Ghost Of A Chance by Little Heaven and
When Cordelia arrives
home from hospital to find an evil presence manifesting her building, the
gang’s attempts to rescue Dennis from its clutches throw her recuperation into
Shanshu In LA, Season One.
Notes: Thanks to Psychofilly
and Laurie for the betas. Thanks also to Little Heaven’s husband, Griff, for
coming up with the title.
Pain. It cracked like a whip inside her skull, behind her
eyes, shredding her brain with its white-hot fingers.
And then she was running, feet jarring on uneven concrete,
her lungs burning and screaming with effort, her legs not going fast enough.
Never fast enough.
It was catching up to her. The ground shook as heavy
footsteps pounded in her wake. Everything got louder, the smell -- oh, gross --
got stronger. Hot, stale breath blasted her neck.
A hand gripped her upper arm --
And then she was coming apart, bone tearing from flesh like a
chicken wing ripped from a roasted carcass. The scent of her own blood exploded
on the air.
She sucked in a breath and choked, the scream burbling in her
chest. Couldn’t breathe -- Couldn’t --
“Cordelia? Cordy, just breathe. That’s it, I’ve got
you.” Angel’s voice was tense. A car approached, slowed, then accelerated
and sped by. Somewhere in the distance, a siren wailed, then cut out abruptly.
Cordelia opened her eyes. Angel’s face filled her field of
vision, a silhouette -- the halo of yellow light from the streetlamp outside her
apartment building making him look every bit like his name. Then he moved, and
the full glare of the bulb exploded in her eyes.
“Oh, too bright,” she winced, wanting to move her arm,
cover her face -- her eyelids felt too thin. That’s when her body came back to
her. Her elbows smarted, raw and sticky.
Angel’s right hand cradled the back of her head and his
left slipped up to shade her eyes. Her knees wobbled like the Jell-o they’d
given her at the hospital.
“Cordy,” Angel began.
This was the part where he always asked her what she’d
seen. Why did he do that? Did he think she was just gonna ignore the vision and
leave the helpless to face their fate?
He cleared his throat, once, twice. “Are you all right?”
Okay, that was unexpected. She craned her neck, squinted up
at him, around the edge of his trembling hand. He looked way freaked.
Of course, her last vision had been courtesy of Vocah. She
didn’t know what was worse, the endless pain and horror or the fact that
she’d visioned in public like a drooling epileptic. Then there was the whole
hospital scene, with her playing a humiliating, Jim- Morrison
style freak out. Complete with the drugs.
Boy had there been drugs. In fact, maybe it was the hazy,
cottony leftovers that were making her feel so --
“What did you see?”
Oh, well, nothing like getting straight back on the horse.
“You know,” she said, licking spittle from her lower lip, “you’d think
the PTB would at least let me get home from the hospital before they cranked up
the merry-go-round of pain again.”
Angel’s mouth quirked upwards at the corner. From him, a
smile like that was the ultimate in support and encouragement.
“A girl, being chased by something with *really* bad
breath.” She wrinkled her nose at the sensory memory. Then the rest of the
vision rolled back through her head, the searing pain, the blood -- “Oh, God,
it’s gonna rip her to pieces.”
She closed her eyes and tried to breathe away the nausea that
rippled through her, as she filtered the images and sensations. “Later
tonight. I’ll write it all down for you....”
A couple of deep breaths later, she opened her eyes. And
looked up, right into the twitching curtains of her nosy, little-old-lady
neighbour. “Can we go inside now? Old Mrs Tiggywinkle will think I’m coming
back from a failed stint in rehab, if she sees me lying in the street like
“That’s Mrs. Telemacher,” Angel said, helping her
gently to her feet.
She looked at him in surprise as he steadied her, his hand
tight around her arm. He’d been living there less than a week and already he
knew the neighbours? She eyed him up and down. “Have you been snooping through
people’s mail again?”
He shot a fearful glance at the old woman’s apartment
window. “She stopped me on the stairs the other day. I had to tell her I was
your brother. She takes a very dim view of people ‘living in sin’.”
Despite the post-vision pain, she cocked an eyebrow. “You
let a little old lady intimidate you?”
“Well, no, I… “ He glanced down at his shoes.
Next to her, someone chuckled. She finally clued in on
Wesley, who was standing on her other side.
“Probably would have been more believable had you not
appeared to be moving in,” he said.
Angel cleared his throat.
Realization dawned. Somehow she’d envisioned him with
nothing more than a toothbrush and a couple of pairs of black pants stuffed in a
paper sack. Now, images of charred books, stinking Turkish rugs and a dozen
pairs of Diesel Cat boots swam before her eyes.
The thought of her house being overrun by all that weird
maleness had her shuddering. “You brought *all* your stinky old crap here?”
Cordelia gestured towards her apartment window. “Hey, ow.” Her arm stung,
and she winced and twisted it to check out the graze on her elbow.
“My goodness, Cordelia. That looks awful,” Wes said.
She pushed her hair out of her face and squinted at him. Her
eyes were slow to adjust, but at least now the light wasn’t making her queasy.
“It’s not crap,” Angel interrupted, bringing the
conversation back on track. He took her arm and surveyed the damage for himself.
“I barely salvaged enough to fill a box. And the smell of smoke is almost
gone. Dennis has been burning incense.” He frowned at the laceration, nostrils
twitching, as if the mention of odors reminded him that she was bleeding right
under his nose. Literally.
“So my place smells like a hippie bonfire,” she snapped,
pulling her arm away. Then she realized what he said -- that he’d only
salvaged enough for one box.
A twinge of guilt pinched her. He’d lost more than she and
Wes had, in a way. And it wasn’t his fault that what was left of his worldly
possessions were kind of charcoaly.
She bit her lip, and looked up at him through her lashes.
“I’m sorry. That was old-school Queen C, wasn’t it?”
Angel’s face cleared. “It’s okay, I kind of missed
it,” he said, with that half-smile.
“Ah, could someone help me with Cordelia’s bag?” Wesley
called, hunched over the open trunk of the Plymouth.
“Let me.” Angel rushed to his side.
Cordelia shook her head. “God, Wes, you’re still one big
bruise. Take it easy.”
“Both of you need to take it easy. Now get inside and sit
down so I can make you some dinner,” Angel said, closing the trunk and
sweeping past them, his long coat flapping around his calves.
“Since when did you become
Florence-Creature-of-the-Nightingale?” Cordelia asked, taking tentative steps
toward the building, feeling her body groan in protest.
Angel turned and looked back at her, his dark eyes like storm
clouds. “Since I almost got you both killed.”
Cordelia stood at her front door, watching Angel juggle the
keys in one hand, her bag in the other. Since when did he blame himself for what
happened to her? Only a couple of months ago he was leaving her and Doyle in the
sewers to hack up not-quite-dead things, without a second thought to their
safety, or their dry-cleaning bills -- why the big change of heart now?
So she’d almost died. Wasn’t the first time, wouldn’t
be the last, probably.
Wow, there was a cheerful thought.
“Angel, may I assist you with that?” Wesley asked,
reaching for the keys.
“No, thanks,” Angel said, moving between the door and
Wes’ outstretched hand.
There was a small quiver in the air, the little prickle of
hair on Cordelia’s arms that signified other-worldly things were afoot. Then
the door rattled and whooshed open, and Angel’s keys, which he’d just put in
the lock, were wrenched from his hand.
“Thanks, Dennis,” Angel said, standing back to let
Cordelia enter first. Good, old fashioned, Victorian manners, she thought. Now
that’s the way every guy should --
Her train of thought derailed as she stepped into the
darkened apartment. Dozens of candles flickered on in unison, bathing the room
with a soft, dancing light. Across the wall hung a long white banner, the words
‘Welcome home Cordelia’ written on it in shaky red writing, that looked
suspiciously like her favourite lipstick. A small shower of silver glitter
drifted down around her, the little reflective squares and stars catching the
candlelight and refracting it in a thousand points of gold.
She glanced back towards Angel, standing just inside the
door. “Did you…?”
He shook his head. Before she could speculate further, a rush
of air swept around -- through -- her, filling her with warmth. “Dennis,”
she breathed, and the faint smell of patchouli and smoke tickled her nose.
“Did you do all this yourself?” A small knock inside the wall confirmed it.
“I think he missed you,” Angel said, smiling.
“Oh, Dennis, you’re the best.” She leaned over and
planted a big, smacking kiss on the wall. All the candles flickered, then burned
brighter for a second, before resuming their normal, gentle glow.
For a moment, she rested there, letting the wall hold her up.
The post-vision fatigue had mixed with the cocktail of sedatives that still
lurked in her bloodstream, and left her wrung-out and shaky.
She turned, following Angel and Wes’s gaze. As if Dennis
could read her mind a glass of water and two extra-strength aspirin floated
“God, Dennis, you’re so great.” He always knew when she
needed something. If only he was corporeal, and hot, he’d be the perfect man.
Hey, rich hadn’t even popped into her mind -- until now.
How was that for personal growth?
She plucked the glass and pills from the air and swallowed
the aspirin with a swish of water, grimacing at the bitter taste the tablets
left behind. “Thanks, sweetie.” He fluttered the glass from her and set it
on the coffee table.
“Sit; relax,” Angel said, putting her bag on the floor
and moving towards the kitchen.
She sank into the couch, her eyes drifting shut. The cushion
beside her dipped, and she could smell Wesley’s aftershave, a crisp hint of
citrus and sandalwood. Without thinking, she reached a hand out, rested it on
his leg. “I’m glad you’re all right.” She opened her eyes and rolled her
head to the side.
He was smiling at her, looking pleasantly surprised, his
battered face soft in the muted light. “You, too,” he said, giving her hand
a little squeeze.
His eyes darted around the room for a second, coming back to
rest on hers. “Where do you think Angel put the Scroll of Aberjian? I’d
really like to get back to translating the Shanshu prophecy, but he won’t tell
me where it is. Keeps saying I should take a break.”
“As much as I can’t wait to find out what it says about
my inevitable stardom, I agree with him. Visions notwithstanding, we deserve
some time off.”
“Evil never rests, Cordelia,” he said, his blue, blue
eyes dropping to his scratched and bruised hands, which twisted into a tight
ball in his lap.
“I know,” she sighed, pressing the heels of her hands
into her eye sockets. When she took them away, silver sparkles flashed and
popped across her vision. She leaned back again, letting her mind release some
of the chaos that had battered her brain to near oblivion -- just a little
reminder of what was out there.
He was watching her now, frowning, waiting for her to
continue. She forced a little smile, trying to ease his obvious concern. “I
saw it, Wes. More people need us than I ever imagined. But we need our strength
back, so we can help them. I’m not talking three weeks in the Bahamas, just a
couple of days to recharge the batteries.” She paused for a breath, then
A small disturbance of air made the nearest candle sputter.
Cordelia wondered why someone with no body displaced air when he moved. Even
Angel had less of an obvious presence. Maybe Dennis did it on purpose, so as not
to startle her.
“Can you get me a pen and paper?” she asked, looking at
her watch. Two hours. Angel needed to go save that girl, and she wanted to have
all the details down on paper, so she didn’t have to keep them in her head. It
was too noisy in there already.
Maybe they should get a whiteboard.
“Dennis could be our secretary,” Wesley suggested,
watching the pad and pen levitate across the room. It lurched, zoomed towards
him, and swatted him on the arm. “Ow!”
Cordelia felt a laugh bubble in her chest, a small speck of
light breaking though the gloomy mood that was settling over her. “Now,
Dennis, be gentle. Wesley’s already been blown up by a bomb this week.” She
reached out, and the stationery dropped into her hands. “Thanks.”
She scribbled every last detail she could remember about the
vision, every identifying sign, smell, sound. As she wrote, the thumping behind
her eyes eased off just a little. Recent experience told her that it wouldn’t
go away until the girl was safe.
Wesley fidgeted beside her. “Fancy a stirring game of
whist?” He reached for his jacket pocket, unearthing a pack of cards.
She got up, the need to get clean overriding the fatigue
creeping along her limbs. Maybe a bath would relax her enough to sleep
nightmare-free. “Thanks, but no. I’m gonna try to wash the smell of hospital
“Ah, Solitaire it is, then.” Wesley smiled, and began to
place the cards in rows on the coffee table.
Cordy leaned her forehead against the cool tile of the wall
and let the pressure of ceramic on skin move some of the pain aside.
Outside the closed door she could hear Angel and Wes talking,
the rise and fall of their deep voices soothing, the way she’d always imagined
her father’s voice should have been.
Pots clanged as Angel started dinner. The TV flickered on,
the white noise almost as hypnotising as the guys’ voices. She didn’t
realize how they comforted her, Wes with his packs of cards and dry wit, Angel
with his mama-bear tendencies and surprising cooking skills.
They had time before the big battle to eat. If she could get
in and out of the tub without conking --
Oh, God. Her head clenched in pain as the young woman’s
face flashed again, and Cordy felt-smelled-tasted her fear.
Other memories rose. A priest, crying as he pulled a young
boy to him. Someone’s father, dead in a dumpster, throat slashed for his
wallet. A girl--maybe fourteen--squatting in a bathroom with a needle in her
Her heart pounded, her mouth watered and she *wanted* the
She jolted. For a minute, she didn’t know who wanted that
pain, herself or the junkie. Either was too disturbing to consider, so she
pushed her hands through her hair and stood up. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Angel’s voice was pitched low enough that it wouldn’t
disturb her if she were already in the tub. Which was stupid, because he could
probably tell exactly where she was.
He had sonar. Like a bat.
“You want some dinner?” he asked.
“In a minute. I just need…” For that girl to be safe.
For those people to find peace.
For the pain to make everything all right.
She blew out a breath, trying to find her own voice in the
midst of all those others. “I’ll be out in a minute.” Cordy heard him
shuffle, in uncertain mode, and could imagine him lurking just outside the door.
“Really, Angel. I’m okay.”
The shuffle turned to footsteps, which grew softer as he
There was a basket with hair clips and scrunchies in the
medicine cabinet. She snagged one and twisted her hair up, getting it off her
neck. The weight made her headache worse, but there was no way she was dealing
with wet hair tonight.
“Bath, please, Dennis,” she said. Behind her the taps
twisted, sending out a gush of water. “Hot.” In the mirror she could see the
first wisps of steam, like souls, rising off the bodies of the dead.
It was the first time she’d really looked in the mirror
since Vocah. Her skin looked olive drab, like a pair of old army pants. She
wrinkled her nose and reached for her invigorating mask, slathering on a
mud-green film of clay and herbs. Immediately her skin tightened, her pores
It didn’t make the pain any better, and it didn’t shut
off the cacophony of voices. But it made her feel like at least one thing in her
life was normal.
Dennis picked up a bottle of body wash and dribbled a silver
stream into the rush of water. Bubbles exploded into existence, rainbowed
pockets of air. Clay, herbs and now the fresh rush of flowers rose. Cordy
breathed deep, feeling her lungs expand.
She stepped over the rim of the tub. Hot water stung her
ankles. She hissed but didn’t adjust the taps. Instead she lowered herself
down into the fragrant water, not bothering to pull the curtain, hiding instead
behind the curtain of steam.
The bath pillow cradled her neck and she closed her eyes and
lay back, feeling water lap against tight muscles. It was impossible to relax
completely, knowing there was a woman out there who needed their help. But the
edge of nausea she’d been ignoring backed off, and the scraped skin of her
elbows prickled and then soothed.
She floated, in water and in time, letting her brain go soft
and silent. Bubbles tickled her chest, her throat, and when she finally bobbed
inches above the tub floor, Dennis turned off the taps.
The TV chattered and pots rang in the kitchen. She smelled
onions and garlic sauteing and smiled. Only Angel could take her hellhole of a
fridge and find something worth eating.
The water cooled and she thought about getting out, but then
Dennis turned it back on and she snuggled in, feeling the warm wave easing up
her body. Her eyes slid closed again and she drifted, drifted --
“Cordy?” Someone pounding on the door. Hard. “Cordy!
Open the door!”
She jolted, brow wrinkling. “What? Jeez, I’m --” She
glanced down at the tub, looking to get her footing to get out.
And let out a shriek loud enough that Angel came through the
locked door and had her out of the tub before she could even take another
The smell -- oh, God. Her stomach clenched. Raw flesh, open
wounds, sour and hair-raising.
It dripped off of her in slick, pink tendrils, pooling on the
floor with the water.
Angel wrapped her in a white towel, and his big hands left
stark, bloody handprints on the terrycloth. “What happened? Are you hurt?”
She sucked in a
breath. “I -- I don’t think so.” Her hands fluttered over the dried mask,
over her body. “No.” She stared into the tub, stomach churning at the sight
of the deep, red pool.
“Oh, my,” Wes said, peering around the door frame. He
clutched his ribs with one hand and pushed his glasses up his nose with the
other. “Oh, dear. This isn’t yours?”
Cordy shook her head. “God, no.” The thought had her
stomach churning harder and she pressed her lips together to keep the bile back.
The mask crackled, pulling her skin uncomfortably tight.
“Probably good, as you likely wouldn’t be alive, had you
lost all that,” Wes said, in all seriousness. He stepped into the bathroom and
stared down at the garish drama of sticky blood sloshing against the white
porcelain. “Which begs the question. Where did it come from?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Cordy said, twisting
the handle on the tap at the sink. “I just want it off of --” More blood.
Gushing out the taps. Spattering the towel. She yelped and jumped back, landing
in Angel’s arms.
“Easy,” he said.
When she looked over her shoulder at him, he was staring at
the sink, eyes wide. His nostrils flared, like they’d done earlier when he
studied the scrape on her elbow. “Okay, this is not good,” she said.
Angel slid his gaze to her. “I’m not sure it’s
“And that makes it better, how?”
Wes leaned over carefully to study the taps, nearly quivering
with what seemed to be curiosity. Suddenly the toilet flushed. Everyone jumped.
“Has this ever happened before?”
“There was Dennis’s mom, of course. But we got rid of
her.” The toilet flushed again. Cordy’s eyes widened. “Right?”
Wes nodded. “From all you told me, it seems as if you
did.” He stuck a finger in the blood-water in the tub, lifting it to his nose
ghost?” Angel said.
Wes shook his head. “I’m not sure. I have heard of
poltergeists manifesting --”
The toilet flushed a third time, only now it didn’t stop.
The water whirlpooled down the hole like a demented Alice after the rabbit.
Which, now that Cordy thought of it, could have been a description of her.
“Cordy, you’re shivering,” Angel said. He pushed her
into the hall. “Go put something on.”
“I don’t want to track blood everywhere.” They looked
down at her bare feet, leaving wet, red footprints on the wood floor. That was
probably gonna come out of her deposit, as it was.
“Good point.” He pulled her back into the bathroom.
“Stay here.” Stepping over the red puddles, he disappeared into the hallway.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a poltergeist,” Wes said, eyes
on the red pool in the tub.
“Maybe Dennis can stop it,” Cordy said, over the constant
swish of the commode. “Dennis?” No answer. Not even a whisper of breeze.
“Okay, that’s weird.”
Wes was now focused on the toilet, mesmerized by the churning
foam. “Yes, it is, isn’t it? I’ve never seen water flush counter- clockwise
before on this side of the equator, though I have heard --”
“No, I meant Dennis.” Still no answer but the water
whooshing in the pipes. “Do you think maybe we just can’t hear him over all
the noise?” she asked, clutching the towel tightly around her body.
Just then Angel came back into the room and handed her a
robe. Grateful for the extra coverage, she shrugged it on, tied it, and dropped
the towel. It landed in a red-striped heap at her feet. “Angel, you didn’t
hear Dennis out there, did you?”
Wes looked up from the toilet, as if he’d suddenly hitched
a ride the conversational train. “You don’t suppose this is his doing?”
Cordy shook her head, hunching into her robe. It was
approximately the temperature of ice cream in there, and not in a good way. Her
teeth chattered. “N-n-no, it c-c-can’t be. Dennis is good. He’s n-n-never
Angel’s hands rested on her shoulders and he turned her
toward him. “Don’t worry, Cordelia. I’m sure it’s not Dennis. I’m sure
it’s just a --” He paused, mouth open, then rushed right on into the breach.
“Another spirit. Um. Or something.”
She glared at him.
Over the sour smell of blood the scent of burning flesh rose.
“Oh crap,” Angel said. “The chicken.” He ran out of
“This is really freaking me out,” Cordy said, trying to
ignore the fact that her apartment smelled like someone was casting a dark
Wes rolled up his shirtsleeve and reached down into the
bloody tub to pull the plug. “It’s certainly not your usual weeknight
fare.” He pulled it up, the rubber stopper dangling from its slim, metal
For the first time, she noticed that his hand was trembling.
And from his pale face and sweat-beaded brow, she didn’t think it was with
excitement. “Wes, are you all right?”
He set the stopper carefully on the side of the tub, picked
up the towel from the floor and began drying his hands.
Angel appeared, saving Wes from having to answer. “I should
go see if this is happening anywhere else in the building.” In a move of the
habitually tidy, he took the towel from Wes and hung it neatly over the rack.
The handprints on the white terry made her think, again, of
her vision. “Oh, my God! The girl!”
Angel looked at her blankly.
“In my vision?”
Angel snapped to attention. “Right. I’ll go take care of
that. When I get back, I’ll check in on the neighbors.”
Suddenly a loud screech filled the air. Like kids in a
haunted house, the three of them locked eyes.
“What was that?” Cordy asked.
Wes licked his lips. “Um, a --”
“Can’t the girl wait?” Angel asked, looking desperate.
Cordy felt the tug of the demon’s hand, smelled the rank
stench of his breath. “No! You go take care of her. Wes and I will do a recon
here.” She grabbed Wes’s hand, ignoring his wince. “Right, Wes?”
Wes swallowed. Hard. “Yes, let’s do that.”
“I don’t like it,” Angel said. “Neither of you is fit
The screech came again, and every hair on Cordy’s body
rose. “Go, Angel! We can handle it!”
Not that she believed it; just that she didn’t know what
would happen to her head if Angel didn’t save the girl in time. And right now,
that big, stinky demon was way scarier than any disembodied ghost. Even one that
For a moment, Angel stood there, staring at them. Then he
looked around the room, taking in the chaos. “Just be careful,” he finally
“Are you decent yet?” Wesley stood beside her, hand
clapped over his eyes.
“No, just a minute longer,” she replied, wringing the
washcloth out in the sink. Thank God Angel hadn’t put the potatoes in the
saucepan yet. It offered her a source of clean, warm water, with which to wipe
herself down. “You can wait in the other room, I’m fine.”
“Your teeth banging together would suggest otherwise,” he
replied, stiff and British. “I’m not leaving you alone.”
“Just cold.” Cordy inspected herself, and decided that
she was as blood-free as she was gonna get, for now.
The bathroom was quiet again -- no more flushing, or rivers
of blood. Not that she’d turned on the taps to check. The disgusting smell was
only just dissipating, and she wrinkled her nose, wishing for something fresher.
“Hey, Dennis, would you light some incense?”
“Dennis?” Her fingers tightened on the edge of the sink.
“Wes? Where’s Dennis?”
Wes paused. “I don’t know. Why don’t you get dressed.
Then we can find out.”
She glanced warily around the room, then reached for her
sweatshirt. “Dennis?” Her voice sounded unsure, girlish, frightened. She
pulled the sweatshirt over her head, completing the Sunday-afternoon-slob
ensemble that began with her tracksuit pants and old running shoes. “Oh, God,
Wes. What if something happened to him?”
Wesley peeked between his fingers, then withdrew his hand.
“I’m sure he’s perfectly fine. He’s probably just as discombobulated as
we are.” He stood back, allowing her out of the door first.
The living room looked eerie, her normally-comforting
possessions and furnishings loomed, dark and forbidding, in the dim light. The
candles had burned low, melted and warped into ghoulish shapes. Their flames
sputtered and failed, casting strange, mobile shadows. And it was freezing.
Cordelia hugged her arms around herself, shivering.
Wesley jumped. “Really, Cordelia, there’s no need to
“There’s every need! Dennis always comes when I call.
What if something’s happened to…” Her voice died as something began to
rise out of the knick-knack pot on the mantelpiece. Her favourite lipstick. It
dipped and hovered, froze, and then made an abrupt dive to the floor, the lid
popping off as it bounced on the wooden boards. Her arms prickled again.
The lipstick began to shudder, bobble, clacking against the
floor. She stepped forward, reached out to pick it up, but Wesley put a hand on
her arm, squeezed gently. “Leave it.”
Before she could protest, the lipstick rose again, looking
steadier now, and made a beeline for the ‘Welcome Home’ sign. With rapid,
wild strokes, it began to write. H. E. L…
Her heart soared. “Dennis? Is that you?” A thump in the
wall, faint, but distinct. “Oh, thank God!” He was family now, and she loved
him. Maybe she hadn’t realised how much, until just then.
Just as it began a fourth letter, the lipstick snapped off at
the base, rolling down the wall and landing with a red exclamation mark on the
floor. The case made a frustrated stab at the paper, then flew into the corner
with an annoyed clatter.
“Marvellous,” Wesley said, holding his damaged side and
shaking his head.
“Yeah, that was an Yves St. Laurent. Do you know how much
it cost?” Cordelia retrieved the red stub and looked at it with growing
Wesley sighed. “Focus, Cordelia. I’m talking about
Dennis’ message. ‘Hello,’ perhaps? Or maybe, ‘Hell is about to open up
and swallow you whole’?”
“Don’t ask me, you’re Scrabble Boy. Besides, I’m just
glad he’s okay.” She scowled at the wall. “Even if he did ruin my best
lipstick.” She chucked the makeup in the trashcan, and rubbed her hands
against her arms, trying to smooth away the gooseflesh.
“Help!” Wes exclaimed.
“I can’t. I told you. I’m useless at word puzzles,”
He clucked with exasperation. “No, the message. It means
“I knew it! You’re in danger, aren’t you, Dennis?”
Another thump had Cordy swallowing hard. “Is it that thing from earlier, in
the bathroom?” The thumping increased, as if he was saying, “Yes! Yes!
She looked around the room, wishing she could see him for
herself, just to make sure he was really okay. “Dennis, don’t worry. We’
re going to figure this out. Just hang in there,” she said,
shoving the keys into her pocket. A soft breeze ruffled her hair, confirming
that he understood.
“What?” Wesley shot her a look as she hesitated in the
“I don’t want to leave him on his own. What if something
happens while we’re gone?”
“We’ll be more help to him if we get this figured out,”
Wes said, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.
She took a deep breath, and nodded. “You’re right.
They left the apartment, closing the door and locking it
behind them. Outside was no less spooky than in. Cordelia and Wesley crept down
to the courtyard, picking their way around the edge of the building in silence.
The balmy darkness, normally filled with the sounds of insects and night birds,
was still and heavy. Cordelia didn’t know what they were looking for, but she
was going to get to the bottom of it. No one threatened her friends and got away
“Shhh, what’s that?” Wesley hissed, making her jump.
“What?” she asked, straining her ears. And there it was,
on the very periphery of her hearing. Whispering. Not English, probably not even
human. Every time she thought she had pinpointed where it was coming from, the
source of the sound would shift. Fast, fevered, it ranted and gibbered. A finger
of ice ran down her spine.
“Stay close to me,” Wesley said. Cordelia knew he was
trying to sound staunch and protective, but the words came out in a thin squeak,
and his eyes were huge and worried in his pale, bruised face.
She glanced down at her arm, which he was clutching with
fingers that were white around the knuckles. “Not much chance of doing
He followed her line of sight. “Oh, sorry, sorry.” He let
go, and she kind of wished he hadn’t. “Just a little nervous, to tell the
truth. Demons are one thing. On the supernatural scale, they’re quite easy to
kill. Spirits are another matter entirely.”
“Hence the choice of Rogue Demon Hunter over Rogue
Ghostbuster,” Cordelia said, her voice low, as she took a few more tentative
steps down the pathway, towards the Landlord’s ground floor apartment.
“Maybe that’s why Dennis picks on you. Perhaps he can smell your fear --
like a dog.”
“Well,” Wesley said, straightening a little, suppressing
a wince, “I wouldn’t say fear, exactly…”
The ground trembled, shocks coming through the soles of
Cordelia’s feet. A deep roar began somewhere in the bowels of the building,
growing, swelling, filling her ears until she wanted to scream. Her skin and
teeth hurt, and surely it couldn’t get any louder --
The shockwave hit. A blast of wind -- hot, fetid, reeking --
slammed into them, lifting and dumping them like garbage bags on the grass. It
swept away, sucking leaves and paper, leaving a great yawning void of nothing,
like the world was taking a breath. Then whispering resumed, got louder, faster.
And all the building’s lights went out.
“How about I see your fear, and raise you a dose of
pant-wetting terror,” she gasped, dragging air back into her lungs, and
glancing over to the camellia bush, where Wesley lay in a tangle of limbs and
glasses, barely illuminated by the light coming from the street. “Wes, are you
He didn’t move, and it was several seconds before he spoke.
“I -- I think so.”
Cordelia pushed herself to her knees, and crawled over to
him. She crouched beside him, trying to get a good look at his face through the
gloom. It was hard to tell which injuries were bomb-induced and which were new.
“Let’s sit you up,” she said, reaching down to clasp his hand. As her
fingers wound around his, something cold, wet, and very slimy squelched between
them. She whipped her hand away, letting Wesley to fall back into the bushes.
“Eeeeewww, what the hell is that?”
“Oh dear,” he muttered, lifting his hand to his face,
squinting at it. If it was possible, he looked even paler now than he had
before. “This is bad. Very, very, bad indeed.” A long, slimy glob dropped
from his fingers, making a soft ‘splat’ on the grass beside his ear.
Cordelia pushed herself to her knees, wiping her hand
vigorously on the lawn. “Tell me that didn’t come out of your nose.”
“Ectoplasmic residue,” he said, and even if he hadn’t
just explained how very, very bad it was, his voice would have given it away in
a heartbeat. From his prone position, he somehow managed to get a hankie from
his pocket and begin polishing his glasses. “If we find the heaviest
concentration of it, we may locate the source of our problem.”
“Yay, let’s just run *towards* the danger then,” Cordy
said, looking down at her grass-stained clothing. Little bits of, what was it?
-- eclectic residue? -- were smeared all over her. Well, that was a relief,
because being clean for too long would just ruin her evening completely.
She missed stinking of hospital.
Wesley started struggling to get up. That was probably a good
sign. And however much Cordy wanted to run for her apartment and dive under the
bed, Dennis needed her help. She wasn’t gonna let him down.
With a sigh, she stood up and grasped Wesley’s clean hand.
“C’mon, let’s go find ourselves a huge pile of slime.”
Following the trail wasn’t difficult. The goo actually
fluoresced a little, and now that the lights were out, it was easy to spot,
trailing down the wall in long, ropy strands, like a giant ghost had sneezed all
over the building. Globules clung to the ceiling, giving birth to smaller
versions of themselves, which stretched and dangled, and then gravity sucked
them free, and they splattered onto the floor in thick, viscous drips.
The whole building seemed to be in shock, holding its breath.
Pale faces peered from windows and half-open doors, as if nobody was willing to
leave the sanctuary of their apartments, and venture out into the
Cordy picked her way carefully, trying to avoid getting any
more of the disgusting stuff on her clothes. She followed Wesley, who looked
more and more freaked by the minute, as they continued around the building in
silence, which was broken only by the steady plop, plop, plop of raining slime,
and the rise and fall of the ghostly whispering. It was like being stuck in some
B-grade horror movie.
Angel dropped from the roof of the building straight onto the
staircase in front of them. “What happened?”
Wesley’s scream sounded like it started from his toes,
working its way up through his body, gathering momentum before unleashing with a
force that belied his slight frame. Angel covered his ears and cringed.
Cordy put a hand on her chest, feeling the startled thump of
her heart, hammering against her palm. “Can you try *not* to do that?
Wesley’s had enough things going ‘bang’ in front of him lately.”
Angel’s face fell. “Sorry, sorry. I heard the explosion
blocks away. I was in a hurry to make sure you were okay.”
“We’re excellent, aren’t we Cordelia?” Wesley said,
“Oh, sure, if your idea of excellent is being blown over by
something that smells like a giant fart, and getting covered in eccentric
residue,” she snapped, glaring at Angel.
“This is bad,” Angel said, scooping some onto his finger,
and sniffing it. His duster fell open, and Cordelia got a flash of torn t-shirt,
tattered flesh, lots of blood. Oh, hell, he was hurt. Saving someone from *her*
vision. And all she could do was bitch at him.
“Is she okay?” she asked, reaching out to get a better
look at his wounds.
He backed up a couple of steps. “She’s fine. The thing
that wanted to pull her apart -- not so fine.”
“You’re hurt, let me see,” she said, trying again.
“I can take care of that myself. You don’t have to worry
about it. About me. Okay?” he said, pushing her hand away.
He could be such a baby sometimes. She muscled her way into
his space and started pulling his shirt aside so she could see the wound.
“Someone has to worry about you. Now, stop being such a big baby, and --”
“Cordelia, I said --”
“Shh,” Wes broke in.
Fear spiked through Cordy and her hands clenched.
“Ow!” Angel whined.
“Sorry.” But she didn’t move her hands since, most
days, being near Angel was the safest place to be. “What, Wes? What do you
hear?” And then it hit her. Nothing. “The whispering stopped,” she
Angel looked, blank-faced, up the stairs, his gaze following
the ever-widening trail of glowing slime. “That’s either really good, or
really bad. Wes?”
“Only one way to find out,” he said, in a voice that
sounded all stiff-upper-lip-ish.
Before they could react, the air began to shudder, and a
scream that sounded like it came from the bowels of hell tore through the
building. Cordy could only remember one thing that even approximated the sound
-- and that was the noise coming out of Mayor Wilkins’ big, snaky mouth as he
was flambe’d at her graduation ceremony.
The noise seemed act as a trigger, releasing the building
from its fugue state. Doors flew open up and down the corridor, the residents
apparently convinced that staying indoors was no longer the safest option. Cordy
flattened herself against the wall with her hands over her ears as Jake, her
next door neighbor, ran past, an almost comic look of terror on his face.
As the scream began to fade, the emergency lights activated,
lighting the passages with an otherworldly glow and now Cordy saw a woman in a
robe and shower cap running down the hall carrying a Pekingese, a guy hastily
buckling his belt with a shred of toilet paper attached to his shoe, and the
Chinese couple from the floor above pounding down the steps toward the garden.
It was like a Who concert, only for the lame and uncool. She,
Wes and Angel headed up the stairs, hugging the wall so they wouldn’t be
trampled. In the distance she could hear sirens, lots of them. “Who called the
“Actually, I’m guessing it’s the firefighters, maybe
even ATF, considering the size of the explosion,” Angel said.
Cordy rolled her eyes. He could be such a geek sometimes.
“We should work fast, canvas the area before they arrive
with clean-up crews,” Wesley shouted over his shoulder.
She held on to Wes’s belt, trying not to get separated as a
knot of people from the upper floor rushed past. “Shouldn’t be a problem,
what with the mass evacuation, though, right?” Angel’s hand clasped her
shoulder as they plowed ahead, and felt a little bit steadier, sandwiched in
between the two men.
They burst free at the top of the stairwell and were suddenly
standing in an empty hall. Doors hung open, TVs and radios eerily silent, the
odor of interrupted dinners arguing with the stench of the giant fart. The
building walls were covered with slime and Cordy leaned in closer to Wes, until
she realized that they were both as slime-covered as the walls, and gave it up.
The building began to groan. “Not again!” Wes ducked and
covered without warning, tripping Cordy so she fell right on top of him. His
grunt of pain was masked by the sound of that eerie, growling groan. Angel threw
himself on both of them like Percy West throwing himself on the loose football
after Sunnydale’s quarterback got sacked.
Wesley’s elbow was wedged under her ribs, his feet tangled
with hers, and if she didn’t move now she was gonna totally wig. But when she
jerked her shoulders, Angel leaned on her and held her still. To make it worse,
the hall felt like a balloon being blown up, air pressure rising until Cordy’s
skin felt tight enough to burst.
Then, the balloon exploded. One minute she was smashed
between Angel and Wes, the next she was flying through the air. She didn’t
even have time to scream before she was hitting the floor and rolling, flashes
of dimly lit hall crashing into ugly blue carpet, crashing back into dimly lit
Finally she stopped and could only stare at the slime-covered
carpet under her nose. It’s not the fall that’ll kill you, she thought.
It’s the sudden stop at the --
Her breath whooshed out as someone flattened her. She lay,
face-down on the carpet, gagging. Finally the weight moved and when she could
breathe again, she turned her head. Wes, glasses blown off, covered with
snot-colored ectoplasm. Bruised, bleeding, eyes closed --
“Oh, my God,” she wheezed. “Wesley!” She tapped his
cheeks, terror grinding in her stomach when she found him cool, pale.
Unresponsive. She knelt next to him. “WESLEY!” Her hand drew back to hit him
Angel grabbed it, mid-arc. “He’s fine, Cordy.”
Wes’s eyes fluttered. “Be right down, mum,” he
Cordy cut a glance at Angel, whose blank stare looked
slightly more amused than usual. She pulled her hand away and looked down at Wes
again. “Come on, Wes. Up and at ‘em.”
Wes’s eyes popped open. “Cordelia? Is that you?” He
craned his head, blinking owlishly at her.
“In the flesh.” She smiled. “You okay?”
Wes nodded, then frowned. With slimy hands, he patted his
face, then his shirt, then the pockets of his rumpled khakis.
Angel reached over Wes’s head and grabbed his glasses.
“Looking for these?”
Wes took them with a relieved look, and slipped them on his
nose. One eyepiece was broken so they listed down his cheek. He reached up to
hold them in place. “Ah, there you are.” He smiled gamely. “Seems we
should get a move-on.”
Below, they heard the sounds of cop car radios, rising
voices, and pounding feet. “Sounds like it,” Cordy said. She stood, then
reached down to help Wes.
As the dim light hit his face, Cordy felt her eyes widen.
“Wow. You look like The Nutty Professor meets Swamp Thing.”
“Thanks.” Wes’s gaze travelled from her face, to her
feet, and back. “Bride of the Slime Monster,” he retorted, steadying himself
on the wall.
Angel cut her off before she could think of anything else to
say. “Children. Behave.” He put one hand on Wes’s shoulder and the other
on Cordy’s and marched them down the hall. “Let’s find that ghost.”
The official-sounding voices got louder and Angel pushed them
faster. “Before we end up on the wrong end of someone’s handcuffs.”
“Kinky,” Cordy said, and was immediately sorry. “And
please forget I just said that.”
The closer they got, the worse it smelled, until even Wes
gave up holding his glasses in place to cover his nose. The explosion of slime
looked like a hurricane, with whirls of glowing gunk emanating out from a
They traced the whirls in, until they were standing in front
of an open door. Buckets of slime dripped down the walls, splattered from
ceiling to floor. Wes reached up and wiped the number on the door. Apartment
302. “Mrs. Telemacher?” Cordelia said, voice rising in surprise.
The room was swimming in goo, the pink velvet couch under a
thick layer of slime, doilies on the arms almost disappearing under it. On the
French Provencal end tables sat brass clap-on lamps in the shape of flowers,
dripping glowy, greenish stuff like orchids dripped water in the humid jungle.
The entire room looked like the set of You Can’t Do That On
Television. Cordy half expected to hear someone say, “I don’t know,” and
have the whole thing start all over again.
There in the middle of the living room sat Mrs. Telemacher
and three of her cronies. It looked like they were ready for a rousing game of
bridge, soft haunches oozing over the edges of kitchen chairs, which were pulled
up to a folding card table. In the middle was some kind of game board, and they
all sat, staring at it.
“A Ouija Board?” Angel asked. “You’ve *got* to be
Mrs. Telemacher turned her head. “Oh, dear,” she said. A
bead of green stuff rolled off her nose and plopped onto her folded hands.
Cordy jumped and turned toward the voice. “Me?”
Three cops rushed up the stairs, hands on billy clubs, fierce
looks on their faces. “The building’s closed for bomb inspection.” The
first, a pudgy woman with a pale, round face, reached Cordy’s side. “All of
you. Move it out.”
They made it to the door and peeked in. “Oh, for God’s
sake,” the woman muttered. “Come on, ladies, time to go.”
The next cop in line took Cordy by the arm and steered her
toward the stairs. “You and your friends leave the Good Samaritan work to
us,” he said, glancing over his shoulder to make sure Wes and Angel were
They were. Cordy knew by the sound of Wes’s limp and
Angel’s shuffling stride. “Bomb squad?” she asked, wondering how they were
gonna write ectoplasm up in their reports. “Hey, Kate Lockley didn’t happen
to make it, did she?”
“Cordelia.” That was Angel, sounding like the last person
he wanted to see was Kate.
“No idea,” the cop said, walking her down the last flight
of stairs and out the front door. “You stay behind the tape. We’ll let you
know when it’s safe to come in.”
They joined the wad of people on the sidewalk. “Wanna slip
around back? Find another way in?” Wes whispered to Angel.
He crossed his arms over his tattered shirt. “Let’s wait
Cordy shot him a look. “You angling to be cop bait?” It
was actually a surprise that the cops hadn’t noticed his ripped, bloodied
shirt already. Chaos seemed to be on their side.
“Wound’s about healed,” he said, but he buttoned his
black duster so the shirt didn’t show.
Cordy glanced around at the throng of people and sighed.
There was something very disturbing about the fact that she, Wes, and Angel were
standing on the sidewalk like they were waiting for a bus, when everyone else
was totally freaking. Of course, everyone else didn’t have the benefit of
growing up Sunnydale style.
Her body screamed with the need to rest, to just curl up
somewhere and sink into oblivion for a while. The loud explosions had done
nothing to clear her sedative-addled head. If anything, the whole
bad-acid-at-Woodstock sensation had only intensified with each horrible
occurrence. And the crowd that milled around her wasn’t helping.
The Chinese couple from upstairs were talking very fast,
waving their arms. A young girl was crying. Oooh, there was Steve Paymer,
covered in goo, talking very loud and fast into his cellphone. Probably not a
good time to try to strike up a conversation with him.
The air around the building, so silent and still earlier, now
rang with the crackle of police radios, the intermittent chirp of sirens, and
the sounds of panicking people.
All those long, boring hours in hospital, all Cordelia had
focused on was getting back to her nice, quiet apartment, taking a long,
relaxing bath, and slipping into her pajamas for a nice evening of noir films
with Dennis. Instead, she’d been bathed in blood, covered in ghost snot, and
chucked out onto the pavement. Did she attract stuff like this? Why did ghouly,
squicky things seem to gravitate towards her?
In school, she’d clung to the belief that it was because
she hung around the Slayer. That really she was just a normal girl, and the
things that happened to her were someone else’s fault. But, no, even here in
LA, with no ties to her former life, she’d barely lasted three months before
nearly getting eaten by a vampire. Maybe she had ‘demon magnet’ tattooed on
Whatever the reason, this was her life now. Her mission too,
not just Angel’s, now that she had the visions. Doyle had trusted her enough
to give them to her, and she wasn’t going to walk away from that, however big
her dry-cleaning bills got.
She gave her head a resolute shake, the final straw for her
spaced-out brain. The sidewalk tilted crazily -- or was that just her? Out of
habit, she looked to Angel, her safety-blanket. Strange -- there were two
Angels, and they were both diving towards her. His cold fingers bit into her
forearm and jerked her back on an even keel.
“Cordy, you okay?” he steadied her, cupping a hand around
“Let’s see, I’m hungry, I’m tired, I’m covered in
slime, and I’m homeless,” she said, the words echoing and distant in her
ears. “So, yeah, I’m Jim Dandy. Really.”
“I knew it,” he said, his expression going into
maximum-angst mode. “They let you out too soon. Didn’t I say they let her
out too soon?” He looked towards Wesley, who was concentrating on trying to
resurrect his crumpled glasses.
Cordy put her hands on Angel’s chest and pushed, trying to
get some of her own space back. The ground wobbled again, and she ended up
curling her fingers in his duster, and hanging on tight. “I just need to get
some food, and a few hours sleep. Can we go back in yet?”
“No, it’s still roped off,” he said, putting an arm
around her, grasping her hip, anchoring her to him. Her skin prickled, the
full-body contact just a little bit over the line that separated ‘okay’ from
‘ick’. But the unsteady feeling in her knees warned her not to protest, so
she leaned in, accepted his solidity. She could slap him later.
“Why don’t we go back to my place?” Wesley said, coming
in alongside Angel, looking concerned, and at the same time, not too well
himself. “We can wash, eat, sleep, and work out what to do -- without demonic
God, that sounded so good. “Promise you won’t even
*think* about getting the Word-Puzz out?”
A warm smile softened his face. “I promise.”
Angel turned her, guided her through the confused gaggle of
residents, and propelled her towards his car.
“Wait!” She braced her legs against the pavement, halting
their progress. “What about Dennis? We can’t leave him here with that --
“Cordelia, get in the car,” Angel said.
“No ‘but.’ We can only help Dennis if we figure out how
to get rid of the poltergeist. And we can’t do that out here on the sidewalk.
Besides, just think -- clean clothes, a nice soft bed…” His voice took on a
soft, goading tone, and she could feel her resolve crumbling.
Besides, he had a point. Wes had books. Books were good. And
Wes was good -- Yee, now her train of thought had deteriorated to the
intellectual level of “See Spot Run.” Maybe it was time to let Angel indulge
those mama-bear tendencies of his, just for a few hours.
“Okay.” She nodded, letting him help her into the front
seat of the Plymouth. “But Wes’ bathtub better be clean, or you’re putting
us up in the Hilton for the night.”
Cordelia lay stretched out on Wesley’s old, threadbare
couch. She was actually pretty comfortable -- and a little surprised at that --
dressed in one of his large, soft t-shirts, and wrapped snugly in his dressing
gown. Her wet, clean hair was tied up on top of her head in a fluffy towel.
Wes and Angel, scrubbed shiny clean and smelling of soap and
cologne, were poring over some old, musty books, scribbling notes and talking in
hushed voices. A classical CD wafted through the room, which was dusky -- a cozy
cave -- the only light coming from the lamp on the table. The half-eaten pizza
released soothing, cheese-and-tomato-ey aromas, which mixed with the sweet scent
of her mug of tea.
Sleep beckoned, creeping around her eyes, threatening to
steal her away from the conversation, and she fought it, not wanting to miss
anything important. After all, it was her apartment at stake here. And her
“So,” Wesley mused, “we need all the standard
ingredients for an exorcism. We need bile. I don’t have any bile.”
Cordelia blinked; reached for her mug. “Bile?”
“There’s always bile,” Wesley replied.
“Yuk. And gross,” she said, a giant yawn cracking her
Angel glanced up at her. “Go to sleep. We’ll take care of
God, he could be a pain in the butt. “So, what?” She
pretended to ignore him. “You just splash a bit of bile around and…?”
“And every ghost within the confines of the building is
exorcised,” Wesley finished for her.
Her head snapped up, all traces of sleep scuttling away,
leaving her wide-eyed and startled. “Every ghost?”
“Hmmm?” Angel reached for another book.
Cordelia banged her mug down on the table, heart pounding
now. “EVERY ghost?”
“Yes, every -- oh, dear. Dennis,” Wesley gasped.
A hot rush behind her eyes surprised her, tears blurring her
vision. “Then you can’t do the exorcism. We’re supposed to be saving
“I don’t see how we can get rid of the poltergeist
without one,” Wesley said, his mouth turning down at the corners.
Cordelia fought her way free of the plump cushions, stamped
towards the table, reached for the nearest book and shoved it in Wesley’s
face. “Find another way!”
“Cordy, calm down,” Angel pushed back his chair, rising,
holding out a hand towards her.
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” she snapped, waving her
arm at him, the long sleeve of Wesley’s dressing gown flopping around wildly.
“Dennis is family. He’s part of our lives now. We can’t just zap him
because he’s in the way!”
“I realise you’re very attached to him…” Angel began.
Fire burned in her cheeks, rising in her chest. “Attached?
Who looks after me when you’re off chasing vision demons? Who keeps me company
when all my friends are too scared to go out with the girl who falls down and
screams a lot? Who makes sure I don’t mix my colours with my whites? He’s
just as much a part of our team as you or Wesley, and we should try just as hard
to save him.”
“We will, I promise,” Angel said, moving towards her the
same way someone would approach a frightened horse. “But if there is no other
way…” She opened her mouth to protest again, but he shook his head.
“Cordy, we can’t let that thing get a foothold in this dimension. If we
don’t get rid of it, it will swallow Dennis, and then go on to bigger things.
If it gets free of the building, the consequences could be unthinkable.”
Damn vampire. She hated that he was being so calm and
reasonable -- and right. “Dennis wouldn’t want that,” she whispered.
Angel reached out, stopping just short of touching her.
“I’m sorry, Cordy.”
“A binding spell!” Wesley exclaimed, stabbing his finger
into the middle of a page.
Cordy whirled away from Angel’s hand, ignoring the way the
room spun around her. “Binding spell?”
“Yes, a spell to bind Dennis to the earthly plane. It
should protect him from the exorcism.” He nodded, his eyes skimming the page
“Are you sure?” She clutched the floppy ends of her
sleeves to her chest, the first sparks of hope flaring.
He grimaced. “Not entirely. Let me look into it.”
“What ingredients do we need?” Angel reached for his
duster, started yanking it on. He leaned over the book, looking at the passage
Wesley was pointing to. “All of those?”
“If I’m correct, yes. But, Angel, no-one’s open this
late.” Wes said.
Angel grabbed his keys off the mantle, and looked at them
with that determined, vampy glare of his. “They’ll be open for me.”
Mud slopped around her ankles, heavy and cold. In the thick
mist, she had little to guide her but a sense of needing to be there. She had to
go deeper, to get down in there and look for -- what? Another step, and another.
It was difficult to walk, like wading through oatmeal. And it smelled really,
really gross. Cordelia had the distinct impression that this mud wasn’t the
kind that was good for your complexion.
She bent down in the gloom and peered at the surface of the
pool. Put her hands into the water and swished them around. Oh, God, there were
people in there. She could see their faces, all of them crying out to her,
calling for help. She had to save them. So many faces, so much pain --
And then something grabbed her hand.
Cordelia tried to scream, opening her mouth to find her voice
gone. Pulling, grasping, there were dozens of them now, fingers winding around
her hand and up her arm, pulling her off her feet. She went down, the mud
sucking her deeper. Hands pawed at her, and she could feel every emotion, hear
every thought. Help us, help us, help us…
She struck out, pushing them away, but they just kept coming.
There were too many. Drawing her under, drowning her. She couldn’t face them
all at once, not again. Mud filled her nose and mouth and her silent screams
created only bubbles.
Someone yanked her upright. “Cordy, hush.”
“Angel?” she gasped, still flailing. Large, cool hands
wrestled her still, and the dream dropped away, leaving her sweating and
“It’s okay. You’re safe,” he said, his arms still
wrapped around her. “Vision?”
“No. Just a dream.” Cordelia ran a shaking hand over her
He released her, sat back, and tilted his head to one side,
studying her in a way that made her feel naked and exposed. Waiting.
The silence stretched between them, until she couldn’t
stand it any longer. “Okay, a nightmare,” she admitted.
“You’ve had them before?”
Dammit, she really didn’t want Angel to know about this
stuff. He already felt guilty, and the last thing she wanted was to add fuel to
the brood. But, by the look in his eyes, he had already guessed what was going
on. She nodded slowly. “Every night since -- since Vocah -- the same dream.
And I scream and scream, and nothing comes out.”
“Oh, it comes out, don’t worry about that.” Wesley’s
voice was croaky with sleep.
She glanced up to see him standing in the doorway, an
overgrown Christopher Robin in his stripy pyjamas. His hair looked like it had
argued with his head and was now trying to get as far away from it as possible.
He leaned a shoulder on the frame. “Is everything all
“Fine, Wes,” Angel replied, not looking around.
“I’ll put the kettle on, then.” Wes nodded, and
Cordelia admired his unwavering belief that a cup of tea was
the answer to any crisis. Her attention was reclaimed by Angel putting his hand
over hers in a stiff, awkward way. Funny how he was so bad at this -- when it
didn’t involve her collapsing, or thrashing about like a lunatic.
He blew out a small, quiet sigh; looked like he was trying to
find the right thing to say. He finally murmured, “It will get better.”
“Yeah?” she sighed, looking down at the twisted sheets.
“How can you be sure?”
He turned his face towards the window, the grey, pre-dawn sky
peeking around the edges of the curtains. “At least you didn’t cause their
He had a point. “But you had almost a century of
sewer-brooding to deal. I don’t have the luxury of immortality.”
“I didn’t spend all of it in the sewer,” he protested,
looking a little offended.
For some reason that cheered her a little. “Well, okay, but
you know what I mean.”
“We’ll help them, I promise,” he said, and he looked so
earnest that she had to smile.
The shrilling of Wesley’s bedside alarm clock made them
jump, jolting Cordelia back to the reason they were there. “Dennis!” she
gasped, kicking the sheets away. “Did Wes work out the spell?”
“Careful, don’t get up too fast,” Angel said,
restraining her again. “I don’t know. He was asleep when I came in.”
She shook him off, her bare feet hitting carpet. Snatching
Wesley’s dressing gown off the foot of the bed, she scampered for the kitchen.
Ten minutes later they were all seated at the table, waiting
for Wesley to explain his findings. His insistence on setting the table, and
making everyone’s breakfast first, was driving Cordelia crazy.
“So, did you get the skinny on the bondage spell?” she
asked, stuffing a slice of cold pizza into her mouth.
He looked up from the painstaking removal of the top of his
boiled egg. “Did I get the what? Do speak English, Cordelia.”
“You know,” she said, mouth full, “the skinny. The good
oil. The low-down.”
“Well…” he paused as he dipped a thin slice of bread
into the yolk. “Yes, I think it will work.”
“And you made us wait all this time for one sentence?”
she said, frowning.
“Well, no doubt you’ll be bombarding me with questions
now,” he replied, “and I really can’t face the world before I’ve had a
cup of tea.”
Angel nodded in agreement. “Me too. But, you know, with the
“Oh, I am sorry, Angel. I’m being a bad host,” Wesley
said, looking mortified. “I don’t have anything er, red, to offer you.”
“It’s okay, I ate when I was out. This is fine.” Angel
sipped his tea.
Cordelia snapped her fingers together. “Focus, people!
Dennis? How do we save him?”
“We need to put him into a vessel before the exorcism is
performed,” Wes explained.
“I have some Tupperware. Is a quart container big
enough?” she asked, relieved she’d spent the extra dollars for a truly
airtight seal. No way was Dennis getting out of that sucker.
“No, no.” Wesley shook his head, trying to chew and
swallow his mouthful of toast quickly.
She wracked her brain. Did she have a bucket with a lid? Or
maybe they could plastic-wrap him into the bath.
“I think Wes means a human vessel,” Angel said, looking
Wes nodded. “Angel is correct. By anchoring Dennis to a
person, he will be grounded to the earthly plane during the ritual. The theory
is that an exorcism of a building and that of a person are different, and each
is ineffective on the other. Dennis just has to hide in someone -- an assisted
possession -- as it were.”
Angel leaned both elbows on the table, steepling his fingers
under his chin. “It’ll have to be me. I don’t want either of you doing
“Aah, I don’t think that’s a good idea, actually,”
Wes replied. “The spell says ‘a living vessel’.”
“I’m undead, isn’t that close enough?” Angel asked.
“I’m afraid not; it might work, but the results would be
too unpredictable.” Wes shook his head. “It’ll have to be me.”
“What about me? Just because I’m a girl, doesn’t mean I
can’t host dead spirits with the best of ‘em,” Cordelia protested.
“It’s not like I haven’t hosted him before, anyway,” she said,
remembering what it felt like to come to, lamp in her hand, and Dennis’s
exposed skeleton in the wreckage of her living room wall.
“You’re too weak, Cordy,” Angel said, folding his arms,
going into stubborn mode.
“Hey!” She slapped his shoulder.
Wesley nodded in agreement. “After your recent experience,
the last thing we should be doing is putting someone else in your body -- your
head. We’ve no idea what the effect would be.”
“And you’re any stronger?” She stabbed a finger at Wes.
“Last count, you got blown off your feet twice, and that was yesterday,
There was an uncomfortable silence. Angel scowled. Wesley
stared into his tea.
“So I guess it’ll have to be me.” Cordelia shoved back
her chair. “Come on. Time’s a-wasting.”
“I don’t like it,” Angel said.
“You don’t have to. Let’s round up those stinky herbs
and get this show on the road.” She looked over at Wesley, still picking at
his breakfast. “Now, Wes?”
He heaved a deep sigh and pushed back from the table.
“Fine. I’m coming.” He looked longingly at his half-eaten egg.
She got up, flipped her hair impatiently, and headed into the
bathroom, where her clothes were drying on the rack. “Take it to go!” she
shouted over her shoulder.
“Ick,” Cordy said, poking a finger at the Mason jar of
yellow sludge. The cardboard box next to her held an assortment of magical
supplies. “Why don’t spells ever use roses and champagne?” Smooth, white
rocks, bunches of feathers, and a small crock of brownish-red powder, stoppered
with a cork, all rocked with the slight vibration of the car. Next to them sat
the bile, angled in like the jewel on a spell-caster’s crown.
“By their nature, spells are --”
“Hardly in the mood for a lecture, Professor Boring,” she
Angel cut in. “All right. Enough.”
She couldn’t see his eyes in the rear view mirror but she
could feel his gaze on her just the same. “Sorry.”
“No, I’m sorry,” Wes said. “You’ve every right to
“Thanks,” she said, relaxing slightly. “You’d think
I’d be over the whole demon impregnation thing by now.” The silence, already
tense, stretched thinner. “Hey, it was just a joke,” she said.
The sky began to turn pink as they rolled down Sunset toward
her apartment, passing white buildings, green palm trees and a relentless stream
of early-morning traffic. Her stomach clenched and the palms of her hands went
“Stop it,” Angel said.
God, this had to work. She couldn’t live without Dennis.
Who would she watch movies with? Talk about her days with? Who’d sort her
laundry and clean her --
She jumped. “What?” Craned her neck to look out the
window. “Are we there? Did I miss it?”
Angel sighed. “I meant, stop kicking the seat.”
Her foot froze, mid-kick, an inch from the vinyl.
“Sorry.” Now it was her fingers, beating out the drumbeat of worry on her
“Cordelia. I said --”
“Oh, my,” Wes broke in. “Is that --”
Cordy shot forward, leaning between the two men to get a
better look out the front window. Even though they were nearly a block away, she
knew immediately what he was talking about.
The black van with glazed windows sat at the curb in front of
her building, its back doors open. A person in a Tyvek suit pulled a red box out
and set it on the strip of grass between the road and the sidewalk.
Her stomach clenched. “What is it?”
“Great. Just what we need,” Angel said. He hit the gas
and the car lurched forward.
She grabbed Wes’s shoulder. “Wes?”
Wes covered her hand with his. When he looked back at her, he
had on his Worry Face. “Professional exorcist.”
She squeaked. “You mean, like, Ghostbusters?”
Angel wheeled in behind the van, turned off the engine, and
got out, all broad shoulders and coat. “Excuse me,” he said, and even though
his words were polite his body language screamed, “I’m a badass, don’t
mess with me.”
Cordy opened the door and ran behind him. The Tyvek guy
turned and she saw that it was actually a girl, her dark curly hair pulled back
from a passably pretty face. “Yes?”
“We need to get into the building before you start.”
She held up her hand. “Sorry. No can do. We’ve got a
critical situation.” She pulled the hood over her head and through the plastic
window of her Tyvek helmet, Cordy could see her mouth moving.
So, apparently, could Angel. “What?” He shook his head
and cupped a hand to his ear.
The woman slid the hood up. “I said, it’s too late. They
started the ritual ten minutes ago. We’re already almost at containment
phase.” Then she dropped the big, white hood back in place, picked up the red
box and strode across the lawn toward the apartment building.
They stared at the building, and as they watched, the walls
started pulsing like breathing lungs. “Oh, crap,” Cordy said, heart racing
into her throat.
Angel whirled. “Get the box. Let’s go.”
Wes grabbed it out of the back seat and they ran across the
Cordy ran as hard as she could, thinking, Oh, God, please let
us get there in time. Angel and Wes pounded behind her and as Angel passed he
scooped the box from Wes’s arms and disappeared like smoke up the steps.
Wes’s breathing hitched and he stopped, grabbing his side.
His pale skin was covered with a sheen of sweat.
“Come on!” She grabbed his arm and hauled him up the
steps, ignoring his moan.
They burst into the hallway and through her open apartment
door. She could hear footsteps and voices in Mrs. Telemacher’s apartment
above. The building was eerily still now, and Dennis’s fear was palpable, like
a too-tight layer of Saran Wrap had been stretched across the room.
“Dennis!” She slammed the door behind them. “Don’t
worry! We’re here!”
Angel looked up from his book, mid-chant, and pointed toward
the box, which he’d dumped on the couch. Feathers, dust and pebbles pooled
next to the uptilted cardboard. She’d kill him for getting crap all over her
cushions later -- after they saved Dennis.
There was a sloppy circle at his feet, made of white stones
and feathers, almost like the one they’d used when they’d kicked out
Dennis’s Polygrip of a mom. In one hand was the spell book, in the other a
ribbon-wrapped packet of smoking herbs. The herbs smelled like rotten cheese,
and the Latin sounded strange coming from Angel’s lips.
Wes ran to the box, picked up the small brown crock and
opened the lid. He dipped his fingers inside and smeared something on
Cordelia’s forehead. It felt powdery and wet at the same time, and when she
lifted her hand to touch it, Wes batted it away. “Leave it.”
Just then, the eerie silence broke with a firecracker-like
bang. Cordelia jumped and looked toward the ceiling. “What was that?”
“It’s like a magnet for ghosts. It helps Dennis know who
to go to,” Wes replied, wiping his fingers on his trousers.
“No, not the warpaint. What was *that*?” She pointed
upwards. “The noise?”
Angel’s voice powered up and a strange wind blew through
“Oh, that. It means they’re starting containment,” Wes
said, still looking pale and shaky. He looked around, frantically. The crock of
powder was still in his hands. “We’ve got to find someplace safe for
“The couch? Won’t the cushions --” A low roar started
somewhere in the building.
Wes dashed to the couch and wedged the crock into the space
between the cushion and the arm.
“Is that us or them?” she screamed over the pulsing wind.
One of the throw pillows lifted and flew straight for her face. She knocked it
“I don’t know!” Wes said, bracing himself against the
back of a chair. His coat whipped and his hair flew. He reached up with one hand
and pulled off his glasses.
Angel’s voice grew louder, and the pages of the book
ruffled. Not knowing what else to do, Cordy rushed to his side, grabbing the
herbs out of his hand. His skin was cool, electric in the swirling air. Smoke
whipped around them, filling the air with silver currents of stink.
Upstairs, something thumped and the building groaned.
Cordy’s hands tightened on the herbs. “Oh, God, Angel. Hurry!” Her hair
whipped, tangling around her face and Angel’s, a dark curtain cutting them
from everything but the book.
Angel was yelling now, his voice booming and stern, calling
Dennis to come out, to take human form. Then the wind shifted and her hair
changed course, and in the mirror behind Angel she saw one of her precious glass
figures fly into the air like a crystal rainbow, hovering and twisting.
Then it dropped, shattering on the chest. The next danced up,
her unicorn, the one her dad got her -- “No!” She dropped the herbs and ran,
grabbing it out of the air and clutching it to her chest.
Something hit her in the back of the head and she stumbled.
“Cordelia!” Angel yelled.
Books flew off shelves, pillows bounced on the floor,
pictures rattled like bones on the plaster. She opened the top drawer and shoved
the unicorn in, then the horse, then the mermaid --
She could hardly breathe, the air was so tight. Her eyes
watered and her heart throbbed. Something hit her again, this time on the side
of the head. Pain burst, she saw stars, and she stumbled, catching herself on
Wes screamed and she whipped around to find him hanging in
the air, two feet off the floor, eyes wide and dark in his too-pale face. Then
he flew backwards and hit the wall with a sick thud, eyes widening and then
She screamed and ran for him, only to be slapped back by an
unseen hand. The room rang with chaos, like the inside of a tornado. Roaring,
Wes lay in a crumpled heap on the wood floor, glasses hanging
limply from his hand.
Then Angel was rising, rising, only he looked furious, ready
to kill whatever had him by the throat. She watched helplessly as he drew up,
like a puppet on a string, and then slammed down. He chanted, nearly hoarse, and
the book crumpled in his hand like a Kleenex and fell to the floor.
The force threw him across the room, cracking him across the
arm of the couch and slamming his head into the end table. A puff of brown dust
flew up around him, and he rolled to the floor, stunned.
She struggled against the iron fist holding her steady,
screamed and shoved, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t move.
Then everything stopped. The air rang with the sudden silence
and Cordy stood, disoriented by the lack of noise. As if someone had cut the
strings suspending them, books, pillows, pictures fell. Somewhere in the
apartment, glass shattered.
The hand ghosted away, leaving behind a frigid chill as it
set her free. She closed her eyes and reached inward, looking for Dennis.
Through the thin ceiling, she heard someone upstairs say,
“We got it, sir.”
Cordelia closed her eyes, stunned. “No. NO!”
“Cordelia, did it --?” Wes asked in a hushed voice.
She bit her lip and shook her head.
“Damn,” Wes whispered.
They failed. Dennis was gone, scooped up into the
Ghostbusters’ cage like a stray dog. She wrapped her arms around herself and
squeezed her eyes shut tighter. What was she going to do without him? In one
moment, her entire life had changed forever.
“Yeah, Angel?” she said, huskily. She opened her eyes,
but had to blink back tears before she could see him clearly.
Angel sat back on his heels and looked around the room. “I
-- Are you all right?” His voice sounded wrong. Higher, lighter.
She went to him, kneeling beside him. “No.” Her hands
covered her face. “We lost him. We lost Dennis.” Her shoulders shook as the
tears welled up. So much loss in the last week, Angel’s apartment, their
office. Wes’s mobility. Her sanity -- And now, Dennis.
A cool hand brushed hers. “Shh, it’s okay,” Angel said.
He tugged her fingers away, cupping her hands in his. “Cordelia, don’t cry.
Please.” He squinted at her like he was seeing her for the first time. His
hand rose, smeared with dust and smelling like smoke and herbs, and touched her
face. “Not for me,” he said, sounding embarrassed, shy.
Her breath hitched. Her gaze flew to the couch, the shattered
pot. Dust everywhere, most of it on Angel.
“Oh, my God,” Wes said. He limped over and knelt beside
She went still. “Oh, God,” she said, feeling panic rise
in her chest. “Dennis?” She looked over at Wes. “I thought this was going
to work. You said it would work.”
“And it did,” Wes said, sliding his glasses on. “Dennis
is still here. Just not where we expected him to be.” He touched Angel’s
forearm. “Dennis? Are you all right?”
Angel nodded, eyes glued on Cordy’s face. “Yes. I am,
A laugh bubbled up in her chest. “You’re Dennis? YOU’RE
Dennis?” It was too much to take. The last week, the drugs, the dreams, and
now this… The laugh kept on coming, until she couldn’t breathe, until tears
streamed down her face.
Wes took her hands, shook them briskly. “Cordelia, we must
keep our wits about us.”
“Right,” she said, trying to catch her breath. No use --
the hysterical, out of control feeling took over, and she laughed harder.
Angel -- Dennis? -- put a hand on her arm. “Cordy. Stop.”
It was his voice, the right one, and something about the sharp look in his eyes
cut right through the hysterics.
She drew a deep, sobbing breath. “Angel? Is that you?”
“Yeah. It’s me.”
“Oh, thank God. So both of you are in there? Are you both
“We’re fine, baby,” he said, running his hand over her
hair. And then he smiled, a quick flash, like wolf’s teeth. “All of us.”
Cordy’s entire body went still. She cut her eyes at Wes,
who was staring at Angel, an odd look on his face. “Oh, shit,” she said,
almost afraid to move. “Angelus.”
Angel’s hand tightened on her arm and she stared down at
the cold, white skin against her tanned flesh. “You’re smarter than you
look.” Then he laughed, a high and chilling sound, and she felt Wes go still
“Oh, this is bad,” Wes said, in a squeaky voice.
The room hummed with silence while they stared at him, caught
in the snare of his hot, black gaze. And then it flickered and dimmed, and
Angel’s familiar, composed look came back online.
His hand dropped and Cordy sat back on her heels. She felt
like she’d been whiplashed. First Dennis, then Angel, now this. Only the
seriousness of the situation kept her from screaming and catching the next plane
“Oh, crap,” Angel said.
Wes levered himself onto the couch, if anything looking paler
than he had when all this started. “It’s certainly not something we
Cordy’s defenses flared. “Well, who knew Angel would go
crashing into the crock? I mean, it was safe, right? Cushions protect everything
She closed her eyes, reliving that moment in the cemetery
when Angelus flew at her. A black streak, a flash of gold, and then all his
weight taking her down. When she hit the dirt, she knew. There was no way she
was making it out of there alive.
But when she looked at him now, it was Angel she saw, her
friend. The one who’d been there when she woke up in the hospital. Who held
her when Doyle died. Who beat up Wilson Christopher for knocking her up with the
“Leave now,” Angel said. “Both of you.”
She glanced at Wes, who was looking at her, eyes full of
questions. He hadn’t seen Angelus like she had. Apart from the little Doximal
incident, he’d only studied him in books. Didn’t know the crazy-methodical
way he broke people down.
Torture before death. Laughing eyes and murder.
And then she thought of all those people in her dreams. One
face bleeding into another. The world of pain and suffering outside her door.
If Angel didn’t fight for them, who would?
“Everybody has a ghost,” Cordy said, feeling almost
brave. “Something rattling their closet, right?”
Wes’ eyebrows rode above his glasses. “What are you
“I’m saying that while every instinct in my body is
telling me to hop the next flight to Cancun, my friend needs help. And that’s
what we do, right?” Cordy smiled at Angel. “We help people.”
Angel shook his head. “You can’t help him, Cordy. If he
gets out --”
“We’ll just figure out how to bind him, then. I mean, we
bound Dennis, right?” She glanced at Wes for reassurance.
“I’m sure we can. Willow did it before. It shouldn’t be
Angel’s eyes hardened, like hematite. “Oh, how I’d love
to get my hands on that one. Redheads always bleed so prettily.”
Cordelia scrambled back.
Angelus laughed, a sound like breaking glass, and grabbed her
wrist. “Where ya going, sweetie?”
“W-wes,” she said, terror turning her intestines to
“W-w-wes,” Angelus mimicked in that high, mincing voice.
“S-s-save me!” And then, just as quickly, the black eyes warmed, and a look
of horror came into them. “Oh, God. Cordelia, I’m so sorry.” His hand, so
capable of bruising, eased, and he began soothing her wrist. “Please, Wes we
have to --”
“-- start researching,” Wes said, looking as terrified as
Cordelia felt. “I know. In the meantime, we should chain you to the bed, just
in case Angelus makes another appearance.”
Angel scrambled away, and his back hit the couch. “No.”
His eyes went wide, shifting quickly from Wes to Cordy. “No chaining.”
She realized this was Dennis talking. “Oh, man.” The body
behind the wall. Bricked up. Suffocating. She touched the back of his hand, as
gently as she could. “It’s okay, Dennis. We won’t force you to do anything
you don’t want to do.”
He swallowed, and the horrified look shifted to vulnerable,
surprisingly human. “I trust you, Cordelia.”
“That’s good, Dennis. Would you mind if I talked to Angel
for a minute?” She smiled at him and squeezed his hand in reassurance.
There was a pause, an obvious internal struggle, and then
Angel’s eyes, looking frustrated and more than a little worried. “He’s
hard to control,” Angel said. “Angelus, I mean. But I’m doing the best I
can. What’s the possibility of putting Dennis back into the apartment, now? Or
a holding vessel?”
“Good idea,” Wes said. “If you think you can keep a
choke-chain on Angelus, we’ll see what we can do about getting Dennis back to
his rightful place.”
He pushed off the couch like an old man and stood unsteadily.
For a second he looked like he might fall over, but then he righted himself.
“I’ll just go back to my flat and get some books. We’ll research and see
how best to handle this. In the meantime,” he said, glancing at Angel, “you
keep Angelus under control.”
”Don’t leave her alone with me,” Angel said. He looked
rumpled, bruised. Anxious.
“Probably not a good idea.” Wes rubbed his forehead,
wincing when he hit a bruise. “Can you control him for an hour?”
Angel got to his feet, looking determined. “I can if I have
“Excellent. Cordelia, come with me. We’ll take Angel’s
car and get those books.” He reached out a hand and Angel gave him the keys.
“Lock the door behind us,” he said.
Cordy followed Wes to the door and looked over her shoulder,
taking in the view. Her trashed apartment. Angel standing uncertainly in the
middle of the floor.
“We’ll be back,” Cordy assured him.
After she closed the door, she could have sworn she heard him
As they wobbled down the stairs, the first rays of morning
sun peeked tentatively through the clouds. Wes was clearly staggering due to his
involvement in far too many explosions. Cordelia knew her knees-o-Jello were
directly related to that brief flash of Angelus. Well, that, and seeing her
apartment looking like a herd of wildebeest had passed through it on their
annual migration, stopping to have some sort of hairy animal orgy in her living
She glanced up at Wes as they hit the sidewalk and headed for
the car. He had the wild-eyed stare of the concussed. She’d seen it on Giles
often enough. Now there was a man who’d had more than his share of bonks on
the head. Maybe it was an English thing. “You really should see a doctor,
“Yes,” he sighed, rubbing brown dust from his forehead
with a shaky finger. “And while we sit in the waiting room, we can imagine
Angelus breaking free and sampling all your neighbours -- a multi-level
“Good point.” She nodded, noticing a couple of displaced
residents making their way back to their apartments. Nobody would be safe until
they had fixed this. And poor Dennis -- was he any better off inside Angel, with
his demon, than he had been outside him, with the poltergeist?
They reached the Plymouth just as the Tyvek woman and a
couple of her stern-looking colleagues appeared, covered in debris and holding
the smoking trap out in front of them.
Cordy gritted her teeth, thinking how close they’d come to
losing Dennis to that trap. “Got it, huh?”
The woman shot them the thumbs’ up.
“Ghost-busting freak,” she said, under her breath. Then
she held out her hand. “Give me the keys. I’m driving.”
Wes looked like he wanted to argue, but then he wobbled on
his feet. “Probably a good idea.”
Cordy helped him into the car, then slid into the driver’s
side. She was so tired and freaked that the excitement of driving the Batmobile
barely registered. “So,” she said, as she pulled into the street, merging
with the morning traffic. “This Angelus thing. What’ s
up with that?”
Wes leaned his head against the back of the passenger seat,
pinching the bridge of his nose. “Think of it as a juggling act, Cordelia.”
“What is Angel?” he asked, slow and patient.
She figured the concussion must have fritzed his brain. “A
vampire,” she replied, echoing his deliberate tone.
Wes shot her a look, then went back to rubbing his forehead.
“And why doesn’t he kill people anymore?”
“Because of his soul. Are you sure you don’t need a CAT
scan or something?” she said, cornering hard. Driving Angel’s car was less
easy than it looked.
“Because of his soul,” Wes repeated, grabbing for the
dashboard. “It doesn’t make his demon go away. He still is what he is. But
his soul prevents him from acting on the evil within. It’s taken him almost a
hundred years to achieve the control he has today. Now that Dennis is in there
too, he’s upset that delicate balance.”
Cordelia pondered that for a moment, didn’t like what she
came up with, and hit the gas. The tires squealed, bit into the road, and the
car lurched forward.
Wes groaned. “Try to get us back to my apartment alive. I
don’t think I can take another heavy impact.”
At any other time, Cordy would have slapped him, but the very
real possibility that she might do some actual damage made her check herself.
“Sorry, I just want to get this fixed. Fast.”
“I know,” he sighed. “Me, too.”
Thirty minutes later they were travelling the same road, in
the opposite direction. For the second time that day, the back seat of Angel’s
car rattled with jars and vials of mysterious, powdery substances and liquids
that looked like fermented fruit juice, and smelled like -- well, Cordelia
didn’t really want to know. There were hawthorn berries, and lungwort, and --
yay -- more bile. As if the smoke and patchouli weren’t bad enough, now her
place was going to smell like a yak had barfed in it.
Wes was scanning a large, ancient-looking book, which he had
propped up on his bony knees. It was so big that the top leaned against the
“Doesn’t reading in the car make you want to hurl?”
Cordy asked, lurching around the corner. She was trying to drive carefully, she
really was, but the Angel-mobile handled like a bus. This was nothing like
driving her dad’s Jag.
“Not normally,” Wes replied.
She wrestled the wheel back the other way. “So, is this
gonna be like the time we took the Ethros demon out of that kid? Because if it
is, we’re gonna need a stronger box. That last one was a total rip-off.”
“Well, if we’d had the right kind of box, it would have
helped.” Wesley glanced up from his book long enough to shoot her a look.
“The store only had a Horshack box. Mute Chinese nuns,
blind Tibetan Monks, what’s the diff?” she said, braking suddenly, making
Wesley’s book snap shut and loll toward to the floor. “Sorry, sorry.”
“Shorshack box, and I believe the ‘diff’ was apparent
when it exploded into kindling,” he replied, returning the book to its upright
Okay, there was that. She shrugged. “Do we need something
for Dennis? I have Tupperware.” One way or another that airtight seal was
gonna come in handy, she was sure of it.
Wesley actually chuckled. “No, the apartment is his
container. All we need to do is extricate him from Angel, which should be
simple. He’s a gentle being, so I don’t anticipate any of the normal violent
reactions that removing a demonic presence would generate.”
Cordelia nodded, relieved. In less than an hour they would
have everyone back where they belonged, she could have that nice, hot, bath, and
get on the with business of recuperating.
They were nearly there now. She thought of Dennis, and what
Wesley had said.
The apartment was his container.
God, the poor guy had been trapped inside those four walls
since psycho-mom bricked him up in the 1940’s. He had to be going stir crazy
in there. No wonder he was always so happy to see her. How much had the world
changed since he last went outside? Would he recognise it now?
A cold, creeping prickle ran up her back. “Wes, Dennis
understands about Angel being a vampire, right? I mean, Angel’s been living
there a week already.”
“I really don’t know, Cordelia. Why?”
“Well, if you suddenly got your body back after sixty years
of being stuck in the same place, what would you do first?” she asked.
He glanced at his lap for a moment, then quickly switched his
gaze back to the road, frowning. “I don’t know. I guess I’d
want to go out for a -- oh my.”
“Crap!” Cordelia shouted.
They stood outside the apartment, the huge book and the box of ingredients
clutched in Wesley’s arms, while Cordelia fiddled with the keys. Her fingers
shook as she tried to isolate the one for her door.
“Well, it’s still locked.” Wesley tested the knob,
juggling his load to one arm. “And no pile of dust.” He pointed to the
nearest patch of sunlight.
“Okay, good,” she said, taking a deep breath. The keys
jangled as she unlocked the door. They both stepped inside, slow, uncertain.
The trashed living room was empty and dark, the curtains all
drawn tight. The only sound was her heart, pounding in her ears. Great. If
Angelus was lying in wait for them, he’d already know she was scared.
Wesley deposited his box on the sofa, rubbed his hands on the
legs of his pants, and looked around. Silence pressed in, and as much as Cordy
had been longing for it last night, now it was unwelcome and creepy. The urge to
just get the whole thing over and done with was overwhelming. She fished in her
bag, and found the big, wooden cross that she kept for emergencies. Holding it
out in front of her, she took a couple of tentative steps toward the kitchen.
A moan came from the bedroom, making them jump. Wes nodded
towards the door, and they began to tiptoe forward. Pressure built in Cordy’s
chest, and she realised she was holding her breath. Letting it out in a slow,
steady stream, she peeked around the edge of the open door. Wesley crowded in
behind her, as they hovered on the threshold.
Angel sat, curled in on himself, with his back against edge
of the bed. He clutched his knees to his chest, fingers pressed so hard into his
calves that his fingernails disappeared into the indentations in his pants. His
eyes were screwed shut, and his lip dribbled blood, as if he’d bitten it.
A strange mixture of compassion and terror gripped her. The
new Cordy wanted to go to him, help him. The old Cordy wanted to run the hell
away. Actually, quite a lot of the new Cordy wanted to do that, too.
“Angel,” Wesley said, his voice low, cautious. It
reminded her of those guys in the movies who tried to talk jumpers down from
window ledges. “How are you doing?”
“Great,” Angel ground out, from between clenched teeth.
“Yes, yes, we have the spell.”
Angel opened his eyes slowly, looked up, and smiled -- his
lips a cruel curve. “You are so far out of your league here, Wes.” He began
to laugh, that same shattering-glass sound, and Cordy felt her knees give. Then
his teeth snapped down, breaking through his lip again, and he groaned, curling
back down into a black, trembling ball.
She took a deep, shaky breath. She wanted to run -- keep
going until she ran out of ground to cover. Every instinct was screaming, get
out, get out, get out…
But she couldn’t. Apart from the fact her legs had stopped
working, she couldn’t shake the sudden memory of him, plunging over Russel
Winters’s balcony, cradling her in his arms, bullets plowing into his back.
Bursting into the auction room to save her eyeballs. Defying hospital staff and
sleeping by her bed.
Now it was her turn to be the strong one. “Wes, get the
Wesley nodded, shot another glance at Angel, and backed out
of the door. Cordy could hear his feet on the floorboards as he ran across the
Still holding the cross up like a shield, she stepped into
the room. No doubt they were gonna have to make a circle around Angel, which
would be difficult with him wedged against her bed. “Can you move?” she
Angel didn’t, or couldn’t reply.
Wesley barrelled back in, dropping the box of ingredients in
the middle of her bed. He took one look at Angel, and braced his feet against
the dresser, shoving the bed away far enough for Cordelia to make a wobbly
sand-circle on the floor. More stones and feathers, berries, the bile, a couple
of crystals, something green and crumbly that smelled like mothballs, and they
were ready. Angel trembled, his hands turning whiter than before.
“Quick, quick!” Cordy hissed, grabbing the matches and
lighting the big, yellow candle that Wes had dumped on her bedside table.
Wesley pushed his glasses up his nose, placed the big spell
book on the bed, and began to chant.
Cordelia’s stomach churned, partly from the smell of the
bile, mostly from nerves. This had to work. She needed a respite, just a small
one, from all this horrible-ness. The last couple of weeks had been worse than
high school, and that was saying something.
Her hair began to whip around her face as the air in the room
swirled. She braced herself, prepared for more flying objects. Angel stirred and
moaned again, a sound like a trapped animal. Her skin prickled into goose-flesh.
God, if he couldn’t hear her heart before, there was no doubt he could now. It
was just about hammering its way out of her chest.
All the drawers in her dresser began to rattle, the bed
shook, and one by one, the feathers took flight from the circle of sand and
stones, and began to sail through the air. The wind formed a pattern, spiralling
clockwise, picking up sand and berries as it concentrated around where Angel
sat, drawn in on himself so tight he was almost imploding.
Wesley raised his voice, and it sounded thin and reedy above
the whistling of the mini-tornado. Little bolts of lightning crackled above the
swirling circle of debris. The air hummed with electricity, and the hair on
Cordelia’s arms stood on end. Something didn’t feel right --
Angel threw his head back, arching up on his knees, arms
outstretched. His eyes snapped open, glowed yellow, and a blood- curdling
cry worked its way up from somewhere deep in his gut, spilling out, raising
“Cordy!” he shouted, his hands flying to his chest,
fingers clawing. “No!”
“Wes?” she yelled, looking over to where Wesley was
barking out a stream of Latin.
Wesley’s voice faltered, then picked up again.
“Stop!” Angel jerked forward, fell to his hands and
knees, and reached out an arm towards them. “Oh, God, no…”
“We’re hurting him,” she shouted above the din. Wesley
shook his head, kept chanting.
“Cordy,” Angel croaked, his dark eyes finding hers,
locking on. He clutched at his chest, and his lips formed one soundless word.
Her stomach plummeted away, realisation sweeping into the
void. “Stop!” she yelled, throwing herself towards the bed. The book bounced
up, and over the side, landing on the edge of the circle and sending stones and
herbs scattering. The whirlwind sputtered, like a failing outboard motor, and
bits began dropping out of it. First the stones, then the berries, spattering on
the wooden boards. Sand rained in sprinkles, and as the wind evaporated, the
feathers see-sawed their way slowly down. Calm descended over the room.
Angel collapsed in a heap, eating floor.
“What the bloody hell did you do that for?” Wesley
snapped, throwing his already-busted glasses down on the bed. “It was
“Yeah, but we weren’t just taking Dennis out,” she
said, putting a trembling hand over her stomach.
“Oh?” Wesley, put his hands on his hips, and his eyes
went wide. “Oooh. I see.”
They both turned to Angel, who twitched a couple of times,
and groaned. As he rolled on his side, Cordy grabbed for Wesley’s hand,
prepared to run.
Angel raised his head, looked at them both with eyes that
were neither his nor Angelus’, and said, “Cordy, I’m scared.”
Cordelia turned the gas on under the teakettle, and spooned
coffee into three big mugs. The muted hum of the television was calming, and
after the tension of the day, she finally felt her nerves beginning to settle.
The stress, those mind-bending drugs that still coursed through her body, and
several hours of back-breaking cleaning had magnified the drained, wobbly
feeling that she couldn’t seem to shake off. It was good to just putter around
the kitchen, doing mundane things.
The day had been surreal, to say the least. Once it was clear
that Angelus was no longer a danger -- and Wesley still hadn’t worked that one
out -- they’d unpacked some of Angel’s smelly, charred books, and Wes
Angel/Dennis hadn’t said a lot. He’d taken a long nap on
her bed, while she’d tidied up the bombsite that was her apartment. Then
he’d come out, picked up a big book, and divided his time between reading and
watching the TV.
Both people in Angel’s body seemed subdued, disoriented,
and she could tell they were finding their equilibrium. Just like she did every
time she came out of a vision -- finding herself again, among thoughts and
feelings that belonged to other people.
The kettle shrilled, snapping her out of her reverie. She
lifted it, pouring steaming water over the little brown granules, making them
dance and dissolve. Since their old machine was now just a melted lump of metal
and plastic, they had to make do with instant. Right now, it smelled better than
any coffee ever had.
Cordy looked up, the kitchen window turning pink with the
sunset, her own reflection just visible in the glass.
“Can I help?” Angel’s voice behind her made her drop
the teaspoon in the sink. The clatter jangled like her nerves, instantly on edge
“Jeez, Angel. Don’t do that!” she gasped, turning to
glare at him.
“I’m sorry.” The soft smile on his face faded.
She shook her head. “Dennis, no, it’s all right. I
didn’t mean to snap.”
“Ah-hah!” Wesley banged his hand on the dining table.
She carried his mug of coffee to him, setting it on a
coaster. “Is this like the ah-hah of an hour ago, when you remembered your
favourite sweater was at the dry-cleaner, or is it an actual, useful ah-hah?”
“I think I know what happened,” he replied,
double-checking the page in front of him.
Angel drew up a chair, put five teaspoons of sugar into his
mug, and stirred vigorously, until he realized they were staring at him.
“Just what we need, a vampire on a sugar high,” Cordy
“I think that’s Dennis’ preference, not Angel’s,”
Wesley replied, looking intrigued.
Angel took a sip, and pulled a face, pushing the coffee away.
“Ugh, even with vampire tastebuds, that’s terrible.” He got up from the
table, shoved his hands into his trouser pockets, and began to pace the room. He
came to a halt in front of the curio cabinet, and turned back to them, his face
anxious. “How do we get him out of me?”
“First things first.” Wes held up a finger.
Cordy picked up her coffee, which Angel -- or Dennis -- had
put on the table for her. “You don’t know how to get him out, do you?”
“Not yet,” Wes admitted. “But I have a theory about how
we got from Angel --” he waved a hand at Angel, who had taken her crystal
unicorn off the newly-resurrected display on the curio cabinet, and was holding
it up to his nose, seemingly fascinated by the play of refracted light on his
face, “-- to this. Angel is a vampire --”
“Who is about to get staked if he doesn’t put that
down,” she interrupted, raising her voice.
“A vampire,” Wes repeated, drawing the word out. “A
demon without a soul. And a ghost is basically just a soul, unbound to a
physical form. When a possession occurs, that soul enters someone by force. Your
standard exorcism works on the principle of banishing the soul that doesn’t
belong in that person’s body.”
“And you think, because my soul was put back inside me
unnaturally, the spell tried to pull it out as well?” Angel said, carefully
returning the ornament, and returning his hands to his pockets.
“Exactly!” Wesley beamed.
“Well, that’s bad, isn’t it?” Cordy sighed, sliding
her butt onto the edge of the table.
“Not entirely,” Wesley said, poking his finger at a line
of text in some demon language that meant nothing to her. “We haven’t seen
any more of Angelus, so it obviously did something to subdue Angel’s demon.”
“Let me guess, you have a theory about that, too,” Cordy
said, sipping her coffee.
“Indeed. I believe it’s a bit like identical twins. They
share the same genes, and often have a psychic link. A sort of a soul-bond, if
you like. They feel each other’s pain, emotions, and such. Dennis and Angel
are sharing the same body, not just the same gene sequence, so it’s more
pronounced. There’s bound to be some sort of blurring between one soul and the
other. I think pulling them both to the surface with the exorcism has kind of --
stuck them together.” Wesley smacked his palms together, emphasising the
point. “Angel’s soul must be taking strength from Dennis -- helping him
control Angelus. How, I’m not sure. But the proof is right here.”
Cordy looked at Angel, who rocked on his heels, tense and
fidgety. “Won’t that make it even harder to get Dennis out?” she said.
“That’s the problem,” Angel said. “Dennis doesn’t
*want* to come out.”
Wesley’s face fell. “Of course. That’s why the
unbinding didn’t work.” He stared off into space, thinking. “But if my
assumptions are correct, the longer we leave it, the harder it will be. Angel,
what do you suggest?”
“I don’t care what you have to do,” Angel said. “I
want my body back.”
“We’ll do our best. I promise,” Wesley said, his voice
soft. He reached for another book.
Cordy glanced down at herself, smeared with dirt, soot from
the books, blood from the bathtub, and little bits of ectoplasmic residue which
she’d had to scrub off her front door. She slid off the table. “I’m going
to try having a long, hot bath. Without the demon-y interruptions, this time.”
“Hmmm,” Wes mumbled, already buried in his research
Cordy turned on the bathtub tap and waited, breath held, to
see what would happen.
Water, warm and clear, shot free. Her shoulders dropped
somewhere south of her ears. “Whew,” she said. “No more Exorcist.” She
shook her head and glanced up at the ceiling. “You were killing the last
decent towels I had left.”
She dropped the plug in and turned to the mirror to brush her
hair. While she brushed, her gaze was drawn to the mirror and over her shoulder,
where she could see that there wasn’t any steam rising from the tap.
“Hotter,” she said, under her breath. Of course nothing
happened, just as she’d known it wouldn’t. But the habit was ingrained in
her now. She depended on Dennis to take care of her, almost as she’d come to
depend on Angel. Not having him hovering near her felt wrong, empty.
Her heart dropped. No one to pick up her clothes or run her
bath or scrub her back. No one to comfort her when she had a vision or got
lonely in the middle of the night.
Instead, he sat out there on the couch in Angel’s body,
making Angel look like a self-confidence-challenged high school boy. “And what
is up with that?” But, of course, it was all Polygrip’s fault. Who could
grow up to be a man when his mother kept his balls in her purse?
Cordy slid into the water and adjusted the taps on the way
down. She let her hair float around her and soaked off the sticky remnants of
blood, of ectoplasm, and of the rotten-egg stench left behind by the expanding
After the last few days in the hospital, being home in her
own tub was better than a pint of Chunky Monkey and the latest Grisham. Even as
she floated, images flickered behind her closed eyelids and, unable to stop
them, her body clenched. So much pain….
She sucked in a deep breath, sat up and reached for the
shampoo. Enough with the Heathcliff act. There was enough worry in the world
without adding hers to it. They’d just have to take one case at a time, just
like they always did.
And right now, that case was taking up space on her living
She squirted iridescent Pantene into her palm just as a knock
sounded on the bathroom door. “Yeah?”
“I, uh --” came the voice on the other side.
“Spit it out, Angel. Or Dennis, whoever.” It felt good to
rub the fresh-smelling shampoo through her hair, to wash away the last couple of
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
Okay, that sounded like Dennis. “Volunteering for
There was a little squeak. “Um, uh --”
She laughed. “It’s okay, Dennis. I’m fine. Why don’t
you go see what Wes is doing?”
Silence bloomed and she slid back under and rinsed her hair.
When she came up the knock sounded again. “Trying to have a private moment,
“It’s me, Cordy.” Okay, that was definitely Angel.
She rubbed soap on the loofah up and scrubbed her arms.
“Yeah, Angel. I’m here. I’m fine. No blood in the water, no freakiness
“Good. But that’s not why I’m here.”
She arched at eyebrow at the door as she scrubbed her back.
“I knew it. My ghost cares more about me than you do.” Suddenly she was
struck by the memory of Angel’s face when she woke. How in that one moment,
she knew she had a family again.
But Angel just made his usual huff, the one that was a cross
between amusement and frustration. “I’d smell it, if it were something
besides water. Besides, don’t you think getting Dennis back to his rightful
place takes top priority, even over getting clean?”
“Please. Tell me about the importance of good hygiene after
you’ve stopped taking two showers a day.” She thought of Angel’s face
again, naked with fear and need. “Don’t worry, Angel,” she said, softly.
“We’ll get Dennis back home, so chill.”
“But…I’m not sure I’m ready to go back yet,” came
Angel’s voice, on a lower volume.
Cordy shook her head, confused. Then she realized that she
was talking to Dennis. Much as she loved them both, going back and forth between
them was making her feel schizo.
She imagined Dennis, head drooping, hands in his pockets,
fighting to stay embodied. Angel, stuck in there somewhere, desperate to have
his independence returned.
“We’ll work something out,” she said, rinsing off soap
suds and stepping out of the tub. Water puddled on the mat as she dried off and
wrapped a towel around her hair. She slid her arms into her satin bathrobe and
tied it loosely, then flung the door open, and found herself face-to-face with
Angel, head down, looked up sharply. His eyes widened. “Uh,
“Please, like you haven’t seen it all before,” she
said, as she brushed past. “Not mine, of course. Well, Dennis has, so --”
She whirled. “Wait. Do you have his memories? Have you seen me --?”
Angel blinked. “Uh --” His gaze dropped.
Horror struck. “Oh, yuck. Dennis, why’d you have to show
him that?” She closed the door behind her, wondering why she even bothered,
and went to the dresser to grab her lotion bottle. The clean smell of Lubriderm
hit the air as she smoothed it on.
“I don’t think he had a choice,” Angel said through the
wood. “I -- we -- It’s probably harder on him, since he got all of my
Cordy went still then looked up at the door. “All of
them?” Silence gave her all the answer she needed. “Well, crap,” she said,
putting the bottle back and pulling clean underwear out of the top drawer. She
shimmied it up her legs.
“Yeah. It’s, uh, kind of disturbing.”
She dried her hair with quick strokes then dropped the towel
in a heap on the mattress. After tugging on a pair of gray jeans and a bra, she
got a button-up shirt out of the closet. It was one of Angel’s old white ones
that she’d stolen when she first started working for him. She slid it on,
snuggling into its soft, comforting embrace.
When she opened the door, he had disappeared, and she walked
toward the living room, not sure what to say next. Dennis got Angel *and*
Angelus. And they got him.
For the first time, she thought, as she walked down the hall
pulling a brush through her hair, she could see both of her best friends in the
same plane -- problem was, they were stuck in the same body. And here she was
between the two of them, wanting to make sure they both were happy and safe.
“Wow,” she said, coming into the room to find the two --
three? four? -- men sitting on the couch, staring at the TV. “This is totally
weird.” She passed them on the way to the kitchen. “Anyone hungry?”
“I could eat,” Wes said.
“Skin-and-bones is hungry? What a surprise.” She stared
into her freezer, at the half-eaten carton of Ben & Jerry’s, the two
remaining Popsicles, and the bag of ice. “Wanna order a pizza?”
There was a shuffle, and then Angel walked in. “I -- Could
we go out to eat?”
She turned. “Okay, that *so* has to be Dennis, because
Angel would never ask to go out to eat.” She pulled her hair over one shoulder
and finished brushing it into a long, untangled fall.
Angel stared at her hands, looking hypnotized by their
movement. “I just…. I haven’t been out in a long time.” He gestured,
glance sliding away, like he’d been caught looking at something he shouldn’t
“Right,” Cordy said, heart twisting. “Give me a
She went to the bedroom, ditched the white button-up and
pulled on a bright orange-and-yellow baby doll t-shirt. Poking her feet into her
orange flip flops left her an extra minute to do something with her hair. It
dampened her shirt and neck, and she knew she didn’t have time to dry it, so
she pulled it into one, long ponytail.
She slicked on lip gloss and touched her lashes with mascara
in the vanity mirror over her dresser. “Ready,” she said, meeting the guys
at the front door.
Angel stared at her. “I don’t mean to be rude, Cordelia,
but are you sure that’s appropriate attire for a meal out?”
She glanced down at the t-shirt and tight jeans. “Huh?”
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Angel fumbled
to put on his long, leather duster. “I don’t mean any insult. I’m just
used to women wearing things that are a bit more… modest.” He cleared his
“And again, I say, huh?” Cordy said, glancing up at him.
“You see me every day.”
Angel, posture changing, ran his hand over his face and
sighed. “Sorry,” he said, in his own voice. “Dennis is a little freaked
Wes reached into the hall closet and handed Cordy her jean
jacket. “Why don’t you wear this?” He glanced at Angel. “I’m sure he
sees things very differently through living eyes. He must be experiencing a
profound culture shock.”
“Something like that.” Angel nodded and glanced at Cordy.
Cordy slipped the jacket on, then picked up her purse.
Angel seemed to relax. “Blow what?” he asked, brow
“We’re gonna have to get a little sign for you to hold up
so we know which one is which,” Cordy said. “‘Cause that could have been
either of them.” She eyeballed Wes. “Any ideas for telling them apart?”
Wes shook his head. “This is certainly going to take some
getting used to.”
“Understatement of the century,” Cordy said, pulling the
house keys out of her purse.
Angel cleared his throat, and when she looked up he was
holding out his hand. “Allow me,” he said.
She frowned. “Allow you to what?”
“Lock the door,” Wes said. He rubbed his forehead. “I
feel like a translator.”
Cordy handed Angel the key and watched as he locked the door
and made sure it was secure. Then he pocketed it. “Snug as a bug in a rug,”
She shook her head. “I think I’m gonna *need* a
translator if he keeps this up,” she whispered to Wes as they started down the
hall. Except for the occasional flicker of TV sets, or a muted conversation, it
was quiet after the ghostly scare.
They exited the building and started down the sidewalk. Angel
turned in circles as he walked, eyes wide with wonder, and Cordy was sure he was
gonna trip over his own feet at any second. He looked like a little kid on his
first visit to Disneyland.
She reached out, grasped his elbow, brought his attention
back to her and Wes. “Where to?”
“I really want a hamburger,” he said, and the longing for
food sounded so strange coming from Angel’s mouth that Cordy laughed.
“That is *so* weird. But, a hamburger would be great.”
She glanced at Wes. “Wanna go to Fatburger?”
He nodded. “Sounds fine.”
“They still have Fatburger?” Angel asked in Dennis’s
“Only the best burger in America,” Wes said. “Or so
Cordy elbowed him. “Like you could judge a real, American
Wes pushed his glasses up his nose. “I’ll have you know,
I’ve eaten in many a pub.”
“And in one sentence, you’ve made my entire point,”
“There was a diner down in Hollywood,” Angel said,
interrupting them. “Near the hotel with murals of movie stars --” He snapped
his fingers, obviously searching for a memory, but came up short. “It’s so
strange. I thought I remembered everything.” He glanced down at his feet. “I
used to take my girlfriend there for milkshakes.”
Cordy started to wind her arm through his then stopped,
realizing she’d never act that casually friendly with Angel, even after Vocah.
“What’s it like?”
Dennis’s gaze filled Angel’s dark eyes, and he
tentatively brushed her hand with his. She took the cue and slid her hand into
the crook of his arm, grinning up at him.
“What’s what like?” he asked, walking her to the
Batmobile and opening the car door for her like a true gentleman.
“Being human again,” she said, as she slid in the front
seat. “Well, being up and walking around again.”
He glanced around the parking lot, eyes finally returning to
her. “Strange. Everything’s different. But people...” He smiled, that
beautiful, heartbreaking smile. “People still seem the same.”
“Except for your mother,” Cordy said.
“Oops,” Cordy said.
Wes pulled the driver’s seat up and slid in the back.
“Yes, that’s good, Cordelia. Do remind the man of how his mother walled him
up and suffocated him to death.”
Angel slid behind the wheel of the car and started it, then
shifted into drive. “It’s okay,” Angel said. “I don’t mind.” They
rolled forward a few feet then screeched to a stop.
Cordy braced against the dash even as Wes “whuffed”
against the front seat. The impact caused his glasses to fly off and land next
to her. “Maybe you mind more than you realized,” she said, staring down at
“Ow,” he said from the back seat. “My ribs.”
“Sorry,” Angel said, shaking his head. “I don’t think
I know how to drive.” He looked at her, half frantic, half in apology. “I
always took the bus.”
Her brow wrinkled. “Angel knows how to drive. Just use his
“It’s not that easy -- I mean, there’s some bleed-over
between the two, but it’s more like waking up from a dream and just… knowing
things. Does that make sense?” His soft voice begged her to understand, to not
find him lacking.
Wes fumbled in the front seat and found his glasses.
“No!” Cordy and Angel said in unison.
Suddenly Angel sat up straighter, his body relaxing into its
familiar, confident lines. He put the car in drive, and they pulled into
Cordy shook her head. “Okay, that had better be Angel
“It’s me,” he said. “And can I just say that this
“You mean, the whole --” she made a vague gesture --
He shot her a look. “No, Cordelia, the fact that I’m
about to eat a huge hamburger.”
“Ooh, nice,” she said. “Was that sarcasm?”
“Ahem,” Wes said, leaning his elbows on the back of the
bench seat. “I’m sure this is stressful beyond imagining, but we’re
working on getting it resolved.”
“By going out to eat?” Angel asked, drumming his fingers
on the steering wheel.
“I work better when I’m full,” Cordy put in.
Angel shot her another exasperated look.
By the time they pulled into Fatburger, Cordy was ready to
have Dennis back. At least he wasn’t Mr. Mopey-pants. “Let’s eat,” she
Angel winced. “Do you have to slam the door, Cordelia?”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “Your negative vibe is
really dragging me down.”
“Well, excuse me,” Angel sniped, as he swept past her and
into the restaurant. The diner-style interior made him look like an anachronism
in his overly-chic coat and gelled up hair. “You try losing control of your
body, and see how you feel.”
Cordy arched a brow and didn’t say a word.
Angel opened his mouth then closed it again. “Never
Wes worked his way to an empty booth. “Do you find you’re
able to switch more easily between the both of you, now?” he asked.
They slid in, Cordy next to Angel and across from Wes.
“Yeah, can you just do it like I Dream of Jeannie, and blink between the
Angel shook his head. “No, it’s more like --” He let
out a long breath and dropped his gaze.
When he looked up, she saw Dennis. “Okay, that’s just
freaky,” she said.
“Yes, rather,” Wes agreed, excitedly. “I’ve been
thinking. I know time is of the essence, but this is the sort of thing we might
want to do some research on.” He leaned forward, almost bubbling with
enthusiasm. “I could interview each of you, find out how the entities work
“And what, write it up in the Watcher’s Review?” Cordy
said. She waved her hand. “Please, like anyone cares about this besides a
bunch of stuffy old English guys.”
Just as Wes was about to answer, the waitress came to take
Angel stared at her hair, shaved nearly to the scalp and dyed
blue. Cordy elbowed him and he dropped his gaze.
“I’ll have, um,” he said, glancing out from under his
lashes, “a burger, fries and a chocolate shake.” The waitress nodded and
turned to Cordy without missing a beat.
“Turkey burger, salad, dressing on the side. Diet Coke,”
Wes ordered a burger and chips.
“Fries, you idiot,” Cordy said, with an affectionate eye
“We stuffy Brits have a difficult time with your butchering
of the English language,” Wes said.
Cordy wrinkled her nose at him then turned to Angel, who was
ignoring them in favor of the blue hair. “People still the same, huh?” she
asked, poking him in the ribs.
He jerked and made a very un-Angel-like giggle. “Could you
believe her hair?” he whispered as the waitress left. “Why would anyone do
“It’s cool, I guess,” Cordy said, shrugging. “If you
like that post-punk, Joey Ramone sort of thing.”
Seemingly without thinking, Angel twisted a strand of hers
between his fingers. “I like yours better,” he said, eyes warm and soft.
Her heart sped up and she found herself smiling at him like
she would if she were on a date. Then she stopped because she realized what she
Angel, acting all sweet and… human. She really shouldn’t
be turned on by that, because he was still just a dead guy.
But, he was a hot dead guy.
She reached for the Diet Coke the waitress set down in front
of her, and took a swig.
Someone dropped a quarter in the juke-box and Harry
Connick’s, “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” rolled out. Angel’s eyebrows
rose. “I recognize that song.”
“Remake,” Cordy said, slurping her soda. “When Harry
Met Sally? With the diner scene where Meg Ryan fakes it?”
“Fakes what?” Wes said, brow wrinkling.
Cordy snorted. “Like I’m gonna fake an orgasm in front of
Angel actually blushed. “Uh --”
Cordy laughed. “Sorry, Dennis.” She glanced over to find
him staring at her. She caught his gaze, caught her breath. “What?”
His fingers in her hair tugged her closer and his eyes
dropped to her mouth. Finally, in a gruff voice, he asked, “Would you like to
She stared at him, confused by the sheer wrongness of that
remark. “What? You don’t dance, Angel.”
“I don’t think that was Angel,” Wes said, quietly.
“Oh,” Cordy said. And then it hit her. “OH.” She slid
off the booth, suddenly shy. “Sure, Dennis. I’ll dance with you.”
His face lit up and he met her on the bright tile floor.
Extending a hand, he pulled her to him.
She felt clumsy, unable to follow his footing. Embarrassed by
the other diners who were staring at them.
“Here,” he said, pulling back enough to glance down at
their feet. “It’s easy. You follow me like this, see?”
His eyes met hers, vibrant, glowing with life, and she sucked
in a breath. Stunned, she looked down at their feet, watching as she got the
hang of it, as her orange flip-flops began moving in tandem with his big, black
The only dancing she’d done had been at the Bronze, so the
feel of his hands on hers, of his hips moving in time with hers, sent a spike of
heat through her. Angel’s hands, so big and cool, suddenly seemed warmed by
Dennis’s life force. His eyes, usually reserved, lit with joy. And his smile
Her heart trembled. “Now I know how Demi Moore felt,” she
whispered. Then she leaned her head against his collarbone, closed her eyes and
let him lead her around the floor.
Finally the song ended, and a smattering of applause shocked
her out of her happy, Patrick Swayze daydream. She looked around to see the
other diners watching them, some smiling, others with a “you must be crazy”
look on their faces.
She turned back to Angel, who still held her hand tightly in
his, who still cupped her waist with a surprisingly confident grace.
“Thank you,” he said, quietly.
She smiled, but inside she was churning. This was Angel --
her boss, Buffy’s boyfriend, Angelus -- not Dennis. He wasn’t safe, he
wasn’t available. He wasn’t so many things.
He *was* about to kiss her.
His mouth edged toward hers, slowly, slowly. Her breath
backed up in her chest --
“Order up!” the waitress said, brushing by them to drop
the plates on the table.
Cordy and Angel jumped apart. “Great dance!” she said.
“Thanks!” And then she slid back into the booth, right into his spot.
“Um,” he said, following, that uncertain look back on his
face. “My shake?”
She quickly traded their drinks and plates and concentrated
hard on putting mustard on her burger.
Across from them, Wes stared. “Perhaps we should get this
resolved sooner rather than later,” he said.
Cordy glanced up at him. “Ya think?”
On the drive back to her apartment, Angel kept shooting her
“What?” she asked.
“What, what?” he replied.
“You keep looking at me.” She brushed her hand over her
mouth. “I have salad in my teeth, don’t I?” The visor didn’t have a
mirror, so she dug her compact out of her purse and flipped it open. She bared
her teeth at her reflection.
“No, it’s not that.”
Just for good measure she scrubbed her finger across her
teeth. “Well, that’s good. I’d hate to be all green-teeth-lady and you be
too wimpy to tell me about it.” She glanced in the mirror again and caught
Wes, brooding in the back seat.
“Hey, Wes, you okay?”
He glanced toward her, a vivid blue flash, only barely dimmed
by his glasses. “Just thinking.”
But she could see he was exhausted. “Look, why don’t we
drop you by your apartment? You need to get some sleep.” She glanced over at
Angel. “Angel and I will be fine. Right?”
Angel’s head turned, his eyes wide. “You want me to spend
Cordy shook her head. “Dennis, stop being such a gir--”
“I’m me. I mean, I’m Angel,” he interrupted. “I’m
not sure it’s safe for you to be alone with me after…” His voice trailed
She remembered his body, arching, his eyes glowing, the way
he’d mouthed “soul.” “But Angelus seems to have gone underground,
He considered that. “For now. Who knows how long it’ll
last.” He cut his eyes at her. “Maybe I should stay at Wesley’s.”
“Probably safer that way, “Wes said. “After all, we
have no idea what could be hap--”
“Oh, please,” Cordy said, remembering the way Dennis had
looked at her at the diner. “He’s docile as a puppy.”
“Hey!” Angel said. “A puppy?”
“Besides, it’s two against one. Dennis and Angel against
the doofus. You can take him, right?”
“Cordelia, Angelus is many things, but I wouldn’t say
‘doofus’ is one of them,” Wes said, casting a watchful eye at Angel.
“And maybe it’s best not to mention puppies…”
She sighed, feeling the edges of reality fray as that
drugged, out-of-body feeling washed over her again. “Yeah, you’re right.
Look, why don’t you stay with…” Her hand flew to her head. Okay, maybe it
wasn’t the drugs or exhaustion making reality fray. “That thorny, brown
demon --” She jerked against the seat, crying out as her brain spasmed.
The vision flashed, showing her its secrets. A demon, with
thorns fifty times bigger and sharper than a rosebush. A man in a dark green
shirt, his eyes going wide with terror. And then the freight-train slam of pain,
the silver sparkle of shock, as she stared down at her chest, at the thorn
running her through.
Cordy groaned. When she opened her eyes, they were in her
parking lot, and she was staring up at the third floor fire escape.
“You okay?” Angel asked, smoothing a hand over her
forehead. He cradled her against him, her head in his lap.
“Never been better,” she said, turning her face into his
shirt to block the light. “Big, brown demon with thorns, shredding a guy on
the subway. Ugh,” She paused, wrinkling her nose at the residual smell of
train-dirt and rat droppings, and glanced back up at Angel. “Why are the
helpless never shopping on Rodeo Drive?”
Angel’s eyebrows rose. “Where, Cordelia?”
“He’s in the tunnel down near MacArthur Park, and if
anyone starts singing, I’ll break their arms.” She struggled to sit up, felt
his hands on her shoulders easing her against the seat. Her head pounded like a
jackhammer had been dropped in her skull. “Let’s go get him.”
Wes leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Maybe you should stay here.”
She brushed his hand with hers. “Please. What are you,
Indestruct-o? You need all the help you can get.”
“Cordy’s right.” Angel started the car and pulled out,
heading toward Westlake.
“See?” she asked, glancing back at Wes.
“You’re both exhausted,” Angel said. “You should wait
in the car while I take care of it.”
“Don’t argue with me, Cordelia.”
“But what about Dennis?”
Angel’s gaze shifted, and Dennis appeared, looking excited
and nervous. “I’ll stay out of the way.”
Cordy crossed her arms, feeling her strength slowly seeping
back. “Famous last words.”
“Where’d you say this thing was?” Angel called as he
slid the fare card he’d just bought into the slot on the front of the
turnstile. It popped out of the slot on top and he grabbed it, walked through
then turned and looked at Cordy and Wes.
“Down there, somewhere,” Cordy said. “I didn’t get a
clear picture -- just some guy on a train, getting pronged by Thorny.”
“Okay, that’s good,” Angel said, obviously working hard
to find the silver lining. “We know he’s on a train.”
“Hey, could ya move?”
Cordy looked up. There was a guy behind her trying to get
through the turnstile, and a line had formed behind him. “Ya wanna give us a
minute?” she said. “We’ve got a situation, here.”
The guy opened his mouth, and Wes stepped between them and
took the card from Angel’s hand. “Go,” he said, pushing her through.
“Hand me the ticket.”
Cordy fell through the turnstile and grabbed it. “Great,”
she said, handing the card to Wes. “Me and the unwashed masses.”
Wes followed her through and pulled both of them to the side.
“Here. Get out of their way.”
“Well, now that we’re here,” Cordy said, ignoring the
dirty looks she was getting from the passing crowd, “Why don’t we go with
Angel shook his head. “It’s not safe.”
“I think we could all use a little back-up,” Wes said,
pushing his glasses up his nose. His hair was rumpled and the bruise on his
temple a nasty green. He still trembled like an old drunk, but at least he was
standing. At least they all were.
“You’re outnumbered,” Cordy said to Angel. “Go with
it.” She stepped on the escalator and started down into the bowels of the
By the time they fought their way through the crowd,
Cordy’s head was booming and Wes looked like you could blow him over with one
breath. Angel’s eyes shifted, the way they did when he felt hemmed in. Cordy
couldn’t tell if that was his allergy to people, or if Dennis was out and
freaked by the crowd.
A train pulled in and Cordy stared at the name, glowing on
the side window. “The Metro Red Line,” she said, waiting for some sense of
recognition to hit. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of
forest green. The same color as the shirt the guy in her vision had been
She followed, trying to get a bead on the shirt.
“You got something?” Angel asked.
“Dunno. Maybe.” She slipped through the crowd, eyes on
the people pushing to get on the train. Two windows down she saw it again -- and
this time, the face of the person wearing the shirt showed clearly. “No. Wrong
“Okay. We’ll wait.” Angel folded his arms across his
chest and surveyed the platform.
“Angel?” she asked.
“Yeah?” He glanced at her.
“Nothing. Just wanted to make sure it was you.”
Wes leaned against one of the large pillars holding up the
ceiling. He looked as gray as the faded white paint behind him. “What if
he’s in the tunnel? Could we just go get him?”
You had to give it to Wes. He might be girly, but he was
game. “I’m not sure where he is. For all I know, he’s riding on top of one
of the trains.”
Wes sighed. “All right.”
The station cleared out as the train pulled away, crammed
with people. Cordy rubbed her temples.
“You all right?” Angel stepped up behind her and put his
hand on her shoulder.
“Yeah. Just got a headache.”
“We’ll get you back home as soon as we can.”
Just then, the man from her vision walked right past her.
“That’s him!” She pointed. “The guy I saw!”
He turned and shot her a look. “Excuse me?”
Definitely him. Short, blondish hair, dark green shirt. Too
bad the demon tore it to shreds. That, and his heart. She winced. “Nothing,”
she said, covering quickly. “I thought I knew you.”
The next train pulled in and they followed him on to the car.
“You’re sure it’s him?” Angel whispered.
She nodded. “Yeah. Same shirt. Abercrombie & Fitch. Saw
it in the catalogue last week.”
Wes pressed against her so he could grab the handle hanging
above their heads. “Well,” he said, “That’s good news.”
He shot her a tired glare.
The train doors closed. “Metro Red Line now departing for
7th Street Station. Please hold on,” came the mechanical voice.
Cordy grabbed Angel’s arm and braced herself as the car
pulled out of the station.
They went from light to dark, and the smell of the dank
tunnel rushed through the window someone had opened to try to get some air
circulating in the car. She kept her eye on the guy as they rode, making sure he
never got out of her sight.
Two stations passed, three. The rocking motion of the train
was making her headache worse. But she knew Wes’s pain outranked hers, so she
kept her mouth shut.
Suddenly the car lurched to a stop, shuddering on its rails.
The lights flashed and the smell of burning brakes wafted through. Her heart
rate increased. “Here we go,” she said. From the forward two cars, she heard
Angel tensed. “I thought you said only this guy got
hurt,” he said, shooting her a look.
“Hey, I’m just the messenger.” She reached into her
purse for the small crossbow she always carried.
Static came over the speakers and the conductor’s voice
followed. “Please remain in your places. We will get the train moving again in
--” His voice was abruptly cut off and someone in one of the first cars
About a dozen people were in the car with them and until that
moment they’d been frozen, staring glassy-eyed toward the sound. When static
hissed back on the line, green-shirt guy stood up and ran for the doors. “Let
me out!” he yelled.
“Get out of my way!” came the reply, as another person,
and another stood and started hammering at the sliding doors.
The guy from her vision started prying the door open with his
fingers. “Everyone stop!” she yelled.
No one listened -- if anything, their movements became more
frantic. Someone began rocking against the doors, wailing, as panic spread like
wildfire. Cordy stepped back, feeling the mob mentality grow, knowing it could
kill them as easily as the thorn-demon if the crowd turned on them.
Just then the subway car lurched. She and Angel went down,
landing on the hot, dusty floor. Wes held on to the rail next to them and kept
himself upright, barely. Angel’s hand covered her head and he tucked her
against him. “Stay down,” he said, rolling her off of him and pushing her
behind a seat.
He came up, axe in hand, that he’d produced from the lining
of his coat. Something flashed out the corner of her eye as Wes pulled his knife
from an ankle holster.
Glass shattered next to her and a long hand, covered with
thorns, reached in. She jerked back, screaming, and dove across the aisle for
the other seat. The subway doors finally slid open and people fell out onto the
gravel that lined the tunnel.
She could hear them scrambling, hear a high-pitched, inhuman
squeal, and then the sound of wood scratching against the side of the metal car.
That long hand slid past, then a face -- upside down, eyes
muddy and feral -- then the thing’s body and finally its feet, as it crawled
head-first down the car. The long screech finally cut off and she watched as it
scampered toward the huddling mass of riders. She grabbed Wes and they followed
Angel out the door.
The demon was flailing like a demented rosebush in the wind,
slapping anything it could get its thorny hands on. The commuters shrieked and
scattered like leaves. Near the cars ahead, she could make out the dim figures
of other riders running for their lives.
Shoving a bolt in the crossbow, she aimed. But she couldn’t
get a good shot because Angel and Wes had moved in front of her. On tiptoe she
watched, holding her breath, as Angel lifted the axe. With a graceful downward
blow he severed a rootlike foot.
Cordy jumped as the demon let out that high-pitched wail. It
turned and sliced toward Angel, and from the way he grunted and doubled over,
she knew it had made contact.
“Angel!” She rushed forward, alongside Wes, and aimed her
crossbow. The bolt flew and went wide, landing in the gravel.
Angel rose, roaring.
“Oh, you are so very deady-dead-dead,” she yelled.
Loading another bolt, she aimed and fired again. This time it hit the thing in
the arm and stuck.
The monster squeaked, shot her a dirty look from those
dirt-colored eyes, turned away from Angel and rushed her. “Obviously not up on
fighting strategy,” she yelled, reloading fast. “Don’t you know you go for
the strongest first?”
Wes, in the demon’s path, rushed forward with his knife out
in a warrior’s stance. “Come on! You don’t scare me!” The demon simply
shot out with one of its roots and tripped him. Wes went down with an “oof,”
and the knife skidded across the gravel.
Cordy raised the crossbow and stepped back, trying to put
space between her and the thorn-man. It kept coming. Her heartbeat roared in her
head and her hands trembled. “Angel? A little help, here?”
She leapt out of its way, back onto the silent train car,
just in time to avoid the slash of its sharp hand. When she looked out, Angel
was huddled in the shadows, his hands over his face. “Angel!”
He glanced up, eyes wide with terror.
“Dammit! Dennis! Get Angel!”
“I -- I c-can’t --” he whimpered. “It cut me. It
The sound of his voice, raw with pain, drew the demon toward
“Dennis! Raise your axe! Chop him in two!”
His eyes widened as the demon rushed him, and he swallowed
hard, pulling the axe up over his head, and swung. It went wilder than Wes’s
sprawl, embedding the gravel, and nearly cutting off his toes. He whimpered and
yanked on the axe, which flew free and in a freak accident of trajectory,
clocked the demon on the jaw.
It whirled, looking like it should have a circle of birds
tweeting above its head. Angel took the axe and went after him, swinging
clumsily, hacking at roots and making the thing squeal like Aura did when she
chipped a nail.
Wes pushed up off the gravel, smudged, bruised and rattled.
His glasses had fallen off, again, and just as he reached for them, the demon
accidentally knocked them under the train with one of its long roots. Wes cried
out and fell to his knees.
Frustrated with the less-than-manly display of her two
warriors, Cordy jumped down, grabbed the axe from Angel, and dashed up behind
Mr. Thorny. It took both hands to lift the heavy weapon, so she clamped them
around the handle and swung, hard.
It felt like knocking a softball bat into a fence pole, a
memory from gym class she’d have rather seen fade. Her arms vibrated from hand
to shoulder and pain, a sick-sweet ache, shot through her head. She pulled the
axe free and swung again.
Another blow and the top thorn flew off, twirling through the
air, and impaled Angel. He cried out and fell, scrabbling frantically to get the
thorn out of his shoulder. “Ow! Ow, ow, ow!”
By now the demon was hacked pretty good -- the biggest thorn
gone, one root missing, and a couple of chunks taken out of its hide. Cordy
raised the axe and gestured with it. “Haul your twiggy butt out of here,
before I turn you into kindling!” The demon seemed to take her seriously,
since it gave one last squeal, it disappeared down the tunnel.
Cordy watched it go, trying to catch her breath. She lowered
the axe, staring after the demon and panting.
Wes climbed slowly to his feet and slid his glasses on. Now
the other earpiece was mangled, and they hung lopsidedly from his face. “Is it
gone?” He collected his knife, sat down hard on the car’s steps, and stuck
it back into his ankle holster.
Angel leaned over, hands on his knees, his shirt sliced and
his wounds dribbling blood. “God, I hope so.” He looked down at his shirt,
moving the fabric aside with trembling fingers to stare at the wounds that
exposed the white gleam of ribs and the shredded pink muscle. Shuddering, he
looked up, and his face had gone green. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
Cordy leaned against the train car next to Wes and looked at
her elbow. The scab that had started forming had broken open in the fight.
“Excuse me, but who’s more likely to scar, here? Besides, you got worse than
that two weeks ago when that Feklar ran you through. Remember your intestines
Angel went pale, turned to the wall and retched.
Cordy flinched. “Wow, he wasn’t kidding.”
Wes shook his head at Angel’s heaving back, then turned to
Cordy. “It got away, did you say?”
She nodded. “Yeah. It got away. But, bonus, no one was
really hurt, and we actually saved those guys on the train with us.”
Wes took the axe from her. “You did a brilliant job. Maybe
the demon was right to go after you -- you were the strongest this time out.”
Despite the residual pounding of the post-vision headache,
she smiled. “Really?” She went to Angel’s side and put her hand on his
arm. “Come on, tough guy. Let’s go get you patched up.”
He stepped away from the wall and wiped his mouth with his
shirtsleeve. A long pink smudge marred his chin. “I’m fine,” he said, but
he leaned hard on her and let her help him out of the tunnel and back toward the
It was a long walk, made longer by the 180 pounds of bleeding
man using her as a crutch. It was too narrow to walk three abreast, so they took
turns helping Angel limp out. By the time they got to the station, it was
swarming with transportation personnel, cops and paramedics.
Cordy helped Angel hide his axe in the pocket in his coat
lining, tucked the cross bow into her purse and wrapped Angel’s coat around
him to hide the wounds. They snuck across to the opposite side of the station,
using the chaos for cover.
The train ride back to MacArthur Park seemed as long and
torturous as the song. Every time the car rocked, Angel groaned, and the people
in the train shot him strange looks, and sat well away. Wes looked like the only
thing holding him up was the strap through which his hand was threaded. It was a
relief to finally struggle up the subway escalator, and out into the warm, dark
The car was where they left it, angled into one of the
parking spots marked “handicap.” A ticket fluttered on the windshield and
she snatched it off. “We need a handicap sticker,” she said, dropping it in
her purse to add to the list they already owed. “This is the third time this
month. You think Kate could help us out?”
Angel grunted and fell into the passenger seat, smearing
blood all over the leather. Wes climbed into the back like an arthritic old man
and lay down. “Guess I’m driving, then.” She took the keys from Angel and
started the car, backing out with a jerk.
“Ow,” Angel said.
She glanced at him, but only for a second, because she
didn’t want to run off the road. “Sorry. I can’t get the hang of this car.
It drives like a tank.”
He slid down in the seat, covering his wounds with his hands.
“Just get me home.”
The novelty of driving Angel’s car had well and truly worn
off, Cordy decided, as she wrestled it into a parking spot outside her building.
Between mercy dashes for books and bile, and ferrying injured demon hunters home
-- like some sort of ambulance for the geeky and the undead -- she’d had
enough. Any more hauling on the uncooperative steering wheel and she’d have
biceps like a lumberjack.
At least Wesley was now safe in his apartment, where she
hoped he was getting some much-needed sleep. Her main concern was Dennis, who
sat, pale and silent, beside her. Sure, he was in Angel’s body, he’d heal
fast enough, but the wounds were pretty deep, and still needed cleaning. And
Dennis wasn’t used to that sort of pain and gore, as illustrated by the big
barf-o-rama in the subway tunnel.
She turned to Angel. “Can you walk?”
“Yeah, it’s me Cordy. I’m fine,” Angel said. “I
told you before, I can take care of myself. It’s you and Wes I’m worried
about.” He opened the door, and started to get out, but stopped, panting, and
a fine sheen of sweat broke out along his hairline.
“We’re fine,” she countered, grabbing up her purse.
“Witness who is bleeding from multiple stab wounds, and who isn’t.”
He frowned. “Cordy, it’s my job to protect you. And with
Dennis slowing me down…”
She went around to the passenger door, bracing her feet on
the sidewalk as he looped his arm over her shoulder. “We’ll worry about that
later. Right now, let’s patch you up and get you a nice warm cup of blood.”
He shook his head, causing them to stumble a little as they
set off up the path. “Dennis is *not* going to like that.”
She glanced up into his clammy face. “Well, drink it over
the sink. I don’t want to be scrubbing vampire puke out of my rug for the next
At the front door, Cordy paused, still not used to having to
open it for herself. Finally she propped Angel against the doorframe, fished her
keys from her purse, released the lock, and helped him inside, kicking the door
closed behind them. One arm around Angel’s waist, she steered him towards the
He slid down into a black, bleeding pile on the bath mat.
“Can I have some water?” he asked, voice hitching.
“Since when do you drink water?” She raised an eyebrow.
He pulled a face, like he had a bad taste in his mouth. Of course he did. “Oh.
And gross.” She grabbed the glass from the edge of the sink, sloshing in some
He rinsed and spat in the bath, while she opened her cupboard
and rummaged for the first aid kit, the giant bottle of antiseptic, and the roll
of cotton gauze. When she turned, he’d stripped off his duster and shredded
shirt, and leaned back against the side of the tub.
She smiled. “Better?”
“Minty fresh,” he grunted, reaching for the first aid
kit. “I’ll take it from here.”
Cordelia batted his hand away and knelt next to him. She
peered into the torn flesh, getting a good look in the bright light of the
bathroom. Little chips of thorn and bark had broken off in the deep gashes,
giving the revolting impression that someone had seasoned him with a pepper
“Ugh, as wounds go, this one’s particularly gross. I’d
prefer not to see your bones without the benefit of an x-ray.” She wrinkled
her nose, and yanked a swab of cotton wool from the roll, drenching it with
Angel let out a long-suffering sigh. “Cordelia, I can do
this my… -- aargh!” He recoiled as she dabbed at the biggest hole.
“Hold still,” she huffed, going in again.
“It hurts.” His voice quavered, matching the tremble of
his stomach muscles, and when she glanced up, Dennis’ frightened gaze burned
Cordy laid a gentle hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. It’ll
be over soon. We just need to clean this and dress it, okay? Can’t have you
healing up with half of the Wicked Wood still in your guts.”
His eyes flicked downwards, and he snapped his head to one
side. “Oh, God.”
“Probably a good idea not to look at it, Dennis.” She sat
back a little, in case he hurled again.
He kept his eyes fixed on the wall. “I thought I was gonna
“You can’t die, silly. You’re already dead. And so is
Angel. It’s almost impossible, as long as you don’t get staked or have your
head cut off,” she said brightly. “Or, you know, go sunbathing.”
He swallowed hard, even paler than before. “But -- this is
bad, right? Worse than normal?”
Cordelia frowned. “No, not really. Angel’s always getting
gored and shot and stabbed. On the Cordy scale of lacerations, I’d give this
about a six-point-five out of ten -- and the hole in your shoulder only a
“Oh,” he said, his head drooping a little. “Oh dear.”
She crawled back towards him, so their knees touched.
“Ready for my ER audition now?”
Angel grabbed a fistful of towel, squeezed tight. “Okay,
She looked at the bloodstained swab in her hand, then at the
bottle of antiseptic, and decided it was better to do it quickly. Gritting her
teeth, she poured half the bottle directly into the wounds. There was a loud
crack as the towel rail ripped from the wall, flying across the room and
bouncing off the doorframe with a metallic clang.
“Sorry,” Angel gasped. “I’m stronger than I
“Now he discovers the vampire strength.” She rolled her
eyes, grabbed another towel and pressed it over the holes in his stomach,
soaking up the excess liquid.
The wounds looked cleaner when she lifted the towel away, so
she took a handful of dressings, the tape, and the scissors, and began carefully
making a gauze patchwork on Angel’s stomach. Dennis didn’t say anything, and
she didn’t look up. Seeing his face etched with so much pain wasn’t going to
help her get this done any faster.
As she pressed the last of the tape into place, she heard a
small sniffle, and when she finally looked up, tears were running down Angel’s
The room spun for a second. Seeing Angel cry was too weird.
The vulnerability there just about tore her heart out. “Hey,” she said,
putting her hand to his face. “Dennis, it’s okay. You’re going to be just
fine. Super healing powers, remember?”
He turned his face away. “I’m sorry, I know the man is
supposed to be the brave one.”
“You *are* brave, Dennis. How many people would cope with
being a ghost, the way you have?”
He turned back to her and smiled, love shining in his eyes,
bringing a light and life to them that changed Angel’s whole face. “You’re
the brave one, Cordy. I’m in awe of you every single day. How you do what you
do, no super powers or anything -- that takes real courage. You’re so
strong.” His voice dwindled to a whisper.
Oh God, there went her stomach again, churning, her heart
lurching in her chest. “Angel doesn’t think so,” she murmured, remembering
all the times since yesterday that he’d tried to shut her out.
“He does, now. But it doesn’t stop him wanting to protect
you. Doesn’t stop me from wanting…” His hand reached up to her face,
fingertips trailing over her cheek, sliding into her hair at the nape of her
Her skin flushed, heat sweeping across it like a wave hissing
over sand. She could feel her cheeks burning. This was bad. Very, very bad.
Dead, heroic vampire and dead, adorable room-mate, all packaged in a dead, hot
body, was *so* not the type of guy she should be having sweaty-palm feelings
for. “Dennis...” The word came out as a tiny puff of air.
His eyes drifted to her lips again. “Cordy,” he
whispered, the hand in her hair gently pulling her face closer. He was going to
kiss her, and right at that moment she couldn’t remember any of the
oh-so-important reasons why it was so, so wrong.
Angel’s nose brushed hers, a soft, cool sweep. He
hesitated, his face so close she could feel the energy humming between them,
then slowly, slowly, pressed their lips together. The burning in her cheeks
spread, all her erogenous zones sparking to life as he tilted his head, opened
A little moan rumbled in his chest as her tongue darted out,
tasting him. It was like a schoolyard kiss. Gentle and heartbreakingly sweet.
Then his energy shifted, tongue sweeping into her mouth, plundering her, his
hands palming her face --
She broke away, gasping. “That was --”
“Uh-huh.” The voice and shocked expression belonged to
Angel. “I, uh -- hmm.”
“Yes, right. Okay, then.” Cordy began to snatch up the
medical supplies, jamming them back into the first-aid kit.
Angel pushed himself up on the side of the tub, picked up his
shirt and rolled it into a ball. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kiss you.
It’s just, uh, Dennis. He really likes you.”
Cordy froze. “Some of that kiss was you?”
He avoided her eyes. “Just the very last part.”
The tongue part, oh great. She tried to make a quip, break
the tension, anything to stop this terrible, embarrassing silence that now hung
between them. “Um…”
“I couldn’t help it. You know what Wes was saying earlier
about bleed-together of the souls?” Angel said.
“It’s getting worse. I could feel -- what he felt.” He
“Well, just try feeling yourself for a moment, and boy did
that come out sounding waaay wrong.” She tossed the dressing wrappers in the
little bathroom trash can, and backed towards the door. “Let’s just forget
about this and go to bed.” At his look, she amended, “Separate beds.”
Angel nodded, looking relieved. “Good idea.”
Cordelia heaved a sigh, and twisted onto her back. It was
hot, and she kicked off the covers, splaying her arms and legs across the cool
sheet that covered her mattress. Weak beams of moonlight slanted across her
pillow and she could almost feel their silver touch on her cheek.
She tried not to think about it. About how Dennis’ kiss
made her feel. About him, out there on the couch. About how easy it would be to
slip out of bed, go to him, recapture that one, sweet moment.
But then there’d be the horrible awkwardness that ensued
once he was back, floating the hallways, and she was left to face the real owner
of those lips. She sighed again, rolled on her side, punched the pillow, and
tried to settle down.
She gasped, jack-knifing into a sitting position. “Jeez!
Stalk, much?” She blinked in the blue-grey light.
He filled the doorway, dressed only in boxer shorts.
She was just about to ask if he was all right, when he
stepped towards her, and the shadows fell away from his face. He looked nervous,
lower lip caught between his teeth. His arms were crossed over his chest, as if
he were uncomfortable with so little on.
She squinted at him. “Dennis? Are you okay?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” he replied, in his un-Angel voice.
She rolled her eyes. “Well, duh. Vampire. You’re a
creature of the night, remember?”
He padded towards her, perched on the edge of her bed. The
stark, white squares of surgical tape and gauze rumpled as he sat, and his hand
went to his stomach, cradling it. “Ouch.”
“Let me see,” she said, picking at the corner of the tape
nearest her. The dressing curled back, exposing nothing more than a deep, purple
scar. “Look, no more cartilage. You’ll be all better by morning.” She
patted it back in place.
“Until the next time,” he said, turning to stare at the
window. “You’ll have other visions. Angel’s in danger while I’m here,
like this.” His eyes met hers. *“You’re* in danger while I’m here, like
“Don’t beat yourself up, Dennis. This is our fault, mine
and Angel’s and Wesley’s, not yours,” she sighed. How had the simple act
of saving a friend become so messy?
He twisted back towards her, his hand coming to rest on her
knee. “Don’t say that. You’ve done so much for me. I’d still be stuck in
the wall if it weren’t for you. Tonight, I just wanted to show you how much
you meant to me. But it all went wrong.” He looked up at her, his big, dark
eyes full of so much pain that it made her stomach hurt. He reached out, hooked
a stray hair behind her ear. “I need you, Cordy. Too much to ever lose you.”
Oh, God, why did he have to say that? What little resolve she
had left began to drain away, but she shook her head. “Oh, Dennis…”
His gaze went fuzzy, distant. “I’ve decided to let you
put me back. To the way I was before.”
She gasped. “Dennis…. Oh, hell.” She shook her head.
“You don’t have to. Not for me.”
“For all of you… us,” he said. Then he looked at her,
smiled wistfully. “It seems so strange, thinking of going back. Being what I
was.” His big, cool hand cupped her face, thumb grazing her cheekbone. “I
just want to hold you. While I can.”
The sweetness of those words broke her. Surely it couldn’t
hurt? No funny business, just her, giving Dennis -- giving both of them --
something good to remember.
“Okay.” She patted the mattress, and he crawled
tentatively up the bed, easing himself onto the pillows beside her.
He reached out, and she took his large, pale hands in hers.
With a little sigh, he pulled her down, circled her with his arms. Immediately
she felt safe, protected. Her head came to rest on his shoulder, her body
nestled in the crook of his elbow, and without thinking, she looped her leg over
“This is -- nice.” The words were a comforting rumble in
“Mmmm,” she murmured. It *was* nice. To lay there,
snuggled against someone who really loved her. Someone who knew and accepted
her, visions and vampires and the whole squicky package. Someone who didn’t
want to use her uterus to raise a demon army.
She’d never had this before. Never wanted -- needed it as
much as she did right now. Something good and real and beautiful to get lost in
when the death and mayhem in her head threatened to overwhelm her. Cordy
wriggled closer, butting her head up under Angel’s chin, feeling his hand
tighten on her hip.
Her field of vision was filled by the expanse of his torso;
smooth, hard pectoral muscles, well-defined abs peeking out under the dressings,
and the little hollows just inside his hip-bones, where the pale skin
disappeared under the waistband of his boxers.
And below that -- boy, howdy.
Red warning lights flashed behind her eyes. Thoughts like
that were going to get her into real trouble. She felt her breath hitch,
This was Angel, here. Boss. Vampire. Gypsy curse. A total
Except it wasn’t. It was Dennis in an Angel-shaped package.
And one hell of a package at that.
Suddenly she was very aware of his skin against hers, the way
his fingers traced little patterns on her hip, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he
swallowed hard -- twice. He was warming, absorbing her heat, breathing -- she
wondered if Dennis knew he didn’t have to. He felt real. Alive.
A hot, sweet ache flared between her legs.
His other hand brushed up her arm, over her shoulder, the
back of his fingers stroking her cheek. Gooseflesh broke out all over her body.
His thumb, calloused, rough, traced her lower lip. Rational thought fled,
leaving behind a yawning void of desire.
The hand on her hip shifted, sliding under the soft cotton of
her top, palming her lower back, and rubbing in wide circles. Her top rucked up,
her shorts rode down, and her skin burst into flame.
“Dennis,” she moaned, arching against him, all restraint
He turned towards her, rolling her on her back, draping his
big body over her. His hands found her stomach, spanned her ribs, pushed up
beneath her breasts, and she gasped when his fingers touched her nipples. They
both went still.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured.
Instead of answering she slid her fingers into the short hair
at the nape of his neck. He bent forward, dropped a trail of little, damp kisses
on her collarbone, while his hands moulded around her breasts. She pressed into
his palms, lost in the sensation. Not thinking, just feeling. Dragging her hands
down his smooth, strong back. Winding her legs around his. Pressing her face
into his neck.
He shivered, and his cock grew hard between them, swelling
against her thigh. “Cordy,” he whispered, his lips grazing her forehead.
She tilted her
head back to look at him, and what she saw stunned her. She wasn’t looking at
Angel, but Dennis. She could *see* him, in the light and love that shone in his
face, the sparkle of joy in his eyes, the smile that took her breath away.
His lips nuzzled the corner of her mouth, and she turned into
the kiss, taking him in, greedy, wanting. His tongue wet her lips, swept across
the sharp edges of her teeth, and plunged in.
She was diving, spiralling into a deep hole where all that
existed was the feeling of his mouth, the sound of his breath, the spark of his
hands on her body.
Leaving behind the fear and the faces of the frightened and
needy. Not abandoning them, just taking back some of herself, for now.
Angel’s fingers left her breasts, traced trails of fire
down her stomach, skirted the drawstring of her shorts, and finally curled
around her hips, pulling himself deeper into the cradle of her thighs. His mouth
was hot and wet on hers, long deep kisses that left her no breath, no room for
Oh God, he felt so good, so hard between her legs, and a
noise she didn’t know she was capable of making rose from her chest, spilling
out as he ground against her. She felt his energy shift again. Now he was
frantic, eating her, little grunts of pleasure vibrating in his throat. Almost
like kissing a different…
She pulled away, leaving him panting, dazed. “Dennis?”
“What?” He blinked, eyes unfocused and warm with lust.
“Just checking,” she said. The prickle of anxiety dulled,
but a stab of guilt pierced her chest. It *wasn’t* just Dennis she was
kissing. As much as she didn’t want to think about it, this was Angel, too.
What if he didn’t want this? What right did they have --
He leaned in to kiss her again, and she turned her head away.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered.
“We can’t do this -- can’t just -- use Angel this
way,” she said, trying to ignore how his hips pressed into hers, how her body
was crying out for him.
He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and when they opened
again, Dennis was gone. But the desire remained, burning unabated, and for some
reason it made her even hotter, more desperate.
It freaked her out.
“Angel, I’m --” she gulped, self-consious of how her
breasts pressed against his chest through the thin cotton shirt.
“It’s all right,” he replied, his voice husky.
She bit her lip. “But, it’s -- us.”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not. It’s you and
Was he really giving her permission to --? Her heart lurched,
a hundred questions swirling in her brain, but only one needed to be asked.
“Angel -- the curse. Is it safe?”
“I don’t know,” he said, and his fingers tightened just
a little on her hips.
“Then we can’t,” she said, frustration bubbling in her
“Yes, you can. Just, not too far, okay?” He looked at her
with those smouldering, dark eyes, and she understood.
“Right. Clothes stay on, everyone’s fine.” She took a
deep breath. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“It’s okay, Cordy,” he whispered. “Just let him have
this, so he can go.”
The words tore her heart in two, and her vision blurred. She
didn’t want Dennis to go, didn’t want to give this up --
“Cordelia.” The voice that spoke her name was Dennis’,
and when she blinked the world back into focus, his sweet smile filled her gaze.
“It’s not fair,” she murmured, squeezing his shoulders.
“It’s all right,” he said, his voice wistful, a little
sad. “We have this.” He released her hips, slid his hands up her sides, up
her arms, raising them above her head, pressing them into the pillow, and
finally linking his fingers with hers.
His lips traced her jawline, baby kisses, skittering away
down her throat, over her collarbone. His tongue grazed the cotton top, and then
his mouth closed over her breast.
“Oh,” she gasped, wriggling beneath him. The feel of
tongue and teeth through wet fabric put her whole body on red alert. She arched
into his mouth, and his hands left hers to delve beneath her shoulderblades,
lift her closer. He turned his attention to her other breast, and Cordy’s skin
began to hum, every hair on end, sensitive.
She squeezed her legs around his thighs, took his face
between her palms and brought him back to her mouth. A low rumble shuddered
through him as their lips crashed together. His hands were back on her breasts,
fingers pinching and rolling the nipples through the damp t-shirt. Her stomach
quivered, and the need to move overwhemed her. Her hips jerked against him.
“Cordy,” he grunted into her mouth, and thrust back.
Through the soft boxers he was hard as stone, and the friction of him, pressing
just *there* sent a shower of sparks off behind her eyes.
“Yes,” she hissed, grabbing his ass, pulling him closer.
He ground against her, his cock hitting the spot again and again. She could feel
him throbbing, wondered if he was going to lose it, felt his hips buck faster
and faster and they really should stop --
Tremours ran up the inside of her thighs, her womb clenched,
and this was just too, too -- “Ahh!” she cried, as she shattered like her
Above her, all movement ceased.
When she could think -- breathe -- again, she looked up into
Angel’s face, Dennis’ worried eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his breath slowing, evening
“Whoo, doggie.” She grinned. He frowned, and she
couldn’t stop the little giggle rising in her throat. “That’s 20th century
speak for ‘hell, yes’.”
She was so relieved, she sat up and hugged him. It hadn’t
been at all weird. Angel’s body, yes, but Dennis’ life essence. It felt
right, normal. She remembered what she’d thought, the day she got home from
the hospital. Hot and corporeal -- the perfect man. Funny how things turned out.
How right she’d been -- and how it could never be.
The bubble of euphoria popped, leaving behind a bittersweet
Angel grabbed her hips, pulled her onto his lap, her legs
straddling his, so they were chest to chest, and his cock pressed right into her
pubic bone, making her shiver. He reached up and stroked her face, a sweet,
caring touch that had no right to make her as hot as it did.
He nipped at her lower lip, seemed just content to hold her
close and share little, feather kisses.
“So you liked it?” he asked, his mouth against hers.
“Of course. Why, couldn’t you tell?” she said, pulling
back to look him in the eye.
He dropped his head, avoided her gaze. “I have to tell you
“What, you have a ghost-wife?” She managed a smile, and
wriggled on top of him, so that he closed his eyes and inhaled sharply.
“No,” he said, obviously struggling to keep focus.
“It’s just that I’ve never -- I mean, you’re the -- I haven’t…”
Her eyes went wide -- Dennis was a virgin. He’d wanted her
to be his first.
Of all the times he’d made her feel special, this was the
best, the most. She leant forward, kissed him. “I love you, Dennis.”
The air in the room shimmered, and he jerked back, pushed her
off of him, his back hitting the headboard and making it rattle against the
“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching out to him.
“You have to stop. Now,” he gasped, and it was Angel’s
voice, Angel’s anguished gaze that pinned her.
Cordy’s stomach plummeted. “Angel, what’s going on?”
“You just made Dennis happy,” he said, his voice
cracking. His eyes dropped to his lap, and he snatched up a pillow to cover
himself. “Really, really happy.”
“So?” she shrugged, trying not to shiver when Angel’s
eyes were drawn to her breasts, nipples visible through the thin, wet t-shirt.
“The bleed-together. In the bathroom today, I felt his
feelings. It just happened again. It’s still happening,” he gulped, his
chest heaving as his hand began to move in the same direction as his eyes.
Her body reacted, nipples hardening, and she leaned into his
They both inhaled, sharp and fast, when his hand moulded
around her. She moaned. “This is bad.” She was so hot, itchy. God, just one
touch and --
Then it hit her. If Dennis was happy, Angel was happy. And
Angel being happy was never a good thing. She jerked back, leaving Angel’s
cupped hand suspended, mid-air.
“Good,” Angel said, voice rising. “That’s good. I
mean, it’s not good. But it’s good that you --” He made a funny little
“argh” sound and shut his mouth.
“Yeah,” she said, catching her racing breath. “We
should stop. We have to stop. A happy Angel is nobody’s friend.” But she
couldn’t help glancing at the pillow at his waist and thinking about what was
Angel followed her gaze and when he looked up, his eyes were
so full of heat, of sadness that it took her breath away.
“Angel?” That shiver danced across her shoulders again
and she wrapped the sheet around her. Her eyes stung, her throat ached.
“Damn,” she said, already feeling the pain of separation.
She rose and went to the closet for her robe. The
midnight-blue satin looked like a shimmering black sky in the dark bedroom, and
when she wrapped it around herself she realized that she felt as isolated and
cold as a star. Taking a deep breath, she turned. “You okay?”
He stared down at the pillow. “We should call Wes.” The
finality in his voice was so -- final.
Cordy walked slowly to the bedroom door, feeling like
everything was moving in slo-mo.
She stopped, staring down at her bare feet. “Yeah?”
Her breath trembled and she raised a hand to wipe the wetness
from the corner of her eyes. She didn’t answer. Instead, she went to the
living room and dialed Wes.
He arrived thirty minutes later, his plaid shirt buttoned
wrong and his hair standing up in the back. “Coffee,” he croaked, as he
walked through the door.
Cordy handed him a steaming mug. She’d put on her jeans and
a sweatshirt while the water boiled. Angel was still in the shower. She was
trying really hard not to think about what he was doing in there.
Wes swigged out of the mug, took a breath, and swigged some
more. “Okay, that’s better.” He followed her to the couch, where they sat,
thigh to thigh. “Why the urgency?”
She stared at her clasped hands. “Dennis is worried he’s
hurting me -- us -- by staying in Angel’s body. With the wounding and the,
well… Anyway, I think now’s a good time to do it.”
The bathroom door opened and Angel walked down the hall
dressed in clean clothes. His hair was still damp and he moved stiffly, as if
the shower hadn’t done anything but give him more time to worry. “Hey,
Wes.” He sat on the chair across from them, careful not to meet her eyes.
“You bring the stuff?”
Wes nodded. “It’s in my bag.” He inclined his head
towards the duffel bag he’d left near the door. “I’ve tweaked the spell a
little. It should work a treat.” The mug clattered against the pine coffee
table and he stood. “Best to get right to it, I suppose.”
Cordy looked at Angel. “You ready?”
His gaze met hers, but slid away again. “Yeah.”
They sat, tense, while Wes made the circle in the dining
room. Finally, he called, “It’s ready.”
Cordy stood and made her way to the other room. As she passed
Angel, he touched her wrist. She turned and found herself looking into
Dennis’s eyes. Her lips pressed together and she inhaled sharply through her
Their gazes caught, held. One beat. Two. He shot her a brave
Her heart twisted. She took his hand. “Ready.”
They walked to the circle and Angel stepped in and crossed
his arms, waiting.
“Here.” Wes handed her the herbs and a lighter.
She lit the string-wrapped packet and the smoke wafted up.
Her eyes stung, watered, and she blinked to clear her vision. When she looked
up, Dennis was watching her.
Cordy waved the herbs while Wes chanted. Even as the wind
grew, circled, she didn’t look away. Angel stood still, calm, the eye of the
Wes’s voice got louder, more insistent. The throw pillows
lifted off the couch and the coffee mug rattled against the table. Cordy’s
hair whipped around her face. The smell of sage and osha root, bitter and
pungent, filled the air.
The sound built to a dull roar and the windows chattered.
Cordy grabbed Wes’s arm and held on, but she never let go of Dennis’s gaze.
Finally, he began to fade. Angel’s own, familiar gaze grew
stronger and his face took on its normal shape. No longer soft, blurred by
Dennis’s sweet spirit.
Her breath hitched and she closed her eyes.
She shook her head. The wind howled and the pressure in the
room increased until it felt like her skin was melting into her bones.
His gentle tone had her opening her eyes helplessly. And he
was there, barely holding on, but there. “You’re my world, Cordelia. Don’t
Lightning cracked. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air
and she felt herself flying, falling. The impact knocked the wind out of her,
leaving her reeling.
When she caught her breath, she realized she’d hit the back
of the couch and was huddled on the floor. Wes, across the room and limp as a
ragdoll, shook his head and groaned. “Wes?”
“I seem to have a penchant for meeting the wrong side of
walls these days,” he croaked. “How’s Angel?”
She glanced over to the circle and found Angel collapsed,
unmoving. “Angel!” She ran to his side, and when her foot broke the circle,
he stirred. She dropped to her knees and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah, it’s me.”
She looked up at the ceiling. She was almost afraid to call
for him. What if he wasn’t there? What if he *was*? She took a deep breath.
Nothing. Her shoulders tensed. “Dennis?!”
They waited in the quiet, storm-tossed room, the tension
“Oh, Cordelia. I’m so sorry,” Wes whispered. He brushed
his hand over his mouth, took a shaky breath.
Cordy’s shoulders squared. “No! He’s not gone!”
Angel took her hand. “Cordy.”
She stood, yelling at the walls. “Dennis!”
“No!” She stomped her foot. “I won’t let him be --”
She glared at Angel. “What?”
“He’s not gone.” He nodded to the little glass unicorn,
suspended mid-air about six inches above the floor.
Her eyes watered. “Oh.” She crossed, squatted next to the
figurine, and put her hand beneath it. The air around her breathed a sigh and
the unicorn dropped safely onto her palm. “Oh, Dennis.”
She felt him caress her face, ghostly cool. And then he moved
away, disappearing back into the walls.
Wes rose and helped her up. “You okay?”
She wiped her face with a trembling hand. “I think so.”
She went to the curio cabinet and put the unicorn down next to the other
figurines. When she glanced up, Angel was staring at her, an odd look on his
“He’s not gone.”
“Of course he is,” she said, on a laughing sob. “He’s
back in the walls, where he belongs.”
Angel shook his head and touched his chest. “No, in here. I
still have his memories.” He smiled tenderly at her.
“Oh.” She smiled back.
“Why didn’t someone tell me I was done up wrong?” Wes
groused, brushing at his misbuttoned shirt.
“Sorry,” she said. “Next time we will.” Her smile
The corners of Angel’s eyes crinkled.
Wes yawned, loudly.
“Go home, Wes,” Angel said. “You’re exhausted.”
Cordy turned. “Yeah, don’t worry about this.” She waved
at the upside-down room.
“Oh, no, Cordelia. Surely you don’t mean --”
“You’re not getting off the hook *that* easily. You can
come over and help me clean tomorrow. After you recover from concussion number
-- what are we up to, now?”
He smiled. “Right-o, then. I’ll just be off. Angel,
you’ll be okay here with Cordelia?”
He tucked his hands in his pockets. “Yeah. We’re good.”
Wes packed his duffel with what was left of his supplies and
went to the door. “Good night, Dennis,” he called quietly.
A light wind blew through the room and Wes smiled and closed
the door behind him.
They were left in the silent, chaotic apartment. Throw
pillows littered the floor. The circle in the dining room looked and smelled
like something dug up from a Sunnydale graveyard.
Angel went to the couch and started straightening pillows.
“I’ll just finish the night out here on the couch.”
“Right,” Cordy said, relieved and a little disappointed.
“I’ll get you a couple of clean blankets, then.” She waved a hand in front
of her nose. “Otherwise, you’ll feel like you’re sleeping in an ash
tray.” She went to the hall closet and started pulling out blankets and
At the touch on her wrist, she stopped. She looked at her
raised arm, at his hand clasping the slender bones. He was so pale against her,
like spilled milk. “Angel?”
He pulled her hand down and turned her to him.
“Angel?” she repeated, her gaze flying to his. He was
staring at her with such longing, it took her breath away.
She tilted her head, mesmerized by his gaze. “A-angel?”
He shook his head and pulled her close.
She held still, unsure.
“It’s okay,” he whispered, and she relaxed against him.
His right hand rose and his left cupped her waist, and he
began moving with her in a slow, graceful waltz.
Cordy rested her head against his chest and let him lead her,
just like Dennis had taught her only a few hours before. And then it was just
them. No music, just them alone in the darkened hall. For a moment she let
herself be swept up in the memories, in the dream that he was her whole world,
just like she was his.
After a few minutes Angel stopped and pressed a kiss to the
top of her head. “Good night, Cordelia.” He took the blanket and pillow and
disappeared into the living room.
She stood in the hall, staring after him. The light clicked
off, bathing the apartment in darkness. “Good night, Angel.”
Her hand rose, fingers stroking the door jamb. “Good night,
Dennis,” she whispered. Her favorite cotton blanket slid out of the closet and
wrapped itself around her in a warm embrace. She could almost hear him
whispering, “Good night, Cordelia.”
She drew it to her tightly, then went to her room and closed
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