Chapter Seventy Nine
He observed her closely through the two-way mirror as he had for the last ten days. He knew that it wasn’t exactly reasonable, but since Rupert had entrusted her safety solely to him, Matthew had felt burdened by responsibility for Cordelia Chase’s decline.
Not that he’d expected a different outcome. No, if anything he had expected the young woman to have succumbed to the bond days ago, dying painfully like those few before her that the Council had been able to observe in similar circumstances.
Rupert had told him of her strength of will, her resiliency; but he’d taken it with a grain of salt believing the words to be the desperate denial of a watcher far too emotionally compromised.
Now Matthew was forced to revise that opinion.
Although the voluptuous figure he’d been handed the week before was slowly vanishing as the shadows of bones replaced the lush softness of fading curves, the very fact that she was still conscious was an extraordinary feat that was the talk of the Council hallways.
Unfortunately that very consciousness was consuming the balance of Cordelia’s energy.
At first, although her hysterical ramblings had been documented they’d been dismissed as a natural byproduct of the bond she shared with Angelus. But as the hours passed they realized that she wasn’t fighting them out of any desire to rush back into captivity, but rather to save her friends from what she seemed to believe would be a fate worse than death. Familiar with the foe they faced he knew that it was very likely that her fears were well grounded.
It didn’t take long for the exceptionally fatigued girl to realize that all she was doing was wasting her breath with words that were falling on purposefully deaf ears. Since that epiphany she’d ceased any attempts at communication.
But what worried Matthew more than the silence was her refusal to eat. If it wasn’t for the fact that she was restrained twice a day and nourished intravenously she’d most certainly be dead.
His lips twisted bitterly as he realized that if things continued in this manner they were only working on borrowed time.
Knowing at this point there was nothing to lose, he abandoned proper procedure and let himself into Cordelia’s room. He knew that he would be reprimanded for this breech of protocol and he smiled wryly in appreciation of the fact that he was now engaging in the very behavior for which he’d condemned Rupert a scant few days before. Finally he was beginning to understand his friend all too well. Watching the brave, beautiful girl sitting painfully still on the floor, legs pulled up tightly against her chest in what was clearly a protective posture, he couldn’t stem the need to soothe her fears, to bring her back from the edge to which the vampire had pushed her.
Stopping a few feet in front of the small ball of humanity huddled so despairingly in the corner, Matthew waited for a sign from the girl as to how to proceed.
When none was forthcoming, not even the merest of nervous flickers acknowledging his presence, he decided that there could be no delicacy in the cessation of this ultimately fatal, downward spiral.
“So, you’re Angelus’ whore.”
And for those words Matthew was rewarded with a most beautiful sight as Cordelia’s head snapped up and her previously expressionless eyes flashed with anger.
He could tell that these were words that rarely passed her lips, but they were music to his ears although he took careful pains not to let it show.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not me you want to fuck. Miss your demon between your legs?”
Weakened though they were and wracked with pain her muscles nevertheless tensed in outrage.
“You don’t know anything about me.”
True, but God he wanted to.
“I know that you gave yourself to a being so evil that he’s considered the scourge of an entire continent. I know that you submitted to him for weeks on end. I know that you fought being rescued so fiercely that you had to be rendered unconscious by the slayer. I know that your friends risked their lives to save you and you begged to stay with that sadistic monster.”
Although he knew it must be draining her already depleted strength Cordelia’s body strained forward as she screamed out her anger and fear.
“And you think they’re safe now? Do you know what you’ve done? What he’ll do because of this? You arrogant bastard! He’ll kill them all. Because I left; because I didn’t fight hard enough to stay.”
They anger visibly fled her body and she began to rock gently as she curled even tighter into herself as if to halt the exodus of what little life she had left.
Whispers replaced screams and carried within them an edge of weary horror that tore at the heart of the man who’d thought himself immune to the sufferings that such evil brought.
“He’ll cut them open; rip out their bones. He’ll make their agony last for days; and for what? So I can die in this room?”
“You don’t know anything at all. You can’t. You can’t know what it’s like to have your life systematically destroyed; to be captured and trapped in a web of terror and then to hate nothing more than being freed.”
Her head dropped to her arms as if she couldn’t muster the energy to keep it raised even a moment more. It was the sign for which he’d been waiting.
“God, you must have hated him.”
A small nodding motion was the only indication that she’d heard the sympathetic words.
“Even more because you loved him.”
Her body stiffened and her arms clutched convulsively at her knees before releasing the tension as she acknowledged the truth of the statement uttered with no condemnation with another tiny nod.
As her small form began to shake with sobs of grief for all that had happened, would still happen, for all that she had lost, Matthew carefully sat beside her and, with gentle movements so as not to scare her, pulled the weeping girl into his embrace.
It took more than half an hour for the tears soaking his shirt to subside. Sensing an end to Cordelia’s cathartic release, Matthew ran a comforting hand over her hair.
“How about some breakfast?”
The nearly imperceptible affirmative bob against his shoulder was his only answer, but it was one that he’d definitely take.
Well, that was a disaster.
Covered in burns Angelus laid on the large bed calming himself with Cordelia’s fading scent as he went over the night’s events.
In retrospect the attack on the library had probably been a strategic error. He’d thought that the element of surprise would negate the slayer’s home turf advantage. He’d been wrong and was demon enough to admit it.
Not that he’d take complete responsibility for the blunder. Ever since Cordelia had been stolen from him he could barely think straight much less construct complex and effective plans.
When she’d first been taken he’d been confident in the power of their bond to lead him to her; but after days of trying to determine her location he’d reached the infuriating conclusion that the bond was being blocked.
The only good thing to come from that revelation was the realization that such a feat would take a great deal of magic to accomplish, paring down the number of suspects and possible locations in which Cordelia could be held.
It was this last thought that helped him hold his fracturing sanity somewhat together. Since taking control of the Hellmouth his resources were immense. Eventually he was guaranteed to locate the epicenter of such a large expenditure of mystical energies.
Angelus almost chuckled at the fact that without his recently acquired position he would have little hope of retrieving his lovely Moonbeam, and so Cordelia, who’d been vital in his ascension to power, had practically engineered her own recapture.
Of course in the end he didn’t chuckle. How could he when the piercing agony of Cordelia’s loss was burning through what was left of his rational mind leaving only a vicious and desperate animal in its place?
And it wasn’t just his own well being that concerned him. He and Cordelia had suited each other so well because her emotional and mental strength and his physical strength worked in such harmony. But it was in their areas of relative weakness that they would suffer. And while he abhorred the fact that his mind seemed to be unraveling, he knew that the true danger was to Cordelia. As a human her fragile makeup was especially vulnerable to the overwhelming stress of such intense supernatural pressures. He was acutely aware that with every passing moment her body would be slowly succumbing to the crushing despair that his absence would bring.
Leaping off the bed he began pacing furiously as a flurry of obscenities flew past his lips. Once again he was overcome by a truly mind-numbing hatred of the slayer. He hated her insipid, pasty face, her pathetic, needy nature, but most of all he utterly loathed the hypocrisy that allowed her to pretend she was saving Cordelia when they all knew she was simply letting her die in a different location.
It was this hatred more than anything that was keeping him even remotely functioning now. He’d find Cordelia, he’d bring her home, and then he’d annihilate the slayer, her watcher, her little gang, and anyone connected to them; any trace of their existence wiped from the memory of the entire dimension. And as often as his lovely little pet had tried to stop him before he couldn’t contemplate that she’d do so in the future; not after her so called friends had left her somewhere to die.
Forcing his thoughts from the pleasurable contemplation of violence and mayhem to more pressing matters he returned, once again, to earlier events.
Things had started out well as they’d entered the library. With Dru beside him, finally recovered from her bizarre and ill-timed “spell”, they’d used the element of surprise to their advantage, quickly launching powerful attacks against the slayer and the watcher as his minions, greatly decreased in numbers by the slayer’s previous two assaults, forced the lesser fighters back and out of Buffy’s circle of protection.
How could he have foreseen that it would be that very strategy that would signal the downfall of what had started as such a promising strategy? Although in retrospect his biggest error had been in not killing Xander fucking Harris and parading his mutilated corpse around town when he’d had the chance. Who knew it would come back to haunt him at such a critical juncture?
He’d had the upper hand. Although the separation from Cordelia was wearing him thin, the slayer and her friends hadn’t had it much better. It was clear to even his muddled mind that the White Hats were almost at the breaking point as they tried to live with their choices and failures of the past months. And as much as it pleased him to watch them crack under the weight of their unbearable guilt, it also worried him as it spoke far more eloquently than words to Cordelia’s current condition. There was no way their souls would seem this heavy if their former comrade in arms was well.
Putting aside his rage at those thoughts he used his knowledge of their pain to weaken them; showering them with verbal taunts and vitriolic recriminations. And it had been working until the moron had managed to make his way to the weapons cage. It had taken Angelus a moment to realize what the boy was doing as his minions began to fall, screaming in agony before being dusted by one of the other do-gooders. When enough minions had been cut down he’d seen exactly what was happening – they had modified a fire extinguisher to shoot pressurized Holy Water. It was a truly ingenious weapon, but all he could think about when he saw it was that it shouldn’t work. How could water possibly remain consecrated when one was spewing it out of a nozzle much like a clown with seltzer water?
The efficiency of the weapon had been ruthless. While it would be bulky and unwieldy to lug into battles; situated conveniently in their base of operations it was stellar in its defensive capabilities. He and Drucilla had been fortunate to be so close to the door that they were only moderately burned by the scalding, sacred liquid before they made their escape.
Angelus ground his teeth at that last thought. He hated escaping. Loathed being in a position of weakness; having to run.
Even as he contemplated the cosmic wrongness that was his night his attention was diverted by his childe’s anguished screams from across the hall. With his sanity dwindling by the minute and no outlet for his frustrated fury, Angelus made his way across the hall in a swirling cloud of imminent threat.
Angelus read the look on Spike’s face as the door crashed against the stone wall. It was painfully obvious that the younger vampire was concerned about the condition of his sire and laying the blame for her injuries at Angelus’ feet. He would have found it merely pathetic if it wasn’t so damned annoying.
But as useless as Spike was even he had a vampire’s innate sense of self-preservation and it was that instinct that had him swallowing whatever angry reprimand he was planning to deliver and it pleased Angelus to no end that the death promised in his dark eyes was so easy to read.
Before Angelus could fully enjoy yet another victory over his hapless grandchilde Drucilla’s screams transformed into whimpers and then moans as she was overtaken by sights that only she could see.
“I see her. Daddy’s little light.”
Her ramblings needing little decoding, Angelus reached forward shaking the injured brunette in his desperate need to learn what she knew.
“Where is she Dru?”
He vaguely heard Spike’s protest at this treatment, but the unholy sound that clawed its way from deep inside his chest caused even the cocky blond to blanch and shrink slightly back into his chair.
“Cold. The eyes are so cold. They’re all around her. Little light not so bright.”
The demented giggles that followed would normally have amused Angelus but instead they infuriated him as he knew that they signaled the last usable information that would be forthcoming from his childe for a while.
Angelus’ gut clenched as he tried to decipher the clues that were hidden underneath Drucilla’s incoherent ramblings. He knew that the answer was there but with his ever evaporating cognitive capabilities the solution eluded him, dancing just beyond his mental reach.
“Dammit! Its right there, I know it!”
Apparently Spike disagreed and had Angelus not been so consumed with the task at hand he would have shown the boy who was Master and who was only fit to serve.
“Now you’re just graspin’ at straws. So people are watchin’ over the girl. Nothing strange in that. Her mates were hardly likely to dump her of in some sleazy motel ‘til this thing was over.”
He literally felt it click and for one blissful moment his mind seemed clear. A creepy and menacing smile crept across his face.
“They’re watching her. How could I be so stupid?! Of course they sent her to the people with the magick and the manpower to guard her from me – the Watcher’s Council. Fuck! I’ve wasted over a week dealing with the wrong people.”
He began to pace once again, but this time it was with a leashed and considering manner as opposed to the frenetic energy of his earlier movements.
“Well, well, well. Apparently I’m not the only one engaging in miscalculations. Could they honestly believe that the Council will protect her?” His cold laughter echoed sharply as it hit the stone walls. “They’re so naive. They believe that just because they’re all “truth, justice, and the American way” that everyone’s like that. But the Council? They’d sell their souls to the Devil himself if it advanced their agenda.”
Angelus sighed in near bliss as hope filled him for the first time in days.
“This will be far easier than I thought. I don’t need to recapture Cordelia. I just need to find something the Council wants more than they want to help one young woman that plays no part in their plans. Once I do that I won’t have to go to her. They’ll bring her back to me.”
His mind filling with possibilities, Angelus left his childe to her would be protector determined that his next plan would be foolproof.
Chapter Eighty One
The expressions of dejection on the faces of those seated around the library table were incongruous with the fact that a victory had just been won. The reason for the despairing looks was quickly summed up.
“We need a plan.”
Buffy’s declaration was a reflection of everyone’s thoughts and her somber tone matched their gloom at the complete and utter lack of ideas to defeat such a brutal and relentless enemy.
Jenny fidgeted for a moment in her chair. Although she’d been generally accepted back into the groups good graces she still felt as if she were somehow on probation and was thus hesitant to bring up what she was sure to be a controversial proposal. Still, she owed it to the group to let them consider every possibility for themselves.
“I might have an idea.”
All eyes snapped to her doing nothing to decrease her uneasiness.
“I’ve developed a program to translate the original curse. If it works I may be able to recast it, to return Angel’s soul.”
The sheer stillness of the room was not unexpected but still nearly unbearable as the young teacher waited for some kind of response to her tentative plan.
Buffy’s tortured whisper seemed to jolt everyone from their various states of shock, but it was Xander who first recovered the power of speech.
“No. No! Don’t get all moony-eyed as if we’re going to save that bastard. Jenny wants to restore his soul then I’m all for it. After all, I’m sure once he’s ‘Angel’ again it’ll be much easier to get him to stand still while we stake him.”
For once the pain that lanced Buffy’s gaze meant nothing to the fuming boy.
“Don’t even think about it, Buffy. You believe what you want to believe, but the rest of us know that the soul doesn’t replace the vampire. Angelus will still be there. The monster that’s killing Cordelia will still get to live. For what he’s done to her I won’t just kill Angel, I’ll enjoy every second of it and dance in his dust. And slayer or not – you won’t be able to stop me unless you’re willing to kill me instead.”
And Buffy believed him. At the end of this terrible ordeal it would come down to Angel, her first love, or Xander, her best friend. More than anything, at that moment Buffy wished she could escape back into the barren wasteland of detachment that had surrounded her far too briefly. But she couldn’t. She wasn’t destined to be the slayer by default; to due her duty because she was anesthetized to the ramification of her actions. No, she was meant to care, sometimes far too deeply. Ultimately she would do what was right not because of her calling and not because of the Council, but simply because she believed in the cause and she cherished those who depended on her.
As she looked at her adopted family she urgently hoped that that caring would be enough to keep her world from shattering when she murdered the soul she’d come to love so deeply.
“What do we need to do?”