Scenes 141 – 150
141: Federal Correctional Facility, 35 Miles NE of Sunnydale
“You’re not my lawyer,” Harry Sims narrowed his gaze upon the man in the Armani suit. The business card said it all. The firm of Wolfram and Hart was all too familiar to him. “Holland Manners is my lawyer. Not that I’ve seen his ugly mug for a while.”
Jake Devries tried not to smile. “He has moved up in the firm. I’m handling your case now.”
“That no good sonofabitch promised me freedom if I followed his lead. Instead, he left me in here to rot.”
Sims obviously thought he was a fool. It was all there in the file. The firm had a long relationship with the man. When they lost his case it was actually a victory of sorts. It was damn difficult to put your own client in federal prison without tipping anyone off.
Almost as difficult as it was going to be to get him out again.
“You’re a level three precog, Mr. Sims. Don’t pretend you weren’t aware that I was coming.”
“Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn’t.” He smiled again in a knowing way that would have given anyone who didn’t work for Wolfram & Hart the creeps. Devries had seen and heard too much to let it bother him. The firm employed a number of psychics and precogs. Sims had been one of them. Technically, he was still getting paid. Someone of Sims’ qualifications did not usually get into this kind of situation. You’d think the ability to predict the future would keep you safe, warn you before you got into something you couldn’t escape.
Apparently self-preservation didn’t apply when your employers were Wolfram and Hart.
It wasn’t Sims’ lack of skills. The firm acted to block certain thoughts from his mind. No matter how many visions came to him about why he was in prison or the purpose of this meeting, they scrambled their meaning. Holland Manners kept him in the dark for good reason: he was a pawn in a very important game.
Long aware of the Prophecy of Septarius the firm had maneuvered itself to come out of this with a position of power. The Senior Partners weren’t worshippers of Amolon, but were all too aware that it was better to be on his side should his effort to come to Earth succeed. They hoped it didn’t. After all, the Senior Partners had their own goals. That’s where Devries came in acting as the firm’s representative to Amolon’s high priestess, Kalesh, to ensure they maintained a foothold in the new Earth regime.
For the moment they were considered the equals of the two key groups that would form a triumvirate of power. Nicolau Cibran’s vampires and The Undertaker’s gang were nothing compared to the combined might of the firm. The Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart deserved a bigger take and they planned to get it.
Controlling one of the five Pure Ones would allow them to maintain a hold over the others. Their pawn could be used as leverage. Without the bone relic mentioned in the prophecy it had taken the vast resources of the firm and a dozen bloody rituals to link someone of their choosing to the events to come. Holland Manners had made it happen and now it was Devries job to seal the deal.
As of tonight they would have someone else on the inside, one whose abilities would allow Devries to play the right cards at the right time. Win, lose or draw. The firm played to win and it didn’t matter whether Amolon succeeded so much as the Senior Partners got what they wanted.
Even now the web was closing tighter and tighter around him Sims remained calm and unaware that his life was about to take a turn for the worst. “I’m here to send you home.”
“Back to Sunnydale?” That surprised him and things rarely did.
Devries opened up the hidden compartment in his leather briefcase and removed a preloaded syringe. It was the only way to get something like this past the guards without putting a sizable hole in your monthly allowance of petty cash.
“What the fuck are you doing?” The cuffs scraped noisily against the table as Sims pulled as far back as he could. “What is that shit? I hate needles.”
“Trust me, Mr. Sims. Getting you out of prison tonight requires that you die, temporarily of course. The only way out of this place is through the morgue.”
Taking hold of his arm, he jabbed the needle through the orange jumpsuit straight through to his deltoid muscle and pushed 0.5cc of the potent, virtually untraceable drug. While Sims was still reeling from the initial hit, Devries put the syringe back into the secret compartment and closed his briefcase.
“Where are you going? I thought you were taking me home.”
“No, Mr. Sims, not quite yet. These things take time and I can’t be around when it happens.” He headed for the door, but paused when the woozy prisoner called out a final question. “When you wake up Kalesh will be waiting.”
Devries promised, “You’ll find out soon enough.”
142: The Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion
A void of darkness stretched before her. Black, black, black. Hopelessness weighed heavily as it settled into her chest as she ran a finger along the clothes in Angel’s closet. “One more reason why I so need to go shopping.”
“Not until we get this situation resolved,” Angel said beside her. “I agreed to take you out tonight, not let you endanger yourself by running all over town on some shopping spree.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordelia huffed. “Like I could afford it. Besides, who said anything about Sunnydale? L.A. is only a couple of hours away and I don’t think anyone there is out to sacrifice me. If I was really going shopping it wouldn’t be at the Sunnydale Mall.”
Lowering her lashes, she felt a little misty-eyed over the memory of endless hours of buying whatever she wanted. It hurt that she didn’t have that anymore, but at the same time it seemed kind of silly now. She sniffed and followed it up with a laugh, her eyes twinkling as she looked up at Angel who seemed to be at a loss for words.
“Don’t worry about it, broody boy. We’ll find something in here for you to wear on our date.”
“Uh, Cordy… I’ve been dressing myself for quite a while now.”
Her eyes dropped down from his black shirt to his black pants. “Yes, and isn’t that obvious. Not that I don’t like that Dark Knight thing you have going on because it’s sexy, too, but every now and then you’ve got to lighten up a little. Wear something that doesn’t make you blend into the shadows.”
His voice was quiet as he said, “I’m a vampire. That’s what I do.” As if it might be akin to sacrilege to wear something other than black.
“Just like our resident Billy Idol wannabe? Real blendy. Not.” With that platinum blonde hair and his colorful ratty t-shirts, Spike was hardly the type to fade into the background.
Angel leaned back against the wall next to the closet, relaxing back against it and crossing his arms over his chest. “Maybe I’ll borrow something from him, then. That t-shirt from the Grateful Dead concert…”
He was having a hard time keeping a straight face. Cordelia jabbed a finger into his stomach. “Good thing I know you actually have some taste. If you take me out on our first date dressed like that I’ll stake you myself. I want to go somewhere classy, not to the Doublemeat Palace.”
“Okay, so we skipped a few steps,” Cordelia had to admit that it wasn’t his fault, “but when did you ever take me out on a date?”
It wasn’t exactly a trick question, but Angel couldn’t seem to come up with the right answer. “Ah ha! Gotcha there, buddy. Technically, we haven’t had one yet.”
Standing straight again, he pointed out, “There was the picnic at Shady Hill.”
“The one I set up? The one where I ended up in the hospital after practically being hit by a meteor and, might I add, getting picked as the next Miss Future Sacrifice?”
Cordelia pressed her lips together and shook her head. “Doesn’t count.”
“We went to the movies,” he tried again.
“That doesn’t count either. That was before,” she reminded him. That didn’t count as a date. “It’s different when you’re together.”
“We were together. You sat next to me. I bought popcorn.”
Remembering that he’d given in to her desire for a bag of buttery goodness stating that a movie wasn’t a movie without it, Cordelia grinned. That had been a great two hours and not because of the movie itself. They’d become friends. Real friends. Good friends.
But it wasn’t a date. “We were just friends then. That was Team Chase taking up pre-patrol time.”
“Technically, that’s what we’re doing tonight. Pre-patrol. We can’t forget the dangers that are out there. Not for a minute.”
Cordelia sighed. “We won’t. Please, Angel, this date is important to me. We can still dress up, have a good time and be careful.”
“It’s just that I don’t—date. With you, yes, I will, I want to, but before, not really.”
“Oh, c’mon, you dated Buffy, right?” she asked while contemplating the black shirt with the thin white stripes or the black shirt with the silver buttons. “I know you two used to meet up at the Bronze.”
“That was different.”
“How so? A guy and a girl sitting together, talking…okay, with you back then maybe not so much of the talking and way, way less of the dancing—we’ll have to work on that.” She put both shirts back in the closet and moved on to the next. “Maybe the Bronze was a bad example. You two had to do something fun.”
He paused for a moment as if wondering whether he should be telling her. Cordelia raised an eyebrow and waited. Finally, he said, “We went ice skating.”
Jaw dropping, she gasped, “You skated?”
“No, not exactly. She was skating alone at the rink. I, uh, was following her.”
Cordelia chortled and went back to browsing through his clothes. Pointing out to him, “Broody stalker mode is different than date mode.”
Wryly, Angel added, “And then we were attacked.”
“Oh, God, as if I needed a reminder of how pathetic you two could be. Please tell me that you had one decent date. I almost feel sorry for Buffy.”
“We went for coffee once.”
That settled it. Buffy deserved her little pity party. “Oookay. I’m sure that was…nice. Let’s start with Dating 101. Lesson One: Clothes. It’s all about the clothes.”
143: Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale, 2:10AM
Fingers reached down to the liquid pooled on the parquet floor rubbing together to test its consistency. A messy path of it trailed up the staircase. Footprints. Random droplets along the banister.
Passing in front of the soft glow of the hall lamp created a silhouette against the old wallpaper yellowed and worn by time. The trail led to an ajar door on the next level. It creaked as it was opened and closed shut.
The sound of a running shower was unmistakable.
Something on the floor caused a stumble. Sandals. Raising one up by its gilded strap showed a broken heel dangling by a thin connection. The shoes were moved to a tidy position under a chair to prevent further mishaps.
A red heap lay across the threshold of the open bathroom door. A sodden dress and tiny scraps of silky undergarments.
The foggy mirror showed no reflection.
Standing beneath the pulsating spray, Cordelia closed her eyes and tilted toward the water letting it run rivulets down the contours of her face and body. The shower felt glorious melting away knotted tension in her muscles.
Angel certainly gave her a workout tonight making moves she had never practiced. All of that strength and agility. Scary sexy. The simple seduction-on-the-beach scenario she planned had taken an unexpected turn.
They so needed to finish what they started.
Steam engulfed the interior of the shower. Her skin soaked it up. Hot. Just like Angel liked it. Anticipation made her tingle under the pulsating spray. She craved the touch of his hands, cool and wet, slipping across her heated skin, those knowing fingertips tracing droplets from one erogenous zone to another.
Just like the rain.
If only he would hurry up. They had slayers to patrol the perimeter and make certain it was secure. There was no need for him to do it himself. He was supposed to be here doing things that made her toes curl.
Stupid interfering prophecy.
Angel had really made an effort to make things special tonight. Out on the town with her guy. Romantic table for two, the ambiance, his adorable attempt at sweet talk. The fun of watching him eat—or at least strategically maneuvering food around his plate. Topped off with a stroll on the beach.
Until the clock struck midnight and their date turned into a creepy Wes Craven film. ‘Nightmare at the Marina’ starring Cordelia Chase.
Too bad memories couldn’t be edited the same way as films.
She’d keep the perfect Cordelia-Angel parts and leave the rest of the evening on the cutting room floor. Romantic dinner, hot boyfriend and seduction on the beach: IN. Spying, evil vampire bitch and ferocious storm: OUT.
Isobel was not what she expected despite having seen Angel’s drawing. Blondie so owed her a new pair of shoes and it certainly looked like she could afford it.
Just an observation.
Envy had nothing to do with it!
Turning around, Cordelia folded her arms on the tiles and leaned in letting the water sluice down her back. Despite the surrounding heat she shuddered at the memory of the beach.
Just how long had Isobel been there—watching them?
She’d been out there in the dark, amber eyes trained on them, waiting patiently, so patiently for the right moment to interrupt. Not because she had planned the perfect attack, when they were alone, and vulnerable, focused totally on each other.
No, Peeping Tomasina had other ideas roving around that one-tract mind of hers that involved Angel. Wasn’t it obvious that he was already taken? Guess she didn’t think a human ‘pet’ was much competition.
She obviously didn’t know Cordelia Chase.
The sudden chill of the outside air rushed in as the shower door opened.
All thoughts of Isobel vanished instantly. Angel. Her breath hitched in anticipation. Rushing ahead to the promise he’d made to make things up to her tonight. Ready now, she pressed her hands flat against the slick tile, body taut, waiting for his touch and the length of his hard body against hers.
A moan escaped in her eagerness, wanting him inside her without a moment longer passing by.
A cool touch pressed against her skin.
Cordelia’s head snapped up from its relaxed position, eyes wide with the realization that it wasn’t Angel standing behind her. Skin crawling terror hit. The hand whipped up to smother her scream.
Streaming water splashed around them, but her assailant took no notice as she was jerked back and whirled out of the shower stall, naked and vulnerable. The bathroom mirror had partly steamed over. Cordelia could only see the outline of one reflection.
Frissons of fear caused her heart to beat rapidly. It was a vampire. Female. Isobel? Here. Now.
Impossible! The mansion was supposed to be a safe haven. She had Angel protecting her, two slayers, the watchers, a few spells and a couple of sidekicks! What more did it take?
It was Willow’s fault. Had to be. Willow must’ve screwed up the spell.
Cordelia struggled in vain, twisting and kicking, but ultimately unable to break the strong hold upon her. Reaching down to scratch at any body part she could reach, she came away with a handful of silk, the pattern unmistakable.
A muffled question sounded beneath the restraint of the hand over her mouth just as a cheek pressed against hers to whisper closely, “It’s time.”
144: Eight Hours Earlier, Glebe Park, Central Sunnydale
It was not lost on Buffy as she made her escape. Slipping out of the mansion. Dashing across the thickly overgrown lawn to the iron wrought fence. Up and over. Scaling it like no ordinary human could.
Running. Fast. Faster.
As if her life depended on it. Escaping, truthfully. Something she thought she had tried and gotten out of her system. So much for being grown up about everything. When she made that deal with herself it was before Angel came up with the lamebrain idea to team her up with Spike.
Spike! Like she was going to spend a minute in the company of that peroxided pest if she could avoid it? Not.
There was no shirking of duty here. Not for her. No siree! This was just an early start on evening patrol. Spike could wait back at the mansion. The less he roamed around her town the better.
Was she so awful that Angel would do this to her? Team her up with Spike. God! It was not like she wanted to send him to hell. Much. Or that she did not have her own reasons for teaming him up with Cordelia Chase.
It was not like he didn’t get anything out of it.
If Cordelia had thought of this…no surprise there, but no. Angel managed to dream up this torture session plan. Yep! Cruelty. Revenge. That had to be it. Not that he admitted it. No, he claimed it was just strategy.
Right. His strategy was stinky with payback as far as she was concerned.
Wasn’t it torture enough that she knew it was her own stupid fault that he hooked up with Cordelia, or having to watch the two of them ready to go out on the town? Now she was supposed to babysit Spike.
They were all talking about the plans for tonight. Getting things straight. “We have to cover as much ground as possible,” Buffy recalled Giles’ words to the group while Wesley unfolded a map of Sunnydale. It sounded like good advice right now as she put some distance between her and Crawford Street.
Another potential sacrifice was up for grabs tonight and it was their job to do the grabbing before Nicolau’s crew got to him.
Buffy could deal with that. Whatever it took. It was the job.
But did the job really have to come served up with a side of Spike? Worse, Giles had done nothing to try to talk Angel out of it.
“Brilliant,” he’d said making her wonder if the Oxford Dictionary came with another definition that made more sense: Brilliant. adjective. Exceptionally lame brained or insanely stupid. Prone to making evil decisions about ex-girlfriends and/or protégés.
“Looks like it’s you ‘n me, Slayer.”
Buffy didn’t know what made her feel worse: the anger at Angel, Giles’ betrayal, or the little rush she felt when Spike spent the rest of the planning session staring at her in that gleeful, almost sinister way. She knew then that he was going to make her night hell and love doing it.
Not that she would let him. These prophecy things never happened until midnight. Once she had her assignment, there was no need to stick around to let Spike get a head start on the personal torture session that Angel and Giles had all but approved.
And that wasn’t her only reason for wanting to get away. The next time she turned a corner and found Cordelia and Angel….
Buffy didn’t know what she’d do. So she ran. Outracing the sun as it streaked across the horizon holding a grip on the last traces of day.
The rushing wind whipped at her hair, engulfed her footsteps, stung at her skin. Her heart raced, too, but only with the thrill of her defiance. A burst of speed carried her past houses, across streets, and into the empty playground at Glebe Park.
Slowing to a stroll just as the sun disappeared, Buffy stopped in front of the park’s swing set. The seats were still swaying as if only recently abandoned. Smart kids. No playing outside after dark. This was Sunnydale, after all. Home to the Hellmouth.
She sat down on the swing. Just sitting. Remembering the carefree days of her past. When she was a kid, her dad would sometimes take her to the playground. Push her on the swing.
“Higher! I want to go higher!” she remembered calling out. When the swing was at its zenith, she used to jump out. For a moment, it felt like she was flying.
The memory of it tugged hard at her heart. Buffy nudged the sandy ground cover with the toe of her boot. The swing swayed an inch or two before settling back. One hand gripped the linked chains followed by the other. She pushed again, harder this time, setting the swing in motion.
Back and forth, almost effortlessly carried higher, but then, letting gravity take its hold again slowing her down. There was something missing. It was not fun anymore, not like when she was little.
“Want a push, luv?”
He had found her.
Hurdling out of the swing, Buffy landed steadily on her feet and whirled around to face him. “What are you doing here?”
Spike grabbed the chains of the swing pulling himself up and over the seat to sit in it, but leaned forward to brace his elbows on his spread knees. He was smirking at her. Not saying a word.
Buffy glared back, but could not stand the silence without wanting to punch his smug face in. Demanding an answer, “Why are you following me? It’s hours yet before we have to be at the Bus Depot.”
That was their assignment. Stake out the Bus Depot. Buffy could already tell that this was going to be a yawner—except for the Spike factor and having to keep him under control.
“You ran. Thrill o’ the chase an’ all.”
“Go away, Spike. I don’t want you here.”
He got up and loped over to stand in front of her. Up so close the scent of cologne and cigarettes tugged at her senses. It was not as disgusting as she hoped. For an instant, she figured it would be easy to recognize him in the dark.
Alone with Spike in the dark? Buffy blinked away the thought as his voice dipped low to ask, “Where is it you do want me?”
“Stop pestering me.” Buffy felt her fingers twitch at the impulse to reach for her stake. “If you really want me to show you, I will, promise or no promise.”
His tongue wagged out a bit as he laughed. “Not today, Slayer. We got a job to do.”
“Not until midnight. I don’t need you around until then.”
Lifting a hand to his chest, Spike let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m hurt.”
Buffy was not falling for that one. She rolled her eyes, glanced over her shoulder and wondered how far she would get if she took off in the direction of Old Sunnydale Cemetery. Spike was fast, but Buffy knew the territory and it was easy to get lost in that place.
“Thinking of running again?” he chuckled. “Go ahead. We can play Kiss-Chase as long as you like.”
“Gross! As if I would give you that kind of satisfaction.”
“Mind telling me what kind you would be giving me, then?”
Ignoring the urge to shove him away, Buffy glowered at him instead, hoping that she looked sufficiently stern. “You’re on my team. That means I’m the boss of us, get it? You meet me at the bus depot at a quarter to eleven. I’m going to patrol.”
She got to the edge of the playground before Spike fell into step beside her. “Looking for a fight, are you? Sounds like fun. S’pose I should tag along.”
Frustrated at the way he could wind her up so easily, Buffy asked, “What part of ‘I’m the boss of us’ don’t you get?” and then stalked off knowing he would be following.
145: The Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 8:45PM
The Dry Dock Ristorante and Oyster Bar’s name sounded more like a sailor’s dive than a five-star restaurant. The Who’s Who in Sunnydale simply called it Arturo’s after its long-term manager who retained just a touch of his native European accent. Outside of the Country Club, which remained members only, this was Sunnydale’s best. Classy, it came complete with penguin-suited waiters, mood music, fantastic service and a glorious view of the beach.
One end of the beach lay cloaked in darkness as it stretched out for half a mile along the coast while this area glowed day or night. The majority of local businesses were on the other side of the marina, but most of them kept early hours.
Lights strung out along the shore shimmered on the ocean’s soft waves as they rolled toward the sand. Cordelia tucked her hand into Angel’s arm as they stood on the edge of the parking area watching the waves. The ocean seemed so big tonight. After staring at the walls of the mansion for days and days the mild ocean breeze and hint of salt sea in the air was invigorating.
She smiled up at Angel only to discover that he was perusing the perimeter with a tactical eye rather than enjoying the view. “See anything worth looking at?”
Angel’s attention immediately snapped back to where it belonged. A slightly guilty, freaked-out look shot her way as if he was scrambling for an explanation. The wind caught an errant strand of her hair blowing it across her cheek. He lifted a hand to trace the outline of her face with his fingertips, his thumb straying close to her rosy lips.
There was a thickness to his voice when he answered. “You.” The dark intensity of his eyes swallowed her up making her forget what she was going to say about him and cheesy excuses.
Because he meant what he said.
It left her glowing and jittery all at the same time. Cordelia threw her arms around him completely forgetting that she was crushing her gown and his suit in the process. She melted into him as Angel’s strong arms wound around her waist to pull her closer.
Maybe it was just the taste of freedom she was getting tonight, but their first official date felt more important than any she had ever been on before.
When their hug finally loosened, Cordelia moved just enough to see his face. It was hard to read his eyes, but whatever else was there she saw love. By now it shouldn’t surprise her, but it did every time. Thrilled her. It was almost scary how loved she felt.
Her hand slipped from his broad shoulder up to Angel’s face, warm palm against his cooler cheek. “Just in case I forget to actually say the words later on—thank you for tonight, Angel.”
His head dipped down, mouth parting to kiss her, only to hover above the perfectly painted curves of her lips. Just when Cordelia was about to close the gap, her already rapid pulse jumping another notch in anticipation, he took a detour down to the soft skin of her throat.
Open mouthed, the rough buds of his tongue rasped against her skin, and the edge of his blunt teeth tugged softly. The sensation jolted low and deep within her. “Oh my God,” she quaked with want as his hands swept along her waist and hips.
Clinging to his shoulders, Cordelia found it difficult to stand. Her legs suddenly felt like jelly and she wanted, oh, how she wanted nothing more than to get totally lost in Angel’s caresses. The anticipation of her after dinner plans buzzed inside her and she did not want to wait.
Angel had other ideas. “Maybe we should go inside.” Reaching up to take her hand, he kissed the center of her palm before threading their fingers together.
A little mewl of frustration made its way to her lips. She nearly suggested they forget all about dinner to drive along the coast and find a secluded spot. Even though he would probably make love to her anywhere she wanted him to, the very public parking lot at Arturo’s was probably pushing it, especially tonight.
Besides, it would not be fair. Remembering what a fuss she’d put up in talking Angel into bringing her here, she tried to let go the images flashing through her head and to ignore the hot throb between her thighs.
“We have a couple of hours before we need to patrol,” Angel started moving toward the restaurant’s front entrance. “There’s plenty of time. We don’t need to rush.”
Speak for yourself.
Cordelia flashed him a look that made his mouth quirk. Oh, he knew exactly how hot he had gotten her. From the sound of his voice, and his slow progression to the door, he was not exactly unaffected, either.
“Let’s not talk about patrol. That’s for later. Right now we’re just a hot young couple on a date.”
Smiling at the notion, Angel paused long enough to adjust his tie and brush the fresh creases out of his lapel. With a snort, Cordelia tugged on his hand. “Okay, GQ, let’s go inside before they cancel our reservations.”
146: The Highway Interchange, Northeast Sunnydale, 8:55PM
Gravel crunched under the tires as Giles slowly maneuvered the car off the road into an empty hillside lot. Turning the headlights off he sat back in his seat to focus on the view ahead. His eyes slowly adjusted to the streetlights shining on the cloverleaf of merging highways leading from US 101 and Route 17 into Sunnydale.
Would this be the route their quarry would take?
Bound by law, granted freedom’s breath, a momentary respite returning him home to waiting arms at the mouth of hell.
It was Oz who had suggested that the prophecy eluded to a prisoner, one who had either been released or escaped. The Scroll of Septarius remained full of unsolved riddles, but it unerringly seemed to be counting down to the ultimate event that would allow Amolon to gain access to this dimension.
Preventing the demon’s followers from gathering the requisite sacrifices needed to perform the Rites of Tavrok seemed key to stopping him.
Though they now had Karla safely hidden in the mansion it seemed that Kalesh had already performed the mystic rites upon her. Something had certainly been done to the girl. She was no longer herself.
The discovery of the priestess’ identity was important. Nicolau Cibran clearly did not realize that slip would cost him. Now it was left to them to take advantage of it.
The only question was how.
He needed time to think. Opportunities for silence and reflection were rare at the mansion where there were too many interruptions and far too many distractions.
“You shouldn’t be on your own tonight,” Buffy had sounded legitimately concerned for his safety. “Maybe you should stick with me. Spike’s got a car. He can watch the highway.”
They were long past the days when it was necessary to patrol with Buffy whist she honed her skills. Perhaps nostalgia should have forced him to take her up on it, but he had to prioritize things now.
Without knowing he was doing it, Angel had come to the rescue by reminding her, “Buffy, there’s a reason I want you to team up with Spike tonight. The Bus Depot is the most likely transport site. If a fight is going to break out, we should have two strong fighters in the middle of it.”
All Giles had to do was watch the highway and report any suspicious sightings.
Though he didn’t particularly care for Spike to be anywhere near Buffy, he knew she wouldn’t let down her guard. For now, the vampire seemed to be toeing the line. It suited their plans for the moment, and Angel’s reasoning was perfectly sound.
He felt a twinge of guilt at the look on Buffy’s face when he agreed with Angel. It was not his intention to hurt her feelings, but he knew her too well to miss the sharp look in her eye or the brief tightening of her chin. Like Angel, he too had his reasons for going ahead with their plans.
It was still early. Not yet 9pm. He’d left the mansion in order to find some solitude. He had brought his notes and a small reading light in case he needed to refer to any referenced material. For now, he was going to sit here quietly and let his thoughts come to him.
Whatever was going to happen it would take place in the hour surrounding the stroke of twelve, as the prophecy scroll predicted. So far it hadn’t been wrong.
147: Arturo’s at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 9:00PM
“Welcome back to the Dry Dock, Miss Chase,” greeted Arturo coming at her with open arms and air kissing her cheek. “It has been too long. You are becoming too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”
Cordelia had been eating up that kind of attention since childhood. She had almost forgotten what a flirt he could be. With his salt and pepper hair and moustache, he was an unchanging fixture at the marina’s premier restaurant. The fact that he still remembered her from before even though it had been over a year since she had been there did not surprise her.
When Arturo’s attention turned to her date, she made a start at introducing them, but faltered as she saw the twinkle leave his eyes, and his bright smile drop away. There was fear on his face as he looked at Angel.
Confused, her eyes darted up to recognize barely restrained hostility on Angel’s face as he stared back at Arturo. Tense seconds passed as they stared each other down.
They stood in the short entry hall separated from the main dining room, far enough away from curious eyes that no one noticed when Angel grabbed Arturo by the arm to drag him through a door marked ‘Employees Only’.
“What are you doing?” Cordelia hissed as she followed along. Wondering if this was some crazed attack of jealousy, she tugged at Angel’s arm, futilely attempting to get him to break his hold.
Angel warded her off with his free hand. “Stay there, Cordy. I’ll take care of this.”
“No way! Don’t hurt him.”
She gasped when Angel shoved the man, now near retirement age, against the wall. He switched holds, wrapped his hand around his neck and lifted him up on his toes.
“Who the hell are you?” Angel growled demanding the truth.
Cordelia squeezed in between the desk and their locked position at the wall. “This is Arturo, the restaurant manager. He’s just a sweet old man. He always flirts that way. Don’t kill him.”
With his face red under the pressure, Arturo hoarsely cried, “He’s a vampire. Run!”
“Not in these shoes,” she quipped, now getting the feeling that there was more going on than an obsessive jealousy. It was rare that humans could recognize vampires on sight alone. “Angel’s my boyfriend. I know all about him.”
Angel reached out with his free hand to shove her behind him. Barking out, “He’s a demon—!” just as Arturo’s human visage morphed into something red and scaly.
The music from the front hall masked her involuntary shriek. Jumping backward out of the way, Cordelia landed blindly on the desk behind her scattering its papers onto the floor. Her hand landed on something large and heavy, a paperweight. Snatching it from the desk, she raised it up to bash the demon over the head.
At the last second, sensing her movement, Angel’s hand whipped up to wrap around her wrist. “Wait!”
Cordelia slid off the desk when Angel released her arm. Assuming that Angel wanted to torture the demon for information, she retained her hold on the paperweight. “I’ll give you one piece of advice, whoever you are. Talk fast or Angel will seriously kick your ass. What have you done with Arturo?”
The tight hold around his throat had been released. Angel kept a restraining hand on his chest. The demon did not bother to fight against it. “I—I am Arturo. This is me.”
Her jaw dropped.
“It’s okay, Cordy,” said Angel, now calm. “I recognize the species. It’s a peaceful race of anthropomorphs. Shape-shifters.”
“Good guys?” Cordelia already had more than her share of shape-shifting demons and was not quite ready to accept the idea that this was really Arturo. Once before Angel had mentioned that not all demons were evil, but the concept had not really grown on her yet.
“I would never hurt you—or anyone—Miss Chase,” the demon crossed his hands over his heart. Or the place on his chest where a human heart would be. “Sunnydale is my home. My customers are like family to me.”
Cordelia tossed the paperweight into a nearby chair. Propping her hands on her hips she, pointed out, “Your home sweet home just happens to be on a Hellmouth. Excuse me for being a little suspicious.”
“These are strange times, Miss Chase. I understand your concerns, even if I do not understand your choice of a partner. There is only one dangerous creature standing in this room and it is not me.”
It completely wigged her out to hear his adorable accent coming out of that mouth. He asked Angel to release him. “You know that I won’t harm her, vampire.”
With a nod, Angel dropped his hand back to his side. “If we’re finished here, Cordelia and I have reservations for dinner.”
Arturo morphed back into the familiar face she had known since she was a little girl. The fact that his appearance had not changed much over the years suddenly made so much sense to her.
“Dinner?” Sounding intrigued yet slightly horrified, Arturo inquired, “Miss Chase, you obviously know about this vam—“
Their reservations had been under the name Chase to ensure they got the table they wanted, and Cordelia realized that she had never gotten around to officially introducing them. Nevertheless, she did not like the disgusted tone in Arturo’s voice when he used the word vampire when addressing her boyfriend.
“Angel. His name is Angel.”
Suddenly pale at the mention of the name, Arturo’s eyes turned to coal. “This is Ang—Angelus?”
“That’s right,” answered Angel darkly before Cordelia could correct him. She chose to stay silent about it figuring that Angel had his reasons.
Looking uncomfortable again, Arturo edged toward the office door. “You’re certainly not the innocent little girl I remember, the one who enchanted us all with her smile.”
Cordelia felt like he was crushing a precious memory. Blinking back the first onset of tears, “That’s the Hellmouth for you. Grow up fast or not at all.”
“She’s a survivor, Arturo,” said Angel while looking straight at her. Closing the short distance between them, he smoothed a hand up her back; it settled at her shoulder. “Before you jump to any more conclusions, Cordelia is with me of her own free will.”
“There is no enthrallment at work here?” Arturo admitted his surprise, but did not drop the subject. “Your influence must be very strong, Angelus, to reel her into a life tainted by darkness. I have heard of such humans who become addicted to the thrill of being bitten—”
Angel growled low in his throat, and took one step forward, his hands curling into fists.
“—and allowing vampires to drink their blood.”
Cordelia interjected, “Angel doesn’t bite me, and it’s none of your business if he does.”
Angel’s eyes clashed with hers for a second before he turned his attention back to Arturo. “This conversation is over.”
“No it’s not.” Cordelia stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. “First off, I came here to have a romantic dinner and I’m not leaving until I get it.”
“We’re not staying here. I’ll take you somewhere else.”
Closing the door when he made a move toward it, she shook her head. “Sorry, Angel, but I can’t let you leave it like this. Even if Arturo turned out to be a demon, I’ve sort of known him all my life. He’s just worried that you’re snacking on me.”
Angel looked furious. “My bloodrights are none of his concern,” he said gutturally, “and it doesn’t matter what he thinks about me as long as he leaves you out of it.”
“You’re not evil anymore,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at something she figured was a non-issue. She used to joke about her neck being a no-snacking zone back when they first started patrolling together.
“My soul has nothing to do with it.”
The words were soft, leaving her confused, thoughtful, and a little scared.
Letting out a self-derisive grunt, Angel turned away, running a hand across his face and neck. She could sense his tension from three feet away, but could not make her feet move in that direction. Her head was swimming with questions.
Arturo’s beat her to it to ask one of his own. “Did you say ‘soul’?
Making his response as brief as possible, Angel explained the situation. When asked why he lied in the first place, he said, “I didn’t trust you enough to tell you the truth. Cordelia’s life is in danger.”
“But not because of you.”
“No! I love her. She loves me. We’re in love.” When his little tirade was finished even Angel looked stunned, but Cordelia was smiling.
Now if only she could get him to repeat that little speech in front of Buffy and Isobel. The slayer could not seem to let go of the past, and frankly, Cordelia was getting tired of it. Unfortunately, Buffy was not the only blonde dreaming of Angel. Or Angelus, as the case happened to be.
“That’s a relief,” sighed Arturo. “Thank you for the truth. I could not permit you to continue to take advantage of Miss Chase if that was the case.”
For a peaceful demon, he seemed to be pretty confident about being able to stop a powerful vampire from doing what he wanted. Arturo explained, “My people are indeed a peace-loving species, but we are not without skills. I required the truth and so you gave it to me. Had I determined Miss Chase to be enthralled or that your true intentions would lead to her ultimate death, I could have affected an influence that might have saved her.”
Angel admitted that while he had read about anthropomorphic demons, he had not known they possessed abilities like that.
Could his power of persuasion get Isobel to stop lusting after Angel? Or get Buffy to stop acting like she was some scarlet woman who had stolen her man away?
“Generally, we don’t want it known,” explained Arturo as he opened his office door. “So it is not. When you leave this room, your conscious minds will be unable to recall what happened here.”
“No, Arturo!” Cordelia rushed to his side, holding onto his arm with both hands. “I think you could help. There’s this blonde—”
He stopped her with a raised hand that requested silence. Good thing, too. Cordelia had not actually planned to say what she was thinking. Not in front of Angel, anyway.
“Our code prohibits using our abilities for selfish purposes or personal gain.”
“Oh. Well, in that case, never mind. I’ll just handle it myself.”
Angel actually looked amused by her words, but whatever he was thinking went unsaid as he turned to Arturo with a request of his own. There was nothing to lose in speaking the truth now.
“Maybe there’s something you can do for us that won’t go against your code,” Angel began. “I mentioned that Cordy’s life is in danger. There’s a prophecy…”
148: Basement, Crawford Street Mansion, 9:30PM
Miss Edith’s porcelain hands lay neatly her lap as she sat propped upon the basement steps, third from the bottom. The skirt of her red velvet gown spread out not quite covering her shiny satin shoes. Two matching bows neatly held up her curly-cued hair. Long-lashed doll’s eyes were open, staring forward.
Miss Edith was pretty.
All of the naughty things she did stayed hidden deep inside her where it was eternally quiet and calm and serene.
Miss Karla was not pretty.
Not on the inside where she was tainted. Used. Thrown Away.
No, the girl was not at all pretty anymore. No longer bright, no longer open. For all the quiet surrounding her, she screamed from within, a clamor that Drusilla could not miss.
Karla’s hands lay open in her lap as she sat propped against the basement wall. The shackles chained her still frame to one of the iron rungs, protection from the dangers she might do to herself. Scrapes on her legs had been bandaged neatly, grass stains still evident on her clothes. The symbols on her skin remained visible. Blond strands escaped the clip in her hair leaving it at odd angles, messy. Her eyes were open, staring forward.
Drusilla stared back unblinkingly for countless minutes until she could no longer remain stationary. The images swirling in her head compelled her to get a closer look. She took a tiny step forward barely noticeable. Testing the waters to see if she would be stopped.
The floor above was completely empty now. No one called out to demand she stay away.
“They’ve all gone, Miss Edith. Out, out for the evening. Left us all alone. With her. Oh, what shall we do?” Drusilla swayed a step closer to the girl, still hesitant, but curious.
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
“Shall we be good tonight, or naughty? Daddy told us to be good. Made us promise not to play with the girl. Watch over her. Nothing more.”
Drusilla took another step forward, and another, hesitating only when she expected censure.
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
“She has secrets, our little Miss Karla does. Things we need to know. We should ask her. Talk to her. Make her talk. Make her tell the truth. Make her scream if we have to.”
Drusilla stopped when her skirts brushed the girl’s leg. Close. Close enough to hear the steady beat of her heart, and smell the blood running through her veins until it tempted her to spill it.
Blood was pretty. Like red velvet oozing across the floor.
Drusilla crouched down, closer, so close, and let her fingers graze the girl’s pulse.
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
“They’ve done things. Dark things. Oh, so terrible. Twisted, terrible things until she wants them, needs them. Until she’ll do anything for her master.”
Anything. Bent to his will. Submissive.
Drusilla smiled thinking of Angelus.
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
“She lies awake, yet sleeping. Tucked away. Far, far away where no one can find her. So deep the monster can’t find her. It grows impatient.”
Drusilla swiftly drew her hand away cradling it as if burned.
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
“The girl is scared. So very scared. Deep, deep down inside where the monster can’t find her. We can find her, Miss Edith.”
Drusilla stared deeply into Karla’s blank eyes. “Mummy will save you and then you will tell me everything.”
. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.
149: Arturo’s at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 9:45PM
Cordelia glanced at the clock in the front hall again just to be certain. “Weren’t our reservations for nine o’clock?”
“Yes. The clock must be wrong,” Angel concluded only to frown when he looked at his watch. “That’s strange. My watch shows the same time.”
Was it something to do with the prophecy? First an earthquake, then that meteor shower and now a fast-forward time warp.
“Well that’s another one for Giles to figure out. At least we’re here now. I hope that Arturo hasn’t given our table away. That’s him over there.”
Pointing to a distinguished looking man with salt & pepper hair and a moustache, Cordelia added, “He’s a demon, by the way, so don’t go all grrrr on me the second you’re introduced.”
“Thanks for the warning. What kind of demon?” Angel kept his voice down as they approached the main room.
“No idea. Never asked.”
Angel’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the man in the pinstripe suit. “What if he’s dangerous? We should be suspicious of all demons right now. No telling if they’re a part of Amolon’s cult.”
Rolling her eyes, Cordelia waved off his concerns. “Not Arturo. He’s one of those good demons you told me about. I’ve known the truth about him forever. Since I was a kid. It’s not a big deal. Trust me when I say you can trust him.”
The fact that Cordelia never knew demons existed until a couple of years ago didn’t faze them. Her words felt like the truth to both of them, and Angel saw no reason to distrust a demon she had known for so many years.
“My dear Miss Chase, you are here at last,” Arturo caught sight of them, approaching with arms open wide. She called out his name and happily presented her cheek for their traditional air kiss. “Next time you must not stay away so long. You are far too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”
Cordelia gushed over the attention and proceeded to introduce Arturo to Angel. “Ah, yes, Mr. Angel. I do hope you will allow us to prepare something special for you this evening. My personal chef is a marvel.”
A subtle gesture summoned a waiter to their side. “Phillip, please see that Mr. Angel and Miss Chase want for nothing this evening. They are my special guests.”
Everything was just how Cordelia imagined it would be.
She was thrilled to be out of the mansion for the evening. It was so exciting to dress up for a change, to see and be seen. How long had it been now since she was able to take little luxuries for granted?
People kept staring, and honestly, who could blame them? They looked gorgeous together. One of these days Angel would have something with a little more color in his closet. For now, she had to admit to being a little more impressed with his style than she thought she’d be. The clothes might be monochromatic, but they were all quality, designer-made, and not the off-the-rack variety. A few items were severely outdated, but some of them were actually coming back into fashion again.
Trust Mr. Packrat to keep them all.
Keeping clothes a moment longer than was popular was not something she was used to. She had always the one who had the latest look. By the time the wannabes had been able to catch up fashion dictated a change and she’s not only be on it, but own it, too.
Times had changed, but there was a line Cordelia was determined never to cross. Even though she was practically destitute now, she would never, ever, bow down to the softer side of Sears.
Tonight, she was dressed in red. Last season’s designer wear, but it was gorgeous. Normally, she would not have worn it again, and it so hung in the back of the closet, practically forgotten until she realized that none of the necessities Buffy, Willow and Xander had stuffed into trash bags would be appropriate for her first real date with Angel.
The dress was perfect for the L.A. charity event that her parents had brought her to not long before their financial crisis hit. Talk about a turn around. All of a sudden, they had become the charity cases.
She glanced around at the faces in the restaurant a little nervous at whom she might spot in the crowd. Seeing only strangers, a relieved smile lit her face and the tension faded.
Angel noticed the shift of energy. His fingers reached over to touch her arm as they as they followed Phillip toward the center of the room.
Squeezing his arm, she smiled up at him. “Don’t be a dork. Of course I am.”
There was just one dark cloud hanging over their evening out together. She felt a lot like Cinderella dressed up for the ball, eager to have the time of her life with Prince Charming, but knowing that once midnight rolled around the fun would end.
No use in whining about it.
The fact remained that they were at the marina not only to have dinner, but because it was a potential route for Sacrifice #3 to arrive in Sunnydale. That was hours away. Frankly, Cordelia had better ideas than to sit around and think about all the ways an ex-con could sneak into town.
Their reserved table for two was a cozy spot near the center of the room equally distant from the front entrance as it was from the emergency exit in the back. Angel sat where he could keep a subtle watch on both, a fact that did not escape her notice when he kept scanning the room for potential threats.
“Eyes on me, Angel. You’re only a few inches away from the hottest girl in Sunnydale and you can’t stop staring at the door. There is something so wrong with that.”
A guilty shade darkened his eyes as they snapped back to hers. “We could’ve been followed.”
“I thought that was what the fast getaway and the sneaky circling the block was for,” she rolled her eyes. “Hey, maybe that’s the reason we got here so late.”
If it was, Angel wasn’t admitting it.
“Relax. In the letter he wrote you, Nicolau promised to leave me alone for a while.”
Angel glowered for a moment at the mention of the other vampire. His fingers slid up to the silverware on the table tracing the bladed edge of the knife. “He probably meant it at the time, indulging me in my desire for my pet. The moment he discovers I have no intention of joining his scheme all deals are off.”
“What are the odds he’ll figure it out tonight?”
It was impossible to say that Angel completely relaxed after that, but Cordelia had to give him credit for trying. They spent ten minutes looking over the menu trying to come up with something Angel would eat.
“No, you cannot just order French fries and ketchup. You might be undead, but sheesh, try to live a little.”
150: The Temple of Amolon, Subterranean Sunnydale, 10:30PM
Defying Nicolau’s orders to stay put tonight, Isobel left the safety of their new lair. A subterranean cavern was hardly her style. It provided none of the comforts she was used to in her admittedly pampered existence.
It would be one thing if her sire had the time to distract her, but he was busy tonight. Summoned by Kalesh to the Altar of Amolon. Anytime the old hag crooked her finger in his direction that was all it took to steal him away. The fulfillment of the prophecy and their master’s plan was his obsession.
Isobel understood that.
Clearly, this summons was something to do with the impending rituals tonight, but that didn’t stop it from grating on her nerves. Anything that stole her sire’s attention away was enough to earn her disdain.
She could not fault him for his narrow focus on the job at hand because the promise of supreme power that lay nearly within reach was too close to ignore. The method being used to attain it disturbed her. Despite her century and a half with Nicolau, it was at times like these when she remained something of an outsider.
Affiliating with demons was acceptable if they were the ones taking orders. To see a master vampire like Nico submit his will to Kalesh angered her. Admittedly, the high priestess was unique.
Kalesh might look like an ugly old woman, but one glance into her ageless black eyes was all it took to understand her power. Every time she came close Isobel could feel it in her bones. As if eternity was crumbling to ashes from the inside out, death and decay following in her wake.
It frightened her.
So she stayed as far away from the demoness as she could get.
Unfortunately, their chamber was formed from the natural limestone of the cavern. Its walls dripped slime, the uneven ground was hell on her shoes, and the only place to sleep was the top of their steamer trunks.
Hardly a haven to escape to.
Anton was busy tonight, too. Out on a mission for Nico. He might have provided a few hours of distraction.
There were a few humans around, but they were off-limits for now. Everyone was under strict orders to leave them alone. Huh. Greasy and unwashed, they tended to turn her stomach. She wouldn’t want one of them anyway. Her tastes were much more refined than that.
The cavern’s main entrance was deep in the woods away from the normal paths taken by hikers, but it was not that far removed from the edge of town. Easy enough to sneak away for a few hours to find something to amuse herself.
That club was nearby. What was it called again? Something metallic. Oh, yes. Bronze. Just the kind of place she liked to go for some fun and a quick snack.
Wouldn’t it be fabulous if Angelus and his little pet were at The Bronze, too! Just the distraction she needed right now. Nico insisted on giving him what time they could to decide on joining them, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t play with them.
“Push him too hard and he’ll make you regret it, little dove.” Nicolau’s advice had come after she petulantly demanded to know why he was writing letters instead of going after the girl.
Isobel had other ideas. “Capture her and Angelus will follow.”
Her sire found that funny. “Do that and he will beat a bloody path to our door. Trust me when I say that won’t get you what you want.”
A shudder of anticipation brought a soft moan to her lips. Nicolau had kissed her, his mouth gently teasing. She wanted more, but there was no time to play. He had to go to Kalesh. Rituals, always more rituals. A bloodletting here, a group chant there. She was just happy that this would all be over soon.
Then nothing would stop her.