Once Upon A Time. 3

Part 3: – Guilty Conscience

For one long moment, Cordy couldn’t move. Absolutely could not move. Even her heart had gone still.

Then, relief flooded through her body.

Cordy took a deep breath and let her head fall to the table. She was alive! No missing parts, open wounds, or head trauma. A few emotional bruises, maybe.

What had Willow said that time?

“Except for the whole evil thing, Angel would make a great psychologist. He just has a talent for finding a person’s weak spots.”

Well, Angel had hit a little closer to home than Cordy liked to admit.

Okay, so maybe she wasn’t thrilled to be a fringe member of the Scooby Gang. The one they only called when someone needed her to drive them somewhere that wasn’t good for her health.

And maybe she wasn’t blind to Xander’s little crush on Buffy. But, since Cordy expected to get over him any minute now, she tried not to let it get to her.

Suddenly, Cordelia heard an annoying laugh—way too loud and chirpy—coming from behind her. She was pretty sure the laugh came from Tracy, Angel’s latest intended.

Cordy sat up straight in her chair. She almost turned around but didn’t. It would be like watching an inmate take that last walk down death row…while making puppy-dog eyes at the executioner.

“And here comes the guilt,” she grumbled. Frowning, she started to pick at the polish on one perfectly manicured thumbnail.

Well, it wasn’t like she could do anything, right? She was better than Buffy at a lot of things, but fighting wasn’t one of them. And calling the police wouldn’t help because, in Sunnydale, it never helped.

Angel was probably taking Tracy out the back way right now, into the infamous alley. That would give him the privacy he needed to…do what he was about to do. And, thanks to the driving dance music that filled the club, no-one in the building would hear the screams.

“I’m not risking my life to save a stranger,” Cordy insisted. “Especially one who thought Angel and I had a thing and had no problem deciding to steal him away from me. And that’s it.” She nodded her head decisively.

But logic didn’t help. Not even. Because, logically, she knew there was no way she was responsible for Tracy’s impending doom.

But she felt like she was.

Cordy sat still for another moment. Teeth clenched, she glared at the table, shaking her head slowly from side to side.

“Dammit!” Slamming her hand on the tabletop, she pushed herself to her feet. She kicked the chair out of her way and slung her purse strap over her shoulder. “I’ve been hanging with the monster patrol way too long.”

Cordy marched through the crowd, ignoring the indignant gasps of the people she happened to bump into. A few started to make a fuss. But a well-placed glare was enough to make them keep their mouths shut.

Feet stomping like a petulant child who’d been sent to her room, Cordelia stepped into the grim, poorly-lit hallway. She stomped past the bathrooms, past the pay ‘phones. She stomped up to the back entrance, and put one hand on the bar that would open the door.

And she froze.

It was like her body had just realized—really realized—what she was about to do, and a shudder worked it’s way from the top of her head to her toes. Then, thanks to adrenaline or whatever, she just went numb.

“I can work with numb,” she muttered. “Numb is good.”

With ease, Cordy pulled that numbness inside herself. It was a practiced skill. A person didn’t rule the shark-infested waters of Sunnydale High—where your closest ‘friends’ would attack at the first sign of weakness if it meant she could take your place—without learning how to cloak their emotions.

Cordy reached into her purse and pulled out the items that, along with her credit cards, she never left home without. Then she used her hip, she opened the door.

And promptly heard a scream.

“I’m not crazy,” Cordy whispered. “I’m not crazy. I’m not…Who am I kidding? I’m whacked out of my mind.”

Shaking her head, Cordy walked out into the alley. Followed the screams to the dead end.

Angel was there, in full, ferocious vamp-face.

Tracy, who’d been so happy to see him earlier, looked petrified. She stood, still as a statue, in Angel’s grip. And the screams had stopped, probably frozen in her throat.

Holding her by the shoulders, Angel gave her a little shake. “You know, Tracy, you’re making this way too easy. I like a little fight in my food. A little struggle. Something.”

He waited for a second, as if giving her a chance to fight back. When she didn’t, he just shrugged. “Oh, well…” He grabbed a handful of hair and violently yanked her head back, eliciting a strangled gasp from his victim. Fangs bared, he lowered his mouth to her throat.

Hands on her hips, Cordy loudly cleared her throat.

Angel’s head snapped up. He stared at her with startled, amber eyes.

“Am I interrupting something?” Cordelia asked.

Frowning, Angel straightened up. “As a matter of fact, you are?”

“Too bad.” She held up the thick, wooden cross she always kept in her purse. “You know, for a guy raised in a more courtly age, you sure don’t know how to treat women. I mean, first you abandon me in the middle of our conversation. Now this?” She shook her head woefully.

Angel studied her for one long, perplexed moment. Then, a smile quirked his lips. “Jealous?”

“Pffft!” She gave him the contemptuous look she usually reserved for Xander. “As if!”

Looking curious, Angel stepped behind Tracy, one hand wrapped securely around her throat. The college sophomore, obviously in shock, stared blankly at Cordelia.

“So,” the vampire said, his smile widening. “What is this?”

“Me stopping you, I guess.” Sighing, Cordy shrugged. “I mean, I might not be Miss Chosen One, pointy stick expert and fly-kicker extraordinaire. But I’ve got…”

“What?” He gave the cross a dismissive glance. “That?”

“Well, yeah. And this.” She held up an expensive perfume bottle. “It’s called Eu De Holy Water. Ever heard of it?”

Angel’s gave the bottle a leery glance, but still didn’t look as worried as she might have hoped.

“You think that would stop me from killing you?” he asked. Pausing, he ran his tongue across his fangs, the gesture ending in a grin. “Ripping out your throat would make me forget all about the blisters.”

Tracy whimpered.

Cordy’s heart leaped in her chest, but she promptly told it to keep still and stay quiet. Angel had gotten all the fear he was going to get out of her tonight.

“You could kill me. That is your…thing.” She made the word sound as insulting as possible. “But I’m much more valuable to you alive.”

This really seemed to tickle Angel, because he chuckled. “And how is that?”

“Because I have a story to tell. All about how you lured an innocent young thing—a dead-ringer for the Slayer, by the way—out of the Bronze. Of course, I was terrified. What could little old me do against Big Bad you? But I followed, at a safe distance. As I reached the exit, I heard these terrible screams—shrieks, really. Like a cat being skinned alive. After I was sure you were gone, I came out to check the damage. And I found blood, and organs, and body parts”—she waved the perfume bottle and cross around the moonlit alleyway—”everywhere.”

Tracy whimpered again, which was really starting to get on Cordelia’s nerves.

Angel grinned. “I like that story.”

“Oh, it’ll be much better by the time I tell it to Buffy tomorrow. This is just a rough sketch. You know, a first draft.” Cross still held up in front of her, she walked towards him. “We all know Buffy blames herself for everyone you kill. I mean, it’s bad enough hearing dry police reports and stuff. Along with your little gifts, like that Teresa chick. But an eye-witness account, given as only someone who was there to experience the horror first hand can give it? That’ll really tear her apart.” She stopped a few feet away. “That is what you want, right? To make Buffy miserable.”

“Pretty much,” Angel agreed. Then, eyes narrowed, he studied Cordy, eyes slowly traveling from her head down. “You’re not afraid anymore.”

Cordy shrugged. “I got over it. I mean, you might be able to play with the Slayer’s emotions like tinker toys. But I’m not Cry Buffy.”

The vampire considered this in silence before nodding. “So, in exchange for telling this story to Buffy, you want me to…”

“Let Tracy go. If killing me is pointless, killing her”—another whimper from Tracy”—would be uber pointless. I mean, why bother?”

“Because I’m hungry?”

The quelling glare she gave him made him smirk. “Let Tracy go and, by the time I’m done with Buffy, she’ll need Prozac to crack a smile.”

Silence filled the alleyway as Angel thought it over. Finally, he shook his head. “That is the worst bargain anyone has every tried to strike with me. But I guess you deserve points for effort.” He gave Tracy a disappointed look. “Besides, this one wasn’t turning out to be all that satisfying anyway.”

Releasing Tracy, Angel put his hand on her back and gave her a little push. The girl stumbled forward into Cordelia, who had to grab her arms to keep them both from falling.

“Wh-what…?” the girl stammered, clinging to Cordy’s arm with both hands. “Wh-who…?”

“Let go!” Cordy said, wincing as Tracy’s desperate fingernails dug into her skin. She snatched her arm out of the girl’s grasp. “Geez! Clutch much!”

Rolling her eyes, she turned to face the vampire.

Only to find he wasn’t there anymore. At least, not that she could see.

Cordy gulped. “Uh oh.”

Part 4

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