Scenes 201 – WiP
201: Crawford Street Mansion, Central Sunnydale
A Rodin statue in the making, Angel sat upon the stairs with his elbows bent on his knees, folded hands raised with his thumbs steepled against his lips. Outwardly, his calm appearance belied the storm of thought and emotion swirling beneath the surface. The minutes since Cordelia had descended into the basement ticked by in maddening slowness. Time enough to consider that allowing her to learn about the power of a claim from anyone else might be a mistake.
Centuries of observing vampires had given the Watchers Council vast knowledge about the supernatural world. Plenty of mysteries remained. Things that were simply unknowable. How could he expect Wesley Wyndham-Pryce to counsel Cordelia on a subject that had no real precedent? There were no other vampires possessing like him documented in their diaries for comparison. No way of knowing if his soul would affect the kind of bond he hoped would develop with Cordelia.
There were other levels of intimacy to explore that he had never considered possible. Some needs were all too obvious, basic to the part of himself he would prefer to deny, and yet it clawed for fulfillment. Feelings snuck up on him that could not be ignored. Was it just the selfish bastard in him that wanted this right now in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty? Reassurance that Cordelia was his in every possible way before fate tried to rain hell down upon them.
Not that I’ll ever let it. Somehow, I’ll fix this. Save her. I have to.
Angel’s gaze had not left the closed barrier of the basement door since Cordelia and Wesley stepped through it. The temptation of going after them simmered hot. Although the door wasn’t locked he might not bother with taking the time to open it. One swift kick would burst it to splinters. He would be a blur on the stairs. Traversing the corridors below would take only a minute. Finding her would be easy, he figured.
Getting rid of Wesley might take more effort. “Get out,” might not be enough. Cordelia might complain about his use of intimidation tactics, but he wouldn’t take the bait by letting her draw him into an argument. He’d simply do what needed to be done—claim her. Bind them together. Seal his fate to her own no matter that destiny had other plans. Dramatic much? Cordy would totally call him out on it.
The stairs creaked alerting Angel that his wait was over. Bolting to his feet, he stared at the door waiting for it to open once their footsteps reached the top. Pinpricks poked at his nerves. He had not budged from that spot on the stairs the entire time. They’d think he was worried about Wesley’s far from unbiased opinions about vampire claims. True enough, but only Cordelia’s opinion counted. She was great at cutting through the bull to get to the heart of a subject. Maybe that part worried him most.
Anxiously, Angel shifted around to lean against the wooden baluster striking a casual pose. The door handle started to turn. He glanced down at his all too obvious position deciding that he looked ridiculous. No need to give away the fact that he was nervous about the outcome of their discussion. He had promised to allow Cordelia to make this decision, and he had meant it. After one last glance at the door, Angel darted across the hall into the room serving as Wesley’s office.
Cordelia instantly took notice of his absence. “So much for Angel sticking around to guard the door.” He ended up unintentionally eavesdropping. An indelicate little snort preceded her hopeful query, “Think he’s given up on the idea of Kalesh making a sneak attack?”
Easy answer. Angel scowled at the thought of it. No, he hadn’t.
Wesley was quick to respond, “Doubtful. The odds are quite in favor of the enemy making a move.” See, even the watcher agrees.
“Guess that means you ought to get going. We don’t want Willow making a mess of this new spell, do we?” There was a little snip to her words dismissing him without actually acknowledging that he might be right.
A blabbering response followed as Wesley tried to defend Willow’s spell casting skills and his decision to remain at her side. “Angel would not want me to leave you alone.”
Right. Good decision, Angel thought as he quietly leaned against the open doorframe watching the two of them. Wesley might not be his first choice as Cordy’s bodyguard, but he was smart. Hopefully, that translated to the advice he had given her.
“Give me the crossbow,” Cordelia held out her hands. It took a waggle of her fingers to convince him she was not about to take no for an answer. Wes handed it over. “I’ve got this. Just point and shoot, right?”
Angel finally spoke up. “Like any weapon, using it requires training.”
Swinging around at the sound of his voice, “There you are!” Cordelia aimed directly at him for a second or two before realizing it and promising, “I wasn’t going to pull the trigger.” Lowering the crossbow to a safe angle, she asked, “Where have you been hiding?”
“Wesley’s office,” he thumbed at the room behind him. Stressing, “I was just waiting.” Not hiding exactly.
Walking past him to peruse the state of his desktop Wesley shot him a narrow squint, “What were you doing in there? Please tell me you did not move anything around.”
Angel shrugged and held up a leather-bound book he had randomly picked up, “Just this. It was in one of those stacks on your desk.”
Trying to keep a straight face, Angel handed the book over effectively giving him a few moments of privacy with Cordelia as the watcher darted into the other room. Wesley was too busy examining his research to take notice as he closed his hand over hers to lead her away from the office door. Cordelia did not wait for him to speak first. Seeing right through his not-so-subtle strategy, she said, “We can just go upstairs if you want to be alone.”
Not really surprised, Angel just accepted the fact that Cordy had a way of knowing him without him having to say a word. Still, going up to the privacy of their bedroom would be the wrong move. He had promised her time to think about this. Told himself she would need it despite her assurances that her mind was made up before knowing any details.
“Not until you have an answer for me. Have you made your decision?”
Cordelia’s eyes went wide with shock. Yes, he was asking now. He couldn’t go to their bedroom if she was going to say no. He didn’t want rejection there of all places. Finally, she responded, “Not exactly.”
Oh? Damn. Guessing the watcher had done his duty giving her enough information to make her think about the consequences instead of blindly accepting an uncertain future together, Angel didn’t want her making a hasty decision— as long as was the right one. “Do you have questions for me?”
Again, she paused as if to measure out words instead of letting her feelings pour forth unfiltered as usual. “There’s a lot I wasn’t expecting. Can we talk about it later?”
“Later,” Angel echoed in agreement. That word had once signaled a beginning between them, but now he worried that it might take on a new meaning. One he wasn’t going to like.
Cordelia started up the stairs, but paused to hold out the crossbow. As he reached for it, she gave him one of those brilliant smiles that always caught him square in the chest as if he was on the verge of gasping for air. Teasingly, she said, “Maybe I should keep it since you don’t want to come upstairs and play bodyguard.”
She might be able to read him like a book, but Angel wasn’t as savvy. Cordelia either slapped you in the face with the unvarnished truth or she dug down deep to hide it under a steel shell. Sounding uncertain rather than angry, she left him wondering if she was going to accept his claim. He swallowed hard, and tried to make light of her indecision. “You didn’t shoot me on sight, I suppose that’s a good sign.”
Night had finally come as the sun’s last rays faded to black. Sensing it, Spike took the stairs at a brisk pace feeling eager for some action. The thought of gadding about town with his mortal enemy by going on a little mission for the greater good, doing his part for the team— a whole world of wrong about that. Buffy wasn’t exactly thrilled about him tagging along tonight. This was an opportunity to torment her just a bit, twist her up in knots because something about her did the same to him.
No surprise that Buffy wasn’t eagerly awaiting his arrival downstairs. The only one in the foyer was Angel now pacing around like a caged tiger. He swung around silently noting his approach before turning back to continue tracing an invisible path across the parquet floor. Spike glowered realizing that the situation between Angel and Cordelia remained unsettled.
“Thought you’d be fangs deep by now,” Spike said as he tugged on his leather jacket.
The radio wasn’t blaring from the basement anymore, and he could hear that prat of a watcher shuffling papers in the office across the hall. Angel shot him a glare. A silent warning against saying anything else that might set him off. Bugger that.
“No need to play by the book—unless you want Dru and me to witness the deal.”
Offering to watch was genuine, and not a tease even if Spike knew he would enjoy every moment with lecherous delight. Drusilla, too, even if she felt a twisted sort of jealousy as her sire claimed his mate. These days Angel was the de facto head of the House of Aurelius whether or not he accepted that responsibility. That came with some expectations like putting an end to rival vampire clans horning in on their territory.
Cordelia Chase divided Angel’s attention. Shagging her senseless night after night might be a worthwhile distraction for any vampire, but how could that be enough to sate his needs, even with a soul gumming up the works? Spike didn’t see why it was so complicated. Claiming bloodrights did not require a permanent bond, but it was obvious that was the direction this was going.
Strangely, Spike was okay with it, no matter that it would set the chit up for trouble. Angel needed his head on straight if they were going to take on the Solarians, not to mention the rest. He needed that killer instinct back and not to be focused on his namby-pamby feelings. Why the devil would anyone want a soul when it only made you soft?
Angel’s stare was anything but soft, shooting daggers from his blackened gaze. This wasn’t a joking matter, and Spike had been serious with his offer. Their kind traditionally witnessed events creating changes in status, not that Darla had ever instilled in them a desire to follow any kind of ritual practices. They went wherever they wanted, and enjoyed the havoc left in their wake.
No use reminiscing over days gone by. Spike didn’t really want Angelus back again even if it would be convenient to skip the soul-searching excuses for not claiming Cordelia. Poor pet wouldn’t get a choice in the matter, or a life, not a human life, anyway. Existence as a vampire would be one escape from her prophesied fate. One Angel would never let happen.
“Starting to think the problem isn’t Cordelia, mate.” Spike kept his distance. He wasn’t going to volunteer himself as Angel’s punching bag. “Maybe we’ll insist on watching. Make sure it’s done proper like.”
Again, Angel’s silent response would have wilted anyone else. Bordering on terrifying, his killer instincts weren’t buried as deep as Spike had feared. It was a good sign, he figured, feeling better about what would happen when it came time to put Nico and Isobel down. A bloodbath would do. Lightened by the imagery, he stopped hounding Angel long enough to realize something had gone wrong.
“That watcher hasn’t had her ear all this time.” Not if that was him in the office, which his senses confirmed. “Don’t think she’d put up with his gaff.”
Spike’s expectations had been simple. That’s why he had gone off and left Angel on his own. He figured the watcher would drone on about naught until Cordelia told him where to stuff his cautionary tales. She’d rush upstairs into Angel’s arms, and that would be that— claimed and tamed. Yet here he was pacing the floor like a caged tiger about to pounce.
“Where is she?”
Having asked him a direct question, Angel finally responded. “Upstairs. She’s getting ready for tonight.”
That sounded promising. All sorts of leather and lace scenarios popped into his head. Yeah, he might definitely have to insist on playing witness.
“Cordy wants to head out to search for the Shards of Ahli-Tah right after sunset.”
Not exactly the fun and games Spike hoped they’d be up to. “That still on?” Claiming a mate wasn’t exactly a quickie scenario. He figured the outing was off for at least a night or two.
A weighty pause followed before the answer came. “I promised.”
Any sympathy Spike had for him vanished. “You gonna lick her boots, too?”
He had moved within punching distance, but Angel remained still. Couldn’t deny he was willing, could he? Truthfully, Cordelia might just be worth it. Spike doubted he would ever put up with letting a woman handle him that way by. Doing for her when he had wants of his own. Letting her desires take priority. Never happening, that. Had his Dru, he did. If he let her get away with aught it was only because she was his sire, and he needed to please her.
Angel ignored the dig. “This place is suffocating her. Tonight might be the last chance Cordy has to spend time outside these walls, and it’s our only opportunity to find those crystal shards.”
“Plenty time to get things done. Go give her a good shag. Take what belongs to you.”
Spike wasn’t normally one for giving advise to Angelus, and felt uncertain why it mattered a whit to him in the first place. Only one thing made sense even if it wasn’t right. Staying here under this roof with Angel, Drusilla and Cordelia with her motley crew of supporters was the closest thing to a sense of family they had back in their glory days. Minus all o’ the blood and gore, but that might work itself out soon enough, preferably by introducing Isobel to her innards.
Angel’s gaze flicked toward the staircase before settling back on Spike. “I am giving her some space. Time to think about it.”
Not getting it, Spike scowled at the notion. “She’s yours. Make it official.”
“Cordelia needs time to process.”
Calling him out on it caused Angel to inch forward. Spike felt a knot rise up in his throat. “Don’t push it. Either Cordelia accepts everything the claim entails, or she doesn’t. I won’t have you influencing her decision—especially if you frighten her with more demonstrations.”
Spike wasn’t about to back off even when he had to lift his gaze higher to meet Angel’s now that he loomed closer. “Told you about that, did she? Dru’s idea o’ course.”
“Drusilla’s whims are enough of a concern without you giving in to them.”
“Do what I’m told within reason. Dru’s my sire. Never gonna turn down the chance to taste her even with your precious pet watching. Doesn’t shy away, does she? All that curiosity. Made me hard, that did, having her eyes on me when I bit into Dru’s tender flesh.”
That stony glare was back. Disapproval.
It was definitely a thrill to push Angel’s buttons, seeing him spinning like a top, unsure of himself, his girl, their future. Spike might actually enjoy it if he didn’t already see the dark path this could take should Cordelia spurn Angel’s desire to claim her. Hurt feelings would be the least of it. Never forget that Angelus was part of him. The soul might give him a conscience, but the demon still remained. Those instincts he tried to beat down every day would just rise to the surface. The chit would bear his mark whether she wanted it or not, and the bond between them would eventually become unbreakable. Cordelia would resent it and him, and it wouldn’t be pretty for anyone.
Done with the conversation, Angel suggested he shove off. “Don’t you have something else to do beside give me unwanted advice?”
“Got a little adventure of my own,” Spike reminded him that he wasn’t the only one with plans for the night. “Slayer back from her mum’s?”
Angel’s face turned neutral now that the subject had steered away from his pet. He nodded toward the back hall where the Scoobies’ shared room was located. Spike gave him a cheeky grin and headed in that direction only to hear him call out, “Play nice.”
Playtime was exactly what tonight was all about. Angel seemed to know it. He didn’t have a hope in hell of controlling Spike’s actions when it came to toying with Buffy Summers. The slayer could hold her own, and if it amused him to push a few of her buttons, it seemed her ex wasn’t going to bother telling him to lay off. Not that he would.
Spike loped down the hallway and without bothering to knock opened the bedroom door. Having heard their voices, he knew that the usual trio was inside. Xander was stretched out on the bed fully dressed, hands propped behind his head, legs crossed as they chatted about whether apocalypses were legitimate excuses to get out of homework. “I’ve already done mine,” claimed the little red-headed Willow still dressed as tidily as a school girl.
Nothing suggested she was a font of mystical power capable of defending this mansion against demonic invasion. Her surprised face turned his way as he leaned against the doorframe, those limpid green eyes suddenly flashing with something dangerous. Not as innocent as they used to be. “Just me, little witch.”
Before he could ask about Buffy, the adjoining bathroom door opened up to emit a cloud of steam. She stepped out of it swathed in a towel and still wet from her shower. Her hasty appearance left water dripping everywhere. Her hair remained plastered to her head and shoulders while droplets ran down her arms and legs. One hand grasped the towel holding it in place, and the other held a stake raised up in obvious intent.
“You! What are you doing here?” Buffy demanded answers, but sounded flustered. Her cheeks looked flushed. Could be the hot shower. Normally slow and steady, her heart also ticked a little faster. Was she ready for a fight, or was that just for him? “Get out.”
What fun would that be? Spike didn’t bother to acknowledge the echoing sentiments of her friends. Softly, he refused. “Don’t think I will, luv.”
Buffy snapped back, “I can make you.”
“Go ahead. Odds of that towel coming off are in my favor.”
202: The Housekeeper’s Quarters
Tonight already sucked and it hadn’t even started yet. Why Spike? He was loathsome, disgusting, always ready to rile her up, pushing her buttons, and stirring her blood. Buffy wanted to stake him so badly. One swift thrust in the right place. Just thinking about it made her shiver in anticipation. If only.
This was all her mother’s idea, but Buffy had only herself to blame. She didn’t want her mom to freak out about Spike and convinced her that he was sort of a good guy now. Surely, all that vampire strength would come in handy if Buffy needed backup. Wrong! So, so wrong. Anyone else would be welcome to tag along. There were plenty of other people around. Not that she needed help.
Going it alone would have been just fine. She could handle carrying a whole pile of demonology books if that’s what it was she was buying from the creepazoid hocking them. Those impy flying demons at the Piggly Wiggly? No problem. Even Xander had held his own. He already knew what she’d be up against. Maybe Xander should go instead of Spike.
Buffy thought that was a fantastic idea. Except Xander was already taken. Obviously attempting to make Spike jealous for some weird reason, Drusilla had demanded Xander accompany her on Cordelia’s excursion in search of those crystal shard thingies. Like a date? She would laugh if it didn’t worry her that her friend hadn’t turned the vampire down.
Was it a residual from the thrall? That concerned her, but Cordy was his ex, and these days Xander worried over her way too much. Legit reasons, for sure, but with Angel at her side, she did not need Xander along. That would totally have been her argument to sway him over to her side, except that Willow had gotten there first.
A woeful droop pulled at Willow’s face. “Oh, gosh! Sorry, Buffy, but I really need Xander’s help.”
Her besties had done their best to cheer her up about tonight. They wanted to come with her. Willow even had some spell ideas she would have loved to try out against the demon swarm, but no go. Casting the defensive spell on the mansion and its grounds was obviously her priority. Buffy got that. She really did.
Faith would have been a welcome substitute for Willow and Xander. Better yet, maybe she should have been the one to go with Spike. After all, the little demon they saved had been looking for her in the first place. Only one issue with that idea—by default it would mean Buffy would have to join Cordelia on her Crystal Hunt. No way! If it was just a matter of window shopping with Cordy, sure no problem, Buffy could handle that, but Angel was going to be there. Having—sort of—accepted them being a couple now did not mean she wanted to watch them try to keep their hands off each other. Whenever they bothered to try they sucked at it.
Why couldn’t Giles forgo research for just one night? Okay, so that kind of answered itself, but it wasn’t fair! He was her watcher. He should be doing whatever she wanted him to do. Buy the books himself, and then watch her kick tiny imp butt at the grocery. He could help if he wanted. Easy! Spike could be an extra body guard for Cordelia. No way Angel could fault that.
Except that her watcher wasn’t about to get distracted by a few annoying demons when there was a world to be saved. Stuff needed discovering. The details. The 411 on hidden parts of the prophecy. The pending apocalypse wasn’t just about Cordelia even if Angel made it seem that way.
Giles might be a no go for tonight, but that left an extra watcher who was—according to him anyway—highly trained by the Watcher’s Council. Just as stiff-necked as his name implied, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce looked like he’d have trouble corralling a pack of puppies much less a demon swarm. Still, at least she knew he was one of the good guys, unlike Spike.
She didn’t get it, really. Why was Spike sticking around? He trash-talked a lot about making whatshername pay for torturing him. Guess she got him pretty good, Buffy decided almost wistfully. He did look pretty beat up when Angel brought him back to the mansion that night. What had that vampire done to him that got him worked up enough to want revenge? Still, that did not seem like the only reason Spike had for staying in Sunnydale.
Buffy figured it had to do with Drusilla, who seemed to have no interest in leaving her sire’s side. Having practically adopted Cordelia like a long-lost sister, the looney creature was perfectly happy building herself a little nest right there on Crawford Street. That was so wrong! Worse, there were two slayers and two watchers living under the very same roof.
Still, Drusilla would be far better company than Spike. It might be impossible to predict whether she was going to try to stroke her hair again or slit her throat, but Buffy could force her to keep her distance. Maybe she’d be an asset in renegotiating the cost of those books Giles wanted so badly. She could do her thrall thingy on that nasty little demon making him give them a discount. They could totally use the cash to buy new towels—much bigger towels not prone to slippage during tussles.
Except Drusilla wanted to be with Cordelia and Angel tonight. No surprise there, and frankly Buffy was okay with it. Who wanted to depend on Dru for backup when she was just as likely to take the demons’ side? Not her.
What was Oz doing tonight? He was a smart guy. Plus, he wanted to help out. The moon wasn’t even full. No werewolf issues to distract them. He could totally help carry those books. Surely he would be just as handy as Xander when swatting flying demons with a baguette.
An amused little smirk stretched Buffy’s lips as she mused alternatives for tonight’s patrol. Adding the last touches to her mascara, she nodded at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Ready. “Hey, Willow,” she said opening the door and stepping back into their shared bedroom, “I think you should call Oz.”
Huddled together on the bed, Willow and Xander were reviewing their plan for herb crushing, potion mixing, and spell casting. “Already done,” she answered with all seriousness. “I need another pair of hands if we’re going to do this right.”
Buffy’s smile vanished as her backup plan went down in flames. So much for that brilliant scenario where Spike would totally be okay with Oz being her patrol buddy. Oz could have tagged along as a wolfy distraction for Spike. Werewolves and vampires didn’t mix well, or maybe it was just Spike not mixing well with anybody.
Hearing a hint of desperation in her voice, Buffy asked, “Isn’t Xander your designated fetcher and carrier?”
“Trusty assistant,” Xander argued his role.
Elbowing him, Willow said that it was the scope of the spell being cast on the mansion. “We’re taking this protection spell to an all new level. So, I need bodies. People, not just bodies, because that sounds like I might need to raid a funeral home or a graveyard, which you could totally do for me, but I need living people not dead ones. A few witches would be even better, but people will do. One person for each of the cardinal directions.”
Whatever witchy rituals were required for the casting of the protection spell, Buffy was glad she was not included. She would definitely prefer to face the demons tonight than stand around waving stinky herbs. Not her kind of deal.
“Great! Sounds like you’re good to go,” Buffy put a little pep in her pep talk. “I’m sure you’ll be brilliant, Willow. You’ve got this.”
While Buffy felt confident that her friend could hold up her end of the plan, it was her own abilities that caused considers. Could she really go the whole night with Spike at her side and not stake him? He was a confusing, irritating mix of vampire and pure male ego, and Buffy did not like it. Not one bit. She should not have to put up with his crap just because he was willing to help. Those motives might be legit, or just an excuse to get close to her. Boasting about killing two slayers was probably supposed to set her on edge, or scare her into submission, not that it did. It just reminded her that sometime soon he was going to end up as a dust pile at her feet.
That wasn’t his only boast, of course, which had made her flush hot even while anger twisted her up in knots. That’s all it was, anger. Frustration of the not getting to kill him kind. She was all tingly with it right now.
There was only one other person on Buffy’s desperation list. She imagined herself asking, “Hey, Mom, how badly do you want your purse back?” Sigh! That was one conversation never going to happen. If it meant keeping her mother safe, there was really only one thing to do.
Meeting up with Giles reminded her why it was necessary. “The invocation of the Bone Relic has drawn worshippers of Amolon to the Hellmouth, vampires and demons. Spike should provide speed and strength in the fight. He’s a natural killer.” The tiny curl of his upper lip hinted Giles’ personal feelings on the subject of depending on a vampire to fight alongside his slayer.
She took the envelope with the money intended for the little demon with the books. “Guess we’ll get going.”
Spike was in the foyer with Angel arguing over something. They hushed up as soon as she arrived making her wonder if they were talking about her. Maybe Angel was warning him off, telling Spike to behave himself around her. No teasing or touching, or any of those things he usually tried no matter that they had an audience. She suspected that only spurred him on.
“You can carry these,” Buffy shoved a couple of tote bags and the envelope at him. “We’ll take care of business first.”
Thumbing the crisp green bills inside the envelope, Spike purred, “No need to buy my services, luv. They’re all yours.”
Buffy glanced toward Angel who she imagined should be ready to punch his irritating relative in the face, but he was staring toward the top of the stairs as if he hadn’t even heard Spike’s little come-on. “You seem distracted,” she pulled Angel’s attention back to her although he stared down at her as if it took a second to remember why she was there.
Before he could respond, Spike leaned in with a stage whisper, “Cordelia.”
Oh, like that was actually news. “Right.” She held up a hand to halt further explanation. “We’re going now. Thing to do. Books to buy. Demons to kill.”
Angel finally spoke up offering a cautionary warning against treating this too routinely. “Kalesh’s cronies could be anywhere.”
“Too bad for them.” Buffy figured to deal with them in the usual way.
Stray demons weren’t Angel’s concern. “Don’t get too cocky. Nico might not like to get his hands dirty, but he’s lethal.”
“He’s a vampire. I can handle it.”
Angel took a step closer, his height forcing her gaze higher. “No one knows your capabilities better than me, Buffy, but don’t underestimate him.”
Since when had her ex started to sound like Giles? Oh, the lectures, advice, reminders, and unwanted blah, blah, blah about what she should do. It was her job. Why did everyone have a say in how she did it?
Spike suddenly cut through the droning to tell Angel, “Buff’s got this. You’ve got enough on your hands tonight without worrying about what we’re getting up to in the dark.”
Ooh, that earned a harsh stare. Angel couldn’t argue that one! Checkmate. An odd spark flared as Spike rose to her defense. Just as quickly, Buffy felt weirded out by it and chose to say, “C’mon, Billy Idol, we’re gonna be late.”
202: The Temple of Amolon
The chamber glowed with a combination of natural and mystic light creating shadows along its rocky walls. Jake’s instinct kept him there as he observed the exquisitely beautiful Lady Isobel return to her sire’s side. The vampire prince swept her into his embrace as they shared a kiss. Minutes before her soft pink lips had been at his throat as she tasted him on a dare intended to prove her power. His compliance had been a necessary distraction designed to keep her attention away from Harry Sims.
They were a lustful pair of creatures. Their devotion to each other was only surpassed by Nicolau’s obsession as a follower of Amolon and the priestess Kalesh. Jake had a rudimentary understanding of vampire lore. He studied the texts Wolfram & Hart supplied at the outset of this assignment. Demon worshippers, the vampires of the House of Solaris were the rarest of their kind. He could care less about their habits as long as he was left out of it.
Distractions in the form of deadly, flirtatious blondes were definitely not welcome. Still, his eyes were glued to the unexpectedly tender kiss. Nicolau glanced his way as if knowing it was his blood lingering on his progeny’s lips. Amusement rather than jealousy twisted his expression for the seconds he bothered to spare him a moment’s notice.
“Do you want more?” The calm query passed intimately between them, an offer for anything that she desired. Listening, Jake felt a cold shiver shoot through him.
Isobel had made no secret of her boredom as their duties to Kalesh caused them to frequent these dank caves. No doubt they were a far cry from the sort of luxurious surroundings she normally occupied. Was Nicolau offering his lover the chance to seduce him, dine upon him, or both? Not that any of that would happen. A heavy knot collecting in his throat took some effort to swallow.
Without bothering to take another look, Isobel refused her sire’s offer of a diversion having already told Jake that he wasn’t diverting enough for her taste. “You know my desires. I require far more stamina than one such as he could manage, even if he is tasty.”
Ignoring the urge to smooth the rumples in his suit and straighten his tie, Jake reminded himself that he was here to represent Wolfram and Hart. He had no desire to play games with vampires no matter their supernatural charms. Nicolau appeared neither surprised nor angry that Isobel had been flirting and tasting his blood. He was just a potential meal. True, he might have a visceral response to Isobel’s beauty, but he was no fool. He knew precisely what she was and had no intention of letting her toy with him again.
Allowing her to taste him had been his choice. A ploy on his part. Jake gave himself kudos for letting her get that close and allow her to lick at him like a treat. It had gotten him what he wanted, Isobel’s attention directed away from Harry Sims. She led them here to Kalesh’s great altar, an enormous chamber of natural rock at the center of which the priestess’ magic set a pool of water ablaze, colorful flames danced across its surface.
Her usual preparations before any council meeting, Kalesh’ magic failed to hold Jake’s attention. Despite claiming disinterest in Isobel, he was irked by her comments. He shouldn’t care that he was only ‘moderately equipped’ in her estimation. Was she actually telling Nicolau about her wandering hand?
No, they had moved on. Talking about someone they both found far more diverting.
“Patience, my dove, for Angelus will be with us soon enough. Perhaps then we shall determine whether his reputation as a stallion is well deserved.”
The name Angelus had come up once before in his presence, a vampire of some repute who had disappeared from the world stage many decades ago. Under different circumstances, the firm might recruit him to their cause, but there were enough players in the game for now. Angelus had the last of the Varstrae in his keeping, and that worked in Wolfram & Hart’s favor.
Yet Prince Nicolau spoke of Angelus’ arrival with a note of assuredness, as if he had no doubt the other vampire would side with Amolon— not to mention take a turn in their bed. One way or the other, Angelus might be a welcome distraction for the vampires keeping them out of Jake’s way as he secured their decoy until the invocation of the Rites of Tavrok.
Anything that kept their attention off Harry Sims would work to the firm’s advantage. He was the key, after all, the spider in their web. Sims had to lay low, keep out of everyone’s way, especially Kalesh. The vampires would have no interest outside his role as one of the Varstrae. Mooney’s men were too stupid to conceive a ploy believing everything that had been laid out before them. It was Jake’s job to make this work, and when the pieces all fell into place, the Senior Partners would promote him for his efforts.
Too bad, Lilah. Better luck next time.
A grim smile tugged at his mouth as he thought of his rival at the firm. Jake had every intention of proving himself worthy in the eyes of his superiors at Wolfram & Hart. He was going to succeed. Putting one over on Nicolau and Isobel excited him even more than her teasing touch.
Suddenly aware that he was being watched, Jake’s gaze darted away from the vampire couple to the crooked old woman standing directly in front of him. He nearly cried out in surprise, but held his tongue. Kalesh tilted her head one way and the other as she perused him. A chill froze him to the bone at the intensity of that stare seemingly looking straight into his soul.
Wrinkles deepened as the priestess gazed at him, as if judgement weighted them down. Her body was stooped, bones curved with the passage of time, but her eyes were ageless, piercing, seemingly looking beyond the visible. Faster than she seemed capable, her knobby hand grabbed his sleeve. Jake thought he might piss his pants. “You are late, boy.” Releasing him, Kalesh slapped his wrist.
Chuckles echoed throughout the cavern. Mooney let out a blast of a laugh. Both of the vampires sounded out their amusement obviously enjoying the way their beloved high priestess laid him low with a few words and treated him as if a boy. Even Sims let out an irritating, “Har-har-har,” at the admonishment.
Steadying his response, Jake felt a rush of relief having thought the old hag was onto him. She did not want an apology, he knew. Results were the only method of obtaining her good graces. “Priestess, this is the prisoner of the prophecy, the next of the Varstrae.”
“What prophecy?” Sims asked forgetting the warning about calling attention to himself.
Jake shot him a look, but the man was already caught up in Kalesh’s stare. He stiffened as if physically touched by an unseen force, perhaps sheer will power. The kind of thing that took your breath away and made your knees knock. He felt it again when the priestess turned her gaze his way, asking, “What have you brought me?”
He gulped slowly. “This is Harry Sims, one of the Pure, just as promised.”
Sims snorted at the description then quieted down again. He had been told he was here to die. His giddy response was untimely and worrisome. It only drew Kalesh’s interest.
“Come closer, Harry Sims,” the priestess waved him toward the circle of fire. She shuffled toward the altar, and waited for him to follow. After a reluctant look at both Jake and the burning flames pooling on the cavern floor, he did as instructed edging up to it. “Don’t fall in,” she cackled making him jump.
What was Kalesh planning? A test of some sort, Jake figured, recalling that the other Varstrae had spent time in her presence. Sims was shrouded by all manner of spells hiding identity, abilities, and the knowledge of his part in this deception. No way could she uncover that. No way! Could she? No, that was impossible. The firm had connections, powerful ones that could surely mask the truth.
This was exactly what he had hoped to avoid. Sims could have been shoved into a cage with the others and no one would have been the wiser. Except, that would have been too easy. Jake watched as Kalesh opened up a small clay pot, reached inside, and pulled out a few dried plant stems. Herbs, he guessed, as she tossed them into the fire. Orange smoke billowed up in far more quantity than he would have expected. She scooped it into her hands blowing it into Sims’ face. Witchery of some sort, but for what purpose? The possibilities rattled his nerves.
Repeating the action to no visible effect except making Sims cough at the smoke swirling around his head caused Kalesh to become more animated than usual. She paced before the altar, coming back to the fire, chanting over it, and looking expectantly toward the man dressed in prison garb. “Look into the fire, Harry Sims. Look deeply and tell me what you see.”
Sims complied by leaning forward and staring into the fiery pool. “Hot water. You’re not planning to throw me in there, are you?”
Affronted, Kalesh gasped at the unexpected answer. “Do you not see the path to your future? Beyond all that exists is the barrier that holds Amolon within the void. He requires your communion.”
“Maybe I didn’t get a big enough whiff of that smoke.”
Jake cringed realizing that the Varstrae weren’t exactly themselves after a meeting with Kalesh, but he hadn’t cared enough to discover why thinking they were just terrified. “Focus, Sims,” he ordered daring to speak up since it was the only way to fix the situation. “Try it again.”
Reaching into the residual smoke rising above the pool, Sims gathered it up and waved it into his own face, choking it down. A few tense seconds passed before he called out, “Amolon? Yes, yes, it’s me…Harry Sims.” Jake hoped his acting skills would improve in the next few seconds or they were both going to die.
Sims suddenly seized up and fell to the floor with a silent scream stretching at his face, mouth agape and his jowls shaking. His body curled up into a fetal position as he spouted, “No, no! I’m not the one. I’m not the one.”
Had Sims seen something in that pool? This wasn’t the act he had started. It was true terror, and when Kalesh flashed those piercing eyes toward Jake, he knew it, too. The firm’s plans were failing and that left him in big trouble. The only thing to could do was find some excuse to explain Sims’ behavior.
Hoping to get out ahead of it, he asked, “Have we been deceived, Kalesh? Is it possible that he is not the true Varstrae?”
So much for that promotion! Assuming he got out of this hot spot, there’d be hell to pay back at the home office.
“It would seem you are correct, Jake Devries,” Kalesh replied while closing in on the fallen man. “Amolon has rejected him as impure. He cannot be of the Varstrae.”
“He fit our profile. Mooney agreed,” he tried to deflect some of the blame.
The gang leader wasn’t slow to defend himself. “Don’t pile your shit on me. Sims was your idea.”
“Forget him. We can get rid of him easily enough and look for the right guy.”
When Kalesh quirked a furry eyebrow instead of striking him down with a spell, Jake figured he might actually come out of this with his head intact. He made a move toward Sims planning to drag him out of there. The old woman held up a hand signaling he should stop. “Must you rush toward your doom?”
Jake froze in place. She didn’t believe him. “I am your servant, Kalesh. I am here to serve the will of Amolon.” It was a lie, unconvincing and desperate.
She regarded him for a long stretch that might have been only seconds, but felt like eternity. “We shall see.” She teased him with a hint at the promise of life.
Nicolau moved closer. “Perhaps I should question him.” His offer caused Jake to clench up at the idea alone.
“Leave him for the moment, Nico,” the priestess waved off her favorite. “For now I am more interested in this one smelling ripe with magic. Layers upon layers of it seep through his skin and bones, yet I sense it is not his nature.”
Part of him wanted Kalesh’s attention anywhere else, but Jake knew that if she focused her substantive magical powers on Harry Sims that she would discover the truth. Should he betray the firm by ratting them out? Would it save his life if he revealed that the Senior Partners were planning to forestall the Rites of Tavrok and prevent Amolon’s passage to Earth? Disloyalty was never a consideration, but Wolfram & Hart had ensured that he could not speak out against them by means he would prefer not to remember.
They watched as Kalesh disposed of the bindings that held Harry Sims apart from his memories and abilities. The blind terror ravaging his face subsided into a mask of serenity as if he suddenly had all the answers. “You’re looking for a gypsy,” he revealed confidently. “I can tell you more.”
“I am listening.”
Harry’s gaze met his across the cavern. “This jerk is screwing you over, lady. These lawyers from Wolfram & Hart are up to their eyeballs in bad deals. The only thing they worship is the bottom line—or themselves.”
Kalesh surprised him by saying, “We are aware of their desire to interfere in our plans. Your arrival has revealed their strategy.”
“What?” Jake spouted. “The firm would never betray Amolon. His coming is foretold.”
“Perhaps that is why your superiors act with such desperation.” She cackled so that her nearly toothless grin made him shudder. “Your connections have done much to forward our goals, but it seems that time is over.”
Once again, Nicolau interjected, “Allow us to deal with this traitor. He need not spoil your vision any longer.”
Isobel wrapped her hands around her sire’s arm, a plea on her pouting lips. “Oh, let me, Nico.”
“Not yet,” Kalesh stayed his execution with a sharp order. “You are far too eager, the both of you. There is still much to learn. The mind of this Sims is clouded by magic. Though he is not Varstrae, he possesses visions common to their kind.”
“My visions are not common,” Sims took offense. “My precognitive abilities are primo quality. I’ve been tested as a Level Three.”
The technical process of testing precognitive powers meant nothing to the priestess, but she recognized Sims’ potential. She worked her magic again until layer by layer the spells placed upon Harry Sims were stripped away. He lay immobile on the rocky cavern floor for some time. Jake wondered if the spells had wiped him out, or if he was just remembering everything that had been locked away in his head.
What was Sims going to, and was any way he could live through it? Jake was not about to panic. The firm didn’t pay him big bucks for losing it every time a demon threatened to kill him. Those daily occurrences usually started with his clients. The opposition always had their own nasty threats.
“You’re planning to kill me, too,” Sims looked right at Kalesh surprising Jake who thought he would be busy begging for his life. “You won’t. I’m valuable. There are things you need, and I can get them for you.”
Kalesh approved of Sims’ bravado. “What kind of things, Harry Sims?”
“The gypsy I mentioned, for one,” Harry elaborated. “He’s the one you want for that ritual.”
“Yes, if he is the one I seek, I would hear more.”
Even as he haggled for his life with information, Sims managed to try to strike a deal. “Wolfram & Hart made me promises.”
It came as no surprise to Kalesh who had known men throughout the ages. “Do you desire wealth, Harry Sims?”
“Yes, yes I do, priestess. Happy to help your little cause if you help mine.”
Nicolau sounded out his disgust. “Do you humans know nothing but greed?” The vampire was in this for his faith and promises of power. Money meant little to him, but Jake supposed that was because he already had it in plenty.
Even if Sims had an appropriate comeback, he knew better than to respond. Jake was beyond defending humanity. It was all too apparent that he would have to face the consequences of his actions. Damn you, Lilah Morgan. What was worse? Facing the likelihood of his own death, or knowing that she would get the job he wanted?
“I offer you an opportunity,” Kalesh told Sims who scrambled to his feet as quickly as possible. “Join me, use your abilities to aid my cause, and you will be granted anything you desire.”
Sims’ decision was already made. “Sounds like a better deal than the one I made with Holland Manners. Great lawyer for an evil bastard.”
“The arrival of our god Amolon will ensure the destruction of Wolfram & Hart. All they possess shall be reduced to rubble.”
Harry Sims was okay with it. “That works for me.”
Kalesh nodded in satisfaction. The deal was done. Sims was hers. Jake only hoped he could get away with it, too. “What about me?” He was prepared to beg for a quick death. Anything but the torture Nicolau might devise for him.
The priestess did not bother to look his way. She merely raised a hand giving her loyalest followers permission to proceed. Nicolau tilted Isobel’s chin up high letting her know this was his decision even while giving into her wishes. His soft words sounded like a caress, “Finish what you started.”
Jake stood his ground even though the urge to run burned though him knowing he was no match for Isobel’s supernatural speed. No sooner had permission been given than she was standing inches away licking her lips. Before he could blink, she thrust him against the closest wall, and it all came back to him— the sensation of her soft hands, the rush of fear, the pounding of his heart in his ears, the slick flick of her tongue lapping at his blood.
Whispering into his ear, “It seems you are quite diverting after all.” Isobel’s beautiful face shifted into a nightmare of ridges and fangs a moment before she ripped into his throat.
To Be Continued . . .
Season of Solace is my current Work-in-Progress.
Last Update: 18 April 2020
New scenes will be added soon. Watch this space.
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