“So what are you saying?” Cordelia tried to sound nonchalant about it. “That I’ll end up like her?”
They had no choice but to bring Karla Brewer back to the mansion. Until they found a way to return her to normal, neither the police nor her parents could offer suitable protection. Right now the girl was shackled with a pair of iron cuffs and the matching link chain that Buffy had used to secure Angel when he returned from hell.
Angel put his arm around Cordy’s shoulder squeezing her close as she leaned in. “It won’t happen. They’re never going to get their hands on you. I won’t let it happen.”
He rubbed his cheek against her hair and kissed the top of her head, uncertain if he was comforting her or trying to convince himself. No matter how many times he said it.
“This is actually a rather hopeful sign.” Wesley crouched down to examine the bound girl more closely. She was huddled against the stone wall, legs pulled up close to her chest, and her arms wrapped around them. A low hum sounded from her throat that was interspersed by bouts of unfamiliar words and quite distinguishable phrases that predicted the coming of Amolon.
Giles raised his glasses up a notch to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Hopeful in what way?”
Leaving the cleanup job for later they worked together to get Karla Brewer back to the mansion. Oz volunteered the use of his van. The demented girl struggled against Buffy’s hold and it took Xander’s help to keep her from kicking free. Willow rode up front with her boyfriend while Giles had followed behind them in his own car.
“She’s alive,” Wes pointed out.
“Being dead is a whole lot more fun than what that girl’s going through,” Spike put in his two cents. Having heard the commotion as the slayer and her watcher dragged the girl through the front door, he decided to head downstairs and join the others.
Drusilla wasn’t so keen on him leaving their bed, but he needed a stretch of the legs. He had stepped into his jeans and headed downstairs barefoot and shirtless pausing only long enough to confirm that his sire would follow shortly.
Ignoring Spike’s comment, Wesley explained his rationale. “This may be reversible. If we keep both her and Cordelia out of their hands before the requisite ritual, they will be unable to perform it.”
“Score 2 points for the Scoobies.” Xander and Willow exchanged high fives.
Giles glanced toward the front entrance and then checked his watch. “We have six hours before the signs of the prophecy recommence. According to the scroll the next sacrifice will be revealed tonight.”
“Another virgin sacrifice?” sniggered Xander whose amusement was cut short when Buffy nudged him a little too hard with her elbow.
“Worried you’re on the list, monkey boy?” Spike asked snorted and pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket.
Groaning, Buffy muttered into Xander’s ear, “Ixnay on the irginvay.” The last thing she wanted was to get into the whole Cordelia-doesn’t-qualify thing again.
Heavy with doubt, Giles told them, “The scroll was rather vague on the matter of the sacrifice’s identity.”
“No, it’s not.” Cordelia snapped out of her temporary gloom to tell them of Wesley’s discovery. His eureka moment had come after she’d gone upstairs with Angel, but he had been eager enough to knock on their door.
Angel wasn’t exactly pleasant about the interruption of their little afternoon ‘nap’ and Cordy had spent most of the time hiding under the covers. It was one thing for Wes to know she slept with Angel, but quite another for him to see proof of it.
She walked across the foyer in the direction of the study. “You’ve got to see this.” If not for the commotion of bringing Karla Brewer back to the mansion, Wes would’ve pounced on Giles and Buffy the moment they arrived. “It’s the scrolls. Wes says we owe it all to Drusilla, dontcha Wes?”
Looking a little miffed that she had gotten to the story before him, Wesley rose to his feet again. “Precisely.”
As if on cue, the vampiress descended the stairs dressed in one of her lace gowns. A knowing smirk tilted the corners of her mouth. She held out her hand for Spike who led her back to the group. Her eyes were focused solely on her sire. “Does it please you, my Angel?”
Spike scowled and dropped Drusilla’s hand.
“It helps,” Angel answered and maneuvered around before she could nuzzle his shoulder. He squeezed her hand instead which made Dru’s little pout disappear.
She turned back to Spike when Angel released her. “Daddy says I did good.”
Still scowling, Spike took a deep drag and blew the smoke in her face. “Well, maybe he’ll give you a little treat and let you tie him up.”
Cordelia stopped on her way down the hall and turned back to glare at Spike. “That’s my vampire. I’m the only one who gets to do that.”
She spun around again so that her hair whipped around nearly catching Wes in the face. Drusilla tittered as she followed behind Cordelia leaving the others gaping in Angel’s direction. Buffy’s eyes were round saucers. Xander looked like he might be sick. The hue of Willow’s face nearly matched her hair and Oz’ ears were a bright shade of pink. Even the two watchers tried to look like they hadn’t heard a thing.
“Hypothetically speaking,” Angel said as he wished for the hundredth time that this was all over and these people would get the hell out of his house. He walked over to Wesley who was standing in the middle of the hall staring into space. “You planned to show us your discovery.”
Blinking back from the naughty corner of his mind where Cordelia had him tied up to a bed, Wesley hurried to the study. When everyone was settled, he asked Cordelia to help him with the scroll. She held one end and he the other. The firelight blazed with a yellow glow behind it.
Slowly, the blank spaces of the parchment began to fill. First came random symbols, and then words that became whole paragraphs of hidden text revealed by the light.
“Drusilla’s vision was spot on even if her action of burning the books,” Wes paused to send her a stern glance, “was uncalled for.”
“Dark secrets cast long shadows when they come into the light.” Giles repeated what Drusilla had revealed to them before. “The light brings truth and darkness.”
“So what does it say?” asked Buffy anxious for news that would let them put a stop to this prophecy once and for all.
Wesley explained that he was still translating the whole of the text. “However, I was able to find a reference to the next sacrifice. Just here,” he pointed to the glowing text for Giles’ benefit. Translating: “Bound by law, granted freedom’s breath, and a momentary respite bringing him into the waiting arms at the maw of Hell.”
“What’s that mean?” Willow whispered and snuggled closer to Oz on the couch.
Having remained quiet until now, Oz made a guess. “It’s a prisoner. Someone bound by law. A man with temporary freedom from jail. Coming here to Sunnydale. Back to the Hellmouth.”
“Is that right?” Xander looked to Wes for answers, to Giles, to Drusilla, to anybody. “That can’t be right. Karla and Cordy…they’re the virg—pure-ish types. Some convict can’t be considered pure, can he?”
Angel had been thinking about that issue from the moment Wesley told him about it earlier that afternoon. They had all made the assumption that deflowering Cordelia might disqualify her for the ritual. The truth was that the prophecy never mentioned virgin sacrifices. It only referred to the Pure Ones, they who would be used to bring the demon god to Earth by sacrificing their purity.
“We may have to rethink that.” Angel hated to admit it because it meant Cordy was not exempt. He’d never truly believed it, but he had wanted to.
“Guess this means we have to talk strategies for tonight.” Buffy was all set. She was ready to kick some demon butt tonight even if it meant saving some ex-con.
The interpretation of the translation seemed sound. The nearest prison was quite a distance away and there were many routes a traveler could take to get to town. “We need to watch the highways, the Bus Depot, the railroad and the marina.”
Cordelia foresaw another night of being locked up for her own safety. “That’s a lot of territory to cover. You’ll need help.”
“I’ve got my van,” Oz reminded them. “Willow and I can cruise the highway.”
“Thanks, but I was thinking about—”
Spike cut in just because she was looking in his general direction. “Me? Bloody hell. Why should I go traipsing all over town looking for some wanker?”
It was Drusilla who answered, lifting a long finger to his lips. “Because Cordy wants you to help.”
Angel’s brow furrowed at the thought of having Spike on the job, but Cordelia was definitely right about them having a lot of town to cover.
Against his better judgment, he consented. “Okay, Spike can help.”
“Me, doofus,” Cordelia smacked his arm. “I’m going with you tonight. Team Chase is back in business.”
Before World War III could break out, Xander asked, “How do we recognize this guy when he shows up? The first time a guy went up in flames and then a meteor shower came down on Cor’s head.”
“Just watch for something out of place,” suggested Wes thinking that the boy was not far off the mark. The prophecy remained rather vague. “We have a better idea what to expect than we did this morning.”
“That’s nice to know, Pollyanna,” Spike puffed on his cigarette as he spoke. “Now tell us what qualifies as out of place in this ruddy town?”
They bantered back and forth while Cordelia and Angel took their own argument into a corner. “This isn’t what I had in mind when I promised to take you out.”
Angel was treading softly and Cordy knew she had him where she wanted him. There was no way she was letting him renege on the promises he’d made just a couple of hours ago. “So what? As dates go, I can think of worse things than a moonlight walk along the marina. At least it’s not Old Sunnydale Cemetery this time.”
The inner battle Angel fought against an outright refusal was settled with a gruff, “I don’t want you hurt.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and Team Chase will miss out on all of the excitement tonight. Wanna make me happy?” Cordelia slid her arms around his neck and smiled when he pulled her close.
“Take me to dinner. There’s a restaurant by the marina. It’s open late.” Cordelia was more interested in spending a romantic evening away from the Scoobies than the ex con they were supposed to save from certain sacrifice. “Plenty of time to ourselves before Cinderella’s clock goes off at midnight.”
Across the room, Buffy noticed Giles checking his watch for the third time in as many minutes. “Got somewhere else you need to be?”
It took a second for him to notice she was addressing her question to him. “Ah, no. I was concerned about Faith.”
For the first time since they returned to the mansion with Karla, she noticed that the other slayer was nowhere to be seen. Cocking her head, she stared at Giles’ worried expression. “Why worry? Faith’s a big girl.”
Talking about Faith brought Wesley into the discussion. He knew about Giles’ plans to send Faith to City Hall. Whist he had not fully approved of them, he saw no other choice. “She should have returned hours ago. You mean to tell me that she hasn’t been with you at the school library?”
“Faith doesn’t exactly hang out there by choice,” Xander explained suddenly feeling kinda worried, too. Ever since he learned that she was acting as a double agent of sorts he decided that he really didn’t like the idea of her sneaking around with the mayor. He was not quite sure if that was because he did not fully trust Faith like he did Buffy or if it was because the mayor did. “Some people are lucky and aren’t forced to live a life of suffering anymore.”
Wesley could not imagine what he meant.
“I like school,” Willow defended the institution and smiled over at Oz who was far too wise to say anything one way or another.
Having overheard that Faith was overdue from her little secret mission, Cordelia was not about to let the news slip by. “Was she supposed to check in? You don’t think the mayor figured it out she was two-timing him with us, do you?”
Buffy crossed her arms and repeated what she had said to Giles. “Faith knows how to handle herself. She’s not a total idiot. She probably got bored. If I find out she’s at the Bronze…”
Behind them, Faith suddenly stepped out of the shadows of the open door. “You’ll do what, Buff, spank me?”
“It’s about bloody time.” Giles did not give Buffy a chance to respond. He walked up to her prepared to give her a lecture and was stunned into silence when she planted a quick kiss on his cheek.
“Nice to see someone missed me,” she teased him as he fled back behind the desk to wipe away the red lipstick. “Anyone else want a kiss?”
Spike started to move forward when her stare stopped him cold. “Not you.”
Standing with her hands behind her back, Faith grinned until her dimples deepened. “Guess what I’ve been doing?”
“Can I have a go at that one?” Spike raised his scarred brow in a teasing query.
Buffy pulled him back to sit beside her on the couch, closer than she liked, but where she could keep an eye on him. “Shut up, Spike.”
“You gonna let the slayer talk to me like that when I’m a guest in your house?” Spike asked Angel, gesturing widely with one hand while slipping an arm on the back of the couch behind Buffy’s shoulders with the other.
“Yes.” Angel answered curtly and gave him a look that told the other vampire that he saw exactly what he was doing. “If you consider yourself a guest, then you’ll keep to the house rules.”
Spike sighed dramatically. “No toying with the slayers.” He let his fingertips trace a strand of silky blond hair only to feel the sharp jab of an elbow. Grunting, he added, “Whatever you say, Grandpops. Mummy taught me to respect my elders.”
As Spike and Drusilla shared a little laugh, Angel looked over at Cordy who was not doing a very good job of hiding her own amusement. “You and me. Nine o’clock. The marina.”
He finally understood Cordelia’s need to get away from everyone for a while.
“Before you make plans for that big date,” Faith took another step into the room, “I have something to show you.”
She took something from behind her back and held it out to them: a porcelain doll dressed in red velvet and lace with ribbons decorating her dark curly hair.
“Miss Edith,” Drusilla squealed and made a run for the doll. Snatching her out of the slayer’s hand, she hugged her tight to her chest, and rocked her back and forth. “Miss Edith, you’re home. Naughty girl letting the bad man take you away. You’ll have to be punished.”
Wesley walked cautiously around the twirling vampiress as she continued to dance around the room in celebration of her beloved doll’s return. “Where in the world did you get her?” he asked Faith.
“Nicolau’s lair is at the Avalon. Or it was until today. Looks like our vamp has moved somewhere else.” Faith described what she found and ignored the general grumbling that she should have waited for back up. “I was just checking it out. Recon. Nothing dangerous.”
Ticked off that Faith would go off on her own like that, Cordelia was not planning to let it drop. Neither was Angel. “What if you were walking into a trap? Or a full lair? Nico would love to get his hands on you.”
“Feeling’s mutual,” she shrugged.
“That’s not what he meant,” Cordelia snapped impatiently, “and you know it.”
“Save the lecture, Cor. I do not need it. There is something else. It came with the doll. They were the only things left in the place when I got there.” Reaching into her back pocket, she pulled out a long envelope and handed it to Angel. “That’s for you.”
Angel took a long look at the old-fashioned script that spelled out his name: Angelus.