51: That Night. . .
“Last one,” Cordelia delicately filed Faith’s pinky fingernail into a smooth oval as she sat cross-legged on the edge of her bed. The back of the Slayer’s chair was positioned flush with it, Faith straddling the seat and leaning over. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”
Cordelia’s impromptu salon session came at the end of a long day. There was only so much television and gossiping the two of them could cover, especially since Faith was not very big on coughing up details. During the morning, Cordy had napped making up for the hours of the night when she had not slept.
She woke up when a delivery guy showed up with some flowers, a gorgeous mix of colors that brightened up the neutral tones of her hospital room. “They’re from Angel.” A little smile turned into a big grin as Cordelia confirmed her theory by opening the attached note.
“So what’s it say?” Faith was not shy about asking. “Doesn’t seem like a guy who’s got it bad for his ex if you know what I mean.”
“You were there. You heard what Angel said.” Lifting the card out of its small envelope, she stared down at the single word written there. It wasn’t even an apology, just ‘later’ as if that was some kind of threat hanging over her head. “Pfft, he didn’t even say ‘Get Well Soon’ or ‘Sorry I Was a Jerk’.” It was signed with an ‘A’ rather than his full name.
Shoving the card back into the envelope, she tossed it onto her bedside table. If he thought a bouquet of flowers was going to make up for comparing her kisses to Buffy’s then Angel had another thing coming. “It just says ‘later’ as if I don’t already expect him to come see me. Hello, I am languishing here.”
“Yeah,” Faith’s sardonic snort drew a sideways glace from Cordelia. “You got it real tough.”
Cordelia turned on her side, propping her head in her hand. She plucked at her hospital gown with the other. “Who designs these things, anyway?”
Not long after lunch, Bev came over with some of her stuff. Much to Cordy’s eternal gratitude, she discarded the dreary hospital gown in favor of an emerald green pair of silk short pajamas that came with a matching robe.
“I didn’t realize they would be quite that short,” Bev had pointed out the way the robe barely covered the top of her thighs. “Oh well, at least those young doctors will have something to brighten their day.”
Her grandmother stayed most of the afternoon until Cordelia finally reminded her that this was her Bingo Night. “Don’t stick around on my account. Faith says the gang is planning on bringing pizza and resear— school stuff over.”
It took a little more pressure, but Bev finally agreed to go. Cordelia sent her off with a warning to be home before midnight.
“I won’t turn into a pumpkin, dear.” Laughing cheerfully, Bev pointed out that she was no Cinderella.
Glancing at Faith who was no help at all, sitting there closed-mouthed with that knowing dimpled expression on her face, Cordelia told Bev, “It’s just that there’s gonna be….”
Hmm. Good question. How did one say that there was going to be a plague of locusts in town by midnight tonight without actually saying the words ‘plague of locusts’?
“Nasty weather tonight,” Cordelia told her only to experience a sinking feeling for lying to her grandmother.
Bev opened her purse and fished around for her car keys. “Funny, but I thought the weather was supposed to be perfect for the next couple of days.”
Just going for the truth, “Well, uh, it’s actually not that kind of storm. It’s a plague of locusts. Nasty bug things,” Cordelia shuddered.
“Locusts,” Bev let out a curious huff. “Not exactly the weirdest thing I’ve seen in this town. Sounds like I should put the top up.”
Faith waited until the door closed behind Bev before commenting, “That hardly fazed her. Maybe you should rethink the part about keeping her in the dark.”
“No freakin’ way.” Cordelia was not about to go there. “I want to be able to have a conversation that doesn’t have the words demon goo or vampire dust in it.”
Rummaging through the gym bag that Bev brought, full of clothes and personal items, Cordelia pulled out her makeup bag. She flicked a look toward Faith’s nails and sing-songed, “Someone needs a manicure.”
“Somebody stake me.”
“I’ve seen walking dead with better manicures than that,” Cordy wrinkled up her nose as she took a closer look. “Angel’s hands are so…so…”
The snapping of Faith’s fingers in front of her face got her attention. “Enough with the drooling, Cor. Sheesh! Screw him.”
Thoughts about Angel were not so easily shrugged off. When Cordelia said as much, Faith gave her a hard stare. “I wasn’t saying you should. Just screw him. It’s the best cure I know to get a guy out of my head.”
Cordelia stared back, wide-eyed and helpless to prevent the flash of heat flooding her cheeks because it was all too easy to imagine. Being skin to skin with Angel was a frightfully thrilling prospect. “Angel’s cursed, a no-boner. One moment of bliss and we get Angelus, so… not a good idea.”
She started filing Faith’s nails. After a few seconds, Cordy felt her heart thudding in her chest as her friend pointed out, “For a vamp, Angel’s kind of a gentleman. Who’s to say he wouldn’t just be willing to get you off?”
Sensing the barely restrained laughter in Faith’s voice, Cordelia focused on her task. For some reason, this just was not the same as talking to Harmony or one of the other cheerleaders about the guys at school. She could run rings around them when it came to talking about this stuff.
When you did not have much practical experience, it was critical to talk a good game. So why was her tongue suddenly knotted up? A soft voice in her head suggested maybe because it actually meant something this time.
“Hellooooo, he’s a vampire.” Faith should get that being a Slayer, after all.
Faith snorted, “Did that make a difference when you had your tongue down his throat? I don’t think so. Face it Cor, the vamp is a hottie. If I thought I had half a chance, I’d love to take him for a ride.”
“Hey!” Cordelia’s head snapped up.
“Watch the nail file,” laughed Faith as she held her hands in the air narrowly avoiding being accidentally stabbed. “Just saying you should make your move now before Buffy realizes what she’s missing.”
Tugging Faith’s hand back into position, Cordelia resumed shaping her nails into smooth ovals. “Angel’s a friend. That’s all. It can’t be anything more than that.”
Cordelia finished the rest of Faith’s manicure in silence announcing, “Last one,” when she was satisfied that her friend’s fingernails no longer looked like ragged claws. “Which one, Sunset Red or Volcano?”
Faith never had a chance to answer. There was a very brief knock on the door. It swung open to reveal Buffy holding a huge smiley-face balloon with dangling blue and yellow curly ribbons, Xander carrying three pizza boxes, Willow holding what looked like a plant potted in a ceramic frog, and Giles clutching a couple of worn leather-bound books to his chest.
“We’re here to save the day!” Xander grinned widely. “Chasing boredom away. Bringing munchy goodness. Bearing gifts.”
“Hee! I like that part,” Cordelia tossed the nail care items back into her makeup bag and put it aside. “Gifts are always welcome.”
Buffy tied the ribbon onto the top bed railing. “It was this or ‘Congratulations, It’s a Girl’.” The yellow smiley balloon was humongous. “The gift shop was about to close.”
“Hence the froggy?” Cordelia asked as she took the plant and set it on the table next to Angel’s elegant bouquet. She figured the gift shop was running low on the good stuff by this time of the evening.
“No,” Willow patted the ceramic butt of the chubby frog pot, “I just thought he was cute.”
Cordelia’s eyebrow arched. “Cute? Not the word I was thinking.” At Willow’s look of confusion, she cleared it up for her, “Tacky.”
“I see you’re feeling much better,” Giles commented as he stepped in to referee any ensuing argument. None resulted. Cordelia tagged on a thank you to Willow whose frown and pout vanished.
“I feel fine,” Cordelia assured Giles when she turned her attention back to him. “The doctor is keeping me another night, though. He thought he saw something funky on one of my tests.”
Murmurs of concern sounded throughout the room. Giles asked, “Which test?”
“Some brain thing,” she waved it off. “Something about activity that shouldn’t be there which was weird. He said it might be the new tech using the machine, so he wants me to have it repeated in the morning. No big.”
“Cor, you got hit by meteor debris. That’s not exactly small potatoes,” Xander lost that usual quip in his voice sounding all too serious. He put the pizza boxes down on the end of the bed and sat on the edge, but struggled to speak further.
“Enough with the doom and gloom.” Cordelia squeezed his hand for a second and smiled, “You’ll have enough to worry about if you let my pizza get cold.”
As they gorged themselves on pizza, the group talked over Giles’ discoveries and their knowledge to date. The Watcher had found approximate matches for the demon who attempted to kidnap Cordelia. He showed her two pictographs and read out the descriptors. Though both he and Faith had seen the demon, Cordelia had an up-close and personal view.
“It doesn’t say here that he had bad breath, but trust me. Eew!”
Giles stared down at the open book she had handed back to him. “Yes, I’ll be certain to make note of that,” he commented dryly. “So it’s official. Our demon is—”
“A Crosathnam mercenary,” Angel cut off the Watcher’s revelation with one of his own as he stepped into the room closing the door behind him.
Looking a little put out, Giles closed his book. “Precisely.”
Cordelia met Angel’s gaze, holding steadily for several seconds until she started looking for signs of injury. There were none to be seen. The evidence from the meteor shower was long gone and the deep bruises from his fight with Spike had finally faded away. He looked good, very good. All she could think about was Faith’s advice.
Her body awakened instantly at the thought of it, licks of fire rushing along her chest and throat, tingles settling into an achy sensation between her thighs. It was probably too much to hope that he did not notice. So there was no use worrying about trying to hide it.
Flicking her gaze back up to his, “I thought you’d be here later.” Placing an emphasis on the last word left no doubt that she referred to his card and to his promise.
“Hey, the sun hasn’t fully set,” Buffy pointed out the potential danger. There was only a glimmer of it left along the horizon. “You were in a hurry to get here.”
“I came through the tunnels.”
Cordelia watched Buffy step closer to Angel. “What’s the rush? You already sent me flowers.”
Not that she was keeping score, but Cordy figured the look on Buffy’s face as she looked over at the gorgeous bouquet was definitely worth a few bonus points. “I thought your grandmother gave them to you.”
“Nope, Bev bought me new nail polish and the latest Cosmo.”
“Oh,” Buffy tried to sound like it did not matter, but failed miserably. Still staring at the flowers, she commented, “They’re very pretty.”
No longer attached to an IV, Cordelia climbed out of bed, not bothering with her slippers. Walking over to Angel, she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you for the flowers.”
Before he could say anything, she turned away to ask Giles, “So what else do you know about this Chrysanthemum demon?”
“Crosathnam,” corrected Giles as he adjusted his tie. “Its unique abilities allow it to produce detailed disguises making it relatively impossible to detect. However, like most bipedal species, it is vulnerable to any weapon that is sturdy enough to pierce its hide.”
The problem was not going to be how to kill the demon. It was finding him in the first place. Angel had one suggestion, “This demon can’t be working alone. We know from our first encounter the night we found the relic that there has been an influx of demons and vampires who have come to Sunnydale for the ritual. Someone has to know more about it. I’ll start at Willy’s.”
“Um, assuming they even let you in the door,” Buffy seemed to doubt it. Cordelia looked puzzled enough that she was given an explanation. “Willy has a bouncer now. There was a fight. Angel apparently bounced him pretty hard yesterday.”
Gaping, Cordelia turned around to face Angel. “You don’t look like road kill.” She eyed him up and down again looking for any sign of injury she might have missed.
He sounded more amused than pissed off, the corner of his mouth tugging in that telltale way. “Guess not,” she shrugged casually, “considering you spared Spike & Dru their creepy unlives again.”
Any hint of a smile vanished replaced by a stern look. “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Maybe I want to talk about it now.” Cordelia had to crane her neck up they were standing so close. “I sent Buffy after you. Wasn’t a Slayer enough help?”
Angel exchanged glances with Buffy, a look that Cordelia caught, but could not explain. Though she figured it had something to do with their little walk down memory lane last night. Not knowing what they talked about or whether Angel let Buffy do more than just reminisce about old times was driving her crazy with curiosity.
Hands on her hips, she was too focused on Angel to notice the way the silky material of her pajama top strained at the top button until his eyes dropped down to her cleavage. They strayed further down to the exposed length of her smooth legs before taking the slow trek back up. He had a way of making her body tingle just by looking at it.
“Trust me, Cordy.”
Dru was the one she did not trust. There was no telling what she had said to Angel. It seemed clear that he had gone there to dust them both, to put an end to the danger they posed.
She had been afraid for him going there when he was still recovering from injuries. It did not surprise her that Angel could face down Willy’s burly bouncer without any serious injury, but those two were another story. It was not just physical danger to consider. Drusilla’s wild imaginings were uppermost in her mind.
Sending Buffy was done to protect Angel, but Cordelia had thought it would be insurance against him discovering what Drusilla had in mind. Buffy knew none of it, Cordelia was certain. If the Slayer had a hint that Dru planned to teach Cordy how to make Angel a very happy vampire, their conversation this morning would have been a lot different.
That was only the half of it, though. The rest of the vision truly scared her. The part about blood and death, demons and destruction, pain and woe made her wonder if real happiness was even something to consider. Or if it was all Drusilla’s way of hinting that Angel was about to lose his soul and take her down with him.
She had to know what Drusilla revealed to him.
“Just so you know I’m not dropping the subject,” she warned him stepping back so that she had a little more space. Only he moved right back into it. “Later—”
Her voice trailed off as Cordelia noticed Angel’s attention was focused over her shoulder where Xander, Giles and Willow were still standing. Before she could glance that way, he reached down to pick up the silk robe piled up at the foot of her bed. Wrapping it around her shoulders, Angel held it, waiting for her to put her arms through the sleeves.
Tying her belt into a bow, Angel’s icy gaze melted again as he saw the quizzical look on her face. “You looked cold,” he explained with a stuttered pause.
“Thanks,” Cordelia muttered turning slowly to find the others looking anywhere except at her. “Why do I get the feeling one of you three was staring at my ass?”
A wheezing cough sounded as Giles looked up from his open book. “Well, I assure you that it wasn’t me.”
The laughter that followed broke the building tension in the room. Giles managed to turn the conversation back to his discoveries on the Crosathnam demon, the Rites of Tavrok and details gleaned from the obelisk.
“I am very close to determining the identity of the demon god described within the prophecies,” he announced. “Several symbols on the obelisk narrow the list quite considerably.”
Angel asked several questions that made a lot of sense…to Giles, anyway. Cordy had no idea why it was important that a whosiwhatsis symbol was placed above or below the whatchamacallit one. She just found it interesting that Angel seemed so involved in the whole conversation, like he was determined to ensure that this particular Big Bad did not actually get to enjoy the apocalypse.
“Excellent,” Giles looked pleased. “I had not considered the possibility that the two symbols represented a divergence from the original form. That would mean,” he flipped through several pages of the book and mumbled his way through one or two passages, “there are only two possible candidates.”
“Go Angel,” whooped Cordy semi-enthusiastically. “Moving along now. Let’s get to the part where the evil uglies are planning to sacrifice me. Priorities, that’s all I’m saying.”
Giles no longer looked so thrilled at divulging the details of his research. “Ah, yes, well perhaps we should discuss that in general.”
“We can discuss it in plenty, too,” Cordelia insisted. “Don’t skimp on the details.”
When Giles turned pale and muttered, “Oh dear,” she started feeling a little queasy, too. Whatever news he had on the subject was not going to be pleasant.
Wavering on her feet a little, the ache in her head throbbing a bit, Cordy felt her back shored up by the hard wall of Angel’s torso. His hands were a reassuring weight against her shoulders. Her breath caught in her throat, trapped there as she waited for Giles to break whatever news he had about the demony plans for making her a sacrifice.
“The Crosathnam demon spoke of the Rites of Tavrok,” Giles told the group in general. “It is a ritual shared by a number of demon cultures that require cross-dimensional transit. Some of these creatures possess godlike powers. They can access our dimension in some partial or minimized form, attaining worshippers despite their limitations in interacting on this plane of existence.”
“Not those kind of details, Giles.” There was a little growl in Cordelia’s voice as she told him, “Skip ahead to the part about me.”
Angel’s thumbs were moving along the knotted muscles of her shoulders, slipping up to the tight cords of her neck instinctively massaging away the tension there. No one noticed his hands beneath the veil of her hair. They were all caught up in the horror that Giles was divulging and even though Cordelia heard what he was saying, it was hard not to focus on Angel’s touch.
“There are usually several victims involved in the ritual,” Giles explained with a gulp. “Karla Brewer was the first chosen. You are obviously the second.”
Willow obviously remembered details of the future parts of the prophecy. “There are three others, so five in all.”
“Why Cordelia?” asked Xander.
Buffy let out a laugh that seemed rather out of place. “Sorry,” she apologized when everyone turned to stare at her. “It’s just that I was remembering what we were talking about in the car yesterday.”
Joining in on the fun, Willow’s tittering turned into a series of little snorts. She could barely breathe as she shared the joke with Cordelia, “Y’know…virgin sacrifices,” who gave her an annoyed look.
“So, what’s your point? It’s not like I don’t qualify as sacrifice material.”
Angel was statue-still behind her obviously having understood what she meant. Great. Now everyone knew. Though his hands stilled, their comforting weight did not disappear as she thought it might.
Willow slapped a hand over her own mouth when she realized no one else was laughing. She should have left the hand in place because her jaw gaped open as soon as she let go. “Oh. Really?” Staring at Cordelia as if she had suddenly transformed into a different person, and then back at Xander who turned beet red before slinking into the corner of the room, Willow stuttered in surprise, “Gosh. I..I…You never….Wow, I…I’ll just shut up now.”
“You’re a virgin, Cor?” Grinning, Faith spoke up for the first time since the others had entered the room. She looked surprised, but not remotely judgmental.
“What’s the big deal? Is it so hard to believe that I’m just very selective?”
“No. It’s cool,” Faith shrugged. At least she was talking to her when the others all seemed incapable of putting two words together. “I was just thinking,” Cordy saw mischief dancing in Faith’s eyes as she glanced up at Angel standing behind her. “There’s one sure way to avoid being a virgin sacrifice. Find someone to pop your cherry.”
Practically leaping into action, Cordelia moved out of Angel’s gentle hold to walk across the room. She snatched the old demonology book out of Giles hands and blindly started to flip through the pages.
“I don’t think you’ll find that kind of instruction in there,” Giles held out a hand for his book, fear for its safety written on his face.
She shoved it back at him. “What am I supposed to do, hold auditions? The winner takes care of my little problem?”
“Cordy—”, she heard Angel issue a low word of caution.
Anger brewed in his eyes as she whipped around to face him. “If that’s all that’s keeping me from being sliced and diced on some demon altar, then I say Faith has the right idea. It should not be that hard to fix this. Hell, even Xander has the right equipment.”
Angel struggled with stormy emotions. She could read the subtle changes on his face and caught a glimpse of gold and amber glinting in his eyes before the warm brown depths returned. One glimpse of fury and then his face was a calm mask again making her wonder if she imagined it.
Reason returned for them both as Cordy took in long gasps of air, settling down. “Well, I wouldn’t do that.”
There was no response. Did she honestly expect Angel to volunteer? Impossible, even if he wanted to.
When the awkward silence stretched out to an uncomfortable length, Giles finally cleared his throat, taking the initiative to speak. “There is no certainty that links Cordelia’s…ah… circumstances with that of the prophecy, although it is likely the chosen sacrifices will share some common ground.”
“The chrysanthemum guy told me he needed my purity,” Cordelia pointed out. “I got the hint.”
“He referred to you as one of the Varstrae.” Giles looked intrigued by her words rather than taking them at face value. “Purity could mean many things. A virginal state is certainly one of them, but it could also refer to a purity of heart, of spirit, of something meaningful that is necessary to the ritual or to the demon for whom the sacrifice is being made.”
“So not helpful,” Cordy rolled her eyes.
Picking up his other book, Giles told her, “Now that you mention it, I think that I recall a line or two that might give us more information. Unfortunately, the text is in a dialect of ancient Sumerian that I am somewhat unfamiliar with. Some of the subtleties of the language could be lost on me.”
“Oh.” Cordy blinked at the significance of his words feeling queasy in response. Giles had actually admitted he did not know everything.
“The Watcher’s Council is sending someone to assist us,” he announced. “We are actually very close to making the discovery ourselves, but they felt it necessary.”
Buffy leapt to her Watcher’s defense, “You were doing great on your own. Why should they butt in?”
Adjusting his glasses higher onto the bridge of his nose, Giles gave her a slight smile. “If the events of the prophecy all come to pass, the effects will have worldwide impact, far more than just the Hellmouth. I am not beyond accepting a little help.”
It seemed to Cordelia that any more details were going to have to wait. Giles told her that he did not want to get into the actual descriptions of the sacrificing itself because he felt it unnecessary. He was more concerned with the reasons Cordelia had been chosen. Knowing that might provide some insight to the ritual itself and a way to forestall the fulfillment of this prophecy, he was open to looking at this problem from new angles.
“Tonight marks a significant event within the timeline of the prophecy,” Giles told them drawing confused looks from most in the room.
Xander asked, “Locusts?” The rest of his question was obvious. How were locusts in any way significant to anything other than being creepy insects?
“Not the locusts themselves, perhaps,” Giles said, “but the timeline. There is nothing within the scroll to suggest another event within the next three weeks. It bothers me,” he admitted.
Faith turned around in her chair so that she was no longer straddling it. Hearing that tone in his voice must have weirded her out as much as it did Cordy. “What’s up with that? Why nothing?”
“Maybe the scroll is missing something,” Buffy suggested only to be told that the scroll containing the prophecy was found intact.
Nibbling at her bottom lip, Willow paused to say, “It’s like the demons are waiting for a big event, storing up resources.”
Cordy followed up with, “Do demons eat locusts?” The others gave her odd looks for her seemingly random question. “They like the beetles at Willy’s place. Maybe the locusts are like energy bars or something.”
She shrugged at Buffy’s “Gross!” and Xander’s “Ugh!”
Everyone turned to Angel who simply said, “I don’t eat them.”
“Duh, vampire,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at the look of horror on his face. “Dork, no one said you did.”
Her question was not completely off base. According to Giles, “There might be some merit to your suggestions. I don’t doubt there is a reason for the length of time between events, though at this moment I have no working hypothesis for it. As for the locusts, each event is vital to the fulfillment of the overall prophecy. Whether the locusts are simply a visual sign or the snack of choice for this demon god is anyone’s guess.”
The group discussed other findings after debating the sign versus snack theory. It was getting late and the hospital operator finally announced the end of visiting hours. Giles indicated that they should leave now, but there was still time for one of the two Slayers to make a short round of the cemeteries.
“Just be home before midnight. It won’t be pleasant if you’re caught outside when the locusts arrive,” he warned them.
Buffy sighed. “I’ll stay here and watch Cordelia tonight. Faith’s been cooped up here all last night and most of today.”
“Thanks for volunteering.” Cordy did not like the way she made it sound like saving her life was a chore.
“I’ll do it, B,” Faith stood next to Cordelia. Then her cheek dimpled, “I’m sure Cor said something about giving me a pedicure.”
Cordelia slipped her a playfully murderous glance. “Slayer toes are way different than fingers. I’m guessing you wear those clunky boots for a reason.”
“Just offering,” shrugged Buffy who followed Giles toward the door. “Goodnight.”
“Sleep tight,” Xander quipped, “don’t let the locusts bite.”
Willow waved her goodbyes.
“Coming, Angel?” Buffy turned around in the open doorway fully expecting him to give her an affirmative answer. Cordelia might have enjoyed the shock on her face when he told her no if she was not so busy watching Angel himself.
“I’m giving Faith the night off,” Angel told her.
Buffy definitely did not look happy with that idea. “But the nurses won’t let you. Hospital policy—”
“Isn’t a problem,” Angel cut her off. “I took care of it. Faith needs a night off and you should be at home tonight. After all, Joyce won’t want to be alone when the locusts hit. There is no guarantee some of them won’t get inside the house.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that,” Buffy’s worries shifted instantly. “I guess that’s a good idea. So it’s great that you’re taking your turn standing guard.”
There was a flicker of doubt in Buffy’s eyes as Cordelia watched them saying their goodbyes. Nothing in their words or actions suggested that their patrol last night had ended with the two of them locked in a passionate embrace. She supposed Buffy would have been more than happy to share the details if that had been the case.
The angst in the air made her want to gag on it. Cordelia turned away from the sight of the pair only to find herself facing the colorful bouquet Angel had given her. The tiny cream-colored envelope lay on the table next to the flowers. Cordy picked it up and pulled the card with its single-word message into view.
‘Later’ it read.
Cordelia heard the door click and the familiar voices of her friends faded away behind it. Slowly glancing over her shoulder, she found that Angel was leaning against the door, watching her with a lazy, yet purposeful expression.
Maybe it was a silent message that his big frame blocked the only exit. If so, her body reacted as if a thousand butterflies took flight within as she gave in to sheer anticipation. Whatever he meant by it, Cordelia knew one thing with certainty.
Later meant now.