If At First You Don’t Succeed
Chapter Seventy Seven
She saw only one and she saw all. She was in the moment and she was timeless.
In a truly ironic twist of fate Buffy Summers had become that which she had so vehemently denied being just hours before – a slayer and nothing more. With no humanity to weigh her down she was a killing machine and nothing in her path could stand in the face of such an elemental force.
The part of Buffy’s slayer instinct responsible for tactical assessment was grateful that Angelus was absent from the night’s violence; but that side of her designed by some higher power for the purpose of eradicating the enemies of mankind longed to face her nemesis here, now when she knew without doubt that she had no feelings to interfere with his long overdue demise.
In a blur of muscle and weaponry three more vampires fell before her. Scanning the room to assure herself of the relative safety of her friends Buffy caught Giles’ eye and, with a sharp nod, indicated that it was time for him to recover Cordelia.
As the second strongest fighter among them it had been agreed that Buffy would stay downstairs as Giles ventured to the upper level where Cordelia was being kept. While the opponents they were facing had the advantage of numbers they were, in a word, stupid. Whether it was youthful minions or human servants they were all weak and far too limited to understand that any power they might possess stemmed directly from Angelus who was currently not in residence. Even the superior strength and speed of the entry level vampires eventually fell to the cunning and creativity of the humans they faced. Minions and servants were geared to be weak. It made them easily controlled and even more easily replaced. It also made them easier to kill. It was why the turnover of young vampires was high and minions of age and stature were the minority in a clan and usually owed their existence to a master who saw a spark of potential in them and took them under their wing.
It was for this very reason that Giles was tasked with Cordelia’s retrieval. The fighting downstairs was simply the first line of defense and, as in chess, the weakest of pieces were being sacrificed. If that should fail the next step in Angelus’ plan would be to have the young woman’s location guarded by those of his soldiers with greater age and thus greater power. And as the bolt from his crossbow pierced the heart of one of the sentries and alerted the remaining three, Giles was assured of two things – his theories were correct and he’d definitely found Cordelia.
Spiked glanced over at Drucilla; an illusion of absolute purity encased in a stillness only death can fashion. He was glad he’s erred on the side of caution as he’d drugged her tea earlier that day. Not that he’d even remotely suspected that the slayer would have the balls to come back with both barrels blazing when her little gang had just gotten their asses handed to them a few scant hours before. No, he’d merely wanted Angelus to be able to see for himself that his childe had been incapacitated and therefore unable to render any assistance should the slayer loose the battle.
And he had to admit that it had worked. When Angelus had stormed into the room soon after the ruckus he’d been livid at the near loss of his pet. Cursing in a variety of languages it had taken him almost a full minute to notice Drucilla’s complete and utter lack of movement.
“She had one of her spells.” Spike took advantage of Angelus’ momentary silence to explain why his grandsire had received no familial support in the previous fight. “And really, what was I gonna do; roll over them?”
The younger vampire smirked at his incensed grandsire. He’d been the butt of Angelus’ mockery for months now, being told over and over how helpless and incapable he was. It was with the greatest of pleasures that Spike threw that very weakness back in Angelus’ face leaving him no way to dispute the blond’s claim of impotence as he had been the one to assert Spike’s limitations so vehemently in the first place.
Having found no outlet for his rage Angelus left in much the same manner as he’d arrived, shouting something about needing to create new minions.
Spike jerked back to reality as he heard footsteps beyond the door. Even without checking he knew it was the watcher. They slayer’s steps would be silent in their graceful, fluid movements and the others of their little gang would be the heavy, clumsy footfalls of those with little battle experience. This was the tread of an experienced fighter and there was only one among them other than Buffy that fit the bill.
Cracking the door open slightly, his suspicions were concerned as he saw one of Angelus’ more trusted lieutenants disappear in a cloud of ash. As the remaining two converged on the lone fighter Spike knew that if he wanted his plan to succeed he would have to take on more than the passive roll he had anticipated.
Suiting action to thought he stepped into the hallway as the vampires passed his door and grabbing the one nearest by the neck he gave a vicious twist and a jerk that literally tore the demon’s head from his body. As the minion disintegrated under his hands Spike’s leg shot out connecting with the last of the guards and propelling him towards Giles who had conveniently pulled out a large stake just in time to take advantage of the momentum that had been provided to his adversary.
“Yes, well, thank you.”
Spike’s lips twisted slightly at the reluctant gratitude extended by the do-gooder whose ass he’d just saved. Thankful that he wouldn’t have to deal with the pompous, arrogant crowd for much longer he merely shook his head and reaffirmed their deal.
“Just make sure you keep the slayer clear of my door and we’re square.”
The vampire gestured towards a large, heavy door at the end of the hallway.
“Your girl’s in there, but don’t expect her to be to enthusiastic about the rescue.”
Spike had heard Angelus’ earlier confrontation with his pet. He knew that despite her extraordinary resilience the young woman had been exceedingly traumatized by the gruesome threats with which Angelus had bombarded her. He’d also heard her swear to stay to prevent those grisly possibilities from becoming reality. But despite this knowledge and regardless of the fact that he’d come to genuinely like the girl that his grandsire had so ruthlessly pursued and imprisoned, he said nothing and turned back towards his own room. After all, he had his own girl to look after.
Giles felt the ringing of Spike’s ominous words in his ears as he approached the door that would finally lead him to Cordelia. Relieved to find it unlocked he squared his shoulders in a vain attempt to prepare himself for what he might find on the other side. Stepping into the room his eyes were immediately drawn to the large bed that dominated the space. There, sleeping silently, oblivious to the conflict raging around her, was the young woman that, for her own sake, he had hoped not to lay eyes on for some time. Moving to her side Giles called to her softly wanting to wake her gently.
When the sound, barely more than a whisper, failed to rouse her he called out more insistently, reaching his hand forward to lightly shake her shoulder.
The well intentioned but poorly thought out contact caused them both to stiffen in shock as with a small scream, Cordelia shot upright her eyes wild with a terror that ripped into his very soul to see.
Her voice was faint and unsure as the fright faded from her eyes to leave a dazed uncertainty.
“It’s me, Cordelia. We’ve come to get you out of here.”
Moving slowly towards her to keep from startling the skittish girl once more, Giles began to wrap the gradually slipping sheet around her, conscious of the fact that she was most likely naked underneath.
As awareness gradually dawned within her, Cordelia began pushing Giles away as she slid further towards the middle of the bed.
“No. No.” Her hair swirled around her as her head shook in rejection of what she now understood to be his intentions. “You can’t be here, Giles. You have to go.”
Seeing the normally bright, loquacious girl so distant and withdrawn brought the meaning of Spike’s words clearly into focus.
“Cordelia, it doesn’t matter what Angelus may have told you; we won’t let him hurt you anymore. We’re going to get you out of here; we have a plan, Cordelia. We’ll keep you safe.”
The dissociative state which had gripped the girl melted under waves of agitation as hands that began to shake uncontrollably rose to ward of Giles’ attempts to extract her from the twisted bedclothes with some sort of modest covering.
“Don’t touch me! Get away from me!”
Scrambling backwards to escape the well meaning hands Cordelia registered the fiercely determined light that flashed in Giles’ eyes.
“Cordelia, I understand that you’re scared but you are coming with us.”
Even through the veil of fear covering her Cordelia sobbed out a bitter laugh at the use of a word as tame as scared to describe the utter terror consuming her. Knowing full well that he had every intention of following through on his intentions to force her to leave she felt hysteria begin to close her throat for the second time that day. Barely able to gather enough air to push forth a meaningful string of words she found herself in the humiliating but unavoidable position of babbling out a stream of incoherent words, hoping that, as a watcher, Giles could organize the thoughts that she couldn’t.
“Can’t – I can’t. Blood and bones – and God, he’ll never – he’ll just – so much screaming. So much pain. It’s me – because of me – I have to – you can’t – ”
Despite his resolve Giles froze at the nearly crazed tone that encased her words. No matter how steadfastly he put forth his objective to Cordelia, a burgeoning fear bloomed deep inside of him as he briefly imagined what threats Angelus must have delivered to this girl to render her nearly incapable of speech; the one area in which she had always so clearly excelled. Resolutely pushing doubts aside he was about to reach for her once again when he was pulled from his goal by a shocked gasp from the doorway.
Having reduced their enemies to almost nothing but a beaten down few who were manageable even by her relatively inexperienced friends, Buffy made her way upstairs to see what was taking Giles so long, hoping that he hadn’t encountered more resistance than he could handle.
She had expected to run headlong into a fight and so was completely unprepared for the scene that greeted her; one for which her slayer abilities had never prepared her.
“What did he do to her?”
Buffy couldn’t help the whispered horror of her question even though deep down she knew that she could happily live the rest of her life without the answer.
For the first time in hours a sliver of emotion shot through her. The day had been too crowded with revelations, with emotional and psychological stimuli for her to accurately pinpoint what the flutter of feeling was. Intellectually she knew that it was most likely an amalgam of a myriad of sensations – pity for the broken girl in front of her, gratitude at the protection the wounded soul was even now trying to extend to them, guilt that she has let this go so far for so long.
And as quickly as they came they were gone as the rational, detached portion of her psyche that was responsible for giving name to the sentiments beginning to bubble within her acknowledged that they were of no help to anyone present and pushed them back behind the barrier of denial so necessary to one of her calling.
Walking over to the bed Buffy nudged Giles to the side. Resting one knee on the mattress she leaned in close to Cordelia and, careful to reign in her slayer’s strength, delivered a stunning slap across the brunette’s face.
Although not unconscious, the blow was forceful enough to cause Cordelia to slump down across the blankets. Leaving her to Giles to gather her up and sling over his shoulder, Buffy made her way back downstairs to clear out any final resistance to their escape.
The cold air was bracing to the group of weary humans as they piled into the van that Jenny had procured for the night’s venture. And yet even the shock of the chill against their skin couldn’t pull the small band of heroes from the haze that had enveloped them at the state of their liberated friend.
Lying limply over Giles’ shoulder, Cordelia was conscious but seemingly immune to the frantic chaos surrounding her. Ensconced in her own little world she didn’t hear the sounds of battle, didn’t feel the gentle jolts from her awkward, upside down position. Shaking with shock she saw everything through a fog that her mind had finally provided to protect those last few precious threads of sanity to which she clung.
And in an instant those paper walls shattered. Responding to the desperate fury in the deafening roar, Cordelia braced her hands against the back beneath her and pushed herself upwards, searching out the vampire still screaming out her name. Even her terror dulled mind was able to comprehend the horrific intentions so clearly visible in the twisted demonic features of Angelus’ face.
The barely restrained violence in his powerful form brought crystal clarity to his earlier threats still echoing in her head. Lost to rational thought Cordelia was a prisoner of instinct. Heaving her body to the side she tried to free herself from grip binding her thighs. With no other thought than to prevent the deaths promised in the golden gaze burning into her, she frantically tried to regain her feet; to keep the vow with which she had purchased the lives of her friends.
In the midst of an inferno of rage Cordelia saw the brief yet searing sense of satisfaction flowing from him as he watched her struggle to return to him. They both knew that, even with his speed he’d never make it to where they were even now settling into the running van. A roar of fury and assured retribution split the night and the last thing she saw was his enraged face as the slayer’s fist slammed into her face and stillness overtook her.
Chapter Seventy Eight
Xander ran his fingers once more through the dark waves of mahogany hair spilling over his lap. It seemed so long since he had touched her that he couldn’t seem to make his hands abandoned their soothing journey and frankly he refused to invest much energy in trying.
Although they’d been driving for well over an hour Cordelia had yet to stir; a fact that bothered the boy despite Giles assurances that it was trauma and exhaustion rather than the minimal strike by the slayer that accounted for her continued sleep.
It was just another in a series of conflicting emotions that had plagued him in recent weeks. He was angry that Buffy had hit Cordelia, but he was sympathetic to the fact that she’d really had no other choice. Feelings that mirrored those he had for his former girlfriend. It hurt to see her fight their rescue, and yet when Giles told them about Cordelia’s frantic pleas for their safety his heart swelled with his love for her.
Contrary to the somewhat popular belief, Xander Harris was a fairly observant and intelligent young man. And yet he couldn’t even begin to wrap his mind around recent happenings or the consequences that were sure to follow. All he knew now was what he felt, and that was a jumble of love and anger and sorrow so potent that it threatened to stagger him under the unaccustomed load. A part of him wanted to sort through the mess, to try to straighten out his head. But as with everyone involved in this endless tragedy his mind choose instead, regardless of his desires, to shield him with an almost immediate rejection of reality that, even in light of the proof resting in his arms, he could not oppose.
The van finally began to slow as a small airstrip came into view. If Xander had been worried before it was nothing compared to the fear that was beginning to stir deep inside him as they pulled alongside a sleek, private jet.
He’d understood that Cordelia would have to be hidden from Angelus, and he’d come to accept that they wouldn’t be able to see her often without leading the vampire to her door, but the realization that she would be going so far from them as to require a plane was almost one distressing revelation too many.
The side door opened and arms reached for the precious bundle he was all too reluctant to part with.
The sympathetic look in the older man’s eyes was somehow worse than any expression of fear or hopelessness would have been because every time Xander had seen this particular set to Giles’ features it had been followed by news that had become progressively worse as the months had passed.
Hellmouth luck held true and this was no exception.
“Xander” weariness laced the kind voice, “she can’t stay with us. Even if we could effectively hide her we wouldn’t be able to obscure the bond.”
Reaching his arms forward, the muted depths of compassion in Giles’ blue eyes silently begged for the boy’s trust.
“I know you want to protect her; we all want that. But we have to think about what’s best for Cordelia. She needs to be somewhere safe so we can take that final step in ensuring her future well being.”
If there was anything guaranteed to sway Xander Harris it was the promise of Angelus’ death; especially when the sincerity of that oath blazed for from the very soul of the man before him. Knowing that although he was being asked he really had no choice, he forced himself to relax his hold on the sleeping brunette as Giles pulled her from his embrace.
However he began to immediately question his decision as Giles turned towards the plane only to be met by a man with a syringe in his hand. He would have jumped at the man himself but just as he cleared the doorway Buffy was already there, the unknown man’s arm caught in her firm grip.
“It’s merely a sedative, Miss Summers. Miss Chase will have enough distress to sort through once we arrive without having her awaken frightened and disoriented en route.”
Even knowing the stranger was right didn’t stop Xander from wanting to tell Buffy to break his face as he injected Cordelia with the clear fluid before waving over a man whose hulking size and inexpensive suit screamed ‘flunky’, to take charge of Cordelia’s limp form; disappearing with her onto the plane.
Now that she was really out of their care Xander wasn’t sure what to do. He wanted to storm on board and demand to go with her, to be there for her, but it would hard to rationalize the kind of immaturity it would take to delay their departure in light of the selflessness everyone else was throwing around that day.
“Damn altruism.” He mumbled, kicking the gravel as he too made the decision to do what was best instead of what he wanted and climbed back into the van.
Giles released a weary sigh as he watched the despondent, young man disappear from sight. How he longed for a return of the cold detachment he’d had when he’d arrived in Sunnydale. With every day that passed he felt the grim culmination of consequences for what he firmly to be failures that were his and his alone.
If only he’d staked Angel when he’d first arrived. If he’d insisted that his slayer work alone as tradition dictated. If he’d demanded that Angelus be killed before his play for power; made it painfully clear the horrific destruction the vicious vampire would wreak even if those revelations emotionally scarred Buffy for a time. If he’d only given more thought to what could have gone wrong that night so long ago.
It was a bitter litany that played non-stop in his head growing louder with every lie he forced through his lips. After all, while he believed that it was justice that he suffer for the sins of his inadequacy, the children around him had done nothing but their best in such impossible circumstances that he couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth, couldn’t bare to tell them that Cordelia’s freedom would most likely come at the cost of her life.
Even though his decision had been immediate when Spike had told him of Cordelia’s captivity, he had spent all of the hours until the actual rescue attempt agonizing over the knowledge that he just might be saving Cordelia from a slow death only to deliver her to a swift demise. Having no way to judge the severity of the bond without observing the young woman all he could do was hope that, despite the lengthy exposure, she had been able to retain some small amount of autonomy that would make it possible, although most certainly unspeakably painful, to break all ties to Angelus.
When he’d first seen her that night, when she’d first spoken begging him to leave her, his heart had shattered by the belief that they were far too late if she would demand to remain by the vampire’s side. The relief that had swamped him as he’d realized that she was fighting for their sake and not her own was short lived as he was finally made privy to just a sliver of the nightmarish existence which had become Cordelia’s life. At that moment Giles realized that although she had some how managed to hold tightly to a small sense of identity, the responsibility she felt for those she cared for and the numerous of ways in which Angelus was able to use that concern to manipulate her had steadily worn the girl down to the point that even her immense strength of will might not be capable of rebounding.
Now, as he watched her being carried aboard the waiting plane he could only hope that she was either strong enough to survive the exquisite emotional anguish and physical torment of breaking the bond, or that she’d been weakened sufficiently to succumb quickly to its fatal nature. More than anything he simply couldn’t bear the thought of her prolonged suffering if death was the inescapable end to this monstrous crime against an innocent young woman.
Shaking off his thoughts, Giles forced himself to focus on the events at hand.
“You understand that I’m trusting you with her wellbeing, Matthew.”
Ignoring the slightly condescending smile on the younger man’s face, Giles waited for the assurance that was implicit but that he found himself needing to hear.
“We both know how this will most likely end, Rupert. But you know that I’ll do whatever I can for the girl.”
Taking what little comfort he could find in the promise of his friend Giles turned to go when he felt a hand fall not unkindly on his shoulder.
“For God’s sake man; you’re a watcher, not a father. You have to get your priorities back in order, Rupert. You care about these children, but that’s not the job of men like us. And between you and me, if you can’t resolve these…personal issues soon you may not have to worry about the job much longer.”
With a small shift of his shoulders Giles dislodged the restraining hand. He’d known Matthew Worthington for over a decade, and although every watcher worth his salt would deny it, the impeccably groomed and ruggedly handsome, raven haired man was the epitome of the debonair, James Bond-like image that they had all secretly envisioned for themselves when they joined the covert organization with dreams of saving the world. But despite the stereotypical exterior, Giles had always found Matthew to be a good and decent man; one of the few whom he’d trust with his very life.
In light of that Giles tried to view the advice given as the concern of a friend and not the criticism of a colleague. Sure, it still rankled, but it was nothing that he hadn’t said to himself a thousand times over already.
“Of course, if you’re right about Angelus’ connection to this girl you may not live long enough to need to concern yourself with job security.”
Again the words were nothing that Giles hadn’t considered in almost an obsessive manner. But as he heard them Giles’ eyes fell on his slayer standing guard over the vehicle holding her friends. Although the very air around her seemed to bend to the windstorms of unrelenting misfortune, she refused to bow. The childish girl who’d cast herself as a star crossed lover had finally shed that role, turning her back on the adolescent to embrace the killer that was also essential to her existence. And as sad as that would have made him a week ago it now provided the only flicker of hope in the endless night that faced them all.
Giles didn’t bother to respond. With the morbid confidence that accompanies the near certainty of death he rejoined his tattered band of fighters. He knew that Matthew was probably right, that they might not be long for this world; but looking briefly at the grimly determined faces surrounding him he realized that win or lose they were finally ready.