Inside by Juanita Dark


Summary: AU


Spoilers: Billy, Season Three.



Part I

Inside where it's warm
Wrap myself in you outside where I'm torn
Fight myself in two in two
Into you
Pug ~ Smashing Pumpkins

Still chilly outside, Wesley noted. He had been waiting for them to come back - the hotel was quiet without her. It definitely lacked for atmosphere without Angel's unique gravity. Though Gunn was doing his best to fabricate his own, while wearing a fine bareness into the carpet - the younger didn't wear apprehension well. Neither of them did.

They'd gone over it. Many times. Sometimes just between themselves, more often in their own minds, just to trip the safety wire of sanity and hope it didn't disappoint them - but it never failed to make less sense. Except, personally, Wesley had long noted that it really made all the sense in the world - in all it's horrible ironic glory.

The slight cough at the stair derailed his morbid train of thought. Fred. Fred was there. God, Fred. He had almost forgotten about her. She looked as if she had been crying, or perhaps the light... She figeted with her hands, the lower lip trembled, bespoke of misery...yes, there had been tears, not so long ago. So easy to take her in his arms and comfort but Gunn had stopped his pacing at the reception area and was walking back to the desk, already speaking the words:

"You OK?" "I'm..." she paused, her voice was smaller when she spoke again. "Are they back yet?"

Wesley shook his head. As did Gunn, the torment of his anxious energy drifting across the room with a shake of his shoulders. Taking a breath Wesley, relied on a sense of instinct and occasion perhaps over logic and custom, addressed the two of them:

"Perhaps it would be...perhaps you and Fred could go out somewhere..." His voice palled off their looks, equally dark and bereft in different distillations. "I mean't for coffee or...if you're come back, of course." Gunn took a second to take this in. "You better believe that. There's a place just near here. I'm not straying too far. You know?" Wesley knew; and he gave a brief smile to acknowledge the solidarity, before looking to Fred. Still rabbit-like, her uncertainty only now and then peeked out from behind the glasses. She added hesitantly: "Do"

Gunn smiled broadly, a veil of faint amusement settling momentarily over his preoccupations:

"Yeah, they got all that and more. Coming?"

Fred smiled back at him. Fragile, so fragile, and yet she had survived the five years in Pylea; and yet her reserves remained mysterious - so well concealed. "Sure. I've got to get my..." Unlike Gunn's.

Taking the zip-down sweat shirt off his back, Gunn offered it to Fred. "Here, I'm getting hot in it anyway." Then to Wes. "See you soon." Not before giving his friend's shoulder a gentle squeeze and adding between them. "Who's got your back, English."

Wesley watched them leaving across the lobby, feeling the need to add "Be careful" but feeling far too much like a worried parent to say so - feeling far too old. So he simply watched them go, observing the almost widening height disparity disappear and reappear in and out of the light; and, when Gunn paused at the door to help Fred with the awkward zipper, how his top - that fit him at the hip - dangled just over her knees making her look more like a child. Then the doorway was empty. Upon closing his eyes Wesley realised he kept their after-image under the lids - like some fugitive butterfly. Made him afraid to open them again, to lose them completely.

But he did.

Settling behind the desk he found a book in Latin, and then started to look for the other relevant texts. There was no way of telling the outcome of these things but they knew what had happened in the past. The resolution of his gaze, faded the blue there until there was only gray. He knew and he understood. They had tried to find another way and failed. Perhaps they were all predestined to fail over that mighty conqueror Death. Angel's eternity was exactly that - Angel's eternity. He was now, and possibly ever would be, a demon. A demon with a soul. Or perhaps just a demon. But they would never stop trying, for each set back, a small victory - a greater sense of hope. For love there was no diminution.

They came through the door like a whisper. A shadow of their former selves. The awkwardness was apparent. Cordelia looked spare, the dress that she wore pure darkness, a shimmer of blue as she went - had he bought it for her? Bequeathed her with more gifts while no one was looking? There was an understanding between them now and Angel was - strangely - at peace. Strange because Wesley had never seen it on those features before but it was congruous with all Angel had become of late. He was the vessel for her - a protective wall in her time of need, indeed for all of them extenuating blondes aside - here and now when her need peaked his response grew. Perfect peace. Wesley noticed the change but had to admit he had not expected to see it. Smaller victory.

Cordelia haunted the lower steps of the Hyperion - where, not so long ago Fred had loitered - before ascending them silently. There was no time to talk to her, ask her what she felt, if she accepted the risk, whether she was afraid, still in shock, being eaten alive by a host of secondary horrors. But she paused at the top of the stairs; her decision to turn suddenly there making her hair that had grown below the shoulders over the last year hide her face. She brushed it away and with it some of the girl in her. The dark eyeshadow she wore made her look like a severe goddess looking down from high, yet the reassurance of her smile (which he, Wesley, needed just then) gave her back her humanity - like it always had. And like all (both it's and her) beauty it was doomed to transience. Gone. He blinked and there was only railing.

And then there was Angel. How did men broach such matters, such uncharted conversational terrain? With difficulty.

"I...she..." His former employer stalled and reconsidered his line of explanation. "I mean, we..." Wesley halted the obvious torture. "It's OK, I...understand..." He underlined the last word with a note of caution but Angel had turned to go before Wesley could finish. "Angel." The vampire whirled, perhaps nervously, the lesions beginning to show. With the peace but not of the peace. "If something should go...If you should..." "I know, Wesley." "It was nice working with you." Angel smiled; the shadows about his face making him indistinct, giving the effect of sardonic humour where there was none and filling Wesley with the breath-taking impression: Not a person an apparition. Of the flesh no longer. "It is. I trust you Wesley. You'll...know what to do. And only, if."

The Englishman nodded.

Through the far door, Gunn and Fred reappeared obviously lacking for something. Seeing Angel, Fred paled and seemed to shrink. But Gunn...the way his peer could cross a room in only a few steps almost soundlessly never failed to amaze Wesley (it was a very battle-worthy attribute); or the way he could limit conversation to it's essence when necessary. "Cordelia?" Angel's response drew no confrontation: "She's upstairs." "Is she...?" "She's come around." "If you--" "I know. I'm counting on it." And that was it. That was the exchange Wesley had wanted but not had. Perhaps he had been too close for too long. Or perhaps is was the difference in culture. Perhaps.

Angel was going now, following in Cordelia's wake. It made Wesley shudder to think, to guess. A new sense of stillness descended and in the silence, not long after Angel's passing, there was a only the sound of Fred's tears.



Part II

What if the cure is worse than the disease?
Dracula Moon - Joan Osborne

He was Altas, chained to the world, Ixion with his eternal wheel.

"You don't have to work out. You're eternal." "I may not always be . . ."

More often than not recently, he would catch the scent of her in the halls of the Hyperion, across the coruscating designs in the wallpaper, over tables and carpets, on chairs, against doors on coffee cups and paper. More often than not he would catch the scent of her before he heard her, before he saw her, before she had even arrived. Not difficult to sense the change in her when the visions ripped her a new line of consciousness; the rising of the heartbeat, the schizm of the nerves a-jangle just before the forecast of impending pain becomes its reality. The adrenalin rising from her in waves of fear, thundering. Only later did he learn to pick out the delicate difference between the girl she had been before becoming a pawn for the Powers and the woman she was after. And then he would dream about her, solipsing her image - claiming a part of her.

There were nights, half-starved nights. Of lumina and lucifer. After the crash in her apartment of ghosts, she would move around absently if she could not sleep, often forgetting that being what he was he was bound to be awake at these hours. Awake and restless. There was nothing untoward about it. Just that her neck and legs were often bare. And he was often tired and lacking for constructive contemplation... and sometimes she would be there and so would he.

Late night movies, all noir and horror, and laughing at the hokey Dracula. Seeing her roll her eyes when he insists that the real Dracula looks nothing like that.

"Pfttt. Whatever. I'm going to bed. Be nice to Dennis."

Then she's gone - but not - still here under the cushions, in the kitchen, absently against the cloth of his shirt. The remote is floating before him. Not Dennis' thing. "Sure, you can turn it over if you want."

He would sit in the kitchen and read anyway. Wonder if Cordelia had visions in her sleep, or cared what Wesley got up to at 3am in the morning. Wondered. Lean a little more to the left so that he could almost catch the dull timpani of her heart as it slowed to sleep. Hear the little leaps of agitation, that were probably due to tossing and turning, settle down slowly. And accidents do happen. The rarest of rare occasions would find arousal rising from her in waves of as she dreamt - a tantalising hint of musk and around her the temperature rising (warm blood making itself apparent and oh so available) and he would have to go stand near an open window - or just go for a walk. But everywhere he went the shadows reminded him of her. Her screaming alone on a hospital bed, then salved on medication, so out of it that she could not see him, sense his cool hand on her hot brow. Vision fear. If he was lucky, he found some puffed up demon or reckless vampire to vent on. "Whaling" as the children of Sunnydale liked to speak it.

Then he would return to find she had left him a tub of fresh blood on the table top with a note:

Heard you not sleeping. Probably moping around. Cocoa works for me but you might want this.


ps - I thought I'd skip the little marshmallows this time.

So close. So very close to her while squeezed into her apartment. She never really said if having the rooms dark and shutters down affected her. She took the place of the sun he never saw, her skin reflecting the mood of the season, the colour of clear honey the smell of warm flowers. Wes would be there but periodically he had a place of his own. So he failed to keep out of her way - giving her two phantoms to deal with. Gradually as her to do list grew shorter, so did her days. The nights, limited as they were, became alive and vivid to her, as to sleep in the day; or, when her visions came, to recover.

She *never* fell asleep on the couch - must have been a personal rule. He would hear her dreams anyway, the doors were nothing to him. And if he closed his eyes he would have his own.

To go back to what he could remember, what he could fondly recall (without feeling he had somehow molested her by memory): He lay in a coffin - he knew this because he dreamed in third person and could see himself lying there. Very pale and very dead he was too. This was nothing new to him, he had been death in a very real sense for centuries at a time. But the quality of this surcease was funereal, almost surreal. He tried to grasp the sensation but lost it. Then above him she appeared. Cordelia. Her hair still long then, looking down, small platinum crucifix dangling from her neck, she smiled at him as if she knew - he was not dead at all. Merely sleeping. Unconscious. She slipped the necklace over her head, held it in the hand that rested against his belly. Leaning over the edge of the coffin, as if she would fall into him, she descended leaving a kiss. Just a simple kiss, not much in it.

And the eyes of the corpse below them popped open, waking, drawing breath.

In his dreams it seemed the order of things. Though once awake they were food for thought. A hurricane rushing through the empty house of his body, where the demon squirmed, an dirty itch. He certainly did not mention the dreams, because then the rift between Cordelia and himself was a widening thing - something he had had to put back together. It in truth he *was* better at tearing things down then repairing them, but it had been worth it in the end.

In the end.

But the dreams had become over time - more. Nightly they came and went. Ironically, at the height of his dreams about Darla, his occasional dreams of Cordelia, though then rare, had been more extreme as if to balance their infrequency. Silently, he never denied they were there. But like filched morsels in a period of drought, plucked from the air and thanking your good fortune, they were not forgotten. As a matter of course he avoided giving them too much afterthought. Not when he had the reality to contend with...


Lorne always got that faraway look in his eyes when watching someone/something sing. But tonight, perhaps, his ruby reds were more than a little misty. Hard to tell. Angel rarely registered any residual emotionscents from him or his clan, their feelings were hard to compass unless...unless they came right out and told you. Not a problem for his brothers but The Host wasn't one for nostalgia in the conventional sense - or convention, actually; and he was customarily silent while appraising a subject. It just happened that this subject was Cordelia. *His* Cordy.

Angel did not know the name of the song - an educated guess said Time After Time but he did not, in fact, know it, and he did not have to sing.

"Oh thank God...For your sake, 'cause you don't like to do that."

He should not have done it. He should not have put her at risk like he had but in the early days - actually any day - she always seemed counter to what he had wanted her to be. Compliant had been the first thing. And that she had never been. That was what had worn on him, torn on him at first, and ultimately it had been the very thing he had come to treasure. Humans, he had decided, very early in his existence, would rarely tell you the truth. They would dress things up in words and persuasions, guilts and agonies, fears and failures. Very rarely the truth. Cordelia's subtlety reflex, so sacrosant in many, seemed to be entirely missing. Her tendency to narcissim was given full boone in a highschool of desperation. And while this space lifed her pedestal-like - it had always been a vacuum. She knew it. And eventually so did he.

"No think! Pay! That's an order!"

"Hey! How 'bout we pretend YOU work for ME."

"You are really unpleasant when you - "

"Well then how about we pretend you DON'T."

"You can't fire me. I'm vision-girl."

But he had.

Despite the fact that he shut everybody out he was easily antagonised. It was the beast within him. No. This had always been his. And she wooed that beast every chance she got. And even in the moments when she wasn't there both he and his beast - for they were one and the same - missed that. They relied on the memory, the echo of her, the colour, the shape when deprived of the substance. And the clothes in the corner had just reminded him of what he missed, so he had in time given them away. Thrown her away. Driven himself mad. And then, when he had figured it out she was suddenly there, but not there. He felt for her but touched nothing. Only a sense of something locked deep within that he grasped at with shadow hands. Warded off by the ferocious light of her disappointment. Kept at bay.




"You're gonna start trying to make small talk. Get all stammery. Don't. You might strain something."

He had seen that light, and he had watched it fading right before his eyes. Funny, he had never been so involved in human affairs, so attendant on it that he had cared to watch it fade. But there she was, a sun setting before his eyes.


Johnny Mathis was singing, somewhere off in the distance. His mouth was moving and stammering threatened. There were great gaps in the conversation where he paused - and she seemed to be listening to something else, looking somewhere else, feeling anywhere but here. Calls her name and her glance snaps towards him with a certain impertinence.

"Are you even hearing- "

"What is this song they're playing?"

"Wonderful, Wonderful by Johnny Mathis."

She did not smile. From then on his mouth tended to say things without his brain's actual permission. Not that it mattered - she never really listened, just agreed. And soon she was outside, sitting on the trunk of his car, haunched over, so caught up in thought it did not seem to matter where she sat or when, or with whom.

She said nothing in the car just stared out of the window. But he sensed the resistance in her dwindling. A certain release to let things happen. The scents were a blazing mess in her, though, and she must have phased through every radio frequency in the state and more before they got back.

The engine dies with a rumble. Her belt buckle darts away like a serpent's tongue as she turns to face him. Never seen that expression on her face before, like she was seeing him for the first time. For once he doesn't try speaking. Only lets her lean across and kiss him. It's warm and wonderful, and kind of censored. Leans back again, her eyes searching, searching for something. He touches her hand - she doesn't shrink back, the bubble bursts. The air around them stills, and in and around her he senses another change. The gravity in him shifts again.

They walk to the hotel together, hand in hand. She hesitates for a moment on the way there.


Absently he's stroking her hair, she doesn't seem to mind.


"You think we're gonna look back on this and laugh?"

"You actually...want to...look back on it."

"And you don't?"

"Well I...laugh wouldn't be what...I'd be doing."

"Guess not. But if, by any means this thing goes wrong-"

"And it won't."

"But if it does...and I die..."

"Don't say that."

"I *will* come back and haunt your brooding ass!"

"And I will never let it come to that."

"You mean over your dead body, right?"

He let the flippancy of that lie. Until it occurred to him.

"Are you...scared?"

Quickly and quietly, somehow smaller than she should be: "You betcha." Her admission rustles the trees with the night breeze. They whisper her confession. She adds: "But maybe it's not the end of the world, you know. I'll be all right."

She flashed him *the* smile (my, my, her acting was getting better) slipped out of his arms and crossed to the Hyperion. He followed. Not the end of the world, but without her a world without purpose.



Part III

Once again I'm in trouble with my only friend
She is papering the window panes
She is putting on a smile
Living in a glass house
Life In A Glass House~Radiohead

Four points of a compass. He was a star in human form, pointing in all directions. North (clink), south (clink), east (clink) and west (clink). Falling angel. Fallen Angel. Falling for Angel.


Ever notice how pain - subliminal or otherwise - makes you a complete bitch?

Not an accident.

She kept having to remind herself her visions were not an accident. So her entire life was hot-wired to the Powers? So that prophecy wasn't science? She had said her last goodbyes to Groos on a frosty morning in Pylea with a wreath of wild flowers, and tears. Tears. The more painful ones she kept inside. And the old grief of looking death in the face again, being around after someone else was gone, never stopped being awful and new. She left her crown on his grave, and swore she would never see this space again. Numbed.

Sure, there was no fairness about it. Slay girl Buffy gets to come back but not Doyle. Darla gets to come back not Groos. Again her life was hot-wired to faceless prophets. Spineless wizards. After she had thawed out, after she was raw again with pain, after another vision had made her head spin near clear off her shoulders, she started to think. Really think. Perhaps, perhaps, Groos had not been the true brave and undefeated champion the trionic texts had foretold. What if her saviour was closer to home. What if these visions that just would not quit kept ringing her chimes? Then what? What if *he* had thought of that already? God, then she just wanted to die. Then again not her choice in the matter.

Sure she had caught it. The looks, the deep concern and occasionally the extended stay in Angel's arms post vision was kind of oddly comforting - for a cold, old dead guy. And sometimes, if she was honest, went beyond consolatory. But come on - the com-shuk? Were the Powers insane? Scratch that. They make him their champion, a guy who has "lurk" as his middle, no last, name, can't get laid for awakening his homicidal instinct and they stick her with the visions: a human who has done little more then work his last nerve for the last six years and they expect them do what exactly? It was double suicide, that's what it was and she wasn't going to do it. God she had seen the set up on the bed. Now she was no whiney little sniffler but this set up was straight out of Seven. Sloth much? She understood sacrificing for the greater good of humanity and this could have worked if she was some weird mutant variant along a James Bond movie theme (Yes, the things I do for my country!) but she'd just about had it with the long-standing cosmic joke that said if there wasn't some sort of mating ritual between her and a demon of her choice the very fabric of reality would suffer. No way. Not this, not ever. Never again.


There were many, many imaginable ways to spend her Friday evenings - some of them mundane, a lot of them grotesque - but being seranaded by a small party of drunken Frat boy zombies to the tune of We Care A Lot was not on the list. And having sat through an extended performance (with encore - were those demons deaf?) it was *never* going to be on the list. How many ways did she hate her life at the moment? Let me count the ways. There were not enough fingers in sunny California, let alone within a five mile radius - even if the demon to her left looked as if had looked as if he had a few to spare.

Still, it was nice (if that was the actual word) to have command of her own senses - the last vision had shook, rattled and rolled. And she thought the one before that was bad. She came to from that one barely able to see in front of her; all the colours had split open, and when the four Wesleys and four Gunns before her had asked her what she had seen it was a full minute before her motor reflexes would let her speak. She had kept it from them - who was she kidding? - the only thing she had kept from them was the fact that she had come to from her most recent vision unable to see. Anything. The voice of Angel had not so much come out of the blue as come out of the black to surround her.

Freaked wasn't the word.

It had worn off eventually. A minute or three. But how long before she was like a post-carbonite Han Solo? The demon's in front of me, Chewie? Yeah, right. So as collectively weird, wonderful and goddamned hideous as the mob of unusual suspects at Caritas was, she was just grateful she could choose to sound them out or not.

To be or not to be. That was the question. She had come, she had seen, or rather, she had seen so she had come, *then* she had sang. Yesiree, the vision girl had spoken, formed actual notes, and it was soo much better than when she had had to sing The Greatest Love Of All in highschool. Even minus the lo-fi prelude. If she had cared she would have been embarrassed but in times of peril your own personal idaho very often put things into perspective. You see the big picture, and demon heckling - not that they would, seeing as Angel was just *looking* for an excuse to start ripping heads - kind of faded into the background. What did she sing? Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper. Her original intention had been to go for something up tempo, you know, maybe a little Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but she had canned that idea the minute she had got through the door; and sure, she used to wail Time After Time into her mother's ivory hairbrush, so no big. Just inflict it on a bigger, badder audience (ha, and they thought they knew the meaning of hell).


No hell was here. A place called home.

He could smell her right? He was going to know where she was, even if she made one insane, abortively stupid, lame-ass attempt to high-tail it out of here - he would know where she was and follow her. And if Plan A went to home-run then it would be in a place less safe then this, a back-up free zone. Not sure if she wanted that. Just the old walls of her appartment and a phantom room mate and a hot cup of cocoa. So mundane but so what she wanted right now. She was running, sure, but there was way too much to lose here tonight. And yes, the stress on her cranium was long time past too much but this shukking your ex-boss, losing your visions, and possibly any chance of ever looking him in the eye again. Plus, an added bonus prize of, if the worst came to the worst, losing him too. To the Dark Side. And then how long before Darla and Dru re-appeared. It was all going to hell in Wes' handbag, that was for sure.


Angel looked stiff. Not rigor mortis stiff but I'm-not-big-in-a- social-context stiff. Looking for a life line. Aren't we all. She ate cherries, the bar guy had given her a martini with cherries, sweet with the bitter. Whatever, she had said and passed on the apple schnapps. No doubt Lorne had just given Angel the skinny - the sugar- free version. Again, whatever. Let's just get out of here, her ears were starting to bleed. OK, *sarcasm*.

He *was* trying to tell her something. It was the I'm-trying-to- attract-your-attention-so-look-me-in-the-eye shuffle. So she made him stop the car. And go to a coffee bar. The clock on the wall said 11:10. She sat with his coat around her shoulders, and diverted straight to the big talk. "What is it you want so badly to tell me? As if I can't guess already."

Ooh that was short-tempered of her. Except, her head was *really* hurting. Sometimes the visions left residuals, kind of like a low humming in her head. Not so good vibrations on frequency Cordy. If she could relax she could handle it. If not? Well, best not to be there. Right now she was in Hummersville, United States of Hummsylvania.

So he told her. But she was not really listening, just staring occasionally at the door, noticing that he had concerned-face written all over him, body slightly haunched - still *towards* her, new colours in his eyes along with the new shadows. Just as she had suspected really. "What does The Host think? With his anagogic whatsit?" "He the odds of...ah, Cordelia?" "Mmm?" "Are you even hearing- " "What is this song that they're playing?" It was wigging her out. He paused - kept one eye on her, the other seemed to have a memory all of it's own. Came back with an answer in short order: "Wonderful, Wonderful by Johnny Mathis." What was so damn wonderful about it, she wondered. He started again. "I really think that we should- " "What? Tell Mr Fussypants and the cult of positivity that they can mark the end of life as we know it on their calendars?" "Actually...I think he..." She rolled her eyes. Oh, right. So this had all been sorted out *before* they got round to telling her. "OK." "What?" "I said OK. Let's do it. Do what ever The Powers and their heinous minions tell us to do. After all, it's not going to be hurting just me is it?"

So he explained. The Scrolls said nothing, The Host was getting nothing, The Powers were giving nothing. "So what we're left with is..." "Nothing." That was a blow. She had expected demonising spells not "nothing"s. She looked at him again and saw it. "I think...I need to go now." she said, and left the table. Left him there.

Outside she sat on the trunk of the Plymouth until he came with the car keys. She should have had Giles show her some of his nifty lock picking. Get the hell out of this town. He was almost in her orbit when the chill invaded her. My God, I sound just like...

She slid off the car. "Let's just go home, OK. I can do anything once."


She didn't say a word. Hovered for a moment at the foot of the stairs, noticed everyone else hovering and decided to move on. Then caught sight of a stricken Wes, flashed him her Miss America smile and left it at that. Kept on moving. Let the dead man sort it out. The key to the room was pressed so tight to her palm that it might just burn there. On the third floor, she passed a mirror - did not like what she saw. The feeling sorry for herself riff was already getting old. She had two choices: do or not do. But she wanted to think, to feel, to wonder what the hell was going on.

She knew somewhere along the line she had unresolved feelings for Angel. Unresolved, fuzzy, never-to-be-defined. A popular line of thought says that whatever you repress will come back to you tour de force - like keeping a balloon under water. Now she had thought about it, she had imagined it, even in some of her more embarrassing moments she had dreamed about it - not difficult when he was *always* there. But there had always been a fine line of separation between them - something to be feared - a bloodthirsty nature, a volatile temper, a mutual irritation factor, a blonde affliction, big, mopey and cheap, something. Except there had never really been anything there...apart from the curse, and that was real enough - in a big visual Angelus-rushing-straight-at-you-in-a-crowded-cemetary-while- the-Slayer-just-sneezes kind of way. Xander's emotional fallout had sucked, it had left scars, medical bills, and a temporary lack of fashion equilibrium - it had *not* left dead bodies (which had been possibly the only plus-side).

Suddenly the quizzical, almost knowing face of Doyle swam into focus. So sad, so bizarre, impaired. She imagined them sitting at a table somewhere laughing their asses off. He touches her hand, it's kind of soothing. "So what did you tell him?" "Goodbye."

The key was in the door. "And he said what?" The key was turning. "Well you know that look he gets when he's convinced he's right and he's too angry to think of the right words?" Door sliding open. "Yeah?" Door sliding shut. "He didn't have it." Then Doyle was gone.

She was standing in a dark room. The curtains were open so she could see the city lights. The light of a neon sign was slowly changing from blue to red. In the corner a pocket radio buzzed lightly to itself - probably Gunn's. She made out the shape of a candle on the bedside table, in front of a mirror, another mirror. She crossed the room and turned it on the table, face down. Lit the candle with the matches next to it, sat down on the bed beside her and noticed the chains.

Of course, this changed everything.

A certain anger rose in her, a kind of indignance at yet another ritual of her humiliation. Why? Why? Why? And then it clicked into place and her anger evaporated. Went out the window. Her every mental voice went quiet. She understood. Blue Hotel was pouring out the radio, static-y and wheezy, and...kind of poignant. Thank you Mr Chris Isaak. At least it wasn't Wicked Game or she'd just start crying here and now; sliding down to her knees at the side of the bed. What had Willow once said?


So she had stayed in her cupboard, clutching a broom and hoping that a demented 80's-punk, peroxide terror with teeth didn't become her final outcome.

"And if you get me out of this, I swear I'll never be mean to anyone ever again. Unless they *really* deserve it. Or if it's that time of the month, in which case I don't think you or anyone else can hold me responsible..."

That had worked hadn't it?

She rested her head against the soft sheets, so soft and smooth and tempting - made her want to lie there - good, old Fred. Closed her eyes. Let God hear her, if He was out there. Of course, *He* could be part of the cadre giving her the mortal headache.

"Ask for some aspirin."

Willow again.

She was not getting out of this one, was she? Want to know the truth? She didn't want to. Leaned to the side, noticing that they had bought her satin sheets. Satin. Closed her eyes, as the pain in her head ebbed a bit. Listened to the radio and the lazy traffic outside.

Blue Hotel, every room is lonely // Blue Hotel, I was waiting only // The night is like her lonely dream // Blue Hotel... Blue Hotel...

Not an accident. No way. He was going to come up the stairs and find her there. And she wasn't going to have it in her to resist.

She loved him.




Part V

It's a strange day
No colours or shapes
No sound in my head
I forget who I am
Utopia ~ Goldfrapp

Only their hushed exchange at the top of the stairs alerted Wesley to their return. That, and the soft slapping of Fred's sandals on the hardwood floor when she moves. The image moving towards him is one of composure. Almost as if nothing unusual happened.

Fred walks ahead of Gunn - whose steps are measured - and takes a seat at the table, straightening her glasses. Gunn sits after her. Looks at his hands, stretching them out on the varnished wood amidst the books and objets. His voice is hesitant at first, slowly smoothing out:

"I have an a-"

"Allergy," Wes picks up for him. "Makes the eyes water; I know."

There is an uneasy beat.

"Let's just pretend that didn't happen." Gunn says.

Wesley looks back to his book for a moment before reaching for one of the scrolls that has fallen to the floor:

"Pretend what happened?"

They suddenly make eye contact and smile like old friends. The magic is back.

Fred rolls her eyes happily, as if to say: "Men."

"No word from upstairs?" Gunn asks.

"No not yet- Angel!?"

The words trip off Wesley's tongue easily, ending abruptly and all eyes follow his stare to the vampire that has appeared behind them, moodily descending the stairs. They all stand instinctively. Wes takes the lead, lifting one of Fred's gadgets from the table when there is no immediate answer from Angel. Gunn grabs a stake and steps in front of Fred, who in silent understanding acknowledges the sentiment but chooses to stand beside him with a crossbow.

"Angel?" she asks, glancing to Wes.

This time he replies: "It's okay, it's me."

Nobody moves.

"She told me to tell you: The sky is red in Bermuda."

Everybody relaxes.

"Glad to know we can only use that password once. I take it you two haven't..." Wes still cannot bring himself to say it.

"No...we haven't. She's kind of upset."


"The obvious."


Angel looks pushed for a moment, scratches his head. Fred thinks it makes him look like a puppy but she's keeping such thoughts to herself. He continues:

"I just wanted to check if there could possibly be another way."

Wesley adds what Fred and Gunn can only think: "That doesn't sound like you."

"She made me. Okay." Which made sense.

"Understandably." Gunn puts in unexpectedly, making Fred look at him. He explains: "Given the circumstances. She cares about you, bro."

Fred runs damage control: "We all do."

Angel misses it completely.


Wesley answers rather peevishly, "Yes, Angel, I think it's been established that we all love you."

"I meant, are you sure there isn't another way to...lift her visions? She mentioned...spells?"


They continue. Fred looks at Gunn, who is still watching Angel - now at the table talking to Wes in particular but all of them in general; he puts down the stake.

"Man, we're all out of spells natch one." Gunn's raised eyebrows suggest the orb on the table.

Fred explains: "The ward spells are too dangerous, anything that could interfere she going to be able to hear that?"

"She's...pretty strong." Angel's eyes are so dark and knowing they are in danger of devouring everyone and everything. "It's still hard to come to terms with."

"I know." says Gunn, which makes everyone else look at him. "She'll stay angry for a while, but she trusts...your friendship. It's strong enough to take it."

"You think she knows that?"

"I think she knows you." Gunn finishes.

Wes steps in now, handling the safety aspect.

"The chains are there as a precaution. It might be better if she comes out first next time."

"I get that." Angel looks at the contraption Wes holds at his side. "New weapon?"

Wes lifts it so Angel can see it properly.

"Fred made it."

"It's a stake-catapult-crossbow-thingy." she announces.

"Thingy?" Gunn questions. "That's your physics breakdown?"

"It's a prototype." Fred returns. "You name it if you want."

"How 'bout 'Norman'?"

"Works for me."

Wesley intercedes: "Getting back to what I was saying. We're out of options. I don't know how many more visions she can-"

"She just had one."

"Cordelia had a vision?"


"While you were up there? Is she-"

"She' blinded her."

Almost under his breath Wes snaps, "Bloody marvellous! She kept that from us."

"We all have our secrets, Wes, guess this is a night for them."

Wesley glances at Gunn and Fred, then back at Angel.

"I suppose. Her blindness, is it permanent?"

"Apparently it's happened before, it just takes a while for her to recover."

"Then we don't have any time. Her next vision could do irreversible damage."

None of them liked the idea of Cordelia in pain or blind, much less suffering permanently.

"I don't think that's the worst." Fred adds. "If there's stress on the blood vessels. That mean anything - cerebral haemorraging, an aneurysm, a stroke. We don't know. It could have already-"

"Happened." Angel finishes for her. "I have to go."

They step aside to let him go, equally concerned. Angel makes the first three steps up the stairs in one bound and then disappears entirely. They watch again an empty space. Fred rouses them from their collective thoughts.

"We had better be ready."

"Ready." Gunn's statement of fact.

Wes says it as he realises: "He loves her."


When he returns to the room she is lying still on the bed, curled into a small ball, her back to him. The shadows there are a part of her. The light from outside is almost royal blue and a burnt waxiness haunts the air inside. The candle at her bedside has gone out. He registers the small, stifled sounds rising faintly from her almost immediately. No less sooner is he at her side. How can doing something as simple as touching her bring him back to equilibrium?

"Cordy, it's okay. I'm back"

She turns on her side to face him, masked again in shadow.

"I'm not crying dumbass, I'm laughing."

And she makes dumbass sound like a compliment.


She sits up, coming into the light her eyes suddenly sparkling with fire. With life.

"The radio. They did that Dr Pepper commercial."

They say it simultaneously: "What's the worst that could happen?"

"Oh." She squints at his sudden sheepish turn, "You know it. Weird." She swings her legs off the side of the bed. "Anyway, I just wanted to say I'm sorry."


"About the hissy fit?"

"The hissy?"

"The Joan Collins 'tude. You know this would work better if you didn't echo my every last word."

"I guess."

She realises: "God, I *am* sorry. I keep doing that."

"Apology accepted." He says, eager to move her past this.

She holds up her hand to get him to stop. "No. I'm not finished yet."


"I just realised that you...and I...well, when I'm threatened...I- Okay, let me start again. Well, when I was a little girl, five or six? Somewhere there. I had a crush on this boy and, well he didn't..have one on me, I mean - and...he told me so in no uncertain terms. In lots of little, quite frankly for a boy, bitchy ways. His daddy was into oil or stocks and bonds or something. And I always thought I didn't want that to ever happen - ever - again. So..."

"You returned the compliment."

"Exactly! It was my trademark and I was good at it! Actually I was the best...and then I really didn't know how to be anything other than that and it didn't matter anyway because it was what people expected and...I kind of enjoyed it. But, I never got out of the habit of doing it even when I didn't have to. So I'm sorry. I was afraid and..."

"I understand..." He pauses taking it in. "You made that up that first part didn't you?"

"I really can't lie to you can I?"

A few beats of silence.

"My guess is that they didn't tell you what you wanted to hear down stairs."

He nods.

"I didn't expect them to. Come here."

"Come there?"

She pats space on the bed directly beside her. He sits by her. She radiates warmth and when she looks at him she draws him in. She hugs him. She does not let go as she says:

"Another thing I realised-"

"With the Dr Pepper thing?"

"Yes, that. I realised that it didn't matter if I was afraid or not I was still pretty lucky."

"Lucky? To have me?"

She releases him a little so they can see each other. Same dark eyes again.

"No. Not that I'm not but that wasn't what I was thinking (and you know I am). I actually *know* what could or could not happen. On one side: psycho killer. On the other side: no visions. I have nothing to complain about. I'm not going into this blindly, if you'll just excuse the fact that a few minutes ago I actually was. I know most of the possible outcomes of us, doing this. We *both* know. I was just angry because..."

"I lied to you."

"No." She takes a deep breath and lets it out. "Because I wanted kiss...You."

His world reels for a moment. How can her saying that actually induce him to such acuteness of feeling? Such acuteness of fear? Stunning him in all senses of the word. He tries to take it in because she is not trying to take it back. He gets up shuffling, pensive.

"So do I."

She watches him move across the darkness of the room, and realises the simplicity. To want. To take. To have.

"Okay now I should be afraid."

He sits beside her again. Close. Stares right into her. She adds: "I'm not, though."

He leans in to kiss her but hesitates:

"But you still want to kiss me right?"

She kisses him deeply:

"Does that answer your question?"

He kisses her and as their kisses escalate, their embrace becomes more.


His mouth is deceptively soft against her lips, his hands soon losing their innocence in their manouvres down, down her spine. And it was nothing, just nothing for him to lift her like he just did, so that now she was quite clearly in his lap. Dark, long kisses. Dark. To the shoulder now exposed and the eyes now, not searching for redemption or retribution but her. She can smile in the dark. Her hands can play. His interest never leaves her.

She feels their bodies crashing to earth, but the descent is slow. It almost defies time.

His hands descend her back for a second time. (Yes, he bought her a dress that was backless, he finds her bare back seductive). And though she cannot resist him, can be moved by him, she shudders. He can tell. Breaks their millionth kiss - or was it the first that never ended?

"What is it?"

"Your hands are...cold."


"What do you do to...? Oh. Right."


"You can't just put a tub in the microwave and...?" His gaze is downward, she can see his lashes. Was that shame? "No. I didn't think so."

Distracted fingers find their way to the scars on her neck - Darla- shaped. Stay there only a second.

"I'm not going to bite you." he announces.

"Well you're not going to do anything but freak me out with hands that cold."

She shifts off him, sliding beside. Hesitates for only a moment before lifting the hem of her dress, pulling it higher until it is bunched at her waist, exposing the lithe strength of her legs, her panties of lace and string. He has seen her in a bikini, right?

He feels like a voyeur but it still takes him a good two seconds to look elsewhere. Her voice again.

"Now, I'm going to give you ten seconds and then you can bite me here." She draws an imaginary circle around the area above her left hip, and he stares at her. He wonders if she realises that her rebar scar is at the circle's centre. The red light reflected ambiently across the surfaces in the room, glows now over her smooth belly. He knows he wants it because his mouth is no longer dry.

Cordelia leans back against the pillows, raises the small wooden crucifix in her right hand, no bigger really than her palm. And her eyes full of calm where the cross has already made the statement: Not going out like that. Follow his eyes as they go down, follow the movent of his hands up over her legs, lightly over her thighs, catching her at the waist on the left - pinning the gown in folds - and the right at the hip to balance. Feels his features slide into the carnivores like there is really no change at all; and the shifting of his yellow eyes as she catches the descent of that brutal mouth before the fangs meet her flesh. Because she wants to see him this way for a moment - touch the lines there - face the visible demon. Her hand rests under his chin for a second, then brushes the lobe of his ear as it escapes over his neck to his shoulder. Her glance climbs towards the ceiling.

He is gentle with her for a moment before breaking the skin. Feels the muscles tense at his invasion then relax, then tense. Does she gasp? He misses that. He eases the fangs out of her to allow the blood to collect. Takes in her every taste and the amplification of her scent with it - gives an unheard hum of pleasure. Feels the grip of his left hand slide under her dress. Presses his tongue to the wound and lets the blood flow under his lips. She relaxes again.

He can hear the dull thump of her heart - it sparks with each beat at a dark corner of his consciousness - and the buzz of her pulse is in his mouth, working its way to his throat in a warm, divine line. He swallows; tastes. The hand on his shoulder has absently started to caress - she might be sublimating her own need for comfort - his bite must sting. He purses his lips some, releases again the pressure of his tongue, and the blood floods his mouth.

She arches a little now, her body trembles against him. Her hand is closed against the cross, squeezing, clasping, releasing, as he sucks and then abandons. Suddenly grabbing her hard and pressing her down before she registers how far in his fangs really are, how deep he is biting her - a little cruelty there - sucking her suddenly harder. Pulling her to an edge that only her heart records, pounding louder, faster. Her hand is now a claw upon his shoulder, arousing him a little. But the cross - as he draws one last draught onto his tongue with more strength than is strictly necessary - the cross - where her hand closes around it to form a fist - breaks in two with a clear wooden snap. Her breaths are finally heard above him, coming forth raggedly. Her heart is gone on a not so startling pattern of madness that makes him dizzy and fat with satisfaction.

He knows what he just did to her. And now he licks around the wound; her fingers in his hair clearly fascinated - clearly not so tame - as he waits for the steep rise of her pulse, of her breathing to fall. His mouth against her fluttering belly leaving a fine line of kisses.

He shifts on the bed, losing his canines - and she sits up in her own time, dark hair falling over her shoulders. Drops the broken cross absently but looks at the pieces on the bed, disorientated. He reaches for her arm and she turns his way allowing him to hold her. She puts her arms around him completing the gesture but not quite registering it until she feels his presence there and holds him tighter. Leans back.

"You' now."

"I know."

"And I'm statement-of-the-obvious girl."

"I know."

She kisses him with little hesitation and his hands spider up her back again. Just likes her being there against him. With him. His. Wants to tell her how wonderful she is - cannot do it because her mouth is inside his. She pulls back - pupils wide, eyes wide. Dazzling and beautiful. And he is still stroking her back. She looks down at her state of undress and is customarily blunt as ever. It is all the more wonderful.

"Take off your clothes."

She does not need to say it again. She does not need to help him, just lets him do it. Her gaze remains upon him, does not flinch; not predatory or mortified, or even curious. It is just taking him in. All of him. When he sits beside her he is naked, bathed in the blue light from outside. She raises the dress over her chest but struggles:

"Help me." He does. "Only you would buy me a dress I have to be cut out of."

He is too transfixed with her own half-nudity to do anything other than echo her.

"Only me."

God, she's beautiful.

She shakes her hair back into place. Lets the dress fall off the end of her arm into clothy puddle at their feet.

"Over or under?" She indicates the sheets.

"Anywhere...with you."

She smiles, like diamonds in the dark.

"I love you." he says. And while she does not accept this as freely as he would have wanted, he appreciates the circumstances she is faced with. She speaks to him, a hoarse whisper:

"And I always will."

His hands in hers. Then his hands sliding over her body. To know her is to want her, you know? Likes the little things about her. The way her mouth will not close when she knows he wants her this way. The way that his hands make losing her underwear less of a problem and more of a solution. The way he can follow her pulse as clear as a clarion when he kisses her over and over and all over. And he treasures the places he takes her, the pieces of herself that she gives him in her moments of acute pleasure. He can give her that. She can take it. All her warmth and moisture and tenderness, mixed in with the musk and the heat. There is a fine bead of sweat now playing across her body. She is trying to form words but words do not form anymore.

He is pure predator in seeking her weaknesses and playing them, like she is some wonderful instrument. And then she is on top of him coming back to herself.

They have to do this now. Blue light once more playing across her face, as she looks down upon him and smiles. He is the perfect cat. Listen to him purr.

She has him pinned under her weight. He stretches his arms out far, so she can shackle him. She has a moment of resistence:


He smiles his charming smile: "Yes."

"Yes." she concedes.

Four points of a compass. He is a star in human form pointing in all directions. And she falls for him there like that. His absolute surrender. He would do this again and again. He is Atlas chained to the world, Ixion with his eternal wheel.

Her mouth is against his; for a moment they just lie full length against each other and he can feel her heartbeat eating into him, scoring into him like a molten thing. Like he could suddenly bleed her blood. Then she breathes and he 'breathes' with her. Rises up and positions herself over him, slowly descending.

He can feel her inside.

How many have there been? He does not want to think that way around her. He sees only a shadow of her sadness as she raises her head in the purple light - slowly changing to red.

She rides him far too well, and she is not afraid of breaking him.

He would like to guide her speed, rest his chained hands on her hips and watch her go. Not gonna happen.

But he can watch her - and her pulse is like a magnet - the raising red light bringing out the hidden dark curls in her hair. Raising every possible expression to his vampire scrutiny. The twitch of the mouth, the deep flush that rises over her breasts when she is starting to feel him, the closing of her eyes against it, the way her hands (on his chest) are scalding him. He loves that she is taking him where he is taking her. They are going there together. She is like a volcano. Her breathing is spiking. Yes, go there. There is no relief. Her thighs inextricably close around him. Tighter. She is feeling him. His wrists strain against the chains binding him wanting to touch. He is feeling her too.

His thoughts become rushed, giddy, greedy and pushed to some mysterious goal. The hushed moans escape her now - she is past helping it.

A tingling around his temple, and obviously his groin, she squeezes him so tight. Her entire body seems to contract and give and release. She speaks words of a language that mean everything, everything. And the stars in his belly explode. Gone.

She falls upon him in a tangled, sweaty mess and he can only feel her. 'Breathe' with her. She feels him as if he were in every atom in her body.


She must have fallen asleep over him. For she wakes there on top of him.

She manages to climb off of his sleeping body without waking him. If she had moaned any louder she would have embarrassed herself. Or would she? She would not have thought she had any of *that* in her. That capacity to feel, to want unto anihilation. That could only lead to badness. Now he knows it too.

Getting vertical is a problem for a moment, and dazed she has to rest on the bed beside him. He still has not woken. She has never seen him sleep before - not with the nakedness anyway. Doesn't look too bad on him. You could almost forget he could kick donkey demon ass without trying.

The neon lights must been switched off because the room is covered in the light of the setting moon. It makes him look so pale. She instinctively touches where he bit her. *That* had been such an intimate thing compared to the other on her neck. Not her best idea. She realises she is half-mindedly looking for the pieces of the cross she broke earlier. When she finds them by the foot of the bed, she remembers she is naked - her clothes must be on the other side. She looks affectionately at him on the bed - still asleep.

She wanders around the bed, drawing the drapes on her way. Puts on his clothes - she can bring him some more later - covers him with a sheet (in the name of modesty) and stares back at the bed when he shifts unconsciously making the chains rattle. Raises an eyebrow and says softly: "I wore you out, huh?"

Turns towards the door tightening his belt at her waist. Looks back at him once again before leaving. Mutters more to herself than anyone: "Not good."


They don't hear her bare feet on the stairs or the floor until she is right behind them. Only Wesley jumps. Gunn and Fred seem in their sneaky element.

"We didn't hear you come down." Wes says, excusing himself.


Gunn takes in her new garb.

"So..." He notes her look. "We don't have to go there."

"We've been and gone from 'there'." She says. Tries not to smirk - that would be Angel's thing.

Fred, bless her, is smiling but it's kind of goofy on her because she is not sure if she is allowed to. Wes interupts the high times.

"So he doesn't seem..." His sensitivity makes him trail off.

She finds a chair and sits down, wincing briefly as her bite reminds her it is still there and still raw. She recovers easily.

"When I left him he seemed unconscious."

"Oh it's like that is it?" Gunn is a dog. A smart-assed, cute dog. But a dog.

"Charles!" Fred all but gasps, but really she's right there with him. All of them perhaps, except Wes, who's a little off.

"*You* will *never* know." she replies.

Fred pushes the glasses in danger of falling off the end of her nose back onto her face. and adds: "Don't mind him, his mind has a gutter rotation... which sometimes other minds like to visit."

Fred leans forward hopefully.

"I don't think so." She winks at Fred. "I'll tell you later."

Gunn raises a second skeptical eyebrow before she finishes: "And by 'later' I mean *never*."

Fred actually pouts - who would have thought?

"Oh." she says disappointedly. Then digging into her pocket hands Gunn some currency.

She erupts on principle: "Oh, that is just so..." Immature she means to say.

Wes surrepitously does the same, handing Gunn a similar amount.

"You made bets?! I'm on my deathbed and you guys made bets?" She wells up and says with real feeling. "I love you guys." Then putting her hand out in front of a nontheless amused Gunn: "Pay me."

Gunn coughs up the dough: "You drive a hard bargain."

"You wise asses deserve it. Next time say it with flowers."

"So you're safe now?" Gunn continues.

"All good, new and vision-free."

"Alright!" Gunn high-fives Fred, and to Cordelia's surprise, stands and hugs her. "Good to have you back."

They all crowd round her - group hug. Lacking for the words she simply repeats her earlier statement, "I love you guys!" and tries not to cry. Fails. She wipes her eyes and explains: "It's an-"

"Allergy." Gunn and Wes say it simultaneously.

"We know." Wes adds. "It seems to be..."

Cordelia hears steps behind her and turns around as Wes finishes. "...going around." His tone hardens and without taking a breath says: "What are you doing here?"

In the lobby just arriving through the front doors, Gavin Parks, four police officers and some other official-looking men in suits arrive. Expensive suits.

Wes is not intimidated.

"I've told you to get out once-"

Parks, smooth and reptilian counters:

"We have a warrant, Mr Pryce." Holding it out for Wes.

Wesley snatches the form, clearly irritated, but reads it. Gunn reads aloud over his shoulder.

"Violation of the Environmental Code? Hold up now-"

The suit to Park's right comments: "We have reason to believe that you are violating-"

Wesley's arch European vowels seem to cut like a knife.

"The only thing being violated is my patience."

"We are free to search the premises, Mr Pryce. If you attempt to stop us..." The police officer behind him steps forwards, "we have grounds to arrest you for resisting our investigation."

"Not to mention your other violations of the Buildings Reguations Code. The State Department doesn't take too kindly to forgery, Mr Pryce. And neither does immigrations. I hope there's nothing illegal about your stay in this country." Parks seems coated in oil.

Cordelia steps forwards, barefoot and peeved: "I shouldn't think so." And in her best sweetheart voice, to Wes: "Tell him when the date is, honey."

Parks almost applauds. His hands do come together as if they would. He should be so lucky he is out of her reach.

"Very nice. You get a gold star for creativity - no cigar, though. Where's Angel? We need to set our own little date."

Wes is silent, crosses his arms. Cor and Gunn do the same.

Parks crosses in front of them, catches sight of Fred slightly behind them.

"And you, Miss Burkle? What's a nice girl like you doing-"

"Pleading the fifth with a toad like you?" Fred closes. Cordelia glows with unexpected pride. Something's rubbing off there. "Breathing, oscillating a bit but mostly waiting for a paradigm shift that means you're no longer with us." If not entirely.

Parks barely loses his cool.

"Where is he?" They say nothing. The lawyer turns to the suits and cops: "Search the rooms, he must be in one of them." Then returning his full attention to the three of them again:"As for obstruction of justice-"

She cannot help herself: "I thought I was looking right at it."

"Very smart mouth you have there, Miss Chase. Maybe Angel could use it in court. Always knew you were more than a...face."


Wesley's voice rejoins the exchange, heavy and calm: "Angel is not here. So why don't you and your associates leave."

"Too late, Mr Pryce, I'm not leaving until justice has been served."

Wes thinks hard, looks to the group behind him and starts again: "Now I'm sure we can sit down and discuss this like civilised beings. Perhaps we can even come to an agreement. We give you Angel, on one condition."

"And that would be?"

"This." And Wes just hauls off and hits him. She has to admire the sheer force of angle it snaps Parks' head to. Glad she was not on the receiving end. Gunn springs forwards to stop the melee. Trying to reign Wes in as he almost strikes Parks for a second time. Parks backs off feeling his jaw, spitting the words:

"Good, Mr Pryce. We find Angel, maybe I'll let you post bail."

Only Gunn stops his friend from charging at the lawyer - fists of fury. Cordelia winces. Boy are they in some deep shit now. Suddenly she doesn't feel so well. Not good at all. Her hands rise disbelievingly to her temples before she can stop them. She cannot even warn Wesley and Gunn - now surrounded by officers - before she can scream.

The third cop is forcibly restraining Wesley when they first hear her. Gunn spins in surprise, quite expecting her to be under attack of even launching a war cry. On her second scream, the second of the officers climbing the stairs hesitates, watching her collapse. The one on the landing simply carries on his duties, clearly suspecting some kind of ruse: "Check her." is all he says.

Her third scream is a kind of disaster. Fred is on her knees beside her. There is so much pain. Pain in and all around her. No. Not this again. She tries to hold on.

"I thought she wasn't having these anymore?" Gunn asks, trying to reach her. Her body starts to convulse. She screams again. Gunn and Fred lift her bodily, but Gunn holds her well into her convulsions, trying to preempt them. "Hold up girl, we got you."

She has one of those weird disembodied thoughts: Could Wes look more horrified? She can only hear Fred. ("What's happening?" To which Gunn replies: "I don't know, educated guess says this com-shuk deal ain't working.")

Her voices grates out of her: ""

If she said there was not enough pain they would not believe her. There was something surreal to the quality of it. Like it was not coming directly to her. She hears the voice of the cop upstairs.

"Hey, Bishop! We've got something up here!"

"Don't...go...up...there." Oh God, something bad.

She hears screams again - this time not hers. A gun fires. The cops downstairs go into a panic. She hears Gunn.

"What the hell?"

Her words keep coming. "...Angel..."

She hears what seems like the loudest crash in the world roll like thunder down the stairs towards them. She is breathing hard. More crashing, and high above it what sounds like tearing metal. Gunshots - tearing in. Another shout. Another scream. Staccato steps up the stairs. Voices calling for back up.

Wes gets it. "Dear God." It shakes him to the very core.

Even Parks is lost for a moment.

"...too...late..." she groans.

Glass shatters to pieces, she flinches, feeling cut but not. "Aghragh!" Her feet bleed. But not. She feels Freds fingers clenching her elbow like a steel grip. For a moment she is weightless. Then she hits the ground running but knows she is holding onto Gunn for dear mercy, staring out at Wes. She can smell the gunsmoke. Two heartbeats, one thready. Alread at a distance. The cops are going nuts up there. The suits have gathered gravely around Parks; surely this is their confirmation. Wes is now beside her. He shakes his head. She knows. Her head is clear now.

"He's gone."


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