The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions and 20th Century Fox; they are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. This story is set between the first and second seasons of "Angel" and takes place roughly two weeks after "To Shanshu in L.A." Any and all comments are welcome; please send praise or flames to Yahtzee63@aol.com.

Rating: R for language

 

Archive: anywhere you like, just let me know

 

Spoilers: everything up to and including "To Shanshu in L.A."

 

Summary: Angel's attempt to keep his friends safe forever may lead them into the greatest danger of all.

 

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Captive of the Soul

 

by Yahtzee

 

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PART ONE

 

"Anything left of the files?"

 

"Sure, if you count ashes. The filing cabinet might be okay, though, with new paint -- and a couple of new drawers --"

 

"There, you see? I told you some things would be salvageable, didn't I? Why, we might have plenty of things for our new office, wherever that might be --"

 

"First things first," Angel said. Like Cordelia and Wesley, he was standing in the burnt-out remains of what had been Angel Investigations. Also like them, he was covered in black dust, going through the debris surrounding them to see what, if anything, might be saved. They were all in ragged, disposable clothes -- Cordelia had bought Angel some things at the Salvation Army, as well as Wesley's first pair of blue jeans. The room smelled acrid, almost bitter, and thick, oily soot coated every possible surface. With every step, the charred floorboards creaked uncomfortably. In the center of the room was their only illumination, the emergency flashlight from Cordelia's car. Taken all in all, it was depressing as hell -- though Angel found the gloom easier to bear than Wesley and Cordelia's pretence that nothing was wrong.

 

"This looks all right, don't you think?" Wesley said, pulling a still-intact chair up from the floor. He stopped abruptly, and though he made no sound, Angel saw him bite his lip.

 

"Don't try to lift anything," Angel said. "You're not strong enough yet."

 

"Nonsense," Wesley said, a bit too stoutly. "I feel right as rain."

 

"What is that expression supposed to mean, anyway?" Cordelia said. "I mean, think about it. Makes no sense whatsoever. Know what else makes no sense? You toting around heavy furniture when you've only been out the hospital a few days."

 

"You were discharged on the same day," Wesley pointed out.

 

"Yeah, but I didn't have sprained ribs or a concussion or any of that stuff. I just had visions. Doesn't mess you up the same way." She made a move to pick up the chair herself.

 

"Neither of you is going to do any lifting," Angel said. "Not that there's going to be that much to lift. As far as I can see, we've got a few weapons, a few books, a blackened copy of Word-Puzz, one chair and no place to put it. And that's about all."

 

"That's not all we have," Cordelia said, folding her arms in front of her. Her hands, in yellow- rubber dishwashing gloves, made a bright X in the darkness. "We have each other, and that's all we really need. Right?"

 

Angel sighed and managed a small smile for her. "You're right," he said, squeezing her arm quickly.

 

"Jeez, but you're grumpy for a guy who just found out his undead-ness has an expiration date," Cordelia said, her cheer a little less forced.

 

"It's just -- difficult," Angel said. "I wandered around for 250 years. Even in Sunnydale -- I always knew it couldn't be forever. But I thought I could stay here. So much for that plan."

 

Wesley and Cordelia both looked at him sympathetically. Good, Angel thought. They bought it.

 

In reality, as fond as he had grown of their offices and his apartment, he had long ago learned the foolishness of believing that anything was permanent. What weighed on him now cut too close. All Angel could think was: Wesley was in this building. They meant for him to be as burned and broken and lost as everything lying around me right now. Cordelia was screaming for mercy in a hospital bed. They meant for her to sink into madness and anguish until her mind snapped and her body stopped.

 

She thinks it's such a gift, that we have each other, he thought. But that's the reason they both almost ended up dead.

 

"Good God," Wesley said, breaking Angel out of his reverie. "Look at the computer." The plastic casing had melted; bits of chips and wire stuck out of the charred mess that had once been the desk.

 

"The phone didn't do too well either," Cordelia said, lifting up the receiver, from which more wires dangled. "And the answering machine --"

 

"Who's in there?"

 

The words came from the hallway, surprising them all; Wesley jumped, dropping the sooty encyclopedia of demonology he'd just retrieved. Angel recognized the voice first. He didn't relax.

 

"Kate," he called. "It's just us."

 

"Just you," she said, coming around the corner. The beam from her flashlight cut through the room. Her lips were set in a thin line. "Nothing to worry about. Just a vampire once known as the Scourge of Europe."

 

"Nicknames," Angel said flatly. "So hard to live them down.What do you want, Kate?"

 

"What do I want? I want to investigate a major crime scene. Remember, I tried to the other night, before you fled the area."

 

"Before I went to the hospital to check on Wesley," Angel said. "After you attacked me again. Is that what you're here for?"

 

She didn't answer; she was looking, instead, at Wesley, who still had a bandage across his forehead. He'd lost a few pounds, especially noticeable on his spare frame. Her voice was somewhat less brittle when she spoke again. "I'm just after the truth."

 

"I know that," Angel said, trying to match her newfound civility. Cordelia, he could see, was still trying to think of an appropriate retort to the "Scourge of Europe" comment; he shook his head quickly at her. "I doubt the truth is going to help you out much, though."

 

"Why? What happened here?" Kate's eyes narrowed again. "I know you claim to be on some kind of crusade, but if I find out you've been keeping explosives in here --"

 

"Excuse me," Cordelia snapped, ignoring Angel and ripping at the broken mess of the answering machine as if it were a certain police detective. "He is a vampire, not a Branch Davidian. Why would Angel blow up his own building?"

 

"Cordy," Angel said, "calm down. Kate's just doing her job."

 

"Don't defend me," Kate said. "Answer me."

 

"The building was blown up by Vocah, a powerful supernatural assassin sent to destroy me and my friends." Angel didn't mention the scroll or the raising; this alone would probably be too much for Kate to absorb. "As you can see, he very nearly succeeded."

 

"A supernatural assassin," Kate said, rolling her eyes. "That's gonna look great in my report. You really know how to win friends and influence people, don't you?"

 

"Angel's got friends," Cordelia said, her voice now chillier than Kate's.

 

"He also has enemies," Kate said.

 

Wesley cleared his throat. "Ah, Detective Lockley? Perhaps your supervisors would be interested in hearing the account of a witness. I should be happy to tell you what I saw --"

 

Kate took a deep breath, then nodded. "Constructive suggestion. Okay, good idea." She glanced around. "Is there anyplace we could sit down?"

 

Angel realized she was thinking of Wesley's relative weakness and, despite his anger, felt a flash of gratitude to her. "Not much left in the way of furniture, but the stairs are still there."

 

As Kate and Wesley turned to go into the hallway, Cordelia said, "Oh, wait a sec. You're carrying one of those little tape recorders, aren't you?"

 

Kate looked at her strangely. "Yes; why?"

 

Cordy held up the message tape for the answering machine. "This made it through okay. And I was expecting a callback."

 

Rolling her eyes, Kate handed over the recorder. "I guess I'll take your statement the old- fashioned way," she said as she pulled out a pen. "Any clipboards make it through?"

 

"We can use what's left of the bookshelf," Wesley said helpfully as they walked out.

 

Angel smiled slightly as Cordelia fiddled with the recorder. "Always the optimist," he said.

 

"I just look that way compared to you, Gloom-n-Doom," she said, then frowned. "That's the old me again, isn't it?"

 

The tape recorder started playing. A shrill-voiced woman, who apparently had not realized from the phone message that she hadn't reached Ruby Chinese Restaurant, put in an order for vegetable dumplings.

 

"Don't worry about it," Angel said. "If the old you went away completely, I'd miss her."

 

"Bitchiness and bad-hair angst and everything?" Cordelia said. She looked up at him, her lips quirked in that funny, vulnerable smile of hers, the one that meant she wasn't really joking.

 

"And everything," Angel insisted.

 

The tape recorder switched messages; when the new speaker began, Angel froze. He had only met her once  but remembered her vividly.

 

"I hope I've called the correct number. Regarding the problem you came to me with a few months ago  I realize that situation has now resolved itself, for better or worse. But I've found someone who could help you in future, should you ever again need such help. Come by the church if you wish to be introduced." A click announced the end of the message, and, apparently, the end of those who had wished to contact Angel Investigations.

 

"Who was that?" Cordelia said.

 

"I don't know her name," Angel said. "She's a nun Wesley and I met when we were trying to exorcise the Ethros demon. She seemed to have a lot of information; probably be a good idea to get to know her."

 

"Then, get on with your dead self," Cordelia said. When he raised an eyebrow, she waved him toward the door. "It's not that late. What else are we gonna do here? And what if we have to deal with possessed kids again? Could happen any day. Best to be prepared."

 

"You want me out of here before Kate and I can start fighting again."

 

"Yeah, that too," Cordelia said.

 

Angel smiled and went to the door. "If Kate wants to know where I've gone -- tell her I'm at church. That ought to throw her for a loop."

 

Thirty minutes later Angel was shivering in a pew. Not from cold -- though he did feel a bit chilled after the quick washing-up he'd done in the restroom of a local service station. Was it sickness? Fear? What was it that snaked through him like ice every time he looked at a cross?

 

"It still affects you." Angel looked over to see the nun sitting at the end of the same pew. He hadn't even heard her approach, a testament either to her stealth or his distraction. She motioned toward the cross. "Why is that?"

 

"It affects us all," Angel said. "I've never known why."

 

"I wasn't referring to vampires in general," she said, looking at him wish the same unruffled calm, the same penetrating gaze, he remembered from before. "I meant you. You're unlike the others in so many ways. But the symbol of Christ's love still causes you pain."

 

"How do you know I'm not like the others?" Angel said.

 

"You put yourself in danger to help a child. You seek the people of the church whom you should logically shun. You have a human friend. Evidence enough, don't you think?"

 

"I try to believe that," Angel said. "That I'm different. But moments like this -- I wonder if the difference is enough." He forced himself to look at the cross again. He could do it -- he no longer cringed from the sight of it, like young ones and cowards did. But he couldn't make the pain go away. "The symbol of Christ's love. That's what you call it. But that's not what I see, not what I feel."

 

"God's love is far from you," she said. "Yes, that must be hard to bear."

 

Angel shook his head. "It's not a new burden. And I doubt you brought me here to discuss the condition of my soul."

 

"So, you do have your soul," the nun said. "I thought so. No, I should be interested in discussing that with you someday, but that is not why I called."

 

"How did you even know my number? Are you psychic?" he said, only half-joking.

 

"That is not among my gifts. Even if it were, it would be unnecessary. Your friend left this at the church before," she said, holding up a white card. "A business card. Tell me, why is there a picture of a moth on it?"

 

He sighed. "It's supposed to be an angel. And that's my name. Angel."

 

The nun raised one eyebrow, but said only, "Come. You should meet Father Augustine."

 

Father Augustine, as it turned out, was a priest in his late forties, broad and bearded, with skin as dark as night. He had been born and raised in Ghana, only converting to Christianity as an adult. But throughout his conversion, and his subsequent entry into the clergy, Augustine had remembered the older religion of his youth.

 

"Christianity is the true light of God," Augustine said, pouring tea for Angel as though he were any other houseguest. "But every light casts shadows, does it not? To explore those shadows, we need to remember the old beliefs. The old magic. There are many who do not understand that. But those of us who do, well, we find one another," he said, smiling briefly at the nun, who was serenely sipping her tea.

 

"How long have you fought against demons?" Angel said.

 

"All my life," Augustine said, sitting down to his own drink. "But only these last two decades have I also had the resources of the Church at my disposal."

 

"You perform exorcisms?"

 

"Where possible. The battle is often difficult, as you must know. The good sister tells me you were attempting to cast out an Ethros demon. Were you successful?"

 

"Yes. The boy lived; the demon's dead." Angel did not tell them that the boy had been the greater evil; he didn't feel like discussing it. Another idea, something he had never before considered, was crowding into his mind, pushing aside all other thought.

 

His earlier words to the nun echoed within his mind. What if he were wrong? What if there were a difference after all?

 

"Well done. I should not have thought that one with his own demon would be able to cast out another. There is so much to learn," Augustine said. "I hope we shall learn from one another."

 

"There's something I need you to do," Angel said abruptly. "An exorcism I need you to perform."

 

Father Augustine nodded. "Of course. Why did you not say so before? Who needs this exorcism?"

 

"I do," Angel said.

 

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

 

PART TWO

 

"You're going to exorcise yourself?" Cordelia said. "What about this am I not getting?"

 

She was sitting on the sofa in leggings and a tank top, her hair yanked up into a slightly off-center ponytail, blue facial mask making her look like a psychedelic kabuki performer. Wesley, who had just stepped out of the bathroom in his blue-striped pyjamas and robe, was staring at Angel with the same shocked expression she wore. "Angel -- your demon -- it's a part of you."

 

"I don't need reminding," Angel said, pulling off his shoes as he sat down on his sleeping bag. In the explosion, his apartment had been destroyed, along with all their means of support. Angel had a little money in the bank -- enough to keep them all eating, at least for a while -- but he and Wesley were camping out at Cordelia's for the time being. To Angel's surprise, the arrangement was working fairly smoothly. So far.

 

"Don't you?" Wesley said. He sat down beside Cordelia, who was still shaking her head in confusion. "Angel, you are a vampire. A dead body animated by the demon that dwells within."

 

"Take that out, and what have you got?" Cordelia asked. "A dead body. Not good."

 

"I've seen, in the past, that a vampire's body can keep living without the demon," Angel said. "If a vampire can't feed for long enough, the demon is cast out, but the body goes on, without capacity for thought. Eventually becomes a living skeleton. Not pretty."

 

"And this is what you're shooting for?" Cordelia said.

 

"I'm guessing that the soul is going to survive just fine without the demon. Maybe -- maybe the two aren't tied together. If so, that should keep me from anything so drastic." Angel smiled in what he hoped was a reassuring manner. It didn't work.

 

"Guessing? That's supposed to be good enough?" Cordelia shook her head. "You're not going to risk yourself over something like this. And I will prove it to you, as soon as I wash this stuff off my face."

 

"How can you think of your facial at a time like this?" Wesley said.

 

"Uh, excuse me. My Old Navy commercial audition is coming up in two days, and as I am temporarily the breadwinner of this family, I think we all have an interest in my complexion being at its best. Besides, this mask is flaking like dried plaster. How can Angel concentrate on anything important with my face crumbling in front of him?" She went off to wash, leaving Wesley to continue the argument.

 

"Cordelia has a very valid point, for once," Wes said.

 

"I heard that!" Cordelia called from the bathroom, over the sound of splashing water.

 

Wesley ignored her and continued, "Your theory may well be correct, Angel. But is it worth risking your existence to find out? I can tell you that it's not worth it to me."

 

"Or me," Cordy said, patting her face dry with a washcloth as she returned to the couch. "We need you, Angel."

 

"Not like this," Angel said. "I'm enough of a risk to you as it is."

 

"Are we about to get some heroic speech, about how you won't let us endanger ourselves by staying at your side?" Wesley said. "I've been waiting for this --"

 

"Sorry to disappoint you," Angel said. "No, no speeches. You're both adults. You make your own choices."

 

"Oh," Wesley said, looking rather crestfallen. "Then what are you driving at?"

 

"I mean that I'm not going to endanger you any more than I have to," Angel said. "And as long as I can still become what I was before, I'm a danger to you both."

 

"Not to mention everybody else this side of the Rockies," Cordelia said. "And don't look at me like that, Wesley. We both know it's true."

 

"So, you're behind me?" Angel said.

 

"If 'behind you' means thinking you're doing something totally boneheaded but not mentioning more than thirty times a day, yeah." Cordelia said with a sigh.

 

"Wes?"

 

Wesley nodded. "If you're allowing us to take our risks, then we have to allow you to take yours. But I won't pretend to like it."

 

"Didn't ask you to," Angel said. He pulled off his shoes and got down on the floor to arrange the sleeping bag; he doubted he could sleep this early in the evening, but he had tried, during these past two weeks, to match the humans' circadian rhythms as closely as possible. "We've had a long day," he said, hoping to forestall any more conversation.

 

Neither of them were taking the hint, though. Cordelia set about applying some strange unguent to her hair without removing her attention from him for a moment. "So how are we going to do this? I mean, is the priest just going to drop by, cast out Angelus, have some tea?"

 

"Probably not a great idea to do it here," Angel said. "The ceremony might end up casting out Dennis instead."

 

The wall thumped once. Cordelia shook her head vehemently. "No way. So, where then? The church?"

 

"Difficult to draw the demon out there. Gunn's group -- the homeless kids I told you about -- just moved out of a basement place about 20 minutes away; I think that'll do nicely," Angel said from his place on the floor.

 

"Drawing out the demon -- yes, you'd have to, wouldn't you?" Wesley said, wrinkling his brow as he frowned. "For an exorcism, you must directly confront the demon. That means -- you'll have to let Angelus out."

 

"What?" Cordelia said, her face going a little pale. "Wait a minute. To get rid of him, you have to let him out?"

 

"I don't like that part of it either," Angel admitted. "But you guys can chain me up --"

 

"Oh, no, not again," Cordelia sighed.

 

Angel ignored her. "I'll have to take the drug that Rebecca dosed me with and hope it works the same way. We'll see, I guess."

 

"There might be another way," Wesley said slowly. "Have you considered hypnosis?"

 

"Hypnosis?" Cordelia said, wrinkling her nose. "I thought that was fake. Just stuff for Vegas lounge acts and weight-loss ripoffs."

 

"Nobody understands precisely why hypnotism works," Wesley said. "But it does. It's capable of unlocking an entirely different level of the conscious mind."

 

"In Angel's case, an entirely demonic level."

 

"That's the idea," Wesley said.

 

Angel was quiet for a moment, considering. "Do you think it would work?"

 

"Worth a try," Wesley said. "I can conduct a test."

 

"You?" Cordy said.

 

"Why, yes," Wesley said. "All Watchers are trained in the art of hypnotism. I was rather good at it, actually."

 

"It would be better than the drug," Angel said. "If something happened -- if things got out of control -- you could end the hypnotic trance right away."

 

"Exactly," Wesley said, noticeably happy to be of assistance. "There's also the chance -- a slight one, mind you, but a chance -- that if matters were to, well, not proceed as planned, that you might be able to throw off the hypnotic trance."

 

"You mean, if Angelus got a hand free and started choking one of us -- just one of the unpleasant scenarios that springs to mind -- Angel might be able to, like, break through and be himself again," Cordelia said.

 

"It's a distant possibility, but a possibility nonetheless," Wesley said.

 

"Then that's our plan," Angel said. "Get whatever you need tomorrow. Father Augustine will meet us tomorrow night."

 

"That fast," Cordelia said. The seriousness of it seemed to have hit her all at once. "Angel, that's going to change everything."

 

"It's meant to keep things from changing."

 

"For me and Wesley, maybe," Cordelia said. "But it changes a lot of things for you. Like, that whole subcurse-to-the-curse thing. You have perfect happiness now, and nothing happens, right?"

 

"I'd still lose my soul," Angel pointed out.

 

"So, if you had sex with Buffy again, you'd just go to mindless-zombie territory," Cordelia said. "And you're not going there. Right?"

 

"Right," Angel said.

 

He said it casually enough, but something of his mood must have come through to Cordelia. She slipped off the sofa and knelt beside him. "Hey," she whispered, gently touching his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't throw Buffy's name around without thinking first."

 

"I shouldn't let it affect me," Angel said.

 

"Like that's ever gonna happen," Cordelia said. After a moment's pause, she dropped her hand from his shoulder and her eyes from his own. "I hope this works for you, Angel. It doesn't make any difference to me, but if it's going to make you feel safer, then that's a good thing."

 

"I'm still worried about all this," Wesley said. "I mean, your demon is under control. And perhaps he is a larger part of your psyche than we realize. Do you need that darkness? To remind you of what you could be? To give you the edge it takes to do the things you must do --"

 

"Star Trek," Cordelia said. Off Wesley's startled look, she said, "This is totally out of that Star Trek episode. The one where Captain Kirk splits into good and evil twins?"

 

"You never struck me as a science-fiction fan," Wesley said, slightly abashed.

 

"I'm not, but please. I dated Xander Harris for almost a year. That gives me honorary membership in the geek hall of fame."

 

"I'll always have two centuries' worth of memories to do remind me," Angel said. "Maybe that's enough."

 

They finished preparing for bed in silence; it was Wesley's turn to take the couch, so he set about making his bed there, tucking a sheet around the cushions with an almost military neatness. Angel tucked his pillow up beneath him as he slipped into the sleeping bag. He and Wesley were both ready for bed, but Cordelia went through yet more steps of her elaborate bedtime ritual, utterly unworried by their presence. It was all so casual, so intimate, that Angel found himself strangely moved.

 

How long had it been since he had been a part of anyone's life like this? Just another person in their lives, accepted as easily and totally as any human being could hope to be. For all the depth of his love for Buffy, Angel knew that the two of them had never reached that level -- never could have, given her age and the greater demands of their relationship.

 

And, in its own way, this was as healing, as comforting, as Buffy's love had ever been --

 

"This is going to be hard," Angel said suddenly. Wesley, who had just draped his robe across a chair, turned to face him; Cordelia stuck her head out of the bathroom door, toothbrush still in her foamy-lipped mouth. "When Angelus is free, the things I'll say to you -- it'll be hard to hear."

 

"We can take it," Wesley said. "You don't have to be afraid for us."

 

Cordelia nodded..

 

But I am, Angel thought.

 

 

????????????????? *********************

 

????????????????? PART THREE

 

"You know, I'd have gotten into exorcisms sooner, if I realized they involved this much shopping," Cordelia said. "Then again, I would've looked around for a catalog or something, if I knew we were going to have to shop here."

 

"Here" was a store called "Rapt in Chains." Cordelia and Wesley were standing between the leather-corsetry section and the display of specialty whips. Wesley was trying very hard to remember if he had ever been this embarrassed in his life and deciding, probably not.

 

But if you needed to keep someone chained up, this was the place to be --

 

"I mean, people have the right to get their freak on," Cordelia muttered. "But you know, I just have to wonder. If you don't enjoy sex unless you're in a vinyl body bag, maybe you just really don't enjoy sex."

 

"This seems like a lot of equipment for people to get in order to do something they don't enjoy," Wesley said, casting a worried glance at what resembled, but probably was not, a hangliding harness on the wall.

 

"Well, you'd know, right?"

 

"I beg your pardon?"

 

"Come on, Wesley," Cordelia said. "You knew just where this place was --"

 

"I used to live down the street," Wesley hissed. "Back when we could all afford separate accomodations, I took a hotel room two blocks away."

 

"Really?" Cordelia's eyebrow was raised, but when Wesley nodded, she put her hand to her mouth. "Really?" she repeated, more softly. "Wesley, this is a bad neighborhood. Way bad. I used to live in the barrio, so I know whereof I speak."

 

"Well, we could afford separate accommodations," Wesley said. "Not necessarily good ones. Anyway, this was usually the only place open when I got home; they keep very strange hours. Apparently much of the merchandise falls into the realm of the impulse buy."

 

"Long time no see." At the sound of the voice, both Cordelia and Wesley jumped; the clerk, a man far too interested in piercing, was smiling at Wesley. "I knew all that talk about change for the vending machine was just cover. So, which of you needs a fitting?" The man looked Cordelia up and down with a proprietory gaze Wesley found discomfiting and infuriating all at once. "Or is it matching outfits for you two?"

 

"No, no, no," Cordelia said. "It's not for us. It's for our boss."

 

"Kinky," the man said. "Sounds like you guys got one hell of a benefits package."

 

"It's not what it sounds like," Wesley said, then realized that the real situation would probably sound a whole lot worse. "I mean -- well, we must be discreet." He ignored Cordelia's outraged glare.

 

"Don't worry," the man said. "Your secret's safe with us. So, what size is this boss of yours?"

 

"He's a big guy," Cordelia said with a sigh. "Not quite as tall as Wesley here, but way more built."

 

"Yummy. And what are you looking for? Sub or dom?"

 

"Huh?" Cordelia didn't get it. Wesley thought he did, but he really didn't want to.

 

He could feel his cheeks burning as he answered, "He's the one getting tied up. Does that answer your question?"

 

"Gotcha. Hang on a sec," the man said, before vanishing into the back.

 

"I swear to God, Wesley, this is the most humiliating thing ever," Cordelia said. "Well, no, the gyno exam with the demon babies is the all-time winner. But should that event ever be unable to fulfill its duties as Most Humiliating, this one will step in."

 

"It's not that bad," Wesley insisted. "We'll just keep our heads down, and -- oh, my Lord."

 

"What?"

 

Wesley motioned at the display case. Cordelia looked down, and her eyes widened. "Okay, those were not modeled from life. I mean, sure, big is beautiful, but this is overkill."

 

"How does this look?" Wesley turned to see their helpful clerk again; he was holding up a leather vest with straps that were clearly used to bind the wearer's arms behind his back. "Adjustable fit, but should be ideal for the size you described."

 

"Looks great," Cordelia said. "Wrap it up."

 

"Wait a moment," Wesley said. "Now, this is entirely secure, correct?"

 

"Sure. Holds the wearer in good and tight, but there's this release latch right here --"

 

"Release latch?" Cordelia interrupted. "What's with the release latch? Isn't bondage all about being bound?"

 

"Well, yes." The clerk was looking at Cordelia strangely. "But there's always a release. I mean, we don't want this stuff being misused."

 

"Wesley, this is no good," she complained. "If he can get out, it's not gonna work."

 

"We'll just take some handcuffs," Wesley said. "Several pairs. Those don't have releases, do they?"

 

"No, no. Just gonna wrap those up for you." The clerk inched away.

 

"Great," Cordelia said. "We have now been written off as perverts by a guy who sells nipple clamps."

 

"Cordelia!"

 

"Sorry. This place is making me vulgar. Can't we just get out of here? What's next on the shopping list?"

 

Wesley tugged out the paper, glad to have something else to think about besides their surroundings. "Well, Angel was hoping we could get a tranquilizer gun, though I'm not at all sure where to buy one."

 

"Veterinary-supply store," Cordelia said. "Any vet who works with big animals, like horses or cows, is going to need one." Off Wesley's startled look, she shrugged. "What can I say? You help take care of a werewolf, you learn lessons you use throughout life. But wait a second -- why are we buying tranquilizers anyway?"

 

"To drug our murderous, demonic employer should he break free of our restraints," Wesley said. "I should think that would be rather obvious."

 

"Well, tranquilizers and Angel -- not the best combo."

 

"The demon will already be released," Wesley pointed out. "A tranquilizer can't really make it any worse."

 

"True," Cordelia said. "Where are those handcuffs? C'mon, already."

 

"Cordelia, do calm down. I'm as dismayed to be in here as you are, but there's really no rush. It's not as if we need to hurry off to buy you new shoes for the occasion."

 

"Speak for yourself," Cordy replied. "I'm thinking some cool little thong sandals. Wait, no. Hard to run in those. Scratch that." When Wesley didn't respond to what he hoped was a joke, Cordelia sighed. "Okay. I'm just kinda ready to get this over with. Aren't you?"

 

"Agreed," Wesley said. It was as close as they had come to discussing the subject of Angel's exorcism with any seriousness.

 

When Wesley had arrived in L.A., he had felt reasonably close to Cordelia -- the awkwardness of their previous attraction aside, they had shared experiences, shared memories. Angel was a mysterious figure, more to be feared than trusted. He had expected to work with Angel only as a colleague, and perhaps to discover some sort of friendship with Cordelia.

 

Instead, Angel had become a friend; some secrets and emotions Wesley had long tried to suppress had spilled out these past months, and Angel, instead of turning away, had accepted him as few others ever had. Wesley had found it easy to respond in turn. Cordelia, meanwhile, remained at a distance. They could laugh and joke together, or, more often, nag each other for hours on end. At times, their conversations went beyond the trivial -- but only for a few minutes, and usually only when they discussed Angel.

 

After the cloudy glow of infatuation had worn off, Wesley might have written Cordelia off as silly or shallow, were it not for her devotion to Angel. More than once, Wesley had wondered whether their relationship were not moving beyond the purely platonic -- Cordelia and Angel were so openly protective of one another that it was hard to believe they shared no romantic feeling. But so far, anyway, it seemed that they were no more than friends.

 

Meanwhile, she and Wesley remained friends mostly because they both cared about Angel. Basis enough, he supposed.

 

"You should have told us you had to live in this neighborhood," Cordelia said. Wesley glanced at her, surprised by the shift in topic. "We could've worked something else out. You could have stayed with Angel, or with me. We wouldn't have left you here, if we'd known." She grimaced as she looked away from him. "And we would have known if we'd asked."

 

Angel had asked and had offered help before, which Wesley had turned down in a moment of much-repented pride. After a few moments' consideration, Wesley decided not to mention that point. "I appreciate the thought, Cordelia."

 

"Okay. Six pairs of handcuffs. That going to do it for you?" The clerk had a very fixed smile on his face as he held out a paper bag.

 

Cordelia pulled out her Visa with a melodramatic flourish. "I think this is going to max out my last available credit on my last credit card," she sighed. "Angel without a demon, me without the ability to charge -- we have reached the end of an era."

 

***

 

"We are isolated here," Father Augustine said. "This is good."

 

The priest's voice echoed in the emptiness of the abandoned warehouse; his cultured accent reverberated from exposed metal and the concrete floor. A few left-behind things cluttered the corners -- a red bandanna, some cans of Dinty Moore beef stew, one brown boot.

 

One boot, Cordelia thought. Who leaves one boot? I mean, if you need one of them, you're gonna need the other. Right?

 

When Angel had explained all this last night, she'd convinced herself it was for the best. And when she could think on the end result -- happy, secure, new-and-improved Angel, now with fewer demons -- it still seemed like a good idea.

 

But the end result was harder to picture right now, with the reality of what they were about to do there in front of her. The priest was an imposing man, foreign and strange. Wesley had gone unusually grave; he'd set up all his paraphernalia on a battered old table. Instead of snickering at his collection of potions and crystals and what-not, Cordelia found herself somewhat intimidated by it all. Intimidation was a fairly new emotion for her. So far, she decided, it pretty much sucked.

 

Angel was walking around the perimeter of the room, just a little too slowly for it to be called "pacing." She tried to give him a reassuring smile and did so poorly that he immediately came over to her. "Cordy -- are you all right?"

 

"Yeah, I am. Or I will be," she said, hugging herself against an imagined chill. "It's just a little like attending Charles Manson's parole hearing, you know?"

 

"I know," Angel said quietly.

 

"God, there I go again," Cordelia said. "I'm sitting here all obsessed about how I feel. But you're the one really going through it. I mean, you've got to be tripping, right?"

 

"Right," Angel said, then frowned. "If I understand what that word means."

 

"It means, you know -- nyaaagh," Cordelia said, making a face that seemed appropriate.

 

Angel almost smiled. "Yes. I'm tripping. Just keeping it on the inside."

 

"When the demon's out -- Angel, where are you? Where does your soul go?" Cordelia said.

 

"I wish I knew."

 

"I guess it doesn't matter, as long as you come back," Cordelia said.

 

"I'm not going away. I'm just --" Angel paused. Cordelia, realizing he did not mean to continue, took one of his hands in her own and squeezed it gently. Though he did not seem to acknowledge her gesture, after a moment he spoke again. "I worry about what's going to happen while my soul is gone. What I'll do. What I'll say."

 

"If it scares you, Angel -- we don't have to do this," Cordelia whispered, gesturing slightly at Wesley and Father Augustine, who were still bustling about with some magic powder in one corner. "It's not too late."

 

Angel shook his head. "I have to do it. As long as that demon is a part of me -- Cordelia, I'm its captive. I can't get through a single day without wondering what I would do if I were weak enough. About what I might do to you -- "

 

"Listen to me," she said, stepping a little closer to him and folding his hand in both of her own. "That demon's not going to do anything to me, or Wesley, or anybody else. We won't let it. You're going to be all wrapped up, safe -- safe like a baby in a blanket. You're not going to do anyting you have to feel sorry for. You're not going to say anything we can't handle. When that demon's gone and your soul comes home, we're still going to be here. And we're still going to be your friends. Okay?"

 

Angel didn't answer, but smiled at her gently. She managed to smile back.

 

"Very well," Wes said, a little loudly, calling them without calling them. Angel hesitated for a moment, then let go of Cordelia's hands and walked toward Wesley. Cordelia followed, to see what the others had put together. "We have constructed a protective circle," Father Augustine said. "No vampire should be able to step within its boundaries, save on St. Vigius' Day, which is still months away."

 

"So this is like our shark cage," Cordelia said.

 

"Very apropos," Wesley said. Cordelia wasn't quite sure what that meant, but his tone was approving and so she felt mollified. He continued: "The tranquilizer gun will be kept in here. So, should something untoward occur -- though of course it will not -- we are all to run into the circle. The first one here takes up the gun. Understood?"

 

Angel shrugged off his jacket and tossed it on the ground, then walked over to the chair. Wesley had spent the better part of the afternoon welding it to one of the building's metal beams; after giving it an experimental tug and finding it secure, Angel sat down. He sighed deeply as he put his hands behind his back. "Let's do it."

 

Wesley picked up the chains they'd brought and began securing Angel's feet to the chair. Cordelia took the handcuffs out of her bag and walked behind Angel, then shackled his hands around the metal beam. The tension in the room was thickening, as was her own dread; she wanted to say something to break it, something funny. But she knew it would sound wrong, more wrong even than this terrible stillness broken only by the clanking of metal.

 

When they were done, she and Wesley stepped away. Angel looked -- smaller, somehow. Vulnerable. Strange, to think of Angel that way --.

 

Angel nodded. "Let's go."

 

Wesley rubbed his hands together quickly. "Right." He nodded at Father Augustine, then walked behind the small table they'd set up and re-angled Cordelia's emergency flashlight so that its beam shone through a purple crystal. "Angel, I need you to look within this crystal. There is a flaw inside it -- deep, at the center." His voice took on a tenor Cordelia had never heard from him before, something lower, more soothing. "Find that flaw. Concentrate on it. Let the light there flow back into you."

 

Angel's face was so strange, Cordelia thought, so different. Normally, even in his happiest moments, there was something -- tense -- about him. She always had the sense he was holding something back, holding something in, and she'd always been very glad of the fact. But now he was completely relaxed and blank.

 

"Angel?" Wesley said, in normal Wesley-voice. Angel did not respond. In the lower tone, Wesley continued: "The soul within your body must rest, for a time. The soul will not leave the body, nor be extinguished, yet only remain quiet until such time as I summon it forth once more. When you hear this sound chime once --" Wesley struck a metal rod against the crystal, and it hummed on a high, silvery pitch, "-- your soul will go silent and control you no more. When you hear it twice together, the soul will return to its full strength. Do you understand me?"

 

Angel nodded slowly. Wesley took a deep breath. "Very well."

 

And with that he struck the rod against the crystal once more. For one second, there was only silence.

 

Angel's face had changed again. Not relaxed, not blank, but not holding anything back --

 

"I do NOT believe this," Angelus growled, lunging forward in a futile attempt to break his bonds.

 

"He's out," Wesley said.

 

"Thanks for the news flash," Cordelia said, mostly to herself. Father Augustine said nothing, but straightened up and squared his shoulders, as though preparing for a blow.

 

"Is this a game?" Angelus shouted, continuing his struggle with the chains. "Are you people actually that stupid? You're calling me up for an evening's entertainment?"

 

"That is not our purpose here," Father Augustine said. "As well you know."

 

"You think you can get rid of me. Well, Padre, you are sadly mistaken. That puts you above these two, who are just sad -- but not as sad as they're gonna be." Angelus fixed his icy stare on Wesley. "Nice little toys you've got here, Watcher Boy. Magic wands and crystals. Sticks and stones, they'll break your bones --"

 

"They'll do more than that to you," Wesley said with an almost-convincing bravado.

 

"This is your big night, isn't it? Your night to prove you can actually do something," Angelus sneered. "But the only thing you're gonna do is get yourself killed. Don't worry, Wesley. I'll make sure you get to see Cordelia die first."

 

Angelus then looked over at Cordelia, something beyond hate in his eyes. "Don't forget. We have a date later."

 

Cordelia turned on her heel and walked as far away from Angelus as she could get. She heard Wesley jog after her.

 

"Cordelia --"

 

"I'm fine," she said abruptly. The temporary shock of seeing Angelus again had shaken her; no matter how many times she thought about it, how many nightmares she had on the subject, she never really remembered the malevolence behind those cold eyes. But Cordelia screwed up her courage. Angel's counting on us, she reminded herself. He's counting on me. "If that's the worst he's got, then we're gonna be fine. Right, Wes?"

 

"Right," Wesley said, and he was so steady, so sure, that Cordelia could have hugged him. "I think the part of the rhyme Angelus failed to mention says, 'words will never hurt me.' We can handle this."

 

Cordelia wished he sounded more convincing.

 

**********

PART FOUR

 

Angel generally did not speak of Angelus in the third person.

 

It was a small point, one that might go unnoticed by some, but Wesley prided himself on attention to detail. No matter how horrific, how demonic, how -- different -- Angelus seemed, Angel almost never referred to the demon as a separate entity. Angel said, I did this. Or, when I was there. Or, I enjoyed it.

 

Wesley had always found that strange, never more so than now.

 

"This is rich," Angelus snarled, pulling at the chains that bound him. Wesley could see blood dripping behind the chair, no doubt trickling from the newly lacerated skin at Angel's wrists. (Or were they Angelus' wrists now? Who owned this body? No way ever to know.) "You people think you're gonna get rid of me as easy as this? You think you can have the soul without the demon? What fools."

 

Trying to pretend that Angelus' words didn't mirror his own fears, Wesley turned back to Father Augustine, who was studying the vampire calmly, and Cordelia, who looked anything but calm. "We ought to hurry," Wesley said in a low voice. "He's tearing himself up in those chains --"

 

"He can't get out," Cordelia said, her voice slightly shaky.

 

"No, but he's causing damage Angel will have to suffer for later."

 

"We should hurry in any case," Father Augustine said. "The demon grows stronger with every moment of dominance."

 

"Fine. Great. Get all chanty and incensy and whatever. Just get Angelus out of there," Cordelia said.

 

"It is not so simple," Father Augustine replied. "We are using the oldest and most powerful form of the ritual. His counterattacks will no doubt be vicious. For this reason, each of us will take one section of the ritual."

 

"You mean, Wesley and I have to do this too?" Cordelia said. "Boy, you know when a great time to mention this would've been? Anytime before NOW."

 

"To speak of it earlier would have been to warn the demon," Father Augustine said.

 

"And this isn't warning him?" Cordelia snapped.

 

"He will not have sufficient time to prepare if we act quickly," Father Augustine said sharply. "Which of you has known Angel longer?"

 

Cordelia half-raised her hand. Father Augustine pulled out a battered old book and handed it to her. "At the top of the page. Begin."

 

"Cordelia -- are you sure you can --"

 

"Wesley, it's okay," she said. "Better get it over with."

 

She turned to face Angelus, who was smirking at her -- nothing new there, but nothing good there either. She started to read. "I confront you, demon, in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit --"

 

"Listen to all of you. Over there whispering like I couldn't hear you. You keep trying to show off how smart you are, Cordelia -- keep trying to show us all that there's a brain beneath all that hairspray. Or a heart under that push-up bra. But then you go and do something stupid like letting me hear you, and the truth will out."

 

Keep reading, she told herself. You've heard worse than that. "The body is the temple of Christ. God shall not suffer a profaner within the temple, and ye -- ye? -- shall be cast out of the temple --"

 

"This body hasn't been God's temple in a real long time, Cordy," Angelus. "For a couple hundred years now, it's been nothing but a corpse. I just drag it around with me. You like to forget that, don't you?"

 

Then, right then -- she knew it, even as it was happening, but couldn't stop it all the same -- he punctured her defenses. She'd prepared herself for the insults, at least she thought so. But this -- oh, dammit, he had a point.

 

"The demon isn't the intruder here," he continued, in his slow, silky voice. "The demon's right at home. The soul -- that's another story."

 

The exorcism was all about casting out something that didn't belong. Did the demon belong -- more than the soul? Was that possible?

 

And in her moment of doubt and confusion, he turned his blade sideways and slipped its narrow edge in.

 

"You've been wondering if I'd ever fall in love with you."

 

Cordelia's voice choked in her throat. The holy book almost slipped from her hand. She was suddenly terribly aware of Wesley's presence. "I -- no. No. Your place is, is, is in hell, I mean, in pernicious hell, and there you will be, uh --"

 

"I do look at you, you know. I mean, I'm dead, not made of stone. You've got a body that just doesn't quit, baby," Angelus had narrowed his eyes, pursed his lips, dropped his gaze lower than her face. "And you know what? I'd love to just shoot you down, tell you I never thought about it, but I gotta tell the truth. The idea has definitely crossed my mind."

 

"There you will be cast among the demons and the dark ones and the night," Cordelia blurted out, hating herself for her hesitation, hating herself for wanting to hear what Angelus would say next. "You will return to your rightful place, your history, your past --"

 

"Do you know why, Cordelia?" Angelus said softly, shifting in his seat so that he almost looked relaxed. "Do you know why I think about fucking you?"

 

"Your past -- your past shall be as your future --"

 

"Because I know it's safe, honey. No curse to worry about with you. No perfect happiness on the horizon. I don't love you. So that means I could throw you down and bang you senseless, and I'd be able to just get up, walk away, and leave all the evilness before you locked in the closet like a bad little boy. You'd be -- convenient, Cordelia. Isn't it nice to know you could finally be of use?"

 

"Cordelia --" Wesley said, and she didn't immediately register the pain in his voice. All she could perceive was the crushing weight in her chest, the heat of the blood that had flushed in her cheeks.

 

"Your past shall be as your future," she said, her voice thick and painful to utter. "Hell is your rightful home, and you shall return there and be as you once were. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen." And with that, she turned on her heel, thrust the book at Father Augustine and ran out of the room.

 

Cordelia pushed the heavy metal door open and blindly stumbled into the alleyway; she groaned as she realized it was raining, a faint, cool mist that turned the world gray. She backed up to the brick wall of the building, allowing herself the scanty shelter of the rusty old fire escape. As she covered her face with her hands, she took in a shaky breath.

 

He knew, she thought. He knew, and all that meant to him was --

 

***

 

Father Augustine felt pity for the girl's humiliation, but remained focused on his task. "Your turn is next," he said, turning to Wesley. To his surprise, Wesley no longer stood by his side, but was hurrying to the door. "Sir! You are forgetting yourself."

 

"I'm not, actually," Wesley said, almost apologetically. "It's just that we -- I mean, I should --"

 

"She shouldn't be alone," Angelus said. "She's just so vulnerable right now."

 

"Silence, demon," Father Augustine said.

 

"Bite me," Angelus said. "Wait, no, it goes the other way around."

 

Father Augustine ignored the demon's rantings. "We must hurry."

 

"I know," Wesley said. "But we need her here."

 

He was out the door before Father Augustine could ask precisely why they needed her there, now that her work was done. Little matter, he told himself. They could spare a few minutes for the young man to comfort Cordelia. And he had heard a hundred demons in a dozen countries curse his name; he knew how to endure.

 

Angelus was staring at him, his eyes small and dark. "That vow of celibacy's a bitch, isn't it? Believe me, I know way the hell too much about it. About the way you get hungrier and hungrier for one good --"

 

Father Augustine looked back at the door and began wishing for Wesley to walk back through it.

 

***

 

"Cordelia?" The door squeaked open once more, but Cordelia didn't turn to Wesley. Instead she looked away, toward the far end of the alley, where rain-dark cars swished through the mist.

 

"I'm fine," she said quietly. "I got through my part, didn't I?'

 

"You did."

 

"So, end of story. Don't you need to go do your thing now?"

 

"We have a few moments. I wanted -- I wanted to make certain you were all right."

 

"He's still chained up in his chair, right? No broken bones here."

 

"That's not the damage I was most worried about." Cordelia looked over at Wesley then, and instead of the judgment or shock she'd expected, she saw only genuine concern. "There's no use in pretending that I didn't hear, Cordelia. I realize that we don't really talk all that much, but, I thought -- maybe -- you would want to talk about this."

 

Think again, she wanted to say. But instead, the words she heard coming out of her mouth were, "It's not like I was in love with him or anything."

 

They were both quiet for a moment, until Wesley gently said, "I know that. But I had thought, perhaps, that -- you cared."

 

"Not that way. I mean, not really that way, not most of the time. I mean -- oh, I don't know what I mean." Cordelia hugged herself and glanced back at Wesley. "It's just that Angel came along when I was so down-and-out. I ran into him at a party -- did you know that's how we met up again? But I acted all haughty and rude to him. Like I was still some big deal. But I didn't have anything. I hadn't eaten in two days. I was -- this rich guy said he was interested in me, and I went to his house to -- I thought, it's just my body, it doesn't matter, that's not what matters about me -- but I knew what I was going to be. And then it turned out he was a vampire, and I was just a meal for him, but then Angel came in --"

 

"He saved your life," Wesley said.

 

After a moment, Cordelia shook her head. "Yeah, but that's not the important part. He saved -- something else, something I was getting ready to give away. You'd probably use some old-timey word like 'virtue' or 'honor' or something, but that's not exactly what I mean -- all I know is, Angel saved me from losing that. He gave me a job, and he listened to me, and when Doyle died he was there for me --" She lifted a hand to her face, as if she could somehow hold back the words, hold back the feelings they represented. "We got close. And when you get close to somebody, I mean, you can't help but wonder. Wonder if you might get -- even closer. Especially if he's totally hot."

 

"Only natural," Wesley said gently.

 

"I tried to hide it, but he saw, and all he thought --"

 

"Stop," Wesley interrupted, as he put his hand on her shoulder. "You don't know what Angel thinks of all this. Only what Angelus told you. Angelus wants only to hurt you; he can't be trusted, Cordelia. You mustn't take what he says as the truth."

 

"I know that," she said, then straightened up. "I do know that. I just kinda forgot there, for a second."

 

"Angelus is persuasive. It's one of his weapons." Wesley looked as though he wanted to say more, but he didn't -- just kept leaning against the wall with Cordelia, getting damp in the mist.

 

"Your turn's coming up," Cordelia said. "And you're freaked."

 

"Yes."

 

"Don't blame ya."

 

"Cordelia, I -- I know it's asking a lot, but -- would you come back in with me?" Cordelia stared at him, and he shook his head. "I tell myself that I'm ready to hear what he has to say, but I wonder."

 

"And -- you want me there?"

 

"Yes," he said, his voice carrying the same note of surprise as her own. "I do. If you can take it."

 

She squared her shoulders. "Bring it on."

 

Wesley did not look at Angelus as he and Cordelia walked back in. He thought it would be easier to focus his attention on Father Augustine, at least until he saw that Father Augustine was scowling a bit. Wesley never dealt well with rejection from authority figures, and from a priest, no less, the scowl was rather disquieting. He would have liked to say something like, the last thing I need is a lecture. Or, Cordelia needed help, and that's important whether you understand it or not -- whether I understand it or not.

 

Instead, he said, "Where does my part begin?"

 

"At the top of this page," Father Augustine said as he held the book out to Wesley. "Hurry. The sections of the rite must be completed in sequence, quickly, or we lose our binding power --"

 

"Give it up already," Angelus said from his chair, his voice sending shivers of dread up Wesley's back. "Cordelia might lack in the brain department, but she's got a little backbone, I'll give her that -- or keep it for myself. But Wesley? Spineless as a jellyfish."

 

Wesley snatched the book away from Father Augustine and turned to face Angelus. He'd faced him down once, after all -- and sent him sprawling into an elevator shaft. Now, with the demon tied helpless in a chair, he had nothing to fear but a few snide words --

 

"In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, I cast thee out --"

 

"You cast me out of my own home? Don't think so, Wes. I bet you can't even step on a spider. You scoop it up on a bit of newspaper, let it wander out on the windowsill, don't you?"

 

"How did you -- oh. Oh. I cast thee out, that the spirit within thee may be free again to walk in the light of God."

 

"You couldn't even raise a hand to Faith, could you?"

 

Faith. The name cut through him like ice, like metal, like shards of broken glass. That nerve in his arm, the one that still felt numb in the mornings, seemeed to vibrate within him, one long note of pain.

 

"The spirit will know the truth of God, and the spirit will know the word of God." Wesley knew his voice was not so loud as it had been a few moments before, hated himself for it, tried to stand up a little straighter. "The demon is the scourge of God, and we shall not suffer it to remain --"

 

"You came down there to kill her. Was it revenge, or were you doing it for me? I wasn't ever sure about that. But I heard you, heard that knife you dropped as it hit the concrete. If you were just bounding to the rescue -- because, you know, you could really help a whole lot against Faith -- then I can see it. But it wasn't, was it?"

 

He knew I was there. I had to go back inside, catch my breath, try to believe what I'd seen. He came for me so much later -- so much later, and he knew I was standing there, all the while, knew what I had seen -- "And we shall not suffer it to remain. Let free the soul held captive within the body, let free the body held captive by the demon."

 

"You know why I picked Faith, don't you? Why I helped her instead of you? Come to think of it, you probably haven't been able to figure that one out. But I bet you're just a little bit curious, aren't ya, Wes?"

 

Wesley's fingers couldn't seem to catch the thin edges of paper to turn the page -- God, how embarrassing, to be sweating and trembling because of nothing more than words. How humiliating, to be made to remember all this, and to want to remember. To want to know.

 

"Faith had her knocks, you know? The bad home life, the drunk mom, the guys who used her -- just thinking about it chokes me right up. But you gotta give her credit; no matter how hard you hit her, she just bounces back again. Can't tear that one down. And you, Wes, you're a house of cards. Just a matter of time before you crumble under for good. So which horse was I gonna bet on, Wesley? Which one of you was I gonna play? Who was worth getting on the leash? You tell me."

 

Wesley could hear Cordelia shifting on her feet behind him, no doubt in embarrassment or impatience or some mixture thereof. He didn't want to think about the expression of contempt that was no doubt on the priest's face. And he hated the triumphant glare with which Angelus was studying his face.

 

No way out but through, he told himself, and mustered up the will to continue. "The future of the spirit and the future of the demon shall be separate. We divide thee from the body, oh demon --"

 

'You want to know the saddest thing of all, Wes, my boy? I cut you loose, but I got you anyway. I rubbed your face in it but good, and what did you do? You just came back crawling and wagging your tail like a bad dog. I rewarded Faith for torturing you, and you took it."

 

"We divide thee from the body, oh demon," Wesley repeated, his voice by now a hoarse whisper. "Forever more shall the spirit and demon be twain."

 

And with that he turned away from Angelus, shoulder slumped as though he had been defeated. For one moment he dared to lift his eyes to Cordelia's; she was looking at him with a gentleness that almost leavened his humiliation. Wesley surrendered the book to Father Augustine.

 

"Now, demon," Father Augustine said, his rich voice echoing from the concrete walls, "your time is short."

 

"Bragging," Angelus said. "Such a turnoff." But he seemed far less interested in Father Augustine than he was in Wesley and Cordelia.

 

"Seems like I remember Buffy talking about you two having the hots for each other, once upon a time," Angelus said. "Seems like I remember some slow-dancing going on at the glamorous Sunnydale High prom, for which I cannot BELIEVE I rented a tux. The thought of you two having sex -- that puts me right off my lunch. But I gotta ask: Did that happen? Did Wesley have the balls to ball you, Cordy?"

 

Father Augustine showed no sign of surprise or hesitation, but plowed on with damnable, enviable calm. "Here and now, demon, you shall be cast from the body. We begin the warding chant, which will repel thee from the body and cast thee into thy proper hell --"

 

The priest began a chant in a language so arcane even Wesley did not know it; Angelus showed no sign of even being troubled. He kept glaring at Wesley and Cordelia as his visage slowly vamped.

 

"I've thought of all the ways I'd like to kill you two, you know," Angelus said. "Want a preview of coming attractions? Because it's almost as much fun to tell as to execute. Almost. See, first there's this thing with a meathook -- you spear somebody just right, and they can hang there for days before they die. Sounds about right for you, Cordy --"

 

And his face shifted again. The vampire fangs retracted, the forehead smoothed, and the eyes went from yellow to brown. Angelus trembled in his chair -- no, Wesley thought, shook, as though he were having a seizure, or as if he alone could feel the tremors of some powerful earthquake.

 

"It's happening!" Cordelia whispered, clutching at Wesley's arm. "The exorcism's working!"

 

But Father Augustine shook his head.

 

"What the --" Wesley breathed.

 

"No," Angelus snarled through clenched teach, then shouted, "NO!"

 

He threw his head back, hard, against the back of the chair, again, three times, then fell limp. Wesley involuntarily took a step forward.

 

Angel looked up, his eyes wet, his expression once again his own -- full of doubt, remorse, shame. "Angel?" Cordelia said.

 

"I -- I couldn't take it --" Angel said. "I couldn't hear those words coming out of my mouth --"

 

"It's all right," Wesley said. "We know it wasn't you."

 

"But it was me," Angel said, shaking his head, dropping his face so he couldn't meet their eyes. "It was. That's what you don't understand."

 

"I don't get this," Cordelia said. "You didn't do that chimey thing on the crystal."

 

"We knew there was a chance that Angel would be able to break the hypnotic trance at will," Wesley said. "One of the reasons we tried this instead of drugs."

 

Father Augustine took Angel's shoulder in his hand. "I realize that it is difficult for you to endure the demon's dominance," he said. "But if we are to continue, we must act quickly. Every moment we interrupt the ritual, we lose the hold we have gained over the demon."

 

"Just give me a moment," Angel said dully. "It's hard. It -- it hurts."

 

Wesley hesitated, remembering times in his life when he had spoken those words and no one had listened. He said, "Angel -- are you certain you want to go through with this?"

 

"What?" Cordelia said. "Wesley, that's nuts! We're, like, this close. Come on, Angel!"

 

"We're essentially torturing Angel, and for a rather uncertain result," Wesley said roughly.

 

After a pause, Angel said. "I've already hurt you both so much. Don't pretend it's not true."

 

Cordelia hung her head for a moment before saying in a low voice. "It's worth it if we finish this."

 

Angel considered that for a moment, then said, "Cordy, you told me before that you thought this was a bad idea," Angel said. "Well, you were right and I was wrong."

 

"Although I would normally want to get those words engraved on something shiny, this is so not breakthrough time," Cordelia said. "If I can deal, so can you."

 

"This is not an argument we're going to have," Wesley said, with something that sounded surprisingly like authority. "Before, we talked about how this was something Angel had the right to choose. He has the right not to choose it, too. This is over. Please, let's end this."

 

They were all silent for a moment longer until Father Augustine said, "You have controlled this demon for many years. I pray that you will be able to retain that control." And with that, he closed the little prayer book.

 

"I don't believe it," Cordelia said, her voice harsh in the echoing room. "I can't believe I went through -- all that stuff, and for nothing."

 

"Cordelia, there's no point in arguing any longer," Wesley said tiredly.

 

"I'm not arguing. I'm just telling it like I see it. Angel doesn't want his demon gone? Fine. Honestly, sometimes I think you like having that demon inside you," she said, staring at Angel. "It gives you someone to blame."

 

Wesley grabbed her arm sharply. "Cordelia, this is not the time to say something you'll --"

 

"Something I'll regret? Seems like the theme of the evening to me," Cordelia said. But she stepped forward with him to unshackle Angel, who still would not meet their eyes. Even as he stood up, rubbing his cut and roughened wrists, he held himself a little apart them from, as though unable to bear their gaze or touch.

 

A few moments of leaden silence passed before anyone spoke. "You are well?" Father Augustine finally said.

 

"As I'll ever be," Angel said.

 

"We should go home now," Wesley said gently, hoping to soothe both Cordelia's wrath and Angel's apparent misery. "You probably need some rest, Angel. And -- didn't you have a big day tomorrow, Cordelia?"

 

"I feel all right," Angel said, flexing his hands slightly as if testing his own words.

 

"Well, then, you go on out and paint the town red," Cordelia huffed. She grabbed up the duffle bag she'd brought along and began piling their various equipment inside. "I still have an audition to prepare for."

 

"Perhaps it would do us all good to take a bit of a break," Wesley ventured. "Get some space. We can talk about all this after we'd had a bit of a rest."

 

"No space for you," Cordelia said. "I need you to help run lines."

 

"Now, why do you want Wesley to help you with that?" Wesley and Cordelia both stared over at Angel as he spoke. Saw the smile that began spreading across his face. Transforming it.

 

"After all, if you want to learn about acting -- learn from a pro," Angelus said.

 

PART TWO

 



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