When Good Spells Go Bad. 6-8

Part 6

Cordelia Chase could make a man nervous just by entering a room. She had recognized this natural talent in her early teens, and, with her mother’s guidance over the last few years, learned to build upon that inherent ability, turning her one weapon, as her mother defined it, into an arsenal of feminine wiles that would force the total surrender of any man. Each item in her armory had been carefully selected and mastered, enabling her to use it with quick and deadly precision as an offensive or defensive tool.

This morning, with Wesley, the intent had been defensive. He had struck the initial attack by standing her up, triggering her deeply imbedded insecurities. She had worried that his maturity and intelligence would render him impervious to her charms, but her confidence and self assured attitude returned the minute he crumbled in front of the group in the library. One small battle won in a war that her mother explained she would be fighting in for the rest of her life.

It made her sad and a little empty inside to know that this was the way of the world. That she had to resort to these type of gorilla tactics to win affection and favors. It hurt to know that no one would ever know who she really was, that beyond the weaponry and steal armor lay a soft heart full of emotion and love. Well, it was what she had been taught and in her experiences with men it had been proven to be true time and again. She slowed her pace as she rounded the corner of the school hallway, mentally inventorying her munitions.

Deciding it would probably take everything she had, she took a deep breath, started with the fake smile, and quickly approached the vampire before he could reach the basement door. “So, your ‘future’ Angel,” she said silkily as she slipped her left arm through his right, giving it a gentle caress in the process. “Let’s have a talk, shall we?” she suggested as she opened the door and lead him down the stairs.

***

Broken from his thoughts of home, Angel stared blankly as the teenage version of the woman he loved lead him down to the basement and into trouble. He hadn’t given her enough credit in L.A.. She was a pretty good actress. If he didn’t know her as well as he did, he might not suspect a thing. She wanted something, that was clear, and Angel was afraid that in his present state he might not be strong enough to refuse. He’d be so happy if the plastic smile and the overt flirtation were real. If they were something meant just for him. He scolded himself as he allowed her to gracefully guide him down the stairs. He should turn around and head straight back to the library. He had had every intention to avoid her as much as he could while he was here, fearing that being near her and protecting her would take precedent over finding a way home.

Leave, that’s what he should do, but the feel of her hand twined through his arm made the fog of the daydream he was having just moments before dense, floating its way across her young face and turning it into the Cordelia he loved and so desperately missed.

Angel physically shook his head, forcing the fog to clear. This wasn’t his Cordy walking by his side and he had to remember that. He looked down at her hand as if suddenly realizing what it meant. Now sickened by the plastic smile and fake flirtation, he abruptly freed her hand from his arm as soon as they reached the bottom of the stairs. He couldn’t stomach any Cordelia touching him like that, like he was just another man of many in her life that valued her only for her beauty.

Cordelia tried not to act startled when Angel, who had seemed to enjoy her flirtation at first, jerked away and crossed the floor to the corner wall. Well, what did she expect? He wasn’t exactly your average male. At least she could cut the act and be herself. “I’ll make this quick because I’m sure you have some self flagellation to be doing and well … I have a life.” Cordelia checked herself, her nervousness at being alone in a dark space with Angel was causing her bite to come out. She tried to softened her tone and continued, “I just mean … I want to know…”

The bite, the forced calmness, now this was the Cordy he knew. “I’m not going to tell you about your future Cordelia.”

“What? I wasn’t…Why?” she ended with a little disappointment.

That was a good question. According to Giles, if and when he returned to his time, no one in Sunnydale would know that things were any different than they had been before. He could tell her but he wouldn’t. He didn’t want her to know that she would be alone, broke, and almost killed when she arrived in L.A.. That the first real friend she had would die and leave her with visions that almost destroyed her. He mentally continued the list of things she had had to face in the last two and a half years, not realizing until now just how much her metamorphosis into the woman she would become had cost her.

Deciding that he needed to say something to wipe the look of frustration from her face, he opted for a small corner piece of the puzzle. “I can tell you that you survive the ascension and are alive, well, and I’d like to believe even happy.”

Cordelia took a deep breath and sat sideways in an old desk by the wall. “Well, thanks for that at least,” she said as she stared off into deep thought. “I guess I just wanted some kind of assurance that things would get better than they are now. My parents are … well, its not world-in-peril stuff, but my life kinda sucks at the moment.”

Angel’s still heart broke a little. He knew exactly what she was talking about. “Hey,” he started as he took a tentative step toward the depressed young woman. “Whatever it is, you’ll get through it, I promise you.”

Cordelia didn’t know if it was the fact that she had actually begun to admit what was happening in her life, or that Angel seemed genuinely concerned about her, but whatever the cause, she began to softly cry.

Angel was a goner, he knew that now. Forgetting every rule he had set for himself the moment he saw her walk through the library doors, he kneeled at the side of the desk, in front of Cordelia.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized as she wiped at the tears falling from her eyes. “I guess I’ve held it in so long that it all came rushing out. I’m fine now,” she finished as her tears slowed and a forced smile appeared. “I really hate this place.”

“Join the club,” he replied as he took a seat on the dirty floor next to the desk.

“Can you at least tell me if I’m rich and famous? Strike that, I don’t think I could bear it if I got the wrong answer.”

Angel gave a slight smile as he sat and stared in the same direction as Cordelia. He thought that if he closed his eyes, he could picture himself leaning against his bed at the hotel, having a heart to heart with Cordy.

“I can’t wait to get out of this town, far away from Slayers and witches and demons, no offense.”

“None taken.”

“I just… I don’t belong here, I never have. I look at Buffy, Willow, and Xander and I get so jealous. They know why their here, why the world needs them. Buffy’s the Slayer and Xander and Willow are her band of merry demon hunters. They have a place and a purpose. A mission. I tried to be a part of that. I wanted to help, still do, but it just didn’t fit somehow. They see my role as the spoiled little rich girl. I guess I can’t blame them, I play the part so well.”

“Your right.”

“Excuse me?”

“About not belonging.”

“Gee thanks.”

“I just mean that Xander and Willow define themselves through Buffy, and you don’t seem like the kind of person who needs to live vicariously through others. As for Buffy, she belongs here because this is the hell mouth. It’s where she’s needed. When I first came to Sunnydale, I felt just like you do now, like I had a greater purpose that I wasn’t fulfilling. I tried to make Buffy’s mission my mission too. It didn’t fit either. Instead of being a helpful and welcomed part of her group of friends, I became a dark, shadowy secret that no one really wanted to know. I had to tell my self that I didn’t belong here, I never did. I was meant for bigger things than to be someone’s sidekick and so are you.”

Cordelia looked down at Angel, who now looked up at her. She finally gave him a genuine smile. “Thanks.” She began to stand and Angel rose to his feet and helped her from the desk. “Buffy’s really lucky to have had you in her life. It must be nice to know what true love is.”

Angel clenched his jaw at the title that everyone but him kept putting on his past relationship. He wished that he could explain how he felt now, that in the future he would find out just what the meaning of that title meant and that she would be the one to teach him. “Cordelia, you’ll find that too.”

“Oh I know. I’m meant to be with someone special, someone who understands the fight between good and evil, a strong, brave, intelligent hero.”

Cordelia’s words were music to Angel’s ears, he could be those things, hell he was those things.

“I can only pray that he makes it there, to my future, safe and sound.”

Angel smiled and touched Cordelia’s shoulder tenderly. “I’ll make sure he does,” he couldn’t help but say.

“So you’ll watch out for him then?”

“Who?” Angel asked, suddenly confused by the conversation.

“Duh, Wesley. Who did you think I was talking about?”.

***

The blood tasted just as it was supposed to, horrible. It was pigs blood after all. He had been unsure as to why Cordelia had told him about the microwave. He couldn’t imagine that he would heat it. That would make it taste so much better and defeat the purpose of drinking pigs blood in the first place. He wasn’t supposed to enjoy it.

He began to take another gulp of the cold liquid but quickly pulled the plastic container from his lips when he heard the office door open and close. Cordelia was headed for the kitchen. Panic sat in. He had been so hungry that he had sat right down in the middle of the kitchen to drink, in plain view. She would surely be disgusted by the sight of him slurping blood in the middle of the place where she and the others probably ate some of their own meals. He quickly reached the sink and began pouring the offending liquid down the drain, hoping to finish before he had to see the look of revulsion on Cordelia’s face.

“Oh my God!”

He hadn’t been quick enough. Cordelia entered the kitchen and in an instant was standing directly in front of him with a look of horror marring her beautiful features.

“What the hell do you think your doing?” she asked in shock, as she grabbed the half empty container from his hand. “This stuff cost money ya know.”

“I just thought … I’m sorry, I didn’t want you to have to see me like this.”

“Like what?”

“You know, feeding,” he answered shamefully.

“Oh,” realization hit Cordelia as she reached for a paper towel on the counter. “And you thought you were doing me a favor by pouring the last container of blood down the drain huh?” Cordelia stared into Angel’s eyes as she reached up and slowly wiped a small spot of blood from his lips. “I hadn’t even realized just what it had been like for you in Sunnydale until now, hiding everything about yourself, pretending that you weren’t what you are. It must have been so hard and terribly lonely.”

Unable to bear the closeness any longer, Angel reached up and removed her hand from his mouth and took a hesitant step back.

Realizing Angel’s discomfort, Cordelia switched the conversation from loneliness back to blood. “Well, at least you didn’t waste it all. We’ll stop and get more while we’re out tonight,” she said as she picked up the container from the countertop. “Good grief, Angel. It’s cold.”

“That’s how I normally drink it.”

“Not here you don’t,” Cordelia informed while taking a coffee mug from the shelf and filling it with what was left in the container. “This is YOUR home Angel,” she explained as the microwave hummed. “You don’t have to hide or pretend here. We all know who you are and we’re here because of it, not in spite of it. Now, drink this up. Wesley needs some help trying to find out just why you’re here.”

“He hasn’t had any luck yet?” he asked as he stiffly drank the warmed blood, immediately noticing how much better it tasted.

“Well, he’s only been at it a few hours. Give him some time.”

Angel could feel the tension coming off of Cordelia in waves. She had tried to give him another reassuring smile, but he could tell she was becoming afraid and unsure.

***

“The good news is that I have found a way to reverse the spell,” Giles announced to the occupants of the library.

“And the bad news?” Wesley asked from his seat next to Cordelia.

“Ah yes, the bad news. Well, it seems that one of the ingredients needed for the counter spell is mythoclonan, it will take three days before I can get any. That puts us at graduation. I’m sorry Angel, but I must ask for your continued help until I’m able to do the spell.”

Angel answered with a silent nod. He had to get out of this library. For the last half hour he had been tortured at the sight of Cordelia staring lovingly at Wesley while they sat next to each other. His conversation with her in the basement had been wonderful until he was reminded that at one time in her life she had had a flirtatious fling with Wesley. His good friend. His good friend who was still with her in the future. Angel had to get back home.

He looked across the room to the table where Willow, Oz, and Xander sat, eating pizza and chicken wings while researching what they could find on the Mayor’s ascension. He could be thankful at least that Buffy, already hearing the news, had been sent on an errand. At least he had been spared the feel of her eyes on him, while he watched Cordelia watch Wesley. He eyed her as she crossed the room and took a piece of pizza from the box in front of Xander. “Aren’t you hungry?” she asked Angel when she passed him to return to her seat. The question caught him off guard. “I mean, I’m not offering or anything, but don’t you need to drink something?” The room was silent as all eyes turned to the vampire, waiting on his response.

“Yuck! I’m trying to eat here Cordelia,” came Xander’s interruption as chicken and hot sauce dripped from his mouth.

“Yeah, and a little red liquid in a cup is so much more disgusting than that greasy piece of chicken carcass dangling from your mouth,” Cordelia replied as she took her seat next to Wesley.

Angel stood and followed Giles as he walked into his office. He needed something to keep him busy. He didn’t care how difficult or mundane the task, anything would be better than being the butt of Xander’s dim wit or watching Cordelia’s crush unfold. “Is there anything for me to do now?” he asked Giles as he closed the library door.

“Actually there is. I sent Buffy to retrieve some vital information from the apartment of a professor we believe to have been murdered by Faith. I would feel much better if someone were there with her, in case Faith decided to return.”

Okay, anything but that.

***

Angel senses were on high alert as he walked out of the apartment with Buffy. He really didn’t want to go through this again, but what choice did he have? If he weren’t shot with the poisoned arrow then Buffy would never go after Faith and she may have tipped the scales in the battle with the Mayor. He scanned the area, waiting for the inevitable.

“You know, you didn’t have to come here. I don’t even know why you bothered.”

“Giles was worried about you. He wanted to make sure that someone watched your back in case Faith showed.”

“Well, I can handle myself. I don’t need you here.”

That was his cue. “Fine, you want me gone, I’m gone.”

***

The fight had been easy and Cordelia was amazing. He was a little disappointed that he had only been able to kill one vamp, but he enjoyed watching the others all work as a team. Every move that each member of the group made was unique to them, they each had their own style. Fred, he noticed, liked gadgets, opting to test a new and smaller crossbow she had made herself. Gunn went more for the savage kill, using his axe with great expertise he had taken out two vamps himself. Wesley’s style was that of a practiced swordsman, sparring with his opponent before delivering the final blow. Finally, Cordelia’s moves he knew all too well, they were his. He could only guess that he had been the one to teach her to fight and the thought of that for some reason filled him with pride.

They had stopped on the way back to the hotel just as Cordelia had said they would. She had marched right into the butcher shop herself and bought his blood for him. He looked at her pick it up as they left the car and entered the lobby as if it were just another bag of groceries. How had he gotten so lucky in the last two and half years? He had friends, a family, and most of all Cordelia. He hoped that even if Wesley did find a way to send him back, that he could remember this, know that a short ways down the line it was waiting for him.

“I’m going to go check on Lorne and Connor,” Cordelia announced as she headed up the stairs.

“Wait,” Angel called, making her pause a few steps up the staircase. “I’ll go with you,” he said as he quickly reached her side.

Cordelia smiled a smile even more beautiful than any of the others he had seen today. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said, returning the smile with one of his own.

***

Cordelia pulled the keys from the ignition of her car and stepped out onto the curb. She had felt terrible about her question in the library. It had obviously upset Angel, making him leave without a word. She had been trying to be nice, to make sure that he was taking care of himself. That’s what friends do, right? Well, she was bound and determined to apologize. Angel had been so nice to her earlier that day, that she couldn’t bear the thought of him roaming the town alone and angry with her.

It was easy really. She had just popped her head into Giles’ office, found out that Angel had gone to help Buffy carry some boxes from some old apartment and she was off, explaining to Wesley that she had a headache and was going home. None of the others even cared that she had gone. Not that she had really expected them to. Well, she would go and help, whether Buffy liked it or not, and ease her mind that her earlier comments hadn’t hurt or embarrassed Angel.

Cordelia spotted the couple leaving a building across the street. Oh great. By the looks of it they were having an argument. Did those two do anything but argue?

***

Angel stiffened his body. He knew it was coming. He’d dropped the box and any second now the arrow would pierce his chest from behind, dangerously close to his heart. A tap to his back startled him and made him turn.

“Angel, I came to make sure…” was all Cordelia managed to say before the arrow struck her through the shoulder. “Angel?” she whispered, as she fell into Angel’s arms.

***

Cordelia stopped halfway up the staircase, her smile fading quickly from her lips. She turned and faced her future best friend. “Angel?” she whispered, as she collapsed forward, into his arms.


Part 7

“Missed the vamp,” Faith’s demon companion smiled.

“Damn,” she replied disappointedly. “Oh well,” she reassured herself. “I might of missed lover boy, but I still got one of’em. It’ll keep her busy for a while. B’s got a soft spot for the weaker class.”

***

“She needs a doctor Angel,” Buffy called as she tried to keep up with the tall vampire.

Angel, deaf to Buffy’s continuing protests, burst through the library doors with an unconscious Cordelia in his arms. “Giles!”

“Good Lord, Good Heavens,” the two watchers said in perfect synch while rushing from the library office.

“What happened?” the elder watcher asked as he knelt beside the carpeted steps where Angel now sat, supporting Cordelia’s head as he leaned her back.

“She was hit in the shoulder, with this,” he answered, handing Giles the arrow.

“The wound does seem rather severe. When did she lose consciousness?”

“Right after it struck. I got her here as fast as I could.”

Buffy stepped forward, “We need to get her to the hospital Giles.”

“Quite right,” Wesley finally chimed in. “I’ll get my keys.”

“No,” Angel growled, forcing Wesley to an abrupt stop.

“Angel, I know your more experienced with the accelerated healing of your and Buffy’s injuries, but Cordelia will need a doctor,” Giles explained.

“Poor girl, she must have passed out from shock,” Wesley commented, coming closer to Cordelia’s body with an outstretched hand.

Angel stood, blocking Wesley’s path, giving a deadly stare that made Wesley retreat a step. Turning to Giles, he explained, “It’s not the wound that we need to worry about. Faith poisoned the arrow. It was meant for me.” Angel’s face fell as he sat back down, hovering protectively over Cordelia’s lean frame.

“Faith? How do you know…” Buffy began but stopped when Angel looked up.

“This is your past,” Giles reasoned. “You left knowing you would be wounded.”

“…”

“But you weren’t,” Wesley said suspiciously.

“This is all my fault,” Angel whispered, brushing a strand of hair from Cordelia’s face.

Buffy’s stomach twisted at the sight of Angel’s action and a voice in the back of her mind murmured something she couldn’t quite hear. “It’s not your fault Angel,” Buffy assured lovingly. “You couldn’t have known that Cordelia would show up there tonight. You’re not responsible for it,” ‘or her’ her jealous brain added. She couldn’t help herself. She knew that Angel was upset that an innocent, well, that Cordelia was injured in his place, but he was going a little overboard.

“We’ll need to get her somewhere safe while I test the arrow,” Giles stood, his mind beginning to work on the problem at hand.

“She can stay at my apartment. Her parents are out-of-town for a few days,” Wesley’s face blushed slightly at the looks he received for knowing such personal information.

“I’m taking her to the mansion,” Angel declared, giving Wesley another lethal glare, daring him to argue. “Don’t waste time testing the arrow,” he turned to Giles. “It’s called Killer of the Dead. It’s a mystical poison that can kill a vampire.”

“You say that this happened in your past, yet you live,” Wesley said acidly, his pride hurt by his own cowardly attitude toward the vampire. “Obviously there is a cure,” he deduced.

“…”

“Angel,” Giles prompted.

Angel looked up at Buffy, afraid to admit aloud just how he had survived. “The cure for her couldn’t possibly be the same.”

Giles removed his glasses and stared sternly at Angel, afraid to hear the answer for the question he needed to ask. “Angel, the cure. What was it?”

Angel looked between the three figures before him, settling his gaze on Buffy. “The only way a vampire can survive the poison … is by draining the blood of a Slayer.”

***

“And you say that she just collapsed suddenly?” Wesley questioned.

Angel looked down at Cordelia, who lay on the bed they had woken in together that morning. “We were going upstairs, to check on the baby. She was fine and then …” He stared at her eyes, as if he could will them to open. “A vision.”

“Cordy had a vision?” Gunn asked, stepping up beside Wesley.

“She didn’t exactly say she had one, but this morning the one she had made her float and glow. Maybe they can knock her out too.”

“No,” Fred explained. “The visions don’t really work that way. Unless you count the time Wolfram and Hart put that spell on her, or when she left her body because they were killing her and she had to make that decision that we’re not supposed to talk about cause it makes her mad if we do. But those weren’t really vision visions, unless this isn’t a vision vision and somebody’s messing around in her brain again. Lorne?”

“She’s still in there sweet pea. I can tell that from here, but her aura’s telling me that there’s definitely something mystical afoot.”

“Don’t worry Angel. Cordelia will be fine,” Wesley assured, almost forgetting that this wasn’t the Angel who had been tortured by watching her suffer before. “Lorne will get in touch with his contacts and the rest of us will research everything we can get our hands on. I’ll find out who or what is causing this.”

Angel felt a furious rage take him over. This wasn’t fair. It was like reading the end of a book before you even knew the plot. He felt that she was the reason he was here, with a mission, a family, a purpose. She must have been the one who made all of those things possible, connected him somehow. Yet, he didn’t know how he had gotten to this point. Worse still, there was a version of himself that did know. A version that had lived through every joy and pain with this woman for the past two and a half years. He envied that version of himself. If Wesley couldn’t figure out how to get him back, the lucky bastard might get to experience it all over again while he would never know one moment of it.

He couldn’t let her die. He wouldn’t say goodbye to something he had been cheated out of having at all. His rage burned and singed the closest person in the room. “You’ll find out what’s wrong and you’ll fix it?”

“Of course Angel.”

“Like you’ve fixed my problem.”

“Excuse me?” Wesley asked with astonishment.

“Well, you’ve been researching all day. What have you found?”

“Angel, I realize that this has been a traumatic experience for you, but it’s only been one day, if even that. There is only so much we can do in that small amount of time.”

“What about Cordelia, do you care how much time that might take?”

“I care more about that young woman laying there than you do,” was Wesley’s soft but forceful reply.

“Kids, lets not loose our heads here,” Lorne stepped close to the two men. “Angelcakes, Wesley here is doing all he can to help you. We all are. It’s not his fault that we can’t find anything. I even checked with the more magical side of town and they aren’t even having any luck. It’s like it didn’t even happen.”

“Maybe it didn’t.” Everyone in the room looked at Fred, dreading another ramble.

“Sugarplum, I hate to tell you, but something had to, to get him here.”

“I know. I just mean, he’s here and the other Angel, our Angel is probably there and we think that he’s here because someone cast a spell or something on our Angel because he’s there, but what if he’s there because he’s here and that something was done to him there making him come here and him go there.”

Everyone in the room stared at Fred in silence, surprisingly understanding every word of her babbled genius and fearing what it all might mean. Wesley spoke first. “And if it originated in the past, it must be fixed there.”

“So we go and fix it,” Angel commanded.

“It’s not that simple Angel. Time travel, although obviously possible, is extremely volatile. Although time has ways of trying to right itself, such as replacing one of you where the other was missing, there could be dangers if key events were inadvertently altered in ways that could not be repaired. Our best bet, if this is indeed what has happened, is to hope that Angel, the one from this time, is able to find the cause and solution to what has happened.”

“Angel?” came the weak voice from the bed.

In an instant he was by her side. “I’m here Cordelia.” He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. “She’s burning up,” he said to the room.

Wesley approached the bed and felt Cordelia’s head. “She has a fever, an extremely high one. Fred, would you find the first aide kit. There should be medicine inside. Also, bring a bowl of ice water and a small towel.”

“Angel?” Cordelia called again. This time trying desperately to focus her eyes in on the form hovering over her.

“I’m right here Cordelia.” Angel gently lifted her hand in his. “I’m holding your hand.”

“I had a dream that you left. That you woke up this morning and forgot about all of us. You went back to Sunnydale and left us alone.”

Angel knew that she was delirious, confusing him for the Angel she knew. He humored her, and himself a bit, “I’m here. It was just a bad dream. I’m not leaving you. I promise.” Part of him meant it.

***

Angel wiped the sweat from Cordelia’s brow with the cold cloth. He had seen her future self like this too many times, all because of him. Now, her past wasn’t even safe from the pain she would have to endure on his behalf. He was thankful that at least they were alone now, that he could take care of her without any interference from the others. Wesley, after lingering way too long, had finally left him alone with her, deciding that he could be of more help by contacting the Counsel for any answers they might have. Giles had stayed at the library to study all of the information he could find on the poison and Buffy had gone to tell the others what had happened, hoping they could help in the research.

Angel touched Cordelia’s head, cooling it with his icy hands. “Don’t do this to me Cordy. Don’t make me sit here and watch my future die. Please.” Leaning down closer to her, he began to whisper, “I’m gonna fix this. I promise,“ he vowed as he took her limp hand in his. “You gotta get through this so you can find that place your looking for, the one where you belong. Home. I did,“ he looked at her hand in his. “Not here in Sunnydale, or even L.A. for that matter. I found it when I found you. When you let me in your life, you showed me home. It’s with you. The you that you become. I know now that as long as I have you and Connor in my life, I belong, no matter where I am. Don’t take that away from me. Don’t let me go back knowing that your not there waiting. I can’t. I won’t. I love you too much Cordy,” he confessed and gave her hand a tender kiss.

“Wesley?” came Cordelia’s raspy voice.

Angel swallowed down his hurt, “No, it’s me, Angel.”

“Angel? What happened.”

“You walked in front of an arrow meant for me. It struck you through the shoulder,” he glanced at the toxic wound. “You’re going to be fine.”

“It hurts,” she said, her eyes tearing. “I feel like I’m burning from the inside out.”

He remembered the pain all too well. “I know, I’m so sorry. Wesley and Giles have gone to get something to make it all better.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?”

“In the library, I made you uncomfortable when I started worrying about you out loud. I shouldn’t have embarrassed you like that. That’s what I was coming to tell you. Usually I don’t really care if I make people self-conscious, kind of made an art of it. But for some reason I couldn’t stand knowing that I might have hurt you or made you mad.”

Angel gave her a slight smile, and touched her cheek with the back of his hand. “How could I be mad at the only person who has ever worried about diet?”

“Eh-hem,” came Giles’ voice from the doorway.

Angel turned to the three grim faces. Buffy, Giles, and Wesley had news and from the looks of them it wasn’t good.

“Angel, we need to speak,” Giles said, turning to walk out of the room.

Angel stood and began to follow as Wesley entered the room and walked toward Cordelia.

Wesley looked down at the beautiful girl who had slipped back into unconsciousness. At least now he would get a chance to be by her side. Angel couldn’t kill him if he was in the other room. Right?

Angel looked back at Wesley taking his place at Cordelia’s side. “I’m coming right back,” he warned the young watcher.

“What did you find?” Angel asked immediately on entering the room.

Buffy and Giles shared a look before Giles began to explain. “Well, you were right about the process of curing her. It isn’t the same as it is for a vampire. It involves a complicated and somewhat painful ritual to be performed.”

“So we perform the ritual. Problem solved.”

“It’s not that simple. I said the process of curing her is different, the ingredient, unfortunately, is still the same. A copious amount of Slayer’s blood is needed for the ritual to work.”

Angel looked toward Buffy, thinking thoughts that he knew would surely damn his soul all over again.

“There’s more,” Giles continued, “The books say that the ritual can only be performed by ‘a love, pure and true’. I can only assume that it means true love, that Cordelia can only be healed if her ‘true love’ performs the ritual.” Giles rubbed the back of his neck in fatigue and frustration. “This is impossible.”

“No, it’s not,” Angel answered, his mind set.

“Angel even if we could find a person who loved Cordelia in such a way, we have to have the blood for it to work.”

“The person won’t be a problem. You get the ritual ready and let me worry about the blood,” Angel directed as he headed for the door.

Buffy, who’s mind had been quietly concentrating on trying to figure out the scene they had interrupted, grabbed Angel’s arm and forced him to turn around. She couldn’t believe what he must be thinking. “Angel, I won’t let you murder Faith. Cordelia may be dying, but it isn’t our place to trade one life for another. I can’t believe you would be willing to do that.”

“When it was me laying in there you were.” Angel jerked his arm from Buffy‘s strong grip. He tried to calm himself. He needed Buffy to let him do this. “I won’t kill her, I promise. Please trust me. You don’t know how much I hate to do this, but you don’t understand how important…” he caught himself before he finished.

The murmur that Buffy had been so desperately trying to hear earlier, the one that was whispering some type of truth to her, began to get louder and a little more clear. Angel turned to go, and she let him.

“We have to stop him. He can’t be allowed to murder a human being, even if it is Faith.”

“Let him go. He was right,” she said sadly. “If he was the one laying in there in pain and dying, I’d trade Faith’s life for his in a heartbeat. I love Angel so much that I would be willing to do the unthinkable.” Buffy looked through the doorway at Cordelia and Wesley. She wondered if Wesley’s heart would be ripped out like hers when Angel performed the ritual.

Part 8

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