Soulbound – Book 2: Chapter 24
Lower beings, do you see the dangers now approaching? We Oracles recognize them. Even the Powers that Be sit in trepidation awaiting the outcome. Free choice has a far greater impact on their plans than may be known.
“This is where it started, Angel,” Cordelia told him. “I wanted to see things. Touch them. Know that they were real.”
The vampire could understand that. “It must seem like a dream.”
Cordelia let out a distraught laugh. “No. It’s a nightmare.”
Explaining, “I remember it both ways, Angel. The things we did before— I’m not that person anymore. At least, I don’t think so. I need time to find out who I am again.”
“How *much* time, Cordy?”
“A day or two,” her words eased his fears until Cordelia tagged on, “a week, a month, forever. I don’t know, Angel. As long as it takes.”
Two paths of memory have merged. The Vampire with a Soul and his mate vie for understanding, but there are others with an equal right to seek resolution. Too many. Far too many variables that could alter our restored path. Not only for our Champion and his seer their City of Angels, but for the Chosen One and the Hellmouth itself.
Buffy stepped up to her front door, and then paused upon hearing the sound of soft snoring coming from a dark corner. Peering into the shadows, she saw the outline of a small human curled up in one of the chairs.
“Nngh— huh?” Waking up, Willow massaged her neck which had been tilted at an odd angle while she slept. “Buffy! I fell asleep?”
“The snoring kind of suggests that,” Buffy walked over to the railing next to her chair. “I have to wonder why your trip to Snoresville isn’t taking place in your bed rather than on my porch.”
Having waited nearly two hours for Buffy to return, Willow wasn’t going to wait a minute more to discuss what she came here for. “Angel followed Cordelia back to town. He wants you to wait here for him to contact you.”
Stunned, Buffy processed the information for a few seconds before speaking. “Angel is here in Sunnydale?”
“By now,” Willow nodded. “So there’s no need to go to LA. Just wait for him to call.”
“Angel called you?” That seemed a little strange.
Willow climbed out of the chair, stretching her arms above her head. “Uh— no one else was home. You were out kicking Spike’s ass, remember?”
Then the witch asked, “How is Spike’s ass?”
Buffy’s lips curled just a bit. “Intact— for the most part. He had nothing to do with this memory thing, so he says. Just told me to ask Angel and look closer to home for answers. Cryptic, much?”
“Not really,” groaned Willow. She was hoping to avoid this conversation until she had a big strong vampire present to back her up. “Spike is telling you the truth. He had nothing to do with it.”
“How do you know that?”
With a hesitant moan, Willow confessed, “Because I had everything to do with it. Angel and I.”
“What?!” The initial shock faded almost instantly as Buffy remembered the conversation she had with Angel prior to his leaving for LA— the real conversation. The big break up. His wanting her to have a normal life. “I thought Cordelia was putting him up to it, and that she wanted me out of their lives, but it was Angel— he left us both.”
“A-Angel had his reasons, Buffy.”
The blonde was trying to control her anger. She couldn’t believe that Willow had been a part of this scheme. “What were your reasons? I take it that magic had something to do with this tangled mess in my head.”
Looking a little defiant, Willow told her, “I cast the spell. Angel may have asked for it to be done, but I’m the one who did it. Just remember to spread the blame around.”
“Oh, I will,” Buffy assured her, “if it needs spreading. We’re going to find that out. Right now.”
Grasping Willow around the wrist, Buffy led her down the porch steps. “I see you came in your mom’s car— didn’t notice it a minute ago. Get in. You’re taking us to Angel’s place.”
“He wanted us to wait until he called,” Willow reminded her.
“Yeah? Well we don’t always get what we want,” countered Buffy. “Do we?”
The players gather. Our Champion and his mate, the Seer. The Chosen One and the Witch. And now, the Hand of Chaos will enter the mix again to stir things to the boiling point.
“Blondie Bear!” Harmony gasped at the sight of bruises on Spike’s face. “What happened to you?”
Slamming shut the crypt door, Spike growled at her, “Just the usual. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy! Everywhere I turn, she’s there in front of me. With that nasty little face, that— bouncing shampoo-commercial hair. That sodding holier-than-thou attitude.”
Harmony twirled a strand of her blond hair around one finger. Another complaint session about the Slayer. Sigh! “Well, aren’t we kind unholy, by the—”
Cutting her off, Spike told her, “She follows me, you know, tracks me down. I’m her pet project. Drive Spike round the bend. Blame him for every bloody problem. Makes every day a fresh bout of torture.”
Grabbing one of the annoyingly cute decorations Harmony had added to the crypt, Spike smashed it against the wall.
Then he was grabbing her by the shoulders, looking fierce— almost desperate. Harmony started feeling a little scared. Spike wasn’t usually violent unless they wanted it that way.
“You don’t understand, Harm,” he shook her by the shoulders. “I can’t get rid of her. It’s like she’s everywhere. She’s haunting me.”
Seeing the fearful expression, Spike slowly calmed down. “This has got to end. Maybe now the Slayer has her memories back, she’ll pick on Peaches for a change.”
Harmony saw Spike’s eyes turn dark as he said the words. Before she could ask him why that wasn’t a good thing, there was a knock at the crypt door. Spike let Harmony answer the door.
“Clem,” her voice conveyed the displeasure Harmony felt at seeing the demon. She hated Spike’s gambling buddies. They took his attention away from her.
“In here,” the vampire called out as he draped his coat over the back of a chair.
“Hey, buddy! I had to stop by to give you the news.”
“I was down at Willies tonight. There’s talk about lights up at the old mansion. Looks like Angel is back in town,” Clem revealed. “Thought you’d want to know.”
“Oh, bloody hell!” Spike picked up the leather duster he had just removed.
There is a moment of calm before the gathering storm hits. Though figurative in nature it has been brewing from the first. From the moment the memory crystal was created to contain the secrets of the past. Now its power is broken. Now the memories are free and our Champion must face the consequences of his actions.
“I know that you’re responsible for this,” Cordelia told Angel point blank. “You had the crystal. You knew that we had a past together. Just waited too long to tell me the truth.”
This was precisely what he had been trying to avoid, but Angel realized that by keeping things to himself he had made it worse. “Kitten, I—”
Cordy interrupted, “Don’t call me ‘kitten’ when I’m mad at you.”
“I suppose you have a right to be angry.”
“You bet I do!”
Pulling away from his touch, Cordelia grabbed the last of her clothes from the suitcase. She crossed over to the dresser and dumped the items in the drawer, slamming it shut.
“Well?” As she returned to the bedside and zipped up the suitcase, Cordy demanded, “Are you going to stand there like a gaping fish or do I get to hear what was going on in that broody brain of yours when you came up with this lame scheme?”
When the words did not immediately pour out of his mouth, Cordelia let out a frustrated growl. She grabbed the empty suitcase from the bed, stalked over to the closet door and threw it inside. The door shut with a bang. Whirling around, she stalked back to Angel’s side and poked a finger at his chest.
“Talk to me, Angel,” Cordelia demanded. “You came all this way to find me. Surely you have something to say.”
Taking her hand, the vampire held it against his chest. “Everything that happened was for love of you.”
“— and Buffy.” Cordelia interjected.
“Yes,” Angel did not deny it. “Everything I loved, I left behind here in Sunnydale.”
“Why? If you didn’t want us anymore, why the spell? Why not just leave?” Cordelia was confused at the reason for such a drastic measure.
Angel’s chest rumbled beneath her hand. “Not want you?”
How could she ever think that? Brushing a finger along the bare curve of her collarbone, he let out an emotion-filled confession. “I always want you, Cordelia. That was part of the problem back then. Your presence keeps my soul secure, but it brings Angelus closer to the surface.”
“How is that? Lately, except for your happy pill episode, I haven’t seen it.”
That was difficult, because Angel was not certain of the reason. “I think it has something to do with exchanging blood. Back here in Sunnydale, our bloodplay kept escalating to levels that were dangerous to you. Escalating to the point where I always had a part of you inside me— and wanted more.”
Cordelia remembered the night she ended up in the hospital. She had blamed herself for that one having teased him until she had worked the vampire into a frenzy of lust. Then at the moment of their climax, he bit deeper than usual. He wasn’t so careful or gentle and for an instant, Cordelia thought he planned to turn her.
Suddenly realizing that was Angel’s fear as well, Cordy’s voice was a hushed whisper as she asked, “Do you want me to be a vampire?”
“No!” He was quick to answer, but there was a flash in his eyes that told her part of him would always want that. “It wouldn’t be the same. I want you human.”
“Good answer,” Cordelia gave him a brief smile. “I like me human.”
“So do I.” Angel pressed his lips against her forehead.
He was tempted to pull her into his arms and keep kissing her, but knew that it would be only a distraction. This needed saying.
Cordelia’s head buzzed a little at the touch of his lips against her skin. It never took much to have her wanting him. Stupid hormones! “So that’s what you were so scared of? That you would lose control? Turn me into a vampire?”
“Yes, Cordy. The danger was very real.” Angel admitted. “You don’t know how many times I had to fight back the urge to take you that way.”
“Buffy would never let you do that, Angel,” Cordelia told him. “She used to be there when you would drink from me.”
“She wasn’t there every time. I always thought that Buffy’s presence— the Slayer’s presence— in our bed tempered my demon. Kept me in line. Kept me from taking things too far.”
“Yeah?” Cordelia wasn’t certain she liked that line of thinking. “What are you saying? It’s only safe for us to be together if Buffy is around? I thought it was the other way around.”
Angel let out a laugh of dark irony. “Is that how it is? You secure my soul and she keeps my demon in check?”
“We were happy here in Sunnydale.” Cordelia understood his fear, but not the secrecy behind it. “Why couldn’t you tell me, Angel? I thought we had moved past the stage of keeping stuff from each other.”
“Because I knew that you would refuse. That you wouldn’t let me leave,” Angel knew that with certainty.
“Got that right.”
“Thought so. I had it out with Rupert when Willow found out about the three of us. The things we talked about just confirmed what I already knew. So I asked Willow to cast the spell. It was the only thing I knew that could prevent you following me. Our blood ties at that time were too strong.”
Cordelia thought back to her last days in Sunnydale. Discovering her parents had fled the country. Being destitute and alone. Forcing herself to put on a smile whenever anyone else was around. The horrible empty feeling that literally turned her into a weeping mess once she got back to her crappy motel room each night.
“What happened in LA?” She asked him. “Was it a coincidence seeing you at that party?”
Angel had thought about that moment too often. “It was fate, Cordy. The Powers that Be had a plan for us. Champion and Seer. Willow’s magic may have altered the way we got to this point, but not that outcome. Not our mission.”
“So— we were never meant to be lovers?”
The hurt in her eyes scared him. “Maybe not so soon, but I can’t believe that we would be together without that happening. I wanted you long before Willow’s spells started playing with our emotions.”
That brought a smile to her face.
“When you showed up here in LA, I wanted you to be safe, but I couldn’t let you go, Cordelia. Not again.”
“I feel like such a fool. Avoiding you. Flirting with you. Oh, God! Thinking I was still a virgin. You had a good laugh about that one— at least as Angelus.”
“I think it was closer to frustration. Every time we seemed to be getting ahead, we’d get thrown for a loop.”
“Yeah. Well you started this rollercoaster, Angel.”
“What else do you want me to say, Cordy? I asked Willow to perform the spell because it was the only way I thought I could protect you and let Buffy have a normal life. Maybe that was unrealistic, but I did it because I loved you.”
“Both of us,” she clarified. “You loved us both.”
Angel couldn’t deny it. “What do you expect? The three of us were together for a year. You invited Buffy into our bed, not me.”
“Are you denying that you wanted her?”
“No. Things were different. I’ve always wanted you, Cordelia. Back then it was all about lust. About Angelus’ claim and the blood ties between us. Not to mention Willow’s spell tweaking when returning my soul. I can’t deny that I wanted Buffy, nor that I took great pleasure in having her with us. I loved her the only way I knew how. The only way that was possible.”
“My big mouth did it again in LA. Buffy came to see you— to be with you. And I chased her away.”
“She has her mission here on the Hellmouth. We have ours in LA.”
“Do you really think it’s that simple?”
“With us, nothing ever is. You know I love you, Cordy. I’ve loved you for so long. Before I left Sunnydale. Finding you in LA, I just couldn’t let you leave. No matter the danger.”
“Is there danger? Are you still afraid that you’ll turn me?”
“The urge is always there, somewhere in the back of my mind. That’s why I’ve been so careful about biting you. About not letting you bite me.”
Cordelia thought about that. She used to get the worst cravings as though she needed to bite him back. “It’s the blood. The connection between us.”
“Giles says that it’s my demon instincts. He’s right, I suppose. Angelus always intended to make you a vampire— his demon mate. He just wanted you human for a while.”
“I always thought Angelus was you without the ability to keep your mouth shut. You told me you wanted me human, but is that really the truth? Do you want your mate to be a vampire?”
From behind them, Spike cut in, “He answers anything other than ‘yes’ to that and he’s a liar.”
“Stay out of this, Spike.” Angel glared across the room. “What are you doing here?”
“Heard rumor you were in town. Thought I’d stop by to see the family.”
As the blond vampire sauntered closer, Cordelia noticed that he was covered in bruises. “Looks like you’ve been run over by a steam-roller.”
“Slayer. Thought I had something to do with Peaches’ little memory spell.”
“You always remembered,” Cordy realized that all of the hints and confusion between them indicted that he knew the truth all of the time. “How come you weren’t affected?”
“Out of town. Went after Dru.”
Then he came back looking for the Gem of Amarra, went to LA and ended up back in Sunnydale. “Then the Initiative shoved this behavioral control chip in my head and now I’m drinking pig’s blood— just like Peaches. Can’t even have a little bite for fun much less kill anyone. It’s not fair. Now the Slayer’s trying to turn me into her lapdog.”
“Stop laughing,” Spike glared at Cordelia. “It’s not funny.”
“Maybe not from your perspective.”
“You’re just mad because you don’t have Peaches to yourself anymore. At least in that pretty little head of yours. The Slayer is in there too, isn’t she?”
“Spike,” Angel sounded a warning.
“She needs to deal with it,” Spike pointed out. “Not box it all up and get all broody about it like some people.”
Cordelia admitted, “Spike is right. I’m here to deal, not shy away from this. I need to see Buffy.”
“Well luv, if you ever want to round out the numbers— give me a call,” Spike leered.
Cordelia stood her ground, refusing to let the vampire rile her. “Have to have Angel’s permission. That’s how it works.”
“Get out, Spike.”
“Knew you’d say that,” he commented while still managing to look disappointed. “I’m going.”
“Not so fast, Spike.” Buffy’s voice came from the doorway. “I thought you knew nothing about this.”
“He doesn’t,” Cordelia told her noticing that Willow was hovering in the doorway.
“I was talking to Spike,” Buffy sent her a glare. Addressing the blond vampire, she demanded, “What are you doing here?”
“None of your business, Slayer.”
“It is too my business. Angel and Cordy are my business. You’re my business— former Big Bad and all. Gotta keep an eye on you. Wasn’t one reminder tonight enough?”
“I’m bloody tired of you running your mouth, Slayer. Unless you’re going to put it to better use, I suggest you keep it shut.”
Buffy slugged him and Spike flew across the room landing on his back at his grandsire’s feet. Angel dragged him to his feet. “Leave Spike out of this, Buffy. If you have a fight, I think it’s with me.”
“Maybe it is.”
“Then you have to fight me too,” Willow stepped up beside them. “This is as much my fault as Angel’s.”
The vampire ran a hand down Willow’s red hair, cupping her shoulder with his hand. “I convinced Willow to do the spell. Gave her no choice, really. Spike— I want you to take Willow home.”
“Hey!” Willow protested.
“Sure you want me to do that, Peaches? Break up your nice little collection?”
Willow gave little shake of her head and glared angrily at the vampire.
“What collection?” Angel looked puzzled.
“Your blonde, brunette and redhead collection of course. I’ll take one or two of them off your hands if you can’t keep up.”
“Spike, you are so getting your ass kicked again for suggesting that,” Buffy crossed her arms over her chest.
“As if you needed to find another excuse,” scoffed Spike.
Cordelia glanced up at Angel. “Is he hinting at what happened with Angelus in the library or something else?”
Eep! “N-nothing. It was nothing.” Willow hurried to say. “Besides— gay now. I told you about Tara.”
“Sweet succulent witch,” Spike’s lips twisted as he thought of Willow’s girlfriend. “Soft, shy, and oh so curvaceous.”
“Shut up!” Willow grumbled. “Don’t you talk about Tara.”
“Human men just don’t do it for Red anymore— if they ever did. Not after a little taste-o-vamp. Isn’t that right, Strawberry Tart?”
With her cheeks blazing, Willow wasn’t certain if Spike was alluding to his own drunken advances at the warehouse or something about Angel. Either way, she was not prepared to go into details with Cordelia and Buffy present.
“Spike—,” Angel started to protest only to be cut off by Willow.
“No, Angel. Spike and I are going to have this out— but not here.” Willow latched onto Spike’s leather coat and pulled in the direction of the door. “Come on, Big Bad. You’re coming with me.”
“If you insist,” Spike commented with a husky chuckle. “I’d come with you any time.”
“Do you have to turn everything into sexual innuendo?”
“Doesn’t have to be innuendo.”
“Ugh! Just go get in the car.”
Willow turned one last time to look at Angel, Cordelia and Buffy. They were standing together in a close group staring at her with a mixture of surprise and admiration. “Call me later?”
“Do me a favor,” Buffy asked her, not even bothering to deny the fact that she was going to be here a while. “Warn Giles. Have him keep Xander under control until I can talk to him.”
Then Willow headed for the stairs.
Now we are left with this triad of power. What happens next, lower beings, could break the ties that bind them, bring them together, or alter the pairing that exists. One outcome alone will keep this world safe from the destructive forces that will otherwise reign free. We, the Oracles to the Powers that Be, watch and wait. For even we have no choice in the matter.
Cordelia filled the silent void that suddenly descended into the bedroom. “Looks like that leaves just us.”
SOULBOUND – BOOK TWO – THE NEXT CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS