Chapter Forty Seven: Strategic Retreat
This was harder than she’d thought.
Buffy sighed deeply at the realization. They were arguing about Angelus; a normally sore spot for the young slayer, but now, with the inclusion of Jenny Calendar things seemed even more tense than usual. And Buffy hadn’t really believed that to be possible.
The worst part was that she was the reason Jenny was here to begin with. She’s called the computer teacher earlier that morning and asked if she would come over to Giles’ place and help them come up with some kind of plan to deal with the vampire.
It wasn’t that Buffy actually thought that they needed Jenny’s help. No, the inspiration for what was feeling more and more like a stupid idea was Cordelia. And why didn’t that surprise her. Ever since last weekend, when she and Cordelia had argued in her bedroom, Buffy hadn’t been able to push the cheerleader’s words from her mind.
Did Giles feel guilty all the time? Was she missing the emotional signals her watcher was putting out? Was she really so focused on her own issues that she was blinding herself to the turmoil of those she cared about?
Well, over the past week she’d learned the answer to those questions was a big gigantic “Hell yeah!”
Okay, she had to admit that the fact that Giles felt bad for letting the others involve themselves in the slaying business wasn’t so much of a shock. And his guilt for her not being able to have some normalcy in her life was less of a revelation, although certainly unexpected given his original opinion on the subject, and more of an idea that she shoved aside because sometimes she needed to have someone to blame when she had to cancel a date to save the world.
It wasn’t that she really believed that it was Giles’ fault; it was just that he was one of the few safe people with whom she could vent her frustrations. He loved her, and she knew, absolutely, that her semi-childish rants at him would be forgiven.
But what had surprised her was Jenny Calendar.
Giles missed her. Not in the way that you wish someone would call or write and let you know how they were doing, but in the pained, longing looks, thought of a thousand little things to tell you today and you weren’t there sort of missing.
And it wasn’t just Giles. Willow missed her, too. Now that Buffy knew what to listen for she realized that Willow had practically bit her tongue to keep from mentioning Miss Calendar at least 8 times before she’d stopped counting in self-disgust.
It wasn’t that she had wanted to keep everyone away from the young teacher. It was just that Buffy had assumed that everyone felt the same way that she did. She thought that they had all felt betrayed and wouldn’t want the reminder of those lies that Jenny would bring. It hadn’t even occurred to her that some of her friends might have cared deeply enough for the teacher to be hurt by her absence.
Buffy didn’t want to ignore the pain of those closest to her. Truly she didn’t. She loved them, and she’d never purposefully do anything to hurt them. She knew that this situation had been hard on everyone. She wasn’t that blind. She just hurt so badly every minute, that it was sometimes hard for her to remember that other people were hurting, too.
And boy, that realization didn’t ease away any of the pain. No, now she just had more to feel bad about. Well she had decided that some of that stopped today. She might not be able to get Angel back, and she might not be ready to kill Angelus; but there were things that she could do. Things that would relieve some of people’s pain and maybe begin to unmake this mess for which she knew in her heart she would always feel responsible.
And so she’d called Jenny.
It had been hard, but when Jenny had arrived and Giles saw that she was there at Buffy’s request, the look on his face had more than made up for any lingering discomfort the slayer felt.
One thing down, 999,999 more to go.
As Giles watched the play of emotions on Buffy’s face he couldn’t stop the flood of affection that rushed through him. He knew how difficult this was for the girl. Despite the vast amounts of time she spent dealing with the vilest creatures walking the earth, things such as betrayal and dishonesty always caught her off guard. She expected the best from everyone and was therefore unprepared for the all too common human error.
But Buffy, for all the narrowness in the scope of her affection, deeply loved those around her. And though she may be slow to see their pain, when she did she would go to great lengths to end it. It was to that fine characteristic he knew he could attribute Jenny’s presence in his apartment.
God, he had missed her.
True, at first he’d been hurt by her omissions. But as the initial pain had faded he’d pondered the amount of people he’d kept in the dark concerning his true profession. He was even encouraging a young girl to hide her destiny from her own mother. Over time his belief in his right to judge Jenny had dimmed and instead he’d found himself simply wanting her comfort throughout this ordeal.
But Buffy had needed him, and though he didn’t regret for a moment standing with his slayer, it had left a hole in his hear that he was still struggling to fill.
But now, just having her there, seeing her face, smelling the musky spice of her perfume was a balm to his all too wounded soul. Love was a rare visitor in his often dreary life. Jenny had been his sunny day in the midst of a long frigid winter. But all too soon she’d been gone and he was left with nothing but the biting cold of loneliness once more. To have her close, to have a chance to regain what he had thought lost was the greatest gift his slayer could have given him.
Giles rubbed a hand wearily across his forehead. He knew that Buffy would have to grow up eventually, but why did it have to happen like this? Although he appreciated her new found maturity, the price was so high and he wondered, more than once, how she would be able to handle the emotional fallout when she was finally forced to kill Angelus.
Of course, right now when it came to the vampire Giles was far more concerned for Cordelia than he was for his slayer. Buffy’s problems were more internal as she tried to reconcile her love for Angel with the loathing inspired by Angelus. However Cordelia’s plight was external in nature, stemming from the demon and the bond he’d created with the girl.
Although Angelus had taken Cordelia from them that night in the cemetery, Giles’ instincts had proven correct and Cordelia had called him a few hours later from her bedroom, declaring all to be well. She had sounded groggy and confused, but since she was safe within the confines of her home, he had chalked it up to the unrelenting stress of a pursuing vampire.
Still, things had been quiet since then and Cordelia seemed to be handling things as well as could be expected consid –
“I’m leaving town.”
Chapter Forty Eight
Giles had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even heard the door open or the whirlwind that was Cordelia Chase enter. She was casually clothed in stonewashed jeans coupled with a deep red tank top and the lengthy tresses of her hair fell in attractive disarray down her back. She carried with her an air of urgency that bespoke more of her intention to flee than did her sudden proclamation.
“Cordelia. Sit down and tell us what this is all about.”
At the “us”, Cordelia glanced around the room, taking in the presence of the slayer and Jenny Calendar. Focusing again on the watcher she waved aside his request.
“I don’t have time for a chat, Giles. I just didn’t want you to worry when I didn’t show up for school on Monday. So, that’s done. I’ll just be going.”
With a nod of his head to Buffy she silently placed herself in between the brunette and the doorway while Cordelia was saying her abbreviated goodbyes. Thus Cordelia was brought up just short of escape as Buffy crossed her arms over her chest, making it clear that she would not be moved. To those who didn’t know the blonde girl the picture would have been amusing. But all in this room were more than aware that the door behind her would not open until she permitted.
Giles took advantage of Cordelia’s frustrated distraction to approach the brunette. Placing a hand on her shoulder the flinch he felt rock her was not unexpected given the circumstances, but the immediate relaxing on realizing it was only him was a surprising glimpse at the trust this young woman had placed in him.
“Cordelia, please, let’s just discuss this for a moment. We don’t want you to do anything rash. I know that this has been terribly difficult for you, but I believe that it would be foolish at this time to leave the protection afforded by the slayer.”
Giles winced slightly as Cordelia’s voice climbed in both volume and register.
“Giles, there is no protection. Not for me, and certainly not for any of you. Don’t you see, he knows. He knows that you’re all my strength…and my weakness.”
“You’ve seen him again.” Not a question, but a statement. This new need to leave the vampire’s sphere of influence was, Giles was positive, motivated by some new and frightening trauma to which the girl had been subjected. “What did he do?”
Turning to look up at him, Giles heart nearly tore in two at the haunted look of desperation visible behind the sheen of tears in Cordelia’s eyes.
A hush fell over the room for which Giles gave thanks, for otherwise he never would have heard Cordelia’s whispered response.
“He’s going to kill you. All of you. All of my friends, all of my family, teachers, fellow cheerleaders, everything that makes me who I am he’s going to destroy ’til all that’s left is who he wants; a person who desires nothing but him.”
Giles had known all along that this would be part of Angelus’ plan, but to hear Cordelia speak of it in an empty monotone caused shivers to flutter across his skin as repulsive pictures filled his mind. Careful to keep his voice even, Giles attempted to gather further information on her interaction with the vampire.
“That’s what he did when you saw him last? He revealed his plans?”
Slowly the pained look in the glassy, hazel depths was being replaced by burgeoning self-recrimination.
“No. He made me understand them.”
Giles bit back a silent curse when, at his start of surprise, the internally directed loathing in her eyes bloomed and her bitter explanation poured forth.
“He gave me all the details, Giles. He wanted me to know why he was going to hurt me so badly. He wanted me to get it, and how sick am I, ’cause I do.”
Cordelia grasped Giles shirt in a silent plea, almost as if she planned to shake him. Her wild stare pinned him in place as a torrent of words could no longer be denied.
“He’s right Giles. Angelus is right. As long as even one of you are alive, one person who ties me to who I am at this moment, I’ll never stop trying to find a way to get back here, to where I was, [b]who[/b] I was.”
“He promised to do it quickly, not to make you suffer, but he’ll kill you all because he knows that I’ll choose to be with him if my only other choice is being alone. And – and Giles…I’m not sure that he’s wrong.”
Giles reached up and encompassed Cordelia’s hands in a soothing clasp. He needed to find the words to soothe the near hysterical girl, to make her see that there was nothing wrong with her and that these feelings were the product of mystical forces and the mental manipulations of an evil creature centuries in the making. But for all his wisdom, all his years, those words didn’t come. And in the end, all he could do was agree with this young woman who had amazed him with her strength and surprised him with her compassion.
“Where will you go?”
The air rushed from Cordelia’s body leaving her slightly lightheaded as she saw acceptance radiating from every line of Giles’ body. She had struggled all night trying to figure out what was wrong with her that she had seen Angelus’ point of view. Sure, she’d thought it was nauseating and horrific, but his logic had been clear.
But Giles also seemed to understand and there was nothing wrong with him, so maybe she was okay, too. Of course Giles hadn’t cried himself to sleep in a monster’s embrace. He hadn’t been carried home, yet again in his enemy’s arms. And he hadn’t been sent back to safety with a demon’s soft endearment and gentle push. Nope; there was definitely something wrong with her.
Which was just one of the many reasons that she had to go. Now. If she left then Angelus wouldn’t need to kill anyone. And if he followed her, well, she’d be careful and he certainly wouldn’t be killing anyone here if he was out searching for her.
Dragging her attention back to Giles she smiled wryly as she denied him his answer.
“You know it wouldn’t be in any of our best interests for me to tell you that.”
Giles gave a small nod of his head to concede the wisdom of her words.
“What will you do, then? You know you won’t be able to go to anyone you know, use any financial resources that can be tracked, do anything that would be characteristic of you that might attract notice?”
Suddenly this situation seemed just a tiny bit more tragic as Giles remembered the children researching in the library not all that long ago as Xander teased Cordelia about her acting aspirations. One more thing this girl would never do now.
“I know, Giles. Don’t worry, even Cordelia Chase can blend. I’ll just wear tacky clothes and try to look mediocre. Buffy does it everyday, how hard can it be?”
With a roll of her eyes and a slight twist of her lips, Buffy let the remark glide past. Giles was proud of his slayer who seemed to understand that this was a primary defense for Cordelia and no real reflection on herself.
“Look, Giles. I have some money. Not a lot, but enough to get a place to stay for a little while. I’ve told my parents that I’m going to be part of a sister school study program that will send me to San Francisco for the next few months. By the time they realize that something’s wrong I’ll be long gone. I’ll dump my car on my way to wherever I’m going and then, then I guess I’ll start over. Don’t worry; as I’ve been told lately, I’m quite the survivor.”
A truer statement was never spoken, and Giles knew that it was probably that more than anything else that drew the vampire to her. That internal core of strength sheathed by her extraordinary external beauty would be a hard combination to resist under any circumstances, but for a pleasure seeking demon with no concept of self-denial it was most likely impossible.
“When are you leaving?”
It was the first time Jenny had spoken since Cordelia had arrived. Although this morning she’d finally managed to convince Buffy of the fact that she hadn’t known about Angel’s ability to lose his soul until it was too late, she’d still carried the burden of guilt that if she’d been honest with them about who she was, maybe things would have turned out differently. And if she’d felt bad before, it was nothing to compare with her reaction on hearing of Cordelia’s plight. Knowing that another young, beautiful girl was being sacrificed to Angelus’ evil because of her clan’s arrogance in their belief that they wielded vengeance when it had so clearly wielded them was almost beyond bearing.
Cordelia read the guilt in Jenny’s eyes. She could recognize it easily as it seemed to be mirrored in the eyes of almost everyone saw recently; including her own. Smiling reassuringly at the woman she was glad to see once again at the watcher’s side she gave the only answer they all knew was available to her.
And even though they’d all expected just that response, the rooms three other occupants all burst into excited speech, stopping only when Cordelia held up her hand for silence.
“Look, all of you,” Cordelia glanced at Buffy to include her in her next words. “I know you’re all concerned, and I appreciate it more than I can say. You’ve done what you could for me and, more than anything, I wish I had a better way to repay you than by leaving. But I don’t.”
“It’s too dangerous for me to stay here; for me and for you. It’s dangerous for you because the more I care about you all the more Angelus will be determined to kill you. And it’s dangerous for me because all he has to do anymore is threaten any of you and I’m completely at his mercy. There’s no way I can take a chance with your lives. That’s why I always end up with him, and that’s why I have to go now.”
Overcome by emotion and the realization of what she was leaving behind, Cordelia’s voice was nothing but a harsh whisper.
“I know it’s sad, and I only say this because I’ll never see any of you again, but my parents…their not so great. You guys, you’re everything I have.”
And with that startling declaration ringing in their ears they were held still as Cordelia swept by the unresisting slayer and out of their lives.
Chapter Forty Nine
Dammit, dammit, dammit!
Cordelia felt like smacking her head against her steering wheel. Hard. Repeatedly.
How could she possibly be getting a ticket now?
Sure, she thought, she may have been speeding, but it was the Sunnydale Police Department. Since when did they care about wrong doing? Besides, if anyone could sympathize with the plight of someone fleeing from the supernatural, you think it would be them. And yet she was pretty sure that her excuse for speeding wouldn’t include mention trying to escape a homicidal vampire.
She was mad enough to spit as she realized that could actually see the ‘Leaving Sunnydale’ sign. She wondered if this wretched town would ever let her go.
Cordelia rolled down her window in response to the officers tapping and pinned a glowing smile to her face.
“License and registration, ma’am.”
“Yes Officer…uh” Glancing at his name tag she flashed her white teeth as she peeked up through her lashes. “Davidson. Is there a problem?”
“License and registration, please.”
Crap. Knowing that there was no way to get out of the ticket, Cordelia handed over her ID and fished her registration out of her glove compartment. As she watched the Officer Davidson walk back to his squad car to use his radio, she gave some serious thought to just taking off.
Tempting, but the last thing she needed was a car chase down a California freeway. Those [b]never[/b] turned out well, and fifteen news helicopters broadcasting her clandestine escape from the Hellmouth? Not of the good.
“Ma’am, would you mind stepping out of the car for me.”
No, no, no. Cordelia couldn’t believe this. Was there no one up there looking out for her? She couldn’t even remember if she’d really been speeding, but she sure as hell would’ve remembered driving so poorly that she’d have to take a sobriety test, wouldn’t she?
Exiting the car, Cordelia was trying to remember what came after V if you were saying the alphabet backwards when she was suddenly spun around and pushed over her trunk as the officer cuffed her hands behind her back.
“What the hell is going on???”
“I’m sorry, Miss Chase, but you have an outstanding warrant for parking tickets. I have to take you into the station.”
Cordelia leaned her head briefly against the sun warmed metal of her car. She wasn’t sure that she could take anymore. But even as the despair rose within her, her proactive nature surged to the fore and began restructuring her escape plans.
She had cash on her, so whatever the tickets were she would pay them. Then she’d climb into her car and never look back at this stupid town where the police rarely did anything and when they did it was never helpful.
Straightening up she looked back over her shoulder. “Could you at least bring my purse please? And what about my car?”
“Officer Shale will retrieve your purse Miss Chase.” For the first time Cordelia noticed a female officer standing near the police cruiser. “As for your car, it will be towed to the impound lot where you can recover it when this matter is settled.”
With that he led Cordelia back to his vehicle and placed her in the back seat. As soon as Officer Shale joined them they pulled out and headed to the station.
“Look, I don’t mean to be difficult, but are these necessary?” Cordelia lifted her arms as best she could to indicate the shiny silver handcuffs biting ever so slightly into her wrists.
“Its procedure, ma’am.” Officer Davidson informed her.
With a sigh of disgust at the government in its entirety and the SDPD specifically, Cordelia wondered why anyone here even bothered to pay taxes for this kind of service. Deciding there was nothing to do but sit tight, she leaned back as much as her bound arms would allow and waited for downtown to come into view.
Only it didn’t.
In fact, not only did downtown not appear, they weren’t even passing the landmarks that would distinguish an alternative route to the center or Sunnydale. Actually, they seemed to be skirting the edge of the town and approaching the generally deserted and decaying areas.
It was as if all of her blood had turned to liquid lead and was pooling in her stomach. Knowing that what she was about to ask would destroy any small piece of mind that she might be able to retain until they reached their destination; she could not still the words begging to be spoken.
“You’re not taking me to the police station, are you?”
And even though she knew the answer before she asked the question, the reply still fell like a crushing weight onto her chest.
“You shouldn’t have tried to run, Miss Chase. You must have known he’d never let you go.”
Cordelia shivered at Officer Shale’s tone. It was as if she were being lectured on the dangers of drinking and driving instead of being instructed on her perceived duty to a demon.
“Please, don’t do this. You’re police officers. It’s your job to serve the public. Well guess what. I just so happen to be the public, so it would work out well if you let me go.”
“We serve the Master.”
With this answer, Officer Shale turned to appraise this woman so valued by her beloved Master. She was becoming legend among those who served Angelus. Taken as a pet, a bond much stronger than that which she shared with the powerful demon, and still this young woman resisted.
Being this close to her stirred a myriad of emotions in the policewoman. Knowing that without exposure to the vampire she revered she would surely die, she was in awe that Cordelia Chase would undertake to leave town.
Conversely, realizing how much she must mean to Angelus that he would allow her such defiance sparked a flood of jealousy in the older woman that she would never have the devotion that the Master seemed poised to lavish on the captured brunette.
But more than anything was a rising anger that this girl would dare to deprive the one she served of something in which he obviously found great joy. As a servant to his pleasure that idea offended what had become the very reason for her being.
Even as the building rage threatened to explode, Shale reined it in. The Master had been extremely specific that [b]no[/b] harm was to come to Cordelia Chase while in their care. No one would risk his terrible wrath by hurting her.
“You know,” Cordelia regained the officer’s attention, “the slayer’s going to be all over your asses for this. And, trust me, she can really be a bitch when she wants to be…which is most of the time.”
If Cordelia had hoped that the mention of Buffy would strike fear into their hearts she was left greatly disappointed. This time it was Davidson who spoke up.
“The Master wouldn’t let the slayer harm us. We are his and so he cares for us.”
Knowing it probably wouldn’t work, Cordelia couldn’t help but try that oldie but goodie ‘divide and conquer’.
“Wow, ’cause you wouldn’t know it to hear him talk. I always get the feeling that he sees you guys as expendable.”
Again she was destined to have her hopes dashed as Officer Davidson laughed and she was treated to more evidence of their creepy, mystical brainwashing.
“We serve the Master and he watches over us. You think it’s strange; I can see that you do. But you’re the one who’s strange Miss Chase. He loves you. He wants you with him every moment. How can you run from that? Why would you even want to?”
Whatever Cordelia might have said was lost as the car turned onto Crawford Street and headed up the driveway of a very spooky looking mansion.