A Crisis of Faith 3

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 in TBC

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