Gunn glanced over at Angel, narrowing his eyes in annoyance when the vampire drummed his fingers against the countertop for the fourth time after being told to stop. “Yo, Angel!”
Angel immediately jerked his head around to look at him, his eyes wide. “What?”
“Stop that, man!” Gunn smacked his fingers, grimacing. “It’s making my ears bleed.”
“Sorry.” Angel mumbled, crossing his arms and sighing. He dared a glance at Gunn. Then another, and another, until Gunn slammed his magazine down on the counter and turned to face him.
“What’s goin’ on, Angel?”
“Nothing! I just – ”
“Cut the crap, Peaches.” Spike appeared from behind the counter, resting an elbow on it. He raised an eyebrow at Angel. “It’s your gal, isn’t it?”
Angel frowned at him. Then he sighed, shrugging. “I just…I hate it when she’s mad at me.”
“Don’t we all?” Spike drawled, rolling his eyes. “Maybe if you gave her a chance to prove she can fight – ”
“I know she can fight, Spike.” Angel snapped. He swallowed, shooting Spike an apologetic look. “She’s good. Really good. But after Pylea, I just…I don’t want anything to – ” He sighed again, running a hand through his hair. “If anything happened to her…I could never – ”
He stopped, shaking his head, not wanting to even think of what he would do. Gunn smiled sympathetically and slapped him on the back, getting out of his seat. “I get that, man. Believe me, I do but you gotta give her a chance.”
“Even if only to prove her wrong,” Spike winked, straightening. “But the girl’s got some skill, Angel. No need to worry about – ”
Spike didn’t get the chance to finish. The glass doors of the Hyperion swung open and slammed against the walls as Buffy hauled herself in, a large gash throbbing and bleeding on the side of her face, the white arm of her jumper covered in blood. Tears slid down her cheeks and they were a pasty, pale colour.
“Buffy!” Xander exclaimed, rushing forward, a nauseating anxiety growing in his stomach. Something was wrong here. She didn’t cry, Buffy didn’t cry…
Angel froze, terror washing over him like a wave.
Buffy could barely hold herself up and she nearly collapsed to floor, but Spike was there in an instant, cradling her in his arms.
Angel watched in horror as the tears poured down Buffy’s face, her nails biting into Spike’s shoulders as she clung to him for dear life. Through her sobs, he could hear her muffled words against Spike’s shirt, and they sent a jolt of solid fear through him.
“Darla…and Drusilla…oh God, Cordy…I tried, I tried to stop them, but they – ”
Before he could stop himself, Angel had grabbed Buffy by the shoulders. “Where’s Cordy?” He shook her slightly, dread invading every cell in his body. “What did they do? What did they do to her?” He was yelling, he knew, but he didn’t care, because the most precious thing in the world had been taken from him, and placed into the hands of those who could destroy it.
“They…they took her.” Buffy was having difficulty speaking through her hysteric tears.
“Where?” Angel shook her again, slightly violently. “WHERE???”
“Angel, stop!” Spike growled, pulling him away from Buffy and lifting her into his arms. He swiftly walked over to the couch and laid her down, grabbing her hand. “Do we have a first aid kit?”
“They did something to me,” Buffy was babbling, her breathing hitched. “I…I don’t know what, but my body wouldn’t work…I couldn’t move.” She swallowed down the sob that threatened to escape. “Oh God, I tried to find her but I couldn’t…I could barely walk – ” She buried her head into Spike’s shoulder, her body heaving, hot tears spilling over her cheeks and wetting his shirt. “I let you down…I’m sorry, I tried, I’m so sorry – ”
“Ssh…” Spike whispered, rubbing the back of her neck, “just relax…” he glanced at Angel who was staring wide-eyed at him. When Angel opened his mouth to speak, Spike interrupted him, speaking quietly to Buffy. “Let’s get you cleaned up.” He pushed her back so that her head was resting against the arm of the sofa. Then he looked at everyone else. “I’m gonna do this as quick as I can. Then we’ll work out what we’re going to do.”
“I don’t have fucking time for you to do that!” Angel growled, slamming his fist against the sofa. “They’ve got Cordelia, Spike. I can’t – ”
“She’s in a right state, Angel.” Spike snapped, gesturing towards Buffy. “I want to get Cordy back safely too but we’re not gonna get anywhere until she calms down.”
Gunn stood up suddenly, with such force that his chair scraped against the ground, making the others wince. He gritted his teeth furiously. “She could be dead you ass – ”
“No.” Angel swallowed the sudden nausea, refusing to believe the idea for even a minute.
“They won’t kill her, Angel.” Wesley prayed to God that he was right, trying to silence the alarm growing inside him. It wouldn’t do any good to haveall of them panicking. He put an arm on Angel’s shoulder. “Don’t you see what they’re doing? They want you in return for her.”
Willow nodded. “And they know you’re gonna do everything you can to get her back. If they kill her, what would you have left to fight for?”
“Nothing.” Angel said quickly, his voice low, his heart heavy. “I knew I should have gone, I just knew – ”
“I’m sorry Angel…” Buffy’s small voice drifted up from the sofa and he looked down at her, aware for the first time that she looked truly fragile, so unlike the young woman who had walked into his lobby a few hours before.
Compassion filled him and he squeezed her hand, nodding. “It’s not your fault.” He looked at Spike, noticing that he had already finished cleaning the wound on Buffy’s head and had started on her arm.
“Oh my God!” Fred said suddenly, rushing over to Buffy’s side to take a closer look. “This is a needle mark.” She looked up at the group. “They drugged her.”
“No wonder she couldn’t fight back.” Xander said, his voice low, angry. “I should have known…I could barely recognize her.”
Spike cleaned the needle wound and bandaged it, pushing a strand of blond hair behind Buffy’s ear. Her breathing was slightly more even now, and the colour was back in her cheeks. Her heart drummed steadily and she appeared calmer than before, as the drug slowly began to wear off. He kissed her forehead and stood, addressing Angel. “Alright mate. Let’s find out what happened.”
Consciousness slowly drifted over her, and Cordelia was hit with excruciating agony in almost every part of her body. Her head throbbed and spun as though it had been slammed into a wall, her stomach felt nauseous and her arms and legs felt cut, bruised and broken. She had been bound to a chair, and her binds felt abrasive against her wrists and ankles. Laboriously, she tried to open her eyes, her eyelids flickering in pain.
The room was dark, so dark she could barely see anything at all. The surrounding smell made the nausea in her stomach increase – she faintly recognised it as dead fish and dirty water.
God, where was she?
“Well, well, well…” Cordy looked up at the familiar voice, her heart sinking as soon as she identified it. Her eyesight was still a little blurry and she was only just able to make out the silhouettes of Darla and Drusilla in the darkness. “Look who’s awake.”
“Darla,” Cordelia spat, gathering whatever energy she could, “Why am I not surprised? You need a hobby…”
Darla laughed lightly, clapping her hands. Then without warning she slapped Cordelia across the cheek. Hard.
The slap stung but Cordy shook it off, raising her eyes towards Darla once again, a smirk crossing her lips. “Was that supposed to hurt? What’s the matter Darla? Angel’s rejection weakened your bite?”
“Daddy’s little slayer, are we?” Drusilla drawled, stepping forward and grabbing Darla’s arm before she could raise it.
“Bite me.” Cordy said dryly.
“What’s the hurry?”” Darla’s smile was feral as she leaned down, her face inches from Cordelia’s. “You put up quite a fight. But then we drugged you. And your little friend.”
Realisation sunk in. “You’re cowards.” Cordy said, her voice weak, yet angry.
“No, we’re just efficient.” Darla replied casually. “And a little pissed off. You have something that belongs to me.”
Cordy rolled her eyes. “He doesn’t belong to anyone.”
“Angelus is mine, he always was before that filthy soul.” Darla growled. “And then there was you, you little bitch.”
“Cry me a river, Blondie.”
Darla moved suddenly behind Cordelia, grabbing her by the hair and yanking her head back. Cordy cried out, tears stinging her eyes at the sudden, sharp pull. Darla leaned down, rubbing her cheek against Cordelia’s, her lips brushing against her ear. “I’m gonna enjoy torturing you, sweetheart…”
“This is your stupidest plan yet, Darla,” Cordy bit, swallowing her sudden fear, “you think Angel’s just gonna hand himself over to you and turn evil again? He’d die first.”
“But would he let you die?” Drusilla sang, her tone patronising. She dragged her nail over Cordelia’s cheek. “Such pretty, pretty eyes. I think I’ll eat them up.” She leaned in, her voice just above a whisper. “Daddy’s toy soldier? Wind you up and march, march, march… could he bear to live without his little plaything?”
“I’m not his – aah…” Cordy closed her eyes in pain as Drusilla silenced her, slicing the soft skin of her cheek with a sharp fingernail. She squirmed in her seat but the bounds held her in place, as did Darla’s firm grip on her head.
“This is fun.” Drusilla giggled, sticking the bloody nail into her mouth. She closed her eyes, moaning. “Mmm, I can see why Daddy loves her…”
“Shut up, Dru.” Darla snapped, sliding her own fingers over the cut. Cordy flinched. Darla shoved Cordelia’s head forward and walked around her, grabbing her arm in a tight, bruising grip. She untied the rope around it and lifted it into the air, then abruptly tilted it at an odd, uncomfortable angle. Cordy winced.
“What are you – ”
“Snap, snap, snap.” Drusilla snickered.
It happened in a split second. In a sharp, deft movement, Darla broke Cordelia’s arm.
A scream tore out of Cordy’s throat and she heard it echo through her head as a burning pain spread up and along her arm. Hot tears coursed down her cheeks and she blinked several times as her vision went blurry. Her efforts to curl into herself failed due to the bounds holding her in place, and she whimpered, unable to stop herself.
Darla grinned, walking away and reaching down over a table placed in one of the corners of the dark room. When she straightened, there was a mobile phone in her hand. She grinned menacingly, flipping it open. “Now *this* is the fun part.”
He was making her head hurt.
Buffy sighed as she watched Angel pace a groove into the floor of the hotel. His body was tense and fear radiated off him in waves. It was making her head spin, and his panic was doing nothing to quell the growing dread in her own heart. Spike’s hand on her shoulder was reassuring but she still felt sick to her stomach, and her head still hurt from the blow she had taken.
She had calmed down considerably since the drug had worn off and had been able to tell the group what had happened with Cordy. But the panic inside her hadn’t subsided and by the looks of everyone else, they all felt the same way.
The atmosphere in the lobby of the hotel was morose, and each of her friends wore an anxious expression – which also, incidentally, did nothing to calm her apprehension. Everyone was staring worriedly at the vampire in the centre of the foyer as he walked backwards and forwards, his body rigid, his face sullen.
Buffy finally stood, rubbing the back of her neck. “Angel, I’m so sor – ”
“It’s not your fault,” Angel said quietly, running a hand through his hair, “you tried to protect her.” He shook his head, palming his face. “This is my fault. She went into that alley because of me, because I wouldn’t let her go by herself. She was trying to prove a point.” He whimpered lowly, “God, this is all my fault…”
Buffy felt her eyes sting, and she blinked quickly, taking comfort in Spike’s presence when he took a step closer to her, pressing his palm against the small of her back. His voice was low when he spoke, his tone serious.
“We’ll find her, Peaches.”
Angel glanced at him. “She’s still alive. I know she is,” his voice was broken, soft, as though he were reassuring himself, “I’ll never forgive myself if…I couldn’t cope – she has to be.”
Buffy nodded. “She is. And we’ll find her, Angel. I promise.”
“You *promised* to take care of her too,” Gunn snapped, rising from his seat, anger and helplessness getting the better of him. “That bit the damn dust – ”
Buffy’s heart sank.
“Gunn.” Wesley warned, his voice firm, “Calm down. Fighting with each other is going to get us nowhere. The situation is grave. Cordelia is in danger and we are not going to let anything happen to her but arguing and pacing a groove into the floor – ” he shot a pointed look at Angel who immediately stopped, “is not going to return her safely to us.”
Gunn stared at him for a few seconds. Then he huffed, and glanced at Buffy, sinking back into his seat. “Sorry.”
She waved him off. “No, I’m sorry, I should’ve…” she trailed off, biting her lip. “Drusilla just came out of nowhere.”
“You couldn’t have known, luv.” Spike wrapped his arm around her shoulders and she accepted the embrace gratefully, her tired body sinking into his. He felt wonderful, like a strong and steady wall when everything around her was falling apart.
They had only just arrived.
How had it all gone so wrong?
“We need to do something.” Willow said, breaking the tension and earning several sharp looks for her trouble. She swallowed. “Um, sorry. I have a knack for stating the obvious.” Behind her, Xander patted her back.
“Do we have a plan?” Fred asked from behind the counter.
“Here’s the plan,” Angel leapt up and threw open the doors of the weapons cabinet, grabbing his broadsword, a crossbow and pocketing a stake, “I find Cordelia, kill Darla and Drusilla and bring Cordy home safely.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “There’s a plan.”
Angel ignored him, grabbing his coat.
“Hold on, Angel.” Wesley grabbed his arm. “Where on earth do you propose to start looking?”
“I don’t know, Wes. Right now I don’t care. All I know is that I have to find her. I can’t just sit here and – ”
“We all want to find her Angel.” Wesley said gently, “And we’ll work better as a team. Sit down, let’s sort out what we’re going to do. Searching blindly is just going to waste time and could be detrimental to Cordy’s safety.”
Angel stared at him. “I have to find her.”
“We will.” Wesley said, his voice firm. “I know it’s difficult Angel, but you must be patient.”
After a few quiet seconds, the vampire finally relented. “Fine.” He took a seat between Gunn and Willow on the setae, dumping his weapons on the ground.
“Right.” Wesley let out a breath. “So – ”
A shrill ring interrupted him. Every eye in the room shot to the telephone that sat on the counter. Angel stared at the phone in shock, then glanced at Wesley.
The answering machine kicked in. “Angel Investigations, we help the helpless. We’re sorry we’re unable to take your call at the moment but please leave a message after the tone and we’ll get back to you.”
It all happened in a split second. Angel lunged for the receiver, clutching it tightly in his right hand and holding it up to his ear.
There was a pause. Then, “Darling boy…”
Fear coiled around Angel’s heart. “Darla.” He spat the name.
Spike immediately came to stand opposite Angel. Wesley, Gunn and Fred moved behind the counter, and Buffy, Xander and Willow walked over, standing behind Spike. Every eye was on Angel, every ear straining to hear Darla’s words.
“Such hatred!” Darla laughed. “Oh Angelus…I miss the love with which you said my name.”
“I never loved you.” Angel growled.
Darla’s laughter ceased and her voice became low, deadly. “Do you really think insulting me is going to save your little Cordelia?”
“If you hurt her – ”
“Oh Angel…” Darla sighed melodramatically, “When will you learn that threats don’t work? They only serve to put her in more danger.”
“What do you want, Darla?” Angel snapped.
“Oh darling boy, isn’t it obvious?” Darla crooned. “I want you. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
Spike switched the speakerphone on and Angel placed the receiver back into its cradle.
“I want you back, Angelus.” Darla continued. “I can’t bear what you’ve become. First the slayer, now this little bitch.”
Angel heard a loud thumping sound in the background, like a solid fist connecting with flesh. Cordy groaned, then whimpered slightly. His heart jolted. “Don’t hurt her, please – ”
“Already have.” Darla giggled. “And I plan on doing much worse…”
There was a shuffling sound and a maniacal laugh sounded through the line. Angel’s eyes widened and locked with Spike’s.
“Drusilla.” Spike whispered.
“Oh Daddy…” Drusilla whispered seductively, “She is beautiful. I can see why you love her.” Angel heard Cordelia’s heartbeat pounding louder and louder, which meant that Drusilla was nearing her. There was a short, strange noise – then Cordelia screamed, a blood curdling sound that made all the blood in Angel’s body freeze.
“Mmm…” Drusilla murmured, slurping slightly. “She tastes good too.”
“No – ” Angel choked. Opposite him, he saw Fred and Willow clamp their hands over their mouths and turn away. Buffy had her face pressed against Spike’s back, her eyes tightly closed. Wesley looked anxious, Xander looked terrified and Gunn looked as though he wanted to pummel something.
“Don’t do this, Dru…” Spike said softly, his expression a mask of sadness. Buffy’s hold on his arm tightened but he didn’t seem to notice.
Drusilla laughed loudly, crazily. Then suddenly she stopped, her tone snappy. “You don’t get a say, my sweet. I came to you, again and again and again…” she drifted off, her voice forlorn, “and you turned me away. Bad Spike.”
Spike closed his eyes. “Dru – ”
“Bad Spike!” She screeched, making everyone in the lobby of the hotel wince. A deafening smack sounded again and Angel felt his stomach lurch as the distinct sound of Cordelia brokenly panting could now be heard – as though she were holding in a sob.
Once again there was a shuffle. Then, “Drusilla, my love, when did you start smoking?” Darla sang, her tone heavy with sardonic delight. “Put that out right now.”
“Certainly…” Dru giggled, feigning cluelessness. “But where?”
“Oh God…” Fred whispered, turning her head into Wesley’s shoulder.
Cordelia screamed in agony, as Drusilla stubbed the cigarette into her good arm, the pain making her skin scorch and her eyes water. She whimpered like a wounded animal and in that split second the strength she had sustained so defiantly cracked. A sob escaped her throat and after two excruciating attempts to move, she hung her head limply, resignedly, as her arm throbbed and blistered in pain.
Angel doubled over, grabbing his stomach as the bile crept up his throat. He found he couldn’t breathe, which was odd since he had never needed to, but now the lack of air seemed to be suffocating him. The fear and nausea bubbling inside him made him feel dizzy. Warm hands grabbed his arms in an attempt to steady him, and he recognized them as Buffy’s.
Darla laughed sadistically. “Goodbye, lover.” The line went dead.
Angel pushed Buffy’s hands away and ran out into the courtyard, collapsing, vomiting onto the grass. He coughed and his body shuddered as he struggled to regain control of it, but every time he thought of Cordelia the bile rose in his throat once again.
Back in the lobby, no one spoke. Willow clasped her fingers against her mouth, not bothering to hide the tears that wet her cheeks. Wesley’s eyes were moist as he tried to console Fred, and Gunn was gripping the counter hard enough to leave imprints on it.
Buffy swallowed the lump in her throat. “This isn’t happening…”
“It is.” Spike said shortly, gravely.
“Way to make her feel better, Spike.” Xander bit.
“There’s no fucking point!” Spike snapped, his shoulders tense. “You want fairytales and happy endings Harris? Tough. Cordelia’s in hell right now, and you’re acting like everything’s fucking peachy – ”
“I am not.” Xander growled through gritted teeth. “Don’t talk to me like I don’t care, you bas – ”
“Alright!” Gunn yelled, slamming his fist onto the table. “This ain’t helping anyone, especially not Cordelia, and as someone who *definitely* cares about her more than you two, I’m only gonna say this once – if you don’t have anything useful to say, shut the fuck up.”
Spike and Xander both glowered at each other, then looked away.
“We have to do something.” Wesley said softly, shaking his head. “Before this kills Cordelia. Or worse…” he stared out into the courtyard, “both of them.”
“Both of – ” Willow looked at him questioningly, then followed his gaze to Angel, on his knees in the courtyard. “Oh.”
“Whatever we do, we have to do it fast.” Buffy said, glancing at Angel through the darkness. “Cordy doesn’t have much time.”
The grave truth stood before them all – Cordelia didn’t have much time. But Buffy hoped and prayed for all their sakes, especially Angel’s, that she had enough.