Willow had been silent for a while, both watching the flickering flames, each trying to settle in each other’s presence. Her hand stayed on his shoulder like a dead weight. Both not knowing if she kept it there for comfort or awkward obligation.
“Was it you?” The question was soft, as if afraid to be answered.
A shudder went through the vampire and he looked up with liquid brown eyes etched with remorse. The tightening in his throat hardly let him form words. “I had to. I couldn’t…”
Willow felt the tears well in her eyes, her bony fingers tightening on his shoulder as her delicate frame was overwhelmed with emotions she couldn’t understand. Anger. Regret. Pain. Confusion. Understanding. “Oh Angel, she would have not wanted it this way.”
Suddenly the vampire was on his feet, reminding the witch the demon still lurked under his skin even with the eternal soul. “I know that! Don’t you think I know that?” He stood by the fire his hands gripping the mantle piece, the marble creaking under his strength. “She was going to die,” he voiced achingly. Almost desperately.
“We are all going to die Angel.” Willow’s confession was a whisper had it not been for his vampire hearing.
He turned to meet her eyes, the fire giving way to only weakness. “I had no choice.” He straightened. “And I had no regrets.”
“But this isn’t her.”
“It will be.” He looked away. “As soon as you give her the soul. She’s new. She has nothing to atone for.”
“And that’s how you justify it?” Willow couldn’t hold the steel in her voice. “When you thought you couldn’t do it alone you turned her? Is that how you wanted her? A demon!”
His eyes flashed with wry anger. “We’re all demons Willow! The distinction isn’t there anymore! You of all people should know being a demon isn’t enough!”
The witch felt slapped. “Don’t throw my weakness in my face Angel.” No one had understood her motives. No one hand understood why she had separated herself from them and stayed back in Sunnydale after Buffy died. She hadn’t wanted to leave. Soon everyone left to get away from the memories. Everyone but one. Someone who had been nothing but a shadow, a presence, and now her demon.
“Then don’t throw mine in my face.” The vampire ran a tired hand through his hair. “I don’t care if I’m alone in this Willow. I’m not letting something like death get in the way.” He looked up. “A mistake won’t take her away from me.”
Willow sighed and sat down in the chair. “Has she fed?”
“Yes.” He couldn’t meet her eyes.
She took a shaky breath. That was that then. The distinction was already made. “I spoke to Julianne before she fell asleep.”
“What did she say?”
“Between accusations?” The father looked at her with a silent warning and Willow relented with a deep sigh. “She said it was an accident.”
“It was by accident that I found her in LA and I realized nothing is without reason, but this wasn’t an accident; this was a test.”
She blinked up in surprise. “A test?”
Angel looked down at her, anger clouding his handsome features. “My test and I chose to fail this one.”
The woman’s eyes flickered with understanding. “From the powers?”
The vampire paced in front of her unable to keep the anxiety from showing. “They decided to make me human.” His voice wavered with resentment, but he didn’t stop. “Then they decided one last time to see if they could push me over the edge a little. I’m tired of being their pawn. I’m tired of proving myself to them. I’m tired of not being able to control my own life! I’m sick of them telling me I’m not good enough yet! It’s been more than twenty years Willow. More than two decades of fighting evil and the only way they can repay me, is by taking her away from me as a TEST! So yes,” his eyes blazed, “I failed this one on purpose! I quit.”
“Angel, you don’t quit being a champion for the powers that be.”
“Watch me.” He growled. “Cordelia was more than my wife,” he snapped. “She was my soul!”
The resolve was unending in the vampire’s face and Willow took a defeated breath. He’d already won. He’d won when he’d walked in through her door. Although, a part of her was speaking of survival, another part of her saw more of it as loss. Cordelia had been more than Angel’s wife, his seer or his mate. She had been a friend; family. And Willow felt as if an integral part of all of them had just been torn away. Turned. Again.
And it hurt.
It hurt almost as much as losing Buffy had hurt.
“She won’t be like before Angel.”
His eyes darkened. “It’ll have to be enough.”
She nodded finally, standing to meet his eyes. “Alright. I’ll redo the spell.” When the vampire moved forward to wrap his arm around her she held up her hand to stop him. “Don’t thank me yet.” The pain of rejection couldn’t be hidden from his smooth features and Willow took pity on him and smiled, her hand touching his cold cheek. “It’s been years since I’ve done any magic. I might have lost my touch. Besides, if you remember I never got much done without botching it up someway ya know.”
Angel smiled slightly after what seemed like ages, remembering some of the antics the young witch had caused. “Thank you.”
“If she’s anything like your other surviving childe Angel, I doubt you’d like to thank me any time soon.”
“Why the venom Red? I swear I tidied my room this morning.”
Angel looked up sharply as the peroxide blonde stepped into the room cocky as ever and yet, somehow different. The platinum hair was ever present, but the black leather was gone. In its place the vampire wore green cargos, a gray colored sweater, but what really threw Angel off were the groceries.
The younger vampire smirked as he put the two big brown paper bags on the table. “`Ello peaches. Wot brings you to my `umble abode?”
The clanking of chains was the only sound in the cellar.
She stood at the top of the stairs watching the vampire struggle and let out a frustrated grunt. Then she looked up into the shadows of the staircase and her mouth spread into a grin. “I charge by the hour you know. Even for watching.” When the figure remained hidden and silent the vampire snarled. “If you’re not here to open these fucking chains you clingy little brat then take those sad kitty eyes and leave me to try on my own!”
The jibe was like a punch in the girl’s gut and she took the few steps down to reveal herself to the vampire glaring up at her with fiery yellow eyes.
She was beautiful. Like something out of a dream. Or a memory. She remembered her without the fangs and the demon eyes. Without the torn jeans and slashed shirt. Without the hate and animosity. She remembered her mother when she rocked her to sleep, read to her before bedtime and sang to her when she was afraid.
This was nothing like her.
“Hmph. What the fuck are you staring at?”
“A bad dream.”
The vampire’s mouth turned up in a wicked smile. “Oh Princess, don’t be that way.”
The way Cordelia spoke the tender name made Julianne’s skin crawl. “Don’t call me that.”
“But that’s what I always call you Princess.” The vampire laughed. “Now be a good little girl and come give your mother another kiss.”
The girl’s hand instantly went to the healing bite marks on her throat and she suppressed the shudder. “I think I’ve given enough for one lifetime Mom.”
The vampire rolled her eyes and sat back against the dusty wall one leg propped up and her arm resting there languidly. “Pfft. Oh, get over it. I’m a vampire. Your father is a vampire. You’re the only odd one out.” She glared. “Not that you ever weren’t. Confused little sparrow; that mask is like so old. You should try another one. How does heartless daughter sound?”
“I’d rather be heartless then be drained by the likes of you.” Julianne tried her best to be stern.
“Don’t you want to please mommy?” The vampire smirked. “Always worried about letting daddy down. Tsk.
Tsk. And falling off the mark by a smidgen each time, only to have him let you down in the end. How tragic. I could cry.”
Julianne wondered why she talked to her anymore. For the past three days. Right from her awakening to the ride in the car, Julianne hadn’t seen a spec of her mother in this vampire. How could it be that easy to lose so much in such little time?
Julianne didn’t believe a word the vampire had spoken, but it tugged at her to hear her fears spoken so blatantly in her mother’s voice. Even at twenty two, she wished she could just crawl into her mother’s lap and wish it all away. Her eyes flickered.
But Julianne never made the same mistake twice.
“Help me. Please.”
The whimpers. The pleading.
So much anguish.
“Help me Princess.”
Doubt. Conviction. Denial.
And she was going to her. Being held in cold arms, fingers stroking her hair gently. Eyes closing. Trying to forget before the fangs sank into her neck. Pain. Screams. Betrayal and her father’s strong arms.
Her mother was gone.
“He did what he had to do.”
“Oh please! Do you honestly believe that?” Cordelia glared. “Not like I’m complaining here; hello! But how can you justify this?” She gestured to herself her arms still clamped down in shackles. “Don’t you have a lick of loyalty in you?”
Julianne almost laughed. “You’re correlating me giving my self to my newly undead mother like a sacrificial lamb, to me being disloyal? I thought you were delusional mom, not stupid.”
“If you think you can get her back.” The vampire chuckled mockingly. “You are sad.” The chuckle exploded into a laugh. “She’s gone little girl. You little mommy, just got a new gig.” She flashed her fangs. “Get used to it.”
“The new ones are always a little cocky, but don’t let her get to you.”
Julianne spun around her eyes flashing with surprise, her body instantly guarded for an attack. Then her fists loosened and she glared. “Let me guess. You must be William the bloody. Daddy’s little boy.”
Spike’s eyebrow shot up before he smirked and bent down in a gallant bow. “You’ve heard about me.”
“The impotent one. Yeah. Who hasn’t?”
“Hey! That’s a lie!”
Behind them Cordelia let out a disgusted snort. “I’m only three days old. I knew.”
Spike growled low in his chest.
“Drop it Spike.” Angel stepped into the cellar, his eyes going directly to the female vampire sitting calmly on the dusty floor, her hazel eyes indifferent and devoid of all emotion. Devoid of sunshine.
Devoid of humanity.
He ran a hand through his hair and turned to his daughter. “Willow needs supplies.”
The daughter didn’t meet his eyes. “You have a list?”
The father held out a slip of paper.
“Have a car?”
“Hey! NO bloody way!”
Angel let out an irritated breath. “Spike…”
The blonde vampire growled low in his throat as he stepped up to his sire. “No arrogant, half breed, cynical, little brat is driving my Desoto.”
Angel didn’t even flinch as he met his childe’s snarling gaze.
The vampire looked up to see Willow coming down the stairs the black book in hand. “Take her with you to the shop. She knows what I need.”
“Spike.” Willow met his eyes evenly. “Please?”
Spike grit his teeth and growled at the young girl then turned and marched up the stairs.
Julianne looked at her father as if warning him of the consequences and Angel nodded. “He won’t hurt you.”
“Do you need a bloody invitation little girl.” Spike called from the top of the stairs.
Julianne scowled before stuffing the small paper in her pocket. “Yeah well I don’t make any promises.” She marched up after the steaming vampire.
Angel rubbed his temples and Willow smiled. “I can see where she gets it.”
“Not my doing I assure you.” Angel walked over to the vampire sitting on the floor. He held out a mug of warm pig’s blood.
The young vampire took a snip and wrinkled her nose. “Can I change my order from a pig-positive to an O-positive brooder? Hmmm?” Her left eyebrow arched and her mouth turned up in an extra bright smile that couldn’t be anything but sarcastic.
And he wondered again; how much of her was still in this empty shell?
“Drink it.” When she opened her mouth to protest his eyes darkened with firm command. “Drink it.”
The childe fell silent as the mug was raised to her lips and the thick red liquid slid down her throat without another complaint.
Her compliance only made his soul ache harder. He had never wanted this. Never.
He just hoped the soul would fix it. He hoped it would bring some of her back to him.
When she finished she coughed and wiped her mouth with a groan. “Eyow! Yuck!”
Willow saw Angel’s soft smile as he reached for the soulless vampire, seeing too much of his wife in her already.
She hoped it would be enough.
Cordelia shivered slightly when he touched her brow; unable to stop the reaction, her head tilting into her sire’s hand. “Angel,” she whispered softly.
His un-beating heart tightened at the sound of her voice as he slid his thumb across her cheekbone in a loving gesture he couldn’t prevent. She could never be anything but beautiful to him. “We’ll make this right Cordy.”
Cordelia opened her eyes and looked up at him with untold devotion. “Promise?”
With a thick swallow he gathered her in his arms and held her. “I promise.”