False Claims 30-33

Chapter Thirty

Spike heard the heavy doors to the mansion open. Angelus was home early. As he sat in the darkened room he thought about how much he hated the older vampire.

It wasn’t always like that. They’d had good times before the soul. There’d been a sense of camaraderie between them that had bound them like brothers at the best of times. Of course, it never seemed to overcome Drusilla.

That had always been the true problem between them. When it had been the four of them, Darla, Angelus, Dru, and himself; Darla, as Angelus’ sire, had taken up enough of his time to leave Dru alone for long stretches. Sure, he was still fiercely jealous of the time that his dark goddess spent with her daddy, but Angelus seemed content to share, and as that was the way of vampires, he took what he could get and was glad to have it, even if he always wanted more.

But then Angelus was gone and Darla left soon after and Spike had what he’d always wanted; his beloved sire all to himself. But could the bastard do the decent thing and stay cursed? No. Shoddy gypsy craftsmanship and a slayer who spreads her legs for demons had to muck everything up. Now the bloody wanker was back and all Dru wanted anymore, and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it stuck in this miserable chair.

Flipping on a light, Angelus walked over to the bar in the corner of the room and poured himself a drink. Leaning back against the maple surface, he grinned at his sour-faced grandchilde.

Taking in the ragged appearance of the face grinning at him, Spike speculated aloud as to the cause of the damage.

“So, decided to take on the slayer with our face, did we? Of course, with your looks it’s not as if it’s much of a loss.”

Spike’s smirk changed to an expression of confusion as Angelus threw back his head and laughed at the insults. Mentions of unsuccessful dealings with the slayer usually caused at least some measure of displeasure from the vampire.

“Not the slayer, Spike.” Angelus informed him as he fingered the still raw wounds on his face. “This was courtesy of my new pet.”

Angelus liked that. He liked the way it felt on his tongue, the way it sounded in the air.

As soon as the holy water had hit his face he’d known – she was his.

After everything he’d done, the threats, the abductions, the biting, the terror that he could taste on her still lingering from his warnings about Harris, after all of that she’d hunted him down, met him on what was undeniably his own turf, and not just challenged him, but beat him! She had literally brought him to his knees and escaped unscathed. No one else alive could say that. And it made him crazy for her.

Giving her up, relinquishing his claim on her, that had been insanity on his part. But he saw clearly now. He wanted to drown in the pools of her ardor and burn in the fire of her rage. He wanted to fill her in every way there was ’til nothing else existed in her but her and him fused in an ebb and flow of desire and satisfaction.

It was ironic. All he had wanted originally was proof that the bond that lived in him existed in Cordelia, also. By finding him in that cemetery tonight she had proved conclusively that she, too, felt the pull. But now that he could lay that worry to rest and give her up it was too late. To much time, too many exposures had transformed the desire for conformation into the need to own.

And as he surrendered the steely control that he’d been using to keep their bond at bay he felt almost drunk with relief. Giving in to what he wanted felt so good that it made the wanting even greater.

Now the confusion gave way to understanding as Spike felt the waves of obsession rolling off of Angelus. But some pieces of this puzzle were obviously still missing, because – “Didn’t you just kill your new pet?”

Not liking the comparison of that second rate trollop with his perfect Cordelia, Angelus’ voice was sharp as he made the distinction.

She was an experiment, Spike. Not a pet.”

The blonde vampire looked up incredulously. “An experiment? God, you can’t be that rusty, mate. I’m surprised you manage to feed yourself.”

Angelus shot a condescending look to the injured demon and returned the offensive volley. “Well, Spikey, since that’s more than you can do, I wouldn’t be so quick to criticize.”

“Yeah,” Spike shot back, “well at least I don’t get my ass kicked by my own pet.”

If he had expected a violent reaction from Angelus, either verbal or physical, he was quickly disappointed as, instead, what could only be described as a dreamy expression overtook his face.

“Yeah. You should have seen her, boy. She was fire and ice. She told me what I wanted to hear and then beat me down in my moment of weakness. She was… magnificent.”

Angelus’ voice reflected the awe he still felt at not just Cordelia’s daring, but her success.

Pouring a glass of whiskey for Spike and refilling his own, he drifted over to the couch next to his grandchilde. Leaning his head on the cushions he seemed to lose himself, momentarily, in his thoughts.

“Ah, Will. I’ve been so remiss. I’ve been pushing my girl with no declaration of my feelings. I’ve cheated her out of a proper courtship. No wonder she’s refusing to acknowledge our bond. After all, she’s no common whore. No, Cordelia’s a good girl and her first time should be special.”

Spike started at hearing the name. No, even Angelus couldn’t be that reckless; that stupid.

“You don’t mean the cheerleader? The slayer’s little friend? That’s just askin’ to be dusted. Besides, isn’t she shaggin’ the moron?”

Angelus was on him in an instant, knocking his chair backwards and crushing Spike’s neck between his hands and the floor.

“Don’t ever talk about Cordelia like that. She’s mine and she’ll only ever be mine.”

In one of his lightening fast mood shifts, Angelus released Spike and returned him, wheelchair and all, to his previous position. Pacing the length of the room, Angelus began to ponder his next move.

“Now, how best to declare my intentions.”

Spike rolled his eyes. Angelus had always been so bloody melodramatic. Always had to drag everything out. Usually he’d ride his grandsire mercilessly about his elaborate plans, but this time they could work to his favor.

Sure, Angelus had had pets before, but he’d never seen him this worked up. This girl was special to him and had obviously been the reason for much of his recent absences. It was those periods, without the older vampire, that had given him a chance to woo Drusilla back to his side.

A pet would drive Dru mad, not that that was necessarily a long drive. But it would definitely push a wedge between her and her daddy. And then Dru would do what she always did to get back at her sire – She’d spend all of her time doting on her childe.

But Spike had a sneaking suspicion that this time Dru’s antics wouldn’t distract Angelus and that the path back to his eternal love might finally be clear.

With those pleasurable thoughts dancing seductively in his head, Spike tuned back into the conversation, although Angelus seemed, technically, to be talking to himself.

“I could always approach this the old fashioned way – Ask her father’s permission as I killed him.”

He paused to consider the merits of that idea.

“But killing loved ones this early in the relationship…It’s like proposing on the first date.”

A steady growl built up in his chest. “Besides, I’d have to find her parents in order to kill them. Their neglect of Cordelia is truly criminal.” The rumbling stopped as a smile crossed his face. “Oh well, she has me now, and I’ll make sure she’s not alone anymore.”

Listening to Angelus drone on about his plans, Spike felt the need for a smoke. Lighting up one that hadn’t been crushed by their earlier altercation, he took a deep drag, filling his dead lungs with smoke. He blew it out in satisfaction as he looked pointedly at the still pacing vampire.

“Yeah, you’ll take care of her – ’til you kill her. Never could take care of your pets.”

Angelus spun around, quick to protest. “That wasn’t my fault; you know how Darla was – jealous streak a mile wide. She was always sneaking around, killing my pets. I was always surprised that she put up with Dru the way she did. Probably only ’cause Drusilla was my childe.”

“But,” Angelus finished happily, “Seeing as I killed her, I don’t really see that as an impediment to my plans.”

Spike had to admit that Angelus had a point. Although the thought of a soul made him sick, he did have to envy him the control it gave him in dealing with Darla.

“So, when do we get a formal introduction to the chit?”

Angelus shot an indulgent smile at the younger vampire.

“Come now, Spike. We haven’t even started dating and you already want her to meet the in-laws? You have to remember, she’s part of the white hat brigade. It’ll take time to bring her over, but she’s more than worth the investment.”

Angelus’ complete about faces should be routine by now, and yet they always seemed to throw Spike for a loop.

“Isn’t that what you said about the slayer you fickle git?!”

The shadow that normally crossed his face at the mention of the slayer was missing as he answered Spike’s question.

“No. Hurting the slayer is an investment in as much as it guarantees a weakness in our enemy. Torturing her, making her every waking moment and most of her sleeping one’s unbearable is just…well, fun; but it’s also necessary.”

“But eventually, she’ll break. My guess is sooner rather than later. And really, there’s nothing less fun than a broken toy.”

“But Cordelia, she’s enduring. I don’t want to break her, I want to possess her. I want to savor her; own her. I want to be the focus of all of that blistering passion. I want her every thought to be of me, her every desire to be quenched only in my arms. I’m going to be her world, Spike.”

“Will I still destroy the slayer? You betcha. But is it my top priority anymore? I don’t think it is. No, now Buffy’s business. But Cordelia? She’s all pleasure.”


Chapter Thirty One

Cordelia entered the school and headed directly for her locker. It had been a full day since she’d seen Angelus; almost 36 hours since she’d burned him with holy water, and she was desperately clinging to the hope that the lack of any attempts at reprisal meant that he had accepted that she was no longer seeing Xander and had moved on.

Still, she couldn’t help but be skittish, which is why she jumped when Buffy, who had come up behind her, called her name.

“Are you okay, Cordelia?” The slayer asked, seeing the cheerleader’s reaction to the simple morning greeting.

“No, I’m not okay! What is it with people in this town always sneaking up on a person?”

Cordelia knew her reaction was out of proportion to the situation, but she couldn’t help the overflow of emotions as adrenalin poured through her body. She had been through so much the last few weeks that her body prepared for an emergency at the slightest provocation.

Taking a deep breath she turned to the subdued slayer.

“Look, I’m sorry, Buffy. It’s nothing personal. I’m just a little edgy and apparently you can’t help your sneaky genes.”

Sneaky genes? Buffy wondered. She didn’t have sneaky genes. Sure, she had slayer DNA, but – oh. Well, actually she could see Cordelia’s point. Still, couldn’t she find a better term for it?

Cordelia had turned back to her locker, dialing in the combination by rote. As she yanked open the metal door in an effort to grab her history book and make it to class on time, she was unprepared for the flood of photographs that cascaded to the floor.

Bending down, Cordelia felt as if she were in a dream as she reached for the first glossy image her hand met. She wasn’t sure she could look. The last time Angelus had left pictures for her, and she had no doubt that this was his work; she had nearly suffered a breakdown of sorts. If this were something hideous, something graphic and gory, how would she –

“It’s you.”

Buffy’s voice cut through her escalating panic. If the pictures were of her, it would be okay, wouldn’t it? After all, she was right here, in one piece. But bringing her eyes to the photograph she knew that nothing would be okay ever again.

Buffy was right. Every picture was of her. Recognizing her outfit she could tell that they’d all been taken yesterday. Scenes of her getting into her car. Arriving at school. In her math class. Her English class. P.E. Driving home. Curled up on her parent’s bed because she couldn’t stand her own room.

It was disturbing, knowing someone was watching you. Knowing you didn’t know. And while none of the pictures were threatening in their content, they were troubling beyond measure because they were all, every one of them, taken during the day.

Every portrait that she saw of the hundreds scattered around her had been shot while the sun was shining. A clear message that there was no safety. Nowhere to hide.

And as frightening as that message was, it wasn’t what evoked the terrible fear now shaking the girl. No, that was caused by the writing on each and every picture. Over every image of her body, her face, were the flowing, artistic strokes that spelled out one word.

MINE

“Cordelia?”

She heard her name from far away, but she wasn’t sure from where.

“Cordelia!”

This time she was shaken and the fleeting break her eyes were given from their haunting view allowed her to reconnect with the world around her and the slayer who was painfully grasping her arm.

As the Buffy pulled her into a standing position, Cordelia saw what it was that had captured her attention.

There, in her locker, resting atop her books was a beautiful red, velvet box. Far larger than any jewelry case she had ever seen, it was adorned with a ribbon which secured to it a note. With a sense of hollow resignation, Cordelia reached for the note.

My dearest Cordelia ~

The beauty of this bracelet brought your face immediately to mind.

Wear it, my love, and think of me.

Counting the hours ’til we’re together,

Angelus

Forcing her hands forward, she lifted the lid. Angelus was right. The bracelet was exquisite.

If one could get past the fact that it still rested on the previous owner’s wrist.

Cordelia was very proud of herself – This time it was Buffy who screamed.


Chapter Thirty Two: A Fine Romance

Would he never finish this infernal research, Giles wondered as he heard the library doors slam open. When the bell had rung earlier, signaling the beginning of classes, he had felt safe in abandoning his post at the outer desk in favor of the books in his office that might contain references to explain the strange behavior of the Lorapred demon a few nights before.

But apparently his dedication to study was not shared by whichever misguided student felt that they could avoid class by hiding in his library. Making his way into the larger room, Giles was shocked to see Buffy. It wasn’t her presence that surprised the watcher, she often showed up in the middle of class. After all, protecting the Hellmouth was rarely a predictable business.

No, what worried him at this moment was the dazed look on her distressed face. Pale beyond reason, she seemed to drift, almost aimlessly, through the doors she had just forced open. Her arms were full of photographs clutched haphazardly to her chest.

Giles knew of only two things that could put that look on his slayer’s face. One was an injury to someone she loved and the other was Angelus. And if it was the latter there was every chance that it was also the former. The hundreds or so pictures that she was currently carrying towards the table gave further credence to his theory that the vampire was involved.

As the girl dumped her bundle onto the polished, wooden surface, Giles was distracted by the entrance of another of his young charges. In what he presumed was a bad omen, Cordelia carried a mid-size, red velvet box in her hands. He could only venture a guess that the contents of said box were extremely objectionable given the look of distaste on the brunettes face and the fact that she held the box as far away from her person as her long arms would allow.

She too went directly to the table to divest herself of her burden.

“Geez, Buffy, I don’t know why I had to carry this when you’re the one that kills things as a hobby.”

And the harbingers of doom just kept coming, Giles privately acknowledged as he walked, reluctantly to where the girls awaited. He couldn’t help but notice the differences in their demeanor.

Cordelia was right. Buffy dealt with death on a daily basis. She, herself, was often its cause. And yet every new blow to her life or the lives of those about whom she cared demolished her anew. It was a part of her open nature, evidence of her willingness to trust. This facet of her personality was both an asset and a liability. It allowed her to connect to the world and those in it in a way that enhanced her ability as a slayer. And yet that same strength was often compromised by the simple fact that when you’re an open door, anything can enter. And when it’s something unpleasant the results could be devastating. Angelus was the quintessential example of this.

By contrast, Cordelia was brimming with acerbic attitude. Unlike Buffy’s openness, whatever tragedies had plagued this girl’s life had built walls around her heart of the strongest stone. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, quite the contrary as her efforts to protect him from Angelus’ wrath had demonstrated. No, she cared deeply. But whereas Buffy expected people to return her affections and was therefore blind sided by betrayal; Cordelia anticipated heartache in all of her dealings, and when it occurred she accepted it as a validation of her beliefs and erected her walls that much higher.

Whatever happened must have been of a most severe nature as those walls were in full evidence now. And as he picked up one of many similar images, Giles was saddened to be proven correct.

The pictures of Cordelia in any manner of routine situations were all obscured with the repetitive declaration of ownership scrawled across each depiction of the girl. And while Giles mind reeled with the implications of Angelus’ assertion, it was working to the extent that he numbly observed that every pose in which the young woman was captured was lit by daylight.

Apparently Angelus had a new obsession and he had help.

Wanting to face the problem head on, Giles reached for the box and snapped open the lid before either distracted girl could voice a warning.

“Dear God.”

How many times would he end up uttering that phrase before this ordeal ended? He hoped it wouldn’t be needed on too many more occasions. However at this moment it was entirely justified. A hand! A goddamn hand. Someone else’s life had been sacrificed by the vampire, and for what? A sick offering to a girl who reviled him?

And yet, even through his haze of anger and disgust his agile intellect was conceiving questions which would require answers. Knowing that he should be comforting the children who appeared to be retraumatized by the opening of the parcel he still could not prevent one of these questions from springing forth from his lips.

“Why on earth would he send you a hand?”

“What? A hand? Of course he wouldn’t send me a hand. Well, I mean obviously he would send me a hand, but not just a hand…”

Cordelia stopped when she realized that she was hardly contributing to Giles’ understanding of the situation. Taking a deep breath she tried to focus on explaining this new development, but her attention was understandably diverted by the unattached hand artistically arranged on a soft bed of velvet. Leaning forward she quickly snapped the lid shut and employed an “out of sight, out of mind” strategy.

“Yes, Angelus sent a hand. However, he said the gift was the bracelet.”

Giles eyes shot from the box to Cordelia’s as he caught her last words.

“He said? You spoke to him? Did he give this to you personally? Are you alright, Cordelia?”

She knew things were bad when she babbled, but for the normally concise watcher to begin to ramble was most likely a sign of the apocalypse. Of course, only in her life could a chatty librarian trump a stumpy hand.

“Don’t worry, Giles. This was not a vamp to door delivery. I found it in my locker, along with all the proof I’d ever need for a restraining order.”

“Yes, indeed. Please, sit down girls.”

At that point even Buffy was able to briefly surface from her haze of denial long enough to join Cordelia in throwing a glare at the watcher that all of the “ewwws” ever spoken could not wholly express.

Comprehension dawning that he had just asked them to share space with a severed limb, Giles quickly rectified the problem by snatching the box from the table and placing it on the desk in his office.

Exiting his office once more, Giles began to question the now seated girls.

“Cordelia, I know that this must be trying for you.” He paused as Cordelia rolled her eyes at such an overwhelming understatement. “Yes, well. Things have obviously changed from Angelus’ perspective. Can you pinpoint when this change might have occurred?”

Glancing over at the blonde seated with her, Cordelia considered lying to the concerned watcher. She had thought having to pour out the intimate details of her encounter with Angelus had been hard when it was Giles. Never had she considered having to do the same with Buffy.

How do you tell someone that their vampire ex-boyfriend was stalking you and making with the romance? Cordelia rolled her eyes again, this time at her own stupid thought. Of course she didn’t know how to break that news. Who the Hell ever had news like that to break??

Knowing that Giles wouldn’t let her leave without answers and Buffy wouldn’t leave while there was a chance that Giles could force them out of her, Cordelia gave a mental shudder and the prepared to relive events she had planned to never again to revisit.

“Giles, the day after Angelus talked to you he came to my house.”

That captured the attention of both the watcher and his slayer. The watcher wondering why the demon had plagued the young girl once again, and the slayer wondering why her watcher had spoken with Angelus and not told her about it.

Seeing the look of betrayal creeping across her classmate’s face, Cordelia quickly nipped that in the bud.

“Look Buffy, I know that you want this to be about you and your tragic love affair with the dead, but today is about my trauma, and just ’cause you helped cause it doesn’t mean you’re the center of it.”

It was bitchy but it worked as the blonde bit back the chastisements she was planning to unleash in Giles’ direction, and instead she sat back in her chair and waited for further revelations which seemed to have been purposefully concealed from her.

Having stopped that potential drama in its tracks, Cordelia continued, now addressing her remarks to Giles.

“He said that he was there to make sure that I was behaving, that I wasn’t planning on doing the bait thing while you weren’t looking. ‘Cause yeah, that’s my favorite hobby.”

Buffy’s spine stiffened as it suddenly dawned on her why Cordelia had stayed behind during the fight with the Lorapred. It wasn’t because she was sleeping with her watcher. It was because she’d been threatened by her psychotic ex. It was difficult for her to pick a feeling out of the emotional deluge swamping her. She’d narrowed it down to ecstatic joy or unbelievable horror. Giving herself a break today she decided to go with joy, knowing that she might as well get it where she could.

“So we talked and stuff and he disappeared into the night.”

Giles understood what was meant by “stuff ” and he respected Cordelia’s need to not dwell on specifics in Buffy’s presence. He was about to consol her but to his dismay she continued.

“Then, the other night at the Bronze some more stuff may have happened before he dragged me out of there.”

Giles turned his eyes, momentarily towards Buffy as he saw her curiosity begin to grow as awareness came that Cordelia was speaking in a sort of code. As a slayer she had amazing instincts and as a young woman she was quite intelligent. It was only a matter of time before she deduced what the brunette was trying wholeheartedly not to say.

“Then -“

“Oh dear God.”

The apparently staple phrase of his vocabulary slipped out, once again, before he could halt its escape. He felt even worse at the interruption as lovely hazel eyes turned to his, sympathy spilling from their depths. The knowledge that she had had yet another encounter with the brutal killer and her concern was reserved for those who had clearly failed to protect her was more than he thought he could silently endure.

“Actually, Giles, this one was okay. In fact, I totally kicked his ass.”


Chapter Thirty Three

And Giles knew. Just as surely as he had known that Cordelia’s open display of affection to Xander had been the cause of the drawings that had littered her bedroom floor, he was absolutely certain that whatever Cordelia had done to present herself as a challenge in Angelus’ eyes had sparked this personal level of possessiveness.

You kicked Angelus’ ass?”

Cordelia scowled at Buffy’s incredulous tone. Sure, she may not be a slayer but she could handle herself. Not that she’d want to put that to the test every night, but she was more than up to the occasional challenge. Besides, she was not going to let Buffy chip away at any of the confidence she’d gained from her last encounter with Angelus. She better than anyone knew that she’d most likely need every scrap of it in the days to come.

“Just because you’re not ready to take him on doesn’t mean the rest of us aren’t. Besides, some of us just don’t have the luxury of waiting.”

“Because he’s targeting you.” It was more of a statement than a question from the slayer and she was shocked at the reply the cheerleader gave.

“Because he was targeting Xander.”

Cordelia turned her gaze back to Giles as she tried to explain the reckless actions of which she knew he would not approve.

“I had to go. It wasn’t enough to break up with Xander unless I let him know. You see that, right Giles? I didn’t have a choice.”

As he stared into the girl’s worried eyes he wondered once again at the notions the rest of the group had about her. While the safeguards protecting her heart were numerous and quite strong in nature, the heart that they were protecting was larger than even his greatest expectations. He had often heard Buffy and Willow talking in the library about what Xander saw in Cordelia. They had always settled on the expedient answer that the boy was enamored of her beauty. But the greater knowledge he’d recently gained of the girl had shown him exactly why Xander was drawn to her. Sympathy welled up in the watcher for the cheerful young man and what he was losing to the monster who was their former ally.

“It’s alright, Cordelia. I know that Angelus has offered you little choice in your dealings with him. I am also aware how truly difficult this is for you to revisit. However, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to insist on hearing the specifics of your last encounter with Angelus. Please, Cordelia. If the key to this new obsession is contained in those details then there may be a chance for us to undo whatever was done.”

Giles felt like a cad for dragging the tormented girl back into what must surely have been a nightmare, but there truly was no other choice. If, indeed, there was any hope of returning to their previous status quo it would be found in the recollections she was now about to share.

“Well, you now about the drawings. Even after I saw Xander safe in the library I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that he was still in danger. I knew that breaking up with him wouldn’t be enough if Angelus didn’t know about it. Although he always seems to have the 411 on everything else in my life.”

“So I went out to tell him that I’d done what he obviously wanted. I found him at Oak Haven -“

Despite the fact that Giles always went into these conversations intending to listen patiently to the entire story, he found himself staying true to form as he disrupted her tale for his pressing questions.

“You found him at Oak Haven? Please tell me that you weren’t wandering the cemeteries of Sunnydale trying to track him down.”

Seeing the look of guilt that shot across her face, Giles realized that the truth she was about to reveal was actually worse then a young woman, alone, at night, scouring graveyards on the Hellmouth. Feeling an odd gurgle in the pit of his stomach, he wondered if he might not be developing an ulcer.

“I might have used the bond.” Seeing the watcher about to erupt in a massive spewing of large words and lecture-like tones, Cordelia spoke quickly to forestall him. “I know I’m not supposed to use it, Giles. But this was an emergency. Xander’s life was at stake and I didn’t think just once would be that huge of a deal. And like you said, I couldn’t very well spend the evening traipsing across random cemeteries.”

If Giles had felt like a cad before it was nothing to how low he felt at this moment. This girl had been thinking of nothing but protecting someone she cared about, and her use of the bond was at great personal danger; a risk she seemed willing to take in exchange for Xander’s continued good health. He had no place to reprimand her, and although his response was motivated purely by concern, he had to remember that she was desperate and traumatized, being stalked by the undead, and she was handling it in the best way she knew how. In fact, far better than he believed most people would.

“Yes, you are quite right, Cordelia. Please, continue your story.”

“I told him that I’d broken up with Xander so he should leave him alone. The jerk was so smug; he just wanted to pick up where everything had left off the night before.”

At this point it was becoming more and more clear what Cordelia had meant by “stuff”. The thought turned Buffy’s stomach. Sure, she’d slept with that body, but it had a soul in it at the time and that had to mean something. She clung desperately to that hope, as she felt the chill in her heart concerning all things Cordelia start to thaw as she realized that Cordelia didn’t even have that to hold on to.

“So I waited ’til he was distracted and then I blew the rape whistle my dad gave me when I turned 14.”

And the admiration doubled. For both watcher and slayer the girl had jumped considerably in their estimation. And while, for Giles, this was a recurring theme in his dealings with Cordelia, for Buffy this was unfamiliar territory. Respecting this particular girl was something that had never once crossed her mind.

“Of course that dropped him like a stone.” Cordelia smirked at the memory, one of the few that Angelus had provided that she enjoyed replaying. “Then, when he looked up and got ready to grab me I doused him with holy water.”

Cordelia wasn’t sure, but she thought that the stunned, slightly opened mouth expressions on the faces of her audience might just be an insult. Did they really think she was that helpless? Sure, she was the first to admit that her plan had worked because she had the element of surprise, but that wasn’t a random occurrence. That had been her intention all along.

And did they really think that she would face a master vampire set on ruining her life without some form of weapons? How low was their opinion of her? Oh well, she thought with her characteristic realism, at least it can only go up.

“And he just let you go after that?” Surprise had driven Buffy’s voice up an octave to an ear piercing level that had both Giles and Cordelia wincing.

“Hell no!” Cordelia looked at the other girl as if she’d lost her mind. “Duh, I ran to my car and peeled out of there while he was still trying to find what was left of his face.”

All three paused to enjoy that image. Even Buffy savored the picture it brought to mind, glad to know that someone could hurt Angelus, even if that someone could not yet be her.

That thought, on top of the ordeals that Cordelia had been suffering while she’d been completely oblivious saddened Buffy. What kind of slayer was she if she couldn’t even slay something that was threatening everyone she cared about and yet Cordelia Chase could hunt him down in a cemetery and kick his ass? She wondered if it were possible for slayers to lose their edge.

It wasn’t the first time today that she’d asked herself that question, either. When Cordelia had opened the box in her locker and Angelus’ gruesome token of affection had been revealed, to her everlasting shame it was her who had screamed, and not the squeamish cheerleader. But there was no way that she could have stopped her horror from vocally expressing itself. She’d seen plenty of body parts of all kinds, but knowing that this was from Angelus made it personal in a way that none of the others had been. And that, more than anything was what drove the shrill sound from her throat.

As Giles watched the play of emotions on Buffy’s face he wondered how any of them would make it through what was sure to follow. Angelus had claimed Cordelia in action as well as theory. His gifts clearly demonstrated that he had moved past the idea of necessity and onto pure want.

Giles wanted to tell the girl to run, but he doubted there was a refuge out there in which she could successfully hide. No, her best chance of remaining outside of the vampire’s grasp was here, alongside the slayer.

This, too, confused Giles. Why was Angelus allowing her an existence away from his own? Like much of the particulars of this claim, it was unheard of. Not the games of course. The stalking, the gifts, the threatening or killing of loved ones were all standard “courting” behavior towards the victim that the demon intended to claim or turn. But those games always ceased once the bond was established. Not only did close proximity enable the connection to flourish, but continued distance was often uncomfortable for both the human and the vampire.

While Giles was certainly appreciative of Angelus’ apparent and uncharacteristic restraint, he knew better than to have any faith that it would continue for longer than it suited the vampire’s purpose.

“Cordelia, this changes things drastically. Your previous contact with Angelus had always centered on his bid for power and need to have you conduct yourself in ways that did not reflect negatively upon him.”

“But this, this is an open declaration of ownership. This is his way of alerting you to the fact that he intends to pursue you and enforce, in every way, his claim over you. It’s a situation I was sincerely hoping that we could avoid because if he’s truly opened himself up to the bond you share there may be no turning back.”

As sharp tendrils of fear curled round her stomach, Cordelia pushed aside the feelings of helplessness and adopted, instead, a careless, hardened affect.

“I don’t really care what Angelus wants to open himself up to. There’s no way that I’m dating the undead. Dating Xander was bad enough for my reputation, thank you.”

For once Buffy understood what Xander had always maintained about Cordelia. He had told both her and Willow that there was more to the girl’s acerbic nature than they knew. She hadn’t believed it then, but seeing the shadow of pain that crossed the brunette’s face as she spoke so lightly of her ex-boyfriend, Buffy could finally see that her words were merely the weapon she used to hold her pain at bay.

Giles, too, had notice the hurt look in Cordelia’s eyes and wanted nothing more than to assure her that Angelus would go away. That she would wake tomorrow and this would be nothing but a nightmare that would fade with every passing minute. But he couldn’t do that. If she were to survive until Buffy was ready to move against her former love she would have to be equipped with more than just a whistle and some holy water. She would need to be armed with the truth.

“Cordelia, at this time the best thing that you can do is to stay away from Angelus. The bond is no where near an overwhelming level, and it can be kept that way by maintaining a large degree of distance between yourself and the vampire. To that end, I think that the best thing to be done is for you to remain, at all times, with Buffy.”

“What?!”

“No way!”

It was objections in stereo as both girls made their dissatisfaction known. But the watcher was having none of it. This sad state of affairs called for extreme measures and he was not going to let their petty squabbling compromise Cordelia’s safety.

“Enough! This is not open for discussion. There is a monster out there who will stop at nothing to obtain his goals. If we are to meet this challenge we must do so with all of the resources available to us. This means putting aside any differences and focusing on getting through this with everyone’s life not just intact, but relatively unchanged.”

Cordelia could hear in the watcher’s tone that this was non-negotiable, and as it was motivated by genuine concern for her she decided to acquiesce – to a point.

“Alright, Giles. My parents will be home on Monday. Buffy can stay at my house ’til then.”

Seeing that this was the greatest concession that he could obtain from the girl and that Buffy looked unhappy with even that compromise, Giles decided to accept what was offered and address the problem again come Monday.

Chapter 34

Posted in TBC

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