Caffeine! Cordelia lifted her cup of coffee, closed her eyes and drew in a deep whiff of its delicious scent. She needed a jolt of motivation to get moving today. Stiff and sore did not begin to cover it, and she was so freaking tired! Why did Giles have to call a Scooby meeting at the crack of…well, noon? Surely a night of facing off against a spying, bitchy boyfriend-coveting Angelus groupie, rescuing sick children from a burning hospital, and getting leered at by Spike earned her a day off from prophecy-related craptitude.
Apparently not because…hello! The entire household was meeting in the lounge for Giles’ latest update, or what usually boiled down to rehashing any major screw-ups. Unless by some miracle, it was actually good news. And why not? They were way overdue for some of that. The thought perked her up a little, but she was too wiped out to play guessing games.
Her muscles felt like she had just finished a three-day event at the Cheerleading Championships, which probably had more to do with Angel’s go-all-night sexathon than anything else, but that only gave her more justification to demand extra snuggle time. Being on the Sacrificial Lamb List meant she deserved to sleep late if she wanted, and there was nowhere better to be than Angel’s arms.
It was a good thing that he seemed to be crazy in love with her too because otherwise he would have an obsessed stalker sneaking into his bed every night. The love she felt for him eclipsed anything Cordelia had ever experienced. After all, most of her previous boyfriends had been arm candy, a simple display of her ability to get the attention of anyone she wanted. Boy slayer, extraordinaire. More of a power play than just simple attraction until she sometimes made the mistake of thinking they were not treating her like a trophy girlfriend, too.
Xander was a different thing altogether. There were feelings involved. Real feelings that still hurt deep down when she let herself think about it, not that she would ever show it. He had evolved from being like sticky chewing gum clinging to the bottom of your shoe reminding you of its annoying presence with each step taken, to someone she thought she could trust. Wrong. So wrong. So much wrongness. He had cheated on her! Yet she was the one who ended up skewered with rebar.
Something deep down must have told her not to let her heart get too involved because despite their hot kisses and the occasional groppage session, Cordelia had never let the physical side of their relationship progress further. He had never been pushy about it, which probably should have been a relationship red flag, she considered in hindsight.
With Angel it was totally the opposite. Cordelia did not even want to imagine what things would have been like if Angel’s curse was still an issue. They could barely keep their hands off each other in public. Surviving on kisses, and stolen caresses would never have been enough. Angel’s willpower had its limits, too. Could he actually resist her not inconsiderable charms? Pfft! No way.
Cordelia readily admitted that she was addicted to Angel’s touch. Just the simple stroke of his fingertips across her skin was enough to awaken her need for him. Oh, the things he had shown her, done to her with that gorgeous body. He knew so many ways to give her pleasure, and she enjoyed discovering ways to rock his world. Sex was definitely one of her favorite things. Right up there with shopping!
Grinning over the idea, Cordelia conceded that any activity with Angel in it had to take top honors. She had fully expected awesomeness and he did not disappoint. After all, being a nearly 250-year old hottie he had accumulated some serious skills in the art of boinking. No details required. It was the feelings his touch engendered that came as a shocker. Somehow, Mr. Stoic Guy managed to communicate the depth of his love, lust, and possessive needs with every caress.
Yep! Together, they were definitely a recipe for trouble if loopholes and curses were still an issue. Sunnydale would be in even more trouble with Angelus on the loose as if it was not already bad enough. No one was happier about a curse-free Angel than her. It made her wonder though. Would Angelus be for or against Nicolau’s demon-worshipping plans to secure power for their clan?
Isobel—the shoe-breaking bitca—would be thrilled. Hah! Cordelia could not wait for the blonde to get her comeuppance. She only wished she could see the look on her face when she realized that Angel not only had a soul, but that he would never even consider touching her unless it was to break her scrawny neck. Ooh! Would front row seats be available? Only after she dumped Isobel’s European clothes over the cliffs along Ocean View Drive sending them straight into the sea, while making her watch, of course.
The microwave dinged forcing Cordelia to snap out of her daze. Rolling her eyes at her own idea of revenge, she wondered how she had gotten from thoughts about Angel and their sexy bedroom antics to picturing Isobel wanting to get her claws into him. Hoping that it was just a sign that she needed more caffeine, she gulped down another quick sip and then popped open the microwave.
Upon entering the lounge, coffee in one hand, and a cup of warmed blood in the other, Cordelia immediately sought out Angel. It was almost reflexive now, the need to know he was there, feeling almost unsettled until she laid eyes on him. He was not exactly difficult to find being the tall, growly guy giving Giles an earful about something. What had the Watcher done to piss Angel off so soon? The meeting had not officially started yet.
Angel seemed to sense her presence, for his attention faltered long enough to glance her way. His fierce expression softened a bit when she caught his eye, quirking an eyebrow to silently question his reasons for verbally attacking poor Giles. His look told her that the Watcher had some awesome—not—news for them and that he was determined to eke out every detail. Ignoring her little hint about asking nicely, Angel went right back to the interrogation.
Cordelia made an attempt to move that way, but found Spike standing right in front of her. “Bringing me a cuppa, pet? Nice.” He snatched the cup of warmed blood from her hand and gulped half of it down before she could warn him. It was not the full-strength O-pos he had been getting when healing from the injuries sustained during his fight with Angel or Isobel’s torture session. Not even the mix of O-pos and piggy that Drusilla had slowly been introduced to in an attempt to wean her off the real thing.
Halfway through, Spike froze, his face scrunched up with distaste looking like he was caught between swallowing and spitting it back out again. Drusilla giggled beside her as Cordelia calmly took a sip of coffee and waited for Spike to react.
Forcing it down, Spike instantly regretted grabbing the cup she had prepared for Angel. “Gak! Bleh! Ugh! What was that swill?”
“Just the usual. Pig blood—with a dash of cinnamon.”
“No wonder Angel is such a broody bastard.” Spike stared down into the cup and swirled the remaining dregs of blood and spice that clung to the bottom. “Cinnamon, eh?” He looked both amused and impressed that she had prepared something bloody for Angel despite its taste. “Nice one, Sexy Spice, but if you want to give him a real treat don’t deny him his bloodrights.”
“My neck is none of your business,” she told him calmly. If she had to guess that Spike was either handing out sage advice or stirring up trouble, it did not take a great leap of imagination to figure it out.
Both Dru and Spike shared an amused grin before he teased, “Doesn’t have to be your neck, pet.” His long tongue snaked across his lips as if he was thinking about it.
“Dru already gave me ‘fangs-can-be-fun’ advice this morning.”
That little talk should have terrified her, or at least wigged her out a little. Cordelia had already accepted the idea that Angel might want that. Her boyfriend was a vampire. She considered being bitten during their lovemaking entirely different than a stranger taking a chomp. If those were the bloodrights Spike was talking about, she trusted Angel to do what was right for the both of them, even if the idea did not thrill her.
Based on what he said last night, Angel wanted more than a nibble now and then. This had to do with taking their relationship to a whole different level, and while Cordelia was definitely willing to find out what that meant, planning anything seemed impossible with the apocalypse just around the corner. They were doing their best to steal some one on one time in a house full of interruptions, annoyances, and distractions. Sneaking out on a date to the movies or their corner table at the deli was obviously not the option she had thought it to be considering their uninvited guest on the beach.
“Don’t say no, pet. Things might get ugly for all of us if you do.” Spike hinted with a turn toward the serious.
Cordelia set down her own cup with such force it sloshed onto the surface of the antique wooden table. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
While her attention was riveted on the vampire in front of her, she forgot all about Dru who suddenly slithered an arm around her waist and pulled her close to whisper in her ear. “My Angel enjoys tasting you. He makes you come so prettily.”
A shudder passed through her, one Drusilla felt, causing her to laugh soft and low in her throat in a way that crept her out. Earlier, their little chat about fangs had been teasing and light-hearted, and in a weird vampire way, sisterly advice. Not only was this way too personal, it made her wonder if these two had spent the entire night eavesdropping with their vampire super hearing.
Spike basically confirmed it with a waggle of his eyebrows. “What’s the fun in counting sheep when you make things so much more interesting?”
The palm of her hand was millimeters from Spike’s cheek when Dru snatched it back and shushed her softly. “Play nice, kitten. Daddy doesn’t like it when we fight.”
Cordelia muttered under her breath that she was pretty certain Drusilla enjoyed getting Angel’s attention, especially if it involved some form of punishment. That only made her think about having Angel’s hands on her, which she in no way associated with pain. The image flashing in her head made her think of being tied up last night, bound up tight on their bed, and unable to touch him like she wanted. That was torturous enough.
She tried to pull away from Dru’s hold, but the hand on her waist held her securely. “His heart is full of you. Bind him with your flesh. Bind him with your blood. Take all that he is. Or else the darkness will take you.”
Drusilla did not give her time to ask for details, although truthfully, Cordy was not sure she wanted to hear them. There was more than enough of the scary going on right now. Letting her go, Dru grabbed Spike’s wrist and dragged him toward the couch facing the empty fireplace. No sooner than Spike had stretched out his arms and gotten comfy than he took a closer look around the room noting that one of their party was missing.
Sounding a little miffed, he pouted a bit. “Slayer’s not here. How’d she get out of this torture session?”
Overhearing him, Cordelia knew exactly which slayer Spike meant. He seemed to have a thing for Buffy, whatever that might be. She was pretty certain Buffy did not like Spike having any kind of thing when it came to her. It confused Cordelia, too. After all, Spike seemed pretty devoted to Drusilla most of the time. His tendency to flirt with everybody usually amused the vampiress, and if it had been anyone else tied up in that bed, Spike would have been given free rein to do whatever he wanted.
Other than what she had read and observed, Cordelia was not certain what to make of vampire relationships. Angel might not be an ordinary vampire because of the soul, but he was still a vampire whose instincts ran deep. He might temper them, control his darker urges and try not to let her see that side of him, but she knew that his soul did not erase those needs. Biting and bloodrights were all part of that, she supposed, and while she wanted to give Angel anything he needed, she also recognized his concern for her in doing so.
Part of her wished that Angel had just done it. Whatever it was that involved claiming her. Life was too short, especially for her, according to the promise of a certain vampire prince and his skeezy blonde progeny. Why not let things happen with Angel in the here and now? Why wait for explanations and get caught up in things that might happen as a result of Angel’s claim when there was no guarantee she would live to see graduation? Angel had mentioned consequences.
Sheesh! When did life get so complicated? Oh, yeah. Buffy Summers moved into town.
Cordelia’s head was spinning with too many ‘what if’ scenarios trying to figure out what Angel had meant by complications, and wondering how Drusilla’s shared vision of the future fit in. Were the visions things that might happen depending on the path you took, being changeable, or were they completely unavoidable no matter your actions? For now, despite the scarier aspects of some images, she clung to that promise of tomorrow.
Since Angel had demanded that she have a little heart-to-heart chat with one of the two Watchers, Cordelia glanced back and forth between the two of them. Giles looked kind of flustered about whatever it was he had told Angel. Definitely not in a good mood. As for Wesley, he was not exactly looking like his goofy self this morning, either. The lack of his usual bow tie gave him a more relaxed, less starchy vibe. He might be younger, but Wesley knew all about vampires, being so well-studied on the subject, at least according to him. Besides, Giles was likely to blow a gasket if she brought up the subject considering his history with Angel.
Decision made, Cordelia squared her shoulders and started walking his way. “Wes it is,” she muttered.
She took a couple of steps only to stop dead in her tracks as she passed by Willow and Xander, who were huddled in one corner of the room. “You slept with Faith. Faith! Are you crazy? That’s so crazy. Out of our sight for one night and you…you….” The rambling accusations came out as hissy little whispers that Willow was trying and failing to keep between the two of them.
Cordelia stared hard at Xander until he noticed her standing there. He went from a beet red color to looking vampire pale in a matter of seconds and collapsed back against the wall for support. His jaw gaped open in horror knowing that she had overheard Willow’s accusation. Strangely, she felt nothing except concern on his behalf because she knew that Faith was not likely to take whatever happened between the two of them seriously compared to Xander.
Seeing his obvious distress, Cordelia gave him a smile, with a little eye roll, and thumbs up to let him know he would survive Willow’s little rant. As for Faith, who was over there with Wesley, she might have a few other things to say to her friend about getting groiny with Xander. Talk about surprises! If Faith was going to seduce anyone around here, she would have guessed it would be her new Watcher. Wesley was an adorable dweeb with just enough James Bond suaveness to be awkwardly charming.
“This demon was more like a big ass mountain,” Faith was saying just as she walked up. “Nothing I’ve seen before. Wes, I couldn’t kill it. This thing kept— oh, hey Cor. I’m filling Wes in on some details about last night.”
“I’m interested in details about last night, too. Some of them, anyway,” Cordelia clarified hastily. “Just not about the demon.”
Faith gave her a surprised look, “Who blabbed?” and then shrugged. Even before letting Cordelia answer the question, she agreed to hash it out. “Okay. Later, then.” A wicked little smile tugged at her lips as Faith added one condition. “Only as long as you tell me all about last night, too. Every hot detail.”
With eyes like ping pong balls bouncing back and forth between them, Wesley squirmed at the subtext. Cordelia inwardly laughed as his discomfort at being caught between the two of them when the subject seemed all too clear. “That will have to wait until I talk to Wes. I need a little one on one time.”
Faith snorted at his reaction, while Cordelia started to reconsider asking Giles for advice rather than Wes. This nervous nelly was somehow supposed to give her the answers she needed and he could barely speak.
“Th-this isn’t about that little misunderstanding, is it?” Wesely gulped glancing Angel’s way for a moment before returning his attention to her. “I assure you that I have no intention of—”
“Did he hit on you?” gasped Faith. She looked at Wesley as if he was insane. “Talk about stupid moves. You look much better with your head on your shoulders. Just sayin’.”
Cordelia shook her head. “It was just a silly thing. No harm done. Angel did ask me to talk to Wes, though. So, ah, I’ll need to borrow him after the meeting.”
“I can manage my own schedule, thank you very much,” Wesley sounded a bit peeved by her talking to Faith. “Naturally, I will discuss any subject you like. Does something require translation?”
Before she could reveal that her request was of a more personal nature, Giles broke off his argument with Angel to move into the center of the room, catching their attention.
“This must seem like a very early start to the day for most of you, but it is necessary to discuss last night’s events.”
A general groan sounded before Spike prompted the Watcher to, “Get on with it then.”
Giles gave him a bland look before continuing. “The prisoner we sought last night may not have died in the hospital fire as orig—.”
“More on that right here,” Buffy cut in as she burst into the room holding up a crinkled newspaper up for everyone to see. “We screwed up.”
Cordelia tried not to roll her eyes at the dramatic entrance. Trust Buffy to try to snag all of the attention. Using the distraction to try to join Angel on the other side of the room, she made eye contact long enough to see that he wanted her there, too. Buffy stepped straight into her path practically shoving the newspaper in her face while pointing to an article in the Arts & Entertainment section of today’s Sunnydale Gazette.
Having no other choice, she took the paper from Buffy and glanced at the heading about the upcoming Arts Revival that was scheduled this month with the local museums, art galleries, movie theater, and playhouse getting involved. Big events were scheduled on the weekends. Cordelia did not quite see the point Buffy was trying to make. “Is your mom planning a show at her gallery? Maybe this isn’t the best time to draw a crowd.”
Wesley gently drew the paper from her hand perusing the article. After a goggle-eyed, “Oh dear!” he dashed over to his counterpart. “How could we miss this?”
Taking the paper, Giles glanced hesitantly toward the glowering vampire standing next to him whose tension was palpable across the room. Angel obviously did not like hearing whatever had been revealed to him before the start of the meeting, and now they were presumably getting more bad news. “I was certain . . .” he began before his words were claimed by a strained silence.
Faith had no idea what was in the paper, but grabbed Cordelia’s attention with a quick nudge with her elbow. “There is some crazy shit going on. Wait till I tell you about the demon I ran into.”
“The little guy with the books?” asked Buffy as she shifted around to stand next to the other slayer. Her eyeliner was on just a smidge crookedly as if hastily applied.
“Him, too, but this one was more like a big ass mountain.”
Before she could get into further description of her battle, Giles spoke up again. “Buffy may have stumbled onto something important. Our research hinted that the next victim of—ah, the next potential Pure One—was a recently released prisoner returning to town. There was no body in the crashed helicopter besides that of the pilot. We assumed the enemy had escaped with the prisoner prior to the accident.”
“In Oz’s van,” Willow frowned at the memory of being chased and car-jacked by those burly bikers.
“The Scroll of Septarius contains but one copy of the prophecy,” Giles reminded them. “Not only does it foretell the coming of the demon god that will rule over the Earth for ten thousand years, it provides his followers with a set of instructions toward achieving that goal.”
Cordelia pointed out the scroll was not exactly clear. “Instructions of the cryptic kind.”
“Whilst our goal is to locate the Varstrae before Amolon’s followers do so, and forestall the invocation of the Rites of Tavrok,” Wesley explained that the cryptic nature of the text worked both for and against them, “the interpretation remains somewhat muddy.”
“Then clear it up,” Angel ordered with a glare.
Wesley’s job included translation, not miracle working, but he was smart enough not to point that out. “What I mean to say is that the enemy might also make mistakes. This article suggests that last night both sides may have got it wrong.”
Angel’s dark gaze slid from one Watcher to the other. He held out a hand for the paper, which he received from Giles along with instructions to, “Look here. The article mentions a troop of actors coming to town for several performances. They are, ah, apparently an old clan of Travelers.”
“Gypsies,” Angel could not help but sneer just a little, and Cordelia instantly tensed up as the word crossed his lips.
Xander chimed in to ask, “Why does that not sound like a coincidence?”
“They’re performing ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ at the Sunnydale Playhouse,” Buffy stressed the word prisoner.
Willow whacked him on the arm. “Pay attention. This has nothing to do with Nintendo.”
Giles flashed an annoyed look at the two of them before saying, “The point is that we may have another opportunity to secure another one of the Varstrae. Apparently, these actors arrived in Sunnydale just yesterday, which suggests one of them could be the true target.”
“Maybe it’s best just to let him stay under the radar,” Cordelia suggested. She certainly did not wish this kind of attention on anybody. “If the bad guys think they have the right guy, they won’t go looking for this one. He’ll be safe. I’ll be safe. Karla will be safe.”
“That’s three out of five.” Buffy liked the odds. “Not so good for the wrong guy they’ve already got, though.”
The prisoner in their clutches was actually a prisoner. Her sympathy in that regard only went so far. Knowing the Rites of Travesty or whatever could not be performed without all five of them in place, according to Cordelia’s understanding, it sounded good to her. “Safe works for me.”
Wesley shuffled around to face her. “Ah, well, that brings up…ah…other n-news.”
Growling at him, Angel cut through his stammering to tell her what Giles had already revealed. “Kalesh was here last night. She took Karla.”