|Not mine, Joss's, Not mine, Joss's.
From behind them, Cordelia said, "Hold it. No WAY I'm going to be running around the schools at night in my nightgown. I mean, you two might be used to running around in your underwear, but I'm not!"
Angel couldn't believe what he was hearing. "We're not going back to your house, Cordelia, I don't care how embarrassed you are."
"Embarassed? Hardly! Just that wormboy over there's long since lost his rights to see me wearing a nightgown . . . and you blew your chance a long time ago."
As Angel was about to answer, Xander said, leaning heavily against the lockers, "Easier just to take her down to the locker room and get her gym clothes than to argue. Trust me on this one. I'll head off to the library and see what else is in that book. If you ever tell Giles this I'll kill . . . I'll get really mad, but it's actually a kind of fun read."
"Let's go!" Cordelia said brightly. Angel blinked. "Well it's either him or you, and while I don't trust you, I don't LIKE him." Reluctantly, Angel followed the youngster's advice, waited impatiently outside the girl's locker room, and strained to keep from commenting when he found that not only had she changed clothes, she'd put on makeup. Despite the fact that she'd spent nearly a year trying to hit on him, which had frustrated him and Buffy no end, Angel had seen Cordelia grow from the selfish and irresponsible person that she'd been the first time they'd met, to someone who was substantially less shallow, selfish, and irresponsible. Even when the demon had been in charge, he'd noted it.
But since Spike had returned and hurt them worse by accident than he ever had on purpose, she'd regressed, and regressed badly, from everything Buffy'd told him. It was like she was repressing what she'd been, what she'd become, when she was with Xander. Angel understood that.
But right now, that DIDN'T mean her behavior didn't also really tick him off.
Eventually, they went back and found that Xander had managed to drag himself into the library and was looking at the end of Hypnos' biography. Admirable initiative, he had to admit. "What have you found?" He asked as Cordelia went over and leaned against the supply cage, pointedly not looking at Xander.
"Something useful, believe it or not. That symbol Hypnos is building . . . this author, whoever he is, says there are two ways of stopping it, orbably. One involves taking something really big and destroying it in advance, which might be a problem when he has a whole town doing his evil bidding.' He grinned. "You know, I've always wanted to say 'evil bidding' and mean it." Then his face got uncommonly serious. "Unfortunately, I think the other way is the way we're going to have to go."
Before Angel could respond, Cordelia said, "My singing?"
Nodding his head perfunctorily, Xander said, "Got it in one, Cordy."
"TOLD you I had layers," the woman answered snappishly.
To stop any argument from breaking out, Angel said, "Why did you say unfortunately?"
"Problem is, we'd have to let Hypno-dude complete his little symbol o'doom."
"Let me see that . . ." Angel took the book and read over it. "The symbol produces a sound that keeps everyone under his control and permanently asleep, but a CERTAIN tone can disrupt it, if sung with emotion. Guess that's where you come in, Cordelia."
She blinked. "My singing? But why MY singing? Why me?"
Angel handed the book back to Xander, who closed it and put it down on the table. Then he turned to the cheerleader and said, "You probably don't want to know."
"Yes I do!"
Sighing, Angel said, "It needs a BAD singer, Cordelia. A very, very, bad singer."
"Speaking as one who is forever traumatized by Cordelia's rendition of 'Greatest Love of All,' may I just say, the gods could not have made a better choice."
"Shut up, Benedict Harris, you shacked up with your best friend and got me spiked through the stomach. Who the hell gave YOU the right to an opinion?" Then the anger fled her voice as she looked at Angel. "I'm that bad? THAT'S the reason?" Damn! They did NOT need Cordelia being so depressed she couldn't perform.
But as he was about to say something to try to build up her spirits, someone they didn't know walked through the front door. His voice seemed stilted when he said, "I KNEW it was a good idea to have someone scope out this place."
Angel swore, but grabbed the still sleeping man and threw him into the rare books cage, grabbing a book before locking the door. Then he said, "Get up. We have to run, out the back door, now. They know we're here." Cordelia's eyes widened in fear, but she recovered enough to move towards the back of the room. After a second, the obviously weakened Xander followed suit. "Does the stadium have an announcer's booth?"
"A private one," the boy answered, "Benefit of living in a rich area. But why --"
"Let's get there. You'll see why, when."
* * *
Not to mention that she'd screwed things up by falling asleep, too. DAMN her! Just when she had the opportunity to prove to these people that alienating her like that was a big mistake --
And now, the singing. Fate, the gods, or whichever deity thing controlled the way things went in Sunnydale, must have decided to dole out an extra helping of bad karma to her, because now it was telling her that the only reason she was in line to help this sad sack of a town was because she was completely and utterly talentless, at least as a singer.
She barely noticed their sprint towards the stadium, with Angel strewing people ahead of them liberally along the way, so caught up she was in her self-pity. Angel said, "Xander. Which way is the booth?"
"Not far -- that entrance, and up a flight of stairs."
"Wish we had time to pick the lock," the vampire muttered as he kicked the door in and the three of them, Xander obviously dead on his feet (too bad she had to add those last three words), made it up the stairway and into the booth. That door was unlocked, she noted out of the corner of her mind. "THIS is why we're here, Xander; this way Cordelia's voice will be heard throughout the stadium," Angel added as he braced himself against the door.
Xamder forced himself to his feet and looked down on the field; as far away as she could get, she also looked at the field. It was all dug up, and a five-foot high pattern made out of the dirt -- looking almost like a trumpet -- looked to be mostly done.
A voice came through the door, unfamiliar this time. "Don't know why the three of you bolted up there . . . not going to do you any good though, because the pattern is . . ." and suddenly she felt a click in the air, and a low, moaning sound started to come from the direction of the trumpet's soundy end. "The pattern is done! Still . . . can't do with any loose ends . . . " And then people started pounding on the door.
"Okay, Cordy," Xander said. "Now's your chance to have a captive audience. Go ahead and afflict them with your voice."
"I can't." She couldn't!
"Now,"Angel grunted, "is not the time to doubt yourself. SING, Cordelia."
She looked around, panicky. What was she going to do? She was standing at the edge of the cliff . . . she knew if she could sing, she could save all the people down there. Buffy, Willow, Giles, her mother . . . she took a deep breath.
And then, suddenly, Xander was there next to her.
* * *
"And?" Cordelia demanded?
"And I just thought you should know that, 'cause you are NOT going to like what I say next and I wanted to get my excuse out of the way." Xander could hear the thumps by the sleeping people hurling themselves against the door, but so far Angel wasn't having any diffculty keeping them out.
The vampire shouted from his position at the door, "Xander! Knock -- it -- off!"
Xander ignored Angel and continued. "Here you are. You finally have a chance to save the world, to do the right thing, and all you can think about is your own fears. I've had fears, Angel's had fears. Get OVER them, dammit!"
Cordy shrunk away from the microphone. This time Angel's voice sounded positively pissed as the vampire grunted, "Xander!" But he'd come too far to let even deadboy stop him now.
"Look at them down there, Cordy. LOOK at them. They're asleep, their minds are trapped. And you -- and God must have one twisted sense of humor for this -- ONLY you have the power to stop it. Forget it. I'm beginning to wonder what I EVER saw in you. Your great body doesn't do a damn thing to hide the insensitive, callous, shallow bitch underneath. I think you deserved everything's that's happened to you. So you got a spike through the stomach? So I betrayed you? Big goddamn deal, ice queen. I deserved so much better than you, I have no idea why I settled. " Xander ran on, desperately, barely pausing for breath. "LOOK at them, Cordy: They're going through hell right now. But you know what? You know what? I'd rather let them STAY IN HELL . . . "
Cordelia whispered, "No . . ."
". . . than hear you sing."
Trick was back standing with the Mayor when another of the sleepwalkers walked up to them, carrying something.
"Well, Mr. Mayor," the voice of Hypnos came from some middle-aged broad, "Thanks for all your help. The symbol's almost completed. Incidentally, you might to move around a bit like you're under the spell. You have a couple of interlopers holing up in the announcer's booth."
Trick jogged down the steps and peered hard into the booth, then hustled back up the stands.
"Don't have a clear view of you, but still, better safe," the vampire said. "You may be interested: I got a clear view of both Miss Cordelia Chase AND the traitor vamp Angel. "
Finch said, "Shouldn't you go do something about them then? What do we pay you for anyway?"
Voice dripping with venom, Trick said, "Near as I can tell, to stand around a lot and try to come up with a good reason why I shouldn't separate your head from your neck and drink the blood comes pouring out."
Hypnos interrupted them. "Mr. Trick's services will not be necessary. I can handle the barricade, and there's little they can do trapped up there."
"Nice to know," Mayor Wilkins answered amiably. "By the way, Mr. Trick here -- you two DO know each other, right?"
"We've had the pleasure," the sorceror answered.
"Well, he started me wondering: What's this symbol going to do?"
"Keep everyone who's now asleep under my permanent control."
"Trick, remind me to listen to you in the future," the Mayor said, standing up. "Hypnos, what am I going to do in control of a town full of sleepwalkers? Mr. Trick --"
"Will stay right where he is. You have no cause for complaint, Mayor; I helped get you elected, you owed me a favor, you did it. What you do afterwards is none of my concern."
Trick said. "The old you scratch my back, I stab yours routine. I like your style." The Mayor and his assistant shot him a dirty look. "Didn't say I agreed with the application, just said I liked his style."
The Mayor continued to protest, Hypnos continued to deflect his every concern, and Trick slowly backed away. Hadn't made more than halfway down before hizzoner said, "Mr. Trick: Go break up that symbol!"
Almost before Trick could take a step, legions of sleepwalkers came barreling past him, WAY too many for him to fight or even slow down, and within seconds he, all of his subvamps, Mayor Wilkins and the deouty Mayor were pinned down quite thoroughly. Dispassionately, Trick saw which ones had been harder to hold down and took a few mental notes; if the sorceror wanted him and his compadres to be dust in the wind, then dust they were gonna be and no two ways about it.
"I didn't want to have to do this . . ." Trick watched as water was passed up the stesp and Hypnos said, "Hard way, easy way, your call, Mayor Wilkins: either drink the water or I can just hit you over the head. "
Finch gulped his cup and fell asleep almost immediately; hizzoner, with a disgusted look on his face, tossed his cup to the ground. Give the man points for guts!
If not brains. That would be one WICKED lump on his head when he woke up. If he woke up, that is, which was beginning to look less and less likely . . .
Then, abruptly, he was released. Hypnos said from the body right in front of him -- an elementary school student! -- "You're not going to cause any trouble, are you?"
Well, not at the moment, no, not with Hypnos holding all the cards. Trick signalled to everyone to stop struggling and they all walked out of the stadium.
One of them grumbled, "We didn't even get our children!"
Trick restrained himself from slapping him in the back of the head.
* * *
She choked out a "No . . ." but he went on anyway.
". . . than hear you sing."
And then there was dead silence except for the pounding on the door, which seemed fainter, more distant, than it had been. All of her attention was focused, now, on Xander, on what he said.
Could he be right?
Could she have . . . deserved it?
No. Xander Harris could NEVER be right.
She began breathing deeply. Goddammit, she hadn't deserved that, she DIDN'T deserve this, not from him, not from anyone! Who the hell was Xander Harris to tell her the spike through the stomach was her fault? To say that the breakup, the betrtayal, was her fault?
And -- "Who the HELL are you to tell me I can't sing? Just you watch me, Xander, and THEN tell me I can't sing!"
Xander's hand snaked up and flicked a switch, turning the microphone on, and Cordelia grabbed it and began singing, nothing but pure anger radiating from her mouth, barely thinking about the song she sang:
"So call me a bitch in heat and I'll call you a liar, and we'll throw
stones until we're dead . . ."
* * *
"I owe you an apology," Angel said. Xander's eyes widened and Angel whsipered to him, "That maneuver you pulled on Cordelia to get her angry. Well played."
"Thanks. Not like I didn't feel SOME of it, but still --"
"See this book I have under my arm?"
Xander reached over and pulled it out. "Honsenberg's Narcotica." Puzzled, he looked up at Angel. "You think this'll do some good now?"
The vampire said, "You and Cordelia weren't fully affected. Why? What do to the two of you have in common? And I don't --" he grunted as the pounding at the door became harder, but it stayed closed. -- "mean that you dated." After a few seconds, Angel said, "Brainstorm, man!"
Xander thought frantically . . . and the chain of thought was interrupted by another retching fit. When he stopped, he apologized, saying, "I don't know why I keep doing that; not like I've had anything to eat in the last two . . ." Then he had it. "Cordelia's on some kind of freaky diet. I don't know what she's eating, but she's not drinking the water."
"Good. Now here's what good I think the book can do . . ."
* * *
"Yet I know you're being bogus when you flirt with other women and I know I could be swimmin' in your sea . . ."
"I shut out acceptance so I won't get hurt and move on to the next one who will treat me like dirt . . ."
With every note, the pattern vibrated. Now and again the people out there would stop their tasks for a split second or two, stand there or begin falling, and then start up again. So her voice was interfering with them, no question at all.
And then, again, some Aimee Mann:
"Oh, baby, I wonder if when you are older, someday, you'll wake up and say "My God, I should have told her --" What would it take?-- "But, now, here I am and the world's gotten colder . . . and she's got the river down which I sold her . . ."
But she kept coming back to the same one, unable to finish it:
"I can chew like a cannibal, I can yell like a cat -- you even had me believing that you really, really, like it like that. But there was never a moment, not a moment, now you know, now you know, now you know, you EVER got within a hundred million miles of my soul . . ."
"I spit, I spit in the eye, I tear, I tear out the heart and I scatter the bits; I stay unseen by the light, I stay untold by the truth, I am sold by a lie . . . by this I am able in all of my travels to make these memories quit, but tonight I CLEARLY recall every little bit . . ."
The nearer she approached the third verse, the more the pattern out there rippled, the more discordant the other sound got, the more people stopped what they were doing . . .
and then when she stopped it all died down again.
Clearly, what she needed to do was finish that song.
And just as clearly -- she couldn't.
Xander peered over the edge of the booth and for once counted his blessings: While Hypnos was trying to build some kind of human chain to reach up to them, he wasn't having much luck, because Cordelia's songs disrupted his control over the sleepwalkers long enough to make the sleepers' coordination take a nosedive. No sooner did they get a decent chain going than they froze for a few seconds and tumbled onto the seats. Sunnydale's residents were going to have an even nastier collection of bumps, bruises and broken bones than they did yesterday the way Hypnos was manhandling them, but there was nothing they could do about that.
And the stairway up to the booth was one of those cheapass metal jobbies that only allowed one or two people at a time to pound on the door, so while Angel couldn't move, the strain wasn't TOO great, even if the vampire was trying to puzzle something out in that big huge book o' sleep spells he'd lugged along.
Of course, there was the little difficulty of the sun rising in a few hours and pouring directly into the booth an hour or so afterwards . . .
But then, Xander reflected as he listened to Cordy's voice, by that time they would have already won or lost. She'd been singing for a couple of hours already, more or less straight, and her voice was showing signs of wear and tear already. Well, greater wear and tear, anyway.
He'd been more or less speaking true when he'd told Angel that his little anti-Cordy diatribe had been psychological manipulation, but there had been a grain or two of truth to it. Not the part about blaming Cordelia for what happened to her. Oh no, the pain he'd caused her and Oz was his and his alone. (It wasn't even Willow's fault, nope, nope, nope, it was his and his alone. Man, he had a lot of guilt to work off!)
But he was kinda ticked at her for dropping the ball this time and falling asleep.
Anyway, by comparison that wasn't really all that important. What WAS though, was that Cordy kept singing one song in particular -- and during one part of it all the sleepwalkers stopped. But then she broke off and went on to another, and they started moving around again.
He went back and quietly whispered to Angel, "You can't see what's going on out there, but I can. You hear that song she keeps singing and stopping?"
Angel said, "Yes, what about it?" a bit hesitantly. Xander explained what happened during the song in question -- the actions and paralysis of the sleepwalkers. "And you're wondering . . . ."
"I'm wondering how I can get her to sing the rest of the song!"
"Why not --" Angel was interrupted by a thump on the door -- "just try that reverse psychology you used earlier?"
"I'm not used to my plans working once, I certainly don't want to tempt fate by trying it again."
"Fine, then," Angel said irritably. "Take the book -- don't lose the page!" the vampire said suddenly, almost making Xander drop the thing -- "and look on the left side about halfway down." Xander looked at it. The heading read, "General incantation for removing charms of somnambulence." That he understood the phrase frightened him almost as much as what he suspected Angel was asking him to do."You want me to READ this?" he asked in a tone of disbelief. In answer Angel made a somewhat derisive gesture at the door, and Xander got the point immediately.
"I'm not even close to Giles' level of ability when it comes to doing research," Angel said. "I'm sure that somewhere in that book there's a spell of some sort that would be even better, but right now we're kind of pressed for time."
"I'm no good at this!" Xander protested again. "I do research, I fight . . . though I'm not really that good at either of them . . . but spellcasting is way out of my league." Then he started thinking. What DID he do for this group that was so special? How did he fit in?
Grimacing, Angel said, "Xander, you picked a hell of a poor time to have an identity crisis. Read the spell and cast it." After a second, he said, "When you're ready, tap Cordelia on the shoulder. I'll try to figure out why she can't finish the song in question. Read the spell through the microphone and let me know what happens."
Great, performing. Xander HATED performing. But obviously right now
he didn't really have a choice. He took a deep breath and began reading
over the spell.
* * *
She sang Heart: "If looks could kill, you'd be lying on the floor . . . you'd be begging me please, please, baby don't hurt me no more . . ."
It reached the low point when she started singing Weird Al, though . . .
"I'd rather dive naked into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades, than spend one more minute with you . . ."
But she couldn't finish that one song . . . no matter how necessary it was! Why couldn't she say it?
As she was about to begin it again, she was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. Her eyes blazing with fury at being interrupted, she spun to face Xander. He dared? But before she could recover, he said, "I need to read a spell and Angel wants to talk to you." Then he looked down at one of those big filthy spellbooks that Giles always kept around the library and said, "It shouldn't take more than two minutes. Go."
"You read a spell?" she demanded. "Whose brilliant idea was this? This is SO not what we need, everyone in love with you again."
"I guess I deserved that," he answered. "Now go. Talk."
She pulled out a stick of gum and began chewing -- ANYTHING to make her mouth less dry! -- and wearily, hesitantly walked back to talk to Angel. She really DIDN'T trust him, much -- it was like making nice with a rabid dog. Still, at least the vampire was a rabid dog on her side, this time.
"Why are you having trouble with that one song?" Angel asked.
"I know!" she said. "I KNOW I need to sing it. But I can't, I can't, I just can't . . ."
"Why?" he asked sharply.
"Because -- look. I need to sing these songs with emotion, and all of them have a lot I can sing straight out. But this one -- this one's almost perfect except for the last two lines."
"And they are?"
She took a deep breath. "I -- I -- I still don't blame you for leaving, baby, it's cold living with ghosts." And then: "But it WAS all his fault! I DO blame him for leaving me! I didn't cheat on him, I didn't make out with my best friend, I didn't drive a spike through my own stomach!"
"Did you tell him you loved him?"
That was SO not something she expected to hear . . . how the HELL did she find out? Who gave Buffy the interfering witch Summers the, the, the RIGHT to tell this vampire?
Behind her, Xander was reading something into the microphone. She wasn't really paying much attention.
"I'm assuming by your silence that you didn't tell him. So tell me this, Cordelia: Do you think things might have been different if you had told him?"
And suddenly it all came flooding back. When she'd been lying there in her hospital bed, and even afterwards, before she'd come back to who she really was -- or thought she had -- she'd been eaten alive by doubts. But she'd shoved them all aside once she got out of the hospital.
But as long as she refused to acknowledge that, even through the betrayal by Willow and Xander, even through the spike through the stomach, that there was some part of her that DID think she was to blame -- then she could never fully be herself --
and she was strong enough to handle this. She was strong enough to handle being called a bad singer. She was strong enough to put up with all of this.
She was strong enough to sing the third verse of "Every Little Bit --"
Because, goddammit, she was CORDELIA CHASE.
Cordelia whirled in place. Xander wasn't saying anything. "Are you done, bad spell boy?"
He proved his nontotal denseness by nodding and backing off in one smooth motion.
"Good. Because I have a song to sing." Cordelia moved towards the microphone, spat out the gum, breathed deeply, and began:
"It's funny how a morning turns a love to shame . . . disguised and
disfigured and you thought I tasted like rain . . ."
Hypnos was in trouble now, and he knew it. While the symbol was done -- and thus, supposedly, everyone asleep now under his spell -- that anti-siren up in the play-by-play booth was disrupting the waves, the luscious wave, of somnolence!
How in Hades had she known?
And, more importantly HOW could he have had such bad luck to come to the town, to the one town, that had the one woman with JUST the right caliber of bad voice to interfere?
Worse luck yet! -- someone had survived who knew spells at least well enough to weaken his own. So if, by some twist from that hideously unprincipled bitch called fate, the horrible singer in the booth completed her song, his earlier spell would also be over.
There was no way to get up there that didn't involve tearing down the stadium -- but there would be other ways of stopping her, oh yes there would. So he searched the mayor's office while at the same time he scouted around and looked for the school's main electrical box.
Thank the Gods that City Hall wasn't that far from the school.
The electrical box was to shut off the power; the mayor's office was for the powder used in the spell.
The power was for prevention; the powder was for revenge.
* * *
"Nice going," Xander said.
"You were too close to the situation," Angel said. "Was there any reaction when you finished chanting the spell?"
"Well, this one girl threw me her underwear --" he began, but this time he didn't even wait for the inevitable glare to begin before he got serious. "No, not really."
"I was hoping everyone would wake up and this would all be over. The symbol must be too strong. Still, if you chanted it right, it should have some effect." Another person smashed against the door, and Angel grunted but held firm.
"How long can you keep holding that door?"
"As long as it takes Cordelia to finish singing . . . or sunrise, whichever comes first." One more blow, one more grunt, one more time the door held. "Tell me, do you know the number of a good chiropractor?"
Xander blinked. That couldn't have been . . . "Did you just make a joke?"
"Chalk it up to your bad influence," the vampire answered.
Then further conversation became impossible as the aura and power of Cordelia's song began to fill the booth and go beyond. Xander staggered over to one side of the small room, holding his stomach, and looked outside. The symbol was shaking like it was the center of a very tiny earthquake. All over, people were dropping to the ground, returning to their feet, and being knocked back down by the power of the song. It was working!
And then the power went out.
* * *
With the sound disrupting his glorious symbol, Hypnos relinquished his hold on all but fifty of them, concentrating first on getting the electricity shut off and second on getting the white powder into the face of one specific person.
The powder got there first; it was a lot easier to find. The person in question inhaled the powder; now, no matter what spell was cast, she'd be under his control long enough to exact his revenge.
And then, success! The power was shut off . . .
and so the singing would end, and victory, though delayed, was his!
* * *
Angel and Xander both began to swear . . . and then realized something:
HER VOICE WAS STILL CARRYING.
* * *
She wasn't the only one caught in the magic, either. Dimly, below, those whom Hypnos had relinquished control over -- and most of those he did -- were slowly becoming aware of a sound. A beautiful, radiant, compelling sound, drawing them out of their states of unconsciousness, slowly but surely. To many -- to most -- it was the most wonderful thing they had ever heard.
Yes, the voice of Cordelia Chase, the most wonderful thing they'd ever heard. Hard to believe, isn't it?
Cordelia was oblivious to this. She was oblivious to everything except the song she was singing:
"You left open the window till the morning and the winter walked in . . . reality fired her wooden bullet, splintered under our skin they say I'm walking on freedom, this is freedom, now I know, now I know, now I know, now I know . . .
Cordelia came to the part she'd had problems with and sailed through it effortlessly.
"I still don't blame you for leaving, baby, it's cold living with ghosts . . . I spit, I spit in the eye, I tear, I tear out the heart and I scatter the bits I stay unseen by the light, I stay untold by the truth, I am sold by a lie . . . by this I am able in all of my travels to make these memories quit, but tonight I clearly recall every little bit . . ."
By the end, the exact words themselves were unimportant, but the meaning and the passion shone through clearly . . . and on the final word, all chaos broke loose. Everyone under the spell, no matter where they were . . . collapsed to the ground, where many of them began waking up.
The symbol shook itself apart and ended up as several different piles of dirt in the middle of the football field.
And Cordelia, suddenly bereft of the throes of her own sonically induced ecstasy, sank to the ground with a huge smile on her face.
Finally, FINALLY -- she had the audience she deserved.
* * *
"I've seen them believe sillier stories." From the look on Xander's face he wasn't sure whether he'd been insulted or complimented, which was exactly the way the vampire had intended it. "We should probably get downstairs and check on everyone."
Angel gingerly picked the unprotesting Cordelia -- still dazed and confused from her success -- and the three of them slowly walked down to the field, picking their way past several groggy and happy people. That little fib of Xander's might have been better than Angel had thought, if the looks on these people's faces were any indication.
Willow, Oz, and Giles had congregated close to the entrance, and they seemed a bit less dazed than everyone else. "Oz! Giles! Willow! Man, I've never been happier to see any of you wake up before in my life! Um, not that I've seen Willow wake up anytime recently."
Fortunately for Xander's somewhat fragile ego, none of the three was paying attention. Giles said, rubbing his neck, "I assume one of you is going to tell us what happened?"
Angel said, "The long version would take a while -- let's just wait until we're all safe -- and we've found Buffy." Then he heard something charge up behind him and he spun in place --
Just in time to receive a kick to the chest that sent him sprawling. All around him he heard gasps of shock. He put Cordelia down and stood up to face the attacker and suddenly understood the gasps.
Buffy stood there, murder in her face. "You ruined it, vampire!" she
said in a voice not her own, then drew a stake and charged.
Giles said, wearily but firmly, "Everyone over by Cordelia!" even though he wasn't sure exactly what they could do if the still-possessed Buffy somehow got by Angel. He, Willow and Oz had just completed several hours at hard labor, and Xander at the moment didn't look like he could have fought off a housefly. Still, everyone complied.
It was an EXTREMELY disturbing thought to be hoping for Angel to emerge victorious in a fight over Buffy, even a Buffy under the control of an evil sorcerer. Giles still had deep feelings of loathing for the vampire over his torture. And while he knew intellectually full well that it was not right to blame Angel for Angelus' crimes --
At some emotional, visceral level, every time he woke up with the memory of the physical pain, he blamed the vampire. It disturbed him greatly that he could not entirely suppress these feelings.
For the moment, though, such self-analysis needed to be put aside. Angel was constrained in fighting Buffy by an obvious and strong desire not to damage her, and while Hypnos hadn't had Slayer training he had been controlling bodies for upwards of two millennia. So it was a fairly even fight.
Buffy pulled a stake and swung it at Angel, but the vampire knocked it clear and struck back, hitting the sorceror in the chin. Other than a jerk of the head, though, this brought no physical reaction from Buffy's body. Damn. He was too concerned about hurting Buffy to give his all to the fight. come to think of it, in many ways that was a point in his favor; what would Giles have thought if Angel had just thrown on his vampire face and charged full tilt at his Slayer? Nothing good, that was certain. Still, Angel's defensive method of fighting wasn't likely to work. They had to find another solution, and quickly, as one of Hypnos' blows caught Angel in the face.
He quickly explained the problem to the slayerettes assembled.
"Maybe a spell would help," Willow offered wearily.
"Where would you suggest we get one?" Giles retorted gently. "I do not make it a habit to memorize such spells, and though your prowess in the area is growing rapidly I must have doubts in your ability to come up with something that would on the spur of the moment defeat the spells of a two-thousand-year-old magician -- especially given your condition at the moment." The novice witch looked hurt at Giles's statements, but what was he to do?
Then Xander spoke up. "Maybe if we cast them from a book?"
"And where would you suggest we GET this book, Xander?"
"Hmmm. Good point. How about . . . here?" And, smirking in sheer triumph, he reached onto the ground and picked up a book that was most concealed beneath Cordelia's exhausted form. Then, the grin widening even further, he handed it to Giles.
Angel's defensive fighting was sufficing to keep the possessed Slayer away from Cordelia and them, and himself alive, but he was undergoing a bit of a beating and would surely lose eventually.
As he scanned the cover in mild disbelief -- Honsenberg's Narcotica -- Oz commented, "Xander, some day you are going to have to tell me how you did that." The emergency lighting had kicked in at some point -- he wondered briefly when the power had cut out -- and it was just barely bright enough for him to be able to read what was inside.
Giles asked Xander how he'd gotten it; Xander explained, "Angel took it from the library and during a little break in the action I read a spell out of it to help us wake people up."
"Which one?" Giles demanded.
Xander reached for the book and flipped it open. "Now, if it was the wrong one, blame deadboy, not me. But if it was the right one I'd kinda like to take the credit --"
With a snort, Giles looked at the spell -- more of an incantation, actually, since it required neither physical components nor invocations to deities -- and had to admit that it was a fairly good generic anti-sleep spell. "This would have been of some use," he said, "Though it wasn't perfect for the circumstances, it was indeed appropriate." Quickly he skimmed through the book until he came to page 77. "This one, however, is a bit more specific to the moment. Willow, do you concur?"
Surprised and happy -- exactly as Giles had intended -- she grabbed the book and gave the incantation a quick once-over. "Yes! If anything will wake Buffy up right now, this will." There was a groan from behind them; slowly, Cordelia was beginning to get up.
"You're all awake!" she exclaimed, then hurriedly added, "Not like I CARED that much --" Then she saw Buffy and Angel fighting. "Okay!" she demanded. "Which one of you slept with him this time?" Her gaze turned on Xander. "Well? You're the expert here, with your family history and all --"
"Cordelia," Giles said, "Buffy is still asleep, possessed by the sorcerer, and she's trying to kill Angel for ruining his plans."
"What?!" She shrieked. "But I was the one who did the singing. Me! Why is he getting all the credit?"
Willow and Oz gaped as one. "That -- that was YOUR voice we heard as we were waking up?" Willow said. "But it was so beautiful!"
Cutting off Cordelia's sputter of outrage, Giles pointed to the fight and curtly said, "Astonishment later. Willow, are you prepared to do the incantation?"
She took a deep breath and said, "I think I can handle it," and began reading. At the same time, the possessed Buffy struck Angel two powerful blows to the face and sent the vampire sprawling to the ground, then jumped onto him and pulled a stake, clearly prepared for a killing blow.
Help came from a most unexpected quarter. Cordelia yelled, "Hey, Hypnos! I was the one who ruined your pathetic plan. That's right, pathetic! I mean, shouldn't a two THOUSAND year old magician be able to fight back against ONE girl?" Imperceptibly, Xander cleared his throat.
Remarkably, the tactic worked. Hypnos stopped his assault on Angel in mid-stake and looked toward Cordelia, who continued to hurl insults at the magician as she backed slowly away -- and whether by accident or design, she was heading away from Willow.
Hypnos caught on too late, and had just turned to face Willow with an angry expression when she read the final words of the spell. . . .
and finally, mercifully, Buffy woke up.
* * *
As Buffy staggered around asking what had happened, and Angel slowly got to his feet, Cordelia cleared her throat and said. "Now. Which one of you is going to take me home?" Everyone turned and gave her a dirty look, though she had no idea why. "I mean, come on! It's not like I want to hang around with you people any longer than I absolutely have to!"
Then the librarian spoke up. "I, I had assumed, Cordelia, that your actions of the last twenty-four hours bespoke otherwise."
And Xander, of all people, had the nerve to say, "Come on back to the Scooby Gang. You know you want to."
"Want to?" she demanded. "Want to? Look, I don't know how it is with you people, but I don't need anyone else's approval, and I don't need to be with anyone to make myself feel good. That's one thing you people taught me: You can't trust anyone, least of all one of you." She snorted. "Want to hang out with you, Xander Harris?" Her voice cracked a little, and what had been an angry tirade ended up sounding almost . . . . wistful? Like she knew she was lying and didn't want to admit it. "Not even in your dreams."
Then she walked home alone.
Mr. Trick and Deputy Mayor Allan Finch stood in the mayor's office, while Mayor Wilkins himself sat behind the desk and looked as peeved as Trick had ever seen him. The window shades were closed, of course, and despite the artificial light the room was still a trifle too dark for Trick's licking.
"You know what I hate the most?" The Mayor began.
"Low voter turnout?" Trick ventured.
With a hollow chuckle, the Mayor said, "No, Mr. Trick -- though that is everyone's civic duty and not a problem to be ignored. No, what I hate the most is betrayal."
Finch jumped. "Oh, relax, Allan, I wasn't talking about you." And, after a pause, added. "I know you wouldn't betray me, you're too smart for that." He fixed his gaze on Trick. "I AM a little disappointed in your performance, though. Do you know how personally embarrassed I am that I had to be rescued by the Chase girl?"
Trick was largely unfazed. "Suicide wasn't part of the bargain, your Honor. If I'd tried anything right tomorrow the Sunnydale High janitors would be sweeping me and my people out of the stands right about now. And you knew I wasn't big on personal risks when you recruited me."
"Come now, Trick," the Mayor said, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it."
Finch gave off a fake laugh. "Ha-ha-ha, Superchicken." Trick and the Mayor glared at him as one, and he did his best to fade back into the woodwork from whence he came.
Mayor Wilkins continued, "Still, I guess no harm, no foul, and I WAS
more to blame than you were for not suspecting Hypnos' motives sooner."
He tapped a pencil on his desk. "Besides, the sorceror was the one who
betrayed me, and you know how I feel about betrayal." Straightening up
in his chair, he told the Deputy Mayor, "Come here, I want you to write
a note." As Finch slowly crept forward, the Mayor turned to Trick and added,
"And I want you to have one of your people ready to deliver it."
* * *
An hour later, Buffy and Giles were entering a back bedroom in a house on the outskirts of Sunnydale. Giles was carrying a crossbow and a flashlight while Buffy had her usual complement of vampire-Slaying weaponry. Lying on a mattress on the floor of the back bedroom -- a thoroughly soundproof room, it had to be noted, and the windows were heavily covered -- was a sleeping man with short, dark hair who seemed to be around forty.
"Are you sure this'll work?" Buffy asked her Watcher skeptically. "I mean, it's been two thousand years, you'd think someone would have tried this before."
"Hypnos was always a genius at concealing his actual location," Giles said. "And besides, he's never had to be particularly near those over whom he exercises his influence. And it is only that one phrase that can harm him. Are you ready?"
"After what this bastard did to you all, me, and Angel? Oh, yeah, I'm ready." Slowly and carefully, the Slayer leaned down by Hypnos' right ear and spoke those two little words that would make him lose all of his powers. "Hey, Hypnos," she began . . .
* * *
Normally, you put the songs quoted in a fic in the disclaimer, but there were so many I thought it would be better to stick them in an afterword instead. First off, thanks to everyone who tried to help me find appropriate songs for Cordelia's mood: The people on the posting board, the members of the Watcher's Council, and my friend Sarah Brown. Now then, the key song in this fic is Patty Griffin's amazing song "Every Little Bit," from her album "Living with Ghosts." The other songs, in order, are Paula Cole's "Throwing Stones," Patti Rothberg's "Treat Me Like Dirt," Aimee Mann's "4th of July," Heart's "If Looks Could Kill," and Weird Al Yankovic's "One More Minute." It's a bit of poetic license on my part to assume that Cordy would know all these songs, but it's my fic and it's not that great a stretch of the truth.
Finally: Cordelia's dream is based loosely on an actual dream I had at one point, and the key phrase in that dream is quoted here verbatim. It seems that dreams can come true in fanfiction!