"Looks like the tranquilizer worked," Spike said, reaching out to try and haul Angelus to his feet. "Can someone give me a hand? "He's not light."
Between them, Spike and Connor manhandled Angelus into the cage and dropped him in the corner. "Who has the key?" Gunn asked as they began to close the door.
That provoked an uncomfortable silence. "I believe Cordelia had it last," Wesley finally said.
Buffy caught Spike's eye. Not good. "We could chain it shut," Spike suggested. "Or maybe Red could magic it shut, set some kind of alarm in case someone tries to tamper with it."
It was the best suggestion anyone had and Willow was quickly dispatched to fetch what supplies she needed. "That doesn't mean we leave him alone," Buffy said when she was gone. "Someone needs to watch him; I want to cut down on the possibility of him getting up to mischief. The sooner Willow can trace the soul, the better. Until then, we can't let our guard down.
Feet clattered on the old wooden stairs, alerting Buffy to additional visitors. Everyone tensed, but it was simply the rest of Angel Investigations crew and Kennedy. "You got him!" Fred called out excitedly. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she took a few steps toward the cage and stopped. "Is he still evil?"
"We only captured him," Wesley told her. "There's still the soul to find."
"At least he's not running loose. That's one consolation." Cordelia's expression was serious.
"We're not out the woods, yet," Buffy warned. "Gunn, are you up to taking the first watch? I'll relieve you in four hours."
Even as Gunn agreed, an objection came, not unexpectedly, from Cordelia. "I thought you were having Willow lock him up with her magic. Why have us stretch ourselves thin? Being down here's been pretty hard on us, listening to what he has to say."
Buffy managed an insincere smile. "Call me suspicious by nature. He shouldn't wake up until the end of Gunn's watch. I'll take the one after that and then Spike...and we'll go from there."
Willow came clumping down the stairs, several jars in hand. "Thank you to whoever put all the spices in the office. Made it a lot easier than trekking out to the kitchen."
The others watched as Willow sprinkled some herbs into her hand, took a deep breath and began to chant in a low voice. Once the chant was done, she blew on the herbs, spreading them over the lock. The metal glowed briefly, then returned to normal. "All locked up," she said cheerfully.
Cordelia "harrumphed" as Buffy indicated the others should go upstairs, leaving Gunn to settle down for his watch. Fred hesitated for a moment. "Would you like me to reheat your tacos?" she asked. "I could bring them down."
The pair looked at each other for a long moment before Gunn shook his head. "Nah. I think the demon body parts kind of put me off food. Maybe later."
Fred's face registered more disappointment than one would think appropriate for such a request, but she didn't say a word, simply headed for the stairs. "Days of our Unlife," indeed.
By the time they'd reached the lobby, the group had already fragmented and gone their separate ways. Willow pulled Lorne to one side, leaving Kennedy waiting as they conferred. Connor seemed to want to linger, perhaps brag of his deeds to the potential slayer, but one look from Cordelia and he neatly fell into line. Wesley and Fred were speaking, but their body language was stiff and uncomfortable with one another. Giving Spike's hand a squeeze, Buffy headed in that direction. "Maybe you should get some rest, Wesley. It can't have been an easy day for you."
She meant what she said, worried that the man might drop in his tracks. Buffy knew he hadn't slept particularly well either night he'd spent in Sunnydale; Andrew had complained about the noise. He'd arrived late Saturday night; they were now in the early hours of Wednesday. How much longer could he last?
Wesley offered her a tired smile. "I will in just a moment. You should get some, too, if you're going to relieve Gunn in four hours. Besides, I believe you and Spike have some things to discuss."
Yes, they did, but Buffy had to wonder exactly what Wesley was referring to. It was the perfect cue, however, to slip upstairs for some privacy and the chance to clean off the stains of their recent adventure. "You'd better have left some hot water," Spike grumbled when she emerged from the shower.
She started to playfully suggest that if he'd been so concerned about that, he should have joined her, but the words faltered on her lips. Her, Spike, white tile, running water -- not a good combination yet. One of those areas they still needed to work on.
Another area they needed to work on was Spike's distinctly male habit of dropping his clothes where he'd undressed. Okay, she wasn't the neatest person in the world, but she'd learned over the years that demon blood and carpets usually didn't mix and stain remover never got rid of all of it.
Frowning, she realized that his jeans were possibly a lost cause. They'd gotten ripped somewhere along the way and various substances had been ground into the black denim. Curious, she looked inside the waistband to see what size he wore; maybe Mervyns would be having a sale when they got back.
Buffy had to stop and laugh as she realized the very domestic path her thoughts were taking. Worrying about clothes on the floor, stains, sales; it all seemed ludicrous in comparison to re-souling vampires, fighting other-worldly beasts and all the other weirdness that was her life.
"And what is so amusing?" Spike asked, damp arms slipping around her, tugging her back against his shower-warmed chest.
She shook her head. "Nothing. Everything. I was worrying about your jeans and it just struck me as silly."
"The jeans or the worry?" Spike didn't sound as if he was certain he wanted the answer.
"Both. Please tell me you brought another pair."
"I did, but I've got to tell you, luv; being with you is pretty hard on my wardrobe."
"We'll fix it." She regarded the jeans a final time, then dropped them back on the floor before turning in his arms so she faced him. "I need to tell you about something I realized while you were with Wesley."
Buffy outlined what she suspected about Cordelia, the feeling that just wouldn't go away. "It's not just jealousy or paranoia or the fact she's been getting on my nerves; there's something about her that's off. Suddenly, it just set my Slayer senses buzzing."
"Well, that makes it real interesting, because I discovered Angelus didn't kill Lilah; she was stabbed in the neck."
"I didn't hide it from him. He's furious. Problem is, I'm not certain Cordelia could be the killer. Seems Peaches threw a cross-bow bolt into her leg before Lilah was killed. I'm hazy on who was with who when, but apparently Angelus took off after Lilah only after he'd made certain Cordelia was injured. At least Connor and Gunn were with Wesley with they discovered Angelus feeding on her."
Buffy shuddered at the image, but she didn't object when Spike tugged her toward the bed. "Get under covers, might as well be warm when we talk."
She was glad to slide beneath the sheets. "So he wasn't actually feeding," she said as she tugged the blanket up a little.
"Oh, I imagine he was. From what I saw, the blood must have been flowing freely and it was a big enough wound he could have drunk with no effort. But, no, the wound wasn't a bite. By the way, it turns out it was Connor who insisted she might have been turned."
"Connor sees everything in black in white." She snuggled into the crook of Spike's arm.
"Even so, that suggestion damn near destroyed any evidence Lilah was stabbed, not dinner."
They lay in silence, Buffy pondering what she'd just been told. "You said Angelus hit Cordelia in the leg."
"Caught the bolt and threw it back at her, according to Wesley."
"When Hus and his followers used you for a pincushion that Thanksgiving, how long did those arrow wounds hurt? I mean, really. Not the whining version you laid on me when I removed them."
He frowned as he thought, his nose squinching ever so slightly. "A couple of days. Vampire healing took care of it pretty quickly."
"But those were just arrows, not the heavier bolts and they didn't go that deep. It's not like it was hard to remove them."
"Hurt like hell when you did it." The frown deepened. "But Angelus has a fair amount of strength in one of his throws, from what Wesley was telling me, it appeared to be a fairly serious wound."
"And I haven't heard any evidence of Cordelia getting accelerated healing with her demon package. Angelus escaped at some point on Saturday." Buffy propped herself up on an elbow. "It's been four days; why is Cordelia moving like she was never wounded?"
"Either she's got the healing or the wound wasn't anywhere near as bad as she made it out to be."
"And who was actually there when Angelus threw that bolt and then took after Lilah?"
They started going over the possibilities, one by one, building a picture from the pieces they'd been given. When Buffy tried to get something to make notes, however, Spike pulled her back down. "Sleep. You've got to relieve Gunn in less than four hours and you'll deal better with the Poofter if you get some rest."
The suggestion made sense and she settled back down. "I wish you wouldn't call him that," she said as she curled in, her head on his shoulder.
"What? Poofter? Peaches?"
"All of it."
"Old habit. If it bothers you, though..."
He kissed her on the forehead and she knew he'd do his best to not do it again. At least, not in her presence.
"You're up early."
Willow looked up, a bit surprised to hear Cordelia's voice. "I thought I could get an early start on the research. I've got a fair amount of stuff to get through."
Carefully marking her place with her thumb, she closed the book. Cordelia was standing in the door to the office, a fact which made Willow somewhat nervous at the moment. She was cast in shadows from the early morning light that had begun to creep into the windows. "What about you? I never pictured you for an early riser."
"Oh, I am. Up early, do yoga, perhaps some Tai Chi." The words were tossed off, but Cordelia's eyes didn't waver from their survey of her.
"Is that helpful with the baby?" Willow regretted the words the moment they were out of her mouth. Great going, spaz girl.
There was that dangerous look again, the one they'd seen the night before when Buffy and Cordelia had gone at it. "I asked Connor not to tell anyone."
"He didn't... I mean, well, it's kind of obvious." No, that wasn't helping. "I mean, maybe not to everyone, but I haven't seen you for a while, so it's kind of easy to notice the change."
Cordelia relaxed, but only slightly. "I suppose we're going to have to let everyone know soon enough. I mean, pretty soon we won't be able to keep it a secret." She laughed, a pale imitation of the phony laugh Cordelia used to use when she was feigning interest in something. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone; I think you can understand that I'd like to let everyone know in my own way."
"Su...sure." The stammer caught in a throat that was suddenly dry. Tentatively, Willow tried to focus her vision, read Cordelia's aura the way Tara had taught her. She'd never been anywhere Tara's equal, so had not practiced that skill as diligently as others, content to let her lover handle that aspect of their work together. Nor had she tried it since her return from England and these were hardly the circumstances Miss Harkness had told her were best for a working. Here there wasn't a chance for a centering and calmness, not with Cordelia considering her as if deciding what put-down to deliver next. Carefully, she let her vision shift so she could see patterns of energy, not actual physical objects.
"Earth to Willow? Are you there?"
Cordelia's voice was harsh, pulling her out of an already tenuous state. "Uh, yeah. Sorry about that. I was just...well, you know me and research."
"Maybe you need some help." Cordelia took a step forward.
"No!" The words came out as a bit of a squeak. She'd had only a glimpse, but something was definitely off. Frighteningly off. Come on, girl. You nearly destroyed the world; you can handle a former cheerleader.
It's not the former cheerleader part which frightens me.
Cordelia was still coming closer. "You really need to get out more. I thought you'd gotten over this twitchiness years ago. Let me see what you're reading."
Before Willow could move, Cordelia had stretched out her hand, skin brushing against skin. Part of her mind still reaching for that other state, visions suddenly flashed through her head at the contact. Pain. Darkness. A summoning. The gift of a humble servant. Pleasure at the kill. Soon. Power growing inside. Soon. Blind fools. Soon.
Both women pulled their hands back with a jerk. This time when Willow looked into Cordelia's eyes, she saw something very dark and dangerous. "Get away from me," she told her in a low voice.
"Willow, are you threatening me?" If Cordelia was trying to sound surprised, it didn't work. "I mean, I know we haven't always been the best of friends..."
"That's an understatement." Willow moved, trying to put as much distance between her and Cordelia as possible. Cordelia didn't actually follow, but continued shifting around the desk, one hand reaching out to trail over the letter opener lying on the blotter pad.
"But it is important to me that we get Angel back, so I'm here to help you with the research."
If there were ever doubts in Willow's mind this was Pod Cordelia, they now ran screaming from the building at that last statement. "That's really helpful of you, Cordelia, and I appreciate the gesture, but some of this stuff is pretty esoteric."
The letter opener was now in Cordelia's hand. "I can do esoteric. I've done a lot of research since I moved to Los Angeles."
Just a little further and there'd be nothing between her and the office door. "I probably need to talk to Wesley. After all, he's the one who went looking for the shaman you used, so he should know something about the Muo-ping."
"It's round and it glows when the soul is inside." Cordelia reversed direction, strolling toward the door herself. Did she know Lorne was supposed to have removed the Sanctuary spell last night? Had Lorne actually done it? Not knowing the answer to either question made Willow nervous and the letter opener wasn't making matters better.
If push came to shove, Willow knew she could defend herself. The magic would come easily; it was that fact that the threat wore the face of someone she knew that made her hesitate, look for another way out of the situation. When she heard voices in the lobby and the chatter of early morning conversation, she could have wept for joy.
Cordelia heard it as well and took a step forward, determination on her face. "Fred? That you?" Willow squeaked out, darting toward the door.
"You're up early," Fred said in a cheerful voice. "I would have thought for certain you'd sleep in after last night."
Fred came into view, followed by Lorne. Two people. This was even better. Cordelia -- or whatever the thing was in Cordelia's body -- wouldn't dare try anything with witnesses. At least, Willow hoped she/it wouldn't. "Oh, I had some idea in my head and it just kept nagging at me until I came downstairs to do the research."
Her voice was shakier than normal, despite her best efforts, but she kept the smile firmly planted on her face as she escaped the office. "I never pictured you as the morning type, Lorne. Or you getting up early to...?"
"If it will help get Angel back, I'm more than willing to be an early riser," Lorne said with a smile. "The girls had their answering machine on last night, so after I fuel myself up, I'll hop back on the phone and get them to talk me through the procedure. You should be able to work your magic by noon."
Glancing backward, Willow saw Cordelia take this news in, a hint of a smile on her face. Clearly Willow wasn't the only one with things to do once the sanctuary spell was lifted.
Continued in Chapter Seventeen