God Save the Queen
by SRoni and Aadler
Copyright June 2004 (SRoni)
Revised for collaboration December 2006 (Aadler)
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
[Credit and acknowledgment: This story was inspired — to a point — by Mediancat's "Dancing with Myself" and its sequel, "Dancing in the Dark". However, the world presented here is not connected to his.]
Once upon a time, there was a princess. She knew she was a princess, because everybody told her so. She was born to reign, and she studied to get ready for it. When the time came, she assumed her rightful place with an ease that left other pretenders to the throne writhing in envy and fury. A princess no longer: now, she was the queen.
No surprise that the universe should realign to show her just how special she really was, to make her something beyond mere royalty. No surprise that she should gain a consort as extraordinary as she was, a creature of star-crossed myth. No surprise that her realm should become the stage where she and her lover played out the greatness that was theirs by right.
No, the surprise was when it all went to hell.
And then got worse.
~ – ~ – ~
She swept through the halls, oblivious to her surroundings, a figure of dark preoccupation and unfocused wrath. No one scrambled from her path, but there was a concerted effort to avoid getting into her path. Something like that, well, you just didn't want to do it.
She didn't notice, aware of nothing beyond the turmoil of her thoughts. How? How could she decide? If she chose one course of action, Willow died. The other, Xander died. If she just sat down and cried — which was what she wanted right now more than anything else — they both died. And, given the light-hearted viciousness of their captor, that might happen no matter what she did.
Was this as bad as it could get? No, the bad was just beginning: she couldn't go to Giles with this. It had been weeks, but he still hadn't recovered from what had happened to Miss Calendar; The Man With a Plan had become The Man With a Mission. Give him a target for all that bottled rage, and he would want to go nuclear: scorched earth, no caution and no holding back and no mercy, kill them all while he knew where to find them. Worst case, the whole group could break apart in recriminations and competing priorities; even the best case might lose Xander or Willow, and she couldn't make herself choose between them.
Nor was she entirely comfortable at the thought of presenting this situation to the others. There had been questions lately about her judgment, about where her priorities were, and there was no absolute guarantee that she could get them to let her do this the way it had to be done. She didn't blame them (much), but it still meant she couldn't predict how they would react. And so much depended on what she, and they, decided to do …
Think. Think. She had a little time to work with, and she needed to get her head clear and figure out her next move. When Angel had called to deliver his taunting challenge, he had said the show started at nightfall. (He'd thrown in other stuff as well, laughing at her inability to answer him as he deserved; she'd been summoned to the office for a call supposedly from her mother, and been forced to nod and keep her tone level and give safe replies to prevent the office staff from catching on. For all his pretensions to artistry, he had become exactly the kind of small-minded bully who would revel in such petty triumphs … and the only good part of this God-awful mess was that Xander wasn't around to rag on her for giving Angel a "big happy", as he put it, and turning him from soulful-and-brooding to a guy who thought barbecued pets made a nifty greeting card.)
What about calling Kendra? that was something Angel wouldn't be expecting … No, it wouldn't help, this would be over before Kendra could make it to Sunnydale. Besides, the last time she had tried to talk about it, Kendra had said the same thing as when they first met: "He's a vampire. He deserves to die." Well, duhh! Angel the sadistic torturer, sure. But how to get him without wiping out the Angel who had spent, like, eighty years trying to make things right?
If it had to be done, she'd do it. In fact, she'd spent months now trying to do it. But it should be done by someone who would remember, and mourn, the man who had been there before the monster returned.
She hated being the damn Slayer! Her life had been so simple once: clothes, guys, spreading misery among the socially untouchable … Now, instead of being the most popular girl in school, she was way down the road to least popular. And even if some gooney good fairy gave her the power to go back, she still wouldn't be able to do it. She had seen too much. She had lost too much.
She forced her mind out of that blind alley and back to the basic problem. If she let Willow die, Oz would never forgive her. If she let Xander die, Buffy would never forgive her. She didn't have to deal with that yet, there hadn't been time to tell either of them, and she wasn't looking forward to it …
Wait a minute.
The class bell had rung while she was flipping around with her mind in dark places, and now she hurried through the halls with new purpose. There, yes: Buffy, just closing her locker, she must be running late … which was good, it meant there was no one around to overhear. "Hey, Destiny Girl, I need some help."
Buffy sighed, and reached into her notebook. "Yeah, I tuned in to that when you didn't come back from the office. I have the class notes here, so if you can photocopy them before school lets out —"
"Not that. Well, sure, I'll take the notes. But it's about Xander."
Buffy's eyes went wary and a little cold. "What about Xander, Cordelia?"
The Slayer leaned wearily back against the row of lockers. Where was Midol when you needed it? Insane though it might seem, she and Buffy might actually have become close if not for Xander; as it was, the girl never could forget that she had been (to all outward appearance) Xander's second choice, and she watched like a hawk for any sign that Cordelia might change her mind about going kissy-face with the Xandman.
"Angel has him," she told Buffy, and saw the suspicious look instantly replaced by one of dread. "And Willow, too, somehow Angel's crew managed to pull a snatch in daylight —"
"Where?" Buffy broke in. "I mean, why are you here, you should be out tearing through every vamp hidey-hole in Sunnydale right now! The longer Angelus has them —"
"I know," Cordelia said, interrupting just as Buffy had done. "But it isn't going to be that simple. He's keeping them at separate locations, so we can't just —"
"How do you know?" Buffy demanded.
"Will you let me tell the story?" Cordelia snapped. Buffy drew back a step; even the L.A. golden girl didn't treat a Slayer's wrath casually, maybe because she remembered how potent it could be. Cordelia shook her head. "Sorry. Mondo tension, and nothing to kill. Look, I know because Angel called to gloat. Another one of his head games."
"When will he learn that just doesn't work on you?" Buffy wondered. "All right, I'm calm now." Cordelia gave her a Look, and she amended, "Okay, not really. But I can deal. What else did he tell you? "
"Like I said, head games. He actually let me know where he has Xander, some abandoned, run-down old mansion. Problem is, if I go there to get Xander — and that's if Angel is even telling the truth about where they have him — they kill Willow."
"So why bother to tell us where Xander is?" Buffy asked … and then answered before Cordelia could. "Because he's a sadist. Because he likes to rub it in, make it hurt. This one's a win-win for him, I can see it. If you go after Xander, we lose Willow, and split apart blaming each other. You don't go after him, we just all sit and stew on being helpless." She shot the Slayer a look. "He has to know that won't hold us for long."
"It isn't meant to," Cordelia agreed. "It's just a little side-torture, something to whet his appetite. The main course is something else. He'll call just after dark to give us Willow's location … but if anybody but me shows up for a rescue, Angel has them both killed. And whichever one I go to save, they kill the other one." Her laugh was sharp, bitter. "Getting the picture? No matter where I go, I get to fight through impossible odds, knowing one of my friends dies at the other location. Classic Angelus, something straight out of the Watchers' Diaries."
Buffy was clutching her notebook, and her face was beginning to trend toward pale. Though she had been willing to accept Angel's help, Back In The Day, she'd never been entirely comfortable around him once she discovered his true nature … and now, with his soul on indefinite hiatus and Buffy's Slayerness firmly in the FORMER column, she didn't hide the fact that he gave her the total wig. Even so, she spoke steadily. "Or maybe he'll let you do your best, and then kill them both anyway," she pointed out.
This was something Cordelia had already considered, though she hadn't mentioned it (who said she didn't know the meaning of the word 'tact'?), but she suddenly realized she'd been wrong. "No, he won't," she said grimly. "That'd let me off the hook, wouldn't it? He'll stick to what he promised, just so I have to live with knowing I sentenced one of them to death."
"So what do you want from me?" Buffy demanded, her voice savage. "Help you make a choice? You know which way I'd go."
"No, I want you to help me cheat the bastard." Cordelia saw hope flare in Buffy's face, and went on, "Look, I know how hard you've worked at training with Giles, even though you're not a Slayer anymore. You're better than me when it comes to technique —" (never mind that she no longer had supernatural speed or strength or the ability to heal from crippling injuries) "— and you're the best fighter of all the Slay Friends. I know how Angel's mind works. The whole point on this is that if I save one, I kill the other. He'll have it set up so that whichever place I go, I'll get to take my best shot, and if I get through, then he'll have a call go to the other location."
"So you're wanting us to try and hit both places at the same time," Buffy said. "It won't work, though, you said they'll kill their prisoners if anybody but you shows up."
"Right," Cordelia replied. "So it has to be me in both places."
Buffy's eyes went blank, and Cordelia could all but see the thoughts racing behind them. The two girls began talking at once.
"You're taller than me —"
"— but you wear those big clunky heels —"
"— hair, there's time to get mine dyed dark —"
"— or a wig, my mother has one you could use —"
"— I'd have to wear your clothes —"
"— and weapons, lots of weapons, you'll be facing heavy odds and you don't have the Slayer deal going for you now —"
"It won't work," Buffy said. The eagerness faded from her expression, and she slumped. "Even if we go in at the same time, no way can we guarantee to win at the same time. We'd be racing each other, and the loser would be the one to blame for whoever died. It still comes out the same, only the guilt is different."
Damn it! "No," Cordelia said. "No, I won't let him do this to us. There has to be a way." She thought hard, all her force and focus directed at finding an opening that could be exploited. "Look, you remember the vamp who stole that Tupac book from the library for Spike? the little guy with glasses? Well, the other night —"
"Oh!" Buffy said abruptly. Cordelia gave her a Huh? look, and she said, "Sorry, I just got it. The Du Lac book. And it was somebody else who stole it, you're talking about the guy who took the Du Lac cross from that mausoleum."
Cordelia dismissed it with a wave. "Whatever. The thing is, a couple of nights ago I spotted him maybe a block from that factory where the Anointed One used to hang out. We know they're working out of at least two locations right now, and vampires aren't long on originality, so I'm thinking they may have re-opened one of their old lairs —"
"I get it," Buffy said. "If that's where they're keeping Willow, we don't have to wait for Angel's call, we can get a jump on him."
Cordelia nodded. "Right. So how about this: I'll get myself set up at the mansion, and you check out the factory. Do it ninja-style, sneak in slow and careful. If there are any vamps there, avoid contact, work at finding Willow. Once you do, call me on my cell, and I'll start tearing through the mansion. Then, when you're ready, you hit 'em with everything you have, death in all directions, toss some of the weapons to Willow and try to hold out."
"Me and Willow," Buffy said without enthusiasm.
Cordelia ignored it, she was riding the wave. "We'll set it up so Giles and the others are waiting, call them right after you call me. He'll lead the rest of the Slay Friends in after you and Willow … you can even wait till they start their attack, then jump out to help Willow, the vamps in the factory will be fighting on two fronts at once. And if we get it done quick enough, finish before sundown, you can all retreat into daylight where they can't follow you."
"Why not me at the mansion?" Buffy insisted. "No offense, Cordy, but … you don't really play well with others. I mean, you're a one-woman wrecking crew, but teamwork isn't your strong suit. Willow could keep up with you a lot better than Xander could, and be a lot more help to you, and the Slay Friends could fight their way to us a lot faster at the mansion than they could at the factory." She hesitated, then added the words that both of them knew were waiting. "He needs me. I have to be there for him."
Still doing her Xander-obsession thing! Cordelia clamped down on the bite-her-head-off impulse that struggled to get out. "Maybe. We can talk about that as we go. But I really think you'll have to take the factory, it's just so much easier to sneak around there. The mansion is better for smash-and-grab … and hey, you know Cordy, mindless destruction is even more fun than shopping!" It took concentration, but she forced her voice to be gentle. "I'll be careful with him, Buffy. I promise."
Buffy didn't look pleased, but she seemed to decide not to push the argument just yet. "If we try it the way you said, there's no reason for me to dress like you."
"Probably we should anyway." Cordelia headed for the parking lot, and Buffy followed automatically. "I mean, if anything goes wrong and they spot you, they have to see the Slayer or they'll kill their prisoner. We'd still be back in the race you talked about, but at least we'd have a chance of saving them both."
As Cordelia pulled her convertible away from the school and started for her home, Buffy asked, "Shouldn't we tell the others where we're going? They'll need to know about this plan of yours, and we don't want them to think we got snatched, too. Oz must be worried sick about Willow —"
"I haven't told anybody else yet," Cordelia said. Buffy stared at her, and she went on. "You're right, Oz would want to do whatever it took to get Willow back safe, same as you are about Xander. But the rest of them? Marcie's still holding a grudge against me from my snob-princess days. Nancy doesn't care which side she argues on, as long as she can keep an argument going, and Tucker will back her up on anything she says. Owen's a sweetie, but he'll follow whoever was the last one to give orders. And Giles …" She glanced over toward the former Slayer. "What do you think Giles would do, if he knew where Angel and Drusilla might be staying?"
Buffy actually shuddered. "He'd burn the whole place to the ground," she said. "And convince himself we could get Xander out in time." She looked to Cordelia. "They'll have to know sooner or later. I mean, they're supposed to be my backup, and that doesn't work if they don't know where I am."
"You're right," Cordelia said. "But we'll want to time it so they don't have a chance to object. Too early and they could come up with ideas of their own … and we might not like those ideas."
Buffy nodded reluctant acceptance; clearly, details would still have to be worked out, but they'd come to that in due course. "You've always liked to get your own way," she said, "but I never knew you could be so sneaky. Is this one of those head-cheerleader things?"
Cordelia gave that a pfft! "Nope, it's straight out of Dealing With Parents 101. You know, the part where it's easier to get forgiveness than permission."
Once she would have followed that with something about 'letting them deal with a fat accomplice'. She knew perfectly well that it was fait accompli, but show too much knowledge and people would start thinking you were a nerd. It had been months since she'd cared about such considerations, however … plus, the mention of parents had pushed her mood even more to the somber.
It was a quarter to two when they arrived at her house. Luckily, her mother wasn't home. Cordelia just wasn't up for another lecture right now, and Mom had gotten really big on the mother-daughter involvement thing after Daddy 'disappeared' …
Before that, she'd loved being the Slayer. 'Queen C' by day, the Chosen One (or whatever) by night, and naturally she ruled at both. She and Angel, side by side, scourge of the netherworld … What hurt most, looking back, was that she still didn't really have a clue as to when Spike had made her father a vampire. Carlton Chase was seldom home before dark anyhow, too many connections to be made and deals to be finalized (and secretaries to meet after hours? those were the rumors, at least). It could have been weeks before Spike decided the time was right for them to strike, though she really didn't see him having that kind of patience.
The invaders had hit too quickly and ruthlessly for her to have any time to wonder how they had gotten into her house without invitation. She had battled from room to room, herding her father ahead of her while she fought a vicious rear-guard action, and she would have been one very surprised, very dead May Queen if Angel hadn't slashed his way into shouting distance just as her father, behind her, had let his demon face come out and gone for her throat.
Some vampires dusted faster than others. It never took more than four or five seconds, but sometimes they had time to get out a few words. Carlton Chase went almost instantly, but she would forever choose to believe she had heard him say, "Good girl," before he shimmered into ash around the stake she had thrust reflexively into his heart. Cordelia had gone insane then, killing eight more vampires in the next twenty seconds before the rest fled in terror, leaving her only to scream and weep.
She had thought that was the worst it could ever be. Wrong, wrong, wrong. She had clung to Angel, grief and guilt and pain and the aftermath of battle bringing down the last barriers between them, and fallen asleep in his arms. She awoke alone in the wrecked, dust-strewn house, and even then she didn't know that the nightmare had only begun, that she had lost the two men she loved most in the same terrible night.
So, no more best-of-both-worlds. She was pure Slayer now, and Harmony reigned in her place, laughing and making little quips about falling off the social ladder whenever they passed in the halls. Fine, she could have it, and Buffy was welcome to try and keep up the separate day/ night lifestyle thing. Cordelia had other priorities … like working out a going-away party for Spike that involved chains, a propane torch, holy water in a perfume spritzer, and mirrors to direct the sunlight just so.
He was going to learn the hard way: you don't mess with the queen.