A Stitch in Time

by Yahtzee & Rheanna


Fandom: Angel
Summary: A story of one hundred and four years, and five months.
Rating: R
Timeline: Third season, spoilers to "Double or Nothing"
Completed: 2003/01
Length: 94,200 words
Notes: Various pairings, including Angel/Cordelia, Angelus/Darla, Spike/Dru; co-written with Yahtzee


 

*************************************
Prologue
*************************************


"Museum closes in ten minutes, folks. Please make your way to the exit."

Vern's voice, raspy with age and a thirty-a-day habit which his doctor said was going to kill him, cut through the silence of the main display hall of the Museum of Victoriana. The three visitors left in the room -- a middle-aged man who had an air of academia about him, and two elderly Japanese tourists -- looked at Vern with, respectively, annoyance and incomprehension.

For the benefit of the tourists, Vern pointed at the clock hanging above the "Great Exhibition of 1851" wall display, then at the way out. After a brief discussion in Japanese, the couple shuffled toward the door. A second later, the professor-type followed them, shutting his notebook with a firm snap.

"Thank you," Vern said pleasantly. "Come again."

Once the Great Exhibition room was empty, he switched off the lights, and continued on his last circuit of the museum for the day. Panels on the walls directed visitors around the various exhibitions, but Vern didn't even have to glance at them on his way past. The displays sometimes changed, but Vern's route never did. Main concourse, exhibition rooms, cafeteria, gift shop, lights out, lock up.

The last stop on Vern's tour was the small display room, used for temporary exhibitions. The current installation was dedicated to Victorian china dolls -- row upon row of them, with hard, white faces and glassy eyes. Vern wouldn't have admitted it, but the doll exhibition creeped him out. At least he wasn't alone -- visitor numbers had been especially low, and the small display room was usually empty.

Tonight, it wasn't.

"Museum closes in five minutes, miss," Vern said.

The girl didn't answer -- just kept staring at the dolls, enraptured -- so Vern came into the room. Up close, she almost looked like a doll herself. Her hair was uniformly dark and glossy, as if it had been woven instead of grown, and her skin was chalk-pale. She looked as if she belonged here, in a room filled with mannequins.

"Miss, it's time to leave," Vern said, more firmly.

"Time," the girl said, drawing out the word into a sigh. Her accent was -- English, maybe? Vern thought so, but he wasn't sure. She didn't sound like any of the British visitors who'd come to the museum recently.

"Time," the girl said again. She reached out and lifted the nearest doll from its stand. Holding it up, she said, "Time is naughty. It makes everything change. But we don't change, do we?"

"Put the doll back, please, miss," Vern said. "It's not permitted to touch items on display."

The girl ignored him and instead held the doll up higher, her fingers tugging the silk bow in its curly hair before stroking the green velvet of the miniature ball gown it wore. "Such a pretty dress," the girl said. She looked down wistfully at her own dress -- a crimson-red slip of chiffon that showed a little leg and a lot of back, the sort of things girls wore for special occasions, not for visiting museums. But this dress looked as though it had seen a few special occasions too many: The hem was torn in several places, and Vern could see a few dark stains. "We used to have real dresses, not scraps and handkerchiefs," the girl continued. "Real dresses. Beautiful dresses. And there was music and dancing and everyone said I was beautiful."

Vern fought down a sigh. What was it about museums that attracted crazies? "Look, we're closing now, and you can't stay here tonight, you understand? There's a shelter on Stanford Avenue where they'll give you a bed and a hot meal." As he said it, Vern noticed how pitifully thin the girl was. "You look like you could use it."

The girl leaned toward the doll, and whispered to it, "I had a clock, but it only ran forward. I wanted to know if the clock ran backward, would time follow it?" She lowered her voice. "It didn't."

"No kidding," Vern said dryly.

"I pulled out all the springs to see what made it go. And then there wasn't any tick-tock any more. It went all quiet." The girl turned around, looking at Vern for the first time. Her gaze, unlike the rest of her manner, was focused and intense, almost hypnotic, and Vern was filled with the unnerving conviction that if he looked too long into those dark eyes, he might never be able to look away again. "People are like clocks, you know. Tick-tock, tick-tock, and then nothing -- unless they start up again." She smiled. "I started up again."

"Okay, that's it," Vern snapped. "It's time for you to go." Reaching out, he took the doll away from the girl and put it back on to its stand.

"Time to go," the girl repeated, her voice a lilting sing-song. "Time to go. It's time to go, but I haven't found what I came for yet."

"You've seen the dolls," Vern said.

"Not the dollies," she said scornfully. "I came for something much prettier."

Vern put his hand on the girl's arm, intending to guide her to the door. She didn't move, and when he tried to pull her away from the display of dolls, he felt her body stiffen, muscles tightening. Her thin arm hardened to iron in his grasp. She was stronger than she looked.

Attempting to sound persuasive, he said, "Whatever you came see, it'll still be here tomorrow."

The girl smiled, and suddenly Vern wasn't standing beside her anymore. He was on the museum floor, pinned down by a yellow-eyed, smiling monster.

"There isn't any tomorrow," Vern heard the girl whisper, as if from a great distance. "There's only yesterday."

That was the last thing he heard.

**********************
Book One:
"The Tenth of Never"
**********************


Chapter One

"So, the beach was really beautiful," Cordelia said. "You should have seen it. At night, of course, unless Coppertone now makes SPF 8000."

Angel knew she was trying very hard to make a joke. He knew he ought to smile. He wanted to smile, to ask her about her trip, to do his best to be happy for her and Groo.

But he didn't care about the trip, and he knew she didn't either. It was just something to talk about, so they didn't have to talk about what they were doing, which was boxing up Connor's things.

"They had a limbo contest," Cordelia said, stepping sideways. She had on her oldest jeans and a soft-green T-shirt white-flecked with bleach; a simple clip held back the bangs of her newly short, newly blonde hair. From that angle, her body almost hid the little pile of baby blankets she'd folded. "Groo just couldn't see the point of the limbo. Not that there really is a point to the limbo. But yours truly took third place."

Connor's teddy bear. Its fur was matted together with soot and grime from the fire. Angel stared down into its glassy, doll-like eyes. "Only third place?"

"Hey, I'm proud to say that my knees don't bend as wide as some people's."

If he shut his eyes -- even for a moment -- he could feel Connor in his arms. His son's living warmth, his weight, the faint pressure of each breath. The overwhelming desire to protect him, take care of him --

Angel felt a moment of disorientation, then shook his head and tried to concentrate on Cordy. She was studying his face carefully, looking, he knew, for any sign of strain. Quickly, he cast about for another topic. "What's that you're wearing on your arm?"

"Oh, right. This." Cordelia looked, if it were possible, even more awkward. She held out her slim wrist; the strip around her arm shimmered in a dozen colors. "Behold the hologram bracelet, available from only the beach's finest souvenir shops."

She was grimacing slightly as she looked at it. Angel shook his head. "Let me guess. They don't have holograms in Pylea."

"Groo thought it was pretty," Cordy said with a sigh. "Apparently, if you've never seen a hologram before, it looks like a beautiful, wonderful, shiny miracle bracelet instead of, well, beach crap. I guess Groo just needs to be in L.A. a while longer before he figures out that haute couture generally costs more than $3.99."

"It's like I always say," Angel said. "You can't go wrong with jewelry."

He'd given Darla and Dru jewelry whenever he could procure it -- through murder, through theft or, on very rare occasions, through legitimate purchase. For one moment, he could see them as vividly as though they were in the room: a crystal tiara glittering in Drusilla's dark locks, a choker of black pearls sheathing Darla's swan-white neck --

-- Darla, lying on the pavement in the rain, begging Angel to take good care of their son --

"Angel?"

He snapped his head up. Cordelia had a pained look on her face, but right now, Angel didn't want her pity. He turned back to his work, stuffing Connor's mobile in a box more roughly than he meant to. "So, what else did you guys do?"

"We -- well, we --" Angel didn't have to look up to know that Cordelia was trying to figure out whether or not to draw him out or keep trying to distract him. She chose the latter. "We ate out a lot -- I figured it'd be a good way to introduce Groo to Earth food. Turns out he loves Mexican. Should give him and Fred a lot to talk about."

Angel was hungry. He hadn't eaten in days, not since the last time he'd drunk his son's blood. He hadn't wanted to. "Glad Groo enjoys that." Connor's little shoes would fit in this box too. Everything his son had owned would just about fit in two boxes.

"And -- oh, I went and got my hair done. What do you think?"

Angel didn't look up. "I don't like it."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sorry," he said flatly. "I don't." He glanced up finally to see that Cordelia was staring at him, hands on hips, nostrils flaring in an unflattering manner. He'd made her mad, and Angel dimly knew he should feel worse about that than he did.

"Okay, we're picking you up a copy of Tact for Dummies," Cordelia said. "You can't just tell someone you don't like her hair!"

"You asked me," Angel pointed out.

"Yeah, but -- but --" Cordelia gestured with one hand. "The question, 'do you like my hair?' is in the same category as 'does this make me look fat?' Honesty not required."

Cordelia's hair used to be long and soft and dark. He'd buried his face in it once, drunk in the scent. Angel hadn't been himself at the time, but more than a year later, he could still remember the smell, the feel of it against his skin. "The cut is okay," he said. "It shows off your neck --"

"So NOT the compliment I was looking for from you."

"-- but the color's all wrong." Angel could tell Cordelia was going from merely angry to furious, but he still didn't care. In fact, weirdly, he felt himself getting angry in return. No -- it wasn't anger -- something else building up inside him, pressure tightening all around him, inside him.

"Well, excuse me for expecting good advice from a hair-gel addict."

"You asked me what I thought --"

"I didn't expect you to TELL me!"

Angel slammed his fist into the wall and yelled, "I just want everything back the way it was!"

Cordy stared at him. He stared at the wall. The plaster had cracked all around his hand, a spiderweb of cement. His fist hurt, and he felt his throat closing up. "Cordy -- oh, God, Cordy, I'm sorry."

"Jesus," Cordelia breathed. "Angel -- are you --"

"It's like I can't concentrate," Angel said. "I can't think about Connor, and I can't stop thinking about Connor, and nothing makes any sense to me anymore."

She flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "I know you didn't mean it. I know you're upset. I'm being so stupid, talking about my hair -- I just don't know what to say."

Angel hugged her back. "You don't have to say anything," he said. "You're here."

"I want to say something to make it all better, and I can't, I can't make it better --"

"It's okay. It's okay, you can talk about anything, I won't get mad again, I promise --"

Cordelia lifted her head and blinked several times, hard. She forced a smile. "You know what? On reflection, I'm not sure 'Golden Shimmer' was the right shade after all."

Angel tried to smile in return. "You're always beautiful to me."

"Are y'all okay?"

Fred's voice from the doorway brought Angel back to something like clarity. He realized that Fred, Gunn, Groo and Lorne were all staring at them -- brought up the stairs, no doubt, by the sound of his punching the wall. Now they were all staring at him and Cordelia.

Angel stepped away at the same moment Cordelia did. She smiled and wiped quickly at her eyes. "Everything's fine," she promised. "Angel and I were -- we were talking about my hair."

Gunn nodded sympathetically. "I figured you had to be upset about that. Don't worry, Cordy. It'll grow out."

"Excuse me?" Cordelia scowled.

Gunn held up his hands. "But, hey, what do I know about hair?"

"I see you kids have been busy," Lorne said, stepping gingerly through the debris. "It's no longer a federal disaster area in here. I'd downgrade this to a plain ol' mess." Lorne patted Angel's shoulder. "What say I get some of this out of your way?"

Angel looked down at the two boxes sitting on the dresser. Once they were gone, Connor would be, too. "Not yet," he said quietly.

Groo put his arms around Cordelia's waist. "Truly you have worked miracles, my princess. So much has been done in so little time." He kissed her lightly on the forehead, and she smiled up at him.

"Maybe that's your demon power, Cordy," Fred suggested. "Amazing cleaning-up ability."

"What demon would that be from?" Cordelia asked. "The Tidy-Bowl Man?"

"Sounds like a demon candidate to me," Gunn said. He, too, was joining in the forced cheer. "I mean, you gotta wonder why the man's choosing to float his rowboat in the toilet in the first place."

"I do not understand," Groo said. "You explained what the toilets are for, princess, but you never spoke of boats."

"Stick with the first explanation," Cordelia said quickly.

Angel kept looking at the cracks in the plaster. Just like a spiderweb. Drusilla had loved spiderwebs. She pretended they were bridal veils and tried to put them in her hair, and when they broke she cried and cried --

All at once it came together. The glassy doll's eyes of the teddy bear. The memories of the tiara, of the feel of dark, silky hair against his hand. The need to protect. The need to attack.

"Drusilla," Angel whispered.

Everyone stared at him. Finally, Cordelia said, "Drusilla -- what?"

"She's here," Angel said. "In Los Angeles. Not far away."

Cordelia looked skyward. "And I thought it could not get worse."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Gunn said. "How do you know this, Angel? You got spidey-sense or something?"

"Something like that," Angel said, though he didn't have slightest idea what "spidey-sense" was. "I could always tell when the vampires in my line were close by. And Drusilla's close by now. I've been feeling it for a while. I didn't realize it earlier because -- well, I didn't."

"Um, I think I didn't get the memo," Fred said. "Who's Drusilla?"

"Bad-ass vampire from Angel's own bad-ass days," Cordelia supplied. She stepped away from Groo, already all business. "If she thinks she can waltz in here and kick Angel while he's down, she's got another think coming. Assuming Drusilla thinks anything at all." Fred frowned. Gunn held his hand up to his temple and twirled his finger around in the international sign for "crazy as a loon."

"Just peachy," Lorne said. "You sure about this, big guy? Not just a bad dream, some tuna salad that was just a smidge off?"

"I'm sure," Angel said. Now that he'd identified the sensation, he couldn't believe he hadn't recognized it before. Drusilla was very close, within a few miles.

Groo held up one hand uncertainly. "Of course I wish to join in the slaying of the Drusilla beast," he said. "But what of the vampire attack Cordelia has foreseen? I am certain we all remember the eventful vision of this morning, and the unfortunate fate of the pancakes."

"Oh, great," Cordelia sighed. "We have to be at LAX in an hour and a half, Angel. Any chance Drusilla's hanging out at the airport?"

"She's closer than that," Angel said.

"Here's a plan," Lorne said, stepping to Groo's side. "How about the Boy Wonder and I cruise down to the terminal and take care of the undead ruffians? That frees you guys up to hunt down Drusilla."

"You are willing to go into battle with me?" Groo said. He smiled at Lorne. "I am surprised, for your unwrinkled clothing and well-trimmed nails do not speak of a warrior. But I salute your courage, my groomed friend."

Lorne closed his eyes in a pained wince. "I can go with Groo," Cordelia offered quickly.

"Oh, no, you don't," Lorne said. "I haven't met Dru for myself, but I've gotten a peek during Angel-cakes' musical numbers. And there is no WAY I'm going anywhere near that chick. She makes Anna Nicole Smith look stable, and my head will probably explode if she so much as hums."

"That settles that," Gunn said. "Only question is, where's Drusilla?"

"Someplace she likes," Angel said. "Someplace -- fun."

"That could be anyplace where people can bleed," Cordelia said. "Can you narrow it down?"

Angel took a mental tour of the surrounding blocks, then remembered a museum he'd passed before. He'd thought of Drusilla then.

"I think I can," Angel said.

***

Fred lowered herself through the skylight, straightening her arms slowly while pressing her feet together to avoid the shards of broken glass still clinging to the edges of the shattered pane. It was hard work, and before she was halfway through her arms ached with the effort. Then, just as she was sure she was about to drop the rest of the way and land in an ungainly heap on the floor, she felt broad shoulders rise up under her feet, bearing her weight. Strong arms gripped her legs, anchoring her.

"I got ya," Charles said from below her, and Fred felt herself sinking smoothly and gracefully toward the floor, like a ballerina descending from a high lift. Once she was safely on the ground, she tugged her T-shirt back into place and peered into the gloom around them, trying to make out the details of their surroundings. The Museum of Victoriana had probably looked very elegant 25 years ago. But the wood paneling was darker than was now fashionable, the ceilings a little low. The wall-to-wall carpeting had worn thin. Fred thought it looked genteel but shabby -- a place built with care and then forgotten.

Cordelia, who was standing next to Angel, frowned. "THIS is your idea of 'someplace fun'? Angel, I've been in morgues with more atmosphere."

"Not my idea," Angel said. He sounded distracted, Fred thought, as if he were only half-concentrating on talking to Cordy. "Drusilla's. She always liked museums. This way."

He set off along the hallway; first Cordelia, then Charles and Fred, followed him. As they walked, Fred's attention was drawn by the paintings and even some photographs of men and women in stiff poses and stiffer clothes that lined the museum's hallways. In the gaps between the wall displays there were cabinets filled with strange, old-fashioned objects. Fred had always been more interested in science than history, but even so her fingers itched with the desire to pick things up, shake them, figure out what they were for and how they worked.

"Museums ARE fun," she said. "All these things are little pieces of time, preserved like -- like the marshmallows in a gallon of rocky road." Fred broke off and frowned to herself. "That wasn't a very good analogy."

"Worked fine for me," Charles said, taking her hand lightly in his. "Hey, my uncanny sixth sense is tellin' me you might want to go grab a midnight sundae after this. Am I right?" In reply, Fred squeezed his hand and smiled at him.

"The summer we went to France, I visited the Louvre in Paris," Cordelia said. "It was okay, I guess, although after a while you start wondering how many marble statues a country actually NEEDS. And the Mona Lisa looked like she was about to say -- ohmigod!"

Somehow, Fred sensed that quote wasn't from the Mona Lisa. Charles tightened his hand around hers, and together they hurried to catch up with Cordelia, who was standing in the doorway of the next exhibition room.

The room was filled with dolls from floor to ceiling. A hundred or more glittering eyes gazed down at Fred unblinkingly. The dolls' painted faces were individually benign -- but there was something unnerving about the sight of ranks of undifferentiated perfection.

"Creepy," Fred said.

"Creepier," Cordelia amended. She pointed at the floor.

The body lying in the middle of the room belonged to a man in his late fifties or early sixties, gray-haired and jowly. Or he would have been jowly, if most of his throat hadn't been ripped out. But Fred saw straight away that Cordelia hadn't been talking about the gore.

The man on the floor had been killed savagely, by something that had taken pure, visceral pleasure in the act of violence. But, after the kill, the same something had rolled the body on to its back and tucked a cushion under the corpse's head and a teddy bear into the crook of its arm.

"Drusilla wants to care for things," Angel said. "But she doesn't know how."

Charles slipped his hand free from Fred's and flicked his wrist. When she looked down, she saw he was holding a stake. "If she's crazy, that plays better for us. A vamp that doesn't think straight is a vamp that's easier to dust."

Sharply, Angel said, "That's the biggest mistake you can make about Drusilla. She's insane, but she's smart. She thinks differently -- but she does think. That's how she's survived this long. That's why she's so dangerous." Suddenly, his stance changed, becoming harder, tenser, and his face darkened. "Isn't that right, Dru?"

As he spoke, Angel stepped to one side and turned around, revealing the figure who had been standing behind him, in the doorway of the doll room.

In the last year, Fred had slowly grown used to the idea that vampires looked like the people they had been when they'd died -- normal people, fat or thin or ugly or handsome, superficially no different than anyone you might see on the subway, except a whole lot more dangerous. Well, maybe a little paler, too. But the girl who was gliding toward Angel carried about her an aura of the supernatural so strong it seemed to make the air around her hum. Her skin glowed moon-white, and her black hair rippled over her shoulders like a veil of mourning. Her lips and cheeks were flushed, and her eyes glowed feverishly. The body sheathed in its grubby red dress was skeletal even by L.A. standards. There could be no mistaking this vampire for a normal person.

"My thoughts are wasps," Drusilla said. "They sting my brain all over. Pzzzt!"

As she spoke, she lifted her hand and waved her finger through the air, mimicking the helter-skelter flight of an insect. Her gaze followed her fingertip as it spiraled and danced in front of her; the sight seemed to entrance her, as if she had no idea what direction her hand was going to take next. Maybe, Fred thought, she really didn't.

Drusilla's finger darted toward her bare arm, like an insect diving to attack. Her nails, talon-sharp, left a red score on the delicate skin.

"That's enough, Dru," Angel said.

Drusilla's hand continued to arc and dip in the air. As Fred looked on, she realized that there was a rhythm to the apparently random motion, a pattern that was strangely soothing, even hypnotic --

"I said that's ENOUGH."

Fred blinked. Angel's hand was wrapped around Drusilla's thin wrist, encircling it easily, preventing her from moving. He was gripping her tightly -- so tightly that Drusilla gasped. Then she gave a soft moan which was equal parts pain and pleasure. She looked up at Angel and smiled. "Hurt me again."

Angel stared at her, then at his fingers digging into her arm. Slowly he released his grip. "No. I know what you want from me. But I'm not going to give you what you want anymore."

Drusilla cradled her wrist to her chest. She looked up at Angel with huge, sorrowful eyes. "Why did you go away? That was when all the bad things started. You all went away, one by one, and now I'm the only one left. I'm all alone."

Cordelia glanced at the body on the floor. "Keeping friends is easier if you don't brutally murder everyone you meet. I'm just throwing out an idea, here."

"Spike's gone away. They put metal in his mind, and now he can't drink. It poisons him from the inside out." Slowly, Drusilla's voice was taking on a dreamy quality; she sounded as if she were telling a story she had rehearsed many times to herself. "She was next. I wasn't there, but I felt her crumble, with remorse in her heart and little hands and feet in her belly."

A tear rolled down Drusilla's cheek; her gaze had turned inward, and she didn't appear to be aware of anyone else in the room. Softly, Angel took a step back, then another. He motioned to Charles, who silently threw him the stake.

The movement caught Drusilla's attention. She lifted her arms toward Angel in a gesture of entreaty. "Daddy," she said.

Angel froze. In a low voice that sounded as if it might crack, he said, "Never call me that again."

Then he struck.

Angel moved fast, the motion a blur in the dimness, but Drusilla was faster; she seemed to know what he was going to do before he did it. Fred heard his stake clatter to the ground and saw a slash of red chiffon and black hair dart through the door of the doll room.


Led by Angel, they ran after her, but the hallway outside the doll room stretched emptily in both directions, and there was no sign of Drusilla.

"She's going to get away," Fred said.

"Not this time," Angel said. He sounded as determined as Fred had ever heard him. "She's caused too much suffering. I've let her go too many times already. It's time to end this."

"I'll second that," Cordelia added. "Did you see the stains on her dress? I'm adding 'crimes against couture' to the list of reasons why Dru's gotta be dusted."

While she'd been talking, Angel had been looking intently up and down the corridor. Now he pointed to an exhibition room just a few yards away. The doors to the room were quivering on their hinges, not much, but enough to indicate that someone had recently passed through them. "She went in there."

Fred read the sign above the door out loud. "'The Old Curiosity Shop: Victorian Inventions and Curios.' Well, that sounds interesting."

"More importantly, it sounds non-lethal," Cordelia said. "Unlucky for us if Dru holed up in the Antique Weapons Gallery."

Charles was studying a museum floor plan on the wall. He tapped it to draw their attention. "There's no other way out of this room. She's trapped."

Angel nodded. "Then let's finish this." He pushed the door open, and they looked into the room.

"Jeez," Cordelia said. "It's the garage sale that time forgot."

Fred saw what she meant. The room they entered was more like an attic that hadn't been cleared out in years, instead of an organized museum exhibition. Some of the objects in cases and on stands around her were old-fashioned but recognizable -- Fred saw a sewing machine and a telephone in the 'Household' section -- but others were entirely mysterious. A printed label on a black box which spewed copper wires identified the device as an early X-ray machine, but what was the equally strange contraption resting on a tripod next to it?

A high pitched, reedy giggle broke the silence. "Cold!" Drusilla's voice sang out. "Cold, colder, coldest."

Gunn started. "What the hell?"

"It's a game," Angel said in a low voice. "Hide and seek." He took several careful steps forward.

More laughter. "Coldest, cooler, warm."

Cordelia shook her head in disbelief. "She's giving us HINTS so we can find her and stake her? Whatever."

Fred tipped her head, trying to place the source of the laughter. "She's over there."

Directed by Drusilla's voice, they ventured further into the exhibition hall. It seemed to Fred that the further they went, the more arcane and fantastical the objects on display became, until it was impossible to tell what any of them might have been intended to be. Fred was unwillingly reminded of how she had felt as a child waking up from a bad dream to find her bedroom suddenly a strange and unfriendly place, filled with distorted, wavering shapes. In Pylea, she had crouched in her cave, overwhelmed by the same sense of dislocation, but on a massive scale. The memory still made her shake.

Ahead of them, Drusilla's voice was growing louder. "Hot. Hotter. Flames licking all around, hot coals!"

But she'd been alone in her cave, Fred reminded herself. Now, she could reach out and take Charles' hand. And that made all the difference.

"Burning," Drusilla whispered.

She was crouching inside one of the exhibits, sitting cross-legged in the base of a pyramid which seemed to be made of some kind of black stone. The pyramid was so large it had been placed on a plinth by itself, apart from the other exhibits; it had a square base and four sides that tapered to a sharp point some ten feet above. The near side was hinged, to make a door. Fred had never seen anything like it before.

"The game's over, Dru," Angel said. "You know how this is going to end."

"I know how it began," Drusilla said. "Such a long time ago, like a bedtime story. You used to tell me wonderful stories, with screaming in them. The ending stays the same, but the beginning can change. I'm going to tell the story the way it should have been."

And she quickly pulled the door at the front of the pyramid closed, sealing herself inside.

No one spoke for several seconds. Finally, Cordelia said, "Is it just me, or did Dru just do a really, really stupid thing?"

"She ran into a dead end, told us how to find her, then went and locked herself up right in front of us," Fred said. "Tactically, not the smartest moves."

Charles looked at Angel. "What was it you said? Oh, yeah -- 'She's insane, but she's smart.' Man, I think you should've just quit at 'insane'." Angel didn't respond; he just kept staring intently at the pyramid.

Cordy was eyeing the black pyramid as well. "How heavy do you think that thing is? I mean, could we load it on Gunn's truck, take it outside and open it up after sunrise? Because I'm thinking simple, risk-free Dru-disposal."

Tentatively, Fred stepped up on to the plinth, and rapped the outside of the pyramid with her knuckles. It was smooth and cool to the touch, and felt solid -- could it be marble? Given the pyramid's height, even if the sides were only six inches thick, that would still imply a mass of at least -- Fred did some quick mental calculations and frowned. "This is way too heavy for us to move."

Without warning, the door of the pyramid started to swing open again. Fred heard Charles shout, and she stumbled back, trying desperately to get out of Drusilla's reach --

-- But Drusilla was gone. The space inside the pyramid was empty.

"Damn, that thing's got a back door," Charles said. "She musta got out."

Fred peered inside the pyramid and, when she was completely certain it was empty, went inside. The interior was surprisingly roomy -- there was enough space for at least a few people -- but there was nowhere to hide. The floor was solid, and although the walls were covered in all sorts of intriguing dials and levers and golden rings, there was no other door. "I don't think she could have."

"She's not here," Angel said. "Not even close. She's -- gone."

"Pardon me for asking the obvious question," Cordelia said, "but what the hell is that thing, and what's it doing in a museum filled with nineteenth century English stuff?"

Fred started to read the notes for exhibition visitors, displayed on a board attached to the side of the plinth. "According to this, it belonged to the fifth Earl of Ashford. He was an eccentric millionaire."

"Eccentric?" Charles said, raising one eyebrow.

"As in, died in Bedlam," Fred said. "He was an amateur Egyptologist --"

"A lot of Victorians were," Angel said.

"And he built this as a -- as a --"

Fred's eyes went wide. The silence stretched out, and she knew the others were impatiently waiting for her to speak again, but no words would come.

"Fred, you wanna help us out here?" Cordelia prompted.

She still couldn't come up with anything to say, so Fred just read the plaque's words aloud. "The Earl of Ashford's many delusions included his belief that the ancient Egyptian religion held the keys toward practicing various forms of magic. Experts disagree on the interpretation of this device, though most believe it to be a private sanctum of worship. But theories are as diverse as experts -- some think it was a mausoleum, others a sculpture, and one writer even posited that it was intended as a --" Fred took a deep breath. "As a time machine."

There was a short pause. Then Cordelia said, "I don't guess there's any hope for the 'sculpture' option?"

"This is not a time machine," Charles said. "Ain't no such thing."

In a quiet voice, Fred said, "Then where'd Drusilla go?"

For a long time, no one spoke. Fred was aware that her stomach was churning, her mind humming with surprise and fear, and she wondered if the others felt the same way. Finally, Angel said, "I've been around a long time, but every time I think I've seen it all, something new comes along. A time machine -- is that possible, Fred?"

"There's no technology -- not even an approximation of the technology -- for that," Fred said. "But there's a whole heap of different ideas. Some people don't think you can travel in time, even in theory. Some think you could go back, but not forward. But, as a general principle, do most physicists think it's possible? Yes."

The other three were staring at her. No, Fred realized, not at her -- past her, at the black pyramid, looming silent and empty behind her.

"This is NOT a time machine," Charles repeated, shaking his head.

"I know it sounds farfetched," Angel said. "But Drusilla used that device to do something -- to go somewhere. We have to --"

"No, no, NO," Charles said. He started pacing. "No time machines! Absolutely not. I mean, okay, vampires are real. Found that out a few years ago. Freaked out, dealt with it. Then I found out that zombies are real. Werewolves are real. Witches are real. Freaky telekinetic chicks with personal problems are real. But not time machines! Okay, maybe every single other weird-ass thing out of a horror movie is real, but not this!"

"Charles?" Fred wasn't used to seeing him out of control, and it unnerved her more than it should have done. She looked around at the others to see if they were as worried as she was. They didn't seem to be.

Charles looked at them all in a mixture of frustration and misery. "I just want one damn thing not to be real," he said. "Just one fake thing. That's all I ask."

"I hear the Easter Bunny is a crock," Cordelia offered. She patted his shoulder and smiled ruefully. "I know how you feel. I've been there myself. You just have to face it -- that moment when you realize, no matter how high your weirdness threshold gets, it's never gonna be high enough."

Fred went to Charles and squeezed his arm. "This is weird, I know. But we have to focus. I think we might be in a lot of trouble."

That seemed to work, and Fred was relieved. Charles breathed out. "A time machine. That's -- crazy. I mean, you'd have to be crazy to even --" He broke off, his face changing. "You'd have to be crazy."

"Suppose that thing is a time machine," Angel said, "and suppose Drusilla just used it to go somewhere, then -- hypothetically -- what kind of damage could she do?"

Cordelia said, "Just before she closed the door, she was ranting about changing the beginning."

Fred felt her heart flutter as her mind started to work out the implications. "She could go back to the beginning of human history and kill the first homo sapiens. Or create so many vampires that human civilization never develops past the stone age. She could --"

Cordelia held up a hand, cutting Fred off. "Okay, so she could do very bad things, up to and including wiping out civilization as we know it." She frowned, then brightened. "Wait a second. Dru can't have changed the past -- if she had, we wouldn't be standing here having this conversation. Right?"

She looked so hopeful that Fred hated to let her down. "It's called the ripple effect. Reality is a little like the surface of a pond. Drop a stone in it, and the waves move out from the point of impact. So if the past has changed, we probably haven't got that long before the effects work their way to 2002."

"We have to figure out where Dru went -- when she went," Angel corrected himself. "Then we have to follow her."

Charles grimaced. "Man, I KNEW you were gonna say that."

"Fred --" Angel said.

Fred nodded and hopped on to her feet to enter the pyramid again. "There's some kind of writing in here, around all the dials and such. It looks a little like Egyptian hieroglyphics."

Angel, Cordy and Charles crowded into the space inside the pyramid. Four bodies was a crush, but there was just enough room for them all. "Can you read it?" Angel asked.

"Math is my thing, not languages. I mean, I've picked up bits and pieces from W--" Fred stopped herself from saying the name just in time. It didn't make any difference -- from the uncomfortable looks on Charles and Cordy's faces, she knew they were thinking the same thing she was. But, as useful as Wesley's presence would have been right now, Fred doubted he was ever going to get the opportunity to do any translating anywhere near Angel, ever again. "I've picked up a little, but not enough. I can't read this."

"Lemme see," Cordelia said. As she jockeyed for a better position, she nudged against Fred. Fred put her hand against the wall of the pyramid to steady herself, and felt something give under her fingers. The pyramid door swung smoothly shut, and they were suddenly confined in darkness.

"Cozy," Gunn's voice said. She heard him fumbling in his pocket, and then he pulled out his lighter and flicked it. "Now we can see exactly how much trouble we're in."

"This had better be a time machine," Cordelia said, "because I do NOT want to have to explain how we got trapped in here to the museum staff when they open up tomorrow."

"What are all these rings for?" Charles said. The highest level of the pyramid was covered in small, carved hooks; from each hung a small golden ring. No, Fred realized -- from all but one. One of the rings had been taken. Acting on instinct, she reached up and took one herself.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Charles said.

The ring shone dully in Fred's hand. "Why not?"

"Didn't you ever see an Indiana Jones movie? This thing could be booby trapped."

"Decapitated by a museum exhibit," Cordelia said. "Yeah, that's gonna look really dignified on my death certificate."

"Something's happening," Angel said.

He was right, Fred realized. On each of the four walls of the pyramid, individual hieroglyphs were starting to glow softly. She counted seven -- no, eight -- in all, each one exuding a soft lambency. Each was under one of the dials; Fred didn't understand the settings, but she knew not to change them. She touched the nearest glowing symbol. Immediately, it went out. "I think you're meant to use the rings to activate the machine. Like -- like the key of a car. You use the dials to set it, to determine where you're going, maybe like the steering wheel. And the symbols record -- something."

"What kind of something?" Charles asked.

"I'm not sure. The most recently used settings, maybe?" She frowned. "I can't think of anything like that on a car."

"You mean, these could be the settings Drusilla used," Angel said.

Fred shook her head. "I'm not sure."

"Only one way to find out," Cordelia said determinedly. She reached up and placed her fingertips on two more of the glowing hieroglyphs. Both instantly went out, making the pyramid's interior noticeably darker.

Charles pressed the two lit shapes closest to him, and Angel took two more. Now only one symbol still glowed.

"If we press this, and nothing happens, we are gonna feel so dumb," Cordelia said.

Fred's hand hovered over the last glowing hieroglyph.

"Do it," Angel said.

Fred touched the symbol. It went out. For a moment, she was kneeling in perfect darkness, the musty smell of the museum in her nostrils and the feel of three bodies -- two warm and one cool -- close by.

Then the floor vanished.

Fred screamed. She thought they all screamed, but she could only hear her own terrified cries. She felt herself tumbling and falling through a vast and empty void, and in her terror, her only clear thought was that this time there wouldn't be anyone there to catch her at the other end.

*********************


Chapter 2

*********************


Cordelia started screaming the moment the floor fell out from beneath her and didn't stop until it reappeared, just in time for her to belly-flop onto the ground.

"Nyungh," she said, which was about all she could say, or think, after having her breath knocked out of her. She could taste dust in her mouth and hear Gunn and Fred gasping beside her in the dark.

Angel, who'd had the breath knocked out of him in a permanent sense a long time ago, said, "Thank God."

"For what?" Cordelia croaked, turning over on her back. Then her eyes opened wide. "I hope you don't mean for that."

Above them, waves of red-gold light shimmered, fluctuated, bent and shone anew. Cordelia thought it looked like the surface of a pool -- if the pool happened to be on fire.

"If you're thanking the big guy upstairs for stoppin' us falling any further, I'm on board with that," Gunn said. "Next time, we gotta learn the difference between a time machine and a trapdoor, okay?"

Angel turned his face toward Cordelia; she couldn't see him well in the dim, shifting light, but she could tell he was concerned. "Are you hurt?"

Cordelia wiggled her toes and fingers, then sat upright. Her body groaned in protest, but she felt no fresh pain. "Not hurt as in injured, no. But hurt as in, I'm gonna be sore for days -- that's another story " She peered anxiously into the dark. "Drusilla -- she's not --"

"She's headed away from us," Angel said. "It's safe for now."

"What the hell is that stuff?" Gunn said, looking upward.

Angel said, "I think it's the way back to where we came from. It might have closed up when we passed through, and I'm not sure we could have opened it up again. But it's still open."

"Ergo the thanking God," Cordelia said. She blinked and tried to make out their surroundings; the shimmering light from the portal above them cast strange shadows on her friends' faces, and the bracelet Groo had given her scattered rainbow reflections on to the cave walls as she moved, like a mirror ball spinning too fast. "Where are we, anyway?"

Fred's voice echoed slightly as she said, "We're in a cave." She pushed herself up on her elbows, and Cordelia saw that her body and face were tense and drawn. "Smells like a cave. Sounds like a cave. I know caves. This is one."

"Hey, there," Gunn said gently. He rubbed Fred's shoulder. "You ain't alone in this cave, okay? You got your friends, and you got your way out. You're all right."

"I'm all right," Fred repeated, as if by rote. Then she squeezed her eyes shut, opened them again and took a deep breath. "I'm all right," she said once more, and this time it seemed as though she meant it.

"I guess the 'where' is not so much the point," Cordelia said. "The 'when' is really what we want to figure out."

"I still don't think that was a time machine," Gunn said.

Cordelia pointed upward toward the gleaming pool directly over their heads. "Does that look like a trapdoor to you?"

"No," Gunn admitted. "But it doesn't look like a time machine, neither."

"How many times have you been through a time machine?" Cordelia demanded.

Gunn folded his arms across his chest. "How many times have you been through a trapdoor?"

"There's only one way to settle this," Angel said as he got to his feet. He offered her a hand, and she let him help her stand. The sudden move made the blood rush to her head, and she clasped Angel's arms tight for a moment, hanging on for support. "Cordy?" he said quietly.

"I'm good," she said. "Just still with the freaky from our death-defying plunge back there."

"Fred, do you still have that ring?" Angel said.

Fred held up the gold circle, still clutched in her hand, as she got to her feet. Gunn dusted her off before turning to himself. "Sure thing. I'm still not certain about its exact function --" She peered at the cave's roof and held the ring up experimentally. Red-gold sparks crackled on the portal's surface, and Fred pulled the ring back in a hurry. "But I think it's our ticket back."

"Very glad that ticket was round-trip," Cordelia said. "So, which way is the exit?"

Fred sniffled, and Cordelia wondered for a moment if she'd started crying. But then Fred pointed to her right. "The fresher air is coming from that direction."

"Let's hurry," Angel said. "It's going to be sunrise before too long, and then I'm not going to be able to go out with you."

As they moved away from the portal's unearthly light, the cave became steadily darker, until Cordelia was forced to feel her way by running her hand along the rough wall. Then, to her relief, the way ahead started to brighten.

"I got a question," Gunn said to Angel. "How come, if we're on the inside of a mountain, you know the sun's about to rise?"

"I don't know how, exactly," Angel said. "I just know."

Score one for weird undead sixth sense, Cordelia thought as they emerged from the mouth of the cave -- Angel was right. The sun wasn't up yet, but the horizon was distinctly lighter in what was apparently the east. Cordelia looked around in the gray pre-dawn murk, and saw what looked like a totally normal forest -- big trees, ferns, moss. Turning to Gunn, she said, "Unless the museum is doing some radical redevelopment to its basement, I think your trapdoor theory is blown."

"Yeah, I'm getting that," Gunn said. "But this looks just like the present to me. I mean, the present in some woods somewhere, but the present."

"Forests haven't changed much in the last hundred centuries," Angel pointed out. "We're going to have to find something we can use to date this place."

Cordelia said, "If we see a whole bunch of people who look like John Malkovich, I'm gonna panic. Just warning you now."

Fred began making her way down the slope that led away from the cave, her feet making rustling sounds through the leaves. She called back, "I think there's a road down here! Or a path, or a trail."

Gunn bounded down after her, and Cordelia grabbed Angel's hand for balance as they followed. He was looking eastward, more than a little worried, not that she could blame him. "How long have we got before you've got to get to shelter?" she said.

"Not long," he said, wincing slightly. "More than five minutes. Less than ten."

Gunn shook his head. "How are we gonna catch up with Dru if you're stuck in a cave?"

"If I can't move, Dru can't move," Angel said. "We're far away from any subways or sewer systems. That means she's going to have to find shelter in a minute herself."

Cordelia sighed, relieved. "Okay, that's good news, right? You vampy types can't move during the day, but we can. So that gives us time to investigate, figure out what's the what, while you two are getting your beauty sleep." Looking at Angel's drawn, tired face, Cordelia wondered if he'd slept since Connor was taken. Probably not, she thought. "Angel, you should go on back. It'll probably take us a while to get anywhere, since I don't see any signs, or cars, or --"

"Found something," Fred called.

She was kneeling on the edge of the dirt road, examining what appeared to be a stone. As the others went to her side, Cordelia saw, etched in the stone -- SIGHISOARA 3.

"Ziggy Sahara," Gunn said. "Don't guess you have any idea where that might be?"

"Romania," Angel said. "It's in Romania."

He spoke quietly, but Cordelia felt her whole body tense up as though he'd screamed. Romania. She whispered, "Angel -- we still don't know when we are --"

"It's 1898," he replied. His hands were clenching by his sides, his face set. "That's the only reason she'd come back here. Drusilla hated Romania. She'd only come back for one thing."

1898. Cordelia's mind was whirling. Just over 100 years ago. That meant --

"We'll stop her," Cordelia said quickly, taking Angel's hand in her own. "Angel, it's going to be okay. Dru's not going to do this."

"Do what?" Gunn said, staring at Angel and Cordelia in turn. "What the hell happened in Romania in 1898?"

Angel said quietly, "That's when I killed a gypsy girl. For revenge, the gypsies cursed me to have a soul. And that's what Drusilla's come back in time to stop. She's going to stop me from getting a soul."

For a few moments, they were all silent together. Fred's hand covered her mouth, and Gunn brushed his fingertips against her shoulder. At last, Gunn said, "I'm gonna go for understatement here and say that would be bad."

"We have to find Drusilla," Cordelia said. She looked over her shoulder at the horizon, which was getting even more pink. "Angel, you've got to get back in the cave. Angel?"

Angel looked zoned, she thought. No -- worse than that. Even more tired than he'd seemed just a few moments ago. She would have thought he'd be worried or angry or plain old pissed-off at Drusilla's plan. Instead, he was just quieter and, somehow, even more sad. Cordelia felt as though she should do something, but couldn't think what. So she simply took his hand in hers. The distant look on his face didn't change, but he came back to reality enough to say, "Can you guys check out the area for a while? Don't confront Drusilla if you find her. Just come back and let us know."

"Yeah, sure," Gunn said. Fred nodded. As the two of them headed down the road, Angel turned and walked back toward the cave. Cordelia had to either follow him or let go of his hand.

She followed him back inside.

***

"Crazy vamp chick didn't have more than a twenty minute head start, and then it got light. So she's gotta be hiding somewhere near the caves. And since there aren't many places to hide -- where is she?" Charles rubbed his ankle. "We musta walked at least five miles already."

Fred looked at the sky and did a mental calculation based on the height of the sun and what she estimated their average walking speed had been since leaving Angel and Cordy at the caves. "Actually, it's more like one or two. You never complain about having to walk back home."

"Because back home, I never have to walk. If God had meant us to wear out shoe leather, he wouldn't have given us trucks." Charles waved a hand around himself, indicating the vast, monotonous expanse of forest. "At least in L.A. there's plenty to look at -- store windows, billboards, the occasional minor celebrity bein' done for possession. Even the trees ain't changed in the last four hours. And how do we know we're not just goin' around in one great big loop?"

"Because we've been walking in a straight line, toward the sun. We're heading due east, so we can't get lost. And the trees are different -- these have thinner, lighter-colored bank, and they have wider leaves than the trees back at the cave." As she looked more closely at the trees, Fred saw something she hadn't noticed before. "And I think there's a village or camp or something nearby."

"How'd you figure that?"

"Those trees don't have any branches low down," Fred said. "They've been taken for firewood. There must be people someplace close."

"Listen to you with the tree forensics." Charles grinned. "You're a regular Girl Scout."

"I was never a Girl Scout," Fred said. They started walking again, picking their way over the uneven road, Fred with considerably more dexterity than Charles. "I didn't know what trees with branches missing meant until I was in Pylea. I went too close to a town, and they nearly caught me -- I was lucky to get away, and afterward all I could think was how stupid I'd been not to figure out what the missing branches meant --"

Fred broke off, remembering those first, terrible months in Pylea, when she'd realized just how poorly equipped for survival her comfortable upbringing and college education had left her. She'd had no idea how to hunt for food; the forest trees had been heavy with fruits, but the first time she dared to try the red berries she'd seen the birds eat, she'd spent the next three days doubled over in agony. And even the berries had disappeared during the first winter, when she'd cowered, shivering in her cave because she had no way of making a fire --

That thought triggered another memory, an unexpected one -- the sense of triumph she had felt the first time her attempts to use the lens of her glasses to focus the sun's rays on to dry leaves had produced crawling red sparks and then the glorious warmth of rising flames. Not long after, the hook and line she'd improvised had caught a fish in the stream near the cave, and Fred had enjoyed her first hot meal in over a year.

Walking with Charles through the Romanian forest, sure-footed and confident she could find her way, Fred found for the first time she could think about Pylea without having to suppress a shudder of panic.

"Hey." Charles's voice broke in on her thoughts. She felt his hand on her shoulder, comforting. "It's okay. I know this has gotta be a lot like gettin' sucked into Pylea. I know you're doing some hard dealin'. But you're not all alone this time. We're here. I'm here."

Charles was so protective and sweet; that was one of the main reasons she'd fallen for him. But she didn't feel frightened now -- she felt strong. Fred opened her mouth to tell him so, but before she could speak, she heard the clatter of wooden wheels on the bumpy ground, accompanied by a rough voice and the clip of hooves. "Someone's coming."

"Must be rush hour," Charles said.

The cart that appeared around the next bend in the track was a ramshackle contraption pulled by a weary-looking horse and driven by an old man whose eyes were tiny slits buried beneath his white-tufted, wrinkled brow. The frown that appeared on his face when he saw Fred and Charles deepened to a scowl when Fred stepped out into his path.

"Good morning," she said politely. "We're not from around here and we were wondering if you could -- well, first, if you could speak English, and if you can --"

The man reached into the cart behind him and produced a large stick, which he brandished threateningly.

"Now, there's no need to --" Fred began.

The man brought the stick down, hard, on the horse's flank. The animal whinnied and broke into a trot. Just as the cart was bearing down on her, Charles pulled Fred out of its way.

Fred ran after the cart -- on the rutted track, she could easily match its speed. She reached out, and her fingers grasped the waxed cloth that covered the cart's load. "Wait! We only want to ask a couple of questions --"

She heard another crack of the old man's stick, and the cart accelerated away from her. Fred gave up the chase and stood in the middle of the track, catching her breath.

Charles caught up with her. "Good roads, and the locals are SO friendly. I'm writing to the L.A. Times travel section about this place when we get home."

"I guess we don't exactly look like we're from around here."

"You mean I don't."

At that, Fred looked up. "Charles, we must have BOTH looked weird to him."

"Sure," Charles said, an edge of sarcasm in his voice. "It musta been that blue T-shirt you're wearin' that scared him off and not, say, the fact he's never seen a black guy before."

"Actually, the fact that I'm wearing pants instead of a skirt probably makes me look like a prostitute or something." She frowned. "Maybe I should be glad he didn't stop."

Charles said, "You would think this girl would not be that hard to find. A red dress oughta stand out like a signal flare."

"She's got to be hidden from the sunlight, Charles," Fred pointed out. "So she could be under a log. Or in another cave. Or buried under leaves. Or --"

"I get the picture. Unfortunately, that picture includes us not finding her before dark." Charles exhaled heavily. "Okay, nothing for it but to head back and tell Angel and Cordy --" He broke off. "Man, maybe I'm just hallucinating 'cause I didn't get any breakfast, but I can smell something cooking, and it's GOOD."

Fred sniffed the air -- he was right. The faint aroma of something frying was drifting toward them from the woods on the other side of the track. "The village must be that way. Maybe the people there will be friendlier."

Charles nodded. Together, they crossed the track and followed, first the smell of cooking food, and then the sound of voices laughing and talking, until they came to a low hill. Fred started to pick up her pace, but Charles held her back.

"This time," he said, "let's hold off on the introductions, okay?"

Fred looked at the trees around them. One, an ancient oak, was taller than the rest, with strong branches and an abundance of leaves. "I've got an idea," she said. "Help me up."

Charles needed no further explanation. He laced his fingers together, making a platform to boost Fred up to the level of the tree's lowest branches. Once they were within her reach, it was easy to pull herself the rest of the way. She wriggled upward into the tree, climbing until she had found a solid perch high above the ground.

She shuffled into a secure position on a lofty branch, then pushed the leaves aside to survey the forest from her new vantage point.

"See anything?" Charles called from below.

Fred was looking down on a village -- although not of the kind she had expected. Instead of buildings, there were brightly painted wagons; instead of public buildings, there were large tents, big enough to hold twenty people or more. The camp was bustling with activity, and everywhere Fred looked, she saw people busily at work mending, unpacking, and building. A woman was cooking on a griddle over an open fire, keeping a watchful eye over the children playing next to her at the same time, while near them a man used a knife to extract a stone from the hoof of one of the horses tethered at the campsite's edge.

Fred described everything she saw to Gunn, feeling all the while an odd mix of fascination and slight but insistent guilt at the knowledge that she was spying on these people's daily lives. But there was something compelling about observing, unseen, and it was all the stranger when she remembered that what she was seeing was more than a hundred years old, a slice of history brought to life.

"They look friendly," she decided. "I'm gonna come down and --"

She was about to descend, when the thundering noise of a galloping horse stopped her. Gunn had heard it, too. "What's happening?"

"I'm not sure --" Fred watched, and saw a man on horseback ride into the camp, so recklessly that piles of carefully stacked pots and pans were overturned. Fred could hear more than one person raise their voices to complain -- she was too far away to make out the words, but the tone was clear -- but the new arrival didn't seem to hear them. Instead he dismounted and went straight to a tall man who was standing by the largest wagon.

The horse rider said something to the tall man, then embraced him. The tall man nodded and held out a hand to the woman who had been cooking. She didn't take his hand, but instead collapsed, very slowly, like a puppet whose strings were being cut, one by one. As she started crying, a group of the other women swiftly gathered around and led her into the largest wagon. Fred knew she was watching a tragedy unfold before her.

A hundred years ago, she thought: This all happened a hundred years ago. But she could hear the noise of the woman wailing as she climbed down the tree, the sound of fresh, raw grief piercing the clear, calm morning.

"What happened?" Charles asked.

"They're gypsies," Fred said. "I think they might be THE gypsies. Charles, everything that happened -- I think it just started."

***

"I just want you to try to sleep," Cordelia said again.

Try to sleep, Angel thought. Sleep seemed like some strange, foreign concept -- something he used to do a long time ago, like riding in carriages and powdering his hair. Something that belonged in the museum back in Los Angeles. The last time Angel had slept, his son had been in a crib in the next room with his soft, regular breathing echoing reassuringly from the baby monitor, his good friend Wesley was taking care of things downstairs; and Angel's greatest care had been the fact that Cordelia loved somebody else. That world seemed further away than the Victorian era. In fact, Angel realized, right now it was -- in 1898, Queen Victoria was still alive, but his life in L.A. was more than 100 years in the future. Somehow, that idea made him even more exhausted than he had been before.

"Angel?" Cordelia's voice echoed a little within the cave. "Are you even listening to me?"

"I'm listening, Cordy," he said. "I just don't think sleep is an option right now."

"Come on," she said as she stepped to his side. She was smiling gently at him, trying to tease him from his gloom. Angel recognized the look, loved it dearly, but knew even Cordelia's ability to handle his moods had limits. "It's bright and early in the morning. That makes it naptime for vamps, right?"

"Drusilla's on the loose, we're in the past and there's a chance my all-too-mortal soul is in danger," Angel said. "That makes it not naptime. It's about as far from naptime as it gets."

She held out her hands, placating him. "Okay, so, sleep's off the activities list. But you need to rest, Angel. If we're going up against Drusilla, we need you at full strength, right? Fred and Gunn and I might be able to handle her on our own, but I'd feel better if you weren't dozing off during the battle."

Memory pulled at Angel again, and his stomach dropped as the implications hit him. "It's not just Drusilla," he said. "That month in Romania, all four of us were together. Me and Dru and Darla and Spike. There's a chance we could encounter any or all of them."

Even in the uncertain light in the cave, Angel could see Cordelia's face go pale. To her credit, she said only, "All the more reason you've got to rest. If you can't sleep, you can at least lie down. Give your legs a break to get ready for all that running-for-our-lives that's probably coming up."

Angel sat down heavily on the ground; Cordelia stretched out next to him and, to his surprise, pillowed her head on his legs. Of course, he thought. She's tired too. I should let her get some sleep instead of worrying over me. He lay back on the earth, and he was surprised how comfortable he felt.

Cordelia murmured, "Outside -- when we found out where we are -- when we are -- whatever. You looked upset."

The red-gold light on the roof of the cave still flickered nearby. It didn't look as though their portal would close until they went back through. "You guys didn't look happy either. With good reason."

"That's not what I meant, exactly," Cordelia said. "I just wondered what you were thinking, is all. And by now, I almost always know what you're thinking, so not knowing kinda threw me off there."

Cordelia knew so much, Angel thought, and yet didn't know anything at all. "I was thinking that I have to start it all over."

"Start what?"

"All of it," he said. The red-gold light was distracting if he stared at it for too long, so Angel shut his eyes. "We have to stop Dru. We have to make sure that I get cursed with a soul, and spend 100 years wandering the earth alone, and meet and fall in love with Buffy so I can lose my soul again and terrorize her and kill again. And get cursed again, and get Buffy back just to lose her again, and have to leave her. And go to Los Angeles, and start to have a decent existence, and -- and have a son. And lose him."

Cordelia was quiet for a while, and then he felt her turn over. He opened his eyes to see her on her side, her cheek against his thigh, a worried crease between her eyes. "Hey. There's a lot of good in there you just left out, you know. Like your mission, and the whole shanshu prophecy. Not to mention yours truly."

"I know," Angel said. "Believe me, I know that. It's just right now -- so soon after -- just thinking about it all makes me -- tired." The word seemed to mean something else right then, something Angel couldn't exactly define, but it was the force weighing down so heavily on him that even sitting up seemed impossible. "I'm just so tired, Cordy."

She was quiet for a few moments. Then her hand patted his gently. "Let's think about the good stuff, okay?" Cordelia said. "Like -- Angel, you remember the suntan lotion commercial I did? How you showed up on the set and freaked out?"

He knew Cordelia was just trying to distract him. Of course, she couldn't have chosen a much better memory to distract him than that bikini. Angel closed his eyes again and shook his head. "They might as well have made you wear dental floss."

"Dental floss would have been more comfortable," she said. "It was so funny seeing you on the beach set. Like you were going to start playing volleyball or something."

All those stage lights. Angel remembered the stage as broiling hot, but he'd liked the simulation of sunlight. That thought made him remember the daylight outside, felt if not seen; he'd all but learned to ignore its diurnal influence the past couple of years, but right now, he felt it as strongly as ever. The urge to sleep, brought on by the rising sun, bound him up so that he didn't want to move; it was confining and comforting at once, like an infant's swaddling. And so warm.

"The other swimsuit was less obnoxious." Cordelia's voice seemed more distant. "I wanted that one instead of that bizarre macrame thing. It was probably somebody's art therapy project in prison."

"They have prisoners make bikinis?"

"Who knows? Might be a nice change from license plates. Anyway, I got to talking with the other model, and we decided to flip a coin --"

Angel his muscles relaxing involuntarily, melting into the ground beneath them. Cordelia had known what she was doing. She was too good at this.

"-- and I was totally going to call heads, because you call it after you catch the coin, right? But while it's in the air, she called heads, and then --"

Angel fell asleep.

***

"Wow. Amazing what the sky looks like without smog, huh?"

Nobody answered Cordelia. Without the familiar noises of traffic, sirens and overhead planes, the night was eerily quiet. She shivered and wished she had something to put on over her green T-shirt.

Conversation might take her mind off the chill, but Cordelia was realizing there wasn't much chance of that. Gunn and Fred, who had spent most of the day walking already, had little energy for anything other than trudging side by side; Angel's long sleep had clearly left him more alert, but his face was closed off, and by now she knew the body language that went with that look well enough to understand no amount of perkiness was going to penetrate his silence. It was going to be a very long night. "It won't take too long to walk to the city, right?" she asked hopefully. "The sign said Sighisoara was just 3 miles away."

"It's not far," Fred agreed, "but the road runs right past the gypsies' camp."

Cordelia frowned. "Then I vote we take a BIG detour. We know they're out to wreak terrible vengeance on Angel. We don't want our version to get accidentally wreaked upon twice." She tapped his arm. "Right?"

"Yeah," Angel said after a second, but he didn't sound convinced. Cordelia remembered what he'd been talking about in the cave, just before he fell asleep, and realized that Angel's state of mind must be even lower than she'd thought.

"How big a detour can we risk?" Fred asked. "We can't risk Angel getting trapped in the open if we're still walking when the sun comes up. And even when we get to the city, we have to find a place to stay without any money and explain the way we look." She groaned. "This gets more complicated the more I think about it."

Angel opened his mouth to reply, then apparently decided to say something else. "Someone's coming."

Cordelia started -- she hadn't heard anything -- but a few seconds later she saw a light approaching along the dark track. As it neared, she realized it was a lantern, bouncing where it hung on the front of a carriage. The carriage was pulled by a team of four horses and guided by a driver in a smart blue uniform, a plumed hat sitting jauntily on his head. Cordelia didn't know a lot about history, but she knew she was looking at the late-nineteenth-century equivalent of a chauffeur-driven limousine.

"Think we could hitch a lift?" she asked.

"They won't stop for pedestrians," Angel said. "This is the age of highwaymen, remember."

"You never know until you try," Cordelia said with determination. She stepped out into the road and stuck out her thumb -- would nineteenth-century people know what that meant? They seemed to, because the driver of the carriage pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse slowed from a trot to a brisk walk. When the carriage had drawn level with them, another tug on the reins brought it to a stop.

The carriage door opened, allowing Cordelia to see its three passengers -- a broad-shouldered young man wearing a stiff wool suit, an even younger woman whose face, incomprehensibly, went bright red as soon as she saw Cordelia, and a much older woman, small and thin, whose graying hair was wound around the crown of her head in a severe and impossibly complicated pattern of braids.

Cordelia treated them all to her brightest, most winning smile. "Hi there. We're going to Sighisoara, and we were wondering --"

"Sighisoara!" the man exclaimed. He had an English accent, and Cordelia thought -- unwillingly, and just for a second -- of Wesley. "Why, that's where we're going. I don't suppose you know if this is the right road?"

"There's a signpost in that direction," Fred said, pointing. "The city's beyond that."

"But it's a long walk," Cordelia said quickly, "and since we don't have a carriage, we'd be really grateful for a ride."

"Certainly not!" the older woman said, apparently horrified at the idea. "Edgar, what are you thinking, conversing with these -- these circus ruffians?"

"Mama, you were the one who insisted we stop to ask for directions," Edgar began, with a tone of weary infuriation that suggested this kind of argument was a regular feature of his existence.

Cordelia placed her hands on her hips. "Hey! A little less with the abusive language, okay? Who do you think you are, lady?"

The woman regarded her icily. "I am exactly that -- a lady. Lady Clara Oxley. And you, my dear, are plainly anything but. Look at you," she added scornfully, "walking around with your legs showing and your hair as short as a man's! I declare I never saw anything so base! Why, you have nearly shocked poor Elspeth into a faint."

The girl -- Elspeth, Cordelia guessed -- went even redder and covered her mouth with her hand.

"Base?!" Cordelia repeated. "Listen, you old --"

"She's in costume!" Fred interrupted, hastily stepping in front of Cordelia.

Cordelia looked at her. "No, I'm not."

"Yes, you ARE," Fred said. "For -- the play. The play -- we're going to put on in Sighisoara because --" she screwed her eyes shut, struggling for inspiration.

"Because we're entertainers," Gunn interjected. "Traveling entertainers."

Cordelia turned to Angel, but he looked as confused as she was. She grabbed Fred and hissed, "What are you doing?"

"We need to get to the city as fast as we can, which involves them taking us there," Fred whispered back. "We need a cover story -- so start improvising."

Lady Clara was looking down on them from the carriage with obvious disdain. But Edgar and Elspeth, Cordelia saw, seemed interested. "A play, you say?" Edgar said. "How capital! What's it about?"

Fred looked at Gunn. Gunn looked at Cordelia. Angel just looked bemused.

"It's about -- " Cordelia began, "-- about some kind of disaster. A disaster that, um, ruined our clothing and left us in, in rags. Right. A disaster." A single idea popped into her head -- a terrible, humiliating idea that instantly pushed out all her other thoughts and made it impossible to think of anything else. "It's a -- musical. About a shipwreck," she blurted. Her voice wavering, she slowly started to sing:

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of fateful trip --"

"Oh, no," Gunn said. He looked horrified. "Not that. Anything but that."

It was too late to stop now. Cordelia made frantic motions with her hands, urging the others to join in.

"-- That started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship.
The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure --"

Cordelia seized Gunn and Angel by their arms and dragged them to stand beside her.

"Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour --"

"-- A three-hour tour!" Fred piped, making a brave but doomed attempt at harmonizing. Cordelia nodded at her in gratitude.

In a timid voice, Elspeth said, "But there's only four of you."

"We're doubling parts," Gunn said. Then, adding his rough baritone to Cordelia's voice, he sang:

"The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was, uhh..."

"Tossed," Cordelia prompted. "The tiny ship was tossed."

"-- the tiny ship was tossed -- thanks --
If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost --"

"The Minnow would be lost!" Fred cried, clutching her hands dramatically to her chest.

The end was in sight. Cordelia took a deep breath and raced through the remaining lines:

"The ship took ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle,
with Gilligan, the Skipper, too, the millionaire and his wife --"

She tossed her hair and sold the next line -- might as well enjoy herself --

"-- the MOOOVIE star --"

She was running out of breath now, but didn't dare stop:

"-- TheprofessorandMaryAnnhereonGilligansisle!"

Cordelia took a deep, gasping breath. That wasn't as bad as she'd thought. Grinning, she pointed at Angel, who had remained silent throughout the performance. "Then he does a kind of a hula dance."

"The hell I do," Angel muttered.

"And that's just the opening number," Fred concluded. "It gets even better after that. MaryAnn gets hit on the head with a coconut and thinks she's Ginger -- and then the millionaire finds out he's lost all his money -- and all sorts of interesting people, and Globetrotters, and Gabors wash up on the island too."

"They went wild for us in Paris," Cordelia added.

"Well, I say bravo!" Edgar applauded with what seemed to Cordelia to be genuine enthusiasm, and after a second Elspeth joined in, too. "That was perfectly marvelous. Wasn't it, mama?"

"Hmmph," Lady Clara Oxley said doubtfully.

"But where are your accoutrements?" Edgar asked.

Cordelia blinked. "Our what?"

Edgar waved his hands expansively. "Your play-scenes, and props, and suchlike. The necessary business of acting."

"Oh, THOSE accoutrements," Fred said. She bit her lip, in a way that Cordelia knew meant she was thinking very hard and very fast. "Well, see, we were viciously attacked --"

"How ghastly!" Elspeth exclaimed. Even Lady Clara looked a little more sympathetic. "By whom?"

"Bob Denver's lawyers," Gunn muttered under his breath. Cordelia shushed him.

"Bandits," Fred said. "They took our horses, too. And now we won't be able to open in Sighisoara tomorrow night." She sighed theatrically.

"The forces of lawlessness shall NOT triumph," Lady Clara declared. She turned to her son. "Edgar, why have you not invited these honest people to share our carriage? Have I imbued you with no spirit of Christian charity?"

Edgar obediently leaned forward, offering Cordelia his hand to help her into the carriage. As she reached up to take it, his eyes widened. "My word. What is that?"

He was staring at the bracelet that Groo had bought her; even in the faint light cast by the carriage's lamps, it shimmered with a myriad of colors. "May I?" Edgar asked. When Cordelia nodded, he brought out a pair of spectacles and examined the bracelet closely. "How extraordinary. It's flat, and yet one would swear the pattern hovers above it -- I've never seen anything quite like this. Wherever did you get it?"

"It's, uh, it was -- A prince gave it to me." Well, that wasn't exactly a lie, Cordelia told herself. And, besides, now that she was deep in pretense anyway, what harm was there in rounding out her backstory? That's what they'd told her to do in the acting classes she'd taken.

"A -- a real prince?" Elspeth whispered, agog.

"From a distant land," Cordelia elaborated. "We gave a special performance there. The prince loved it so much, he insisted on giving me this."

"Oh," Elspeth breathed. "How wonderfully exotic. Oh, Edgar --"

"My sister appears to be quite taken with your bauble," Edgar said. "Would you consider allowing me to obtain this marvelous piece of craftsmanship for her?"

"I don't know about that," Cordelia said. "It's got sentimental value."

"I'll pay you."

"Done."

Edgar got out his wallet, and Cordelia slipped the bracelet off her wrist. Behind her, Cordelia could hear Gunn mutter, "Is this a good idea? You remember 'Back to the Future' -- spend one quarter the wrong way, the whole world changes."

Just as quietly, Angel answered, "Sooner or later, you guys will need food. We'll all need a place to stay. We're not going to get those without money."

Gunn said, "And I'm guessin' they don't take American Express round these parts." Cordelia figured that meant he was okay with the plan, which was a good thing, since the bracelet was gone and the coins were heavy in her hand.

Angel murmured, "This is probably the least damaging way to make some money." Easy for him to say, Cordelia thought, a little glumly. Sure, it was tacky, but it was the first gift she'd gotten from a man in years, not counting gifts from Angel. Oh, well, she decided. She'd find a way to explain it to Groo.

Edgar took out his pocket handkerchief and folded the bracelet carefully up in it. "This has turned out splendidly all round. I anticipated a dull journey, but now Mama and Elspeth and I will be richly entertained by stories of your travels."

Six or seven hours of inventing stories about the exploits of the Angel Investigations Theatre Workshop was going to be a trial, Cordelia thought, but it'd be worth it if they didn't have to walk all the way to the city. When Edgar offered his hand for the second time, she reached up to accept it gratefully.

Before she could, Angel stepped between them. "What's today's date?"

Edgar looked nonplussed. "Well, we left Salzburg five days ago -- so today must be the fifteenth. November 15."

"And the year is 1898?" Angel pressed.

Edgar looked at him oddly. "Well, of course."

"Thank you," Angel said, "but we can't accept your kind offer. We have -- other business to attend to before we go to the city."

"Oh," Edgar said. "If you insist, my dear fellow. Terribly sorry to lose your company. We'll be sure to come and see this play of yours. Break a leg, what?"

He signaled to the driver, who cracked the whip once, spurring the horses forward. Just before the carriage jerked away, Elspeth leaned forward and whispered to Cordelia with frank admiration, "I think your hair is awfully daring."

As soon as they were gone, Cordelia hit Angel square in the chest. "What IS it with you? They were gonna give us a ride, and you said no! Angel, are you even listening?"

He wasn't -- he was staring after the fast-vanishing carriage lamps, frowning slightly. "I have the weirdest feeling I've met those people somewhere before."

"Man, I had to sing the Gilligan's Island song," Gunn said, coming to stand beside Cordelia. "In public. With actions. For nothing! That kind of thing sours good relationships, you hear what I'm sayin'?"

Some distance along the track, the faint lights of the carriage finally winked out. Angel blinked, and seemed to snap back to the current moment. "Tomorrow is November 16, 1898," he said, turning back to them. "That's the night I was cursed. We've only got one day to find Drusilla and stop her from changing history."

"Right," Cordelia said. "All the more reason to get to the city as quickly as possible."

But Angel was shaking his head. "There's no point if we don't know exactly where Drusilla is or what she's planning. To be certain of stopping her, we're going to need help, and fast."

"Help from where?" Fred asked. "We don't know anybody in 1898. Well, I guess we know some people, like Queen Victoria, but that's more knowing OF them than knowing them, and anyhow, she's in England and I don't think there's much she could do to help us."

Angel closed his eyes briefly, and Cordelia could sense what it cost him to say what he did next. "There is one place we can go."

***


"The creature who did this," the gypsy said, "the vile monster who stole my child -- he shall suffer. He shall suffer as no other of his kind has ever suffered. For all eternity, he will know our pain. Soon he will feel our wrath."

"Right there with ya," Cordelia said, smiling nervously as she stood in the center of the gypsy camp, where a hundred eyes stared at her suspiciously. "Now, what if you could get some help in tracking down this vile monster?"

The gypsies looked at one another. Cordelia plowed on. "And what if that help came from the absolute LAST place you'd expect?"


****************


Chapter 3

****************

Angel kept his body still and his back pressed against one of the oak trees. He didn't turn toward the gypsy camp, but he could see the faint flickering of their bonfires reflected in Gunn and Fred's eyes. He could just hear Cordelia saying, "the absolute LAST place you'd expect," and briefly he looked skyward. Only Cordy.

Gunn muttered, "Have I mentioned that this is a real bad plan?"

"Only six thousand times or so," Angel replied.

"Well, here's six thousand and one," Gunn said. "Angel, these guys hate you. You killed, what was it, the favored daughter of their clan? The second you walk outta the woods, you are gonna get staked. Or beheaded. Maybe both."

Far away, Cordelia was saying, "And you wouldn't, like, you know, KILL anybody who was trying to help you get revenge, right?"


Angel said, "Gunn, if the gypsies had wanted to stake me, they had their opportunity. They didn't take it. They want to curse me."

"They'll want to curse you tomorrow," Fred pointed out. "Today, they might just want to stake you."

That, Angel had to admit to himself, was a good point. But it was already too late. Cordelia was calling, "Um, unexpected help? I think they're ready for you."

"I'm going out there," Angel said. "Stay on either side of me -- but stay at a distance. If they see I'm in human company, they'll know something's changed right away."

"What if they just think we're vampires?" Gunn said.

"Then duck any stakes." Angel took a deep breath -- purely for courage -- and walked forward.

As he stepped into the circumference of the firelight, gasps rang out. Mothers snatched up their children and retreated into the shadows, while the men all reached for the closest weapons to hand, grabbing knives, axes, pitchforks and wielding them threateningly.

Yet, strangely, within a few paces Angel realized that he didn't have to steel himself to walk toward the gypsies. In fact, it felt almost as if he was drawn to them, as if the morass of grief and anger and pain he'd created was pulling him in. All his troubles -- every wretched second of souled existence, from the first rush of stunned guilt over the gypsy girl's death to the moment he'd realized Connor would never come back -- they all flowed from this place, this moment. It was dangerous and terrible, and he was likely to get killed, and yet Angel felt as if this place was where he belonged.

No, he couldn't think about that now. He had to concentrate. Everything depended on what happened next. Angel held up his hands, as though showing he was without a weapon could possibly reassure these people.

A very tall, powerfully built man with a gray beard-- the girl's father, Angel remembered with an agonizing jolt -- stepped forward. "Angelus," he said.

Fully aware of how improbable it must sound, Angel said, "I've come here to help you." At the sound of his voice, the gypsies jumped again.

"Help us?" another man exclaimed. His accent was thicker than the others. "This beast killed our Gia, and he pretends that he wants to help us?"

"I'm not the Angelus of 1898," Angel said. "We're not from the present day. Magic has brought us from a time more than a century in the future. I have the soul you cursed me with."

At that, a ripple of shocked and outraged exclamations passed around the crowd.
"He lies!" the girl's father shouted, and a chorus of agreement rang out around him. Now that the initial shock of Angel's appearance was wearing off, the mood of the gathering was rapidly becoming violent.

Fred and Gunn crowded closer to Angel, trying, as Cordelia was, to form some kind of human shield around him. "I don't guess I could convince you guys to stand at a safe distance," Angel said.

"Nope," Gunn said. "Let's face it, Angel. A safe distance would probably be, like, Detroit."

Suddenly the crowd quieted, then parted. Angel didn't realize why until the gypsies nearest to him stepped back deferentially to reveal a very tiny, very old woman who hobbled slowly toward Angel, leaning on a carved stick. Her back was bent with age, so that when she raised her head it was clear the movement caused her no small measure of pain. But the rheumy eyes that gazed at Angel were unafraid.

"Gregor," she said, addressing the gray-bearded man. He replied in Romanii, and for several tense minutes Angel could only stand quietly while they debated vehemently in a language he didn't know. Unsure what else to do, Angel kept his hands in the air and tried very hard to look sincere.

The gray-bearded man, Gregor, finally said, "Mother Yanna says you have your soul. But how can this be? What magic takes people through time?"

"We're kind of wondering that ourselves," Fred said helpfully.

"It is a trick," the thickly accented gypsy said. "He has some kind of spell, something that makes it appear he has a soul. He discovered our plan and tries to stop us through deceit. This is the Angelus we seek."

The mob muttered angrily, and a few of the weapons were hoisted even higher. Angel thought fast. "I am from the future," he said. "And I can prove it."

Gregor held his head high. "Prove it, then."

"There's a loophole in the curse," Angel said. He meant to use this only as evidence, but as he spoke, long-buried anger began to push its way to the surface. As dangerous as it was -- to him and to his friends -- Angel couldn't keep the edge out of his voice as he continued. "If I experience perfect happiness, and only perfect happiness, then I lose my soul, become the monster again. The curse you put on me made it possible for me to kill innocents again, people who had nothing to do with your daughter's death, people who haven't even been born yet. But since you never saw fit to tell me that, how could I know -- unless it happened?"

They all stared at him. Gregor said, "But -- you have your soul now --"

"We re-cursed him," Cordelia said. "Nifty spell, by the way. Nice, smelly herbs."

"As long as we're having this conversation, maybe you'd like to explain it to me," Angel said. As his anger grew, he could hear his voice becoming colder, harder. "Why did you make it possible for Angelus to get out again? You freed me from all that guilt, for a while. I didn't suffer at all after my soul was gone. Is that really what you intended?"

The old woman, Mother Yanna, stepped forward and spoke in halting English. "That part of the curse -- that was not for you."

"Sure felt like it was for me," Angel said.

"What would give a creature -- creature like you -- perfect happiness?" Mother Yanna said. Her gnarled hands were clasped in front of her, and Angel realized with shock and disgust that she was smiling. "Only -- only to be forgiven. Only to be loved. If such a creature were forgiven, if he were accepted and wanted, then our curse, it would have no meaning anymore. You would be young and strong and happy forever. This we would not have."

"Rather than let me be happy, you'd condemn more people to die?" he demanded.

She shrugged. "Their deaths would be the price of vengeance. But only one we wanted you to hurt -- whoever it was who was fool enough to forgive such a monster as you. Whoever cared so little for our lost Gia that she would love the monster who killed her. That one -- she ended our vengeance, and so she had to pay." Mother Yanna smiled a gap-toothed grin. "The soul, it was your punishment. The return of the monster -- that was her punishment. Our revenge on the one who loved you. And I see by your face that this is how it came to pass."

Angel couldn't speak. He wanted to kill that old woman, feel her brittle old bones snapping in his hands like matchsticks. He wanted to kneel down on the ground and weep. Perhaps more than anything, he wanted to just turn around and walk away. Cordelia's hand tightened around his arm, and he wondered if she were remembering that bleak winter of 1998 and her terror for her own life. God, he could have killed Cordelia then, and he would never even have known who she really was --

Somehow, Angel kept his voice steady as he said, "You chose a powerful vengeance. But someone has come from the future to try and prevent that vengeance. You want to curse me with a soul. Believe it or not, I want you to curse me with a soul. But if that's going to happen, we're going to have to work together." As the crowd murmured, he added, "I don't like it any more than you do, but there's no other way."

Finally, Gregor asked, "This person -- you know who it is?"

"It's not a person," Angel said. "It's a vampire. She's powerful, and she's insane, and it's going to be difficult to predict her moves. But I can predict my own -- because I remember them."

More murmuring. As the gypsies argued among themselves in Romanii, Gunn glanced over at Angel. "So far, would you say this is going well or badly?"

"None of us are dead yet," Cordelia said.

"Speak for yourself," Angel said.

She made a face. "None of us are more dead than we were ten minutes ago. I think that means it's going well."

Fred said, "I would really like to have a higher standard than that."

"Silence!" one of the men shouted. "If you want to talk of other things -- while we talk of our dead daughter --" He gestured toward a nearby tent. "Go there. Talk of other things there, if you can."

Cordelia began tugging Angel toward the tent. "Let's get out of immediate staking distance, okay?"

"'Bout time somebody had a good plan," Gunn said as he took Fred's hand in his and headed toward the tent. Angel and Cordelia followed them, but as they walked closer, events from the past -- from the near future -- began to come back to him. He realized what the tent was, why the gypsy had taunted him to enter.

"Maybe you guys should stay outside," Angel said.

"Excuse me, did you not see the hysterical, torch-wielding mob?" Cordelia said. "I think we're better off out of sight."

Gunn reached for the flap that served as the tent's entrance, but Angel put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "She's in there. The gypsy girl, or what's left of her." After a moment, he added, "Gia." He hadn't ever known her name. It seemed appropriate to finally call her that.

The others stood very still. Finally, Fred said, "Angel, would you mind so much if I didn't see her? It's not like I don't know you used to kill people, 'cause I do know that, and I understand that things are different now, and I love you all to pieces -- not in a Charles way! Just in a friends way, but a really-good-friends way, and that's not going to change, not ever, not even if I see her, but -- but -- I don't want to see her."

Gunn sighed heavily. "What she said. But shorter."

"You don't have to go in either, Angel," Cordelia said. Her eyes were brilliant in the firelight, and she was staring at him intently, trying hard to read him. "Not if you don't want to."

"They want me to," Angel said. "Given what we're asking them to do, I think I should do what they ask. And -- I just think I should."

Cordelia squared her shoulders. "Okay, then. Let's go in."

"Cordy --" Angel felt his chest constrict at the thought of Cordelia seeing the evidence of his brutality.

Maybe she could read what he was thinking after all, because she simply said, "I went to Miss Calendar's funeral."

Angel nodded and went into the tent, Cordelia at his side.

The gypsy girl -- Gia, her name was Gia -- lay on a bier. Angel remembered the glimpse he'd had of her when the gypsies herded him into this camp to be cursed; they'd changed her clothing by then, straightened her limbs, wiped the blood from her body. None of that had been done yet. Angel could see the blood on her mouth, where he'd kissed her as she shook in her death tremors. A hundred years ago. Yesterday.

The sleeve of her dress was ripped away, and the dark bruises of his fingertips were deep in her arms where he'd held her down. But what sickened Angel most about his memories of her death was not how brutal it had been, but how ordinary. She had been a special treat, but still, in the end, just another kill, a few hours' distraction. His recollections of her death were mixed up with all the other things he'd thought about during it -- places he meant to go, things he meant to do. He walked closer to the body, let the memories come back to sting. He could use them; this was pain with purpose.

"Did you break her neck?" Cordelia whispered. She was still at his side; Angel had thought and wished that she would remain at the entrance, but instead she was leaning over the girl's body as well. She was looking at the girl's smooth, unmarred throat.

"No," Angel said. He hesitated, wondering if the indignity of what he was about to do was too much. Then he looked again at Gia's dead body and realized it wasn't; he had already committed the ultimate crimes against this girl. There was nothing else to be done to her, no further injury she could suffer. He pushed her skirt up away from her legs. Cordelia's eyes went wide as she took in the brutal bite marks on the insides of the girl's thighs.

Angel could remember the pure sensual satisfaction of drinking from her there; for a moment, it was as if he could taste the blood again. Cordelia was staring at him, unnerved at what he had done -- not only in killing her, but in showing her off now. Angel realized, with disgust, that he felt a sense of ownership of this girl, or what was left of her. Claiming her was a vampire's instinct, and still his own.

Then again -- wasn't she really the one who owned him? Angel looked down into Gia's still, drawn face and murmured, "You were avenged." It didn't seem as though there could be anything else to say.

Angel smoothed her skirts back down and looked into Cordelia's face. Miss Calendar's funeral, he knew, was no preparation for this. He had killed Jenny Calendar quickly, after a only few brief moments of fear. Her death had been easier than most of his victims', easier by far than Gia's. Angel felt a deep, horrified shame that Cordelia was seeing this -- and yet, at the same time, it felt right. She should know, he thought. She deserves to know.

Cordelia's fingers fluttered out, as though she meant to touch Gia's hair, but then she let her hand drop. She said only, "This is what you remember."

Angel nodded. To his surprise, and deep gratitude, he felt Cordelia wrap her hand around his own.

"Memory," said a voice behind them. "A difficult thing. What do you think I will remember?"

Angel and Cordelia wheeled around to see old Mother Yanna, who stood in the entrance to the end. Behind her, Angel could just make out the figures of Fred and Gunn, both of whom were determinedly not looking into the tent.

With an imperious wave of her hand, the old woman said to Cordelia, "Leave us."

Cordelia -- never one to respond well to direct orders, Angel thought ruefully -- looked like she meant to argue with that. He touched her arm. "It's okay, Cordy. Go to Fred and Gunn. I'll handle this."

"Are you sure?" Cordelia whispered. "She's giving you the harmless-old-biddy routine, but she could be packin' wood."

"She doesn't do her work with stakes," Angel said. "Wait outside."

With a dubious backward glance, Cordelia left the tent. Angel faced Mother Yanna alone. Somehow, she was more intimidating than the entire mob outside -- this one woman's pain, and fury, and complete lack of fright.

Mother Yanna gestured toward Gia. "A pretty girl. Clever. Good with herbs and medicines. I was to teach her my craft." Angel, wordless, could only nod. "My granddaughter. Did you know this?"

"No," he whispered. "I didn't."

The memory came rushing back, so sudden and so strong that it felt as though he were possessed -- not by a spirit, but by the past. Angel could almost feel Connor, shifting ever so slightly within his father's arms as he sucked greedily at the bottle of formula Angel held, its microwaved heat warming both his tiny body and Angel's cold hand. Small eyes, unfocused but clear, gazed up at Angel in the early morning hours in total contentment and trust. It was the only hour in Angel's life when he'd known with complete certainty that he was exactly where he needed to be, when his heart asked for nothing else but what he held. It wasn't perfect happiness -- his fear for his son was always there, beating away the seconds in the place of his heart -- but in some ways it was better than perfect happiness. What he'd felt for his son was too real for perfection.

Angel had mourned his victims before, sincerely and deeply, but also, he now realized, blindly. He had imagined what it would be to lose a child. Now he knew, and he finally understood that a century's imaginings of grief still weren't adequate to grasp the truth of it.

"I know what it means, now," he said. "To lose someone you love. I know that I made hundreds -- thousands -- of people feel that pain. I know what I did to them, and to you." He repeated, slowly, "Because of you, I understand."

"You have lost someone, then," Mother Yanna said. Her deep, creased eyelids blinked contemplatively. "Not long ago, I think."

"A few days," Angel replied.

"The pain -- it is like no other, is it not? And you understand pain, if I have done my work well."

Angel closed his eyes. "You have."

She made a sound that was neither a laugh nor a sigh -- a sound of satisfaction and surprise. "It tears at you, this grief. It makes you something that you were not before, something -- lesser. Something you despise."

He tried to remember exactly what Wesley's face looked like in the moment before he grabbed the pillow. He couldn't remember. He could only recall how the pillow had felt in his hands, how weak Wesley's struggles had been beneath it. "Yes," Angel said.

"I must endure this forever," she said. "You have done this to me, to everyone who ever loved her. We must be these creatures until we die."

Angel opened his mouth to -- to say what? To apologize? How stupidly inadequate, but what else could he possibly say? Yet Mother Yanna kept talking. "But you -- you need not suffer as we suffer. The grief you feel, this can be lifted from you."

What could she mean? Angel stepped away from her. "You still have to curse me with my soul," he said. "You can't take that back. I can't allow that to happen."

"Fool," she said, strangely gentle. "It would take more than this to stay my hand. You will suffer; we will see to that."

Angel wondered just how strange his world was that her words made him feel relieved.

"Your soul, it will remain. But I can do more. I can do far better by you than you have done by us," she said. Her voice was gentler yet. "I have shown you that we are stronger than you. I will show you that we are better than you as well. I will stop your pain."

Transfixed by her voice, by her wrinkled old hands held out to him, Angel whispered, "How? It feels -- it feels like nothing could ever --"

"Your memories of the one you have lost are nothing to you now but torment," she said. "Nor will they ever be anything else to you any longer."

She spoke quietly, so quietly Angel had to strain to hear her, and yet it seemed as though her voice were the only sound in the world, soothing and calming him. "I can't stop thinking about what I've lost," he said.

"I can take this pain," she said. "Let me take it from you. So many burdens you carry, and this is your heaviest. This burden, you can lay down."

Angel felt himself relaxing as he stepped closer to her. "I'm so tired," he said.

"I understand," she whispered. Her hands -- trembling not with fear, but only with age -- went to his temples, and he felt the soft brush of her skin against his. "You need only lay the burden down, and then you will be free."

Lay it down. Let it go. Let the memories go.

Connor in his arms, looking up at his father. The tiny face receding, the memory becoming strangely dim...

Angel reeled back, pushing the old woman away. She raised an eyebrow as he stared at her.

"My memories," he said. "You were going to take away my memories of my son."

Mother Yanna shrugged, her lips curling in a cruel smile. "Would this not end your pain?"

Connor, Angel thought. I wouldn't even have remembered him. I'd never even be able to think what his face looked like. I'd never have remembered that again. He felt his body begin to shake. "It would have been -- worse than pain. A thousand times worse. And you know it. You would have robbed me of the only thing I had left."

"Yes!" she shrieked, all pretense gone. "As you robbed me!"

"If you want to find out if I'll still fight you," Angel said. "I will. I'm here to make sure you curse Angelus. That's the punishment you chose, and that's the punishment I'll help you with. If you try to take my memories -- this truce is over." He stepped closer to the old woman; this time, she couldn't hide a moment of fear, and Angel felt a sick satisfaction as he saw it. "And if you hurt my friends, you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you were dealing with the demon."

She smiled that terrible smile of hers again. "You come to us and you speak soft words of help and guilt. But deep in your heart, you hate us still."

Angel remembered lying in Buffy's arms that long-ago night, with no idea that her punishment was bound to his own. "Yes," he said. "I hate you."

Mother Yanna nodded. "I do not trust your soft words, vampire," she said. "But your hatred -- this I can trust. If your hate is true, perhaps the rest is too, hmm? We shall see. We shall see."

The gypsies are going to help, Angel realized. We did it. He wondered whether he ought to feel better or a hell of a lot more afraid.

***

Darla sat up in bed, wondering what had woken her.

Beside her, Angelus slumbered on, one arm sprawled comfortably across the bolster. The curtains of the villa's master bedroom were tightly shut, although the sharp glow around their edges told Darla it was daytime.

Downstairs, she heard the crash of something being violently destroyed.

She shook Angelus roughly. "Wake up."

He rolled over on the mattress, opened one eye and smiled at her lazily, still sated in every way from the previous night. "Again? Well, if you insist...."

"Listen," she instructed him. A second later, the noises downstairs started again. Angelus frowned, then sat up beside her, now fully awake.

"What time is it?" he asked.

Darla looked to the clock which sat on the mantle above the bedroom's fireplace. Or, more accurately, she looked to where the clock should have been. It was gone.

Angelus had seen it, too. "Thieves," he said. "And still downstairs, plundering. To think, there are people of such low morals in the world." He smiled, a wolfish, hungry smile that wakened Darla's own appetite.

She smiled back and got out of the bed, pulling on her robe before tossing Angelus his. Quietly, they moved along the upper floor of the villa, then down the ornate stairs to the tiled entrance hall. The dwelling was among the finest in Sighisoara and must have seemed as ideal a target for robbers as for the local gossips who had lately been wondering about its new tenants, who had arrived so much earlier than anticipated.

The noises were coming from the drawing room. Darla reached out to open the door, but stopped when Angelus laid his hand over hers. She looked at him questioningly.

In a low voice he said, "When we confront them, pretend to be frightened, as a woman would be. It will be a great ruse."

Angelus and his games. Usually Darla was happy to indulge him, but sometimes she craved killing in its purer forms -- straightforward, quick and satisfying. But for Angelus, even such an unexpected opportunity as this had to be molded into artifice. Men and their hobbies. Without answering him, Darla pushed the door open and went into the drawing room.

Deception was unnecessary. There were no thieves.

In the center of the room, every clock in the villa had been piled into a ticking, chiming heap. Darla saw the clock from the bedroom, the kitchen clock -- even the grandfather clock had been dragged in from the hall and now lay in an undignified position on its side next to the writing desk. Every inch of the drawing room floor was covered in shards of broken glass and wood. At the center of the orgy of destruction, Drusilla sat cross-legged, intently smashing the clocks one by one with the fireplace tongs. She was humming to herself, wholly content.

"Drusilla!" Darla snapped.

Drusilla didn't respond, and after a second Darla saw why -- she had wound her hair ribbons, one green and one violet, into rolls and then pushed them into her ears. She reached for another clock -- one that had walnut casing and was probably an antique -- and happily smashed its face. Darla noted with annoyance that Drusilla was wearing that outfit again -- the black velvet basque with the tartan skirt -- that made her look like some escaped Scottish lunatic. She raised an eyebrow at Angelus, who understood her meaning and laughed. "It's appropriate," he pointed out. "Drusilla hath murdered sleep."

Not in the mood for literary allusion, Darla marched across the room and pulled out Drusilla's improvised earplugs. "What are you doing?"

"Killing time," Drusilla said. "Before midnight comes, and we all turn to pumpkins. Tick tock, tick tock, I couldn't sleep for the noise." She looked at the ribbons dangling from Darla's fingers and playfully snapped at them, like a kitten playing with a ball of string.

"You've broken every clock in the house," Darla said angrily, waving a hand at the wreckage. "How are we supposed to tell the time now?" She marched to the window and yanked open the curtains, making sure to stand well back while noting with satisfaction how Drusilla threw her hands over her face and cowered from the light. "I know -- there's a sundial in the garden. Perhaps we'll send you outside to look at it."

"A monster with a clockwork heart," Drusilla muttered. "But it turns to flesh under the hammer, and he will bleed and bleed."

Darla looked to Angelus for support and saw with irritation that he was smirking, amused by what he no doubt saw as Drusilla's delightfully crazed antics. His patience with her was far greater than Darla's own; while Angelus saw Drusilla as a work of art, Darla was more inclined to view her as their halfwit child.

Spike's voice came from the hallway outside the drawing room. "What's happening? Drusilla's gone --"

Two halfwit children, Darla thought sourly. What a fine family we make.

Spike appeared at the door, and he ignored the devastation to comfort Drusilla. She clung to him, and he stroked her hair. "What's the matter, pet? Were the clocks saying nasty things to you? Like the lampshade last week?"

"I did it to stop the future," Drusilla said. "It hurtles toward us and brings terrible things with it."

"The only thing bringing terrible things to you in the near future will be me," Darla said.

"Come, Darla," Angelus said lightly. "A little destruction is good for the spirit. And draw the blinds, lest you end up punishing us all for Drusilla's little game."

Darla brought the curtains together so hard they cracked; the last shaft of sunlight made something in the debris glint familiarly. Darla leaned down to retrieve it and smiled smugly when she recognized the ruined remains of Angelus' gold pocket watch. "Yours, I believe," she said, handing it to him.

His face changed, darkening with anger, and he threw the watch down in disgust. "Our little magpie's almost more trouble than she's worth."

"She's just bored," Spike said. "Christ, we're all bored. Bored of this provincial piss-hole, bored of superstitious, garlic-chewing peasants, and most of all, bored of hanging around while YOU --" he pointed to Darla, "-- wait for a fancy dress party where you're not even planning on killing ANYONE, and YOU --" now he pointed at Angelus, "-- plan one of your theatrical kills that any REAL vampire could manage in less time than it takes to snuff out a candle."

Angelus snarled. He grabbed Spike by the neck, lifting him and pinning him to the drawing room wall. "If I were you, I would not speak so freely of being snuffed out. It might give me ideas."

Spike, unable to reply because of the hand on his throat, just grinned, a touch nervously. After a moment Angelus, apparently satisfied to have won the point, let him slide to the floor. "Leave my sight. Both of you."

Drusilla looked forlorn at her banishment, but Spike was smiling as he picked himself up. He was always happy, Darla noticed, to get Drusilla away from Angelus, to reserve her attention solely for himself. "It'd be a pleasure," he said. "How about it, love? It's early enough for us to go out the back. We'll take a stroll in the shadows to the cathedral, then snack on the pious all day long."

He helped Drusilla to her feet and guided her to the door. But as they passed Angelus, Drusilla stopped, refusing to move even when Spike pulled her arm. She placed one bony finger in the middle of Angelus' chest. "Daddy has a reflection again. It's looking down at the little dead girl, and it has guards -- a lady with short hair, and a lady with long hair, and a man with not any hair at all. The reflection's put his hands through a mirror to reach you, and they're all cut up, and he wants you to be cut up too."

Darla made a noise of exasperation. Sometimes Drusilla even sounded insane by Drusilla standards. Angelus was the one who tried hardest -- and had the most success -- at finding the occasional method to Drusilla's madness, but even he was merely shaking his head at this.

"Come on, Drusilla," Spike said as he towed her out of the drawing room. "The pious are piping hot and waiting for us."


"Hot cross buns," Drusilla said, already cheerful again, as they passed out of hearing.

Angelus shook his head. "The time it takes to snuff out a candle. That's what Spike thinks of as an appropriate duration for pleasure. No wonder we're forever trying to get Drusilla out of our bed and into his."

Her patience ended and her mood black, Darla snapped at him. "He's just tired of your amateur theatricals," she said.

"I don't expect Spike to understand the difference between pleasure and art -- but you, Darla," Angelus shook his head. "You were the one who taught me this. This theatre is not the work of an amateur. And timing is everything."

"Perhaps," Darla said, making no effort to hide her irritation, "you should explain the plot to me again."

Angelus began to pace the drawing room, feet crunching over the scattered cogs and wires and hands. "Lord Percival Dalton believes he is a vampire hunter. Indeed, he has become obsessed with the creatures since reading a certain recently published novel by Mr. Stoker."

"That hack." Darla rolled her eyes. "It's so blindingly obvious that he's never even met Dracula. If he had, he wouldn't have been half so impressed."

"Lord Percy has come all the way from his comfortable residence in London to the book's setting, Transylvania, to find vampires. And, by a happy coincidence, he has struck up a friendship with a gentleman with similar interests." Angelus gave a low bow, as if introducing himself. "Tonight, I expect to receive an invitation to dine with Lord Percy at his home. I have given him reason to believe that should such an invitation be extended, I will use the occasion to present him with a genuine vampire."

"This deception may amuse you, but I'm growing bored waiting for your elaborate plans to come to fruition. For once, can't you just kill someone without making a show of it?"

"It takes a second to stop a heart beating. To destroy a life takes time and planning." Angelus stopped pacing, and drew Darla into his arms. "You understand that."

His hand rested on the small of her back, then began to slide down. Darla wasn't in the mood and twisted away from him. "I understand that when I desire a little novelty, I have to conjure it myself. Just last night, I brought you the gypsy whore. I didn't hear you talking of the benefits of planning as you took her virtue and her blood. What gifts have you brought me of late?"

"I paid for those fool rooms in the hotel," Angelus said. "Where we're to pack up and move tomorrow, even though we're quite well-established here. Why? So you can have one of your wretched views and be a half-mile closer to the grand ball tomorrow night, where you'll wear all the finery I've bought you --"

"Dresses. Hotel rooms." Darla was pacing. "The sort of banalities any mortal might bestow on his wife. Those aren't gifts. Those are no less than I deserve."

"You refuse to be pleased," Angelus said angrily.

"And you refuse to please me!"

"Who are you?" said a strange, feminine voice. "This is intolerable! Edgar, come here at once!"

Darla spun around, surprised by the unexpected voice. A woman was standing in the doorway of the drawing room, glaring at herself and Angelus with haughty disdain.

A man, with an Englishman's irritating deference of manner and poor taste in tailoring, came to join the older woman. Behind them, Darla could see a few people moving about, bringing trunks and cases into the villa's entrance hall.

"Edgar," the woman said, "These people should not be here. Make them leave."

"Now, Mama," the man said, "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation." He looked around at the wrecked clocks lying over the floor, before apparently deciding that politeness required pretending to have noticed nothing amiss. "I'm dreadfully sorry about this, but there seems to have been some kind of mix-up --" Abruptly, he broke off, and to Darla's surprise, smiled widely at Angelus. "Why, my dear fellow, how excellent to see you again. I nearly didn't recognize you out of costume. And what a smashing wig! Quite wild, very in the spirit of Robinson Crusoe, what? Elspeth, come here -- it's our good friend the actor."

Another woman -- young and oozing sweetness, docility and every other quality Darla loathed about her sex -- rushed to join the man. "What a marvelous surprise," she gushed. "However did you get here before us?"

"Another of your amusing deceits, Angelus?" Darla asked wearily.

But he shook his head. "I don't know these people."

"Of course you remember," the man prompted. "We met on the road. You sang that song about the little boat, and the shipwreck --"

"And the coconuts," the young woman added.

Darla stared at them, then at Angelus. "He sang a song about -- coconuts?"

"I did not," Angelus snapped.

"Edgar," the older woman said imperiously. "When are you going to tell these intruders to get out of our house?"

"YOUR house?" Darla repeated. "Oh, no. I don't believe so."

"It is ours for six weeks," the woman said. Her manner was superior, her tone arrogant, as if the world had an obligation to conform to her view of it. "We're renting it. You should not be here."

"The previous tenants haven't left," Angelus said smoothly. This was true, after a fashion; their desiccated corpses were sealed up in barrels in the kitchen.

Suddenly, Darla was bored with all of them. Bored with foolish little humans who did not understand their importance began and ended with the red fluid in their veins. Bored with Drusilla's crazed antics, with Spike's constant impudence, with Angelus' obsessive game-playing. Most of all, she was bored of the grinding, unchanging sameness of her recent existence.

"I'm going back to bed," she announced. "When I wake, I expect this --" she waved at the mess on the floor, "-- and them --" she pointed at the three people standing in the doorway, "-- to be gone. No more unpleasant surprises."

Angelus glared at her. "And I thought you were eager for novelty."

Darla didn't answer him; instead she stalked out of the drawing room, past the newly deposited pile of luggage in the entrance hall, and up the stairs. Behind her, she could hear Angelus' voice as he took care of their unexpected visitors.

"See, now -- renting. That was a mistake. You have far more rights in a home as an owner than you do as a renter. For instance, the right to deny someone permission to enter --"

Not even the sound of screaming that followed was enough to lift Darla's foul temper.

***

"Okay, so, I know the peasant look is back in style," Cordelia said to Fred. "But I don't think it would be if people had to wear real peasant underwear."

Fred grimaced slightly as she nodded. Discomfort aside, though, it was sort of interesting to wear these clothes, so different from the ones she was used to. She had a long, heavy skirt that fell almost to the ground, cloth shoes and a loose blouse; her hair was braided up on top of her head in a more complicated style than she'd ever attempted herself. The gypsies only had the smallest hand mirrors, so Fred had no idea what she looked like. But from the amusement on Charles' face, she suspected the overall effect was more than a little silly.

Cordelia, as usual, made it look good. The skirt that dragged around Fred's legs flowed around Cordy's, and the folds of the soft peasant blouse draped the best curves of her figure. The kerchief tied around her head to hide her short hair was brilliantly colored and patterned. But the face beneath the kerchief still looked unhappy. "I mean, what IS this?" Cordy muttered, pulling in an undignified way at the material beneath her skirt. "Burlap?"

"At least you HAVE underwear," Charles said.

"You are now entering the TMI zone," Cordelia said. "Gotta say, though, they did a pretty good job of wrapping you up otherwise." With the high-collared coat, muffler, gloves and wide-brimmed hat Charles now wore, very little of his decidedly non-Romanian skin tone showed. Fred giggled as Charles posed, model-style, in his gypsy clothes; she clasped her hands together, felt the gold ring she'd slipped on one finger and became quiet again. She looked down at the ring, their one-and-only ticket back to the present -- assuming there was still a present to get back to.

Angel had only pulled on a coat over his normal clothes; if things went according to plan -- insofar as they had a plan, Fred reminded herself -- he wouldn't be seen by anyone until after dark, if at all. He was pacing the tent where they now stood, restless and uneasy, and Fred suspected that had very little to do with the fact that he was shielded from the sunlight by only a drape of canvas. "Let's review this, okay?"

They'd done little besides reviewing it all morning, but Fred thought it wisest to humor him. "Sure thing. Take it from the top."

"No, I want you guys to take it from the top," Angel said. "Step by step. Come on."

For a brief moment, Fred was reminded of Wesley, drilling them on the details of a case. She put that thought aside, took a deep breath and spoke. "Drusilla -- old-timey Drusilla, the one who actually belongs in this century -- she left the house you were all staying with early in the morning with the vampire called Spike."

Charles picked up the story. "Wasn't a whole lot of way to get in that house except first thing in the morning and after sundown. So Dru -- the one who belongs in the 21st century -- what do we call her? New Dru? Dru Two?"

Angel looked slightly pained. "Just keep going."

"Dru couldn't have gotten in as early as this morning, and so she can't get back to you to warn you or anything before tonight," Gunn said. "So she can't make her move until sundown."

"As it so happens," Cordelia chimed in, "sundown is just the time when a certain Scourge of Europe gets into a bust-up with his girlfriend and announces he's going out for a while, to -- where did you say you were going when you left Darla?"

"I didn't." Angel frowned. "I remember arguing with Darla, and I remember leaving, but I don't remember where I was going. But the important part is that I left."

Charles cast a worried glance at Fred. She fought the urge to return it, though her stomach was clenching with fear. This entire operation depended on Angel's ability to remember exact details of the most traumatic, confusing night of his existence. What if he got it wrong?

Cordelia quickly said, "Let's just say you were -- I mean, Angelus was -- going for a moonlit stroll. But while Angelus is admiring the stars, he's attacked by gypsies. They drag him out into the woods, all the way back to the camp, and boom! Curse-o-matic pops the dice."

"Drusilla would have heard some of this story from Darla," Angel said. "I told of her some of the rest myself, back in 1998. So she knows where she needs to be."

"Somewhere between your front door and the gypsies," Fred said. "So right outside your front door is where we need to be."

"See, Angel?" Cordelia said. She spoke playfully, but Fred could hear the gentler tone beneath her words. "We know the drill. We know what we're doing. We're ready."

Angel straightened up a little and actually smiled at Cordelia. "Yeah," he said. "We are." He glanced at the others. "Have you guys slept enough? Had plenty to eat?"

"Too much adrenalin to do more than nap," Fred said. "And we've eaten. That goulash was the -- goulashiest."

"So, now we get to call for our wagon," Gunn said. He didn't look happy. "Are we gonna have one of these gypsies driving us?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I can ride, but I never tried to drive a wagon or carriage or anything. So I guess we'd better ask."

Gunn looked even less happy. "I'd much rather have somebody who didn't mostly want us dead behind the wheel. Well, not 'wheel,' really, but --"

"I can handle the reins," Fred said. When the rest of them stared at her, she shrugged. "My granddaddy had horses out on his farm."

"You learn how to handle horses in Texas," Cordelia said. "See, I KNEW the flyover states had a purpose."

***

Memories were dreams, insubstantial and ever-changing, and not to be trusted. But there were a few, a very few, which never changed, which were somehow more real than the rest.

Dru remembered a time before the cold and the hunger and the constant confusion, a time when everything had made a lot more sense than it did now. She remembered the taste of bread dipped in warm sweet milk, eaten sitting at the feet of an old woman whose thumbs clicked as she knitted. She remembered picking up the needles herself and crying when the delicate pattern of yarn disintegrated in her clumsy fingers. She remembered a kindly voice telling her, "The whole pattern hangs by a single stitch, my dear. Drop one, and it all unravels."

Change one stitch, and everything would fall apart. A stitch in time...

Dru looked down at the gold ring she'd slid on her finger for safekeeping. It was the needle, and time was the thread. She would change this one stitch.

Daddy would come back. Or else never leave.

The cathedral was quiet: on this bitter November afternoon, most of the pious had decided to choose the warmth of their homes over godliness. Dru wasn't cold -- she'd met a kind man who'd given her his woolen cloak and his nice, warm blood. Her tummy was full and her head buzzed as she walked down the aisles, chills running up and down her back from the knowledge of the cross behind her. She wasn't precisely sure what was supposed to happen next, but that didn't concern her -- Dru never planned further ahead than her next footstep, and yet somehow she was always just where she needed to be.

She knew she was in the right place, again, when she heard her name being spoken.

"Come on, Drusilla. I know something's wrong. You can tell me what it is. You can tell Spike."

She ducked behind a pew and waited. When Spike and the other Drusilla appeared, she pushed herself further back into the shadows and watched them. Spike's hair was that boring old color again, and the her-who-wasn't-her was wearing that lovely plaid skirt, the one that made her think of thistles and dirks and beheadings. Dru remembered wearing it, and there she was, wearing it. It was like one of those funny stories, she decided, the ones Spike used to like to stare at on the glowing television-box, the stories of people who weren't really real. Drusilla thought those were silly stories -- why would anyone be interested in people who weren't real? This story was much better, because it was real, and because she was going to change it.

"Didn't you like the vagrant?" Spike smacked his mouth with some distaste. Their footsteps echoed on the stone. "Don't blame you. That was cheap plonk he'd been drinking. Bit of an aftertaste, there."

The other Drusilla peered over Spike's shoulder, and her eyes met Dru's. At first Dru felt confused -- then she smiled at the other Drusilla. The other Drusilla hesitated, then smiled back.


"Spike," the other Drusilla murmured, "I'm cold. Kill me something warm. Something nice."

From where she stood, Dru could see Spike grin as he put his finger under the other Drusilla's chin, tilting her head up toward him. "That's more like my girl. You wait here. I'll try and find someone who's been drinking a little less. Or at least a little less dangerously. I'm sure there's a nice prior or friar downstairs." He paused. "Any particular denomination? All right. I'll be off then."

He disappeared into the outer chambers of the cathedral, and Dru came forward, out of the shadows of the pews. She waved at the other Drusilla, who bounced on her heels and clapped her hands in glee. "There's two of me!" the other Drusilla said. "Do you remember things forwards, like I do?"

"And backward," Dru said. "But I have more backwards than you do."

The other Drusilla nodded. Lowering her voice, she whispered, "He's going away. Soon. Daddy's going away, and none of them care."

"He won't come back until he's happy," Dru told her, taking the other Drusilla's hands in hers. They were cold and pale and exactly like her own.

"What makes him happy?"

"A slayer," Dru said. "A slayer in his thoughts and his heart and his bed. And Spike will follow."

The other Drusilla's eyes filled with tears. "I'm a good girl. Aren't I a good girl?"

"Don't fret, pretty. All the stitches will come undone."

The other Drusilla looked hopeful, but uncertain. "How?"

Dru let go of the other Drusilla's hands. "Like this," she said, then hit her over the head.

The other Drusilla's eyes rolled up into her skull, and she slid down on to the cathedral's cold stone floor. Dru took her by the ankles and dragged her into a confessional. Once they were out of sight, she set to work unbuttoning the other Drusilla's velvet cloak, followed by the basque and the skirt and layers of petticoats and corsets she wore underneath it. Corsets were so stiff, and they hurt so. Oh, how she had missed corsets. And what pretty, pretty skin she had. What pretty marks Spike and Darla and Angelus all made. Maybe she'd have such pretty marks again soon.

The last buttons slid through their buttonholes just as she heard footsteps approaching. Dru stepped back out into the church at the same time as Spike rounded the corner, pulling a half-unconscious man with dark hair and swarthy skin behind him. He was smiling, obviously pleased with himself. "You wanted something hot -- this one was in charge of the spices for the monsignor's kitchen. At least, that would explain the paprika." He noticed the feet sticking out of the confessional and looked disappointed. "Oh, you've eaten already."

"Just a taste," Dru told him. She smoothed down the front of her gown. "Is this a pretty dress, Spike?"

Spike let go of the cook, who collapsed on to the floor with a moan of pain. He came toward Dru, taking her by the shoulders and kissing her deeply. She felt the thrill of being worshipped, as she deserved. "'Course it is, love."

She smiled at him. "I missed the pretty dresses. I don't like dressing like a man."

Spike laughed. "You should try it. A bit racy, that. But if you think I'm putting on corsets and a bustle, think again." The cook moaned again and tried desperately to crawl away from them. Spike stopped him by bringing his boot down on the man's hand. "You want any of this? Before it gets cold?"

"Save him for afters," Dru said. She held out her arm and smiled when Spike took it. As they started to walk away, she said, "I dreamed there was another me. A me who wasn't. Could you stake another you?"

Spike thought for a second. "Someone who looked like me, you mean? Yeah, I reckon I could." He grinned. "I wouldn't, though. I'd keep the bugger around for a bit, see what I looked like with different hair, make sure my clothes looked right, that kind of thing. It would be like a mirror you could maim."

"Mirrors have sharp edges, and they cut," she said. "The sharp edges came crashing down on my head, only it wasn't my head at all."

"That's a lovely story, pet," Spike said absently.

"Yes, the story's lovely," Dru said blissfully, "now I'm telling it."


********************

Chapter Four

********************


Cordelia sniffled. "You've got to tell me how you keep from sneezing with all this hay."

"I avoid breathing," Angel replied.

"Of course you do." Cordelia sighed. "I guess Tavist-D was invented a long time after 1898, huh?"

"You don't have to ride back here with me," Angel said. Cordelia was sitting beside him in the back of their borrowed transportation, a lieterwagon with a heavy cloth drape covering its top and sides. The drape was effective at keeping out the late-afternoon light, but unfortunately equally effective at keeping in dust from the hay piled inside. The gypsies hadn't bothered cleaning out the wagon on their behalf. Fred was handling the horses up front with Gunn by her side, and Angel was sure there was room for Cordelia up there as well.

"I'm going any time now," she insisted. "I'm gonna be there to see Old Evil You come barreling out of the house. Do you think I'd miss the chance to see you with even dorkier hair than you now have?"

"First of all, Golden Shimmer, my hair looks fine," Angel said, hoping this was true. "And second, you don't have to ride back here at all, if it's making you uncomfortable."

Cordelia didn't even bother reacting to the Golden Shimmer remark. She put the bundle of twenty-first century clothes she was holding on her lap to one side, allowing her to lean closer to Angel. In a softer tone, she said, "I just wanted to -- Angel, this is all pretty intense. Even for me, and I'm not the one having the real-life flashback. And this is a bad time for this to happen -- not that there's a good time to have your psycho ex try and mess with history --"

Angel interjected, "Cordy, I'm all right. At least as close to all right as I'm going to get for a while."

Only after he said it did Angel realize it was true. In Cordelia's face, he could see an echo of his inner surprise, but even as she opened her mouth to ask him about it, Gunn called to them. "I think we're at the right place, Angel. You wanna catch a glimpse of this and see?"

"Sure," Angel said. He ducked into one side of the wagon as Gunn pulled the drape back, revealing a slim, bright triangle of daylight. Fred's hand -- holding a tiny mirror -- swerved around, showing him the sunlit world outside.

He squinted, trying to remember the street and recognize it in the unfamiliar afternoon light. At last Fred's swiveling wrist hit the right angle, and he quickly said, "There. Stop there."

The villa. Slate roof and gables. The deep score in the door, made by the flailing boots of one of their victims. Angel glanced at Cordelia and nodded.

"We've got our home base," Cordelia confirmed for Fred and Gunn. "How long before Elvis leaves the building?"

"I ran out just a minute or two after the sun went down," Angel said. "And it's not long until sunset now."

"Then I'm going up," Cordelia said. She hopped out of the back of the wagon, and Angel could hear her going around to join Fred and Gunn. As she went, she called, "So, you and Darla are having a big fight in there, huh?"

She was just trying to keep him talking, Angel knew. He didn't mind. It would help him to focus on what had happened, to hold the necessary memories close. "Not that big a fight. At least, not by our standards. Some of our battles weren't on the same scale as your usual relationship spats."

"I don't think I want to hear about those," Fred said hurriedly.

"What were you fighting about?" Gunn asked. "She eat somebody you had your mind on?"

"No." He remembered Darla, icicle-sharp and gleaming in white satin, the disapproving purse of her lips. "We were supposedly fighting about a kill I wanted to make that night. She was in the mood for something different."

Cordelia said, "What do you mean, supposedly?"

"Really, the fight was about something we didn't talk about," Angel said slowly. "Sometimes she ruled me. I mean, she dictated everything I did, everything I felt. I existed only for her."

He could hear Cordelia mutter, "So glad I asked."

"But sometimes -- sometimes I ruled over her," he continued. "Then she was a slave to me. We'd go months or years at a stretch, one of us controlling the other, and then we'd switch. When we were here, in Romania -- I ruled her. Darla wanted the whip hand back, and I wasn't ready to give it to her." He'd never consciously understood that, not once in the 150 years he and Darla were together, nor in the century after her. How was it he was only realizing that now?

"Please, in future, try to leave any whip details out of your memories, okay?" Cordelia sounded a little more terse than usual. "Get back to the color commentary."

"I had this kill set up," Angel said. Somehow, returning to this place, at this moment, was causing details of memory to resurface for the first time in decades. "He was an English lord. His name was -- Dunstan? Dalton? Something like that, I think. Anyhow, she thought it was too stagy, and she wanted me to call it off."

***


He dressed with such care, Darla thought as she watched him. Sliding on his shirt, enjoying the feel of fabric against his skin. Buttoning up his waistcoat, his strong hands delicately plucking the whalebone buttons. Angelus took a positively decadent interest in his clothing.

She often enjoyed watching him get dressed for just that reason; his sensual delight in the smallest details was one of the qualities she prized most in her lover. But tonight, for some reason, it annoyed her. "He hasn't even invited you yet," she snapped from her place on the bed.

"He will," Angelus said, self-assured and smiling. Darla fought back the desire to slap him. "And when he does, I shall be ready. Now, tell me, my pretty mirror -- how do I look?"

Darla folded her arms in front of her. "Like an overweening dandy, if you must know."

Angelus just grinned more widely. "Ah, such temper. I believe someone's feeling neglected." He slid his hand along her leg, brushing aside the white silk of her robe. "Don't worry. I'll make up for lost time when I come home. You know how I get after a particularly fine kill."

The liquid warmth in his voice threatened to melt her resolve, but only for a moment. Darla jerked away from him and slid off the other side of the bed. "When you come home, you may have to take out your -- enthusiasm -- on Drusilla. Or maybe Spike would be happy to service you. I expect to be elsewhere, enjoying other company."

"Other company, is it?" Angelus' eyes glinted dangerously as he crossed the floor. "And what other company might that be?"

The only company Darla had had in mind was that of a few warm-blooded street urchins no one would miss. But Angelus' anger was immediate and satisfying; it aroused her more than his smugness had. She decided to embellish the lie.

Smiling at him, Darla lifted her chin. "While you've been dining with your bookish young lord, I've had to fill so many hours. What luck, to find someone so willing to help me while away the long, lonely nights."

Angelus stared at her as though he'd never seen her before. "You know I don't begrudge you a sailor now and then," he said. "You allow me my nuns, after all. But I won't have you throwing some scrap of a mortal in my face."

"You won't have it?" Darla repeated incredulously, more outraged by these simple words than anything he'd said or done in years. "YOU won't have it? And am I to live by what you will and won't have?"

"I think perhaps you are," Angelus growled.

She laughed in his face. "Well, then, you can think again."

***


"Girl was gettin' down an' dirty with somebody else?" Gunn said.

"Maybe," Angel said. "She lied a lot, but then so did I. In any case, that wasn't the point of the argument."

Fred said, "Just in case you were wondering, Charles, if this ever comes up for us, it WILL be the point of the argument."

"Back at ya," Gunn said. Angel could tell by the sound of his voice that Gunn was smiling.

"So, Mr. and Mrs. Co-dependency are in a plain old power struggle," Cordelia said. "But if you guys did this all the time, why did you run off and leave her?"

"Because running off and leaving each other was something else we did all the time," Angel said. He settled back into the hay; he still had a couple of minutes left. The setting sun made the dark red of the wagon's drape the color of fire. "But we always came back. I didn't have any idea that this time, when I left -- it would be for good."


Not quite for good. Angel remembered a scant few weeks in China, days of desperate lovemaking and nightmare-riddled sleep, nights of deceit and trickery and lies. He remembered a hotel room with a warm, human Darla who had given him her life and her soul seconds before Drusilla took both from her. He remembered one night in his room at the Hyperion, broken glass on his floor and in his bed. Worst of all, he remembered her suffering in labor, bleeding and despairing, giving him their son as she gave herself up to die.

Not these memories, Angel reminded himself. He tried to pull his thoughts back to what would have to pass for the here and now. "Darla claimed that I had forgotten her," he said, hoping that Gunn and Fred and Cordy hadn't noticed his long silence. "She said wanted someone who would never forget her."

***


"I've been thinking," Darla said, stretching out her arms as if admiring them. "Spike's a hindrance, and nothing but. He's forever wrecking our plans, ruining our hiding places, the like."

"As he has been for almost twenty years," Angelus snapped. He was agitated now, as Darla had intended he should be. "I don't see what this painfully obvious fact has to do with your poor taste in infidelities."

"Let's replace him," she said. She gave Angelus her most stunning smile as she began tucking her hair up into a chignon. The posture of her arms, raised behind her head, lifted her breasts in a way she knew Angelus found very appealing -- not that she intended to fulfill his desire, even if she did succeed in reawakening it. "I'll even let you do the staking, as much as I'd enjoy it. But my treat would come later."

Angelus stopped pacing and stared at her, hard and cold. "Don't tell me you seriously intend to turn your latest infatuation."

"He's far superior to Spike in every respect. He'll make a good companion for us. For me, especially. While you're off amusing yourself with your elaborate games, he can amuse me here. And then we'll all be happy." Darla paused a moment, purely to heighten the impact of what she said next. "Besides, let's not forget -- you owe everything you are to my capacity for infatuation."

That reminder of his own origins had exactly the effect Darla had hoped to achieve. "I forbid it!" Angelus exploded.

"You forbid it? You dare forbid ME from doing anything?" Darla wanted to attack him. To rip his silken skin to shreds with her claws, drink his blood and laugh in his face. "And this is all the notice I can expect from you? I warn you now, Angelus -- if you think so little of me, others don't. And Spike isn't the only one who can be replaced."

***


Gunn said, "Wait. She was going to off this Spike guy? Just -- poof? Like that?"

"That was Darla's solution to anything who got in her way," Angel said. The sun was low now. Angel could feel its weight lifting from him, feel his body becoming stronger and more free. So close now. So close. "Humans, vampires, anyone. I don't think she really intended to get rid of Spike -- but she would have done it. So would I. And Spike would have staked both of us, if he'd thought he could get away with it. That's just how things were."

"You do realize just how dysfunctional all this was, right?" Gunn asked. "Compared to this, the guests on Springer look normal."

"How long now?" Fred asked quietly.

"Not long," Angel said. "I ran out just after sundown. The last things we said to each other --" How trivial it all seemed now. Such a stupid reason to go running off. And to this he owed everything he'd become, everything he'd done -- to this stupid fight. "She said I had nothing to give her anymore. And I told her I wasn't going to waste my gifts on an ungrateful bitch."

"You are SO lucky you're not dust," Cordelia said.

***


Darla followed him down the stairs, shouting at him all the while. "I don't need this from you, Angelus. I don't need ANYTHING from you. You have nothing to give me anymore."

Angelus whirled around as if to shout back at her. Then, to her surprise, he hesitated. Slowly, a catlike smile spread across his face. "I think perhaps I do." He continued down the stairs, and Darla stared after him for a moment before she followed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

Angelus called from the foyer. "I killed some intruders for you this morning, remember?"

"Oh, please," Darla scoffed. "As if you didn't enjoy that yourself."

"Killing them proves nothing," Angelus said. She could hear the sounds of rummaging, as if through a box or trunk. "But taking the time to find out what they brought with them..."

Unwillingly, Darla felt the tiniest bit curious. "They brought something interesting?"

"Many fine things," Angelus said soothingly. He came back into the room with his hands behind his back. "Now, you see, you or Spike -- or that fool of a mortal, whoever he may be -- you'd just kill them as quick as ever you could, get rid of the evidence even quicker. But I take my time. And even you'll admit that's where my patience brings rewards."

With that, Angelus brought his hand forward, and in it was --

"What is that?" Darla said.

"It's a bracelet."

"I can see that," she replied, not even bothering to sound angry. Cautiously, she brought her fingers toward its glittering surface. So many colors, and they floated above the material, instead of lying within it. A bracelet of a thousand jewels, and yet it was perfectly smooth. "What metal is this? I've never seen the like."

"Nor have I," Angelus said. "But it's beautiful, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes," she whispered.

***


"Then she slapped me," Angel said.

"You had it coming, buddy," Cordelia confirmed.

"I slapped her back," Angel said. "She told me it would be a cold day in hell before I slept with her again, and I told her that the thought of sleeping with her put me in mind of both hell and cold days --"

"Whoo, this got nasty," Gunn said. "Damn, cuz, no wonder you remember all this."

"This wasn't that unusual," Angel said. "I told you." But the memories seemed to be growing stronger by the moment. His past was his present again. Everything happening across the street -- it was as real to him as though it had happened yesterday. No, he reminded himself. It's happening now. "Then she started throwing things at me. Lamps, pictures, anything she could get her hands on."

"I guess the crashing starts anytime now," Fred said.

***


"I was saving this," Angelus said. His voice was low and smooth, and Darla lifted her eyes to his slowly, almost coquettishly. He smiled. "I wanted to give it to you on a special occasion."

Darla dimpled up at him. "Today's very special."

Angelus took her hand in his, and the touch of his skin against hers excited her against her will. He gently slipped the bracelet over her fingers, up her arm, caressing her as he did so. "Do you really believe I don't think of you?" he murmured. "I think of you all the time. Even as I plan my surprise for Lord Percy -- I'm also planning surprises for you."

"I like this kind of surprise," Darla said. She turned her arm this way and that, and the bracelet caught the light in a dizzy flush of colors. Darla laughed like a spoiled, greedy child, her anger forgotten.

***


"Just a minute or two more now," Angel warned. Already, almost no light was coming through the drape. He got to his knees and began brushing away the hay.

"We're keeping a lookout," Cordelia assured him from the front of the wagon. He could hear her alighting, the soft pat of her feet on the dirt road. "Just how does this big fight wrap up?"

"I told her I was tired of her behaving like a fishwife," Angel said. "She told me she was tired of me, period. I threw one of the lamps back at her, just as I felt the sun go down. Darla was screaming at me as I went out the door."

"Can't wait to hear her voice again," Gunn said dryly. "Okay, it's showtime."

***


Angelus pulled Darla close, and she didn't bother fighting him. She didn't want to fight him. Her sweet, darling boy. Always thinking of her. His games really weren't so bad -- not when they brought her dividends such as this. "Mmmm," she said, moving sinuously against him. "What a fine, generous man I have."

"And what a beautiful, desirous woman I have," Angelus said. He ran his tongue along the length of her throat, and she shivered. He whispered, "Wanting as much as she is wanted."

Darla slid her arms around his shoulders, which had the dual effect of drawing him nearer and bringing the strange, glittering bracelet back into her view. "Lord Dalton is a proper English gentleman," she murmured. "Surely he won't have dinner so early as this."

"Probably not," Angelus agreed. He began untying the sash of her robe. "He'll probably be an hour or so sending his invitation."

"Only an hour?" Darla pouted. "You with your preening. It would take your more than an hour to get dressed again." She stuck out her bottom lip, mock-sorrowful. "How disappointing."

"I'm a patient man," Angelus said. "But I can work quickly when the incentive is right." He tugged her robe away from her shoulders, leaving her naked to his gaze -- save for the bracelet. "Leave that on."

"As if I'd remove it," she said. "Even for you."

Angelus laughed and swung her up into his arms. "Let's go upstairs," he said. "And there we'll see just what you will and won't do for me."

"Yes," she said, nipping at his throat as he carried her up. "Oh, yes."

***


"The sun's going down," Angel said.

"We can actually see it this time," Cordelia said. "Okay, watching for Dru. Watching the door."

Angel lifted the corner of the wagon's drape, giving him his first direct look at the street. The familiarity of it hit him hard, but he focused on the door. "Any moment."

"She's gonna waylay him right here. Right here," Gunn said. "But we are waiting."

The sun was gone. He could feel the remnants of it against his skin, remember that it was just as it had felt when he stormed out that night. "It's happening," he said. "It's happening -- now."

Angel tensed. So did the others. The door didn't open.

Then the door didn't open.

Several minutes later, the door still hadn't opened.

"Uh, Angel?" Fred said. "When you say 'now,' when exactly do you mean?"

"This is it," Angel said, stunned. "This -- this should be it."

"It's okay," Cordelia said quietly. "It was a hundred and some odd years ago, Angel. You're off by a couple minutes. No big. It's gonna happen any second."

"I'm not off," Angel insisted. "I remember this. I know how it happened, except -- except it's not happening."

"Dru," Gunn said flatly. "Gal got in there and screwed this up already."

"She couldn't have," Angel said. "The back entrance was shaded from the sun first thing in the morning, but only then. There's no way she could have gotten in any later, and there's no way she could have gotten from where we were last night to here any faster."

"She could've used a blanket," Cordelia said. "You do all the time -- plenty of vamps have ways of moving around in the daytime."

Angel shook his head. "Drusilla's terrified of daylight. She doesn't understand that blankets will protect her. If she didn't get in first thing in the morning, she didn't get in at all."

"Are you sure?" Fred said. She clearly hoped Angel would answer quickly in the affirmative.

But the door stayed closed.

"I don't know," Angel said. "I don't know what Dru's done. I don't know where she is. All I know is --"

"-- you're not running out to get cursed," Cordelia said. "When I get my hands on Dru --"

***


Drusilla could hear the voices as though they were at a very great distance. They rang like bells, great clangy bells. Everything in her head was ringing, and Drusilla did not like it at all. She tried to put her fingers in her ears, but her arms wouldn't move. Naughty arms.

She felt fingers -- warm, human fingers, so very appetizing -- against her throat. The voice nearest to her spoke again, in that language she hadn't bothered to learn. She didn't have to know what the words meant, when she could see the thoughts behind them, flickering and spinning like a zoetrope machine.

She opened her eyes and sat up.

The priest -- nasty priest, wearing a nasty cross -- gave a cry of surprise and leaped back. He called out to another priest, who hurried over to join him at Drusilla's side.

The priests had found all the dead people in their church, and they thought she was a dead person too, and they were right. But she was the only dead person who would get up again.

The first priest clasped his hands together and, face alight with joy, began to babble loudly in that silly language. Drusilla ignored him as she attempted a mental feat she undertook only rarely, and never with much success. She tried to concentrate.

Her reflection had hit her on the head. Naughty reflection. Now Drusilla was wearing her reflection's dress, which was very strange -- the crimson cloth glittered as she moved, the stitches were so tiny they must have been sewn by fairies, the skirt was so short that her legs showed almost to the knees, and she hadn't a corset at all. "How very daring," she said to herself. "I'm a boHEEEMian." That was a funny word, and she said it to herself a few dozen times. If she was wearing her reflection's clothes, did that mean she was her reflection, now? Was her reflection, her?

The priests were still jabbering, their words clogging her ears and their thoughts muddling her brain. The crosses they wore made Drusilla's skin itch. So she grabbed their heads and smashed them together as hard as she could.

So much clanging! But the bells broke, and now they were all soft.

Drusilla thoughtfully lifted her bloody fingers to his mouth and began licking them, one by one. She felt pleased with herself, because now it was nice and quiet again, and she could think clearly, about important things.

She wanted her own pretty dress back. Then she could be herself again.

Pleased with this line of reasoning, Drusilla got up and headed purposefully out of the church.

***


"All right, all right!" Spike was laughing as he lifted the crowbar. "What is it I'm supposed to say again?"

"Batter up!" Dru cried. "You say batter up! Say it, say it, say it --"

"Batter up!" Spike yelled. Dru hefted the pitcher in her hands, then tossed it the length of the china shop. Spike swung the bar and smashed the pitcher to pieces.

"Run the bases!" Dru said. "You have to run the bases, if you're a good boy."

"Then I shouldn't run them at all," Spike pointed out. But he began running them anyway. The china shop's owner was first -- at any rate, what was left of him -- and the two patrons who'd entered that evening were second and third. Home was Spike's own coat, but Dru didn't intend to let him get there.

She ran to his coat, trying to reach out and touch him. "You're out!" she said, giggling. "You're out!"

"Am I?" Spike said. He was grinning insanely at her. "What are the rules of this game -- what is it called again?"

"Something-ball," Dru said. "There's a song all about it. Peanuts and crackerjack and huge leather mittens. They play it in America."

"You've never been to America, you silly bint," Spike said.

"I've been all sorts of places," Dru said. "You'll go to all sorts of places too. And we shan't have any fighting, and you'll make your hair all sorts of pretty colors, and we will have Daddy and Grandmother with us forever and ever."

Spike didn't seem as happy about that last part. "Oh, yeah, there's the icing on the cake."

"Won't be any nasty slayers," Dru said. She could see this better future now, full and shining, like the moon. The moon would be coming out soon, and she could dance for it in the streets, with Spike by her side. "Won't be any metal in your mind to take away your thirst. The dollies won't pack up their bags and hide."

"You said it. None of that," Spike said. He sounded a little tired. "We ought to be getting back, Dru. Angelus is going out, and you know how Darla gets when she's bored."

"No," Dru said. "We won't go back. I've come back, and now there's only going forward. Everything's all right again. Let's play something-ball some more."

"You're batty," Spike said. Dru drew her arms up and pretended to be a bat, flapping all around the china shop. She danced over the bodies of the people they'd killed, and Spike laughed and laughed. The boning of her corset cut into her skin, sweet familiar pain. "Ah, what the hell," Spike finally said. "Darla can amuse herself for one night."

Dru grabbed up the crowbar. "In the belfry," she sighed, smiling dreamily at him. "Batter up, bats up, bats, bats, bats."

Spike selected a heavy platter and began making moves like a discus thrower. "Play ball!"


***

The sun had gone down a full ten minutes ago, and the darkness on the street, unbroken by electric streetlights or car headlamps, was complete. But the windows of the villa glowed with a gentle golden tint, lit from within by oil lamps and candles. From time to time, Cordelia could see shapes moving behind the drawn blinds, evidence that the vampires were still inside the house.

"That's it," Angel said at last. "I'm going in there."

He jumped down from the cart, but before he could start crossing the street, Cordelia grabbed his arms; Gunn helped hold him back. "SO not a good idea," she said. "What are you planning on doing? Because somehow I don't think knocking on the door and explaining nicely to yourself that you have to come outside so you can begin a century of torment is gonna work."

"I'm going to make sure he gets cursed," Angel said, "even if it means I have to knock him -- me -- him out, tie him up and drag him to the gypsies myself." As he spoke, his arms and shoulders tensed, as if he were getting ready to do just that.

"Darla's in there, too," Gunn reminded him. "The way I remember it, she was pretty mean in a fight -- and I don't guess she got much softer in the last hundred years. You gonna take two to one odds?"

"Maybe five to one," Fred said. "Angelus and Darla being alone in the house is the way things should have been. But we know Drusilla's changed something already. Maybe she found herself and Spike and told them everything. Maybe they're all in there right now."

That, finally, seemed to get through to Angel. His shoulders slumped, and he shrugged off their restraining hands. "This is all wrong," he said.

"And we're gonna put it right," Cordelia told him firmly. For whatever reason, Angel seemed to have shaken free of the worst of his depression; she didn't intend to let him sink back into it. "So, the first thing we've gotta figure out is how to get your evil ol' self out of there. Ideas?"

Gunn turned to Angel. "Where were you headed when you stormed out? 'Cause I'm thinkin', maybe if we found another way to get you to go there --"

But Angel was shaking his head in frustration. "I don't remember. When I left, I was angry. I wasn't thinking about where I was going."

"Maybe you were going to that guy Dalton's place," Cordelia suggested.

"No," Angel said. "Fighting with Darla made me lose any interest I'd had in him. When I left the house, I just wanted to --" Angel hesitated, then finished reluctantly, "I just wanted to kill the first person I came across. Preferably as brutally as possible."

Gunn crossed his arms. "I don't guess you ever thought of working out your excess aggression some other way. You know, punching bag, quick game of squash, that kinda thing."

Angel gave him a look, then went on, "I wanted to kill someone, but I never got the opportunity. I got as far as the theatre when the gypsies jumped me --" He stopped, and suddenly his face cleared. "The theatre. It happened in an alleyway behind the theatre. They had garlic and crosses and holy water, and there were about fifty of them. They caught me off guard, overpowered
me and dragged me back to their camp. I remembered all that, but I'd forgotten it happened outside the theatre. How did I forget that?"

"Just a guess, but maybe being beaten to a pulp by a vengeful mob took your mind off the scenery for a second," Cordelia said. "We'll forgive you."

"The theatre," Fred said. "That's where we've got to get you -- I mean, him -- to."

"Heads up, guys," Gunn said suddenly. "Someone's coming."

A cloaked figure -- indistinct in the darkness but definitely female -- was walking up to the villa's front entrance. "Is that Drusilla?" Fred asked.

"And if it is, which one of them is it?" Cordelia added. She sighed, thinking that the one thing the world emphatically did not need was multiple Drusillas.

"That's not Dru," Angel said with certainty.

"Damn," Gunn said. "Then it must be the nineteenth-century equivalent of a pizza delivery guy. Except, if we don't do something, she's gonna be the hot snack. Come on."

Without waiting for a response, he headed off across the street. "Charles, wait!" Fred called after him.

It was too late. The cloaked woman had already put her hand on the chain which hung at the side of the villa's front door. Even from her position across the street, Cordelia could hear the faint clanging of bells inside the house.

"If they open the door and see Charles too --" Fred said.

She didn't have to finish the thought. Immediately Angel started running toward the villa; Fred and Cordy quickly followed him, stumbling as they went. Lucky dead guy with his night vision, Cordelia thought. He can just get around all the loose stones and -- eww -- horse poo on the roads. But, smelly-stuff danger to cloth shoes aside, she couldn't look down: she could only focus straight ahead, on the villa's front entrance, where Gunn stood in plain view.

She barely slowed down as they reached him. Somewhere inside the house, bells were still ringing loudly.

"-- You gotta get out of here," Gunn was saying to the cloaked woman.

"Who are you?" the woman gasped in an English accent. Not even a woman, Cordelia realized -- a girl, maybe even younger than she was herself.

No time for "Gilligan's Island," Cordelia decided. As they all reached the villa's steps, she said, "We're time travelers from the twenty first century. Inside this house, there are a couple of vampires who'll kill you if you're still here when the door opens. So now we've got the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 explanation out of the way, how about you just RUN?"

The look on the girl's face changed from surprise to fear. "Gypsies! You're gypsies!"

"No, we're not," Fred said. She glanced down at her borrowed clothes. "Although I see why you might think that."

The girl started to sob. Sinking down on to her knees, she clasped her hands together in supplication. "Please, don't kill me. I've nothing of value. I'm just a servant --"

"No one is gonna get killed," Gunn said. "Not if you listen to me --"

But the girl was beyond listening, Cordelia realized. She was shaking with terror, and her sobs were becoming louder and higher-pitched.

"Somebody better get her quiet --" Fred began.

Cordelia looked worriedly at the villa's entrance. Angelus and Darla were inside. Why hadn't the bell ringing brought them to the door? If the bell-ringing hadn't done it, surely the screaming would soon --

There was a thunk, and the servant girl's cries abruptly stopped. When Cordelia looked around, the girl was lying unconscious on the steps. Angel was standing over her, fist closed.

"You hit her!" Cordelia said to him accusingly.

Angel looked uncomfortable. "I had to stop her screaming, and gentle persuasion didn't seem like an option."

"Guys, maybe we should move," Fred said. "You know, before they decide to find out what all the noise out here is about."

That provoked an immediate response. Gunn and Angel picked up the girl's unconscious body between them, while Fred and Cordy found a path around the side of the house. It wasn't until they were safely out of sight of the door that Cordelia began to feel even a little safer.

Gunn and Angel laid the servant girl out on the cool ground, and Cordelia checked her over. A large bump was already swelling just above the girl's ear, and when she woke up she was going to have a particularly unattractive bruise. "You are SO lucky this isn't 2002," Cordelia said to Angel, "or you'd be looking at a personal injury suit for sure."

But Angel looked as if he had other things on his mind. "This isn't right. I have to think about this."

"About which part?" Gunn said. "The part where history's all screwed up, or the part where Dru couldn't have done it, except that she did, or the part where we don't know what the hell is going on?"

"The part where you saved her life," Angel said.

"That's not top on our list of worries," Gunn said. But then he hesitated, realizing what Angel meant a half-second before Cordelia did herself. She stared down at the unconscious girl in the street, feeling vaguely sick in her stomach.

"You weren't there when she arrived before," Cordelia whispered. "I mean, in the history that was supposed to happen. But Darla might have been."

"So Darla might have killed her," Fred said, catching on. "Which means --"

Fred didn't say it. Neither did anyone else. History was even more out of joint than it had been before.

Cordelia wondered what they could do, then realized the answer and rejected it in the same moment. "Angel, we can't," she said. "We can't kill her. I know it changes things even more, but -- we just can't."

"No, we can't," Angel agreed, to Cordelia's immense relief. But his face was still troubled as he said, "We don't know if we changed history here. So we also don't know if we'd change it by killing her. That means we leave her alone."

The night breeze moved the girl's cloak, and Cordelia saw there was an envelope tucked into it. She took it out and opened it; the card inside was cream-colored and inscribed with elegant, old-fashioned script. She read it out loud for the benefit of the others: "'Percival, Lord Dalton, requests the pleasure of your company for dinner at his home in Leiberstrasse, Sighisoara, on November 16, 1898, at nine o'clock.'"

"Give me that," Angel said. He took the card from her. "This is one invitation I won't be accepting." He ripped it to shreds, taking out some of that repressed violence on the paper; Cordelia watched him carefully, but Angel seemed reasonably controlled, at least for the moment.

Then a noise from somewhere above them made them all look up. A light shone out from a room on the villa's upper floor; the window was open, and the sounds coming from within were clearly audible in the quiet night.

"Oh," Darla's voice cried. "Oh, ohhh, ahhh, OHHH --"

Even in the darkness, Cordelia could see Fred turning a brilliant shade of pink. Cordelia herself was too annoyed to be embarrassed. She folded her arms and looked at Angel. "Now we know why no one's coming to the door. They're too busy just coming. I thought you said you FOUGHT with Darla?"

"Apparently we made up," Angel said uncomfortably.

His embarrassment deepened a second later, when another voice joined in with Darla's moans. This voice was lower, male, and instantly familiar to Cordelia. The last time she'd heard Angel make noises like THAT had been in the freaky haunted dressing room at the ballet.

Angel winced. Gunn covered his mouth with his hand, trying very hard not to laugh. Cordelia felt herself going from annoyed to furious. It was one thing to think about Angel having sex with Darla, but it was another, altogether more upsetting thing to think about Angel enjoying sex with Darla. Not to mention sounding just like he had that one time he'd made out with Cordelia at the ballet, even if neither of them had really been themselves at the time, because a girl liked to feel special, possessed or not. Cordelia was aware that this line of reasoning didn't make sense, and she also didn't care. She gave Angel her best subzero-arctic glare. He winced again.

Fred was staring up at the window too, but fortunately she was focusing on more important matters. "I think I know how we can get Angelus out of there."

"You mean, out of her," Gunn said, smirking. Cordelia and Angel both stared at him until he became serious. "Okay, what's the plan?"

Fred gazed down at the still-unconscious servant girl. Then she looked at the shredded invitation Angel still held in his hand. "Well, it's a little risky..."

***


"That's not risky," Charles said. There was no longer even the slightest hint of amusement in his voice. "Risky is not putting on a seatbelt. This is suicide."

Fred took a step back, which made it easier to look him in the eye. "No, it isn't. It's a calculated risk. Charles, we're running out of time. If Angelus doesn't get cursed tonight -- well, history might get changed so much we'd never be able to put it right." She took a breath, and tried to
sound reassuring as she said, "Besides, if this works, I won't even have to go into the house."

"IF it works," Charles said stonily. "What makes you think you won't end up as cocktails, just like she would have?"

He pointed down the street, where Cordelia was bundling the semi-conscious servant girl into a carriage while Angel paid the driver to take her back to her employer's house. From the gestures Angel was making to accompany his halting Romanian, Fred guessed he was saying the girl had been attacked by gypsies -- although what explanation he was offering for the theft of her servant's uniform was anyone's guess.

The uniform -- an over-starched white blouse and black pinafore -- wasn't nearly as warm as the gypsy clothing had been, and Fred pulled the cloak more tightly around herself as a chill wind rattled dry leaves along the street. "I've been with y'all for almost a year now, Charles. I may not be a champion like Angel or Cordy, or a really great fighter like you and -- like you. That doesn't mean I can't help. That girl didn't have any idea what she was getting into, but I do. I've learned a few things, you know -- battle tactics, and strategy, and --"

"You're not researching a term paper!" Charles snapped. "This is for real."

Fred blinked; she'd never heard him get angry like this before. Quietly, she said, "I know it is. That's why I'm doing it."

Charles began to pace up and down in front of her. "Why you? Why not Cordy?"

"Because I'm the right size to wear these clothes," Fred said, gesturing at the servant girl's uniform she now wore.

"That's a hell of a stupid reason for risking your life," Charles said angrily.

Fred started to feel herself getting angry in return. "Then here's a better reason -- this was my idea, and I can do it, and it's my risk to take." She stepped in front of him and stopped him from pacing by jabbing her finger in the center of his chest. "You take risks all the time."

"Like when?" Charles demanded.

"Like just now! You ran right up to the front of the house when you thought that girl was in danger. What if Angelus and Darla HAD answered the door?"

"That was different."

"How?"

"Because I can look after myself."

"So can I!"

Charles was staring at her, a peculiar kind of hurt in his eyes, but it was too late to take it back, even if she could have. "So can I. Charles, I spent so long in Pylea looking after myself, and it was so hard to keep doing it, all the time, I went kinda crazy trying. And then, when I got home, I guess I wanted -- I needed -- someone else to look after ME for a while. And you did. You make me feel safe, and that's the best thing you could've done for me, because now I can be brave again. But you have to let me be brave."

Charles looked at her, and for a long time his face barely changed. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft again, and sounded more like the Charles she knew. "I lost so many people. Lost my friends. Lost my sister. They were all brave, and it didn't save them. I'm not gonna lose you."

As he finished, Charles put his arms around her, hugging Fred to himself so fiercely that it was a little difficult to breathe. She didn't mind.

"That's okay," she told him. "Now I'm found, I'm not gonna get lost again."

As Angel approached them, Fred tried out her English accent. "Tell me, guv'nor, did they bleeve you about the gypsies?"

"Seems like it," Angel said. He raised an eyebrow. "That's a little heavy."

"I'm taking the accent from 'My Fair Lady,'" Fred said. "I guess maybe that's not 100% accurate."

Angel said, "Say as little as possible, and just try to not to sound like you come from Texas. You shouldn't be talking to him for long, so hopefully he won't notice much."

Charles was still glowering. "I just wish there was somethin' else we could do to make this safer apart from voice coaching."

"There might be," Angel said. "Do either of you have any string?"

***


The front door bell rang for the third time. Darla propped herself up on one elbow, so that the bed sheets slipped off her in a manner which Angelus might almost have thought was unintended, if he hadn't known her as well as he did. "Aren't you going to answer that?" she asked.

He was too comfortable to think about moving. "Most likely it's only Spike and Drusilla."

Darla sniffed her derision. "Hardly. He lacks the requisite gentility and she the soundness of mind to use a bell pull. Perhaps whomever called earlier, while we were..." She gave a half smile and dragged her finger down the center of his chest, "...otherwise occupied has returned. Perhaps it is your invitation to dine with the foolish Lord Dalton."

The bracelet on her slim wrist scintillated in a myriad of colors. Angelus caught hold of her hand and kissed her fingers lightly, one by one. "Should I answer it, then?"

"One should never disappoint the aristocracy," Darla murmured, her attention fixed on the bracelet she wore. She was captivated by it, Angelus saw, as in thrall to its beauty and novelty as she was to her desire for him. Pretty, foolish Darla. A vicious, magnificent creature -- but still,
in her cold heart, greedy and selfish and easy to manipulate, if you knew the tricks. After 150 years, Angelus was pretty sure he'd learned them all. "You should go," she said.

He savored the subtle pleasure of victory as he pulled on a robe and left her, and he was savoring it still when he opened the front door of the house on the cold night outside. "Yes?"

The girl staring up at him from the villa's steps was little more than a waif, nearly swamped by her servant's uniform and cloak. Sounding as if she had rehearsed the words by rote, she said, "Sir, my master, Lord Dalton, sent me. He wishes to invite you --"

Angelus smiled.

"-- to meet him outside the theatre this evening."

Angelus felt his good humor begin to sour. There was, of course, no reason why Lord Percy couldn't meet his end anywhere, but Angelus hadn't spent weeks enduring the man's tedious company for the privilege of drinking from him in some alleyway. No, the artistry of this kill depended on subverting His Lordship's insufferable sense of invulnerability, and that could only
be accomplished by demonstrating just how little security he enjoyed, even in his own home.

"Tell Lord Dalton," Angelus said, "I very much regret that I have another engagement this evening." He started to close the door.

"Wait!" the servant girl said. Her accent was strange -- as if she were aping a high-class tone, the exact opposite of Spike and his put-on Cockney. "You have to go!"

It was surprise, more than anything else, that stayed Angelus' hand on the door. He stared at the girl, undecided as to whether to be amused or offended. "Perhaps in my age my hearing is suffering -- did I just hear a maid give a gentleman an order?"

"No," the girl said, looking increasingly flustered. "I mean, yes. I mean -- Lord Dalton said to tell you -- that he has something to give you. A gift."

Now Angelus was curious. "What manner of gift?"

"Something you'll have for a very long time," the girl said. "It's -- priceless."

"Intriguing," Angelus said, looking at the girl closely for the first time. She was thin, but her complexion was pleasingly smooth and her eyes were bright. He wondered if he should present her to Darla, to occupy her while he went out. Softening his voice, he said to the girl, "You're shivering, my dear. The night is cold. Won't you step inside?"

The girl hesitated. "Oh -- oh no," she said at last. "It wouldn't be proper."

"Come, come," Angelus said briskly, smiling at her as kindly as he could manage. "We needn't tell Lord Dalton. And it is only a few minutes by a warm fire."

Her eyes were wide as she slowly stood more upright, straightening as she became more confident, her cloak slipping open slightly to reveal her throat -- and, hanging on a loop of twine, a small, crudely made cross.

Revulsion lanced through him, and Angelus fought to keep from wincing. He turned his head slightly to remove it from his sight. The cross could not have kept him from the girl if he were truly hungry, but he was not. Neither was Darla. And such a bony little thing was not worth even the minimal trouble.

"On second thought," Angelus said, "go back to your master. Tell him I will join him outside the theatre, and that I very much look forward to spending tonight in his delightful company."

At that, the girl looked relieved. "Yes, sir," she gasped and, before Angelus could dismiss her, turned and ran down the villa steps and across the street. Angelus watched her go, amused, before closing the door.

Upstairs, Darla was still lounging in their bed. "My beautiful boy," she said to Angelus as he returned, her earlier displeasure entirely forgotten. When he reached for his waistcoat and jacket instead of rejoining her, she merely pouted. "You're leaving me."

He leaned down and kissed her. "For the shortest of times."

"Are you dining with Lord Dalton?" Darla smiled languidly. "Or are you dining on Lord Dalton?"

"There's been a change of plan," Angelus told her. "But I can improvise. All the great artists do."

When he left her, she was twisting her arm in the glow of the oil lamp, marveling at the way the pattern on the bracelet changed in response to her movements.

Angelus smiled. "It's like I always say," he murmured to himself. "You can never go wrong with jewelry."


Chapter 5


Drusilla peered in through the window of the china shop. She could see Spike, running in a mad circle. And Drusilla could see her reflection, wearing the clothes that belonged to her. Her favorite skirt, the one with the tartan pattern Grandmother said made her head ache.

But right now it was Drusilla's head that hurt. All the dishes were flying about in the china shop, shattering into smithereens and creating a kind of blizzard of broken china. So much crashing. Drusilla only liked crashing when she made things crash. Then she liked it a lot.

Did her reflection's head hurt, too? She had the same head as Drusilla, after all. They both had long, dark hair in pretty curls, and they both could see forward and backwards all at the same time, and Spike didn't seem able to tell the difference between them at all.

Spike was laughing with her reflection now. Their mouths were all bloody.

"They've been having a lovely party," Drusilla said, frowning. "No invitations were sent, and I have no cake."

She wanted to ask the reflection why she'd swapped their clothes. She also wanted to ask Spike which of them he liked better -- or perhaps he liked them both. Drusilla took a moment to consider how that might be, and shivered in pleasure. She smiled. "A party, a party. Crackers for everyone."

But as Drusilla began skipping toward the china shop's door, she started seeing forwards again. She froze in her tracks and gripped the sides of her head. Too many things to see -- all locked up inside her head, and her head was full to bursting -- "Daddy?" she gasped.


Angelus was running. He was in the street behind the theatre, the place with all the lovely costumes and the people who sang for their suppers. But he wasn't alone, oh no, oh no. They were waiting for him. A mob with terrible fire and spells, and they were a net, and Angelus was a fish. She could see him, the only point of clarity in the maelstrom of her mind's eye. He was writhing and twitching as though he were caught on a hook.

They were going to do terrible things to him. Not stake him. Worse than staking him, so much worse --

"Daddy!" she cried out again. She forgot about her reflection, about the party, about everything except getting to Angelus' side.

Desperately, frantically, she started to run.

***


"You sure you're all right?" Spike said. "Looked like a nasty one, that."

"Verrrry nasty," Dru said, unclenching her fists from her hair. She'd still had shards of china in her hands when the vision overtook her, and now their broken edges had cut up her hands. Smiling, she held out her palms to Spike, who began doing something between kissing them and licking them. Either way, she liked it.

Between licks, Spike said, "What was that, anyway? You were shrieking about Angelus something awful. Don't tell me his little theatricale has gone wrong." He snickered. "Not that I'd mind pulling his irons out of the fire, watching him try to explain it all away."

"He's in the fire now," Dru said sadly. She knew not to go running off this time, but it was hard, so hard. Poor Daddy. "It will make him too warm to stay in the night with us. He will have to go into the day, no matter how much it burns."

"This is music to my ears," Spike said, moving on to her fingers. His tongue flickered over a knuckle.

"I went to him before," she said. "When there was only one of me. I went there, but I was too late, and there was ever so much crying. I followed him into the forest, and I was all alone, and no one was there to stop my tears." Dru looked down at Spike with vague displeasure. "You'd found yourself a traveling salesman, and you were playing with his wares."

"Sounds like fun," Spike said genially, not attempting to understand her. Then he straightened up and frowned. "When you say 'wares,' is that a euphemism?"

Dru was not thinking about the salesman. He had not happened. Other things would happen. Some of them were very painful to see, very frightening, but they would make her story come out right at last.

"I shan't be alone in the forest this time," Dru said.

***


Angelus walked easily through the streets on his way to the theatre. He paused from time to time, glancing over his shoulder, then shook his head and continued on his path.

A few moments after one backward glance, Cordelia, Fred, Gunn and Angel all stood up from behind the small cart they'd ducked behind. "That was close," Gunn said in a low voice. "It's like he knows he's being followed."

"He senses a vampire," Angel said.

"Where?" Cordelia said, looking around. Everyone stared at her, and she folded her arms across her chest. "I think we have more important things to do than make fun of me for saying that."

Fred turned to Angel. "If you're setting off his vampire radar or sonar or whatever it is, maybe you should stay further back and let us follow him."

"This is too important," Angel said, shaking his head. "I can't sit back and hope the gypsies get to perform the curse. I have to do something."

Cordelia took his arms in her hands. She could feel the tension coiled inside him still; he was desperate to strike, to act. "If the 'something' you do is tip Angelus off to a trap, then that's not so great, right? Just take it easy, cowboy."

"Cowboy," Angel repeated, looking skyward. She couldn't tell if she'd amused him or annoyed him. As long as it kept him from doing something stupid, Cordelia would take either option.

"All right," Gunn said. "Let's think strategically, okay? I may not know jack about Sighisoara or Romania or gypsies and all, but I know street fighting, and that's what's about to go down here."

Fred smiled up at Gunn, her face expressing both surprise and relief. Angel didn't say anything in agreement, but he was listening calmly, always a good sign. "Strategy," Cordelia said. "Strategy is good. Except -- can we maybe strategize and walk at the same time? He's getting ahead of us."

They started to follow the dark figure ahead of them again, keeping to the shadows. "He's going straight to the theatre," Gunn said.

"We think he is," Angel said. He was staring straight ahead at the past version of himself. Cordelia knew Angel's night vision was much better than a human's, but unless he had some kind of vampire fog-vision he'd never mentioned, she doubted he could see Angelus any more easily than she could. A light mist was forming, and to Cordelia, Angelus was a blurred and indistinct silhouette. "He could decide on an impulse kill at any moment," Angel said.

"He can't kill anybody else!" Cordelia whispered. "We've already monkeyed with history once. That's enough monkeying. No more monkey do we need."

"Not to devalue the lives of any innocent Romanian citizens," Fred said, "but shouldn't we be watching out for Drusilla?"

Cordelia groaned. "She's already done her damage."

"We don't know that," Angel said. "She might keep watch until she's sure the danger has passed, and it hasn't."

"So, two objectives," Gunn said. "Keep Angelus on his track, and don't let Drusilla or anybody else get too close. Anybody who ain't a gypsy with a chip on their shoulder, I mean."

Cordelia realized they were all already walking a little faster, purpose driving their steps. Angelus' outline was a little clearer. She gathered up the hem of her heavy skirt in her hand. "What positions do we take?"

Angel said, "I'll stay as far back as I can, in case I tip him off. Gunn, that leaves you."

"And me," Cordelia chimed in. When Angel stared at her, she said, "Trained fighter, remember? I know everything he knows, because you know everything he knows, and you taught me everything -- dammit, I can handle it."

"I don't like it," Angel said, but to her surprise he then continued, "but I don't like any of this. Fred, you and I will stay on the outskirts. We'll steer people away from him, and if we see Drusilla -- we stake her."

The hesitation in his voice was so slight that Cordelia was sure Fred and Gunn hadn't noticed. When she looked at Angel's face -- stern with resolve -- Cordelia wondered if she had imagined it. She said only, "Let's go."

***

Tendrils of mist curled along the street outside the theatre, blurring the edges of buildings and lending the night a mysterious, almost sinister edge. Angelus curled his lip in wry amusement at that thought -- after all, it wasn't the fog that made this particular part of Sighisoara more dangerous than anywhere else. It was him.

Nevertheless, something about the way the fog swirled and churned, distorting familiar shapes out of recognition, disquieted Angelus, and he wasn't sure why. The vague sense that another vampire was close wasn't new -- eastern Europe was crawling with the undead, most of them barely one step up from the ignorant, ill-bred peasants they had once been and now hunted. No, it was the odd sense of familiarity that bothered him -- not Darla or Drusilla or Spike, or even Penn, if by some unfortunate coincidence he had come to Romania too. This was something else, something that was at once more familiar and more alien than any of them.

Ridiculous thoughts. Darla had always said he was too inclined toward pensiveness, and for once Angelus was inclined to agree with her. He reached for his pocket watch, before remembering Drusilla's clock-destroying spree. Well, no matter -- he could tell the time well enough by the height of the silver-hazed moon above the mist. Lord Dalton was late and, unlike the fictional vampires that had caught his Lordship's imagination, Angelus had no particular love of lurking in cold, damp alleys. Not when a roaring fire, a comfortable bed and a pliant -- for the moment, at least -- woman waited for him back at the villa.

Tomorrow, Angelus would play the role of contrite friend again. Tomorrow he would earn his invitation into Lord Dalton's home. Tonight, he was simply bored and irritated, and in no mood for play-acting.

He started to walk away from the theatre.

***


The rain-barrel Cordelia was squeezing up against was almost as tall as she was and easily wide enough to conceal both herself and Gunn. It was also, unfortunately, damp and cold and more than a little slimy. While Gunn peered around the barrel's curved edge, Cordelia concentrated on not getting green gloop on her borrowed clothes.

"Fog's getting thicker," Gunn said. "I can't see nothin' out there."

"Do you see Drusilla?" Cordelia asked.

"No."

"Do you see the gypsies?"

"No."

Cordelia sighed. "Well, at least you can see Angelus."

"Actually," Gunn said after a second, "I can't."

"What?"

Cordelia pushed in next to Gunn and looked around the side of the rain-barrel with him. At once she saw what he had meant about the fog -- the light mist that had descended while they had been following Angelus to the theatre was now a soupy murk through which it was impossible to make out much of anything. "Where'd he go?"

"He's probably still there. We just can't see him."

Cordelia squinted, trying to make out definite forms in the haze. But every time she thought she saw a man's silhouette, the fog's twisting vapors revealed it to be something else -- a stack of crates or a sack hanging on a hook. She felt a stab of anxiety as she realized the street outside the theatre was empty. Angelus was gone.

"He's not there." She hit Gunn on the arm. "He was there a second ago! How'd we lose him?"

Gunn was looking up and down the street, his face serious. "Damn. He coulda gone either way. If we want to find him fast, we're gonna have to split up."

Cordelia stood up. "Fine. I'll go left, you go right." That made it sound more as if they had a plan, and less as if the plan they'd had was rapidly coming apart.

She started to leave, but Gunn's voice behind her made her look back. His face was grave as he said, "If you see him first, you stay back. Stay out of sight."

Cordelia nodded. "Sure."

"Cordy, I mean it," he said, more harshly. "Don't think just 'cause Angel taught you a few moves you can take him. And don't go thinkin' that 'cause you're buddies with our Angel you can appeal to this one's better nature. Because, until those gypsies get hold of him, he doesn't HAVE a better nature."

***


The fog made surveillance difficult, but it had certain advantages, Fred thought. Such as, the ease with which she was able to hide herself at the side of the street, keeping watch without fear of being seen. She was hiding near the theatre's side entrance; from there, she could hear muffled applause from the audience inside. The playbill above the door was in Romanian, so Fred wasn't certain what they were showing their appreciation for, but from the sounds of raucous laughter, she guessed it was a comedy.

She heard footsteps approaching before she saw their owner and tensed as she peered into the foggy darkness. But the shape that started to form out of the murk was familiar -- tall and broad-shouldered -- and Fred relaxed a little. Just Angel, back after making a sweep of the other side of the street. She stepped out to meet him.

She realized, a second too late, that this Angel had longer hair than he should have, and wore a finely tailored jacket instead of the peasant's wool coat the gypsies had provided for him. If she ran he would hear her, and any moment now he would see her --

Hands grabbed Fred from behind and pulled her back into the shadows. Instinctively, she started to struggle, before realizing that the hands holding on to her were pale and cool. She tried to stand still, but her heart was thudding in her chest and her breath seemed to explode out of her, air warmed in her lungs condensing into clouds that thickened the mist. Fred sucked in a lungful of air and held it as long as she could, until her heartbeat pounding in her ears threatened to deafen her. Next to her, Angel stood so rigidly that it was easy to imagine she was being held by a granite statue that someone had put clothes on.

Angelus' steps slowed as he passed them. He looked over his shoulder. But he walked on, and didn't stop.

Fred exhaled. Angel let go of her arm, and it was only when she tried to move it she realized he'd gripped her tightly enough to bruise her.

"He's going," she whispered. "Angel, he's not supposed to leave."

Angel nodded his agreement. "We have to stop him." He stepped out of the alcove and began to follow the already-indistinct form of Angelus. From inside the theatre, more laughter rang out, the happy sound a stark contrast to what has happening in the street outside. But it gave Fred an idea.

"Help me get this door open," she said, indicating the stage door. Angel hesitated, still staring after Angelus, but when Fred started to tug more urgently at the door, he came back to help her. "In about a minute, he's going to walk right past the theatre's main entrance."

Angel wrapped his hands around the stage door's handle and pulled hard at it. "How does that help us?"

There was a snap from within the door, and it swung open. The previously muted noises of laughter and applause were suddenly loud and clear. "I'm exercising my power of free speech," she said. "Turns out there is a good reason to do this, after all."

"Do what?" Angel was still confused, but Fred had no time to answer, so she just ducked inside.

She was standing at the side of the theatre. The first row of seats was in front of her, and steps to her left led up on to the stage. Opening the side door had allowed a blast of chill air into the warm theatre, and one of the actors standing at the side of the stage looked down at her in irritation. But his costume consisted of a bright red turban, a sleeveless shirt that opened all the way to his navel and a pair of gold and blue pantaloons, and so it was hard to take his annoyance very seriously.

Fred ran up the steps and on to the stage, almost knocking over an actress wearing a belly-dancer's costume on the way. The actor dressed as a sultan who was currently standing in the middle of the stage giving a speech broke off when Fred barged in front of him, launching instead into a stream of angry Romanian that was aimed at her. Fred was glad she couldn't understand what he was saying.

The audience, meanwhile, laughed louder. They thought this was part of the performance.

"Everybody has to get out," Fred shouted. "There's a fire."

More laughter and applause.

Fred cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted again, her voice cutting through the noise. "I said, there's a FIRE!"

Some people were still laughing, but others had stopped and now looked uncertain. Fred didn't know how many of the theatre audience understood English, but apparently her urgent tone and frantic hand-waving was getting the message across. "Fire!" she yelled again.

At the back of the theatre, she heard a voice shout something which she guessed was the Romanian translation of what she'd just said. That did it. Within seconds, people were clambering out of their seats and running toward the theatre exit. Some pushed past Fred and fled out of the stage door, but that was okay. Most would run out of the main entrance into the narrow street -- and that was a lot of people, because whatever they'd come to see had been playing to a full house. Until the crowds cleared, it wouldn't be possible to move in the street outside. Fred hoped that delaying Angelus' escape by five or ten minutes would be long enough.

On the other hand, it was possible that neither they nor the gypsies would be able to find him in the crowd. And that wouldn't be good.

The theatre was empty. Fred followed the last of the audience out through the stage door, and back on to the street where Angel was waiting.

But he wasn't. When she got outside, Angel had gone.

***


Angelus was walking past the theatre's doors when they burst open, engulfing him in a stream of terrified humanity. For a second, he was too surprised to do anything except stay where he was while the crowd surged out of the building. They reeked of fear, and he could hear shouts of, "Fire!" in English, Romanian and a few other languages, too, but he quickly realized there was no smell of smoke in the air. A hoax, then.

Usually, Angelus relished this kind of hysterical mass panic; on many occasions, he'd been its instigator. Tonight it merely exasperated him, and as he tried to fight his way against the flow of the fleeing crowds, he seriously considered snapping a few necks to make his progress easier. As tempting as the idea was, he rejected it. Only the desperate or the inexperienced killed in public, and Angelus was neither.

Instead, he allowed himself to be carried along with the stampede until an opportunity to extricate himself presented itself. As the throng pushed him by the entrance to an alleyway at the side of the theatre, Angelus slipped into it. He quickly realized why none of the crowd followed him -- the alley was a dead end, and if the theatre had been burning down, it would have trapped anyone who tried to shelter in it. But the theatre wasn't on fire, and Angelus only sought a place to wait while the fleeing hordes dispersed.

He was pleasantly surprised, then, when someone else had the same idea. As Angelus was straightening his cravat and brushing off his jacket, a girl stumbled out of the mob and into the alleyway. She couldn't have been a member of the fleeing audience, he realized immediately -- she was wearing the rough, coarse clothes of a peasant rather than the theatergoers' finery. Her headscarf had fallen down over her eyes, blinding her, and she fumbled as she tried to adjust it, before giving up and taking it off. The hair underneath had been sliced short and was a deep blonde color, unflattering to her complexion. That was a pity, Angelus thought, because in all other respects she was a comely lass. Very comely, in fact.

He smiled to himself. A pretty girl, a secluded alleyway and the noise of a crowd to mask the screams. Perhaps tonight would not be entirely wasted, after all.

The girl knotted her headscarf and pulled it back into place. To herself, in English, she said, "Okay, Cor. Time to get back out there."

"There is no hurry," Angelus said pleasantly. "Tarry a while, here with me."

The girl started and looked round, seeing him for the first time. Her eyes widened.


"Oh, hell," she said.

***


Fred had given up trying to go in any particular direction -- it was all she could do to stay on her feet, and if she fell she was sure she'd be trampled in seconds. Swept along by the tide of people, she clutched at coat-tails and cloaks, anything to keep herself upright. With relief, she saw that the street opened up ahead of her into a large, paved square -- if she could make it that far, she'd be okay.

She couldn't. The shoes she'd borrowed along with the maid's uniform -- heavy-soled and clumsy -- were too large on her, and she tripped. Fred gasped as she started to lose her balance, putting her arms out in front of herself as she fell. For an instant, she felt nothing except blind terror -- this is it, I'm going to die, I'm really going to die -- then it passed, replaced by a kind of obstinate determination. She'd survived Pylea. She'd staked vampires. Those were difficult things. Right now, all she had to do to survive was something easier. She had to get up. GET UP.

She levered herself up on to her hands and knees, and from that position somehow regained her footing. A moment later, the force of the crowd pushed her out into the paved square, like a cork popping out of a bottle. Fred was hurled forward, unable to stop until she collided head-on with some unfortunate person who was trying to go in the opposite direction.

"Sorry --"

"Fred!" It was Charles. Fred wanted to weep with relief; instead she just grabbed him. He hugged her back, then pulled her to one side, out of the way of the thinning crowd. "Are you okay? What the hell's happening? Where'd all these people come from?"

"Theatre," Fred gasped. "Fire --"

"The theatre's on fire?"

"No." Fred was slowly catching her breath. "But the people inside thought it was, and they panicked."

"That's all we needed," Charles said. "Some idiot startin' a riot for fun."

"The idiot was me."

"Oh." Charles paused for the briefest of seconds before saying positively, "Good thinkin'."

"No, it wasn't!" Fred cried. "I mean, I thought it was. Angelus was leaving, and we just needed to hold him up for a couple of minutes, but now we've lost him, and I don't know where Angel is either --"

"Whoah, backtrack," Charles said, holding up one hand. "You saw Angelus? Where?"

Fred pointed back down the street. "Right outside the theatre."

Charles looked grim. "Hell. That's the way Cordy went --"

The clatter of hooves and wooden wheels on cobblestones interrupted him. Fred looked around, and saw a caravan almost identical to the one the gypsies had given them racing up. After a second, she realized that the similarity was no coincidence -- this wagon was packed with grim-faced, armed gypsies, and more of them clung to its sides.

"Hooray for the cavalry," Charles said in a low voice.

The gypsy driving the caravan was the tall, gray-bearded man who Fred remembered was Gia's father. He tugged on the reins, guiding the horses toward Fred and Charles, but even when he was close enough to be heard above the noise of the crowd, he didn't speak to them. Instead he simply eyed Fred and Charles with an interrogatory, half-hostile stare.

Charles pointed back along the street. "He went thataway."

The gypsy nodded, and cracked the reins. Leather snapped against the horse's flank, and the caravan charged up the street Fred had just left, forcing a passage through the thinning crowd.

Charles watched the gypsies go, looking pleased with himself. "I always wanted to say that."

***


Be careful what you go looking for, Cordelia thought. You just might find it.

That wasn't exactly how the saying went, but it was close enough. She'd gone looking for Angelus, and she'd found him. But this part of finding him -- the part where he found her, too -- that hadn't been in the plan.

He sauntered toward her, smiling slightly, and she was amazed not at how much like Angel he was, but how different. Sure, the old-fashioned clothes and even stupider hair made for a superficial distinction, but it was more than that. It was in his eyes, she realized. She'd gotten used to seeing warmth and affection in those eyes, but Angelus' gaze was coldly appraising. Acquisitive. There was nothing of Angel in the creature in front of her. Cordelia had known that, but she hadn't truly felt it until now.

"Come, now," he said. "The crowds have frightened you. Take my hand. It will give you courage."

He held out his hand to her. Instinctively, Cordelia backed away. She was closer to the entrance of the alleyway than he was, so running back out into the street was still an option. It probably wouldn't do her much good, though -- if he decided to chase her, her heavy skirt and cloth shoes meant she didn't stand a chance of outrunning him. Cordelia had never wanted anything quite as much as she now wanted a pair of Nikes and a fifty-yard head start.

Angelus' hand was still extended toward her, but the look on his face was growing noticeably less kindly. Too much effort to keep up the act, Cordelia figured. Still, she had to do something -- she couldn't stand here staring at him forever --

She looked at his outstretched hand, and suddenly saw Angel standing in exactly the same position on the mat in the training room in the Hyperion's basement. A few seconds later, he'd been flat on his back, and Cordelia had been jubilant because the judo move she didn't think she could possibly pull off had worked.

Confidence surged through her. She could throw him. She'd thrown Angel --

(-- just once and he'd let her do it --)

-- and she could do it again. She reached out to take his hand, trying to adjust her stance the way Angel had shown her. She'd only get one shot at this.

She gripped his hand, tensed all her muscles -- and pulled Angelus forward.

In the judo move, what should have happened next was that the opponent, in this case Angelus, went flying head over heels. What actually happened was that Angelus stumbled a little, then glared at her. Oh, shit, Cordelia thought.

She was still trying to decide whether running or fighting was the marginally less suicidal plan, when a brick plunged through the layers of mist and landed with comical accuracy on Angelus' head.

He slumped onto the ground, and the hand Cordelia was still holding went limp. A dark shadow dropped down through the fog, landing with a soft thud just behind Angelus' still form. Cordelia let Angelus' hand fall and looked at Angel. "Where did you come from?"

"The roof," Angel said, pointing upward. Then he looked down at his unconscious past self. "You shouldn't have tried to throw him. That would never have worked."

Cordelia put her hands on her hips. "Hey, I could've done it. I just -- didn't."

"Your stance was all wrong," Angel said. "Your feet aren't far enough apart."

"How can you even tell where my feet are under this tent?" Cordelia asked, holding up a handful of skirt for emphasis. "Okay, sure, something was off, and we need to practice --" On the ground between them, Angelus gave a low moan as he started to come round. "You really don't stay out for long, do you? I think I'm gonna have to clock you again."

"Be my guest."

Cordelia picked up the brick, but before she could strike, a caravan pulled up at the alley's entrance. Quietly, Angel said, "They're here. Come on."

Taking Cordelia's hand, he pulled her to the edge of the alley, leaving Angelus still woozily trying to sit up. Before he could, a gang of gypsy men were leaping down from the sides and back of the caravan and crowding into the alleyway. As far as Cordelia could tell, every man in the camp who could lift a weapon had come, from teenagers to white-bearded grandfathers. They swarmed around Angelus, who was now sufficiently recovered to offer some resistance, but he was disoriented and hugely outnumbered. Within seconds, he was bound tightly.

Cordelia expected them to stop at that, to bundle their prisoner into the back of the wagon and go. But overpowering Angelus only seemed to fuel the gypsies' anger. They kicked and stabbed and punched the hunched figure on the ground with a collective fury more extreme than anything Cordelia had ever seen before, and in their faces she saw something that was not unlike Angelus' inhumanity.

Then, as if on some signal, the attack was over. Four of the burliest gypsies lifted Angelus -- who, incredibly, was somehow still able to struggle -- and threw him into the cart. The wagon pulled away, and she and Angel were alone in the alleyway. Cordelia was surprised to find she was shaking.

She heard the clatter of footsteps, and Gunn, swiftly followed by Fred, appeared at the top of the alley. "The gypsies --" Fred gasped.

"They were here," Angel said. "They have him."

Gunn grinned, and punched the air. "All right! We fixed it."

We fixed it, Cordelia thought. She breathed out in relief.

Behind her, Angel said, "Not yet. We can't be certain until they perform the curse. Tonight isn't over yet."

Relief drained away as Cordelia realized Angel was right. Drusilla could still interfere; the night wasn't over. Not by a long shot.

"So what do we do now?" Gunn asked. "Follow them?"

"That's exactly what we do," Angel said. "Spread out. Cover as much ground as you can. It's just another few minutes -- but if Dru can still stop us, she will."

***

Cordelia could feel the dirt road turning into scrubby grass beneath the soles of her cloth shoes. She was out of breath and exhausted; apparently her demon powers didn't include long-distance running. She held one hand to her chest and desperately sucked in air. Angel and Gunn and Fred had separated, like Angel had said; she knew they weren't far away, but it didn't change the fact that she felt isolated and on edge, alone in the dark.

She hadn't lost sight of the gypsy caravan. The mob was beating the sides of the wagon with sticks and shovels, shouting at the bound figure inside. Cordelia didn't understand one word of what they were saying, but the tone of the chorus was clear. Fury. Pain. Contempt.

Against all logic, she felt herself becoming angry at the gypsies. Cordelia bit down on her lip and forced herself to remember that the creature in that wagon was only a part of the Angel she knew. "It's okay," she whispered, not knowing if she spoke to the Angel of the future, the Angel of the present, herself or all three. "It's supposed to happen like this."

"'Tisn't."

Cordelia whirled around and saw Drusilla, crouched low to the ground, her curved fingers digging into the earth like a burrowing beast. Her hair was wild, and blood flecked her dress, her hands and her face.

The dress -- pencil straps and filmy red silk -- was from Saks. Cordelia had longed for it to go on sale, but it never had; it had been galling to see it a faded, soiled wreck on Drusilla at the museum. Now it was bloodied and torn, spoiled utterly by the vampire's casual destructiveness. Ruined in the same way she wanted to ruin Angel's future. All their futures.

"Drusilla," Cordelia said, taking her stake from her belt and brandishing it. "So lucky I ran into you."

"You know my name," Drusilla said wonderingly. "I don't know yours. I saw you with your funny hair, but I didn't see your name."

"Funny hair? Excuse me, but I have just one word for you: Volumizer. Try it." Cordelia snapped at her, but the anger was all for her words. She kept her body still and her eyes focused on Drusilla. Funny -- she'd never thought about it, but Drusilla probably didn't know her name. Not that it mattered.

"Voll. You. Miser." Drusilla straightened up and smiled. Her teeth were unexpectedly bright in the darkness, and Cordelia realized she was staring. Why shouldn't she stare? Dru was definitely stare-worthy.

Behind them, the gypsies continued to shout.

"You've a pain in your belly," Drusilla said.

"I'm fine," Cordelia said automatically. She wanted to stop staring at Drusilla's mouth, but somehow couldn't look away.

"No, no, no," Drusilla said. "The building has a skeleton, with sharp metal bones. You were falling and falling and falling, and the bones bit into you. I look inside you and I see the bite."

Cordelia gasped in agony as pain cut through her, pain so complete and overwhelming that she thought she would black out. A shaft of heat slashed her clear through -- from her back through her ribs --

She fumbled at her shirt, and her fingers hit metal. Hot blood flowed over her skin. Cordelia looked down, horrified, to see the rebar protruding from her torso. "No --" she choked out.

"Oh, yes," Drusilla said. Her voice grew nearer, but Cordelia could only stare down at the metal bar that had impaled her. "The bite is real. The pain is real. It twists you all up inside, and all that lovely blood's been spilled."

"Help -- help me --" Cordelia didn't know who she was speaking to anymore. She didn't know where she was, who she was. She could only concentrate on the metal pinning her to the ground. Dizziness washed over her, and she could feel herself swaying. Or was that the ground moving? Not an earthquake -- not another earthquake.

"Let me help you," said a voice she knew. Cordelia opened her eyes and saw Xander standing next to her. He looked horrified and concerned and guilty. He had been kissing Willow, and oh, God, Cordelia was going to kill him the very second she was sure she wasn't going to die. Xander said, "I can get this out of you. Then you'll feel better."

Xander would help her. He would, she knew he would, he might kiss Willow, but that didn't mean he didn't care, that he wouldn't help. Cordelia whispered, "Get it out of me."

"I need your stake," Xander said.

Stake. Stake. She didn't have a stake. She had been in the van with Oz -- but no, there was a stake in her hand, and so she must have had one --

Xander said, "Hurry. We'll get out of here. Just you and me."

Oh, God, it hurt so bad. She'd do anything to make it stop hurting. But Cordelia still gasped, "And Willow? And -- and Oz?"

"We don't need them," Xander said.

Xander had said that. Xander would never say that. Cordelia stared at him. With all the strength she had left, she slapped him hard across the face.

He shrieked -- and in that moment, his voice and face turned back into Drusilla's. The pain lifted from Cordelia instantly; the bar and the accompanying agony vanished so quickly that she stumbled, thrown off balance by nothing more than the change in sensation. "You hypnotized me!" Cordelia cried.

"Memories are the best dollies of all," Drusilla said, and she lunged for Cordelia.

It was now, when Cordelia didn't have time to think about it, that Angel's training paid off. She forgot all about complicated judo moves she'd tried once, and instead ducked and spun in the way Angel had made her practice until she was sick of it, and then made her practice some more. By now the response was instinctive, and suddenly Cordelia found she was in fighting stance, her stake raised and ready.

Drusilla clawed at Cordy's face. Cordelia blocked the blow with her free arm, spun and kicked hard. It caught Drusilla, who had apparently not been expecting any kind of resistance, off guard and off balance. She stumbled backward. Now Cordelia was on the offensive.

"What's this? Eager, eager." Drusilla stared at Cordelia. "I see those who fight us in my dreams. I haven't seen you in my dreams."

"You want to dream? Fine. Goodnight, Dru."

Cordelia lashed out with the stake again; Drusilla blocked her, but clumsily -- so clumsily, for a split second she left her chest exposed to attack. Sensing that she'd never get a better opportunity, Cordelia lunged forward and plunged her stake deep into the hollow between Drusilla's ribs.

Drusilla cried out, not in pain or fury, but in what sounded like the disappointment of a child. She whispered, "You broke it. You broke it. You br--"

She crumbled into dust.

Cordelia stared at the heap of ashes on the grass. "I staked Drusilla," she said. It didn't work. She still didn't believe it. She tried saying it a little louder. "I staked Drusilla." Staring at the stake in her hand, Cordelia felt herself begin to laugh shakily. "Oh, my God, I am such a bad-ass." She put one hand out to balance herself on a nearby tree and used the other to feel her abdomen again. The hard, ridged scar near her ribs still tingled faintly. For a moment, Cordelia did nothing but try and convince herself that her surroundings were real. The vampire-dust still swirling in the breeze was real. The scent of the evergreens was real. The faint hooting of an owl was -- not only real, but the only sound she could hear.

"Angel?" Cordelia whirled around. No gypsies. The caravan Angelus had been in was sitting there abandoned -- one of its sides had obviously been bashed through. From the inside.

He's out, she realized. He's loose. While Drusilla had me in flashback mode, Angelus got away from them. The gypsies are after him, and if they can't curse him, they'll just try to kill him.

Far away, she heard a man's shout. Was that Angel's voice?

"Angel!" She began running toward the sound, not thinking of anything besides reaching him. Her feet pounded against the earth, stumbled over tree roots. Branches scraped her legs and her shoulders. Cordelia tried to focus, though it was hard in such total darkness. No, not total -- far ahead, she thought she could see torchlight. "Angel, I'm coming --"

A hand snapped out and grabbed her arm, and she screamed until another hand covered her mouth. One of the gypsies -- the young one with the thick accent, hissed at her, "Shhh, foolish girl! It is being done."

"WHAT is being done?" Cordelia pulled her arm from his grasp and brandished her stake. "Be specific."

"The curse," he said. "It is the hour of our vengeance."

She stared at him, wondering whether or not to believe him. At last she said, "I'm gonna go see for myself." When he opened his mouth to object, she snarled, "Do NOT try to stop me."

He said only, "When this is over, leave these woods. Leave this time. Tonight we will have our vengeance -- and our purpose in leaving you alive ends."

"Yeah, I'm so tempted to hang around," she muttered as she turned away.

Slowly, quietly, she picked her way through the forest undergrowth. If other gypsies lurked nearby, they said nothing to alert her to their presence or to prevent her from getting closer. The torchlight grew brighter and brighter; Cordelia could hear someone speaking now, one of the gypsies -- but she couldn't quite make out the words.

The gypsy stopped speaking. She heard rustling nearby, as if other figures were moving away. They were done watching. The curse was over.

She crept forward toward the edge of a small clearing. A few torches still illuminated the area, but only she could only see one figure: Angel, bent low on the ground, doubled over in what looked like physical agony. "No," she heard him whisper. "No, it cannot be -- "

Cordelia leaned against a tree-trunk, weak with exhaustion and an emotion she couldn't quite name. That was Angel. Her Angel. It was like he had just been born.

His hair was long. His hands were clenched in fists. She could hear him crying. Cordelia had never seen Angel cry before. The sound of it tore at her, brought tears to her own eyes.

She felt Angel's hands against her shoulders, and she didn't have to turn around to see his face. She leaned back into his half-embrace, comforting the Angel she could reach in the place of the Angel she couldn't. Together, they watched his past self crumble under a swelling, unendurable weight of guilt and self-knowledge.

After a few long minutes, Angel pulled her back gently, urging her away from the crumpled figure on the ground. Cordelia didn't budge. She whispered, "I can't leave him there."

Angel almost smiled. "You have to leave him there," he replied. "He has to be there before I can be here."

Cordelia took a deep breath, nodded and sighed. Somehow she forced herself to walk away with Angel and never once look back.

***


Dru wandered along the street, weaving a random path through the crowd. Spike continued on his way, slightly ahead of her, laughing at the mayhem. There were lots of people shouting and shrieking in words Dru didn't know, but she could see the high, leaping flames that were only in their minds. She didn't remember this part, and that confused her, but so many things confused her that it scarcely seemed worth the trouble to worry about this one.

"The moon is high," she said. "It's time, time, time."

Spike heard her voice even amid the chaos. "Time for what, my venomous black blossom?"

"Crying over spilt milk. Can't pour it back again." Then she laughed in jubilation. "But I did. I poured the milk back up into the glass, didn't I? Didn't I, Spike?"

"You bet," Spike said. He wasn't really listening. Nobody listened to her for very long. Dru didn't mind that. When nobody listened to you, you could scream ever so loud, so loud you broke all the mirrors.

"I found a book," she said. "Many men tried to read it, and they couldn't. They said it didn't make any sense. But they said I didn't make any sense, either. And so I tried to read it, and when I did, the letters untwisted themselves and did a lovely dance on the page. They danced and danced until I knew all the steps. They sang to me. They were crazed, you see? Just like me."

Spike fell back a couple of steps and slid his arm around her waist. "You wear lunacy the way lesser women wear satin," he purred. "It clings to you, Drusilla. It shines in the night, and it makes you beautiful."

"I know," she said. This was Spike as he should be. This was the world as it should be. Except, of course, for just one thing. "Daddy's very sad right now."

"I'm deeply concerned," Spike said, nibbling at her neck. Then he scowled. "You don't want to go to him tonight, do you?"

"No," she said. "That's not what I went backwards to do, oh no. I did that once, and it wasn't any good at all. Ashes, ashes, we all fell down. Do you think the moon knows my name?"

"Yours and no other." Spike was already threading his way among the crowds again, leading her as they went. "Out of an entirely bent curiosity -- what did you 'go backwards' to do?"

Dru laughed and laughed, spinning around in the center of the thronging masses. "You'll see, you'll see," she said. "Save it for afters."

***


"You staked Drusilla," Angel said again. He still couldn't quite believe it.

"Yup," Cordelia confirmed. She had her arm looped through his, ostensibly for support in case she tripped on the rough, potholed dirt track that led back to the caves as they made their way through the pre-dawn murk. She hadn't so much as stumbled once throughout the journey, and Angel doubted she really needed his guidance. But he still let her hold on to his arm. "She swiped me with her nails, tried to scratch my face off --"

Gunn, who was walking a little way ahead, holding hands with Fred, looked back at them. "Hey, how about sticking to the facts? One tiny little nick on your cheek does NOT equate to your face bein' scratched off."

"The quote was, she TRIED to scratch my face off." Cordy was trying to sound annoyed, but with little success. "She didn't. I staked her first. I -- staked -- Drusilla."

Angel could not share in Cordelia's giddy excitement about Dru's end -- he remembered her first death too well for that. Drusilla had been his creation, his responsibility and, in her own, twisted way, a kind of innocent. Angel had always expected to feel both guilt and grief when this day came, and yet he wasn't feeling that at all.

Cordelia giggled and said it a few more times, with different emphasis each time. "I STAKED Drusilla. I staked DRUSILLA."

Gunn groaned. "Enough already! You'd think no one ever dusted a vamp before."

"He doesn't get it," Cordelia said. She squeezed Angel's arm. "You get it, right?"

"I get it," Angel said quietly. He got something, although he wasn't sure it was the same thing Cordelia meant. Angel got that the future he'd thought held nothing for him without his son in it was back on track, and that he felt something about that he hadn't expected to. It wasn't happiness -- never that, not now -- but it was a better emotion than he'd ever thought he'd feel again. Gratitude, perhaps.

It wasn't until they left the track and started to climb uphill toward the cave's entrance that Cordelia let go of Angel. "You know what?" she said. "When we get home, I think I'm gonna have to break a longstanding resolution and call Xander Harris. I want to hear what he has to say when I tell him Dru's dust and I did it."

"When I get home," Gunn said, "I'm gonna eat microwaved popcorn and toasted Pop Tarts and watch TV. No -- first I'm gonna drive my truck around for a while. Or maybe I'll listen to a CD --" Suddenly he broke off and looked at Fred. "You've still got that magic ring thing that's going to get us home, right?"

"Sure I do," Fred said. "When I changed into the clothes the gypsies gave us, I made sure I took it out of the pocket of my jeans." She was silent for a moment. Then, in a very quiet voice, she said, "Of course, then I switched clothes with the maid."

They all stopped walking and stared at Fred. Cordelia clutched Angel's arm again, and this time he thought perhaps she did need his support, a little. Gunn looked most horrified of all.

Then Fred held up her left hand, the ring shining on her finger. "I'm only foolin' y'all. You think I'd lose our way home?"

"That," Gunn said as he stooped to enter the cave, "was NOT funny. Speakin' of clothes -- who's got our regular gear?"

"I do," Fred said, holding up a bundle of pants and T-shirts secured with a belt. She pulled at the maid's uniform she was still wearing. "Can't say I'll miss nineteenth century clothing."

"We can only pray burlap isn't big on the catwalks next season," Cordelia said. "Or ever." She followed Fred and Gunn into the cave.

Before he went inside, Angel looked back one last time, at the dark and deceptively tranquil countryside. It was peaceful, even beautiful, and Angel decided that if it was another century before he saw Romania again, it'd be too soon.

By the time Angel had caught up with the others, they had changed back into their own clothes and were gathered underneath the portal in the cave's roof. It was still, he noted with relief, open and as active as it had been when they'd come through it. The only question that remained now was --

"How does this thing work, again?" Cordy asked.

"I don't know," Fred said. She took the ring off her finger and started to raise it over her head, toward the portal's shining, crawling surface. "But I think proximity may be the trigger --"

As she spoke, the surface of the portal bulged downward, as if drawn by some force exerted on it by the ring. Fred inhaled sharply, and when Angel looked down at her feet, he saw only her toes were in contact with the cave floor. "Everyone," he said, "take hold of her."

Gunn put his arms around Fred's waist, while Cordelia grabbed her raised arm and Angel her free hand. Now he was in physical contact with Fred, Angel could feel the raw power of magic coursing through her. He looked up just as the ring touched the portal --

The ride was no less wild this time. If anything, plummeting upward -- which was the best description Angel could think of for the sensation -- was an even more disorienting experience.

Then it was over, and he was back inside the black marble pyramid at the museum, crammed into the dark, confined space with three other bodies. At least, Angel hoped there were three other bodies. "Is everyone here?"

"I'm here," Gunn said. "And I got hold of someone's arm."

"My arm," Fred said. "I'm okay. Or I will be when my head stops rotating."

"I'm here," Cordy's voice said, "but I think my stomach is still in the 1970s."

Angel put his shoulder against the pyramid's door and pushed. "Let's go home."

They all stumbled out into the museum, which was only slightly less dark than the interior of the pyramid. Angel smelled the familiar smells of a museum -- mustiness and dust, industrial cleaning products and the faint remnants of thousands of people -- and something else too, something less familiar --

"Y'all never asked me what the first thing I'm going to do is," Fred said as they began making their way through the exhibits.

Gunn ducked underneath the extended arm of a Grecian goddess. "I'll bite. What's that?"

"Two words," Fred said dreamily. "Indoor bathrooms."

"Oh, GOD, yes," Cordelia said. "Until yesterday, I never fully appreciated the miracle that is Charmin."

Smoke. The unfamiliar smell was smoke. Angel frowned. Was there a fire in the museum? "I think we should get outside."

"Let's please not shimmy through the air vents again, all right?" Gunn said. "We can hop on out the front. If the security alarm goes off, what the hell. We're outta here."

They went into the high, arched hallway that led to the main entrance. Funny, Angel thought. I remember the ceilings being a lot lower -- of course, we were never out here --

"That's weird," Fred said, pointing at a rough-hewn marble statue. "That looks like a Michelangelo. What's that doing in a Museum of Victoriana?"

The smell of smoke was getting stronger. Angel realized he'd begun to walk faster, as had the others. "Something's not right," Angel said.

"What?" Gunn said. "Like what?"

Angel reached the front door first. The alarm didn't seem worth worrying about, so he flung open the door and saw --

The streets were ablaze. All around them, buildings were going up in flames or smoldering into ash. Distant screams and shouting echoed through the night. Angel realized he could smell the metallic gristle of ruined electrical wiring, the thick haze of blood, the slimy tracks of things not human. Worst of all, he could smell death -- death on a scale he'd never known before. The air was thick with the rancid stench of it.

Next to him, the others stood agape. For a few moments, they could only stare at the carnage before them.

Finally, Cordelia said, "Okay. Who left the gas on?"

*********************************
A STITCH IN TIME
Book Two: The Eleventh Hour
by Yahtzee and Rheanna
Yahtzee63@aol.com
Rheanna@goldenmaze.com
*********************************


*********************************

Chapter One

*********************************


"This isn't right."

Angel could hear his own words echo hollowly in the great hall of the museum. He could hear the quick, shallow breathing of Cordelia, Fred and Gunn, all standing appalled by his side. Beyond the museum's walls, he could still hear the screams.

"Boy howdy, it's not right!" Cordelia pressed her palms against the door, as though she were willing the outside to change into the world they'd left. "Oh, my God, what happened? Where are we? I mean -- when are we?"

"We must have overshot," Gunn said. His voice was toneless, dead with shock. "We've landed in the middle of World War III."

"We didn't change any of the settings on the time machine," Fred said. She was twisting her hair nervously, bouncing slightly on her heels. "Logically, it should have taken us back to when we left. Unless -- unless this is another dimension. A hell dimension, like that place where --" She looked at Angel and stopped.

Quartoth, Angel thought, and for an instant felt an insane kind of hope. He'd welcome a return to hell, if there was any chance he could find his son there. But even that flickering dream was swiftly crushed when he realized he'd recognized the one of the structures outside. "No. This isn't another dimension."

"Angel, I'm sorry, but that is NOT Los Angeles," Cordelia said.

"Not our neighborhood," Gunn said. "Compton, maybe."

"No," Angel said. "It's Rome."

By way of demonstration, he opened the door again. For a few moments, they all stared at the ruined city. In some places fires raged in the hollow shells of buildings, while in others flames dripped from low, sulfurous clouds. Everywhere he looked, Angel saw a devastation so total nothing had escaped it. But the city, although dead, wasn't deserted. The debris teemed with creatures that slithered and scuttled, pouncing on each other with cannibalistic glee. In the streets and on the corners lay the bodies of those who had tried to flee and failed. In the far distance was the unmistakable silhouette of the Colosseum.

Angel shut the door again. Fred said weakly, "Now, see, I was wondering when they built a football stadium downtown."

Cordelia whispered, "Angel -- we screwed it up." Her face was pale as she stepped closer to him. "Didn't we? When we were in the past, we did something wrong and -- and we -- oh, God. We did this."

"That servant girl!" Gunn's eyes were wide. "The one I kept from going into y'all's vamp hideout. She must've been supposed to die. Instead, I saved her, so she could live and give birth to the Antichrist."

"We don't know that," Fred said. She was trembling now, and her voice was slightly higher-pitched as she continued, "The ripple effect means that it could have been anything we did that was different to what was supposed to happen -- some tiny change we caused had unforeseen effects, which in turn had unforeseen effects, growing more and more cataclysmic as time went on, eventually rendering the reality we once knew null and void --" Suddenly she slapped herself across the face. As Angel and the others stared at her, Fred took a deep breath and said, "It could have been anything. I doubt we could ever figure out what we did wrong."

Angel considered what she'd said for a moment, then felt himself tense as the implications sank in. "If we don't know what we did wrong -- then we can't return to the past and fix it."

Fred nodded slowly. "We might even make it worse."

"Worse?" Cordelia gestured in the general direction of the door, and by extension, at the wrecked world beyond it. "How, exactly, could it get worse?"

"Nuclear fallout," Gunn said. "That's just off the top of my head, but I'm sure there's more where that came from."

"We still have to try," Angel said.

"Yeah, I know," Fred said. "I'm just saying -- we can't go back blind. First we have to find out what happened here and what led up to it. That's our only hope of undoing this."

Cordelia tried to smile. "So, I guess that's ixnay on just going back to 1960 to discover the Beatles."

It wasn't much of a joke, but Angel was grateful for it all the same. He quickly squeezed Cordelia's hand, borrowing courage as much as giving it. "All right. We have to figure out what happened. We might as well start here."

"Right," Fred said, brightening marginally. "Museums are usually about history, after all."

Angel breathed in deeply and concentrated, searching for the scent of smoke in the air. After a moment, he said, "This building's not on fire yet. We've got a little while, I think."

"This building is stone, right?" Cordelia said. "Looks like it, mostly. I mean, sure, lots of flammable stuff on the inside, but those stone walls ought to buy us some time."

Angel thought about what she'd said and felt his body tensing up yet again. "You're right. Trouble is, you're not going to be the only one to think of it."

"Meaning --" Cordelia's jaw dropped. "Something else could try and get in."

Fred hurriedly said, "Why don't we see if this museum has a weapons and armaments section?"

A rack of pamphlets and museum guides yielded a version in English, which informed them that they'd left the time machine in a sculpture hall ("I wasn't the only one who thought it was a statue," Cordelia said pointedly). Better yet, the guide pointed the way to an extensive exhibit of medieval weaponry, both European and Asian. They made their way there quickly, and Angel smashed through the cases without any thought to the alarm system. He doubted anyone remained to hear it.

He said nothing, and his friends said little. Fred was too busy studying the various museum guides for clues about the time they'd found and the history they'd changed; he, Gunn and Cordelia were testing their weapons. Cordelia seemed briefly interested in a scimitar, but Angel was relieved to see her choose a classic sword. No time for experimenting, he thought, casting an appraising glance at a mace. We need to carry what we're best at, no more.

Angel found he needed to concentrate on only the most immediate, pragmatic aspects of their situation. Sharpen Cordelia's sword. Check the grip on Gunn's axe. Lead everyone back toward the time machine; best to figure out their next move while simultaneously protecting their means of transport.

If he let himself think of anything else at all, then Angel found himself thinking about the history that hadn't happened in this world. He still didn't know exactly when they were or what had changed, but he knew this much -- thousands, maybe millions, of people had suffered horribly because they'd made a mistake. The further damage they'd wrought, they might not ever know.

And worst of all -- Angel was pretty sure that in this reality, Connor had never been born.

As they made their way through the darkened museum, headed toward the sculpture hall, Cordelia said, "That pamphlet telling you anything yet, Fred?"

Fred shook her head. "So far, it doesn't look like anything is different. I mean, this museum has a lot of antiquities -- things we wouldn't have changed anyway -- but they have some modern things too. Warhol still painted some soup cans. Picasso still had a blue period."

Gunn said, "Yeah, I'd hate to think we stopped some paintings from getting made on our way to destroying the world."

"Charles, it's as good a way as any to know a lot of things were still the same, at least until very recently."

"Then what happened?" Cordelia asked, directing the question at no one and everyone. "We changed God-knows-what in 1898, the whole twentieth century happened just fine and then -- kablooey! It all goes wrong a century later? It just doesn't tie up."

Angel stopped walking. The others froze immediately; when he half-turned around, they were staring back at him. Slowly, Angel lifted his finger to his mouth, warning them to silence. Fred clutched the pamphlet to her chest, and Cordelia adjusted her grip on her sword, bringing it to the ready.

The footsteps were ordinary -- human weight, regular walking speed, no special caution about noise. How many people? Angel thought. Maybe four -- no, five. He held out his hand and unfolded his fingers deliberately, silently counting them off for the others.

Cordelia nodded. Gunn mouthed the word, "Where?"

Angel listened to them for another few moments. They were one level up, a few feet over -- he concentrated, then murmured, "Sculpture hall."

"The time machine!" Fred whispered.

Angel ran toward the hall, moving as quickly and quietly as he could, leaving his friends falling behind. That didn't matter. If someone or something -- maybe the thing that was more directly responsible for the mayhem outside -- was trying to get the time machine, then Angel had to stop them immediately or die trying.

He leapt up the stairs to the next level, where he could hear their voices -- men, mostly, but one woman -- and charged through the doors. Amid the statues, Angel could see five people standing there. They looked like ordinary people in ordinary clothes, yet each was armed with a sword. A few of the intruders were in the shadows, but on the face of the man closest to him, Angel saw shock, recognition and disgust. "Angelus," he said, in a cool, clipped English accent. "We ought to have known."

"Known what?" Angel said, stalling for time. He was pretty sure he could defeat five humans, but with the stakes so high, "pretty sure" wasn't good enough. The others were on their way to improve the odds. "My name?"

"The entire world knows your name now," said the woman, stepping forward. She was sick with fear, so acute Angel could smell its intoxicating fragrance wafting from across the room. Yet she stood her ground. "As you intended they should."

The full meaning of her words hit Angel hard, making him weak, almost nauseated, in an instant. He rasped, "You mean -- the carnage outside -- what's happening -- I did that."

"You've come here to brag?" said another of the men. He was the tallest, and probably the strongest of the group. There was a militaristic stiffness to his bearing. "No. We know what you're here for."

"The same thing you're here for!" Cordelia came striding through the door, Gunn and Fred close behind. Angel didn't turn to face them, but he could see the surprise on the English people's faces as, one by one, his friends flanked him. Cordelia continued, "You want to hijack our time machine? It's so not happening. Sorry about the sucky week you guys are having, but I'm afraid you're stuck with it."

"Until we change it!" Fred added helpfully.

Gunn brought his axe into position. "Until then, we suggest you step outside. Make yourselves comfortable in the rest of the museum. I understand there's a snack bar."

The fourth of the invaders, almost the furthest back, came forward into the dim emergency lighting. He was older than the others, with white hair and a salt-and-pepper beard. "We know what's at stake here," he began. "So do you. That's why you know we won't be stepping aside."

"They're human," whispered the woman to the white-haired man. "Basil, the three with Angelus -- they're not vampires. They're human beings."

The white-haired man hesitated for a moment, but then he stepped closer to Angel. "It doesn't matter what they are," he said. "It only matters what they want to do."

"How did they know about the time machine?" said the tall man. "That is among our most guarded secrets --"

"Hey, we're not DEAF," Cordelia said. "If you guys want a battle, you can have one." Her bravado was half bluster, Angel knew; Cordelia had become a fighter in the past year, but she wasn't yet hardened enough to easily face the prospect of hurting or killing human beings. "But we don't want to hurt you."

They all stared. Then they all started to laugh -- harsh, bitter laughter that Angel could tell unnerved the others. To Angel, the sound of it was like razor cuts; he knew the intruders were laughing because of the pure absurdity of the idea that Angelus didn't want to hurt anyone.

The gypsies cursed me, Angel thought. I remember it, and this time, I saw it, too. It happened. We stopped Dru. Cordy staked Dru. What went wrong?

As the intruders stopped laughing, the fifth and final member of the group stepped from the very back of the room into the light. "On behalf of the Council of Watchers," he said, "we decline your demand for surrender."

Angel stared at him, knew his friends were doing the same. As one, they each whispered, "Wesley?"

Wesley Wyndham-Pryce -- suit-clad, sword-wielding and somehow looking younger than Angel remembered -- stared back at them in shock, his earlier cool forgotten. "I beg your pardon?" he said, clearly astonished.

The other Watchers were staring at Wesley, who looked both bewildered and desperate to deny knowing Angelus or anyone who would consort with him.

Cordelia choked out, "Angel, they're people -- it's Wesley -- "

"They're not real," Angel said. He could only see Wesley, his white-linen suit seeming to glow in the dark. He looked like a boy. He looked the way he had the day Angel had offered him a job. "None of this is real. Tomorrow it won't exist. This reality doesn't matter." The sword was heavy in his hand, and he could anticipate the power of his blows. Angel's human mind, confused and overwhelmed, suddenly seemed to shut down; his vampiric mind took over, sizing up the situation and seizing the instant. "Nothing we do here matters."

Angel slammed the broad side of his sword into the head of the white-haired Watcher closest to him. The man fell, and the female Watcher screamed. Cordelia silenced her by leaping forward and punching her hard across the jaw.

"Take them!" yelled the tall man.

Angel could see the battle going on around him -- he knew that Basil was getting up from the floor, that Gunn was tackling another of the men, that Cordelia was wrestling with still another in earnest. He could smell the blood trickling from the woman's mouth, staining Fred's hand as she punched the female Watcher back down.

But only one figure in the room mattered. His prey.

Wesley was fumbling with a crossbow, trying to get it loaded. The Wesley that Angel remembered was good with a crossbow, but he'd only become so after he'd begun working with them in L.A. He'd needed so little practice to become good -- practice he hadn't gotten with the Watchers -- practice he didn't have in this reality.

Nothing we do here matters, Angel thought. His face shifted, and his fangs slid into his mouth, sharp and strong and familiar. He knocked one of the other Watchers into a Renaissance bronze, saw the man slump down, semiconscious. We can do anything here. Anything at all.

"Stop him!" It was Basil's voice. Angel whirled around, swinging his sword toward Basil's head with all his might. Something made him turn his wrist, made him use the broad side once again. Angel could do whatever he wanted. He didn't want to kill at random. That didn't mean he didn't want to kill.

Basil fell. The female Watcher moaned as she toppled to her knees. One of the men fell on the floor in front of Gunn, stunned or dead or unconscious. Wesley had the crossbow ready. He pointed it at Angel and fired --

("Sleep tight," Angel had said, and he kissed his son's face. Connor was cradled in Wesley's arms. It tore Angel's heart to think of Connor being gone for one whole night.)

Angel turned to the side, preternaturally fast, and the arrow whooshed by him to thud into the far wall. He leapt forward, relishing in the panic on Wesley's face as he scrambled to reload. Angel's sword swung upwards, its tip catching the crossbow and sending it flying.

"Angel!" Cordelia's voice. Not afraid. Not needing help. He could ignore it. Angel tackled Wesley; he felt the human's chest buckle, his balance shifting and falling. They tumbled to the ground, hard marble beneath them. Angel caught a glimpse of Wesley's ashen face and sent his fist smashing into it.

"Angel!" Not just Cordy now. Fred too. And Gunn. Still not important.

Wesley put his hands up, less in an attempt to attack than in a futile attempt to shield himself from the blows. Angel punched him, again and again and again, and every time his fist made contact with flesh, he said his son's name. Out loud, he realized, hearing the gasped words more consciously than he spoke them: "Connor -- Connor -- Connor --"

"Angel, please! Please stop! Just look at me, please -- Angel --" Cordelia was crying. Why was she crying? The danger was past. The other Watchers were all unconscious; Angel could tell without even looking.

Wesley shoved himself away from Angel, gaining no more than a few inches of space. Angel grabbed the sword he'd dropped and swung it toward Wesley's neck --

And froze.

The point of the sword was at Wesley's throat. Wesley lay there, bleeding and terrified and helpless. The cries of the others seemed to be very far away. Nothing he did here mattered.

Wesley's face looked so young. The white-linen suit was just like the one Wesley had been wearing when Angel offered him a job.

Angel dropped the sword. He stared down at Wesley, who stared up at him.

"Why did you do it?" Angel said, knowing this Wesley couldn't answer. "Why couldn't you just tell me? I would have listened to you." His throat grew thick, but Angel kept on, the words spilling out of him, slurred by his fangs. "I trusted you. I trusted you more than you trusted me."

"Angel." Cordelia's voice was closer now, and when her hands touched his shoulder, the world shifted again. Angel felt his forehead smooth, and his fangs retracted. The haze of killer instinct faded from him, leaving only the smell of blood.

Wesley shook, apparently in a shock that was half terror and half relief. Angel said again, "I trusted you." He let his head fall backwards so that he could see Cordelia's face; she was looking at him through her own tears. "If he had told me --"

"I know," she whispered. "Come on. Let's step back for a minute, okay? We can -- we can check out the paintings in the hallway, huh?"

Gunn and Fred walked up, each with weapons at the ready. Angel knew they would watch Wesley. He got to his feet, but his body seemed too heavy for his muscles to support. He slumped against Cordelia, who slid her arm around his waist. "We'll be right back," she whispered. Fred nodded.

Wesley took a deep breath. "BytheauthorityoftheCouncilofWatchersIcommandyou --"

"Shut UP," Gunn said, poking his sword in Wesley's general vicinity. Wesley shut up.

Angel let Cordelia walk him to the hallway, but once the door swung shut behind them, he slid back onto the ground. Cordelia didn't slide with him, but she stroked his hair, guided him until he let his head rest against the side of her leg. "You stopped," she said quietly. "You didn't have to stop, and you did."

"I would have listened to him," Angel said. "If he had told me."

"It's all right," Cordelia said. "It's over. It's all over."

Angel thought of Connor, drowsy and small, cradled in Wesley's arms as they went out the door. "It's all over," he echoed.

"Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah," he said. He wrapped his arms around Cordelia's legs, not hugging her tightly, just leaning against her. "Give me a couple of minutes."

Cordelia laughed weakly, her voice hoarse from unshed tears. "Angel, for once it's true -- we have all the time in the world."

***

According to Cordelia's watch, the date was April 26, 2002, and the time was just after seven in the evening. She stared at the numbers, trying to make them mean something, but no matter how hard she tried, the winking display was irrelevant nonsense. She took the watch off and put it in her pocket.

The sound of footsteps approaching made her look up. Gunn and Fred were returning, their shoes echoing noisily on the stone floor. "All done?" she asked.

Gunn held up a large bunch of iron keys, and jangled them. "Locked 'em up separately in the Egyptian rooms. But it's gonna be a while before they start hollerin' to get out -- the other four are still out cold. They're sleeping like babies --"

He broke off, and visibly winced as he realized what he'd said. Cordelia cast an anxious glance in Angel's direction -- in the wake of their arrival in this apocalyptic future and the encounter with Wesley, her concern about his emotional state had ratcheted back up to DefCon Four. But Angel didn't seem to have heard; he was sitting by the small fire they'd started using Gunn's lighter and a collection of guidebooks, watching the fire's smoke twirl up to the high roof. He seemed calm, at least for the moment, and Cordelia was grateful for that much. The fire cast the shadows of both the time machine and Angel on to the wall, elongating and distorting them into monstrous shapes.

Suddenly, a noise that was half-howl and half-shriek pierced the silence. Cordelia didn't recognize it, but she was pretty sure it wasn't the kind of sound made by a fluffy, gentle-natured creature that just wanted to be friends.

Angel looked up. "That came from outside. They're not in the building yet."

"Ya had to go and finish with 'yet'," Gunn muttered.

"We're not going to be safe here for much longer," Fred said. "We have to figure out what's going on." She looked over at the obelisk in the far corner. "All of us."

"If you think -- for one instant -- that I would ever help you, you are mistaken," Wesley gasped, his voice thickened by his broken nose. His hands were tied around the back of the obelisk with Gunn's belt, immobilizing him. It also prevented him from wiping away the blood from a deep gash on his forehead, which was hardening in a sticky trail on his cheek.

The last time Cordelia had seen Wesley this badly beaten up had been after Faith had tortured him. Then, she'd wanted to scratch Faith's eyes out, to show her what happened to people who messed with Cordelia Chase's friends. But Angel had done this. Angel's grief and rage were written on Wesley's face, in blood and bruises, and was Wesley still her friend?

"My name is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce," he said. "I am here in the service of the Council of Watchers and the greater good. And that's all you're getting out of me."

Angel began, "We're not trying to --" He seemed to catch himself, and broke off abruptly. "Someone else had better talk to him." He got up and walked to the other end of the hall, his back to Wesley.

Cordelia realized instantly that, as untrustworthy as she and the others might appear in Wesley's eyes right now, they were probably going to stand a better chance of dealing with him than the Scourge of Europe, a.k.a. the guy who had just broken Wesley's nose. She glanced back at Wesley; he was trying to mask his fear, and with some success. Only someone who knew him as well as Cordelia did could have guessed at the depth of terror he was trying to hide. She walked over to the obelisk where Wesley was tied up. "We're not going to kill you."

Wesley looked -- justifiably, Cordelia had to admit -- skeptical. "Aha. And I suppose you've given my colleagues tea and crumpets and sent them on their merry way."

God, she'd forgotten how annoying he could be when he chose. "They're all tied up in the next room -- which is a pretty good deal for them, since it's a LOT safer in here than outside," Cordelia told him, putting her hands on her hips.

"You'll also notice that we haven't killed you yet, which is kind of a point in our favor," Fred said from where she stood beside Gunn. "Also, remember how we were yelling for Angel to stop hitting you? That's all non-murdery, right?" Cordelia shot her a look, and she shrugged apologetically. "Just tryin' to help. I'll hush up now."

Wesley tried to raise an eyebrow, before pain from his swollen, battered face prevented him. "You've undoubtedly kept me alive only so that I could -- enjoy the pleasure of Angelus' company." At the other end of the hall, Angel glanced over his shoulder slightly, not quite enough for Cordelia to read the look in his eyes. Wesley looked at Cordelia curiously, then Fred and Gunn in turn. "None of you are vampires. What kind of deal have you made with him?"

"Things ain't the way they look to you," Gunn said. "And I know this is gonna sound crazy, but we're trying to fix whatever went wrong here."

The look on Wesley's bruised and swelling face in response to that was easy to read. He was clearly incredulous. "FIX it? Angelus -- trying to FIX this?"

"This isn't Angelus!" Cordelia said, increasingly disconcerted by Wesley's presence and the unnerving sounds from outside. "Wesley, that time machine -- we came out of it. We know how it works because we used it. We're from --" She hesitated, unwilling to tell Wesley the whole story at once, "-- another time. A time when Angel has a soul."

"A soul?" Wesley repeated. Cordelia nodded and folded her arms across her chest. That would change things, make Wesley understand this was different.

Then Wesley started to laugh.

The sound of it echoed off the marble floors, the high ceilings, the statues that framed them. It wasn't a cruel sound; he wasn't mocking them. Cordelia almost wished he was. Wesley was laughing from sheer surprise and disbelief. She glanced over to see that the others were equally unsettled by his reaction. Gunn muttered, "I'm getting the feeling this is gonna be a hard sell."

"That's rich," Wesley said at last. "And, I must hand it to you, an ingenious attempt. You've obviously got sources deep within the Council. The level of betrayal --" He trailed off for a moment, then regained himself. "Honestly. You're all standing there in blue jeans and T-shirts, using modern slang, as American as Mickey Mouse. Did you really believe I'd think you'd come forward in time from 19th-century Romania?"

Cordelia's mouth fell open. "How did you know that?" Wesley looked away, unwilling to continue the conversation and obviously regretting his indiscretion. "How could you possibly know that?"

At the other end of the hall, Angel turned around and came back to join them, all reticence to speak to Wesley overcome by something more urgent. "I didn't have a soul in 19th-century Romania," he said as he came to stand beside Cordelia. "Not until the end --"

"Wait a second," Fred said. "What Wesley's saying is, in this reality, there was a time when Angel had a soul, but -- but he doesn't anymore, and hasn't for a while. Not since Romania? Wesley?" He shifted slightly; Cordelia realized that he looked uncomfortable, even aside from all the swelling and bleeding. The angle of his arms had to hurt, at least a little.

She went to the obelisk and loosened the belt the tiniest fraction. Wesley lunged forward, but the bonds didn't break; he could, however, stand a little more upright. As she'd hoped, the gesture got Wesley to make eye contact with her as she came around. "Just tell us about Angel having a soul," Cordelia said. "And how he lost it. That's all we want to know. That can't do any harm, can it? The world's ending. It's not like it's going to get any worse than that."

For a moment, Wesley hesitated, but then he said, "There's not much more to know. What your source told you is really all the information there is. Watcher legend has it that, in late 19th-century Romania, Angelus murdered a young gypsy girl. As revenge, the gypsies cursed him with a soul, so that he might know the horrors he had wrought. But Darla -- and don't pretend you don't know who she is --"

Wish I didn't, Cordelia thought.

"Darla somehow forced the gypsies to remove the curse and restore him to his former amorality. They did so -- and were promptly slaughtered for their pains." Wesley was clearly exhausted and, quite possibly, concussed; he leaned his head back against the obelisk. He glared unevenly at Angel, who stared back in mute horror. "The Watchers' records said that Angelus' memories of his conscience only spurred him to greater viciousness and brutality afterward. He began hunting down family members of his past victims. He'd apologize -- and then kill them, too."

"Darla did try to reverse the curse," Angel said. He closed his eyes for a moment, deep in thought. "Dammit, what did she say?"

"Angel?" Gunn said. "You know what he's talking about?

"My memory right at first -- right after the curse -- it's confused," Angel said. He began pacing, nervous energy evident in every step he took, every line of his body. "For a long time after it happened -- years -- I was barely sane. But once, when I was with her in China, Darla told me something... she told me she found the one who performed the curse. She was going to threaten to kill his family unless he reversed it."

"True love," Gunn noted dryly. "Why didn't it work?"

"Spike missed the 'threaten' part," Angel said. "He ate them."

"Something we did must have changed that," Fred said. "We have to think of everything we did in 1898 that could have changed that."

There was a silence as they all considered this. Cordelia guessed the others were thinking the same thing she was -- no matter how hard they had tried not to interfere with the past, once you started making a list, it was clear they'd changed a lot of things. She glanced over at Wesley to see how he was taking it, but he'd either passed out or gotten close to it.

"We went to the gypsies," Angel said at last. "They knew we were from the future."

"We talked to those English people on the road," Gunn added.

"I staked Drusilla," Cordy said.

"No, that one doesn't count," Fred said. "You staked our Drusilla, the one from the present."

Angel stopped pacing, froze and turned around. He stared at Fred, then Cordelia. "How do we know?"

Cordy looked at him. "Know what?"

"How do we know that the Drusilla you staked was the one from 2002?"

"Well --" Cordelia frowned. "She was wearing the same dress she had when we found her in the museum in L.A. You know, the red floaty one from Saks, with the layer hem and the little straps --"

Angel held up a hand, cutting Cordelia off in mid-flow. "But are you SURE it was the Dru from our time?"

"Of COURSE I'm sure," Cordelia said tartly. But, almost immediately, doubt crept into her mind. "I told you, she had on the dress from before, and it's not like they could have swapped dresses -- I mean, I guess they could have, but we don't know that." Then she hesitated. "And -- and -- well, she didn't recognize me. But that's hardly weird by Drusilla standards, right? It's not like we've spent a lot of quality time together, so she might not know my name --"

"She knows your name," Angel said. "Back in Sunnydale, when Xander did that spell, the one that made all the women in town fall for him --"

Oh, God, Cordelia thought. Xander's mojo spell, the one that made Willow run after us with an axe and Buffy's mom come on to him. It seemed like a memory from another life.

"-- Drusilla was infatuated with him, and she was furious at you for being the one he wanted." Angel hesitated. "I, uh, may have told her your name. And where you lived. And when cheerleader practice let out."

"Angel!" Cordelia smacked him hard on the arm. "You could have gotten me killed!"

"That was the idea." Angel looked thoroughly miserable. "Cordy, I'm sorry. Believe me, I've thought about it, and it makes me --" He stopped, looked away and, after a second, continued, "Her anger wore off with the spell. But Drusilla knew who you were. She wouldn't forget."

Fred said urgently, "Was there something, anything else she said that would identify her as our Dru? Or as not-our Dru? Anything at all?"

"She was really confused, no surprise there, and she didn't seem to realize I would know what she was or how to stop her..." Cordelia trailed off and swallowed. "She didn't know me. She asked me who I was. Uh, guys? I think I might have staked the wrong Dru."

Gunn swore under his breath. Then he said, "We left her there. We thought we'd won, so we came back home and left 2002 Dru in 1898."

It was all so obvious, now, that Cordelia couldn't believe they hadn't worked it out sooner. Angel said, "Drusilla never intended to stop the original curse. Her plan was to change what happened afterward. To make sure it was reversed. That was just as good for her purposes, and easier for her to pull off, because she knew exactly what had gone wrong. And we just came home and let her do it."

They remained silent for a few moments, taking that in. Gunn raised his hand like a student asking a difficult question in class. "Not to look inside the dark cloud and find an even darker lining, but -- are we sure that's all that changed?"

Cordelia wheeled around and smacked Wesley gently on the cheek with her palm. "Wakey-wakey, Wes. We gotta talk."

He half-opened his eyes and looked woozily at her. "Ah. You're not all dead yet. Shame."

Cordelia ignored that. "Would you mind clarifying, for those of us just tuning in, just how it is Angelus destroyed the world?"

"Not Angelus," Wesley said. He was slurring his words a little. "Not technically, I mean. The majority of the murdering and incineration is the work of the Judge. But Angelus helped Drusilla and Spike put the damned thing together, and he's the only one pure enough in his evil to command the Judge's allegiance." He laughed brokenly. "But why do you ask me things you already know?"

"The Judge," Cordelia's thoughts were spinning now. "Angel, that was that loser from the mall that time, wasn't it? The one Buffy took out with a rocket-launcher?"

Wesley's jaw dropped. "A rocket-launcher! Of COURSE! Not forged by the hand of man --"

Angel nodded. "That's the one. And what we saw outside -- he could do that. But the clues to finding the pieces of the Judge were discovered years ago -- wait. Wesley, what year is this?"

Cordelia could see Wesley's hesitation, his reluctance to answer Angelus. But perhaps the sheer triviality of the question made him shrug and say, "It's 1998, of course."

"This is four years ago!" Cordelia said, indignantly. "Fred, I thought we were going to go back to where we came from! Or when!"

"We should have," Fred said. "I don't know exactly how the time machine works, but it doesn't make any sense for it to choose a new exit date at random --"

"No," Angel said suddenly. "Not at random." The others all looked at him. He said, "Don't you see? It brought us as far forward as it could. It couldn't go any farther than this."

Fred put her hand to her mouth, then nodded. "Because -- 1998 is where this reality ends."

Wesley's left eyelid -- the one that wasn't swollen out of recognition -- was fluttering open and closed. Cordelia shook him back to wakefulness. "Why didn't you use the time machine sooner? Why'd you let it go this far?"

"Too risky," Wesley mumbled. "Last resort. We knew about it for a long time... let it stay hidden, just another museum piece... For the best. Too tempting, too easy to change things..."

The killer part, Cordelia thought bleakly, was that he was right. Between Drusilla's interference and theirs, history had somehow been well and truly screwed.

"What were you going to do in the past?"

"The simplest, most obvious thing... We were going back to drive a stake through Angelus' heart. Stop him... before he had a chance to awaken the Judge to murder the world. But you've put paid to that, and I've failed. I've failed again." He looked up at Cordelia, and she saw a peculiar, desperate pleading in his face. "Kill him. If you have any shred of decency, of humanity, kill him. If the world can't be saved, at least let it be avenged."

His one open eye stared up at her, a bloodshot rim of white visible all around it. Cordelia could see her revulsion reflected in the dark circle of the pupil. Yet more vengeance.

Then Wesley's eye fluttered shut, and his head slumped sideways on to his shoulder.

Another memory popped into her head, one that was so vivid and real it made her eyes prick with tears. She remembered eating breakfast with Angel and Wesley, the three of them sitting around the table in the kitchen of Angel's apartment underneath the old office. Angel had made eggs, and Wesley had devoured them as if he hadn't had a proper meal in days. Cordelia had teased Wesley that someone so scrawny shouldn't be able to eat so much, and Angel had smiled for the first time since Doyle had died, and Cordelia had thought that maybe everything was going to work out okay, after all.

She looked again at the marks of fury Angel's fists had left on this Wesley's face, and she tried to feel some measure of sympathy for him. But all she could think of was Connor, tiny and helpless and gone for good.

This isn't the only future that got wrecked, she thought.

From somewhere else in the museum, there was a crash, followed by a pounding, drumming sound that swiftly became deafeningly loud. "They're in the building," Angel said.

Cordelia leapt up. "What are? No, wait, on second thoughts, I really don't want to know."

"The time machine," Angel said. They ran to it, the pounding, screeching sounds growing closer all the time. Beneath her feet, Cordelia could feel the ground shaking, as if something massive were trying to push its way up from below. "Fred, can you take us back to 1898? Right after we left?"

"I think so --"

At that moment, the museum floor split open, a jagged crack splitting the exhibition hall in two. Gunn and Fred were on one side, with the time machine; Cordelia and Angel were on the other. From deep below, the crevasse glowed red-hot, and Gunn and Fred appeared to waver through the heat-haze.

Angel looked at the widening gap, then at Cordelia. "We have to jump."

"I was SO hoping you weren't gonna say that," Cordelia said. Angel's face looked strange, and for a second she thought it was purely the effect of the ghastly red glow coming from the crevasse. Then she realized it was something else. He's scared, she thought. He's scared we're not gonna make it.

Angel took her hand, and together they backed up as far as they could. As they ran toward the gaping crack, Cordelia could feel the floor growing hotter with every step until, as she put her foot down at the edge of the chasm, she felt the soles of her shoes squelch slightly as they melted. She gripped Angel's hand as tightly as she could -- and they jumped.

For an instant, they were suspended in a blast of heat so intense it felt as if the air itself were on fire. Cordelia looked down and saw beneath them a shaft that seemed to sink endlessly, plunging through layers of red and white heat to a source that was blacker than any night. And she saw that the walls of the shaft were crawling with hordes of screaming, grasping demons, every one of them climbing toward the world above, ready to claim it as their own.

Then she landed on the far side of the chasm, losing her balance and tumbling awkwardly. Hands grabbed her and hauled her to safety. When she opened her eyes, she saw Gunn. "Angel --"

"It's okay. You made it. You both made it."

"Angel --"

Gunn twisted Cordelia's head to one side. "It's okay. Look. You never even let go of each other."

Cordelia looked and saw her hand was still wrapped around Angel's. He was lying beside her, smiling unevenly. She tried to grin back. "I think we just won the Olympic gold for Hellmouth Leaping," she said hoarsely.

Fred was looking past all of them, to the silhouette of Wesley's body tied, unconscious and helpless, to the obelisk as the demons swarmed nearer. "You know what you're doing, leaving him there," she said, blinking hard. "You're killing him."

"No, I'm not," Angel said. Some of the shadow that had haunted his eyes since his attack on Wesley seemed to fall away from him. "I'm saving him."

He pulled the others to the time machine, leaving the dying world to burn behind them.


***************

Chapter Two

***************

The servant girl had a black eye, Darla noticed. It was a minor detail, of no consequence, certainly not compared with what the girl was saying. "Yes, Lord Dalton's been very concerned. He very much wishes to see you."

Darla hesitated on the step. Not enough. "Are we invited in, then?" Despite her raging fury and grief, she forced herself to simper convincingly. "I -- I never thought to be invited in by a member of the nobility." Behind her, Spike gave a short cough intended to signal both his amusement and irritation at her game.

"Certainly, ma'am," the servant girl said. "You're very welcome to Lord Dalton's home."

She extended her arm and smiled encouragingly, no doubt expecting Darla and her companions to remain timid and unsure. Darla had no more patience for play-acting and swept inside, not even bothering to look back at Spike and Dru.

Play-acting, she thought, with a pang of something that might have been heartache in a mortal woman. If you hadn't had such a weakness for theatre, my darling boy, then you wouldn't be --

Darla closed her eyes tightly for a moment. She couldn't think of it now. First things first.

She pushed the manservant aside and threw open the doors. Seated at a small reading table was a man whose slight stature, bald head and tiny, wire-rimmed glasses made him look more like an academic than a nobleman. His dressing gown was silk -- Darla could always tell -- and so perfectly pleated and tucked that he might have been lounging about in the afternoon, rather than roused from his bed in the hours before dawn. He rose to his feet instantly, manners and practice overcoming his surprise. "Madam! I had expected you to be announced --"

"What did you do to my husband?" She used the title as a tactic; it would give her rights in this foolish man's eyes, make him speak. Yet the feel of the word on her tongue made her shiver for no reason she could name.

"You are -- Mr. Angelus' wife? I had no idea --" Lord Dalton looked embarrassed, then covered for his friend's lapse. "He was, of course, a very private man. I should not have presumed that he would introduce me to his family so soon."

"I know his habits far better than you, sir." Darla snapped.

"He eats up light," Drusilla sing-songed as she stepped up behind Darla. "He drinks tears."

Lord Dalton's gaze flickered over to Darla's companions, and she took a moment to despise the necessity of dragging them along with her. But how could she cast them aside now? Though she was loath to admit it, if she didn't have Spike and Drusilla, she would now have nothing. "Tell me what you did to my husband," she said. "The gypsies got to him. Did you tell them where he was? Lead them to him?"

"The gypsies!" Lord Dalton looked shocked -- and yet, Darla thought, not as astonished as he might have. "But of course! When my servant girl was on her way to your house last night, they waylaid her and treated her most brutally. Come, girl, show them your face."

The servant girl came into the room, her black eye now explained. So, Darla thought, the gypsies found us on their own. This foolish creature just got in the way. No answers to be found here. At least it serves my other purpose.

"Is Mr. Angelus hurt?" Lord Dalton said. "Is he missing?"

"Yes," Darla said. "As are you."

"I beg your pardon?"

She smiled, a tight, sarcastic little smile. "You came to Romania to find vampires, Lord Percy." Darla let her face shift into its demonic visage and reveled for a moment in his surprise and terror. "Well done, sir."

Darla grabbed his shoulders and bit into his neck savagely, with no thought for finesse or even for the stains on her gown. Lord Dalton's hands pawed weakly at her, scrambling to push himself away, to no avail. In the corner of her eye, she could see Spike making short work of the servant girl; behind her was some thumping and gurgling that probably signaled the manservant's death and Drusilla's lunch. Darla kept gulping down Lord Dalton's blood, needing the strength more than she could ever remember before.

As his heart began to flutter and fail, she let him flop back. His eyes were glassy, his skin waxen. Angelus' voice, so loud and distinct that it startled her, echoed, "I forbid you to turn him."

He had been speaking of a paramour that never existed, not this ludicrous creature, and yet Darla felt the old defiance blaze up inside her again. She brought her wrist to her mouth and bit in deeply; the pain seemed to belong to someone else. "Drink," she said. "Drink, and you'll know the truth to all the stories."

Lord Dalton drank. Then he died. His body collapsed to the floor, and Darla stared down at him until Spike and Dru came to her side.

"You turned THAT git?" Spike said. "Mark my words, he's not going to be any fun. Worse than that dolt Penn, more than likely."

"He won't be up for a while," Darla said. "A day, maybe two. I drank too much."

"Not like you, getting careless," Spike said. "Vamping some idiot who can't be of any use for a day or so, dragging us off from our perfectly good villa, running off from our perfectly good hotel rooms that were waiting later on --"

"He can't find us," Darla said quickly. "He mustn't find us."

"Who? Angelus?" Spike looked at her in disbelief, then cackled in glee. "Oh, this is brilliant. You're pretending to run off from Angelus again, just so he can chase you --"

Against her will -- against every instinct she had, vampiric and otherwise -- Darla felt her eyes filling with tears. "Be silent," she hissed. "It's not yours to question what I do."

Drusilla's fingers stroked through Darla's hair, as slender and cool as the teeth of an ivory comb. "Drink up your tears, little baby grandmother," Dru said. "Spike doesn't mean to be unkind."

"Yes, I do," Spike said.

"They won't beat us," Darla said. She knew she was making less sense even than Dru; she didn't care. "I won't let them win."

Drusilla smiled. "Not this time."

***

Fred tried very hard to remember the last time she'd looked around to see where she was and been happy about the answer. It had been a disturbingly long time ago, and, to judge by where she thought Angel was leading them, it wasn't going to happen again anytime soon.

"Uh, Angel?" Cordelia said, breaking the shell-shocked silence that had lasted since they'd left the cave in the Romanian woods. Now they were winding their way through the pre-dawn streets of Sighisoara, and there was no longer any doubt about where they were going. "Is it my imagination, or are we headed in exactly the wrong direction?"

"We're going to the villa," Angel said. "Where Darla, Dru, Spike and I lived."

"Hence my use of the phrase, 'exactly the wrong direction,'" Cordelia said. "Angel, I know the whole apocalypse-timeshift-Wesley thing was stressful -- it was for all of us --"

Charles cut in. "What she's asking is, are you insane?" Fred winced. After what she'd seen before -- the second crazed attack Angel had made on Wesley, or a version of Wesley, anyway, in two weeks -- that question seemed far too close to the bone.

But when Angel answered, he sounded calm. "Not yet," he said. "Believe me, I don't like this any better than you do. If there were anywhere else -- but there isn't. Darla will be trying to avoid me. That means she's going to be anywhere but the villa."

"She thinks you -- as in, past you -- might be coming back here?" Fred said. When Angel nodded, she said, "How do you know you won't?"

"I didn't before," Angel said. "I know that's no guarantee, but it's got to be a good sign. We can stay there today, bide our time, rest, get some supplies. Maybe some money."

"She won't have taken it all with her?" Cordelia said. "Shame to leave good money lying around."

"We took possessions we particularly liked," Angel said. They were getting close to the villa now, and Fred found herself thinking gratefully of whatever brief rest they might get. She'd had only one afternoon's nap since their first trip back in time yesterday -- two days ago? How long was it? She couldn't think of how to calculate it anymore. "But only our favorites. What we could carry easily, no more. You could always steal something newer or better the next day."

"So we can get clothes," Charles said. "Which would be good, seeing as how the gypsies aren't going to be loaning us new outfits again." Fred nodded; she felt ridiculous in her 21st-century gear, even though the streets were utterly deserted at this hour.

Cordelia said, "We SO do not need to visit the gypsies again. I mean, I see where they're coming from, but there are some serious hostility issues at work with those guys."

"But we have to see them!" Fred said, so surprised she stopped walking. The others halted as she said, "Spike and Darla are going to kill them. We know that."

Everyone was quiet for a moment. It was Charles who answered her, "Fred, we ain't here to see that they don't die. We're here to make sure they do."

Fred took a moment to consider it. "It's like the servant girl, isn't it?" she finally said. "Except this time we know. They have to die."

"Yeah," Angel said. "They do."

Cordelia quickly said, "Let's just get to this villa, okay? It's freezing out here, and if I'm going to have to fight for my life, I'd like to do it before I'm completely numb."

They came to the villa; Angel motioned for them to stand back, then went and tried the door. It was unlocked, apparently, as it swung open at his touch. For a few moments, she and Charles and Cordelia stood there, breathless and waiting. At last, a lamp came on inside, warming the windowpanes with its glow. Fred breathed a sigh of relief. "See?" Cordelia said. "Completely safe."

Charles rolled his eyes at Fred as they went inside, and she smiled. Then she got a look at the place, and froze on the spot. "Oh, my God."

The room had been ransacked. Everything breakable was broken; trunks lay in the hallway, open and obviously rifled-through. A few scraps of cloth -- clothing or linens -- hung on chairs and banisters. Fred wondered if the dark stains in front of the fireplace were blood, then decided she didn't want to know.

Even Angel looked surprised. "It wasn't like this when I left," he said. "Darla must have -- she would have been angry. I mean, she was angry."

"When you left that night to meet Lord Dunstan or Dalton or whatever it was?" Cordelia said. "Not this time. You guys were way too cozy, and now you've reminded me." She began to peer into the trunks and sift through their contents, scowling all the while.

"No, not then," Angel said. "When she came back and found me later -- a few hours ago, I guess. When she realized I had a soul."

Cordelia's face brightened. "A-hah!" She held up a roll of something that was obviously money, even if Fred didn't recognize the currency. "Angel, is this a lot of money? Please say this is a lot of money. If we're gonna be stranded back in time, I would prefer to be stranded and rich." Something about what Cordelia said sent a shiver down Fred's back, and she gripped the side of the trunk.

Charles said, "How did you find that?"

"She can smell it," Angel said. He smiled at Cordelia then, a gentle, familiar smile that was more relaxed, more human, than any expression Fred had seen on Angel's face in weeks. "Remember when I used to hide a couple twenties around the old office?"

"My surprise bonuses," Cordy said, squeezing his arm. "So, have we won the nineteenth-century lotto? Or is this like Italian lira, where you need something like eighty thousand to buy a Coke?"

"It's substantial," Angel said. "We can't buy a house with it, but we can live well for a month or two. Buy what we don't find here."

"First off, we need clothes," Fred said. She was still cold; the house was almost chillier than outside. Maybe that was why she was shaking. She pulled a dove-gray dress from the trunk. "Angel, was this Darla's or Drusilla's? I think I could maybe wear something of Drusilla's --"

He looked at the dress, puzzled. "It's possible that I just don't remember, but I don't think that belonged to either of them. In fact, I don't remember these trunks at all."

Fred shrugged. "I guess we can check the closets, too."

"Try the trunks first," Angel said quickly. "It's just -- I just might not remember."

"Nothing to do but try some stuff on," Cordelia said. "I hope none of this is Darla's. I don't want anything that belonged to that skank."

Angel started to say something, then evidently changed his mind. "I'm going upstairs. Darla wouldn't have taken my things with her. So my own clothes should still be up there." He started to climb the stairs.

"Any guy clothes in that trunk?" Charles said.

"Wait," Fred said. She wasn't aware of having said it especially loudly or abruptly, but everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at her. They sensed it too, Fred realized; the same fear that was making her shiver was there inside all of them, but it had fallen to her to speak about it first. "Guys -- if we don't succeed -- not that we won't! But if we don't stop Dru from undoing Angel's curse, what are we gonna do?"

Quietly, Angel said, "Then we have to kill him."

"Angel, no!" Cordelia whirled around to face him. "Are you out of your undead mind? If we stake that Angel, then there's not gonna be this Angel -- you know, the YOU Angel." She turned back around to Fred. "Am I right? That's the way it works, right?"

"I don't know," Fred confessed. "The field of temporal dynamics is completely theoretical, or it WAS, before today, when we proved Delaney's hypothesis about -- oh, never mind." She sighed. "If we hadn't changed reality so dramatically, then yes, Angel would cease to exist after we staked -- well, let's keep calling him Angelus just to stay clear here. That might be instantaneous, or it might not happen until Angel attempted to leave this time for the restored future."

"See?" Cordelia said, folding her arms in front of her. "No staking."

"Wait," Charles said. "Cordy staked the Drusilla from 1898 -- but that didn't make 2002 Dru pop out like a light bulb. We know she stayed around and changed history and screwed up the future we saw in Rome. The same thing would have to apply to Angel, right? So we could stake Angelus, save the future and go home in time to get pizza." He was trying very hard to look hopeful, so hard it made Fred's eyes almost tear up. For all his anger, all his jaded posturing, Charles could work so hard at hope.

"Maybe," Fred said. "Nobody knows for certain. When the timeline diverges irrevocably, if we're still here, then Angel might no longer be the future version of this Angelus. Instead, we'd all be artifacts from an entirely separate reality, almost like another dimension. Changes we made here wouldn't affect us at all. The disconnect could be complete. In that case, Angel would survive our staking Angelus -- but none of us could ever go home again."

Charles groaned. "My head hurts. This is what I get for dropping outta tenth-grade physics to take shop."

"Maybe doesn't cut it," Cordelia said. "We can't stake Angelus and 'maybe' kill Angel too. We can't 'maybe' get stranded in ye olden days forever."

Angel said, "Cordelia, we have to." Before Cordelia could protest, he continued, "The alternative is letting reality become what we saw in Rome. We can't let that happen. Not if it kills me. Not if it kills all of us."

Everyone was quiet for a few moments. Cordelia ducked her head so that Fred couldn't see her face. Angel came down a couple of steps toward her, but she shook her head quickly. Charles rubbed Fred's back, a quick motion that somehow comforted her far more than it should have done.

"Okay," Cordelia finally said. "Okay, then. Let's just all -- get some sleep. We can think about this after we get some sleep."

Someone knocked hard on the door. Everyone jumped. Fred clapped her hands over her mouth to stop herself from screaming. Cordelia looked back over at Angel and whispered, "You said they wouldn't come back!"

"They wouldn't," Angel said. "They also wouldn't knock." He came back down the steps. As the heavy hand knocked on the door again, he called, "One moment!" then added a phrase that Fred suspected meant the same in Romanian.

"We gotta hide," Charles said, gesturing at their clothes. Angel pulled something from one of the trunks; Fred realized it was a cape. She went with Charles and Cordelia into the next room, where they flattened themselves against the wall behind the door, next to one of the abandoned trunks. They all tensed as they heard the door open.

A voice said, in heavily accented English, "Sir, here to move you into Hotel Lebada, yes?"

"The Hotel Lebada," Angel said. Fred thought his voice sounded as though he were remembering something. He was more certain as he answered, "Yes, of course."

"This is the hour requested," the caller's voice said. He did not sound very happy about this hour -- still well before dawn -- being the one requested. "All to be ready to move at this hour, it is said."

"I'm sorry for the confusion," Angel said. "As you can see, we were robbed. We're all very shocked."

As the caller, apparently an employee of a local hotel, expressed his horror and sympathy, Cordelia muttered, "As soon as Angel gets rid of this guy, we can crash. Well, bolt the doors shut, then crash."

"I need sleep worse than I ever have in my whole life," Fred said. "But I almost don't see how I can sleep until this is over. If we have to stake --"

"Don't say it," Cordelia said. When Charles looked at her, long and hard, she said, "If I have to do it, I'll do it. But don't expect me to deal with that idea one single second before I have to."

In the following silence, Fred heard Angel say, "We'll be ready to move in just a few minutes. Hold the carriage."

"Move?" Charles said. "Who said anything about moving?"

"Apparently," Fred said, "Angel just did." Cordelia looked indignant.

Angel poked his head into their room. "Change of plan."

"Yeah, thanks for consulting us," Cordelia said. "I thought this was the one place Darla and co weren't gonna be today. So why are we leaving?"

"We're going to the other place they won't be," Angel said. "There was somewhere else I could possibly have found Darla in the past. We'd arranged to move from this villa into some hotel rooms, in preparation for a ball that was being held -- I guess it's tonight."

"Anyplace the vampires aren't is okay by me," Fred said. "And you know I mean evil vampires, right? But still, Angel, why move? Seems like we could be more secure here -- you know, we can nail boards across the doors and windows without a bellhop asking us to quit. That kind of thing."

Angel shook his head quickly. "We want to get closer to that ball," he said. "We're going. Because I'd bet anything Darla's going."

"Usually I seize the few chances I get to combine our mission and formalwear," Cordelia said. "But get real, Angel. Look at this place. Darla's freaking out. Her whole world just got turned upside down. Why would she still go to a party?"

"You have to understand -- that's exactly why she WOULD go." He spoke quickly, clearly trying to organize complicated memories as he talked. "Darla -- she doesn't -- I mean, she didn't ever admit anything was wrong unless she had to. She never even explained my curse to Drusilla and Spike; they didn't know for sure what had happened to me until they got to Sunnydale. She always tried to pretend that things were the way she wanted them to be, until she could either make them that way or destroy them. As a philosophy, it worked pretty well for her. And she knows I might try to go to her at the hotel, but there's no way I could have pulled myself together enough to go to the ball."

Fred's memory of Darla was of a desperate pregnant woman who had said ugly things to them all, suffered terribly, then died at her own hand, all in the space of a few days. None of those experiences fitted with what Angel was saying. But she could see both Charles and Cordelia nodding slowly; their greater knowledge of Darla apparently matched up. It was Charles who said, "If Darla's coming to this throwdown, chances are she's gonna have Dru in tow, right?"

"Chances are," Angel said. "I don't know for certain. I don't know anything for certain. But it's a safe place to stay for the day, and it sets us up to have a chance at finding them tonight. Plus you guys can get something to eat."

Fred's stomach grumbled hopefully. Cordelia still looked skeptical. "We could just go to this ball tonight anyway, right?"

"I remember the Hotel Lebada was very luxurious, for this era," Angel said. "It might even have flush toilets."

"We're packin'," Cordelia said quickly. "Clothes. We need clothes!"

Angel smiled. "I'm going upstairs for my things. Get ready."

He went back out to the hallway as the others began rummaging quickly in the trunk. Fred tugged out a bonnet and put it over her head, then drew one of the capes around her. Cordelia found a hooded cape and draped it around her jeans. Charles, unfortunately, wasn't having much luck. "This is all girl stuff!" he said. "The guy stuff is all the trunks out front."

"You could get by the hotel staff in drag," Cordelia suggested. "It worked for Tom Hanks."

Charles shot her a dark look as he kept searching the trunk, increasingly desperate. Fred said soothingly, "It's all right, Charles. We'll come up with some story -- maybe sing the Gilligan's Island song again --"

"No, no and NO," Charles said, giving up on the trunk and beginning to search the rest of the room. "First of all, I ain't ever singing that song again in public, and probably not in private neither. Second --" He hesitated. Fred could hear the catch in his voice that meant he didn't want to say any more. She stepped closer to him, but he shook off the hesitation, kept looking under furniture, in an empty closet. "I don't want to be some kind of freak here. It didn't mean much when I thought it was just for a couple of days -- but if it's forever -- let's face it, the only way I even get into this hotel is pretending to be your servant or something. And I can't do that. Even pretending. Even for a day."

Cordelia didn't look too sympathetic; then again, Fred thought, Cordelia seemed to enjoy pretending to be people she wasn't. It didn't affect her pride, because that was something that was as much a part of her as her blood. Charles' pride, on the other hand, was a fragile, difficult thing at times. Fred knew how it felt, the combination of panic and degradation that clawed and hurt. She'd known that feeling ever since the first time a Pylean called her "cow."

Respect, Fred thought. Her mind zigzagged from one possibility to another. Pretending to be someone else, she thought. Like in a play. Like the theatre -- that comedy last night, with the man in the vest and the turban --

Quickly, she tore down the curtains and draped a length of blue velvet over Charles, who for a second was too surprised to do anything except let her. He looked, Fred thought, like a statue about to be unveiled. "Very Siegfried and Roy," Cordelia commented. "And so not helping."

Fred tugged at the curtains, pulling them into a shape that bore a slight resemblance to a set of flowing robes. "Haven't either of you seen 'Gone With The Wind'? Curtains can be clothes! Work with me here!"

The door opened, and the hotel servants took two whole steps in before gaping at Charles. Angel, slightly behind them, gave them a glare that clearly meant, "You were supposed to be ready." Cordelia shrugged. Charles looked somewhere between frightened and angry.

Fred gave the fabric one last tug -- a mistake, as it caused one side of the curtain to slip off Charles' shoulder, revealing the T-shirt underneath. Too late to do anything about it now. Fred stepped back, presenting Charles with a flourish. "Where are your manners?" she cried, not knowing if the servants knew sufficient English to understand her. Her tone of voice should be enough. "You are supposed to bow when you enter the presence of the -- of the -- of the Caliph of Madagascar!"

One of the servants quickly bowed, towing the others down with him. Angel and Cordelia both looked too surprised to say anything. Charles stared at them for a moment, then swung the velvet curtain over his shoulder grandly. In a deep voice, he said, "You may rise."

"Begging pardon," said one of the servants. "This is not told to us."

"What?" Angel said, picking up Fred's outraged tone with a barely suppressed smile. "My instructions were specific."

"Please to forgive," the servant said. "We beg the pardon of the Caliph --?" His voice rose, making it a question.

Charles' expression flickered for only a moment. "My name is --" He smiled broadly and stood up even straighter. "Muhammad Ali."

Fred wanted desperately to see the looks on Angel and Cordelia's faces, but she didn't dare meet their eyes. Forcing herself to remain serious, she said, "You may carry out the Caliph's belongings. We're ready to leave now. Aren't we?"

"Yes," Angel said. "We are."

The servants stepped aside expectantly; Charles stared at them for a moment before catching the hint and walking imperiously out the door. Angel took Cordelia's arm to lead her behind him, and Fred took up the rear, followed only by the servants struggling with the trunk. As they went through the hallway, she noticed a half-open closet door. Huh, she thought. Somebody left a shoe in there.

Then she realized the shoe was actually still attached to the foot, and possibly more, of a person who was undoubtedly dead. And only then did Fred realize the last and unspoken reason Angel had wanted them to leave the villa for the hotel. She was glad he'd insisted.

***


There were three pairs of feet sticking out of the pantry door -- the maidservant's, the manservant's, and Lord Dalton's. The door wouldn't close, and when Spike tried to force it shut, there was an unpleasant crunching sound. "They won't all fit," he said.

"Crack, crack, crack of bones, music like a xylophone!" Drusilla sang to no particular tune. "Do it again!" She cupped her hands to her ears and started to dance around the kitchen, her elbows knocking pots and serving ladles off their hooks as she twirled manically. The sound of metal pans and cooking implements crashing on to the kitchen's stone floor brought Darla's already stretched patience to breaking point.

"Drusilla, stop it. Stop that NOW." Drusilla ignored her, and so the next time she danced within arm's length, Darla seized her arm and threw her down on to the floor. Dru fell heavily and sat for a second, her face as blank and stunned as a child's. Then, slowly, her lip began to tremble and a series of low sobs started to shake her frail body. Instantly, Darla regretted her actions -- not because she had made Drusilla cry, but because the sound of it was more grating than the crashing of a moment earlier.

"Oh, don't take on so, you're not hurt," she said roughly, but Drusilla only sobbed more loudly. Spike dropped to his knees beside her, comforting Dru while glaring up at Darla with greater defiance than he would have dared show in Angelus' presence. Dru wept on, her sobs all the more ugly to Darla because she knew a word from Angelus would have quieted her.

But Angelus was gone. The gypsies had taken away her magnificent creation, her darling boy, and replaced him with the sniveling, odious creature who'd whined about guilt and reeked with the fetid stench of a soul when he'd crawled back to her. His presence, his very existence, had been unbearable to her, and she'd thrown him into the street. He'd been crying -- actually crying -- as she slammed the door on him. Angelus had wept, and the noise had filled Darla with such a depth of loathing she'd almost reached for a stake to finish the gypsies' work for them.

She hadn't, and until now Darla hadn't known what had made her pause. But as she watched Spike cradle Dru on the kitchen's stone floor, she felt the beginnings of understanding.

"There's a knife in his chest," Drusilla whispered. "Metal, not wood, so the pain goes on and on and on. He feels it. He feels everything, now."

Darla stiffened. It was always a mistake to become too reflective around Drusilla -- her words had an unnerving habit of echoing other people's thoughts. If Drusilla knew about the curse the gypsies had put on Angelus -- if her broken mind had somehow intuited the truth -- how long would it be before she told Spike? And when they both knew, the façade of normality Darla was straining to maintain would crumble away, and she would have to admit to herself that Angelus really was gone.

He was not gone. He could not be.

"Spike," Darla said sharply, "Go and check the rest of the house. I want to be certain no one else is here."

Spike was still holding Drusilla in his arms and didn't appear keen about ending that arrangement. "If there was anyone upstairs, the screaming will have chased them."

Furiously, Darla said, "I am TELLING you what you are to do --"

"Oh, you're telling me?" Spike repeated. "Then why don't you tell me some other things, while you're at it? Such as, what's happened to Angelus and why you're as ready to explode as a bitch in heat --"

"Spike," Drusilla crooned. She had stopped crying and was as calm as she had been inconsolable a few moments earlier. She lifted her hand and drew one fingernail along the side of his neck. "Spike, there's a chambermaid hiding in the bedrooms. Her heart beats, thumpetty thump. Make it stop, for me?"

Spike smiled, and leaned forward, so his forehead touched hers. "Anything you want, sweet."

He left the kitchen; Darla watched him go, the looked down at Drusilla, feeling a strange and completely novel sense of complicity with her. Slowly, she hunkered down on the cold kitchen floor next to her. "Drusilla," she said, "what do you know?"

Drusilla giggled. "Oh, many, many things!" She reached out one skeletal finger and prodded Darla in the stomach. "You're going to grow a little person."

That, Darla thought, was about as probable as Angelus taking vows and becoming a monk. Ignoring Dru's ramblings, she struggled to keep her temper. "What do you know about Angelus, Drusilla? What do you know about what's happened to him?"

Dru's expression became sad. "The knife. The knife in his chest hurts and hurts. I hear his screams echoing down the years. But he will come to love the blade that twists inside him." She glared at Darla. "He will love it as he never loved you."

Darla slapped her, hard. Drusilla wasn't fast enough to turn her head away, and the jewels in Darla's rings tore her cheek. Darla stared at her hand. She'd never professed love for Angelus, or expected to hear similar sentiments from him. All she'd asked was that he amuse her and indulge her, satisfy her whims and desires whenever they arose. Love was for humans; like them, it was weak and easily consumed.

But, a small voice in the back of her head reminded Darla, both she and Angelus had been human, once.

"What are we going to do?" Darla asked. She wasn't talking to Drusilla. She wasn't sure who she was talking to.

Drusilla got up and walked with serene calm to the rack where the kitchen knives hung. There were a dozen or more of them, hung in order of size, from an inch-long blade for paring vegetables to a meat cleaver. Drusilla chose a shining carving knife and held it up under the flickering light of a lamp.

Then she plunged it into her own chest.

She didn't stop until the blade was no longer visible, the knife's handle nestling in the hollow between her breasts. Drusilla gasped and tipped her head back, her face alight with a grotesque mixture of agony and pleasure. Tottering a little, she walked back across the kitchen.

Once they were facing each other, Drusilla lifted Darla's hands and placed them on the carving knife's ivory handle. "Take it out," Drusilla rasped. Her voice was rough, and there was an unpleasant bubbling sound somewhere at the back of her throat. "You have to take it out, before the flesh closes up around the wound. Quickly, now!"

Darla tightened her grip on the knife and pulled. Drusilla gasped as the blade slid out between her ribs, leaving a blotch of deep crimson on the bodice of her dress.

Take out the knife, before the wound seals up around it.

Of course.

"We'll find them," she whispered. "We'll find the vermin Kalderash and make them undo it. We'll show them such terror as they've never known, and when Angelus is restored to us, he will finish our revenge. It will be perfect."

Drusilla laughed, a ghastly sound filled with gurgling from deep in her chest. Blood sprayed from her lips as she giggled, "Yes, yes, yes! That's how it should have been!" She seized Darla by the wrists and pulled her around the kitchen in a mad, spinning waltz; for once, Darla let her. They must look like two lunatics, not one, she thought, but she couldn't bring herself to care.

They didn't stop until Darla grew dizzy and Drusilla began coughing blood from her new wound. But as Darla put a hand to her head to steady herself, she felt a bony hand grip her wrist. Drusilla was staring intently at the strange but beautiful bracelet Angelus had given her. She twisted her head, looking at it from different angles, as fascinated by the shifting colors and shapes as Darla had been.

"They came back," Drusilla said. There was a strange look -- strange even for Drusilla -- on her face as she spoke. "They're here again, and they want to tell the bad story. Can they, when the pattern shifts and moves all the time? It looks solid but you can't touch it. You're just like me, pretty little hologram."

"Pretty little -- what?" Darla looked down at her bracelet. "It's not hollow." Drusilla laughed and laughed; Darla was not accustomed to being laughed at. "Why is that funny?"

"Hologram, hollow gram," Drusilla said, shuffling over to tap the blades of the hanging knives as though they were bells to ring.

Darla stared at Drusilla, sensing for the first time something awry. Drusilla was given to singing tuneless songs and making up nursery rhymes which invariably ended with throat-slitting, but Darla had never known her to invent nonsense words. And Drusilla had examined the bracelet with a kind of intensity that was almost lucid. Darla had the distinct impression that, while she had been preoccupied with keeping the truth about what had happened to Angelus from Drusilla and Spike, somehow she had failed to see that something was being kept from her. Right now, she couldn't begin to guess what it was -- but she was certain she could find out.

"Bloody hell!"

Darla looked around and saw Spike, standing in the kitchen door. There were flecks of blood around his mouth and his face was flushed from a recent feed. But Spike's attention was focused on the knife that lay on the floor between Darla and Drusilla's feet, the blade streaked with blood. He stared at Darla with open hostility. "If you've hurt her --"

"Lovely hurt," Drusilla interrupted. She lifted her hands, and showed him her fingers, the nails black with already-crusting blood. "I did it all myself, Spike."

"If I wanted either of you gone, I wouldn't choose a toy like this to do it," Darla said, nudging the carving knife with her toe. "I'd use a real weapon."

Spike sneered knowingly. "Is that what's happened to Angelus, then? Did one of your tiffs get out of hand and you dusted him?"

Darla didn't answer; instead she exchanged a look with Drusilla, one Spike was meant to see. Their shared secret was safe and, however curious he was, while Darla and Drusilla were in collusion, there was nothing he could do about it.

There was a hook behind the kitchen door, and a selection of servants' capes and cloaks hung on it. Darla selected the largest and threw it at Spike. He caught it, and looked at both the cape and Darla curiously. "What's this for?"

"You'll need it to keep the sun off you," Darla told him. "You're going out."

"What's so urgent it can't wait until dusk?"

"There are gypsies camped somewhere near the city. I want you to find them before they move on." Spike still looked doubtful, and something told Darla this was an occasion to use persuasion rather than brute force to make him do her bidding. Lowering her voice, she said, "I'm in the mood for slaughter. I'm tired of delicate killing, choosing society victims with care. Think of it -- fifty or a hundred mongrel gypsies who no one will miss."

Drusilla brought her hands to her lips and closed her eyes, her face alight with anticipation. "A bloodbath, a lovely bloodbath."

Spike grinned. "Now THIS is more like it. We ought to ditch Angelus more often, if this is the effect it has on you." He picked up the cape and turned to go.

"Spike," Drusilla called.

Spike stopped and looked back.

"Don't kill anyone without me," Dru said. "It's no fun unless we all do it together. No killing yet."

Spike shrugged. "No killing yet. Fine."

"No killing!" Drusilla repeated, more urgently.

"All right!" Spike said, pulling on the cape. Darla watched him walk away along the passage that led up to the main entrance hall, muttering all the time about people who didn't credit him with any self-control.

"It's all going to be different," Drusilla whispered. "Different and wonderful."

Darla laughed and took Drusilla by the arm. "For once, you're making perfect sense," she said. "Come upstairs. You and I have a ball to prepare for."

Drusilla spun around in a circle, letting the knife-blades tear at her fingertips as she whirled. "Second verse," she chanted. "Not the same as the first."


*****************

Chapter Three

*****************


Angel buttoned up his waistcoat, carefully handling the whalebone buttons. Vampires' weight could fluctuate over the years, albeit within a narrow range, but he must have been at almost precisely the same build when he had been cursed as he was now. His old clothing fit him perfectly, and Angel was both startled and almost amused to realize that he remembered the cut of the vest, the weave of the shirt, better than he had the name of Lord Dalton, his intended victim of a night ago.

Then again, perhaps this was only because he was concentrating so hard on the clothing. Angel had other things on his mind -- his complicity in the destruction of a world, their failure to understand Drusilla's plan until it was too late, what it had felt like to attack Wesley again -- and he knew if he let himself dwell on any one of those topics, he wouldn't think about anything else any time soon. He needed to stay focused. Everyone's futures depended on that now.

"This is so wrong," Cordelia said. Angel turned around to see her standing in the doorway of their adjoining suites, wearing a camisole, pantalets and a corset that, to judge by the stiff way she was holding herself, wasn't very comfortable. "I mean, I thought DKNY bodyshapers were cruel and unusual punishment, but this is crazy!"

The camisole was as modest as a sleeveless T-shirt, and the pantalets were past Cordelia's knees. Angel had seen her in clothes that revealed far more. And yet, as she stood there, she seemed more naked to him than she ever had before, and he couldn't think of anything to say.

Of course, he realized. I think of these as clothes that a man only sees if he's about to make love to a woman. So it feels more revealing to me than it is -- than it should --

"Ground control to Colonel Angel," Cordelia said, tipping her head to one side. "You're the expert on torture devices, right? So you should understand this corset thing."

Her voice brought him back to the matter at hand with a jolt. "Let me see," he said, motioning for her to turn around. When she did, he chuckled. "No, you haven't done it right."

"I knew it," she said, tossing her short hair. "I knew it wasn't supposed to be this tight."

"No," he said. "It's supposed to be a lot tighter. You haven't even pulled the laces."

"Are you freaking kidding me?" Cordelia's mouth was open as she stared at him over her shoulder. "How did women back then -- now -- breathe?"

"They didn't breathe all that well," Angel said. "You always read about Victorian women swooning, right? Now you know why."

Cordelia inched away from him. "Maybe I should find a different look for this party thing," she said. "When did the muumuu first become stylish?"

"I think that was never," Angel said. "You know, you don't have to get ready just yet. Fred or Gunn either."

"You're getting dressed," Cordelia pointed out. "Either that, or pajamas in this era are way more formal than I ever guessed."

"I have to take care of some things with the hotel staff downstairs," Angel said. "After that, I'm going to try to sleep too. We should rest today if we can."

"I am going to sleep," she promised. "I just want to figure out what I'm wearing, is all." After a moment, she said, a little more quietly, "Out of everything we have to think about -- that's kinda the only fun thing, you know? Everything else is so --"

"I know," he said. He rested his hands on her shoulders for a moment and added, with far more conviction than he felt, "We'll figure it out, Cordy."

"You're a liar," she said gently. "And I love you for it."

Angel's stomach did a weird and not unwelcome flip-flop, but the moment was broken by Fred coming through the door in her own voluminous period underwear. The sight didn't have the same effect on Angel as seeing Cordelia had. "Corsets are supposed to be tight, aren't they?" Fred said, wrinkling her nose. "This thing is falling off me."

Angel said, "You're skinnier than most upper-class women of this era, Fred. You probably won't need a corset." He considered it for a moment. "You might actually want some padding. You should find something in those trunks."

"Padding?" Fred blushed a brilliant pink color.

"My girl don't need no padding," Gunn said, following Fred through the doorway and hugging her around the back. She smiled, reassured, and snuggled against him as he held up an arm encased in a wide sleeve. "What I want to know is, what are these baggy-ass shirts? You couldn't tuck these things in --"

"They're nightshirts," Angel said. "For sleeping."

"Oh," Gunn said, trying to drape his shirt around him a little more tightly. "Y'know, I'd sleep in boxers if it wasn't so damn cold in here."

Angel looked underneath the bed and lifted out a brass pan with a hinged lid. "You could use this."

Gunn looked at the object doubtfully. "For what?"

"It's a bed warmer," Angel said. He lifted the lid of the pan in demonstration. "You put hot ashes from the fire in there and then set it between the sheets."

Gunn considered the bed-warmer, then the nightshirt he wore. "So I get to burn to death in bed AND look stupid at the same time. Gee, I'm loving the nineteenth century more every minute."

Angel personally thought he'd take a nightshirt over Gunn's Dockers any day of the week, but he decided against mentioning it. Putting the bed warmer back where he had found it, he said, "I'll get one of the servants to bring up a tea tray and leave it at the door; I can bring it in when I get back upstairs."

"So what is it you're working out with the bellhops?" Cordelia said. "Continental breakfast? The hours for the sauna?"

"There are some things we'll need for tonight," Angel said. "You and Fred have ballgowns, but Gunn needs a suit and waistcoat if he's going to come across as the -- what is it again?"

"Caliph of Madagascar," Fred and Gunn said in unison, sharing another smile.

"I could order you what I'm wearing," Angel said to Gunn, "but I don't think you'd like it much."

"I can believe that, seeing how stupid these frock coats and cravats and what-all look?" Gunn said, shaking his head. "If that stuff is considered plain, I don't even want to know what counts as fancy."

"We'll still want to hire -- rent -- some jewelry for Fred and Cordy," Angel said. The jewelry, of course, had been missing from the villa; Darla would have taken that and left the rest. She'd always loved jewelry. "And Cordelia needs a wig."

"So glad someone said it," Gunn said. Then he caught sight of Cordelia's glare and pretended to be very interested in the fastenings of Fred's loose corset.

When Cordelia turned the glare on Angel, he said, "Your haircut's not contemporary. That's all there is to it."

"And yours is?" Cordelia gestured at his head.

"Once I brush it down, it won't attract notice," Angel said. "People will think it's odd that I don't have a mustache or beard, but it's not unheard of, and it's not like I can do anything about that in a couple of hours. But you can wear a wig."

For a second, he thought she was going to continue arguing with him, but exhaustion got the better of her and she yawned hugely. "Fine, then. Get them to send up dinner later, Angel. I'm sleepier than I am hungry. How about you guys?"

Fred nodded. "I'm too sleepy to be hungry at all."

"That's the first time this girl ain't been hungry in almost a year," Gunn said, hugging her again. "That's how you know it's serious."

"I'll have it sent up in a few hours," Angel said. "Okay, is there anything you girls need in your room?"

Gunn and Fred exchanged a look. "Um, Angel?" Fred said. "Charles and I were sort of hoping that, you know, we could, well, share."

Cordelia waved them off. "Go on, you two," she said breezily. "Angel and I will be fine. We've crashed out in the same bed before, right?"

"Right," Angel said faintly.

"See y'all in a few hours," Gunn said, drawing Fred back into what was now their room. As the door closed behind them, Angel heard him whisper, "Come with me to the casbah," and Fred's answering giggle.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, but she was grinning. "Young love. SO disgusting." Angel thought this was a little rich coming from somebody who called her current boyfriend "Grooie," but he let it pass. "I'm crashing, Angel. Be quiet on your way back in, all right?"

It would be far easier to deal with the prospect of getting into bed with Cordelia if she were already asleep, Angel thought; if she didn't notice him, then maybe he could pretend not to notice her. Or at least the poorness of his pretending wouldn't matter. "Stealthy, remember?" he said, and she smiled as she stretched back on the bed, her head falling against the pillows.

That particular mental image stayed with Angel as he went downstairs, negotiated with the hotel staff and described exactly what he wanted -- or, at least, came as close as he could with his rusty Romanian. When they asked him what dishes to send up, Angel was almost entirely at a loss; he had never been in the habit of eating human food as a vampire, and the names of the Romanian dishes meant little to him. He finally settled on what sounded most familiar and hoped it would be to the others' liking.

When he finally went upstairs, he opened the door to his -- their -- bedroom as quietly as he could. Cordelia was sprawled on her belly on the far side of the bed, tucked beneath thick covers. She didn't even stir in her sleep as he shut the door behind him. Relieved, Angel went into the small antechamber and undressed, peeling off his nineteenth-century clothing down to his twenty-first-century boxers, then tugged on a nightshirt. It felt odd -- he hadn't ever been much in the habit of wearing anything to sleep in -- but he didn't think Cordelia would be thrilled to find him sleeping nude next to her. Unfortunately.

He settled into the bed as gently as he could, trying to ignore the warmth created by Cordelia's nearby body. Just as he plumped the pillow to his liking and closed his eyes, her drowsy voice said, "Angel?"

"Just me," he said. "Go back to sleep."

'Mmmph." Cordelia turned onto her side to face him. "Angel, can I ask you something?"

Angel didn't know whether to feel dismayed or -- against all odds -- a little hopeful. "Anything."

Cordelia lay there, blinking sleepily, for long enough that Angel wondered if she was fully awake, or whether she would simply drift off again in another few moments. But at last she said, "I'm not even pretending to know how hard all this has been on you. I haven't been there. I couldn't know."

"I'm okay," Angel said, trying to soothe her back to sleep. "I promise you."

"I believe you," she replied. Her eyes were a little more alert now. "That's just it, Angel. When all this stuff with Drusilla started -- you were still on the verge. Don't even deny it."

"I wouldn't."

"All that stuff you said, about how tired you were. How you didn't think you could stand to start it all again -- I hated hearing you talk like that, but I understood. I really did." Cordelia propped up on one arm. "Here's what I don't get. When we did start it all over, it made you better. I don't mean all better; I know it still hurts."

Angel had forgotten how soft her voice could sound when she wanted. "Of course," he said.

"But -- you are better, aren't you?" When he nodded, she said, "Why?"

He looked up at the ceiling -- pressed tin, covered in sky-blue paint that was probably pure lead. He weighed his answer carefully before he spoke. "Remember what I told you about the spell the old gypsy woman tried to cast on me?"

"You mean -- the one where she tried to take your memories? Yeah."

"Not all my memories," Angel said. "My memories of Connor. She was going to steal those from me, and when I realized that -- Cordy, I realized that's all I've got of him, now. Those memories are the only way I have left to be with him. And I knew I'd never want to lose them, no matter how much it hurts to remember. That's all I have." Cordelia's fingers brushed against his hand, and he looked back over at her. "Connor lost his life, I guess. I'll never know when or how. But he -- he had five months. Five months when he was taken care of and loved. It's not much, but it's what he had. My son deserves those five months. If every other damn thing that's happened to me happened so he could have those, then -- it's worth it. It's all worth it."

Cordelia squeezed his hand tightly. "We'll fix it, Angel," she said, her voice hoarse. "We'll stop Dru. We'll make it all happen again."

"We will," Angel said. He remembered Rome in ruins, fire leaping to the sky, the shattered wreck of Wesley Wyndham-Price's body. "We have to."

Otherwise, the cost of saving the world could be Angel's own life -- which he could give up -- and Connor's -- which would be so much harder --

He rolled on to his side, away from Cordelia, not rejecting her so much as turning into himself. She said nothing, but after a few moments he felt her fingers in his hair, gently soothing him to sleep.

It was a measure of his exhaustion that it worked.

***

Angelus hadn't slept in -- how long had it been? Weeks, months, years? He'd lost track of time. But the tiny part of his mind that was still clinging stubbornly to sanity insisted the sun had blazed through the single window of the barn twice since he'd stumbled into it, blindly seeking shelter from the dawn. Two sunrises, and the sun had not yet set a second time. Less than two days had passed. Two days that might as well have been an eternity.

("I would die now," the man whispered, his hand outstretched toward the body of his wife. "I would seek death, that she should not be alone a moment longer in heaven." Maggots crawled out from under the bridal veil; Angelus' merry joke had been to show young lovers how transient was the flesh. But the groom had continued to profess his love even when Angelus had made him watch his bride rot in front of him over the course of weeks, and now the joke was growing tiresome. He broke the groom's neck and closed the cellar door behind him as he left, but the man had been smiling as he died and Angelus had not until this moment understood why, or comprehended the extent of his defeat.)

("Show mercy, sir," the girl begged. She was fresh-faced and slight, and he pinned her down easily. "For the love of God, show mercy." He had replied he had no love for God, but he would show her love of a different kind, love that would make her bleed. Now he felt her under him again, yet somehow all memory of pleasure in the act was eclipsed by the look in her eyes as she pleaded for her dignity, her virtue and finally her life. He had not even paused.)

("You are not my son," his mother said. Her knuckles were white as she clutched the rosary; a useless gesture, no saints could save her now. He flinched from the sight of it, but it could not turn him back. "You are not my son," his mother had said with bright, sorrowful eyes, "for my son had a good soul." He had laughed in her face and drained her dry, but now her words were like hot needles under his skin: My son had a good soul.)

Angelus shuddered and clapped his hands over his ears in an attempt to shut out the clamor of voices that threatened to deafen him with their screams and pleas. They only grew louder. He closed his eyes, but the faces that floated in front of him simply became more vivid. He writhed and gasped on the floor of the barn like a drowning man, swallowed up by a rising tide of revulsion and guilt. Once, he regained his senses enough to see he had ripped open his shirt and was tearing at his face, his chest, his hands, his nails leaving deep scores in his skin, as if he could dig the soul out with his bare hands. He heard screaming, and it was only hours later that the raw pain in his throat finally made him realize the screams were his own.

And when his strength was spent and his voice reduced to a croak, the parade of horrors in his mind had still barely begun.

There had to be a way to make it stop.

Angelus looked up and saw the wide shaft of sunlight which slanted through the barn's single high window, and realized there was.

Slowly, deliberately, he began to move toward the light. He was weak, exhausted by the physical and mental tortures of the past days, and he didn't have the strength to stand. So he half-crawled, half-dragged himself toward the shaft of sunlight, feeling his skin prickle with every inch nearer he came to it.

At last, he lay beside the pool of sunlight. If he lay here long enough, the movement of the sun would claim him of its own accord. Or, if he chose, he could simply roll into it right now. He lay still as he contemplated both possibilities, feeling a kind of relief that the voices would soon fall silent. Above him, particles of dust from the hay glinted as they traced random paths lazily through the air. It was an ordinary sight which Angelus had never consciously noticed before, yet suddenly he found it extraordinarily beautiful.

("I'm an angel!" his sister laughed. She was dancing in the sunlight under the barn's window, while he lay on the soft, newly-cut hay and applauded her efforts. Her faith was the simple belief of a child; she'd thought that every sunbeam was a soul ascending to heaven, borne on angels' wings. She had loved him without reservation or condition, and the gift he had given her in return had been death.)

Every sunbeam a soul ascending --

The shaft of sunlight moved a fraction closer to him, and he felt his fingertips begin to burn. With the pain came an emotion Angelus had not known in over 150 years -- fear.

A creature with a soul was a creature that could be judged. And the burning that followed would not last for seconds, but for all eternity.

He snatched his hand back from the light and scrambled back into the shadows. As he cowered there, the full horror of his situation began to sink in. There was no choice he could make to end this torment, no possible release from his sentence. He would suffer forever.

Forever.

Unless --

Darla could rescue him. She had made him once; she could make him again, restore him, recreate him. And he would be grateful, so grateful, if only she would come and make this stop, make it all go away --

("They gave you a soul," Darla said. She laid her hand on his cheek, her fingertips gentle against his skin. Then her nails became talons as she scratched her contempt on to his face. "A filthy soul!" she spat. "You're disgusting!")

He lifted a hand to his cheek, and touched the healing but still fresh scratch. "Help me," he whispered. "Please help me."

At the door of the barn, something moved. Terror gripped him, and he pushed himself into the darkest corner, huddling like a frightened animal. A human shape approached him, but Angelus was half-blinded by the sunlight, and he couldn't see its face.

Terror became wild hope. Darla. It had to be Darla. She had come for him, and now everything would be all right again.

"I'm sorry," he said, holding out his arms to her. "I'm sorry. Forgive me. I'm sorry --"

In that instant, he saw that it wasn't Darla at all -- just a child, a peasant child, staring at him with dark, accusing eyes. Abruptly, the child turned and started to leave. Desperately, Angelus lurched forward, clutching at its feet, but he was weak and only succeeded in sprawling on to the floor. When he lifted his head, the barn door was swinging shut.

"Help me," he said again, but there was no one to hear him.

***

Charles grinned at Fred. "No matter what your dress is like, I don't think you're going to improve on the way you look right now."

Fred -- on the far side of their bedroom, pouring herself water from a pitcher -- blushed a little. Being naked in front of Charles was still a very new experience: a little embarrassing, but more enjoyable. Better yet was Charles being naked in front of her; he was sprawled out on the bed, more relaxed than she'd seen him since this time-travel craziness began. "Thanks," Fred said, ducking her head. "But I really don't think this is appropriate formalwear in 1898."

"You could probably get away with it at the MTV Video Awards," Gunn said. He folded his arms behind his head as she came back to sit on the foot of the bed. "Too bad. These old-timey guys don't know what they're missing."

"Nope," Fred said. Then she began turning the phrase over in her mind. "There's so much they don't know, so much they're about to figure out. The biggest revolutions in the study of physics -- they're only a few years away." Her lips began to tug into a smile. "Charles, Einstein's out there. He's alive, this very minute! He's not even that far away. He's -- oh, I don't know how old he is, but he's probably a disappointing student right now. Marie Curie. Niels Bohr. They're all out there, on the verge of so many amazing discoveries. And they don't even know it yet."

She wriggled happily and beamed at Charles. He didn't seem to share her enthusiasm; he was smiling at her, but a little sadly. "Is that what you're going to do?" Charles asked, his voice barely more than a whisper. "If we get stuck here? Go do Marie Curie one better?"

Fred shook her head. "Marie Curie's going to be working with radium. Thanks but no thanks." Then she registered what Gunn had said and how he had said it. "You're worried about us getting stuck here."

"Of course I am," Charles said. He shifted uneasily on the coverlets. "I know I bitch about the agency, and not having any money, and the Hyperion being a drafty ol' barn, but -- you know I love it there, right? That's the best I've ever had it my whole life, working with you guys. Being with you."

Gently, Fred brushed his cheek with her hand. "No matter what happens -- you'll still have me."

The smile faded from Charles' face. "Where is that gonna be? Anyplace in 1898 that a girl who looks like you and a guy who looks like me can be together? I can't think of one."

Fred hesitated. She hadn't thought about that before.

Charles continued, "I'm having trouble even thinking of a place where I could work that wouldn't make me want to kill somebody, or myself. This Caliph gig is all right, but let's face it: We don't have the cash to keep that up for long. The career options for guys like me in this century? Sharecropping and being a Pullman porter. I guess I could give Africa a try, but that just means I'd have to live through a zillion civil wars. What's that you said? Thanks but no thanks."

"There's places in America that wouldn't be so bad," Fred protested. "There were people trying to make a difference. You could help. WE could help."

"What? Pal around with George Washington Carver? Help him figure out stuff you can make out of peanuts? I don't think I'd be real good at that, you know what I'm sayin'?" Charles thumped the headboard of the bed, his lips pressed together in a thin line.

They sat together in silence for a moment. Then Charles said, "Okay. Peanut butter. I could probably come up with that one."

Against her will, Fred smiled. Charles smiled back. Then both of them started laughing and couldn't stop. Fred was giggling helplessly as she burrowed deep into his arms. It was tragic and terrible, to be stuck in a time that wouldn't acknowledge who Charles was, everything he had to offer. But it was also just so incredibly -- stupid. So stupid you could even laugh at the idea.

It was stupid, but it was also real. And it was where they were, right now, with only an uncertain hope of getting back where they belonged anytime soon, or ever.

When they were both quiet, intertwined on the bed, she said, "We'll think of something. I don't know what, yet. But you're not going to be alone. We'll all be with you." She kissed him, just at his collarbone, before whispering, "I'll be with you."

"That means a lot," Charles said, stroking her hair. "But you know what would mean even more? Not getting stuck in the past in the first place."

"That's definitely Plan A," Fred agreed. But she could no longer avoid seeing their other futures, all tangled up in the past.

***

Cordelia realized, with a jolt, that synthetics hadn't yet been invented in the year 1898. Which meant that the hair in the wig she was currently adjusting on top of her head must once have belonged to someone else. Probably recently.

Whose hair was this? she thought. Did they, like, give it up willingly? Were there hair bandits? Has this been washed? This could be the hair of a nasty person.

She gazed at her reflection for a moment longer, then relaxed. Oh, well. Not gonna argue with results.

Instead of the short, blonde 'do she hadn't quite gotten accustomed to, Cordelia now had long, dark hair caught up in an elaborate upturn of curls. The style seemed really full on the top to her, but Angel had sworn this was the fashion. What were those old drawings? Gibson girls? She studied her face in the mirror and decided she enjoyed the effect. "I just realized I like big hair," she said to Fred, who sat beside her at the dressing table. "If I ever accept any other element of '80s retro, please shoot me."

"I kinda liked leg-warmers," Fred confessed. "And I used to think the colors back then were too bright, but right now they don't look so bad."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "No lie." Fred's dress for the evening was a brilliant magenta, and her own was a color halfway between yellow and orange. Pitching her voice to carry into the next room, she called, "What is it with these people? Did the world just switch over from black-and-white, like, last year?"

Angel's voice floated back, "In a way, yes. They only just perfected aniline dyes. People are enjoying the new effect. Besides, lighting's usually not as bright as you're used to. Your dresses will look better in the ballroom."

"Do you promise?" Fred said. Cordelia heard Angel laugh.

"Y'all got a brooch or something?" Gunn said from his place in the corner. He had on a black evening suit, around which he'd pinned the blue-velvet drapery as a sort of toga-sash, in an attempt to look Eastern. At the moment, he was struggling, with limited success, to create something that might be a turban. "This thing ain't stayin' tucked."

"Let me work with it some," Fred said, getting up to help him. "You think we could pin a feather to the front?"

As Fred began to fuss with Gunn's improvised robes, Cordelia put on her earrings. She winced as she screwed them into place; they were heavy, and they weren't for pierced ears, which meant that they felt as though they were going to stretch her earlobes down to her knees before the night was over. They were pretty, though -- elaborate and glittery, WAY too much by her own standards, but obviously right for the wig and the dress.

She studied her reflection for a moment. The dress had a deeper neckline than she would have expected; weren't these people supposed to be prudes? The puffed sleeves were extremely -- extreme. But as extravagant as all of it was, Cordelia liked it. Style was a thing you could sense, at least if you grew up making spring shopping trips to Milan. Cuts and colors changed, but not that sense that everything just worked.

She glanced sideways and wrinkled her nose; you could also sense when things didn't work at all.

"I look like a curtain tassel," Fred complained. She pulled at the gold lace at her throat; her wide skirts and the ruffles around her neckline overwhelmed her tiny frame. At least her hair was pretty; they'd gotten it to look roughly like Cordelia's wig. "How come the skinny girl had to be the one with no taste?"

"It's not that bad," Cordelia lied. "You would -- um -- be very visible in the dark. Hey, the gold lace might work as a reflector or something. Like on a bike."

"We're a couple decades before headlights," Fred said glumly. She returned to work on Gunn's turban-in-progress.

"You're beautiful in anything, Fred. And, on the bright side -- at least you don't look like one of those mushrooms in Fantasia," Gunn said. "Hey, Angel! Get on out here in your fancy-schmancy outfit. I could use something to laugh at besides myself."

Angel stepped into the room, wearing his own evening clothes. Cordelia felt a wide grin spreading over her face. Gunn looked utterly indignant.

"It's the new American fashion," Angel explained. "They're calling it the tuxedo. I think it might catch on."

His face was serious, but there was humor in his eyes which Cordelia recognized and welcomed with relief. He hadn't just been trying to reassure her when he'd told her he had a reason to keep going; he'd been telling the truth. Angel really was going to be okay.

"You look great," she said. "Very debonair."

It was a simple enough compliment, but Angel seemed to like it. That man is such a fool about clothes, Cordelia thought. No wonder we get along. He straightened his bow tie, and she stood up and pirouetted for his inspection. When she met Angel's eyes again, he was smiling warmly at her. "This century suits you," he said softly.

"Kinda on the fence about the puffed sleeves," Cordelia said. "But I love the earrings. Very bling-bling." As she had expected, Angel's face clouded in confusion; Angel's world and the world of bling-bling did not mix.

"I coulda had a tux?" Gunn said. "Angel, you are in some deep trouble. Why didn't you tell me you were getting a tux?"

Angel frowned. "When we went to the ballet, you complained about your tuxedo all night. I figured you wouldn't want one."

Gunn held up the blue velvet. "You figured I'd rather wear curtains?" Angel shrugged.

Fred said soothingly, "Just think, Charles. You only have to wear the turban once, but you can tell the story forever."

"I'm not telling anybody about this," Gunn said, pinning a fairly competent turban in place at last. "And neither are y'all. Are we clear on that?"

"Let's just get a game plan together," Cordelia said. She took another sip of the sticky-sweet liqueur Angel had ordered, resolving never to drink plum brandy again. "First of all, let's go for the worst-case scenario. How long do we give your vampire family to show up? Ten minutes? Two hours?"

"More like two hours," Angel said, instantly businesslike again. "Not much more than that -- but after two hours, we should worry."

"Darla liked to be fashionably late?" Cordelia guessed.

He looked a little uncomfortable as he shook his head. "You just never knew when she'd decide to kill someone on the way."

"So, if they don't show, what do we do next?" Gunn said. "Start searching Sighisoara? You can maybe use your vamp radar --"

"That's going to be harder to do here," Angel said. "Romania is thick with vampires, particularly in this era. I'd still know if one of the vampires of my line were very close, but it's going to be more difficult to pick them out from this crowd."

Cordelia didn't like the sound of that, but then, it had been a while since she'd liked the sound of any of this. "That means -- you want us to go to the gypsies? That's not going to cut it, Angel. WE might have accepted that they've got to die for the greater good of the future, but I'm guessing they might not see it that way. Particularly coming from you."

"I realize that," Angel replied. "We'll just have to watch them. Wait for Darla and Spike and Dru to make their move. Then -- we'll have to take it from there."

Fred ducked her head. "You mean we might have to kill the gypsies ourselves?"

They were all quiet for a while. Angel finally said, "I don't know. The main thing is making sure they don't lift the curse. We might just be able to kill Drusilla and Spike."

Cordelia noticed that he didn't say Darla.

"Well, then, let's look on the bright side," Fred said resolutely. "If they do show up, we just stake Drusilla, right? Poof!"

"But that's gonna change the future too," Gunn protested. "I'm not saying Dru did the world a whole lotta good after this, but she did something. And we all know by now how easy it is to throw things outta whack."

Cordelia shook her head. "But the world didn't change all that much, really -- not counting what Angelus did with the Judge. That's a big 'not counting,' but seriously. Remember all that stuff Fred was saying in the museum, about Picasso and Warhol and all that? I mean, at this point, we're not going to get out without changing history. That's just -- done. We only get to pick the lesser of about ninety jillion evils, and killing Dru sounds like it."

Fred nodded. "The damage to the timeline is done, Charles. At this point, we can only minimize it."

"I just want to make sure the damage we do doesn't leave us stuck here," Gunn said.

"We don't kill Drusilla unless we have to," Angel said. "We don't do anything unless we have to." His voice was surprisingly hard, and Cordelia stared at him.

"Guess we'll see what happens when we get there," Gunn said. "Now all we gotta do is get through a couple hours of a 19th-century ball."

Fred said, "I'm guessing a ball means dancing. I know how to waltz, and a couple of reels -- I had to have a coming-out in high school. My grandmother insisted." When Gunn's eyes went wide, she added, "That means I was a debutante." He sighed in relief.

"I did the whole deb circuit too," Cordelia said. "So we're okay on dances, right?"

"Probably," Angel said. "But there's a lot you need to know -- for instance, you're all carrying yourselves wrong. You need to be a little less free with your body language. More controlled, more formal."

Cordelia stood a little straighter; sure enough, it made the corset's boning bite into her a little less uncomfortably. "More formal. Gotcha."

Fred said, "Is there going to be anything to eat? Not that those, uh, weird sausages weren't just great, but -- you know me and my stomach. Too much is never enough."

"Don't say that," Angel said. "Referring to any part of your body, except maybe your hand or your head -- that would be incredibly rude. There are going to be people downstairs who would be appalled that you said the word stomach in public."

"You have GOT to be kidding," Cordelia said. When Angel didn't crack a smile, she started to get even more worried. "So, swearing is totally out of the question --"

"Completely," Angel said. "Gunn or I might get away with it if we were speaking to another man. But not you or Fred. The two of you need to know how to hold your fans --"

"There's a wrong way to hold a fan?" Fred said.

"Holding them different ways means different things," Angel said. "You don't want to inadvertently offend or encourage the wrong people. Keep your gloves on at all times. And if anybody sends over a flower, let me see it. They all have meanings; it would be a message, not a gift."

They began their tutorial on the ways and manners of the late 19th century, and Cordelia listened carefully. But beneath her attention was a kind of wonder and unease. She was so accustomed to thinking of Angel as the one who was perpetually a little out of step; now that was her role. He'd had to show her how to turn on the lamps, what to use to brush her teeth, even how to wear her underwear.

She placed one hand across her abdomen, felt the confining corset beneath her ballgown. If they couldn't get back to their own future -- if they got stuck in this era, one way or another -- it was going to be like this forever. Always being a few steps behind, always relying on Angel to set them right. Unseen constraints holding them in a difficult place. Cordelia wasn't sure she could bear it. Does it feel like this for Angel? she wondered. Is the present as weird for him as the past is for us?

No, she decided. Nothing is as weird as this underwear.

Finally, as they got up to go, Gunn -- who had taken his place in front of them, befitting a foreign ruler, said, "What do you guys know about Madagascar?"

Cordelia looked at the others, who looked back somewhat blankly. Angel finally said, "Ah, it's an island off the east coast of Africa."

"Yeah, that much I knew," Gunn said. "I watched Carmen Sandiego same as anybody else. But I can't make two hours of small talk outta that. What else?"

"They have lemurs there," Fred said. "They're the smallest and most primitive primates."

"Lemurs. Got it." Gunn clapped his hands together. "What else?"

Everyone was quiet for another couple of moments. Cordelia thought back to a trip she'd taken to the San Diego Zoo. "Some lemurs have ringed tails?"

Gunn groaned. "This is gonna be a long night."

***

It was a good day to be alive. Or, in Spike's case, a good day to be dead.

Sure, the sun was high in the clear winter sky, which was hardly the ideal conditions for a vampire to take a walk, but any irritation Spike might have felt about the necessity of ducking between pools of shadow in the forest was more than offset by his good mood. Angelus was gone -- most likely because of some fight with Darla, given her reticence on the subject of his sudden departure. He'd probably be back soon -- those two enjoyed making up too much to stay apart long -- but in his absence Drusilla was devoting her undivided attention to Spike, and Darla had suddenly decided to let them have some fun for a change. As far as Spike was concerned, the longer Angelus sulked somewhere far away from the rest of them, the better.

If only the sun would hurry up and set, the day would be perfect. In other words, night.

Spike made his way through the forest, following a path that would have looked erratic to any observer, until they realized he was using shadows like stepping stones through pools of light. He was heading for a place between the forest and the main road to Sighisoara which his enquiries in the city had indicated was often used as a campsite by gypsies. 'Enquiries' wasn't exactly the right word for grabbing strangers off the street and terrifying them until they told him what he wanted to know, but Spike had never favored subtle methods. Besides, it had worked.

Suddenly he stopped, sinking into the shadows with practiced fluidity. Something was different in the air around him: almost imperceptibly, it hummed, set vibrating by a beating heart. A beating heart which was very close. Prey.

Spike grinned to himself. His good day had just gotten even better.

The sun was starting to set, filling the forest with an agreeable gloom that was more suited to Spike's senses and his purpose. He moved more quickly now, less inhibited by the shrinking patches of sunlight. The heartbeat was louder in his ears, now, but its pace was as regular as it had been when he first heard it. The stupid bugger had no idea he was being hunted.

It was more fun when they knew.

Deliberately, Spike stepped on a fallen branch, snapping it loudly in two.

The heartbeat suddenly began to race.

That was more like it.

Ahead of him, Spike saw a young man running through the forest, slowed by the low branches he couldn't see and Spike could. The trail he left was marked as clearly by the heady scent of fear as by disturbed vegetation.

Spike broke into a run, easily matching and then exceeding the pace of his quarry. The pounding heartbeat was a drum in his head, now, urging him on, filling him with a surge of strength that never failed to thrill or delight him.

A second later, it was over. The boy -- he was little more than a child -- gasped as Spike threw him on to the ground, then tried ineffectually to fight off his attacker. Spike briefly considered letting him get away, then decided he was too hungry to waste time playing with his food. Time to eat.

He let out a snarl and lowered his fangs to the boy's neck.

"Demon!" the boy shrieked. Spike's ear was next to his mouth, and the noise made him recoil.

"Bloody hell, of course I'm a demon," he confirmed irritably. "When something leaps on you in the dark and grabs your throat, it's not usually an encyclopedia salesman. Now hold still while I kill you."

"Demon!" the boy shouted again. There was fear in his voice, but also anger and a measure of determination that would have made Spike feel just a little uneasy, if the situation had not been so wholly to his advantage. "You may take my life, but you will not undo our vengeance. He suffers; I have seen him."

Spike wasn't listening; he was concentrating on pinning down his victim and exposing his throat. There was the jugular, a rich, ripe well, begging to be tapped and drained.

Again, Spike made ready to bite.

He heard something whistle through the air, and felt a sharp pain between his shoulder blades.

With a roar, Spike got up and spun around, keeping hold of his victim with one hand while clutching at his back with the other. He had been hit by an arrow; when he pulled out the shaft, he saw it was a single piece of sharpened wood, making it look more like a stake than anything usually fired from a bow. He threw it down in disgust, and realized that he was rapidly being surrounded by a crowd of armed, torch-bearing men.

At least, he thought sourly, Darla would be pleased he'd found the gypsies.

There were at least thirty of them, and probably more coming. Spike relished a slaughter, but he relished his skin more, and those odds weren't exactly ideal.

He pushed his foot down on to the chest of his intended victim. At least a couple of ribs snapped under his heel, and the boy cried out in pain. "Your little friend here is still alive," Spike snarled at the gathering mob. "One step closer by any of you and he won't be."

The crowd now formed a circle around Spike, but it was no longer closing in on him. Spike kept his boot firmly in the middle of the man's chest while he considered what to do next.

One of the gypsies -- a gray-haired man who was thin to the point of gauntness -- stepped forward. Spike growled at him, and screwed his heel down until the boy on the ground gave a low, gurgling cry of pain. "I think I told you to stay back."

The thin man stopped. Then, raising one hand, he started to speak, murmuring words in a language Spike didn't know.

Gypsies and their superstitions. Spike laughed and called out mockingly, "Sticks and stones --"

He broke off abruptly. The ground under his feet was getting distinctly uncomfortable.

Slowly, the thin gypsy lowered his hand. He smiled. The soles of Spike's feet began to smoke.

Bloody hell, they'd only gone and consecrated the ground right under him.

Spike leapt back, overbalanced, and put his hand on to the ground to steady himself. His palm sizzled, and he yelped. Now he was hopping from foot to foot, like a man performing a bizarre and frenetic dance. A wooden arrow thudded into his chest, too close to his heart for comfort.

Spike staggered backward, and the gypsies surged forward to help their fellow. For a brief moment, they seemed more intent on helping Spike's intended victim to safety than on pursuing his attacker.

Spike fled, limping on blistered feet and cursing liberally. Behind him, he could hear the gypsies celebrating.

Not such a good day, after all.

***

The boy -- his name was Ernst -- was still trembling as he sat by the fire; the cup he was cradling shook so violently the old woman feared he would spill its contents and add to his already considerable pain by scalding himself. But his physical injuries would heal, given time. That his mind would heal was less certain, if the dull look of fear in his eyes was a fair measure.

"Tell me what you saw," she said.

The gathered crowd fell silent -- no small achievement, as every adult member of the clan had gathered around the open fire which had been lit in the centre of the camp as soon as dusk had fallen.

"Mother Yanna." It wasn't the boy who had answered her, but Gregor. A giant by Kalderash -- and most other -- measures, he stood almost a head taller than any of the other men in the clan, and was respected for more than just his physical strength. Mother Yanna had been pleased when her daughter Ilsa had chosen him over the rest of her suitors; she had felt the rightness of the match, had sensed that the children of the union would be strong and gifted. Gia had been both.

"Mother Yanna," Gregor repeated, "the boy has been through enough tonight. Can this not wait until the morning?"

"It cannot," Mother Yanna said sharply. Gregor had the luxury of considering the wellbeing of one person; the weight of the clan rested on her shoulders. "The boy almost died to bring us news. He should at least deliver it. Speak, boy."

The note of command in her voice had the desired effect. Ernst gripped his cup more tightly and, barely lifting his eyes, said, "The demon suffers. I saw it myself."

There was a murmur of approval from around the fire. "Tell us more," Mother Yanna said.

"I found it hiding from the day in a barn. It shuddered and twisted like a man in his death throes, and I heard it weep and moan. Then it saw me, but I didn't run." As he told his story, Ernst sat up a little straighter. "The demon cowered from me, and its eyes were wild, like a man in a fever. It spoke to me."

"What did it say?"

"It said it was sorry. It begged my forgiveness."

Mother Yanna felt a smile tug at her puckered lips. "How did you reply?"

Ernst said, "I kept silent, Mother Yanna."

"Then you gave it the only answer it will ever receive," she told him. "We have given birth to vengeance, and now it lives and grows. You did well, child."

At the other side of the fire, Gregor nodded in satisfaction. Beside him, Ilsa raised her head -- she had barely been capable of speech since the death of their daughter. Gregor took her frail hand in his powerful one and squeezed it tightly, as if he could transfer a measure of his strength to her. Then, looking around the assembled group, he said, "Tomorrow, if it pleases the clan, we will break camp. We will leave my daughter's ashes here, and take her memory with us."

All around the fire, there were nods of agreement. But Ernst had lowered his head again; there was something strange in the way his face was hidden, Mother Yanna thought. It was almost as if --

"There is something else you would tell us," she said, narrowing her eyes. "But you are afraid, because it is ill tidings."

Ernst nodded dumbly. Mother Yanna tottered around the fire until she was standing in front of him. She put her hand underneath his chin and made him raise his face so that she could meet his eyes. "I am old, child, and I have known more sorrow and grief than you. Do not spare me."

In a rush, Ernst said, "The other demon -- the one that came to us and claimed to be from the future -- it is still here."

From all around the campfire, Mother Yanna heard low gasps of anger.

"Are you certain of this?" Gregor asked the boy.

"When I left here before first light this morning, I went first to the house in the city where the demons had made their lair. I saw lights in the windows, and I thought Angelus had returned there, so I waited. Then a carriage came, and when those inside came out, Angelus was among them."

"What was his aspect?"

Ernst looked at her blankly. "Mother Yanna?"

Impatiently, she said, "Describe him."

"He walked tall," Ernst said. "He led the others to the carriage."

A suspicion had begun to form in the old woman's mind. "Where did they go?"

"To the Hotel Lebada, in the city. They have taken a suite of rooms there. I hid on the balcony and watched them through a crack in the shutters." With scorn that bordered on contempt, Ernst said, "Angelus was there, and the Moorish man and the two women. They were dressing themselves in finery. I saw Angelus smile and laugh. I could watch no more, and I left."

Mother Yanna nodded grimly as she began to piece together the sequence of events. "And it was as you returned to tell me this you happened on the barn, and found the demon we cursed hiding there."

"Yes, Mother Yanna." Ernst shook his head in confusion. "If I had not seen it myself, I would not believe it. The two were alike in every detail, but one was ashamed, and the other happy."

Yes, the old woman thought, the two demons were indeed alike. If the story the creature who had come into their camp had told them was not wholly a lie, the only thing that separated him from the vampire Ernst had found in the barn was a hundred years. In a hundred years, barely a ripple in history's wide ocean, the vengeance she had carefully crafted would be eroded completely, and the proof of it was currently staying in Bucharest's finest hotel and enjoying the society of the city.

Mother Yanna's hands began to tremble, but not with age. She was shaking with fury.

"The demon lied to us," Gregor said. "It said it would return to its own time as soon as our vengeance was assured."

"Indeed, the demon lied," Mother Yanna said bitterly. "What innocents we are, to have ever believed it could speak the truth."

Her voice shaking with emotion, Ilsa said, "Why can it not leave us to mourn in peace? What does it want?"

"It means to lift the curse," Mother Yanna spat. "To end its suffering. It seeks to undo our vengeance."

Gregor's face was grim as he said, "The demons have aligned themselves against us. They sent one of their number to kill Ernst before he could tell us this news."

Ilsa took her husband's arm, her face white. "Against a host of demons, what protection do we have? A few charms will not hold them at bay for long."

Another of the women nodded in agreement. "We have enough to mourn already, in the loss of Gia. We should flee, before all our children join her."

At once, a dozen or more voices started to argue and debate, and the crackling of the campfire was quickly drowned out by the clamor. Even Gregor was deep in debate with the two men sitting nearest to him. Turning away from Ernst, Mother Yanna walked into the circle of firelight, where everyone could see her. Then she simply waited until silence fell again, as she knew it would.

"Would you run?" she asked. "Very well. But how far? Show me a country where the sun never sets, where the demons cannot walk, and I will gladly follow there. Does any among you know of such a place?"

As she expected, no one spoke up. Mother Yanna nodded curtly. "We are Kalderash," she said. "We do not run."

"There are no cowards around this fire," Gregor said quietly. "But what if this demon from the future undoes our vengeance? What then?"

Mother Yanna reached into her cloak and held up a stake. Her arm, which was weak with age, ached with the effort, but she did not lower it.

"If we cannot have vengeance," she said, "then we will have justice instead."


****************

Chapter Four

****************


"Presenting his Most Royal Majesty, the Caliph of Madagascar, Muhammad Ali!"

Gunn entered the room first, nodding slightly at the many finely dressed people who turned to stare. His turban was tucked, his velvet curtain draped and his demeanor exactly correct: formal, proud, even regal. Angel smiled. He never would have guessed Gunn had it in him.

"Presenting Mistress Winifred Burkle and Mistress Cordelia Chase of the United States of America."

Angel hung back for a moment, then followed the rest of his party. Gunn's entrance, unsurprisingly, had prompted a ripple of interested murmuring, and Angel was able to slip into the ballroom unobserved and, more importantly, unannounced. If Darla and Drusilla were already at the ball, Angel had decided he would prefer not to give away his presence too soon.

Fred sighed as she looked around. "This has got to be the most beautiful place I've ever been."

The ballroom's floors were cream-colored marble flecked with gold, the high ceilings carved and gilded and lit by elaborate chandeliers with crystal facets that sparkled. Oil panels illustrating each of the seven Muses decorated the walls, with nubile girls and fat cherubs in sky blue and rose pink. Candelabra on the tables provided a little more light, and the band was playing a simple tune, not intended for dancing. Women in satin gowns and men in black silk nodded and curtseyed and bowed -- mostly to Gunn, who didn't seem displeased with the attention. The jewels they wore glittered almost as much as the crystals overhead. Same old, same old, Angel thought. But before he could say that this was a fairly provincial affair, he saw the awe in Fred's eyes, and the delight in Cordelia's, and he kept silent.

"Okay," Cordelia said in a low voice, "I've panned-and-scanned the room twice now, and no Darla or Dru."

"No," Angel said. He tried to sense them, as best he could -- but in the first crush of the party, with more than a hundred human heartbeats pumping blood in rhythm around him, his senses weren't at their most acute. "Maybe they haven't arrived yet."

"So what do we do until they do?" Cordelia said. "Mingle? Because these guys look like a bunch of stiffs." She gave one of her best smiles to an older woman who passed near them.

The tension and uncertainty of the past weeks rose up inside Angel again -- everything that had ever mattered to him depended on making the right decisions and taking the right actions in the next few hours. But giving into his fears wouldn't help either; he forced himself to relax, to focus, to find one element of this chaotic situation that he could happily concentrate on.

Cordelia's dress was the color of fireplace embers, fitted tightly around her waist and breasts, flaring into puffed sleeves that framed her face. Her white gloves called attention to her slim hands, and the earrings caught the shining light in her eyes. The band readied its sheet music and the crowd began reacting, getting into place for the first number of the evening. "Until then," Angel said, "we dance."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow. "You're gonna dance?"

"I'm not doing anything invented after 1910," Angel said.

"Guess that rules out that breakdancing contest for later," Gunn said. "Should I, like, try an accent?" Fred shook her head quickly.

"But before 1910 -- that's okay." Cordelia's smile was partly teasing, but partly happiness.

"Exactly." Angel took her hand and began leading her to the floor. "We'll have to make do with the waltz."

"Oh, I think I can handle that," Cordelia laughed.

***

Hearts like drumbeats, thump thump, thump thump. The drums were loud and fast, like in a nightclub. What was the nightclub Spike had liked so much, the one where she'd collected all those ears?

"See Bee Gee Bees," Dru sang happily.

"Very nice," Darla said absently as they walked closer to the ballroom. Grandmummy wasn't really listening, because she never did when it wasn't Daddy talking, or when it wasn't knives sticking out of people. The cut in Dru's chest still hurt, and she wondered if it would bleed as she danced, making a red rose in the middle of all her white ruffles.

"Roses are the reddest hearts of all," Dru said. "Spike shan't cut the flowers down, this time. They will grow without thorns, and Daddy won't have to bleed ever again."

Darla's eyes were sharp, cut glass, broken windows. "You almost made sense again."

"Sorry," Dru dropped her eyes. "I'm trying to cut back."

They went past a mirror in the entryway, and it was as naughty as all the other mirrors, and it would not show Dru how pretty she looked in her white satin dress. Spike and Angelus hadn't been there to tell her, and Darla only had eyes for her own frock, which was black as night. "You are the sky," Dru said. "I am the moon."

"We're about to be in public, Drusilla," Darla said sharply. "Save your poetry for those who appreciate it. Children and corpses and Spike."

The music had already begun, and the dancers whirled around the floor, confetti and coffee spoons. The man at the doorway was going to ask them for their names, and then he would say them very loudly. Dru did not like for just anyone to say her name. She looked into his eyes and beyond them, pulled up the damp rag inside him and wrung it out as she said, "We haven't any names. Not any at all."

"Not any at all," he repeated quietly, and he stepped aside to let them pass. Wring wring. Grandmummy was leading her into the room -- and then she stopped. Then Dru saw why.

Angelus was there. No, not Angelus -- Angel, awful Angel, Angel who set fires and dug up all the things that should be left buried. And the girl who saw things like she did, but differently than she did, and those others too.

"How -- how can this be?" Darla gasped. Her eyes were wide with shock, one hand to her throat. Around her wrist, her hologram bracelet glittered with all the little dancers.

Dru frowned, and all the lovely dancing lights in her head, the ones that had zoomed in when she read the book about the time machine, seemed to go out at once. "They came back," Dru said. "Didn't see that. Didn't see that page. Someone ripped it out, and tearing books is very naughty."

"Came back? They?" Darla repeated the words, but she only stared at Angel. "How can he be here? How can he be -- dancing?"

"Didn't see," Dru repeated. It was all wrong, all wrong, ink on the coverlet, screams near the policeman, holy water in Angel's eyes. She stamped her foot. "This is MY ending!" she insisted.

"Your ending? What do you mean?" Darla grabbed Dru's arm very, very hard. She stared at her with eyes that stabbed. The cut in Dru's chest hurt again.

"Blades," Dru whimpered. "Too many blades. The paper dolls are in little pieces. A hat, a foot, a head."

"Tell me about your dollies," Darla said, watching Angel glide across the floor with the girl in orange. "Tell me about the one with the dark hair."

"You won't listen," Dru insisted. "You've ribbons in your ears, Grandmummy."

"Try me," Darla said.

***


"The ladies do not wear turbans, of course," Charles said grandly to his small audience of rapt listeners. "They dress their hair in elaborate ways, with beads and braids, and wear fine cloaks of -- lemur fur."

The people around him looked suitably impressed. Fred tried very hard not to let her jaw drop. She'd known Charles for almost a year, during which she thought she'd seen just about every side of his personality: the angry side, the funny side, the gentle side, the ballet-crazy side. But she had never guessed that right down at the core, the guy was a complete ham.

"Your Majesty," one woman said breathlessly, "is the Caliph the ruler of all Madagascar?"

"Of course not, Bertha," her husband said with an apologetic smile in Charles' direction. "You should know what a caliph is. They are Islamic leaders, the direct descendants of the prophet Mahomet himself, and they are believed to be the divinely ordained speakers of God's will on earth. I had thought the caliphate was dismantled in the 13th century, but apparently it survives on in local custom, what?"

That's what a caliph is? Fred thought. I thought it was just a sheik or something. Charles looked similarly confused for a moment, but he just put one hand on his chest and smiled. "Yes. I'm -- one of them."

He glanced over at Fred, as if hoping that she would help him out. She smiled, hoping he'd see what she saw: Charles Gunn didn't need any help at all, not in this century or any other. Charles must have gotten the message, because he grinned in return.

A portly old man with a handlebar mustache boomed, "I say, is there much tribal warfare in Madagascar?"

Fred watched Charles consider being offended, then start being amused. "We have great and terrible wars," Charles said, in his best this-is-CNN voice. "Even now, my tribe -- the Lakers -- struggles to defeat our enemies, the Sacramento Kings."

"Ohh," the crowd said. Fred flipped her fan up in front of her face so she could grin unseen.

***


One-two-three, one-two-three --

Cordelia hadn't lied about the deb circuit; she'd had her white lace dresses and her pearls, the escorts who smelled like the beer they'd drunk in the parking lot. Her main memories of the balls were of having to juggle cheerleader practice around them. Certainly the dancing lessons she'd taken to get through had dropped off the radar screen, and now it took most of her energy to just remember what she was supposed to be doing.

Fortunately, Angel was a good lead, his hand strong against her back, guiding her gently around the floor. Cordelia had never seen Angel attempt club-style dancing, and she was pretty sure she didn't want to see him try, ever; however, when it came to this kind of dancing, it was clear he knew exactly what he was doing.

The chandeliers spun above their heads. Angel was smiling down at her. She was breathless from the corset, and from the dancing, and just from the strange joy of it. Weird but true, Cordelia thought: The deeper the trouble you're in, the more you want to enjoy what you've got.

"I don't believe it," she said. "You're a good dancer."

"I'm really not," Angel said. "I don't think I can stress that enough. But I know how to do this. It's not any different from swordfighting, really."

"Except for the swords. And the fighting."

He gave her that little half-smile. "Not like that. I meant -- you know how your body's supposed to move. You learn the motions and the timing through experience. Then, when you're in the moment, you can just -- go."

That sounds like something besides swordfighting, Cordelia thought. She was about to say as much when Angel's curse in all its permutations rose up in her mind, and she decided that was a mean thing to mention. She just smiled at Angel instead as they went through the last few steps, wondering why her spirits seemed so much lower all of a sudden.

By the time the dance ended, the corset was cutting into Cordelia and she had to gasp a little to catch her breath. As Angel led her back to where Gunn and Fred were waiting at the side of the ballroom, she stole a glance at the other female dancers, and noted with envy that none of them looked even slightly winded. There must be a knack to successful corset-wearing, she decided.

As they rejoined their friends, Gunn was looking unduly pleased with himself, and Fred was shaking her head. "Having fun?" Angel asked.

"Oh, sure," Fred said, quirking her mouth. "Nothing like hearing the Caliph here tell people they haven't lived until they've eaten lemur-kabobs."

"Lemur-kabobs?" Cordelia blinked, totally unable to get past the word.

"Pardon me," said a waiter -- no, Cordelia realized, not a waiter. But he was apparently part of the staff, and he was holding out a tiny branch bedecked in brilliant golden blossoms. "I was requested to bring this to you."

"Flowers," Gunn said, then started. "That's a message, right, Angel?" When Angel nodded, Gunn added, "Which one of the gi -- the ladies is this flower for?"

"For neither," the servant said, nodding in Angel's direction. "I was requested to bring it to this gentleman."

As the servant stepped away, Cordelia peered at the green-and-yellow branch in Angel's hand. "I don't know those flowers."

"They're -- acacia," Angel said haltingly, clearly recalling the information from a far-distant corner of his memory.

"So what message do acacia send?" Fred said.

"They symbolize secret love," Angel said. "That, or --" He was quiet for a few moments before he finished, "Or the immortality of the soul."

Cordelia turned even as Angel did. Darla stood several feet away, wearing black-satin and a dark-lipped smile. She spoke quietly, her voice barely carrying to them over the murmuring of the crowd. "Are you going to ask me to dance, Angelus? Or -- will I have to break protocol?"

Cordelia got the very distinct sense that when Darla said, "break protocol," she meant something a lot more obvious -- and dangerous -- than asking Angel to dance.

Angel's face was unreadable as he walked forward and offered his arm. "Please do me the favor," he said by rote. Darla took his arm and sailed off with him toward the dance floor.

Gunn spoke first. "How come Angel's dancing with her instead of wrestling her into a headlock?"

"Because the other vamps aren't here," Cordelia said, looking around. Spike and Drusilla were either not at the ball or not in her field of vision -- in other words, still unknown factors. "Taking out Darla doesn't do us much good if Spike and Dru are still on the loose."

"This is just -- not good," Fred said.

Cordelia threw all Angel's words about formality to the winds and folded her arms in front of her. "Ya think?"

***

"The mazurka is a fine dance, don't you agree?" Darla asked. She was positioned opposite Angel on the dance floor; he was lightly clasping her cool fingers as she executed the dance's slow, graceful steps in perfect time with the music the band was playing. "The waltz has passion, but the mazurka is refined. It is the dance of aristocrats."

Angel didn't reply. He was still concentrating on remembering a sequence of dance steps he hadn't used in more than a century, and concentrating even harder on Darla. Her gown was jet black, and that alone made her unique in a room filled with scarlets and blues and jades. If he knew Darla -- and he did, so very well -- it would amuse her to take traditional garb of demure mourning and turn it into something scandalous. If that had been her aim, she had succeeded: the sleeves of her gown were cut from muslin, leaving her arms outrageously exposed almost to the shoulder, and the gown's neckline plunged daringly low. Her lips were red and her hair was pinned into an elaborate cascade of tight curls.

She looked the way she had the very first night Angel had seen her in a tavern in Galway, a creature so exotically perfect she hardly seemed real.

"A pity you weren't alive when La Volta was the rage," she said. "Elegance and athleticism and scandal, all in one dance. It would have suited you admirably." Darla placed one foot behind the other and lowered herself into a curtsey. As she rose, Angel linked his arm with hers, and they circled each other.

"You dance well," Darla said. "I wonder if you remember who taught you how."

She was testing him, Angel realized. Still unsure exactly who he was, Darla had chosen to ask him something only he and she would know. "It was a Frenchwoman called Madame Voltaine," Angel said. "The year after we met. You arranged for private tuition because you said I should be able to pass for a gentleman." He took a step forward; Darla stepped back by the same distance.

Darla smiled. "And when you'd learnt what you needed to know, we made sure she never danced again. Those are such happy memories, aren't they?"

"Maybe for you," Angel said. "My perspective is different, now."

"Then the acacia was an appropriate token." Darla was no longer smiling, but beyond that, her face was unreadable.

"Yellow roses would have been even better."

Darla's expression was blank for a moment; then she gave an abrupt laugh. "To symbolize the death of our love? Oh, no, I don't think so. Yellow roses also stand for joy, and we had that in great measure. Or have you forgotten?"

Joy. She could look back on the things they'd done, the horrors they'd visited on the world, and she could call it joy. "I remember it better than you do. I've learned to see it in ways you can't."

"You learn what you're taught and no more," Darla said scornfully. "As you always were and will ever be. We're immortal, my darling. We don't change."

"I changed, Darla. You will, too."

Suddenly, he saw Darla not as she was but as she would be: lying on her back in an alleyway while the rain pelted down around them. Her face had been bare of makeup, contorted with pain from the contractions that wouldn't stop and wouldn't allow their son to be born. Her hair had been tangled and gray with filth washed into it by the water coursing along the gutter, and as she pushed the stake into her chest, Angel had seen in her eyes sorrow for what she was and love for their unborn son. That night, she hadn't been perfect. But she had been beautiful -- more beautiful than he had ever known her in all the centuries they'd spent together.

Angel realized -- of all the things Darla had been to him, and she had been so many -- only one mattered to him anymore. Darla was Connor's mother. She was the mother of his son. It outweighed everything: the murders, the sex, the torture, the betrayal, even his own death and damnation. It all had led to Connor's short life. His son had been in Darla's belly longer than in the rest of the world. Angel felt the quick, irrational urge to touch her there -- right beneath her navel, right where he'd felt Connor kick so long ago, where he would feel Connor kick in days yet to come. His hand was at her waist, so close --

Darla was looking at him intently, and he realized his face had revealed more than he'd intended. "There," she purred. "You still can't stop looking at me, can you? I see it in you. I'll believe many things, Angelus; I'll even believe in Drusilla's fantastical stories. But I'll never believe that our love could die."

Drusilla's fantastical stories --

Oh, God. Darla knew -- what did Darla know?

Her eyes glinted up at him, full of something that was half-mischief, half something far more dangerous.

Angel looked to the side of the ballroom, searching for Drusilla, but he couldn't find her. She must have wandered off while he'd been concentrating on Darla, he realized, and he hoped Cordelia and the others had been paying more attention to her movements than he had. But before she'd gone, Drusilla had managed to derail history again by telling Darla -- how much? He had no way of knowing. He would have to choose every word carefully, in case he inadvertently gave away some key piece of information.

The music shifted, the melody echoing itself and becoming more layered and complex. Around Angel and Darla, the other dancers paused for a single beat and then, in unison, slowly began to circle in the opposite direction. Darla dropped her left hand, made a half turn, and raised her right hand for Angel to take.

On her wrist, Cordelia's hologram bracelet -- the same one Groo had given her, the same one she had sold to the English tourists -- shone in the lamplight, scattering a myriad of tiny rainbows on to Darla's ivory skin. Angel blinked in surprise, then tried to hide his reaction. How the hell had Darla gotten that?

"Now," Darla said, "the dance becomes interesting."

***

Some things about the past, Drusilla decided regretfully, weren't as good as she remembered them. The dancing, for example.

From where she sat she could watch all the people, lined up in boring rows, repeating the same tiny movements over and over again like clockwork toys. Pull out the springs and they would all stop dancing. She wished they would stop. Dru thought about how people danced in the future, packed together in the dark and drowning in noise, a mass of bodies seething to the thudthudthud of music that wasn't. That kind of dancing had no rules, no discipline, and Drusilla loved to lose herself in its beautiful, blissful chaos. She'd forgotten that there had been a time when dancing had been all about rules. Drusilla hated rules.

She had tried to show some of the people moving in constricted little circles how dancing would be in the future, but the band wasn't playing the right kind of music at all and nobody seemed to want to join in with her. So now Drusilla was sitting by herself at the side of the dance floor, pouting and feeling bored.

Grandmummy had gone to dance with wrong, wrong Angel -- Dru could see them from where she sat, circling around each other like scorpions, freezing and scorching the air between them by turns. Grandmummy had gone to him even after Drusilla had told her who he was, and Dru didn't understand that at all.

At least Darla had someone to dance with her. Drusilla wanted Spike to come back. In the future, he would like the new way people danced. She was certain he would like it now, if she showed him how it was done.

Suddenly, Dru straightened up. Someone was watching her, someone's eyes and thoughts fluttering around the edges of her mind.

On the other side of the ballroom, a young man was standing apart from the crowd, holding a drink and watching Drusilla. He thought she hadn't noticed, silly-billy. His face was as blank as a tailor's dummy, but underneath Drusilla felt a brief, hot flash of lust, followed quickly by shame. Lovely thoughts, sweet like rotting fruit! Was his blood as sweet? Drusilla shivered in delight and anticipation. Flies were buzzing in her ears; they liked the fruit.

Lowering her fan, she smiled at the young man. His eyes darted from side to side, and when he realized there was no one else standing near him who she could be smiling at, he smiled back.

Still smiling, Drusilla held his gaze, and held it and held it and held it. Then, like a Venus flytrap closing around an insect, she caught his thoughts in hers and held him fast.

On the other side of the ballroom, the young man's hand dropped limply to his side, and his full glass crashed to the floor, shattering. As he began to cross the dance floor, walking in a straight line toward Drusilla, one of the servants moved in to mop up the spill.

"Little fishy on a hook," Drusilla said to herself. She held out her hands to him and he stumbled closer, brushing against couples as they whirled past, unheeding.

***

Angel and Darla wove in and out of the other couples, dancing together with enviable smoothness and grace. Of course, Cordelia thought sourly, if she'd had a couple of hundred years to practice, she'd be able to do the waltz or polka or whatever it was just as well. But what was bothering her most right now wasn't the way Angel was dancing with Darla but the way he was looking at her -- focused, intense, as if she were the only woman in the room. Just that look bothered Cordelia more than it should have.

Then again, Cordelia reminded herself, getting worried when Angel went anywhere near Darla was a rational response, given that she seemed to know exactly how to tie him up in knots without even trying. Maybe that was something else that came easily after several hundred years of practice.

"You watch the dancing with such attentiveness, it is truly an injustice you are not participating."

The voice speaking had an American accent, which in itself was enough to make Cordelia look around abruptly. The owner of the voice was a man about the same age as herself, although the formal evening he wore suit made him look older. "Huh?" she said, then remembered Angel's advice: Be controlled. Be formal. She raised her fan in what she hoped was a demure and ladylike manner. "I decided to sit this one out," she said.

The man smiled graciously. "It would not be healthy to over-exert yourself."

"Right," Cordelia agreed. "Plus, dancing in a corset isn't exactly easy."

The man paled in something akin to shock; his eyes went to the ceiling, then the floor, then back to the floor again. Ooops, Cordelia thought. Mentioning underwear obviously a major no-no. In an attempt to get the conversation back on track she said, "So, you're American, right?"

The man nodded and smiled, clearly relieved to have moved to a safer topic. "From New York, although I'm currently completing my studies in Paris." He bowed politely and, holding out his hand, said, "Barnaby Scott."

Cordelia took his hand and shook it -- probably, she thought afterward, a little too vigorously for a nineteenth-century lady. "Cordelia Chase. It's nice to hear a familiar accent." As soon as she said it, she realized how true it was. She hadn't realized until now how wearing it was, to be in a strange place, constantly surrounded by strange people speaking a strange language. "It really is."

Barnaby Scott nodded in agreement. "I have been fortunate to have the companionship of a fellow student during my time in Europe; however, one longs after a while to hear news from home."

News from home? Cordelia struggled to remember her high school history classes. "Well, it's been kind of busy what with, uh, Reconstruction and everything --" Out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia saw Fred hurrying toward them. Grabbing her by the arm, Cordelia pulled Fred into her conversation with Barnaby. "Fred -- uh, Winifred knows exactly what's happening back home in 1898, don't you?"

Fred looked a little flushed -- probably from the effort of carrying the weight of all that taffeta on her tiny frame -- and also distracted. Without really registering Barnaby, she said, "We annexed Hawaii and went to war with Spain over Cuba. And -- Cordy, I just saw Drusilla."

Barnaby's face registered confusion. "Hawaii? Do you refer to the Sandwich Islands?"

"What do sandwiches have to do with it?" Cordelia frowned as she squeezed Fred's arm. "Drusilla was here? You didn't tell me?"

"I saw her -- she was all in white, and I thought, that looks like Drusilla. And right as I was trying to figure out if it WAS Drusilla, she was gone." Fred shook her head. "I didn't see her leave. She was there, and then she wasn't. She's got that stealthy thing going on."

Barnaby said, "The war with Spain has far more complex causes than --"

"-- we don't need the geopolitics. Or the sandwiches," Cordelia said, waving a hand dismissively. "It's Drusilla we have to worry about."

"What is this word -- geopolitics?" Barnaby said, sounding increasingly bewildered. "And who is Drusilla?"

Cordelia said, "Drusilla is our -- friend. Sometimes she acts a little bit flaky, so we have to make sure she doesn't wander off alone."

"Maybe you saw her," Fred said hopefully. "She's got long, dark hair and she's wearing a cream gown with a red stole, and she's very pale. I mean, very, very pale."

Barnaby thought for a second. "Why, I saw Walter speak just a little while ago to a girl of that description."

"Walter?"

"My traveling companion," Barnaby said. "We are both studying in Paris --"

"Right," Cordelia said, cutting him off. From the look on his face, interrupting men while they were talking was something else genteel young ladies didn't do. "And you saw Drusilla talking to him?"

"He looked quite rapt," Barnaby said.

"I just bet he did," Cordelia muttered under her breath. She glanced to where Gunn was still regaling a small crowd with increasingly outlandish tales of daily life in Madagascar, and realized there was no way she and Fred could extract him without attracting the attention of the whole ballroom. Fred had clearly reached the same conclusion.

"Come on," Cordelia said to Fred. "We're gonna stop Dru helping herself to snacks."

***


The band played faster, and the dancers steps quickened accordingly. When the dance required a full turn, Angel used the opportunity to scan the ballroom. There was Gunn, seated in the middle of a small knot of people who were listening to him in breathless wonder. Where Gunn was, Fred wasn't far away, and Angel spotted her at the side of his fanclub. Then he saw Cordelia, talking to a young, attractive man who was paying her more attention than he should --

"Jealous, my dear?" Darla asked. He looked at her, and saw her gaze had followed his own. "Don't be. She's only human, and a common, ill-bred human at that. She doesn't even know how to hold herself. But I know you, and I know why she fascinates you."

Tightly, Angel said, "You know much less about me than you think."

Darla smiled and executed a perfect turn. When she was facing Angel again, she said, "Really? I know she has the Sight. Isn't that what you found so delicious in Drusilla? Perhaps you're not so different as you would like to believe."

'I know she has the Sight.' Darla's words struck Angel with a deep, cold sense of dread. He put his arm around Darla's shoulders and they joined the other couples to form a long line of pairs. "What else has Drusilla told you?"

Darla laughed. "All kinds of secrets. Yours -- and theirs." She looked, deliberately, to Cordelia and Gunn and Fred, standing at the side of the dance floor. Her gaze lingered longest on Cordelia. "I don't pretend that it makes sense. I don't know what's the truth, and what's just Drusilla's gibberish. You were always her great interpreter, not I. But what I do know -- it's interesting, Angelus, what's become of you. What could become of them."

The line of couples broke apart, and Angel and Darla were dancing by themselves again. Darla raised her hand for the dance's final turn; Angel took it, but instead of holding her fingers lightly, he crushed her hand in his fist with all the strength he had. Darla stifled a gasp and instinctively tried to get free. Angel didn't let go.

In a low voice, he said, "Hurt her -- or any of them -- and you'll find out there are some ways I haven't changed at all."

She had to be in agony, but somehow Darla was still smiling. "That's what I'm hoping, my darling."

The band stopped, and the dancing couples broke apart and bowed politely to one another. Reluctantly, Angel released his grip on Darla's hand. Her fingers were clearly injured, and she quickly hid them in the folds of her dress.

"Until our next dance," she said as she walked away.

***


"I wish you would stop using crazy as a pejorative term," Fred said. "I'm not saying it's inaccurate; I'm just saying that mental illness can happen to anyone."

"What am I supposed to call her?" Cordelia muttered as they started to walk again. "Sanity-challenged? The girl's a loon. Tact won't change that." Fred noticed that Cordy seemed less nervous and more excited about their impending confrontation; after a long night of pretending to be demure and helpless, the urge to take action made sense.

At least, as much as confronting a craz -- a mentally unstable vampire in an alleyway ever made sense.

Fred pushed open the heavy door, allowing Cordelia to be the first to go outside and try to see Drusilla before Drusilla saw them. Although Fred didn't lack courage, one of the unwritten rules of Angel Investigations was that the people with superpowers should generally be the first into risky situations. When Cordelia motioned for her to follow, Fred went out into the alley herself; in an instant, her dress went from stiflingly warm to inadequate against the night chill.

Neither of them said anything as they began moving through the darkness, although they shared a glance as they realized how loud the rustling of their many petticoats could be in the silence. Fred fished in her tiny net-and-velvet evening bag and pulled out her stake. Cordelia would already have done the same.

Then she heard a man's voice, so slow and slurred that at first she thought he must be drunk: "You dance most beautifully."

"It's all jumping in the future." Fred had only heard her once before in her life, but there was no mistaking Drusilla's voice -- musical and broken and Cockney and ethereal all at once. "Jump and bounce and grind." The rustle of silk signaled how close she was -- just ahead, just around the corner where the alleyway met the street. Fred took a deep breath, but slowly, the better not to be heard. "I want to see you dance the way I dance. Then we'll eat. Can you jump for Mumsie?"

They paused in the last moment before they'd turn the corner. Cordelia gave her an encouraging glance, then counted silently with her fingers in the moonlight. Three, two, one --

Fred and Cordelia whirled around the corner as one. A man in an evening suit was doing a very, very poor imitation of 21st-century dancing. Drusilla's back was to them, but they could see her clapping. "So lovely, so lovely," she sing-songed. "Shake your groove thing."

In a very quiet voice, Cordelia said, "Apparently drinking her victims' blood isn't enough for Dru anymore. Now she's humiliating them to death." She pulled her stake back to strike. Fred held her breath. Could it be this easy?

Of course not. Drusilla spun about instantly, skipping back a step, neatly out of harm's way. Then, to Fred's astonishment, she beamed. "You're here!" Drusilla said. "Come and dance with me."

"We're not here to dance, Dru," Cordelia said.

Fred felt the back of her neck prickle, felt her every hair stand on end. "Um, Cordy?"

Through her teeth, Cordelia murmured, "Kinda busy here, Fred."

"I just have this funny feeling that Drusilla's not talking to us."

Fred and Cordelia each half-turned and saw him. He had a muddied overcoat, torn, with a few bloody fingerprints on one lapel. His eyebrows were raised, a sardonic half-smile on his face. Caramel-blond hair flopped over his forehead.

"Let me guess," Fred said. "This is Spike."

"My reputation precedes me," Spike said, swaggering toward them. "Brilliant. I'd ask your name now, except for the part where I don't care who you are so long as you die entertainingly."

"Spike, I hate to tell you this," Cordelia said, "but your hair's only going to get stupider as the years go by."

"What are you on about my hair?" Spike unconsciously reached up to touch his hair, which was when Cordelia punched him.

Drusilla screeched in anger, and Fred used one of those moves Gunn had taught her -- backwards hammer fist, and hard -- to whack her without even turning around. In the split second that both vampires were stunned, both she and Cordelia took off running. Almost as soon as they'd begun, Fred could hear Spike and Drusilla gaining on them, their original intended victim apparently forgotten.

"Gotta get -- to Angel -- " Cordelia gasped.

Fred nodded, trying to catch her breath and wondering how Cordelia could even move in a corset. "How did you know -- to insult -- his hair?"

They swung back through the door, their slippers sliding on the wood. The door slammed against the wall behind them -- the vampires were so close --

"Easy," Cordelia said. "You can always -- count on the vanity -- of a man who -- wears nail polish."

"I can hear you!" Spike yelled.

***


What would Drusilla have told her? There was no knowing, no guessing. Angel was sure of only one thing: Drusilla would have told Darla what she had to do with the gypsies to remove his soul -- or, at any rate, she would have tried. Did Darla understand her? If she didn't yet, she would eventually. Soon. It was only a matter of time before Darla came up with the answer and began the work of undoing his curse -- and all of history with it.

Darla was moving away from him through the crush of dancers, a lone storm cloud among the brilliant colors and laughter. She was cradling her crushed hand, and he felt a strange, terrible jab of guilt for hurting her. It was absurd -- beyond absurd -- to feel that way about a creature who had murdered thousands and would murder thousands more, among her victims his human self. But Angel could only remember that hand reaching for a stake, preparing to condemn herself to hell to give their son a chance to live.

That only happens if you stop her, Angel reminded himself. Quit brooding and move, dammit.

Angel quickly cut through the crowds to reach Gunn's side. He now had almost two dozen people circling him, enraptured. "Of course I keep a harem," Gunn was saying. "A man in my position has all the most beautiful women of the kingdom from which to choose. Women such as Naomi and Tyra and -- But perhaps I should say no more with ladies present."

"Oh, my," said an older woman, her cheeks quite pink. "It's all quite different if it's a matter of, ah, native custom --"

"Pardon me," Angel said as smoothly as he could. "I need to address the Caliph on a personal matter."

Gunn's eyes narrowed, but he was still calm and magisterial as he nodded to his listeners. "You will of course excuse us." Buzzing animatedly, the crowd dispersed and Gunn leaned closer. "What's up with your ex?"

"She knows a hell of a lot," Angel said. "Drusilla's told her about all of you, at least in part."

"How much can she possibly know about me and Fred?" Gunn said. "I got the impression that even Cordy hadn't seen too much of her."

"Drusilla knows -- more than she ought to," Angel said. "She sees the future, sometimes. She sees dreams. Sometimes she creates dreams. Don't underestimate her."

"After that whole world-on-fire business? No chance of that." Gunn scanned the room. "Speaking of Drusilla, I still haven't seen her. Or this Spike guy -- I mean, I wouldn't know him, but I figure the random bloodshed might give him away."

Angel realized who else was missing. "Did Cordelia and Fred -- have they gone back to the hotel, or --"

"No. And no. Damn," Gunn said. "We gotta find 'em."

"Angel!" Cordelia yelled. He turned to see Cordelia and Fred running into the room as fast as they could, all pretense to gentility gone. And behind them --

"What have we here?" Spike shouted jubilantly. "It's PARTY TIME!" He grabbed a violin from one of the musicians and brought it down, with a crack, on one of the dancers' heads. People began to scream.

"And that's Spike," Gunn said. Angel nodded.

"It's my party, and you'll die if I want to, die if I want to, die if I want to --" Drusilla crooned.

Cordelia's alive, Angel told himself. All three of the vampires I need to catch are here in this room, and we've got them outnumbered. Why doesn't this feel more encouraging?

"You heard the man," Gunn said, pushing up his sleeves as he and Angel began charging forward. "Let's party."

***


Fools. Worse than fools.

Humans were screaming and carrying on; at least four women had already swooned, and some of the men looked likely to follow. Darla stared at Spike and Drusilla in undisguised contempt. Her plan -- the one and only plan they had to save Angelus from a fate so much worse than death -- had in just moments gone from risky-but-likely to almost impossible. All so Spike and Dru could have a brawl.

"My God! That man -- he's not a man --" someone cried, pointing at Spike.

Darla savagely punched the man who'd shouted in the solar plexus. As he doubled over behind her, she muttered, "The sooner they have their fun, the sooner we can get out of here."

When it was all over, she'd tell Angelus how they'd nearly ruined everything. And then maybe they could finally rid themselves of Spike and Dru for once and for all.

In the meantime, she'd have her own fun getting rid of some of the obstacles to their plan, starting with the brunette in the orange dress.

***


Cordelia felt rather than saw Angel coming toward her; when Drusilla was jerked out of her line of sight, she knew it was Angel who had grabbed her. Knowing Angel was fighting near her was just about the only thing that made it possible to run forward toward Spike like it was no big deal. Just another vampire. No worries.

Spike was smashing his way through the bandstand, enjoying doing damage to the musical instruments more than the musicians, at least so far. He side-kicked a cello into pieces, strings popping everywhere. "Whoa! Flying wood," he laughed, ducking his own debris. "Very bad."

"Staking wood," Cordelia said, bringing up her stake as she got in front of him. "Even worse."

"You," Spike snarled. In an instant he was at her side, out of striking range. "First, what the hell is nail polish? Second, anyone wearing earrings like THOSE shouldn't be talking about vanity."

Cordelia whirled around again, keeping him facing her, keeping him engaged. Where were some demon powers when you really needed them? she thought frantically. The stupid Powers really could have left her an instruction manual or something. Demonic Powers for Dummies. As it was, she was probably only going to be able to stall him until Angel got there. Together, they could take him. "You'll find out about the nail polish," Cordelia said. "Unfortunately for us all."

"You're a rather confident young lady, aren't you?" Spike said. "Quick with the japes and the stakes. Are you one of those Slayers I hear tell about?"

"Me? A Slayer?" Cordelia started to laugh, genuinely surprised and a little flattered.

In the moment her eyes half-closed with laughter, Spike's hand clamped around her neck. 'Vanity, vanity," he whispered. "All is vanity."

Cordelia swung the stake backwards -- stubby end first -- into Spike's groin. Spike howled and loosened his grip for the one moment she needed to pull herself free --

Another hand grabbed her by the wrist. Cordelia's eyes went wide as she saw Darla smiling at her.

"You're a pretty thing," Darla said. "I'll admit that."

Then she jerked Cordelia's arm behind her savagely, spinning Cordelia around and sending shockwaves of pain through her whole body. The world went gray around the edges, and Cordelia felt herself reeling from agony and shock.

She gasped in a breath to scream, but instead cried out again, "Angel!"

***


Angel's arm was raised, poised to drive the stake he held into Drusilla's chest as she lay on the floor in front of him. He'd only have a second before she came out of her daze, but that was okay with Angel. This time he wasn't going to hesitate. No regrets, no split second indecision, nothing.

"Angel!"

Cordy. She was in trouble.

Instead of staking Drusilla, Angel whirled around, leaving Drusilla on her knees on the dance floor, where he hoped Gunn would finish her off. Drusilla was a lot less important right now than Cordelia. Angel shoved his way through the still panicking crowd, so jammed together in the hall that they could barely flee. There she was, with Spike AND Darla on her, hanging awkwardly from the arm bent at an unnatural angle behind her. Darla was gripping Cordelia's arm savagely; she saw Angel and smiled brightly. She meant to kill Cordelia as he watched.

Darla reached down and buried her long, white fingers in Cordelia's dark hair. Her fingernails were just at the hairline, and Angel knew what she meant to do. He'd seen her do it often enough, a slash of the nails, a superhuman tug on the hair, and the scalp would peel off just like a -- wig.

"What?" He could hear Darla's amused bewilderment as she brought up only Cordelia's dark wig in her hand. Cordelia's head slumped forward slightly; she was clearly disoriented from the pain. Angel brutally shoved a few people out of his way, struggling to get closer before Darla stopped laughing. Even now she was focusing her attention on Cordelia again --

WHAM! A silver tray slammed into Darla's head. Angel blinked as he saw who had swung it: Fred, who looked both panicked and fairly pleased with herself. Darla lost her grip for a moment, and Cordelia fell to the floor.

Angel got to Spike first; he was doubled over and somewhat dazed. He looked up at Angel and said, "Oh, there you are. Where have you been?"

Angel punched Spike hard in the face. Spike staggered back, swearing in surprise and fury -- then suddenly jabbed out with something pointed and wooden. Angel felt a second of panic as he realized he wasn't going to be able to dodge the blow, which swiftly turned to relief when he saw Spike's improvised weapon pierce his stomach, not his chest. Finally pure, sharp pain washed away relief and, for a long moment, everything else.

Angel looked dully at the wood sticking out from his abdomen as blood began to pool on the front of his tuxedo shirt. Funny, he thought when he could think again. Who would've thought being run through with a violin bow would hurt so much --

And then he thought, Dammit, impaled AGAIN.

With his last of his strength, Angel lifted Spike up and threw him, as hard as he could, into Darla. Both vampires went sprawling onto the ground, and Angel staggered, trying to keep his footing despite the agony in his gut. Cordelia was on her knees beside him, holding her arm. "Angel -- my shoulder -- "

"Charles!" Fred cried. Drusilla had gotten her second wind. Angel saw Fred running to Gunn's aid, but he couldn't go to help them -- Spike and Darla were getting up, and Cordelia couldn't fight, so he would have to protect them both, somehow. His head reeled with the pain in his belly, and Angel forced himself to focus. He tried to ball his hands into fists -- he could if he had to.

"Drusilla!" Darla called. "Come here!"

"But I'm only getting started!" Drusilla whined. Spike sneered at Angel and started to throw himself forward, but Darla's hand shot out, holding him in place.

Darla said. "Both of you! We're leaving! Now!" She looked at Angel -- bleeding, weak, and, he realized, obviously unable to follow her -- and smiled. "Forever," she said. "We promised each other forever. And I keep my promises."

Angel wanted to say something, but at that moment his legs gave out and he crumpled on his knees beside Cordelia. Spike started laughing as Drusilla ran to their side; Darla looked at Angel for one more lingering moment before pulling them both away.

"Angel? Cordy?" Gunn panted as he ran up to them, his turban now somewhat askew. "Y'all okay?"

Angel took hold of the violin bow with one hand, put his other hand in his mouth, then yanked out the bow. His teeth broke the skin of his palm, and the splash of his own blood on his tongue was enough to keep him from passing out. As soon as he could speak, he said, "Follow them."

"The vampires?" Fred said. "But -- if we're going to fight them -- we need you guys --"

"I can't fight right now," Cordelia said. She was slowly flexing the fingers of her injured arm. "It's not broken, but it's not good."

"Don't fight them," Angel said. "Try not to let them see you, if you can help it. If they're going after the gypsy camp tonight, we have to know it. Find out where they're headed, then come back for us. I'll be all right in a couple of hours, and Cordelia -- I'll take care of Cordelia."

"Follow the vamps," Gunn said. He glanced around the now-empty room, littered with fans, flowers, sheet music and canapés. "These Victorians sure know how to throw a party."


******************

Chapter Five

******************


Darla lifted the skirts of her gown higher in a futile attempt to keep the mud off them. But the path they were following through the forest was barely a track, and her ballgown was ruined. Everything, she thought bitterly, was ruined.

"If you're not going to tell us what's going on, at least say where we're going," Spike said, holding his chest and grimacing a little as he tried to keep up with her.

Darla didn't answer Spike because, for once, she didn't have the answers. Confused and disconcerted, she was acting on little more than instinct, and her instincts told her that in desperate situations, the best response was to buy time to think, to hole up somewhere safe and dark. "We need a place to gather our strength," she said, explaining what Spike should have known long ago. "A place far away from the others."

"A cave!" Drusilla squealed joyfully. "A lovely cave, damp and cold, with spiders and little crawly things. I know a lovely cave for us to play in. So close, so close."

"The closest one will do," Darla said. Sure enough, they came upon one very soon, and despite Drusilla's protests, she was able to herd her unruly charges inside.

"I liked it better when we were planning on holing up in a luxury hotel suite," Spike said.

The cave's interior was indeed damp and cold. Darla sat down on a low outcrop of rock and rubbed the sides of her head with her fingertips, willing the last few hours to make some kind of sense. But it was impossible to concentrate, because Drusilla had started to spin around and around in the middle of the cave, her arms outstretched, tunelessly singing one of her made-up songs. "Blood on the dance floor, blood on the knife, Drusilla's got your number, Drusilla says it's right..."

Spike folded his arms resolutely across his chest. "I'm not moving until I get some ANSWERS."

Darla raised her head and looked at them, loathing for both Spike's tantrums and Drusilla's ravings welling up within her. They were like children, she thought with disgust. No, they were worse than children, because at least children eventually grew up. Spike and Drusilla were eternal infants, artlessly and clumsily savage, more often hindrances than helpmeets. Right now, Darla could imagine no greater pleasure than to rid herself of both of them, permanently. She imagined the grit of their dust beneath her fingernails with a kind of grim delight.

But she clenched her teeth and then balled her one uninjured hand into a fist. It was hard to admit, even to herself, but Darla needed them. Without Spike, she couldn't keep Drusilla. Without Drusilla, she couldn't get Angelus back again. And that was not a possibility Darla was prepared to consider. Just a few days more, and she could wash her hands of them. Just as soon as she had her darling boy back once more.

Maintaining a civil tone with difficulty, she said, "What answers do you require, Spike?"

For a second, Spike looked a little shocked that his outburst had produced a response -- usually, Darla simply ignored him. Then, recovering himself, he raised a hand and started to list points on his fingers. "Well, let's see. I want to know where those two stake-wielding harpies back there came from, for a start. I want to know why Angelus was siding with THEM against US. Above all, I want to know -- what the HELL is nail polish?"

Drusilla broke off singing and took Spike by the hands. "Pixies' paint pots, tiny little brushes for fingertips. I'll paint mine red like blood and you'll paint yours black like your black, black heart."

Spike laughed. "Damn. I was hoping it had something to do with nails of the metal variety. Preferably being hammered into people."

Drusilla shook her head at Spike, chastising him with a teasing grin and a waggling finger. Darla narrowed her eyes. There it was again -- that same strange lucidity Dru had been displaying lately. Darla had noticed it when Dru had called her bracelet 'hollow' back at the villa, and again when she saw Angelus at the ball. In fact, Darla thought suddenly, almost all Drusilla's instances of near-sanity seemed to relate to Angelus.

Spike stopped laughing and draped one arm casually over Drusilla's shoulder. "Pixie paint -- that's one question answered. How about the rest?"

"The women at the ball are of no consequence," Darla said, although as she said it she could not help but recall the girl in the orange gown and the way Angelus had looked at her. "They'll die soon enough. Angelus is -- not himself at the moment."

"Not himself," Drusilla repeated, and giggled. "Not himself, he's someone else. He's Angel."

In a second, Darla had covered the ground between them. She struck Drusilla so hard she flew backward, colliding with the cave wall with an audible crack then sliding down it until she was sitting on the cave floor. Darla leaned down so that she was nose to nose with Drusilla. "You will never, ever call him that. He is Angelus. He is Angelus, my Angelus. His name is feared on three continents, and it always will be, or I --" Darla broke off with a choke, abruptly aware that Drusilla's face was wavering before her through a haze of tears. She blinked them back before they could well over.

She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Spike's strong grip spun her around so she was facing him. His face shifted, showing his demon's aspect, and he snarled, "Lay a finger on Drusilla like that again and I will rip out your throat -- and somehow I don't think Angelus or Angel or whatever he wants to call himself will show up to stop me."

"Spike..." Drusilla's voice was soft. "Don't be angry with Grandmummy. She's sad because he's gone away."

"My heart bleeds," Spike muttered, but he changed back to his human face and relaxed his grip on Darla's arm.

Darla cared nothing for Spike's bluster; typical, she thought, that he'd threaten her with something messy and showy that would actually harm her not at all. She was still looking at Drusilla. In a quiet voice, she said, "You know, don't you? These things you've been prattling about -- pixie paint and hollow bracelets -- they're not things you've seen in fugues and dreams, are they? You're describing things that are real. Everything you've said about Angelus, about those accursed gypsies --" Darla broke off, aware that Spike was listening intently. "Tell me, Drusilla, how do you know?"

"I came back," Drusilla said simply.

Darla felt anger mount into rage within her. The truth, she was certain, was locked up inside Drusilla's head, as jumbled and unintelligible as the rest of her thoughts. "You never went away, you stupid, demented idiot --"

"The future," Drusilla whispered. "It's all metal, you know. It was in the book, it was all in the book!"

"What book?"

"The book I found. The book I will find." Drusilla held her hands up as if in a shrug. "I was digging in the loveliest tomb. Faded flowers and dried skin like little sheets of paper. Gray as doves, and when I breathed on them, they rustled like silk." This was just the sort of thing that made Darla long to slap Drusilla's face, but she forced herself to listen in silence. "The hands held a book. I peeled back the fingers. Snap, snap. Then I had the book. That man who died had wanted to take the book with him. He didn't want anybody else to read it. Naughty man. He didn't want to share his time machine."

Spike groaned. "Oh, not THAT cheap penny dreadful."

Darla's head snapped up. "You know what she's talking about?"

Spike shrugged and looked just a little embarrassed. "I wouldn't even have started reading the bloody book except that the bloke I got it from was so engrossed by it he never even twitched until I had his throat out. I figured anything that absorbing had to be worth a couple of hours. Turned out to be rubbish, though."

Darla felt the faint, flickering hope she had been nurturing start to die. She had almost been prepared to give credence to Drusilla's stories -- but that was all they were: stories. And not even Drusilla's.

"What was this book?" she asked tiredly. "Who wrote it?"

"Some talentless penny-a-liner called Wells. It's called The Time Machine." Spike scowled. "If I had a time machine, I'd go back and stop him ever putting pen to paper."

"Is it true?" Darla asked Drusilla. "Is this all just a story?"

"A story," Drusilla said happily. "Not THAT story. A different one. But the same. The same and different too. Spike's story isn't supposed to be true, but it is. My story's supposed to be true, but it's not." Her face clouded a little. "Not yet. The pages are changing."

Darla turned around and started to walk away.

Behind her, Drusilla's voice softly added, "It's Angelus' story. I came back to change it, Grandmummy. We have to make my story true."

Darla stopped. She looked around.

A time machine, she thought. Then: Drusilla came back. She knows because she came back.

A time machine. It wasn't possible -- but it would explain so much. It would explain the Angelus with whom she'd danced at the ball, who had grown so used to the soul the gypsies had given him that he scorned Darla and lavished his affections on a human woman. Was that how Angelus' story ended?

But it could still be changed. Angelus could be restored. And once he was, with command over time itself -- what power they would wield together!

Trembling with excitement, Darla looked at Spike. "You know where the gypsy camp is, don't you?"

He brightened immediately. "Yeah, I found them. Are we going to do some real killing tonight?"

"Soon," Darla said. "Very soon. But there's one more element to put into place first. Go and find Angelus, Spike. Bring him here."

"Bloody hell!" Spike exploded. "Make up your mind! We just LEFT Angelus, or have you forgotten?"

How to explain it without giving too much away? For a second, Darla was at a loss, until Drusilla helpfully said, "That wasn't Angelus, silly."

"It bloody felt like Angelus' fist in my face," Spike said sourly.

"It wasn't," Darla said. "I spoke to that creature. It wasn't Angelus. It was some -- some wraith or phantom that merely looked like him."

"Well, if that wasn't Angelus, where is he? And how do you expect ME to find him?"

Losing her patience, Darla snapped, "With a divining rod, if you have to! You're of his line, Spike, you can find him. And when you do -- no matter how he behaves, what he says -- BRING HIM TO ME."

Darla shouted the last words with such vehemence that Spike actually took a step back. She smiled to herself, satisfied that she had reasserted her dominance. For now, at least.

"Don't get your knickers in a twist, I'm going." Spike leaned down and kissed Drusilla lightly on the crown of her head. "See you later, love."

"Bye-bye," Drusilla said. As Spike left, she lifted her hand and waggled her fingers, waving after him like a small child. She looked up at Darla and smiled. "The boys aren't here, and it's just us girls."

"That's right," Darla said. "And you can tell me stories to your heart's content."

"I have a ring," Drusilla said, holding up her hand. A golden band glinted on one finger. "Aren't I a pretty bride? We can go to my cave and see the fire on the ceiling. The fire's a door. Ding-dong! Avon calling. Doorbells ring. My ring."

Darla wanted to snatch the ring from Drusilla to make her concentrate -- but then she thought, could the ring play a part in this too? What did she mean by a ceiling of fire? Nothing Drusilla said, however bizarre, could be ruled out.

Hunkering down next to Drusilla, Darla repeated, "It's just us, and you're going to tell me everything you know about books and time machines and the future. And, believe me, this time I am listening to every word."

***


The night was cold, and Fred shivered as she crouched behind a fallen tree trunk, watching the entrance of the cave where they had seen the three vampires go in.

Charles looked at her in concern. "You cold? You want to borrow my turban?" He meant it sincerely, but there was something so funny about the idea of Charles Gunn offering to lend her a bright red turban made from strips of curtain to keep her head warm that Fred couldn't help but giggle. He smiled back at her. "Seriously. This thing's toasty. Add some earflaps, and you're talking about quality protection from the elements."

"It's okay. But thanks anyway." She looked at the cave entrance and became serious again. "I don't understand this. Why would they come all the way out into the forest to hide out in a cave?"

"It doesn't make sense," Charles agreed. "But as long as Darla and the rest of Angel's vampire relations are hiding in a cave and not doing any history-changing gypsy killing, I ain't gonna complain."

Fred looked at their surroundings, suddenly realizing the clearing where the cave entrance was located wasn't completely unfamiliar. "Yes, except that the portal that the time machine made -- the one that links 1898 to the future -- isn't far from here."

"No way," Charles said. "That was, like, miles away. Ten miles or something."

"I keep telling you, it wasn't nearly that far. I can't tell exactly in the dark, but we're pretty close." An unpleasant thought struck her. "Charles, do you think that's why they came here? Maybe Drusilla told Darla about the time machine."

Charles' face was grim as he said, "I really hope not. The twenty-first century only just got rid of Darla; it doesn't need her back again. Besides, Darla knew there was a time machine around here, she wouldn't be near it -- she'd be in it." He put his hand on Fred's arm. "Someone's coming out."

They tensed, and watched as a shadowy figure emerged from the cave entrance. Even in the darkness, it was possible to tell that the silhouette was distinctly male. "That's Spike," Fred whispered. "Should we follow him?"

Charles nodded. "Darla might be sending him to find the gypsies."

They crept forward, treading as lightly as possible on the soft earth. Following a person unseen was hard, Fred thought, but following a vampire with heightened senses of hearing and smell and perfect night vision was a different magnitude of difficulty again. To be certain of remaining undetected, they'd have to stay so far behind Spike they'd probably lose him before they knew where he was going --

"Bloody hell," Spike said and turned around.

Fred and Charles ducked behind a dense bush. Fred held her breath and put her hand over her chest, as if she could muffle the sound of her heart beating. Spike must have heard them, or somehow sensed them --

But Spike was looking back at the cave entrance, not Fred and Charles' hiding place.

"Should just go right back in there," he said in a low voice. "Tell the stupid bint she can't order me around." Raising his voice to a simpering falsetto, he said, "'You're of his line, Spike, you can find him.'" Then, in a more normal tone: "Even when he's gone it's Angelus this, Angelus that. You'd think the whole bloody world revolved around him. Well, fine. If she wants him, she can damn well have him. They can be happy making each other miserable, and Dru and I can have some fun."

Abruptly, Spike turned and set off back along the forest track at a brisk pace.

"She's sent him after Angel," Charles said.

"No..." Fred said slowly. "I think -- I think Darla's sent Spike after the other Angel, the one who's just been cursed. And there's only one reason she'd want him."

Charles looked at her. "She's gonna do it -- she's gonna make the gypsies lift the curse. Come on." He started to run -- but in the opposite direction to the one Spike had taken.

Fred hesitated, confused. "Aren't we going to follow Spike?"

Charles shook his head. "If we're going to stop this, we're gonna need supernatural help -- injured or not."

***

Too bad, Cordelia thought tiredly. I kinda liked that wig.

The image that faced her in the mirror now was a far cry from the glamour of a few hours ago. Instead of a crown of long, dark hair, she had her old Golden Shimmer crop, somewhat flattened by a night of wearing the wig. Instead of the correct, regal posture she'd had earlier, she was slumped over as far as the corset would allow. Her puffed sleeves had been mashed down in the melee and now reminded her vaguely of a collapsed soufflé she'd seen once at a dinner party. Her gloves were bloodstained and crumpled on the floor. Only her earrings, still dazzling and bright, had the same glitter.

"You're sure nothing's broken?" Cordelia could hear the concern in Angel's voice, was aware of his physical presence next to her, but the mirror only showed one weary, slightly bruised face, and that was hers. For once, she envied Angel's lack of a reflection.

But when she turned to look at him, she saw his condition had already visibly improved in the hour since they'd stumbled up the hotel stairs to their suite. At first they'd been able to do no more than collapse (Angel on the floor, Cordelia in a nearby chair) and try to recover. But Angel's vampiric regeneration kicked in quickly. He was already moving more comfortably; the blood that soaked his tuxedo shirt might as well have been shed by someone else.

"All I need is some sleep," she said tiredly. "I need to get undressed, Angel. And I can't really do it myself." She half-lifted her injured arm -- wincing as she did so -- by way of demonstration.

Angel looked completely flustered for a moment. Before Cordelia could even wonder why -- it wasn't like he hadn't seen her in her underwear before, for Pete's sake -- he had collected himself. "I'm sorry," he said. "I should have thought."

She turned away to give him better access to the back of her dress. She felt Angel begin unfastening the buttons that ran along her spine, surprisingly deftly for a man with such big hands, she thought. Then she half-smiled, realizing Angel had probably done this many, many times before.

His hands worked their way down to her painfully constricted waist. "You probably want to get rid of this corset, too," Angel said. She felt his fingertip catch in the ribbons that bound it so tightly closed.

"The word 'duh' is so appropriate, and yet it just doesn't say enough," Cordelia said. When Angel hesitated, she laughed a little. "That means yes. Take this evil, evil contraption from hell off my body."

Angel pulled her sleeves down her arms, going slowly, careful of her injured shoulder. Cordelia winced, and he hesitated. "I'm not hurting you?"

"A little," she admitted. "But not as badly as this corset. Keep going."

Angel slipped the dress down over her hips, and it billowed to the floor, a flash of color at her feet. Then he began unfastening the corset, loop by loop, and Cordelia felt her grateful ribs expand outward. She took in a deep breath that filled her lungs for the first time all night. The rush of oxygen hit her bloodstream, and the room wavered around her for a moment.

"Cordy?" Cordelia realized that she'd swayed on her feet; Angel had caught her around the waist, bracing her against him. She leaned against his chest gratefully; he seemed like the only still, solid thing in the room. "You're hurt worse than I thought --"

"No, really, I'm all right," Cordelia protested. She covered his arm with her own; the motion sent jabs of pain through her arm, but she forced herself not to groan. "It was just a whole lotta air all of a sudden. Felt nice. Hey, I guess I'm one of the natives now -- I swooned."

"I should have thought to lay in a supply of smelling salts." She could tell Angel was smiling as he said it. As she'd hoped, he stepped back a little, reassured, and finished loosening her corset. She thought he would remove it immediately, but instead he gently took off her earrings and dropped them on the bedside table, where they glinted in the faint light from the oil lamp. Then he ran both of his hands through her matted-down hair; it was surprising how refreshing that felt, to have her hair fluffed back up again. Finally, he pulled the corset away from her and tossed it aside. Cordelia would have thrown it very, very hard, but he had the basic idea. She took a few more deep breaths, relishing her body's relative freedom. But she could still feel bands of pain where the corset's boning had been.

She looked down in dismay to see that her camisole was stuck to her skin from sweat and pressure; the lines of the corset had dug into her flesh the way the seams did on too-tight jeans, only far more brutally. Carefully, she took the fabric in her uninjured hand and peeled it away from her sore skin. "Owww. And ow. Every crappy thing I ever said about feminism? I take it back. Any movement that got rid of these things is A-OK by me."

"You'll have marks for a while," Angel said. He paused for a moment, then said, "I can help a little. Lie down."

Cordelia sat gratefully on the bed and carefully worked her way into a reclining position. As Angel moved toward her, she grimaced. "Angel, you have got to take that off." She gestured at his shirt. "I think we have freaked out the hotel management enough without getting blood all over the bedspread."

"Oh. Right." He quickly stripped off the shirt; though she'd seen him without it countless times, Cordelia realized it had been a while since she'd been called on to bandage up his wounds, or chatted with him after he got out of the shower. She smiled a little as he half-turned to toss the ruined shirt on the floor and let her glimpse the gryphon tattoo for the first time in months. Angel moved as though he was going to sit beside her, saw her smile, then paused. "Cordy?"

Feather mattresses were beautiful things, Cordelia thought. Down pillows. The bed was so soft, so welcoming. "Yeah, Angel?"

"I've been thinking -- I mean, I was wondering --" He gave her a look that was far harder and more searching than she'd expected. "You haven't mentioned Groo at all. This whole time. I was just -- aren't you worried about him?"

Groo. Cordelia remembered his sweet grin in a flash of memory that was gone as soon as it came. Angel was right: Not only had she not mentioned Groo, he hadn't even entered her thoughts. Guilt stabbed at her briefly, but it faded in an instant. "If you were evil, I never ended up working with you in L.A.," she reasoned. "That means I didn't get sucked through to Pylea, so Grooie and I never even met. In the altered reality, he's in Pylea, being a champion and loving life. In other words, Groo's the lucky one."

"Yeah," Angel said, looking down at her. "I guess he is."

Something about the look on Angel's face made her feel suddenly embarrassed. What would Groo think if he could see her like this -- undressed on the bed, waiting for Angel --

Well, Groo couldn't see her. But Cordelia rolled over on her stomach, all the same.

She felt the mattress sink slightly as Angel sat next to her. He began rubbing her back, his fingertips massaging the angry lines where the corset had been. It hurt -- but in a good way. Cordelia could feel the indentations along her back begin to soften as he went. "How's that?" he said.

"Good. Better than good. Keep going." He did. The muscles of her back, strained from her injury and the fight, began to relax beneath his touch. "God, that's terrific. Where did you learn to give such a great massage?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

Cordelia smiled into the pillow. She'd have to beg or bribe that story from him sometime -- sometime when she didn't need him to keep going as much as she did right now. Then she reconsidered their situation, and the smile faded from her face. "I guess we kinda blew it tonight."

"It's not over yet," Angel said quickly. "They got away from us, yeah. That doesn't mean we're not going to catch up with them in time."

"But that was our best shot," Cordelia said slowly. "You said so yourself." Angel's hands were still for a moment, and she knew he was struggling to find a way to console her. When he said nothing, she felt fear settle over her, more overwhelmingly than at any other moment in their journey into the past -- because this was the moment when she finally had to face that they could be trapped forever. She'd avoided thinking about the worst-case scenario all this time, but she could avoid it no longer.

Quietly, she whispered, "You can't stake the past you, Angel. Even if they uncurse him. You can't."

"I'll have to."

"If you vanish -- Angel, if you die, if you're not in the world for the next 100 years, that could be as bad as Angelus being around. Maybe worse." It felt worse. Panic was flooding Cordelia's heart.

Angel, perhaps sensing her fear, began stroking her back again. "Shh. Cordelia, that won't happen. If I have to stake Angelus -- well, we know from Drusilla's example that I won't just vanish --"

"Unless you try to come back with us," Cordelia said. Then she glanced over her shoulder. "You mean -- you wouldn't come back with us?"

Angel shook his head, some of his old tiredness back in his face again. "I know what I did the past 104 years. What I didn't do. If the only way for me to protect the world is to do it all over again, then -- I guess I'll have to do it."

"All of it? Just repeat the last century?" Cordelia's mind was whirling at the very thought.

"It might not be that bad," Angel said, entirely unconvincingly. "Lots of great things in the 20th century. Jazz, and V-E Day, and, uh -- Jack Nicklaus' last Masters."

Cordelia sighed out heavily. "I can see right through you. Angel, you do NOT want to go through all that again. The Dust Bowl and Vietnam and, and -- " She half-turned onto her side, ignoring the cramp in her shoulder. "Angel, would you go find Buffy like you did the first time?"

"Of course," Angel said. "That would be part of making everything come out right again. A pretty big part." He gently guided her to where she was lying flat on her stomach again, then went back to work on her aching muscles. His strokes were strong, almost painful as they bore down upon her back, and yet her body went warm and liquid as he touched her.

She whispered, "Would you fall in love with Buffy again?"

Angel was quiet for a moment. He finally said only, "I don't know. I couldn't know. A hundred years from now -- it's a long time." Then he patted her back, almost playfully, and with forced cheer said, "Do you think you're going to avoid working for me in L.A.? You're not getting out of it that easily. I won't let you."

Cordelia smiled, snuggling down into the soft pillows and mattress. She could see Angel's silhouette on the far wall; the warm, golden light of the oil lamp traced around the shadow of his body, as well as hers, stretched on the bed beneath him. His chin was low, his eyes perhaps focusing on the small of her back. For some reason it was interesting, watching him watch her.

"Of course," she murmured, "we might have completely botched things up, and then we'd have to stay here with you." The prospect should have terrified her; it did quicken her heartbeat, make her fingers curl along the edge of the coverlet. But what she felt wasn't really terror at all. "Maybe we'll all be together."

"I want you guys to be able to go back," Angel said. "But -- Cordy -- I'd miss you. A lot."

"Of course you'd miss us," Cordelia said. "I'm just saying, you might not have to. We might be stuck here together." It was too much to be scary. She couldn't do anything but smile. "What kind of a suffragette do you think I'd make?"

Angel paused, but then she heard him laugh a little. "I think women might get the vote a lot sooner."

Cordelia made up her mind, with the firm resolution best brought about by fear, that being stuck in the past with Angel wouldn't be like being stuck at all. These corsets wouldn't be in style too much longer, and at least she'd have her friends with her. The mission -- well, there'd still be plenty of vampires and demons around to be stopped, right?

She relaxed further, letting go of the last vestiges of worry. The massage was definitely helping with that. God, Angel had great hands.

Then she remembered those same hands clasping Darla's as they'd circled one another on the dance floor.

"Angel?" she said. "Seeing Darla -- that must have been freaksome."

"In some ways," he answered. He continued working on her back, smoothing away the pain. "She's changed for me, because of Connor."

"She hasn't really changed," Cordelia warned. "You can't think of her as Lady Madonna. I did, and remember where it got me?"

"I understand that very well," Angel said, in a tone of voice that suggested he understood it a lot better than Cordelia did herself.

"It's not that I don't trust you to do what you have to do," Cordelia said. "I trust you more than anybody, Angel. But I don't want to see you get hurt any more. You've been hurt enough."

Angel was silent for a moment, and his hands stilled on her back. Cordelia wished she weren't on her stomach, so she could see his face; was he upset? Was he angry? Was he doing his stoic non-emotional thing?

Then he started laughing -- very softly, but laughing all the same. "Cordelia, you have to stop."

"Stop?" She turned her head so that she could see him; he was still sitting beside her, his hands on her back, a half-smile on his face. "Stop what?"

"Stop trying to take care of me all the time," Angel said. "You were just attacked by Spike and Darla, you hurt your arm badly, and the corset alone almost finished you off. And you're still worrying about me." He brought one hand up to her injured shoulder. "Speaking of which, let me look at this." He brushed the strap of her camisole down from her shoulder, baring some of her back to his cool fingertips.

Stop trying to take care of Angel? Cordelia wasn't sure how to take that at all, so she just lay there in silence, obeying Angel's requests for her to wiggle her fingers, make a fist, shrug, and so on. Finally, he said, "You were right earlier -- nothing's broken. You've probably got a sprain, but no worse."

"Okay," Cordelia said, still unable to think of what to say. Angel resumed his ministrations to her back, his touch cool through the thin cotton of her camisole, and they were quiet together until she blurted out, "Why don't you want me to take care of you?"

"Cordy -- no. It's not that. Roll over."

"Huh?"

"Your stomach's got to be hurting too, right?" Angel helped her roll over onto her back. As his hands began massaging her belly, he said, "I'm glad I have you to take care of me. I need you."

"So true," Cordelia said. "Glad we're clear on that. But then why do you want me to stop?"

"I don't want you to stop. Not ever," Angel said. He was watching her in the faint light, his look softer, more open than she was used to seeing from him. She'd seen it before, but so rarely. Too rarely. She liked it. "But you don't have to do it all the time. I can take care of myself occasionally. And sometimes you need me to take care of you."

"Not hardly," Cordelia protested, then realized that she was splayed out in bed, letting Angel massage her skin back into inhabitability. "Well, okay, when I'm being attacked by vampires, you do kinda come in handy."

"Thanks," Angel said dryly. His palm brushed along the side of her waist. "But -- I don't just want to take turns between being your bodyguard and your therapy case. You're there for me a lot, Cordelia. I just want you to know I'm here for you too. You can let me take care of you, sometimes."

"Like now," Cordelia said. His hands felt so good, and she felt herself relaxing still more. She smiled. "I think I like you taking care of me. You know what? Being stuck in the past might not be so bad. I bet you know all the places to be and not to be. All the best stuff to do. We'll travel all over the place, and you can show me the sights. We'll have adventures. Have some fun for a change. You'll have to act like my husband, okay? I'm not having anybody write me off as a 21-year-old spinster."

Angel's voice was slightly uneven as he replied, "Your husband. Okay. I -- okay."

"What?" she said, trying to make light of the sudden dismay on his face. "Are you embarrassed to be seen with me?"

"Never." His hands stilled on her belly, and she thought he would pull away. Instead, he slowly took one of her hands in his own. "I like taking care of you," he said quietly.

The intimacy of the moment struck her in a flash, and Cordelia awkwardly felt as though she ought to pull her hand away, or make a joke, or something. Something that would make it clear that this was just their same old thing, hugging and joking and talking and thinking nothing of it, Angel and Cordy, best friends 'til the end. Not make it clear to Angel, because he knew that, and not clear to her, because she knew that, but it seemed like it ought to be clear all the same.

Instead, she felt her fingers closing around his, as if of their own volition. Angel glanced down at their clasped hands for a moment, then looked down into her eyes. "Cordy?" he whispered.

"CORDY!" Gunn's voice rang out from the corridor. Cordelia and Angel both jumped, startled. "ANGEL!" Gunn was definitely running toward their door. Angel squeezed her hand quickly, then got up from the bed just as the door was flung open.

Gunn's turban was slightly askew. "We got serious trouble going down. Can you guys move?"

"I'm fine," Angel said. "Cordy?"

Cordelia sat up. Somehow, she felt a lot more undressed in front of Gunn than she had in front of Angel; she pulled one of the coverlets over her. "I can if I have to," she said. "Don't ask me to turn any cartwheels. What's going on? Where's Fred?"

"Fred is downstairs stealing us a horse and carriage," Gunn said, shaking his head in something that was both dismay and admiration. "That girl woulda done okay in my old gang. We gotta hope she gets away with it, because we have to get back out into the woods, and fast. Darla's sent Spike out to look for you, Angel -- not YOU you, but the old you. We figure she's going after the gypsies tonight."

Cordelia's heartbeat quickened, and the pain in her shoulder seemed to dim.

Angel began to go toward the next room where his clothes were, but stopped on the way to search through the trunk where they'd hidden their small cache of weapons. He pulled out a couple of hurriedly made stakes and a dagger Cordelia had lifted in the museum in Rome and somehow not lost in the race to get back to the time machine when that future self-destructed. Handing her the knife, Angel asked, "Cordy, can you get dressed?"

"I can put on my jeans and sweater," she replied. "It doesn't matter what I look like now. Either we're about to get back to the future or blow the past to smithereens."

Gunn growled, "Just HURRY."

***

"The future is made of boxes," Drusilla said. "So many boxes! They live in boxes stacked on top of one another, and sit in boxes that float on roads like rivers. And there are boxes for pictures and boxes that make music, and little boxes that hold a thousand voices and make a sound like --" She closed her eyes in concentration and made a noise that sounded, to Darla, very much like a frog being tortured: "Brrrp! Brrrp!"

"Very nice, Drusilla," Darla said impatiently. "Now tell me more about this time machine. What exactly does the ring do? Can you show me if we go there?"

"I'll take you to it, if you're a good Grandmummy and wait," Drusilla said, sternly wagging her finger. Was it her imagination, Darla wondered, or was Drusilla enjoying this sudden shift in the balance of power between them? "You're going to love it in the future. So many wonderful things! Arbeit macht frei, Agent Orange, final solution, ethnic cleansing, and best of all, they say the world will get hotter and hotter until we all melt," she finished with an air of authority.

"The end of the world," Darla said. How lovely, to boil away the mortal flesh of this world and leave only the blanched bones. She felt herself beginning to believe in Drusilla's dream-visions -- more than believe. She already knew they were true, but she was beginning to long to see them for herself. To take Angelus to them.

"And oh! Another secret, one that sparkles and bubbles and shines on every street." Drusilla leaned forward very close, so that their noses were almost touching, and whispered, "Coke is it."

"Hey! Anyone want to give me some help, here?"

Darla and Drusilla both looked around; Spike was standing at the cave entrance, supporting with difficulty some filthy, half-dead wretch. Darla felt a flash of anger: How dare he disobey her when she had told him to find Angelus and not to return without him --

The figure Spike was supporting raised its head, and looked at Darla through rat-tails of unkempt hair. It was Angelus. Spike had brought him, just as she had asked.

The night she had driven him from the villa, Darla had thought it wasn't possible for him to look more pathetic, more repulsive than he had as he had wept before her. Now she knew she'd been wrong -- he still looked just as pathetic, but now his clothes were filthy and torn, his face muddied, his hair matted. He must have been sleeping in ditches, she thought with disgust. And he was weak, leaning on Spike for support; he clearly hadn't fed since she'd thrown him out. He couldn't bring himself to kill, Darla realized, and felt renewed revulsion.

"Darla," Angelus said. His voice was hoarse, barely a whisper, but the note of entreaty in it was unmistakable. "Darla."

Darla said nothing. She didn't move.

"Found him cowering under a hedgerow. The devil only knows what's wrong with him," Spike said. His face twisted into something that was half-grin, half sneer of contempt. "He certainly smells like hell. You wanted him, so here he is." And with that, he roughly shoved Angelus toward her.

Darla stood, rooted to the spot, as Angelus stumbled toward her. His arms were held out to her, his gaze fixed on her. He didn't seem to be aware of Spike and Drusilla at all.

In a voice so low only Darla could hear her, Drusilla said, "Here he is, neither fish nor fowl. But foul! He could be one or both or something else again. Choose a door, Grandmummy, and take him through it."

Exhausted, Angelus sank to his knees in front of Darla, his arms still outstretched. "Darla. Darla, please. Please..."

He was begging her to help him, she thought with distaste.

And then: He was begging her. He needed her.

Darla remembered the Angelus she'd danced with earlier that night, the one whose attention had wandered from her and to the human woman in the orange dress. The one who'd walked away from Darla without looking back. Suddenly, in spite of his filth and degradation, there was something desirable about the man on his knees in front of her.

Darla sank slowly to the ground and, controlling her distaste, opened her arms. Angelus all but fell into her embrace, clinging to her like a frightened child seeking its mother. Which in a way, Darla thought, he was.

"Forgive me," he mumbled. "Forgive me, help me, please, I'm sorry, help me --"

Spike was right: Angelus did smell. Darla wrinkled her nose, but otherwise concealed her repugnance. After all, what must the Master have made of her when he found her? She'd been only a frail, enfeebled mortal, rotting from within. Sometimes greatness began with humble materials. And Angelus already had greatness within him; it was just shackled by his curse in chains she had the power to cast aside. She lifted one hand and gently caressed his hair, brushing it out of his eyes. "There, my sweet boy. Everything will be well again, soon. Soon you'll be restored to us."

Angelus looked up at her, his face feverish with gratitude. "You'll make this --stop? Make it go away?"

"I will, my love."

"Thank you," Angelus whispered. "Thank you, thank you, thank you..." He continued to mumble barely-coherent words of thanks as Darla rocked him, childlike, against her breast.

In the century and a half Darla had known Angelus, she had been in turns his teacher, his lover and -- as reluctant as she was to admit it -- sometimes his slave. Now, for the first time, she was his savior, and Darla found she was enjoying the role not simply because it was novel.

Drusilla clapped her hands together joyously. "See, we're a family again, all hugs and smiles!"

"Pardon me while I retch," Spike said.

***


The vampires were near, and the force of their proximity was almost overwhelming.

Angel closed his eyes, attempting to concentrate. Four vampires, so close, so familiar. Spike's energy was sharp and swift, a red-hot dart whirring through his consciousness. Drusilla's was diaphanous and unformed, a veil that clouded his thoughts. Most familiar of all was Darla's -- cold and hard and beautiful, cast-iron scrollwork that formed a cage.

And then the fourth -- alien and familiar at once, himself and yet not himself. Angel felt as though he ought to be able to read his former self better than any of the others, but the reverse was true; all he could sense was distant pain.

"Angel, this would be a bad time for a fugue state," Cordelia said.

"When would a good time be?" Fred said reasonably. She was unharnessing the horse from its carriage, so that it could run back to its stable and master. One way or another, they wouldn't need it again.

"I'm fine," Angel said. He peered through the night, hoping his other self would mask his proximity from the other vampires. "They're headed deeper into the forest. Come on."

"Not trying to be negative here," Gunn said as they began making their way through the forest, "but what exactly are we supposed to do when we catch up with them? We weren't doing so hot against just the first three back at the ballroom, and with one more -- that one being you -- it's gonna be tough."

They were so loud. So loud. Fred's footstep shattered a twig. Gunn's sleeve caught against the branches of a bush, sending rustling echoes throughout the woods. Cordelia stumbled on a tree foot, and it seemed as though the sound of it thundered. Angel knew his senses were at their most acute, ready for battle, but there was every chance the other vampires' were as well.

"Be quiet," he murmured. "We stop them however we can. But --" This was too important not to say out loud. "Nobody kills Darla. No matter what."

"Angel," Cordelia said. Her face was pale in the night, her voice low enough that even he wouldn't object. "If it comes down to it --"

"It won't," he whispered back. "I won't let it."

"I recognize this tree," Fred said. She stopped in her tracks. "Angel -- this is near the cave with the portal back to the time machine. Really near."

Cordelia's eyes went wide. "Please, for the love of God, tell me that the vampires aren't headed toward the time machine."

"I love God just fine," Fred said. "But that's where they're headed. Do you think Drusilla might have -- could have --"

"She's told them," Angel said. He had thought it impossible to be more desperate, but he had been wrong. He began running after the vampires, not caring about the noise. The others were right behind him, their weapons at the ready. As they made their way up a slight hill -- not far from the cave at all, Angel realized -- he was convinced that they'd finally reached the most desperate moment of this entire journey.

Then they got to the top of the hill, and he saw the torches.

"What the hell?" Gunn said. They were all frozen in place, staring at the lights coming toward them in the distant forest. Perhaps eight or nine torches -- the sound of footsteps so much louder now -- more than a dozen people -- Angel squinted, using his night vision to see just who was approaching.

"It's the gypsies," he said.

"I thought Darla was going after them!" Cordelia protested. "Since when do they come after Darla?"

"Since now," Fred said. "When we changed the time stream, let them know what happened -- they could have figured out more than they knew the first time around. So maybe they're attacking Darla before she can get to them."

The truth settled around him, heavy and dark. "That's one possibility," Angel said, though he couldn't bring himself to believe it was true. "But that's not necessarily what they're doing."

"What, you think they're out for a midnight stroll?" Gunn said.

"They might not be after Darla," Angel repeated. "They might be after us."


********************

Chapter Six

********************


"I thought you said -- this plan made -- sense," Charles gasped.

"It does," Fred panted, hazarding a glance over her shoulder. What she saw wasn't reassuring -- the mob of angry gypsies was barely twenty yards behind them, their torches bobbing up and down as they chased Fred and Charles through the dark forest.

"Oh yeah?" Charles wheezed. He was using one hand to try to keep his turban on, with only limited success. It was beginning to unwind at the top. "Leaping out -- in front of the gypsies -- who want to kill us -- makes sense?"

"Sure," Fred said. Her chest was tight with the effort of taking in enough air to run and speak at the same time. "We make them chase us -- lead them right to Darla -- then the gypsies and vampires -- will fight each other."

"And this helps -- how?"

"Darla won't kill the gypsies -- 'cause Drusilla will have told her -- that's why Angel's curse wasn't lifted -- the first time."

Something which might have been an arrow whizzed so close to the side of Fred's head that she felt a cold breeze in her ear. She grabbed Charles' hand, and they started to weave and zig-zag between the trees, heading all the time back in the direction of the caves.

"So," Charles gasped, "Darla's tryin' not to kill the gypsies -- we're tryin' not to kill Darla -- so tell me -- who are the gypsies tryin' not to kill?"

Fred didn't answer, just kept running.

"I think I just found the flaw in your thinking," Charles said. "Go faster. Next time -- I come up -- with the plans."


***

Noises in the forest. Voices, feet pounding -- a mob, not even trying to conceal their approach.

The vampires all lifted their heads, turning as one toward the as-yet-unseen danger. Spike rubbed his hands together, his eyes glittering yellow and predatory in the darkness. "Looks like we're going to see some action after all."

"No, no," Drusilla moaned. She had raised her hands to her head and was dragging her fingers through her hair, ruining the carefully pinned and curled style. "This is wrong, all wrong. They're not supposed to be here!"

Next to her, Angelus shuddered. He could barely stand up, never mind fight.

"Get in the cave," Darla ordered. She pushed Angelus toward Spike. "Take him."

"I'm not missing out on a perfectly good riot to nurse Angelus' hangover," Spike said.

"Angel," Drusilla whispered. "Angel..."

"I TOLD you not to call him that!" Darla exploded.

"Actually," Angelus' voice said calmly, "I prefer it."

But Angelus had not spoken.

Darla spun around. Angelus -- the other Angelus, the one Drusilla insisted on calling Angel -- was standing behind her. Darla masked her fury with a smile. "I'm so pleased you could join us," she said. There was a woman with him, and it took Darla a second to place her; she looked very different without the wig and orange gown she'd been wearing at the ball. She, like Angel, wore strange clothing -- the woman looked brazen, even to Darla's jaded eyes, in trousers. "And you've brought your little whore, too. How nice."

"I'd think someone with your personal history would be a little less free with words like that," the girl said coolly. "My name is Cordelia, by the way. My friends call me Cordy but, hey, how about you don't."

Spike's mouth was hanging open. He looked at the Angelus who had slumped against a tree, blank-faced and trembling, and then at the Angelus standing in front of Darla. "That's no phantom. He's real. Damnation, would someone PLEASE just EXPLAIN to me what in HELL is going on here? Because NONE of this makes any SENSE to me!"

Drusilla patted him on the arm comfortingly. "Don't be vexed. You'll get used to it, just like me."

"Cordelia. Now I know what to tell them to put on your gravestone." Ignoring the girl, Darla directed her full attention to Angelus. He was standing only a few paces away from his other self, yet in every other sense they were worlds apart. "You had to follow me, didn't you? See, the flame still burns in you."

"Don't flatter yourself," Cordelia scoffed, but when Darla looked into the eyes of the other Angelus she saw a flicker of something that told her she wasn't so far from the truth.

"They're coming closer," Drusilla said. Her eyes were going golden now too, with the nearness of human rage and blood. "Very close now, Grandmummy. The gypsies didn't wait for us to find them. Everyone is spoiling the story now, and someone must pay. I want MY story, and I will write it in blood. The blood's beating closer now. Thump thump."

"We might want to concentrate on the rapidly approaching angry mob," Spike said. "Could be trouble. More trouble than these two, anyway -- the astonishingly unwanted extra Angelus and the girl with the bad dye job."

Cordelia scowled at him. "Irony is so gonna bite you in the ass on that one." But Darla noted that she, too, was glancing over her shoulder at the gypsies.

"Spike, Dru." She flicked her fingers toward the sound of the din. "See to the gypsies. Under no circumstances are you to kill them. Maim all you like."

"I haven't maimed in an age," Spike said, grinning in anticipation. He and Drusilla ran off into the night.

"Cordelia," Angel said. "Get him away from the gypsies. Keep him out of this if you can."

It took Darla a moment to realize what he meant. When she saw Cordelia moving toward Angelus -- wasn't one enough for this scavenging little wench? -- she wanted to scream. But the gypsies were coming ever closer, and all her hot words about preferring to see Angelus as dust had gone cold for her now.

"Angelus?" she said quietly. "Go with her into the cave. I'll come for you later."

"I don't want to leave you," Angelus said. He would not look away from Darla's face, and she had never found his gaze so welcome.

"You are some pathetic," Cordelia said. "But you're gonna be some pathetic for the next hundred years or so. I'm going to see to it." She grabbed Angelus' arm and began pulling him toward the cave, away from Darla. For one beautiful instant, Darla saw a flicker of her darling boy's old fury in his eyes -- but then it was gone, lost in the sickening mire of guilt and horror. He stumbled into the cave with Cordelia. At least he would still obey.

A few feet away, a crash in the underbrush was swiftly followed by screams and yells. The gypsies -- and, from the sound of it, some of Angel's human pets, too -- had found Spike and Drusilla. Darla and Angel looked toward the clamor; she could glimpse torchlight wavering through the branches, the too-quick silhouette of an upraised hand slashing downward. By the time she turned away, Angel was staring at her once more. They regarded each other for another moment of silence.

Finally he said, "It's my turn to ask you to dance."

Darla curtseyed. "Very well," she said. "Let's dance."

***


Branches swished as Drusilla ran through them, little lashes in the night. A forest of whips, how lovely. If only she could enjoy them.

The horrid gypsies were running at them, shouting, and it would be so sweet to snuff them out, wet fingertips to the flame. But that was not the end of the story.

"Look out!" shouted a voice in English. It was the man with no hair, ducking to one side, dragging the girl with long hair with him. The two of them liked Angel as he was. As they saw Drusilla and Spike, their eyes went even wider.

"Bloody hell, not this one again," Spike groaned as he saw the girl. "And who's the freak in the turban?"

"Oh, they're not gypsies," Drusilla said happily. "You can kill THEM."

Spike grinned. "About time something went my way tonight."

The man with no hair got between the girl and Spike. "See, this is another flaw in the plan," he muttered. "Two flaws and counting."

Then the gypsies burst through the undergrowth. Everyone stared at everyone else for a long moment. Too much thinking, Drusilla decided. Not enough bleeding.

Drusilla shrieked -- one long, high, wavering note, as much singing as screaming. All their minds went silver-white. She sought one fear that would hold them all, held it in her mind's eye, put it in their minds as well.

Through their eyes she saw the forest burst into flame.

The gypsies started to scream as they ducked and cowered. Unearthly orange light appeared to flicker through the trees, to drop like tears onto leaves that sent up sparks. The girl with long hair beat at her trousers; the man with no hair tried to help her. The gypsies were running in all directions, confused and unnerved. Spike shrank back too, but she took his hand in hers and quickly squeezed it twice -- their old signal for her best tricks and games.

"It's not real?" he whispered. When she shook her head and smiled, Spike began to laugh and laugh. "Oh, brilliant. Bloody brilliant. My perfect, vicious dove."

Her Spike, with her again. Her Spike, as romantic and deadly as ever.

"I shall see to the gypsies," she said primly. It was just like playing Wendy Houses. "You can kill the others."

***


"You think I don't know what you're up to?" Cordelia said.

Angelus looked up at her, bewildered, from the cave floor where he'd slumped in apparent exhaustion. She sighed. "Not YOU you. The other you. Angel. I know what you're -- what he's up to. 'Get him away from the gypsies.' He just wants me out of the battle. He's trained with me, like, ninety zillion times, and he still doesn't trust me in a fight. So, tell me, have you always been this absurdly overprotective?"

She shrugged as she said it, and the lancing pain in her shoulder reminded her that Angel might have had other, slightly-less-annoying reasons for getting her out of the fray. Angelus didn't answer; instead, he just lapsed back into his mute staring at the ground.

Cordelia was disappointed to feel her annoyance at Angel fading; it had been, by far, the easiest thing to think about. It was a lot less frightening than the prospect of Angel getting all sentimental about the ex-lover who was probably happy to kill him, now that she had a spare. It was a lot less uncertain than wondering what was happening to Fred and Gunn, caught between murderous gypsies and semi-murderous vampires. And it was far, far less painful than really looking at Angelus -- the Angel who had been.

This is Angel, she told herself. My Angel. It's easier to call him Angelus, but even if he hasn't changed the name yet, the rest is the same. He has his soul. He can love.

"Do you really want to be with Darla?" she asked him quietly.

Angelus didn't look at her, but after a few moments, he said, "She's my only hope."

"Hope? Hope of what? Being what you were before?"

He grimaced in such wrenching pain that Cordelia's first thought was that he was injured somehow, bleeding from a wound she hadn't seen. But he only said, "I don't want -- I can't -- but --" Angelus gripped his hair, pulling so hard Cordelia thought he might actually rip out hunks of it by the roots. "I want the pain to stop. I want it all to end. Darla can end it."

"By yanking out your soul like a bad tooth." Cordelia wanted to smack him. "News flash, buddy. If you do that, the pain doesn't stop. It just stops for you, and you throw it off on other people. The people who survive the ones you'll go on to kill." She suddenly remembered Giles' face as Jenny Calendar's casket was lowered into its grave. Cordelia hadn't allowed herself to remember that in years.

"Oh, God," Angelus said. He let himself fall back onto the stone wall of the cave. "You're right. You're right. It never ends. No matter what." Tears were in his eyes. Seeing him cry wasn't easier the second time.

Cordelia was startled at first -- she'd jibed at Angel a thousand times, in jest and in earnest, gently and brutally and every way in between. She knew his reactions in every shade and shape, could envision the looks that accompanied them all. Then she realized those reactions belonged to a century in the future; the man who wept before her now was still too raw, too anguished, for any blow to be less than devastating.

Stung by an entirely unfamiliar feeling of contrition, Cordelia knelt by his side. "I'm sorry. Okay? I didn't mean -- no, I meant it. But you should know it's not always going to be like this."

"No," Angelus said. "It's going to end."

His hand closed over hers, and she thought for one strange, confusing moment that he was making a pass at her. Then she realized that his fingers were wrapped around her stake.

"I won't be what I was before, and I can't be what I am now," Angelus said. "Soon I won't be at all."

***


"So this is your end," Darla said. "My majestic creature, reduced to this. Reduced to you."

Angel had considerable practice in ignoring Darla's taunts. He circled her silently in the night, focusing only on the nearby cries of the gypsies. And -- that sounded like Fred, in trouble --

Darla saw his hesitation, misinterpreted it and smiled. "You hate it, don't you?" she crooned. "Being so much less than you can be. What's become of you now? A quiet, mild-mannered sort of fellow, I'd expect. The sort of man humans might easily make a pet of, who tells himself he's happy with his obedient human lover."

Cordelia, obedient. Angel couldn't help it: He laughed.

"And you're so secure in your snug little existence that you can mock me," Darla said. Her dark lips twisted in a scowl that he knew was a poor mask for pain. He had hurt Darla thousands of times -- deliberately and accidentally, at her request and against her will and without even thinking about it. She'd done the same to him. It had never mattered much, one way or the other. Their spirits remained as unnaturally unscarred as their bodies.

But this was different. It hurt him now, to see that he had hurt her. Darla's pain had become real to him. Connor had made her real in a way he'd never known -- in a way she'd never known, until the very end.

"I'm not mocking you," he said quietly. "But you don't understand the future I know, Darla. You don't understand the man I've become."

"I will understand it," Darla said. She held up her hand. Cordy's hologram bracelet was still looped around her wrist, but his eyes were drawn away from it. To Angel's horror, the gold ring from the time machine glittered on one finger. "The one piece of jewelry you never gave me, my dearest -- a wedding ring. I had to find my own. Do you like it?"

"Darla," Angel said, not expecting her to listen, "If you understand what that does --"

"I do." He didn't doubt her.

"-- then you have to understand that you're not going to get to the future Drusilla knows. By leaving this time and taking me with you, you'll destroy that, forever."

"What do I care for your future?" Darla said. "I might not even go forward. I might go back -- teach you La Volta for real this time. Or farther, perhaps. You could learn about art from the Borgias, dip your fingers into those paints you're always trying to get me to admire. I can study the craft of poisons from the Claudians. Perhaps you and I will sail down the Nile on a barge, listening to Cleopatra tell us tales of the City of the Dead. We'll drink from the alabaster jars that they think hold immortality, and we'll tell them if it's true." Her voice changed from a dreamy softness to something far harder. "Or perhaps I'll drag you farther ahead. Centuries. Millennia. Who knows what we'll find then? It doesn't much matter. Wherever we go, we'll find blood, and you'll drink it with me, at my side."

"It's never going to happen," he said. Angel had no intention of staking Darla, but she didn't know that, and he didn't mean to let her guess. "I'm going to stop you."

Darla laughed. "As though you could." She slashed toward him, so fast he barely dodged it in time.

Two of the gypsies stumbled out of the forest, and both Angel and Darla tensed, preparing to defend themselves, and each other, from the intruders. But the gypsies were screaming, yelling, swatting at their clothes as though -- as though they were on fire. One of Drusilla's group hallucinations, then. Angel hoped the cry he'd heard from Fred was based on no more than fear of a vision.

But Spike and Dru were in those woods too --

Darla's fist slammed into his jaw, sending him spiraling off-balance. Even as she lunged toward him, he righted himself, blocked her blow and shoved her back into the dust. She scrambled to her feet, laughing bitterly as she pushed her blonde curls from her eyes.

Behind them, the gypsies, still in the grips of their delusion, began to stumble into the cave. Cordelia would have to handle them, injured arm or not.

"So this is all you want for me now," Darla said. "To end like this. Dust to dust."

"Your end is a finer thing than you know," Angel said.

***


"Hang on!" Charles shouted through the din. "I'm getting you out of here!"

Fred knew very well that Charles could no more see a way out of this conflagration than she could. He was only trying to comfort her in what were undoubtedly going to be their last moments of life.

Every tree was on fire, every branch, almost every leaf on the ground. The flames were orange and red, white and yellow, even blue. In a daze, Fred thought: so many different temperatures. She'd spent too much of her life with Bunsen burners not to know the various meanings of a flame's color. And it had caught fire so fast -- could Drusilla have used an accelerant? But what? And why lay a trap with something that could kill vampires too?

Before her stunned confusion could shift into anything that approximated thought, a figure appeared through the smoke and fire, apparently untroubled by the inferno.

"Well, well," Spike said. "What have we here? Not gypsies. Guess that means I can kill you." He smiled nastily. "Who wants to go first?"

***


Cordelia's first instinct, when Angelus grabbed the stake from her, was to grab it right back before he could do something stupid like plunge it into his heart. But his fist was closed, vise-tight, and Cordelia remembered a second too late that a even a weak, disoriented vampire was still far stronger than a human. Especially an injured human, she thought ruefully, as a bolt of pain shot down the length of her arm. For a second, she panicked -- then she had an idea.

He'd taken the stake, but she still had her knife.

Using her uninjured arm, Cordelia reached to her belt. The dagger's hilt slipped easily into her hand, and she quickly looped her arm through Angelus'. Now they were crouching face to face on the cave floor, Angelus holding the stake to his chest, Cordelia holding the knife's point against hers.

"If you're gonna kill yourself," Cordelia said, "then I might as well die too."

Angelus stared at her in sheer incomprehension, probably trying to decide if her threat was serious. "Why?" he asked finally. "You don't -- you can't know how it feels. What it means."

There were dark circles under his eyes, cuts on his face where horror had made him use his own nails to tear and scratch at himself. "No," she said. "I don't guess I can."

"You would let me do it, if you knew," Angelus said. "You would not sentence me to this despair."

"But that's just what you'd sentence me to. Don't you see? If you die here, in this cave, then you take the future -- MY future, the one that has you in it -- away forever. Everything I care about won't just be destroyed, it'll never even happen. You're not the only one losing your whole world." Cordelia looked him in the eye, and tightened her grip on the handle of her dagger. "I've got plenty reason to despair. So, whaddya say? C'mon. I'm ready when you are."

Angelus' hand tightened around the stake, and for one sickening, gut-wrenching moment, Cordelia thought he was going to do it anyway. Then his grip slackened fractionally and he lowered his head. "Let go. Let go and let me end this."

"No."

"Please," Angelus said. It sounded more like a moan of pain than a word. "I can't do it if --"

Cordelia waited for him to finish the sentence, then realized he probably didn't have words for what he was feeling, so she said it for him. "You can't do it because you know it'll hurt someone else."

"I can't," Angelus whispered. She couldn't tell if he was agreeing with her or just repeating himself.

"Listen to me," Cordelia said. "You've already had lesson number one of soul-having: It makes you hurt for every bad thing you ever did. This is lesson number two: Having a soul means caring about other people. And that's not a curse." Softening her voice, she went on, "I know you don't get this now. You're not gonna get it for a long time. But one day you're going to be with people you care about. People who care about you. And then you'll understand."

Slowly, he raised his head again and met her gaze. "You don't know what I am."

"No," Cordelia said steadily, "but I know what you're going to be."

Angelus looked at her for a long time. Then he slowly relaxed his grip on the stake, and Cordelia let out a long, shaky breath. She took the stake from him and put it out of his reach. "Okay. That's good. Now we're gonna stay right here in this nice, safe cave, out of the way of the fight until --"

There was a crashing noise behind her, and Cordelia jerked her head around just as two gypsies stumbled into the cave.

"-- Until the fight comes to us," she finished, leaping to her feet and placing herself between the gypsies and Angelus.

The gypsies didn't see Cordelia and Angelus immediately -- they were occupied with beating their clothes as if trying to smother a fire, which was weird because Cordelia couldn't see any flames. No time to wonder about that now. The gypsies were incapacitated, and there were only two of them. With those factors in her favor, she was sure she could hold them off.

Then one of the gypsies stopped beating his clothes and shook his head as if to clear it. He looked at Cordelia and nudged his companion. Then he shouted something in Romanii to the mob outside the cave. Within seconds more gypsies were running through the cave entrance. Four -- seven -- when the odds got too desperate, Cordelia stopped counting.

Through the entrance of the cave, she could see movement outside. All over the forest clearing, people were jostling about, but in the darkness and confusion it was impossible to tell if Angel was one of them. If she could get a better vantage point, maybe she'd be able to see him, attract his attention --

She shouted his name, but the din of the battle outside almost drowned out her voice completely. "Angel!" she yelled again.

The gypsies were advancing on her and Angelus now. Cordelia briefly considered grabbing Angelus and making a break for the cave entrance, then rejected that idea as foolhardy. They'd never make it out.

If only she could see Angel -- get somewhere he could see her --

She looked down at the gypsies, and suddenly realized they were no longer closing in. In fact, they seemed to be frozen in place, staring at her in a mixture of awe and fear.

Wait a second. She was looking DOWN at the gypsies?

And why was it suddenly so much easier to see out the cave entrance?

Cordelia turned her head and bumped it against the cave's rocky ceiling. It hadn't suddenly gotten lower; she'd gotten higher. When she looked down, her legs and feet were simply dangling beneath her. She was floating several feet above the ground.

"Oh, no," she said. "Not AGAIN."

***


Fred and Charles stumbled backward as Spike advanced on them. It seemed to Fred that everything was burning now -- every leaf and twig and branch around them and above them and under their feet exploding with bright, ugly flames. A tiny voice in her mind tried to insist it wasn't possible for the conflagration to spread so quickly, but the crackling, roaring noise of the fire in her ears smothered rational thought.

"There's a way through," Charles said. The smoke was making him cough. "Behind you --"

Fred turned around and saw a passage out of the blaze, between two widely spaced trees which formed a gate of fire.

But before they could run to it, a figure appeared in front of them, blocking the way. It was Drusilla, her dress whiter than the hottest flames of all.

"Dru, pet," Spike said. "Come and join in the fun."

Reflections of the fire shone in Drusilla's golden eyes. "Thieves of books," she said to Fred and Charles. "Scarpers of stories. You'll see how the story should end. Its last line will be death. Yours."

Hemmed in by fire and the advancing vampires, Fred realized with horror there was nowhere left to go. And she didn't even have a weapon -- somehow, in the confusion, she'd lost her stake.

She looked around frantically for something else she could use to defend herself, and saw one of the torches the gypsies had been carrying, still smoldering where someone had dropped it. It was better than nothing, Fred decided, and reached out to pick it up.

The torch crackled as she lifted it, sending a shower of hot embers over her hands. Where they touched her, they burnt her skin, and Fred cried out in pain. For an instant, panic and terror emptied from her mind, driven out by the reality of physical pain.

And the forest changed.

Where there had been one forest, Fred now saw two, layered over each other like paintings on glass. In one, the fire raged out of control. The other forest was cool and dark and the only thing burning anywhere near them was the torch she was holding. All at once Fred knew which was real.

"Fragile mortal minds," Drusilla said as she drew nearer. "Like spun glass, so delicate. See them shatter!"

"Charles," Fred whispered urgently. "Charles, this is going to hurt. Just trust me."

She touched his arm with the torch.

Charles yelled and snatched his arm back. He blinked rapidly, and Fred saw his eyes clear, as if something blocking his sight had suddenly been lifted away.

"Give me that," he said in a low voice. Fred surrendered the torch to him.

"Because I'm feeling generous," Spike said, sauntering toward them, "I'll let you choose how you die. On tonight's menu we have broken necks, choking and blood loss. What's it going to be?"

"How about the special?" Charles said. He threw the torch. It sailed through the air, straight toward Spike, who made no attempt to dodge it. He thinks it's part of Drusilla's illusion, Fred realized. He can't tell the difference either.

Spike laughed. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but Drusilla's fire will never --" He caught the torch: " -- hurt me --"

As Spike's hand closed around the torch's glowing end, his face registered shock, then almost immediately contorted in agonizing pain. Flames shot up his arm, and it seemed to Fred it wasn't his clothes catching fire preternaturally fast, but his body itself. Of course, that was why fire was such an effective weapon against vampires -- why they feared it so much --

Spike was desperately trying to put out the fire before it spread further up his arm. "Dru!" he yelled. "Drusilla! Having a problem here!"

"Spike!" Drusilla's voice was high-pitched and wavering, like a child confronted with its worst nightmare.

Spike threw himself on to the ground in an effort to smother the flames. Drusilla screeched and ran past Fred and Charles, ignoring them in her desperation to get to Spike. But when she got to him, she didn't seem to know what to do, and could only stand over him, wailing and rocking wildly, as he flailed about.

"Make it stop!" she howled. "Not my story, not my story, not my story!"

The torch was lying on the ground where Spike had dropped it; it had landed on damp earth and gone out. Fred picked it up and, with all her strength, hit Drusilla squarely on the back of the head.

For another second, perhaps longer, Dru continued to wail. Then, very slowly, she toppled forward, landing on top of Spike.

All around Fred, the imaginary inferno Drusilla had created disappeared, as suddenly as if a switch had been flipped. The forest was simply the forest again.

Spike writhed about, either trying to extinguish the flames or simply in pain. Fred watched him for a moment, then began beating out the flames as best she could. Charles sighed heavily before joining in. In a few moments, the blaze was out, and Spike and Drusilla lay singed and unconscious on the forest floor. Charles looked down at the two vampires. They lay in an untidy heap on the forest floor, still smoldering a little. "That'll teach you to play with fire," he said.

***


Angel lunged at Darla, his stake missing her shoulder. She whirled about, laughing. Her boy had gotten careless in his later life. He couldn't even seem to aim directly for her heart.

"Very sloppy. Perhaps you're out of practice. Or perhaps you can't bear to kill me," she purred. His eyes flickered to look into hers, then away. Aha, she thought, it's true. He doesn't want me dead. He still wants me, down deep. He still wants to be what he once was.

Darla knew she could win this battle now; anyone who was willing to destroy his enemy would ultimately triumph over anyone who wasn't. But she didn't just want to stake this pathetic duplicate anymore. She wanted to hear him admit what he still really was inside, how wrong he'd been to ever think of leaving her side.

Angel swung toward her, feinting left at the last moment; his stake grazed her arm, slicing through the skin, and Darla winced as she stumbled back. She couldn't afford to get sloppy herself; Angel might not be the magnificent creature Angelus had been, but it would be easy to underestimate him.

She kicked out at him, expecting him to dodge the blow, just buying herself time to think. What if she could win him back, soul and all? Could she convince the gypsies to remove the curse on both Angeluses? Could that possibly work?

A brief vision of a night in bed swam up in her mind, and she smiled. Having two versions of Angelus might yet prove impossible, but it was well worth finding out. Nothing could ever stop them then.

"You've missed me," she said as they circled one another. "You've missed what we once were."

"At times I missed you," Angel said simply. "I even went back to you, twice. But I never wanted you badly enough to pay the price of staying."

The thought of that -- an Angel who could come back and simply choose to leave again, who could put a limit on how badly he wanted her -- outraged Darla. She cried, "And that's all you have for me? I created you! You don't think I'm worth the price?" Darla readied her own stake. Two Angeluses was a nice dream, but so was watching this one turn to dust. "You told me we would be together forever, Angelus. You made me a promise. A promise you couldn't keep."

He froze. Angel stood shock-still, staring at her, anguish written on his face. When he spoke, his voice was low and uncertain. "I made you a promise," he said. "I promised you I'd take care of him. And I didn't. I couldn't. I tried -- I tried so hard, Darla, and I failed. I failed him and I failed you."

Him? Take care of who? None of this made any sense. But Darla could tell that what Angel was saying now was vitally important, at least to him. She felt her curiosity begin to get the better of her anger. "What do you mean?"

"It's the only promise I ever made that really mattered," Angel said. He was shaking his head from side to side, the pain in his eyes and his voice deeper than she had ever seen in him. "I won't ever get another chance to tell you, Darla, so I'm telling you now. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Sorry for leaving her? Sorry for what had become of him? Hopeful despite herself, Darla stepped just a bit closer. "Angelus?"

She felt the blow before she even saw it -- his fist slamming into the side of her head, then her jaw, then again. The world went gray, then black, and she felt the ground swimming up to meet her.

"I'm sorry," she heard once more, and then she heard nothing else.

***


Darla lay crumpled upon the ground, the skirts of her ball gown collapsed around her. Angel stood still and kept watching her for a minute or more, in case she was faking unconsciousness. She wasn't.

Looking around, he saw a patch of shadow between two trees which was semi-concealed and out of the way of the fighting. Grasping Darla unceremoniously by the ankles, he dragged her limp body toward it.

When he got there, he found he wasn't the only one to have had that idea. Fred and Gunn were standing guard over the unconscious bodies of Drusilla and Spike.

"All RIGHT," Gunn said when he saw Angel. His ballroom finery was ripped and torn, the blue-velvet drapery long gone, and his turban had almost completely unraveled. "That's three for three."

Fred looked equally battered, the torn gold lace at her throat feebly reflecting the moonlight. "All those hard decisions we kept saying we'd think about when we got there? Well, we're there." She gestured tiredly at Spike and Drusilla. "Darla's got to keep existing, for Connor to be born," she said, in the voice of someone who would like to argue but wasn't going to. "But does the future get more warped with a Spike and Dru that know the future, or with no Spike and Dru at all?"

Angel looked down at the three insensible vampires lying on the forest floor. "Drusilla has to be around to sire Darla again. Spike has to be around to bring Drusilla to Sunnydale to get strong again. And there's a lot of things they did, or didn't do, that we can't even guess at. For better or worse -- well, mostly worse -- they're part of the world we're trying to get back."

Fred was evidently thinking much the same thing. "We have to keep everything as close as we can to how we know it should be. That's our best shot at fixing the future."

"If we can't stake them, what are we gonna do with them when they wake up?" Gunn asked. His turban slipped down over one eye, and he quickly finished the job of unwinding it that the chase through the forest and the battle had started.

"I don't know," Fred said. She looked at the long strip of cloth Gunn was preparing to throw away. "Don't get rid of that."

Gunn looked at her. "I'm not putting that thing back on. No more Caliphing for me. As far as I'm concerned, Madagascar can be a democracy from now on."

Fred pointed at Spike and Drusilla. "I meant, we can use it to tie them up while we figure out what to do."

"Oh. Right." Gunn handed Fred a wad of the bandage-like cloth which had formerly been his turban, and together they started to secure the vampires.

Angel looked around the clearing, saw the mouth of the cave and felt his stomach drop. "Oh, God," he said. "Cordelia."

The forest clearing was almost empty now, and with a rising sense of fear Angel realized why -- nearly all the gypsies had gone into the caves, driven there by Drusilla's fire hallucination. He had thought he was making sure Cordelia was safe; in fact, he had sent her into a trap.

He charged into the cave, knocking people roughly out of the way as he struggled to break through the mob. He was so intent on getting to Cordelia that it was several seconds before he realized none of the gypsies were attacking him.

Angel crashed out of the crowd, almost stumbling as the resistance of bodies suddenly ceased. He was standing alone in an empty space near the back of the cave. Directly in front of him he saw Angelus, crouching against the cave's back wall, his hands over his face. The gypsies seemed to be afraid to go any closer to him, although Angel couldn't understand why; his former self was clearly incapable of defending himself.

Then he heard Cordelia's voice. "That's right, you'd better do some serious cowering. Because, as you can see, this is scary, high-level magic mojo I'm doing right now."

Angel turned around, expecting to see Cordy. Instead, he saw her feet, dangling in front of him at eye level. He craned his neck to look up at her: She was scowling, but Angel knew her well enough to recognize that what seemed to be irritation was more likely a mask for fear. She pointed down at the gypsies and said, "There's more where this came from, you guys. This completely intentional levitation is just the beginning. You'd better hope I don't REALLY get mad." Then she glanced down and saw Angel, and she gave him a nervous smile. "Hey there!"

"Are you okay?" he asked.

She was hanging in mid-air, drifting a little from side to side in the draft from the cave entrance. "Yes, except --"

"Except what?"

Cordelia lowered her voice. "I think I might be glowing. Maybe. Am I glowing?"

There WAS more light at the back of the cave than there should have been. Although it wasn't possible to tell exactly where it was coming from, Angel thought he detected a faint lambency in the air around Cordy. "Uh, maybe just a little."

One of the gypsies took a step forward. Angel turned, but for once Cordelia was faster. Her foot shot out, and she kicked the man on the shoulder, making him stagger back.

"Back off, buddy! I'm from the future, and I can float and -- and -- you don't know what else I can do. Like -- I can leap tall buildings at a single bound -- except you people probably think three stories is tall for a building, and jumping three stories is impressive but maybe not terrifying --" She cast a look of desperation down at Angel and whispered, "Help me out here."

"She can shoot laser beams out of her eyes!" Gunn yelled. Angel half-turned to see that he and Fred were pushing their way through the crowd to join Angel at Cordelia's feet.

Fred said, "I don't think they know what laser beams are, Charles." The gypsies were starting to murmur among themselves, and some of them were edging closer.

They were in a standoff, Angel realized. The gypsies had the advantage of numbers, but they didn't know how to respond to Cordelia's supernatural power. Now neither side could risk attacking the other.

"Who's your leader?" he asked loudly.

"I am," said one of the gypsies, stepping forward. He was a tall man with a gray beard; Angel remembered him from the brief period they'd spent in the gypsy camp. This was Gia's father -- Mother Yanna had called him Gregor, Angel recalled. Gregor was holding his arm awkwardly and smelled strongly of fresh blood. "You said you would leave us, and you are still here. Your deceit breaks our truce, vampire. All your lives are forfeit."

"We never lied to you," Angel told him. "We promised we'd help you get your vengeance, and we have."

Gregor's mouth twisted in scorn. "Our vengeance demands suffering."

"Look at him!" Cordelia exclaimed, pointing to where Angelus was crouching behind her. "Isn't that enough suffering for you?"

Gregor glanced at Angelus, then shifted his gaze to Angel. "He may suffer now, but it will not always be so. This one is the proof of that."

"I have the soul you cursed me with," Angel said. "That's what you've wanted all along."

"No. We want you to know pain. Your soul is only the means to that end. If you have come to treasure your soul, it can only be because it has brought you comfort. We could have killed you the night we cursed you. We let you live only so you could suffer while generations of our clan rise from the earth and fall back into it. If there is a time when your soul no longer causes you to suffer, whether that is a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand years from now, then our vengeance is ended and you must die."

"Man," Gunn said in a low voice. "These folks really know how to hold a grudge, don't they?"

"Look at you," Gregor said. "Look at these others who surround you. Foolish people to be your friends, a foolish woman who loved you. You do not stand before us in shame. You act as though you have a right to make demands of us, a right to be whatever you wish. That is the right of anyone else with a soul, but not you, Angelus. Never you."

"I understand that," Angel said, feeling his hands clench into fists. "I understand that better than you could ever possibly imagine."

The gypsy laughed at him. "You stand here with your friends, and you want me to believe that you suffer? You want us to believe that you feel pain? You know nothing of it anymore."

The others in the attack party all shifted on their feet, began gripping their weapons more tightly. They were losing their awe of Cordelia and their terror of the fire, and their rage was beginning to well up within them again. In a few moments, Angel realized, the situation would escalate into battle. Could all four of them get out of this?

No, he thought. All five of us.

Angel looked back to where Angelus huddled at the back of the cave and suddenly experienced a stab of sympathy for him -- the first time he'd felt anything beyond contempt for his former self. In 1898 he'd already been older than the oldest human, had traveled continents and considered himself a man of wide experience. And yet he'd known nothing of what made human lives real -- not love or friendship or sorrow or grief. For the Angelus of 1898, all that still lay ahead; right now, his 150-year-old past self was like an infant whose life had only just begun. The future was before him, an unexplored country wide open with possibility.

At this moment, his past self had everything that Angel had wanted for Connor. Everything Connor would now never have.

Angel said, "I had a son, and he died."

The cave was quiet. Gregor stared at him -- no, Angel thought, Gia's father stared at him. He tried to imagine Gia as a little girl, swaddled up in this man's arms, then remembered her as the broken corpse that he had created and Darla had casually discarded. He wondered if Gregor was trying to imagine Connor, knew the man could never grasp the uniqueness and joy of his son -- just as Angel would never truly know the woman he had destroyed.

Their eyes met. Gregor took a deep breath, and Angel realized -- one father knew another.

At last, Gregor said, "Then you will know enough suffering for our vengeance. And more even than that, vampire. You understand this?"

Angel nodded. Gregor lifted his hand, and the massed ranks behind him began to file out of the cave. Angel watched them go without really seeing them, knew Cordelia had placed her hand comfortingly on his shoulder without his really feeling it.

"I had a son," he said again. "I understand now."

*******************

Chapter Seven

*******************


"Vampires are barren," Mother Yanna insisted. "Everyone knows this."

From her elevated position, floating at the rear of the cave, Cordelia could easily look down on the old woman and the group of gypsies -- and one vampire -- standing around her. Mother Yanna had followed the attack party; now she was angrily demanding to know why neither version of Angel was dust yet. The other gypsies were explaining, with occasional comments from Angel. Mother Yanna might be old and frail, but it seemed like she could cause them serious trouble if she chose, and Cordelia was still a little concerned. But she was more concerned about how she was going to get down from the ceiling.

"I'm sure you stayed down longer last time," Fred said to Cordelia's knees. "Come on, let's give it one more shot."

"Okay. But this time, if I start to bob back up, just put rocks on my feet or something. It's boring up here." Fred tugged Cordelia's feet back down to the floor again, and for a few moments she felt as though she could go either way -- up or down. But then gravity settled in once more, and she breathed out heavily as she felt her feet firmly plant on the ground. "Sometime, I want these demon powers to actually be convenient," Cordelia said as she brushed herself off. "And understandable. And to come with an instruction manual."

Demon powers, Cordelia thought to herself for the thousandth time. What does that mean? Where is it going to lead me? Hovering wasn't so bad so far, but she still had no idea how to control it. The glowing thing -- if she really had been glowing, and it hadn't just been some weird light from the time-machine portal -- was new, and even if it was harmless, it was frightening.

Why didn't I ask Skip more questions? Why didn't I make him explain what he was doing before he did it? She knew the answer, of course; the sight of an anguished, insane and possibly dying Angel had frightened her past the point of rationality -- and the only other option had been her own death. She'd thought she'd get less freaked about becoming part demon as time went on, but the feeling of uncertainty was only becoming more acute with each change she saw in herself. If a new power had really appeared tonight, others would probably follow.

Cordelia sighed. She'd think about it some other time. Not now.

From the floor, Spike let out a low groan as he struggled toward consciousness. Gunn, who was standing guard, simply took up a rock and whacked him in the temple, hard. Spike slumped back on to the ground. Gunn shook his head. "We can't just keep knocking them out over and over again forever," he said. "I mean, sure, it'd be fun, but eventually, we gotta return to the future and leave them here knowing way the hell too much. What are we going to do?"

Cordelia stared down at the unconscious vampires, then glanced over at Angelus. He'd regained some measure of calm in the last several minutes, but he was still a hollow wreck of a man -- and still listening to every word. "It doesn't matter if they know about the time machine," she reasoned. "We take the ring with us and close the door --"

"-- And then they go find the time machine wherever it is in 1898," Fred pointed out. "Even if they couldn't find it, just this knowledge about the future is probably too much to preserve our timeline. That doesn't even start to touch on Drusilla; even if she is mentally unstable, she remembers a lot about the next 104 years. Who knows what she might decide to do, and when, and what effect it might have?"

Cordelia groaned. "This is just not good."

The gypsies fell silent as Mother Yanna raised her hand and stared coldly at Angel. She held up a small stick of something and snapped it, releasing a blue, fragrant cloud. Slate-colored trails snaked all around Angel, then turned white. Mother Yanna scowled, but she folded her arms in front of her and said, "He speaks truth. He may leave our time and take his human companions with them. But if you ever again return, vampire --"

"This is the end," Angel said. "It has to be."

"How can it be?" Cordelia said, gesturing at the vampires. "These guys know way too much about the time machine and the future. You, version 1.0, is probably too shell-shocked to do anything about it, but that doesn't apply to those three."

"We do not care for your troubles," Mother Yanna spat. "We care only that you leave and cease to remind us of our own."

Angel looked down at Darla's still face, and Cordelia couldn't help feeling a strange twinge of uncertainty as he knelt by Darla's side. His fingers brushed a lock of hair from Darla's cheek, so tenderly that he might have been lying beside her in bed, then took one of her hands in his. Oh, please, Cordelia thought, he's been doing great, don't let him go all soft now.

Then Angel stood up and came to Cordelia's side. She was confused when he took her hand, but only until she saw that he was slipping her hologram bracelet back on her wrist. Cordelia looked into his face and saw he was smiling a little. "Now you won't have to tell Groo you lost it."

"Thanks," she said, smiling back. "What's that?"

Angel held up something else he'd taken from Darla, a gold ring. Cordelia realized this second ring must be the one Drusilla had used to time-travel. "Here, Fred," Angel said, tossing it to her. "You're the one holding the keys."

"Well, that's one loose end taken care of," Fred said with a sigh as she pocketed the ring. "Now, if we can just think of a way to tie up the other hundred billion loose ends, we might just get to go home."

Gunn gestured at the unconscious vampires. "Think we could just politely ask 'em to forget about all this?"

Angel stared at Gunn for a moment, then said, "That's exactly what we're going to do." Cordelia frowned, but before she could ask Angel what he meant, he had turned back to Mother Yanna. The old woman peered at him, narrow-eyed, as he said, "You tried to steal my memories of my son, a few days ago."

"Was it your son you mourned?" Mother Yanna said. She smiled a cold smile that showed her yellowing, cracked teeth. "A pity I did not succeed."

Cordelia wanted to smack the old woman's few remaining teeth out of her head, but Angel's only reaction was an almost imperceptible hesitation before he spoke again. "You still have a chance to show your skill," he said, pointing at the other vampires. "Instead of stealing my memories, you're going to steal theirs."

***


Fred grimaced as she stumbled away from the gypsy wagon, dragging Drusilla roughly along the ground behind her. Fred was pulling Drusilla by her ankles, causing her arms and hair to fan out behind her on the damp earth. "Okay," she huffed, "I know she looks bony and all, but still, very heavy."

"Hang on," Angel said, dropping Spike on the ground. He helped Fred haul Drusilla underneath the small outcropping of stone they'd found at the edge of the forest. If the vampires were still unconscious at daybreak -- which Angel thought likely -- they'd be trapped in place for a little while, giving Angelus time to burrow deeper into the shaded depths of the woods. In order to recreate history, Angel said, it was important that Angelus not encounter the other vampires for a few years to come.

Charles settled Darla beneath the outcropping, handling her more carefully under Angel's watchful eye than Fred suspected he might have done otherwise. "That got us?"

Angel, instead of answering, turned back to Mother Yanna, who was descending carefully from the wagon. Cordelia sat in the back with Angelus; either of them might have helped the old woman, Fred thought, but it was highly unlikely she would have accepted aid even if it were offered. Angel said, "I know you can erase the last couple of days from Spike and Darla. But what about Drusilla? That's more than a century of memory."

"Do you doubt my abilities?" Mother Yanna said. "You of all creatures should not."

"Believe me, " Angel said, "I don't. But it's a hundred and four years, and not just the memory of one person or place."

Mother Yanna stared down at Drusilla's pale face for a moment, then shrugged. "I have never attempted such. Neither has any other. I believe it will be done as you seek. But perhaps there will be -- pictures. Moments. Pieces of her memory that will remain in her mind, but with no anchor to hold them fast."

Cordelia said, "So that means Drusilla's going to be perpetually confused, occasionally seeing glimpses of the future, and -- and exactly like she was before." Her face lit up. "Angel, do you think, just maybe -- the reason we remember Drusilla like she is that we remember her still screwed-up from this memory spell? If so, then, that means we've already pulled all this off, right?"

"No, Drusilla was confused for a long time before this, thanks to me," Angel said. "But you're right; the confusion won't mean as much to her or the others as it would with anyone else. It's still the best shot we've got at restoring history to the way we remember it."

"Then withdraw," Mother Yanna said, "and let me begin."

Charles clambered back into the wagon, and Fred made a move to follow. She hesitated as she saw Angel looking down at Darla -- for what was, she realized, the very last time. Darla's cheeks were smudged with dirt and blood, her dress rumpled around her. Even in sleep, her patrician features carried a hint of the cruel disdain Fred had seen so often on her face. Yet Angel looked at Darla gently, with an expression Fred recognized. She had seen it once before, as the three of them crouched in an alleyway and she and Angel tried to shelter Darla from the rain. "Goodbye," he said quietly.

Fred took Charles' hand as she climbed back into the wagon. Angel, however, walked a few steps away, not looking back at the vampires or his friends as Mother Yanna began to chant softly in a language which was neither Romanii nor English. Angelus hugged his coat around himself, looking from person to person uncertainly, but he said nothing.

Fred glanced at Cordelia and saw that she was watching Angel, a faint smile on her face. With a hint of pride in her voice, Cordelia said, "He's really been strong through all this, hasn't he? I kept thinking he was going to fall apart, but he didn't."

The battered and beaten alternate-future Wesley might disagree, Fred thought -- but even that Wesley had lived to tell the tale. Well, until his reality collapsed seconds later. "I guess if Angel made it through losing Connor, nothing else is going to knock him down ever again."

"Connor --" Angelus said. His voice startled everyone; next to her, Fred felt Charles go tense, and Cordelia whipped her head around to stare. Angelus actually flinched, but he said, "You said -- a son -- was Connor my son?"

Fred didn't answer him, and she thought nobody else would either. But then she saw Cordelia's face soften with compassion as she leaned toward Angelus. "Yeah," she said. "He was."

Charles opened his mouth to protest, but Fred took his hand and squeezed it. When he glared at her, she whispered, "The memory spell works or it doesn't. If it doesn't, the damage is already done. If it does -- then let him have a little comfort, okay? It's the last he's going to have for a really long time."

From the dubious expression on Charles' face, Fred could tell he didn't much care about Angelus' comfort. But he didn't interfere as Cordelia began speaking quietly to Angelus. Instead, he wrapped his arm around Fred and cuddled her close. "We've been on a hell of a ride," he said. "I don't think I'm gonna believe it until you and me are back at the hotel, wrapped up in our bed, same old drippy faucet keeping us awake, same old crappy reception of Telemundo on the TV set."

"I never thought I'd be grateful to see Telemundo again," Fred sighed. She thought back over the past few days, an almost-forgotten enthusiasm bubbling up inside her. "Do you realize how many principles of theoretical physics we've proved and disproved the last couple of days? I can't exactly share our time-traveling stories as empirical evidence, but I bet I'm going to get a couple of papers out of this. Winifred Burkle, published physicist." The old dream gleamed even a little brighter for having been set aside for so long.

"Sounds mighty nice," Charles said, snuggling against her. "You know what theory I think we proved?"

"What's that?"

"That I should get to come up with the plans more often."

***

The wagon jolted as they went back toward the cave with the time machine, driven by Fred's increasingly sure hands. Next to her, Mother Yanna sat, shawl draped around her, stern face looking resolutely ahead. Gunn was stretched out in the hay, exercising his uncanny ability to catnap anywhere, at any time; Angel remembered him explaining that once you learned how to fall asleep in a juvenile detention hall, you could fall asleep anywhere. For his part, Angel sat next to Gunn, deliberately breathing in the lost scents of another century -- pine and straw and horses and leather -- and silently watching Cordelia and Angelus.

Angel wondered what he should say to his former self and came up with nothing. The other's presence was profoundly disquieting on both supernatural and psychological levels; more than that, in some ways he seemed more a stranger than anyone Angel had ever encountered. He remembered what it was like to be that man, how he had felt, what he had thought. All of that was preserved within himself, dried and pressed, fragile and faded but eternal. But Angel could not think of how to talk to that man -- the best of what he had to say would, he knew, be drowned out by pain. It would be like enunciating clearly for the benefit of a deaf man.

Cordelia had no such qualms.

"You're a good detective!" she was telling Angelus. "Well, an okay detective with a really good staff. And you help a lot of people who really need help, and we only charge the ones who can comfortably pay."

Her voice bubbled on and on as she marshaled evidence for something Angelus would be decades in learning to accept. For his part, Angelus huddled near her, listening in disbelief.

"You've saved my life -- how many times, Angel? -- he doesn't know. We don't keep track. You're my best friend. The best friend I've ever had. Ever will have, probably."

Angel smiled and spoke for the first time in a long while: "Thanks."

She glanced back at him, suddenly abashed; apparently it was easier to say some of what she'd been saying to an Angel who wouldn't respond. But she was smiling as she curled her knees up to her chest. "Almost over."

"Yeah," Angel said. "Hopefully. Are you feeling okay?"

"Just tired," Cordelia said. "Can't wait to go back to my apartment and get some sleep. Assuming, of course, that the future we're going back to has my apartment in it."

"We'll think about that when we get there," Angel said. "Don't worry about it now."

"Easier said than done," she said. Then she thumped Angelus on the arm. "See? This is just the kind of relaxed, friendly repartee you have to look forward to. Plus the invention of leather pants."

Angelus finally spoke. "We've had leather pants for centuries."

"Millennia," Angel added. "For as long as there've been cows."

Cordelia made a face. "Of COURSE this is what you can both talk about."

"We're there," Fred said, half-turning around as she slowed the wagon.

Angel peered around in the darkness; he had expected the gypsies to stay behind, awaiting Mother Yanna's return, but none of them had remained. Mother Yanna, unfazed, carefully lowered herself out of the wagon. Angel followed suit. Angelus hesitated for a moment, visibly uncertain, and Cordelia quickly hugged him. "You'll be okay," she said. "Not right away. But someday. And I'll be waiting."

Angel felt absurdly jealous for a moment. Then he realized: She's still taking care of me. He smiled at her as she, Fred and a drowsy Gunn headed into the cave, to the portal to the time machine.

As Mother Yanna walked down a different branch of the cave, Angel and Angelus walked side-by-side after her. Angelus kept glancing back at the way Cordelia had gone, then at Angel. At last he whispered, "What she said -- is any of what she said true?"

"It's all true," Angel said.

"Then -- then it must get better." Angelus looked at Angel, entreaty in his face. "Tell me it gets better."

For a second, the contempt Angel had felt for his past self returned, stronger than ever. He had caused so much suffering, committed so much evil -- and yet he still saw his punishment only in terms of his own pain. It would be almost a century, Angel knew, before he learned to see past self-pity and bitterness and despair, before he started making amends.

Angel remained silent. Beside him, the hope faded from Angelus' eyes, and he stumbled on, his body curled over in what looked like physical pain.

No, Angel remembered suddenly -- it was physical pain. In the hours and days immediately after the curse he had clawed and beaten and torn at himself, driven by desperation to try to drown out the mental and emotional anguish with physical pain. All he had succeeded in doing was breaking several ribs, splintering the bones so badly that even with a vampire's recuperative powers they had taken days to heal. In the meantime, his tense, exhausted muscles had cramped almost constantly, stabbing him somewhere deep inside with shards of bone, invisible knives buried in his chest.

The memory of that pain was suddenly more real, more vivid to Angel than it had been for years. Watching Angelus stumble next to him, he remembered how heavy his body had felt, as if waterlogged, sodden with guilt. He remembered the pain in his side, the bloody crescents his fingernails had made in his palms. More than anything, he remembered how it felt to be sure that eternity would hold nothing but pain.

In a few minutes, Angelus' memory would be wiped clean of the past couple of days, of every event since Darla discovered he had been cursed. Nothing Angel said or did right now would exist for Angelus after that.

But even this moment mattered.

Angel quietly said, "It will be better than this, someday. Not for a long time. But someday you're going to have a life worth having."

Angelus stared at him with wide, bewildered eyes. "How?" he whispered.

"You -- you're going to find people who believe in you," Angel said. "People willing to give you a chance. And you're going to try to deserve them. You won't always get it right, but you'll learn to keep trying. When that happens, everything you're going through now, everything you'll go through later -- you'll know it was worth it."

Angelus considered that for a moment; though the anguish did not leave his eyes, his posture almost imperceptibly straightened. His voice was steadier when he spoke again. "It would help, if it all meant something."

"It will," Angel said. "It always means something. It's always going to be worth it." Angelus nodded, for one instant allowing himself to believe.

When they reached the cave, Angelus sat on the ground as Mother Yanna instructed, calmly listening to her chant the spell that would remove his memories. He remained focused on Angel's face until the moment Mother Yanna was done, when he slumped, unconscious, onto the ground.

Mother Yanna sighed and began shuffling away. "It is done. He will awaken soon, and we must be gone from this place."

"We'll have gone through the time machine in a few minutes," Angel said. "And we won't come back. We've done all we could do to restore this timeline. I don't know what we'll find when we go ahead, but we'll have to accept what it is."

"See that you do," Mother Yanna said. "You suffer because your son is dead, vampire. And I am glad your son is dead, so that you can suffer. But it is not enough for me." Her glassy eyes narrowed. "You cannot suffer enough for me."

The words echoed in Angel's mind -- glad your son is dead, GLAD -- and for once the instincts of demon and father were in perfect accord. He felt hot rage flood his mind, and his hand curled into a fist. For a moment it was as if he had already done it, as if he'd heard her fragile old bones shattering beneath his blow. Only the sheer depth of his fury kept him from striking; it paralyzed him for a few seconds -- but not, he knew, for long.

Mother Yanna, perhaps oblivious to his rage, began hobbling toward the mouth of the cave. "Do not think you will find the others," she said. "They have gone to a place you do not know. We shall not meet again."

She was so certain, and so wrong. With a jolt, Angel remembered that in the history they had fought to restore, the gypsies would be found. Even without Drusilla's suggestion, Darla would eventually hit upon the idea of attacking the gypsies and ransoming his soul. Spike wouldn't have been properly warned. And so he would still kill them, and they would all -- even Mother Yanna -- still die.

She was smiling at him cruelly. "You do not like what I say?"

Angel forced himself to relax. "I don't take pleasure in the thought that innocent people have to die," he said. "But you do. And no, I don't like that."

"So noble," Mother Yanna crooned. Then her face was more serious. "I know how wretched it is, this hate inside me. I know it for the wicked thing it is. But then what do we think of the one who put this hate there? Hmmm?"

Angel thought, all the evil that flows from Mother Yanna flows from what I did to her. Cycle after cycle.

"Evil never dies," Mother Yanna said. Then she turned and hobbled away, leaving Angel alone in the cave.

***

Cordelia stared up at the mouth of the time machine. "This looks less red to me. Like, way less red. Shifting to orange. Bordering on a kind of tangerine."

The pool of light overhead was dimmer and more sluggish, too; it had little of the eerie energy it had possessed before. Next to Cordelia, Fred was chewing on her fingernails. "The door's gotta still be open, though, right? Or else the phenomenon would be completely absent, instead of continuing to manifest."

"It ain't closed," Gunn said from his place nearby, with a confidence Cordelia was sure he didn't really feel. "It's just -- closing."

"That's so reassuring," Cordelia said, then yelled, "ANGEL!"

"I'm right here," Angel said. The moment after she heard him, she saw him, walking toward them in the gloom. His face was shadowed, somehow -- darker and more withdrawn than she'd seen him in the past few days.

Cordelia ignored the pain in her shoulder as she went to him and took his hand in hers. "Hey," she said. "You okay?"

"I'm good," he said flatly. "It's done."

So Connor would live again. They'd get the Hyperion back. All good things. So why was Angel back in despair mode? Cordelia chose her words carefully. "I thought that would make you happy."

"It does. It's just --" Angel turned his head from her, clearly searching for words. Although Gunn and Fred's impatience was visible -- and Cordelia's wasn't far behind -- they both remained silent, looking up at the orangey glow overhead. When Angel spoke again, he said, "I told Angelus it would all be worth it. And then I remembered how much evil I've done here, how far into the future the repercussions go. Evil never dies. It all goes so far past me, Cordy. I don't know that I have the right to say it's going to be worth it someday."

Cordelia brushed his cheek with her hand. "Maybe the evil you do never dies," she said. "But the good you do doesn't die either, does it? The repercussions of the good things you do keep going too." She cocked an eyebrow at him. "The ripple effect works both ways, you know."

Angel smiled at her, and the darkness had fallen from him again. He spoke -- not to her, but to Fred and Gunn. "Let's go through this thing."

Gunn clapped his hands. "All right. Last one out's a rotten egg. Or something else skanky."

They all gathered around Fred, who pulled one of the rings out of her pocket. Immediately, the portal above them began to spark and shimmer anew, which Cordelia figured was very good news.

Fred didn't hold up the ring. They stood in silence.

Cordelia spoke first. "What if we didn't get it right? What if we show up back in Rome, with the world on fire?"

Angel said, "That's not going to happen. I think we've stopped that reality from coming to pass." Cordelia hoped he was as confident about that as he sounded.

"I'm on board with that," Gunn said. "Question is -- did we start our reality up again, or are we gonna find some other freaky-ass future waiting for us?"

"It's got to be better than the one with the world on fire," Cordelia reasoned. Everyone looked as though they agreed. But Fred still didn't hold the ring up, and nobody was rushing her.

At last Angel said, "No matter what -- we can't return here."

"The damage is done," Fred said. "We affected this timeline. We know that much. We won't find out just how until we go back. So -- I guess we should return and take it from there."

"Got it," Cordelia said.

"Agreed," Gunn said.

"Okay," Angel said.

They all paused for another moment, and Cordelia reached out and grabbed Angel's and Gunn's hands in her own. Both guys grabbed hers right back, and Gunn swung his free arm around Fred. "Let's see what kinda world we made," Gunn said.

Fred took a deep breath, straightened up and held the ring above her head. And then Cordelia was falling upwards, gravity in reverse, her friends around her as the world spun away.

***

Darla was spinning, clinging to a raft that twisted and pitched dizzyingly on a stormy sea. Her mind was a vision not her own -- painted by Gericault, voiced in screams. Phantoms rose up out of the spray around her, faces she recognized but couldn't name speaking fragments of sentences that seemed to be important but somehow slipped from her mind immediately. Only one apparition was more memorable than the others -- Angelus rose out of the turbulent waters, wearing a look of sadness unlike anything Darla had seen on his face before. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry." He started to sink back into the darkness, and Darla reached out a hand to grab him back --

-- And cried out in pain.

Darla snatched her hand back and opened her eyes. Immediately the glare of hated sunlight bombarded her and the ugly smell of her own scorched flesh filled her nostrils. Now fully awake, she sat up, cradling her burnt hand to her chest.

She was sitting beneath an rocky outcrop, its shadow protecting her from the sun. She started to shuffle backward, as far into the shade as possible, and stopped when she bumped against another body. It was Spike, curled on his side, one arm slung protectively across an equally unconscious Drusilla.

Angelus, Darla thought. Where was Angelus?

His name triggered a flood of unpleasant memories -- the gypsy girl, the clan's revenge, the curse. Angelus, her glorious lover, her creation, turned into a sniveling and tearful wretch, a caricature of himself. She had thrown him out of the house. And after that --

After that, her memory was fragmented, unclear. Music, dancing, mayhem. The forest on fire and a flame-colored ballgown. But, as hard as she tried, Darla couldn't marshal the scattered impressions into something coherent, and she couldn't remember how she'd come to be laid out unconscious under a rock.

She put a hand to her head, and winced in pain. Her skin was unbroken, but her hair was matted with blood -- she'd suffered a bad wound which had healed while she'd slept. Spike and Drusilla bore the marks of similar injuries.

Spike groaned and rolled over on to his back. Immediately he winced and threw his arm over his eyes. "Too bright..."

"Wake up," Darla said. When that didn't work, she slapped him hard.

Spike groaned again and started to stretch his limbs; straight away he discovered, as Darla had, why that was a bad idea. He sat up, pulling his legs up to his chest and grimacing at the brightness around them. "I've been burned," he coughed. "Drusilla's been burned. What the hell happened?"

"I don't know," Darla said. She hated to say no more than that, but it was as much of an answer as she had.

"Well," Spike said at last, "I don't know how we got here, but it must have been one hell of a party. Wonder how long we've been out?"

"We've all been asleep for a hundred years," Drusilla's voice lilted. As she sat up, a faint flicker of confusion passed across her face. "Or -- we will sleep a hundred years. Like the princess in the story. I'm a princess, aren't I, Spike?"

Spike put his arm around Drusilla's waist, drawing him closer to her and kissing her languidly. "You're my dark princess. My wicked fairy."

The sun, Darla noted, was low in the sky. It wouldn't be long before dusk fell and their temporary prison dissolved into shadow around them. That was a source of relief -- the prospect of spending interminable hours cooped up with no escape from Spike's posturing and Drusilla's jabbering was wholly unpleasant. Already, Darla could feel her patience beginning to fray as Drusilla prattled on.

"I'll sleep a hundred years, while the tall buildings grow like grass and all the lovely wars are fought again," she said, her frown of confusion deepening. "Is this the end of the story, or the beginning? It's all a ring, a circle, a merry-go-round. We go round merrily, and round and round and round, back where we started." She tugged Spike's sleeve urgently. "I can't remember the story, Spike."

"There, love," Spike said soothingly. "If you've forgotten the story, we'll just make up a new one. Like this: Once upon a time, there were two vampires called Spike and Drusilla, and they killed everybody they met and lived happily ever after. The end."

"Happily ever after," Drusilla echoed softly and, perhaps, a little sadly.

Happily ever after, Darla thought sourly. For Spike and Drusilla, maybe. But not for Angelus. And not for her.

The sun dipped behind the tree-tops, and the pool of shadow widened into a black expanse. Darla got up and stretched her cramped limbs. The night settled around her, dark and refreshing.

Not far from the outcrop, she found a track, rutted by the recent passage of a cart. The cart had come from deep within the woods, stopped, then turned around and left at speed back the way it had come.

Darla was trying to make sense of this when the noise of someone approaching along the track made her look up. Spike and Drusilla had heard it too, and stopped exploring each others' throats with their tongues long enough to join her. A man was walking purposefully toward them, and for an instant Darla was certain she knew him.

"Angelus?"

"Beg pardon?" the man said in a pronounced English accent which was distorted somewhat by his fangs. Now that Darla could examine him more closely, she realized his accent was the only pronounced thing about him. He was short and unremarkable and wore glasses that sat awkwardly on his ridged nose, magnifying his yellow eyes so that they looked foolish instead of terrifying.

"You're a vampire," Darla said.

"Oh," the man said. He seemed pleased. "Is that what I am? How splendid!"

"Bloody hell," Spike said. "Whoever turned this idiot didn't make a good job of it."

"Actually," the vampire said with a polite cough, "that would be this lady." He nodded at Darla.

Darla stared at him. "I don't think so. I have better taste."

"I must beg to differ, ma'am." The vampire made a stiff little bow. "Allow me to introduce myself -- Percival, Lord Dalton, at your service. I woke up with a headache, a terrible thirst and a remarkably strong desire to find your good self. And, well --" He gave an apologetic shrug. "Here I am."

Had she actually turned this pathetic creature? Without any clear sense of memory for the past few days, Darla had to admit it was possible, if extremely unlikely. Perhaps they'd been drugged, or ensorcelled. That was no doubt it; the gypsies hadn't just punished Angelus, but devised some vile -- though thankfully more temporary -- revenge on the rest of them.

"He smells like Grandmummy," Drusilla said, leaning close to Dalton and sniffing him. "Dead lilies and poison ivy. He's a little puppy. Can we keep him? He will amuse Daddy --" She broke off suddenly, her face clouding again. "Where is Daddy? Something happened, and I don't remember --"

"Angelus --" Darla began. "Angelus has --"

She stopped.

She had shared one hundred and fifty years with Angelus, had been there to welcome him as he clawed his way up through the cold Irish earth and into the waiting night. The pathetic, miserable cursed creature she had cast out was not the man who had enthralled, amused and delighted Darla with his inventive cruelty for more than a century. She could still bring back that man, and they would laugh together as they killed the gypsies, one by one.

Darla could not explain it, but she was filled with a sudden and absolute certainty that her history with Angelus had not ended. The future was a ripe fruit hanging heavy on the branch, theirs to claim. Darla intended to pluck it down and devour it.

"Angelus went to find us new sport," she lied. "He told me of a camp of gypsies, ripe for a slaughter."

"That's more like it. What are we waiting for? Let's get to the killing," Spike said. He threw a fraternal arm around Dalton's shoulder. "Dalton, my boy, you're going enjoy this..."

"Dalton, is it?" Darla said coolly, appraising the newcomer. He stared back raptly, with all the adoration of the newly-turned. Even in this ridiculous creature, it was vaguely gratifying. He'd be useful for running and fetching, she supposed, if nothing else. "Very, well, you'll come with us. And you'll obey our rules. Meaning that you'll obey me."

Spike added, "And when you're not obeying her, you'll obey me." Dalton nodded happily, accepting it all as gospel.

"Gypsies?" Drusilla repeated uncertainly. Then a slow smile spread across her face, overtaking her confusion. "Slaughter..." She followed Spike and Dalton.

Darla smiled. Then her lips curled into a sneer of hatred as she thought again of the gypsies, their peasant mobs, their cheap little magic tricks they substituted for strength.

She'd show them who could hate the most. She'd show them who could write in blood.

***

Angel felt the wall of the pyramid knock against his head a split second before he heard Cordelia yelp. "Owww! Ugh. Somebody's gotta find the brakes on this thing."

The others were all crowded up against him, confined by the narrow interior of the time machine. Gunn was groaning from the nauseating trip back through time, and Fred sounded a little queasy as she said, "Let's open the door. No matter what future we find out there, it's got to be a better place to barf than in here."

"Seconded," Cordelia said quickly.

Angel, closest to the door, pushed it open carefully. The faint lighting showed him a room lined with dark wood paneling, a floor covered in threadbare carpet. An old sewing machine stood in one corner, and next to them was an early X-ray machine. Barely daring to hope, he climbed out of the pyramid; as the others followed, he checked the sign above the door. It read "The Old Curiosity Shop: Victorian Inventions and Curios."

Just as it had before.

"This looks like the Museum of Victoriana," Fred said. "I mean, looks just like it --"

"Smells like it too," Angel said. He breathed in again, checking it: the same musty smell of old lace and older books, the stink of industrial cleaners, and still hovering in the air, just a little, the familiar scent of Drusilla. "This is it. This is where we left."

Gunn was the last to stumble from the pyramid. As he stretched his limbs, he said, "Sounding real good so far. Now, let's just hope we don't find out L.A.'s on fire too."

"Wait," Angel said, tensing. "Someone else is in the building." He said it the moment he sensed it, and he sensed it even before he heard it -- footsteps coming down the hallway, directly toward them. The others heard the sound a few seconds later, and they all drew closer to one another, protecting each other's backs.

"Only bad thing about showing up in the museum we originally left?" Cordelia said. "Not so many weapons in the curio shop."

"I think I could do some damage with that X-ray machine if I have to," Gunn said grimly. "Show some monster just what bones I broke in his ass."

Angel motioned for quiet, and they all stood there in total silence until the through the doorway came --

"Groo?" Cordelia said, her face melting into a smile.

Groo grinned back. "Indeed, my princess. How goes your quest for the Drusilla beast?"

Angel looked at the others, then at Groo, then back at the others. Finally Fred said, "Groo -- just go with this for a second -- what do you remember about earlier today?"

The Groosalugg, ever eager to help, nodded and smiled. "Cordelia was helping Angel with -- was helping Angel." The pause was slight, just enough to tell Angel that Connor was still dead, that Cordelia had still been helping him box up Connor's things. He had been expecting it, but it stung nonetheless. "Then Angel realized the vampire Drusilla was near, and you all came here to seek her. Lorne and I went to the airport, where great metal birds go into the sky and a fine selection of perfumes can be purchased, and we killed a Velga demon that had gone into the baggage area and sent many people's luggage astray. We defeated this evil and reunited the travelers with their belongings. Then we came here; Lorne remains in the car, ready to speed us toward a quick getaway if one is necessary." Groo's pleasant face shifted into a worried frown. "Is such a getaway necessary?"

"No," Gunn said. Then he started laughing. "Hell, no. We are RIGHT where we want to be! Yes!" He grabbed Fred up in his arms and spun her around.

Cordelia was beaming, and Angel was sure she would run to Groo. Instead, she flung her arms around Angel, holding him close. "We made it," she whispered. "We gave Connor his five months."

Angel hugged her back, taking comfort from her words and her touch. Five months. He remembered holding Connor, and for the first time the memory brought him joy instead of anguish. The words he'd said to Angelus echoed inside him -- so much so that he wondered if the memory had always been within him. It was worth it. It will always be worth it.

At last, Cordelia let go of him. Groo seemed confused, perhaps dismayed, until she ran toward him and hugged him too. "This bracelet you gave me?" she said, holding out her wrist. "Best. Gift. Ever. You're not going to believe the story."

"Speaking of jewelry," Fred said, "we should probably get those rings out of the time machine."

Gunn stared at her. "What, one crazy, reality-bending trip through time wasn't enough for you? You want frequent-flyer miles with this thing?"

Angel understood her. "We have to deactivate the time machine," he said. "We've seen what can go wrong. If Dru was able to find out about it, then others might find out eventually, and then anything could happen."

"Grabbing the rings now," Gunn said, quickly ducking inside the time machine. Fred held out her hands to accept the handfuls of gold rings as Gunn shoveled them out.

"You have had some great and worthy adventure," Groo said. "I look forward to hearing your courageous exploits."

"We'll tell you all about it," Cordelia promised. "But first, we are going to enjoy some 21st-century luxuries, like warm showers and dry-cleaned clothing." Her voice was dreamy as she added, "Take-out pizza."

Angel accepted the last handful of rings from Gunn. Fred was peering down at them. "What should we do with these?" she said. "My first thought is to find the local equivalent of Mount Doom and toss them in."

"We should probably check and see if they're under a specific enchantment we could remove," Angel said, looking down at the rings. "If we can't, then we should destroy them. But we might be able to disenchant them."

Cordelia caught on first. "And if we can disenchant them, then we just came into a big chunk of gold that we are ethically obligated to steal. And sell. And make some money off of."

"Could fix up the Hyperion with that," Gunn said, lifting one of the rings. "I know this guy --"

"We could buy you another bracelet to match this one," Groo said to Cordelia.

Angel watched her face shift from dismay to a tact as she said, "I'd rather try some of those perfumes you found at the airport."

"They are duty-free," Groo reported solemnly.

Cordelia gave him a proud smile. "You're really growing as a shopper." Then she laughed and clapped her hands. "I can't believe it! We did it! We fixed time up like we never left!"

"Maybe," Fred said. She was staring down at the gold in her hands, a little sadly. "It's more likely that we did change reality. We must not have changed anything major, or else Groo wouldn't remember the same day we do. But somewhere, somehow -- things changed because Drusilla went into the past, and because we followed her."

Angel considered that for a moment. "The changes are going to be small things," he said. "At least, to us. Maybe not to the people who felt them. But we'll never know."

"Probably not," Fred said. "The differences will be -- in the details. On the margins. A few turning points where it just took one tiny sliver to make a difference, and we did."

"Guys, chill out," Cordelia said. "The world's the world we remember. Today's the day we remember. And if the world's a teeny bit different -- well, so what? We're not in Rome, the streets aren't on fire and, at least as far as we knew this morning, the world's not ending. Maybe we switched something here or something there. But we didn't have any choice. We did what we had to do, and I think we did it pretty damn well."

Fred sighed. "When you put it that way -- yeah. We did our best and, really, we did okay. If you leave out the wrong-Dru mixup and the stampede in the theatre and lemur-kabobs, I guess we were fine."

"What's wrong with lemur-kabobs?" Gunn protested. "I was winging it!"

"It's easy to say the changes don't matter now," Angel said. He could tell the others' spirits were lifting, but he couldn't quite feel the same. "We don't yet know what they are."

"We'll deal with the changes just like we deal with everything else," Cordelia said. "I only ask for a few constants in this universe. As long as the Nehru jacket is still out of style, Ben & Jerry still went into the ice-cream business and Al Gore's still president, everything's okay by me."

Everyone smiled, and Angel let himself relax. "Let's get back to the hotel," he said. "I think we could all stand to be home."

"Amen to that," Gunn said. He slid his arm around Fred's shoulders, and the two of them followed Cordelia and Groo out. Angel could hear Cordelia's merry voice, telling stories to Groo even as they started down the hall.

For one moment, he looked back at the time machine, black and solid and now forever still. He thought of Connor again, wondering for an instant -- for only one instant -- if he was a fool not to take even this desperate chance to get his son back.

But then he thought of a world on fire, and Wesley's crumpled body, and of what he had said to himself so long ago. The pain that had happened all served a purpose -- just because he didn't see it now didn't mean he never would.

Angel followed the others out through the museum, listening not to their words, but just to the happiness in their voices, the laughter that echoed from the walls. He felt himself begin to smile.

It was time to stop thinking about the past. Time to face the future.

***


They were laughing and laughing, and something was terribly funny, and Angel didn't think it was funny, but he was smiling too. It was all very strange, but then everything was very strange, and none of it mattered, so long as they came back inside when she needed them to.

Drusilla was pretty sure they'd come back inside if she started screaming.

It would be easy to start screaming -- she wanted to scream. Of course, she always wanted to scream, because it was fun, but now it would be easiest of all. Because now was when she was going to go back and write the story all over again. She would change the ending, and this time it would end well.

The story had ended very poorly this time, in Drusilla's opinion. Spike had gone away. They put metal in his mind, and now he couldn't drink. It poisoned him from the inside out. Then Darla had crumbled into dust. As far away as Drusilla had been she had still felt it -- Darla dying with remorse in her heart.

"And little feet in her hands and belly," Drusilla whispered. She knew the story. She had told it to herself many times before, hoping it wouldn't be so sad the next time. But this was the first time she knew she could change it. This time it would all come out right.

Drusilla was very certain about this -- more certain than she was about most things. She'd learned that it was very difficult to be sure about much of anything: which person was least likely to scream loudly, whether or not Spike truly loved her, if the tulips in the wallpaper were really speaking to her or just whispering among themselves. Thoughts got all tangled up sometimes -- tangled up like thread, if you weren't very careful with your stitches, and that kind old voice always told her to be careful with her stitches.

Now all the sewing was coming out straight. An even hem. When she'd found the book, she'd been able to understand it -- she'd understood so well! It was as if she'd read it all before, as though her clever plan was there in the pages too. Dru knew it backwards and forwards. Find the time machine. Trick Angel and his friends into coming after her, so they could kill the one she used to be. Then let them go home, all alone, wagging their tales behind them. That would leave her with Spike and Grandmummy, and they could make those nasty gypsies bring Daddy back the way he was supposed to be. Drusilla could see it all in her mind, out-of-focus, the sound all tinny, like a drive-in movie from the very back row. But she could see and hear it all the same.

It seemed like a story she had heard before, somehow. That made Drusilla happy, made her sure it would all come out just the way it did in her dreams.

All she had to do now was make sure the time machine would work -- it had to be exactly the way it was in the book. The story had to begin right for the ending to be right. If she found the time machine just as it should be, why then she would scream and scream, and the others would run back in, and wouldn't they be surprised when she rolled inside and went away?

Laughing to herself, Drusilla skipped to the time machine. It was big and black, just like the book said. Hieroglyphics danced across its surface. "And the Chinese know," she whispered. "They're walking like an Egyptian."

She pushed open the door, and there were all the lovely switches, and --

Drusilla's face fell. She stamped her foot. "Where are the rings?" she whimpered. "Can't go anyplace without the rings!"

But the rings weren't there. The nasty book had lied. All the visions had just been dreams, stories, like the ones on television. Dru had thought she could write it all over again, but she couldn't. She couldn't at all. The tulips probably weren't talking to her either.

She felt the tears running down her face as she slumped to the floor. The tears were cold. She remembered that they used to be hot, and she didn't know why that made her cry harder than ever. "It's ended all wrong," she sobbed into her hands. "All wrong, all wrong. I haven't any dollies at all."

Dollies?

Drusilla lifted her head, considering. It seemed as though, on her way in, she had seen some pretty dollies --

She tiptoed down the hallway until she found them. A very silly man had gotten himself killed, too long ago for her to enjoy the leftovers, but he had a nice bear tucked under his arm. Such a fluffy little bear. Just the sort of bear she would choose for herself.

Drusilla lifted the bear up and hugged it close. Then she chose a baby doll, and another, and then the prettiest doll of all, one with long black curls, like her own. "You can be my dollies," she said. "And YOU can be Miss Edith. Won't that be fun?"

They all thought it would be great fun indeed.

Dru laughed and laughed, spinning around the room with her new dollies in her arms. They could dance and sing, and then they could play hide-and-go-seek, and tell each other stories. She would always be able to find new stories to tell.

***


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