The Best Laid Plans
Chapter Eighty Seven
Sunny California was living up to its name and Quentin Travers couldn’t have been more pleased. Even though they were working, however reluctantly, with Angelus at this time, he didn’t have any intention of trusting the vampire. Although they would have to meet that night to make the exchange that would ensure the world’s continued safety, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t take advantage of any and all protection of which he could avail himself in the meantime.
Thus the landing at the previously used, private airstrip in the scorching sunlight; the greatest protection against the demon they were facing.
As he stepped off the plane he spotted the unremarkable black limousine that would spirit them discreetly to the nondescript safe house where they would pass the hours until the night’s meeting. He had been very specific in his orders that the car that met them have extremely dark tinted windows. It wouldn’t do to alert the Chase girl that they were back in Sunnydale. They certainly didn’t need the hysterics at this delicate time and there was no need to cause any excess distress for the young woman; after all, he wasn’t a monster.
Turning he saw the object of his musings leaving the aircraft. She was amazingly stable given the circumstances, although she still leaned on Worthington for support.
Worthington. There was a problem all its own. Travers knew that the man had lost his objectivity in this matter; their earlier conversation had made that clear. He had proved, as had Rupert Giles, that he could not be trusted. As soon as this matter was settled and the new slayer was found both men would find themselves stripped of their positions and no longer a part of the Council. The only reason that he had allowed the younger watcher to accompany him was that the girl would have been suspicious traveling without him.
Of course there was also the added benefit that Matthew’s effect on the girl had been startling and it could only be to their advantage to return Angelus’ pet in the best condition possible to minimize the vampire’s wrath.
Following the pair were the three mages maintaining the spell that was obscuring the bond. The amount of mystical energy produced was immense and would create a signature that eventually Angelus would be able to identify. But even with the resources of the Hellmouth at his fingertips it would take him about two or three days to pinpoint them. By then the trade would be made and they would be safely back at the Council’s Headquarters.
As they drew close to the car the driver’s door opened. But instead of the man he had assigned, Quentin found himself facing a petite slayer, coiled for a fight and vibrating with anger.
Every day she was feeling stronger; however Cordelia knew that without Matthew’s steadying presence she wouldn’t have even made it out of her room in England much less all the way to wherever the hell they were.
And frankly, that last thought bothered her. She understood that the last time they’d spirited her away she’d been in no position to question it, but she’d been recovering by leaps and bounds since her altercation with Matthew and she was more than ready to start making her own decisions again. After all, she was Cordelia Chase. She was no weak willed wallflower to be dictated to by a bunch of self-righteous bastards. She had survived the Scourge of Europe! She’d be damned if she’d let a paper pusher like Quentin Travers boss her around. As soon as she figured out where she was she’d start weighing her options. While she acknowledged that their blocking of her bond with Angelus was certainly beneficial, if worse came to worse she could always fall back on her original plan of moving from place to place, staying one step ahead of the vampire and relocating before he could get a fix on her whereabouts.
Stumbling slightly, she felt Matthew’s arm tighten around her waist and she smiled up at him gratefully. She wasn’t sure what she would have done without him. As soon as she’d begun crying on his shoulder the morning he’d confronted her she’d realized his true intentions. Usually she’d resent being manipulated, but she understood that she’d needed something to shock her out of the traumatic fog her separation from Angelus had thrust upon her. The fact that she was up and moving, albeit with assistance, bore out that her Guardian Watcher had made the right choice.
Since she’d managed to gather her wits about her once again she found that she was hyper-sensitive to her surroundings. Although she trusted her friend to protect her, she knew that, ultimately, it was up to her to take care of herself; and while she was in no way physically capable of doing so right then she could maintain her constant vigilance, knowing that her vastly underrated intelligence was her greatest weapon.
It was this awareness that had her head snapping around at the sound of a car door opening. Although Matthew had taken another step forward Cordelia had stilled in horror of the sight before her. Buffy.
Her dread increased as the back doors opened and Giles and Xander quickly made their way to the blonde’s side. The frozen form of Quentin Travers put paid to any hope that her friends had arranged to visit her at some neutral location. No; they were back in Sunnydale.
As Buffy surged forward in a blur of motion to attack the guards who had exited the plane behind them Cordelia realized that the bond between Council and slayer had obviously been severed. She knew that of the two groups currently locked in combat only her friends could be counted on to have her best interests at heart. They were obviously here to save her, which meant that the Council had become a threat. They’d betrayed her and the only way to have done that was to have made a deal with Angelus. They were giving her back.
Although she had initially begged to be returned to the vampire she knew that she was now lacking vital information to make an informed decision as to what to do. When in doubt she’d choose to place her faith in her friends every time and this was no exception. Heart breaking at the thought that Matthew, her rock during her time away, had plotted against her she jerked her body away from his, determined to make it to her friend’s sides even if she had to crawl there.
But before her stumbling step could land her on the ground she felt strong arms surround her, pulling her close as warm lips rasped over her ear.
“Calm down. I’m working with the slayer. I won’t let anyone give you back to him.”
As she met the fierce, hazel eyes above her she knew that he was sincere. Stilling her movements she allowed Matthew to swing her up into his arms and weave his way through the fighting, slipping inside the hanger and into the waiting van.
Willow’s cautious greeting and friendly wave brought a smile to the brunette’s face. It was something warm and familiar. It called to her memories of a simpler time and she cherished the brief moment of normalcy.
“Hi, Willow. So, come here often?”
The quiet girl seemed startled by the humor, not doubt having had it impressed upon her the dire straits in which Cordelia would be returning to them. But after having a minute to rebound a lopsided smile tilted her lips.
“Actually, more than I would have imagined.”
Cordelia’s grin softened as a look of gratitude passed across her face.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s too quiet without you around, so what else could we do?”
Even with all that they’d done on her behalf in the past months, Cordelia still wasn’t used to such selfless interest in her welfare. At a loss with how to proceed she nodded and turned, tucking her head into Matthew’s shoulder.
That move didn’t go unnoticed by either Willow or Jenny who was occupying the driver’s seat. The two exchanged silent looks as they pondered the ramifications of this unexpected development.
The quiet that had descended over the vehicle was broken as three people threw themselves through the side door.
The van lurched forward as Jenny slammed on the gas peddle and raced through the narrow opening in the large hanger doors. As they swerved onto the road leading away from the airport they left the fuming watchers behind, missing Quentin Travers’ livid demand.
“Restore the bond.”
Chapter Eighty Eight
There was an awkward silence in the close confines and it occurred to Cordelia that life was indeed weird when Willow was the most socially adept of a given group.
Suddenly all thoughts of small talk were wiped away as a burning sensation, missing for weeks, burst through her.
Although the full brunt of the bond had been somewhat obscured, the pain of separation had never fully left her. But even that pain, which initially had been sapping away her life, was nothing compared to the feelings flooding her as her bond with Angelus was completely restored, connecting them once more in a fiery explosion of love and loss.
Held hostage by forces that would not be denied, Cordelia’s body shuddered violently and she clung in desperation to the solidness of Matthew’s muscled form, the only stable presence she could process at the moment.
Xander watched, half in fear and half in envy, as the new watcher stroked Cordelia’s hair, whispering soft words of comfort into her ear. He knew that this was about Cordelia and not him, but he couldn’t help the piercing longing to be the one that held her, the one that soothed her pain.
While Cordelia’s dysfunctional family had pushed her to be the epitome of social perfection, his home life had resulted in a pariah status he hadn’t been able to shake. People judged early on in life and were reluctant to admit they might have been wrong despite the intervening years. Xander would blame it on the ignorance of youth, but those opinions hadn’t been confined to those of his own generation. Instead he’d found that they encompassed the adults in his life; his family and teachers making clear, sometimes in subtle and sometimes in overt ways, that they felt there was something lacking in him.
Although both Buffy and Giles had embraced him as a being of worth, Cordelia had been the first truly “normal” person to say that he had value. And, trusting her expertise on all things popular, he borrowed some of her belief in him as a salvageable person and had begun to rebuild the self-esteem his family had so brutally extinguished.
For that, no matter how the rest of their lives played out, Cordelia would own an abiding place in his heart.
Immune to the glare being tossed his way by the young man across from him, Matthew instead locked eyes with his fellow watcher.
“Son of a bitch!”
The silent communication between the two men did not escape Buffy’s notice and the coarse words coming from Giles’ normally cultured mouth were enough to pull her out of her shock and horror at Cordelia’s current condition.
“It’s the bond.”
It was Matthew who answered her, and though she knew he was on their side she wasn’t sure that she was ready to fully trust him yet. Up until that morning he’d been with the Council and they had definitely lost all credibility with their slayer. But Giles trusted him and she trusted Giles, so until he proved himself unworthy of their faith she’d give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, a little healthy skepticism never hurt anyone and Buffy turned to Giles for conformation.
Whatever explanation Giles was about to offer was cut off by Cordelia’s low moan.
“They want him to find me. Oh God, they’re giving me back.”
Matthew’s arms tightened convulsively around the trembling brunette as if somehow sheer force of will could hold the bond at bay.
“But you’re not with them any more, Cordelia. You’re with us and we’re not letting you go anywhere. I know it hurts, sweetheart, but we have a way to block it, just hold on.”
Although she couldn’t make out the words, the gentle tone eased the discomfort slightly; but nothing short of either the resuming of the spell or a reunion with her bondmate would truly end her suffering.
“I feel him. He’s all over me – inside of me.”
Drowning in unfamiliar feelings of helplessness, Matthew pulled her in even tighter looking to Giles for some kind of guidance with these disturbing feelings.
Wearily Giles shook his head at his friend. “It never gets any easier.”
“Can’t we give her something?”
As a slayer Buffy was, above all, action oriented. Watching Cordelia suffer without doing something to stop it was just another torture for which she had to thank Angelus.
With a sympathetic look Giles explained their dilemma.
“If we give Cordelia any type of sedating substance she looses whatever small ability she has to fight the bond. Although it isn’t enough to keep him from finding her it will allow us a small yet precious window of time in which to restart the spell.”
As they finally pulled into the driveway of the small house in which they were currently hiding, Buffy couldn’t hold in her sigh of relief. She’d seen a lot of pain during her short tenure as the slayer, but she didn’t think she could stand the suffering in the van much longer.
Cordelia’s pain, Xander’s fear, Giles’ guilt, even the new guy’s protectiveness were overwhelming and oppressive in the small space.
Upon entering, a brief sense of optimism filled the group as they saw a small circle of wiccans from a local coven in the beginning stages of the ritual that would once again inhibit the tie between Cordelia and Angelus.
Apparently the spell was nearly instantaneous as Cordelia’s body fell limp within seconds of the whispered incantation.
“He’s gone again. He’s gone.”
It was hard to tell if there was gratitude or regret in the pained mutterings, and Matthew found himself uncaring which it was, as neither emotion seemed to calm the girl’s mental sufferings. Making his way upstairs to the bedroom to which Giles had directed him, he sat on the bed, leaning back against the headboard. Carefully arranging Cordelia against him he gently kissed the top of her head murmuring words of solace in hopes that sleep would overtake her, granting her the brief respite they could not provide.
So intent was he on the welfare of his charge that he once again failed to notice her young suitor who stood framed in the doorway, fists clenching in helplessness and anger before he turned and stormed back downstairs.
Chapter Eighty Nine
The ringing in Giles’ pocket drew curious stares from the young people around him. Pulling out the small phone he ignored the shocked expressions that were bordering on an insult to his intelligence and refrained from informing them that the contraption belonged to Matthew who had left it in his care so as not to disrupt Cordelia’s rest when the inevitable call came.
“Rupert. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Stop this madness and bring the girl back before it’s too late.”
Giles’ bitter laughed seared across the connection.
“You didn’t really think that after all we did to rescue her we’d just give her back to that monster did you? Dammit man; she’s a girl, not some anonymous pawn in your twisted game.”
His former boss seemed less than impressed.
“I would hardly categorize the ending of the world as a game.
You are aware, of course Rupert, that even if we somehow manage to avoid disaster, if you don’t return her you’ve effectively ended your career.”
Giles struggled to speak around the rage clogging his throat.
“You unbearable ass! Do you honestly imagine that I’d continue any association with an organization that would throw an innocent to the wolves? That’s precisely what we were created to prevent.”
He wasn’t alone in his anger as Quentin’s voice also crackled with volatile emotion.
“Our job is to stop evil. Don’t delude yourself. If Acathla is awakened that girl will perish with the rest of the world.”
And the insults to Giles’ intellect just kept coming.
“Do you really think we haven’t considered that you pompous pillock?”
Without warning Giles found both hands free as Buffy relieved him of the phone to vent her own rage and frustration.
“Look, you may have time to waste on some pissing contest but we don’t. In case you haven’t noticed we’re not taking our marching orders from you anymore. Where my watcher goes, I go; and if he says he doesn’t work for you anymore then you can consider yourself slayerless.
Quentin was furious at Giles’ blatant insubordination, but he’d be damned if he’d accept a dressing down from a seventeen year old girl.
“You’re not the only slayer, Miss Summers. It’s only a matter of time before we find Kendra’s successor.”
Buffy’s snort was an inelegant yet clear sign of how unimpressed she was by the implication of her redundancy.
“That’s just peachy with me, but until then I’m the only Chosen One you’ve got; and believe me, I was chosen by beings with far more power than you.
You want action, Travers, here it is – If you come near Cordelia, make any move towards her, or conspire in any way with our enemies against her, I’ll kill you; human or not. Believe me; my conscience is as burdened as it can possibly get. The death of a man who would make a young woman into a demon’s slave – it won’t even touch me.”
Barely restraining herself from crushing the small device she snapped it closed on the voice still sputtering through the small speaker and tossed it back to her watcher. Shaking with rage, she took a deep breath and tried to calm down as Willow moved to her side to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Cell phone, Giles?” Xander asked with raised brows. “Aren’t you the same technophobe who struggled to master the mechanical pencil?”
Giles rolled his eyes at the inane comment but it had done its job and the tension had, for a moment, been broken. However, seeing the doubt in Buffy’s face brought it rushing back and he hastened to assure her that their course of action was sound.
“We’re doing the right thing by not going after Angelus tonight, Buffy. I know that you want to do something to fix this, but we have to remember what happened the other times that we’ve underestimated Angelus and the resources he has available. And he’ll be sure to arrive with everything at his disposal for the meeting tonight.”
“Keep in mind that Angelus felt the break in the spell as strongly as Cordelia did. He knows that she’s close and he’ll attempt to find her before he does anything rash. We only have to hold on for another two or three days until Jenny has finished translating the spell.”
Quiet up to that point, Jenny cast an anxious glance at the computer in the corner before turning regretful eyes back to those depending so heavily upon her.
“If I could make it any sooner…”
Seeing her overcome with the same sense of failure burdening them all, Giles put his arm around her, reassuring her as he had done his slayer.
“It’s alright. You’re doing everything you can. We all are.”