actually startling Angel. “Is there something else you want?”

“I just…I hate letting you walk home alone,” he admitted timidly, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets and shuffling his feet. “It’s nighttime, and no matter how safe you might think it is, it’s not.”

Buffy nodded, motioning for him to walk beside her and not behind her. “Guess I’d like the company. Just don’t get any funny ideas and jump me when we go around the corner.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Just kidding,” Buffy looked at him curiously. “You don’t joke around much, do you?”

“I guess I’m not a joking kind of guy,” Angel shrugged, walking along side of Buffy.

For a moment he was distracted as they left the alley and were walking along one of the more used streets. Street lights flickering and store signs being turned off were just some of the many reminders that not only was it dark, but it was getting to the time that the creatures who stalked through the night would be coming out of their hiding places. “Maybe it’s because I haven’t really been around people a lot lately.”

“I thought you went to the Bronze every night. That’s the gist I got anyways.”

“I do. What I meant was that I’m not a friendly guy. I don’t have a lot of people to talk to, to make jokes with and stuff that…people like you do,” Angel turned left down a street, remembering out of the memory of driving Buffy home that she lived just a few streets and up a hill from where the movie theatre and the Bronze were.

“People like me? Is that a compliment or an insult?” Buffy asked, forming her tone into an inquisitive one, instead of her usual challenging, sarcastic one.

Angel looked down at her, realizing how short she was compared to him. “Somewhere between the two.”

Buffy scoffed; shocked that he actually was willing to risk his physical health by saying something like that. “You have a lotta nerve!”

“Now that…” Angel stopped walking, turning to face her, a mischievous grin creeping onto his pale, yet handsome face. “Was a joke.”

It wasn’t the funniest one in the book, but Buffy still laughed, and actually blushed a little when his eyes remained on her. For a moment she was positively petrified that her knees would buckle; something she hadn’t felt since before high school.

* * *

Not bothering to grab her keys out of her bag, Cordelia walked up the pathway to her house, hoping that her father wouldn’t be too mad about her taking a detour on the way home.

Maybe I can lighten the mood and knock, pretending to be like a rude saleswoman who goes to people’s houses in the middle of the night. The idea sounded ludicrous but Cordelia did it anyways, tapping on the door in some offbeat pattern.

In the corner of her eye she caught sight of some daffodils along with various other flowers along the porch. They weren’t there before but she chalked it down to her father trying to bring life to their house, even if the choice of flowers seemed a little too feminine.

The door opened and while she expected, rightfully, her father to greet her, she was devastated and confused to discover a woman who looked to be in her thirties with a smile on her face that made her look too happy.

Trying to hold onto her ability to stand, Cordelia blinked several times, laughing absently to relieve the sinking feeling in her heart. “Um…Hi.”

“Hello,” the woman greeted her with a flowing voice, deep and throaty. “Would you like to come in?”

“Sure,” Cordelia couldn’t help but smile, thinking to herself that this was all some huge mistake and she should make light of it. “This is still my house right?”

“Of course it is, Cordelia.”

Cordelia’s smile faltered, “Okay. It’s not the fact that you know my name that’s weirdin’ me out. It’s the fact that I don’t know who you are.”

“Well, your father talks of you quite a bit. I’m surprised that he hasn’t mentioned me on one of your phone conversations.”

Never taking her eyes off of the woman, Cordelia, with more then a little fright in her voice, yelled into the house. “Dad!”

A moment of silence passed and while Cordelia waited for her father to appear she looked at the woman with incredulity while she, oddly, looked at her with an innocent, wide-eyed expression.

It wouldn’t have bothered her if she wasn’t so caught off guard, but for some reason Cordelia had the notion that the woman was acting a little too innocent while she kept her eyes on her.

Finally her father appeared in an apron, looking just as innocent as the woman, only more natural. Cordelia would have pointed out his apron and laughed but it wasn’t the time.

“Cordelia, you were supposed to be home over an hour ago,” he said to her, glancing at the woman for a quick second. “So I automatically presumed you’d be at least two hours late.”

Cordelia took a hesitant step inside, hoping to get near her father, to slap him upside the head and make him realize there was a strange woman in the house. But she knew what was going on. The sad thing was that she just wasn’t willing to accept it quite yet.

She spent three months away from her father, feeling bad for him spending the entire summer alone and wishing she could keep him company and here she comes home to find out he wasn’t alone at all.

“Oh,” he said, realizing the lack of introductions. “Cordelia, this is Sandra. Sandra, this is my daughter.”

Cordelia didn’t even bother to offer a polite smile, only a small nod of her head in acknowledgement.

“She’s my…friend.”

“A friend? Like a business friend?” Cordelia’s words were running into each other as she started to lose the ability to breath. The pieces were falling together so damn quickly that her mind was fogged. She wasn’t going to stop talking until her father managed to speak up and say that the woman was a distant relative or the first lady visiting their house to give them a check for being such a top-notch, albeit dysfunctional, family. “No offense meant by this, but is she our maid?”

“No, Cordelia. She’s-”

“Our real-estate agent?” Cordelia glanced back across the lawn, looking for a FOR SALE sign to relieve her of the tightness in her heart, the sickening feeling in her stomach. “Dad, did you decide to sell the house and move to Malibu without telling me? Is this just a surprise that I’ve ruined?”

“No-”

“Next-door neighbor coming over to welcome me back from L.A.?

“Cord-”

“You’re getting me a gynecologist?” That should have been a perfect question, but unfortunately it did Cordelia no good, causing her dad to finally raise his voice, stopping her from trying to prevent the inevitable.

“Cordelia! Sandra here is…” he seemed unable to say it at first, acting just as mature as his daughter and having difficulty with it. “Sandra and I are dating.”


Part 9

“You’re kidding me right?” Cordelia exasperatingly said to her father in a hushed whisper as she ran a hand through her long, brown locks, trying to get some sense of control over her emotions.

A flicker of guilt passed fleetingly through her father’s dark eyes but left just as soon, leaving no trace behind. Will lifted his hand and placed it on his daughter’s shoulder, choosing his words carefully so he wouldn’t make matters worse. “Let’s try to be civil about this.”

“I’m gone three months and I come back to see some strange woman in our house. How do you expect me to be civil when you kept something like this from me!”

Sighing, Will ran a hand along his face, obviously trying to keep himself from losing control over his temper. He’d planned to tell her over dinner, to slowly ease into the fact that he was dating someone and had strong feelings for the woman. But no, Cordelia, his always-unpredictable daughter, was the one who surprised him, not the other way around. “I didn’t keep it from you. And she’s not strange. She’s sweet, creative, smart and beautiful.”

Now it was Cordelia’s turn to sigh, losing part of her frustration with her father. “I never said she wasn’t. She seems nice but dad, you gotta take a minute and think. How would you react if you came home after a trip to discover I had a guy in the house.”

“That won’t be happening any time soon,” he answered with a low voice, his paternal instincts distracting him from the real discussion. “This is different, Cordelia. I didn’t want to mention this to you because I didn’t know, at the time, if it was going anywhere. What I’m trying to say is I didn’t want you to have crazy notions of having a step-mother when really, I had no idea if there was a future with me and the dating world.”

“I never would have had thought of having a stepmother,” Cordelia assured him, finding it harder and harder to be frustrated with her father. It was his life and she couldn’t tell him what to do, but she just wanted to be included in his big decisions, especially ones that affected the both of them. “But now I do.”

Cordelia glanced down the hall into the kitchen where Sandra was, standing by the island and reading the paper. She looked completely comfortable and settled in a kitchen that wasn’t hers. For a moment, Cordelia’s hands clenched into fists. Maybe it was her territorial side or perhaps she was just jealous, but she hated seeing a woman that wasn’t her or her own mother looking like she belonged in their home.

Shaking herself out of it and placing her hands on her hips, Cordelia bit her bottom lip, hesitating for a moment. Finally, she rolled her eyes, looked away from her father and shrugged. “It’s your life. I guess I just didn’t like being left out.”

Will nodded, reaching an agreement with his daughter for the moment. He looked at her hard for a minute before she finally looked right back at him, a small grin passing over his face. “How ‘bout dinner? I know you’re hungry.”

No thanks. I had a snickers bar on the bus and I don’t want to overeat. Cordelia wished she could just be the bitch for the night and go up to her room, but to keep things civil with her father, she shrugged her shoulders and half-heartedly nodded. “Sure. Why not.”

When she sluggishly followed behind her father, letting her limbs hang low, Will Chase grabbed his daughter’s arm and made her walk faster, giving her a look that clearly said: Behave.

Sandra looked up from the paper before they even entered the kitchen or made a sound, plastering a big smile on her face. She tucked a few strands of her dark hair behind her ears and took on the role of the innocent lady trying to make a good impression.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, and not for the last time.

“Your father and I made spaghetti.”

“Spaghetti? Wow, you really went all out.”

Elbowing Cordelia slightly, Will cleared his throat and smirked at Sandra. “Sandra made it, really. She adds a ‘special touch’ to it.”

Cordelia half-rolled her eyes and gagged at the same time. “I’m sure she does.” Maybe she wasn’t trying hard enough, but she sure as hell wasn’t coming close to even feigning politeness. The words were coming out but the way they were coming off weren’t in the kind of tone that one would expect from a civilized, polite teenager.

Which I’m not, so it all sort of balances out.Cordelia strained a plainly bogus smile and offered to bring the bowl of lettuce to the table, while all the while thinking to herself that she would have to keep herself entertained for the evening. Just nod along and pretend your listening. While that happens you’ll play reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S over and over in your head.

* * *

“You’re kidding!” Willow gasped, shocked at what her friend had just informed her of.

“I wish,” Cordelia grumbled, flipping channels on her TV as she lay flat on her stomach on her bed, regretting even eating the spaghetti. She wanted it to taste awful, to have another reason to not trust, to not accept that woman. But it didn’t. It tasted fantabulous. “They met at their weekly AA meetings.”

A moment of silence passed, but only one and Willow cleared her throat, uncertainty in her voice. “AA meetings? You never…said anything about…”

Cordelia shut her eyes, cursing herself mentally for letting that slip. Willow was her best friend and she still hadn’t wanted to tell her that her father had a drinking problem. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Willow; it was the fact that she didn’t trust herself. Would she even be able to open up emotionally about her father’s persistent drinking problems? It wasn’t a topic she wanted to discuss, the thoughts and reminders in her mind enough to handle already.

“I’m sorry, Will. I just…I just didn’t want to put the knowledge of it on your shoulders. Already too damn hard to handle by myself.”

“I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you want.” Willow’s voice sounded squeakily on the other line, sincerity filling every word. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. But still, if you don’t want anyone to-”

“Thanks, Will.”

“So…”

Cordelia cleared her throat and returned to her ‘rant’ mode. “Anyways. I was sitting at that dinner table, eating the food she cooked when she decides to tell me how wonderful my father was and how beautiful our house is. I love flattery, if given by the right person, but the lady is just telling me what I already know!”

“Maybe she was trying to-”

“Suck up? Exactly!”

“Well, I was gonna say ‘be polite’ but yours is better. Was dinner bad?”

Seeing that nothing was on, Cordelia turned off her TV with a growl of frustration. “There was a lot of gagging, a lot of inner-mocking. And I swear my eyes are killin’ me from so much eye-rolling.”

Willow laughed over the phone. “I’m not taking sides here, but maybe you should give her a chance. Unless she’s evil, I don’t think she can be all that bad. You didn’t get any vamp vibes off of her, did you?”

“Nah, nothin’. Didn’t really think she was, either. She was too tan.”

“Fake-tan?

“Looked natural to me,” Cordelia admitted, her voice seething. “Maybe it’s bothering me more than I thought it would. Maybe with this woman in my dad’s life…I guess it just opens my eyes to the fact that my parents aren’t getting back together.”

“Yeah…I guess you can say that. Sorry I can’t really say anything to make you feel better. My parents may be nonexistent, but they’re doing it together. Ew…I promise to never say ‘doing it together’ in reference to my parents again.”

Cordelia laughed, something she wholeheartedly welcomed. There was nothing more uplifting then a quick chat with Willow. “Tomorrow is the first day of school…”

Willow didn’t sound as disappointed. “With school we can get distracted easier and with all that’s going on in your life and the lack of things happening in mine, we’ll be much better off.”

“If you say so.”

“Which I do. So that makes it true, right?”

“Yup.”

“Good,” Willow sounded as confident as a mouse trying to steal from a large cat. “I gotta go, it’s getting late.”

“Me too. ‘Night, Willow.”

“Goodnight, Cordelia.”

* * *

Swish-swashing the liquid inside her mouth, Cordelia winced and nearly gagged at the horrible taste of the mouthwash she was trying to clean her mouth with. She bent forward and spat the rest of it into the sink, washing it down and feeling extremely relieved to have it off her taste buds.

Taking a sip of water and wiping her hands off, Cordelia looked at herself in the bathroom mirror for a moment, wondering if her mind had any plans of replaying the damned nightmare again in her dreams. She knew it would, as it relentlessly did every night.

Sighing, she turned and left the bathroom, absently throwing her hand along the wall and catching the light switch, turning it off, in one motion. Walking down the hall and into her bedroom, Cordelia pointedly avoided even glancing downstairs or in her father’s bedroom, tiptoeing to insure silence. There was no chance in hell she would be having a long, emotional talk with her father. Not when it was late and she was already in her pajamas, ready to sleep and hopefully have serene dreams.

It was a scary notion to think that she had no control over her dreams. No one really ever sat down and ordered their brain to dream what they wanted, but the thoughts were usually there, in someone’s subconscious. Their deepest desires or fears perhaps, which didn’t fit in with what Cordelia was seeing every night in the blanket of darkness that surrounded her. She was afraid, but of what she didn’t know, which seemed just as frustratingly odd as everything else that went on in her life.

Pushing the thoughts to the back of her mind, she closed her door with a soft thud and turned to pounce on her bed and bury herself in the familiar, warm comforters that she had missed all summer.

Only when she turned around, she saw a familiar, handsome face by her window. It was Angel, a slight seriousness in his presence yet the contained giddiness at the sight of her just below that broody surface of his. The intensity usually found in his eyes was there too and brought a fluttering feeling to Cordelia’s stomach.

“Angel,” Cordelia breathed, her voice leaving her for a moment. The only discomfort in her entire body was there because she was in just her pajamas, which were thin and probably see-throughable by Angel’s acute vision.

Three months away from Angel had obviously affected her more than she had thought it would; which was proven by the overwhelming wave of happiness and relief she was drowning in at the sight of him.

But he wasn’t there to just say hi, to greet her and welcome her back and she knew it by the look in his eyes. Usually he would involuntarily abandon any sense of seriousness when around her, becoming good company instead of the bearer of bad news. She saw that seriousness in his eyes and her heart sunk.

“Hey,” he rasped, his voice husky. Angel’s body moved an inch away from the windowsill, maybe to hug her or to lessen the space between his body and hers, but he caught himself and stood still. “How was the rest of your summer?”

“Fine…” Cordelia allowed herself to go along with whatever he was up to. Small talk wasn’t her specialty and she definitely didn’t prefer it, but if Angel had something important he was leading into, she was willing to wait a minute or two longer. “Yours?”

“I’d say particularly uneventful. I’m sure it was nothing compared to the fun you had in Los Angeles,” Angel shrugged naturally, his modesty slipping through the cracks of his emotional defense. He always slipped up and allowed a part of himself he never allowed anyone to see to come forth with Cordelia. She accepted him for what he was and he appreciated it. “Was it good to see your mom?”

Cordelia nodded, inching towards him, but making it look as if she were moving to her bed. She wanted nothing more than to run to him and hug him, to have him hug her. Their last conversation didn’t end so well but she had gotten over it the next morning and had wanted to talk to him again.

Willow and Xander were her closest friends but with Angel it was different. He was her confidant, someone she could go to and feel better within seconds of his hand touching hers. Sometimes she didn’t understand his intentions or her own feelings for him, but the consistency of their relationship was enough. No matter how tough things got they’d be there for each other.

“It was…nice. Different but nice. I got used to a lot of things. Waking up in a different bed, seeing my mom instead of my dad everyday. But I really missed Sunnydale,” Cordelia admitted, her voice still quiet. “Surprised me a little how much I missed this place.”

“Maybe it wasn’t Sunnydale that you missed. Maybe it was just the people in Sunnydale that you wanted to see again.” Angel smirked wryly for a moment, noticing Cordelia’s approach. “How’re Willow and Xander?”

“Willow’s doing great. They both were a little bored. Xander’s doing fine too. They’re all just…”

“Moving on?” Angel dared to say, his voice challenging as he cocked an eyebrow at Cordelia.

Cordelia took the challenge and turned the tables, running a hand through her hair and averting her attention from Angel, just to further tease him. “I met a few new people too. A couple of guys.”

Angel’s confidence wavered when he couldn’t quite pin down if she was teasing and lying or telling the truth. A bit of envy seeped into his body but he remained as cool as he could muster. “Really?”

“One in particular. Sweet guy. Dark, curly hair and beautiful green eyes,” Cordelia narrowed her eyes, taking on a purposeful wistfulness in her tone, feigning a longing for the guy she was making up. “Tall, handsome and he had the biggest-”

“Alright, alright!” Angel gave in, lifting his hands and waving them, begging her to stop. “I get it.”

Cordelia, smirking playfully, took another step forward. “So…are you making a midnight visit just to see little ol’ me or is there another reason?”

Averting his eyes, Angel cleared his throat. “Well…”

“I knew it. There just had to be a reason.”

“Hey!” Angel growled defensively. “Don’t think that I wouldn’t come here for no reason other than to see you. Because I was planning on doing it anyways.”

Cordelia held back a laugh at how defensive he got. “Whoa, settle down tiger.”

“Sorry…” Angel immediately apologized, lowering his head for a moment and looking to his lap where his hands played with one another. Finally, he pushed his body away from the windowsill slowly, walking closer and closer to Cordelia. When he stopped, he was so close that his breath coursed over her skin, sending chills up her spine. His dark eyes looked into hers for so long that he almost lost himself in the depths of her gaze, only remembering where he was when finally he spoke. “My other reason for coming tonight…”

When he started to move Cordelia almost opened her mouth to protest, assuming he was moving away from her, breaking the closeness they shared. Maybe she was in some kind of trance, but she didn’t want Angel or herself to move away, she didn’t want to be farther away from him then she already was. She spent three months away from the sincerity of his voice, the intensity of his eyes and the security of his strong, muscular body…

Angel, instead of moving away, simply dug into his jacket pocket, looking for something. Finally, he pulled a chain out. At the end of the chain, much to Cordelia’s shock was the cross he had given her when they first met. “You had it in a jacket of yours that you left at my place. Found it a week ago and have been wanting to give it back.”

Taking it from him, Cordelia gave a small smile, still drowning in surprise at the shiny, silver cross. “Thank you, Angel.”

Angel looked down at her, a smile forming on his face at the sight of happiness in her beautiful eyes. “You’re welcome.”

* * *

Sunlight spilled across the empty front lawn of Sunnydale High, bringing life to the seemingly barren environment. All the students were inside for the first day back at school. Except for Xander Harris and Buffy Summers.

Xander, on his skateboard, cursed himself as he looked down at his watch. “Late for the first day. Not good, Harris. Not good at all.”

He looked over his shoulder and made sure that Principal Snyder was no where to be seen, or stupid Harry the rent-a-cop security guard with a potbelly and pepper spray as protection instead of a gun. The last thing Xander wanted was to be caught trying to sneak into school after sleeping through his alarm clock.

Though by looking over his shoulder he wasn’t looking where he was going and only when he knocked right into Buffy Summers did he realize there was someone else he didn’t want to see. She was caught off guard and misconstrued his action as if he were assaulting her, grabbing his wrist awfully hard in response.

But when she saw it was Xander, she stopped her muscles from moving, from tossing the teenager through the air. He was annoying, sure, but she wasn’t going to be throwing him through the air because of it. “Jeez, what’s your childhood trauma? Can’t walk to school anymore so you have to ride a stupid skateboard?”

Xander struggled to respond, trying to pull his hand away from her death-grip. “Not my fault you take up the whole sidewalk, Princess.”

Buffy, ignoring the fact that her nails were digging into his skin and her hand was gripping his wrist so hard his hand was turning purple, rolled her eyes. “I’m already late thanks to the wonderful invention of the alarm clock, which some annoying geek like you probably thought up to annoy me even more!”

“Look, I’m late too. Why don’t we make peace till lunch and then you can chop off my hand for all I care,” Xander growled at her, loosing his cool as he continued to try and slip his hand from her unending grip. He eyed her then nodded his head expectantly towards his helpless, almost violet hand.

Buffy’s eyes widened for a moment before she collected herself, letting go of him and shoving her hand in her back pocket, far away from Xander. Crap!

“Thanks…” Xander spat, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Look, if you wanna make some guy handless why don’t you go do it to one of your boyfriends. I’m sure it’d make quite a statement if the quarterback didn’t have a hand to catch all those touchdown-winning balls with.”

Buffy scoffed, looking at him as if he were covered in dog crap. “Go choke on your own ego.”

Without another word, she turned in a huff and hurriedly moved up the stairs towards the school, not once slowing down or looking back at Xander.

Xander however didn’t start to go inside the school right away, the pain in his wrist catching his full attention. Looking down at his wrist he gulped. As if he’d been given an Indian burn, his entire wrist was reddened with pain in the shape of a small hand. Buffy Summers wasn’t exactly some weak girl, but the throbbing pain in his wrist couldn’t possibly have been inflicted upon him by her. “How-?”

* * *

Buffy cursed under her breath, looking again at her watch. All I needed to do was go to school, get through the day and go to the cheerleading tryouts after school. I couldn’t even do that.

Running a hand through her hair, she paused and sighed, looking up the stairs then down the hallway to her right. She knew the school inside out yet at the moment she couldn’t tell up from down, left from right.

Her hands were shaking and her eyes hurt, the images from her dream flashing before them. That was what scared her the most. She would wake up most of the time and not remember her dreams, but now, as the images flashed before her eyes, she connected the dots and it all started to flood back.

Grabbing at the handrail on the stairs, Buffy leaned forward, her head becoming too heavy to support.

Sitting down, she buried her face in her hands and tried to clear her mind. “Gah!” Doubt flooded her when her thoughts reminded her of the early tryouts for cheerleading. Maybe I shouldn’t do it this year. Whatever’s going on with me is too freaky. I can wait a few weeks and try out then, when all the little sophomores are doing it.

Even when she thought it to herself it sounded stupid, unreasonable and impossible to do. She’d be ridiculed the entire year for having to try out with the sophomores when she, Queen B of the Buffettes, was a superior Junior.

So, she decided, as she stood up while taking in a deep breath, she wasn’t going to let it affect her as much as she had allowed it to all through the summer. Getting her bearings, she turned and walked down the hallway towards class, hoping to return to at least a little bit of normalcy.

* * *

Giles walked out of his office, muttering the words that he was reading from the book in his hand. Without even looking up he lifted his hand and motioned for Cordelia to stop sitting on the counter. “Although I am grateful to be considered the ‘cool’ adult in your eyes, I have to draw a line. Sit in a chair like any civilized human being.”

Pulling out her lollipop, Cordelia grinned. “Good to see you too, Giles.”

His boyishly blue eyes flashing up at her, Giles allowed a small smirk to pass over his face. “How was your summer?”

Cordelia shrugged. “Uneventful. And about the cool thing…not to bust your bubble but have you seen the other adults in this world?”

“Point taken,” Giles closed his book with a small laugh. “I admit it is good to see you.”

They both shared a moment of silence before Cordelia opened her mouth once again. “There actually might be someone at this school that would be willing to beat you down for that cool trophy.”

“And to whom are you referring?” Giles asked, hardly concerned.

“Miss Calendar,” Cordelia cocked her eyebrow suggestively at Giles. “But I’m sure you already knew that.”

“You’re unbelievable.”

Cordelia faked a pout, “But in an adorable way, right?”

“In an unbelievably odd, confusing way actually.” Giles removed his glasses and wiped them with handkerchief. “Now, since you’ve crossed the line of being a naïve teenager to a meddling child I’m going to take my turn. Tell me the truth about your summer.”

“I did tell the truth,” Cordelia lied; averting her eyes and trying to focus all willpower on making sure she sounded convincing. But one glance at Giles, who was staring her down with a knowing glint in his eyes, and she broke. “Alright, alright! Jeez, if looks could kill…”

Giles didn’t say anything, instead choosing to continue looking at her expectantly, waiting for her to give her the answer he knew she had.

“I wrote down in my little notebook the things I could remember seeing,” Cordelia walked over to her bag, opening it and shoving her hand inside, searching for the book. Pulling it out, she tossed it at Giles, who looked incredible dorky trying to catch it. “But like I told you before I left, there were some things that were a little blurry.”

Giles nodded, not even bothering to open it. “I’ll look through it when you’re in your next class. Which is?”

“English.” Cordelia said, her voice not without distaste. She opened her mouth to continue the conversation, to ask him a favor or to make some witty remark that she knew would get on Giles’ nerves, but she stopped when the doors opened and in walked Xander. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Xander scratched the back of his head. “I made a fool of myself by freaking out over sleeping in and racing to get here. Then I remembered when I get to the office that I have free period.”

“Ah,” Cordelia held back a laugh. “So your first day is going well?”

Xander rolled his eyes, “That wasn’t the end of it. You’d think Buffy would prefer to have some hunky man build her a bridge so she wouldn’t have to walk where all the ‘common folk’ walk.”

“What happened?”

“She got mad at me when I ran into her with my skateboard.” Xander looked at Cordelia, waiting for her to agree with him that the blonde bitch overreacted. But he didn’t get what he wanted.

“Look, I’d get pissed if you did that to me too. Maybe not as much as Buffy but that’s only because she has too many gold coins and tiaras shoved up her ass.”

Giles shook his head, “I don’t get teenagers. Xander, running into her was rude and it probably injured her in some way. How did you expect her to react?”

“Look, I’m not stupid. I know better than anyone to not expect an ounce of civility from that girl, but the least she could do was not injure my writing hand. Now I can’t even pretend to be writing notes in class.”

He held out his arm to show both Cordelia and Giles. In replacement of the redness that was there right after Buffy ran off, a large hand-shaped bruise was forming in disgusting vividness.

* * *

Stay awake, Buffy thought over and over. Five more minutes. Stay awake for five more minutes.

She didn’t even know what the teacher was talking about. Maybe it was interesting, she mused to herself, considering the possibility that he was one of those teachers who compared tedious literature with Cosmo.

Edward Thomas, the new English teacher, wasn’t the cutest guy in the world but he wasn’t in the league of uglies like Mister Robins the biology teacher. Buffy just didn’t have the willpower to force herself to even try and listen to what he was discussing. If he had been cuter, she might have found strength to, but not so sadly, he was not.

And the constant whispering of Cordelia behind her? Either she stops or I make her. The tightening of her fingers into a fist was involuntary but not the first thing on her mind however. Her other hand gripped the desk till it splintered, cracking loudly and catching the attention of every last person in the room.

“Miss…” Edward pulled out his sheet with a drawing of the classroom and perused it till he found the seat Buffy was in. “Summers. Is there something wrong?”

“Um…” Buffy perked up, releasing her hand from the desk, shaking the splinters from her skin. “Yeah. Just…your uh, teaching was so…”

The man with long hair reaching below his ears and a hint of a goatee growing across his features lifted his free hand and laughed modestly. “Don’t bother. Nurse?”

“Huh?”

Ed Thomas did well in keeping his patience in check for a student who interrupted his class whilst also damaging school property. “Do you need to see the nurse?”

Buffy shook her self out of her trance long enough to focus her eyes and look down at her hand, which was bleeding from several spots because of the damned slivers from the desk. She could feel Cordelia’s breath on her neck, knowing the annoying brunette was peering over, trying to get a better look at what happened. Holding back a growl, Buffy tried to collect herself. “Sure…I guess I should. Don’t want to spread that hepatitis now do I?”

Grabbing her bag, Buffy slipped out of her seat and walked out of the classroom, holding her head up high but avoiding any contact at the same time.

Moments after the door closed behind her the bell rung and she groaned. Leaving that room brought a small sense of relief deep down and she hardly had the time to even acknowledge it before people surrounded her again.

Then she froze. What’s my problem? Are fumes leaking into my bedroom or what? I love being around people, even when I hate most of them. Why do I want to be alone? I’m not a geek, why should I not like socializing?

A thousand other questions flooded her mind and even as she stood still the world around her kept spinning, moving and shape shifting into different surroundings. One second she was on some secluded beach with nothing but a beach towel, sun block and the image of Brad Pitt plastered in the sky.

Next she was in a dark room with only firelight as a source of her seeing anything. Monsters surrounded her, ones with gray, rough skin and ugly clothing. She wasn’t afraid, only because of the lasting feeling that in a moment or two she’d return to the beach.

Unfortunately a hand grabbing her shoulder shook her out of it and when Buffy turned to see who it was she didn’t bother to repress a groan of displeasure. “What do you want?”

Cordelia looked at her as if she had said something even worse and Buffy rolled her eyes, giving in and speaking with a mock-polite voice. “I mean…do you need something?”

The girl before her wasn’t like the Buffy Summers Cordelia had gotten used to. Not that she knew her all that well but the difference between the one she was confronting and the one she had been surprised to see driving through the walls of Sunnydale high was undeniable.

Buffy looked irritable, out of place and like all she wanted was to not be around brainless jocks and superficial cheerleaders. Which was surprising enough since she only dated jocks and only associated herself with those annoying cheerleaders.

“I talked to Xander,” Cordelia began the conversation, getting right to the issue at hand. “From what I saw, you’ve got a grip on you like no other.”

Scoffing, Buffy turned and started to walk away from Cordelia, speaking to her over her shoulder. “It’s really sad that you have so much free time that you have to go harass people who hurt your itty bitty boyfriend.”

Cordelia followed closely behind her, actually having to jog just to catch up to the unusually fast-walking Buffy. “He’s not my boyfriend.”

“That’s right. Forgot that you have dibs on Angel.”

Having had enough, Cordelia grabbed Buffy’s arm, roughly pulling her around so that they were face to face.

Buffy responded just as roughly by pushing herself away from Cordelia, releasing her own arm from her grip. “Look, I have a nurse to go to. Call me shallow if you like but I don’t want to walk around school leaving a trail of blood. If I did then you would be able to find me. Which I do not want.”

An edge in her voice indicated that Buffy was past the line of controlling herself, her hand itching to impact with Cordelia’s cheekbone if she touched her again. The anger she had inside was stemming from nowhere. Or maybe it wasn’t. Buffy didn’t have the time to ponder what underlying emotions were affecting her lack of patience. And she didn’t have time for Cordelia Chase.

And Cordelia wasn’t going to mess with her for the moment when she caught sight of the glint in Buffy’s emerald eyes and angry thoughts that weren’t hers flashed through her mind. When Buffy turned to go she didn’t stop her either, thinking it better to talk to Buffy about whatever was going on later, perhaps when she calmed down.

* * *

Xander grumbled to himself, opening his Spanish book with an extravagant gesture, as if it took every last bit of strength to jump into his homework. “You’d think Ms. Sanchez wouldn’t assign homework on the first day. There’ll be a lot of Spanish verbs spoken so leave now if you don’t want to hear me try and figure out what I’m saying.”

Rolling her eyes, Willow tucked a stray hair behind her ears and looked up from her own Spanish textbook to where Xander was lying on the counter.

The library was empty with the exception of them and Giles, who was in his own little office in the corner of the library. Cordelia was bound to arrive soon and they were waiting for her to start the studying.

“Was it just me or did Cordelia seem a little distant in Spanish earlier?” Xander asked, avoiding Willow’s stare. He didn’t want to admit his other intentions of bringing Cordelia up. She’d been distracted in class and hadn’t responded to his slight flirting. He wasn’t going to fully advance on her until he knew that she had some sort of attraction to him. But he didn’t so he wouldn’t.

“She seemed fine.” Willow bit the end of her pencil for a moment, thinking. “You can’t blame her after what happened. She might be a little distant but that’s normal, I guess.”

Giles exited his office, suspiring a long breath. “Sarcasm has replaced her ability to delve into any emotional topic that involves herself.”

“Cordelia was always sarcastic,” Willow muttered quietly, glancing up at Giles and taking a guess at what might’ve occurred. “Did she hit a nerve or something?”

“No!” Giles defended himself too quickly, pushing Xander off the counter swiftly with his hand. “I was merely stating what I had noticed.”

Rubbing the dirt off of his jacket, Xander stood up, trying to hold onto some sense of cool instead of looking like an idiot. “She doesn’t really talk about it. At least she hasn’t yet.”

“Talk about what?” came Cordelia’s voice right after Xander’s as she entered through one of the doors. A soft reckoning in her deep brown eyes caught Xander off guard.

Stuttering to respond for several seconds, Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled his feet. Giles rolled his eyes at the sight of him.

“Did you speak with Buffy?” the Englishman got right to the point, though a tinge of guilt fluttered in his stomach. He’d grown quite fond of Cordelia and after three months away the first thing he did was question her honesty and whether her dreams kept occurring. He felt as if he’d betrayed her by not showing he cared a little more. But Cordelia didn’t seem to mind, there was no sense of hostility against him when she spoke.

Throwing her bag atop the counter and seating herself on one of the many uncomfortable stools, Cordelia could barely manage to shrug at the subject. “Something’s up.”

Images of Buffy, jaw clenched and hands just itching to form into fists, flashed before her eyes for a split-second before she shook herself out of it. Cordelia didn’t want to waste her energy worrying over that girl, or worrying herself over the disturbing connection she had felt, if only for a few moments.

On the other side of the counter Giles eyed her until she continued speaking, elaborating.

“Look, I’m not going to sit here and act like I really care about Buffy. She hasn’t given me a reason to really like her, so why should I care if she’s starting to get abusive?”

“You’re being selfish.” Giles placed his hands on his hips and looked at her disbelievingly. “What if she’s in danger?”

“Or possessed,” Xander put in, casually sitting on the stool right next to Cordelia. When he received odd looks from both Giles and Cordelia, he took on an innocent, wide-eyed expression. “What? I wouldn’t put it past her to get herself in some sort of situation like that. She brainwashes those girls who follow her around so it wouldn’t be that surprising if she got a taste of her own medicine.”

Giles ran a hand over his face, actually letting out a low rumble from deep within his chest. Xander was right, no matter how stupid his explanation was. And Xander being right about something was a surefire sign of a nearing apocalypse.

“I agree. I say we quarantine her,” Cordelia jumped at the prospect of Buffy being locked in a cage, and by the look in Xander’s eyes and his jumping up beside her, he felt the same way.

Willow didn’t even bother to get involved in the mess, catching sight of Giles looking at the pair with shock.

“What is your problem with Buffy?”

“Nothing!” Cordelia said in a slightly reassuring tone, convincing Xander but not Giles. There was a slight waver in her voice and her eyes averted for a moment when she spoke, which Giles had come to know as an indication that she was holding something back. She saw it register in his eyes and growled to herself for allowing her lie to slip through. “Earlier when I tried to talk to her. She…she threatened me.”

“Buffy threatened you?” Willow asked, finally speaking, looking up from her book and joining the conversation.

Xander laughed, shaking his head. “Heh. Girl’s got more nerve to mess with you than I figured. Unless she forgot about you being a Slayer, which, again, I wouldn’t put past her.”

“And it pissed me off too,” Cordelia said, her voice a low rumble. “But…”

“But what?”

Looking as if she didn’t want to admit it to herself, Cordelia looked at Xander, then Willow, before locking stares with Giles again. “I had the strange feeling that she could go through with it. Some part of me could feel what she was feeling. I could hear her thoughts in my head for a moment. Maybe I was imagining it but…there’s something different about her.”

* * *

Taut muscles and ultimate concentration. Buffy Summers popped her knuckles and focused on the task at hand: to be unbeatably peppy and cheerful with an unending, toothy smile and for her arms to lead her to the coveted co-captain of the Cheerleading squad.

Brace, kneel and lift. Get a good grip, hold on and don’t drop the cargo. Repeating the thoughts over and over in her head, Buffy glanced around the school gym, a chill rising up her spine that forced her to consider that something was going to go wrong. But she buried those negative thoughts and took on the role of peppy, happy Buffy who was going to win her spot on the cheerleading team. She was going to be more popular and powerful than ever and go back to that tolerable life she had before all the weird things started happening to her.

“Do you understand what you have to do?” Missy Adams chirped in her false-cheery, high-pitched voice, sending an annoying spurt of pain through Buffy’s brain, distracting her for a second before she caught onto control of her entire body.

Straightening her posture, clearing her mind except for the directions of what to do, Buffy nodded, plastering that cheery smile on her young features. Sounds of doors opening off to the side caught her attention and she glanced once, twice, three times in the direction, first in curiosity and two times more out of disgusting disbelief. Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenberg and Xander Harris were standing in the doorway, watching her cautiously.

“Great. Another intervention…” Buffy grumbled, backing up and walking behind Sarah Waters, the cheerleader she was supposed to lift and hold in the air with only her hands for five seconds. All she had to do was that, the last objective in the tryouts and she was in.

Screw normalcy. Screw asking for help. I don’t need help. Living alone deep inside, a shell of a human being to the core while walking around with the mask of a popular, rich and happy teenager who ruled the high school she attended was enough for her the past year, and the ones in junior high. Why break the routine?

“One!” She called out, kneeling down in sync with her voice, her hands wrapping around the soles of Sarah’s shoes. Don’t drop her. Just don’t screw it up. “Two!” She locked her legs, saving her strength to endure Sarah’s weight for enough time and tightened her grip around the white tennis shoes. Here we go! Give it your all, Summers.

“Three!” she lifted her up with all her strength, which was a big mistake. Instead of shifting her hands to have her palms under the soles of Sarah’s shoes, Buffy didn’t have anything to hold. The sound of a high-pitched screaming created a sinking feeling in her stomach. Looking up as the world started to move in slow motion she saw Sarah flying into the air. So high that she nearly reached the high ceiling.

Out of instinct, the girl grabbed the nearest thing she could, the scoreboard. Everyone that had been watching in the stands was tripping over themselves to get closer, to get a better look. But Missy stayed put, a roll of her eyes and the look that said: Great. A distraction.

Poor Sarah was starting to slip and grabbed the 1997 State Champs Basketball Team pennant and let go of the scoreboard. A stupid move on her part. She wasn’t a fat girl but her weight was hardly supportable by the flimsy banner and it ripped off the wall, causing her to swing directly into a wall.

As everyone rushed to help her, Buffy looked down at her hands in disgust. She was wrong yet again. No going back. Something was seriously wrong and she couldn’t even return to her normal routine because of it.

Much to her dissatisfaction, the first thing Buffy saw when she looked up was Cordelia, Willow and Xander walking closer and closer.

Her secret was no longer hers.


Part 10
“This is…this just…” for once Giles was out of words, stuttering and trying to form a sentence as he shuffled through his Watcher’s Diaries and books in relation to paranormal rarities. In a huff, he turned to Buffy, who was sitting in a chair in the center of the library, surrounded. “Are you sure?”

“Am I sure of what?” Buffy snorted, trying to salvage her confidence by doing what she did best: being difficult. “Remember, I was the one bound, gagged and dragged in here like some kidnapped child.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes, crossed her arms over her chest and looked at Buffy with disbelief, from a distance on her stool by the counter. “We didn’t gag you. We just…took you in forcefully.”

“Alright. You didn’t kidnap me, but you sure as hell harassed me,” Buffy snapped, shooting a threatening glance Xander’s way. “Couldn’t keep your perverted hands off me. Dork.”

Willow grabbed Xander’s shirt, keeping him from jumping at Buffy.

“From groping to jumping me? Wow, you’re moving up the latter of perverts,” Buffy couldn’t resist remarking towards Xander.

Giles held out his hands, losing all sense of patience. “Would you please desist?”

Straightening out his shirt, Xander pouted. “She started it,” he mumbled.

Her jaw firm and her eyes undeniably fuming with unspoken, protesting emotions, Buffy looked up at Giles expectantly, waiting for him to make a point.

Letting out a long breath, soothing his irritated nerves, Giles removed his glasses, wiping them with his handkerchief as he always did when trying to remain the calm one in the room. “When did these…instincts you speak of, start surfacing?”

“The instincts? They pretty much started when I got a good left hook and used it on Bobby Adams.”

“When?”

Buffy thought for a moment before replying. “’Bout a month ago.”

“Well,” Giles let out a small laugh as he turned to close some of his Watcher’s Diaries. “That rules out-”

“Wait!” Buffy stopped him, creating a sinking feeling in his stomach. “I…I think it happened before that.”

Without turning to face her, Giles asked her, his voice quiet, as if he barely dared to even speak through the tense silence. “Explain.”

“Being the rational person I am, I ignored any weirdness,” Buffy said, casually getting to the point. “I’d be able to open pickle jars without having to run them under water or banging them against the counter. I’d be able to carry my books when I was emptying out my locker.”

“You had books in your locker?” Xander snorted, bringing an elbow to his ribs from Willow.

“They were school books, genius.” Blowing a piece of hair from out of her eyes, Buffy continued. “You can say it all started towards the end of last school year. Maybe it was something I ate, I don’t know.”

Cordelia sat up, something in her head snapping into place. “The end of last year?”

When Buffy nodded in agreement, Cordelia exchanged a quick, panicked glance with Giles. “Do you know when exactly?”

“No.” Buffy rolled her eyes. “I would’ve told you if I-”

“Then think!” Cordelia scared everyone in the room with the loudness of her voice, with her standing up from her seat and taking a step towards Buffy in an intimidating manner.

Giles brought his hand to her arm, trying to calm her, even though he was just as confused and panicked at the possibilities flooding his mind. If what he and Cordelia were thinking was true then a shift in the universe and its laws had occurred and their lives were changed dramatically.

But Cordelia didn’t let him touch her, pushing away from him while never taking her eyes off Buffy. “When you crashed through the doors that night we were all here. When all those vampires were trying to get in here while me and Angel were down below…is that when it happened?”

Buffy could hear the waver in her voice, even if it was only slight, and a lump formed in her throat. All she could do was nod as it dawned on her that something was wrong. Something bigger than not getting onto the cheerleading team, bigger than being the most popular girl at Sunnydale High.

Cordelia, still looking at Buffy, even as her eyes widened and she took a step back, spoke to Giles, who stood behind her. “A new Slayer is called when one falls…that night, Giles, I fell. I died and they picked a replacement.”

Xander and Willow both looked at each other, just catching on to what was occurring. Willow swallowed hard and Xander ran a hand through his hair.

“So there’s…” he began and Giles finished. “Two Slayers.”

* * *

Removing his smoking coat, Angel fashioned a warm smile on his face as he walked through the practically empty halls of Sunnydale High. Cordelia called him and from the sound of her voice she didn’t make it sound like it was good news but he couldn’t help but find a little light in the situation. She was back for the year. No summer trips and it was likely that he’d be seeing her everyday again. They’d have their talks, they’d be good friends again and he would have that purpose to go on living again.

Jenny Calendar walked out of her classroom, almost running right into Angel but stopping herself just short of him. “Angel?”

“Jenny,” he greeted her, continuing to walk. When she chose to walk with him, he continued the small talk. “How was your summer?”

“You’d think going to a different city like San Francisco would be interesting. But, here I am returning to my low-income job and I couldn’t be happier.” There was a bounce in her step and a different curl to her jet-black hair. If Angel didn’t know any better he’d think she’d prettied herself up just a tad more for someone. “You going to the library?”

“Where else?”

“Same with me,” Jenny agreed with a small smile. “Giles asked me to come speak with him after school, said it was important.”

“So it’s a party?” Angel made light of the situation, even though he was slightly disappointed that it was such an open-invitation kind of ‘important meeting’. Sure, he assumed Giles and Cordelia were there, and Xander and Willow too, perhaps. But with Jenny he realized that his invitation wasn’t as special, even if Cordelia had sounded like she needed him and only him there with her.

Just outside the library, Jenny stopped walking right in front of Angel, preventing him from going inside. The look on her face wasn’t a happy one but neither was it dire. “I spoke with my uncle while I was gone.”

“And?” Angel tried not to sound rude, but behind Jenny’s head he could make out through the small, circular window Cordelia’s shapely outline.

“He was planning on visiting Sunnydale. Making a more…hands-on investigation of your being here,” Jenny explained, getting Angel’s attention, if only for a few seconds. “But I convinced him everything was fine…so far.”

Angel nodded, a look of gratefulness flashing in his dark eyes. “Jenny, you didn’t have-”

“We both helped that night when we didn’t have to,” Jenny said to him, cutting him off before he could spew his usual modest ‘you don’t have to’ words. “I don’t want to be wrong about you, Angel. Prove that my faith in you was a good decision.”

For once Angel felt as if he was truly going down the right path, even if he remained a little uncertain. “I will.”

Jenny nodded, flashing a small smile at him before turning to open the door. But Angel stopped her, grabbed her shoulder softly and turning her to face him. In all sincerity he offered a true, small smile. “Thank you.”

She didn’t respond, only returning his gesture by continuing to smile.

They both entered through the swinging double-doors. Both were quite surprised to see Buffy sitting in a chair in the middle of the room, not tied and gagged but looking quite uncomfortable nonetheless.

“Angel!” she said, happy to see him. Or at least happier to have him around than anyone else in the room.

“Buffy?” Angel looked at her, then to Giles, then to Cordelia. “What’s going on? You said it was important.”

“I just got off the phone with the Watcher’s Council,” Giles said, his voice even and quiet. He actually perked up at the sight of Jenny, remembering his invitation for her to join them, a small smile appearing on his face for a few moments. “Hello, Jenny.”

“Hi, Giles.” She said back, finding no reason to stop smiling. She actually lifted her hand in a small, cute little wave before retracting it and returning to the maturity level she should have for her age.

Cordelia and Buffy rolled their eyes simultaneously. Then uncomfortably cleared their throats and averted their eyes when they noticed each other.

“Seriously, what’s going on?” Angel asked.

“Seriously? Like, I’m seriously being told I’m some sort of Wonder Woman who kills vampires with little wooden sticks,” Buffy snapped, her patience obviously wearing thin.

Xander snorted, “You’re no Wonder Woman.”

Buffy looked at him, narrowing her eyes. “That’s right, Wonder Woman is a brunette. I guess that leaves the position open to Cordelia. I’m sure you’d like that.”

Scoffing, Xander made a pssh noise and opened his mouth several times but never shot back with a comeback, much to Buffy’s pleasure.

“Why were you talking with the Watcher’s Council?” Jenny asked Giles, walking past Angel over to Giles. She could hear him take in a sharp breath and she held back a grin.

“Buffy is showing the signs of strength and instincts usually only exhibited by a Slayer,” Giles explained in a formal tone. “And apparently they started the night Cordelia beat the Master.”

Cordelia shook her head, not looking anyone in the eye as she spoke in a quiet tone. “The night I died.”

Jenny and Angel both had identical wide-eyed looks at the revelation, Angel’s more subdued then Jenny’s though. He was obviously trying to be civil about it while trying to not take sides. The tension in the room was thick enough that even the sharpest of knives couldn’t cut through it and the strange feeling in the pit of Angel’s stomach pushed him to the conclusion that it all surrounded the brunette and blonde in the center of the room.

Buffy obviously wanted to leave, wanted nothing to do with any of what she was hearing and Cordelia looked like she’d immediately volunteer to be the one to toss her out of the room.

“So, what you’re trying to say is the possibility of her being the next Slayer, the one called after Cordelia drowned that night is open to spec-”

“What I’m trying to say is it’s not just a possibility anymore,” Giles said to him, cutting him off before he could even try and lessen the gravity of the situation. “The Council agrees with me. They’re sending her a Watcher and he’s scheduled to arrive within days.”

“Whoa, whoa whoa!” Buffy finally had enough and pushed herself up from her seat. Cordelia tried to push her back but with a quick swipe of her hand she knocked away Cordelia’s. “So I guess being a Slayer strips me of making my own decisions, right? Since you up and decided that I deserve a crusty old foreign guy watching me like a Perv everyday.”

Giles sighed, holding back the urge to snap at Buffy, knowing that doing so wouldn’t be fair. It isn’t her fault. “This is serious, Buffy. Nothing like this has ever happened before. When a Slayer dies, another is called. That’s the way it goes and it didn’t happen this time. Cordelia cheated the cycle.”

Angel stepped forward and put his hand on Buffy’s shoulder, who surprised everyone by not pushing it away. “Being a Slayer isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Buffy. It may seem like it but we’re not trying to control your life. We’re trying to help you understand.”

She hesitated for a moment, looking him in the eyes, then looking away, shuffling her foot and trying to be civil while not abandoning her own sense of self. “I don’t handle well when I’m being ordered around.”

Angel offered a comforting glint in his dark eyes and a small smile tugging at his lips. “Trust me?”

Buffy looked at him for the longest time, contemplating how bitchy she’d look if she stormed out right then and there, what Angel would think of her if she just gave up and left them to deal with it by themselves. But a small flame deep down in the pit of her soul urged her to stay, to put her trust in Angel, in Giles. Even if they were lying, she saw that they really did want to help.

“No, I don’t trust you,” Buffy said to him and before he could look away in disappointment, she finished in a slightly positive tone. “Not yet anyway.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Cordelia leaned against the wall, looking over Angel’s shoulder to Buffy. “I’d be more supportive if she’d be a little more reasonable.”

“She agreed to stay, to listen to what we have to say,” Angel reminded Cordelia, not bothering to keep space between his face and hers, his nose almost brushing against hers. “That’s reasonable, I think.”

“I guess you’re right,” Cordelia said with a sigh. “It’s not her fault that she’s in this mess. Can’t blame her.”

“That’s right, you can’t.” Angel agreed emphatically. “We have a chance to give her a support system. One that you didn’t have until you came here.”

Cordelia nodded, “I know, I know. She needs to be a little more tolerable, though.”

“Tolerable how?”

“When I found out I was a Slayer I didn’t react as badly as she is right now,” Cordelia whispered, pointing Buffy’s way. “Why can’t she, huh? What’s keeping her from being a little more calm?”

“She’s not you, Cordy.” Angel glanced over at Buffy real quick before returning his attention to Cordelia, who was wearing his patience thin. “She’s in an entirely different situation. And you’re being a little selfish.”

“Selfish? I’m being selfish?” Cordelia pointed to herself, a disbelieving look crossing her face. “How am I being selfish?”

Hesitating, Angel tried to figure out if he should tread the dangerous topic or just leave it be. “Maybe because you’re not the only Slayer. Don’t you think that you’re putting too much on her shoulders? It seems to me as if you’re looking for things to blame her for. She’s trying, she’s sitting in that seat like Giles told her to and she’s not bitching. What more do you want?”

Angel didn’t bother to wait for her answers to those questions, turning away in a huff. Cordelia rose her hands defensively and watched him go with shock. “Whoa!”

She grabbed his shoulder and stopped him from putting anymore space between the two, from walking away from an argument that they were both involved in. “What the hell, Angel?”

Cordelia didn’t bother to keep her voice down, and neither did Angel, who turned to her with not an angry face but a more submissive, subtly defensive one. “Just give her a chance. You gave me one, and I did for you, why not her?”

This time he waited for her answer, only she was lost for words, not able to say what she was really feeling. Angel shook his head and returned to the group.

* * *

Looking through her bag to make sure she had her keys, Cordelia walked down the hallway towards the exit. Neither pleased nor disappointed at leaving the library, she wondered for a moment if taking the long-road home would be okay to do. There was a chance that Sandra might be at home and she didn’t want to waste any brain cells by talking with her.

“Cordelia!” came a deep voice from behind her; she stopped but didn’t turn around, knowing it was Angel.

He stopped just behind her, his hand slowly reaching up and grabbing her arm but nothing more. Angel didn’t force her to turn around or grip her too hard, all he did was hold her arm and stand close behind her, so close that his chest was pressed up against her back.

All sense of personal space was lost between the two and Cordelia didn’t mind. In fact, all frustration she had for Angel was lost at his gentle touch and his mere soothing presence. “That was an interesting argument we had back there…”

“Yeah. It was.”

Finally, Cordelia turned around to face Angel, who didn’t give her any room so when her hand brushed along the front side of his pants, she had no one to blame but herself and her cheeks flushed pink. Returning to what she was planning on saying, she salvaged some confidence. “Willow and Xander…they’re my closest friends. I never thought I’d have better friends than them but when it comes to you…when I think about a best friend I-”

“You’re the only real friend I’ve ever had,” Angel admitted, a ghost of a smile passing fleetingly over his face. “I overreacted back there. Not that what I said wasn’t true, I just regret how I approached the situation. I hate thinking of you as the kind of person who doesn’t give people chances, either first or second ones. It must be stupid of me to think that you’re as close to perfect as anyone can get.”

“That’s not stupid, Angel. We all know I’m perfection in human form.” Cordelia looked into his eyes and a moment of unspoken emotions was shared between them. Then they both laughed when Cordelia gave him a wink. “Buffy’s not as bad as I make her out sometimes but she hasn’t proven to me that she can be trusted. I wanna give her that chance but I just can’t. Not yet.”

Angel’s brow furrowed, “So that’s your problem with her? Trust?”

“She hasn’t shown that she can think of anyone but herself. What if, when the time comes, she has to choose between saving her own skin or saving ours? What do you think will happen?”

“She’s not that bad, Cordy.”

“You don’t know! No one knows for sure and that’s what pisses me off and scares me the most about her being the…the other Slayer.” Cordelia shrugged, looking away for a moment after what she just admitted. “There you go. There’s something that I would never admit to anyone else but you. Happy now?”

“A little. If you tell me more secrets I might do a dance,” Angel teased.

But Cordelia remained as serious as she could, “I’m afraid of her hurting you. Or hurting me through you. She’s used guys before, according to what I’ve heard around Sunnydale.”

“They’re just stories though, and I don’t believe that Cordelia Chase is a girl to believe rumors,” Angel said to her slowly, placing his hands not on her shoulders but on her hips, holding her in place, which was extremely close to him. Yet neither noticed, it seemed all too familiar and natural that they automatically went along with it.

“Sorry that I freaked out in there,” Cordelia finally apologized. “Lately I’ve been wearing my heart on my sleeve, I guess you can say. One of my faults.”

“I’d hardly call it a fault,” Angel comforted her, making Cordelia feel even guiltier. I was a bitch in there and he is still being the nice guy, still being good to me.

After a minute of silence, Angel spoke again. “You goin’ home?’

“Yeah,” Cordelia nodded. “Need a shower, desperately. This whole day has been so exhausting. You?”

“Headin’ back to my place. It’s 5 o’clock, I should be in bed,” he half-grinned sheepishly. “Sewer entrance is through the basement.”

He nodded to the right where the door leading down into the basement was. Cordelia looked to the door then back to Angel, “You should go then. Patrolling tonight might be too much for me.”

“You’re actually admitting that?”

“Only because I’d like you to patrol with me,” Cordelia admitted, winking at him before bursting into a fit of laughter. “You up for it?”

“Call me in about two hours and I’ll have the answer by then,” Angel resisted the urge to just jump in and admit he wanted nothing more than to patrol with his friend, to get into a routine again. But he took the low-route and decided to lead her on, teasing her until she called hours later. “You think you could wait that long?”

Cordelia cocked her eyebrow up at him, taking a few steps backward, pressing her hands against his chest and pushing away towards the exit. “Can you?”

Angel’s heart swelled up at her ability to tease him so damn well. Finally, everything seems to be getting a little better.

* * *

Removing her shirt over her head, Cordelia absently lifted her foot to reach inside the shower stall and twist the knob to just the perfect temperature. She’d done it a million times before and it was her little unknown talent. Or, she called it a talent at least.

Sighing out of relief, she unclasped her bra and threw it into her pile of clothes off to the side. She didn’t even care to grab clothes to change into, to grab a towel. All she wanted was to be clean, to be refreshed by the warm spray of temperature-controlled water.

Stepping inside the stall, Cordelia pulled the curtains against the wall so that no water would escape the stall and get onto the floor. Arching her neck she welcomed the overwhelming flow of water running down her face and through her hair, down her body to the tips of her toes.

Massaging her scalp and running her hands through her long hair, Cordelia, for a moment, thought of what it would be like to cut her hair shorter. To have it just above her shoulders and maybe with a few highlights. And the mere fact that she could think of other things brought a sense of alleviation to Cordelia.

The warm water washed away the sweat, the feeling of dirt, the disturbing images from her nightmares, the awful feeling of connection to Buffy and the eerie feeling that something awful was coming her way. She let herself believe the shower head jetting out the massaging spray of water was magic and it was using every last bit of its mojo on her to make her feel better.

Because she was allowed to have empty thoughts for several minutes, she was challenged by her conscience in the sense that her heart swelled up at the thought of all the possibilities in her future, of the people she was putting at risk. She thought of Angel, her father, Willow and Xander, Giles and Jenny and her heart ached at the thought of any one of them experiencing pain because of her.

And now with Buffy in the picture they were twice as likely to be in danger. They were associating themselves with the two Slayers, a seemingly rare occurrence, and would be targets. Enemies of Cordelia’s, and soon enemies of Buffy’s, would hurt them through their friends, through their allies and it frightened Cordelia more than anything when the possibility that her father was among those that would get caught in the middle of a war. He was the last person earth she would want to suffer the consequences of her lifestyle choice and the worst thing was there was nothing she could do but hope. Hope that someone was watching over her, making sure those she cared for wouldn’t suffer which would lead to her, eventually, suffering.

Grabbing the bottle of shampoo, Cordelia squirted it into her hands and rubbed them together before scrubbing her hair, massaging her scalp again and running it through every inch of her russet hair. She was so deep in thought that she didn’t notice the bad feeling in the pit of her stomach stemmed from something else, something far more present and disturbing.
Atop the showerhead there was a small, black dot that could be seen by only trained eyes looking for it. It was a small camera placed there by knowing hands and it was on and transmitting.

Two or three miles away in a basement below his two story home, Edward Thomas watched Cordelia with intrusive eyes and a sly grin on his face.

* * *

Angel opened the door with an exhausted look in his eyes to see Buffy Summers on his front doorstep. Thank god the sun had just set or else Angel would have burst into flames and scared Buffy shitless. “Buffy?”

“Hey,” she greeted him, lifted a flimsy, crinkled piece of paper. “Got directions from Giles.”

“Wha-?” Angel began to ask, stepping aside and motioning for her to come in. Buffy stopped him short and tossed a book into his hands.

“Giles said he borrowed the book from you weeks ago and decided he didn’t want it anymore,” Buffy explained, looking around his mansion with surprise, especially seeing all the windows covered and boarded up. “Wow. Big place.”

Angel closed the door and tossed the book across the room onto the couch. “Glad Giles decided that he would give it back when he decided he wanted to instead of when I asked him three weeks ago…”

Buffy turned to face him, taking on a confident façade even if deep down she was giggling and blushing like a nervous little girl. “Earlier, if I seemed a little…unreasonable…I wanted you to know that I’m not always like that.”

“I can understand why you would be after what happened,” Angel calmly said to her. “This is big and I don’t blame you for being a little hesitant.”

Nodding, Buffy absently looked around again, taking a few steps around the large room. “I still don’t really get it. I’m not stupid, even though Xander and everyone else thinks I am. I just don’t…get it, y’know? What’s so damn important about being a Slayer?”

Angel hesitated to explain, not really knowing the right way to explain the direness of the situation without putting even more pressure on Buffy, who already seemed as lost as someone could be.

“I mean, you don’t need superpowers to throw a vampire into sunlight,” Buffy pointed out, running a hand along his ratty old couch unconsciously. “Why put all the importance on a girl’s shoulders when it doesn’t take much-”

“No, see…you have it a little wrong, Buffy.” Angel offered a small chuckle, walking up to her. “It takes a lot of power to handle the undead. A part of yourself needs to be just as feral as the demons you’re fighting. You need to have a connection with your surroundings.”

Angel held out his hands, looking at her for permission. She nodded and he grabbed her arms, positioning her firmly in front of him. “Close your eyes.”

“What?” she asked, looking at him as if he were crazy.

“Just close them,” Angel ordered in a gruff tone, letting go of her arms and taking a step back. When she did as he said, he lowered his voice and lifted his heels off of the ground so that when he slinked away he’d barely make a sound. “After a few seconds, tell me where you think I am. No peeking.”

He smirked slightly when she held out her hands a little, hesitating. Buffy deserved to have some sort of support system and he was willing to provide it. Giles and the rest of them had obviously not spent much time trying to explain the entire situation in a way Buffy would understand and he felt sorry for her because she didn’t merit that treatment.

“This is stupid. My eyes are closed, and I’m having an eighth grade flashback to seven minutes in heaven. You better not try anything funny.”

“Concentrate. Focus on what you feel. A change in the wind, a shift in the atmosphere, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, your heart starting to race when you feel something behind you,” Angel spoke and every few words his voice came from a different direction, obviously he was moving around swiftly.

“A feeling in the pit of my stomach,” Buffy breathed, dropping her hands to her side and trying to follow Angel’s orders. He was making it fun yet frustrating, something that no one had yet to do for her. And she was appreciating it more than she could have ever guessed.

Angel stopped moving, only two feet from Buffy on her left side. He reached his hand out slowly, holding onto his patience and almost grinning when he saw her left hand twitch and her eyelids flutter under the pressure of staying closed.

Finally, when his fingers were inches from her shoulder, she slapped his hand away.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, grinning and holding back the urge to jump up and down. “Did I do it right?”

“Yeah,” Angel nodded and tried to hold back shock when she let it go and jumped up and down, hugging him. “You need to practice, obviously. I was about an inch or two from you and if I were a bad guy I’d have snatched you before you could even react.”

“Right. Whatever. But at least I did better than I thought I would,” Buffy sighed, pulling away from the hug. “Before I forget, Giles also wanted to borrow another book. He kept bothering me about it so I better tell you before he makes me write an essay or something.”

“What was the book called?”

“It was a book completely full of Latin stuff, it had a Latin name. Like Awesomo or something,”

Angel nodded, knowing which book she was referring to and turned to go get it. “I’ll be right back.”

“’Kay,” Buffy finally removed her jacket but held onto it, knowing she wasn’t going to stay too long. She looked around again, wondering if she could find out more about Angel by his decoration taste. Nope. She couldn’t. Only because he had barely anything decorating his place and the things that could be seen were ancient, ‘suit of armor’ type objects.

Reaching inside her jacket she pulled out the stake that Giles had hesitantly given her. He was worried she wouldn’t know how to use it but when he tossed it at her she apparently caught it correctly. It was her protection in replacement of pepper-spray. Spinning it in her hand, she touched the tip of it dumbly, poking her finger sharply. A small drop of blood formed where she poked herself.

Seeing the entrance to the kitchen, Buffy hoped to find some sort of napkin, so she entered without asking. Only she didn’t find a napkin, instead she found a clear cup full of a dark, thick liquid. It looked like medicine but it didn’t smell like it. It had the stench of copper and…

Her heart exploded in her chest. Blood. “Oh my god. Oh my god.”

It all made sense to Buffy. When she ran into him at the Bronze that night she had that sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. It was a warning about him. He was a vampire.

“Buffy?” came Angel’s voice from out in the living room, obviously wondering where she went.

Gripping the stake in her hand, making sure the pointy end was out first; she edged into the living room, where Angel met her gaze with a wide-eyed look. He saw her holding the stake and lifted his hands up. “Buff-”

“You’re a vampire aren’t, you?” Buffy snapped, edging around Angel, trying to get to the door before he could get to her.

Angel hesitated, “You don’t understand the situation.”

“All of your windows are boarded up and you have blood in a cup in your kitchen, like it’s a soda or something.” Buffy firmed her grip on the stake. “Look, I don’t know much about this whole Slayer thing, but through all of Giles’ rambling I could make out the gist of it: Vampires are bad!”

“Buffy-”

She wasn’t going to let him try and brainwash her. “I stake you, right? Pointy end first. Not that hard, I’m guessin’.”

Angel took a step closer, holding out his hands defensively. “Listen to me. There’s something you have to understand.”

“Don’t,” she warned him unconvincingly. “Just because I’m a confused little teenager doesn’t mean I won’t stake you. I can, you know…and I w-will.”

However, Angel made the mistake of not listening and tried to calm her down, stepping one step too much. “I’m one of the-”

Angel couldn’t finish his sentence, a grunt filling his throat and pain searing through his skin as Buffy buried the stake into his chest.


Part 11
Drying the last of her hair with her towel, Cordelia looked in the foggy mirror at her reflection. Creases and dark shadows under her eyes signified just how tired she still was. Sure, the shower had been refreshing but the lag in her energy sill remained.

Tossing the towel in the hamper on the way out of her bathroom, Cordelia let out a long yawn.

“Are you tired?” came her father’s voice. She turned around and saw him standing in the doorway leading to his bedroom. “Must’ve been quite a first day.”

“I guess you could say that,” Cordelia sniffed without a thought, forgetting for a moment that it was her father she was being rude to. Though she didn’t stop herself in time, she recovered as nicely as she could manage. “School isn’t exactly the best way to cheer myself up. But I’m sure tomorrow will be better.”

“We’re having dinner,” Will Chase said to his daughter, actually afraid that she’d turn down the offer, afraid that his own child would refuse to eat in the same room as him and Sandra. “I’d love for you to join us.”

Cordelia sighed, thinking about it for a moment before replying at length, forming her words carefully. “I’m a little full. But if you want me to come downstairs, I will.”

“W-well, I don’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” her father replied softly, taking a step forward. “I made mashed potatoes…with garlic, just how you like it.”

Her heart sinking slightly, Cordelia scolded herself for taking the bait when she turned and plastered a smile on her face. “Sounds great.”

* * *

Scooping up the last bit of her potatoes, Cordelia swallowed the entire spoonful in one gulp. Her jaw was tense, her eyes burning holes through her plate, the only thing she had been staring at through dinner. It was either her plate, her lap or her fingernails. Anything other than her father or Sandra.

Sandra had attempted small talk several times, but had failed miserably, merely emphasizing the silent tension in the dining room.

Apparently, as she cleared her throat, she was going to try again. “I never actually had the chance to ask you, Cordelia. How was your summer?”

Cordelia looked up, her mouth open slightly and the expression of someone who had just been asked if she’d rather eat her own crap or someone else’s. “It was…fine.”

“She went on a lot of shopping trips,” her father chimed in, smiling both at Cordelia and at Sandra, but in far different, yet subtle, ways. “Can’t deny her a shopping trip, let me tell you.”

“Dad,” Cordelia whispered incredulously, shaking her head slightly. When she caught Sandra’s gaze she feigned embarrassment. “He’s kidding. Shopping is…well, I don’t like it.”

She knew that if Sandra had more than ten seconds to consider it, she would have offered to take Cordelia shopping and that was the last thing Cordelia wanted to occur. Especially after eating. I just finished and I don’t want to see it in reverse.

Now it was her father’s turn to whisper her name and look at her disbelievingly. Cordelia shrugged. Sandra was rubbing her in a way that she didn’t like. She wasn’t her mother and for some reason Cordelia just couldn’t let her so easily get her blessing. Though, she did know that she wouldn’t disappear because of it.

Clearing his throat, Will picked up his napkin and wiped at the corners of his lips before clearing his throat again. “Um…well. Sandra here was a cheerleader for her high school. And before you arrived last night I was telling her that you had been one of the best cheerleader’s at your school back in Los Angeles.”

“I was head cheerleader back in junior year. Then I lost the spot in senior year to some blonde bimbo who substituted her pep for her cup size.” Sandra grinned and shook her head, laughing at the memory. “Are you trying out this year?”

“Tryouts were today, but no I’m not. Cheerleading seems kind of juvenile,” Cordelia lifted her cup of ice water to suppress a smile. Walked right into that one, lady. But the look she received from her father, quick yet effective, pushed her to take the slightly higher route. “To some people. All that pep when you could be in a study group learning? Not that I’d choose getting stuck in a stuffy room with a bunch of books, but I’d definitely consider avoiding Cheerleading at Sunnydale High.”

“Why’s that?” Sandra asked, pushing the topic instead of just starting a new one. Another mistake.

Cordelia sighed, running a hand through her hair. “It’s school. There are the airhead cheerleaders, the brainless jocks and then everyone else. I’d rather be a regular student just trying to get through school than a cheerleader who spends her entire high school life partying and wondering which football player to date.”

She didn’t even bother to take a breath in between sentences so when she finished she was out of breath for a few moments. But that didn’t stop her from continuing, preventing Sandra from making the dinner even longer. “Dad, is it alright if I could go up to my room. I’m tired.”

“Exhausting first day?”

“Pretty much. May I be excused?”

“Sure,” Will nodded, though it was obvious he wanted her to stay, for her to continue the conversation. But he knew his daughter and could see that she wasn’t lying about being tired.

* * *

Giles stretched across the counter for a book just out of his hands reach and grunted in the effort of trying to grab it. He’d looked through Cordelia’s notepad and read the small notes she’d made about the nightmares and the things she saw. Sometimes it was flashbacks mingling with someone saying something odd. Other times it was flashes of indiscernible words in Latin. Giles needed the book that Angel had in his mansion to try and discern if there were any compatible words with what Cordelia made out through her blurry images.

And he nearly fell off the counter when Jenny’s voice surprised him.

“Need help?” she asked from across the room, where she looked up at him from a book. A knowing grin could be seen even as her black hair cascaded across her face in consequence of her hunching over to get a better look at the small text she was attempting to read. “You look like you’re having difficulty.”

Involuntarily blushing, Giles pushed himself off the counter and ran a hand down his shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles and avoiding her stare sheepishly. “I can walk around. No need for you to get up.”

Jenny shook her head, not at all surprised. “One of these days you’re going to have to learn to ask for help when you need it.”

“And what makes you so sure that I need your help?” Giles teased, his eyes finally looking up at her, flashing a daring look. “Perhaps by reaching for the book I am stretching my back muscles so that I remain fit.”

Snorting, Jenny couldn’t help but allow a slyness to creep into her gaze. “And we both know you’re a huge fitness addict.”

Giles scoffed and took on the defensive façade, placing his hands on his hips and looking at her with a disapproving gaze. “I may not be the fittest man you’ve met but I-”

“You’re cute when you’re defensive,” Jenny said to him, her eyes perusing one page of the book speedily before moving to the next. “Does that bother you?”

“Does what bother me?”

“That I find you attractive,” Jenny closed her book, leaning back in her chair and pressing her fingers together. When Giles started to stutter in respond she shook her head and laughed. “It’s just a question, Rupert.”

Giles paused and looked at her for the longest time, his blue eyes locking with her dark ones. Maybe it was just a question but he saw in her eyes that she enjoyed looking at him just as much as he did her.

“Maybe the feeling is mutual…” he said quietly, looking away just as her eyes widened for a moment at hearing his words. “Maybe.”

Jenny grinned to herself, knowing he was leading her on and teasing. Together they shared a million unspoken words and emotions through the silence as they continued their work.

* * *

Grunting in pain, Angel slid the stake out of his chest, ignoring the sensation of his skin burning around the wood as it was pulled out. “You…missed.”

He tossed the stake to the ground, purposely close to Buffy. “You have to hit the heart.”

Buffy grabbed the stake and threw herself at Angel, “Thanks for the tip.”

Unfortunately, Angel was too fast for her and despite the puncture wound in his torso he managed to strongly hold her back, gripping one wrist, twisting it under her other arm and holding her still, her back pressed against his chest.

Not bothering to hold back her disgust, Buffy gagged at the feeling of warm, sticky blood ruining her shirt and seeping through the threads onto her skin. She felt dirty and was even more inclined to kick Angel’s ass because of it. “You think holding me like this is going to change my mind about staking you?”

Angel loosened his grip a fraction, his mouth a breath away from her ear. “I’m one of the good guys.”

“Oh? And did all the good guys get together and plan this little predicament we’re in? Let me go!”

Whether or not he had other plans to prevent her from staking him again, Angel let her go without another word. When she pushed herself far away, taking long strides and turning herself around so that she was looking him straight in the eye, he finally spoke. “For a girl who just found out about being a Slayer you sure did acclimate well.”

“I’m a fast learner,” Buffy spat, but her voice wavered, giving away the uncertainty flowing through her veins. Why isn’t he attacking me? Maybe…No. He’s playing a game. Tricking me. Don’t let him go through with it. “I’m being nice here by not staking you again in the right spot, so don’t make a move.”

“Alright,” Angel held his hands up defensively, noting that despite the hesitation he saw in her green eyes she was tensed to jump at the next sudden movement he might make. And he didn’t want to risk that before explaining to her what was going on. “I’m a good guy, I swear to you. I don’t lie about things like that.”

Buffy remained quiet, her grip on the stake still strong but her body motionless as she continued to listen, giving him the chance to try and give her more reasons to stake his ass.

“I have a soul,” Angel explained softly. “When you’re turned into a vampire, your soul is taken away and a demon replaces what was once you inside of your body. A few decades-”

“Decades?” Buffy involuntarily gasped. “How old are you?”

Averting his eyes for a moment as he added the numbers together, Angel shrugged sheepishly. “Two hundred and some change.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah,” Angel offered a small smile, for a moment stupidly thinking the tension had been relinquished. But Buffy didn’t lower the stake or even offer a ghost of a smile in exchange with his offering, so he cleared his throat and got back on topic. “A few decades ago, close to a century even, a band of gypsies gave me my soul back.”

Buffy’s face softened, but only a little. “Why?”

“I was a vampire and vampire’s do bad things. Unfortunately one of the bad things I did hit a little too close to home for a gypsy clan,” Angel explained, blinking slowly. He never figured he’d have to explain his situation to Buffy anytime soon. “Forcing that soul back into me was punishment.”

“I don’t know if I should believe you or not,” Buffy lowered her hand but it was hardly noticeable.

“You don’t have to be my best friend, you just…just believe me. What I’m saying is the truth,” Angel said softly, his voice calm and soothing. “You can stake me if you don’t believe me. Or if I ever break my promise to you.”

Suppressing a snort, Buffy finally lowered the stake, her posture and face softening till there was no trace of hardness or suspicion in her expression. Either she was a good actress or she truly believed Angel.

“I swear I’m telling the truth, Buffy.”

He took a step towards her, hesitant at first. When she didn’t do anything, such as flinching or moving away, he took it as a good sign and took another step closer, holding his hand out. “Believe me?”

Buffy knew she’d regret it yet still handed over the stake to Angel, keeping her other hand ready to form a fist and smack him if he tried anything funny. All he did in return though was place the stake on the floor close to her feet, which would give her the easy chance of grabbing it if she changed her mind.

“I might just believe you for now,” Buffy’s muscles relaxed. “Emphasis on might.”

* * *

The florescent lights created a harsh ambiance for the grocery store, and as Willow walked down the isle, glancing along the shelves for the item she was searching for, she couldn’t help but notice. The nights always scared her when she was alone, even if her mother was a few aisles away, and she berated herself for being such a scaredy-cat.

Grabbing the syrup, Willow turned around to go back down the aisle to meet her mother by the dairy products but instead ran straight into someone. Ignoring her syrup that fell to the ground, Willow immediately knelt down and grabbed at the man’s groceries. “I’m so sorry.”

The man, who turned out to be a teenager with jet-black hair, looking not that much older than Willow herself, knelt down too and spoke in an even tone. “It’s alright. Nothing breakable, unless you count the chips. Don’t think my friends will mind if a few chips are crunched.”

Willow looked up and blushed when she realized that the guy she was speaking to went to Sunnydale High and was a senior. Also, he was cute. And talking to her as if she were a friend of his. Standing up fast enough to give herself a head rush, Willow practically shoved the bags back into the guy’s arms. “Again, I’m s-sorry. Didn’t mean to ruin your…Doritos.”

“No problem. I’m Oz,” he held out his hand but didn’t smile. There was hardly a trace of emotion in either his voice or on his face, making Willow even more intrigued to know what he was thinking. “I think this is the part where you say your name.”

“Oh, right!” Willow could feel her cheeks burning and wanted nothing more than to just leave, to just walk away as fast as she could in the opposite direction. Oz was cute and he was nice and he was talking to her. It was a monumental event in her teenage life that she wasn’t prepared for. “I’m…um…I’m…I’m Willow! My names Willow.”

For the first time a ghost of a smile passed over Oz’s face, and by the twinkle in his brown eyes, he was just as surprised about it as Willow. The intrigue Willow had for him was matched by the fascination he had with her.

She seems down to earth. Easily embarrassed, but down to earth. “You go to my high school. I’ve seen you around.”

“Y-you have?” Willow didn’t bother to hide her surprise, actually grinning goofily. “I mean, really? I think I’ve seen you around too.”

“I actually remember when I first saw you,” Oz admitted, the evenness in his voice still intact, and the confidence in himself evident in the way he spoke. Willow was liking him more and more as the moments passed by. “I thought, wow. She seems cool. Then I found out you were a year younger than me and thought it kind of sucked that we couldn’t have a class together.”

Willow was growing more and more worried that her knees would buckle and her legs would give in as he kept speaking. Why is he talking to me? Why is he being so…different than all the other guys at school?

And just as she was about to open her mouth, to speak and keep up the conversation, her mother’s voice called from the other end of the aisle where she was standing in line to buy her groceries.

“Did you get the syrup I asked you to get?”

Clearing her throat, Willow turned her head, looking over her shoulder. “Yeah, mom. I have it.”

When she turned back to Oz, he was still looking at her, his eyes locking with hers as he held the several bags of chips in his arms. When the silence lasted too long for either to stand, he finally spoke. “We both need to get going, obviously. I need to get this food back to my friends. We’re all in a band, we play at the Bronze every few nights.”

“Really? I haven’t been there in a while.” Willow averted her eyes for a moment, wanting nothing more than to tell him she’d go to the Bronze to catch his show. But the words never came out and Oz was forced to end the conversation.

“Good talking to you. I guess I’ll you at school sometime.” He nodded and walked past her, his shoulder brushing against hers.

Willow turned and watched him walk away, growling in frustration at how stupid she had just acted. Good going.

* * *

Kicking her comforters off of the bed, Cordelia shoved her hands under her pillows, stretched her legs out and buried her face in the mass of hair splayed across the pillow. Her inability to fall asleep within an hour of going to bed was starting to turn into insomnia in her mind and it was pissing her off more than anything. More than her father having a girlfriend, more than her parents still being divorced, more than every problem she had in her entire life.

Because if there was ever a solution, it was falling asleep, not having to deal with anything but the dreams that formed in her subconscious. Now, though, there were no dreams, if she could fall asleep at all. There were just nightmares, disturbing images flashing behind her closed eyelids, the taste of her own blood on her taste buds, the numbing feeling in her limbs.

The creak of her window opening and a change in the environment, the hairs on the back of her neck rising alerted her to Angel’s presence. She didn’t respond at first, her face still buried in her pillow.

Finally, when breathing started to become difficult, she lifted her head up, opening up her eyes only enough to look at the wall behind her bed. “You have sucky timing. I was just about to fall asleep.”

“Sorry,” Angel apologized, the soft thud of his boots hitting the floor causing Cordelia to groan.

“I guess you’re planning on staying?” she asked, not bothering to conceal her frustration. When silence followed, she sighed, realizing how rude she sounded. “Not that I don’t want you to. I just haven’t been able to sleep as much as I should lately.”

She supported her weight under her arms and lifted herself up before spinning around to face Angel, who had a grin on his face. It took Cordelia a moment to realize what he was grinning at. Her hair was messy and sticking up in places it shouldn’t.

“You’re such a dork,” Cordelia laughed under her breath as she flattened her hair. “It takes work to look good. Don’t go judging the real me.”

“I’m not,” Angel replied honestly. “It just made me smile. Which is what I needed.”

Cordelia went straight to business, “I know I said I was planning on patrolling tonight, but…I really need some sleep.”

“I get that, I’m not here to force you to do anything,” Angel walked over to her bed and sat down at the foot of it. “Though, it is really surprising to find you in bed at 8 o’clock.”

“Is it really?” Cordelia rolled her eyes and crossed her legs over one another, arching her neck left and right, popping it.

Angel shook his head, “That’s a nasty habit. You can get hurt doing that.”

“I’d say the same about you waking people up.”

“Technically you weren’t asleep,” Angel had the balls to challenge her. But it was the painful reminder of Buffy nearly dusting him that made him gulp and avert his eyes with hopes Cordelia wouldn’t notice.

But she did. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Angel lied. He didn’t know why he came to see Cordelia if he was going to avoid talking about what happened. It was hard enough keeping it from her, but it was even more difficult trying to figure out whether or not Buffy believed him. “Buffy came over to my place earlier to drop something off.”

“And?”

“One thing led to another and…”

“Did you sleep with her?” Cordelia asked, her voice not containing any anger. She actually was holding back laughter at the prospect.

“No!”

“Good, because you? Sleeping with her? All kinds of gross,” Cordelia shook her head and reached forward to grab her comforter. When she got a hold of it, she stayed close to Angel, scooting closer and placing a hand on his. “Seriously, what’s wrong?”

“She found some blood in my kitchen,” Angel admitted, not looking up at Cordelia. Her reaction was critical. If he told her the complete truth, she would most likely be utterly pissed and go after Buffy. He didn’t want that to happen, knowing it would only make the process of Buffy becoming a Slayer all the more difficult.

When Cordelia remained silent, he continued. “She…um…reacted.”

“How did she react?” Cordelia asked, her voice on the verge of cracking.

“She staked me,” Angel said quickly, finally looking to Cordelia. Why he was so afraid of telling her, of her in general, he didn’t know. But what surprised him was the complete impassive look on her face. She didn’t even look like she was holding back frustration. “But it was our fault for not telling her that I was a vampire.”

Cordelia was silent for a moment before sighing, “That’s true. It is our fault, we didn’t keep her informed.”

Angel furrowed his brow, not bothering to conceal his disarray. “That’s it?”

“What? You’re right. You didn’t expect her to throw a party because of you being a vampire, did you?”

“No, not that. I just…I didn’t think you’d be so…accepting.”

“Look, you told me to give her a chance. And it’s going to be a pain in the ass, but I’m going to try and do that. This incident being proof of that.”

Angel felt unsatisfied. He’d walked to her house expecting her to react a certain way and now that she didn’t, he was beginning to wonder if he wanted her to get mad because he himself was angry about the situation. He let his emotions control what he was saying. “But…she staked me!”

There was no mistake in hearing the whiney sound in his tone and Cordelia fought back a grin. “But she didn’t turn you to dust.”

“She almost did!” Angel couldn’t help but protest. He was getting a little worried that maybe she was having such an easy time accepting it was because his safety wasn’t important to her. Now you’re just being paranoid.

“Angel, did you suddenly get immature or something? She didn’t kill you, that’s that.” Cordelia squeezed his hand. “What happened afterwards?”

“She…she left,” Angel shook his head, wondering what was getting over him. “She said she might try the trust thing with me and then…then she just left. I came here right after. I thought that you deserved to know.”

“Well, I guess…thank you?” Cordelia finally just laughed at him.

“This isn’t funny!”

She brought a hand up to suppress the laughter. “Come on! I just told you it’s going to be a bitch to try and get her to understand. Would you rather have her stab me or Willow?”

“No,” Angel answered right away, still not smiling but welcoming the levity. “I overreacted. When she was there I was too focused on trying to calm her down and not stake me again so I didn’t have the time to be mad.”

“Well, we’ve switched places since I would have expected you to be calm and you were obviously preparing for me to blow up.” Cordelia contemplated the situation for a moment before continuing. “We’re in for the long run here. Who woulda thought of Buffy being a Slayer?”

“We can’t let each other get in over our heads,” Angel said to Cordelia, his voice lowering to a whisper. “No matter what, we have to be there for each other, right?”

“Right. Buffy’s going to give us a run for our money.”

“Not just when it comes to Buffy,” Angel admitted, sharing a silent moment with Cordelia, his dark eyes locking with hers.

* * *

It was a usual Tuesday for Sunnydale. Boring and unavoidable. For everyone in the Sunnydale High library it was the next day of a new chapter of their lives.

Leaning against the wall beside the doorway, Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, under her breasts making them more noticeable in her light pink tank top. Xander, sitting at the check out counter, glanced her way, his eyes focusing on that particular area. His glance however was a moment too long.

Buffy, catching where his eyes were staring, scoffed. “They’re called breasts. But I’m sure you’re only used to the ones that deflate.”

Willow tapped Xander on the shoulder, surprising him. She saw a bicker-match surfacing and wasn’t in the mood to witness it.

Surprised, Xander jumped, turning to Willow with wide eyes. “Do you have some sort of trick that makes you pop up in random places? You weren’t there a minute ago.”

“I was kneeling down under the counter, looking for some papers,” Willow explained, leaning across the counter and lowering her voice to a whisper. “Do you know anything about Oz?”

“Oz?” Xander narrowed his eyes in confusion, absently moving them around while trying to put a face to a name. “Drawing a blank.”

“He’s a little taller than me, he’s got dyed, jet black hair. He’s in a band.”

“The only guy here that is as short of you and dares to dye his hair black and is in a band isn’t named Oz,” Xander answered, finally putting two and two together. “He doesn’t seem to have much going on in that head of his. Can hardly emote. It’s work to try and figure out if he’s pissed or happy.”

“Do you have a class with him?” Willow asked, trying to get some kind of information, some kind of dirt on the guy that was so nice to her in the supermarket.

“No. He played at the Bronze. Jess and I were there one time, you were sick or something,” Xander explained. “Told him his band was cool and he said ‘cool’. But again, his name isn’t Oz. It’s Daniel, I think.”

“Oh,” Willow nodded, clearing her throat and pushing away from the counter. Did he give me a fake name? She knelt down to return to her work before standing back up quickly, catching Xander off guard once again. “What’s his last name?”

“Don’t know,” Xander sighed, glancing back at Buffy. “You think if I poke her she’ll make a noise?”

Willow looked to Buffy, who looked down at her feet, remaining quite still with the exception of her chest rising and falling as she breathed. It was an odd sight to see Buffy Summers antisocial. “I wouldn’t test her.”

“Why don’t you look through the yearbooks?” Xander suggested, turning back to face Willow and resting his head in his hand. “If you wanna know the guy’s name just look at last year’s yearbook and look for his picture. Why do you wanna know about him anyways?”

Shrugging, Willow took his suggestion and knelt down quickly before she stared blushing again. Her face would give it away and she didn’t need Xander teasing her.

But it was too late, Xander snapping his finger and grinning. “You like him!”

“Shh!” Willow snapped, standing up and covering his mouth with her hand. “I don’t like him. I ran into him at the store last night.

Xander swiped her hand away, the urge to tease his best friend too strong to give up. “You do like him. Willow has fallen into the ‘liking of boys’ phase of high school. One of the more humiliating phase amongst others.”

Clearing her throat, Willow averted her eyes from Xander and walked away, speaking in a loud voice. “So what are we waiting for?”

“Cordelia,” Angel answered as he walked through the doors. “She’s the only one not here, isn’t she?”

He looked all around the room, seeing Xander, Willow and Jenny. The distant sound of pages turning from Giles’ office confirmed that the Englishman was working silently. Turning around Angel looked at Buffy until, obviously sensing his eyes on her, she looked up into his eyes.

“I don’t think she’ll be getting here anytime soon, am I right?” Buffy said, forcing a smile on her face. Only it was easily seen that it was fake and strained. The cracks in the mask she was wearing, the one that made her look like a confident, popular and happy cheerleader, were becoming conspicuous. “After what happened last night, I’m surprised she hasn’t tried to strangle me.”

“What happened last night?” Xander asked, sitting up and looking at Angel, narrowing his eyes.

Ignoring Xander, Angel shook his head and spoke softly. “It’s not like that. She…she understood the situation. And besides, how’d you know I would tell her?”

Buffy snorted, “You’re kidding, right? It’s getting a little too easy to read the two of you when it comes to…well, the ‘two of you’.”

Xander stood up, a perfectly adorable frustration seeping into his mood, as if he were a child being left out of a discussion between two adults. “The ‘two of you’ what?”

Looking at Angel for a minute more, Buffy simply sighed, burying the topic for the moment. “Why wait for her? Let’s just start whatever it is that need’s to be started right now. Might as well get it over with, right?”

“Oh, the spirit in this girl. Makes me want to be a better person,” Xander sardonically commented. “We wait for Cordelia.”

“Who made you the boss?” Buffy asked, looking at him directly, not blinking. She placed her hands on her hips and firmed her jaw.

Xander held his hands up in mock defense, holding back a grin. “Oh! I’m sorry. Don’t want to make you mad.”

“Don’t forget, that bruise you cried about to your girlfriends is from me,” Buffy said to him, her voice with an edge to it as she motioned to his wrist that was still bruised from her tight grip. “Imagine what I could do if I was trying to hurt you on purpose.”

“Whoa,” Angel stepped in between Xander and Buffy, knowing he had to be the mediator before there was actual physical damage done. Though Xander didn’t seem to be the kind of guy who’d hurt a girl, no matter how rude she was to him, he knew that Buffy could go through with her actions. Sure she was in a situation that confused the hell out of her, but she wasn’t one to throw around empty threats. “No need for physical threats. Save that for the actual vampires.”

“Good advice,” came a deep voice from the doorway. Everyone turned to see a tall man, not a day older than twenty-five, standing there with his suitcase and a winning smile. His cropped sandy-blonde hair and glasses caused both Buffy and Willow’s hearts to skip a beat involuntarily.

“I’m ahead of schedule but I hope my presence isn’t unwelcome,” the handsome man smiled, speaking in a proper English accent. When everyone’s blank stares remained, he cleared his throat and held his hand out to Angel, the nearest to him. “I’m Benjamin Thatchard, Miss Summers’ Watcher.”


Part 12

Angel took the man’s hand and squeezed it tightly, fighting back the urge to allow a suspicious look to cross his face. The young man was a twelve-year old compared to Giles, looking nothing like the part of a Watcher.

With a tan jacket fitting comfortably around his torso, Angel could tell by the man’s returning grip, however, that he was well-worn physically and had strength that could rival his.

“You’re…a little young to be a Watcher, aren’t you?” Buffy asked, actually stuttering and, when Angel glanced to look back at her, twirling a stray blonde hair around her finger. She looked like a smitten teenager. Which she is.

“I get that quite a lot,” the man laughed, taking his hand back from Angel’s grip, his smile never ending. “I’m also looking for Rupert Giles.”

“He’s, um, in his office,” Angel cleared his throat, shoving the hand he used to shake Benjamin’s in his pocket and giving the man a quick once-over, trying to find something to nitpick at. “You can go greet him, he tends to get a little engrossed in his books.”

“Thank you,” Benjamin nodded, lowering his suitcase to the ground by the counter, out of anyone’s way.

When he walked past Angel, the vampire turned to watch him walk away, catching out of the corner of his eye Buffy tilting her head and smirking. Angel cleared his throat, startling Buffy, who composed herself and tried to hide her grin by biting her nails.

Cordelia walked through the doors, growling to herself and exhaling, trying to get all the stray hairs out of her eyes. “That’s it! I’m cutting my hair! Screw having beautiful, flowing hair. I’m cutting it with a fricken butcher knife!”

She threw her bag on the counter and took in a deep breath, trying to cool herself down. When she noticed everyone acting weird, she furrowed her brow and lowered her voice. “What?”

Her question was answered for her when Giles and Benjamin walked out of the back-office. Cordelia’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of Benjamin, and Angel was forced to suppress a growl when, to his astonishment, he caught a hint of arousal coming from between her legs. Maybe it was denial, but he had never expected her to have such a reaction to a grown man. A flicker of jealousy forged in the pit of his stomach for a quick nanosecond when he could detect the quickening heartbeats of all the women in the room, even Jenny’s.

“Hello,” Benjamin greeted her, holding out his hand. “Cordelia, right?”

Cordelia stuttered for a minute, reaching out and shaking his hand emphatically, a flush of pink reaching her cheeks. “Um…yeah…Cordelia is…my name.”

“I’ve read your file as well as Buffy’s,” Benjamin explained, turning to Buffy and shaking her hand. “I’m surprised to say that I was taken aback by some of the similarities shared between the two of you.”

Buffy and Cordelia shared a glance and shook their heads, talking over each other. “We’re not the same” and “You’re kidding right?”

Angel rolled his eyes as he continued to witness both of them stuttering and losing all sense of self-confidence at the sight of the young Englishman.

“Do you prefer Benjamin?” Buffy asked, smiling brightly.

“You can call me Thatch if you prefer,” he replied. “My friends back in England called me that.”

Giles patted him on the back and smiled, “Ben…er, Thatch was in the top percentile of his class, he excelled and the Counsel took great interest in him when he was training to become a Watcher. They saw this as an opportunity to-”

“Prove myself,” Thatch finished for him, modestly shrugging. “I must admit that all of that was Donald. He gets enthusiastic when speaking over the phone. I’m here to learn as much as to help Buffy learn.”

“How old are you?” Angel asked, speaking up, every once in a while standing on his tip-toes to see how much taller he could look compared to Thatch’s daunting 6 foot frame.

“Twenty five,” Thatch answered, nodding to Jenny and Xander and Willow, realizing their presence and offering a friendly smile.

“That is young,” Angel said, his tone more than a little patronizing. “If you don’t mind me saying, twenty-five years seems a little young to be entrusted with the responsibility of watching after a young woman, don’t you agree?”

Thatch narrowed his eyes for a second, noticing Angel’s challenging demeanor and matching it with a wry grin. “If you don’t mind me saying, two-hundred plus years and half of it murdering innocents seems a little…exhausting. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Cordelia raised her eyebrows and looked from Thatch to Angel, holding back a grin. When she caught Angel’s gaze she shrugged, sending the clear message: you asked for it.

“So, you’ve read files on more than just the two girls?” Angel asked, puffing out his chest while still trying to keep the last of his self-respect.

“In your case it doesn’t take much reading. Scourge of Europe, hundreds mercilessly murdered, Darla. I memorized that for my entry exam years ago.” It was hard to miss the snark in Thatch’s tone, and the hint of distaste when in the same room as Angel.

It was Buffy’s turn to speak, noticing the tension and also wanting Thatch’s attention on her. “So…why don’t we get to the…well, whatever it is I’m supposed to do.”

Thatch looked to Giles, “You didn’t take the time to explain to her what exactly being a Slayer was about?”

“He did, but it was confusing,” Buffy spoke quickly, grabbing Thatch’s arm and smiling. “I’m sure that your skills and ability to connect with someone my age will help me understand.”

Cordelia and Willow rolled their eyes in unison. Angel disguised his small laugh with a cough. Thatch and Giles seemed to be the only ones in the room who weren’t catching onto Buffy’s advances.

Dragging Thatch off to the side by the counter, shoving Xander out of her way without even having to look back, Buffy kept the smile on her face and fought the urge to blush when she knew that everyone was gaping at her behavior. Since when have I cared about what people think?

“So…England? Pretty nice over there!”

“Actually, I’m glad to get away from there for a while,” Thatch shrugged. “Gloomy weather all the bleeding time.”

Giles nodded, “It does drive you away, but I’m sure you have family waiting for you to return. A wife?”

“You’d think an esteemed Watcher title would attract the ladies, but sadly, no such luck.” It wasn’t clear whether Thatch was joking, because he certainly found the topic humorous.

“Well, we’re glad you can join us.” Giles patted Thatch on the back and smiled. “This situation has never before occurred and it’s wonderful to have help.”

“Of course, I’m willing to help as much as I am able to in the current situation. But first I need to speak with Buffy. As I am her watcher, I should try and understand where her limits are and such things as that.”

Buffy seemed more than pleased to do so and emphatically nodded in agreement. “Sounds good to me.”

Thatch motioned to the other side of the room and the two went off to talk alone. Once they were by the bookcases, Cordelia rolled her eyes and spoke in a lowered voice. “Did you see how she was all over him?”

Willow made a noise and when everyone turned to look at her, a smile was on her pretty features as she looked into the open yearbook. “There he is. Daniel Osborne.”

Angel took the opportunity to point out the obvious, “You weren’t exactly being calm and collected around him either, Cordy.”

“What is it with girls and guys with accents. I just don’t get it,” Xander sighed, scratching the back of his head and looking at Thatch quizzically.

“I don’t know, Xander. What is it with guys and models?” Cordelia remarked. “Or was it just my imagination when I heard you babbling on and on about Carmen Electra?”

“Would you rather me chat about you? Wait, don’t answer that.” Xander threw his hands up in the air.

Willow snorted, “It wouldn’t be that big of a stretch for you to talk about her constantly. Be realistic.”
* * *

Thatch pulled up a chair for Buffy. When she declined, he pushed it back under the table and leaned against it. “I don’t know what you know about the Watcher’s Council. If you’ve heard tales of them being stuffy old men with nothing better to do than pick out what kind of sweater vest they want to wear then…well, then you’ve heard correctly.”

He smirked at Buffy and looked down at his feet for a moment. “I’m not here to control you, if that’s what you’re thinking. Equal partnership, even if it doesn’t seem like that sometimes.”

“Partners, huh?” Buffy tried to fight the urge to tilt her head, nodding along to whatever he was speaking about. “Sounds…cute.”

Thatch crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes, “What?”

“Huh?” Buffy snapped out of it, realizing she’d slipped up. Clearing her throat, she flattened the front of her shirt and laughed at herself. “Sorry. Forgot to tell you that I…uh…have a mental condition. I switch off any kind of lecturing. I’ve tried to get help but-”

Her new Watcher held up his hand, “No need to explain. I must admit that I zoned out on some lectures. But Buffy you have to understand that this is-”

“Important, vital to the safety of the human race. I know, Giles already explained it to me,” Buffy cut him off, her patience running thin when it came to the point of being reminded over and over. “Vampires are bad. I use pointy wood thing to kill them. Sunlight also kills them. Holy Water, crosses and fire are not liked by the vampire community. And they all need a good tan. See? I’m an A+ Slayer!”

Thatch would’ve liked her answer if she hadn’t rolled her eyes as each word rolled off her tongue. He wanted to be on her good side but he wasn’t going to take any of her crap. “Look, while throughout your life that attitude might have worked with your parents, it’s not going to work with me. Either take the offer of being a partner or leave it and face the consequences of me breathing down your neck twenty-four seven.”

“Depends on if you have good breath or not.”

Thatch firmed his jaw and shook his head. “I walked in the door and you made a wonderful first impression on me, as I hope I did with you. But now…I wonder whether you’re just a lost cause.”

Her stubborn exterior melting just a little, Buffy glanced over at Angel, who had his back to her, and remembered what had happened just the other day. I gave the vampire a chance…why not the cute Watcher?

“It’s been almost a week and I still haven’t trained. Why don’t you do what the other’s haven’t and teach me something that can actually help when I’m up against a vampire?”

* * *

Angel walked beside Cordelia, his hand brushing along the small of her back as he guided her out of the library. “Glad it’s dark now, so I don’t have to take the sewers.”

“I’m sorry that I kicked you…” Cordelia looked down at her feet as they walked down the hallway. “It must’ve hurt.”

“I wouldn’t say that that it felt good,” Angel smiled, trying to lighten the situation. “Do you want me to be mad or something?”

“No, I just felt like you deserved an apology,” Cordelia sniffed, crossing her arms and keeping her eyes focused on the floor as she quickened her pace.

Angel quickened his own pace and looked down at Cordelia, confused. “Um…ok. Thanks. You had a good training session though. You should come over sometime and I’d be willing to help you put in a few more hours. I’m sure Giles wouldn’t mind.”

“Have you ever been a bitch to someone you care about?”

“What?”

“If there was someone that you cared for a whole lot, more than anything, and they were with someone that made them happy, but you didn’t like that person, would you act out?”

“Cordelia, what are you trying to-”

“My…my dad started dating someone,” Cordelia finally admitted, looking away and tugging a hair behind her ears consciously. “When I came back from L.A. she was…she was in my house.”

Angel’s eyes widened for a moment. “Really? I never knew that.”

“Of course not, because I didn’t tell you.”

“Why not? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“So, what do you think I should do?” Cordelia ignored his question, asking her own. “I hate that he’s dating someone, bringing her home for dinner, having her cook, having her be there every time I come home. She’s so…well, she’s actually pretty nice. But I just can’t stand the fact that-”

“She’s not your mom?” Angel finished for her, noting the look in her eyes and knowing he’d guessed correctly.

Cordelia shrugged. “That’s a part of it…a big part of it. I haven’t thought that much about it, mostly focusing on any kind of flaw I can pick at about Sandra.”

“Cordy, if you have a problem, then you should tell your dad. Sit down with him and just talk.”

Cordelia shook her head before he was even finished. “That’s the thing. She’s always there. And when she isn’t he avoids me.”

“And what do you do?”

“I avoid him, too. He obviously doesn’t want to discuss it so I leave him be.”

Angel surprised Cordelia by laughing.

She threw her hands up in the air and looked at him angrily. “What?!”

“The problems you have won’t go away with you ignoring your dad, Cordy.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

Cordelia remained still for a moment, her face unexpressive and her body motionless. Until, finally, she growled, throwing her hands up in the air and walking down the hall. “Fine!”

* * *

“Cordelia? Can I speak with you for a moment?” came her father’s voice as the young teenager attempted to quietly sneak upstairs to her bedroom.

Taking in a deep breath, Cordelia closed her eyes for a moment and reminded herself of one thing: He’s your dad. You love him. Let him enjoy his life. Don’t ruin it.

“Yeah, Dad?” she spoke in a feigned chirpy tone, plastering an even faker smile on her face as she spun to face him. His hard expression melted at the sight of her smile, as it always did. He loved her as much as she did him and sometimes she wondered how she could ever be so awful to him.

For a moment he looked at her, pondering the importance of what he wanted, needed even, to talk about. Then, after a long period of silence, he finally just spoke. “I missed you when you were gone.”

“I missed you too, dad.”

“We…we never got to chat alone, to catch up. And I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner tomorrow. Just you and me.”

Whether she had obligations as a Slayer or not, Cordelia didn’t care. The thought of finally being able to talk with her dad, to laugh at their inside jokes and have fun without Sandra being there to ruin it all was enough for her. Even if he was sucking up, bribing her to like him more, to get her alone and try and sneak in talk of his girlfriend, Cordelia didn’t mind. “That sounds great. I was wondering when you’d ask.”

* * *

The only store in Sunnydale that could be considered dependable for excellent Mexican food was empty as two o’clock neared and nearly everyone was at school or work. Despite the senior citizens sitting in the corner, enjoying their meal without losing their dentures, there was only one other person in the room. And she was having an important conversation.

“Ed, you really need to cut the shit. Spending all your time in that basement of yours, it’s unhealthy. But then again, if I were a guy I wouldn’t exactly ignore the cameras recordings. No delays right?”

“No, I worked out the glitches. Tuesday’s five minute delay is nonexistent, thank god.”

“You make yourself sound like a pervert when you sound so relieved like that.”

“And what if I am a pervert? Doesn’t make me any less of a psychopath than you, my dear.”

“We’re not crazy, Will. We’re vigilantes. We’ll make those who punished us suffer. The Supervisor, once he has risen, will bestow the ultimate pain but until then it’s our job to make sure that the Slayers suffer.”

“And their fucking Watcher’s. We’ll make them pay.”

“We need to find the prophecies first, imbecile.”

“That’s what the cameras are for. If the brunette figures out what’s going on in her dreams, she’s bound to talk about it with someone on the phone or in her room.”

“I just wish I could infiltrate Buffy Summers’ house. Unfortunately, I have no intimate knowledge of her father. Too bad, I saw a picture of him and was impressed.”

“Says the woman who just told me to take my hands out of my pants. I put money on Chase figuring it our first. Either way we’ll find out.” The sound of a bell chiming could be heard, causing Ed to sit up straight. “Are you talking to me in public?”

“Don’t sweat the small details. I’ve checked, the only people in the store are a bunch of Mexicans and the old people in the corner. They’re too damn old to understand what I’m talking about anyways.”

“You need to learn to speak in a lower voice if you’re going to contact me in broad fucking daylight.”

“You keep your end nice and tidy, I’ll do the same. Eddie, our ancestors would be proud.”

“Screw proud. They’d give us a fucking medal. You going home?”

“Yep, have to clean myself up before I stop by his house at lunch.”

“Who’s…oh yeah. Heh. Alright, make sure everything is going according to plan and I’ll stay here and keep track of the house, alright?”

Sandra nodded into the phone, stepping into her car and grinning wickedly. “Sure thing.”


Part 13
Sunlight spilling into the diner in was the only source of light for Cordelia and her father as they ate in awkward silence. Though, as the sun started to set along the horizon, the Slayer reminded herself that the lamps above them would be of use and the vampires would be lurking in the streets. For a moment she pondered whether she should make up an excuse and get her father home before darkness took over the town. But the moment passed and so did the thought.

No matter how discomforting the silence was she didn’t want to leave and miss the chance of bringing things, issues between her and her father, out into the open. “Do you love her?”

Will, his eyes widening as he choked on his last spoonful of soup, sat back and covered his mouth with a napkin to prevent it from spilling all along the front of his shirt. “Um…wow. That was out of the blue.”

“Well, what’d you think I’d want to talk about?” Cordelia asked bluntly, treading the fine line between being frankly honest and just plain confrontational. “I mean, let’s face it Dad, I’m not five years old anymore. You wanted to bring me out to dinner so we could talk. About everything. Including Sandra.”

“I guess I didn’t quite think of it that way,” Will replied softly, glancing over at the bar area for a quick moment. Usually it’d take just one glance and he’d be snapping his fingers for the waiter to bring him a drink, but now, with him trying to not drink anymore, it was different and even though the struggle in his dark eyes was evident, Cordelia appreciated his efforts. “As much as you may think it, parents don’t always have secret agendas when having a meal with their children. I think you’ve switched the roles around, Cordelia.”

Cordelia had to smirk at his wry comment, nodding to show her agreement that yes, she had on some occasions used excellently-cooked meals and good prices to try and get something from her parents. “Well, even if you didn’t take me here to talk about her, we’re going to now.”

“And why is that?” her father had to fight back a grin at his subtle teasing. The lightened mood was one he wanted to keep. While he wanted to clear things up with Cordelia, he wanted nothing more than to have a little fun with her too.

“Because I already brought her up. And I have a lot to say about the fact that I came home after three months to find a stranger in our house.”

“That’s a good reason,” he leaned back in the plush leather booth and entangled his fingers together, the heels of his hands on the edge of the table. “Let’s hear it.”

Taking in a deep breath, Cordelia leaned forward taking on the more confrontational position opposite her father’s laid-back pose. “I don’t like the fact that Sandra’s trying to be perfect ninety-nine percent of the time and that she seems too at home in a place that doesn’t belong to her. I hate that she acts like she knows me when she doesn’t and that she knows everything there is to know about you when, again, she doesn’t have a clue.”

“But how do you know that she doesn’t have a clue, Cordelia?” her father asked rightly, no edge to his voice and no daring flickering in his eyes. Only pure, desperate curiosity as to why his daughter was being so difficult. “She’s trying to be in your good graces, and to me that seems like something you should appreciate.”

“She should be herself, though. But if her true self is a suck-up then, personally, I don’t like her.”

“You don’t know her,” Will pointed out, straightening up as his frustration with her started to form. “A few measly dinners with only two words out of your mouth is not getting to know her either. I bet that you don’t even know that her parents abandoned her. First her father and after that her Mom left her on a doorstep of some random house. She isn’t perfect, and neither are you.”

He looked at her with narrowed eyes, as if she’d just made a scene in the mall when she didn’t get something she wanted. He was a father who expected better of his daughter and was, in the end, disappointed. Cordelia was silent for the longest time, slowly closing her eyes to blink away the uncertainty and swallowing hard to dispense of the lump that formed in her throat.

“She’s not Mom,” Cordelia admitted quietly, an upsetting helplessness in her voice. Hearing her father talk so passionately about the woman and the words he was speaking sounding so reasonable made her want to try, to admit to what she was really feeling. She’d probably fail, but she was going to try nonetheless. As she spoke, one thought remained in her mind. Angel gives sucky advice. Yeah, talkity talk and all I end up with is being halfway to sob-city living on guilt-avenue. “Thinking about you having a great time with someone other than Mom really isn’t something I want to do. So I’ve been living in denial and have been just trying to make the worst of the situation. I guess I’m a bitch, but even if I wanted to try I don’t know what to do, that’s the problem.”

“Talk to her, one on one. Ask her what she wants to do, because we both know she’ll ask you the same.” Her father’s voice softened as the conversation mellowed, his brown eyes sparkling lovingly as he locked stares with his daughter. “All I want is for you to try. I’m trying to keep my promise to you, so I hope you can try too.”

* * *

The clashing and clinging of swords could be heard along the empty hallways of Sunnydale High, if anyone besides the Slayer and her Watcher were to be in them. All tables pushed aside in the library, books tossed out of the way like old and used magazines, Buffy and Thatch clashed their blades against each other.

Buffy, clad in a white tank top and army-patterned cargo pants, had a fine layer of sweat all over, droplets of it forming at her hairline and trickling down the side of her face as she struggled to master the immense power flowing through every vein of her body. Also, she had to use every last ounce of willpower left in her to not let herself stop breathing at the sight of Thatch, sweating and wearing a thin white-beater and navy-blue sweatpants.

Their swords pressing against each other, fighting for control, Buffy finally managed to see a weak spot in Thatch’s left grip and pressed with all her remaining strength to the right, causing his sword to fall from his hands and hers to cut along his forearm, a surefire sign that the training session was coming to a close.

Grunting in pain, he gripped at his wrist while catching his breath and when he finally caught Buffy’s gaze, he smirked. “You’re getting good.”

“And who says I’m a slow learner?” Buffy smirked back at him, her chest heaving from exhaustion as she tossed her sword on the table and lifted the hem of her shirt to his wound. “Do you know where the first aid kit is?”

“I just got here, Buffy. You think I already know my way around?” Thatch asked, but Buffy cocked her eyebrows and he relented. “Fine. It’s behind the counter. Punish me for wanting to know every last corner of this place like the back of my hand.”

“As long as you’re giving me permission,” Buffy remarked as she pulled away and slipped behind the counter to pull out a square, white metal box with a big red cross on it. Opening it quickly, she found some gauze and bandages easily. “Were you serious about me getting better?”

In a few long strides she was back at Thatch’s side, her hands running along the skin around his wound to check for swelling before applying the gauge and bandages. She glanced up at him a few times, trying to hide the self-consciousness she was experiencing at wondering just how well she was doing.

Thatch caught onto it and nodded, speaking softly and soothingly. “Trust me; you’re going to be a wonderful Slayer.”

“There’s a lot of that going around.”

“A lot of what going around?”

“People asking me to trust them,” Buffy explained, taping the end of the bandage and smacking his arm to make sure it stuck. When Thatch winced a little, she laughed. “Just something I noticed. A bunch of people I hardly know trying to convince me to trust them.”

“I hope we can trust each other sooner rather than later.”

Buffy nodded slowly, the smile erasing off her face as the prospect of becoming a part of the geek squad, of being a good friend to Thatch and trying to work with Cordelia all appeared in her thoughts. “Me too.”

* * *

It’s already Monday again. Willow reminded herself without thought. She didn’t want to know that, but it remained in the front of her mind as everything else was pushed back out of pure denial. While school had always been her favorite activity, the thing she looked forward to on the weekends, now that Buffy was becoming a part of the group and would be integral to what would happen in the future it made going to school less enjoyable.

Grabbing the books she needed for studying out of her locker, Willow closed her locker and struggled to keep her books balanced. She failed three steps into her journey to the Library. As all the students filed by, kicking and stepping on her books, bumping into her, she tried to not let it get to her. Luckily, someone finally knelt down to help her and kept her from jumping up and screaming bloody murder in frustration.

Only all the blood that was boiling from that frustration went to her cheeks when it turned out to be Oz helping her.

When they stood up, half of her books with him and the other half in her hands, Willow cleared her throat and tried not to break out in a fit of giggles at her clumsiness. “Sad, isn’t it?”

Oz narrowed his eyes for a quick moment before returning to his normal impassive facial expression. “Can you elaborate?”

Willow didn’t even know that she had been the one who said that and tried to remain as casual as possible, “It’s sad that every time we run into each other I’m either knocking stuff out of your hands or dropping things from mine.”

“And yet you’re always helping me,” Willow added, the words rolling off her tongue before she could stop them. She was actually carrying on a conversation with a boy, a cute and nice boy, and it was foreign territory to her. What was right and what was stupid were blurred distinctions as she looked at every last feature of his face to determine if he was happy or sad or angry or depressed.

“And yet we haven’t had the opportunity to have a real conversation,” Oz replied back, getting into the conversation with ease. The softness and fluidity to his even tone was enough to convince Willow that he wasn’t forcing himself to continue the conversation. “You on your way to lunch?”

“Well, I have some studying to do with friends in the Library. You?”

“I got last half of the day off to go to a gig in L.A.”

“Wow, you can do that?”

Oz modestly looked down at his feet. “Well, the school thinks I have a stomach flu. Same difference, right?”

Laughing just right, Willow nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I hope you have fun at your gig.”

She smiled a small smile and moved to the right, just as Oz moved to his left. They ran into each other, his arms touching her belly and sending shivers up her spine as he laughed, forming butterflies in her stomach. Taking a step back, Oz scratched the back of his head with his free hand and held out his books. “I guess you’d need these back, huh?”

“Yeah, I think I would.” Willow reached out to grab them, but he pulled them back as if realizing something.

“You know what, I think I’ll walk you to the library,” he said, looking at her for approval. “No need for you to carry all this stuff.”

“I don’t want to take time out of your-”

“I’d like to,” Oz cut her off as politely as he could.

Willow took in a deep breath as her smile brightened. Nodding, she walked alongside of him towards the library, the butterflies in her stomach never going away.

* * *

Buffy tried to hide her disappointment when her alone time with Thatch was interrupted by Willow. She was trying so hard to hide it that she didn’t bother to comment on the redness in Willow’s cheeks and the bright smile on her face, clear signs of running into a cute boy.

Next came Xander, a minute or two behind Willow, depressed and grumbling incoherent words about his distaste for high school. Something that I do not want to hear right now.

“I saw you walking with Oz,” Xander spoke without bothering to lower his voice, walking over to Willow without even nodding in acknowledgment to Buffy or Thatch. “Or whatever he goes by. Why not Danny though. I mean, Oz? That’s no better than Osborne.”

Willow couldn’t stop smiling as she spoke, “I think it’s a great nickname.”

Buffy shook her head and laughed as she listened to the conversation, trying to keep quiet. But apparently she wasn’t quiet enough and Willow looked over at her oddly.

“What?” the redhead asked, her tone accusing rather than threatening. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing. Just hearing you, Willow Rosenberg, talk about a guy other than Xander.” Buffy found it humorous and wasn’t even close to trying to insult her, obviously just observing something.

But Willow didn’t see it that way. “Try not to eavesdrop on my conversations, alright? Then you won’t have to strain yourself with laughing. We all know that takes brain cells, which you don’t have.”

“Why is it always the intelligence level that people choose to focus on when dealing with blondes?” Buffy wondered aloud, half-serious and half-kidding. “Wait till next year to see what my SAT results are and who’ll have the last laugh.”

Scoffing, Willow turned her back to Buffy and lowered her voice to Xander, returning to their conversation. “He’s not like anybody else at this school, he’s nice to me. And he’s cute.”

“Ugh, I’m going to be sick,” Xander grumbled, half-teasing. “Hearing you talk about boys like that is enough to make me realize things are changing too fast for my taste.”

“Well get used to it, Xander,” Willow remarked a little too quickly with self-assurance, something she hardly ever displayed. Frustration crept into her voice as she realized just how true Xander’s statement was. Things were happening super-fast and the changes that were occurring weren’t all necessarily good. “Where’s Cordy?”

“Right here,” came the young Slayer’s voice as she walked into the library, catching Willow’s question even if the redhead had been speaking in a quiet whisper. “I forgot my lunch money. Wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t been standing in line for ten minutes listening to jocks grunt and yell about their winning game.”

Waving a small wave in Thatch’s direction, Cordelia made her way straight to Giles’ office, only to come out a moment later, confused. “Where’s-”

“Giles is getting some lunch with Miss Calendar,” Thatch informed her in a soft, polite tone. Cordelia nodded and said a small ‘thank you’ which he accepted with a small smile.

Buffy caught onto the small moment between the two, of gratitude and acceptance, and cleared her throat to get Thatch’s attention. “Same time tomorrow?”

He nodded, reaching behind her to grab the sword she’d tossed on the table. When she brushed past him, moving to the exit, he grabbed her arm, his grip far from firm but enough so that she stopped walking. “Where might you be going?”

“I just skipped the last half of History to train, give me a break.” She slipped her arm from his grip and moved to the doorway, looking back at him over her shoulder. “I’m getting some lunch, alright? Five minutes tops and I’ll be back with a tray full of food.”

Thatch nodded and picked his sword off of the ground before walking over to the weapons trunk right next to the ‘Returned Books’ cage. Placing them inside gently, he cleared his throat and ran the back of his hand along his brow, wiping the sweat away.

Walking over to Cordelia, Xander and Willow, he cleared his throat as he was about to start talking.

Willow beat him to the punch, “Do you like America?”

Laughing more at the innocence in Willow’s tone and in her eyes, Thatch shoved his hands into the pockets of his sweatpants, abandoning any sense of formality with the teenagers. “California has wonderful weather. I haven’t been here quite long enough to really say anything else.”

“Oh, okay.” Willow nodded and passed on her turn to talk to Xander. The awkwardness was slowly subsiding. Very slowly.

“Must be…nice to train with Buffy,” Xander sardonically commented.

Thatch missed the sarcasm and nodded enthusiastically, “I have faith that she’ll become a great person and a superb Slayer, if she’s willing to try.”

“If you ever have a hard time, or need some help, you can always come to us.” Cordelia looked into his eyes unlike Xander and Willow, respectfully keeping her gaze on the man she was speaking to. Then she laughed, “Well, I don’t know about these two. But you can ask me for help anytime.”

“Thank you,” Thatch pulled his hand out of his pocket and jutted his thumb behind him to the tables pushed away in all directions. “Actually, I’d appreciate some help putting these tables in the right order. Unless you’d like to attempt getting lunch again.”

“Sounds go-” Cordelia had just started to push away the counter to help him when a familiar voice sounded from the doorway. She turned to see, much to her disappointment, Sandra standing there with bag full of lunch. “What the-”

“I found your lunch money on the counter when I stopped by this morning,” Sandra explained, walking over to Cordelia and handing her the lunch sack. “And I remember just how tasty the cafeteria food is so I put a little something together.”

Cordelia opened her mouth to talk but only made confused noises. She had the most priceless expression on her face and Xander, though a little taken aback at a stranger giving Cordelia food, had to fight back his patented goofy grin.

Sandra squeezed Cordelia’s shoulder, gave her a kiss on the cheek and left with a cheery ‘Have a wonderful day at school!’

Cordelia was still making weird noises when she placed the sack on the counter, which was enough permission for Xander to start rummaging through it.

“Are you alright?” Thatch asked, wondering whether he knew her enough to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. He decided it wasn’t appropriate and simply pulled out a stool for the Slayer.

“What just happened? Did she just give me lunch like she was my Mom?” Cordelia asked everyone in the room, just hoping it was an illusion. Yet Xander, still poking around in the bag, confirmed the painfully obvious with the crinkling of the paper bag and ‘oo’ and ‘aw’ sounds he was making.

“A sprite can, turkey sandwich with mustard, Fritos and…holy crap! Two brownies!” he sounded like a child opening all of his presents on Christmas. Willow responded rightfully by smacking him upside the head. “Ow! What was that f—oh, yeah. Sorry.”

“Sounds like she tried hard to make you a good lunch,” Willow tried to make the best of it, trying to understand what her friend was experiencing. Whether anger, guilt or, the obvious, disbelief.

“Yeah…” Cordelia laughed and ran a hand along her face. “I guess you’re right. She was just trying to help me out.”

She has a job that she obviously needed to get to and she took time out of her day to bring me lunch when she didn’t have to. God and I was such a bitch to her the last time we talked.

Xander, half of one of the brownies in his hand and the other half rolling around in his mouth, grinned. “So…who was that?”

* * *

At the end of the day the school was eerily quiet; no more bustling students gossiping or showing inappropriate public display of affection. All that was left were the teachers.

Giles rapped on the open classroom door, clearing his throat and trying not to let his smile falter as his nerves had yet to calm down. When Jenny turned to face him, her jet black hair tied up in a loose, casual ponytail, he swore that if he wasn’t holding onto the frame of the doorway, his legs would have gave in and he’d be face first on the floor.

“Rupert,” she said his name like he was the King of England and he half-expected her to do a small curtsey. “I was just about to go to the library.”

“I was on my way there and decided to stop by and…” he paused, the perfect explanation on the tip of his tongue proving more difficult to say than he would have guessed. “You look refreshed.”

“End of the day planning. I just got done with it so yeah, I’m a little relieved,” Jenny replied, smirking playfully. She could see that he was nervous and had only one guess as to why, which made her stomach do somersaults. “Was there something specific that you wanted to talk to me about?”

Giles nodded, stuttering for a moment or two before finally spitting some words out. “I actually wanted to ask you if…well, to ask if you wanted…if you weren’t bus-”

“I would love to go out on a date with you, Rupert Giles.” Jenny finished for him, her grin growing brighter and brighter. Her hands played with each other as Giles shuffled his feet and laughed at how easy she made it sound to ask and accept an invitation to a date. “A movie and dinner. We both know our salaries aren’t exquisite and I don’t want you to go out of your way.”

“Well, in that area you won’t be getting what you want,” Giles breathed. “A movie then?”

“Sounds perfect.” A small laugh escaped her mouth and Giles scratched the back of his head, grinning at how easy it was.

He nodded in agreement, “Yes, it does sound quite good.”

* * *

All of the curtains were closed over Angel’s windows so that the last bit of sunlight wouldn’t cause him to burst into flames, but it wasn’t even that that made him feel a little better, a little more assured.

Cordelia sat across from him at the small, worn dining table that was hardly ever used. He couldn’t stop watching her, wondering what she was thinking as she tested the chicken soup he’d attempted to microwave a few minutes prior. Her opinion mattered and he waited on the edge of his seat for it.

She glanced up at him and smirked as she lifted the last spoonful of it into her mouth. “Did you follow the instructions?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing.”

“Cordy…” Angel warned, knowing she was holding back.

“It’s a little cold.”

“Really? I wonder why?”

“Did you read the instructions? It tasted a little like you put it in for thirty seconds.”

Angel’s brow furrowed and he tried to hide his confusion. “Is that a bad thing?”

Cordelia couldn’t help but laugh a little at his question. “Yeah, Angel.”

“Why’d you wait to tell me?”

“I didn’t want it to go to waste. You took time out of your day to make soup for me.”

“You swallowed cold soup for me?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Cordelia pointed out to the self-conscious vampire. “Are you always this insecure?”

Angel scoffed, “If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s insecure.”

“You have me fooled.”

Clearing his throat, Angel looked away from her as he spoke. “It’s just…I want you to have a reason to come here more often. We’re friends and I love spending time with you. But there’s not…not really any incentive for you to come over here.”

“What do you mean? You’re here, that’s good enough reason for me.”

“Alright,” Angel nodded, looking up at her, a small, embarrassed smile tugging at the corner of his lips. “I must sound stupid.”

“Stupid? No. Insecure? Yes.”

Angel scoffed again, “You have a lotta nerve to call me insecure!”

Not realizing what he was talking about, Cordelia pressed her hand against her chest and feigned shock.

“Around Thatch you seem mighty insecure. Blushing and giggling like you’re twelve, you’re the poster-girl for diffidence.”

“Diffa-what?” Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest and firmed her jaw. “Forget insecure, you’re just too damn difficult sometimes.”

“A little defensive, are we?”

Growling, Cordelia pushed away from the table, her chair screeching along the floor. Standing up she pointed at Angel for a minute, too angry to form an insult. “Whatever.”

Angel walked after her, grabbing her arm and keeping her from leaving. “Hey! Wait a minute. What the hell started this argument?”

“I don’t know,” Cordelia admitted after trying to search for a reason that would put the blame on him. She looked down at her watch and, ironically, she actually did need to leave. “It’s six…I need to get home. Promised my dad I’d help Sandra try and make dinner.”

“At least you’re trying to make the best of the situation, right?”

“Right. And it’s actually not that hard, but don’t worry, I’m still putting in all that ‘effort’ you seem to like talking about,” Cordelia rolled her eyes and grabbed her jacket from the couch. “See ya.”

* * *

Tossing her keys onto the counter instinctively as she walked in through the back door, Buffy looked over her shoulder, around the corner and up at the ceiling to make sure the maid wasn’t waiting to berate her for coming home late. Rosie was as close to a parental figure as she was going to get.

Once the coast seemed clear, Buffy pulled off her coat and walked down the hall to the bottom of the stairs, looking up and listening intently for any sign of life in the house. Then she remembered her parents were at a charity party or fall party for her father’s business. Didn’t matter.

Walking upstairs, her arms limply hanging at her side, her back arched so that she looked like a hunchback and her knuckles scraped against the wooden stairs. She was too exhausted to care about anything, including the soreness in her back, her hands and thighs.

When she reached her room, however, opening the door and looking at her large, welcoming bed, it hit her that if she was to fall asleep she’d have to wake up in the middle of the night covered in cold sweat after experiencing that same, repetitive nightmare. Growling to herself, she wished she could suck it up and fall asleep but, realizing what she had just realized, it dropped to the bottom of her list of things to do.

Looking around, over her shoulder and down at her feet, several times, she tried and tried to find something to do, someone to go and see to burn time.

* * *

Angel opened the door a crack to see Buffy standing patiently on his doorstep. Seeing her blonde locks tied up into a loose ponytail and her green eyes drooping slightly with exhaustion, the vampire wondered why she was bothering to even stand this late at night. “Buffy?”

She seemed as bothered by him saying her name with question as he was with saying it at all. Rolling her eyes, she pointed halfheartedly to the cross hanging from her neck. “I bought this the other day. Decided that it’s better to wear it for protection than for it to be a fashion statement to brag about.”

“Alright,” Angel couldn’t help the curiosity creeping into his tone. “So you decided to come and see me?”

“Look, don’t take this as a personal dig but I have a lot better choices than this place. I just…everyone’s either asleep or I don’t think they’d want to see me right now.” Buffy shoved her hands in her jacket pockets and looked down at her feet. “Honestly, I have some things I need to work out with you.”

Opening the door, Angel motioned for her to come inside, never taking his eyes off of her as he spoke. “Things? Issues you mean?”

“Yeah, issues. Mostly about the things I did and said when I found out about what you are.”

Angel merely nodded, closing the door as Buffy removed her coat.

“First of all, I’m not stupid. I’m sure it seemed that way when I believed you so easily…” Buffy kicked at the carpet. When Angel walked past her, she flinched away from him. When he lifted his hands defensively and motioned for her to sit, a look of regret flashed across her face. “It’s not like I think you’re disgusting or anything…”

“I know, I understand.”

Buffy sat down, still for the longest time before she spoke. “I shouldn’t have believed you so easily. I know that now. It was stupid of me and I hate myself for just up and believing you like that. I know that you’re not as bad as the other vampires now but…what if you had been lying to me? I would have just let you walk off and hurt others!”

Angel sat across from her at the other end of the table, just enough distance between his body and hers so that she didn’t feel threatened. When he saw her distress he reached out his hand, but hesitated and pulled it back. “Buffy…”

“And it may surprise you, like it would with Cordelia or Xander or Willow, that I care about anyone other than myself, but I do! I’m not evil or anything. I sure as hell am stupid to have risked believing you like that. It could have cost me my own life. And going home all alone, just thinking about how from now on I have to think about the consequences of what I do, I have to be careful, I can’t do whatever I want without having to deal with what comes afterwards…I don’t like it at all.”

“These feelings are normal, Buffy. Believe me when I say that even if you and Cordelia seem different to each other, you guys have a lot in common. She went through the same thing you are going through. Even if it may seem like you’re isolated from the rest of the world, you’re not. You have us. We’re willing to help.”

“And what if I don’t want your help?” Buffy spat defensively, not willing to give in as easily as she did when he was trying to get her to trust him. “What if I don’t want this at all?”

“Of course you don’t want this! Why would you want it at this time in your life?” Angel pushed his chair around the table and a little closer, his voice rough and loud as he continued to speak passionately about something he could understand so well. “You think I want to live forever with the memories of all of my victims? You think Cordelia wants to spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder and worrying over those she cares for more than she should? She’s sixteen, just like you. We all have problems and situations that we’d give away in a second. Only your situation is better, your burden is to helppeople. Don’t you think that counts for something?”

Buffy kicked the leg of the table, the wood snapping easily from the force and the table falling down in a weird position. “It isn’t even about that! You know how hard it is to have to think these things? To try and not focus on how I didn’t make the cheerleading team because of my ‘stunt’ or how my parents are never home to console me? Maybe the fact that I can’t sleep at night, that I’m afraid to even close my eyes, will make you realize just how hard this is for me.”

The frustration, anger and despair in her voice, which cracked under the pressure of trying not to burst into tears, was enough for Angel to lean back into his chair and take in what she just admitted. From the look of her shifting eyes after her declaration, he knew that she hadn’t meant to reveal so much. But the words were spoken and it was all out in the open.

Finally, Angel, speaking in the softest voice, asked the first question. “Why are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Nightmares. Not ones that a five-year old has before going to sleep with mommy and daddy. Real, vivid nightmares.” She answered briskly, crossing her arms over her chest and looking away from Angel.

“Is that why you’re afraid to close your eyes?” Angel tried to be as gentle with his questions as possible, but considering that Buffy hadn’t intended on revealing so much of her troubles in the first place, it came as no surprise when she seemed reluctant to answer.

She blinked slowly and firmed her jaw; her cheek bones defined as she pondered how to explain. Opening her mouth and closing it several times, she kept searching for the right words.

Angel just wanted to reach out to her, comfort her and tell her everything was alright. Cordelia had time to figure out what was going on, she was just as strong-willed as Buffy, only she had help when it came to coming to terms with her calling. Buffy didn’t have that luxury. Those who were trying to figure out what was going on, helping her in their own reluctant way, weren’t her friends. He only wished that he could be that person she wanted, the kind that she could turn to for help.

“The dreams I have…” her voice was soft as her eyes drifted up to look at a boarded up window, the light of the crescent moon poking through one of the cracks. “They’re so real.”

“How’re they real?” Angel reached out and touched her shoulder comfortingly. She winced but didn’t push him away.

“Sometimes I wake up with marks…something always grabs me in my dream and when I wake up there’s a handprint where it grabbed me.” She buried her face in her hand, propping her elbow awkwardly on the overturned table. “It hurts most of the time, but I ignore it. Better to not bitch about it, right?”

Buffy pushed Angel’s hand away softly, her thumb sneaking under the collar of her shirt and pushing it off of her shoulder to reveal her skin. Angel blinked a few times to make sure he wasn’t imagining the bright red mark shaped like a hand on her shoulder. It looked painful. “How long has this been going on?”

“Before I found out I was a Slayer. Sometime during summer, I don’t remember the exact date. Should I?”

“What’s in the dream? What happens to you?”

Taking in a deep breath, Buffy adjusted her shirt back to its regular position, hiding her tender mark. “Do you remember when Cordelia beat that Master guy? That night in the school? My dream is about that. Sometimes I think that I’m just remembering it but…but then I start talking and I can’t control myself. Something about someone coming for us…I don’t know for sure.”

Angel’s eyes widened at her description, recalling the hundreds of times he’d heard Cordelia describe her dream. It all came together and he didn’t know whether to feel relieved or incredibly worried.


Part 14(a)

Once settled into the uncomfortable wooden seat, Buffy felt tiny, diminutive even. The library seemed larger, the people standing around her and Cordelia, looking at them with curious expressions, seemed like giants from her point of view.

Glancing over at the brunette beside her, who looked just as uncomfortable as she did, Buffy wondered for a moment if she should have given the girl a bigger chance. But then that moment passed and she erased the thought, laughing internally at the possibility of her and Cordelia ever getting along.

Giles scratched his chin quizzically, looking like a student being called to the front of the class to figure out the complicated math equation. Anxiety could be seen in his boyishly blue eyes and the sheer layer of sweat forming on his brow.

Fall time in California was the time of the year when Mother Nature couldn’t decide between cool or scorching hot temperatures. At 8 o’clock in the morning it could be sixty degrees and by the time you got done dressing weather appropriately it’d get too hot for you to wear what you had chosen.

Focusing on the annoying change of weather was all that Buffy could manage to think of doing to push away the uneasiness in the Library.

“This is incredible…” the older Watcher muttered under his breath, glancing at both the Slayers.

Thatch, however, spoke with a firm voice. “This could all be one big coincidence.”

“Or it all can be signs pointing us to something,” Angel put in, shooting a look Thatch’s way. “I’ve read Cordelia’s notes, the things she’s written down that have happened in her dreams. I’ve asked Buffy to repeat over and over what she sees in her own dreams. I’m telling you, it’s no coincidence.”

Thatch crossed his arms and continued to casually lean against a table. He looked at Angel for a long, silent moment before clearing his throat and nodding. “I agree. But we should approach this accordingly. Rushing into this isn’t the smart choice.”

“Let’s split into small groups, that way we can cover more in a lesser amount of time,” Giles stepped forward, pointedly in between the vampire and the other Watcher. “Willow and Angel, you can handle basic research. Rummage around all the books I carry in the library and look for cases of sharing dreams, state of consciousness.”

Giles didn’t wait for the two to nod in agreement before turning to Thatch and Cordelia, “You two shall find a place for Thatch to stay. I’m certain he’s tired of my couch. After that you can get organized there and look through his notes.”

Thatch nodded, glancing over at Cordelia and flashing a small smile. All the formality melted away and the two seemed genuinely happy with their assignment.

“Jenny and I will use the resources I have at my apartment along with her magical knowledge,” Giles continued, trying to hide a grin. “While Buffy and Xander will do the footwork. I have some contacts that I’ve compiled since I’ve been here that you two should go through.”

Before either Buffy or Xander could bitch about their partnership, the bell rang signaling the end of their lunch hour. Grumbling and giving each other dirty looks, the two left for class along with Cordelia and Willow.

* * *

Tapping her fingernails on her bottom row of teeth, Buffy suppressed an eye roll when she exaggeratingly flipped to the next page. The English teacher, Mr. Thomas, was starting to ramble on and it would be a miracle for anyone to be able to pay any sort of attention to whatever he was talking about.

Unconsciously, Buffy glanced over her shoulder at Cordelia. It was about the twentieth time she had done it within ten minutes and the other Slayer was sure to have noticed it.

“Are you trying to admire my handwriting?” Cordy whispered loud enough for only Buffy to hear her, wording her question right so that she didn’t come off as snotty. “Or do you just like the way I did my hair today?”

“If I say both will I never hear the end of it?” the friendly tone was surprising to both of the girls.

Buffy actually got the fact that Cordelia was kidding and the brunette couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows and react. “Most likely.”

After taking a moment to bask in the fact that they were getting along, or at least tolerating each other, Buffy cleared her throat and spoke more earnestly. “Seriously, I figured we needed to talk.”

“About what exactly?” It was a wonder that no one else was gawking at them for talking during a lecture, for daring to completely ignore the teacher. Actually, it was more of a wonder that no one was trying to listen in on what they were talking about. Perhaps they were all just reallygood at eavesdropping.

“About things. Important things. Pretty much everything that’s been going on. We haven’t kept up much of a speaking relationship, have we?”

“I wouldn’t say we were the best of pals,” Cordelia sardonically commented, pretending to cough as she spoke when the teacher glanced their way. “But we go to the same meetings. If that’s what we even call em’.”

“Congregations sound better.”

“Word of the day toilet paper?”

“Yep.”

“Mine was propensity.”

Their small little chat ended with the loud snap of a ruler clashing with Buffy’s desk, causing the blonde, and pretty much everyone who could hear, to jump in their seats. Cordelia looked down at her book, pretending to read and act innocent until she felt the sinking sensation of the teacher’s eyes on her. Taking a moment to collect her cool and keep it, Cordelia finally looked up.

Mr. Thomas smirked down at her, “I sincerely hope my lecture wasn’t interrupting your chat with Miss. Summers.”

“Don’t worry, it wasn’t.” Buffy’s voice was small but the sarcasm was hard to miss. Mr. Thomas turned away from Cordelia, who remained silent, to kneel down beside Buffy.

His nose brushed along her ear and his voice was low as he whispered: “Do not interrupt my class again. Or you will pay for your impertinence.”

Neither of the Slayer’s spoke for the rest of the class.

* * *

Buffy looked at her watch, avoiding making eye contact with Cordelia as she spoke to her. “That was…weird.”

“Sure seemed like he was threatening you,” Cordelia didn’t bother to avoid looking at Buffy, not caring if the blonde’s friends saw them talking to each other. Screw reputation. She needs to get over this whole ‘not talking to geeks’ thing quickly. “Or maybe he’s just got the balls to stand up to the mighty Queen B.”

“No one has that much nerve,” Buffy snarked under her breath, walking briskly down the hallway. “God I hope this day ends soon. Not only do I have a test I didn’t study for but I have to walk around in public with Xander. In the daylight. Where people can see us.”

Disgust dripped from every word she spoke in reference to Xander and Cordelia stopped in front of her, angry. “Look, Xander’s not that bad. Why is he so annoying to you?”

“He’s Xander Harris. That’s enough of a reason.” Buffy looked past Cordelia and smiled. “Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go talk with myreal friends before class starts.”

* * *

The tick…tick…tick of the clock in the silent library was like an echo in a cave and Angel glanced up at the doors every other tick. It seemed like hours since the school day had ended and the groups Giles’ assigned went on their way.

He was two minutes away from tapping his foot and biting on the end of his pencil and Willow couldn’t help but beam.

“What?” Angel asked quietly, never once looking at her. He was either focused on the piece of paper on the table in front of him with a few random scribbles or the ceiling which had taken on some sort of fascinating quality all of a sudden. “Do I have something on my nose? A pencil mark?”

The question was sarcastic but Willow actually shrugged and rubbed away a long mark along Angel’s cheek with her thumb. “Now that you mention it…that was bothering me for the longest time!”

If vampires could blush I’d be bright red right about now… “Was that all you were looking at?”

“If I said yes would you believe me?”

“No.”

“Of course not. Because smart people know when other people lie.” Willow nodded and tapped her pencil on the table, still smiling. “And I was lying! So I guess that makes you smart. Xander owes me ten bucks.”

“You guys actually bet on if I was smart or not?” the vampire slipped up and a bit of self-consciousness crept into his tone and the scrunched up expression on his exhausted face.

Willow seemed not at all aware of how she was affecting Angel’s ego. “Well, Xander bet that you were retarded. But I mean, you can walk and talk so I figured-”

“Willow,” Angel’s hand reached out over the table and patted her shoulder. “You can stop now before I feel so great that I decide to bathe in the sun outside.”

The red-head slumped visibly and the smile disappeared from her face. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry, Willow.” Angel glanced over at the door again, firming his jaw and clenching his teeth as he counted the seconds. “What time is it?”

“They’re due back in about an hour,” Willow was writing down a few notes, her comment casual. She knew what he was thinking and the corners of her mouth were just beginning to form a smirk. “We’ve been sitting here about twenty minutes, Angel. I’m sure Thatch and Cordelia will wait at least last thirty minutes before the clothes come off.”

“Whoa!” Angel leaned back in his chair, laughing it off. He sucked at acting. “That came outta left field. We both know that there will be no clothes being taken off! I mean…she didn’t say anything about that did she?”

Willow shook her head and laughed quietly, the figures of Jenny and Giles flirting in the corner of her eye making her grin even bigger. It sure is spreading. “Be careful Angel, you’re looking a little green…”

Angel opened his mouth to argue some more but the words fell flat and he just slumped forward, burying his face in his hand. “Is it that obvious?”

“You like her.”

“Not in that way.”

“What way?”

“In the way you implied with your little ‘you like her’,” Angel half-rolled his eyes and tried to mock Willow’s voice, causing the redhead to laugh and in turn, he laughed a little too. “Look, Cordelia and I…I care a lot about her and the thought of her with some stranger…it doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t ‘like her’ like her. She’s my friend. My only friend really.”

Willow nodded and dropped the pencil softly onto the table, sitting back slightly and taking it in. She looked at Angel for a moment before crossing her arms and smiling happily, her long red hair shining beautifully in the sunlight that Angel just barely avoided. “I can be your friend too. If you want.”

At first the vampire thought she was kidding, looking at her with the expression that clearly said: ‘Be serious now’. But when he noticed that, even as she was smiling, the teenager was completely genuine in her offer, he couldn’t help but bashfully look down at his lap. “Really?”

“Wow, you really don’t have to act all shy. That’s my thing.”

“Truthfully, Willow, you don’t seem that shy to me.”

Willow shrugged in response, closing one book and opening another, ignoring the dust flying out of the pages. “That’s because you’re not a student here. You’re not a jock or a cheerleader. You’re Angel.”

“I don’t know whether that’s a compliment or an insult.”

She didn’t have time to answer when one of the doors opened slightly and Oz poked his head inside. When his eyes finally met hers, a small smirk appeared on his face. One ten times bigger appeared on Willow’s. Angel couldn’t help but roll his eyes.

Willow’s breath caught in her throat when Oz cutely waved a small wave before closing the door. He’d obviously just wanted to say hi and it was enough to make her swoon. When she recovered slightly and cleared her throat, turning to Angel, Willow had to try and act natural. It didn’t help that Angel was looking at her without blinking. “What?”

“I just…I think it’s funny that you’re sitting here talking to me about feelings that don’t exist between Cordelia and me when you’re the one-”

“The one who what?” Willow asked in a surprisingly confident tone. Only the moment after she spoke it all went away and she shrank a little in her seat.

“I’m a vampire, Willow. I could hear your heartbeat speeding up, your breath coming shorter and sharper. I could also bet good money that way too much saliva formed in your mouth and your stomach did somersaults when he waved at you.”

A moment of silence passed and Willow shrugged, not capable of disagreeing. “Well, aren’t you Mr. Smarty-Pants.”

* * *

“Sunnydale is actually bigger than I presumed,” Thatch looked over his shoulder and down the street. “Sure, it isn’t London but it’s a lovely town.”

“Sure. If you think demon-worshipping meetings in the basement of the library, sacrifices made to bring forth the dead every other Tuesday and a door in the basement of the school leading to Hell are lovely.” Cordelia stopped walking when her eye caught something. It was one of those shops that had glass sculptures and such. “Wow, they have it!”

“Have what?” Thatch walked up behind her and tried to see what she was seeing.

“They have a lily exactly like the one my mom had,” Cordelia gasped slightly, her voice quiet as she pointed to the one showcased on the bottom row. “She loved lily’s and she collected glass ones. I always wanted one in my room. Though it’d make my room prettier. She finally gave me one and I broke it the next day.”

Thatch nodded, walking around so that he was at her side. He glanced over at her for a minute before responding quietly, “That must have been sad. I take it she didn’t give you another one to replace it.”

Cordelia laughed and shook her head, tearing her eyes away from the window and starting to walk again. “No. Not that I expected her to. I should tell my dad about this place, maybe he’ll get me one for Christmas.”

“Is your mother…?” Thatch didn’t dare to say it, but he couldn’t help but ask when he noticed the nostalgia in her tone.

“My parents are divorced. She lives just outside of Los Angeles.” Cordelia shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket, not knowing what to do with her hands when she continued to steal small glances Thatch’s way. The intrigue she had for the man couldn’t be helped and she had to grin at herself for the ways she secretly stole peeks his way.

Thatch noticed her smile and smiled himself, laughing nervously when he thought for a moment that he had something on his face. “What?”

“Nothing.”

* * *

“You’re touching me.” Buffy growled under her breath, feeling Xander’s hand brushing along hers. Goosebumps ran up and down her arms but she convinced herself it was the slight breeze as she and Xander walked briskly down the sidewalk. The last guy on the list of contacts worked at a bar that apparently vampires preferred to go to. One more guy and this little fiasco is done with. No more having to hear Xander breath so loudly.

“It’s not my fault you’re taking up most of the sidewalk,” Xander griped back at her, crossing his arms over his chest and avoiding glancing at her. His jaw was firm and eyes were set on the path ahead. Just a few more blocks…

Breathe in, breath out. Come on, Summers, you can handle this. Even if she repeated the mantra over and over in her head, Buffy’s hands still clenched into fists, her hands losing all circulation for a moment. “Could you stop doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Don’t act stupid. You know what.”

“I’m not stupid and no I don’t know what.”

“You’re breathing really loud.”

“Were you abducted when you were a kid or something? What’s wrong with you? I’m invading your personal space when you’re the one taking up the whole sidewalk and now I’m breathing too loud? What am I stopping you from with my loud breathing? Thinking? I doubt it.”

“You could just walk in the street…” Buffy said under her breath, her tongue pressing against her cheek.

Xander stopped walking and held his hands out, “You’re kidding.”

“Just a suggestion,” Buffy brushed it off as she continued walking, putting as much distance between her and Xander as possible. The closer he was the more she felt like vomiting. “You could have listened to me when I offered to drive my car. Then we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

Catching up to her, Xander turned around and walked backwards as he gesticulated frantically, his frenzied manner intensifying along with his already-boiling frustration. “I’d still be breathing too loud, wouldn’t I?”

“That’s what radio’s are for. I wouldn’t be able to hear you over the music. There’s another thing wrong with this situation. If I were in the car I’d be listening to some good music. Right now? I’m playing The Candyman on repeat just to zone you out.”

Xander scoffed and rolled his eyes, “Well, apparently it isn’t working.”

“Good observation.”

“Shut up.”

“Not before you.”

“Ladies are always first,” Xander sardonically responded.

“Then why haven’t you shut up yet?”

* * *

Cordelia tried to fight back a wince, to hold back that thing with the scrunching of her nose that she did whenever her disgust-o-meter shot through the roof. The motel room her and Thatch were in wasn’t the Hilton hotel but it was the best so far. “It’s…nice.”

“Yes, it is. But only if nice means terribly nauseating,” Thatch covered his mouth and looked around, dropping his bag onto the floor. “With the time we’ve wasted walking around Sunnydale I assume that this is the end result?”

“Pretty much, unless you’d like to massage my feet back to health,” Cordelia dared to plop down on the bed, a small smile appearing on her face as she jokingly stretched out her legs and waggled her feet. “Your choice.”

“I think I’ll go with the room.”

“Hey!”

Thatch laughed and dropped his bags to the floor with a groan, clapping his hands together and giving the room another look-over. A moment passed before he sat down, a foot or two separating him from Cordelia. “Rooms like this cause me to yearn for dull weather back home.”

“It’s not that bad, is it?”

“The room is, but…everything else?” Thatch looked at Cordelia for a moment, mulling it over. “I’d say everything isn’t that terrible.”

Cordelia broke eye contact when she felt a little too flustered by his eyes on her, the charming resonance of his voice, clearing her throat to break the silence and give her time to find something to say to change the subject. “Well, we should get started. Giles probably thinks we’ve already started researching.”

“Well, it may not seem like I have a lot of things but…” Thatch walked over to the larger, rattier bag. Opening it up he revealed a personal filing system that made Giles’ excessive organizing tick look like common sense. “I’m sure we can get caught up for the time we wasted on looking for a place.”

* * *

Inside the bar it was dark and smelled of smoke, causing both Xander and Buffy to hold their breaths, only breathing when they started to feel dizzy to avoid coughing and bringing attention to themselves.

Xander tapped Buffy on the shoulder and nodded to the bartender behind the counter. The bartender brought attention to himself easily, pale yet not enough so that he resembled a vampire, and weasely-looking, breaking glasses and spilling drinks. He’d obviously only taken the job to keep himself from becoming a target of vampires.

Sitting down in the small, dirty and creaky stools, making sure a stool separated them, Xander and Buffy remained quiet and blended in. But it wouldn’t be long until the vampires’ would notice that they were human. Thankfully, as Buffy glanced around quickly to get a head count, there were only two or three vampires to be seen. If there was trouble she was confident she could handle it.

When the bartender noticed them he froze and his eyes widened. Buffy was the one who caused such a reaction. He knew what she was by the half-disgusted, half-fearful looks the vampires were giving her. A moment of silence and stillness passed before he started to run in the opposite direction.

Buffy wasn’t going to let him go so easily, pushing herself on top of the counter and running so fast down it that she was practically sliding. A few long and fast strides later and she was jumping on top of the bartender, smashing his head into the wall and rendering him unable to struggle underneath her.

She managed to get a kick in, the force of the move coming from her want to blame someone for her continuing dreams, for her inability to just lie down and sleep at night. She needed someone to blame more than anything, someone to take her anger out on, and the bartender was the perfect choice.

It was Xander who put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her away from the defenseless bartender, stepping between his body and hers. Giving her a firm look for a second, he grabbed the collar of the bartender and dragged him out of the bar through the back door while Buffy looked around at the quiet vampires’ looking at her like she was crazy but not daring to challenge her.

Once outside, covering her eyes when she moved from the dark bar to the bright back alley, Buffy couldn’t help but comment sarcastically. “And you thought it’d be difficult to get this guy to come outside with us.”

Xander rolled his eyes and tossed the bartender to the ground, rolling up his sleeves.

Buffy mimicked him, rolling her eyes too, and laughed. “Don’t strain yourself trying to act tough. You ask the questions, I make sure he answers them.”

Kneeling down she rolled the man on the ground over so he faced them, “Hi. What’s your name?”

“Willy,” he squeaked back, trying to act nonchalant when really, Buffy could see in his eyes that he was so scared that he was thirty seconds from peeing in his pants.

“Hi, Willy. My name’s Buffy and this is Xander,” she motioned to Xander standing behind her, her fake smile never faltering. “And we’ll be interrogating you today.”

* * *

A hand on Giles’ shoulder startled him. In his office it was quiet, but when he turned around to see it was Jenny, the sudden fast thumping of his heart seemed deafening.

“Didn’t mean to startle you,” she said quietly, seating herself in the chair next to his desk. It was then that he noticed the door was closed. They were alone and had all the privacy they could acquire when surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.

“You didn’t,” Giles lied, trying to salvage some of his confidence. “Well, you surprised me but-”

His voice got caught in his throat when Jenny brushed her hair out of her eyes and behind her ears as she laughed a small, breathy laugh. His heart skipped a beat when her fingers brushed along his thigh. They were extremely close and he was just now noticing.

Swallowing hard, he tried to find some strength for his voice. “Is there anything…anything you needed?”

“No,” Jenny shook her head and looked down at her lap. “I wanted to see you. We’re supposed to be researching partners and you practically barricaded yourself in here.”

She wasn’t mad as far as he could tell, a little disappointed maybe but he was relieved to hear no edge of annoyance in her tone. “I didn’t mean to isolate myself. I didn’t know for sure if you needed me when you looked quite focused on your part of the research. You know quite a lot about magic. More so than I could ever dream of.”

“Stop flattering me,” Jenny blushed but tried to pretend that she was feigning modesty when truthfully, the whispery, husky tone of his voice affected her just as much as her hands brushing along his thigh did to him. “I get into my work a lot of the time. I don’t blame you for taking it the way you did, only because it’s too easy for me to picture you tapping on my shoulder and me hissing at you in response. I get irritable when interrupted.”

She laughed halfway through her little comment and Giles knew that she was kidding, or at least half-kidding, he hoped. He grinned sheepishly, “I’m that way sometimes too. But I didn’t mind you coming in here. You’re far from unwelcome.”

“Good to know,” Jenny nodded and leaned back into the chair, trying to get comfortable. “My eyes hurt from reading so much. Do you have any leads?”

Breaking eye contact to look to his blank notepad and all of the Watcher’s Diaries opened all over his desk. “A lunatic demon mentioned two Slayers right before he was executed. It was just something he said to get the Watcher’s Counsel riled up.”

Jenny leaned in to look at his blank notepad, her cheek inches from Giles’. He turned his head and looked at her quietly as she continued to ponder what was going on. “You’d think they’d have some theories on it.”

“Uh-huh…” Giles inhaled her perfume, the smell of spring and jasmine flowers blooming suffusing his nostrils and driving his body crazy. She turned to him when she noticed his distant response and didn’t pull away even when there was hardly room between her face and his.

The sound of the phone ringing out in the library was lost and they didn’t even bother to respond to it, both too busy looking into each other’s eyes.

Too impatient to just stare, to simply exchange unspoken words and unprofessed emotions from his eyes to hers, Giles cupped the bottom of her chin with his hand and pulled her to him, his lips coming in contact with hers. At first it was soft and slow, his lips brushing along hers, asking for permission to grow passionate. Then, as the moments slipped past, his other hand went around her waist and pulled her out of her chair and closer to him, the kiss becoming fervent.

It took Angel barging through the door to break the kiss. Both out of breath, they looked away from each other, avoiding looking at Angel, guiltily.

Angel cleared his throat uncomfortably, “It’s…Buffy and Xander called. They have a lead.”


Part 14(b)

“So the Master was a collector of these kinds of things.” Angel looked down at his feet, shaking his head as he thought it all over again. His feet were inches from the sunlight lighting up the quiet library. Because of that he was far away from everyone in his own little corner.

“No! Really?” the sarcasm in Buffy’s voice was hard to miss and the eye roll didn’t help the situation.

Angel looked up at her with narrowed eyes, too frustrated to take her crap. “I could’ve told you guys that.”

“According to ‘Willy’,” Buffy used airqoutes, her dislike of the name and man in general evident. “The Master made a few deals and has a lot of these kinds of things stowed away in his old hang out place. Wasn’t that place like a cave or something?”

“Yeah, it’s below the school…” Cordelia nodded, her voice quiet as she blinked over and over again, the only sign of life as her expression remained blank. She knew what they had to do and was preparing in advance. Going back down there, even if only for a little while, was a daunting prospect. The place where she died was the last place she wanted to visit.

Buffy elbowed Xander in the side and nodded towards his backpack. “Get out your notes.”

“You took notes?” Cordelia looked up, a smile forming.

Xander shrugged, “I do as I am told if I want all my teeth to stay where they are.”

“Willy didn’t tell us much but what we got from it all was that there’s a cult. A bunch of half-demons. They have their own god or whatever, someone or something that they worshipped, that led them; sometimes leading them in life or to be specific, to destroy a lot of lives and cultures that even history books don’t know about.”

Giles ran a hand through his hair, scratching the back of his neck briefly and arching to each side, trying to pop it as he thought. Stress didn’t suit him very well. “Every time we get news it makes me even more inclined to drink coffee. And I hate coffee.”

Buffy continued on explaining everything she and Xander found out, not even stopping to catch a breath. “Apparently some do-gooders vanquished the god. But before it happened he swore to his followers that he’d rise again and apparently recorded what it would take to bring him back. To sum it all up, he was a freak who wanted to rule the world. And a bunch of other freaks worshipped him more than women worship Brad Pitt. They want revenge and what’s in that text will give us the information on when and how and what the hell is exactly going on.”

Silence followed after her explanation, everyone looking in different directions with different reactions. Buffy sat down and sighed, exhausted from explaining so much that didn’t even make sense to her.

“You know, I wonder if there will ever be a bad guy out there who doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy it,” Xander thought out loud as he reached into his bag and tried to find his notebook. “It’s getting pretty cliché.”

“So we go down there and get the text,” Cordelia slipped on her jacket and moved to the weapons cabinet. “Kill anyone or anything that might be using his former chamber as a place to crash and party and try and not get too distracted. Simple as that, right?”

“Yeah, I guess…” Angel looked at her the entire time she put on her jacket, grabbed a stake and small knife and started walking towards the exit. When she was close enough he reached out and grabbed her arm, stopping her. He lowered his voice to speak, “You know that you don’t have to do this, right?”

Cordelia looked away for a minute before nodding, “I know.”

* * *

“Ugh, it’s so dirty down here!” Buffy whined, avoiding stepping in puddles of slimy liquid and trying not to squish the several rats running around her feet. “Why would anyone want to live down here?”

“No sunlight, lots of privacy and the last place any unwanted humans would wander into,” Angel answered, kicking away the rats or stepping on their tails without even looking down. “But then again, sometimes they lure humans, especially teenagers looking for a hangout, down here and…”

Buffy looked at Angel’s back when he became quiet and swallowed, “And what?”

“And…well, y’know.”

“Ew,” she said in a simple, final tone, ending the conversation on that particular topic.

Cordelia poked Buffy’s back with her knife, “Hurry up.”

“Ow! Jeez, miss picky. I’m walking as fast as I can in these shoes.”

“Now that you mention it don’t you think that it’s about time you started dressing appropriately for these kinds of trips?” Thatch called from the back of the line. “I don’t think expensive footwear will do you any good. Unless you manage to wear one that’s particularly sparkly which would blind your opponents.”

Cordelia snorted and just about suffocated herself from laughing too hard when Buffy tripped over a big piece of stone and fell face flat into the muck. In response, Buffy gave her the finger.

Getting up and trying to get all of the sewage out of her hair, Buffy, near-crying, growled in frustration: “Worst Job Ever!”

Five minutes later they were crawling into the unlit, abandoned chamber that formerly belonged to the Master. Buffy looked at all the chairs carved out of bone and stone and shuddered under her breath at the bad decorating taste.

“Alright, spread out and don’t put your weapons down. We don’t know if there’s anything in here,” Angel whispered quietly, choosing the far left corner.

Cordelia nodded and gripped her knife, taking the area near the entryway as Thatch brushed past her to take the far right corner and Buffy took the last spot available by the large chair obviously used by the Master.

Clicking on her flashlight she scanned the stone wall and noticed the cracks and dried blood spatters. “This place was a slaughterhouse.”

Tapping the wall and receiving a few rocks falling on her head and dust all over herself, she coughed. “It’s pretty unstable in here; we better make this trip quick.”

“Don’t worry,” she heard Angel’s kindly voice call from behind her. She could hear a big thump of rock hitting the ground, making it shake. There was silence for about a minute when finally, Angel diffidently assured them: “I’m fine.”

They all laughed to try and relieve the thick tension, but it didn’t help. Turning around and walking back to the center of the room after finding nothing interesting in her first try, Cordelia stepped right into a large puddle, all the way up to the middle of her shin getting soaking wet. Only the color of her pants was noticeable even in the dark. Shining her flashlight her mouth dropped down in shock at what she saw.

The water was filled with blood.

Not only that but she was standing right by the spot where she died. Where the Master bit into her neck and pushed her into the water to drown. The spot where Angel desperately tried to bring her back to life and it ended up being Xander who saved her life, giving her CPR and saving her from the seemingly endless darkness of death.

Her gasp was loud enough to bring attention to herself. As everyone turned around and started towards her she backed up, away from the puddle, the blood, the terrifying memories. Not looking where she was going she tripped over a rock and fell back, hitting her head hard on the stone wall.

Angel was the first to reach her, dropping his flashlight to the ground and lifting her up slightly with his arms which she grabbed onto immediately. He touched the back of her head and his hand came back with some blood on it. It wasn’t even the blood that made his eyes widen. Cordelia realized that while he was concerned about her it was what was behind her, the wall that caused him to look even paler than usual.

Turning around as much as she could manage in Angel’s firm grip, she saw that when she had hit the wall it cracked and fell open, revealing a small little concealed area that contained one single, dirty and ancient chest.

* * *

As soon as Angel and Thatch lugged the chest onto the table in the library, after carrying it carefully through the sewers and up into the school to avoid damage, both knew they’d have to break it open.

With one quick strike of his axe to the chest, Angel broke it open easily. The top part of it fell of, crumbling to a few pieces. “It’s corroded. He must’ve had it in there for a while.”

Giles and Thatch approached the box and inspected it. Giles was the first to speak with his observations, licking his lips and trying to hide his extreme fascination. “Looks to be dated back quite a while. The texture and design, the intricacy with the way it was built…I’d presume it to be made before homosapiens even evolved.”

“Kiklov era, perhaps?” Thatch looked up at Giles. But once he registered what he said, he shook his head in disbelief. “It couldn’t be…”

“Kiklov? It sounds familiar,” Angel placed his hands on his hips and narrowed his eyes, trying to put a face to a name.

“Says you,” Buffy snorted.

Thatch stepped away from the chest and cleared his throat, “Well, Kiklov was possibly the most influential era for demon society. Both in positive and negative ways.”

“Think about the renaissance,” Giles suggested to the teenagers when he straightened up and saw their lost looks. “The Kiklov era was when all demons were at their best, creating spells we use to this day and destroying civilizations before they could ever be recorded. Power wasn’t that hard to come by.”

“But whomever retained the most power was the one they followed until of course someone, or rather something, would overthrow them,” Thatch put in, running a hand along his face as it hit him just what they were getting into. “And if no one would dare to overthrow them it would be kept in the family line.”

Angel nodded and pointed to the chest, “So this chest might have been passed down through a clan or family through the years. Back in that era the average demon lifespan was pretty long, wasn’t it?”

“Well, not that Willy is reliable, but he said that the cult was made up of half-demons,” Buffy pointed out.

“And this chest was made in a time when homo-sapiens hadn’t evolved…there were no humans yet.”

“So this box was made a long time before it was used to hold…” Angel actually paused to look inside of the box, forgetting that it actually held contents for a moment. “All of this. Texts written by whomever they worshipped.”

“I think I know something that might help…” Giles snapped his fingers, as if a light bulb had just lit up above his head. He walked into his office without saying another word.

Cordelia looked around at everyone and back to the office, her brow furrowed, obviously confused. “Was he done?”

An hour later as the sun started to set, the door opened and Giles walked out holding a book for them to see. “I found it.”

“Found what?”

Giles turned to regard Jenny, “Earlier, when you came into my office and asked if I had any leads. I mentioned that lunatic and his speech before he was executed.”

Jenny’s mouth fell opened when she realized what she was getting at. “The lunatic…he was the one that was worshipped.

Nodding, Giles handed the book to Angel and gesticulated his hands frantically, all the pieces falling together in his head. “The Watcher’s Council was the one who executed him. I cross-referenced it and called the Council myself. They have an entire section on just him.”

“Why did they fail to mention him before?”

“They were just as lost as we were, they didn’t even think of him. It was long ago when the Council wasn’t as civilized and organized as it is now. They were more eye for an eye in their punishments. They refer to him as the Supervisor. Or the Overseer. He was the one who planned several damaging attacks on society.”

“So…the texts in the chest,” Buffy crossed her arms and nodded her head in the direction of the broken open box. “That guy-”

“He was a demon, a rare kind that was so powerful he could transform his body and others to his own will. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he had ancestors that were prophets too.” Giles interrupted her.

Buffy remained unfazed and continued with what she was talking about. “That demon…wrote them before the Watcher’s Council could find him? He knew that there’d be two Slayers? That he’d rise again?”

Thatch walked over to the chest and carefully removed the first page of parchment, gently placing it on the table and grabbing a magnifying glass.

“It’s all on that text, supposedly,” Cordelia put in quietly. “I say we try and find out what it says…”

“I think it’ll be quite difficult to do so,” Thatch whispered, straightening up and tossing the magnifying glass to Giles. “Look at the kinds of text on there.”

Giles took a moment and cleared his throat as he inspected the written words. He slowly lowered his hand and looked down at his feet for a moment before turning to face Thatch. “He not only knew about the two Slayers’ and his eventual return, but he knew that someone would find this eventually.”

“Well, I mean. You can’t expect him to write something and to not expect it to be found,” Xander smiled, not really getting the gravity of what Giles was implying. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have written it.”

Cordelia shook her head and stepped a little closer to Giles, looking at him for a straight, simple answer. “Just say it. What’s wrong with the text?”

“Well…” Giles hesitated, afraid to be the bearer of bad news. When Cordelia narrowed her eyes and stepped closer almost threateningly, obviously too frustrated and impatient to allow him to hem and haw around the topic, he finally just said it: “The Overseer…he wrote it in several different types of languages. And the ones that are the same, such as Latin, appear to be from different time periods, both ancient and recent. His power to see some of the future obviously influenced his writing patterns.”

“It’d take us weeks to translate all of this if we had all the resources,” Thatch sighed, not even bothering to conceal the disappointment. “But we have to cross-reference all of this because even with all the key codes Giles and I possess, we aren’t near as prepared for this as we should be.”

“How long will it take?” Buffy asked stepping beside Cordelia and unconsciously crossing her arms just like her.

“Buffy, you can’t really pinpoint it-”

“Estimate it. Guess. Just don’t sugarcoat it.”

Looking back at Giles for a moment, Thatch sighed direly. “Five months at the least.”

* * *

Angel leaned forward, his back uncomfortably pressed against the window as he sat on the edge, looking at Cordelia intently. It’d been quiet for about twenty minutes as he watched her pace back and forth from one end of her room to the other, biting her bottom lip and twirling a lock of her hair around her finger.

Finally, he spoke. “It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“Yes, it is.” Cordelia didn’t stop walking and didn’t bother to look at him even when she was talking. “Five months at the least? What if this all happens before we even translate it? I heard what Buffy said and it doesn’t sound like an event that we want to experience. Especially me. I already had to deal with one prophecy that led to my death so I’m not that keen on having to deal with one that could end in everyone’s death.”

Angel sighed and looked down at his lap, trying to find the right words to say, hoping that he wouldn’t screw it up and get her even more riled up. “It’s not going to happen. I won’t let it happen, alright?”

“As much as I appreciate you saying that, we both know that even if all of us tried, the only thing that will keep this from happening is if we figure out what that prophecy says sooner rather than later. Wishing for it not to happen isn’t going to help much, Angel.”

“But worrying yourself over it so much that you can’t go on with your life isn’t going to help either,” the vampire pushed himself away from the windowsill and stepped in Cordelia’s path, forcing her to stop pacing. She didn’t look him in the eye but he knew he had her full attention. “I don’t like seeing you like this, Cordy. And I won’t just let you worry when you don’t have to. Let me do the worrying for you, okay?”

She let a small smile appear on her face for a moment, lifting her hand to her mouth and biting her fingernails as she thought it over. Finally, she looked up at him and rolled her eyes. “God, why do you have to do that?”

“Do what?” Angel asked quietly, her infectious smile bringing one to his own face.

“Make me feel better so easily like that,” she admitted her voice just as quiet as his. “You do that and it makes me feel bad that I’m not that nice to you half the time.”

“You’re nice to me,” Angel assured her, bringing his hand to her shoulder and squeezing it. But when she gave him ‘that’ look, he couldn’t help but relent. “Most of the time.”

She laughed and he felt like he’d done his part, or at least most of it. All that was left was the best part, basking in comfortable silence or talking about pointless things.

Cordelia didn’t sit on her bed however, and instead walked past him to her nightstand. She spun something on the back of it and turned back to Angel. “From now on I’m waking up extra early to help out at the Library.”

“Hey, I thought I convinced you not to be like that!”

“To not be helpful?” Cordelia asked him. “I’m not overworking myself by worrying. I’m just going to try and speed up the process.”

“Just let it go.”

“I will let it go once it’s finished with.”

Angel laughed at her persistence, “Let it go.”

“Stop saying let it go!” Cordelia ordered him, fighting back a grin as she realized just how infuriating she was being. “I can let it go. I’m cool, perfectly fine. It’s just-”

Angel stepped closer and covered her mouth with his hand. “Why don’t you just shut up?”

If anyone else had said that to her Cordelia would have them face-flat on the floor crying their apology, but Angel said it with that innocent little flicker in his eyes and that gentle yet husky tone to his voice. When he pulled his hand away from her mouth, she imitated zipping it up and tossing away a key. He grinned really big and she grinned back. Neither could help it.

* * *

“God those two just need to fuck and get it over with,” Ed grumbled, disgust dripping with every word as he buried his face in his hands.

Sandra patted him on the back and couldn’t help but smile at their new discovery. “They finally clued in and realized just what was going on. Everything’s falling into place.”

“So we can go get the papers?” Ed asked, hopeful.

Sandra responded by smacking him upside the head. “No, dipshit. It’s too soon. They know things but not enough for us to worry. We don’t have key codes either and it’d be a helluva lot simpler for us to let them do most of the dirty work and snatch it away right before they put it all together.”

“Or we could get off our lazy asses, stop watching these tapes and do the dirty work ourselves,” Ed suggested. “Well, we’d keep the cameras in because the brunette’s starting to take showers more often and-”

Sandra smacked him upside the head once again, “How many times do I need to tell you to keep your hand out of your pants when you talk? Just think about it, we give them a month, maybe two and all the while we’ll be building up our little group of followers.”

“I still hate that we don’t get to dirty our hands up,” Ed mumbled under his breath, rubbing the back of his head. “I’m sick and fucking tired of standing in that classroom teaching mindless teenagers about English when they can’t even spell their own names. Plus, you know how close I am to just snapping those girls’ necks when they talk while I’m talking? Sniveling little bitches.”

“Vampires will do the job better and messier,” Sandra explained, enjoying the image of dead bodies and blood everywhere. “We can’t just waltz in there. We blow our cover and we’ll have to go into hiding and look over our shoulders while we try and figure the texts out. I’ll say it again: Let them do the work and let us break open a bottle of wine and celebrate bringing forth our leader.”

“You know, considering I’m the one who’s more connected to our ancestor’s, I find it surprising that you take my little off-hand comments about that Slayer’s shower escapades so offensively.”

“My mother was half-demon just like yours. It’s not my fault she screwed a human. Just because you’re half and I’m quarter or whatever you wanna call me, doesn’t mean you’re better than me.”

“Actually, it does. Which is why I’m the one who’s performing the ritual.”

“Whatever the ritual is,” Sandra scoffed, standing up and walking towards the stairs. “You might end up not wanting to do it when you find out what it is. So don’t keep your hopes up. For now, we remain quiet and subtle. I’m going to go tell the guys upstairs to start collecting.”

“Collecting? Do you have to use stupid words to describe it?” Ed called over his shoulder as the woman left for upstairs. “Jeez. Thank god for her persuasive skills or those vampires would be far from merely turning people. They’d be killing her.”


Part 15

Ed leaned over and closed his mouth halfway to whisper in Sandra’s ear. “Sure are a lot of them. Did you have to bump uglies with them to convince em’ all?”

Sandra elbowed him in the side, ignoring his question and raising her voice. “You guys know what to do. Just like you’ve been doing once a week since last month. Go get us some recruits!”

The vampires nodded, their amber eyes dazedly looking at her before they all turned and left to do what they were ordered.

“How many do we have so far?” Sandra asked curtly, turning to Ed.

“Counting those that just left and the ones in the basement,” Ed added the numbers on his finger. “Close to twenty five. We just sent out about three-quarters of that number and it’s soon to double. We’ll have sixty by the end of tonight.”

“Good,” Sandra crossed her arms over her chest, not even bothering to hide her pride. “On Friday, everything will be as planned.”

“Are you sure we should try and take the texts now? We haven’t even heard a peep from the brunette about them. The stupid ‘heroes’ might be getting no where.”

“Since when were you so reluctant?” Sandra spat, rolling her eyes and grabbing her purse. “I say we attack. Have the vamps injure Chase and her friends but not kill, check out what they have so far and go from there.”

“Impulsive are we?” Ed cocked his eyebrows up at her retreating back, smirking. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with Mr. Chase growing attached to you, is it?”

Sandra stopped cold, taking a moment of silence to imagine what it would feel like to kill Ed on the spot and not have to hear his stupid remarks. She looked over her shoulder, seeing him in the corner of her eyes. “I knew what I was getting into when we planned this. I can handle taking care of a lovesick puppy. I’m talented that way.”

Without another word spoken she left the house, slamming the door loudly.

* * *

“Willow!” came that familiar voice from down the hall. The redhead closed put the rest of her things in her locker and closed it, a smile automatically appearing on her face, stretching from ear to ear, as she turned and greeted Oz.

He looked a little pale, a little different. That confidence that he usually had was a little off but what caught her attention was his now blue hair. It was dark enough so that she wasn’t blinded but wasn’t near black so that people knew the difference between his old color and new.

He stopped about a foot or two away from her and cleared his throat. There was no scowl or smile or nervous tick in his face, which was to be expected, but when he did look at her, she could see clearly in his eyes that he was anxious.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, afraid that maybe something bad happened and she was supposed to know but somehow missed it or forgotten.

The terrible feeling was relieved quickly when he shook his head, “No. Nothing bad. Not even close. Probably the exact opposite of bad.”

A twitch at the corner of his lips gave Willow the impression that he wanted to smile but couldn’t manage one.

“I actually have a gig on Friday. Halloween night promises a big crowd at the Bronze,” he explained, never breaking eye contact. What gave him away was when he shuffled his feet. He never shuffled his feet.

“Good news,” Willow replied cheerily, holding back the urge to tilt her head and turn serious, asking him if there was something wrong that he was trying to hide.

“I actually would like you to come. Nothing better than playing up on stage and seeing a pretty face.”

Willow beamed, her cheeks burning as she blushed involuntarily.

“And that smile…I’d love to see your smile that night.” Oz cleared his throat. “What I’m trying to suggest is that…the gig’s about an hour or two. It’s at 8, bound to end before or around ten. And…well, I wanted to know if you’d like to…hang out. With me. After the gig.”

It was like floating on a cloud, every part of her body light as a feather and her heart pounding against her chest so loudly she thought she’d go deaf. “Like…a date?”

Oz paused for a moment, “Well, it depends on your own interpretation. See, from where I’m standing I consider it a date. One where I buy you some dinner, get lightheaded every time you laugh or smile and hope to god that by the end of the night I get the opportunity to kiss you. But see, from your point of view it can come off as numerous-”

“I’d love to,” Willow replied quickly, her voice practically a squeak. Her heart was racing and her legs were bound to give in within seconds. “I’d love to go on a date with you, Oz.”

He smiled finally, letting out a breath of relief so big that Willow realized that he had been holding his breath practically the entire time. “That’s great. Very, very great. I’m looking forward to this Halloween.”

Willow could hardly breath when she responded through her huge smile, “Me too.”

* * *

Grabbing a few bags of candy, Cordelia tossed them into the cart nonchalantly. “You’d think that as a teenager you’d still love Halloween but I can’t help but want it to end before it even starts.”

Sandra nodded and pushed the cart down the isle. “I know the feeling. Let me tell you this: the first and last time I tried to enjoy Halloween as a teenager; I ended up going all out and dressing up like a zombie. I’m about two blocks from my house, walking over to get a friend, when probably the cutest and most popular guy from my high school drives by. He stops and asks for directions and realizes it’s me. A sixteen year old dressed up for Halloween. As a zombie. I didn’t come out of my room for weeks.”

Cordelia couldn’t help but laugh, covering her mouth to try and not make Sandra feel bad. She turned red trying to hold it back.

Rolling her eyes, Sandra smiled sheepishly. “It’s alright. Don’t worry about saving me from further humiliation. Go ahead and laugh.”

And Cordelia did laugh, hard. Finally, after she calmed down, she put on an apologetic face. “That had to suck.”

“Yep. It sucked real bad,” Sandra stopped the cart and crabbed the largest canister of coffee she could fine. “That’s when I started drinking…”

Cordelia stopped walking, not even following Sandra when she started to push the cart down the isle. “I’m…god, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

Sandra, her back still facing Cordelia, stopped and feigned bitterness, all the while wishing she could just turn around and throw a knife straight into Cordelia’s head. “I brought it up. No need to apologize. It’s my fault that I drank every time something went wrong.”

Catching up to Sandra, Cordelia spoke in a soft, comforting tone, obviously feeling guilty for laughing. “I really am sorry. Even if I don’t have to be.”

Proud of herself for pulling off such a sympathetic move, Sandra fought back a victorious grin and kept pushing the cart down the isle. “So, do you remember what you were for your last Halloween?”

“A ballerina. I was a witch for so many years and my mom wanted me to at least be a ballerina for one year. So when I was thirteen I dressed up as one. An hour later I fell and split my tights.”

Sandra shook her head and laughed. “Not as bad as mine but embarrassing nonetheless. Any boys around when it happened?”

“None. Thank god, I think I would never come out of my room.”

Will passed by the isle, waving to them distractedly as he was obviously looking for something. When he left their sight, Cordelia cleared her throat and turned to Sandra. “I’m sorry if I was a bitch to you when we first met. I was…really bad at getting used to having you around.”

“I didn’t take it personally. I hope I shouldn’t have.”

“No. It wasn’t you in particular. It was just the idea of having my dad be with someone other than my mom.”

Sandra nodded and held back an eye-roll at the Lifetime-esque moment she was having with the Slayer that she wanted dead more than anything. “I get that.”

“So, you’re working days for a while?” Cordelia changed the subject, obviously relieved to get that whole underlying tension out of the way. Giving Sandra a chance had been easier than she expected. She didn’t gag at dinners or roll her eyes at every comment she said.

Surprisingly, Sandra was funnier than her dad. Her jokes were always funny and she had a lot of great stories. Cordelia had come to realize that she was pretty cool.

“Yeah, most of the nurses that have been working nights managed to get days,” Sandra explained quietly. “Although it’s not as great as it sounds. It takes a while to get your sleeping pattern right. I’ve been a nights-nurse for a long time so it’ll take some getting used to.”

“Ah.”

“Pretty much,” Sandra forced a friendly smile on her face as they continued to stroll down the isle.

The doorbell rang and Buffy, not even started on getting ready to go to the Bronze, glanced outside to see that it was already dark and she was running late.

Running down the stairs quickly, Buffy opened her front door, complete with a scoff and disappointed slump of her shoulders when she saw it was Xander. He was in a pretty nice tux, with the exception that it was cut up and covered in blood. It was fake, something she noticed right away, but he didn’t seem to figure out that she could tell and acted like he was injured.

She responded by hitting him in the gut, “Now you don’t have to pretend.”

Xander shook his head and stepped inside, glad only that she didn’t hit him a little lower. “So, I see that you’re going to the Bronze as a violent bitch. Not much of a stretch, I must say.”

Buffy glanced over her shoulder and rolled her eyes, “Come upstairs but don’t get too many ideas, you’re not getting the chance to go through my underwear drawer.”

“I wouldn’t go through your underwear drawer even if the answers to Mondays’ History test were in there,” Xander spat, following her upstairs.

Once in her room, Buffy pointed to her desk. “There are all the notes I’ve written down this past month. Everything in my dreams, which by the way as I’ve said millions of times before haven’t changed, is on those papers.”

“Good,” Xander tried to act enthusiastic.

Buffy walked into her walk-in closet and tried to kill time by talking to him, even if she would rather choke herself than have a conversation with him. “I never figured you as the kind of guy who’d get all dressed up for Halloween.”

“Willow’s going to the Bronze tonight for Oz’s gig. Everybody’s dressing up. It’s stupid but this is my dad’s tux and any excuse to ruin something of his is good enough.”

Buffy poked her head out of the closet, “You’regoing to the Bronze tonight?”

Xander nodded, folding the papers and shoving them in one of the pockets on the inside of his jacket. “Yep.”

“Ugh. You have to ruin everything don’t you? You’re going to do something stupid or talk to me, I just know it.” Buffy walked out in a particularly revealing outfit. “I’m going so you can’t.”

“You’re not going to be like this for your entire life are you?” Xander grumbled. “Wait, I don’t care about the rest of your life. Correction: You’re not going to be like this for the rest of the time we have to associate with each other, are you? What’re you going as anyway?”

“A slut,” Buffy explained, smirking slyly. “You guys keep calling me it so I figured I might as well go as one for Halloween to show you what a real slut dresses like.”

“Well, if that’s a slutty outfit and you own it then…”

Buffy threw a shoe at him to shut him up, disappearing into the closet once again.

Xander shook his head and walked towards her window, looking outside. It was dark and her lawn lamps weren’t on so the only source of light was the full moon. And with the full moon’s help, he could see several figures standing on her lawn, looking up at him. Focusing his eyes, he realized much to his horror that they were vampires. “Um, Slutty? Yeah, I think we have a problem.”

* * *

Willow walked down the hall with Oz, smiling and glancing over at him several times. “So you’re a…a zombie right?”

His skin was stark white and he had a fake stitch on his right cheek. “Actually, since I was lacking creativity I’m really just a dead bassist.”

Willow laughed, “Makes sense.”

“And you’re a…”

“Witch,” Willow awkwardly explained, looking down at the outfit Cordelia chose for her. It was a small dress that was a dark crimson and her face was particularly pale too. “A less cliché version. But a witch nonetheless.”

Oz nodded, his fingers oh-so-casually entwining with hers. She didn’t pull away and he smiled.

But the smile was wiped from his face when they returned their attention to down the hall where three vampires were steadily approaching. “Wha-?”

Willow didn’t give him enough time, reacting quickly enough to pull him the opposite way. There were four other’s coming at them from the other end too as they ran into the library.

“Giles!” Willow called out frantically, letting go of Oz and motioning for him to help her push something in front of the doors. As they did this both Giles and Jenny walked out of his office, looking particularly flushed. The top buttons of Jenny’s blouse were missing and Giles’ sweater-vest was awkwardly put on. They’d been doing something Willow didn’t even dare to think about when she called out his name.

“What’s wrong?” Jenny asked.

“Vampires,” Willow explained, avoiding the prospect of looking Oz straight in the eye when she said it, too afraid to see him afraid, shocked or disgusted, whatever he might be when hearing her talk of such crazy things. “Out in the hall! Coming. Towards. Us!”

Right as she finished a loud thud against the door, pushing it open only a little before Willow, Oz, Giles and Jenny pushed it close.

Oz and Giles kept it closed while Jenny and Willow broke away to grab chairs and maneuver them against the door so that they were jammed into the floor, preventing the vampires from getting in for the time being.

Willow finally looked to Oz, wincing as if she expected him to pass out or blow up or start panicking.

All he really did was go, “Huh.”

“It’s really hard to explain but-” Willow started to speak but he shook his head, running a hand through his hair.

“Actually, it all kind of makes sense.”

Willow tilted her head, surprised. “Really?”

“Well, I mean…I always figured Sunnydale was a weird place but,” Oz walked towards her, his tone simple and calm. “Wow. I think the weirdest part of this is just how easy it is for me to believe it all.”

“So you don’t think I’m crazy?”

“It’s crazy that vampires exist, but I believe you.” Oz looked to the door as the vampires looked through the small circular window. “And Demons?”

“Yep.”

“Witches?”

“Yep.”

“And Gypsies,” Jenny spoke up. When Oz and Willow turned to her, she shrugged and turned away.

* * *

Angel and Cordelia pressed their backs against each other, spinning in a circle slowly as they counted the vampire’s surrounding them. All they wanted to do was stop by the Library real quick to grab a few things and go on their way. But no, they just had to get themselves ambushed.

“Six at the least. I can’t really make out if there are ones behind them.”

Holding his hands out, fisting them up and daring the vampires to come any closer, Angel leaned his head a little to the right so that when he whispered Cordelia heard him clearly. “I’m trying to think of a plan but it’s getting kind of hard. You wanna just kick and punch whatever we can and hope for the best?”

Cordelia smirked and shook her head, “I say we start doing the Macarena. It’ll confuse the hell out of them.”

Just as they were about to do the element of surprise, push away from each other quickly and beat the vampires to pulp or die trying, one and two, then three vampire’s turned to dust.

Thatch jumped out from behind a car and yelled, “Come on! Hurry!”

And they did, running for their lives towards the school entrance. Thatch stopped them from going that way, however. “Not that way. The vampire’s are inside the building and blocking the entrance to the library. We can get in through the emergency exit.”

Not long passed before they were pounding on the door, yelling for someone inside to let them in. A second passed, silence becoming unbearable as the vampires were getting closer and closer before finally, the door opened.

They rushed inside and pushed the bookcase against the door before it could be smashed open.

Cordelia sighed and leaned against the overturned bookcase. “Why can’t we ever be at this school and have nothing happen at all?”

“Because then our lives would be far too simple,” Thatch remarked, smirking at her before walking through the maze of bookcases and to Giles’ office to get supplies.

Giles, however, remained standing with Angel and Cordelia. “Where were you headed?”

“Here,” Cordelia explained, straightening up and removing her jacket. “I needed to get a sword. Angel and I were going to head to his place to train for a while and hopefully make it in time to hang out with Willow and Xander at the Bronze.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have seen Willow there. She and Oz are here too,” Giles motioned for them to follow and walked down the small three-stair and up to the counter. “Whatever’s going on, it was planned.”

Cordelia looked at Oz. “Zombie?”

“Close enough. You?”

“Irritated.”

“Understandable.”

* * *

“When it comes to action, I prefer to be watching it in a movie,” Xander closed the blinds and removed his jacket. “I say we wait this out.”

“I say I make them leave.”

“You know, with all the things I call you, I’ve never really had the opportunity to call you cocky. Now I do. You’re real cocky, Buffy.”

“I can take two or three vamps.”

Xander held his hands up defensively, “Oh I’m sorry. I forgot that you’ve been training for about a month. That’s, like, forever in Slayer years. And also, check outside.”

Buffy walked over to her window and saw that more vampires were approaching. A dozen at the least. “Fine, there’s more than three. Doesn’t mean I still can’t-”

The glass in the window shattered and her blinds snapped as an arrow shot through the window and skimmed Buffy’s shoulder.

Grabbing it, she dropped to the ground to avoid another hit. “Crap!”

It was all she could say, growling in frustration and kicking any near objects to make it clear that even if it was just a skim of the arrow, it still hurt like hell. Looking down at her shoulder, the skin around her scratch reddened and swelling, instead of at Xander who knelt down beside her and ripped off a strip of his shirt quickly, dabbing her wound and applying slight pressure. Just enough to make her wince.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “Still think you can handle all those vamps?”

“Shut up,” was Buffy’s immediate response, her shoulder hurting too much for her to want to deal with Xander’s sarcasm. “God that really hurt.”

Xander grabbed her hand and placed it on her shoulder so he could reach past her to grab the arrow laying a few feet away. When he did his hand stayed on hers and his face neared hers too closely. When he retrieved the arrow he turned his head to face her and hit her nose with his. Grunting he sat back and rubbed the bridge of his nose thoroughly. “Ow.”

“Stop your whining,” Buffy rolled her eyes, predictably.

Blinking his eyes and trying to focus his sight, Xander held out the arrow and examined it. “I have no idea what I’m looking for.”

Grabbing the arrow from Xander’s hand, Buffy swore her eyes would get permanently stuck in the eye-roll position if she kept doing it. “Let me see it…looks like they lined the arrow with something. Something that made my wound stingy.”

“Stingy?” Xander couldn’t help but repeat the word, smirking. “Is your boo-boo stingy?”

“Shut up,” Buffy smacked him with the other end of the arrow. “I’d suggest we let Thatch and Giles check this out but I think we’re going to be a little delayed.”

* * *

“We’re running out of chairs for this little barricade of ours,” Cordelia grunted, shoving the chair into a position, kicking it hard to keep it there. “We need to do something before they start getting smart and come up with a plan. Not that I think vampires can even form thoughts but-”

“Hey!” Angel looked up as he and Thatch lifted a table and moved it against the door.

Cordelia shrugged, “Sorry.”

Thatch disguised a laugh with a cough, pushing the table against the barricade. Stepping back he adjusted his jacket consciously and scratched the back of his head, thinking. “Look…Cordelia’s right. We need to figure out a plan before they do.”

“How much Holy Water do you have stocked up?” Jenny asked, directing her question to Giles.

“I’d say about a dozen small bottles.”

“Plus two,” Thatch said, walking over to his small knapsack and pulling out the small bottles. “That’s far from enough, however. Any more suggestions?”

“The Magic Shop has a lot of them for sale,” Jenny chimed in, a light bulb lighting up above her head. “And more than enough in the back.”

Cordelia rolled her sleeves up and nodded, “Well, then? Who wants to go with me for some shopping?”

“You’re kidding,” Angel stepped in front of her before she could even think of moving. “You’re not actually thinking about just going through the halls and trying to get out unscathed to run half-way across town to get some Holy Water from a store that’s bound to be closed?”

Holding back an eye-roll, Cordelia pushed her hand against his chest, forcing Angel to take a few steps back to give her space. “Look, it’s called going through the back door to get out of here, and breaking down the door to get in the store. You really need to break in a lot more.”

Everyone looked up at that comment and Cordelia held her hands up, “Not that I do stuff like that!”

Giles just shook his head, removing his glasses and running his hand along the front of his face, groaning. “We can’t all go. Some of us need to stay here. They might be looking for someone or something specific. If we all leave they’ll pillage the premises.”

“Well, I’m going if you insist on doing it,” Angel sighed, still looking down at Cordelia, just then realizing how much he towered over her.

“I volunteer to help,” Thatch removed his jacket and placed both that and the Holy Water bottles on the counter. “We can stock up, take care of any vampires that follow us there and come back with the supplies.”

* * *

“You’re doing it again,” Buffy mumbled quietly under her breath, banging her head up against the wall over and over, ignoring the throbbing pain in the back of her head from that and the stinging ache in her shoulder. Xander had done a good thing in putting pressure on her wound, preventing her from losing more blood than she did, but he was already getting on her nerves again.

Sitting next to her, Xander closed his eyes and shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

“Says the pot to the kettle,” Buffy lifted herself up just a little bit to adjust her position to face away from Xander, but instead fell back hard against the wall when the rush of movement caused all the blood to rush to her head. Not only that, but the ache in her shoulder seemed to magnify when her arm moved just a little.

Xander managed to shift to his side without poking his head above the windowsill and gently lifted the cloth from Buffy’s shoulder. “Looks like it stopped bleeding. You alright?”

“Why do you care?” Buffy spat, rubbing the back of her head with her usable hand, her face scrunched up to hide the layer of tears forming in her eyes from the soreness.

“I was just asking. If you want me to go sit on the other side of the room, then I will.”

“Just stay where you are,” Buffy snapped at him. “If they see any movement they’ll bombard us with rocks and arrows. Just like they did a little while ago, or did you get hit on the head and forget all about it?”

Grumbling the entire time, Xander pressed the cloth back on top of Buffy’s wound without mercy, causing her to wince in pain before he changed position and faced away from her.

“Very mature.”

Xander couldn’t help but defend himself, “You’re the one who was bitching about my breathing.”

“I wasn’t bitching. I was just…observing the fact that your breathing is abnormally loud.”

“That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard,” Xander’s shoulder’s shook as he laughed. “Just admit it, you were bitching. Just like every damn day you’ve been alive.”

“Why are you so bitter?” Buffy crossed her arms, her attention solely on Xander so much that she didn’t even flinch at the soreness in her shoulder. Looking at him with narrowed eyes, she wished he would just turn around and face her like a man, instead of having his back to her like a sissy. “Sure I’m mean to you, but god! You take it so personally. You aren’t that nice to me either, haven’t you ever figured that maybe I’m being a bitch to you because you’re being a jackass to me?”

That did the trick. Xander turned around with disbelief in his eyes. “I can’t believe you’re trying to pin all the mean things you’ve done on me!”

“You don’t think I know what people say about me behind my back? We’re in high school, remember? News travels fast. I hear someone saying crap behind my back and I confront them. They spread rumors about me, I spread even worse ones about them. An eye for an eye.”

Xander opened his mouth to argue, but Buffy didn’t give him time to spew crap at her, still in her ‘rant mode’. “I don’t sit on my ass and mope when something bad happens, I do something about it. To survive in that school you have to be vicious, you can’t let them know who you really are. Unless you’re stupid-”

“Or you don’t care about what other’s think,” Xander finally cut in, his voice raising and his face inching towards hers. “You think you’re the ultimate girl, don’t you? That you’re perfect and you stand up for yourself. Truth is, you’re just as bad as Harmony and every other kid in the school! You hate it when people criticize you. Face it! You’re just as much of a pathetic follower as everyone else.”

For the first time in a long time, Buffy hesitated in her remark, actually having to think of what to say, having to form a comeback. That never happened before. She always spoke without thinking, she always said what first came in her mind. But Xander’s loud voice and the stark truth in his words caused her to falter. “Y-you can’t just sit there and act like you know everything, because you don’t! I’m not half as pathetic as you are, following Cordelia around like a puppy and agreeing with everything she says! Just because I’m popular and stick up for myself doesn’t make me a bad person!”

“Then what does it make you?” Xander asked challengingly, not pulling back in the slightest.

“Lonely!” Buffy screamed at him before she could stop herself. A long, stretched out period of silence followed after that, the only sounds heard were the two of them catching their breath from getting worked up.

Xander’s hard expression melted, but only a little. He still stayed close, just looking at her, his eyes shifting every few seconds as he tried to comprehend exactly what just happened.

But Buffy didn’t give him time to try and figure it all out, pushing him away from her and getting up in a huff. Her frustration boiled and churned and her face was red half with anger and half with embarrassment.

And it was so distracting that when she got up she didn’t move away from the window, causing rocks to start flying. Before she could react, Xander pushed her out of harm’s way, knocking her onto the bed, his body crashing onto hers and shielding her from the rocks bouncing off the walls.

A few minutes of non-stop window crashing and the thudding of rocks hitting her walls passed achingly slow. When it all finally ceased, Xander lifted his head up enough so that he was face to face with Buffy.

Even if he wanted to snark that maybe she should have not been so stupid as to get up, the words simply wouldn’t form in his mouth. His hands were on her wrists, pinning her to the bed and his body was pressed up against hers, their lips a breath apart.

Swallowing hard, he looked at her for the longest time, neither he nor Buffy moving an inch. Whether it was because they were in the heat of the moment or some other underlying reason, the two both inched closer.

Buffy was the one who snapped back into reality, stopping them from crossing that line and clearing her throat, turning her face away enough so that his lips grazed against her cheeks. “We should…we should probably find a safe spot to…um…to…”

She was speechless and her stomach felt like a feather. And when she glanced up at Xander, she noticed a small flicker of disappointment that disappeared faster then it had appeared in his eyes, and she couldn’t help but blush a little.

“Yeah…” he pushed himself just an inch or two off of her body and rolled off of the bed as easily as he could.

Buffy remained on her back for another minute, pressing her hands against her stomach and taking in a shaky breath before following Xander off of the bed.

* * *

Holding her breath, Cordelia inched one of the blinds open just enough for her to peek outside. The parking lot of the school was dark and empty and the only sign of life, or unlife depending on however one would look at it, was the two vampires talking quietly with one another outside of the back door.

“They’re talking…probably trying to figure out how they’re going to break in,” she explained, closing the blinds and taking a step back. She ran a hand through her hair and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to not sweat even more than she was. “Let’s do this…”

Thatch nodded and, with one hand on the doorknob and his other gripping a broad sword, he creaked open the door. The vampire’s didn’t notice, thankfully, and he took one more look at Angel and Cordelia before swinging it open and starting his attack.

The vampire’s were easy to take down, Cordelia and Thatch decapitating them with one swift swing of their respectable weapons while Angel closed the door behind him.

“We should get moving,” the vampire whispered under his breath, his long sword being held by both hands as he shifted his eyes to check the perimeter. “They’re close. Doesn’t give us much time to get out of here unnoticed.”

Without another word they sprinted across the parking lot, moving as fast as their legs could carry them towards the set of trees. Once behind them and concealed from any vampires that might still be outside of the school, Cordelia slammed her sword into the ground to pop her knuckles, obviously tense.

“We never got a chance to really narrow down the possibilities but…” taking a deep breath, Cordelia looked at both Angel and Thatch. “Do you guys have any idea as to what’s going on?”

“None whatsoever,” Thatch admitted, peeking through the branches to see a group of vampire’s smoking and breaking into a small Toyota. “There’s too many of them for it to be random pillaging. Are there any groups or bands of vampire’s that you’re aware of?”

“Ever since we got rid of that one gang who had the leader with one eye there hasn’t been a gang, that we know of,” Angel explained, glancing over his shoulder, to the right and left before motioning for Thatch and Cordelia to get ready to sprint.

“That’s the problem, our information has been light these past few weeks,” Cordelia went out first, easily outrunning both Angel and Thatch as they crossed the street. “There’ve been like, two or three reported deaths that were by vampires. That’s it.”

“Isn’t that odd to you?” Thatch tried to catch his breath, placing both hands atop his head after leaning his sword against a tree. “I’ve only been marginally listening to what you guys have been reporting over this past month. Buffy’s my main priority but tonight-”

“Staying alive is.”

“Exactly,” Thatch nodded, looking at his watch. “Besides, Buffy told me she was going to be at the Bronze tonight. Whatever that is.”

“It’s a club,” Angel reluctantly explained, jogging across someone’s front lawn and looking around before waving them to follow. “Apparently since tonight’s Halloween they’re having this…I don’t know, costume night or something. She kept talking about it.”

“Looks like Buffy gets everyone’s attention, even with the pointless things.” Cordelia smirked under her hair as she leaned forward. Growling when her hair got caught in her mouth, she threw it back and grabbed a rubber band from her pocket to tie it up in a loose ponytail. “She’s fine. She and Xander are probably there. Bitching at each other, of course.”

“Wasn’t Xander supposed to drop off the notes she took about her dreams?” Thatch inquired, the thought just coming to him. “You’d think he would have already come.”

“Maybe he did and saw the vampires.”

“He would have tried to find another way in if he did,” Cordelia pointed out. “He probably decided to come in early tomorrow to drop them off, or later tonight. Either way he and Buffy are gonna miss out on the fun tonight.”

“How many more blocks?” Thatch asked as they jogged down the sidewalk, knowing that they were well-enough away from the school to not have to hide behind bushes anymore.

“Three.”

Thatch stopped jogging and looked to Angel incredulously, “I thought you said it was halfway across town?”

Cordelia laughed, “Well, see. This is Sunnydale. The bad side is about a block from the good side and halfway across town means a five minute walk.”

Thatch, however, didn’t have the time to find the humor when he checked over his shoulder to see a large group of vampires. “How-?”

“They obviously were doing a better job at hiding then we were,” Cordelia swallowed hard and gripped her sword.

Angel shook his head and started to back up. “There’s more than a dozen coming towards us. I say we run.”

“I second that.”

* * *

Before anyone could stop him, Giles pulled away from the barricade and reached over the counter, grabbing his silver letter opener. Glancing at the clock and estimating how long they had before sunrise, he pressed the cold metal against his skin and slashed it downwards, slicing open his skin. Walking over to the RETURN BOOKS cage he unlocked the door and walked in. For a few moments there was nothing but silence. Then, as Willow, Jenny and Oz looked for him with concern, there was the soft creak of the small window in the back opening.

A second later and Giles walked out, smearing the blood oozing from his wound on the doorknob and flicking it all around the entranceway and inside the cage.

“Sorry to say this, but are you crazy?” Willow asked, her voice raising an octave as confusion and panic mingled together, taking over any sense of respect for the librarian.

Jenny quickly grabbed the first aid kit and walked up to him, “I’m going to have to side with Willow. What’re you doing?”

“Vampires aren’t the smartest beings in the world,” he explained, grinning at his idea. “They’ll follow the blood even if we’re all just hiding behind the counter, trust me.”

“There’s got to be about a dozen of them out there,” Oz pointed out.

“Let’s just see if it works and if not…” Giles hesitated, looking at Willow, then Oz, then Jenny. “Why don’t we grab a few weapons just in case?”

* * *

Cordelia ducked as the window shattered and glass fell all around her. Once the rain of glass stopped she walked over to one of the bookcases in the Magic Shop and waved Thatch over as Angel remained holding the door close, keeping the dozen or so vampire’s outside.

“Push!” she grunted to Thatch who stood at the other end and pushed the bookcase on its side. Once that was done, they managed to press it against the window, keeping the vampire’s out for a little while longer.

Cordelia didn’t waste time, grabbing a chair from a small table where people usually sat and read and running up to the door, placing it under the doorknob. “We’ll need a table to keep this closed for more than five seconds.”

Angel nodded and ran over to the table she stole the chair from and came back within seconds, jamming it into a position to keep the flimsy door closed for at least another five minutes.

But because nothing could ever stay perfect the bookcase started to tilt inwards. All three of them immediately pressed all of their strength up against it to keep the vampire’s from getting in through the window.

Thatch turned his head to look at Cordelia, wincing slightly as blood soaked his hand where he’d been cut by the glass scattered all over the bookcase. “Go get the supplies!”

Hesitating for a moment, wondering if she should stay and help hold up the book case or not, Cordelia finally gave one last hard push and ran to the back, kicking open the door and rummaging frantically through all of the boxes, looking for Holy Water to save the day.

* * *

“Thank god for string,” Oz whispered as he and Giles gripped onto the thick string and prepared to pull away the last object.

Giles nodded and they yanked the chair away, giving the vampire’s free access into the library as both he and Oz ducked behind the counter.

Predictably and pathetically, all the vampire’s filed into the cage, desperate to fight for a good meal. Willow and Jenny did their part by waiting till all but one vampire was in the cage before closing the door and pushing a table in front of it.

Before the only vampire left outside of the cage could run or react, Oz shot him with a tranquilizer dart and Giles grabbed him by his jacket, slamming him onto the table that was holding the cage closed.

“Whaddya want?” the vampire grunted as his limbs started to sag and all the strength in his entire being was drained from him. A moment later and the vampire was unconscious.

* * *

It’d been quite a while until finally Cordelia appeared from the back room dragging out two large boxes full of Holy Water. She grunted and managed to get them onto a table, taking note that it’d been almost an hour since they had arrived and time was slipping pat faster then she would have preferred. Angel and Thatch caught her gaze and she nodded for them to let go.

Letting the bookcase fall, Angel and Thatch both ran up to Cordelia and grabbed their own handfuls of Holy Water.

Once the bookcase slammed onto the ground and the vampire’s saw an opportunity to get inside, they easily maneuvered themselves in, avoiding the broken glass.

But they weren’t too pleased to have their flesh burnt off by Holy Water being flung at them, and gutlessly retreated as fast as they could. The other vampires who hadn’t managed to get inside yet saw this, gave one look to Cordelia, Thatch and Angel, and decided to be smart and run away.

“You think we should chase them?” Cordelia asked, smirking. She closed the boxes of Holy Water and motioned for Angel and Thatch to carry them, which they both reluctantly did, knowing they were in for a few more hours of work.

* * *

As planned, as the sun rose over the horizon and spilled through the small window inside the RETURN BOOKS cage, the vampire’s were crisp as morning arrived. Giles grinned proudly as he opened the cage and handed Willow and Oz a broom.

It was the vampire that he had chained up and on the table, inches from the sunlight, which had widened his proud smirk just a little.

Grabbing the vampire and inching him closer to the rays of sunlight, Giles tried to act threatening when all he wanted to do was dispose of the vampire right then and there. “Tell me who sent you…what do you know?”

The vampire shook his head and remained silent. Up until Giles pushed him dangerously close to the sunlight of course and then he was blabbing. “Two humans! Two very persuasive humans sent us here.”

“There are billions of humans in the world, be specific.”

“No,” the vampire refused, his eyes already wide when he realized that he spilled too much information. Kicking Giles in the gut as hard as he could with his constricted legs, the vampire pushed himself away from the Watcher and straight into the sunlight, choosing to be dust rather than betraying Sandra.


Part 16

For California the scorching hot weather and thick, humid air was normal for Christmas. Sunnydale didn’t look like a Christmas card with the exception of a few stores with green and red decorations, but the spirit of Christmas was around and everyone was inside their homes opening their presents and sharing a happy day with their family.

Cordelia Chase had already gone through the entire ‘cheerful morning’ of opening presents with her father and Sandra. She had a great time but it ended faster than it came and before she knew it she was out of her pajamas and dressed to go visit her friends.

Her first stop was Angel’s, where she’d been sitting and talking and laughing for over an hour when she had promised herself to spend only thirty minutes with each person to ensure she would get to everyone. It didn’t bother her in the least that she was spending more time than planned with Angel.

“So…” Angel leaned forward, his knees knocking with Cordelia’s as he lowered his voice. “How was your Christmas morning?”

“Great.” Cordelia stretched out her arms, her legs crossed as she sat on Angel’s table whilst the vampire chose to sit on his comfortable couch across from her. He was the first visit of the day and she preferred it that way. Any bad mood she might be in could easily be vanquished by his smile. “I love all my presents.”

“Good, that’s…good,” Angel tried not to hesitate, to stumble over his words and give away his anxiety, but he slipped up and broke his gaze.

Cordelia brought a hand to his and arched her neck so she could try and get him to look at her again. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, I just…” Angel laughed at himself and turned around to grab something from behind the couch. “I’m not very good at this but…”

He held out a rectangular box and it was then that Cordelia took notice to his hands shaking. She grabbed the box and held his hands for a minute, smiling at him to calm him down.

“I haven’t really done the whole present thing since…since Darla gave me that Gypsy to be honest,” he shrugged as she placed the present in her lap and grabbed the one she had gotten him from her bag. They sat across from each other with their presents in hand for a moment, smiling.

Finally, Cordelia cleared her throat. “How ‘bout you go first?”

“How about we open them at the same time,” Angel suggested, even though he wished she would go first so he could cherish her reaction. When Cordelia nodded her agreement he picked at the wrapping paper of his present, his eyes focused on Cordelia, who unwrapped hers with one quick rip of the paper.

As her eyes lit up at the velvet box, her fingers running across it and opening it slowly, Angel swallowed the overly large amount of saliva forming in his mouth as he realized just how beautiful she truly was.

“Do you like it?” Angel asked when she didn’t respond, looking at the bracelet he had gotten her. The shiny layer of unshed tears made it hard to discern her reaction. But after he spoke the corners of her mouth twitched up in a small smile.

“I love it,” she said, her voice a ghost of a whisper as she looked up at him, touched. “But you didn’t have to spend-”

“I wanted to,” Angel cut her off simply, meaning every word. “Not every inch of it has diamonds, but I figured you’d want one that could go with pretty much every outfit…”

Gently taking the box from her, he removed the bracelet and wrapped it around her wrist. “Perfect.”

Angel took a moment, still holding her hand in his, and looked at her, a twinkle of innocence in his eyes searching for approval in hers.

“I love it, Angel…” she said to him, her voice barely audible as she looked at him long and hard, smiling a small smile and looking more than thankful. “It’s way better than what I got you.”

Angel opened the present on his own lap to discover one of the French books he’d been talking about with her one day in the library. “This is great! You actually remembered me mentioning this?”

“Yeah,” Cordelia shrugged sheepishly. “I mean, French books aren’t things that go whoosh past my head. The name kinda stuck. Le Na…s…Le nas…”

She threw her hands up in the air, giving up. “It’s French, that’s all I know. And I remember you saying you’ve wanted a first edition for the longest time.”

“So you actually went out and looked for a first edition?” Angel laughed in disbelief. “I would’ve settled for a third or fourth, I know how hard it is to get first editions…”

“It’s called the 20th century, Angel. Not that hard to look for books anymore.”

“Right,” Angel grinned, his smile reaching from ear to ear. “Thank you. I love it.”

* * *

Trying to hide his surprise as he walked down the stairs from the second floor to the first, Giles cleared his throat to catch Cordelia’s attention. She spun around on the stool, leaning against the counter with a smile on her face to greet him.

Tightening the only clothing protecting his modesty, a bathrobe, he managed to salvage some of his superiority and cocked an eyebrow at Cordelia as he continued to walk down the stairs. “Is knocking beyond your comprehension?”

“I knocked,” she defended herself, spinning around on the stool a few more times, the exact opposite of tired. “You didn’t answer, so I used the spare key you hide under the door mat, possibly the least original place you could put it, and came in. I haven’t been going through your stuff or anything. I’m not Xander.”

“Thank god for that.”

“Is something wrong?” Cordelia asked, noticing the flush of mortification on his cheeks. When he avoided looking at her and instead made his way to the other side of the counter, where the kitchen was, she shrugged and the suspicion was replaced by the overwhelming need to talk.

“I have the whole day planned out. Spend a little time here, give you your present,” she leaned down and grabbed a wrapped box from the floor and tossed it into Giles’ unsuspecting hands. “And you give me mine. Then I see Willow, head back home for some food and meet up at the library for studying time. Sound good?”

“I must admit you’re getting better at the asking for my permission,” Giles tried to strain a smile, glancing cursorily at the stairs. “But it’s Christmas. Enjoy it. No need to run your schedule by me.”

“Thanks, Giles. So…what’re you planning on cooking for breakfast?” Cordelia licked her lips and looked at the empty stove. “Actually it’s about noon, so lunch instead of breakfast. I’m starving. Long walk from Angel’s to here. I’ll help if you wan-”

Cordelia’s speedy talking was cut off by a distant, familiar voice from upstairs. “Rupert?”

The Slayer froze when she realized that it was Jenny’s voice and when she could hear the soft sound of the bottom of Jenny’s bare feet moving down the stairs she found it even harder to breath as awkwardness took over. “I can’t seem to find my bra.”

Still frozen, Cordelia closed her mouth, swallowed and tried to fight back the burning behind her cheeks. She could hear Jenny stop in her tracks and her breath come in quickly in surprise. Avoiding looking in Jenny’s direction and in Giles’ eyes, Cordelia pushed herself off the stool and edged towards the door. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

* * *

There was nothing picturesque or anything even remotely associated to Christmas decorating Willow’s bedroom or her entire house in general. Being Jewish is just great, she sarcastically thought to herself.

Her forehead rested in the palm of her hand and her scarlet hair cascading across half of her face, Willow blinked slowly as she took her time reading the chapter assigned to read over Christmas Break.

When a slight rap at her window sounded from behind, she sat straight up and looked around, confused. When she finally confirmed the noise was coming from her window, she looked over her shoulder to see Oz just outside. Bringing a finger up to her mouth to remind him to be quiet, she slipped out of her chair and went to the window, sliding it open as quietly as she could.

Oz stuck his head inside, a small grin on his face and a mischievous twinkle in his dark eyes. “Hey.”

“You’re gonna get killed,” Willow whispered loudly, trying to act angry at him for taking the risk of climbing up on her roof when she really just wanted to grin like a fool and kiss him for being so romantic, doing something no one ever did for her before.

Oz leaned in a little farther and tried to kiss her but fell face forward onto the floor, ass in the air.

“That was highly unsuccessful,” he mumbled as he pushed himself up far enough so that he could slide his feet from outside onto the floor, leaning against the bed and sitting on the ground. Reaching up and grabbing Willow’s hand, he pulled her down to sit close to him. “But worth it.”

Willow blushed and leaned forward, brushing her lips along his in a short but sweet kiss. “I appreciate it, but next time you could always use the front door.”

“It wouldn’t have been as fun…” Oz whispered, running the back of his hand along her cheek and kissing her again, this time keeping her close for a longer amount of time, his hormones and hers taking over until the only reason they broke apart was to breath. “Merry Christmas.”

* * *

“I’m always one to allow extra effort outside of training but…” Cordelia stopped running when she heard the familiar voice from behind her. Spinning on her heel she smiled and waved at Thatch, who unsurprisingly had his brown leather bag hanging off of his strong shoulder while he held a coffee in his hand. He greeted her with just as big of a smile, looking at her for a minute for no other reason than to just see her before clipping open his bag and walking towards her.

“That stunts your growth, y’know?” Cordelia nodded her head to the coffee in his hand and winked, trying to hide her curiosity as to what he was searching for in his bag. “And the running wasn’t for exercise. I was trying to get to Willow’s and as far away from Giles’ place as fast as possible.”

“No matter the maturity level, realizing your mentor is a human with…needs isn’t something you’d quite want to discover,” he remarked wryly, realizing that the possibility of Cordelia walking in on Giles and Jenny together was highly likely. “Though I am surprised you wouldn’t have presumed he’d be preoccupied.”

“I try not to think of Giles being preoccupied in that way,” Cordelia laughed, leaning forward a little to peek inside of Thatch’s bag, which the man’s eyes were still set on. “You’re pretty concentrated on finding what you’re looking for, aren’t ya?”

Thatch nodded enthusiastically, a flush appearing in his cheeks for a moment before he cleared his throat and managed to salvage some poise. “It’s Christmas. I figured you…I figured you deserved a present for all of your hard work.”

Cordelia couldn’t stop smiling when he finally pulled his hand out along with a fairly small, neatly wrapped box. She grabbed one out of her bag too, a little larger than the one he was giving her. Everyone deserved a present so she handed it over. He took it and she took hers. “American stuff, mostly. More of a welcoming gift. A few coupons off Joe’s Hot Dogs, the best in town and-”

“Go-carting?” he looked up from the tickets in the box. “Sounds remarkable.”

“There’s…um…there’s two there,” Cordelia said quietly, looking down at her feet before he could look at her like she was crazy. “So if you ever want a night out on the town. Well, there are two. So you could invite someone.”

Like me, she thought to herself before pushing it to the back of her mind. Calm down, he’s twenty-five. That’s eight years too illegal for you.

“Thank you,” he said in a slightly more serious tone and when Cordelia finally looked up at him he wasn’t smiling anymore and there was something in his eyes that made her want to look away and step a little closer to him at the same time.

Why does he have to look at me like that? It makes me want to… “So where were you headed?”

“Research,” he shrugged. “Not that surprising, I know. But I promised in five months that I would figure out what these texts say and that was three months ago.”

“Then you best be working your ass off,” Cordelia joked. “You must be kidding about the research, right? Take a break, that’s what everyone keeps telling me.”

“But it’s my job,” Thatch pointed out, glancing down at the present in her hands, wondering if he’d made the right choice in giving it to her. “Do the work, have the facts.”

“What’s mine then?”

“Being a hero and saving the world are the ones I can name from the top of my head,” Thatch immediately answered. “But give me a few seconds and I could have quite a lot more. Ten minutes and I’ll have them organized by matter of importance.”

Cordelia blushed, “You’re such a dork.”

Thatch let out a breath so big it seemed as if he’d been holding his breath the entire time, “I’ll take that as a good thing.”

He shoved his free hand in his pocket and took a big gulp of his coffee, hardly noticing the scorching feeling of the hot liquid running down his throat as he looked at Cordelia for just another moment, long enough for him to get her to look even more flustered, which made him react just the same. “I think I might be heading back towards my room. Better to get work done earlier than later. Maybe if I finish early and you don’t have any plans we could…”

Thatch stopped himself from saying it, from crossing that line no matter how innocent his suggestion might’ve been. “Well, we, as in everyone, could meet up and all watch a flick.”

Trying to hide her disappointment, Cordelia lied through her teeth. “Group fun, always the best.”

“Goodbye then,” he could barely manage, walking past her and disappearing around the corner.

Looking over her shoulder for a minute before letting out a sigh, Cordelia looked down at the box that had gone unnoticed in her hand and decided to unwrap it. When she did her heart got caught in her throat.

Taking off the tissue paper she could see clearly the glass lily, perfect and undamaged, beautiful and waiting for her to love it. Looking back over her shoulder to the corner where Thatch was last seen, she smiled, touched.

* * *

Willow turned to regard Cordelia when she heard the door open. “Hey.”

“Boy do you look flustered,” Cordelia greeted her, winking. “Is Oz under the bed?”

“Not anymore,” Willow admitted. “He left about two minutes ago. My mom came up and sat on the bed, right on his head.”

Cordelia hid a snicker behind her hand, trying to disguise it as a cough as she pulled out the long, rectangular box from the bottom of her bag. “Bet you can’t guess what this is!”

“Some sort of rectangular, electronic device that will replace the one you broke last month?” Willow clapped her hands together. “You wouldn’t believe how wonderful you are for getting me a new one.”

“It’s got a lot of special features,” Cordelia explained. “I had to ask the guy what one was the best for all of your computer stuff. He kind of looked at me weird when I kept using the phrase ‘computer stuff’ but I managed to find one that I think you’ll like. I never knew there were so many options in keyboards these days.”

“You’d be surprised how many more options there are for mice,” Willow turned to her desk and grabbed the envelope with Cordelia’s name on it, trying to contain her excitement while she handed it to her.

Cordelia’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, “You didn’t!”

“All the best bands, all on one stage, in one night!” Willow could hardly hide the pride she had in herself for managing to get the much coveted tickets.

They both jumped up and down, Cordelia looked up at the ceiling as if she were thanking god for the miracle of having such wonderful tickets. “You know I love you, Will, right?”

“Always nice to know bribes help with the loving,” Willow joked.

“I’m serious,” Cordelia pulled Willow to the bed and lowered her voice. “I can trust you with secrets. Am I right?”

Lowering her own voice, Willow tried to hold back the curiosity as it where Cordelia was going with what she was saying. “Of course.”

“I think I like a guy.”

“Well, that’s great. Not that liking girls is a bad thing but it’s great for you-”

“But he’s that guy where there’s the age difference,” Cordelia hinted, not even daring to say Thatch’s name, almost afraid that Giles had some secret power of always being able to hear her conversations. “That guy.”

Willow’s eyes widened and she brought her hand to mouth and tried to hide a smile, thinking of a certain vampire instead of a certain Watcher.

“Oh my god,” was her muffled response. “That’s great!”

“You think?”

“It’s more than great it’s…enormous, immense. It’s immensely amazing!” Willow ran a hand through her hair. “He’s going to be so thrilled when you tell him!”

Cordelia held her hands up, “Whoa! There will be no telling!”

The Slayer paused and thought about what Willow said for a moment, bashful as she asked quietly: “You think he’d be thrilled?”

“He likes you, why wouldn’t he enjoy hearing you say you feel the same way?” Willow assured her.

For a moment Cordelia was ecstatic at the prospect, but the nagging morally correct angel on her left shoulder got the better of the devil on her right. “But it’s wrong. He’s older than me and…well; it’d be crossing a line. A very huge line.”

“Some things you can’t change, though. No matter what, the age difference won’t go away. From where I’m sitting it hasn’t kept him from thinking about you and talking about you every chance he gets.”

“He does?” Cordelia’s cheeks burned red. God, I’ve been doing that a lot lately.

“Is it the age that bothers you or is it the breaking the rules that bothers you?” Willow asked Cordelia quietly, the excitement wearing down and serious concern for her friend weighing in. “Because to me, sometimes what others think isn’t what matters. It’s what you feel.”

“That was very wise, Willow.”

“You think so?”

“Very, very wise. I think you should go on one of those tours through high schools and inspire all teenage girls to go after older men.” Cordelia rolled her eyes, falling back on the bed. “The truth is, Will, I don’t want to risk it.”

“But you like him,” Willow practically whined, the image of a broken-hearted Angel flashing before her eyes, making her want nothing more than to never have to see it again.

“I do, but…” Cordelia closed her eyes. “Damn Giles! Why did he have to rub off all his logical thinking on me? Why, god, why?”

* * *

The two Watchers’ sat quietly at the table, focusing on the thin, fragile parchment laid before them with all of their might.

“I need to cross-reference this…” Giles mumbled to himself.

Thatch looked up, “What was that?”

“This word…Immolo. I’ve been looking through the roots of most Latin words, cross-referencing in some of my literatures, but…I can’t seem to find a reliable source. I’ve been cross-referencing my cross-references.”

“Frustrating?”

“Multiplied by a million,” Giles shook his head and buried it in his hands. “Any luck on your side?”

“Not yet…” Thatch looked down at his paper where the pen he’d tossed down pointed ironically at a phrase that, once he focused on it, blinking his eyes over and over, seemed to stand out. “Wait…death…kill…to…to kill.”

Thatch looked up at Giles. “To slay. It’s talking about slaying.”

Getting out of his chair so fast that his chair flew back, Giles walked around the table to Thatch’s side and leaned over to get a good look at the parchment and Thatch’s scribbled notes. “It’s plural. And the…the ending implies it’s a noun, an object perhaps?”

“An object that slays? I’d bet my passport that it’s a person who slays.”

“But…it’s…it’s plural.”

Thatch laughed at the discovery. “Bloody hell. Two Slayers. He, or rather it, knew there’d be two Slayers.”


Part 17

“Do you have anything planned for Valentines Day?” Will asked, looking up from his newspaper as he watched his daughter eat her cereal as fast as she could. Suddenly, he forgot about Valentines Day as he imagined the possible places, the possible people, she was in such a rush to see. “You seem to be in a hurry. Going to see your boyfriend? Angel, right?”

Cordelia choked on her cereal and finally placed the spoon in her bowl long enough to swallow the milk and Mini-Wheat’s in her mouth. “No, dad. We’re not going out.”

“Why not? You seemed pretty close last year.” Her father closed the newspaper and looked at her, his voice getting an edge to it. “Did he break your heart?”

“No.” Cordelia rolled her eyes and poured the leftover milk into the sink. “We decided to be friends, that’s all.”

Will made a small grunt and shook his head, opening the newspaper and returning to his reading. It lasted about a minute or two before he gave in and looked at her, tired of being subtle. “Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

“Why do you care?” Cordelia shot back, closing the cereal box and putting it on top of the refrigerator before grabbing her bag and making her way to the back door. “Just because you have a girlfriend doesn’t mean everyone should have someone attached to their hips.”

Cordelia tried to hide the irritation in her voice, but her father bringing up her single status was the last thing she needed. Not only was she around Thatch everyday but also ever since he gave her that glass lily she had to bite the urge to just jump him.

“It’s not that, Cordelia. I’ve just noticed the difference. You seemed to be so happy that night when Angel picked you up. I figured that as a teenager you’d want a boyfriend.”

“Of course I want a boyfriend, I just haven’t found the guy that I want to be with,” who isn’t legally off-limits. “Can I go to school now?”

“Are you sure that Angel boy didn’t hurt you?”

“I’m very sure.”

“Good, because if he did you could tell me and I could beat him up for you.”

“No thanks, dad. Now can I go to school?”

* * *

Ed narrowed his eyes as he looked through the circular window, making sure no one was in the library. Opening the door quietly and sliding inside, being careful to not make too much noise with his shoes hitting the floor, he tiptoed over to the counter.

“Jackpot,” he muttered under his breath, seeing that on the other side of the counter there was the chest, damaged and opened. Out of the corner of his eye Ed saw the door leading into Giles’ office ajar and knew the opportunity was not one to pass up.

Promising to himself to take every precaution, he pushed the door open a little more with his sleeve and poked his head inside. The parchments and prophecies were strewn all over Giles’ desk and Ed had to laugh at the stupidity. “Idiot humans.”

Reaching for the papers breathlessly, wondering if he was brave enough to touch the blessed papers, to take that huge step forward, lessening the space between him and ultimate power. Scanning the page a sly grin appeared on Ed’s face as he realized that the stupidity the Slayer’s and their Watcher’s were exhibiting was far more extreme than he had assumed.

The ritual is right before their eyes and they can’t even figure it out, he thought to himself, seeing the pattern, recognizing a few words and putting together the picture.

“Excuse me,” came Rupert Giles’ voice from behind Ed, causing him to jump and turn around, plastering a friendly smile on his face.

“Mr. Giles, I was just looking for you,” Ed motioned to go outside of the office, not even daring to look back at the prophecies, knowing he had enough information to move forward with his plans. “There’s a faculty meeting later and I had some things I wanted to discuss with you.”

* * *

“You’re calling me impulsive and them stupid when you try something as fucking idiotic like that!” Sandra bellowed into the phone, forcing Ed to pull the receiver away from his ear to avoid damage to his hearing. “And you didn’t even manage to get the papers.”

Ed ran his thumb along the smooth, silvery surface of his lighter, licking his lips before placing a cigarette in his mouth and wishing to be off the phone sooner rather than later to inhale the addictive fumes that teased his lips. “Don’t get your thong in a wad. I got all the information we need.”

“I don’t recall you ever mentioning writing it all down.”

A low rumble deep within Ed’s chest and a small chuckle under his breath were the only sounds heard in response to Sandra’s comment for several minutes. Finally, Ed took in a deep breath and arrogantly assured his cohort: “It’s all in my head.”

“Oh and I’m oh so assured by that,” Sandra snorted into the phone. “Sometimes I wonder why I keep you around.”

“Well now, little girl. I know what you wanna know. Be nice or I won’t let you in on the fun,” Ed goaded into the receiver, his voice low and daring. “The ritual is inevitable, we knew that. But I know who the sacrifices are and in which order.”

* * *

Licking his thumb and perusing the scribbled notes on the several pages of Cordelia’s ‘Dream Diary’, Thatch nodded and made weird noises under his breath as he digested all of the information and it all registered in his mind.

Cordelia’s face scrunched up when she took a sip of the coffee that the Hotel provided. The bridge of her nose wrinkled along with her brow as her lips puckered, her eyes shutting tightly before spitting the liquid back into the cup. “Not that I’m insulting your taste or whatever, but you seriously need to find better coffee.”

“I don’t drink coffee so therefore, when I offered it to you, I had no idea whether you’d enjoy it or not,” Thatch mumbled, his eyes never leaving the pages, almost as if he knew that if he broke focus, looked up at Cordelia and started talking to her, he wouldn’t be able to get back to work. “Frankly, even if I did drink it, I would have let you taste it if only to see you face scrunch up like it just did.”

“Do you think that’s funny?” Cordelia asked, rolling her eyes and laughing off his subtle teasing. Maybe it was flirting, but she didn’t dare go down that path of thinking, the path that would eventually lead her to pondering the possibilities of whether the walls were soundproof and the things they could do without getting caught. “You see anything you like?”

“Mmhm?”

Cordelia lowered the cup onto the table and placed her hand on his without thinking, “You just seem pretty focused on my notes so I figured they interested you. Is my handwriting as bitchin’ as I think it is?”

Thatch pulled his hand out from under hers right away, almost jumping back in his seat, his eyes wide as he looked at her, realizing that the simple touch of her warm, painfully soft skin to his was enough to cause his body to react. Things were getting too close to the edge between them and it frightened him far more than looking into the eyes of the devil.

“I…um…well, actually…it’s all quite…what I’d…” Thatch broke his gaze with Cordelia and looked away, down at the ugly brown-colored rug and up at the dirty white ceiling as he stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned back in his seat to push his body as far away from hers as possible.

“Are you sure you’re twenty five?” Cordelia kidded, laughing at his stuttering, for a moment seeing a bit of Angel in the Watcher before her. “Because you sure don’t seem like you are.”

“Shall I take that as a compliment?” Thatch laughed along with her, realizing that making a big deal out of a few shared glances and tender touches was going to drive him insane. He didn’t quite believe what he realized yet, but eventually he knew he would. “I’ve been on the edge, quite a bit, lately. I’m sorry if my behavior is out of sorts.”

“No out of sorts behavior around here, I was just noting that you seemed pretty focused on my notes. Anything that sticks out to you?”

“Well, your dream ends with something grabbing your shoulder in the library,” Thatch cleared his throat and returned his attention the notes. “Buffy’s dreams go a little farther but end pretty much the same way. Seems to me as if you guys, through the power of there being two of you, have been seeing into the future in some distorted way.”

“So you’re saying that Buffy and I have already known the Overseer’s going to rise? Even before he figured this all out?” Cordelia said, almost losing her voice for a minute as she looked absently to some invisible object, wondering why everything had to be so damn huge and ironic in her life. “Is that all?”

Thatch nodded, closing the flimsy notebook and sighing. “That’s all I have at this moment, I’m afraid to say.”

“Well, it’s not that bad,” Cordelia lied. “We can…do other stuff for now.”

Thatch glanced at her, wondering if the same though that passed through his head when she mentioned ‘other stuff’ went through hers also.

By the looks of the flush in her cheeks, it did. Not knowing whether to be relieved that it was more than possible Cordelia was feeling the same things he was or uncomfortable, Thatch looked away and it was silent for what seemed like forever.

Cordelia looked down at her hands as they played with each other in her lap and bit her lip, sucking on it, which caused squeaky noises until finally she spoke. “Maybe we should just go to the library.”

“I agree.”

* * *

With every page he turned, Giles held his breath, hoping that he would find the answer that would make everything make sense. But it never came and he closed the twenty-thousandth book he’d gone through and removed his glasses, squeezing the bridge of his nose and muttering several swear words under a long, tired sigh.

When Jenny’s hand squeezed his shoulder, he felt a little better. And when her hand snuck under his collar and teased his skin with her gentle touch, he felt a lot better.

“I know what you’re planning for tonight,” she whispered in his ear, her warm breath teasing the side of his face.

Knowing the woman who had more power over him than he was willing to admit was smart and knew what he was afraid she knew, Giles shook his head in defeat and laughed. “Willow told you.”

“I have my ways of finding things out.”

“So Willow told you.”

“I’m not saying she’s weak but when you wanna get answers she-”

“Told you,” Giles turned and couldn’t help but grin, the throbbing behind his eyes fading even if the romantic surprise he had planned for over a month had been squandered. “I have to admit that I’m glad you desired to know so badly.”

Jenny smirked, “Well, I won’t let you be the only one who gets to plan surprises. I am going to surprise you!”

“Maybe I’m new to this but wouldn’t you telling me that contradict the entire ‘surprise’ of it?” Giles dared to tease her.

Jenny continued to smirk as she leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Don’t take too long getting to your place tonight, alright?”

* * *

Xander glanced over his shoulder to see Jenny and Giles, rolling his eyes. “Those two need to get a room.”

When he spun back around he clapped his hands together and cleared his throat uncomfortably, looking at Oz and glancing over at Cordelia. He nodded in Oz’s direction, forcing her to be the first one to speak.

Cordelia elbowed Xander in the ribs before speaking, as nicely as she could. “Willow is…she’s not just a friend to me and Xander. She’s like a sister and, well…we like you Oz, you’re cool but we-”

“We don’t want you to hurt her,” Xander cut in, not looking the now brown-haired Oz in the eye as he spoke.

“Exactly. That’s why we’re talking to you and-”

Oz tried to fight back a smile, “Look guys, I get what you’re trying to say and I appreciate it but I’m not going to hurt Willow. I swear I would never do that intentionally.”

“Good,” Cordelia nodded, but still couldn’t help but want to add one more thing. “But even if you don’t mean to…it can still happen. And we’re gonna go for the ‘eye for an eye’ punishment when it comes to Willow.”

Xander cleared his throat and shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat, “What she means is, if you break her heart-”

“We’ll tear yours out completely,” Cordelia finished with more than a little edge in her voice. She was serious and the urge to smile was gone from Oz.

“That was…” Oz paused and looked from Xander and Cordelia a few times. “Convincing.”

* * *

Buffy looked over her shoulder and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her jacket. It was a nervous tick of hers that no one had really noticed because she was so damn good at hiding it and proud of it. She glanced at Thatch and asked, slipping up by letting a little uncertainty slip into her voice: “Why aren’t we having one of our training sessions?”

“I decided that you deserved a break,” Thatch answered, but then shrugged and relented. “And I needed to talk to you.”

“About what?”

Thatch stopped walking and sighed, crossing his arms and looking at her with a serious expression. “About you.”

“And we both know that’s every ones favorite subject,” Buffy muttered under her breath.

“You’re very powerful, Buffy. You’ve taken what I’ve told you and made it ten times better than I expected and did it in half the time!” Thatch, for a moment, actually looked quite proud of her, but Buffy knew that there was more. Otherwise he would have just praised her in front of everyone else, which is what she wanted. That’ll show em’ I’m not incompetent.

“But…”

“There’s always gotta be a but,” Buffy rolled her eyes.

Thatch arched his neck and leaned to the side so that he caught her straying eyes, hoping to keep her attention until he was finished. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Removing her hands from her pockets, Buffy crossed her eyes but not before pulling a stray piece of hair behind her ear when she felt it tickling the side of her face. She tried to bite back the genuine thanks for him caring so much for the sole purpose of not seeming too easy to be won over. “So…just to make it clear, is it a trust issue?”

“No,” Thatch immediately defended himself, but then averted his eyes for a moment. “Well…it’s not that I don’t trust you at all. It’s simply a matter of the world that I don’t trust you in. People, things, both good and evil, are not perfect and make mistakes, including you. And what I’m attempting to say is-”

“It’s more you’re worried about what kind of trouble will find me, not what trouble I’ll find myself?” Buffy guessed.

“You have a lot of power, Buffy. Whether or not you’re ready to handle all of it I am not sure of this soon. And…to be honest, I’m afraid.”

Buffy furrowed her brow for a moment and firmed her jaw, looking away to figure out what exactly she should ask. What was appropriate and what crossed the line? To be specific, what exactly was she strong enough to ask? “Afraid of me?”

The thought struck her and caused her head to drop, the ability to look her Watcher straight in the eyes lost. The power surging through her fingertips that she had felt all year long, the intensity she had somehow gotten used to during that time seemed more evident than ever. Was it just as frightening to everyone else as it was to her?

“Of failing,” Thatch admitted, looking at the young woman intently, wishing that he didn’t embarrass himself and eradicate all of his superiority by admitting his deepest fears. “You, myself…everyone. My failing could lead to your death or mine. And both are a frightening prospect. I just hope that what I am teaching you will aid you in harnessing the power you’ve been given. For your sake, mine and the world’s.”

* * *

Fixing the collar of his jacket, Xander looked up at the night sky, taking in a deep breath and thanking god he made it to the Bronze without even a sign of vampires.

It had been a few hours since the group had decided to call it a day and, with Cordelia out patrolling, Willow and Oz agreed to meet Xander at the Bronze for a well-deserved night out.

Once he opened the door that led into the bronze the ghostly silence of the empty streets was drowned out by the loud music and sounds of dozens of people talking and having fun. Xander removed his jacket altogether and crept through the crowd, hoping to not knock into some knucklehead jock, getting himself into a different kind of unneeded trouble.

Only with jocks, he couldn’t resolve the problem by jamming a wooden stake through the jerks’ heart.

Xander ran a hand through his dark hair, scratching the back of his head in frustration when he didn’t catch sight of Willow or Oz. Looking around and walking at the same time not one of his strong points, Xander walked right into someone who didn’t expect it.

“Watch it,” the blonde shoved right back at him. It was Buffy Summers. “What are you, deficient?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t already figure that out,” Xander mumbled, rubbing his shoulder. “You really need to lay off on the shoving.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Buffy shook her head, not a trace of sincerity in her voice. “Did I hurt your poor little arm?”

Xander brought his hand to his heart and scrunched up his face. “God, sometimes I forget how sweet and sensitive you are. But then we run into each other like this and you remind me.”

“What’re you even doing here, anyways?”

Xander couldn’t help but get a little snarky with Buffy, knowing the only way to get rid of her was to beat her at her own game. “I’m a headhunter now. Currently looking to enlist assassins for rogue third-world countries. You?”

“Wasting my air with a nobody.”

“Good to know,” Xander turned on his heel before realizing that he had nowhere to go. Oz and Willow were bound to get there in time and he had to wait. He couldn’t keep a table without more people to sit with him based on the size of the crowd. “So…where’s your mindless zombies? Oops, I mean friends.”

“Not here yet,” she answered back in an actual decent tone, but then realized that being civil with Xander was something she didn’t think he deserved and narrowed her eyes. “Not that you have a right to know that. Yours?”

Xander looked around once again, “Not here yet either.”

“So…” Buffy looked down at her feet. No one seemed to notice or care her being within five feet of Xander, and she wondered if anyone cared if she stood by him for a few more minutes. “I guess we can just stand here then.”

“Sure,” Xander turned away from her so that they both faced the stage. He glanced over at her for a moment, “You’re not going to ever look me in the eyes are you?”

“That would require me actually admitting you existed, so…no.”

Xander closed his eyes and sighed, not even bothering to further the argument. “Sounds reasonable.”

* * *

Jenny tried to suppress a grin as she unlocked Giles’ door and snuck inside as quietly as she could, making sure he wasn’t waiting for her.

Closing the door with a soft thud, Jenny walked over to the counter and put the bag she had been carrying down. Taking her time she began to empty the contents; enough candles to put all along the stairs, rose petals and, of course, wine.

What she didn’t see was, at the top of the stairs, Ed poking his head down to see her, his eyes flashing dangerously and a malicious grin on his face.

* * *

“Cordelia?” Angel tried not to sound so surprised when he opened the door to find the brunette standing on his doorstep with a brown baggie.

Cordelia, on the other hand, seemed quite nonchalant. But she slipped up when she grinned, a slight twitch at the corners of her mouth giving away that she was partly forcing the happiness factor. She squeezed the brown baggie as hard as she could and tried to keep her leg from shaking noticeably. “You’d think being on patrol would be exciting, but here I am. In times of doubt, always go to Angel’s, right?”

“Right,” Angel laughed, stepping aside and letting her in. It took him a minute but he could smell the copper-like scent of blood coming from the brown baggie in her grip. “You brought me blood?”

“Why not? It’s like a present, a gift to exchange for you letting me into your home at random times during the night.”

Angel closed the door and paused, his hand on the doorknob as he remained as still as stone. The blood in the bag wasn’t the only blood he could smell, it wasn’t the only tempting scent reaching his taste buds and teasing him to the point that he almost growled. If he could have looked any paler, he would have. Blood was somewhere on Cordelia. “What happened?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her back to him as she removed her jacket. When she put the jacket on the coat hanger, he could see a slight tremor in her hands. She probably couldn’t notice it herself, but Angel did.

“Something happened. Did you run into a pair of vamps attacking someone?” Angel walked over to her and grabbed her hand, inspecting it. For what, he wasn’t quite sure. Blood, dirt, something. She didn’t pull her hand out of his grip but she sure as hell was trying to keep it from shaking.

“It’s nothing,” Cordelia shrugged, laughing it off. “I just…to be honest, I thought I could stop by for a band-aid.”

Angel still didn’t let go of her hand, even as his other one ran along her hips, her arm, checking for a rip in the fabric of her clothes. “For what?”

“Nothing,” she tried to push him away, making her voice firm and being stubborn, as expected. She actually laughed, “Jeez, dad.”

“I’ll get the band-aids,” Angel gave in, backing up to go to the bathroom he never used except for storing the first-aid. His arm was stretched to the limit before he remembered to let go of Cordelia’s hand. “But when I get back, you’re telling me what happened.”

Cordelia gingerly sat down on the couch and began to carefully roll up the left leg of her jeans, avoiding the rough material scraping against her wound and irritating it.

She bit her bottom lip and shyly smirked as she watched Angel walk back into the room with Neosporin and a band-aid. “You’ve been holding out on me, Mister-I’m-A-Strong-Vamp-Who-Doesn’t-Need-Bandaging-Up.”

“Well, when pretty girls come to my place in the middle of the night asking for band-aids I learn that it’s smart to stock up,” Angel said under an unneeded breath, disguising it as a simple sigh when instead he was trying to calm his nerves, trying to prevent a noticeable reaction when he accidentally looked down the front of her buttoned up shirt. It’s her fault she forgot to button the first three.

“I admit, sometimes the wounds are a little deep and it helps em’ heal properly when I apply some Neosporin.” He flashed a grin up at Cordelia and she took in a sharp breath, one that she hoped he hadn’t noticed.

God, he’s cute when he smiles like that. Cordelia shook the thought away and tried to hide a shocked reaction to it. Where the hell did that come from? My god, I need a boyfriend. My hormones are so out of control. Next thing I know I’ll be jumping Oz by Monday.

Angel paused when he saw the long, deep scratch along Cordelia’s shin. “How the hell did you manage to get blood for me and here without passing out from the pain?”

Cordelia laughed it off again, but Angel had a strong feeling she was mostly laughing at the high-pitch his voice took on when he spoke. “The bleeding stopped a while ago and it was more of a soreness than hurting really.”

“You should get this checked out,” Angel placed some Neosporin on the outer scrapes at first, as gently as he could. He heard Cordelia hiss from pain and stopped immediately. “Sorry.”

“No, it was a good pain. The medicine that hurts when you put it on always works like magic, right?”

“Right. And I was serious about the getting this checked out.”

“Right right. Sure, Angel. I’ll go tell the doctor I got a booboo. Will that make you feel better?”

Angel scoffed, “What’s with the sarcasm?”

“It’s nothing.”

“You keep saying that,” Angel observed under his breath, placing the bandage on her shin gently, smoothing it and making sure it stuck. He bit back the urge to kiss it better. He had to do that a lot, resisting the urge to kiss Cordelia. But, looking at her, he knew that all she saw in him was a friend. “When you say it’s nothing, there’s something.”

“I actually wouldn’t mind going to see a doctor, if you really want me to,” Cordelia admitted, pulling her legs in close to her chest and resting her chin on her knees. “I kinda told my dad I had no problem with him celebrating Valentine’s Day with Sandra at home.”

“So you’re officially kicked out of your house for the night?”

“Well, I did sorta lie and tell him I was spending the night with Willow.”

“And she’s…?”

“With Oz,” Cordelia finished, rolling her eyes. “God, those two are in love and they don’t even know it yet. Xander’s tagging along but he’s going to let them have some alone time after a while. I chose patrolling and that only lasted me a few hours. Not one vampire out there.”

Angel crinkled up all of the band-aid leftovers, looking at Cordelia for the longest moment. “Actually, it’s because all the couples are still out to dinner and aren’t on the streets yet. They’ll be out when all the prime-”

“I get it,” Cordelia laughed, raising her hand to stop him. “I guess I spaced. Thought my job was done for the night.”

“You shouldn’t walk around with an injury. Even if it’s stopped bleeding they can find you easily when you’re wounded,” Angel explained, tossing the plastic onto the pieces of wood waiting to be placed into the empty fire pit to start a warm fire. “And you’ll be slower, which is never a good-”

Cordelia brought her hand up to his mouth, shaking her head. “You really need to work on that tendency to be overprotective.”

“I can’t help it,” Angel said to her, his voice husky and intense, catching the Slayer off guard as well as himself. He wanted her to know that no matter what she said, he would never stop worrying about her, never stop caring so much. But the prospect of her just chalking it up to him being a good friend kept him from saying another word.

Not looking too much into the intensity in his stare and tone, Cordelia simply pursed her lips and held her hands up in the air. “Well, that is the way it works right.”

“The way what works?”

“You bug me about being careful and I, ever so stubborn, tell you that you’re making it a bigger deal than it is and well, it’s our routine.” Cordelia explained it with nothing but nonchalance, so much of it that Angel’s shoulders relaxed a little and he forgot about worrying too much, even if it only lasted a minute.

“Sounds like a plan,” he added quietly, pushing himself up off of the couch to stand up. Only when he stepped on the rug he realized it was pushed forward creating an uneven place for his foot to stand, which sent him falling forward. His body crashed onto Cordelia’s. “Sorry.”

Cordelia laughed into his ear, gripping his shoulders. Angel didn’t even know if she was holding him close or if it was just a natural reaction because his mind was too focused on the fact that her hands seemed to fit perfectly into the curve of his shoulders, the warmth of her fingers reaching his cold, pale skin through the fabric of his sweater and her grip not too tight yet not too loose.

He pulled back a few inches so that he was looking her in the eye and it became apparent that if he had a heartbeat, it’d be racing as he locked gazes with Cordelia. Swallowing the saliva forming in his mouth when his eyes trailed down from her eyes along her soft, flawless skin to her lips. Whether or not she noticed where he was staring the first thing she did was lick her lips, causing them to shine and become even more irresistible.

“Um…” Angel didn’t move to get up, but he knew he should start to. Propping himself on his elbows so his weight didn’t crush Cordelia as he contemplated his options, the vampire’s brow furrowed and his stomach did flips when he started to hear her heart racing against his chest, the blood pumping through her veins and teasing him where her pulse point was. The sound of it all flooded his ears and Angel struggled to hide his reaction.

Cordelia, on the other hand, couldn’t breathe as she remained underneath Angel. His weight wasn’t crushing her but his body was still pressed up against hers. His toned abs and chest pushing against her flushed skin, creating friction.

But it wasn’t the friction that caused her heart to race and her breath to catch in her throat. It was the way Angel was looking at her, the way she knew she was looking at him. An embarrassed smile tugged at the corner’s of her lips and her cheeks were burning when he looked down at her, all over her face and possibly, she couldn’t quite be sure, down her shirt as he struggled to be a gentleman and try and move away from her. She knew by looking in his chocolate eyes that being close to her was making him just as uncomfortable.

Yet neither of them moved away.

* * *

Choking on a gasp, Jenny dropped the candles on the ground and froze, all color leaving her face as her eyes widened at the sight of Edward Thomas, the English teacher from the high school, sitting at the top of the stairs. One leg nonchalantly slung over his knee and his hands, entangled with another, behind his head, he didn’t look too uncomfortable being in someone else’s home uninvited.

“Hello there,” he greeted her, his smirk never ceasing from his face as he glared at her. The smile was the only thing about him that didn’t have some semblance of malice and degrading intent. “Planning something special?”

Jenny swallowed hard and clenched her hands into fists to keep them from visibly trembling. A thought formed and she remembered that Giles had a set of knives in the drawer on the other side of the counter, right behind her. She’d pestered him for keeping them in a drawer which required extra work to get them when he could easily avoid it all by having them in a knife-holder of some sort right on the counter.

Now more than ever she wished he’d taken her advice. “What are you doing here? What do you want?”

Ed let out a long, exasperated sigh and rolled his eyes back into their sockets, the more fearful Jenny was the more annoyed he became. “Who said you could ask questions, huh?”

Pushing himself to a standing position, he started to whistle, practically dancing down the steps one by one, stopping on each slab of wood to look at Jenny for any sign of movement. When she remained still, a move he couldn’t call smart or stupid, he continued his descent. “I can’t begin to explain the immense relief that is in every inch of my body right now. I haven’t even finished the school year and I already have forty or so of the students in my classes on my hit list. The other’s are pending but give them time…”

Jenny gripped the counter, still facing Ed even as she dared to inch closer and closer to the corner where she planned to run, with all of her might, around and yank open the drawer of knives. Even with a knife she wasn’t quite sure how to get out of the apartment. She wasn’t sure of anything.

“But now…now I finally get to let out a bit of the pent up frustration, the anger…the urge to spill blood,” Ed licked his lips and popped his knuckles as he finally reached the bottom of the staircase. “You may not be a Slayer but I know I’ll very much enjoy killing you.”

He stepped closer, his stride longer than the kind he had when walking down the stairs, and he arched his neck forward to tease her, to see if she would flinch. When she didn’t, he held his hands up in surprise. “Maybe you’re not the kind of pathetic, whiney crybaby who’d be at my feet begging for mercy like I thought you’d be. This’ll be interesting.”

Jenny firmed her jaw and closed her eyes, praying that the plan she had come up with in a matter of seconds would work. All she needed was to get the knife and keep him at a distance. Then she would…

What am I going to do? Run? Fight him? Jenny shook herself out of it and focused on the distance between them. When he was close enough, she lifted herself up high and kicked out her foot, which missed his groin and hit him hard in the gut.

Though it obviously hurt him, he didn’t cringe and bend over. Instead he grabbed at her ankle and twisted hard, spraining it and sending Jenny in a complete 180-degree spin that resulted in her landing face first on the ground.

“You’re a feisty one!” Ed breathed hard, wincing at the pain in his gut as he straddled her and held down her arms. When, after recovering from the daze of falling so hard, she kept struggling under his grip, he laughed and leaned forward, putting all of his weight on top of her. “You can try all you want but we both know that I wouldn’t have wasted my time coming here if I didn’t know for sure that I’d be the one walking out of this still alive. Stop fighting it.”

Jenny stopped for a moment, giving Ed enough time to think he actually got through to her before stretching out her leg and kicking as hard as she could, hitting the man on top of her hard against the back of his neck.

Thank god for flexible legs.

Paralyzed with shock and pain, Ed rolled off of her, groaning and unable to breath or form a thought. Jenny took the opportunity to crawl as fast as she could, getting to her knees and reaching around the counter and pulling the drawer all the way out so all of the knives spilled onto the kitchen floor.

Yet by the time she was reaching for one, Ed recovered enough to grab at her leg and yank her towards him and away from the only thing that could save her life at the moment.

Kicking in every direction with her free foot, Jenny was relentless in her refusal to let him take control of the situation. His strength frightened her, the unnatural ease he displayed in recovering from hard blows and pulling her to him as if he was yanking a small kitten by its tail.

Ed turned her over so she was on her back and gripped her neck. Even as she clawed at his face and tried to move her legs under his overbearing weight, he never let go. His grip treading the thin line that separated him trying to keep her still and choking her to death, he gritted his teeth and his eyes flashed a dangerous orange.

“What are you?” Jenny choked in disbelief, her eyes shining with tears as the bottom half of her body grew limp. She was numb and there was nothing more she could do. This was it. This was the end for her and she didn’t even know why she was chosen out of the billions of people in the world. Why did he have to choose me?

Images. All she saw were images, both blurry and oddly realistic. Jenny no longer saw Ed, knowing there was no purpose in burning an image of him into her mind when she only had a few seconds, at the most, left in her life.

She saw her mother pushing her on the swing set in their backyard. Her uncle coming to visit every holiday and the occasional weekends. She saw the ambulance lights flashing through the closed blinds covered with dried blood. Her mother’s blood. Jenny saw it all, memories she had repressed all coming back along with those she basked in.

Giles. She saw him and a tear streaked down her face, leaving a wet trail that seemed to be burning her skin. He was the last thing Jenny saw before everything went black; the pain of Ed’s hands sending her neck into a position that snapped it only lasting a second.


Part 18

Whistling a small, quiet tune, Giles pulled out his keys from his side pocket and put them in the door, twisting it and opening it. Once inside he immediately removed his jacket without even looking around. His back to the rest of the room as he hung his coat up, Giles didn’t even bother to contain a smile, letting one stretch from ear to ear as he ran a hand through his hair, smoothing it out.

Once Jenny surprises me I will blow her away with what I have planned. Giles looked at his watch as he turned around. Two hours until our reservation.

When he turned around however, all thoughts of a romantic dinner were wiped from his mind. Candles lit all along the staircase with rose petals leading upstairs and a bottle of wine on the table in front of him were all he saw as he removed his glasses and let out a shaky breath.

A warm, fluttery feeling filled his heart as he walked over to the table, grabbed the bottle of wine and two glasses before running his hand once against through his hair to smooth it out. Checking his breath, Giles, still grinning from ear to ear as his cheeks burned red, gradually walked up the stairs.

Hoping to not trip over his own feet, Giles took in a deep breath and held it, preparing himself for what he was going to discover and hoping he wouldn’t ruin it one bit. God, he loved Jenny and wanted her to know it. I’m going to tell her, Giles reminded himself. It was one of the series of things he was hoping to surprise her with during their night together.

When he reached the top of the stairs, Giles saw Jenny on his bed, waiting for him. But as he got closer he realized she was laying very still and some color was missing from her face. She was sprawled across his bed on her back and, to his horror and the shattering of his heart that seemed to make every inch of his body become heavy, her eyes were wide open and weren’t blinking.

The only sound he could hear was the painful pounding of his heart in his throat and the sound of the bottle of wine crashing onto the floor, the glass smashing into a million pieces.

* * *

“What’re you doing?” Cordelia asked Angel, her voice a mere whisper as she moved her hands to his chest.

At first Angel thought she was moving to push him away but when her hands met his chest, they started to roam all over the front of his body. He was as close to her as possible yet what he saw in Cordelia’s eyes seemed to indicate she wanted to be even closer.

“I don’t know…” Angel replied honestly, almost helpless as he looked at her for a moment longer, a thousand unspoken words passing from his eyes to hers.

A shiver ran up Cordelia’s spine and the corner’s of her lips twitched. She wanted to smile but was afraid it would ruin the moment. What’s happening? I like Thatch! She knew nothing could happen with him but since when did she find Angel attractive, since when did she want him to kiss her, to do things…? Maybe I did all along…

Angel’s nose touched Cordelia’s and it was then she realized just how close his lips were to hers. But he didn’t move any closer as he looked her straight in the eyes, silently asking permission.

But then something occurred, snapping into place in Cordelia’s mind so suddenly that she had an even harder time breathing. Cordelia started to push him away, breaking eye contact immediately.

Angel, however, chose to push his own self away instead of allowing her to do so, knowing that if her hands kept pressing against his chest, pushing him away from her, from the possibility of something happening between them, his heart wouldn’t be able to stand it.

When Angel moved to the other end of the couch, Cordelia ran a hand through her hair and let a long, quiet sigh escape her lips as she looked at the wall, her eyes wide as she shifted uncomfortably. Her gaze flitted in Angel’s direction and when she saw him looking at her as furtively as he could manage, she immediately cleared her throat and fisted her hands, pushing herself up a few inches off the couch and moving so she was angled away from Angel just enough for the message to be clear.

I messed it up. I messed everything up, Angel’s thoughts were running over each other as he ran a hand across his face, trying to regain his composure.

At the other end of the couch, Cordelia, unconsciously, was doing exactly the same thing as he was. I screwed up big time. He’s Angel! I totally gave him the wrong impression and now he’s probably thinking I have some sort of crush on him. Which I don’t. Or, well, maybe I do, but not a big one. I really need to make my mind up.

Angel closed his eyes and fell back against the couch, She thinks I’m crazy. She’s definitely considering hitting me upside the head with a heavy object to provide enough time to get the hell outta here.

Looking at her friend, Cordelia shook her head, disappointed in herself. His eyes are closed, he’s disgusted by me. So much that he can’t even risk the chance of looking at me.

“I’m…sorry,” Angel said unconvincingly, not quite sure of what else to say.

Cordelia remained looking at him as his eyes never opened and she noticed his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down, a sign that he was swallowing the urge to say something. Cordelia had to swallow the urge to not lean closer and kiss him on his neck, which looked surprisingly appealing as she sat looking at him.

Hormone-crazy Cordelia Chase, beware! Unsuspecting males are cautioned to lock their doors at night. Burying her face in her hands, Cordelia thanked god she hadn’t gone as far as kissing him. “Me too.”

* * *

As the sirens repeatedly flashed, the thick curtains not even blurring the distinct red and blue illuminations, Giles stood against the doorframe as the paramedics wheeled out Jenny’s body.

Giles choked. Jenny’s body. Referring to the woman he loved as a mere body provided to him the realization that he wasn’t having a horrible nightmare. The stark reality of the situation was overwhelming in the least, but seeing the paramedics come in and check for a pulse and not finding one, was perhaps the moment when it all hit him, even if it took several minutes for the numbness to go away and for him to really start to experience the pain.

“Mr. Giles, we’re going to have to ask you a few questions,” said some uniformed man that Giles didn’t bother to look at to determine if he was a paramedic or cop.

“Of…of course,” the Watcher choked out, his voice catching in his throat along with the ability to hold back his emotions. As a tear escaped his eyes and streaked down his cheek, Giles figured out the math, his Slayer out patrolling while the other was out partying, Willow, Xander and Oz were out and Thatch was unreachable in his hotel room if he needed the message to be spread. One person came to mind that Giles truly believed would make sure everyone knew. “I just need to make a phone call.”

* * *

“So…” Angel clapped his hands together and awkwardly glanced over at Cordelia, who glimpsed his way in return before looking away when she noticed his eyes on her. “That was…”

Cordelia pushed herself from the couch and walked around it to where her coat was hanging. “Maybe I should just go.”

“Sounds pretty good,” Angel blurted out, getting up himself and crossing his arms over his chest, looking at Cordelia for only brief moments, not keeping his eyes on her for any longer. As she put her coat on, he couldn’t help but notice how the movements of her arm lifted her shirt up and gave him the perfect view of her midriff. Angel shook himself out of it before she noticed where he was staring. I’m becoming such a pervert.

Cordelia offered a strained smile but wiped it from her face when she discovered Angel not even bothering to look at her.

The phone started ringing, but Cordelia didn’t hear it at first, taking a step towards Angel. When he noticed her approaching and looked at her, into her eyes, she wisely stopped and took three steps back. “I guess we’re going to have to talk about this…”

“Later,” Angel finished softly, the persistent ringing pushing him to the limit where he couldn’t stand it anymore. Nodding goodbye as casually as he could, Angel turned his back to Cordelia as he went to answer the phone.

Trying to not let herself get too disappointed by Angel’s distant behavior, Cordelia reminded herself of what just occurred. It was enough for the moment and she, after taking a deep breath to steady her trembling hands, turned to leave.

As she pulled open the door, her grip so strong that she felt the metal doorknob straining under the pressure, Angel called her name, his voice cracking. “Cordelia…”

When she turned to see Angel, her heart dropped. Even if he wasn’t crying she could see that behind those dark, chocolate eyes he was scared and upset.

“Wha-”

“It’s…um…it’s Giles,” he held out the phone for her hesitantly, as if giving her the phone to find out what happened was the last thing he wanted. “He has something to tell you.”

* * *

Torpidly running her hands along the steering wheel until her fingers brushed along the keys, dangling there, Buffy leaned forward enough to turn off the ignition of her car. The headlights of her car as they approached the mansion announced the arrival of the slayer. Sitting beside her silently in the car was Xander, his shock evident in his quiet demeanour.

Xander looked pointedly at his lap, where his hands played with each other, his fingers sluggish as he twisted them around each other. Anything he did was to prevent the reality of the situation hitting him. If he didn’t think about it, he wouldn’t have to feel the pain he knew would come from it.

“We’re lucky you’re such a loner or I would have had to go looking for you,” Buffy spoke softly, not forcing herself too much so that her voice would break, the last thing she wanted to happen in front of anyone, especially Xander.

“Cheers to my loner-ness then…” Xander bit back, his voice just as quiet as hers. Glancing over at her, he swallowed the urge to ask if she was doing okay with the news. “Maybe we should knock on the door.”

“Maybe we should just let them come outside in their own time,” Buffy suggested, not even looking up to see if Angel and Cordelia were already outside as she played with her emergency break. “This night sucks enough already, I’m not really in the mood to rush anyone.”

Xander scoffed, “Sorry that Jenny’s death ruined your night.”

Her head shooting up immediately, Buffy firmed her jaw and shook her head incredulously, her eyes shining slightly before she managed to blink away the emotion waiting, beginning to be shown. “Do you really think I’m that heartless?”

Not even having to think about it, Xander glanced Buffy’s way. “Of course not. I just thought if we played this game we wouldn’t really have to talk about…”

“You don’t have to worry about putting up an act for me. We both know we’re more than honest with each other,” Buffy told him, meaning every word.

“It’s what’s great about it,” Xander admitted and the conversation stopped for a few minutes, Buffy looking at Xander with a little appreciation and surprise and he anywhere but her.

Finally, Buffy cleared her throat to prevent her voice from catching in her throat. “You know-”

The front doors of Angel’s place opening stopped her and both she and Xander immediately got out of the car, putting whatever kind of moment they shared to the back of their minds as if they’d done it a million times before.

As Cordelia approached on Buffy’s side and Angel on Xander’s, Buffy tried to keep herself from shedding a tear, firming her jaw and, as long as she could manage, avoiding Cordelia’s distant gaze.

“I’m willing to help,” the blonde Slayer blurted out when Cordelia walked past her to get to the backdoor. When Cordelia stopped and looked at her, waiting for her to continue, Buffy gripped the top of the door so much that the door creaked under the pressure. “In any way. I have a car, so I could be your chauffer. Not just to Giles but…but anywhere.”

Taking in Buffy, of all the things she’d yet to acknowledge about her fellow Slayer, Cordelia let out a shaky breath and nodded, smiling weakly. “Thanks.”

* * *

Leaning her head against the window, Cordelia watched the lights from all of the stores flash by as Buffy drove as fast as she could without getting pulled over. “Where are Oz and Willow?”

Buffy glanced up to the rear-view mirror and took a moment, looking at Cordelia who seemed to be as lost as anyone in the car, before responding as she turned sharply at the next street light. “They’re meeting us at Giles’. I managed to get hold of them before they left to meet Xander at the Bronze.”

“Good,” Cordelia nodded ever so slightly. She could feel her hand rubbing against Angel’s as she let it rest between her seat and his. Not tearing her eyes away from the lights, the people who had their own lives and had no idea that someone died a mere hour ago, she slipped her hand under his and gripped at his thumb.

Angel looked up and at Cordelia, a small, weak smile appearing on his face for only a second before he remembered where they were headed. Even as he gripped her hand and kept her from ever trying to pull away, he couldn’t erase the heart wrenching fact that Jenny died too young.

Cordelia, on the other hand, wondered how it was possible for everyone else in the world to be going on with their lives when she felt as if the world was falling apart. Jenny didn’t deserve what was given to her. She was young and smart and had not just any boyfriend, but Giles’ as her boyfriend. They loved each other even if they hadn’t said it out loud yet. Jenny was a teacher who had students who’d wonder what happened to her on Monday when school started up again without her.

They’re gonna have a moment of silence, a bunch of flowers and teddy bears, if anything. All from people who hardly even knew her, Cordelia shook her head in disgust at the prospect.

Xander shifted uncomfortably in his seat, clearing his throat and looking to the left where Buffy sat, over his shoulder where he saw Cordelia, and to his right where the trees were simple blurry objects as Buffy tested the power of her car. “Did, um, did he say how it happened?”

“He was pretty to the point about it. Told me what happened and asked me to tell Cordelia and everyone,” Angel answered the question reluctantly, if only to put it to rest before Xander, stupid fucking Xander, made everyone in the car even more uncomfortable. “I guess, if Giles wants us to know, we’ll find out when we get there…”

Cordelia shook her head and pressed her hand against her mouth as a sob tried to escape her lips. She stifled it and tried to avoid looking at anyone directly. “This isn’t fair.”

“I know it isn’t…” Angel whispered to her, his grip on her hand tightening as she stubbornly tried to keep herself from crying.

“If something happens like this to someone like Jenny, who as far as I know has done nothing wrong or evil, then what does that say for the rest of us?” Cordelia half-growled and half-cried.

Xander closed his eyes and let his head fall in defeat, “You’re right.”

Just as Buffy opened her mouth to say something, perhaps to argue or agree completely, she didn’t quite know herself, she started to pull up the sidewalk beside Giles’ apartment complex. Immediately, Willow walked up to the door. Buffy rolled down the window, confused. “Why aren’t you inside?”

“He’s not here,” Willow admitted, nodding her head in direction to the building. “The paramedics and cops were the last who saw him. They left twenty minutes ago. His weapons are all gone and so is his car.”

* * *

It took Giles nearly an hour to traverse throughout Sunnydale entirely. Gripping the steering wheel so much that his knuckles were stark white, Giles had to arch his neck forward to see straight ahead, his car’s miniaturization becoming distractingly obvious as the seconds passed.

Glancing from side to side as the streets passed by, Giles rubbed his face against his jacket to remove the wetness on his cheeks. He was searching for something, anything really. Anything and anyone to blame for what happened to Jenny. Someone came into his home and killed the woman he loved. Snapped her neck like she was a meaningless piece of trash.

His grip on the steering wheel growing to the point that, if he even cared to bother, he would have noticed the wheel bending to his will.

Passing by the park, something immediately caught Giles eye. Off to the side he could make out a struggle between two figures. When he slowed down, grabbing a hurling ax from his back eat without tearing his eyes away from the dark figures, he could finally make out that one of them was a young woman, no older than sixteen years old, and an older man.

Once Giles turned his engine off, twisting the keys and yanking them out, gripping them to keep them from dangling and announcing his presence, the Watcher knew the man was no more than a pathetic, hungry vampire.

Opening his door and spinning the axe in his hand, Giles stepped outside and started to approach the vampire and its victim.

* * *

“I can’t believe anyone would do something like this,” Willow whispered, disgust creeping into her voice as she shook her head and continued walking down the sidewalk. Oz’s hand ran up and down her back and, for a moment, she felt a little better and a little safer. Glancing to her right where he stood, she offered a small smile to assure him she was doing all right. Even when she couldn’t see his face completely, the only source of light the flashlight in Xander’s hand, she knew he smiled right back at her.

“What makes it worse is that we know it was a someone, not a something.” Xander aimed the flashlight towards the bushes when he heard them rustle and yelped when a cat pounced out with a rat in its mouth. “I don’t think a vampire would have used a needle to get blood outta Jenny.”

Oz let out a sigh, shrugging. “Not that that’s what killed her.”

“The only thing that’s worse than snapping someone’s neck is getting stabbed in the back,” Xander tried to steady his hands when he noticed the light from the flashlight wavering. “But that’s just my opinion.”

“But have we even stopped and thought about who might’ve done this?” Oz asked, his voice even and calm, unlike his girlfriends.

“Some sick psychopath probably did,” Willow responded immediately, walking a little faster ahead of Xander and Oz. “I still can’t believe this happened.”

“Me neither, but we have to remember that Giles needs us to help him through this,” Oz jogged up to Willow, pulling her closer to him and pressing a small kiss on her temple.

Willow closed her eyes and leaned into his touch for a moment, silently thanking him. Thanking him for what, she didn’t know, nor did she care to find out. All she knew was that the feeling of being unworthy of such a great boyfriend wouldn’t go away and she tried every minute they were together to make sure he knew how grateful she really was.

* * *

Angel looked over his shoulder as he yanked open the door to the school, making sure no one would see him and Thatch breaking into the school after hours. “I still can’t believe you don’t have any spare keys to this place.”

Thatch shrugged, walking in before Angel, deliberately testing the vampire’s patience. “Apologies for not carrying around keys to get me into a place I don’t even work at.”

“You work here. Just not officially.”

Thatch shook his head as he looked down each hall as he walked towards the library. “Go ahead and be technical. Spend all night at it, if you wish. I’m just going to go and try and find Giles. You know. The actual reason for breaking and entering.”

With a roll of his eyes, Angel shoved his hands into his pocket and started walking behind Thatch. “Who knew you’d have the ability to be sarcastic.”

“Not all Watchers’ are big bores, despite what you’ve been led to believe.”

“I’m not talking about Watchers’.”

Thatch looked at Angel over his shoulder, not that surprised. “Get your bloody Irish prejudices out of your system before-”

“Before what?” Angel dared, cocking an eyebrow at the Watcher. Nothing more than an empty threat. Only he disguised it well enough so that he was sure the young man would fall for it.

Thatch didn’t respond, returning his attention to where he was walking. When he finally reached the doors, he held his hand out, which hit Angel in the chest.

Angel pushed the hand away and crossed his arms, looking at Thatch like he was crazy.

“Flashlight,” Thatch mumbled, not even looking back at the vampire.

“Don’t have one.”

That got the Watcher’s attention. Spinning around, his blue eyes conveying a mix of confusion and surprise. “You didn’t bring one?”

Angel scoffed, “I’m a vampire. Don’t need light to see in the dark.”

“Then get to work,” Thatch sighed, stepping out of Angel’s way and giving him full access to the door. “Are you going to pick the lock or-”

The end of his question was drowned out by Angel’s foot colliding with the sliding doors, sending them off of their hinges and flying into the library.

“Or you could do that,” Thatch muttered under his breath, following Angel into the dark room.

* * *

Tapping an unfamiliar beat on her steering wheel, Buffy bit her bottom lip and, repeatedly, snuck glances to Cordelia, who sat silently in the passenger seat. Taking in one, two, three deep breaths if only to have something to do other than focus on the road ahead and look for Giles, the Slayer tried to ignore her heart beating painfully and loudly against her chest.

“Did you wanna say something or what?” Cordelia asked, surprising evenness in her voice.

Buffy closed her eyes for a quick second, laughing quietly at herself. “Am I that obvious?”

“It’s not that,” Cordelia admitted, straightening in her seat and running a hand to smooth out her hair. “You’re just not the kinda person to be quiet for long periods of time. Neither am I, to be honest.”

“You say it like it’s a bad thing,” Buffy pointed out, bringing her right hand over her left and taking a sharp left turn without stopping.

Glimpsing over at Buffy, Cordelia smiled absently. “Some people might agree with me that it is.”

Buffy let out a scoff, more than a little bitterness creeping into her voice as she jumped to her own defense. “I’d rather say what I’m thinking than have it all bottled up inside to the point that, at a really inappropriate time, I’ll break under the pressure and embarrass myself.”

“So? What’re you trying to say?”

“I’m no expert but if I were you I wouldn’t keep whatever you’re thinking or feeling inside. I’d lash out,” Buffy explained quietly, adjusting her grip on the wheel so that her fingers wrapped around it completely. “And, well, if you wanna lash out…I’m kinda the only option you have right now. Although, I hope you wait till I stop driving because I’m not really in the mood to get thrown through my windshield.”

Cordelia snorted, but managed to disguise it with a cough. “You don’t wanna hear what I have to say…”

“I wouldn’t have bothered talking to you if I didn’t wanna hear something from you in return,” Buffy pointed out. “We both know, according to Xander Harris that I’m so self-absorbed I can entertain myself with my own thoughts, no matter how few there are.”

“I hate being a Slayer,” Cordelia finally admitted through a long, dire sigh. “I’m starting to get so disgusted by it that I’m thinking of quitting.”

Buffy slammed on her brakes, only realizing that it was a good idea to do so when an old lady popped out onto the cross-walk. Removing her keys, Buffy opened her mouth and closed it several times as the engine died down, looking at Cordelia incredulously. Finally, she asked what she could manage to spit out: “Since when?”

“It’s been almost a year since you were called as a Slayer. I’ve been one since I was a freshman in high school. This…job, if you use the term ‘job’ loosely, is taking over my life,” Cordelia unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her door for some fresh air. Nodding her head to Buffy, signaling she was getting out, Cordelia stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jacket and got out with a soft close of the door. “And I’m not even making a difference.”

“If there’s anyone that should be negative it’s me and I know we’re making a difference,” Buffy rightly pointed out. “I mean, with the two of us, the vampire’s are wetting their pants when we’re just mentioned.”

Cordelia shook her head, leaning against the car and turning her back to Buffy. “But people are still dying. No matter what we do it doesn’t save everyone. It didn’t save Jenny.”

Walking around her car, Buffy tried not to trip over herself as she looked at the more experienced Slayer, the one everyone else compared her to. “You don’t really expect us to prevent everyone from dying, do you?”

Not answering, Cordelia’s shoulders slumped in defeat and she let her head fall.

Buffy wasn’t about to let the topic die so quickly, still surprised at how Cordelia was acting. “Look, Jenny was cool. Sure, I hated her class but she sure as hell was on my very small list of tolerable teachers. But…”

Pausing for a moment, Buffy struggled to remember where she was going with her argument. Ultimately, she spat out whatever popped into her head first. “She wasn’t killed by a vampire.”

Cordelia looked up at Buffy when she heard that, swallowing back the urge to start crying. “I still wish that I could have-”

“But you didn’t and couldn’t.”

“I just-” Cordelia stopped herself when she noticed something behind Buffy, off in the distance. Through the darkness, after narrowing her eyes, Cordelia could see a small figure, leaning against a tree in the park across the street.

Sticking her finger past Buffy’s shoulder, Cordelia got her attention to what she saw and the two of them quietly walked across the street, making sure to not step on any leaves or make too much noise to scare the trembling person away.

As they approached it became apparent it was Giles, and he was trembling with anger with blood on his hands as a body, still and lifeless, lay a few feet from him.

Buffy stayed back as Cordelia continued to approach, the blonde looking over her shoulder and making sure that no one could see them.

“Giles?” Cordelia whispered his name, kneeling down next to him and reaching out with her hand. He jumped at her touch but she persisted, squeezing his shoulder to remind him she wasn’t there to yell or anything. With the exception of saying his name aloud, she was planning on remaining quiet, hoping the silence would help him get enough strength back to stand up and come with her back to Buffy’s car.

Looking down at his hands instead of up at Cordelia, Giles laughed bitterly. “Tried to save the poor girl. Staked the vampire, but not in time to save someone else from dying.”

Cordelia leaned against the tree, sitting on the grass next to her Watcher, never tearing her eyes off of him as she watched the man she looked up to hurt so incredibly much.

“I hate it…I hate the pain,” Giles choked out, finally losing it as a few tears escaped his eyes, staining his cheeks wet.

Not knowing what else to do, Cordelia merely wrapped her arms around Giles and pulled him close; allowing him to let all of his pain out for as long as he needed because she sure as hell needed just as long to do the same.


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS STORY APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED


 

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