Season of Solace. 147-8

147:     Arturo’s at the Marina, South Central Sunnydale, 9:00PM

“Welcome back to the Dry Dock, Miss Chase,” greeted Arturo coming at her with open arms and air kissing her cheek. “It has been too long. You are becoming too beautiful to deprive an old man of such a vision.”

Cordelia had been eating up that kind of attention since childhood. She had almost forgotten what a flirt he could be. With his salt and pepper hair and moustache, he was an unchanging fixture at the marina’s premier restaurant. The fact that he still remembered her from before even though it had been over a year since she had been there did not surprise her.

When Arturo’s attention turned to her date, she made a start at introducing them, but faltered as she saw the twinkle leave his eyes, and his bright smile drop away. There was fear on his face as he looked at Angel.

Confused, her eyes darted up to recognize barely restrained hostility on Angel’s face as he stared back at Arturo. Tense seconds passed as they stared each other down.

They stood in the short entry hall separated from the main dining room, far enough away from curious eyes that no one noticed when Angel grabbed Arturo by the arm to drag him through a door marked ‘Employees Only’.

“What are you doing?” Cordelia hissed as she followed along. Wondering if this was some crazed attack of jealousy, she tugged at Angel’s arm, futilely attempting to get him to break his hold.

Angel warded her off with his free hand. “Stay there, Cordy. I’ll take care of this.”

“No way! Don’t hurt him.”

She gasped when Angel shoved the man, now near retirement age, against the wall. He switched holds, wrapped his hand around his neck and lifted him up on his toes.

“Who the hell are you?” Angel growled demanding the truth.

Cordelia squeezed in between the desk and their locked position at the wall. “This is Arturo, the restaurant manager. He’s just a sweet old man. He always flirts that way. Don’t kill him.”

With his face red under the pressure, Arturo hoarsely cried, “He’s a vampire. Run!”

“Not in these shoes,” she quipped, now getting the feeling that there was more going on than an obsessive jealousy. It was rare that humans could recognize vampires on sight alone. “Angel’s my boyfriend. I know all about him.”

Angel reached out with his free hand to shove her behind him. Barking out, “He’s a demon—!” just as Arturo’s human visage morphed into something red and scaly.

The music from the front hall masked her involuntary shriek. Jumping backward out of the way, Cordelia landed blindly on the desk behind her scattering its papers onto the floor. Her hand landed on something large and heavy, a paperweight. Snatching it from the desk, she raised it up to bash the demon over the head.

At the last second, sensing her movement, Angel’s hand whipped up to wrap around her wrist. “Wait!”

Cordelia slid off the desk when Angel released her arm. Assuming that Angel wanted to torture the demon for information, she retained her hold on the paperweight. “I’ll give you one piece of advice, whoever you are. Talk fast or Angel will seriously kick your ass. What have you done with Arturo?”

The tight hold around his throat had been released. Angel kept a restraining hand on his chest. The demon did not bother to fight against it. “I—I am Arturo. This is me.”

Her jaw dropped.

“It’s okay, Cordy,” said Angel, now calm. “I recognize the species. It’s a peaceful race of anthropomorphs. Shape-shifters.”

“Good guys?” Cordelia already had more than her share of shape-shifting demons and was not quite ready to accept the idea that this was really Arturo.  Once before Angel had mentioned that not all demons were evil, but the concept had not really grown on her yet.

“I would never hurt you—or anyone—Miss Chase,” the demon crossed his hands over his heart. Or the place on his chest where a human heart would be. “Sunnydale is my home. My customers are like family to me.”

Cordelia tossed the paperweight into a nearby chair. Propping her hands on her hips she, pointed out, “Your home sweet home just happens to be on a Hellmouth. Excuse me for being a little suspicious.”

“These are strange times, Miss Chase. I understand your concerns, even if I do not understand your choice of a partner. There is only one dangerous creature standing in this room and it is not me.”

It completely wigged her out to hear his adorable accent coming out of that mouth. He asked Angel to release him. “You know that I won’t harm her, vampire.”

With a nod, Angel dropped his hand back to his side. “If we’re finished here, Cordelia and I have reservations for dinner.”

Arturo morphed back into the familiar face she had known since she was a little girl. The fact that his appearance had not changed much over the years suddenly made so much sense to her.

“Dinner?” Sounding intrigued yet slightly horrified, Arturo inquired, “Miss Chase, you obviously know about this vam—“

Their reservations had been under the name Chase to ensure they got the table they wanted, and Cordelia realized that she had never gotten around to officially introducing them. Nevertheless, she did not like the disgusted tone in Arturo’s voice when he used the word vampire when addressing her boyfriend.

“Angel. His name is Angel.”

Suddenly pale at the mention of the name, Arturo’s eyes turned to coal. “This is Ang—Angelus?”

“That’s right,” answered Angel darkly before Cordelia could correct him. She chose to stay silent about it figuring that Angel had his reasons.

Looking uncomfortable again, Arturo edged toward the office door. “You’re certainly not the innocent little girl I remember, the one who enchanted us all with her smile.”

Cordelia felt like he was crushing a precious memory. Blinking back the first onset of tears, “That’s the Hellmouth for you. Grow up fast or not at all.”

“She’s a survivor, Arturo,” said Angel while looking straight at her. Closing the short distance between them, he smoothed a hand up her back; it settled at her shoulder. “Before you jump to any more conclusions, Cordelia is with me of her own free will.”

“There is no enthrallment at work here?” Arturo admitted his surprise, but did not drop the subject. “Your influence must be very strong, Angelus, to reel her into a life tainted by darkness. I have heard of such humans who become addicted to the thrill of being bitten—”

Angel growled low in his throat, and took one step forward, his hands curling into fists.

“—and allowing vampires to drink their blood.”

Cordelia interjected, “Angel doesn’t bite me, and it’s none of your business if he does.”

Angel’s eyes clashed with hers for a second before he turned his attention back to Arturo. “This conversation is over.”

“No it’s not.” Cordelia stubbornly crossed her arms over her chest. “First off, I came here to have a romantic dinner and I’m not leaving until I get it.”

“We’re not staying here. I’ll take you somewhere else.”

Closing the door when he made a move toward it, she shook her head. “Sorry, Angel, but I can’t let you leave it like this. Even if Arturo turned out to be a demon, I’ve sort of known him all my life. He’s just worried that you’re snacking on me.”

Angel looked furious. “My bloodrights are none of his concern,” he said gutturally, “and it doesn’t matter what he thinks about me as long as he leaves you out of it.”

“You’re not evil anymore,” Cordelia rolled her eyes at something she figured was a non-issue. She used to joke about her neck being a no-snacking zone back when they first started patrolling together.

“My soul has nothing to do with it.”

The words were soft, leaving her confused, thoughtful, and a little scared.

Letting out a self-derisive grunt, Angel turned away, running a hand across his face and neck. She could sense his tension from three feet away, but could not make her feet move in that direction.  Her head was swimming with questions.

Arturo’s beat her to it to ask one of his own. “Did you say ‘soul’?

Making his response as brief as possible, Angel explained the situation. When asked why he lied in the first place, he said, “I didn’t trust you enough to tell you the truth. Cordelia’s life is in danger.”

“But not because of you.”

“No! I love her. She loves me. We’re in love.” When his little tirade was finished even Angel looked stunned, but Cordelia was smiling.

Now if only she could get him to repeat that little speech in front of Buffy and Isobel. The slayer could not seem to let go of the past, and frankly, Cordelia was getting tired of it. Unfortunately, Buffy was not the only blonde dreaming of Angel. Or Angelus, as the case happened to be.

“That’s a relief,” sighed Arturo. “Thank you for the truth. I could not permit you to continue to take advantage of Miss Chase if that was the case.”

For a peaceful demon, he seemed to be pretty confident about being able to stop a powerful vampire from doing what he wanted. Arturo explained, “My people are indeed a peace-loving species, but we are not without skills. I required the truth and so you gave it to me. Had I determined Miss Chase to be enthralled or that your true intentions would lead to her ultimate death, I could have affected an influence that might have saved her.”

Angel admitted that while he had read about anthropomorphic demons, he had not known they possessed abilities like that.

Could his power of persuasion get Isobel to stop lusting after Angel? Or get Buffy to stop acting like she was some scarlet woman who had stolen her man away?

“Generally, we don’t want it known,” explained Arturo as he opened his office door. “So it is not. When you leave this room, your conscious minds will be unable to recall what happened here.”

“No, Arturo!” Cordelia rushed to his side, holding onto his arm with both hands. “I think you could help. There’s this blonde—”

He stopped her with a raised hand that requested silence. Good thing, too. Cordelia had not actually planned to say what she was thinking. Not in front of Angel, anyway.

“Our code prohibits using our abilities for selfish purposes or personal gain.”

“Oh. Well, in that case, never mind. I’ll just handle it myself.”

Angel actually looked amused by her words, but whatever he was thinking went unsaid as he turned to Arturo with a request of his own. There was nothing to lose in speaking the truth now.

“Maybe there’s something you can do for us that won’t go against your code,” Angel began. “I mentioned that Cordy’s life is in danger. There’s a prophecy…”

Scene 148:    
Basement, Crawford Street Mansion, 9:30PM

Miss Edith’s porcelain hands lay neatly her lap as she sat propped upon the basement steps, third from the bottom. The skirt of her red velvet gown spread out not quite covering her shiny satin shoes. Two matching bows neatly held up her curly-cued hair. Long-lashed doll’s eyes were open, staring forward.

Miss Edith was pretty.

All of the naughty things she did stayed hidden deep inside her where it was eternally quiet and calm and serene.

Miss Karla was not pretty.

Not on the inside where she was tainted. Used. Thrown Away.

No, the girl was not at all pretty anymore. No longer bright, no longer open. For all the quiet surrounding her, she screamed from within, a clamor that Drusilla could not miss.

Karla’s hands lay open in her lap as she sat propped against the basement wall. The shackles chained her still frame to one of the iron rungs, protection from the dangers she might do to herself. Scrapes on her legs had been bandaged neatly, grass stains still evident on her clothes. The symbols on her skin remained visible. Blond strands escaped the clip in her hair leaving it at odd angles, messy. Her eyes were open, staring forward.

Drusilla stared back unblinkingly for countless minutes until she could no longer remain stationary. The images swirling in her head compelled her to get a closer look. She took a tiny step forward barely noticeable. Testing the waters to see if she would be stopped.

The floor above was completely empty now. No one called out to demand she stay away.

“They’ve all gone, Miss Edith. Out, out for the evening. Left us all alone. With her. Oh, what shall we do?”

Drusilla swayed a step closer to the girl, still hesitant, but curious.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

“Shall we be good tonight, or naughty? Daddy told us to be good. Made us promise not to play with the girl. Watch over her. Nothing more.”

Drusilla took another step forward, and another, hesitating only when she expected censure.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

“She has secrets, our little Miss Karla does. Things we need to know. We should ask her. Talk to her. Make her talk. Make her tell the truth. Make her scream if we have to.”

Drusilla stopped when her skirts brushed the girl’s leg. Close. Close enough to hear the steady beat of her heart, and smell the blood running through her veins until it tempted her to spill it.

Blood was pretty. Like red velvet oozing across the floor.

Drusilla crouched down, closer, so close, and let her fingers graze the girl’s pulse.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

“They’ve done things. Dark things. Oh, so terrible. Twisted, terrible things until she wants them, needs them. Until she’ll do anything for her master.”

Anything. Bent to his will. Submissive.

Drusilla smiled thinking of Angelus.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

“She lies awake, yet sleeping. Tucked away. Far, far away where no one can find her. So deep the monster can’t find her. It grows impatient.”

Drusilla swiftly drew her hand away cradling it as if burned.

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.

“The girl is scared. So very scared. Deep, deep down inside where the monster can’t find her. We can find her, Miss Edith.”

Drusilla stared deeply into Karla’s blank eyes. “Mummy will save you and then you will tell me everything.”

. . . Miss Edith was silent on the matter.  

Scene 149

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