Chapter Seventy Five
Spike stretched out his body, cramped from hours in that damned chair, onto the bed. Things hadn’t gone the way he’d hoped, but he had no doubts that now that the slayer and her little gang knew about Cor’s whereabouts the wouldn’t rest until they retrieved her. So no matter how it played out it would cause nothing but trouble for Angelus.
And honestly, if he couldn’t have the slayer eliminate his grandsire then having her keep him completely occupied was the next best thing. With his strength almost fully returned Spike was at a point where he could make the most of Angelus’ distraction and maybe take a more direct hand in the bastard’s demise.
Although he had no trouble hating his grandsire in light of his recent actions, it was another thing all together to be able to kill him. Killing your sire did happen in the vampire world, but it was extremely rare as their particular form of demon just wasn’t wired that way. That was truly why the demons who bought all that bullshit about Angelus never really having the soul were so impressed that he had killed Darla.
Being able to increase one’s power at the expense of their own biological imperatives would definitely demonstrate the type of leadership that demons valued above al else.
So once again Angelus came out on top and it set Spike’s teeth on edge. But every insult, every injustice he hoarded to himself letting his hatred blossom and grow. He might not be able to destroy the older vampire yet but it was only a matter of time until Angelus pushed him beyond all reason and Spike was going to make damn sure that he’d be ready.
Angelus closed his eyes savoring the feel of the warm body pressed up against him. Every once in a while Cordelia would make some small noise, a remnant of her journey into hysteria that would bring a slight smile to his lips.
He wasn’t a vampire who entertained self doubts. Whether he was planning his actions with care or flying by the seat of his pants he went with his instincts and stood behind his decisions supremely confident in his ability to deal with the consequences of his choices.
However, he was also a very practical and realistic demon and he understood the value of being able to adjust one’s actions midstream should the circumstances dictate. Today had been such a situation. The arrival of the slayer had been a definite shock and it added to the growing list of questions he was planning to have answered very soon, chief among which were – How did the slayer find out he had Cordelia? How did they know where he was keeping her? Where the hell was Drusilla when all this was going on? Angelus didn’t care for coincidence unless it was working in his favor and too many of the day’s events had seemed a bit to engineered for his taste.
But once his nagging suspicions had been laid to rest he would have to admit that the rest of the happenings had worked out far better for him than his original course of action had been. For weeks now he had been trying to slowly woo Cordelia into giving him her word that she would stay. And although he knew that he had been getting closer there seemed to be something that was holding her back and he had a feeling he might not have been able to overcome it for months and months.
And while he certainly had the time and didn’t mind the effort, the fact was that Cordelia was too smart and too cunning to be left to her own devices without being bound by her word to remain with him. He had no illusions that the security measures that he had put in place would only hold her temporarily until her clever mind found the one imperfection in his design and ruthlessly exploited it.
Although he knew that he was taking a chance by moving carefully with her, trying to win her allegiance rather than demanding it, he felt that in the long run it would make her transition into his world that much easier. And there was a part of him that believed that her loyalty, freely given would be that much sweeter. Well he’d learned that afternoon that belief was well and truly unfounded.
He had, mere hours before, finally received Cordelia’s solemn oath to remain with him. It wasn’t a promise based on love or affection. It wasn’t a vow given on the crest of unprecedented need. No, it was a guarantee ripped from her soul by a panic so immense it stole away her ability to breath. And after it had been given he realized one simple fact – it was the same destination regardless of the path traveled. He’d gotten what he’d wanted and he’d be damned if he was going to be anything other than satisfied about it. Now that he could relax a little he’d be able to go back to showing Cordelia the benefits of their union.
Of course something would have to be done about the slayer. He’d been loathe to finish Buffy off this early in their little game. Especially because, as Cordelia had told the A’toreal clan, having a slayer around that couldn’t bring herself to kill him was certainly preferable to one who had no compunction about pursuing his ultimate demise. Not that they’d be able to, but it was certainly more hassle than it was worth.
Besides, he loved tearing out Buffy’s heart and crushing it right before her tearful eyes. And the greatest thing about it was that it worked anew every time. One would think that eventually the girl would build up a barrier, like layers on a callous, to protect herself. But instead every thrust of the knife cut as deeply as the first.
It was funny how diametrically opposed were the women of the demon and the soul. While Buffy was an open book on whose pages anyone could leave their mark, Cordelia was a builder of nearly impenetrable walls. Instead of experiencing pain but still believing in the ultimate goodness of every human and thus leaving herself open to the same hurt all over again as Buffy did, Cordelia processed painful situations immediately and assimilated and applied what she’d learned in an effort to protect herself from that particular harm again. And for different reasons he wouldn’t change either woman.
He wouldn’t alter Cordelia because even though he was slowly having to break down all those layers of self protection, it created an effort that gave value to the end result. If a person gave their trust unreservedly to all those around them then what made it special to receive? Nothing. Faith freely given is a reflection of the giver. However, if a person hoarded their trust giving it out to only those few whom they deemed worthy, then it meant something completely different for faith earned was a commentary on the receiver.
It was, in the end, the challenge that dictated the value in Angelus’ eyes and the challenge Cordelia presented was endlessly fascinating and worthy of pursuit.
And as much as he respected Cordelia’s wary spirit he appreciated Buffy’s open nature. The slayer’s ability to believe, to open her heart completely to those around her over and over made her an endless joy to hurt. She was like a child who wouldn’t learn that fire burns and so continuously places her hand on a burning stove. No matter what he said to her, no matter what he did, every time she saw him she convinced herself that this would be the time that he’d finally be Angel for her. It made shattering her illusions all the more pleasurable.
Watching her heart splinter a little more each time they faced each other and then seeing her approaching him again with it still on her sleeve tickled him. And now that the time of her impending death was at hand he found that he was going to miss that fractured pain in her eyes as he took one more thing that was precious to her and pointed out how it was wrong, a lie, or something of which she was completely unworthy. Still, it was hardly a fair battle when only one opponent had the mental acuity to fight. Playing mind games with the slayer was somewhat like hunting the elderly; not difficult but hardly a pastime of sustainable interest.
Of course that didn’t mean that her death had to be swift or ordinary. The plans he had for her demise were neither. Angelus had worried for a time over how and when to dispose of the people in Cordelia’s life. He had held off simply because he had wanted their bond to expand to a point that she wouldn’t be able to resist her feelings for him regardless of his actions. He hadn’t counted on her wondrously stubborn nature. But the happenings of the day had resolved that little dilemma for him.
The absolute, unrestrained fear and revulsion in Cordelia’s eyes when he’d described how he planned to kill everyone she knew if she didn’t voluntarily bind herself to him was genuine in every way. The graphic images he’d left in her mind would haunt her for years to come. It was the kind of trauma that the human brain was hard pressed to reconcile and brush off. And because those images would retain such a sharp focus in her mind, he knew that when he snapped the necks of the slayer and her little friends, while a part of Cordelia would writhe in grief and agony over their deaths, another part of her that on a conscious level she probably wouldn’t even acknowledge would rejoice at the quick and painless end to their lives instead of the horrific end she had expected for them all.
Of course, just because they wouldn’t suffer didn’t mean they wouldn’t suffer. While Cordelia would concentrate most on the external in relationship to the death of her friends, Angelus knew far better than most that it’s often the internal that causes the greatest pain. The deaths he had begun planning, while all physically quick and painless would be designed to create a crescendo of agony that would crash down upon the slayer tearing her soul asunder before he relieved her of all worldly cares.
It would begin with Harris. Angelus had never bothered to try to hide the fact that he hated the boy. He’d hated him as Angel and loosing his humanity had certainly done nothing to improve the boy in his eyes. Add to that that he had touched Cordelia, had felt her love and he knew that when the deaths began Xander’s would have to be first. If he didn’t do it quickly and get it out of the way he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from torturing the boy for days in ways that would test the stomach of even other demons.
Besides, Xander’s death would be the first step in the emotional destruction of the slayer; because one thing was as absolute as night following day – If Xander died Willow would never forgive Buffy for not killing him when she had the chance.
And so, with one death he would rob the slayer of the only two friends she had, and worse would be the crushing condemnation in gentle Willow’s eyes that would constantly remind the slayer that the responsibility for all of the loss rested solely on her shoulders.
Next would come Willows death. Short and sweet it would add one more impossibly heavy brick of guilt to the load Buffy was already carrying and it would devastate Jenny, the young woman’s mentor. Jenny would try not to but she wouldn’t be able to help but lay Willow’s death at Buffy’s door. This would chip away a little more at Buffy’s support and the friction between the teacher and the watcher would further erode any sense of normalcy in the slayer’s little world.
After an appropriate amount of time to let the tension beat away at them Jenny would be next. Her neck snapped like the others, he’d probably leave her at Rupert’s place just to defile one more bastion of safety for the remaining duo.
Rupert Giles was a man of great responsibilities, some given to him some he’d taken upon himself. It was clear to see even to a demon such as himself, that the stoic watcher felt that the safety of everyone he allowed into the sphere of his slayer was his duty to guard. Losing all of his charges and the woman that he loved would be crushing for the man he was.
And better yet was that knowing that all those lives had been wasted because Buffy had been unwilling to preform her sacred obligations and he had been unwilling to push her to would cause him to resent both himself and her. And no matter how much he believed that he should be there for his slayer he wouldn’t be able to help but to pull away from her emotionally. The loss of approval from her surrogate father when she had never really recovered from that loss with her biological father would be far more painful and damaging than any physical injury Angelus could impart.
And when the salt had rubbed itself fully into her wounded soul Giles would be taken next. And there would be Buffy with nothing and no one but the ghosts of those she’d failed to protect screaming in her head that she was the author of every abysmal fate, that she alone had sentenced those she had claimed to love to death. And when he saw that final fissure in the ruins of her soul he’d end her short and pointless life with one abrupt twist.
And when Cordelia heard of the deaths, when he decided to let her know, the fact that they were nothing like the elaborate productions she had created in her mind would instill an unwanted and yet profound sense of gratitude within her that would accomplish both his goals of eliminating the slayer’s ragtag band and causing the least amount of distance between his beloved pet and himself.
So at the close of it all Buffy would end much like it was said of the world, not with a bang but a whimper; for she wouldn’t die out of any sense of personal hatred or revenge, but rather because she was predictable and boring and completely undeserving of any longterm commitment of his time, and every minute she lived was a minute that she threatened his claim on the one woman who was her complete and polar opposite.
Chapter Seventy Six
Buffy wasn’t angry. She had been, she remembered the feeling, but it was a distant memory and not one with which she could form any emotional connection. Now all she was was numb. Finally, since that beautiful and hideous night of her birthday she was able to grasp the elusive truth that had hung for so long just on the edge of her vision like the whispers of a dream you can’t recapture.
Angel wasn’t coming back.
If she could feel anything she believed that thought would have killed her. But in her current state it wasn’t distressing, it simply was. He wasn’t coming back and any decent thing about him had been lost, taken with his soul as it fled his body.
Now that she could see the idea, now that she had turned it over in her mind and studied it’s cold and rigid contours, all that was left was to decide what to do with it. And really, what else was there to do? She had to kill Angelus.
The day before that admission would have made her heart shatter into a million tiny pieces, but now, strangely it didn’t. With a serene detachment Buffy wondered if there was no breakage because the vampire who had crushed it earlier that day had forgotten to return it, even in its twisted and battered form.
A part of Buffy understood that this complete anesthetizing of her entire being was the result of vasts amounts of both physical and mental stress combine with a devastating case of shock and that, more importantly it wouldn’t last. But she couldn’t find it in herself to either fight or regret the emotional state in which she found herself. For the first time in months she was able to see beyond the pain crowding into her and gaze upon the world at large with a crystal clarity that she’d never had until she had finally been able to remove her own thoughts and feelings from tinting reality to the shade that best suited her.
A small voice caught her attention and her head turned of its own accord towards the source of the quiet words.
“So what do we do now?”
Willow, although sharing the despondency of her friends at the failed rescue was nonetheless a devout optimist. Like her belief in her role as peacemaker she often felt the need to smooth out distressing situations. Her parents would most likely tell her that it was an unhealthy need that was quite codependent in nature and honestly, they’d probably be right. But since she was the one who spent the day fighting vampires because her best friend’s ex-boyfriend lost his soul and kidnapped her other best friend’s ex-girlfriend then she figured she deserved to indulge in whatever neurosis was going to get her through the next five minutes without a complete and utter melt down.
Fingering the bandage on his head, Xander added his reluctant two cents, not wanting to say the words for fear that it would lay to rest their rescue effort.
“Yeah, I guess we kinda blew the element of surprise. By the time we recoup, regroup, and redesign a plan of attack they’ll certainly be expecting us.”
“Then that leaves us only the unexpected.”
Giles and Jenny exchanged worried looks at Buffy’s voice, so cold and devoid of emotion. Even though they had both been busy during the fight Angelus’ taunts were not so quiet that they went completely unheard. They knew that, no matter how often it had been explained to her that Angel was truly gone she hadn’t been able to abandon that last sliver of hope. And although it finally seemed that she had crossed that last hurtle it was so disconcerting that on some level both adults almost wished for the return of her denial.
“We’re going back tonight.”
Yes, the denial was certainly looking good.