A Crisis of Faith 9

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 in TBC

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