Better Buffy Fiction Archive Entry


The Snow Queen

by Doyle

Sometimes she tried to remember what it was like to not have visions crowbarred into her brain. That must have been nice, going whole weeks and months and *ever* without feeling like her head had been flipped open and hot acid poured inside. She'd been startled, last week, to realize it was coming up on a year since Doyle had died. Could swear she'd had the visions for years, and at the same time as if he'd only been gone a month; like she would come to work one day and he'd be mooching around the lobby complaining that they'd moved without telling him, and didn't they realize he'd just been on vacation?

She thought about that scene a lot, still.

During a vision, though, she couldn't think about anything except the nightmare playing in her head.

"There's a girl," she gasped when the pain eased enough to let her breathe. "She's in a dorm at UCLA. Third floor, room nine. Two guys in black robes, they're waiting in her room. They're shoving a gag in her mouth." She could feel it pressing down on her tongue, thick material that almost choked her, and she pulled herself out of it before she could sink into unconsciousness along with the girl. "They got her."

She cracked her eyes open. Just a slit, wide enough to see that they'd guided her to the couch. Angel's touch was solid and reassuring on her back, his other hand wrapped gently around her wrist. Wesley was crouched in front of her, watching with obvious concern.

"I'm okay," she said, opening her eyes all the way and trying not to wince at the light. "The robe guys are taking her somewhere. In about thirty minutes. Hurry."

Wesley was already at the weapon's cabinet. "Third floor, room number nine?"

"Yeah." She pictured it again. Hand stretched in front of her, pushing open the door, then the robed crazies jumping her. "There's a message pad on the door. Powerpuff Girls."

"The people who took her, were they human?" Angel asked.

She shook her head, frustrated. "Two arms, two legs, black robes. They could be Bob Barker and Regis for all I could see."

"We'll be prepared for all eventualities," Wesley said. "Only two of them, you said?"

"Two that I saw, but they could have friends."

Halfway to the door Angel turned around, still taking awkward, backward steps that made him look like the world's most uncoordinated dancer. "Are you sure you're..."

She took one hand away from her throbbing temple long enough to wave him away. "I'm fine, jeez! Go!"

The door sounded too loud as it swung shut, another stake rammed into her skull, but then there was nothing but a big, empty lobby full of silence. She lay fully back on the couch, turning her head as gently as she could to rest her cheek against the fabric. It was cool, and reminded her of when she'd been sick as a little girl and Rosa had fussed around her with cold compresses. She silently promised to never bug Angel about the crappy ancient furniture again. It was a *good* couch.

Staying there till the guys came back was tempting, but after a few minutes she sat up, swinging her legs to the floor with a groan. Home was better. Right now going home to a bubble bath and a warm bed and a ghostly roommate sounded like the greatest thing in the world.

Besides, Angel and Wes could take care of themselves.


She'd called ahead - their prearranged three rings and a hangup - so by the time she got home Dennis had run a bath and set the oven to pizza temperature. "You're the best, Dennis," she called as she dropped her keys onto the coffee table. The lamp bobbed modestly.

The light on the answering machine was flashing. She pressed play and picked up the neat little stack of mail (thank you Dennis, again), a quick flip through showing nothing but bills and junk mail. Her agent droned through the usual excuses for his incompetence and assured her that, "the Toughest Scrub people loved you, 'Delia..."

"Who calls me that?" she asked the air. "*Nobody* calls me that. Eugh. Creep." She tossed the bills back on the table. The junk floated away and landed neatly in the trash.

The next message was from Anya. That was a first. Cordelia tried to remember who in Sunnydale even had her new number, then just wondered why Anya was insisting she couldn't have Xander back, even if there were now two of him. She shook her head and skipped forward. Message three was Anya again, to deliver the news that the world was back to having only one Xander Harris, and Cordelia still couldn't have him back.

The last call was from a slightly more welcome source, even if the opening "Hi, girlfriend!" was high-pitched enough to kick the vision migraine back into action. She winced, but listened to the whole of the breathless prattle about some "major party tomorrow night, you should come. My new boyfriend, he's a singer, says he totally wants to meet my friends, isn't that to die for? Call me!" No name or number left. Aphrodesia never considered she might be mistaken for somebody else.

Cordy gave herself a moment's nostalgia for the girl she'd been; for the girls Aphrodesia and Aura and Harmony and all the other ex-Cordettes still got to be. She imagined for a second that she could feel a touch on her shoulder, and she smiled at the empty space where Dennis wasn't, just in case.

"I am so ready for a soak in that tub now," she declared, and deleted all messages.


The next day was cold. She made it three steps out of her apartment building and then ran back for a sweater and jacket, complaining to herself about NBC's weatherpeople. How would Angel like it if she had a vision of a beautiful sunny day and it turned out to be a blizzard?

That would actually be the nice kind of vision to get. Useful, too. They'd know when it'd be a good time to slack off and go to the beach - well, she and Wesley could go to the beach. She would swim and work on a tan that would get the commercial casting people begging her to advertise their product, and Wes could read one of his big dorky demon books, and Angel could stay home and pour holy water on himself, or whatever he did for fun. By the time she got to the hotel her idle fantasy had become more detailed, adding an accidental encounter with Brad Pitt in front of a movie scout who would see their instant chemistry and cast her as his new love interest.

"I'm here," she called, dropping her keys into her bag and hunting for her phone. "How'd it go last night?"

There was no answer. She looked up, surprised, her imagined catfight with Jennifer Aniston forgotten. Wesley wasn't behind the desk. The computer was turned off, and a quick check revealed there was no coffee in the pot.


A tiny niggle of worry started to eat at her. If Wesley was late getting to work, maybe things hadn't been such a piece of cake last night. She tried calling his apartment but got the answerphone. His cell phone just rang and rang.


"Angel?" She tapped lightly and listened for a response. Well, maybe he was a heavy sleeper. It was the middle of the night, vampire-time. She rapped on the hotel room door, harder. "Angel!"

The door was unlocked. She peeked inside. It was dark; the windows had been covered by heavy drapes. She waited for her eyes to adjust. Then she decided to hell with it, Angel could just yell at her, and felt along the wall for the light switch.

The bed was neatly made. Pretty much what she'd expect from Mr. Compulsive, peanut butter on the sheets or not, but she got the feeling nobody had slept here all night.

There was that worry again, just about ready to blossom into panic.

"Oh, crap," she said.



If she ever found Angel, two of the first words out of her mouth were going to be 'company car'. She took a bus to Wes's neighbourhood and hammered on his door till a surly woman from the apartment opposite told her to knock it off, he hadn't been home all night. Cordelia ran down the stairs and made it on foot to the bar three blocks away where she knew Wesley sometimes went for a drink. There was a dartboard, and lots of weird imported British beer, and really lame music - exactly the kind of things she'd expect from somewhere Wes drank - but no Wesley himself.

She tried the phone numbers again while she waited for the bus, this time leaving messages. Then she tried her apartment, listening impatiently to the directions to leave a message, but there were no beeps. No-one had called.

A gust of wind chilled her and she shivered, pulling her thin jacket more tightly around herself.

The idea of calling the police occurred to her, and she snorted at the ridiculousness of *that* thought. "Hello, officer? I'd like to report my boss as a missing person. Oh, he's about six one, dark hair that sticks up in front, two hundred fifty years old, severely allergic to sunlight. If you find him can you maybe not come near him with pointy wooden things?"

If I was a vampire with a soul, she thought, where would I go? In the middle of the day? Without leaving a note?

She came up a big fat blank. She had no clue where to look, what to do next.

But she knew somebody who would.


"If you fall, I will catch you, I will be waiting, time after time," she warbled, voice cracking on the high note as the instrumental musak faded away. The demon at the table nearest the stage slammed all eight of his hands together enthusiastically.

"Well!" the Host said, smoothly taking the microphone, "The Divine Miss C took us all a little closer to heaven there, am I right? Next up it's Thorloth the Avenger who wants us to know he's Addicted to Love, give him all of your hands."

"Hoo. I hate to tell you this, but you're in trouble," he said without preamble once they'd reached a table far from the enthusiastic spider-demon and Thorloth's mangling of his tune. "Your aura screeches bad mojo on the way."

"Angel and Wesley are missing," she said. "They've been gone all night, and they didn't call, and something's happened to them."

The Host folded his green fingers neatly on the tabletop. "I wish I had easy answers for you, sweetcakes, but it's not as simple as 'here's where your boys are, go get 'em.'"

She slumped in her seat. No, she really hadn't thought it'd be that easy. "Can I buy a vowel?"

"Ask for help," he said, holding up a palm to forestall her next question. "Not from me, sorry to say. I'm not getting anything on your path except make some calls. Don't do this by yourself."

And in the world where that wasn't the most obvious thing to say, she was sure it was useful advice. "Thanks," she said anyway.

He rose from the chair like Ethel Merman emerging from the water, and patted her shoulder. "And have some fun once in a while, pumpkin. Put on your dancing shoes. Now, I gotta go tell Thorloth to lay off on the virgin sacrifices. You remember what I said."

"Ask for help," she parroted. "Right."

Like the list of people she could go to for help was huge. Like Angel Investigations had anyone else not stupid enough to get themselves kidnapped or dead or...


"Gunn!" she yelled, banging on the door like she had back at Wes's place, except Wesley's apartment complex had far more working lights and far fewer cracks in the plaster. "Gunn, you had so better be in there or I swear..."

She almost fell forward as the door was wrenched open. Gunn was barefoot, wearing only a pair of sweatpants and a glare. She raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. Somebody worked out. Hey, frantic with worry, not blind.

"What?" he demanded. "And please tell me you ain't saving my life again, because last week was enough for this lifetime."

"I really need your help," she said, reflecting for a second that once in the distant past those would have been difficult words for her to say.

He folded his arms and stared at her, and she ran over everything from her vision onwards.

"Maybe they got another case. Didn't feel like checking in."

"Without leaving a note? Or calling to say, "by the way, we're not dead, don't bother bringing donuts today?" "

"You bring 'em donuts?" He scratched his ear. "Damn, wish I could spring for a secretary."

Cordelia's eyes narrowed. Oh, that was across the line. "I am not a secretary," she said in a tone that would have made anyone who'd ever crossed her in Sunnydale High run for the border without waiting to pack.

Gunn shrugged. "Nah, you're what, the vision-girl? So have a vision of where your boss is at."

She addressed the ceiling. "Can you tell me where Angel and Wes are? Please with sprinkles on?" It said something for the dire straits of the situation that she was hoping her sarcasm would be answered with searing vision pain, but there wasn't even a twinge in response.

"Okay, point," Gunn said. "The hell do you want me to do?"

"They went to save a girl at UCLA. I'm going down there, see if anybody saw anything."

"And you need a ride and some back-up muscle," he guessed, rolling his eyes. "Gimme a minute."

He retreated back into the room, the door swinging wide for long enough to let her see the Matrix poster on his wall. She smirked despite herself. Get Mr. Haven't-Seen-a-Movie-Since-Denzel-Was-Robbed and his bad Keanu-fanboy self.

"Ten bucks says Angel and the English guy are back at the hotel right now," he said as they exited into the cold air. "Probably wondering where you're at and... what?"

She pointed wordlessly at the fat white snowflake on the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

As one they looked up at the thick white clouds. Cordelia held out her hand and watched the flakes drift slowly onto the palm, melting nearly instantly.

"I'll get the truck," Gunn said.


Gunn's driving was erratic, blasting through the speed limit one moment and crawling along the road the next. Every now and then he'd peer worriedly through the clouded windscreen, and Cordelia was sure she heard him mutter words of encouragement to the truck.

"So I'm guessing you haven't done a lot of driving in snow."

"Sure, every time we have a blizzard round here. Till ten minutes ago, closest thing I'd seen to snow's the time the dude above us had a fight with his lady and she tossed two grand of coke off the balcony."

*Classy place you live in*, she bit back. But he must have heard it anyway because he cast her a defensive look and said, "that was our old place. New joint's okay. Not like Silver Lake, but we do all right."

"I have a ghost," she offered.

"Damn, I miss the days when that woulda surprised me."

"You're telling me? One second I have a great life, the next this little blonde has a stake aimed at my neck, a whacked-out invisible psycho's trying to give me a home facelift, my boyfriend's cheating with his nerd of a best friend and the Powers That Be are shoving visions into my head." She sniffed. "Okay, that all happened over a period of, like, four years, but I reserve the right to be snippy about it."

"Hey, I just spent my whole life fighting vamps and had to stake my little sister," he said, the irony in his voice thick as the layer of fresh snow on the windows. "Hate to take away from your pain."

She knew when she was trumped. Time for a rapid change of subject. "Am I the only one getting d...j... vu?"

"You and me and the in-fighting?" He shook his head. "Figure we're stuck in rerun hell. Repeating last week forever."

"On the plus side, I remember the lottery numbers." She rubbed her hands together. "And the first thing I'm buying with my millions is a space heater because *God*, how cold is this truck?"

He reached across her and turned the heating higher. It made no difference to the tepid stream of air blasting out in gusts and spurts.

"Hasn't had time to warm up," he said defensively. "She's a California girl, right, baby? Not used to the subzero chills." He patted the wheel.

"Did you just call your truck 'baby'?" She rolled her eyes. "That's lamer than Angel the time I parked the Plymouth and it got a teeny little scratch that was barely even visible."

"He yell at you?"

"I thought he was going to cry."

"Can't say I blame him. Me and your boss, we ain't exactly eye to eye, but that's one pretty car."

"Please," she groaned. "I have enough homoerotic tension in the workplace between Angel and Wes without the mental image of you two admiring each other's penis replacements."

"What car were they in last night?" he asked - probably, she thought, to detract attention from the exact thing she was trying not to picture.


"I figured," he said, pulling the truck to a stop. "Saying as how it's over there."


Cordelia cupped her hands against the glass, squinting into the dark car. The keys were gone from the ignition - duh, she thought, it'd be long gone otherwise - and Wes's jacket lay discarded in the passenger seat. That got to her, for some reason, knowing that they went into this thinking it'd be easy, that they'd only be gone from the car a few minutes.

"C'mon," Gunn said at her shoulder. "Faster we find out what went down last night, faster we get your guys back."

They'd only been in the open two minutes, and they both already looked like they'd been covered in frosting.

"Is it me or is this getting heavier?"

"Not just you," he said, and she noticed for the first time that he wasn't wearing a coat.

"We need to get inside."

For once, he followed her lead.


The dorm hallways were quiet. It was close to two, so the students who lived here were presumably at class - if the college wasn't closed by the snow - or still in bed. Cordelia had gotten an offer from UCLA, she remembered, and at the time she'd all but turned up her nose at the thought. Not that she envied Buffy and Willow, stuck at UC-Sunnydale, but at least they weren't spending their afternoons Nancy-Drewing it round a college campus looking for their missing friends.

"This is the room," she said, stopping at the door with the Powerpuff Girls message pad. Someone had scrawled 'Shelly, call me when you get back!' with a row of kisses and an indecipherable signature. In her vision the board had been blank. "She hasn't been home. They got her."

"The demon guys?" Gunn was already rapping on the door.

"Demons, loonies, whatever. She's gone." She rattled the handle. Locked. "Gunn, break it down."

He looked sidelong at her for a second, then shrugged. One solid kick to the lock and the door burst open. "Ladies first."

It was like this when she saw a place she knew from a vision; not quite d...j... vu, more seeing in stereo, as though she was looking at it from two times at once. She was seeing an averaged size dorm room that looked like it had got on the wrong side of a tornado, and at the same time she was back in the vision, seeing the girl - Shelly - kick and cry and go suddenly limp as she was gagged.

Go limp...

"They drugged her," she realized aloud. "There was something on the gag, she must've passed out."

"You thinking they slipped a Mickey to Angel and Wesley?"

"Assuming we're talking Finn and not Mouse, yeah." She picked her way across an overturned desk and a broken lamp. "They were standing here. She unlocked the door, and they were already in the room."

"Wait," he said. "How'd they get in?"


"You said they were already here. But that door has a lock." He looked at the shattered door. "Had a lock. How'd they get in? Only one bed, so the girl didn't have a roomie."

"So the cult-guys had a key."

"Or a master key. Open any room on the block."

Caught up in the storm of brilliant detecting, they didn't even notice the door opening until a hesitant voice behind them said, "hi?"

"Hi!" Cordelia said, already making up a convincing lie as to why she had broken into the bedroom of a total stranger.

But the girl in the doorway just looked at the mess and said, "She's gone, isn't she?" She was tall and awkward, a year or so younger than Cordelia, and dressed in a blouse and pants that even twelfth-grade Willow would have been ashamed to wear in public.

In high school, Cordelia wouldn't have deigned this girl worthy of her disdain. Now she gave her her full attention and said, "Do you know her? The girl in this room?"

She bit her lower lip. "I did."

"Hey," Gunn said, "she only turned up missing last night, most likely she'll be back safe and sound. What's your name?"

"Marcie," she said, and Cordelia winced. "I... I have to go."

"Wait!" Cordelia said, before the girl could bolt. Nobody was so straightforward about their friend's disappearance and possible murder. Not anyone who didn't grow up in Sunnydale, anyway. "You weren't surprised. You came here knowing she'd be gone."

Marcie's eyes widened. She looked at the hallway behind her, and Cordelia shot Gunn a look that she hoped he correctly interpreted as 'don't let her get away'.

"Marcie," he said, "are there other people missing? Other girls?"

"I have to go," she said again, but her voice wavered. She stared down at the floor.

Cordelia stepped towards her, slowly as she could. "You don't have to be scared. We can help you."

She'd made the guys carry their business cards at all times, and she pulled the stack from her pocket now, reaching one to Marcie. The girl's hand shook as she took it. Then, to Cordelia's surprise, she handed it back.

"That's okay," Cordy said. "Really, it's a freebie."

"I already got one," she said. "Last night, from the man with the English accent."

Cordelia started. "You spoke to Wesley? Last night? Tall, skinny, wears glasses, sounds kind of Masterpiece Theatre?"

Marcie nodded, her face nearly disappearing behind a curtain of hair. "I was in the kitchen. I was on my own, and I nearly called campus security because nobody's meant to be up here after ten except the residents, but," she blushed furiously, "he seemed really nice. He gave me the card and asked me if I'd seen or heard anything, uh, untoward." She pushed her hair back from her face, fingers twirling around a long lock of it. "I didn't know Shelly was missing."

"But you knew as how other girls were," Gunn said. "And you told him that."

"Nobody talks about it," she burst out. "Everybody knows it's Delta Pi Omega and nobody says anything. It just keeps happening and, and he said he and the other guy were detectives and he seemed nice..."

Demon-worshipping frat boys, Cordelia thought. Great. Just peachy. What had they said about her life being rerun hell?

"So Wes and Angel got here and Shelly was already gone," she said. "You told them about this fraternity and they headed over there. And then..." She let the statement trail into an open question. Beyond that, they didn't know what had happened to Angel and Wesley, other than that they probably hadn't taken their two-man vaudeville stage act to Broadway.

"Why d'you think they took your friend, Marcie?" Gunn asked.

Marcie dragged a hand across her eyes. "Shelly was pretty," she said. "Like, supermodel pretty. The other three girls, they were the same. Beautiful, y'know? I think they took them, to, uh..."

"It's okay," Cordelia said gently. "You've really helped us a lot."

"You're not the cops, are you?"

Gunn said, "Guessing the cops know about this, 'cept they don't want to know."

Cordelia bet that half the cops in the city got big fat bonuses from Wolfram & Hart. It was probably part of their job to turn a blind eye to the occasional girl going missing and winding up as a demon sacrifice.

"I have to go," Marcie said for a third time, but this time she backed out the door while she said it and turned tail as if the creeps who abducted her friend were right after her. Maybe they would be, now that she'd told. One more reason to bring this little junior cult down.

"Up for kicking the asses of some rich, girl-kidnapping, demon-loving college boys?"

Gunn nodded grimly. "Oh, that's never not fun."


First, though, they went back to the truck to regroup. It was even colder, and Cordelia hunched down into the seat, her breath sending plumes of mist into the air.

"As far as we know, Angel and Wes went into that frat house and didn't come out," she said. "I'm thinking we don't walk in and say, 'hey, give our friends back, and let go of those girls, if you haven't drained their blood for your demon master already.'"

"I miss vampires. Vampires are simple."

"*So* many potential jokes about Angel." She sighed. "But first we gotta get him back."

"We will."

Gunn had moved the truck, and now they had a clear view of the fraternity house - or at least a clear view every four or five seconds when the wipers cleared an arc of the windshield. The weather was grating further on her already-grated nerves.

"If we could find out what's making it snow and tell it to knock it off, that'd be nice."

"You think it's connected?"

"It snowed in my hometown the Christmas before last. I'm not exactly sure what made that happen, but we were smack dab on a Hellmouth, so I'm guessing demon."

"Must've been pretty cool, though," he said. "White Christmas. Alonna saw that on TV a bunch of times, always asked Santa for it. Back when she was real little, when our mom was still around." He shook his head. "Alonna would've dug this."

It was the most personal thing she'd ever heard him say, and he said it almost to himself, staring at the falling snowflakes outside the window. He looked a lot younger at that moment, and she was reminded that he *was* young. No more than a year or two older than she was.

He caught her eye and shifted in the seat, tough man of action again. "I say we head back to my place," he said. "Get my crew together. Outnumber them."

"And why am I thinking the police are going to answer the call that says a bunch of rich college boys are being attacked in their fraternity house?"

He frowned. "I'm telling you, oughta stick to vamps. They don't go calling the cops."

"We can't go in there blind," she said. "We need to know where Angel and Wes are, how many people are in there."

The wipers pushed back another layer of snow. A skinny young man was coming down the frat house's front steps, stepping carefully to avoid the ice.

"You know what we need?" Gunn said. "A man on the inside."


It was a risk. Kidnapping a student in broad daylight had to be hugely illegal, even if he was dumb enough to fall for the less than ingenious damsel in distress routine Cordelia pulled to get him into the truck. Well, the cleavage she'd flashed him as incentive had helped.

"You can't do this!" he whined, squirming between them in the front seat as Gunn tried to keep them on the road and Cordelia concentrated on not killing their hostage. "My father's a very rich man, you're gonna go to jail for this."

"Hope they let me be your cellmate once they lock you up for snatching pretty co-eds," Gunn said.

The boy went white, erasing any thoughts she'd had that he might be an innocent party, and he didn't say anything after that.

By the time they pulled into Hyperion Drive he was snivelling quietly, and when Gunn said, "He tries to run, shoot him," Cordelia was wishing it was more than an empty threat. She settled for gripping his arm roughly and shoving him down the steps into the lobby with more force than was really needed.

She left Gunn on guard duty while she fetched a chair and some ropes. She was well aware her knots sucked - half time they turned out as just rope twisted in interesting patterns, easily undone with one tug - so she let Gunn handle the actual tying. The silent, menacing stare was more her department, anyway.

Junior, as she'd taken to calling him, looked up at them with a bravado that was fairly pathetic for someone who'd been practically weeping a second ago. "So which one of you is the bad cop?"

Gunn crouched down, leaning right into his face. Junior tried to rear away, but the chair didn't give him a lot of room for manoeuvre. "I'm the bad cop," Gunn said. "And she," he jabbed a finger at Cordelia, "she's the one they threw off the force for getting too psycho with the prisoners who really pissed her off, you see where I'm goin' with this?"

"Oh God, please don't kill me," he whimpered, tears springing to his eyes.

"Did you kill them?" she snapped. "Those girls? And Angel and Wesley? Where are they?" She gestured Gunn to step out of the way and grabbed the squirming teenager by the collar. Good cop, bad cop, psycho cop... "You do not want to mess me around."

"OkayI'msorrywe'regonnaraisethegoddessKalthenaandthey'rethesacrificesandI'mreall ysorry!"

Cordelia stepped back, exchanging puzzled looks with Gunn.

"I heard goddess," she said.

"Yeah, and I got 'sacrifices'." Back to the bad cop. "Say that again. Slowly."

He gulped for air, tears openly flooding down his cheeks now. "I'm really sorry."

Cordelia shook her head, disgusted. "Yeah, we already heard that part. Skip to the 'and this is why a bunch of girls are missing'."

"Jason," he said. "Jason Calvert, he's one of the guys in Delta Pi Omega. This whole thing, it was all his idea. His dad's an initiate of Kalthena and he said - his dad said if we got the sacrifices for her raising then we'd be rewarded."

"Let me guess. Riches, power, really cool cars?"

He nodded miserably, head sinking low onto his chest.

Sunnydale U all over again. Just went to prove that wherever you went, people were still greedy and stupid and ready to make other people into demon chow.

Gunn said, "This raising, when's it going down?"


Cordy's eyes widened. "Midnight? As in tonight, midnight?"

Now that he'd started spilling, Junior didn't seem to want to stop. "The girl last night, she was the last. Kalthena, she... she wanted a blonde."

"Her name was Shelly," Cordelia snapped. Then, realizing what she'd said: "Is. Her name is Shelly. Where is she? The frat house?"

Head shaking so emphatic he looked like a dog drying off after a run in the sea. "Jason's dad, the other worshippers, they always took the girls we... they always took the girls. They had a van. We just picked them out, got into the rooms with the skeleton key."

"They were putting Shelly into the van," Cordelia said, picturing it as clearly as if she'd had a vision. "They saw Angel and Wesley come out of the dorm and head for the frat house, and they, what? Jumped them from behind?"

"That's it, I'm losing any respect I may've had for vamp reflexes," Gunn said.

"It was magic," Junior put in. He shrank under their renewed attention. "I mean, the raising - it needs the blood of an immortal. They were going to trap a vampire, they had the spell and the cage and everything ready."

"Lucky for them," Gunn said. "Not lucky for Angel. And English gets took along as an extra snack for Calculon."

"Kalthena," Junior said, and wisely shut up when they glared at him.

"Just one more thing," Cordelia said, feeling far too much like Columbo for her liking, "and you do *not* get to phone a friend - where's the raising?"


*Demons Demons Demons *had very little on Kalthena. She was a demon associated with control of the weather and winter, the page said -

"Like we couldn't have figured that out by ourselves," Cordy complained over the howling of the wind outside -

and she had a moderate following among humans and demons alike. They worshipped her as their goddess, and she gave them wealth and prestige and, more often than not, a premature and very chilly death.

"I don't get cults," Gunn said. "My gramma, she went to church every Sunday, never missed, and she was kinda crazy for Jesus, but she never went around raising demons and making it go ice age."

Cordelia tossed the Reinstadt Compendium aside and reached for another thick text. "My family worshipped money. Actually, my dad would probably have loved Kalthena. He always liked to ski."

"Yeah, well." He threw the book he'd been scanning onto Angel's desk. "Maybe we better learn to snowboard, 'cuz we're getting nowhere and we're getting there slow."

"You're right." He was, no two ways around it. Half the books Wes owned were strewn over the office floor. After eliminating ones in languages they didn't understand they'd been left with just the English volumes, and if his library was anything to go by, Wesley was a snob for foreign demon-literature. They had maybe a dozen books to work through, all of them huge, none of them indexed in a way that could be understood by normal human beings.

"Maybe we should try the interrogation thing again," she said half-heartedly.

"Nah. Kid's so scared of us he'd tell us anything he knew without asking."

Cordelia looked out into the lobby. Junior was still safely tied to his chair, under the watchful eye of Gunn's friend Joey ("I'll get him over here. Hasn't been pulling with the crew since some chick hit him with an axe last week," Gunn had said, and she'd apologized to Joey, again).

"What do we do now?" she said. "Find some of his frat buddies, see if we can make them talk?"

He sat on the edge of the desk, looking as lost as she felt. "Hey, I never signed on for the planning. I see vampires or demons, I kill vampires or demons. This stuff," he swept his hand across the books, "the brain-work? Prefer to leave that to stuffy British guys."

"I know, but Wes is..." She stopped, struck dumb with a sudden idea.

Ask for help, the Host had said.

"Gunn," she said, tamping down the urge to grab his head and plant a kiss on him, "you're a genius."


All in all the phone conversation took half an hour. Fifteen minutes to outline the situation, ten to answer some of the more in-depth questions, and five minutes of Giles getting audibly more frustrated with her answers about some of the books she was using.

"The Gerepinian Codex?" She frowned, pushing aside some of the less-Gerepinian looking books. "Is that the big brown one in Latin or - oops - the big black one Gunn just spilled coffee on?"

Giles sighed heavily. She could picture him cradling the phone between his ear and shoulder to free up his hands for some serious glasses-cleaning.

"That's all right, Cordelia, I believe I have all the information I need. You can't be more specific about where this demon will arise?"

"Santa Monica, midnight. That's as narrowed-down as we can get."

"Yes, well, I'll call you back as soon as I can."

"Thanks, Giles," she said, feeling rather foolishly like it was going to be okay now that a grown-up was on the case.

For the first time all day, she had nothing to do. There was nowhere to run off to, nobody to question. She just had to wait here for Giles to come up with the goods.

She tapped her pen on one of the open texts in a restless staccato. Oh, there was the Gerepinian Codex. How hard could it be to learn Czech, anyway? There was probably a dictionary around here somewhere...

"Bored?" Gunn asked.

"Oh *God* yes."

"Get your coat," he said. "Joey wants us to bring him back takeout. Nowhere's delivering cuz of the weather."

"We shouldn't leave the hotel," she said, the protest weakened by the fact that she was on her feet and grabbing her bag and jacket. "What if Giles calls back?"

"I'm a supreme message taker," Joey called from the lobby.

"Have I said sorry for the axe thing yet?"

"His favourite kind of sorry tastes like Kung Pao Chicken," Gunn said. "Let's go."


She took back everything she'd said about his truck. Well, not the part about needing a new heater, because it was still cold enough to raise baby seals in the front seat, but now that Gunn was more confident about driving in the snow they gripped the road smoothly, easily passing the few other vehicles with drivers dumb enough to risk it outside.

The Chinese place was open, though the woman behind the counter looked at them like crazy people. Back in the truck, Cordelia clutched the paper bags in her lap. If she leeched them of all warmth, too bad. That was what microwaves are for.

"Can you take us by my place?" she said. "I want to check on Dennis. My ghost," she added.

Gunn took the turn onto Sunset without so much as a blink of surprise.

"You think English Senior's gonna come through?"

"He's Giles," she said, then remembered that wouldn't mean much to Gunn. "I mean, he knows practically everything in the *world*. He'll figure out where this Calcutta demon's rising, we'll kill it, the snow stops, and we get Angel and Wes back."

"It's the 'we'll kill it' part's giving me trouble."

Yeah, she couldn't say she hadn't thought of that. In the red corner - herself and Gunn and Gunn's crew. In the blue corner - a human/demon cult and a pissed off self-styled goddess...

"We get all the info," she said, "and if we can't deal with it ourselves..." God, she hated saying this. "Sunnydale's only three hours away. It's not even five thirty. Buffy can be here long before the raising."

He took his eyes from the road long enough to give her a curious look. "Doesn't sound like that's an idea you like. Who's Buffy?"

"Cliff Notes: vampire slayer, doomed romance with Angel, saves the world a lot. She turns up and Angel gets all mopey, or has to wind back time so none of us remember it..."

"Your boss getting sad sounds a hell of a lot better than the city turning into an LA-sicle."

"I know," she sighed. "But it's not like the Scoobies ever call us, y'know? 'There's another apocalypse going down, we could really use you guys'." She picked at the handle of the bad she was holding, worrying at it till the paper was nearly torn through. "Because, okay, Angel was useful. Vampire with a soul, big with the destiny, plus? Great in a fight."

"I seen you kick a kid's ass today without touching him. Thought that was pretty cool."

She smiled a little. "My superpower is bitchery. Wow, who'd'a thunk?"

"So asking for help from - what'd you call 'em, the Scoobies? I hated that cartoon - running to them now's like saying you can't do this on your own," he said. "I get that. First time I headed up my crew, I didn't want anybody's help. I was gonna do it my way or it wasn't gonna get done."

"How'd that work out?"

He took the corner harder than was wise in a snowstorm, nearly sending the food to the floor. "Lost two of my people. Terry and Khalil." They'd reached her apartment block; she hardly recognised it beneath the snow. "Go on. Wanna keep the motor running, see my girl don't freeze up."

*I'm sorry*, she wanted to say, or, *I had a friend who died last year. I know how it feels, how it's your fault even if you know it's not.* But she just passed him the bags and said, "I'll be quick."


Dennis rattled half the furniture in relief when she came through the door. She spent a few minutes reassuring him that she was okay and that the building wasn't going to blow down, and then dragged most of the clothes from her closet till she found the thick coat she'd worn in Aspen on her Christmas Break two years ago. The Hyperion didn't exactly have the world's most modern heating system. Gunn and Joey had already borrowed coats of Angel's.

"See you later, Dennis, don't be scared of the storm, okay?" But as she reached the door it slammed. "Dennis!" she complained. "It's fine, I just have to go fix the weather, okay?"

A magazine flew off the coffee table and hovered over the answering machine. The light was blinking.

Cordelia frowned.

"Hey Cordy! I guess you haven't checked your messages yet. Is this weather whacked out or *what?* Anyway, just wanted to remind you about the party tonight. Don't worry, I called and it's totally still on. So my boyfriend got your name on the list and you can bring a date, and I'll see you there! It's out at Santa Monica and it starts at ten but he says you definitely want to be there by midnight. Hold on, I have the directions..."


"I know where they're raising Kalthena," she said, sliding into the front seat and digging through her bag. Phone, phone, she had a phone... "We need to talk to Giles. Now."


"That would certainly jibe what I've found," Giles said. Cordy transferred the phone to her other ear and took the reheated fried rice from Gunn.

"Mmm-hm," she said around the first food she'd had all day. "Aphrodesia's an airhead but she does know the best parties. If she's on the guest list I'm guessing this is going to be a killer night. Literally."

"There's not much information on Kalthena. We found a few reports - legends, really - of a minor weather deity turning up every few years demanding blood sacrifices, but until this century she hadn't been heard of in a thousand years."

"Wow," she said. "That's some career break."

"There were rumours of her cult resurfacing in North America. It's suspected they attempted to raise her in," she could hear papers being shuffled, "1949. The attempt was unsuccessful, of course, because the spell was missing a vital component."

"Blood of a vampire," she guessed. "Which we know they have this time. Why'd they wait all this time?"

"Excellent question," he said. She heard him confer quietly with someone. The words were too low to make out, but it sounded serious. Giles could even talk with a frown. "Fifty years ago a group of mystics opposed to Kalthena's cult bound her essence in the hope of preventing her from ever taking form. Breaking that spell would take immense power. As best we can tell, there was recently a, a magical power surge, you might say, in Los Angeles. It could have opened a brief window of opportunity."

Magical power surge. She remembered being strapped to a hospital bed, the whole world's pain ripping through her, and a mysterious something that Wolfram & Hart had brought back in a box. Yeah, that'd do it.

"Okay, worst case scenario, Kalthena rises. What are we talking here, giant demon snake? Cuz if we're gonna blow her up me and Gunn need time to get ready."

Giles's tone hit a new level of grave. "Cordelia, I'm afraid it's not that simple."

*Simple?* she thought.

"My books refer to Kalthena as the Goddess of Perpetual Winter. If she rises - if she takes corporeal form and devours her sacrificial victims - the weather you've been having in Los Angeles will become permanent. And it will spread."

She froze, fork midway between carton and mouth. "Permanent?"

"You said the party was on the coast?" More shuffling. She pictured Giles surrounded by mountains of books, then remembered all of a sudden that the library was gone. "Ah. Oh dear."

"Tell me that was a 'Xander coloured in the picture in my demon book' oh dear."

"Kalthena's power lies in snow, ice. She takes most of her energy from water. She's an ice demon, really, it's only her followers who elevate her to goddess status..."

"Giles," she interrupted, "oh dear?"

"She's going to freeze the ocean," he said. "And the power that would give her would make her..."

"A goddess?" Screw doing this alone. The world turning into a giant snowball sounded sufficiently apocalypsey to be Buffy's department. "Giles, how soon can you guys get here?"

"We're already loading the car," he said, and she felt a completely irrational stab of annoyance that they hadn't waited to be asked. "Willow and Tara are coming with us. There are spells, magics which may be able to bind Kalthena before she can make the sacrifices."

"And then we blow her up?"

"Hold on... yes, all *right*, Buffy, you can take the rocket launcher if you really must. Cordelia, what were you saying?"

"Never mind." She set the food down. She'd lost her appetite. "Okay, Gunn and me will be at the party." She spoke right over the protests on the other end of the line. "I *know* it's dangerous, Giles. But the girls and Angel and Wes have to be somewhere nearby." Handy snacks for when the ice-demon-not-a-goddess woke up hungry. "We can get past security, look around, get ready for you guys to save the day."

He still didn't sound thrilled, but he said, "Don't put yourself in unnecessary danger."

*Sure*, she thought, fingering the scar on her stomach where a rebar had nearly put her all the way out of danger, unnecessary or otherwise, forever. *I'll just leave that to the professionals.*

"Call me when you get on the road," she said, and hung up.

Gunn sauntered through the door. "Rick's bitching about us starving him," he said, dropping into the chair opposite the desk.

"That's his name?"

"Nah. Won't tell us. Just reminds me of Moranis. Y'know, skinny little guy in Little Shop of Horrors and can I say how much I hate that look on your face right now?"

"What look?" she said sweetly.

"Uh-uh," he said. "That's a plan face. Thought we talked about this. I hit things and you get pictures in your head. We don't do plans."

"Oh, I'm not planning anything," she said. "I'm just wondering how much you're going to hate wearing a tux tonight."


Gunn, it turned out, hated wearing a tux right up until the point where he saw himself in a mirror. Then he still complained about it, but he also kept sneaking looks at himself in any handy reflective surface. Cordelia would have teased him, if it weren't for the fact that there was an apocalypse on the way in less than four hours. And besides, she couldn't deny that he looked pretty damn fine in Armani.

She'd lost count of how many times she'd thanked David for paying for the tux and her dress and for letting them have the use of his limo. He'd blushed flame-red and said it was nothing, really, and that of there was anything he could do to help save the world, they just had to ask.

If the world didn't end she was going to let him take her to dinner, she decided.

First they had to survive the ride to the party in a limousine whose driver was about as familiar with snow as Gunn had been that morning. Cordelia sat carefully against the leather seats, trying not to crease her dress. Every few minutes she checked her watch and made sure her cellphone was working. Giles was due to check in any time. With luck he and Buffy and Willow and whatever the other girl he'd mentioned was called should be at the party a half hour or so after they got there.

Providing Kalthena didn't rise while the limo was stuck in traffic.

"Can't this thing go any faster?" she complained.

Gunn was more interested in the tiny TV. "You know this even gets ESPN?" He shook his head in wonderment. "Wish I had one of these things. Think I could fix one up in the truck?" He flipped over to a news broadcast, where weather forecasters were expressing their astonishment about the 'freak cold front' over Los Angeles. They watched in silence as an animated map demonstrated the range and depth of the snowfall.

"It's spreading," Cordelia said. "And if we don't stop this demon bitch, it'll spread over the whole world."

"I the only one getting bad flashbacks to the last Batman movie?" Off her blank look, he said, "The Terminator playing Mr. Freeze, "what killed the dinosaurs - the ice age", nipples on the Batsuits, you just lost all respect for me, didn't you?"

She was having bad flashbacks, all right, but they were to high school dating. "Gee, I really hope Xander tags along tonight. Then you can be big geeks together."

Whatever smart response he might have made was lost as the car glided to a halt. "I think we're here."

The door was opened for them - Gunn looked surprised, and she got out of the car first, extending a hand to him with a whisper of "just do what I do." They stepped out of the limousine and underneath the huge canopy that had obviously been hastily erected to keep the guests from freezing. That was ironic, considering what was planned for them later, she thought.

The party location looked like a converted warehouse. It was a solid cement building, but there were lights in all the windows and uniformed valets outside to usher them onto the thick carpet leading to the entrance, making it look like an odd mix between underground rave and Oscar party.

The interior, as far as she could see, was one huge room. There were carpets laid down for the mingling guests to walk on - except, she noticed, for the open strips of floor where long grooves, maybe three inches wide, ran to a large, rectangular pool in the centre of the room. It was only a few feet deep, far too shallow to be a swimming pool, and she remembered what Giles had said about pulling energy from the water. She scanned the room. Two, three hundred people in a confined space, and channels in the floor that looked just made for blood to run down...

"We should look around," she said, but before they could move or even pick a direction, her phone jangled. "Giles?" she said, pulling Gunn aside with her.

The phone let out a crackle of static. " limits. Can't..."

"Giles, you're breaking up."

She moved a few steps to the left and the reception cleared long enough to hear, "We're stuck in a snow drift outside the city. We'll try to get to you as fast as we can, but we can't be sure we'll make it in time."

Cordelia's stomach dropped to a few miles below sea level. "Giles!" she hissed. "Can't you do an antifreeze spell or something?" *Because this can't be it*, she thought. *Me and Gunn can't be the only thing between a crazy demon cult and the end of the world.*

" as we can, Cordelia," he said, and the phone cut out.

Gunn looked at her, wide-eyed, having clearly heard enough to know they were in deep trouble.

"We are so up the famous creek," she said. "And not the one with Dawson. At least we could use his head as a battering ram."

"We got no weapons, no backup, and we can't call for help," he said, pitching his voice low. "We gotta get outside, use the car's phone, get my people down here."

But they'd been among the last to arrive, the rest of the guest list nearly all ticked off, and the big, solid doors behind them were shut and locked.

Gunn swore beneath his breath. Cordelia would have sworn out loud, but at that moment she heard her name shrieked from across the room.

"Aphrodesia," she said, grimacing as the other girl bore down on her with air kisses.

"Oh my God, it's so great to see you! I'm really glad you came." Her eyes flicked to Gunn, and she looked bemused for a second, before she rallied. "So, is this your date?"

"Yes!" she said. "This is..." Dammit, what was Gunn's first name?

"Charles Gunn," he said, taking Aphrodesia's hand as smoothly as Mr. Bond himself. "It's a pleasure."

"Oh," she giggled. "Thank you. Are you a rapper?"

"So," Cordelia said loudly, "you're here with your new boyfriend?"

She pretend-smacked herself on the side of the head. "Duh! I forgot. Be right back." She vanished into the crowd.

"Nice girl," Gunn said.

*She's me*, Cordelia thought. *She's me in 1997.*

Then Aphrodesia was back, dragging her boyfriend by the hand.

By his single hand.

"This is Cordelia," she said. "We were like sisters in high school. I told her how you're a singer, or you were till the accident meant you couldn't play the guitar any more." She beamed around at them.

"Well," Lindsey said, "this is a surprise."


"You," Cordelia said. "Wolfram & Hart's behind this." She wanted, badly, to claim 'I knew it!' except she hadn't. Hadn't even suspected.

He snorted. "Behind what? One of our clients is having a party. Aphrodesia," he sent a look her way that was slightly pained, "asked if she could bring a friend. Till five seconds ago I didn't know it was you."

Aphrodesia was looking at them all in turn, as if she couldn't decide who she was more confused by. "You all know each other?"

"He's dangerous," Cordelia said. "He's not a singer, he's a lawyer."

"Shyeah," she said, flicking her hair off her shoulders, "I knew that. He works with Daddy. But he sings in bars and stuff. I think it's cool. Like, deep?"

And Cordelia had known that Aphrodesia's dad was a lawyer, and she'd known he'd gotten some big job in LA their senior year, but she'd never made a connection to Wolfram & Hart because just once wouldn't it be nice to have someone she knew *not* be caught up in the epic struggle of good against evil? What was next, Harmony going evil?

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Cordelia said, thinking out loud more than anything else. "Anything bad happens to Angel, gotta be your bosses. This Kalthena-demon, is she what you brought back in that box?"

But Lindsey was staring at her like she'd grown at third eye.

"Yeah, that makes sense," Gunn said. "Cept till right now this dude didn't know something'd happened to Angel, am I right?"

If Angel ever fired her she was grabbing Gunn and talking him into starting their own detective agency. They could call themselves Bad Cops Investigations. Maybe that cop friend of Angel's could join them.

"Wolfram & Hart could have killed Angel bunches of times," she said. "Why would they let some cult sacrifice him when any vampire would do?"

A couple of people who'd been near them shifted nervously away at the word 'sacrifice'. With his good hand Lindsey grabbed Cordelia by the upper arm, pulling her to one wall. The other two followed, Aphrodesia looking close to tears, Gunn just keeping cool eyes on Lindsey.

"What the hell are you talking about, sacrificing Angel?" he demanded. "This is a routine sacrifice. Kalthena takes solid form, eats, makes it snow some more and goes to sleep for another fifty-some years."

"Left out the part where what she eats is people," Gunn said. "I said how much I hate this party?"

Aphrodesia pressed a perfectly-manicured hand to her mouth. "Oh God, oh God, oh God..."

"She's not gonna eat you," Lindsey snapped. "Your dad's company."

"Newsflash," Cordelia said. "They're not paying tribute to Kalthena. They're kicking off her comeback tour. And I'm thinking, once she starts sucking up the power? She's not gonna stop at munching on some college girls, because freezing the world has to burn calories like nothing else."

"Jazzercise is good," Aphrodesia sniffled, sounding glad to have something to contribute. They ignored her.

"You're lying," Lindsey said, but there was doubt all over his face. "The Senior Partners, they'd know."

Cordy shrugged. "If they do, they've screwed you over, and if they don't, you're dead. Along with Angel and us and everybody else on Earth."

"Either way," Gunn added, "you're just as dead. 'Less you help us stop the raising."

"I'm through helping you. I came to Angel for help. You see what he did?" He thrust his prosthetic hand forward. Cordelia hadn't seen it up close before; it was made of stiff, flesh-coloured plastic and when he hauled his jacket sleeve back she could see the line beneath his shirt where it joined onto the stump.

At the far side of the room, an old-fashioned clock chimed eleven.

"Angel gave you a chance," she said. "You blew it. And if you don't help us find where they're doing the ceremony, this river I'm not crying for you is gonna turn real icy real fast."

"God," Aphrodesia said, cutting through the tense, localised silence like a buzz saw, "when did you get so much like Buffy Summers?"


"I'm nothing like Buffy Summers."

"You keep saying that, Cordy, it's not getting' more true."

She spun around, nearly losing her balance as she tried to glare up at him on the steps behind her. "Shut up, *Charles*." Then she remembered they had more important things to deal with. Like finding their way around this basement. At the bottom of the stairs a wide concrete hallway stretched away from them in both directions. "Would've killed Lindsey to give us a map," she complained.

"Think he'll do what he said?"

"Try to keep security distracted?" She shook her head. "I don't know. One minute he's Mister Suffering Redemptive Woe-For-My-Manpain, next he's Wolfram & Hart's golden boy again." She thought about the people upstairs, their blood running down the floor to that pool... "If he tries to get everybody out, Kalthena's worshippers will know something's wrong."

"So lawyer-boy goes all public spirited, we get caught, we die. Or he snitches on us, we get caught, we die."

"Or he does nothing and in," she checked the time, "thirty-eight minutes Kalthena rises."

"And we die," he added. "Can't miss that part."

She looked left along the hallway, then right, at the long rows of steel doors. The fluorescent lights above their heads buzzed and flickered. "Thirty-eight minutes," she said.


"You take left, I take right?"

He held up his hands. "Hey, who said anything about splitting up?"

"We have to," she said reluctantly. Not like she was bucking to wander around here by herself. At least he was wearing pants. "There isn't time. This place could go for miles. We have to find Angel."

"Find Angel and hope to hell he isn't guarded or locked in or even tied up, 'cuz we don't have any knives..."

She tossed him one of the weapons she'd swiped upstairs. "What?" she asked. "The entr...e table was the only thing I could reach. And do not give me the look of 'bitch, please'. It can be used for cutting."

He held up the spork. "Yeah. Here's hoping they tied him up with jello."

She waved him away, shooing him down the left corridor. "Thirty-four minutes, go! And don't get killed!" She turned to her own hallway. "I'm gonna die," she whispered.


Twenty-five minutes.

It hadn't been so bad when Gunn was in sight, when she could turn around and he was there, even as a figure in the distance. Then she'd got to the corner and had to go it alone.

She wondered if Gunn had looked back, like she had, just in case it was the last time she ever saw another person.

She tried another door. Locked, like all the rest.

Twenty-four minutes.

She'd been concentrating so hard on trying to have a vision she'd nearly convinced herself it was happening. It pissed her off how the Powers could send her the vision that was the cause of all this, then sit back on their fat higher-being asses and let her figure the rest out for herself.

As they were coming down the stairs she'd thought, well, what if she died and the world didn't end? Who was going to get the visions? And she'd nearly turned and kissed Gunn on the spot because, reality check, they were outnumbered and unarmed and he was far more likely to wield deadly sporking powers than she was. She wondered if Doyle had been thinking, before he jumped, that at least Angel would have the visions, or if he hadn't even known he was passing them on. If he just kissed her because he wanted to.

She was probably going to die, and she'd nearly kissed Gunn, and maybe she'd just wanted to.

Twenty-three minutes.

She yanked off her stilettos and ran.

Locked door. Locked door. Blank wall in front of her and one door left and if this wasn't it -

She stumbled into the open room.


There was a reddish-brown circle painted onto the floor. Robed figures stood outside it, each of them holding a candle. None of them reacted at all to her bursting into their sacrifice.

The door slammed closed behind her. She jumped, and realized it was one of the cult members who'd closed it. He pressed a finger to his lips and went back to his place in the circle, joining in the soft chant.

Well, this was a bunch of new flavours of crazy.

Her eyes adjusted to the flickering candlelight. The room was small enough to be crowded with so many people. The walls were bare and daubed with the same markings as the floor.

Against the walls were the sacrifices. For a second she'd taken them to be mannequins, but she saw them more clearly now, the girls who stood frozen, as if they'd been posed. She watched, but none of them moved, or even blinked.

All girls. Wesley and Angel weren't among them. That meant they were being held somewhere else, maybe where Gunn would find them. She could stay here, and wait for the cavalry...

The chanting stopped. One of the figures stepped into the circle, a crystal vial held high.

She had a horrible feeling she knew what that dark red liquid was.

"The blood of the vampire," he announced. The murmur went up around the circle. "Kalthena," he said, "with this blood, may you return to us."

Even if Gunn found the others and got them out, they'd have to try every door. There wasn't time. She grabbed the nearest person, the guy who'd closed the door. She yanked him backwards, out of the circle, looping an arm around his neck from behind and praying it didn't look too obvious she was copying this from every action movie she'd ever seen. Plus, three years knowing Buffy.

Sure that this was the stupidest thing she'd ever done - or would do, now - in her life, she pressed the spork to his throat. Acting, it was all about acting as if this was a razor-sharp knife and not a blunt kitchen utensil. Acting like she was the kind of person who saved the world and not someone who got visions and answered the phones.

"Spill that, and he dies."

Head Cheese tilted his head.

For a second, Cordelia was sure she felt everything in the world hold its breath.

Then he said, "Very well," and upturned the vial.


She felt the blood hit the floor.

She saw it, too, but the physical impact was more visceral. It sucked the air straight from her lungs, and around her the worshippers dropped to the ground. Cordelia staggered backwards, hands splayed behind her to grip the wall.

Kalthena's presence filled the room, invisible but tangibly there. It felt like the air was filled with static electricity, like being out of doors during a lightning storm. And it was cold, suddenly, so very cold.

Thinking was hard. Her brain felt sluggish and uncooperative, especially when she felt the brush of the demon (was she a goddess? She couldn't remember) across her mind, a cool, disinterested touch before she moved on.

Somebody called Junior, or maybe Rick, had said *we picked the girls out* and *she wanted a blonde* and an invisible girl had said *supermodel pretty.*

They all looked different. Shelly, the blonde. A tall brunette. A petite, gorgeous Asian girl with fine features. All different, all beautiful.

*Gunn,* Cordelia tried to yell, *the girls, we were wrong*.

*"Yes,"* a voice whispered in her head, and it deafened her, "*yes, you'll do."*

*It's not a sacrifice*, she thought, clawing desperately at the presence in her mind that was dragging her down into the dark.

*It's a catalogue.*


The place where she was trapped was small, and dark, and cold. Cordelia couldn't see anything, not even her own body, and her hands and feet were too numb to feel, but she huddled in on herself as best she could.

Just every so often, she saw glimpses. Like the visions, but she only caught fragments, like light hitting facets of a diamond.

Stepping over bodies in a candlelit room, her bare feet tracking blood over the cold floor.

A hallway that bloomed with stalactites where she passed. She paused there, admiring the perfection of the ice.

At the top of the stairs, a great hallway. Less people there than she'd expected, than she'd been promised, but they'd do. And there was water, a pool that froze beneath her as she stepped onto its surface.

"Where is my tribute?" Kalthena said with Cordelia's voice.


*I can't die*, Cordelia thought, holding on to that thought with everything she had left. *If I die, Gunn will kill me.*

She couldn't die anyway, probably. This wasn't her. This thing that she thought was her body was just some demon mental trick. Her body was being worn like a cheap pantsuit by a frigid bitch of a goddess. Her body was about to slaughter a bunch of people and end the world.

Another flash, like seeing a room lit up by a lightning flash - a pretty young woman on her knees, neck bared, and Cordelia's hand on her throat.

Kalthena was in control, and all she cared about was the power she sensed off this girl. She wouldn't notice anything as base and human as the clothes her dinner was wearing. But Cordelia could see, even if she couldn't do anything, and she realized with a jolt what it had to mean that this girl wasn't dressed in formalwear.

The warehouse doors were open. Kalthena smiled, feeling the ocean outside, the vast power there.

"Hey!" Cordelia screamed into the darkness. If she focussed just right she could feel her body, her real body. Not enough to get back behind the wheel, but enough of a sense of position to feel Kalthena pause and drop the girl.

*"You're still conscious."*The voice was different. Still that mixture of whisper and cacophony, but now it was Cordelia's voice, with a whiny edge that made her think of her mom. *"Why are you still conscious?"*

Inside her mind, Cordelia stood up. "Come back in here and find out."


Deep down inside her body she could feel her heartbeat, if she paid attention. It pounded twice between her issue of the challenge and Kalthena appearing before her. Two seconds, then, maybe less. It felt like years.

The void around her lightened and shifted, flowing past and through her like liquid diamonds, and when it stopped she was in a chamber that stretched above her for miles. She turned, and a million other Cordelias turned with her, reflected in the huge panels of ice that lined the walls.

And in front of her, Kalthena, wearing Cordelia's face and Cordelia's body and a smug smile that said she'd already won, and would Cordy like to grovel now or be crushed like an insect first?

"A *crown*?" Cordelia said, eyebrows high in disbelief. "And the outfit - first of all, fur is so not this century, though with the sacrificing thing maybe you'd enjoy getting blood tossed over you, and second, where do you shop, Cliched Skanky Demons R Us?"

Kalthena wasn't smiling any more. "I have your body, mortal. When I take my tribute I will be reborn into your world, and I will be all-powerful."

She folded her arms across her chest. "And then we'll all tremble before you, yadda yadda pain-and-terror. Maybe that worked for the middle ages crowd but, lady, I went to Sunnydale High." She could've sworn that some of the ice around her was beginning to melt, but she couldn't chance a look. Instead she advanced on Kalthena with slow, deliberate steps, and mentally cheered when the 'goddess' actually stepped back. "That crown? Doesn't make you a queen. The morons following you? Don't make you a goddess. And the fact that you're wearing my body?" She smiled. In the ice mirrors, thousands and thousands of her smiled. "Does not. Make. You. Me."

Every bit of force she could will into her pseudo-self went into the swing of her arm, and the backhand she dealt to Kalthena's face knocked the demon to the ground.

Kalthena screamed. The chamber shook with it, shards of ice cascading down around them both. Cordelia stood her ground.

"Out there you may be the big, scary snow-demon," she said. "But this is my head. I'm in charge."

Kalthena snarled up at her, face livid where Cordelia had slapped her. Steam was rising from the scarlet mark, curling and hissing into the air. She clambered to her feet, crown and flashy robes gone, and she didn't look so much like Cordelia, now. She looked older. Primitive, and dangerous, and as hard as if she was made out of ice.

"You can't beat me!" she howled, a freezing wind rising up around them both.

"No, you idiot," Cordelia said as she felt her body pulling her back in. "But I can keep you distracted long enough for my friends to do the binding spell."

In the back of her mind Kalthena screamed for a long time, sounding like the roaring of the wind, and then she was only a whisper, and then nothing at all.


Cordelia wasn't aware of having fainted until she woke up. She came around slowly, feeling nothing at first except the ice on her forehead, and she groaned.

"I'm sorry," a woman's voice said, "did I hurt you?"

She opened her eyes, then squeezed them shut again. Hello to the too much brightness. She was never going to complain about vision pain again.

When she risked another look, a blonde girl was hovering anxiously by her side. She'd seen her before, except she hadn't been herself, and she'd been more interested in the scrummy blood. "Sorry I tried to eat you," she croaked.

Puzzled frown, then a sweet smile and a duck of her head. "Oh. Oh, that's okay. I'm Tara." She said something beneath her breath, passing a hand over Cordelia's forehead, and whatever it was, it made the pain fade away.

"Thanks," she said, frowning as she took stock of where she was. She looked around her in surprise, convinced she was hallucinating - or, worse, still stuck inside her brain.

She was on a bed that had been new some time when Kalthena was last trying to take form, fifty years ago. She'd mentioned the grossness of these beds to Angel but he said he didn't care, it wasn't like anybody slept in the hotel but him...

"When did we get back?" she said, pushing herself up so she was sitting. "Where is everybody? Are Wes and Angel okay? What about Gunn?"

"Maybe I should get Angel," Tara said.

"I got it," Gunn said from the doorway, and Cordelia was sure her face was lit with a loopy grin. "Hey, sleeping beauty. You slept all the way back here. Thought I was gonna have to toss ice water over you."

She sank back against the pillows. "You're okay."

"Same as always. Your guys are fine. Coupla scratches from the fight, but getting fixed downstairs. Freaky-ass religious guys had them spelled not to move."

"How'd you break them out?"

He grinned. "Grabbed the nearest thing in robes, stuck that spoon-fork in parts he didn't want it stuck till he un-magiced the magic."

That was a mental picture she was going to enjoy revisiting. "But everybody's okay?"

Tara said, "Once Giles and Willow did the binding spell, the rest of Kalthena's followers scattered."

Cordelia almost asked why Tara hadn't done the spell too - Giles had said she was a witch, hadn't he? - then she remembered how close Kalthena had come to making her into appetizers. At least she didn't seem the type to hold grudges.

"We killed all the demons we could in the basement," Gunn said, coming into the room and taking a seat at the foot of the bed. "Way I hear it, Tara's gang were kicking it topside."

"Oh, they're not my gang," she said, turning pink.

"What about the humans?" Cordelia asked. She caught the look that went between Gunn and Tara. "Oh," she said hollowly.

"We found a bunch of dead guys in robes in one of the rooms in the basement," Gunn said.

She bet they did. All they would've had to do was follow the bloody footprints.

"Could've been more of them at the party, but," he shrugged, "looks like they double-crossed Wolfram & Hart. Not our problem what happens to them next. Your friend with the stupid name's all right. Guy with the hand got the doors open, said there was a fire or something. Time Kalthena took you over, most everybody'd got out."

"She - the demon - she didn't kill the girls, though," Tara said. "We reversed the spell that was holding them. Willow's checking them out now. I mean," she added, seeming for some reason to regret her phrasing, "Willow and Wesley are making sure they're not hurt. They'll take them home, or to the hospital."

"They were backups," Cordelia said. "When she was in my brain, I saw - things. Felt what she was thinking. My body would've burnt up once she took the tribute." She didn't mention the other things she'd seen; centuries of the annual sacrifices in her name, and a thousand years frozen in the darkness when her people had found other gods. "Is she gone?" was all she said.

"Spell should be permanent this time," Gunn said, before Tara could answer. He shrugged. "Got to talking to Giles on the ride back. Okay guy."

The door opened again. Her sickbed was turning into grand central, Cordy thought.

"Hey, you're awake," Buffy said.

"And it's those keen powers of observation that make you a great Slayer," Cordelia said, no real bitchiness behind it. "Hi. Like the hair."

"Thanks." She didn't sit on the bed. Cordelia was relieved. Between herself and Gunn and Tara it was starting to look like the world's wackiest orgy. "I just came up to check on you. So, are you okay?"

"Yes, Buffy, you can hide in here," Cordelia said.

She sighed, taking a seat on the room's only chair. "Thank God. Angel and Riley won't stop glaring at each other. Oh, Xander really wanted to come with, but there was no room in Giles's midlife-crisismobile."

"'Specially not for two of him. Anya called," she said, off Buffy's quizzical look.

"Yeah, that was a fun and zany day on the Hellmouth."

"You can have my job," she said. "I'll trade."

"Hey," Gunn said, and actually prodded her ankle, "what happened to saving my life? You're gonna go off and be the Slayer, don't see how you can be pulling my ass out of the fire at the same time."

"I don't want to be the Slayer," she decided, snuggling down into the covers. "I'd look terrible as a blonde. Or a psycho."

Gunn must have looked to Buffy for an explanation of the 'psycho' comment, because she said, "long, long story with jails and stabbing". Cordelia kept her eyes closed, tempted to go back to sleep.

The weight on the bed shifted. Tara had stood up. "We'll tell Angel and Mr. Pryce you're awake," she said.

"Tell 'em she's asleep," Gunn said. "She can see them later."

"Don't let Cordelia speak for herself," she murmured. "Caveman. I was a goddess, buddy."

Then Tara said, "It was really nice meeting you," and Buffy sighed and said, "Guess I have to face the testosterone poisoning some time," and then the room was nicely quiet.

Gunn's hand was still a comforting weight on her ankle. "Angel wants to know why we got a college kid tied up downstairs. Think he thought we were bringing him home takeout now."

"Not that tonight wasn't fun," she said, "but next time a demon needs to impregnate or bodysnatch somebody, can it be Wesley? I'm just saying, we could take turns, have a rota, so it's not always me getting my body hijacked by the evil people-eating goddess who wants to destroy the world." Okay, she admitted, like that could happen twice, rerun hell or not, but still. She wanted it in writing.

He laughed. "I dunno. I saw you when that Goddess of Eternal Whatever was controlling you. Don't think Wesley'd look that good."

She opened one eye. "I looked good?"

"Looked fine to me."

"With the frostbite and the blue lips and the ruined dress that David had to pay for and I can't even return."

"Tellin' you."



She fingered the faded pattern on the comforter. "Gunn?" she asked. "Did we save the world?"

"World's still here, right? Stopped the demon, rescued the girls, found your missing folks. Call that a good night."

"A good night that I slept through," she pointed out. "Buffy, you guys - you did all the work."

"So what?" he said, "Long as it gets done. And anyway, you kidding? You squished a goddess with just your brain, girl. I promise, I am never getting you mad."

When he put it like that... She had, hadn't she? "So, barring visions and probable Buffy-shaped catastrophes, Angel owes me a day off," she said, cheering up. "Ooh, with pay. How's the weather?"

He crossed over to the window. "Snow stopped right about the time you passed out."

"But it's still there, right? It didn't go poof?"

"Still there. Must be three feet deep. Never seen a thing like it." He'd gotten rid of the tuxedo's jacket but was still in the dress shirt, sleeves rolled to his elbows. It looked good on him.

She remembered his face that afternoon, his expression when he saw snow for the first time, and she thought about his little sister, who'd never gotten to see it at all. "What are you doing tomorrow?" She corrected herself. "Today."

He turned, and it looked like he made a really hard try at not grinning. "What did I say about the plan face?"

She pictured *his* face with a king-sized snowball in the middle of it. "You told me you thought it was gorgeous," she yawned, eyes closing of their own accord this time.

And right before she fell asleep, she thought she heard him agree with her.