A Crisis of Faith 7

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 in TBC

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