Long Time Coming. 16-17

Part 16

The next morning, Buffy sat at her dresser pulling a brush through her blond hair and contemplating her pale reflection in the mirror. She could hear the faint sound of voices and the clattering of breakfast dishes from downstairs. Joyce Summers had taken it in her stride when her house had been overrun by Buffy’s friends the previous night. Her mother still wasn’t completely used to her vocation, but was slowly getting there. She had set about keeping the troops fed and watered to occupy herself.

“Knock! Knock!” Buffy turned to see Faith standing in the door frame, dressed in a pair of black combat pants and a white vest. Unusually for Faith, her dark mass of hair was tied back off her face and secured in a simple ponytail. “I was just gonna do some Tai-Chi out in the garden – wanna join me?”

Buffy nodded. “Okay. Is everyone here?”

“Yeah, we all sort of bunked down on the floor last night. Your mom didn’t seem to mind – she’s cool.”

Buffy smiled. “I know. So Angel’s here then?” The blond slayer’s smile turned upside-down and faded.

“Umm – no. He went home about one to check if C was all right. He’s not back yet.”

“You knew didn’t you? About Angel and Cordelia?”

Faith came into the room and sat cross-legged on the bed. “They’ve been growing closer for weeks, but they didn’t really get it together until two nights ago.”

“And you didn’t think I had the right to know about this ‘closeness’?”

Faith sighed. “All three of you are my friends, B. I’m sorry that you got hurt, but you and Angel – there was no future in that and I didn’t want you ruining things for him and C. They’re good for each other.”

“How do you figure that?”

“C’s not the person you think she is. When I was at school, a popular girl like her wouldn’t have been seen dead with someone like Xander. It should have told you something when she refused to let the in-crowd dictate to her who she could or couldn’t date.” Faith paused to shoot Buffy a pointed look. “You don’t know the full story, B; her parents – well, let’s just say they’re not very nice people. Angel helped her when she really needed somebody and didn’t ask for anything in return. She finally trusted someone enough to drop the Queen of Popularity act and just be herself. She’s really kind of cool when you get to know her.”

“All right so that explains why Angel is good for her, but I fail to see how Cordelia Chase is so good for him.”

“She keeps him on an even keel. You, of all people, must be aware that Angel has a tendency to brood and retreat into himself. C just cuts through all that; she refuses to let him hide in the shadows. She makes him laugh and just accepts him for who he is – they’re best friends. She loves him. Angel needs someone like that in his life.”

Buffy was silent – Faith had pretty much described what Angel had told her was his definition of true love. Buffy still didn’t want to believe that Cordelia Chase could give that to him when she couldn’t. The slayer couldn’t get her head round it so swiftly changed the subject. “Any luck on the research front?”

Faith shrugged. “Don’t know. Wes and Giles have had their heads buried in one of the books we brought back from LA for the last hour or so. They’re both wearing their ‘watcher at work’ faces, so I think they might be getting somewhere at last.”

Buffy stood up and stretched out her lithe body. “Let’s go train then. We’ve got to be on the ball when this apocalypse hits.”

Faith followed her fellow slayer out of the room. She hoped that Buffy was finally starting to accept the reality of Angel and Cordelia’s relationship, but suspected there was still trouble ahead.

***

Cordy woke to find herself weighted down by a large, heavy, and definitely male body if the hard length she could feel pressing urgently against her backside was anything to go by. Her eyes flickered open, taking in the unfamiliar white sheets and red-patterned comforter that covered her. She frowned, confused by her surroundings. How did I get here?

She rolled over and poked Angel in the ribs. “Hey! Wake up permanent soul boy.”

Angel groaned in protest and slowly opened his eyes, one at a time, to look down at her. A lazy smile spread across his handsome face as he took in her appearance. Cordy lay on her back with the covers bunched up around her waist; her dark hair was fanned out messily on the white pillow and she wore a disgruntled expression on her pretty face. “Good morning beautiful.”

He bent his head to kiss her, but was forestalled by Cordelia’s warm hand against his bare chest. “Oh no you don’t, mister. No kissage until you explain why I went to bed in my room and woke up here.”

Angel shrugged. “I wanted you in my bed.”

“So you just thought you’d go all caveman, throw me over your shoulder and carry me back to your bat cave.”

“Pretty much yeah. Can I have kissage now?”

“No! I’m not your cave-girl. Hello – this is the twentieth century. It’s customary to ask a woman if she wants to share your bed.” Cordelia said indignantly.

Angel smirked. “You didn’t seem to object to being in my bed the night before last.” he said, tugging down the covers and exposing her long tanned legs to his perusal. He ran a cool hand slowly up her thigh and twirled a strand of her dark hair around one finger. “In fact, you seemed more than willing.” he murmured seductively in her ear, pressing his lips to her neck and flicking out his tongue to taste her skin.

Cordelia slapped his wandering hand away, despite the fact that she was melting at his adept touch. “Don’t think you can look at me with those come-to-bed eyes and I’ll just give in. I’m not that easy.”

“Believe me honey, the last thing you’ll ever be is easy.” Angel said, planting a series of biting kisses down her throat. “But you *will* give in.” He lifted his head and returned his hand to her inner thigh, teasing the edge of her cotton panties with one finger and eliciting a soft moan from the woman he was intent on seducing. Angel stroked the soft skin of her inner thigh with his callused thumb and avidly watched her expressive face as her desire competed with her determination not to let him win. He could see the war of conflicting emotions swirling in Cordelia’s hazel eyes as he gazed down into them, but had confidence that he would be the victor in this particular battle.

Cordelia was breathing heavily and her heart was racing; Angel was barely touching her and already she was a puddle of goo. How did he do that?

“You’re a very bad vampire.” she reproved him when she finally admitted defeat and succumbed to his touch.

Angel smiled in triumph at her surrender. “You want me.”

“You’ve turned me into a raging nympho, that’s why.” Cordy protested, annoyed that she’d given in so easily.

Angel laughed and kissed her. “Now *that* I can live with.”

When they broke apart, Cordy eyed the impressive bulge tenting his boxers with a raised eyebrow. “Somebody woke up perky today.” she joked, as she lifted her hand to trace a path down his bare chest and over his hard muscular stomach.

Angel smiled at her bold witticism, but sensed her hesitation as she rubbed her fingers in small circles over his lower abdomen. He reached down to take her small hand in his and lowered it beneath the waistband of his boxers, gently encouraging her to touch him.

Cordelia ran her curious fingers up his hard length; he was soft, smooth and cool to the touch. Spurred on by Angel’s groan of pleasure at her exploratory caress, she curled her hand around his shaft and began to stroke slowly up and down. When she pressed a sweet kiss to his belly, she could feel the vibrations of the low moans her ministrations were invoking against her lips.

Angel closed his eyes; he didn’t think he had ever experienced anything more erotic. Cordelia’s touch was curious and tentative and her soft lips and cool, silky hair trailed fire and ice across his torso. The vampire wound his fingers in Cordelia’s dark locks as she kissed a trail up his body towards his chest; her hand, still busy down below, was making him harder with each firm stroke.

Angel was suddenly overwhelmed by a need to feel her warm skin against his, so he ran his hands over her back and reached down to tug insistently on the hem of her night-shirt. Cordelia sat up and docilely lifted her arms over her head so that he could remove the offending garment. She sucked in a hissing breath, closing her eyes when Angel’s fingers skimmed over her curves with a feather light touch as he drew the night-shirt up and off her body.

Angel sat back to observe the golden flesh that he had just revealed to his scrutiny, his deep brown eyes darkening with a look of intense desire. He doubted he would ever get tired of looking at her nubile form. “You are so beautiful.” he murmured reverently, lifting her wealth of dark hair to brush it back over her shoulders. He circled her areolae with the backs of his forefingers, watching as her nipples tightened to hard, dusky peaks in response to his gentle caresses.

“Angel!” Cordelia let out a low moan, tipping her head back and exposing her throat to his suckling mouth. As Angel expertly cupped and fondled the soft flesh of her breasts in his large hands and kissed her neck, Cordelia began to squeeze her thighs rhythmically together in an attempt to relieve the aching pressure building between her legs. One hand crept down to slip inside her panties, but was quickly pulled away.

“No touching.” Angel growled against her throat.

“Well, you frickin’ touch me then, broody boy.” Cordelia demanded harshly, shocking herself with her brazenness.

In a flash, Angel had her flat on her back and she gasped as he reached down and tore off her panties in one fell swoop. Cordelia felt a rush of moisture at her apex as her body reacted immediately to his aggressiveness and she instinctively let her thighs drop open in response.

Angel’s nostrils flared as the unmistakable scent of female arousal saturated the air. Kicking off his boxers, he knelt between Cordelia’s spread legs and hoisted her tanned limbs up over his shoulders. Her pink folds were swollen and glistening with her excitement and he just had to taste her. Angel hooked his arms under her thighs and, with his hands on her toned stomach, lightly held her down as he kissed a path up the soft skin of her inner thigh towards her sex.

Cordelia’s body was covered in a light sheen of sweat and her breath was coming in harsh pants at the knowledge of what he was about to do to her. She lifted herself up onto her elbows and looked down at Angel’s dark head between her thighs. “Oh God!” she cried out and fell back onto the bed as he slowly and deliberately ran his cool tongue up the length of her sex.

Angel winced as Cordelia fisted her fingers in his hair, holding him to her as she bucked her hips up into his mouth. He applied more pressure to her belly, pushing her back into the mattress as his tongue continued its enthusiastic exploration of her most intimate parts.

Cordelia didn’t really care how undignified she must look, splayed out on the bed, with Angel’s face buried between her legs; he was coaxing her to new heights of pleasure and all that mattered was that he didn’t stop. She was poised on a precipice waiting to fall, but Angel refused to let her go over as he lapped hungrily at her centre, all the time avoiding the one place that could send her plummeting over the edge into oblivion. “Angel ..” she moaned loudly, pleading for release.

Angel finally took pity on her and closed his lips over her throbbing clit, suckling hard. Cordelia screamed as her body was flooded with sweet ecstasy. She clamped her thighs around his head and her hips left the bed, her climax spreading to every single nerve ending as Angel continued to lick and suck at her sensitive bud, prolonging the feeling of intense pleasure rushing through her entire being.

Angel let her trembling legs drop back onto the bed and rose from between her thighs. While she was still recovering from her orgasm, he scooted up the mattress and quickly mounted her, burying his hard length in her welcoming depths in one deep thrust. Lacing his fingers through Cordelia’s, Angel held her hands down on the pillow and set up a hard, fast rhythm atop of her. The hard ridges and glowing amber eyes of his demon emerged as he surrendered completely to the overwhelming demands of his body. Angel tried desperately to shift back into his human face, but Cordelia squeezed his fingers and shook her head. “Don’t; it’s okay. I love you, all of you.”

Angel lost all control at her unequivocal acceptance of him. He pistoned into her a few more times before every muscle in his body went rigid and he exploded inside her with a loud shout of her name. “Cordy! Oh God! .. Ahhh..!!”

Gasping and groaning, Angel emptied himself repeatedly into her hot core, his head spinning with the overpowering intensity of his orgasm. Finally spent, he collapsed bonelessly on top of the young woman, nuzzling his face into her neck and releasing her hands from his tight grip. Cordy held him close, running her hands slowly up and down the smooth contours of his back, trying to instil calm back into the vampire’s still shaking form.

Eventually, Angel regained his composure, raised himself on his elbows and looked down into her beautiful eyes, with an expression of wonder on his handsome face. “How did I ever get so lucky?”

“You loved me.” Cordelia declared, her eyes shining with devotion.

“It’s as simple as that, is it?”

“The fact that you’re a sex god and an animal in bed might have something to do with it as well, I suppose.” Cordelia replied with a wicked grin.

Angel laughed. “I guess it’s a good job you’re a raging nympho then, huh?”

***

The books that Wesley had brought back from LA had proved extremely useful; one in particular had provided them with their first breakthrough. In the 14th century, Styjasimok had attempted to steal a rose crystal from an influential coven of witches in Oxfordshire, England. The stone had been the focus for the witches magic and was imbued with great power. The magician had failed in his undertaking and had been subsequently banished from his circle for misconduct.

Playing a hunch, the two watchers proceeded to search through their texts for similar occurrences and also instructed Willow to conduct a parallel investigation on her computer. The table in the Summer’s dining room was now covered with a chronology of Styjasimok’s endeavours to pilfer various objects of supernatural significance. He had failed in all but one attempt – in 1923, the magician had succeeded in stealing a talisman belonging to a powerful sorcerer. Wesley and Giles concluded that this object would have provided Styjasimok with the means to raise an extinct demon such as the Kryzlic. The question remained, however, what the magician’s motives were in coming to Sunnydale.

Wesley frowned, his forehead crinkling in thought. “This earthquake.” he said, turning towards Willow. “You said it felt like something evil stirring within the ground?”

The redhead nodded, a chill going through her as she remembered the extremely unpleasant and disturbing feeling that had washed over her when the earthquake hit. “It gave me the wiggins.”

“Styjasimok obviously covets any article that would allow him to increase his power.” Wesley stated slowly, his brain trying to process his jumbled thoughts.

“Are you suggesting that he’s attempting to extract something from the Hellmouth?” Giles followed his train of thought, then shook his head. “I’ve done a significant amount of research into this – I’ve never come across anything that suggests such an object exists.”

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t.” Faith interrupted from where she was seated on the floor with her back against the wall. “I reckon Wes is on to something.”

Their discussion was disturbed by a loud hammering on the front door. Xander went to answer it, admitting Cordelia and a blanket-covered Angel into the house.

“Maybe Angel’s heard something about it on the demon grapevine.” Faith suggested.

“Heard about what?” The vampire asked, as he entered the room shedding the slightly smoking blanket.

“Ever learned if the Hellmouth is hiding some buried treasure? Wes reckons this Styjas guy is jonesing for a new magical toy – he’s got one hell of a fetish for the things.”

Angel shrugged. “There have always been rumours, but I’ve never seen any concrete evidence.”

“Rumours of what?” Giles questioned.

“Demon folklore says that Sunnydale harbours the ‘Orb of Ravaclesh.’ The rock is purported to be the solidified essence of pure evil and is supposedly one of the reasons why this particular hellmouth is so potent.”

“Why have I never heard anything about it then?” Giles asked, puzzled.

“The orb is legend in the demon world, but I doubt that there’s very much written down about it. It could all be hearsay – I don’t know if the stories are even remotely based in fact.” Angel explained to the watcher.

“Styjasimok must believe it exists and be seeking to raise the stone.” Wesley concluded. “The earthquake provides us with at least some evidence that supports that theory.”

Angel nodded. “He can’t have achieved his goal though. If the various accounts are correct, Styjasimok could pretty much do anything with the orb and, apart from a few destroyed buildings, nothing else seems to be amiss right now.”

“Well, we had better find a way to stop him before he does manage to extract the stone.” Giles said resolutely as he got to his feet. “I know several experts who have a wealth of knowledge on either Hellmouths or mystical objects who may be able to help. I’ll go and call them.”

“I’ll see if I can find anything in the books we already have.” Wesley said. “Willow ..”

“Already on it.” The young witch replied, her fingers flying over the keyboard of her laptop.

“You need any help?” Cordelia crossed the room towards the table. “I can be research girl.”

“Thank you, Cordelia. I think it’s probably best if you start with ‘The Encyclopaedia of Mystical Objects.'” Wesley lifted a huge book off the floor and dropped it on the table in front of the cheerleader, causing a cloud of dust to be expelled from its pages.

Cordelia coughed and eyed the book with trepidation; it was close to six inches thick. She opened the volume at the first page and grimaced, wrinkling her nose in consternation. “It’s all in gobbledegook.”

“It’s in code – the book may have a mundane title, but steps have been taken so that the information is not so easily accessible.” Wesley explained, then handed her another book. “You’ll need this to translate it. Very few of those translation guides exist; that’s the council’s copy – sort of.”

“Sort of?”

Wesley looked abashed. “It’s forbidden to remove the guide from the council library, so I made my own copy of it. It took months; I could only memorise a few passages at a time.”

Faith laughed. “Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; I’m shocked. Breaking the rules – how scandalous.”

Cordelia flicked through the translation book, her hazel eyes widening in horror. “It’s going to take forever!”

Wesley smiled, amused by her dismay. “It’s split into sections – you need the one about magical orbs.”

“Okay, so which section is that Mr Smarty-pants?”

“Eight, I believe.”

“Is there anything you don’t know? It’s seriously bad form to act smarter than everyone else, you know, even if you are.”

“I’ll try to remember that.” Wesley said solemnly, his blue eyes unreadable.

“You do that.” Cordelia shot back and playfully stuck her tongue out at the smirking watcher. She bent her head over the gargantuan book, irritably pushed her hair back over her shoulders and began to read, frowning in concentration.

After a few minutes, she shifted uncomfortably in her seat, suddenly becoming aware of Buffy’s eyes boring into the top of her head. Angel had insisted Cordelia accompany him over to the Summer’s house that morning, despite her protestations.

“Cordy, Buffy’s going to have to get used to the idea of us being together sooner or later. I’m not going to rub her nose in it by being all over you in her presence, but I’m not going to hide our relationship either. We’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to feel guilty about. You are coming with me and that’s final.” He had told her in a tone that didn’t permit any argument.

Cordelia raised her gaze to look back at the blond slayer with defiant eyes. Angel was right – she hadn’t done anything wrong so she wasn’t about to sit here and take all the crap that Little Miss Slay-Happy dished out to her. Angel was her boyfriend now; Buffy no longer had any claim over the vampire.

Buffy’s eyes narrowed as Cordelia boldly returned her stare, challenging the slayer to retaliate. How dare Cordelia sit there and act like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth?

Faith got to her feet. “Well, since you’re all going to be busy here and I won’t exactly be much help on the research front, I’m going to go train. I’m way too wired to just sit around and do nothing.” She bumped her shoulder against Angel’s playfully. “Wanna join? B’s Mom let her set up the basement as a training room.”

Angel nodded. “Okay. Call me if you need any help Wes.”

“Will do.” The watcher replied.

“You coming too B?” Faith asked then.

The brunette slayer had immediately picked up on the growing tension between Buffy and Cordelia and had decided it was probably best to separate the two girls for now. Angel and the two slayers would have to work as a team to defeat Styjasimok so, unfortunately, keeping Buffy and the vampire apart was not an option. Faith reluctantly placed herself in the role of go-between, knowing it was necessary. Angel and Buffy needed to confront their issues now, so that they didn’t interfere with the battle that was to come.

“B?” she repeated insistently, distracting the slayer from her staring match with Cordelia.

“Yeah, all right. I’ll just go change first.” Buffy replied and the three of them turned to leave the room.

“It’ll be good to train together again.” Buffy said softly, touching Angel’s hand as she passed by him on her way up to her bedroom.

“Did you have to invite her to join us?” Angel whined at Faith when the blond slayer was out of earshot.

“Would you have preferred I left her in there to pick a fight with C?” Faith shot back as the two of them descended the stairs into the basement.

“Well no but …” Angel stopped then sighed. “She’s still holding onto some hope of getting me back, isn’t she?”

“Are you really that surprised?” Faith laughed. “B just can’t comprehend why you would choose C over her. It’s not entirely her fault though; when everyone constantly tells you that you’re ‘special’ and worships the very ground you walk on, it’s easy to believe in your own hype.”

“Especially when she’s still at such an impressionable age.” Angel nodded in agreement. “It’s seriously starting to irritate me though. I’ve tried so hard to do the right thing by her, but she’s just not listening to me.”

“Maybe you are going to have to be cruel to be kind.” Faith suggested as she began to warm up.

Angel removed his blue shirt to reveal the white vest top that he wore underneath. He lay the garment carefully over the back of a chair, making sure not to crumple it. The vampire cracked his knuckles, then crossed the room to hold the punch bag for Faith. “I didn’t want to have to resort to that.”

“I know, but I think it might be necessary.” Faith replied, as she danced about on the balls of her feet, throwing jabbing punches at the black leather. “I’m not sure B’s going to get the message otherwise.”

Their conversation was interrupted as Buffy bounced down the stairs to join them. Faith groaned inwardly; the blond slayer was dressed in the skimpiest outfit conceivable. She wore a blue crop top that barely covered her small breasts and a pair of black hot pants that exposed her toned legs.

Angel’s eyes swept the length of Buffy’s body, somewhat surprised to find that, although he still thought she was attractive, he wasn’t really that turned on. All that exposed slayer flesh would have had him straining painfully against his zipper a few weeks ago, but now his mind was full of Cordelia’s soft, feminine curves rather than Buffy’s petite and toned form. The vampire cast his mind back to how his girlfriend had looked that morning as she lay naked on the bed beneath him, a look of dazed satisfaction in her hazel eyes. Okay so now I’m turned on, he thought, as his body immediately responded to the pleasant memory.

Noting Angel’s evident arousal with satisfaction, the slayer threw a brilliant smile in his direction. “So who’s up for some one-on-one hand-to-hand combat?”

Angel closed his eyes at Buffy’s double entendre; he didn’t know whether it was intentional or not, not that it really mattered.

God, give me strength, he thought wearily.


Part 17

Angel was back in hell; he was sure of it.

Buffy was driving him completely insane. Under the guise of training, she was taking every opportunity to rub her toned body up against him, obviously in the mistaken belief that he would be turned on by her flirtatious behaviour. Unbeknownst to the slayer however, all she’d actually succeeded in doing was irritating the hell out of the vampire. Angel was trying very hard to keep a lid on his temper, but was rapidly losing patience with her.

“Angel?” Buffy’s voice had a singsong quality to it that grated on Angel’s nerves in a way that was not unlike the effect of someone scrapping their fingernails down a blackboard.

“What now?!” he snapped peevishly, finally reaching the end of his tether.

“Whoa! Someone’s all hot and bothered.” The slayer laughed as she sashayed across the room towards her ex-boyfriend in full on seduction mode.

“Remembering past training sessions, huh?” Buffy whispered alluringly, gazing coyly up at Angel through her lashes. She reached up to run one warm hand down the side of his face. “Me too. It’s not too late for us, Angel. We can make this work, I know we can; you just have to believe it. I can forgive you for sleeping with Cordelia. You’d just got a permanent soul, and in the heat of the moment she was convenient. I understand that you must totally regret it now. I know that I’m the one that you truly love.”

“Buffy – just stop okay.” Angel interrupted her impassioned speech, making one last ditch attempt to reason with her even though he knew it was hopeless. “Don’t do this; don’t make a bad situation worse, please.”

Buffy ignored him. “Angel – you don’t have to fight it anymore. I know you want me; your arousal earlier was proof positive of that. Just give in and kiss me, okay?” The slayer locked her strong arms around his neck, curled her fingers into his dark spiky hair and pulled his mouth down to hers, not giving him the chance to protest against her unwanted advances.

***

Orb of Hinja, Orb of Thesulah, Orb of Klezrah … Cordelia repeated the names silently to herself as she looked down her list. No, Orb of Ravaclesh though.

The cheerleader sighed and started to translate the next entry .. R .. A .. V .. A .. C .. L .. E .. S .. H.

“I’ve found it!” she squealed excitedly to Wesley. Oh God! I’m turning into a geek. How *not* cool was that?

The watcher looked up sharply, circled the table and peered over her shoulder. “Where? Let me see.” he demanded, anxiously scanning the page for the information.

“There.” Cordelia pointed out the relevant passage in the huge encyclopaedia.

Wesley sat down on the chair next to her and picked up a pencil. He started to translate the several paragraphs of writing below the pertinent entry with quiet efficiency, much to Cordelia’s absolute chagrin.

“You’re not even looking at the translation book!” she exclaimed.

“I had to memorise the code to copy the book, so I know most of it off by heart.” Wesley explained.

“So you’ve had me slaving away for the last hour, when you could have done it in half the time yourself?”

“It made more sense for someone else to locate the required passage while I searched through the other texts for further information.” Wesley reasoned as he continued to scribble furiously on his pad of paper.

“Pfft! I think you just enjoyed making me suffer. You have an evil streak in you, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.” Cordelia pouted at her friend, folded her arms across her chest and glowered at him in mock anger.

Wesley didn’t have time to fire back a witty comeback because Giles re-entered the room then, and immediately began to fill them in on his findings. “The majority of my contacts believe that the Orb of Ravaclesh does exist, but they don’t think it is possible to remove the stone from the Hellmouth. That’s why none of them had thought to mention anything about it to me before now.” The watcher sighed. “Unfortunately, that’s about all I’ve got so I hope you’ve had better luck.”

“Cordelia found an entry about the orb in the Encyclopaedia of Mystical Objects.” Wesley informed his fellow watcher. “I’m working on translating what it says now.”

“Coming up empty on the net so far though.” Willow chipped in next.

“Maybe Wesley’s information will give you something to go on.” Giles suggested, sitting down. “Cordelia – why don’t you go and fetch Buffy and the others? They should probably hear this.”

“Okay.” Cordelia nodded, got up from the table, and left the room in order to seek out her boyfriend and the two slayers.

As she went out into the hallway, Cordelia could hear muffled voices emanating from the basement so she crossed to quickly descend the stone steps. The scene that greeted her when she reached the foot of the staircase, however, made her hazel eyes widen in incredulity and her heart lurch violently within her chest. Angel wouldn’t do this to her, would he?

Buffy and Angel appeared to be locked in a tight embrace with Faith looking on, clearly shocked at the unexpected turn of events. Cordelia’s vision blurred with instant tears and her heart sank like a lead weight into the pit of her stomach. Gulping back her sobs, she hastily started back up the stairs, intent on getting as far away from the reality of her worst nightmare as humanely possible.

“Buffy! What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Cordelia froze in her tracks halfway up the steps when Angel’s angry growl rang out. She whirled around, just in time to see the furious vampire shove the blond slayer non too gently away. “How many times do I have to tell you? It’s over, god dammit – why can’t you get that through your head? I’ve tried to be nice, but you’re just completely pissing me off now. Why the adamant refusal to accept reality? Is it really so hard for you to grasp the concept that I’m not in love with you anymore?”

Cordelia’s emotional turmoil was suddenly replaced by blazing anger as the vampire’s words registered in her mind and her sharp eyes swiftly took in Buffy’s skimpy attire. The slayer’s intentions towards Angel were suddenly all too obvious. So Cry-Buffy thinks she can make a play for my boyfriend, and get away with it, does she? Over my dead body.

Cordelia finally snapped, seeing red, when her blond classmate reached out desperately towards Angel clutching at his white vest top with her small hands. The cheerleader flew down the rest of the staircase in a blind rage, grabbed hold of Buffy’s hair and yanked her bodily away from the vampire.

Buffy stumbled back, momentarily unbalanced by Cordelia’s out of the blue attack on her. Once she’d righted herself, the slayer’s attention focused on the seething brunette, who had planted herself between Buffy and her boyfriend determined to prevent the slayer from reaching her prey. “Well, if it isn’t the teenage temptress. What’s the matter Cordelia? Scared your hold over Angel is slipping, now that he’s finally got a taste of what he’s missing out on with me?”

Cordelia snorted in derision. “Pfft! Like my boyfriend would be interested in someone who takes style lessons at Skanky Ho 101. Please!”

“He certainly seemed interested enough earlier; he was really up for it, if you get my meaning.” Buffy cruelly taunted her rival, her blue eyes flashing triumphantly.

Cordelia lost it entirely then, and launched herself at the petite slayer hell bent on wiping the smug expression off her face. “You stay away from my boyfriend, you poisonous blonde bitch.” she screamed in fury.

The two girls crashed to the floor, kicking, slapping, and screeching insults at each other like common fishwives. Buffy was in such a jealous rage that, fortunately for Cordelia, she fought back like any possessive ex would have done rather than the highly trained slayer with supernatural strength that she actually was. As the two teenagers rolled around on the dusty floor, the fight rapidly degenerated into hair-pulling and name-calling.

Angel stood open mouthed in amazement at the sudden cat fight that had erupted in front of him. The vampire tried to squelch the feeling of male pride that rose within him at the sight; having two women fight over him certainly did wonders for his ego. Faith’s sharp voice eventually cut through his thoughts and galvanised him into action.

“Angel! Don’t just stand there. Help me separate them.”

Angel moved swiftly towards the wrestling teenagers, wrapped a strong arm around Cordelia’s waist and lifted her off Buffy in one smooth motion. The blond slayer immediately scrambled to her feet and went for the cheerleader again, but was halted when Faith grabbed her upper arms in a powerful grip, holding her back. “Buffy, for fuck’s sake – get a grip on yourself.”

Angel held a still struggling Cordelia tightly within his embrace. “Calm down!” he hissed sharply in her ear.

“That bitch had her hands all over you; there is no way I’m going to stand back and let her come on to my boyfriend.” Cordelia angrily proclaimed. “You’re mine!”

Angel began to chuckle as he loosened his grip on her slightly, but still kept her trapped within the circle of his arms. “Whoa! Possessive, aren’t we?”

Cordelia ceased her struggling and spun round to face him. Her short red-patterned skirt and white t-shirt were crumpled and covered in dust from the basement floor. Her long dark hair was mussed from her spat with Buffy and fell in messy waves around her face and over her shoulders. Her colour was heightened with two bright spots distinctly visible on her cheeks and her hazel eyes flashed in outrage.

“Yeah well, I have a right to be – you’re *my* vampire, not Miss Slutty the Vampire Slayer’s.” she declared hotly, blowing a strand of dark hair off her face.

Angel didn’t think he’d ever seen anything more beautiful than the wild and passionate female who stood in front of him. “Yes, I am, so you have nothing to worry about.” he said, palming her face in his big hands and looking down into her hazel eyes. Cordelia slipped her arms around his waist, stood on her tiptoes and pressed her lips against his, determined to claim him as her property. Angel immediately responded, winding his fingers through her hair and returning her kiss with fervour, momentarily forgetting that they weren’t alone in the room.

Faith felt Buffy tense in her grasp as Angel and Cordelia lost themselves in each other. “Just let it go okay B? You’ll only make a fool of yourself if you carry on like this.”

“Angel just thinks he wants her Faith. She offered herself to him on a platter when he was vulnerable; he’s confusing sex with love.”

Faith let out her breath in exasperation. “No, B he isn’t. If Angel wanted you, then you’d be together. He’s a vampire so there is no way he’d so easily let go of something he covets. He almost ripped some guy’s head off a few weeks ago for daring to move in on his territory, and that was before him and C got together. Angel wanted C and he made damn sure he got her; vamps are possessive in that way. He’s been slowly seducing her for a few weeks now. I’m not saying C wasn’t more than willing, but it was Angel who did most of the chasing. It’s time you accepted that cus this is really starting to get petty and ridiculous now.”

“What on earth is going on?” Giles stood at the top of the stairs with Xander and Willow peering curiously over his shoulders, both eager to find out what all the commotion was about.

Angel and Cordelia broke apart at the sound of the watchers voice, but kept their arms loosely around each other.

“Buffy is having a little bit of trouble accepting that Angel isn’t her personal lapdog anymore.” Cordelia explained caustically. “I guess she thought turning into seducto-slayer would get her somewhere, which explains the skanky ho outfit. Pity it didn’t work, isn’t it?”

“Cordelia.” Angel murmured warningly, trying in vain to calm the situation down.

“What?” Cordelia snapped back. “I know everyone hates me, but since when does that make it okay to trample all over my feelings and attempt to seduce my boyfriends. It’s getting to be a real pattern. I may have been a bitch at times, but that doesn’t make it right or acceptable.”

“Can’t disagree there.” Faith put in, smiling sympathetically at her friend. “B was way out of order.”

Buffy stared at her fellow slayer, betrayal evident in her blue-eyed gaze. “She stole my boyfriend Faith!”

“No, she didn’t B. Angel broke up with you and started to go out with C seven weeks later; in no way does that equate to stealing *your* boyfriend. What you attempted to do today is a completely different kettle of fish, however.”

“Angel wanted me.” Buffy said stubbornly. “He was aroused when he looked at me earlier.”

Angel felt Cordelia tense in his arms at that and immediately jumped in to contradict his ex. “That wasn’t because of you, Buffy. Seeing you dressed like that just made me realise that I no longer desired you, which made me think of Cor because she’s the main reason why. I was remembering what she looked like this morning after we made love.”

Faith tried not to laugh; Buffy’s face was an absolute picture and Cordelia’s cheeks were flaming in embarrassment.

Giles cleared his throat. “Yes, well. I don’t think we really need to hear all the details of your extracurricular activities. Wesley has discovered some useful information about the Orb of Ravaclesh.”

Faith did laugh then. “I’d much to prefer to hear about the ‘extracurricular’ activities.” she quipped.

Angel grinned and waggled his eyebrows suggestively at the slayer’s comment. “What’s the matter Faith? Not getting enough yourself?”

“I fail to see why this is such a big joke.” Buffy interjected furiously.

“Oh, just get over it already B.” Faith shot back waspishly. “Your personal dramas are really beginning to bore me. There are more important things at stake right now.”

“My sex life not being one of them.” Angel added. “So let’s go and find out what Wes has to say.” The vampire took Cordelia by the hand and started up the basement stairs, effectively ending the discussion.

***

“The Orb of Ravaclesh is an object surrounded in mystery.” Wesley began solemnly, as they all seated themselves around the dining table. Angel drew Cordelia onto his lap, earning himself a beaming smile from his girlfriend and a glower from Buffy.

“That’s mainly because of it’s great power.” the watcher continued, once his audience were settled. “Angel was right; the orb is the solidified essence of pure evil. Once it finds itself a suitable vessel, it will revert back to its original form and be absorbed into the victim’s blood. Anyone who comes into contact with that blood will be contaminated as well. Only demons can withstand being infected though – the onslaught would kill a human being.”

“What about a slayer?” Faith asked, resting her elbows on the smooth wooden surface of the table.

Wesley shrugged his shoulders. “That I don’t know. You’re still a human being, albeit one with super-strength. I think a slayer could possibly survive, but certainly not without grave consequences.”

“If Styjasimok succeeds in getting his hands on the stone, does that make him invincible?” Angel questioned.

Wesley shook his head. “No, Styjasimok could still be killed, but his blood would be a deadly poison. He would have to be executed at a distance to prevent the orb from infecting his killer.”

“A better plan of action would be stopping Styjasimok from raising the stone in the first place then.” Giles concluded. “My contacts didn’t think it could be removed from the Hellmouth though – were they wrong?”

“Not entirely. The book says that the orb is anchored securely into the surrounding rock; it’s one of the Hellmouth’s sources of power and it wants to hold onto it. It can only be removed by way of a dangerous and complicated ritual. Many copies of the rite exist, but there is only one true one. All the others are fake; they either have some words switched around or extra or missing lines. They, therefore, have little or no effect. The earthquake was probably the result of one of the fraudulent spells, which meant that Styjasimok only managed to dislodge the orb slightly.”

“So, does the book give us any clues on how to locate the true version?”

“No, mainly because it’s virtually impossible to find because it doesn’t stay in the same place all the time.”

“Come again?”

“The Hellmouth may want to hold onto the stone, but the orb isn’t exactly a willing resident. A witch in the dark ages, frightened by Ravaclesh’s power, tried to destroy all references to the raising ritual. The spell she cast didn’t fully succeed, she found that one correct version of the rite always remained, no matter what she did. She eventually decided to limit the orb’s power by casting a never-ending seek and destroy spell on the true copy of the ritual instead. This forces the orb to constantly relocate the spell from book to book, making it extremely difficult for anyone to find.”

“So how can the correct version of the ritual be recognised?” Willow asked, then shivered slightly as a chill ran through her.

“What’s up Will?” Buffy questioned her friend, noticing her disquiet.

“I don’t know. It felt like someone just walked over my grave, except I’m not dead of course.” Willow turned to Angel. “Does that really happen?”

The vampire laughed. “What, you mean can I tell if someone has just walked over my grave?”

Willow nodded her head up and down vigorously, her red hair bouncing with her movements.

“No, can’t say I’ve ever noticed anything like that happening to me.”

“Ahem! Aren’t we getting off the point?” Wesley said pointedly.

“Sorry.” Willow replied contritely.

“Back to your question, Willow; according to the Encyclopaedia, the true copy of the rite bears the Mark of Ayrion. I don’t know what that is yet.”

“I DO!” A cackling voice boomed, making everyone jump out of their skin. There was a flash of green light in the corner of the room and a shimmering figure materialised within a cloud of yellow smoke.

“Styjasimok, I presume.” Angel addressed the figure as the smoke eddied, then cleared, to reveal what appeared to be a very old man.

Styjasimok was an archetypal magician; he wore flowing grey robes and a floppy felt hat. His long, stringy hair was snow-white and he carried a crooked staff in his right hand. His skin was crinkled and thin with age. His intelligent black eyes shone piercingly out from sunken eye-sockets to fixate on Angel and the frightened girl in his arms. “Excellent deduction vampire. Pretty wench you have there.” he commented sardonically, then focused his attention on Wesley. “Thank you for the information watcher; it has been most useful. I do so like it when others do my dirty work for me.”

As the magician taunted her watcher, Faith slowly reached down to draw her knife from where it was strapped to her lower ankle, taking care to keep her movements inconspicuous. Once she’d retrieved her weapon, the slayer launched herself at the magician – only to fall right through him and crash heavily against the opposite wall.

Styjasimok began to laugh maniacally. “Nice try slayer, but you didn’t really think I’d come here unarmed, did you?”

“It’s an astral projection.” Giles deduced.

“Another one with brains, I see; such a shame you don’t all have them.” Styjasimok nodded towards a winded Faith. “Anyway, must be going. Will be seeing you all anon.” With another flash of bright light, the magician vanished leaving a shocked silence in his wake.

“Cocky bastard, isn’t he?” Faith observed as she got to her feet, rubbing her sore shoulder where it had collided with the wall.

“And still one step ahead of us.” Wesley took his glasses off in agitation and began to clean them.

“He called me a *wench*” Cordelia was outraged. “Who does that smelly old man think he is? Like he’s such a trend setter, green flashes and yellow smoke – big wup! And did you see what he was wearing? Hello – no originality in that outfit whatsoever.”

Faith burst out laughing at the cheerleader’s indignation. “I so love you, C.”

“You’re really a very attractive wench.” Angel added, his eyes sparkling with amusement as he wound a strand of her hair around his finger. Cordelia crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out at him making the vampire laugh.

Wesley couldn’t help smiling at Cordelia’s blunt assessment of their enemy’s character. There was some truth in what she said; Styjasimok did appear to have a flair for the overly dramatic. The magician also had arrogance by the bucket-load and obviously thought a lot of himself.

“We need to get on with the research and find that spell before Styjasimok does.” Giles decided. “Let’s get back to work.”

“Are you all right?” Wesley asked his slayer, concerned because she was still rubbing at her shoulder and her face was creased in pain.

“I’m fine Wes. I think my shoulder’s going to be black and blue tomorrow, but I’ll live.”

“Put some ice on it.” Wesley instructed as he turned back to his books, satisfied that she would recover soon enough.

Cordelia climbed out of Angel’s lap. “I’m going to clean up.” she said, grimacing at the dust on her clothes. “My hair’s a complete mess.”

“I think you look cute.” Angel stood up and dropped a kiss on the end of her dusty nose.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. “You would, soul boy. I feel all icky though.” The young brunette bent to pick up her shoulder bag before leaving the room to head upstairs to the bathroom.

Angel watched his girlfriend leave, then turned back towards the table. “Is there anything I can help with?”

***

Cordelia tugged her brush through her tangled hair, wincing as she tried to remove the knots. She’d changed into a pale pink t-shirt that she’d brought with her, and had managed to brush off most of the dust from her skirt. “Almost as good as new.” she murmured quietly to herself, as she observed her reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Cordelia gasped in horror when another face suddenly appeared besides her’s in the glass. “ANG..” Her cry was cut off when a hand clamped over her mouth, forcing her to breathe in the fumes from a chloroform-soaked rag. Cordelia sank into unconsciousness, dropping her brush into the sink with a clatter.

***

Angel looked up sharply as his acute hearing picked up Cordelia’s faint cry for help. “Cordy!”

He was out his seat in seconds and tearing up the stairs towards the bathroom. Dammit! The door’s locked.

Angel stepped back, and kicked the door in ripping it clean off its hinges in his haste to get to his girlfriend. The bathroom was empty except for Cordelia’s brush and make-up which were scattered in the sink. A message was scrawled across the mirror in her lipstick.

YOUR MOVE? S XX

Part 18

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