Scenes 21 – 30
21: The Summers’ House, 1630 Revello Drive
The sun shone through the kitchen window scattering dappled light across the countertop and chrome fixtures. Its cheery glow seemed quite inappropriate considering the gloomy nature of the headlines causing Joyce Summers to sigh deeply as she read the details of the top story in the Sunnydale Press.
“Morning,” Buffy greeted somewhat glumly heading straight for the cabinet to pull down a bowl and a box of Wheaties.
Joyce wondered if her daughter already knew about the tragedy. The tone in her voice suggested that there was something bothering her. Though it had been a few months since Buffy’s return, they were still patching their relationship back together. It wasn’t always easy to correctly guess her moods.
“Buffy, there’s been a horrible accident. Some students from your class were involved,” she paused, waiting for some reaction.
It came almost immediately and sounded rather detached. “I already know, Mom. Tony Smithson died. There was a fire.”
Buffy poured the cereal into the bowl, put the box away and opened up the fridge to get the milk. “I could make you something if you prefer,” offered Joyce. “What about pancakes?”
That got her a smile. “No thanks. I’ve gotta jam.”
“It’s Saturday morning,” Joyce reminded her while taking in the fact that Buffy was already dressed for the day. Glancing at her watch, she added, “You’re up a little early for a weekend.”
“So are you.”
Joyce planned on conducting an inventory of the gallery today. She’d been hoping Buffy might come with her. There were times she still felt nervous about letting her out of her sight. This article just brought it all back and the thought of losing her child gripped her heart with fear.
Walking over, Joyce put an arm around her daughter’s shoulder and placed a kiss on her head. “I love you, honey.”
“I love you too, Mom,” came the automatic response. Buffy sent her a strange look as if questioning the need for the declaration. She sat down on a stool and started to eat her cereal.
“Just promise me that you’ll be careful out there. The police don’t know who is responsible for the fire,” Joyce missed Buffy’s expression as she trailed a finger under a line of newspaper text. “Witnesses say that Tony spontaneously burst into flames, but the police are looking for evidence of foul play. Especially since his girlfriend went missing.”
Coughing as a droplet of milk went the wrong way, Buffy gasped, “Missing?” She pulled the paper off of the counter and skimmed the article. “It says Karla is a suspect. That she vanished last night before the police got there.”
Joyce nodded, “Her parents must be terrified.”
“But that’s not true,” Buffy tossed the paper down. “Giles was there. He and Faith saw the whole thing. The police were going to escort Karla home.”
Clearly Buffy was trying to defend her schoolmate. “The police chief says that’s not the case. It’s right there in the article. Maybe Mr. Giles and your friend were mistaken.”
“Maybe,” answered Buffy with that I’m-giving-you-the-answer-you-want-to-hear tone that most teenagers thought they got away with, but never did.
Joyce watched Buffy polish off the rest of her cereal. She wanted to offer an ear if she needed someone to talk to, but it seemed that the subject was closed. “I’m going to be at the gal—”
“Knock, knock,” Xander’s chipper voice sounded from the screen door.
Grinning, Buffy jumped off her stool and went to open the door. “Is that a knock, knock joke or are you just happy to see me?”
“I’m always happy to see you,” Xander waggled his eyebrows. Catching sight of Joyce over by the sink, he froze for an instant and then let out a nervous laugh. “Um, hi, Mrs. Summers.”
“Good morning, Xander,” she tried not to laugh at his expression. Noticing that Willow was trailing in slowly, looking bleary-eyed and yawning wide, she added, “You too, Willow.”
Willow simply waved and crawled up onto one of the kitchen stools. Propping her elbow up on the edge of the counter, she cupped her chin with her hand, eyelids drooping closed. “Sleepy now,” she muttered through another yawn.
“Wake up, Will,” Xander walked over to massage her shoulders only to switch to a rousing back pat when she let out a low mewl that sounded a little too contented. Reminding her that they were just stopping by to pick up Buffy, “We’ve gotta get going.”
“Bye, Mom,” Buffy said as she tugged Willow toward the door.
Joyce called out to remind her that she would be at the gallery most of the day. “I’ll see you at dinnertime.”
“Hey, Buffster, did you tell your mom to expect that thing?” asked Xander rather cryptically. Then again, Joyce never knew what was going to come from Xander’s mouth.
Buffy looked wide-eyed and hesitant, obviously aware of what he was referring to, but for some reason uncertain that she wanted to reveal it.
“What thing?” Curious, Joyce stepped closer to the door. They were already on the back porch, standing in a close huddle.
Through gritted teeth, Buffy muttered to her friends, “No, I didn’t.” Her mom now knew about the vampire-fighting side of being a Slayer, but she still held back on some of the really scary stuff, like when demon gods threatened to take over the planet.
“What thing, Buffy?” she had to ask again, this time concerned. Crossing her arms she gave them her best stern face and waited for a response.
“Um, there’s supposed to be an earthquake.”
Xander helpfully specified, “Tonight.”
“An earthquake?” Well, this was California. Earthquakes were hardly unusual. The fact that Buffy and her friends seemed sure there would be one certainly was. “Is the fault line acting up again? I didn’t read anything in the paper to indic—”
Now fully awake, Willow was the one with the answers. “Nope, you won’t find it there. I was reading this old scro— schoolbook on…on Nostradamus…yeah, him… and there’s this prediction about today. You can’t beat that for an early warning system.”
“Nostradamus?” Joyce was surprised at the texts in schools these days. “Aren’t his predictions supposed to be vague?”
“Most prophecies are,” Xander told her quite seriously. A second later he gripped his side and let out a painful yelp drawing Joyce’s attention as he scowled down at her daughter’s elbow.
Buffy’s mouth curved into a tight smile, “No use taking chances, right? If you’re going to the gallery, you might want to, um…secure things just in case.”
With a shrug, Joyce agreed. “It never hurts to be prepared.”
“That’s what I used to tell Cordelia,” snorted Xander only to cry out again when Buffy whacked him on the arm.
“Going now,” Willow waved goodbye and darted down the steps heading across the back lawn toward the open gate.
Joyce watched as Buffy trudged after her leaving Xander to follow. He ran to catch up, “What’d I say?”
22: Giles’s Place, 523 Oak Park Street, Central Sunnydale
During the short walk around the block from Revello Drive onto Oak Park Street, Buffy informed her friends about her findings in the morning newspaper. “The Press says Karla disappeared last night.”
Willow and Xander scurried along as fast as they could behind her since Buffy had unconsciously picked up the pace. “After she got home?” asked Willow breathily.
“No,” Buffy shook her head. “Karla never got there. The cops claim they never even talked to her, but Giles told us there was an officer at the scene who took Karla away with him.”
“Do you think she’s been kidnapped?” Xander had a couple of classes with Karla. “She’s nice, y’know. A sweet kinda girl. So…normal.”
Slayer and witch stopped walking. Xander ran into them both. Gaping at them, he shrugged widely, “What’d I say now?” As the girls met each other’s eyes, they wore identical frowns.
Resuming their walk to Giles’ house, they slowly turned back up the sidewalk. Willow swung her arms back and forth bringing her hands together in a rhythmic clap on each forward swing. Pointing out, “It wouldn’t be the first time the newspaper has done a cover-up when the police department is involved.”
“Nope,” Buffy agreed.
Coming up on Giles’ place, they noted the fact that there was an unfamiliar car parked next to the watcher’s old clunker. “Looks like Giles has guests,” Willow commented. Like Buffy, she simply walked up the path toward the front door.
Xander wasn’t so quick to leave. Even though the girls had already moved on, he called out to tell them they had not paused long enough, “This baby deserves more respect than that.”
He ran a hand over the sleek black lines of the classic Plymouth convertible. The top was down, allowing him to feel the warmth of the sun-warmed leather seats against his hand. “Niiiiiiiiiice.”
“Coming, Buffy!” He hopped up the drive. Grinning, he told them, “Someday, I’m gonna have a cool car.”
Buffy and Willow shared another look, this time one of amused indulgence. “Sure you will,” both nodded vehemently. “Uh huh.”
Knuckles rapping loudly against the door, Buffy impatiently waited for Giles to open the door. She was about to check to see if it was unlocked, knowing that Giles was expecting the gang this morning, when it swung open to reveal Faith standing there.
“C’mon in,” she waved them inside. “You’re late. We’ve had Giles all to ourselves for almost half an hour.”
Buffy walked past Faith without responding and idly noting that Cordelia must’ve been the other part of the ‘we’ since she happened to be sitting on the couch. Why was it the other slayer had to put a raunchy twist into everything she said, making it sound like the three of them had been having wild animal sex.
She heard Giles puttering about in the kitchen and called out a greeting. “I’ll be there in a moment,” he answered. Imagining him emerging from the kitchen with mussed hair and a crooked tie gave her the wiggins. Not that she would put it past Faith or even Cordelia to make a play for an older guy, but this was Giles.
“Put the bad thoughts away,” Buffy muttered to herself.
“Hi guys!” Cordelia was all smiles this morning; apparently still feeling a high from her little triumph at the demon bar.
Angel hadn’t commented much last night, letting Cordelia tell the story of the brawl and how she’d smashed a beer bottle over one gravlock demon’s head.
She could have sworn that Angel started to smile. Then he’d caught her looking and the smile vanished. God, even looking was painful sometimes. Just seeing him and not touching was a reminder that she couldn’t have what she wanted.
What she wouldn’t give to have him all to herself for half an hour no strings attached. Angel’s strings were more like chains and he had plenty of them.
With a deep sigh, she sank down onto the couch wishing she could be half as perky as Cordelia this morning. Reminding herself that she was supposed to be making Cor feel welcome now, Buffy managed to say, “Hi. I thought you’d be stiff and sore this morning. From the fight,” she added.
“Actually, I have all this energy,” Cordelia practically bounced with it, her bright smile only adding to the natural golden glow of her skin.
Willow sat down in one of the chairs. “You were just lucky you didn’t get hurt.”
This was a good time for Cor to get snarky and blame Willow for the time she did get hurt, but Buffy was surprised to hear her chatter on about the demon brawl without a word of the rebar incident. “Well, I do have a bruise,” she sounded like it was a badge of honor. Rolling onto her hip, Cordelia pointed toward her right butt cheek, “It’s right on my—”
“Good morning, all,” Giles greeted them as he came around the corner carrying a tray with a teapot, teacups & saucers, and a variety of sodas. “We have all had a short rest, but there is no time to waste.”
Xander complained, “But Cordelia was going to show us her bruise.”
Remembering Cordelia’s comment about a certain portion of her anatomy being a bit sore during their debriefing in the early hours after midnight, Giles paused for a moment, shook his head, and tried to go on. “You…there will be time for more Show & Tell later on. For now, we must talk about our strategy for today. There is much to accomplish.”
Sitting down on the floor, Xander crossed his arms on top of his bent knees and exaggerated his pout. Cordelia gave him a pointed look as if to remind him he no longer had the right to look, but it just seemed like friendly teasing or at least semi-friendly teasing. Clearly, Xander had been telling her the truth. He didn’t want to be protected from Cordelia. He was just lucky she wasn’t turning on her patented super-bitch mode, which for some strange reason was nowhere to be found at the moment.
“Giles, did you see the morning paper?” Buffy got right to it deciding that Cordelia thoughts were certainly not going to improve her own mood.
“I’m afraid so,” Giles set his teacup down, pulled off his glasses, tapping the tip of the earpiece against his lower lip. “There is a clear disparity in the actual events and the information reported by the Press. The sign we witnessed last night indicated it would reveal the First Sacrifice.”
Willow piped in, “Tony.”
“I thought that as well at the time,” admitted Giles as he popped his glasses back on. “Having reviewed our research again, I have to conclude that Karla Brewer’s sudden disappearance is no coincidence. Though the news article indicates she is believed to have run away, I suspect there is foul play involved.”
Pushing away from the wall with the heel of her boot, Faith walked up to Willow’s chair where Xander was now sprawled on the carpet. “We saw that cop put Karla into his car. There’s no mention of that in the paper. It’s like she just disappeared from the scene.”
“So what’s the connection?” asked Cordelia realizing that she’d missed something last night when Giles & Faith were talking about their experience outside of the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor.
Giles explained that one of the last signs in the ongoing chain of events written in the scroll was that of ritualistic sacrifices. “I assumed that Tony’s death was in fact a sacrifice, but I now believe it occurred as a culmination of mystical energy, a beacon of sorts. It pointed the way to Karla Brewer.”
“A little excessive, dontcha think?” quipped Xander.
Willow agreed. “There are lots of ways to find people. Not that I’ve tried that kind of spell before. Maybe I could—”
“No,” Giles answered sternly. “There are dark mystical forces at work here. We will have to search for her the old-fashioned way. Trying to use magick when we don’t know what’s involved could be dangerous.”
“Okay,” Willow deflated a bit, her shoulders slumping, wide mouth tipping into a frown.
Buffy volunteered for a little legwork. “Willy might have something.” Her snitch was usually good for a lead or two.
“I’ll take care of it,” Faith said as she rubbed her closed fist into her other palm. “A little work-over and he’s gonna spill.”
“I can handle it.”
Swallowing down a soothing sip of his tea, Giles suggested, “You should both go.” He caught the sharp look that Buffy sent his way; adding further reasoning, “Stop by the police station as well. I’m curious to find out whether Officer Clark actually exists. I’d rather you worked as a team just in case you run into the unexpected.”
“You got it,” Faith shrugged. This was supposed to be her town, after all. A little charity wouldn’t hurt. “I don’t mind if B tags along.”
Cordelia heard Buffy’s teeth gnashing together and tried to suppress her laughter. That worked for all of two seconds. “See Faith, looks like you get a sidekick after all.”
Buffy’s face was blazing, her usually cool green eyes shooting laser beams toward the two brunettes. What was it she’d been thinking early about Cordelia’s inner bitch being on vacation? Deadpanning, “Funny,” Buffy found it anything but.
Putting the two slayers together on assignment was risky, Giles knew, but it was something they needed to work out. Their styles were vastly different and Faith was difficult to control. He hoped a little of Buffy’s experience would wear off on the girl.
“I plan to remain here today,” Giles informed them. “Follow any leads you find and contact me if you discover anything. There is research to be done on the relic.”
A collective groan sounded from the non-slayers in the room. “More research?”, “Again?”, “Isn’t it too early in the day for that?”
“Whining won’t make the work go any faster,” Giles commented. “I tried that myself this morning and had no luck with it.”
“Hee!” Willow chirped. “Giles made a funny.”
Giles explained that he was very close to making a discovery on the origins of the bone relic. Unfortunately, he was at a stage of research where there remained a number of sensible theories. Narrowing it down would require more time and information. “Tonight may provide the key.”
The Scroll of Septarius with its auguries of events indicated that an earthquake would reveal an ancient obelisk. As with many of Sunnydale’s mystical sites, they were located underground. The passage of time had buried them beneath layers of sediment and other more modern structures. In this case, the obelisk would be uncovered between holy and unholy ground.
“That could be anywhere in Sunnydale,” Cordelia commented. “Hello, Hellmouth.”
“You’re right,” Giles agreed, but suggested that they use the school as the focal point and consider some of the holy sites closest to it. “There are four here on the eastside—”
Cordelia let out a whoop, “Yes!” The others turned and stared.
“Thank you, Cordelia for that rousing cheer, but you might allow me to finish before you applaud my plan.”
“Oh, please continue,” she grinned at the happy thought that she wouldn’t have to deal with misty Old Sunnydale, pebbly Restfield, spooky Shady Hill or live with flashbacks of grabby vampires by patrolling Parkdale.
Giles drolled on and handed out the night’s assignments. He told them that there was no need for an evening meeting unless something new cropped up between now and then.
“How will Angel know?” Cordelia asked realizing that there wouldn’t be a chance to meet up with him if they didn’t have a Scooby Meeting.
“You could inform him,” Giles suggested before Buffy had a chance to speak up.
She jumped in with, “I’ll stop by.” It didn’t matter that she was trying to avoid meeting him in one-on-one situations. The thought of another girl— even if it was only Cordelia— going there for any purpose was unsettling.
Faith pointed out, “You’ll be with me, remember, unless you want me to deal with Willy and the cops myself.”
There was a long pause. “No, duty calls, so I suppose Cordelia can handle going to the mansion.”
“To creepy Crawford Street,” Cordelia wasn’t so sure she wanted the job. “Me? As in alone?”
“I’m not going,” Xander answered despite the fact that he was an obvious choice.
Willow didn’t think Cordelia was looking to her as a little mission buddy, but just in case, commented, “I’m with Xander.” Then realizing how that sounded, added, “And Giles, cos I’m sure there’s research we can help with.”
“Sheesh! It can’t be that bad,” Cordelia told them she’d take care of it herself.
Giles certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to do it, either. That was one place he never intended to set foot again. He wouldn’t send Cordelia if he didn’t consider it safe for her to make the trip. “Just get there while the sun is still up.”
“But, y’know, not too early,” Buffy commented. “Because if Giles is right about these signs all happening at midnight, then it’ll be hours before you two need to patrol.”
“Like I was planning to go now?” Cordelia rolled her eyes at Miss Obvious thinking she was going to run over to Angel’s place at the first opportunity. “Angel will be sleeping. What’s to see? I suppose I could sneak into his bedroom and write him a note.”
She snorted at the idea because it made Buffy scowl in that way that caused her eyebrows to fuse momentarily.
“Puh-lease! Like I would disturb a sleeping vampire. Angel may have a soul, but I have no desire to test out any bite-first-ask-questions-later reflexes,” Cordelia told her.
“Good plan,” Giles interrupted before things escalated beyond his ability to ignore. “Now let’s talk about what you’ll be doing the rest of the morning, shall we?”
Ten minutes later, the five of them were outside of Giles’ house gathered near the driveway. The watcher had shut the door and turned the lock with a swift, satisfying click. Faith had to laugh at the speed in which he did it. “Guess Giles wanted some privacy.”
“We’re off,” Buffy just wanted to get on with it. “See you guys later. Or, if not, we’ll meet up at Giles’ post-patrol interrogation.”
The two slayers had already taken a few steps when Cordelia offered, “Hey, you want a ride?”
Faith was the only one not surprised by the fact that Cordelia was holding a set of car keys. “Nah. I’d like to stretch my legs a little. Hate being cramped up.”
“Me too,” Buffy was saying, but wondered why Cordelia would have a car like that one. It wasn’t exactly her style.
Xander was too busy hopping around the car in excitement, realizing that he was going to get to ride in it. “Niiiiiiice. We’ll be taking it to the school, right? Gotta get there somehow.”
“No, Xander, I was planning to leave it here,” Cordelia let out a soft pfft. School was the last place she wanted to go on a Saturday, but all things considered, it was the most interesting thing on her calendar.
She’d been assigned along with Willow and Xander to secure the library against potential earthquake damage. Just because Giles didn’t want to come in Monday morning to find his precious books all over the place meant that she was going to spend a lot of quality time with rope and duct tape. Lots of better ideas came to mind for using those items, but Giles had assured the three of them that it would be a bonding experience for them. There was something sadistic about Giles on days like this.
“Where’d ya get it?” Xander wanted to know.
Cordelia twirled the key chain around her finger, “I borrowed it for the weekend. Offer of a ride is still good,” she eyed Faith. “I know how to get to Willy’s.”
A dimpled grin appeared as Faith shook her head. “Nah. The school is in the opposite direction. Besides, Willy is probably sleeping it off.”
“We can grab him later,” Buffy agreed. “Early afternoon is best.”
“We’ll head to the police station first and check out Officer Clark. He was the last one to see that chick alive,” Faith said, only to be chewed out by Willow for saying something that suggested Karla Brewer might already be dead.
“We should think positive,” Willow added.
Xander hovered next to Cordelia waiting for the moment to ask, “Can I drive it? I wanna drive. Just to the school. Can I, can I?”
Clutching the keys close to her chest, which did not deter Xander from trying to pry them out of her hand, Cordelia snapped, “No, my— the owner wouldn’t like it.”
As he dropped his hand to his side, Xander took a big step back. It suddenly occurred to him where Cordelia got the car. “Guess the boyfriend doesn’t want anyone handling his stuff.”
Cordelia felt everyone’s eyes on her and not in a good way. Even Faith had her reasons for giving Cor a sharp look. Closing the space between them, she poked a finger into Xander’s midsection in the same spot as her scar. “That’s right. It’s hands off for you, Xander Harris, and that goes for my car, too.”
She opened up the driver’s side, climbed in and started the engine. Xander and Willow were just standing there staring. “Hello, mass transportation here. Get in.”
23: The Library, Sunnydale High School
Despite the rough start, Cordelia, Xander and Willow actually managed to get the job done without bringing up their former relationships, cheating, or the fine art of boyfriend stealing. They stuck to discussing Cordelia’s adventure at Willy’s place. That’s when things rapidly went downhill.
“Stand there,” Cordelia instructed Xander as she reenacted the events. Grabbing something from the counter, she explained, “Pretend this is a bottle. Now come at me.”
After taking one step forward Xander froze on the spot. “You’re not really gonna hit me with that are you?”
Cordelia rolled her eyes and huffed loudly. “Forget it. Guess you just had to be there.”
“So Angel stepped up after you hit the guy,” Willow prompted her to go on even though she had heard the story twice now.
She nodded and went on describing the way the fight had ended. “Then we sat around and talked until it was time to come back here.”
Xander didn’t like the idea of Cordelia spending so much time with Angel and he was quick to admit it. “That vampire can’t be trusted. I don’t care if he has a soul or not. He’s a killer.”
“Angel’s a good guy,” Cordelia dropped her makeshift bottle and thrust her hands on her hips. “You don’t even know him.”
“Neither do you,” Xander countered. “You’ve been on patrol a couple of times. Big deal! I just don’t like you being around someone like him.”
Willow kept to the sidelines, her eyes bouncing back and forth between them like the ball on a tennis court. “Jealous?” asked Cordelia, husky with laughter.
Walking further away, Xander glanced over his shoulder to answer, “No.” Then he stormed back, “I’ll tell you what I told Buffy. It doesn’t matter what he does now. It doesn’t change the fact that Angelus killed Jenny Calendar. Deep down, he’s still the same undead guy he was when he broke her neck and left her at Giles’ house.”
Despite that she had been struggling with her own conflicting feelings on the subject, she found herself defending Angel. “He’s different, Xander,” she yelled back at him, her anger growing exponentially. “There’s a big difference between Angel and Angelus. Maybe I don’t know him very well, but I know enough.”
“That vampire eats little girls like you for breakfast, Cor,” Xander shouted.
She knew it was well intended for her sake. Cordelia did get that, but she didn’t want to hear another bad word about Angel. “He’s done nothing except give his all since he came back. You try fitting back in after being in hell for a week.”
Willow finally found her voice, “He was gone longer than that.”
Clapping her mouth closed, Cordelia realized what she’d said. Angel had been gone for a few months Sunnydale time. She had been the one hospitalized for a week. “Oh.” Taking a deep breath, she barked, “Whatever.”
Then much more calmly, she explained to them that as long as Buffy Summers kept her lips and other parts to herself that there would be no need to worry. “Am I right? I think I’m right.”
“Worry about what?” Willow asked after a long silent pause where Xander was refusing to speak.
Cordelia wondered if there was just too much information floating around in that genius brain of hers to assimilate stuff. “Hello, curse. You should be familiar with that one.”
Willow nodded looking thoughtful. “It doesn’t seem so risky at the moment. Buffy’s kind of having a hard time adjusting to Angel being back. Y’know, after killing him.”
With a pfft of agreement, Cordelia added, “We’ve probably all wanted to stab our boyfriends at one time or another.” She ignored Xander’s hurt look. “Buffy needs to get over it or move on.”
Finally ending his silent pout, Xander put in his two cents, “I vote move on. For reasons I’ve already mentioned,” he harrumphed, “plus it’s just not natural. You know. There’s that slayer / vampire thing that just makes it all so wrong.”
“Um, you guys wanna grab lunch at my house?” Willow offered when everyone had their heads so full of Angel and Buffy that it kinda made them dizzy.
“Yeah,” Xander jumped at the opportunity for food and a change of subject.
Cordelia shrugged, “Okay.”
24: Angel’s Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
It was late afternoon when Cordelia finally decided to head over to Angel’s place. She passed several large estates, each one quite unique, but none with the same creep-factor of the mansion on the top of the hill. Despite the size of the houses most of them were a little run-down. To Cordelia’s knowledge, none of the owners were members of the Sunnydale Country Club.
The circular drive was made of cobblestone and Cordelia had to slow down to a crawl so the eerie noises made by the tires didn’t sound quite so loud in the open car. On either side, overgrown plants and bushes blocked the view of the grounds beyond. There was only the three-story front of the mansion and the fountain in the center of the drive visible ahead. Its stone bed was dry and the tubby cherub on top smiled down at her despite the mold growing along its edges.
Cordelia pulled up at the bottom of the wide stone steps and parked the car. She could see some of the devastation from the fire from this angle. Nothing was left of one part of the house. It was open to the elements and to the tangled growth from the untended gardens. The house was dark, broken windows boarded up from the inside.
Playing Truth or Dare in Sunnydale was always risky. There was always a real scare-factor when it came to doling out Dares. She remembered coming here back in junior high with some guys and girls. They had to get here on foot, at night and throw stones at the third floor windows until one broke.
“Lucky no one was home,” Cordelia shuddered at the thought. Had it been Angel, he would have ignored them or given them a good scare just for the hell of it, but some other vampire wouldn’t have been as quick to indulge in their little haunted house tales.
At the door, she looked for a bell, but there didn’t seem to be one, only a door knocker. Lifting it, she banged it against the front door and waited and waited and waited. “It’s not like he’s expecting company.” Cordelia decided to jiggle the door handle for the heck of it.
“Sheesh! It’s open,” she heard the click and pushed open the door. A long squeak sounded as the hinges creaked in complaint as if they were not often used.
His name echoed in the huge foyer. Figuring he had to have heard that, Cordelia took another step inside and closed the door behind her. The room fell into near darkness. Only a few rays of sunlight filtered through the half-circle of stained glass above the huge doors. They danced randomly across the floor as she moved closer, the heels of her shoes clicking against the floor.
Cordelia turned around. She could see the shadow of the stairs leading upward into the darkness and there were doorframes outlined against the wall. It was cold in here in the dark away from the sun and a chill crept down her spine. She licked at the dryness of her lips, eyes wide as she wondered whether Angel was still sleeping soundly somewhere above or if she was truly as alone as she felt.
“A-Angel?” There was a tiny crack in her voice as she called out to him again.
Just as she was about to bolt for the door a soft rumble sounded almost directly in her ear, “I’m here.”
A piercing scream followed and when Cordelia turned to see Angel standing in the shadows, he had his hands over his ears. “Was that really necessary?” he asked.
“You have the nerve to ask me that? Geez, buy a bell,” she snapped. “And a few candles while you’re at it. Have you noticed that it’s kinda dark in here?”
Angel chuckled and walked closer out of the depths of the shadows. Reminding her, “Vampires like it dark.”
The sound of that little laugh had Cordelia’s skin tingling again, but this time the vibes were way more friendly chasing away the last remnants of her fear. He was here and that warm circle of safety his presence provided had her relaxing almost immediately.
Enough to notice he was just wearing sweat pants and a thin black muscle shirt that clung to his moist skin. My, things were certainly muscley looking today. And sweaty, which was something she didn’t know vampires could do. “Why do you look so hot… and sweaty?” she corrected speedily, her eyes snapping up to meet his.
Angel held a small towel in his hand. He draped it around his neck and held onto both ends. The left corner of his mouth quirked in reaction as he heard that little slip. “Just training down in the basement. What are you doing here, Cordy?”
The sound of the shortened version of her name suddenly had her heart beating a little faster again. It had been so long since anyone called her Cordy, since she let anyone. It felt good to hear it again.
He stepped away, moving back again. Ducking her head just a tiny bit, Cordelia peeked at him through her lashes. Then silently cursed the darkness because it was hard to see what she was looking at. “Dammit, Angel, I can’t see you,” and she followed him deeper into the shadows of the hall.
His hand slipped along her arm, floating down around her wrist to grasp it. Angel led her across the foyer, down the hall toward the back of the mansion. A glow flickered along the floor ahead, under a door at the end of the hall. With the twist of the knob, he pushed it open and led her to a space he obviously used a lot. As soon as they were inside, Angel released her and waited in silence as she looked around the room.
There was a large stone hearth surrounding a fireplace. Even now, there were logs burning with low blue flames. Thick candles of yellow and red were scattered throughout the room, their wicks dark with drippy wax surrounding them on the tabletops. An antique couch with a gold and burgundy pattern had matching throw pillows, but these were on the floor on top of a furry white rug. A small pile of books that looked even older than the couch was stacked nearby.
Angel lit a few of the candles and a soft yellow glow spread across the room. He didn’t look as pale in candlelight, she noticed, her breath catching in her throat as he stepped close again to repeat his question, “Why are you here?”
Standing like this she could smell him, and not in a bad way, all clean salty sweat and pure male that made her want to grab a handful of his cotton t-shirt and drag her tongue across his skin. That thought signaled loud alarm bells in her head. This was Angel, not a random hottie. No matter her defense of him to Xander, her ex still had a point. This guy was not just a man, but a vampire, one with a curse.
“I’ve got news,” she told him, “about our assignment tonight.”
For a split second, Cordelia thought he looked disappointed. Angel simply gave her a brief nod and encouraged her to tell him. That took all of a minute and a half. He seemed to be thinking about their game plan for tonight, lost in thought. Cordelia suddenly felt a little out of place again and when she glanced over her shoulder toward the door, the action irritated her.
How could someone make her feel so safe and so nervous at the same time? It didn’t seem possible.
“Do you want to leave?” asked Angel as he sensed her subtle jitters.
Cordelia defiantly answered, “No,” even if it was herself she was trying to convince.
“Then stay a while.” The offer sounded hesitant as if he was surprised he was actually suggesting it. He ran his fingers through his damp hair rubbed the back of his neck. “I should take a shower, though. You could wait here or explore a little.”
He pointed toward the candles and Cordelia held up her hands at the thought of it. “Explore a haunted mansion…I don’t think so.”
Angel wryly explained that the mansion was hooked up to the Sunnydale power grid. The central part of the house and its habitable wing still had electricity. “I keep the lights off most of the time to maintain a low profile.”
Guessing that every authority in town would be up here in a heartbeat if all of the lights suddenly came on, Cordelia could understand his penchant for candlelight. Angel already said he didn’t really need the light, but the books piled up on the floor told her that he spent a lot of time reading.
“Is this what you do when you’re not fighting demons?” she wore a curious smile. Picking up one of the leather-bound volumes stacked on an antique table, she rubbed her hand over the smooth leather cover. Then glancing at the gilded letters on its binding recognized it as an old classic.
He looked like she’d caught him doing something illicit and his answer came on a hesitant breath, “Yes.”
Cordelia realized that she had no idea what vampires did with their time off. Then again, minus the immortality it was not like being undead came with lots of fringe benefits.
What with the severe allergy to sunlight, it was not like they could lounge around the pool and work on their tans. Did Angel miss being human and soaking up the sunshine? Then too, there was the vampire aversion to garlic. She’d have to make a point of asking Angel if eating Italians ever gave him heartburn.
There were many questions forming a queue in her head and Cordelia was now certain that she wanted to stay. Not just to prove she was not afraid to be here, but because she had already learned more in the past couple of minutes about who Angel really was than during the past two years, just from this room alone.
“Don’t keep me waiting,” Cordelia told him dismissively sending Angel off to take his shower. She turned to stroll around the room, the fingers of her free hand fluttering over the textured fabric on the couch.
Feeling his eyes on her, she peeked over her shoulder to find him staring back, a slightly mystified look on his handsome face. Then he was gone, fading into the shadows of the hall, his footsteps as silent as the grave.
25: Angel’s Mansion, Crawford Street, Central Sunnydale
If speed-showering existed as a sport, Angel would’ve been declared its MVP. Clean and dressed again, he was back downstairs in record time. He was surprised to find her there despite her saying she would stay. Finding her curled up on the couch, legs tucked beside her and her shoes on the floor suggested that Cordelia was not planning to escape at the first opportunity.
“That was fast,” Cordelia looked up from the book of poetry she found all on its lonesome in one corner of the room. Noticing Angel’s gaze on the small volume, she joked, “It was this or Dante’s Inferno.”
Thirty minutes went by before they even got around to discussing the mission again. That was Cordelia’s cue to bring up her beer bottle-smashing routine and Angel’s to voice his opinion on the matter. Unlike last night, when they were still surrounded by demons all too eager to eavesdrop or Scoobies who would enjoy hearing it a little too much, he now had a chance to talk to her one on one.
The relaxed atmosphere between them tensed up again, a dark cloud settling over his mood. “You had no business jumping in like that.”
“Hah! It was my leg he was pawing,” Cordelia cried out with a gasp of false rage. “You try getting felt up and see how you like it. Pfft….you’re a vampire,” she rolled her eyes at the sudden thought. “You probably would like it.”
“Cordy,” his gravelly tones issued a warning against delving into insults.
The mischievous lights dancing in her eyes gave her away. A wide grin appeared just before she threw her head back to laugh at him, her silky hair flowing freely around her shoulders.
Angel watched her for a few seconds from his place by the hearth until he finally said, “I don’t want you hurt. That was risky. You’re not trained for situations like that.”
Bristling up again, Cordelia tucked her hair behind her ears and then crossed her arms as she glared back at him. “Guess I missed the Barfight 101 class at school this semester.”
“Cordy—,” he began again.
“Don’t Cordy me,” Cordelia demanded as she leapt off the couch. Bending down, she grabbed one shoe and pointing it reminded him, “So I’m not a slayer.” She curled her leg, sliding her foot into the shoe. Then toeing the other upright put it on. “Maybe I didn’t wake up one day and discover I was psycho super chick, but don’t you dare tell me I’m not cut out for this. Just because you want to be with Buffy doesn’t mean I’ll quit to make it happen.”
He had not moved a muscle during her tirade, not a twitch. Cordelia flashed another angry glare in his direction, flipped her hair and headed toward the door. Angel had closed it to stop the light from spreading and to keep the warmth of the low fire circulating. Now he reached it first, hand spread wide against it to block her exit.
Whirling, she found herself face to face with him as he leaned in close. “Let me out.”
Angel did not budge. With his broad shoulders and long frame forming an impenetrable barrier, he might as well have been a brick wall. Though intense, his brown eyes pleaded understanding as a twinge of pain sounded on his lips, “This has nothing to do with Buffy and you know it.”
“That’s so wrong it’s not funny,” some of the fire went out of her eyes as she responded. “It’s always about Buffy. You’re not over her. That’s why you still patrol with us.”
They stood close enough that Cordelia’s breath whispered across his skin as she spoke. Angel felt the hot press of her palm against his belly, her warmth seeping through the thin black sweater. He did not move at all for the few seconds that she touched him, too focused on the contact, its slight pressure and the subtle slide of her fingertips against the softness of his sweater and the contours beneath.
“I get that, Angel. More than you realize,” Cordelia added softly and Angel’s eyes widened a fraction as he considered her situation in comparison to his own. Both of them experienced a similarly painful end to their relationships.
Angel could still feel the steel sliding through his chest when Buffy thrust that sword into him and sentenced him to a lifetime in hell. Though his return came with the hope that it could be forgotten, so far that had proved impossible. He supposed the accident that led to Cordelia’s breakup with Xander left more than just physical scars behind. As with him, some aches did not fade as easily as flesh healed.
When she had finally made her point, Cordelia stepped away moving back toward the hearth where its flames danced across the logs. Almost a minute passed before Angel’s uneasy apology sounded from across the room. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” Cordelia told him, turning around again to see him with his back to the door, leaning his big body against it. “Comparing me to Buffy is not of the good.”
Considering he hadn’t been the one making comparisons, Angel reminded her, “I don’t expect you to be Buffy— or Faith,” he added for good measure, “but I want you to be careful out there. Talk to Giles about including you in the girls’ training sessions.”
“Pfft! Like they’d want me there. Giles already has his hands full,” Cordelia knew that idea was going down the drain. “Besides, Willow and Xander don’t do that.”
He pushed away from the door with a booted foot, walking forward to lean on the back of a chair. Staring right into her eyes, he said, “I don’t give a damn about Willow and Xander.” That was not entirely true, but he had a point. “Neither of them is my patrol partner. You are and I’d prefer to keep you in one piece.”
Cordelia kinda liked that idea, too. “So whatcha gonna do about it?” She strolled up to the chair and lifted her knee onto the cushion leaning toward him.
Face to face again, he could see the sparkle had returned to her eyes. Angel was suddenly aware of the feeling she had led him into this idea, but found himself suggesting it anyway. “I have a room in the basement for training,” he said only to remember that he had told her that when she arrived. “You could…I could—”
“Train me up? Teach me to kick ass with style?” a grin accompanied her words. “Great idea, Angel, I accept. We should start tomorrow.”
Angel stood up and scrubbed a hand over his face wondering how he got into these things. All he had intended to do was caution Cordelia against getting too involved in the actual fighting. Still, it was a good idea to provide some defensive training just in case he could not get to her fast enough.
“Since I’m starving and you probably have nothing but blood in the refrigerator,” Cordelia told him, “I guess I’m going to go find something to eat for dinner before we have to head out on patrol.”
He stood still senses attuning to something beyond human perception. “The sun has already set.”
“Crap! I forgot to put the top up on the car,” Cordelia had not planned to stay this long. She had no intention of driving around after dark providing creepy crawlies easy access.
Angel paused at the news, hand on the doorknob, asking curiously, “A convertible?”
“Just something I borrowed for the weekend.”
Guiding her down the dark hall again, Angel opened up the front door to see the classic convertible with its sleek lines and shiny finish parked at the bottom of his front steps. Cordelia watched in bemusement as Angel reacted with typical male aplomb by giddily jaunting down the steps to check out the car.
It was an old Plymouth Belvedere GTX. Black. Still in good shape. Shiny. Cordelia would prefer to be driving around in her Corvette, but at least it had four wheels that worked.
Angel seemed to be slightly more impressed.
“Niiiiiiiiice,” Angel commented as he ran his hands over the leather interior.
A husky laugh escaped as Cordelia told him, “That’s what Xander said.”
Angel shot her an annoyed look. He did not much like having anything in common with the boy. He swiftly backed away from the car and shoved his hands into his pockets. The scowl on his face was adorable rather than intimidating. Cordelia simply lifted up her keys and gave them a sharp jangle.
“Want to drive?”
As she dropped the keys into his hand, Angel asked, “Did he get to drive?”
They walked around the front of the car side by side. “Pfft! While you were in hell did it ever freeze over?” Cordelia sat down and swung her legs inside.
“No,” he answered quizzically while closing the passenger door behind her.
“Exactly,” quipped Cordelia. A little light bulb flashed in Angel’s head and he gave her a smile that chased away all thoughts of Xander Harris.
26: The Main Street Deli, Main Street, Westside Sunnydale
Sitting at a small corner table at the Main Street Deli, Angel watched in fascination as Cordelia slowly consumed her sandwich. Her hands wrapped around the soft bread as she angled it to get just the right bite. Closing down she bit off each delicate mouthful distracting him from everything else. It was not really the food that mesmerized him, but the way she enjoyed it. Maybe the way her teeth ripped into the bread, and her tongue left a wet shine on her pink lips as she licked at a drop of mayonnaise clinging to one corner.
Close to closing time, the workers behind the counter had not been pleased to see them strolling in just after they had cleaned up half of the shop. That did not bother Cordelia. She had ordered the Number Three special: a sandwich that came with a soda and fries. After substituting a bottle of water for the soda, she insisted on freshly cooked fries rather than the limp ones that appeared to have been sitting out for a while. That caused the guy with the pointy white hat to remind her it was almost time to close shop.
“Almost,” she emphasized with pointed stare. “Not quite.”
Grumbling, the young man looked like he was ready to argue, but he took one look at Angel’s scowl and scurried around until he had completed the order to Cordelia’s satisfaction. If he considered it strange that Angel didn’t order anything for himself he did not say anything about it. Not that Angel thought about the man for more than two seconds after he collected his change and followed Cordelia to the table.
Cordelia picked up the ketchup bottle. Upturning it, she dribbled a continuous line of ketchup over the fries until they were covered in a red spiral. “I’m only allowed to eat a few of these,” she told him making Angel wonder why it was forbidden. “You can help me with the rest.”
“Wha— no, Cordy, you know I don’t eat food…like this,” he tagged on in case anyone was listening.
“I feel like a pig sitting here eating while you do nothing, but watch.”
Angel hastily assured her, “I like watching you.” Then at the arching of her brows, added for good measure, “Watching you eat.”
“Don’t be a baby about it,” Cordelia picked up a crinkled fry and held it in front of his mouth. “Open up. C’mon, it’s not like it can kill you.”
Angel kept his mouth closed, stubbornly shaking his head. She waved it around in a circle trying to entice him into opening up. “C’mon,” she pleaded with enough of a pout to make him feel guilty, “you used to be Irish. A little potato shouldn’t scare ya. It’s even covered in red stuff.”
Giving in, Angel let her shove the small French fry into his mouth, her ketchup-dabbed finger grazing his lips. Unfamiliar flavors burst across his tongue and the sensation of biting down on solid food brought back memories long since passed. Not as long as Cordelia probably imagined, but long enough that the taste and sensations stirred up desires he thought he had left behind.
“More?” Cordelia asked in surprise as he swallowed the French fry and sent her a silent query as he gazed at her uneaten fries. A soft giggle sounded in her throat. “Okay, Oliver, you can have more.”
Catching the reference, Angel’s scowl was a playful rather than menacing, but he did not make a move toward the plate. After a moment, Cordelia picked up another fry and lifted it to his mouth. He bit off the long end leaving her holding a short stub, her finger and thumb red with ketchup. Then his mouth closed over both digits, his tongue sweeping the fry from between them and lips sliding across her salty, tangy skin.
He watched Cordelia’s eyes go wide and her skin flush with heat. Her hand flew to her lap where she hastily wiped it off on her napkin. “God, Angel,” she scolded him. “What are you trying to do give me vampire cooties?”
Angel ate a couple more fries, but he admitted to himself that they had tasted better when she fed him. Just the subtle hint of her skin had him dragging the tip of his tongue across his lips.
Declaring that she was full, Cordelia pushed the plate away and sat back to watch him brood over the French fries. The Deli guy called out to tell them they had five minutes before closing. “That leaves a couple of hours before we’re supposed to be at Trinity Church. Are you game for something else or was this,” she waved a hand at the food, “enough of an adventure?”
Catching her gaze focused beyond his shoulder, Angel turned around to see the movie marquee across the street. She had to be kidding. Vampires and crowds did not mix.
When he told her so, she let out a little huff of air, “A crowd in that movie? Trust me, it won’t be a problem.”
“Why go, then?”
“Because it’ll be good for you, and besides, you like the dark,” Cordelia reasoned. “You can brood about it without anyone noticing. C’mon, we’ve got five minutes before the previews start.”
Cordelia pushed away from her chair and headed for the door, pausing to gesture impatiently when he failed to follow. Maybe it was the sparkle in her eyes or the stubborn little stomp of her foot against the floor or just the fact that she had somehow managed to creep into his subconscious somehow, but Angel knew that he was going to let her have her way.
She knew how to annoy him better than anyone else; crawling under his skin like an irritant he had to scratch. Still, there was something about her that soothed away the rough edges. He was still muddled about volunteering to train her, but it was needed. And somehow, she had managed to lure him out of the mansion by tempting him with her car.
Smoothly unfolding his length from the small wooden chair, Angel crossed the room to stand beside her. Teasingly, he told her, “Just so you know I’m not buying popcorn.”
“Good thing we’re just friends,” Cordelia nudged his arm. “Otherwise, you might end up with a reputation as a cheap date. A movie’s just not the same without popcorn.”
Somehow, she made it seem so easy between them. Normal. Spending time with Cordy was not any kind of hardship, he had discovered, not by a long shot.
27: The Wildwoods, Somewhere in Sunnydale
The night slipped around her like a cloak of darkness. Drusilla walked amongst the trees, a light breeze pulling at the diaphanous top layer of her chiffon dress and the long, loose strands of her hair. She moved with the wind, her thin arms positioned as if she would take flight at any moment, her eyes half closed as she followed along wherever it led.
Spike stomped along behind her, defiantly noisy. His boots crunched the ground cover of the woods they were passing through and he talked loudly enough to wake the dead. Silence could easily have been maintained had he wished it, but it was his way of reminding Dru that they could have taken the Desoto instead of walking all the way across town from their temporary digs.
“I’m telling you, luv,” Spike took a drag from his cigarette, let the smoke fill his lungs and tucked his thumb back into his belt loop as he walked. “All you gotta do to find Angelus is wait for him to show up at the mansion.” A grey trail of smoke formed a soft cloud as he exhaled billowing away as he tromped right through it. “After a bit o’ persuasion a couple of blokes I ran into told me he’s staying there again.”
It was like talking to himself, but that had never bothered him. Sooner or later, Dru would say something meaningful in response. He just had to be ready to listen.
“The night winds call to me.” Drusilla never paused in her wayward trail through the trees. Oh, the sounds that filled her ears. Distantly, a newborn’s cry pierced the veil of woodland noises joining the mechanical rumble of an occasional engine from the closest street a block away.
Life buzzed around her in its many forms. The hooting owl up in the tree, crickets musically chirping from the ground and the worms crawling in the earth filled her head in accompaniment to the subtle song of the stars. Their pulsing steady light filtered down through the treetops.
Pausing suddenly, Drusilla cocked her head, listening intently to things that Spike never bothered to notice. He did notice her, however. Constantly aware of Dru’s moods, he sensed her focus shift from whimsical to fearful. She bent low to the ground, her hands skimming above the layer of composting dried leaves and pine needles.
“Soon, soon,” she muttered as Spike leaned down to look over her shoulder. He saw nothing of interest. “Do you feel it?”
Spike admitted, “Don’t feel a bloody thing. What the sod are you on about?”
Rising again, Drusilla turned to him, her long fingers smoothing along one leather sleeve until she clasped his shoulder and pulled herself close. “It gathers itself, a power of the earth, ineluctable destiny.”
Dropping his cigarette butt, Spike put his arms around her. Whatever the hell she was talking about had her scared. That was rare with Drusilla. He had learned long ago that anything that rattled her usually deserved some respect. Caressing the pale moonlight of her cheek, Spike assured her, “Nothing will ever harm you, my beauty.”
The red pout of her lips matched the sadness in her eyes. “You will, my Spike.”
Drusilla pulled out of his arms and ran ahead through the trees leaving Spike to follow her trail. “What’s a vamp to do? He follows his girl all the bleedin’ way to South America, gets dumped in favor of a Chaos demon, and then volunteers to take her back to the Slayer’s hometown because she wants her daddy.”
“Boo bloody hoo,” Spike grumbled even as he followed along. “Let’s get this little family reunion done with. Better yet, let’s just sod the whole idea.” He wondered if there was anyone around town to front him a few kittens. A few hands of poker sounded good right about now.
28: Trinity Baptist Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
Angel parked the Plymouth at the church lot far enough away from the building itself to avoid any damage. There was no telling how high on the Richter scale this earthquake was going to be or if they were going to be at its epicenter.
“We should stay clear of the church,” Angel suggested as he held out a hand to help Cordelia out of the car. Watching the way her smile brightened her face, he let his grasp linger a moment or two longer than necessary before releasing it.
“I remember there being a stone bench somewhere over there,” Cordelia pointed toward a small copse of flowering trees.
They stepped off the paved surface of the parking lot and onto the close-cropped grass leading toward the graveyard designed in an arc behind and around the sides of the church. Angel walked beside her, his hand reaching out toward her lower back and then hastily dropping to his side. “You’ve been here on patrol with the others?”
A look of surprised followed, her eyes widening and lush mouth shaping into a soft open circle. “No, it wasn’t on patrol. Um, my grandfather is buried here.”
“Oh.” Angel did not really know what to say. The probability of dying of a vampire bite in Sunnydale was no doubt a lot higher than most natural causes. He did not want to know that a vampire was responsible for her grandfather’s death feeling almost as if it would make him culpable.
Having learned that Cordelia preferred to get things out in the open, he decided not to keep his question to himself. “It— it wasn’t a vampire, was it?”
Cordelia shook her head, “No. It was just an accident.”
“Sorry,” Angel muttered knowing that the word inadequately expressed what he wanted to say.
“It’s okay, really,” Cordelia assured him, giving his hand a quick squeeze. “I didn’t even know him. My mom hadn’t seen him for years before he died. I was a lot younger, but I do remember coming here for the funeral.”
Cordelia pointed out the headstone marking her grandfather’s grave. “That’s the one.”
“Do you want to…?” Angel’s voice faded away as he gestured toward the grave.
“No,” she answered hastily, shaking her head and walking back toward the stone bench. “Let’s just sit over here. It’s weird enough that I’m driving around town in his car.”
Angel stopped in his tracks to glance over his shoulder at the Plymouth, which was still visible from this angle. “I thought you borrowed it from your boyfriend.”
Snorting, Cordelia patted the bench beside her and waited until Angel sank down onto it before responding. “Rumors of me having a hot new boyfriend might have been a little exaggerated.”
Buffy and the others had certainly been convinced of the fact. Although the subject was really none of his business, he did not like the idea that some young college punk might take advantage of Cordelia’s recently broken heart. Not that he had dwelled on the idea, but he just hated the thought of some Xander Harris stand-in fumbling around in the dark with her. Actually, the idea pissed him off a lot more than it should.
“So you’re saying the boyfriend everyone has been talking about is really…”
“My dead grandpa,” Cordelia sighed into a wry pout trying to appear unaffected by the reality of the situation. Sadness clouded her eyes even as she quipped, “Bummer, isn’t it?”
Maybe it was this whole Team Chase idea that Cordelia had drilled into his head, but he felt protective of her and this strange new friendship. A sense of relief swelled up in his chest preceding a rising wave of pure possessiveness, forcing Angel to acknowledge that he felt more than the simple bonds of friendship. He wanted her, too. The confirmation that she was not spending time with a new lover tugged hard at something primal where his soul’s conscience and dark, demonic depths faded to instinct.
Despite going to the deli and the movie theater together, this was not a date, he forced himself to remember. They were just patrol partners. He was still a vampire, and she was not Buffy Summers, the girl he still professed to love despite her continued refusal to renew their relationship. Angel knew he should feel guilty. Not only because he had enjoyed picturing the sudden death of Cordelia’s new boyfriend at his hands, but because until now he had not even considered his thoughts to be a betrayal.
Cordelia’s physical beauty never failed to draw a reaction, or to make his demon senses fill with lustful thoughts, even during those early times when he was more frightened of how he would respond to the overt flirtation. Years of practice allowed him to suppress unwanted feelings, controlling needs and urges that were better left unexplored.
There was a side to Cordelia that she hid away from the world. Things that did not fit so smoothly with the heartless bitch image she often projected. Having just discovered the tiniest chink in Cordelia’s armor, Angel felt his own defenses peeling away.
This was the first time he felt a tug at his heart, his soul’s reaction to her loss. Cordelia’s soft pout made him want to touch his lips to hers, kissing away any lingering regrets of missed moments or failed relationships. Make her forget anyone else at least for this one moment of indulgence. The need to taste her, opening her up to slow, sensual exploration, discovering her mouth’s warmth and the sweetness inside made a powerful appeal, and he nearly went there, his tongue sliding across the crease of his mouth in anticipation.
But, there it was, the deep pang of guilt preventing him from turning thought to action. Just in time to stop him from doing something foolish, something they both might later regret. The expectant look on her face reminded him that she had said something, and suggested that she had no idea just how much he wanted to kiss her just then.
Angel’s grunt of acknowledgement earned him a scowl and an eye roll. She nudged him with an elbow. “Sheesh! I know my love life is depressing, but you don’t have to rub it in.”
“It’s not,” he assured hastily, “and I wasn’t rubbing anything.”
With a grin spreading across her face, Cordelia teased naughtily, “We’re talking about my love life, not yours, doofus.”
Wondering how he constantly walked right into these things, Angel tried to change the subject. “Your grandfather may be the explanation for the car, but he doesn’t account for the reason you’re always late to the Scooby meetings.”
Cordelia’s radiant smile dimmed fast and her eyes darted evasively from his. The steady beat of her heart quickened, her body tensing under his unwavering gaze. He waited for her to speak, expecting her usual frankness, but the silence spread awkwardly between them.
When she lifted her head and he saw the unshed tears glistening in her eyes, he knew that he had hit on something deeply personal. Cursing inwardly that he had nearly acted on his lust, his need for some kind of connection, when she was actually troubled about something, Angel reached out cupping her face in his hand, his thumb trailing along the path of a single escaping tear. She nuzzled against his palm for only an instant before jerking away from his touch.
When she looked at him again, the tears were gone. A veil of icy determination covered the pain he had glimpsed. “A little mystery is good for the soul,” Cordelia told him as she walked away from the bench, standing with her back to him.
Angel followed. Stopping directly behind her, the shortened version of her name rolled off his lips as a plea, concern filling his voice. “Cordy, I won’t push you, but I want to help if you’ll let me.”
He stood there for a moment until the few inches separating them seemed too great a distance. Gently pulling her against him, Angel wrapped his arms around her waist. Cordy’s hands curled over his forearms crisscrossing with his as she leaned back against his chest.
Enveloped by him, Cordelia relaxed on a sigh as his cheek settled along the crown of her head. When she closed her eyes, she imagined his lips fleetingly pressing against her temple. A kiss of friendship and comfort, one intended to take her troubles away.
As if it was that easy.
29: The Wildwoods, Eastside Sunnydale
“Closer, closer, closer,” muttered Drusilla peering down the tree line along the edges of the cemetery with its neat little headstones all in rows. “My Angel is near. I can feel it.”
Spike did not doubt it even though she pointed toward the church at the other end of the cemetery. That seemed an unlikely place for a vampire to hang out, but Drusilla was never wrong about these things. Together, they slipped from the shadows of the trees and walked across the moonlit grounds.
Excitedly, Drusilla clapped her hands. Announcing, “She is with him,” even before they came into view.
“The Slayer will die,” Spike assured her even though there were quite a few things he had to say and do to the chit before he killed her.
Stopping in her tracks, Drusilla reminded sharply, “We are not here for her, you naughty boy. There will be time to toy with the Slayer later.”
Despite traveling together all of those miles from Brazil to California, Spike still had no idea what Drusilla was talking about. He had quickly grown tired of her happy tales of the good old days with Daddy dearest. Damned poof! Angelus was the last person he ever wanted to see again, souled or not.
Deep down, he understood the bond between them. Angelus made her, just as Drusilla made him. The love of one’s creator was an inescapable lure. Angelus loved nothing, but had claimed what was his when he wanted it allowing Drusilla the pleasures of her own creation when it suited him. Spike took any scraps of affection Drusilla had to give for he was devoted to her and took pleasure in the bloody trail of death they left in their wake.
Even now, Angelus remained the center of Drusilla’s world. It was his presence she still craved. His happiness she sought. Spike’s gut clenched with hate. That bastard deserved a painfully slow death, but that would not make Dru happy, would not win her loyalty, and would not bring her love back to him.
He would play along for now, Spike decided. Let Drusilla have her way with Angelus. They could hump like bunnies for all he cared as long as he got Dru back before the sunrise. “Bloody hell!” Part of him cared a helluva lot. Grabbing hold of her arm, Spike swung Drusilla around to face him. “You’re mine. You just remember that.”
Drusilla’s soft laughter tinkled like crystal. She nuzzled her cheek against his and then sucked his earlobe into her mouth leaving a red mark behind as her teeth clamped down for an instant. A playful growl sounded in his ear, but her words snapped, “It’s you who need to remember.”
Backing away, her dark eyes were intent, but mischievous. She put a finger to her lips and then gestured for him to follow. Spike let out a sigh that was half a growl and followed along.
30: Holy Cross Catholic Church, Eastside, Sunnydale
“Slayer, I don’t want no trouble,” the vampire begged for leniency.
Buffy twirled her stake in her hand. “Oh, it’s no trouble,” she quipped while taking deadly aim.
The sharp stake was a blur in motion as it left her hand imbedding deeply in the vampire’s chest in the space of a second. Buffy retrieved her stake and walked out of the dusty cloud of the vampire’s remains as they crumbled to the ground.
“Good thing you took care of that vamp now,” Xander commented as Buffy joined him and Willow on the back steps of Holy Cross Catholic Church. “I prefer not to have to worry about my neck in the middle of an earthquake.”
Glancing at her watch, Willow suggested that they move away to a safe distance from the church. “Almost time.”
Remembering the last time they were here, Buffy agreed. “This place has a habit of falling apart when we’re around. I’d rather not get buried in the rubble.”