"The Price of the Key"
by Just Human
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See Prologue for credits and disclaimers
I was sure that someone was pounding nails into my skull. Groaning - there was definitely groaning, and what was worse, I was pretty sure that it was coming from me. Cracking open an eye was a big mistake. It just made my migraine intensify.
"Good. You're awake."
In my humble, but first hand, opinion, there was nothing good about being awake or anything good in general. Suddenly, there was cold on the top of my head. Cold bad! Pushed cold away. Cold was being held in iron grip. Wait, cold dulled pain; cold good.
"Come on, let me help you sit up, and we'll pour some painkillers down your throat. You know, you're lucky; last couple of guys Cordy did that to didn't wake up."
The voice was familiar. The voice was promising painkillers, which automatically qualified the voice for sainthood. Cracking open both eyes this time, I caught sight of Angel, up close and personal, as the vampire helped me into a sitting position. I considered protesting, but then there was some little burnt orange colored pills under my nose and a glass of water to wash them down with. Finding I was capable of human speech, I asked,
"How long was I out?"
"Two hours. Like I said, not bad. Better than dead or on your way to a funny farm."
"What the hell did she do?" I had my eyes open a bit more. I was sitting on a sofa in what looked like the lobby of a hotel. Angel was sitting on a chair right in front of me, looking like he was watching for signs of me falling over. Okay, I'm not saying it was an inappropriate concern.
"She burned the sin and wrong doing out of you. It's a permutation of the demonic power she picked up on her last birthday."
"You guys go all out for gifts. I only ever gave her a cheap locket for Valentines Day when I was dating her."
Angel was frowning. I could never tell with Angel if that confused look was him living in an earlier century, or him simply not acknowledging the wonder that was Xander Harris. "It was the Powers That Be. The visions were killing her and the only way to let her live was to make her half-demon."
Great. It was official. Preying mantis teacher, Inca mummy girl, ex-vengeance demon, hell, even the affair-that-wasn't-an-affair with Willow was still with a witch. Cordelia had been the shining example that I could live a normal life. Not that I could live a wise life that kept me attached to the girl I loved, but normal none-the-less. It wasn't even like I hung out with normal girls. Buffy was the Slayer, Dawn was the- Shit!
"Dawn! Where's Dawn?"
"She's safe for the moment - "
"What do you mean, moment? Where is she?
"She's with Connor - he'll keep her safe. It was really a heroic thing you did with Cordy. It gave them time to get away."
I was not comforted by these words. "And Connor is the vampire like teenager who told us not to come in here because you're evil?"
Angel took a deep breath and looked like he was going to start explaining when he hung his head and stopped. Then he looked at me again. "Connor is incredibly complicated. I can tell you all about it while we look for him and Dawn. The simple version - he's human, but with all the speed and strength of a vampire. He's my son."
Of all the things that didn't make sense in that simple explanation, I latched onto one thing. "Did you lose your soul when you had sex again?" Again, it lacked all sorts of respect and tact, but Christ, I was sitting here alone, undefended and wounded in front of a potentially soulless vampire. I had a right to know.
"No, I didn't lose my soul." Gee, Angel sounded like he heard that one a lot, tough. "Look, we should get moving soon. Cordy'll recharge her battery and be on the streets in no time."
"Right." I thought about standing, but didn't actually do it. As the mental fog of Cordy's demon power was wearing off, the world was coming more and more into focus. Suddenly, I was feeling guilty about every bad thing I ever did and got away with - or at least, didn't pay for. Angel was watching me, waiting for me to get up. Watching me with those big brown, mournful eyes. I felt it rising in my chest trying to burst out my lips, and I couldn't stop it,
"I'm sorry! I lied to Buffy and told her that Willow said to kick your ass when I was supposed to be telling her that Willow was cursing you again."
He looked at me confused for a minute - like that last part wasn't as clear as mud. "Acathla? You're apologizing for being pissed at me five years ago when I was actively trying to destroy you and your friends, oh and not to mention the world?"
"Er...yeah. I don't know...I've never felt guilty about it before." Never, as in, except for a couple of weeks ago when Buffy told us it was the hardest thing she ever did, killing Angel and was still haunted by it. But that was different. That was me feeling guilty about hurting Buffy, not guilt about sending Angel to Hell - at least until now. There was something else there too, but it wasn't showing its face. Whatever it was, I didn't want to see it.
"It's okay; I deserved it. Look, what's happening to you is the aftereffect of Cordy's power. You probably feel guilty about cheating on math tests right now." Angel reaches out and squeezed my arm, friendly like. I'd like to say that I did the manly thing and didn't flinch, but that would be lying.
Math. Then there was this clear picture of me looking over Willow's shoulder. "God, you're right. Does this mean I have to track down Mrs. Donahue from the third grade and confess?" And by the way, he was still holding my arm.
He laughed at me, which I guess I deserved, and hey, he was smiling and not that demonicy 'I'm going to kill you all' smile.
"I...I can't tell you what you're going to have to do. I think, if you hold off, a lot of it will settle back into place, at least, the little stuff." Finally, he let go of my arm, and I tried to figure out why I was feeling a little less happy without the grip, when Angel jumped in again.
"Been working out since I last saw you - nice."
Oh, oh, my brain was reading way too much into that because Angel was not flirting with me, and, despite that voice in the back of my head, I did not want him to. This was bad. I was beginning to understand what that other feeling I had had before might be.
"Thanks." I coughed a little and put an extra foot or three of distance between us." Construction work. I'm...I'm good at it; foreman in charge of rebuilding the high school." Hey, I was having a proud adult moment. Go me.
"Yeah? Maybe when we've rescued Dawn and the harbingers of the Apocalypse have been put in their place, you could do some estimates for this place. Third floor is practically condemned and the rain of fire? - not helping." Hey! An out of town job, not too far out of town.
Angel was testing weapons on the other side of the room. He handed me a mace. Right! Rescue, stop the end of the world, then job; I had my priorities straight. "Does the whole place have the same art deco style working, cause it's good - except for maybe the really huge red pentagram on the floor." See, there were things that never boded well.
"Funny story about that..." Angel was being all casual - not. I gave him the patented stare of disbelief. He cracked. "Well, not so much funny, more...complicated. Come on, let's hit the sewers in case the firestorms start again. I'll tell you the complicated bit on the way to Connor's place."
It was funny. Angel the brood boy was being communicative and even - friendly. Was it a sign that he had changed or was it that I had just become one of the adults?
Onto Part 3
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