A Crisis of Faith 5

Part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you talk to Willow?” Angel asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m fine.” Cordelia insisted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Read on.” was Lilah’s only response.

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

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

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

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

“A human with brains – how very refreshing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6

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