“You’re not coming?”
Cordelia shook her head slowly, glanced up at Gunn. “No. The way I feel right now, all I am is a liability. Someone’s relying on me watching their back and I get a wave of nausea, we both go down – maybe more. You guys can handle it. Just a routine patrol tonight. No hi-jinks.”
He nodded, smiled, hand covering hers. She’d taken him under her wing almost five years ago after his sister had been turned into a vampire. He’d been on a path of self-destruction, insisting that he could do everything alone.
His sisters death had proved otherwise. Charles Gunn had never been and would never be God. He couldn’t do everything alone. He needed his friends around him, keep him grounded. They’d all joined Cordelia’s mission, albeit reluctantly at first.
When the vampires had first started taking over, Gunn had lost a good few of his men. He’d went to Angel Investigations only to discover that their mission coincided with his… Theirs.
The first time they’d joined forces – Cordelia had selected a natural leader from their group. Rondell. The guy had a good head on his shoulders – even though at first, Gunn had felt a little annoyed. He should be the one heading up his team, leading them out into battle.
It had taken a very little near death experience for Gunn to be shown that, while he was a good leader, his self-destructive streak was no good for their team – and that if he was in, he was in for the good of everyone there, not just himself.
“Wesley said something about a leak?” His brow furrowed in annoyance, the thought of any of their team siding with the vampires made his blood boil. He knew fine well that some of them did it out of terror, fear of what would come – but if there was one thing he couldn’t abide the thought of, it was a traitor.
Cordelia nodded, taking a sip of her water. She could understand Gunn’s frustration. It wasn’t as though the people they picked for the mission could be vetted – it was simple. Stay alive and fight or become what the residents of Sunnydale had become – bound by fear in a town they could never leave.
Those who chose to fight did so off their own back – it wasn’t like they could be asked for credentials or measured by their honesty.
“I’m not sure who, obviously. But if I find out…” She didn’t have to finish her sentence. Wesley and Gunn both looked at each other, knowing that Cordelia would deliver a world of pain to the traitor in their midst.
“For now, I’m keeping all information to a team leader basis. You guys will get to know everything,” She smiled, trust implicit in the look on her face alone, “But the bare minimum for everyone else until we know what’s going on. We can’t afford to lose more guys.”
She looked at Gunn directly then, eyes showing remorse. “George fought well last night…”
She went to say sorry then, but stopped, the look on Gunn’s face clear.
“He knew the risks, like we all did. If his death served just one of our gang getting out of there, then he did what he came to do.” He nodded, once, to show that he meant what he said.
It was a difficult fight and men – good men – were lost along the way, men like George. He’d been dedicated to the cause – one of the ones willing to follow Cordelia’s lead.
So many of them lately questioned her abilities as team leader. Gunn knew only because round here, he wasn’t seen as a team leader. He was respected, of course – and beyond the call of duty, his word went above all others in that group – but more than anything, he was a friend, a confidant.
He’d seen more in and before his time with Cordelia than most would in a ifetime – and that made him different in their eyes.
Though they never outright said it, a lot of the team believed that the one flaw in Cordelia’s mission was her heart. She followed that a lot of the time, instead of following what her head said – something she admitted to.
Cordelia’s strengths lay purely on instincts – just like they had last night. It was hard to believe that a former May Queen and self-professed high school bitch could be what she was now.
A tower of strength in a world full of hurt.
Though Gunn might never admit it, he had a soft spot for Cordelia. He knew the story though, knew of the guy she loved. His name was Angel. The vampire with a soul.
“I loved him.” She’d told him once, “But… He’s gone. I know he is. He told me he’d come back for me. Angel wouldn’t go back on his word.”
She’d never gone after him. Cordelia had explained that the night Angel had left, their understanding was clear. He’d go, help the people in Sunnydale that were struggling against the vampire King – and leave Doyle and Cordelia to manage things in Los Angeles.
Their plan had worked and for a while, Cordelia even believed Angel was coming back – until Doyle had died.
The Scourge had hit Los Angeles and hit it hard. For weeks before Doyle’s death, fear had run rife through the city. Half-breeds going into hiding because of the threat the Scourge posed. It was then that Doyle’s vision had sent them to the Lister demons – they’d tried to help as best they could until Doyle, realising what he’d had to do, had kissed Cordelia, passed the visions on to her and sacrificed himself to save the half-breeds and the humans.
To her apparent credit, Cordelia hadn’t fallen apart. On the night she’d told him about Doyle, she hadn’t shed a tear – though they’d been shining behind her eyes.
After that, she and Charles had become fast friends – both having lost everything they loved in a short period of time. A certain kinship in the irony. In losing someone, they’d found someone else.
She had a family again, now. Everyone who fought her mission, who went out nightly, was her family. But Wesley and Gunn – those were her life. Cordelia prided herself on the fact that she never picked favourites, never opted for one over another unless she had good reason to – but they had shared so much together, it was hard not to think of them as the brothers she’d never had.
“Did you manage to get in contact with Willow?” Asked Wesley, looking at her. She looked tired, haggard – lines on her face. The old Cordelia he’d known would have cared about that more than anything else. This Cordelia was different.
She nodded, once. “She said there was some disturbance just past the border last night but no-one was captured, to her knowledge. She’s looking into it.”
“And you, do you feel any better?”
Cordelia shook her head, not covering the fact that she was in pain. It was a natural progression of their friendship that they just didn’t hide things from each other now. “It’ll get better.”
She knew that much, though there was no comfort taken in it. Her vision pain could be ended in one of two ways. Willow could save the new slayer – or the girl would die and Cordelia’s pain would be lessened.
Not much of a choice, when you thought about it.
“Was there any word from Willow about how things were being… Handled?”
Cordelia smiled at Wesley’s tact. Still, it was never something she’d mastered. She was always blunt, to the point, never covered things up. Cordelia never lied to protect anyone – if they needed to know the truth then she told it, regardless of the hurt it could cause.
She was a firm believer in the fact that what did not kill them simply made them stronger.
“Not much.” She frowned, “A couple of their guys got injured last night. Minimal deaths, nothing too serious.”
“Any sign of…”
“No.” She quashed both the questions that were about to come quickly. “No Buffy, no Angel.”
Wesley sighed, knowing that even if Cordelia refused to believe that Angel was still alive, somewhere deep inside hope still lingered. “We should go,” He announced after a moment, “You’ll leave two of the guards outside your room?” As always, Wesley worried about her safety.
If half the group were to be away from the base, then that would provide ample opportunity for one of Giles’ men to steal in, take Cordelia.
The Vampire King had made it more than clear of what an asset to his team the brunette would be, if not for her visions then for her cunning alone. His men had been given orders, in case of battle – the others were to be killed. Cordelia was to be left alive.
“I’ll leave the guards,” She nodded, knowing as much as Wesley did why they were needed. “Go on. It’s getting late.” She watched as they both stood, walking towards the door and each giving a respective smile and a wave.
When finally the door was closed, Cordelia buried down her head into her pillow and closed her eyes, a tear slipping down her cheek. Sometimes, I wish the Powers would just stay the hell out of my head… She thought, bitterly.
It was after dusk when she was captured. In a move alien even to her, who’d studied the King and his moves for three months, Michelle was taken down by a large group of vampires and yet not killed. She hadn’t been taken lightly, not at all. During the day she’d been accosted by vampires wearing heavy silver suits – protecting them from the sunlight.
She’d fought well at first, staving off the first group.
The second hadn’t been so easily deterred. Now, Michelle was waking up with the mother of all headaches, blood hardening onto her skin.
“Okay,” She murmured, eyes adjusting to the darkness around her, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say… Not good.”
“You’re a slayer.” It took him a while to speak, for the neglected muscles to start working again. He hadn’t spoken in a long time, even less if you considered that the babbling now all seemed to be in his head.
The voice came from the darkness just past her blurred line of sight. Michelle sat up, sharply, squinting to see who the voice belonged to. “That wasn’t a question.” She said, frowning, wishing her head would clear enough to let her think properly. “Who are you?”
He frowned then, staying hidden. Who was he? There were times he remembered things, blurred things that didn’t make much sense. And with a startling moment of clarity, he realised that he wasn’t a he at all. He was an it. A thing.
He was the thing young girls like her killed and other young girls fled from.
“I’m nobody. Nothing.” He intoned, darkly. “You don’t want to know.”
That annoyed her. If she didn’t want to know, she damn well wouldn’t have asked. “Great. Well you just continue being nobody in the corner while I figure out a way to get me out of here.”
Michelle turned away, examining her surroundings. The windows had been painted with something black – to block out the sun, she presumed – and were so high up that even if she used every ounce of slayer training, she’d still never reach.
No slayer powers were going to help her in here – she’d have to rely on cunning, plain and simple. Maybe… Rushing the guards? If there were any. She had no idea who the hell had shoved her in here.
She frowned, ready to ask the guy something when she heard his laugh, sharp and without a trace of mirth. “Laugh it up, shadow-boy. I refuse to be turned into whatever the hell you are.”
“You think you’re going to get out of here.”
He sounded… What, shocked? She was getting out of here. There were people relying on her to be okay, to be alive. she couldn’t help them in here with him.
“I don’t think,” She frowned, “I know.”
“So does he. You don’t think he has this all planned? There’s a reason for putting you in here with me. Maybe it won’t be clear now, but soon, it will be.”
A short burst of hysteria washed over him then, making Angel laugh again. Still, there was no mirth in it. He’d been here so long, the only company a couple of rats and the brief visits from whoever brought him his food that day or whoever wanted to play a round of kick the vampire. There was a reason she was here…
For all he knew, she could have been sent in here to kill him, but then Giles had had ample opportunity these past years. No, Giles – while now a vampire – was a simple creature. Easily read. He knew that he’d best be served by exercising caution where Angel was concerned.
“So what, you’re staying I’m stuck here?” Her voice threatened to break then, eyes moistening with tears. She was 17 years old, she couldn’t become what he was – lost down here in this dank, rusty little cell. Damnit, she needed to get out of here.
“I can’t die like this…” She whispered softly. “Just… Just tossed into a cell and left here.”
“You won’t.” Said Angel quietly.
In that one sentence, he offered hope – something that made Michelle’s spine straighten. And as quickly as he’d given her it, he yanked it away again.
“You won’t die because doing that will bring another slayer. He’ll feed you scraps, beat you, wear you down – but he won’t kill you. That would be too easy.”
Michelle felt her throat tighten, her heart almost come to a shuddering stop. “That’s easy?”
She was desperate now, begging for something. Hope… That thing that had been missing in Sunnydale, it was even harder to find in here.
“No.” He shook his head, “That’s life.”
“It’s not. It’s not my life. People out there are waiting. Waiting for me. I can’t stay here. I won’t.”
Angel just sighed. He’d felt that way too, all those years ago – when her face had been fresh in his mind. He’d studied his captors for weeks, watched their every move – the way they gingerly placed his blood on the floor, the way they backed away.
He had a response timed for each one of their actions – and just when he’d been ready to make his move, his captors had been replaced. New guards sent to watch over him.
It was useless to hope he was getting out of here. That was just a pipe dream now.
“You’ll learn.” He told her quietly, frowning. “There’s no ‘out there’ now.”
“It’s been a good night in all,” Said Giles, enjoying the fact that he could still lord it over Spike, in a sense.
He was younger than the other vampire, true – and knew that Spike hadn’t survived this long with just brawn on his side. No, Spike had exercised an almost extraordinary cunning these past few years, working under him.
Not quite his right hand man, yet not quite far from the title either – Spike was a particularly large asset to the vampire king, even though he knew that Spike’s self-preservation meant more to him than most anything else, save Drusilla.
“A good night?” Spike’s tone was harsh, “That bitch up in LA killed a good few of our men, Giles. Why you won’t just let me kill her is beyond me.”
The move was quick, effectively startling Spike into submission – and a burst of pain that the proud vampire never let leave his lips. Giles had him pinned up against the wall, one hand against his throat, flexing against the muscles, fingers digging in painfully.
“Because I’ve already told you,” He growled, all traces of the human Giles now gone. On his face he wore a mask, that of his demon – and one born of hatred for Spike’s insolence. “It’s not part of the plan.”
“Screw the plan,” Spike snarled, angrily. “You’re plotting something, Watcher, I know you are.”
Giles backed away then and smiled, almost serenely, all traces of his demon having disappeared. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“No?” Spike held his throat a moment, cocking an eyebrow, “Then how come when I came in here all your bloody lackeys were yammering on about the new slayer?”
Giles smirked a little then, having relented in giving Spike some of the credit he deserved. He wasn’t stupid – he knew when to listen and when information would benefit him most. “We took her hostage, yes.”
Usually, that might be enough to sate Spike’s fears. It was not unheard of that Giles wanted to keep the slayers locked up, prevent another one from coming. This time, though, was different. There was a gleam in Giles’ eye that Spike had never seen before. “Care to elaborate on that, mate?” He cautioned, eyebrows drawing together in a frown.
“I’m not your ‘mate’.” Said Giles, shaking his head, “Let’s get that straight right now. As for the slayer. I imagine she and Angel will be bonding right about now.”
“Angel?! What, are you out of you mind? You put the slayer down there with Angel, my grand-sire Angel?!”
“You know another Angel? Odd. I thought that name would be quite unique…”
Giles’ nonchalance was annoying Spike and he knew it – relished in it.
“What are you playing at?” Spike growled, “He’s crazy. And if he doesn’t kill her first, she’ll do the honours.”
“Perhaps.” Giles smiled, “Or perhaps he’ll escape. I imagine we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Are you deficient? I mean, really… Has someone been putting something in your blood? You let Angel go and he’ll destroy the whole sodding plan. I know him, I hung around with the wanker for long enough. He’ll take your plan and stomp it into the ground and there won’t be enough of you left to pick up the pieces.”
“Spike, unlike some people around here? My plans work. If you don’t agree with them, fine, I take your cautions but don’t think that just because I’ve kept you around me this long, it means you’re running the show. You’re not. I send you on missions that I feel would be best served by your presence. That does not mean you’re irreplaceable, not by a long shot.”
“Listen to me, Angel is a…”
Once again, Spike found himself with a back against the wall. This time, Giles’ fist had been lodged in his stomach. He sputtered, eyes crossing in a short and soon-to-be-forgotten burst of pain.
“I meant what I said, Spike.” Giles snarled, “Don’t push me or you’re liable to find out just how expendable you are.”
The threat was left hanging as Giles turned and stalked out of his chambers.
Spike’s lip curled slightly eyes glowing amber and angry. “You’ll get your comeuppance, mate…” He growled, his voice low as he straightened up, yanking his duster back into place. “And I’ll be the one dancing on your sodding grave…”
Michelle was beyond frustrated. Not only was she scared now, but she was growing annoyed at the guy in the corner. He wouldn’t come into the light, kept offering short bursts of laughter that were starting to unsettle her – he was severely unhinged… And she was locked up in a cell with him.
She didn’t doubt her own abilities. She could take him in a heartbeat – but therein lay the problem. She didn’t want to takehim. He sounded human. Hell, the body shape showed her he was – even though there were a multitude of other things he could be. Michelle needed to keep her strength up because damnit, she was getting out of here.
She screamed again, her voice cracking under the pressure. She’d screamed herself hoarse for the last twenty minutes.
“They’re not going to come.” He told her, shaking his head.
“Then when DO they come?” She spat, whirling back round to face him. Her eyes were wild, face streaked with frustrated tears. She looked like hell, she felt like hell and he wasn’t doing much to help.
“God, you’ve been in here for how long and you’ve never tried to get out?”
“Of course I have,” He growled, and in that moment, she knew he wasn’t human. “I tried for as long as I could, studying them – then the minute I thought about leaving, everything changed. Everything I knew was taken away again…”
Michelle looked around her for something, anything that’d protect her against him. He could be stronger – and crazy? Definitely on the cards. Suddenly, she wasn’t liking the odds.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He said gently, as if reading her own thoughts. “I wouldn’t.”
“How do I know that?”
“I guess maybe you’d have to trust me.”
“No offence. But you’re not human. It’s usually a rule of mine to only trust the living.”
“Sometimes even they can’t be trusted.” Angel intoned, shaking his head. He remembered something then, something from his past, but it was gone as quickly as it had came. He shook his head again, trying to clear the cobwebs. “Who is it?”
“Huh?” Michelle was puzzled.
“Out there. Who you want to go back to?”
“I have a family, a sister. She’s 12 years old.” Said Michelle, “I told her that I’d go home, I promised her… I don’t go back on my promises.”
“Neither did I.”
“Who the hell are you?” She frowned, “You ask me to trust you, but you stay hidden in the shadows where I can’t see you. Show yourself.”
“You don’t want to see me.”
“Would I have asked if I didn’t?”
“You know what I am?”
“I’m siding between vampire or demon. I haven’t quite worked out why you haven’t killed me, but I guess that’ll come. Right now, all I want to know is a way I can get out of here. You can help me.”
“I can’t.” He shook his head wildly, blinking. “I tried to get out of here and… It’s just… It doesn’t work. They’ll beat you.”
“I’ve had worse.”
“No,” He frowned, “You really haven’t.”
“Are you going to show yourself?”
She heard his sigh, deep and plaintive. He stepped out of the shadows then, moving towards her with a simple grace that he’d honed after years of capture through his knowledge of Tai Chi. “You’re hurt.”
“No question there either,” She shook her head, “I’ll live.”
He stopped next to her, reaching out a hand, still wary even though he knew all weapons on her would have been removed. Her shoulder had been dislocated, her face a bloody pulp, but she was still alive, something that shocked Angel.
Maybe Giles had had her put in here so she’d kill him – although, after five years of being here, Angel figured that he’d have done that by now.
“You want me to help you with that?”
Michelle glanced down at her shoulder, wincing a little as the pain came alive again. “I don’t even remember doing that.” She admitted, shaking her head.
“Adrenalin.” Angel deadpanned, moving towards her. “You want me to–”
Michelle nodded once and winced as Angel braced one hand on her shoulder.
“After three,” He warned her, “One two…”
The bone snapped back into place with a crude, grating noise.
“I knew you were going to do that.”
“Sorry.” Angel gestured to her shoulder though, shaking his head, “At least…”
“I know.” She nodded, “Thanks.”
She wiped at her cheeks then, ashamed that she’d let this guy see she’d been crying. “So, which are you?”
“Which what?” It still sounded like it pained him to talk.
“Demon. Vampire. Which?”
“Vampire.” Said Angel, still cautious. “They tossed you in for a reason, you know that, right?”
“Yeah. So I could become Lost Slayer number two…” She rolled her eyes, glancing over the room again.
“Yeah. They didn’t manage to catch the one before me. She put up one hell of a fight.” Said Michelle, absent-mindedly.
This drew Angel’s attention further, “The one before you, what was she called?”
“Faith. Her name was Faith. I’m guessing you had a run in with her.”
If it had been beating, Angel felt sure his heart would have stopped in his chest right then and there. Frustrated, he turned, slammed his fist into the stone wall, letting out a growl of annoyance.
Michelle almost jumped back a foot. “Maybe not a run in then…” She whispered, softly.
“So why the change of heart?” She asked, studying Angel’s face. He looked determined now, eyes drawn together in a frown.
He’d grilled her for fifteen minutes on what she knew of the outside world – the things he’d missed while locked up in here. What she’d told him hadn’t made him happy – not that she’d expected that, of course, but she’d mentioned something – and somewhere along the line things had changed.
She knew his name now, knew who he was trying to go back to – he’d been locked up in here for years without another person to talk to. His reluctance to talk had been understandable, his reluctance to utter his name even more so.
Michelle had known who he was the minute he’d said his name. Everyone simply thought he was dead.
Now, Angel wanted out of here, and he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way.
He turned to look at her, a depth of emotion that scared her rolling beneath the surface of his once soulful brown eyes. “You mentioned LA.” There was nothing soulful about his eyes now.
Angel had been driven to the brink of insanity time and time again and the only thing that had pulled him back were thoughts of Cordelia. The idea that now, she might be dead – or worse – angered Angel to a point he’d never been before.
A long time ago, he’d loved Buffy with all his heart – but it had been Cordelia in those short few months that had opened his heart. He had to find her.
“I mentioned a lot of places,” She frowned, “Why’s LA so special? We’re needed here.”
“You’ve seen what Giles can do, what he’s willing to do. The moment you go back out there he’ll capture you again and this time, you’ll be alone – we won’t be as lucky.”
“You call this lucky?”
Angel nodded, once. “Do you trust me?”
“No.” She said immediately, “Just… Make it look real.”
Angel had never opened a vein in five years, never had the taste of human blood. At first, he worried that once he got his first taste, his demon might take over. Thoughts of Cordelia, his family, stilled that. If he did this, it had to be with Michelle alive. Who knew what he was facing once he got out there – he only hoped it wasn’t sunlight.
His demon rolled forth and Angel stepped forward, grabbing her roughly. She let out a little squeak of fear – much to his demons excitement – and Angel buried his fangs into her throat, feeling the warm liquid flow down his throat.
Only once before had he tasted Slayers blood. It was intoxicating… Captivating… He drank and he drank… Until a pair of hands pushed roughly against his chest. Angel snapped his demon under tight control again, pulling away from Michelle, a growl leaving his lips. He wanted more…
“We wait.” Angel turned away, fingers digging into his palms as he tried to stop himself from going back to her, taking what he craved.
It was an hour later when the guard arrived. New and nervous – still not oriented in Giles’ family just yet – how was he supposed to know that the small pool of blood growing round the girl was the vampires? She had bite marks in her neck, he’d discovered after stunning Angel with the taser.
He kicked the girl for good measure, noting that her eyes had become lifeless. She was dead.
He turned, ready to shout out his warning – when movement behind him made him turn. He was too late. In a move that made Angel cringe, Michelle had removed his head from his body, an explosion of ash showering them.
“You really think he’s just gonna send one guard?”
“I guess we’ll find out.” Said Angel, grabbing Michelle’s hand as the pair of them made a break for the door…