"Crave"

by Ruth Hanna

ruthhanna@freenet.co.uk

 

One

 

 

He felt hungry when he woke up. He always did.

 

Angel rolled over in the bed and blinked fuzzily at the clock on the bedside table, in time to see the glowing red digits change from 18:59 to 19:00. When they winked again and changed to 19:01, he threw off the covers and got up.

 

Hungry. He was hungry. His stomach yawned emptily; his first conscious desire was to fill it. That never changed.

 

He shrugged on a robe and padded into the kitchen, where he hesitated in front of the refrigerator door for long seconds before opening it. The bottom three shelves were filled with round plastic tubs whose dark liquid contents were just visible through frosted lids. Each one was sealed inside a baggie and neatly labelled with a date.

 

He shut the door, with more force than was strictly necessary. There were rules. Not feeding as soon as he woke was one of them.

 

He found a glass and went to the sink, waiting for the water to run warm before holding the tumbler under the stream. He drank, refilled it, and drank again. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was hot and liquid, and would take the edge of the craving for a few minutes. Long enough.

 

He put down the glass and went into the apartment’s main room, where the furniture had been arranged to maximise the available floor space. He took a second to assume the starting position, and began.

 

Slowly, deliberately, he moved through the sequence of T’ai Chi forms, each one more challenging than the last, losing himself to the demands of the movements.

 

Balance. Focus. Concentration. Discipline.

 

By the time he had reached the final exercise, the hunger had receded, not entirely, but to a point where he could control it.

 

Angel opened his eyes, and relaxed.

 

He returned to the kitchen and put his hand on the refrigerator door. Then he stopped. Something was different.

 

A box of take-out Chinese food was sitting in the middle of the table. He was confident it hadn’t been there ten minutes earlier.

 

“Do you have plates? I can’t find any plates.”

 

Cordelia walked into the kitchen from the hallway, and began to open and close cupboards at random. “Up there,” said Angel. “I think. I didn’t hear you come in.”

 

She opened a high cupboard and, rising on to tip toes, pulled down a dusty ceramic plate. Taking a damp cloth, she wiped it clean. “Well, maybe next time you’ll be a little more considerate when you sneak up on people. I would have said hi, except you looked busy. What was that, anyhow?” She pulled open the first box of Chinese food, and began to arrange pieces of glazed chicken artfully on the plate.  “Hey, are you, like, secretly into ballet? Because that would be—disturbing.”

 

“It’s called T’ai Chi. It aids concentration and, uhh…” Angel watched as Cordelia spooned rice from the second box, shaping it into a tidy mound beside the chicken. “What are you doing?”

 

She shrugged. “Having dinner.”

 

“Yes, I see that. I was just wondering… why?” Angel ran a hand through his hair, then attempted to re-phrase the question with tact.  “I mean, it’s Saturday night. Don’t you usually go out on Saturday nights with, uhhh…”

 

“Laura,” supplied Cordelia. “We were gonna go to a party, but I told her some other time. I’ve decided: you and I don’t spend enough time together.”

 

Angel blinked. “All day every day being not enough time together in what sense exactly?”

 

Cordelia raised her fork and waved it for emphasis. “Yes, but that’s demon-hunting, saving-people time. Not personal, one-on-one bonding time. If this is going to be a real partnership—me with the visions, you with the, well, fangs—then we’re gonna have to hang out more. Get to know each other better. I mean, what do I know about you, really? You’re a vampire. You’re cursed. Now I know that you like to balance on one leg in your free time. Who saw that one coming?”

 

Angel pulled the opposite chair out from under the table and sat down. “Cordelia…”

 

“Look,” said Cordelia: “It’s like this. I thought I had Doyle down. And I didn’t. I didn’t find out the really important stuff until it was way too late to do anything about it. Well, I’m not gonna screw up like that again.”

 

Doyle. Angel said nothing for a moment, as Cordelia’s unexpected visit began to make more sense. She hadn’t been talking about him as much lately, and in the absence of other evidence, Angel had decided to interpret that as a good sign. But a month wasn’t a long time when you were nineteen. And not when you were two centuries and then some, either.

 

Her hand, the one not holding the fork, rested on the table, and he patted it, awkwardly. “You didn’t screw up.”

 

“I didn’t listen, either,” said Cordelia. “And of the three dead guys in my life, you’re the only one who can talk back to me. So tonight we’re bonding, and you don’t get to say no.”

 

“What exactly did you have in mind?”

 

Cordelia reached down into her bag and pulled out a video tape. “I rented a movie.”

 

Angel took the tape and looked at the front cover. “The Sixth Sense. With Bruce Willis.”

 

“I think you’ll like it,” said Cordelia, nodding. “It’s clever. And it has a lot of dead people in it.”

 

“Did someone say dead people?” Angel looked up, and saw Wesley standing in the kitchen doorway. “Apologies for barging in,” he went on, “but I heard voices from upstairs. Oooh, Chinese.” He lifted a spare piece of chicken from the cardboard container on the table.

 

“Hey!” said Cordelia with irritation. “If you didn’t pay for it, you don’t eat it. Wesley, what are you doing here?”

 

Wesley swallowed the chicken. “Well, I thought I’d drop by and see how the forces for good were getting on. And I find that the forces for good…” He scanned the room, taking in the boxes of food on the table, the rental tape and Angel’s bathrobe: “…Seem to be taking the night off.”

 

“We’ve had a rough few weeks,” said Cordelia defensively. “You know, if you came round here to harangue us, you can just go again. ‘Cause I’ve heard Giles when he gets into ‘sacred duty’ mode, and I am so not up for hearing that right now.”

 

“Cordelia,” said Angel.

 

Wesley wasn’t giving up. “I distinctly heard someone say something about dead people.”

 

Cordelia lifted the videotape and waved it at him. “In the movie, dummy.”

 

“Oh.” He took the tape from her and looked at it. “The Sixth Sense. I’ve seen this. It’s very good. I never guessed Bruce Willis was really a ghost—“

 

“Wesley!” Cordelia interrupted a second too late to cut him off. “Angel hasn’t seen it. Now you’ve spoiled the ending!”

 

Cordelia and Wesley were facing off across the table, leaving Angel feeling oddly superfluous. “I’ll cope with the disappointment,” he said. “Somehow. Wesley—“

 

But Wesley was waving a hand and retreating. “No, no, I can see I’ve come by at a bad time. What with the… food and relaxing and suchlike. I shall just be on my way. Rogue demon hunters tread a lonely path.”

 

He was halfway to the door when Angel heard Cordelia start to say something. She didn’t finish it. Instead she gasped and slid off her chair, knocking her plate on to the floor. Lumps of chicken and flecks of sticky rice bounced across the linoleum.

 

Angel pushed back the table and knelt beside her while she shook. After a minute, her glazed eyes began to focus again. “Vision,” she announced faintly.

 

“Do you want anything?”

 

“Yeah—a lifestyle that doesn’t involve losing motor functions and dribbling at least once a day,” said Cordelia testily, then tried to swallow. “While I’m waiting, water.”

 

Angel couldn’t move without removing his support from her back. He looked to

Wesley. “There are cups over there.”

 

“Right,” said Wesley. He stepped over the fallen plate on his way to the sink. “I didn’t realise the visions were quite so—distressing.”

 

“Well now you know,” said Cordelia thickly. She accepted the water Wesley brought her and sipped it, before allowing Angel to help her to her feet. When he was sure she could stand unaided, he stood back and let her brush off the grains of rice which had stuck to her clothing.

 

“What did you get?” he asked.

 

“An address. A street over in Inglewood, behind the racetrack. And a guy walking down it. A really scared, tired guy.”

 

Angel lifted his car keys from one of the kitchen shelves. “I need to get dressed. Cordelia—“

 

“And I need five minutes to pick the rice out of my hair. Eww.”

 

Angel threw the keys to Wesley, who fumbled before catching them. “My car’s in the parking garage. Bring it round and we’ll meet you out front in ten minutes.”

 

Wesley looked at the keys in his hand, then at Angel. “I’m coming? I mean, I’m coming. Right. Ten minutes.”

 

When he had gone, Angel looked at Cordelia. She was combing her fingers through her long dark hair and scowling at the empty doorway. “Does he have to come with  us?”

 

“Wesley wants to help,” said Angel. “And we largely have him to thank for the fact that your eyes are still in your head.”

 

“Like I needed reminding. But does one little piece of life-saving mean I have to let him hang round and eat my food when he feels like it?”

 

“Cordelia…” Angel hesitated. “Is there something between you and Wesley I should know about?”

 

She fingered her hair back into shape and stared at him. “You mean, apart from the world’s most ill-advised romantic interlude?”

 

Angel looked at her. “You and… Wesley?”

 

“We did go to the Prom together. Or didn’t you notice?”

 

“I was—preoccupied.”

 

“Yeah, with the slayer in the red dress. I remember. Well, for those viewers who weren’t paying attention, here’s the ‘previously on Cordelia’. I was rebounding from Xander Harris like rubber off a brick wall. Then Wesley turns up, all suave English sophistication and elegant vowel sounds. He was the anti-Xander. He was perfect. Just one small problem: no chemistry. Less than none. It was just embarrassing.” She sighed. “I thought I was getting a fresh start in L.A. How am I gonna do that if bits of my old life keep inviting themselves to dinner?”

 

“Things you regret,” said Angel, “have a tendency to come back at you.”

 

“So what do I do?”

 

“Deal with it.”

 

“Easy for you to say. I kissed Wesley. Twice. All you have to regret is several hundred years’ worth of killing and maiming and…” Cordelia stopped. “Okay. Comparison looking shaky.”

 

Angel started to leave the kitchen for the bedroom. As he went, a thought struck him.

“If it makes you feel better, I doubt it was the world’s most ill-advised romantic interlude.” He opened the bedroom door: “After all, nobody died.”

 

*  *  *

 

The neighbourhood had seen better days.

 

Every other store front was dark and boarded over, filthy and defaced by graffiti.

Drifts of garbage obscured doorways, and the few windows which were lit were also heavily barred. The street was three-o’clock-in-the-morning quiet, no cars, no pedestrians. It might look like a through road, but Angel guessed in reality it was a dead end. If a person turned down here by mistake, odds were they weren’t leaving.

 

Turning around in the passenger seat of the convertible, Wesley said, “Cordelia, do you have any idea what kind of danger this fellow you saw in your vision might be in?“

 

Cordelia, sitting in the back, shrugged irritably. “I already went through this about a dozen times. No.”

 

“I was simply thinking there might be some clue you had perhaps overlooked—“

 

“Well, yeah,” she said, cutting him off. “The visions didn’t come instructions included. I call it like I see it, and this time all I saw was one guy walking down this street. Most of the rest of it was feelings.”

 

“You share their feelings?” Wesley sounded intrigued. “My word. That’s

exceptional.”

 

“If you mean exceptionally intrusive and unpleasant, then yes.”

 

Angel said, “Cordelia, it might help if you could analyse what kinds of emotions you were getting.”

 

She looked uncomfortable, but nodded and, after a second, started to list them off. “Well, he was scared—I mean, really, really, terrified. But also kind of excited, which didn’t make sense. Oh, and he was hungry.”

 

“Hungry?”

 

She frowned. “Well, not hungry, exactly. But kind of empty, and needing to be filled up. Really intense. There’s not a word for it.”

 

“Craving,” said Angel.

 

“Okay, maybe there is a word for it. I’m gonna need to buy a thesaurus, aren’t I?”

 

“Anything else? Any demonic visages? Supernatural manifestations?” asked Wesley hopefully.

 

Cordelia thought. “He had a headache.”

 

“But there must have been something—“

 

“Wesley, I am not crystal ball girl. Quit asking already because I don’t know.”

 

Her tone was sharper than her habitual forthrightness; there was an edge of real annoyance in Cordelia’s voice. Stepping in before the argument could escalate, Angel said firmly, “The fact Cordelia had a vision means it’s one for us. We’ll figure out why later.” He held up a hand. “Someone’s coming.”

 

Wesley and Cordelia looked at him blankly—neither of them, he could tell, had heard anything. Angel had. Footsteps on the sidewalk, echoing faintly against the sides of buildings. Irregular, shuffling one moment, rapid the next, as if the walker was by turns reluctant then desperate to get where he was going.

 

The man appeared under the pool of jaundiced light thrown out by one of the few working street-lamps. Head lowered, hands thrust deep into his jacket pockets, he was now moving purposefully along the sidewalk, oblivious to everything except the next place he needed to put his foot down. He was accelerating by the moment, the last vestiges of hesitation draining from him as Angel watched. Whatever battle he had been fighting, he had lost, and was surrendering willingly.

 

“That’s him,” said Cordelia with certainty.

 

Angel nodded. “Did you get what he’s called?”

 

“Samuel. There wasn’t a last name.”

 

“That’s enough.”

 

“Should we all go over there?”

 

Something in the man’s demeanour made Angel suspect he wasn’t psychologically in a good place to be accosted by three complete strangers. “No, he might bolt. Stay here for now, but be ready to move fast if you need to. We don’t know what this is about yet.”

 

He waited while they acknowledged that, then made his way across the empty street, trying to make the inevitable interception appear as casual as possible. He was less than a dozen paces away when he realised he need not have made the effort—the man still gave no signs of noticing his presence.

 

Angel stepped in front of him. “Excuse me.”

 

The man drew up short and blinked rapidly. “What—?”

 

“Are you all right?”

 

The man stared blankly at him for a moment. “What is this, a polite mugging?”

 

“I’m not trying to rob you.”

 

“Oh good,” said the man vaguely. There was an odd, remote look in his eyes that told Angel he was only half-involved with the conversation.  He made a weak attempt to side-step Angel, stopping again when Angel moved with him, continuing to block his path.

 

“Samuel,” said Angel.

 

Samuel looked up, and for an instant there was a clarity in his expression that told Angel he had made contact. “Who are you?”

 

“I’ve been—sent. To make sure you’re all right.”

 

Samuel’s complexion, Angel noticed, was sallow and gaunt underneath his stubble, and his eyes were bloodshot and nervous. Transferring his weight rapidly from one foot to the other, he pulled his left hand from his pocket and tugged nervously at his collar. The plain gold ring on his third finger glinted faintly in the streetlights’ glow.

 

“I’m fine. And you know what?” Suddenly aggressive, Samuel pushed past him. “You can take a hike.”

 

Angel glanced across the street, to where Cordelia and Wesley watched silently from the parked Plymouth convertible. He turned and saw the back of Samuel’s jacket as he started to walk away. It was a good jacket, he noted, as were the shoes, but the rest of his clothes were cheap and shabby, as if he had taken more pride in his appearance in the past than recently. Angel looked again at the wedding ring on his left hand and decided to make an educated guess. “Your family—they’re worried about you.”

 

Samuel stopped. Slowly, he looked back at Angel, his expression at once doubting and painfully hopeful. “Did Joanna—ask you to—?”

 

“Not exactly,” said Angel, “But—“

 

Samuel shook his head. “No. I guess she wouldn’t. Man, I don’t know who you are but I need to go. I really—need—to go. I’m just—sick and tired—of fighting all the time. Okay?”

 

He looked at Angel, expression pleading. The fingers of his left hand twitched and fidgeted, out of control.

 

“It’s tough,” said Angel at last. “Needing. All the time. I know.”

 

“Man,” said Samuel. He was shaking his head, and had closed his eyes. “Oh, man.”

 

“Giving in will only make it worse later. It’ll come back, and it’ll own another piece of you.”

 

“I know,” said Samuel. He had opened his eyes again, and was smiling sadly at Angel. “But you know what? I don’t care any more.”

 

Abruptly, he turned and started to run down the street. Angel followed, but Samuel had a head start and was surprisingly swift. Even as he began to build speed Angel could see the other man pulling away from him.

 

He heard the dull roar of an accelerating car from the street behind him. A second later, the convertible roared past, before executing a near perfect handbrake turn. Wheels screeched in protest as the car rotated ninety degrees then came to a halt, blocking the road completely. Samuel, moving too fast to stop, slammed into the side and was unceremoniously hauled into the back seat by Cordelia.

 

Angel hopped over the passenger side door and landed with a solid thump beside Wesley, who was patting the steering wheel appreciatively. “Handles well, doesn’t she?”

 

Angel looked at him. “That’s bad for the tyres.”

 

In the back of the car, Cordelia was supporting a dazed-looking Samuel. “So what’s his story?” she asked, nodding at him. “Demon trouble?”

 

“I think he has one or two to deal with,” said Angel. “Let’s get him out of here.”

 

*  *  *

 

In the main room of Angel’s basement apartment, Samuel sat on the edge of an easy chair, his posture and clenched, trembling hands suggesting anything but ease. Cordelia set a tray of hot drinks down on the low table in front of him; when he made no effort to take a mug, she lifted one of the two black coffees and guided his hands around it. 

 

“It’s decaf,” she told him. “Nothing even remotely druggie in there, no sir.”

 

Wesley, stirring sugar into a white coffee, looked up sharply. “Cordelia.”

 

Samuel shook his head, and almost smiled. “It’s okay. Tell the truth, it’s—almost a relief not to have to pretend. I spent a lot of time—pretending to everyone—that everything was fine. My friends, my wife, my kids…”

 

“Where were you going tonight?” asked Angel.

 

“To see a guy I know.”

 

“A dealer.”

 

 “A dealer.” Samuel looked down. “I used to be—someone else. Someone different. I have a—I used to have a business, over in Whittier. Sporting goods. I had a wife and a family and—I don’t know how it got like this. How it got so bad so fast.”

 

Wesley asked, “Have you tried getting help?” 

 

Samuel gave a low, humourless chuckle. “Oh yeah. I have been. I’ve been clean for—it’s been three months. I thought I was starting to come out of it. But then, these past weeks, it’s been getting worse again. Every minute of every day, I can’t think, I can’t breathe, it just hurts so bad and I need, I need…” He shut his eyes and his face twisted, as if in pain. “Oh God. Listen to me. No wonder Jo left.”

 

“But you still care about her,” said Angel quietly. “Or you wouldn’t be wearing that ring.”

 

Cordelia glanced at Angel, then at Samuel’s left hand, curled around the coffee mug. “How old are your kids?”

 

“Ten. Eight. Eighteen months. I got—I got a picture.” He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and offered Cordelia a dog-eared, faded snapshot. She took it from him and examined it. The woman in the foreground of the picture was holding a baby in one arm, while her other hand rested on the shoulder of a chubby, laughing boy. His sister sat next to him, nursing a doll and smiling for the camera with sweet, shy innocence.

 

“They’re beautiful,” she told him.

 

“Yeah,” said Samuel. “And I want them back, and I don’t think I can make it to Friday—“ He broke off, unable to continue. His hands shook so much that coffee slopped over the edges of the mug and on to the floor. Carefully, Cordelia relieved him of it and put her hand on his shoulder.

 

Angel asked, “What happens on Friday?”

 

Samuel took several minutes to compose himself. When he could speak again, he said, “I got a meeting. With the social services people. If it goes well, they said—I could see my kids. A couple of afternoons a month. I want that. I want it a lot.”

 

Cordelia shook her head, puzzled. “If you’ve made it this far, Friday’s less than a week away. I mean, you’ve cracked it, right?” She grimaced. “Okay, regretting that phrasing already.”

 

“It’s not like that,” said Angel. He was speaking to Cordelia, but looking at Samuel.

 

“Then what is it like?” she asked, puzzled.

 

Samuel reached out and took the photograph from her. He held it up. “However much I want this, there’s something else I want more.  And I am so tired—of fighting—alone.”

 

Angel put down his cup and leaned forward in his chair. “You’re not alone. We’re going to help.”

 

“Yeah, and I’ve heard that before.“ Samuel put his fingertips to the sides of his head and rubbed wearily at his temples.  “Look, you people appeared out of nowhere and stopped me doing—something stupid, and I’m grateful. But I don’t think there’s much else you can do. I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do.”

 

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” Cordelia told him. “We help the hopeless. It’s kind of our mission statement. And—don’t take this the wrong way—but you’re right in our target market.”

 

Angel was looking at Samuel, expression oddly intense. “Do you want to change?”

 

“Oh God yes,” said Samuel. He stopped. “But I don’t trust myself.”

 

“Then trust us,” said Angel simply.

 

*  *  *

 

“I’m back. All change for the afternoon shift.”

 

Cordelia’s voice was accompanied by the clack-clack of high heels on the basement stairs. Wesley looked to where Samuel was sleeping in Angel’s bed, and saw him stir and murmur. He waited for several anxious seconds while Samuel writhed and twisted under the sheets. When at last he settled again, Wesley exhaled in relief. He got up and left the bedroom, pulling the door shut behind him.

 

He followed the noises of cupboards opening and closing and of running water to the kitchen. As he entered, Cordelia was standing with her back to him, pouring boiling water from the kettle into a small pan on the stove.

 

“Please try to be a little quieter,” he told her as she turned around. “It took hours to get Samuel to sleep.”

 

Leaving the pan on the heat, she opened the refrigerator and took out one of the plastic-wrapped tubs. Removing the covering and the lid, she lowered it carefully into the steaming water. This done, she lifted a thermometer from the shelf behind the sink and popped it into the tub. “Asking how he is would be kind of a redundant question, then.”

 

“Angel told me the night passed uneventfully, but he’s been getting worse all morning. In the end I had to give him a couple of those.” Wesley pointed at the small screw-top jar sitting on the counter beside the stove. Cordelia lifted it and read the label.

 

“Seditol?”

 

“Tranquillisers. Strong ones.” She was looking at him oddly, and Wesley felt some kind of explanation was required. “I always keep a small supply. For some reason, that brand happens to make a very effective substitute for lungwort in divining magic. And they’re not as difficult to get.”  

 

“Whatever,” said Cordelia, rolling her eyes. She glanced towards the bedroom and pursed her lips thoughtfully. “Samuel’s gonna need more than emotional support to make it to the end of the week, isn’t he?”

 

Wesley said, “He needs something we’re entirely ill-equipped to give him:

professional help.” He pulled a chair out from the kitchen table and sat down. “Cordelia, your vision—“

 

“Don’t start again, Wesley.” She pulled a face: “I already told you—no demons, no magic.”

 

Absently, he drummed the fingers of his right hand against the tabletop. “Then why us? There are a lot of people in this city with Samuel’s problem. Your vision didn’t lead us to any of them—and, equally, I fail to see what we can do for him that other people can’t do better.”

 

Cordelia shrugged. “Not wanting to play the dramatic irony card too heavily, but Samuel isn’t the only person currently in the building with an intimate knowledge of the whole addiction thing.” She pointed meaningfully at the ceiling.

 

“You think that’s why Angel wants to help him?”

 

“Angel’s Angel. He wants to help everybody.” Cordelia wiped the bloodied end of the thermometer clean with a paper towel and inspected the reading. “Ninety eight degrees. Close enough.” She lifted the plastic tub clear of the water and poured the contents carefully into a mug. “But he’s got that look of his over this one.”

 

“What look?”

 

Cordelia shrugged. “He gets this weird look. The I’m-invested-with-this-but-I’m-not-going-to-admit-it look.” She put down the mug and wrinkled her brow while staring into the middle distance with an expression that somehow managed to be simultaneously intense and vague. Wesley had to admit it was a good impression. She went on,  “He’s upstairs now going through the books. Which, since it’s two in the afternoon, counts as a vampire all-nighter.”

 

“Oh. I didn’t know. I’ll—just go up and see if he needs any help.” Wesley glanced back towards the apartment bedroom. Because, he added silently, it’s not as if there’s anything useful I can do here.

 

Cordelia gave a small, suit-yourself shrug and handed him the cup of blood. “Then you can take this. And, between us, I think he’s looking peaky, so make sure he drinks it.”

 

Wesley looked at her. “He might not?”

 

“He’s got a thing about drinking in front of people. Like he’s afraid they’ll be grossed out. Although I’ve watched Xander Harris trying to eat spaghetti Bolognese, and after that, what horrors remain?” She shut her eyes and shuddered at the memory. “By the way, you owe me five bucks.”

 

“For what?”

 

“The ham and pineapple pizza that I so generously picked up for us on the way here.”

 

“Ham and pineapple? Oh good, that’s my favourite.” The vapours rising off the hot pig’s blood wafted into his nostrils and Wesley almost gagged. He held the cup away from himself. “Or it will be, when I recover my appetite.”

 

*  *  *

 

Every set of blinds was drawn tightly in the office upstairs, and the limited amount of ambient light seeping in from the bright day outside blanketed the rooms with syrupy dimness. There was a strong smell of greasy, cooling pizza hanging in the air, and after a few seconds Wesley tracked it to the half-open cardboard tray sitting on Cordelia’s desk.

 

He was about to lift the lid when the faint rustle of old pages turning caught his attention. “Angel?”

 

The reply was a wordless grunt of acknowledgement. Wesley followed it to the

doorway of the inner office, and found Angel sitting at the desk, almost obscured behind several high piles of reference works. As Wesley entered he looked up, and winced. Raising a hand, he massaged the muscles between his neck and shoulder.

 

“It’s a good idea to get up and walk around at least once an hour,” said Wesley, sitting down.

 

Angel looked at him, still rubbing his shoulder. “Did they tell you that in Watcher training?”

 

“That, and how to avoid repetitive strain injury when typing. Let it never be said the Council doesn’t move with the times.”

 

“Perish the thought.”

 

“I brought you—lunch.”

 

Wesley put the mug of hot blood down on top of a closed, leather-bound volume on the desk between himself and Angel. After a moment, Angel picked it up. He looked down at the cup, then at Wesley; then, with deliberation, he set it to one side.

“Thanks. How’s our guest?”

 

“Not good,” Wesley told him honestly. “Samuel is going through the full effects of withdrawal, and we have nothing to offer him except tea and sympathy.”

 

“And a place to ride it out,” said Angel. “And people who understand.”

 

Angel’s voice was calm, but his face was closed and set. Wesley fought down the desire to sigh. Invested, indeed. “Angel, what if Cordelia’s vision was only meant to lead us to Samuel so someone else could help him? I mean, we can take shifts to watch him, we can get him to Friday and go with him to this assessment, but what then? His problems aren’t magically going to go away even if he gets access to his children.”

 

“But it might give him something to care about more than his next fix,” said Angel. “We’re in the right place at the right time to change something. And I think I know why he was brought to us.”

 

He lifted the book he had been consulting and turned it around on the desk. Wesley scanned the open pages for a moment, perplexed. He looked up. “Xenophon? My, my. I haven’t heard of his magic being used for a long time. Fell very out of favour with the European courts in the twelfth century, just about the time of that nasty business with the King of Spain’s daughter …”

 

“He specialised in bindings,” said Angel. “Specifically, the binding of souls.”

 

Wesley nodded. “Came up with some very effective love charms, as I recall. Which was unfortunate for the King of Spain’s daughter. And the horse, now I think about it. But I’m not sure I see how this is pertinent to…” He stopped, and looked at Angel.

“The binding of two souls. Oh, no. Don’t tell me you’re even considering what I think you’re considering.”

 

“He said he’s tired of fighting alone. Maybe it’s time he didn’t have to.”

 

Wesley ran his finger down the text of the spell, translating the Latin as he went, hoping to find some clause that would preclude its use. “It requires an Abyssan crystal amulet.”

 

“Not impossible to get.”

 

“It also requires the participants to be human.”

 

“No,” corrected Angel. “The wording requires the participants to have souls. There’s a difference.”

 

Wesley took off his glasses and rubbed at them harshly with the corner of a

handkerchief. Stonily, he said, “Well, that answers my next question, which was going to be directed at finding out who you propose takes part in this lunacy.”

 

“I wouldn’t ask you or Cordelia to…”

 

“No,” interrupted Wesley sharply: “But of course it’s perfectly all right to take the risk yourself.” He stood up and paced quickly up and down the room; when he spoke, the words tumbled out in fast succession, in time with the tapping of his shoes on the wooden floor. “Angel, there are very good reasons why this kind of magic is rarely practised. The dangers are—overwhelming. The soul is a strange and precious commodity, and not to be tampered with lightly. I would have thought you of all people would have understood that.”

 

Angel held up a hand. “There’s no danger this magic might break the curse. I’m certain.”

 

But Wesley was just warming up, and had no intention of stopping now. “And what about the other dangers? When you draw two people that closely together you expose each of them to every aspect of the other. Every aspect. My God, that’s perilous enough even when both personalities are balanced and strong. But when one is an addict and the other is—“

 

“Just another kind of addict,” said Angel. He spoke quietly, but somehow his voice still managed to override Wesley’s.

 

Wesley blinked once, and stopped pacing. He gave a small, thin smile.

 

“What?” asked Angel.

 

“Cordelia reads you well. Better than me. I thought you had more sense.” He turned around and stood against the bookshelf, facing Angel. “It’s not the same thing at all. You feed to survive—an addict who doesn’t get his drug won’t die.”

 

“Samuel might disagree with you, right now.” Angel looked away for a moment, then stood up. Wesley saw him cast a glance towards the still-steaming mug beside the table. Then he walked out of the room, brushing past Wesley on his way to the outer office. Determined not to let Angel walk out on the argument, Wesley followed.

 

What he saw in the next room surprised him. Angel was standing at Cordelia’s desk, holding the lid of the pizza tray open and looking wistfully at the congealing slab of ham and pineapple deep pan inside the box. He allowed the tray lid to fall shut. “What do they tell Watchers about a vampire’s appetite?”

 

“That it’s acute. And insatiable.”

 

“Insatiable,” echoed Angel. He was looking at the top of the pizza box, apparently finding something absorbing in the red-and-white logo printed  on its surface. Softly, he said, “Sometimes, I can almost remember what hunger felt like. And how food satisfied it. It isn’t like that for—us.”

 

Wesley said nothing for a moment, caught between his natural curiosity and a deep sense of embarrassment at Angel’s obvious discomfort. He suspected Angel would have been an intensely private man no matter what his true nature. As it was, the self loathing Wesley knew he felt, coupled with his shame of what he was, must make these kinds of revelations a form of torture. He would not put himself through such horror unless he wanted desperately to make his motivations clear.

 

“What is it like?” asked Wesley finally.

 

Angel looked at him. “I could kill and drink every waking minute and still want more.”

 

Wesley met his gaze, unflinching. “But you don’t. And you want to share that control with Samuel.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Have you thought that contact with him might put cracks in your restraint?”

 

“Yes.” Angel walked away from Cordelia’s desk and back into the small office. Wesley sensed he had not finished speaking and this time did not follow him. When Angel returned, he was carrying the cup of warm animal blood in his hand. “But I’ve had a lot of practice at developing my self-control. A couple of lifetimes’ worth. If I can use that to help someone else, it makes the craving a little easier to tolerate.”

 

As Angel finished speaking, he raised the cup to his lips and drank, slowly and deliberately. There was no flicker of change in his features as he swallowed, no indication of whatever impact taking his own brand of drug had on him. He looked, thought Wesley suddenly, as indifferent as if he was drinking a cup of coffee, and he wondered how long it had taken Angel to reach this point.

 

And how much of it was a pretence for his benefit.

 

Angel lowered the cup and put it down on the edge of the desk. “I’ll need your help.”

 

“It’s a bad idea.”

 

“Was that a yes or a no?”

 

Wesley was silent.

 

“Guys? Hey, guys?” Wesley looked over his shoulder and to where Cordelia had

appeared in the office doorway. She looked at himself, then Angel, then back. “Whoah. Getting some serious atmosphere in here.”

 

“We were just—talking,” said Wesley.

 

Angel asked, “What is it?”

 

“Samuel’s looking rough. I mean, really rough. He’s having a fit of the screaming heebie jeebies down there—practically climbing the walls. You know that out-of-your-depth feeling? Well, the water’s lapping round my eyebrows.”

 

Angel looked at Wesley. “We’ve found a way to help him.”

 

Cordelia put her hands on her hips. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s move, people.”

 

“Wesley?” said Angel.

 

Wesley hesitated. “I—“ He stopped, then looked first at Angel, then Cordelia. “Yes. Very well.”

 

Angel nodded once. “We’ll need an Abyssan amulet: Cordelia, get on the web and see if you can find where we can get one in L.A. at short notice. Wesley, you’ll want to get familiar with the ritual. I’ll watch Samuel. He might get violent.”

 

He left. Beside Wesley, Cordelia watched him go, then turned to Wesley with an interested expression. “So what’s the game plan? And why do we need a Medusan Medallion, anyway?”

 

“Abyssan Amulet,” corrected Wesley automatically: “I’ll explain while we work.”

 

“Can’t wait to hear this one.” Cordelia made to go, then noticed the empty mug sitting at the side of the desk for the first time. “Oh, look, Angel had some lunch. Good for him.”

 

*  *  *

 

“Did you get it?” asked Wesley as the elevator doors opened and Cordelia came into the basement apartment.

 

Instead of replying immediately, she opened her bag and held up the amulet so he could see it. It twisted slowly on the end of its chain, the semi-transparent gemstone refracting the light in myriad shades of blue. Cordelia examined it critically for a second, then shook her head.

 

“One hundred and forty dollars for something Liberace would have turned down for being too gaudy. And they wouldn’t take Visa. I mean, what is that about? Just because your stock dates from the tenth century doesn’t mean your credit policy has to as well.” She frowned and looked across the room to where Angel was lighting the last in a long line of evenly spaced candles: “I can claim this on expenses, right?”

 

Angel seemed intent on the task at hand and merely nodded. Wesley, in the meantime, had taken the amulet and was studying it carefully. “What it looks like is hardly the issue, Cordelia. It’s not costume jewellery.”

 

Peering over his shoulder, she saw something she hadn’t noticed in the in the dim and musty interior of the magic shop. “It’s cracked. I paid a hundred and forty dollars for that and it’s cracked! What a rip off!”

 

Wesley was frowning at the stone. “Hmmm. Yes, the join is fashioned slightly more crudely than I would have liked. Probably not the highest quality stone. Still, it should suffice.” As he spoke, he gripped the amulet in both hands and grunted as he exerted pressure on it.

 

“Wesley! You’ll break it.”

 

“I’m trying to—umpphh—break it. There we go,” he announced triumphantly, as the amulet split cleanly down the middle. Cordelia opened her mouth to tell Wesley exactly what she thought of people who deliberately broke things that other people had spent a whole afternoon finding and most of their currently available disposable income buying. She stopped after the first word, and stared. Instead of one amulet, Wesley was holding two, each clear blue stone a perfect mirror image of its partner.

 

Wesley was carefully separating what Cordelia had at first taken to be the amulet’s single gold chain. In fact, she realised as his fingers tugged and pulled at the separate strings of links, it was comprised of two distinct strands. With another few seconds’

concentrated effort, they fell apart, and Wesley held up each half of the amulet in a different hand. “Angel, you and Samuel should put these on now. The crystal needs a few minutes to align itself with the wearer’s energy.”

 

Angel lit the final candle and put down the box of matches. He crossed the room and took the twin amulets from Wesley, who somehow managed to radiate extreme disapproval without significantly altering his facial expression. Cordelia wondered where anyone had ever gotten the idea that the English were good at keeping the lid on their emotions.

 

“Wait,” said Wesley as Angel began to lift the chain of the first amulet over his head: “It’ll work better if both of you put on your halves at the same time.”

 

Angel nodded. “All right.” He lowered the amulet and went to the closed bedroom door.  “Cordelia.”

 

Taking the other half of the amulet from Wesley, she followed Angel into the

bedroom. The lights were out and it was almost entirely dark inside. When her eyes had adjusted to the dimness, she looked to the bed and saw it was empty. From somewhere in the shadows, low to the floor, she heard ragged, uneven breathing.

 

“Samuel.” Angel spoke quietly into the darkness. “How are you doing?”

 

When the reply finally came, it was little more than a whisper, breathy and exhausted. “I’m—not so good, man. It—hurts—“

 

“We’re going to do something about that. Make it easier. But you have to help.”

 

This time the silence extended even longer. Then: “What do I—need to do?”

 

Angel nodded. “Cordelia, get the lights.”

 

She flipped the switch next to the door and in an instant the room was brightly illuminated. Samuel, crouched in the corner, covered his face with his hands and cringed further back. Cordelia knelt opposite him and held up the amulet. “You need to put this on.”

 

He looked at her through bloodshot, spent eyes. “What?”

 

“Just think of it as an alternative therapy. A really, really alternative therapy.”

 

“Trust me,” said Angel. He was holding his half of the amulet, ready to put it on.

 

Samuel hesitated, then rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Okay.”

 

“On three,” Angel said to Cordelia. “One, two—three.”

 

On the last word, Cordelia slipped the chain around Samuel’s neck. When she looked over her shoulder, she saw Angel adjusting the half he now wore.

 

Samuel looked down at the heavy blue stone resting against his shirt. “I gotta tell ya, the whole healing-crystals-aura thing is…”

 

“A pile of bull,” completed Cordelia cheerfully. “This is the real deal. Come on.” She took him by the hand and, standing up, pulled him to his feet with her.

 

In the main room, Wesley was fussing over the position of the one piece of furniture, a plain high backed chair, which had not been pushed up against the walls. As Cordelia and Angel entered, supporting Samuel between them, he moved it half an inch towards the stairs, then nodded in apparent satisfaction. “Ready.”

 

“Good,” said Angel. “What do we do?”

 

Wesley lifted a sheaf of loose pages covered in dense hand-written notes and

consulted a particular section. “Samuel stands there,” he said, pointing to a spot near the chair. “Angel, opposite him. Cordelia, I need you to hold that.”

 

He indicated a small bronze burner which was sitting on the floor throwing puffs of fragrant smoke upwards at irregular intervals. Cordelia picked it up reluctantly. “Why do I always have to be Herb Girl?”

 

“Cordelia.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. On it already.”

 

Swinging the burner in a slow arc, she began to pace around the outside of the room. Wesley sat down on the wooden chair, placing his notes on his knees, while Angel guided Samuel into place before taking up his assigned position.

 

Wesley cleared his throat and began to speak quietly in Latin, initially referring frequently to his notes, but gaining confidence as he continued. As he spoke, the rising and falling cadence of his voice created a kind of rhythm, and Cordelia found herself matching her paces to it. Once she had established a pattern—step, swing, step—she turned her attention to the centre of the room. It looked, she thought, like a movie scene before the director called action: everyone waiting for something to happen, no one sure what to expect.

 

Suddenly, she felt the hair on her arms and neck rising. The air was heavy with an excess of—electricity? Something else?—and Cordelia could feel it trying to coalesce around her, like water splashing over the edge of a brimming bucket.

 

The smell wafting upwards from the burner was suddenly pungently suffocating. She kept pacing, but now it was difficult—the atmosphere was somehow solid around her, and it felt as if she was wading through Jell-O. The air crawled and sparkled with raw energy. “Guys? Uhh, guys? Is this--?”

 

“Amas et untos,” said Wesley. He was concentrating entirely on the incantation, and hadn’t heard her. “Asytos enthros. Hest enthros. Naras!”

 

On the last word, the twin amulets began to glow with a bright blue light. Cordelia watched, forgetting to hold up the burner or even to keep walking.

 

The light grew brighter until the candles’ faint flickering was entirely swamped. Then, just as Cordelia was about to look away, unable to stand the searing brightness, something happened.

 

A bridge of lightning seared the air, joining the two halves of the amulet and linking Samuel and Angel. The stream of light was so compact and distinct that it seemed almost tangible. Random sparks flowed along its length, giving an impression of movement, as if something was being transferred, although in what direction Cordelia couldn’t tell. It was eerily beautiful, and despite her watering, hurting eyes, she didn’t want to look away.

 

Then she saw something else.

 

It was black and oily, a dark shapeless mass oozing along the bridge of blue light, extending thin, grasping tendrils as it went. It was the kind of thing that had no right existing outside of the worst kind of three-in-the-morning nightmare. No right to be real. But it was real; Cordelia could see it and the sight filled her with horrified, instinctive revulsion. And the thing was dragging itself towards—

 

“Angel!”

 

The bridge of light vanished, and with it the black jellyfish-thing. Wesley turned to her angrily just as Samuel staggered and fell.

 

“Cordelia, do you know how dangerous it is to disturb a magical process?”

 

The brass burner had gone out. She dumped it unceremoniously and glared at him.

“Well, pardon me for interrupting the floor show. I saw something—“ There was a dull thud from the other side of the room. Cordelia looked around and saw Angel had sunk awkwardly to his knees. He was holding one hand to his head, and was using the other to brace himself against the floor. Momentarily forgetting her irritation at Wesley, Cordelia went to him. “Angel? You okay?”

 

“I—will be. I need a second.” He raised his head and looked across the room. Cordelia had the distinct impression he was having trouble focusing. “Help him.”

 

He pushed Cordelia away and, after a moment, she reluctantly broke contact.  Wesley was already helping Samuel up, and by the time  she had arrived at his side he had recovered sufficiently to stand unaided. He was still pale, but the cold sheen of sweat had gone from his face, and his gaze no longer flitted fearfully around the room.

Samuel was looking at Angel, his expression puzzled but calm.

 

Wesley lifted the amulet away from Samuel and frowned. It was shattered, a spider’s web of tiny cracks radiating outwards from the centre. “Well, we won’t be trying that again in a hurry.”

 

Cordelia looked at Samuel, then Wesley. “Did it work?”

 

He shook his head. “Best ask them, I think. Samuel, how do you feel?”

 

Samuel shook his head, as if to clear it. “What was that? I feel… I feel fine.”

 

“Angel?”

 

Cordelia turned in time to see Angel getting to his feet.

 

“I’m fine now.” He spread his hands for emphasis. “Fine.”

 

“Good,” said Cordelia. “You’re fine, he’s fine, we’re all fine…Everything’s gonna be just fine.”

 

 

Two

 

 

 

Concentrate. Focus.

 

An arm, moving through space. A foot, raised and lowered. The purity of movement.

 

Control.

 

Hunger—

 

Concentrate. Focus.

 

A hand, extended so. Balanced, weight on back heel. Find the form. Hold it.

 

Concentrate. Hunger—No. Focus. Focus.

 

Drink. Feed. Kill—

 

Focus, damn it—hunger—

 

Angel opened his eyes, lost his balance, and fell.

 

He toppled backwards, not quite putting his raised foot down fast enough to prevent the fall, and landed heavily on his back. For a second he lay still, staring up at the apartment ceiling.

 

Hunger. Need.

 

He got up, grabbing his shirt from where it hung over the back of a chair, and pulled it on as he walked to the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and stared at the contents.

 

He reached for the nearest container, lifted it out and tore off the outer plastic wrapping. He held it up and drank in the scent.

 

It didn’t smell right. Animal blood, several days old, sealed inside plastic. It smelled stale and flat. The scent was just an echo of something else, something he craved from instinct and experience. Human blood, gushing from an open vein, life made liquid, pouring from mortal flesh, sweet and satisfying and—

 

The telephone in the hall started to ring.

 

Angel dropped the container. It hit the hard kitchen floor with a dull thud, followed by a thick, wet splash as the lid came off on impact. Blood, thick with age and cold, pooled at his feet. Tiny flecks of red stained the bottom of the refrigerator door, his shirt, his hands.

 

A single bead of blood, fat and glossy, had landed on the back of his right hand. He resisted for a moment, then licked it off.

 

And then he was on the floor, on hands and knees, licking up the spilt blood, disgusted, horrified, unable to stop.

 

Concentrate. Focus. Control—control—

 

With a gasp, he pushed himself up and back, away from the blood and towards the kitchen’s back wall. For several long minutes he sat still, his bloodied, sticky hands covering his face. The smell was overpowering.

 

The telephone stopped ringing.

 

When he could trust himself to move without succumbing again, he got up and went to the bathroom, stripping off layers of stained clothing as he went. He turned on the shower and stood under the stream, not feeling whether the water was hot or cold.

Resting his head against the tiled wall, he saw streaks of red draining away in the swirling water around his feet.

 

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

 

The water drummed against the sides of the shower, and he couldn’t hear himself.

 

*  *  *

 

Carefully, Cordelia removed the brush from the pot of nail polish and allowed the excess fluid to drain from it. Then she drew the tip over her thumbnail, lips pursed in concentration. Two more swipes, and the nail was covered in a glossy coat of deep purple. She flexed her fingers, admiring the results of her handiwork, then turned her attention back to the Cosmo quiz. The title at the top of the page read Working

Relationships: You and Your Boss. Cordelia scanned down the page until she found her place.

 

5. I am most likely to complain that my boss:

(a)  …doesn’t delegate sufficient responsibility to me (5 points)

(b)  …doesn’t listen to my suggestions (4 points)

(c)  …makes unrealistic demands (3 points)

 

Cordelia read the question several times, holding her hands awkwardly out to her sides in order to avoid smudging her still-tacky nails. After a moment she lifted a pen, still mindful of her nails, and wrote on the glossy page:

 

(d)  may unexpectedly turn into a murderous sadistic psychopath

 

She thought for a moment, then added:

 

(one million points)

 

She dropped the pen and rested her elbows on top of the magazine. She looked up so she could see the clock over the door of the smaller office.

 

Well, that killed ten minutes. I really need to talk to Angel about flexing my hours.

 

The phone on her desk rang unexpectedly. Cordelia made to lift it, remembered her drying nails, blew on her hands frantically, to no effect. Switching tactics, she lifted the receiver between the heels of her hands, transferring it to her neck then sandwiching it between her ear and shoulder. After less than a second, her earring began to cut into her skin, causing her to yelp in pain and drop the phone. It landed on the desk, on top of the magazine. Cordelia pushed back her chair and leaned down so her head rested against an advertisement for Calvin Klein perfume. With her face pressed against the page, she said, “Uhh, hello, uhh, Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless.”

 

“Oh, Cordelia. Good afternoon.”

 

Recognising the plummy vowel sounds and overly-precise diction, Cordelia made a short, irritated sound. “Wesley. It’s you.”

 

He sounded mildly aggrieved as he said, “There’s no need to sound quite so ecstatic to hear from me.”

 

“Well, I’m—“ Cordelia raised her head and swiftly lifted the phone in the palm of her right hand. She sat up and went on, “I’m pretty busy here, y’know? Clients and research and, uhh, more clients and—what do you want, anyway?”

 

“To let you know the outcome of Samuel’s assessment. I thought Angel would want to know how it went, seeing as he couldn’t attend, what with it being so—sunny.” His voice took on a reprimanding tone. “You do remember it was today?”

 

“Of course I remembered,” lied Cordelia. “Did it go okay?”

 

“Swimmingly.”

 

“They made him swim? Weird assessment.”

 

“No, I meant—“ Wesley stopped. “It went very well. Samuel was in excellent shape.

He was calm, focused: he spoke very movingly about his desire to see his family again. The panel only took ten minutes to decide. They’ve granted him supervised access to his children two afternoons a month, to increase if there are no problems.”

 

“That’s good news.”

 

“He was overjoyed. I believe we really helped him.”

 

“I’ll tell Angel. You never know, it might lift his mood. From ‘clinically depressed’ all the way up the scale to ‘slightly morose’.”

 

From the basement below the office, Cordelia heard a thud. A moment later she felt the resulting vibrations echo through the soles of her shoes. On the other end of the line, Wesley said, “What was that?”

 

“Oh, probably nothing. Just—more new clients trying to batter down our door. Like I said, we’re busy. I gotta go now. Talk to you sometime.”

 

She put down the phone and, pressing the buttons carefully to avoid chipping the fresh varnish, dialled the downstairs extension. When there was no answer by the tenth ring, she started to feel mildly anxious. Of course, no one answering the phone could just mean Angel was in the shower. Or it could mean he was in the middle of a fight to the death with a horde of demonic slime-beasts. The fun thing about this job, she reflected as she opened her desk’s bottom drawer and pulled out a twelve-inch dagger, was that both possibilities were equally likely.

 

The elevator chimed softly, indicating that the car was coming up from the basement.

Armed with the dagger, Cordelia got up from her desk and waited for it to ascend.

 

She relaxed when the door was pulled back from within and she saw Angel. “Oh, it’s you.” She dropped the dagger absently back on to her desk. “What was that crash I heard?”

 

Angel said nothing. He went to the percolator and poured himself a coffee. His hair, Cordelia noticed, was flat and wet, lending weight to the shower theory over the demonic attack theory. His shirt wasn’t hanging right, and it took her a second to work out why: it was fastened out of sequence, leaving an extra button at the collar and an extra buttonhole at the bottom. The overall effect was one of scruffiness, and very un-Angel-like.

 

He drained the coffee in two gulps, and poured another cup, which he drank just as quickly.

 

“Angel?” prompted Cordelia.

 

He finished his third cup of coffee. “I was practising T’ai Chi. I fell.”

 

“Oh. So we’re not going to get to see you representing Team Vampire in the Undead Olympics Martial Arts competition any time soon.” Angel lifted the coffee pot again, and Cordelia stepped in and firmly relieved him of it. “I really think a fourth cup is a bad idea. All it does is raise your heart rate. Well, not your heart rate, but—“

 

Angel looked at her. His voice oddly flat, he said, “I’m thirsty.”

 

“So drink water. You’ll be hydrated and not caffeine-cranky. I’ve got a bottle in my drawer.” Without waiting for a reply, Cordelia went back to her desk and found a two-thirds full bottle of mineral water. She filled a clean cup and handed it to Angel. He stared at it, then set it down without drinking. She looked at him. “Are you all right?”

 

“I’m fine,” he told her, still oddly expressionless. Then he blinked, and seemed to check himself. In a more normal tone, he said, “I really am fine. I just—didn’t sleep well.”

 

“I know what’s wrong with you.” Cordelia held up her hands. “Addiction.”

 

Angel looked at her. “What?“

 

Cordelia waggled her fingers at him, showing off the glossy nails. “My new nail polish. It’s called Addiction. You like?”

 

“Oh.” He stared at her for a moment. “It’s very—purple.”

 

Allowing her hands to drop, she frowned at him. “Boy, you need to work on your complimenting skills. Anyhow, I was saying: I know your problem. You’re concerned about Samuel. Well, I have good news on that front. Wesley called to say he aced his assessment.” She shrugged. “He didn’t actually say that, he used some weird Brit-speak, but I think that’s what he meant. Samuel gets to see his kids again—plus, he’s been better by a factor of thousands since we did that spell. Magic as therapy—this could be a whole new side to the business. We could run ads: ‘Sort it with sorcery.’ What d’you think?”

 

“I think, uhh…” Angel stopped. “Any messages?”

 

Which was, thought Cordelia with disappointment, Angel’s way of saying, not a hope. Well, she wasn’t going to give up that easily. This was just going to take a little work. Absently, she began to hunt through the layers of loose paper and old magazines which perpetually hid her desktop. “Yeah, a couple. Kate called just after I got in. I think she has something for you on that missing kid case. I got the details—owww!”

 

She winced as her fingertips made contact with the sharp blade of the dagger, still lying where she had discarded it. When she lifted her hand, there was a white-edged slit along the top of her thumb. After a second the cut started to well with blood.

“Ouch. Ouch, damn. Now I’m gonna have to put a plaster on this, and I just spent half the day getting my nails right. Talk about tragic irony. I mean, look…“

 

She held up her hand for Angel to see, then stopped. He was already looking at the cut. More accurately, he was looking at nothing but the cut on her thumb, was focusing on the pinprick of blood on her skin as if everything else had temporarily ceased to exist. He seemed almost mesmerised, and when Cordelia moved her hand to one side, she saw his eyes track it.

 

She lowered her hand and quickly put it behind her back, out of sight. “Okay. Maybe don’t look.”

 

Angel opened his mouth as if to speak, but the only sound to emerge was a low, wordless growl. Cordelia took a step backwards. Before she could retreat further, Angel had grabbed her forearm, gripping her with so much force she could feel her skin bruising. He pulled her hand from behind her back and held it up between them.

 

Cordelia looked at her thumb, where a thin line of blood stretched from the cut to her knuckle. When she looked back to Angel’s face, it had changed.

 

“All right,” she said quickly: “My bad. That was tactless. Yep, Tactless Cordelia, that’s me. New office rule—I promise not to bleed copiously around you again and you can promise—not to—really, really freak me out like this.”

 

She realised she was babbling, and she clamped her mouth shut before she could say anything else. It hardly mattered, since Angel didn’t seem to be capable of processing anything he was hearing, anyway. He pulled her hand closer to him and stared at it, fascinated. The bony ridges around his eyes only served to accentuate the naked hunger they displayed. Cordelia stared into the twin dilated pupils, and with a sickening, falling sensation inside recognised nothing of the Angel she knew.

 

“Angel,” she said, keeping her voice steady and firm. “Snap out of it. Now.”

 

Unheeding, he drew her hand closer to his mouth. His lips parted, and she saw the rows of razor teeth behind them. Uneven. Pointed.

 

What sharp teeth you have, she thought suddenly. All the better to—

 

With a single fast tug, she pulled her arm back towards herself, bringing his hand with it. At the same time, she craned her neck forward and bit down hard on his wrist. He cried out, and staggered backwards. Cordelia took the opportunity to launch herself across the office towards the filing cabinet.

 

Bottom drawer, she thought, frantically sifting through the junk. Emergency supplies. Come on, come on, come—“Aha!”

 

Triumphantly, she pulled out the crucifix and spun around, raising it as she turned.

Now she was on the floor, crouching with her back braced against the side of the filing cabinet. At the other side of the room, Angel was nursing his hand. He recoiled from the sight of the cross, and shut his eyes. He was still vamped out, and gave no signs of shifting back. Cordelia sat perfectly still, not sure what to do next.

 

“Get out of here,” said Angel. His voice was guttural, and the words slurred into each other.

 

She stayed where she was, still holding up the crucifix. Slowly, she began to lower it.

“What just happened?”

 

“Get out,” repeated Angel.

 

Still she hesitated. “The spell went wrong, didn’t it.”

 

“No, it worked. Too well. It hasn’t been—this difficult—for a long time. It’s hard—to keep control.”

 

 “Okay,” said Cordelia. “So, there’s a way of dealing with this, right? Meditation, deep breathing exercises—well, maybe not that, but still, something?” She clambered to her feet and took a step towards him.

 

“Get away from me.”

 

“Angel, you need help. Now, listen—“

 

His deformed face twisted with the effort of maintaining some degree of control. “You’re still bleeding. I can smell it—“ The sentence ended in a kind of strangled grunt.

 

Cordelia looked at her thumb, and the tiny cut already crusting over. She buried it in her palm and wrapped her fingers around it, balling her hand into a fist. “Got it. Going now. Angel, I’m going to get help. God knows where from, but I’ll find it. You’re gonna be okay. Do you understand? Angel?”

 

But Angel didn’t reply. His eyes were shut again, and his features were so far from human it was impossible to read any meaning into his expression.

 

*  *  *

 

“…So I got out of there and came to get you.”

 

Cordelia concluded her summary of events and made a sharp left turn on to Central Avenue.  Beside her in the passenger seat, Wesley braced himself against the centrifugal force pushing him into the door, still marvelling at how, in the space of a few short hours, Cordelia appeared to have upgraded him from the status of dull and unwelcome intrusion to vital ally and confidant. This new-found respect, he guessed, would last only as long as the current crisis. In the meantime, it was good to feel needed again, despite the circumstances.

 

“You did the right thing,” he said, hoping to calm her.  He saw her rub the edge of her bloodied thumb along the steering wheel and added, “Are you hurt?”

 

“Just my pride. I can’t believe I freaked like that. Jeez, it’s not as if I’ve never seen a vampire before.” A light ahead turned red. Cordelia accelerated. “It’s not even as if I’ve never seen Angel wearing his game face before.”

 

“But this was different,” guessed Wesley.

 

“Yeah,” agreed Cordelia. “It was like he—couldn’t switch it off. It was weird. More than weird.”

 

Somewhere close by a car horn beeped angrily. Wesley removed his glasses and

pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “I was afraid this might happen.”

 

Cordelia took her attention off the road long enough to stare accusingly at him. “You knew? And you didn’t think to mention this, oh, say, before my boss nearly ate me?”

 

“I only said I thought it might happen. I knew it was a risk and I told Angel as much. But he seemed confident he could handle it.” Wesley shook his head.  “Apparently not.”

 

“So if the spell was a bust, why did Angel say it worked?”

 

“Because it did. Joining magic is very powerful, but very difficult to predict. The spell we used, amplified by the amulets, was designed to encourage the transference of psychic energy. Two participants, two kinds of energy. But there’s no way to tell in advance whose will be dominant.”

 

“So Angel thought he could lend Samuel some self-control, but instead he got

swamped.” They had reached the office. Cordelia brought the car to a halt outside the front door, braking so hard that Wesley felt his seatbelt tighten across his chest. “See, I don’t get that. This is Angel we’re talking about. Mr Total Self Control Guy.”

 

“Well—yes.”

 

Cordelia pulled the key from the ignition and twisted round in her seat until she faced him. “For a ‘yes’, that came out sounding waaay too much like ‘no’. What gives?”

 

Wesley shook his head, reluctant to voice the thoughts which had been growing steadily more insistent in recent days. “It’s nothing. Probably nothing. Just a few things that struck me, that’s all—“

 

“Such as?”

 

“Such as…” Wesley stopped and exhaled. “Well, for a start: how much would you estimate Angel drinks?”

 

“A couple of glasses a couple of times a night,” replied Cordelia instantly. “I’m surprised he’s not wasting away. I keep telling him to eat more.”

 

“But he doesn’t,” said Wesley. “Have you ever wondered why?”

 

Cordelia scrunched up her face, thoughtful. “I just assumed he was worried about putting on weight.”

 

Wesley shook his head. “Vampires don’t, regardless of how much they consume. But it is generally accepted that the more a vampire drinks, the more it craves blood. Human blood.”

 

“Aha.” Cordelia held up a finger triumphantly. “But Angel only drinks animal blood. Pig, I think.”

 

Wesley looked at her. “Because he likes the taste of the human variety too much.”

 

Cordelia was nonplussed. “Of course he likes blood. He’s a vampire, not chairman of the L.A. Kosher Cuisine Society. But he’s always been able to control it. I mean, the only time he ever drank human blood when he wasn’t, you know, evil, was Buffy’s, right before graduation day. And that was only because he was sick. And it’s not as if the first thing he did afterwards was get as far away from her as possible—“ She stopped, her expression changing.

 

“He’s always been able to control it up to now,” said Wesley quietly, placing extra emphasis on the last three words. “My point is, the evidence indicates that control has not been achieved easily or without a cost. And perhaps he grossly underestimated the strength of his addiction.”

 

“He just wanted to help Samuel.” Cordelia was uncharacteristically subdued. “We all did.” Scowling suddenly, she hit Wesley in the arm.

 

“Oww! What was that for?”

 

“For helping him cast the dumb spell!”

 

“You were there too!” responded Wesley, feeling suddenly like a five-year-old in a school-yard fight.

 

“Well, maybe I was, but I didn’t know—and—and—“ Cordelia opened the car door

and got out. Standing on the street and leaning in through the open door, she finished, “I can’t think of a really good comeback right now, so we’re going to finish this argument later, when I’m feeling more scathing. And after Angel’s back to normal.”

 

Wesley got out of the car and joined Cordelia on the sidewalk. They stood side by side in the evening sunlight for several long minutes, looking at the office’s street entrance.

 

“So,” she said at last: “What are we gonna do when we get in there?”

 

Wesley hesitated. “That, ahh, very much depends on what kind of shape Angel is in.”

 

Cordelia looked at him over the frames of her sunglasses. “You have no idea either, huh?”

 

“No,” admitted Wesley.

 

“Oh good,” said Cordelia. “’Cause I’d hate to think we were going in there to face an out-of-control vampire with anything as cumbersome as a plan.”

 

 

*  *  *

 

 

“That’s not a plan,” said Cordelia in disbelief.

 

“Yes, it is.”

 

“Sure, if we had a joint death wish!”

 

Wesley folded his arms across his chest. “Do you have any better ideas?”

 

Cordelia sighed and looked around the darkened ground floor office, which was still littered with the debris that had resulted from her struggle with Angel. She bent down and picked up the splayed copy of Cosmopolitan which had fallen off her desk. “I guess not.”

 

“Well then.” Wesley motioned towards the elevator: “Shall we?”

 

“Wait one second.” The bottom drawer of the filing cabinet was still hanging open. Cordelia rummaged in it until she found what she was looking for. “Perfume atomiser,” she said, throwing the bulbous silver object across the room.

 

The atomiser sailed through the air. Wesley cupped his hands in preparation for the catch, almost missed it, then fumbled for a moment before gaining a firm grip. Oh God, he couldn’t even catch properly. Doyle would have been able to catch it. Doyle would have been able to come up with a better plan. Cordelia frowned, and retrieved the crucifix from where she had dropped it on the floor. Well, okay, maybe he wouldn’t, but at least he would have made a couple of lame jokes. Taken her mind off the sheer awfulness of the situation for half a second. Made her feel as if there was a slim possibility things would work out.

 

Sometimes things didn’t work out okay. She knew that now. Thank you, Doyle.

 

Wesley scrutinised the atomiser. “Holy water?”

 

“You got it.”

 

“Ingenious,” he said sounding, for a moment, genuinely impressed. He pulled back the elevator cage door and stood to one side to allow Cordelia to step in. They waited in silence while the mechanism clanked and whirred into action, and the car jolted into downwards motion.

 

When it came to a jarring halt on the basement level, Cordelia held up the crucifix and looked sideways at Wesley. She cleared her throat and, without opening the grille covering the door, called loudly: “Angel? Hey, Angel? It’s just us. Good old Cordy and Wes. I want you to concentrate on thinking calm, happy thoughts.” She glared at Wesley and said in a low whisper: “I still can’t believe your plan was ‘think happy thoughts’.” Then she slid the door open and stepped cautiously into the apartment. Raising her voice again, she went on, “We’re coming out now, so no need to go psycho, right? …Too late.”

 

The basement apartment, usually neat to the point of fastidiousness, was a wreck. 

Books pulled off the shelves in the main living room were scattered over the floor. A chair lay on its side, one leg broken half-off. Items of clothing were strewn randomly about the room. There was no sign of Angel.

 

Cordelia bent down and picked up a black shirt. “Ewww,” she said, pulling a face.

 

“What is it?”

 

She stood up and showed it to him. “It’s all wet and…” She pressed her hand against the dark stain. Her fingers came away red.  “…Wet and bloody. This is blood. Gross!”

 

“Let me see.” Wesley took the shirt from her and examined it . After a moment he let it fall again and began to move around the apartment, checking each room in turn. Near where he had dropped the shirt, Cordelia saw an empty plastic tub, a black crust of solidified blood already forming around its lip. The lid was nearby, twisted and cracked as if it had been removed with desperate force.  She picked it up and turned it over in her hands. When she looked up, she saw Wesley returning from the kitchen.

 

“The refrigerator is empty.”

 

“That’s because Angel used the contents to redecorate.” A sudden idea gave her hope: “Hey, d’you think somebody came in here and attacked him? Because that would mean…” she stopped, unwilling to complete the sentence.

 

Wesley finished it for her. “Because that would mean he didn’t do this. But I think we both know he did.”

 

Cordelia dropped the bloody, sticky plastic lid back on to the floor. “Why?”

 

“Blood lust,” said Wesley. “Uncontrolled blood lust. He drank everything here before he left. Trying to sate it.” He shook his head. “Stale, cold animal blood won’t  work. We have to find him. Before he kills someone.”

 

She shook her head defiantly. “No. Angel wouldn’t give in like that.”

 

“Cordelia,” said Wesley, a harsh edge in his voice: “Look around you. He already has.”

 

*  *  *

 

“Robyn? Could you come out here a second?”

 

In the diner’s tiny kitchen, Robyn Murray banged the dishwasher door shut and twisted the knob until she heard the machine rumble into action. As she straightened up, she glanced over her shoulder and saw one of the student part timers hovering nervously in the doorway. “What’s up, A.J.?”

 

A.J. shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “There’s a guy who won’t move. I can’t close up.”

 

“I’ll be right out.”

 

A.J. nodded in relief, and disappeared. Robyn took a moment to dry her hands on a fresh paper towel before taking off her apron and hanging it up on the hook behind the door. As she did so, she checked her watch, and sighed. It was after eleven, and all she wanted to do was close up without hassle and get home. Strictly speaking, the kitchen was her domain and what happened out front wasn’t her responsibility, but she had more years’ experience than all the student help put together. Sometimes that counted for a lot more than a fancy college scroll.

 

Robyn pulled off her hat and hair-net and walked out to the main part of the diner, yawning as she went. A.J. was standing behind the counter, casting nervous glances towards the man sitting by himself in the last booth in the row, his back to them.

“That him?” said Robyn.

 

A.J. nodded. “I told him we close at ten thirty, but he won’t move.”

 

“Did he look like he might get violent?”

 

“I don’t think so. He just… didn’t hear me.  I might as well have been talking to the table.” A.J. looked at Robyn uncomfortably. “I think he’s on something. He’s got that out-of-it look.”

 

Robyn scowled to herself. “I’m gonna put a sign on the door—‘No kids, dogs or users’. Make my life a hell of a lot easier.” She sighed. “You go on. I’ll deal with him.”

 

A.J. nodded with evident relief, and disappeared into the back of the diner. Robyn made her way slowly along the length of the diner. At the far booth, she sat down on the edge of the green-upholstered bench and slid along it until she was directly opposite the man.

 

She saw immediately why A.J. thought he was an addict. His skin was sallow, his hair unkempt. The hand not wrapped around his empty coffee mug shook and quaked under its own volition. And his eyes were unfocused. Dead.

 

“Hey there,” said Robyn. “Y’hearin’ me?”

 

The man blinked, but otherwise gave no indication that he was aware of her presence.

 

“I’m Robyn. I run the kitchen. And it’s late, and I have a home I’d like to get back to. Maybe you do too.” She paused. “Do you?”

 

The man blinked again. His hand was now shaking so hard he was drumming out an irregular rhythm on the metallic table top. He watched it curiously, as if trying to remember to whom it belonged.

 

The noise was getting on Robyn’s nerves. She reached out and placed her own hand over his, pinning it down firmly. His skin was unhealthily cold to the touch.

 

She tried again. “This is a restaurant, not a hotel. You can’t stay here all night. Now, I am sympathetic, but I am also tired. If you don’t move real soon, I’m calling the cops. Are you getting any of this?”

 

The man was still looking down at her hand on his. Suddenly uncomfortable, Robyn removed it. He looked up at her, and she felt he was seeing her for the first time. “I’m hungry.”

 

“Kitchen’s closed,” said Robyn firmly. “Come back in the morning and you can order breakfast.”

 

“I’m—so hungry,” he repeated. “All the time. It never goes away. Never stops. It’s always there. I’m tired—and I can’t fight—I can’t—“

 

He dropped his head into his hand and gave a small gasp. He didn’t, Robyn noted, have the look of a derelict: his clothes were creased but relatively new and, aside from his pallid complexion, he appeared to be in good health. She felt a sudden stab of sympathy for him. He looked like he had something to lose.

 

“You’re falling,” she said softly. “I can see that. But it looks to me like you’ve still got a way to go before you hit the ground. I’m thinking there might be someone around who wants to catch you. Is there someone you can call?”

 

The man didn’t respond. He had started to rock backwards and forwards.

 

“Is there someone you can call?” repeated Robyn. The man continued to rock;

whatever brief connection she had made with him was gone again. She sighed and, reaching into her pocket, pulled out a handful of loose change. She put the collection of dimes and quarters down on the table between them. “I’m gonna go out back and finish cleaning the kitchen. It’ll take maybe ten minutes. While I’m gone, you can use that pay-phone over there to call someone who can come and get you. If you’re still sitting here when I come back, I’m calling the cops. Your choice.”

 

She rose and started to slide out of the booth. 

 

“I’m sorry,” said the man. His voice was soft but clear, and he sounded genuinely remorseful. Robyn found herself feeling a measure of sympathy towards him.

 

“It’s okay. You’ve been less trouble than most of our regulars. As long as you don’t break anything, we’re cool.”

 

“You’re kind,” he said, and shut his eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.”

 

He was calmer now, as if he had reached some kind of decision. His hand, she

noticed, was no longer shaking. Feeling unnerved, Robyn went back to the kitchen.

 

When she looked out ten minutes later, the bottom booth was empty, and the pay phone in the corner was swinging at the end of its cord.

 

 

*  *  *

 

“Hi, umm, Kate?”

 

“Yes, this is Detective Lockley. Who is this, please?” The voice on the other end of the phone was efficient and more than a little abrupt.

 

“Cordelia Chase.”

 

“Oh, hi, Cordelia.” Kate’s voice took on a warmer tone. “Is Angel looking for me?”

 

“Not exactly. I’m kind of looking for him.”

 

“Say again?”

 

“It’s nothing major,” said Cordelia quickly. “He went out today without leaving a note and I need to contact him to tell him something. I wondered if maybe he’d gone to see you about that information you got for him.”

 

“Sorry, can’t help.”

 

“Okay,” said Cordelia. “Sorry to bother you.” She didn’t hang up.

 

“Was there something else?”

 

Cordelia paused. “No. Well, yes. Maybe. I was just wondering - and don’t take this the wrong way or anything - have you ever seen Angel at home? I mean, your home?”

 

“What? No, I haven’t. And even if I had, I don’t think that’s—“

 

“—Any of my business. Right. But if he does turn up, and if he happens, say, to seem a little off—“

 

“—What do you mean, ‘off’?”

 

Cordelia ignored her and finished, “Just don’t invite him in, okay? Trust me on this.”

She put the phone down and frowned. “Well, that was in no way toe-curlingly

awkward.”

 

Wesley, sitting at Angel’s desk and studying an old book, looked up. “She had to be warned.”

 

“Yeah,” said Cordelia, sitting back in her chair and rubbing her temples: “And if someone I barely knew called me up and started telling me who I could and couldn’t let in my home, I’d totally take it on board.”

 

Wesley said, “It’s just a precaution. It’s more likely he’ll take care to avoid everyone he knows.”

 

“That’s probably why he skipped out of here in the first place,” agreed Cordelia. She closed her eyes and willed the blackness behind her eyelids to resolve itself into something more meaningful. “Where are the visions when I need them? I mean, we need to know where Angel is now. You’d think the Powers That Be would appreciate the urgency.”

 

Wesley set down the book. “Cordelia, I know you can’t summon them at will. It’s all right.”

 

Angrily, she said, “It is not all right. Doyle left me this stupid vision thing and I don’t know what to do with it and I can’t use it to find Angel and there’s no one to tell me how to control it—“

 

Wesley hesitated. Then he said, “Watchers are trained in a variety of meditative disciplines. I’d be more than willing to show you…”

 

“Right,” said Cordelia, “And I’d be crazy to pass on that opportunity, because you were such a big hit as a Watcher.”

 

Wesley looked back at his book, his expression tight. “A simple ‘no thank you’ would have been more than adequate.”

 

She’d touched a nerve. Maybe that had been a little harsh. Not quite able to bring herself to apologise, she gestured at the book Wesley was poring over. “You getting anything from that? Any clues as to what went wrong?”

 

He looked up and shook his head. “Not yet. But the magic didn’t work as it should have, I can tell you that.”

 

“How do you mean?”

 

“When I was with Samuel today, he was doing well. Better than well. While Angel, judging by the shape of things downstairs, is in a very bad way indeed. But if Samuel’s addiction was enough to overcome Angel’s control, he shouldn’t have been able to benefit from that control. The magic simply doesn’t work like that.”

 

“You’re saying it should have been a both-or-neither deal,” said Cordelia. “Swapsies wasn’t in the game plan.”

 

Wesley removed his glasses and rubbed them clean. “That’s a prosaic way of putting it, but essentially, yes. It’s very puzzling.”

 

“The number one priority right now is finding Angel. He didn’t take the car, he can’t have gone too far—” The phone rang, cutting her off. She picked it up. “Hello, Angel Investigations, we help—“

 

“Cordelia.”

 

“Angel!” Wesley dropped the book, and had crossed the office in a second to stand beside her. Cordelia flipped the phone on to the ‘speaker’ setting so he could hear both sides of the conversation. “Angel, where are you?”

 

“I—uhh—I’m in a—a  diner.” Cordelia looked up, and saw her own anxiety mirrored in Wesley’s expression. Angel’s voice was ragged;  he sounded confused, disoriented.

 

“Angel,” she said: “This is important. Where exactly are you?”

 

“Near—near the university.” His voice faded away, then returned, sounding more confident. “Jefferson Boulevard. There’s a big building, it has domes, a colonnade -“

 

Cordelia nodded, recognising the description of one of the city’s more bizarre pieces of architecture. “That’s the Shrine Auditorium. Okay, I know where you are. Angel, stay right there. We’re gonna come and pick you up. We’ll be half an hour, max.”

 

“I need you to do something—“ He broke off.

 

“It’s okay,” said Cordelia soothingly, as if talking to a child. “We’re coming to get you. We’ll do whatever you want then.”

 

“Now,” said Angel. His voice was cracking. “Now. Hurry. I need you to—“

 

He broke off so suddenly that for a moment Cordelia thought the line had gone dead. Only the faint howl of an ambulance siren, filtered through the telephone wires from halfway across the city, told her the connection was still there.

 

“To do what?” she prompted him.

 

“Stop me,” said Angel. “Please stop me.”

 

*  *  *

 

Once he’d given in, it was easy.

 

The old instincts were there, guiding him, showing him each step before he took it. He didn’t need to think, didn’t need to fight. There was only the hunger, and the hunt. It was simple and clean, and he’d missed it.

 

He waited in the shadow of a doorway across from the diner entrance. Cars went by regularly, pedestrians less often. Some stopped talking as they passed, looked at him strangely. He barely registered them. They were irrelevant.

 

The lights in the diner went out, and the prey emerged. The light breeze bore her scent to him across the street: the stale odour of fried food mixed with sweat and cheap floral perfume. If he closed his eyes, he could hear her heart beating. He knew its rhythm, had felt it when she had touched him. That had been the moment at which he had surrendered. To be so close and not to taste was unbearable. It would feel so good, not to crave. So sweet, to drink—

 

And afterwards—

 

He pushed that thought away.

 

She started to walk away from him, along the street. He stepped out of the alcove and followed her. He could no more have stopped than if he was chained to her. The pull she exerted was irresistible.

 

Half way down the street, she seemed to sense something was wrong. He saw her stop, and look quickly behind her. Her scent changed, the sharp tang of new sweat and fear appearing in the mix.

 

He ducked into another doorway and stood still until she began to move again. Then he resumed the hunt, quickening his silent steps until he started to gain on her.

 

Concentration. Focus.

 

The craving. The feeding. There was nothing else, nothing mattered, except to drink and feel that warmth become part of him, to share that vitality, to know life again, if only for the briefest moment—

 

And after, to know what he had done and to remember—

 

Stop me. Please stop me.

 

She knew she was being followed now. She turned around, too late.

 

There was just the craving and the feeding.

 

Nothing else.

 

*  *  *

 

“Stop here.”

 

Cordelia tugged at Wesley’s sleeve for emphasis, and he pulled the car over to the side of the street at the first opportunity. “Do you see something?”

 

“No, but this is the place.” Cordelia got out of the passenger side door and stood on the sidewalk. She indicated the closed diner in front of her, then the gaudy, domed building some distance along the street. “There’s the Shrine Auditorium, so I’m betting this is where he called from.”

 

“Looks like they’ve shut up and gone home,” remarked Wesley, joining her.

 

Cordelia nodded and looked up and down the block. There were more pedestrians than was usual in Los Angeles at this late hour; possibly, she thought, because Jefferson bordered the university campus. She saw several couples walking together, as well as a few student-types carrying files and wearing backpacks, making their way home after a night in the library. The district had a small town feel, and reminded Cordelia of Sunnydale after dark.

 

The perfect place for a hungry vampire to pick up a victim.

 

“Maybe Angel’s gone back to the office,” she said, aware of how unconvincing she sounded. “We’ll get back and he’ll be waiting—“

 

A scream, high pitched and unwavering, shattered the street’s calm. More than one walker looked around in alarm, then picked up his pace.

 

“I think he’s still around here,” said Wesley grimly. “Come on.”

 

He set off down the street at a run. After a moment, Cordelia followed.

 

The screams sounded twice more before fading to a wavering, uncertain end. It was long enough to trace their source. Cordelia ran beside Wesley two blocks along the boulevard, then left into a side alley. She skidded to a halt and looked up and down the gloomy passageway, half-obstructed by loose garbage and full dumpsters.

 

“There’s nothing here,” she began. “I don’t see—“

 

“Over there,” said Wesley. “On the ground.”

 

Cordelia looked.

 

The body of an woman lay still in the centre of the alley. A second figure was hunched over her, his hands grasping her around the head and neck so intimately that had Cordelia not known better, she might have mistaken them for lovers.

 

“Angel!” she shouted. “Stop!”

 

He either wouldn’t or couldn’t. She sensed Wesley moving beside her, and when she looked around, she saw he was holding a long, wooden stake. Cordelia gaped. “What are you doing?”

 

“What has to be done,” said Wesley.

 

He started to move forward, and Cordelia grabbed his arm to hold him back. “That’s Angel! You can’t kill him!”

 

Harshly, Wesley said, “And what precisely do you think he’s doing to that woman?”

 

“He’s all I’ve got!” yelled Cordelia, surprising herself.

 

Wesley stared at her for a second. She stared back. At last he put his hand on her shoulder and said, “We have to stop this. Now.”

 

Half a broken plank poked out from underneath the lid of the nearest dumpster. It was long, wooden and very sharp. Cordelia levered it out and hefted it. “I know.”

 

She raised the plank and marched along the alley, making no effort to approach quietly. Angel’s victim was no longer struggling, while he continued to kneel next to her, engrossed in feeding and apparently oblivious to everything else. Including Cordelia.

 

She stopped when she was directly behind him, and lifted the plank.

 

Then she saw it again.

 

The black jellyfish thing hovered in the air above Angel, like the bastard offspring of an acid rain cloud and the Goodyear blimp. She wasn’t sure, but it seemed bigger now. It pulsed and bulged, bloated and rippling. After a moment, Cordelia understood why.

 

A host of thread-like tentacles hung from the obscene mass. Each one ended in a sharp, three-pronged hook. Each hook was attached to Angel.

 

The air shimmered, and it was gone.

 

“Angel,” said Cordelia: “I’m really sorry.”

 

Then she hit him over the head.

 

 

 

Three

 

 

 

 

The bowl of sand was almost empty. Wesley tipped it up and caught the last of it in one cupped hand. He bent down and funnelled it carefully into a heaped line on the floor. Then he stood up and examined his handiwork.

 

The circle wasn’t perfect, but the charm didn’t require a very high degree of geometric accuracy. It was perhaps four yards across, encompassing most of Angel’s apartment’s main room. For the second time in recent days, most of the furniture had been pushed up against walls to make sufficient space available, and the only movable items inside the ring were a pillow and blanket. And, of course, Angel.

 

Wesley studied him closely for some time, but his eyes, half-hidden under the bony ridges of his true face, remained firmly shut. Satisfied he was still unconscious, Wesley paced the perimeter of the ring twice, making certain the curved heap of white sand was at no point interrupted.

 

“Wesley? I’m back.”

 

He turned around as Cordelia’s feet appeared at the top of the basement stairs. “How is she?”

 

“I rode all the way to the hospital in the ambulance. They wouldn’t let me stay after that, ‘cause I’m not a relative, but I think she’s gonna be okay. She lost a lot of blood. A lot.” There was little room to move in the apartment outside the sand circle, so Cordelia sat down on the last step, resting her arms on her knees. “She was carrying ID. Her name is Robyn Murray.”

 

“What did you tell them happened?”

 

“That she got mugged and he ran off when he saw me.” Cordelia shrugged. “We used to use that story all the time in Sunnydale.”

 

Concerned, Wesley glanced back at Angel’s sleeping form. “Did they ask you for a description?”

 

For a brief second, Cordelia’s bright, broad smile reappeared: “Oh yeah. Right now, the cops are looking for a seven foot limping albino with dyed orange hair. And a German accent.” She looked at Angel, and frowned. “Is he still out? I didn’t think I hit him that hard.”

 

“It’s true a blow to the head won’t knock a vampire out for too long. However, a cup of blood laced with enough tranquilliser to take out the Welsh rugby team…” He half-smiled, then added, “It’s not a permanent solution, but it should give us a little breathing space while we decide what to do next.”

Cordelia eyed the circle dubiously. “So shouldn’t we, like, tie him up while he’s under?”

 

“I’m hoping that won’t be necessary. This is a simple charm, but very effective. It’s threshold magic—he won’t be able to cross the sand line any more than he could enter an occupied home without an invitation.” Cordelia leaned down and extended a hand to touch the white markings on the floor, but Wesley stopped her: “Just be careful not to break the circle. The line must be continuous or the magic collapses entirely.”

 

Cordelia nodded, taking this in. Straightening up, she said quietly, “He’s still Angel, isn’t he? I mean, there’s no reason to think the spell we cast broke the curse.”

 

“The fact he asked for help would seem to indicate he still possesses his soul.”

 

“So, he’s gonna be okay, right?” asked Cordelia hopefully. “All we have to do is wait until he gets a handle on this. He’s done it before, he can do it again.”

 

“I’m not sure about that.” Wesley took off his glasses and polished them. “It may be that the magic we cast has diminished his capacity for self-control permanently. And if he can’t control his craving any more, whether or not he has a soul hardly matters. He’s a danger to others.”

 

Cordelia said, “You think we should stake him.”

 

“I took vows when I became a Watcher. What you refer to as ‘the whole sacred duty thing’—well, it is sacred, and it is a duty. An awful lot of it revolves around not letting vampires kill people.”

 

“You’re not a Watcher any more,” she pointed out.

 

“No, but—“ he stopped. “No, I suppose not. Cordelia, I’m very sorry for this.”

 

She gave a resigned shrug. “I’m not planning to throw a celebration party myself.”

 

“No, I mean—I’m sorry. This is my fault.” Once the words were out, it was

surprisingly easy to keep talking. “I knew the spell was risky, but I wanted—to be useful. I didn’t try hard enough to dissuade Angel from trying it.”

 

Cordelia got up from the bottom step and came to stand beside him. “Probably

wouldn’t have done much good anyhow,” she conceded. “He can be pretty stubborn.

Especially when he gets an idea he’s meant to do something—fate, Powers That Be, the whole deal. You know what he’s like.”

 

“Actually, I don’t. Not really.” He looked sideways at her. “You seem to, though.”

 

Cordelia looked sharply at him. “Meaning what exactly?.”

 

“Nothing,” said Wesley quickly. “I mean, not that kind of nothing. Another kind of nothing. I meant—I simply meant you seem quite close. In a platonic, non-romantic, completely fraternal sense,” he added.

 

“You’d better believe it.  Because this girl is not Buffy Mark Two.” She looked from Wesley to Angel, lying on the floor, and her face softened. “We’ve been getting to know each other. We had a friend who died just a while back and Angel was—he was there. Not in a let’s-share-our-feelings way, he was just there, listening, every time I wanted to talk about Doyle.” She shook her head and added, matter-of-factly: “I don’t want to kill him. But I will if I have to.”

 

Abruptly, she walked out of the living room. After a second, Wesley followed her. As he entered the kitchen behind her, she was filling the kettle with water from the tap. Two cups sat on the table.

 

“Cordelia,” said Wesley again. “When we found Angel tonight, you said—“

 

She interrupted, “I know what I said. I wasn’t thinking straight.” Cordelia switched on the kettle and, turning to face Wesley, jabbed a finger in the direction of the doorway.

“When Angel turned into post-coital-bliss homicidal stalker guy on us, the first time, Buffy didn’t slay him right away. She could have, but she didn’t. Instead she got all—

“ She tilted her head to one side and said in a high-pitched, simpering tone, “‘But I love him, I need time.’ “ Dropping the performance, she scowled. “And while Buffy was working through her issues, Evil Angel just got on with killing people. Like Miss Calendar. I’m not gonna make the same mistake.”

 

The kettle was boiling, gasping clouds of steam into the air. Wesley watched in silence as Cordelia spooned coffee from a jar into two cups with short, sharp movements. He would have preferred tea, but somehow he didn’t think he was going to be offered a choice.

 

Cordelia poured hot water into the mugs, then lifted the one closest to her and wrapped her hands around it, lacing her fingers together. “Back there in the alleyway, did you—see anything?”

 

He frowned, not sure what she was getting at. “I saw what you saw. Angel attacking that woman.”

 

“Yes, but—apart from that?” She looked at him hopefully, and Wesley sensed she wanted him to confirm something. He couldn’t begin to think what.

 

“Such as?”

 

“Nothing. It doesn’t matter.” She sipped her drink. “He was going to kill her. Robyn Murray.”

 

Wesley sat down beside her and claimed the second cup of coffee. “Yes.”

 

Cordelia was silent for several seconds. At last she said, “Let’s make a deal. If he doesn’t come out of this, if we have to stake him, we do it. No recriminations or guilt trips afterwards. We just get it over with. Angel would want it that way. The real Angel.”

 

As she finished speaking, Wesley heard noises, a disturbing mixture of grunts and whimpers, from the direction of the living room. Angel was waking up.

 

“Agreed,” he said. The noises coming from the next room became louder, and started to include an increasingly violent series of thumps and bangs.

 

Cordelia glanced anxiously towards the door. “There’s nothing breakable within arm’s reach in there, right?”

 

“I made sure of that. He shouldn’t be left alone. We’re going to have to stay with him in shifts. As we did with Samuel.”

 

“Oh God,” said Cordelia, putting down her coffee: “If I thought I was out of my depth before, this time I’m going down with the Titanic.”

 

“Well, I’m on board too, if that’s of any reassurance.” Smiling slightly, he added, “And I believe the last life boat left without either of us.”

 

Cordelia was looking at him. “You don’t have to stay,” she said. “I mean, I’m Vision Girl now. I’m kinda committed. But if you don’t want to hang around for Angel Goes Crazy: The Sequel, I’ll understand.” A roar of animalistic anger and need drowned almost out the last word. She flinched, covered it well. Not quite well enough.

 

“Cordelia, when you said Angel was all you had now—well, he isn’t.“ Wesley began, and stopped. He wished fervently he was better at this kind of thing. “I mean, I helped create this problem. I’m not going to walk away from it. Or you.” He winced: “Not wishing to imply that you are, in any sense, a problem—“

 

She smiled faintly, and put her hand on his arm. “I know what you mean. Thanks, Wesley.”

 

He smiled back, and almost relaxed. “Besides, I wouldn’t dream of leaving a young lady of good breeding alone to cope with a crazed vampire. It would be rude.”

 

Another cry of incoherent rage and need issued from the next room. Cordelia stood

 

“I tell you what,” said Wesley quickly, moving to intercept her before she got to the door: “It occurs to me that one of us should check up on Samuel. Make sure his apparent recovery wasn’t just short term. If you go, I’ll stay with Angel.”

 

“I couldn’t possibly—okay,“ amended Cordelia as the cries became louder. Wesley could see the relief suffusing through her as she shouldered her bag and pulled on her jacket, and he knew he had at least done one thing right. Samuel, he was certain, would be fine.

 

Angel was another matter altogether.

 

*  *  *

 

 “That’s Tim,” said Samuel, pointing across the sunny playground towards the

apparatus where a group of children were climbing and swinging. “The little blonde girl right in front of him, that’s Casey. Nina’s at home with her Mom. She hasn’t quite got the walking thing down yet, but as soon as she does…” He gave Cordelia a relaxed smile. He was, she thought, the picture of proud fatherhood, no different to any of the other parents keeping watch over their playing offspring.

 

“They look like they’re having fun,” she remarked.

 

“I think they are. I mean, I’m not sure, but I think they are.” Samuel looked at her. “I want to give them something—normal. I’m not even sure how yet.”

 

Cordelia thought. “You could do whatever your Dad did with you.”

 

He looked at her, with a wry, humourless smile. “I don’t think they’d appreciate being beaten to within an inch of their lives on a regular basis.”

 

She winced. “Or you could take them to a baseball game.”

 

He gave a small laugh, and she was relieved to hear an element of genuine humour in it. “It’s okay. It’s funny, y’know. My old man drank. I mean, he drank the way other people breathed. And he’d get rough, and he’d beat up on us, and when I got old enough I thought, there’s no way I am ever gonna do that.” He leaned forward on the park bench. “And I didn’t. Maybe a beer now and again. Thought I was doing so well. Weird thing is, I was leaning so hard not to fall in one direction, I overbalanced another way. Everyone’s got his own Crave.”

 

“His own what?”

 

He sat back again. “Once, I asked my Mom why Dad did it. She said, he’s got a crave. I was pretty young, so I thought she meant a Crave—something alive, like a parasite. I imagined it squatting on his shoulder, whispering in his ear, telling him to have another drink. Even when I figured what she did mean, I hung on to that picture. It was easier to blame the bad stuff on the Crave than it was to accept it was just who he was.”

 

Samuel sounded, thought Cordelia, calm, rational, in control. Everything Angel currently wasn’t. Well, he’d been right about one thing: the magic had worked. And it looked like the change was shaping up to be permanent.

 

There was nothing more Samuel needed them to do for him. And nothing more they could do for Angel.

 

She stood up and pulled the strap of her bag on to her shoulder. “You’re gonna be okay.”

 

“You sound pretty sure.”

 

“Call it a hunch. I’m sorry for cutting into your time with your kids.”

 

Samuel shook his head. “No, it gave me a chance to polish up my proud father

routine. It was getting rusty. Plus, you’ve given a chance to say thank you.” He looked uncomfortable: “And also to apologise. To be honest, my memories of the past couple of weeks are pretty hazy, but I know I was having some pretty wild hallucinations, so I’m guessing I wasn’t the easiest person to be around.”

 

“Believe me,” Cordelia said, “when I tell you there are worse.”

 

“Thanks,” he said, and chuckled. “I haven’t felt this—clear in a long time. I mean, it’s still there—the needing—but I’m on top of it. It’s a good feeling. And it started with what you people did, whatever it was. You know, I actually thought I saw it leave me?”

 

She looked at him. “I don’t understand.”

 

“I was having this freaky hallucination—there was chanting, and blue lightning, and all kinds of weird stuff—and right then I saw it leaving me. The craving. It looked just like I thought it did when I was a kid: black, and oily—“

 

“Like a jellyfish,” finished Cordelia, very quietly. “With tentacles.”

 

His smile vanished, replaced by a disconcerted expression. “Yeah. Hey, have you been hanging out in my imagination?”

 

But Cordelia was already half way across the playground, and picking up speed.

 

 

*  *  *

 

 

PART TWO

 



| Fiction Index | Home Page | Back |