Chapter Twenty Eight
Satisfied that he had settled the girl in his office to the best of his ability, Giles crossed over to the large table at which the children sat, with a dire sense of foreboding. While the two young women showed nothing but confusion and concern on their earnest faces, Xander’s face told a different tale.
Skin tight with anger and eyes tinged with fear, the sincere adolescent demanded answers, the frustration and confusion clearly expressed in his voice.
“What the Hell is going on Giles? My girlfriend shows up half crazy, bleeding, and still in her pajamas. She collapses to the floor and won’t let anyone near her but you. Then, to top off the most bizarre day of my life, and around here that’s saying something, my high school librarian breaks up with me! Will you please to me happened to Cordelia?”
Giles, knowing that protecting them from the truth was no longer an adequate defense, reached into his pocket and withdrew the drawing. Silently sliding it along the table, he winced at the reaction it elicited as he watched the last vestiges of innocence being stripped from their lives.
Willow was up like a shot. Having seen the morbid portrait only momentarily, that was apparently more than enough to start her stomach heaving, and she only just made it to the trash can before expelling the donut she and Xander had bought on their way to school that morning.
Buffy, although used to carnage and death, paled a sickly white to rival that of any vampire. Under Giles’ scrutiny she appeared to wilt as she seemed to acknowledge that the charcoal fate was more than just a remote possibility for those in her life.
Turning his attention to the last of the children, Giles saw Xander’s throat convulse as he attempted to swallow the bile rising up. Shaking visibly, the young man nevertheless confronted, courageously, the absolute hatred that flowed in every line of the macabre artwork.
His slayer was the first to find her voice.
“I guess break time’s over.”
Sighing, Giles silently acknowledged that this was going to take a great deal of time and diplomacy.
“Yes and no, Buffy.”
Giles’ answer did nothing to clear up the matter for the disturbed teenagers, and their ire was clearly rising at his unenlightening answer. The librarian waited patiently for the redhead to resume her seat, a cup of water in hand, before he began his unsettling tale.
“The night of our misguided attempt to retrieve the amulet, more went wrong then you children currently know. Although Cordelia told us that Angelus bit her, what she didn’t say was that it was, indeed, far more serious than that.”
At this point, Xander broke into Giles’ recitation.
“Is she alright? What did that bastard do to her?”
Deciding that straightforward was the best path to follow; Giles was honest with the boy seeking reassurance.
“No, Xander. Cordelia is most certainly not alright. Due to circumstances apparently beyond both Cordelia and Angelus’ control, the vampire was forced to claim her.”
“C-Claim her?” Of all the children it was no surprise that it was Willow who understood the seriousness of Giles’ words. Her shaking voice alerted both Xander and Buffy that whatever claiming was, it was not of the good.
“Yes, Willow. Angelus claimed Cordelia as part of their deal to deceive the A’toreal demons.”
Buffy had a feeling that, as a slayer, she should already know what all of this meant, and that feeling of ignorance sharpened her voice, making it harsh and defensive when she only truly wanted comprehension.
“Back up and explain, Giles. What’s a claim? How did it help Cordelia escape Angelus? And if it’s such a big deal why on earth didn’t Cordelia tell us?”
Buffy hadn’t meant to blame Cordelia, but as a slayer it was ingrained in her very nature to find a cause for every problem and eliminate it. Her protective instincts, far more developed than that of any mere mortal, were screaming at her after what she had seen and the drive to resolve the problem was overwhelming.
Inside, she understood that the blame for this lay, ultimately at the vampire’s door, but she also knew that, even with this provocation, she wasn’t ready to eradicate the last remaining piece of Angel. And so she turned to a secondary target. One not deserving, but infinitely safer.
Giles’ features arranged themselves in an uncompromisingly stern visage. He understood, completely, Buffy’s thought process, and while he sympathized with her motivations, he could not, would not, let any further harm befall the terrified girl in the other room.
“Buffy, Cordelia, like yourself, had no understanding of the importance of the mark she received at Angelus’ hands that night. When she reported the happenings to us she did tell us that he had bitten her, but she had no way of knowing of the significance behind Angelus’ act.”
“The short version, and I don’t believe we have the luxury of indulging in the long version at this time, is this – Although vampires tend to kill humans outright unless they are in the need for minions or desire the companionship of a childe, there are exceptions to this rule. Often, despite having minions, vampires are in need of servants who can attend to their business during daylight hours. For this purpose they will sometimes mark humans as part of their Order.”
“The humans chosen are usually fairly weak minded, and the mystical bond that grows as a result of the marking, easily overtakes their will and leaves them at the vampire’s command.”
“However, when a vampire desires a more intimate connection with a human, the person is claimed by the demon in question. This bond is immensely stronger than that accompanying a simple marking. It allows the creation of a “pet”. A person whose sole focus becomes the vampire and their needs and desires.”
The sound of Xander’s chair crashing to the floor was startling in the silence of the library. Agitated and unsteady, his hands cut through the air as his furious gestures underscored his angry words.
“You’re wrong, Giles. Cordelia’s not connected to that monster. Not in any way. I saw them last night. He was trying to kill her and she came to me, stayed in my arms, and called me her hero for saving her. She didn’t give a damn what that son of a bitch was thinking or what he wanted. She kissed me, Giles. She was so glad we rescued her that she threw her arms around me and kissed me. So whatever you think is happening here, it’s not that.”
That less than eloquent response was all Giles could muster in light of Xander’s revelations. The understanding that had been forming in his mind of the events leading up to this morning finally crystallized as he comprehended exactly what had incited the vampire’s heated response.
Although it was still fairly clear that Angelus was not exerting his claim over the girl, having made no move to take her from them, it was also painfully obvious that, like all demons, he did not intend to share what was, however inadvertently, his.
These horrific depictions, as gruesome as they were, were merely a warning to Cordelia of the consequences of not confining herself to the role of property, even if Angelus had no real wish to own her. And, although the watcher despised seeing the girl forced into that particular box, he could not ignore the undeniable threat to all of them were she not to comply in this manner.
And, honestly, though the poor girl had obviously been terrorized by the proceedings of the morning, Angelus had made no real move to hurt either her or her friends. Sadly, no matter how scarred this had left Cordelia emotionally, it could, in its restraint, be termed an act of mercy by the vampire. Although were Giles to truly attempt to categorize the unaccustomed lack of action on Angelus’ part, he would be far more likely to attribute it to the vampire having plans of a greater scope than killing one high school boy.
Returning to the matter at hand, Giles saw that all eyes rested on him expectantly, waiting for an explanation of his invocation of the Lord’s name.
“Xander, I was in no way implying that Cordelia was under the control of such a bond. Merely that it does exist between her and Angelus.”
“When Angelus and Cordelia struck their deal that night, the return of his amulet was contingent upon the safe arrival of Cordelia to her home. In an effort to provide the A’toreal clan with a logical justification for her presence, Angelus presented her as his pet. For this ruse to be successful, he had to claim the girl.”
“This situation is, to my knowledge, unheard of. Vampires don’t claim humans that they don’t want in some way. So, to their benefit, both Cordelia and Angelus have been able to approach this in a semi-rational fashion. Each understanding that the bond will remain fairly inert without contact, they have both endeavored to keep their distance from each other.”
“But Angelus remains a vampire, with all that entails. He may have no personal desire for Cordelia, but she is still marked as his property. Therefore he has set some guidelines for her behavior. He has demanded that she cease her activities as a lure for demons. He insisted that I be made aware of these events to ensure her compliance. And, apparently, he is making it quite clear that Cordelia, who he feels belongs to him, should not be seen in the romantic company of another.”
“Although this is grossly unfair to Cordelia, and indeed, to all of you, I can’t help but agree with her assessment of these circumstances. Xander, Angelus will not hesitate to kill you over this issue, and his lack of any real interest in Cordelia will make no difference. She is making the mature and rational choice in this matter and you must at least attempt to understand that. Until the situation with Angelus is resolved your dating Cordelia is simply out of the question.”
Xander’s large frame shook with barely suppressed fury as harsh words spewed from his lips.
“Well, here’s an idea. How ’bout we “resolve” this situation by killing the bastard and then no one will have to worry about being murdered by the sadistic cadaver. I mean we’ve let him run around, have his fun, sow his wild oats. Is there ever going to be a time when we can kill the guy?”
Willow flinched as Xander’s voice climbed in volume. Then she flinched again as she caught sight of Buffy’s face. Not believing that the slayer could have lost anymore color, the concerned hacker was proven incorrect as that last bit of blood in Buffy’s face fled, leaving her looking like death not remotely warmed over.
Normally this would be the time where Willow would interject, calming Xander down in the face of Buffy’s unrelenting emotional distress. But now, with those heinous pictures fresh in her mind and the sharp taste of her vomit hovering in her mouth, she couldn’t find it in herself to disagree with her infuriated best friend.
She loved Buffy, and she’d cared about Angel. If there was a way to fix this for them she’d do it in a heartbeat. But not at the expense of Xander. Never that. She’d already lost one friend to a brutal vampire of this line. She wasn’t losing another. If it came down to a choice of who had to die, there was no hesitation in her mind – It was Angelus. And if it hurt Buffy but saved Xander’s life; well, she could live with that.
So Willow, despite her role as the peacekeeper, chose to say nothing.
“Enough!” Giles’ exclamation effectively ended fight that was brewing. “This is not the time to loose our heads or fight amongst ourselves.”
“Xander, I realize how difficult this is for you. Being apart from Cordelia is a sacrifice, but not an indefinite one. We will fix this. But we can’t do that by running into a dangerous situation unprepared. Our doing that once is what created this dilemma in the first place.”
“This is the time for unvarnished honesty, and the truth is this – Buffy is the slayer. She’s the only chance that we have of stopping Angelus. But were she to go after him now she would fail. She would die and we would be left, not in the same position in which we find ourselves now, but in one substantially worse.”
“There will come a time when she’s ready, Xander. But that time is not today. As difficult as this is for you to loose Cordelia, even temporarily, can you not see how much harder it must have been for her to loose Angel permanently?”
His chair still on the floor, Xander slid silently down into the chair next to Buffy. Reaching his hand over, he grasped one of Buffy’s from its place, clenched in her lap and squeezed in a silent apology, communicating without words that their solidarity remained unbroken.
As the slayer felt the support from the boy beside her, tears filled her eyes. More than anything at that moment she wanted to be able to kill Angelus. She wanted to beat him until he couldn’t stand and the drive a stake through his heart until even his dust was scattered by her continued blows.
She was just so tired. So tired of hurting, so tired of death, but mostly she was just so tired of the guilt. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that this was her fault. She was a slayer. She should have known that nothing good could come from loving a vampire. But she didn’t care. She had ignored every voice of reason and thrown herself into her own personal version of Romeo and Juliet. And now they were all paying for it.
But sitting there with her hand so securely clasped, she felt a little of the pain ease and she moved one step closer to being able to kill Angelus in some place other than her mind.
Giles released his breath in a sigh of relief as he saw the potential rift in the tight knit group mend itself. And while it left a scar, they were stronger for learning that they could come together even in the worst of adversity.
“We will figure this out, children. But our first concern must be for Cordelia. Xander, if you won’t stay away from her for your own sake, then do it for hers. Although you may be willing to take your own life in your hands in defiance of Angelus, ask yourself if you’re truly prepared to sacrifice hers. For while certainly Angelus will kill you without hesitation for encroaching on his territory, that does not ensure that he will leave Cordelia unpunished.”
“This has been harder for her than you know, and she has been subjected to the vampire’s dangerous presence on more than just the occasion of which you are aware. He’s hurt her, both emotionally and physically, and her overriding priority in all of this has been the safety of the people in this group.”
“Cordelia Chase has never struck me as a woman given to doing the bidding of others. And yet she has bowed to the whims of Angelus numerous times, often because of specific threats to those around her. She’s handled this in the finest way she knew how, bravely facing what needed to be done, no matter how she despised doing it. And for that, she deserves our respect and understanding.”
“Honestly, even with their restricted contact I’m amazed at how well Cordelia has managed to resist Angelus. She is strong beyond my wildest imaginings, but she still needs our support. All we can do is make this as easy as possible for her until the time comes to end this. And I will accept nothing less than full cooperation from you all, understood?”
As they all nodded, silently pledging to support the girl who had been unwittingly bound to a monster, Giles outlined his plans for the day.
“Buffy, I want you and the others to prepare for class. I’m going to take Cordelia home before people begin arriving to avoid any awkward questions. I’ll meet you all back here after school is done so that we can begin researching the incident with the Lorapred demon last night.”
And with that, the weary watcher returned to the office, hoping that maybe these new measures would keep the vampire at bay, if only for a little while.
Chapter Twenty Nine
Lying on her bed, Cordelia watched the sun gradually sink from the sky. Bathing her room in fiery hues of oranges and golds, the beauty was lost on the sole occupant as she forced her mind to return to the problem at hand.
This day had been a waking nightmare. It was strange to think that hands that had aroused her to such heights of passion the night before had brought forth such gut-churning terror that morning.
As her mind shied away from both memories, as it had all day, she strove to focus on the one thought she could hold.
Keeping Xander safe.
This was the only concept that could rest in her mind for any length of time. She needed to make sure that her boyfri- her ex-boyfriend wasn’t hurt in any way. And, though she loathed the mere idea, the only way she could think to ensure Xander’s good health was to make Angelus aware that she’d received his message loud and clear and that she would expressly obey.
The subservience of that thought made her blood boil. She hated it and she hated Angelus for forcing this submission from her. And it was in that thought that her salvation lie. For as the hatred grew, so did the rage, and the anger that had been lost to her in her traumatic haze gave rebirth to her untamed spirit as a phoenix, rising from the ashes.
Leaving her pillowed refuge, she made her way to her closet. Noticing for the first time the lack of both sketches and roses, she realized that Giles must have removed them when he brought her home.
She had been so locked in the horrors of the morning that she hadn’t been aware of leaving the school, the ride to her home, or the work he must have done to put the room back to rights. He had apparently even cleaned the carpet where she had been sick earlier.
Warmth blossomed and flowed through her at the thought of someone taking care of her. For the briefest of seconds she allowed herself to picture what her life might have been like had a man like Giles been her father. But in an instant the image was gone. Cordelia Chase was a realist. She played the cards that she had been dealt and in a move that defined the strength of her character, she choose to feel lucky for having Giles in her life in any capacity instead of feeling deprived for not having him in the capacity that she would prefer.
Grabbing some jeans and a sweater, Cordelia quickly dressed. Going to the night stand, she opened the drawer and removed two items, shoving them into her pocket. She walked down the stairs she had run down earlier that day, and made her way out into the crisp night air.
Sitting at the wheel of her car, she pulled to the end of her driveway and paused. This was the moment she dreaded.
Last night, while dancing with Xander a strange feeling had overtaken her. Causing her an almost physical discomfort, she now understood that she had been responding to the bond; to Angelus’ presence and his anger.
Not wanting to in any way, but knowing that it was the best chance they all had to remain safe, Cordelia focused on that feeling now.
It was weak at first. It lacked the close proximity and the violent emotions of the previous night. But it was there. Deep inside of her she felt it. Like a tug on her soul. A gentle pull that beckoned her towards something she couldn’t see but knew nonetheless.
As she concentrated on flutter inside of her it grew stronger. And even though that had been her hope, it scared her almost senseless to think that she was feeding the black hole of a bond that had already consumed so much of her life.
Recapturing her purpose, she shut out everything except that frisson of awareness of the vampire that she sought. Turning her car to the right, she was off.
A cemetery. Of course.
After 30 minutes of driving; backtracking and finding ways around dead end streets, she found herself sitting outside of Oak Haven Cemetery.
Driving through the gates, Angelus’ presence was much easier to detect. Strong and vibrant, she followed the path it set out effortlessly, stopping her car under one of the large oaks for which the graveyard was named. Nature had come to her aid as a full moon shown down on the tombstones, spilling light on her surroundings.
And there he was.
Sitting on a large tombstone he was relaxed, long legs stretched out before him as he appeared to wait patiently. Scanning the area for what he was expecting, Cordelia noticed the fresh grave slightly to his left.
He was waiting for a vampire. Her stomach clenched as disgust poured through her at the thought of another life taken by the devil with an angel’s face.
Knowing that each second she stayed there was a dangerous encouragement of their godforsaken bond; she swiftly approached the seated figure. Before she’d gotten within 20 feet of the vampire, the dark liquid of his voice poured over her.
“Good evening, Cordelia. I must admit, this is a surprise.” Turning to face the girl he looked her over carefully, last night’s lust flaring to life in his eyes. “Did you like my present, sweetheart?”
The mocking tone stiffened her spine and strengthened her resolve. Crossing the last of the distance that separated them Cordelia glared up angrily into his burnt chocolate gaze.
“It worked, alright. I got you message and Xander and I, we’re through. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? To ruin one more thing about my life? Well, fine. You did it. You’re the all powerful Angelus. Just leave Xander alone.”
For once Angelus wasn’t bothered by her going on about another man. No, he thought as a satisfied smirk took its place on his chiseled lips, he wasn’t bothered by this development at all.
“So, the pictures were a success? And people say that artists aren’t appreciated in their own time.”
Cordelia had never been so angry in the whole of her life. And worse, she knew that because of the bond he felt it and was mocking her still. She had to get out of there. She’d done what she came to do. Angelus knew that Xander was no longer an issue. She needed to leave; now, before she did something that she would probably not live to regret.
As she turned back towards her car she felt her waist encircled by steel bands that could only be Angelus’ arms. Her fears were confirmed as those arms propelled her backwards, pulling her in tight against his chest.
Burying his nose in her hair, he breathed her scent in deeply. His lips pressed against her ear as he purred into the delicate shell, “You aren’t thinking of leaving so soon, are you Cordelia?”
Unlike the girl straining to escape his iron grip, Angelus wanted nothing more than to pick up where they’d left off last night, before the slayer so rudely interrupted them. He knew that the bond was fast getting out of hand, especially in light of his use of it last night and Cordelia’s obvious use of it today, but that didn’t bother him. His earlier plan was a good one – fuck her, kill her, move on. And what better place for that than here. After all, if you removed the corpses from the equation, with the exception of himself, Oak Haven was really quite a romantic site.
Soon her smell and the mere feel of her in his arms weren’t enough, and in a blur of movement he spun her around in his arms, anchoring her against his chest as his mouth swooped down to catch hers in a crushing merge of lips.
His mind was instantly awash with the heat he always found in Cordelia’s embrace. But tonight he was willing to drown and he groaned at the thought of finally sliding into her body and losing himself to the passion only she seemed to ignite.
She was lightheaded. She couldn’t tell if it was the lack of oxygen or the swirling pleasure that his touch called forth. It pulsed inside her, racing through her system, yet tonight it was doomed to failure. Tonight she was already riding a high that even this sensual overload couldn’t match.
With each move he made, the caress of her cashmere covered breasts, the thrust of a strong thigh between her legs, her fury grew. Her eyes, which had closed of their own volition, bust open as her left hand was grasped and brought up to his mouth.
Watching his eyes darken, she knew he had noticed the cuts from her desperate attempts to rouse the Harris’ that morning. As he drew her middle finger deep into his mouth, Cordelia forced herself to remember that he was the cause of those wounds, even as she groaned at the erotic sensation as his tongue gently reopened them.
Knowing he was lost in the taste of the blood that was trickling into his mouth, Cordelia slowly maneuvered her right hand down to her pocket.
It’s funny; her father was always overly concerned with safety devices. Maybe it was because, on some level he felt that it made up for never being there personally to see to that particular need. So the Chases had it all. State of the art alarms for the house and all the cars. Unbreakable gates for the property. Electronic locks for the doors. And this.
A rape whistle.
Cordelia Chase was nobody’s fool, and despite her parent’s lengthy absences she had still learned the Chase creed – Know thine enemy. And she knew this one.
Putting the whistle to her lips she blew into the instrument designed to reach near deafening levels that would bring help from all those within hearing range. Although Cordelia knew there was no one to save her in this place of death, that was not the point of this particular exercise. In fact, the purpose of her actions became clear as the vampire’s grip loosened and her finger slipped from his lips as he crashed to his knees, his hands covering and protecting his sensitive ears.
That brief moment’s respite was all the time she needed to pull the remaining object from her pocket. Cordelia was alerted to the ending of her reprieve as Angelus roared, his demon face lifting to pierce her with eyes blazing amber flames.
Before he could lunge, the clear intention of every taut line of his body, she took the small bottle she had pulled from her jeans and upended it, dumping the contents in the enraged vampire’s face.
If his first howl had been loud, it was nothing to compare to the noise now pouring from him. And even as Cordelia was filled with a fierce sense of satisfaction, her fight or flight instincts took over and unilaterally picked flight.
Running to her car, she never looked back, knowing that to do so would mean her death. And so, as her tires spun so fast that black trails followed her exit she missed the dark vampire rising to his feet, a look of intent on his face so unholy that it would have made the bloodcurdling terror of the morning seem like a lover’s walk on a wind swept beach.