Disclaimer: I do not own BtVS, AtS, or any of the characters portrayed therein. They belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy, etc... of which I have zero affiliation. I'm just borrowing them to entertain myself for a little while.
Author's Note: Sorry I didn't get around to posting another chapter this past week like I mentioned I was going to try to, ended up being a pretty hectic week work-wise and I was just too exhausted at the end of the day to try and edit.
Anyway, I now have up to chapter 10 edited and uploaded on here, so just keep your fingers crossed that I have enough time over the next two weeks to go through more chapters!
Chapter 8: Unearthed
The rest of the week following the meeting in the Magic Box had unravelled rather uneventfully. We'd seen no other trace of the Valkesch demon, which had put the others at ease, however, I still feared it had already found what it was looking for, and was on its way back to Wolfram & Hart with the scroll. My calls to check-in with the gang back in L.A. had revealed that they hadn't discovered anything either, but I couldn't help the grim feeling that hung over me. I suppose perhaps that was the cost of knowing what the future held.
The only thing it seemed I had to be thankful for at the moment, was that things with Buffy had been slowly repairing themselves. Patrols were becoming less and less awkward, and it seemed that even just in the short time that had passed, she was beginning to act more like her old self around me. I wasn't around the rest of the group nearly enough to gauge her behaviour the rest of the time, but it encouraged me to see that she was making a bit of progress.
As we wandered deeper into the cemetery, the silence was now comfortable, instead of awkward or painful. If it wasn't for the impending doom that I knew wasn't so far off in the horizon, I would have gone as far as to say it was almost a pleasant evening.
"You know," Buffy began, "I'm starting to feel bad that I'm keeping you away from L.A. for so long."
"It's not a big deal, really," I assured her, "I've been checking in with them, and they have everything under control. There hasn't really been anything they've had to handle that wasn't run-of-the-mill."
"Are you sure? Because I know it's been a few years, but I still have trouble picturing Cordelia successfully fighting demons," she chuckled.
"She's changed a lot, I think you'd be surprised," I grinned.
"So you keep saying, but I think I'll have to see it to believe it."
"You know, I may even go as far as to say you two would get along nowadays."
"Angel, I haven't gotten used enough to you making jokes yet for you to say things like that." she smirked.
I chuckled, "Seriously though, they're doing fine without me. Don't worry."
"I can't help it," she shrugged, "I think maybe the whole legal-guardian thing has stirred up some sort of maternal instinct in me, I worry about things I know I shouldn't."
"How are things with Dawn, anyway?" I asked, hoping to change the subject. The less she asked about everything back in Los Angeles, the fewer lies I would have to concoct for why I was staying for so long.
Buffy sighed, "We have our days. I try to remember how I felt at fifteen, to maybe get some of her perspective on things... but then I remember that I was killing vampires and burning down gymnasiums, so... not the best source of reference."
I smiled sympathetically, for two sisters who both had such abnormal adolescences, it was sad they couldn't find some common ground.
"Maybe it's just 'cause I'm older now looking back, but I don't remember being such a brat." she seethed.
"You weren't." I agreed hastily, "Not that Dawn is all that bad... I mean... she's..." I rambled, feeling that I'd unintentionally insulted Dawn.
Buffy laughed quietly, "Smooth."
"I'm sorry. I wish I could be more help, but it's been a very long time since I was a teenager."
"Can you even remember that far back?" she teased.
"It's a little hazy, to be honest." I smirked.
She smiled back at me, a small gesture that almost made my heart flutter. Given her state of being over the past couple of weeks, just that small indication that she could feel happiness was enough to warm my heart.
I wasn't given more time to dwell on the improvements in Buffy's mental health, however, as the faint sounds of something shuffling through the grass nearby caught my attention. I stopped in my tracks to listen more closely for a direction.
"What is it?" Buffy whispered, halting at my side and pulling out a stake.
"There's something through the trees... this way," I silently lead her towards the gathering of trees, and in the cover of their shadowy leaves we peered deeper into the cemetery.
A few mere paces away, we discovered the Valkesch, weaving through the tombstones. Not knowing it was being watched or pursued, it moved at a normal pace.
"What's it doing out here?" Buffy whispered, "Whitlock's crypt isn't even in this cemetery."
"Maybe it didn't find what it was looking for last time," I suggested quietly, "Let's tail it."
Beside me, Buffy nodded, and we slowly fell into step behind the demon, hanging back far enough as to not be detected. It travelled further and further into the darkness of the cemetery, to the point where the city's streetlights no longer reached us.
I suddenly felt Buffy grope for my hand, and realized she was having trouble seeing in the pitch black. I clutched her hand tightly in my own, trying my best to ignore the tingle that shot up my arm as soon as our skin made contact. Now especially was not the time to let my emotions distract me, although I found it difficult not to dwell on the fact that to me, this was the first time we'd had any physical contact in a hundred years. I struggled to keep my eyes forward, and follow where the demon was heading, all I wanted to do was turn and crush Buffy's body to my own. Her hand felt exactly the same slipped inside my palm as I'd remembered, and it left me wanting more after so many years of longing to touch her just one more time.
Battling my urges, I didn't really notice where the Valkesch was heading as it skirted around a large church, and into an alley behind it.
It was then that Buffy stopped dead in her tracks, and her grip on my hand tightened significantly, tugging me back towards her.
I turned back to her, and discovered her frozen in fear. Her eyes were wide in horror, and I heard a breath catch in her throat. "What is it?" I asked.
"This... this is how you get into the church." she whispered.
Of course. I felt foolish for not realizing where we were headed, but now that she'd reminded me, it only made sense. The Master's lair, the church that Whitlock had built, lay underneath this city block.
"We need to keep going Buffy," I said gently, "Will you be okay?"
Trying her best to bury her fear, she merely nodded , and let me lead her into the alley.
Once we were underground, we moved much more slowly. With the Master being long dead, there were no longer any candles to light the way through the church, so Buffy continued to clutch my hand blindly as I led her through the cavernous hallways.
Up ahead, I began to hear some scuffling, and as we drew nearer, I could see a faint light coming from a room up ahead. As silently as we could, we approached the doorway, and peered into the main room of the old church. The dim light was coming from a sole candelabra that had been lit near the far end of the room, and behind it a shadow moved along the back wall. The scuffling we'd heard in the hallway now sounded more like someone digging and chipping away at the stone, and we crept along the wall next to the door, trying our best to stay in the darkness as we tried to get a closer look at what the Valkesch was doing.
Suddenly, the shadow straightened, and directly behind the candelabra the Valkesch reappeared clutching something in its hands. I could barely see it in the darkness as it turned to face us, but I was still certain of what I saw; it was a scroll. Old and weathered, and sealed with wax so aged it was blackened. I froze in fear, knowing full well what I was staring at, but Buffy sprang into action as the demon's eyes fell on us. She charged towards it, but it was too late, the Valkesch charged her at full speed, a blur of blueish mauve, sending her flying through the air and causing her to land winded on her back. Without slowing down it was then out the door, and out of sight.
I rushed towards Buffy, and helped her to a sitting position as she sputtered and gasped for air.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
She coughed and nodded in response, and I offered her my hand. She took it, and I pulled her to her feet. Looking towards the door, she scowled after the demon, "What's he got to be in such a hurry for?" she wheezed.
"He had the scroll." I muttered, moving towards the back of the church where it sounded like the creature had been digging.
There was a moment of stunned silence before Buffy answered, "Are you sure?"
"But... it was moving so fast, how did you see?"
"It had the scroll in its hand, I know what I saw."
Buffy began to move slowly towards me, once she was close enough, she picked up the large stand with the candelabra, and brought it with her to the back wall where I stood, gazing down at the ground.
At the base of the wall, where it met the floor, a hole had been chiseled out of the stone. It was about a foot and a half wide, and the same in height. Sitting on the floor was a small wooden box, opened, and empty. Buffy placed the candelabra beside her, and bent down to pick up the box.
"Well, it found something," she murmured.
"We should go to Giles'. He needs to know." I stated.
"Maybe... maybe it was a decoy..." Buffy suggested weakly, "I mean, a crappy wooden box in the wall? Hardly a hiding place for a weapon of the apocalypse!"
"The more unassuming, the less likely someone who stumbles across it will think it's something of value. Let's go see Giles."
Nodding sombrely, Buffy tucked the box underneath her arm, and followed me out of the church.
If I needed to avert the apocalypse in order to save Buffy, I'd already failed.
We sat across from Giles as the silence hung thick in the air. His eyes kept flickering between us, and the empty wooden box that now sat on his coffee table. His brow was deeply furrowed, and he'd already removed his glasses twice to rub his temples, and clean his glasses before replacing them on his nose.
"Angel, could you describe the scroll to me again..." he murmured grimly.
"Old wooden dowels, very weathered paper or parchment... and I definitely saw multiple wax seals. The Valkesch had its hands over it, so I could tell how many but..." I trailed off as Giles nodded.
"I'm afraid I have a bad feeling about this." he mused.
"So do I," I agreed. I didn't turn to look at Buffy, but I could feel the tension radiating off of her. I was sure it was no help to the healing process to see the horrified looks on both Giles' and my faces, but this was serious, I didn't see how we could hide it.
"Giles, I thought you said the Valkesch were peaceful... why are we freaking out?" she asked quietly. She was uneasy, I'm sure it was disconcerting for her to see me, with the amount of things I'd seen and done, troubled by something that could be so insignificant. Her last brush with an apocalyptic event had taken her life, and this one seemed to be on an even larger scale.
"Regardless of the Valkesch's intentions," Giles began, "Having an artifact with such powers loose in the world is a tremendously frightening thought."
"Not to mention, we don't know if the Valkesch are being used by someone else; someone who's plans may be a lot more sinister." I added.
"Precisely," Giles muttered, staring down at the box once more.
"Well, then we just have to find where these Valkesch are hiding out, and steal the scroll back!" Buffy exclaimed, rising from her seat, "This is Sunnydale after all, they can't be very far! What does that book say about them?"
"That may not be as easy as you think Buffy," I replied, "You saw how quickly they move, it would be next to impossible-" I began.
"So that's it? They're too fast, they could be working for a big evil, blah, blah, blah, and you're both willing to just sit on your hands while they start an apocalypse?" Buffy interrupted, "I'm really happy you weren't this depressing when we met Giles, I wouldn't have lasted a day!" she turned to me, "And you! Is this how you save souls in L.A.?"
I snapped my mouth shut, and stared quietly at her as she rested her hands on her hips defiantly. There was a fire and determination in her eyes that I hadn't seen there since I'd arrived back here in Sunnydale. I suddenly felt like I was staring at the Buffy who rallied her graduating high school class together to take down a Mayor-turned-giant-snake. The Buffy who would never take "no" as an answer, and would do whatever it took to win.
I turned to Giles, who looked about as floored as I did. A hint of a smile twitched on his lips, as admiration filled his eyes. "You're absolutely right, Buffy," he answered, rising from his seat, "I'll continue researching tonight. If I discover anything, I'll call you tomorrow."
Buffy nodded, "Good. See, we're making a plan! That's how we keep the world from ending! Now, I'm gonna go home to get some sleep, and make sure Dawn's actually studying like she promised me she would."
My knees were blocking her path between the couch and the coffee table, she stepped over them, and marched towards the front door. Before disappearing around the corner, she stopped and turned back, "Meet me at the Magic Box tomorrow?" she asked me.
I simply nodded, and she disappeared out the door with a smile.
Giles stared after her for a few seconds before turning back to me, "It's like night and day..." he muttered, "She's got passion again, she's not just fighting on instinct."
"She's doing a lot better Giles, I think it was just a matter of giving her some time to adjust," it was really just a matter of her knowing she wasn't keeping her secret alone, but he didn't need to know that.
"I'm sure having you here did help though," Giles continued, "She does... she does draw some strength from having you around..." he added hesitantly.
I smiled sadly, I knew it was hard for Giles to admit that anything I ever did - aside from leave - helped Buffy. If he'd known what I did caused for her in the end, however, he would have never uttered those words.
"I'm sorry you've been dragged into this situation, Angel. I'm sure you have things you should be attending to back in Los Angeles," he apologized.
"It's nothing Giles, really," I assured him, as I rose from my seat to leave, "You know I'd do anything to make sure Buffy stays safe."
The next day I was on the phone with L.A. Again. With the speed at which the Valkesch could move, I was certain if Wolfram & Hart had sent it here looking for the scroll it would already be back at the firm. My gang needed to be alert, and perhaps they could stop this from going any further. I wasn't having any luck getting any information from Cordelia however, as she was far too involved in re-telling how the latest case had ruined yet more of her clothing.
"And then," she punctuated, "I fell into this stinky pool of disgusting, gooey, demon slime because I tried to push the stupid girl out of the way! I was in the shower all night! I'm pretty sure I still smell, but Wes and Gunn are too nice to admit it."
I sighed, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the world ended, at least I wouldn't have to pay the water bill for the Hyperion, "I'm sorry you got all smelly Cordy,"
"You don't have to be sorry Angel! I just wanted you to know how hard we're all working while you're not here!"
"And I appreciate it, I really do, but look, did Wes find anything about that demon? The Valkesch?" I pressed, hoping to get the conversation back on topic.
"That creepy looking purple thing you told Gunn about? No, we haven't seen any. What kind of a colour is purple for a demon anyway? I mean it's not very intimidating." Cordelia rambled.
"They're usually peaceful demons, they keep to themselves... but that's not important, listen, I'm worried Wolfram & Hart might be using their abilities to get something. I need you all to do whatever you can to get any inside information about any sort of plans they have." I explained.
"Sure... but what are we looking for?" Cordelia asked.
"It's a scroll, a very dangerous one. They can't get their hands on it or the consequences could be dire."
"You've been hanging out with Giles a lot haven't you? You're starting to talk like him."
She sighed, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry... Sunnydale! Blech! It brings out the worst in me!" she was quiet for a moment, "What kind of a scroll? What does it do?"
"Basically... it ends the world." I confessed.
She sighed again, "I shouldn't have even asked."
"If you uncover anything, call me right away." I begged.
"If this is so apocalyptic, why can't you come back to deal with it?" she asked, there was fear, not frustration, colouring her voice.
"We're just making sure it's not still in Sunnydale... plus there are other things I need to deal with." I lied.
"Other, Buffy-type things you need to deal with?" she asked, a little exasperated.
"I can't drag her into this Cordy, she-"
"I know Angel." she assured me.
"If I come back now, she'll follow me... and she's not ready to deal with something like this."
She would also end up dead, but there would be no convincing Cordelia that I knew that for a fact. Although I risked having my friends judge me, I knew there was no way I could run back to Los Angeles now, not until I had determined a way to keep Buffy safe.
"I said I understand Angel. We'll call when we know something,"
"Thank you Cordy."
I hung up the phone, and lowered myself onto the edge of the hearth. It would be hard to hide the real reason why I couldn't go back to L.A. from my team while I continued to check in on the state of things over there. They could be in serious danger, I couldn't stay here and let them die.
However, as long as I was here, Buffy would be safe.
The fire crackled behind me as I sat perched on the edge of the mansion hearth. Nothing but the glow of the flames illuminated the room. I had no need or desire for light. The light of my life had be extinguished... her light had been extinguished. If I could have just sat in that one place, in the shadows, for the rest of my days it would have sufficed.
I glanced down once more at the photo clutched between my fingertips, and a pang of longing shot through me. Initially, I'd felt bad about looking through Buffy's belongings. Even though she no longer needed them, it seemed like an invasion of her privacy.
That was, until I'd come across this.
In the wake of Spike's confession, and after a valiant attempt to get Dawn to unlock her door and let me in so I could comfort her, I found myself sitting alone in Buffy's room, unable to face the now shell-shocked gathering of her friends downstairs. I ran my hand over her bedspread, the room felt as empty as the rest of the house did without her in it. Rising slowly I crossed to her vanity, studying her smiling face in the photographs sitting on top of its surface.
I would give anything to see her smile like that one last time.
Looking down, I noticed one of the drawers hadn't been closed completely. Pausing, with my fingers lightly wrapped around the pull, I asked myself what I thought I was doing? Whatever Buffy had in those drawers was none of my business, but as though my arm was not connected to my brain it pulled the drawer open anyway, where I discovered sitting on top of some discarded cosmetics, a stake, and a comb; Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elisabeth Barrett Browning.
I felt tears prick behind my eyes as I reached into the drawer to lift out the small volume I'd given her just over three years ago. I didn't know how it made me feel, the fact that she'd kept it. Part of me was thrilled, that despite the fact she'd moved on, been with other men, she still had it somewhere close at hand. The other part of me was screaming in despair, cursing whatever Powers there were for taking her away from me when we could've had another chance. I blinked away the tears, no amount of weeping would bring her back.
I begun to fan through the pages quickly, when the book fell open to a page near the middle, where a folded piece of photo paper had been stuffed in the margin. Plucking it gently from inside the book, I placed it back inside the drawer, before unfolding the photograph; if I'd been breathing, I'm certain it would have been knocked out of my chest as my eyes fell on the image in my hands.
It was a candid shot, from the looks of it, taken from far enough away that we wouldn't have known there was a camera on us. Buffy's eyes were closed, her head resting gently on my chest, our hands clasped together. She was wearing a silky pink gown, her hair half-up, pinned at the nape of her neck. I was dressed in a tuxedo, my eyes closed as well, with my chin resting lightly atop her head.
It was her prom.
I had been careful to stay away from anyone with a camera, and Buffy hadn't seemed to mind. Even though I'd known it had meant a great deal to her that I had shown up, I didn't want to ruin her memories of the evening by having her flip through photos, and be reminded that I'd left town a few short weeks later. I supposed I hadn't been as vigilant as I'd thought.
My hands began to shake as I continued to stare at the picture. We looked so wrapped up in each other; so comfortable, and completely oblivious that there was even anyone in the room aside from ourselves. It was the way it always seemed to be with Buffy, the world could be burning around us, but all I would see would be her... I remember she once told me that when she looked to the future, all she saw was me – at the time I thought it was just her adolescence talking, the fact that slaying had her living day to day like it could be her last. I knew looking at the weathered photograph, the crease through the middle beginning to turn white from being opened and refolded so many times that it wasn't the case. In going to L.A. I'd pushed any thoughts of a future with Buffy to the back of my mind, but I could admit to myself now that I'd never truly let go of them. It seemed that neither had she.
I slipped the picture into the breast pocket of my jacket, and guilt I'd previously felt at sifting through her belongings had been forgotten by the immense amount of loss that had swelled up inside me. I exited the room, descended the steps, and strode out the front door without even looking to the gathering in the living room. No one even acknowledged I'd left, or tried to stop me, and I didn't care.
I'd returned immediately to the Mansion to sit in the dark, which is exactly where Cordelia found me an hour later, still perched on the hearth.
She slipped silently through the front door, and closed it slowly, as though she were trying not to disturb me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her remove her heels, and gather them in her hand before tip-toeing across the cold stone floor of the mansion towards the fireplace. If I hadn't been so wrapped up in staring at the photograph, I would have found it endearing that she was trying so hard to be quiet.
She slid onto the hearth next to me, her head bowed, and took a pause before she spoke, "Dawn's calmed down. Tara finally managed to get her to open her bedroom door." she whispered, "I thought you'd be relieved to hear..."
I merely nodded in response, never taking my eyes off the photograph.
She was quiet again for a beat, and I could see that her knuckles were white as she clutched her shoes, "How... how long have you known?"
Without even asking, I knew she was talking about the bombshell Spike had dropped on everyone just a few hours earlier. "Since we met up to talk for the first time after she came back." I muttered, "She made me swear I wouldn't tell."
Cordelia nodded almost imperceptibly, "Terrible..."
I wasn't sure I would have heard her if not for my heightened sense of hearing.
She turned her head slightly, and her eyes finally fell on the picture between my hands. She smiled sadly, "Where did you find that?"
"Buffy's room." I admitted.
"Willow snapped it when the two of you weren't paying attention," Cordelia recounted, "She thought you guys looked so peaceful, and said you two deserved to have at least one happy memory..."
She trailed off, or I'd stopped paying attention to her words, I couldn't decide. The absolute despair I'd kept punching down further and further inside myself since she'd passed began to rise up again. I swiftly folded the picture, forcing myself to look away from the image of the woman I'd never again get to hold, when I noticed Cordelia was quietly shaking with sobs beside me.
"Cordy?" I asked softly, placing a comforting hand on her back.
"I'm sorry Angel, I'm so sorry..." she wept.
"Don't be. There's nothing you could've done. She knew the risks of being the Slayer, we all knew we could lose her -"
"No!" she interrupted, as a sob hitched in her chest, "It was my fault... she was there because of me..." she whimpered.
I searched her face, the guilt in her eyes was immense, "I don't understand..."
"She came to L.A. because I called her." Cordelia whispered, "The vision I had... the one with the white horse and the Wolfram & Hart building?"
"Yes..." I nodded, still unsure of what she was trying to tell me.
She sniffled, "That wasn't all I saw."
Dread began to wash over me, part of me was afraid of what she would say next, "What else did you see?"
"I saw them all," she admitted tearfully, "War, Famine, Death... they were there too. And then..." she paused and sucked in a shaky breath, "and then I saw you die."
I was beginning to see the whole picture now. My shoulders slumped, as the real circumstances behind Buffy's surprise arrival in L.A. began to weave themselves together in my head.
"And I was too afraid to tell you! Because I knew you would just tell me it was meant to be, and I didn't want you to die!" Cordelia sobbed, "You're my friend and I was so scared for you, so I called her to come help, because I knew she would want to save you as much as I did! But I didn't want her to die, I didn't think she would die! She's Buffy for Christ sakes!"
"Shhh, it's okay Cordy, it's not your fault," I soothed.
"I didn't want her to die again..." she cried.
"Shhh," I repeated, as I drew her closer to my side, and rubbed her back as she continued to sob. It really was my fault. Every last detail leading up to Buffy's death was caused because of me, if I had not already been swimming in guilt, I certainly was now.
In my free hand, I crumpled the photograph, and threw it into the flames behind me.
Buffy had deserved to hang on to that peaceful memory.
I, on the other hand, did not.
So there you have it; the strange looks between Buffy and Cordy weren't because there was something going on between Cordelia and Angel! Maybe the crying and blaming herself is a bit out of character, but I like to think she's evolved as a person, and her friendship with Angel is strong enough that she would possibly feel guilty for something like this even if it wasn't merited. Not to mention that I've been trying really hard while writing this to look at the characters from Angel's perspective instead of my own as a viewer. I think people see different sides of one another depending on what type of relationship you have with them. I feel like with how their friendship has evolved, she'd be more willing to be a bit vulnerable in his presence than she would with others.
Backtracking a bit now, I know where I placed the old church is completely inaccurate, but f*ck it, this is fanfiction... I'll do what I want with Sunnydale's layout (within reason of course, and only if I can't really remember what it's really supposed to look like...)!