Better Buffy Fiction Archive Entry


For One Night Only

by Rheanna

COMPLETED: March 2001

DISCLAIMER: "Angel" and "Buffy 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 angst—hell, yes.



The place they had found for the ceremony was perfect.

The warehouse was in a rough neighbourhood near the airport, 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 Doug’s left reached into a hidden pocket and pulled out his Nokia.

"Hi. Yeah. No. Okay. Uh, Marlene, I’m kinda tied up right now. Call you back? Yeah. Yeah. Fine. Bye."

Doug glared at him. "We’re gonna have to start again now."

"Sorry. I forgot to say I’d be late home from work tonight."

Doug sighed and looked around the gathering. "Right. Everybody turn their phones off now."

The red-robed figure directly opposite Doug raised his hand tentatively. "Excuse me. I’m expecting a call from my stock broker—"


There was a moment’s stillness, followed by several 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- yous.

When at last the participants had settled again, Doug nodded and raised his arms above his head. Then, dramatically, he let them drop. It didn’t 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 thee…"

Easy money.


What a difference a couple of weeks and a demon larva in your skull makes, thought Cordelia.

She looked up from the iBook and the celebrity gossip webzine she’d been reading and, because she had nothing better to do except 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 book—not new—but 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 breakfast and understood what it meant when she’d said she’d stay with him as long as it took. And then, right when he’d made her start caring, he’d gone away and New Angel had arrived. New Angel didn’t talk and he didn’t listen, and pretty soon he’d 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 read—staring 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 wasn’t in a rush to make it easier for him.

There was no Old or New Angel. There was just this Angel, and Cordelia wasn’t sure she liked him any more.

No convenient curse this time. No morning after ‘it’s okay, it wasn’t 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. And—no doubt in her mind about this—he had been ready to hurt her.

Ready to hurt her? Huh. He already had hurt her.

A big part of her wished he’d 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?"

He’d noticed her staring at him. She straightened up and flipped her hair.

Hah. Don’t think you’re Cordy-ing your way 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. It’s a little slack round here."

"Oh yeah? Well, you know what else we could be doing 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 office’s entrance was young—certainly, Cordelia judged, no older than herself—and 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: Cordelia’s 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 Investigations?"

"That’s us," said Wesley, with a slight but definite emphasis on the second word. He smiled. "What can we do for you, Miss…?"

"Trixie," supplied Gunn.

Cordelia looked at him, frowning. "Have you two met?"

Instead of replying, he nodded in the girl’s 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 doesn’t have any real clothes. It’s all straps and thongs…"

Sincerely, Gunn said, "Please don’t apologise."

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 didn’t look pleased, or coy, or flirtatious, or any of the reactions Cordelia might have expected. She seemed angry and upset.

"You’re 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 and—it’s horrible. I thought it would be heaven and it’s not. It’s awful." On the last word, her voice cracked and she started to cry.

Wesley hobbled forward, and patted her arm. "There, there, Miss… ah, Trixie."

"I’m not called Trixie," snapped the girl. More quietly, she finished, "It’s Judith."

Dull, thought Cordelia, but in the ‘take me seriously’ stakes, a definite step in the right direction.

"Judith Forbes-Carson."

"Whoah," said Cordelia, "Time out. You’re not old woman Four-Cars. I’ve met her. Wesley, so have you."

He nodded. "A… friend of mine introduced us at the country club she belongs to. She’s a good deal older than you and, if I may so, not nearly so attractive. Trixie, I appreciate that you’re feeling a little nervous, but if we’re going to help you, you’re going to have to be honest with us. About everything."

"I am being honest. You’re the first people I’ve 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: that’s why I came here. You were with Virginia. You spilt red wine on my cream stole."

"How would you—?" began Wesley. Then he turned around, slowly, and met Cordelia’s gaze. The improbable but unavoidable truth began to dawn.

"When I said ‘Four Cars’," she said, "I want you to know that was in no way intended in a derogatory sense, Mrs Forbes-Carson."

Wesley faced the girl again. "Why don’t you tell us just what happened."


"Any sign of them yet?"

Cordelia rolled down the window of Gunn’s 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 neighbourhood’s empty stores and buildings. "No. Was she sure this was the place they took her?"

"It was about the only thing she was certain of," said Wesley.

Cordelia wrinkled her brow. "So, let’s 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 warehouse—this empty warehouse—perfectly fine apart from not being herself any more. What doesn’t make sense about that story? Apart from, oh, everything?"

"It does appear that a motive is somewhat lacking," conceded Wesley. Then he cheered. "Still, that is very much the point of private investigation, isn’t it? To investigate."

"There are people in there."

Cordelia jumped, almost knocking the top of her head on the cab’s roof. Angel had appeared soundlessly beside her at the truck’s 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 Wesley.

"No," said Angel. "I only smelled humans."

"And again, less with the freakiness, please."

Ignoring Cordelia, he went on, "There are a couple of entrances, and none of them are guarded or locked. They’re either pretty naïve or not expecting company. We could get in without too much difficulty."

"So what’s the plan?" asked Gunn, looking at Wesley.

"Reconnaissance only, tonight. Let’s wait until we know exactly what’s going on before we do anything rash."

"Man," said Gunn, sounding disappointed. "And I was really lookin’ forward to staking something."

"Stick around, you might still get the opportunity," Cordelia told him, with a telling look in Angel’s direction.

This time, he looked back at her, and Cordelia felt a kind of cold satisfaction at having finally elicited a reaction from him. "I’ll take the west side," Angel said shortly, and walked off.

"I’ll 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 couldn’t help but notice that you’re very… tense around Angel."

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. Who’s tense? Not me, no sirree.

When she didn’t reply, he went on, "Cordelia, this isn’t 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, "I’m not sure I want it to."

She didn’t know exactly how she expected him to respond to that, although her best guess would have been some kind of stiff-upper- lip 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. I’m 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… constant sniping is not helping."

"It’s not constant," she said defensively. "I’ve 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 Angel’s ready to come back to us. Well, that’s just peachy for him. But I’m not sure I’m 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 arrived."

"You’re sure he’s involved?"

"Well, the cloak is a bit of a giveaway."

"Ahh. It is, isn’t it?"

Cordelia made to open the door of the truck. "Wait here. I’m gonna do a little reconnaissance of my own."

"I’ll come with you," said Wesley. He raised a hand to the door handle and almost immediately winced in pain. "Then again, I may just stay here and contemplate the many and varied forms of agony the human body is capable of experiencing."

"I’m only going across the street," she told him. "I’ll be back in five."

"Nevertheless, be careful."

Cordelia treated him to her brightest smile. "Aren’t I always?"


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 accepted. In one sense, it was the truth. If Uncle Ernie, the black sheep of the Kluggerman family, hadn’t 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 uncle’s 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 he’d be another twenty thousand dollars richer.

He locked the car door and turned to go into the warehouse, 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 and—that’s a really impressive cloak you’ve got there."

Doug held his shoulders a little straighter. He’d made the cloak himself; he wasn’t much with a sewing machine, but he thought the gold tassels along the hem had worked particularly well. "You think so?"

"Oh yeah. I saw that cloak, I thought, there’s a guy who knows all about—cloaks."

The girl smiled at him, and what a smile. Her whole face seemed briefly to rearrange itself to accommodate the stellar wattage of that smile.

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.

"I’m Doug," he said, holding out his hand.

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… sell you my body?"

"Well, it’s more of a loan, really. And it’s not to me: I’m just the middle-man. All I do is match donors with donees. I’m a professional service provider."

"Okaaay," said Cordelia, very slowly. "So, who exactly would be… hiring me?"

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 you’ve ever heard…"

Don’t bet on it, thought Cordelia.

"…but really, it’s no different to donating a pint of blood or a kidney."

"Except that it’s all my blood, both kidneys, every other major organ and the fun skin-type wrapping on the package too."

Doug said, "I can see you’re 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 another 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."

"Supposing—just hypothetically supposing," 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 voice?"

Doug was shaking his head emphatically. "This is the beauty of the arrangement. My clients are people of means. They’ve worked hard to get where they are and maybe, on the way, they’ve 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 too?"

"All my clients are in excellent—well, reasonable—health," said Doug. "I promise you won’t wake up with terminal melanoma."

"Good to know," said Cordelia. "You know, I heard this wild rumour—it 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 successful exchanges."

If Doug considered Mrs Forbes-Carson aka Trixie a success story, Cordelia wondered how he defined failure. "Look, I don’t wanna rush into anything here…"

"Perfectly understandable."

"Maybe if you told me a little more about how this thing actually works?"

Quietly, Doug said, "It’s magic."

Cordelia allowed her eyes to widen. "Real magic?" 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. "It’s really very straightforward. We’re doing one tonight. Would you like to sit in?"

"Well, if it’s 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 Doug’s 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 paired off.

"Mr Fernbaum. Brad," Doug greeted them warmly. "I’m just thrilled you’ve decided to take this step." To Cordelia, he said, "I’ve a got few things to take care of, but if you stand here you’ll 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 positioned the two men in the centre of the ring, Doug stepped into the twelve o’clock position.

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 now…"

In the rafters of the warehouse, a shadow moved. Cordelia 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 a question?"

"It’d be a pleasure," said Doug, sounding as if it would be anything but.

"I was just wondering, what if this whole exchange thing doesn’t work out?"

"It always works out."

"Well, yeah. But say it didn’t. I mean, could you swap them back again?" She pointed at the two men in the middle of the circle.

"Well, of course," Doug told her. "It’s just a matter of re-performing the magic."

"Have you ever done that?"

"I’ve never needed to. Everybody’s always satisfied with the exchange."


"Always," said Doug firmly. "Now, do you think we could move on here?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry. Please, go right ahead. Don’t mind me." Cordelia gave Doug a big, fake smile, but didn’t 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 Doug’s 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.

She’d 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 time—"

Angel wasn’t 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. "I’ll be demanding a full refund."


Cordelia didn’t say anything until they got back to the office. Not one word.

She fumed silently in the back of the car, didn’t 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 distance.

Then, as soon as they were inside, she exploded.

"What the hell were you trying to do back there?" she demanded, taking off her jacket and firing it angrily over the back of the chair in the corner.

"I was … 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 magic—no."

"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 didn’t 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 he’d 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. "Here’s 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 she’s 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 in."

Gunn looked up from the magazine he had been flipping through, obviously impressed. "Whoah. Nice moves." He glanced at Angel: "Right up to the part where someone else went and messed it up on you."

"I’m sorry," said Angel. He sounded confused. "It was… 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 let’s try to look on the bright side. No one was hurt."

"This time," said Cordelia pointedly. She folded 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."

"I am."

"No, you’re not," she told him. "You’re acting like you know best and whatever you do, we’ll just fall into step behind you. Well, that’s not how it is any more. We’ve got our own way of doing things and you have to start fitting in around us."

Coldly, Angel said, "Perhaps if you’d 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, replaced 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 she’d grown used to in recent months, the one it had become increasingly easy to be angry at. The one she could feel good about hating.

"Guess what, Angel? I don’t want you to help me."

Wesley raised one hand. "It’s been a disappointing evening. Let’s not say things we’ll 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 together. 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 couldn’t 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, "Don’t make me move you."

Angel looked at her, his expression cold and unreadable. "If you want me to go, say so."

Cordelia decided she’d had enough.

"Yes, I want you to go. I want you to go away because every time my life finally starts to hit a groove, you’re the one who knocks it off track again. You can’t seem to decide who you are and I’m sick and tired of having to guess if you’re gonna be good or evil today. I wish you’d never had your damn epiphany. I wish you’d never come back!"

The air crackled with something that felt like electricity, but wasn’t.

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 expression 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 her—or more accurately, take her body—by the arm.

She blinked, confused. He was holding her arm. Why couldn’t she feel it?

"Cordy?" asked Gunn, with concern.

She saw her mouth open, heard her own voice say, "I’m not Cordelia."

Cordelia said, "I think I’m 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, it’s me. Cordelia. And I’m—I’m in Angel."

Gunn looked down at Angel in Cordelia’s body, then across the room at Cordelia in Angel’s.

"Houston," he said: "We have a problem."


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 happened."

"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 Angel’s voice. He suspected 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 bizarre.

Cordelia sat at the far side of the office, holding a cup of coffee in Angel’s hands, wearing Angel’s clothes, Angel’s coat, Angel’s body, Angel’s 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 individual’s character to remain even when separated from the face and form it was meant to occupy.

At the office’s entrance, Angel leaned against the door frame, wearing Cordelia’s 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 can’t 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 emotions have frequently been noted as having powerful catalytic effects with respect to magic."

"Let me get this straight," said Gunn. "You’re 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 Cordelia-as-Angel. "Like, right now?"

Reassuringly, Wesley told her, "The magic is reversible. 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 ‘or’ looming. What’s the ‘or’?"

As gently as he could, Wesley said, "Or it can’t be reversed at all."

Cordelia bit her—Angel’s—lip. She looked down at the coffee she hadn’t drunk, then back up at Wesley and Gunn. "What time is it?"

From the doorway, Angel spoke for the first time. He brought a measured, solemn quality to Cordelia’s voice, and somehow made her sound much older than her twenty years. "It’s eight forty five now. We interrupted the ritual at about half past six."

Which put the deadline at the coming dawn, thought Wesley. One night to fix this mess.

It wasn’t going to be long enough.

With an edge of panic Cordelia-as-Angel said, "There must have been a dozen people in that warehouse. And we don’t know who any of them are or where they went—how are we gonna find them all before tomorrow morning?"

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. "Positive? Well, excuse me for not being chirpy enough for everyone!"

"Cordy," said Gunn: "Deep breaths, huh?"

It was the wrong thing to say. "I’m dead! I don’t breathe!"

"Cordelia," began Angel.

"And you can just shut up. I don’t want to hear another word from you!"

With alarm, Wesley saw that Cordelia was veering dangerously close to hysteria. He suspected that having to listen to someone else speaking in her voice wasn’t helping to calm her. "Angel, please wait outside."

Wesley glanced over his shoulder just in time to catch the wounded, guilt-ridden look which flitted across Angel-as-Cordelia’s 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 room—or, at least, some element of it—diffuse. 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. Here’s what I’m thinkin’: that guy Doug you talked to has gotta be the ringleader 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 before 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. "Meantime, I say we call in every source we’ve got. You don’t play musical bodies for money on a regular basis without someone knowing about it." He looked at Wesley, then Cordelia. "It’s a lot of ground to cover in one night. We should split, two and two. How d’you wanna do this?"

"Unfortunately," said Wesley, "I don’t think we have a choice."


"It’s a remote possibility but I don’t want to miss the slightest chance we might have of resolving this… regrettable situation," said Wesley.

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. "Together?"

"It’s rare, but not unknown, for translocations to reverse automatically if the magic fails to take. But if it happens at all, it’ll happen when you’re together. So you are not to leave her side all night. Understood?"

Angel-as-Cordelia nodded. "Have you, uhh, told her yet?"

"Gunn’s 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 Angel’s voice from the office. He winced. "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 we’re doing that, you’ll be contacting every source of information in L.A. you can think of."

"Right," said Angel-as-Cordelia. He paused. "Wes, I—"

"No," said Wesley coldly. "Not a word. I don’t want to hear it, and I certainly don’t want to hear it from Cordelia’s mouth in Cordelia’s voice."

For a moment, he saw an all-too-familiar hardness in Angel-as-Cordelia’s face. "I didn’t intend things to go wrong."

"And yet, strangely, when you got involved they did."

The silence stretched. Then the anger in Angel’s 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 aftermath of a vision, and Wesley felt the first faint stirrings of empathy for him. Rationally, he couldn’t 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 crisis—it had been Angel. Angel’s mistake had harmed Cordelia, and Cordelia was part of Wesley’s emotional landscape now while Angel… was not.

"The Wesley I used to know was more sympathetic."

Coolly, Wesley said, "You had my sympathy four months ago. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see how Cordelia’s bearing up."


I’m bearing up, thought Cordelia. I am bearing up. Yep, orientation- wise, 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. She’d wanted to tell him as much when he’d asked her; but there was something so earnest and so compassionate in his manner that she had heard herself say, in Angel’s 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.

She’d never realised how much background noise a living body made, until suddenly it wasn’t 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 breathing—all gone now, leaving a vast and quiet void in her head where her thoughts bounced emptily off each other.

"Cordelia? Cordy?"

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. There’d been a time when she could have asked him.

"I wasn’t 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 that’s okay with you."

"Fine, whatever," said Cordelia. She stopped. "No, not fine. Since when is Kate back on our Christmas card list?"

"It’s a long story. But I think she’ll be willing to help."

It sounded as if she and Angel weren’t the only people who’d 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, that’d be fine too."

Great. He had to pick now to instigate consultative decision making. Now, when she was a hair’s 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 hadn’t gone already.

"No. We’ll do it your way," she said, and immediately regretted it, because somehow the words came out sounding stonier and more distant than she’d intended. God, she sounded like Angel.

Of course she sounded like Angel.

"Let’s just go. We’re wasting time."

"Right. I’m 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 never seen Angel stoop to enter, so it probably hadn’t 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, you’re doing okay, we’re 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: "It—really hurts."

"Can you move it?"

He flexed the joint, and winced. "Oww."

Cordelia nodded, satisfied. "It’s not broken, you just turned it. It’ll be okay in an hour or two. Jeez, Angel, you haven’t been me for any time and already I’m injured."

"Maybe if you wore shoes that didn’t bear so close a resemblance to a modern sculpture installation, I wouldn’t have fallen," he said, pointing at her sandals.

"They’re Jimmy Choos," she said defensively.

"They’re 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. "I’ll be right back."

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 reached out a hand automatically to help him, taking him by the wrist and pulling him to his feet.

She felt his—her?—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 it’s like to—"

Angrily, she said, "No. Don’t tell me you understand, or that you know what this is like. You’ve 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 don’t want to talk; I don’t 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. "Let’s go already."

"You’ve got the keys. They’re in my pocket."

"Oh." She reached into the coat and found them. 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 convertible’s wing mirror to check her eyeliner wasn’t smudged.

She stared into the empty space the mirror reflected back at her. She couldn’t 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 right?"

Cordelia blinked hard, and swallowed. She tore her gaze away from the mirror.

"I’m bearing up," she said. "Let’s go."


"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—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 sympathetically. 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. "You’re absolutely sure?" she asked.

"I’m sorry," said Wesley. "This particular genus of translocation spell is designed to be permanent. The initial twelve hour period during which it’s reversible is only there as a kind of safety clause. The magic’s creators probably imagined anyone undergoing the procedure would have thought carefully about what they were doing."

Judith looked down at the table top again, and said nothing. The clock above the stove in the kitchenette of Trixie Lavelle’s tiny apartment ticked loudly in the silence, striking off each second of the passing night. When Wesley glanced over Judith’s bowed head, he saw Gunn standing in the 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 I’d thought about it. I was just so sick of—of 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 Jerry’d 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 didn’t really think about it at all. I’m a vain old woman. I suppose I deserve this."

"It’s 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 can’t imagine what it’s like to have to be someone else. It’s like wearing a suit that doesn’t fit, except you can’t take it off, not for a second. And now I can’t take it off ever."

"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… We’ve had a slight—you might call it a technical hiccup."

Her eyes widened in surprise, and he saw her look first at himself, then Gunn. "You mean you’re—?"

"Oh, no," said Wesley quickly. "But our associates—Cordelia and Angel—they’re…"

"…They’re having the identity crisis to end identity crises," finished Gunn helpfully.

Wesley would not have thought it possible, but Judith’s eyes widened even further. "But they’re not even the same—"

Gunn held up a hand: "It’s worse than that. Trust me, it’s 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. You’re our best chance."

Judith shook her head, causing Trixie’s 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 this—incredible 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, anything?"

"No," she said, more definitely. "He always 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 evening’s confusion, he had forgotten to take the second of his two daily doses of painkillers.

Suddenly Gunn said, "I bet he’d met Trixie before then."

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 her—how else could he make sure she was, well, up to standard?"

Gunn nodded. "So maybe she knows something more about this guy."

"We have to find Trixie."

"Oh, that’s easy," said Judith Forbes- Carson. "I mean, she’s me. She’s 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 watched large, solid lumps slide off it to rejoin the parent entity below.

Well, she’d just have to beat the damn thing into submission.

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 she’d found the simple tasks of weighing, blending and mixing. Even if the end result was something less than haute cuisine.

She’d never learnt to cook; her mother’s death and a father who believed the human body’s 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 didn’t have the time.

And now suddenly she did. And it was—good.

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 wasn’t waking up at three a.m, chest tight, gasping for air. She’d read a novel, cover to cover; she was eating three meals a day—real food, nothing from cans or containing the word ‘quik’ in its brand name—and she’d 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 wasn’t sure what was happening to her, but she suspected that maybe—just maybe—she was starting to heal.

Now, if she could just master the intricacies of batter too…

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. "Actually, it’s more like, Cordelia, Angel, hi."

Kate looked at him. He seemed… off. Not off as he had been lately—bleak, grim, desperate—but in an awkward-gangly- adolescent way. He was standing stiffly, as if he didn’t know what to do with his arms. So, for that matter, was Cordelia.

"Uhh, okay. Cordelia, Angel, hi." She smiled. "So now you’re well and truly hi’ed, you wanna come in?"

Angel looked at Cordelia, his expression confused. "Was that an invitation? I mean, am I gonna need something more specific than that, or does the rule not apply ‘cause I’m not, y’know, you?"

Cordelia seemed to have to think about that. "Well, I’ve been here before—although I wasn’t invited—but if I’m 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 what’s going on here, will I regret it a lot? Because I think I could cope with regretting it a little, but if we’re talking about a major case of ‘Why the hell did I ever get involved’ later on, I’d prefer to know now."

Cordelia said, "Kate, could you invite us both in? We need help."

"That much is obvious," said Kate. "Come inside. Both of you."


"So you’re…?"


"And you’re…?"


Kate sat back in her chair and tried to wrap her head around that.

Nope, not happening.

She pointed at Angel and tried again. "So you’re really…?"

"Oh, for crying out loud, yes. I’m Cordelia. Cordy. Vision girl. CC. Ms Chase. What do you want—name tags? A diagram?"

"Cordy, let’s give Kate a minute to work through this, okay?"

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 Angel’s features—something clicked in Kate’s head. Mentally, she swapped them over, re-named them.

And started to laugh.

Cordelia-as-Angel glared at her. "Oh great. Now we’re 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. I’m—sympathetic—hee!—I really am—but—" She made herself sober up: "It’s just that—my whole life’s been doom and gloom for so long and this is just so—so—oh God!" She cracked up again.

Dryly, Cordelia-as-Angel said, "Yeah, it’s 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 up."

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 Angel’s 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 I’m not entirely sure what I can do about it."

Angel-as-Cordelia said, "To undo the magic, we need to reconvene the circle with the same people. Which means first we have to find them."

"So it’s 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 I’ll see what I can find out. But I gotta tell you, my contacts aren’t what they used to be."

"Anything you can do," said Angel-as-Cordelia sounding, thought Kate, as close to pathetically grateful as she’d 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- Cordelia 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- Cordelia was disappearing down the hallway that led to the rest of Kate’s 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 pee?"

Cordelia-as-Angel stared morosely at her empty mug. "Well, I just drank two cups of coffee, so I guess I’m gonna find out sooner rather than later."

She sighed with such heartfelt gloom that the last vestiges of Kate’s inclination to laugh disappeared, replaced by sympathy. If that were you in there, Kate, she thought, you’d be having a nervous breakdown right about now. Another one.

Evidently Cordelia’s 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 edge 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 wasn’t strictly girl-to-girl anyway, so it probably didn’t matter. "Are you, uhh, holding up okay?"

Cordelia-as-Angel smiled, almost convincingly. "I’m getting by. I mean, magic going wrong is practically a theme with me."

"It is?"

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 Shakespeare."

"It was. Right up to the point where his new girlfriends started chasing us with carving knives and meat cleavers."

Slowly, Kate said, "Your high school… wasn’t 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 her—Angel’s—eyes for a second and rubbed her—Angel’s—hand 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 that’s been done can be undone. You won’t be stuck this way."

"God, I hope not. I don’t wanna be dead for the rest of my life." Cordelia-as-Angel frowned. "That didn’t make sense. You know what I mean."

Kate smiled, gently this time. "I know."

"But that’s not all. I mean, if I had to be Wesley, or Gunn—well, it’d still be squicky and too gross for words, but it’s Angel and… it’s all that and other stuff too." She looked up at Kate and finished, "We’re not right with each other. It’s 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."

"Not you?"

Cordelia-as-Angel shook her head. "They don’t allow cell phones where we’re 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 I’ll 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-Carson’s 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 heart out."

"Buckingham Palace isn’t this impressive," said Wesley.

Judith shrugged. "I had a good divorce lawyer." She walked up to the door and pressed the buzzer.

A minute passed. Then the door opened slowly, and Wesley found himself face to face with a small, middle-aged man wearing a servant’s plain dark suit and tie. He looked at Gunn, then Judith-as-Trixie, then Wesley, and finally at Gunn’s battered pick-up, whose tyres had cut deep grooves through the drive’s carefully raked gravel. "Good evening."

"We’re here to see Mrs Forbes-Carson," said Wesley.

"I’m sorry, Mrs Forbes-Carson isn’t expecting any visitors tonight." The door began to shut.

"It’s a surprise," said Gunn. "Y’know, we go way back with Mrs F-C, and we were in the ‘hood so we thought we’d stop by."

The man looked at him in frank incredulity. "Way back?"

"Well, not way back," said Wesley, "But we do know her, at least in a manner of speaking, and it’s quite important—look here, could you just let us in?"

"I’m 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’. It’s a good profession. She’s in the union."

Judith sighed. "I don’t care, Henry. I never did."

Sensing an opportunity, Wesley said, "Henry, would I be correct in saying that your employer has been behaving somewhat unusually lately? That she hasn’t been quite herself, perhaps?"

The man hesitated. Then he stood back and opened the door.

The noise swamped Wesley immediately. It came in waves from the far end of the mansion’s art deco entrance hall, and sounded like someone enthusiastically torturing cats. He winced. "What is that?"

"Mrs Forbes-Carson has been demonstrating a hitherto unsuspected eclecticism of taste recently," said Henry. "I believe this is a musical work from the Marilyn Manson oeuvre. Or possibly the Wu-Tang Clan."

He went to the archway at the end of the entrance hall and stood just outside it. "Excuse me, Mrs Forbes-Carson, you have visitors." He raised his voice over the noise: "Mrs Forbes-Carson."

Judith marched past him. "Trixie Lavelle, I know you’re there."

Gunn looked at Wesley, who shrugged and followed her.

Beyond the archway he found himself in an octagonal sun-room, tastefully furnished with free-standing sculptures and wicker chairs. A variety of carefully placed flowering plants were plainly intended to enhance the atmosphere of quiet contemplation.

Unfortunately, thought Wesley, the blaring stereo system and assorted empty pizza boxes and candy wrappers somewhat destroyed the ambience.

And sprawling on the floor between two mounds of cushions—

"Some folks just shouldn’t wear lycra," murmured Gunn. "Nothin’ personal. I’m just sayin’."

The last time Wesley had seen Judith Forbes- Carson—or seen her body, to be accurate—she 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 wasn’t a decision to be made.

Judith-as-Trixie swept across the room and turned off the stereo. Trixie-as-Judith looked aggrieved. "I was listening to that."

"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 screamed gauche adolescence. "You’re not getting back in here. Not yet."

"I’m not getting back in there ever."

Trixie said, "We made a deal and this is my vacation and it’s not over yet so you can’t make me and—"

A horrible suspicion began to form in Wesley’s mind.

"—and I like being rich, so there," finished Trixie.

"Oh shit," said Gunn. "She doesn’t know."

Trixie looked at him. "Know what?"

Something in Judith’s expression changed, anger melting into compassion. "Sweetheart, this isn’t 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. I’m sorry. You’re 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, please."

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. "I’ll be staying here for a while."

Henry looked no less confused, but he nodded and left.

Judith was stroking Trixie’s silver-streaked hair and whispering soft, reassuring words to her.

Gunn shook his head. "We ain’t gonna get anything 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 that’s everything I know."

"Thank you," said Wesley.

Judith-as-Trixie nodded. "We’ll be okay now. You’d 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 young people willing to give up forty years of their lifespans, no matter how much money is involved. So he lets them think it’s just a temporary arrangement." He thought about Trixie, seventeen going on fifty, and felt something within himself harden. "I’m 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, ‘You 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 hand—and who knows, maybe they’ll 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. "We’re gonna take a little breather now: that is, those of us who do breathe. Order another round; I’m back in ten."

The Host hopped down from the stage and made his way to their booth. "Well, now, here’s a sight to gladden the blackest of demon hearts. Isn’t it nice that you’re—gahhhh!"

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 hear?"

Cordelia said, "We need your help."

"You don’t hear me arguing. Sheesh. You’re not a melody, you’re a cacophony. You’re an explosion in an aura factory." 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. "I’m staying; I’m talking. But one condition—don’t either of you sing. Don’t hum. Don’t even whistle a happy tune. Whatever’s going on in those pretty heads of yours right now, I do not want to be in on it. I’m getting a migraine just standing here."

"We feel your pain," said Cordelia, with sarcasm. "But I think our situation is maybe slightly more serious."

"But funny," pointed out the Host. "You two, just sitting here: comedy gold."

"Great. We’ll pitch it to the networks. Maybe we’ll get our own show."

"Cordy," said Angel. He looked at the Host. "We’ve 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 couldn’t. There was a strange and cold emptiness in the pit of her stomach, and she wanted something to make it go away; something she couldn’t 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 hadn’t eaten for days, like the sharp sweet scent of rain after a month in the desert, like the only thing she’d ever wanted or ever would want.

Cordelia turned her head and followed the waiter’s 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 something."

"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 Angel’s blouse, stretching the yellow-and-blue sunflower pattern out of shape. "Angel, I’m hungry. I mean really, really hungry."

"You’re 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 friend’s body over here. Bring a human menu too." As an afterthought, he added: "I’m going to see if we have any Tylenol out back. My head’s 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 wasn’t hunger; it was unadulterated, all-consuming need. "Oh God. I’m gonna die if I don’t 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 didn’t know what. Cordelia fidgeted and squirmed and finally, out of some instinct she couldn’t 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. "Don’t. It won’t help. Trust me, it won’t." He looked around and, seeing the menu, seemed to think of something. He turned over the laminated card and pushed it towards her. "Cordelia, help me out here. What should I order?"

She scowled at card, too consumed by the craving to focus. "I don’t know. Whatever you want."

"I don’t know what I want. Choice at mealtimes—pretty 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 instinct—a better one—told her to act like she was in control. To pretend as hard as she could that everything was okay. With effort, she said, "McDonald’s not big in eighteenth century Ireland, I guess."

"Not really," said Angel. Cordelia realised that he was pretending too, and she was grateful.

"What did you eat?" she asked, genuinely curious.

"Potatoes figured prominently."

Cordelia ran her finger down the options listed. "You can have French fries. They’re potatoey. Maybe with the chicken wings and dip."

"Will I like that?"

"Well, I do. And you’ve got my taste buds, right?"

The waiter returned, depositing a full glass of blood on the table in front of Cordelia. She didn’t wait—couldn’t wait—for 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.

"It’s not enough," she said.

"It’s 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 don’t 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.

"That’s for him," said Cordelia, pointing at Angel.

The waiter didn’t even blink at the choice of pronoun; a couple of months serving in Caritas was probably enough to eradicate anyone’s capacity for incredulity. "The boss says this is on the house. Enjoy your meal."

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. Swallowed.

"Like it?"

Angel didn’t reply. His mouth was full again.

Cordelia looked on, increasingly perturbed. "Uhh, okay. Angel, it’s called dip because you’re 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 you’re getting grease on my face and it’s not attractive," said Cordelia. She handed him a napkin, and waited while he wiped around his mouth.


"It’s okay," she told him, and found she meant it. "I mean, it’s nice to see you enjoy something for a change. But, just so we’re clear here, if my body gains one ounce while you’re 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 been 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, "I’m sorry, sweetcakes."

"Angel, what are we gonna do now?"

Firmly, Angel said, "There’s no reason to worry yet. Wesley and Gunn might have found something. And we still have most of the night."

"Yeah," said Cordelia. "Plenty of time, right?"

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 you’ve got problems," he said. "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.

"I’d really prefer not to," said Cordelia.

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, "You’re gonna be okay, honey." Then he cast a fast sideways glance 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, oh God—

They were definitely on to him.

He lifted the glass and decided he couldn’t 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 double—or maybe triple—vodka, he headed for the bedroom.

He didn’t even know who they were.

Were they cops? FBI, maybe? Or even the CIA? He didn’t think he’d 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 programme.

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 attacked him—

It’d had teeth.

He looked around and saw he was in the bathroom; he didn’t 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. "Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to mess with the forces of darkness?" he asked his reflection.

Actually no, she hadn’t.

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; he’d never been outside the country and didn’t have a passport but, hell, did he need one? The east coast was plenty far away. He’d buy a one-way ticket for NYC, or Miami, or somewhere else he’d never been and they’d 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. He’d be able to start over somewhere else. He’d have everything he needed.

Not quite everything.

He wouldn’t have access to the database of the company he worked for, the one he’d been using to select his clients from. He needed that too.

No reason why he couldn’t take it with him.

Doug thought rapidly. His staff card gave him twenty four hour access to RestWell’s offices. He couldn’t copy the entire database—it was huge—but 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 didn’t bother locking it behind him; he wouldn’t be back.


"It doesn’t make sense," said Wesley.

Beside him, Gunn checked the truck’s mirrors and pulled away from Judith Forbes-Carson’s mansion. "You thinkin’ of any particular part of this, or just the whole damn barrel o’monkeys?"

Wesley frowned, trying to order his thoughts. "This man, Doug whatever-his-name-is, is obviously targeting these people. He isn’t waiting for them to come to him: he’s cherry-picking likely candidates."

Gunn turned on to the main street and accelerated. "Like some kind of insurance salesman."

"Exactly. But he can find people like Mrs Forbes- Carson 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. It’s not consistent."

"You know what else ain’t 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 figure?"

It didn’t, 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 Wesley’s stitches. He winced. "Kate, I don’t wish to be impolite, but we’re having a minor crisis just at the minute."

"I know: Angel and Cordelia were here earlier. I think I’ve got some information for you."

Wesley felt a sudden surge of optimism. "That’s marvellous."

"Yeah, well, don’t get too excited just yet—it’s 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 expecting to find drugs, and when they didn’t they let it drop. He thinks it was sometime around November, in Brentwood. I’ve got the address."

"Oh," said Wesley. Gunn was looking at him, raising an eyebrow questioningly. He shook his head. "Well, thank you anyway. We do appreciate this."

"Sorry I couldn’t help more," said Kate, and to Wesley’s surprise she sounded genuinely apologetic.

"That’s quite all right," he told her. "Thank you."

He ended the call and stared at the phone for a moment. "No joy, huh," said Gunn.

"I’m afraid not. It appears our friend Doug was operating out of Brentwood just before Christmas. But that hardly helps us now."

"Maybe it does," said Gunn. At Wesley’s look, he continued, "Look, we ain’t got a whole lotta time here. Let’s 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. That’s reasonable."

"Now let’s say he hasn’t been running this gig for very long, or he would have quit the day job by now."


"And he’s no planner, or he wouldn’t have come on to Cordy so fast."

"But Judith and Trixie’s case seems to indicate the opposite," said Wesley, frowning.

"Yeah, but we don’t know how he found them—we do know for a fact how he acted tonight. For all we know, he could be piggybacking on someone else’s hard work. Now, if we suppose all of that, where do we get?"

Wesley nodded as he began to see the obvious conclusion. "We would have to infer that the location in Brentwood was the first place he’d used, and that it was probably somewhere convenient for him—close to his home or work."

Gunn snapped his fingers. "You got it."

Wesley brought out his phone again. "I’m going to call Kate back. We’ll need the exact address."


Cordelia was almost back at the car when she noticed Angel wasn’t with her.

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. "What’s the matter?"

"I don’t know."

"Well, what do you feel wrong with you? With me?"

He screwed up his face, concentrating. "My stomach feels… I’m not sure how it feels."

"Oh God. I knew you were eating too fast. You’re probably going to barf now."

He shook his head. "It’s not nausea." Suddenly Angel winced and closed his eyes. "My head…"

An unwelcome suspicion began to form in Cordelia’s thoughts. "Does your brain feel squashed? Like it’s 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 couldn’t even hear her any more because that was how it always was for her when she had a—


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 she’d expected, and it wasn’t difficult.

And it was weird, thought Cordelia, because of course she’d never seen herself in the throes of a vision. But as she looked down at her own face, contorted and tight with pain, it wasn’t herself she saw there, or even Angel. It was Doyle.

When at last Angel went limp in her arms, she kept holding on to him. "Big, deep breaths," she said.

He inhaled, exhaled, inhaled again.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said, although he didn’t sound it.

"First time’s the killer," said Cordelia, with sympathy. "Well, actually they’re 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 sense 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. Something’s made its nest there; it’s preying on people using the roads nearby."

"So I guess this goes on the to-do list."

He shook his head. "It’s more urgent than that. It’s got people down there now. They won’t be alive this time tomorrow."

"Angel, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve got a situation of our own."

"Yes, but…" He made an effort to stand up straight. "I felt it. They were terrified, and I felt it. I can’t… I can’t explain it better than that."

"It’s okay. You don’t have to." She sighed. "It’s like you’re right there. And you come out of it and you know you’d 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 around him and stood back. "Hey, Angel? When I go like that, do I remind you of… I mean, do you think I look like Doyle did?"

Angel said nothing for a moment. Then, at last: "Yes. 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. Don’t forget prettier."

"That was going to be next."

Cordelia found she was smiling now too. "Pasadena, huh. It’s 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. "We’re gonna need to get real lucky here."

"Yes," agreed Wesley. He lifted his cane from the where it had fallen behind the truck’s seats. "We’ll cover twice as much ground if we separate. I’ll go down the street and—" He put his hand on the door handle of the passenger’s 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. You’d 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 purposefully 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 didn’t 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 hundreds, 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 truck’s 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 thought. 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 truck’s 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 he collapsed.

Perhaps he didn’t have to leave the truck.

The engine was still running; Wesley revved it and took off the brake.

Through the truck’s windscreen, he saw the Mercedes’ 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 hadn’t 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 car’s driver was knocking angrily on the truck’s window.

Wesley rolled it down. "Good evening," he said in as normal a voice as he could manage.

"What the hell do you think you’re doing? That car’s three weeks old."

"And very nice it is too. I do like the colour."

"Did you hear me, buddy? You just smashed up my new car."

Reflected in the truck’s 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. "I’m sure you can afford a new one, Doug."

The man’s eyes widened in fear. He backed away from the truck, then turned around, ready to bolt.

"I don’t think so," said Gunn, catching him easily and pinning his arms behind his back.

"That’s him," Wesley told him.

"I kinda guessed that," said Gunn. He tightened his grip on Doug, then appeared to notice the pick-up’s 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. "Patches of scales, webbing between the claws, spiny ridge along its back. I’m thinking Eterluc demon."

"What’s an Eterluc demon like?"

"Big and nasty."

"So glad I asked," said Cordelia under her non-existent breath.

She brought the convertible to a screeching halt outside the entrance to an underground car park. The way in was blocked by a heavy barrier, 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. "It’s like I’ve been here before—except I haven’t."

She nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. Welcome to the déjà vu world of Cordelia Chase."

He opened the car’s trunk and dug around for a moment, before producing a sharp-edged short-handled dagger. Returning to the barrier, he peered into the tunnel’s murky depths. "You stay up here; it’s safer. I’m going down there."

Cordelia looked at him. "To do what? Bitch the demon to death? Because, newsflash, that body you’re in does not come equipped for combat."

"Maybe I don’t have the strength, but I still know the techniques. Besides, you’re in good shape."

"I’m not in demon-slaying shape," snapped Cordelia. "Even supposing by some miracle you don’t get me killed, you’ll 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. Terror.

Angel was looking at her. She swallowed hard and said, "Those people down there…"

"I know." He hesitated. Then: "We’ll 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. "We’ll figure something out on the way."

Cordelia sighed. "And again I am overjoyed I enquired."



"So I pretty much haven’t thought about ol’ Uncle Ernie in years when one day I get this letter saying he’s finally gone to the great big barroom in the sky, and he’s 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 I’m real disappointed at first because it’s just old photos and dirty magazines. But I go through it ‘cause I figure, maybe there’s a roll of cash at the bottom. And I find the scroll."

"The scroll," repeated Wesley. A steady stream of cars passed by Gunn’s parked truck, the faster ones causing the cab to rock slightly. Inside, Doug Kluggerman sat between Wesley and Gunn, and nodded. Once it had become clear that they weren’t 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 Doug’s voice as he explained exactly how he’d 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 wouldn’t have known what it was, except 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 instructions—how 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 wasn’t David Copperfield shit, y’know? It was the real thing."

"So you decided to make money out of it," said Wesley heavily.

Doug looked at him. "Hell, yes. This is America. Land of the brave, home of interest free credit."

"You used the insurance company’s database to choose potential clients, then sold the idea to them. That’s why you didn’t 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 wanted something, I made it possible, they paid me. If anyone changed their mind later, I’m not responsible. I’m a businessman. An entrepreneur."

"You’re an idiot," snapped Wesley.

"I don’t see why you’re getting so worked up here."

Coldly, Wesley said, "The young lady you spoke to earlier tonight happens to be a friend of ours."

"And thanks to you, she ain’t exactly feeling herself right now," added Gunn. "So you’re going to help us help her."

"Oh, sure," said Doug, and appeared to relax somewhat. "Look, this has been an unfortunate mix-up all round. So, just to show there’re no hard feelings, I’ll do you a good discount. Fifteen per cent, straight off the top. How’s 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? Let’s not forget you need me."

"Gunn," said Wesley, looking past Doug: "Mr 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. "We’ll just let Cordelia deal with him herself."

Gunn said nothing for a moment. Then a slow grin spread across his features. "Yeah. I mean, she’s probably real mad. And a lot stronger now. She’ll get a kick from beating the crap out of him."

"What do you mean, stronger?" said Doug.

Wesley didn’t answer him. To Gunn, he said, "She may not beat him up at all. She may just decide she’s hungry."

"Hungry?" said Doug, his voice wavering slightly.

Gunn nodded and patted his shoulder reassuringly. "I wouldn’t worry too much. There are worse ways to go than having your life’s blood drained by a vampire. Just not many."

"You’re bluffing," said Doug, with marginally more confidence. "There’s no such thing as vampires. They’re just a myth."

"Of course they are," said Wesley. "And you can’t make people switch bodies just by reading a few archaic words on a dusty page either."

There was a long silence, during which Doug Kluggerman’s face ran through a fascinating range of variations on the theme of ‘terrified’.

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 here?"

"How should I know?"

"Scent, Cordy. Just inhale and concentrate."

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 hadn’t 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 people."

"You’re sure?"

She nodded. "One Eternity, by Calvin Klein, one Eau D’Issey Miyake, one Tommy Girl and—" She wrinkled her nose in disdain: "Something by Yves St Laurent. I mean, who wears Yves St Laurent any more?"

To her surprise, Angel actually smiled. "Not how I would have done it, but I’ll take your word. Are any of them injured?"

She couldn’t smell any blood, so… "No. Not so far, anyhow."

He thought about that for a second. "Then the priority is to get them out safely."

"And how does demon-slaying fit in with that?"

"It doesn’t. We get in and out and make sure it doesn’t notice us."

"Liking that plan a lot," agreed Cordelia. She looked around the corner of the alcove and around the parking lot. "Looks clear."

"Then let’s do it."

She steeled herself and slipped out of the alcove, Angel beside her. Moving quietly wasn’t 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 body’s 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 stopped dead. Angel, lacking her night vision, bumped into her. "What is it?"

There were four human figures, struggling against bindings, writhing in fear and confusion. The stench of fear was almost overpowering. "I see them. It’s got them roped together."

"That isn’t rope. Eterlucs secrete a kind of mucus that solidifies…"

"Too much detail," interrupted Cordelia quickly. She held up her dagger: "Let’s just do this and get out of here."

Angel pulled out his own knife and started to move forward. 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 something approaching.

And the thuds were getting closer as it picked up speed.

Angel was cutting at the gloopy, fibrous strands encasing the demon’s victims. Without a vampire’s heightened senses, he hadn’t 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 Eterluc’s 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 decorations.

Play for time, Cordy.

Brightly, she said, "Hi there. I can see you’re 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 felt—well, she felt like she’d just slammed into a concrete block at high speed, but she wasn’t unconscious. And she didn’t hurt nearly as much as she knew she should.

She stood up, swayed, but remained on her feet. "I’m okay."

"Get out of here!" yelled Angel. "Run!"

God, that was a tempting strategy. But even as he said it, Cordelia knew she had to stand her ground. The demon’s attack was focused 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 you’ve got a serious halitosis problem?"

The Eterluc glared at her, and tipped its head to one side. She wondered if it understood English.

"That’s right, stinky breath! I’m talking to you!"

The demon roared, and charged.

"Cordy, fighting stance!" yelled Angel.

She didn’t 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: "Reflexes."

"Crescent kick!"

She kicked, and the demon stumbled.

"Left roundhouse!"

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 hadn’t even bruised it.

"Cordy, feint right! Now!"

She ducked to her right, narrowly avoiding the swipe of the demon’s claws. Fine so far, but she was beginning to tire, and she didn’t know how much longer she could keep this up.

She got her answer seconds later, when she moved an instant too late to deflect one of the Eterluc’s 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 she’d been Angel, Cordelia felt at one with this body, in tune with its needs and desires. In harmony with the vampire.

"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 couldn’t move quickly enough.

She was distantly aware that Angel was still shouting, but she wasn’t listening any more. She didn’t 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 she’d been practising for at least a couple of hours after school every day for months. The moves were easy and familiar, and it wasn’t difficult to alter them ever so slightly to make the blows connect.

The demon staggered, off-balance. Cordelia kicked, pirouetted, kicked again from another angle, again from another, and again and again—

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.

She’d 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 couldn’t name.

She’d killed it.

"Here. Let me take that."

She started as Angel relieved her of the bloodied dagger; she hadn’t heard or smelled him approaching. She looked up to see how far along he was in freeing the demon’s intended meals, and saw with surprise that they had gone, leaving only a mound of sticky grey fibres heaped in the corner.

She wondered how long she’d been standing staring at the Eterluc’s 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 didn’t have to look at the dead thing on the floor any more.

"I killed it," she repeated, "and I never killed anything before—I mean, I’ve staked a couple of vampires but they just go poof so you don’t have to deal with it but now there’s a body and I think, I think—I think I might have enjoyed it."

"It’s okay," said Angel. "It’s over now; it’s all right."

And then, unexpectedly, he pulled her towards him and held her. She was cold, chilled all the way through, and she wasn’t 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 she’d 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 didn’t reply, and she wondered if perhaps he didn’t 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 didn’t need to feel her forehead to know that the thing that had relished the kill was safely locked away. Not gone, but under control. For now.

She looked at Angel curiously. "Is that what you do?"

"Sometimes. If nothing else works." He touched her arm: "Are you badly hurt?"

"I’ll live," responded Cordelia automatically. Then it struck her what a stupid thing that was to say under the circumstances. This body didn’t 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 didn’t express the spirit within so much as hold it prisoner.

She didn’t 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 sanity’s a hard habit to break."

She looked at him. "Is that what the last few months have been about? You stepping out of the Reason Room for a quick cigarette?"
The smile vanished. "No. Although maybe it would make more sense that way."

Cordelia shook her head. "I don’t understand you, Angel. And now I am you and I still don’t understand you."

"If it makes you feel better, for the past couple of months I haven’t 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 couldn’t, it felt like nothing else I’d ever done or ever could do was worth a damn."

Cordelia shook her head. "What makes Darla so important?"

"Because she made me," said Angel simply. "The bond matters. You can’t understand unless you’re a vampire."

"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 place—what about the other bonds I thought you had? The ones with Wesley, and Gunn, and me? When did they stop mattering?"

Angel said, "They didn’t. I had to learn that the hard way." He shook his head tiredly. "Darla owns a piece of me, Cordelia. That’s how it is with us. It makes her stronger and me weaker."

"But you killed her once already," pointed out Cordelia.

"Yes," said Angel, "and at first I couldn’t 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 that’s 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 Angel—pig-headed, noble, self-sacrificing, stupid Angel—seeing things. Here, at last, was the Angel she remembered.

"And that included us," she said. She sighed. "Didn’t work, did it."

"No," he admitted quietly. "I got to exactly where I wanted to be and found out I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t strong; I was just empty. Brittle. You’re the only real strength I’ve got. That’s 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 hadn’t imagined it.

"You. And Darla. Had sex."

He nodded.

"Ewww," said Cordelia. She took a step backwards, 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 wasn’t listening. "I don’t believe this! This body has done it with Darla! Jeez, Angel, you don’t have sex for years and then you have to go and prang Darla right before I get here?"

He was staring at her now with an odd expression. The side of his mouth twitched upwards, very slightly.

"I’m gonna shower," said Cordelia. "Then I’m 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 off.

Angel was laughing.

It was her laugh—throaty, hoarse, kind of snorty around the edges—coming 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 rediscover his sense of humour—

Then it struck her that maybe it was kind of funny, after all.

"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 she’d never heard Angel laugh, not properly, and she wasn’t 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 couldn’t 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 don’t think so. It’s 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 lot’s 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 wasn’t doing any of those things. Strange and lonely.

They were almost outside when Angel said, "Thank you."

"Yeah, well, it was kinda fun. I might just have invented a new sport: combat cheerleading."

"Not the fight. Just now. I haven’t laughed since…" He stopped. "I’m not sure I’ve ever really laughed."

"I don’t think that wry chuckle thing you do counts." She frowned. "So you slept with Darla and you’re not, you know, evil?"



"Not really. It was about as far from perfect happiness as it’s possible to get."


Angel said, "Cordelia, I’m…"

"Don’t," she interrupted him. "Don’t say it. We’re… we’re okay here. I mean, right here, right now, you and me are okay. Don’t go and spoil it by doing something stupid like apologising."

He looked at her out of her own eyes, and she could tell he didn’t understand.

"I know you’re sorry now, Angel. That’s your whole problem. You’re always sorry afterwards. The point is, it’s too late by then. The cars are piled up, the ambulances are arriving and the cops are stringing yellow hazard tape around the scene."

She’d 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 can’t change what I am," said Angel quietly.

"Pffft," said Cordelia. "This has nothing to do with being a vampire or cursed or whatever. It’s 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 that’s just—that’s just you." She sighed. "I’m still mad, you know. And I haven’t forgiven you. You, Mister, are not even ten per cent forgiven."

"I know."

"But I’m giving you another chance. That’s a pretty big deal."

There was a second’s silence. Finally Angel said, "I appreciate that."

They had reached the mouth of the parking lot’s entrance tunnel and the entrance barrier. Cordelia pointed to the convertible which she could see perfectly in the darkness and Angel couldn’t, 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. "I’ve been trying to contact you for the past hour. Why hasn’t your phone been turned on?"

She started to tell him it had been on, then realised what had happened. "Oh. I was in an underground parking lot. No signal."

"Is Angel there? Where are you?"

"Yeah, he’s here. We’re in Pasadena."

"What the hell are you doing in Pasadena?"

Wesley was swearing? Cordelia blinked, nonplussed. "Well, Angel had a vision and—long 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 Wesley’s tone, if not his words.

Wesley said, "I’m with Gunn. We’ve rounded up all the original participants, as well as the materials needed for the ritual. We’re ready to start."

"Wesley, that’s great news—"

"And we’re back at the warehouse at the airport."

"No problem. The car’s here, we’ll leave now."

"Cordelia!" said Wesley: "You’ve only got twenty minutes."

Suddenly, she felt cold. Colder. She looked at Angel’s 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 the city in fifteen minutes. Not even the remotest chance.

She looked at Angel, and saw he knew it too.

"We’re screwed," she said.


"What the hell are they doing in Pasadena?" asked Gunn.

"That’s exactly what I said." Wesley switched 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 didn’t work, he looked around the assorted group of part-time acolytes, who were shrugging 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 can’t get here in time," he said. "There’s no way."

Gunn ran one hand over his shaved scalp. "Okay. Say they’re a little late. Is that such a big deal?"

"They could be a little late or a lot late, it doesn’t matter now. Half a second longer than twelve hours and that’s it. The change is permanent." Wesley shut his eyes. "Oh God. Poor Cordelia…"

Gunn wasn’t ready to give up. "Let’s do the ritual anyway. Maybe it’ll work even if they’re not here."

"With translocation magic, the subjects have to be physically present. Otherwise it won’t…" He trailed off, as a fragment of half-remembered text flitted into his thoughts. "Wait. That’s 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 momentary hope crumble again. "Man, I like Cordy and all, but I don’t carry bits of her around with me."

Wesley sighed. "Well, it was an idea." He looked at his watch again, gaze drawn to it with horrible fascination. Ten minutes left.

An electronic rendition of Yankee Doodle Dandy rang out, its tinny cheeriness clashing with Wesley’s despair. He looked up, annoyed, and saw one of the acolytes talking into his cell phone.

"No, I can’t talk. Sweetie, it’s kind of awkward right now. Marlene, that’s not true. I did tell you. Honey—"

Wesley stared at the man’s phone, then at his own. He had an idea.

He limped across the warehouse and snatched the acolyte’s phone away from him.

"Hey! That’s my phone! What are you—"

"Hello Marlene," said Wesley. "This is just to let you know that your husband or boyfriend is an underachieving, self- deluding fool who spends his free time dabbling in the occult. If I were you I’d take the car and your jewellery and make sure you’re long gone by the time he gets home. Goodbye."

He ended the call and went back to where Gunn stood, looking confused.

"Granted, the guy was irritating, but is that gonna achieve anything?"

"It might," said Wesley. He tossed the acolyte’s phone to Gunn. "Call Cordelia," he instructed, while paging through the numbers in his own phone’s address book until he found Angel’s.

"What am I gonna say?" asked Gunn. "Aside from, sorry to hear your bad news?"

"Just listen. I won’t have time to explain twice."

Angel answered his cell phone almost immediately. In Cordelia’s voice, he said, "Wesley?" Another phone rang in the background.

"Tell Cordelia to answer that. It’s Gunn."


The ringing stopped. Wesley nodded to himself. "I have an idea. I’m not sure it’ll work, but it’s about the only thing we can do."

"We’re listening."

"You can’t get here in time; there’s no point trying. I’m going to perform the magic anyway."

"But if we’re 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. Don’t put the phones down."

There was a short pause, followed by, "We’re ready."

"Very well. Remember, whatever happens: do not break the contact."


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. "You’ve missed out the whole intro! What happened to spirits of other places, we call on thee?"

"It’s just padding for atmosphere. We can lose 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, he’d 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 didn’t leave out something crucial—

"But that’s the best bit," complained Doug. "I love that bit. You’re 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 Wesley’s electronically filtered voice—bounced around through God knew how many transmitters and satellites—raced through the spell’s litany at comical speed.

"This isn’t gonna work, is it?" she said.

"It’s going to work," said Angel.

He didn’t believe it. Cordelia didn’t know where that certainty came from—a scent-trace of anxiety of which she wasn’t consciously aware, or some instinctive knowledge of the shape and set of her own face—but 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.

"It’s okay to say it," she said.

Angel paused. Finally he admitted, "If it works, I’m pretty sure it’ll 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 be."

The sudden silence on the other end of the line was unsettling. Speaking into the phone, Cordelia said, "Wesley? Why have you stopped?"

"Because that’s it. It’s finished. You’re not…?"

She shut her eyes. "No."

With determined hopefulness, Wesley asked, "You’re sure?"

"If it had worked, I think we would have noticed."

"I suppose," said Wesley reluctantly. Then, quietly, and with palpable disappointment: "Damn it."

"Thanks for trying."

"This isn’t over yet," said Wesley, attempting 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 disentangled her fingers from Angel’s. "Y’know, I didn’t think it’d happen like this."

He looked at her, puzzled. "What would happen like this?"

Cordelia shrugged. "The prophecy. The Shanshu thing. The whole ‘vampire with a soul becomes human’ deal. Because here you are, alive. The Powers That Be must have a real screwball sense of humour."

Angel said, "I’ve never wanted it less."

"It’s okay," she told him softly.

"It isn’t," he told her. "You were right. I should have stayed away."

She shook her head. "No, I was wrong. Because if we hadn’t come here when you had the vision, those people would have been 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 that’s 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 fangs." She stopped. "Or vice versa."

Angel said nothing. He nodded.

She looked at him. "Okay. Now I can’t tell what you’re thinking, and it’s weird."

"I’m thinking… we’ve 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. "It’ll be day soon. Cordelia…" 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. Don’t think about the rest of today or tomorrow or, oh God, the next hundred years. Most of all, don’t 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 you’ll stick around and, you know, help me deal?"

"I won’t leave again."

"Good," she said, relieved. "And I can give you the lowdown on living. That body you’ve got now needs looking after. It’s 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 couldn’t look at it any more, so she raised a hand to shield her eyes. "Angel, can we please go now? It’s getting really light out here and I don’t like it."

"You’ve got the car keys," said Angel.

Of course she did; she’d driven here. Cordelia started 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 hadn’t been there a second earlier.

She froze.

PaPump. PaPump. PaPump.

Her heart was beating.

She looked down, and saw she was digging around for the 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- fingered and delicate. A woman’s hands. Her hands.

And yes, her manicure was ruined.

"Angel?" she said, and heard the words emerge 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—?

"Just now."

She shook her head, amazed. "I didn’t even—"

"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 literally 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, breasts—"

"Cordelia," said Angel. He pointed at the horizon. "Small issue of sunrise?"

She caught herself and looked up, giggling. "Oh, yeah. I’ll get properly reacquainted later." She hopped into the car and took the keys from him. "Let’s go share the good news."


"I’d like to say I had no doubt that the spell would work…" began Wesley.

"Liar," interrupted Cordelia equably.

He smiled and held up a hand to show he hadn’t finished: "I’d like to say that, but I really can’t. We were extremely lucky."

"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 didn’t 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 didn’t the first time." He frowned, and sipped his tea, looking out at the outdoor café’s other tables without, Cordelia could tell, really seeing them.

"Wesley, what is it?"

He shrugged. "It’s probably nothing to worry about. It’s just…" He hesitated: "The first spell Mr Kluggerman cast created a magical backwash that affected you and Angel later. I’m wondering if that was due to an error on his part, or whether it’s inherent in the ritual he was using."

The last spoonful of ice cream and fudge sauce hovered in the air in front of Cordelia’s mouth, dripping slowly. "You mean, I could be walking around later today and suddenly, boom, I’m Angel again?"

"Oh, no, not at all," said Wesley quickly. "I’m quite sure that won’t happen." He reached out and patted 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, "It’s not fun. Being him, I mean. There’s a lot of stuff he has to deal with he never talks about."

"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 didn’t sound convinced.

She dug into the depths of the near-empty ice-cream sundae, 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?"

"I’m quite full, thank you."

"Not for you, for me." She turned the card over. "Oooh, pastries! Do y’think 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 acolytes gone, along with the limping English guy and his thuggish friend. What was worse, they’d taken the only written copy of the spell’s litany with them. Doug cursed himself for not having the foresight to make a copy.

By the time he’d gotten home and washed and changed, he’d been late for work, and now the supervisor, Mrs Makiewitz, was eyeing him with suspicion, if not outright hostility. He didn’t think she’d believed him when he told her he’d sustained the black eye while re-papering his hall.

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 didn’t want what he had to try to sell them.

"Doug," snapped Mrs Makiewitz from her station: "Your line’s idle but you’re not on a scheduled break. What’s wrong with this picture?"

He sighed and adjusted his headphones and speaker set, then clicked his PC’s mouse, instructing the machine to dial the next random number from the company’s database. The details flashed up on the screen: Bekki Styles, age 23, unmarried, four kids. Trailer trash, thought Doug. She probably didn’t even know what insurance was. Maybe she’d be out.

She wasn’t. The phone line clicked, and a woman’s voice answered, young but already hoarse from too much booze and too many cigarettes. "Yeah?"

"Good afternoon, Ms Styles. I’m calling on behalf of RestWell Life Assurance."

In the background, children screamed. "Whaddya want?"

"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?"

"Who’s this? You threatenin’ me?"

Doug gritted his teeth and continued, "No, Ms Styles. I’m calling from RestWell Life Assurance—"

"Don’t 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 needs insurance."

"Look, I got—Savannah! Don’t do that to LaToyah!—I got kids here, whatever you’re selling, I don’t want it."

Something in Doug snapped. "And what happens if you’re knocked down by a bus tomorrow? Or get some really horrible disease? You know, you’re exactly the kind of person who turns up horribly disfigured on Ricki Lake and talks about how the world’s screwed them over, when really 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 wasn’t 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 child’s voice from somewhere around his knees.

He looked down and saw a three year old whose mouth was smeared with jam tugging at the hem of his—at the hem of his—oh God at the hem of his—


"Hello?" he said into the telephone. The line was dead.

"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 toddler’s bare feet on to the filthy linoleum.

A second child—a girl—was standing in the doorway of the tiny kitchen, pointing and giggling. "Ma, Donny done pee."

"Ma!" said Donny, pulling at Doug’s clothes.

"Ma!" said the girl.



And Doug knew his problems had just started.