Archive for June 18, 2015

A Crisis of Faith 15   3 comments

Part 15

As Faith slowly emerged from the warm, comforting blanket of sleep, she tensed, waiting for the inevitable cold to overtake her aching body. Much to her surprise, the familiar arctic chill from the Orb’s possession didn’t occur, and it took a while for her frazzled mind to figure out why. When things finally clicked into place, it all crashed in on her in a rush – last night, the Orb, the fight with Angel and B, drinking the potion and … oh god, Wesley!

The slayer’s eyes snapped open and she gazed up at the ceiling, struggling to come to terms with the nightmarish events of the past few days of half-wakefulness. Naturally, she was relieved and thankful to be free of the Orb’s control, but heavy remorse for the things she had done under its influence caused a wave of negative emotion to swamp her initially optimistic reaction to that fact.

As she turned her head, her troubled gaze settled on a slumbering Angel and Cordelia, and she couldn’t help being warmed by the picture of loving contentment that their intertwined pose portrayed. The vampire lay on his back with one leg stretched out along the length of the sofa cushions, while his other leg was bent at the knee so that his foot was flat on the floor. Cordelia lay sprawled atop of him, her face tucked into the crook of his neck and her hand curled against his bare breastbone.

The covers had slipped off the couple onto the floor, and Faith grinned to herself as she spotted the position of Angel’s hands. The vampire held his girlfriend close with his left arm looped around her slim waist, and his other hand firmly clasping her right butt cheek. His hand was unashamedly down the back of the shorts of the sleepwear set that the seer wore, the intimate grasp a clear demonstration of his ownership of the woman sleeping contentedly in his arms.

As if sensing the slayer’s eyes on her, Cordelia began to stir, her slight movements bringing her boyfriend into wakefulness as well. Faith watched as she drowsily lifted her head and proceeded to trail a path of soft, butterfly kisses along the column of Angel’s throat and up over his chiselled chin.

As their lips met in a series of gentle kisses, the vampire swept his hand up the length of Cordelia’s spine until his fingers tangled in the silky strands of her hair. To the slayer’s amusement, his other hand maintained its firm grip on the seer’s bottom, his long fingers gently massaging the softly rounded flesh there.

“Ahem!” Faith deliberately cleared her throat, reminding the couple that they had company before the embrace threatened to push the boundaries of acceptable public behaviour.

“Good morning,” Angel greeted the brunette slayer with a small smile, his voice still gravely from sleep.

“Actually, I think it’s probably afternoon,” Faith replied, one eyebrow raised skyward as she pointedly inclined her head towards the intimate position of his hand on his girlfriend’s person.

“Good afternoon then,” the vampire grinned back unrepentantly at the slayer, seemingly unfazed at having been caught copping a feel. Nevertheless, he was finally forced to remove his hand when Cordelia made a move to sit up.

Swinging her legs to the floor and rising to her feet, the seer padded barefoot across the room to perch on the edge of the bed, next to her friend. Faith was rather astonished to see unshed tears glistening in her hazel eyes, but Cordelia engulfed her in a tight hug before she was able to question their meaning.

“Oh God! I was so scared we’d never get you back. I missed you so much, Faith.”

Resting her chin on her friend’s shoulder, Faith’s arms automatically rose to encircle the seer’s back as she returned the hug with equal warmth. Angel had been reasonably tactile with her last night, but it felt good to be held so completely in this way; it was something that the slayer really needed right now.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Angel rise from the couch and retrieve some clean clothes from the closet and chest of drawers. He then retreated into the bathroom, respectfully giving the two girls some privacy. As the door shut quietly behind him, Faith rested her forehead against Cordelia’s collarbone, and held onto the life raft of her close friend’s unconditional support for all she was worth.

When they eventually drew apart, Cordelia shot the slayer a watery smile as they wiped away their tears with the tips of their fingers. At first, Faith smiled back, but then her eyes fell on the yellowing bruise on the seer’s cheek and the significantly shorter length of her dark brown hair, and a stricken look descended over her features.

“Don’t,” Cordelia said emphatically. “It wasn’t you, I know that.”

“But I …”

“I said don’t,” Cordelia quickly interrupted, placing her fingers over the guilt-ridden slayer’s lips to silence her unneeded apology. “You can’t blame yourself for things that were out of your control.”

Besides,” the seer added with a bright smile. “I needed a hot new look anyway, so really the enforced restyle was a blessing in disguise.”

More than aware that her thick, glossy mane of hair had been her pride and joy, Faith knew Cordelia was lying through her teeth, but gratefully received the untruth in the spirit in which it was intended.

“You’re the best, you know that, C.”

“I’m still sorry though,” she added softly, needing to express her regret over what had happened nevertheless.

“I know,” Cordelia replied, reaching out to squeeze her friend’s fingers in understanding.

Their fingers locked affectionately together, the two young women sat in silent contemplation for a short while, before a loud grumble of hunger from Cordelia’s stomach rudely disturbed the poignant solemnity of the moment. They both dissolved into uncontrollable giggles at the growling sound, the noise puncturing the tension between them like a pin would a balloon.

“I think that’s my cue to go and find us something to eat,” Cordelia said, once she’d gotten her laughter under control. “How does coffee and waffles with maple syrup sound?”

“Like complete heaven,” Faith replied expansively, patting her washboard stomach as the seer tugged on her robe and slipped her feet into a pair of big blue slippers.

“Well that’s a good thing, cus my repertoire doesn’t extend any further than coffee and waffles, despite Angel’s repeated and tireless efforts to teach me how to cook,” Cordelia admitted with rueful candour.

“Tell Mr Salty-Goodness that I’ll bring him up a cup of O-pos, ‘kay?” she said over her shoulder, as she walked towards the door.

“Sure thing,” Faith replied, running her fingers through her wavy cascade of dark hair. Linking her fingers together, the slayer raised her arms above her head and stretched, working the kinks out of her lithe body.

Cordelia stepped out onto the landing and pulled the bedroom door partially to behind her, leaving it slightly ajar. Crossing to the top of the spiral staircase, she slowly began to descend the steps, wary of her less than practical footwear. The huge slippers adorning her feet kept her cold-prone toes warm and toasty, but they were unfortunately severe tripping hazards as well.

As she rounded the corner to take the second flight of steps, she unexpectedly came face to face with Buffy, who was nimbly ascending the stairs in the opposite direction. Not having heard the other girl’s light footsteps, the seer let out a startled yelp and had to grab at the banister to prevent herself from tumbling headlong down the stairwell.

“Geez! I thought it was only Angel, who did the stealth thing,” Cordelia exclaimed, bringing her hand to her heart in reaction. “I suppose it’s kind of an advantage to be able to sneak up on the bad guys, being slayer girl an’ all, but couldn’t you stomp your feet just a little when you’re not in Little Miss Like-to-Fight mode? You could just, you know, like this…”

The seer exaggeratedly walked on the spot to illustrate her point, the rubber soles of her humongous slippers making heavy thuds each time they connected with the polished wooden step under her feet.

“It’s not that difficult surely?” she appealed to the bemused slayer, her hazel eyes wide and earnest as her chin-length dark hair bounced in time with her energetic movements.

Someone who knew the seer better would have played along, but Buffy, unaccustomed to Cordelia’s quirky character traits, just stared back the dancing brunette in utter bafflement.

“Umm – I take it Faith’s awake?” she asked instead, “And Angel?”

“Yeah – go on up and say hi if you want. I was just going to get us all some lunchfast.”

“Lunchfast?”

“Yeah – breakfast at lunchtime – lunch-fast,” Cordelia explained her bizarre terminology.

“Isn’t that brunch?”

“Duh! Brunch is breakfast and lunch combined. And, it’s eaten late morning, not at one in the afternoon. No, this is definitely lunchfast.”

“Okaaay,” Buffy rolled her eyes at Cordelia’s light-hearted jesting. “I’m going upstairs to see Angel and Faith now,” she said rather patronisingly, as she moved past the seer and continued on her way up the flight of steps.

“Geez! Get a sense of humour why don’t you?” she heard Cordelia mutter under her breath, just before she was out of earshot.

The slayer shook her head in mystification; she couldn’t fathom out why a man, as sensible and serious as Angel, willingly put up with the vacuous, flighty creature that was Cordelia Chase. The woman must constantly drive him up the wall, so what was the attraction? She just didn’t get it.

When she reached the landing area, Buffy crossed to the second door on the left, lifting her hand to knock on the wooden panel before she entered. Noting that the door was slightly ajar and hearing the quiet murmur of voices from within, the slayer lowered her hand back down to her side without knocking. She lingered outside the door, her curiosity getting the better of her – Faith’s voice reached her first.

“She went to get us some breakfast.”

“Cordy?” Buffy could tell Angel was lifting his eyebrows from the amused tone of his voice. “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

“Angel!” Faith’s rich laugh rang out. “You are so bad. It’s only waffles and coffee – she can’t mess that up, surely?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t better on it,” the vampire replied with a warm chuckle.

“While we’re on the subject – C is alright, isn’t she?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, she seemed okay in herself, but she looks like one of those anorexic Hollywood chicks. I remember her saying she wanted to go into acting – some bastard director didn’t tell her she was too fat, did they?”

“No – at least, I don’t think so. I know she’s lost some weight, but anorexic might be going a bit far, Faith,” Angel softly reproved.

“Maybe – but you know what I mean. Surely you’ve noticed the change in her appearance?”

“Yes, of course I have. Cordy’s recent weight loss is mainly psychological though. We… um… had a major falling out a few months ago, and things were very rough between us for a while. I think she stopped eating properly due to the stress of it all.”

“But earlier, on the sofa…”

“Yeah, I know,” Angel’s tone noticeably softened, the slight tension leaving his deep voice. “We’re coming out the other side of it now. We still have a few issues to work through, but we’re back on track, I swear. That’s mainly thanks to Wes – he walked back into our lives at exactly the right moment. It really helped to have his outside perspective on things, and he got us communicating properly with each other again.”

“So what happened?”

“It’s a long story – some other time, yeah? Cordy’ll be back soon, and I don’t want to drag up the painful memories again. She’s eating properly now, I promise, so there’s no need to worry about her.”

“Alright, I believe you. I guess I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, huh? Wolfram and Hart, the Powers That Be, not to mention the fact that you’re a bona fide PI now.”

“Bona fide might be stretching it a bit,” the vampire replied with a self-depreciating grin. “How do you know all that anyway?”

“The Orb knew all about the Powers That Be and Wolfram and Hart, and your lawyer friends filled me in on all the rest. You’re a major thorn in their side, you know.”

“Glad to hear it. It’s my aim to piss them off on a regular basis.”

“Well, I think you’re succeeding,” Faith replied with a conspiratorial wink. “Angel Investigations was C’s idea, right? Getting paid for saving the world and helping people – wish I’d thought of that.”

“She ganged up with Doyle to persuade me it was a good idea.”

“Doyle?”

“Part of the ‘lot to catch up on’” Angel explained. “He was my seer – the PTB’s sent him visions of the people they wanted me to help.”

“You’re talking about him in the past tense,” the slayer quietly noted.

“Yeah – he died a couple of months ago,” the vampire’s voice dropped in volume. “He sacrificed himself to save a tribe of Lister demons from a light beacon that had the capability to kill anything with human blood.”

“I’m sorry,” Faith said with genuine regret. “So now you’re seer-less?”

“Umm, no – Doyle passed his visions onto Cordy before he died. I don’t think I’ve entirely forgiven him for that yet.”

“Why?”

“The visions are a heavy burden to bear, Faith. Cordy accepts them as a gift from Doyle, and sees them as her destiny. They cause her so much pain though, and that makes it extremely hard for me to view the situation in the same way. The visions are my link to the Powers That Be, so it feels like everything she suffers is my fault.”

“Well, I can definitely relate to that,” Faith said in a subdued tone, the vampire’s words immediately making her think of the horrors she had watched Wesley go through the previous day. “Oh God Angel – how am I ever going to be able to look him in the face again?”

Through the gap between the door and its frame, Buffy saw Angel cross to sit on the bed by Faith’s side. The vampire lifted his arm to run a soothing hand up and down the distraught slayer’s back, as she buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

“You don’t honestly think Wes will blame you for what happened, do you?”

“No, of course not. It’s just that the Orb became so much a part of me; that it was as if its enjoyment of his suffering came from some, previously hidden, part of myself. It feels like that evil is still there, lurking somewhere deep inside of me, and that really scares me.”

Buffy hadn’t heard the majority of the second half of Angel and Faith’s conversation; she was too busy rejoicing over her discovery that Angel and Cordelia’s relationship wasn’t quite the bed of roses that it appeared to be. Shaking herself out of her silent exultation, she decided to make her presence known, not realising she was interrupting an important tête-à-tête between the vampire and her friend.

Knocking sharply on the door, and then pushing it fully open, the blond slayer stepped over the threshold and smiled brightly at the two occupants. “Hey!”

“Hey B – how ya doin’?”

“Good, I’m good,” Buffy leaned down to give the brunette slayer a quick hug. “Are you feeling better now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Faith shot Angel a warning look before she smiled reassuringly at her blond friend. “Nice moves last night, by the way. You go girl – that back-flip was way cool.”

Buffy puffed up with pride. “It did turn out rather well, didn’t it? But then, me an’ Angel always did work together like a well-oiled machine. It was just like old times, wasn’t it Angel?”

The petite slayer leaned over Faith and laid a warm hand on the vampire’s knee, smiling up at him with a soft twinkle in her sapphire blue eyes.

“Err, yeah sure.” Angel said, his tone distinctly non-committal.

Frowning slightly, the vampire rose to his feet, pointedly moving away from his ex-girlfriend’s gently caressing touch. What the hell did Buffy think she was playing at? He did not need the hassle of constantly having to fend off her unsubtle come-ons, on top of everything else.

He had more than enough on his plate helping his closest friends come to terms with the terrible ordeal that they’d just been though, as well as re-building his relationship with Cordelia. He was going to have to have words with the annoyingly persistent slayer if she continued with this unacceptable behaviour.

“So how are things in good old SunnyD?” Faith asked Buffy, while Angel paced agitatedly back and forth across the carpet.

“Great! Me and Will share a dorm room together at college. My first roomie turned out to be a bit single-white-female-y in a demon-y kinda way. Xander is well Xander, and Giles – he’s big with the mid-life crisis right now. You know – jogging, dressing up as a Mexican on Halloween, coming to the Bronze to see a gig – you know the kind of thing. I think he just doesn’t know what to do with himself now he has no musty books to play with. I’m sure he’ll find something to occupy his time soon though.”

“And Oz?”

“Oh, he left, and came back, and left again, and Willow – well she’s gay now, has a girlfriend called Tara.”

“Okay,” Faith took that revelation in her stride. “And how’s it with you on the love-life front?”

“Well, there’s Riley… he’s… um… downstairs, so you’ll get to meet him.”

“All right, so who’s for up for waffles?”

Cordelia’s cheery voice interrupted the slayers conversation, as she shouldered open the door and came into the bedroom. The seer was carrying a large tray with three mugs, two plates, and a jug of syrup balanced on its surface. Placing it on the bedside cabinet, she turned and handed a plate, and a knife and fork, to Faith.

“You want syrup?” she asked, holding up the small jug.

“Yep,” the slayer replied, lifting her plate.

“Okay, say when,” Cordelia instructed, as she drizzled the sweet, sticky liquid over the food.

Her breakfast served, Faith folded her legs up underneath her and balanced her plate in her lap. Holding her utensils in her hands, she paused, eyeing up her food with trepidation.

“What?” Cordelia asked, noting her friend’s hesitation.

The slayer shot a quick glance over at Angel and the seer’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, as she caught her boyfriend trying to suppress an amused grin.

“Oww!” Angel exclaimed when Cordelia punched him hard on the arm. “What was that for?”

“I can make waffles!” the seer protested, her full mouth settling into a dramatic pout.

Chuckling at his girlfriend’s exaggerated huffiness, Angel reached out and hooked an arm around her waist, pulling her closer. He dipped his head and dropped a soft gentle kiss on her upturned lips.

“You’re so cute when you get all pout-y,” he said, his rich voice vibrating with warm affection.

“These are pretty good, C,” Faith commented, around a mouthful of waffles and maple syrup.

“See – at least *someone* appreciates my cooking, Mr I’d-Be-A-Cordon-Bleu-Chef if I wasn’t an Ex-Evil-Vamp seeking redemption,” Cordelia said, scrunching her nose up in mock indignation, and poking her boyfriend in the ribs with her forefinger.

Angel nuzzled affectionately at her temple, breathing in the sweet smell of her hair before stepping back and releasing her from his embrace. He tapped her lightly on the bottom, and pushed her towards the tray of food, reaching around her to pick up the cup of warm blood that she’d prepared for him.

“Eat up,” he quietly instructed.

The two of them sat, side by side, on the sofa and, for a short while, the only sound was the clink of cutlery against crockery and the slurp of liquid being drunk from mugs.

Buffy sat in silence on the bed next to Faith, glowering at the couple seated close together on the couch. Why did they persist in acting as if everything in the garden was rosy? Now that she knew that their relationship was in trouble, this fake display of togetherness totally grated on her nerves.

“I rang the hospital.” Cordelia eventually broke the, mostly companionable, silence. “Wesley’s doing okay – he said they’ll probably discharge him later on today. That’s provided that they’re happy that he’ll have someone to take care of him at home, of course. I told him he’d have no worries on that score.”

“You spoke to him?” Angel asked.

“Yeah – he was awake so the duty nurse put me through to his room.”

“We’ll go and see him in a bit – the hospital has underground access. Probably best not to overwhelm him with visitors though – just you, me and Faith’ll go.”

“Um… I might stay here – make his room nice for him,” Faith said, her eyes firmly fixed on her near empty plate.

Cordelia shot Angel a concerned look, but he placed a gentling hand on her arm and shook his head. The vampire could understand the slayer’s reluctance to face her watcher. In hindsight, it was probably best that that unavoidably painful reunion happened away from the public eye. Wes would understand; he was sure of that.

“Okay,” he agreed in an easy tone. “Me and Cordy’ll go and keep him company, and then bring him back here with us later.”

“Well,” Cordelia said brightly, setting aside her clean plate and getting to her feet. “I think I’ll go have a shower and get dressed.”

Buffy watched in growing annoyance as Angel’s eyes affectionately followed his girlfriend’s every move, as she retrieved her clothing from the cupboards before vanishing into the bathroom to get ready.

***

Wesley lay in the narrow hospital bed, his head fuzzy from the strong painkillers that he’d been given to numb the agony from his many injuries. There was a light tapping on the door and he opened his eyes, wincing at the pain this slight movement caused him.

“Come in,” he croaked through a parched throat.

Cordelia and Angel entered the room with smiles on their faces, but were unable to conceal their twin looks of shock as they took in his bruised and battered appearance.

“Hi,” he said as the worried couple sat down in two chairs, positioned on opposite sides of the bed.

“Hey you,” Cordelia said softly, reaching out to curl her fingers around his. “How you feeling?”

“I’ve been better, but I think I’ll survive,” Wesley replied. “Is it just you two?”

“Yeah, ‘fraid so. I don’t think Faith is quite ready to face you just yet.” It was Angel who answered his question.

Wesley nodded. “She’s otherwise okay though?”

“She’s been better, but I think she’ll survive,” the vampire replied, echoing the ex-watcher’s earlier statement.

Wesley closed his eyes with a sigh. “Sorry guys, I don’t think I’m going to be very good company. I’m still groggy from all the drugs that they’ve given me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Cordelia assured him, stroking his face lightly with a soothing touch. “You just rest – we can amuse ourselves.”

“Just make sure your amusements are G-rated, ‘kay?” the ex-watcher mumbled, as a wave of drowsiness overwhelmed him.

His weary body succumbing once again to sleep, Wesley was only vaguely aware of Angel and Cordelia’s quiet laughter in response to his teasing remark.

***

Faith sat in the centre of the bed, her arms curled over her head as she sobbed out her anguish. Image flashes of Wesley’s torture at her own hands, the horrible feeling of emptiness inside, and the evil she was sure she could feel hovering just below the surface of her skin, all combined in a whirlwind of horror and confusion that only added to her growing distress.

Facing Wesley later on tonight was rapidly becoming the stuff of her worst nightmares, and she didn’t know how she was going to handle it. She wanted to run away from the approaching encounter, but the thought of dealing with everything alone filled her with dread. She just wouldn’t be able to hold it together without her friend’s, and especially Angel’s, help.

The slayer felt like the souled vampire was the only one, who could really understand what she was going through, and she desperately wanted to cling onto his solid support and never let go. Angel had his own troubles to deal with though and, after what she learned today, there was no way she could justify monopolising his time, twenty-four seven. He and C needed time to themselves to work through their problems and, as their friend; she had to give them that space.

Faith raised her head, blew her nose and scrubbed her face clean of its tears, somehow finding the strength to steel herself for the inevitable. She could do this, she could. She knew she had too. It was sink or swim; do or die, and she was not the type to quit. Taking the easy way out was simply not part of her genetic make-up. If the Orb of Ravaclesh thought it had the power to destroy her, then it was severely mistaken.

part 16.

Posted June 18, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 11   3 comments

Part 11

“ANGEL!”

Buffy’s heart lurched to a momentary stop when the stake pierced the vampire’s skin, but her trained eyes swiftly recognised that the wooden implement was wide of the mark, prompting a flood of relief to race like wildfire through her veins.

Cordelia threw herself blindly at the invisible barrier that blocked her entrance to the Gauntlet, salty tears blurring her vision and making her boyfriend’s stricken form eddy like a mirage before her eyes. Firm hands grabbed her upper arms and pulled back, but she struggled violently against their unyielding hold, frantically trying to shake off the unwanted restraints.

“Let me go – I have to go to him! Oh my God – please not my Angel. Please no!””

“Cordelia; calm down. CORDELIA!”

When the seer’s hysteria showed no sign of abating, Buffy roughly jerked the panic-stricken girl around and slapped her hard across the face. “Just listen to me,” she ordered, taking her former classmate by the shoulders and shaking her.

Despite her envy of the anguished brunette, the slayer wasn’t immune to her rival’s distress. “It’s okay – she missed.” she reassured the sobbing young woman, her voice softening in tone. “She missed.”

“Are you sure?” Cordelia clutched at Buffy’s forearms, her tear-filled eyes going impossibly wide as wild hope supplanted the bleak despair that had taken hold of her heart.

“One hundred and ten percent – I’m the slayer, aren’t I?” Buffy replied gently, giving the seer’s shoulders a comforting squeeze. “That Mr Pointy is too low; I’m absolutely sure of it.”

Sagging in partial relief, Cordelia whirled around and pressed her fingers up against the transparent magical blockade that prevented more than one person from entering the Gauntlet. In spite of the blonde slayer’s steadfast reassurances, her anxiety had not completely subsided. She needed to see and hear for herself that the man – whom she loved more than life itself – was indeed okay.

“Angel – please talk to me,” she cried out desperately, her voice shaking with suppressed sobs.

The incapacitated vampire was slumped against the stone wall, his head hanging down and one hand wrapped around the stake, which was sticking grotesquely out of his chest. Her heart in her throat, the petrified seer watched as he awkwardly pushed himself upright and tugged the piece of wood from his ribcage with a hoarse cry of pain.

Flipping the stake over in his hand, Angel lurched forward and slammed it through the hollow of the Clone’s throat, effectively nailing her to the wall with the blood-soaked weapon. Then, with his palm over the gaping wound in his torso, he stumbled erratically along the last few feet of the Gauntlet and tumbled forward onto the raised dais, collapsing there in a crumbled heap.

The entrance to the Gauntlet corridor opened up as the vampire crossed the finish line, and Cordelia almost fell flat on her face when the invisible wall dissolved under her fingertips. Quickly righting herself, she bent and grabbed her discarded sword, and then determinedly stepped down into the Gauntlet, her earlier fear all but gone as her attention focused on getting to her injured boyfriend as soon as possible.

As the excruciating agony that was ricocheting through his entire body started to diminish, Angel rolled over onto his back, noting out of the corner of one eye that Cordelia had already entered the Gauntlet. Struggling to a seated position with a low groan, he leaned back against the stone podium to monitor his girlfriend’s progress, his concern for her welfare quashing the additional pain the semi-upright posture caused him.

“Oo – scary demon,” the seer quipped sarcastically when a mustard yellow individual, sporting a set of blue horns, popped up in front of her.

As the ringing clash of metal upon metal filled the air, Angel was thankful to discover that the hearsay about the Gauntlet regulating its skill level wasn’t just a myth. The brightly coloured creature was reasonably competent with his sword, but nowhere near as skilled as the demon that he had fought a short while earlier. Cordelia was easily managing to hold her own against her opponent, the vampire observed with intense relief.

Angel had never stepped back to watch his seer fight before, and found himself extremely impressed with what he saw. Cordelia handled her sword with the poised grace of a ballerina, everything he’d taught her slotting into place like adjacent pieces on a jigsaw puzzle. The elegant movements of her lithe body were utterly bewitching to behold, her polished style a remnant from her years as a cheerleader.

Good girl, he thought approvingly when he saw her adjust her footing, clearly preparing to go on the offensive instead of letting her adversary get the upper hand.

Her sword slicing through the air with effortless proficiency, Cordelia proceeded to execute a slick combination of manoeuvres that permitted her to go safely in for the kill, and the demon stiffened in open-mouthed astonishment as she plunged her weapon deep into his belly.

Withdrawing the sword with a flourish, the seer prudently waited long enough to confirm that the creature was indeed dead, before she continued to march down the corridor, her weapon grasped tightly in her right hand.

Angel frowned in confusion when a man in his late forties was the next to step into the ring to confront the pretty brunette. The human’s non-descript brown hair was streaked with flecks of grey, and he was dressed in a pressed navy suit, a pale blue open-necked shirt underneath. The middle-aged man was eyeing up Cordelia with unmistakable sexual desire shining in his gaze – and bulging large in his pants.

The vampire’s deep brown eyes flickered to angry yellow as he observed this detail and he growled possessively, despite being aware that non of this was actually real.

Cordelia was visibly taken aback by this turn of events, and Angel’s heart sank in his chest, as her confidence seemed to fold in on itself, her assertive stance faltering. Who the fuck is this bastard?

A triumphant smile spread across the man’s features at the seer’s apparent capitulation, and he moved forward, reprehensible intent shining lustfully in his green eyes.

“Cordelia…” Angel croaked out, his attempt to speak triggering a hacking coughing fit when blood from his damaged lungs rose up into his throat to momentarily choke him.

The vampire’s hoarse warning did the trick however, and Cordelia stiffened, lifting her head, her hazel eyes blazing with an indefinable mix of emotions.

“Eew! Perv much,” she exclaimed in disgust, bringing her knee up into her attacker’s engorged groin and fiercely shoving him away from her. “Sorry bucko, but you know that scared innocent girl that I used to be? Well, she no longer exists and – hello? Not a virgin anymore either. Guess that means I’m not your type, Mr-I-Want-a-Virgin-Bride.”

“And you wanna know something else?” the seer continued threateningly, tossing her sword to one side and reaching down to un-hook her other weapon from her belt. “In my opinion, sicko men like you should be castrated, so it’s lucky that I’ve got just the thing, isn’t it?”

“See – it’s perfect for the job, don’t you think?” she said, brandishing the small, curved – and very sharp – scythe in front of her tormentor’s bulging eyes.

The man flickered and disappeared after that, and Cordelia hesitated in confusion, perplexed because she hadn’t been required to kill him, but also relieved that it wasn’t necessary. She may hate the man, but she still wasn’t comfortable about taking his life, regardless of the fact that he was only a projection of her subconscious fears.

Gathering up her weapons and turning on her heel, the seer ran as fast as she could down the rest of the Gauntlet, leaping onto the dais, and dropping to her knees in front of her wounded boyfriend.

“You put me through something like that again, and I swear I’ll stake you myself,” she cried passionately, peppering his face with frantic kisses and stroking the sides of his face and neck with the soft pads of her fingers.

Angel felt a wave of guilt run through him at her words. “I’m sorry baby,” he said, lifting a hand to rub soothing circles on her back, as she looped her arms around his neck and buried her warm face against his throat. “I should have left you back at Caritas. I was just so afraid of Faith showing up there again.”

“Not that, you dork,” Cordelia replied, sitting back on her heels and jerking her thumb over her shoulder at the Gauntlet. “I meant this,” she whispered, pushing up his t-shirt to the reveal the already healing wound in his chest.

“Oh,” Angel said, still mortified that he’d fallen for such an obvious ploy. “Don’t worry, I’m fine – well, I will be in half an hour or so,” he assured off Cordelia’s sceptical look.

“Who was that man?” he asked, deliberately shifting the subject of the conversation onto her.

“Oh – Ryan Lauper – Daddy’s warped idea of the perfect husband for me.”

“Does that still scare you?” the vampire asked worriedly, palming her beautiful face between his big hands.

“Not really, not anymore. I guess I have the odd nightmare about it every once in while, but that’s all. I don’t understand why I didn’t have to kill him though.”

“Defeating the enemy doesn’t always involve bloodshed,” Angel explained. “I think it’s enough that you stood up to him and faced down your fear.”

“Remind me never to piss you off, by the way,” he added with a sly wink.

“I don’t think I really would have done it,” the seer giggled, blushing a rosy red as she recollected her rather outlandish threat.

“Well, I’m not gonna risk finding out, that’s for sure.”

“Wise boy,” Cordelia advised sagely with a cheeky smile, and then her expression turned serious again when it dawned on her what the Gauntlet had inadvertently revealed about Angel’s own inner fears.

“Is that what you have nightmares about?” she asked gravely.

The vampire’s first instinct was to deny it, but he caught himself before the falsehood could escape from his lips. Their recent relationship troubles were due, primarily, to a breakdown of communication between them, and he was determined to be completely honest with her from now on.

“All the time,” he whispered, his voice thick with all the underlying emotions that he’d been bottling up for the past couple of months.

One hand resting flat against his torso, Cordelia reached up with the other to touch his cheek with gentle fingers, her eyes growing suspiciously wet. “But I thought that…”

“You thought what?” the vampire asked in a low voice as she trailed off and leaned in to press her warm lips against his cheek instead.

“Never mind – it doesn’t matter now,” the seer replied, shaking her head and reaching down to lace her fingers through his. “I got it all wrong.”

“Cordy…”

“I know – just later okay? When we have more time to ourselves, we’ll talk – about everything, I promise.”

Angel nodded and drew his girlfriend back into his embrace, pressing his face into her sweet-smelling hair, “I love you.”

“I should hope so,” Cordelia murmured against his throat as she nestled closer, her arms rising to encircle his back. “Cus there’s one crazy-in-love girl snuggled in your arms right now.”

Angel smiled and gently kissed the top of her bent head. “Glad to hear it.”

***

“Voila!” Willow placed the frosted cocktail glass in front of Lorne with a dramatic flourish.

Wrapping his fingers around the glass’s delicate stem, the Host carefully lifted the ice-cold alcoholic drink to his lips, expertly inhaling the fruity aroma, before taking a tentative sip of the cloudy pink liquid.

“Mamma mia!” he exclaimed, closing his eyes and shuddering with exaggerated pleasure as the sharp-tasting drink hit the back of his throat. “Now *that’s* a Seabreeze to die for – you’ve sure got the magic touch, baby doll.”

“Mixing cocktails is not that much different from conjuring up witches brews really,” Willow said. “The success of both hinges on getting the right balance of ingredients, although I have to say, blending a magical potion incorrectly has a rather more spectacular effect than a bad cocktail does.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you’d been party to the abuse heaped on my poor intestines, by some of the ghastly concoctions that I’ve been forced to endure,” Lorne replied with a grimace. “If you ever get tired of the white-witch-slayer-sidekick-saving-the-world gig, you can come and work for me – good bartenders are hard to find. I’d even throw Ramone over for you, my sugar plum.”

Willow favoured the green-skinned demon with her wide beaming smile. “Thanks, I’ll remember th…”

The sudden trilling of her cell phone cut off whatever she had been about to say, and she rushed across the room to answer it. “Hello?”

“..”

“Hi Angel – how’d it go?”

“..”

“You did, that’s great!”

“..”

“Yeah, I can do that. How long will you be?”

“..”

“No, no, that’s okay – Lorne can help me.”

“..”

“Of course – see you in a bit then, bye.”

Willow shut off the phone and placed it back on the bar, then purposely moved towards the table where Wesley’s icebox of supplies stood.

“Pray tell me, little one – exactly what is Uncle Lorne going to help you with?” the Host asked the suddenly industrious witch, his red eyes wide with trepidation.

“Making the Orb exorcising potion,” Willow replied, as she flipped open the metal clasps on the blue plastic container and carefully began to unload the small glass specimen tubes. “The others succeeded in getting Faith’s address from Wolfram and Hart, so it’s time to get busy with that saving-the-world stuff.”

“Oh no, amigo – providing accommodation and offering advice is about as far as I go for the PTB cause. The hands-on stuff? Not in my contract, sweet thing.”

“It is now, oh brightly-suited one,” Willow firmly told the reluctant Lorne, mimicking his habit of peppering his speech with syrupy nicknames. “The incantation requires two people and you’re the only person available. So stop being such a wussy girl-demon, and find me something to mix up the potion in.”

“Whoa, scary wicca alert! You weren’t a tad dominatrix-y in a former life, perchance?”

The witch shot him a dark look, “I think one of those cocktail shakers will be perfect for the task – we can whip up several batches all at once with that, and we won’t have to worry about when each will run out.”

Pursing her lips, she surveyed the myriad of glass bottles dotted over the table’s surface. “Wesley measured out enough for ten portions – I think we’ll just make up five to start with, and save the rest for if Plan B is necessary.”

Taking the two-part metal container from the green-skinned demon, Willow consulted Wesley’s notes and tipped in the various contents of the specimen tubes in the specified order. Before adding the last ingredient to the cocktail shaker, she took a plastic stirrer and mixed up the potion with a brisk hand.

“Okay, when I add the Kaylem powder, it should start to react, but the amalgamation won’t be complete until we recite the incantation. We’ll do that just as Angel and the others get here – that way the potion will last as long as possible, giving us the best chance to get the Orb out of Faith.”

The mixture began to spit violently as Willow poured the final item into the container, and Lorne had to resist the desperate urge to duck. Slotting the top half of the shaker into place, the redheaded witch vigorously shook up the magical fusion, increasing the popping sounds coming from the metallic receptacle ten-fold. That done, she placed the vessel back down on the table and removed the top, releasing a cloud of bright purple smoke with an accompanying sulphurous odour.

“Angel said they’d be here in ten minutes.” Willow handed Lorne a slim piece of paper and glanced at her watch, “When I say go, say that with me twice over.”

The Host nodded as they sat down to await their companions’ arrival, “I would just like to point out that a significant pay-rise is definitely in order after this.”

Willow smiled, “I promise I’ll make you another Sea-breeze before I go home.”

“Mmm – now I’m in heaven, floating on a big white fluffy cloud of blissfulness.”

***

“Watch out for that dark green car,” Angel said, indicating a vehicle that was at least a hundred metres away.

“Hey – back-seat driver much.”

“You’re not used to driving through heavy city traffic, Buffy,” he told her pedantically. “You live in Sunnydale remember?”

“So? And what heavy traffic?” Buffy snapped back, gesturing wildly with one hand at the handful of cars that had ventured out on the LA roads in the middle of the night.

“Will you *please* keep both hands on the wheel?” the tense vampire remonstrated, oblivious to the murderous look that the irritated slayer threw in his direction.

Riley and Buffy had both made it through the Gauntlet intact, though the soldier had sustained a deep laceration to his left arm in the process. Cordelia was currently doing her best Florence Nightingale impression and swathing his injured limb in a crisp white bandage that she’d taken from the first aid kit, which Angel kept in the Plymouth for emergencies.

The vampire’s stab wound was healing at a rapid pace, but the seer had insisted that he rest up on the journey back to the Karaoke Club. She had sensibly pointed out that he would be facing Faith in less than an hour’s time and so needed to recover his fighting strength as quickly as possible. Thus, with Angel relegated to the passenger seat, the driving had fallen to Buffy, who was beginning to regret offering to do it – playing nurse to Riley seemed a much better option right now.

“Take a left at the next set of lights,” Angel instructed, “Caritas is down the fourth street on the right.”

“There you go – almost as good as new,” Cordelia said cheerily, sticking the final piece of medical tape over the bandage on Riley’s arm.

Packing up her supplies, the pretty seer graced the soldier with her beautiful sunny smile, and he couldn’t help grinning back.

“You’re very professional with the first-aid stuff,” he complimented her.

“Yeah well, I’ve had enough practice – Angel forever needs to be patched up. Sometimes I think he deliberately gets hurt just so I have to act as his nursemaid.”

“Hey – you don’t do you?” she asked then, poking the vampire hard between the shoulder blades with her forefinger.

“Of course not,” Angel lied smoothly, keeping his eyes facing front to prevent his too-smart-for-her-own-good girlfriend from seeing straight through his carefully orchestrated subterfuge.

Okay, so he *occasionally* dragged out his battles with various demons a little longer than was strictly necessary, *and* allowed himself to incur minor injuries, all for the enjoyment of having Cordelia fuss over him. He never took unacceptable risks though, so where was the real harm in it? There wasn’t any as far as he was concerned.

“It’s the next on the right,” he piped up, effectively ending the dangerous line of conversation. “Willow said she’d have the exorcising potion ready for when we arrived. We’ll discuss the plan of action on the way over to Henshot Avenue.”

Buffy pulled up in the alleyway outside of Caritas and they all piled out of the car and into the basement club, where they found Willow carefully pouring a thick orange liquid into several small screw-top plastic bottles.

“Is that it?” Angel asked her.

“Yeah – we made five batches, with any luck that will be enough. If we do require a second attempt – Wesley weighed out ingredients for five more.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. How do we administer it?”

“You’ve somehow got to get her to drink it – I don’t think it’s the pleasantest tasting concoction in the world.”

The vampire nodded and picked up three of the tiny bottles; he tucked two in his jacket’s inner pockets, and then handed the third to Buffy. “We’ll keep the other two in reserve – Cordy can you look after them please?”

“Sure,” the seer agreed, stepping forward and scooping up the last two containers.

“Have you got everything you need for the binding spell?” Angel queried of Willow.

“Yeah – all present and correct.”

“Okay then – About time we got this show on the road.”

***

The Orb/Faith sat on the ledge of the open window, looking out into the darkness and breathing deeply of the cool night air. The shard of glass that, until a few minutes ago, had been used to torture Wesley was still clutched between their bloodstained fingers.

Faith couldn’t stand to look at it anymore, so broke her silent pact with her watcher and briefly wrested control of her body’s movements from the Orb. Forcing her fingers open, she let the hated weapon fall.

“Ah well,” the Orb commented blandly as the glass shattered on the ground below. “I was getting bored with that game anyway. How about we try something new?”

Swinging her long legs around and hopping down onto the panelled wood floor, the possessed slayer crossed the room towards a barely conscious Wesley. “That was refreshing, but I’m feeling a little cold now. What do you say we warm the place up?”

The ex-watcher was startled into lucidity when he suddenly felt a scalding heat up close. Forcing his eyes open, he looked up to see his tormentor standing over him with a spray can and lighter in her hands. With a slow smile of triumph, the Orb depressed the spray can top and held it near the lighter, so that a bright orange flame shot forth with a crackling hiss.

“Pretty, isn’t it? I bet you’d appreciate a closer look, wouldn’t you watcher-boy?”

The Orb/Faith deliberately moved the highly flammable objects until they were about six inches from Wesley’s face, preparing to ignite them again. She was prevented from doing so however, when the door burst in on its hinges, flying halfway across the room.

Angel strode into the apartment, his purposeful movements the embodiment of absolute power and determination.

The Orb tossed the spray can and lighter aside, and quickly drew Faith’s knife, setting the blade against her captive’s throat.

“About time, soul-boy. Ready to play now?”

The resolute vampire turned to face his archenemy before calmly answering the question.

“I’m ready.”

Part 12

Posted June 18, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 5   3 comments

Part 5

“I don’t see why we can’t stay here.” Cordelia griped to Angel as she strode across their bedroom to tug open the chest of drawers. She pulled out a selection of matching bra and panty sets and casually tossed them onto the bed spread behind her.

“I hadn’t properly thought things through.” Her boyfriend explained as he neatly folded and packed several of his shirts into the open suitcase on the bed. “It’s just not practical for you and Wes to remain by my side twenty-four hours a day.”

The vampire shuddered then, flashing back to the dramatic scene in the alleyway an hour or so earlier – Faith’s arrow had been aimed at him, but Cordelia or Wesley could just as easily been its target. Angel was trying very hard not to think about the terrible consequences of that particular scenario.

It wasn’t working however – his overactive imagination kept conjuring up the horrifying image of the two most important people in his life, lying in puddles of their own blood, desperately fighting for survival whilst he stood by powerless to help. These extremely vivid pictures chilled Angel to the bone, so he forced himself to shake off the gruesome thoughts and deliberately focused on the task of stacking Cordelia’s underwear into tidy piles instead.

“I can’t fight Faith and protect you at the same time.” he continued, carefully placing the skimpy garments in one corner of the case. “We need a base where you’ll be safe without the need for me to be your round-the-clock bodyguard.”

“Like where?” Cordelia asked as she tugged open the closet doors and surveyed the contents with a critical eye.

“I think I know of a suitable place.” Angel replied, not offering any further details on the matter.

“Do I need smart-casual or upmarket chic?” Cordelia asked, twisting around to face him with an expression of indecision decorating her pretty face.

“Cordy – we’re hardly going on vacation.” Angel chided gently, trying not to laugh. “I think jeans and t-shirts will suffice.”

“Just casual-wear then.” the seer concluded, then stuck her tongue out at her smirking boyfriend. “Don’t laugh – it’s important for a woman to know these things.”

“I’m sure it is.” Angel shook his head in amusement as Cordelia turned back to the closet – she was so completely adorable at times. A few minutes later, once they were all packed and ready to go, the two of them made their way into the living area where Wesley was seated on the sofa, patiently waiting for them.

“Did you talk to Willow?” Angel asked.

“Yes – we agreed that she and Buffy would catch tomorrow afternoon’s bus to LA – Willow wanted to gather a few supplies first. It’ll probably take twenty-four hours for us to organise things this end anyway, so there’s no need for them to rush up here immediately.”

Angel nodded and bent to pick up one of the backpacks of magical provisions. “I’ll go and meet them at the Bus Station tomorrow night then.” he said as he hefted the bag over his right shoulder. “Right now we need to get out of here and some place safe before Faith shows her face again.”

Anxiously nibbling at her bottom lip, Cordelia trailed after the two men, striving to conquer the nagging insecurities that had rushed to the surface at the news that Buffy would be accompanying Willow to LA. She knew she shouldn’t be surprised – Faith and Buffy shared a unique calling and therefore a common bond, so it was only natural for the blond girl to want to help her fellow slayer in her hour of need. The seer just hoped that Faith was Buffy’s only reason for coming to LA.

Although the slayer seemed to have accepted that Angel no longer loved her, Cordelia was still apprehensive about the forthcoming visit. Her relationship with Angel was finally on the mend, but that didn’t mean that Buffy couldn’t throw a spanner in the works if she wanted to. The seer didn’t trust the slayer not to gloat over the currently shaky nature of her and Angel’s union.

“Are you okay?” Wesley asked, noting the look of distress on Cordelia’s face as they stashed the luggage in the trunk of the car; Angel stood guard a few feet away, keeping a sharp look-out for an appearance from the possessed Faith.

“I’m fine.” Cordelia insisted.

The ex-watcher threw her a sceptical look which induced her to cave in and confess her worries.

“I wish Buffy wasn’t coming with Willow, that’s all.” she murmured, keeping her voice low to prevent her boyfriend from overhearing. “It’s not fair that she shows up, just when me and Angel are starting to get things back on track.”

Wesley slipped a comforting arm around her shoulders and hugged her gently. “Cordelia – you have nothing to worry about.” he told the anxious young woman soothingly. “Angel loves you, and I know for a fact that he wants to work things out as much as you do. Buffy is only a threat to your relationship if you allow her to be.”

Cordelia wearily rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. “I hope you’re right.”

“I am.” Wesley said confidently. “Just try and trust in Angel’s love for you, okay? Buffy doesn’t have the power to hurt you if you do that.”

“You’re da bomb Wes.” Cordelia said, starting to feel more relaxed about Buffy’s impending visitation now that her confidence had been given a boost by Wesley’s emphatic reassurances about Angel’s devotion.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about Cordelia, but I’ll take your word for it.” was the ex-watcher’s extremely puzzled response to her compliment.

Cordelia laughed at Wesley’s confusion over the alien expression before she engulfed him in a friendly hug. “Thanks for the pep-talk coach.” she whispered gratefully in his ear.

“Any time.” Wesley replied with a smile, warmly returning her embrace. “Come on – we’d better get going.”

The seer nodded and raised her voice to call her boyfriend back over to the car. “Angel – we’re ready.”

The vampire immediately turned and strode purposefully towards the Plymouth, sweeping Cordelia up into his arms and depositing her in the backseat in one smooth movement.

“Wesley get in.” he instructed with an insistent wave of his hand. “I think Faith is watching – we need to get out of here before she realises what we’re up to.”

Wesley nodded and hurriedly clambered into the front as Angel vaulted over the side into the driver’s seat. The vampire turned the key in the ignition, revved the engine and, with a squeal of tyres, the Plymouth sped off down the highway towards its intended destination.

***

Riley Finn stood straight-backed with his arms folded over his muscular chest, silently observing the hive of activity in Rupert Giles’s living room.

Buffy, with Xander’s help, was packing various weapons into a large holdall whilst Willow, Tara, and Giles sat together at a small table in a corner of the room, poring over the spell that – what was his name? Oh yes – Wesley had faxed through to them a short while ago.

“It’s really quite ingenious.” Giles was commenting to the two young women. “It’s never crossed my mind to develop new spells before.”

“It c-could be very d-d-dangerous.” Tara warned gravely. “A lot of things c-can g-go wrong.”

“Yes, I imagine that’s true.” Giles agreed. “Wesley sought guidance from a prominent witch’s coven in England for this spell though, so I believe it is safe to use.”

“You’ll have to find a way to capture and confine Faith first however.” the watcher continued, raising his voice slightly to include Buffy in the conversation. “Did Wesley tell you what they had in mind?” he turned back to Willow.

The red-headed witch shook her head. “I don’t think they’ve planned that far ahead yet. Wesley said that Angel was insisting that they de-camp to some kind of safe-house before they do anything else. I think their run-in with Faith tonight was a little too close for comfort – if she’d shot that arrow at Cordelia …”

Willow left her narrative hanging, allowing the others to fill in the blanks about Angel’s likely reaction to that happenstance for themselves.

Riley involuntarily clenched his fists; he was still struggling to get his head around Buffy’s earlier revelations and the reference to her ex only exacerbated his inner turmoil. The straight-laced soldier just couldn’t understand how his girlfriend had ever been able to contemplate any kind of romantic entanglement with a demon – let alone actually fall head over heels in love with one.

As far as his Initiative-trained mind was concerned, this Angel character was abhorrence of nature that shouldn’t be allowed to roam free. So what if the bastard had a soul; it didn’t change the fact that he was a monster, did it? Riley’s green-eyed resentment was further compounded by the unmistakably wistful expression that he’d seen shining in Buffy’s blue eyes as she explained about her first love.

Unable to overcome his inbuilt prejudices, the soldier found himself faintly disgusted – and more than a little bit jealous – by the fact that his girlfriend could talk about a *vampire* with such obvious affection. There was no way in hell that he was allowing Buffy to go to LA without him.

“I’m going with you.” he broadcast his unequivocal decision to the rest of the room.

“What?” Buffy looked over at her boyfriend in disbelief.

“You heard me.” Riley replied stubbornly. “This is clearly a serious situation – you’re going to require help.”

“I’m not having the Initiative swarming all over this.” Buffy insisted, her tone firm and unwavering. “This is a rescue mission Riley – not your customary seek and destroy exercise. Your boys don’t know how to keep control of their trigger-happy fingers where demons are concerned, and there is absolutely no way that I’m going to let Faith – or Angel – be exposed to that risk.”

Riley bit back his instinctive retort that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for her beloved vampire to be chipped and, to all intents and purposes, neutered, given what he was. He sensed that arguing with the determined slayer was fruitless though, so swallowed his pride and proposed a possible compromise.

“I wasn’t suggesting that I bring the whole squadron along.” he lied smoothly. “I just thought you might need an extra pair of hands on this.”

“He has a point Buff.” Xander stuck up for the soldier, aware that it must be difficult for Riley to stomach Buffy’s residual feelings for her former boyfriend. “He’d be an asset to you and Deadboy with the army training he’s got.”

Tucking her shoulder-length blond hair behind her ears, Buffy pursed her lips thoughtfully and considered that. Maybe it would be good for Riley to actually meet Angel, she decided; hopefully then he would understand that the souled vampire was totally different to the demons that the Initiative encountered on a daily basis.

“Okay – you can come with us.” she relented, not wanting to rock the boat after her earlier disclosures regarding her past love-life.

Riley nodded and headed towards the door before she could change her mind. “I’ll go and pick up my stuff and arrange some leave.” he said, resisting the urge to slam the door behind him in a fit of pique.

It just wouldn’t do for him to let his true feelings show and behave like an insanely jealous boyfriend – even if that’s exactly what he was. This way he could keep a watchful eye on the vampire and act appropriately if the monster stepped out of line.

***

Angel quickly herded Cordelia and Wesley down the steps, letting out a sigh of relief as they crossed the threshold into relative safety of the noisy Karaoke club.

A big burly Greblock demon blocked their path when the contents of one of their bags set off the metal detector.

“Weapons please.” he growled menacingly, clenching his enormous hands into tight fists and fiercely drawing his black bushy eyebrows together to underscore his intimidating demeanour.

“I’d like to speak to your boss please.” was Angel’s completely unfazed response to the doorman’s threatening behaviour.

The demon hesitated, unsure of how to counter-act the vampire’s unruffled attitude. “Weapons please.” he repeated his stock phrase, his voice lacking in its previous confidence.

Losing his patience, Angel vamped out and thrust his ridged face into the Greblock’s field of vision until they were practically nose to nose. “I said I want to speak to your boss.” he grated from between clenched fangs.

“Now, now – I don’t think there’s a need for such rudeness, is there?” A genial voice sounded from behind them as two fat tears escaped from the huge demon’s blue eyes to roll down his round cheeks.

“It’s all right Barry, my big lug.” The Host soothed, patting his distressed employee on the back. “These are my special VIP guests; I think we can let the no weapons rule slide just this once.”

The demon bouncer sniffed and turned back to his post while Angel let his features shift so that his handsome human visage once again returned to his face.

“You’re the demon guy that read Angel’s soul after Willow re-cursed him.” Cordelia exclaimed as it dawned on her why this place and its proprietor seemed so familiar to her.

“Glad you remember me princess.” the green-skinned demon replied with a broad smile. “So how did you enjoy the after-show party?” he asked impudently, winking suggestively at the pretty seer whose cheeks flushed pink in reaction.

Angel was suddenly assaulted with memories of the night that he had first made love to Cordelia and he felt his groin stir in response. His condition got appreciably worse as the faint odour of female arousal reached his sensitive nostrils, prompting his twitching sex to surge fully erect.

The aroused vampire shifted uncomfortably, tugging his long overcoat around him as he strived to get his brain out of his painfully tight pants and re-focused on the purpose for this trip to the Karaoke Bar.

Cordelia was slightly shocked by her body’s unconscious reaction to the recollection of that night at the Starlight Hotel so many months ago. Her nipples tightened into hard points and a flood of creamy arousal dampened her panties at the pleasant memory.

Angel had been so gentle and loving, leading her through her first sexual experience with the utmost care and consideration. There had been some pain yes, but that had been far out-weighed by the overwhelming pleasure of the erotic encounter. This had been chiefly down to the fact that the vampire had taken the trouble to make sure that her untried body was ready to accept him before he gently took her virginity from her.

The seer instinctively stepped closer to Angel and reached out her hand towards him, but flinched back when the vampire jerked away. At first, she was hurt by his violent rejection of her touch until she noticed the way he had his coat drawn about him. Cordelia smiled as she realised the reason for his seemingly unfeeling behaviour towards her – he was trying to quell his own body’s physical reaction to the memory of their first night together.

She looked up into Angel’s eyes as she felt the soft apologetic touch of his fingers against the small of her back, and shivered in reaction to the desire-filled gaze that he was directing at her. It’d been a while since he’d looked at her that way – God, she wanted him so badly. It was taking all of her willpower not to drag him off some place private so they could surrender to their overpowering passion for each other.

Oh my goodness! Wesley thought silently as his two best friends practically undressed each other with their eyes, both of them oblivious to the fact that they were in a public place. He was glad that they were finally re-connecting but, in his opinion, they ought to learn some self-restraint!

“Phew! It’s really quite hot in here, isn’t it?” The Host of Caritas commented slyly to the embarrassed ex-watcher, fanning his jade-coloured face with one hand.

“Umm Angel – maybe you should explain to the Host why you’ve brought us here.” Wesley diffidently suggested, breaking through the thick atmosphere of sexual tension that had descended over the pair.

The vampire coughed and cleared his throat, reluctantly turning away from his girlfriend to address the brightly-suited demon. “Caritas is protected by a Furies Sanctuary spell right?” he asked.

“Like it says above the door – no demon violence allowed.” the Host replied. “You know the lovely ladies cupcake?”

“We’ve met.” Angel replied shortly, casting a guilty sidelong glance at Cordelia, despite the fact that his liaison with the Furie women had happened several years before they met.

“We need to stay here for a while.” he added – it was not a question.

“No worries honey bunch – I’ve already had your rooms made up.”

“You knew we were coming?” Wesley asked the Host incredulously.

“Mr Tall, Dark and Broody’s aura was screaming it whilst he was sobbing into his cup of O-pos a few nights ago.” the Host explained as he led them through the bar towards a door marked PRIVATE.

“Nice to see you’ve cheered up by the way, cinnamon buns. The black cloud of despair hanging over you was making even *me* brood and I never do that. You’re far more fetching as PTB mission guy Angelcakes.”

The three of them trudged up the back staircase behind the green-skinned demon until they reached a small landing area with four doors off it.

“These are for you, my friends.” The Host indicated the two doors on the left. “And those are for your guests when they arrive.” he pointed to the doors on the right.

“Anyway peeps, have to say toodles – my fans are waiting. Oh and call me Lorne – we should be on first name terms now we’re sharing accommodation, don’t you think?”

Lorne smiled congenially at them, and then disappeared back down the stairs to the noisy Karaoke club below.

“Faith isn’t a demon.” Wesley pointed out. “The sanctuary spell isn’t going to apply to her.”

Angel looked over at his friend. “No, but the Orb essentially is though. At present, the two of them are one entity so Faith will have no power here.”

Wesley’s mystified frown cleared as understanding dawned. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“I think we should get some rest and start afresh tomorrow.” Angel decided.

The ex-watcher nodded in agreement, twisting the handle to open the door of his bedroom. “I’ll see you both in the morning then. Good night.”

Cordelia entered the large room ahead of Angel, taking in her surroundings as she did so. Considering the garish nature of the décor in the club downstairs, the bedroom was surprisingly stylish.

The walls were painted a pale cream colour and dark blue drapes hung at the windows. The King-sized bed was covered in a lush quilt, patterned in several shades of blue, and mounds of plump cream pillows sat against the heavy oak headboard. The seer also spied an on-suite bathroom through the door in one wall that stood slightly ajar.

Angel dumped their bags in the centre of the room and turned to face her.

“You came here?” Cordelia suddenly blurted out, referring to Lorne’s earlier comment about the vampire drowning his sorrows at Caritas.

“Sometimes.” Angel answered in a subdued voice, looking down at his boot-clad feet. “Other times I just walked the streets trying to clear my head.”

The seer nodded mutely, not knowing what else to say. The two of them stood a few feet apart, regarding each other warily as their conversation ground to an abrupt halt; a result of the sensitive subject that had been unexpectedly brought up.

“Umm – I’m going to take a shower.” Cordelia eventually broke the awkward silence that had descended over them, gesturing towards the open door of the bathroom.

“Okay – I’ll get us unpacked.” Angel replied before the seer disappeared into the on-suite, shutting the door firmly behind her.

Angel stood contemplating the closed door for a few moments and then turned to their luggage. Whilst he mulled over things in his head, the vampire began to stash their personal belongings in the oak closet and the chest of drawers that stood against the far wall.

The situation with Faith was having a strongly adverse affect on their reconciliation, he realised. They desperately needed to take a few days off to really talk and spend some alone time together, but that just wasn’t a possibility at the moment.

The inescapable circumstances meant that an invisible barrier still remained between them, while they waited for the opportunity to re-establish their bond. Angel recognised how important it was for them to find a way to break down that wall before it developed into a real problem, but he had no idea how to go about it.

With a heavy sigh, the vampire pulled out a dark purple negligee from the case and held it up in front of him – it was the one that Cordelia had worn on their first night together. He glanced towards the bathroom door, and then at the huge double bed that took up the better part of the room, a germ of a possible solution occurring to him.

Cordelia had wanted him earlier that much had been obvious, and their love life had always been a means through which they communicated how deeply they loved each other. Making love wouldn’t solve their problems he knew, but it would allow them to emotionally reconnect with each other.

His course of action decided, Angel quickly finished off the unpacking then, clutching the purple nightdress and its matching robe in his hands, he gathered up his courage and approached the bathroom door.

***

Lindsey McDonald stood at the window of his office, gazing out at the bright lights of LA. It wasn’t quite the panoramic vista of the top floor offices, but he was slowly working his way up. At least he had a view, which was more than could be said for some employees at Wolfram and Hart.

“What do you want Lilah?” he asked, not bothering to look around as the door opened behind him and his colleague – he used the term loosely – entered his office without knocking.

The female lawyer strode silently across the carpeted floor and sat down in the black leather chair in front of the plush mahogany desk. In an attempt to garner his attention, she began to drum the French-manicured fingernails of her right hand on the beige-coloured folder that she held in her left.

Lindsey sighed heavily and turned away from the window to face her, sitting down in the cushioned leather chair behind the desk and folding his hands together on the shiny wooden surface in front of him.

Lilah Morgan was impeccably dressed as usual, wearing a dark navy well-cut and expensive suit with a burnt orange silk blouse underneath. Her long legs were elegantly encased in black silk stockings and three inch Manolo Blahnik heels adorned her feet. Her face was professionally and subtly made up, and her shoulder-length brown tresses were coiffured to perfection so that not one single strand of hair was out of place.

She leaned forward and slowly slid the folder across the desk to Lindsey, then sat back in the chair and crossed her right leg over her left, exposing a hint of creamy thigh and the lacy black edge of her stockings – the female lawyer was an expert at using her sexuality to get what she wanted.

Lindsey turned his attention to the folder in his hands and flipped it open to find a glossy photograph of a strikingly beautiful brunette staring back out at him. He turned the page and quickly skim read the personal information about the pictured young woman.

“A slayer?” he commented incredulously. “Why would …?”

“Read on.” was Lilah’s only response.

Lindsey did just that and his eyes widened as he digested the rest of the information contained within the file. He looked up expectantly at Lilah, wondering exactly what she had in mind.

“I thought I’d do some digging into the thorn in our side’s most recent past.” Lilah explained in her low lilting voice. “That little titbit rose to the top of the pile when one of my contacts informed me that our evil slayer woke up today – she escaped from the hospital at midday. Imagine Lindsey – a slayer and the Orb of Ravaclesh’s power combined – we could own LA with that, hell we could control the whole of US *and* beyond.”

Lindsey was amazed by the woman’s sheer audacity; he was much more cautious in his approach – the majority of the time anyway. Lilah always seemed to rush headlong into situations without properly considering the consequences of her actions. That was both brave and foolish, but Lindsey couldn’t help admire her drive and her determination, even as he hated her underhand methods to out-manoeuvre him in front of the Senior Partners.

“How exactly do you propose to find her?” he pointed out the obvious flaw in her plan. “And what makes you think she’ll do what you want anyway? The Orb of Ravaclesh is the essence of pure evil if I recall correctly – I’m sure it has its own agenda to follow.”

“A human with brains – how very refreshing.”

An unfamiliar voice sounded from the doorway and Lilah was forced to twist around in her seat so that she could observe their intruder.

Faith stood in the office threshold; her arms outstretched as she clutched either side of the door frame in her hands. She was wearing low-cut dark denims and high-heeled boots, together with a black and red patterned cut-off top. Her dark hair cascaded in a mass of untidy waves over her bare shoulders; her brown eyes were rimmed with charcoal eye shadow and her lips painted a bright glossy red.

The possessed slayer strode confidently into the office, taking in the plush surroundings. “Not bad.” she said, nodding her head in approval. “You have taste.”

Recovering quickly from his surprise, Lindsey got up from his chair and moved around the desk to perch on its polished surface. “May we help you?” he asked politely.

Faith laughed, a chilling sound, and her eyes suddenly glowed red as she moved to stand in front of the handsome lawyer.

“Oh yes Mr McDonald – I think that you may.”

Part 6

Posted June 18, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 1-2   Leave a comment

Title: A Crisis of Faith
Author: Becjane                                               fanfic art
Posted:
Rating: NC17
Email
Category: Romance/angst.
Content: A/C, A/C/W/F friendship
Summary: Sequel to Long Time Coming. I’ve also summarised it below to jog everyone’s memory as it’s been a while since it was posted. Even if you haven’t read Long Time Coming, you should be able to understand this fic as long as you read the summary of Long Time Coming. Set in ATS Season 1,but basically AU. After Angel and Cordelia went to LA at the end of Long Time Coming, events pretty much happened as they did on the show, except that ‘I Will Remember You’,’Expecting’ didn’t happen. They met up with Doyle and set up Angel Investigations. Doyle’s romantic feelings for Cordelia were either nonexistent or he kept them well hidden because he knew Angel would rip his head off!! He died in ‘Hero’ and passed his visions onto her. Wesley didn’t come to LA though, so Angel and Cordelia have been alone since Doyle’s death. Cordelia’s visions are more like the end of Season 2 in strength.
Spoilers: Non really – set in ATS Season 1
Disclaimer: Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Please ask first.
Notes:
Thanks/Dedication:
Feedback: Always welcome.


Part 1

The dark and brooding figure sat, silent and still, in the armchair by the bed. The room was as black as midnight, the basement apartment being devoid of windows. Despite the darkness, the souled vampire’s enhanced eyesight enabled him to make out the restless form on the bed, and his deep brown orbs were focused with guilt on the sleeping woman tangled up in the crisp white sheets. He wearily closed his eyes, shutting out her image as his acute hearing picked up the sound of her faint whimpers and the agitated beat of her heart.

Cordelia wasn’t even aware that she no longer slept peacefully in his arms, but Angel, driven to insomnia by her disturbed slumber, couldn’t escape the undeniable reality of it. The reason for her restlessness filled the vampire with the urge to smash the objects around him to smithereens.

Unable to stay and watch her unconscious disquiet any longer, Angel abruptly got out of the chair and strode, on silent feet, into the living area of the apartment. He turned on the standard lamp that stood in one corner, flooding the room with a muted light.

The apartment was furnished in an eclectic mix of their contrasting styles, an echo of their individual personalities. Ancient weaponry and classic paintings decorated the walls alongside several modern movie posters. Cordelia’s favourite Keanu picture was not among them however; Angel had put his foot down when she had wanted to hang that up.

Next to the shiny new stereo system, CD’s of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart were stacked up next to those of various bands whose music sounded like white noise to Angel, but who Cordelia insisted were ‘cool.’

The dark brown leather sofa and chairs were decorated with pink heart-shaped cushions and the low coffee table was covered in back issues of various fashion magazines together with hardback copies of ‘The Complete Works of Shakespeare’ and Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace.’

Over the last seven months, Cordelia had blossomed from a pretty teenager into a vibrant young woman, and although her sharp wit and refreshingly brutal honesty were still very much in evidence, these character traits had softened around the edges with her growing maturity. Angel had found himself falling in love all over again, mesmerised by the beautiful woman that she was developing into.

Sighing heavily and running his fingers through his dark spiky hair, the vampire trudged up the back staircase to the offices of Angel Investigations situated directly above the basement apartment. He didn’t use the old elevator for fear of waking up his girlfriend; her current pain was becoming increasingly difficult for him to cope with and he just couldn’t muster the strength to face the young seer right now.

Turning on the lamp that stood on the desk, Angel crossed the room to contemplate the framed picture that hung above the coffee percolator. It was an amateur sketch of the ‘ugly, grey, blobby thing’ in Cordelia’s first vision, and a treasured reminder of Doyle.

He felt his stomach burn with grief at the loss of his half-demon friend, but mixed in with that sorrow was an overwhelming anger towards his former seer. Doyle had intentionally passed on his agonising premonitions to the woman that Angel loved and the vampire was struggling to forgive him for that.

His girlfriend willingly accepted the visions as a parting gift from their friend, but Angel could not. The sight of Cordelia screaming and writhing in pain made him want to throttle their dead comrade-in-arms. As far as Angel was concerned, Doyle should have never placed this too heavy burden on her slim shoulders.

The vampire could see all too clearly the toll that the responsibility of being his seer was taking on her psyche. She was still the light to his dark, but the weight of the visions had cast an inevitable shadow over her bright and sunny personality. Angel couldn’t stand to see Cordelia suffering and the injustice of it was gradually eating away at him inside.

If only she hadn’t kept things a secret from him, then he might have had a chance to prevent this from happening.

***

She was alone and drifting in the sea of her own mind; she could sometimes hear the murmur of voices, both strange and familiar to her, but she couldn’t open her eyes, move, or speak to let them know that she was still here.

They didn’t know that she was still alive and waiting to be rescued.

***

Cordelia rolled over and reached out for Angel’s solid and comforting form, coming awake instantly when the palm of her hand touched the cold empty space besides her on the mattress instead. Reaching up with one hand, she fumbled for the light switch turning on the pair of wall lights above the bed.

She was alone – again.

A cold finger of anxiety stirred low in her belly making her suddenly nauseous. How many nights was it now? It was almost as if Angel couldn’t stand to be near her. Everything had been fine until Doyle’s sacrifice, and then things between them had irrevocably changed.

Turning over onto her back, Cordelia gazed up at the ceiling trying to deal with her chaotic thoughts and emotions. The sorry state of their relationship all stemmed back to one thing – the terrible fight that had taken place a week after her first vision.

Angel, obsessing over her vision pain, had been constantly trying to wrap her up in cotton wool and his overprotective behaviour had driven Cordelia up the wall. She had decided, therefore, to tell him what Styjasimok had said about her destiny to become a seer, in the hope that it would make him realise that this was what the Powers That Be had intended from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, instead of being mollified, the vampire had exploded in a fit of apoplexy, furious that she’d kept the evil magician’s words a secret from him.

Afterwards, in the cold light of day, Cordelia couldn’t recall all that had been said in the heat of their argument, but the angry words had cut deep on both sides, opening up wounds that had yet to heal and that continued to fester with infection several weeks on.

Rolling over onto her side, Cordelia’s glassy eyes wandered tiredly about the room, and she flinched inwardly when they landed on the hastily swept up shards of glass from the vase that the enraged vampire had hurled against the wall during their fight. Angel had stormed out of their apartment soon after, leaving her alone, weeping and curled up in a tight ball on the bed.

When he had finally returned home, twenty-four hours later, the vampire was subdued and distant, but they had somehow managed to paper over the gaping cracks that had suddenly emerged in their relationship. Something had been missing since that night however, and Cordelia didn’t have a clue how to get it back.

Her boyfriend had closed himself off, putting up an impenetrable wall between them that the seer couldn’t seem to break down, no matter how hard she tried. In bed, Angel still brought her body to the heights of physical ecstasy, but their previous emotional connection was barely apparent and their love life had dwindled dramatically in frequency as a result.

It was clear to Cordelia from the vampire’s behaviour that he didn’t think she was good enough to be his seer, and that hurt like hell. He got so irritated when she couldn’t properly interpret her visions in the expert way that Doyle had done. It wasn’t fair – she was still learning and was getting better at it every time. Why couldn’t he give her the chance to prove herself worthy of the vocation that their friend had bestowed on her?

Surrendering to her deep unhappiness, the emotionally drained seer let a stream of salty tears leak out of the corner of her eyes and run down her pale cheeks to land like raindrops on her pillow. She put her hands over her face and cried herself back to sleep, her weary body shaking with silent sobs.

***

Something ancient and evil ran like ice through her veins, and she desperately needed to escape from it and get away before it was too late. It was finally time to breakout of this oppressive black prison and move towards the pinprick of white that gleamed like a miniature spotlight, guiding her and showing her the way home.

***

Angel returned to their building just before dawn broke over the horizon. Heading into the upstairs bathroom, he washed the combination of red and greenish-yellow blood off his hands, and cleaned up his various cuts and bruises with the bottle of disinfectant that he found in the cabinet.

Whilst restlessly pacing the dark streets of LA, he had been set upon by a nest of vampires and their pet Streflar demon. Hunting down and eliminating his foes had a cathartic effect on Angel’s mood, and he currently felt more in control of his emotions than he had done in weeks. He pulled off his torn and bloody shirt and donned a dark green sweater before making his way downstairs to the apartment.

Cordelia lay curled up asleep in the centre of their bed, the soft glow from the wall lights illuminating her tear-streaked face and the dark circles under her eyes. The cotton pyjamas that she wore used to fit snugly over her curvy form, but now hung loosely on her much thinner frame.

Angel sighed; he knew that her distress and weight-loss were not purely down to the strain of the visions. Their estrangement was the cause of a great deal of mental anguish to them both. The vampire was only too aware that he was taking his inability to handle the situation out on his girlfriend, but he found it impossible to stop himself from doing so. He just couldn’t get past the impotent rage that he felt every time he saw Cordelia in physical pain.

She had kept secrets from him and that filled Angel with an unreasoning resentment towards her. The upshot of this was that he had instinctively withdrawn back into himself and the effect on their former closeness had been devastating.

Kneeling by the bed, the vampire reached out and ran his cool fingers through Cordelia’s thick glossy hair, needing to make some sort of connection with her. Despite their recent troubles, he still loved her with a powerful intensity and hated that this current state of affairs seemed to be slowly, but surely, destroying the deep affection that they held for each other.

Angel decided, then and there, that he wasn’t going to let that happen; he would find a way to rid her of the visions if it was the last thing he did. His Cordelia didn’t deserve to suffer like this and he was going to put a stop to it. The Powers That Be could go to hell; he wanted things back to the way that they used to be.

***

Wesley peered out of the porthole window, watching while the bright lights of Los Angeles slowly got closer as his plane made its descent into LAX Airport.

He looked down to double-check that his precious backpack was still there by his feet, stuffed under the seat in front. The books and papers stashed within were the result of months of painstaking research, and to lose them was unthinkable. The ordinary-looking green canvas bag held the key to freeing Faith from the Orb of Ravaclesh’s nefarious influence and it was therefore the most important thing in the ex-watcher’s possession.

Noting that the plane’s landing gear had descended, the Englishman clutched at the armrests of his seat and waited for the inevitable bump as the aircraft hit the ground. Always a nervous flyer, Wesley sighed in relief when the pilot put the engines into reverse throttle, and brought the plane to a safe standstill on the runway before announcing their arrival in LA.

As Wesley sat with his bag in his lap waiting for the other passengers to disembark, he glanced at his watch – six am, he figured he should make it to the Angel Investigation offices by nine o’clock. Clutching his passport, the ex-watcher finally left the plane and stepped down onto US soil again, almost seven months to the day from when he had last set foot on the western side of the Atlantic.

***

The tunnel was dark, but she could just make out the faint light at the end of it. Struggling to move her leaden limbs, she crawled slowly on her hands and knees towards her way out, the illumination getting brighter as she approached the end of her long and painful journey.

Keep going you’re nearly there, she encouraged herself when her progress faltered slightly. Just a little way further and you’ll be home free.

***

Wesley smiled as he spied Cordelia’s dark head through the grubby glass panel; the young woman’s attention was intent on the pad she was scribbling on, and her long hair was hanging like a curtain around her face. Angel didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight.

Pushing down the handle, Wesley entered the Angel Investigations reception area, the rattle of the door heralding his arrival. Cordelia looked up from her desk and Angel appeared like magic in the doorframe of the offshot office at the sound. They both stared stupidly at him for a few moments, neither of them properly registering his unexpected presence.

Their dumbfounded surprise gave Wesley the time to ascertain that all was not as it should be. The cloud of tension that hung in the air choked the room with its invisible fog, and the few metres separating his friends appeared more like a deep impassable chasm.

Growing more worried by the second, Wesley’s eyes took in the extra pallor of Angel’s face and the deep bruise-like circles under the vampire’s exhausted eyes. He shifted his scrutiny to Cordelia next and was dismayed when her hazel orbs suddenly welled with unhappy tears, her brave front crumbling under his concerned blue-eyed gaze.

With a choked sob, the young woman rose to her feet, stepped around the desk and flung herself into his arms. “Oh Wesley.”

As his arms closed about the shaking girl, Wesley was shocked to discover that he could feel the outline of her ribs through the thin gauzy top that she wore.

He lifted his gaze to Angel’s and was greatly disturbed by the film of unshed tears that veiled his brown eyes and the expression of bleak despair that was etched upon the vampire’s angular face.

Something was very wrong.


Part 2

Angel tore his tortured eyes away from Wesley’s steady look and bent his head to contemplate his feet, hunching his shoulders and sticking his hands in his pant’s pockets as he did so. The vampire made no move to comfort the crying girl in the ex-watcher’s arms, frozen into inaction by the knowledge that his failure to protect her was the main cause of her distress.

He cleared his throat and spoke with some difficulty, his voice hoarse and raspy. “Wes – good to see you. You should have told us you were coming home.”

Cordelia pulled away from their friend, wiping her eyes as she tried to compose herself. “Yes.” she agreed, her voice wavering slightly. “We would have met you at the airport if we’d known that you were coming.”

“I called to let you know I was on my way back a couple of days ago, but you weren’t in.” Wesley explained, reaching out to shake Angel’s proffered hand. “My flight got in a few hours ago.”

“So, have you found a way to help Faith yet?” the vampire enquired, casually perching on the edge of the desk and folding his arms across his broad chest.

“I think so, but I’m going to need your assistance to successfully restore her.” Wesley replied, his sharp eyes taking note of the fact that Angel deliberately avoided looking at Cordelia while she mopped up her tears with a large handkerchief.

What the hell was going on?

“I’ll tell you about it later though; right now I could do with a good breakfast, because I’ve had nothing but in-flight food for the last ten hours.” Wesley looked towards Cordelia. “Where can I find a decent diner?”

“There’s Sally’s – it’s only a couple of blocks away.” she replied, tucking her long hair behind her ears to keep it off her face. “You turn left when you leave the building and then….”

“How about you just show me?”

“But it’s daylight and Angel…”

“Can spare you for a couple of hours I’m sure.” Wesley quickly circumvented her attempt to evade being alone with him. He knew the only way he was going to get to the bottom of the trouble between his friends was to talk to them separately. Neither one was going to confide their problems with the other present.

“You don’t mind if I steal her for a while do you?” he queried, directing his question towards the vampire.

“No, go ahead.” Angel readily agreed, actually glad at the suggestion; it would save him the job of having to come up with a plausible excuse to explain his planned absence this morning. “We can catch up properly later.”

Wesley reached behind himself to pick up his backpack. “Can you put this some place safe please? It’s got all my research in it.”

“Sure. I’ll lock it in the weapon’s cabinet downstairs.” Angel replied, taking the backpack from him; he gestured towards the ex-watcher’s suitcase. “What about that?”

“It’ll be okay in here for now.” Wesley answered as he tucked his wallet into his jacket’s inner pocket. “It’s only clothes and stuff.”

“I’ll put it in my office.” Angel decided, slinging the green canvas bag over one shoulder and crossing the room to effortlessly pick up the suitcase. “You go and eat. I’ll see you both in a bit.”

“Shall we?” Wesley invited, gently ushering Cordelia out of the office with a light hand on the small of her back.

“We’ll talk later.” he called to Angel over his shoulder just before the door closed behind him.

The vampire waited until their heartbeats faded into nothingness, and then retreated into his office to deposit Wesley’s suitcase before heading down the stairs to the apartment. He unlocked the weapon’s cabinet and stashed the precious backpack in one corner, then reached right to the back to retrieve an intricately carved mahogany box.

Moving to sit down at the table, Angel removed the small key attached to the chain around his neck and opened the wooden box, flipping the lid to reveal the red velvet-lined interior. The receptacle contained various personal items – small trinkets that he had acquired over the years and also a series of letters tied together with a red ribbon. He pulled out the top letter, unfolded it and began to read the loopy script written in Doyle’s messy handwriting.

Angel had found the letter among the half-demon’s possessions when he had cleared out Doyle’s apartment after his death. The first few paragraphs told the vampire the story of the Scourge that his friend had already narrated to him, but the second half of the letter contained instructions on how Angel could contact the Powers That Be, should he ever need to.

It was this information that the vampire was after – he was going to demand that they send him a new seer so that Cordelia would be released from her unsought burden and their lives could get back to normal.

***

Wesley slid into the booth opposite Cordelia, looking upon the young woman’s pale and drawn face with concern. The walk to the diner had taken place in almost complete silence apart from a few exchanged pleasantries regarding his journey back to the US.

A blonde buxom waitress came over to take their order, smiling congenially at the two of them.

“Err – I’ll have blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, some coffee and orange juice please.”

Wesley glanced over at his too thin companion. “And we’ll have all that twice.” he added, not giving Cordelia the chance to order next to nothing.

“Sure thing honey.” the waitress replied as she scribbled on her pad.

“I was just going to order a Latte; I’ve already had breakfast.” Cordelia protested as the waitress made her way back over to the counter to shout their order through to the kitchen.

“What, two bits of dry toast?” he queried with a hint of reproval. Cordelia looked down at the table at that and Wesley realised that he had pretty much hit the nail on the head.

“Cordelia, you’ve gotten far too thin – you need to eat a proper meal.” Wesley told her, reaching out across the table to take her hands in his. “What is the trouble between you and Angel? You could have cut the atmosphere between you with a knife back there.”

Cordelia lifted her gaze up to his, allowing him to see the pain that was starkly apparent in her liquid-filled hazel eyes. He gently squeezed her fingers in sympathy. “I want to help.”

“I don’t know whether you can.” she choked out, pulling her hands out of his grasp and swiping angrily at the few tears that had escaped to run down her hollow cheeks. “He won’t forgive me Wesley, and I don’t know how to make things right again.”

“Won’t forgive you for what?” Wesley sat back in the booth watching as an expression of guilt washed over her delicate features at the question.

“When Doyle died, he passed his visions on to me.” Cordelia haltingly began to explain.

“Yes; you told me that in an email a while back.” Wesley replied with a slight nod of his head.

“Well, I guess I sort of knew it was going to happen.” the young brunette continued, her voice dropping in volume. “You see Styjasimok told me that I was destined to become a seer when he kidnapped me. That’s why…”

“He specifically needed you – the ritual to raise the Orb of Ravaclesh required the blood of a seer.” Wesley finished her sentence for her as understanding dawned in his quick mind. “I take it you failed to tell Angel any of this?” he guessed.

Cordelia nodded miserably, running her hands over her tear-streaked face and pushing her dark hair out of her eyes. “He was so angry Wesley. I’ve never seen him like that before – ever. We had a really huge fight about it; he blames me for what happened. He thinks he could have stopped me from getting the visions if I’d told him what Styjasimok had said.”

“And why doesn’t he want you to have the visions?”

Cordelia shrugged her shoulders and looked down at the table. “I don’t know; maybe you should ask him that.”

There was a hint of bitterness in her voice as she spoke, which suggested to Wesley that she had her own theory about the reason for her boyfriend’s attitude. She patently wasn’t going to tell him however, and even though her suspicions about Angel’s motives were more than likely incorrect, he decided not to push it – for the time being at least.

Given how protective the vampire was of her, Wesley could easily imagine the strength of Angel’s anger over his girlfriend’s reticence. The scale of the argument that followed her confession must have been colossal and he suspected that they had each unintentionally caused great hurt to the other during the course of it.

There appeared to be a severe breakdown in communication between them as well, which probably meant that these inflicted verbal wounds had gone unresolved, further deepening the gulf that had opened up between them. He needed to find a way to get his friends talking again, and then hopefully this bump in the road could be properly smoothed over.

The waitress brought their food to the table and Wesley watched as Cordelia shot a small smile in his direction, then picked up her knife and fork and began to ravenously eat the breakfast that he had ordered for her.

Well, at least that’s a start in the right direction, he thought silently to himself as he attacked his own breakfast with equal gusto.

***

Following Doyle’s hand-written directions, Angel made his way through the underground tunnels until he came to a hidden cave with a huge blocked off archway built into one wall. The gleaming white arch had ‘The Gateway for Lost Souls’ written in Latin across the top of it and a large stone font stood in the centre of the circular cavern.

The vampire quickly crossed the dusty floor towards the structure and took out the glass bottle of Kinsell powder that he had just purchased. He scattered the colourful dust into the font before bending down to pick up the lighter that lay on the ground next to the rough stone column.

“I beseech access to the Knowing Ones,” he said solemnly, then set alight to the powder in the bowl.

The concoction immediately flared up with bright orange flames and Angel jumped back, covering his eyes as a blinding white light filled the room. Once it had faded enough for him to see again, the vampire realised that the marble gateway was no longer closed off. The white light was still too bright for him to observe what lay beyond, but he strode confidently towards the revealed doorway nonetheless.

As he proceeded across the threshold, Angel felt like he was being sucked through a portal into another dimension, until he eventually found himself stepping out into a hexagonal room with its floors, walls, and ceiling all constructed from dazzling white marble.

Two figures stood on the steps in front of him – one male, one female.

The Oracles had a metallic golden sheen to their skin which was decorated with cyan blue swirls. They were dressed in black Greek-style togas with sandals on their feet. The female wore a heavy gold circlet in her hair and a matching bracelet around her wrist.

“Come before us Lower Being.” the male proclaimed in an echoing voice.

“What have you brought us?” the female asked with a higher, but similar intonation.

Prompted by a hastily scribbled P.S. on the end of Doyle’s letter, Angel pulled out a small rose-coloured vase and offered it to her. “Ching Dynasty, circa 1811.”

The female oracle beckoned with one hand and the vase flew out of the vampire’s grasp and across the room to land safely in her outstretched palm. “Lovely.” she said, turning it this way and that to admire its slender elegance.

“You have sought our counsel warrior; ask what you will – your time here is short.”

“I want you to take the visions from Cordy. Send me a new seer.” Angel got straight to the point.

The female oracle cocked her head to one side and fixated her brilliant blue eyes on the vampire’s face. “You wish to strip her of her birthright, take away the destiny that is written large in the stars?”

“Is she not sufficient?” the male oracle continued, his voice faintly incredulous. “She is young and inexperienced yes, but she will come into her own in time.”

Angel shook his head. “No, that’s not what I meant. She’s in pain and I can’t stand to see her that way.”

“That is no concern of ours.” The male oracle sniffed disdainfully. “It was your own free will that led you to invite her into your bed. That was not the purpose for which you were brought together.”

“That which has come to be was pre-ordained and cannot be altered.” The female oracle circled the vampire slowly as she spoke. “Do not trouble us with such a trivial matter again; there are more important concerns for you to be focusing on – a great malevolence awakens in your world as we speak.”

“What is that suppos…”

“Begone, Lower Being.” the female oracle cut off his query with a regal wave of her golden hand.

The vampire immediately found himself violently expelled from the Oracle’s domain and he crashed into the opposite wall of the underground cave, catapulted there by the force of his dismissal. He scrambled to his feet, swearing profusely at the once again barred doorway.

Angel clenched his fingers into tight fists and allowed the face of his demon to emerge with a low growl. He then proceeded to punch at the stone walls with his fisted hands, venting his anger and frustration out on the inanimate objects around him until he finally regained some semblance of emotional control.

***

Her eyelids felt heavy and were encrusted with sleep, but she forced them open and found herself staring up at a grubby ceiling and a white fluorescent strip-light. The acrid smell of antiseptic irritated her nostrils and the steady beep of machines sounded extremely loud to her sensitive eardrums.

Where the hell am I?

With significant effort, Faith lifted her arm to remove the obstruction that covered her nose and mouth and felt a tug on the back of her hand that protested the movement. She struggled for a few moments to focus her gaze, but her eyesight eventually cleared to reveal a needle secured into one of her veins with medical tape. She was in hospital then, but why?

In answer to her silent question, a deluge of images bombarded her confused brain:

C tied to a chair and struggling to escape as Styjasimok raised his knife to spill her blood.

Angel leaping across the widening crack in the High School Assembly Hall, C safely ensconced in his arms.

B crashing against the ceiling and plummeting like a dead weight to the ground.

Styjasimok raising his arms to catch the glowing Orb of Ravaclesh in his outstretched palms.

Herself, looking down at her knife, then up at the exulting magician on the podium as she slowly rose to her feet.

Oh my God! I killed him and the Orb of Ravaclesh infected me, she realised in a panic as her memory suddenly came flooding back to her in a rush.

Now that she was more alert, the weakened slayer could feel the evil that inhabited her every pore and her stomach churned with nausea in reaction to it. Her mind appeared to be clear of the infection though – how could that be?

As if triggered by that thought, the Orb began to stir within her and the blood in her veins was inundated with its corrupting influence. Faith began to hyperventilate in terror as the evil quickly spread throughout her body and headed with chilling purpose towards her unprotected mind.

Oh God! Somebody please help me! The slayer silently screamed as the Orb took control of her brain and brutally crushed her free will into submission.

***

“You said you’d found a way to help Faith?”

“Yes, I think so.” Wesley replied as he and Cordelia walked in the direction of the building where she and Angel both lived and worked. “I’ll explain everything to you and Angel in a bit okay?”

“Okay.” she agreed with a bob of her head.

The sun was now higher in the sky and the temperature had consequently risen by several degrees, so Wesley shrugged out of his suit jacket and slung it over his forearm. “How was she when you last saw her?” he asked the seer in a subdued tone.

Cordelia looked across at him guiltily. “Oh God Wesley – what with Doyle and everything else, we haven’t been to see her for nearly two months. The hospital hasn’t called to notify us of any change in her condition though. I’m so sorry – what kind of crappy friends are we?”

Wesley patted her soothingly between the shoulder-blades. “Don’t worry about it. You and Angel – you’ve both had a lot on your plate recently; Faith would understand.”

“I know, but still.” Cordelia shook her head in self-flagellation. “She’s my friend and I haven’t been there for her.”

“I want her back, Wes – do you really think you can make that happen?” she asked, turning expectant hazel eyes on the Englishman.

“I hope so Cordelia, I really do.” Wesley answered with feeling, as they mounted the steps and re-entered the building where Angel Investigations was housed.

Cordelia desperately missed having another woman in her life to confide in. Although she loved Angel and Doyle had been a good friend, as was Wesley, it wasn’t the same. Faith was the only true female friend that she had ever really had and the young seer grieved her absence acutely.

Sitting with the unresponsive slayer in that sterile hospital room got more difficult each time she and Angel went to visit. Cordelia hoped against hope that Wesley’s plan worked because she didn’t know how much longer she could cope with seeing her friend like that.

“It’s locked.” Wesley turned to tell her after he had tried to open the office door several times without success.

“We must have had a client or something.” Cordelia mused, fishing around in her bag for her key. Producing it with a flourish, she twisted the metal implement in the lock and let the two of them into the reception area.

“No note?” Wesley asked as she searched first her desk, and then Angel’s for a message from her boyfriend.

Cordelia frowned, the expression marring her pretty face. “No – but then he doesn’t always tell me where he’s going nowadays anyway.”

“Maybe he’s just downstairs.” Wesley suggested delicately. “Your apartment is directly under here, isn’t it?”

Cordelia nodded absently in answer to the ex-watcher’s question. “How are we supposed to make any money if he locks the clients out?” she exclaimed in exasperation, crossing the room towards the elevator.

She tugged open the metal lattice and the two of them stepped into the square-shaped lift to make the descent into the apartment below. Angel was nowhere to be found downstairs either.

“Where is he? It’s daytime so it’s not like he could…” Cordelia stopped mid-flow as she heard the sound of the trapdoor that allowed the vampire access to the underground sewers tunnels opening.

Angel emerged through the hole in the floor, his black clothing covered in a layer of dust and an expression like thunder on his handsome face.

“You’re hurt.” Cordelia cried out in alarm, rushing towards him when she noticed the dried-up blood on the vampire’s knuckles and forearms.

“I’m fine.” Angel snapped, side-stepping the worried young woman and making his way into the kitchenette to wash his self-injured hands. Wesley and Cordelia trailed into the small room after him like naughty school children.

“I don’t want to talk about it Cordelia, so don’t even think about asking.” Angel said brusquely when she opened her mouth to question him about what had happened.

The pretty brunette visibly shrank back from her boyfriend’s harsh tone, crossing her arms in front of her chest in a defensive gesture as her eyes filled with tears at his unkind treatment of her.

Wesley sighed. “Angel …”

“So tell us how we can help Faith.” The vampire quickly interrupted his friend’s objection to his anti-social behaviour. Angel was well aware that he had just reduced Cordelia to tears and he already hated himself for that; the last thing he needed was Wesley pointing it out.

The vampire knew he had to stop this before he completely destroyed their relationship; at least saving the stricken slayer would give him something else to focus on for a while. Maybe a distraction from their troubles would help matters.

Seeing that Angel wasn’t exactly in a talkative mood, Wesley saved the lecture for later and sat down at the small kitchen table to fill them in on what he had learnt during his many months of research into Faith’s predicament.

“I found a lot of spells and potions that can limit an object of power’s influence over the vessel it possesses, but there appeared to be nothing that could exorcise that control completely. With every possible solution I found, Faith would have still been partially under the Orb’s dominion. Even with her slayer abilities, she wouldn’t have the strength to fight against its authority twenty-four hours a day.”

Wesley paused to gather his thoughts, taking off his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “After months of coming up against brick walls, I finally decided that I was approaching my research in the wrong way. I was hunting for a solution in the past when I should have been looking into the future instead.”

“I don’t understand.” Cordelia said, wrinkling her brow in confusion at that cryptic statement.

“I was searching for a spell that already existed rather than trying to devise a new one.” Wesley explained to the perplexed seer. “I took everything I’d found out and approached one of the witches covens that the Council has contacts with. It took a few weeks but, with their assistance, I was eventually able to come up with a potion to expel the Orb from Faith’s body, and also a binding spell to seal it once again into the earth – for good this time.”

“Why do I get the impression that there’s a catch to all of this?” Angel asked, sitting down opposite Wesley at the table and resting his chin in his hand.

Wesley smiled wryly at his friend. “Because there is; the potion has to be made and administered within an hour or it’s ineffective, and we have no way of knowing whether it will work until we try it.”

Angel nodded in understanding. “It’s worth the risk though. How long will it…?”

The vampire broke off and quickly rose to his feet, his attention suddenly diverted elsewhere.

“What is it? What’s the matter?” Wesley asked urgently.

There was a sudden blur of movement and Angel was gone from his line of sight. Wesley quickly spun around, just in time to see the vampire catch Cordelia as her knees buckled underneath her.

She clutched at her head, crying out in agony and flailing about in his arms as painful image flashes assaulted her brain.

Wesley watched her torment with growing horror; he was aware that the visions were painful, but he hadn’t expected anything like this. No wonder Angel was having such a hard time dealing with seeing her this way.

Cordelia eventually calmed in her boyfriend’s embrace and the vampire gently led the shaking girl to a chair. He knelt down on the linoleum floor in front of her and took her trembling hands in his.

“What is it baby? What did you see?”

Part 3


 

Posted June 18, 2015 by califi in TBC