by Megdalen

Angelus and an evil ally find another way to strike and Buffy, and this time, it involves Cordelia.

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 Six  - Chapter Seven - Chapter  Eight - Chapter Nine - Chapter Ten

Chapter Six
Down in the bowels of the earth, Rupert Giles listened as his captor fought it out with his least favorite vampire in the world. He was still under the effect of the drugged wine that made him slow and awkward, but he was lucid enough to recognize he was not alone.

Cordelia Chase cowered beside him in her red silk pajamas, hiding her face from Angelus. Giles wondered what the cretin had done to make Cordelia so terrified. She was barely coherent and trembled as though she had just spent four hours in a snowstorm without a coat.

"You artless mammet!" Tamara shrieked. "You lost control in the body of a young girl? Do you know what you've done to her? She knows your bloodlust intimately, Angelus, she could use it against you!"

"I knew what I was doing," Angelus said. Each measured word came through a clenched jaw. "That boy wasn't trysting with her, Tamara. He was up to something. So I brought her to you, and you cast me into the image of her readily enough. What are you complaining about?"

"I said I would help you kill the Slayer. I never said I would be your on-call witch," she shot at him. Angelus grinned, reached out to grab Tamara around the waist, and kissed her. Hard. She fought admirably against sagging into his arms.

"You can't deter me, Angelus. I am single-minded in my anger," she protested, but weakly. "The mirage only works well if you don't do anything too rash. You've changed her-- you've changed her, and I don't know the extent of the damage. I'm sure you could have found a better way of stopping the boy in question. Little cut to the throat usually does it." Tamara scraped one fingernail across Angelus's jugular vein by way of example. After a weighty silence he released her and strode over to the bed. Giles weakly wrapped one arm around the frightened girl, but the monster cast him aside and dragged Cordelia into his arms.

"I could cut her throat right now," he said calmly, loving the anticipatory look in Tamara's eyes. She clenched and unclenched her fists, waiting for him to do it. If there were breath in her lungs he knew she'd be panting.

Angelus tugged at Cordelia's robe until it parted, revealing her slim, white neck. She conjured up a look of hatred not realizing it would feed his desire. Angelus could taste her blood already. Warm and wet. There would be plenty for both he and Tamara. Feeding off one with so much passion, so much inner strength would surely be a treat. He bared his teeth, lowered his head...

"Stop!" Tamara commanded him, running over and pulling Cordelia out of his lover's embrace. "If she dies, they could cancel the ritual. And I will have my child, Angelus."

"You try my patience!" he roared at Tamara. The candles seemed to shake in their sconces.

"Take her back," she ordered. "You still have one hour. I will not conjure up any more mirages for you except the librarian. You are too unpredictable, Angelus." Tamara stood with her arms crossed and a look of rank wickedness in her dark gray eyes.

Angelus glowered at her and threw Cordelia over his shoulder, made for the world above. This simple situation had just become very complicated. Hopefully seeing Cordelia at school, alive and well and in sunlight would convince Oz that his friend was not a vampire, and that he had been under some kind of hallucination. Hopefully Cordelia would repress most of what happened, not remember what it was like to have him take over her body and vamp out in it. Hopefully his mistake of vamping out while in her body hadn't given her any strange, truncated power. Hopefully the Chosen One and her two closest friends would perform the fertility ritual, the two would conceive and give birth to the child whose blood would provide Tamara with the power she hungered for. Angelus was willing to hope for things to work in his favor, even if hope was for the weak. So be it.

Cordelia Chase writhed underneath her down comforter and tangled her sheets into disarray. Red and black images swarmed in her memory, howling the sound of torture and pain. Thousands of tiny needles pricked her scalp and left paper-cut aches.

The agony wouldn't stop. It crowded around her, forcing her mind to relive the frightening sensation of being near death. For some reason she remembered the feel of velvet against her skin, felt strong arms holding her close, remembered thick hair brushing her jaw and knew the anticipation intimately. She couldn't say what she was waiting for exactly, but knew it had something to do with blood. She woke up screaming.

Her mouth was forced shut by a strong hand that smelled of Tranquil Breezes body lotion from Victoria's Secret. That delicate, familiar smell stopped her wails and she tentatively opened her brown eyes. Buffy Summers was straddling her body, forcing her down onto the bed with one hand over her mouth, her other hand holding a pointed stake in a death-grip. Her green eyes held a store of regret mingled with grim determination.

"Good morning, sunshine," the Slayer quipped, and hurled the stake at Cordelia's window shade. It curled up with a zinging sound and sent a thick beam of sunshine into the room to wash over the double bed. Cordelia's eyes were full of fright and tears. Buffy's triumphant smile died when she looked down and saw the first rays of dawn bathing them both, with Cordelia miraculously unaffected. She eased off her friend and cocked her head in confusion.

"You're not a vampire!" Buffy blurted out. Cordelia laughed bitterly, pushing herself up in bed. The pain from her memories was easy to master with the right disposition, and Cordelia knew her resilience would allow her to conjure up a good dose of attitude for the occasion.

"Quick thinking, Sherlock," Cordelia shot at her. Buffy remained incredulous, drawing a deep sigh out of Cordelia. "Okay, short version? We have a hostage situation. Namely me, but I don't think I'm a hostage anymore. I mean, I was, but now I'm back in my own room in my own body. With my own face, thank you very much. But Buffy, Giles is still down there! Or maybe he's up here! Oh, and we need to find Oz because I think I trashed the windshield of his van."

"I think I want the long version," Buffy replied archly. Cordelia gingerly touched the egg on her forehead and settled back into her down pillows. Summoning up as much regalness as possible in blood-stained silk and no makeup, Cordelia spoke like a true queen.

"I'm taking a mental health day," she announced. "Anyone who wants to hear the truth can come to me."

Buffy grinned and shifted, settling in next to her. It would be the earliest meeting of the Scooby Gang ever assembled. She reached for the cordless phone and called Xander, Willow, and Oz with a pithy message: "Get over to Cordelia's now, and don't get caught."

One box of Pop Tarts and a gallon of orange juice later, the five of them had piles of useless information and no answers. Oz maintained that Cordelia was a vampire, sunlight notwithstanding. This angered Xander and Buffy, who were convinced Cordelia was many things, a vampire not on the list. Willow wanted to believe Oz, but had to side with logic. They couldn't tell Cordelia why she had had such a vivid dream of Giles and a strange woman surrounded by candles, and nobody knew why the 'Druid Fire' website was merely a shell.

"We need to call Giles," Willow sighed, looking at her watch. It was nearly six-thirty in the morning. "Maybe he can shed some light on our weirdness."

Buffy picked her head up, trying to interpret the cool chill that ran up her spine. It was the same impression she got when she sensed a vampire, or knew danger laid in wait just around the corner.

"What if-" she began, gnawing on her lower lip. No. It was too surreal.

"What if what?" Xander prodded. He was propped against the wall with Cordelia in his lap. Their hands entwined though Cordy was quite conscious of her state of disarray and fought against running to the bathroom to shower. Some gut reaction told her to stay put, that Xander needed to hold her just as much as she needed to be held.

"Well, what if everyone's right?" Buffy ventured. "I know, call me crazy."

"You're crazy," Oz offered. She rolled her eyes at him.

"No, I mean it. Oz saw Cordelia vamped out- what if she were a vampire, for a short time because it wasn't really *her.*"

"Oh, great, I was possessed? Well, I guess the Hellmouth didn't want me to feel left out," she reasoned, looking pointedly at Xander, referring to his hyena episode.

"Cordy, you said you were taken hostage. That's the feeling you got, right?" Willow was catching on to Buffy's train of thought. It was a scary train, the big iron kind from algebra class that always traveled from point a to point b going a certain speed.

"Yeah. And I saw Giles, and Angelus, and a beautiful woman with black hair and gray eyes and it was NOT a dream."

"Oz, you said that website was fake. That Giles had no reason to make us so determined to do the fertility ritual. What if this whole Beltaine-earthquakes-and-mass-destruction thing is fake, too?"

"You think Giles lied to us?" Xander was flabbergasted.

"What if it wasn't Giles?" Buffy threw out the option that had been plaguing her all morning, ever since she saw Cordelia bathed in sunlight. The gang looked around at each other, unwilling to comprehend the seriousness of that option.

"Cordelia, is it possible that when you were taken hostage you were more than just kidnapped on your way to the library? What if someone- a vampire- took over your body to get rid of Oz because he knew too much about the website?"

"It's possible, but, oh, gross!"

"Okay. What's the deal with the fertility ritual? Do we know anything?" Xander asked Willow.

"Nothing other than what Giles told us," Willow admitted sheepishly.

"Well, if whoever took over Cordelia's body is taking over Giles, then we need to be in the know," Buffy decided. As she straightened and scattered orders about the room the tension ebbed away because of her confidence. "Xander, Willow, take the Codex apart and find out the real power behind the Beltaine ritual. Cordy, get dressed. Giles- or whoever- needs to see you and Oz together, as friends. Otherwise he'll get suspicious and who knows what will happen."

"What are you going to do?" Willow wanted to know. She took the leather book from Oz and coaxed Xander off the bed. They had a lot of work to do before school started.

"I'm just going to be Buffy. Act normal. I don't want to set our fake Giles off." Buffy helped Cordelia up and they moved toward the bathroom to make Cordelia presentable. It would take some work after her ordeal, though Buffy was counting on Cordelia's intense resilience and the Spring Thaw to get her through the day. When the crisis was over, then she could crash, but not now. Not when their lives were in danger again.

Chapter Seven
Xander and Willow walked towards the school, stopping at the park they used to play at when they were kids. It was a small park with three swings, a slide, a seesaw, a merry-go-round and a tiny baseball diamond. Tall trees bordered it on three sides and a chain link guarded the fourth side.

Wordlessly, they headed towards the swings and sat next to each other, Willow skimming the Codex, Xander twirling around in the swing to twist the chains. Only one of them could really study the book at a time, and Willow was research girl.

"Oh," she said, and looked at the book as though snakes were coming from its pages. "Xander, stop that," she added absentmindedly. Xander obeyed, gripping the plastic chain shields and letting himself untwist. During the last rotation the swing jerked sideways and he crashed into Willow.

He grinned, for this was a time-honored playground tradition. However, he was not prepared for the jolt of electricity that shocked him when they made contact. The same odd feelings of desire he'd experienced the day before in the library washed over him and he valiantly forced himself to think of something other than how near she was. The feelings were confusing and not welcome.

Willow nearly dropped the Codex, experiencing the same sensation. Her breath caught and she let the book rest in her lap so she could grip the chains of her swing and not fall off. What was wrong with her? Why was she having such an uncontrolled sexual response to Xander? This sort of thing occasionally happened with Oz, though not as intensely. It was not comforting and she just knew it couldn't be good.

"Did you find something?" Xander inquired, finding his voice. He kept his brown eyes fixed on the ground, ashamed she would see right through him. *Focus, Harris* he chided himself. One shoelace was untied. A little row of ants headed for a piece of candy someone had left on the ground. Anything, think of anything, just don't think of Willow.

"Uh, yeah. Hold on," she managed to reply. Picking up the Codex with trembling hands, Willow tried to find the page. Unfortunately she couldn't concentrate, and closed the book in defeat a few moments later. She rested her head against the chain and closed her eyes, going over the multiplication tables in her head to keep from thinking of him.

"Will, you okay?"

"Xander, I think I'm sick." Willow didn't know where that interpretation of her feelings came from, but she was grateful for it and pounced on the idea, talking rapidly. "I-I might be contagious! Lots of germs, you know, all over me, all over you. You shouldn't be around me. You should go. Away. Now."

Xander didn't believe her for a second and grabbed her shoulders to stop her madness.

"Oh," she murmured weakly. A tornado of feeling rushed through her veins and pounded like a crashing wave in her brain. Tamara's drug with its magic kicked in and they reached for each other, fighting the cool chains of the swing and the awkward blue plastic seats. Willow didn't know how she ended up on his swing, facing him with her legs dangling on either side of his waist.

As children, they called it "butterfly." The trick was to get in a rhythm of rocking up and down, taking turns pumping the swing with their legs. They used to be able to soar as high as the first row of oak trees, until Xander would get scared and complain that her hair was whipping into his face and cajole her into a slower cadence. He'd hide his little boy fear by unceremoniously dumping her off his lap once his heels dug into the dirt, and she would always give him a look of half-hurt, half-understanding.

A strand of her long red hair caught on his unshaven skin as they found the rhythm. They were hampered a bit by their adult weight and shaken by the fierce intensity that came with simply making eye contact as they strained against each other, back and forth. It didn't used to be such a sensual act. They weren't the same size anymore and Willow compensated by pulling back on the chains a little harder and cutting the air with her legs as hard as she could, fully aware of what that did to Xander, what it was doing to her.

Xander kept a death grip on the chains for as long as possible. His control was weakening and he watched her eyes until he saw his best friend flutter her eyelids close and open her mouth. He eagerly leaned in and caught her cry with his mouth and they lost balance, falling backwards into the cool, deep sand.

Xander grunted as he endured the fall but clasped Willow tightly to his chest until the last of the tremors subsided. He felt her tears seep through his striped shirt and stroked her hair with a shaky hand. When she finally picked her head up and looked at him, the remains of desire still in her watery brown eyes, he saw the same look of hurt and understanding that she gave him when they were children. His eyes slid shut on a rush of tears.

"Xander," she whispered, aware of his hand idly caressing her back. Summoning up all of her willpower, she scrambled off him, scooted backwards, and grabbed the Codex. She was prepared to use the unwieldy tome as a weapon if she had to, but hopefully it wouldn't come to that. "Make it stop."

"I can't," Xander confessed, panting. He inched away from her. "This isn't us."

"Not us at all," Willow agreed vehemently. "I think- I think I know why. This ritual has more power than you think. We need to find Buffy, fast. Come on." Willow stood up and brushed the sand off her corduroys, thought better of offering Xander a hand up. If she didn't look at him the rest of the five blocks to school maybe she could fight the passion, stop it from overtaking them again.

"Aagh!" Xander cried out as he watched her dust herself off. "I can't take this." He started singing 'America the Beautiful' and when Willow looked at him like he had a tree growing out of his head he motioned for her to join him. His lunacy was immensely helpful in focusing on something other than each other and they sang at the top of their lungs for the entire walk to school. Xander hoped he'd be able to laugh about it soon. They reached school grounds and found Buffy immediately.

"Buffy, thank God!" Willow exclaimed, dashing behind her friend.

"We don't know any more patriotic songs," Xander clued her in, as though it were obvious.

"Okay..." Buffy said in an amused voice. She was used to Willow and Xander communicating in their own secret language sometimes, but was Willow actually trying to hide from Xander? And why was Xander holding his backpack in front of his waist?

"I'm safe. Now get out of my sight!" Willow said to Xander in her resolve voice. Buffy was shocked.

"You have NO idea," Xander told Buffy. Then he fled. Willow sat down on the closest bench and put her head between her knees to keep herself from passing out. Buffy sat down beside her, riddling her with questions.

"Why are you safe, and why were you singing patriotic songs? Do I want to know?"

"Something horrible is going on, Buffy, you have no idea!" Willow picked up her head.

"Yes, I gathered that. Did Xander do something?"

"It's what he almost did- what WE almost did. Buffy, this Beltaine ritual, with the right magic, will make the two closest friends of the Slayer conceive a child that will be the Slayer's undoing. Somehow it's already controlling us."

"You and Xander?" Buffy's voice trailed off, realizing the consequences of that fact. "Or maybe Giles drugged you. Those crumpets yesterday? You know he never bakes."

"He went Ted on us!" Willow was indignant. "Well, he didn't, whoever is in his body did. With magic."

"So." Buffy took a deep breath. "All we have to do is find out where they're keeping my Watcher, rescue him, kill the fake Giles, and keep you and Xander away from each other until then."

"Piece of cake," Willow said glumly. "The nerve of someone to put a manipulative spell on an aphrodisiac! I don't even want to think about what could have happened."

Crisis aside, Buffy was intrigued.

"What did happen?" she asked innocently. Willow blushed and put her face in her hands, uttering a small, helpless squeak.

"Okay, we'll process that later," Buffy relented. "So. If you were a creepy person who wanted to use a baby to kill the Slayer, where would you hide a middle-aged librarian so you could work some magic undistracted?"

"Ooh, a word problem!" Willow perked up. "Well, Cordelia was there, right? Does she remember how she got there, wherever 'there' is?"

"Not our luck. She said she was knocked out before she even saw her attacker."

"We really need a break," Willow sighed. The bell rang, disturbing their thoughts and mildly annoying the Slayer. For a moment she forgot she had to be the school-attending Buffy. She walked Willow to class, keeping an eye out for Xander, and promised to return to collect her as soon as the class was over. No sense playing around with that kind of fire.

Chapter Eight
Oz bit his fingernails down to the quick and Cordelia didn't try to stop him. She glanced down at her own neglected hands and sighed inwardly.

They had decided to storm the library and deliver a plausible explanation of last night's events to the Un-Giles, though this plan had not been discussed with the Chosen One. They meant to tell Buffy but when they saw her she was twisting Willow's arm behind her back and chastising her for trying to attack Xander in the cafeteria. Oz wondered deeply about that, but Cordelia dragged him away from the scene and down the hall to the library.

They marched in tandem, her booted heels clicking in time with his soft sneakered footsteps. Oz could feel his heart pounding as Cordelia put one hand on the door. He thought he could hear her heart as well, thumping in time to the loud classical music coming from Giles's office, and put his hand next to hers.

"Together, okay?" he said quietly. She nodded bravely, holding her head up. She felt remarkably calm and not as annoyed as usual. Xander would blame that on Spring Thaw, she supposed. Whatever it was, it was keeping her from completely freaking out and for that she was grateful.

"Cordelia, what happened to you?" Giles asked, gesturing to her fresh bruises. "Shall I send for the nurse?" He rushed over to them and spied the Codex in Oz's hand.

"I stole this from the library last night," Oz confessed, tossing the book underhand to Giles.

"Before I was possessed and turned into a vampire," Cordelia added. They both crossed their arms and glared at Giles, who took out a handkerchief and pressed it to his brow.

"Well, that is- that's certainly..." Giles stammered, backing away as the two of them slowly advanced him up against the check-out counter.

Cordelia smelled blood and candle wax underneath his clothing. That struck her as odd, because candles weren't allowed in the school as a rule, and the blood smelled angry, which was also inexplicable. Her head began to ache again and she surreptitiously touched her face, making sure it was normal and not vamped out.

She had the strangest feeling that Giles wanted her. Not her body, just her blood, that his mouth was watering for it. Cordelia became attuned to the blood pumping through her rapidly beating heart and somehow knew Giles wanted to rip her heart out and suck every drop of blood from her body. Giles. And yet, not Giles, either.

Beside her, Oz watched as the two of them stared each other down. Oz would put money on Cordelia to win any contest she entered but he was not prepared for her campaign methods. Giles took off his glasses and his gaze flickered to the pulse in Cordelia's neck.

"If I let you have me," Cordelia spoke softly, "Will you release Giles and tell us how to stop what you've started?"

"What? Cordy, bad idea," Oz tried to interrupt but she clamped a strong hand over his mouth.

"I didn't start it," Giles panted, brushing a thick lock of hair away from her neck so he could see it better.

"Who did? Tell us how to win and you can drink me dry." The words almost choked her and she hoped Buffy would know what to do next. "Her name is Tamara," Giles told them. "She found out that the way to be filled with a power greater than any other is to drink the blood of a child borne from the two closest friends of the Slayer. Up till now, no Slayer has really had close friends."

"Xander and Willow," Oz breathed. "Damn."

"They would have succumbed during the Beltaine ritual," Giles admitted. "They might succumb now if the drugs I gave them worked, and Tamara will have her child and will turn the Slayer over to me."

Oz turned on his heel and ran to find Buffy, counting on Cordelia to hold her own for a few minutes.

"I liked being in you," the monster in front of Cordelia spoke. She shuddered, not wanting to translate that.

They stared at each other in silence for several minutes until Buffy crashed through the doors, strode up to Giles and grabbed his throat with her left hand. In her right hand she pressed a sharp wooden stake to his heart.

"What have you done with my Watcher, you sadistic killer?!"

"No!" Cordelia cried. "If you kill him, you kill Giles. Buffy, stop, please."

Buffy did not hide the rage in her eyes as she released him. She would not allow mercy to prevail in this situation, not after what they'd done to her friends. Fearlessly, she thrust Cordelia behind her and issued a command.

"Take us to Giles, now."

"And if I refuse?" he taunted her.

"Then I'll continue to keep Xander and Willow apart until the drug wears off and you can explain to this Tamara character why she doesn't have a baby to kill."

"Fine. Follow me."

Chapter Nine
Down in the tunnels, Willow ventured a thought to Oz, who was holding her hand. The vampire-in-Giles led the way with Buffy directly behind him. Cordelia and Xander followed them and Oz and Willow brought up the rear. The tunnel was dank and smelled of leftover pot roast and turnips.

"Do you think anyone will notice we're gone?"

"Nah," he lied.

"Do you think Buffy has a plan? I mean, to rescue Giles, kill Tamara and keep Cordelia from getting her blood drained?"

"Oh, absolutely."

"Good!" Willow faked a sigh of relief and smiled, swinging their clasped hands a little.

"Wait here," the monster in Giles commanded them when they approached a brightly lit chamber of stone. He grabbed Cordelia away from Xander and dragged her into the opening. She shrieked and struggled to get away from him, loudly voicing her objections to deaf ears.

"Tamara! Let the librarian go," Angelus ordered her. She clapped her hands together like a winsome child.

"You've completed the ritual! The girl is pregnant! In time, I will rule over all the minions of darkness and shall call no one master!" Tamara released the spell holding Angelus in the likeness of Giles. A rushing wind swept through the cavern. "And you've brought back the dark-haired one. Excellent thinking, Angelus, we should have a drink to celebrate. Do you want to kill the Watcher as well?"

"Let him go. I like toying with him," Angelus admitted, and they both watched Giles crawl on his hands and knees towards the opening.

"Buffy... Angelus." Giles managed to whisper when he reached the wide-eyed group. She helped him to his feet and hugged him fiercely. He looked a little worse for wear and his courageous students could barely contain their dismay at his condition. He looked supremely tired and ready to pass out.

"I heard. Don't worry, I promise everything will be okay." She fixed her green eyes on him and motioned for Xander to take Giles back down the tunnel and up to the library. It would also serve to keep he and Willow apart, thus lessening the chances of them losing control.

"I'll take him," Willow offered to Xander when she saw him falter. She knew Xander hated leaving Cordelia in the maniacal hands of Angelus, Buffy or no Buffy. If Oz were in danger, Willow surmised, she wouldn't leave him either. So she and Oz each put one of Giles' arms around their shoulders. He was so much taller than both of them that they made a comical pair limping back down the corridor, being as silent as they could.

Buffy had no plan. She didn't want Xander to know this, as he was looking at her with pleading eyes that begged her to do something, and fast. Planless was not her favorite way to face Angelus and the sadistic vampire witch who nearly killed her Watcher, tortured Cordelia, and nearly made Xander and Willow join the statistical ranks of teenage parents. Buffy handled a stake in her palm and waited just outside the cavern entrance, wishing there was a handbook.

"...Chapter 5, A Plan For Any Situation."

"Yeah right," the Slayer muttered, almost laughing. The last thing she needed in her life was another book to read. Throwing her shoulders back, she strode confidently into the cavern on a wing and a prayer.

"You must be Buffy," Tamara said welcomingly. "Angelus has told me all about you, haven't you, Angel?"

Angel glared at Tamara. He knew the minute he let go of Cordelia she'd run for the hills, but as much as he wanted to fight Buffy, he couldn't let go of the dark-haired woman struggling against him. He remembered what it was like to be in her form, to live with her blood running through his veins. It was like drinking from the very young. Gave you strength like, well, Angel supposed he could liken it to a caffeine rush, though that didn't even come close to describing what it felt like.

"You are going to die so much," Buffy promised, advancing one step towards Tamara in her red velvet chair. "Let Cordelia go and I promise to make your death a quick-stop."

Xander hovered just out of sight around the corner, his heart beating like a trapped butterfly's wings. He heard Buffy threaten Tamara, the heard Cordelia scream. Something in him snapped, and he rushed into the room only to be grabbed by the scruff of his neck by an unyielding hand and dangled off the floor. His head nearly touched the ceiling and he felt like a human stalactite. The candles danced merrily, unaware of the deadly tension engulfing the room.

Buffy swore under her breath and reviewed her options. Xander bumbling into her denouement was not something she expected. Now Cordelia stood by Tamara, who firmly gripped the girl's wrist, and Angelus held Xander off the floor as though he were nothing more than a pesky puppy. And knowing Angelus's penchant towards torturing puppies, Buffy grew a bit worried.

"Choose," Angelus intoned. "The boy or the girl. You can't have both."

"Well, I'm an only child," Buffy reminded him lightly. "I'm used to getting my own way."

She leapt into the air and kicked Angelus's right hand, the one that held Xander. He threw Xander against the wall where he left a smear of blood as he slithered down to the floor. Buffy cleared her mind and concentrated on fighting Angel. Angelus, she corrected herself as she parried his strong blows. He seemed faster, more determined in his mission to kill her. What she hated most was the smug look in his eyes. He knew her so intimately he could use it to undermine her efforts, and that grated on Buffy like sliding her hand down the edge of a sword.

Tamara and Cordelia watched them fight, one looking on in horror, one with ecstasy. Buffy swung her arm in an arc, casting down a whole row of candles into her opponent. Angel screamed at the inhuman heat and rolled on the ground to put out the fire.

"It's like a dance," Tamara said wonderingly. "Was it so when the stag and the maiden met for the first time? I shall only know when I drink the blood of the child they've made."

"Not!" Cordelia said scathingly. "Xander and Willow never hooked up. And from what I hear, Buffy had a hell of a time keeping them off each other. Which is something I'm going to take up with Xander once we-"

"What did you say?" Tamara pulled Cordelia in front of her, fury in her narrowed eyes.

"Nothing." Cordelia turned her head in time to see Buffy execute a masterful punch to Angelus's solar plexus before Tamara slapped her head back.

She bit her lip to keep from crying out, and to quell the odd feelings that sung in her veins. She felt elation with each hit Angelus made on Buffy- and wasn't that peculiar? That she should feel the same stirrings as a vicious killer? He hadn't been in her body long enough to make any permanent changes, had he? Or was it just the proximity of all Tamara's evil magic and potions? Maybe it had something to do with the annual Spring Thaw.

Cordelia trembled and remembered the intense feelings from the library, when she first confronted Angelus-as-Giles. It was as though she could become a vampire if she only wanted it bad enough. But she didn't want it, she didn't! All she wanted to do was grab Xander and get out of the cave as soon as Buffy could conveniently dispatch Angelus and his demon lover. The wooden stake she concealed in the waistband of her jeans pressed into her stomach and she couldn't wait to get rid of it. The sooner she could drive it home in Angelus's breast, the sooner she would stop feeling everything he felt. She hoped. Oh, God, how she hoped.

A radical thought entered Cordelia's mind and she tried to focus on Tamara, who was painfully twisting her wrist and demanding details she couldn't give.

Perhaps there was a way to use her discovery of Angelus to defeat him. Could she somehow draw on his strength, his empty soul, and will herself to change? Tamara's possession spell had inexplicable side effects that Cordelia hoped would wear off. But in the meantime she could use it to her advantage.

"I'm hungry," Cordelia whimpered, looking down at the stone floor. She centered her mind on Angelus's bloodlust and used it to give herself a true desire to want what vampires wanted. Blood. Cordelia gave herself up to it, hungrily looking at Angelus. He knew how to give her what she wanted, he'd nearly done it before with Oz in the van.

"Well, it looks like my spell was more powerful than I thought," Tamara crooned. She let up on Cordelia's wrist and the girl gasped as the blood rushed back into her fingers. Tamara stroked Cordelia's hair and led her over to where Xander lay on the floor, unconscious. He had a minor head wound, but it was bleeding profusely and he looked deathly pale in the glow of the candlelight.

"I want him," Cordelia told Tamara timidly, lifting Xander's dead weight into her arms.

Chapter Ten
Tamara nearly burst with excitement. The girl had no idea what was happening to her! Angelus losing control in her body last night had somehow transferred his need for blood into her system so strongly that she was pleading for it!

She still had a soul, her features hadn't changed into the grotesque mask of a vampire, but she knew enough of Angelus's passions to empathize with him. This could be very interesting. Had Angelus borne a fresh breed of vampire without even knowing it? Tamara's mind raced thinking of all the power she could attain from this serendipitous situation.

Tamara helped Cordelia position Xander in her arms and pushed his neck to one side, baring his jugular vein.

"I can almost hear the blood pumping through his veins," Cordelia whispered incredulously. "It's fast- he must be scared." She lifted her head and called Angelus's name proudly, making him turn, stare, and then laugh with pure pleasure.

Buffy took that moment to glance over at the horrific tableau and screamed. She ducked Angelus's last punch and leapt across the room, glad for once that he didn't follow in attack mode. Was Oz right? Was Cordelia really a vampire? What was going on?!

Angelus plopped down in Tamara's throne and coached Cordelia from the sidelines.

"Nice and slow, girl, that's it. Just sink your teeth into his neck- no, a little lower. There! Tamara, she looks great!"

"Cordelia, what are you doing?" Buffy screeched. Angelus laughed.

"Oh, too bad, Buffy. Looks like you lost. Wanna play again?"

"I'm not playing this game, Angel. Cordelia, no, don't!" Buffy lunged forward to wrest Xander out of her arms, but Angelus was too quick. He jumped off the throne, crossed the room in three long strides, and pinned Buffy's arms behind her back. She struggled wildly, watching painfully through hot, angry tears as Cordelia tossed her hair over her shoulder and lowered her head.

What happened next was something Cordelia would never speak of again, not even to Xander, certainly not to Buffy or Giles. They would have to know how she beat Angelus and Tamara, of course, but she refused to talk about it after the fact. It was way too gross. She would blame it on the Spring Thaw and a host of unparalleled magical activity. Cordelia pressed her lips to Xander's neck, felt his vein pulsating beneath her mouth. It was oddly sensual, even though she wanted to drink the blood underneath.

Quickly, before Tamara could react, she let Xander fall into her lap, twisted Tamara's hair around her fist, yanked her head back and dug her momentarily sharp incisors deep into the vampires neck. She tore away cold flesh and tasted the bitter blood on her tongue. With her other hand she plunged a thick wooden stake into the evil woman's heart.

Tamara let forth a shrill cry before exploding into a very satisfactory cloud of dust.

"What?" Angelus spat in disbelief.

Buffy took that moment to stomp the heel of her boot down on his foot. He yelped in surprise and released her. She rushed over to Cordelia and threw Xander over her shoulder, running for the exit. Angel moved to the doorway to halt their escape but was stymied by Cordelia, who voluntarily stopped in front of him and met his dark eyes with her own.

"Let us go, Angel," Cordelia said in a hypnotizing voice. A smear of Tamara's cool blood bathed her chin and he wiped it away with the cuff of his velvet shirt. His own mouth watered and his groin tightened as Cordelia ran her tongue over her lips to catch any stray drops. Her still-sharp teeth glistened with saliva and held a dangerous promise.

"I can change you forever," he offered. He thirsted for her like a man doing hard labor under a sultry sun and wondered why he just didn't grab her and take her right there in front of the Slayer.

"No, you can't," she said forcefully.

"Cordelia!" Buffy's voice tugged at her soul and she reluctantly backed away from Angelus's compelling gaze. She didn't want to go any further than she already had. Xander groaned from behind Buffy, waking up from his mild concussion and giving Cordelia something else to focus on besides the allure of Angel's dark, glittering eyes and the desire he was projecting at her.

"Let's go," Cordelia agreed with Buffy's unspoken plea. The three of them moved as fast as Xander's infirmity would let them.

Angel helplessly watched them go, rooted to the ground by Cordelia's will alone. His flesh stung from the candle burns and he felt weakened by the battle with the Slayer.

Once the bedraggled trio was out of sight, Angel threw himself down in Tamara's throne and picked up her book of ideas, the one where she had discovered the power of the Beltaine ritual. He would have to take time to heal, regroup, see if he could deduce a creative way to turn Cordelia into a vampire so she could rule by his side. The whole business needed poetry, and poetry took time.

Well, he had eternity.

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