Pairings: Angel/Wesley, Spike/Xander, Dalton(ofc)/Riley, Fred/Soshie(ofc)<
Summary: Spike is done with Angel's mistakes, so he claims Angel's entire crew and hauls them back to Sunnydale. He's determined to not turn them loose until Angel has learned a few lessons.
Warnings: Sexual slavery; but there's no non-con here; bondage; general dirty-wrong. If you're easily squicked, this isn't the series for you and hasn't been since the beginning.
Queen to King's Rook
Angel stepped into the room. “The Pockla transferred Cordelia’s visions to the Groosalugg.”
Wesley dropped the magazine he’d been pretending to read. “Is Cordelia going to be—”
“She’ll be fine. The Pockla says she’s going to be just fine. He’s walking her up now,” Angel said. Despite the fact that he had no idea how he was going to explain any of his actions, he could feel joy at having Cordelia back again. “We can go see her. Groo is staying with her while she wakes.”
“Thank God.” Practically throwing the magazine to the side, Wesley hurried toward the door. However Angel was watching Lindsey. Part of him wanted to use the cuffs and collar to remind Lindsey of his place, but part really didn’t want to have Cordelia see those things.
“Am I to be trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey? No doubt Ms. Chase would enjoy seeing me uncomfortable,” Lindsey said with a grimace.
Unfortunately, Lindsey was probably right about that, and Angel was determined to not put his slaves in a place where they were uncomfortable or where they needed to defend themselves. Angel looked over to Wes.
“I dare say Angel would content himself with a collar and leash if you would give him your word to go out of your way to be polite,” Wesley said.
Lindsey rubbed his chest where Harry had carved the slave rune into his flesh. “It’s not like I can go plotting against him when he magically enslaved me.”
“No, but you can say the wrong thing in front of Cordelia, and that would come with consequences,” Angel said firmly. Wesley was right, Lindsey needed the reminder a chain would provide. A leash would be the least offensive form. Hopefully. An offended Cordelia could be difficult to take. However, right now he had to worry about his two slaves. Stepping to a spot in front of Lindsey, Angel caught him by the back of the neck and held him firmly. The scent of lust was a surprise, but then Lindsey, for all his complaining, seemed far more interested in sex than Angel would have guessed.
“Politeness would require you to show your neck,” Angel said with a hint of a growl. Guilt gnawed at the edges of his conscience until Lindsey dropped his head to the side and bared his neck. The scent of lust growing even stronger wiped out Angel’s guilt. Angel leaned in and mouthed the twin pinprick scars without biting. “You smell randy,” Angel whispered into Lindsey’s ear.
“Yes, well if I’m stuck serving you for eternity, I don’t plan on having a celibate eternity,” Lindsey said with disgust.
Wesley made a noise, and Angel turned around to find Wesley standing there with a leash in hand. “Thank you,” Angel said as he wrapped the collar around Lindsey’s neck before locking the leash in place. That done, Angel turned to Wesley and caught him by the back of the neck. Wesley bared his neck immediately, his shoulder already pinpricked with scars and his body pressing close to Angel. Mouthing the scars, Angel enjoyed the scent of contentment that rose to greet him. He rarely let himself really indulge in smelling humans, and this was a treat.
Angel wrapped his arm around Wesley’s waist and pulled him close with enough force that Wesley made a little surprised noise even if he didn’t protest. “Maybe it would be fair to leash you, too. You both belong to me.” For a second, Wesley’s lust was enough to make Angel feel light-headed. Before he could do anything, Wesley was pressing against his shoulders in a token attempt to escape.
“I doubt Cordelia would appreciate that. After months of watching Spike indulge in his fetish for restraints with Xander, I can safely say that good manners should preclude certain activities in public.” Wesley straightened up, and the starch in his spine didn’t match his scent.
“You might as well beg him to leash you and tie you up in private,” Lindsay said, but he sounded weary rather than hateful.
“As you said, if we are to be linked to Angel for our entire lives, there really is no need for celibacy,” Wesley said cheerfully. “Right now, however, I am far more concerned about seeing Cordelia recovered from this ordeal.”
“You’re right,” Angel said. “Let’s go.” He ushered Wesley out of the room with one hand and led Lindsey by the leash with the other. The halls of the lair were busy, and from the various tables and containers and boxes being carried from one place to another, Angel was guessing that Spike was planning a feast of some sort. At least he’d ordered the feast, Clem’s mother was most likely the one planning it. Considering that Spike controlled the territory, he actually controlled very little of the day to day operations of the lair.
“Master Angel,” Dalton said with a respectful if small tilt of her head as they passed. Angel offered her a smaller nod. He might not be the head of the line anymore, but he was above her. She smiled and kept heading down the hall.
Soon enough they were to the room near Spike’s own quarters where the Pockla had kept Cordelia in her magical coma as he tried to stop the visions from destroying her. “I do hope she has fully recovered,” Wesley whispered. Angel clenched his jaw and controlled his instinct to breathe. He didn’t need to accidentally smell Wesley’s fear right now; he had enough of his own.
Knocking lightly, Angel pushed the door open. He’d expected to find Cordelia in bed, wan and pale and suffering. Instead she was on her feet, her arms crossed.
“You took my visions?” she demanded without giving him a chance to say a word. The Groosalugg was backed against the wall, and Angel retreated out of the room and into the hallway as Cordelia zeroed in on him. “What gave you the right to decide to take my visions? Do you have any idea how much I suffered in order to provide you with the information in those visions? Do you? And you just took them?” She stopped, her foot tapping against the floor, and it took Angel several seconds to realize she actually expected an answer to the last question.
“You were dying.”
“Oh please,” she dismissed that out of hand. “We could have found another way.”
“I assure you, we couldn’t,” Wesley jumped in. The man might be slow to defend himself, but he had never shown any hesitation to defend Angel.
Cordelia turned to look at him with disgust. “And how hard did you try?”
Wesley stiffened. “I searched every magical text I could find.”
“Cordelia,” Angel interrupted, “we all did our best, but in the end, it was a choice between you or the visions. I chose to save you.”
“You saved me in the middle of some vision quest with a demon who had a way to make me vision compatible. You and your lousy timing,” Cordelia complained. She frowned, and Angel followed the line of her sight to Lindsey. The man was leaning against the wall and if he’d had popcorn in his hand, he would have looked like someone watching a featured reel. “Lindsey?”
“It seems I’ve changed teams. Been drafted, actually.” Lindsey reached down to grab the leash that Angel was still holding. Angel could feel cold horror run through his veins as Cordelia’s expression turned truly terrifying. If anyone ever vamped Cordelia, Angel was moving to another dimension, right after warning Spike to head for the hills.
“Drafted?” Cordelia’s eyes grew larger.
Groo walked up behind her, moving slowly and carefully as though she were a Hellmouth about to start spewing demons. “Angel officially claimed both Lindsey and Wesley,” he offered in a hopeful voice, like that would make anything better, but the horror in Angel’s veins got a little colder.
“He… claimed? He claimed?” Cordelia turned on Angel. “You claimed them? Mister, this had better be some euphemism for gay sex because if you’re talking about vampire claiming, about enslaving people, I am going to shove a stake in some place that you really don’t want a stake going.” Cordelia’s finger was up, and Angel had an irrational urge to back away.
Wesley stiffened. “There is hardly one boilerplate for all forms of slavery. In parts of Africa, slavery was part of the penal system long before American slavery twisted it, and many argue that the slavery of Africa was far more humane than the penal colony system used in parts of the English speaking world. One cannot judge the cultural values of a group by one’s own personal value system.”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Are you done?” Rather than wilting, Wesley seemed to stand up straighter. It occurred to Angel that Wesley never would have stood up to Cordelia before becoming a slave. Spike had told him that Wesley was too much like Xander—that they both needed firm ground to stand on, and it didn’t get any firmer than slavery. As much as it galled to think that Spike understood humans better than Angel, he just might have to eat that bit of humble pie and admit it.
“I don’t know. Are you still feeling a need to verbally eviscerate someone?” Wesley asked.
“Yes,” Cordelia answered. Crossing her arms, she turned on Angel. “You enslaved them. What part of your redemption includes slavery?”
“I’m more concerned about this family than my redemption,” Angel said. Even more shocking, he meant it. If he had to give up his quest to keep the people in his life safe, then he would. Angel was pretty proud of himself for making that choice, but Cordelia’s expression made it clear she thought he’d lost his mind.
“My queen,” Groo said soothingly.
“And you.” She turned on him, poking him in the chest. “You went along with this idiocy.”
“He beat me in fair combat,” Groo said. Angel could have told him that was the wrong thing to say, but it was a little too late to warn him now. Cordelia’s eyes narrowed.
“What? So now you’re going to claim to be Angel’s good little slave?” Angel could feel the danger like the ice cracking under your feet after the spring winds thinned it.
Groo straightened up. “I am his loyal warrior. He is my king as surely as you are my queen.”
“Oh, I am not queen to his king. I’m just the pissed off secretary who had her visions stolen.” Cordelia aimed a punch at Angel, and he didn’t even try to duck. She hit him in the chest, and she was pissed enough that he could actually feel the hit. “Do you have something to say?” Cordelia demanded as she turned on Lindsey.
He fell back a step, but his expression was still entirely too amused. “Not a thing. I’m just enjoying the show,” Lindsey said. Angel gave him a tug just hard enough with the leash to remind him of his place before Angel stepped between Cordelia and Lindsey.
“If you’re angry as me, ye’ll take it out on me,” Angel said firmly.
“Oh, so we’re sticking up for Lindsey now? He stabbed you in the back. He stabbed us in the back!”
“And things are different now,” Angel said, struggling to control his temper.
“Because he’s a slave? When did you all lose your minds? Am I still in a coma, because if I’m dreaming all this, I’m going to go get myself a therapist and bill you.” Cordelia poked Angel in the chest with a finger, and Angel gritted his teeth. This is why he pushed people away. He didn’t have one blessed idea what he was supposed to do with them. With barmaids, you paid them. With fledges, you killed them when they got out of hand. Well, unless the fledge in question was Spike. Angel never had managed to get around to staking him, not even when young William had clearly crossed the line.
“My queen,” Groo said soothingly.
“For the love of God, it’s not as though Angel has lost his soul,” Wesley snapped with far less patience. Lindsey just kept smirking, but Angel was trying to stand in front of him so that Cordelia couldn’t see that. Right after he got this mess with Cordelia fixed, he was going to have to punish Lindsey for aggravating her, and that was going to lead to even more troubles. He really hated this plan. Really hated. What had made him think he could keep human beings happy, especially a crew of humans as cantankerous and difficult as this one? At least Spike only had to worry about Xander, a man who seemed supremely easy to please as long as he was getting enough sex.
“Are you sure of that? Are you sure he’s Angel?” Cordelia demanded. “Has anyone checked to see if his soul is still pinned on tight, because the Irish lilt and the fact he’s taken slaves makes him seem more like Angelus than Angel.” Angel truly had no idea how Spike ran his court without gutting every one of them just to get a little peace and quiet.
“If that were Angelus, you’d be eating your spleen, luv.” Spike walked out from behind the corner and leaned against the wall. Angel could read the danger in every line of Spike’s body, but Cordelia sailed right into those dangerous waters.
“You had something to do with this.” She strode toward him with an expression that would have put Darla to shame. Spike, however, had been the one to send Darla to her most recent death when she’d tried to challenge him. When Cordelia closed in on him, Spike just watched her with a twitch of his eyebrow.
“I reckon I pulled Peaches’ head out of his arse. I am the master of the Aurelian line now, luv.”
“And that gives you a right to tell him my secret? To help him take my visions? To go along with this plan to collect slaves?” Cordelia’s voice was reaching dangerous levels and Angel shoved Lindsey’s leash at Groo before he moved forward to intervene in case this turned ugly. If Cordelia pushed hard enough, Spike was going to have to punish someone to avoid losing face in front of the court, and Angel would take that punishment before allowing him to touch Cordelia. However, right when Angel expected things to turn truly ugly, Spike started laughing.
“Get it right, pet. I didn’t go along with the slavery plan. I fucking told him that he had no business letting Lindsey go wandering the universe after Lindsey put himself under Aurelian control. Either he took the boy as a slave or I would. I also told him that Wesley was a valuable enough piece that if Angel couldn’t get his head out of his arse long enough to lay claim to him that another vampire had asked to take Wes as a slave.”
“You did?” Wesley asked, his voice squeaking. At the same time, Cordelia demanded, “You what?” in a very unhappy tone.
“I won’t have Peaches making a mess out of my south border.”
Cordelia shot Angel a look. “This is not an improvement, even if he was screwing up.”
“Bloody right he was screwing up. I can’t believe you didn’t soddin’ call me and tell me he was ‘round the twist. I thought you had more sense than the bog-trotter over there.” Spike gave Angel a wicked grin.
Angel glared at Spike, his demon shifting uncomfortably under the knowledge that he couldn’t beat Spike. “If you have something to say, you say it to me,” Angel warned. When Angel stopped Spike from talking to Wesley, Spike would always give him an approving purse of the lips, but now Spike was looking at Angel like Angel was some sort of idiot.
“The cheerleader can speak for herself, mate. And if she wants to take a piss with me, she can live with the consequences of that.” Spike’s eyes flashed yellow and he gave Cordelia a flash of fang.
“Oh please, I’d give you heartburn. Go threaten someone you might actually eat.” Cordelia pushed past Spike so fast that even Spike managed to look a little surprised.
“Oh dear,” Wesley said softly.
“I shall go after her,” Groo said, stepping forward and offering Lindsey’s leash back to Angel.
“No, you bloody well won’t,” Spike interrupted before Angel could go along with that plan. Sending Groo after her seemed the best solution all around. Angel sure as hell didn’t know what to do.
“Someone should go after her,” Wesley said.
Angel nodded, watching Spike for some sign of what the hell he was supposed to do. Instead, Spike leaned against the wall and Angel had the uncomfortable feeling that he was failing some test. This was exactly why he didn’t want humans around. He wasn’t good with them. “Groo, take the others back to my room and stay with them,” Angel said.
Wesley opened his mouth, but Groo ducked his head as he accepted the order. “Yes, my liege.” Reaching out, he caught Wesley by the arm and urged him down the hallway. If Wesley had any useful advice, he certainly had time to blurt it out. Instead, he let Groo usher him down the hall, Lindsey following behind on the leash.
“Well, at least you’re giving clear orders now,” Spike commented.
“Shut up,” Angel said, habit triggering the words. Spike immediately flashed into gameface, and Angel figured he had about two seconds before he ended up in chains. “What the hell am I supposed ta do with Cordelia?” Angel asked without hiding his confusion. He added in a slight tilt of the neck—not enough to compromise his own pride, but just a hint of submission to appease Spike’s demon.
Spike’s body twitched before he leaned back against the wall again. “She won’t bloody listen to you.”
“I know that, Spike.”
“She’d probably listen to me, but not before annoying me into eating her,” Spike said as he sucked air through his front teeth. Angel let his demon rise up until his eyes turned yellow. Spike rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to eat her, you nit. We need someone who hates you, someone who you couldn’t have corrupted.”
“Xander,” Angel immediately said. The boy still hated Angel with a passion that made him stink of aggression and disgust every time Angel stood too close. When Angel had first been allowed in the throne room, Xander had taken to stroking a small wooden carving of Buffy so real that Angel could almost see her power and grace in the curve of the statue’s arm. He couldn’t look at the carving without guilt ripping at him. While he was off trying to recover from his great epic failure as a lover, Spike had fought by Buffy's side. He’d nearly died at her side, and when she’d died, she done it in Spike’s arms. Angel had no doubt that Xander had intentionally chosen that carving to bring to court on the days when Angel was going to be there. He had a sadistic streak that matched Spike’s.
Spike seemed to consider Angel’s suggestion for a second. “He’d be a good choice if she didn’t have a history with him. Humans aren’t like to forget something like betrayal.”
“Then who would you suggest?” Angel demanded.
“Time for you start figuring that out on your own, luv,” Spike said as he pushed away from the wall and started to stroll off in the same direction Cordelia had vanished.
“Spike!” Angel called out, half-afraid that Spike was going to go have that conversation with Cordelia. She really might not survive because Spike’s patience wasn’t unlimited and her anger was clouding her better judgment. “Can I borrow Riley?”
Spike pursed his lips and gave Angel an approving look. “Go ask Dalton; he’s her pet.”
Angel watched from the shadows as Riley went to sit next to Cordelia on the bench in front of a long line of windows. They were set high in the wall in the Oden Tal section of the warehouse, but even so the glass was tinted and spelled and had reinforced steel bars. However, it was a view of the world outside for those who wanted to climb the scaffold and sit on the bench while watching the trucks pass on the road and trash tumble down the alleys when the wind blew.
“Master Spike said I should come and answer any questions honestly,” Riley offered a good minute after he’d sat down.
She looked over at him. “Oh yeah, and you’re an impartial judge here.”
Riley shrugged. “Impartial? No. I don’t actually like Master Angel, so I do tend to assume the worst of him. However, knowing my bias, you can decide how much weight to give my comments.”
That shocked Cordelia; Angel could see it in the line of her back. “You don’t like him?”
“I think he’s an undisciplined, arrogant ass,” Riley answered. Angel fisted his hands and pushed himself farther back into the shadows as he fought an urge to go grab Riley and teach him a few manners. Unfortunately, if he did that, Spike would be aggravated. Besides, attacking Riley wouldn’t convince Cordelia that Angel had control over his demon.
Cordelia gave a surprised laugh at Riley’s statement. “You work for Spike. Now he’s undisciplined and arrogant.”
“Arrogant, yes. Master Spike has earned the right to brag about his accomplishments. He killed a hell god, controls a Hellmouth, owns a dozen slaves, and runs one of the largest vampire courts in the country. His arrogance reflects his tactical successes.”
Cordelia was looking at Riley like he’d lost his mind, and Angel closed his eyes as he listened to this unmitigated disaster. He’d chosen wrong, and now he was going to have to find some other way to get Cordelia to believe he wasn’t evil. Right now, Riley was only convincing her of his own evil.
“He owns you.” Cordelia used her most withering tone on Riley.
“Yes, he does.”
Cordelia sucked in a breath. “How can you defend him then?”
Riley turned and looked out the windows, and the silence continued until Angel shifted his weight uncomfortably and debated going out there. Maybe he could talk to her about how much happier Wesley and Lindsey were now.
“I was addicted to Rapture.”
“Old news, Riley. I’ve heard this sob story.” That was cold, even for Cordelia, but Riley didn’t seem to take offense.
“Then you know I’m far better here than I would be out there. Hell, I’ve killed more demons working for Dalton and Spike than I ever did working for the Initiative.” Riley gave a small chuckle. “I’ve even had this fantasy about going to General Buchner and explaining how vampires are actually pretty amiable and easy to live with if they just get enough sex. There are days Dalton and Spike are so sated they couldn’t go on a hunting spree if someone paid them. It could open up a whole new avenue of demon hunting.”
Cordelia was less than amused. “So, Wesley and Lindsey give Angel sex and that keeps him happy? We don’t want Angel happy.”
“True,” Riley said slowly. “Look, I’m not saying I know how this works for your group. I just know I was ordered to come answer your questions.”
“You get ordered around a lot.”
“I did in the army, too.”
Cordelia frowned at him, but she didn’t have an immediate answer. With a sigh, she looked out the windows. Angel just wanted to fix this, fix her, give her back her visions, do whatever it took to make her happy again, but instead, he stood in the shadows, impotent to do anything but watch as she radiated misery. He hated this.
“How did Lindsey get pulled into this?” she demanded after a long and awkward silence.
“Master Spike said that he had put himself in Aurelian control when he came to Angel for help to get away from Wolfram and Hart. Actually, the law firm had already put a slavery spell on him, something he’d signed for his big promotion had given the lawfirm control of his soul.”
“God.” Cordelia shook her head. “That sounds like something Lindsey would do.”
“I just know that Angel had some sort of prior claim because Lindsey had already voluntarily put himself under Angel’s control and Angel hadn’t ever relinquished it. It’s something about demonic politics and magic.” Riley shrugged. “I don’t really understand the spell or the slavery spell Angel used on Lindsey, but I can ask Master Spike for permission to have Harry explain it if you want.”
Cordelia seemed to sag as she shook her head. “I don’t think my brain can handle any more. Thanks anyway.” They sat in silence for a long time, and Angel could feel failure stalking him. His grand plan to have Riley talk to her was failing, and he didn’t have a backup plan. Actually, Xander was his backup plan, and Spike was right—it was a dumb plan.
“Can I give you a soldier’s assessment?” Riley finally asked.
Cordelia gave a sigh and looked at him with such weariness etched in her face that Angel ached to fix it… to help her. He just didn’t know how. “A soldier’s or a slave’s?” she asked Riley.
“A soldier’s, ma’am.”
Her second sigh was twice as loud. “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Riley nodded. “In L.A., Angel was acting like a human, but he wasn’t a good leader.”
“Most days, he didn’t act human at all,” Cordelia disagreed, and Angel could feel his face warm. He’d tried. He’d tried hard to be human and earn the humanity Darla had ripped from him.
“He took a human job as a private detective, he secured his lair in a human manner by renting it, he trained with humans, he paid human bills, he lived with humans, he had friendships defined by human rules, and he took cases where he could help humans. I’ve lived with vampires long enough to know that none of those are likely if a vampire is involved, less likely for a Master vampire.” Riley lined up each of Angel’s pathetic attempts to deny his demon, and Angel realized how ridiculous it sounded. He was a vampire who paid an electric bill. However, he didn’t know how else to live.
“Angel? You think he used human rules for friendships?”
“Did he make anyone kneel or acknowledge him as the leader and master?”
That made Cordelia laugh. Angel could feel his demon stirring uncomfortably at the tacit disrespect in that gesture.
“He used human rules,” Riley concluded. “Now he is acting more like a demon and he is also showing a greater aptitude for leadership.”
“You say demon like that’s a good thing.”
There was another long pause. “It’s an honest thing,” Riley said softly.
Cordelia turned to Riley and frowned.
“He is a demon,” Riley added. “A good leader understands himself and the men and women in his command, and if Angel doesn’t understand himself and his own demon, he will never understand the people in his command.”
“Is this a command?” Cordelia asked. “Because this is looking like a demon lair to me.”
Riley shrugged. “But nothing happens in this lair without Spike knowing. He scents every person who walks through so he knows how people feel. He intimidates enemies. He takes those who feel worthless, like Xander, and he gives them strength. He takes those who can’t control themselves, like me, and he provides control. When is the last time Angel scented his humans so that he could understand them better?”
Angel knew the answer to that. Since coming here, he’d slowly started indulging in scent as part of sex. However, he had never scented people in the hotel because he didn’t want to smell the blood flowing just below their skin. Now that he was drinking human blood more regularly, he felt more in control, but he was still uncomfortable smelling every place where Soshie had touched Fred’s body. He didn’t want to know when Wesley’s skin smelled of fear or when Lindsey stunk of pure hatred. Sometimes he couldn’t avoid the heavy scents of humanity, and while he would never admit it, Cordelia’s period had always made him edgy to the point that he avoided the lobby.
“So, he’s a bad leader because he avoids sniffing us?”
“He used to be a poor leader because he ignored evidence that could have helped him run the unit more efficiently. When he put all his energy into ignoring his demon, he lost focus on the tactical goals and he lost access to his most effective weapons.”
“And now he’s all better.” Cordelia’s sarcasm was hard to miss. “And I’m all better.” She threw her hands up. “No more visions for Cordelia, so we can all be proud of how we saved her.”
Angel closed his eyes and intentionally scented the air. It was hard to tell from this distance, but he thought he could smell the particular musk he knew came from her. The two humans were silent, and Angel concentrated on pulling on the demon’s powers. Breathing more deeply, he stumbled back when her bitter despair hit him. If the Pockla had saved her life, why was she despairing?
“Should he have allowed you to die?” Riley finally asked.
“He should have found a way to save me without ripping my visions away from me.” Angel waited as the lazy air drifted toward him. Loss. Grief. She was grieving for the loss of her powers. But… but she had tried to give them to anyone she could. He remembered her kissing random people as she’d tried to pass them on. And the demon who had turned her powers loose so that she got all the visions all the time—it had almost killed her. She’d been willing to keep them and had even committed herself to helping the hopeless, but were the visions that important to her?
“I would have liked it if someone could have ripped me away from Rapture without shredding the last illusion of freedom I owned,” Riley said, and his own grief mingled with Cordelia’s. “Before Spike would let me stay, he forced me to admit that I put myself in this spot. I really wish he would have just taken me the way Angel took Lindsey. Then I could have lived in denial and told myself that one day I’d escape and be free.” Riley’s head dropped for a second, his scent buried in pain, but then he shrugged and sat up. “Maybe one of these days Lindsey will admit that he’s the only one to blame for his situation and maybe he’ll get to live in happy denial his whole life, but at least he didn’t have to face the ugly truth when he was at his weakest.” Riley’s voice had a shakiness to it that Angel had heard before. “Sometimes we swallow a bitter pill because the cure is worth the discomfort.” Riley said that with such grim determination that Angel suspected it was a mantra he’d learned to live by.
“And you think losing my visions is just a bitter pill?”
Riley looked at her calmly.
“And what—” Cordelia just stopped. “Look, I appreciate your efforts, but maybe you could just go away.”
Riley stood up without even trying to change her mind. “Yes, ma’am. If you need anything, just ask for me. I’m sure Master Spike and Mistress Dalton will allow me to come to you.” With that, he turned and headed for the ladder at the far end of the scaffolding.
Angel watched as the man climbed down. Humans were so hard to read. When he’d first seen Riley Finn in Buffy’s room, he never would have guessed that the man needed to be owned and controlled. He did guess that about Xander, but then the boy had always shown a submissive streak that made him catnip for most demons. However, Angel hadn’t ever seen the strength behind the submission. He’d turned into a deadly hunter in his own right. And Wesley… Angel had nearly missed how fragile the man was. But even with all these answers, he still couldn’t understand Cordelia. Could she truly grieve for powers that were painfully killing her?
Not knowing what else to do, Angel slowly climbed the scaffold. If this went really badly, Cordelia could shove him off it and break several of Angel’s bones. There’s something to look forward to. The metal stair treads rattled as Angel climbed, but Cordelia didn’t turn to look at him. Angel remembered when he’d first seen her. She’d been the perfect cheerleader then—a woman who had all the power a high school student could wield over her classmates. She’d traded power for Xander, and then been betrayed. Angel supposed in a way he’d betrayed her too. He’d taken her visions without ever understanding that they were so important to her.
“Are you up here to convince me how enslaving Lindsey is some charitable act?” Cordelia demanded when Angel finally got to the top. He stopped, half-afraid to get too close to her.
“Oh, so maybe you’re up here to explain why I should be grateful to you for taking away my powers.” That sounded sarcastic. Angel breathed deeply, struggling as the grief and pain stirred feelings in his demon.
“No. You have a right to be angry.”
Cordelia’s head whipped up, and Angel fought an urge to retreat. He’d feel bad about that, but he’d seen Spike go out of his way to avoid Cordelia more than once. He remembered Buffy telling him how she’d once talked a vampire into running away in fear. She was unique.
“So, you’re admitting you screwed up?”
Angel sighed. “Maybe. I wish I could have found another way, but I couldn’t let you die.”
“They were my visions.”
“Before you, they were Doyle’s visions,” Angel pointed out. Cordelia looked away. Angel could smell her grief now. “I still miss him,” Angel said quietly, inching closer. The comment earned him a narrow-eyed confused look from Cordelia.
“Me, too,” she admitted after a long pause. “They were his gift to me.”
Angel nodded and waited until her scent had calmed some. “I don’t think he’d want you to die for them. He never would have put you in danger like that.”
“Oh, so poor, weak little human me can’t possibly have a power.” Shame. Fear. The scents hit Angel so sharply that he was tempted to just stop scenting. Two months ago, he would have stopped, but he couldn’t now.
“Weak? Cordelia, you terrify and intimidate and confuse and make coffee that could strip paint from a battleship, but yer not weak.”
“Your Irish is showing.”
She looked over at him. “Your Irish accent is back, and trust me, the ability to read people—that was always more Angelus’ thing than Angel’s. So, I don’t care what you’ve told those idiots, you need to tell me the truth right now or you need to try and kill me.”
Angel eyed her hand. It was up under the bottom of her shirt. “You have a stake under there, don’t you?”
“Yes,” she answered.
Angel nodded and moved close enough to sit on the end of the bench. “My soul is still in here.”
“In there as in under lock and key? Because I have to tell you, it doesn’t look like it’s driving anymore.”
“It’s driving, but…” Angel shrugged. “I can’t do what needs doing without the demon, Cordelia.”
“So you are listening to Angelus more.”
Angel nodded. “More, yes. But I’m not going to go out and slaughter some nuns for entertainment.”
“What are you going to do then?”
Angel thought about that. Cordelia deserved more than an easy answer. “I want my family safe, and that means safe from my own stupidity as well as safe from people like Wolfram and Hart.”
“And you think enslaving Lindsey is going to make them want to play nice?” The brutal tone more than the words made Angel flinch.
“Taking Lindsey wasn’t my idea.”
“Spike,” Cordelia said flatly.
“Actually,” Angel said, “Spike suggested it and the humans voted on it.”
Angel nodded. Lindsey is human, so I asked Xander and Riley and Fred and Wesley what they thought of going and getting him.”
“I know Riley’s opinion, and Xander thinks slavery is one big sex-fest.”
Angel wasn’t sure that was a fair characterization, but he wasn’t about to go defending Xander Harris.
“What did Fred and Wesley say?”
Angel really hoped he wasn’t about to turn his clan against each other. “Fred said that Lindsey wouldn’t have come to us unless he knew he needed help. She thought he was like an alcoholic, and she told me that turning him loose in the middle of L.A. was like agreeing to sponsor someone in AA, giving them twenty dollars, and then dropping them off in front of a bar.”
Cordelia looked shocked, but Angel shrugged. As much as he hated to admit it, Fred had a point. “Wesley insisted slavery was wrong.”
Cordelia gave a grim smile. “Well he changed his tune.”
Angel nodded. “He called me an idiot for trying to deny my nature, and said it was his nature to give himself to a cause, and he’d chosen me as his cause. At the time, he made it sound like I was being selfish if I didn’t agree to take him as a slave.”
Cordelia sighed, but her shoulder muscled relaxed and the stress scents were fading. Hopefully Angel wasn’t going to get staked today. “That sounds like the idiot.”
“He’s a good man.”
Cordelia looked at him oddly.
“Do not look at me like that. He is,” Angel defended himself and Wesley.
“Yes, he is,” Cordelia agreed, her voice oddly distant. “Angel, no offense, but my brain has been twisted enough today, and I really just need some time alone.”
Angel opened his mouth to try and get her to change her mind, but he could taste her weariness on the air. Instead he nodded. “Call if you need something. You’ve been sick and you’re probably still weak. I don’t want you falling off the stair, okay?” Angel asked, but at the same time he stood up and started backing toward the end of the scaffold, showing that he did mean to respect her wishes. He wouldn’t crowd her the way he did Lindsey or Wesley, and he could respect that she wasn’t going to just yield like Fred or Groo.
She nodded. “I’ll call.”
Accepting that, Angel headed back down the stairs. It felt like a pretty small victory, but with Cordelia, he’d take any victory he could get, no matter how small. Angel smelled Spike a second before he turned the corner.
“You almost didn’t fuck that up too bad,” Spike said with a sniff. Angel just stared at him. “I’ll ask Dalton to keep watch. At least Cordelia isn’t brassed off at her like she is at the two of us. We’d be best off finding somewhere else to be for a bit, mate.”
“You aren’t….” Angel gathered his thoughts while Spike waited, his head cocked. “You don’t mind it looking like you’re running away from Cordy?”
Spike shrugged. “I’ve taken hell gods, luv. My reputation’s not so battered that I have to worry about that. Besides, I like the bird. She scares the shite of me, but some days I look at her and see what Dru could have been if you didn’t drive her all barmy. She’s got the power and the insight, even if she doesn’t have the visions anymore.”
“If she ever gets turned, I’m moving dimensions,” Angel commented.
“Bloody hell, not before me. You can stand in the portal and slow her down while me and mine make a clear get away.” Spike gave a gentle chuckle and headed down the hall. An Oden Tal woman gave a quick nod of respect as she passed, and Spike returned it. Angel watched. Maybe he could have a touch of demon without being the demon he’d been before.
“Did Buffy ever tell you about how Cordelia scared a vampire into running away?” Angel asked.
“Did she now?” Spike’s eyebrows went up. “I never heard that one.”
“These demons came in to hunt the slayers: Buffy and Faith both. Apparently they confused Cordelia and Faith.”
“Cordelia’s a good site scarier,” Spike said.
“That she is,” Angel agreed. They walked the hall and Angel told the story of a young Cordelia. She was a survivor. One way or another, she’d survive this, too.
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