Soulbound – Book 1: Chapter 9


The Connections Trilogy_Soulbound_1


The First Connection

Chapter 9

The pending apocalypse must come to pass as preordained. The triangle must be broken before Chaos reigns in Sunnydale. Should it continue, the Hellmouth will open and the Slayer will fall. Our Seer-to-be will lose her humanity, and the Warrior will never prove himself a champion to our cause.

Angel sat in his study, feet propped up on the desk while reading one of the old first editions from his collections. Its tone echoed his usual dark brooding, but that seemed to have passed during these past months with Buffy and Cordelia. Something akin to true happiness edged at his thoughts on a frequent basis.

The ever observant Watchers kept a close eye on Cordelia, constantly looking for bite marks and bruises, pain and pallor. Willow’s spell created a connection where abstention was not a likely possibility. Other than a new penchant for silk scarves, which quickly caught on at Sunnydale High as the latest fashion trend, Queen C appeared healthy and happy.

He mused that the two Brits should have looked to their own Slayer, but they seemed to be grateful that Buffy had not abandoned the Hellmouth again. The expected mourning period over the loss of her vampire boyfriend to Cordelia Chase came and went so fast that neither Watcher was certain it existed. If, in the backs of their busy minds, they were suspicious of the blooming friendship between the two girls and the looks they sent in Angel’s direction, both remained in a state of denial.

Turning the page on his novel, Angel’s ears perked up at the almost imperceptible sound of footsteps crossing the living room. Then he felt a presence in the mansion, one that he should have sensed long before now.

“Hello, Peaches!” Spike leant against the doorframe. “Miss me?”

As both of his women were currently at Willow’s house and not at the mansion, Angel remained a picture of relaxation. “Can’t say that I’ve given your absence much thought.”

Spike clasped his chest with one black-nailed hand, looking completely hurt and mocking his grandsire with an acerbic response. When it did not draw Angel into an argument, Spike opted for another question. “So when did you get the blasted soul back? Thought you’d gotten rid of that thing.”

Closing his book, Angel saw that he wasn’t going to get anymore reading done today. “I was re-cursed by Willow Rosenberg.”

“That one of the Slayers pals? The cute little redhead. Yeah, I remember her now.” Spike hadn’t given the chit much of a look-see at the time what with other distractions around. “You saying she’s a witch? Did you rip out her throat or can I do it for you?”

Angel rolled his eyes in a perfect imitation of his mate. “Willow is under my protection.”

“What?” Spike sauntered further into the room. “Another pet? Don’t know what’s come over you, Angelus. Even without the soul you went all wonky on us. Obsessing over that cheerleader. At least the world didn’t end. Gave it your best shot, though.”

A growl started deep in Angel’s chest at the reference to Cordelia, rising louder until it finally caught Spike’s attention. The blond vamp noted his grandsire’s irritation, but did not place the cause, figuring that his presence alone might generate it. Plunking himself down in a leather chair, Spike brought his dusty black-booted feet up to the top of the desk mimicking Angel’s position.

“Comfy.” Spike looked it. “Figured that the mansion might be abandoned. I been hanging out back at the old factory, but decided to come here when I remembered that you fixed up the place.”

“You’re not staying.”

“Don’t be so quick to decide, you old poof!” Spike had that pained expression down to an art form.

Angel glowered at the other vampire. Then he realized that his irritating grandchilde had come alone. Placing his feet back on the floor, he leaned across the desk to demand the truth. “Where is Drusilla?”

“She left me,” Spike’s true emotions came through as despair shadowed his blue eyes. “I don’t understand it, Angel. The worthless little trollop left me.”

“Every now and then Dru does have a moment of lucidity,” Angel pointed out. “Looks like she finally realized what I knew all along.”

“What’s that?” Spike couldn’t stop himself from asking.

“That you’re a wastrel,” Angel answered with a sneer. “A master vampire without a shred of real ambition other than your penchant for killing Slayers.”

“What’s wrong with that?” The defensive questions came with a glare. “Just look at your own undead life, Peaches. The soul keeps you locked away from your own kind. You’re a pariah. What keeps you here if it’s not a penchant for Slayers?”

Angel sat back in his leather chair. He ignored the question in favor of asking one of his own. “Why are you back in Sunnydale? Can’t be me. You conspired against me, Spike, to stop Acathla. Conspired with the Slayer you have been so hot to kill.”

‘How the bloody hell did you know that?” Spike launched himself out of his chair to pace the room. “That honeyed bitch! Slayer likes to kiss and tell.” The resulting growl caused him to clarify it. “Tell anyway. I haven’t been kissed by that luscious mouth, though she has certainly kissed mine… with her fists.”

That’s more like it, Angel smirked.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Angel redirected him. “Why are you back?”

“In Sunnyhell? It was the last place Dru and I were together. I hoped she would leave that demon she ran off with and come back to me.”

“I’d say you sounded pathetic,” Angel commented, “but I can’t laugh at your feelings for Dru. As much as you hated me, you loved and cared for her.”

“Didn’t hate you, Angelus,” Spike admitted. “Not until you got that bloody soul. Not until you abandoned us to your bitch of a sire. Lucky for us Darla took off quick enough after she booted your ass out of her bed.”

The memories stirred the old ache in Angel’s chest, the dark brooding about his past that kept his soul secure when Cordelia wasn’t around. The thought of her was sobering to the vampire who realized that he wanted Spike gone before she returned to the mansion. She was living with him now whenever her parents were out of town, a frequent occurrence.

“You’re not staying,” Angel reiterated.

Spike leaned over the desk to argue his point, and then picked up a familiar scent on the elder vampire. His blue eyes wide with shock, Spike sat down sharply in the chair behind him. “It’s not just the cheerleader you’re shagging, it’s the Slayer, too.”

Angel furiously rose out of his chair facing the other vampire in full game face. “Get out, Spike.”

“Oh, ho! So it’s true. Bloody hell, Angel. You always did have all the luck with women,” Spike sighed. Taking no notice of his grandsire’s order to leave, he put his feet back up on the desk. “Got some balls on you banging the Slayer. A right nut-cruncher is that one. Wouldn’t mind a whirl if you had her chained up.”

Barely restraining an urge to dust the impertinent vampire, Angel’s growling had become a steady rumble. “Spike,” he sounded another warning.

“Now the cheerleader,” Spike grinned as the memory of Cordelia Chase’s luscious curves came to mind. “Good with her hands, she is. Really good. Oy! That luscious mouth, too. Almost got to see those pretty lips wrapped around my cock.”

Spike had no time to react as Angel launched himself across the desk. Landing hard, the chair toppled over, taking both vampires with it. While Angel’s fists pummeled Spike’s face, the blond vampire recalled that the cheerleader had been the cause of Angelus’ little tirade nearly a year ago. Severe beatings of himself and Drusilla had followed the chit’s little break-up message. It had not come with Spike revealing that he dared to touch his grandsire’s human pet. Though he figured Angelus could tell, Spike never verbally admitted the fact until now.

Blasted liquor! Can’t keep your own trap shut because you’re drunk, Spike thought as Angel continued to pound him into the floor. The larger vampire grabbed him by the shirt-front jerking him to his feet.

Seething, Angel decided his grandchilde had gotten the point. “Don’t ever touch what is mine. Especially her, understand? Keep your hands to yourself. Don’t even look at her.”

“Can’t stop me thinking about shagging your chit.”

“I’ll know. I won’t like it,” he promised darkly.

Chuckling at the all too serious tone, Spike warned him, “Too late. Already done that and more a few dozen times. Quality wanks every one of them.”

“Never again, Spike. Not her.”

The bastard was serious, Spike realized, as if he could prevent him from fantasizing over anyone. Angelus could always read him like a book. “Fine, she’s sacrosanct. Get off me.” Spike brushed himself off when Angel stepped away ignoring the pain of the punches delivered by his grandsire. Bloody hell! The obsession was still on. “Slayer know about your little pet?”

“Cordelia is not my pet,” Angel decided to tell him. It was the only way Spike would get the picture. “She is my mate.”

That might make sense if it was Angelus he was talking to, not the Soul. “So you finally turned the chit.”

Just when Spike got over his initial shock, Angel told him that Cordelia Chase was not a vampire, “No, she is still human.”

After a moment of silence, Spike burst out laughing. “Bloody hell, Peaches. I thought I was love’s bitch, but looks like you win the kewpie doll.”

“I like Cordelia the way she is,” Angel explained that turning her would take away some of her essence.

“For now,” Spike guffawed at the idea. “Until those tits start to sag and her skin wrinkles up into a dried prune. You’ll never let that happen, Peaches, and you know it. Maybe you will let her ripen a bit more since she’s still young, but you’ll turn her. I’m certain of it.”

“Shut up,” warned Angel. He was feeling like pounding a little more sense into Spike’s blond head. “Cordelia is mine!”

“You’re like a broken record,” Spike told him. “Mine, mine, mine. At least you have your woman. Drusilla is somewhere in South America shacking up with a chaos demon.”

When he put it like that, Angel almost felt sorry for his grandchilde. “You’re still not going to stay at the mansion, Spike.”

“Peaches!” There was a plea in his tone. He didn’t want to be alone at the factory. Spike had not been alone since before his first days as a fledgling. Drusilla had been a part of him for all of his undead existence. “I won’t bother you and the chit. Shag all you want. I promise not to interrupt.”

“Go.”

“You have all of this space!”

“Go.”

“You’re my grandsire!”

“Go.”

“Bloody hell, Peaches, you’re so damn stubborn.” Spike finally gave up. Turning toward the door, he gestured his goodbye.

Back at the factory, Spike opened up another bottle of whiskey. If he had to be alone in this rat trap, then he would damn well be drunk enough not to care.

That bitch Drusilla, his black goddess, his dark beauty, his sweet loony sire. It was all her fault he was here alone. Fell out of love with him. Said he’d gone soft because he made a truce with the Slayer. That was when Dru turned to that horned chaos demon. That horny chaos demon. That horny horned chaos demon.

Whoa! He wasn’t thinking straight. Couldn’t even stand straight. Spike collapsed on the floor, falling on his ass.

“Our love was eternal,” he broadcast to the empty room. “S-she needs to forget the horny horny demon and come back to me.”

What would make her come back? Angel had come back. A spell made him come back. He was re-cursed, that’s what he said. Yup! He said it was magic. That little redheaded witchery witch with the casting of the, uh… spell. She made him come back with her magic. She could make Drusilla come back too.

As Spike passed out on the floor, he did so with a drunken grin. At last, he had a plan for getting Drusilla back. All he needed was the help of the Slayer’s little pal. Whether she wanted to give it or not.

After Spike’s departure, Angel attempted to resume reading only to find his mind was preoccupied by the seed of doubt his grandchilde had planted in his head. Spike seemed certain. He had said as much that Angel would turn Cordelia, that his own demon nature would demand it of him. It was not an idle threat, but closer to a measure of truth. He knew it. Angel even suspected that Cordelia knew it. There was time yet. Lots of time before that ever became an issue.

So he thought.

Within twenty-four hours, Spike’s plan to procure a love potion to win back Drusilla would not only wreck havoc on their lives, but their hearts as well. The blond vampire’s sudden kidnapping of Willow Rosenberg made Angel realize that his grandchilde would have been far better off under his watchful eye at the manor. Too late, the damage had already been done.

Spike was using Xander Harris as leverage to force Willow into mixing the potion. She was scared of the vampire, but tried to hold up for Xander’s sake. The drunken vampire was distraught and looked to Willow for some small measure of comfort, promptly denied to him. So the vamp settled for a heart-to-undead-heart chat with the chit.

Then Spike found himself raiding the local magic shop to search for the right spell stuff. Found by Angel and the Slayer, they met in an awkward standoff. Spike had something they wanted and Willow could make something he needed. Once he had the potion, Spike promised to leave town. After all, he just wanted Drusilla back.

It seemed simple enough for a kidnapping and ransom until one of Spike’s old colleagues showed up with his gang of vamps looking for a little trouble finding it in the form of a petite blond Slayer. Imagine Angel and him and the Slayer fighting side by side? What a riot! Yet it actually happened. If Spike kept a diary, this would be a doozy of an entry. Funny what you think about when you’re still drunk!

One thing was obvious to Spike as he watched Angel and the Slayer. The sexual tension between those two was thick enough to cut with a knife, until the cheerleader appeared to ease it. She breezed into the magic shop just at the end of the battle to cover Angel and Buffy in hugs and kisses. If it wasn’t for Spike’s presence, the vampire felt certain that the cheerleader would have had the two of them naked and writhing on the floor.

Instead dishing out hugs and kisses to Spike, Cordelia Chase gave him a scolding complete with the hard pinching of his ear. She demanded to know where Willow and Xander were being held, stating that surely even he wasn’t stupid enough to keep them at the factory. Sheepishly, Spike admitted that they were there having been too drunk to come up with a better place.

Rubbing his tortured ear, Spike grinned widely and told the chit, “You’ll make a helluva vampire, luv.”

The four of them arrived at the old factory carting a spell and ingredients. Opening the door, they found the captives sitting together on the corner cot with their faces pressed together. Kissing! Willow and Xander were kissing and it took more than the noise of the door opening to alert them that they were no longer alone.

“Bloody hell, Red!” Spike protested at the sight. Looked like everyone in Sunnydale had a better love life than him. But not for long. “Just call me Cupid.”

Willow Rosenberg came to the conclusion that the kidnapping had been very eye-opening for a number of reasons. Xander finally saw her as more important to himself than being just a best friend. Spike realized that he didn’t want to rely on a potion to get back Dru’s love. Willow had some previous experience with love spells that suggested he might want another approach. But there was one piece of information Spike leaked out during his drunken heart-to-heart that Willow realized had been obvious for almost a year.

Denial gave way to acceptance as Willow thought back over the past months. Angel and Cordelia’s connection had grown strong since they first acknowledged its presence. They were mates in every sense of the word excepting that Cordy was still human. Willow now realized that not only had she been naive and stupid in using her magick upon the pair, she was blind too.

Blind to the truth. Spike’s revelation was so blatant that Willow knew it to be true. “Just you and me, Red, except for droopy boy over there. Xander doesn’t count. What is it Red? Why do we get left out of all the fun?”

Willow didn’t really care as long as Spike left Xander alone. He was still unconscious from the aftermath of Spike’s attack. Still nervous, Willow noticed the way Spike kept looking at her neck.

“Angel is greedy. Doesn’t wanna share what’s his,” Spike told her. “Not with William the Bloody.”

“Who?”

“Me.”

The witch recalled that Spike had previously possessed another moniker. Until his use of railroad spikes as a favorite weapon garnered him a new nickname. “Oh. Yeah.”

“Mm! You smell really good,” Spike leaned into Willow’s neck. “I haven’t had a woman in weeks. Unless you count that salesgirl at the magic shop… and I don’t.”

“Eep!”

“My greedy bastard of a grandsire doesn’t like to share his women. Kicked me out of the mansion.” Spike told her.

Willow was distracted by the way he kept sniffing at her neck. “W-women?”

“Gotta wonder, Red. Why aren’t you there too?” Playing with the silky strands of her hair, Spike licked at the outer shell of her ear. “Strawberries and cream. Fruity and spicy with just a touch of vanilla cream just the way Peaches likes them.”

“P-peaches?” Willow was trying not to respond to the way his tongue kept lapping at her throat.

“Angel,” he clarified. “The way he likes his women. Gotta say, he always did have great taste in women, especially my Dru.”

Quickly reminding him that Drusilla was the reason they were all there, Willow pulled away from Spike, patting him on the knee. “You’ll get her back. A handsome vamp like you. No problem.”

Spike fell for her distraction, but was still fixated on the way his grandsire failed to share. “All I wanted was a place at the mansion. Renew the old blood ties despite the soul. I figured Angel and I had something in common, we’d both been kicked out by our sires. Him because he had a soul. Me because I helped the Slayer.”

Willow had never gotten all of the details from Buffy on that strange truce. The vampire seemed to be missing his family ties. Feeling a little sorry for him, Willow suggested, “Maybe Angel will reconsider if you let us go. Be a good vamp and maybe he’ll trust you.”

“Nah! He already warned me to stay away from you, Red.”

“He did?”

Spike nodded. “You’re under his protection. That’s why I asked the reason you’re not at the mansion.”

“C-Cordelia stays there with Angel,” Willow pointed out, “when her parents are out of town. She’s his mate. My fault, really. Botched a spell.”

Frowning, Spike commented, “You better not botch this one, luv.”

“Nope. Had more practice since then.”

“Still doesn’t answer my question about you,” Spike continued to persist. “Angel’s collection would be complete. Blonde, brunette, redhead. Lucky vamp.”

Willow’s eyes widened as Spike’s prattling finally started to make sense. “Blonde? You mean Buffy?”

“Who the fuck else would I be talking about?”

With a shrug, Willow figured he was referring to Angel and Buffy’s former relationship as vampire and girlfriend. When Spike heard it, he fell back on the bed, laughing heartily. “You don’t know! You don’t know! How the hell did Peaches keep this one a secret from that bloody Watcher?”

“Watchers… plural. We have two now,” Willow pointed out with a frown.

Leaping up off the bed, Spike spun around with a grin on his face. “Even better, Red.”

“W-what secret?”

Leaning down, capturing Willow’s thin shoulders, Spike was only inches from her face as he spoke. “My poof of a sire has been shagging both the cheerleader and your precious Slayer.”

“T-that’s impossible,” Willow denied it. “Angel can’t be with Buffy that way. He’d lose his soul.”

“Looks like love found a way, pet,” Spike was enjoying her torment. “He was drenched in their scent. The two of them.”

“Oh?,” Willow’s cry died out as the world went black.

“Red?” Damn! The chit fainted.

No sooner had Willow Rosenberg watched the taillights of Spike’s car disappear into the night than she had made her excuses to her friends. Buffy, Cordelia and Angel would see Xander got home without a hitch. She had somewhere else she needed to be. Angel’s offer to see her safely to her destination resulted in a clipped refusal.

It was late, very late by the time Willow reached the door of Rupert Giles modest home. She pressed her finger on the doorbell and kept it there until the librarian responded. He had already gone to bed if his obvious bed hair was any indication. Wrapped in a robe, he was yawning as he opened the door.

“Willow?”

Barging past him, Willow did not wait for an invitation. “We have to talk.”

So they had. Long enough for Giles to get the point just before the doorbell rang again. This time, it was Angel. Giles went with his first reaction, curling his fist and crashing it into the surprised vampire’s face. The stinging punch set him back a bit, but did not knock Angel off his feet.

Instead, he looked stunned as the former Watcher lit into him. “You bloody bastard! You lecherous, cradle-robbing demon!”

When Giles suddenly began stuttering wildly, Angel took the opportunity to enter the house, saying, “So you know.”

“W-willow has just informed me.”

The witch waved a guilty hand at the vampire. Then commented, “You followed me.”

“Buffy wanted to make sure you were safe.”

“I’m safe,” Willow showed him her serious face. “I thought Giles should know what you are doing to Buffy and Cordelia.”

Angel countered, “It’s not his business. Or yours.”

Waving a pointing finger, Giles glared at the vampire with all the hatred he could muster. “Buffy is my business. I may no longer be her Watcher, but I am her friend.”

“Be her friend,” Angel suggested. “Leave this alone. She’s happy. We’re happy.”

“Not too happy?” Willow pitched in.

Giving her a lopsided grin, Angel shook his head. “Wesley’s theory was on-target. Cordy secures my soul as long as we’re together. Buffy and I have found a little happiness with her help.”

“Eew! Eew! Eew!” Willow cringed at the image in her head. “Eew times three!”

“How did you find out?” Angel asked her.

“Spike.” She couldn’t think of a reason for not telling him. “He was drunk.”

Angel was seething. Good thing his wayward grandchilde was already on his way out of the country. “So you decided to dart right over to the faithful watchdog. Willow, haven’t you learned about the dangers of interfering with me and mine?”

Eep! Turning red at the thought, Willow tried to stand her ground. “This isn’t about me. I think it’s wrong, Angel. You and Buffy and Cordelia.”

“Jealous?” Angel’s dark eyebrow quirked upward as he took a step closer. “Maybe you need a repeat of your lesson from the library.”

“N-no!”

Giles had no clue what lesson the vampire referred to, but it was clear that the thought of it upset Willow. “Enough. Let’s deal with this situation on an adult level. No more hitting or taunting. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Angel nodded soberly.

Willow promised nothing, just glared up at the vampire.

They all sat on the couch. Giles and Angel were on the left and right with Willow in the center as the barrier between them. Both men had glasses of scotch while she settled for ice water. It was not a pleasant position to be in, but it seemed to keep the peace.

“I had long accepted the fact,” Giles began, “that your bond with Cordelia would require you to maintain a relationship despite the fact that it was Angelus who initiated the ritual of mating.”

“She is mine!”

Noting the subtle growl that accompanied the statement of ownership, Giles continued to make his point. “Buffy has no such connection, Angel. There is nothing forcing you to corrupt her in this manner. She is still just a girl, not quite eighteen, despite the fact that her experience as a Slayer has caused some aspects of her life to mature more rapidly than others.”

“I love Buffy,” the vampire assured him.

“I won’t ask if she still loves you in return,” Giles said. “That is obvious considering all she sacrificed to remain with you.”

Angel glowered. “Sacrificed?”

Taking a swallow of his scotch, Giles recalled the old saying about love being blind. “I admit that Buffy seems happy. For now. What happens later?”

“We’re doing this one day at a time, Rupert. No one knows what will happen. We lead dangerous lives and deserve some pleasure where we can find it.”

Giles scoffed. “You have certainly found it. More than your share.”

Only Willow’s raised hand kept Angel from reacting physically to the Watcher’s words. He caught the hand, pressing it into his thigh and keeping it there as a reminder to control his temper. If anything untoward should happen to Rupert Giles, then this whole thing would be moot. Buffy would never forgive him for it.

Flashing a nervous look in the vampire’s direction, Willow realized that Angel remained focused on Giles. The feel of the hard muscular thigh beneath her hand made her heart race a little faster. Maybe Angel was right. Maybe this was just a teensy-tiny bit akin to jealousy.

Spike’s revelation infuriated her. The audacity that he would suggest she would be a part of Angel’s Blonde, Brunette and Redhead Collection. Gosh! Wow! That sounded really naughty. S’pose the blond vampire’s nuzzling and naughty suggestions had made her horny? Was that why she had flung herself at Xander at the first opportunity with the excuse of bonding with a fellow kidnap victim?

The sudden removal of Angel’s hand made Willow realize that she had been curling her fingernails into the vampire’s thigh. If her thudding heartbeat and the moisture gathering between her thighs was any indicator, it seemed likely that his vamp senses had picked up on her arousal.

Daring to glance up, Willow found his dark gaze burrowing into hers looking for a decent explanation. “What exactly did Spike say to you, Willow?”

“D-doesn’t matter.” She slowly removed her hand hoping that Giles had not noticed what she had been doing.

“I think it does.”

“Nope.”

Giles sighed, and then gulped down the rest of his scotch. “Please leave Willow out of this. She simply carried a message that clearly needed to be delivered to me.”

“Messengers often pay the price for their wagging tongues,” Angel pointed out calmly as Willow’s eyes grew large and round.

“I thought we agreed… no threats.”

“No, Willow,” countered Angel firmly. “Giles and I agreed to end hitting and taunting, while you remained silent. Besides, this isn’t a taunt or a threat. Consider it a promise.”

“But no hitting, right?”

Angel’s mouth twitched at her nervous expression. Leaning in to whisper in her ear, “It depends.”

“Depends on what?” Willow wasn’t whispering and glanced nervously at Giles who was trying to find the appropriate words to stop this.

“On what punishment Buffy and Cordelia will dole out to their traitorous little friend. It will probably make the spanking you received at Angelus’ hand mild by comparison,” he responded in his normal voice.

“What?!” Giles exploded off of the couch and Angel had to react.

“Kidding!” Willow jumped up between them. “Angel is kidding. Aren’t you, Angel? Just trying to scare me.”

Pushing hard at the vampire, Willow forced him to sit back down. Slowly, still not quite believing it, Giles sunk into his spot on the couch. The girl was ten shades of red as she glared at Angel, thwacking him on the chest. At least the vamp hadn’t told Giles every detail about that day at the library.

He suddenly seemed stoic waiting for Giles to bring forth more evidence that he was not doing the right thing in maintaining his relationship with the two human teenagers. Spike had managed to screw things up in his usual manner. Angel could not deny that there was a grain of truth to Spike’s prediction about Cordelia or Rupert’s concern over his Slayer.

There had not been much time to brood about it, but Angel sensed there would be a lot of brooding in the days ahead. “Rupert?”

“Those girls will never have a normal life,” Giles cut in determinedly.

“You’re right.”

“What?” The former Watcher went slack-jawed. Normally, his arguments took longer to win.

“Just listen to me threatening Willow that way. She may deserve a good spanking, but it’s not something I do to people under my protection.”

Willow smiled weakly. So much for his promise, she thought with a tiny bit of regret.

Giles frowned at the girl’s reaction. “Your point?”

“The longer I am with Cordelia and Buffy, the happier I become,” Angel told them. “My soul may be secure, but my demon comes closer to the surface. Probably because I let it out to breathe now and then now knowing the threat of losing myself to it completely is over.”

Nodding his understanding, Giles related, “This was one of our deepest fears and it’s the reason why Wesley and I have been watching Cordelia so closely.”

Snorting, Willow rolled her eyes. “Not close enough!”

“Apparently not,” Giles frowned.

Angel tried not to laugh. This was his future they were talking about, dammit. “You can never understand the ties between us. Cordelia is my mate. She’s in my blood, the pure essence of her. I’m in hers. We’ve claimed each other in ways that bind us ever closer.”

“You’re soulmates,” Willow whispered as the guilt she had long ago dealt with returned.

The vampire had not heard anyone refer to the connection that way since Buffy explained its existence that evening at the mansion. “Yes, I feel it. I want her, need her, crave her in ways I cannot fathom. Even now, while we’re apart, I feel an ache in my chest that she is not by my side.”

Gulping, Willow realized the full extent of her spell-tweaking. Mind, body and spirit. A connection between the vampire and the cheerleader linked them all. Angel had seemed to be as happy with Cordy as the brunette was with him. Willow had allowed herself to believe that her interference resulted in a good thing. Especially since Buffy’s recovery seemed instantaneous. Now she knew why.

“I am not concerned as much for Cordelia as I am Buffy,” Giles admitted. “Cordelia…”

“You should be more concerned,” countered Angel, stopping Giles in mid-speech. “Buffy knows the score. She chose to continue our relationship. She accepted Cordelia’s offer to enter our bed.”

“Cordelia’s offer?” Willow gasped. That was a shocker!

Ignoring the interruption, Angel continued. “Buffy loves me as I will always love her. I cannot pretend that I would have chosen Cordelia over Buffy if the choice for a soulmate had been offered. I loved her first.”

Willow’s lip was quivering and she swiped at the tears in her eyes. Seeing this, Angel put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “Don’t be sad about it, Willow. I love Cordelia too. It took a little longer for me to wade through my feelings of lust for me to make that discovery, but it happened.”

Angel kissed the top of her head, making Willow burrow a little further into his hug. He felt so strong and comforting. She didn’t deserve that. “I’m so sorry, Angel. Did I ever tell you that?”

“About a thousand times.”

“Oh.” Willow frowned. “Guess the trauma of apologizing blocked it out.”

Observing the two embrace, Giles wanted to yank the girl away from the vampire. Even though he knew Angel would not harm Willow, the librarian was still feeling a protective vibe. Still, he wanted Angel to get on with what he was saying about Cordelia.

“Why would I need to worry about Cordy more than Buffy?” Giles prompted.

Releasing Willow, the vampire continued to hold her hand, a measure of comfort more for him than her. He rested his other arm on the back of the couch. “I told you that there are times my demon comes out to play. Not just in a fight. Not just when I let myself go to the bloodlust in battle. It happens with Cordelia, too, in spite of Buffy being there to keep my demon in check.”

“Good God!” Giles hoped he was not hearing this.

“The Slayer’s presence does not always curtail my darker personality traits,” Angel admitted. “Sometimes, it brings them out full-force. Cordelia welcomes it. Perhaps because I claimed her in my as Angelus.”

“T-that could be dangerous.”

“It is,” Angel confessed. Looking down at the redhead, he suggested that she go to the kitchen, not wanting her to hear what he needed to say next.

Willow refused to budge. “I got you into this mess. I deserve to hear everything. Makes me feel guiltier.”

“Are you sure you’re not a closet Catholic, Willow Rosenberg?” Angel laughed gruffly with a hint of Irish brogue in his voice.

“I’m staying.” She gripped his hand a little tighter. “Go on.”

Angel lifted his gaze back to Rupert Giles who looked as though he wanted to be the one to run to the kitchen. “Cordelia is human, but there are times that I take her in ways only a vampire could withstand. How she handles it, I’ll never know. Maybe it’s the spell or the connection we share that goes beyond the normal mating ritual.”

Feeling extremely awkward because of Willow’s continued presence Giles tried to shape his response in a way that sounded less horrifying. “Are these encounters only sexual or do they involve bloodplay?”

“Same thing,” Angel blinked.

Willow huffed. She got that one. “Hello! Vampire.”

“Uh, very well.” Giles continued to collect data, “Has the behavior escalated?”

“Yes.”

“Has the bloodplay escalated”

“Yes.”

“Resulting in severe blood loss?”

“Once,” Angel felt a cold hand grip his unbeating heart. “I had to take Cordelia to the hospital overnight. She refused to let anyone know, even Buffy who was fortunately occupied with Scooby business.”

“What about her behavior?” Giles had to ask. Normal human behavior would suggest that the girl might try to get out of such a relationship, but this wasn’t a normal relationship.

A look of lust crossed Angel’s handsome features at the thought of what Cordelia did to him in bed, and out of it. He wanted her right now. The proof of it was currently hard and aching.

“Ever changing, sometimes submissively gentle, but often a playful wanton tigress. It scares me how she matches my moods so perfectly. Or counters them. Cordelia Chase is quite the dominatrix when she wants it.”

Even Giles was blushing after that.

“I-I meant… does she get involved in the bloodplay?”

“Oh.”

“Does she bite you?”

“Yeah. I heal fast, so you probably didn’t notice.” Angel shrugged. “That’s nothing new. It’s playful.”

Giles continued with his battery of questions while, unnoticed, Willow’s attention fell to the twitching movement under the fly of the vampire’s pants. He was getting hard. Now. She found it very interesting in a scientific sort of way, but knew that wasn’t the only reason she kept looking. The ever-lengthening object inside those pants was fast approaching the location of her hand, which was still entwined with Angel’s as he held it in his lap.

“Do Cordelia’s bites draw blood?”

“Sometimes, if that is what she wants.”

“She continues to consume the blood,” Giles assumed and got a nod of confirmation from the vampire. “Does she allow you to bite her or does she ask for it?”

“Both.”

“Ask or beg, Angel?”

The vampire started with a jerk at the question, “Does that matter?”

“I think so.”

Willow’s hand was suddenly released by the vampire whose surprised reaction increased as her fingers dropped directly onto his burgeoning erection. All this talk of blood and sex had made him hard. Without thinking about it, Angel caught Willow’s wrist before she could snatch it away. At an angle hidden from the Watcher, he pressed her small hand along his rigid member through the barrier of his clothes.

Angel’s voice was strained as he told Giles, “She begs for it, Rupert. Calls my name out and begs for my fangs in her throat. Begs for me to bite her just before she peaks. It makes her come that much harder.”

Giles mouth curled into a shocked circle. “Well, I think I need another drink. You?”

“No,” Angel growled as Giles literally jumped off of the couch and ran into the kitchen.

Willow was panting now as Angel continued to press down on her wrist. Then he leaned forward to growl in her ear, his tone reminiscent of the time when Angelus had her by the throat. “Be quick, you little bitch. This is what you wanted.”

“N-no,” Willow tried to deny it even as her hand moved faster along the tumescence that tented the vampire’s pants.

A soft chuckle followed. “That sounds like the truth. Means you want more.”

“N-no.”

“Feel lucky I don’t have you on your knees, Willow.”

Gasping, Willow then gritted her teeth. Whispering furiously, “I’d bite.”

“We’ve established that I like being bitten. Vampire, remember? If you ever bite me there without my permission. . .”

“Not a problem.”

“What problem?” Giles asked curiously as he approached with a newly opened bottle of scotch. The last one had been half-full when they started.

Willow jumped off the couch, forcing the vampire to release her hand. She tossed a small couch pillow at his lap, the one she had been clutching with her free hand. “There is no problem! I gotta pee. Gotta go to the bathroom. Angel didn’t want me to miss anything if you came before I did. I-I mean returned before I did. So, no problem.”

Escaping to the bathroom, Willow practically slammed the door shut and turned the lock. Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Angel sounded just like Angelus. This wasn’t good. It wasn’t good. This was so not good. Bad, bad, bad!

“I’m glad that Willow stepped out,” Giles told the vampire. “That was getting a bit risqué for a seventeen-year-old’s ears… not to mention mine.”

Angel leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his head buried in his hands. “Rupert, you have no idea how fine an edge I walk these days. Something happened, just now in fact, to make me realize how dangerous I have become even with my soul intact.”

“Just now?” Giles sought clarification. “A memory?”

“No. While you were gone on your little sojourn to the kitchen, Willow and I had a chat.”

“A chat,” Giles parroted the words.

“It made me realize that I can’t protect anybody this way,” Angel told him. Thrusting the pillow aside, he gestured to his tented pants. “Do you see? Just talking about fucking and biting Cordelia gets me hard. I can taste her blood in my mouth.”

Horrified, Giles asked, “A-Angel, is Willow okay?”

“Yes, dammit!” Angel got up from the couch trying to will away his erection. “I think I scared her. M-my control was slipping. Though, if you’d stayed away a little longer I’d have had her spread out on your coffee table.”

Giles’ worries only escalated at that overtly honest confession. “Oh dear.”

“And why not?” Angel continued, gathering up enough dark irony and self-hate to give himself material for centuries of brooding. “Willow is as much mine as your precious Slayer. Did you know that? No. She doesn’t even know it, so how could you?”

“What?!” Giles needed another drink.

“Her virgin blood was mine, Rupert,” Angel flashed his amber-hued eyes at the librarian garnering a flash of fear. “I just took it with my fingers, but I’m sure it still counts.”

“My God! Angel, you have defiled every innocent thing that has touched your undead life here in Sunnydale.”

“True. If it’s worth anything, I did it when I was Angelus.” The vampire finally returned to his calmer state. Remorse always got him. “Following Willow here was just an excuse to talk to you, Giles. I need your help.”

Shaking his head, Giles told him, “There is only one thing that can help, Angel. Only one thing you can do to fix this.”

“No!” Angel might has well have been a mind-reader. “I won’t leave her. Can’t you see what happens to me? I go crazy with wanting her.”

“That is the blood talking,” Giles explained. “After a withdrawal period, you will be fine. You will both be fine.”

“No, Rupert, anything, but that.”

One other suggestion, though it would not likely change the outcome for Cordelia Chase, “Take her with you. Leave Sunnydale.”

Angel was quick on the uptake. “You mean leave Buffy. That’s what you’ve wanted all along, but it won’t work. I told you, Buffy keeps me grounded.”

“Not from this angle.” Giles briefly paused to clean his glasses. Upon replacing them on the bridge of his nose, he asked, “Where do you think this is headed? You have taken two young women into your bed, and seemingly have grown an interest in a third. Your vampire instincts are a lot like raging hormones driving you to fulfill their basic needs.”

Fighting to hold his tongue, Angel found he couldn’t. “Blood. Sex. Family.”

“Cordelia falls into all three categories. As your mate, she is your family, and provides you with those other needs.”

“Yes,” Angel acknowledged softly.

“There is one problem though. Your soul connection,” Giles revealed his theory. “Cordelia reads your needs, your instincts through some subconscious connection. She responds to those needs even at their most violent.”

“Yes.”

“She was mated to your demon before your soul returned. Angel, I fear for her. There is some part of you that wants Cordelia to be a vampire. If that is what you want, then she is reading that need, and doing her level best to make it happen.”

Inwardly, Angel howled to the heavens, his fear and rage pouring forth at the truth in the Watcher’s words. The truth hurt. He did not want that for Cordelia. What would happen if he turned her? Her soul would be gone and he would be in mourning for his soulmate no matter the fact that he would be gaining an equal in his bed.

“Buffy would stake us both,” Angel let out an ironic laugh. Then he saw a pair of green eyes pop out from the hall bathroom, having heard his cry. “Come out, Willow. I promise that it’s safe.”

“That’s not all you promised,” she pointed out.

“Don’t remind me.”

“Okay.” Stepping out of the small bathroom, Willow moved closer to Giles. “What did I miss? I overheard something about Buffy staking Angel.”

Truth hurts, so say the lower beings, especially in the mysterious ways of love. Heartfelt, physical, complicated, twisted, simple, undemanding, foreboding, misguided? love does play to different tunes. In its many forms, it may be fleeting or eternal. No matter which, love serves as a change agent, ?altering when it alteration finds? and narrows down the path of free will to just a few choices. Our Warrior once again arrives at the gate to his proper future, but the variables remain in play.

“I always say patrol’s not complete without a trip to the stinky sewers,” Buffy wrinkled her nose at the smell.

Angel kept looking for their quarry. “I’m sure I saw him come down here.”

This was not Buffy’s choice of activities for the evening having hoped patrol would be quick and routine. “Couldn’t we just let this be the vamp that got away?”

“What can I say? I need closure.”

That got Buffy thinking about her favorite topic of discussion, the prom. “No, you need clothes. You don’t have a tux, do you?”

“Since when did patrolling go black tie?”

“For the prom, silly.” Buffy reminded him. “You are going to be taking Cordy. I’m stuck with Wesley, lucky me, but I get to dance with you.”

“We have more important things to think about right now than a dance, Buffy.”

Looking hurt, Buffy moped at his curt response to her happy thoughts. “Sorry, Giles. I’ll just be quiet.”

“Come on, don’t be that way.”

Just as Angel turned to take her into his arms, offering a truce, the vampire they’d been trailing dropped from the sewer pipes overhead. Growling, he bared his fangs, ready to fight.

“Not now,” huffed the Slayer. She hated interruptions. Staking the vampire with ease, she turned back to Angel. “I’m not being that way. Every time I say the word ‘prom’, you get grouchy.”

“I’m sorry,” Angel said with feeling. The word did not begin to cover how sorry he felt about this. “I’m just worried that you’re getting too invested in this whole thing.”

“What whole thing? Isn’t this the stuff that I’m supposed to get invested in? Going to a formal, graduating, growing up.”

“I know.” Angel had attempted to broach the conversation before, suggesting that Buffy was missing out on something better.

“Then what? What’s with the dire?”

“It’s uh, it’s nothing.”

“No, you have ‘something’ face.” Buffy recognized it.

“We need to talk, but not now and not here.” Angel did not want to do this in a sewer.

“No.” Buffy held her ground. “If you have something to say, then say it.”

Silence followed as Angel tried to hold off. He needed to do this, but he did not want it to be here. Not now.

“Drop the cryptic,” Buffy demanded as she tucked her stake away. “You’re scaring me.”

Frustrated, running a hand through his hair, Angel told her, “I’ve been thinking about our future. The three of us. Ours. Yours. Mine. And the more I do, the more I feel like us, you and me being together, is unfair to you.”

Holding a hand to her throat, Buffy’s face looked pale. “C-Cordelia doesn’t want me with you anymore. She wants to end it? Wants you to herself.”

“No,” he shook his head. “Cordy hasn’t said a word. She doesn’t know about this yet.”

That was supposed to make her feel better? That it wasn’t his mate demanding exclusive rights? That whatever this was it was all Angel’s idea? Desperately searching for some other reason, she latched onto an idea.

“This is a reaction to what the Mayor said. Pfft! He was just trying to shake us up.”

Somehow the evil mayor had sensed the relationship between Cordelia, Buffy and Angel was more than just friendship. He’d jokingly clued Angel in on the fact that as a vampire, he shouldn’t get into bed with a Vampire Slayer.

“He was right.” Angel told her. “That truth has been between us from the first, Buffy. No matter the love we’ve shared. You will always be the Slayer and I a vampire.”

“That’s what makes it special, Angel.”

Repeating the words, Angel stressed his own opinion, “He was right.”

“No.” Buffy argued. “No, he wasn’t. He’s the bad guy.”

“You deserve more. You deserve something outside of demons and darkness. You should be with someone who can take you into the light. Someone who can make love to you in his own right.”

“I don’t care about that.” Buffy cried out. “As long as Cordy lets me in, I want to be with you. Both of you. I don’t care what the mayor thinks about it.”

“You will.” Angel had no doubt. “I can see it already. The frustration you feel at being second in line in the bedroom. The hurt in your eyes whenever she wants me to herself. It’s already getting to you, Buffy. Before you know it, you’ll want it all, a normal life.”

“I’ll never have a normal life.”

“Right, you’ll always be a Slayer. But that’s all the more reason why you should have a real relationship instead of this… this freak show.”

Stunned, Buffy gaped at him. He clamored to fix what he’d said, “I didn’t mean that.”

“I’m gonna go.”

Grabbing her arm, Angel apologized again. “I’m sorry. Buffy, you know how much I love you. It kills me to say this.”

“Then don’t.” Tears glistened on her cheeks under the yellow glow of the sewer lights. “I don’t want to hear it. Who are you to tell me what’s right for me? Do you think I have never thought about this?”

“Have you, rationally?” Angel doubted it. “When you made the decision to stay in our bed was it because you thought out the detailed consequences of having to share me with Cordelia? Reasoned what it would be like? Or was it passion, desire, pure lust that drove you to stay?”

Love, she wanted to say. “No. No, of course not. I’m just some swoony little schoolgirl, right, just following my impulses.”

Angel felt low, as low as that sewer rat gnawing on a random bone. This was not how he envisioned breaking the news to Buffy. Pleading for understanding, he held out his hands in an open sign of need, “I’m trying to do what’s right here, okay? I’m trying to think with my head instead of my heart.”

“Heart? You have a heart? It isn’t even beating!” Buffy yelled at him.

Warning her against going down that crueler path, he growled, “Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Don’t love you? I’m sorry. You know what?” Buffy threw up her hands in aggravation. “I didn’t know that I got a choice in that. I’m never gonna change. I can’t change. I want my life to be with you.”

So down the cold cruel path it had to be. Angel told her point blank. “I don’t.”

Buffy’s heart fluttered in shock at his words. “You don’t want to be with me? Are you sure this isn’t Cordelia’s idea? I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me.”

“It doesn’t mean that I don’t,” Angel reconsidered finishing that statement. Cold and cruel, remember? End it in a way that will force her to get on with her life.

“How am I supposed to stay away from you?” Buffy imagined the pain she would have every time she saw Angel and Cordelia around town.

Angel solved the problem for her. “I’m leaving Sunnydale. After the Ascension, after it’s finished with the mayor. If we survive, I’ll go.”

“You’ll go,” Buffy slowly caught on to his meaning. “Just you? What about Cordy?”

“I can’t be with her, Buffy,” Angel’s anguish showed on his face. “She keeps begging me to bite her, to turn her.”

“Why?” Buffy had not witness that when they were together.

“Because it’s what my demon wants. She senses it. Deep down, I suppose I know it to be true.” Angel shoved his hands in his pockets. “I can’t let that happen. I have to leave.”

“Cordy will be devastated,” Buffy knew it just as she knew her own heart would break. “I thought… won’t you get sick without her?”

Angel shrugged. “Rupert said there would be a period of withdrawal.”

“Giles knows about this?” Buffy’s jaw tightened. “How long have you been planning this break up?”

“A while,” Angel confessed. “I wanted to stay until this latest apocalypse was over. Make certain things were settled. Cordelia will be fine. I’ve seen to that.”

Buffy’s anger melted, leaving only misery behind. “Where are you going?”

“I don’t know.”

“I guess Cordelia will have to take Wesley to the prom,” Buffy muttered, not wanting to think about it anymore. “Xander is already planning to go with Willow.”

Denial: a state wherein thought superimposed over more painful issues can soften harsh realities. The Chosen One finds her heart broken, but denies the impact this decision will have on her life. Fortunate is she who will find her true path, though this acute pain shall take time to heal. Our Warrior has a more difficult task ahead, one the Powers that Be fear he will fail to accomplish. His path must part from the Seer-to-Be if she is ever to be part of his future rather than a cornerstone of his past.

Angel’s finger pressed on the doorbell. He barely had time to return his hand to his pants pocket before the door was flung open by Willow Rosenberg. Grabbing his arm, she gave it a sharp tug. When that didn’t budge the vampire, she looked up suspiciously. “What are you doing?”

“You need to formally invite me in,” Angel reminded her.

The de-invitation spell designed to keep Angelus out of her home was still in place. “Oh! I forgot about it. In that case… enter my humble abode. Well, my parent’s abode. I just live here.”

“I’m already in, Willow,” Angel commented after stepping into the small foyer.

Willow grabbed his hand, promptly leading him up the stairs toward her bedroom. “I’ve been waiting. Where have you been?”

“At the mansion,” he answered, “waiting for sunset.”

“Oh, yeah.” Willow nodded understanding. “Severe allergy to sunlight. Got it.”

As he entered Willow’s bedroom, he saw that she had everything ready. Good. He didn’t want to wait any longer. “This makes us even, Willow.”

“No it doesn’t,” she returned quickly. “Things would have been a lot different if I had not interfered. If I hadn’t been so jealous over Xander, I would never have cast the first spell. Cordelia would never have gotten involved with you as Angelus. She would not be your mate, and I wouldn’t have accidentally tied your souls together.”

Handing Willow a book of spells procured from the magic shop, Angel told her, “I don’t regret loving Cordy anymore than I can regret loving Buffy. If I regret anything, it’s that I wasn’t good enough to be what they need.”

Opening the book, she started to browse through the pages. “This spell is complicated. If it works, you and I will be the only ones who…”

“Just get on with it,” Angel growled impatiently. “Before I change my mind.”

Choices. Difficult and dangerous. Such choices should be left to the higher beings rather than those who do not understand the permutations they create. Our Warrior knows the dangers, but not the consequences. The Powers that Be gather awaiting news of this latest turn of events. Will Order be restored or shall Chaos triumph?

Cordelia Chase popped open the trunk of her Corvette, gazing down at the heavy suitcases and boxes therein. This job required vampire strength, she realized. Considering that the gardener’s last task prior to picking up his pink slip was to help her load the car, Cordy would wait to unpack until after sundown.

Wait until she told Angel that her parents’ latest trip was going to be a permanent one. Cordelia would have shrugged it off as being typical of her parents if her mother hadn’t taken extra care over her before they left. Her mother knew she had developed a friendship with Joyce Summers and actually encouraged her to move in with her until after graduation, suggesting that there might be problems at the house once the IRS came calling.

Leaving her with a small amount of cash in the letter that announced their goodbyes, it appeared that they had left her on her own. Good thing she had Angel and Buffy. The two of them would help her get through this. It wasn’t everyday that one of the richest girls at Sunnydale High became destitute. Not that she was going to let anybody but her mate and the Slayer know that.

“Angel? I’m home!” Cordelia announced herself, but found no echoing greeting. “Where would he be at this time of day?”

A search of the place revealed that Angel was no where to be found. That was the least of it. Boxes full of Angel’s personal things were crowding his study and bedroom. Rushing into her own room, Cordelia found it to be untouched. No sign of packing boxes. No sign that Angel intended to bring her wherever he was planning to go.

She picked up the phone to call Buffy. She’d know what this was all about. Angel always told her his secrets first. The phone line was dead. Grabbing her car keys, she headed to her Corvette. Picking up her cell phone, she found that it had no signal. Apparently, the IRS moved fast when it came to informing her parent’s creditors that they had flown out of the country evading charges of tax fraud.

Tossing the cell phone onto the passenger seat, she turned on the engine and moved the gear shift into drive. The tires screeched as she pushed the gas pedal to the floor steering the car in the direction of Revello Drive. Rounding a corner, she spotted the sheriff’s white and gold vehicle dead ahead and was forced to pull to a halt when he flashed his lights at her.

“Great! Just what I need. A ticket.” Cordelia put the car into park and stopped the engine after powering her window to its lowest point.

“Hello, Miss Chase,” the sheriff grinned. “So nice to catch you speeding yet again. Looks like your daddy will have to cough up quite a bit for this baby.”

“It’s an emergency, Sheriff,” she appealed to him with a look of desperation.

As if he hadn’t heard that one before! The sheriff put his hand on the roof, leaning down to officially ask for her driver’s license when he thought he saw a green flash of light hit her eyes making them glow. After a blink, he noticed that it was no longer there. Weird.

“I need to see your driver’s license, Miss Chase.”

“What?!” Cordelia looked around the car, appearing to panic.

“Don’t tell me… you forgot your purse.” The sheriff huffed. “Lucky for you, I not only know that your daddy can afford the insurance, but I have your driver’s license number memorized.”

He tapped his pen on his forehead. “Yep. After the first dozen times, it kinda stuck.”

“I was speeding?” Cordelia inquired truly confused.

The sheriff’s blue-eyed gaze narrowed. Cordelia Chase was not known for drinking or doing drugs, but there was always a first time. “You said something about an emergency. Trying to get there fast.”

“Uh, emergency? I have to go home now. I-I’m not feeling well.”

Handing her the ticket, the sheriff issued a final warning against speeding and went on his way. Cordelia sat in the car for ten minutes, mulling over the confused thoughts tumbling around in her brain. “My head feels like it’s stuffed with cotton.”

The last thing she remembered was wanting to go home. Then there was something about the prom, but as hard as she tried Cordelia could not remember what her dress looked like or who her date was supposed to be. Not Xander. No, she had broken up with Xander Harris, that clown!

“Did I hit my head? Geez, this is weird.” Cordelia decided to head home. Her parents had told her they would be in town for the next couple of weeks. They planned to come to the graduation ceremony.

As Cordelia drove up to her parent’s house, she saw that the gate was stuck wide open. A number of cars and vans were parked outside. It was then that the federal officer ordered her to park her car on the front lawn. Escorting her inside, they questioned Cordelia for half an hour about her parent’s whereabouts.

“This house and its contents have been confiscated as evidence, Miss Chase,” the man told her. “That includes your car since it was in your father’s name. After we search its contents, we will transport you wherever you want to go as long as it’s here in town. If you have any other personal items in the house? Toothbrush, comb, that kind of thing? You can take those. Though it appears that you had most of your stuff packed up. Were you coming or going, Miss Chase?”

“I was coming home,” she told the man. “Been staying at a friend’s house.”

That sounded like a good excuse. Cordelia wished she knew the truth. He suggested that she return there pronto. A look of horror crossed her face. “No! I can’t let anyone I know hear about this. I can imagine Harmony’s face right now. I’ll be the laughingstock of Sunnydale High.”

“So where do you want to go?” Cordelia thought about it, giving him instructions to take her to the Sunnydale Motel.

They dumped her off at the motel, barely giving her time to check in before taking off. It was a tiny, dingy room that greeted her upon her arrival. There was nobody to help her to carry in her stuff. As soon as she dragged in the last box, Cordelia closed the door, leaned back against it and sank onto the floor.

“Not gonna cry,” She told herself. “I’m no Cry Buffy.”

That was weird. Had she ever seen Buffy Summers cry? No. Well, she looked the type to be whiny.

Yanking her purse from the bed, Cordelia opened it to examine the contents of her wallet. There were several credit cards, all useless. The folded envelope in her purse contained the remainder of her funds. The guy at the motel office had charged her over a hundred dollars for the week and the envelope now contained less than two hundred.

How was she going to live on that? Eew! Cordelia suddenly realized that she would be forced to get a job just to make it through graduation. College was obviously no longer an option. This could not be the way her life was supposed to turn out. Destitute and alone was so not the way Queen C planned to exit her days at Sunnydale High.

Rising to her feet, Cordelia reached for her suitcase. Opening it up, she started to unpack. She kept on at her task until well after dark, until everything she owned had found a place in the dingy motel room. If this was going to be her home for a while, she was going to make it hers. She wouldn’t let its dark shadows and rusty faucets get her down.

“As long as there are no rats or roaches,” Cordelia told herself calmly as she checked out the nooks and crannies of the room, “I’ll be fine.”

And so the balance is restored. The Chosen One, Warrior and Seer-to-Be have returned to their predestined path. Thus is the Ascension halted. Another apocalypse averted. It is as planned. The Chosen One and her allies seize the day. Thus we arrive at the present. Our Warrior’s actions this day have promoted him to Champion our cause.

“Angel?”

Lower being, you have come before the Oracles with questions in your heart. Such selfish pursuits are normally unworthy of our attention, but the actions of our champion have granted you passage this day. We have summoned you, Willow Rosenberg, to provide the closure required for this broken path now healed.

“I-I don’t understand,” Willow felt like she was dreaming. The golden beings standing in front of her were obviously not human. They claimed to be Oracles for higher beings… Powers that Be. The images shown her flashed through her head in an instant. “What do I have to do?”

Know that the answers you seek are already within you. Though it is within our power to fold time, to turn back the clock, such action is not always for the greater good. It is the same with altering memory.

Willow realized they meant the spell of forgetfulness cast upon Cordelia Chase. The one that Angel begged her to perform. It was the only way, he surmised, that his mate would be able to gain a semblance of a normal existence. The spell altered her memory of their time together. Though she did not have the power to change take back the effects of the spell she had cast over Cordelia, Willow could alter the memory of it.

For Cordelia, her time with Angel was nothing more than fantasy. After her breakup with Xander, the cheerleader remained on the periphery of their Scooby circle. Involved in the unavoidable conflicts, but never when the vampire was present. Memory served that the Slayer and the vampire remained a pair, albeit a platonic one, until the big breakup right before prom night.

You carry the item we seek, lower being. The crystal containing the memory of our Seer.

Removing the crystal from a tiny pouch at her waist, Willow held it out to them. In an instant, the female Oracle transported it to her own hand. Examining it, she explained its importance.

We act as guardian to her memory. For our Champion will one day seek its return. That is not to be borne until the time of our choosing. Know that you possess a powerful gift and a secret that must be upheld. Go now from this timeless place so that you may part company with our Champion.

The aftermath of the battle left the school in ruins. Willow found herself wandering in the smoky haze. Someone grabbed her elbow. “Angel. Y-you found me,” she gasped.

“It’s over, Willow. I’m leaving.”

Nodding, she already knew the plan. Then she noticed that Angel was in a position near a fire truck that kept him hidden from everyone’s view, perfectly angled to observe Cordy. The cheerleader was helping Wesley to his feet, brushing the dust off of his suit. Trust Wes to wear a suit to the apocalypse.

“You don’t look happy about this, Angel,” she told him. “This isn’t something we can just take back.”

“I know.”

“I wish it was,” Willow frowned. The Oracles showed her everything, including the harsh reality that was now Cordelia Chase’s life. That was no side-effect of Willow’s memory spell, but something that was going to happen anyway. Yet, in a way, Willow realized her magic had once again caused harm as Cordelia now had no one to confide in with Angel and Buffy out of the picture.

“Cordy has been happy, don’t you think?” The vampire was still watching his mate from afar, trying to convince himself that he was not a fool for leaving her.

“Yeah.” Too happy. Faking it with that patented toothy smile, Cordelia had convinced all of them that her life was fine and dandy. “Perfectly happy.”

Seeing Cordelia talking to Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, a low growl sounded deep in Angel’s throat. “Why is that Watcher standing so close?”

“Uh, Wes?” Willow blinked through the haze. “He’s hurt, Angel. I think Cordy is just helping him stand up straight.”

“He better keep his paws off,” Angel felt the urge to rip him apart.

Willow sighed in reaction. Good thing the vampire was planning to leave town. He would never survive keeping this to himself. “If you don’t go, Angel, you’ll end up claiming Cordy all over again.”

Looking down at the petite redhead, Angel admitted that she was right. Enveloping her into his strong arms, he kissed the top of her head. “Take care of my girls, Willow.”

“I-I will,” she promised.

Angel cupped her chin, pressing a kiss on her startled mouth. “That also includes you.”

“Oh.”

“Get going,” he told her. “Buffy’s White Knight has been searching frantically through the crowd for the last ten minutes calling your name.”

“Who?!”

“Xander.”

Willow looked puzzled. Then grinned, “Xander… really?”

Angel watched as Willow’s red hair bounced behind her as the young witch went to look for the boy. Frankly, the vampire had never liked Xander. He didn’t see that changing anytime soon. Willow’s feelings toward the guy were strong enough to irritate Angel who quickly convinced himself that it was not his business. Besides, if Willow kept Xander Harris occupied, the opportunistic clown would have less time to trail after Buffy.

The thought brought a smirk to Angel’s face.

Rupert Giles placed his glasses back on as he approached Buffy. “I, ah, managed to ferret this out of the wreckage. Now, it may not interest you, but I found your diploma. Slightly charred, but I’d say you earned it.”

Taking the diploma, Buffy stared down at it with a glazed look in her eyes. Giles failed to notice, too caught up in the moment. Taking off his glasses again, he tapped his teeth. “There is a certain dramatic irony attached to all this. A synchronicity that borders on predestination, one might say.”

The former Watcher’s deep thoughts were too much for Buffy Summers still drowning in the aftermath of blowing up Sunnydale High in order to defeat the mayor who had turned into a gigantic snake demon.

All she could muster to express her situation was, “Fire bad. Tree pretty.”

Understanding, Giles made his escape, “Yes, s-sorry. I’m going to see Wesley, see if he’s still… whimpering.”

Alone again, Buffy’s slayer senses tuned in to something close, tingling as they always did whenever vampires were near. She turned, frowning, until her eyes locked on Angel standing beside the fire truck looking back at her. This was it, she realized, trying to hold onto the moment. He promised there would be no goodbyes. Buffy held his gaze without blinking knowing that if she did, he would be gone.

Then Angel stepped back, turning slowly and disappeared into the mist of hazy smoke clinging to the ground.

The End.


SOULBOUND – BOOK ONE – THE FIRST CONNECTION: CHAPTER LINKS

Book One Chapter 8                    Book One Home                    Book Two Home


 

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