Soulbound – Book 1: Chapter 6


The Connections Trilogy_Soulbound_1


The First Connection

Chapter 6

We come to a crossroads. A landmark in the footnotes of this history. A point at which enemies and friends exchange roles. Where one demon fights to destroy the world while his kindred seeks to save it. And the Chosen One must destroy that which she has held most dear to her heart. Our Warrior will be lost to the confines of hell. Our Seer-to-be consigned to a future without him.

Playing with his sword, Angelus idly pointed it at the weaponless Slayer. Frightened, Buffy stared up at him as she pressed her back to the wall. “Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons— No friends— No hope.”

Buffy closed her eyes, steeling herself for what was surely to come.

“Take all that away,” the vampire continued, “and what’s left?”

Drawing his sword back, he thrust it directly at her face. With lightning-fast reflexes she caught the blade between the palms of her hands. Then, Buffy opened her eyes meeting his. “Me.”

Shoving the blade away from her, the hilt of the sword hit Angelus in the face. Staggering back, he left Buffy an opening to hop to her feet. She kicked him in the chest causing the vampire to stumble back even more. Now her blade was within reach. Picking it up, she swung it around and thrust it at him, but he managed to parry. They exchanged a series of deadly blows, blocking each other.

Buffy spun around with a roundhouse kick to his side, and Angelus collapsed to the ground. Raising her sword to dispatch Angelus, the Slayer paused as the vampire gasped loudly and groaned with intense pain. His eyes glowed red for an instant before going dark. This wasn’t her doing, it was magic.

The vampire looked up, but quickly collapsed back to the floor, crying. Buffy stared down at him, still holding her sword at the ready. Just in case this was one of Angelus’ evil tricks. Then Angel raised himself back up, his eyes heavy with tears, looking into her eyes.

Sobbing, Angel seemed confused by it all. “Buffy? What’s going on?”

Without lowering the sword, Buffy allowed the vampire to get to his feet. He took a confused look around the room as he steadied himself. “Where are we?” He asked with a plea in his voice.

Oh, God! Buffy suddenly realized that Willow’s attempt to ensoul the vampire worked. A blessing in the form of a curse. Lowering her sword, Buffy stepped forward cautiously.

Softly, she sounded out his name. “Angel?”

Noting her wound, Angel looked concerned, “You’re hurt.”

Ignores her cut, she stepped closer into his waiting embrace. Angel’s strong arms came around her. The vampire felt complete with her there. His heart was whole again. “Oh, Buffy— The things I’ve done.”

“Shh!” Finally accepting Angel’s return, Buffy closed her eyes and released a deep sigh.

Angel hugged her even closer. “Oh, my God, everything’s so muddled. I—”

Kissing her on the shoulder, Angel could only mutter, “Oh, Buffy—”

Nuzzling, she cried into his shoulder, hugging him back. Behind the vampire, Acathla let out a low rumble. Buffy opened her eyes to stare in shock as Acathla’s face contorted. His brows angled down, his eyes glowing red, while his mouth opened grotesquely. Slowly, the swirling vortex to Hell began to open, small at first, but growing steadily in size and emanating a deep, red glow.

Buffy let go of the vampire, looking up into his beautiful angelic face. Confused, Angel asked, “What’s happening?”

Whispering reassuringly, Buffy brushed her fingers over his lips and across his cheek. “Shh. Don’t worry about it.”

With her hand resting on his cheek, she kissed him softly. Angel returned the kiss with growing passion. Behind them the vortex had grown, now reaching five feet across and continuing to get larger.

Buffy broke off the kiss and looked deeply into Angel’s eyes, memorizing his features. “I love you,” she whispered.

In the same soft whisper, Angel echoed her words. “I love you.”

Then with another soft touch against his lips, Buffy thought back to the night they made love. “Close your eyes. Just kiss me.”

Trying not to cry, she kissed him again gently. His eyes closed under the warmth of her reassurance. Before Angel could move to respond to the kiss, Buffy drew back and thrust her sword into his chest. Angel’s dark eyes whipped open in surprise and pain, as a bright light started emanating from the sword.

Buffy staggered back even as Angel reached out to her in confusion. He sees the sword thrusting completely through him. Bewildered by this turn of events, Angel is lost, but looks at her imploringly. Reaching out with his hand, he saw her move further away.

“Buffy—”

Behind him the power of the sword was swirling with the event horizon of the vortex. Buffy kept staring at the sword, avoiding the pleading look in her lover’s eyes. The dimensional gate enlarged to about twelve feet across. Angel was still holding out his hand. Then the vortex closed over the vampire and was sucked back into the stone that formed Acathla’s mouth without so much as a spark, taking him with it.

Sliding down along a wall, Buffy felt her legs turn to jelly. Staring at the stone demon for a long moment, a light of awareness dawned in her eyes as she truly realized what she had done, what she had lost. Finally, as her heart seemed to swell large in her chest until breaking into a thousand pieces, Buffy began to sob.

The world is saved by the Chosen One at the expense of her heart. Human strength of will is only countered by its utter fragility. Love lost creates gaping wounds. Some heal. Some never will.

“Willow, are you sure you should be out of bed?” Giles asked the redhead who was still recovering from the after-effects of casting the spell that returned Angel’s soul.

“Look who’s talking.” Willow wasn’t the one captured and tortured by Angelus.

Smiling, “Yes.”

Chewing nervously on her lower lip, Cordelia queried, “Any word?”

Xander was worried. There had been no sign of Buffy Summers. “You guys haven’t seen her either?”

Willow admitted, “No.”

“But we know the world didn’t end, ’cause—,” Cordelia looked around. “Check it out.”

Giles revealed, “Well, we, uh— we went back to the mansion. I-it was empty, um— and Acathla was— dormant.”

Willow nodded. “Dormant demon. That is a good thing. I think the spell worked. I felt something go through me.”

“Plus the Orb did that cool glow thing,” Cordy pointed out.

“Well, maybe it wasn’t in time,” Xander suggested. “Maybe she had to kill him before the cure could work.”

Cordelia gulped, now even more frightened. “Well, then, she’d wanna be alone, I guess.”

Her redheaded friend was more optimistic, beaming a smile at her. “Or maybe Angel was saved, and they want to be alone together.”

Giles frowned. “Perhaps.”

“Well, she’s gotta show up sooner or later,” Cordelia figured. “We still have school.”

“Yeah.” That made sense. “She’ll be here in a while.”

The Slayer did not return, but neither was she assumed to be dead. Giles had contacts searching for clues of Buffy Summer’s whereabouts. Spike and Drusilla had apparently left Sunnydale sometime during the threat of Acathla swallowing the world into Hell— so they could shed no light on their sire’s whereabouts. It seemed clear to Giles— though he spared Cordelia the news— that Angelus or rather Angel had been the one thing to stop the vortex from opening.

Something deep inside him was glad the vampire had been cast into Hell. For all of the suffering he caused, for Jenny’s death and Buffy’s pain— Angel deserved its eternal fire. There was a twinge of guilt each time he realized he was happy with the idea, but Giles did not dwell on it. His concern was for his Slayer.

All summer long, the Scooby Gang had been trying to pick up the slack of a Slayerless Sunnydale. Giles had supported them with some minor training and a supply of weapons. He patrolled with them occasionally, but Xander, Willow and even Cordelia had taken it upon themselves to control the vampire population until Buffy’s eventual return.

The trio mended any rifts between them over the course of the summer. Cordelia and Xander forgave Willow for her interference. Willow forgave them for lying to her about their relationship. Though Xander might have forgiven Cordelia for her relationship with Angelus as it was apparently not entirely her fault, he could not think about her in the same way again. It was the same for her. Cordelia decided to play matchmaker, though neither one of her friends had gotten the hint. So she left it alone, deciding that there had already been too much pushing of people into relationships.

Cordelia mourned Angelus in a way the others pretended to understand— but didn’t. She held out hope that somewhere out there, Angel was with Buffy. That he was alive and not trapped in Hell. She had even gone so far as to tell them of her hope that Angelus was living it up with Spike and Dru somewhere, even if it was without her. It was not until Buffy Summers returned at the end of summer that she finally gave up that hope. Buffy returned alone, but with the confirmation of Cordelia’s greatest fear.

Cordelia had spent most of the summer months at Buffy’s house with Joyce Summers. It was almost a happy time for Cordy whose own mother was frequently away with her father on out of town trips. Buffy’s return ended that as Cordy learned that Buffy killed Angel after his soul had been restored— even if it did save the world.

Though Cordelia had repaired her shaky friendship with Willow and Xander, there was no way to repair something that had never really existed between herself and Buffy. The two quickly fell back into their pre-Angel pattern of teenage arch-nemeses. They vied for Homecoming Queen— Cordelia because she felt she deserved it and Buffy just to spite her— both of them losing out in the end.

Another shock came as the Watcher’s Council decided to replace Giles. His record with controlling his Slayer was inadequate. Though she had managed to save the world a few times with Giles’ help— that was just her duty. The fact that the Slayer had disappeared from the Hellmouth she was supposed to protect indicated that Rupert Giles really had no control over the girl. Thus, came the arrival into Sunnydale of Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.

The new Watcher was British with an upper lip as stiff as they could come. He was just so formal. Nothing like comfy old Giles.

Wesley pointed out that Giles was something of an old-fashioned Watcher. “Of course, training procedures have been updated quite a bit since your day. Much greater emphasis on field work.”

Sounding very bored, Giles made an effort to respond. “Really?”

“Oh, yes.” Wesley assured him. “Not all books and theory nowadays. I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.”

Giles drolly stated, “Well, no danger of finding those here.”

“Vampires?”

“Controlled circumstances.”

Everyone had different reactions to the new Watcher. Primarily, they thought he was a bumbling fool who had no experience in dealing with a Hellmouth or a Slayer like Buffy. Giles tried his best not interfere with the Council’s wishes. Buffy on the other hand was not taking this decision lightly. The relationship that had developed between Rupert Giles and Buffy Summers was so much more than just Watcher and Slayer. He was the male father-figure in her life with her own dad living in L.A.— and failing miserably in getting the Father-of-the-Year points.

Though she obeyed Giles’ order to follow her training protocols with Wesley, Buffy was not giving him any more than that. She defied him at every turn and frequently went on patrols without him— just to see his face when she returned.

Cordelia had taken pity on the poor guy. Partly because it annoyed Buffy, but also because he was kind of cute in a completely clueless dork kind of way that made her smile. Realizing that Xander fit the same mold all too well, she was a little disturbed by the notion that they were somehow her type. Angelus had been no such thing, of course, but despite Angel’s tall, dark, and totally hottie vibe, even he’d had a few dorky moments of his own.

What she wouldn’t give to go back to that night at the Bronze when he revealed himself to her as a vampire. Maybe if she had trusted him, actually listened, things would be different. Buffy wouldn’t have dug her hooks in so deep. Things wouldn’t have spun out of control, and Angel would never have lost his soul.

Falling for a vampire was hard enough, but being obsessed with him while he was at his worst only made missing him even more of a struggle. Knowing exactly how dark Angelus could get when things did not go his way should have rendered any lingering feelings for him inert. No matter his wrongdoing, she could not hate him. Understanding it was wrong never diminished her feelings, even though she wished them away. He was sexy and funny and sometimes just as much of a dork as Angel. Unamused by the description, Angelus had decided to prove she was not immune to punishment, which forever satisfied any curiosity about spankings. Even that had not been enough of a deterrent because the make up sex had been mind-blowing.

Any attempts on Cordelia’s part to stay aloof, uncaring that Angelus had been justly defeated by Buffy never lasted long. The cold feelings she tried to generate were never enough to block out the rest. The vampire was never far from her thoughts. Despite knowing his ultimate plans, she ached at the loss of him. He invaded her dreams each night sometimes causing her to awaken in terror, her heart thundering in her chest, but the nightmares were rare. More often pleasure jolted her from her slumber to the rhythmic strum of her fingers between her thighs.

Lately, Angel was the one making her come apart piece by piece. She knew the difference. If that was supposed to make her feel guilty, it didn’t. She loved Angelus, and had always felt something for Angel. That’s why it had hurt so much when she found out he was a vampire, and why her heart refused to let go even now that he was gone.

Draping herself in every memory, each morsel of time spent in his arms, Cordelia took action to ease her loneliness. Not with the adorable dweeb who called himself a watcher. No, she kept Wesley Wyndam-Pryce at a comfortable distance from her heart right along with everyone else. She didn’t want the Scoobies to know just how much Angelus’ loss had hurt her. All their pity was for Buffy, anyway, even though she had abandoned them. Cordelia hadn’t run away from her feelings, but she didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her, either.

The band at the Bronze was playing one of their own; a song with a deep thrumming beat that hit Cordelia in her solar plexus. Earthy and raunchy, calling to some primal instinct to move to the sounds and rhythm. She had come to the club alone, but that never lasted long. Picking up a random hottie, she took him to the dance floor. Soon they were lost in the crowd of writhing bodies.

The guy was coming onto her, but Cordelia expertly kept him at bay by dancing and distracting him with her smile. She didn’t want him as anything other than a temporary dance partner. He wanted more, not that she considered it. There was zero zing. Still, he was good for a dance. Before the song ended, she felt a tug at her elbow. Expecting to see another clubber cutting in to claim a dance, she was surprised to find Buffy Summers looking at her with an intensity of purpose that scared her.

“Buffy!” Leaning forward to be heard, Cordelia called out to the other girl, “What is it? Why are you here?”

It was impossible to talk through the noise. Buffy pointed toward the door, as if the need to talk to her required clarity. This couldn’t wait? Cordelia wasn’t about to interrupt her night out for slayage if that was what Buffy was after. She might be dressed to kill, but had no intention of getting vampire dust on her designer clothes. Indicating the guy hovering at her shoulder, “I’m busy!”

“Come with me,” Buffy ordered. “Now!”

“I don’t take orders from you,” she countered holding out a hand like a stop sign.

Buffy simply grabbed her by the wrist and tugged her closer. “Now!”

When her dance partner protested Buffy glowered him into silence. He quickly backed into the crowd, already forgotten by Cordelia who was angrier about the interruption than losing him as a partner. Buffy pulled her toward the exit of the Bronze, and she didn’t fight against it because the slayer’s hold was unbreakable and she didn’t want bruises. Once they were outside and the blonde let go was another matter. “What is your damage? Rude, much? I’m taking the night off. Try letting Willow be the bait for a change.”

“Bait? No—,” Buffy fumbled for words, but seemed incapable of an explanation. “Where’s your car?”

“The mall is already closed. Where could you possibly be going that you need a chauffeur?” If she thought it might be somewhere interesting, Cordelia would be all for it. Any distraction that did not involve grossness and gore was always a good thing. Just to be clear, “If this is another slime demon you can leave me and my car out of it.”

Buffy did not bother to wait for her reminder of the last incident. Sweeping her gaze across the parking lot, she quickly spotted the red Corvette, and gave Cordelia a little push in its direction. “Let’s go.”

Sheesh! Buffy was all worked up about something. It wasn’t just impatience, or frustration. She actually looked a little desperate. One thought caused Cordelia to stop in her tracks. “Is Joyce okay? Are we going to the hospital?” Mercy General was across town.

The word no was even too much. Buffy shook her head and took a few deep breaths before revealing their destination. “Crawford Street.”

Although it ran north to south across half the town there was really only one place of interest to either of them. “The mansion?” Cordelia froze in place as they walked toward the red corvette. That’s how they all referred to Angelus’ lair. He had taken over an abandoned old mansion half destroyed by fire some years ago. “Angelus’ mansion?”

“Well, I wasn’t referring to yours,” Buffy waved her onward as if there was a big rush. When she tried to grab her again, Cordelia was ready for it.

“Stop that!” Slapping Buffy’s hand away, she refused to be herded toward her own car. “I’m not budging. I’m not driving you anywhere. Whatever you’re up to you can do it alone.”

“You have to come, too.”

“Pfft!”

“Cordy!” Buffy was getting angry.

With a frustrated sigh, Cordelia snapped at her. “I am never going into that place. Don’t you get it? Angelus never let me go there. He wanted to wait until he turned me. That creeps me out.”

Buffy’s mouth twisted at the disturbing thought, and then drooped sadly. “I-I know, but—”

Interrupting, Cordelia pointed out that Buffy wasn’t the only one with a right to mourn. “I’m still trying to get over losing him. Unlike some people, I didn’t leave Sunnydale for the summer.”

The jab wiped the somber expression off her face. Buffy gave her red minidress the once-over. “Trying to get over Angelus by wearing skanky clothes and dancing with all of the guys at the Bronze?”

Sounded like a good solution to her. “Got a better idea?”

“Trust me,” she said, the plea echoing in her eyes. “You’ll want to be there. I-I need you there, and so does Angel.”

Struck silent as she processed everything, Cordelia finally blurted out his name. “W-what? You mean he’s back in Sunnydale? How? I thought. . .”

“Get in the car. I’ll explain along the way.”

Once in the car, Cordelia had the engine running by the time Buffy settled into her seat. She was barely able to make a grab for the seatbelt before the car peeled out of the parking lot. “Spill it, Summers.”

Buffy explained that lately her nighttime patrols included stopping at the mansion. Not only did she avoid Wesley that way, but it gave her time to think. Then one night she had come back to find the area ransacked. She suspected thieves rather than vamps, but there was no evidence of either. Instead, she found a feral creature huddled in one corner of the mansion’s great hall, a very naked primal Angel who did not even recognized her.

Cordelia tried to concentrate on the road, but the car swerved onto the curb as Buffy described Angel’s condition. “Something horrible happened to him in that place.” Too focused on her own imaginings to hear the hint of accusation in her voice or care about her wild driving, she blinked away the sting of tears.

Laden with guilt, Buffy’s whispered, “I think so,” only confirmed her worst fears.

Giles had described Acatha’s realm as a hell dimension for good reason. Buffy hadn’t just killed Angelus. She had exiled Angel to that terrible place with no hope of rescue or return. Cordelia’s wild suggestions for a magical action plan had been shot down. What Angel required to escape was a miracle, Giles said, there being no magic powerful enough to free him without risking the world.

This felt miraculous enough. Cordelia didn’t really care how or why it happened, or even that he was not himself. All that mattered was that he was home again. The rest she would figure out along the way. Buffy Summers would just have to get used to her taking an interest. The girl had enough sense to come get her, so maybe they wouldn’t have to fight over which one of them had the right to care the most about his wellbeing.

Cordelia couldn’t believe that Buffy would ever voluntarily admit that she had any rights when it came to Angel. He was Buffy’s boyfriend never hers. Their confrontation at the Bronze that one night had gotten so out of control. He had wanted her then, she knew, and not just because his arousal gave him away. Angelus used to tease her about her crush on Angel. He was a sadistic bastard that way— fact, no judgment. Nipping back at him, “Jealous?” she only had to remind him that the mark on her throat wasn’t her first vampire bite.

Looking at the white scars on her wrist, his answer was swift. “That mark is mine.” Angelus’ growl signaled that he claimed dominion over it no matter that he was garbed with a soul at the time.

Buffy described him as wild and incoherent, difficult to control. When asked, she clarified, “It’s really Angel. He’s still a vampire.”

“Pfft!”

No, Buffy realized she wouldn’t care about that anymore. Willow’s spell had taken care of her fear and rejection of Angel’s vampirism. “But he’s not himself.” That wasn’t really what Cordelia wanted to know, either.

“A-Angelus?” Cordelia’s heart was racing in her chest. As much as she wanted—needed—him back the idea scared her. Cutting him out of her life once had been painful enough. It would kill her to do that again even with the likelihood that he would want to follow through on his plans for their future.

Hurt and relief hit simultaneously at Buffy’s, “No. It’s definitely Angel, but he— he’s still sick. I thought he would get better, but it’s taking too long.”

Realizing that Angel hadn’t suddenly shown up tonight, Cordelia gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, asking, “How long?”

Buffy hesitantly revealed that she had been secretly caring for the vampire at the mansion for the past three weeks. “I was scared to tell you, any of you, especially you.” She thought having Cordelia around would complicate things by causing more confusion.

Keeping this from her was no big surprise, but Cordelia couldn’t believe that Buffy would hide this from the others. Xander might not be keen on the idea, but Willow certainly would’ve been thrilled that Buffy’s boyfriend was back. There was no shortage of help if Angel needed it. She had her current watcher and her ex for support. “What about Giles?”

Wide-eyed as if the idea was oh-so wrong, Buffy reminded her, “No matter what Giles says, he still blames Angel for Jenny’s death.”

“That was Angelus.”

“You’re the one who keeps reminding me that they are the same person.”

Correcting her quickly, Cordelia said, “Vampire. They’re the same vampire. Angel just happens to be under a curse.”

Buffy still didn’t get that. She didn’t want to get that. Angel was her lover, gorgeous and heroic. Angelus— he was a monster.

As Cordelia brought the car to a stop outside the front steps of the huge mansion, she turned in her seat toward Buffy. “Three weeks is a long time to keep a secret like this to yourself. Why reveal it now?” What she really wanted to know was, “Why tell me?”

Getting out of the car, Buffy forced Cordelia to follow her up the steps to the heavy doors that were the main entry before giving her an answer. “Because he’s not getting any better. Most of the time he’s more of a beast. Growly. Dangerous. Lashing out because he cannot stand to be here. Sometimes, I-I think he’s afraid of me.”

“Maybe it’s a slayer thing.” Cordy had to say. The last time they saw each other was right after Buffy had thrust a sword into his chest allowing him be sucked into a vortex and sent to hell. The details Buffy had eventually shared had included the farewell kiss, which Willow declared so tragically romantic. Cordelia only remembered fighting back tears.

The mansion’s huge foyer looked trashed. Not just from the disaster that had befallen it years ago, but from more recent signs of a struggle. A layer of grey dust covered the parquet floors. A worn path of shoe and bootprints marked the way from the door into other areas. Buffy had been busy, Cordelia assumed. Those patrols she mentioned probably included a few vampire dustings. Angelus had not hidden the fact that he was strengthening their clan with fledglings. Spike and Drusilla had been there for a time while he was in residence, but they had escaped town before Buffy’s big showdown with Angelus.

Despite the negative connotations associated with the three-story house and its dark history, Cordelia instantly saw its full potential. Thanks to flipping through interior design magazines and watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous her imagination instantly transformed her surroundings into a place of startling grandeur. Somewhere she could definitely picture herself living. Irony twisted up in an anxious knot tightening in her chest; living being the whole point in question.

Being with Angelus by whatever means she could sounded far better than the reality of living without him. The fleeting thought was worrisome, but Cordelia shook it off. She could not be bothered by the past knowing that Angel was here now. He might not want to see her. Guilt or shame would be one thing, but Cordelia hoped she would not be faced with indifference. She could handle anything except that.

“He’s this way.”

Cordelia reached out to stop her. Before going in she needed an answer. “Why bring me here, Buffy?” Giles or Willow would get over their shock and help her. It seemed obvious that even Wesley— as a knowledgeable Watcher— was more qualified to deal with a sick vampire than a varsity cheerleader.

Resounding echoes signaled the stillness of the mansion as their voices carried down the hall until the unmistakable sound of her name came back to them with growing intensity. “Cordelia, Cordy, Cordelia!” An anxious growl and odd metallic clunks preceded a heavy silence.

Darting toward the sound of Angel’s voice, Cordelia was jerked to a halt by Buffy’s restraining hand. “You can’t just run in there.”

“Why not? He needs me.”

There were tears on Buffy’s cheek as she agreed with Cordelia’s conclusion. “Yeah, I think he does.”

“Then let go.”

“He’s dangerous, Cordelia. I don’t think it’s safe for you to get too close.”

Understanding just how dangerous he could be, Cordelia was willing to listen, but she had to argue against Buffy’s logic. “Angelus never hurt me, so why would Angel start now?”

“The vampire in that room has no control over his instincts. He’s all fight and fangs and doesn’t know who I am most of the time.”

Cordelia yanked her arm out of Buffy’s loosened grasp. “Seems like he remembers me.”

“That’s why you’re here,” Buffy answered snippily.

“So let me go to him.”

“Not until you promise not to do anything dumb like get too close.”

Cordelia shrugged, “Whatever.”

“I mean it, Cor. Don’t do anything that’s going to make me stake him.”

“Don’t you hear how desperate he sounds? I know that feeling. He needs me.” Cordelia started forward again unable to wait any longer.

Buffy let out a long sigh of frustration watching as Cordelia darted toward the mournful sounds emanating from the end of the hall. Had she really expected cooperation and common sense? She could only hope that Angel would snap out of it. Some days he didn’t talk at all. She just sat across from him and watched him pretend to sleep in her presence. He was just waiting for her to make a mistake. There were times he seemed to remember things and responded to the sound of her voice as she told him stories about their time together.

Angel listened as if the sounds soothed him. Now and then he would say something, a name or a few random words that made Buffy think he might be getting better. He drank the blood she brought, but it sustained rather than healed him. After he fed—something that tended to turn her stomach—Angel was often lucid enough to string a few confusing sentences together. He looked at her as if gazing at someone who looked vaguely familiar, a face not quite as clear as it should be.

“Buffy?” he would ask each time as if it was the first. In a sad sort of way, she looked forward to a fresh start because he never seemed to recall that she occasionally had to knock him out just to keep him in line.

Knowing that Cordelia was far more likely to ignore her concerns, Buffy followed along behind with a silent prayer that bringing her here would do more than agitate Angel further. “Please let this work.”

With the click-clack of her high heels on the wooden floor, Cordelia entered the living room. Yet another irony considering it was the home of an undead vampire, she noted looking around for him. A huge stone fireplace full of cold ashes took up half of one wall. Broken furniture, random items, and an overturned couch blocked her path into the room. Other signs of Slayer versus vampire foes at work, perhaps, or was this all feral Angel wrecking his former home?

A quick glance around the room did not reveal him. All she saw were long heavy chains bolted to the stonework. They disappeared into a recessed corner darkened by shadows. “Angel?”

Everything came rushing back the moment he stepped into the light. Each tear she had shed over the loss of him. The physical pain that nearly broke her after he was gone. No matter her fears, or natural aversion to vampires, Cordelia’s underlying feelings had never changed. She loved him, whether or not magic played a part.

Garbed only in a pair of black pants clinging precariously to his hips, Angel stood watching her with the unblinking stare of a predator locking onto its prey. His vampiric features were a little sharper than usual, his torso defined as if he had spent the last few months at a gym instead of another dimension. Hot—but drooling over the eye candy was not why she was here, Cordelia reminded herself hastily before announcing, “It’s me.”

Another step closer caused the chains to rattle against each other as they shifted. The sharp features morphed into the familiar handsome face she saw in her dreams every night. Soulful brown eyes stared deeply into hers full of emotions too numerous to name. Cordelia clutched at her stomach trying to curtail the rush of butterflies taking flight there. The part of her brain that wasn’t distracted by nervous excitement noted that Angel also looked haggard as if he was clinging to the last shred of what he used to be.

Tired—so very tired—and desperate for something he seemed to have finally found, Angel held out a hand as if to discover if the figure in front of him was real. “Cordelia?”

The advice about keeping her distance pinged in the back of her mind before one forward step led to another and another until she was running into his arms. “Angel, Angel!”

“Wait!” Buffy called out too late watching as Cordelia practically flung herself into Angel’s open arms. As crazed as he had been from time to time she half expected an instant vampire attack with his fangs at her throat ferociously rending the flesh to get at her human blood. It wouldn’t be the first time he had tried such a thing since his return during the worst of it.

Approaching cautiously, Buffy tried to wait it out hoping that the cheerleader’s presence would jar Angel out of his state of confusion. That place had changed him. He seemed lost and barely responded to his own name during the times he retreated into his thoughts. Even on the good days, when her face looked familiar, the recognition sounded full of regrets.

Angel used to look at her like this, full of longing and hope, as if he had found a ray of sunshine in his otherwise dark existence. Not since his return had she seen such an expression. Having him look at Cordelia that way ate away at her. It was something at least. He knew her. Said her name with a reverent tone, “Cordy,” making it sound like everything lost to him had just been given back.

Reaching up, Cordelia’s fingertips mapped his handsome face noting its angular appearance. Buffy half expected an inquiry. What had he been doing all these months in that hell dimension that caused such a change? Was he tortured? Forced to fight monstrous creatures? How had he escaped? All the same questions Buffy had asked without getting much of a response. He was confused about everything even the length of time he had been away.

The blitz of questions never came. Instead, Cordelia kissed him.

The vampire’s arms enveloped her. Ignoring the chinking of the chains, Cordelia wound her own arms tightly around Angel’s waist and pressed her damp cheek against his hard chest. Countless moments passed as Buffy watched them from across the room. A flash of jealousy was drowned out by the wave of relief she felt as Angel recognized Cordelia. The past three weeks had been so difficult on her own as she tried to fix things.

Though Buffy had clothed him and brought him pig’s blood, it was not enough. Despite the fact that he was less feral in her presence now than he was before, she realized that Angel was missing something vital to his complete recovery. His periodic lucidity would see-saw with the animalistic behavior. Not knowing what else to do, Buffy simply sat and talked to him as if catching him up on the events he had missed while out of town. Way out of town, as it was.

It had seemed to be working. Angel would actually pay attention to her during some of the stories. Especially when the subject involved Cordelia’s latest antics. After each one of those tales, he would return to a near fugue state. Recently, he started calling out for Cordelia and Buffy realized that the cheerleader was the necessary factor.

Buffy’s broken heart had never healed and now it looked like it was going to stay that way. She could not turn her eyes away as Angel’s hands came up to cup Cordy’s head to gently tilt her face upward. They stared at each other like long-lost lovers, which Buffy supposed they were in a way. Then the kissing began. Not just friendly kissing. Or the lets-kiss-it-better kissing. Not even I-missed-you kissing. No, this was mind-numbing passion kind of kissing that left Buffy gasping at them in the wake of its intensity.

“Angel?” Cordelia pulled back from the haze of lust that was washing over her. She remembered that they were not alone. Nor was this truly Angelus. “What is it, Angel? Tell me what you need.”

One hand dropped to her hip, pulling Cordelia closer and holding her against the hardness of his groin. The other toyed with the curling strands of her upswept hair that had fallen to cover the permanent scar on her throat. Though her eyes widened a bit at the thought as his gaze hovered there, Cordelia recognized the need that was burning from the depths of his gaze. She smoothed the hair on the back of his neck and held him.

“My blood?” Cordelia was whispering as she drew him down. “Just do it, Angel. Take it.”

Buffy nearly had a stroke as she watched Cordelia Chase encourage a vampire to bite her. This wasn’t Angelus, it was Angel! Something deep inside the Slayer commanded her to stop this. It was wrong. So wrong. The stake was in her hands— how did that get there? She couldn’t let this happen could she? Then Buffy recalled that this wasn’t the first time.

Angel’s human face vanished with the instant shifting of bone revealing his true demonic visage. Unaware of anything except the pulsing hum of blood in the vessels beneath the mark, Angel clamped down on her neck with his mouth running his tongue along the scar tissue. Then, a second later, he bit down with his fangs.

“Oh, God! Cordy!” The cry left Buffy’s throat at the sound of the girl’s painful moan. It had to hurt. Moving forward, she stopped only when Cordelia waved her off. Watching again, Buffy slumped down onto the overturned couch dropping the stake to the ground.

The pain seemed to have stopped, Buffy noted sourly. Cordelia was now clutching Angel and was sounding out little mewls of pleasure. The vampire was rhythmically grinding his erection along the girl’s lower belly mimicking sex. Mimicking? Buffy thought about it and disregarded the idea. It was sex. Vamp sex.

Feeling a little dizzy, Cordelia tugged on the vampire’s ears. Angel retracted his fangs slowly, but continued to lap at her neck until the trail of blood stopped. Picking her up, he was now rocking against her groin despite the barrier of his pants and her panties, her legs winding around his waist as she moved to increase the friction between them. Angel stayed there in the crook of her neck until he heard Cordelia let out a soft wail of pleasure as she climaxed in his arms. His head tilted back as an orgasmic cry barreled from his throat. Eventually, when Cordelia’s heart rate had slowed, Angel looked up to see her smiling at him with that bright toothy grin of hers that brought sunshine into the darkness.

The human face was on again, though Cordelia did not find it necessary. In fact, it made her remember that this was Angel and not Angelus. He belonged to Buffy despite what had just happened. The vampire was distraught. He’d just returned from hell. No doubt the Slayer had been feeding him pig’s blood. He couldn’t heal properly on that diet.

“Cordelia?” He seemed more lucid now. Cupping her face again, he leaned in to press a soft smooch across her mouth. And another. “Thank you.”

She trembled in his arms. “Anytime. Liquid lunch, that’s me!”

The softly sardonic laughter that sounded from nearby caught the vampire’s attention. “Buffy?”

The Slayer realized that he just noticed her presence. Getting to her feet, she walked over to the pair who were still entangled in each other’s arms. “I’m here for you, Angel. In any way that I can be— except lunch. Cordy can handle that one.”

Angel suddenly found himself staring back and forth between Buffy and Cordelia. This was not right. He loved Buffy. He needed Cordelia. Confusion returned as the vampire called upon his memory. It seemed he had been so long without them.

Reaching out, his fingers touched the Slayer’s flushed cheek. “Things are confusing. I’m remembering. I-I-I killed Jenny Calendar.”

“It was Angelus,” Buffy took his hand to press a comforting kiss into the palm. “Not you Angel. It was Angelus that did those things.”

Killing the computer teacher had been the least of the sins committed while the soul was out of the picture, Angel realized. The worst of it had been focused on these two young women. “Buffy, the things I said to you that night after we made love—”

“Not you,” she stressed. “I love you, Angel. Nothing’s changed that. Nothing.”

“I love you too,” Angel responded wholeheartedly. Then he realized that it wasn’t with his whole heart. Just minutes before, he had renewed his claim on Cordelia Chase and brought them both to a crashing climax with the Slayer observing the whole thing. “Oh, Buffy! You saw that. I-it was— I can explain it.”

Staving off further discussion on the subject, Buffy quickly said, “No, I get it.”

The cheerleader had listened to their declarations of love with a heavy heart. She felt very much like the other woman in a bad soap opera. Inching her way out of Angel’s embrace, she tried to step away to a comfortable distance. The vampire snatched her back again. He seemed surprised by the action and released her almost as quickly.

“Sorry, Cordy.”

“Don’t,” Cordelia did not want to hear an apology.

“I have to say it,” Angel pleaded. “What happened between us—”

“Willow’s spell,” Buffy prompted.

Angel looked confused again for a second. “No. Not the spell. From the moment we met and even before then, Cordy, some part of me wanted you. It’s the reason I pursued you like a madman once the soul was gone.”

While Buffy reacted to this confession with renewed denial of what she had seen between them so long ago at the Bronze, Cordelia sensed the coming of the conjunction, “But I still love Buffy.”

Of course he did. Had she expected anything different? “I know,” Cordy whispered the acknowledgement.

“Can you forgive me, Cordelia?” Angel needed to hear the words, but there were others he also needed to witness. “Forget the pain I’ve caused? Forget what’s happened between us?”

“No!” Cordelia cried out in denial. Her eyes were bright with tears as a crazed look appeared on her face.

Angel quaked with the intensity of the response. Clarifying, “You won’t forgive me?”

Staring at the floor, Cordelia’s shoulders slumped with the power of her sigh. Then she met his gaze again, sounding irritated. “No, dumbass! There is nothing to forgive.”

“Yes, there is.”

“No, there’s not.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, but figured she would let this one go on uninterrupted. Obviously, they had serious issues to work out before there was ever going to be a ‘Buffy and Angel Show’ again.

Cordelia smirked as Angel fell silent. “I win! Cordy six points, Vamp zero.”

Pressing a finger to her lips to silence her, Angel quipped, “Looks like I get the point after.”

“Since when do you know football?” Cordelia looked flabbergasted, now completely sidetracked.

“Since watching most of your games from the shadows,” he admitted. Not only as Angelus.

“Oh.”

“Obsessed madman, remember?” Angel’s mouth quirked into a grin. Geez, that made him look hot! “Now— back to my point.”

Glancing over at Buffy, the cheerleader decided that she could not pass up this probably one time opportunity to share her feelings with Angel. “Without your soul, you’ve been yourself again, Angel. I’m sorry if that scares you, but it’s true. I couldn’t give you the chance to turn me, so I had no choice but to end it between us.”

Saying nothing, Angel let her continue. They had a lot to discuss on that subject, but this wasn’t the time for it. Maybe it was best if he let his head clear, gather his thoughts first before explaining how things would have to be. Quietly, he listened.

“You haven’t been human for a long time,” she said softly. “You are a vampire with all the dark and nasty habits of your kind, but that doesn’t mean you are stuck in a time warp forced to be the same person for eternity.”

Buffy blinked in consternation. The other girl’s words were making her feel shallow at the thought that she had tried so hard to forget Angel was a vampire. She had tried so hard to make him forget it.

“The soul is a blessing, Angel,” added Cordelia. “It’s not a curse unless you make it one. You can experience every human emotion that your nature suppresses. I want you to be happy. I’m glad that you have your soul back again.”

Suddenly, he was hugging her again. Pulling her into his arms just to feel her body next to his. Whispering against her hair, “Cordy the philosopher.”

Ignoring the teasing words, Cordelia hit the palm of her hand against his chest. “Don’t be such a dumbass. My point is simple, Angel. I still love you.”

Unable to stop herself from commenting, Buffy mumbled, “Willow did that.”

Cordelia didn’t think so. She had always had some sort of feelings for him. Maybe the spell sent them into overdrive, but they felt real to her. Still, “If that is the result of Willow’s magic, then I owe her something special.”

They were kissing again, Buffy noted while blowing at the wisp of hair that kept falling into her eyes. After Cordy’s little speech, she almost felt like cheering them on. But not quite.

“I don’t deserve you,” Angel pressed a slow soft smooch against the beauty mark on Cordelia’s cheek.

“Yes you do,” sighed Cordelia leaning into him.

Angel countered softly into her ear, “No, I—”

That was it, Buffy decided. “Enough!”

Jerking apart, Angel and Cordelia felt a blast of guilt. Once again they had forgotten that they were not alone. “This is weird,” Buffy roared. “I want to scratch somebody’s eyes out. Just not sure who.”

Angel started to look distressed again. “I-I think I need to be alone for a while.”

“Brooding isn’t gonna help,” Cordelia told him. “Look, Angel. No, Buffy please let me speak. Angel, I told you that I love you. That was the truth. I-I don’t know how you feel about me. I was dating Angelus. I broke up with Angelus. Just think of it that way.”

Wanting to protest that they had not been dating and that he had claimed her, Angel realized that Cordelia was giving him an easy way out of a potentially messy situation. At least for tonight. What felt like eons in hell was a breeze compared to this.

“Should I unchain you now?” Buffy asked the vampire.

“No!” Angel needed the security of knowing that he couldn’t go after Cordelia tonight. A thought occurred to him suddenly, one that shook him to the core of his being. Blood and orgasms had been had with Cordelia again, but this time with his soul in place. Hearing her declarations of love had left him feeling pretty damn blissful, even if for a moment. What if it happened again— losing his soul?

“Okay.” Buffy sent Cordelia a worried look. This was the longest he had gone without falling back into his emotional wallowing. Now the vampire was again crouched down on the floor.

“We’re going, Angel,” Cordelia ran her hand through his hair rasping her nails across the nape of his neck.

Buffy told him, “But we’ll be back tomorrow after school.”

“Tomorrow,” he nodded. God, he hoped there was a tomorrow. Rising up onto his knees, he grabbed them by their slender wrists. Standing again, he said, “Wait.”

In for a penny— the thought trailed off as he pulled first Buffy and then Cordelia toward him. “Just one kiss goodbye.”

Buffy had enough of goodbye kisses. This was the first chance she had to really say hello in a good way since Angel had spent so much time confused and uncertain of his identity much less hers. She put all the love and passion she possessed into the kiss as Angel’s lips met hers. Golly, he sure can kiss! She felt it down to her toes. Reluctantly, she broke away. Just one kiss, he’d said. She wanted more.

“You don’t have to,” Cordelia touched his face. The vampire wanted to laugh realizing that she thought he was doing her a favor. He whispered, “Yes, I do.”

“No, you—” He stopped her protest with a kiss of sublime beauty. Tender and passionate in its softness it sent shudders through them both. His tongue rasped across Cordelia’s lower lip causing a tiny gasp of pleasure. Then his mouth pressed closer opening hers to admit him inside for a deeper taste. As they slowly parted, their lips brushed against each other until Cordelia took Angel’s lower lip into her mouth sucking on it for the briefest moment before pulling away.

“I think that was more than one,” Buffy commented as she watched Angel release the girl from his hold. With a short laugh, the vampire took Buffy’s face in his hands and leaned down to kiss her nose.

“There,” he said. “You’re even.”

Cordelia giggled at the sight of Buffy’s gaping mouth. “Geez, Summers! You look like a fish with you mouth hanging open that way.

Planning to be irritated, Buffy found herself laughing instead. “Goodnight, Angel.”

“Goodnight, Buffy. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah. Tomorrow.”

The two teenagers giggled giddily all the way to the car. It was only when they were inside that a strange silence settled over them. They stared at each other for awkward moments until Buffy and Cordelia finally broke down into tears simultaneously. They flung their arms around each other into a hug that demonstrated their belief that prayers really could be answered.

“He’s back, Buffy! Angel is really here.” Cordelia sobbed.

Buffy was also crying. “I know! I know! It’s really a miracle.”

Finally, they settled back into their seats. The cheerleader wanted to know, “What now? What happens next?”

Thinking about it, Buffy admitted, “I think we’re overdue for a Scooby Meeting.”

“Thank God!” Cordelia let out a sigh of relief. “I was afraid I was going to have to keep this a secret.”


SOULBOUND – BOOK ONE – THE FIRST CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS

Book One Chapter 5                    Book One Home                    Book One Chapter 7


 

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