The silence in the library thickened, seeming to spread around the room like a choking fog. Buffy stared, teary-eyed and confused, at the closed door to the hallway. Giles, Angel and Cordelia had just disappeared through it, Giles muttering something about needing privacy for the explanation of whatever it was that Cordy had found. The way Angel had avoided her eyes only intensified the pain of being excluded; all of it wore on Buffy’s already frayed nerves. Silently, she reached across the table and grabbed the book Cordy had been reading, determined to get some answers for herself.
“Pepperoni goodness is just minutes away,” Xander said cheerfully, sauntering back into the room from Giles’ office. He came to an abrupt halt as he noticed the departures and stony silence.
“Who died?” he quipped, throwing his legs around the back of a chair facing Buffy, Spike and Willow.
Buffy ignored him, tossing the book back onto the table as its vague entry frustrated her. Her eyes shone with tears as she turned her gaze to Spike’s. “What were they talking about?”
Spike slouched in his chair and sighed, trying not to wear his sympathy on his sleeve. “If I’m remembering that bloody poem right, Angel claimed her,” he tried to explain. “It’s a kind of bond, a blood tie that can’t be severed by anything except death. That’s what the words were for, like vows.”
Willow gaped at him. “They’re married?”
“Angel’s married?” Xander choked. “To Cordy? My Cordy?”
Willow glared at him. “She’s not your Cordy anymore.”
Xander flushed and looked away.
Spike scoffed at Xander’s discomfort, then shrugged in answer to Willow’s question. “Hard to make a comparison in human terms. Guess marriage is the closest one.”
“I don’t suppose there’s a chant for a vampire divorce in there?” Buffy whispered.
“No, love.” Sympathy wrapped his tone.
A moment passed before Buffy, bolting upright in her chair, pinned him with a horrified stare. “Oh, God! Did we–“
“No, Slayer,” Spike rolled his eyes. “We’re not bonded. Didn’t say the ritual words, didn’t bite you, much. Can’t bond if you don’t bite.”
His gaze softened and he leaned toward her, fingers trailing across her trembling arm. “It’ll be okay. He didn’t deserve you, anyway.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Buffy’s eyes flashed and she shot to her feet, fists clenching in an effort to control her rising anger. “I’m going to patrol. I need to dismember something fanged.”
Striding toward the door, she snatched an axe from the counter. At the last second, she whirled around, catching her peroxide shadow a foot behind her. “I’m going alone, Spike,” she growled, slapping the axe handle against her palm for good measure. “Unless you want to be the one in a pile of dust?”
He stood back, hands raised in a gesture of peace. “Cool it, Slayer. I’m not planning on spoilin’ your fun. Just gonna watch your back, is all. You tend to be a little blinded by the rage when you’re like this. Wouldn’t want some little fledgling wanker to have his good day.”
She snorted. “Not tonight,” she shot back, eyes narrowing. “Nothing would dare get in my way tonight.” She swirled away, brandishing the axe in a wide sweep in front of her.
Spike watched her walk away before stalking after her, muttering something threatening about slayer mood swings.
After a bit of silence, Willow said in a small voice, “You ever get this weird feeling that they kinda belong together?”
Xander scrunched up his face in disgust. “Ewww. Please, you’re grossing me out, here,” he protested, but stared at the closed door in a moment of contemplation. After a pause, he recanted. “I guess. Kinda. But if you ever tell them I said that, I’ll deny it.”
Willow nodded, a knowing smile on her lips. “Gotcha. But who’d believe me?”
He grinned. “Good point. Besides, even if they were together, it’s not like I’d have to go to their Goth wedding and babysit their fanged toddlers. They’ll have to hide it from Giles and I can still sit back and continue to pretend one of my best friends doesn’t have the hots for the undead.”
“K-kids?” Willow whispered, her face turning white as she stared across the table at him. “Oh, God.”
Xander had missed the look on her face as he rearranged the books on the table, looking for his missing half-full soda. “I know,” he snorted. “Spike with kids. What a nightmare.” He shivered. “Can you imagine? God. Gives a whole new meaning to the word hellion.”
“No, It’s not–“
The weakness in her voice caught him that time and Xander’s head shot up in alarm. He rushed over to her side and slid into the chair next to her, taking her cold, shaking hands in his. “Wills? You okay?”
“Kids, Xander. I–I could be–“
“Huh?” His face was the picture of confusion.
“I’m not on birth control. I could be–” her voice dropped to a whisper “–pregnant.”
His face drained of color. “Oh.”
“What are we going to do?” She whispered, eyes brimming with tears.
Xander realized in that instant that, as much as the thought of being a dad terrified him, he needed to be the strong one here. Taking a deep breath, he plastered a reassuring smile on his face. “It’s too early to know,” he reminded her. “We’ll just have to wait and see. We’ll be okay, Wills, whatever happens.”
His hand cupped her face, and he watched in relief as she straightened her shoulders and put on her resolve face.
He turned to the table and eyed the remaining books with distaste. “Okay, I so do not want to be the only two left in this majorly boring needle-in-a-haystack search. Wanna go get some ice cream?”
Willow looked away, pulling her hands from his and straightening her clothing nervously. “Well, I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t want to, ’cause I do, but it’s just that I, I mean we–“
“Hey,” Xander stopped her, a friendly hand on her shoulder. “It’s just ice cream. In public. Lots of people around. No smoochies, no other stuff we shouldn’t be doing. Just two old friends, having fun while enjoying sugary sweetness. And avoiding responsibility.”
Willow let her lips form a tentative smile. “Okay,” she acquiesced. “I’d like that.”
Huddled in the corner of her darkened science classroom, Cordelia stared sightlessly at the rain that pelted against the windowpanes. Rivulets trickled down like tiny rivers forking into tributaries, winding and cascading in a hypnotic, earthy rhythm that soothed even amidst the clamor. Her lashes glittered with a wetness that seemed in sympathy with the elements. The world was weeping, and so was she.
Cordy sniffed and blinked, adjusting her position in the hard school desk she’d appropriated. She leaned forward, resting her head on the pillow she made with her crossed arms. The words she’d found in that vampire book echoed in her mind, and Giles’ hefty explanation following had done little to calm the strange duality of terror and belonging that she’d felt when reading them for the first time.
Giles had ushered them out of the earshot of the others, and it wasn’t until they were down the hall and in an empty science lab that the enormity of what she’d read fully impacted her. Trembling, she’d clung to Angel for support, somehow desperately needing the tactile reassurance even though her mind was screaming at her to run.
“You’re bonded,” Giles reiterated when they were finally alone.
“That means nothing to me,” she said, shaking her head in confusion.
Giles sighed, leaning back against one of the lab’s counters. “Angel can explain it better than I; it’s a vampire tradition, not practiced often from what I understand, but still binding. It’s rumored that its origins date back to the early days of the clans and their development; clan leaders would bond to each other in a mockery of human royal marriages, the most powerful male and female showing by an empathic and physical link that they were dominant over the other clan members. The bond allowed them to share power and maintain dominance over their own clan and stand against the other clans who would try to usurp their territory.”
The rambling professor mode gave her time to gather her wits together again and her trembling subsided to a tolerable level. But even she had limits.
“Enough with the history channel crap already. This has to do with Angel and me how?”
He suffered her flippancy with his characteristic aplomb. “The ritual was eventually adopted by any vampire couple who wanted to strengthen their commitment to each other by linking themselves physically and mentally. By invoking the spell we read and ritually drinking each other’s blood, the couple bonded themselves until death.”
“Literally,” Angel added. “If one of the pair dies, the other follows soon after. It’s like the energy drains away from them.”
“So that’s why you asked me this morning if Angel said anything while he bit me last night?”
“Yes. The placement of the bites could have been coincidental, but combined with the words of the spell they take on a symbolic meaning. Each location–the reproductive organs, the heart, the primary artery–all connote power and a claim on that power. The power to give, make, and take life.”
“But these are vamp couples,” Cordy pointed out hopefully. “I’m not a vampire. Wouldn’t it not work?”
Giles shook his head, a sympathetic look on his face. “There are a few scantly recorded instances of vampires bonding themselves to humans. I’d have to do a bit more research to confirm, but I believe that most of those involved only claiming in one direction: the vampire claiming the human. If I recall correctly, there weren’t very positive side effects for the human, but I’m not sure of the details there.”
“So I’m screwed,” Cordy summed up, wilting into a nearby chair.
“Not necessarily,” Giles tried to reassure her. “I do remember one account of a reciprocated claim between a human and a vampire, but the details are almost nonexistent, as the human disappeared almost immediately thereafter.”
“A slayer?” Angel questioned.
The watcher nodded grimly. “The council tried to track her, but lost the trail. The vampire was her lover, turned by an enemy. Before her disappearance, there were rumors of the bond being beneficial to her, not detrimental.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Angel acknowledged. “The story was passed around but mostly rejected by the vampire community.”
“The council eventually concluded she was dead because a new slayer was called,” Giles continued, “but there were rumored sightings of her for years afterward.”
“That, I remember,” Angel agreed. “The rumors died down, but somebody claimed fifty years later to have seen them and that the woman hadn’t aged a day. She could walk in sunlight, but her life-span seemed to be matched to his. Nobody believed it.”
“So what were the bad things for the other humans who were claimed?” Cordy asked.
Giles and Angel exchanged a cryptic glance.
“I’m not sure,” Giles hedged. “I need to do some more research. I’ll let you know in a day or two.”
She gaped at him. “You mean I’m just supposed to live like this until you figure it out?”
Giles’ shrewd eyes studied her. “Live like what? Are there symptoms you haven’t mentioned yet?”
“I don’t know!” Her frustration was evident in the harsh tone of her answer. “I mean, nothing seems important enough to bring up. But I’m different somehow. I can’t explain it.”
“Try,” Giles encouraged her. “Physical and emotional responses to Angel, even dreams or strong feelings you have that seem uncharacteristic, could be important.”
She stood up, pacing between the lab counters, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “It hasn’t even been 24 hours, Giles! I haven’t even slept since then, so I don’t know about dreams. But all I do know is that since this morning, every time we’re near each other, or he touches or kisses me, I feel almost out of control. Like I have to touch him or suffer. And when I’m away from him, it’s like some vital part of me is missing.”
She turned, looking at Angel briefly before turning her attention back to Giles. “But then this other part of me is telling me I’m an idiot–that he’s a vampire and he’s dangerous.”
Angel had been silent for so long that Cordy was startled when he spoke. “Am I hurting you somehow? When I’m with you?”
“No!” She looked stricken, closing the distance between them, desperately needing to touch him. Resting a palm on his chest, she hesitated before looking up into his eyes. “It’s just that the need to be near you is almost physical. Like there’s something inside me that’s crazy mixed up until I’m touching you, and then I’m calm. At least part of me is. My brain isn’t so happy with it all, but deep down, I feel connected to you.”
Angel put his arms around her and rested his chin on her head.
Giles cleared his throat nearby. “I’ll look into the side effects and what can be done to alleviate them until we can find a way to sever the connection. Until then–“
Angel’s growl interrupted them, and Cordy squeaked as his hold tightened. “I won’t let you sever it.”
Cordy pushed against him, suddenly panicked when his arms refused to give way. Leaning her head back, she looked into eyes so dark they frightened her. A low rumble vibrated in his chest, a warning.
“Angel,” Giles began warily, “it can’t be healthy for her to continue–“
“I said no!” Angel thundered, eyes flashing gold as he fought to control the rising of his demon.
Cordy whimpered, staring up at him wide-eyed, and Angel’s rumbling growl grew softer. His hand swept up to cradle the back of her head and he leaned down, nuzzling her neck, drawing her scent into his nostrils. Fangs scraped lightly at her rapid pulse, and when his tongue swept across his mark, Cordy jumped, then wilted, shoulders drawing forward as her head bowed submissively. Carefully, Angel pulled his arms from around her subdued form and set her gently from him.
In seconds, he closed the distance between himself and Giles so menacingly that the smaller man backed up into the counter.
“Do your research, Watcher. See if you can find a way to make it better for her. But you will not find a way to break my connection to her.”
“There’s got to be something,” Cordy implored him in a weak voice, not able to meet his eyes. Some of her autonomy seemed to be restored as her proximity to him decreased. Her arms crossed across her chest as she backed a step away from him, his power seeming to reduce her to a quivering flower in the face of a thunderstorm. “Just let him look, please–“
“He won’t find anything,” Angel said confidently, still glaring at Giles for good measure. “A claiming is irreversible.”
A shiver ran through Cordelia at the memory of Angel’s emphatic, almost triumphant statement, bringing her back to the present, the cold classroom, and the storm beyond the windowpanes. She hugged her arms closer to herself.
Giles had answered Angel’s demand in a way that had placated the vampire, but he’d shot a covert look at Cordy that promised he wouldn’t give up. He’d hovered until Cordy reassured him she was fine, and he finally excused himself to his office and the library. She’d kept her distance from Angel after that, and after a few moments, she finally felt like she was free from the control Angel had forced on her earlier. She’d smiled at him tentatively and insisted she needed some time alone. Angel reluctantly left.
She wondered at the sudden change in Angel’s demeanor. He’d been different all day, somehow more broody than usual, if that were even possible. His intensity seemed to be increasing, and the violence that had always been present in him seemed very close to the surface. She shivered again as she relived the way he had dominated her in front of Giles. He’d never been so aggressive, so animalistic and territorial before. Cordy had never realized that Angel was very good at hiding his vampiric qualities.
Until the last 24 hours, if she hadn’t known his true nature, she might never have known what he was just by casual observation. Maybe she’d think he was a little dark, but he’d never really seemed violent. But now, there was no mistaking the raw edge that seemed to have been exposed by their night together. It was as if the facade he’d carefully crafted to fit in with humans had been stripped away, and his baser urges were brought up to the surface.
Looking into his eyes was a scary and exciting thing. Each time it happened, she had this instant gut-clenching reaction, one of fear, excitement, and arousal all wrapped up in a heady tonic that zipped through her veins. The darkness he was showing was enticing, but it filled her with a restless dread. And when he really wanted to take control, to dominate her, she didn’t seem to have the power to resist him. With one touch on his bite mark, he seemed to wield a power over her that was terrifying in its completeness. She didn’t know what to do with it. How to control it, or herself.
It scared the hell out of her.
And what about the side effects that Giles had mentioned? Cordy had no idea what they might be, but none of it sounded good. It was bad enough that she felt an almost undeniable craving to be with him. Even now, when she was completely alone, her body sang with its need for him. She felt restless, chaotic and incomplete without him.
A loud clap of thunder startled her as it shook the windows. Lightning flickered, casting eerie shadows on the walls, and Cordy decided that her pity party would be much better at home. Maybe a hot bubble bath and some champagne stolen from her parents’ stash would help her forget the turmoil that had reduced her to a quivering, needy mess. Maybe a Keanu marathon and a home manicure afterward would distract her.
“You know, there’s a nest of Minok demons in a crypt nearby if you need to hurt something.”
Angel started and whirled around as Spike spoke, his game face flashing before he could hide it.
A slow grin spread across Spike’s face as he sauntered forward, coming to stand beside Angel on the bluff that overlooked Sunnydale. “You’re a little off your game, Peaches, if I could sneak up on you without even trying.”
“Back off, William,” Angel said, a thread of Angelus’s characteristic impatience threading through his tone. He was in no mood to put up with Spike’s twisted version of small talk. Not after the night he’d had.
“Nope,” Spike said cheerfully. “Not gonna do it. You need someone to talk to. A shoulder to cry on, as it were.”
Angel snorted. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Spike shrugged. “Way I figure it, I’m the only one who could possibly understand what you’re going through. Not to mention it’s fun to see you miserable.”
They stared at the city lights in silence for a few awkward moments before Angel called Spike’s bluff. “I thought you hated me. Not to mention you’re evil. Why the sudden conscience?”
Reaching into his coat pocket, Spike pulled out a cigarette and lit up. “It’s no secret that I can’t stand you,” he admitted after a long drag, “especially since this thing between me and the Slayer got–“
“Disgusting?” Angel finished.
“Complicated,” Spike countered, glaring at his grandsire. “There’s something there between us, and not even she can deny it.”
Angel scoffed at that. “That’ll be the day.”
Spike grunted a reluctant agreement. “Can’t admit it, stubborn chit.”
“Thought we were supposed to be talking about my problems.”
“I’m getting there,” Spike growled, flicking the ash from the end of his cigarette in a flare of glowing embers. “Look, I can’t say I like you, but the soul is a sight better than Angelus, the rank bastard.”
A grunt was Angel’s only acknowledgement.
“Still,” Spike continued, “When the cheerleader read the bonding spell and I realized what happened to you, I remembered Russia.”
Angel flinched. “Don’t remind me. I haven’t been able to think of anything but that pathetic girl since I realized what I did to Cordy.”
Spike snorted. “You got off on watching Gregor with the girl. Admit it.”
“Angelus did, yes. But the memory makes me sick now.”
They both paused to remember. Gregor, a Russian master vampire older than Angelus, had met up with Darla and Angelus for the occasional bloodbath or orgy, sometimes both at once. The last time they’d seen him, Spike had just been turned. Gregor had flaunted his human playmate and had told Dru she should’ve left Spike human and claimed him.
“It’s such a rush,” he’d said with a demented laugh, hugging the emaciated girl to him so hard she whimpered. “She’s so needy, so mad and vulnerable, and she craves me. The more depraved I am, the hotter she gets. The more I hurt her, the more she begs for it. She makes me feel like a god. You all should get one. A human pet,” he’d smirked, then fed on her in front of them.
Angel’s stomach turned at the memory. “Gregor was a bastard for putting that girl through that. I’m a bastard for doing it to Cordy.”
“Gregor knew what he was doing. You couldn’t help it. It just happened.”
“I still should’ve stopped it. Somehow, I should’ve known how wrong it was.”
“Oh, please,” Spike scoffed, flicking the butt of his cigarette on the ground before stomping it out with his boot heel. “We were pissed. On whatever sodding spell or nonsense it was. You think I would’ve screwed the slayer if I’d been in my right mind? I’m surprised she hasn’t castrated me yet.”
“Good point,” Angel conceded.
“Still, I saw the look on your face when you realized what your girl had found in that book. I felt sympathetic. If I had claimed Buffy…” he shivered. “Christ, what a nightmare.”
Angel looked at his grandchilde in disbelief. “You? Sympathetic? Right.”
“Hey!” Spike complained. “I know I haven’t been the bleedin’ poster boy for selflessness in the last century or so, but whose fault is that, eh, granddad?”
Angel rolled his eyes. “It’s not like you complained when I taught you everything I know.”
“I couldn’t. You’d have staked me.”
“Maybe not staked…” Angel let the statement hang and Spike squirmed. It was true; staking would’ve been over too quickly for Angelus’ tastes.
Spike smirked when he recovered. “And besides, your pain is my entertainment. Payback is a vindictive bitch, isn’t she?”
Ah, now there was the Spike he knew and disliked. “This is so therapeutic, Spike. I’m so glad you’re helping me cope.”
“Right. Back to that.” He lit another cigarette. “So how’s the chit taking it?”
Angel shot a wary glance over at the younger vampire, wondering if he should expose his wounds to someone who could, and probably would, exploit his pain. But he did need to talk to someone, and Spike, while annoying, did have a point. Spike was the only one who knew all the angles as well as he did. Not even Giles knew everything yet.
Taking a leap of faith, he responded, “She’s not taking it well. She’s scared to death, as well she should be.”
“She showing signs of it yet?”
Angel’s jaw tightened at the implication, remembering Gregor’s pet again. “A few.”
He flinched, remembering what Gregor had become. Studying Spike, he found himself strangely touched by the genuine sympathy he saw in Spike’s eyes. “Definitely. I about ripped Giles’ head off for saying he’d find a way to break the bond.”
Spike laughed. “Bet that was fun. Would’ve paid good money to see his face.”
“It was kind of funny,” Angel admitted.
“Do you think he knows about it?”
“The side effects?”
“Well, yeah. The major one, at least. For her.”
Angel’s chest seized up at the thought of what was in store for Cordy in the next days, weeks, and months, if they let it get that far. God, they were in deep trouble. “I don’t think he knows yet, not for sure. I thought maybe he did, but then he kept going on about research and I think he’s only guessing.”
“You think she’ll do what it takes to cure herself?”
Angel’s heart sank as he thought about the answer. “I don’t know. You know as well as I do that it only gets worse with time. If I can’t convince her soon–“
“It’ll be too late,” Spike finished for him.