Scenes 181 – 190
181: Sunnydale Securities Bank, Maple Court Road
“Need I remind you to act responsibly?” Rupert Giles’ gaze narrowed behind the frames of his glasses focusing on Xander’s almost too-eager face before handing him the cash.
Offended, he clasped a hand to his chest as if hurt by the question. “Me? I’m a responsible kinda guy.”
“Xander’s got this,” Buffy said with far more confidence than he was feeling. A jokester of a young man, he often found irreverence in the most serious of topics. Rarely was he tasked with something of importance on his own.
Buffy’s supportive pat on Xander’s back brought the boy’s chin up a notch. “Yeah, I’ve got this.”
Giles sincerely hoped that was the case, and considered leaving it alone, but could not resist the urge to remind him, “Piggly Wiggly is not limited to the snack aisle.”
“Oh, I know. There’s the frozen pizza aisle, too.” Xander’s eyebrows waggled as if he was divulging a dirty little secret. “Since the Dominoes delivery guy won’t come to Casa Angel, we’ll have to make do.”
“It’s all good.” Buffy stepped in between them to say, “We helped Xander jot down a few things on the shopping lists.”
Two folded scraps of notebook paper emerged from his pocket. One listed sensible grocery staples in addition to the usual salty and sweet items. “For when we get the munchies,” he quickly explained their vital importance on the list. “After patrol snack attacks are rough.”
Spell components to be purchased at the Magic Box had been painstakingly itemized on the second list. Wesley’s precise printing ensured it could not be misinterpreted. Cautioning him, Giles stressed that each item was of equal importance to the success of the spell. “Do not allow the proprietor to make substitutions.”
“No three-leaf clovers for us. Just the four-leaf variety. Got it.”
“He’s not 100% on the stinky herbs.” Buffy shrugged off Xander’s snark with a little smile.
Giles placed a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “You have it in you to do the right thing. Today will not be without its challenges. Trust in yourself to complete this mission as I know you can.”
“I can. I will.”
This was a shopping trip, not a demon hunt or victim rescue, he reminded himself. Watching Xander signal a thumbs up from behind the wheel of the Plymouth as he drove off left Giles pursing his lips wryly. “Perhaps I should have added a reminder to drive slowly.”
“Worry much? He can’t get into that much trouble. Besides, I think Angel already covered that.”
Giles slid her a glance, pursed his lips, and chose to remain silent. Clearly, Buffy believed his concern to be unwarranted, and underwhelming. “On a scale of one to ten, I’d give this pep talk a B-minus.”
182: Thousand Oaks Drive, Central Sunnydale
“We should have asked Xander to drop us off.” Willow struggled to keep up with the pace set by Faith and her long-limbed Watcher. Good thing she was wearing sneakers. “Where are we going? You said it wasn’t that far away.”
The two of them paused long enough for her to catch up. She was breathing a little hard. Patrolling with Buffy rarely required this kind of power walk. A little dash for your life now and then, sure, but adrenalin helped with that.
Faith scoffed, reminding her that she had turned down a viable option back at the mansion. “You’re the one who refused to get into Spike’s car.”
Wrinkling her nose in disgust, she shuddered. “It smells like something died in there.”
“Something or someone most likely did,” commented Wesley detachedly.
Dead things might be every day occurrences around the Hellmouth, but that did not mean she wanted to smell them. Cigarette smoke and decay did not make for a pleasant scent.
“Let’s go. The construction site is just a few more blocks up,” Faith nodded at the sidewalk ahead. Moving again at a slower pace, she curled up one hand into a fist, catching it against the other as if gearing up for what was ahead. “Guess I’m just ready to kick some demon ass.”
Curiously, Willow asked, “Does it have one? You said it was all rocky.”
“I was a little too busy trying not to get smashed to notice.”
“Are you sure this is a good idea? Me, I mean. A scary demon with big rocky fists doesn’t sound so easy to kill.”
Stopping short, Faith shot her a look. “It’s not. If it was I would have killed it myself.”
A lump of fear collected in her throat until Willow forced it down.
“Willow, if I am correct about Faith’s foe, we will not be facing a true demon. Have you committed the spells we discussed to memory?”
“Yes. They seem a little simple, don’t they?”
A pause made the air seem heavy as she waited for Wesley’s response. “Do they?” He answered her question with another while staring at her in a way that seemed almost invasive as if he was looking at more than just her face.
Gulping, Willow wondered why she deserved such scrutiny from the Watcher. Had she said something wrong? The spells were easy incantations. Nothing fancy. Just words and her willpower making something happen. Little more than the basics, Magic 101, like twirling pencils in the air, or guiding a falling leaf into an intricate dance on its way to the ground.
This was stuff she could do in her sleep even a year ago, and nothing about it seemed capable of vanquishing a demon. If it wasn’t a demon, Willow was clueless about what it could be. Something not of the good, and that was enough to scare her, even though a tiny little piece of her deep down inside eagerly awaited a chance to let loose some magic.
183: A Cavern, Somewhere in Sunnydale
“This wasn’t part of the deal,” complained Harry Sims. “This is just prison all over again, except without the dry bed, and three squares. What the fuck is this place?”
He grew up in this town, but had never heard that it had any underground caverns this massive. A few caves here and there in the hilly sections, but nothing to this kind of scale. If he had heard it mentioned, obviously, he did not care. Only reason he gave a crap now was that he was here instead of the cushy hotel he was promised.
“Your new home for the forseeable future. I think you more than most have the ability to determine that,” Jake Devries reminded him.
The comment slid by Mike Mooney who knew nothing about the firm’s plans or its representative, except that he was a pretentious prick who cared only about the bottom line. He got that, respected it. Money was power and the law firm seemed to have plenty of both. “Quick jerking him around. You’re here to die, Sims. This is your crypt. Get used to it.”
Harry faltered back a step bumping into a column formed by the limestone. He flinched at its gooey surface. These assholes were lying. The future he saw had plush pillows and expensive sheets—and a cool blonde beauty. He was certain of that. Not necessarily in the same image at the same time, he conceded silently, but he sure as hell knew he wasn’t going to be locked up down here.
“That’s not happening. I’m not dying down here.”
Mooney grunted, not giving a crap what Sims thought. Telling Devries, “He’s here. He’s alive. My job here is done.”
Nodding, Jake said nothing to dissuade him from leaving. Sims had already said more than enough. He had only a rudimentary knowledge of why his imprisonment had been arranged in the first place, and nothing about his role as a substitute sacrifice. Telling a man he was to be a sacrificial pawn rarely worked out to one’s advantage.
“Don’t you have another task assigned to you, Mooney? Sims is fourth of the five. The final Varstrae is not your responsibility.”
The burly gang leader curled his lip, but kept his thoughts to himself. Jake knew he felt as if Kalesh was using him as her flunky. It was true, which only made it worse, but he had a lot to gain if Amolon’s promises weren’t just a load of bull.
“Something about crystals,” he raised his arms into a shrug. It wasn’t his job to understand why Kalesh needed this shit. It was to get it. If he got to raise hell and crack a few skulls along the way, even better.
“What’s going on?” Sims asked with a waver in his voice as he failed to gain a clear vision of the mentioned crystals. “I can’t see that. I should be able to—” he cut himself off when Devries gave him a hard stare silently telling him to stop talking.
He didn’t like this, not one bit. Harry forced himself to swallow down the rest of his questions. They were piling up fast, but could wait until Mooney left. It had to have something to do with Wolfram & Hart’s plans. As long as he got out of this alive and got paid what he was due, Sims could play along.
Who the fuck were these people and what were they doing down here in this shitty place? Harry decided to put his mind to it, focusing on the future. He would find out everything and figure out how to make it work for him.
Watching Mooney leave, he saw his shadow moving down the natural tunnel they had used to enter this section of the huge cavern. He stopped suddenly, and then backed up twice as fast never turning away from whatever it was he was trying to escape. The moment he emerged from the tunnel, Mooney reached a hand behind his back wrapping his hand around a small truncheon tucked into his belt.
“Do you think that would do you any good if I intended you harm?” A soft, feminine laugh sounded from the shadows just before a tall, shapely blonde appeared.
It was her! The sexy supermodel from his visions, Sims realized eagerly. He knew his precognitive skills wouldn’t steer him wrong. Beautiful, so damned gorgeous, he thought enjoying the lusty images that filled his head as he let his gaze linger. There had been no conjugal visits in prison, and alternative outlets never appealed. He knew the difference between his visions and vivid imagination, but his body certainly didn’t care.
“Maybe not,” Mooney conceded begrudgingly, his brows lowered, eyes fixed upon her expressing anger and resentment.
She walked toward him anyway careless of his intended threat. “I’m bored.” A long sigh and pouty lips followed.
Beads of sweat collected across Mooney’s forehead as the blonde reached for him running her manicured hands over his impressive physique. His features were hardened, but not bad looking. She gave him a long considering stare, and then leaned in a little to sniff at him, her delicate nose wrinkling up at something distasteful.
“Sweaty oaf! I would not want the taste of you in my mouth.” Disgusted by Mooney, she gave him a tiny little push with one finger placed center chest. He landed on his ass three feet away, his face twisting into an even darker expression, but he said nothing to make her pay for the insult. Nor did he move from the cavern floor.
Standing next to Harry, his lawyer hadn’t moved an inch. He looked flushed, hot under the collar. Blondie did make an impression, but Devries didn’t look like a man hoping to get laid. Any attraction was an irritant. He might have a hard-on, but if he did, he was also scared shitless about it.
Her legs seemed to go on forever, Harry leered as he watched her strolling up to Devries. Fancy clothes for a cavern like this, not that he knew squat about fashion. They seemed as out of place as she did. “You, on the other hand,” her glossy pink lips curled higher as she approached, “smell delicious. Salty man, expensive cologne, and just a whiff of fear. Is it me making your heart race?”
“This is business, Lady Isobel,” he answered in a cold, clipped voice as if her seductive games had no affect even though everyone knew otherwise. Sims’ eyebrow quirked at the use of the title. He had noticed the odd accent, but had otherwise been too preoccupied with ogling her rockin’ body to care. “You should leave us to it.”
Another amused chortle vibrated from her throat as she clasped his jaw. “I will leave if you indulge me with a little taste.”
Harry wondered what she meant. A kiss? This woman was bad news. If a creep like Mooney practically crapped all over himself, not to mention got tossed like a rag doll, it served to reason that Blondie wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill supermodel. She was a vampire. Having been distracted by her beauty, Harry failed to comprehend something he should have easily recognized.
“Do you consent?” Isobel purred the question into Devries’ ear.
He looked surprised that she would ask. Maybe it was some kind of test, or just a game she was playing, but she waited patiently for a response. Just how desperate was Jake Devries to get her to leave? The scowl was a dead giveaway. Harry knew even without his precognitive senses that he would say, “Just a taste.”
Before they could blink Devries was plastered against one of the columns, his face in Isobel’s hand, jaw wrenched up to give her a good look at his throat. Her body pressed close, curvy breasts squashed against his chest. A stab of envy jabbed at Harry for a moment until he saw the sharp edge of a fingernail nick Jake’s throat.
Little more than a shaving cut, the blood welled up making Isobel lick her pretty lips. The sight and smell of it was enough to make her lose control of her human features. Bony ridges and jagged fangs shifted into view within a couple of seconds. For a second, Harry was certain his lawyer was about to bite it by getting bitten.
Mooney was still on the ground trying to look non-threatening, but had to mumble, “Stupid fuck.”
Even Harry had to agree. She seemed the type who would feed you your balls right after she crushed them. He shuddered a little, but kept his eyes on every little move.
Isobel flashed Mooney a harsh glare for the interruption, and then turned back to Jake. Getting it together, she took on her softer human visage again. “Are you ready?” The question let her drag out the anticipation just a little longer. He had to be shaking in his three-thousand dollar suit as she closed in.
Licking up a little trail of blood had trickled down his neck with the flat of her tongue, she closed her mouth over the tiny cut, suckling far more gently than either of them would have guessed. He let out a low moan, the lucky bastard, when her hand pressed between them to clasp his arousal. The dual stimulation went on for a minute before Devries started to get desperate.
“Enough!” he finally demanded Isobel stop.
Her lips were clean when she pulled away having swallowed every precious drop extracted from that tiny wound. “Tasty,” she quipped as if the treat had been adequate, but nothing special. “Not bad, I suppose. You are handsome, if moderately equipped, but you are not the diversion I need.”
Releasing him, Isobel’s interest in toying with Devries appeared to be at an end. Sims gulped. Was he next? He wasn’t sure if he was terrified or turned on by the idea of a sexy vampire taking a little sip of his blood. Anticipating a little one on one time, he adjusted his stance, trying to exude confidence.
Frigid icicles would be warmer than those pretty blue eyes as she glanced his way just long enough to give him the once over. The orange prison jumpsuit failed to impress. Just like that, her attention was back on the other two as Isobel revealed she actually had an agenda. “Come along, boys. Bring your prize. Kalesh summons you to the Altar of Amolon.”
184: Angel’s Study, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
Cordelia flailed back on the couch pillows with a dramatic effect crumpling up the last section of the newspaper as she went. “Oh, I am so bored. Why do we have to be stuck inside like this? I need to do something.”
She felt like an old vinyl record stuck in the same loop. There was no use in trying to be subtle about it with Angel. He could be stubbornly thick-headed when he was in over-protective mode, like now, with his sword at his side just waiting for the bad guys to show up. Overkill, ya think? Not that Cordy did not appreciate being protected; being smothered was different.
Sighing, she sat up. “I’m going to get some lemonade. Want something from the kitchen?”
Angel shot up from his chair and had the sword in his hand before she could even stand up. “I’ll tag along.”
His overly casual expression tightened up. “Yes, Cordy, I’m not going to let you put yourself in danger.”
“By going to the kitchen? It’s just down the hall. I don’t think the bad guys are hiding in the refrigerator.”
“We discussed this earlier.”
Pfft! “I disagreed with you then, too.”
Pulling her to her feet, Angel curled a hand under her chin gently tilting her face up. He leaned in, but didn’t kiss her even though Cordelia was already halfway there. “Don’t fight me on this.”
“I’m not. I just want us to do something together.”
Sex was already off limits, Angel being the one who had set the line they were not supposed to cross. She so needed to have that talk with Wes today. Was it too much to hope that Faith’s demon had just vanished overnight and they would come back right away?
The subtle smirk on Angel’s handsome face suggest his thoughts were just as naughty as hers. “Not that.”
“Oh, right.” Only the undertone of frustration in his response made her feel a less justified about pushing that particular button. They were both feeling a little deprived of each other’s touch. Angel was trying to protecting her from desires she did not fully understand. “What’s your idea?”
“I could use a good workout.”
Letting her name drag out a little, “Cordelia,” Angel made it clear where his thoughts were still focused.
“Told you—not that,” she repeated. “I meant an actual workout. Unless you prefer to skip the Tai Chi and just roll around on the mats with me.”
185: Regency Street & Ocean View Drive, South Central Sunnydale
Buckled into the passenger seat of Giles’ Citroen, Buffy felt a little antsy at being stuck in the car. “Cor would probably like being chauffeured around,” she said, and felt a little surprised at herself for thinking casually about her boyfriend-stealing nemesis. Shrugging it off, she added, “I guess I’m just used to stretching my legs.”
“We are nearly there,” Giles pointed out the festival grounds located at the crossroads of Regency Street and Ocean View Drive dead ahead. Although the Arts Revival encompassed a wide array of hot spots across town, the festival grounds were set up to accommodate the events at the small open air theater there. It also provided room for the presenters to park their trailers, and set up tents.
They were not scheduled to meet up with the ugly little demon dude until after nightfall, so the priority was to find the true Varstrae and bring him back to the safety of the Crawford Street Mansion. “It wasn’t so safe for Karla,” she had told him earlier. Suggesting, “Maybe we should tell this guy to get out of town. If Kalesh has the wrong guy, they’ll never know about Marko until it’s too late.”
Giles had countered her argument by saying that it would be better to control as many prophecy-related pieces as possible in order to disrupt Kalesh’s ability to invoke the Rites of Tavrok. There were still some holes in that theory as far as she was concerned, but Buffy figured Giles knew more about it than she did.
One thing was certain. Buffy knew he would want to review their action plan one more time before their arrival, even though they had been through the details at least twice. “So, the plan?”
“Keep your guard up. There is no telling if we might run into one of the high priestess’ cronies.”
“I thought they weren’t supposed to know about Marko Caliwhatsisname.”
Giles pronounced it, “Calibresi, a family name commonly found among Kalderash Romani.”
A little shudder crossed from one shoulder to the other as Buffy associated the gypsy clan with Jenny Calendar and Angel’s curse. A heavy silence hung between them for a few moments making Buffy realize that Giles’s thoughts had gone the same troubled way as her own.
Finding the troupe of actors on the festival grounds was far less difficult than persuading any of them to talk. “Pardon the intrusion,” Giles interrupted two older men reviewing their lines. “We are looking for Mister Calibresi.”
They shared a look and then continued to eye them both with suspicion. One finally said, “We are all Calibresi. You look for him, you find us.”
“Marko, we’re looking for Marko,” Buffy emphasized while looking around the area trying to spot the person from the fuzzy newspaper photo.
“Many young women look for Marko. If he is interested, perhaps Marko will find you.”
Giles scowled, but pressed on. “It is a matter of some urgency.”
“This is not our way, gadje. Life takes its time. Comes to you when things are fated to happen. If you wish to see Marko, return to watch the play.”
Seeing that he was not going to get anywhere with those two, Giles turned to speak to Buffy—except she was no longer standing next to him. Gasping, he whirled on his heel, looking for his charge, wondering why she suddenly decided to diverge from his perfectly sound plan. He spotted her center stage, standing hands on her hips, and drawing the attention of everyone around them.
So much for keeping a low profile, Giles harrumphed before walking in that direction. Just as he arrived, a young man in his late twenties emerged from the far wing of the stage. If the newspaper photo could be trusted it looked to be Marko Calibresi himself. “Are you looking for work? Our roles are fully cast.”
Giles managed to hop onto the stage with a modicum of effort grateful that he did not trip along the way. Introducing himself and Buffy, he started off, “We have come to you on a matter of some urgency.”
“Oh ho, tickets!” Marko sounded out an apology in Romani, and translated that back to English, “You want front row center? I am not in charge of the tickets, but perhaps arrangements can be made.”
“We’re not here about tickets,” Giles found himself stuttering over the words while trying to get out a simple explanation that they had come to see him.
Marko sidestepped the conversation again by looking flattered as he said, “We will begin rehearsal soon if you care to watch.”
“No,” Giles answered stiltedly.
Buffy calmly put a hand on his arm, saying nothing to him, but somehow conveying a steadying influence. He drew in a deep breath and let it seep out slowly feeling his suddenly jumpy nerves relaxing. By the time he was ready to try again, he noted that Buffy was already engaged in conversation with the man enticing him with questions about his role in the play.
It gave Giles a few moments to focus on his own thoughts wondering why a man of Romani descent would qualify as one of the Varstrae. What possible common trait did a grey-eyed, dark-haired gypsy share with Cordelia Chase and Karla Brewer? He could not fathom what that might be. Nevertheless, it was vital that Marko Calibresi understand the danger that could befall him.
Finally, he found an opening where Marko had to pause to take a breath. It seemed that he loved to talk about himself. If ego was a necessary quality in the Varstrae, he certainly had it in spades. Buffy seemed to be a little sucked in by his scruffy around the edges, charismatic charm. He oozed it, thought Giles, feeling a little grungy from the proximity.
“So you see it is for your own safety that we must urge you to come away at once,” Giles finally finished his spiel.
Buffy assured him, “We can protect you. It’s what we do.”
“Who did you say you were?” Marko wanted more than their names.
Normally, talk of prophecies, demon priestesses, mystical rites and human sacrifices would have to come secondary to revelations about the existence of the supernatural world. As one of the Kalderash, Marko would already know about vampires and demons, and the dangers associated with them. He kept his descriptions blunt in order to emphasize just how dangerous it might be if he was discovered by Kalesh.
“Rupert Giles. I am with the Watcher’s Council.”
Marko made a sound in the back of his throat, a rumble of recognition. He turned his eyes toward Buffy. “What of you— an intern—learning everything your Mister Giles can teach?”
With a grin, Buffy answered him, “That’s me.”
“You are kind to offer sanctuary, but I must refuse.”
Buffy gasped, “You can’t! You’re in danger.”
“I will not live my life shut behind a locked door. If I am to meet with trouble it will find me anywhere,” Marko denied he could avoid it. “In the meantime, I shall continue here in your charming town.
“That decision may be your doom,” Giles warned. “We are forming a defense against Kalesh at Angel’s mansion. Once it is in place, it should hopefully be impregnable to attack.”
They watch the light fade from Marko’s vibrant eyes, and his features harden into an intractable mask. Giles quickly realized his mistake as Marko’s once-charming accent thickened with rage. It seemed he knew their identities all along. He knew precisely who they were. “You are responsible for the death of my kinsmen, you who unleashed Angelus upon the world again. How can you dare to suggest that I live under his roof?”
Buffy got as far as a, “But Angel—” before Giles waved her off with a hand that recommended caution.
“Don’t provoke him. We have done what we can.”
Needing to say something, Buffy brought up her original suggestion. “If you won’t trust us to save you, at least leave town while you can.”
“Before you go, I will tell you this, Slayer,” Marko began, “it has been long foretold that I will look into the eyes of Amolon. One cannot fight the future. If I am intended to die after doing so, then so it will be. Until then, the play must go on!”
186: The Magic Box, 5124 Maple Court Road, Central Sunnydale
“My friend Willow said to use her name,” Xander called out to the Magic Box proprietor who was still gathering the items from the list. “You give her a customer loyalty discount. This stuff is for her.”
A short pause was all it took for Bob Bogarty to put a face to the name. “Ah, the little redhead. Yes, yes, she’s in here at least twice a week.”
“Do we get the discount?”
He nodded his balding head, “Sure, sure. With an order this size you’ll get one anyway.”
Just wait until Giles learned he had saved him a few bucks, Xander grinned to himself. Or, maybe he could use the extra money to buy a few more snacks when he got to Piggly Wiggly. Something to think about between here and the grocery store.
For now he was fascinated by the stuff stockpiled around the shop. Xander wandered around picking things up, gaping, and putting them down again. “Chicken feet?” he gagged a little as he held up a clawed foot.
“Those are used in voodoo magic,” explained Bob glancing at Xander over his shoulder. “Great in anti-theft spells. They’re also really delicious when served braised or deep fried.”
Gulping, Xander gingerly set the chicken foot back in the wicker basket. One thing was for certain. He wouldn’t be adding those to his grocery list.
The interesting items ranged from simple canary feathers—although Xander had to wonder how many canaries it took to fill that box, and if Uncle Bob over there, as he had introduced himself, had been the one to pluck them—to beady little rat’s eyes. Ditto to that. Shelves were filled with an array of crystal balls, jars full of eyeballs and other items displayed in viscous fluids, and the rare and expensive stuff labelled with Do Not Touch signs.
Things were both gross and cool in this place. He spotted an Off Limits area divided from the rest of the shop by a curtain. Xander wondered what Bob might be hiding back there that his regular customers couldn’t see. This was his first time in here. Although he knew that Willow had to find those stinky herbs somewhere, it had not occurred to him that getting them would be so easy.
“That should be everything,” Bob called him over to the register. An old sign was stuck to the back reading Uncle Bob’s Magic Cabinet. “Oh, we upgraded the store and changed the name,” he explained when asked.
Xander took the shopping list back. “I have to double check.” He went down the list item by item, and halfway through found one package of green stuff with little pink flowers that had a different label. “This one is wrong.”
Eyeing it without a change of expression, Bob told him, “Oh, that. Hellebore is also known as Lenten Rose. It has many uses in spellcraft.”
“This is regular Hellebore, then? I need Black Hellebore.” Xander specifically remembered Wesley stressing that specific plant. “Not White Hellebore, or Green Hellebore.”
Wes had said nothing about pink Hellebore, but he wasn’t sure if the name had anything to do with the color of the flowers.
Bob looked a little shaken. “I thought that might be a mistake. That’s quite a powerful spell you’re weaving, young man.”
“It better be,” Xander nodded as he handed him the packet labelled Lenten Rose.
“Back in a moment.”
Expecting Bob to walk to the stinky herb section of the shop, he disappeared behind the mysterious blue curtain instead. Black Hellebore was kept in the Off Limits area suggesting that it was probably rare or powerful, or both. “What’s this stuff do?” he had to ask when Bob returned. Unlike the rest of the living plants and dried herbs, Black Hellebore was packaged in a double layer of waxed paper and plastic.
“It can kill you,” warned Bob, “so don’t mess with it. Let the witch handle it. She’ll know how to protect herself.”
Xander made a mental note to warn his friend. “Okay,” he said with a gulp.
Gaping at the total cost of his purchases, Xander now realized why Giles was being a little overzealous about handing him the money. He had not stopped to count the bills he had been given until now. The familiar face of Benjamin Franklin stared back at him ten times. “Holy cow!” He had never seen that much crisp green cash in one place before, much less in his own hand. He let out a nervous laugh and urged Bob not to forget their discount.
187: A Construction Site, Central Sunnydale
“What the fuck are they doing here?” Faith spotted the local news crew van just as they rounded the corner.
Wesley scowled at the foul language, but felt the same annoyance over the presence of civilians, especially the media. He suggested they hang back. “It seems they are set up on the periphery of the site. No obvious signs of our creature.”
The attractive female reporter smiled into the camera when cued, “This is Brantley Hughes coming to you from the midtown construction site of Legacy Heights apartments. Recent calls to radio and television stations by workers at Melmon Realty & Development blame a monster for disrupting their work schedule resulting in a complete shutdown of activity. As you can see, things are calm and quite here at Legacy Heights. No monsters in sight.”
The reporter’s tone was one of amusement, and her story the usual denial puff piece designed to quell the spread of fear amongst the general populace of Sunnydale. Framed as a union tactic for increased pay, the story revealed the construction workers were attention-seekers hoping to gain ground for their cause by using work stoppage and publicity to force their employer’s hand.
“The owner of the Los Angeles based development firm has denied there is any dispute between the company and its workers. Nor is he aware of any monsters on the scene. Back to you Ralph.”
They waited until the news crew packed up their camera equipment in the van and drove off before chancing an appearance. The construction site did indeed appear undisturbed, but Wesley cautioned them to move slowly. He let Faith lead the way. “Show us the general area, but do not get too close. I want to assess the situation.”
“Normally, I just dive in and start throwing punches,” Faith told him, “but I’ll let you check it out first. Just hang back. It jacked me up. Hate to see what it would do to you two.”
Willow held onto the small leather spellbook like it was her lifeline. She was shaking a little on the outside, but on the inside it felt like she was filled to the brim with jumping beans. Looking around, there was nothing of interest to see except scattered equipment, and lots of dirt. Everything was still and silent. “Maybe the monster went away,” she suggested hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” Faith told her as she pointed toward a spot several yards directly in their path. She called out, “Told you I’d be back, Stoney. This time we’re gonna put you in the ground permanently.”
A few pebbles started to shift around rolling away in opposite directions from the central point of a slowly enlarging mound of earth and rock. Willow held her breath as it emerged like a flowing spout that formed a thick stone base. It got bigger and bigger and bigger until she craned her neck up to see that it had glowing red eyes shadowed by a rocky forehead. Its stare was fixed upon them as it opened up to howl.
188: The Study, Crawford Street Mansion
If the mansion had a doghouse, Angel figured he would qualify to be in it. “I don’t think this is a good time to get distracted with a training session.” His perfectly sound reasoning fell on deaf ears. Cordelia did not want another excuse even if it involved her protection.
“What happened to teaching me to defend myself in case of trouble?” She countered quickly hoping that would win her argument.
Angel agreed that Cordelia ought to continue what they started. Although she had an almost instinctual ability to remember the moves he taught her in their Tai Chi lessons, it was a far cry from hand to hand combat. In the long run he planned to make certain that she had the necessary skills to fend off an attacker, but there were short term situations to deal with right now, her safety being the primary reason he could not take a chance. Not only against a potential attack while they were still vulnerable to Kalesh, but because Angel wasn’t certain he could fully trust himself.
It would start long before they got to the basement. Determined not to leave her side today until the new spells were in place, Angel would be with her as they changed into their workout gear. Any shyness about letting him see her body was long gone, so he knew Cordelia would simply strip down without a second thought in order to dress in one of those form-fitting garments. He might try not to watch, but he was already thinking about it even though it was not going to happen. The beautiful line of her back, a peek at the curve of her breasts as she lifted the top over her head, that shapely, tempting ass shimmying into those Lycra pants all added up to trouble.
Gulping, Angel knew it would be enough of a challenge just to get down to the training room, much less survive a whole session. “Another time.” This was a far cry from being limited to his concerns about a potential intruder. “It’s too much of a temptation, Cordy.”
The annoyance on her face shifted suddenly as a smile appeared making his chest ache as if his heart tried to beat. “Guess I’m just irresistible, huh?”
He would be determined to focus on the lesson while trying to steel himself against thoughts that strayed away from the technical aspects of each move she made. They would be close, too close, and having his hands on Cordy’s body even under the guise of training would still be too much. Touching her right now when his instincts, mind, and body were so attuned to his desire to claim her would be too risky. He wanted it to happen and thought . . .hoped . . . that Cordelia would understand and accept what he was asking of her, but she needed to hear it from an unbiased source.
Angel answered her with a simple, “Yeah.” She didn’t know the half of it, and that’s what scared him. Would she still be as eager for him after talking to the Watcher? Things were moving too fast, even for him, he noted, trying to be honest with himself. Falling for Cordelia wasn’t something he planned to do. His feelings were intense, almost overwhelming, and he was unused to anything he couldn’t control.
One curved brow quirked up higher. “Even when I’m hot and sweaty from a workout?”
How could he resist the temptation of touching her when it was necessary to improve her stance or demonstrate a move? The sheen of her skin would be salty as he trailed kisses there. That little spot behind her ear. Her beautiful throat, so warm and pulsing with life, especially after a workout. The dip of her navel as he tasted her there before moving on.
“That’s right,” Angel answered with a bit of a bite, his tone telling her it was time to stop talking about it because it was far too easy to think about what he was not getting.
Cordelia would try to concentrate on the training session. Do nothing that was deliberately provocative knowing that he asked her to be careful about it for now. They would get into it, shadowing each other’s movements, so in sync it seemed like they had been practicing together for years. For a little while they would try to have a little fun without ripping each other’s clothes off, but they would fail. The tease in her voice suggested that Cordy knew it, too.
Carelessly, “Fine, your loss,” she shrugged a shoulder as if it didn’t matter that he was saying no to the potential fringe benefits of their workout. Both of them felt the pain of that self-imposed denial.
He’d make it up to her, though, Angel promised himself. Just as soon as the right moment came along. Although, when that happened, if he had his way they probably wouldn’t get out of bed for a week. It was all too easy to think about that, and his colorful imagination was already taking him there when a blast of sound came from the far corner of the room.
Just the radio, he realized quickly, moving his hand away from his sword as he noticed that Cordelia had wandered over to turn it on. Maybe he was just a little jumpy. Sounding out a low growl, Angel tried to get it together. What was he doing fantasizing about making love to Cordy when he needed to be alert and focused on the job at hand?
Cordelia moved the dial on the radio until it tuned into her favorite station, a combination of pop music and talk. The music itself didn’t bother him, even if he did have other preferences. He was used to it from the Bronze and just general exposure to it, although Cordy’s comments on certain artists or their various albums went over his head. He knew enough to recognize the names Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but he wasn’t quite certain if the Red Hot Chili Peppers were an actual music group or just the latest spicy snacks Cordelia planned for him to try.
The DJ introduced the next song, “Here’s the latest from the Backstreet Boys. Climbing to the top of the Billboard 100 is ‘I Want It That Way’.”
An excited little sound from Cordelia alerted Angel to the fact that she must like what she was hearing—even if the name of the group sounded like they might be thugs from the wrong side of town. She started humming along, he noticed with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he watched her start moving around the room to the easy rhythm of the music. It was kind of smooth and pleasant, although the lyrics kept reminding him of his pressing need to pull her into his arms and keep her there.
“You are my fire,” she sang along. “The one I desire.”
Somehow, Cordelia found ways to torture him even without trying. Certainly not deliberately, but she was adept at making his mind go places it should not. He found himself watching every little move as she slowly danced her way around the study looking for something to do, pausing to glance at the cover pages of random books before discarding them again. Her off-key tune made him cringe once or twice, but he kept trying not to grin about it as he wondered how something almost painful to his ears could seem so incredibly endearing.
Dancing past him, Cordy brushed her fingertips across his hand, unable to resist touching him, and singing, “Deep down inside of me . . .” He’d like to be, he silently acknowledged and then muttered a curse as soon as he let himself picture it happening right there on his desk.
Cordelia plopped down in the leather trimmed desk chair as the music ended and another song followed. Her eyes were sparking as she met his gaze from across the room, sharing her laughter with him. Soft and lighthearted he felt its impact deeply. Just one more thing to add to his unwritten list. Christ! He loved her so much.
189: Piggly Wiggly, South Maple Court Road
The grocery store lady took one look at Xander’s packed cart. “Paper or plastic?”
Holy crap, a test! No one warned him about pop quizzes at the Piggly Wiggly. Was there a difference? Would he be censured for picking the wrong one? It was a scarier prospect than having to deal with proprietor Bob back at the Magic Box. Xander gulped, and answered, “Whatever’s good for you.”
The woman nodded and gave instructions to the bagger standing ready at the bottom of the grocery check out. “Reusable cloth bags,” she leaned in to tell Xander the plan. “Good for the environment.”
Xander was nearly done unloading his cart and shoving as much as he could on top of the narrow conveyer. He had gotten everything on the list, plus a few extra frozen pizzas. The apocalypse might be upon them, but even if Sunnydale was sucked into hell, at least they wouldn’t starve to death when it happened.
This was going great. Mission accomplished.
“Is that you, Xander?”
Turning around, he saw Buffy’s mom standing behind him with a grocery cart of her own. “Hi there, Mrs S. I didn’t know you shopped at Piggly Wiggly.”
“It’s closer than the big Safeway near the highway.”
Wow! He was having a conversation with Buffy’s mom about grocery stores. It felt weird. What was next—thumping cantaloupes together? Xander wasn’t sure what the thumping meant, but he knew people did it.
“How are things going?” Joyce Summer’s simple question was not simple at all, nope. He could read between the lines on that one pretty easily.
“Buffy’s fine. Getting stuff done. Doing her thing. You know, the usual thing.”
Xander hoped that was a good enough answer. It wasn’t like he could say anything about slayage or tracking down gypsies in front of the cashier. He shuffled around and spent a few seconds reorganizing the groceries piled up on the conveyor belt as soon as new space opened up. A loud bang from the back of the store startled everyone around them.
The grocery lady clasped her chest. “Oh my! Someone’s clumsy back there. That sounded like an entire palette of cans.”
Happy that he hadn’t been the one to make the mess, Xander explained to Mrs Summers that he was in charge of the cooking at Casa Angel. She took one look at the piled up pizzas. “I can see that,” she said smiling at him. “I hear that you have houseguests. Everything okay there?”
She meant Drusilla and Spike, he realized. “Technically, we’re the guests. They’re the family, I suppose, which is kind of creepy. Sunnydale’s Adams family, maybe, unless we already have one of those.”
Fishing for details, she asked him, “So everyone’s okay?”
“Yeah, considering. Mostly. Cordelia’s under house arrest, so we’re all on bitch alert—um, I mean, she can be intense when cornered, so it’s best not to rile her up, or even speak.”
Hearing Cordelia’s name brought a frown to her normally pleasant face. “The poor dear! So sad that her grandmother died.”
Even the Grocery Lady knew about Beverley Quinn’s death. “Such a terrible accident. One can never be too careful with kitchen knives.”
Answering numbly, “Right.” Xander had forgotten she was there for a second he was so distracted by thoughts of Grandma Bev and the permanent image of that ornate dagger lodged in her chest while her blood congealed on the floor. He knew the local newspaper had spun its usual web of lies. What he wasn’t so sure about was whether Buffy’s mom knew the truth.
She was still on the subject of Cordelia. “Buffy explained that you two are no longer dating.” Joyce said it quite casually as if it was something that wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, but it still caused a twinge of hurt deep down. His fault, but it still hurt.
Confirming that they had broken up a while back, Xander helped out as Mrs S started to add her own things to the conveyor. His stuff was nearly done. He didn’t bother to mention Angel figuring that Buffy had given her those details. Suspecting the reason for this line of questioning had more to do with her daughter than it did with Cordelia or him, Xander promised her, “I think Buffy’s gonna be okay. Y’know it really hurt at first, but we’re kinda used to seeing Cordy and Angel glued at the lips now.”
Joyce Summers turned a little red managing to distract him by pointing out, “The cashier’s ready.”
Another crash and a few more bangs sounded from the back storage area as Xander paid the bill and waited for his change. “Someone’s gonna get fired,” he muttered and gave Mrs S a quick ‘yikes’ face and a goodbye before taking hold of his cart and heading for the exit.
Xander shut the trunk of the Plymouth after putting the groceries away, and set out to return the grocery cart to the cart return at the front of the store. The front doors slid open suddenly and several customers and employees rushed out, all of them screaming and running for their lives. Instinct carried him along with the crowd. He wasn’t sure what he was running from. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.
Halfway back to the car, he remembered Joyce Summers was still inside. He had not seen her come out with the others. “Mrs S, I’m coming!” Dodging a couple of random people and grocery carts, Xander ran toward the doors. No way was he going to tell Buffy that her mom got held up by some robbers looking for quick cash at the Piggly Wiggly.
One of the storefront windows shattered as cases of soda hurtled from inside as he got closer, as if they had been thrown simultaneously, boxes exploding with splashing liquid and fizz. The doors swished open and Xander stood on the threshold staring and gaping in open-mouthed awe at the chaos inside. Shelves were still standing, but their stocked items were everywhere else. Scattered on the floor, piled up in odd towers, and being tossed around by a hundred or so little flying demons.
So, not the grocery store robbers he had been expecting. This made more sense, anyway. Oddly, he felt like he might be able to do something about these little imps compared to guys with guns. One wretch perched on the metal rail where the grocery carts were stored inside. Its smirky face had tiny rows of sharp teeth, beady red eyes, a little pug nose, funky ears, and bat wings. The moment it caught sight of Xander, it flung a half-eaten tomato his way splatting him center chest.
“Why you. . .!” Xander tried to take a swipe at him, but the demon flew out of the way and then dared to buzz right over his head yanking on a few hairs as he zipped by.
It was tempting to run after the little creep, but he reminded himself that he had more important stuff to do. “Mrs Summers?” he called out to Joyce a couple of times before he found her, the grocery lady, and a couple of kids trapped inside several overturned carts. Several of the demony things were hopping up and down on the makeshift cages while squealing, honking and jabbering to each other.
As he pressed up against the wall trying to figure out how to get over there to rescue them, Xander spotted the fire alarm pull station. Maybe the noise would scare the pesky creatures into leaving. The alarm sounded the moment he set it off piercing the air with a high-pitched clamoring. It made him wince, but the demons only got more excited by it.
Standing in the bakery section, Xander grabbed whatever he could to hurl at the imps. The Razorbacks’ quarterback would be proud of his loaf throwing technique, he thought grinning as he hit one target. Tossing some powdered doughnuts in another direction made one demon fly away in pursuit. Noticing that the one in his hand was his favorite jelly doughnut, he took a quick bite before arcing it toward the trio of impish creatures atop Joyce Summer’s cart. They scattered just as he hoped, but the jelly splatted through the open grid of the cart directly onto her head.
“Hurry, Xander!” Enough of them were gone that Mrs Summers and the cashier were able to crawl out from beneath the carts. Each of them grabbed one of the kids by the hand and ran in his direction.
“That aisle looks empty,” he whispered. “We’ll head down there, and then make a run for the exit.”
Looking more curious than scared, the boy asked him, “What are those things, Mister?”
Suddenly, he was the cool older guy in this situation. Xander tried to look as Indiana Jones-ey as he felt at that moment as he answered confidently, “I don’t know, but they like doughnuts. Take a couple of these and if one tries to attack you toss it at him.”
Each kid grabbed one doughnut for each hand, while Mrs S and Grocery Lady opted to carry a boxful arming themselves with a dozen. Xander decided on a different weapon of choice: a crusty baguette that reminded him of gym class during baseball season.
The strategy worked. Doughnuts were tossed. Greedy little bastards flew after them, and the ones who hung out on the shelves waiting to divebomb at them as they ran by were batted away by Xander’s baguette. By the time they made it outside, the crusty loaf had broken in half. He looked at it with the respect it deserved. “Farewell crusty friend,” he exaggerated a choked up sound before tossing it back through the broken window of the Piggly Wiggly storefront.
The children squealed with excitement when they spotted their crying mother nearby. “I was so scared!” She hugged and squeezed and then lectured them both for not following her outside. The kids waved at Xander as they were led to their family car.
“He was nice. I like him,” said the pigtailed little girl.
“You do seem like a good young man,” the Grocery Lady told him with a pat on the shoulder. “So heroic.”
Xander beamed proudly, quite unused to being the one getting the praise for saving the day. “It’s what I do.” His eyebrows quirked up a notch as he gave Joyce Summers a quick glance wondering if she was going to say anything.
The Sunnydale Fire and Police Departments were blaring their sirens in the distance, but moving fast in their direction down Maple Court Road. It would probably better not to be around when the cops showed up. Plus, the ice cream was melting. “Guess we better head to our cars,” Xander suggested. Thank goodness he had not parked the Plymouth right in front of the store like he had planned.
Grocery Lady let out a gasp. “My purse is in my locker in the back.”
Then it was Joyce’s turn to stare back toward the store. “Mine is on the floor somewhere. I dropped it when those monsters dragged us away.”
“So no keys? I’ll give you a ride home. Let’s go.” Xander hurried them along. Who knew what the Mayor’s cronies would do since they were witnesses to an actual demon attack. It was all about sweeping stuff like this under the rug so it never happened.
Grocery Lady—Carol was her name—lived in some old apartments on the other side of Nelson Park not that far from the Piggly Wiggly. He dropped her off first and received yet another thanks for the rescue as she waved them off. Automatically making the left turn back toward Revello Drive, Xander finally had to say, “That was crazy! We see that kind of stuff all the time, just mostly at night.”
Joyce Summers mumbled something as she picked bits of jelly doughnut out of her hair. He noticed some scrapes on her arm, but nothing serious in the way of injuries. No need to take her to the clinic or the E.R., he decided. Still, Buffy’s mother only rarely got caught up in things that her daughter dealt with on a daily basis. This could have shaken her up more than he thought.
Just as he slowed the car to a crawl as he approached number 1630, Xander asked, “You okay, Mrs. S?”
There was that look of resolve he so often saw on Buffy’s face. “Keep driving, Xander.”
It wasn’t for lack of a house key. He knew where they kept a spare one hidden under a rock in the garden. That meant she wanted him to take her to Angel’s place. Yeesh! “Are you sure that’s a good idea? There’s a lot of stuff going on today.”
“So I can see. Buffy told me about everything, Xander. I know that Earth is in danger, and I know that my daughter, and all of you, are caught up in the middle of it.” Joyce braced a hand on the dashboard as he hit the gas a little too hard, surprised by her revelation.
Drive straight. In your own lane, Harris! Why was it that he heard Angel’s voice in his head harping on him about his questionable driving skills?
Whoa! The Buffster had not mentioned telling her mom about Amolon, Kalesh, and the prophecy. Normally, she preferred to keep Joyce Summers as sheltered as possible from the truth around them, especially if her life was in serious danger. It usually was, so as far as Xander knew, Mrs S was deliberately kept in the dark about most of their missions, and certainly about ongoing apocalypses.
Xander groaned a little as he thought about the number of lectures he was likely to receive from a certain ex-girlfriend, a vampire, the Watchers, and one very brassed off Slayer. “Crawford Street here we come.”
190: The Study, Crawford Street Mansion
Shivering with a lusty little thrill at the hot way Angel was staring, Cordelia curled her hands around the arms of her chair and held on. Seeing him like that always lit a flame inside her, when he was just on the edge of losing it, letting go enough to show his feelings. She wondered how worked up he’d get if she really danced for him. They could do that tonight if Wesley would hurry it up so she could get the necessary 411, a quick lecture, no doubt, on why letting herself be claimed by a vampire would be a very disturbingly bad thing. Pfft! Like that would stop her from giving Angel what he seemed to want so desperately, even if it involved something beyond sporting a scar on her neck. What could Wes say that would possibly scare her off? Nothing at all, that’s what, she decided.
Fangs were kinda sharp. She had seen Angel’s fangs up close and personal and the idea of being bitten didn’t exactly summon up sexy thoughts. Having seen vampires take chomps out of their victims, it was hard to think of it as something she wanted. Angel did, though, and so she wasn’t going to wimp out on him now.
It felt like she was sitting around waiting for her life to get started, except it came with a rulebook she did understand. Only a few months ago thinking of herself beyond graduation, having a hot boyfriend, pursing college or maybe an acting career, and leaving Sunnydale in the dust as her Corvette zoomed out of town would have seemed ridiculous. Well, she had the hot boyfriend, even if he was ensconced here at the Crawford Street Mansion and sworn to help Buffy with her mission. Was that the future Angel had planned for her? Drusilla had envisioned a future for her with Angel, but in Los Angeles. How would that happen? It wouldn’t if Nicolau got his way. Sacrificial lambs didn’t get to have a future with anyone.
The reminder soured her good mood. Littered across the desk in front of her were piles of books, notepads, obelisk rubbings, parchments and scrolls, and a few charred items rescued after Drusilla’s little arsonist stint. Somewhere in this jumble of information there had to be a clue to make it all go away. The mystical phrase that included a Get Out of Jail Free card. Or one saying, whoops, we’ve got the wrong girl. Maybe a little demon-be-gone recipe to repel demonic demigods. Spritz it around and easy-peasy Sunnydale would be demon free.
With nothing else to do, Cordelia figured it couldn’t hurt to sift through the stuff collected there. Although she didn’t think Giles would keep anything important from her, she figured that it was also good to check things out for herself, especially when it was her life on the line.
Nicolau’s letter to Angelus occupied one corner of the desk available for easy reference and with a full translation written by Wesley folded carefully beneath it. Cordelia did not need another peek at that. She knew all about Nico’s plans for her, not to mention those of his skanky childe who wanted to get her hooks into Angel.
Most of the scrolls and parchments were written in languages Cordelia could not even recognize much less read. An open book topped one pile. An inked drawing of a weary old hag was identified as Cailleach. The text surrounding it went on in pretty much the same way Giles and Wesley had described. It told her nothing new about Kalesh. Not helpful! The thought sing-songed in her head.
Beneath the book was another parchment, this one with a colorful depiction of a talisman. The writing was again in some ancient foreign language, so it was impossible to determine what the object was supposed to do. Probably something not good. The only word she could make out was another version of the name Kalesh, so it made sense that the talisman belonged to her.
The fragile prophecy scroll with its burned edges lay on a soft folded drape that caught the ashen bits still falling from the portions touched by the heat of the fire. Cordelia suspected that was Angel’s way of preventing them from getting on the rug. He could be a little bit of a neat freak, she noticed, and wondered when he was going to stop picking up her clothes from the floor every morning. It wasn’t like she was going to leave them there forever.
Wesley’s meticulous notes were documented on several yellow legal pads placed next to the Scroll of Septarius. Finally, something she could read! Despite his precise printing, the information itself seemed to be jibberish in most cases. Recalling that Giles had said something about the prophecy being so old that the scroll contained collections of riddles, stories, and other muddled information, she figured that might explain it.
Deciphering the dates and deadlines had not been easy, so they claimed, yet they had been mostly accurate. Their concerns about the misidentification of the prisoner worried Cordelia a bit, but it seemed the Bad Guys had made the same mistake. Maybe there would be a few too many mistakes on their part so that Kalesh would just cancel her party plans. Cordelia was turning down that invitation anyway.
The next legal pad covered focused notes about the Rites of Tavrok. These were in Giles’ distinctive hand. Sloppier because he was writing as fast as he could put it down, but still mostly legible. There were a number of different sources cited as if he had to use multiple references to gain even a hint about what might happen when Kalesh performed the ceremony to bring Amolon from wherever he was now to Earth.
Cordelia wasn’t really sure she wanted to know what the evil old witch had planned for her. Deciding to avoid that particular nightmare before she could dream about it, she dropped the pad back on the desk. It flopped in a way that fluttered the pages. One word flashed at her from the third or fourth page down written in capital letters: CRYSTALS.
Gems, jewelry, precious stones were things Cordelia felt she had more than just a passing interest in. One of her few personal collections included a variety of Swarovski crystals that included the candy crystal bracelet she was wearing today. The collection of crystal animals also made a gorgeous display in her bedroom—or it had until almost everything was impounded by the IRS.
The reminder almost stopped her from checking out Giles’ notes. Cordelia let out a disgruntled little sigh, but pushed on. Reading them over, she noticed that there weren’t any cohesive theories or conclusions about the crystals as she had seen for other topics. This was Giles’ latest effort, she decided, the subject he had just started to research. At this point there were scribbled notes and a hint about these crystals being involved in the Rites of Tavrok, but without any clear description of how they might be used. Certainly nothing about the quality, what they looked like, or if they were mounted into antique jewelry.
Boring! So not what she wanted to read. If only the Scoobies had brought her stack of Cosmopolitan Magazines from Bev’s house. She paused for a moment at the thought of her grandmother’s name, and tripped past it. Bev would be the first to want her to live a little during these scary, stressful pre-sacrifice days. Maybe she should have Xander swing by the house to pick them up. He had the car and the keys. There were a few quizzes that would be fun for the group when they finally took a break, and some sexy ones she thought might be interesting for herself now that she had actual experience.
She let out a soft laugh that drew his attention. “What’s so funny?” He had seen her reading Giles’ notes.
Getting Angel to take those quizzes—now that would be fun—for her. “Oh, just something else I’m planning to do to you later.”
He gave her a hard stare, nostrils flaring, tongue tip swiping between his lips as if to clear away the response he was about to spring on her. A gripe about her teasing him again, no doubt, but then he smiled. Well, sort of quick flash of a smile, and then he was back to looking stern again as if it would protect him from further flirtatious comments. She knew better.
Angel won the staring contest as usual. So unfair! She felt flustered, flushed, and a little needy just from that lengthy look. Maybe he wasn’t the only one vulnerable to a little flirting, except Angel never had to say a word. She was practically quivering at the thought of a simple kiss. Just one. Right now. A kiss that melted her insides, and lingered long after it was over.
Dragging her gaze away from Angel, she tried to focus on the rest of Giles’ notes. There were a couple of phrases written in Latin. She had read it often enough during routine research that certain words were becoming familiar. Even so, the word Varstrae was underlined twice in one particular sentence. She thought it read as the crystals being at the location of the Varstrae, which would make sense if they were used during the Rites of Tavrok when the victims were gathered for their sacrifice to Amolon.
Knowing that Angel was a fluent reader of the dead language, she asked him what the phrases meant. “Only the Varstrae shall locate the crystals,” his translation indicated she had reversed the meaning of the words. “Only the Varstrae shall bring their power to bear.”
As soon as he finished talking, Angel was out of his chair, striding over to the desk with a stormy look on his face. Taking the legal pad when she offered it up, he stared at the words with laser intensity as if he could singe them from existence. “What’s up with that look?” Cordelia asked mirroring his worried expression.
“Giles said nothing about this at our meeting,” Angel told her as he slammed the pad back on the desk scattering a few parchments and ashy bits across the desk.
Confused at his sudden anger, Cordelia pointed out that it seemed to be the Watcher’s current work-in-progress. “Maybe he hasn’t finished researching it yet.”
“More likely he was waiting until I had no choice but to agree to it.”
Sliding her gaze back down to the notepad, Cordelia pictured phrase again, repeating its translation aloud, “Only the Varstrae shall locate the crystals.”
Angel scowled, saying nothing, his hands pressed against the top of the desk as he waited for her to come to her own understanding.
“Wait! I’m one of the Varstrae. I could find these crystals. Score another one for Team Chase,” Cordelia’s excitement escalated quickly. She had no idea how to find the mystical crystals, or what they looked like, but if it said so right there in Giles’ own handwriting that she could do this, she had every confidence that she would.
“Team Chase is on hiatus, Cordy. You’re not going anywhere,” said Mister Overprotective. “Once that spell goes up no one including Kalesh herself will be able to get to you. Sending you out there on some wild goose chase—.”
“Crystal hunt,” Cordelia interjected.
But Angel pressed on, “—will only put you in a vulnerable position.”
“The crystals are important,” she argued, pointing at the stack of books that Giles had presumably been about to review. “What if these rites can happen without me? You might save me, but if Kalesh has the crystals, Amolon will still make it to Earth. They’ll win.”
Angel went quiet. She could practically see him formulating an argument in that thick skull of his, determined to keep her safe, wanting to do anything to ensure it, even if that meant continuing his unofficial role as her jailor. It might take a day or two, but Cordelia figured he would eventually let her do what she wanted. He had a soft spot that he hid so well from the rest of the world, but his need to please her might not be enough to make him change his mind this time. “Looks like we both have some Watcher time coming up,” Cordelia grinned at him. “You talk to Giles when he gets back. I’ll have a little chat with Wes.”
Straightening up, Angel crossed his arms over his chest, already looking like he was going to be mule-headed about the Crystal Hunt. His scrunched brow tightened up another notch as she spoke. “You picked Wesley?”
“Yup! I plan to pounce on him as soon as he gets his cute little British butt back to the mansion.”
Obviously, he thought she would pick the older and wiser Giles. Her decision bothered him for some reason. “Why Wesley?”
“Because you gave me a choice. You don’t really think I’m going to tell you all of my secrets, do you?” Cordelia laughed at his expression.
“He likes you,” Angel pointed out, “a little too much.”
Cordelia nipped at her bottom lip trying to hold back the giggle threatening to emerge. That possessive vibe always managed to thrill and annoy her at the same time. “Do you think that will sway his advice?”
Grunting a denial, Angel said, “No. He just likes you a little too much.”
At least she had managed to distract him off the topic of the Crystal Hunt. Maybe things were finally coming together. Wes would come back. Tell her stuff she would not want to hear, but probably ignore, letting them settle this whole claiming business once and for all. Giles would explain that the Crystal Hunt was a necessary thing, and her days of lockdown in the mansion would be over.
Things were definitely looking up.