54: Mercy Hospital, Westside, Sunnydale
Settling into the bedside chair, Angel listened as she rambled on from one subject to another. Avoiding, he knew, the one thing they should be talking about. What happened between them tonight was not something to skip over. Even though it had not gone beyond kisses and chaste caresses, it was only because Angel had forced himself to hold back.
He had been playing with fire and he knew it. Making certain that Cordelia knew it, too, seemed necessary. It was the right thing to do.
Angel leaned back in the chair, watching her talk, noting the way the light played across her face and the way her lips glistened when she paused to lick them. He counseled himself to say something to convince her that there could be no repeat of tonight, no more kisses without consequences, but he could not bring himself to say the words when he did not want to believe them. Instead, saying nothing, Angel listened to her story, more attuned to her voice than the words themselves.
The Library, Sunnydale High School, Eastside, Sunnydale
“The only thing I learned tonight,” Buffy told the gang as she plunked into a chair at the research table, “was that Willy has a special on chocolate-covered locusts.”
Cordelia scrunched up her nose, “Eew, gross.”
“Disgusting,” Willow agreed, momentarily turning her attention away from the website on Ritual Sacrifices and its detailed jpeg files. “Though, I have read about places that consider that kind of thing a delicacy.”
“There’s still some pizza left, Buffster,” Xander tapped the box. “If you don’t mind the anchovies.”
Her stomach rolled at the thought. Post-patrol hunger was not an issue after watching Willy prepare bags of insects for tonight’s bar crowd. “I’ll skip the snackage.”
Except for dealing with demons with unusual taste in munchies, Buffy’s patrol had been fairly routine. Giles had kept the rest of them at the library researching stuff on Cordy’s Crosathnam demon. As usual, Faith was nowhere to be found tonight. After dropping Cor at the library, she had taken off again just when Angel showed up.
It was not Buffy’s business to keep tabs on Faith, but it was weird that she just took off whenever she felt like it. That had to irritate Giles, but he refused to talk about Faith’s behavior.
Buffy was more concerned about Angel’s behavior than she was about the other Slayer. As soon as the sun went down, he was stuck like superglue to Cordelia’s side. She had been out of the hospital for two days. She was totally fine. There were no signs of any kidnapping demony cops or trouble-making vampires around and yet everyone was hovering over her like Cor was some damsel-in-distress.
Lately, Buffy just had a weird vibe every time Cordelia and Angel were together. It was not anything she could lay her finger on. They stuck to their spot on the steps as usual, researching. Talking quietly, too quietly. Buffy frowned in their direction as she realized Angel was actually having a conversation with Cordelia.
Casually getting out of her chair, she stretched her arms over her head, her pert breasts moving beneath her thin sweater. She was about to walk over to join them when Xander asked again, “You sure you don’t want some pizza?”
It seemed like the only person who had noticed her attempt at gaining a little deserved attention was Xander. Giles’ nose was turned into a book and Willow was again focused on her computer screen.
“No,” Buffy sighed. Dropping the act, she walked over to the steps. “What are you two up to?”
Simultaneously, Angel and Cordy lifted their heads to focus on her. “Just talking,” Angel answered quietly though he was the picture of guilt.
Buffy noticed that he shut the book they had been looking at together, holding his finger between the pages to save their place. “About what? I think we have covered all there is to know about Crosathnam demons. I could kill one blindfolded.”
“Assuming we find it,” Xander pointed out, eavesdroppin
Glaring at him briefly, Buffy muttered an agreement, “Yeah,” before turning back to the two huddled shoulder to shoulder on the steps. “So what’s the research on tonight?”
She pointed at the book that had a modern glossy blue binding instead of the usual frayed cloth or worn leather of Giles’ ancient book collection. It had come directly off the library shelves.
“Nosy much?” Cordelia huffed irritably only to turn toward Angel who had given a gentle nudge. Snorting, “Well, she is.”
Angel held up the book so she could see the cover, still holding his place as if he was anxious to get back to the conversation. Surprised, Buffy felt her jaw gape open and quickly shut it. “Tai chi? What’s that got to do with the demon cop or the prophecy?”
“Cordy and I were going over some defensive techniques,” Angel explained with a shrug. “I promised— considering the circumstances, I want her to be prepared.”
Cordelia was smiling again. What was it about being a potential demon sacrifice that made a girl like Cordelia Chase smile so much? “Giles and I can show Cor a few moves. Not that she’ll need them with one of us around all of the time.”
Having heard his name mentioned, Giles offered, “We can certainly include you in our training sessions, Cordelia.”
“Thanks,” Cordelia stood up next to Buffy so that her natural height gave her the tiniest advantage, “but Angel plans to show me all of the moves I’ll need.”
Cordelia brushed past Buffy who tensed up as she read between the lines. She watched as Cor made her way over to the counter where the extra sodas were lined up. Popping the top of a Diet Coke, she took a long swig. A seemingly random comment followed, “Mmm, some things are just better cold.”
Buffy could not help but make a connection to between those words and Angel’s cool touch. Surely, Cordelia wasn’t hinting, was she? The snappy comments and the weird vibes and those huddled conversations on the stairs were just too much. This all added up to something she didn’t like, not one little bit.
No doubt Angel was just concerned for her wellbeing. He was just being protective of his patrol partner. Just look at the trouble she had already caused. Not only did they have a prophecy to prevent, they had to safeguard Cordelia from crazy vamps and melty-faced demons.
Poor Angel. Over-exposure to Cordelia Chase would cause anyone to act weird. It was just Cordelia’s influence that had him acting strange. Obviously, she was just trying to make Buffy believe that Angel was actually interested in her. Just like she used to after they had first met him. It was funny how Cordelia used to embarrass herself over Angel, but kinda strange how it was not equally hilarious now.
Thinking about it now left a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Besides, it was not like Angel could actually do anything about it even if he was interested. Not that he was. Nope. He could not be.
Unsettled, Buffy tried to remind herself of the many reasons why she broke up with Angel in the first place. Sometimes, it was hard to remember.
The Mayor’s Office, City Hall, State Street, North Central Sunnydale
“I guess you’re wondering why I called.” Mayor Wilkins was smiling at her in that same way he did on the bulletin boards at the bus stops.
Faith shifted in the leather chair, feeling the weight of the cell phone in her front jacket pocket. “I already told you, I’m not interested.” She pulled out the phone to hand it to him. “Maybe you should take this back. No deal.”
“Don’t be so hasty,” the mayor tut-tutted. Reaching over to a sideboard against the wall of his office, he picked up a silver tray. “Cookie? My mother used to make the best chocolate-walnut cookies. There’s nothing better than homemade cookies and a cold glass of milk.”
Standing abruptly, Faith told him, “I don’t want your cookies or your phone.” She dropped the silver cell phone on his desk. “Whatever scam you’re running, I don’t want any part of it.”
She was about to move away when the mayor’s voice darkened authoritatively, “Sit down, Faith. You’re not going anywhere, yet. Just remember what I told you will happen if you don’t listen.”
Faith’s jaw tightened. Rage rose up fast. The anger flowing through her was close to uncontrollable. “Don’t threaten me,” she panted through the urge to hurl the mayor against the wall and bash his head with his silver platter. “You leave them out of this.”
“You should try some warm milk instead,” the mayor tilted his head. “I find it has a calming effect. As for your friends, you should have thought of that before.”
Eyes blazing fury, she stood her ground, refusing to sit despite the order Richard Wilkins had given. Her hands curled into tight fists held at her side. One mistake and now he had her under his thumb.
“Cooperate with me, Faithy, and you’ll be around to witness the birth of a god.”
Sneering at him, Faith was not one hundred percent sure what he was getting at, but it didn’t sound good. Was he mixed up with this whole prophecy deal? “Maybe I don’t like to watch.”
The mayor simply smiled again. Opening the right-hand drawer of his desk, he pulled out a long, flat box tied up with a pink ribbon. “Go ahead. Open it up.”
Sensing that she had no choice but to comply, Faith snatched the box from the desk. With one tug of the ribbon, it fell loose. She dropped it on the floor and smirked at the way the mayor’s eyes went wide as the ribbon curled up on his clean carpet.
“What’s this?” Faith demanded as she gazed at the contents of the box.
The answer he gave belied his matter-of-fact tone. “An ornate ceremonial dagger forged in the subterranean fires beneath Mount Hidaknui by the spawn of the demon lord Ornkadu. Just your typical pointy object. You do know how to use one.”
“I have a good idea,” Faith glared at him.
“You know you can’t kill me,” he reminded her. She’d seen that much. “Now take your present. You young people are so ungrateful these days.”
Faith didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm, “Thanks. What am I supposed to do with it?”
“Oh, there’s a certain someone who could interfere with my plans,” Wilkins let out a deep sigh. “We’ll go over all of that as soon as we deal with the issue of that dreadful place you’ve been living at. There are actually illicit things going on in that hotel.”
Snorting, Faith shrugged, “That and all the screwing.” A grin formed despite the fact that the mayor was still pissing her off.
“Well, it’s no place for my girl.”
Her smile faded quickly. “Just tell me what I gotta do.”