Chapter 8 – Experiencing Life

Cordelia looked over at the two men who were both sitting on the floor of the lobby bleeding and shook her head once more at the stupidity of men in general. Sure she had been the one to tell Angel to hit the guy, but they had already been fighting when she came in so she took no responsibility for this whole mess. This was all them.

While Angel just looked tired and confused Lawson looked devastated, like his whole world no longer made any kind of sense. She felt kind of bad for the guy, though she was reserving full judgement until she heard the full story. No time like the present for that one.

“So who wants to start talking first?” Lawson kept his head down and turned away from her but Angel knew better than to try and ignore her. He slowly climbed to his feet and moved to sit on the ottoman they used for after fight patch up times. She could tell that while he was smarting a bit from the multitude of body blows he took, he would be fine within a few hours so she wasn’t overly worried about either of them. At the moment the only person she chose to worry about was Destiny.

“Cordelia, this is Sam Lawson. I met him back in 1943 when he was an ensign in the navy serving his country during world war two. Back then the submarine he was serving on became trapped at the bottom of the ocean and the government didn’t want the other side to get it for various reasons only became apparent once I was in the middle of everything. Since they didn’t have the technology back then to go retrieve the sub themselves without giving their positions away they came to me.”

“You fought during the war?” That didn’t sound like Angel, or any vampire really. A lot of fighting in wars took place at all hours, namely the daytime. The last thing a vamp would want would be to be trapped in a place during the day that wasn’t safe from intruders. 

“No. I was still a bit too deep in my period of self loathing and I was hiding from the world. I wasn’t as down as I had been in the early years of my curse, and would be during some of the later years of it but I was very much in denial. No, rather than wait for a vampire to volunteer for this little assignment they decided to just take me and wrap me in thick heavy chains before dropping me in the vicinity of the damn thing. Once I’d sunk to the bottom I managed to get inside through one of the missile silos. Once on board I realised what they really wanted to protect, it wasn’t the tech or the crew but the vampires they had on board that they were ferrying to a new location for their experiments. The Americans had intercepted a German vessel and taken on its cargo without realising what they were bringing on board, but the people who sent me down there had definitely known.”

“The government was experimenting on vampires?” That seemed like a bad idea. If you poked at demons too much they might just get organized and poke back. Hard.

“And other demons besides, they still do in fact though I managed to shake them after just the one ‘mission’. I knew a few of the vamps involved, mainly Spike though I’d at least heard of the other two. At some point after the abrupt landing on the ocean floor the vamps had been freed and as they are prone to do they started feeding on the crew. By the time I got down to them there were only about a dozen left.”

“That’s horrible.” What must the crew have thought as these monsters from old stories came tearing towards them while they were stuck with nowhere to really run to. It was scary enough back in Sunnydale where it was a wide open space, there was a lot of running in Sunnydale.

“I managed to convince everyone to agree to a type of cease fire for a little while so the humans could get around the place freely enough to get us all off the ocean floor. None of us wanted to be stuck down there so that part was easy, at least while everyone was still relatively full.”

“Why would you care about being down there? Vampires don’t need to breathe.” It wasn’t like a vamp could drown, they would just stop pretending to breathe and be fine. Not that she thought he should have let the crew be eaten, but it wasn’t like he couldn’t have gotten out of there even if the worst had happened.

“True, but there are other factors. We might not need to breathe but the ocean is dark and deep, even a vamp would have a hard time navigating down there especially without gravity or the ability to get your bearings by sight alone and panic would eventually set in. Even a demon can become disoriented after too long in a place like that. Once panic started to take over you would just start swimming in whatever direction you thought was up and nine times out of ten you would be wrong about that which would just take you deeper down. If you did finally manage to right yourself after however long of floating around twisting in every direction there would be no guarantee of what time it would be when you finally broke the surface and believe me after too long in that nightmare the light on the surface wouldn’t trigger the danger warning in your brain it would just be a sign of the way out. Then you would just be floating ashes.”

“Huh. I never thought of it that way.” And kind of wished she never had to again. The description alone was enough to fuel her nightmares for at least the next month. Or at least give her some light claustrophobia. 

“Neither did Spike or the others until I pointed it out. Of course having just come in from out in the ocean I was a bit more familiar with the sensation being out there and that deep down could instill in a person. Sinking deeper and deeper as the chains dragged me down, watching as the light of even the moon got farther and farther away. It does things to the mind. Things I didn’t want to experience again unless I had to.”

“So what happened next?” Maybe if they moved on quick enough her skin would stop crawling. 

“Well the crew was allowed to work for a time, but just as we were reaching the finish line one of the vamps calling himself the Prince of Lies with the help of the Nazi office they had taken on with the cargo of the captured ship managed to do a lot of damage. Most of that damage was to the ship trying to keep it and us from reaching the Americans with everyone on board, but they also went after the only member of the crew left who could fix the damage they had done. Lawson. The officer stabbed him and he was bleeding out everywhere, he couldn’t tell me how to fix it and he was quickly losing the fight to stay awake and try to fix it himself. We had no real medical supplies and even if we did we were rapidly running out of air so they would have been useless to keep him alive. Seeing no other option I turned him.”

“You turned him?” Her mind seemed to shut down at the revelation, the confession. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to react here, was she supposed to condemn him? Absolve him? Did she even have the power to do either of those things?

“The only person I ever turned after my curse.” He wouldn’t look at her, or him, as he said it. The guilt and shame evident in the hunch of his shoulders and the twisting of his fingers.

“Oh Angel.” She hadn’t thought Angel had ever turned anyone. She had run into a few of the vamps he’d turned in his evil days, but she never thought she would meet someone who had their humanity ripped away from them by the man-pire she loved.

“You pity him? HIM? He ruined my life!” She wasn’t ashamed to admit that she jumped a little at the sudden venom screamed at them both. She had been so caught up in Angel’s story she had practically forgotten that the other person with them was a part of it too. If not more a part of it than Angel himself. That day was a footnote in Angel’s long past but it was the precipice from which Lawson was pushed into the abyss. Forever.

“I gave you a choice.” Angel was getting defensive now, all the shame he’d been broadcasting before was shoved down below his anger at being attacked. His anger at her being attacked.

“Some choice!”

“True, but it was more than most of us got.” Which was a sad commentary in and of itself. It was true though no vampire ever really got a choice, they might have the illusion of one but if someone wanted to turn you that was it. End of story. End of life. End of soul.

Oh boy. She didn’t even know where to start with this one. They were both so angry and hurt they weren’t listening. Not to each other and not even to themselves, what were the chances they would listen to her? 

They were both so focused on what happened to them that day, the violation on both sides, that they were missing a fundamental question. The only question that ever really mattered after any momentous decision that changed so much.

“Would you do it again?”

“What?” God sometimes boys could be so thick! It was a straightforward question, not the riddle of the sphinx. 

“That’s a question for both of you. Knowing what you know now, all the trouble and bullshit that came after. Would you do it again or would you have let it all play out differently? If you hadn’t turned him Angel then it sounds like this submarine never would have made it back to the surface. The vampires would have fed, maybe even you if pushed far enough, and the crew would have died. The vamps that remained would have either just tried to leave, which sounds easier said than done, or they would have devolved into a fight that left maybe one left undusted to make the frankly traumatic and dicey swim for freedom. If you hadn’t let him turn you Lawson, coerced by the circumstances or not then you would be long dead and likely never recovered from the ocean floor sixty years ago. Your old crewmates all beside you, just as dead and forgotten. That’s assuming that no one ever found the thing, which isn’t a given what with the fact that apparently everyone and their mother was looking for that tin can back then. So best case dead and forgotten on the ocean floor, worst case towed in by the enemy that now has their hands on something it sounds like you were all determined to keep out of their reach. So I ask again, would you do it differently if you could have? And if you could, how?”

They both sat stunned into silence. That was the thing about men, human or not, logic rarely entered into an argument unless introduced into it by someone else. Historically a woman. Deciding to leave them to ponder on the past alone, she grabbed her lunch that was slowly growing cold and headed outside to wait for the others. One of them walking into this mess unprepared was more than enough.

Destiny stood in Lawson’s home trying to piece together everything Lilah had told her. The woman had made an interesting offer, not one she was inclined to accept without looking into her more, but it had been interesting nonetheless. After watching the woman stride off into the night, the club had lost its appeal, and even though she was still hungry she found herself coming here instead. She knew Lawson would likely kick her out when he got home, after his confrontation with Angelus, but for the moment it was the only safe place she knew to take shelter in.

She laid on the floor in that one special spot where she had once been so happy for what seemed like hours just watching the flashing lights as her thoughts wandered. She was beginning to hate this world, it was so confusing and there were too many ways to step wrong. At least in Quor’toth there were set rules for every situation. If a Largarath was chasing you, you headed towards the cliffs, if a Parnoff was sleeping you stayed as quiet as possible, if Holtz was in a bad mood you disappeared for a day and a half until the storm had passed. Here there were far too many people to keep track of them all and they each had a history with someone else that she didn’t know about.

She knew that this Lilah woman wasn’t being truthful with her, and the way she spoke about Angelus let her know that whatever past events she was hiding was probably for a good reason. She claimed to be friends with Holtz but had spent nearly their entire conversation none too subtly referencing Angelus and Darla. She claimed to want to help but at the same time she seemed far too eager to incite some form of violence, and she didn’t seem to care what the target was. It was like she just wanted to see her fight somebody and she couldn’t figure out why. She just didn’t know what to do anymore, if she ever did. 

“What are you doing here?” She didn’t jump, she’d heard his quiet footfalls approaching, she had simply been waiting for him to decide to talk or not. She didn’t hear any of the anger that she expected to find in his voice, that didn’t mean it wasn’t there of course, just simmering under the surface but she couldn’t hear it. If anything he sounded defeated and for some reason that made something deep inside her twist and ache, she didn’t want to be the cause of his heartache. Watching his tense frame from the corner of her eye she knew he was expecting a fight at the very least. Deciding to cut through all the bullshit power plays early on in this conversation, she’d already had enough of those for the night, she turned towards him and told him the truth.

“I didn’t have anywhere else to go.” Her words seemed to take the wind out of his sails, his entire body deflating as the stiffness fled.

“Have you eaten yet?” Shaking her head, she took the hand he held out to her and followed where he led. Wherever it was it had to be better than her own mind.

Steven made his way back towards the warehouse that his family called home, he’d been out later than he knew was expected, but he had needed to think things through a bit on his own. He knew that his father wanted him to put his sister down, but he wasn’t sure that was the right response to her defection. With a little patience he knew he could get her to see reason, to come back to where she belonged. He had always known that one day he might need to kill his sister, her more demonic urges would inevitably get the better of her, but he wasn’t sure that day had come just yet. While she had sided with the monster that made them, as far as he knew she hadn’t yet done anything that couldn’t be undone with time.

Turning the corner, he was so lost in thought that he nearly missed the scene before him. His father was on the ground, his neck nearly torn in two, his loyal friend Justine by his side holding his now cold hand. Knowing he was too late, that his father was already gone did nothing to soothe his roiling thoughts as he rushed to his side.

“What happened? Who did this?” Had it been Angelus? Another random creature? This place seemed to be crawling with them. Whoever it was he would track them down and exact retribution for this.

She did this.” Turning to the voice behind him he found a sharply dressed woman he’d never seen before. Who was she? Why was she here? 

“Who are you? How do you know what happened?” Was she another friend of his fathers? Another loyal soldier fighting back the darkness that seemed to engulf this world so easily?

“My name is Lilah Morgan, I was an acquaintance of your fathers before he left this dimension. I only recently heard of his return and was coming to see him when I was nearly knocked down by a young woman running past me. Your sister. When I came closer I found this. I am sorry.” He was so lost in his own anger he never saw the look that passed between the two women as he stormed off in search of his sister. He never questioned how this woman could know his sister on sight if she only just learned of their presence here. He never wondered why she was still here long enough after the event for his fathers body to have grown stiff and cold, seemingly waiting for him. The only thing on his mind was his vengeance and his rage.

He would fight his sister again and this time he would not lose.

Destiny looked around her at all the people in varying stages of undress and even more varied stages of consciousness trying to gain her bearings, this place while dilapidated and run down on the outside was fairly decent within. Something she was beginning to learn was quite common in this world. When she had taken Lawson’s hand she’d assumed they were going to another club or somewhere to hunt, but this place was something else entirely. Allowing him to pull her down onto a small couch she glanced around at all the seemingly eager humans mingling with the vampires. Their faces were euphoric as fangs tore into their flesh, old wounds both long healed and just starting to scar over covered their arms and necks, not to mention other parts of their anatomy now on display. The vampires looked just as at peace and lazy as the humans, a sort of harmony she thought was impossible between the two species.

What was this place?

“This is a bite house. It won’t replace the hunt for you, unless you’re really lazy and can’t be bothered to go out looking, but every now and then it’s nice to have your meal deliver itself without all the hassle of having to go looking for it. After the day we’ve had I thought this would be a nice change of pace.” He sounded kind of off, like he was in a bit of a daze, but given how she’d left him at the hotel that wasn’t overly surprising. What was surprising was how he hadn’t let go of her hand yet. She thought he would be leery of her after his confrontation with her father, but if anything they had somehow grown closer. 

As he gestured to a young woman for her to lay down between them she began to feel the bloodlust overtake her, fogging her mind and removing all her worries. Her veins throbbing with need as her fangs began to push against her gums.

Did she dare do this? She had always been taught to be ashamed of her hunger to only ever indulge when it was far beyond simple hunger and even then to never feed on humans. She hadn’t really stuck to that last rule of course, but anything other than human blood always tasted so awful it was hard to choke it down and even harder still to keep it down. She figured that as long as she didn’t hurt anyone too badly she was free and clear to feed on humans, but to do this was something else entirely. Not only was she going to feed on a human without any mental push to lessen the pain, but she would be sharing her meal with another vampire. It seemed so intimate.

Did she dare?

She knew her face had shifted already and as she glanced over into the yellow eyes of her companion that looked at her with such awe and delight at her monster coming to the surface she fought her smile. She had never had this before. Someone who didn’t judge her for the things she needed for survival. Someone who didn’t judge her for who she was. For what she was.

“Bon appétit baby.” The little growl of hunger and lust he let escape as his fangs tore into flesh was exhilarating. Thinking about it for a moment she looked down at the young woman between them whose eyes were closed as she savored the sensation of being fed upon. Raising her wrist to her mouth she let her tongue glide along the skin of her inner wrist, tasting her and forcing a moan from her lips. Yes, this was exactly what she needed. As the hot rush of blood filled her mouth and the sharp cry of ecstasy escaped their “donor” she knew this would be a memory she would hold tight to for years to come.

It was completely worth it.

For a little while she could put it all behind her and just sink into this one moment. This one moment where there was no Lilah, no Steven, no Holtz, no Angelus, no troubles to tempt and confuse her. This moment was all there was now, everything else was for later.

Cordelia knew that Angel was worried, hell she was too, but she also knew that life couldn’t stop just for that. When her vision had hit earlier that night she knew he hadn’t wanted to go, had instead wanted to stay here and wait for Destiny to come back, but they had both known that wasn’t an option right now. He was a champion and as much as he wanted to he couldn’t just turn his back on that because there was something else he’d rather be doing now.

Reorganizing the same file for the tenth time she admitted, if only to herself, that she was waiting for more than just his return. While she knew she wouldn’t be able to relax until her people came walking back through that door she could also admit that Destiny was one of her people now and she wanted to see her come back too.

The phone ringing pulled her out of her own thoughts, thankfully. She was getting sappy in her advancing years and it didn’t suit her at all. Picking up the phone she tried to keep an up beat tone as her head was still splitting from the pain of her vision. There was no need to run off a potential client just because she was a bit crabby.

“Angel Investigation, we help the hopeless.” The old jingle was getting a bit trite, but she couldn’t bring herself to change it. Every time she heard it or said it herself all she could hear in her mind was Doyle mangling the simple greeting over and over again.

“Cordelia?” The voice on the other end was hesitant but strong, just what she would expect from the girl she was coming to know and love so easily.

“Destiny?” She didn’t want to bombard the girl with questions and tempt her to run, she knew better than that after years of dealing with Angel. Sometimes you just need to wait and let them come to you. If she was calling so late there was a reason for it.

“I had a question.” She could do that, hell she could talk all night long if that’s what needed to happen. And if all that talking meant that Destiny would still be on the line when Angel returned, well the more the merrier.

“Sure sweetie, what did you want to know about?”

“Do you know a woman named Lilah Morgan?” Oh lord, this was bad on a whole new level. 

Lilah stood in the command room at work, her eyes jumping from one monitor to the next. While she knew that Angel’s spawn would come to true blows soon she didn’t know where so she had a team with full recording equipment dispatched to each possible location. They were at the Hyperion, at the loft where the girl was staying, at the scene of Angel’s latest heroism, and following the boy at a discreet distance in case they met somewhere in transit. 

This fight was going to be unlike any other and they weren’t going to miss a moment of it. The tape would be taken and studied by every relevant department and hopefully it would help them come up with a plan of what to do with the vampire spawn that seemed so beyond the scope of their experience. They had tested them briefly against one another once already and the speed and skill they each displayed was mind boggling and that had been all but a play fight. Sibling rivalry at its most tame. What would a true fight show them?

Hopefully? Everything.

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