The blonde girl looked up at her best friend’s timid smile and sighed. “Hey Willow.”
The girl sat down beside her on the lunch table and put her thick books down beside her quart of milk. “Are you…are you alright?”
The slayer sighed softly and dropped her chin into her hands, watching the students laugh and go about their lunch hour. “Almost.”
Willow winced slightly at the misery in her friend’s voice. “He can’t be right you know.” Blue eyes lifted up listlessly as the Wicca continued.
“I mean look at it this way: the soul made him more…almost human you know. The man…vampire you loved was Angel. And we all saw him. He was real. Well he was dead, but he was real you know. For touching and stuff. But that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you loved him. And that was real. Right? So what Angelus said about the soul being a parasite can’t be true. What you had was real.”
Buffy took a deep breath before rubbing her arms gently in the chill of the wind. Winter was coming. “Yeah Willow. We were real.” Then she looked up, blue eyes sad.
“I’m just human I guess.” She blinked slightly. “Well, Slayer. And I can’t help look at him and feel like he’s here. And somewhere deep down, a part of me wishes he wasn’t real. That would make being around Angelus…somehow easier.”
“But he’s not ya know. Not Angel.”
At the soft announcement, Buffy frowned. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean is,” Willow licked her lips, choosing her words carefully, “last night, Giles and I were going over some books. You know the really musty kind that smell sorta spicy and all. Anyway, any previous notions we might have had about the soul and the demon was based on assumptions, considering there’s no other vampire running around with a soul. Not willingly anyway. Not that Angelus would have picked this. My point is: Angelus is not the soul. The soul was an entity introduced into his body that tipped the balance towards light, but he’s still a vampire you know. Still a creature of the night.”
Buffy frowned at what the witch was telling her, somehow not grasping her point. “Meaning?”
“Meaning, the vampire in Giles’ bathroom is not the one you loved. Not the one who loved you. His destiny wasn’t the same as Angel’s. Angelus is tied to the oracles because they picked him. Angel is…”
Willow winced at the blunt interjection. “No Buffy. Angel is more like – dead.”
Willow shook her head. “For demons there’s little to do with heaven or hell. They just exist. Angelus wasn’t supposed to go to hell, you sent him there. From what Giles and I could dig up; Angel just…”
“Yeah, but like who’s to say he’s not in heaven. I mean he was good and all. I personally think he’s in heaven. But hey, that’s just me.”
“I’d like to believe that.” Buffy took a deep breath. “What about Cordelia? How does she fit into all this?”
“That was a doozy.” Willow fidgeted in her seat. “Somehow you fit with the soul, and Cordelia…”
“She fits with the demon. Only a vampire would be lucky enough to have two soul mates when one betrays him. We humans never get a break.”
“Thus the vampire with soul. Two entities.”
Buffy smiled slightly at her friend’s perky response. “I get it Willow. I get that they’re different entities. Not that blonde you know.”
For just a moment, Buffy wondered that if Cordelia was the soul to the demon Angelus, did that make her the demon with the soul Angel? Then she shook her head.
Angelus was not Angel. Willow was right. And she was going mad. Besides, vampires made bad boyfriends. That much was a given.
Shaking herself out of the doldrums Buffy took a deep breath. She was in no mood for a pity party. “Anyway, any lead on the demon we toasted last week?”
The Witch winced. “Not very much I’m afraid.” She sighed heavily as she opened one thick book and pointed to a place on the page she’d bookmarked.
“The demon isn’t listed anywhere. I mean there are similarities and there are close matches, but nothing exactly like it. The color is all wrong and the teeth don’t nearly curve out like the one we saw. They have a tiny little bump right under…”
Buffy cleared her throat. “Ah…Willow. Point?”
“Oh yes!” The red head grinned. “Point is: I can’t find the demon.” Her face fell and she sighed again. “Bummer.”
“And the computer chip.”
The hacker’s eyes lip up. “Oh that! Well that’s a different story. I’ve pulled up an inventory of the manufactures of that particular version and let me tell you. Pretty decent work on the silicon on this one. I mean the simple logic circuits were just so…” At the bewildered look on her friend’s face, Willow smile sheepishly. “It’s pretty high tech.”
The slayer nodded thoughtfully. “Meaning expensive. Who’d have that kind of money just lying around?”
Buffy shudder slightly. “I’m in no mood to go down that road. I mean the watcher’s council is as far as I’d put politics into this.”
“But there’s an upside.”
The slayer blinked at the warning tone to her friend’s paradoxical statement. “Oh oh?”
Willow gave her friend a dire look. “The work is exactly like the x-ray scans I got from Angelus’ head. I’d even go as far to say they came from the same maker.”
Instantly Buffy sat up straighter. “So the demon ties in with Angelus’ chip?”
Willow nodded eagerly. “They’re nearly identical.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Which would mean the stupid vampire knows more about it than he was letting on. I’ll kill him.” Then the Slayer leaned back slightly in her chair and took a deep breath.
“Tonight. Right now I so need a little R and R.”
“We could go to the J-Crew opening at the mall.” Willow provided half heartedly. “Hotties there could prove to be helpful distraction.” When Buffy didn’t answer Willow frowned and followed her affixed gaze and raised an eyebrow.
“Or we could do that right here.” Willow mumbled softly as the tall man walked towards Buffy and stood besides the lunch table.
“Why is this becoming a habit?” She smiled slightly, watching the mirrored smile on his face, but it didn’t reach his eyes.
“I think I might be able to shed a little light on your demon problem. Got a minute?”
Buffy patted the bench beside her an ironic twist to her mouth. “Who needs an education anyway? Spill it.”
Cordelia purposefully chose to ignore the heavy implications of being the chosen one. That was new to her. She’d always chalked that name up to the slayer, but she’d be kidding if she said she wasn’t feeling better about the whole thing.
Yeah. They had the Slayer and they had the Wicca. But they picked her. Her – homeless little penniless rich girl. The fact that she was bound to Buffy’s ex just gave her all kinds of wicked ideas. Let them think she’d taken him.
That’d teach them.
Walking down the corridor of the school she frowned. Teach them what, she wondered. To take away Xander? She snorted and rolled her eyes, suppressing the dull ache of being jilted. No. Xander Harris hadn’t been growing on her. No more than moss.
With determined strides she made her way to her literature class. Maybe she could get off for good behavior. Save a few extra ones before dinner time and cut back on the sentence. Oh yeah. That way she could be free in like two or three years.
First order of business, she decided. Graduation and then she’d do her bit for destiny.
Only her confident walk faltered and her delicate little ankle twisted as the first kaleidoscope of colors hit her and then the vision sent her to her knees.
Bright flashes and screams in her head were followed by the garish fangs. Familiar fangs of the demon that had died with a fork in his eye. Only this time the huge gray demon had the man by his throat, claws digging into the man’s skull and abdomen.
And then she saw another. And another.
Angelus was sitting on the couch tossing playing cards into one of the decorative, open skeleton skull of the dead Nunuki beast when he felt the twist in his chest. With a wince, one hand drifted to the dull ache. It was then when he realized it was exactly where his heart should have been.
Looking down he stilled, the card drifting from the fingers of his other hand. “Oh no. Not now.” His gaze skittered up to the glow behind the curtains before the burn settled like pinpricks under his skin. “Fine. Fine! Christ I get the fucking idea!”
Grunting and irate the vampire stood up and walked over to the cloak closet and threw the dark brown coat over his head; one that smelled too much like the watcher for his taste.
And then he ran out into the sunlight in search of his soul.
“I still don’t get why he had to carry me.”
“You were unconscious Cordy. Be glad Xander was around to fetch you.”
“Fetching is all he’s good for anyway.”
Cordelia sat in the library chair the cold pack on her head as the headache nearly ripped right out of her skull.
She looked up at the scoobies huddled around the table; the new dark haired boy sprawled in his chair, swinging it back on its rear legs as he filled them in on how he’d been following the missing experiments until he found out the illicit dealings of the military organization chipping vampires.
The seer just wanted to get the slaying over with. Why did they have to sit there and engage in a symposium? Ignoring Xander’s hurt yelp she fixed her eyes on the new comer.
“So let me get this straight,” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice, “they were using vampire research to make some sort of anti vampire demon and ended up what? Making an Anti people demon instead?”
Riley smiled slightly at the sharp tongued brunette. “Something like that. The demons were vampires.”
Buffy stared at the man. “So you’re saying Angelus would have become one of those…slimey fangy things?”
“Experiment 14 was resilient to most mutations.”
Eyes snapped up to the smoking figure in the library doorway, fangs flashing and eyes burning gold.
Angelus growled; the sound vibrating through the book racks. “Being a few centuries old really builds up the resistance. Let’s see yours.”
“Angelus no!” Cordelia stood out of her chair and Buffy was instantly in front of Riley, but the vampire didn’t make it to his target. As soon as the intent to tear the human limb from limb was clear, the chip sent him howling to his feet.
The entire library fell silent, as the vampire trembled on his hands and knees, cursing profusely, the heel of his hand pressing into his temple as if meaning to reach into the flesh and tear the chip out.
Riley raised an eyebrow from behind Buffy. “No wonder they want this one back.”
Cordelia was the first to move, striding across the library while Xander watched with growing unease and Buffy frowned at the seemingly companionable way she offered him the compress as he stood to his full height still reeling from the pain.
Giles turned to the Commando and frowned. “Beg your pardon?”
Riley shrugged as he watched the grumbling vampire mutter something to the cheerleader who only rolled her eyes. “The chip didn’t work on anyone else. None of them survived the implant. Well you’ve seen the outcome.”
“This one had to live I’m afraid.” Leaning back against the table, Giles crossed his arms as he watched the unsettling sight of Cordelia and Angelus move away from the group, automatically settling into each other’s company.
For a moment he felt bad about leaving the girl home alone with the demon so much, but then this Initiative and the new demon introduced into Sunnydale had been primary on their mind. He watched his slayer’s blue eyes darken as she saw Cordelia laugh at something Angelus said.
“Not that I’m a big advocate of the vampire,” Giles looked at Riley, “but it concerns me that they are conducting such…research that is putting the lives of people in danger.”
“I agree. I’ve been trying to find proof enough to make it stick, but a few wayward demons and corpses aren’t enough with all sorts of crazy things running around this place already.”
Buffy sighed. “That’s the Hellmouth for you.”
“Besides I’m just one man.” He looked up at Buffy pointed. “Which is why I approached you.
The slayer held back her smile.
Giles cleared his throat and faced the redhead still bent over her laptop. “Willow?” Her pretty green eyes blinked up at him. “Did you track down the suppliers?”
The girl nodded, her fingers flying over the keys effortlessly. “It isn’t confirmed, but I’ve isolated the only possible supplier. Technology like this isn’t come by at e-bay you know.”
Xander pretended to rummage through his book-bag as he watched the vampire put one hand on the table beside the cheerleader and lean closer while she ranted.
“Serves you right all the bruises came back, or I would have given you shiny new ones.” She stood under his scrutiny, without a hint of unease, hip leaning against the table.
“Damn the soul had it easy. I miss the bastard.”
“There there.” Cordelia patted his head.
“The hair is off-limits Chase. At least the soul bites fair. You don’t.” He ran a hand back through his hair to fix the spikes. “Besides, I’m playing the damned cowboys and Indians with you; so give it a rest.”
“Ye-hah!” Cordelia glared at him, arms crossed, the headache seemingly lessened now that she was occupied. “After you let the little girl die.”
“You’re wasting your time. I haven’t felt guilt since the 18th century.”
Cordelia sighed and shook her head. “So all you’re going to do is bitch.”
“I am doing something.”
She lifted her head to find his eyes only a few inches above her, his position over her giving him a mighty fine look down her shirt. But she stayed there. Curiosity getting the best of her.
As always. “What?”
“Standard response to unforeseen dilemmas perfected over many centuries.” He paused for effect and smirked. “Nothing!” She snorted with laughter at his quip and Angelus grinned at her, basking in the glow of her wide smile and sparking hazel eyes. “Besides, you didn’t want this gig either; remember?”
“I die and it’s over. Bonus; remember?”
A muscle worked in his jaw and he let out an unwanted sigh. She had to be the most stubborn human he had the displeasure of verbally sparring with. The girl always had some comeback to everything he said and it was just damned unsettling on a woman.
“Does the term self-preservation mean anything to you, Chase?”
“Death can be therapeutic. I won’t ‘feel’ as you so eloquently like to point out all the time. Besides it was lack of self-preservation that got me into saving your fat ass remember?”
He pointed a threatening finger at her; the tip nearly touching her nose as he let his hip slide along hers with a whisper of a touch, testing her boundaries, and when she didn’t pull away, he let the tip of his finger graze her pert little nose teasingly. “Okay that’s three. One more and I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
“That night,” she smirked up at him, the twist of her pretty mouth almost taunting enough to match his own, “you were ready to die as much as I was, fangless.”
Angelus watched her oddly for a moment, his head drawing back to look at her more openly. “Are you kidding me Hazel? Do you think I want to die? Do you think it’s goddamn easy after hundreds of years? Why do you think I made the deal in the first place?”
She raised a cocky eyebrow, leaning closer to him haughtily. “So you don’t tempt the slayer into staking you?”
“The Slayer’s just in heat, she needs to ride someone.”
Cordelia muffled the spurt of laughter, casting guilty glances around her before she cleared her throat. Angelus watched her for a moment, the animated twinkle in her eyes. The infectious smile on her wide mouth.
“Why the hell did you think I’d actually help you? Before I found out I had no choice I mean?”
She blinked up at him, startled by the direct question. She thought of joking. She thought of hedging and she thought of just walking away. But most of all she thought of the way he looked right into her eyes as if nothing in them could faze him.
And for the first time in weeks she found herself relaxing. Almost like she didn’t have to fight to keep the mask in place. “The alternative seemed unthinkable.”
A cocky eyebrow drifted up. “Forgotten the fangs and flesh already?”
“You weren’t doing anything else.” She rolled her eyes and tried to sway the conversation back to sparing, but Angelus wouldn’t let her.
“You shouldn’t have.”
At the slight husk in his voice Cordelia met his eyes and for a moment, just a moment, she thought she saw confused awe battling longing in his eyes. “All said and done?”
But then the look was gone to be replaced by the impassive chill of the vampire’s amber tinted eyes. “No. But I’m choking on the rest.”
“Choke alone.” She slid out from underneath him.
He caught her arm and she was slingshot back against him, for a breath, the others paused as Angelus glowered down at the girl, eyes brimming with gold, nose nearly level with hers.
“I’ve spent more than two hundred years killing, what the hell makes you think I’m suddenly turning over a new leaf Cordelia?”
Held against the hard planes of his chest, Cordelia had to fight the urge to lean closer. Somewhere along the way, the lines had blurred between food and consumer. He wasn’t eating her and she had started to see him as more than a demon.
The change in their affiliation startled her into silence almost as much as it incensed him into sneering. “We are built for certain things baby. Like that guy, Sisyphus, he rolled that damned stone up that mountain and it rolled right back down. Then he got to start all over. That’s what he was good at.”
The young woman bristled at the know-it-all-arrogant tenor of his voice. The glint in his eye was enough to tell her; he figured the reference was lost to her. “No. The difference between Sisyphus and you is that he doesn’t whine all the time.”
It was distracting. Damn distracting the way she leaned back into him, her shoulder softening against his chest, her wrist loosening in his grasp even while she shot back with equal venom, Angelus took a moment to answer.
“Maybe that’s because he’s immortal. At least he isn’t just waiting around to die like you Chase.”
“Well I’m grateful for my mortality. Few people find life good enough for it to last forever. Me? I intend to go out with a bang.” Yanking her arm out of his grasp, she picked up the melting compress, the headache returning tenfold as she left Angelus glaring after her and slumped back into her chair next to Giles.
“Can we get on with the invasion plan already? I have an appointment with my masseuse after this migraine.”
Xander cast one scathing look at the silent vampire behind them as he leaned against the table there; arms and legs crossed, face set in a brooding frown. But it was his eyes that made Xander want to beat the undead stuffing out of him.
His eyes were fixed on Cordelia Chase.
Angelus was cursing all the hell and heavens as he tried to calm the rage mixed with the need to possess the woman who challenged him on every turn. He couldn’t for the unlife of him understand how they were supposed to work together without tearing each other to pieces. Verbally or otherwise.
That or tear each others clothes to pieces.
It was then when he realized the singular train of thought and his eyebrows shot up in realization.
Dammit! He was getting accustomed to her.