Cordelia woke up to the smell of coffee. For just a moment, while she yawned and blinked sleep out of her eyes, this felt like home.
Real home, complete with Phantom Dennis and her love/hate relationship with window shopping, where she couldn’t really afford the things she wanted. For just one moment, all was right with the world…
And then realization slithered back in.
The coffee she smelled wasn’t her regular morning roast, brewed by Dennis to keep the early morning crank at bay. No, the coffee was Sunnydale’s finest – imported, of course, from Costa Rica or Costa Brava or some other Costa which should have probably just been named Costa Lotta… She had outfits in her closet back home that cost less than their coffee.
She didn’t move from underneath her sheets. Sunlight streamed in through her window and Cordelia blinked again, mentally ticking off all the things she had to do today. School, having a few attempts at normal, meeting Giles and Wesley, talking about Faith.
Faith – maybe not so much a thorn in Cordelia’s side as a literal pain in the eye as the sense-memory of the throbbing cheekbone proved – was missing. Had been for a week and a half and had shown up nowhere, along with the ass-old vampire that’d been looking for her.
If Cordelia was honest, she failed to see how someone could just up and disappear like that because while it might look like the Scooby Gang were floundering and doing little but sit on their collective assi, Cordelia happened to know that they weren’t.
Buffy’d beat up Willy on a regular basis. Three times now, born out of sheer frustration to know where her slaying sister was. Willy didn’t know squat and if anyone at the Fish Bowl did they were keeping their mouths tight shut.
Willow had done three locater spells – three. Cordelia didn’t remember her being that good at the magic at this time, but she figured she’d have to learn somewhere.
Xander was–Well, it’d been Xander’s idea, Cordelia had heard, for the discussion with her. Giles hadn’t been too keen on it, really, citing his earlier disapproval about knowing too much about the future. Cordelia had news for them, alright. She knew nothing about Faith, other than the fact that she’d turned into a complete psycho and here?
She’d turned up a little early because it was supposed to be Kendra taking up the Slaying Reigns from Buffy, not Faith, and she failed to see how her coming back to Sunnydale and changing Angel’s past a little ended up with her changing the entire Slayer line or whatever.
Sighing, Cordelia got out from beneath her sheets. Didn’t matter which way she looked at today, it was gonna be long, that was a certainty.
Over the past few weeks, Giles had voiced his concern about what Cordelia had changed at least a dozen times. Maybe more. Today, it was grating on Cordelia more than she thought possible.
She’d explained to Giles what little she knew about Faith, acting like a total humanitarian (even if she did say so herself) by not telling him that the girl was one fruit loop shy of a box.
She’d watched as Giles and Wesley had indulged in multi-frowns, Wes having been apparently filled in on her situation pre-meeting.
“And you say that in your–Before, Kendra was next in line?” Giles asked.
Cordelia nodded. She wished she knew what else to tell the guy, really she did, but she was drawing a blank. Faith hadn’t been here yet – not before Kendra at least. Which meant that Kendra was, quite possibly, dead and buried somewhere.
“It’s not me though, right? I mean, I couldn’t exactly have had a hand in changing the whole Slayer-type order of things, could I?”
“I don’t know, Cordelia,” Giles answered tiredly. They’d been up all night researching Kakistos, calling friends and colleagues in England, trying to find out where Faith might be. They’d come up with nothing.
Cordelia’s teeth set on edge. “Giles, give me some credit, would you? I may have, at times, been way more powerful than I knew–” glowiness with Connor definitely withstanding this argument “–but changing a Slayer line by making Angel not kill a bunch of people?” The disbelief echoed in her voice.
Giles turned an angry gaze her way, thankful that he and Wesley were the only ones present in the library tonight. “I think we’ve covered the ramifications, Cordelia.”
“Are you still on that?” She snapped, “Because I seem to remember the last time we argued like this ending with me being tortured by Spike, which, by the way? Not the most pleasant experience of my life.”
Giles, then at least, had the grace to look a little… Well, pressurized to back off, really. Cordelia folded her arms across her chest. “You’re a good guy, Giles, but you can be kind of a hypocrite at times, do you know that? You see things that no normal guy should see every single day and you try to change them, you try to make them right. And when I do it–“
“There’s a difference, Cordelia,” he began.
Cordelia didn’t let him get another word out. She stood and braced her hands on the table, “So it’s okay to ask me things when you think you need help, but when I’m trying to help people it’s not?” Her gaze darkened slightly,
“And if you want to split hairs here about whether I did the right thing not unleashing Angelus on the world? Ask your girlfriend,” she said coldly, “At least she’s around this time to give an answer.”
Giles’ face was one of shock. The muscle in his jaw tightened and all at once Cordelia was sorry she’d said anything but she too, was tired. She’d spent hours last night pouring over a bunch of boring old tax laws that told her nothing except her father was most definitely in line to become someone’s bitch in prison, her mother for her too long, too slow nervous breakdown.
And here Giles was berating her for making the most selfless choices she possibly could have. It was taking her all her time not to run to Angel and beg him to take her to LA so they could change things there.
Save Doyle, maybe herself in the process… She’d keep him away from Darla this time. There never would be a Connor. She’d change everything… And then everything would still be different.
For the first time in weeks, Cordelia let herself think about that, about how much she’d lost by simply helping Angel and her heart ached, really ached, and she had to steel herself to keep from crying.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” she said after a moment, her voice quiet, “But I don’t know anything about Faith. As far as I knew, she was next in line after Kendra and Wes here didn’t come ’til later. That’s all I got.”
She plucked her purse from between the mountain of books on the table and shouldered it, ready to leave when the library doors burst open and in marched Buffy, only half struggling with something beneath a blanket. “Look what I found,” she frowned, clearly not happy with the turn the night had taken.
The thing slumped at the counter where Buffy tossed it and the blanket slid off, making Cordelia recoil in horror, the scar from Spike’s cigarette throbbing insistently on her leg. “What the hell–“
“He can’t hurt anyone,” said Buffy, levelling her gaze at Giles but keeping her foot braced on Spike’s leg just in case he decided to try anything, “I found him wandering out beside Restfield looking like–” she gestured to a pale Spike, slumped against the library counter “–well, that.”
Giles got up, stepping around Cordelia and stooping next to Spike. His cheeks and gaze were hollow, his skin more pale than Giles had ever seen on any vampire. Not, of course, that he was worried but something had done this to him and–
“Uhm, sorry to interrupt,” said Wesley, though by his tone he was anything but, “Don’t we usually kill these things?”
“I’m with Skippy,” said Cordelia, trying for light and failing miserably, “You don’t, like, want to keep him as your pet, right?” She remembered how things’d gone the last time with Little Ms. Likes to Slay, wondered how she’d fallen off the wagon, so to speak. Going from Spike to Angel was, admittedly, quite a stretch.
“Eww,” Buffy asserted, glaring at Cordelia, “And no. He was trying to feed off someone when I caught up with him. I was gonna stake him there and then–“
“You should have,” Cordelia interrupted.
“But he kept saying something about soldiers and tests and–Well, he looked kind of pathetic,” Buffy finished. As much as Spike was a giant pain in her ass, she did have some honor in fighting. She wasn’t about to take out a guy who couldn’t fight back.
Giles glanced at her, “You said he was trying to feed?”
“A student. Except every time he got his fangs anywhere near her, he started to wig.”
“In English, please?”
“Wig out,” Buffy repeated, “Have a cow. Go nuts. It was like something sparked off inside his head ’cause when he tried to bite her, he went down like a ton of bricks.”
Cordelia, still not following, folded her arms across her chest, “So he can’t bite people… Who cares? That still doesn’t explain why you brought him back here,” she said, more than huffily.
Buffy’s gaze went to Giles, “He said something about Faith.”
If Buffy hadn’t been happy about the turn of events at Spike’s apparent capture, Cordelia was even less so. They’d trussed Spike up in Giles’ office using a length of rope that’d been tied so tight, it would have cut off the blood flow in a normal man.
“‘S your fault,” he murmured, cutting a glare towards Cordelia on one of his scant lucid moments, while Giles was trying to figure out what the hell had made him look so emaciated, “Things you told Dru. Bent ‘er all out of shape.”
Cordelia’s eyebrow arched, but she said nothing. Even being around Spike made her feel sick, though she tried not to let it show.
“I should call Angel,” said Buffy after a while, “Get him to bring some blood.”
“You’re going to feed the guy?” Asked Cordelia incredulously. He’d tortured her to the point where she’d worn her fingers in splints for three weeks, had bit her and thrown her round the room for good measure and the goddamn scars on her leg from his cigarette still hadn’t faded… And Buffy wanted to feed him. “Are you nuts?”
“He can’t talk to us like this, Cordelia,” Buffy snapped, “I’m going to find out what he knows and then we’ll figure out what to do with him.”
“Staking him would be the better plan,” she told the Slayer coldly.
“Bint’s right,” said Spike, barking out a short, sharp laugh, “Got nothin’ else now. Only came back to get the witch. Make ‘er love me again…”
The breath Cordelia sucked in was so sharp, it actually made her ribs ache. She didn’t even realize until she noticed Buffy, Wesley and Giles all staring at her. “What?” She asked sharply, putting enough venom into it to make them stop looking at her like that.
They asked him questions, all confused about him wanting to make Willow love him (the less ironic part being that it was that to set Buffy’s spidey sense on full alert) while Cordelia just stood there, trying to at least control something in her life – her breathing. The timing was all off. Spike wasn’t supposed to come back ’til later – way later – and all this stuff with Faith and–
She was still standing there when Angel crashed through the door, blood tucked under his arm. Buffy, apparently, hadn’t told him about Spike. Angel had got his scent from outside and had almost barreled down the door, cutting a gaze at Cordelia before it went to Spike and he darted forward, dropping the bag of blood as he grabbed Buffy’s stake off the counter.
She barely got there in time, stopped the sharp piece of wood inches from Spike’s chest. “Angel, no!”
He turned to glare at her, then shot a look at Cordelia, her face set in a grim smile. “At least I’m not the only one who wants to do that,” she murmured softly.
His gaze softened for just a moment until he turned back to the others. If Buffy had noticed, she didn’t say anything. “What the hell’s going on in here?”
Buffy filled him in on what’d happened in a few short moments, watching the way his fists tightened whenever he looked at the other vampire. “I just need him lucid, that’s all,” she explained, aware of three sets of eyes on her.
When Spike started drinking, he smirked at Cordelia, obviously trying to push Angel to the limit even though he could barely stay awake.
It took a few moments and some steely resolve on Cordelia’s part to not try and stake him herself when he glanced at her, but she managed it, rolling her eyes as he began to talk.
“Dru dumped me,” he said bluntly, “Said I wasn’t demon enough for the likes of her… Only came back here to get Red to do some sort of spell but I got captured by those bloody soldiers. Kept pokin’ at me with needles and things, lockin’ me up with all sorts of nasties, that slayer of yours… Thought they could drug me, keep playin’ with me. Takes more than that to keep Spike down,” he nodded.
“Unfortunately,” Cordelia muttered under her breath. She felt Angel beside her, his hand at the small of her back and calmed a little, still wishing Buffy had gone ahead and staked the guy before ever bringing him back here.
“Think you’re so bloody hard done by,” Spike slurred in her direction, “Comin’ here and changing things for that ponce…” His mood soured further as he tried to glare at Angel and found a bout of dizziness instead,
“Made Dru leave me. Told her things. She banged on for weeks about Darla, that kid of yours– Whassisname, Connor?”
Cordelia felt dizzy. The coffee from early that morning – the Costa Lotta brand – churned in her stomach and she stared at Spike, willing him to shut up, trying to school her face into something resembling indifference so they didn’t know that his words had any weight with her.
“Aren’t you supposed to be helping Buffy so she can stake you already?” She managed to ask, though her voice didn’t sound nearly as light as she’d hoped.
“Don’t like me sharing secrets, do you Pet?” Spike asked, growing into his role of blabbermouth with as much gusto as he could muster which, really, wasn’t all that much.
“Yes, well, this isn’t really getting us anywhere, is it?” Giles asked, trying to stop whichever direction this was going in.
Spike just kept smirking, though his gaze was wavering a bit and he was really kind of dizzy from the bloodloss and the being bloody starved for the past two weeks, “You tell him yet? ‘Bout loving him? Tell him ’bout his son?”
Cordelia felt like her entire world had teetered and just fallen off its axis. Bile rose from the pit of her stomach, burned her throat, and she had to clamp her hand over her mouth as she ran out of Giles’ office, hearing Spike’s laughter echo behind her.
She didn’t make it to the ladies. She brought up what little she’d had to eat right outside her history class and when she felt that same hand at the small of her back, she turned to face Angel.
“I have a son?”
Cordelia groaned softly. She was definitely, 100% not equipped for this, not right now. “Angel–“
“Is what he said true?” He asked, his voice firm.
Cordelia couldn’t read the emotions on his face. They flickered from hope to somewhere like pain and disbelief and all too suddenly, Cordelia could remember that anguished cry from the beach, the look on Angel’s face as he realized what he’d done to Connor.
To his son. “No, Angel, you don’t have a son,” she said quietly.
He knew she was lying, could tell by the look on her face, the tears welling up in her eyes. It was what she didn’t say that tugged at him the most. “Cordelia–“
She heard the footsteps behind him and looked up, finding Buffy standing there, a stony look on her face, “I think I know where Faith is. If you’re not too busy, maybe you can help…”
She left the rest of the sentence hanging as she stalked away, shouldering open the fire exit door with a little more force than was needed.
“Go, Angel,” said Cordelia quietly.
“Just go,” she snapped, shoving his hand away from her. It took everything she had left to walk away from him. She heard the door Buffy had exited earlier slam shut once again and Cordelia jumped, even though she half expected it.
She waited five minutes before dragging herself back to the library to get her purse. Spike was sleeping, Giles was looking at her like she was about to break into tiny little pieces and Wesley could only give her that sympathetic gaze – the one she’d really hated post-vision back in LA.
“I’m going home,” she told Giles, having pulled herself together as much as she could in the short walk back there, “Don’t call me again, okay?”
Hostile 17 breaking out of the Initiative had opened up a can of worms that Maggie Walsh hadn’t wanted opened, not yet. He was no longer a threat to society perhaps, that much she could be sure on, but a threat to their whole organization, everything they’d built up for the last year and a half right beneath the Sunnydale Campus…
That, Professor Walsh knew, was a certainty.
She had her own agenda within the Initiative. Considered top secret between both herself and the few others who knew about 314, Hostile 17’s escape had turned out to be quite the headache.
They’d managed barely, in the last hour, to get things relatively back under control. A few of their subjects were still at large following the vampire’s rather infuriating attempt at liberating everything in its path, but the one that had got away, the one that Maggie wanted back regardless of the others was the Slayer.
She’d been experimenting with the slayer for a week and a half now, pitting her against the lesser important subjects in controlled conditions, providing her with no weapons at all. She’d come out mostly unscathed, a little worse for wear but nothing serious, and Maggie had known she was onto something big here.
She’d looked up what little slayer lore she could find, assigned some of her best soldiers to guard the girl nightly and on the day both she and Hostile 17 escaped, Maggie feared the worst because right next to Faith’s cell had been Kakistos, an older, Master vampire that the girl had seemed terrified of. And on the day Faith had escaped, so had he.
In the short time she’d been a slayer, Faith had adopted one mindset and one mindset alone. Every time she went out and fought, she told herself one thing. I’m gonna win, they’re gonna die… It was her mantra, the thing that kept her fighting every night when some nights she was too exhausted to haul her ass back to her no-tell motel room.
She was the Slayer and slaying was the one thing she’d ever been good at, unless you counted sex. She was the Chosen One, the only one and then she’d found out that there was another. Buffy something or other, she hadn’t paid attention at first. Girl had died once and the buck had been passed to her, why should Faith care?
Faith cared now.
Her arm was broken, though it was the least of her worries by far. She’d already fought off six of those soldier guys, all armed with enough taser guns to take down a small horse. She’d killed two of them. Still a little woozy from whatever they’d been drugging her with these last few days, Faith had headed south, sticking to the shadows and alleyways once the cop cars had come out to play.
By the time the second group of soldiers caught up with her, Faith’s entire body hurt. She’d been used as a punching bag, quite literally, for some big-ass demon that’d broke her arm that morning and now they were trying to hit her with yet another wave of shocks from their tasers and, put bluntly, Faith was pissed about it.
She flipped one over her head with her good arm, raising her foot to strike out at the one that rushed at her next. She heard the sickening snap of bones and the corners of her mouth twitched. Even injured and tired, Faith could still go some. She was fighting, winning even, until she heard the roar. It was unmistakable.
Her entire body went as taut as it had that first time they’d got the drop on her with those taser guns, and Faith spun. Kakistos. Her heart beat instinctively faster, her adrenalin kicking up a notch. Faith was scared. She backed off, shaking her head as the vampire picked up one of the injured soldier boys and used its claws to tear into his chest.
Faith almost threw up. She could still see everything he’d done to her Watcher, the blood spatters across the wall. It hadn’t been quick and it hadn’t been pleasant and he’d forced Faith to watch every bit of it. She’d owed Ms. Williams that much, to know what she’d gone through. It had been painted on the insides of her eyes ever since.
She was shaking as he approached, his ugly-ass face stretched into a smile, “You’re mine, Slayer,” he snarled.
“That’s a little misleading,” said a voice from the other end of the alleyway, emerging from the darkness as she tapped a stake in the palm of her hand, “‘Cause I don’t know if you heard? But there’s actually kind of two of us now…”
Kakistos grunted, looking to Faith as he wrapped his cloven hand around her throat, lifting her off the floor, “I can kill you both,” he smiled, almost able to taste her blood already.
Buffy smiled too but there was no amusement, just a hard glint in her eye as she moved towards him. It looked effortless when Buffy spun around him and plunged her stake in his back. It looked, for the second where Kakistos dropped Faith and she stumbled backwards, like maybe they’d won.
Faith drew in a gulp of air, waiting for Kakistos to explode into pieces. When he didn’t, she backed off a little, watched his face crease into a smile, “Fool,” he gnarled at the blonde slayer, “I am the–“
“Worst of the worst,” Buffy nodded, “Yeah, I heard. You’re not that tough.”
He stepped towards her then, which was exactly what Buffy had wanted. Angel slid from the shadows, holding a large wooden beam left in one of the alleyways and plunged it through the older vampire’s heart, watching as it screamed while it turned to dust.
Buffy looked over, smiling at Angel until she remembered Spike’s earlier words, Cordelia’s reaction and the smile faltered.
“Faith, you okay?” She asked, looking down at the new girl.
“Five by five,” she murmured under her breath.