Angelus and an evil ally find a ritual that could destory Buffy forever and Cordelia falls into the trap.
Joss Whedon and the WB own all Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters. I'm just borrowing them for fun. Thanks to Mediancat and JJericho for beta reading!!!
Chapter One - Chapter Two - Chapter Three - Chapter Four - Chapter Five
Casting an appreciative eye towards a few members of the baseball team, Cordelia Chase sauntered down the west wing of Sunnydale High School and observed the boys in their fresh new uniforms. Cordelia was decked out pretty well herself, as usual, in the first really short skirt of the season and a top with pansies on it. Her dark brown hair was caught up in a mass at the crown of her head with two silver sticks. If you looked close enough, the sticks had pansies etched into them.
"Hey, Cordelia," Buffy Summers greeted her cheerfully as she passed her locker. Cordelia stopped and bestowed a rare smile of greeting to her unpopular friend.
"Have you seen the baseball team in the new uniforms yet? Yummy."
"No, I haven't been paying attention to that much lately," Buffy confessed, and wrinkled her nose. Cordelia arched one eyebrow.
"What's with this nun act?" she demanded. "You can't waste away over Angel forever. Look at you! You've got last year's makeup, for goodness sakes. Besides, it's Spring." Cordelia repeated this last sentence with a flourish of her hand. Buffy repeated the gesture.
"So, snow is melting, flowers are coming up, young men in tight new uniforms… it's like nature's pheromones."
"Cordelia, it's March. You went skiing last weekend." Buffy's voice was light and teasing. She hadn't seen Cordelia in such a good mood since she'd been crowned Queen at the school's Winter Carnival.
"And this weekend I am giving you a total makeover. Willow too, if she doesn't break out in hives at the thought." Cordelia waved a carefully manicured hand and flounced off, happily ignoring an admiring whistle that came her way.
Buffy's eyes widened. She stood and watched Cordelia leave, unable to believe what she had just heard. Cordelia never offered to hang out with her, or especially Willow, without some ulterior motive. And that motive usually had a selfish bent and was revealed in the first five minutes of her plea.
Buffy reached out and grabbed the sleeve of her friend Xander as he walked by.
"Houston, we have a problem," she informed him gravely.
"Prophecy about to unfold? Armageddon happening after lunch? Giles turned into a giant worm?"
"What? No, it's Cordelia. She was nice to me. On purpose, for no apparent reason other that- that it's Spring," Buffy said incredulously. Xander nodded his head wisely.
"We call this the annual spring thaw. Lasts about two weeks, ever since first grade. You're lucky to have been a witness to this rare and endangered species."
"Not as lucky as you," Buffy teased knowingly. Xander couldn't stop the blush that set fire to his cheeks. Unfortunately, Willow Rosenberg came around the corner and saw it before he hung his head.
"Xander blushing? Must be spring thaw," she nodded to Buffy.
The three of them headed towards the library.
"I don't know," Buffy was wary. "The idea of a truly benevolent Cordelia just doesn't seem natural to me."
"Don't look a gift Cordelia in the mouth," Willow advised, altering a metaphor.
Inside the library dust motes swirled in the afternoon light. The oak table was polished to a golden hue and for once was not cluttered with ancient leather tomes. The strains of La Traviata wafted from Giles' open office door, accompanied by the familiar sound of a silver spoon against the sides of a teacup.
"Giles?" Buffy called. Willow and Xander sat their books down on the table and lounged in the chairs. Giles came out of his office and smiled briefly. His laugh lines were pronounced and there was a bit of gray in his sandy brown hair, but he was still a young man. Young enough to fall in love, get married…--Buffy stopped her thoughts right there. Thinking of Giles in love was worse than thinking of her mom in love. Not pleasant to comprehend.
"Good afternoon," he said. "Tea?"
"I'll have some," Willow said, surprising them all. "What?" she protested. "I spend a lot of time in here and one day I had some tea, and it was good, and…"
"Slow down, Will. Just never figured you for a tea and crumpets kind of girl," Buffy amended.
Willow turned to Giles hopefully.
"Do we have crumpets?"
He nodded excitedly and served her a cup of tea with a crumpet wrapped up in a napkin. Xander shook his head, but allowed Willow to feed him a piece of the crumpet.
"Hey, not bad," he allowed, and swiped another bite.
"Xander, get your own," Willow chided sternly. A little too sternly, for she hadn't been prepared for the warm shock that ran through her body when Xander's tongue innocently licked her finger. She cast her eyelashes down and hoped he didn't notice, which he didn't. Typical Xander.
Giles gave Xander his own crumpet, feeling pleased that his young teenage students were finally appreciating something he liked. They tolerated opera, he tolerated their "grinding sounds," and they generally co-existed in a comfortable generation gap.
"Bye the way," Willow said off-handedly, "does anybody know what Beltaine is?"
"It's an ancient Celtic holiday occurring May first. It coincides with our Spring Equinox. It's chiefly a druid fertility celebration. Why do you ask?" Giles spouted forth knowledge like a CD-ROM encyclopedia.
"Oh. Well, one of Ms. Calendar's newsgroups put out a serious warning about someone messing up the holidays and that Beltaine might come early." Willow bit into a second crumpet and licked the crumbs off her lips. Watching Willow had sent a piercing vein of lust through Xander that he hadn't felt with anyone but Cordelia for a very long time. Too ashamed to acknowledge that *Willow* had made him react so, Xander swallowed hard and looked away.
"What?" Giles seemed taken aback. "Impossible. Where did you read this?"
"From 'Druid Fire,' a website based in Ireland. Why the wiggins?" Willow began to be concerned. Giles started pacing the floor. He took off his glasses and pinched the skin between his eyes. It was a tired, nervous gesture, and it made Buffy worrisome.
"Are we having an impending sense of doom?" she asked.
"Quite. There's an ancient prophecy in the Pergamum Codex which…" Giles was interrupted by three very frustrated groans.
"I hate the Codex!" Buffy exclaimed.
"Yeah. Tell it we don't want any more prophecies. I was going to get a makeover this weekend," Willow protested. Xander stared at her, waved a hand in front of her face.
"You okay? Sounded like Cordelia for a minute there." He laughed nervously.
"Oh dear," Giles said softly, blinking at Willow. She looked innocently up at him, growing increasingly worried. Was he about to announce that Buffy's life would be on the line again? Willow didn't know how many more episodes of her best girl friend going to her doom she could take. It wasn't fair that Buffy had no choice about her career, and it was even more unfair that she was always at the brunt of whatever ancient hocus-pocus that threatened Sunnydale.
"Willow, I'm afraid I'm going to need you to spend the rest of the day on your computer. That's only one period, and can you stay after school?"
"Giles, what is it?" Buffy wanted to know. She crossed her arms and stared at him.
"Don't give me the look," he warned the Chosen One. "I'll let you know the moment we find something conclusive. I-It might be best for you to brush up on your pre-medieval weapons training after school, though."
"That's reassuring," Buffy said sarcastically.
"Couldn't you just say, 'we're in trouble'?" Xander added. Willow downed the rest of her tea in one big gulp and moved over to the computer. Giles disappeared into the stacks, leaving Buffy and Xander standing helplessly at the end of the table. Buffy warily eyed the plate of crumpets and decided against British pastry for the simple reason that she'd never seen Giles consume anything she'd like.
"Come on," Buffy sighed. "We'll only be in the way. Besides, you have to take notes for Willow in History."
"That'll send her to Yale," Xander sneered as they left the library.
Buffy did not dawdle on the way to the library after school. Xander and Cordelia trailed behind her, arm in arm. Willow hovered over the laser printer as it spit out the information she wanted. Giles puttered in the cage, making loud clanging noises as he unearthed some old training weapons.
"Hey, Giles!" Buffy called. "Do we have knowledge yet?" A huge crash came from the cage, with what sounded like a platter wobbling itself upright on the hard linoleum floor.
"Or, maybe a pep band?" Xander guessed. Giles came out of the cage, laden with tarnished silver weapons and a large mahogany chest inlaid with precious gems.
"You just keep this stuff in the library? That's more than four carats!" Cordelia squealed, pouncing on the box to inspect a large emerald.
"Who would look for anything valuable here?" Giles argued. "Besides, the stones aren't real."
Cordelia raised her eyebrows.
"Sorry, Watcher Extraordinaire, but they most certainly are. Believe me. If there's one thing I know, it's jewels."
Giles paled and tightened his grip on the sturdy box. Cordelia wrested it out of his hands and brought it over to the table for further inspection. Buffy relieved Giles of the heavy claymore and shield, the broadsword and the pile of chainmail.
"Hail, Sir Buffy," Xander teased. "Giles, what's with that?"
"I- I'm afraid I have some bad news. Buffy, you might try on the chainmail, for starters. Xander, I need you to try on this pair of antlers." Giles thrust a pair of deer antlers at Xander. Two braided leather thongs dangled down the sides, with a silver buckle to hold them on.
Xander and Buffy just looked at him. Overwhelmed by the vast opportunity for silly jokes, they both burst out laughing, holding onto each other to keep from falling down. Willow and Cordelia looked over, both wondering what was so funny. Willow couldn't understand the antlers, but consulted the fresh printout and giggled.
"It's a sign of fertility," she explained gleefully.
Buffy and Xander heard this explanation and burst into fresh laughter. The sexual symbolism was not lost on them. Giles cleared his throat. They attempted to calm down.
"A group of vampires has discovered a way to call forth earthquakes, floods, and various other natural disasters around the time of May first, which is Beltaine. Vampires thrive on that kind of chaos, as you well know."
"And Xander has to wear antlers because...…" Xander asked. Giles straightened and gestured for them to sit down. Cordelia immediately gave up her seat to Buffy. Giles frowned.
"Cordelia, are you feeling...…yourself today?" he asked as they assembled around the table.
"Of course," she snapped. "You're the one with the Bambi fetish. You're not going to turn Xander into a deer, are you? Because I think the animal possession thing is getting way stale."
Giles held his hands up for silence, took a deep breath, and faced his courageous students.
"Vampires from Ireland have been assembling to hurry the Spring along. Now, changing the earth's seasons is impossible, but calling forth a host of demons out of the Hellmouth to wreak havoc on the world is not. They will attempt to perform a traditional Beltaine ritual during the next full moon, which is the key to opening the Hellmouth-"
"And causing major weather advisories," Willow interjected, holding up a sheet of paper with weather predictions on it. Giles nodded grimly.
"How do we stop them?" Buffy asked, holding up the ancient broadsword. The sun glinted along the edge of the razor sharp blade and cast a thin ray of light onto the wall.
"I'm not sure. If we perform the ritual ourselves we can contain the mystical energy into this jeweled box instead of letting it out into the world. I think. The last time it was attempted was ten centuries ago."
Willow handed Giles another sheet of paper, which he held awkwardly. Getting information off the "Net" was not the same as holding a heavy, leather book in your hands. He did not quite trust the new way of information-gathering, but Willow assured him the statistics came from his own library, which she had scanned in months ago.
"That still doesn't explain why I have to wear antlers," Xander reminded them. Buffy stifled a giggle and nudged him.
"There is still a fair amount of research to be done before we can attempt this ritual. We have all the pieces we need, swords and clothing…"
"- and antlers," Xander said, pressing the issue.
"- but I'm not quite sure we have the right people for the job."
"What, we're suddenly not good enough to fight the Hellmouth? I object!" Willow said vehemently.
"Liiiiitle too much Slayer pride's rubbed off on you, Will," Xander comforted her. "Giles, just explain the ritual and we'll figure it out. No Problemo."
Giles creaked open a leather book and pulled a green satin ribbon down the middle to hold his place as he talked. The writing was in the margins around an elaborate ink drawing depicting a group of people around a fire. One woman held a small box that looked exactly like the treasure chest Cordelia was still clutching. One man wore antlers, and another younger-looking woman wore a long, flowing gown. The three of them stood in a triangle with a river running east behind them. Squirrels, raccoons, deer, mice, owls, birds, and a few rabbits could be seen hovering on the edge of the drawing, near the water.
"What's this scribbling?" Buffy asked, touching the scrawling text. Giles sighed.
"It's Gaelic," he said, with annoyance in his voice. "A rather tedious language to translate, I'm afraid. I'll have to work on the translation this evening. I only wish that...…" Giles voice trailed off and he shook his head imperceptibly.
"Wish what?" Buffy prompted him.
"Nothing," he mumbled, and looked at her with sympathy. Buffy knew her Watcher, and instinctively knew what he was going to say. He wished Angel was there to help them translate the Gaelic. She didn't press him to elaborate.
"On Beltaine, which is a celebration of the coming of Spring, villages would gather around a bonfire, drink mead, and- and...…"
"Have sex?" Xander interjected. Giles ducked his head.
"Quite. The idea of fertility that is connected with the Spring was a very powerful force in their lives. Two young people from each village were chosen to portray the goddess and the wild stag. The young man would give chase, the woman would yield, and the high priest or priestess would bless the union. It ensured a fruitful harvest, among other things. A large number of births were usually recorded the following February." Giles took a deep breath. "Now. Buffy, as the Chosen One, you will play the high priestess. You'll also keep any undead visitors from interrupting the ceremony. Xander, and I say this with the most trepidation, you will represent virility."
"Hence the antlers," Willow nodded. "That makes Cordelia the goddess in the long dress, right?" Willow looked expectantly at Giles, hiding her irrational stab of jealousy. Even with her relationship with Oz growing closer and more wonderful by the day, there was still a part of Willow's heart that would always love Xander in some way. They were still the best of friends, finishing each other's sentences, hanging together, and spending just as much time on the phone as they always did. But it wasn't the same.
Giles cleared his throat.
"I'm afraid not. The woman who represents the goddess must be a friend of the Slayer and chaste. Noticing Cordelia's rather, um, good moods as of late...…"
"It's just a phase. Happens every year," Cordelia informed him.
"…... I believe, Cordelia, that your normal, passionate nature has been, or is being, transferred directly to Willow."
"Me?" Willow squeaked.
"It makes sense, Will. You're probably the most chaste person Cordelia knows," Buffy reasoned.
"I- I-it can be done symbolically, I'm quite sure. There's no need to- to panic. You don't have to, um, have to...…" Giles face was a study.
"But what if she wants to?!" Cordelia stood up abruptly, horrified. "What if she can't stop herself? You don't know the kind of craziness that possesses me sometimes. It's inhuman!"
"Thanks," Xander said to his girlfriend, slightly miffed. He refused to meet Willow's eyes. It was too risky. She might somehow know what he'd been feeling for her since the crumpet thing. But he couldn't even trust that. Was it real emotion, or was he just being prepared by some mystical force to perform an ancient ritual with her?
"Giles, I can't!" Willow protested. Her face was pale, her eyes wide with fright. "What if something goes wrong and Xander and I, if we-…"
"Buffy will be there the whole time, and I'm sure she'll knock you both senseless if you happen to give in to lustful whimsy, as it were."
"I really object," Cordelia protested.
"Also objecting," Willow chimed in, raising her hand. "Xander?" She looked to her friend for support. He faltered, not willing to admit he liked this assignment. Whatever happened during the ritual was Buffy's problem. He just liked the idea of playing the symbol of virility. Willow and Cordelia both figured out the reason for his unwillingness to side with them and gifted him with dark looks.
"Wonderful!" Giles smiled, choosing to be oblivious to Willow's objections. Didn't she see she had no choice in her involvement now? "Tomorrow I'll look for a spot to perform the ritual. Xander, you may want to stay away from Willow until we do this. I can't vouch for what kind of feelings have already been set in motion, and we do need to keep her chaste for the ceremony."
Willow whimpered and hid her face in her hands. Cordelia patted her back and turned her dark look toward Giles.
"Giles, stop! You're scaring our Willow," Buffy commanded her Watcher.
"And insulting our Xander," Xander added. "Will, don't listen to the
big bad librarian. Nothing is going to happen."
"What if something happens?" Oz asked logically. He and Willow sat in the back of his van, swinging their legs over the side. Willow had briefed him on the current situation, and he was less than pleased. "I mean, is Giles so convinced that the Hellmouth is controlling your feelings? Seems a little off."
"Well, but Buffy will be there, and she knows us and won't let anything happen. It's all perfectly safe, I promise." Willow was avoiding his line of questioning.
"I still don't like it," Oz admitted. Willow leaned against him sympathetically and received a kiss on top of her head. "But, that's life on the Hellmouth, right?"
Far below the city streets of Sunnydale, far beyond the reach of normal daylight and the sweet smell of palm trees sat a lone vampire dressed in dark green velvet. It molded her willowy figure like decoupage. Her crow-black hair was dramatically swept up into a pile atop her head, which was not "vamped out."
The chamber she lived in was warmed by the light of a thousand candles and decorated with an iron bed, several bookcases, and abstract mural painted with blood. The books lent a studious air to the macabre, which went unappreciated by her few vampire acquaintances. Those who wandered this far into the earth usually sought her wisdom, not her company.
Tamara yearned for the life of a vampire in her youth. She was plagued by the meaningless drudgery of being the middle of nine sisters, who were all untitled with no hope to ever rise above their station. Tamara found surcease in forbidden books, devoured them whole, dreamed of things not possible in her own world.
In the library at Oxford where she worked as a maid, she came across a fresh text in one of the lesser-traveled aisles. It spoke of the Old Ones: humans who were transformed into powerful demons who lived eternally, subsisting on the blood of those they conquered. Vampires.
She bowed her head every night and prayed for deliverance into the fantasy that was infinitely more appealing than dusting wooden shelves during the day and taking care of her invalid mother in the evenings. Nighttime saw her lurking in dark corners of the city. Tamara would press her back against a brick wall, close her eyes, and listen for screaming. Following screams became a habit. She waited for the moment when fate would give in to her incessant pleading to live as a vampire.
Fate came in the form of a lad not much older than herself, with an angelic face and a thick Irish brogue.
Violin music wafted out of a portable CD player set up in the corner. The vampire focused her dark gray eyes on one of her favorite books, caressing the page with one razor sharp fingernail. The words thrilled her demon core and filled her with unspeakable zeal for her quest. She did not have long to wait.
"...…and out of the union shall be born a child whose blood shall greatly empower the one who drinks it," she explained to the figure lying on her bed. "Power unsurpassed, power uninhibited. The Slayer shall be less than a threat to me and I will reign supreme. Do you understand why I have stolen you away?"
Huddled on the bed in a cloud of pain, Rupert Giles fought to remain conscious. He recognized the book she held like a precious baby but did not remember the words. She was finally speaking plainly after hours of silence and he would hear everything she had to say.
"I have waited ten lifetimes to bring about this prophecy," she continued, her voice low and sweet. "Ten lifetimes, and not one Slayer with the temerity to cultivate friendships, family relationships. This new girl is tough, or so I've heard from those able to elude her grasp. But she fails to learn all that lies before and behind." The vampire got up from her chair and sauntered over to Giles, who swallowed a whimper. She leaned down and ran her nail down his face, making a pale line through the sweat.
"You will fail, Tamara," Giles risked a few words. She sat beside him on the bed, evaluating his words.
"You are wrong, Watcher. In four nights your students will perform the Beltaine ritual and the stag and the maiden will give birth to a child that will be the Slayer's undoing. It is written. It cannot be stopped."
Giles had no energy left to argue. His brain swam with fear and loathing. He laid his head down on the firm mattress and prayed sleep would overtake him before his captor decided to do more with her claws. Before he succumbed to a mind-numbing sleep he heard heavy footsteps echoing down the stone corridor.
"Tamara!" boomed an angry voice that sounded remarkably like his own. "This tweed itches and I'm going blind from the glasses. Undo this spell before I start cataloguing something!"
Tamara stroked Giles' hair off his damp forehead and sashayed over to the man who lazily draped his body over her cushioned throne. Giles squinted in the candlelight and swore he was looking into a mirror, if it weren't for the way the man was sitting. He had one knee up and carelessly dangled his hand between his legs. Giles tried to focus and think rationally. Had Tamara set up a mirror? Was the drugged wine she'd been pouring down his throat laced with something more than mild paralyzing medicine? Why was he seeing himself lounging in her chair?
"You've been remarkably patient, Angelus," she soothed the man's ruffled feathers. "Close your eyes and I'll undo the spell."
Giles heard something like a whistling wind mixed with laughter. When he blinked and looked again, it was not his own figure he saw sitting in the chair with Tamara on his lap, but Angelus. The cruel vampire was stretching his back, running his fingers through his thick black hair. He was dressed in a black shirt and matching velvet pants. A silver chain with a griffin pendant rested over his heart.
"Flesh of my flesh," he grinned, and kissed Tamara long and hard. "Hey, by the way, did you know the jewels in that box are real?" Giles could not believe his eyes and was sure he was hallucinating. Angelus broke off the kiss and deigned to notice Giles on the bed.
"Angelus?" Giles whispered incredulously. If Angelus was walking around above in Giles' body, then the situation was even direr than he thought. Cursing himself for underestimating the legendary Tamara, Giles prayed that Angelus would remain occupied with the beautiful woman on his lap and summarily ignore him.
"Do we have to keep him?" Angelus sighed petulantly. He cast a thoughtful eye to Tamara.
"Sorry, Angel. He lives or the spell can't work in the sunlight."
"Can we hurt him a little, then?" Angelus pleaded like a child yearning to play with a brand new toy. Tamara shivered at his merciless timbre. She laid a contented hand on his broad chest and settled a little more snugly in his lap.
"Maybe later. Tell me about today. Did all go as planned?"
"Better. They didn't even question the need to do a Beltaine ritual. Not even Willow, and she's usually the smart one. The Slayer's going to oversee things and Xander and Willow will be beside themselves with the desire the ritual will bring and knock off a little baby you can slaughter." Angelus nuzzled her neck as he spoke. She laughed low in her throat, lover-like. Giles cringed.
"Did you lace the pastries with the aphrodisiac?" Tamara grilled him. Angel dug a small glass vial out of his pocket and tossed it back to her.
"I'm just the bad-boy Gourmet Chef," Angel smiled. "How long will the drug last, just out of curiosity? They railed on me pretty hard when I told Xander to keep away from Willow until the ritual, but I didn't know how potent the drug was."
Tamara tapped the vial, which was nearly empty. Her gray eyes gleamed with the success of her plan. She had no idea it was so easy to manipulate human beings with a little magic mirage.
"It should last for three full days, whenever they are alone together. And if they don't give in before then, the ritual should bring about the appropriate desire, assuming they have some hidden feelings for each other already, which is quite possible from all you've told me. Angel, you are doing splendidly. I'm very pleased."
Angel stretched languidly, happy to keep his old friend so triumphant. Any harm she could throw to Buffy or her sycophants was jelly filling in his doughnut.
"Did I mention how severely you owe me for this? Let's not forget I have to pretend to be a librarian."
"I won't forget my promise," Tamara assured him. "In nine months, when the two best friends of the Chosen One have spawned my baby, I will deliver her to you unscathed."
"Well," Angelus pretended to ponder her offer. "Maybe a little scathed."
Oz pressed cold fingers to his eyes and sighed deeply. Of the one hundred emails he sent out for more information on "Druid Fire", the website that sent out the warning, eighty had come back negatively. Nobody had ever heard of the site, and those who had visited it called it a "ghost site." Oz visited the webpage, which consisted of one bleak little welcome with a cheesy shamrock border. There were no author addresses for feedback, no links, no muscle and tissue to its bony skeleton.
He could believe that Giles might miss the significance of that, but not Willow. She was, by a self-professed title, the "net-girl." It was inconceivable to Oz that Willow would entertain any messages of doom without thoroughly checking out the source.
Oz leaned back in his purple chair and stared at the monitor. It shed a ghostly light around his small, cluttered bedroom. Under the piles of sheet music, magazines, magazine clippings, guitar picks, last week's clean laundry, and a stack of cute notes from Willow was a cordless phone. He sat motionless for several minutes before digging into the mess to locate the phone and dial an unused number.
"Hello?" came a groggy voice on the other end of the phone. "Who's this?"
"Cordelia? It's- it's Oz."
"Oh, hi! Do we have to bail someone out of jail or something?" Cordelia's voice was uncharacteristically cheerful and Oz stifled a chuckle. Willow had told him some choice stories about Cordelia's brief attitude change, but hearing it firsthand was definitely a better experience.
"Ah, no. I was just wondering, were you in the library today- uh- yesterday when Giles told everybody about the Beltaine ritual?" His calm voice belied his chaotic interior. He had a thousand questions.
"Yeah, it's on the kinky side. Why do we have to stop every prophecy that comes out of that stupid Codex?" Cordelia hadn't completely turned into Mary Poppins, Oz reflected. Good. That would make his line of questioning a bit easier.
"The Codex? I thought the warning came from one of Miss Calendar's newsgroups."
"Oh. Well it did, I guess. Some Irish thing. Giles said it's Garlic or something."
"Gaelic," Oz nodded. Nothing was making sense. He tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder and started typing a different keyword into the computer's search engine. "Cordy, can you tell me exactly what is going on? Willow wasn't too specific."
"Oh, and you're all guilty 'cause you'll be a werewolf when we do the spell?" Her voice was sweetly acidic. "So these Irish vamps want to create earthquakes and floods and stuff so they can have their Disneyland. The way they do it is by doing an ancient fertility ritual that starts Spring early. But if we do the spell first we somehow contain all the druid energy into a jewelry box until May first. Probably because Buffy's the Slayer, these things work for her."
"Hmm." Oz was trying to piece together the puzzle, but couldn't find that one wily piece that always fell under the coffee table.
"You'd think Giles would be up on all these Twilight Zone experiences, you know, make a calendar of events," Cordelia suggested.
"So, you gonna break into the library and look at his research?" Cordelia said matter-of-factly. Oz smiled and remembered Cordelia could be disconcertingly accurate at times. Even in the middle of the night, even in a good mood.
"Wanna come?" Oz offered, mentally kicking himself. He didn't want to team up with Cordelia per se, but safety in numbers.
"Meet you there," Cordelia said, and hung up the phone.
Oz dressed in black for the "Mission: Impossible" occasion and watched in disbelief as Cordelia sidled through the back door of the library wearing bright red silk pajamas and a matching robe with a green and yellow dragon embroidered on it. Her hair was tousled from sleep and her face free of makeup. She looked more vulnerable that way, Oz noticed, younger. More of a victim of these never-ending curses the Hellmouth saw fit to throw their way, less of a conqueror. She fairly flew down the steps and almost collided with him.
"Oz, we need to get out of here now," she whispered urgently. Oz picked up his head to listen for anything awry but heard nothing. Still, there was a rare look of fear in Cordelia's pleading brown eyes. He tucked the Codex into his black hooded sweatshirt and put one hand to the small of her back, wishing he'd brought a stake or two. Her body felt cold underneath his hand. They left through the back door, silent as shadows, and crept from bush to tree all the way to his van. Driving away, Oz noted that Cordelia was barefoot and shaking.
"Wanna tell me what that was all about?" he coaxed gently. Cordelia was looking in the rearview mirror.
"Are we being followed?" she asked softly. Oz looked in the mirror. They were the only ones on the road.
"Good," Cordelia sighed, and turned to him, her face that of a vampire,
fangs bared and heading for his neck.
He was closest to Buffy's house and sprinted for the back door, punching a hole through a pane of glass and nearly ripping the door off its hinges in an attempt to reach safety. He tripped over air and went sprawling onto the floor, landing hard on his stomach. The lights went on behind him and he found himself hauled unmercifully to his feet with a sharp wooden object pointed at his heart.
"Hey," he gasped, holding his hands up at a bewildered Buffy. His right fist was bloody from the broken glass.
"God, Oz!" she scolded him, then looked at the open door. "What is going on?"
"Wish I knew," he admitted. Joyce Summers chose that moment to enter, wrapping her bathrobe around her pajamas as she came into the light with the concerned mother look on her face. Buffy hurriedly tossed the stake at Oz, who tucked it into his sweatshirt with the Codex.
"Buffy, what is going on here?" she demanded. "Who is this?"
"I'm Oz. Friend of Buffy's," Oz began, seeing Buffy opening and closing her mouth like a guppy, finding nothing to say. "I was walking home from school and I was being chased. Mugger, or something. I'm sorry I broke your door, but I had to get into a house." Oz sent a meaningful look at Buffy, who nodded imperceptibly to let him know she understood.
"School? At this hour?" Joyce was not impressed.
"I'm working on a science project. I have special permission to be there after hours," Oz lied. "I've never been stalked on the way home, though."
That did the trick. Oz managed to look properly shook up- not a hard acting job- and Joyce set him up on the couch, encouraging him to report his tale to the police in the morning. Buffy lingered in the doorway, watching her mother fuss over Oz. Her Slayer's sense told her something was deeply awry and she looked upon Oz with suspicion. She wondered what he was doing out in the first place. Among other things.
"I'll just say goodnight," Buffy told her mother. Joyce nodded and padded back to bed. Buffy's eyes widened and she pounced on the end of the pull-out bed as Oz put his face in his hands. His hair spiked out in all directions and he groaned quietly. Buffy's compassion grew and her heart rate slowed a little. This was Oz. This was Willow's boyfriend, the laconic, mild-mannered guitarist who never harmed a flea except when he was a werewolf, which wasn't his fault.
"What happened? Do you want me to call Willow?" Buffy offered gently. She couldn't tell if he was crying, but he looked small and miserable wrapped up in the pink guest blanket that still showed creases from being folded so long.
She stared awkwardly down at her hands. Her nails were just long enough to be pretty and were painted a pearl color. A circlet of silver warmed the ring finger on her right hand. They were strong hands, used to ripping apart flesh, tearing open stubborn doors, wrenching her friends away from bad guys. It had been awhile since she'd used her hands to comfort anyone and for a moment she wondered if she even remembered how.
Oz decided for her, sliding one black-fingernailed hand into hers and squeezing tightly. Buffy squeezed back and cupped his face with her other hand, silently telling him to trust her.
"Cordelia," he mumbled, looking up at Buffy with pain in his eyes.
"You want me to call Cordelia?" She made a face and pulled back a little.
"Cordelia is a vampire," Oz choked out. He shook his head in disbelief, a look that was matched on Buffy's face. "I had some suspicions about this Beltaine ritual and planned to meet Cordy at the library to sneak around Giles' office. I got off the phone with her, drove over to the school, and snuck in the back. She showed up a few minutes later looking wigged and insisted we had to leave. Then she waited till we were back in my van and driving home and she attacked me."
"What? Back up," Buffy demanded. "What suspicions?"
"I don't know," Oz said vehemently. "That website Willow cited is practically non-existent, which made me wonder if it's all just a joke. But Giles seemed so intent on doing the ritual, according to Cordy."
"Go on," Buffy encouraged, trying to remember everything that Giles had said yesterday. It was not like Oz to give into paranoia, even if he was feeling jealous or left out. He was in-control guy, usually.
"Cordelia showed up in her pajamas, barefoot, like she'd been beamed over to the library from her bedroom or something. No makeup. She looked so scared and I didn't question her, just followed her out like a pig to slaughter."
"Oz, you couldn't have known," Buffy told him kindly. He saw her eyeing his sweatshirt, which lay across the arm of the couch. He reached back and tugged the book out of the pocket. Her eyes widened when she saw the Codex, amazed that he had gone so far as to steal the book. It was usually under lock and key in Giles' private collection.
"Whatever convinced Giles that the vampire scare is real is in this book somewhere. This is bigger than stopping some earthquakes, Buffy."
"Agreed," Buffy said miserably. The thought of having to stake Cordelia was making her stomach turn over. This was the second person she loved- well, knew, at least- who had turned on her. "Are you sure she turned into a vampire?"
"I nearly wet my pants," Oz replied wryly. He needed to use humor to diffuse his shock.
"Well, get some sleep, okay? We'll sort this out tomorrow." Buffy tried to make her voice sound reassuring.
Oz nodded numbly. The weight on Buffy's thin shoulders was almost visible
as she padded upstairs. He watched until she turned off the hall light,
then settled back on the thick pillows to listen to the windless night
through the living room window. He could smell the freshly mowed grass
and the thick loam of the new mulch Buffy's mom had recently put around
their landscaping. All the smells of Spring welcomed his nostrils and told
him to rest easy, but sleep was unattainable for the young werewolf as
he replayed the night in his mind until all he could see was Cordelia's
beautiful face transformed into the likeness of a blood-thirsty demon.