Scenes 171 – 180


Season of Solace


171: East Lawn, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Faith_DemonFight2

The grassy field facing the mansion’s east wing was boggy from the rain. Faith’s boots slogged through muddy patches, dirt being the least of her worries. Teeth-grinding pain arced through her with every step. Her left shoulder was dislocated, right ankle swollen, grime covering bruised and bloodied skin. She could already hear the lectures coming her way from Wesley and Giles. This was her own damned fault, and she knew it, which was why she planned to wait until morning to tell them.

On the way back from Old Sunnydale Cemetery she had run into a demon, and not the scaly-skinned little wimp variety. More like a big, scary monster. Shaping itself from the softened ground, it took on semi human form, shifting like quicksand, its surface sandy one moment and then as hard as stone the next. Faith had not been paying attention to her surroundings too busy thinking about running into Bax and her early Slaying days back in South Boston. There was no precognitive sense of danger, nothing making her Slayer instincts kick in.

One minute there was nothing going on. Then, suddenly, a giant mass of rubble shifted. Rising up, it blocked the moonlight, red eyes fixed upon her. A gasp emerged from her throat just before it swiped her aside with a rocky arm knocking her off her feet. Flying back, she landed face down on a pile of dirt, ears ringing from the impact.

Pain ripped across her side sparking off a flood of adrenalin. She whipped up to her feet quickly trying to get a fix on what had attacked her, grabbing for her stake at the same moment she realized it would be useless. “What the fuck are you?”

The creature barely let her get the question out. A brutal onslaught gave her no time to get her bearings. It attacked without restraint, its face a mesh of dust and rock with a huge gaping maw that opened only to spew pebbled rocks with the force of a gale wind.

Smooth skin ripped where the sharpest pebbles sliced at her flesh leaving her cheek and bare arms bleeding, and covered with a dusty layer of sand. Faith dived for cover behind the large wheel of a bulldozer realizing only in that instant that this was the middle of a construction site. Not exactly a typical demon hotspot, but this was not exactly a normal demon. Still, there had to be a way to take it out.

A pile of narrow steel pipes caught her eye. They were the only potentially useful objects nearby. Staying low to the ground, she quickly crawled over to grab one noting it to be heavier than the quarterstaffs they used during their training sessions. “Beggars can’t be choosers,” she muttered while testing its length and balance. Better than going in empty handed.

When she emerged from behind the bulldozer, the creature was waiting statue-still and staring her down. It simply watched as she made a lateral flip across an open iron grate experimentally brandishing the pipe to gauge its reaction. Nothing. There was no glint in its glowing red eyes, no sign of emotion, just a sense of power waiting to be unleashed.

Faith had plenty of fight left in her. The confrontation with Bax went far too quickly to be truly satisfying. It was more of an anticlimax, really. All of the tension from their run-ins where somehow each time she had let him escape, disturbed by the way he always got under her skin, and the empty ache inside when her body recalled the way he used to fill her up, felt like a distant dream. He tried every trick, pulled every string, even as they fought tooth and nail for the two minutes it took for her to prove to him that she was not going to cave.

The shock on his face when a skillful move buried the stake deep in his chest left Faith numb instead of giving her the usual high she got from making a kill. She had watched his body turn to ash and crumble into a pile on the moist earth at her feet. The one tie left to South Boston gone forever, the bad boy who had never failed to steer her in the wrong direction. He was dust, and if a little piece of her heart crumbled along with him, she was not about to let Buffy catch on.

Maybe she had not been able to take out her hidden frustrations on the little demon of a dude who was just out to make a quick buck, but there was not a shred of sympathy to be found for this creature. Whatever it was, it needed to die.

A frontal assault got her nowhere even though it seemed to make a perfect target. Fury rose with each step she made toward it until the ground itself shook at her approach, a sharp riff vibrating her off-balance. Its scream shouted like the raging wind blowing hair in her face, making her eyes squint shut. Faltering back, she gripped the pipe using it to steady herself, then lifted it like a spear. The moment the wind died down, she hurled it forward with every ounce of strength she possessed.

Straight and true, it pierced deeply into the creature’s chest. Right where its heart would be— if it had one. Faith suddenly recalled one of Giles’ boring lessons on variant demon anatomy. Not only was it not dead, it calmly pulled the pipe out as if it was only a little splinter dropping it to the ground at its rocky base.

Faith backed away expecting another blast of sand and rock. The pipe may have done nothing as a spear, but she figured a few hard blows to the head might crack something open. No way could she get the other one back. Fortunately, there was a whole pile of them. Dashing over, she grabbed another, and peeked out from the heavy cover of the bulldozer.

The monster had not moved from its spot. From this vantage, she saw that it seemed to be fixed in one place. What she imagined might be a couple of ugly clawed demon feet was instead just a rockpile of dirt and stone merging with the ground. “That’s freaky,” she muttered, wondering how its fixed position might give her an advantage.

The longer she stayed away the smaller it got. Earth shifted around it until it sunk out of sight. Faith let out a little grunt of frustration. She still had some moves to make, a head to sever. “No fair disappearing on me. Where’d you go?”

A small backhoe blocked the area behind that spot. There was a hole in the ground, too, where the construction crew had been digging. Could the demon have been down in that hole and they released it, or was it protecting something they had uncovered? The hows and whys were just fleeting questions. Faith wanted it back again. Her hunter instincts had kicked in making her feel like a wolf that had cornered her prey only to watch it run.

Faith rushed toward the hole planning to jump in thinking there might be a tunnel down there. A blast of dirt and rock shot up like an erupting volcano when she got close, the creature forming again from the falling debris. Now too close, her foot got caught under the weight of shifting earth keeping her firmly in place as if a hand had wrapped around her ankle to hold her there. Jamming the pipe into the rock near her foot, she used it as leverage to break free. Without breaking stride she arced around to bash the creature on the side of the head.

The pipe connected so hard she felt the vibration all the way down to her hands. It did nothing but enrage the demon even further causing it to strike out with both arms. Faith scrambled back barely avoiding one hard blow only to connect with another. Right in the gut, a fist-shaped block of earth pounded straight at her catching her off-balance. “Oof!”

The punch curled her body up, but she quickly recovered. Close now, Faith grabbed onto its arm, swinging around its body to straddle its back. She held on tight as it wailed like the wind, struggling to free itself from her hold. Trying to strangle it using her enhanced strength had no effect. Simply ripping off its head was impossible. Its increasingly wild movements to shake her off were enough to rattle her senses.

Looking for a safe way off its mountainous back, Faith noticed something glinting from the depths of the hole in the ground where the demon had emerged. Curious to know if it was something important or just one of those gross items demons liked to stash, Faith dropped straight down to the bottom of the ditch. She landed on her feet, the short fall of five or six feet no problem. There was definitely no tunnel down here as she had first suspected, making her wonder where this fiend had come from.

The monster whirled like a dust devil made of shifting, twisting earth to stare down at her with those creepy glowing eyes, arms hovering open wide as if it planned to clap her between its rocky palms. Faith met its gaze, but slowly lowered herself to her knees to get closer to the metallic object peeking through the dirt. The moment her hand reached out to touch it the creature dived into the pit thrusting Faith against the earthen wall.

A sharp cry followed the jolt of her shoulder popping hard against the pressure of its grasp. “Stupid fucking move,” she growled through the pain realizing that she managed to trap herself in a hole this creature apparently called home.

That shiny object was no longer her concern. Priority number one was to get out of the damned pit. The steel pipe lay haphazardly on the ground beside her. Ignoring the jab of pain from her shoulder, Faith reached across her body to dig through the dirt covering it. When the demon reared back for another attack, she plunged the pipe into a softer spot hoping that it would cause a distraction.

Just like before, it stopped its attack in order to deal with the weapon piercing its torso.

It bent over to yank the annoying pipe out of the way giving Faith time to make a move. Pushing up from the ground, she leapt onto the demon’s rocky leg, stepping quickly up to its back, and then jumping up the last couple of feet to the surface. Panting hard, she tried to run only to remember that she had jacked up her ankle, too.

As fast as she could limp, Faith headed for the cover of the bulldozer and its nearby pile of trusty steel pipes. She leaned back against the humongous tire, far from exhausted. Anger coursed through her. Frustration at her own decisions. Confusion over why this creature was so damned difficult to kill. There had to be a way to take it out. She was certain Giles and Wes would want to see what it was guarding, or hoarding.

Faith waited for the attack to come wanting to draw it away from its safe little pit, but she remembered that it had looked like it was fixed to that spot. It was also suddenly, and strangely, quiet. Too quiet. The waiting was starting to gnaw at her until, finally, she peeked out from behind the bulldozer.

“Gone again?” She limped back out into the middle of the construction zone. Shouting at it, “Come on out and get me,” drew no response.

Only when she took another step forward did the earth around the pit start to shift. Faith stopped moving, and the ground stopped shifting. She took another step forward, and a mound began to form in the shape of the demon. Experimentally, she moved back to the original spot next to the bulldozer, and the dirt evened out again into a flat layer.

This demon did not act like a demon, feel like a demon, and certainly did not die like a demon. That just riled Faith up. The shoulder and ankle were less annoying than the fact that it barely took notice of her attacks. Deciding that she needed something different to fight this thing, Faith muttered, “We’re not done,” and promised herself that she would return tomorrow with something powerful enough kill it.

Returning to the mansion felt like a walk of shame. This night sucked the big one. Truly. All that had happened, and now some crazy demon— or whatever— made things worse. Faith’s boots slogged through the muddy grounds extending out from the east wing of the Crawford Street Mansion. The dirt was the least of her worries. A dislocated shoulder and swollen ankle added to her annoyances, but they were just part of the problem.

With all of the frustrations of the night adding up one after the other, Faith felt like her insides were about to burst. One good kill would have done it. Settled things. Gotten her to that place inside where she was no longer constantly on edge. At least now she could hit the shower and fall into bed without anything else happening to ruin what was left of this already crappy night.

So she thought.

The acrid scent of cigarette smoke hit her nostrils a moment before Spike emerged from the shadows. “Slayer, you look like something the cat dragged in. What’s with the arm?”

Faith stopped and stared. If there had to be a witness to her arrival, why did it have to be him? “And the crappiness continues,” she muttered. Telling him, “Ran into a demon. Literally.”

He motioned her forward with a curl of his fingers. “C’mere, I’ll fix it.”

Instantly suspicious, she held back, narrowed her gaze slightly. No way was she gonna trust a vampire to get that close. “Don’t think so.”

“Take care of it on your own then, silly bint.” Spike leaned back against the side of the building. “Don’t whine about it tomorrow when it still hurts.”

“What are you doing out here anyway?”

Spike shrugged. “Keeping an eye out. My turn at watch.”

Since when did Spike get put in the rotation? Faith sneered at him, “You don’t do crap around here. Except…” she trailed off as she remembered him helping out the hospital victims tonight.

“Except what?”

Not about to admit that he had done something good for once, Faith changed her tone to just this side of nasty, “Except when you think you’ll get something out of it.”

“Planning to shove my fist into Isobel’s chest, crush her heart, and watch as she turns to dust.” Spike’s mouth spread into a sort of smile as he described his reasons for sticking around, getting off on the idea of revenge. “That reason enough?”

Spike wanted to kill a vampire. “I’m good with that,” Faith automatically tried a shrug, but pain shot through her left shoulder. She grabbed at it holding her arm pinned to her side and let out a riff of curses.

Chucking his burned down cigarette to the ground, he asked, “You gonna let me fix that arm?”

It was not like there was anyone else likely to be awake at this hour. Although she might be able to do it herself, Faith knew it would be easier to give in and let Spike help her. “Do you know what you’re doing?”

Spike reached up to brace a hand on top of her shoulder, and wrapped the other around her wrist. He grinned with an evil glint sparkling in his eyes, “Guess we’ll find out.”

“Wait!” Faith tried to step away, but Spike moved too fast twisting and pulling with just the right amount of pressure to pop her shoulder back into place. “Oh, yeah!” It felt so much better already. She closed her eyes and held on for a second as he released her arm to rub along her side and back tracing his fingers up to her shoulder.

Damn, that felt good. Faith let out a little sigh as his touch worked magic on her sore muscles, her body reacting instantly to his strength. Her nipples tightened up into hard little knots pressing against her thin cotton top. The contact between them enough to stir her up again, making her sex throb, reminding that her original plan for the night involved getting laid.

Faith liked to let loose, enjoyed pleasure when and where she could get it. She did not like games and for reasons that were all too obvious after tonight’s little reminder, did not want any kind of relationship. If it was like Angel being with Cordelia— totally hot, and somehow inevitable— yeah, she could go for that, maybe. For now all she wanted was to feel that hot rush, let lust have its way, and let go.

Not with Spike, she echoed the word no until she had convinced herself that it was a bad idea to consider it. Opening her eyes, she saw him watching her, amused at her reaction to his touch as if he knew he was the last person on Earth she would ever want to fuck. “Get your hands off me.”

They lingered just a little longer and roamed places that should make her want to break every bone in his skillful hands. Light touches teased softly. She let him because it felt so damned good when her body ached, desire making her quiver. He thumbed a nipple, then dropped his hand down to her crotch palming it through her jeans. Faith pressed her hands against his chest, a moment away from shoving him to the ground when he cupped her just a little harder.

Resisting the urge to create some friction, Faith ground out a warning. “Stop touching me.”

Spike chuckled as he pulled back the hand between her thighs. “Too bad I’m not into Slayers.”

Not her, maybe, Faith thought, completely fine with that, but she knew if she wanted him that Spike would probably give her a good, hard screw. Vampires were always up for it, and she always got a rush telling them where they could get off, usually right before staking them.

“Too bad I don’t screw vampires,” she countered with a sneer.

Biting back just as quickly, Spike scoffed, “Sure about that? Don’t think I haven’t noticed you get worked up over Angel—watching him fight, all raw killer instinct and noble spirit. Even when he’s with Cordelia, you eat it up, Slayer. You’re all greased up just thinking about it.

“Shut up!”

“Not denying it, luv?”

She wanted to pulverize Spike, beat him until he was a broken, bloody mess, until she crushed every bone in his wiry, muscular body. He was not wrong, not entirely, and that pissed her off. Just because there was something about Angel that made her hot did not mean she was going to do anything about it, but yeah, she knew she would have totally gone there if it had not been for her friendship with Cordy. He was gorgeous, powerful, brave, and a kickass fighter. Maybe it was his soul that allowed her to place Angel in a different category than every other vampire on the planet, but that was just the way it was. Not that she was ever going to do anything about it. That was one itch she knew would never get scratched.

Faith knew that Spike did not need a verbal confirmation. He knew exactly how worked up she was at the moment despite the accompanying pain. This time her demand came out as a warning as she wretched herself out of his arms. “Shut up!”

Limping away as fast as she could just to put some distance between herself and that annoying prick, Faith headed for the front door. Her shoulder ached, and her muscles throbbed, along with the internal buzz that made her feel needy and ticked off at the same time. She stopped in front of the stairs dreading the climb up to the third floor. It seemed a hellishly long way to go to get to a shower and her bed.

Then she remembered that Buffy and Willow were back at home for the night. That left a whole lot of space in the room they shared with Xander. It was a small suite behind the kitchens designed for the housekeeper or butler, not fancy like the second floor rooms, but nicer than the servants quarters where Faith was bunking at the moment. All were better than her shabby place at the Downtowner.

Even though the hinges of the door squeaked, Xander never stirred from the depths of sleep when Faith entered the room and stood at the end of the bed watching him. With the girls gone for the night he had abandoned his sleeping bag in favor of the bed. That assumed he was not the meat in their platonic bedtime sandwich on a nightly basis. He was sprawled out dead center, wearing striped pajamas, bedcovers pulled up tight to his chest.

Just how desperate was she? Faith asked herself. What she needed right now she was not going to get from anyone else at the mansion. Even if Spike might be willing, she was not. Angel was with Cordy, and while the thought of crawling in between them gave her a naughty thrill, it was just another fantasy she would save for desperate times, and tonight might turn out to be one of them. Wesley was another no-go. He had already warned her not to flirt with him wanting to keep things professional. Despite that she thought that was bonkers, Faith planned to try. As for Giles, he was hot in his own stuffy British way, and while Faith liked to rile him up now and then just for the hell of it, she never really considered seducing him. No, she did not want to screw around with Rup.

Maybe it just was not going to happen. After all, this night had been crap from start to finish. Dawn couldn’t be that far away. Honestly, the bed looked good, but Faith was covered in dirt and blood, and knew she needed to shower. Maybe if she got lucky, some of the tension she felt would just wash down the drain. Getting ‘lucky’ any other way seemed like a lost cause.

The shower felt great, and it did help with some of the tension in her muscles and joints. The scrapes on her skin were not so bad, and considering her enhanced healing none of them would scar. It might take a day for her ankle to fully heal, but she would still be able to walk on it. Faith’s immediate problem just would not go away even though she had tried to take care of the issue herself.

Feeling kind of desperate now, Faith flung open the bathroom door. Xander was propped up on his elbows looking confused and bleary-eyed. She was wrapped in a fluffy white towel, one corner tucked in between her breasts, which left her hands free. She lifted her arms and held onto the doorframe as she decided whether or not Cordelia’s ex might be off limits, too.

Stumbling over his words, Xander’s voice cracked as he reviewed the situation, “Faith, you’re in my room. Wet. Wearing a towel.”

“Took a detour. Ended up here.”

“I’m not dreaming?” He pinched his left cheek and let out an, “Ow! So not dreaming.”

He was kind of adorable for a doofus. Faith grinned, her cheeks dimpling. “No, but I’ll make tonight your dream come true.”

“Uh…”

She laughed at his eyes went wide and he gripped the covers with both hands holding them tight to his chest. “Gonna have to lose those.” With a quick move she grabbed a handful of material and yanked it away.

Xander let out a little yelp, but made no move to escape or stop her advance when she lifted her knee onto the mattress. The light from the bathroom angled across her skin giving him a good look at the effects of her injuries. His brow scrunched up at the sight. “You’re all bruised and scraped up.”

“It’s all cool,” Faith blew it off as no big deal. “Some demon thing rammed into me. I decided to borrow your shower.”

She inched up onto the bed enjoying the way his eyes darted to her mouth, her breasts, and bare thighs. He was looking good, too, she decided. Not so sleepy-eyed, but awake and focused on her. No denying that Xander Harris was completely human, and that was what she wanted right now.

“Wh-why my shower? Plumbing works on the third floor, too.”

Faith quirked her eyebrows as she crawled up the length of his body. “Maybe I like your plumbing better.”

“Uh…”

“The fight with the demon, y’see, I’m all wound up, about ready to pop,” she said hoping that it did not sound like she was begging for attention. Licking her lips, she explained, “Just need a good stiff poke in the right spot and I’m gonna explode. You up for it?”

For a moment, Xander looked like a deer in the headlights. Not mistaking her meaning, he managed a nod, his body reacting faster than he could find his voice. “Oh, I’m up for it. I’m suddenly very up. It’s just, um,” he quietly reminded, “I’ve never been up with people before.”

Faith was all too aware that Xander was a virgin. His awkward reaction to Cordy’s announcement made that kinda obvious. Since stamina was probably not going to be necessary tonight, Faith wasn’t worried about his lack of experience. “Just relax and take off your pajamas. I’ve got this.”

Like everything else about Xander Harris, he was an average sized guy, but he felt good in her hand as she helped his already awakening dick get harder. Faith straddled his hips and sank down onto him for a fast and furious ride, thrilling at his expression as he filled her up again and again. Bouncing up and down, her tight body squeezed his, creating an incredible sensation that made her pop just as quickly as predicted. She threw her head back shouting out, “Bax!” a moment before Xander came like a fire hydrant, too wiped out to say anything when she slid off him.

“That was great,” Faith grinned that patented dimpled smile. Still wrapped in the towel, she walked into the bathroom to grab her stuff, and paused on the way out the bedroom door only when Xander muttered, “Did I mention that I’m having a very strange night?”

Yeah, Faith thought, closing the door between them. Aren’t we all?


172: The Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion

Cordelia_Dreaming

There is no place safer than Angel’s arms. He holds her close, his embrace tender, yet possessive. Bodies spooning, their limbs tangle as they lay sleeping. Though they have spent the waning hours of the night making love, Cordelia still dreams about his touch.

The slightest brush of his fingertips against her skin is enough to stir her lust making her want him and everything he has to give. Tiny tremors quake inside anticipating more to come. Heat blooms beneath his cool touch stoking a fire inside that only he can assuage making him just as hot for her. With each smooth stroke her body reveals its secrets. He knows how to wind her up almost instantly, yet sometimes with deliberate patience, so slowly that she thinks she will go insane before he gives her what she wants.

His touch tantalizes as it trails across lines and curves following a seemingly random path in innocent territory. Only it does not feel innocent rousing desires she never knew she had. Her skin tingles in anticipation of those roaming fingers, impatience making her writhe against every contact point. He has not even kissed her yet, but need throbs low inside her. Everything aches for his touch, for the wet slide of his tongue over her skin, soft suction of his mouth, and the blunt pressure of his teeth nipping softly, intimately, everywhere.

Patience is something she has yet to learn, wanting it all, wanting him, now. The torture of waiting is too much. There is only so much she can take without touching him, too. It is as vital as needing him inside her. As verbal as she is, her touch is just one more way of communicating her feelings, imprinting them upon him with every caress.

A wanton whim makes her the aggressor turning in his arms to capture his mouth under hers. She tastes his smile, savoring the soft brush of his lips forming her name when she remembers to breathe. No two kisses the same, she craves more, taking them because she can, greedy for the way they can be tenderly sweet, loving, and electrifyingly hot all at once.

One random spark might make her explode. Pressing her small hands against his broad shoulders, she pushes up to straddle his waist, soaking up his strength as he restrains the urge to take charge again. Those brown eyes are dark, intense, penetrating her with every unspoken desire. She will give him anything and everything he wants because she is insatiable when it comes to Angel, and just as possessive about him as he is of her.

She wants him completely, not just the rampant proof of his desire nudging her bottom, thick with lust. His love fills her up in ways she cannot explain taking hold of her so that her need for him his just as vital as breathing. Wanting him is more than just a physical need, even though she craves the delicious thrust of him inside her. That hunger is easy to understand as she makes him moan for more, scraping her nails across his torso until she reaches her own body, trailing her touch across her inner thighs.

Teasingly, she touches herself willing her eyes to stay open to watch his expression even though the sensation of her fingers coasting along her slick flesh makes her want to slam her eyes shut. Angel licks his lips, his salacious gaze holding hers so that his stare makes her even wetter. His attention is all on her, hands gripping her thighs, kneading the firm flesh, both closing higher and higher, thumbs circling near to her center where her busy fingers rub a little more urgently.

Euphoria strikes like lightning at the simple slide of Angel’s fingers alongside hers, their combined touch setting her off. Her hips circle, sensations whirling as she arches and trembles to the slip slide of their fingers brushing against her, as Angel’s finally thrusts inside. As hot as that feels, it is not enough, wanting more, needing him to fill her up, taking root inside so they are never apart, and she is never alone.

They fit perfectly together as she rides him, impaling herself again and again, her back arching, his hips thrusting upward to her down strokes. No awkward mistimed moves at all, not with her manpire. Perfectly synchronized bounces counter delicious bangs that feel so good, so right. Each move sets off white-hot sparklers behind her tightly clenched eyelids. Riding him harder, faster, her strangled little cries fill the air.

Moments from climax, Angel calls out her name, a plea for understanding mixed with the strain of holding back. Opening her eyes, she sees the yellow tint suffuse his irises, the shifting of bone and skin across his face, and the appearance of jagged fangs, reminding her that he has other needs and desires.

He wants to bite her, leave a mark, and claim her as his own. Pain, the scar, whatever binding ties come with it, don’t frighten her half so much as the idea that they might be separated. The future is cloudy, confusing, and scary as hell.

Now is all that matters because she can feel the darkness closing in. Something is out there waiting to claim her as a sacrificial pawn. It terrifies her as it reaches out from the shadows, not with hands, but with its thoughts to stake a claim of its own. The Varstrae belong to no one else but him.

Cordelia jerks awake to the sound of her name finding Angel leaning over her. “You were dreaming.” He soothes her trembling body with his own, keeping her close, wrapping his arms a little more tightly around her, lips softly kissing her forehead.

A hot flush of crimson brightened her cheeks as she recalled, “I was dreaming about you.”

The confession brings on a frown. “Did I do something?”

“You? Only the good stuff. My dreams about you are always hot.”

Despite his confusion, Angel still managed to look smug. “Good. Likewise.”

The light bristles along his jaw felt prickly under her hand as she reached up to kiss him back. Cordelia pressed her lips to his trying to chase away his concerns, but Angel knew that distraction technique all too well. “You screamed my name. You were afraid.”

“Terrified,” she shuddered at the memory.

Describing the scary part of the dream to him, Cordelia watched emotions play across his handsome face. “Doesn’t matter how many prophets or seers claim you’re going to be sacrificed. Kalesh and Nicolau will have to go through me first, and they will not stop me from saving you. I will never let them hurt you.”

The vehemence with which he made his promise settled her frayed nerves chasing away any doubt. Snuggling close, a sigh escaped at the contentment found within his embrace reminding her again that no place could be safer than Angel’s arms.


173: Summers’ Residence, 1630 Revello Drive, Central Sunnydale

BananaPancakes

Buffy followed the scent of banana pancakes and coffee down to the kitchen. “Morning, Mom,” she said with a yawn. “Smells delicious. I’m starving.”

After her shower last night, she had flopped into bed without a post-slayage snack. Even her stomach sounded grumpy about it. No crazy animal-shaped pancakes today. That took too long. Buffy wanted them round and stacked up just right. Perfect. Orderly. Fast.

Pouring some orange juice for herself, Buffy hopped up onto the kitchen stool and slid the newspaper closer to glance at the headline and photos on the front page. ‘Hospital Ablaze’ shouted a bold font. Joyce noticed her browsing the article. “Horrible storm last night! So much wind—like nature itself was howling.”

“Yeah. Weird. Crazy weather.” Nodding in agreement, Buffy wondered how long it would be before her Mom segued from talking about the weather to her health. Conversations still felt awkward at times, and got off to rough starts before they remembered that they no longer had to dance around certain subjects.

Joyce set a stack of pancakes down in front of her temporarily distracting Buffy from the concerned look in her eyes. “Were you caught in the storm? I thought it might bring you home early last night.”

“Slayer stuff as usual,” Buffy explained without getting into any details. Telling her Mom too much was still something to be avoided. It was one thing for her to know that vampires actually existed and that her daughter was the Chosen One, but giving her the full scoop on a demon god’s plans to rule over the Earth might be too scary. “We helped out at the hospital, too.”

“You make it sound like you were volunteering as a candy-striper.” A short laugh came out, but it was not really funny because it was trying to cover up the hurt and worry that Joyce failed to hide.

“Um, not exactly.”

Explaining that she read a helicopter had crashed into the roof of Mercy General because of the storm, Joyce prompted for more of the details Buffy was trying to withhold. “Was this just an accident or something supernatural? If you had to be involved…”

Buffy swallowed down another bite of breakfast. “No demons or vampires at the hospital last night, Mom, except mine—just the team.”

Visibly stiffening at the possessive description, Joyce toyed with the banana slices on top of her own pancakes pushing them around with the tines of her fork, as if she would find the right question hidden in the patterns of melting butter and syrup. “You told me that Rupert feels it necessary to keep your team together while you handle this latest crisis.”

“Uh huh.”

Green eyes widened as Buffy recalled the assumption her mother had made when she packed up her sleeping bag and duffel to take with her. The key phrase ‘It’s Slayer Stuff’ usually gave them a pass these days, but Joyce was still jittery over her disappearance. “You gave me the impression that you were camping out on Rupert’s living room floor, along with Xander and Willow.”

“Don’t forget about Faith,” reminded Buffy. “And Wesley! He’s new, a Watcher like Giles, only he’s here for Faith. Y’know, for training and stuff.”

Joyce had been made aware of Giles’ role, and the two of them had gotten a lot closer than Buffy would have liked thanks to Ethan Rayne’s magical wonkiness. That was just wrong. As far as she knew there had been no further, um… contact between her mother and Watcher since that time.

“Must be pretty cramped in that condo.”

Time to fess up, Buffy supposed, finishing off the last bite of her pancakes before saying that they were not at Giles’ place. “We needed more space, so we’re all staying at one of the big houses on Crawford Street.”

Alarm sounded in her voice, “With Angel?” Even after the glossy version of the story, her face-to-face interaction with Angelus at the front door had been enough to form a harsh opinion about the vampire. Apparently, her mother had not forgotten her saying Angelus occupied the mysterious old mansion.

Letting out a big sigh, Buffy turned on the stool to face her mother. “You don’t have to worry about Angel anymore. His soul is safe now.”

The part about gypsy curses, soul lossage, and being sucked into a hell dimension was confusing, but Joyce had been too relieved to have her daughter back home at the time to question it. Somewhat fearfully, she asked, “Does that mean you and Ang—” only to be interrupted before she could get the words out.

Buffy cut that notion off at the quick. “No! So not happening. We’re done. It’s over. He’s moved on.”

There was a pause when an automatic ‘I’m sorry’ might have filled the void, but both of them knew Joyce’s opinion when it came to her daughter’s relationship with Angel. “Are you okay with that?”

Tears welled up stinging her eyes and turning them glassy, but she blinked them away. “No, but I will be. Kind of have to be considering it’s my fault Angel fell for Cordelia.”

Joyce was a little behind on the gossip. “Xander’s girlfriend?”

“Not anymore.” Buffy reminded her of the whole horrible rebar incident giving her parts of the story that might have been left out before. She brought her up to speed on the whole Angel-Cordelia thing sharing the irony that was her part in bringing them together for patrol. Another big sigh preceded telling Joyce, “He’s so different now that he’s back. The way he obsesses about Cordelia….”

Sourly, Joyce muttered, “Doesn’t sound so different,” considering the way Angelus had been so obsessive toward Buffy. “I take it their relationship is intimate, too.”

A hot flush bloomed rosy red. “Very.” That was all she could say without wanting to run out of the kitchen to escape the conversation. Telling her mother that there was nothing subtle about Angel and Cordelia’s displays of affection might be awkward, but there was something inside her that kept her riveted to every public caress and kiss they shared.

Their raw passion might flame out once this crisis was over. Rebound relationships like theirs were frequently short-lived. Kind of like Scott trying to fill a void in her heart. She had wanted to make that work, but it was impossible. Angel, on the other hand, seemed to be handling matters of the heart just fine without her. There might be some lingering regret. He had made an effort to save their relationship, but Buffy had not been ready to take that risk again. Not so soon, anyway.

Now it felt strange being in the same room as Angel because he seemed like a different person. How could he still be her Angel and be so obviously in love with Cordelia Chase? Maybe that was the point, she thought bitterly. He was not hers anymore.

It was the little things that bugged her the most. Like a smile brightening Angel’s usually impassive face, simply because Cordelia entered the room. Or the way Cor palmed his face as if soaking up all the cares in the world even though she was the one in trouble. Their constant touching like they could not bear to be apart for ten seconds. Oh, and the eye sex. Necessary? Not so much now that there was nothing stopping them from doing it, which they certainly did…a lot. Denying it was no longer an option.

Buffy doubted there was one person staying at the mansion who had not turned a corner or opened a door at the wrong time to catch those two in some passionate clinch. Twice now, she had been the victim of seeing just a little too much. Well, anything was still too much, but it was enough to be embarrassed by the hint of jealous rage flashing within at her inability to look away. The universe shrunk to a pinpoint with Buffy fixed to the spot, watching them make out.

Locked at the lips, their kisses were hot, intimate, and passionate. Clothes askew, their hands roved intimately across layers of cloth, slipping beneath them to capture a prize. Shell-shocked, Buffy stared, unknown seconds passing before things got too hot, or one of them caught her staring. No one else would have to put up with getting an eyeful like that on a daily basis.

“It sucks, but I deal,” Buffy confessed to Joyce. “Cordelia is actually in danger, which is part of the reason we’re all hanging out at the mansion. There’s this old scroll with a prophecy…”

Despite her original plan to keep her mother blissfully unaware of the dangers they were facing, Buffy decided to spill it all. She could see that Joyce looked shaken after learning that an ancient hag and a cult of demon-worshipping vampires planned to bring on an apocalypse. “Shouldn’t somebody in the government be made aware? It sounds like the Army or Special Forces should be involved.”

“Mom, when it comes to the Hellmouth, I am the Special Forces,” she quipped trying to make light of a scary subject.

A weak smile trembled at the corners of Joyce’s mouth. “You’re special to me. If the rest of the world depends on you to stop this prophecy from coming to pass, then all I can do is ask if there is anything I can do to help.”

Buffy knew that she wanted her mother to stay safe, and that meant keeping her away from the mansion and the escalating dangers they faced. “How about another round of those pancakes?”


174: Master Bedroom, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

AngelCordy_Asleep

The sound of a knock on the door woke Angel from his slumber. Instantly alert, he could sense that it was just Faith in the hallway outside. Cordelia snuggled closer at the noise, her warm body shifting against him instinctively possessive. Barely a crack of light at the edge of the blackout curtains brightened the outline of her form. Sleep-tossed hair, eyes closed, her features soft and unburdened by the harsh realities of the day, he marveled at her pull on his heart, wanting countless days of waking up to the sensation of being wrapped in her embrace.

Such longings always accompanied a sharp barb pricking its reminders of prophecy and danger. Maybe it was too early to think about the future in that way. All he could do was take this moment and hold onto it. Angel pressed his lips to her forehead, murmured her name as he shifted a hand along the curve of her spine, waking her gently just before a second, louder rap sounded from the bedroom door.

“Come in, Faith.”

The door opened with a creak of its hinges. Light from the hallway chased away the dark shadows causing Angel to squint momentarily as his eyes quickly adjusted. “Time to get up and—whoa! What happened in here? Looks like you two had fun last night.”

A sleepy “Uh huh” sounded from Cordy before she even opened her eyes causing Faith to chuckle in response.

Angel was more perturbed by the disturbance of Cordelia’s rest than he was the way the slayer let her gaze linger on his exposed torso and the low dip of the soft cotton sheets covering their hips. He did not miss the hint of lust and longing in her gaze for the brief moment it met his, but Faith quickly looked away easily distracted by the sight of the ties knotted to the bedposts.

Seconds ticked away as Faith studied them in silence, her cheeks dimpling with obvious amusement as her imagination kicked in to fill in a few blanks. “Which one of you was the naughty one?”

Cordelia’s soft snort suggested the invasive question was funny rather than irritating. She seemed reluctant to move from her comfortable spot against his chest, and made no effort to provide an answer even though Angel had a feeling that if any subject was off limits for discussion between Cordy and Faith, sex was not one of them. He had no problem with that, but he hoped that the other matter would be kept private at least until Cordy had a chance to speak to one of the Watchers. He did not want a slayer’s perspective to influence her decision even if she was a friend.

Annoyed at the thought that she might interfere, Angel suddenly wanted her gone from their space. Intensity darkened his gaze. “What do you want, Faith?”

Walking forward at a slow pace, Faith stopped at the foot of the bed. “Loaded question.” She wrapped a hand around the ties and gave them an experimental tug. The makeshift rope contained familiar patterns. “Guess this explains Wesley’s casual vibe this morning. Those cute little bow ties are all knotted up right here. That’s one of today’s mysteries solved.”

Angel sensed Cordy’s heart racing a moment before she sprang into a sitting position to gasp, “I’ll tell them.” The action nearly swept the sheet away from him as she clutched it to her chest. Only his fast reflexes let him grab the tail end before giving Faith an eyeful. He quickly adjusted the covers as Cordelia gasped, “Don’t you dare say a word.”

Obviously amused, Faith did not bother to hide it. “Maybe you should just iron them and put them back.”

Not a bad idea, Angel gave it legitimate consideration wondering how long it would take to unknot each tie and return them to a pristine condition. Then recalling Faith’s reasons for coming to their bedroom probably had nothing to do with teasing them, Angel asked again, “What’s up?”

The glimmer in her eyes faded as she took the query seriously. “Giles sent me to wake you. He wants everyone downstairs ASAP.” She nodded toward the open bedroom door. “Stuff to go over.”

“Does that have anything to do with your bruises?”

His question focused Cordelia’s attention on the subtle colors showing beneath the cover of her makeup even in the dim light. A quick gasp preceded rapid-fire queries, but Faith was unusually closed-mouthed about it. “It’s nothing. I’m good.” Promising more details later, “We’ll talk about all the shit that went down last night when we’re downstairs. Now haul your hot asses out of bed, jump in the shower, and meet us in the lounge. Oh, and just to warn you. . . Xander made lunch.”

Something else suddenly clicked at the sound of the boy’s name. He could still scent the subtle, lingering traces of sex on Faith’s skin in spite of the overlying layers of soap, coffee, and bubble gum. From what he could tell, Faith had never been one to suppress her sexuality, but— Xander Harris? Bizarre. Chocking it up to apocalyptic events, Angel hoped that he could box that knowledge up and hide it away in some forgotten corner of his head.

“Lunch? It can’t be lunchtime yet,” Cordelia flopped back against her pillows and groaned in complaint. “It’s still early.”

“Move it, Chase. It’s already noon. Wesley is about to wear a hole in the floor from all of the pacing.” Faith headed for the door again doing her best to cover up a limp that was a little too obvious to hide.

Cordelia propped her chin on his shoulder to comment, “Making us get out of bed is so wrong. It is not like today is the end of the world. We’ve got another month or two for that.”

Tensing up at the idea because it meant the danger to Cordy was only going to increase, Angel promised gruffly, “Not if I can help it.”


175: The Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

Willow_Spell Book

The spell book in Willow’s hand was not at all like the great tome of the Vampyr so chock full of information that it was nearly impossible to carry much less memorize. Its narrow binding was just right for smaller hands. A tight leathery surface covered the book like a brown skin weathered with age. This book had been around for a while causing her to wonder how many of Wesley’s predecessors had used it during their study of magic, or if he had found it tucked away on a long forgotten shelf of an old book shop.

An embossed rune was the only embellishment on the cover. No gilded title announced its contents. Nothing suggested that its pages contained such secrets, yet she could feel that it was no ordinary book. There was a spark, a pulse, or some reaction she could not quite describe deep inside her when tracing her fingers over the mysterious rune.

Maybe it was just anticipation causing her quaking insides to jiggle like Jello because she could not wait to delve into it. Unlike the complex books found and confiscated by Giles after Amy’s mom cast that bloodstone vengeance spell, Willow did not have to sneak into the special lockup to browse through them. Wesley fully accepted her being a witch, and treated her interest in magic as completely natural, offering her the book and giving her encouragement. It was a foreign sensation considering that her interests were not supported at home.

Despite her mother forming a bond of friendship with Joyce Summers, it was not enough to fully come to terms with the realities of life in Sunnydale, or having daughters that were something other than normal teenagers. Having a musician boyfriend was enough of a strain for her mother to accept, much less her being a witch. Willow was only just starting to learn what that really meant, and being psychoanalyzed over the dinner table was not exactly confidence boosting.

Maybe Giles was too much like family to take her abilities in stride the way Wesley did. He tended to be a worrywart issuing out warnings and locking things away he believed were too powerful or tainted by dark magic. How was she supposed to learn anything if it was hidden away in a vault? Well, vaults could be opened, but maybe the book was a sign that she would no longer have to sneak around to advance her studies.

Willow had arrived promptly at nine o’clock just as planned, but the mansion was quiet. The two watchers were the only ones up. Finding them in the study wearing identically worried expressions, completely focused on some deep topic of conversation, her soft, simple greeting startled them into defensive postures. “Hey guys!”

Wesley yelped, “Good lord! Willow, I thought you were—” He broke off suddenly turning his gaze away as he forced himself to relax.

Glancing at Giles, she saw him staring back at his fellow watcher with pursed lips, which signaled both his annoyance and restraint. Willow had seen that look a few times. It did not take a genius to realize something important had happened or was about to happen, so it was jarringly clear to her.

“What’s wrong?”

“A great deal too many things,” Giles answered honestly if a bit cryptically. Behind the metal rim of his glasses, his gaze drifted over her shoulder to the empty hall. “Where is Buffy?”

Not where she was supposed to be, Willow thought with a twinge of irritation.

Buffy’s absence was a surprise to her, too. Their plans to walk to the mansion together had either been forgotten or ignored for some unknown reason. Willow had caught the first bus at the closest Main Street stop. Its route took it down Oak Park Street just as usual. There had been a few other passengers who got off at the Maple Court bus stop closest to the Sunnydale Mall and the museum, peeps probably working weekend hours. The Summers’ house on Revello Drive was less than half a block from the bus stop, so Willow had been confident that she was not late getting there.

Confessing, “I dunno.” Willow shrugged causing her oversized striped sweater to slip a little across her shoulder. In the old days, before last summer, she would have guessed that Buffy was with Angel. Not now. Nope. Not anymore. “Probably slayer stuff. Forgot to sharpen her stakes or something.”

The hasty attempt at covering for her friend’s absence gnawed at her, especially since Giles and Wes looked about as convinced as she did over the idea. “Mrs. Summers said Buffy took off right after breakfast. She sounded kind of worried and kept telling me to be careful and stay safe.”

Willow knew that Buffy struggled to be more open with her mom about her role as the Chosen One. Being a slayer involved some scary stuff that would cause most mothers to freak out and send their daughter to a boarding school far away in some Hellmouth-free village in Alaska. Overall, Willow thought that Joyce Summers seemed to be handling it pretty well.

“Sage advice, but I fear that we may have been over-confident about using this place as a safe-haven,” Giles told her.

Spidery crawlers crept along her spine. “Our spells sh—” Willow knew that the spells cast across the mansion and its grounds should protect them from any uninvited vampires or demons that tried to breach the mystic wards. Obviously, Giles was equally aware how it was supposed to work.

“They failed.”

Willow felt her jaw drop open, and heard a squeak of a sound emerge. It seemed to ring in her ears as she realized that whatever had happened to cause Giles and Wesley to be so worried was somehow her fault. “Wh—what happened? The spells seemed okay.”

Giles closed his eyes waiting to speak until he found the right response. “This is not your fault, Willow. Your spells remain intact. Drusilla, Spike and Angel were unable to cross the threshold without Cordelia’s invitation proving the magic works. A test of the other wards shows them to be functional.”

“If they’re still working what did I do wrong?”

“Nothing you did. The failure is mine,” Wesley looked tight-jawed with self-blame, but ready to take the bulk of the responsibility. “After discovering Kalesh’s involvement, I did not think to reinforce our mystical wards against a being of such innate power. The spells I selected for you might keep the vampires and lower demons at bay, but not her.”

Kalesh was the priestess of Amolon, the right-hand-demon to the official Big Bad demon god. Surely she had other more important evil things to be doing than showing up at the mansion. Willow hoped that Wes was just being too hard on himself. Asking, “H-How do you know they won’t work? They might stop her,” she chirped trying to sound positive only to realize Wesley had been talking in the past tense.

Giles leaned forward, palms flat on the desk between them. “That’s just it, Willow. They did not work. Kalesh came to the mansion last night and took Karla.”

Gasping, “Oh, no!” Willow felt a sense of dread sink into her stomach.

“Indeed.”

An explosion of thoughts and emotions burst like fireworks. “Gosh! We need Buffy. We need a plan. Is Cordelia okay? Poor Karla. She must be so scared. I’m scared. Kalesh was here! Right here. In and out without disturbing my spells. Creepy. Awesome. How?”

Both watchers looked dazed as her babbling stream of words softened to a whisper and finally came to an end. Finally, Giles told her, “The method Kalesh used to breach our defensive perimeter is less important than her reasons for doing so. Clearly, despite her affected state of being, Karla is still vital to their end game. So much so that Kalesh did not delegate the task of retrieving her to an underling.”

“What about Cordy?” Concern laced the question. “Are you sure Kalesh did not sneak in to steal her, too? Maybe we should check.”

Wesley reflexively reached up to tug at his bow tie as if it constricted his throat only he was not wearing one this morning. That was odd considering he wore bow ties and suits like they were an official uniform. Shrugging off the passing thought, Willow thumbed in the direction of the stairs. “Just a quick peek.”

“No! No need. No need at all.” Giles eyes practically popped out of his head as he jerked back from the desk, walked around it and practically blocked her path out of the study. “Definitely no need for, ah, peeking.”

Willow felt a hot flush rise to her cheeks matching the blotchy patches on Giles’ throat. “Oh. I suppose it’s kind of early for vampires and their girlfriends to be awake.” Trying not to think about it only caused her to think about it even more. “Sun’s up. It’s sunny. Hence the sleeping. Yup!” Especially, it quickly occurred to her, if they were up most of the night doing stuff that involved Angel being ‘up’ a lot too.

Gulping hard at the image forming in her head, Willow was grateful when Giles managed to get them all back on track. “There is no need to disturb anyone until we formulate a plan to increase our defenses. Angel will want answers, not excuses when it comes to Cordelia’s safety. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that this goes far beyond just one life, or even two, Karla included, who are precious to us.”

Deep down, Willow understood that the world came first. She got that every time Buffy led them into battle against the latest monster, evil guy, or power-hungry nerd tried to take over Sunnydale, the Hellmouth, or suck the world into another dimension. This felt personal, even if Cordelia Chase was a frenemy of sorts. Whether or not she had caused a lot of angst, they had known each other since kindergarten, and Willow did not want to her to end up like Karla Brewer.

Anxiously, Willow blurted, “There has to be something we can do.”

Giles’ expression turned dour. “Yes, I’m afraid there is. If you’re willing to risk it.”

Willow stared at their expectant faces. A thick silence fell as she let their words sink in. Holding her breath, she blinked twice, looking at one watcher and then the other. Only to suck air into her lungs when instinct kicked in. “Who, me?”

Picking up a thin leather-bound book from the desk, Wesley held it out to her. “This is no ordinary book of spells. Only those with an innate talent for magic can truly master what lies within.”

Oh, yes. Me.

Reaching out with both hands, Willow grasped it close feeling instantly warm, and jittery with anticipation of delving into its pages. She started to look for a quiet, comfy place to sit when Giles burst her little bubble of happiness. “This could be dangerous. That book is not meant for the meek, Willow. Magic must be wielded from a core of strength and a pureness of spirit, or else its darker forces may pull you toward a path few possess the skill to navigate.”

That sounded scary, but curiosity burned within so much that her chest felt tight with it. Willow knew that she was not meek or mousey, at least not like she used to be. Being a slayer’s best friend had a lot to do with that. “I can do this.” Spell book. Magic. Yup! “I can totally do this. Um, so… what is it I’m doing?”

Thinking back to it now, Giles and Wesley exchanged a look that spoke volumes, but she had been far too focused on the book to see that they had been equally concerned. Wes gave her a nod. “For now, just study the book. You have talent, Willow. More than you know.”

A little burst of pride made her smile until it was wiped away by the scowl on Giles’ face. “Everyone will have to step up their game in the days ahead. We may have need of your talent, Willow. If you choose to expose yourself to this level of magic, there is no turning back. Wielding it may focus the enemy’s attention on you. Are you willing to take that risk?”

Funny how it was Cordy’s voice that popped into her head just then. Hello, magic. Duh!

“Sure,” she answered simply. “Guess I’ll get started.”

Leaving the watchers in the study, Willow headed back down the hall planning to find a comfortable chair in the lounge. She got no further than the main staircase before she paused to open the book, immediately becoming engrossed by the swirls of ink on its old pages.

She did not even think about her actions when sinking down onto the one of the bottom steps, her surroundings already a blur as she focused on the book of spells. When Faith paused beside her sometime later as she descended the staircase, but got no more than a cursory glance, the slayer did not bother to interrupt her. Xander zoomed by once, but it was only to hurry after Faith as she headed down the hallway. That deserved a second glance, so Willow stared after them for a moment wondering what would cause him to chase after her that way.

“Weird,” she muttered realizing that Xander had not even noticed her sitting there. Giles or Wesley might have told him not to disturb her studies, but she was almost certain he would at least say good morning.

Between the watchers’ creepy, scary news about Karla and Kalesh, and the almost eager tone in Xander’s voice as he called out to Faith, Willow decided that there were definitely weird vibes at the mansion this morning. It felt strange to her, like an odd undercurrent of energy flowing around the place giving her the shivers.

Down the hall, she heard Faith volunteering for something. “I’ll go. No, I don’t need any help,” she sounded a little amused. That light tone rapidly darkened when she took one step out of the study to find he was right behind her again. “Xander, stay.”

Willow felt her hackles rise a little at the tone in the slayer’s voice as she ordered Xander to stay put in the same way she might tell a dog to heel. When Faith turned to head up the stairs, Willow gave her a stern glare of disapproval, which barely seemed to register during their momentary eye contact. Typically, Faith had nothing to say to her. That was annoying, Willow decided, but figured there were far more interesting things to do right now.

The spell book contained magic from several disciplines, ranging from simple elemental magic to chanting, divining and potion making. Confidence at her ability to master each one flared to life. It might not be easy, but she could do it.

Some spells only required the use of a phrase or two to summon up her magic focusing it in the direction of her choosing. With all of the research over the past couple of years using Giles’ ancient resources, Willow had picked up quite a bit of Latin in the process. The book seemed to contain a mix of modern and old English and Latin. Though it might take some time to decipher all of the text, she could already make out the majority of it.

Turning the page, Willow mused over the title of the spell and wondered if this might be a good time for a little practice. She read the phrases silently the first few times, and then sounded them out slowly on a whisper until something about it felt right. Rising to her feet to stand on the bottom step, anticipation zinging along her nerves, Willow felt something take hold as the words sounded out strong and clear, each syllable uttered causing a wave of energy to rise within her.

What she wanted was a little honesty around these parts. No more dancing around the truth, or just ignoring her. Clear up the weird vibes. Get it all out in the open.

“Loquimini veritatem. Et non est mendacium.”

The words in the book glowed with golden light for a moment of time and then dimmed. Her body felt warm from the rush of magic surrounding her. Smiling a little smugly, she closed the book holding it in a protective way beneath crossed arms. All she needed was for Faith to come back downstairs.

Willow was excited to discover if the spell would work. Even with the showy effects there was a chance that its power might be minimal. Good grief! What was taking so long?

Finally, Faith showed up at the top of the stairs. She frowned at the eager expression on Willow’s face, so different than the disapproving scowl from minutes before. Moving at a slow pace, she angled her head, eyeing her as if suspecting something was up. “What’s wrong with you?” asked Faith clearly annoyed by the attention. “I don’t like you staring at me.”

Gulping at the hint of a threat, Willow summoned up the courage to speak. “I-I was just waiting. Um, what is going on with you and Xander this morning? He’s acting weird.”

For a moment, Faith looked as if she was going to heatedly tell Willow to mind her own g.d. f-word business, but as soon as she opened her mouth the truth just spilled out. “Last night I just needed a good screw. The dweeb was my best option.”

Wide-eyed, Willow let the words sink in. Her gaping jaw felt heavy making it difficult to close her mouth. “So you…you…”

“Rode him like a bucking bronco.” Faith frowned as soon as she said the words as if she realized the truth was not something she had planned to share with anyone. “And it was hot. Uh… Don’t you dare tell him I said that! He’s as clingy as Saran wrap this morning.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Willow silently wished that she could erase the past few minutes. Was there a spell to wipe out the image of naked Faith and naked Xander doing that? A sick feeling churned her stomach. It was not exactly jealousy she felt that Xander had lost his virginity to someone else, but it felt wrong that it had happened with someone who clearly did not love him.

“He’ll get over it,” shrugged Faith as she started to move past her. “Best that he does. I am too screwed up for someone like him.”

Willow let her go even though there were other questions buzzing around her head. It seemed that Faith did not have a very good opinion about herself. Hearing the truth about last night’s escapades, Willow kind of felt the same way. Poor Xander. Even if she was his best friend, this was none of her business. Until, of course, he spilled the beans and told her all about it. Now, thanks to this spell, she would have to wonder if it was something he might have revealed on his own like a best friend would, or if he would keep the sordid details to himself.

Just how long did this spell last? Willow gulped hard. Sinking down onto the step again, she stared at the book. The symbol on its cover seemed no less intriguing than it had earlier. She traced its edges feeling the same urge to peek inside. Curiosity about the truth had not killed her like the proverbial curious cat, but it certainly hurt to hear it.


176: Master Suite, The Mansion, Crawford Stree, Central Sunnydale

Cordelia_Mirrors

“Zip me up.”

Walking back into the bathroom having already finished getting dressed, Angel found Cordelia leaning toward the mirror as she applied mascara to her lashes. He stood in silence for a few seconds watching the careful strokes that darkened the soft flares to accentuate her eyes. Just that simple task held him spellbound. Everything about her caused the same reaction, a craving for more, a need for connection.

It was impossible to ignore, not that he tried. Standing behind her, he let his gaze fall to the long strands of silky hair teasing the bare expanse of her back exposed by the open zipper. Stroking his fingers through her hair, he swept it over her shoulder out of the way pausing to clasp the delicate nape of her neck. Rubbing his thumb up and down drew a little moan of pleasure from Cordelia’s throat. That siren song made him lean even closer, noting her familiar scent, and listening to the steady pulse of her blood. The combination was intoxicating.

The open zipper exposed smooth golden skin, so warm to the touch, with only the thin bra strap acting as an obstacle to his explorations. He thought about unsnapping it and sliding both hands inside the dress to palm her breasts, which quickly led to all manner of salacious thoughts popping into his head. Oh, the things he wanted to do to her right then and there would not get them downstairs any time soon.

Taking a short step back, Angel tried a quick mental exercise designed to center his chi. Focus and resolve usually calmed his more volatile instincts, and brought him to a point of self-awareness where he could navigate the stormy sea of emotions trying to break free. Even those few seconds apart felt like hell as if the short distance separating them was still too far. He forced himself to stay put long enough to take focus on the aesthetics of her beauty instead of his stirring lust.

He could almost hear her say, “Like that ever works? Not.”

Angel felt his mouth twitch into a smile however briefly it lasted. No, trying to suppress his feelings was impossible. He was usually in control of his emotions, so careful about what others could see. Although he wanted Cordelia to understand the depth of feeling behind his desire to claim her, he did not want it to scare her in the same way that it sometimes frightened him. He was a vampire, after all, and every possessive urge and crazed obsession was fed by deeply rooted instincts, just as primal as the very human love that bound them together.

Despite his twisted relationships with Darla and Buffy, this was completely new to him. Yes, he had loved Buffy Summers, but those feelings had always been at war with his vampire nature. Angelus’ full-on fixation with Buffy had more to do with payback and possessiveness than love, and with the added desire to cause her pain, suffering, and to eventually bring her to death. With his soul on board, something was still there between them, he had to admit, even if only inwardly. A fondness, regret, lingering pain at the loss of what they both imagined it could be. Or, maybe their doomed relationship was just a festering wound that was never going to heal completely.

The inherent sire bond with Darla still lingered wraith-like in the shadows of his memory. It was there when he awakened a vampire, growing stronger each passing day with the bonding element of her blood. He was her progeny, her beautiful boy whose youth and handsome face were her way of taking a rebellious stab at Aurelius, the ancient master of their clan, and her own sire. Angelus was her prized cock, a stallion whose rutting nature became highly skilled with practice and training because she wanted him to be the best, so certain that he would give her all that she desired for eternity.

Darla was obsessed with her creation, and Angelus had enjoyed the power he held over his sire. There was no love there even in the occasional tender moments, just a right of possession tying them together until the taint of a soul marred the perfect specimen of flesh she had made. Loyalty to his sire kept him at her side until he could no longer act as she desired, and she began to look upon him with disgust.

Despite the rejection, there was still a part of him that needed Darla, a gaping hole left behind that no one else could fill. Yet, knowing the dangerous threat she posed, he had ended her when she threatened Buffy’s life. An act that still disturbed him when he let himself think of his sire despite knowing that he would do it again if necessary.

Examining his feelings, Angel recognized the emptiness inside him, and understood that they stemmed from both the human and demon sides of his nature. Past lovers spurned whichever side of him was unacceptable, but not Cordelia. He could not see her allowing the skirt chasing, disrespectful cad he once was into her heart. Liam might charm his way into her bed given the chance, but he would not have let himself be tied down to any woman unless it gave him an opportunity to escape his cold-hearted father and see something of the world.

As for Angelus, he knew love would never play into it. If his soulless self had captured her that night in the cemetery instead of just making threats, he figured Cordelia would be dead, only after a forced seduction, of course, because Angelus would want to make her beg for it. He remembered contemplating whether or not to turn her. The thought sickened him making him angry with himself for even bringing that memory to the fore yet again.

Snapping out of his thoughts, he stared at the mirror noting that Cordelia was blissfully clueless about the fangs sharpening behind her. Angel quickly focused enough to shift back to fully human form. “Do we have time for that?” Annoyance with himself crept into his voice as he watched her carefully applying her makeup. “It’s not like you need it.

“Pfft! Did Darla and Dru teach you nothing about women?” Cordelia rolled her eyes, not bothering to turn around. She plucked a lipstick from the pile on the counter. “There’s always time.”

Angel zipped the sleeveless purple dress into place. “If you say so.” He stayed right behind her, closer than necessary, his hands on her hips and lower body pressing close into the firm curve of her ass. He kissed her neck, tugged at her earlobe with his teeth, enjoying the casual shimmy of her hips causing friction where he wanted it most. “Christ! Cordy, stop that right now, or…”

Taking his hands off her and clamping his eyes shut tight, Angel counted to ten hoping to take back control of his body from the remnant of his old self that remained a walking hormone. When he came within sight of Cordelia, he was instantly aware of heightened senses, keenly tuned in to everything about her. Lately, within touching distance, a state of perpetual arousal took hold, hungry and demanding, difficult to ignore. Just like now.

He wanted to fall to his knees while reaching beneath the teasing folds of that short purple dress. Let his fingers take hold of the elastic of her flossy thong to slide it down her legs, and trace a path across every inch of satin skin along the way. Dropping the thong at her ankles, and after instructing her to step free and spread her legs wide, he would. . .

Angel forced himself to put away the fantasy and go stand by the door. He would not be playing any of those deliciously sexy games with Cordelia. Not right now, anyway. They had business downstairs, and she had a very important conversation on the books with at least one of the Watchers. He was resolved not to seduce or be seduced by Cordelia until she accepted everything that might result from his claim.

Still leaning against the counter, lipstick in hand, Cordelia glanced over at him, pouting as if he had taken away her favorite new toy. “You’re the one who insisted we get out of bed,” she reminded with a wink. Teasing him with the reminder, “We could still be there, y’know. . . snuggling.”

As much as Angel would have liked to carry out his original plan for last night by curling up in bed with the woman he loved, there were too many important things to settle. “If you ever finish getting ready, we might get back to it a lot sooner.”

“Promises, promises,” she teased and turned back toward the mirror. Smoothing a glossy color across her slightly swollen lower lip, Cordelia drew in a sharp little gasp, as if that small amount of pressure stung reminding him that he had accidentally nipped just a bit too hard.

Suddenly realizing there was a reason she was moving at a snail’s pace this morning, he cursed inwardly knowing that he only had himself to blame. He had been rough with her last night, insatiable, pushing her to the limits of human tolerance. He wanted so much from her and she had only the most superficial notion what that meant.

Feeling guilty about it all, Angel muttered, “Take your time. I’ll head downstairs.”


177: Main Hall, The Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale

Willow Spellbook Stairs

Willow was still deep in thought about her new spell book and the Spell of Truth she had invoked when Angel appeared at the top of the stairs. He was alone. It actually felt weird not seeing him with Cordelia, and that realization seemed weird all on its own. Since Giles had important announcements to make, she hoped that Cordelia wasn’t going to flake on attending just to stay in bed a little longer. It was already noon!

Before she could call out to Angel to ask whether or not Cordelia was coming, he was joined by Spike and Dru who had been in their room on the mansion’s third floor. Moment lost, she leaned back against the ornate post on the bottom step to wait for them to descend into the main hall. Besides, she was curious to find out if her spell was still working.

“You been summoned, too?” Spike asks sounding annoyed.

Angel nodded curtly turning to face them. “Faith woke us.”

“Watch out for that one, Angel. Needs a good hard shag, she does, and seems to have a thing for you.”

Willow was not surprised that Faith might have a little crush on someone like Angel even if he was a vampire. What Angel had to say about it was the shocking part. “Faith knows the score. Besides, she scratched that itch last night . . . with Harris.”

Did everyone know? If Faith hadn’t said so under the compelling power of a truth spell, Willow never would have believed her. Maybe the spell was a total bust after all and Faith was just lying to her face. Yes. That was it. Yup. Definitely.

Angel just got the name wrong. Right? Ferris! Rhymes with Harris. Bueller, anyone? It made much more sense than Faith and Xander scratching anything together.

Oh, denial, thy name is Willow Rosenberg.

“Nasty slayers!” hissed Dru. Despite being told to stay away from Xander Harris and her tendency to compel him into doing her favors, she still watched out for him. Apparently, being seduced by Faith—because Willow could never see him making the first move—did not please the vampiress. “Always taking things that don’t belong to them.”

Angel looked dangerous when he snapped back, “Like you did last night?”

Curiosity burned in her chest. Ooh! What happened last night? The question was on her lips when she clapped a hand across her mouth to shut herself up. Even if they had seen her sitting there, neither one held bothered to tone it down. Although she wished the truth was a little less cryptic.

Dru went straight into Angel’s arms seeking forgiveness for some wrongdoing. “Tell me you forgive me, my Angel. I meant no harm. Surely you enjoyed my present.”

Remaining quite angry with her despite the gift giving, Angel held her tight against him to snarl, “You’re lucky all you got was a spanking.”

How’s that for clarity? Willow’s jaw drops a little imagining the pain Angel’s big hand might cause when it fell hard against tender bare skin. The idea should make her shudder at the idea of Angel doling out punishment to his progeny, but he had a way of making it sound a lot more inviting than scary. Not that Willow wanted to sign up. Nope.

“Where is our Cordy this morning? Exhausted, I suppose. Poor tired kitten.” Drusilla moved past the men toward the master bedroom. “All of those delicious orgasms.”

The vampires disappeared down the hall telling them she was going to kiss and make up with Cordy for playing too rough. “She looked so pretty when she was all tied up, even if she did not like our game.”

Tied up? Willow blinked at the images forming in her head.

Spike clapped Angel on the shoulder. “No hard feelings about last night just because I’ve seen your pet in the altogether. No harm done.”

“Don’t push your luck. You got off easy, too.”

Another spanking? Willow wondered finding the thought to be intriguing and icky all at the same time.

“Was she as tasty as she looked?”

Was Spike stirring up trouble with a few lies? Not if the Truth Spell was still in effect. If it was that meant that Spike had seen Cordelia’s naked bits and lived to tell. Willow was so glad Buffy was not here to listen to this. Vampire sexcapades were not her favorite topic of discussion these days.

Angel growled that it was none of Spike’s business what Cordelia tasted like, but he was compelled by the force of magic lingering in the air to say, “Tasty doesn’t even cover it. I can’t get enough of her, Spike.” He made it sound like he was fighting a losing battle.

They started down the steps and Angel seemed to notice her presence for the first time, and was none too pleased about her listening in on his conversation. Spike, on the other hand, did not give a rat’s ass if she heard what he had to say. “Fuck it all, Peaches! Tell me you put your mark on the chit. That would be something.”

A dangerous vibe resonated in the air making Willow shudder. Razor sharp fangs biting hard and fast, drawing blood, leaving a permanent scar all meant something more than just a vampire looking for a midnight snack. She had read a lot about vampires and the rituals involved in their relationships with both humans and other vampires. At the time, it was out of concern for her best friend, but Buffy being a slayer put her in a category no one had ever documented. In hindsight, she realized slayers and vampires probably had no business having relationships in the first place being natural enemies and all.

Was Cordelia sporting a bite mark this morning? Willow wondered if that was why she was taking so long to come down. Although, the notes on the subject suggested Angel would not be pleased about an effort to cover the mark up. Displaying it was the whole point.

Overall, Willow was rather surprised that there had been no visible bite marks before now. Angel might have a soul, but he still had a set of fangs, and Cordelia was certainly bite-worthy in her book. She assumed that being bitey was an intricate part of the whole vampire sex thing, although even on that particular night Buffy’s neck had remained bite free.

Angel sounded pissed that Spike brought up the subject. All he would say, with a growl in his voice, was a frustrated, “No.” He moved down a few steps pausing only when the other vampire called him out on it.

“Bloody idiot.”

Grabbing a fistful of the Grateful Dead concert t-shirt Spike was wearing, Angel dragged him down to his level on the stairs. “Stay out of it. Cordy is not your concern.” He thrust him away sending Spike crashing down onto the step just above Willow’s. Angel pressed his mouth into a hard line, warning her, “That goes for you, too. Say anything . . .”

Whoa! Scary mode. The threat was all too clear even if Angel did not bother to fill in the details. His tone suggested any consequences would be swift and painful. Willow mimed zipping her lips and tossing away the key.

She held her breath until Angel had reached the bottom step, releasing it in a whoosh, and collapsing back against a wooden post. “Gosh! Someone’s not a happy camper this morning.”

Spike leaned back on his elbows and stretched his legs out, apparently no longer in a hurry to chase after Angel. “Hello, Red. Don’t mind him. He thinks he’s trying to do the right thing.”

Willow liked the sound of it. “That’s good.”

“Not ruddy likely.”

“M-maybe Cordy doesn’t want to be bitten,” she suggested, which only caused Spike to glare at her as if she was missing the point. “The whole pet thing kind of annoys her. I doubt she wants any scars to—”

Spike rolled toward her interrupting her little theory with a rabid response. “That’s just the way it is.”

A quip, “Ooookay!” was all Willow could manage, not really understanding why Spike was so vehement on the subject. This certainly seemed like something more important than just sexy little nips or kinky blood play that might go along with having a vampire boyfriend.

“Better hope it will be okay,” Spike told her rising to his feet and jerking her to hers in one motion. “Leave it much longer and things could get downright dangerous. Angelus might never be free of the soul again, but he is still a vampire. Don’t you forget it, Red.”

Why did he have to bring up Angel’s alter ego? He was already scary enough right now without the reminder.

“The cheerleader’s fit and flexible enough to keep up with most of their bedroom antics, but she’s still human.”

“H-he wants her to stay that way, right? Human, I mean. The flexible part, um . . . ”

Spike grunted, “Right,” leaving Willow awash with relief that there were no plans to turn Cordelia into a vampire. It might make her unsuitable to sacrifice, but she could not see either Cordelia or Angel wanting that as a viable option to saving her life and preventing her participation in the unfolding events of the prophesy.

No one wanted that. Willow let her thoughts take her to a place where Vampire Cordy existed and found it to be terrifying. A soulless, heartless, emotionless Cordelia Chase with a set of fangs to accompany her killer instinct would not be a good thing for anyone who crossed her path. Definitely not something to encourage even if they could whip up a new version of the gypsy curse designed just for her.

Certain that could not be the decision that tormented Angel, she asked Spike, “What’s so terrible?” Clarifying, she tagged on, “Besides the whole future sacrifice thing.”

Based on her readings, Willow already had an idea what came next. Maybe Angel and Spike were right to be so off kilter about it because it was one thing to mark Cordelia, but it was a far more dangerous—and permanent thing to claim her.

“I-I think I should talk to someone about this,” Willow gulped. “Y’know, before it’s too late to take it back.”

Spike backed her up into the carved wooden post at the bottom of the stairs. “Say one word to anyone, and you’ll regret it. Screw this up and it will be the last thing you do.”

Willow nearly peed her pants. Not only was it a threat, it was the raw truth. Leaving her standing there shaking in her shoes, Spike stalked off in the direction of the lounge. She hated that vulnerable feeling. Threat or not, it was not going to stop her from doing the right thing, just as soon as she figured out how.


178: A Cavern in Subterranean Sunnydale

COF8

Absolute darkness filled the heart of the cavern, blackness so deep nothing living could exist there for long without going blind. Its uneven formations and mazelike passages led away from the only source of natural light. Far away from the sunbeams filtering through the trees outside spreading light and warmth, a dank cold clung to the slimy rock walls and floor as the limestone dripped from overhead. Only that constant sound penetrated the dark. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. That, and the sniveling, whimpering, terrified cries of those held captive there.

Kalesh listened to the Varstrae held by the force of nature’s own grip in a cage formed of stone. Oh, how they suffered, these humans, their bodies so fragile when their comforts were stripped away. Their minds were easily bent under her control, splintered with fear, and now teetering on the edge of insanity. So helpless were they, yet vital to the Rites of Tavrok in bringing Amolon to Earth as prophesied.

A tap of her staff on the rocky floor sparked it to life. Blue flame licked at the bulbous tip of wood until it burst with flickering light. Kalesh cackled as the warm glow chased back the shadows to reveal the three Varstrae huddled together, clinging close to each other for warmth and comfort, shielding their eyes from the light. Those capable of coherent speech called out for mercy. The name of Amolon echoed around them.

Invigorated by the sound of the Old One’s name, Kalesh decided to get on with the many tasks required of her that day. So much to do. So little time. Millennia of preparations, planning, and waiting was finally coming to a glorious culmination. Amolon’s followers eagerly awaited his coming. Some remained hidden behind the cover of false identities until the god’s arrival allowed them to emerge. Others needed no pretense, openly worshipping Amolon, already causing havok and spreading chaos across the globe in celebration as each new sign appeared. Each of them counting down the days to Amolon’s rule over the Earth, and to achieving their own power.

Only these final days would reveal the last of the remaining objects required to perform the ritual. Why they could not have been gathered a hundred or even a thousand years ago and locked away in a vault for safekeeping was not for her to question. It was her duty to interpret the prophecy, create the focal points of power described therein to reveal them, and to ensure their procurement.

Three of the five requisite Varstrae were locked in the cage behind her with a fourth to be delivered by her henchmen. Leaving only one to capture, the focus of Nicolau’s little game with his kin. Being her favorite among Amolon’s most loyal followers the vampire could do no wrong, bending every rule, and twisting even her willpower to the limit, but there was indeed a limit.

Pointing the flaming staff toward the arch of stone that formed an Altar of Amolon from the rocky ground, Kalesh spoke words in an ancient language as she moved the staff in a circle. The flame seemed to hold is place in the air forming a ring of fire. A flash burst toward the center point leaving a vertical circle of glimmering light hanging above the altar.

More words followed, and with a wave of her knobby-knuckled hand, images began to flicker amongst the flames and settle into view. The first few images were those of loyal followers of Kalesh brought into her inner circle who also worship Amolon and his right to possession and dominion over the Earth. Their constancy provided the Old One with the power he would need to cross the dimensional divide once the rift was opened. Such an effort deserved her attention as she provided them with a dose of strength and vigor to allow them to maintain their vigil until the end.

At the touch of her finger, the flaming wall of light causes the object on their altar shine upon them, and their demonic eyes to flash red with the conveyance of power. Almost instantly, their chanting became louder, their movements around the altar frenetic causing Kalesh to lift her wrinkled mouth into a crooked smile. She watched them for a moment, enjoying their chaotic form of worship.

More followers, and similar blessings of power were delivered across the globe. Amolon’s reach was everywhere due in part to her efforts. She too looked forward to the rewards offered to her. When her true powers could be fully unleashed, and no longer held back by natural law.

Soon.

Another wave of her hand and a simple chant changed the images shown by the flame. These were no longer of demons loyal to the cause, but of crystalline shards glowing in the darkness of some indeterminable place. Kalesh instantly recognized their importance seeing the symbols etched upon them as corresponding to her own basis of power. Many had searched for the crystals by her command across the course of centuries without finding them. This image granted her by Amolon meant they were close and within reach of those under her influence.

What other news? What other knowledge could the flame reveal? Kalesh poked at the fire ignoring the singe of it against her leathery skin and waited for the next image to form.

Several motorcycles roared down a nearly empty road. Mike Mooney and his gang of thugs, plus one passenger clinging behind the second in command, appeared to be on their way. The fourth Varstrae. Having had an early-morning visit from Jake Devries, Kalesh already expected his arrival. Old information. Nothing here worth seeing.

Impatiently, she waved away the image wanting to see something new. The flaming circle flickered again and settled in on several men in yellow hardhats shouting at each other as they huddled behind a large metal vehicle.

“Oh, shit! Oh, shit!”

“You ever seen anything like that?”

“What the devil is that thing?”

“Shut up and run!”

Kalesh cackled as the bulky humans abandoned the construction site. It amused her that fear made them so powerless. They would learn more about fear in the days to come, so much more.

The cause of the panic came as no surprise to the high priestess. The rocky ground near the bulldozer shifted of its own accord revealing the presence of one her creations. Many of its like existed to do her bidding roaming earth, sky, and seas in search of the objects of power required for the Rites of Tavrok. This one had taken root in the soil, a sign that it had found something important.

It was not the crystals, but yet another object of power.

Every nerve tingled with excitement as Kalesh leaned closer to the flames, her hands moving and altering her view of the scene, looking at it from a higher angle until she could see down into the pit. Something shiny glinted in the morning light, the sight of which made her ancient heart beat rapidly causing the old hag to clutch her chest as she hopped excitedly in front of the altar. That which Amolon promised her was within reach.

As if she could touch the object here and now, eager to hold it, Kalesh reached forward only to be singed by the flame. It was little more than a lick of pain, which she laughed off, refusing to take her eyes from the screen as she tried to discover the exact location the image revealed. Even as she watched from afar, a rocky hand formed from the dirt around the metal amulet engulfing it in its protective grip away from her seeing eyes.

“Bah!”

Patience was not Kalesh’s strong suit. She had a stormy temper. Being separated from something she desired altered her gleeful mood turning it dark and gloomy. The power of her construct allowed it the freedom to find and protect what was hers until the time of the ritual. From this distance, her control over it was nonexistent. She could not make it come to her any sooner despite her wishes.

Angrily, she swiped her hand at the flames again to alter the image not knowing where the light of truth would take her. The sight was familiar. A charred mansion on a hill, its exterior burned, broken, and boarded up. Tangled up by the natural growth around it so green and full of life, beauty amid the destruction, lost to the ravages of time. From this vantage point, it appeared abandoned, shuttered away from the world’s troubles and the promise of Amolon’s arrival on Earth.

Kalesh knew the mansion’s outward appearance was a mask hiding life and chaos inside. A glimpse of it caught her attention when she took back the first of the Varstrae. Now it seemed that there was more to be learned, something Amolon wished her to witness. A snap of her fingers caused the images of the outer walls to vanish allowing her to gaze inside.

The image was fuzzy. The sound garbled. Kalesh recognized magic as the cause of the interference, a spell designed to block intrusion by similar means. A whispered command and expectant quirk of her eyebrow did nothing to alter it darkening her already gloomy mood. The spell was not easy to break actually requiring her to put thought into words, expend energy in her effort to cast aside the protective barrier blocking her vision. Both an irritant and a surprise to her, Kalesh wondered who was capable of creating such a deterrent.

It was different than the mystical wards placed around the mansion, which were of no great consequence as if the caster was learning at some exponential pace, each spell stronger than the last. Although there were few threats to Kalesh’s natural powers, magic was one of them. Threats to her also threatened the success of her mission, and any such opposition required her attention.

Finally, the disturbance cleared allowing her to see and hear everything. A curious mix of beings filled one room of the mansion, their meeting in chaos. Multiple voices talking all at once conveyed news, made demands, pleaded for attention. Hardly a force to be reckoned with, she mused, more likely a threat to themselves than to her plans for the Rites of Tavrok.

Kalesh nearly let the image go dark planning to turn her attention to the one she sensed approaching her position. She waited knowing the last of the Varstrae was among them.

The thought pulled her attention to one human male who spoke of the first. “Karla has been taken by Kalesh.”

This man knew her name, the priestess realized with interest. Few outside her followers knew the modern inflection. The one to whom he spoke reacted with barely restrained rage demanding answers. “How is that possible? The spells…”

“Did not work.”

Mortal fool. It would take far more to stop her. Kalesh smirked at the thought relishing her own power. She was not interested in the human. He was beneath her notice, but the vampire possessed an aura of strength equal to that of her favorite, Nicolau Cibran. There was something else about him she could sense, but not quite place that set him apart. Perhaps it was simply that his loyalties were so misplaced.

“You summoned me, priestess.” Nicolau entered with his usual panache striding in as if it was a throne room rather than a dank subterranean cavern. He bowed low and with genuine deference to her station. “How may I serve?”

His dark gaze wandered toward the fiery tableau obviously surprised to see and hear the live action within. Recognition hit instantly, noted Kalesh. “Angelus.”

“The one whom you hope to recruit to our cause?”

“Yes, Kalesh. He will be a powerful ally once he accepts that Amolon is our future.”

Even as Nicolau described his kinsman’s worth, she was also listening to the argument behind her. The vampire was enraged that the spells designed to protect one whom he called Cordy were so easily breached. “He seems vehement in his loyalty to this Cordy. Such feelings he conveys even across such a distance! I can sense the depths of his love and fears. Point her out to me.”

A wave of her hand shifted the image back into full view of the room. Niolau’s dark eyes swept over the crowd. Finding her, “There,” he pointed toward the door of the lounge. “Standing next to his childe, Drusilla.”

Kalesh’s glance flicked back to the fiery image, but barely noted the whispered conversation between the two females. Something about the pleasures to be found in the vampire’s bed. It was Nicolau’s reaction that held her interest. There was a tremor in his usually confident voice when he spoke the name of the lithe vampiress reminding Kalesh of a frightened boy cowering in the dark. Having never known the vicious prince to possess fear of anything, she wondered if those gathered might be far more dangerous than she believed them to be.

“You fear her.”

“No,” Nicolau swiftly denied it despite Kalesh’s knowing gaze boring into him. “I do not fear Drusilla. She is of my kind, my blood. No harm will come to her.”

Kalesh secretly loved it when Nicolau set aside all deference and demanded his due. She might be an old crone of a demon, but she was still female. The vampire had honed his persuasive skills to a fine edge over the centuries, and she let him get away with almost anything as long as he remained loyal to their cause.

“Something about her disturbs you.”

“Yes.”

The seconds ticked by without further explanation. Whatever caused him such obvious distress kept him closed-mouthed, jaw tight, and determined to hold onto his secret. It made her eyes narrow as she contemplated torturing the information out of him. “Do you know what I could do to you if you refuse to tell me the truth?”

Nicolau simply answered affirmatively without a whiff of the fear she had noted when he set eyes upon Drusilla. “Yes.” Did he believe her incapable of destroying him because he was such a beautiful distraction in her often-ugly world?

“You will tell me.”

“When the time comes, my priestess,” his tone softened with the promise assuring her that his need to withhold information was not done out of disloyalty to her. “When all is prepared for the Rites of Tavrok, and our future secured. Only then can I speak of it.”

“So be it.”

Nicolau bowed again, and then turned his eyes back to the ring of fire and the crowd gathered within the mansion’s lounge. He began to describe what little he knew of those present. Most of it was second or third-hand knowledge. Rumors, mainly, or reports sent by his Galician subjects, one of them maintaining a close connection to someone in the Watchers Council.

“Here is one you will know more intimately in the days ahead, Kalesh. This beautiful one is Cordelia Chase. She is of the Varstrae, but also Angelus’ lover. That is why he is being so temperamental.”

Beautiful, yes, Kalesh assessed with a practiced eye, full of life and youth and possessed of the untapped potential identifying her as one of the Pure. Interesting company, she kept, this human. Temper or not, the vampire had no choice in the matter of Cordelia Chase. He would release her into their possession, join them, or die.

Sensing even more power in the room, her attention turned. “What of that one?”

The image zeroed in on a conversation between a tall and gangly human male, and a familiar brunette. “So the little demon offered us these books for five thousand bucks,” she was telling him. “Not exactly pocket change.”

Noting the multi-colored bruises layering her jaw, Nicolau still managed to identify her. The mayor’s little protégée, he recognized her easily enough despite the injuries. “That, my dear priestess, is a slayer, Faith Lehane. One of two slayers at this Hellmouth.”

Kalesh jerked back at the news. “Two?”

The creation myth of the Chosen One was as old as Kalesh herself. She was well aware of the continued existence of a slayer potentially at any given place and time throughout the history of the world, but had fortunately never crossed paths with one. Something that had seemed inevitable upon learning that Sunnydale’s Hellmouth was guarded by one who was rumored to be the slayer.

Now Nicolau had revealed there were a Chosen Two? Kalesh did not know how such a thing was possible. The danger one slayer posed to them in the coming days would be difficult enough to overcome, much less two. Her interest in the little gathering inside the mansion walls suddenly escalated to another level.

How could they hope to prevent Kalesh from achieving her destiny? It was prophesied that she would invoke the Rites of Tavrok to allow Amolon to achieve conquest of the Earth. His reign would last ten thousand years. She was certain their motley coalition’s efforts would end in failure.

The prophecy included the many challenges to be met in order to earn a place at Amolon’s side. Only the worthy reaped the benefits yet Nicolau remained determined to bring Angelus and his progeny into the fold despite the oddity of his current company.

“Your kindred have allied themselves with slayers,” she pointed out in case he had not considered that it was such an unnatural a connection.

“No more than my master, Solaris taking up the banner of Amolon. Our kind does not normally worship demons,” he reminded her. “Angelus understands power. He will not allow himself or his kinsmen to be subjugated, and so he must ally himself with us.”

“Must he? Perhaps Angelus has already chosen the only side he can,” Kalesh poked at the hole in his theory. “Knowing your protective tendencies toward your mate, I seriously doubt that anyone of Angelus’ reputation would hand his own over to you without a fight.”

Nicolau assured her that the Pure One would be taken into his custody before the next full moon. “Trust me, Kalesh. If Angelus does not surrender her, Cordelia Chase will give herself over to me of her own free will.”

There was that charmingly smug sense of confidence again. “See to it, Nicolau. Allowing the human her freedom gives them hope.” A sneer streaked across her haggard face at the sound of the word, her disdain clear. “Yet I allow it. Play your games with your prey, vampire, for I know it is simply your nature. Keep them occupied. Distracted. Once I have acquired the final objects of power, I expect you to bring the last of the Varstrae to me. Do not fail.”


179: The Kitchen, Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale

CordeliaCoffee

Caffeine! Cordelia lifted her cup of coffee, closed her eyes and drew in a deep whiff of its delicious scent. She needed a jolt of motivation to get moving today. Stiff and sore did not begin to cover it, and she was so freaking tired! Why did Giles have to call a Scooby meeting at the crack of…well, noon? Surely a night of facing off against a spying, bitchy boyfriend-coveting Angelus groupie, rescuing sick children from a burning hospital, and getting leered at by Spike earned her a day off from prophecy-related craptitude.

Apparently not because…hello! The entire household was meeting in the lounge for Giles’ latest update, or what usually boiled down to rehashing any major screw-ups. Unless by some miracle, it was actually good news. And why not? They were way overdue for some of that. The thought perked her up a little, but she was too wiped out to play guessing games.

Her muscles felt like she had just finished a three-day event at the Cheerleading Championships, which probably had more to do with Angel’s go-all-night sexathon than anything else, but that only gave her more justification to demand extra snuggle time. Being on the Sacrificial Lamb List meant she deserved to sleep late if she wanted, and there was nowhere better to be than Angel’s arms.

It was a good thing that he seemed to be crazy in love with her too because otherwise he would have an obsessed stalker sneaking into his bed every night. The love she felt for him eclipsed anything Cordelia had ever experienced. After all, most of her previous boyfriends had been arm candy, a simple display of her ability to get the attention of anyone she wanted. Boy slayer, extraordinaire. More of a power play than just simple attraction until she sometimes forgot that she might be their trophy girlfriend, too.

Xander was a different thing altogether. There were feelings involved. Real feelings that still hurt deep down when she let herself think about it, not that she would ever show it. He had evolved from being like sticky chewing gum clinging to the bottom of your shoe reminding you of its annoying presence with each step taken, to someone she thought she could trust. Wrong. So wrong. So much wrongness. He had cheated on her! Yet she was the one who ended up skewered with rebar.

Something deep down must have told her not to let her heart get too involved because despite their hot kisses and the occasional groppage session, Cordelia had never let the physical side of their relationship progress further. He had never been pushy about it, which probably should have been a relationship red flag, she considered in hindsight.

With Angel it was totally the opposite. Cordelia did not even want to imagine what things would have been like if Angel’s curse was still an issue. They could barely keep their hands off each other in public. Surviving on kisses, and stolen caresses would never have been enough. Angel’s willpower had its limits, too. Could he actually resist her not inconsiderable charms? Pfft! No way.

Cordelia readily admitted that she was addicted to Angel’s touch. Just the simple stroke of his fingertips across her skin was enough to awaken her need for him. Oh, the things he had shown her, done to her with that gorgeous body. He knew so many ways to give her pleasure, and she enjoyed discovering ways to rock his world. Sex was definitely one of her favorite things. Right up there with shopping!

Grinning over the idea, Cordelia conceded that any activity with Angel in it had to take top honors. She had fully expected awesomeness and he did not disappoint. After all, being a nearly 250-year old hottie he had accumulated some serious skills in the art of boinking. No details required. It was the feelings his touch engendered that came as a shocker. Somehow, Mr. Stoic Guy managed to communicate the depth of his love, lust, and possessive needs with every caress.

Yep! Together, they were definitely a recipe for trouble if loopholes and curses were still an issue. Sunnydale would be in even more trouble with Angelus on the loose as if it was not already bad enough. No one was happier about a curse-free Angel than her. It made her wonder though. Would Angelus be for or against Nicolau’s demon-worshipping plans to secure power for their clan?

Isobel—the shoe-breaking bitca—would be thrilled. Hah! Cordelia could not wait for the blonde to get her comeuppance. She only wished she could see the look on her face when she realized that Angel not only had a soul, but that he would never even consider touching her unless it was to break her scrawny neck. Ooh! Would front row seats be available? Only after she dumped Isobel’s European clothes over the cliffs along Ocean View Drive sending them straight into the sea, while making her watch, of course.

The microwave dinged forcing Cordelia to snap out of her daze. Rolling her eyes at her own idea of revenge, she wondered how she had gotten from thoughts about Angel and their sexy bedroom antics to picturing Isobel wanting to get her claws into him. Hoping that it was just a sign that she needed more caffeine, she gulped down another quick sip and then popped open the microwave.

Upon entering the lounge, coffee in one hand, and a cup of warmed blood in the other, Cordelia immediately sought out Angel. It was almost reflexive now, the need to know he was there, feeling almost unsettled until she laid eyes on him. He was not exactly difficult to find being the tall, growly guy giving Giles an earful about something. What had the Watcher done to piss Angel off so soon? The meeting had not officially started yet.

Angel seemed to sense her presence, for his attention faltered long enough to glance her way. His fierce expression softened a bit when she caught his eye, quirking an eyebrow to silently question his reasons for verbally attacking poor Giles. His look told her that the Watcher had some awesome—not—news for them and that he was determined to eke out every detail. Ignoring her little hint about asking nicely, Angel went right back to the interrogation.

Cordelia made an attempt to move that way, but found Spike standing right in front of her. “Bringing me a cuppa, pet? Nice.” He snatched the cup of warmed blood from her hand and gulped half of it down before she could warn him. It was not the full-strength O-pos he had been getting when healing from the injuries sustained during his fight with Angel or Isobel’s torture session. Not even the mix of O-pos and piggy that Drusilla had slowly been introduced to in an attempt to wean her off the real thing.

Halfway through, Spike froze, his face scrunched up with distaste looking like he was caught between swallowing and spitting it back out again. Drusilla giggled beside her as Cordelia calmly took a sip of coffee and waited for Spike to react.

Forcing it down, Spike instantly regretted grabbing the cup she had prepared for Angel. “Gak! Bleh! Ugh! What was that swill?”

“Just the usual. Pig blood—with a dash of cinnamon.”

“No wonder Angel is such a broody bastard.” Spike stared down into the cup and swirled the remaining dregs of blood and spice that clung to the bottom. “Cinnamon, eh?” He looked both amused and impressed that she had prepared something bloody for Angel despite its taste. “Nice one, Sexy Spice, but if you want to give him a real treat don’t deny him his bloodrights.”

“My neck is none of your business,” she told him calmly. If she had to guess that Spike was either handing out sage advice or stirring up trouble, it did not take a great leap of imagination to figure it out.

Both Dru and Spike shared an amused grin before he teased, “Doesn’t have to be your neck, pet.” His long tongue snaked across his lips as if he was thinking about it.

“Dru already gave me ‘fangs-can-be-fun’ advice this morning.”

That little talk should have terrified her, or at least wigged her out a little. Cordelia had already accepted the idea that Angel might want that. Her boyfriend was a vampire. She considered being bitten during their lovemaking entirely different than a stranger taking a chomp. If those were the bloodrights Spike was talking about, she trusted Angel to do what was right for the both of them, even if the idea did not thrill her.

Based on what he said last night, Angel wanted more than a nibble now and then. This had to do with taking their relationship to a whole different level, and while Cordelia was definitely willing to find out what that meant, planning anything seemed impossible with the apocalypse just around the corner. They were doing their best to steal some one on one time in a house full of interruptions, annoyances, and distractions. Sneaking out on a date to the movies or their corner table at the deli was obviously not the option she had thought it to be considering their uninvited guest on the beach.

“Don’t say no, pet. Things might get ugly for all of us if you do.” Spike hinted with a turn toward the serious.

Cordelia set down her own cup with such force it sloshed onto the surface of the antique wooden table. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

While her attention was riveted on the vampire in front of her, she forgot all about Dru who suddenly slithered an arm around her waist and pulled her close to whisper in her ear. “My Angel enjoys tasting you. He makes you come so prettily.”

A shudder passed through her, one Drusilla felt, causing her to laugh soft and low in her throat in a way that crept her out. Earlier, their little chat about fangs had been teasing and light-hearted, and in a weird vampire way, sisterly advice. Not only was this way too personal, it made her wonder if these two had spent the entire night eavesdropping with their vampire super hearing.

Spike basically confirmed it with a waggle of his eyebrows. “What’s the fun in counting sheep when you make things so much more interesting?”

The palm of her hand was millimeters from Spike’s cheek when Dru snatched it back and shushed her softly. “Play nice, kitten. Daddy doesn’t like it when we fight.”

Cordelia muttered under her breath that she was pretty certain Drusilla enjoyed getting Angel’s attention, especially if it involved some form of punishment. That only made her think about having Angel’s hands on her, which she in no way associated with pain. The image flashing in her head made her think of being tied up last night, bound up tight on their bed, and unable to touch him like she wanted. That was torturous enough.

She tried to pull away from Dru’s hold, but the hand on her waist held her securely. “His heart is full of you. Bind him with your flesh. Bind him with your blood. Take all that he is. Or else the darkness will take you.”

Drusilla did not give her time to ask for details, although truthfully, Cordy was not sure she wanted to hear them. There was more than enough of the scary going on right now. Letting her go, Dru grabbed Spike’s wrist and dragged him toward the couch facing the empty fireplace. No sooner than Spike had stretched out his arms and gotten comfy than he took a closer look around the room noting that one of their party was missing.

Sounding a little miffed, he pouted a bit. “Slayer’s not here. How’d she get out of this torture session?”

Overhearing him, Cordelia knew exactly which slayer Spike meant. He seemed to have a thing for Buffy, whatever that might be. She was pretty certain Buffy did not like Spike having any kind of thing when it came to her. It confused Cordelia, too. After all, Spike seemed pretty devoted to Drusilla most of the time. His tendency to flirt with everybody usually amused the vampiress, and if it had been anyone else tied up in that bed, Spike would have been given free rein to do whatever he wanted.

Other than what she had read and observed, Cordelia was not certain what to make of vampire relationships. Angel might not be an ordinary vampire because of the soul, but he was still a vampire whose instincts ran deep. He might temper them, control his darker urges and try not to let her see that side of him, but she knew that his soul did not erase those needs. Biting and bloodrights were all part of that, she supposed, and while she wanted to give Angel anything he needed, she also recognized his concern for her in doing so.

Part of her wished that Angel had just done it. Whatever it was that involved claiming her. Life was too short, especially for her, according to the promise of a certain vampire prince and his skeezy blonde progeny. Why not let things happen with Angel in the here and now? Why wait for explanations and get caught up in things that might happen as a result of Angel’s claim when there was no guarantee she would live to see graduation? Angel had mentioned consequences.

Sheesh! When did life get so complicated? Oh, yeah. Buffy Summers moved into town.

Cordelia’s head was spinning with too many ‘what if’ scenarios trying to figure out what Angel had meant by complications, and wondering how Drusilla’s shared vision of the future fit in. Were the visions things that might happen depending on the path you took, being changeable, or were they completely unavoidable no matter your actions? For now, despite the scarier aspects of some images, she clung to that promise of tomorrow.

Since Angel had demanded that she have a little heart-to-heart chat with one of the two Watchers, Cordelia glanced back and forth between the two of them. Giles looked kind of flustered about whatever it was he had told Angel. Definitely not in a good mood. As for Wesley, he was not exactly looking like his goofy self this morning, either. The lack of his usual bow tie gave him a more relaxed, less starchy vibe. He might be younger, but Wesley knew all about vampires, being so well-studied on the subject, at least according to him. Besides, Giles was likely to blow a gasket if she brought up the subject considering his history with Angel.

Decision made, Cordelia squared her shoulders and started walking his way. “Wes it is,” she muttered.

She took a couple of steps only to stop dead in her tracks as she passed by Willow and Xander, who were huddled in one corner of the room. “You slept with Faith. Faith! Are you crazy? That’s so crazy. Out of our sight for one night and you…you….” The rambling accusations came out as hissy little whispers that Willow was trying and failing to keep between the two of them.

Cordelia stared hard at Xander until he noticed her standing there. He went from a beet red color to looking vampire pale in a matter of seconds and collapsed back against the wall for support. His jaw gaped open in horror knowing that she had overheard Willow’s accusation. Strangely, she felt nothing except concern on his behalf because she knew that Faith was not likely to take whatever happened between the two of them seriously compared to Xander.

Seeing his obvious distress, Cordelia gave him a smile, with a little eye roll, and thumbs up to let him know he would survive Willow’s little rant. As for Faith, who was over there with Wesley, she might have a few other things to say to her friend about getting groiny with Xander. Talk about surprises! If Faith was going to seduce anyone around here, she would have guessed it would be her new Watcher. Wesley was an adorable dweeb with just enough James Bond suaveness to be awkwardly charming.

“This demon was more like a big ass mountain,” Faith was saying just as she walked up. “Nothing I’ve seen before. Wes, I couldn’t kill it. This thing kept— oh, hey Cor. I’m filling Wes in on some details about last night.”

“I’m interested in details about last night, too. Some of them, anyway,” Cordelia clarified hastily. “Just not about the demon.”

Faith gave her a surprised look, “Who blabbed?” and then shrugged. Even before letting Cordelia answer the question, she agreed to hash it out. “Okay. Later, then.” A wicked little smile tugged at her lips as Faith added one condition. “Only as long as you tell me all about last night, too. Every hot detail.”

With eyes like ping pong balls bouncing back and forth between them, Wesley squirmed at the subtext. Cordelia inwardly laughed as his discomfort at being caught between the two of them when the subject seemed all too clear. “That will have to wait until I talk to Wes. I need a little one on one time.”

“W-w-with me?”

Faith snorted at his reaction, while Cordelia started to reconsider asking Giles for advice rather than Wes. This nervous nelly was somehow supposed to give her the answers she needed and he could barely speak.

“Th-this isn’t about that little misunderstanding, is it?” Wesely gulped glancing Angel’s way for a moment before returning his attention to her. “I assure you that I have no intention of—”

“Did he hit on you?” gasped Faith with sudden realization. She looked at Wesley as if he was insane. “Talk about stupid moves. Angel must be pissed. You look much better with your head on your shoulders. Just sayin’.”

Cordelia shook her head. “It was just a silly thing. No harm done. Angel did ask me to talk to Wes, though. So, ah, I’ll need to borrow him after the meeting.”

“I can manage my own schedule, thank you very much,” Wesley sounded a bit peeved by her talking to Faith. “Naturally, I will discuss any subject you like. Does something require translation?”

Before she could reveal that her request was of a more personal nature, Giles broke off his argument with Angel to move into the center of the room, catching their attention.

“This must seem like a very early start to the day for most of you, but it is necessary to discuss last night’s events.”

A general groan sounded before Spike prompted the Watcher to, “Get on with it then.”

Giles gave him a bland look before continuing. “The prisoner we sought last night may not have died in the hospital fire as orig—.”

“More on that right here,” Buffy cut in as she burst into the room holding up a crinkled newspaper up for everyone to see. “We screwed up.”

“Obvious, much?”

Cordelia tried not to roll her eyes at the dramatic entrance. Trust Buffy to try to snag all of the attention. Using the distraction to try to join Angel on the other side of the room, she made eye contact long enough to see that he wanted her there, too. Buffy stepped straight into her path practically shoving the newspaper in her face while pointing to an article in the Arts & Entertainment section of today’s Sunnydale Press.

“Look!”

Having no other choice, she took the paper from Buffy and glanced at the heading about the upcoming Arts Revival with the local museum, art galleries, movie theater, playhouse  and fair grounds involved. Big events were scheduled for the rest of the month starting this weekend. Cordelia did not quite see the point Buffy was trying to make. “Is your mom planning a show at her gallery? Maybe this isn’t the best time to draw a crowd.”

Wesley gently drew the paper from her hand perusing the article. After a goggle-eyed, “Oh dear!” he dashed over to his counterpart. “How could we miss this?”

Taking the paper, Giles glanced hesitantly toward the glowering vampire standing next to him whose tension was palpable across the room. Angel obviously did not like hearing whatever had been revealed to him before the start of the meeting, and now they were presumably getting more bad news. “I was certain . . .” he began before his words were claimed by a strained silence.

Faith had no idea what was in the paper, but grabbed Cordelia’s attention with a quick nudge with her elbow. “There is some crazy shit going on. Wait till I tell you about the demon I ran into.”

“The little guy with the books?” asked Buffy as she shifted around to stand next to the other slayer. Her eyeliner was on just a smidge crookedly as if hastily applied.

“Him, too, but this one was more like a big ass mountain.”

Before she could get into further description of her battle, Giles spoke up again. “Buffy may have stumbled onto something important. Our research hinted that the next victim of—ah, the next potential Pure One—was a recently released prisoner returning to town. There was no body in the crashed helicopter besides that of the pilot. We assumed the enemy had escaped with the prisoner prior to the accident.”

“In Oz’s van,” Willow frowned at the memory of being chased and car-jacked by those burly bikers.

“The Scroll of Septarius contains but one copy of the prophecy,” Giles reminded them. “Not only does it foretell the coming of the demon god that will rule over the Earth for ten thousand years, it provides his followers with a set of instructions toward achieving that goal.”

Cordelia pointed out the scroll was not exactly clear. “Instructions of the cryptic kind.”

“Whilst our goal is to locate the Varstrae before Amolon’s followers do so, and forestall the invocation of the Rites of Tavrok,” Wesley explained that the cryptic nature of the text worked both for and against them, “the interpretation remains somewhat muddy.”

“Then clear it up,” Angel ordered with a glare.

Wesley’s job included translation, not miracle working, but he was smart enough not to point that out. “What I mean to say is that the enemy might also make mistakes. This article suggests that last night both sides may have got it wrong.”

Angel’s dark gaze slid from one Watcher to the other. He held out a hand for the paper, which he received from Giles along with instructions to, “Look here. The article mentions a troop of actors coming to town for several performances. They are, ah, apparently an old clan of Travelers.”

“Gypsies,” Angel could not help but sneer just a little, and Cordelia instantly tensed up as the word crossed his lips.

Xander chimed in to ask, “Why does that not sound like a coincidence?”

“They’re performing ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ at the Sunnydale Playhouse,” Buffy stressed the word prisoner.

“Of Zelda?”

Willow whacked him on the arm. “Pay attention. This has nothing to do with Nintendo.”

Giles flashed an annoyed look at the two of them before saying, “The point is that we may have another opportunity to secure another one of the Varstrae. Apparently, these actors arrived in Sunnydale just yesterday, which suggests one of them could be the true target.”

“Maybe it’s best just to let him stay under the radar,” Cordelia suggested. She certainly did not wish this kind of attention on anybody. “If the bad guys think they have the right guy, they won’t go looking for this one. He’ll be safe. I’ll be safe. Karla will be safe.”

“That’s three out of five.” Buffy liked the odds. “Not so good for the wrong guy they’ve already got, though.”

The prisoner in their clutches was actually a prisoner. Her sympathy in that regard only went so far. Knowing the Rites of Travesty or whatever could not be performed without all five of them in place, according to Cordelia’s understanding, it sounded good to her. “Safe works for me.”

Wesley shuffled around to face her. “Ah, well, that brings up…ah…other n-news.”

Growling at him, Angel cut through his stammering to tell her what Giles had already revealed. “Kalesh was here last night. She took Karla.”


180: Angel’s Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale

Angel_Newspaper

Angel had never been a clock-watcher. If sleep evaded him during daylight hours, they usually passed by in a blur contemplating past sins. Introspection muddled time making it slip by unnoticed, but self-blame had its own burdens. Simple meditation or the raw outlet that came from pummeling a punching bag had a way of clearing his head and bringing him into focus, all the while letting the hours fade away.

Today, his usual habits felt out of place leaving the minutes ticking by at a snail’s pace. He needed to be sharp, ready for anything, but his thoughts kept straying to Cordelia, who sat comfortably curled up on the couch giggling over the daily comics as if her only worry was discovering Calvin & Hobbes’ latest misadventure. The sound of her laughter failed to lighten his disposition winding him up into a tighter knot. Somehow, Cordy was able to compartmentalize the chaos around her. Maybe she just had that much trust in him, and the rest of their companions, to save her from genuine threats against her life, as if her fate was not written into a thousand year old prophecy.

He had always struggled with locking away the side of himself he did not want the world to see controlling his darker impulses through practiced measures that gave him an edge over his instincts. Surviving Acathla’s hellish world had stripped him to the bone and left him in a bestial state making the journey back to sanity difficult. He had clawed his way back from the edge, not just for himself, but the memory of his love for Buffy Summers only to discover that too much had passed between them to reclaim it.

Feeling responsible made the phantom pang in his chest ache deeply. So many regrets he had yet to compile kept the wound fresh. The one thing he could never lament was the one thing he thought he would do anything to prevent—ending it with Buffy. The notion of feeling anything akin to love with someone else had been inconceivable. Now those sentiments were a pale shadow compared to what he felt for Cordelia, fading like a dream.

It was a tangible thing. He felt almost desperate to hold on to the feelings that filled up those empty places making him feel whole despite the disparate elements that clashed for control. Every emotion felt vibrant, intense, as if his entire being was in accord because of her, human soul and demon instincts. For once, Angel was focused on the faint glimmer of a future instead of being mired in the past. He had no idea what shape it would take, only that it had to include her.

Normally patient to a calculated degree, he would have taken things far more slowly. Let Cordelia come to terms with how deeply involved they were going to become. How could any eighteen year old understand the kind of unbreakable bond his claim would create? She had no idea what he was asking, or that the consequences of accepting or rejecting him would be equally impactful. Cordy was strong-willed, and possessed of a keen sense of self-preservation. There were no guarantees that her talk with the Watchers would go his way.

Bristling, Angel tried to squelch his nagging doubts. How could he ever truly deserve her or any world they could create together? Drusilla’s predictions gave him hope, although the future she described was not without its dangers. As much as he wanted to cling to the idea she presented, the prophecy of Amolon’s arrival contradicted those visions.

Kalesh and her demon-worshipping sect had targeted Cordelia as a sacrifice to their god. As far as Angel was concerned, the strategy was straightforward. All they needed to do was keep Cordy safe and the priestess’ plans would fall to pieces. World saved. Simple—only not.

Dwelling on his hopes and fears about the future was impossible considering the present danger. Circumstances left him stuck in the mansion unable to take action. It grated on his nerves. He wanted to get out there. Stop this before it was too late. Kill anyone or anything that got in his way. The enemy was no longer faceless. Finding Nicolau and Isobel would be a challenge. Still, he had no qualms about doing whatever it would take to destroy them. He just could not do it from the security of the mansion while everyone else was out doing their part to save Cordelia— and the rest of the world.

“You’re getting growly,” Cordelia observed calmly as he paced across the study like a caged tiger ready to rip into the first possible target.

Stopping short, Angel tried to pull it together before glancing her way. How could he expect her to feel confident that he could protect her when his anxiety was all too clear? “I’m not.” He denied it even while rubbing at the tension in his neck.

A soft pfft sounded behind the veil of newspaper hiding her face from view. “Knock it off. You’re the one who decided to play babysitter,” a sour note twisted around the word. “I would have been fine on my own.”

Lowering the paper, Cordelia fixed him with an unwavering stare practically daring him to declare otherwise. Nicolau’s letter included a vow to leave her unharmed allowing Angel to keep her at his side until she was required for their demonic ritual. It was a blood oath, and despite the vampire prince’s lack of a soul, his word was usually good. That did not mean Angel planned to trust him.

Leaving her alone was not an option. Despite her bravado, Cordelia was not under any illusions that the mansion was a safe haven, certainly not after last night. Pointing that out, he said, “Kalesh is not bound by Nico’s promise.”

“So if she showed up right now, you’d stop her?”

Confounded that it was even a question, Angel did not hesitate to answer. “Yes!”

“How, exactly?”

Angel grabbed the broadsword from its carefully chosen spot having left it at-the-ready for a surprise attack. Giving the air a stab, he kept his explanation light. “The pointy end usually does the trick.”

Having already thought about it, Angel realized that Kalesh wielded incredible power. It would take more than a few flesh wounds to stop her. Nothing short of beheading would do it, assuming he could get close enough.

Cordelia’s brows arched high as she asked, “Is it ever really that easy?”

Answering stubbornly, “Sure.”

A few seconds ticked by when Cordelia seemed to be reading him as easily as the paper in her hands. “Then come sit with me. I won’t bite—unless you want me to.”

A teasing laugh followed as she flashed a pearly smile his way patting the couch cushion encouraging Angel to join her. A grain of irritation at being summoned grated against the contrary thrill of imagining the sharp nip of her teeth against his flesh, the trace of her warm lips pressing softly, and the wet slash of her tongue. How easy it would be to let her take her flirtation to the next level.

“Don’t tempt me,” he captured her jaw tilting her face up for a kiss that lingered just a little longer than intended.

Against his lips she murmured, “That’s the point.” Everything about her urged him to give in to the desire that flared up between them, those teasing words, clinging lips, and the bittersweet trace of coffee on her tongue as his swept across hers. It would be so easy to give into it. He let himself enjoy it for those few seconds until forcing himself to stop.

Reminding her that they had a deal, Angel stepped back abruptly. “Try that again after your talk with Giles.”

The Watcher’s name was enough of an icy deterrent to snap them both out of their lusty haze. An aggravated little noise rattled in Cordelia’s throat as she slumped back on the couch taking out her frustration on the crumpling newspaper in her lap. “Fine, but you’re wasting a perfect opportunity. We’re finally alone for a couple of hours yet you’re pacing around like you can’t wait to get away from me.”

Angel snagged a couple sections of the newspaper and moved to the chair nearest the fireplace purposely putting some distance between them. “Cordy, we can’t risk those kinds of distractions right now. The mansion is defenseless against the power Kalesh wields.”

Smoothly, she answered, “I just think it would be easier to play bodyguard if you were closer. Y’know, within touching distance. Just in case.”

Gripping the newspaper a little tighter, Angel tried to focus on the headline in the Metro section instead of the bored pout on those beautiful lips. He actually felt guilty about not letting her seduce him, especially when he craved her touch just as much as she wanted his. Denying Cordy felt like a betrayal of trust especially when he knew sex could be an outlet for stress, a distraction from their troubles. They could get lost in each other for as long as the world let them.

It pained him to ignore her flirtations when he knew they stemmed from more than just a need to quell the boredom. This was his fault, something that could not resolve itself.
Knowing the cure made him all the more determined to ignore his needs.

He forced his attention down to the blurred headlines focusing in on the daily news as if it was required reading. Hoping for a distraction, he was reminded that Mayor Wilkins’ influence reached the Sunnydale Press with its carefully edited articles on day-to-day events. Like the police, so Faith had told them, the editor and his reporters were under Wilkins’ control. The locals normally ignored anything remotely supernatural, looking to the news and Mayor for answers, and blindly accepted what they read or were told.

More transparent by the day, their veil of lies no longer kept the truth entirely shrouded. Species of demon rarely seen outside of their usual habitats had made their way to the Hellmouth taking up residence and causing chaos wherever they could. Every day there seemed to be more of them, presumably summoned by the Ritual of the Bone Relic. Not all kept hidden in the bowels of the town finding safe-holds in the twisted sewer tunnels he used to navigate during daylight hours. Some were not waiting for the arrival of their god to claim a piece of the Hellmouth.

Whether or not it was part of a strategy, demons causing mayhem around Sunnydale would keep the slayers busy. Better to deal with this now before the numbers became unmanageable. If only he could. Trusting the others to do their part while he stayed behind was almost too much to bear. Even doing everything they could there would still be innocents caught in the middle, and sooner or later the locals would find it difficult to accept what they read in the paper.

Today’s articles raised more than a few red flags. A pack of ‘wild dogs’ had gotten into Bud Franklin’s house and killed him. Teenagers on some new party drug had turned a routine night at the Bronze into an orgy. Ms. Watkins reported sighting a ‘Peeping Tom’ shaped like a sumo wrestler and covered in blue body paint snooping around the neighborhood. Someone had slashed the tires of every car on Regency Street, but was reported to be in police custody, a win for the Boys in Blue. A grave robber had once again broken into some of the crypts at Old Sunnydale Cemetery. Several tombstones had been overturned or broken. The members of the Sunnydale Memorial Preservation planned to restore them.

He had seen this type of cover-up in every place he had ever been. People took comfort in knowing just enough to support their disbelief. The articles were either vague or filled with distracting details. Nothing that would suggest the town was sitting on a Hellmouth, or was at that moment on the verge of an apocalypse. Only the volume of incidents was far greater than the norm. Buffy and her routine patrols usually kept the troublemakers in check, but things were no longer quite that routine.

Angel had one priority: protecting Cordelia. As far as he was concerned, by doing that everything else should fall into place. He was trapped between the need to stay by her side, prepared to do whatever he must, sacrificing anything necessary to keep her out of harm’s way, and the urge to get out there on the offensive stopping Kalesh and Nicolau before they could come for her.

After the shocking news that Kalesh had made her way past their protection spells and devices to capture Karla, it seemed there were quite a few other problems to deal with today. Everyone had something to do, which had left Angel alone with Cordy, a situation full of opportunity for any other pair of lovers under different circumstances, but he was determined to give her some space until she spoke to one of the Watchers.

Being in the same room without touching her made him ache for a connection, and not just in an obviously sexual way. He could see the same need echoed in her as she stole glances at him from across the room.

“Don’t think I can’t tell you’re avoiding me,” she said from behind the curtain of the Arts and Entertainment section of the paper.

For a tense moment, Angel thought they were going to argue about it. He had already explained that he thought it necessary for her to have an unbiased explanation about claiming rituals and potential effects. Cordy might say that she was all in when it came to their relationship, but it was not so simple. Not for either one of them.

The paper dipped low enough for him to tell that she was still teasing. Cordelia’s smirk tugged at her soft lips. “You’ll just have to make it up to me.”

Maybe it was self-torture to ask, “Have something in mind?” He would probably just end up thinking about it the rest of the day.

“Like I’d tell you now? Pfft!” Cordelia rolled her eyes for a moment, but smiled afterward to take away the sting. “You’ll just have to wait until later.”

Patience might not be her forte, but she certainly had a knack for torture. “Play nice,” he warned after wiping away his reflexive grin.

“I’d much rather be naughty,” she bantered back, “but I’ll try to behave.”

When Angel’s raised brow indicated his doubt that the promise would last long, Cordelia snorted, both amused and annoyed that he knew it, adding indignantly, “I will.”

Stubborn to the core, Cordelia shifted against the couch cushions as if gluing herself into place. That’s what it would take to keep her there instead of following her instincts. The space Angel deliberately put between them was only a few feet away, but felt like miles. All sorts of ideas popped into her head to take advantage of the others being absent. Sexy scenarios outnumbered the rest, and she wanted to try every single one of them before it was too late.

Anytime Angel touched her felt like a new revelation, and not just because the sex was so deliciously hot. Understatement of the millennium. They were so in sync it seemed impossible to get any closer physically. Yet he kept proving her wrong. No wonder her inner nymphomaniac wanted to take hold of the reins. The notion of taking him on a wild ride right there in that comfy leather chair made her squeeze her thighs together.

Brown eyes flicked up to hers again, darkly intent, as if he knew precisely what she had been thinking. There was no doubt in her mind that Angel could sense every subtle sign of arousal. Normally, that might be a prelude to a whole lot of fun, but not today. Fine. Cordelia refused to sit around with a permanent pout just because she wasn’t getting any. Leave that to Buffy.

Jerking the newspaper back up in order to block those seemingly all-seeing eyes didn’t work. Angel was impossible to ignore. Wanting him without being able to touch him felt like corporal punishment, but she was determined to add some mental sticky tape to her plan to stay on the couch. There was no need—okay, so, yes, yes there were very needy feelings involved here that made her want to boink his brains out, but she was going to focus on something that did not involve thinking about Angel’s cool hands on her flushed skin, endless kisses, the teasing flicks of his talented tongue, the way he filled her hand, her mouth, her body.

On a scale of bad to good, they were spectacular together. Cordelia grinned behind the veil of the paper remembering everything that happened last night. Being tied up and turned on was a new experience. Not exactly the slow, intimate lovemaking they shared in between their almost desperate, spontaneous connections. Anytime, anywhere except now, apparently.

A little grunt of frustration escaped before she could swallow it down. Even if Angel knew that she was turned on, she did not want to give him reason to gloat about it. He might be a vampire, but his ego was all too human. Angel’s offended reaction when he thought she had compared his precious penis to a banana! He might be a masterful lover, but out of bed, when he wasn’t standing up as her fiercely brave champion, Angel could also be an adorable dork when it came to everything else.

An ad for the Main Street Deli came into focus as Cordelia recalled his awkward attempt to eat a French fry. The difficulty he had in keeping up his end of a conversation, or said something out-of-date was more charming than annoying. Now that her favorite day-to-day activities were off limits thanks to this never-ending detention, she could hardly be blamed for wanting to enjoy their time together.

Cordelia had never realized it was possible to feel so close to someone before, and that was a little terrifying and exciting all at once. She did miss the rest of it though, even patrolling together. How sad that a hike through a cemetery sounded like a romantic getaway these days. Not Old Sunnydale Cemetery since it was spooky and smelled so gross, but Shady Hill was kind of nice even if it was an old burial ground. So was their picnic until the meteor shower. She had just started to enjoy their outings even if they were no one’s idea of a perfect date.

The movie theater listings from the next page caught her attention teasing her with the films she would not be seeing any time soon—if ever. Movies weren’t the only things to miss. The Arts Revival scheduled this month with the local museums, art galleries, movie theater, and playhouse getting involved sounded cool, certainly better than the usual lameness offered up as Sunnydale’s entertainment scene. Most weeks the Bronze was really the only happening place in town.

It was frustrating just sitting here doing nothing when there was so much going on. Not just with the town festival, but everybody else. They all had something to do that was so much better than sitting around reading reminders about the kind of things she loved to do. Xander was shopping. True, it was not the mall, but Cordelia would gladly swap roles just to get out of the mansion again. One taste of freedom and she was eager for more. She would much rather help out than sit around like a lump waiting for something bad to happen.

The spells used to safeguard the mansion against intruders had not been enough to stop Kalesh. New efforts needed to made. Better spells, if Willow could manage them. Having a resident witch would be a good thing if she only knew what she was doing! Wesley had announced some great ideas to improve defenses, but nothing was as quick as a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo or a Presto Chango.

“A number of rare components and preparations are required,” Wesley had explained it would be no simple task. The mystical wards placed about the mansion were supposedly strong enough to hold off most intruders, or at least alert them to their presence, but for a being of Kalesh’s innate talents it would take far more than routine magic.

Although it made more sense that either Wesley or Willow be sent to The Magic Box, a local seller of both tourist trinkets, and real mystical items, they had other important things to do. Xander volunteered to go instead, assuring them all that he could handle the job of finding everything on the list. He seemed eager to do his part to help, and for a split second she had felt a little glow of gratitude.

Cordelia discovered he might have ulterior motives when he stretched out his palm. “I need a car. Can I have the keys to the convertible?” An overly eager, adorably dorky grin spread out rounding his cheeks and crinkling his eyes. “I’ll take good care of her.”

Boys and their toys. Disapproval practically steamed from Angel’s ears like the blast of a train whistle. He did have a thing for the Plymouth, but so did Xander. “The Magic Box is only three blocks away,” she reminded. “Exercise is good for you.”

“There’s a lot of stuff on this list,” Xander had whined. “Plus, we need groceries. I can do a grocery run. Maybe stop to restock the blood supply, too.”

Snorting, Cordelia pictured Xander in the role of housekeeper. “You’ll have to ask Angel. He’s got the keys.”

Xander might have had to pry them out of Angel’s hand even when he offered them up to him. “Bring it back in one piece,” he growled a little more possessively than he had a right to. “This is a job, not a joyride.”

Triumphant, Xander had practically dashed for the door only to screech to a halt. “Oh! I need cash. Who has cash?”

Giles had settled the issue. “Follow us to the bank. I must make a withdrawal to pay for those books.”

Good thing the Watcher’s Council had the funds for bribes and payoffs when random demons wanted to make a quick buck. It sounded risky, but hopefully worth it to learn whether or not the Mayor’s schemes had anything to do with Amolon’s imminent arrival. Either way, they could not ignore him despite their other priorities. Giles trusted Buffy’s instincts, and was going ahead with the purchase. He planned to take his Citroen out for their own tasks that day.

Before dealing with the demon, and securing the books, Giles and Buffy were supposed to follow up on her discovery about the gypsy troupe’s arrival in town, and their upcoming performance of ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’. Meeting actual actors would have been right up her alley if Cordelia had been allowed to go with them. “How about if I wear a disguise?” No one had gone for the idea. “I so could have pulled it off.”

While one Slayer and her watcher were focusing on demons and gypsies, Faith took Wes and Willow to the construction site where she had fought a monster last night. From the look of Faith’s bruises, it must have been a nasty clash. Anything that didn’t die when a Slayer came after it had to be tough. So, maybe that was one chore Cordelia didn’t mind sitting out.

From the description Faith had given them, both watchers concluded that the creature might not be a demon at all, but something mystical that Willow might be able to help with. Cordelia saw the pink drain from her cheeks leaving her ivory complexion a sickly shade of pale. Having seen the kinds of things Willow could do with magic, it did not seem like too much to ask, but setting spells up and reading them out during a planned, relatively safe session was not the same as zapping one out during an active fight.

Willow’s problem with most things had to do with lack of confidence. Well, that and her extremely tasteless fashion sense!

“You should wait until nightfall,” Angel had suggested they hold off on the plan to attack it again. Once the sun set both he and Spike would be able to help defeat it— or Buffy if she was available by then.

“The demon was guarding something. I don’t know what it was,” Faith admitted, “but it could be important. We can’t risk anyone getting it before we do.”

Cordelia preferred that Faith wait for better backup, too, but was not going to waste her breath trying to convince her otherwise. “If it’s a gigantic diamond or ruby, I call dibs.”

Cheeks dimpling, Faith agreed, “Sure thing, Cor.”

The smelly old leather book Willow had been clutching seemed to be the source of Wes’ newfound confidence in her abilities. It had something to do with why he thought she could significantly improve her inept spells to prevent Kalesh from sneaking in again, as well as weakening this demon enough for Faith to finish it off. Cordelia only hoped that he was right.

Somehow, Spike knew all about Faith’s fight with the demon last night, and cheered the slayer on. “Kick its arse this time. Watch that shoulder. Still sore?”

Instead of her usual threat, Faith answered, “It’s good, and I will.”

“Come back like you did last night and we can do it all again. Maybe take care of that other problem,” he waggled his eyebrows.

Sitting next to him Drusilla tittered as if she had been told every little detail of Spike’s encounter with Faith, whatever that might have entailed. Angel obviously did not care about the details, even if Cordelia had burned with curiosity. He just wanted them on task. She would so have to ask Faith about it later on.

Buffy, on the other hand, had more to say right that second. “Shut up, Spike. Faith doesn’t want your come-ons any more than I do.”

“Ooh! Been comparing notes, have you, a little slayer-to-slayer chat?” He chuckled at whatever dirty little thoughts were going through his head. Any time he opened his mouth there was inappropriate teasing, taunting, or provocation as if he could not prevent the words from spilling out.

Cordelia figured he liked it too much to curb his tongue. Getting a rise out of Buffy seemed to be his favorite new hobby, especially if he irked her enough to force a physical response. A fist in his face. Body slam to the floor. If it hurt, he got off on it, and was not hesitant to do the same to her. Never in Angel’s presence, she had noticed, as if knowing he would frown upon this violent little dance of theirs.

Whatever! Spike and Buffy were not her biggest concern at the moment. If it was just a distraction, an amusing game, or a instinctive need to bait a vampire slayer into a fight, he seemed to know where the line was drawn. Not before receiving an elbow in the gut from Buffy, or a stern scolding from Dru.

After everyone else had announced their plans, the two vampires went back to bed—and not necessarily to sleep. “The sun is up, and so is my Spike.”

The idea of Spike and Dru getting it on was more of a curiosity than an actual turn on. They were vampires, after all, and Angel was a vampire, too. Some spark of interest must have shown in her eyes because before they swept out of the room, Drusilla’s ruby red lips pressed against Cordelia’s cheek, brushing close to her ear to whisper, “Come watch if you want to see him bite me.”


Scenes 161 – 170        HOME       Scenes 181 – 190


 

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