Scenes 11 – 20


Season of Solace


11:     Pine Grove Cemetery, Eastside, Sunnydale

Scoobies3

Munching on a handful of potato chips, Willow offered the bag to Buffy. She took a few and passed it down to Xander. They all sat side-by-side on the top of the Roberson family memorial stone, their legs hanging just above the ground. Night birds chirped in the neatly tended trees shadowing the path leading toward the columbarium.

Xander shoveled a few chips into his mouth and commented through the noise of his munching, “Maybe this dead guy is just dead.”

There was a fresh grave in the Roberson plot and they were sticking around to see what would happen. None of the other cemeteries on their route produced anything unexpected. A vamp here or there made it pretty standard fare for the slayer. They had certainly not found anything that resembled a bone relic.

“Could be,” Buffy shrugged while tapping her stake against her leg in a musical rhythm. She would so much rather be at the Bronze.

The club was less than a block away and if she concentrated really hard, Buffy could pick up the beat of the music. That was how quiet it was here at Pine Grove Cemetery.

They continued to stare at the grave, hoping something would happen to make their patrol a little more exciting, but the quiet worked against them. Once the crunch of the potato chips was no longer an issue, they all fell silent, focusing on their own thoughts.

Finally, Xander turned to Buffy and asked, “So what’s up with this new boyfriend? Where did she meet this guy?”

Buffy’s thoughts had not been that far off: Cordelia and her own boyfriend out on patrol. She had been having fun picturing those two at each other’s throats. Well, not literally in Angel’s case. They were probably already back at the library, or with a little luck, maybe Cordelia had already given up and gone home.

Knowing that it was a sore subject, she answered him honestly. “I don’t know. Willow is the one with the 411.”

“No I’m not,” Willow denied quickly while dramatically shaking her head to make her point. “I-I don’t know anything about him.”

Xander knew her far too well not to see right through her denial. “Spill it, Will. I need to know.”

There really was not that much to say. Willow repeated what she told Buffy at school. The news that Cordelia’s mystery guy was in college made any thought of reconciliation seem hopeless. Willow and Oz had managed to get back together, but Xander knew that Cordelia was not that forgiving. He would be happy just to win back her friendship much less anything more.

“I feel bad about it,” he shared his guilt. “We screwed up and Cordelia got hurt. I just want her to be safe and happy.”

Frowning, Buffy said nothing. Sure Cordelia could be happy— elsewhere. Yup, she was all for the happiness. Just imagine all the extra time Cor would have to spend with her new hottie when she quit.

Offering Xander a smile, Buffy assured him, “I’m sure she will be.”

 


12: Parkdale Cemetery, Central Sunnydale

TeamChaseV8

“Ooh! Look out,” Cordelia’s muttered warning was far too soft for either Angel or his foes to hear as she fell into the familiar role of sideline cheerleader. “Ha! Go Angel! Take him out. Dust him! Dust him!”

There was a fluid grace to his movements despite the fury of the battle. Angel kept moving, forcing the other vampires to adjust their positions. He had dusted one and blocked a punch in one smooth motion of his arms.

The fearful butterflies swirling in her stomach dissipated as Cordelia’s confidence grew with each passing moment. Angel was enjoying this fight. He had them right where he wanted them, at his mercy. Only he had none for them and they knew it.

“Get him. Watch out for the— ouch, that had to hurt,” Cordelia cringed as one of the vampires got in a hard upper cut to Angel’s jaw. What did that guy think he was doing? Now Angel looked pissed. The vampire exploded into a cloud of dust a moment later. “Duh, dead guy. You should’ve run when you had the chance.”

Bass tones sounded a warning in her ear, “Perhaps you should heed your own advice,” just before a hand closed over her shoulder.

Cordelia let out a scream that caused Angel and his two remaining opponents to pause in the middle of their fight to look her way. It was on again in seconds, and as Cordelia was swung around, she could no longer see Angel, only the very evil-looking face of the vampire who had her in his clutches.

He looked huge, as tall as Angel and just as broad-shouldered, though he had nothing on him in the hottie department. There was a green tint to his dead flesh, a sinful sneer on his face as he wrapped his hand around her throat and lifted her up onto her toes.

“Angelus is foolish to leave his pet alone in such a place.” He leaned in close to rub his cheek against her hair and buried his nose into its silken depths to scent her. He used his free hand to squeeze her ass, moving it up before she could do more than squirm against him to test the weight of a breast. “Mmm, you are perfection. My master will be pleased to sire you into our ranks.”

Whether his words or his touch acted to jolt her into action, Cordelia had no idea. She simply reacted. Her knee lifted sharply connecting with the vampire’s groin. Like any human male, he shouted in pain and fury, instantly releasing her as he doubled over.

Cordelia forgot about the stake in her hand. Instinct took her directly toward Angel despite the fact that he was still grappling with his last two opponents. She looked back over her shoulder expecting the creepy vampire to come after her, but he was not there. Panicking, Cordelia whirled around again, still moving, trying to see where he had gone.

Her foot caught on something. She was falling and the sound of her cry pierced the air. Cordelia heard Angel call out her name, but she could not see him. Dirt and darkness surrounded her as she lay stunned. Horror rose up as déjà vu hit: lying under the stairs in that small dark space.

“Angel?” Her voice was hoarse from where the vampire had held her throat. Oh, God this was not happening.

Cordelia realized she was in a grave. The broken lid of a coffin lay shattered amid the torn satin lining. She moved her hands, somehow knowing that the occupant of the coffin was already gone. Actually relieved by that thought, she stood on the exposed edge of the coffin and struggled to pull herself up out of the grave.

“Are you okay?” Angel moved over to help her up despite the fact that he was still in the middle of the fight.

“Behind you!”

As if he had known the vampire was there all along, Angel whirled, stake in hand, to plunge it deep into his chest with perfect accuracy. It crumbled into dusty ashes that fluttered to the ground. Cordelia waved at the air trying to stop the dust from settling into her hair.

Angel lifted her to her feet and stepped back to check her out for injuries. She was making an awful lot of noise for someone who was not physically hurt.

“Eew! Oh God. Yuck. I’m covered in grave dirt,” Cordelia was close to tears as she held out the corner of her silk blouse for his inspection. There was a dark smudge just below her right breast. “Is that a blood stain?”

Glancing down, he realized she was right. A sick feeling swept over him at the thought that she had been injured and Angel swiftly moved her hands aside, no longer settling for a visual inspection. His fingers slipped beneath the edge of the blouse, spreading out in search of her injury. When the heat of her skin touched him, Angel nearly jerked away. The little gasp in his ear should have told him he was taking his concern too far, but it did not stop him.

“You’re okay,” his relief was apparent, as he found no broken skin. His thumb brushed softly against the edge of her scar before his hands dropped back down to his side.

Cordelia appeared annoyed by rather personal inspection. “I didn’t say the blood was mine, dumbass. That creep touched me. He must’ve had blood on his hands.”

Considering the location of the smudge, it was not hard for Angel to guess what he had been touching. His jaw tightened in anger. He had heard her scream, but been unable to get to her. The bastard must have groped her right before she kneed him in the groin.

“You should’ve staked him,” Angel counseled despite a strange sense of pride in the fact that she had done well to escape him at all.

“If I ever see that guy again, he’s dust,” Cordelia said as she spotted her stake lying on the ground next to the edge of the grave. “He obviously doesn’t know how much it costs to get stains out of clothes like this.”

Angel was not about to go there. He had had a difficult enough time a couple of hours ago trying to change the subject when Cordelia had started talking about Vera Wang’s Fall Collection. Apparently, clothing was a big thing.

Luckily, she changed it herself by focusing in on something the vampire had said to her. “Hey, he recognized you, called you Angelus.”

That did not really surprise him. There were a few loosely formed vampire clans here in Sunnydale, some of which had links back to Europe. Anyone who was still around from a year ago had probably heard all about his soulless stint, and so it was just as likely that rumors of his return were already widespread.

“That suggests he’s been around for a while,” Angel commented as he inspected the grave at their feet. There was no relic inside the open coffin.

Cordelia added sourly, “He called me your pet.”

Angel quickly hid his amusement behind a blank expression and chose to search the gravesite for any sign that it had a link to the prophecy.

“No one ever calls Buffy your pet,” she complained.

Glancing at her from the corner of his eyes, Angel kept silent on the subject. It was probably better not to tell her that most vampires had a very different kind of reaction when faced with the slayer. Finding a beautiful, curvaceous young woman like Cordelia in his company probably led to a few natural assumptions even if they had no basis in reality.

“Try to stay focused,” Angel said when she did not seem to want to drop the subject. “This is the closest we’ve come tonight to meeting the prophecy criteria.”

The translation was pretty rough, or so Giles told them, but the gist of it seemed clear enough.

Walking dead amongst the stones,
the hour of darkness is at hand.

A bloodied relic made of bones;
Awakening followers throughout the land.

Cordelia jumped back on board with a quick comment, “Hey, that new vamp you dusted could be considered an awakening.”

“I never touched him.” Angel realized he had been wrong in assuming that Cordelia’s fall had pushed the rising fledgling against one of the coffin shards. “He must have gotten out before you fell.”

Gripping her stake a little tighter, Cordelia looked around at the edge of the graveyard trying to spot the vampire that got away. The deep gong of the clock tower at City Hall caught their attention as it began to sound out twelve strokes. “There he is!”

Angel turned to see the lone figure opening up the front door to the building to walk inside. City Hall should have been locked up, but it was not. The only lights came from the tower itself. “This is it,” he told Cordelia and grasped her hand to pull her along behind him.

“Too fast! Watch the super-speed,” Cordelia reminded him. He let go, but warned her to stay close. He did not want anything else to happen to her tonight.

They caught up with the fledgling vampire despite his head start. He turned back from his climb up the tower stairs when Angel and Cordelia made their entrance. The call of human blood was too much of a temptation. One strong-armed move was all it took for Angel to smash him face-first into the stone wall.

Demanding answers, Angel questioned him about the relic they were seeking, but he knew nothing. The vampire hissed its fury as it tried to escape, but it had the strength of a spitting kitten compared to Angel. “Upstairs. I am called to the alter of my master.”

“Could that be the creepy guy who grabbed me?” Cordelia asked as Angel ended the struggle permanently. They walked away from the dust cloud and proceeded up the stairs toward the top of the tower.

“Let’s find out.” Then he added, “Just remember to—”

“I know, I know,” Cordelia huffed as her heels clicked on the steps. “Stay out of the way. Let you handle it.”

Angel was glad to hear that she was catching on. To his surprise, Cordelia seemed just as determined to get to the bottom of this, and was actually cooperating with him. She even kept her mouth shut as they crept upstairs, which for her had to take considerable effort.

The stairs opened directly into the space containing the clock mechanism. There was a wooden railing around it leaving an open area along the floor. It was hard to miss the pentagram drawn there or the object at its center. Pieced together with bits of bone and flesh, the carved relic was anointed with blood. From the shadows of the bronze clock face stepped the elder vampire.

Cordelia recognized him immediately. “Whatever you’re doing here is so over.”

“You are mistaken, human. I am but one of many,” the vampire announced far too calmly. “The first rite is already complete. Vampires and demons of all kind will answer its calling. Soon, the time will come to herald the arrival of one who shall rule this Earth for ten thousand years.”

Angel stepped closer, edging the pentagram as he moved forward. “Just who is it you’re summoning?”

“All will be known in time.”

“Cryptic much?” Cordelia planted her knuckles on her hips, still holding onto her stake.

The vampire crouched low as he faced off against Angel. They circled each other for a moment before leaping at each other with a fury that left Cordelia gaping. For one heart-stopping moment, the other vampire had Angel pinned to the wall. Angel kicked back throwing off his opponent. They grappled and punched their way across the room.

The relic went scooting across the floor sliding to a halt near Cordelia’s foot. She yelped as the blood splattered within an inch of her toes.

“Cordelia,” she glanced up to see Angel struggling with the vampire. Now behind him, Angel reached under his arms, pinning his shoulders back. One hand on the back of his neck held him in place while the other twisted his wrist pulling it back up at a painful angle.

“It missed me,” Cordelia told him she was relieved to escape a blood bath. “I’m okay.”

Angel growled in response as the vampire managed to kick his shin. He barely kept his hold. Grinding out her name again, “Cor-de-lia,” he glared meaningfully.

“Oh!” Cordelia finally got it. She darted across the room, held the stake high and aimed carefully.

“Now,” Angel ordered as he felt his hold slipping.

Cordelia plunged the stake home as hard as she could. Before the vampire crumbled to dust, it stared deep into Cordelia’s eyes and promised her, “My master will devour your heart for this.”

“Too bad you won’t be around to tell him,” she smirked as his body crumbled.

The dust had not even cleared before Cordelia thrust herself into Angel’s arms hugging him tight. “Next time just tell me to stake him.”

Angel did not have time to enjoy the warm body pressed against his. Only seconds later, she pushed away and playfully poked at his belly with her stake. “Told you I could help. Hah! I got him. You needed me after all.”

“Watch the shirt,” he complained. Angel yanked the stake out of her grasp when those random pokes started to do more than just set off his pain receptors.

Cordelia just grinned triumphantly. “We did it. And we have the yucky relic to prove it. You are so going to be the one carrying it back to the library.”

 


13: The Library, Sunnydale High School, Southeast Sunnydale

Cordelia Smiling

Buffy, Willow and Xander trailed back into the school after finishing up their patrol of the eastside cemeteries. Overall, it had been a boring night. The town’s vampire population was only down by two by their count, but they had made a considerable job of emptying out their bag of snacks.

When Buffy opened the door, she saw Giles examining something gross spread across a cloth on their research table. Faith stood next to him. “I’m out of here for the night,” she said, “now that the job’s done.”

Oh crud. It looked like Faith found the relic. Nah, it was probably Giles.

That thought perked her up a little until her eyes slid across to the library steps to see Cordelia sitting next to Angel. Buffy’s jaw dropped at the sight of the other girl, who was smudged from head to toe with dirt, grass and blood. Her head was resting on Angel’s shoulder, eyes closed in exhaustion.

Angel was just sitting there watching her sleep. Finally, he reached up to touch her face, gently sounding out her name to rouse her. It soothed Buffy’s ruffled feathers a bit when Cordelia sounded miffed, “Hey, you let me sleep. What’d I miss?”

“The others are here,” Angel told her making Buffy realize that he was already aware of her presence even if he hadn’t looked her way. “Faith says she’s going to go. Maybe you should head home, too.”

Cordelia looked like she was about to argue, but then found herself yawning. With a nod, she agreed. Standing up, she walked up to Faith. “I need someone to walk me home.”

“What does that have to do with me?” asked Faith as she ran a hand through her dark hair. “I’m ready to party for a couple of hours. You need a hot shower and someone to tuck you into bed.”

“No argument,” Cordelia shrugged. “You’re elected. I have dealt with enough vamps tonight. I don’t want to run into any more without backup.”

When Xander started to make an offer, Buffy stepped on his toe. He was easily distracted after that. By the time he recovered, there was already another offer on the table.

Giles suggested Cordelia stick around for an hour or two while he examined the relic. After that, he would be happy to offer her a ride home. Then it occurred to him, “Where is your car, Cordelia?”

Yeah, Buffy wanted to know that, too. She should be driving herself home, not ordering other people to keep her company. Cordelia stared at Giles as if she did not know how to answer the question.

Faith finally stepped in to say, “It’s at the shop. Car trouble.”

Was there anything Faith did not know about Cordelia these days? Buffy had obviously underestimated Cordelia’s skills at ingratiating herself into someone’s life. Not even Faith was immune.

Cordelia actually looked surprised at Faith’s comment, but the hint of anger faded when the slayer said, “Let’s go. I’ll get you home before I scope out the Bronze. Unless Angel wants to take you,” she added while letting her eyes linger on his handsome face.

Standing up, Angel looked back and forth between Faith, Cordelia and Buffy. He was trapped, Buffy thought irritably. Now he would have to do the polite thing and walk her home. Glowering at Faith, Buffy was about to come up with an excuse to make him stay when Cordelia commented, “I think Angel has put up with enough of me tonight. Besides, he and Buffy have been out of lip-locking range for a few hours.”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Buffy reminded her as she walked over to stand next to Angel. Taking a closer look at her appearance, she asked Cordelia, “What happened to you?”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” Cordelia struck a confident pose causing Buffy to wonder just what it was she was handling. There were a lot of ways to get grass and dirt stains on your clothes. If Cor had been patrolling with anyone other than Angel, she might be suspicious. That and the fact that Cordelia looked worse for wear suggested she had just had a bad night and was trying to hide it.

Buffy tried to sound sympathetic. “Too bad you got all dirty and have nothing to show for it.”

Pointing toward the table and the relic made of flesh and bone, Cordelia told her, “That’s too gross to be nothing.”

“You found it?” Buffy’s voice sounded almost as high-pitched as Willow’s.

“Duh! Do you think Angel & I were rolling in the dirt for the fun of it?”

A warm flush rising to her cheeks caused Buffy to turn away under the pretense of staring at the relic. “You’re right. It’s pretty gross.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes and said goodnight to Angel & the others before walking out the door. Following, Faith paused long enough to say, “Catch you later.”

Buffy was so glad to see the door swing shut behind them. She wanted to talk to Angel about his patrol with Cordelia. Fortunately, Xander was already preoccupied by the cool grossness of the evil relic. Willow followed him to the table, but seemed more interested in Giles’ assessment. He seemed more than happy to provide her with his preliminary findings.

Because she had Angel to herself for a moment or two, Buffy hinted for details. “Looks like the night was eventful.”

“It was.”

Prompting him for more information, Buffy finally had to be specific. “What about Cor?”

He did not answer for the longest time. Okay, it was only a few seconds, but Buffy was impatient to discover how she handled patrol. Especially if it meant she was planning to quit.

“Cordelia is…,” Angel started to speak and then trailed off again for a moment to gather his thoughts, “completely untrained,” Buffy nodded, “undisciplined…,” to say the least, “unpredictable— and noisy.”

Angel revealed that Cordelia had seemed more interested in the wear and tear on her designer clothes than dressing for protection. That was a point Buffy could not say much about. She actually understood it.

“But Cordelia follows her instincts,” Angel added with a measure of respect, “and she’s not afraid of getting involved in the action.”

“I’m surprised,” admitted Buffy with a frown. “My night was a yawner and it’s Cordelia Chase who gets all the action. Vampire action,” she corrected swiftly only to find that the words still sounded wrong.

“She’s not like you and Faith,” he reminded. “There are things a girl like Cordelia just isn’t built for.”

Staring up at him, curiosity mixed in with a little feministic ire, Buffy wanted clarification on that one. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“She is…” Angel held his hands up in the air as if seconds away from outlining her shape. Buffy’s glare obviously made him reconsider it. Shoving his hands back into his coat pockets, Angel tried to come up with an explanation that would not get him staked. “She wasn’t born to slay vampires.”

He left it at that and seemed unwilling to explain further. Buffy tried to put it into the context that he was agreeing with her that Cordelia did not belong on patrol. It did not matter that neither Willow nor Xander were born into the slaying business, either. That certainly would not help her make her point.

“So is she going to quit?”

“No,” Angel answered with surety. There was a spark of admiration in his brown eyes, a flicker of amusement and a hint of something else that made her squirm uncomfortably before his gaze turned toward the door. “From what I can see, Cordelia’s not a quitter.”

 


14: Heading North, Jefferson Avenue, Eastside Sunnydale

Faith in Jeans

Faith listened with genuine interest as Cordelia went over the more exciting parts of her first patrol with Angel. “Sounds like you had a lot more fun than me.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it fun,” Cordelia returned with a grin. “But it was definitely cool to see Buffy’s face when she found out Angel and I discovered the relic.”

They had come to the crossroads where Faith automatically made a turn for the ritzier part of town. She had never been to the Chase mansion, which she had been told had a huge swimming pool, tennis courts, and its own small stable. Rubbing elbows with the rich had never been her thing, but it might be fun. Surprisingly, Cordelia did not seem quite as snobby as Buffy made her out to be.

“Why are you standing there?” Faith had to stop and turn around. Waiting, she saw that Cordelia had not moved to follow her toward the west side of town. She was staring in the other direction. Catching on, “I’m not really walking you home, am I?”

Cordelia glumly shook her head. “Do you know how to keep a secret?”

“This isn’t about the ‘boyfriend’, is it?” Faith asked her. “We already made a deal there, Cor. I promised to keep my mouth shut about it if you gave me the scoop about B and Soulboy.”

“No,” Cordelia admitted. This was something else.

Crossing her arms, Faith tapped her fingers against her jeans jacket. “Then it all depends on the secret and who you’re keeping it from.”

Taking in a deep breath, Cordelia released it, licked her lips and then explained, “Mainly Buffy and Xander. Willow, too, since that would automatically mean Buffy would hear about it. Plus Giles, I suppose, considering he’s Buffy’s watcher. He might let something slip.”

“Whoa!” Faith held up a hand to stop her lengthy laundry list of people. “You had me at Buffy.”

 


15: Westbound Lane, Route 8, Sonora Desert, Arizona

spokedrudesert

“Are we there yet?” Drusilla pouted as she stared out into the night. This desert seemed endless and though it teemed with crawling life none of it interested her as much as seeing Angel again.

Spike stepped a little harder on the gas pedal. She could see for herself they were not likely to reach Sunnydale much before dawn. “We’d bloody be there already if you hadn’t stopped to snack on those border guards.”

Lifting a long finger to her lips, the vampiress shushed him. “You’ll wake Miss Edith.”

 


16: Thousand Oaks Drive, Central Sunnydale

CCinCemetery

“Crappity crap,” Cordelia muttered as she hurried along the dark sidewalk toward the high school. The thirty-minute walk she had to make every evening to get back here took her past some of Sunnydale’s creepiest real estate.

She glanced down Crawford Street as she passed by and caught a glimpse of the old mansion up on the hill. The windows were dark and mostly boarded up, but the moonlight overhead outlined the roof. One wing of the mansion was skeletal and charred from a fire started by pranksters on Halloween five or six years ago.

The entire family had been killed and the heirs to the estate never got around to doing anything about rebuilding. It was not the first time that people had died there. A long history of unexplained events was connected with the place going back to its earliest occupancy in the 1920s.

These days, stories abounded about the lights in the old mansion and the ghosts that inhabited its lonely halls. Cordelia knew it was just Angel, but telling people to chill because a vampire had taken up residence in their favorite haunted mansion was not likely to be taken seriously.

Getting closer, she caught sight of Buffy, Xander and Willow winding their way through Pine Grove Cemetery. They were too far off to bother with, but it was clear that the pre-patrol Scooby meeting had already broken up. That meant she had no idea what tonight’s assignment was supposed to be. There were too many signs written in the prophecy to remember which one was next.

“I so need a car,” Cordelia groaned as she reached the school grounds. Existing without her Corvette the past few weeks equated to major suckage, something not going away anytime soon. She had frequently been forced to take the bus to get from one side of town to the other.

Cordelia slowed down now that she was on the school sidewalk. No need to hurry since Angel was probably halfway across town. He made it clear the assignment of patrolling with her was not his choice. It wasn’t hers either, but they managed to take care of the bad guys and bring back the flesh & bone relic.

Deciding to check out the library just in case Faith and Giles were still there, she headed straight for the main entrance. Her internal monologue on the ickiness of demon worship and the sadness that was Giles’ fascination with the artifact was still playing through her head when a shadow fell across her path.

She let out a scream as a large hand grabbed her arm. “Cordelia.” Despite the sound of her own name on Angel’s lips, her heart was pounding.

“Sheesh! Lurk much?” Cordelia clasped a hand to her chest and let out a sigh of relief. “Are you into scaring your victims to death?”

Releasing his hold on her arm, Angel muttered, “Sorry.”

Having recovered from her little fright, Cordelia decided to get down to business. She was here for patrol and it was not like they had anything better to talk about. Cordelia was not planning to tell him anything about the past four hours of hell and she seriously doubted his day involved anything more exciting than sleeping or brooding about Buffy.

She did have to credit him with one thing. “Hey, thanks for waiting for me. I’m a little late.”

“I noticed,” Angel quirked lips suggested he was laughing at her in his own stoic way. She was not used to seeing him with anything but a blank, broody expression, or maybe a hint of lost puppy dog showing in those deep brown eyes. The latter appeared when he was staring at Buffy.

“So what’s the mission? I suppose we’re going back to cryptville. Please tell me you got dibs on the eastside.” Cordelia had made her preferences clear last night and she hoped he had acted on them.

Hope faded as Angel shook his head, “Midtown again. No cemeteries this time,” he put a positive spin on it. “The target area is a little vague. According to the research, the next sign will be revealed in a place the public gathers.”

Thinking about the possibilities, Cordelia perked up. That sounded better than tramping around graveyards. “So where are we going?”

They started walking while Angel explained the plan. “Since Buffy wanted to stay on this side of town her team is headed to the Bronze.”

“Pfft! That figures,” Cordelia muttered. It made sense considering that she had seen the Scoobies at Pine Grove. It was only a block and a half from the club.

“Giles and Faith are going to Main Street.”

Cordelia could understand that choice. Since it was Friday night all of the shops and bars stayed open later than usual. Even the Doublemeat Palace kept to a twenty-four hour schedule on the weekends and in the summertime. “At least they won’t go hungry.”

Her stomach rumbled as if on cue. Wide-eyed and flushed with embarrassment at the noise, Cordelia explained that she did not have time to stop for dinner. After listening to her hasty excuse, Angel had that sparkle in his eyes again. It irritated her that she was a source of amusement for him.

“We’ll get you something when we get there,” Angel promised.

Noticing that they were walking along Thousand Oaks Drive, which bisected the town running east to west, Cordelia was not sure where they were headed. They were passing Crawford Street, this time at its midpoint much closer to home for Angel, and were coming up on Revello Drive.

“So where are we going?” she asked him again only to come up with an idea that caused her to squeal in delight. “The mall! It’s the mall. That’s even better than the Bronze.”

Angel seemed to speed up a little forcing Cordelia to walk a little faster. “The mall is closing in an hour,” he pointed out. “You know the signs are supposed to show up after that.”

“Meaning we’re not going to the mall,” Cordelia’s happy little bubble burst. “So much for my convenient shop-while-you-patrol scenario.”

Maybe it was mall withdrawal. Between being in the hospital and everything else that followed, she had not seen the inside of the mall in weeks. Cordelia tried to convince him, “Oh, c’mon! If we have a little time to spare, I could sneak in a few minutes of window-shopping while we wait. Plus, they have a food court. I could get one of my favorite fruit swirls and you can have… well, whatever.”

“I don’t think they serve anything to my taste,” he returned flatly.

Cordelia figured there was not exactly a high demand for blood milkshakes. Then again, this being Sunnydale, someone could probably make a few bucks if they catered to its minority population of vampires and demony types. “You’ve never tried a Strawberry-Peach swirl. How would you know?”

He was silent for a moment as if weighing the need to answer. “Blood is the only real food for a vampire.”

“Eew! I really wanted to know that— not,” Cordelia’s nose crinkled at the thought of it.

Looking embarrassed that he had mentioned it, Angel commented, “It’s just that the other stuff has no nutritional value. I don’t feel full afterwards.”

With a sarcastic roll of her eyes, she added, “Nutritional value? Pfft. Neither does chocolate fudge ripple ice cream, but I dare you to try that and not love it. The food court also has a Baskin Robbins if you’re feeling brave.”

“We’re not going to the mall.”

“Sheesh! It’s not like I suggested checking out Victoria’s Secret.” Seeing his brow quirk upward before he turned his gaze forward again, Cordelia giggled. A sudden image of Mr. Dark Ages holding his hand over his eyes so as not to see anything inappropriate popped into her head.

For all she knew, he had a funky fetish: Angel holding up a lacy bra next to his chest and stating, “I like this one.”

After all, she did not know him that well yet. It kept her laughing until she could hardly breathe. “C’mon, we have to stop in for just a few minutes,” she gasped through the suggestion.

Though he was not exactly privy to her thoughts on the subject, Angel obviously was not used to being laughed at. He stopped, facing her as if he planned to shut her up himself, scowled dangerously and then turned back in the direction they were going.

Cordelia held onto her injured side, feeling a twinge of discomfort as she laughed, but it was worth it. The last few hours had been too proper and serious-minded. It felt good to make fun of her somber patrol partner. “Sure you don’t wanna go shopping with me?”

Angel told himself not to respond, but each giggle made it worse grating against that nerve she seemed to know so well. He was managing until her teasing went as far as asking how he would handle wading through a sea of silky undergarments.

“There’s no time for that,” he growled irritably, explaining they needed to be in place before the start of the designated timeframe.

Swallowing her laughter, Cordelia sobered when she thought about the fact that he might not be such a nervous Nellie about handling silky slips of nothing. Angel had been around a long time and considering that he was such a hunk of salty goodness, vampire or not, it suddenly occurred to her that she would be the one blushing in that situation. With Angel standing next to her, holding up a colorful scrap of silk against the curves of her breasts, murmuring, “I like this one.”

Yikes.

“Um, yeah, well it’s not like they have a Tall & Broody section anyway,” Cordelia’s laughter died as she realized it had been a while since she’d imagined Angel doing anything with her underwear.

Suddenly feeling flushed all over Cordelia explained the heat that swamped her as too much laughing. Yes, humor was good for the circulation. Acknowledging the feeling of awkwardness while simultaneously shrugging it off, she fell back into step beside him.

Maybe Angel and malls did not really mix. How depressing for him. That thought kept her occupied for a few blocks until she finally realized that Angel never told her where they were going.

“Hey, are you ever going to tell me where you’re taking me or am I supposed to keep guessing?” Cordelia was fed up with the lack of two-way conversation. She was really going to have to work on that if they were going to be spending more time together on patrol.

Angel’s gaze slid across to meet hers. He said nothing and Cordelia took that as his answer. “So you like guessing games? Fine. I know this town like the back of my hand.”

Considering it a challenge, she tried to come up with other public gathering spots. “The zoo is in the other direction,” she nixed that idea. Besides, it was also closed by this hour and there was another prophecy that hinted at a zoo connection later on.

“There’s the beach,” Cordelia grinned at the thought of walking along the sand in her bare feet. God, she loved the beach even at this time of year. That would certainly make up for the creepy cemeteries from last night. Just one problem, she realized. “Only the beach isn’t exactly a midtown hangout. Especially at night.”

“No,” Angel agreed wryly and let her continue.

“Same thing with the bluffs,” Cordelia frowned as she was quickly running out of ideas. Sunnydale was not exactly known for its hot spots. “And let’s face it; I am so not going to scope out Lover’s Lane with you.”

Finally, they paused at the turn-off into a dimly lit part of the town that Cordelia had never been to before. Angel might have been listening, but his attention had shifted into high alert. His gaze slid from shadow to shadow. Cordelia reached for the stake she had tucked into the waistband of her skirt and whispered, “Do you see something?”

“No. Just checking,” Angel commented. Curling his fingers around her elbow, he led her into the alley. “We’ll cut through here. It’ll save us some time.”

“Going where?” Cordelia could not think of any reason why the public would want to gather around here. The trash-filled alley smelled worse than one of her not so favorite cemeteries.

Angel finally told her their destination. “Willy’s Place.”

“A bar?” Cordelia tugged her elbow out of his loose grasp. “Underage here.”

“Yeah,” Angel muttered. “I know.”

Cordelia huffed, not because it was a bar, but because she was unprepared to come here. Conspiratorially, she whispered, “You should have told me sooner. I would’ve brought my fake ID.”

If Angel was surprised or impressed that she had a fake ID, he hid it well. “That won’t matter. They’ll let you in. You’re with me.”

“Meaning they know you? Oh, crap! This is a demon bar, isn’t it?” Ohhhh, yeah, she had heard about it from Xander. “Buffy’s snitch owns this place.”

“Willy,” Angel confirmed it.

Groaning in complaint, Cordelia gripped his leather sleeve and tugged a couple of times. “We could’ve been at the Bronze instead. You so need to learn to speak up next time Giles hands out the assignments.”

Angel explained that he did not really like the thought of taking her in there, but it was her idea to help out on patrol. “You’re either with me or you stay home.”

“Unfortunately, a skuzzy bar is exactly my karma right now,” Cordelia sounded resigned to deal with it. “Guess that means I’m with you. Let’s go.”

He held her back, turning her to face him. “You need to know what to expect.”

“I’ve seen enough of Sunnydale’s creepy side to guess.”

“Maybe you have,” Angel conceded, but added a warning. “Let me do the talking. I don’t want someone deciding to bite your head off.”

Her jaw dropped a little, “Literally?”

Angel did not deny the possibility. It might make her uncomfortable to be around him, but he explained things might go more smoothly if he was in game face. “It’ll be easier if I don’t go in looking like this.”

“Tall, dark and totally—?” Cordelia’s breath caught in her throat, eyes widening as his human features shifted almost fluidly into a prominent brow and ridged lines. Jagged teeth and fangs appeared in place of his smoothly polished blunt ones.

Seeing what he assumed was shock on her face Angel let his demon visage fade back to human form. “Maybe I should have taken you home. This is too much for you. I know you still remember the night I….”

His voice trailed off. Angel really did not want to remind her of the night he almost killed her. It was obviously an issue with her as their conversation had revealed. Even then, he had admitted that she still looked tasty.

Disgusted with himself, Angel wasn’t certain what to do next. Part of him wanted to tell her, ‘Time to grow up little girl. If you want to patrol with me, learn to deal.’ The other part struggled with shame and the unexpected need for her acceptance.

Not that he thought he had a chance of getting that from Cordelia Chase. She had made her opinion about vampires perfectly clear, and he had certainly never given her much reason to change her mind, although he remembered that she had seen his natural face yesterday and not shirked from it.

“It’s okay, Angel.” When she finally spoke, soft and husky, there was a genuine smile on her face. “Bygones are just gone. My fault for staring. I’ve just never really seen you do that up close.”

“This?” Angel shifted back again testing her reaction. Pleased that Cordelia did not flinch or turn away, he felt himself relax.

There was actually a spark of curiosity in her gaze as she stared directly into his eyes. Angel wondered what she was seeing. The old daguerreotypes that Darla once insisted they have taken gave him a pretty good idea. Demonic eyes, dark and golden: Angelus’ eyes.

Cordelia slowly reached toward his face, her fingers warm against his cool skin as they came into contact. He almost backed away from the sensation, but did not. He allowed the warmth of her palm to seep into his skin. “You’re different from him, even this way. I can see it.”

Dragging her hand away, he let it go. Firmly reminding her, “But it’s still me.” Angel did not want any misconceptions between them. “The demon is just as much a part of me as this soul. Remember that.”

“Pfft! Like I’d forget,” Cordelia acted like it was a non-issue and impatiently asked if they were going into the bar any time this century.

“Cor—,” he started to issue one more reminder about his concerns for her safety.

“Yadda, yadda, yadda. I know the drill,” she waved him off. “Stick close. Let you do the talking. Got it.”

Angel had a strange feeling it was not going to be that easy.

They arrived at the main entrance where the neon sign flashed Willy’s name. A burly bouncer nodded curtly in acknowledgement and waived them right inside. Loud music blared from a jukebox against the wall and the added din of multiple conversations made it almost uncomfortable. The smoky air mixed with scents of blood, flesh, sweat and alcohol.

He let himself breathe it all in only to catch a whiff of Cordelia’s perfume and the myriad temptations of subtle feminine scents. Despite that he should be assessing the crowd for potential threats, he breathed her in a little deeper focusing on something he could not quite place. New soap? The thought of her sudsy hands moving across the landscape of her golden skin was enough to cause his balls to tighten.

Just that momentary lapse of concentration left them vulnerable to the open scrutiny of the crowd. Instead of pulling Cordelia with him into a shadowy corner where they could look at the activity in the bar and watch for anything that might resemble a sign of the approaching apocalypse, he stood frozen as he watched her. Here in this den of iniquity, a playground for everything that was dark & evil, living or undead, she stood out like a Roman candle.

Framed by the glow of the exit sign and the doorway, Cordelia drew the attention of everyone in the room. A moment was all it took to see her through their eyes, knowing just what they were thinking when they looked at her. Cordelia’s blatant beauty was as much a factor as her rapid pulse and the warmth of her living flesh. Her body held the promise of sinful pleasures in every curve, yet an aura of innocence was apparent to those who looked beyond the surface.

Angel could see all of that and understood the temptation she presented. Bringing her here was a mistake, but it was one he would have to accept now that there was no time to get her out of here. He wondered what the hell Giles was thinking when he did not protest Buffy’s suggestion about staking out Willy’s Place tonight. He knew Buffy’s motives. She probably thought that this experience would scare Cordelia into quitting.

Maybe Giles simply thought Cordelia was not going to show. She had been even later than usual. Angel had only himself to blame. After all, he had waited for her, determined to give her a chance. He just had not considered the bait factor. Cordelia took her role as Bait Girl quite seriously, but Angel had not stopped to think of the reasons she filled that role so well.

Not until his conscience forced him to feel guiltily about the direction of those thoughts, or his dick got so hard that he could not ignore it. Angel wanted to make them all bleed for daring to look at her with even a hint of the lust he was feeling right then. Glaring at the salacious crowd, blaming his demon instincts for kicking into overdrive, he stepped even closer to Cordelia, a menacing growl rumbling low across his chest.

“Are you hungry, too?” Cordelia turned her attention away from the bar as she mistook his growling for something else. “I’m sure Willy will have something disgustingly gory for you.”

Angel led her toward the bar, his hand on the small of her back as he glared at random faces in the crowd, warning them off. The territorial vibe thrumming through him made him want to pummel every one of them. Make them understand that Cordelia was under his protection, and nothing was going to happen to her.

Seemingly clueless as to just how vulnerable she was, Cordelia hopped onto a barstool. She patted the one next to her, glancing up at him expectantly, waiting for him to sit down. “Not here,” Angel told her. He wanted a spot that was a bit more defensible, just in case.

Cordelia took the opportunity to glance down the bar where several customers nursed their drinks. These were not ordinary alcoholic beverages. Thick red blood filled one clear glass. Another looked to be a mixed drink with a blood base that was fancifully decorated with a cute little umbrella. Snacks of questionable origin sat on a plate right next to the expected bowl of peanuts.

“This is where you were going to buy me dinner?” Cordelia had a feeling the menu was probably not to her taste.

Obviously, he had not really thought about it. “There’s probably something you can eat.”

Willy stepped up on the other side of the bar. “Peanuts, nachos, chips & bean dip. That’s about it for munchies, folks, unless you happen to be into beetles, cos I got plenty of those pickled in the back.”

“Eew!”

Willy snorted, “Just kidding.”

“Give me an unopened can of peanuts,” Cordelia ordered. Eyeing the open bowl next to her, she wondered what kind of demon fingers had been dipping into it tonight. “Add a bottled water, a clean glass and some ice.”

Nodding, Willy wiped off a glass with his bar towel. Cordelia narrowed her gaze at him until he set it down and picked up a fresh glass from the back of the bar. “A lady who knows what she wants. What’ll it be Angelus? Something special for ya? Got a new batch in just an hour ago. Just need to pop it into the blood warmer. O-pos, A-neg, even AB-positive tonight.”

Blood was blood, but there were subtle nuances in the taste by type, individual factors like health and diet making each donor unique. Angel’s mouth watered at the thought of it. He could almost taste the rich, warm liquid filling his mouth. Human blood was not something he had since his return to Sunnydale. His diet of pig blood was filling, but not as satisfying.

The thought of indulging himself this one time had him running his tongue across the back of his fangs. Why not? “AB-pos.” He could feel Cordelia’s eyes on him as if she was shocked that she would have to watch him drink blood. A flash of irritation hit knowing he would never do this in front of Buffy, but for reasons unknown to himself felt the need to test Cordelia’s reactions.

“That’s a scary coincidence,” Cordelia commented before saying that was her own blood type.

Angel closed his eyes for a moment realizing that he knew that. Back in the hospital, he had seen the label on the bag the nurse was holding as she blocked him from entering Cordelia’s room, telling him that no visitors were allowed. Just the notion that he might have subconsciously connected that knowledge with his choice of a meal made him sick.

“Forget it,” he practically growled at Willy.

“Go get us a table,” Cordelia shooed him away. “I’ll handle the food.”

He was too upset at himself to consider refusing the idea. Angel just needed a minute away from her to center himself again even if it meant leaving her alone up there. Besides, he could see her perfectly well from over here. He glanced down at the two young vampires seated at the table of his choice. “Find another place to sit,” he ordered flatly.

They looked ready to fight him for it until recognition hit. They scrambled to their feet. “W-whatever you say, Angelus.”

Taking a seat in the corner, Angel kept his gaze trained on Cordelia who had Willy hopping from place to place behind the bar. Finally, she had what she wanted and offered up a bright grin of thanks. Wryly noting that the barkeep seemed overly eager to please her, Angel had to admire Cordelia’s talent for coercing people into following her every whim.

He watched her weaving her way through the crowd, arms laden. The bottle of water and the peanuts were tucked under her right arm while she held the glass of ice. In her left, she gingerly held a tall glass of dark liquid about as far away from her body as she could get it. There was a tiny purple umbrella leaning against the edge.

Cordelia put the glass down directly in front of him and then examined her fingers for any accidental drops. Then looking pleased at making the effort on his behalf, told him, “Hope you like it. Drink up.”

“What is it?” Angel asked warily as he removed the little paper umbrella and stared at the small particles floating at the top of the glass.

Cordelia took the time to set the peanuts down and put her own glass on the table. She was opening up the bottled water as she told him, “I’m expanding your taste buds tonight. You normally drink pig, right? Buffy told me once. I think she said it to gross me out.”

“You didn’t have to do this.”

“No problem,” Cordelia shrugged matter-of-factly. “As long as it’s not my neck, I don’t mind.”

Angel sniffed at the liquid still trying to determine what was in it. “I meant that you didn’t have to do this,” he clarified.

“It’s lamb’s blood, so I had Willy add in a little cinnamon he keeps behind the bar for cappuccinos,” she grinned. “Just consider it gourmet.”

Sipping at it, Angel thought he might call it something, but doubted she would want to hear. Still, he supposed it was drinkable.

“Oh, Willy said to tell you he’d put it all on your tab.”

Cordelia was about to sit down when one of the gravlock demons from the next table leaned over to speak to Angel. “Cute little thing, Angelus. Your tastes have changed a bit. For the better, I’d say.”

Whirling around to stare back at the leering demon, Cordelia realized he was not talking about Angel’s nifty drink umbrella. She snapped back so fast, his head must’ve been spinning, “Nosy much? Take your pathetic interests and keep them to yourself.”

“Ooh, a feisty one,” chuckled one of the other gravlocks who could have passed for a human except for the silver eyes and too-wide grin that revealed a long row of tiny chiseled teeth.

Shadowed in the corner, his eyes gleamed gold with dangerous intent. Angel gave them one word of warning, “Enough.” His voice dipped to the level where his anger raged and his patience wavered.

“Just having a little fun with your pet,” the first one raised his mug in salutation. It might have been meant as a distraction as Cordelia felt fingers slithering along her leg.

Cordelia slapped his hand away, “Back off!”

Listening to the laughter of his three companions, the grabby gravlock demon reacted instantly to reclaim a little of the respect he was fast losing amongst his peers. “You ever fuck a real demon? Your boyfriend can watch. Rumors say he’s not so tough anymore.”

Angel stood up so fast that his chair teetered against the floor. None too gently, he shoved Cordelia behind him, concerned with her safety first, but feeling the need to crush the crude bastard’s skull.

“Let’s find out.”

Grabbing the demon by the shirtfront, Angel lifted him up and smashed him back down on the table with enough force to send their cards, poker chips and drinks spilling onto the floor. The other demons launched themselves out of their seats and a raucous cheer went up from the crowd. From behind the bar, Willy yelled out for the bouncer who barreled into the room and held off the other customers from joining in.

Cordelia saw that no one was going to step in to help. Willy was more concerned about the state of his table and chairs while the bouncer appeared to be taking bets. The four gravlock demons were wrestling each other to get at Angel.

Seeing no other choice, Cordelia ran into the fray leaping onto the back of the nearest attacker. “Get off of him, you…you…demon.”

The annoyance was enough for the creature to pull away from the rest of the group attacking Angel narrowing the odds a bit. “Cordelia! What the hell are you doing?” he demanded in between punches.

“Good question,” she groaned when she was tossed back onto a nearby table. “Saving you?”

When the gravlock turned around to face her, she realized it was the grabby-handed one. Her sprawled position gave him an interesting view and he leered openly as he closed the gap between them. “I’d worry about saving yourself, pet.”

Nails digging into the felt top of the poker table, Cordelia scrambled further back. Her ears roared with the rush of blood, adrenalin flowing, and the urge to run taking hold. Reaching out instinctively grabbing at anything she could use to defend herself, her hand connected with the neck of a beer bottle. “I’m nobody’s pet,” she shot back arcing the bottle with a hard swing.

The heavy glass shattered against his head and the demon stood there staring at her too muddled to make a move. Angel was suddenly right there having left his three adversaries in a heap on the barroom floor. Balling his bruised hand into a fist, he sent the gravlock crashing down with a driving punch to his jaw.

All around them, the cheering died down. Apparently, most of the crowd had bet on the demons. The jukebox still played and the sound of Willy’s voice telling his patrons to get back to their drinks made it clear that it was just another routine night at the demon bar.

“You okay?” Angel asked, holding out his hand to help her down from the table.

Nodding, Cordelia smoothed her skirt and tucked her hair behind her ears, “Yeah, I think so.”

The bouncer trudged up to them, scowling at Angel who dug into his pockets and pulled out a couple of folded bills. “Take care of the garbage, would you?”

A grunt of agreement followed much to Cordelia’s amazement as she watched the behemoth tuck the money into his shirt pocket. He grabbed the closest demon by the foot and dragged him to the pile of his unconscious brethren. Then lifting them all at once in an amazing feat of strength carried them toward the exit.

Once they were settled back at their table, amazed to find their drinks still sitting there, Cordelia opened up her bottled water and poured it over the ice. She held the glass up against her flushed cheek and glanced over at Angel half expecting him to look like a thundercloud. She had broken several of his ridiculous little rules as far as she could tell and was waiting for the storm to hit.

Cordelia nibbled on the plump surface of her lower lip, softly catching it between her teeth and releasing it. He just sat there quietly, bruised and battered, looking like he did not care that four— well, three if you did not count the last one— demons had gotten him into a brawl. There was an actual smile tugging at the corners of his split lip.

“Did you get hit in the head?”

Her query caught Angel’s attention. He had been mulling over the way Cordelia handled herself in the middle of the fight. Even before that, he mused, by cowing the demon with her fearless attitude. Unfortunately, his buddies forced him to respond with that foolish threat.

“No,” Angel denied quickly and then ruefully corrected, “not more than once or twice.”

“So what’s with the almost smiling? You never smile,” Cordelia teased, “unless you’re evil.”

There went the smile, replaced by a glum expression that was far more familiar to her. The blood caked at the corner of his mouth was starting to cause her to squirm more than the blood congealing in the glass in front of him. Grabbing a napkin from the metal holder on the table, she dabbed it into her water and then reached out to clean him up.

Angel’s hand curled around her wrist before she could touch him. “Leave it.”

“But—”

“Don’t coddle me, Cordelia,” he rasped in gravelly tones that sent shivers down her skin. “Think about where we are.”

Cordelia sat back as soon as he released her. She supposed that it would not look too good in front of the other demons. A mischievous glint lit her eyes. Teasing him again, “Surely pets are allowed to do a little pampering.”

“That might have been a good front,” Angel pointed out that everyone would have easily accepted it. “Only I seem to recall that you denounced that role rather loudly in front of everyone.”

“Oops?”

Picking up the purple umbrella, Angel twirled it along his thumb and forefinger. Cordelia was far more surprising than he ever imagined. “You’re too independent for that kind of subservience, but I suggest you pretend you’re with me.”

“I am. Duh! Hello, sitting right here,” Cordelia figured his head was still spinning.

Angel leaned closer trying to keep it down so the other bar patrons would not hear. Fortunately, after the fight, there was a space of two tables between them and anyone else.

“I meant with me, Cordelia.” His dark eyes bored into hers with an intensity that defied the softly rasping words until his meaning became quite clear.

“Oh,” she blinked owlishly at the thought. “As long as you don’t expect me to make out with you. A girl’s gotta draw the line of duty somewhere. Unless she happens to be a slayer,” Cordelia tagged on sardonically as soon as the thought hit.

Angel slumped back in his chair. She casually sipped at her ice water until the silence from the other side of the table became too much to bear. “So what’s involved in this pet thing, anyway? I sit here like a meek little mouse and let my big, strong master vampire protect me from the monsters?”

“Pretty much,” he answered ruefully. For their purposes tonight, anyway. Though he had to admit, “I’m beginning to think you do a pretty good job of protecting yourself.”

Cordelia grinned proudly. “I kicked ass tonight. Hah! I’ve been in a bar fight. I can’t wait to tell the others. How long do we have to stay here?”

“Nearly four hours,” he answered after glancing at the clock hanging on the wall behind the bar, “unless we see something sooner.”

“You don’t think those whosiwhatsis demons were the sign we’re looking for, do you?” Cordelia looked toward the exit where the bouncer now stood inside the door keeping an eye out for troublemakers.

Telling her, “No,” he explained that there were specifics written in the scroll that had nothing to do with what happened here. Reminding her, “This is the fire and ice part of the prophecy.”

“Omigod!” Cordelia gasped in sudden horror causing Angel to look around for any sign of danger. She held out her hand for his inspection, showing the chipped nail polish on her fingers. “Ugh! You so owe me a manicure for this one.”

 


17: The Bronze, Eastside Sunnydale

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After a thorough sweep of the Bronze including the upper level, Buffy concluded there were no obvious prophetic signs to be found. Willow explored the game room and didn’t see anything unusual. Nor did Xander after scoping out the bar area. They met up back at their favorite table and waited for something to happen.

“I wonder if Cordelia ever showed up,” Xander commented as he fingered through the bowl of peanuts he had acquired from the bar.

Buffy shrugged. “Angel can handle it on his own. I can’t exactly see Cor fitting in at Willy’s place anyway, so it’s probably for the best.”

“We could have let her come with us,” Willow surprised Buffy with the suggestion. “She probably knows the Bronze better than we do.”

Frowning and confused, Buffy fiddled with her drink straw. “Wouldn’t that make you uncomfortable? Her being here, I mean.”

“Maybe a little,” admitted Willow. Shrugging, she glanced over at Xander. A pink tinge brightened her cheeks as she explained, “I just want to put all of this past us.”

Buffy was trying to help with that. She had made the mistake of not being able to say no when Cordelia demanded to come back. Now Plan B was in the works. It was not a sure thing, but Cor’s constant tardiness was working to their advantage tonight. “That would be easier if she wasn’t here. You could just forget about her. Move on.”

“Forget Cordelia?” Xander let out an angsty chuckle. “Impossible even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I screwed up big-time, Buffy. Will and I— I don’t know what we were thinking, but I like having Cordelia around.”

“But you fight all of the time.”

He just grinned. “I know.”

Buffy sipped at her drink for a minute as she thought about everything her two friends had said. Putting it down, she propped her chin against her hand as she leaned against the table. “Would you be mad if she quit?”

It was Willow who spoke up because Xander was too busy sniggering at the idea. “Trust me, Buffy, you’ll quit before she does. After the Homecoming Queen thing, I would’ve thought you’d understand how persistent she can be.”

“True,” Buffy reluctantly conceded, but laughed at the adjoining thought, “and I’ve never seen anyone wield a spatula like she can.”

Maybe they were right, she decided. Cordelia was back and it was not up to her to kick her out again. Especially after being the one who let her come back in the first place. As long as Xander & Willow were happy, she was happy, too.

If only it was that easy to fix things with Angel.

 


18: Public Parking, Main Street, Westside Sunnydale

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“We can cruise the strip or cop a squat and wait to see what happens,” Faith told Giles when he pulled his car into a narrow parking slot along Main Street. “Your call, Mr. G.”

Giles cringed at the informal shortening of his name, but said nothing. He knew from experience that it would not get him very far. Faith seemed to be a bit of a wildcard, more so than Buffy had ever been. He was in no way certain how to handle her. She did not play by the rules and had a chip on her shoulder.

His reports to the Watcher’s Council had been met with some grumbling and a warning to keep the girl in line. Not bloody likely, but he was going to give it his best shot. The fact that she was cooperating now was a positive sign in itself.

Concerns about Buffy and Angel’s return from Acathla’s hell dimension had sidetracked him for a while from Faith’s training. For a while, everything seemed to be spinning out of his control. Not the least of which was his lack of focus after losing Jenny.

This pending apocalypse and its dark auguries might bring about the end of the world as they know it, but it provided a welcome task at a time when they all seemed to need it the most. He lauded Buffy’s suggestion to a greater number of teams, though he was almost certain there were underlying motives behind it.

Nevertheless, Angel & Cordelia had been successful in retrieving the relic last night. He had taken it home afterward for further study and it now occupied a spot on his dining room table. Some preliminary research was promising in narrowing down the identity of the demonic demigod of the prophecy.

As for the here and now, Giles decided to let Faith follow her instincts. He had a feeling it would not involve waiting around for anything and he was right. Faith opted for stretching their legs a bit. “Main Street is only three miles long. We can check out the hot spots easier if we’re on foot.”

“Agreed,” Giles said as he got out of the car. Reaching into the back seat to pull out the duffel back containing their weapons and supplies, he added, “I suggest we focus on the area beginning at the corner of Main & Thousand Oaks leading toward the university. The campus and its dorms may be a likely spot.”

That would take them from the Doublemeat Palace, past the movie theater, a couple of bars, St. Mary’s Church, and a few other late-night businesses toward the northwest end of town where the university took up a large section of property outside US101.

Faith shut the car door with a slam and stretched her arms above her head, interlacing her fingers, pressing palms upward until her knuckles popped. She flashed a dimpled smile at Giles, “Let’s hope we run into trouble.”

 


19: Willy’s Place, A Local Demon Bar, Central Sunnydale

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Now that the bar fight was over and everything had settled down, Cordelia could see that Willy’s was actually a hopping place for a demon hangout. There were several types of demons she could identify right away. Most of the vampires were relaxed and in game face, but others kept to their human features.

“It’s weird,” she told Angel as they sat side by side at their table. “They’re playing pool and poker and some are dancing. The music sucks, but hey, you can’t have everything.”

Angel obviously was not getting her point. He quirked his head questioningly and went back to scanning the room.

“There are so many of them. And it looks like most of them are just hanging out with their buddies.”

“Not all demons are violent,” Angel told her. “Your experience with non-humans hasn’t exactly given you the full picture. Sunnydale tends to attract the worst of the lot.”

Snorting, Cordelia totally agreed. “The grabby-handed creepazoid being a good example of worst. He touched me. Then I jumped on him and now that I think about it….eew! When I get home I’m gonna have to scrub myself all over. Getting felt-up by demons is not my idea of fun and that’s twice in two days.”

Sitting there with Angel in vampire mode lowering his already prominent brow, Cordelia realized that he was thinking about the fact that he had touched her, too. Angel edged his hand away from its spot on the table next to hers as they both held their nearly empty glasses. He dropped it down to his knee and looked in the other direction as if expecting her to miss that little avoidance tactic.

“Not you, dumbass,” Cordelia quipped rolling her eyes. There was a difference between scaly-skinned gravlock demons, relic-invoking vampires, and Angel. “I was talking about the evil demons.”

Angel’s stomach did a strange flip-flop at her words. She made it a little too easy to misinterpret that as giving him permission to touch her, not that that should actually be an issue. Especially when her hand came down to squeeze his. That and her smile made him realize he had been missing a side of Cordelia he didn’t really know existed.

The brief warmth of her touch left a lingering sensation. He normally avoided all human contact. Buffy had been the obvious exception and see where that had gotten them. So, Angel had to ask himself what had changed over the past few days to put Cordelia on that very exclusive list. Drawing a blank, he tried to turn his attention back to their assigned task.

Cordelia did the same for a while, but found that her curiosity about the demons only caused them to grow bolder about staring back at her. They leered at her or looked like they wanted to make her their next meal. Even Angel did not escape their scrutiny. Though most seemed to address him as Angelus, it was clear that some had heard he was working with the slayer again.

Hatred burned in their eyes as they looked at him and Cordelia suddenly realized that Angel was in a unique situation. The other vampires and demons might give him some respect, but they all seemed to hate him. And it was not like there were any humans clamoring for his friendship. She did not count the random chippies at the Bronze who fawned over him from a distance, because he usually avoided them, or managed to scare them away with pure standoffishness.

Other than Buffy, he was not close to anyone. Not that they were ever a perfect couple considering what Buffy had told her. An angsty twinge of familiarity hit causing Cordelia to sigh saying, “Relationships suck.”

When his gaze turned toward her, Cordelia added, “You and Buffy, for instance. I mean talk about being doomed from the start, yet there’s all this… this—”

“Passion.”

The sound of his voice startled Cordelia who had not really expected him to say a word. “Tension,” she corrected, “and I really don’t want any more details about it than I’ve already got. It’s just that it was kinda that way between me and Xander.”

Angel scowled looking like he did not want details either. She rambled on, “One minute we were fighting and the next it was like we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I suppose some people aren’t meant to be together.”

The casual shrug she added was not enough to convince Angel that she did not care. “Harris is a fool.” Her brown eyes brightened in response and Cordelia’s smile nearly blew him away. Angel swallowed thickly.

Then the sparkle in her eyes turned serious as she asked, “Do you ever get lonely up in that big mansion? It’s not like you ever have any demon buddies dropping by to watch football games. Not even Buffy these days. She told me why she stopped seeing you.”

“My relationship with Buffy is complex,” Angel ground out the words reluctant to speak at all. He stared down at his folded hands trying to remain calm.

“Yeah, I got that a long time ago,” she said while jiggling the last of the ice in her glass. Crunching on an ice chip, Cordelia revealed, “Whatever reason she’s got for teaming us up, I just don’t want to be caught in the middle of some angsty revenge scheme.”

Looking up, Angel was frowning as he asked, “Revenge?”

“Whatever. Buffy’s mind: scary thing. I try not to go there,” Cordelia shrugged. “I’m just saying you can’t let it get to you. When life throws you lemons make lemonade.”

Angel did not exactly jump at her advice, but then Cordelia figured he had seen a few lemons in his day. She also noticed that he never answered her question about being lonely. “Look, Cordelia—,” he began.

“Cordy.”

“What?”

“My friends call me Cordy,” she offered genuinely. After all, it was always a good idea to befriend those more miserable than you. And besides, when he wasn’t scaring the socks off her, there was just something about the big, broody vampire that made her feel safe and kept her smiling.

That low-browed frown was back again, a sign of confusion she now recognized. Angel finally admitted, “I’ve never heard anyone call you that.”

Cordelia simply stared back letting silence, for once, make her point. If it was lonely up at the Crawford Mansion, it was just one of the things they lately had in common.

 


20: Main Street, Westside Sunnydale

GilesandFaith

A few hours later, Faith and Giles had doubled back from the university grounds where they found nothing unusual. The problem was that there was no specific time or place for these signs to appear. Just a range of opportunity and educated guesswork based upon their research.

“You up for a little caffeine?” Faith asked as she caught him yawning.

Giles admitted that he’d been up late studying the relic. Though he rarely drank coffee, this seemed like a good time for an exception. “I could use something.”

“Let’s hit the Palace,” she suggested, “then we can hang out at the ice cream parlor for a few. There are some tables set up outside that have a pretty good view of this section of the street.”

Minutes later, they were seated outside on the iron-wrought chairs watching the thin crowd grow sparse. Giles looked at his watch. “Midnight,” he noted.

Just as he idly considered the fact that the first revelation had occurred at that hour the last customer emerged from the ice cream parlor carrying two double-scooped cones. Giles glanced over his should and saw the shop owner turning the latch on the door and flipping the hanging sign from Open to Closed. He sipped his coffee and returned his attention to the young man who was now waiting for a car to pass by before crossing the street. A young blonde, presumably his date, leaned against a small car.

Giles recognized both of them from school. Tony Smithson and Karla Brewer were both seniors this year. He thought it strange that Buffy had not mentioned those two were dating. Whether he wanted it or not, Giles was privy to most of the school gossip.

“Did you get the chocolate sprinkles?” Karla called out from across the street.

Tony laughed and answered, “Of course I—,” just before he burst into flames in the middle of the street.

“Good God!” Giles dropped his coffee and ripped off his coat. Faith was right beside him as he ran forward hoping to smother the fire. Karla’s screams filled the night air accompanied by the sound of screeching tires and shouts of passersby.

There was nothing but a charred corpse beneath the coat when Giles lifted it away, his own hands covered with reddened flesh and ash.

Faith stared down at the sight. “That gives a whole new meaning to Rocky Road. What the hell was that?”

“Spontaneous combustion,” Giles answered. There were numerous documented cases and there had been an incident at the high school a couple of years ago. That one had been caused by magick. “Sweep the crowd. Look for anyone suspicious who might have cast a spell.”

Without another word, Faith darted off the street into the depths of the gathering crowd.

Karla stumbled forward into the street, sobbing her boyfriend’s name repeatedly. Since he had to do something, Giles dropped his charred coat back over what remained of the boy’s body. Parts were only ash and scorched bone.

Approaching sirens sounded in the distance. Giles knew that it would not take the police and fire departments long to get here. “Come along, my dear,” he helped Karla to her feet and assisted her to walk over to the opposite side of the street.

He sat her down at one of the tables in front of the ice cream parlor, noting that the shopkeeper had his nose pressed against the front window, staring out at them. The rest of the crowd ignored them, focusing on staring at Tony’s covered remains and talking about what they had seen or not seen.

“Mist—,” Karla sobbed and gasped for air. “Mister Giles, omigod! Tony. He…he… the fire came from inside him.”

There was no doubting this event to be anything other than the awaited sign. Giles recalled the specifics of the prophecy: By ice and fire shall the first sacrifice by known.

That poor boy, thought Giles as he dealt with his own emotions, a sacrifice. These were dark magicks indeed and only the beginning. The scroll indicated the events leading up to the arrival of the demigod would only worsen.

It pained him to question Karla when she was so distraught, but it was the only chance he was likely to get. He needed to know if Tony was involved with demon worship, dark magick or cult activity; anything that might suggest why he was targeted, if indeed he even was a target and this was not just some random force at work.

“N-no! No, Mister Giles,” Karla wiped her nose on the handkerchief he had given her. “Tony’s a good guy. WAS a good guy,” she sobbed even harder at her own correction. She was clearly too upset to consider the reasons for such an odd line of questioning.

Faith jogged up beside them just as a Sunnydale police car came to a halt nearby, its emergency lights flashing. “There’s nothing, Mr. G.”

“Very well,” he said resignedly and rose to his feet again.

The police officer approached them immediately. Giles offered his eyewitness report and confirmed the identity of the victim. Backing off into the crowd again, Faith steered clear until the cop finished collecting information.

“We know where to reach you if there are any further questions,” the cop told Giles.

“Shall I be required to sign a statement at police headquarters?” Giles had been in the unfortunate position of doing so on a number of occasions.

The cop shook his head. “Nah. I think we’ve got enough witnesses.”

“Thank you, Officer Clark,” Giles peered at his name badge and shook his hand. “I assume that you’ll be seeing to it Karla gets home safely.”

Nodding, the policeman assured Giles that he would take care of everything from there. “Drive safe,” Officer Clark winked as he left the school librarian behind. He ushered Karla Brewer into the back of his police vehicle just as two other cop cars were pulling up to the scene.

He headed down Main Street and turned off into a dark alley then shut down both the lights and the engine. From the back seat, he heard his passenger’s sobs turn to fearful whines. “W-why are we stopping here?”

Karla screamed when Officer Clark turned around. What had appeared to be his face was melting away to reveal something else underneath, something clearly not human.

“You are the first of the Varstrae,” his golden eyes glittered in the darkness. “My master will be pleased.”


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