Part One

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 this."

"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.

"Um, Cordy...?"

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 toward her.

"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 called, "Dennis!"

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 off me."

"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 arm.

Her heart pounded, her mouth watered and she
wanted the pain.


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 walked away.

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 shrank.

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 breath.

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 human."

"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 to sniff.

"Another 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 the room.

"This is really freaking me out," Cordy said, trying to ignore the fact that her apartment smelled like someone was casting a dark demonic ritual.

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 chain.

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 flushed blood.

For a moment, Angel stood there, staring at them. Then he looked around the room, taking in the chaos. "Just be careful," he finally said.


"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?"

No answer.

"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. "Dennis. DENNIS!"

Wesley jumped. "Really, Cordelia, there's no need to shout."

"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. "Dennis?"

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 annoyance.

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," she replied.

He clucked with exasperation. "No, the message. It means 'help'."

"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! 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 doorway.

"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. Let's go."

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 with it.

"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 otherwise, Wes."

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 all right?"

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 slime-splattered hallways.

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, looking embarrassed.

"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 murmured.

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 cops?"

"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 hall.

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 again.

Angel grabbed it, mid-arc. "He's fine, Cordy."

Wes's eyes fluttered. "Be right down, mum," he muttered.

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 central eye.

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 kidding."

Mrs. Telemacher turned her head. "Oh, dear," she said. A bead of green stuff rolled off her nose and plopped onto her folded hands.

"Hey, you!"

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 following.

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 and see."

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 her butt.

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 each shoulder.

"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 interference."

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 -- thing."

"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."