Soulbound – Book 2: Chapter 15
The crystal remains the linchpin to this variable. The crossroads now lie directly before our Champion. And so he will come again to our demesne full of questions, searching for answers. We, the Oracles, possess the power to alter time, to turn back the clock for the space of a day. Choices made may be undone or remain unchanged. Our Champion must decide whether to face this alternative, an act which will forever bind him to his destiny.
Doyle grabbed the demonology book prior to leaving the offices, still trying to ignore the scraps of clothing belonging to Angel and Cordelia that were spread hither and yon. And how had they managed to get Angel’s pants stuck in the elevator doors that way? On their way to the sight of Doyle’s vision, he had to give his friend a warning.
“This isn’t you average demon we’re fighting here. It nearly licked you before and now you’re mortal.”
Angel acknowledged the words, but had to say, “I can’t change who I am on the inside, Doyle, even if I’m no longer a vampire. No matter what the Oracles say. The Mohra started this fight with me— I’m gonna finish it.”
“As long as it doesn’t finish you, man.” Doyle had a bad feeling about this. Even his vision suggested that there was more danger here than the usual.
“Just tell me how to kill it.”
Opening the book, Doyle read. “It ‘generates until the dark future it envisions is upon us’. Oh— this entry is important. ‘To kill the beast one must bring darkness to a thousand eyes.’”
“I’m going to kill that thing,” Angel promised both Doyle and himself despite the cryptic instructions.
“Just remember that it’s brutal, deadly and—,” Doyle jumped in surprise as his cell phone went off in his back pocket. “Yah! Uh—oh. Look, Angel, wait up a minute. I’ve gotta get this.”
Angel couldn’t wait. The Mohra demon was already there.
Not noticing as he moved into the shadows, Doyle answered his cell phone. “Cordelia?”
“I can’t believe that you let me sleep!” Cordy complained. “Angel is human now, not a demon punching bag.”
Seeing that his friend was now engaged in a fight, Doyle attempted to hurry her off of the phone. “Uh— Cordy. I’ve got to go.”
“Bring him back to me, Doyle.”
Cordelia had an extremely yucky feeling about this, but couldn’t say why. She got out of bed pulling the dark sheet around her body and was about to head to the bathroom for a shower when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye.
“Buffy!” It was the middle of the night. What was Buffy Summers doing here at Angel’s apartment? “How’d you find me?”
Cordelia pulled the sheet a little closer, suddenly getting worried that the look on the Slayer’s face meant she was gonna get her ass kicked for stealing Angel.
“Finding was easy,” Buffy answered with a pouting lower lip and a dangerous look in her eye. “I just followed the trail of discarded clothes, but I wasn’t looking for you.”
“Oh.” That impish grin crept back to her face.
“Where is Angel?” Buffy asked her.
Buffy knew a moment of weirdness as she recalled the time that Angel made love to her— and left their bed in the night. The next time she saw him, he was a soulless demon bent on murdering everyone she loved.
“My eyes weren’t playing tricks today,” she began with a question, “Angel was really human? He was walking in the sun.”
“Yeah. That demon’s blood regenerated him.” Cordelia explained and was about to point out that this would be a good time to do a little slaying when Buffy looked at her sadly.
“When Angel came to the park, I thought it was to see me. I never dreamt that he would go straight to you.”
“But you thought—,” Cordelia started to remind her about her suspicion. It was the reason Buffy had asked to stop in the park in the first place. As an interrogation studio, the park was a relaxing spot.
“—that there was something going on between you two.” Buffy reminded Cordy. “You lied to me, Cordy. Why didn’t you just say it. You’re usually brutal with your honesty.”
Cordelia did like to tell it like it is, but, “I-I didn’t know what he was going to do until I saw him.”
“Well, it hurt seeing you like that,” Buffy stated. “I wanted to pummel you both and I’m not really exaggerating that statement. I was just waiting for you to come up for air to lay into you— but you didn’t. It was like this gross movie thing where everything goes in slow motion.”
“So you left,” Cordelia knew Buffy had been gone long enough to be out of sight when they emerged from their kiss.
Before Buffy could give her anymore details, Cordelia broke in trying to express her worries about Angel. “He’s gone with Doyle to fight that demon. That’s like taking a toddler to a bar fight— they’re both gonna die if you don’t do something about it.”
Slayer instincts taking over, Buffy let her jealous tirade slip away. “Where are they?”
Cordelia gave her the note. “Hurry! I think it’s already there.”
Finding the location, Buffy tracked them until she saw Doyle standing helplessly at the bottom of a salt silo. She asked him, “— Angel?”
Pointing to the silo, Doyle told her, “In there.”
Angel was on the ground looking beaten and bloody when the Slayer dropped into the open space from the roof. The demon was standing over Angel; its booted foot on the back of his neck. “The End of Days has begun and can’t be stopped. For any one of us that falls, ten shall rise.”
“Get away from my— from Angel.” Buffy commanded.
“A great darkness is coming,” the Mohra warned the Slayer.
“You got that right.”
Engaging the demon in battle, Buffy maneuvered him away from Angel. She grabbed at his sword which had fallen to the ground out of his reach. The Mohra swung his weapon, a medieval Morgenstern, wrapping its chain links around the Slayer’s sword yanking it from her hand.
Before it could attack again, Buffy kicked it against the wall. Their battle raged as Angel was forced to look on helplessly, a victim of his own humanity in this fight. Something had to be broken, but he couldn’t tell. Everything hurt. Doyle’s reading of the book and how to kill this creature suddenly came to full clarity in his mind as he got a chance to really look at the creature.
Suddenly, Angel knew how to kill it, calling out instructions to Buffy who managed to wrest the demon’s own weapon away. Swinging it and waiting for just the right moment, she broke the faceted red jewel imbedded in the Mohra’s forehead. A cry sounded on its lips as a red glow consumed the demon from within.
Dropping the Morgenstern to the ground, Buffy immediately ran over to Angel taking his head into her lap. Angel was simply concerned about her despite his own injuries.
“Buffy are you okay?”
“Shh! I’m fine. You’re all right. That’s what matters— you’re all right.”
But Angel couldn’t be silent. “How did you get here?”
“You stopped at my apartment?” That wasn’t likely to be a good thing.
It surprised him that she returned. Buffy explained, “I was in the neighborhood— slaying of course.”
Huh. It had to be four or five in the morning. Even with the hours she normally kept, that was a little late. “Slaying. Yeah. Is Cor— Did you—?”
“We talked for a minute until she told me you were in trouble.” Buffy found that running her hand through his hair gave her a little comfort.
Angel struggled to sit up, gritting his teeth through the pain of it. Looking at Buffy, he gave her a weak smile and touched his hand to the curve of her face. “Thanks for coming to my rescue.”
“It’s a nice for a change,” Buffy’s eyes crinkled as she smiled back at him.
“About what happened at the park today—,” he started to say only to be interrupted by her as she held a hand out to stop his explanation.
Buffy let out a deep breath before telling him. “Don’t say it. I-I already know that you love her. I can see it in your face when you look at me.”
She could see that?
“Angel, I should have waited to talk to you back in Santa Monica. That’s why I came back— to tell you that I hate it, but I understand life goes on.”
Then something else that had been hazy in Angel’s mind shifted into clarity. “No, Buffy, it doesn’t. Life doesn’t go on. Or, it won’t if the Mohra’s prophesy comes true.”
“He said something about the End of Days,” Buffy remembered. “I could get Giles to do some research. I’m going back to Sunnydale in the morning, but we could get him started tonight.”
“No,” Angel told her now on his feet. “There are some people with a little more pull than that who have the answers I need. Doyle can drop you off at your father’s house.”
“I’m not coming with you?”
“No. This is something I have to do on my own.”
Displeased at Angel’s return, the male Oracle demanded answers. “Why are you here, lower being?”
“The Mohra demon claimed that the End of Days was coming, something you two also mentioned. So he is telling the truth?”
“As far as such things can be told.”
“I need to know what happens. What about Cordelia, Doyle and Buffy? What will happen to them when these soldiers come?”
“What happens to all mortal beings. Albeit sooner in some cases than others. You do not ask of your own mortal fate?” The female Oracle asked with apparent curiosity.
“They’ll die?” A knot twisted in the pit of his stomach. He pleaded for their prophesy to be different. “I’m not here to beg for my life— just theirs.”
“Selflessness— one sign of a champion. How unfortunate that you cannot remain in the service of the Powers. The loss is acute to the cause we serve.”
“What about them?”
“It is not our place to grant life or death.”
Angel struggled with his decision, knowing what it would cost him— his humanity and all that that brought with it for Cordelia.
If Buffy hadn’t come along when she did, he would be a dead man anyway. How many more times would his mortality stop him from keeping those he loved safe? “If you can’t directly prevent their deaths— save their lives, I ask you to take back mine. Take away my humanity. You said it yourself— I can’t be the champion you need this way, not as a man.”
“This request is not about the Powers’ needs”, the male Oracle knew too well. “It is a matter of the heart.”
The female questioned him. “You are asking to be what you were, a demon with a soul, because of a mortal woman? Cordelia, she is called.”
Angel felt like laughing as he realized the powerful being cut through to the heart of it. She said nothing about Doyle or Buffy apparently knowing precisely where his thoughts were centered. “Yes,” He answered.
“Would you give up this life? Turn back the clock for a day? What is done cannot be undone, but what is not yet done can be avoided.”
Angel realized what the female meant. Not only would he lose his humanity, but recent events would be wiped away making it as if they never happened. Cordelia would never know what love and passion they shared during the past day. The thought brought a laugh to his throat, one of irony and pain. Wipe away Cordelia’s memory of him? It would be nothing he had not done before.
“What will happen?” He had asked the question before. “What if I remain human?”
The female Oracle stepped around Angel, the folds of her long gilded toga flowing at her feet. “Now at the crossroads, you may hear the answer to that question. Know that love and happiness will be yours. Know that all you love will die. Know that she who is your heart will be among the first to fall. Know the light of the world will be extinguished.”
Now the Oracle’s brother spoke, moving in the opposite direction. “Our search for another champion will herald nothing, for it is prophesized that only the Vampire with a Soul might successfully stave off the rise of Chaos.”
As if there was not an already heavy burden on his broad shoulders— they had to tell him that? So what was the alternative? They mentioned turning back the clock.
Again, the female answered first. “Our champion will be restored, leading the forces of Order against those who would vie in opposition. Know that love takes a winding road. Know that all you love will live then die. Know that she who is your heart will become a warrior to our cause. Know that the light of the world will go on.”
The selfish, greedy side of Angel wanted to tell the Oracles to shove it up their shiny asses, but he knew that he could not do that. If he stayed human, Cordelia would die.
Making his decision, Angel told them, “If you want a champion, I will let it happen— on one condition.”
The Oracles paused, their knowing looks signaling communication through methods that could not be known. “The Powers agree to this demand, human. For the outcome of the apocalypse to end it all hangs in the balance. State your demand.”
Lifting her hand in the air, Cordelia Chase slapped it back down on her hip. “So what’s the real deal?”
Angel blinked in surprise, realizing that he had been transported back to the previous day. What was the question again? Oh, yeah. Something about Buffy and the fact that he had simply tracked her around Sunnydale rather than cozying up to her like Cordy seemed to be suggesting.
“That was it. I avoided her,” Angel admitted.
Angel nodded, but he had to be honest. “Buffy will always be a part of me and that will never change.”
“But she’s human,” Doyle brought up Angel’s old argument about Cordelia and turned it on him, just to bring up a point. “You’re not.”
Frowning, Angel looked down for an instant, feeling his chest. Then he caught Cordelia’s gaze, wishing that he could say otherwise. “No, I’m not human— and that’s never going to change. We’ve already said our goodbyes, no need to stir any of this up.”
Cordelia really, really didn’t want to bring this up, but she was trying hard to be Angel’s friend. “You don’t want to ‘stir’, but if my ex came to town and was all stalking me in the shadows and then left and then didn’t even say ‘hello’ I’d be—”
From the open door, Buffy Summers finished, “A little upset. Wouldn’t you?”
Angel’s ears had already detected her approach. Now the Slayer was standing in his office. He gave her a nod of hello. “Buffy.”
Like him, Buffy was dressed completely in black, looking like his matched pair. Her blonde hair was long, light and shining against the soft, sun-kissed curve of her cheeks. God, she was so beautiful, he still had to admit it. Such facts could not be denied.
Beautiful and quiet in her anger, he realized. Angel supposed she had a right to that anger, finding out the truth of his Thanksgiving Day stalk-a-thon. Even more right if she had an idea what really happened in what would be the day that time forgot.
“Buffy!” Gasping in shock, Cordelia couldn’t believe that she was seeing this. Though Cordelia never really liked the blonde, she never hated her either. “Buffy, you’re here in town. What brings you to—?”
Cutting her off, Buffy wasn’t talking to Cordelia when she gave her answer, but to Angel. “I came to see my father. Thought I’d stop by.”
Angel’s gaze darted over to Cordy and Doyle as he wondered what they were thinking of all this. His mate was looking— either jealous or angry. He couldn’t tell, but figured on anger knowing that she would be ditching him to go out with Doyle any minute.
Giving Doyle a pointed stare, Angel felt a flash of jealousy. Cordy did not know the seer was half-demon. She thought he was human. Thought he was just her pal. Angel knew the truth. Knew about his demon blood and that the Irishman held out hopes she would fall for him.
“Uh—,” Doyle took Angel’s stare as a sign to get the hell out of here and leave him with his woman. Looked like Cordy was right about the whole blonde thing. Moving closer to the door, he held out his hand. “Cordelia, why don’t we take in a movie? Say— the director’s cut of the Titanic? I think Buffy and Angel have some issues to resolve.”
Looking back and forth between them, Cordelia suddenly found Angel looking intently in her direction. Trapped by silence, his eyes spoke in broody volumes. The vampire kept looking deep, so deep he seemed to be staring into her soul and carried with it all the love and sorrow within him. Angel said nothing, trying to force himself to let her walk away.
Blinking, Cordelia realized there were tears in her eyes. What was that? She was no Cry Buffy! Feeling strangely angry by the sudden arrival of the Slayer just when she started to think Angel might have used his visit to say his goodbyes, Cordy realized that this thing between Buffy and Angel might never be over.
“Doyle is right.” Cordelia stared at Angel accusingly then turned to face Buffy with all the inner strength and determination she could muster. “You have issues. I’m resolving them.”
Behind her, Angel’s spine straightened as he leaned on the desk. Confused at the change of behavior, he remembered that Cordy wasn’t supposed to stay in the room. Like the last time, she was supposed to leave with Doyle. Angel thought he could use the opportunity to gently break it to Buffy that they would never be together as they had been in the past. Not in reality or in the shadow of her false memory.
What had Angel done to cause his mate to speak with that possessive tone to her voice? Perhaps it was instinct, he mused, listening in as Cordelia and Buffy faced off.
“Mind your own business, Cor.” The Slayer looked imposing despite her small stature.
Cordelia was standing directly in front of Angel as if shielding him from a fate worse than death.
“Angel is my business— Buff.” Her hands were on her hips again taking a challenging stance. “He-I— we’re friends.”
“Friends.” The inflection suggested that Buffy thought it had to be more. A glance at Angel found him staring down at the exposed skin of Cordelia’s back wandering down in the vicinity of her denim-covered bottom.
Oblivious to what her vampire boss was doing behind her, Cordy launched into a tirade that soon had Buffy’s head spinning.
“So what! You have the star-crossed love of all time,” Cordelia began with an eye-roll. “Pfft! Get over it. That’s why they call it star-crossed. You see the stars, cross each other off your list and get on with your life.”
Buffy’s face turned red with anger as she responded. “You have no idea what you are talking about. YOUR idea of love is taking on the football team and holing up in closets with Xander!”
With a gasp, Cordy glared back.
As Doyle heard the little blonde’s taunt, his dark head darted over to Angel. He expected the vampire to put a stop to this. The way Angel normally stared down every interested guy that looked Cordy’s way at the bars or clubs Doyle dragged them to while defending her against any minor offense, made the seer expect that same protective response.
It didn’t come. Angel continued to sit on the edge of his mahogany desk, except now his arms were crossed over his chest making him appear impervious to the verbal battle before him.
“We’re not talking about me, Buffy. This is about you and Angel. Hello, curse! You can’t just stop by expecting a little fun and games every time you decide to take a vacation.”
“I-I— that’s not why I’m here.”
Cordelia knew better. She had watched the vampire from a distance back in Sunny-D. Watching Angel also meant watching Buffy. There was nothing the Slayer could say to make her think she wouldn’t jump at the chance to get back into Angel’s arms.
“Well, it’s not fair to Angel,” Cordy pointed out. “You make him broody.”
“I make him happy,” countered Buffy with a smug smile.
“Hah!” Catching onto the word, Cordelia waggled her head. “TOO happy! Dangerously happy. Kill all your friends kind of happy.”
Stumped, Buffy struggled for a reply. “Guess you were lucky you were never really one of my friends!”
That even stung Cordelia despite the fact that she knew it was true. She had always been on the periphery of Scoobydom. Never really one of the gang. Tolerated because she was Xander Harris’ broom closet girlfriend— and probably because she had the only car.
“That’s enough of that, little girl,” demanded Doyle now fed up with it all. “Cordelia is trying to be your friend by giving you some advice.”
Turning her gaze to Angel’s foreign side-kick, Buffy sent him a cool glare. Her Slayer senses tingled a bit when she looked at him, but nothing to indicate a real threat.
“Cordy can keep her advice,” Buffy gritted her perfect teeth. “I don’t want it. Angel is my… my—”
What exactly was he in relation to her right now, Buffy wondered. Her lover? Ex-lover. Her boyfriend? Ex-boyfriend. Her friend— maybe. A vampire— definitely.
Angel observed the confusion on her face. He wanted to answer her, wanted to calm her fears. She was right, he sensed the direction of her thoughts. There wasn’t a single word to describe the relationship that remained between them.
“Friend, Buffy,” he promised that much, choosing the only option left.
With her brows knitted together in response, Buffy looked confused. Her full lower lip trembled just enough to be noticed. “Is that it? Is that what you want?”
There was silence following the Slayer’s questions. What does he want? Cordelia asked herself, turning slightly to gaze over her shoulder only to find Angel watching her. For an instant, she thought she saw something in his eyes— a spark of desire. So hot!
Cordelia’s body answered automatically with a tiny jerking reaction that left her nipples hard and her panties suddenly damp. The lustful glint was still there causing her heart to flip-flop as she turned completely around to face him. When his nostrils flared, she knew that he was scenting her response to his closeness and then Angel’s eyes became a hue of dark amber.
That caused Cordy to step away, startled that she had brought on this vampiric reaction. It still frightened her seeing him that way, even knowing that he would never harm her as long as he had a soul. This was all Buffy’s fault of course.
Whirling back around, she found Buffy glaring at them both. The Slayer’s arms were crossed tightly as one foot tapped an impatient rhythm on the floor.
“Buffy—,” she began with a long breath of air, “I’m asking you to be Angel’s friend. Don’t risk his soul by playing with his emotions.”
“I’m not playing,” Buffy’s eyes turned dark as she stalked up to Cordelia. “Stay out of this. I want you out of my business.”
Angel suddenly swooped up from the desk, tugging Cordelia behind him. Telling Buffy to, “Back off.”
“I said— back off, Buffy.” He kept himself wedged between them.
Doyle watched with huge eyes as Angel turned himself into a figurative wall of steel, not letting the Slayer through to— do whatever it is superhuman females did to their rivals.
“Why are you defending her?”
“Because she’s mine,” Angel told her eliciting a gasp from the blonde before he qualified that statement. “My business, my assistant, my friend.”
He could have gone further, adding other descriptors, but he stopped there.
“We have separate missions, Buffy,” he said. “We’re leading separate lives. You’ve got a chance to move on with your life. Let me do the same.”
Buffy’s gaze traveled to Cordelia who peeked out over the vampire’s shoulder. With her? Those eyes seemed to be asking the obvious.
“I guess we’ve covered it, right?” Buffy asked with a resolved look.
Angel nodded, “I guess we did.”
Turning, Buffy quietly left the office.
Suddenly the Mohra demon crashed through the window. Turning, Angel grabbed the nearest usable weapon— the clock from his desk— smashing it into the red jewel on the demon’s forehead. The Mohra had no time to attack much less issue its prophesy about the End of Days as it combusted with its own inner glow.
Shocked by the random attack and how quickly Angel put the creature down, Cordelia gasped, “That was unreal!”
Doyle was also impressed. “How did you know how to kill it?”
“It’s a Mohra demon. I-I had a lot of time to catch up on my reading.” A flash of anger followed his words.
Cordelia was suddenly feeling a little antsy as she focused again on Buffy’s departure. Asking Angel, “Are you mad at me? I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“I’m not mad, Cordy, and I don’t expect miracles.”
One corner of his mouth curled upward as Angel gravitated back to her side. He touched her beautiful face, asking, “Why did you say those things to Buffy?”
Floundering, Cordelia wasn’t really certain. “Because— I care?”
Taking up one of her wrists, Angel placed her hand over the left side of his chest. “Just a reminder, Cordelia. No beating heart inside. Just a vampire.”
He was not so just a vampire. “But you’re my vampire— and Doyle’s. We don’t want you broody because Buffy tries to spread her sunshine in places it doesn’t belong.”
Angel released her wrist, noting that she did not remove her hand. With clarity, he saw the flash of jealousy in her eyes and knew it was that rather than pure anger sparking her tirade.
“Tell me what you want, Cordy,” spoke the vampire with a graveled tone. Somehow he needed to hear it from her lips. Nothing had really changed for her; the feelings shared by her on that Santa Monica beach were still there even if they were locked away inside. “Show me. Just do it knowing this is my true face.”
There was a nervous flash in the hazel eyes as his demon visage stared down at her. For a vampire face— it was really good looking compared to some of the others she had seen. But the fact that Angel was a hottie no matter what face he wore was not the point of this exercise. It was just another reminder to keep her distance, to maintain their platonic protocol.
Maybe she didn’t want to maintain. Maybe she wanted to touch him. Cordelia knew that would make her little speech to Buffy Summers look a little silly. Why warn the golden girl off to spare Angel his feelings, why worry about the curse, why pretend that she felt only friendship? Because, it really wasn’t fair to Angel. Not fair to want him when he could do nothing about it.
So Cordelia made Angel think that being a vampire was still a problem. Maybe it was, she was just no longer reviled when she looked at him— only a little scared of her own feelings.
Now Angel wanted her to tell him how she felt. To show him? Cordelia raised her hand from his chest reaching slowly toward his vampiric face— only to jerk her hand away before it touched his ridged cheek. “I-I can’t, Angel.”
Turning sharply, Cordelia moved over to stand next to Doyle who was staring at her like she had lost her mind. “How about that movie?”
“What?!” Doyle looked flabbergasted. “Now?”
Angel shoved his hands in his pockets as he watched Cordelia’s escape into the outer office. “Take her out of here, Doyle. Get her away from this for a few hours.”
“Don’t tell me—,” Doyle knew it with certainty, “You’re planning to brood about this.”
The vampire did not answer. He simply glowered at his friend until Doyle finally gave up and went away. Angel waited until he heard the front door close and the keys jingling as they locked up the office behind them.
He had lost the day. Lost his humanity. Lost the trust of the woman he loved because she could not see beyond his nature. That fault was his— Willow’s memory spell was his idea, after all. Back in Sunnydale, Cordelia’s love for him stemmed from his claim and their soul connection, but it came only because of other magic. A spell that blocked out her natural fear of vampires. Something that altering her memories brought back with a vengeance.
Angel’s demon wanted him to just take charge. To show Cordelia that she had nothing to fear from her mate. Nothing to— but no, she still had something to fear and deep down inside himself his demon raged.
Angel removed his hands from his pockets, sitting down at the chair behind his desk and staring at the face of the broken clock that lay upon it. The Oracles had given in to his demands before folding time and leaving him with his own memories intact. For a price.
Opening his fist, Angel placed the object from his pocket on the desk. Such a small thing to hide so much happiness, so much bloodlust, so much danger. He wanted Cordelia to love him again, but unconditionally. To give herself to him— knowing that he was still a vampire. Without the burden of the past.
Leaning back in the desk chair, Angel looked down at the memory crystal.
The plan to shatter it now gone.
SOULBOUND – BOOK TWO – THE NEXT CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS