The overpowering smell of her mother’s perfume filled the foyer and Cordelia wrinkled her nose and quickly found the bright side to inhaling the fumes – it warned her that her parents were home.
A rarity for a Sunday but one she was noticing was happening more and more often. Maybe they were finally mellowing in their old age like Harmony’s parents? Cordelia’s nose wrinkled and she wondered if she really wanted that to be the case and made her way towards the back parlor where her mother was the most likely to be found.
Helene Chase’s voice greeted Cordelia five feet before she even reached the archway leading to the room and she sighed when she heard her mother ordering them something French for dinner. That meant that her parents had sent Ellen home, which meant dinner was going to be overpriced and from a restaurant instead of something that she’d like. Suddenly, Cordelia regretted not getting what she hadn’t finished at the diner as a doggie bag like both Buffy and Willow.
“Hi, Mom,” Cordelia called out announcing her arrival and smiling when her mother’s eyes glanced her way.
Helene raised a finger at her daughter and started to shake her head. “And this can be delivered at precisely half-past seven? Good, I despise having my dinner be late.”
Hanging up the telephone Helene crossed the room toward Cordelia, and Cordelia started to once again say hello, when her mother walked right past her without a blink.
Ignoring the sudden tightness in her throat Cordelia pushed past it and called out again, to her mother’s back. “Hi, Mom.”
“Oh. Hi, darling. Did you know that Ellen wants two weeks off for Christmas?”
Cordelia followed her mother into the kitchen and watched as the older woman went through the refrigerator randomly pulling out items. “Doesn’t she always get two weeks off?”
“Dear lord, Cordelia, of course she doesn’t.”
Cordelia raised an eyebrow, her mind calculating all the past years where Ellen had not be around for Christmas, and it was always two weeks if not longer. “Mom, I…”
“If she thinks she’s getting paid in full to taking fourteen days off during winter she is sadly mistaken. We may be gone for most of that time, but this house needs to be taken care of in our absence. I will not have it be empty.”
“We always leave it empt…”
“We most certainly do not, Cordelia. What crazy things are in your head these days. We never leave this house unattended.”
Biting the inside of her cheek Cordelia decided it was best to just give up and go along with her mother. “Right, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“One does have to wonder what is with you lately. Are you inhaling products or whatever the trendy drug is these days?”
“What?” Cordelia snapped appalled at her mother’s sudden question.
“Do not raise your voice with me,” Helene snapped, closing the door to the refrigerator and walking away from it empty handed. “I’m just concerned about the people you are spending you’re time with lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“Aura and Harmony stopped by. Didn’t you tell me you were going out with them to lunch?”
“I said I’d be with Xander. My boyfriend and his friends.”
“No. Cordelia you said your friends, which are of course young women from upstanding families like Aura and Harmony. And this Xander, boy, this isn’t the Harris boy is it?”
“I told you Mom, I’m dating Xander Harris and he’s really sweet and wonderful guy.”
“Of course he is darling, now…” she trailed off. “Cordelia, you are not going to be beautiful forever. Your looks will only let you slide by for so much longer, you have maybe ten years but really by the time you are twenty you should have landed a husband from a worthy family.”
Helene raised a finger again and shook her head. “Remember, your father and I met my senior of high school. You really should be going to the college campus, I was so proud of you last year when you took the initiative but then you’re not dating anyone and then this thing with that boy…I really thought over the summer you would have come to your senses. I introduced you to plenty of worthy and attractive young men, didn’t I? I know that Allan Dennison’s son took quite a liking to you.”
A wave of pure revulsion hit Cordelia at the thought of the grabby bastard her mother was referring to; she’d kicked him in the shins a million times before finally kneeing him in the groin. After which he’d finally gotten the point and stopped mauling her on a daily basis.
“Well, do you have anything to say?”
“When were Aura and Harmony here?” Cordelia asked, not wanting to discuss her love life with her mother. She didn’t want to defend Xander, she didn’t want to defend her interest in Xander because she knew it would be pointless.
“Oh, I don’t remember. I just found it odd you weren’t with them.”
“I told you I went out with Xander and his friends.”
“Whatever, dear,” Helene said and she walked out of the kitchen leaving nothing but perfumed air in her wake.
Cordelia stood where she was for a full minute trying to decide if she wanted to scream, cry or pretend nothing at happened at all. Deciding finally that it was best to pretend, she squared her shoulders and went to the refrigerator and grabbed a diet soda.
“I have to go, Giles. Dinners together complete with family bonding is all the rage in the Summer’s house these days. I told her I’d be home before sunset for tons of time to bond before I have to go dust the evil vampires,” Buffy bit her lip. “Okay, I didn’t mention the slaying of evil, but I think it’s for her own peace of mind that I still sneak out the window. Right?”
Without turning away from the library cage where he was putting back the protective gear he wore while training – for all the good it did not do him – Giles made a noise. “While it may not be prudent to condone such shenanigans it probably is for the best you don’t discuss the dangers of your calling with Joyce often. I do trust you two have worked out things since your return?”
Buffy shifted uneasily on her feet as she studied Giles’ back. “I guess so. She’s just being a mom, maybe overly so but I guess since I took off I can’t… I was just so wigged out about Angel.”
Dreams? Buffy’s mind went completely black on her as she tried to figure out what Giles was getting out before her lie about dreaming about Angel’s return flitted back into her mind. God, she hated lying. How had she lied to her mother for so long about being The Slayer? Survival she supposed. “No…but um…”
Giles turned around then and gave Buffy a smile that was so understanding she found herself wishing that hole that never did appear and swallow you up to save you from a situation or yourself. Her thoughts filled with everything she had already done wrong, running away, keeping the fact Willow’s spell had worked and returned Angel’s soul a secret for another week or so after her return, and now – now keeping the fact that Angel was in Sunnydale, very alive and very obviously not stuck in a hell dimension.
She had to tell Giles, she had to tell him; she owed him that after everything she’d put him through. He was the person she had to share this amazing and terrifying secret with and maybe he could help her make it make sense. Or maybe, maybe she’d actually wake up from the crazy dream it all had to be – but she knew it wasn’t a dream. It was real and she was afraid to admit it. But she had to try and she started to formulate the question but never got it out.
“Buffy, it was a very difficult moment, one I doubt I will ever understand fully myself but you showed great courage and did what you had to do as The Slayer. I am quite proud of you and also quite proud that you have chosen to go on with your life…” he cleared his throat trailing off. “Which brings me to one last point I wish to discuss with you before you go off to bond with Joyce.”
She stood silent, she’d heard his words but they weren’t processing but he was talking again and Buffy realized as he was halfway through a sentence that she was being given a lecture. A practice well thought out Giles lecture, and she wasn’t listening to it because she was relieved he’d interrupted her confession and more than a little guilty about it. But not guilty enough to stop herself from saying silent and forcing her ears to catch the end of the speech, praying that she caught enough to know what it was about.
“… Now I want you to understand that I think Scott is a very nice young man, Buffy but it’s not prudent or safe for him to be told anything about your destiny just yet. I know it will be hard to keep a secret from someone you are dating and lord knows enough of Sunnydale is already aware of your status as Slayer, but it’s for the best that Scott does not know. I’m happy you have found someone new that you like but you must remember your priorities and keep your identity—”
“A secret,” Buffy breathed out. “Right. I can keep it quiet, my lips are sealed.”
Angel blinked the words on the page in front of him remained blurred and the harder he tried to focus on the faded black ink on the aged pages the worse it got. In fact the strings of sentences seemed to bend left to right as if mocking him for not being able to read.
He threw the book, it hit the opposite wall of the mansion’s main room with a loud thud and plummeted to the floor, the pages noisy in the air and then everything went quiet again.
Or as quiet as a sunny California day could be to a vampire. A wind was blowing, no more than a breeze really but it moved the leaves and branches of the woods surrounding the building, as well as the flowering vines that had formed a blanket around the outside, scraping them against the walls. He could hear everything and nothing, it was creating a constant static white noise in his head. Adding to the memories of hundreds of years in a dimension where his conscience had tormented him with a never-ending loop of all his murderous and callous deeds. No cruel act was too small not to show in every vivid detail, and the good memories he had – however few – were twisted in ways to remind him how undeserving he’d been and then led to the inevitable gruesome end done by his hands.
The white noise of a sunny day coupled with memories that were his made even more vivid by centuries in hell made him restless, trapped in his own skin, in his own mind. Angel wanted to go out, he wanted to kill – vampires, demons – he promised himself, his conscience loud, revolted by centuries of wrongful acts. He needed to try to run away from his head, his memories, the mansion still full of the blood of his most recent victims.
But he couldn’t. It wasn’t the sun keeping him trapped, it was the hunger and the weakness of it. The hunger was humming inside of him, screaming at him to go out and find blood – any blood, all blood and to consume it. Take all he needs and then all he wants and then he’d be whole again. Not weak after pacing for a mere minute, able to focus his eyes on page and maybe able to step out of the past and focus on the now.
Now. Now he was in Sunnydale and it wasn’t right. It made no sense, and Buffy had found him, and through the crazed fog that had enveloped him at first he had seen her, smelled her, almost tasted her blood but realized she was real. Had it been a dream? Hell? Being back?
It was all unclear. Clarity, he craved clarity and a primal voice inside of him told him blood was the only way. Blood. Blood. Blood.
The haze in Angel’s mind didn’t break, but it lifted at the soft voice that followed tentative footsteps. He looked up and smiled. It was Buffy. Buffy. His Buffy, and he’d done so much damage to her and yet there she was here and helping him.
“I can’t stay long,” she explained coming closer, looking at the couch where he sat and he watched her, wondering would she sit with him. She stayed standing, so far away and he sniffed the air. And smelled only her and it was wonderful, but he needed blood. Where was pig’s blood, she’d brought some last night but it wasn’t enough. Hadn’t she brought more?
“I just wanted to check in with you. I’ll bring more blood tomorrow, I brought enough to last you two days.”
Angel swallowed and looked at her, the pain was so much and didn’t she know that, couldn’t she that. “Tomorrow?”
She stared at him and bit her lip, looked behind her and Angel wanted to reach out and grab but hadn’t he lost that right? She seemed so far away, he knew only a summer had passed for her, while it had been hundreds of years for him but she seemed so far away. Standing right there she seemed so far away but the smell of the blood under her skin was getting stronger and stronger.
He stood up, it startled her but he ignored her gasp and he walked around the couch, putting more of a barrier between them.
“You can’t come by tonight?” he asked focusing on her chin rather than her eyes.
Her chin drew up defiant but then he noticed her body sag, Buffy was sighing and she cleared her throat. “Mom. She found out about the Slayer thing and it’s a whole big thing. And well Giles is being kind of more hover-y than usual too. It all has to do with me running away – but I mean I’m back. Don’t worry about that.”
“Back?” Angel echoed, he was back too wasn’t he?
“Tomorrow. You just you know, drink the blood, rest. You look stronger.”
Angel closed his eyes and then opened them and met hers. She looked so hopeful, so determined and so small. How was someone with so much power always reminding him something that could break in a second? So fragile. So vulnerable, she’d always had it and now it was in even more bold in her blue-blue eyes.
“I am,” he lied.
“Tomorrow then,” Buffy said and then she was gone.
Buffy was gone and Angel slumped down, gripping the back of the couch with his hands and fought to stay standing. Seconds later he failed.
Her hair finally dry, Cordelia turned off the drier, dropped it on her bureau and grabbed her phone. Within a second she was on her bed, sitting indian style and ignoring the backpack on the end of it and listening to the rings on the other end of the line.
Cordelia cringed at the sound of Mr. Harris’ voice, but did her best to sound cheery and welcoming. “Is Xander home? It’s Cordelia.”
She heard movement and then a lot of loud bellowing for Xander. It heralded no results and she tried to ignore the sinking sensation in her gut at what that probably meant.
“No,” Mr. Harris said to her before hanging up abruptly.
Cordelia closed her line, took two quick breaths and then decided that she had every right to call Willow Rosenberg’s home and talk to her boyfriend. She just knew Xander was there, if he wasn’t home he was either with her, Willow or Buffy. If he wasn’t such a lame loser she’d have to give him a hard time for making it look like he had a harem, she thought, as she dialed Willow’s phone number. A number she thought she’d never know by heart.
“Hello?” Willow’s voice came through the line.
“It’s Cordy, I want Xander.”
“Oh. Hold on.”
Cordelia wished she could be feel surprised about her boyfriend being at the other girls home.
“How’s my girl?”
She smiled, but she was his girlfriend and Willow wasn’t and never would be. Willow had Oz anyway, and she could be understanding and not overly insecure of her boyfriend’s every move like the sheep that called themselves the Cordettes.
“Bored. I did all my cheerleading stuff and now only have homework looming ahead of me.”
“Will’s helping me with geometry while we watched those wacky Indian soap operas. Someone is singing to a picture frame right now as we speak.”
“How tacky,” Cordelia muttered.
“Yeah I know. Look, I’ll call you when I get home, okay?”
Cordelia nodded and wished he’d talk to her longer, but he never did if he wasn’t home. Was it really so much to ask he want to tie up his friend’s phone lines? “I’m holding you to it.”
“Gotcha. We’ll do something special during lunch tomorrow, huh?” Cordelia could see his eyebrows waggling through the phone and she rolled her own eyes.
“We are not spending lunch in a closet, Xander.”
“You know you want to,” he wheedled.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “I’m once again reminded that I have to teach you how to behave properly around a woman.”
“There is a woman around?”
Xander lowered his voice. “You know I love every womanly inch of you.”
“Ugh. Bye Xander.”
“Talk to you later about our lunch date.”
“It’s going to be somewhat romantic,” Cordelia said, just before Xander hung up and left her listening to a dial tone. Rolling her eyes, she wondered for the millionth time since she’d started her relationship with him what she was thinking. But then she remembered his sweet brown eyes, how brave he was everyday with all the demons and stuff, how could she not like Xander Harris.
Of course she could never tell her friends about the courage in the face of demons, but that was their loss. If they just learned to open their eyes they’d know about the danger right under the high school same as her.
Furrowing her brow she looked at her backpack, and thought of all the homework inside of it and shook her head. She wasn’t ready to start frying her brain with boring facts and figures in all her subjects. Standing up she decided to wander into the kitchen and see what she could find as a snack.
Her father’s voice greeted her the second she opened her door. She frowned, what was he yelling so loudly about on his phone this time. His den was at the other end of the hall by the staircase. She stalled for a moment, wondering if she really wanted to move closer to the shouting but decided she was being foolish.
“No. No. No. Miranda, honey, baby…shh.”
Or maybe not all that foolish, Cordelia thought as she moved close enough to hear the words and the tone. He’d calmed down a bit but he was in full smarm mode trying to calm down his latest mistress. A cold chill settled through Cordelia’s body and she tried to push it away.
“Miranda, you know I want to see you, be with you, fuck you… but I have to bring Helene on this trip. For the firm, there is a get to together, so you are going to have to wait a bit… Honey, baby, you know I only want you.”
Only it was impossible to push away something your own father didn’t even try to hide and she felt sick to her stomach, hugged herself and quickened her steps to get away from his voice. The sooner she reached the kitchen, the sooner she could pretend her father wasn’t an adulterous ass again.
“Oh, thank goodness. Cordelia, honey. You have to run to the dry cleaners for me.”
Her mother’s voice startled her as she reached the end of the staircase and she blinked at the woman dumbly for a moment. “What?”
“I just realized I left my dress there. I called and Ben is going to stay open just for you to run down and grab it. Go, go. We don’t want to put him out too much longer.”
“Mom, I was going to have a snack and then I have…”
Cordelia ended up hugging herself tighter, looking up the staircase where she could still hear her father’s muffled voice sweet talking his mistress. He wasn’t even considering her mother, or her, that they could hear him and if he did he just didn’t care.
She felt so cold and alone. Her father was upstairs sweet talking his latest tramp while her mother was staring at her like she was an alien for arguing about the dry cleaning? Didn’t her mother care? Why didn’t he care? Why should she care?
“Fine,” Cordelia said and stalked past her mother.
Angel didn’t remember leaving the mansion. He hurt, he was shaking but he refused to stop walking. He needed something, it was important that he get it. Had that been why he’d left the mansion once the sun had set? Forced himself off the floor and onto his feet? He remembered falling. He remembered Buffy and lying to her about his strength, seeing her determination and her pain and saying what she wanted to hear. And then he’d fallen, the pain weakening his legs and taking him to the floor of the mansion.
Then he was walking, in the dark, sticking near the shadows and heading somewhere. He looked behind him, he was no longer in the woods, he’d moved off of it and towards buildings. Buildings after buildings were around him and parked cars on the sides of the road. Few people, but there were there, far away but with loud beating hearts that he could hear over the hum of the electricity in the wires above, and the other man made noises that covered the earth in its present stage.
He kept walking, towards the heartbeats, towards breath, skin and blood. He remembered now. Blood. That was what he was seeking, he’d left the mansion to get blood. Where? How? He couldn’t remember again. He looked around, buildings, cars, people, markings and roads he didn’t recognize. It was Sunnydale wasn’t it? Didn’t he know Sunnydale? Demons, demons had places, places that would lead to him what he craved, what he wanted, what he needed to survive.
He blinked. No. That wasn’t it, that wasn’t where he would have gone before… before Hell, before he remembered the joy of sweet, warm human blood gushing over his tongue and down his throat.
Human blood. Sticky, sweet, warm and it would spurt out of their bodies and over his tongue where he held all the control of how much or little he took. Would it be fast, would it be slow? How he had love to relish a kill, and Angel shivered, his stomach clenched and his mind snapped.
He was a monster, he could hear it in his head. His own voice, voices of nameless victims, a harsher voice that cut him from the inside out… And Buffy’s, he could hear it in Buffy’s voice too. She’d sent him to hell because of what he’d done as a monster.
Angel stopped, grabbed the side of a stop sign near the side of the street and doubled over. What was he doing? Focus, he could barely focus. He needed blood. He looked around, he had to remember where he was and where he was supposed to go.
A grocery store was ahead of him, but all it’s lights were off. Crafts, books, businesses, a bank, and his eyes landed on another set of buildings. The ones closest to him. Why couldn’t he find something familiar to latch onto, why wouldn’t his brain work more than a few moments at a time?
Pain, hunger and confusion were all he knew, he stumbled closer to the buildings he was near. They were all stores, close together and he sniffed. He smelled animals, dead animals, one of them had to be a butcher and where their was a butcher there was blood. He walked through a parking lot, three cars dotted the lot but clearly in front of him was a butcher shop.
That was it. It was why he’d left the mansion, forced himself to walk, to stay clear and find. A butcher shop. He hurried up to the door, it wouldn’t open but the lights were on. He tried again, slammed his fists against the glass and didn’t notice it shatter. All Angel saw was that it had remained closed. He hit again and started to shout. What he did not know, all Angel knew was he so close to what was needed and if he didn’t get it….
A man appeared on the other side of the shattered glass. Angel felt relief at the sight of the tired face until it turned to anger. Confusion filled him, confusion and pain but he stepped back when the man opened the door a crack, then tried to get in. Grab at the door, wrench it open completely and get the blood he came for.
“You broke the fucking door.”
“I need blood.”
“Blood. Open up and sell me blood.”
“Fuck that. I don’t need the hassle of some drugged up asshole. Get lost before I call the police.”
Angel shook his head, not hearing the man’s words but understanding that the door was going to close and he reached forward and got the wrist of the man. He wrenched the arm hard, heard it fall out of the man’s socket but only his arm came threw the door and the man screamed in pain.
“Blood,” Angel muttered his fingers feeling the man’s pulse through his skin. Warm skin and blood. It was swimming through the man, Angel could hear it. A peaceful whoosh that was calling to him, telling him it was right and that this was what he needed.
His face changed, hardened, his teeth elongated and the whoosh of blood grew and it’s scent grew stronger with the man’s fear. He heard cries from the man, as he loomed over his wrist and Angel stopped.
His head lifted, the air was different, he looked up and found himself looking into the wide eyes of a scared female. Her mouth opened, she screamed something familiar to him but he wasn’t sure what, but his mouth was watering. Sweet, young, pure, terrified blood coursing through a woman who was running — he liked that, a voice reminded him. And he was after her, snarling, craving and it took only a moment.
A moment to catch her, slam her against the side of a car, push at the thick long hair that dared to cover her neck and pull at the blouse that went up too high. There was the tear of fabric, then the feel of heated skin against his lips, Angel sniffed in the heavenly perfume of young female virgin blood full of fear.
All he had to do was take it.