Captive Of The Soul by Yahtzee
Summary: Angel's attempt to keep his friends safe from harm might lead them into the greatest danger of all.
Spoilers: To Shanshu In LA, Season One.
"Anything left of the files?"
"Sure, if you count ashes. The filing cabinet might be okay, though, with new paint -- and a couple of new drawers --"
"There, you see? I told you some things would be salvageable, didn't I? Why, we might have plenty of things for our new office, wherever that might be --"
"First things first," Angel said. Like Cordelia and Wesley, he was standing in the burnt-out remains of what had been Angel Investigations. Also like them, he was covered in black dust, going through the debris surrounding them to see what, if anything, might be saved. They were all in ragged, disposable clothes -- Cordelia had bought Angel some things at the Salvation Army, as well as Wesley's first pair of blue jeans. The room smelled acrid, almost bitter, and thick, oily soot coated every possible surface. With every step, the charred floorboards creaked uncomfortably. In the center of the room was their only illumination, the emergency flashlight from Cordelia's car. Taken all in all, it was depressing as hell -- though Angel found the gloom easier to bear than Wesley and Cordelia's pretense that nothing was wrong.
"This looks all right, don't you think?" Wesley said, pulling a still- intact chair up from the floor. He stopped abruptly, and though he made no sound, Angel saw him bite his lip.
"Don't try to lift anything," Angel said. "You're not strong enough yet."
"Nonsense," Wesley said, a bit too stoutly. "I feel right as rain."
"What is that expression supposed to mean, anyway?" Cordelia said. "I mean, think about it. Makes no sense whatsoever. Know what else makes no sense? You toting around heavy furniture when you've only been out the hospital a few days."
"You were discharged on the same day," Wesley pointed out.
"Yeah, but I didn't have sprained ribs or a concussion or any of that stuff. I just had visions. Doesn't mess you up the same way." She made a move to pick up the chair herself.
"Neither of you is going to do any lifting," Angel said. "Not that there's going to be that much to lift. As far as I can see, we've got a few weapons, a few books, a blackened copy of Word-Puzz, one chair and no place to put it. And that's about all."
"That's not all we have," Cordelia said, folding her arms in front of her. Her hands, in yellow- rubber dishwashing gloves, made a bright X in the darkness. "We have each other, and that's all we really need. Right?"
Angel sighed and managed a small smile for her. "You're right," he said, squeezing her arm quickly.
"Jeez, but you're grumpy for a guy who just found out his undead-ness has an expiration date," Cordelia said, her cheer a little less forced.
"It's just -- difficult," Angel said. "I wandered around for 250 years. Even in Sunnydale -- I always knew it couldn't be forever. But I thought I could stay here. So much for that plan."
Wesley and Cordelia both looked at him sympathetically. Good, Angel thought. They bought it.
In reality, as fond as he had grown of their offices and his apartment, he had long ago learned the foolishness of believing that anything was permanent. What weighed on him now cut too close. All Angel could think was: Wesley was in this building. They meant for him to be as burned and broken and lost as everything lying around me right now. Cordelia was screaming for mercy in a hospital bed. They meant for her to sink into madness and anguish until her mind snapped and her body stopped.
She thinks it's such a gift, that we have each other, he thought. But that's the reason they both almost ended up dead.
"Good God," Wesley said, breaking Angel out of his reverie. "Look at the computer." The plastic casing had melted; bits of chips and wire stuck out of the charred mess that had once been the desk.
"The phone didn't do too well either," Cordelia said, lifting up the receiver, from which more wires dangled. "And the answering machine -- "
"Who's in there?"
The words came from the hallway, surprising them all; Wesley jumped, dropping the sooty encyclopedia of demonology he'd just retrieved. Angel recognized the voice first. He didn't relax.
"Kate," he called. "It's just us."
"Just you," she said, coming around the corner. The beam from her flashlight cut through the room. Her lips were set in a thin line. "Nothing to worry about. Just a vampire once known as the Scourge of Europe."
"Nicknames," Angel said flatly. "So hard to live them down. What do you want, Kate?"
"What do I want? I want to investigate a major crime scene. Remember, I tried to the other night, before you fled the area."
"Before I went to the hospital to check on Wesley," Angel said. "After you attacked me again. Is that what you're here for?"
She didn't answer; she was looking, instead, at Wesley, who still had a bandage across his forehead. He'd lost a few pounds, especially noticeable on his spare frame. Her voice was somewhat less brittle when she spoke again. "I'm just after the truth."
"I know that," Angel said, trying to match her newfound civility. Cordelia, he could see, was still trying to think of an appropriate retort to the "Scourge of Europe" comment; he shook his head quickly at her. "I doubt the truth is going to help you out much, though."
"Why? What happened here?" Kate's eyes narrowed again. "I know you claim to be on some kind of crusade, but if I find out you've been keeping explosives in here --"
"Excuse me," Cordelia snapped, ignoring Angel and ripping at the broken mess of the answering machine as if it were a certain police detective. "He is a vampire, not a Branch Davidian. Why would Angel blow up his own building?"
"Cordy," Angel said, "calm down. Kate's just doing her job."
"Don't defend me," Kate said. "Answer me."
"The building was blown up by Vocah, a powerful supernatural assassin sent to destroy me and my friends." Angel didn't mention the scroll or the raising; this alone would probably be too much for Kate to absorb. "As you can see, he very nearly succeeded."
"A supernatural assassin," Kate said, rolling her eyes. "That's gonna look great in my report. You really know how to win friends and influence people, don't you?"
"Angel's got friends," Cordelia said, her voice now chillier than Kate's.
"He also has enemies," Kate said.
Wesley cleared his throat. "Ah, Detective Lockley? Perhaps your supervisors would be interested in hearing the account of a witness. I should be happy to tell you what I saw --"
Kate took a deep breath, then nodded. "Constructive suggestion. Okay, good idea." She glanced around. "Is there anyplace we could sit down?"
Angel realized she was thinking of Wesley's relative weakness and, despite his anger, felt a flash of gratitude to her. "Not much left in the way of furniture, but the stairs are still there."
As Kate and Wesley turned to go into the hallway, Cordelia said, "Oh, wait a sec. You're carrying one of those little tape recorders, aren't you?"
Kate looked at her strangely. "Yes; why?"
Cordy held up the message tape for the answering machine. "This made it through okay. And I was expecting a callback."
Rolling her eyes, Kate handed over the recorder. "I guess I'll take your statement the old- fashioned way," she said as she pulled out a pen. "Any clipboards make it through?"
"We can use what's left of the bookshelf," Wesley said helpfully as they walked out.
Angel smiled slightly as Cordelia fiddled with the recorder. "Always the optimist," he said.
"I just look that way compared to you, Gloom-n-Doom," she said, then frowned. "That's the old me again, isn't it?"
The tape recorder started playing. A shrill-voiced woman, who apparently had not realized from the phone message that she hadn't reached Ruby Chinese Restaurant, put in an order for vegetable dumplings.
"Don't worry about it," Angel said. "If the old you went away completely, I'd miss her."
"Bitchiness and bad-hair angst and everything?" Cordelia said. She looked up at him, her lips quirked in that funny, vulnerable smile of hers, the one that meant she wasn't really joking.
"And everything," Angel insisted.
The tape recorder switched messages; when the new speaker began, Angel froze. He had only met her once but remembered her vividly.
"I hope I've called the correct number. Regarding the problem you came to me with a few months ago? I realize that situation has now resolved itself, for better or worse. But I've found someone who could help you in future, should you ever again need such help. Come by the church if you wish to be introduced." A click announced the end of the message, and, apparently, the end of those who had wished to contact Angel Investigations.
"Who was that?" Cordelia said.
"I don't know her name," Angel said. "She's a nun Wesley and I met when we were trying to exorcise the Ethros demon. She seemed to have a lot of information; probably be a good idea to get to know her."
"Then, get on with your dead self," Cordelia said. When he raised an eyebrow, she waved him toward the door. "It's not that late. What else are we gonna do here? And what if we have to deal with possessed kids again? Could happen any day. Best to be prepared."
"You want me out of here before Kate and I can start fighting again."
"Yeah, that too," Cordelia said.
Angel smiled and went to the door. "If Kate wants to know where I've gone -- tell her I'm at church. That ought to throw her for a loop."
Thirty minutes later Angel was shivering in a pew. Not from cold -- though he did feel a bit chilled after the quick washing-up he'd done in the restroom of a local service station. Was it sickness? Fear? What was it that snaked through him like ice every time he looked at a cross?
"It still affects you." Angel looked over to see the nun sitting at the end of the same pew. He hadn't even heard her approach, a testament either to her stealth or his distraction. She motioned toward the cross. "Why is that?"
"It affects us all," Angel said. "I've never known why."
"I wasn't referring to vampires in general," she said, looking at him wish the same unruffled calm, the same penetrating gaze, he remembered from before. "I meant you. You're unlike the others in so many ways. But the symbol of Christ's love still causes you pain."
"How do you know I'm not like the others?" Angel said.
"You put yourself in danger to help a child. You seek the people of the church whom you should logically shun. You have a human friend. Evidence enough, don't you think?"
"I try to believe that," Angel said. "That I'm different. But moments like this -- I wonder if the difference is enough." He forced himself to look at the cross again. He could do it -- he no longer cringed from the sight of it, like young ones and cowards did. But he couldn't make the pain go away. "The symbol of Christ's love. That's what you call it. But that's not what I see, not what I feel."
"God's love is far from you," she said. "Yes, that must be hard to bear."
Angel shook his head. "It's not a new burden. And I doubt you brought me here to discuss the condition of my soul."
"So, you do have your soul," the nun said. "I thought so. No, I should be interested in discussing that with you someday, but that is not why I called."
"How did you even know my number? Are you psychic?" he said, only half-joking.
"That is not among my gifts. Even if it were, it would be unnecessary. Your friend left this at the church before," she said, holding up a white card. "A business card. Tell me, why is there a picture of a moth on it?"
He sighed. "It's supposed to be an angel. And that's my name. Angel."
The nun raised one eyebrow, but said only, "Come. You should meet Father Augustine."
Father Augustine, as it turned out, was a priest in his late forties, broad and bearded, with skin as dark as night. He had been born and raised in Ghana, only converting to Christianity as an adult. But throughout his conversion, and his subsequent entry into the clergy, Augustine had remembered the older religion of his youth.
"Christianity is the true light of God," Augustine said, pouring tea for Angel as though he were any other houseguest. "But every light casts shadows, does it not? To explore those shadows, we need to remember the old beliefs. The old magic. There are many who do not understand that. But those of us who do, well, we find one another," he said, smiling briefly at the nun, who was serenely sipping her tea.
"How long have you fought against demons?" Angel said.
"All my life," Augustine said, sitting down to his own drink. "But only these last two decades have I also had the resources of the Church at my disposal."
"You perform exorcisms?"
"Where possible. The battle is often difficult, as you must know. The good sister tells me you were attempting to cast out an Ethros demon. Were you successful?"
"Yes. The boy lived; the demon's dead." Angel did not tell them that the boy had been the greater evil; he didn't feel like discussing it. Another idea, something he had never before considered, was crowding into his mind, pushing aside all other thought.
His earlier words to the nun echoed within his mind. What if he were wrong? What if there were a difference after all?
"Well done. I should not have thought that one with his own demon would be able to cast out another. There is so much to learn," Augustine said. "I hope we shall learn from one another."
"There's something I need you to do," Angel said abruptly. "An exorcism I need you to perform."
Father Augustine nodded. "Of course. Why did you not say so before? Who needs this exorcism?"
"I do," Angel said.
"You're going to exorcise yourself?" Cordelia said. "What about this am I not getting?"
She was sitting on the sofa in leggings and a tank top, her hair yanked up into a slightly off-center ponytail, blue facial mask making her look like a psychedelic kabuki performer. Wesley, who had just stepped out of the bathroom in his blue-striped pajamas and robe, was staring at Angel with the same shocked expression she wore. "Angel -- your demon -- it's a part of you."
"I don't need reminding," Angel said, pulling off his shoes as he sat down on his sleeping bag. In the explosion, his apartment had been destroyed, along with all their means of support. Angel had a little money in the bank -- enough to keep them all eating, at least for a while -- but he and Wesley were camping out at Cordelia's for the time being. To Angel's surprise, the arrangement was working fairly smoothly. So far.
"Don't you?" Wesley said. He sat down beside Cordelia, who was still shaking her head in confusion. "Angel, you are a vampire. A dead body animated by the demon that dwells within."
"Take that out, and what have you got?" Cordelia asked. "A dead body. Not good."
"I've seen, in the past, that a vampire's body can keep living without the demon," Angel said. "If a vampire can't feed for long enough, the demon is cast out, but the body goes on, without capacity for thought. Eventually becomes a living skeleton. Not pretty."
"And this is what you're shooting for?" Cordelia said.
"I'm guessing that the soul is going to survive just fine without the demon. Maybe -- maybe the two aren't tied together. If so, that should keep me from anything so drastic." Angel smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. It didn't work.
"Guessing? That's supposed to be good enough?" Cordelia shook her head. "You're not going to risk yourself over something like this. And I will prove it to you, as soon as I wash this stuff off my face."
"How can you think of your facial at a time like this?" Wesley said.
"Uh, excuse me. My Old Navy commercial audition is coming up in two days, and as I am temporarily the breadwinner of this family, I think we all have an interest in my complexion being at its best. Besides, this mask is flaking like dried plaster. How can Angel concentrate on anything important with my face crumbling in front of him?" She went off to wash, leaving Wesley to continue the argument.
"Cordelia has a very valid point, for once," Wes said.
"I heard that!" Cordelia called from the bathroom, over the sound of splashing water.
Wesley ignored her and continued, "Your theory may well be correct, Angel. But is it worth risking your existence to find out? I can tell you that it's not worth it to me."
"Or me," Cordy said, patting her face dry with a washcloth as she returned to the couch. "We need you, Angel."
"Not like this," Angel said. "I'm enough of a risk to you as it is."
"Are we about to get some heroic speech, about how you won't let us endanger ourselves by staying at your side?" Wesley said. "I've been waiting for this --"
"Sorry to disappoint you," Angel said. "No, no speeches. You're both adults. You make your own choices."
"Oh," Wesley said, looking rather crestfallen. "Then what are you driving at?"
"I mean that I'm not going to endanger you any more than I have to," Angel said. "And as long as I can still become what I was before, I'm a danger to you both."
"Not to mention everybody else this side of the Rockies," Cordelia said. "And don't look at me like that, Wesley. We both know it's true."
"So, you're behind me?" Angel said.
"If 'behind you' means thinking you're doing something totally boneheaded but not mentioning more than thirty times a day, yeah." Cordelia said with a sigh.
Wesley nodded. "If you're allowing us to take our risks, then we have to allow you to take yours. But I won't pretend to like it."
"Didn't ask you to," Angel said. He pulled off his shoes and got down on the floor to arrange the sleeping bag; he doubted he could sleep this early in the evening, but he had tried, during these past two weeks, to match the humans' circadian rhythms as closely as possible. "We've had a long day," he said, hoping to forestall any more conversation.
Neither of them were taking the hint, though. Cordelia set about applying some strange unguent to her hair without removing her attention from him for a moment. "So how are we going to do this? I mean, is the priest just going to drop by, cast out Angelus, have some tea?"
"Probably not a great idea to do it here," Angel said. "The ceremony might end up casting out Dennis instead."
The wall thumped once. Cordelia shook her head vehemently. "No way. So, where then? The church?"
"Difficult to draw the demon out there. Gunn's group -- the homeless kids I told you about -- just moved out of a basement place about 20 minutes away; I think that'll do nicely," Angel said from his place on the floor.
"Drawing out the demon -- yes, you'd have to, wouldn't you?" Wesley said, wrinkling his brow as he frowned. "For an exorcism, you must directly confront the demon. That means -- you'll have to let Angelus out."
"What?" Cordelia said, her face going a little pale. "Wait a minute. To get rid of him, you have to let him out?"
"I don't like that part of it either," Angel admitted. "But you guys can chain me up --"
"Oh, no, not again," Cordelia sighed.
Angel ignored her. "I'll have to take the drug that Rebecca dosed me with and hope it works the same way. We'll see, I guess."
"There might be another way," Wesley said slowly. "Have you considered hypnosis?"
"Hypnosis?" Cordelia said, wrinkling her nose. "I thought that was fake. Just stuff for Vegas lounge acts and weight-loss ripoffs."
"Nobody understands precisely why hypnotism works," Wesley said. "But it does. It's capable of unlocking an entirely different level of the conscious mind."
"In Angel's case, an entirely demonic level."
"That's the idea," Wesley said.
Angel was quiet for a moment, considering. "Do you think it would work?"
"Worth a try," Wesley said. "I can conduct a test."
"You?" Cordy said.
"Why, yes," Wesley said. "All Watchers are trained in the art of hypnotism. I was rather good at it, actually."
"It would be better than the drug," Angel said. "If something happened -- if things got out of control -- you could end the hypnotic trance right away."
"Exactly," Wesley said, noticeably happy to be of assistance. "There's also the chance -- a slight one, mind you, but a chance -- that if matters were to, well, not proceed as planned, that you might be able to throw off the hypnotic trance."
"You mean, if Angelus got a hand free and started choking one of us -- just one of the unpleasant scenarios that springs to mind -- Angel might be able to, like, break through and be himself again," Cordelia said.
"It's a distant possibility, but a possibility nonetheless," Wesley said.
"Then that's our plan," Angel said. "Get whatever you need tomorrow. Father Augustine will meet us tomorrow night."
"That fast," Cordelia said. The seriousness of it seemed to have hit her all at once. "Angel, that's going to change everything."
"It's meant to keep things from changing."
"For me and Wesley, maybe," Cordelia said. "But it changes a lot of things for you. Like, that whole subcurse-to-the-curse thing. You have perfect happiness now, and nothing happens, right?"
"I'd still lose my soul," Angel pointed out.
"So, if you had sex with Buffy again, you'd just go to mindless- zombie territory," Cordelia said. "And you're not going there. Right?"
"Right," Angel said.
He said it casually enough, but something of his mood must have come through to Cordelia. She slipped off the sofa and knelt beside him. "Hey," she whispered, gently touching his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't throw Buffy's name around without thinking first."
"I shouldn't let it affect me," Angel said.
"Like that's ever gonna happen," Cordelia said. After a moment's pause, she dropped her hand from his shoulder and her eyes from his own. "I hope this works for you, Angel. It doesn't make any difference to me, but if it's going to make you feel safer, then that's a good thing."
"I'm still worried about all this," Wesley said. "I mean, your demon is under control. And perhaps he is a larger part of your psyche than we realize. Do you need that darkness? To remind you of what you could be? To give you the edge it takes to do the things you must do - -"
"Star Trek," Cordelia said. Off Wesley's startled look, she said, "This is totally out of that Star Trek episode. The one where Captain Kirk splits into good and evil twins?"
"You never struck me as a science-fiction fan," Wesley said, slightly abashed.
"I'm not, but please. I dated Xander Harris for almost a year. That gives me honorary membership in the geek hall of fame."
"I'll always have two centuries' worth of memories to remind me," Angel said. "Maybe that's enough."
They finished preparing for bed in silence; it was Wesley's turn to take the couch, so he set about making his bed there, tucking a sheet around the cushions with an almost military neatness. Angel tucked his pillow up beneath him as he slipped into the sleeping bag. He and Wesley were both ready for bed, but Cordelia went through yet more steps of her elaborate bedtime ritual, utterly unworried by their presence. It was all so casual, so intimate, that Angel found himself strangely moved.
How long had it been since he had been a part of anyone's life like this? Just another person in their lives, accepted as easily and totally as any human being could hope to be. For all the depth of his love for Buffy, Angel knew that the two of them had never reached that level -- never could have, given her age and the greater demands of their relationship.
And, in its own way, this was as healing, as comforting, as Buffy's love had ever been --
"This is going to be hard," Angel said suddenly. Wesley, who had just draped his robe across a chair, turned to face him; Cordelia stuck her head out of the bathroom door, toothbrush still in her foamy- lipped mouth. "When Angelus is free, the things I'll say to you -- it'll be hard to hear."
"We can take it," Wesley said. "You don't have to be afraid for us."
But I am, Angel thought.
"You know, I'd have gotten into exorcisms sooner, if I realized they involved this much shopping," Cordelia said. "Then again, I would've looked around for a catalog or something, if I knew we were going to have to shop here."
"Here" was a store called "Rapt in Chains." Cordelia and Wesley were standing between the leather-corsetry section and the display of specialty whips. Wesley was trying very hard to remember if he had ever been this embarrassed in his life and deciding, probably not.
But if you needed to keep someone chained up, this was the place to be --
"I mean, people have the right to get their freak on," Cordelia muttered. "But you know, I just have to wonder. If you don't enjoy sex unless you're in a vinyl body bag, maybe you just really don't enjoy sex."
"This seems like a lot of equipment for people to get in order to do something they don't enjoy," Wesley said, casting a worried glance at what resembled, but probably was not, a hangliding harness on the wall.
"Well, you'd know, right?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"Come on, Wesley," Cordelia said. "You knew just where this place was --"
"I used to live down the street," Wesley hissed. "Back when we could all afford separate accommodations, I took a hotel room two blocks away."
"Really?" Cordelia's eyebrow was raised, but when Wesley nodded, she put her hand to her mouth. "Really?" she repeated, more softly. "Wesley, this is a bad neighborhood. Way bad. I used to live in the barrio, so I know whereof I speak."
"Well, we could afford separate accommodations," Wesley said. "Not necessarily good ones. Anyway, this was usually the only place open when I got home; they keep very strange hours. Apparently much of the merchandise falls into the realm of the impulse buy."
"Long time no see." At the sound of the voice, both Cordelia and Wesley jumped; the clerk, a man far too interested in piercing, was smiling at Wesley. "I knew all that talk about change for the vending machine was just cover. So, which of you needs a fitting?" The man looked Cordelia up and down with a proprietory gaze Wesley found discomfiting and infuriating all at once. "Or is it matching outfits for you two?"
"No, no, no," Cordelia said. "It's not for us. It's for our boss."
"Kinky," the man said. "Sounds like you guys got one hell of a benefits package."
"It's not what it sounds like," Wesley said, then realized that the real situation would probably sound a whole lot worse. "I mean -- well, we must be discreet." He ignored Cordelia's outraged glare.
"Don't worry," the man said. "Your secret's safe with us. So, what size is this boss of yours?"
"He's a big guy," Cordelia said with a sigh. "Not quite as tall as Wesley here, but way more built."
"Yummy. And what are you looking for? Sub or dom?"
"Huh?" Cordelia didn't get it. Wesley thought he did, but he really didn't want to.
He could feel his cheeks burning as he answered, "He's the one getting tied up. Does that answer your question?"
"Gotcha. Hang on a sec," the man said, before vanishing into the back.
"I swear to God, Wesley, this is the most humiliating thing ever," Cordelia said. "Well, no, the gyno exam with the demon babies is the all-time winner. But should that event ever be unable to fulfill its duties as Most Humiliating, this one will step in."
"It's not that bad," Wesley insisted. "We'll just keep our heads down, and -- oh, my Lord."
Wesley motioned at the display case. Cordelia looked down, and her eyes widened. "Okay, those were not modeled from life. I mean, sure, big is beautiful, but this is overkill."
"How does this look?" Wesley turned to see their helpful clerk again; he was holding up a leather vest with straps that were clearly used to bind the wearer's arms behind his back. "Adjustable fit, but should be ideal for the size you described."
"Looks great," Cordelia said. "Wrap it up."
"Wait a moment," Wesley said. "Now, this is entirely secure, correct?"
"Sure. Holds the wearer in good and tight, but there's this release latch right here --"
"Release latch?" Cordelia interrupted. "What's with the release latch? Isn't bondage all about being bound?"
"Well, yes." The clerk was looking at Cordelia strangely. "But there's always a release. I mean, we don't want this stuff being misused."
"Wesley, this is no good," she complained. "If he can get out, it's not gonna work."
"We'll just take some handcuffs," Wesley said. "Several pairs. Those don't have releases, do they?"
"No, no. Just gonna wrap those up for you." The clerk inched away.
"Great," Cordelia said. "We have now been written off as perverts by a guy who sells nipple clamps."
"Sorry. This place is making me vulgar. Can't we just get out of here? What's next on the shopping list?"
Wesley tugged out the paper, glad to have something else to think about besides their surroundings. "Well, Angel was hoping we could get a tranquilizer gun, though I'm not at all sure where to buy one."
"Veterinary-supply store," Cordelia said. "Any vet who works with big animals, like horses or cows, is going to need one." Off Wesley's startled look, she shrugged. "What can I say? You help take care of a werewolf, you learn lessons you use throughout life. But wait a second -- why are we buying tranquilizers anyway?"
"To drug our murderous, demonic employer should he break free of our restraints," Wesley said. "I should think that would be rather obvious."
"Well, tranquilizers and Angel -- not the best combo."
"The demon will already be released," Wesley pointed out. "A tranquilizer can't really make it any worse."
"True," Cordelia said. "Where are those handcuffs? C'mon, already."
"Cordelia, do calm down. I'm as dismayed to be in here as you are, but there's really no rush. It's not as if we need to hurry off to buy you new shoes for the occasion."
"Speak for yourself," Cordy replied. "I'm thinking some cool little thong sandals. Wait, no. Hard to run in those. Scratch that." When Wesley didn't respond to what he hoped was a joke, Cordelia sighed. "Okay. I'm just kinda ready to get this over with. Aren't you?"
"Agreed," Wesley said. It was as close as they had come to discussing the subject of Angel's exorcism with any seriousness.
When Wesley had arrived in L.A., he had felt reasonably close to Cordelia -- the awkwardness of their previous attraction aside, they had shared experiences, shared memories. Angel was a mysterious figure, more to be feared than trusted. He had expected to work with Angel only as a colleague, and perhaps to discover some sort of friendship with Cordelia.
Instead, Angel had become a friend; some secrets and emotions Wesley had long tried to suppress had spilled out these past months, and Angel, instead of turning away, had accepted him as few others ever had. Wesley had found it easy to respond in turn. Cordelia, meanwhile, remained at a distance. They could laugh and joke together, or, more often, nag each other for hours on end. At times, their conversations went beyond the trivial -- but only for a few minutes, and usually only when they discussed Angel.
After the cloudy glow of infatuation had worn off, Wesley might have written Cordelia off as silly or shallow, were it not for her devotion to Angel. More than once, Wesley had wondered whether their relationship were not moving beyond the purely platonic -- Cordelia and Angel were so openly protective of one another that it was hard to believe they shared no romantic feeling. But so far, anyway, it seemed that they were no more than friends.
Meanwhile, she and Wesley remained friends mostly because they both cared about Angel. Basis enough, he supposed.
"You should have told us you had to live in this neighborhood," Cordelia said. Wesley glanced at her, surprised by the shift in topic. "We could've worked something else out. You could have stayed with Angel, or with me. We wouldn't have left you here, if we'd known." She grimaced as she looked away from him. "And we would have known if we'd asked."
Angel had asked and had offered help before, which Wesley had turned down in a moment of much-repented pride. After a few moments' consideration, Wesley decided not to mention that point. "I appreciate the thought, Cordelia."
"Okay. Six pairs of handcuffs. That going to do it for you?" The clerk had a very fixed smile on his face as he held out a paper bag.
Cordelia pulled out her Visa with a melodramatic flourish. "I think this is going to max out my last available credit on my last credit card," she sighed. "Angel without a demon, me without the ability to charge -- we have reached the end of an era."
"We are isolated here," Father Augustine said. "This is good."
The priest's voice echoed in the emptiness of the abandoned warehouse; his cultured accent reverberated from exposed metal and the concrete floor. A few left-behind things cluttered the corners -- a red bandanna, some cans of Dinty Moore beef stew, one brown boot.
One boot, Cordelia thought. Who leaves one boot? I mean, if you need one of them, you're gonna need the other. Right?
When Angel had explained all this last night, she'd convinced herself it was for the best. And when she could think on the end result -- happy, secure, new-and-improved Angel, now with fewer demons -- it still seemed like a good idea.
But the end result was harder to picture right now, with the reality of what they were about to do there in front of her. The priest was an imposing man, foreign and strange. Wesley had gone unusually grave; he'd set up all his paraphernalia on a battered old table. Instead of snickering at his collection of potions and crystals and what-not, Cordelia found herself somewhat intimidated by it all. Intimidation was a fairly new emotion for her. So far, she decided, it pretty much sucked.
Angel was walking around the perimeter of the room, just a little too slowly for it to be called "pacing." She tried to give him a reassuring smile and did so poorly that he immediately came over to her. "Cordy -- are you all right?"
"Yeah, I am. Or I will be," she said, hugging herself against an imagined chill. "It's just a little like attending Charles Manson's parole hearing, you know?"
"I know," Angel said quietly.
"God, there I go again," Cordelia said. "I'm sitting here all obsessed about how I feel. But you're the one really going through it. I mean, you've got to be tripping, right?"
"Right," Angel said, then frowned. "If I understand what that word means."
"It means, you know -- nyaaagh," Cordelia said, making a face that seemed appropriate.
Angel almost smiled. "Yes. I'm tripping. Just keeping it on the inside."
"When the demon's out -- Angel, where are you? Where does your soul go?" Cordelia said.
"I wish I knew."
"I guess it doesn't matter, as long as you come back," Cordelia said.
"I'm not going away. I'm just --" Angel paused. Cordelia, realizing he did not mean to continue, took one of his hands in her own and squeezed it gently. Though he did not seem to acknowledge her gesture, after a moment he spoke again. "I worry about what's going to happen while my soul is gone. What I'll do. What I'll say."
"If it scares you, Angel -- we don't have to do this," Cordelia whispered, gesturing slightly at Wesley and Father Augustine, who were still bustling about with some magic powder in one corner. "It's not too late."
Angel shook his head. "I have to do it. As long as that demon is a part of me -- Cordelia, I'm its captive. I can't get through a single day without wondering what I would do if I were weak enough. About what I might do to you -- "
"Listen to me," she said, stepping a little closer to him and folding his hand in both of her own. "That demon's not going to do anything to me, or Wesley, or anybody else. We won't let it. You're going to be all wrapped up, safe -- safe like a baby in a blanket. You're not going to do anything you have to feel sorry for. You're not going to say anything we can't handle. When that demon's gone and your soul comes home, we're still going to be here. And we're still going to be your friends. Okay?"
Angel didn't answer, but smiled at her gently. She managed to smile back.
"Very well," Wes said, a little loudly, calling them without calling them. Angel hesitated for a moment, then let go of Cordelia's hands and walked toward Wesley. Cordelia followed, to see what the others had put together. "We have constructed a protective circle," Father Augustine said. "No vampire should be able to step within its boundaries, save on St. Vigius' Day, which is still months away."
"So this is like our shark cage," Cordelia said.
"Very apropos," Wesley said. Cordelia wasn't quite sure what that meant, but his tone was approving and so she felt mollified. He continued: "The tranquilizer gun will be kept in here. So, should something untoward occur -- though of course it will not -- we are all to run into the circle. The first one here takes up the gun. Understood?"
Angel shrugged off his jacket and tossed it on the ground, then walked over to the chair. Wesley had spent the better part of the afternoon welding it to one of the building's metal beams; after giving it an experimental tug and finding it secure, Angel sat down. He sighed deeply as he put his hands behind his back. "Let's do it."
Wesley picked up the chains they'd brought and began securing Angel's feet to the chair. Cordelia took the handcuffs out of her bag and walked behind Angel, then shackled his hands around the metal beam. The tension in the room was thickening, as was her own dread; she wanted to say something to break it, something funny. But she knew it would sound wrong, more wrong even than this terrible stillness broken only by the clanking of metal.
When they were done, she and Wesley stepped away. Angel looked -- smaller, somehow. Vulnerable. Strange, to think of Angel that way --.
Angel nodded. "Let's go."
Wesley rubbed his hands together quickly. "Right." He nodded at Father Augustine, then walked behind the small table they'd set up and re-angled Cordelia's emergency flashlight so that its beam shone through a purple crystal. "Angel, I need you to look within this crystal. There is a flaw inside it -- deep, at the center." His voice took on a tenor Cordelia had never heard from him before, something lower, more soothing. "Find that flaw. Concentrate on it. Let the light there flow back into you."
Angel's face was so strange, Cordelia thought, so different. Normally, even in his happiest moments, there was something -- tense - - about him. She always had the sense he was holding something back, holding something in, and she'd always been very glad of the fact. But now he was completely relaxed and blank.
"Angel?" Wesley said, in normal Wesley-voice. Angel did not respond. In the lower tone, Wesley continued: "The soul within your body must rest, for a time. The soul will not leave the body, nor be extinguished, yet only remain quiet until such time as I summon it forth once more. When you hear this sound chime once --" Wesley struck a metal rod against the crystal, and it hummed on a high, silvery pitch, "-- your soul will go silent and control you no more. When you hear it twice together, the soul will return to its full strength. Do you understand me?"
Angel nodded slowly. Wesley took a deep breath. "Very well."
And with that he struck the rod against the crystal once more. For one second, there was only silence.
Angel's face had changed again. Not relaxed, not blank, but not holding anything back --
"I do NOT believe this," Angelus growled, lunging forward in a futile attempt to break his bonds.
"He's out," Wesley said.
"Thanks for the news flash," Cordelia said, mostly to herself. Father Augustine said nothing, but straightened up and squared his shoulders, as though preparing for a blow.
"Is this a game?" Angelus shouted, continuing his struggle with the chains. "Are you people actually that stupid? You're calling me up for an evening's entertainment?"
"That is not our purpose here," Father Augustine said. "As well you know."
"You think you can get rid of me. Well, Padre, you are sadly mistaken. That puts you above these two, who are just sad -- but not as sad as they're gonna be." Angelus fixed his icy stare on Wesley. "Nice little toys you've got here, Watcher Boy. Magic wands and crystals. Sticks and stones, they'll break your bones --"
"They'll do more than that to you," Wesley said with an almost- convincing bravado.
"This is your big night, isn't it? Your night to prove you can actually do something," Angelus sneered. "But the only thing you're gonna do is get yourself killed. Don't worry, Wesley. I'll make sure you get to see Cordelia die first."
Angelus then looked over at Cordelia, something beyond hate in his eyes. "Don't forget. We have a date later."
Cordelia turned on her heel and walked as far away from Angelus as she could get. She heard Wesley jog after her.
"I'm fine," she said abruptly. The temporary shock of seeing Angelus again had shaken her; no matter how many times she thought about it, how many nightmares she had on the subject, she never really remembered the malevolence behind those cold eyes. But Cordelia screwed up her courage. Angel's counting on us, she reminded herself. He's counting on me. "If that's the worst he's got, then we're gonna be fine. Right, Wes?"
"Right," Wesley said, and he was so steady, so sure, that Cordelia could have hugged him. "I think the part of the rhyme Angelus failed to mention says, 'words will never hurt me.' We can handle this."
Cordelia wished he sounded more convincing.
Angel generally did not speak of Angelus in the third person.
It was a small point, one that might go unnoticed by some, but Wesley prided himself on attention to detail. No matter how horrific, how demonic, how -- different -- Angelus seemed, Angel almost never referred to the demon as a separate entity. Angel said, I did this. Or, when I was there. Or, I enjoyed it.
Wesley had always found that strange, never more so than now.
"This is rich," Angelus snarled, pulling at the chains that bound him. Wesley could see blood dripping behind the chair, no doubt trickling from the newly lacerated skin at Angel's wrists. (Or were they Angelus' wrists now? Who owned this body? No way ever to know.) "You people think you're gonna get rid of me as easy as this? You think you can have the soul without the demon? What fools."
Trying to pretend that Angelus' words didn't mirror his own fears, Wesley turned back to Father Augustine, who was studying the vampire calmly, and Cordelia, who looked anything but calm. "We ought to hurry," Wesley said in a low voice. "He's tearing himself up in those chains --"
"He can't get out," Cordelia said, her voice slightly shaky.
"No, but he's causing damage Angel will have to suffer for later."
"We should hurry in any case," Father Augustine said. "The demon grows stronger with every moment of dominance."
"Fine. Great. Get all chanty and incensy and whatever. Just get Angelus out of there," Cordelia said.
"It is not so simple," Father Augustine replied. "We are using the oldest and most powerful form of the ritual. His counterattacks will no doubt be vicious. For this reason, each of us will take one section of the ritual."
"You mean, Wesley and I have to do this too?" Cordelia said. "Boy, you know when a great time to mention this would've been? Anytime before NOW."
"To speak of it earlier would have been to warn the demon," Father Augustine said.
"And this isn't warning him?" Cordelia snapped.
"He will not have sufficient time to prepare if we act quickly," Father Augustine said sharply. "Which of you has known Angel longer?"
Cordelia half-raised her hand. Father Augustine pulled out a battered old book and handed it to her. "At the top of the page. Begin."
"Cordelia -- are you sure you can --"
"Wesley, it's okay," she said. "Better get it over with."
She turned to face Angelus, who was smirking at her -- nothing new there, but nothing good there either. She started to read. "I confront you, demon, in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit --"
"Listen to all of you. Over there whispering like I couldn't hear you. You keep trying to show off how smart you are, Cordelia -- keep trying to show us all that there's a brain beneath all that hairspray. Or a heart under that push-up bra. But then you go and do something stupid like letting me hear you, and the truth will out."
Keep reading, she told herself. You've heard worse than that. "The body is the temple of Christ. God shall not suffer a profaner within the temple, and ye -- ye? -- shall be cast out of the temple --"
"This body hasn't been God's temple in a real long time, Cordy," Angelus. "For a couple hundred years now, it's been nothing but a corpse. I just drag it around with me. You like to forget that, don't you?"
Then, right then -- she knew it, even as it was happening, but couldn't stop it all the same -- he punctured her defenses. She'd prepared herself for the insults, at least she thought so. But this -- oh, dammit, he had a point.
"The demon isn't the intruder here," he continued, in his slow, silky voice. "The demon's right at home. The soul -- that's another story."
The exorcism was all about casting out something that didn't belong. Did the demon belong -- more than the soul? Was that possible?
And in her moment of doubt and confusion, he turned his blade sideways and slipped its narrow edge in.
"You've been wondering if I'd ever fall in love with you."
Cordelia's voice choked in her throat. The holy book almost slipped from her hand. She was suddenly terribly aware of Wesley's presence. "I -- no. No. Your place is, is, is in hell, I mean, in pernicious hell, and there you will be, uh --"
"I do look at you, you know. I mean, I'm dead, not made of stone. You've got a body that just doesn't quit, baby," Angelus had narrowed his eyes, pursed his lips, dropped his gaze lower than her face. "And you know what? I'd love to just shoot you down, tell you I never thought about it, but I gotta tell the truth. The idea has definitely crossed my mind."
"There you will be cast among the demons and the dark ones and the night," Cordelia blurted out, hating herself for her hesitation, hating herself for wanting to hear what Angelus would say next. "You will return to your rightful place, your history, your past --"
"Do you know why, Cordelia?" Angelus said softly, shifting in his seat so that he almost looked relaxed. "Do you know why I think about fucking you?"
"Your past -- your past shall be as your future --"
"Because I know it's safe, honey. No curse to worry about with you. No perfect happiness on the horizon. I don't love you. So that means I could throw you down and bang you senseless, and I'd be able to just get up, walk away, and leave all the evilness before you locked in the closet like a bad little boy. You'd be -- convenient, Cordelia. Isn't it nice to know you could finally be of use?"
"Cordelia --" Wesley said, and she didn't immediately register the pain in his voice. All she could perceive was the crushing weight in her chest, the heat of the blood that had flushed in her cheeks.
"Your past shall be as your future," she said, her voice thick and painful to utter. "Hell is your rightful home, and you shall return there and be as you once were. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen." And with that, she turned on her heel, thrust the book at Father Augustine and ran out of the room.
Cordelia pushed the heavy metal door open and blindly stumbled into the alleyway; she groaned as she realized it was raining, a faint, cool mist that turned the world gray. She backed up to the brick wall of the building, allowing herself the scanty shelter of the rusty old fire escape. As she covered her face with her hands, she took in a shaky breath.
He knew, she thought. He knew, and all that meant to him was --
Father Augustine felt pity for the girl's humiliation, but remained focused on his task. "Your turn is next," he said, turning to Wesley. To his surprise, Wesley no longer stood by his side, but was hurrying to the door. "Sir! You are forgetting yourself."
"I'm not, actually," Wesley said, almost apologetically. "It's just that we -- I mean, I should --"
"She shouldn't be alone," Angelus said. "She's just so vulnerable right now."
"Silence, demon," Father Augustine said.
"Bite me," Angelus said. "Wait, no, it goes the other way around."
Father Augustine ignored the demon's rantings. "We must hurry."
"I know," Wesley said. "But we need her here."
He was out the door before Father Augustine could ask precisely why they needed her there, now that her work was done. Little matter, he told himself. They could spare a few minutes for the young man to comfort Cordelia. And he had heard a hundred demons in a dozen countries curse his name; he knew how to endure.
Angelus was staring at him, his eyes small and dark. "That vow of celibacy's a bitch, isn't it? Believe me, I know way the hell too much about it. About the way you get hungrier and hungrier for one good --"
Father Augustine looked back at the door and began wishing for Wesley to walk back through it.
"Cordelia?" The door squeaked open once more, but Cordelia didn't turn to Wesley. Instead she looked away, toward the far end of the alley, where rain-dark cars swished through the mist.
"I'm fine," she said quietly. "I got through my part, didn't I?'
"So, end of story. Don't you need to go do your thing now?"
"We have a few moments. I wanted -- I wanted to make certain you were all right."
"He's still chained up in his chair, right? No broken bones here."
"That's not the damage I was most worried about." Cordelia looked over at Wesley then, and instead of the judgment or shock she'd expected, she saw only genuine concern. "There's no use in pretending that I didn't hear, Cordelia. I realize that we don't really talk all that much, but, I thought -- maybe -- you would want to talk about this."
Think again, she wanted to say. But instead, the words she heard coming out of her mouth were, "It's not like I was in love with him or anything."
They were both quiet for a moment, until Wesley gently said, "I know that. But I had thought, perhaps, that -- you cared."
"Not that way. I mean, not really that way, not most of the time. I mean -- oh, I don't know what I mean." Cordelia hugged herself and glanced back at Wesley. "It's just that Angel came along when I was so down-and-out. I ran into him at a party -- did you know that's how we met up again? But I acted all haughty and rude to him. Like I was still some big deal. But I didn't have anything. I hadn't eaten in two days. I was -- this rich guy said he was interested in me, and I went to his house to -- I thought, it's just my body, it doesn't matter, that's not what matters about me -- but I knew what I was going to be. And then it turned out he was a vampire, and I was just a meal for him, but then Angel came in --"
"He saved your life," Wesley said.
After a moment, Cordelia shook her head. "Yeah, but that's not the important part. He saved -- something else, something I was getting ready to give away. You'd probably use some old-timey word like 'virtue' or 'honor' or something, but that's not exactly what I mean -- all I know is, Angel saved me from losing that. He gave me a job, and he listened to me, and when Doyle died he was there for me -- " She lifted a hand to her face, as if she could somehow hold back the words, hold back the feelings they represented. "We got close. And when you get close to somebody, I mean, you can't help but wonder. Wonder if you might get -- even closer. Especially if he's totally hot."
"Only natural," Wesley said gently.
"I tried to hide it, but he saw, and all he thought --"
"Stop," Wesley interrupted, as he put his hand on her shoulder. "You don't know what Angel thinks of all this. Only what Angelus told you. Angelus wants only to hurt you; he can't be trusted, Cordelia. You mustn't take what he says as the truth."
"I know that," she said, then straightened up. "I do know that. I just kinda forgot there, for a second."
"Angelus is persuasive. It's one of his weapons." Wesley looked as though he wanted to say more, but he didn't -- just kept leaning against the wall with Cordelia, getting damp in the mist.
"Your turn's coming up," Cordelia said. "And you're freaked."
"Don't blame ya."
"Cordelia, I -- I know it's asking a lot, but -- would you come back in with me?" Cordelia stared at him, and he shook his head. "I tell myself that I'm ready to hear what he has to say, but I wonder."
"And -- you want me there?"
"Yes," he said, his voice carrying the same note of surprise as her own. "I do. If you can take it."
She squared her shoulders. "Bring it on."
Wesley did not look at Angelus as he and Cordelia walked back in. He thought it would be easier to focus his attention on Father Augustine, at least until he saw that Father Augustine was scowling a bit. Wesley never dealt well with rejection from authority figures, and from a priest, no less, the scowl was rather disquieting. He would have liked to say something like, the last thing I need is a lecture. Or, Cordelia needed help, and that's important whether you understand it or not -- whether I understand it or not.
Instead, he said, "Where does my part begin?"
"At the top of this page," Father Augustine said as he held the book out to Wesley. "Hurry. The sections of the rite must be completed in sequence, quickly, or we lose our binding power --"
"Give it up already," Angelus said from his chair, his voice sending shivers of dread up Wesley's back. "Cordelia might lack in the brain department, but she's got a little backbone, I'll give her that -- or keep it for myself. But Wesley? Spineless as a jellyfish."
Wesley snatched the book away from Father Augustine and turned to face Angelus. He'd faced him down once, after all -- and sent him sprawling into an elevator shaft. Now, with the demon tied helpless in a chair, he had nothing to fear but a few snide words --
"In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, I cast thee out --"
"You cast me out of my own home? Don't think so, Wes. I bet you can't even step on a spider. You scoop it up on a bit of newspaper, let it wander out on the windowsill, don't you?"
"How did you -- oh. Oh. I cast thee out, that the spirit within thee may be free again to walk in the light of God."
"You couldn't even raise a hand to Faith, could you?"
Faith. The name cut through him like ice, like metal, like shards of broken glass. That nerve in his arm, the one that still felt numb in the mornings, seemeed to vibrate within him, one long note of pain.
"The spirit will know the truth of God, and the spirit will know the word of God." Wesley knew his voice was not so loud as it had been a few moments before, hated himself for it, tried to stand up a little straighter. "The demon is the scourge of God, and we shall not suffer it to remain --"
"You came down there to kill her. Was it revenge, or were you doing it for me? I wasn't ever sure about that. But I heard you, heard that knife you dropped as it hit the concrete. If you were just bounding to the rescue -- because, you know, you could really help a whole lot against Faith -- then I can see it. But it wasn't, was it?"
He knew I was there. I had to go back inside, catch my breath, try to believe what I'd seen. He came for me so much later -- so much later, and he knew I was standing there, all the while, knew what I had seen -- "And we shall not suffer it to remain. Let free the soul held captive within the body, let free the body held captive by the demon."
"You know why I picked Faith, don't you? Why I helped her instead of you? Come to think of it, you probably haven't been able to figure that one out. But I bet you're just a little bit curious, aren't ya, Wes?"
Wesley's fingers couldn't seem to catch the thin edges of paper to turn the page -- God, how embarrassing, to be sweating and trembling because of nothing more than words. How humiliating, to be made to remember all this, and to want to remember. To want to know.
"Faith had her knocks, you know? The bad home life, the drunk mom, the guys who used her -- just thinking about it chokes me right up. But you gotta give her credit; no matter how hard you hit her, she just bounces back again. Can't tear that one down. And you, Wes, you're a house of cards. Just a matter of time before you crumble under for good. So which horse was I gonna bet on, Wesley? Which one of you was I gonna play? Who was worth getting on the leash? You tell me."
Wesley could hear Cordelia shifting on her feet behind him, no doubt in embarrassment or impatience or some mixture thereof. He didn't want to think about the expression of contempt that was no doubt on the priest's face. And he hated the triumphant glare with which Angelus was studying his face.
No way out but through, he told himself, and mustered up the will to continue. "The future of the spirit and the future of the demon shall be separate. We divide thee from the body, oh demon --"
'You want to know the saddest thing of all, Wes, my boy? I cut you loose, but I got you anyway. I rubbed your face in it but good, and what did you do? You just came back crawling and wagging your tail like a bad dog. I rewarded Faith for torturing you, and you took it."
"We divide thee from the body, oh demon," Wesley repeated, his voice by now a hoarse whisper. "Forever more shall the spirit and demon be twain."
And with that he turned away from Angelus, shoulder slumped as though he had been defeated. For one moment he dared to lift his eyes to Cordelia's; she was looking at him with a gentleness that almost leavened his humiliation. Wesley surrendered the book to Father Augustine.
"Now, demon," Father Augustine said, his rich voice echoing from the concrete walls, "your time is short."
"Bragging," Angelus said. "Such a turnoff." But he seemed far less interested in Father Augustine than he was in Wesley and Cordelia.
"Seems like I remember Buffy talking about you two having the hots for each other, once upon a time," Angelus said. "Seems like I remember some slow-dancing going on at the glamorous Sunnydale High prom, for which I cannot BELIEVE I rented a tux. The thought of you two having sex -- that puts me right off my lunch. But I gotta ask: Did that happen? Did Wesley have the balls to ball you, Cordy?"
Father Augustine showed no sign of surprise or hesitation, but plowed on with damnable, enviable calm. "Here and now, demon, you shall be cast from the body. We begin the warding chant, which will repel thee from the body and cast thee into thy proper hell --"
The priest began a chant in a language so arcane even Wesley did not know it; Angelus showed no sign of even being troubled. He kept glaring at Wesley and Cordelia as his visage slowly vamped.
"I've thought of all the ways I'd like to kill you two, you know," Angelus said. "Want a preview of coming attractions? Because it's almost as much fun to tell as to execute. Almost. See, first there's this thing with a meathook -- you spear somebody just right, and they can hang there for days before they die. Sounds about right for you, Cordy --"
And his face shifted again. The vampire fangs retracted, the forehead smoothed, and the eyes went from yellow to brown. Angelus trembled in his chair -- no, Wesley thought, shook, as though he were having a seizure, or as if he alone could feel the tremors of some powerful earthquake.
"It's happening!" Cordelia whispered, clutching at Wesley's arm. "The exorcism's working!"
But Father Augustine shook his head.
"What the --" Wesley breathed.
"No," Angelus snarled through clenched teach, then shouted, "NO!"
He threw his head back, hard, against the back of the chair, again, three times, then fell limp. Wesley involuntarily took a step forward.
Angel looked up, his eyes wet, his expression once again his own -- full of doubt, remorse, shame. "Angel?" Cordelia said.
"I -- I couldn't take it --" Angel said. "I couldn't hear those words coming out of my mouth --"
"It's all right," Wesley said. "We know it wasn't you."
"But it was me," Angel said, shaking his head, dropping his face so he couldn't meet their eyes. "It was. That's what you don't understand."
"I don't get this," Cordelia said. "You didn't do that chimey thing on the crystal."
"We knew there was a chance that Angel would be able to break the hypnotic trance at will," Wesley said. "One of the reasons we tried this instead of drugs."
Father Augustine took Angel's shoulder in his hand. "I realize that it is difficult for you to endure the demon's dominance," he said. "But if we are to continue, we must act quickly. Every moment we interrupt the ritual, we lose the hold we have gained over the demon."
"Just give me a moment," Angel said dully. "It's hard. It -- it hurts."
Wesley hesitated, remembering times in his life when he had spoken those words and no one had listened. He said, "Angel -- are you certain you want to go through with this?"
"What?" Cordelia said. "Wesley, that's nuts! We're, like, this close. Come on, Angel!"
"We're essentially torturing Angel, and for a rather uncertain result," Wesley said roughly.
After a pause, Angel said. "I've already hurt you both so much. Don't pretend it's not true."
Cordelia hung her head for a moment before saying in a low voice. "It's worth it if we finish this."
Angel considered that for a moment, then said, "Cordy, you told me before that you thought this was a bad idea," Angel said. "Well, you were right and I was wrong."
"Although I would normally want to get those words engraved on something shiny, this is so not breakthrough time," Cordelia said. "If I can deal, so can you."
"This is not an argument we're going to have," Wesley said, with something that sounded surprisingly like authority. "Before, we talked about how this was something Angel had the right to choose. He has the right not to choose it, too. This is over. Please, let's end this."
They were all silent for a moment longer until Father Augustine said, "You have controlled this demon for many years. I pray that you will be able to retain that control." And with that, he closed the little prayer book.
"I don't believe it," Cordelia said, her voice harsh in the echoing room. "I can't believe I went through -- all that stuff, and for nothing."
"Cordelia, there's no point in arguing any longer," Wesley said tiredly.
"I'm not arguing. I'm just telling it like I see it. Angel doesn't want his demon gone? Fine. Honestly, sometimes I think you like having that demon inside you," she said, staring at Angel. "It gives you someone to blame."
Wesley grabbed her arm sharply. "Cordelia, this is not the time to say something you'll --"
"Something I'll regret? Seems like the theme of the evening to me," Cordelia said. But she stepped forward with him to unshackle Angel, who still would not meet their eyes. Even as he stood up, rubbing his cut and roughened wrists, he held himself a little apart them from, as though unable to bear their gaze or touch.
A few moments of leaden silence passed before anyone spoke. "You are well?" Father Augustine finally said.
"As I'll ever be," Angel said.
"We should go home now," Wesley said gently, hoping to soothe both Cordelia's wrath and Angel's apparent misery. "You probably need some rest, Angel. And -- didn't you have a big day tomorrow, Cordelia?"
"I feel all right," Angel said, flexing his hands slightly as if testing his own words.
"Well, then, you go on out and paint the town red," Cordelia huffed. She grabbed up the duffle bag she'd brought along and began piling their various equipment inside. "I still have an audition to prepare for."
"Perhaps it would do us all good to take a bit of a break," Wesley ventured. "Get some space. We can talk about all this after we'd had a bit of a rest."
"No space for you," Cordelia said. "I need you to help run lines."
"Now, why do you want Wesley to help you with that?" Wesley and Cordelia both stared over at Angel as he spoke. Saw the smile that began spreading across his face. Transforming it.
"After all, if you want to learn about acting -- learn from a pro," Angelus said.
Angelus took one step toward Cordelia. "Come to think of it, didn't we have a date for later on?"
Cordelia screamed. Wesley gasped. Father Augustine, a man who had learned to trust his instincts, leapt quickly into the protective circle.
Wesley grabbed Cordelia's right arm -- at the exact same moment Angelus grabbed her left. The duffle bag she'd been holding fell to the floor at Angelus' feet, and Father Augustine felt his spirits collapse with it.
"Cordelia, come on!" Wesley cried, attempting to pull her toward the protective circle.
"Ooooh, tug of war. Fun," Angelus said, increasing his grip on the young woman's wrist until Father Augustine feared her bones would crack. "Is this gonna be like a wishbone thing? See who gets the bigger half?"
Cordelia lurched back hard; at that moment, Angelus let go entirely. The sudden lack of resistance sent her sprawling backwards into Wesley, and they both fell to the floor. Angelus delivered a savage kick to Wesley's gut and laughed when he cried out -- but he made no move to stop either of them as they scuttled into the circle. Father Augustine tugged them deeper within the slender boundary between their salvation and their doom. Once all three of them lay there, panting and weak, Angelus stepped right up to the edge and folded his arms across his chest.
"Turn back, demon," Father Augustine said. "This place is holy and will not admit you."
"Yeah, yeah, I know the drill," Angelus said lazily. "No big deal. If I were in a big hurry to kill these two, I would've done it a minute ago."
"Angel?" Wesley said hoarsely; the breath had apparently been knocked out of him. "Angel, are you in there? Can you stop this?"
"If he could, don't you think he would?" Angelus said. "Hypnosis is a tricky thing, Wesley my boy. Can't predict what'll happen. Oh, that reminds me." Angelus stepped over to the duffle bag with their equipment, lying abandoned on the floor. They all watched helplessly as Angelus lifted out the hypnotic crystal. "Seeing as how this thing set me free, I ought to consider it a keepsake. But I don't think so."
And with that, he threw the crystal as hard as he could against the wall. Cordelia jumped as it smashed against the concrete and exploded into a thousand glittering pieces. "Oh, no," she breathed.
"Oh, yes," Angelus said. "I'm back in business, and the world has you three to thank. Believe me, I am grateful down to the bottom of my heart. For instance, if I ever do decide to kill you, I promise, it'll be quick. No more than an hour or two, tops."
"We're gonna be waiting for you," Cordelia said desperately. "You know what I told Angel. I said I'd stake him if he turned evil, and -- and I will. I mean it."
"Like you could," Angelus said, sauntering up to the edge of the circle again and leering at Cordelia in a way that made the priest feel slightly sick. "More to the point, you're not gonna get much chance. I choose my victims carefully. I put a lot of time and thought into just the best way to make their lives a hell, until I end them. Frankly, you people are going to take some serious planning. I could think of a good way to spend the next few days with you, Cordy; that's for damn sure. But there's girls twice as sexy out there who don't own any crossbows at all.
"Someday, sure, I'll look you up," he continued as he turned to walk away. "It might be two days. It might be twenty years. Telling you when -- well, that would remove all the suspense, wouldn't it? And I want you to surprised."
Angelus looked back over his shoulder as he paused at the door. "Here's one hint, though: It won't be tonight. Right now I have more important things to do. I'm a young man, just starting out; I need to -- win friends. Influence people. Make my way in the world."
And with that he was gone, instantly vanishing into the night.
They were all quiet for a moment after he'd left. Then Cordelia breathed, "Oh, FUCK."
Father Augustine hesitated before he spoke; he was in danger of agreeing with her. "This was -- unexpected."
"Thanks for that profound insight," Cordelia snapped. "Now what? Are we gonna live in this circle forever?"
"Just until we can get to that bag," Wesley said, in a calm, measured voice. Now that Father Augustine looked at him, he could see how intent the young man was, how steady, how carefully he was still listening for any sign of Angelus. "We have stakes in there, some holy water. The tranquilizer gun. Protection."
"Protection for how long? We basically tied up our best friend and dropped him in the trunk of a mad killer. Said mad killer is going to hunt us down sooner or later, and later's not that much better than sooner," Cordelia said.
"Protection for long enough to get us to a phone," Wesley said.
"So we can call Buffy," Cordelia said. "Oh, God, is she gonna be pissed."
"True," Wesley said. "But she is not only our best hope of stopping Angelus, but she is also probably his first target. We must warn her. If Angelus simply shows up in Sunnydale --"
"She'll think it's Angel," Cordelia finished. "And won't even know to fight him until it's too late. Oh, no."
Father Augustine frowned. He'd thought he'd met all the people involved in the ritual -- and, he'd assumed, Angel's circle of acquaintance. "Who is this Buffy?"
"Angel's ex-girlfriend. Also the Slayer. You know what the Slayer is?" Cordelia asked.
"The protector of humanity," Father Augustine replied. Certain vague things Angel had told him about his curse, words about perfect happiness, about release, began to take on shape and meaning. "She was -- they were --"
"All snuggly, not so long ago," Cordelia said. "Which was actually how Angelus got out the last time. So I don't guess Miss True Love gets to bitch at us that much, now that I think about it."
Wesley was on his feet now, tensed and ready. "All right then. On the count of three."
Cordelia started, "One -- two --"
Wesley bolted, grabbed the bag and jumped back into the circle with an astonishing speed and agility. Cordelia blurted out, "That wasn't three."
"Well, if he had been listening -- as well he was off his guard," Wesley explained, handing stakes to Cordelia and Father Augustine. "Father, you'd be as well off going back to the parish. If you have any friends in the community you can contact, people who could help --"
"I will summon what assistance I can," Father Augustine said.
"And we'll break it to Buffy," Cordelia muttered.
He watched the two young people -- wretched in their misery, beautiful in their courage -- scramble out into the night. Their friend had come to him for help; they had trusted his judgment, believed that he would use the discretion of his mind, instead of following the tenderness of his heart. Father Augustine closed his eyes for one moment.
Later. There would be time for the guilt and the grief later. Now he had to prepare for the return of the demon.
From his perch on a rooftop, Angelus looked out over the city. He had liked to do this before, though his thoughts then were so predictable, so maudlin. Whenever he had looked at the lights, he imagined the lives they represented, imagined himself protecting those lives. Envied the happiness he believed they felt.
But now, Angelus saw the lights as an expanse of opportunity such as he'd never known. His soul had overtaken him just before the advent of electrical lighting; Angelus had been forced to do most of his hunting in an era in which the majority of people were at home before dark. Practicing his trade in those days took skill. Patience. Craft. If you aimed higher than an endless diet of prostitutes and dockyard thugs -- and Angelus always had -- you could spend weeks or months plotting out the means for a truly fine kill, and still be frustrated. But electric lighting meant that people stayed up later. Stayed out later. Stayed vulnerable. Humanity was there for the taking, and the challenge now would wholly be a matter of artistry. He felt a bit like a painter who had made do with a few tubes of color, only to be gifted with a rich and varied pallette.
Sunnydale had given him an all-too-brief taste of the luxuries an electric world had to offer the vampire, but the town was too small, too quiet, to really provide the best hunting grounds. But Los Angeles -- oh, he could spend a dozen lifetimes here and never even come close to drinking his fill.
He inahled deeply -- not for breath, but for scent. The rain had just stopped falling, so the air was disappointingly clear, but he could still tell so much. Two women nearby: one with a fresh manicure, both with far too much hairspray, a little drunk --
No, not yet. He wasn't really hungry, and they would be so easy, so cheap.
Besides, there were more important things to take care of first.
Like beheading a certain blonde.
Cordelia had her knees hugged to her chest as she huddled against the passenger door of her own car. She'd begged off driving, claiming that she was too upset for it. Wesley was shaking a little, taking deep breaths as he went, but so far, he seemed to be holding together a whole lot better than she was.
But that had to be -- that could only be -- because Wesley wasn't thinking what she was thinking. About the way this might have to end.
Finally she said, in a tiny voice, "We don't have to kill him, do we?"
"I hope not," Wesley said. "We should be able to end the trance, as soon as we find a replacement for the crystal --"
"And how are we gonna do that?" Cordelia said. "Just drop on by Ancient Meditation Crystals Warehouse?"
"They're actually a rather popular item at Rick's," Wesley replied. "Our greater problem will be finding Angelus before he does any harm. At least there's no way he can reach Sunnydale before sunrise. We'll have time to warn Buffy."
"Because, as always, Buffy's the first and only thing on his mind," Cordelia muttered, and Wesley grimaced a little at the bitterness in her voice. But after a moment, Cordelia straightened up and looked over at him. "Wait a sec. What if she's not?"
"What if he's not going after Buffy first?"
"Possible," Wesley said. "But certainly he'll return to Sunnydale very soon. That still represents our best chance of finding him."
"I'm not so sure," Cordelia said. "Remember what he said when we were in the circle? He said he was gonna win friends and influence people. What does that remind you of?"
"I believe it was a self-help book of some sort. Dale Carnegie, was it?"
Cordelia shook her head impatiently. "No, no. Yesterday, when we were at the old office and Kate showed up with her Fraulein Fuhrer act?"
"That's a bit harsh."
"Says you. But that's what she said to Angel. That he really knew how to win friends and influence people."
They rode in silence for a moment as Wesley considered. Slowly, he said, "He could simply have been reminded of the phrase."
"Or it could just be coincidence," Cordelia admitted.
For a few more moments, they were quiet, and then Wesley looked over at Cordelia again. She glanced back at him. "We've got to find Kate," he said.
"You're not on the domestic-terrorism task force, are you, Lockley? No? Then why the hell won't you let this go?"
Her supervisor's words were still ringing in her ears hours later. He'd been angry at her, and with good reason; Kate was neglecting other work to do this. Spending her free time snooping around a crime scene that was probably none of her business. She had admitted it, apologized, promised to direct her efforts elsewhere.
And yet, here it was, the small hours of the morning, and she was looking at the burned-out hulk of a building that had housed Angel Investigations, not so long ago.
"I have got to be crazy," Kate said. Nobody heard, except possibly the homeless woman crouched on a nearby corner, but even she gave no sign, just kept muttering to herself and rocking back and forth.
Kate sighed and took another deep swallow of coffee straight from the thermos. She didn't really need the caffeine; these days, she seemed to run on some strange, ever-ready source of energy, something that burned inside her day and night. Something that sometimes seemed to be burning her up.
Just nine months ago, everything in her life made sense. She was a cop. She had duties and responsibilities, most of them laid out nice and neat, in writing, for handy reference. She did her job, did it well, won the approval of coworkers and superiors. She had a couple of guy friends at the station who were good for a beer or a game of poker sometimes. She didn't have any girl friends, but she didn't much feel the lack. She had a dad. Maybe he wasn't the greatest dad in the world, but he was there -- and she maybe, just maybe, had a chance of finally winning some respect from the man. And when Angel walked into her life, she had thought, for the first time in way the hell too long, that she might have found a man who wasn't intimidated by her job or her strength. Who had his own sense of self, his own intelligence, his own drive. Who just happened to be damn good- looking on top of all that.
Now she had a reputation as the station psycho, an obsession with things she used to laugh off in horror movies, the fact that her last date had both witnessed her public humiliation and turned out to be undead, and a small plot in a cemetery where she could kneel in the dirt and finally pour out all the words she'd wanted to say to her father, now that he could never hear.
And the only thing all those changes had in common? Angel.
Fallacy of causation, she reminded herself. Angel's connected to all of this, yeah. But did he make any of it happen? Or do I just need somebody to blame for the total destruction of my life?
Intellectually, she knew that Angel had not killed her father. But that was the beginning and the end of what she knew about him; everything else was jumbled up, confused, dark and terrifying and mesmerizing all at once.
She looked again at the blackened rubble of the building. Kate leaned back against her car, trying to remind herself how soft and warm her bed would be, how much better she'd feel in the morning if she'd spent more time sleeping, less time knocking around this place.
Besides, when she'd been here the day before, Angel honestly looked pretty depressed, pretty shaken up. Like most of the fire and accident victims she'd seen, he'd been half-angry, half-zoned. His friend -- yeah, call him that -- really had been hurt in the blast. Surely Angel wouldn't have endangered him. Or destroyed his own home.
So why can't I believe it? she thought.
After a moment, Kate screwed the lid on the thermos and tossed it back into the car, then doublechecked her weapon before reholstering it and heading into the building. If this checks out, she told herself, then that's an end to it. If Angel didn't have anything to do with this, then I'm just gonna let him be. Let the whole thing be. He can go after the creepy-crawlies from another dimension, and I'll stick to the human criminal element.
If this checks out.
As she carefully stepped underneath the yellow CRIME SCENE tape, she felt a tiny shiver in her back, as though she were being watched. Kate whirled around, took a look at the area -- and saw nothing besides the old homeless woman, now staring at her with frank interest.
Kate shook her head as she turned back toward the door. "Lockley, you're losing it."
"What are we going to do if he kills her?" Cordelia said as Wesley struggled to keep the car steady through a sharp turn at high speed. "I mean, it's not like he can help it or anything, but you know Angel. King of Guilt. He'd never get over it."
"Although I realize the situation would be problematic for Angel, I think it would be rather worse for Officer Lockley," Wesley pointed out.
"Like I care," Cordelia muttered.
"Cordelia, you don't mean that," Wesley chided -- gently, he thought. So he was surprised when she dropped her face into her hands. "Cordelia?" he said again.
"I don't know if I mean it or not," Cordelia said. "I keep telling myself this is the new-and-improved Cordelia Chase. But I feel just like the old Cordelia. Right now I ought to be worrying about Kate and Buffy and the rest of humanity. But all I want is my friend back, so we can all go home and get some sleep."
"That's not wrong," Wesley said. "I'd rather like that myself. But we do have to stay focused on, ah, the big picture."
"I don't do big-picture," Cordelia said miserably. "I seem to be a small-picture person."
"Nonsense," Wesley said. "Why, ever since we first met, I've seen you plunging into the most frightening battles the Hellmouth had to offer. You've never shied from the hardest work."
To his surprise, this speech only seemed to dampen her spirits further. She shook her head. "You never saw the real me. You just saw what I wanted you to see."
"That's ridiculous. You were always in the library, always volunteering to help out --"
Cordelia muttered something he couldn't quite catch. "What was that?"
"I said, that was -- that was only because I was trying to impress you. Because I had a crush on you," she said, then added in a rush, "Way back then a whole long time ago."
"Right," he said, a bit embarrassed by their first acknowledgment of that long-ago infatuation. Then he thought -- good Lord, after what we've each heard tonight, what is there to be embarrassed about?
"Cordelia, I don't know about your motives, but I know that you understood the work we were doing. How dangerous it was, how much depended on our success. You knew that facing the Mayor could very well have lead to your death. And you never once flinched from the prospect. I may not have seen the real you, but I saw -- the best you. As far as I'm concerned, that is the real you, more and more every day."
She looked over at him for the first time in a while, a soft light in her face he hadn't seen in a while. "You really think that?"
"I really do."
"That's the nicest thing anybody's said to me in a long time," Cordelia said. "Maybe ever."
"You deserve it," Wesley said. "Besides, I spent a fair amount of time pretending to be brave for your benefit. Though I don't see how you or anyone could have been fooled." When she grinned, he could feel himself smiling back despite everything else that was happening - -
Good Lord, man, he thought. Concentrate. "We're almost at the office. If she's not there, we'll head straight to police headquarters, try to get in touch with her there."
"Right," Cordelia said, squaring her shoulders as if for action. But she was still looking over at him. "Wesley?"
"If it weren't for all her superpowers and stuff, you would totally kick Faith's ass."
Wesley stared at her, and she shrugged, a little sheepishly. "I know it's not some big poetic speech or something --"
"No, no," Wesley said, smiling again. "That was marvelous. Wildly untrue, but marvelous."
Angelus looked down through the web of exposed, dead wires and bare metal beams that had once comprised the roof of his building. He could see the layers of his old existence, strewn in ruins, rendered black by fire.
And he could hear her footsteps as she gingerly made her way up the rickety stairs, her cough as she inhaled stray cinders.
Oh, Kate, he thought. You're so damn sure of yourself, so sure of everything. Sure that I'm some madman out to get the law-abiding, god- fearing citizens of Los Angeles, assuming there are any. Sure that it's safe to stop wanting me, okay to start hating me. And I do so love proving someone right.
"What's the plan?" Cordelia whispered as she grabbed the duffle bag of supplies from the back seat.
"I wish we had anything so elaborate as a plan," Wesley answered, glancing over at Kate's police car in front of their battered former building, as though his repeated looks would be enough to summon her back to it, safe and sound. "I suppose we're just going to find Officer Lockley and tell her --"
"Tell her what?" Cordelia said. "The truth? She'll kill Angel in ten seconds flat, assuming she doesn't get herself killed trying."
"And the latter's far more likely," Wesley sighed. He took the tranquilizer gun from the duffle bag, felt the reassuring weight of it, the trigger against his finger. "Point taken. We'll tell her that a demon's loose nearby and we think it might enter the building. That's true, so far as it goes."
"And when Angelus jumps out all evil, then what?"
"Then I hit him with this," Wesley said, lifting the gun slightly for emphasis, "and Officer Lockley can ask all the questions she likes. I doubt even she would stake him when he was unconscious and obviously harmless."
"I'm not so sure," Cordelia said. She lifted up a pair of handcuffs from the bag. "Then again, if she won't listen to reason, I am bondage girl."
Kate sat on her heels and traced a line through the soot with her finger. Oily, acrid, strangely smooth -- in other words, plain old ordinary soot.
She'd been wondering if this were some kind of supernatural fire, something born of spells or shamans. Instead, she didn't see much of anything that couldn't have been caused by a faulty popcorn popper.
Well, okay. A faulty popcorn popper that had been strapped to some TNT. But the explosive traces the lab team had picked up were all easily categorized. The fire had burned wood and been doused by water. Everything had been normal, as explosions go.
"A supernatural assassin," she muttered, and frowned. Leave it to Angel to have Satan put a hit on him. Then again, if Angel were telling the truth about this evil thing from beyond, then why wasn't this place -- oh, glowing green or sucked into another dimension or something? What does a supernatural creature need with TNT?
Then again, what did a supernatural creature need with an office? With business cards? With human friends?
Her ears pricked as she heard a door close by swing open. Kate sprang to her feet, put one hand on her weapon. "Angel?"
Angelus smiled. He was ready now, his body tense, his face relaxed into his hunter's visage. He imagined he could feel his prey's proximity on his skin, a borrowed heat second only to the stolen fire that would sink into his body with the blood he drank.
And now he could hear three heartbeats, each one hammering with terror he could smell even amid the smoke, sweeter all the time.
Cordelia inched her way up the stairs. She and Wesley had split up, which was not necessarily the safest way to go, but would probably let them find Kate quicker. Their old office building wasn't huge, but it covered more ground than Cordelia had ever realized before.
Wesley, who had better aim than she ever would, had taken the gun. This left Cordelia with a big duffle bag of stakes and handcuffs, which seemed to be clacking and clanking against each other louder every second. She peered inside for a moment to see what was rolling around -- then took up a tranquilizer gun cartridge, complete with pointed dart.
Oh, shit, she thought. Is Wesley's gun even loaded? Even as she thought this, she realized that it was; she'd watched him load it herself. But in her present panic, she couldn't remember if he'd carried extra ammunition with him.
Not like it matters, she consoled herself as she hugged the bag tightly against her body. He's only gonna get one shot as it is.
She had only the stakes to protect herself. She knew she might fail to stake him in the one try she'd get, a prospect that terrified her only slightly more than the thought of succeeding. Because however much she didn't want to die, she knew she wasn't ready to see Angel turning to dust at her hands. But she'd do it if she had to; she owed it to herself, and to Angel.
Cordelia thought, I don't know what else I'm feeling, Angel, but at least, as your friend, I love you. Enough to keep my promise. Enough to kill you.
Wesley kept moving through the first floor, crouching low, going stealthily, he hoped. His world seemed to have narrowed to the sights of the tranquilizer gun and the feel of his finger on the trigger.
He knew he was a failure at a lot of things, but dammit, he could shoot. And maybe, this once, that's all that was needed. That one good thing was going to outweigh all the rest, save Cordelia, save Kate, maybe even save Angel himself.
The floorboards creaked, and Wesley tensed. A slight shifting, clothes against clothes, confirmed his suspicion. Yes, that was close. The next room. He pushed the door open with his shoulder, ignoring the sound -- as best to bring his target closer now, and oh, yes, closer, footsteps approaching --
Wesley spun around the corner and brought his gun even with -- Kate's.
She was standing in a mirror of his own position, but with both her hands wrapped around a handgun. "What the hell are you doing here?" she said, her voice almost a growl.
"I -- I --" Good God, what was he going to tell her again? He straightened up, tried to look relaxed. "I might ask you the same question. Don't you need a warrant or something?"
"Take this as your first lesson in American criminal justice," Kate said dryly. "Major explosions usually constitute probable cause. Can't help but notice you've got a gun. That thing licensed?"
"It's a tranquilizer gun," Wesley hastily explained, his voice sounding unnaturally loud. If Angelus were in the building, he had to have heard them by now.
"So why are you trying to knock me out?"
"Oh, no, no. You're not -- I mean, I was looking for someone else. Something else."
Kate frowned and tightened her grip on her gun. "That would be what?"
Wesley looked at her for a long moment. "Officer Lockley, do you trust me?"
"I don't have a real good track record with that question," Kate said. "But I'll hear you out."
Above them, Wesley heard another set of footsteps -- too heavy to be Cordelia's. He saw Kate's eyes flicker upwards, following the sound. "I need you to search this building. If you see anyone or anything that isn't me or Cordelia, and I mean anyone, I want you to fire until you've immobilized -- what you saw. And then stop. Just stop. Don't do anything else. Will you promise to do that, and only that?"
"Where's Angel?" Kate said slowly.
Wesley found he couldn't answer. He turned on his heel and headed toward the stairs.
She'd cooperate or she wouldn't. Either way, he'd done his duty; Kate had been warned.
"Son of a bitch," Kate muttered, getting her back against the most- intact wall she could find. Something was going on here, something that had that meek little Englishman ready to fight, something that involved Angel in a very real, very bad way.
From now on, she thought, I am trusting my instincts.
She heard something fall -- jump? -- in the next hallway, and whirled toward the noise.
Cordelia could hear voices, just voices, not words. And that shivery little sound -- almost out of earshot -- made her shake all the way through. Who the hell was talking? Had Wesley found Kate? Had Angelus found her? What was going on? She wanted to call out, knew it was the worst thing she could possibly do.
When she hadn't been as deep within the building, the city lights had provided some illumination; enough spaces had been taken out of the walls to let in enough of the streetlamps' glow to see by. But now it was almost pitch dark, and this idea was seeming dumber by the second.
She slid halfway behind a support beam and tried to catch her breath. She was freaking out now, pure and simple, and she wasn't any good to anyone freaking out. So she would just go back and find Wesley, and they'd stick together from now on.
She'd go as soon as she could be sure she wouldn't start screaming.
Angelus grinned. How often did you get an opportunity like this? The opportunity to feast on this much terror, this much disappointed hope, all in the same moment?
Not often enough.
He dropped lightly from the rafters, only a few feet in front of his victim.
"Miss me?" Angelus said, smiling at the startled figure of Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.
Wesley fired -- at the same instant that one of the charred floorboards beneath his feet gave way. He stumbled, and Angelus didn't even have to duck. His one shot had been wasted.
"You did miss me," Angelus said. He stepped closer even as Wesley struggled to pry himself loose from the broken boards. "Why am I not surprised?"
Wesley got himself free one instant too late; Angelus' hands twisted around his coat lapels and pulled him close, bringing them face to face. "This was your big night, Wes. Your night to prove you could actually do something. And see how much you've accomplished. I'm proud of you, son."
On the word "son," Angelus flung Wesley across the room, delighting in the stifled cry of pain he heard as Wesley's body hit the floor. "You could't just let it go, could you? Couldn't just let me have my fun. I think by now it's obvious that you don't know who you're dealing with. Maybe it's time I taught you."
"We know exactly who we're dealing with."
Angelus turned around to see Cordelia in the corner, shaking violently but standing her ground. "If you knew who you were dealing with, Cordy, you wouldn't have come out of your little hidey-hole. I was kind of looking forward to prying you out myself."
"Cordelia!" Wesley gasped, obviously breathless from his tumble to the ground. "For God's sake, run --"
"Could be fun," Angelus said with a shrug, wondering idly if her human eyes could see his smile in the darkness. "Haven't you wanted me to chase you, Cordy? Get my hands on you, pull you close?"
"We know exactly who we're dealing with," Cordelia repeated, her voice a little stronger. "The only one who doesn't know is Angel."
"What are you on about?" Angelus said.
"You've got him fooled," Cordelia said. "The only reason we went through all this is because he's so scared of you. Of how strong you are, of how weak he thinks he is. He said -- he said he was your captive."
Angelus watched as she actually stepped forward, staring him down; however dark it was to her, he knew now that she could see his eyes. "But the thing is, anytime both of you are in that body -- you're never the one in control. The only way you can take over is when he gets thrown out by that curse or this stupid hypnotism thing. He's the strong one. And you? You're the captive."
"You'll lose your throat for that," Angelus snarled, leaping forward to grab Cordelia in his arms. She cried out as his hands closed over her shoulders and he pulled her roughly against him. "But not until I've made you scream --"
And that was when he felt it -- a tiny little jab in his side. He glanced down, saw Cordelia's fist jammed against his ribs -- and saw her pull it away, open up her fingers to reveal a tranquilizer dart.
"Bitch," he growled, shoving her down to the ground so hard her body went limp. Damn her to hell; yeah, he could do it, he could still take her. Angelus lowered himself over her, brought his fangs to her throat -- as the butt of the tranquilizer gun slammed into the side of his face.
"Get away from her," Wesley said, holding the gun in one hand and his side in the other. And Angelus could think of a million things to say that would make that guy crumple right over -- both of him -- all three --
And unconsciousness swam up to swallow him.
Kate took the stairs three at a time and sprang into the room to see - - Wesley, Cordelia and Angel, the latter two lying on the floor, the former looking as though he might topple over to join them any second. "What the hell is going on?" she said.
"Officer Lockley," Wesley said, with a sense of wonder as though he'd never really seen her before. Then he shook his head and repeated, "Officer Lockley. You're -- you're just in time."
"In time for what?"
"Owwww," Cordelia groaned from her place on the floor. "My head hurts. Oh, wait, that means I'm alive. Yay for pain."
"Cordelia, I was just about to tell Officer Lockely about the -- Wulxey demon -- that attacked all three of us."
"Exactly," Wesley said.
Kate glared at him, then at the prone figure of Angel on the floor. "You were chasing a demon?"
"Yes. Precisely. We had reason to believe it would, ah, seek out our former headquarters. Revenge. We'd foiled its plans before, you see."
"Revenge," Kate repeated.
"Yeah," Cordelia said, sounding much more confident than she had a moment ago, although she made no effort to sit up. "Yeah. He was -- real bitter."
"It just jumped all three of us. Afraid I missed my shot," Wesley said. "Knocked Cordelia out for a moment and, ah, appears to have knocked Angel out rather soundly."
"So where is it?" Kate said, glancing around the room.
After a moment, Wesley said, "Went out the window, I think. I confess I was so worried about Cordelia and Angel that I -- lost sight of it for a moment."
"What does it look like?" Kate said, heading for the window, gun still at the ready.
"It, ah -- it takes on the appearance of someone you trust," Wesley said in a rush, as if pleased to be telling her this. "It can look like anyone. Anything. Very tricky, the Wuxley."
"Whatsy," Cordelia said.
"Exactly," Wesley replied.
Kate looked at the street below. In the predawn hush, all she could see was the homeless woman from earlier, tiredly trudging toward another corner, another street. "I think it got away."
"Well, darn," Cordelia said.
"Don't fret, Cordelia!" Wesley said brightly. "We'll get that demon another day. Officer, would you mind doing us a favor?"
"Probably." When Wesley looked back at her, she sighed. "What?"
"Take Cordelia to the hospital, make certain she's all right."
"I'm fine," Cordelia protested, propping up on one elbow for a moment, then sinking back to the floor. "On the other hand, why turn down a chance for prescription painkillers?"
"That's as close to the line of duty as I've gotten in a while, so, okay. What about your boss?" Kate gestured toward Angel, still motionless on the floor.
Wesley quietly said, "Leave him to me."
Kate holstered her weapon and moved to Cordelia's side. As she helped the younger woman to her feet, she kept her eyes on Wesley. "I'm not stupid. I know you're not telling me everything."
"Forgive me, Officer, but I very much had the impression there were things you didn't want to know."
Kate raised an eyebrow at that. "Fair enough."
But, even as she guided Cordelia to the stairs, her eyes were hard.
"He's coming around."
"If he isn't fully conscious --"
"Hearing's the first sense to return." A chime sounded twice. Angel opened his eyes, and wakefulness and light and something far deeper flooded into him all at once. Blinking, he looked up into the two faces above him -- Wesley's pale one and Father Augustine's dark one - - and felt an all-too-familiar moment of confusion. Where was he? Cordelia's living room -- strange, he wasn't supposed to be there. Oh, the exorcism; were they done?
And memory came rushing in. And then shame. Angel shut his eyes again. "Oh, God."
"Angel?" Wesley asked. "How do you feel?"
For a long moment, Angel could not reply, could not even open his eyes to look at his friend. "How's Cordelia?" he finally managed.
"She's all right," Wesley said gently. "Concussion, muscle strain in her back and, she says, one particularly nasty bruise. It's in an area she won't show me."
"I'm fine. Bruised my ribs again. That's all," Wesley said. "Please don't worry."
"Worry," Angel said, his voice cracking on the word. "That doesn't begin to describe it."
"Angel," Father Augustine said, "I realize that this is a difficult moment for you, but I must ask: do you wish to attempt the exorcism again? Because if you do, the sooner we try it --"
"No," Angel said. "It's not worth the risk."
After a pause, Father Augustine quietly said, "I agree. The demon within you spoke truth, Angel. It is in its rightful place. To attempt to remove it was --"
"Insane?" Angel asked, opening his eyes to accept the priest's condemnation.
Instead he saw Father Augustine shake his head slowly. "Courageous, I would say. But perhaps futile. And not worth risking innocent lives."
"Thank you for trying, Father," Wesley said.
Father Augustine shook his head slightly. "No need. I do my duty. If you need me again, do not hesitate to call."
As the priest bustled out, Angel slowly turned his head to look at Wesley, who was standing next to the couch, looking down at him with an unreadable expression. Finally, Angel said, "I don't know what to do besides ask you to forgive me."
"That's all you need to do," Wesley said. "Angel, listen to me: it's all right. Really. We knew what we were getting into."
Angel shook his head. "You told me I shouldn't do this. I did it anyway. And whatever you signed up for didn't include almost getting killed."
"After seeing Angelus again, I can tell you that I can't blame you for wanting to be rid of him once and for all."
"Him," Angel repeated quietly. "Where's Cordelia?"
"Asleep in her room," Wesley said, gesturing toward her closed door. "The doctor wanted her in bed. Of course, we've got to wake her every four hours to make certain her head is all right." He knelt beside the sofa and held out a small key. "Here. Let me get those cuffs off."
Angel allowed himself to be unshackled, looked at the cracked skin on his wrists as they were freed from their steel. "Is Kate --"
"Unharmed and unknowing," Wesley said. "Though I believe her suspicions have been heightened, if such a thing were possible."
"Great," Angel sighed. He sat up slowly and looked over at Wesley again. This time he was able to take in Wesley's pallor, the shaded expression in his eyes. "You need some rest," Angel said.
"Wouldn't mind that at all," Wesley said. "The sleeping bag is already out, actually. So if you wouldn't mind waking Cordelia in two hours -- she said she wanted to speak to you as soon as possible --"
"Wes, take the couch," Angel said quickly.
"No, no," Wesley said. "Not my turn." He paused before adding, "You don't have anything to make up to me."
Angel sighed and put his forehead in his hand. "Wes --"
"If you did have anything to make up to me," Wesley said, in a odd, rushed voice, "it would be because those things he said were real. And we both know that they weren't. And besides, it wasn't even you. And so there's no need to discuss any of it any further, is there?"
When Angel looked up again, Wesley was trying to smile. The attempt wasn't working that well, but in that moment it struck Angel as exceptionally brave. He could only reply, "No, I guess not."
"All right, then," Wesley said, his relief evident. As he stretched out on the sleeping bag, he genuinely seemed to relax; Angel watched him quickly drift into an exhausted, and hopefully dreamless, sleep.
Two hours of fitful napping and sinking dread later, Angel stood beside Cordelia's bed. She was splayed out on her back, long hair across the pillow, looking not unlike the figure he had so roughly shoved to the ground only hours ago. He reached out to touch her shoulder and gently shake her awake, but stopped when he saw the bruises on her arms -- the shadow images of his hands.
Angel took his hand away and whispered, "Cordelia?"
She stirred immediately, opening her eyes wide. "Angel. You're back."
"If that's what you'd call it," Angel said. "How do you feel?"
"Good," Cordelia said, slowly propping herself up on one elbow. "The vision does not blur; the head does not hurt more. So I'm good. In a couple minutes, I have to walk around some. Gonna help with that?"
Angel looked down for a moment, then knelt by the side of the bed. "Cordelia, I'm so sorry."
"It's okay," she said, reassuring him as quickly as Wesley had. "I meant what I said to that -- that -- bully. He can say what he wants, do what he wants, but he's the weak one, Angel. Don't forget that."
There isn't any he, Cordelia. There's only me. That's what you don't want to understand.
That was what Angel wanted to say. But the need in her eyes kept him silent. She needed to believe that Angelus was some prisoner in a cage, who came out to rattle the bars now and again. He knew, by now, that she could never accept that the demon was much or more a part of him than his soul. Wesley, who had every reason to know better, persisted in the belief too -- despite all his education, all his evidence. And Angel needed to let them believe what they wanted to believe, because that was the price of his acceptance here -- his home, his friends, everything that made his existence worthwhile. No matter how many times he undermined their friendship, it could always be rebuilt on the foundation of this one, simple pretense.
Angel would have thought that you could not build happiness upon a lie. But, as he nodded at her and saw her trusting face spread into a genuine smile, he decided he had been wrong about that.
"You were terrific," Angel said. "That took guts, luring me close like that."
"Many unkind and true things have been said about me over the years," Cordelia sighed, "but never that I lacked nerve."
"True and true," Angel said. "Can I do something for you? Do you need -- breakfast? Juice? The July Vogue?"
"Nah," she said. "I still have some serious catching up to do with the sleep. We'll take our stroll, and then it's back to REMsville for me."
Angel returned her smile as he reached up to brush a bit of hair from her face. And that moment -- the intimacy of it, the nearness of their bodies, their faces, here in her bedroom -- reminded him that not everything could be put away so easily. "We ought to talk about what I said -- what he said about the two of us."
Cordelia visibly flinched, but she did not hesitate before she answered, "I know nothing's ever gonna happen with you and me. I always knew that. So it's not like I had my hopes up or something."
"No, it can't ever happen," Angel said. "That's my misfortune. It shouldn't be yours."
Cordelia sighed heavily and said, "I HATE Gypsies." Her voice was so sincere that Angel had to laugh for a moment. She brightened at the sound and smiled at him with a touch of her old playfulness. "I mean, think about it. I'd make you so happy so fast we wouldn't even have time to blink before your soul was outta there."
Before he could talk himself out of it, Angel leaned forward and quickly kissed her forehead. "I don't doubt it."
"Are you any closer to your answers?"
Angel gratefully looked away from the cross at the front of the church to see the nun sitting placidly beside him. "How do you know I'm looking for answers?"
"Everyone is," she said. "And I would imagine that you have more questions than most."
They sat side by side for a while longer as Angel stared the cross down once more. How long had it taken him to acquire the maturity, the courage to do this? A century? More like two --
He'd left Cordelia and Wesley at the apartment. Cordelia was staying put in bed, although she had recovered sufficiently to flip through her Vogue and gripe about missing her commercial audition that afternoon. Wesley had roused enough to cook dinner for her; in the process, he had been inspired to rearrange a few things in the kitchen and had awakened Dennis' ire. After some pots had been thrown around, they had all three agreed that the time to divert their money toward separate apartments had come. "Dennis really needs his space," Cordelia had said from behind her bed tray, so easily that Angel knew, if it were up to her, the two of them might have camped on her floor forever.
But those days were ending. Angel told himself to think little of it. He had long ago given up believing that anything was permanent. Besides, he needed a little space of his own.
Maybe that explained why he'd ducked out of the house tonight. But he was not sure why he had come here, unless it was to challenge himself this one last way. To prove he had at least this much control, and that he could keep staring up at that cross.
"No matter what I've done, what I try to do, it still turns me away," Angel said. "What answer should I take from that?"
"Does the cross turn you away?" the nun said. "Or is it something within you that turns away?"
"It doesn't seem to make much difference," Angel said. "And I know that you spoke the truth before. This is the symbol of God's love. And this love that's supposed to claim the whole world -- there's no place in it for me."
"God's love comes to us in many forms," the nun said. "And it comes to everyone. The challenge is to recognize it."
"I don't know about that," Angel said, turning away from the cross at last. He pulled his coat around him as he rose to go. "God understands what I am."