Cordelia turned the gas on under the teakettle, and spooned coffee into three big mugs. The muted hum of the television was calming, and after the tension of the day, she finally felt her nerves beginning to settle. The stress, those mind-bending drugs that still coursed through her body, and several hours of back-breaking cleaning had magnified the drained, wobbly feeling that she couldn't seem to shake off. It was good to just putter around the kitchen, doing mundane things.
The day had been surreal, to say the least. Once it was clear that Angelus was no longer a danger -- and Wesley still hadn't worked that one out -- they'd unpacked some of Angel's smelly, charred books, and Wes started researching.
Angel/Dennis hadn't said a lot. He'd taken a long nap on her bed, while she'd tidied up the bombsite that was her apartment. Then he'd come out, picked up a big book, and divided his time between reading and watching the TV.
Both people in Angel's body seemed subdued, disoriented, and she could tell they were finding their equilibrium. Just like she did every time she came out of a vision -- finding herself again, among thoughts and feelings that belonged to other people.
The kettle shrilled, snapping her out of her reverie. She lifted it, pouring steaming water over the little brown granules, making them dance and dissolve. Since their old machine was now just a melted lump of metal and plastic, they had to make do with instant. Right now, it smelled better than any coffee ever had.
Cordy looked up, the kitchen window turning pink with the sunset, her own reflection just visible in the glass.
"Can I help?" Angel's voice behind her made her drop the teaspoon in the sink. The clatter jangled like her nerves, instantly on edge again.
"Jeez, Angel. Don't do that!" she gasped, turning to glare at him.
"I'm sorry." The soft smile on his face faded.
She shook her head. "Dennis, no, it's all right. I didn't mean to snap."
"Ah-hah!" Wesley banged his hand on the dining table.
She carried his mug of coffee to him, setting it on a coaster. "Is this like the ah-hah of an hour ago, when you remembered your favourite sweater was at the dry-cleaner, or is it an actual, useful ah-hah?"
"I think I know what happened," he replied, double-checking the page in front of him.
Angel drew up a chair, put five teaspoons of sugar into his mug, and stirred vigorously, until he realized they were staring at him.
"Just what we need, a vampire on a sugar high," Cordy said.
"I think that's Dennis' preference, not Angel's," Wesley replied, looking intrigued.
Angel took a sip, and pulled a face, pushing the coffee away. "Ugh, even with vampire tastebuds, that's terrible." He got up from the table, shoved his hands into his trouser pockets, and began to pace the room. He came to a halt in front of the curio cabinet, and turned back to them, his face anxious. "How do we get him out of me?"
"First things first." Wes held up a finger.
Cordy picked up her coffee, which Angel -- or Dennis -- had put on the table for her. "You don't know how to get him out, do you?"
"Not yet," Wes admitted. "But I have a theory about how we got from Angel --" he waved a hand at Angel, who had taken her crystal unicorn off the newly-resurrected display on the curio cabinet, and was holding it up to his nose, seemingly fascinated by the play of refracted light on his face, "-- to this. Angel is a vampire --"
"Who is about to get staked if he doesn't put that down," she interrupted, raising her voice.
"A vampire," Wes repeated, drawing the word out. "A demon without a soul. And a ghost is basically just a soul, unbound to a physical form. When a possession occurs, that soul enters someone by force. Your standard exorcism works on the principle of banishing the soul that doesn't belong in that person's body."
"And you think, because my soul was put back inside me unnaturally, the spell tried to pull it out as well?" Angel said, carefully returning the ornament, and returning his hands to his pockets.
"Exactly!" Wesley beamed.
"Well, that's bad, isn't it?" Cordy sighed, sliding her butt onto the edge of the table.
"Not entirely," Wesley said, poking his finger at a line of text in some demon language that meant nothing to her. "We haven't seen any more of Angelus, so it obviously did something to subdue Angel's demon."
"Let me guess, you have a theory about that, too," Cordy said, sipping her coffee.
"Indeed. I believe it's a bit like identical twins. They share the same genes, and often have a psychic link. A sort of a soul-bond, if you like. They feel each other's pain, emotions, and such. Dennis and Angel are sharing the same body, not just the same gene sequence, so it's more pronounced. There's bound to be some sort of blurring between one soul and the other. I think pulling them both to the surface with the exorcism has kind of -- stuck them together." Wesley smacked his palms together, emphasising the point. "Angel's soul must be taking strength from Dennis -- helping him control Angelus. How, I'm not sure. But the proof is right here."
Cordy looked at Angel, who rocked on his heels, tense and fidgety. "Won't that make it even harder to get Dennis out?" she said.
"That's the problem," Angel said. "Dennis doesn't want to come out."
Wesley's face fell. "Of course. That's why the unbinding didn't work." He stared off into space, thinking. "But if my assumptions are correct, the longer we leave it, the harder it will be. Angel, what do you suggest?"
"I don't care what you have to do," Angel said. "I want my body back."
"We'll do our best. I promise," Wesley said, his voice soft. He reached for another book.
Cordy glanced down at herself, smeared with dirt, soot from the books, blood from the bathtub, and little bits of ectoplasmic residue which she'd had to scrub off her front door. She slid off the table. "I'm going to try having a long, hot bath. Without the demon-y interruptions, this time."
"Hmmm," Wes mumbled, already buried in his research again.
Cordy turned on the bathtub tap and waited, breath held, to see what would happen.
Water, warm and clear, shot free. Her shoulders dropped somewhere south of her ears. "Whew," she said. "No more Exorcist." She shook her head and glanced up at the ceiling. "You were killing the last decent towels I had left."
She dropped the plug in and turned to the mirror to brush her hair. While she brushed, her gaze was drawn to the mirror and over her shoulder, where she could see that there wasn't any steam rising from the tap.
"Hotter," she said, under her breath. Of course nothing happened, just as she'd known it wouldn't. But the habit was ingrained in her now. She depended on Dennis to take care of her, almost as she'd come to depend on Angel. Not having him hovering near her felt wrong, empty.
Her heart dropped. No one to pick up her clothes or run her bath or scrub her back. No one to comfort her when she had a vision or got lonely in the middle of the night.
Instead, he sat out there on the couch in Angel's body, making Angel look like a self-confidence-challenged high school boy. "And what is up with that?" But, of course, it was all Polygrip's fault. Who could grow up to be a man when his mother kept his balls in her purse?
Cordy slid into the water and adjusted the taps on the way down. She let her hair float around her and soaked off the sticky remnants of blood, of ectoplasm, and of the rotten-egg stench left behind by the expanding ghost.
After the last few days in the hospital, being home in her own tub was better than a pint of Chunky Monkey and the latest Grisham. Even as she floated, images flickered behind her closed eyelids and, unable to stop them, her body clenched. So much pain....
She sucked in a deep breath, sat up and reached for the shampoo. Enough with the Heathcliff act. There was enough worry in the world without adding hers to it. They'd just have to take one case at a time, just like they always did.
And right now, that case was taking up space on her living room couch.
She squirted iridescent Pantene into her palm just as a knock sounded on the bathroom door. "Yeah?"
"I, uh --" came the voice on the other side.
"Spit it out, Angel. Or Dennis, whoever." It felt good to rub the fresh-smelling shampoo through her hair, to wash away the last couple of days.
"I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Okay, that sounded like Dennis. "Volunteering for back-scrubbing detail?"
There was a little squeak. "Um, uh --"
She laughed. "It's okay, Dennis. I'm fine. Why don't you go see what Wes is doing?"
Silence bloomed and she slid back under and rinsed her hair. When she came up the knock sounded again. "Trying to have a private moment, here."
"It's me, Cordy." Okay, that was definitely Angel.
She rubbed soap on the loofah up and scrubbed her arms. "Yeah, Angel. I'm here. I'm fine. No blood in the water, no freakiness ensuing."
"Good. But that's not why I'm here."
She arched at eyebrow at the door as she scrubbed her back. "I knew it. My ghost cares more about me than you do." Suddenly she was struck by the memory of Angel's face when she woke. How in that one moment, she knew she had a family again.
But Angel just made his usual huff, the one that was a cross between amusement and frustration. "I'd smell it, if it were something besides water. Besides, don't you think getting Dennis back to his rightful place takes top priority, even over getting clean?"
"Please. Tell me about the importance of good hygiene after you've stopped taking two showers a day." She thought of Angel's face again, naked with fear and need. "Don't worry, Angel," she said, softly. "We'll get Dennis back home, so chill."
"But...I'm not sure I'm ready to go back yet," came Angel's voice, on a lower volume.
Cordy shook her head, confused. Then she realized that she was talking to Dennis. Much as she loved them both, going back and forth between them was making her feel schizo.
She imagined Dennis, head drooping, hands in his pockets, fighting to stay embodied. Angel, stuck in there somewhere, desperate to have his independence returned.
"We'll work something out," she said, rinsing off soap suds and stepping out of the tub. Water puddled on the mat as she dried off and wrapped a towel around her hair. She slid her arms into her satin bathrobe and tied it loosely, then flung the door open, and found herself face-to-face with Angel.
Angel, head down, looked up sharply. His eyes widened. "Uh, Cordy...?"
"Please, like you haven't seen it all before," she said, as she brushed past. "Not mine, of course. Well, Dennis has, so --" She whirled. "Wait. Do you have his memories? Have you seen me --?"
Angel blinked. "Uh --" His gaze dropped.
Horror struck. "Oh, yuck. Dennis, why'd you have to show him that?" She closed the door behind her, wondering why she even bothered, and went to the dresser to grab her lotion bottle. The clean smell of Lubriderm hit the air as she smoothed it on.
"I don't think he had a choice," Angel said through the wood. "I -- we -- It's probably harder on him, since he got all of my memories, too."
Cordy went still then looked up at the door. "All of them?" Silence gave her all the answer she needed. "Well, crap," she said, putting the bottle back and pulling clean underwear out of the top drawer. She shimmied it up her legs.
"Yeah. It's, uh, kind of disturbing."
She dried her hair with quick strokes then dropped the towel in a heap on the mattress. After tugging on a pair of gray jeans and a bra, she got a button-up shirt out of the closet. It was one of Angel's old white ones that she'd stolen when she first started working for him. She slid it on, snuggling into its soft, comforting embrace.
When she opened the door, he had disappeared, and she walked toward the living room, not sure what to say next. Dennis got Angel and Angelus. And they got him.
For the first time, she thought, as she walked down the hall pulling a brush through her hair, she could see both of her best friends in the same plane -- problem was, they were stuck in the same body. And here she was between the two of them, wanting to make sure they both were happy and safe.
"Wow," she said, coming into the room to find the two -- three? four? -- men sitting on the couch, staring at the TV. "This is totally weird." She passed them on the way to the kitchen. "Anyone hungry?"
"I could eat," Wes said.
"Skin-and-bones is hungry? What a surprise." She stared into her freezer, at the half-eaten carton of Ben & Jerry's, the two remaining Popsicles, and the bag of ice. "Wanna order a pizza?"
There was a shuffle, and then Angel walked in. "I -- Could we go out to eat?"
She turned. "Okay, that so has to be Dennis, because Angel would never ask to go out to eat." She pulled her hair over one shoulder and finished brushing it into a long, untangled fall.
Angel stared at her hands, looking hypnotized by their movement. "I just.... I haven't been out in a long time." He gestured, glance sliding away, like he'd been caught looking at something he shouldn't have.
"Right," Cordy said, heart twisting. "Give me a minute."
She went to the bedroom, ditched the white button-up and pulled on a bright orange-and-yellow baby doll t-shirt. Poking her feet into her orange flip flops left her an extra minute to do something with her hair. It dampened her shirt and neck, and she knew she didn't have time to dry it, so she pulled it into one, long ponytail.
She slicked on lip gloss and touched her lashes with mascara in the vanity mirror over her dresser. "Ready," she said, meeting the guys at the front door.
Angel stared at her. "I don't mean to be rude, Cordelia, but are you sure that's appropriate attire for a meal out?"
She glanced down at the t-shirt and tight jeans. "Huh?"
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Angel fumbled to put on his long, leather duster. "I don't mean any insult. I'm just used to women wearing things that are a bit more... modest." He cleared his throat.
"And again, I say, huh?" Cordy said, glancing up at him. "You see me every day."
Angel, posture changing, ran his hand over his face and sighed. "Sorry," he said, in his own voice. "Dennis is a little freaked out."
Wes reached into the hall closet and handed Cordy her jean jacket. "Why don't you wear this?" He glanced at Angel. "I'm sure he sees things very differently through living eyes. He must be experiencing a profound culture shock."
"Something like that." Angel nodded and glanced at Cordy. "You ready?"
Cordy slipped the jacket on, then picked up her purse. "Let's blow."
Angel seemed to relax. "Blow what?" he asked, brow wrinkling.
"We're gonna have to get a little sign for you to hold up so we know which one is which," Cordy said. "'Cause that could have been either of them." She eyeballed Wes. "Any ideas for telling them apart?"
Wes shook his head. "This is certainly going to take some getting used to."
"Understatement of the century," Cordy said, pulling the house keys out of her purse.
Angel cleared his throat, and when she looked up he was holding out his hand. "Allow me," he said.
She frowned. "Allow you to what?"
"Lock the door," Wes said. He rubbed his forehead. "I feel like a translator."
Cordy handed Angel the key and watched as he locked the door and made sure it was secure. Then he pocketed it. "Snug as a bug in a rug," he said.
She shook her head. "I think I'm gonna need a translator if he keeps this up," she whispered to Wes as they started down the hall. Except for the occasional flicker of TV sets, or a muted conversation, it was quiet after the ghostly scare.
They exited the building and started down the sidewalk. Angel turned in circles as he walked, eyes wide with wonder, and Cordy was sure he was gonna trip over his own feet at any second. He looked like a little kid on his first visit to Disneyland.
She reached out, grasped his elbow, brought his attention back to her and Wes. "Where to?"
"I really want a hamburger," he said, and the longing for food sounded so strange coming from Angel's mouth that Cordy laughed.
"That is so weird. But, a hamburger would be great." She glanced at Wes. "Wanna go to Fatburger?"
He nodded. "Sounds fine."
"They still have Fatburger?" Angel asked in Dennis's voice.
"Only the best burger in America," Wes said. "Or so they claim."
Cordy elbowed him. "Like you could judge a real, American burger, Brit-boy."
Wes pushed his glasses up his nose. "I'll have you know, I've eaten in many a pub."
"And in one sentence, you've made my entire point," Cordy said.
"There was a diner down in Hollywood," Angel said, interrupting them. "Near the hotel with murals of movie stars --" He snapped his fingers, obviously searching for a memory, but came up short. "It's so strange. I thought I remembered everything." He glanced down at his feet. "I used to take my girlfriend there for milkshakes."
Cordy started to wind her arm through his then stopped, realizing she'd never act that casually friendly with Angel, even after Vocah. "What's it like?"
Dennis's gaze filled Angel's dark eyes, and he tentatively brushed her hand with his. She took the cue and slid her hand into the crook of his arm, grinning up at him.
"What's what like?" he asked, walking her to the Batmobile and opening the car door for her like a true gentleman.
"Being human again," she said, as she slid in the front seat. "Well, being up and walking around again."
He glanced around the parking lot, eyes finally returning to her. "Strange. Everything's different. But people..." He smiled, that beautiful, heartbreaking smile. "People still seem the same."
"Except for your mother," Cordy said.
"Oops," Cordy said.
Wes pulled the driver's seat up and slid in the back. "Yes, that's good, Cordelia. Do remind the man of how his mother walled him up and suffocated him to death."
Angel slid behind the wheel of the car and started it, then shifted into drive. "It's okay," Angel said. "I don't mind." They rolled forward a few feet then screeched to a stop.
Cordy braced against the dash even as Wes "whuffed" against the front seat. The impact caused his glasses to fly off and land next to her. "Maybe you mind more than you realized," she said, staring down at Wes's glasses.
"Ow," he said from the back seat. "My ribs."
"Sorry," Angel said, shaking his head. "I don't think I know how to drive." He looked at her, half frantic, half in apology. "I always took the bus."
Her brow wrinkled. "Angel knows how to drive. Just use his memories."
"It's not that easy -- I mean, there's some bleed-over between the two, but it's more like waking up from a dream and just... knowing things. Does that make sense?" His soft voice begged her to understand, to not find him lacking.
Wes fumbled in the front seat and found his glasses. "I'll drive!"
"No!" Cordy and Angel said in unison.
Suddenly Angel sat up straighter, his body relaxing into its familiar, confident lines. He put the car in drive, and they pulled into traffic.
Cordy shook her head. "Okay, that had better be Angel driving now."
"It's me," he said. "And can I just say that this sucks?"
"You mean, the whole --" she made a vague gesture -- "body-switching thing?"
He shot her a look. "No, Cordelia, the fact that I'm about to eat a huge hamburger."
"Ooh, nice," she said. "Was that sarcasm?"
"Ahem," Wes said, leaning his elbows on the back of the bench seat. "I'm sure this is stressful beyond imagining, but we're working on getting it resolved."
"By going out to eat?" Angel asked, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
"I work better when I'm full," Cordy put in.
Angel shot her another exasperated look.
By the time they pulled into Fatburger, Cordy was ready to have Dennis back. At least he wasn't Mr. Mopey-pants. "Let's eat," she said.
Angel winced. "Do you have to slam the door, Cordelia?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. "Your negative vibe is really dragging me down."
"Well, excuse me," Angel sniped, as he swept past her and into the restaurant. The diner-style interior made him look like an anachronism in his overly-chic coat and gelled up hair. "You try losing control of your body, and see how you feel."
Cordy arched a brow and didn't say a word.
Angel opened his mouth then closed it again. "Never mind."
Wes worked his way to an empty booth. "Do you find you're able to switch more easily between the both of you, now?" he asked.
They slid in, Cordy next to Angel and across from Wes. "Yeah, can you just do it like I Dream of Jeannie, and blink between the two?"
Angel shook his head. "No, it's more like --" He let out a long breath and dropped his gaze.
When he looked up, she saw Dennis. "Okay, that's just freaky," she said.
"Yes, rather," Wes agreed, excitedly. "I've been thinking. I know time is of the essence, but this is the sort of thing we might want to do some research on." He leaned forward, almost bubbling with enthusiasm. "I could interview each of you, find out how the entities work --"
"And what, write it up in the Watcher's Review?" Cordy said. She waved her hand. "Please, like anyone cares about this besides a bunch of stuffy old English guys."
Just as Wes was about to answer, the waitress came to take their orders.
Angel stared at her hair, shaved nearly to the scalp and dyed blue. Cordy elbowed him and he dropped his gaze.
"I'll have, um," he said, glancing out from under his lashes, "a burger, fries and a chocolate shake." The waitress nodded and turned to Cordy without missing a beat.
"Turkey burger, salad, dressing on the side. Diet Coke," Cordy said.
Wes ordered a burger and chips.
"Fries, you idiot," Cordy said, with an affectionate eye roll.
"We stuffy Brits have a difficult time with your butchering of the English language," Wes said.
Cordy wrinkled her nose at him then turned to Angel, who was ignoring them in favor of the blue hair. "People still the same, huh?" she asked, poking him in the ribs.
He jerked and made a very un-Angel-like giggle. "Could you believe her hair?" he whispered as the waitress left. "Why would anyone do that?"
"It's cool, I guess," Cordy said, shrugging. "If you like that post-punk, Joey Ramone sort of thing."
Seemingly without thinking, Angel twisted a strand of hers between his fingers. "I like yours better," he said, eyes warm and soft.
Her heart sped up and she found herself smiling at him like she would if she were on a date. Then she stopped because she realized what she was doing.
Angel, acting all sweet and... human. She really shouldn't be turned on by that, because he was still just a dead guy.
But, he was a hot dead guy.
She reached for the Diet Coke the waitress set down in front of her, and took a swig.
Someone dropped a quarter in the juke-box and Harry Connick's, "Our Love Is Here To Stay," rolled out. Angel's eyebrows rose. "I recognize that song."
"Remake," Cordy said, slurping her soda. "When Harry Met Sally? With the diner scene where Meg Ryan fakes it?"
"Fakes what?" Wes said, brow wrinkling.
Cordy snorted. "Like I'm gonna fake an orgasm in front of you."
Angel actually blushed. "Uh --"
Cordy laughed. "Sorry, Dennis." She glanced over to find him staring at her. She caught his gaze, caught her breath. "What?"
His fingers in her hair tugged her closer and his eyes dropped to her mouth. Finally, in a gruff voice, he asked, "Would you like to dance?"
She stared at him, confused by the sheer wrongness of that remark. "What? You don't dance, Angel."
"I don't think that was Angel," Wes said, quietly.
"Oh," Cordy said. And then it hit her. "OH." She slid off the booth, suddenly shy. "Sure, Dennis. I'll dance with you."
His face lit up and he met her on the bright tile floor. Extending a hand, he pulled her to him.
She felt clumsy, unable to follow his footing. Embarrassed by the other diners who were staring at them.
"Here," he said, pulling back enough to glance down at their feet. "It's easy. You follow me like this, see?"
His eyes met hers, vibrant, glowing with life, and she sucked in a breath. Stunned, she looked down at their feet, watching as she got the hang of it, as her orange flip-flops began moving in tandem with his big, black boots.
The only dancing she'd done had been at the Bronze, so the feel of his hands on hers, of his hips moving in time with hers, sent a spike of heat through her. Angel's hands, so big and cool, suddenly seemed warmed by Dennis's life force. His eyes, usually reserved, lit with joy. And his smile --
Her heart trembled. "Now I know how Demi Moore felt," she whispered. Then she leaned her head against his collarbone, closed her eyes and let him lead her around the floor.
Finally the song ended, and a smattering of applause shocked her out of her happy, Patrick Swayze daydream. She looked around to see the other diners watching them, some smiling, others with a "you must be crazy" look on their faces.
She turned back to Angel, who still held her hand tightly in his, who still cupped her waist with a surprisingly confident grace.
"Thank you," he said, quietly.
She smiled, but inside she was churning. This was Angel -- her boss, Buffy's boyfriend, Angelus -- not Dennis. He wasn't safe, he wasn't available. He wasn't so many things.
He was about to kiss her.
His mouth edged toward hers, slowly, slowly. Her breath backed up in her chest --
"Order up!" the waitress said, brushing by them to drop the plates on the table.
Cordy and Angel jumped apart. "Great dance!" she said. "Thanks!" And then she slid back into the booth, right into his spot.
"Um," he said, following, that uncertain look back on his face. "My shake?"
She quickly traded their drinks and plates and concentrated hard on putting mustard on her burger.
Across from them, Wes stared. "Perhaps we should get this resolved sooner rather than later," he said.
Cordy glanced up at him. "Ya think?"
On the drive back to her apartment, Angel kept shooting her glances.
"What?" she asked.
"What, what?" he replied.
"You keep looking at me." She brushed her hand over her mouth. "I have salad in my teeth, don't I?" The visor didn't have a mirror, so she dug her compact out of her purse and flipped it open. She bared her teeth at her reflection.
"No, it's not that."
Just for good measure she scrubbed her finger across her teeth. "Well, that's good. I'd hate to be all green-teeth-lady and you be too wimpy to tell me about it." She glanced in the mirror again and caught Wes, brooding in the back seat.
"Hey, Wes, you okay?"
He glanced toward her, a vivid blue flash, only barely dimmed by his glasses. "Just thinking."
But she could see he was exhausted. "Look, why don't we drop you by your apartment? You need to get some sleep." She glanced over at Angel. "Angel and I will be fine. Right?"
Angel's head turned, his eyes wide. "You want me to spend the night?"
Cordy shook her head. "Dennis, stop being such a gir--"
"I'm me. I mean, I'm Angel," he interrupted. "I'm not sure it's safe for you to be alone with me after..." His voice trailed off.
She remembered his body, arching, his eyes glowing, the way he'd mouthed "soul." "But Angelus seems to have gone underground, right?"
He considered that. "For now. Who knows how long it'll last." He cut his eyes at her. "Maybe I should stay at Wesley's."
"Probably safer that way, "Wes said. "After all, we have no idea what could be hap--"
"Oh, please," Cordy said, remembering the way Dennis had looked at her at the diner. "He's docile as a puppy."
"Hey!" Angel said. "A puppy?"
"Besides, it's two against one. Dennis and Angel against the doofus. You can take him, right?"
"Cordelia, Angelus is many things, but I wouldn't say 'doofus' is one of them," Wes said, casting a watchful eye at Angel. "And maybe it's best not to mention puppies..."
She sighed, feeling the edges of reality fray as that drugged, out-of-body feeling washed over her again. "Yeah, you're right. Look, why don't you stay with..." Her hand flew to her head. Okay, maybe it wasn't the drugs or exhaustion making reality fray. "That thorny, brown demon --" She jerked against the seat, crying out as her brain spasmed.
The vision flashed, showing her its secrets. A demon, with thorns fifty times bigger and sharper than a rosebush. A man in a dark green shirt, his eyes going wide with terror. And then the freight-train slam of pain, the silver sparkle of shock, as she stared down at her chest, at the thorn running her through.
Cordy groaned. When she opened her eyes, they were in her parking lot, and she was staring up at the third floor fire escape.
"You okay?" Angel asked, smoothing a hand over her forehead. He cradled her against him, her head in his lap.
"Never been better," she said, turning her face into his shirt to block the light. "Big, brown demon with thorns, shredding a guy on the subway. Ugh," She paused, wrinkling her nose at the residual smell of train-dirt and rat droppings, and glanced back up at Angel. "Why are the helpless never shopping on Rodeo Drive?"
Angel's eyebrows rose. "Where, Cordelia?"
"He's in the tunnel down near MacArthur Park, and if anyone starts singing, I'll break their arms." She struggled to sit up, felt his hands on her shoulders easing her against the seat. Her head pounded like a jackhammer had been dropped in her skull. "Let's go get him."
Wes leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders. "Maybe you should stay here."
She brushed his hand with hers. "Please. What are you, Indestruct-o? You need all the help you can get."
"Cordy's right." Angel started the car and pulled out, heading toward Westlake.
"See?" she asked, glancing back at Wes.
"You're both exhausted," Angel said. "You should wait in the car while I take care of it."
"Don't argue with me, Cordelia."
"But what about Dennis?"
Angel's gaze shifted, and Dennis appeared, looking excited and nervous. "I'll stay out of the way."
Cordy crossed her arms, feeling her strength slowly seeping back. "Famous last words."
"Where'd you say this thing was?" Angel called as he slid the fare card he'd just bought into the slot on the front of the turnstile. It popped out of the slot on top and he grabbed it, walked through then turned and looked at Cordy and Wes.
"Down there, somewhere," Cordy said. "I didn't get a clear picture -- just some guy on a train, getting pronged by Thorny."
"Okay, that's good," Angel said, obviously working hard to find the silver lining. "We know he's on a train."
"Hey, could ya move?"
Cordy looked up. There was a guy behind her trying to get through the turnstile, and a line had formed behind him. "Ya wanna give us a minute?" she said. "We've got a situation, here."
The guy opened his mouth, and Wes stepped between them and took the card from Angel's hand. "Go," he said, pushing her through. "Hand me the ticket."
Cordy fell through the turnstile and grabbed it. "Great," she said, handing the card to Wes. "Me and the unwashed masses."
Wes followed her through and pulled both of them to the side. "Here. Get out of their way."
"Well, now that we're here," Cordy said, ignoring the dirty looks she was getting from the passing crowd, "Why don't we go with you?"
Angel shook his head. "It's not safe."
"I think we could all use a little back-up," Wes said, pushing his glasses up his nose. His hair was rumpled and the bruise on his temple a nasty green. He still trembled like an old drunk, but at least he was standing. At least they all were.
"You're outnumbered," Cordy said to Angel. "Go with it." She stepped on the escalator and started down into the bowels of the station.
By the time they fought their way through the crowd, Cordy's head was booming and Wes looked like you could blow him over with one breath. Angel's eyes shifted, the way they did when he felt hemmed in. Cordy couldn't tell if that was his allergy to people, or if Dennis was out and freaked by the crowd.
A train pulled in and Cordy stared at the name, glowing on the side window. "The Metro Red Line," she said, waiting for some sense of recognition to hit. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of forest green. The same color as the shirt the guy in her vision had been wearing.
She followed, trying to get a bead on the shirt.
"You got something?" Angel asked.
"Dunno. Maybe." She slipped through the crowd, eyes on the people pushing to get on the train. Two windows down she saw it again -- and this time, the face of the person wearing the shirt showed clearly. "No. Wrong guy."
"Okay. We'll wait." Angel folded his arms across his chest and surveyed the platform.
"Angel?" she asked.
"Yeah?" He glanced at her.
"Nothing. Just wanted to make sure it was you."
Wes leaned against one of the large pillars holding up the ceiling. He looked as gray as the faded white paint behind him. "What if he's in the tunnel? Could we just go get him?"
You had to give it to Wes. He might be girly, but he was game. "I'm not sure where he is. For all I know, he's riding on top of one of the trains."
Wes sighed. "All right."
The station cleared out as the train pulled away, crammed with people. Cordy rubbed her temples.
"You all right?" Angel stepped up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder.
"Yeah. Just got a headache."
"We'll get you back home as soon as we can."
Just then, the man from her vision walked right past her. "That's him!" She pointed. "The guy I saw!"
He turned and shot her a look. "Excuse me?"
Definitely him. Short, blondish hair, dark green shirt. Too bad the demon tore it to shreds. That, and his heart. She winced. "Nothing," she said, covering quickly. "I thought I knew you."
The next train pulled in and they followed him on to the car.
"You're sure it's him?" Angel whispered.
She nodded. "Yeah. Same shirt. Abercrombie & Fitch. Saw it in the catalogue last week."
Wes pressed against her so he could grab the handle hanging above their heads. "Well," he said, "That's good news."
He shot her a tired glare.
The train doors closed. "Metro Red Line now departing for 7th Street Station. Please hold on," came the mechanical voice.
Cordy grabbed Angel's arm and braced herself as the car pulled out of the station.
They went from light to dark, and the smell of the dank tunnel rushed through the window someone had opened to try to get some air circulating in the car. She kept her eye on the guy as they rode, making sure he never got out of her sight.
Two stations passed, three. The rocking motion of the train was making her headache worse. But she knew Wes's pain outranked hers, so she kept her mouth shut.
Suddenly the car lurched to a stop, shuddering on its rails. The lights flashed and the smell of burning brakes wafted through. Her heart rate increased. "Here we go," she said. From the forward two cars, she heard shrill screams.
Angel tensed. "I thought you said only this guy got hurt," he said, shooting her a look.
"Hey, I'm just the messenger." She reached into her purse for the small crossbow she always carried.
Static came over the speakers and the conductor's voice followed. "Please remain in your places. We will get the train moving again in --" His voice was abruptly cut off and someone in one of the first cars screamed again.
About a dozen people were in the car with them and until that moment they'd been frozen, staring glassy-eyed toward the sound. When static hissed back on the line, green-shirt guy stood up and ran for the doors. "Let me out!" he yelled.
"Get out of my way!" came the reply, as another person, and another stood and started hammering at the sliding doors.
The guy from her vision started prying the door open with his fingers. "Everyone stop!" she yelled.
No one listened -- if anything, their movements became more frantic. Someone began rocking against the doors, wailing, as panic spread like wildfire. Cordy stepped back, feeling the mob mentality grow, knowing it could kill them as easily as the thorn-demon if the crowd turned on them.
Just then the subway car lurched. She and Angel went down, landing on the hot, dusty floor. Wes held on to the rail next to them and kept himself upright, barely. Angel's hand covered her head and he tucked her against him. "Stay down," he said, rolling her off of him and pushing her behind a seat.
He came up, axe in hand, that he'd produced from the lining of his coat. Something flashed out the corner of her eye as Wes pulled his knife from an ankle holster.
Glass shattered next to her and a long hand, covered with thorns, reached in. She jerked back, screaming, and dove across the aisle for the other seat. The subway doors finally slid open and people fell out onto the gravel that lined the tunnel.
She could hear them scrambling, hear a high-pitched, inhuman squeal, and then the sound of wood scratching against the side of the metal car.
That long hand slid past, then a face -- upside down, eyes muddy and feral -- then the thing's body and finally its feet, as it crawled head-first down the car. The long screech finally cut off and she watched as it scampered toward the huddling mass of riders. She grabbed Wes and they followed Angel out the door.
The demon was flailing like a demented rosebush in the wind, slapping anything it could get its thorny hands on. The commuters shrieked and scattered like leaves. Near the cars ahead, she could make out the dim figures of other riders running for their lives.
Shoving a bolt in the crossbow, she aimed. But she couldn't get a good shot because Angel and Wes had moved in front of her. On tiptoe she watched, holding her breath, as Angel lifted the axe. With a graceful downward blow he severed a rootlike foot.
Cordy jumped as the demon let out that high-pitched wail. It turned and sliced toward Angel, and from the way he grunted and doubled over, she knew it had made contact.
"Angel!" She rushed forward, alongside Wes, and aimed her crossbow. The bolt flew and went wide, landing in the gravel.
Angel rose, roaring.
"Oh, you are so very deady-dead-dead," she yelled. Loading another bolt, she aimed and fired again. This time it hit the thing in the arm and stuck.
The monster squeaked, shot her a dirty look from those dirt-colored eyes, turned away from Angel and rushed her. "Obviously not up on fighting strategy," she yelled, reloading fast. "Don't you know you go for the strongest first?"
Wes, in the demon's path, rushed forward with his knife out in a warrior's stance. "Come on! You don't scare me!" The demon simply shot out with one of its roots and tripped him. Wes went down with an "oof," and the knife skidded across the gravel.
Cordy raised the crossbow and stepped back, trying to put space between her and the thorn-man. It kept coming. Her heartbeat roared in her head and her hands trembled. "Angel? A little help, here?"
She leapt out of its way, back onto the silent train car, just in time to avoid the slash of its sharp hand. When she looked out, Angel was huddled in the shadows, his hands over his face. "Angel!"
He glanced up, eyes wide with terror.
"Dammit! Dennis! Get Angel!"
"I -- I c-can't --" he whimpered. "It cut me. It really hurts!"
The sound of his voice, raw with pain, drew the demon toward him.
"Dennis! Raise your axe! Chop him in two!"
His eyes widened as the demon rushed him, and he swallowed hard, pulling the axe up over his head, and swung. It went wilder than Wes's sprawl, embedding the gravel, and nearly cutting off his toes. He whimpered and yanked on the axe, which flew free and in a freak accident of trajectory, clocked the demon on the jaw.
It whirled, looking like it should have a circle of birds tweeting above its head. Angel took the axe and went after him, swinging clumsily, hacking at roots and making the thing squeal like Aura did when she chipped a nail.
Wes pushed up off the gravel, smudged, bruised and rattled. His glasses had fallen off, again, and just as he reached for them, the demon accidentally knocked them under the train with one of its long roots. Wes cried out and fell to his knees.
Frustrated with the less-than-manly display of her two warriors, Cordy jumped down, grabbed the axe from Angel, and dashed up behind Mr. Thorny. It took both hands to lift the heavy weapon, so she clamped them around the handle and swung, hard.
It felt like knocking a softball bat into a fence pole, a memory from gym class she'd have rather seen fade. Her arms vibrated from hand to shoulder and pain, a sick-sweet ache, shot through her head. She pulled the axe free and swung again.
Another blow and the top thorn flew off, twirling through the air, and impaled Angel. He cried out and fell, scrabbling frantically to get the thorn out of his shoulder. "Ow! Ow, ow, ow!"
By now the demon was hacked pretty good -- the biggest thorn gone, one root missing, and a couple of chunks taken out of its hide. Cordy raised the axe and gestured with it. "Haul your twiggy butt out of here, before I turn you into kindling!" The demon seemed to take her seriously, since it gave one last squeal, it disappeared down the tunnel.
Cordy watched it go, trying to catch her breath. She lowered the axe, staring after the demon and panting.
Wes climbed slowly to his feet and slid his glasses on. Now the other earpiece was mangled, and they hung lopsidedly from his face. "Is it gone?" He collected his knife, sat down hard on the car's steps, and stuck it back into his ankle holster.
Angel leaned over, hands on his knees, his shirt sliced and his wounds dribbling blood. "God, I hope so." He looked down at his shirt, moving the fabric aside with trembling fingers to stare at the wounds that exposed the white gleam of ribs and the shredded pink muscle. Shuddering, he looked up, and his face had gone green. "I think I'm going to be sick."
Cordy leaned against the train car next to Wes and looked at her elbow. The scab that had started forming had broken open in the fight. "Excuse me, but who's more likely to scar, here? Besides, you got worse than that two weeks ago when that Feklar ran you through. Remember your intestines hanging out?"
Angel went pale, turned to the wall and retched.
Cordy flinched. "Wow, he wasn't kidding."
Wes shook his head at Angel's heaving back, then turned to Cordy. "It got away, did you say?"
She nodded. "Yeah. It got away. But, bonus, no one was really hurt, and we actually saved those guys on the train with us."
Wes took the axe from her. "You did a brilliant job. Maybe the demon was right to go after you -- you were the strongest this time out."
Despite the residual pounding of the post-vision headache, she smiled. "Really?" She went to Angel's side and put her hand on his arm. "Come on, tough guy. Let's go get you patched up."
He stepped away from the wall and wiped his mouth with his shirtsleeve. A long pink smudge marred his chin. "I'm fine," he said, but he leaned hard on her and let her help him out of the tunnel and back toward the nearest station.
It was a long walk, made longer by the 180 pounds of bleeding man using her as a crutch. It was too narrow to walk three abreast, so they took turns helping Angel limp out. By the time they got to the station, it was swarming with transportation personnel, cops and paramedics.
Cordy helped Angel hide his axe in the pocket in his coat lining, tucked the cross bow into her purse and wrapped Angel's coat around him to hide the wounds. They snuck across to the opposite side of the station, using the chaos for cover.
The train ride back to MacArthur Park seemed as long and torturous as the song. Every time the car rocked, Angel groaned, and the people in the train shot him strange looks, and sat well away. Wes looked like the only thing holding him up was the strap through which his hand was threaded. It was a relief to finally struggle up the subway escalator, and out into the warm, dark night.
The car was where they left it, angled into one of the parking spots marked "handicap." A ticket fluttered on the windshield and she snatched it off. "We need a handicap sticker," she said, dropping it in her purse to add to the list they already owed. "This is the third time this month. You think Kate could help us out?"
Angel grunted and fell into the passenger seat, smearing blood all over the leather. Wes climbed into the back like an arthritic old man and lay down. "Guess I'm driving, then." She took the keys from Angel and started the car, backing out with a jerk.
"Ow," Angel said.
She glanced at him, but only for a second, because she didn't want to run off the road. "Sorry. I can't get the hang of this car. It drives like a tank."
He slid down in the seat, covering his wounds with his hands. "Just get me home."