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Reality Bites 1-5   Leave a comment

Title: Reality Bites
Author: Anna
Posted: 11/08/05
Email
Rating: PG-13
Category:
Content: C/AUS, C/A, B/A (Sorry…its not for long!)
Summary: Halloween goes wrong when Angel decides to dress up too…
Spoilers: BTVS Season 2 up to Halloween
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: AO.
Notes: This is my first fanfic so please be kind! The chapters start off quite short but they seem to be getting longer the more I write…
Thanks/Dedication:To everyone at AO, you guys provided the inspiration so thanks to you lot! Ficpic by the Lovely CydneStorm. *mwah*
Feedback:I think so…


Chapter One

…”and Giles said that Halloween isn’t a big evil night so, you know, I was just thinking it could be fun,” Buffy stared hard at the floor hoping that if he couldn’t see her eyes he wouldn’t be able to tell just how nervous she was. There was a long pause,

“Fun?” The dark-haired man sitting on the tombstone opposite finally queried, looking slightly nonplussed.

“Yeah we get to dress up, pretend to be something we’re not, you know do the whole escapism thing. Plus candy, there is no bad there.” She watched him hopefully her eyes wide and pleading. He gazed back at her with dark, unreadable eyes.

She really thinks I’d enjoy getting dressed up on Halloween, the one night of the year creatures of the night take a break. It’d be like having to work a holiday – without the extra pay.

The more he thought about it the less he liked the idea but then he began to think about how she never really asked him for much and how hard was it really to look stupid for one night.

Hell, Xander does it every day, so how tough can it actually be?

If he could do this one relatively simple thing for Buffy that would make her happy then the dark vampire was willing to do it. If she wanted a normal night of Halloween fun with her friends then he’d join in and pretend to enjoy it, or at least he’d lurk in a dark corner until he could safely leave.

“Sure, why not,” he found himself saying. Buffy was clearly not expecting that answer as she began what sounded like a well rehearsed tirade,

“I don’t see why you don’t wanna come. I mean I know you don’t like people and social things and candy isn’t exactly your food of choice…”

This was shaping up to be a long and persuasive argument that Angel just didn’t want to hear,

“Buffy, “he shouted, “I said I’d come, although I have no idea where to get a costume from. Do I really need a costume?”

He was hopeful that she’d say no, that his being there was all she needed to make her night great. Buffy blinked looking slightly taken aback. She was truly expecting him to put up more of a fight.

“Really, you’ll come? Cool…we’re all meeting at the Bronze after we finish our enforced baby-sitting duties. Don’t worry I know just where you can go for a costume, the same place I got mine – Ethan’s.”

So no chance of avoiding the costume thing the…


CHAPTER 2

‘Ethan’s’ was heaving with last minute costume hunters. Children dashed around the store yelling to their parents that they wanted to be a power ranger or Harry Potter.

A what? Who?

Angel had no idea what the kids were talking about. He thought the traditional Halloween costumes were ghosts and witches but apparently the current trend was for bright pink lycra bodysuits, strange helmets and black robes being billed as ‘what real wizards wear’.

These people wouldn’t know a real wizard if he walked up and cursed them, thought Angel as he fingered one of the robes doubtfully.

I am not wearing pink lycra…not that I couldn’t carry it off…

The regret at agreeing to this was beginning to come back again. When he’d agreed the other night it hadn’t seemed such a big deal, plus it seemed the thing to do in order to avoid a long and impassioned plea from Buffy. Then there was the big non-coffee date at the Bronze last night, cancelled due to unscheduled slaying. He got it, he really did, but he had made the effort to actually appear in a public place – the least Buffy could have done was stay for a drink. Not that the evening had been completely awful, he had actually enjoyed chatting to Cordelia Chase, not something he had ever expected to do.

How could any guy stand her up? He wondered, unless he was blind, but then don’t blind people use touch instead to ‘see’ people, in which case the guy must be absolutely crazy…

He wandering thoughts were interrupted by the oily shop assistant materializing at his side.

“Can I help you, Sir? You look as though you’re having a little trouble selecting an outfit.” Angel regarded the man in silence for a moment.

Talking of crazy people…

Out loud he replied, “Yes I need a costume, but something simple – nothing over the top.” He’d agreed to the dressing up thing but there was no way he was purposefully looking stupid if he could avoid it.

“Of course, I have just the thing,” with that he slid into the crowd of what Angel was rapidly coming to believe were in fact small demons rather than real children. The assistant returned a few moments later looking extremely pleased with himself, he had what appeared to be a long black cape draped over one arm.

“This vampire costume should do the trick. All you need is a cape and some glow-in-the-dark fangs and if you really want to you can always remove the fangs later.”

If only…

“I’ll take it,” Angel replied, thinking that at least it wouldn’t test his acting skills too much, although he imagined Xander would have a field day.

“Excellent – a good choice if I do say so myself. You should carry the role off admirably.” Angel trailed behind as the man headed towards the cash register.

I’m sure there are some vampires out there who’d disagree with you on that.

A look of intense satisfaction passed across the face of the shopkeeper as he rang up Angel’s purchases. The tall vampire didn’t notice as he was focusing on the exit and the all too appealing outside world, shiny sun and all. Angel left the store tightly clutching his bag to his chest and looking furtively around. This was not something he wanted the evil community at large to know about. If it got out that he’d been buying a costume for Halloween then his reputation would be shot to pieces. His last thought as he slipped into the sewers was,

Could have saved money on the fangs…

***

“So you actually convinced tall, dark and dorky to dress up?”

Xander, Buffy and Willow were slowly strolling towards the school in full costume, ready for two hours of fun, fun, fun.

“Xander,” Buffy looked at him disapprovingly, “no making fun of him tonight.”

“But he’s definitely coming, right?” Willow’s voice was slightly muffled by her billowing ghost costume.

“Yep, he agreed pretty easily too.” Buffy wasn’t sure why but she wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth either. Maybe it was a sign that he wanted to move up from coffee.

“Should be a fun night then,” said Xander, “first we get to escort a bunch of munchkins trick-or-treating and not get to keep any of the candy ourselves and then we get to hang at the Bronze with a dead guy who has all the social skills of Vlad the Impaler on a bad day…good times.” He was not happy about Angel’s attendance, in fact he had counted on the vampire not being there since when he was around he took up all of Buffy’s attention.

Oh well, at least there’ll be one easy target for me tonight.

***

Ethan Rayne watched the tall vampire leave. He’d heard about the vampire with a soul from one of his less upstanding contacts (who was he kidding? None of his contacts were upstanding, a few of them didn’t even have legs to stand on). He couldn’t believe his luck when he’d seen who’d walked into his store earlier.

Tonight should definitely be fun, he grinned, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.


CHAPTER 3

The night was not going well. First she’d chickened out of wearing the outfit Buffy had helped her with, then she’d died and now she was trapped in a house with a slayer who thought she was an extra on a bad costume drama, Xander the toy soldier and Cordelia, who unfortunately had not turned into her costume. Plus all the little kids had turned into monsters and demons – and not in the metaphorical sense.

“So Xander has amnesia?” Cordelia’s sharp voice interrupted Willow’s depressing thoughts.

“Yes, Cordelia. He lost his memory and now he thinks he’s an actual soldier.” She kept the explanation simple hoping that it would satisfy the curious brunette.

“Well I guess its the closest he’ll ever get to being in the real army – I hear you actually have to, you know, be a man to get in. And what’s up with all the kids out there? Are they all on major sugar highs or something? And when did Buffy turn into Scarlett O’Hara?”

“Ok! Enough with the questions.” Her night just kept going down hill. “As far as I can tell we seem to have somehow turned into our costumes – Xander is a soldier, Buffy’s a lady from back in the day and I’m a ghost. I have no idea why you’re not affected.” Willow knew she had to get to Giles fast to figure this out but she wasn’t sure she could leave Xander and Buffy, although Xander did seem to be pretty handy with his gun.

“I think we’re all secure here. I’ve checked all the doors and windows and we should be safe,” Xander said as he entered the room with a timid Buffy trailing in his wake.

Wow, thought Willow, authority really suits him – stop; I need to figure this out – not think about how hot Xander looks in his combats.

“Listen, I need to go and get help to fix all this. Will you three be ok on your own?” Xander nodded firmly, Buffy looked doubtful and Cordelia simply raised an eyebrow.

Who am I kidding…two of them don’t know who they are and Cordelia isn’t exactly what I’d call useful in a crisis, but needs must…

Just as she was turning to make her way through the nearest wall she caught sight of a tall figure with a large, black cape billowing around him entering the kitchen. She rushed over to him,

“Angel – thank God – you’re ok right? Buffy said you got a vampire costume but since you’re already a vampire I guess you’re just, you know, you.”

“Sure,” he grinned, “just me.”

Well that explains a lot, he thought, I must remember to thank Buffy for convincing me to dress up before I kill her. Also – note to self – send the costume shop owner a thank-you card.

He remembered putting on the outfit earlier in the evening. He’d dressed in his usual black ensemble and then stood gazing doubtfully at the cape that was draped over the back of a chair. He’d approached it warily, as though afraid that it may bite. Slowly he’d pulled it on and then turned to eye the glow-in-the-dark fangs that were innocently sitting in the middle of the table. He’d picked them up and turned them over in his hands,

These aren’t even close to real and imagine if our fangs did glow in the dark – we’d kind of lose the whole element of surprise thing.

However, as if an invisible force was guiding his hand he’d raised the fangs to his mouth and inserted them. There he stood in all his glory – a creature of the night, a mythical vampire – with glow-in-the-dark fangs.

This isn’t going to work, surely just the cape will do.

With that he’d ripped the fangs out of his mouth and made his way out of the apartment, hoping that he wouldn’t run into anyone he knew, not that he knew too many people. He remembered making his way to the Bronze, steeling himself for the night ahead, when he’d felt a sudden burning pain and then…nothing. The soul was gone and he was free.

You gotta love the Hellmouth.

Willow watched the tall vampire, he looked slightly odd, almost happy which just plain freaked her out. However, she didn’t have time to question Angel about his apparent conversion to the joys of the holiday. She beckoned him into the dining room where the others were waiting. Buffy and Xander quietly regarded the caped crusader who had entered their midst.

Xander was weighing him up as a potential ally or a potential threat. Buffy meanwhile was slowly edging towards Cordelia hoping that the other girl may have some smelling salts as she was beginning to feel rather faint. Cordelia, on the other hand, had perked up considerably since Angel had entered the room, seemly normal and unaffected by the who costume thing.

“So, you’re ok right? No amnesia for you?” She questioned. The night was starting to look up, monsters aside. Now that Angel was here perhaps Halloween wouldn’t be a complete write off. They’d got on well at the Bronze before, he’d seemed nice, genuine and the fact that he was easy on the eyes was a big bonus. Plus she knew her flirting would piss Buffy off, amnesia or not.

Angelus turned to look at the brunette addressing him. Dressed in a tight leopard print bodysuit that accentuated her curves she was a feast to the eyes. Her long chestnut hair was loose around her shoulders and the cat ears perched atop her head completed the enticing picture.

“Cordelia,” he almost growled, “good to see you again.” The night was definitely looking up. He’d come here to kill the slayer and as an added bonus finds Cordelia Chase – the perfect post carnage distraction.

“Great, you can stay here while I go to Giles and try to fix all this,” interrupted Willow, who was already halfway through the wall.

“Sure,” called out Angelus, “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on everyone.” An evil smirk spread across his face.

You’re not going to be able to fix this before I’ve had my fun.

***

Spike strolled though the normally quiet streets of Sunnydale. All around him chaos reigned. Demons and humans were racing around – the demons gleefully chasing the screaming people.

“You know,” he said out loud, “I could be converted to Halloween if it was like this every time. People screaming, people dying; people prancing around looking stupid. Hours of fun…”

He glanced happily around at the unfolding chaos.

Must find who to thank for all this. Now, lets go see what the slayer decided to wear. I hope its something fun – like a nun’s outfit or a school teacher costume.

Yes sir, this was shaping up to be the best Halloween ever.


CHAPTER 4

Silence descended on the room. Three of its occupants stood somewhat uncomfortably, unsure of what to do next. The forth member of their merry band however, seemed entirely at home and prowled around the room picking things up, examining them and then gently replacing them in their original positions.

The fun begins, thought Angelus happily. He had debated about following the redheaded ghost and putting a stop to her reaching the watcher, but then he wasn’t altogether sure about how to stop a ghost.

Not like I can just snap her neck. He stood and stared into space momentarily caught up in the image of snapping someone’s neck. It had been a long time since he’d got to do that and the memory of the joy it brought made his hands itch. Giving himself a mental shake he decided to focus on those he could physically torture and kill. He wasn’t sure how long he’d be allowed out to play so he had to make the most of it, rack up a good body count. He glanced over at the three teenagers who were all regarding him with varying degrees of curiosity. It was Xander who finally spoke,

“I think we should check the perimeter. I did a sweep earlier but its best to make sure. We should block up all the doors and windows – like you said earlier – we don’t want anything evil getting in.”

Things just kept getting better and better. They were practically doing his job for him. He wondered if their helpfulness would extend to voluntarily sitting still while he tied them up.

“You and the cat lady secure the living room, me and the princess will take the kitchen.” With that Xander took Buffy by the arm and led her from the room. She followed him happily since he was the one with the musket. Silence again reigned as Cordelia regarded the dark-haired man in front of her. Something wasn’t quite right about him but she couldn’t figure out what. He seemed different from the slightly shy man she’d shared coffee with.

Snap out of it! You’re in another life or death situation thanks to Buffy and her band of freaks, don’t go wigging out about one of the good guys. She took a deep calming breath,

“So, shall we get on with the securing thing? I don’t normally listen to Xander but since he came over all Rambo he actually seems to be talking some sense.” With a flick of her hair she turned and made her way to the living room. Angelus followed at a leisurely pace, taking his time to appreciate the wonderful view of her ass.

I love Halloween! He thought happily. He entered the room to the sight of Cordelia busily removing cushions from the couch.

“That should make it easier for you to push up against the window,” she flashed a smile at him. Angelus watched her in silence, wondering what to next. He knew what he’d like to do and the couch WITH the cushions featured heavily – but damn it he had people to kill and a limited time frame.

Cordelia began to fidget under such scrutiny, there was a fire in his eyes that unnerved her and she wasn’t sure if she should run screaming from the room or jump his bones.

Quick…think about something else…

“So what’s your costume supposed to be?”

***

Thank goodness for Halloween. Evil takes a night off and I finally get to catalogue the new acquisitions.

He turned to replace the index cards and got the shock of his life, which considering he lived on the Hellmouth was saying something.

“Good God,” he exclaimed as the cards flew up into the air, “Willow what on earth…I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry about that, I keep forgetting that I don’t make any noise. Giles we’re in trouble, big trouble…”she trailed off, unsure of how to explain.

“Willow, take a deep breath and tell what’s wrong,” the teenager was clearly distressed but he need her to calm down.

“That’s the problem – I can’t take a deep breath – I’m dead! And Xander’s a soldier and Buffy’s turned into the fainting lady.” Willow began to pace the room, “and all the kids have turned into demons and have started killing people and its all just terrible – Halloween is ruined!”

Giles stared at her a moment trying to digest everything that she had said. He found that rather difficult considering she had made little sense.

“I’m sorry, did you say that you were dead?”

“Yes,” Willow cried in exasperation, “I dressed up as a ghost and now I actually am one.”

“You dressed up as a ghost?” Giles questioned doubtfully. Clearly he understood Americans less than he originally though.

If that is a ghost costume then I am the height of fashion.

“Giles, focus. Everyone has turned into their Halloween costumes, well not everyone, but enough to make it a really bad night for trick or treating.” Giles stood in silence absorbing what he’d been told.

The Hellmouth strikes again and there goes my peaceful evening.

“So not everyone was affected by this?” he immediately clicked into watcher mode trying to break down the problem to reach a solution.

“No, some people are still normal – like Cordelia – she dressed up as a cat but she didn’t turn into one, she still just Cordelia. She was complaining that ‘Party Town’ wouldn’t give her back her deposit – you know focusing on the real problem.”

“And where did you get your costume from?”

“Me? I went with Buffy and Xander to that new place – ‘Ethan’s.” Giles turned to her sharply, a look of panic passing across his face.

“Ethan’s?” Surely not…

“Yeah…do you think that’s it? Everyone who got their costumes there has been effected? It would make sense…but wait! Angel got his costume there and he was fine.”

“Angel? In a costume? Really?” For a moment Giles couldn’t quite get over the image in his head, “what was he dressed as?”

“A vampire,” replied Willow, “but he was fine. I left him to keep an eye on Buffy and the others.”

“Oh dear,” Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, “if we’re right and Angel was dressed as a vampire then I fear he will have reverted to the natural vampiric state which is that of a souless killer. He will have become Angelus – the demon he was prior to obtaining his soul. The most evil of creatures.” Icy fear slid down Giles’ spine at the prospect of meeting the legendary Angelus.

“Willow, you return to Buffy’s and warn them. Do not confront Angel, just get away from him.”

“But what are you going to do?” A look of steel entered Giles’ eyes,

“I’m going to pay a visit to an old friend.”

“So what’s your costume supposed to be?” Cordelia had decided that distraction was the best course of action. If she focused on talking to him then she wouldn’t be focusing on other more interesting things she could be doing with him.

“Can’t you tell? The guy in the costume store said it was perfect for me.” Angelus spread the cape out so it framed him dramatically.

“Umm…an undertaker?” Cordy questioned.

“Not quite,” he purred, “but you may want to keep that in mind for later.”

This is just too much fun.

He slowly began to move towards her, forcing her to back up until the backs of her legs hit the couch. He was sure he had time for a bit of pleasure before he got to the business part of the evening – she just looked too damn good to pass up.

Even soulboy noticed that!

Wide hazel eyes stared up at him in confusion.

“Want another guess or do you give up?” An evil grin slowly spread across his face, his eyes however remained cold and calculating.

“No…No idea? I can see I’m going to have to get a refund.” He stood over her, their gazes locked and Cordelia found herself unable to look away. He slowly leaned into her an whispered,

“I’m a vampire..”


CHAPTER 5

“I’m a vampire…”

Cordelia instinctively took a step back and abruptly found her world upended as she fell back over the arm of the couch. She looked up at him, trying to figure out if he was joking, she prayed that he was but the cold, flat look in his eyes seemed to imply that he was telling the truth.

Oh crap. Not good, not good at all. Ok…stay calm. Its just the costume making him act like this. Giles will figure it out soon and Angel will go back to being a nice, normal human being.

Angelus watched the play of emotions that ran through the brunette’s eyes – the fear, the hope, the desperation…

She’s hoping that she’ll be rescued before I get the chance to have my wicked way.

“Now, you could scream,” the vampire said conversationally, “and believe me, I don’t have too much of a problem with that. But think about it – soldier boy will come running and then I’d have to kill him…although I don’t have too much of a problem with that either.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. Cordy had already weighed up the possibility of calling for help but soldier Xander didn’t know about vampires and besides she didn’t really want him to shoot Angel, who may be an evil fiend at the moment but would be all too human when the spell was broken.

I’m not the slayer, I have no idea how to stop a rampaging vampire. Just my luck, the one time I’d happily ask Buffy for help and she comes over all damsel in distress.

“So you’ve decided against screaming then?” The vampire sounded almost disappointed. “Good choice – I get cranky when I’m interrupted.”

He leaned over her prone form, bracing his arms on either side of her head, and inhaled deeply. There was the fear he loved and underneath that a hint of excitement.

My kinda girl, he thought, gets off on danger.

Cordelia shrank back, squeezing her eyes shut as though if she could block out the sight of him then he would somehow disappear and she would be safe. She felt him move in closer, his fingers trailed up the column of her throat – cool and threatening. She prepared herself for the sharp sting of fangs but instead she felt the feather-light touch of his lips. her eyes flew open in shock,

What the hell…this is bad…very bad…very, very bad…but God does that feel good.

His hands were now freely roaming her body, igniting feelings in Cordelia that she had never felt before. She slowly began to lose herself in his caress.

Even Soulboy’s gonna thank me for this,thought Angelus. He was enjoying this more than he thought he would. Cordelia Chase was a woman who could distract him for days, weeks even.

Time for a taste…

***

Unaware of the drama unfolding in the living room Buffy and Xander were busily securing the kitchen, well, Xander was securing and Buffy was perched on a stool watching him.

“Hey, Miss Sit ‘n Look Pretty, pass me the hammer would ya?” He had decided that boarding up the back door would prevent any more unexpected visitors. Buffy looked at him blankly for a moment and then delicately picked up the frying pan and passed it to him.

“I said I wanted the hammer not to cook us breakfast,” he slammed the offending item down and reached for the hammer, “Lotta help you are in a life and death situation.”

“You surely don’t need my help – you’re a man and it is your duty to protect me,” Buffy stated firmly. “So are you an officer in the armed forces?”

My God, what is this lady on?wondered Xander.

“No Ma’am, I’m a private.” He resumed hammering the nails into place with perhaps more violence than was needed.

“So you aren’t a gentleman then?” Buffy was rapidly coming to realise that this soldier was unlikely to be a good marriage prospect. “Do you have an estate?” Perhaps he had made his fortune in trade, not ideal, but she was willing to settle for vast wealth if a title wasn’t forthcoming.

“Never been called a gentleman in my life and the closest I have to an estate is and old Ford that’s seen better days.” Buffy didn’t fully comprehend everything he’d said but had worked out enough to know that he wasn’t the ‘right’ type of man for her.

Perhaps the other dark-haired man who arrived earlier is a gentleman…he was certainly pleasing to look at.

Xander had no sooner finished securing the last nail into place when a flustered Willow materialised though the door. He sprang back and raised his rifle, WIllow instinctively raised her hands above her head.

“Woah there – one of the good guys – remember?”

“Lady right now I don’t care if you’re good or evil – if you’re here to save me from Petticoat Patti then I’m with ya.” With that he lowered his gun and look at Willow, waiting for instructions.

“Great…good,” she surveyed the room, “where are Cordelia and Angel?”

“Securing the living room.”

“What? Alone? Together? This is not good, not good at all…”

***

Giles approached the darkened costume shop cautiously. With Ethan Rayne you just never knew what surprises to expect. He entered the shop and looked around at the rails of costumes that no one had wanted. A giant, pink bunny outfit caught his eye,

I think we can all be grateful that that particular outfit remains unsold.

“Ethan,” he called, “you may as well come out. I know you’re here, you can’t help yourself, you always have to stay and gloat.”

The curtains at the back of the shop rustled and a tall, slim man appeared.

“Hello Ripper, long time no see. I was wondering when you’d show up.” The man grinned looking rather pleased with himself. “So how do you like my work? Original don’t you think?”

Giles regarded the man who had single-handedly turned Halloween on its head – an impressive feat – but Ethan had not only caused chaos and cost innocents their lives, he had also lost Giles the one evening of the year that he felt he could safely dedicate to the job which the school employed him for – that of librarian.

Quite how I’m going to fit it all in now is a mystery to me.

“The spell, Ethan, tell me how to break it.” There was a hard look in Giles’ eyes and an uncompromising note in his voice. He wasn’t here to exchange pleasantries, lives were at stake and one way or another Ethan was going to tell him what he needed to know.

“Or you’ll what?” Challenged Rayne.

“Oh dear Ethan,” Giles answered silkily, “have you really forgotten how I came by the nickname ‘Ripper’? I’d be happy to remind you..”

***

“So what you’re saying is that Captain Forehead in there is actually one of the bad guys?” Xander questioned looking more confused by the minute. “Then why didn’t you share this vital piece of information with us before you left us alone with him?” This was why he avoided working with civilians, they were just unreliable when it came to passing on the important stuff.

“Well I thought he was good. He normally is…just like you’re normally just a highschool student and Buffy is a super strong girl who fights the forces of darkness.” They both paused to glance over at Buffy who was carefully examining her skirts for possible stains, oblivious to the heated discussion taking place.

“Look – that’s not the point right now,”said Willow, “we have to figure out a way to save Cordelia and then get out of here – fast!” Willow had no idea how they were going to pull that off and she wasn’t sure that she liked being the one to have to sort it out.

Buffy and Giles make this responsibility thing look a lot easier than it is, she thought irritably, why didn’t I just dress up as Wonder Woman or something? Then this would all just be easy.

Xander had moved to the kitchen door to see if he could her what was going on in the other room – silence greeted him.

Never a good sign.

“You and the princess stay here, I’ll go and get the cat lady. When you hear me yell get out of here and don’t look back.” With that he strode purposefully from the room.

Wow, thought Willow, he’s really into his character.

She hoped it was enough for him to be able to get them all out of this safely.

Chapter 6

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in Complete

Foolproof Plan. 1-3   Leave a comment

Title: Foolproof Plan
Author: Anna
Posted: 29/1/06
Email
Rating: R for now
Category: Angst
Content: C/A
Summary: a Darkness Within fic. Ever wondered what it would be like to have Beige Angel in Pylea…
Spoilers: Season 2
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: DW/GTCA. Anywhere else, please ask first.
Notes: Written especially for DW
Thanks/Dedication:
Feedback:Would love some


Chapter 1

His footing anxious and unsteady Wesley stepped into the dark hotel. Surfaces once polished to a brilliant shine now lay hidden under thick layers of dust. Any evidence of life and vitality gone, the lobby stretched before him like an empty shell. Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he gagged as stale air was pulled into his lungs.

“Why are you here?” The low, menacing growl floated across the room, it’s owner cloaked in darkness.

Worry for Cordelia outweighing his instinctive urge to flee the vampire’s personal space, Wesley steeled his nerves and concentrated on the purpose of his visit. “This isn’t a social call.”

“I don’t work for the Powers anymore. Get out.”

The gruff reply may have been unsettling, but it was hardly unexpected. Angel had made it clear that human ties would not interfere with new priorities, his apparently unfeeling answer only served to confirm that nothing had changed.

Squinting into the dim light, Wesley could make out the broad form of the vampire casually leaning against the reception desk. He pulled himself up to his full height, making sure his voice was calm and steady. “This has nothing to do with the Powers. It’s about Cordelia.”

Cordelia … Raw nerves jarred as her name cut through dulled senses. “We don’t need you. I don’t need you. You walked away. Do us a favour and stay away.” Angel couldn’t afford the stirring of old memories, or Wesley attempting to draw him back into the fold. He wanted the Englishman to leave, needed to return to his self-made solitude.

“Cordelia made it clear she doesn’t want me in her life. Now leave or I will throw you out.” Angel pitched his voice low and threatening, ignoring the pain that twisted his gut as he said those words.

“A sentiment I’m sure we all share.” Wesley replied as the vampire pushed away from the counter.

Slowly stretching his muscles in a conscious display of strength, Angel made his way towards the stairs, his narrowed gaze fixed on the upper level, he passed Wesley without a glance.

It was now or never, Wesley reasoned. Cordelia was running out of time and every second persuading Angel was a second wasted. “I’m prepared to make it worth your while.”

“What could a has-been watcher have that would interest me?” Angel growled as he continued to climb the stairs. Cordelia had been right. He had chosen to walk away, and the best thing now was for him to stay away. He couldn’t afford to care, it made him weak. “Last chance to leave under your own steam.”

Wesley recalled his discussion with Gunn earlier that day, both had agreed they needed Angel, but figuring out how to gain his co-operation was another matter.

“You don’t think the vamp is just going to roll over and play nice ‘cos we ask him to, do you? Gunn paced the room, tension evident in every line of his body. He was a man of action, and all this sitting around and researching made him impatient. It was the only thing he and the vampire had in common since Angel decided that protecting his family was no longer important.

“It’s unlikely, I agree.” Wesley slammed the book shut, letting out a loud sigh.

“So we need a plan.” Gunn paused pulling his ideas together. “We could shoot him with a tranquilliser and drag his unconscious ass through the portal.” A rare note of cheer crept into his voice at the thought of shooting and hogtying the ornery vamp.

A wan smile crossed Wesley’s face as he glanced at his friend. “Appealing as that may be we need to secure his help voluntarily. If what the Host has told us about his home dimension is true then we need Angel willing to help and fight.”

“Fine, shooting Angel can be plan B, but we need to figure this out fast, English. Cordy’s been gone way too long now.” Gunn slumped into one of the worn out office chairs, thoughts returning to finding a way to save his friend.

Silence reigned in the small office as the two men struggled to come up with a workable plan to convince the renegade vampire to help then. They would only get one shot, which narrowed any room for error. For Cordelia’s sake the plan had to be foolproof.

Suddenly into the peace came Wesley’s excited voice, “What’s the one thing Angel wants?”

“A new black sweater?”

“No, Gunn focus, we’re running out of time.” Wesley admonished with a stiff glare. “ Angel’s crusade is based on revenge. He blames Wolfram and Hart for Darla. We simply have to present him with an offer he can’t refuse”

“Huh? And how exactly are we gonna do that? What do we have that the midnight avenger can’t live without?” But Gunn was leaning forward in his seat, spying a ‘Eureka’ moment on Wesley’s face.

“Nothing actually, but Angel doesn’t need to know that. We only need to convince him we have something he wants and in exchange he must accompany us to Pylea and help rescue Cordelia.”

“I like the way you think, man. Although I still say a shot in the ass would work.”

“Wolfram and Hart.”

The vampire paused at the name, his foot hovering over the next stair.

“I know how to get them…from the inside.”

Angel turned, relaxing against the railing in a conscious display of disinterest. Wesley had come to bargain, he could respect that.

“I’m listening.”

“First Cordelia.” Wesley refused to be swayed from his purpose, regardless of the vampire’s imposing demeanour.

“What’s her situation? Pick the wrong date again?” Beneath feigned boredom the soul cried out, both needing and fearing the truth.

“She’s been sucked through a portal into another dimension. We aren’t even sure if she’s still alive.” Wesley did nothing to soften the truth, although he winced internally at the harsh reality. If he had any chance of reaching Angel he had to drive the brutal truth home.

Cordelia alone in a strange world. The sound of splintering wood echoing through the vast space as white-knuckled fists closed around the banister. No one to help her, no one to protect her. Closing his eyes tight against the images parading through his mind, Angel forced his fearful thoughts into silence. So Cordelia did need him. He would save her. Not because it would heal the rift between them, but because the alternative was unbearable.

His face outwardly calm, Angel addressed the man he still begrudgingly considered a friend. Wesley hadn’t moved a muscle, his face wore a resolute look and he would get his man come Hell or high water. Angel could understand that kind of focus, as Wolfram and Hart could bear testament to.

“I save Cordelia, you give me Wolfram and Hart. Then our business is finished…for good.”

The finality of his words spoke volumes; Angel’s assistance could be secured, but it had a costly price tag attached.

“That’s the deal.” Wesley matched Angel’s hard tone, determined not to betray that internally he was shaking with relief. He hadn’t failed.

“Fine. I’ll meet you at sunset.”

Angel resumed his unhurried ascent of the stairs; shoulders relaxed, hands in pockets, he appeared to have all the time in the world.

Wesley stared at the retreating vampire, slowly releasing the air he held hostage in his lungs. He had once trusted the man with his life, but that time was long past. Now, was not the time to mourn the loss of a friend.

Angel’s help secured, all that remained was for the Host to find a hotspot.

Marvelling at how the cold and threatening place had once felt warm and inviting, Wesley turned and left the hotel.


Chapter 2

Angel continued his lonely trek up the stairs, the welcome sound of a slamming door reaching his ears. Pent up tension slowly began to leave his body. It seemed Wesley couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Angel didn’t blame him for that; the hotel wasn’t a comfortable place to be. He didn’t want comfort, comfort had made him weak.

Silence had returned. Alone again, Angel had forgotten the noise of his human companions. Before his past had returned to cloak Angel Investigations in darkness it had been a hive of human activity. Each day he would descend into an orgy of sounds and scents. Wesley’s aftershave, Gunn’s favourite metal polish, and the alluring scent of Cordelia’s apple and cinnamon shampoo would overwhelm his keen senses.

Hearts beating and pumping blood. Lungs expanding and contracting, pulling vital air into fragile bodies. Even their smallest movements would reach him in his upstairs hideaway, teasing him until he had no choice but to follow their trail. Noise. There was always noise, papers crisp with age being carefully turned, computer keys clacking, and the low hum of conversation. Humans lacked the true stillness of a vampire, a contrast that had led to many bell threats from Cordelia.

Cordelia… A faint smile quickly faded as dark reality reared its head. Angel would save Cordelia and gain the means to destroy Wolfram and Hart. Then he would walk away, again.

Angel entered his room, firmly closing the door. No one was there anymore to invade his privacy, but force of habit made him continue to use the flimsy wooden barriers.

Angel sank into the chair, stretching out long legs and tilting his head back. His body slowly began to relax, but his mind refused to follow. The pull of old ties was inescapable.

Cordelia…Always his thoughts drifted to her. Gold flashed in chocolate depths as fear swiftly dissolved into anger. Anger at Cordelia for getting into trouble…again, anger at Wesley and Gunn for allowing it to happen. He would save her, and then he would leave her. He had battles to fight that were too vicious for her tender soul to endure.

***

The welcoming light of Angel Investigations beckoned Wesley forward. He felt a small weight lift as he approached; he had successfully secured Angel’s help. They could now proceed with the next stage of their plan to rescue Cordelia. Drained, Wesley strove to push through the barriers of mental and physical exhaustion, bracing himself for the inevitable questions.

He pushed open the door, prepared to deliver the news that could not be considered bad, but would not be considered good. He was greeted by the sight of Gunn hunched over his favourite axe, once again polishing it to within an inch of its life. Honestly, if they didn’t rescue Cordelia there would be very little left of the weapon bar its handle.

In the far corner sat The Host…Lorne…reclining in one of the rickety office chairs. The soft chink of ice on glass drew Wesley’s attention to the pink drink in the demon’s hand; apparently the situation was dire enough to call for portable cocktails.

“So did the vamp take the bait, or do we have to switch to plan B?”

Gunn’s voice was loud in the quiet office, pulling Wesley from his contemplation of the garish cocktail. He glanced over at his friend. Axe in hand, Gunn looked almost hopeful that the backup plan would be needed.

“Angel has agreed to help. We’re meeting at sunset.” Their eyes held for a moment, before Gunn silently nodded his approval and returned his attention to the axe. This time testing the keenness of its edge, his mind filled with pleasant thoughts of the killing that was bound to come.

“So the Dark Avenger agreed to this little camping trip, did he?” Lorne took a deep swallow of sea breeze, pinning Wesley with his red-eyed gaze.

“I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Wesley’s flat tone did not invite further discussion. “Did you manage to find a hotspot?”

At the mention of the task he’d been set The Host perked up. “I found you the hottest spot in town. If word got out about this baby, we’d have to fight our way through C-list celebrities and their entourages. And you are not going to believe where it is…” The green demon trailed off, seeing that their leader really wasn’t interested in the irony of the hotspot’s location. He sighed, Cordelia would have appreciated it.

“Good. Then we’re ready. As soon as the sun sets we can be on our way.” Wesley automatically began to sift through books he’d already triple checked, determined to leave nothing to chance.

The Host’s head snapped up. “Whoa there Speedy Gonzales. Don’t you think we should take a minute to talk about the fact that one of our travelling companions for this trip is walking around with big, warning lights flashing in his aura?”

“I think we’re all aware that this isn’t the ideal situation, but if your home dimension is as dangerous as you say then we are going to need Angel’s assistance.” Wesley sighed and pulled off his glasses, massaging the bridge of his nose. The tension that had started in his neck was now radiating across his shoulders. As each hour passed their chances of finding Cordelia dwindled and the pressure mounted. “Our rescue will be of little use to Cordelia if we aren’t able to get out alive.” His tone was unintentionally harsh. Months of shouldering Angel’s roles as leader and now Cordelia missing were taking their toll.

Lorne threw up his hands in surrender. “Hey, let’s not shoot the messenger, especially when he’s on the rescue team. I’m just saying that I’ve read our dearly semi-departed friend and its one scary-ass chapter he’s stuck in.” Though visits to Caritas were rare since Angel began his mission of self-destruction, each encounter left the anagogic demon with a sinking feeling of dread. Angel was a time bomb, and to Lorne’s dismay, the wayward vampire was interested in diffusing the inevitable explosion.

“We know. Trust me. The vamp makes one wrong move…” Gunn hefted the axe and brought it down in a graceful arc…”he ain’t gonna need a return ticket.”

“Impressive display Conan.” Lorne rolled his eyes. “One I’m sure Angel will appreciate as he snaps your neck.” That said he tilted back his head, draining the last few drops of pink liquid from his glass.

“We have considered the risks Lorne, and we’re well aware that Angel cannot be trusted.” Wesley winced as the pounding in his head increased, a timely reminder to double his next dose of painkillers. “There is simply no other way to ensure a successful rescue without his help.” Wesley had to believe that he had made the right decision in including Angel, regardless of the vampire’s obvious desire to cut them from his life. Otherwise, he and Gunn were on their own.

“The big lug is in a bad place right now. His aura is dark, and it’s getting darker by the minute.” Lorne warned, recalling the seething pit of despair he’d seen on his last encounter with tall, dark and deadly. “Listen amigos, you’re in a sticky situation, because Pylea isn’t a place you want to go unless your packing muscle.” The Host stood, his afternoon cocktail splurge making his head swim. “And speaking of packing; I need to get a few can’t-do-withouts. Home sweet home it may be, but they have yet to discover the joys of soap…or hygiene…or…”

A rush of air blew through into the room as the door closed behind the green demon. Wesley and Gunn turned, each sending the other a pensive stare. They had accepted months ago that Angel was no longer a friend. He had become brutal, giving in to the demon nature inside; but more disturbing than that; he was unpredictable.

A heavy silence descended as each man considered the grave situation they now found themselves in. Neither could quite comprehend how they had come to be in this predicament; Cordelia lost and in mortal danger, and having to bargain with Angel to gain his co-operation. Hopefully circumstances couldn’t get any worse.

“Man this sucks.”

“Indeed it does.”

***

To say that Cordelia Chase was having a bad day was the understatement of the century. Abandoned by her champion, forced from the agency she had helped build, and now fate had decided to deliver its cruellest blow. Sucked into a dimension where humans were considered less than cattle, she had been reduced to being a packhorse for a hideously unattractive woman with an apparent tick in her thumb.

Shackled and weighted down like a beast of burden, there was only one person to blame. This is all Angel’s fault, the angry chant echoed inside Cordelia’s head as she silently ticked off every wrong the ornery vampire had committed.

The bustle of the marketplace did nothing to distract Cordelia from the burning ache in her shoulders and the grate of the metal collar around her neck. Somewhere along the way the big cosmic plan had got screwed up. And as with every bad turn these last few months, this one led straight back to her defunct hero.

You’re all fired…Don’t make me move you…I’m a vampire, look it up… Cordelia gave herself a mental shake, not wanting to walk the gauntlet that was memory lane. Angel didn’t want or need her. The painful truth was that he didn’t care about her.

“You’re about to spill my viper’s milk.”

The shrill voice cut into her thoughts, and Cordelia attempted to shift the weight of a particularly heave bucker as her new owner whipped around to face her.

“Well, I – I’m sorry.” Covered in sweat and grime from her duties as packhorse, fear of punishment was momentarily pushed aside. “It’s just if I wasn’t carrying every…”

A familiar pressure began to build behind her eyes, followed by an even more familiar burn in her skull. “Oh no. Not a vis…” Cordelia’s last coherent thought fell silent as he dropped to the ground. I’m gonna kill Wesley and Gunn if they don’t rescue me soon.


Chapter 3

“Fascinating.”

“Why ain’t he on fire?”

“Angel, how do you feel?” His eyes alight with enquiry, and watcher’s curiosity outweighing natural caution, Wesley slowly approached.

Contemplating the question, Angel regarded his inquisitor in silence; but when Wesley’s hands fisted as though fighting the urge to prod a strange anomaly, he stepped back from the intrusion.

Getting no response, Wesley wrenched his curious stare away and turned back to his companions. “Well it is another dimension.” Unable to give up, he continued to theorise. “Perhaps the Pylean sun-“

“Back up, Copernicus. That’s suns. Plural.” Lorne jumped in, pointing at the vast blue horizon.

“Suns, yes…interesting.” Eyes narrowed in concentration, his index finger methodically tapping his chin, Wesley mulled over the possibility. “Perhaps they don’t have the same effect on vampires in this dimension.”

“Who cares that the vamp ain’t on fire. We”re here to find Cordy.”

Gunn’s challenge jolting him from his brief contemplation, Wesley’s attention veered to his antsy companion. His quelling look met with a stiff resolve, Wesley instead nodded his agreement. “Quite right.”

Tension defining every line of his body, his eyes continued their ceaseless scanning of the surround area. After his momentary surprise of Angel not bursting into a flaming mass of hair gel and leather, Gunn was ready to get down to business. Besides, Gunn reasoned as he considered their temporary alliance, the vampire was hired muscle, not an experiment for Wesley.

Standing on the other side of the car, Lorne tuned out the two men. His attention was focused on more threatening matters. He had caught a flash of…something in the brooding vampire, but before he could read Angel’s aura it had disappeared in a swirling mass of beige.

Sending up a prayer to whatever deity watched over his homeland, Lorne hoped Cordelia’s rescue would be quick, and that his limited supply of alcohol had survived the trip. Pylea without the numbing effects of a good sea breeze was too awful to imagine.

“Which way Lorne?” As intended, Angel’s terse tone drew their attention.

Wesley and Gunn interrupted their concentrated survey of the surrounding area; ad jolted from his private devotions as Angel stalked across the narrow clearing, Lorne met dark eyes that warned against any invasion of privacy.

Lorne gave himself a hug, staving off the goose bumps rising up at Angel’s threatening glare. He had his own problems at the moment, confronting a past he had hoped would never catch up with him.

“We should head into town. I have a friend there who’s like the National Enquirer of this dimension. If there’s any news on Cordy, Blix will have the scoop.”

“Very good then. We’ll hide the car and be on our way.” Without further explanation, Wesley began gathering brush to cover the convertible, Lorne and Gunn silently following his lead.

Remaining off to one side, Angel watched the men work, making no move to help. The relentless Pylean suns beating down on eternally cool skin, he felt the warmth spread over his back. Eyes closed tight, Angel ignored his companions, and drawing in the sun-warmed air, he allowed himself a brief moment of peace. He hadn’t felt anything in months, except the cold. He could risk feeling something.

The muted murmurs breaking through his brief armistice, Angel opened his eyes, immediately squinting against the unfamiliar glare. Reality reared its ugly head, and the cold took back its place. A vampire belonged in the dark, found clarity in the shadows. It was pretending to live in the light that caused confusion.

His purpose was clear. He was there to save Cordelia and gain the means to destroy his enemy. “Let’s do this.”

Wesley pitched the last branch onto the massive heap already covering the car. “Which way then?”

Suddenly the centre of attention, Lorne pointed across the clearing.

“Let’s move.” Gunn took the lead. “I wanna find Cordy, quick.”

Lorne trailed in his wake, apprehension growing with every step. “Me too. If I know Pylea, she could probably use a friend right about now.

***

Flickering torchlight caused shadows to dance across the faces of those leering down at her, rendering their countenances even more ghoulish. Cordelia winced, even the dim lighting was too much for her post-vision super sensitive eyes, and the low hum of voices was like a drill in her head. She could only lie on the dirt covered floor and pray that whatever was coming would be quick, painless, and most of all, quiet.

Her vision had sparked off a chain reaction, and in a world where she was considered no more than a beast of burden, Cordelia was guessing that the final link wouldn’t be a pat on the back and a trip to the mall. This dimension, Pylea, was a brutal place where physical strength was placed above all else. If you were at the bottom of the food chain then you didn’t stand a chance. Like that girl, Fred, dragged off to face God knows what just because she was hungry.

Cordelia squeezed her eyes shut, mentally willing Wes and Gunn to burst in and save her. They didn’t, of course, and she once again cursed their lateness. Cordelia didn’t doubt that her friends were coming, but their timing totally sucked. If there was ever a time for a heroic entrance then now was it.

A hush descended on the room and Cordelia looked up to see a red-robed figure approaching. Guess this is where I find out if I get that trip to the mall”She stared into dark eyes, filled with a mixture of disdain and fanaticism, not a combination that inspired confidence.

“We must discover beyond all doubt if the girl is cursed with the sight.” His deep voice reverberated through the chamber, silencing the crowd. “We will commence the test.”

Not the words I wanted to hear. “Test” But I haven’t studied.” Her quip drew no response. “Not much with the humour, are you guys?”

Robed men grasped Cordelia’s arms, holding her firmly in place. Her eyes widened in fear as Silas approached with a long, pointed implement. Not a written test then, she thought hysterically.

“Now we shall see if you are truly cursed, my child. I pray you are not.”

Cordelia’s screams echoed round the room, and she cursed the fate that had given her the visions. Her only hope was that the heroic rescue would arrive before her test was graded. Surely Wes and Gunn couldn’t be that far away.

***

“Oh yeah, that went well.” The sarcasm in Gunn’s voice was hard to miss as he glanced around the cell and then down at the chains binding his wrists.

“Well?” Fingers methodically stroking his chin, Wesley paused in his examination of the solid rock walls surrounding them. “We were rather outnumbered.”

“You think? Man, it was fifty to one out there.”

Pacing the length of the cell, Gunn replayed the fight in his head. The brief elation felt at finally getting to cause some damage had quickly faded as realisation had sunk in. The odds were against them, and they were going to lose. “Things mighta gone a whole lot easier if someone had been a team player.” He said louder then necessary, fixing the vampire’s broad back with an accusing stare.

The solid mass of black leather didn’t even flinch at the anger directed its way, and knowing it best to ignore Angel’s cool indifference while trapped, Gunn settled for working out his frustrations on the restraints. He yanked hard, and when they failed to give even a little he grunted in annoyance. “Must be made out of some kind of magical alloy.”

Wesley’s ears perked up. “Really, how can you tell?”

Anger and frustration were being relieved with forced discussions that were slowly wearing on threadbare nerves. And taking the few shot strides needed to reach the far side, Angel distanced himself as much as their confined space would allow and concentrated on tuning out the pointless chatter.

The fight ending almost as quickly as it had started had done little to release weeks of built up tension. And Gunn was right, Angel reluctantly conceded; he had held back. Pylea was bombarding him with new sensations, some familiar, some not. The feeling of sunlight on his face was an anomaly, but the burning itch that was getting worse with each passing minute was not. He felt it moving under his skin. A new desire for violence, deeper and darker than before. His demon rattled the bars of its cage, sensing that release was close, that it could rein terrible destruction on this new dimension. So Angel had fought, reluctantly, cautiously.

Drawing in a deep breath to steady frayed nerves, Angel forced back the violent yearnings; and instead focused on the guards conversing outside the door. They mentioned a test, and a girl with the sight. Cordelia.

Cordelia was alone, held captive by a merciless tormentor. How many times had he played that role, revelling in the screams of his victims” Too many to remember, and anguish swelled as memory became reality. Another familiar itch scratched beneath his skin. This one inherently protective. The temptation to set loose his true nature grew as the struggle to contain it dwindled.

“Do you think Lorne’s alright?” Gunn’s question broke through the rising haze of violence.

“I”m sure he’s fine. The probably just-“

“Quiet.”

Two heads snapped round at the growled command, neither man inclined to argue with the menace in Angel’s voice.

Dark eyes narrowed in concentration, Angel leaned into the door, straining to catch the last few words of the conversation as the guards moved off.

“…And judging from the screams that came out of her mouth…”

A deep growl resonated round the room, raising the hairs on Wesley’s neck. Back stiff, Wesley turned, facing down the disgruntled vampire. Angel was wound tight, fists clench and jaw locked; he was prepared to attack anything that crossed his path. Risking a quick glance at his comrade garnered little comfort. Gunn had immediately shifted his stance, primed and ready. Unfortunately it was Angel he was prepared to battle.

“Angel?” Wesley fell silent, waiting for a sign that his calm tone had gained attention. Detecting nothing he drew air into his lungs and realigned his ever- stiffening spine before stepping into the breach. “Is there a problem?”

Angel slowly turned, allowing Wesley to catch the fading flash of amber in his eyes. He fought for control, sliding his mask of cold indifference into place.

“The guards. They were talking about a girl…a girl with visions…”

Gunn started forward. “Cordelia?”

“They said they tested her.” Angel continued on, ignoring the interruption. “They said she screamed.” The sentence hung in the air, dread and anger drawing the group in closer.

Struggling to remain calm and rational, Wesley swallowed down the rising tide of fear. “So, now we know they have Cordelia. That certainly makes things easier.”

“Got a plan, English?” A gleam of hope returned to Gunn’s eyes.

“They mentioned taking us before their ruler for sentencing. That should give us an opportunity to escape, and with any luck, find Cordelia.” Order returned to Wesley’s mind and he began to work through the logistics of the plan. “It will only work if we all stick together.” He added, casting Angel a searching look.

“No problem.” Angel dropped Wesley’s gaze and turned his attention to the area outside their cell. Rescuing Cordelia meant first taking out the guards as quickly and quietly as possible. He decision was immediate. Three guards, six seconds, and when administered correctly, a snapped neck was soundless. “You just worry about keeping your part of the deal.”

***

Heavy shackles scraped across the stone floor, as Cordelia’s would be rescuers shuffled towards their impending fate. A guard yelled for the prisoners to halt, thrusting his blade into their path. Surrounded by cold, sharp steel, the three men regarded the imposing double doors standing before them.

Curiosity battled against dread as Wesley tried to imagine the ruler of such a place; then with an almost uncontrollable shiver he realised he’s soon see first hand.

Gunn’s eyes held an unexpected glint as they ceaselessly scanned the room. Survival instincts worked out escape scenarios, but hope fell as each became more impossible than the last.

The vampire stood as though unmoved by the predicament. Angel had faced worse odds and lived to tell the tale. He glanced at his companions and thoughts returned to Cordelia. They hadn’t found any evidence that she was still alive, but they didn’t have proof that she wasn’t, and that gave him a surprising glimmer of hope.

He thoughtfully flexed his arms, feeling the weight of the chains at his wrists. In the rights hands they could be a lethal weapon, and Angel was seriously thinking of testing that theory. Wesley and Gunn would either follow his lead or not, either way people were going to die.

His eyes slid to his fellow captives. He would hold back, for now. Let the scene play out and see what information he could gather. If nothing useful came out, then the chains would get a test drive.

Across the room, Gunn slowly made his way to Wesley’s side, the restraints hampering his usually confident gait. “So, English, when does this great plan of yours kick in? I’m thinking before we’re all sentenced to a horrible death would be good.”

Stress brought out a natural streak of sarcasm, and having been bound in chains for a number of hours, Gunn was beginning to feel a lot of pent up energy.

“I wonder whether it might not be wise for us to meet their leader and determine exactly what kind of opponent we’re facing.” Wesley half mused aloud. Knowing one’s enemy was one of the first rules of battle, and Wesley liked to have all the facts in his possession before waging a war. Which is what he feared would happen if their escape went to plan, and Lord help them if Cordelia had been harmed.

“Good idea.” Gunn replied brightly. “We’ll go in, meet the head demon, have tea, and then have our heads cut off. Great plan Wes.”

Wesley shot his friend a disgruntled look. “I highly doubt they’d put us to death in the throne room. Hardly the done thing.” Secretly however he did have his doubts, and they’d be of little use to Cordelia dead.

“Sure, and these guys seem real big on manners. I say we make our move now. There’s only four guards. We won’t get a better chance.” The need for action caused an itch in his fingers, and Gunn clenched his fists to try and contain his desire to strike out.

Angel watched the argument play out from across the room. He too felt the need to unleash the building violence within him. A dark voice whispered in his head, telling him to tear the palace apart brick by brick, to kill anyone who stood in his way, until he found Cordelia.

His mind once again pictured the ease with which he could take out the guards and pleasure rose at the thought of exacting some small measure of revenge. Angel’s body tensed, he was ready to act with or without Wes” blessing. The deal was to rescue Cordelia, and right now that wasn’t happening.

Angel shifted his weight, readying himself. Before a move could be made sounds of a scuffle reached his ears and a rumpled Lorne was thrust into view.

Two out of the three occupants of the room broke into relieved grins at the sight of their friend. The third settled back into a relaxed stance at the sight of two additional guards and the constable in charge. Dark eyes slowly began to recalculate the odds.

“Lorne.” Wesley shuffled to meet the new arrival. “What did they do to you?”

The green demon made a show of dusting off his suit. “Oh, well, first there was the welcome home parade thrown in my honour. Ticker tape, streamers. Honestly, I’m so touched, I almost wept.” At the blank stares he gave up on sarcasm and moved on to the truth. “They locked me up, pushed me around and asked a few questions.” Lorne waved a dismissive hand and leaned in to whisper to Wesley. “So, what’s the plan?”

“Plan?”

“To escape. We are escaping, right?”

All the while Constable Narwek had been droning on, his voice rising to a crescendo as he reached the end of his speech.

“…Eater of Our Enemy’s Flesh, Prelate of the Sacrificial Blood Rites, and Sovereign Proconsul of Death, is prepared to pass sentence on upon you.”

The doors swung open and each man jostled for position and footing as the guards pushed them forwards, eagerly herding them to their doom. Distracted by a tangle of legs and chains the men failed to notice the regal figure perched atop a majestic throne.

The figure watched the comical sight of the four captives continuing to struggle for space, none of them even pausing to spare a glance for the room”s other, most important occupant.

One slender eyebrow rose, a throat cleared in irritation.

Four heads snapped up, mouths gaped and eyes went wide with shock at the sight of the beautiful and beguiling ruler of Pylea.

“Hi guys.”

TBC…

Anna

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 9   2 comments

Part 9

Cordelia rested her chin on her bare forearm, which lay along the passenger door of Angel’s convertible, and watched as the bright lights of LA whizzed by in a blur of coalescing colours. Closing her eyes, she sucked in a deep breath and lifted her face to savour the cool breeze that wafted her hair about her cheeks, while the Plymouth sped through the busy streets, en route to Wolfram and Hart.

“So this Wolfram and Hart – it’s a pretty high-powered law firm, correct?” Buffy’s preppy boyfriend, Riley asked from the back-seat.

“Yep.” was Angel’s short, to the point, response.

“They’ve got friends in low places.” Cordelia put in her two cents worth, when it became apparent that the vampire wasn’t going to volunteer any further information on the subject.

“So they must have some fairly high-tech security, right?”

“Oh yeah – state-of-the-art and then some. They’ve got mystical barriers and shaman vampire detectors, as well as all the normal stuff like security cameras, alarms, and infra-red.” the seer knowledgably informed the soldier.

“What? I did some research, okay?” she said, sticking her tongue out at Angel when he shot an astounded look in her direction.

“And filed it under what exactly?”

“Well duh! What do you think? ‘L’ for Law firm and Lindsey McDonald, of course.”

“Of course – why didn’t I think of that?” Angel mused quietly, forcing his voice to remain carefully neutral.

His deep brown eyes sparkling with amusement, the vampire turned his attention back to the road, inwardly chuckling at his seer’s novel idea of filing. It could be deeply irritating at times, but was also utterly adorable for the simple reason that it was so completely Cordelia. Angel often found himself rifling through the battered metal cabinets, trying to guess where this file, or that file, was located, just for the sheer enjoyment of the unique perspective that it gave him into the inner workings of his girlfriend’s mind.

Casting a side-long glance at Angel, Cordelia’s eyes narrowed suspiciously when she noticed the faint upward curl of his expressive mouth, and the almost imperceptible shaking of his broad shoulders as he strived, unsuccessfully, to contain his mirth. Before she had chance to call him on it though, Riley spoke up again, shifting her attention away from her annoyingly amused boyfriend.

“It’s fortunate that I brought some of the Initiative’s kit with me then. I’ll be able to disable the alarm without too much trouble, but the security cameras will be more difficult to get around if we want to infiltrate the place undetected. Modern buildings usually have a vast inter-connecting network of ventilation ducts and lift shafts however; so we’ll go in through the basement and navigate our way through the tunnels using a special radar device that I have with me. It will enable us to locate our targets, but we should decide what strategy we’re going to employ to…”

“Actually, I was kind of thinking we’d just walk through the front door.” Angel interrupted the soldier’s unremitting, and frankly unnecessary, tactical planning.

“You don’t really think that, if you go in there and say – Hi, my name’s Angel; where’s Faith? – they’ll tell you, do you?” Buffy rested her arms on the back of Cordelia’s seat as she leaned forward to question her ex-boyfriend.

“Of course not – that’d be way too easy, this is a game, remember?” the vampire replied, flickering a backward glance at the inquisitive slayer. “Faith wants to be found though, so if we’re correct in our assumption that Wolfram and Hart are involved, then they’re at least gonna let us over the threshold, even if we have to jump through a myriad of hoops once we get inside. If we don’t make it past the reception desk, then we’re wasting our time and, for Wes’s sake, the sooner we know that the better.”

“Makes sense, I guess.” Buffy concurred, tucking her blonde hair behind her ears as she sat back against the car’s soft leather upholstery. “Okay, we’ll do it your way.” she decided magnanimously.

“Pfft! – like we were ever going to do it any other way,” Cordelia shot back derisively. “Sorry Inspector Gadget, but while you may find it super fun – crawling around in some dusty ventilation shaft is not my idea of a good time. I say we go with the ‘barge in and start kicking some major ass’ plan. My Angel is the expert at that, you know.”

The vampire wasn’t entirely sure whether his seer meant this statement as an admiring comment, or a light-hearted criticism, but his face split into a wide grin at her words nevertheless. “Thanks… I think.”

“No problem, big guy. Besides, you’re way hot when you go all terminator so I’m not about to complain, am I?” Cordelia replied, smiling at the way her boyfriend instantly swelled up with pride at her flattery. He was a two hundred and forty-something vampire of the world, but Angel still acted like a little boy who’d just been given a gold star whenever anyone paid him a compliment.

In direct contrast to the happily bantering couple in the front of the vehicle, the pair in the back were far from content. Riley was scowling; he wasn’t used to having his judgement countermanded – his squadron always followed his lead with no questions asked. Angel had casually overturned his decision without so much as a thought though, and the fact that his supposed girlfriend had only made a half-hearted attempt to back him up, rankled like a festering ulcer in the pit of his stomach.

Just where do her loyalties lie anyway? Not where they ought to, that’s for certain, Riley thought, glowering at the pretty slayer in resentment.

Buffy was oblivious to her boyfriend’s spiralling anger, her attention focused on the actions of the couple in the front of the car, rather than the fuming young man beside her. She bristled with green-eyed irritation when she saw Angel reach out to squeeze the seer’s shapely thigh in his big hand, her veins flooding with an intrinsic possessiveness in reaction to the openly affectionate gesture from the usually reticent vampire.

As the slayer, Buffy was used to getting her own way, but the breakdown of her relationship with Angel was one of the very few times that what she had wanted had completely eluded her. Try as she might, she had been unable to persuade him that they could work through their problems, and placed the blame for her failure to do so squarely on Cordelia’s slender shoulders.

If the former cheerleader hadn’t been around, sticking her nose in where it didn’t belong, Angel would have tried harder to make things right between them again, Buffy was absolutely sure of it. Now, to cap it all, Cordelia was the one reaping the benefits of the vampire’s now permanent soul; recompense that should have been hers, considering she was the one, and not Queen C, who had put up with all the heartache and complications that came from living with his curse in the first place.

Despite her attempts to sublimate it, the memory of her seventeenth birthday – the night she and Angel had finally consummated their love – invaded the slayer’s erotic fantasies on a regular basis. The horrific morning-after scene she easily blocked from her brain, but often recalled the mind-blowing pleasure of their lovemaking in vivid and minute detail.

Closing her eyes, Buffy allowed the pleasurable recollection to once again melt into blissful reality, evoking the feel of the vampire’s cool skin brushing against her turgid breasts in her mind’s eye. She remembered the sensation of barely constrained power under her fingertips as she massaged the hard and ropy muscles in his broad back, feeling them bunch and release in time with his rhythmic movements atop of her.

Riley always touched and caressed her as if she was made entirely of glass, but Angel had been strong and forceful with her. Knowing that he couldn’t really hurt her, he had held her hands down on the pillow and thrust deep and hard into her tight virginal core, the heavy weight of his solid form crushing her lithe and toned body into the soft bed as they both neared completion…

Breathing heavily with arousal, the slayer jerked herself out of her sensual reverie, realising that the car had slowed to stop. Opening her eyes, she noticed that Angel’s dark orbs were trained on her and she immediately knew, without knowing how, that he was fully aware of the wanton direction of her thoughts. Feeling suddenly bold, she refused to look away and, instead, stared confidently back at the appalled vampire, a brazen challenge flashing in her blue eyes.

Angel was shocked to the core by his unexpected discovery. When his sensitive nostrils had first picked up her familiar vanilla-like scent, he’d assumed that her attention was focused on her boyfriend. His vampiric senses had tingled warningly shortly afterwards though, alerting him to the fact that it was him, and not Riley, who was the source of her desire. As soon as he had shut off the car’s engine, he twisted around in his seat and stared at her incredulously.

Hasn’t she moved on from her rose-tinted view of our relationship at all?

To the vampire’s extreme discomfort, Buffy returned his regard unrepentantly, dark lust and a come-hither expression shining in her wide eyes. It was obvious from her hot, desire-filled gaze that her romantic teenage fantasises had been supplanted by more adult wants and needs, now that she was nearly a year older and sexually more experienced.

“So, is this it?” the slayer finally asked, breaking off their increasingly intense look to glance up at the modern office building directly across the street.

Angel answered her question in a calm tone, deliberately pushing aside his unease about the nature of her intentions towards him.

“Yes, we’re here – Welcome to Evil Incorporated.”

***

Wesley watched warily as Faith leisurely rose to her feet, flinching back when she violently kicked away her chair, the force of the strike splintering the item of furniture into several pieces.

“Cordelia?” he asked, his voice coming out a little croaky as he struggled to regain his shattered composure. “What did you do to her?”

The possessed slayer slowly approached his chair and, placing her hands on the arm-rests, leant down so that her face was centimetres away from his.

“I left Angel a nice little present, all wrapped up in a pretty red, and dead, bow – you think he’ll like it?” she told him, a cruel smile tugging at the corner of her red-glossed lips.

Wesley felt his heart contract in his chest at this revelation – as far as he was aware, Faith hadn’t killed anyone under the nefarious influence of the Orb, but now that was no longer true and Cordelia… Oh my God – Cordelia…

You bitch – that’s a lie, Faith screamed at the Orb from somewhere deep within, partially breaking free of her psychological prison as she helplessly observed her shaken watcher struggle to contain his grief.

Well, well, well – give the girl a medal. Congratulations on actually managing to speak sweetheart; Pity you can’t do much else, isn’t it? You’re just in time to tell me what you think about my torture technique by the way – it’s always better to have someone to evaluate your performance in such matters, don’t you think?

I am *so* going to make you pay for this, you poisonous piece of shit!

I’d like to see you try, slayer – watch and learn, baby; watch and learn.

Oh God! Oh please no!

Faith’s bold resistance crumbled to dust as the Orb deliberately flooded their joint minds with gruesome images of the horrors that it intended to inflict on the brave man tied to the chair in front of them.

***

As Angel had predicted, the calmly efficient receptionist directed them upstairs the minute they approached the front desk. “Mr McDonald’s office is located on the fifteenth floor, Mr Angel – room seventeen, if you and your friends would like to go up. He and Miss Morgan are expecting you.”

“Yes – I’m sure they are.” the vampire replied smoothly, nodding politely at the smiling blonde woman who was perched, rather precariously, on the stool behind the raised desk.

Turning away, he strode confidently across the reception area, forcing the others to run to catch up with him. Pacing up and down, Angel repeatedly punched the succession of illuminated elevator call buttons, knowing it wasn’t strictly necessary, but needing to do something to stop himself from agonizing over the disturbing incident with Buffy earlier.

Although he knew he wouldn’t have any trouble resisting her potential come-ons and remaining faithful to his girlfriend, the slayer couldn’t have picked a better time to try to drive a wedge between him and Cordelia. With their relationship going through its first real rough patch, and the seer’s self-confidence at its lowest ebb since he’d known her, it scared the hell out of Angel to think that some minor incident could possibly get blown out of all proportion, shattering their love forever.

Damn you, Buffy – I don’t have time for your games right now. Why couldn’t you have just left the past well alone? If you do anything to mess things up between me and Cor, I swear I’ll…

The vampire’s agitated thoughts abruptly broke off as the central elevator opened with a smooth swish and a resonant ping. Ushering Cordelia forward with a light hand against her back, he stepped into mirrored and carpeted interior, reaching around her curvy form to push the button for the fifteenth floor, once Buffy and Riley had joined them inside.

As the elevator began its ascent, he closed his eyes and drew in a deep un-needed breath, attempting to compose himself and focus his mind on the impending confrontation with Wolfram and Hart. His girlfriend’s warm fingers crept tentatively into his, and he squeezed her hand tightly, instinctively holding on for all he was worth.

Cordelia was worried; something unexpected must have happened to throw Angel off his game like this.

Have I said or done something that he could have taken in the wrong way? No, I don’t think so – Oh God! What if the evil lawyers are doing some sort of weird mind mojo thingy on him?

The seer was used to Angel psyching himself up for a fight, but this was all wrong – he was normally calm, stoic, and scarily determined vamp in situations like this, but he was like a cat on a hot tin roof, nervous tension radiating off him in ever increasing waves. Not really conscious of her actions, she automatically reached out towards him, offering an emotional anchor to help ride out the gathering storm.

“Ahem! Needing circulation here,” she exclaimed hurriedly when Angel’s hand tightened around hers like a vice, cutting off the blood supply to her fingers and causing them to turn white.

“Sorry.” the vampire mumbled apologetically, loosening his grip on her hand, but keeping his fingers laced through hers, trying to gain solace from her close proximity.

Turning towards his beloved seer, he looked down into her beautiful upturned face, and allowed the sweetly familiar sight restore calm and serenity to his jittery mind and body. Lifting his free hand, he smiled softly at her as he delicately smoothed out the worry lines creasing her forehead with two gentle fingers.

Cordelia sighed in relief as the more customary mind-set began to overtake the vampire’s finely-tuned senses. His hunched shoulders dropped, the tense muscles there slowly relaxing as he stood up straighter, and assertively lifted his chin to look straight ahead. His deep brown eyes narrowed, becoming dark and hooded, while a deceptively nonchalant expression settled over his angular features.

By the time the elevator had reached its destination, Angel was battle-ready and fully prepared to face down their foes. Exiting the lift in complete unison; the vampire, slayer, seer, and soldier strode, as one, down the length of the grey-carpeted corridor towards the office at the end.

Without breaking his stride for a second, the indomitable vampire kicked the door open but, unfortunately, the move didn’t quite come off as planned – the two occupants of the lushly decorated room barely even flinched when the wooden panel crashed against the wall, straining hard on its hinges.

Undeterred, Angel stepped across the threshold and faced down the two expectant lawyers.

“Where is Faith?” It was worth a try, right?

Lindsey McDonald rose to his feet, moving around the desk to lean casually against the polished surface with his arms crossed over his chest. “Should I know what you’re talking about?”

“Your new client – you remember the one. Pretty, dark hair, more evil than you.”

“Ah yes, I do seem to recall her now that you come to mention it.” the lawyer replied, his tone slick and urbane. “She really hates you by the way.”

“Yeah – kind of got that impression when she tried to put a stake through my un-beating heart.” Angel shot back. “Thanks for the heads up though – much appreciated and all that.”

“No problem – glad to be of service.”

“Are you two just going to stand there and trade thinly veiled insults all night, or are we going to get this done?” Riley burst out impatiently, infuriated by the sarcastic banter bouncing back and forth like a tennis ball between the lawyer and vampire.

“New player?” Lindsey asked Angel, one eyebrow raised at the soldier’s noticeable lack of finesse.

“More of a hanger-on actually.” the vampire replied with a faint grimace. “My apologies – he hasn’t quite grasped the concept of subtlety yet.”

Lindsey smiled, his attention shifting towards a poised Buffy. “And you brought a slayer with you as well, I’m all overcome – I’ve always wanted to meet the other member of the legendary star-crossed lover’s club, and now here she is, in my office of all places.”

“That’s all over.” Angel said sharply, his self-assurance faltering slightly when the lawyer inadvertently touched on a raw nerve.

“Oh yes, I remember now – you moved on to an investment with…” Lindsey paused to deliberately look Cordelia up and down, leering at her suggestively. “…greater assets, didn’t you?”

Angel clenched his fists, reigning in the overwhelming desire to rip the smart-ass lawyer’s head off for daring to ogle his woman like she was some cheap hooker. Lindsey’s little charade was designed to knock him off balance and the vampire refused, point blank, to fall for it.

“So – who’s your friend? I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said instead, inclining his head towards the silent brunette who sat patiently in the leather chair beside the desk.

“We’re not friends.” the woman’s throaty voice informed him, as she un-crossed her long stocking-clad legs and rose gracefully to her feet. The mystery female, elegantly clothed in a tailored grey suit and sea-green silk shell, exuded a strong sexuality despite the conservative way in which she was dressed.

“Lilah Morgan.” she purred in introduction, peering up at him through dark eye-lashes heavy with mascara. “I’m an associate here.”

“I’d say it’s nice to meet you – only it’s not.” Angel told her smoothly, taking her offered hand and deliberately stroking his thumb back and forth over the silky moisturised skin there.

Lilah’s steady gaze never wavered, but the unmistakeable scent of her arousal immediately saturated the air between them. Angel felt a thrill of satisfaction at succeeding in getting under her skin; intensely gratified that he had read her body language correctly, his calculated gesture having the desired effect on the cool-as-cucumber woman in front of him.

Lilah cursed her body’s instinctive reaction to the handsome vampire’s nearness; Angel had fascinated her from the moment that she had first heard his name. His dichotomy intrigued her – here was an evil being that chose to fight for the other side, and yet, in her opinion, the potential existed for him to turn evil again, permanent soul or not.

After all, Angel was still a demon and must therefore be constantly tempted by his inherent baser instincts – she just needed to find the key to his dark side and hey presto – Angelus would return to the fold. That possibility, coupled with the raw power and sexual charisma that oozed from the vampire’s every pore, excited Lilah beyond belief, turning her body to liquid fire in his commanding presence.

“This small talk is all very entertaining, but I think it’s about time we got down to business, don’t you?” Angel said flatly, releasing her hand and stepping away from her.

The suave politeness was suddenly gone from the vampire’s strong masculine tones, to be replaced by a cold implacable hatred as he purposely upped the ante, raising their game of cat and mouse to the next level.

***

Wesley struggled to clear his blurred vision, spitting out the metallic-tasting blood that filled his mouth onto the polished wooden floor. When he failed to raise his head again, the possessed slayer grabbed his chin between her thumb and fingers and jerked his face back up to hers, slapping at his swollen cheeks.

“Now, now, don’t poop out on me, damn it! Otherwise this is all just going to be over too fast, and you’ll be dead and I’ll be – bored. And we can’t have that, can we? I told Angel ten hours and there’s still six and half left. Come on now, we’ve only done one of the five basic torture groups – what shall we try next? We’ve done blunt, but that still leaves sharp, cold, hot and loud.”

The slayer abruptly let go of his face, and the ex-watcher couldn’t prevent the low moan that escaped his split and bloody lips as his head lolled to one side and his eyes closed. His tormenter calmly strolled across the room to pick up a framed photograph that stood on the mantle, studying the picture carefully for a moment, before casually smashing it against the corner of the low table.

Bending from the waist, she selected a large, jagged, shard of glass from the floor, and then turned back towards Wesley, holding her make-shift weapon out in front of her.

“I think we’ll switch to sharp for a while.” she said, leaping to straddle his lap; Wesley cried out hoarsely as her strong thighs gripped his legs in a punishing hold.

Hooking her fingers into the neckline of the ex-watcher’s already torn shirt, the slayer pulled the two halves completely apart, popping the buttons and sending the small plastic objects flying in all directions.

“Someone’s been working out.” she commented sardonically, running one finger over the bruised, but muscular, chest she’d just revealed. “Faith doesn’t remember you being quite so well-developed – I think she’s kind of impressed with the new physique, watcher boy.”

Wesley didn’t reply, just gritted his teeth as his captor followed the line of her finger with the sharp edge of the glass, scoring out a bloody trail from the centre of his collarbone to a spot directly above his navel.

“Open your eyes and look at me, baby.” the orb-possessed woman demanded urgently, grabbing a handful of his dark hair in her fingers and tugging sharply to gain his attention.

She waited until Wesley obediently opened his eyes, and then deliberately pushed the point of her weapon into the soft flesh of his lower abdomen.

Stop it, you fucking bitch! Just stop it! Faith implored frantically as her watcher’s howl of pain echoed around the room and bounced off the surrounding walls.

The Orb’s only response was to cruelly twist the sliver of glass and grind it deeper into her victim’s belly, causing steady rivulets of warm sticky blood to escape around the weapon and dye their respective fingers a rich crimson.

Clamping his lips tightly together, Wesley focused his blurry gaze on his persecutor’s face, determined not to submit to the torture and vocalise the unrelenting agony that his shuddering body was being subjected to. Wrinkling his brow in confusion, he noticed the tears streaking down the possessed slayer’s cheeks, but his pain-ravaged brain was unable to fully comprehend their significance.

The root cause of those tears suddenly became glaringly apparent though, the red and fiery gaze flickering to a soft brown before his astonished eyes. The pain and torment starkly evident in those wide liquid orbs hit him like a ton of bricks with its clarity.

“Faith…” the slayer’s name tumbled forth from his lips in a shocked whisper.

“Oh God! I’m so sorry Wes, I…”

Faith jumped when her anguished voice suddenly sounded in her ears and she immediately jerked backwards in shock. Pulling the glass from Wesley’s bleeding stomach; she purposely threw herself onto the floor behind her, her movements clumsy and erratic as she grappled with the Orb to keep control of her flailing body.

“Stay down, you bitch,” the stone grated from between clenched teeth, brutally crushing her fleeting rebellion with an iron-clad resolve.

Regaining control over its host, the Orb rose to its feet and began to advance menacingly on Wesley again, its eyes burning hot with rage at the unanticipated interference from the enslaved slayer.

“Don’t waste your energy on me – you’ll need it for when Angel gets here.”

Faith had been gathering her hidden reserves of strength, preparing to battle it out with the Orb, but Wesley’s clipped English tones derailed her steely determination. She didn’t want to accept it, but her watcher was right. Her mind was fuzzy and exhausted from subduing the Orb’s dominion for a few seconds; she knew it wasn’t something that she’d be able to sustain for very long.

Faith desperately wanted to fight the Orb’s torture of Wesley with everything that she possessed, but reluctantly capitulated to the quiet authority in his voice instead; knowing it was best to conserve her energy for a time when it would do the most good. She just hoped Angel got here fast – she didn’t know how much longer she could stand this. The shame and remorse were unbearable – how could she live with herself, knowing that she had stood by and let her own hands inflict such horrors on her best friend?

The Orb laughed contemptuously at Wesley’s brave appeal. “That’s assuming the vampire actually arrives in time to rescue you, watcher boy. I’m starting to think it would be *really* funny to kill you before he shows up.”

“That would be a mistake.” the ex-watcher replied, his voice steady and unwavering.

“How’s that, baby?”

“You really don’t want to piss Angel off more than is strictly necessary. You’ve already over-stepped the mark with Cordelia, but add me to the list and you’re definitely going down.”

“Oo – fighting talk, I’m quaking in my boots here. Only Mr Pivotal-Figure-in-the-Apocalypse hasn’t lived up to his fearsome reputation so far, has he? I’m touched to see that you still have so much faith in him. I’m looking forward to going up against a more worthy opponent as it happens – it’ll make the game so much more satisfying when I win.”

“*If* you win.” Wesley corrected absently.

The Orb laughed again. “You’re kind of fun, watcher boy – maybe I won’t kill you after all. Not yet anyway – now where were we, huh?”

The Orb bent and retrieved a fresh piece of glass. “About here, I think.” it continued, carving out a half-moon shape around the ex-watcher’s breastbone.

Faith winced as Wesley’s resulting cries of agony reverberated around the apartment, exacerbating the already overwhelming sense of guilt and helplessness that she felt at having to sit by and watch this horrendous torture show.

Angel – where are you? We need you. Please get here soon. Oh God, please hurry…

Part 10

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 21.   2 comments

Part 21

Draining the last few drops of her therapeutic drink, Cordelia handed the empty cup to Angel, who placed it on a nearby table as she laid her head against his chest and closed her eyes. He began to stroke his fingers soothingly through her hair and she snuggled closer. There was something very calming about the light, rhythmical caress and it helped her find her way back to herself after the trauma of her shockingly violent vision.

As awareness of her surroundings slowly returned to her senses, the seer started to feel embarrassed about her hysterical reaction to the horrible images, which had flashed through her mind’s eye a short while earlier. Admittedly, this vision had been the worst yet, but she’d completely lost it in front of everyone and she was mortified.

“Where are you going?” Angel asked worriedly as she pulled out of his arms and got shakily to her feet.

“I need to clean up,” she said, turning towards the door that led to the private quarters.

“Wait!” Angel reached out and caught her hand. “I’ll come with you,” he said, rising to his feet as well.

“Angel, I’m fine!” Cordelia replied testily. “Stop fussing – I don’t need a nursemaid, okay?”

With that, she wrenched her hand out of his grasp and escaped upstairs to the sanctuary of their room. Pushing open the door of the adjoining bathroom, she flicked on the light and then immediately switched it off again as the fluorescent brightness exacerbated the painful throbbing in her head. A wave of nausea overcame her and she dropped to her knees and threw up in the toilet bowl, sobbing out her distress as she shuddered and wretched.

The visions were getting worse; there was no denying that. Today’s premonition had been far more painful than the one of a few days ago, and if how she was feeling right now was any indication, the aftermath was really going to take it out of her. Angel’s inability to deal with how the visions affected her, both physically and emotionally, kept her silent on the matter though. He would only go into overprotective mode and she couldn’t be doing with that right now. It made her feel incredibly claustrophobic when he insisted on wrapping her up in cotton wool.

Worried that someone would come to check on her and find her falling apart under the stress and pain of her vision, Cordelia reluctantly dragged herself to her feet, desperately trying to ignore the aching heaviness in her limbs. The zigzags of white light flashing before her eyes made it difficult to focus on the mirror in front of her, but her sight eventually cleared enough for her to take in her reflection.

She looked awful – her face was pale and drawn and there were dark circles under her eyes. It was hard to believe that just one vision could have such a drastic effect on her appearance. There had to be a reason for the increased level of pain. Maybe the Powers That Be were testing her in some way, it was the kind of lameass thing the higher-uppers would do, after all.

They were all for someone proving their worth to the cause. Why they couldn’t just accept that anyone who willingly chose to tread that path was probably crazy enough to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, Cordelia would never know. Anyone who couldn’t hack it would simply walk away, right? There was just no need for some melodramatic display of commitment therefore. It was given in smaller, more meaningful ways every single day.

Unaware of the figure hovering in the bathroom doorway, Cordelia splashed water on her face and washed away her tears, then opened the bathroom cabinet and took out a bottle of painkillers. She shook out double the recommended amount into her cupped palm, and then placed them on the countertop as she filled a glass with water from the faucet.

Faith watched her friend in growing alarm. If she needed to pop that many pills to take away the pain, then things were worse than she was letting on. Sensing that his overbearing concern would probably make things worse, the slayer had stopped Angel from following his fleeing girlfriend and offered to go herself instead.

She was only expecting to have to deal with the emotional fallout of the vision though; she had no idea that Cordelia’s physical health wasn’t what it should be. Knowing that her friend could be seriously stubborn when she put her mind to it, she decided to go for the blunt approach.

“Were you planning to tell anyone that they were getting worse? Or were you just going to wait until your head exploded or something?” she asked, startling Cordelia into dropping the half-empty glass of water into the sink.

The glass shattered as it hit the porcelain and Cordelia winced in pain as the sharp sound reverberated around her throbbing head. She immediately turned a sickly green colour and swayed dangerously on her feet.

“Geez C, why didn’t you say anything?” Faith exclaimed, rushing forward to steady her woozy friend.

Cordelia was too overwrought to deny the detrimental effect that the vision had had on her. “It’s never been this bad before,” she said tearfully as the concerned slayer steered her out of the bathroom and over towards the bed.

“But they’ve been getting worse, right?” Faith asked as Cordelia curled up on top of the quilt.

The seer just nodded, wearily closing her eyes as the slayer solicitously tucked a pillow under her head and gently covered her with the patterned throw from the sofa. “And you haven’t said anything to Angel about it?”

“No,he’d only worry unnecessarily and I can handle it.”

“You don’t look like you’re handling it to me.”

“I’ll be okay in a little while,” Cordelia replied. She opened her eyes and looking pleadingly at her friend. “You can’t tell Angel, Faith. You know what he’s like.”

Faith did, but the situation was way too serious to keep from the vampire. “C – I’m sorry but you have to tell him. If the visions are affecting you this badly, then he needs to know.”

“But it might just be a one-off,” Cordelia protested half-heartedly. “He’ll freak, you know he will. He’ll probably try and force the PTB’s to give the visions to someone else or something, and I need to do this, Faith.”

“What the hell for?”

“I need there to be more to my life than just being Angel’s girlfriend. I can’t explain it, but this – helping people in this way – it just feels so right inside. You can understand that, can’t you? It’s not like you would ever walk away from being a slayer, now is it?”

Faith got the point, but that didn’t mean she was comfortable with hiding things from Angel, so she tried a different tack. “Look, I don’t know all the ins and outs of what’s been going on between you and the vamp-man lately. But I get the impression that many of your problems could have been avoided if you’d just talked to each other. Do you really think keeping this from him is a good idea?”

Cordelia flushed guiltily as that struck home. She and Angel had promised to be honest with each other from now on, and here she was slipping back into the same pattern of behaviour that had caused them such heartache in the first place. If things carried on like this, she wouldn’t be able to hide the increasingly debilitating effects of the visions anyway. What was the point in prolonging the inevitable? She would have to tell him sooner or later.

“All right,” she whispered. “I’ll tell him – just not right now, okay?”

“C…”

“He has to save that girl and her baby first, Faith. He has to. I’ll tell him as soon as they’re safe, I promise.I just don’t want anything to distract him from rescuing them.”

“All right,” Faith reluctantly agreed, getting up from where she was perched on the edge of the mattress. Cordelia pushed the throw aside and sat up, obviously planning to get up as well.

“C, I think you should rest.”

“I’m okay – the painkillers are starting to kick in now.”

“But no-one’s going to think anything of it if you lie down for a while. They all saw how traumatic your vision was.”

“Angel will,” Cordelia replied. “He’ll think it strange that I don’t want to help with the research. Besides, you think I’m going to leave him unattended when Buffy is trying to sink her claws into him again?”

“You know you don’t have anything to worry about on that score, C.”

“Maybe but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna let her get away with making moves on my man.”

“Oo – territorial, aren’t we?”

“Too right! Angel is mine, and once he’s told her to take a running jump, I’m going to make damn sure Little Miss Cuckoo-in-the-Nest knows it.”

Faith grinned wickedly. “Why wait?” she asked. She figured a short, sharp kick up the ass would knock some well-needed sense into her fellow slayer.

“Because I promised Angel,” Cordelia replied with a grimace. “Part of the peace negotiations after last night’s debacle,” she explained as she carefully re-applied her make-up, trying to make herself look marginally presentable.

Under her expert hand, the dark smudges ringing her eyes vanished and her pale face took on a deceptively healthy glow. She still felt like death warmed up, but at least she no longer looked like it. She brushed her hair and smoothed down her denim skirt, then purposely squared her shoulders, getting ready to face the world again.

Faith watched this little performance with a heavy heart. The huge amount of effort that her friend put into the illusion that everything was okay was extremely telling. A knotted ball of fear formed in the pit of the slayer’s stomach – something told her that things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got better.

Downstairs, both Willow and Wesley were hard at work, the witch hunched over her laptop and the ex-watcher leafing through the books on the table in front of him. Buffy and Riley were sitting at a table nearby, talking quietly to each other, while Angel sat at the bar counter, his handsome face clouded with worry and concern. When the two women re-entered the bar area, he quickly crossed the room to join them.

“Are you okay?” he asked, rubbing his hand up and down Cordelia’s arm.

“I’m fine,” she reassured him, reaching up to touch his face. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. Seeing what that thing did to that girl and her baby… it just got to me, you know.”

Angel nodded and hooked his arm around her waist, pulling her close. He ducked his head and kissed her. “We’ll save them, I promise,” he vowed when they separated.

Cordelia nodded and snuggled closer to him as they sat down together on the edge of the stage. She was so tired; it was difficult to keep her eyes open. Secure in her boyfriend’s strong, loving embrace, she kept drifting off until eventually Angel insisted that she take a proper nap and carried her upstairs to their room. When she awoke a few hours later, she felt much better, despite her lingering headache and inexplicably aching limbs.

For the others though, the day was spent in fruitless research, until, just as darkness approached, they finally had the all-important breakthrough.

“I think I might have something,” Willow announced.

She showed Cordelia a web page for a company called ‘Wrights and Sons Confectionary,’ and pointed to the red, white and blue logo in the top right corner. “Is that it?” she asked. “It seems to fit everything you said.”

Cordelia bent to take a closer look and then nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s it.”

“It says that they have premises down at the Docks, near Pier Seven,” Willow told them and then looked over at Angel. “You know where that is?”

The vampire nodded and strode over to where Wesley was sitting poring over his books. Faith followed him, while Cordelia sank wearily into the chair next to Willow.

“Anything yet?” the vampire asked his friend.

The ex-watcher spread his hands and shrugged. “Nothing specific – unfortunately, foetal-snatchers appear to be rather prevalent in the demon world.”

“That is so disgusting,” Faith commented with a shudder.

“Yes but there is some, admittedly abhorrent, logic behind it. An unborn infant – especially a human child – is a symbol of pure innocence, you see. Along with virgins, they’re prime candidates for ritual sacrifice.”

Angel looked over at Cordelia, weighing up their options. Despite her insistence that she was fine, he could tell she was still pretty shaken up by her vision ordeal. “I don’t think we can afford to wait any longer,” he decided. “We need to go and check this place out, find that pregnant woman and get her to safety before anything untoward happens.”

Wesley nodded in agreement. “You’re probably safe enough with a standard ‘slice and dice’ battle plan for now anyway. I’ll call you if I find out anything more. I’d come with you but I’m not exactly battle-ready at the moment.”

“Were you ever?” Faith asked cheekily.

Wesley deliberately ignored her and continued imparting his quiet instructions to Angel. “Given the level of violence of the attack, I think you should take Faith and Buffy along with you though.”

Faith felt a sliver of apprehension at that. This would be the first real test of her willpower since she had been exorcised of the Orb’s influence. Would she be able to control her instincts? This demon was legitimate prey, but she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to stop at just the one kill.

“You’ll be fine,” Angel said, quickly sensing her misgiving. “All you have to do is trust in who you are.”

Faith nodded and deliberately squared her shoulders, shaking off her unease.“Okay I’m in,” she said. A beat then, “But only if I get first pick of the weapons.”

With a sudden burst of energy, she made a beeline for the huge oblong weapon’s box, which had been pushed away into one corner. Angel followed close on her heels, drawn into the competition despite himself. Noticing the activity, Buffy quickly moved over to join them, not wanting to be left out of any impending action.

“We checking out the place Willow found?” she asked.

“Yep,” Angel replied as he pulled out his favourite broadsword before Faith could get her hands on it. “Tell army boy to stay behind though. He’s a loose cannon and we can’t afford any mistakes.”

Buffy looked back over her shoulder at Riley, who stood watching them with polite interest. “He’s not gonna like it.”

“He doesn’t have to like it. He just has to do as he’s told and stay put.”

“Must be a male thing,” Faith said sardonically.

“What?”

“The rampant need to demonstrate superiority at every available opportunity,” the slayer replied. “Publicly smacking the guy down is all very well and good, Angel, but it’ll only cause unnecessary trouble. Can I suggest a more subtle approach instead?”

“Like what?”

“Tell him you need someone to stay behind to protect C.”

“Protect her from what?”

“The demon bounty hunters that are after her. There’s a huge reward for anyone who captures the vampire’s seer alive, you know.”

“What! Why haven’t you told me this before now?”

“You think his Mom dropped him on his head as a baby?” Faith said to Buffy with a roll of her eyes.

“Relax Angel – I made it all up. Riley doesn’t have to know that though, does he? Just tell him that we’re keeping it quiet because we don’t want to scare her. In my experience, all would-be heroes are complete suckers for a damsel in distress. I doubt Uncle Sam’s whipping boy over there is any different.”

Buffy knew she probably should be objecting to this blatant manipulation of her boyfriend, but the truth was she’d much rather Riley didn’t come along either. She’d made the decision to end their relationship, and yet here she was acting as if everything was fine just to avoid the inevitable scene breaking up with him would cause.

Being around her soon-to-be ex was growing increasingly awkward as a result, and a little bit of breathing space would be gratefully received. Therefore, she kept quiet as Angel paused to consider Faith’s suggestion. He eventually nodded his head, agreeing to the plan.

“Okay,” he said. “Have it your way – just don’t expect me to ask him.”

Faith humphed in disgust at the vampire’s pig-headed contrariness. “Geez! Talk about male pride.”

With a toss of her head, she strode over to speak to Riley, pulling him into a conspiratorial huddle for dramatic effect. Buffy looked up at Angel with an eager expression on her features.

“Is it crazy that I’m actually looking forward to this?” she asked. “There’s something so liberating about not having to deal with the situation all by myself.”

“Giles, Willow and Xander help you, don’t they?”

“Well yeah – but they can’t watch my back like you can.”

“I’m sure they manage just fine,” Angel said curtly. “After all, you’re not dead yet, are you?”

Buffy flushed, cut to the quick by his brusque censure. “That’s not what I meant,” she started to explain but the vampire immediately interrupted her.

“I know what you meant, Buffy,” he said sharply. “And to be perfectly honest, it’s starting to wear a bit thin. Excuse me – I need to speak to Cordy.” Humiliated, Buffy looked down at the floor as Angel brushed past her and crossed the room towards his girlfriend.

Hunkering down next to Cordelia’s chair, he leaned in close to speak to her, resting one arm along the chair back as he murmured quietly in her ear. The seer nodded a couple of times in response to what her boyfriend was saying, and then tilted her face upwards to accept his kiss as he bridged the small gap between them, and pressed his lips to hers.

Although relatively chaste, the kiss was lingering, their mouths coming together several times before they reluctantly drew apart. Angel straightened up and strode away to rejoin the two slayers on the other side of the room, while Cordelia watched him go, a wistful smile on her beautiful face. She was all too aware that, when he returned, she was going to have to approach the difficult subject of her declining health with him and she wasn’t exactly looking forward to the conversation.

“Told you he’d buy it,” Faith told Angel as Riley moved to take up guard duty over an oblivious Cordelia. “Am I good or what?”

“Hmm,” the vampire replied noncommittally.

“Now all we’ve got to do is get C to flutter her eyelashes at him a few times, and he’ll never know he’s been had,” Faith continued in a deliberately airy tone. “Shall I go and make sure she plays her part?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Angel answered, quickly catching her upper arm in an iron grip.

“Riley’s not the only one who’s a complete sucker,” Faith commented with a wide grin.

“You’re so not funny,” Angel said witheringly as he released her from his hold. Faith laughed as they turned and headed up the stairs – with Buffy trailing along behind them.

“So what’s the plan?” Faith asked, as the three of them emerged onto the dark street and made their way over to Angel’s Plymouth.

The vampire shrugged. “We’ve not got much to go on, so I guess we just play it by ear. Let’s concentrate on finding the girl and getting her and her baby to safety. We’ll worry about eliminating the demon later.”

“Okay boss.”

As Faith agilely vaulted over the car door and into the backseat, a strangely silent Buffy ensconced herself in the passenger seat alongside Angel. As the car gathered speed, it didn’t take the brunette slayer long to notice the stretched-taut tension between her two companions in the front-seat, and she groaned inwardly.

Uh-oh! Here we go, she thought, closing her eyes in resignation.

Buffy sat primly in her seat, a lethal-looking crossbow resting in her lap and a picture of wounded innocence painted across her pretty face. Angel, meanwhile, was pointedly ignoring her, keeping his eyes firmly on the road as he carefully manoeuvred the Plymouth through the early evening traffic.

Faith could see the gathering storm rapidly approaching. Whether it would explode before, during, or after their mission of mercy though, was anyone’s guess.

***

“You need any help with that?” Laura Geddes asked her heavily pregnant work colleague.

Simone Fairfax adjusted the plastic baby-bath under her right arm and scooped up her bag with her left hand. “No, I think I’m right,” she said with a smile. “Thanks for everything, Laura. You’ve been great.”

Laura reached out and lightly embraced her friend. “You take care of yourself and the little one, okay? I know you – you’ll be rearranging the furniture tomorrow.”

Simone laughed. “As if,” she said, smoothing her hand over her extremely prominent bump. “I’ve not seen my feet for like months.”

“Make sure you call me if you need anything, all right?”

Simone nodded, touched by the older woman’s continuing kindness. Laura had been a tower of strength since she’d found herself pregnant and alone; she didn’t know what she’d have done without her support. Although she knew that they would stay in touch, she was really going to miss having Laura to talk to every day.

“Okay – time to go,” she said, suddenly filled with apprehension.

This was it – she was going on maternity leave, a few weeks and she’d be a mother. She alone would be responsible for the tiny, helpless creature currently using her bladder as a trampoline. It was exciting but also as scary as hell. Luckily for her, her small circle of friends had been nothing but supportive since Micheal had abandoned her, and her sister – god love her – had uprooted her whole life and moved to LA to help out.

“Hey,I’ve always wanted to live in LA,” Carla had insisted with her typical optimism, when she’d turned up unannounced on Simone’s doorstep a couple of months ago.

“Jesus girl! Check out those hormones,” she added as Simone immediately dissolved into floods of grateful tears.

She had to smile; Carla never let anything get her down. She was so laid-back, she was practically horizontal, and yet she had this quiet strength that made you feel like you could climb mountains. She was just what Simone needed at the moment. What’s more, she knew that once she’d adjusted to being a single mother, her sister would simply step back and let her get on with it.

That was Carla all over – she had the ability to organise and support without completely taking over, which was probably why she made such an excellent youth counsellor. She had quickly found a job at a nearby shelter for street-kids, run by a kindred spirit named Anne, and had settled into her new life in LA with consummate ease.

Suddenly bone-weary and desperate to put her feet up, Simone exited the building by the side entrance and walked – or rather waddled – in the direction of her car. As soon as she stepped away from the safety of her workplace though, she felt the now familiar chill run down her spine.

For weeks now, she’d been sure someone was watching her, but when she turned around no one was there. It was spooky and very unsettling. Out of habit, she checked behind her and sure enough, the parking lot was deserted. When she turned back around however, three strangers stood before her, seemingly having appeared out of nowhere. She nearly went into labour on the spot when she saw the wicked-looking weapons they were carrying.

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to hurt you,” the only male of the trio quietly assured her. His companions were two young women, one brunette, the other blonde, but both radiating the same strange unearthly power.

“Yeah right,” Simone replied, eyeing their weaponry apprehensively.

The man attempted to conceal his massive sword behind his back then, and Simone almost laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of the gesture.

“We just want to help you, I swear,” he said, his chocolate-brown eyes holding her captive.

There was something in his earnest manner that made her believe him and she relaxed.

“You’re being watched, aren’t you?” he continued, and she nodded. How the hell did he know that?

“We were sent here to protect you,” he replied, partly answering her silent question.

“Protect me from what?”

“Err – I think that,” the brunette woman suddenly said, pointing to something behind Simone as she swiftly raised her weapon.

Her heart in her throat, Simone looked over her shoulder – and screamed in terror…

TBC…

Becjane

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 19   2 comments

Part 19

Feeling decidedly groggy, Wesley slowly drifted awake, opening his eyes with effort. The room was light, but his vision was still blurry from sleep, making the objects in the room waver like a mirage in a desert. Letting out a deep sigh, he allowed his heavy eyelids to drop, only vaguely aware of the sound of running water coming from the on-suite bathroom as he dozed off again.

The next time he emerged into consciousness however, the ex-watcher’s senses were significantly more alert. Using the heel of his hands against the mattress, he manoeuvred himself into a seated position against the pillows, grimacing slightly from the exertion. His muscles were stiff and the cuts on his torso throbbed painfully; nevertheless, he was pleased to discover that there had been a marked improvement in his mobility since the previous day.

“Hey!”

Faith stood framed in the doorway of the bathroom, pulling a brush through her long mane of hair, the dark strands still wet from her shower. She was dressed in a plum-coloured vest top and a pair of low-slung black sweatpants, her bare toes peeking out from beneath the hem. Her injuries from the Orb’s fight with Angel were all but gone, thanks to her accelerated healing abilities.

“Hey yourself,” Wesley returned her bright greeting. “How are you doing?”

“Shouldn’t I be asking you that question?” the slayer replied, her lips curling up into a wry smile at his query.

“I think it probably applies to both of us.”

Coming into the room, Faith acknowledged Wesley’s quiet statement with a brief nod of her head. “I’m doing okay,” she said. “Better, I think. I feel a fraction more like me today.”

“Did you get some sleep?”

“Yeah – compared to a hospital bed, that armchair is the height of luxury, I can tell you. Angel and C woke me up an hour ago though.”

Wesley glanced at the small clock on the bedside table. “They were up early.”

“I think Angel was the one who was up,” Faith said sardonically, her warm brown eyes sparkling with mischief.

It took a few moments for Wesley to cotton on to what the slayer meant, but then her meaning sunk in and his blue eyes widened comically. “The walls are supposed to be sound-proofed,” he remarked absently.

Faith laughed. “Yeah well, I guess my slayer hearing kind of overcame that.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” she added defensively, when her watcher shot her a steady look, a faint hint of reproof shining in his gaze. “It’s not like I had a glass up against the wall, or anything. It’s hardly my fault that C’s got one serious set of lungs on her, now is it?”

Wesley chuckled despite himself, shaking his head at the slayer’s audaciousness. “You’re incorrigible,” he said, his hand going protectively to his ribs in reaction to the slight pain the laughter caused him.

The dark-haired young woman grinned unrepentantly. “I try my best – one prissy, goody-too-shoes slayer is quite enough, don’t you think?”

“Faith!”

“Don’t get me wrong – I love B, but she can be terribly proper sometimes. She agonises over the burden of being a slayer to such a degree, that she forgets to live her life. She needs to learn how to lighten up a little.”

“Whereas you’re so laid back, you’re practically horizontal,” Wesley commented dryly.

“Best way to be, Wes old boy, best way to be. I’m sure C would agree with me on that, right about now.”

“And on that highly inappropriate note, I think it’s about time we changed the subject,” Wesley interjected decisively, his face colouring in embarrassed discomfiture.

With an exaggerated sigh, Faith rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “You’re no fun,” she griped good-naturedly, pursing her lips into a faux pout.

“So I’ve been told on countless occasions – mostly by you, if I recall correctly.” Wesley replied, pulling back the covers and awkwardly swinging his pyjama-clad legs over the edge of the mattress.

The brunette slayer immediately moved to bar his path. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To the bathroom to take a shower, if you don’t mind,” the Englishman replied, placing his bare feet flat on the floor and pushing his battered body into an upright position. “And after that, I thought I’d get dressed and go downstairs.”

“You need to stay in bed,” Faith insisted, shaking her head with agitated concern.

“If I do that, I’m going to seize up completely. Don’t worry; I’m not planning on running a marathon, I just need to move around a bit, that’s all.”

The worried slayer wasn’t entirely convinced, but she reluctantly gave way and hooked her hand under his left elbow, supporting him as he slowly shuffled across the bedroom carpet towards the bathroom.

“Can you get me some clean clothes from the closet please?” Wesley asked, when they reached their destination. “Something casual and comfortable if possible.”

“I didn’t know you did casual,” Faith commented with a smile. “Isn’t that against the watcher’s code, or something?”

“You’d be surprised at what’s contained in the ‘watcher’s code’,” came the acerbic response. “Besides, officially, I’m no longer a watcher anyway.”

“You abandoning me to another stuffy Brit, Wes?”

Faith’s eyes darkened with anxiety, her question only half in jest. After everything that had happened, she couldn’t exactly blame him if he didn’t want to be around her.

“No, not at all. It’s just I broke a lot of rules to…”

“Save me?”

“Yes – so I decided to resign before the watcher’s council gave me the proverbial push.”

“Well, I’m hardly the poster child for slayers, am I? I reckon I can handle working with a renegade watcher – if you still want to, that is.”

“You were chosen for a reason, Faith,” Wesley quietly informed her, ignoring her attack of insecurity over the level of his commitment.

“I’m a mistake though, aren’t I?” the brunette replied, looking down at her feet. “B’s the true slayer, not me.”

“Excuse me, but that’s utterly preposterous! Who told you that?”

Faith snapped her eyes up to the indignant look on Wesley’s face, surprised by the vehemence in his tone. “Nobody directly – it’s just something that’s inferred in various people’s attitude towards me, I guess.”

“Faith – there is a long line of potential slayers throughout the world, all ready to be called should the current one meet an untimely death. Just because Buffy didn’t stay dead, doesn’t mean you – or Kendra for that matter – are second best. You are all true slayers – the only ‘mistake’ is that two of you were inadvertently called at once. Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.”

The slayer stared him, a myriad of differing emotions crossing her expressive face, while her eyes grew round and suspiciously liquid. When the battle with Styjasimok and the Orb had forced into her mystical coma, Faith had only just been getting used to the idea that she now had people in her life that genuinely cared about her. True friends, the kind that would support her through thick and thin, were an unknown entity to the slayer before then.

Clearing her throat, she dropped her gaze and blinked back the salty tears that threatened to fall, then, in an attempt to cover up her embarrassingly emotional reaction, turned towards the closet to get Wesley his clean clothes.

“Umm – casual, right? So what have we got here that fits the bill?” she said, tugging open the closet doors and surveying the neatly hung garments within.

Leaving the slayer to her thoughts, Wesley retrieved his toiletries from the bottom shelf of the bathroom cabinet, and moved towards the shower, holding them clutched in his crooked arms.

“You… err…need any help?” Faith’s voice sounded awkwardly from the doorway.

Wesley suppressed an amused smile at her sudden gaucheness. “No – I’m all right thank you. Getting into a bath-tub might be a feat of engineering right now, but a walk-in shower stall, I think I can handle.”

“Okay – I’ll leave these here then,” she replied, depositing the pile of clothes on the countertop by the sink. “Just holler if you need anything, ‘kay?”

With that, the slayer stepped back out into the bedroom and pulled the bathroom door shut behind her, leaving Wesley to continue his morning ablutions in private.

***

Riley sat down in the chair near the bed and pulled on his training shoes, tying the laces with an army-issue double-knot. Rising to his feet, he lifted his arms above his head and worked out the kinks in his shoulders and back, preparing his muscles for the early morning run he intended to take.

The soldier was used to a morning wake-up call at around five am, followed by at least an hour’s exercise before breakfast. This routine had been broken by the last few day’s events though, and he was, consequently, agitated and on edge. Itching to give his restless body a proper workout, Riley was eager to get outside into the fresh air, primarily to run, but also to take the opportunity to empty his mind of all extraneous thought as he did so.

After cracking his knuckles and giving his muscular legs a shake, he perched on the edge of the mattress next to his sleeping girlfriend. Buffy lay sprawled on her front, her right cheek resting on the pillow that she held snugly in her embrace, and her blonde hair was fanned out over her face and bare forearm. She showed no sign of waking just yet, her breathing deep and even in nature.

Riley tucked her wealth of flaxen hair behind her ear, and bent to press a tender kiss on her upturned lips. He then made his way over to the bedroom door and, with one last look over his shoulder at the slumbering slayer, left the room, closing the door with a soft click.

***

Three quarters of an hour later, Faith and Wesley finally made it downstairs for breakfast, where they came to a pause in the kitchen doorway, observing the scene within.

Cordelia stood with her back to the counter and her arms about Angel’s waist, the tips of her fingers resting on the top of his pants-covered ass. The vampire’s fingers were threaded through her hair, and they exchanging kiss upon soft kiss, their eyes closed and their bodies pressed close together.

“Put him down girl – you don’t know where he’s been.”

The embracing couple broke apart at the interruption, and Cordelia glanced over at the impudent slayer in mild annoyance. “I know exactly where he’s been,” she declared without thinking.

“Yeah, so does half of LA,” Faith shot back immediately. “You need a volume control, C.”

Cordelia’s cheeks flamed with mortification, but Angel laughed at the slayer’s satirical comment.

“You two want eggs and toast?” he asked, turning back to the breakfast that he’d been preparing, before his seer had snuck up and ensnared him in her warm embrace.

“Sounds good,” Wesley said, as he sat down at the square wooden table in the centre of the room. “I’m surprisingly hungry, to tell you the truth.”

While Cordelia up-ended a carton of orange juice into a jug and placed it in the centre of the table, Angel cracked several eggs into a glass mixing bowl, and popped some extra slices of bread into the toaster. The seer then poured her friends some freshly brewed coffee, and put a mug of pig’s blood into the microwave to warm, while the industrious vampire began to cook up the eggs over the stovetop.

“What?” she demanded, when she finally sat down opposite Faith.

“My, my – aren’t we just the soul of domesticity?” the dark-haired slayer drawled teasingly.

“Yeah – so?” Cordelia replied, a soft gentle smile gracing her lips. “Beats breakfast prepared by the paid help and eaten alone, believe me.”

Faith inclined her head in silent agreement, then wrapped her hands around her mug of coffee and took a sip of the hot drink, breathing in its invigorating aroma as she drank.

Once he was satisfied that the eggs were sufficiently scrambled, Angel shut off the flame under the pan, and deposited it on the table, together with a plate piled high with toast. The microwave pinged, and he went to retrieve his liquid nourishment from the small oven, while the others enthusiastically helped themselves to the food. Joining them at the table, the vampire smiled at the way they were all practically inhaling their breakfast.

“Hungry guys?” he asked, raising his eyebrows as he lifted his cup of warmed blood to his lips.

“Hospital food is not exactly what you’d term edible,” Wesley explained, buttering a slice of toast and pouring himself some orange juice.

“I guess I’ve not really eaten much these last couple of days,” Faith admitted around a large mouthful of eggs.

“I kind of worked up an appetite earlier,” Cordelia chimed in last of all, her hazel orbs twinkling playfully at her boyfriend, despite the rosy blush colouring her cheeks.

Angel’s face split into a Cheshire-cat grin at her words, and he reached out under the table to give her knee an affectionate squeeze. Running his hand up the length of her toned thigh, he savoured the velvety feel of her soft skin, his exploring fingers stopping just shy of where her exposed flesh met the edge of her short denim skirt.

Cordelia shot him a look that said ‘if you go any higher, buddy, you’re gonna get a slap,’ so the vampire dutifully left his hand where it was – albeit with a certain amount of reluctance.

“So what happens now?” the seer asked, looking questionably at her companions. “Are you two going back to Sunnydale with Buffy and the Scoobies?”

“Err… I don’t know,” Faith replied, the very idea filling her with a sense of dread. “I guess that’s Wesley’s decision.”

Three pairs of inquisitive eyes immediately swung towards the ex-watcher, who paused with his fork halfway to his mouth, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. He set his cutlery back down on his plate and briefly considered the options, his forehead creased in thought.

“I don’t think it takes two slayers to guard the Hellmouth,” he began slowly. “Buffy, Giles, and the others seem to have that under control. I figure we would be more use here, helping you with Angel Investigations. That’s if you want our assistance, of course.”

“I think that’s a given,” Angel said. “I’m not sure what the watcher’s council will think about one of their slayers aiding a vampire though. Don’t think that’d go down too well.”

“That’s because they can’t see past their own blind prejudice to look at the big picture. We’ll be far more effective fighting the good fight with you and Cordelia here in LA, than we would be playing second fiddle in Sunnydale. I’m game if Faith is.”

“Do I get paid?” the slayer asked cheekily.

“I think I can run to some sort of salary – just don’t expect too much, okay?”

“Hey, anything’s better than the big fat zip I get from the watcher’s council. I don’t how they expect you to be a slayer and hold down a normal job. I mean – hello? Do those guys actually live in the real world?”

“So we’re agreed then?”

“That we’re going to tell the council to stick their orders where the sun don’t shine? Yeah, I’m definitely up for that. Count me in.”

“I guess that means the Fang Gang’s back in business,” Cordelia declared with a smile.

She raised her glass of orange juice in a mock toast, and the others clinked their respective mugs and glasses against it to seal the deal, before tucking back into their morning meal.

“Does anyone know if there is a suitable place to train here?” Wesley asked conversationally, helping himself to another spoonful of eggs.

“You could use the attic if you push back some of the old furniture stored up there,” was Cordelia’s immediate response.

“And exactly how do you know that Caritas has an attic?” Angel pointedly asked his girlfriend, despite already knowing the answer. Miss Chase was far too inquisitive for her own good in his humble opinion.

“Well – duh! How do you think? I went snooping, of course!”

“I’d never have guessed.” the vampire remarked, his voice heavy with sarcasm and a knowing smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

Cordelia pulled a face and stuck her tongue out at him in return, prompting a now grinning Angel to drop an affectionate kiss on the end of her crinkled up nose.

“Guess that means vacation time’s over then,” Faith said, casting a sly sidelong glance at Wesley. “I’d forgotten how much of a slave-driver you were, Mr Wyndam-Pryce.”

“Faith, you’ve been out of commission for a long time. You need to start training regularly in order to get back to peak fitness. What’s more, you and Angel ought to determine the most effective way of fighting alongside each other. It should work pretty well actually – by design, a slayer’s strengths are geared towards a vampire’s weaknesses. Not that Angel’s an ordinary vampire in that respect though.”

“I’m not?”

“No – I’ve watched you fight – your technique is subtly different to other vampires’. I don’t really know for sure why. Maybe it’s because you fight with a conscience, or, alternatively, it could be because you have a specific role to play in the grand scheme of things.”

“You mean along the lines of ‘in every generation, there’s a chosen one…’?” Faith asked, crooking her fingers into quotation marks and lowering her voice for dramatic effect.

“Exactly,” Wesley mused, half to himself and half to his interested audience. “You can be almost certain that the Powers That Be have singled Angel out for a reason – a vampire with a soul is not a normal occurrence. I’ll look into it – it will be fascinating to research something other than slayer mythology for a change.”

Slightly uncomfortable with the topic of conversation, Angel drank the last few drops of his breakfast and moved towards the sink to wash out the blood-encrusted mug. Once clean, he set the cup upside down on the drainer and filled a small glass with water to rinse out his mouth.

As he spat the tainted liquid into the sink and washed it down the drain with a steady stream of water from the faucet, Cordelia came up behind him and placed a hand between his shoulder blades.

“You okay?” she asked, her body-heat pleasantly warming his skin through the fabric of his shirt.

“Yeah – it’s just… a slayer is a force for good, so it makes sense that there are prophecies surrounding them. But me? I’ve plumbed the depths of evil in my time; I can’t see how anything foretold about me can be good.”

“You’re setting that to rights now though, Angel.”

“Yes, but atoning for the suffering I’ve caused is *my* reason for doing this. The Powers are probably just accepting my penance because they think I can be useful to them.”

“I think there’s more to it than that,” Faith’s voice sounded from behind them. “The Orb kept going on about your prophesied reputation.”

“Mr Pivotal-Figure-in-the-Apocalypse – that’s what it called you,” Wesley remembered. “Did you get any clue on what that meant?” he asked of his slayer.

“No – I only scratched the surface of the Orb’s subconscious. It was so depraved… I just couldn’t…” Faith faltered, shivering at the unpleasant memory, her eyes darkening with re-awakened torment. “I’m sorry, I can’t… I’m sorry.”

Wesley reached out to squeeze the slayer’s shaking fingers. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not important,” he reassured her, mentally chastising himself for letting his innate curiosity get the better of him.

Faith nodded, swallowing hard and trying to regain control over her tumultuous emotions. “One day at a time, huh?” she said, looking over at Angel as she repeated his prior advice to her.

The vampire sat down in the chair opposite and curled a sympathetic hand around her forearm. “One day at a time,” he softly concurred.

“Whoa! Way to kill the upbeat mood or what?” Faith blew her breath out from between pursed lips and squared her shoulders, running her fingers through her wavy mane of dark hair.

“So – you up for a training session? I could do with keeping myself occupied to be honest. If I sit around doing nothing, I’m gonna dwell on things too much.”

“Sure,” Angel promptly agreed, but then flickered a wary glance at his girlfriend. “Just give me an hour or so, okay? There’s something I need to do first.”

“It can wait,” Cordelia said, placing a restraining hand on his arm.

“But I promised.”

“I know, but a few more hours won’t make a great deal of difference. Go and kick ass with Faith – it’ll put you in the right frame of mind, at least.”

“I was aiming for a mature and sensible discussion actually.”

“Hah! You wish!”

“Okay, so what’s with the cryptic?” Faith enquired, interrupting their puzzling conversation.

“I have to talk to Buffy,” Angel told the baffled slayer.

“Oh,” Faith said, non the wiser. Then it dawned on her. “Oh, I see. Damn! Hasn’t she given up yet?”

“Unfortunately not,” the vampire replied with a rueful shake of his head. “Willow said she’d talk to her, but I promised Cordy last night, that I’d deal with the situation myself.”

“Cus *someone* took his own sweet time to tell me what was going on,” the seer interjected.

“I thought we sorted all that out earlier,” Angel said, turning back to his girlfriend with a worried frown.

“We did. I was just teasing. Don’t go all broody face.”

“As long as you’re sure?”

“Angel! I’m sure, okay?” Cordelia leaned forward and cupped the vampire’s troubled face in her palms, setting his mind at rest with a brief, but heartfelt kiss.

“You’re a big dumbass, you know that?” she murmured, smoothing out the worry lines marring his brow with the tips of her fingers, before bestowing a second kiss on his – too inviting – lips.

“Go on – go flex your manly boob muscles,” she said, giving him a light shove in the direction of the door.

With a quirky half bow, Angel lifted her hand and kissed the backs of her fingers in an old-fashioned courtly gesture.

“Whatever you say, m’lady,” he said, a faint Irish burr inadvertently creeping into his voice.

Turning her slender arm over, he pressed his cool lips to the pulse point on her wrist, then released her hand and followed Faith out of the room.

***

Buffy had woken that morning to find a note from Riley on the dresser. It informed her that he had gone out for a run, and told her not to wait for him before going down to breakfast.

Relieved that the unpleasant task of breaking up with him had been put off for a bit longer, she set about making the most of her physical assets – with the express purpose of catching her ex-boyfriend’s eye. Although fully intending to do the right thing by her current beau before making her move, she saw no harm in reminding Angel of what he was missing in the mean time.

Performing a 360° twirl in front of the mirror, the petite slayer checked out her reflection one last time, and nodded in satisfaction at what she saw echoed back at her in the glass. She was dressed to kill in form-fitting, chocolate brown pants and a pale pink halter-neck – the flimsy blouse virtually backless, save for the tie fastening at the nape of her neck and the thin band of material running across the middle of her toned back.

She had drawn her blonde tresses back off her face into a high ponytail, but softened the rather severe style with a few wispy curls left loose to frame her pretty face. A pair of straw-coloured sandals, with a chunky two-inch heel, completed the look.

Humming a happy tune to herself, Buffy made her way downstairs with a distinct spring in her step. She poked her head round the kitchen door, but found the small room empty, so continued on down the hallway in search of some sign of life.

Drawn by the low hum of voices and the clinking sound of glass, she entered the bar area, where she found Wesley, Cordelia and Willow seated around a circular table, talking quietly amongst themselves. Lorne, dressed in a flamboyant gold robe, was stacking tumblers of varying size onto the glass shelf unit behind the counter, but Angel, Faith, and Riley were nowhere to be seen.

“Where’s Angel?” she asked, blurting out the first thought that entered her head, disappointed by the vampire’s absence.

“Hello Buffy, nice to see you again too.”

Suitably reprimanded, the slayer turned her blue-eyed gaze on her former watcher with an apologetic shrug of her shoulders. “Sorry Wesley – I just hoping to talk to Angel, that’s all. How are you?”

“Not too bad – a bit battered and bruised, but I’ll survive.”

“Kudos with the magical mojo to rescue Faith, by the way – Giles was kind of impressed.”

“Thanks – I think.”

“So, where are they? Angel and Faith, I mean”

“Upstairs in the attic room – training.”

“Cool – I’ll go and join them then.”

“I’d rather you didn’t, if you don’t mind.”

“Why?”

“Faith is struggling to come to terms with everything that she did under the Orb’s influence. Given his background, I think Angel is the most qualified to help her deal with that, don’t you?”

“I guess so,” Buffy agreed. “We need to be careful that she doesn’t get too dependant on him though.”

“What?” the blonde slayer snapped irritably, turning towards Cordelia, who had snorted in derision at her last comment.

“Nothing – I didn’t say *anything*” the seer replied, forcibly reigning in the desire to give her rival what for. She had promised Angel that she would hold her tongue until he’d had a chance to speak to his ex.

Buffy said something in response, but Cordelia didn’t hear her because her ears were suddenly filled with a hollow rushing sound. Alerted by his empathic ability, Lorne’s head whipped round, his scarlet eyes widening in alarm.

“Catch her!”

The Host’s sharp warning came too late however, and the vision hit with such power that it catapulted the seer backwards out of her chair. Crashing into the table behind her, she slumped to the floor, her body thrashing violently as the agonising images assaulted her brain.

“Quick – get something under her head before she hurts herself!” Wesley instructed, struggling to get to his feet.

Willow mumbled something under her breath, her right palm held rigidly outwards, and Cordelia’s convulsing body levitated half a metre or so off the ground. With the heels of her hands pressed to her temples, the young seer sobbed, her muscles going into painful spasm as her premonition reached its climax.

“Is that a vision?” Willow asked, horror-struck.

“Yes,” Wesley replied. “But the last one was no where near as bad as this.”

Cordelia eventually calmed, and the witch gently lowered her into a chair, next to the alarmed Wesley.

“Cordelia?” he asked softly, leaning forward and running a soothing hand up and down her arm.

Weeping in anguish, the seer buried her face in his shoulder, her shaking fingers clutching desperately at his shirt, as incoherent mumblings fell from her lips in a constant litany of distress.

“Oh God! Oh God! Poor baby, poor little baby.”

His blue eyes darkening with increasing concern, Wesley rocked Cordelia’s trembling form in his arms and stroked his fingers through her hair, trying his best to comfort her. Raising his head, he looked over at Buffy. “Go get Angel.”

“But…”

“Buffy! Just do as I say.”

“Now – god dammit!” he barked, when she still hesitated.

The ex-watcher’s voice was harsh and commanding, and the slayer jumped, stunned at the abrasive tone. Shocked into submission, she quickly turned on her heel and left the room, going in search of the souled vampire.

Wesley turned his attention back to an almost hysterical Cordelia, feeling utterly helpless in his inability to console her.

“Poor baby, poor little baby, no, no, no!”

Part 20.

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 17   2 comments

Part 17

There followed a moment of tense silence, and then Angel reached down and took hold of his girlfriend’s hand in a firm grip. “Come on – let’s get out of here.”

“Why?” Cordelia asked suspiciously, resisting against his insistent hold.

“Cordelia!” the vampire remonstrated, his sharp tone indicating that he wasn’t prepared to argue over the matter.

Cordelia automatically opened her mouth to object to his peremptory command, but then thought better of it. Sensing that she wasn’t going to like what he was about to tell her, she decided it wasn’t worth stirring things up over something so trivial. Instead, she docilely allowed him to lead her down the staircase and out to his car, which was parked in the alleyway outside.

Angel waited patiently until she was settled comfortably in the passenger seat, and then gunned the engine and pulled out into the evening traffic. Although rush hour was over, the roads were still quite busy with commuters making their way home after a long day at the office.

As they drove through the city streets, Cordelia sat quietly besides her reticent boyfriend, and proceeded to work herself up into a state of extreme nervous tension. Her initial panicked theory was that Angel was going to finish with her, until rational thought kicked in and informed her that she was being ridiculous. Despite their troubles, none of the vampire’s recent words and actions had indicated that he was having doubts about their relationship. In fact, if anything, his behaviour over the past few days had pointed towards an overall strengthening of his feelings for her, not the other way round.

With a soft sigh, the seer leaned her head back against the shiny, black leather seat and forced herself to calm down, deliberately emptying her mind of all the negative emotion threatening to overwhelm her. The scenery passed by in a blur, and it was only when Angel indicated to take the next exit off the freeway that she took any notice of where they were going. As her boyfriend carefully manoeuvred his car through the lanes of traffic, Cordelia sat up straighter, realising that they were headed for Point Dume – a favourite coastal viewpoint of theirs.

Armed with a picnic basket and large blanket, they were frequent visitors to the secluded spot and as, by necessity, they went after sundown, they usually had the entire place to themselves. The couple took full advantage of the open-air privacy this afforded them, and often stayed the whole night, taking the opportunity to spend some quality time alone together. They would talk of unimportant things and, more often than not, make love, before returning to the safety of their apartment just as dawn broke over the horizon.

This time though, they were headed there for an altogether different reason, and the seer’s anxiety levels jumped up a notch as they reached their journey’s end. Angel quickly swung the Plymouth into a parking space, and they climbed out of the car and began to walk down the dusty path towards the viewpoint, still with the ominous blanket of silence hovering over them. As they reached their destination, Cordelia finally snapped, unable to bear the agony of waiting any longer.

“Angel! Just tell me okay? You’re starting to frighten me now.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just…” Angel broke off, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger in a classic gesture of stress.

“It’s Buffy,” he eventually said, the strain of the situation strongly evident on his handsome face.

Cordelia’s heart almost stopped at this faltering admission, her face draining of all colour, as overwhelming pain darkened her hazel-coloured eyes to almost black.

“God Cordy! No – not that!”

Angel rushed to reassure his girlfriend, horrified at the stricken look that descended over her features at his words. Reaching out with both hands, he cupped her ashen face in his palms and bent to press a gentle kiss to her lips.

“Not that,” he repeated, when his mouth released hers with a soft, wet pop. “I love you, okay.”

A healthy glow slowly returned to the seer’s suddenly pale cheeks, and Angel sagged in abject relief, inwardly cursing himself for just blurting it out like that.

“I’m sorry,” he apologised, drawing her close. “I’m not handling this very well, am I?”

Cordelia clung to him fiercely, her fingers digging into the muscles of his back, but it wasn’t long before she recovered her shattered composure. Stepping back out of his arms, she brushed away the few stray tears that had escaped to dampen her cheeks and looked up at him.

“What about Buffy?”

“Umm – she’s not done or said anything specific,” Angel said, stumbling over the words. “It’s just, she’s been – well – a little over-friendly towards me, I guess.”

“I see,” Cordelia replied with deceptive calm. “So explain something to me – if I hadn’t forced you into it, just when exactly were you planning on telling me this?”

“I wasn’t deliberately keeping it from you,” Angel quickly said, visibly wincing at her icy tone. “There just hasn’t been a suitable time to talk about it, that’s all,” he explained, reaching out to take her hands in a placating gesture.

Cordelia wrenched her fingers out of his grasp and turned her back to him, folding her arms over her chest as she tried to gain some control of the simmering anger that was threatening to boil over. Striving to keep her fiery temper in check, she eventually twisted back round to face him, her expression stony.

“I take it you told her to back off?”

Oh Crap!

Feeling like a deer caught in headlights, Angel unconsciously took a step back, a guilty look immediately crossing his face at her question. On seeing this, Cordelia’s temper erupted like a long dormant volcano.

“I don’t believe you!” she said, her voice rising in both pitch and volume. “Just exactly how hard can it be to say you’re not interested?”

“It’s not as simple as that,” Angel protested, trying to defend his actions – or non-action to be precise. “I told you – she’s not done anything really obvious. And there’s something not quite right about the way she’s been acting. I’m w…”

“Too right, there isn’t,” Cordelia interrupted furiously. “You’re *my* boyfriend, and you’re totally off limits to Little Miss Blonde and Oh-So-Perky. I don’t care if she had you first – you’re mine now, got it?”

Angel sighed – the situation was going from bad to worse. “I had no intention of ignoring her behaviour,” he said calmly. “I was simply attempting to be diplomatic about the whole thing. Willow said she’d talk to her, and…”

“Willow knows about this? You talked to Willow and yet you’ve not deigned to mention it to me? Tell me – who else is in on this little conspiracy? Lorne? The Greblock demon on the door at Caritas perhaps?”

“Cordelia! Can we at least *try* to be rational about this please?” Angel said, getting increasingly exasperated with her stubbornness. There was no talking to her when she got like this.

“I’m perfectly rational, thank-you very much,” the seer snapped, her slightly shrill tone belying her words. “I think it’s totally reasonable to question why I’m the last person to be told that another woman is making moves on *my* man.”

“You’re *not* the last person to be told!” the vampire exclaimed, his patience starting to wear thin. “Willow is the only one I’ve talked to about this, and that was only because it came up in conversation.”

Lost in her fury, Cordelia took no notice of his adamant denial. “Why have you brought me out here to tell me?” she continued with her diatribe, gesturing wildly at the coastal scenery. “No, don’t answer that, I think I can guess. Protecting your precious Buffykins from my wrath, right? My God, even now you can’t help being her lap-dog!”

“I was trying to avoid a scene, yes,” Angel admitted with candour, sensibly choosing to ignore her spiteful jibe. “Given everything that has happened, I think that keeping conflict to a minimum is a good idea. You have a right to be angry, I get that, but I hardly think that you and Buffy screeching at each other is the best way to resolve things!”

“No – you’d rather sit back and let her get away with it. Hell, you might even be enjoying all the attention for all I know.”

Angel regarded the enraged seer steadily for a moment, then abruptly turned and strode away from her.

“Don’t you dare walk away from me when I’m yelling at you!” Cordelia said, running after him and grabbing hold of his arm. “Where are you going?”

Angel swung round to face her, his dark eyes glittering with barely restrained anger. “I’m giving you a few minutes to cool off, and then maybe – just maybe – we can discuss this in a rational manner. I don’t want either of us saying something we might regret.”

“Why would we do that?”

“Because we did before,” he answered, reminding her of the cause of all the recent strife between them. “Look what’s happening – you’re already starting to question my fidelity.”

“That’s because you make it so difficult to trust you where Buffy is concerned,” the seer burst out angrily. “You always have to pussy-foot around her feelings. Why can’t you just tell it to her straight? You would if it was anyone else.”

“Maybe – but caring about her does not automatically make me a cheat. I’ve done nothing – I repeat *nothing* – to encourage her attentions.”

“You’ve not actively discouraged her either though, have you?”

“That’s because we’ve been in the midst of a major crisis these past few days!” Angel said acidly. “Plus, any time I’ve had for personal matters has been devoted to making things right with you – as you damn well know!”

Cordelia fell silent, knowing that was true, but unable to shake her uneasiness over the slayer’s flirtation with him. Before their estrangement, she had had enough confidence in the solidity of their love to accept his friendly affection for Buffy, but the recent turbulence had stirred up all sorts of insecurities within her. Right now, she just couldn’t tolerate the slayer’s disruptive presence in their lives. She needed things between them to be black and white, not filled with these horrible shades of grey.

“Cordy?” Angel queried when she didn’t respond. “You know that, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” the seer nodded, her eyes downcast. She paused for a moment, and then pushed her hair out of her eyes to look him directly in the face. “I want to go back to Caritas.”

“Why?”

“For you to tell Buffy, in front of everyone, that you love me and not her.”

“That isn’t necessary, Cordelia. Willow said she’d talk to her, and if she doesn’t manage to get through, then I promise I’ll make sure that Buffy understands that all I have to offer her is friendship.”

“That’s not good enough. I want it done my way.”

Angel hesitated in responding; he didn’t really want to exacerbate the tension between them, but also knew that capitulating to her demand, simply to keep the peace, wouldn’t solve the underlying problem.

“I’m sorry, I’m not prepared to do that,” he carefully replied, keeping the tone of his voice deliberately even. “Not as some grand gesture to appease your lack of trust in me anyway.”

“You see – you *say* you’re with me, and yet you still choose her when it comes down to it.”

“That isn’t true.”

“No? So how do I know that you’re not just waiting for the perfect opportunity to sneak off and have grubby sex with her then?”

“I am not even going to dignify *that* with a response,” Angel growled through clenched teeth, grappling to keep a lid on his growing anger. “Look, this isn’t getting us anywhere. I think we should continue this discussion when we’ve both calmed down a bit.”

“Fine! Avoid the issue if you have to, but nothing is going to change. If you loved me, then you would tell Buffy what’s what in front of everyone, like I asked you to!”

Angel bit back an angry retort, knowing that deep down Cordelia didn’t really mean the things she was saying. He recognised that she had been unsettled by their problems, and therefore understood her reaction, even if he wasn’t prepared to give in to her demands.

Incensed at his refusal to comply, the seer spun on her heel and stalked off up the beach in high dudgeon, leaving Angel to follow at a slower pace. Cordelia’s current anger at him would abate sooner or later, the vampire knew. He just hoped that this stupid argument wouldn’t setback the progress of their reconciliation – they’d come so far in the past few days.

“Don’t worry, it’s safe to take me back to Caritas,” the seer said sarcastically, when he slid into the driver’s seat next to her and inserted the key into the ignition with a heavy sigh.. “I’ll leave your wonderfully perfect Buffy alone – for now at least anyway. Never let it be said that I’m unreasonable – you have twenty-four hours to do the right thing.”

“Ultimatums never solve anything, Cordelia,” Angel responded quietly, his voice was thick with miserable resignation.

“Pandering to an ex-girlfriend’s every whim never solved anything either,” she sharply retorted, as he reversed out of the parking spot.

Angel sighed, and Cordelia deliberately turned her face away from his reproachful profile to watch the passing landscape, her eyes wide and glassy. Neither ventured to speak again, and an increasingly uncomfortable atmosphere descended over them, as the Plymouth made its way back through the city to Caritas.

***

“Well, I’m beat,” Riley said, placing his hands on the wooden surface of the kitchen table and levering himself to his feet. “I think I’ll go up to bed. Coming Buffy?”

The slayer shook her head. “No, not just yet. I’m gonna stay down here and talk to Willow for a while.”

Riley nodded and bent to kiss her lightly on the forehead. “Okay – don’t be too long.”

Buffy smiled sweetly up at her boyfriend. “I won’t, I promise.” she said, reaching out to squeeze his hand in hers.

Curling his big hand round her much smaller one, the soldier lifted their entwined fingers to his lips and affectionately kissed the backs of her knuckles. Then, letting her hand drop, he turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him on the way out.

Willow observed the small exchange in silence, extremely puzzled by Buffy’s seemingly contradictory behaviour. To all intents and purposes, the slayer was playing the adoring girlfriend, but if what Angel had said was true, that didn’t make any sense.

“You and Riley seem to be getting pretty close,” Willow ventured, hoping to prompt her friend into opening up about the men in her life.

“Hmm,” Buffy replied, shrugging her shoulders noncommittally. “He’s a nice guy and I want it to work, but I can’t help thinking that there’s something missing. That special spark, you know? Our relationship is just so normal.”

“You always wanted normal,” the witch wryly pointed out.

Buffy let out a short laugh. “Yeah, I know – crazy, isn’t it? I’ve finally got what I desperately craved for all the way through High School, and now I realise that what I had with Angel was the absolute definition of perfect love all along.”

“You and Angel were madly in love, I agree, but it was far from perfect, Buffy,” Willow said sagely. “You had your fair share of problems, you can’t deny that.”

“Only because I thought him being a vampire was such a major problem back then. I don’t know why I couldn’t see that it was part of what made us so special together, but I totally get it now. And with his permanent soul, we can be together properly like we always dreamed. It’s going to be so perfect.”

“Buffy!” Willow snapped, sharply interrupting the slayer’s rose-tinted gushing.

“What?”

“Aren’t you forgetting that Angel is with Cordy now?”

“Not for much longer by all accounts. They’ve apparently been fighting like cats and dogs for months.”

“How do you know that?”

“I overheard Angel telling Faith this morning.”

“He told her he thought they were going to break up?” Willow asked in disbelief.

“Well no, not exactly – but it’s only a matter of time before they do. Besides when he knows that I can accept his vampire side, he’ll forget all about Cordelia anyway.”

Willow sighed and rested her forehead on her fingertips. “No Buffy – he won’t,” she said wearily. “Maybe you’re right, maybe they have been going through a rough patch, but for god’s sake, open your eyes! It’s obvious how much they love each other. You are kidding yourself if you think that Angel will dump Cordy and take you back.”

“Cordelia stole my boyfriend – how can you be on her side? You’re supposed to be my friend!” Buffy cried, rising agitatedly to her feet. “And you’re wrong, Willow. You are *so* wrong! Me and Angel will be back together before you know it – just you wait and see if we’re not.”

“I am your friend,” Willow said calmly. “One who’s trying to stop you from making a big mistake and getting yourself hurt. And tell me something, where exactly does Riley fit into all this? He doesn’t deserve to be treated this way, Buffy.”

“I know,” the slayer agreed, at least having the grace to feel guilty about that. “I’m going to end it, I swear. I was happy with him at first, but after being with Angel again, I know where I truly belong. It’s just taken me a couple of days to figure it out.”

“Buffy – listen to me will you? Angel cares about you, but only as a friend, nothing more. He’s simply not interested in you in a romantic sense anymore.”

“How could you possibly know that? He told you did he?”

“Pretty much yes,” was the blunt reply from the increasingly exasperated redhead.

“You’re lying!”

“Why would I lie about something like that? You’re one of my best friends and I want you to be happy. If I thought there was the slightest chance that you and he could get back together, then I’d tell you to go for it. If you carry on like this though, all you’re gonna do is ruin several people’s lives – including your own.”

“That’s just your opinion. Angel used to love me with everything in him remember? I was the centre of his universe and then some. Now that the reason for our break-up is no longer an issue, I can make him love me like that again, I know I can.”

“And to hell with the innocent people who stand in your way?”

“I told you I’d do the right thing by Riley.”

“And Cordelia? What about her? It doesn’t matter how you look at it, Buffy – deliberately trying to break up their relationship is so wrong. Her and Angel, they love each other, whether you want to admit it to yourself, or not.”

“Don’t be such a hypocrite, Will. You didn’t care about Cordelia one bit when you decided to suck-face with Xander, did you?”

“That was a long time ago and at least I felt guilt and remorse over what I did,” Willow retorted. “I don’t think you’re even bothered about the damage you could do. And besides, we’re not talking about a High School romance here – Angel and Cordy, they’ve been living together for nearly a year.”

“So – what does that have to do with anything? I stupidly let Angel go last year, when I never should have given up on him. Cordelia was a novelty that he stuck with because I didn’t persist in offering him a better alternative. I won’t make the same mistake again – I’m surer now than ever that he and I belong together. I’m sorry that Cordelia has to get hurt in the process, but it really can’t be helped. You can’t argue with fate and anyway, she’ll get over it soon enough.”

Willow seriously doubted that, although she knew Buffy would never see it. She had tried her best to open the slayer’s eyes to the realities of the situation, but they were going round in circles. Buffy wasn’t going to back down in a month of Sundays. Angel was the only one who could convince her that she was chasing after a pipe dream. The young witch just hoped that the fall-out didn’t take his and Cordelia’s relationship down with it – neither deserved to suffer unnecessarily because of the slayer’s blind obstinacy.

When her friend remained silent, Buffy mistakenly took this to mean that she had finally talked the witch round to her point of view. With a brief nod of victory, she pushed back her chair and stood up.

“I’m going to bed,” she announced. “It’s getting late.”

“And what are you going to do about Riley?”

“I’ll tell him in the morning. He was talking earlier about catching tomorrow afternoon’s bus back to Sunnydale. There’s no sense in upsetting him tonight, is there?”

“No, I suppose not,” Willow reluctantly agreed.

Although she felt sorry for the poor guy, putting off the inevitable fireworks until tomorrow sounded like a sensible idea to the witch. It would give her time to warn Angel of the bombshell that was about to be dropped in their midst, at any rate. Having failed in her bid to talk Buffy round, Willow figured she owed the unsuspecting vampire that courtesy at least.

***

When they had arrived back at Caritas a couple of hours earlier, Cordelia had immediately leapt out the car and stormed off upstairs to stew in their room. Angel had decided to take a walk, wisely giving her some space to calm down. Now though, as he pounded the dark streets alone, he was reminded of how many nights in the last few months that he had spent doing just this.

His stomach twisted into a knot of anxiety as he slowly became aware that he was unconsciously repeating a pattern. During the recent rift between them, his tumultuous feelings had driven him out of bed and away from Cordelia’s side on a regular basis, and he knew his emotional withdrawal had caused untold damage to their relationship. Angel stopped abruptly in his tracks as this realisation sank in, and resolved, there and then, not to make the same mistake twice. He would sleep by his woman’s side tonight, whether she was speaking to him or not.

When he got back to the Karaoke Club, he entered through the public, rather than the private, entrance, descending slowly down the steps into the garishly decorated bar. Lorne was up on the stage, performing to a few remaining – and mostly drunk – customers.

Business had been relatively slow – humans and demons alike, not realising that the Club was open again after the previous night’s unexpected closure. The green-skinned demon raised his microphone in greeting, and Angel nodded briefly in response as he strode across the room and went through into the private quarters beyond.

Downstairs everything was in darkness, but the vampire’s enhanced eyesight enabled him to ascend the staircase without turning on a light. He reached the landing area, off which the guest bedrooms were situated, and went over to knock softly on Wesley’s door, deciding to check on his friend before rejoining Cordelia in their shared accommodations.

Despite the lack of a response, he quietly entered the room and found Wesley fast asleep, lying on his back with his head propped up by a mound of cushions. Faith was still with him, hunched over so that her arms were resting on the mattress next to his hip, her head pillowed atop her hands.

Knowing that she would end up with a stiff neck if she slept like that all night, Angel tiptoed over and gently manoeuvred the slumbering slayer into a different position, settling her comfortably into the big armchair alongside the bed. She made a mewling sound of protest when he moved her, but did not awaken, completely exhausted by the overwrought reunion with her watcher. Covering her with a blanket, the vampire retreated from the room, reaching up to flick off the light switch as he did so.

When he finally found his way back to their room, Cordelia was already ensconced under the covers, her back resolutely turned to his side of the bed. Angel shrugged off his leather jacket and removed his boots and socks, and then approached the bed, unbuttoning his shirt as he went.

“Cordy – you awake?” he softly enquired.

No answer.

Okay, still not speaking to me then, he deduced, knowing from the rhythm of her breathing that Cordelia was only pretending to be asleep.

The vampire quickly shed the rest of his clothes, lifted up a corner of the quilt, and then slipped into bed beside her. Shifting closer to her rigidly held body, he curled a hand around her hipbone and leaned over to press a gentle kiss into the crook of her neck, noting with satisfaction the way her heartbeat sped up at his soft touch.

“I know you’re awake,” he bent to whisper in her ear. “It’s all right if you’re not ready to talk to me yet, but I need you to know that you have nothing to worry about from Buffy, okay? I love you more than you could possibly imagine.”

The seer’s breath hitched a little at his softly spoken declaration, but she didn’t respond, her anger at him still not having fully died down. Satisfied that he had made some progress though, Angel reached up with one arm to turn off the night light, then settled his head down on the pillow and closed his eyes.

He deliberately kept his hand on her hip however, deciding that maintaining physical contact while they slept, would be a silent way of informing her that there was no way he was going to let this disagreement come between them.

No way in hell.

Part 18.

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 13   2 comments

Part 13

“Wake up, Wesley,” Cordelia tried once more to rouse her unresponsive friend, then turned wide, frightened eyes on her boyfriend. “Angel?”

The vampire moved away from the weeping slayer’s side to squat next to the unconscious ex-watcher. Wesley’s heart was racing, the smell from the coagulating blood leaking from the open wounds on his torso, thick and strong.

“Did I kill him?” Faith’s voice was raspy from lack of use.

Angel glanced back over his shoulder at the slayer, noting how pale she was, and how her skin was covered in a sheen of clammy sweat.

He shook his head. “He’s lost a lot of blood, but I don’t think his life is in any danger. We should get him – and you – to a hospital though.”

“I’m fine,” Faith protested, shaking her head violently at this suggestion.

“You were in a coma for months, Faith.” Buffy pointed out to her fellow slayer.

“I know, but it was a mystical coma, not a physical one. I feel okay, I just…”

Faith broke off and looked beseechingly at Angel. “I feel okay,” she reiterated, her brown eyes pleading with him to understand.

The vampire nodded, recognizing the slayer’s reluctance to face the barrage of questions likely to be asked about her condition – and Wesley’s – at the hospital.

He fished in his jacket pocket for his car-keys and handed them to Cordelia, then looked over at Buffy and Riley. “Go with Cordy and Wes to the hospital – Lorne, Willow, and I will take Faith back to Caritas. It’s only about thirty minutes walk from here.”

His instructions imparted, Angel effortlessly lifted Wesley off the damp cobblestones and strode over to the Plymouth, carefully depositing the injured Englishman in the backseat. Riley walked around the front of the car to take the passenger seat, while Cordelia passed the keys to Buffy, before she climbed in besides their friend and gently lifted his head to cradle it in her lap.

“Drive safely,” Angel told the slayer, as she slid into the driver’s seat and inserted the key into the ignition.

Gripping the doorframe in his hands, the dark-haired vampire then leaned over into the back to press a kiss to Cordelia’s upturned lips.

“Call me,” he told her, reaching out to cup her cheek in his hand. He traced the outline of her full, pouty lips with his thumb, and smiled when she softly kissed the digit’s callused tip.

“I will,” the seer replied, then looked worriedly over at Faith. “Take care of her, okay? I know she says she’s fine, but…”

“I know,” Angel softly interrupted, his voice low. “I think her problems are going to be more physiological than physical though, so pushing the hospital issue wasn’t worth it. We don’t want her to retreat inside herself.”

The seer nodded solemnly in agreement, and the vampire bent to kiss her one last time before he stepped away from the vehicle. Buffy gunned the engine, and the car trundled down the alleyway towards the junction that led onto the main road.

Twisting around in her seat, Cordelia looked back at Angel, giving him a tiny wave goodbye as the Plymouth disappeared off into the distance. The vampire lifted his hand to acknowledge his girlfriend’s farewell, before turning back to the others with a heavy sigh.

He was exhausted, the events of the past few days – and weeks – finally taking their toll on him. The soreness from his stab wound had subsided to a dull ache, but now it itched like mad. This was a good sign in itself, because it meant that his injury was on the mend, but Angel hated this part of the healing process with a passion – he’d much rather endure the pain, than put up with this infernal prickling sensation.

Lorne stood with one arm around a drooping Willow’s waist, while the other supported the still dazed slayer, and Angel quickly moved forward to relieve the happy-go-lucky demon of his second burden. Wrapping a firm arm around Faith’s back, just under her shoulder blades, he felt the tremors of shock and exhaustion that were shaking her body.

“Err – he is green right?” the slayer asked, a little befuddled.

She blinked owlishly, trying to clear her vision, but the jade colour remained.

Angel laughed, “Yeah – but don’t worry, he’s as soft as a baby’s bottom.”

“I religiously moisturise three times a day,” Lorne quipped, with an impish grin in the confused slayer’s direction.

“I remember you – you’re the Karaoke guy,” Faith said slowly, her voice slightly slurred. Her foggy memory had taken a while to inform her of where she’d seen the green-skinned demon before.

“The one and only, sweet thing,” the Host replied with a gentle smile.

The brightly dressed demon then shot a quick glance up at the bluish-grey sky, noting the rapidly approaching dawn.

“Well folks – I think it’s about time we got going, don’t you? We don’t want Angelcakes to go *poof* now do we? My profits would go right down the crappa. Some of the demon-girls only come in hoping to catch a glimpse of Mr Tall, Dark and Devilishly-Handsome here.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily mention that to Cordelia if I were you,” Willow commented dryly, as the four of them began to walk in the direction of Caritas. “I gather from some of her emails, that she can be rather vocal about other women lusting after her boyfriend.”

“Ahh yes – the princess sure is a feisty one.” Lorne declared, voicing his agreement with the witch’s summation of Cordelia’s likely response.

Angel was about to add his two cents worth to the discussion, but was prevented from doing so when Faith suddenly stopped in her tracks, clutching frantically at his arm. Her grip was vice-like and he winced as her strong fingers dug into his flesh, the nails piercing his skin.

“Wesley!” she softly exclaimed, looking about her, all wild-eyed. “Oh God – what I did to him…”

Releasing her iron-hold on the vampire, the slayer lifted her hands up in front of her face, studying her bloodied palms in horror. Angel’s stomach lurched as he recognised the familiar gesture.

The vampire had inflicted untold agony on thousands of innocent victims in his time, and he often found himself examining his own hands in the same way. It was extremely difficult to connect what he’d done in his Angelus days, with the person that his restored soul had shaped him into, and his body sometimes didn’t feel like it belonged to him.

Taking hold of Faith’s trembling hands, Angel pulled them down and away from her grief-stricken face, cupping her chin gently between his fingers.

“*You* didn’t do anything to him, Faith,” he told her, looking down into her deeply tormented gaze. “It’s important that you try to remember that.”

The shell-shocked slayer didn’t seem to hear his quietly spoken words though, just stared straight through him with stark, unseeing eyes.

“Wesley,” she repeated in anguish, salty tears escaping to run unchecked down her smudged cheeks.

Realising she was still extremely disorientated; Angel slid a supporting arm around the slayer’s shaking shoulders, and gently urged her onwards. “Come on – let’s get you somewhere where you can wash up and get some rest.”

Heeding his soft instructions, Faith absently began to put one foot in front of the other again, but remained pretty
much out of it as they meandered their way back to the Karaoke Club.

***

While they waited for news of Wesley, Cordelia and Buffy sat awkwardly, side by side, on the uncomfortable plastic chairs, not really knowing what to say to each other.

On their arrival at the hospital, they had denied all knowledge of what had happened to the ex-watcher; simply claiming that he was a friend, who had turned up unexpectedly on their doorstep in his current state. The seer felt a bit guilty about that, knowing that Wesley would probably have to answer all the interfering questions when he woke up.

“Here – I brought you both some coffee.”

Cordelia looked up at the sound of Riley’s voice. “Thanks,” she said, gratefully taking the steaming polystyrene cup from the soldier, and lifting it to her lips.

She grimaced as the artificial taste of the hot, bitter liquid hit the back of her throat. “Ick! Do you think they purposely set out to make hospital coffee taste as yucky as possible?” she asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“I believe it’s an unwritten rule – thou shalt not provide good cups of coffee in medical establishments.” Riley replied with a quick grin.

The seer’s lips curled up in a faint smile at the soldier’s quip, but her overwhelming concern for Wesley’s well-being soon returned. She glanced down at her watch. “What’s taking so long?”

“I’m sure they’ll let you know as soon as they’ve got anything to report,” Riley said soothingly. “I was thinking I’d go and get some sandwiches from the canteen – either of you want any?”

Both girls nodded in the affirmative, then shook their heads in response to his subsequent question of “Any preference on what type?”

“Riley seems nice,” Cordelia commented to the blonde slayer, as the soldier strode off down the corridor in search of food.

“Mmm.” Buffy’s reply was non-committal.

Now that Faith was safe and the Orb defeated, the slayer was trying to make sense of the turbulent feelings that this trip to LA had stirred up within her. Cordelia was right – Riley *was* nice – her boyfriend was loving, caring, and she enjoyed his company. The sex was good, great even, but he just didn’t make her heart race, and her breath quicken, in the same way that Angel had – and still did, if she was honest with herself.

Unfortunately, Buffy could not remain oblivious to the deep ties of affection that existed between her ex-boyfriend and Cordelia Chase either. The couple’s recent kiss goodbye had been one such light-bulb moment for the slayer – the vampire had seemingly done it without thinking, but the farewell embrace hadn’t been perfunctory in the slightest. The gentle kisses were brief, but also extremely heartfelt.

Moreover, the almost savage clinch that the two had shared before Angel had gone into the Gauntlet, revealed the more passionate side of their union. Therefore, try as she might, Buffy could not escape the fact that the vampire and seer’s relationship appeared well balanced, seemingly having the right mixture of love, friendship and fiery sexual chemistry.

One thing did stand out though, and it was this, which gave Buffy the impetus not to give up hope of a reconciliation with the souled vampire. To her mind, Angel did not revere Cordelia in quite the same way that he had her, which to the romantically inclined slayer, meant that his feelings couldn’t be as strong.

She was simply unable to comprehend that the vampire’s more relaxed and down-to-earth attitude towards his current relationship was, in fact, a sign of the complete opposite – an indication that he felt totally comfortable in Cordelia’s company, and therefore didn’t feel the need to be subservient with her.

Well that was ringing endorsement,*not* Cordelia thought, cold anxiety gripping her stomach. She had relaxed when Buffy had turned up with a boyfriend in tow, thinking it meant that the slayer had moved on. Now though, her unease returned with a vengeance.

The seer liked Riley – he was kind, good-looking, if… well… a little staid. She was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt over his seriously bad attitude towards Angel; recognising that it took a while to get your head around the idea of a vampire with a soul. The fact that his girlfriend viewed her first love through rose-tinted glasses probably didn’t help either.

It still amazed Cordelia that, while Buffy had refused to accept the vampire for what he was, she looked upon him as her perfect, happily-ever-after love. It was a dichotomous outlook – the two opposing halves not able to connect to make a seamless whole, and therefore ultimately an attitude that had rent the Romeo-and-Juliet relationship apart.

Will she try to come between Angel and me? She’d better not if she knows what’s good for her health!

As soon as the words sounded in her brain, Cordelia laughed inwardly, realising how empty her silent threat probably was. She couldn’t deal with Buffy in the same way as the other women, who had dared to encroach on her territory – the slayer was a whole different ball game.

The seer’s train of anxious thought was interrupted then, as a white-coated doctor entered the waiting room and looked around, asking for, “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce’s next-of-kin?”

Cordelia rose quickly to her feet, and crossed to speak to the medical expert, her concern back on Wesley’s condition and prognosis.

***

Faith stood under the hot spray, still feeling like she was wading through a sea of molasses. The powerful jets of water made the cuts and bruises that she’d gained during her – no, the Orb’s – fight with Angel sting like hell.

The slayer looked down at the shower-stall’s white-tiled floor, and gagged at the crimson colour of the water circling the drain. It wasn’t all her blood, she knew, and the sight brought back the awful memories of tonight’s events with startling clarity. Covering her mouth with her hands, she sank to the floor and began to weep in distress.

“Faith – are you okay?” Angel knocked on the bathroom door – she had been in there far too long for his comfort.

Tentatively pushing open the door, the vampire ventured into the steamed-up room, not really wanting to invade the slayer’s privacy, but too worried about her fragile state of mind to wait for her to come out. His keen eyesight swiftly took in her crumpled form behind the frosted glass and, grabbing a couple of towels from the heated rail, he immediately sprang into action.

Drawing back the shower screen, he quickly shut off the water, hooked one hand under her arm and urged her to her feet, keeping his eyes respectfully averted from her nakedness as he did so. Once the slayer stood, shivering and dripping water onto the bathmat, he swathed her in the larger of the two towels, then gently led her through into the bedroom.

Faith sat gingerly on the end of the bed, whilst Angel carefully blotted her hair with a hand towel, squeezing out the moisture from the dark strands until her thick mane was almost dry.

“I think C might have my guts for garters for this,” the slayer commented, as she took the brush that the vampire offered to her and began to pull it through her wild tangle of hair.

“What?” Angel asked, puzzled.

Faith pointedly glanced down at the towel tucked securely over her breasts, and he caught on to what she meant.
“Oh – she won’t mind,” he added, then grinned at the slayer’s subsequent raising of an eyebrow.

“I meant she’ll understand the purely platonic circumstances,” he elaborated. “Besides it’s not like I looked – I’m a gentleman.”

Faith looked away, her eyes welling up with tears again. “How do you do it?” she whispered brokenly. “How do you live with this?”

The vampire sighed and reached out to engulf her hand in his. “You take it day by day, one step at a time. Some days are harder than others, but you just keep going.”

“Listen to me though. I cannot claim the same, but in your case, none of it was you – it was all the Orb’s doing. You have to find a way to separate yourself from its actions.”

“But I didn’t do anything to stop it,” the slayer sobbed in broken-hearted anguish. “I just sat back and watched… Oh God Angel, I just watched.”

“Because Wesley asked you to save your strength, I take it,” the sympathetic vampire surmised, tenderly brushing her damp hair away from her neck.

“Yeah,” Faith nodded miserably. “I shouldn’t have listened to him though.”

“Yes, you should,” Angel told her firmly. “God knows, I wouldn’t have wished what happened to Wes on anyone, least of all one of my closest friends. In the end though, he made the right decision – without you, we might never have overpowered the Orb enough to get it to drink the exorcising potion.”

“I wish that made me feel better, but it doesn’t.”

“It will – in time. It’s just too much for you to handle right now, what with everything still being so raw.”

While he spoke, the vampire had risen to his feet and crossed to the chest of drawers. He rummaged around in the middle drawer and produced a pair of thin sweatpants and a vest-top that belonged to Cordelia.

“Here,” he said, handing the slayer the comfy garments. “I’ll go and sort you out a hot drink and some toast, and then I think you should try to get some rest.”

“Okay.” Faith acquiesced.

Angel’s cell trilled loudly then, and they both jumped out of their skin at the sudden noise.

The vampire quickly retrieved his ringing phone from his jacket pocket, and punched the green call button. “Hi baby! You still at the hospital?”

Yeah – I’m using the pay phone in the ER.

“So how’s Wes?”

The doctor says he’ll be fine. They’re going to keep him in for observation but – all being well – they should discharge him tomorrow some time.

“Good, that’s good. Are you staying there with him then?”

No – he’s sedated, and he apparently won’t come round for a while yet. We’ve decided to head back to Caritas for a few hours kip. They said they’d call us when he wakes up.

“Sounds like a plan – I’ll see you in a bit then.”

How’s Faith?

“We can talk about that when you get back.”

She’s there with you, isn’t she?

“Yeah.”

Make sure you tell her Wesley’s gonna be okay.

“I will, I promise.”

All right, gotta go. Buffy looks like her head is about to explode.

“Okay – I’ll see you soon.”

Yeah – love ya, by the way!

“Love you too. Bye.”

Angel shut off the phone with a smile, and then looked over at an expectant Faith. “He’s going to be fine – so quit worrying.”

The brunette slayer sagged in obvious relief, her tears overflowing again. “God – how pathetic, am I?” she said, swiping angrily at her wet cheeks.

“You are not pathetic. You’ve just been through one hell of an ordeal, so stop giving yourself such a hard time for reacting to it. It is okay to be needy sometimes, you know.”

Faith smiled through her tears, despite herself. “Just get lost and let me get dressed, will ya?” she demanded with fake aggressiveness.

“All right – I’ll be back in a bit.” Angel dropped a friendly kiss on the top of her head before he turned to leave the room. “We missed you, Faith.”

***

“Is your arm all right?” Buffy asked Riley, as they entered the bedroom that Lorne had set aside for their use at Caritas.

“Yeah – it’s throbbing a bit, but otherwise it’s fine.”

The soldier un-buttoned his torn shirt and shrugged it off his broad shoulders. “I think Cordelia must have been a nurse in a former life,” he said, studying the neatly applied bandage with admiration.

“Among other less noble occupations maybe,” the bitter slayer muttered under her breath.

“What?”

“Nothing – doesn’t matter,” Buffy answered with false brightness.

Crossing to stand next to her boyfriend, her blue eyes swept over his bare muscular chest in feminine appreciation, and she felt her loins stir in response. Maybe he wasn’t the man she dreamed of, but he was still a hottie, and he was hers.

“You tired?” she asked seductively, trailing a finger over his exposed tanned flesh. “I’m still kind of wired myself.”

“Buffy…” Riley protested half-heartedly, a low groan escaping his lips when her teasing finger curled into the waistband of his combats.

The slayer ignored him, unbuckled his belt and slid down the zipper of his pants, before she pushed her hand into his cotton boxers. Stroking the soldier’s rapidly hardening sex, her searching lips attached themselves to his collarbone, her panties growing wet in anticipation.

“I want you,” she murmured throatily against his skin, nipping lightly at his shoulder with her teeth.

And she did – the erotic fantasy of Angel in the car, the thrill of the Gauntlet challenge, the excitement of the battle with the possessed Faith, and the satisfaction gained by the defeat of the Orb – all of it combined together in one heady mix, making her hotter than hellfire.

Riley pushed her back a step, hooking his fingers into the wide neckline of her sweater and tugging it down her arms, so that it bunched up under her cleavage. Roughly pushing the peach satin cups of her bra aside, he bared her small breasts to his hot-eyed gaze, and then pulled up her suede skirt so that it gathered around her slim waist.

Backing her over to the bed, the soldier kissed and nibbled at the slayer’s arched neck, spurred on by her passionate cries of encouragement. They sank down onto the yielding mattress together, exchanging frantic kisses while their hands roamed over each other’s half-dressed bodies.

“God Buffy – you are so beautiful. I love you so much.” Riley groaned against her lips, before he bent his head and drew one of her tightly puckered nipples into his mouth.

Buffy felt a stab of guilt at that – she wasn’t really sure of her feelings for him anymore. She cared about him a lot. She lusted after him – I mean, who wouldn’t? But love? She didn’t know anymore. Her craving for Angel still existed – Riley was second best, a substitute.

The soldier’s hand crept possessively up between her thighs and he stroked her through the material of her panties, making her insides clench despite her confusion. He bit and sucked at her breasts until she clutched at his hair, holding him to her and pushing her hips up into his with a low moan.

God, she wanted this, needed the physical and emotional release with an unexplainable urgency.

“Riley please – I want you to…”

Buffy pushed his head away from her breasts, and reached down to tear off her panties, using her slayer strength to rip the cotton material. With her fingers threaded through his short sandy hair, she encouraged Riley lower, wanting his mouth against her moist folds, his tongue teasing her throbbing clitoris.

“Oh yes, that’s it baby!” she breathed as he obligingly licked up the length of her slick sex.

Glancing downwards, she briefly flashed on the image of a dark – rather than blond – head buried between her thighs, and almost came there and then. Screwing her eyes tightly shut and fisting the sheets in her hands, Buffy concentrated on the pleasure her boyfriend was affording her, trying to banish all thoughts of her ex from her mind. It wasn’t fair to Riley to think about Angel in this way – she knew it wasn’t right; she just couldn’t help it sometimes.

As the soldier’s tongue continued to coax her to new heights of arousal, the slayer surrendered to her body’s demands for sexual relief, and stopped worrying about the rightness, or wrongness, of the situation. She would deal with the intricacies of her complicated love life later.

***

Angel looked up from his book as the bedroom door creaked open. A world-weary Cordelia stepped into the room and quietly pushed the door shut behind her.

“Hey you,” he said softly.

“Hey,” the seer returned his greeting, wandering over to stand by the armchair that he was sitting in. She looked down at the sleeping slayer. “How’s she doing?”

“Not so good at the moment,” the vampire replied gravely. “But she’ll get through it – she’s strong.”

“I see she’s also a bed hog,” Cordelia observed with a smile, noting the way that Faith was sprawled face down, her long legs and arms reaching out to every corner of the mattress.

Angel laughed, “Seems so – I thought it best to keep an eye on her tonight. We’ll be able to reclaim our room when the shock wears off a bit. I’m fine here – you take the sofa.”

“We’re not going home then?”

The vampire shook his head, “No, not yet – Lorne said he didn’t mind if we stayed a bit longer. Wes and Faith are both going to need taking care of, and there’s not really enough room at our place for all of us.”

“No, I guess not.” Cordelia agreed.

She stretched her arms high above her head and yawned. “Well, I’m going to take a shower. Hot and sweaty doesn’t even cover it – I smell like a vagrant.”

“I seriously doubt that,” Angel smiled, his brown eyes dancing with amusement.

“Care to join me?” the seer asked coyly, lowering her gaze and peering at him through her dark eyelashes.

The vampire glanced once at the dead-to-the-world slayer, and then rose to his feet, reaching out to take his girlfriend’s offered hand.

“Don’t mind if I do,” he replied, and the two of them retreated into the private domain of the on-suite bathroom, their fingers locked firmly together.

Part 14.

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 7   2 comments

Part 7

“Are you sure you told Wesley the right time?”

“Yes Buffy, I’m sure.” Willow replied, a little testily. “Angel is only five minutes late; he probably just got stuck in traffic or something.”

The two young women were seated, side by side, on a wooden bench outside the Bus Station waiting for the vampire to arrive; Riley paced impatiently up and down not far away, tension radiating off him in waves.

Willow sighed; what with a possessed slayer, and a belligerent boyfriend to deal with, not to mention Buffy’s lingering hostility towards Cordelia for ‘stealing’ her first love away from her – this trip to LA was going to be a laugh a minute that’s for sure.

Despite all that, the witch was looking forward to catching up with their former comrades-in-arms. They’d never been that close, but Willow had been surprised to discover that she actually missed their presence in Sunnydale. Her newly established online friendship with Cordelia had a lot to do with that, she supposed. She couldn’t quite believe how well she and the former cheerleader got on nowadays. It was totally surreal – the most popular girl and the biggest geek from Sunnydale High were – shock, horror – good friends now.

“He’s here.”

Buffy’s eager voice interrupted Willow’s wandering thoughts, and she looked up just in time to see Angel’s shiny black Plymouth draw up in the parking lot. The red-headed witch rose quickly to her feet, put her arms through her backpack, and strode confidently across the tarmac to greet the vampire, leaving Buffy and Riley floundering in her wake.

Angel looked good – not that she cared about such things anymore – but, dressed as he was in black leather pants and a dark blue t-shirt, the souled vampire possessed the unique ability to take your breath away whatever your sexuality. His ubiquitous leather jacket was missing for once, leaving his muscular arms exposed to the elements.

“Hey!” she greeted him with a shy smile.

“Hey Willow – how you doing?” Angel’s rich masculine voice was warm and friendly in tone.

“I’m good.” she replied, and then surprised herself by throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him affectionately.

The vampire returned her friendly hug without a hint of awkwardness, bringing home to the young witch just how much his relationship with Cordelia had changed him. Although he would never be the life and soul of the party, he was generally comfortable around people now, and no longer skulked in the background trying to hide away from the world.

“Hello Angel.”

Willow felt the vampire stiffen at the sound of Buffy’s voice, but he nonetheless stepped back and turned his attention towards the expectant slayer. “Hello Buffy.”

Angel’s dark eyes slowly took in his ex-girlfriend’s appearance, noting that she had finally caught up with Cordelia in the physical development stakes. The assured young woman that stood before him wasn’t the slip of a girl that he’d left behind over seven months ago – she’d obviously grown up and left High School far behind.

Gone were the tight sweaters and mini-skirts of her teenage years, and in their place was a soft cream v-neck top and a three-quarter length brown suede skirt; an outfit more befitting of an adult woman rapidly approaching her twenties. Her blonde hair was longer too, tumbling in soft curls to just below her shoulders and drawn back off her pretty face with a tortoiseshell slide.

Angel felt a faint pang of regret that he hadn’t been around to see this transformation from girl to woman, but it passed relatively quickly. He’d made his choice and it was still the right one. Beautiful as Buffy clearly was, it was Cordelia who burned bright in the vampire’s heart and soul; stirring his passions like no other woman had done before, or ever could again.

Realising that his over-long scrutiny might be giving entirely the wrong impression, Angel leant down and gave Buffy a brief hug, and then grabbed hold of the duffle bag that she had placed near her feet.

“Come on – Let’s get your stuff in the trunk and head back to Caritas.” he said, turning towards his car. “I don’t want to leave Cordy and Wes alone for too long.”

“Umm – Angel?” Buffy softly interrupted the vampire’s purposeful actions.

Angel turned around to see the slayer reach out her hand to pull a tall blond man into view. He was dressed in what appeared to be army combats, and a hostile scowl crossed his handsome face as his gaze fell upon the curious vampire.

New boyfriend, Angel guessed immediately. One who isn’t too fond of me apparently. Fabulous!

“This is Riley, my boyfriend.” Buffy introduced her new beau. “He belongs to an elite army unit called the Initiative; he’s here to help.”

“Nice to meet you.” Angel nodded congenially at the soldier, politely offering a hand to him.

At first it seemed like Riley was going to ignore the gesture, but then he reached out and grasped the vampire’s proffered hand in a firm grip. “Likewise.” he replied, although his tone indicated that it was anything but.

Moving towards the Plymouth, Angel chose to ignore the man’s blatant antagonism towards him; there were more important things at stake right now. A few minutes later and they were on their way back to Caritas; Buffy and Riley safely ensconced in the back-seat while Willow sat up front with him.

“So, how is Cordelia?” the witch asked conversationally, breaking the uneasy silence that had descended over the quartet as the car sped through the brightly-lit streets of LA.

Angel smiled at the mention of his girlfriend. “She’s fine.” was his first response to Willow’s question, but realising that wasn’t quite true, he expanded his reply. “I mean she’s doing okay considering everything that has happened recently. She’s had a pretty rough time of it.”

“You mean your friend dying and giving her the visions?”

“Yeah.” Angel replied softly, his eyes darkening with sorrow at the mention of Doyle. “It all kind of took its toll on us for a while, but I think we’re coming out of the other side of it now.”

“That’s good.” Willow replied, laying a sympathetic hand on the vampire’s forearm.

“And Wesley – how is he?” Buffy piped up from the back-seat, attempting to shift the topic of conversation away from Cordelia.

“Do you really care?” Angel threw back over his shoulder at her. He knew he wasn’t being very fair, but the almost bored tone in which she’d asked the question irked him.

“Of course I do; he *was* my watcher you know.”

Angel bit back the obvious response to that and calmly answered her question instead. “Wesley is doing okay – impatient to rescue Faith from the Orb’s clutches of course.”

“Well that’s what we’re here for.” Buffy declared, her voice strongly determined.

“I’m sure Wes appreciates that.” Angel said, softening towards her in the light of her genuine dedication towards helping their stricken friend.

They turned left down the main street where Caritas was situated and, a short while later, Angel swung the car into the side-street that ran alongside the Karaoke Club.

“We’re here.” he announced as he shut off the engine.

Willow looked across at the building and frowned. “I thought Wesley said this place was protected by a sanctuary spell.”

“It is.” Angel told her as he got out of the Plymouth.

The young witch looked up at him with a distinctly worried look evident in her wide eyes, and a cold feeling of dread ran through the vampire – something was wrong.

“I can usually sense magic, but I can’t feel anything here.” she said quietly.

His stomach twisting into knots, Angel took off like a bullet towards the Club’s entrance, the three Sunnydale residents close on his heels. He careened down the steps into Caritas, and then skidded to an abrupt standstill, the scene of disorder within halting him in his tracks.

Several of the table and chairs were up-ended and the aftermath of violence hung heavy in the air. At first it seemed like the place was deserted, but then a low groan came from behind the bar, and they all rushed to the counter to peer over the top.

Riley gasped and pulled a tranquilizer gun out of his pocket, aiming it at the stirring figure on the floor. Luckily Angel’s lightening reflexes enabled him to knock the weapon away from its intended target, and the drugged dart shattered several glasses behind the bar instead.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“It’s a demon!” Riley glared furiously at the enraged Angel.

“He’s harmless – and a friend.” was the vampire’s acidic reply as he vaulted over the counter and knelt down next to the prone figure on the ground, his feet crunching the shards of glass that were scattered all around.

“Lorne – are you okay?” he questioned urgently, helping the green-skinned demon up. “What happened? Where are Cordy and Wes?”

The Host staggered to his feet, and then sank down into one of the still upright chairs, groaning theatrically. “Oh Sweet Jesus! Somebody please get me a Seabreeze.” he moaned, clutching at his throbbing head. “I think I just went ten rounds with Mike Tyson.”

“Lorne!” Angel was starting to get frantic.

“Your friendly neighbourhood slayer paid us a courtesy call.”

“What about the Sanctuary Spell?”

“It went poof!” Lorne’s voice was slightly slurred, his disorientation still in evidence.

“Oh God!” The vampire anxiously pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “What did she do with Cordy and Wes?”

“I wish I knew Angelcakes, but I was kind of unconscious throughout most of the soiree.”

Angel stood up and backed away into the middle of the dance floor. His shaking hands went to his mouth in a gesture of abject horror, while his mind conjured up all sorts of horrible scenarios about what could have happened. He closed his eyes and took a few unneeded breaths to calm himself – he needed to focus, not freak out; Cordy and Wes needed him.

As the vampire forcibly detached himself from his terrible imaginations, his supernatural senses honed in on the sound of a familiar heartbeat – one that didn’t belong to the four people that currently shared the room’s space with him. He was across the Club and standing in front of a closed door in a flash.

“What’s in here?” he demanded, rattling the handle urgently – the door was locked.

“It’s just the store-room.” Lorne replied.

Angel took a few paces back and kicked the offending door in with his booted foot, splintering the wooden frame with a loud crack. As he stepped across the threshold into the pitch blackness, the sharp odour of blood, sweat, and most of all fear, hit his sensitive nostrils. His acute eye-sight quickly adjusted to the darkness and zoomed in on a familiar figure lying in a crumpled heap on the dusty floor.

“Oh my God! Cordelia!” Willow exclaimed as Angel emerged from the store-room with his girlfriend cradled protectively in his strong arms.

The young seer started to stir and moaned quietly as the vampire gently set her down in one of the chairs and knelt down in front of her. He hastily untied the bindings around her wrists and removed the gag that was jammed painfully into her mouth.

“Angel! Oh God… Faith… She …” Cordelia’s incoherent ramblings were cut short by her boyfriend’s lips closing over hers.

The couple exchanged soft frantic kisses until Angel drew back in shock, tasting the copper tang of her blood on the tip of his tongue. An expression of overwhelming concern crossed his face as he touched his thumb to the oozing wound on Cordelia’s bottom lip. He ran his fingers gently over the thin cut that marred the golden skin of her throat, and the livid purple bruise that decorated her right cheek.

It was only then that he noticed her hair and his deep brown eyes widened in horror at the sight. His seer’s beautiful long locks had been hacked off to about chin-length, the dark strands split and uneven in length. The crude hair-cut had obviously been done with a knife rather than a pair of scissors.

“She cut my hair off.” Cordelia whispered, her voice shaking with suppressed sobs.

“I’m so sorry, baby.” Angel choked out, his eyes full of tears as he enclosed her securely within his comforting embrace. “I should have been here.” he hoarsely chastised himself.

“It’s not your fault – you didn’t know what would happen.” Cordelia reassured him, resting her chin on his shoulder, her arms rising to encircle his broad back. “Faith – she… Oh my God! Wesley – is he all right?”

Cordelia abruptly pulled back from the vampire as her confused and groggy mind cleared, and sudden concern for their friend overwhelmed her.

“He’s not here baby.” Angel told her gently as he got up off the floor and sat in the chair alongside her. “Can you tell us what happened?”

“But we have to find Wesley!”

“I know and we will, I promise.” Angel assured her softly, taking her trembling hands in his. “But I need you to try and remember what happened to help us do that.”

Cordelia nodded, silent tears coursing down her bruised cheeks and dropping onto their tightly entwined fingers.

“Here you go, princess. Take a sip of that – it might help calm those frazzled nerves a bit.” Lorne handed her a shot glass filled to the brim with a dark golden liquid.

The shell-shocked seer lifted the small cup to her lips and took a sip of the fiery drink, coughing as it burnt the back her throat on the way down. Lorne tucked a blanket around her shoulders as she drank, and then sat down at the table opposite, waiting patiently to hear her story.

Cordelia swallowed the last of the alcoholic drink, and then snuggled closer to Angel, trying to recall the events of an hour before…

Earlier that evening, just after Angel left Caritas…

Wesley stacked the last of the specimen tubes in the blue plastic ice-box, before he carefully placed the bundle of neatly written notes on top. He closed the lid and locked down the clasps with a sharp snap.

“Why are you putting them in there? Do they need to be cold?” Cordelia asked curiously, trying to focus her mind on something other than the imminent arrival of her boyfriend’s ex.

The Englishman shook his head. “I just thought it’d be a convenient way to carry everything. The potion only lasts an hour – we need to have the ingredients to hand, so we can quickly produce some more should the situation demand it.”

“Mmm.” was Cordelia’s non-committal reply

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing … I just …”

“Buffy again.” Wesley guessed. “Cordelia, I thought we talked about this yesterday. Quit worrying so much – Angel isn’t interested in anyone but you.”

“Urgh!” the distracted seer buried her face in her palms, grinding the heels of her hands into her eyes. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me Wes – I never used to be this insecure. I’m just scared, I suppose.”

“Of what?”

“Of what he’s going to say – Angel, I mean – when we do get the time to talk.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He doesn’t want me to be his seer; I’m not good enough.”

“Cordelia – that’s not why he…”

Wesley’s reassurances were rudely interrupted by a brilliant blue flash that suddenly lit up the Club, forcing the three occupants to cover their eyes.

“What was that?!” Cordelia’s voice carried a faint edge of panic to it.

“The Sanctuary Spell.” Lorne said, his usual emerald hue fading to a sickly yellow-green.

“Faith.” Wesley surmised gravely.

“How did she…?”

“There’s no time for that now.” The ex-watcher said sharply, rising to his feet. “We have to hide our supplies somewhere – if she gets her hands on them and discovers our plans…”

“The mini-cellar – it’s behind the bar.” the Host suggested. “We usually put a few crates of drink down there so we don’t have to keep constantly going down to the basement all night.”

The green-skinned demon moved around the bar and tugged open a square trap door built into the floor behind the counter. He reached in, retrieved a crate of bottled beer and set it to one side, then took their precious ice-box and stashed it into the empty space.

Satisfied that the evidence was suitably concealed, Wesley rushed across the room and selected a short sword and a crossbow from the holdall of weapons that they’d brought with them. He handed the crossbow to Cordelia, who took it warily in spite of her terror at the looming confrontation with Faith.

“I don’t want to hurt her.” she said, gazing at Wesley with wide fearful eyes.

“I know, but she wouldn’t want to hurt you either.” he replied firmly. “If you have to use it to defend yourself, just try and aim the arrow somewhere non-life threatening – okay?”

Cordelia nodded and expertly loaded a bolt into the firing mechanism. “Angel’s been teaching me.” she explained in response to Wesley’s startled look at her cool professionalism.

Their hurried conversation was cut short by the sound of slow, deliberate footsteps descending the staircase into the basement club. They both turned around to await the arrival of their unwanted visitor, weapons at the ready and their hearts thumping wildly in their chests.

Faith’s booted feet appeared first, followed by her long, denim clad legs and bare mid-riff; Cordelia gulped in anxiety at the knife that was casually tucked into the waist-band of her jeans. As the rest of the slayer’s lithe body emerged into the light, the frightened seer raised her gaze to her former friend’s face, and felt a shiver run through her at the pure evil that she saw shining in those achingly familiar eyes.

A slow smile spread across Faith’s features as she became aware of Cordelia’s scrutiny. “Hey – Long Time no C.” she said brightly with a scornful little wave. “How you doing? Has the big bad vamp got bored of eyeing up your pretty ass yet?”

A surge of anger flared within Cordelia at this sardonic greeting, prompting her to clutch the crossbow tighter in her hands and take proper aim at the possessed slayer. “No – but he’s so gonna kick yours.”

“Ooo – I’m quaking in my boots.” Faith laughed sarcastically, tucking a few wayward strands of hair behind her ears. “Where is the mighty Angel then? Oh yeah – he left you all on your lonesome to go pick up his beloved Buffy – but then Little Miss Perfecto-Slayer always was number one in Soul Boy’s life wasn’t she?”

Cordelia’s stance briefly faltered as Faith’s mocking words hit a raw nerve. Quick to take advantage of her momentary hesitation, the possessed slayer sprang forward and snatched the cross-bow from the seer’s grip, backhanding her across the face as she did so. The force of the blow sent Cordelia crashing into the small table that she’d been standing next to, and she fell heavily to the floor, her vision blurring and her bruised cheek throbbing in pain.

Acquiring a modicum of courage from somewhere deep within, Lorne snatched a bottle of wine from the bar and smashed it over the back of Faith’s head. The slayer barely even flinched though, her super-natural strength and the Orb’s influence making her almost immune to the pain from the strike. She whipped around and started to advance menacingly on the now cowering demon, her eyes burning hot with the Orb’s red fire.

“Okay, so now I’m pissed off.” she grated from between clenched teeth, before she delivered a spinning kick to the Host’s mid-section, propelling him up over the counter so that his airborne body shattered several shelves behind the bar.

The green-skinned demon plummeted to earth in a shower of glass and alcohol, immediately losing consciousness when his rapid descent was cut short by the ground and his head smacked hard against the tiled floor.

“Do not even think about it Wesley.” Faith said warningly, drawing her knife as she sensed his quiet approach behind her.

Before the ex-watcher had time to launch an attack, the slayer had somersaulted over several tables in a blur of movement, and roughly hauled Cordelia to her feet, setting the edge of her blade against the woozy seer’s throat.

“Not unless you want me to carve a new smile across Angel’s little playmate’s face, that is.”

As he and his former slayer began to circle each other, their eyes locked in a silent battle of wills, Wesley lowered his sword slightly, but didn’t completely back down from their confrontation.

“You won’t win – we will get Faith back.” he vowed, his voice strong and sure.

“Well, well – I’m impressed – has the uptight Wesley Wyndam-Pryce actually grown some balls while I’ve been sleeping?” Faith taunted. “Forget it baby – your precious slayer doesn’t even want to be rescued. All that saving the world crap – boring! She finds this so much more fun.”

“I will *never* believe that.”

“You’re a bigger fool than you look then.” the orb-influenced slayer replied. “Now, it seems that everyone thinks that Angelus is the biggest threat to my existence but, so far, he doesn’t seem to be getting into the game. I don’t see why the Senior Partners are so interested in him – he’s certainly not living up to his prophesied reputation. I want to see what the vamp is really made of, so I figure it’s about time to raise the stakes.”

Faith proceeded to shove her captive down in a chair and grabbed a large handful hair in her grip. Cruelly jerking the seer’s head back, and eliciting a sharp cry of pain from the young brunette, she lightly ran her knife across Cordelia’s throat, drawing small bubbles of blood to the surface of the pale golden skin.

At his friend’s shocked gasp, Wesley’s fingers tightened around his sword, but he reluctantly stood his ground, knowing that if he made one move against Faith, Cordelia would be dead in an instant.

“How did you break the Sanctuary Spell?” he asked, desperately trying to distract the slayer while he hoped and prayed for Angel’s quick return. How long did it take to get to the Bus Station and back anyway?

“Wolfram and Hart were *very* accommodating.” Faith drawled as she curled the dark strands of Cordelia’s hair around her fingers.

“I wish I could see the look on Angel’s face when he gets back.” she bent to whisper in her chosen victim’s ear. “You’re not going to be quite so pretty when I’ve finished with you honey, believe me.”

As the slayer ran the flat of her blade up over the bruised skin of her cheek, Cordelia frantically tried to formulate a coherent thought, hating herself for just sitting there and playing the proverbial damsel in distress, waiting to be rescued by the hero of the hour.

There was something about Faith’s unnaturally cold touch that chilled the seer to the very bone however and, robbed of her usual confidence, she froze in terror, too petrified to do anything that would set off the ticking time bomb that was the Orb of Ravaclesh.

Cordelia was not stupid – she knew that the Orb must want revenge for its confinement. Its ultimate objective had always been to infect those around it in order to form a demon slave race to do its bidding. Willow’s binding spell had put paid to all that though, locking the stone inside Faith and preventing it from achieving its goal.

The seer dreaded to think what atrocities the essence of pure evil was capable of committing to settle the score – something deep inside of Cordelia told her that this attack was just the beginning, and that the Orb wouldn’t be satisfied until it had systematically destroyed each and every one of them.

She winced as Faith suddenly stood up, and yanked a fistful of her hair straight upwards so that it pulled painfully on her scalp. Cordelia had to bite her lip to prevent herself from crying out, as the slayer started to saw through the strands of her hair with the knife, casually tossing handfuls away while she worked.

The backs of the seer’s eyes burned with tears as she watched her dark locks drop to the floor; she had worn her hair long for as far back as she could remember – it would take years to grow back to its previous length. Her glossy mane of wavy curls was one of her defining features, and losing it felt like a part of her was being ripped away.

Cordelia forcibly blinked back her self-pitying tears – she would not cry; it was only hair, not an essential body part such as an arm or leg. She refused to give the Orb the satisfaction of breaking her, so gathered her inner reserves of strength and defiantly lifted her chin, raising her blurry gaze to meet Wesley’s troubled blue eyes.

The ex-watcher’s knuckles were white where he held his weapon in his hands, and the expression on his face was full of the frustration that he felt at being so powerless to help her. A heartfelt apology and a swift reassurance passed silently between the two friends, no words being necessary to convey what each wanted to say to the other.

Faith finally stepped back to inspect her handiwork, pursing her lips as she perversely smoothed down some stray locks with her fingertips in a way that a professional hairdresser might have done.

“There now – all done. Oh dear – not going to win any fashion awards is it? Still, not bad for a first attempt if I do say so myself – think Angel will like it?”

The slayer was poised like a tightly coiled spring as she spoke, getting ready to make her next move; when it came though, it still took both Cordelia and Wesley completely by surprise.

“Wesley!” Cordelia screamed, as Faith’s left arm suddenly whipped out and she drove the hilt of her knife into the side of the ex-watcher’s head.

The seer rose from her chair and frantically reached out her hands towards her friend, as he crumpled to the floor in a dead faint, the sword that he’d been holding hitting the ground with a metallic clatter and skidding a few feet across the floor.

“Sit down!” Faith violently pushed the distressed young woman back down in her chair with a firm palm against her breastbone.

“Relax baby, I didn’t kill him – torturing him for hours is going to be so much more fun. Your Faith just can’t wait to be a part of that; she’s jumping for joy in here.”

“You’re lying, you evil bitch – Faith would never want to hurt Wesley.”

The possessed slayer laughed. “I know – why do you think I chose him? If I was just going after Angel, then you’d be a far better choice.”

“I thought I was just secondary to Buffy in his life.”

“Yes, but he’s still a vampire and they’re extremely possessive about their property. I’ve defiled you, so now he’ll have to find a new and more attractive concubine to occupy his bed. That’s gonna piss him off big time.”

“You are so wrong – Angel loves me.”

“And maybe if you tell yourself that often enough, you might eventually believe it. I think we both know that all you really are is his play-thing, his fuck-toy though. He’ll get bored of you soon enough, and move onto the next piece of skirt that catches his eye.”

Cordelia tried to block out the slayer’s crude words, but they unfortunately fed into her deep-rooted insecurities about her role in Angel’s life. She knew she was more to the vampire than just a bed-mate, but she still felt like he wanted to pigeon-hole her as his girlfriend, and nothing beyond that.

He wasn’t happy about her being his seer that much was obvious, but Cordelia needed to do something more worthwhile with her life than simply be Angel’s life partner. She needed to make a difference in the world and having the visions was one way in which she could do that.

The emotionally confused seer was shaken out of her thoughts, when Faith grabbed her chin in a bruising grip and forced her to look up into her red-tinged eyes. “Tell Angel he’s got ten hours to get into the game. After that I can’t guarantee that Watcher Boy will still be alive – a lot will depend on how high his pain threshold is.”

Cordelia could only nod mutely in reply, knowing that if she tried to speak she would burst into tears. Admitting her inner weakness to the triumphant slayer was the last thing she was going to do; the Orb may have won this battle, but the seer would never surrender, she was made of stronger stuff than that.

Satisfied that her message would be relayed to the enemy, Faith drew back her hand and the seer’s world erupted into pure agony as the slayer’s clenched fist connected hard with her jaw. The pain didn’t last long though – unconsciousness descended a few moments later…

Back to the present …

“That’s all I remember.” Cordelia said shakily, looking around at her shocked audience.

The seer had, for the most part, described events as they’d happened, but had opted to leave out a few details with regard to Buffy, as well as her concerns over how Angel viewed her and their relationship.

Angel leaned in and pressed a brief kiss to his traumatized girlfriend’s temple, running a soothing hand up and down the length of her back to calm her. He gently touched her bruised cheek again. “Lorne – could you get some ice for this please?”

“I’m fine Angel – we need to find Wesley.” Cordelia insisted, brushing aside her boyfriend’s concerns over her well-being.

The vampire nodded; resisting the urge to molly-coddle her, he instead tried to formulate some sort of action plan based on the information that she’d given them.

“Where is this mini-cellar – the one where you hid the magic supplies?” he asked of Lorne. “How we play this depends on whether Faith found them or not.”

The Host quickly crossed the room and pulled open the trap-door, sighing in relief when he discovered the blue ice-box and its contents still intact.

“Okay so that’s something in our favour at least.” Angel said, standing up and pacing in tight circles, his shoulders hunched and his hands stuck in his pant’s pockets. “Willow – can you look over Wes’s notes and decipher them please?”

“I’m on it boss.” Willow said with a mock salute.

The vampire smiled briefly at the witch’s playful gesture and then suddenly straightened up as a brainwave struck him.

“She’ll have left some sort of clue.” he mused to himself, his broad forehead creased in thought.

“You mean Faith?” Buffy asked, not quite understanding what her ex-boyfriend was driving at.

Angel nodded. “This is a game to the Orb. It wants us to find them; it won’t be any fun if we don’t.”

“Right, so she’ll have left a little note with her address written on it.” Riley sneered. “Come on – this is an evil being we’re talking about, all it wants is to kill. It could never possess the level of sophistication you’re talking about.”

“Don’t be so bloody naïve. The Orb is the essence of pure evil – it possesses a level of sophistication beyond what your tiny human mind could ever comprehend. Never under-estimate what evil is capable of – its desires are a whole lot more complex than the simple kill, believe me. Demons and humans they’re all alike – the thrill comes from rolling the dice and beating the odds, not receiving the prize at the end.”

“Buffy – you’re not going to stand back and let this creature run the show, are you?” Riley rounded on his girlfriend, incensed by Angel’s diatribe, but not knowing how to respond to it. “You’re the slayer – this is your command.”

Buffy was caught between a rock and a hard place; she knew that Angel was more than capable of heading up this mission – she’d learnt that fact the hard way from their confrontation with the Kryzlic demon a year ago – but it also niggled that he had so effectively demoted her within a few short hours of her arrival in LA.

“Listen – I don’t know who the hell you think you are, frat boy.” Cordelia declared hotly, immediately leaping to her boyfriend’s defence when the slayer stalled in doing so. “Buffy may be the Queen of the Castle in Sunnyhell, but this is LA – Angel’s town. He’s not a ‘creature’; he’s a vampire with a soul, the Powers That Be’s chosen Champion. Who are you? Just some Ken doll who doesn’t know that the army combat look was over two seasons ago!”

“I have a pair of pom-poms in the back, princess. If I go and fetch them, can I see the routine that goes with that?” Lorne put in slyly, trying to dissipate the rising tension before things got out of control.

Angel laughed and wound his arms around Cordelia’s waist from behind, bending his head to nuzzle affectionately at her neck. “Will you put on the hot and sexy uniform too? I’ll make it worth your while, I promise.” he whispered in her ear, so low that no-one but the seer could make out his seductive words.

“You’re a perv.” Cordelia murmured back, lacing her fingers through his and pulling his arms tighter around her.

Closing her eyes, she leant back against Angel’s broad chest and, for a brief moment, took comfort in his solid embrace; it wasn’t long before her thoughts turned back to Wesley’s horrible predicament though.

“What sort of clue?” she asked, pulling away and turning to face her boyfriend, concern for their friend shining bright in her eyes.

Angel shrugged. “I don’t know – maybe in something she said. She told Wesley that Wolfram and Hart helped her lift the Sanctuary Spell right?”

“Yeah … oh and she mentioned something called the Senior Partners too. They sound like they could be connected to an evil law firm, don’t you think?”

The vampire nodded. “Looks like it’s time to pay good old Lindsey McDonald a visit.”

Part 8

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC

A Crisis of Faith 3   1 comment

Part 3

While she combed through her titian hair with her fingers and slicked on another coat of lip-gloss, Kathy studied her reflection in the grimy square of glass fixed to the locker’s inner door. Her cheeks were still flushed and her body buzzing from Matthew’s enthusiastic love-making earlier that morning.

With a deep sigh, she shut the door with a crash, and smoothed down the pale pink uniform that she had just changed into. Wishing she was still wrapped up in her boyfriend’s embrace, she ventured out into the hospital corridor and leisurely made her way to the nurse’s station, swinging her arms casually by her sides as she walked.

“Katherine – you’re late!”

At the sharp reprimand from the Sister, the red-headed nurse glanced at her watch. Ten minutes – big wup! “Yes Sister, I’m sorry.”

“You need to keep an eye your time-keeping young lady; this is the third time you’ve been late since Monday.”

Yeah that’s because, unlike you, I’ve got a hot guy at home who keeps me awake half the night.

“I’ll try harder to be on time for my shift, I promise.”

“Hmm.” the much older nurse regarded the pretty young thing critically, pursing her lips and tut-tutting at the lack of responsibility shown by the younger generation these days.

Kathy watched expectantly as her superior flipped through the charts on the desk. She crossed her fingers behind her back, and hoped that she wasn’t going to get subtly punished for her tardiness in the shape of the patient that she was about to be assigned to.

The older woman finally selected a chart and handed the recently qualified nurse the clipboard. “Take Faith’s obs please.”

Kathy’s heart sank; she had only been working at the rehabilitation centre for a few weeks, but she knew that every nurse in the place tried to evade having to tend to the comatose young woman.

“Now please Katherine!”

Kathy jumped at the barked instruction, and reluctantly turned towards the dreaded room at the end of the corridor. Today was definitely not her lucky day.

***

“Cordelia – answer me! The vision – what did you see?”

Cordelia pressed her fingertips to her temples trying to will away the incessant pounding inside her skull. The throbbing pain made it extremely difficult for her to focus on deciphering the meaning behind the rapid succession of disjointed images that her brain had just been bombarded with. Angel’s impatient questioning did nothing to help matters either.

She closed her eyes, shutting out the vampire’s grating voice while she tried desperately to connect the dots. “Big slime-covered demon – attacking some kids – they’re somewhere dark and stinky – underground I think. It’s going to happen about an hour from now.”

“Whereabouts?”

“How the hell should I know? All those rat-infested sewer tunnels of yours look the same to me!”

Angel stood up with an exaggerated sigh at his girlfriend’s irritated response to his query. “Just think Cordelia okay? Those kids are in danger and we need to get to them before they’re assaulted.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Cordelia yelled exasperatedly him. “Stop pestering me! Why do you always have to have instant answers? The visions don’t come pre-packaged with precise instructions on how to interpret them you know!”

The wound-up seer glared angrily at her boyfriend as he began to pace agitatedly back and forth in front of her, nervous energy radiating off him in waves.

“You never expected Doyle to work out what his visions meant as quickly as you expect me to.” she added sullenly, her full bottom lip jutting out into a sulky pout.

Wesley jumped in then, seeking to calm the escalating tension between his friends before things got seriously out of hand.

“What else can you remember about the demon?” he asked in an unruffled tone, pulling out a small notebook and pencil from the inner pocket of his jacket. “If we can work out what it is, then that might help us locate where this attack is going to take place.”

Cordelia looked over at Wesley, grateful for the interruption. “Umm – it was blue with weird eyes that seemed to change colour all the time.” she began slowly, trying to recall the details from her vision. “And it smelled funny like … like blue cheese.”

“Blue cheese?” Wesley smiled at her description of the monster’s scent.

Cordelia grinned back at him, her pale face lighting up as she did so. “It’s the only way I can think of to describe it. Is that enough?”

“It does sound somewhat familiar.” Wesley mused as he got to his feet; he looked over at Angel. “Where are your books?”

“There’s a bookcase in the lounge area and one in the office upstairs.” the vampire replied.

“I’ll start down here.” the ex-watcher decided.

Before leaving to consult the books, Wesley bent and squeezed Cordelia lightly on the shoulder. “Do you need a painkiller or something?” he asked with concern, noting her pinched expression and the pasty white colour of her face.

Angel started guiltily at that; he had been so focused on ending her pain by dealing as quickly as possible with the vision, that he had overlooked the fact that he should also be caring for Cordelia while she was suffering.

“I’ll get it.” he volunteered, crossing quickly to one of the cupboards to retrieve a small bottle of pills.

“Here.” he said softly as he sat down next to his girlfriend, and handed her a couple of white painkillers together with a glass of water to take them with.

“Thanks.” Cordelia whispered, swallowing down the pills with a few gulps from the cup of cool water.

Angel reached out and tucked a few stray strands of dark hair behind her ear while she sipped slowly at the remaining liquid.

At his tender touch, Cordelia lifted her gaze to his and her heart leapt in her chest when she saw that he was openly studying her with sad, soulful eyes. Angel’s expression had been so shuttered of late, but right now it felt like she was looking directly into his tortured soul.

Ever since Doyle’s death, they had been struggling to cope – firstly with their grief, and then with the mixed-up feelings provoked by Cordelia’s inheritance of the visions. They had both desperately needed a third party to confide in, but there had been no-one around to fulfil that role.

As a result, they had been living inside a pressure-cooker with no outlet through which to vent the steam, and their relationship had rapidly been approaching explosion point.

“I’m sorry.” Angel’s chocolate eyes held Cordelia’s hazel orbs as he softly apologised for his earlier behaviour. He slipped two fingers under her chin and lifted her face, bending to place a soft kiss on her upturned mouth.

As his cool lips moved slowly and sweetly over hers, Cordelia wanted to burst into tears of elation – this was the first real kiss he had bestowed on her in a very long time. Instead of just going through the motions for the sake of appearances, Angel was once again giving her something of himself in the embrace, and the connection that had been missing for what seemed like forever was, at least partly, back.

When he felt Cordelia’s warm fingers hesitantly stroking the cool skin of his neck in a tentative caress, Angel deepened the kiss, slanting his mouth over hers and palming her face between his hands.

He was profoundly grateful for the re-introduction of Wesley into their lives because he knew that the situation earlier would have simply escalated out of control if their friend hadn’t been there. This apology would have gone un-spoken and a further nail would have been driven into the coffin of their faltering relationship.

Angel suddenly felt more confident that he and Cordelia could find a way to work through their current problems and repair their splintered bond. Consequently, he let down some of the walls that he had built up around his heart to protect himself, giving Cordelia the emotional connection that she so desperately craved from him.

They were still a long way from being okay, but it was a step in the right direction at least.

***

Kathy nervously entered the small hospital room, shivering at the distinct change in temperature from the corridor outside. She could strongly detect a malevolent presence in the air which gave her the heebie-jeebies, and made her want to turn and immediately flee from the room.

Shaking off her paranoia, Kathy glanced towards the still patient on the bed – Faith’s dark tousled hair was splayed out haphazardly on the pillows that propped up her head, and her eyes were closed with long lashes laying flat against pale cheeks. The comatose woman’s oxygen mask had slipped so that it hung loosely around her neck, and the bandage over the drip in the back of her hand was stained with fresh blood.

Taking a deep breath, Kathy slowly approached the bed and replaced the mask over her patient’s nose and mouth. Faith’s skin felt unusually cold to the touch, but the young nurse could still feel the steady thrum of a heartbeat under her fingertips when she felt for a pulse on the side of the girl’s neck.

She moved towards the trolley that stood in one corner of the room, gathering supplies to replace the soiled dressing on Faith’s hand. However when she turned back under a minute later, the nurse was shocked to find the bed empty and her patient gone.

What the hell?

Kathy quickly spun round, drawn by the sound of harsh breathing, and saw the previously unconscious woman standing in her short white hospital gown in front of the door. Faith was regarding her with a cold piercing stare that sent shivers down the petrified nurse’s spine. She could have sworn the other woman’s eyes were glowing red, but then she blinked and the iris’s returned to their natural dark brown hue.

“Well I see you’re awake.” Kathy began falteringly, forcing her voice to sound bright and cheery. “I’ll just call a doctor and then we’ll get you back into bed. Everyone is going to be so …”

She broke off and sucked in a sharp intake of air when a cold hand grasped her wrist in an iron grip, preventing her from pushing the call button. The fingers suddenly squeezed and Kathy screamed as the bones in her wrist snapped under the vice-like hold.

Her cry of pain was immediately cut short by a hand that clamped over her nose and mouth and impeded her air supply. The red-headed nurse struggled frantically, desperately trying to breathe, but her vision eventually blurred and she fell heavily against her attacker, succumbing to unconsciousness.

Faith abruptly released her hold on the young nurse and she crumpled to the floor in a dead faint. The possessed slayer knelt down next to her unconscious victim and rifled through her pockets until she found a small locker key. She then casually ripped the name badge off Kathy’s uniform and stood, turning towards the door, wholly intent on her escape.

***

“Ahem!”

Cordelia and Angel pulled apart as Wesley deliberately cleared his throat to gain their attention. They looked up to see him regarding them with a warm smile on his face, and an open book nestled in his crooked arms. He turned the heavy tome around and showed it to Cordelia. “Is that it?”

Immediately recognising the picture in the book as the demon from her vision, the seer nodded. “Wes you’re a genius!” she exclaimed, a big smile spreading across her pretty face.

Wesley smiled back at her. “Droglak demon – lives underground, preferably in a natural cave near the ocean as it needs salt-water to survive.” he reported the information in a dispassionate tone.

“Well that narrows it down some.” Angel observed quietly, but the note of uncertainty in his voice belied his words.

He looked hesitantly towards Cordelia, trying to decide how best to approach things. They had just made a big leap towards healing their fractured relationship and the last thing Angel wanted was to take one step forwards and two steps back.

Sensing his friend’s dilemma, Wesley stepped in to ask the pertinent question instead. “We don’t have the time to search, we’ve got to narrow it down further. Cordelia, are you sure there is nothing else you can remember from your vision about the location?”

Knowing full well that they needed more to go on, Cordelia closed her eyes and concentrated hard. “It’s underground like I said; definitely a sewer somewhere. There’s a metal ladder fixed to the wall – access to the outside, I guess. There’s some graffiti next to the ladder too – a big red heart with an arrow through. It says … uhh … Quentin 4 Molly.”

“Does that help?” Her hazel eyes popped open and she looked hopefully at Angel for confirmation.

The vampire nodded and smiled encouragingly at her. “Yeah – I know where that is. There are some natural caves near there as well, so it’s got to be the right place.”

“All right so how about you an’ me go kick ourselves some demon butt.” Wesley declared as he closed the thick volume with a sharp snap.

Angel laughed as he got up from the table and strode across the apartment towards the weapon’s cabinet. “You know, that would have come off a whole lot better if you weren’t so quintessentially English Wes.”

“Hey!” Wesley protested, a faux expression of indignation crossing his face at the vampire’s light-hearted jibe and Cordelia’s accompanying giggles.

Angel pulled open the heavily carved doors and selected a couple of weapons, before tossing a wicked looking axe in the ex-watcher’s direction.

Wesley easily caught the implement in his right hand and the vampire grinned. “You’ve been practicing.” he observed sagely.

“Last year in Sunnydale I discovered that the standard Watcher’s training is somewhat lacking in the more practical aspects of working with a slayer, so I decided I should brush up on my fighting skills while I had the chance.”

“Makes sense.” Angel nodded in approval, pulling open the metal grate that covered the apartment’s access to the sewer tunnels.

He turned to Cordelia and ran the backs of his fingers down her cheek in a characteristic gesture of affection. “You get some rest.” he told her solemnly. “We’ll be back soon.”

His girlfriend nodded with a soft smile. “Be careful.” she called out after them as they descended into the darkness below.

They made their way through the dark tunnels in silence for a few minutes whilst Wesley debated how best to broach the subject of Cordelia with the vampire.

“Spit it out Wesley before I turn to dust from the anticipation.” Angel drawled sardonically as the ex-watcher opened his mouth in preparation to speak for the hundredth time.

“You were a bit harsh with Cordelia back there.” Wesley finally voiced what he was thinking.

The statement was greeted with silence from Angel, who was walking ahead of him with an unerring sense of direction in his purposeful stride.

Wesley tried again. “Was she right? About you being more patient with Doyle than you are with her, I mean.”

Again the silent response.

“I take it that means yes.” Wesley concluded.

“It was different with Doyle.” Angel eventually spoke, his voice low and emotional.

“How?”

“He could handle the vision pain a whole lot better than Cordy can – something to do with him being half-demon, I suppose.”

“I fail to see what that has to do with you giving Cordelia such a hard time.” Wesley said pointedly, his tone reproving.

“The vision pain doesn’t properly go away until whoever we are supposed to help is safe.” Angel tried to explain his seemingly insensitive reactions. “I need to get the job done so that Cordy can get some relief.”

“All right; I guess I understand the somewhat screwed logic behind that, but you just make things worse when you crowd her. Can’t you see that you should be giving her space rather than hounding her for information?”

“I know I overreact Wes and I do try not to, but I just get so fucking angry when I see how the visions affect her.”
Angel blew out an unneeded breath and ran a hand anxiously through his dark hair, mussing up the carefully gelled spikes.

“Angry at whom?”

“I don’t know – Doyle, the Powers That Be. Myself mostly, I guess – I should have protected her.”

“I don’t think Cordelia sees the visions as quite the burden you make them out to be.”

“Maybe not, but she’s only nineteen Wes. She already has enough darkness in her life being with me; she shouldn’t have to go through this as well.”

“Whether that’s true or not is beside the point. If you carry on the way you are, you’ll lose her. Is that what you want?”

“Of course not.”

“Then for god’s sake man, pull yourself together. Cordelia needs you to support her through this, but instead all you’re doing is making the situation ten times more difficult for her. She’s very unhappy right now, and that’s a state of affairs that has *nothing* to do with the visions and *everything* to do with you.”

“I know, I know – I’ll try harder, I swear.”

“Trying isn’t good enough Angel – you have to deal with the way that you feel and stop dumping all your irrational resentments on Cordelia. She loves you deeply, but there’s only so much crap she’s gonna take from you before she packs her bags and leaves.”

Wesley briefly paused to take a breath, but he was far from finished with the lecture. “You have *got* to face up to your problems and talk them through with her, because sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away isn’t going to make things right between you again. Cordelia is making all sorts of assumptions about the way you feel because you’ve made yourself so unapproachable.”

“What kind of assumptions?” Angel asked fearfully, his insides twisting into knots as Wesley’s words began to sink in.

“She thinks that all that pent-up anger of yours is aimed solely at her for not telling you about Styjasimok’s predictions about her future. She believes you blame her for inheriting the visions and becoming your seer.”

Angel stopped in his tracks and swung around to stare at his friend in abject amazement. “I was angry Wes – *very* angry at the time, but I calmed down eventually. It hurts that she lied to me, but that’s not why I … Shit!”

“How is Cordelia supposed to know that when you don’t tell her how you feel, or explain that you’ve forgiven her for her transgression? You’ve been venting all your mixed-up emotions on her without any clarification of the real reason behind them. It’s no wonder she thinks you’re still mad at her, is it?”

Angel was about to reply to that when a low demonic roar and the sound of high-pitched screaming reverberated through the hollow tunnels, emanating from several hundred yards up ahead.

The vampire drew his short hooked knife with a smooth swish and disappeared into the darkness with superhuman speed. Wesley took a firmer grip on the axe in his hand and followed in Angel’s wake.

***

Cordelia paced back and forth across the small lounge, impatiently waiting for Angel and Wesley to return. She knew the kids had been rescued and the Droglak demon vanquished because her vision headache had diminished to a manageable level about half an hour ago.

Wringing her hands in agitation, she continued to wear a hole in the rug that lay on the wooden floor, the phone call that she had just received praying on her mind and stirring up feelings of dread in the pit of her stomach.

What were they going to do?

Her tense body sagged in relief when she finally heard the sound of muffled voices from the tunnel below. She moved quickly towards the opening trapdoor, waiting with baited breath for Angel and Wesley’s appearance.

Wesley scrambled up the stepladder first and emerged covered from head to foot in blue demon goo, but with an expression of satisfaction shining in his cobalt blue eyes.

Angel immediately followed, quickly ascending the metal rungs with nimble vampiric grace. He appeared to have escaped being splattered with the Droglak’s entrails, but a deep cut decorated the length of his right cheek with a streak of red.

“What’s wrong? Is it another vision?” he asked, noticing the fearful look in his girlfriend’s eyes straightaway.

“No, we had a phone call from the hospital.”

“Faith?” Wesley asked.

The brunette seer stepped closer to Angel before answering, seeking solace from the security she got from being encircled in his strong arms.

“She’s escaped.”

Part 4

Posted June 19, 2015 by califi in TBC