For One Night Only
COMPLETED: March 2001
DISCLAIMER: "Angel" and
the Vampire Slayer" are trademarks of Mutant Enemy; all characters and
situations are used without intent of infringement or expectation of profit.
SUMMARY: Angel's back, but Cordelia
isn't ready to forgive and forget -- until she's forced to see things from
his point of view.
SPOILERS: Up to "Epiphany"
NOTES: I guess if I had to categorise
this, I'd call it 'comedy drama'. Certainly Cordelia and Angel's predicament
isn't meant to be taken too seriously. The strained atmosphere between them,
however, in the wake of Epiphany's tentative reconciliation, is serious. This
is one way they might have been given the opportunity to work things out
I'm not an A/C shipper, but I find their
relationship one of the most appealing things about this show. You won't find
any romance in what follows, but tenderness, affection, a little angsthell,
The place they had found for the ceremony was
The warehouse was in a rough neighbourhood near the
and had been empty for years. The interior was cavernous and, apart from the
faint flickering light thrown out by a dozen candles, almost completely dark.
The voices of the thirteen cloaked figures echoed as they chanted, bouncing
off the metal roof and walls with eerie hollowness.
Once voice led; the others repeated the incantation in
his wake. The two women bound together by silver chains in the middle of the
circle shivered fearfully. The air crackled with the raw power of dark forces.
Until suddenly a tinny, electronic rendition of Yankee
Doodle Dandy destroyed the atmosphere completely.
Doug broke off mid-chant and pulled down the hood of
his cloak. "Okay. Whose cell phone is that? Own up."
Twelve cloaked and hooded figures and the two subjects
of the rite shuffled and coughed awkwardly for several long seconds. At last
the acolyte four to Dougs left reached into a hidden pocket and pulled
out his Nokia.
"Hi. Yeah. No. Okay. Uh, Marlene, Im kinda
tied up right now. Call you back? Yeah. Yeah. Fine. Bye."
Doug glared at him. "Were gonna have to
"Sorry. I forgot to say Id be late home from
Doug sighed and looked around the gathering.
Everybody turn their phones off now."
The red-robed figure directly opposite Doug raised his
hand tentatively. "Excuse me. Im expecting a call from my stock
There was a moments stillness, followed by
minutes shuffling and hunting through folds of red velvet for the pockets
of the street clothes beneath. One acolyte helpfully retrieved and switched
off the phones of the two bound women, who smiled and nodded their thank-
When at last the participants had settled again, Doug
nodded and raised his arms above his head. Then, dramatically, he let them drop.
It didnt mean a thing but, damn, you had to give people a show.
He cleared his throat and adopted his incantation voice,
which was not unlike the voice he used for cold calling in his day-job, but
deeper. More authoritative, Doug liked to think. He began the ritual again,
from the start.
"Spirits of other places, we call on
What a difference a couple of weeks and a demon larva in your skull makes,
She looked up from the iBook and the celebrity gossip
webzine shed been reading and, because she had nothing better to do
work, started to list in her head everything that was new.
There was the office itself, for a start. It was new.
Not new in the clean-and-shiny sense, or even in the basically-sanitary sense,
but new to them if nothing else. There was Wesley reading an old dusty
newbut standing up and leaning on a cane instead of rolling around in
the terminally unfashionable wheelchair the hospital had given him. That was
a new sight, and a welcome one.
As she watched, Wesley put down the book and reached
absently for a pen. It scooted out from under his fingers and rolled on to the
floor; Gunn, who had been sharpening an axe, leaned down at once and retrieved
it for him. He handed it over with a familiar and friendly grin which Cordelia
decided definitely merited inclusion on the New Things list. And sitting in
the other corner
She pursed her lips. Was this New Angel or Old Angel?
Old Angel had driven her to auditions and cooked
and understood what it meant when shed said shed stay with him as
long as it took. And then, right when hed made her start caring, hed
gone away and New Angel had arrived. New Angel didnt talk and he
listen, and pretty soon hed stopped being there to catch her when the
visions hit. Old Angel was "An-gel!", said with a little
exasperation and a lot of affection; New Angel was "Boss," and then
not even that.
Who was he now?
He was pretending to readstaring at a single page
in that weird, intense way he had when he was just using an open book as an
excuse not to have to talk to anyone. But she sensed something different in
his attitude now; as if, rather than avoiding conversation, he was desperate
to communicate but was no longer sure how to go about it.
Cordelia wasnt in a rush to make it easier for
There was no Old or New Angel. There was just this
and Cordelia wasnt sure she liked him any more.
No convenient curse this time. No morning after
okay, it wasnt really you conversations. No avoiding the unpleasant
truth: the Angel who had decided he was now very, very sorry was the same Angel
who had systematically cut her out of his existence with the clinical precision
of a surgeon removing a tumour. The same Angel who had at first ignored her,
then scared her, then finally threatened her with violence. Andno doubt
in her mind about thishe had been ready to hurt her.
Ready to hurt her? Huh. He already had hurt her.
A big part of her wished hed never had his damn
epiphany. Then it would still be just the three of them, getting on just fine
by themselves, thank you very much
"Cordy, are you okay?"
Hed noticed her staring at him. She straightened
up and flipped her hair.
Hah. Dont think youre Cordy-ing your
out of this one. "Yes."
"Are you going to have a vision?"
"Pity," said Gunn, not looking up from his
axe: "Cause we could be doin with one of those about now.
a little slack round here."
"Oh yeah? Well, you know what else we could be
with?" began Cordelia hotly.
"A client," interrupted Wesley, smiling rigidly
in the direction of the doorway. "Ahem. Everyone, look. A client."
The girl hovering hesitantly in the offices entrance
was youngcertainly, Cordelia judged, no older than herselfand wore
a pair of faded cargo pants and a crop top that showed off her flat, tanned
stomach to perfection. And perfection was pretty much the descriptive word of
choice for the rest of her: unblemished skin, clear blue eyes, hair golden and
light right down to the roots, and a delicate bone structure with none of the
telltale pinched sharpness that screamed surgery. Let Gunn have his weapons
and Wesley his books: Cordelias area of expertise was appearance, and
she recognised one hundred per cent natural beauty when she saw it.
"Hello," said the girl. "Is this Angel
"Thats us," said Wesley, with a slight
but definite emphasis on the second word. He smiled. "What can we do for
"Trixie," supplied Gunn.
Cordelia looked at him, frowning. "Have you two
Instead of replying, he nodded in the girls direction.
Cordelia looked her up and down again, and this time saw the word etched in
blue ink in a graceful arc just above her navel. "Nice tattoo."
The girl made a small whimpering sound, and her hands
flew to cover her exposed abdomen. "Oh God. I wanted to wear something
else, but she doesnt have any real clothes. Its all straps and
Sincerely, Gunn said, "Please dont
Oh God, thought Cordelia. Just how pathetic were guys?
One pretty girl walked in off the street and suddenly the male contingent was
rolling over and begging to have its ears scratched. But Trixie didnt
look pleased, or coy, or flirtatious, or any of the reactions Cordelia might
have expected. She seemed angry and upset.
"Youre no different. I walked here and the
whole time I could feel everyone looking at me. All the women jealous and all
the men hungry andits horrible. I thought it would be heaven and
its not. Its awful." On the last word, her voice cracked and
she started to cry.
Wesley hobbled forward, and patted her arm.
"Im not called Trixie," snapped the girl.
More quietly, she finished, "Its Judith."
Dull, thought Cordelia, but in the take me
stakes, a definite step in the right direction.
"Whoah," said Cordelia, "Time out.
not old woman Four-Cars. Ive met her. Wesley, so have you."
He nodded. "A
friend of mine introduced us
at the country club she belongs to. Shes a good deal older than you and,
if I may so, not nearly so attractive. Trixie, I appreciate that youre
feeling a little nervous, but if were going to help you, youre going
to have to be honest with us. About everything."
"I am being honest. Youre the first people
Ive been honest with in weeks." Tears started to well up in her eyes
again, and she made a visible effort not to break down. "I remember meeting
you too: thats why I came here. You were with Virginia. You spilt red
wine on my cream stole."
"How would you?" began Wesley. Then
turned around, slowly, and met Cordelias gaze. The improbable but
truth began to dawn.
"When I said Four Cars," she
"I want you to know that was in no way intended in a derogatory sense,
Wesley faced the girl again. "Why dont you
tell us just what happened."
"Any sign of them yet?"
Cordelia rolled down the window of Gunns truck
and peered into the night outside. Every street lamp was out within a hundred
yards in both directions, and she could see only the vaguest outlines of the
neighbourhoods empty stores and buildings. "No. Was she sure this
was the place they took her?"
"It was about the only thing she was certain
Cordelia wrinkled her brow. "So, lets review
the facts. Mrs F-C says she was out walking when a couple of weird demon-types
bundled her into the back of a car. Next thing, she wakes up in an empty
empty warehouseperfectly fine apart from not being herself any more. What
doesnt make sense about that story? Apart from, oh, everything?"
"It does appear that a motive is somewhat
conceded Wesley. Then he cheered. "Still, that is very much the point of
private investigation, isnt it? To investigate."
"There are people in there."
Cordelia jumped, almost knocking the top of her head
on the cabs roof. Angel had appeared soundlessly beside her at the
open window. "Could you please not freak me like that?"
"What sort of people?" asked Wesley.
"Weird types in red cloaks," elaborated Gunn
as he also rejoined them. "I counted about a dozen. Definitely people,
though: no demons."
"They could be vampires," pointed out
"No," said Angel. "I only smelled
"And again, less with the freakiness,
Ignoring Cordelia, he went on, "There are a couple
of entrances, and none of them are guarded or locked. Theyre either pretty
naïve or not expecting company. We could get in without too much
"So whats the plan?" asked Gunn,
"Reconnaissance only, tonight. Lets wait until
we know exactly whats going on before we do anything rash."
"Man," said Gunn, sounding disappointed.
I was really lookin forward to staking something."
"Stick around, you might still get the
Cordelia told him, with a telling look in Angels direction.
This time, he looked back at her, and Cordelia felt a
kind of cold satisfaction at having finally elicited a reaction from him. "Ill
take the west side," Angel said shortly, and walked off.
"Ill go east," said Gunn.
Within a few seconds, both Angel and Gunn were out of
sight, and before much longer even the faint echoes of two sets of footsteps
were no longer audible. When they were entirely alone, Wesley said quietly,
"I couldnt help but notice that youre very
Cordelia blinked and glanced down at her hands, which
were resting on her knees. She was surprised to see her fingers locked together
so tightly that her knuckles were knobbly islands of pure white in a sea of
red. Tense? she thought. Whos tense? Not me, no sirree.
When she didnt reply, he went on, "Cordelia,
this isnt going to work unless we all try to make it work."
She unlaced her fingers, one at a time. Finally, and
with difficulty, she said, "Im not sure I want it to."
She didnt know exactly how she expected him to
respond to that, although her best guess would have been some kind of stiff-upper-
British pep talk, something about putting aside personal considerations for
the good of everyone, probably with some kind of Winston Churchill reference
thrown in towards the end for good measure.
Softly, Wesley said, "No. Im not convinced
this is for the best either." Cordelia looked at him, surprised, and he
went on: "But I do think we must at least try. And this
sniping is not helping."
"Its not constant," she said defensively.
"Ive been taking five minute breaks every couple of hours."
"Yeah, yeah. I know." She looked down, and
saw that her fingers had already started to knot together again. "So
ready to come back to us. Well, thats just peachy for him. But Im
not sure Im ready to take him back."
Wesley opened his mouth to reply, but a noise on the
street stopped him. Cordelia watched as a red sports car pull up on the other
side of the road and the driver got out. "I think another one of them just
"Youre sure hes involved?"
"Well, the cloak is a bit of a giveaway."
"Ahh. It is, isnt it?"
Cordelia made to open the door of the truck. "Wait
here. Im gonna do a little reconnaissance of my own."
"Ill come with you," said Wesley. He
raised a hand to the door handle and almost immediately winced in pain.
again, I may just stay here and contemplate the many and varied forms of agony
the human body is capable of experiencing."
"Im only going across the street," she
told him. "Ill be back in five."
"Nevertheless, be careful."
Cordelia treated him to her brightest smile.
The Mercedes drove like a dream. Doug had known it would. Those Swedes knew
how to make cars.
A couple of people at his day job had noticed the new
car, and wondered aloud how a basic grade two telesales operative could afford
it, but Doug was certain his unexpected legacy story had been
In one sense, it was the truth. If Uncle Ernie, the black sheep of the Kluggerman
family, hadnt died unexpectedly, bequeathing to Doug the sum total of
his worldly possessions in a cardboard box, none of this good fortune would
have been possible. For the thousandth time since the dull Sunday afternoon
when he had finally gotten around to sorting his uncles belongings and
had found the rolled parchment crushed between the June 1978 and August 1982
editions of Playboy, Doug thanked whatever benevolent spirit had seen fit to
bless him with such good fortune.
And by the time tonight was over hed be another
twenty thousand dollars richer.
He locked the car door and turned to go into the
nearly colliding with the girl coming the other way as he did so. "Sorry,"
he said automatically.
"My bad," she said. "I was just walking
along here andthats a really impressive cloak youve got
Doug held his shoulders a little straighter. Hed
made the cloak himself; he wasnt much with a sewing machine, but he
the gold tassels along the hem had worked particularly well. "You think
"Oh yeah. I saw that cloak, I thought, theres
a guy who knows all aboutcloaks."
The girl smiled at him, and what a smile. Her whole face
seemed briefly to rearrange itself to accommodate the stellar wattage of that
There was little light in the street, but even in the
dimness he could tell that she was young and exceptionally attractive.
She was perfect.
"Im Doug," he said, holding out his
She took it. "Cordelia."
"Cordelia," said Doug, "how would you
like to earn yourself a lot of money?"
"So, let me get this straight," said Cordelia. "If I agree, I
get ten thousand dollars in cash."
Doug nodded. "In your hand. Used bills."
"And all I have to do in return is
"Well, its more of a loan, really. And
not to me: Im just the middle-man. All I do is match donors with donees.
Im a professional service provider."
"Okaaay," said Cordelia, very slowly.
who exactly would be
Doug shrugged. "Well, it depends. I keep a kind
of register of interested folks. And then when someone comes along, like yourself,
who I think might be suitable for someone in particular, I make them known to
each other. Introduce them. Help things along." He smiled the warm, fake
smile of a professional salesman. "I know that right now this sounds like
the weirdest thing youve ever heard
Dont bet on it, thought Cordelia.
but really, its no different to donating
a pint of blood or a kidney."
"Except that its all my blood, both kidneys,
every other major organ and the fun skin-type wrapping on the package
Doug said, "I can see youre not comfortable
with this concept." He put his hand on her shoulder and began to propel
her towards the door.
Cordelia made a fast decision. She let him walk her
three or four steps, then deliberately slowed. With just the right amount of
interest in her voice, she said: "Ten thousand dollars?"
He stopped and leaned towards her. In a low voice, he
said: "Just between to two of us, someone as attractive as you could certainly
get a lot more."
said Cordelia, "that I was interested, what would happen to me? I mean,
how do I end up on the other side of this deal? A rich disembodied
Doug was shaking his head emphatically. "This is
the beauty of the arrangement. My clients are people of means. Theyve
worked hard to get where they are and maybe, on the way, theyve missed
out on a few of the fun things in life. So while they get to re-experience their
youth, you get the kind of lifestyle it takes forty years to build."
"And the kind of body it takes forty years to get
"All my clients are in excellentwell,
said Doug. "I promise you wont wake up with terminal
"Good to know," said Cordelia. "You
I heard this wild rumourit sounds stupid even to say it
Doug smiled conspiratorially. "Go on."
"Judith Forbes-Carson?" asked Cordelia.
He nodded proudly. "That was one of my most
If Doug considered Mrs Forbes-Carson aka Trixie a
story, Cordelia wondered how he defined failure. "Look, I dont wanna
rush into anything here
"Maybe if you told me a little more about how this
thing actually works?"
Quietly, Doug said, "Its magic."
Cordelia allowed her eyes to widen. "Real
she said, with just the right amount of breathless wonder. And, oh boy, those
acting classes had been worth every last cent, because Doug was eating it up.
He nodded with almost infantile enthusiasm.
really very straightforward. Were doing one tonight. Would you like to
"Well, if its safe
"Come with me." Doug turned Cordelia around
and led her through several storerooms and into the main warehouse, where a
dozen men and women were robing and making small talk. Cordelia followed her
host through the group to a chorus of Hi Dougs to the far wall,
where a rotund businessman in late middle age and bronzed surfer-dude type were
standing next to each other in awkward silence. They looked, thought Cordelia,
like the last guests at a party where all the interesting people had already
"Mr Fernbaum. Brad," Doug greeted them
"Im just thrilled youve decided to take this step." To
Cordelia, he said, "Ive a got few things to take care of, but if
you stand here youll get a great view."
She smiled. "Thanks, Doug."
He smiled back at her then left, ushering his clients
to where the acolytes were arranging themselves into a circle. Once he had
the two men in the centre of the ring, Doug stepped into the twelve oclock
The gathering fell silent.
Doug raised his arms dramatically. Show off, thought
Cordelia. Then, letting them drop, he reached into his robes and pulled out
a frayed and yellowing scroll. He unfurled it ceremoniously and began to read.
"Spirits of other places, we call on thee. Be present in this circle
In the rafters of the warehouse, a shadow moved.
looked around the circle, but no one else appeared to have noticed.
She raised her hand. "Uhh, excuse me?"
Fifteen faces turned and looked at her.
"Hi. Sorry to interrupt. Would you mind answering
"Itd be a pleasure," said Doug,
as if it would be anything but.
"I was just wondering, what if this whole exchange
thing doesnt work out?"
"It always works out."
"Well, yeah. But say it didnt. I mean, could
you swap them back again?" She pointed at the two men in the middle of
"Well, of course," Doug told her.
just a matter of re-performing the magic."
"Have you ever done that?"
"Ive never needed to. Everybodys
satisfied with the exchange."
"Always," said Doug firmly. "Now, do you
think we could move on here?"
"Oh, yeah, sorry. Please, go right ahead.
mind me." Cordelia gave Doug a big, fake smile, but didnt move too
far from the circle. She watched as the ritual began to build to a climax, not
once taking her eyes off the paper in Dougs hands.
Maybe, she thought, she could dash in there and grab
it. No points for subtlety, but if she could just get outside, back to Wesley
and the truck
"Let these spirits leap unfettered by this mortal
flesh," read Doug. The acolytes echoed the chant. Mr Fernbaum and Brad
held hands nervously in the middle of the circle.
No one was paying any attention to Cordelia.
Shed have to be ready to move fast, she thought,
tensing. There would only be one chance to get this right.
She took a single step forward, and prepared to run.
And suddenly found herself flat on the floor.
Cordelia pushed herself up on to her hands and raised
her head. The acolytes were scattering; she looked around for Doug, but all
she saw were a dozen red-robed figures vanishing through various exits. After
a second, she realised why.
"Oh, God," said Cordelia, rolling her eyes.
He was in full scary-as-shit vamp mode, taking on the
only two acolytes who had been foolish enough to engage in a fight. It was a
matter of seconds before they were running as well. Angel pulled Cordelia roughly
to her feet. "Come on."
"Wait," she said. "This is so not a good
Angel wasnt listening. As he dragged Cordelia out
of the warehouse, she looked back in time to catch a final glimpse of red satin
vanishing into the storerooms, while Mr Fernbaum and Brad the surfer dude stood
in the huge empty space, holding hands and looking faintly ridiculous.
"Well, I find this very unprofessional," said
Mr Fernbaum. "Ill be demanding a full refund."
Cordelia didnt say anything until they got back to the office. Not one
She fumed silently in the back of the car, didnt
open her mouth once. She felt like a firecracker. She should have a warning
sticker, she thought. One that read, light fuse and retire to a safe
Then, as soon as they were inside, she exploded.
"What the hell were you trying to do back
she demanded, taking off her jacket and firing it angrily over the back of the
chair in the corner.
rescuing you?" said Angel. The
sentence began as a statement, mutating into a question as the look Cordelia
was directing at him finally began to register.
"And did it occur to you at all that I might
not need rescuing?"
He looked at her in frank disbelief. "Well, seeing
as you were entirely surrounded by people performing extremely dangerous
"Cordelia," said Wesley, his tone pacifying:
"I have to say I was concerned for your safety too, when you allowed that
man to persuade you to accompany him inside."
"He didnt persuade me," said Cordelia.
"I was playing him, Wesley. He looked at me and his eyes rolled like a
one armed bandit and came up bimbo. I just went along with it to
see what hed tell me. Which was pretty much everything." She pulled
up her sleeve and began to dab at the graze she had sustained when Angel had
knocked her to the ground. "Heres what I found out tonight. One,
Mrs F-C is totally lying about being kidnapped: she paid that guy I met to swap
her with Trixie, and now shes got a bad case of twenty-twenty hindsight.
Two, my new best friend Doug is running a business which will be profitable
as long as there are vain and stupid people in the world, so buy stock now.
And three" She glared at Angel: "Three, I was about to grab
the spell right off him when Jean-Claude Van Damned here decided to butt
Gunn looked up from the magazine he had been flipping
through, obviously impressed. "Whoah. Nice moves." He glanced at
"Right up to the part where someone else went and messed it up on
"Im sorry," said Angel. He sounded
an error of judgement."
"No shit," snapped Cordelia.
Wesley gave her disapproving look and said, "Well,
it does appear that this evening was somewhat less successful than it might
have been, but lets try to look on the bright side. No one was hurt."
"This time," said Cordelia pointedly. She
her arms resolutely across her chest and turned around so she was facing Angel.
"We let you come back on condition you stuck to our rules."
"No, youre not," she told him.
acting like you know best and whatever you do, well just fall into step
behind you. Well, thats not how it is any more. Weve got our own
way of doing things and you have to start fitting in around us."
Coldly, Angel said, "Perhaps if youd told
anybody what you were going to do before you did it, I might have had the chance
to fit in. I thought you needed help."
The contrite quality had disappeared from his tone,
by something harder and more unpleasant. Some small part of Cordelia knew she
was trying to provoke him and that she was succeeding, and was glad. This was
the Angel shed grown used to in recent months, the one it had become
easy to be angry at. The one she could feel good about hating.
"Guess what, Angel? I dont want you to help
Wesley raised one hand. "Its been a
evening. Lets not say things well regret later."
He was trying, realised Cordelia. Wesley was really trying.
He was finding this whole set up as strange and confusing as she was but, because
he was Wesley, he was being mature and sensible and trying to make it hold
Something in her was sad that she was going to let him down by her failure do
the same. But right now Cordelia was furious, and she couldnt stop the
words tumbling bitterly out of her mouth.
"Gee, Wesley, what could I possibly say that I might
regret later? What would be really hurtful and threatening and downright creepy?
Oh, I know," she exclaimed, as if suddenly struck by a profound insight.
She walked slowly across the office until she was toe-to-toe with Angel. She
tipped her head back so she could look him in the eye and said quietly,
make me move you."
Angel looked at her, his expression cold and unreadable.
"If you want me to go, say so."
Cordelia decided shed had enough.
"Yes, I want you to go. I want you to go away
every time my life finally starts to hit a groove, youre the one who knocks
it off track again. You cant seem to decide who you are and Im sick
and tired of having to guess if youre gonna be good or evil today. I wish
youd never had your damn epiphany. I wish youd never come
The air crackled with something that felt like electricity,
Cordelia blinked as the room jumped around her, like
an old and jerky piece of film. When her vision came back into focus, she was
momentarily disoriented. The office was different. Wesley was in front of her,
where he had been behind her seconds before. The chair Gunn sat in was to her
left instead of her right. And facing her
She was looking down at her own face, and the
of surprise and shock on it was not hers.
She saw herself stagger several paces backwards, and
reach out for the support of the desk.
"Cordelia?" said Wesley, a note of alarm in
his voice. He reached for his cane, but Gunn was on his feet faster. Cordelia
saw him cross the room and take heror more accurately, take her
She blinked, confused. He was holding her arm. Why
she feel it?
"Cordy?" asked Gunn, with concern.
She saw her mouth open, heard her own voice say,
Cordelia said, "I think Im having an out of
body experience." Then she gasped and put her hand to her mouth because
when she spoke she sounded just like
"Angel?" said Wesley.
Cordelia shook her head. With ghastly but irresistible
fascination, she watched a mixture of emotions flit in rapid procession across
her own face: confusion followed by anxiety followed by realisation and finally
horror. She saw her own eyes dart about the room, searching for something, and
when at last their gaze settled on herself, Cordelia recognised what she saw
in them. And with a sinking, sick feeling she knew what the only explanation
for her altered point of view was.
"Guys, its me. Cordelia. And
Gunn looked down at Angel in Cordelias body,
across the room at Cordelia in Angels.
"Houston," he said: "We have a
Wesley lifted the book he had been consulting, wincing slightly at the strain
the extra weight placed on the half-healed muscles in his side. He carried it
carefully back into the main office. "I believe I know what
"Jeez, Wesley, I think I could probably make a wild
stab at that myself."
He blinked, and made a conscious effort not to react
to the peculiarity of hearing Cordelia speak using Angels voice. He
she was sufficiently distressed already without being treated like the star
attraction in a travelling freak show as well.
But there was no denying it, this was downright
Cordelia sat at the far side of the office, holding a
cup of coffee in Angels hands, wearing Angels clothes, Angels
coat, Angels body, Angels face. But the expression on that face,
without any doubt, was pure Cordelia. Wesley realised he had not understood
until now how much personality defined appearance, how it could be possible
for the essence of an individuals character to remain even when separated
from the face and form it was meant to occupy.
At the offices entrance, Angel leaned against the
door frame, wearing Cordelias brightly patterned sunflower print blouse
and a sick expression on her face. He had barely said a word since the exchange.
Wesley pushed his glasses up on to the bridge of his
nose and nodded. "Well, yes, I suppose what happened is fairly self-evident.
What I meant was, I believe I know why it happened."
From where he sat on the desk near Cordelia-as-Angel,
Gunn said, "This I cant wait to hear."
"Delayed effects are not uncommon in magic,"
explained Wesley. "In this instance, I think that by interrupting the spell
while it was in progress, Angel prevented the magical energy which had already
built up from discharging fully. That created a kind of backwash of magic, a
wave of potential energy that had to find some way to disperse."
"But why us?" asked Cordelia.
"Probably because you were arguing. Strong
have frequently been noted as having powerful catalytic effects with respect
"Let me get this straight," said Gunn.
sayin there was all this loose magic floatin around, and when Cordy
started shouting, it just kinda earthed?"
"More or less," said Wesley.
"Okay, so how do we un-earth it?" asked
"Like, right now?"
Reassuringly, Wesley told her, "The magic is
Quite easily reversible, in fact. All we have to do is re-perform the ritual."
He hesitated, wishing there was some way to avoid what had to be said next.
"There is, unfortunately, a small complication. The spell must be re-cast
with the original participants present, and it must be done within twelve hours
of the first ritual."
Cordelia-as-Angel looked up. "I sense an
looming. Whats the or?"
As gently as he could, Wesley said, "Or it
be reversed at all."
Cordelia bit herAngelslip. She
down at the coffee she hadnt drunk, then back up at Wesley and Gunn.
time is it?"
From the doorway, Angel spoke for the first time. He
brought a measured, solemn quality to Cordelias voice, and somehow made
her sound much older than her twenty years. "Its eight forty five
now. We interrupted the ritual at about half past six."
Which put the deadline at the coming dawn, thought
One night to fix this mess.
It wasnt going to be long enough.
With an edge of panic Cordelia-as-Angel said,
must have been a dozen people in that warehouse. And we dont know who
any of them are or where they wenthow are we gonna find them all before
Hiding his concern, Wesley limped across the office until
he was next to Cordelia. He put his hand on her knee and tried not to think
what that must look like. "We must be positive about this."
"Positive?" Her voice began to rise.
Well, excuse me for not being chirpy enough for everyone!"
"Cordy," said Gunn: "Deep breaths,
It was the wrong thing to say. "Im dead! I
"Cordelia," began Angel.
"And you can just shut up. I dont want to
hear another word from you!"
With alarm, Wesley saw that Cordelia was veering
close to hysteria. He suspected that having to listen to someone else speaking
in her voice wasnt helping to calm her. "Angel, please wait
Wesley glanced over his shoulder just in time to catch
the wounded, guilt-ridden look which flitted across Angel-as-Cordelias
new face before he could suppress it entirely.
He hesitated for a moment; then he turned around and walked out of the office
and into the hallway.
Immediately Wesley felt the tension in the roomor,
at least, some element of itdiffuse. When he looked away from the empty
doorway, he noted with relief that Cordelia was somewhat calmer.
Gunn said, "We gotta be smart about this.
what Im thinkin: that guy Doug you talked to has gotta be the
in this. We find him, he leads us to the others."
Wesley nodded, grateful to have found even the thinnest
sliver of real hope. "If this was some kind of business arrangement, then
Mrs Forbes-Carson probably had dealings with him on a number of occasions
she underwent the ritual. If she lied about how she came to be exchanged with
Trixie, perhaps she does know who he is and how to contact him."
"Then we start with her," said Gunn.
I say we call in every source weve got. You dont play musical bodies
for money on a regular basis without someone knowing about it." He looked
at Wesley, then Cordelia. "Its a lot of ground to cover in one night.
We should split, two and two. How dyou wanna do this?"
"Unfortunately," said Wesley, "I
think we have a choice."
"Its a remote possibility but I dont want to miss the slightest
chance we might have of resolving this
regrettable situation," said
Angel-as-Cordelia looked at him. He was sitting on the
fourth-to-last stair in the hallway outside the office, at eye level with Wesley.
"Its rare, but not unknown, for translocations
to reverse automatically if the magic fails to take. But if it happens at all,
itll happen when youre together. So you are not to leave her side
all night. Understood?"
Angel-as-Cordelia nodded. "Have you, uhh, told her
"Gunns explaining it to her now," said
Wesley. He had barely spoken when he heard the words You have got to be
fucking kidding me explode in Angels voice from the office. He
"I believe we can consider her informed."
Angel-as-Cordelia looked stung. "What do you need
us to do?"
"Gunn and I will contact Mrs Forbes-Carson and try
to find these people through her. While were doing that, youll be
contacting every source of information in L.A. you can think of."
"Right," said Angel-as-Cordelia. He paused.
"No," said Wesley coldly. "Not a word.
I dont want to hear it, and I certainly dont want to hear it from
Cordelias mouth in Cordelias voice."
For a moment, he saw an all-too-familiar hardness in
Angel-as-Cordelias face. "I didnt intend things to go
"And yet, strangely, when you got involved they
The silence stretched. Then the anger in Angels
face melted away until the expression that remained was merely tired and pained.
For a moment he bore a striking resemblance to Cordelia in the immediate
of a vision, and Wesley felt the first faint stirrings of empathy for him. Rationally,
he couldnt hold Angel responsible for what had happened: he had only done
exactly what Gunn or Wesley would have, given the same apparent situation and
limited information. But the fact remained that it had not been himself or Gunn
who had precipitated this crisisit had been Angel. Angels mistake
had harmed Cordelia, and Cordelia was part of Wesleys emotional
now while Angel
"The Wesley I used to know was more
Coolly, Wesley said, "You had my sympathy four
ago. Now, if youll excuse me, Im going to see how Cordelias
Im bearing up, thought Cordelia. I am bearing up. Yep, orientation-
my bearing is vertically positive.
It was a pretty stupid phrase, any way you thought about
it. Typical of Wesley in full crisis mode: stoic and chock-full of stiff upper
lip Englishness. Shed wanted to tell him as much when hed asked
her; but there was something so earnest and so compassionate in his manner that
she had heard herself say, in Angels voice, that yeah, she was okay, she
was dealing. She was bearing up.
She was bearing up, and any second now she might start
screaming and not stop.
Anything to break the silence.
Shed never realised how much background noise
living body made, until suddenly it wasnt there any more. The murmured
pa-pump of a beating heart, circulating blood hissing somewhere in the depths
of her inner ear, the gentle susurration of breathingall gone now, leaving
a vast and quiet void in her head where her thoughts bounced emptily off each
She started at the sound of her name spoken in her own
voice. Cordelia had done enough screen tests and audition tapes to know what
she sounded like when recorded and played back, but this was different again.
Angel brought a new timbre to her speech, with inflection which was subtly but
definitely not her own. She wondered if she was changing his voice and if so
could he hear the difference, and was he as wigged out as she was. Thered
been a time when she could have asked him.
"I wasnt listening. What was that?"
"I said, we could try Kate first, see if she still
has contacts in the police. Then Caritas. After that I have a few other ideas."
Angel hesitated. "I mean, if thats okay with you."
"Fine, whatever," said Cordelia. She stopped.
"No, not fine. Since when is Kate back on our Christmas card list?"
"Its a long story. But I think shell
be willing to help."
It sounded as if she and Angel werent the only
people whod pulled a major switcheroonie recently, thought Cordelia, but
she was too distracted to pursue the matter further. "Yeah. Sure."
His tone conciliatory, Angel said, "If you had any
suggestions, thatd be fine too."
Great. He had to pick now to instigate consultative
making. Now, when she was a hairs breadth from losing it completely and
just wanted someone to tell her what to do to make it all right. She wished
Wesley and Gunn hadnt gone already.
"No. Well do it your way," she said,
and immediately regretted it, because somehow the words came out sounding
and more distant than shed intended. God, she sounded like Angel.
Of course she sounded like Angel.
"Lets just go. Were wasting
"Right. Im parked just down the street."
She watched as Angel put on her jacket and left. After a second she steeled
herself, and followed him.
Even walking felt wrong, and the strangeness intensified
at each step; every movement only made her more aware of the extra height, width
and bulk she carried. She ducked to go through the office door because it seemed
so much lower than she was used to, and only afterwards remembered she had
seen Angel stoop to enter, so it probably hadnt been necessary.
The convertible was parked a block away; she could see
it clearly, even though half the street lamps were knocked out and it was a
typically starless and moonless smoggy L.A. night.
Just walk, she thought. Just focus on getting that far.
Hold together that long. One foot in front of the other, see now, youre
doing okay, were good here
She heard a gasp and a grunt from her side and looked
around just as Angel tripped and fell into an ungainly heap on the sidewalk,
splaying her arms and legs in all directions.
"Are you okay?"
He sat up, and grimaced. "My ankle hurts."
He touched the foot tentatively and said, sounding surprised: "Itreally
"Can you move it?"
He flexed the joint, and winced. "Oww."
Cordelia nodded, satisfied. "Its not broken,
you just turned it. Itll be okay in an hour or two. Jeez, Angel, you
been me for any time and already Im injured."
"Maybe if you wore shoes that didnt bear so
close a resemblance to a modern sculpture installation, I wouldnt have
fallen," he said, pointing at her sandals.
"Theyre Jimmy Choos," she said
"Theyre death traps."
Privately, she had to admit he had a point. The sandals
were gorgeous, with green suede trimming and three inch heels; they were also
completely impractical if the wearer intended doing anything other than standing
around looking pretty. "Wait here," she said. "Ill be right
She went back to the office and found the pair of ancient
but comfortable pumps she kept in the bottom drawer of her desk. Returning with
them, she waited while Angel put them on. When he started to stand up, she
out a hand automatically to help him, taking him by the wrist and pulling him
to his feet.
She felt hisher?warm wrist, and the steady
beat of a pulse underneath soft, living flesh. She let go of him abruptly and
stared at her big, cold hands. Dead flesh.
Angel said quietly, "Cordelia, I know what its like to"
Angrily, she said, "No. Dont tell me you
or that you know what this is like. Youve been dead for centuries: I had
a pulse at dinnertime." She turned and quickly walked the rest of the distance
to the convertible, aware that Angel was limping somewhere behind her. When
she was standing by the car and he had finally caught her up, she said, "I
dont want to talk; I dont even want to look at you unless I have
to. I just want to get back to being me as fast as possible. And what are you
waiting for?" she added, irritated. "Lets go already."
"Youve got the keys. Theyre in my
"Oh." She reached into the coat and found
It took several attempts to unlock the car: her hands were too large and she
kept fumbling. At last the key slid into the lock, and she turned it with relief
and opened the door. She got into the car, revelling in her small victory. She
was okay; she could do this.
And then, out of habit and without thinking, she glanced
at the convertibles wing mirror to check her eyeliner wasnt smudged.
She stared into the empty space the mirror reflected
back at her. She couldnt take her eyes off it. After a second the wing
mirror and the street beyond it began to blur.
She heard Angel say in her voice, "Are you all
Cordelia blinked hard, and swallowed. She tore her gaze
away from the mirror.
"Im bearing up," she said.
"I was going to tell you," said Judith Forbes-Carson. "I was
going to tell you right up to the second I walked in the door. And then I
thought about what a foolish, stupid old woman I was, and
Her voice trailed into a breathy sigh. Not quite sure
what else to do, Wesley patted the back of one smooth, creamy-skinned hand
Judith looked up, her lower lip trembling and her big brown eyes brimming with
tears in an expression of pitiable vulnerability which had probably reeled in
any red-blooded man Trixie Lavelle had decided she wanted. "Youre
absolutely sure?" she asked.
"Im sorry," said Wesley. "This
genus of translocation spell is designed to be permanent. The initial twelve
hour period during which its reversible is only there as a kind of safety
clause. The magics creators probably imagined anyone undergoing the
would have thought carefully about what they were doing."
Judith looked down at the table top again, and said
The clock above the stove in the kitchenette of Trixie Lavelles tiny apartment
ticked loudly in the silence, striking off each second of the passing night.
When Wesley glanced over Judiths bowed head, he saw Gunn standing in
doorway, tapping his watch and silently mouthing exhortations to get on with
it. Time moving on, thought Wesley. Time running out.
"I did think about it," said Judith. "I
mean, I thought Id thought about it. I was just so sick ofof everything.
Of nips and tucks and an hour on the exercise bike every day and never eating
anything that tasted good. And then I found out what Jerryd been doing
all those times he said he was working late, and after I made him leave I spent
so many hours just looking in the mirror and only seeing the flaws and the wrinkles
and then this man contacted me
" She stopped. "I didnt
really think about it at all. Im a vain old woman. I suppose I deserve
"Its not a crime to make a mistake. No one
deserves to be punished for that," Wesley told her, and felt a twinge of
guilt. Go tell it to Angel.
Judith-as-Trixie smiled a thin, grateful smile, which
quickly faded. "You cant imagine what its like to have to be
someone else. Its like wearing a suit that doesnt fit, except you
cant take it off, not for a second. And now I cant take it off
"Judith," said Wesley: "I sincerely wish
we could have done more for you. But now we need your help. Earlier this evening
we interrupted a ritual like the one you participated in and, well
had a slightyou might call it a technical hiccup."
Her eyes widened in surprise, and he saw her look first
at himself, then Gunn. "You mean youre?"
"Oh, no," said Wesley quickly. "But our
associatesCordelia and Angeltheyre
Theyre having the identity crisis to
end identity crises," finished Gunn helpfully.
Wesley would not have thought it possible, but
eyes widened even further. "But theyre not even the
Gunn held up a hand: "Its worse than that.
Trust me, its a whole lot worse."
Wesley leaned forward across the small table. "We
need to find the man running this operation, and we need to find him before
tomorrow morning. Youre our best chance."
Judith shook her head, causing Trixies long blonde
curls to bounce around her ears. "I never even knew who he was. He just
called me up one day and made me thisincredible offer. I never stopped
to wonder, why me."
"Think, Judith," pressed Wesley. "Did
you have any way of contacting him? A telephone number, an address,
"No," she said, more definitely. "He
called me. I never even met him until the night of the ceremony."
Wesley took off his glasses and massaged his temples
with his fingertips in a vain attempt to dull the throbbing pain which was blooming
inside his skull. His side hurt more than it had for days, and after a second
he realised why: in the evenings confusion, he had forgotten to take the
second of his two daily doses of painkillers.
Suddenly Gunn said, "I bet hed met Trixie
Wesley opened his eyes and looked across the room. He
felt a slow smile begin to spread over his face. "Of course. He must have
met herhow else could he make sure she was, well, up to
Gunn nodded. "So maybe she knows something
about this guy."
"We have to find Trixie."
"Oh, thats easy," said Judith Forbes-
"I mean, shes me. Shes living at my house."
Add milk slowly. Beat until mixture is a smooth, creamy consistency.
Kate re-read the instructions in the recipe book. She
looked at the glossy photograph on the opposite page and then at her effort,
which was currently launching a spirited escape attempt from its bowl. Smooth,
creamy consistency. Huh. She lifted the wooden spoon out of the batter and
large, solid lumps slide off it to rejoin the parent entity below.
Well, shed just have to beat the damn thing into
She mixed with a vengeance, cradling the bowl in her
left arm and attacking her first ever attempt at dumplings with the spoon in
her right hand. She was surprised how relaxed she felt, how enjoyable shed
found the simple tasks of weighing, blending and mixing. Even if the end result
was something less than haute cuisine.
Shed never learnt to cook; her mothers
and a father who believed the human bodys nutritional requirements could
be adequately met by a combination of caffeine, nicotine and three day old pizzas
had seen to that. And as an adult she had told herself she just didnt
have the time.
And now suddenly she did. And it wasgood.
The empty days she had initially found so terrifying
were somehow filling themselves more than adequately. She was sleeping more
soundly and for longer, and for the first time in months she wasnt waking
up at three a.m, chest tight, gasping for air. Shed read a novel, cover
to cover; she was eating three meals a dayreal food, nothing from cans
or containing the word quik in its brand nameand shed
started working out again. She had gained a little weight, and she felt better
than she had in too long. Far, far too long.
Kate wasnt sure what was happening to her, but
she suspected that maybejust maybeshe was starting to heal.
Now, if she could just master the intricacies of batter
The buzzer of her apartment door sounded. She put down
the bowl and spoon and took a moment to wipe her hands clean before answering
it. She was mildly surprised but not displeased to see the two people standing
shoulder to shoulder on the landing.
"Angel. Cordelia. Hi."
Angel sighed and rolled his eyes theatrically.
its more like, Cordelia, Angel, hi."
Kate looked at him. He seemed
off. Not off as he
had been latelybleak, grim, desperatebut in an awkward-gangly-
way. He was standing stiffly, as if he didnt know what to do with his
arms. So, for that matter, was Cordelia.
"Uhh, okay. Cordelia, Angel, hi." She smiled.
"So now youre well and truly hied, you wanna come
Angel looked at Cordelia, his expression confused.
that an invitation? I mean, am I gonna need something more specific than that,
or does the rule not apply cause Im not, yknow,
Cordelia seemed to have to think about that. "Well,
Ive been here beforealthough I wasnt invitedbut if
not even me" She stopped and rubbed the bridge of her nose tiredly.
"You know what? I have no idea."
Kate stared at them, confused. Slowly, she said, "If
I ask whats going on here, will I regret it a lot? Because I think I could
cope with regretting it a little, but if were talking about a major case
of Why the hell did I ever get involved later on, Id prefer
to know now."
Cordelia said, "Kate, could you invite us both in?
We need help."
"That much is obvious," said Kate.
inside. Both of you."
Kate sat back in her chair and tried to wrap her head
Nope, not happening.
She pointed at Angel and tried again. "So
"Oh, for crying out loud, yes. Im Cordelia.
Cordy. Vision girl. CC. Ms Chase. What do you wantname tags? A
"Cordy, lets give Kate a minute to work
And that did it. Seeing Angel waving his hands and rolling
his eyes in exasperation while Cordelia sat rigidly in her seat, wearing the
same preoccupied, vaguely concerned expression which normally haunted
featuressomething clicked in Kates head. Mentally, she swapped
over, re-named them.
And started to laugh.
Cordelia-as-Angel glared at her. "Oh great. Now
were having a funny crisis."
Kate put her hand over her mouth in a doomed attempt
to stifle the giggling fit overtaking her. When that proved futile, she gave
in and laughed until her ribs hurt. "Oh God.
really ambut" She made herself sober up: "Its just
thatmy whole lifes been doom and gloom for so long and this is just
sosooh God!" She cracked up again.
Dryly, Cordelia-as-Angel said, "Yeah, its
hilarious, we get it. Someone sew my sides back up, please." She sighed
and, looking at Angel-as-Cordelia, corrected herself: "Sew his sides back
Laughter under control at last, Kate shook her head,
bemused. "What happened?"
Cordelia-as-Angel looked glumly down at her coffee. The
expressiveness she brought to Angels usually stony face was so comical
it almost set Kate off again. She checked herself just in time. "We picked
the wrong magical rite to gatecrash."
"Bum deal," said Kate. "But Im
entirely sure what I can do about it."
Angel-as-Cordelia said, "To undo the magic, we
to reconvene the circle with the same people. Which means first we have to find
"So its all hands to the pump time,"
concluded Cordelia-as-Angel, "cause tomorrow at dawn, we get a bad
case of permanence."
"Right," said Kate, understanding. She put
down her coffee cup and went to get her address book from its home under the
telephone. "Tell me the details and Ill see what I can find out.
But I gotta tell you, my contacts arent what they used to be."
"Anything you can do," said Angel-as-Cordelia
sounding, thought Kate, as close to pathetically grateful as shed ever
heard him. She guessed it was a lot harder to carry off the menacing creature
of the night routine when you were wearing a floral print T-shirt and had dimples.
As he finished outlining the specifics of the rite they had interrupted, Angel-as-
looked down at his empty cup, then up at Kate, apparently suddenly uncomfortable.
"I think I need to
Uhh, could I use your bathroom?"
Kate, who had begun flipping through her address book,
nodded absently. "Go right ahead." When she looked up, Angel-as-
was disappearing down the hallway that led to the rest of Kates small
apartment while Cordelia-as-Angel watched him go. Kate realised something which
had never wholly dawned on her before. "Do vampires ever need to
Cordelia-as-Angel stared morosely at her empty mug.
I just drank two cups of coffee, so I guess Im gonna find out sooner rather
She sighed with such heartfelt gloom that the last vestiges
of Kates inclination to laugh disappeared, replaced by sympathy. If that
were you in there, Kate, she thought, youd be having a nervous breakdown
right about now. Another one.
Evidently Cordelias coping mechanisms were right
at the top end of the bell-curve, and Kate was quietly impressed.
She put down the address book and sat down on the
of the sofa, beside Cordelia-as-Angel. Not entirely sure what do next, she put
her hand on one big, solid shoulder. The thought came that she wished that she
were better at girl-to-girl bonding, followed almost immediately by the thought
that this wasnt strictly girl-to-girl anyway, so it probably didnt
matter. "Are you, uhh, holding up okay?"
Cordelia-as-Angel smiled, almost convincingly.
getting by. I mean, magic going wrong is practically a theme with me."
Cordelia-as-Angel nodded. "There was this time at
high school, I had a fight with my now totally ex-boyfriend, and he cast a spell
to make me love him desperately. Only, instead it made every woman in town adore
him except me."
Kate blinked. "Sounds like something out of
"It was. Right up to the point where his new
started chasing us with carving knives and meat cleavers."
Slowly, Kate said, "Your high school
like other schools, was it?"
"We had a doorway to hell underneath the library.
And the guest speaker at my graduation tried to eat the class of 99."
She shut herAngelseyes for a second and rubbed
across them. Somehow she made him seem very young. With a sudden and certain
insight, Kate realised the bravado performance Cordelia was maintaining in his
presence was just that: a performance.
She wanted to say something reassuring. "Look, I
know squat about magic, but it makes sense that something thats been done
can be undone. You wont be stuck this way."
"God, I hope not. I dont wanna be dead for
the rest of my life." Cordelia-as-Angel frowned. "That didnt
make sense. You know what I mean."
Kate smiled, gently this time. "I know."
"But thats not all. I mean, if I had to be
Wesley, or Gunnwell, itd still be squicky and too gross for words,
but its Angel and
its all that and other stuff too."
She looked up at Kate and finished, "Were not right with each other.
Its making this even yeckier. If more yeck were possible."
"Take it from an old hand," Kate told her:
"With relationships, more yeck is always possible."
She heard the bathroom door open and close and looked
around to see Angel-as-Cordelia returning to the living room. He was several
shades paler than he had been five minutes earlier, but otherwise he seemed
to have survived his encounter with mortal, female internal plumbing unscathed.
"Cordelia, we should go."
Cordelia-as-Angel stood up. "Yeah, I know. Places
to go, people to beg for help." She made for the door.
Angel-as-Cordelia hesitated, and turned back to Kate.
"If anything comes up, better call Wesley."
Cordelia-as-Angel shook her head. "They
allow cell phones where were going next. Or magic or violence. In fact,
anything that might interrupt the singing."
"The sing" Kate started, then stopped.
"No. I do not want to know. Look, I promise Ill call him the instant
I get anything useful, okay?"
"Thanks," said Angel-as-Cordelia.
Kate smiled at him, but it was Cordelia-as-Angel she
was looking at when she said, "I hope you work it out. I really do."
Judith Forbes-Carsons house was in fact something closer to a mansion,
a sprawling edifice with a faux-nineteenth century style facade located far
away from any road in the less flashy but more exclusive part of Beverly Hills.
Gunn raised an eyebrow as they approached it. "Buckingham Palace eat your
"Buckingham Palace isnt this
Judith shrugged. "I had a good divorce
She walked up to the door and pressed the buzzer.
A minute passed. Then the door opened slowly, and
found himself face to face with a small, middle-aged man wearing a servants
plain dark suit and tie. He looked at Gunn, then Judith-as-Trixie, then Wesley,
and finally at Gunns battered pick-up, whose tyres had cut deep grooves
through the drives carefully raked gravel. "Good evening."
"Were here to see Mrs Forbes-Carson,"
"Im sorry, Mrs Forbes-Carson isnt
any visitors tonight." The door began to shut.
"Its a surprise," said Gunn.
we go way back with Mrs F-C, and we were in the hood so we thought
The man looked at him in frank incredulity. "Way
"Well, not way back," said Wesley, "But
we do know her, at least in a manner of speaking, and its quite
here, could you just let us in?"
"Im sorry," said the man, and started
to close the door.
"Henry," said Judith suddenly.
The inch-wide gap stopped narrowing. After a second,
it widened again, hesitantly.
"Henry," said Judith, "You have worked
here for twelve years, and every Christmas you get a special bonus which you
send to your poor sick sister and her four children in Pittsburgh. Except your
sister is a stripper in Inglewood and you have to pretty damn healthy to do
the kinds of things she gets up to every night."
Henry hesitated. Then, with dignity, he said, "The
preferred term is exotic dancer. Its a good profession.
in the union."
Judith sighed. "I dont care, Henry. I never
Sensing an opportunity, Wesley said, "Henry, would
I be correct in saying that your employer has been behaving somewhat unusually
lately? That she hasnt been quite herself, perhaps?"
The man hesitated. Then he stood back and opened the
The noise swamped Wesley immediately. It came in
from the far end of the mansions art deco entrance hall, and sounded like
someone enthusiastically torturing cats. He winced. "What is that?"
"Mrs Forbes-Carson has been demonstrating a
unsuspected eclecticism of taste recently," said Henry. "I believe
this is a musical work from the Marilyn Manson oeuvre. Or possibly the Wu-Tang
He went to the archway at the end of the entrance hall
and stood just outside it. "Excuse me, Mrs Forbes-Carson, you have
He raised his voice over the noise: "Mrs Forbes-Carson."
Judith marched past him. "Trixie Lavelle, I know
Gunn looked at Wesley, who shrugged and followed
Beyond the archway he found himself in an octagonal
tastefully furnished with free-standing sculptures and wicker chairs. A variety
of carefully placed flowering plants were plainly intended to enhance the
of quiet contemplation.
Unfortunately, thought Wesley, the blaring stereo system
and assorted empty pizza boxes and candy wrappers somewhat destroyed the
And sprawling on the floor between two mounds of
"Some folks just shouldnt wear lycra,"
murmured Gunn. "Nothin personal. Im just
The last time Wesley had seen Judith Forbes-
seen her body, to be accurateshe had been wearing a flowing silk gown
and matching tailored jacket. In a contest between that and skin-tight leggings
and a tight T-shirt, he decided, there simply wasnt a decision to be
Judith-as-Trixie swept across the room and turned off
the stereo. Trixie-as-Judith looked aggrieved. "I was listening to
"We need to talk," said Judith.
"Uh-uh," said Trixie, clambering awkwardly
to her feet. It was bizarre, thought Wesley, but despite inhabiting a body which
was well middle-aged and then some, everything about the way she moved
gauche adolescence. "Youre not getting back in here. Not
"Im not getting back in there ever."
Trixie said, "We made a deal and this is my vacation
and its not over yet so you cant make me and"
A horrible suspicion began to form in Wesleys
"and I like being rich, so there," finished
"Oh shit," said Gunn. "She doesnt
Trixie looked at him. "Know what?"
Something in Judiths expression changed, anger
melting into compassion. "Sweetheart, this isnt a vacation. This
is how we are now."
Trixie stared around the room. It was a young, frightened
stare in a lined face. "But Doug said" She broke off and, with
a series of small, whimpering gasps, started to cry.
Within seconds she was sobbing, shoulders heaving as
she hugged her arms around herself. Abruptly, Judith went to her. "Oh,
honey. Im sorry. Youre only a girl, and I should have known better,
I should have
" She drew Trixie to herself and embraced her, rocking
her gently. "Henry, fetch some tissues from the box in my bedroom,
Wesley looked back at the doorway where Henry stood,
apparently confounded. He turned to go, walked several steps, then turned back.
"Ahh. Who, ahh, who are
"Call me Trixie," said Judith. "Ill
be staying here for a while."
Henry looked no less confused, but he nodded and
Judith was stroking Trixies silver-streaked hair
and whispering soft, reassuring words to her.
Gunn shook his head. "We aint gonna get
useful here. The kid was duped."
Judith, still holding Trixie, looked up at Wesley. Quietly,
she said, "He said he was called Doug, but I never knew his last name.
And when we were planning the ritual, he told me it had to be at night because
he was tied up during the day. He phoned once in the morning, I heard people
talking in the background, like an office. And thats everything I
"Thank you," said Wesley.
Judith-as-Trixie nodded. "Well be okay now.
Youd better go."
Leaving the sun room, Wesley and Gunn made their way
through the entrance hall and through the still-open front door to the truck
parked outside. As he got in, Wesley said, "I should have guessed as much.
There must be many more rich people who want to be younger than there are
people willing to give up forty years of their lifespans, no matter how much
money is involved. So he lets them think its just a temporary
He thought about Trixie, seventeen going on fifty, and felt something within
himself harden. "Im beginning to feel a certain degree of animosity
towards this fellow Doug."
"Huh," said Gunn. "I just want to kick
the shit out of the son of a bitch."
It was a quiet night at Caritas, and less than half the tables were taken. The
few patrons were regulars, content to nurse their drinks and talk quietly, the
exception being one large and rowdy party of succubi out on a hen night. Angel
guided Cordelia towards an unoccupied booth beside the main stage, where two
zombies were duetting Every Time You Go Away. On the line,
take a piece of me with you, the male zombie pulled off his right arm
at the socket and handed it to his date, who got tearful as she accepted it.
Or maybe that was just pus weeping from her rotting eyeballs. Either way, thought
Cordelia, it lacked class.
As the song finished, the Host appeared from the wings,
clapping with exaggerated appreciation. "Maurice and Maura: not even rigor
mortis stands in the way of their love. Give them a big handand who knows,
maybe theyll swap some other appendages with you too!" He looked
down from the stage and straight at Cordelia and Angel. Somehow seeing past
the glare of the spotlights, he winked at them. "Were gonna take
a little breather now: that is, those of us who do breathe. Order another round;
Im back in ten."
The Host hopped down from the stage and made his way
to their booth. "Well, now, heres a sight to gladden the blackest
of demon hearts. Isnt it nice that youregahhhh!"
Putting a hand to his head, the Host reeled backwards
in apparent agony. Angel stood up and made to help him, and was warded off by
one green hand raised in warning. "Oh, no. Not one step closer, you
Cordelia said, "We need your help."
"You dont hear me arguing. Sheesh.
not a melody, youre a cacophony. Youre an explosion in an aura
The Host took several deep breaths, and straightened up. He tugged the lapels
of his jacket flat and took a cautious step closer to their table. "Im
staying; Im talking. But one conditiondont either of you sing.
Dont hum. Dont even whistle a happy tune. Whatevers going
on in those pretty heads of yours right now, I do not want to be in on it. Im
getting a migraine just standing here."
"We feel your pain," said Cordelia, with
"But I think our situation is maybe slightly more serious."
"But funny," pointed out the Host. "You
two, just sitting here: comedy gold."
"Great. Well pitch it to the networks. Maybe
well get our own show."
"Cordy," said Angel. He looked at the Host.
"Weve got until dawn to reverse this. The people conducting the rite
we interrupted ran off. We have to find them tonight."
The Host sucked in his breath. "Sweetie, do you
know how many magical rites go on in this city on any given night?"
Angel started to reply, and Cordelia tried to concentrate
on the conversation, but somehow couldnt. There was a strange and cold
emptiness in the pit of her stomach, and she wanted something to make it go
away; something she couldnt define, but wanted badly nevertheless.
A waiter walked past them, holding a tray laden with
an mixture of improbably coloured drinks. The largest was a tall glass of deep
red liquid which steamed slightly and threw off an aroma completely unlike anything
Cordelia had ever known. It was thick and intoxicating; it smelled like dinner
cooking if you hadnt eaten for days, like the sharp sweet scent of rain
after a month in the desert, like the only thing shed ever wanted or ever
Cordelia turned her head and followed the waiters
progress through the club. She had to grip the edge of the table to stop herself
getting up and following him.
"They were running it like a business," Angel
was saying to the Host: "People paying money to be younger or prettier
or whatever. So maybe they were advertising their services. Someone must know
"Angel," said Cordelia urgently.
The Host pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I can ask
around for you."
Cordelia reached across the table and pulled at the sleeve
of Angels blouse, stretching the yellow-and-blue sunflower pattern out
of shape. "Angel, Im hungry. I mean really, really hungry."
"Youre in the right place, honey. We serve
the best creature of the night cuisine this side of the Mason-Dixie line,"
said the Host. He stood up and waved at the nearest waiter. "Paolo, one
straight red for the lady in my undead friends body over here. Bring a
human menu too." As an afterthought, he added: "Im going to
see if we have any Tylenol out back. My heads killing me." Massaging
his horns, he left.
The waiter lifted a menu card from a nearby empty table
and gave it to Angel. Then he disappeared in the direction of the bar.
Cordelia drummed her fingers against the tabletop. This
wasnt hunger; it was unadulterated, all-consuming need. "Oh God.
Im gonna die if I dont get something to eat now."
At the other side of the table, Angel was watching her
with a kind of saddened helplessness, as if he wanted desperately to do something
for her but didnt know what. Cordelia fidgeted and squirmed and finally,
out of some instinct she couldnt control, put her hand in her mouth and
bit down, hard.
She felt a gentle tug as Angel reached across the table
and pulled her wrist away. "Dont. It wont help. Trust me, it
wont." He looked around and, seeing the menu, seemed to think of
something. He turned over the laminated card and pushed it towards her.
help me out here. What should I order?"
She scowled at card, too consumed by the craving to
"I dont know. Whatever you want."
"I dont know what I want. Choice at
much a novelty."
Cordelia blinked, and made herself stare at the words
on the menu until she could concentrate enough to make sense of them. It took
effort to think of anything other than the overriding necessity of sating the
hunger before it ate her up from the inside out. But Angel was looking at her
hopefully, and another instincta better onetold her to act like
she was in control. To pretend as hard as she could that everything was okay.
With effort, she said, "McDonalds not big in eighteenth century Ireland,
"Not really," said Angel. Cordelia realised
that he was pretending too, and she was grateful.
"What did you eat?" she asked, genuinely
"Potatoes figured prominently."
Cordelia ran her finger down the options listed. "You
can have French fries. Theyre potatoey. Maybe with the chicken wings and
"Will I like that?"
"Well, I do. And youve got my taste buds,
The waiter returned, depositing a full glass of blood
on the table in front of Cordelia. She didnt waitcouldnt
Angel to order before draining it. She gulped it down as fast as she could swallow
and oh God it was hot and rich and meaty and satisfying and she wanted to drink
and keep drinking and never stop
And then it was all gone, and she still wanted more.
"Its not enough," she said.
"Its never enough," said Angel quietly.
"You just have to pretend it is."
Cordelia looked hard at the empty glass on the table
in front of her, as if desire alone could fill it again. With difficulty, she
ignored the continuing, although lessened, hunger and managed a small smile.
"I dont know which is more disturbing, the fact that I just drank
a pint of blood or the fact that I enjoyed it so much." Then she burped,
and quickly covered her mouth.
"Chicken wings and a side of French fries,"
announced the waiter as he returned.
"Thats for him," said Cordelia, pointing
The waiter didnt even blink at the choice of
a couple of months serving in Caritas was probably enough to eradicate
capacity for incredulity. "The boss says this is on the house. Enjoy your
With practised speed, he unloaded a selection of dishes
on to the table: a plate of deep-fried bread-crumbed chicken, a dish of light
golden French fries still sizzling faintly and, nestling between them, three
differently coloured and textured pots of dip. Angel looked at the selection
of fare in front of him, and appeared overwhelmed.
He looked like he needed help. Cordelia plucked a single
French fry from the side dish, plunged it into the mustard-coloured dip and
offered it to him. "Go on. Eat."
He accepted it and put it in his mouth. Chewed cautiously.
Angel didnt reply. His mouth was full again.
Cordelia looked on, increasingly perturbed. "Uhh,
okay. Angel, its called dip because youre meant to dip things in
it. Hence the term, dip. Eating it by itself is kinda gross."
"Mmmph," said Angel. He lifted a handful of
French fries and ate them, eyes widening in amazement. It was like watching
a three year old discovering chocolate cake for the first time.
"Now youre getting grease on my face and
not attractive," said Cordelia. She handed him a napkin, and waited while
he wiped around his mouth.
"Its okay," she told him, and found she
meant it. "I mean, its nice to see you enjoy something for a change.
But, just so were clear here, if my body gains one ounce while youre
in there, that time you spent in hell will feel like a cruise in the Caribbean
compared to what I will do to you."
"The sources have been pumped, the room has
well and truly worked," announced the Host, reappearing beside their booth.
"And no news, in this instance, is not good news."
"Nothing?" asked Cordelia.
The Host sounded genuinely sympathetic as he said,
"Angel, what are we gonna do now?"
Firmly, Angel said, "Theres no reason to
yet. Wesley and Gunn might have found something. And we still have most of the
"Yeah," said Cordelia. "Plenty of time,
She got up and started to slide out of the booth, pausing
only to motion to Angel to hurry up and finish the last piece of chicken. As
she turned to leave, she almost collided with the Host.
"You think youve got problems," he
"Maurice and Maura the crooning cadavers are sitting over there right now
waiting for me to advise them on their love life. Just think about it: zombie
sex." He shuddered.
"Id really prefer not to," said
The Host smiled and tweaked the collar of the leather
coat she wore, straightening it. As he did so he leaned towards her and said,
"Youre gonna be okay, honey." Then he cast a fast sideways
towards Angel, who was helping himself to the final French fries and the remains
of the dip. "But, word of advice? Lose the floral print. Does nothing for
your skin tone."
Doug dived through the door of his apartment, locked it, put on the dead bolt
and the chain; took a deep, shaky breath.
They were on to him.
Kitchen, bottle of vodka from the top cupboard, find
a glass, one shot, neat, better make it two, hands shaking, knock it back, grimace,
They were definitely on to him.
He lifted the glass and decided he couldnt afford
to be drunk at a time like this. He poured the contents of the tumbler down
the sink and left the kitchen. Five steps down the hall, he decided he needed
to be a lot drunker than he was after all, and went back. Armed with another
doubleor maybe triplevodka, he headed for the bedroom.
He didnt even know who they were.
Were they cops? FBI, maybe? Or even the CIA? He
think hed done anything illegal but, hell, there had to be laws against
making this much money this easily. Maybe they wanted to know how he did it;
maybe they were going to take him away and put him in some creepy government
Maybe, he thought suddenly, they had nothing to do with
the government. Because the girl had been just a girl, but the thing that had
Itd had teeth.
He looked around and saw he was in the bathroom; he
remember coming in but he was here now, so he turned on the tap and stuck his
head under it. He straightened up, gasped, and looked at himself in the mirror.
"Didnt your mother ever tell you not to mess with the forces of
he asked his reflection.
Actually no, she hadnt.
She damn well should have.
He went back to the bedroom and opened the closet. He
lifted down a bag and put it on the bed. Then he started to pack, stuffing personal
possessions and items of clothing on top of each other in no particular order.
He could be at the airport in an hour; hed never been outside the country
and didnt have a passport but, hell, did he need one? The east coast was
plenty far away. Hed buy a one-way ticket for NYC, or Miami, or somewhere
else hed never been and theyd never find him.
The bag was almost full. There was one more thing he
had to pack.
Doug fetched the scroll from where he had left it sitting
beside the bottle of vodka on the kitchen table. Carefully, almost reverently,
he rolled it up and tucked it into the bag. As long as he had the scroll, he
would be all right. Hed be able to start over somewhere else. Hed
have everything he needed.
Not quite everything.
He wouldnt have access to the database of the
he worked for, the one hed been using to select his clients from. He needed
No reason why he couldnt take it with him.
Doug thought rapidly. His staff card gave him twenty
four hour access to RestWells offices. He couldnt copy the entire
databaseit was hugebut with most of the night and a supply of zip
disks, he could replicate a significant chunk of it. Enough to start him off,
wherever he ended up.
He could still be eating breakfast on a plane headed
over the Rockies.
Doug thought for a moment longer. Then he lifted the
packed canvas bag containing the scroll, his RestWell swipe card and the keys
of his new Mercedes, and headed for the door.
He didnt bother locking it behind him; he
"It doesnt make sense," said
Beside him, Gunn checked the trucks mirrors and
pulled away from Judith Forbes-Carsons mansion. "You thinkin
of any particular part of this, or just the whole damn barrel
Wesley frowned, trying to order his thoughts. "This
man, Doug whatever-his-name-is, is obviously targeting these people. He
waiting for them to come to him: hes cherry-picking likely
Gunn turned on to the main street and accelerated.
some kind of insurance salesman."
"Exactly. But he can find people like Mrs Forbes-
and people like Trixie. Whatever his sources of information are, they must
be incredibly detailed and wide ranging. That speaks of meticulous planning,
yet he made Cordelia an offer within minutes of meeting her. Its not
"You know what else aint consistent?"
said Gunn. "The guy must raking in cash like a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon,
but he does the rituals at night cause of his day job. How does that
It didnt, and Wesley was about to say so when his
cell phone rang. He took it out and answered it. "Hello?"
"Wesley, this is Kate Lockley."
"Can you talk?"
The truck ran over a pothole in the road, jarring
stitches. He winced. "Kate, I dont wish to be impolite, but were
having a minor crisis just at the minute."
"I know: Angel and Cordelia were here earlier. I
think Ive got some information for you."
Wesley felt a sudden surge of optimism.
"Yeah, well, dont get too excited just
pretty thin. I called round a few people. One of the guys said his precinct
made a bust a couple of months ago that sounded pretty much the same as the
one you dropped in on, right down to the stupid red cloaks."
"Did they make any arrests? I mean, did the police
get names or addresses?"
"No," said Kate. "The cops were
to find drugs, and when they didnt they let it drop. He thinks it was
sometime around November, in Brentwood. Ive got the address."
"Oh," said Wesley. Gunn was looking at him,
raising an eyebrow questioningly. He shook his head. "Well, thank you
We do appreciate this."
"Sorry I couldnt help more," said Kate,
and to Wesleys surprise she sounded genuinely apologetic.
"Thats quite all right," he told her.
He ended the call and stared at the phone for a moment.
"No joy, huh," said Gunn.
"Im afraid not. It appears our friend Doug
was operating out of Brentwood just before Christmas. But that hardly helps
"Maybe it does," said Gunn. At
look, he continued, "Look, we aint got a whole lotta time here.
start making a few leaps. Suppose our guy started off working out of Brentwood,
and moved when the cops paid a visit."
Wesley nodded. "Very well. Thats
"Now lets say he hasnt been running
this gig for very long, or he would have quit the day job by now."
"And hes no planner, or he wouldnt
come on to Cordy so fast."
"But Judith and Trixies case seems to
the opposite," said Wesley, frowning.
"Yeah, but we dont know how he found
do know for a fact how he acted tonight. For all we know, he could be piggybacking
on someone elses hard work. Now, if we suppose all of that, where do we
Wesley nodded as he began to see the obvious
"We would have to infer that the location in Brentwood was the first place
hed used, and that it was probably somewhere convenient for
to his home or work."
Gunn snapped his fingers. "You got it."
Wesley brought out his phone again. "Im
to call Kate back. Well need the exact address."
Cordelia was almost back at the car when she noticed Angel wasnt with
She looked behind her, and saw he had stopped walking.
He was using one hand to lean against a street lamp, and the other to hold his
stomach. From his expression, he seemed to be in some discomfort.
She hurried back to him. "Whats the
"I dont know."
"Well, what do you feel wrong with you? With
He screwed up his face, concentrating. "My stomach
Im not sure how it feels."
"Oh God. I knew you were eating too fast.
probably going to barf now."
He shook his head. "Its not nausea."
Suddenly Angel winced and closed his eyes. "My head
An unwelcome suspicion began to form in
thoughts. "Does your brain feel squashed? Like its a couple of sizes
too big for your skull?"
He looked up at her with an expression of faint surprise
which told her that, yes, that was exactly what it felt like. Suspicion crystallised
into certainty. "Oh no. This is the last thing we need right now."
"What?" asked Angel.
"Brace yourself," said Cordelia, but she could
tell it was already too late. His eyes were glazing over, and he probably
even hear her any more because that was how it always was for her when she had
He convulsed, doubling in two then straightening as if
there were wires attached to his head and feet and some unseen force was tugging
him around for amusement. His head rocketed backwards, and Cordelia reached
out to grab him before he split her skull open on the metal street lamp. Before
she really knew what she was doing, she was holding him up and holding him tight,
supporting his weight and preventing him lashing out and injuring himself. She
was stronger than shed expected, and it wasnt difficult.
And it was weird, thought Cordelia, because of course
shed never seen herself in the throes of a vision. But as she looked down
at her own face, contorted and tight with pain, it wasnt herself she saw
there, or even Angel. It was Doyle.
When at last Angel went limp in her arms, she kept
on to him. "Big, deep breaths," she said.
He inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again.
"You okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said, although he didnt
"First times the killer," said Cordelia,
with sympathy. "Well, actually theyre all pretty bad, but at least
after the first one you know what to expect. What did you get?"
He frowned, and she knew he was struggling to make
of the stream of images and sensations the Powers had decided to mainline into
his head. "I think
I think it was an underground parking lot, somewhere
around Pasadena. But no cars, so not in use. Somethings made its nest
there; its preying on people using the roads nearby."
"So I guess this goes on the to-do list."
He shook his head. "Its more urgent than
Its got people down there now. They wont be alive this time
"Angel, in case you hadnt noticed,
got a situation of our own."
" He made an effort to stand
up straight. "I felt it. They were terrified, and I felt it. I cant
I cant explain it better than that."
"Its okay. You dont have to."
sighed. "Its like youre right there. And you come out of it
and you know youd do just about anything to make it okay."
He nodded. "Cordelia?"
"You can let go of me now."
"Oh. Right." She unhooked her arms from
him and stood back. "Hey, Angel? When I go like that, do I remind you
I mean, do you think I look like Doyle did?"
Angel said nothing for a moment. Then, at last:
You do." He rubbed the side of his head and smiled weakly. "Except
for being taller. And more female. And a lot less Irish."
"And prettier. Dont forget prettier."
"That was going to be next."
Cordelia found she was smiling now too.
huh. Its gonna take a while to get there."
Angel dug into a pocket and took out the car keys. He
handed them to Cordelia. "Drive fast."
"This is it."
Gunn brought the truck to a halt in front of the shell
of an empty office block. Wesley looked up and down the quiet street, which
was lined in each direction as far as he could see with similar, occupied, buildings.
A sudden awareness of the size of the task at hand made him check the time.
Four hours left.
The same thought appeared to have occurred to Gunn.
gonna need to get real lucky here."
"Yes," agreed Wesley. He lifted his cane from
the where it had fallen behind the trucks seats. "Well cover
twice as much ground if we separate. Ill go down the street and"
He put his hand on the door handle of the passengers side, and felt his
eyes start to water at the sudden and ferocious pain the movement provoked.
"Ten out of ten for enthusiasm," said Gunn.
"Big fat zero for practicality. Youd better stay here."
Wesley, still trying to catch his breath, nodded silently.
He held his side and watched Gunn hop out of the truck and start to walk
down the street.
Alone, he took out his cell phone and turned it over
in his hands. He should call Cordelia, he thought; although at the minute he
didnt have anything to tell her except that the odds that she would ever
be herself again were rapidly lengthening.
He was putting the phone back in his pocket when the
car pulled up on the opposite side of the street.
Wesley stared at it. Of course, he thought, there must
be more than one bright red Mercedes in Los Angeles. There were probably
if not thousands.
But right here? Right now?
The car door opened and a man got out. Wesley watched
him pass a swipe card through the reader next to the entrance of the building
across the street and vanish inside.
With difficulty, Wesley shuffled across the trucks
front seat until he was behind the wheel. He started the engine and made a wide
U-turn in the empty road, bringing the truck to a halt immediately behind the
Mercedes. From here, he could read the sign on the door of the office block.
He was parked in front of RestWell Life Assurance.
He picks likely candidates then doorsteps them, he
Like some kind of insurance salesman.
Exactly like an insurance salesman.
The doors of the office block opened again, and the man
reappeared. He seemed too preoccupied to pay much attention to the battered
pick-up truck parked next to him. He unlocked the Mercedes and got in.
Wesley looked up and down the street, and saw no sign
of Gunn returning. It was just him. He moved to open the trucks door,
and this time the sharp, hot agony he felt was so intense his vision clouded
ominously for several seconds. Even supposing he could get out of the vehicle
unaided, he realised, he might not make it more than a couple of yards before
Perhaps he didnt have to leave the truck.
The engine was still running; Wesley revved it and took
off the brake.
Through the trucks windscreen, he saw the
back taillights come on. It started to move away.
Wesley pushed his foot down on the accelerator as hard
as he could, and braced himself.
There was a crunching sound, and the truck jerked and
bounced as it hit the back of the Mercedes. Wesley gasped as the pain in his
side grew swiftly to excruciating proportions. He sincerely hoped he hadnt
split the stitches again.
He clenched his teeth together and took tiny, shallow
breaths. The intensity of the pain was just beginning to recede by the time
the cars driver was knocking angrily on the trucks window.
Wesley rolled it down. "Good evening," he said
in as normal a voice as he could manage.
"What the hell do you think youre doing?
cars three weeks old."
"And very nice it is too. I do like the
"Did you hear me, buddy? You just smashed up my
Reflected in the trucks wing mirror, Wesley could
see Gunn coming back, breaking into a trot when it became obvious something
was up. Wesley looked back at the Mercedes driver and smiled pleasantly at him.
"Im sure you can afford a new one, Doug."
The mans eyes widened in fear. He backed away
the truck, then turned around, ready to bolt.
"I dont think so," said Gunn, catching
him easily and pinning his arms behind his back.
"Thats him," Wesley told him.
"I kinda guessed that," said Gunn. He
his grip on Doug, then appeared to notice the pick-ups nose rammed into
the back of the Mercedes for the first time. "Aw, man. Look what you did
to my truck."
"It had dark green skin," said Angel.
of scales, webbing between the claws, spiny ridge along its back. Im thinking
"Whats an Eterluc demon like?"
"Big and nasty."
"So glad I asked," said Cordelia under her
She brought the convertible to a screeching halt outside
the entrance to an underground car park. The way in was blocked by a heavy
and the sign hanging on it read, Strictly No Entry: Essential Structural
Maintenance In Progress.
"This is it." Angel got out of the car and
looked around. He frowned. "Its like Ive been here
She nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. Welcome to the
déjà vu world of Cordelia Chase."
He opened the cars trunk and dug around for a
before producing a sharp-edged short-handled dagger. Returning to the barrier,
he peered into the tunnels murky depths. "You stay up here; its
safer. Im going down there."
Cordelia looked at him. "To do what? Bitch the
to death? Because, newsflash, that body youre in does not come equipped
"Maybe I dont have the strength, but I still
know the techniques. Besides, youre in good shape."
"Im not in demon-slaying shape,"
Cordelia. "Even supposing by some miracle you dont get me killed,
youll definitely ruin my nails." She broke off as a blast of stale
air gusted from somewhere deep inside the tunnel, hitting her in the face. The
scent it carried was sharp and sour, acrid like vomit, and so thick she almost
gagged. Although she had never smelled it before, she knew exactly what it was.
Angel was looking at her. She swallowed hard and said,
"Those people down there
"I know." He hesitated. Then:
go down together."
Cordelia went to the convertible, and chose an ornate
and razor-edged knife from the selection of weapons in the trunk. She had no
idea what she was going to do with it, but holding it made her feel marginally
better. "And what are we gonna do when we get down there?"
Angel ducked under the barrier. "Well figure
something out on the way."
Cordelia sighed. "And again I am overjoyed I
"So I pretty much havent thought about ol Uncle Ernie in years
when one day I get this letter saying hes finally gone to the great big
barroom in the sky, and hes left me all his worldly possessions. Which
was cool, I guess: he was pretty much the only halfway interesting relation
I had. Three weeks later, this box arrives, and Im real disappointed at
first because its just old photos and dirty magazines. But I go through
it cause I figure, maybe theres a roll of cash at the bottom. And
I find the scroll."
"The scroll," repeated Wesley. A steady
of cars passed by Gunns parked truck, the faster ones causing the cab
to rock slightly. Inside, Doug Kluggerman sat between Wesley and Gunn, and
Once it had become clear that they werent letting him go without getting
some answers, he had been surprisingly willing to talk. In fact, it was proving
difficult to shut him up. There was a clear element of pride in Dougs
voice as he explained exactly how hed started to moonlight in magic, and
Wesley suspected he was happy at last to have an audience to impress.
Wesley was feeling somewhat less than impressed.
"Yeah. I wouldnt have known what it was,
Ernie left a letter with it. Said he won it from a shaman in a card game down
in Borneo. The letter had a whole list of instructionshow many people
you needed, how to say the words, everything. Right when I read it, I got this
weird tingling feeling in my spine. I knew this wasnt David Copperfield
shit, yknow? It was the real thing."
"So you decided to make money out of it," said
Doug looked at him. "Hell, yes. This is America.
Land of the brave, home of interest free credit."
"You used the insurance companys database
to choose potential clients, then sold the idea to them. Thats why you
didnt quit the job after the extra money started coming in." Wesley
took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "And at no point did you stop
to consider the kind of forces you were playing with or the long term ramifications
for the people who allowed themselves to be taken in by this lunacy."
"They all seemed pretty happy to me." Doug shrugged. "They
something, I made it possible, they paid me. If anyone changed their mind later,
Im not responsible. Im a businessman. An entrepreneur."
"Youre an idiot," snapped Wesley.
"I dont see why youre getting so
Coldly, Wesley said, "The young lady you spoke to
earlier tonight happens to be a friend of ours."
"And thanks to you, she aint exactly feeling
herself right now," added Gunn. "So youre going to help us help
"Oh, sure," said Doug, and appeared to relax
somewhat. "Look, this has been an unfortunate mix-up all round. So, just
to show therere no hard feelings, Ill do you a good discount. Fifteen
per cent, straight off the top. Hows that?"
Gunn put a hand on his shoulder and let it stay there.
"How about a one hundred per cent discount, or bits start coming straight
off your top?"
"Guys, guys," said Doug quickly. "Less
with the threats here, huh? Lets not forget you need me."
"Gunn," said Wesley, looking past Doug:
Kluggerman is obviously going to be less than helpful. Perhaps we should let
him on his way."
Gunn looked at him. "Huh?"
Wesley smiled and nodded. "Well just let
deal with him herself."
Gunn said nothing for a moment. Then a slow grin spread
across his features. "Yeah. I mean, shes probably real mad. And a
lot stronger now. Shell get a kick from beating the crap out of him."
"What do you mean, stronger?" said
Wesley didnt answer him. To Gunn, he said,
may not beat him up at all. She may just decide shes hungry."
"Hungry?" said Doug, his voice wavering
Gunn nodded and patted his shoulder reassuringly.
wouldnt worry too much. There are worse ways to go than having your
blood drained by a vampire. Just not many."
"Youre bluffing," said Doug, with
more confidence. "Theres no such thing as vampires. Theyre
just a myth."
"Of course they are," said Wesley. "And
you cant make people switch bodies just by reading a few archaic words
on a dusty page either."
There was a long silence, during which Doug
face ran through a fascinating range of variations on the theme of
Wesley pulled out his cell phone and offered it to him.
"Now, what do you say we start calling all those acolytes of yours?"
"How many people is it holding down
"How should I know?"
"Scent, Cordy. Just inhale and
Cordelia backed up deeper into the alcove where she and
Angel were hiding, finding it surprisingly easy despite the necessity of folding
away limbs which were bulkier than she was used to. Vampires really did possess
a natural talent for lurking.
Some yards away, in the cavernous interior of the main
underground parking lot, she could hear the dull roars of the demon as it patrolled
the perimeter of its territory. They hadnt caught sight of it yet, but
Cordelia figured anything that could make that kind of noise had to be very
big and scary indeed.
Okay, trying not to think about that.
She inhaled, and tasted the air. "There are four
She nodded. "One Eternity, by Calvin Klein, one
Eau DIssey Miyake, one Tommy Girl and" She wrinkled her
in disdain: "Something by Yves St Laurent. I mean, who wears Yves St
To her surprise, Angel actually smiled. "Not how
I would have done it, but Ill take your word. Are any of them
She couldnt smell any blood, so
Not so far, anyhow."
He thought about that for a second. "Then the
is to get them out safely."
"And how does demon-slaying fit in with
"It doesnt. We get in and out and make sure
it doesnt notice us."
"Liking that plan a lot," agreed Cordelia.
She looked around the corner of the alcove and around the parking lot. "Looks
"Then lets do it."
She steeled herself and slipped out of the alcove, Angel
beside her. Moving quietly wasnt as difficult as she had expected it to
be: all she had to do was concentrate a little harder on where she put her feet,
how she spread this bodys weight. And hey, this stealth thing was actually
kind of fun once you got into the swing of it
She saw something move in the shadows ahead, and
dead. Angel, lacking her night vision, bumped into her. "What is it?"
There were four human figures, struggling against
writhing in fear and confusion. The stench of fear was almost overpowering.
"I see them. Its got them roped together."
"That isnt rope. Eterlucs secrete a kind of
mucus that solidifies
"Too much detail," interrupted Cordelia
She held up her dagger: "Lets just do this and get out of
Angel pulled out his own knife and started to move
Cordelia was about to follow him when she felt it.
Vibrations, ringing through the concrete floor and the
soles of her boots and shaking her body to the core. The thud, thud, thud of
And the thuds were getting closer as it picked up
Angel was cutting at the gloopy, fibrous strands encasing
the demons victims. Without a vampires heightened senses, he
yet realised the demon was coming back for its meal.
She had to do something. But, oh God, what? She just
needed a couple of seconds to think
Too late. Cordelia turned and the demon was in front
of her. Angel had been entirely accurate regarding the Eterlucs green
skin and the spines. He had neglected to mention its savage claws, or the razor
sharp teeth and strings of foul mucus hanging from them like obscene Christmas
Play for time, Cordy.
Brightly, she said, "Hi there. I can see youre
annoyed but, you know, violence is not the only way to resolve conflict. What
do you say we sit down and talk this through like adults?"
The demon roared at her. Its breath carried the fetid
stink of decay and she had to fight not to retch. Still, if bad breath was the
worst it could do, maybe she had a chance of getting out of this alive. Or not
more dead, anyway.
Then the Eterluc hit her, and she flew backwards, straight
into a pillar.
She heard Angel call her name urgently as she gasped
and slid on to the floor. She feltwell, she felt like shed just
slammed into a concrete block at high speed, but she wasnt unconscious.
And she didnt hurt nearly as much as she knew she should.
She stood up, swayed, but remained on her feet.
"Get out of here!" yelled Angel.
God, that was a tempting strategy. But even as he said
it, Cordelia knew she had to stand her ground. The demons attack was
entirely on her, and if she could keep it occupied for long enough, Angel might
just be able to free its victims. If she ran, they would die. And so would Angel,
because now the only way out was past the Eterluc.
She picked up a loose chunk of masonry and threw it at
the demon. The block clipped it on the shoulder. "Hey! Did anyone ever
tell you youve got a serious halitosis problem?"
The Eterluc glared at her, and tipped its head to one
side. She wondered if it understood English.
"Thats right, stinky breath! Im talking
The demon roared, and charged.
"Cordy, fighting stance!" yelled Angel.
She didnt even know what that meant, exactly, but
her feet shifted and her arms raised to the level of her chest almost of their
own accord. Then she understood: he had practised these actions so often and
for so long that they had become patterns this body was familiar with, movements
it was ready to make at the slightest trigger.
"Cool," said Cordelia:
She kicked, and the demon stumbled.
She kicked again, and it fell.
This was going pretty well, considering
The Eterluc bounced to its feet, and she realised with
a sick, sinking feeling that she hadnt even bruised it.
"Cordy, feint right! Now!"
She ducked to her right, narrowly avoiding the swipe
of the demons claws. Fine so far, but she was beginning to tire, and she
didnt know how much longer she could keep this up.
She got her answer seconds later, when she moved an
too late to deflect one of the Eterlucs attacks. She felt something rip
in her shoulder, and pain shot through her left side. The demon loomed over
her, ready to make the killing blow.
Then something in her changed.
It happened by instinct, not choice. A red mist descended
just behind her eyes and for a second she revelled in the pure, sweet thrill
of violence. For the first time since shed been Angel, Cordelia felt at
one with this body, in tune with its needs and desires. In harmony with the
"You picked the wrong girl to mess with," she
told the demon, and growled. It felt good.
She rolled out from under it, ignoring the pain in her
arm and shoulder as she jumped with precision to her feet. She was behind the
demon now, and had the advantage. It began to turn, but its size was now working
against it, and it couldnt move quickly enough.
She was distantly aware that Angel was still shouting,
but she wasnt listening any more. She didnt need to.
Cordelia had a few moves of her own.
And now she was back on the field at Sunnydale High,
cheerleading for the Razorbacks in the championship finals, spinning and punching
and kicking her way through the routine shed been practising for at least
a couple of hours after school every day for months. The moves were easy and
familiar, and it wasnt difficult to alter them ever so slightly to make
the blows connect.
The demon staggered, off-balance. Cordelia kicked,
kicked again from another angle, again from another, and again and
The demon thudded to the ground.
She reached down and retrieved her knife from where she
had dropped it on the floor. With an easy, brutal motion, she rammed it into
the soft hollow of flesh just below the lowest of its spines.
The Eterluc howled, and died.
Shed killed it.
She looked at the knife in her hands. It was stained
with something that was deep purple in colour and stank of tar and salt and
other things she couldnt name.
Shed killed it.
"Here. Let me take that."
She started as Angel relieved her of the bloodied dagger;
she hadnt heard or smelled him approaching. She looked up to see how far
along he was in freeing the demons intended meals, and saw with surprise
that they had gone, leaving only a mound of sticky grey fibres heaped in the
She wondered how long shed been standing
at the Eterlucs body.
"I killed it," she said numbly.
Angel put one hand on her uninjured arm and one on her
other shoulder, and turned her around. She let him move her until she didnt
have to look at the dead thing on the floor any more.
"I killed it," she repeated, "and I never
killed anything beforeI mean, Ive staked a couple of vampires but
they just go poof so you dont have to deal with it but now theres
a body and I think, I thinkI think I might have enjoyed it."
"Its okay," said Angel. "Its
over now; its all right."
And then, unexpectedly, he pulled her towards him and
held her. She was cold, chilled all the way through, and she wasnt prepared
for how comfortingly, intoxicatingly real the warmth of a living touch
was. She wanted to stay like this, just being held, until she absorbed as much
of that heat as she could. Maybe then shed feel alive.
A sudden unnerving thought struck her and, raising a
hand, she ran her fingertips over her face.
"Angel? How do I, uhhh, stop doing this?"
For a moment he didnt reply, and she wondered if
perhaps he didnt know himself. Then, just as she was verging on panic,
he said, "Close your eyes."
She closed them.
"Imagine a box. A big, solid box, with a heavy lid
and a lock."
She could see it: an old-fashioned chest, made out of
oak, held together by iron nails. "Okay."
Softly, he went on, "Imagine yourself, taking off
this face and everything that goes with it. Putting it in the box. Shutting
the lid. Walking away."
She pictured it, step by step. And when she opened her
eyes again she didnt need to feel her forehead to know that the thing
that had relished the kill was safely locked away. Not gone, but under control.
She looked at Angel curiously. "Is that what you
"Sometimes. If nothing else works." He
her arm: "Are you badly hurt?"
"Ill live," responded Cordelia
Then it struck her what a stupid thing that was to say under the circumstances.
This body didnt live; that was the point. It would simply repair itself,
skin and tissue knitting together unscarred and with impossible speed, ready
for the next round of abuse. This body stayed perfect and never aged a day,
but was perpetually cold and needy and leaden. This body didnt express
the spirit within so much as hold it prisoner.
She didnt think she could stand feeling this way
a second longer.
"How do you exist like this?" she asked Angel.
"I mean, how do you keep from going crazy?"
"Actually, I have gone crazy. More than once."
He gave a small, rueful smile. "Turns out sanitys a hard habit to
She looked at him. "Is that what the last few months
have been about? You stepping out of the Reason Room for a quick
The smile vanished. "No. Although maybe it would make more sense that
Cordelia shook her head. "I dont understand
you, Angel. And now I am you and I still dont understand you."
"If it makes you feel better, for the past couple
of months I havent really understood myself."
"Well, try," she instructed him. "The
world and Cordelia Chase want to know."
Angel hesitated. At last he said, "I wanted
I needed to save her. And when I couldnt, it felt like nothing else Id
ever done or ever could do was worth a damn."
Cordelia shook her head. "What makes Darla so
"Because she made me," said Angel simply.
bond matters. You cant understand unless youre a
"In the first place," she told him firmly,
"right now I am a vampire and that argument still looks shaky from
this side of the fangs. And in the second placewhat about the other bonds
I thought you had? The ones with Wesley, and Gunn, and me? When did they stop
Angel said, "They didnt. I had to learn that
the hard way." He shook his head tiredly. "Darla owns a piece of me,
Cordelia. Thats how it is with us. It makes her stronger and me
"But you killed her once already," pointed
"Yes," said Angel, "and at first I
figure out why it was so much easier then. I thought the only way to be stronger
than her was to get back to where I was the first time I staked her. To put
aside everything thats made me different since."
And suddenly it did make a weird kind of sense, thought
Cordelia. Because that was just the way she was used to Angelpig-headed,
noble, self-sacrificing, stupid Angelseeing things. Here, at last, was
the Angel she remembered.
"And that included us," she said. She sighed.
"Didnt work, did it."
"No," he admitted quietly. "I got to
where I wanted to be and found out I didnt want to be there. I wasnt
strong; I was just empty. Brittle. Youre the only real strength Ive
got. Thats what I found out when I slept with Darla."
Cordelia stared at him. Mentally re-wound that last part.
Re-played it in her head.
No, she hadnt imagined it.
"You. And Darla. Had sex."
"Ewww," said Cordelia. She took a step
breaking contact with him, and started brushing herself down. "Ewww! Oh,
ewww, yecchhh! Angel, how could you?"
"Not one of my better decisions, I admit."
But Cordelia wasnt listening. "I dont
believe this! This body has done it with Darla! Jeez, Angel, you dont
have sex for years and then you have to go and prang Darla right before I get
He was staring at her now with an odd expression. The
side of his mouth twitched upwards, very slightly.
"Im gonna shower," said Cordelia.
Im gonna shower again. In fact, I might just stay in the shower forever
and I can do that because, guess what, immortal now" She broke
Angel was laughing.
It was her laughthroaty, hoarse, kind of snorty
around the edgescoming out of her mouth, but there was no doubt that it
was Angel doing the laughing. She glowered at him, just about ready to explode
because this was so not funny and of all the moments he had to choose to
his sense of humour
Then it struck her that maybe it was kind of funny, after
"The look on your face," said Angel. He was
gasping for breath. "My face. You look so disgusted."
Cordelia started laughing too.
And that was strange, because shed never heard
Angel laugh, not properly, and she wasnt sure what to expect. But it sounded
good and once she got used to the idea that she had to remember to stop and
inhale occasionally, it felt pretty good too.
She laughed until she couldnt stand up straight
any more, and when the fit finally passed, she was sitting on the cold floor
beside Angel, leaning shoulder-to-shoulder against him.
She twisted around to face him, and saw he had managed
to turn her face an interesting shade of red. "Breathing while laughing,"
he said at last: "Is there a technique to that?"
Cordelia shrugged. "I dont think so. Its
a design flaw."
"We should go," said Angel. He stood up and
offered her his hand. It felt no less strange than before when she took it,
but at least this time she was a little more prepared.
She allowed him to help her as they made their way back
up the parking lots entrance tunnel. Through her shirt and the leather
jacket she wore, Cordelia could feel the faint but definite press of Angel breathing
in and out, as well as the warmth his living flesh threw out and the steady
beat of his heart. Strange to walk next to him and know the body she inhabited
wasnt doing any of those things. Strange and lonely.
They were almost outside when Angel said, "Thank
"Yeah, well, it was kinda fun. I might just have
invented a new sport: combat cheerleading."
"Not the fight. Just now. I havent laughed
" He stopped. "Im not sure Ive ever really
"I dont think that wry chuckle thing you do
counts." She frowned. "So you slept with Darla and youre not,
you know, evil?"
"Not really. It was about as far from perfect
as its possible to get."
Angel said, "Cordelia, Im
"Dont," she interrupted him.
say it. Were
were okay here. I mean, right here, right now,
you and me are okay. Dont go and spoil it by doing something stupid like
He looked at her out of her own eyes, and she could tell
he didnt understand.
"I know youre sorry now, Angel. Thats
your whole problem. Youre always sorry afterwards. The point is, its
too late by then. The cars are piled up, the ambulances are arriving and the
cops are stringing yellow hazard tape around the scene."
Shed meant to yell at him, to let out the anger
which had been building for so long. But somehow when she opened her mouth the
vitriol drained away, and she heard herself using his voice to speak gently
and without rancour.
"I cant change what I am," said Angel
"Pffft," said Cordelia. "This has nothing
to do with being a vampire or cursed or whatever. Its about you and your
stupid obsessive-compulsive tendencies. You not being able to let go of things.
You not being able to move on. And thats justthats just
She sighed. "Im still mad, you know. And I havent forgiven
you. You, Mister, are not even ten per cent forgiven."
"But Im giving you another chance.
a pretty big deal."
There was a seconds silence. Finally Angel said,
"I appreciate that."
They had reached the mouth of the parking lots
entrance tunnel and the entrance barrier. Cordelia pointed to the convertible
which she could see perfectly in the darkness and Angel couldnt, then
leaned on him as he helped her the final distance to the car.
She was leaning on the hood when the cell phone in her
coat pocket rang shrilly. She hunted it out and answered it. "Hello?"
"Cordelia?" Wesley sounded agitated.
been trying to contact you for the past hour. Why hasnt your phone been
She started to tell him it had been on, then realised
what had happened. "Oh. I was in an underground parking lot. No
"Is Angel there? Where are you?"
"Yeah, hes here. Were in
"What the hell are you doing in
Wesley was swearing? Cordelia blinked, nonplussed.
Angel had a vision andlong story short, it was the usual big nasty
demon innocents in mortal danger scenario. Hey, Wesley, I got to fight
and I totally whipped demon-guy into next week. How cool is that?"
"Cordelia, just be quiet and listen to me."
There was a forcefulness in his manner Cordelia had only
rarely heard, and she shut up. Angel was looking at her, frowning. The volume
on the phone was sufficiently high, she guessed, for him to pick up Wesleys
tone, if not his words.
Wesley said, "Im with Gunn. Weve
up all the original participants, as well as the materials needed for the ritual.
Were ready to start."
"Wesley, thats great news"
"And were back at the warehouse at the
"No problem. The cars here, well
"Cordelia!" said Wesley: "Youve
only got twenty minutes."
Suddenly, she felt cold. Colder. She looked at
watch, as if there was even the slimmest chance that Wesley was wrong. As if.
It was 06.11. At half past six, twelve hours would have
passed since they had disrupted the ritual.
There was no way she and Angel could make it across
city in fifteen minutes. Not even the remotest chance.
She looked at Angel, and saw he knew it too.
"Were screwed," she said.
"What the hell are they doing in Pasadena?" asked Gunn.
"Thats exactly what I said." Wesley
off his cell-phone and stared at it, as if by sheer force of will he could make
the liquid crystal clock in the corner of the screen stop. When that didnt
work, he looked around the assorted group of part-time acolytes, who were
on their robes and chatting with each other as if this was just another kind
of social gathering, a Tupperware party with entrails. To them, he supposed,
it was. "They cant get here in time," he said. "Theres
Gunn ran one hand over his shaved scalp. "Okay.
Say theyre a little late. Is that such a big deal?"
"They could be a little late or a lot late, it
matter now. Half a second longer than twelve hours and thats it. The change
is permanent." Wesley shut his eyes. "Oh God. Poor
Gunn wasnt ready to give up. "Lets do
the ritual anyway. Maybe itll work even if theyre not here."
"With translocation magic, the subjects have to
be physically present. Otherwise it wont
" He trailed off, as
a fragment of half-remembered text flitted into his thoughts. "Wait.
not strictly true. Perhaps if we had some kind of talisman from each of them:
a personal item, a lock of hair"
Gunn was shaking his head, and Wesley felt his
hope crumble again. "Man, I like Cordy and all, but I dont carry
bits of her around with me."
Wesley sighed. "Well, it was an idea." He
at his watch again, gaze drawn to it with horrible fascination. Ten minutes
An electronic rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy rang out,
its tinny cheeriness clashing with Wesleys despair. He looked up, annoyed,
and saw one of the acolytes talking into his cell phone.
"No, I cant talk. Sweetie, its kind
of awkward right now. Marlene, thats not true. I did tell you.
Wesley stared at the mans phone, then at his own.
He had an idea.
He limped across the warehouse and snatched the
phone away from him.
"Hey! Thats my phone! What are
"Hello Marlene," said Wesley. "This is
just to let you know that your husband or boyfriend is an underachieving, self-
fool who spends his free time dabbling in the occult. If I were you Id
take the car and your jewellery and make sure youre long gone by the time
he gets home. Goodbye."
He ended the call and went back to where Gunn stood,
"Granted, the guy was irritating, but is that gonna
"It might," said Wesley. He tossed the
phone to Gunn. "Call Cordelia," he instructed, while paging through
the numbers in his own phones address book until he found
"What am I gonna say?" asked Gunn.
from, sorry to hear your bad news?"
"Just listen. I wont have time to explain
Angel answered his cell phone almost immediately. In
Cordelias voice, he said, "Wesley?" Another phone rang in the
"Tell Cordelia to answer that. Its Gunn."
The ringing stopped. Wesley nodded to himself. "I
have an idea. Im not sure itll work, but its about the only
thing we can do."
"You cant get here in time; theres no
point trying. Im going to perform the magic anyway."
"But if were not there"
"You will be," said Wesley. "In a manner
of speaking. Now, you need to be in physical contact with each other, so hold
hands. Dont put the phones down."
There was a short pause, followed by, "Were
"Very well. Remember, whatever happens: do not
Wesley held the phone away from himself for a moment,
and raised his voice over the hum of conversation. "Places! Now!"
He glared at Doug Kluggerman, who was kicking his heels at the edge of the group.
"You. Get over here. Bring the litany with you."
The ritualists fell into their allotted positions in
the circle, and Wesley took the sheaf of dusty pages from Doug as soon as he
was within reach. He glanced at the first sheet for less than a second before
flipping past it to the next part. "Flesh of flesh, mind of mind, soul
of soul," he began.
"Hey!" interrupted Doug. "Youve
missed out the whole intro! What happened to spirits of other places, we call
"Its just padding for atmosphere. We can
it," said Wesley tersely. He glanced at his watch, and guessed he had eight
minutes to cast the spell, with no room for delays. Damn, hed have to
cut out whole swathes from the middle section. He was going to have to think
fast, edit the litany as he went along, pray he didnt leave out something
"But thats the best bit," complained
Doug. "I love that bit. Youre butchering it."
"Gunn," said Wesley.
The cracking noise and the sudden gasp from Doug which
followed told Wesley exactly what happened next without the need to look up
from the ritual. "Thank you, Gunn."
"Always a pleasure."
Wesley checked his watch again. Seven minutes.
He took deep breath, and began to read.
Cordelia stood facing Angel, her cool hand interlocking with his warm one, fingers
interlaced. With her other hand she held the cell phone to her ear. From the
other side of LA Wesleys electronically filtered voicebounced around
through God knew how many transmitters and satellitesraced through the
spells litany at comical speed.
"This isnt gonna work, is it?" she
"Its going to work," said Angel.
He didnt believe it. Cordelia didnt know
where that certainty came froma scent-trace of anxiety of which she
consciously aware, or some instinctive knowledge of the shape and set of her
own facebut she was sure of it all the same. It felt odd to be able to
read him so clearly now, having spent so long in recent months trying to guess
what might be going on behind impassive features and distant eyes.
On the other end of the phone, Wesley recited, "Let
these spirits leap unfettered from their vessels," firing out the words
so fast that they bled into each other.
"Its okay to say it," she said.
Angel paused. Finally he admitted, "If it works,
Im pretty sure itll be a first."
"And return these wayward spirits to their own true
homes," said Wesley: "as it was let it now be again, so let it
The sudden silence on the other end of the line was
Speaking into the phone, Cordelia said, "Wesley? Why have you
"Because thats it. Its finished.
She shut her eyes. "No."
With determined hopefulness, Wesley asked,
"If it had worked, I think we would have
"I suppose," said Wesley reluctantly. Then,
quietly, and with palpable disappointment: "Damn it."
"Thanks for trying."
"This isnt over yet," said Wesley,
reassurance and falling well short. "Come back to the office. We have to
decide what to do next."
She turned off the phone and pocketed it, then
her fingers from Angels. "Yknow, I didnt think itd
happen like this."
He looked at her, puzzled. "What would happen like
Cordelia shrugged. "The prophecy. The Shanshu
The whole vampire with a soul becomes human deal. Because here
are, alive. The Powers That Be must have a real screwball sense of
Angel said, "Ive never wanted it
"Its okay," she told him softly.
"It isnt," he told her. "You were
right. I should have stayed away."
She shook her head. "No, I was wrong. Because if
we hadnt come here when you had the vision, those people would have
killed by the time we got ourselves straightened out. So we did the right thing.
Even if it means being stuck like this for good, it was still the right thing.
And thats what you and me are about, right? Before Wesley arrived and
before Gunn came along, there was us. Me with the visions and you with the
She stopped. "Or vice versa."
Angel said nothing. He nodded.
She looked at him. "Okay. Now I cant tell
what youre thinking, and its weird."
weve both come a
long way from where we started."
"I guess we have," she said.
The matte blackness of the sky overhead was lightening,
replaced by a hazy greyness spreading from the east. "Itll be day
" Angel nodded in the direction of the car.
Time to be brave, thought Cordelia. Focus on getting
through the next five minutes; the next hour. Just that long. Dont think
about the rest of today or tomorrow or, oh God, the next hundred years. Most
of all, dont think about being this alone forever.
Would she have to be alone?
She opened the car door and got into the passenger side.
"Hey, Angel? Promise youll stick around and, you know, help me
"I wont leave again."
"Good," she said, relieved. "And I can
give you the lowdown on living. That body youve got now needs looking
after. Its top of the range: low mileage and one careful owner; the visions
come free." The eastern horizon was more than grey now: it was bright.
She couldnt look at it any more, so she raised a hand to shield her eyes.
"Angel, can we please go now? Its getting really light out here and
I dont like it."
"Youve got the car keys," said Angel.
Of course she did; shed driven here. Cordelia
to feel in the pockets of her leather coat, but her arm hurt and the growing
light bothered her and there was a weird pounding in her ears that hadnt
been there a second earlier.
PaPump. PaPump. PaPump.
Her heart was beating.
She looked down, and saw she was digging around for
car keys in the empty pockets of her pants. She pulled out her hands and held
them up in the faint light that no longer disturbed her. They were grubby, slim-
and delicate. A womans hands. Her hands.
And yes, her manicure was ruined.
"Angel?" she said, and heard the words
in her own voice.
He looked at her from the passenger seat of the car,
where she had been moments before.
Cordelia put her hands to her chest and pressed hard,
feeling a growing sense of wonder as the touch confirmed the thud of life inside
her. "Ohmigod. Angel?"
"What? I mean, when?
She shook her head, amazed. "I didnt
"Neither did I."
For a moment, they stood in silence. Then Cordelia lifted
a hand and punched the air exuberantly. "Way to go, Wesley! You rock! You
rock the house, the garage and most of the garden too!"
She spun around, hopping on the spot until she was
dancing for joy. "Hello toes, hello ankles and calves and knees, hi there
stomach, missed ya, how ya been fingers and hands and arms and, oh look,
"Cordelia," said Angel. He pointed at the
"Small issue of sunrise?"
She caught herself and looked up, giggling. "Oh,
yeah. Ill get properly reacquainted later." She hopped into the car
and took the keys from him. "Lets go share the good news."
"Id like to say I had no doubt that the spell would work
"Liar," interrupted Cordelia equably.
He smiled and held up a hand to show he hadnt
"Id like to say that, but I really cant. We were extremely
"The Angel Investigations improvisation school of
crisis management triumphs again," she agreed, dipping her spoon deep into
the ice cream sundae she was attacking with gusto. Normally anything containing
this high a concentration of chocolate chips, marshmallow pieces, nuts and hot
fudge sauce would have been firmly on the forbidden list, but today Cordelia
didnt care. Calories and fat content be damned; she could taste it all,
and it was divine.
Wesley said, "In retrospect, I should have realised
that the magic might not work immediately. It didnt the first time."
He frowned, and sipped his tea, looking out at the outdoor cafés
other tables without, Cordelia could tell, really seeing them.
"Wesley, what is it?"
He shrugged. "Its probably nothing to worry
about. Its just
" He hesitated: "The first spell Mr
cast created a magical backwash that affected you and Angel later. Im
wondering if that was due to an error on his part, or whether its inherent
in the ritual he was using."
The last spoonful of ice cream and fudge sauce hovered
in the air in front of Cordelias mouth, dripping slowly. "You mean,
I could be walking around later today and suddenly, boom, Im Angel
"Oh, no, not at all," said Wesley quickly.
"Im quite sure that wont happen." He reached out and
her hand, the one she had been using to steady the sundae while she ate. The
cold glass had chilled her skin, and for a moment she felt his warm touch on
her frigid flesh, and remembered.
Quietly she said, "Its not fun. Being him,
I mean. Theres a lot of stuff he has to deal with he never talks
"Yes. I imagine there is." Wesley looked at
her sternly. "None of which excuses his recent behaviour."
Cordelia nodded. "I know. But it makes it a little
bit more understandable."
"Well, perhaps," said Wesley. He didnt
She dug into the depths of the near-empty ice-cream
retrieving the last gooey spoonful of fudge sauce. Then, pushing the dish to
one side, she began to study the laminated menu. "Hey, Wesley, how about
pancakes and syrup?"
"Im quite full, thank you."
"Not for you, for me." She turned the card
over. "Oooh, pastries! Do ythink they have the ones with the cinnamon
swirls and the icing?"
The sun shone in the L.A. sky above them, and Cordelia
decided it was good to be alive.
Life sucked, thought Doug.
He had woken up in an empty warehouse to find his
gone, along with the limping English guy and his thuggish friend. What was worse,
theyd taken the only written copy of the spells litany with them.
Doug cursed himself for not having the foresight to make a copy.
By the time hed gotten home and washed and
hed been late for work, and now the supervisor, Mrs Makiewitz, was eyeing
him with suspicion, if not outright hostility. He didnt think shed
believed him when he told her hed sustained the black eye while re-papering
It was over, he realised morosely. The best six months
of his life had come to a sudden and undignified end. No more extra money for
cars and vacations. No more mastering the dark powers of the occult. No more
being treated with respect and awe by his very own acolytes. Now he was just
dull Doug Kluggerman, stuck in a crappy dead end job, forced to spend all day
every day talking to other crappy dead end people who didnt want what
he had to try to sell them.
"Doug," snapped Mrs Makiewitz from her
"Your lines idle but youre not on a scheduled break.
wrong with this picture?"
He sighed and adjusted his headphones and speaker set,
then clicked his PCs mouse, instructing the machine to dial the next random
number from the companys database. The details flashed up on the screen:
Bekki Styles, age 23, unmarried, four kids. Trailer trash, thought Doug. She
probably didnt even know what insurance was. Maybe shed be
She wasnt. The phone line clicked, and a
voice answered, young but already hoarse from too much booze and too many
"Good afternoon, Ms Styles. Im calling on
behalf of RestWell Life Assurance."
In the background, children screamed. "Whaddya
"Ms Styles, I want to make your life anxiety free.
Do you ever worry about what your dependants would do if something happened
to you, Ms Styles?"
"Whos this? You threatenin
Doug gritted his teeth and continued, "No, Ms
Im calling from RestWell Life Assurance"
"Dont need none."
Doug felt himself starting to get angry. Breaking from
the cold-call script he was supposed to follow, he said, "Yes you do. Everyone
"Look, I gotSavannah! Dont do that to
LaToyah!I got kids here, whatever youre selling, I dont want
Something in Doug snapped. "And what happens if
youre knocked down by a bus tomorrow? Or get some really horrible
You know, youre exactly the kind of person who turns up horribly disfigured
on Ricki Lake and talks about how the worlds screwed them over, when
you were just too stupid to think more than two seconds in advance and frankly
I hope you get lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver and die soon."
Doug stopped. Something wasnt right.
His voice, for a start. It was too high pitched.
And he was standing up.
And where had the call centre gone?
"Ma," said a childs voice from
around his knees.
He looked down and saw a three year old whose mouth
smeared with jam tugging at the hem of hisat the hem of hisoh God
at the hem of his
"Hello?" he said into the telephone. The line
"Ma!" said the kid, more urgently. "Ma,
I done peepee."
Doug looked down and saw a rapidly expanding pool of
liquid spreading out from around the toddlers bare feet on to the filthy
A second childa girlwas standing in the
of the tiny kitchen, pointing and giggling. "Ma, Donny done pee."
"Ma!" said Donny, pulling at Dougs
"Ma!" said the girl.
And Doug knew his problems had just