Cordelia’s mortification seemed boundless, and crimson stained her cheeks as she wished with all of her might that, for once, the Hellmouth under the library floor would open at an opportune moment, instead of with it’s usual crappy timing, and swallow her whole before she had to expand on her previous statement.
“I’m sorry Cordelia. What was that?”
Damn worthless Hellmouth!
As Cordelia was cursing her rotten luck at not being immediately sucked into Hell, Giles was, for the first time since this conversation started, relaxed. Certain that there was no way that Cordelia could have said what his brain had obviously mistakenly heard; he sat back and waited for her to repeat her sentence so that his brain could process it correctly.
“I couldn’t help it, Giles. I swear. I just opened the dressing room door and he was all over me. He had his face in my neck again, and his hands – well, let’s just say they were wandering.”
“I told him not to bite me, but he said it was part of the last deal, so it was part of this one, too. And then he bit me, and his hands were…and his mouth…and oh, it was…”
While Cordelia lost herself in the apparently vivid memory of the moment, Giles quietly observed. He certainly didn’t need vampiric senses to see that she was clearly aroused by the mere recollection.
As the desire on Cordelia’s face was chased away by embarrassment at her behavior both of that night and here in this office, Giles was struck by the sudden realization that the girl had no idea of the bond she now shared with Angelus. She believed her actions to be merely wanton, not understanding that the more she was in the vampire’s company the more she would be compelled to touch and be touched by him.
That son of a bitch. It was becoming all to clear why Angelus was forcing Cordelia to engage in this intimate recitation. It wasn’t that he necessarily wanted the slayer or even himself, as Buffy’s watcher, to know about the ramifications of his claiming of the girl. No, the vampire clearly wanted Cordelia to be made aware of the, quite possibly dire consequences.
Whether Angelus was leaving the task of explaining this to the unsuspecting girl because he didn’t want to do it, or because the insensitive bastard wanted him to know, Giles was unsure. But whatever the demon’s reasoning, the fact remained that Cordelia had to be made aware of the grave circumstance in which she now found herself.
Pausing a moment to gather his thoughts, Giles removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose, and sighing as if the weight of the world was suddenly thrust upon him.
“Giles, it was just a little making out. I mean, true, it was with the undead, so major yuckage; but it certainly can’t merit a removal of the glasses and a sigh.”
Cordelia’s attempt at levity sailed past the watcher as he tried to marshal his thoughts and find the words to explain to her that her life had changed on a very basic, fundamental level.
“Cordelia, we, in this little group we’ve managed to form, fight the evils of vampires everyday. And yet, there are so many things regarding these demons of which you children remain unaware.”
Leaning back into the cushions of the sofa, Cordelia settled in, sensing a patented Giles lecture coming on.
“Creatures of evil, there is much that is still unknown, even to the Council, about these eternal beasts of darkness. Delineated as supernatural beings, they exist outside of the boundaries and restrictions of humanity.”
“Sustained by the blood they take from others and convert to their own, it is by this very blood that bonds are created within their community. These ties are of a mystical nature, and thus often beyond our understanding, but they seem to govern the instinctual behavior of those under their sway.”
“A sire bond, for instance links both childer and minions to their sire. As with all vampiric bonds it affects the weakest individual the greatest. Therefore between a sire and a childe, the childe would feel the stronger instinctual pull, and thus be at the mercy of the less affected sire.”
“Giles, look, I really do appreciate the how-to-win-friends-and-influence-vampires lesson, but-“
“Cordelia, the bonding works with humans, too.”
“Okay, I get it, lots of bondage. Eww, I mean -“
“Cordelia!” Giles hadn’t realized how loud he’d spoken until he saw the startled look on the brunette’s face. Although angry at himself for further traumatizing the girl, he knew of no other way of regaining her attention. Once Cordelia started on a given topic there was no stopping her.
Cordelia was slightly put out. Not that Giles had raised his voice, but because her no so subtle ploy of bringing the lecture to an early close had failed. She couldn’t help but wonder if she was ever going to get out of that office. ‘Cause really, once Giles started going on about something there was no stopping him.
“Cordelia, please try to pay attention. I know that this all seems dreadfully boring to you children, but it’s not without purpose. I believe that Angelus may have done more than just bite you. What you have alluded to as “window dressing”, I believe may actually be a mark of Angelus.”
Trying without much success to control her apprehension at the watcher’s words, Cordelia settled for merely camouflaging her doubts.
“Well, duh, Giles. Of course it’s a mark of Angelus; he’s the undead jerk who bit me.”
“When I say “mark”, I don’t mean an area that is altered to stand out from its surroundings. I mean it more in terms of a brand.”
Even though Giles had done things such as call forth demons in his misspent youth, nothing had ever seemed as scary as Cordelia Chase did in that moment as a killing rage swept across her face in response to, what he was fast becoming convinced were his very poorly chosen words.
At Cordelia’s terse, “Excuse me?” Giles jerked as if he’d been shot with his own crossbow, which he was starting to wish he’d left out.
“Ah, yes well, what I meant was… I mean to say… Dammit all Cordelia, this isn’t the time for delicacy. Vampires are possessive demons by nature and when they consider something to be theirs the mark it to warn off other demons who would seek to encroach on their territory.”
“While childer and minions are marked at the time of their turning, humans can also be marked. These marks are used to identify the human as either a servant or a…pet.”
Cordelia’s uneasiness which had been expanding with each word from Giles’ mouth, reached critical mass as that last, all too familiar phrase tumbled forth.
“Giles, I don’t care what kind of weird dental rituals vampires engage in. I’m no one’s pet and I haven’t gotten all bindy with Angelus. I would know if we had some kind of mystical thingamabob. If my instincts were all catawampus then I’d see it. Believe me, I know who Cordelia Chase is and if I started acting differently…”
The diminishing of Cordelia’s voice seemed to be in direct proportion to the widening of her eyes as she recognized just how out of character her behavior had been the night before. Hadn’t she spent the entire evening trying to figure out what the Hell was wrong with her? Well now she knew – That sneaky, underhanded bastard had worked some kind of bizarre, mystical mojo on her. God, just when you thought you couldn’t hate undead bloodsuckers any more one of them goes and tries to turn you into some kind of pervy love slave.
Giles watched understanding wash over Cordelia and waited for the hysteria – or the anger. After today he couldn’t be sure which emotion would burst forth from the unpredictable young woman.
“Well, this certainly explains the rest of the night.”
Hmmm. Of all the sentiments Giles might have expected, tears and fury being his first choices, thoughtful acceptance hadn’t even rated a mental mention.
“The rest of the night?”
Jerked out of her quiet reflection, Cordelia remembered her original purpose here and resigned herself to finishing her recital of the tragic farce which was her life.
“Yeah. I mean, I got all the touching. Guys are always about looking like they’re getting some in front of their friends. I doubt death changes them that much. Besides, hello! Major hottie here. If I was an evil dead guy I’d certainly want to spend an evening feeling me up. And isn’t that the disturbing thought of the day?”
“What I didn’t really get was all the bossiness afterwards. All the “do this” and “don’t do that”. Geez, who knew vampires had so many rules. Aren’t they supposed to be all devil-may-care?”
Not wanting to dwell on the specifics of “all the touching”, Giles instead focused on the bossiness. “What specific requests did Angelus make of you, Cordelia?”
“Ha!” Cordelia snorted at Giles’ suggestion. “I don’t remember any requests. But boy did the orders keep a comin’.”
“First he bought me that stupid dress and then told me I couldn’t ever wear it around other people, like the whole entire evil population hadn’t just seen me in it.”
“Then he tells me that I can’t be demon bait anymore. And it’s not like that’s my favorite thing to do or anything, but it’s still my job and we sort of got into it about that. ‘Cause sure, I know he’s got his reputation to protect and me getting eaten by some random demon might be an issue, but how much can it really affect anything. We haven’t even spent an entire day together, and I told him that he could avenge my death and come off looking like a major bad ass.”
“That’s about the time he started with the bruise making and told me I had to come drop all this stupidity in your lap.”
And with Cordelia’s words came clarity. A rare moment of enlightenment in this otherwise bewildering morning. Unlike Angelus’ most recent intrusions into their lives, this wasn’t even remotely about Buffy. The vampire wasn’t making sure that Cordelia told him everything so that the slayer would eventually find out and be rendered less effective. No, Angelus was making sure that he was aware of these events because the bastard wanted him to validate his claim and enforce his rules. And honestly, Giles could see no other choice.
“Well, as much as I hate to agree with Angelus in any matter, I do have to admit to some relief at the thought of you ceasing activities as “bait”.”
“What?!” The pain inducing quality of Cordelia’s screech was apparently not limited to vampires. “No way Giles. There is absolutely no way that I’m letting that idiotic corpse run my life. See, I don’t even want to do what he says, so maybe there is no stupid bond thing.”
“Cordelia, the claim doesn’t just scream “I’m a mystical bond” like a neon sign. It’s an instinctual tie that grows the more time you spend in each other’s presence.”
“While it’s not extremely rare for a vampire to claim a human, it is unheard of for the vampire to leave the human their independence. Therefore the bond tends to grow at an alarming rate. However, given the situation involved in the inception of this alliance, your bond should remain minimal do to a lack of exposure.”
“See, that just proves that this was all just for show. He doesn’t want any binding crap anymore than I do. After all, he’s only bugged me when he needed my help.”
“That may be true. Lord knows I pray that’s the case. But this in no way means that the bond will remain dormant. If Angelus decides to press the issue he can impel your connection to strengthen by his merely forcing prolonged contact between the two of you. This is to be avoided at all costs.”
“Cordelia, this is a gauntlet that Angelus has thrown down before us. We need not pick it up. In this case I think that compliance is our best course of action.”
“Giles, you don’t get it. Even if this bond is almost non-existent, if I just do everything he says then it might as well be in full force. My life is just that, my life. I can’t give that up. I won’t. And if I want I can wander around in any one of Sunnydale’s oh so many graveyards, slayer or no.”
The desperation in Cordelia’s voice was not lost on the watcher. Giles could clearly see that she was struggling to hold onto the control that she felt she might be losing as the ramification of Angelus’ “window dressing” sunk in. As much as he longed to help her hold on to that sense of self-mastery, he didn’t have that luxury and neither did she.
Hating to play on her tender emotions in no way deterred Giles from doing just that. This was too important to Buffy, to the safety of the Hellmouth, but most of all to the frightened yet brave girl in front of him.
“For some reason that is as yet unknown to us, Angelus has given us this brief respite that we are now enjoying. From what you’ve said today it probably has a great deal to do with his consolidation of power and position. But whatever his motive, this is the only chance we are likely to have to regroup and fortify our own defenses.”
“Your defiance of Angelus’ seemingly arbitrary orders is most certainly your right. But you must consider that rebellion in this matter will bring down the vampire’s wrath on us all. Any opportunity we have to prepare for the horrors to come at his hands will be lost.”
“Cordelia, I may not know you as well as I know the other children yet, but I do know that despite your need for independence I won’t soon find you wandering in any of Sunnydale’s cemeteries.”
Cordelia’s shoulders slumped as the weight of so many lives pressed down on her shoulders. Was this what it felt like to be Buffy, she wondered? She sympathized with the slayer, but still felt gypped on the superpowers deal. She made one last, whispered grab for her independence.
“How do you know?”
A small, sad smile touched Giles’ lips at the quiet question.
“Because no matter what the others may think, no matter what impression you may try to give, I know that you’re a good person who wants only to help. Otherwise, this matter wouldn’t have been worth arguing about with a demon who has no ends to the way he could have killed you.”
As her eyes met his Giles felt a pang of sorrow to see his own sad smile mirrored in her expression. Standing slowly as if her years had multiplied tenfold, she turned as she reached the door.
“You know that stuff about me being a good person who wants to help?”
“Don’t let that get around.
Rupert Giles was having one of those days. It was the kind of day that creeps in through your bleary eyes, stands behind them and slightly to the left, and stabs at your brain, repeatedly, with a rusty nail.
And those were the good parts.
After a grueling morning spent with Cordelia, navigating the mine field that Angelus had left in his wake, the afternoon had seen no improvement as the children gathered for the daily rundown of suspicious happenings in Sunnydale.
One would think that Giles would feel some measure of guilt, no matter how small, at the information he was now withholding from his slayer. These past few years had certainly expanded his capacity for that particular emotion. And yet, there was none to be found.
Although he believed that Cordelia was incorrect in her assessment of Angelus’ motives in regards to his ultimatum that she share her terrifying experiences with him, Giles did know that the young woman was accurate in her predictions of Buffy’s reaction to what had happened.
For as fearless as Buffy was as a slayer, she was still a teenage girl. More than that, she was a teenage girl suffering through her first heartbreak. As difficult as it would be for him to help guide Buffy through this situation under normal circumstance, the fact that her boyfriend was a vampire who lost his curse induced soul after sleeping with her on her birthday made any rational attempt at handling this on his part an impossibility.
But finally he was home. Back to his quiet, back to his journals, back to his scotch.
It was nights like these that Giles found that he missed Jenny the greatest. No matter how weary he was or how ancient he felt, her youthful presence invigorated him, pulling him out of old, established patterns and thrusting him into the new and unknown. It was, at times scary, but always a joyous challenge.
The worst part was that it wasn’t his anger that was keeping them apart. Of course, when he had first learned of her true identity his sense of betrayal had been fierce. But as time passed he found the he could sympathize more and more with her plight.
Jenny had felt that she had no choice but to remain silent regarding her true purpose in Sunnydale; that she was bound by duty and loyalty to her family. When her deceit had come to light, Giles had been upset that she had not come to him, chosen him over her other responsibilities.
But now Giles knew that, if he were simply librarian, without the burden of his watcher’s duties, he would forgive Jenny her deception in an instant and welcome her back with open arms.
But there was Buffy.
His young slayer had difficulty with the mere mention of the computer teacher’s name. A good hearted girl, Buffy was strong both inside and out. Yet Giles would be a rather poor watcher if he were unaware of Buffy’s slightly self-oriented outlook. It was fed by circumstances which conspired to place her consistently at the center of universally important events and a support system that looked to her constantly for guidance. But in a young woman who would most likely not live to see 20, this small flaw was easily forgiven.
And so he’d given up his budding relationship. Sacrificing it on the altar of duty, Giles now found that he knew exactly what had motivated Jenny’s decision…too late.
But he knew that even if he had understood immediately, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Buffy needed him and she needed to be away from Jenny. And so there would be no grand romance.
Somehow that truth was harder to swallow at night. However he could definitely wash it down with some of that scotch if he could just – find – those – damn – keys.
Finally locating them in his inner coat pocket, he sorted through them, trying to find the house key amidst those to various storage lockers for weapons and books.
Any progress he had made was impeded as a shadow fell across him, obscuring his sight.
The dark, melodic voice rippled over Giles’ frayed nerves with a timbre that would have been soothing had the watcher not been all too aware of the tortuous death that lay hidden in those dulcet tones.
Raising his eyes to meet the slightly smirking face of Angelus, Giles felt a certain amount of fear at the knowledge of what the vampire was capable, but he held himself in check, refusing to let terror overtake him.
“My, my. Aren’t you the brave watcher?”
Irritation rushed through Giles, pushing the fear back even further. Although there was always a risk of death when one stood mere feet from a demon, Giles knew that his demise was not Angelus’ intention this night. Obviously the vampire had come concerning Cordelia, and although that fact worried Giles in some part of his mind, the majority of his brain was too exhausted to work up a commensurate amount of distress.
“What do you want, Angelus?”
The watcher’s tired, resigned question pleased the vampire, knowing that he was responsible for wearing down this man’s soul. It was enough to make a demon proud, breaking a watcher and his slayer. But that was for another night. This night was about understandings.
Knowing that both Cordelia and Giles understood that the edicts he had laid down concerning the girl were to be followed in their entirety would allow him to finally leave this mess behind him. His position almost assured, he would soon be able to give his whole attention to crushing Buffy. But first this matter had to be settled.
“You know what I want, Rupert.”
“I know she came to you. I know she told you everything. She’d never take a chance with your life; that’s what made it such an effective threat.”
Angelus slowly started to circle the watcher. Knowing that he was no match for the heightened vampiric abilities of his opponent, Giles chose to remain still. That prudent strategy did not, however, calm the chill that crawled down his spine as the smooth words continued behind him.
“She must have told you how I bit her…more than once. Did she tell you about the dressing room? How her tight, perfect body was writhing, nearly coming apart in my arms?”
“Did she tell you that I claimed her?”
Having completed his circle, Angelus was once again looking down into the watcher’s eyes. The look of wicked satisfaction shining in the brown depths left Giles slightly breathless.
“No, of course she didn’t tell you that. She didn’t know. But you did, didn’t you, Rup?”
“So how’d you break it to her? How’d you tell her that I own her, that she’s my property, my pet?”
Giles ignored Angelus’ questions in favor of his own.
“That’s what this was all about, wasn’t it? Cordelia was wrong. It wasn’t Buffy. Oh, I’m sure you’d see it as a happy bonus if it hurt Buffy, but this was never about her. No, this was about having me do your dirty work – inform Cordelia of her new status, validate your claim.”
“What kind of vampire needs a watcher’s help to explain being claimed to a teenage girl? Apparently when your soul left it took your balls with it.”
Almost before the words left his mouth, Giles found himself thrown against his front door, pinned there by a very angry vampire whose amber eyes blazed hatred into his own.
“You would do well to choose your words with care, Watcher. Unless all of Sunnydale has invested in electric locks, you’re in a vulnerable position right now. If you think I won’t kill you, Rupert, you’re sadly mistaken.”
As he stared into the face of a demon who could end his life in a heartbeat, Giles found himself filled with the conflicting emotions of anger and bone-weariness. Having spent the day watching two confident, capable young women struggle to deal with the wreckage this vampire was making of their lives, Giles was too disgusted to be cautious.
“Actually, Angelus, I don’t think you’ll kill me. Oh, I’m sure you’ll try eventually, but not tonight. After all, if you kill me who will enforce your rules with Cordelia?”
“That’s why you had her tell me, right? So that I would moderate her behavior, make sure that she adhered to your commands?”
“She says that this was all about circumstance, not desire, and that may be true, but in your mind she’s still yours, still bound by your decrees, even if you don’t want her.”
Angelus’ features returned to their more palatable state, and he slowly released Giles, large hands smoothing the creases he had created in the watcher’s shirt. A smile touched his lips as he considered what he’d heard.
“I doubt that any action concerning Cordelia Chase is ever truly absent of desire. I mean, you see her everyday. In those skin tight pants, those short flirty skirts, that snug little cheerleading outfit. I bet you’re a walking hard on most days, eh Rupert? Did it make you all hot and bothered when she described my hands all over her, my fingers and fangs buried deep inside her?”
As anger and disgust warred for supremacy on Giles face and his mouth opened to unleash a tirade upon the vampire in front of him, Angelus swiftly cut him off.
“You know what, watcher, it’s probably best you don’t answer that. You’re right about a lot of things. You always were smart. Dull, but smart.”
“I don’t want to kill you tonight. I may not necessarily want Cordelia as a pet, but she still bares my mark, she’s still a possession of the Master of the Order of Aurelius. She can hardly go wandering around at night asking for demons to attack her. How would that look, letting a bunch of filthy animals endanger what’s mine and then leaving her to the protection of the slayer? No. Whether by chance or design, Cordelia is mine and she needs to act accordingly. And for that, you’re right; I do require your help.”
“Of course, if you don’t want to extend it I would understand. I could always just kill the girl and you. That would solve my problem, too. The choice is yours, Rup.”
Giles wondered at Angelus’ threat. While he could understand the postponement of his own death as the vampire’s desire to slowly break Buffy, he could not see the reasoning behind letting Cordelia live.
Although Giles was pleased that the girl seemed relatively safe for the moment, he knew that the expedient solution to Angelus’ unwanted claim would be merely to kill the young woman. That he was instead willing to go to these lengths to let her live caused no small amount of concern in the watcher’s mind.
“As you know, I have spoken at length with Cordelia today. She has agreed to cease patrolling with the others. She fully understands the consequences of such acts to both herself and others. Believe me, I explained the nature of the bond you now share, and she was in no way eager to strengthen it, even slightly, by her defiance and thus having to deal with you once more.”
Angelus’ pleased smile at Cordelia’s compliance turned into a scowl of irritation as the full import of the watcher’s words hit him.
Yes, Cordelia was going to be a good girl and follow orders, but only so she wouldn’t have to see him anymore. This was yet another attempt by the girl to avoid him, to avoid what he was to her. First his touches, then his orders, now his very presence – how far did this girl think she could push her denial of him.
If Giles was troubled by the growls accompanying the waves of gold flashing through Angelus’ eyes, it was nothing compared to the cold hand that gripped his heart at the vampire’s words.
“You know the girl’s not right, don’t you? Even accounting for the soul time, I spent a good 150 years as one of the most vicious vampires in history. I’ve marked humans before, had servants, pets. They’ve all been compelled to be near me, they’ve all needed me, craved my approval. But Cordelia she’s just a big wad of obstinance. Do you know she told me to find some dead women to be with so I would leave her alone? I’m telling you, she’s broken.”
The honest confusion on Angelus’ face was proof to Giles of the assertions that both the demon and the girl had made that the vampire’s intention was not to make Cordelia into his pet. Yet underneath the confusion Giles could sense the one idea that would be more dangerous to the young woman than any other – a sense of challenge.
Angelus truly didn’t understand why his claim was not having its usual potent effect. Right now he was satisfied with the idea that Cordelia was in some way faulty. Because the claim was not initiated under the usual circumstances of desire and bloodlust, Angelus was dealing with this in a fairly rational manner. At this time the situation lacked the emotional components and the physical proximity necessary to send either of them out of control. And so, except for setting a few guidelines, Angelus seemed willing to let the matter drop.
However, vampires were not notorious for the stability of their feelings. Were his puzzlement to drift more towards the obsessiveness inherent to his demon’s nature, Angelus could, indeed, present a dire threat to Cordelia. If he, even briefly, ceased viewing the girl as an anomaly and began envisioning her as an opponent over whom to prevail or a prize to be won, then they were all in serious trouble. For there was no way that they could allow Angelus to have the girl, and if he chose to exert his claim there was no way he would ever let her go.
Determined to solve at least part of this mystery in hopes of preventing or at least deferring the seemingly imminent peril to Cordelia, Giles pointedly questioned the vampire.
“Why? Why are you willing to let this go? Why did you allow Cordelia to live?”
“I didn’t know you were so anxious to see her dead, Rupert. Aren’t you guys supposed to protect people from vampires, not point out the flaws in letting them live?”
Giles chose not to rise to the bait. Waiting patiently for an answer, he was rewarded as Angelus continued.
“If Cordelia did her job correctly, then you know that the first night I didn’t “let” her go, she escaped. As for the second night, well honestly, the girl had done me a world of good in the demon community. She cleared up my pesky soul problem, explained away the still living slayer, and helped me secure a ruling position here in our hellish corner of the world. So I owed her. I’ve liked humans in my times, just not that many. But Cordelia, she’s…interesting. She’s a perfect body housing an endless array of fascinating contradictions.”
“When you’ve been around a while you begin to appreciate things that lie outside of the norm, things with depth that capture the attention and create a sense of intrigue. Those things are too few and far between to simply cast them aside.”
“Not that I wouldn’t kill her in an instant if I felt like it.” Angelus finished with a sharp smile.
Despite his last words, Giles was not comforted. Leaving aside the oddness he felt that a direct death threat against Cordelia would have actually been comforting, he focused instead on the already developing enthrallment Angelus seemed to have for the girl. Fortunately, he was either in complete denial or completely unaware of these, apparently, growing feelings.
This would work in their favor as Angelus would most likely cease seeking the girl out and the bond would fade. Giles hated to think what might happen with even a few more fleeting exposures.
During their discussion this morning Giles could see that Cordelia was far from unaffected by the bond between herself and Angelus. And while his admiration for her soared to new heights at her ability to conceal this fact from the vampire, he was increasingly worried about the outcome should further resistance be required.
Seeing the wisdom in bringing this discussion to a speedy end, Giles resumed his search for the correct key.
“Is that everything, Angelus?”
Angelus smiled in amusement at the watcher’s dismissal. It was like watching a zebra trying to stare down a lion. Cute, but ineffectual.
“Remember watcher, no matter the reasons, Cordelia Chase is mine. As such, she either does as I bid her or she gets punished. And actually, the punishment would be terribly pleasurable for one of us. I’m sure as smart as she is, Cordelia can figure out just which one of us that would be.”
And with that, the vampire faded into the night’s shadows and disappeared, leaving only his disquieting threats in his wake.