Splinter
 
AUTHORS: Rheanna and Yahtzee 
 
SUMMARY: "Listen: there's a hell / Of a good universe next door; let's go." -
- e. e. cummings, "1 x 1" 
 
RATED: R -- infrequent language and violence 
 
SPOILERS: "Angel" up to "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb" and BtVS up to 
"The Gift"
 
DISCLAIMER:  The characters described within are the property of Mutant Enemy 
Productions, 
20th Century Fox, Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt and other people who are not 
us. These characters are used without permission, intent of infringement or 
expectation of profit. 
 
NOTES: Yahtzee's BtVS and Angel fanfiction can be found at: 
http://www.fanfiction.net/index.fic?action=directory-
authorProfile&userid=12176
 
Rheanna's Angel fanfiction can be found at:
http://www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/ruthhanna/
 
You should send feedback, whether good, bad or middling, to both 
ruthhanna@freenet.co.uk and Yahtzee63@aol.com. 
 
Big 'ol thanks to Gyrus, LJC, Nestra, Jessica, Kizmet and others for beta'ing 
beyond compare. 
 
Rheanna would like to give special thanks to the ICAI examining board, 
without which she would not have been nearly so motivated to write fic during 
summer 2001.
 
 
 
 
 
************** 
SPLINTER 
by Rheanna (ruthhanna@freenet.co.uk) 
and Yahtzee (Yahtzee63@aol.com) 
************** 
 
Chapter 1 
 
 
"Farewell, oh home of my youth," Lorne said, looking out over the Pylean 
countryside as Angel revved up the car's motor. Lorne was Pylean, Fred was 
sure of that; he had better manners than most of the ones she'd met, and 
better clothes, but Pylean all the same. Yet he was going with them too. "I 
may never see you again. Let's hope not, anyway." 
 
"I gotta say, I never thought I'd be homesick for smog," said Gunn -- did 
they really say Gunn? Or was it Glen? Black guy, no hair, listen for his 
name, she reminded herself. And what happened to his hair? Don't ask. Might 
be a bad story. "But all this time in the fresh air has been driving me 
crazy. The oxygen makes you lightheaded or something." 
 
"Can't wait to see L.A., myself," Wesley said. His name was easy; he looked 
exactly like somebody who would be called Wesley. "Most particularly, I can't 
wait to see my bed, which happens to be located there." 
 
"I am going to take a long, hot bath that lasts for five days," declared 
Cordelia, adjusting the top half of her bikini in a way that made all the men 
suddenly display a marked interest in the car's seats and dashboard. She bore 
little resemblance, physically or emotionally, to the frightened, dirty girl 
Fred had first seen in the stables. 
 
Was it the same person? Fred was pretty sure it would be tactless to ask, but 
she couldn't help wondering. There could be twins, maybe. Duplicates. Shadows 
or reflections of the real person -- maybe the real Cordelia was still 
trapped somewhere, or still a princess. Shouldn't they check to make sure 
Cordelia was real? 
 
Angel craned his neck over to smile at Fred. "Almost home," he said. 
 
Fred smiled back at him unevenly and forced herself to pay attention to what, 
for lack of a better term, she was presently considering "reality." Angel had 
saved her from the monsters, saved her from Pylea. And now he was taking her 
home. 
 
Home, she thought. That word ought to mean everything to her. But she knew it 
could mean absolutely anything -- 
 
No point in thinking about that right now. Instead she said to Angel, "Are 
you happy to go home, too?" 
 
He did not seem to hear her. But even as Wesley began reading the incantation 
Fred had given him, she saw Angel take one hand from the steering wheel and 
hold it in a flickering beam of sunlight -- 
 
Then the world was made of light as the portal exploded, expanded and 
swallowed them whole. Energy washed over Fred, washed through her, with an 
electric sensation that was at once bizarre and terrifyingly familiar -- 
 
The car crashed out of the portal and off -- a stage? They were all thrown 
forward; Fred blinked her eyes as she tried to adjust to the sudden darkness. 
When she could see again, she looked around and found she was in a place that 
resembled -- she frowned to herself. What were those places called that her 
friends had always told her she'd like but she never did? She struggled, and 
after a moment a long disused word floated to the top of her consciousness. 
 
They had arrived in a nightclub. 
 
Nobody else seemed to think this was weird. Or, at least, weirder than usual. 
"Sorry 'bout your place, man," said Glen-or-Gunn. 
 
"Always meant to redecorate," Lorne said easily, swinging the door open to 
get out. Then he froze, half in the car, half out. "But it looks like 
somebody beat me to it." 
 
Fred could see well enough now to make out the details of their surroundings 
-- turquoise paint, beige carpeting, lamps that looked like cacti and 
fixtures on the walls that were -- hopefully fake -- cattle skulls. A dark 
scrawl on the wall would, when lit up, be a neon sign that proclaimed this 
place to be "The Longhorn." "Is this your nightclub?" Fred asked. 
 
"Well, right now, it looks like Dolly Parton's hairdresser's nightclub," 
Lorne said, hands on his hips. "But yes, it belongs to me, a fact that my 
staff apparently decided to ignore in my absence."
 
"They redecorated?" Wesley said, squinting at the tables, which all appeared 
to be topped with maps of Texas. 
 
"Unwisely, and not well," Cordelia said, shimmying over the back of the car 
to explore the place herself. "Oh, my God. This place looks like a Taco Bell, 
only less subtle and classy." 
 
Taco Bell. The name conjured up all sorts of delightful memories -- late 
nights at the library, or long afternoons studying, just Fred and her books 
and a great big bagful of -- "Can we get some tacos?" 
 
"Don't you worry," Glen-or-Gunn said with a smile. "We're gonna set you up 
with a little run for the border real soon." 
 
"They changed the NAME?" Lorne said, staring at the neon sign. "Oh, when I 
find out who did this, heads are gonna roll. And in this dimension, that 
means something." 
 
"This can't be right," Angel said. He was the only one of them who hadn't 
moved; he remained in the driver's seat of the car, hands on the wheel. 
"Lorne, your employees wouldn't have done something like that without your 
permission. And they couldn't have done it this quickly." 
 
"So true," Cordelia said. "We called the repair guys about the Hyperion's 
sauna back in October. And have they given us a remodeling date yet? No." 
 
"You were going to fix the sauna?" Angel said. 
 
Cordelia looked slightly abashed. "Well, you know, steam is so good for the 
pores -- and -- and anyway, we're the bosses now, so, let it go." 
 
Angel leaned back in his seat; his expression in the darkness seemed closed 
off, withdrawn. Although she hadn't known him for very long, anytime 
something had been wrong, Angel had told her. Even if he was shaking on the 
ground, even if he had to scream it, he had told her. So why wasn't he 
telling them now? And why no one else think it was strange that he wasn't 
telling them? The mood in the room seemed to have changed really fast, for 
some reason.
 
"We must have found another hot spot," Wesley said. "This club has the same 
layout as Caritas, perhaps. But we must have actually landed someplace else." 
 
"No, this is my bar," Lorne insisted. "That dent in the wall? That's from the 
fracas that broke out when somebody interrupted Mordar the Bentback's Barry 
White medley. See the tusk marks?" 
 
"How long were you all in Pylea?" Fred asked. 
 
It was a simple enough question, but it froze everyone in their tracks. "Oh, 
no," Gunn said. "We didn't." 
 
Wesley looked pale. "Cordelia's experience in Pylea before we found her 
passed only in real time -- I mean, Earth time -- our time --" 
 
"Let's just check to be sure," Angel said. He got out of the car and began 
searching the room. Everyone else followed suit, and Fred began looking 
around too, though she wasn't at all certain what they were supposed to be 
looking for. 
 
After a few moments, Angel opened up a side door that led to an alleyway. 
"Trash can," he said. Fred felt sure the words should mean something to her, 
but somehow they had become separated from their definition, so that when she 
tried to call up a mental picture that went with them, she couldn't. But the 
others must have known what Angel was talking about, as they all began 
pushing their way out the door. Fred stayed where she was at first, until the 
cow skulls on the wall stared back at her. Then she turned and ran after the 
others. 
 
Angel was fishing about in a large metal box with a hinged lid. Aha, she 
thought as he tossed various cans and boxes out onto the asphalt: trash can. 
Finally he grabbed up a newspaper and read the date. "May 23, 2001. That's, 
what? Six days from when we left?" 
 
"There's a little difference," Wesley said. "But nothing of consequence." 
 
The alleyway was dark; it was nighttime. Not a single sun to be seen, Fred 
thought as she looked up. Not any stars, either. I could have sworn Earth had 
stars in the sky -- 
 
"Well, the fact that my bar now looks like a discarded set from 'Urban 
Cowboy' is of consequence," Lorne said. 
 
Fred kept staring upwards. 
 
Wesley began, "So how do we explain --"
 
Cordelia screamed. The others stared at her, then followed her gaze -- and 
Fred's -- up into the night. A giant creature, scaly and gray with wings 
perhaps 100 feet across, swooped menacingly across the sky. It breathed a 
long arc of fire, then soared toward the horizon. 
 
"Los Angeles has dragons?" Fred said. "Now, see, I didn't remember that." 
 
The others were all staring after the dragon, slack-jawed. "Guys?" Fred said. 
 
Glen was the first to speak. "English," he said slowly, "when you said this 
incantation thing you and Fred worked out was going to get us home, were you 
telling me God's own truth? Because right now I am not wanting to hear that 
you fudged the details." 
 
"Of course not!" Wesley said. "We had all the formulae -- expressed verbally 
-- Fred said that we -- this was supposed to --" 
 
"Fred?" Cordelia said, her voice a question and a warning all at once. 
 
"Cordelia," Angel said, in much the same tone. 
 
Fred shrugged. "This is home. At least, this is one version of it." 
 
"Beg to differ with you," Lorne said. "Tinseltown's got its share of the 
bizarre, of which I gladly constitute a small percentage, but Puff over there 
is NOT part of the scene. Not unless Spielberg's found some truly new 
applications for CGI." 
 
"What do you mean, one version?" Angel said. His voice was steady, though she 
could tell he was fighting to keep it that way. "Are we home or aren't we?" 
 
"Yes," Fred said. 
 
The others stared at her for a long time, as though she'd said something very 
odd. At last, Cordelia said, through teeth clenched in a poor imitation of a 
smile, "You said your little formula-chanty-thingy was going to open up the 
portal and take us back. Did that promise come with a money-back guarantee?" 
 
"Cordelia, please," Angel said. "Getting mad isn't going to help." 
 
"Letting Drusilla Lite drive doesn't seem to have helped a lot either." 
 
Angel's eyes flashed at that -- was that anger? Pain? Fred opened her mouth 
to ask who or what a Drusilla was when Wesley broke in. "Fred, if I 
pronounced the incantation incorrectly --" 
 
"You didn't," Fred said. "You were really very good." She hesitated, then 
gave him a little punch on the arm, as she had seen Gunn-or-Glen do. Wasn't 
that supposed to be encouraging? Wesley looked less encouraged than vaguely 
ill. She pulled her fist back and hugged it to her chest. "It's just that the 
portals between dimensions -- they can be unstable, sometimes. If somebody 
else was traveling through them at the same time, or, or maybe trying to 
create portals where there weren't any before -- well, the equations would 
get all muddled up, and you'd have to model some truly horrible sine 
fluctuations to calculate the iterative resonance feedback and -- " Vaguely 
aware that she'd lost her audience, she concluded, "Things could get freaky. 
If you know what I mean."
 
Wesley nodded slowly. "But who or what would have the power to break down the 
walls between dimensions?" 
 
"Glory," Angel said. This meant nothing to Fred; she was slightly relieved to 
see that the others were all looking at him with the same confusion on their 
faces. "When I went to see Buffy after her mother's funeral, she told me 
about an enemy she's been facing in Sunnydale. Glory -- a god from another 
dimension. Maybe she was trying to return there." 
 
"Buffy versus God," Cordelia said. "Now there's a match-up for Pay-Per-View." 
 
"You know, there's nothing I love more than chatting about lost loves," Lorne 
said. "But I'd like to hurry up and get to the part of the story that 
involves me. You think this Glory tried to get back to where she once 
belonged and kept us from doing the same?" 
 
Fred's mind was reeling from all the new names and information -- Buffy, 
Glory, Sunnydale. And did somebody say something about Angel's lost love? She 
tried to do what she used to do best: focus. "If something really powerful 
were influencing the dimensions at the exact same time we were trying to get 
home, it could have sent us on a little detour." 
 
"A 'little detour' would not take us to Dragon Land," Cordelia said. Her arms 
were crossed in front of her body, and her tiara was now off-kilter in a way 
that would have been very funny if she hadn't looked so angry. 
 
"He probably got lost just like we did," Fred said, looking up sadly at the 
dragon, which was drifting through some whirling spotlights near Grauman's 
Chinese. "Poor dragon." 
 
Angel stepped closer to her, drawing her attention back to Earth. He put one 
hand on her shoulder as he asked, "Can we get back again?" 
 
"Depends on what went wrong, and why," Fred said. "I can figure it out. But I 
need a little while. And I can do the calculations with paper and pencil, but 
one of those -- things -- would be nice - "
 
"Things?" asked Cordelia.
 
This time Fred had the mental picture, but not the word that went with it. 
She gestured with her hands. "A box that beeps and glows and makes things 
easier." It was frustrating, because she was sure there had been a time when 
she'd known what the right word was. When she'd first arrived in Pylea, 
hadn't she spent weeks and weeks scratching away on the wall of her cave, 
wishing she had a -- 
 
"A computer," said Angel, smiling slightly.
 
That was the word she'd lost. Fred smiled gratefully back at Angel, and stuck 
a mental Post-It that read 'computer' on the picture in her head. She leaned 
closer to him and whispered, "And also -- I need a bath." 
 
"Home base, coming up," said Gunn. 
 
Or Glen. 
 
***
 
Something wasn't right about the Hyperion.
 
Angel was sure of it almost as soon as he brought the packed Plymouth to a 
halt just shy of the hotel's back gates. Although, judging by the almost 
palpable sense of relief in the car, he was the only one to have noticed 
anything amiss. 
 
After the dragon sighting outside Caritas -- or the Longhorn, as he supposed 
he'd have to think of it while they were here -- the drive across the city 
had been tense. Little had been said, as five of the car's six passengers 
watched carefully for more evidence of divergences between this Los Angeles 
and home. Fred had spent the journey playing with the dashboard cigarette 
lighter. 
 
However, they'd witnessed nothing more unusual than a bar brawl spilling on 
to the sidewalk as they passed through Westlake and a couple making out in a 
store doorway around Echo Park. Aside from one itinerant dragon, L.A. was 
still L.A.
 
And wasn't the Hyperion the same as well? Angel looked the building up and 
down, trying to pinpoint the source of his discomfort. It looked just the way 
it had when he'd left it a week ago: two wings flanking a six-floor central 
block, constructed in a mishmash of styles that could only be a permanent 
monument to a bet lost by a misguided architect whose name was now mercifully 
long forgotten. In the courtyard, the weeds Cordelia had been nagging him to 
do something about since the day he'd moved in still grew high. The 
ornamental fountain was still clogged with dirt and dry as dust. It looked 
ruined, broken-down, desolate.
 
And yet, he thought, not abandoned.
 
"I never thought I'd say this, but I missed this place," declared Cordelia as 
she hopped out of the car. "Okay, everyone out. Children and women in serious 
need of a bath and an escape from sequined underwire first."
 
"Wait," said Angel.
 
Cordelia was tapping her foot impatiently on the sidewalk. "I hope you've got 
a real good reason for coming between me and my loofah."
 
"I'm not sure about this. I think someone's in there."
 
Wesley frowned. "How can you be sure?"
 
Angel shrugged helplessly. "I can't. But we should check it out."
 
Cordelia looked back at the dark mass of the building. "Oh, come on. Look at 
the lobby windows!"
 
"They're filthy," Wesley said.
 
"Exactly. And, though I may possibly have been known to complain about it a 
time or two --" Cordelia did not even pause as Gunn snorted, "-- I do take 
the time and energy to keep those bottom windows clean. So nobody's there." 
Her expression changed slightly as she realized. "We're not there."
 
Gunn got out of the car and stood beside her. "That's gotta be a good, 
right?"
 
Wesley joined him. "Gunn?"
 
Gunn shrugged. "Think about it, English. Another version of L.A. means maybe 
other versions of us. But if we don't have twins here -- or they're off doing 
their own thing some place else -- that's gonna save some real awkward 
introductions. And it leaves the hotel vacant, so we've got a place to crash 
'til we figure this thing out."
 
Wesley nodded slowly. Then his face clouded. "But if we never moved in -- "
 
Angel completed the thought. "The Thesulac demon never moved out. It's 
probably still there."
 
Cordelia sighed. "Terrific. Freaky here-be-dragons universe outside, 
paranoia-inducing demon inside. Hello, rock, allow me to introduce you to 
hard place."
 
Fred was frowning. "This is like the dragon thing, isn't it? Because I don't 
remember there being dragons here, before, but there are -- and I don't 
remember there being demons before either. But there are, here. So there 
shouldn't be demons." She looked up and smiled hopefully at Angel, apparently 
pleased with her ability to apply logic consistently. "That's right, isn't 
it?"  
 
Before he could reply, Cordelia said briskly, "No, there were always demons. 
You just didn't notice them." 
 
Fred's face fell. "Oh." 
 
"We got rid of it before," said Angel: "We'll get rid of it again." 
 
Wesley nodded. "Although we should make sure it's in there, first. No point 
in wasting time tonight trying to hunt down another orb of Ramjarin to raise 
it with if we're wrong." He thought for a moment, then appeared to reach a 
decision. "Angel, Lorne -- you'd better make a quick sweep of the building."
 
Lorne sat up and shook his head so fast his horns were a blur. "Thanks, but 
no thanks. In this movie, I am very clearly cast in the role of plucky comic 
relief, not action hero."
 
Patiently, Wesley said, "Thesulacs interfere with rational thought processes. 
Other demons aren't immune, but they're more likely to be able to shrug it 
off. You two are the logical choices to go in there."
 
"Think I'll come along too," said Gunn. "Could do with stretching my legs."
 
Wesley looked at him doubtfully. "I'm not sure. If the Thesulac's in there, 
it could very quickly have you thinking -- anything."
 
Gunn grinned widely, easy and reassuring. "Relax, Wes. Three people makes 
this go faster than two. Sooner we sort this, sooner we have a base, sooner 
we get answers and go home."
 
"Amen to that," said Cordelia.
 
Wesley considered this, then nodded. "Very well." His mouth quirked in an 
unwilling smile. "It's not as though you have many rational thought processes 
to be interfered with."
 
"I knew I shouldn'ta let you get to know me," Gunn said, his grin even 
broader.
 
Something rattled down the street, and they all tensed -- but when Angel 
wheeled about quickly, he saw only a soda can rolling down the gutter. Wesley 
squared his shoulders, again intent on the matter at hand. "We'll stay with 
the car and wait for you. Just in case there are any more nasty surprises 
lurking out here for us."
 
But as Angel moved toward the hotel's dark and silent facade, he was struck 
by the sudden and inexplicable conviction that it wasn't nasty surprises 
outside they needed to worry about.
 
***
 
"How long have they been gone?" Cordelia asked, her face creased in a frown.
 
"Only five minutes," Wesley said, holding up his watch so she could see it. 
Cordelia's brow furrowed even further, and he felt some extra reassurance was 
required. Making an effort to strike a tone which was more upbeat than he 
felt, he said, "I shouldn't worry. They've barely had long enough to get 
inside."
 
"I guess," Cordelia said, but she sounded unconvinced. Fred had shifted her 
attention from the cigarette lighter to the car's radio and was tuning it to 
each station in turn. Oddly, the only kind of music being broadcast on any 
frequency was Beethoven, with the exception of one rogue station where 
'Copacabana' was on looped repeat. Whatever version of reality they'd landed 
in, thought Wesley gloomily, it was one of the stranger ones.
 
Cordelia sagged back in the car's passenger seat and, taking off her tiara, 
smoothed down her hair tiredly. "I want to go home, Wes. Dimension-hopping -- 
well, let's just say the novelty's wearing off real fast."
 
"I'll second that motion," Wesley agreed. 
 
Suddenly, Fred gave a cry.
 
Instantly, Wesley was out of the car and scanning the street for the source 
of the danger; Cordelia was looking around herself frantically as well. He 
craned his neck and looked upwards, checking the smoggy sky for swooping 
mythical beasts and, with deep relief, finding none. But Fred was still 
screaming and pointing across the empty road at the Taco Bell directly 
opposite the Hyperion.
 
She stopped abruptly, and Wesley realized it hadn't been a scream, but a 
whoop of joy. "Tacos!" she announced, grinning with delight. "Nachos!"
 
"Nachos to you too," Cordelia said, scowling. "Jeez, Fred, are you trying to 
give us heart attacks?"
 
Wesley blinked, and frowned. He walked along this street three or four times 
a day, going to or coming from the hotel. From where he stood, he could see 
the twenty-four hour dry-cleaner's whose professional expertise he often 
challenged with clothing stained by the by-products of demon-slaying, and the 
bakery where the female staff cooed over his accent every time he stopped to 
buy breakfast on the way home. But he didn't recall there ever being a 
Mexican fast food place between them.
 
"Cordelia," he said slowly, "Should that be there? I mean, is there a Taco 
Bell there in our universe?"
 
She shook her head uncertainly. "I don't think so. New Taco Bell, the 
Longhorn -- maybe this whole dimension is done in tacky Tex-Mex. Scary 
thought."
 
"Burritos," Fred said dreamily, and she began to cross the street.
 
"Fred, wait." Wesley dug into his pocket and took out his wallet. "You'll 
need money." 
 
She accepted the ten dollar bill he handed her, but stared at it curiously 
for some time, as if trying to remember exactly what it was for. Then her 
expression cleared and, smiling widely, she bounded away.
 
"We're gonna have our work cut out with her," Cordelia commented, watching 
her go. She glanced at the Taco Bell and shook her head. "I guess we've gotta 
expect stuff to be different here. And, as surprises go, I'll take extra 
fast-food joints over big, scary dragons in the sky any time."
 
"Yes, but..." Wesley began. He stopped.
 
She was looking at him. "What's the big?"
 
Uncomfortable thoughts were forming in Wesley's mind. Thoughts he wasn't 
entirely sure it would helpful to share, just now. For instance, his 
conviction that the Taco Bell not only hadn't been there in their reality -- 
but that it hadn't been there ten minutes before. 
 
He was almost certain of it. Almost.
 
But, then again, it had been a long and strange few days, and he was 
exhausted, and he'd been on the lookout for a number of things far more 
important than fast-food restaurants.
 
Wesley shook his head slowly and got back into the car. "Nothing. It's 
nothing."
 
***
 
Angel stood outside what had been the Hyperion's staff entrance and now 
functioned as the building's back door. "Gunn, you check the ground floor and 
the one above it. I'll take the top floors. Lorne -- you've got the 
basement."
 
"I don't think so. I've seen enough Stephen King adaptations to know what 
happens to the guy who goes down to the basement, and it's never good."  
 
"I'll take the basement," Gunn offered. "Ain't nothin' down there except the 
washer-dryer and a LOT of black sweaters." Pointing at Angel, he continued, 
"This is not a guy who has to separate his colors, if you know what I'm 
sayin'."
 
"We can talk about my wardrobe some other time. Everyone clear on what 
they're doing?" Angel asked. They nodded. "Good."
 
With one firm shove, he pushed open the door and slipped inside the dark 
building. After a second, he heard the others follow.
 
The lobby was just as he remembered finding it in another reality and months 
earlier: musty-smelling sheets thrown carelessly over battered furniture. "No 
paying guests for a while," Lorne remarked.
 
Angel shook his head. It was difficult to tell through the thick haze of dust 
in the air, but there was a scent, something fresh and tantalizingly 
familiar... "No. Someone's been here recently."
 
Gunn had moved behind the reception desk. "Probably squatters," he said. 
"Look." Reaching down, he lifted a plastic tub marked with the logo of a 
take-out Chinese restaurant, and prized open the lid. He sniffed cautiously, 
and made a face. "Urgh. Coupla weeks there, at least. Hey!"
 
He jumped back as a scrawny gray cat shot out from under the reception desk 
and ran past him. A second later, it had vanished into the dark recesses of 
the hotel's ground floor.  
 
"If people have been here recently, the Thesulac must have chased them off," 
Angel said. "Or tricked them into killing each other."
 
Lorne pursed his lips. "At least he gave them time to have their last meal 
delivered." 
 
"Let's just do this fast." Angel moved to the stairs and started to climb 
them. After a second Lorne followed; he could hear Gunn opening the door to 
the basement. He breathed in, took in the scent of the rancid take-out food 
again. Squatters. It made sense -- and yet, somehow, it didn't. He inhaled 
once more, concentrated. He could smell sickness in the air, something 
decaying, something he recognized but couldn't place. Something very, very 
wrong. 
 
With Lorne close behind him, he ascended to the second floor. The smell of 
decay was stronger up here, and Angel was growing more concerned. Quietly, he 
said, "Why don't you check out the other end of the hall?"
 
"Oh, great idea. It's always been my fondest wish to die alone," Lorne said. 
But he did as Angel suggested.
 
Angel continued on his way, checking behind each door, listening carefully. 
After a heavy pause, he opened the door to 207 -- but sighed in relief when 
there was no sign of Judy, either alive or dead. If she weren't there, and 
squatters hadn't set up house, then the likelihood was high that the Thesulac 
demon had long since moved on, in search of fresh prey. 
 
Perhaps, Angel thought, his perceptions were deceiving him after all. Maybe 
the cartons they'd found were evidence only of some teenagers who'd found the 
place, hung out one night and moved on. 
 
As he stepped out of Judy's room, he looked up, stopped. There was a full 
length mirror at the end of the corridor, and in it he could see a sight that 
he had only just learned to recognize. The tall man staring back at him was 
powerfully built, with short, spiky dark hair. Strange, he thought, a 
reflection here too -- 
 
The reflection moved.
 
Angel didn't.
 
For a second they faced off in silence, and Angel quickly realized that the 
other's expression held more confusion than he felt. That made sense -- this 
other Angel probably hadn't seen himself recently. 
 
Confusion slowly became recognition. "What--?" 
 
Angel raised his hands in an automatic, placatory gesture. Where to start? He 
opened his mouth to attempt some kind of explanation, but got no further than 
the first word before he heard footsteps draw near behind him. He glanced 
back to see Lorne.
 
"The other end of the hall has nothing more terrifying than some truly lousy 
fake Louis XIV chairs, so it seems like Mr. Tentacles has moved on to -- 
HELLO."
 
Lorne drew up short, several paces behind Angel. When he turned around again, 
the door behind his double was opening as someone else came into the 
corridor, drawn by the noise.
 
Darla.
 
She was wearing a red silk nightdress that shifted and clung to her, tracing 
the curve of her breasts and hips exactly as she padded barefoot across the 
hallway and slipped her arm around the other Angel with casual intimacy. Her 
hair was tangled, and as she moved the thick smell of sex wafted to Angel on 
the suddenly frigid air. He felt cold as she looked at him with lazy, half-
interested bemusement. Then she stood on tiptoe and delicately nipped at the 
ear and throat of her lover. "Angelus? What do we have this time?"
 
"Not dream girl again," Lorne said, and took a step forward.
 
"Stay behind me," Angel said sharply.
 
"Stay behind me," Angelus said at the same time, pushing Darla away from 
himself.
 
The coincidence was enough to unnerve both of them further. Unwilling but 
unable to prevent himself, Angel sought out the other's gaze, locked and held 
it. 
 
Everything was wrong here -- everything --
 
Angel looked away first. And so he missed the moment when Gunn came bounding 
around the corner. 
 
"Basement and first floor are clear, and -- and -- what the hell?" Gunn 
hesitated for only a moment, looking quickly back and forth between the two 
doubles. Almost instantly, he turned toward Angelus and Darla; his hand went, 
lightning-fast, to the stake he carried in his belt at all times.
 
"No!" Angel yelled, but too late; in a flash Angelus lunged, slamming Gunn 
against the wall. One of his hands was clenched around Gunn's left wrist, 
clamped down hard enough to make the hand shake until the stake tumbled to 
the floor. The other arm was across Gunn's face, pinning his head to the 
wall, leaving his throat exposed --
 
Angel jumped forward, instinctively moving to protect Gunn against a threat. 
He grabbed Angelus' arm, pulling it away from Gunn's face --
 
He touched Angelus' skin. Cold, dead -- his own. Revulsion lanced through 
him, so strong and primal that he physically shook.
 
Angelus pulled his arm back at the precise moment that Angel also jerked his 
hand away. The two backed away from each other slowly. Gunn was shaking 
against the wall, but he collected himself quickly and got behind Angel. 
Darla, for her part, was looking more and more confused and unhappy. 
"Angelus?"
 
Angel took another step backwards without turning around and said, "We're 
leaving." He wasn't sure whether he intended the words as a warning, a 
statement of intent, an instruction to Gunn and Lorne, or something else 
again. Whatever it was, Angelus understood, because as Angel backed away from 
him and toward the stairs he made no move to follow. Instead he watched 
silently, Darla at his side, holding his expression in a rigidly impassive 
mask which Angel instinctively knew meant he was equally shaken.  
 
They descended the stairs at speed and in silence, down two floors, through 
the lobby and back out into the night. At the car, Wesley and Cordelia looked 
up at their approach, as Fred contentedly helped herself to another nacho 
chip from the paper tray she was holding. 
 
"Did you find anything?" Cordelia asked. She took in Angel's expression. "You 
found something."
 
He got into the car without looking at her. "We've got to get away from 
here."
 
Wesley shook his head. "It's unlikely the Thesulac will follow outside."
 
"It's worse than that," Gunn said. 
 
Cordelia looked at them in turn. "Define 'worse.'" 
 
"Nacho?" Fred offered, holding the tray under Angel's nose.
 
"Define 'worse,'" Cordelia repeated more insistently.
 
Lorne said, "'Worse' as in, let's move before we all die violent, painful 
deaths."
 
"Him," Gunn clarified tersely, nodding in Angel's direction. "The name 
Angelus ringing any bells for you? Because Darla was using it a whole lot 
while she was hanging all over him."
 
Cordelia said, quietly, "Oh, fuck."
 
"That's how it looked from where we were standing," agreed Lorne. He looked 
back at the hotel's dark entrance. "Here's a suggestion: what say we leave 
now, panic later?"
 
"Who's Darla?" Fred asked.
 
Angel pushed Fred's arm away and started the car's engine. He could feel the 
gazes of the others settling on him, hostile, angry. Amid his own confusion 
and terror, he could also feel a deep resignation; in the midst of all this 
improbability, there was an element of inevitability. The truth will out, he 
thought.
 
Blood will tell.
 
 
 
**************
Chapter 2
**************
 
 
"I still don't understand," Fred said. "What are we running away from?"
 
Angel took the next corner too fast; he could hear all the passengers groan 
as they banged hard into the sides of the vehicle and each other. Fred was 
thrown against him so roughly that she gasped to collect her breath. The 
realization that he could hurt them badly -- that he had already hurt them -- 
achieved something that all Fred's pleading, Wesley's questioning and 
Cordelia's outrage had not. It made him put his foot on the brake.
 
As the car slowed and pulled over into a parking lot, Cordelia said, "Thank 
God."
 
"I'm not sure He's in this zip code," Lorne said. "But it's worth a shot, 
sweetie. Keep at it." He turned to Angel with a nonchalance that only barely 
seemed forced. "So that's your darker half. May I just take this moment to 
thank you for all that neurotic energy you expend keeping him bottled up? 
Because bottled up is exactly what that guy needs to be."
 
"Where the hell were you driving to, anyway?" Gunn demanded.
 
"Anywhere," Angel said. "Just -- away." He looked back over his shoulder at 
the carful of people with him. Fred was utterly confused -- poor Fred -- and 
the others were a mixture of angry, frightened and thoughtful. The 
"thoughtful" element consisted chiefly of Wesley; he had steepled his fingers 
in front of his face and his expression was distant. Gunn kept rubbing his 
shoulder, which had been injured during their encounter at the hotel; he was 
staring back at Angel with a mixture of displeasure and shock. In the back 
seat, Cordelia fumed, and even as she opened her mouth, Angel braced himself 
for her words --
 
"What the hell is he doing here?"
 
After staring at her for a moment, Angel said, hesitantly, "You mean 
Angelus?"
 
"No, I meant Ed McMahon. Yes, Angelus. What is he doing here?"
 
All her anger, all her fury -- it was directed at Angelus. As though he were 
someone else entirely --
"We have a number of different possibilities before us," Wesley said. "It's 
possible that, in this reality, Angel was never cursed with his soul at all -
-"
 
"No," Angel said. "I don't see why I would ever have ended up in the Hyperion 
if I'd never been cursed with a soul."
 
"So you did get cursed, but you never came back after your shag-nanigans with 
Buffy," Cordelia said.
 
"No," Angel said again. "Darla was in there. I killed her long before -- 
before Buffy and I --"
 
"I don't know all these names," Fred said. Where the others were on edge, she 
was simply curious. "Am I supposed to?"
 
"You're gonna know more than you want to know fast enough," Gunn said. "So 
Wolfram & Hart still brought babe-in-a-box back to haunt you --"
 
The car became suddenly very quiet. After a pause, Wesley said, "And in this 
universe, their plan worked."
 
"How?" Cordelia said. "How could it work? I mean, Angel got all antisocial 
and freaksome, but he never lost his soul. He never slept with Darla."
 
Lorne pursed his lips and looked up at the sky. 
 
"Yes, I did," Angel said.
 
For a long few moments, there was no sound in the car at all. Traffic 
whooshed by in the night, sirens sounded in the far distance, and a faulty 
old air-conditioning unit in a nearby building wheezed incessantly. Angel 
wanted to meet their eyes, wanted to face up to it all, but there were so 
many eyes to face. Wesley's disbelief, Cordelia's outrage, Gunn's disgust -- 
even Fred looked 
wounded, God knew why --
 
"You had sex with Darla," Cordelia said. "You lied to me."
 
Quietly, Angel confirmed, "Just before I came back to all of you, there was a 
night when I hit bottom."
 
"So to speak," Lorne said.
 
"How could you?" Wesley said. "How could you do such a thing, knowing what 
the consequences might be?"
 
"I didn't!" Angel said. "I mean -- there were no consequences. I couldn't 
have been farther away from perfect happiness --"
 
"So you were practicing safe sex?" Cordelia snapped. "Well, guess what? Turns 
out it wasn't that safe at all. You lost your soul here, and Angelus is back 
out to play. Just so you could get your rocks off."
 
"Way to go," Gunn muttered.
 
"Everyone, wait," Wesley said. His voice sounded calmer, more measured; the 
tide of bad feeling in the car suddenly seemed to ebb and fade. "This isn't 
the time to go handing out blame. I think we have more important matters on 
our hands."
 
"Like what?" Cordelia said.
 
"Finding a safe base of operations," Wesley said. "And finding out what's 
become of us all."
 
Angel didn't want to know the answer to that question. But he didn't think he 
was going to be spared finding out.
 
***
 
In Silverlake, Cordelia's apartment was eerily silent, its windows uniformly 
dark. As it was 3 o'clock in the morning, that shouldn't have been 
surprising, but the events of the night so far had set Wesley's nerves on 
edge. Instead of getting out of the car immediately, he kept watching the 
apartment.
 
As he looked, he began to notice the absence of familiar features. The wind 
chimes Cordelia had hung outside the door -- the ones he always knocked his 
head on as he went inside -- were missing. The fern by the front door drooped 
sideways in its pot, withered and dead. "The place looks empty," he 
commented.
 
"Hyperion looked empty, too," Gunn said, shooting a sideways glance in 
Angel's direction.
 
Wesley had to concede the point, but they needed to find a base -- somewhere 
he could just stop long enough to think -- and they needed to find it soon. 
"I'll take a look. Just to be on the safe side." Turning around to face 
Cordelia in the back seat, he asked, "Do you have your keys?"
 
She raised her eyebrows, then waved her hands down the front of her body: 
"Wesley, I look like I'm auditioning for an 'I Dream of Jeannie' remake. Do 
you see any pockets in this ?"
 
He felt himself blush. "Oh. Right. Sorry."
 
"Since you ask, my apartment keys are in the pocket of the pants of my best 
denim pantsuit, which is currently in another universe. Which I guess is a 
better excuse than leaving them in the dryer." She shrugged. "But there's a 
spare set on the ledge above the door. Or there ought to be."
 
Wesley nodded, got out of the car and made his way quickly across the lawn at 
the front of the building and along the covered deck to Cordelia's apartment. 
Once there, he reached up and ran his hand along the top of the doorway. 
There was a metallic clink as the spare key fell to the ground, and he smiled 
as he retrieved it. At least something in this warped version of the world 
was the way it was supposed to be. Oddly, the key was speckled with rust, but 
with an effort he made it turn in the lock.
 
He opened the door cautiously, unsure what to expect. But the apartment was 
as quiet inside as it appeared to be from outside, and when he breathed in he 
found the air had a stale edge. Wesley stepped outside again to wave to the 
others, then waited while they joined him.
 
"Home sweet home," announced Cordelia, walking past him and into the 
apartment. The others followed, Angel last, and when he was inside Wesley 
shut the door firmly. "Even if it's some other me's home sweet home, right 
now I'll take what I can get. "
 
As soon as she spoke, the lights flicked on, flooding the living room with 
welcoming brightness. A blanket that had been draped over the back of a chair 
flew through the air, wrapping itself around Cordelia's shoulders and pulling 
her towards the sofa. As she collapsed onto it, cushions snuggled into place 
under her arms and behind her head. Wesley could almost sense the glow of 
intense delight permeating the space.
 
"Dennis, cut it out!" Cordelia was laughing as she freed her arms from the 
blanket hugging around her in a fierce embrace. "What, is this a hint about 
the Princess Leia costume? Cut it OUT, I said, that tickles -- Oh, I missed 
you too -- I know I haven't been here for a while --"
 
Wesley saw her look around the bright living room properly for the first 
time. As she took in her surroundings, her laughter stopped abruptly. "Jeez. 
I guess I really haven't been here for a while."
 
The apartment was a mess. Packing crates were stacked carelessly on top of 
one another, and a slew of belongings -- books, plates, clothing, a model of 
the Starship Enterprise -- lay scattered
randomly around them. Much of the furniture had been pushed up against the 
walls and half-covered with old sheets. The place looked as if someone had 
got halfway through moving in, had an abrupt change of heart, then simply 
walked out and never returned again.
 
Cordelia stretched across the sofa and lifted a dog-eared copy of Playboy 
between her thumb and forefinger. With distaste and dawning realization she 
said, "This isn't my stuff."
 
"You probably decided to skip town when he took up homicide as a recreational 
activity," Gunn said, taking a seat beside her and referring to Angel as if 
he were invisible. While the others were making themselves comfortable in the 
living room, Angel had not moved far from the door: he was standing outside 
the group. The expression on his face, noted Wesley, clearly said that 
invisible was exactly what he currently wished he were.
 
"Yeah, that makes sense," Cordelia said, but there was doubt in her voice. 
She smiled a falsely cheery smile: "And Dennis has been making sure I'd have 
somewhere to come back to. You're the best roomie a girl could have."
 
Fred, apparently oblivious to the exclusion zone in force around Angel, moved 
closer to him. "Should I be able to see Dennis?" she whispered. "Or is he 
maybe Cordelia's make-believe friend? I had a make-believe friend for a 
while. His name was Schrodinger. He was a cat. Then one day he got in his box 
and when I looked inside he wasn't there." She saddened at the memory. "I 
think his quantum wave collapsed. Or maybe he just went to chase a mouse."
 
Lorne reached into a pocket and took out a handkerchief, which he used to 
dust the top of a packing crate before sitting on it. "Judging from the 
psychic energy sloshing around in here like ice cubes in an alcoholic's G&T, 
I'm guessing Dennis is a ghost."
 
Cordelia held up a hand, cutting him off before he could say any more. "In my 
house, we try to avoid the 'g' word. Sensitive subject." This established, 
she looked up and addressed herself to the room at large: "Dennis, meet Lorne 
and Fred. Lorne's from another dimension." She frowned. "Well, actually we're 
all from another dimension."
 
"And we need to start working out how we're going to get back there. 
Especially now that it's clear this universe is somewhat more dangerous than 
it initially appeared to be," Wesley said. "Dennis, is the phone still 
connected?"
 
In reply, the telephone took off from its cradle and deposited itself in his 
waiting hand. "Thank you, Dennis."
 
"Who are you calling?" Gunn asked.
 
"Someone who might be able to help, I hope," Wesley said, feigning 
confidence. But he looked at the phone he held for a long moment before 
dialing. He doubted anyone in the room -- including Gunn and Cordelia -- 
seriously believed this dimension's Cordelia was soaking up the sun on a 
beach in Hawaii, or that this version of Gunn had won the lottery and dwelled 
in Beverly Hills. But with no easy way to find out what had happened to them 
all, it was left to Wesley to ask the uncomfortable questions.
 
No point in delaying the inevitable.
 
He keyed in the number quickly, then held the phone to his ear as the 
connection was made. He felt an unexpected surge of optimism when it was 
answered almost immediately. "Hello?" a male voice said.
 
"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce?" Wesley asked.
 
"Never heard of him," the man said, in a nasal East-coast accent. "You've got 
the wrong number, pal."
 
"Wait," Wesley said quickly. "This is his home number. I mean -- I'm sure I'm 
not mistaken."
 
There was a brief silence on the other end of the line, as the man apparently 
considered the choice between becoming more deeply involved in the 
conversation, and just putting the phone down. To Wesley's relief, he chose 
the former option. "Uh, hang on. This isn't my place, it's my girlfriend's. 
I'll ask her. Hey, Kim!"
 
Another pause, during which Wesley strained to make out the details of a 
muffled conversation taking place somewhere distant from the phone. "This guy 
you're looking for," the male voice asked when it finally returned, "is he 
English?"
 
"Yes."
 
"Kim says the guy who lived here before her was English. She thinks he had 
some weird, long name."
 
"Did he happen to leave a forwarding address?"
 
"Not unless you can pick up mail in the afterlife."
 
Wesley swallowed. Around him, the five people who couldn't hear the other 
side of the conversation were looking at him hopefully. "So he's dead," he 
said, and watched five faces register varying degrees of disquiet.
 
"Yeah. I don't know what happened, but it was pretty sudden. Kim was almost 
ready to give up on finding a place. Good luck for her, real bad luck for 
him." The man stopped, as if something had just struck him for the first 
time. "Hey, uh, I'm sorry -- did you know him well?"
 
"I knew him very well indeed," Wesley said, and broke the connection.
 
He stared at the phone for a very long time before he felt able to look up 
and meet the gazes of the others again. When he finally could, he said with 
false joviality: "Well, I for one won't have to worry about the correct 
etiquette to observe when meeting one's double from an alternate reality."
 
"Wesley --" began Cordelia.
 
"Call Sunnydale," Angel said. His voice sounded uneven, and it cracked over 
the last word. 
 
Wesley clenched his jaw -- for some reason, just the sound of Angel's voice 
threatened to push his temper past the breaking point. "I believe we're 
perfectly capable of handling this situation ourselves, thank you."
 
"Glory," Angel said. "We should find out what she was doing, exactly. That 
could help us. And I want to know if --"
 
Angel said no more, but Wesley could fill in the rest. Of course, of course. 
Angel's suggestion was only sensible. He ought to have realized that himself. 
After a moment of searching his memory, he came up with the right numbers, 
dialed quickly.
 
As Giles' phone rang and rang, Wesley watched Angel's expression grow 
progressively darker. He couldn't have, Wesley thought, he couldn't have 
killed them all -- 
 
"Who's that?"
 
The voice was rougher than Wesley remembered it, and the pronunciation was 
uncharacteristically indistinct, but it was still Giles. "This is going to 
sound a little odd," Wesley began.
 
"Who's there? What d'you want from me this time?"
 
Wesley blinked. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn Giles was -- 
drunk. "This is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, Mr. Giles."
 
"Oh, God," Giles said.
 
This was not going well at all. "I realize this is something of a shock, but 
there is an explanation --"
 
"You again," Giles said. Beneath the sloppiness, the weariness, he sounded 
intensely irritated. "I wish you people -- you dead people -- would stop 
phoning me up at all hours. Call bloody directory inquiries if you want to 
talk to the living." Suddenly the anger drained from his tone, replaced by 
something like dread. "Is Buffy there? Tell her -- I can't bring her back. So 
stop asking me --" The line went dead.
 
Slowly, Wesley lowered the phone.
 
"Is something up with Giles?" Cordelia asked.
 
He hesitated before replying. "Mr. Giles is... rather indisposed just now. 
And in no condition to tell us about this Glory being. But I did glean some 
useful information. I'm afraid it's bad news."
 
In a voice that was barely more than a low whisper Angel said, "It's Buffy."
 
Wesley nodded, and Angel turned away, his whole body slumping as if something 
solid inside had turned to liquid and drained out of him. But of course, 
thought Wesley. In this universe, he was certainly dead and Cordelia very 
probably was -- but it still took the Slayer's name to get a reaction from 
Angel. It was an uncharitable thought, he knew, but he couldn't entirely 
suppress it.
 
"You don't have to be Columbo to work out how things went down here," Gunn 
said grimly.
 
"And we're not going to get any help from Sunnydale," Cordelia added.
 
"Then we'll find our own way out of this," Wesley said with determination. 
"It'll be dawn in a few hours; we'll be safe here until tomorrow morning." 
Then he looked at Angel, standing inside the apartment doorway, and realized 
the absurdity of that statement.
 
Cordelia was evidently thinking the same thing. "Want to bet? If Angel can 
walk in here, so can Angelus," she said, standing up and going to a chest of 
drawers which had been pushed roughly into a corner. "We have to do a dis-
invite. I always kept some rosemary and thyme about, just in case --" 
 
Kneeling down, she opened the bottom drawer and began to root around in it. 
"What is this junk? Deep Space 9 trading cards? Damn it, it isn't here --"
 
"Cordelia..." began Angel.
 
She ignored him and kept sifting maniacally through the drawer. "I hid it 
right at the back --"
 
Wesley rubbed his eyes. He was exhausted. Bone-weary. More than anything, he 
wanted to put his head down somewhere safe and soft and go to sleep. 
Attempting to soothe Cordelia's agitation, he said, "It's all right. It 
doesn't matter. We probably couldn't do a dis-invite, anyway. It doesn't work 
if the original occupant is d--"
 
He snapped his eyes open and bit off the word just before it slipped out. It 
was still too late. Cordelia straightened up slowly and turned around. When 
she looked at him, he saw her eyes were shining. She blinked -- once, twice -
- and stood up. Then, as self-possessed as she had been frantic a moment 
earlier, she went back to the sofa and sat down again.
 
"We're safe tonight," Angel said. "He won't come looking for us before dawn."
 
Gunn frowned. "How come you're so sure 'bout that?"
 
Steadily, Angel said, "Because I couldn't face him again right now. So he 
isn't going to be able to face me."
 
"Nevertheless," Wesley said, "someone should keep watch until morning."
 
Angel took the hint and nodded. As he left, he said, "I'll be right outside."
 
Fred kept looking at the door after he had gone. "Angel's going to keep us 
safe, isn't he?"
 
Cordelia made a face. "Yeah, because Angel's safety-first man."
 
Lorne stood up, giving a theatrical yawn as he did so. "I vote we make this a 
slumber party. I need at least four hours, or my complexion turns from 
verdant lawn to old avocado."
 
"That's an excellent idea," agreed Wesley. "We could all use some sleep."
 
"Den's through there," said Cordelia, pointing for Lorne's benefit. "Make 
yourself at home. There's a sofa bed. It's a little lumpy, but --"
 
Lorne bowed graciously and, taking her hand, kissed it with a flourish. "Your 
ex-majesty, I assure you tonight there is no finer accommodation in all the 
palaces of Pylea than the sofa bed in the den of apartment 212, Embury 
Street, Los Angeles."
 
Wesley smiled. After a second, so did Cordelia. Getting up, she put her arm 
around Fred and led her away from the door. "C'mon. Allow me to re-introduce 
you to the concept of hot running water." A moment later, Lorne was gone too.
 
"You know," Wesley remarked to Gunn, "I wouldn't have thought a clairvoyant 
singing demon would have been the ideal companion for inter-dimensional 
travel, but I'm glad he's here."
 
Gunn swung his feet up on to the sofa and attempted to stretch his tall frame 
out on its inadequate length. "Yeah. We need someone on morale duty, that's 
for sure."
 
Wesley began arranging cushions on the floor to create a makeshift mattress. 
"We're going to get through this," he said. "There are plenty of hotspots out 
there. There must be another portal home."
 
"Oh, I don't doubt that," said Gunn. He closed his eyes. "What I'm wondering 
is, are we gonna survive 'round here long enough to find it?"
 
 
***
 
Outside Cordelia's apartment building, the night was quiet, and every window 
on the block was dark. The only noises were the faint hum of night insects 
and the occasional car passing on the street. But Angel wasn't paying 
attention to his surroundings. He walked blindly, aware of nothing except the 
litany of guilt echoing inside his head.
 
I gave up, he thought. I gave up, and I destroyed everything. Cordelia, and 
Wesley, and oh God not Buffy --
 
Cordelia and Wesley had been on their guard. They'd have known to be careful. 
They would have fought him.
 
So they would have died quickly. Angel hated having to be grateful for that 
bleak fact, but he was.
 
Buffy, though -- she wouldn't have known. Her mother had just died; he 
remembered her sorrow on the night after the funeral, and how fragile she had 
been. Was that how he'd found her in this universe? Her vulnerability would 
have opened a whole new range of opportunities to him -- and he had always 
craved novelty --
 
He could imagine the possibilities too easily and too vividly. Within 
seconds, they threatened to drown him in their horror.
 
He stopped walking, forced himself to concentrate. This isn't our reality, he 
reminded himself. Wesley and Cordelia and Buffy are all very much alive and 
well. And you have to hold yourself together to make sure Wes and Cordy stay 
that way.
 
Being trapped inside his own frustrations was what had created this situation 
in the first place. He couldn't afford to let it happen again. If he had any 
chance of preserving the fragile truce between himself and his friends, he 
had to be stronger this time. Smarter.
 
And getting lost in thought while Angelus came to kill them all wouldn't fit 
into either of those categories.
 
Angel inhaled deeply, mostly as a means of focusing on his surroundings. His 
undirected footsteps had taken him to the swimming pool which served 
Cordelia's apartment complex. Here, the air was thick with the chemical tang 
of chlorine, mixed with scent from the white flowers blooming on the trees 
that edged the courtyard and clung to life in tiny clay pots. And beneath all 
that was another scent -- something familiar --
 
He heard rustling and half-turned to see Fred standing behind him. Her hair 
was tugged back into a ponytail; she looked younger with it pulled away from 
her face. She was now wearing sweatpants almost comically too large for her 
and a T-shirt with the face of a black man who, for some reason, had a 
woman's hair barrette across his eyes. "What are you doing out?" Angel said 
slowly.
 
"I got the first shower. And -- Cordy let me take first pick from the clothes 
the last guy left behind." There was a slight hesitation before Cordelia's 
name, as if she wasn't completely certain it was all right to copy the others 
and shorten it. When Angel didn't object, Fred finished, "I don't think she 
was very excited about any of them, though."
 
Angel knew he should say something reassuring about making do or joke about 
Cordelia's sartorial misfortunes. But he was too weary -- in body, in soul -- 
to muster up anything of the kind. "It's not safe out here," he said. "You 
should go in."
 
"I feel safe if you're here," she said, so guilelessly that something inside 
him snapped.
 
He stepped close to her, held a finger of warning in her face. "I don't know 
how much you understood of what we were discussing back there. But Angelus? 
The murderer they're all talking about? He's me. He's what I was -- what I 
can be again. And apparently not even I understand what it is that changes 
me. You think you're safe?"
 
Fred didn't even seem to register his anger. "Is he worse than the beast? You 
didn't hurt me then."
 
"I could hurt you now. I mean, he could," Angel said. He'd learned, through 
hard practice, to think of Angelus entirely as a force within himself. That 
habit could prove dangerous now; best to break it, embrace the third person, 
recognize that Angelus was also another entity here, physically distinct and 
capable of acting -- and striking -- on his own. There would be time, later, 
to explain to Fred that he carried all of Angelus' evil within him, every 
moment. Assuming the others didn't explain it for him. "You're going to have 
to be careful."
 
"Okay." Her young face was naked of makeup, of any kind of artifice. She was 
meeting his gaze with the unblinking courage of a child. "So what do I do to 
be careful?"
 
Don't trust me, Angel wanted to say. But instead he began with the basics. 
"You've heard stories about vampires, right?"
 
"Like Count Dracula," she said easily. She sat down by the edge of the pool; 
he realized, for the first time, that she'd wandered out barefoot. Never even 
considering if there might be glass on the ground, or sharp stones that could 
cut her feet. 
 
Fred dunked her feet in the pool, and her face lit up in a bright smile. 
"Oooh, nice. I never saw a pool painted this color green before. Usually 
they're blue." Then she frowned. "Aren't they?"
 
"Vampires are not exactly like Count Dracula," Angel said, reminding himself 
to think about the fictional creature Fred was referring to, not the 
Eurotrash he remembered from Prague. "They're real. I am one. Do you 
understand that?"
 
"Uh-huh. They're the mean cows. But you're not mean," she said. "Want to dunk 
your feet too?"
 
"This isn't the --" Angel paused as he realized what she'd said. He sat by 
her side. "What did you say about mean cows?"
 
"Sometimes cows -- I mean, people -- would show up in Pylea who weren't what 
you'd call normal. Not that anybody's normal after a little while there," she 
said, and something in her expression made him realize, for the first time, 
that Fred was painfully aware of how awkward her conversation and habits were 
to the others. "I think they came for the sunlight. But when the Pyleans 
tried to make them slaves, they'd get really mad, and turn into beasts, like 
you did."
 
Angel nodded. It made sense, now; others in L.A.'s supernatural underworld 
had to know about the portals, and all vampires would crave the taste of the 
sunlight denied them. 
 
Fred reached out and began taking off Angel's shoes; he was too distracted by 
her words to protest. "But you turned back into a person. They didn't. They 
were animals, but worse than animals. The only way to get them off of 
somebody was to offer them blood. Pure blood. That was what they were after. 
That's why I kind of figured they were vampires -- or that they started as 
vampires, anyway. I still don't know what that other thing was, that thing 
they turned into."
 
"That's how you knew how to pull me away from Wesley and Gunn."
 
"Uh-huh." She stripped off his socks and pushed his now-bare feet into the 
pool. "Isn't that nice?"
 
The water was icy against his legs. If you were alive, he thought, the 
sensation was probably delightful -- the contrast of warm flesh against cool 
liquid. To Angel, it was just cold.
 
He  stared down at the surface of the water. Fred's face was reflected there, 
wavery and alone on the pool's rippling surface. She saw it too. "You don't 
have a reflection any more. That's like Count Dracula too, right?"
 
"Right," Angel said, though it was hard to imagine Dracula, in any 
incarnation, dunking his feet in a swimming pool. He began going through the 
information that might keep Fred safe. "We can't go out in the sunlight, and 
we're burned by holy water and crosses. Crosses can also ward us off -- 
garlic too, though not for very long, so don't rely on it." 
 
"So eating -- that food -- wouldn't work." Her eyes closed tightly, and Angel 
could almost see her straining to remember. "That food that's like a whole 
lot of string."
 
"Spaghetti?"
 
"Yes!" She beamed up at him. "I like Italian food too. That is Italian, 
right?"
 
"I think so," he said. "I'm not really that good with food. But concentrate, 
okay? You can tell a vampire by his lack of reflection, lack of pulse, cold 
body temperature or avoidance of sunlight. You can kill a vampire by staking 
him, with wood, through the heart." He pointed to his own chest, then to his 
neck. "Beheading works too, but I don't think you should try it. In fact, the 
best thing for you to do, always, is to run away and call for me or the 
others."
 
Fred actually seemed to be paying attention now. "That other woman you were 
talking about -- Darla -- is she a vampire too?"
 
Oh, God. How did he even start explaining Darla? Keep it simple, he decided. 
"Yes. She's the one who made me this way. She's dangerous."
 
"She turns into a beast, too," Fred concluded.
 
"Not exactly," Angel said. "It doesn't happen like that, here. But we do 
change before we feed." He hesitated, then looked her steadily in the eye. 
"I'm going to change now, so you can see what it looks like, all right?"
 
She squared her shoulders. "All right."
 
Angel breathed in again, let himself react to the warm smell of Fred's blood, 
so close, pounding beneath her pale, fragile skin --
 
His control, almost automatic at this point, relaxed; the demon surfaced. 
Fred stared at him, and he prepared for her shock and dismay.
 
Instead she said, "Well, that's not nearly as bad as before." Fred poked his 
forehead curiously with one finger. "Those ridges are really hard. Is that 
bone? How can you grow bone that fast?"
 
"I don't know -- I never --" 
 
"Rate of deposition of osteoid must be phenomenal," Fred said, mostly to 
herself. "And then there's the mineralization -- maybe it stays pliable --" 
Then her expression changed abruptly, and she looked concerned. "I hope it 
doesn't -- Does it hurt when you do that?"
 
"I -- no. No, it doesn't hurt." Angel was completely at a loss. He felt 
foolish, now, for expecting a different reaction. For a woman who associated 
vampires with the wild, demonic animals she'd seen in Pylea -- who had been 
surrounded by demons of all kinds for years -- the face he wore now would 
scarcely look unusual. "You need to remember what this looks like, Fred. If 
you see anyone with a face like this, you have to get away from them as fast 
as you can."
 
"Except you."
 
"Including me, unless I've already told you what's about to happen," Angel 
said.
 
"Because there's a bad man here who looks just like you."
 
"Who is me," Angel corrected her. "And even after we get home, Fred -- even 
then, if you see me looking like that, and I'm acting even a little strangely 
-- you have to get away. Trust your instincts. Don't -- don't trust me --"
 
His throat closed off, and he stared back down at the lawn-green waters of 
the pool. Did Buffy have any warning at all? Or had she trusted him until it 
was too late, reached out to him for support and received instead a kiss that 
concealed teeth, or an embrace that crushed? 
 
He would have seen the light fade from her eyes and relished it.
 
"Angel? What's the matter? Your face changed all of a sudden." Fred's voice 
suddenly sounded more focused than it had before. "Is this about the dead 
woman they were talking about inside?"
 
"Yes," he said dully. "Buffy. I killed her."
 
"You mean -- back home, too, or just the other you, here?" Fred paused as she 
reviewed her own sentence, and then she straightened up to look at him again, 
apparently satisfied.
 
"Just here. Back home, she's alive. Buffy's alive," he repeated. "If I didn't 
know that, I couldn't even --" His throat betrayed him again, and he looked 
up at the blank, starless sky. 
 
"She's your girlfriend," Fred said, as though trying to commit it solidly to 
her memory.
 
"Not any more."
 
"But you still love her." It wasn't a question, but Angel nodded anyway. "And 
she still loves you."
 
"I don't know," Angel said. "I think -- it doesn't matter what I think. Or 
what she feels. We're not together, and we're not going to be. Because of 
what I am."
 
"Did she mind? You being a vampire?"
 
"No. But she should have." They were both silent for a long time after that. 
Angel watched the shimmering reflections on the surface of the water -- 
uneven lines of light crossing and weaving together like a rippling, ethereal 
fabric. 
 
"Like the surface of a portal," Fred said, and he believed she had followed 
his gaze, read his thoughts. "It can swallow you up, take you under. But you 
can come back to the surface again."
 
Angel hesitated, then said, "I thought you were talking about the pool, but 
you're not, are you?"
 
"I know what it's like to get all wrapped up in ideas that aren't real. To 
let everything get so jumbled together that you don't know what you can 
trust." Fred held one hand in front of her, parallel to the surface of the 
water, then balled it into a fist. "I still don't know what's real and what's 
not. So I just deal with what's in front of me."
 
"Is that enough?"
 
"It kept me alive," Fred said. "It brought me to you."
 
***
 
By the time Cordelia had taken the longest, hottest shower the building's 
elderly plumbing was capable of producing, the apartment's other occupants 
were asleep. She wrapped a towel around herself and crept out of the bathroom 
and into her bedroom, noting with amusement as she tiptoed past the den that 
Lorne even managed to snore in key. 
 
Once the bedroom door was firmly shut behind her, she snapped on the lights 
and dried herself off. Her Pylean royal bikini was lying on the bed where she 
had gratefully stripped it off at the first opportunity: eyeing it now, she 
knew she'd scream if she had to endure one more second of being scoured by 
semi-precious stones like cheese on a grater every time she crossed her legs. 
Rolling the bra and panties up inside the cape, she put the bundle to one 
side and began to cast around for an alternative.
 
Unfortunately, the choice was somewhat limited. Fred had been more than happy 
to swap her Pylean peasant chic for the first clean clothes they'd found that 
didn't swamp her small frame completely. In fact, she'd seemed positively 
enthusiastic about her Geordi LaForge XX-large T-shirt. Cordelia sucked in 
her breath and shook her head at the memory. Maybe it was a science-nerd 
thing. Picard, she could understand. But Geordi? He didn't even have a 
catchphrase. 
Opening cupboards and drawers, she continued her search of the bedroom, 
determined to find something -- anything -- that didn't scream 
'merchandising'. The room, like the rest of the apartment, was a wreck, and 
although clothes and books and knickknacks were strewn all over the place, 
Cordelia saw not even one thing she recognized.
 
Well, that wasn't strictly true. She recognized the guy in the poster above 
the bed -- that was Captain Picard, celestial starlight reflecting off his 
bald head, as the Starship Enterprise streaked through the night sky behind 
him. At the bottom, blue type proudly proclaimed "Boldly Going Where No One 
Has Gone Before!" Nice poster, if you went for that kind of thing, but it 
sure as hell wasn't hers. 
 
Nothing here was hers.
 
Her makeup and jewelry were gone. Her clothes were gone. The menagerie of 
crystal animals she'd been collecting since she was fourteen but now thought 
were tacky, yet somehow couldn't bring herself to throw away -- they were 
gone too. Cordelia Chase had been wiped out of existence, and the world had 
just flowed into the hole and filled it like she'd never been there.  
 
All because of Angel --
 
Cordelia pushed that thought out of her mind. It would be so easy to let 
herself get angry, to blow up at Angel over this stupid choice he'd made, 
this lie he'd told her, the danger he'd put them all in. So easy to let the 
terror that had haunted her this winter take over again -- the terror that 
Angel could snap, at any time, and she had seen what happened the last time 
Angel really snapped.
 
But it wasn't worth it. Angel was back in her life now, and she liked it 
better that way, and he could only stay in her life if they didn't look too 
closely at what might have been.
 
She blinked and saw she was holding a plain gray sweatshirt with a small Star 
Trek logo embroidered just below the collar. It was almost subtle. Lying 
beneath it, she found a pair of drawstring pants she might get to stay on 
her, if she wrapped the cord around her waist twice. 
 
Out loud, she said, "I swear to God, when I get home I'm taking Angel's 
credit cards to Macy's and I'm not coming back until I've brought retail 
therapy to a whole new place." 
 
The thought made her feel better as she dressed; after all, this was the 
second time she'd lost a whole wardrobe thanks to --
 
She froze, the sweatshirt half on and half off.
 
The poster above the bed had changed.
 
A long, cylindrical space-station hung in the foreground. Behind, some actor 
who was neither bald nor Patrick Stewart gazed nobly into the middle 
distance. The slogan now read, 'Our Last Best Hope For Peace.'
 
Cordelia finished pulling on the sweatshirt and exhaled slowly. She was 
tired, she reminded herself. She was stressed. She'd recently abdicated 
leadership of a demon dimension, and now she was stuck in another universe 
where her vampire ex-boss's evil double was undoubtedly planning how to kill 
her for the second time. 
 
In short, she'd had the kind of week that messed with your head.
 
And, despite having dated Xander Harris for more than a year and absorbed a 
disturbingly high dosage of geekiness by osmosis, she wasn't exactly an 
expert on sci-fi television. So -- she'd been wrong about the poster. Yeah, 
that had to be it. After all, space ship, space station -- where was the 
difference, really?
 
Satisfied with this explanation, Cordelia lay down on the bed. Wesley was 
right: they all needed to get some rest. She reached out to turn off the 
bedside lamp and swore under her breath when her hand brushed a pile of 
envelopes, knocking them to the floor. She leaned down to retrieve them--
 
--and stopped when she saw, amid bundles of junk mail destined for RESIDENT, 
her own name printed in black and white. Above it, someone had scrawled in 
messy capitals, ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN.
 
"Am too known," she muttered, and tore open the envelope, grateful for even 
the slightest proof that she hadn't disappeared entirely from this world. 
 
She glanced quickly at the pages inside. Then, her heart speeding up, she 
read them again, slowly, in case she'd made a mistake. She got up and ran out 
of the bedroom to where Wesley and Gunn were sleeping in the living room.
 
"Wesley, wake up," she hissed, shaking his arm.
 
"--Uhh?" He opened his eyes and sat up so quickly they almost bumped heads. 
"Is Angelus--"
 
"No, no." She waved the paper in his face. "I'm not dead!"
 
"I can see that," he said mildly.
 
"No, I mean, I'm not dead here, in this universe. This is my May bank 
statement. There's movement on my checking account."
 
"Let me see that." 
 
She gave him the pages, and waited while he put on his glasses and squinted 
at it in the gloom. On the sofa, Gunn snored softly, undisturbed. "Not much 
movement," Wesley said after a moment. "A large deposit on the sixth of the 
month... Who are Mutual Dependable?"
 
"I have health insurance with them." 
 
Wesley looked up at her, pleased and slightly surprised. "I had no idea you 
were so -- prudent."
 
She shrugged. "You grow up in Sunnydale, you learn the importance of 
comprehensive medical coverage. Insurance company execs put their kids 
through college on Sunnydale premiums."
 
"There's a payment made for the same amount a few days later, to --" he 
peered closer, "-- Huntercombe Hospital."
 
Unable to keep from grinning at him, Cordelia said, "You see? Angelus didn't 
get everyone. I'm alive somewhere and getting better. Maybe I can even help 
us." 
 
Wesley didn't look as convinced as she felt, but he gave her a small smile. 
"Well, we should certainly follow this up. We'll find out where this hospital 
is and drop by tomorrow. Now, Cordelia -- please do try to get some sleep." 
 
Feeling more content than she had since they'd fled from the Hyperion, 
Cordelia returned to the bedroom. She was about to flop down on the bed again 
when she heard the faint murmur of voices drift in through the open window.
 
The bedroom was at the back of the building, and the window looked out over 
the complex swimming pool. Cordelia peered down and, after a second, 
recognized the remote figures of Angel and Fred below her.
 
They were sitting close to the edge of the pool -- so close, they had to be 
dangling their feet in the water. How adorable, thought Cordelia sourly. 
We're in the wrong dimension and in mortal danger. Just the time to go 
paddling.
 
As she watched, Fred raised her hand and touched Angel's face. He made no 
move to pull away. There was something about the action -- an assumption of 
intimacy --  that set all kinds of warning bells ringing in Cordelia's head. 
 
Fred was smart: maybe she'd work out by herself that Angel was strictly look, 
don't touch. Then again, Fred hadn't dated in five years and her ability to 
interpret the nuances of human interaction was rusty, to say the least. 
 
Trouble brewing, Cordelia thought --
 
A sudden noise made her start. A car which had been parked on the street 
beyond the apartment complex roared into life, performing a fast and sloppy 
U-turn in the empty road. As it swung around, its headlights momentarily 
blasted the side of the building head-on with light, flooding the bedroom 
with an intensity of illumination that made Cordelia's eyes water. Then it 
was gone.
 
Her heart was thumping and her mouth dry as she got into the bed. C'mon, Cor, 
she told herself sternly. It's just a car. Angel said Angelus wouldn't come 
looking for us tonight, and Angel should know. There's no one out there. No 
one's watching us.
 
But, as exhausted as she was, she didn't sleep for a long time.
 
 
 
*************
Chapter 3
*************
 
 
Fred was trying very, very hard to be very, very quiet.
 
This was something she was used to, something she was good at. At the 
library, she had made it a habit; in Pylea, she had made it an art form. 
Breathe in through the nose, slow and even, and don't move a muscle, or the 
monsters will get you --
 
Outside the kitchen, in the lounge, she could hear Cordelia talking to Gunn 
in a tone of voice that left little room for dispute. "You have to change. 
You smell of funk. Not even good old regular funk, either. Pylea funk."
 
"Which bears no resemblance to Sly and the Family Stone, I'm sorry to say," 
Lorne said. His voice, like Cordelia's, carried into the kitchen where Fred 
stood alone, hands clasped together so hard her fingers hurt.
 
"I don't care," Gunn said. "I like Xena as much as the next leather-bikini-
loving man out there. But that does not mean I am ready to wear her face on 
my chest."
 
"Wesley's wearing his Sliders shirt!" 
 
"Yeah, well, Wesley actually liked Sliders, so that tells you about the man's 
taste right there."
 
"I beg your pardon," Wesley said. "I consider this shirt a sort of ironic 
joke about our predicament. It's postmodern."
 
Fred could hear the smile in his voice as he said that. He acted like there 
was nothing wrong. But then, he was the one who had gone out for groceries in 
the first place -- he was the one who had brought it into the house -- and 
now it was sitting on the counter, waiting for her to show weakness, getting 
ready to pounce -- 
 
"You're not nagging Lorne to change." 
 
"Lorne doesn't smell."
 
"Well, thank you for that vote of olfactory confidence," Lorne said.
 
Cordelia persisted. "You just don't care, do you?"
 
"You just want to have the rest of us looking even tackier than you. Thanks 
but no thanks on the shirt. We'll swing by the store and pick up some Old 
Spice or something."
 
"And that'd be an improvement in what sense, exactly?"
 
"Me, I find the ladies go mad for Brut," Lorne called back at Gunn as he 
stepped into the kitchen. Fred gestured desperately at him to be still and 
quiet, but he just stared at her. "What's the matter, pumpkin?"
 
Fred screamed and tackled him, knocking them both out of the kitchen and out 
of danger. As they landed together in an undignified tangle of limbs on the 
carpet, Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn rushed toward them. "What is it? What's 
happened?" Wesley said.
 
Angel threw open the door of the bathroom. "Fred? Are you okay?"
 
She was shaking so hard now she could barely choke out the words, but she 
managed to say, "In there -- in the kitchen --"
 
"What? He's not --" Angel began, but Lorne quickly shook his head.
 
Cordelia put her head cautiously around the edge of the door. "Lemme see. 
We've got milk, bread, cereal, those bran things Wesley likes, some ham and 
chee--"
 
"Don't say it!" yelled Fred.
 
Cordelia turned around, looking oddly at Fred. "Okaaay. So you're vegan?"
 
Lorne, however, was nodding understandingly. He gave Fred a sympathetic pat 
on the arm. "Let me hazard a guess. While on her grand tour of my dimension, 
I think our young friend here had a nasty encounter with some Pylean attack 
cheese."
 
There was a long silence.
 
"...Pylean attack cheese?" Gunn repeated disbelievingly.
 
Lorne nodded. "They mature it for five years in total darkness. That stuff is 
vicious."
 
Cordelia looked at him. "Your dimension is a strange and disturbing place."
 
"No argument there."
 
"You had some nachos last night," Wesley said to Fred, his tone one of 
reasonable persuasion. "The cheese was safe then."
 
"Well, sure, once it's melted!" Fred protested, gulping back a sob. "But now 
it's just sitting there on the counter, waiting to catch us off guard --"
 
The others looked as though they might laugh. For a second, Fred saw herself 
as they must see her: a wild-eyed girl getting hysterical about dairy 
products. But she couldn't make them understand -- it wasn't about the 
cheese. It was about spending your whole life learning how the world worked 
and then one day falling down a rabbit hole into another place where none of 
the rules held true any more. When you couldn't trust the world, the only way 
to keep alive was to stay scared and paranoid. Fred had found that running 
away from cheese helped, too.
 
But Angel smiled reassuringly, and she remembered that he, at least, 
understood what it was like to feel frightened when the rules you'd always 
lived by got twisted and warped. "I'll go melt it, okay? And then we'll get 
you some breakfast. Something completely cheese-free."
 
He began to move away, but Fred tugged at his arm. "Angel -- don't show 
fear."
 
"I promise," Angel said as he went into the kitchen.
 
"So, what's our game plan for today?" Lorne said quickly. "Now, weren't you 
saying that you needed some quality computer time to work out some equations 
and get us back under the rainbow?"
 
The computer. Fred relaxed slightly as she remembered the mental picture that 
went with that word. "Yes. Yes, that's right. I need to run some equations on 
the -- computer. I mean, I could write on the wall instead, like I did in the 
cave --"
 
The wall thumped several times in quick succession. "I think Dennis might 
have issues with that," Cordelia said hurriedly. 
 
"So where can we get you some computer time?" Lorne continued.
 
"The library," Fred said. She could never forget that word, not ever -- how 
often had she dreamed, these past five years, of getting even one more 
wonderful hour in a real library? Then she hesitated. "Libraries are real, 
aren't they?"
 
"Absolutely," Wesley said. He was trying to smile at her, like Angel had, but 
he couldn't. He was tense now, upset. So were the others, now that she 
thought about it. The laughter and good humor from a few moments before were 
gone as though they had never been. They'd gotten all quiet right when Angel 
came out  --
 
Oh. Of course. They'd found out about the cheese. No wonder.
 
"So, we pack a certain someone off to the library with Fred," Cordelia said. 
"They get some quality research done, come back with all that yummy math. 
Meanwhile, we take off to Huntercombe Hospital and track me down --"
 
"As the great philosopher and sage Samuel Goldwyn once said, include me out," 
Lorne replied. "I don't think I could walk into a hospital without being 
admitted for an emergency case of -- well, something."
 
"You can get us the ingredients we'll need for the disinvitation spell," 
Wesley said. "Since this universe's Cordelia is alive, it may be the most 
effective means we have of defending our base." 
 
Lorne looked happy at the prospect. "Shopping. My kind of morning. And while 
I'm out there, I can find out a little bit more about this dimension in 
general. They may not have attack cheese here --"
 
"You can never be sure!" Fred said.
 
"-- but this is still a little on the strange side. Just my morning perusal 
of the local news tells me that much. I mean, wouldn't you think a dragon in 
the skies would rate a mention?"
 
"Good point," Wesley said. "And Angel and Fred can go with you to the 
library, Cordelia."
 
"I want to go with you guys," Cordelia objected. "I was gonna bring me a Get 
Well card."
 
Wesley paused before answering. Gunn beat him to it. "Cordy, we don't know 
what we're gonna find at this hospital."
 
He didn't say anything else, but apparently he didn't have to. Cordelia bit 
her lip and looked down at the floor. Wesley reached out to touch her 
shoulder, but stopped himself. Even Lorne seemed unusually grave.
 
Angel stuck his head out of the kitchen and showed Fred a skillet full of 
orange goo. "See? All taken care of."
 
Fred breathed a deep sigh of relief. She wondered why none of the others did 
the same.
 
***
 
Huntercombe Hospital was a small, private clinic in Burbank which had 
formerly been the residence of some forgotten Hollywood star with more money 
than taste. At least, that was the only explanation Wesley could think of for 
some of the building's more bizarre features: the grandiose Corinthian 
columns flanking the main entrance, or the stained glass windows above them 
depicting scenes from classic movies. 
 
But the grounds were well kept, and as he and Gunn walked up the gravel path 
they passed a number of staff who gave them friendly smiles before hurrying 
on their way. Wesley felt reassured that this universe's Cordelia appeared to 
be receiving the best care possible. 
 
The hospital reception was situated in what must once have been the main 
entrance hall. The window above the reception desk showed Judy Garland as 
Dorothy, linking arms with the Scarecrow and the Tin Man as they skipped 
along the yellow brick road -- all in a glorious stained glass version of 
Technicolor. 
 
An attractive Asian woman sat behind the desk, laughing as she chatted with 
the man who was leaning against it, holding a file. She broke off as Wesley 
and Gunn approached. 
 
"Hi there. Can I help you?" 
 
"I hope so," Wesley said. "I believe a friend of ours is being treated here 
-- Cordelia Chase?" 
 
The woman frowned. "I'll have to check the register for you. I know most of 
our patients' names, but I don't think --" 
 
The man interrupted her. "It's okay, Ling. Cordelia's one of my patients." He 
set down the file and shook hands with Wesley, then Gunn. "Doctor Simon 
Davies." 
 
"Wesley Wyndham-Pryce," Wesley said. "This is Charles Gunn." 
 
"Pleased," Gunn said easily. 
 
Davies led them away from the desk and through the extravagant double doors 
at the far end of the entrance hall. "Ling's usually great with patients' 
names," he said when they were out of earshot, "but she's more likely to 
remember the ones who get a lot of visitors. Cordelia -- well, I think you're 
the first people who've come to see her since she was admitted." 
 
The thought of this universe's Cordelia in pain and alone for several months 
caused Wesley an irrational stab of guilt. "We would have come sooner if we 
could." 
 
"Sure," Davies said, nodding in what was an all-too-strained effort to be 
understanding. "It's difficult, I know. A lot of people find just being in 
places like this too disturbing. But, still, kind of strange, a girl this 
young having nobody to look in on her. Her records says she was brought in 
one night by a distraught man who left without giving his name. Apparently he 
never came back --" 
 
"He's here now," Wesley said under his breath. 
 
"Pardon?" 
 
"Nothing," Wesley said. "Please continue." 
 
"Actually, please don't," Gunn said. Wesley looked over in surprise at Gunn, 
who suddenly seemed a whole lot taller -- and more hostile -- than Wesley had 
seen him in a long while. "We didn't ditch Cordy because we didn't care. We 
didn't come because we couldn't. End of our story. Now, let's talk about 
her." 
 
Davies raised his eyebrows, but kept his tone polite. "Cordelia's in the 
Intensive Care Unit. I'll take you there." 
 
The doctor moved ahead of them, allowing Gunn the opportunity to turn to 
Wesley and mouth the words, intensive care unit? Wesley shook his head. 
Davies would think it more than a little odd if self-proclaimed close friends 
of Cordelia Chase came to visit her without knowing the basic facts about 
what had happened to her. If they were to avoid arousing suspicions, they 
would have to choose their questions with care. 
 
"Tell me," he asked, "what kind of progress is she making?" 
 
Davies exhaled. "To be honest -- not as much as I hoped she would. But she is 
stable." 
 
"That's good," Gunn said, looking at Wesley. But his expression was less 
certain than his voice. 
 
Davies turned right, and Wesley and Gunn followed him. Every hall they had 
passed along so far, Wesley noted, had been carpeted and decorated with 
movie posters, mounted on soft foam backings. But while the clinic's staffers 
went about their appointed tasks with speed and efficiency, he had yet to see 
a patient, much less an open 
door. 
 
What kind of hospital was this, anyway? 
 
They walked past a external window whose top panel appeared to be an artistic 
interpretation of Humphrey Bogart entreating Lauren Bacall not to get on the 
plane in "Casablanca." He frowned. Hadn't Ingrid Bergman been in that movie? 
"This is certainly an unusual building." 
 
The doctor frowned. "In what way?"
 
Wesley was at something of a loss for a reply at first. Finally he said, "You 
don't find the art a bit -- strange -- for a medical facility?"
 
Davies looked up at the window they were passing, which showed Elizabeth 
Taylor as Cleopatra. "I never really thought about it. But now that you 
mention it, some of the patients with more profound psychoses do get upset 
about the David Lynch windows."
 
Psychoses, Wesley thought. He and Gunn glanced quickly at each other, and he 
could see his own horror reflected in Gunn's eyes. The locked unit, the lack 
of patients in the hallways -- suddenly it all made sense. Huntercombe was a 
psychiatric institution. 
 
They had come to a set of sealed double doors. Davies opened them using a 
swipe card, then ushered them through. There was a second set of locked doors 
beyond the first, and Davies waited until they were sealed in the no-man's-
land between the two before swiping his card through the reader to open the 
next set. "Patients with mild to moderate psychiatric disorders are treated 
in the part of the clinic we've just come through," he explained. "The ICU is 
a locked unit, for our severely disturbed residents." 
 
Severely disturbed. Suddenly, Wesley didn't want to go any further. He wanted 
to turn around, walk out of the building and back down the drive. They could 
lie; tell the others they hadn't found her, and he'd never have to know what 
Angelus had done -- 
 
The main corridor in the ICU was empty. Davies stopped outside a closed, 
plain white door. "Of course, you know what happened," he said. 
 
Wesley's mouth was too dry; he couldn't speak. He heard Gunn say, "Yeah," and 
was glad one of them was still capable of maintaining the deception. 
 
Davies' expression was grave. "I won't lie. It looks bad. Just remember, 
she's on the best drugs available. The pain is minimal at this point." 
 
As if from a great distance, Wesley heard himself say, "That's good to know. 
Thank you, doctor." 
 
Davies opened the door. 
 
The room beyond it -- was just a room. 
 
Wesley realized he'd stupidly been expecting a padded cell -- something from 
a nineteenth century novel, with bars on the windows and shackles on the 
wall. Cordelia's room, like the rest of the clinic, was attractively if 
sparsely decorated, and might almost have been a hotel bedroom in one of the 
better chains. The only clues to its true nature were the furnishings, which 
were bolted securely to the floor, and the metal rails edging the sides of 
the bed. 
 
And in the bed -- 
 
Her hair had been chopped to a length almost as short as his own, and she was 
thin rather than slender, but she was still recognizably Cordelia. He 
couldn't see her face; she was lying turned toward the window, where faint 
daylight glowed behind tightly drawn blinds. 
 
Wesley entered the room, Gunn behind him. She reacted to the noise, her hands 
twitching as if she was trying to bring them to her face. She couldn't, and 
now that he was closer, Wesley saw why -- her wrists were held securely in 
padded restraints. So, they weren't so far from the nineteenth century after 
all.
 
Evidently Davies could read the dismay in his face. "The restraints are 
necessary. She suffers periodic psychotic episodes. As unpleasant as they 
are, they'd be worse if she hurt herself again in the process." 
 
Wesley took another step toward the bed. Cordelia's chest rose and fell more 
rapidly under the blankets, and he heard her make a tiny whimpering sound. 
"It's all right," he said gently. "It's me. I'm here, Cordelia --" 
 
At the sound of her name, she turned her head to look at him. But she 
couldn't.
 
"Oh, God," Gunn whispered. 
 
Cordelia couldn't see Wesley because her eyes were gone. 
 
Her face was a mess of scar tissue and ugly welts of damaged flesh. 
Glistening flaps of skin swirled like twin whirlpools around the pits 
where her eyes should have been. This had been no clean surgical extraction; 
her eyeballs had been torn out of her head, violently and by someone with no 
consideration for the pain involved or what the aftereffects would look like. 
 
Cordelia made another tiny, wordless noise and twisted her head on the 
pillow. As she did so, moisture crept down from the mangled corner of one eye 
socket. For a moment, Wesley thought she was crying. Then he realized the 
fluid wasn't tears. 
 
"There's still some infection," Davies said. "We're using strong antibiotics, 
but her injuries have been very slow to respond." 
 
Wesley half-choked, tasted bile in his mouth. He made himself go closer to 
the bed, so he was standing over her. Taking her hand, he squeezed it. It 
remained limp. Not just antibiotics. "My God, what kinds of drugs are you 
pumping into her?" 
 
"Only what we have to," Davies said. 
 
Gunn looked at him. "But if she wasn't sedated, she'd be able to talk to us, 
right? She'd know us?" 
 
Davies hesitated. "It's unlikely." 
 
"We're not strangers," Wesley snapped. "We're her friends." 
 
Davies tone was gentle as he said, "I understand. But every time we've cut 
back on Cordelia's medication, she's become violent. And she's invariably 
incoherent. She hasn't shown any awareness of her environment." He paused. 
"I'm sorry. She's obviously not the girl you remember." 
 
Girl, thought Wesley. Not even a woman, really. A girl. 
 
Cordelia arched her back and pulled against her restraints, muscles 
stretching like cords on her stick-like arms. Pushing her head back against 
the pillow, she uttered a keening wail of misery and fear. 
 
Something inside Wesley twisted, and sorrow became cold, hard rage. 
 
Periodic psychotic episodes, the doctor had said. So she still had the 
visions.  But now, instead of helping others, they only added to the torment 
she already endured. 
 
She still received messages for Angel, but Angelus wasn't listening. 
 
Of course he had taken her eyes, Wesley thought bitterly. A blinded seer -- 
the irony must have been too delicious to resist. He would love this scene, 
the girl he had broken blind to the real world but still able to see the full 
spectrum of human suffering. And he hadn't simply taken her sight; he'd 
stripped her of her mind in the process and left her this shell, this mockery 
of the person she'd been. 
 
"He should see this." 
 
"I'm sorry?" Davies asked. "Who should?" 
 
Wesley hadn't realized he'd spoken the thought out loud. "Nobody. Nobody at 
all." 
 
***
 
 
There was a small wall around the edge of the visitors' parking lot. Wesley 
sat on it, looking back across the wide, freshly mown lawn and carefully 
tended flower beds at the institution's main building. Institution -- that 
was the right word. He couldn't think of Huntercombe as a hospital anymore. 
People got better in hospitals, then left them. Seeing this universe's 
Cordelia had shaken Wesley to the core, but left him certain of one thing: 
it wouldn't be easy for her to come back from whatever dark place she had 
fled to inside her 
skull. Left alone like this, she wasn't going to get better. She wasn't ever 
going to leave. 
 
After a while, he became aware that he was no longer alone. Gunn was sitting 
beside him, selecting stones from the gravel under their feet and throwing 
them, one at a time, at an empty soda can lying some yards away on the grass. 
 
"I used to know a girl," Wesley said finally. 
 
Gunn stopped throwing the pebbles. 
 
"I'd never met anyone quite like her. She was still in high school; very 
pretty -- somewhat vain -- but smart, too, although she went to pains to hide 
it. She was frivolous. Irrepressible. Unexpectedly practical. Occasionally 
shallow; always optimistic. Undeniably courageous. This girl, she --" he 
forced himself to smile, "-- she had a crush on me." 
 
"Get outta here." Gunn smiled too. "No accounting for tastes, huh?" 
 
"No," Wesley agreed. It hurt his mouth to keep smiling, so he stopped. 
"Anyway. I was going through a bit of a bad patch. Questioning a lot of 
things. Questioning myself. I was doing the only thing I wanted to do, and 
finding out I couldn't do it very well at all. When I looked in the mirror, I 
didn't like what I saw anymore. But this girl -- when she looked at me -- her 
eyes lit up --" His voice threatened to break. "Her eyes --" 
 
Her face, disfigured and weeping fluid, flashed through his thoughts again. 
He wished there was some way he could erase the sight of the pathetic 
creature strapped to the bed, wipe it away before it bled into his better 
memories of Cordelia and corrupted them with its brutality. What he was 
feeling, he realized, was only a fraction of what she had endured. What she 
still endured, and would continue to endure, over and over and over -- 
 
He felt a hand rest lightly on his shoulder. "Remember, it ain't her," Gunn 
said. "This place -- it's a world gone wrong." 
 
Wesley said, "No. This is the world the way it should be. All thanks 
to Angel." Gunn was looking at him, so he explained, "Angel is as responsible 
for what happened to Cordelia here as Angelus is. The only difference between 
the woman in there and our Cordy is that we come from a place where Angel's 
actions didn't have the consequences they ought to have had." 
 
Gunn paused. Then he said, "Ain't a lot of 'ought to' with consequences, at 
least in my experience. You do your best, you make your mistakes, and in the 
end, there's still no telling what's gonna happen." 
 
Wesley stared at Gunn in disbelief. "Are you -- making excuses for him?" 
 
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Gunn held his hands up in front of him. "I'm not making 
excuses for anyone or anything that had something to do with what happened to 
the Cordelia we just saw. I just mean -- Angel's not the same guy 
who did this any more than that's our Cordy in there. This whole thing's one 
bad head trip. Only way we're gonna get through it is keeping what's real and 
what's not straight."
 
Wesley clenched his hands into fists at his side, then tried to relax them. 
"I know that. But I also know the chance Angel took -- the risk that this 
would happen to our Cordelia too -- that's real, isn't it?"
 
Gunn had no reply.
 
***
 
"I think I'll go crazy," Cordelia said.
 
She found a table in a shady corner of Los Angeles Central Library's science 
section and took off the backpack she'd been carrying. As she unloaded the 
paper and pens they'd stopped to buy on the way, she saw Angel looking at her 
uncomprehendingly. 
 
Cordelia sighed and gestured at the stacks of books behind them, where Fred 
was standing perfectly still, her eyes closed and her expression one of pure, 
blissful contentment.
 
"I used to have a regular life. I dated. I was a cheerleader. And now my 
typical morning consists of reading physics textbooks in the company of a 
vampire with multiple personality disorder and a woman who's clearly 
achieving some kind of high on library-smell. Since the world's clearly gone 
100 percent nutso, I might as well just join in."
 
Angel's confused expression disappeared, and instead he looked wounded. For a 
moment, Cordelia regretted the multiple-personality remark, until he said, 
"Fred just needs a minute to herself. This is a big deal to her."
 
Fred could spend as much time in the stratosphere as she wanted, Cordelia 
thought as she switched on the public terminal sitting at one end of the 
table, as long as she came down from reality's upper atmosphere for long 
enough to find them a way home. "Hey, Fred. If you're done savoring that 
mildewed-paper aroma, come and take a look at this."
 
Fred opened her eyes and lifted her arms. She twirled toward them between the 
stacks, wearing a smile so wide her face could hardly hold it. "There are 
books!" she said as she joined them. "All in order!"
 
"How about that? What will they think of next." The PC monitor hummed, and 
Cordelia put her hands on Fred's shoulders, placing her in the seat in front 
of it. "Okay, here's one of those boxes that beeps and makes things easier --
"
 
"Computer," Fred said proudly, looking at Angel. 
 
"Right. Windows has moved on a couple of versions since the last time you 
used one of these, but you'll pick it up."
 
Fred lifted the mouse hesitantly. "Pick it up?"
 
"Put it down," Cordelia said.
 
Fred put the mouse down again. She looked at it, then at the glowing monitor 
in front of her. For a long time her expression remained doubtful, and her 
hand hovered uncertainly above the keyboard.
 
Finally she extended her index finger and pressed 'Q'. When the letter 
materialized on the screen, she smiled in simple delight.
 
We are totally stuck here for good, Cordelia thought.
 
And then Fred began to type.
 
She was slow at first, but as her fingers found the keys with increasing 
speed and accuracy, the chain of letters and symbols on the screen rapidly 
lengthened. At the same time, her expression changed, child-like rapture 
replaced by focused concentration. 
 
Suddenly Fred stopped, reached across the table and lifted a notepad and pen. 
"I need these books," she said, listing out titles and authors. "It's okay if 
they don't have Schwartz, I can use Peebles if Thorne's out, but I have to 
have Ferris. If they don't have Analysis of Uncertainty by Weinberg, Calder's 
Quantum Interpretation of Space-Time is just as good. And it has prettier 
pictures."
 
"On it," Angel said, taking the list.
 
As he left, Cordelia asked, "Anything I can do?"
 
Fred nodded without looking away from the equations rapidly scrolling down 
the screen. "Ask the desk for the last five years of the Reviews of Modern 
Physics."
 
Fred was by far the most lucid Cordelia had yet seen her. Somehow, while 
extracting from her memory the knowledge and tools of another life, she'd 
brought back at the same time a bit of the old Fred too, the girl who'd seen 
alternate universes only as theoretical possibilities, and not as places 
where monsters were real and cheese attacked you. 
 
It was like following a forest trail, Cordelia thought suddenly: if you 
retraced your steps far enough, sooner or later you'd come to the place where 
the path split. At the crossroads, there'd be one person; afterwards, two. 
And you never got to go back and find out what happened to the you who went 
the other way.
 
At least, not if you were lucky.
 
"So you can do it, right? I mean --" Cordelia gestured at the computer's 
screen, "-- solve this puppy and get us home -- really home?"
 
Absorbed in the task at hand, Fred nodded absently.
 
"Good," Cordelia said, standing up. "You may not have met Angel's enemy 
within, but I have. Trust me when I say, we can't get out of any dimension 
that has Angelus in it soon enough."
 
"We're safe," Fred said. "Angel's here."
 
As she spoke, she looked up from the computer and through the stacks in the 
direction he had gone. The expression she wore was one of total, implicit 
trust. 
 
And something more.
 
"Journals, coming right up," Cordelia said, and went to talk to Angel.
 
She found him flipping through the pages of a massive book whose tissue-thin 
leaves were covered in incomprehensible math, broken up by occasional 
paragraphs of incomprehensible English. As Cordelia approached, he indicated 
the page and gave a small, hesitant smile. "You know, it's at times like this 
I regret not having a formal education."
 
Cordelia placed her hand firmly in the center of the book and pushed it down. 
"We need to talk."
 
His hopeful expression vanished, and Angel looked grave and more than a 
little worried. "I know. Cordelia, I didn't tell you about Darla because I 
thought if I did--"
 
"Oh, screw Darla," Cordelia interrupted. "Well, obviously you already have -- 
but that's not what we're talking about."
 
"It's not?"
 
"No. We're gonna talk about Fred."
 
"What about Fred?"
 
"She has a crush on you."
 
Angel looked perplexed for a moment. Then he smiled, nonplussed. "No, she 
doesn't."
 
"Yes, she does."
 
"No, she doesn't."
 
"Does."
 
"Doesn't."
 
"Yes, she --" Cordelia broke off and took a deep breath. "Okay, we're gonna 
start this conversation again, and this time it's not gonna play like a 
comedy routine. Angel, Fred likes you. She more than likes you. She's 
probably carving I Heart Angel on the table as we speak."
 
He shook his head. "Cordelia, that's not possible."
 
Cordelia fought the urge to grab him and shake him. Apparently she was going 
to have to do this in very small, very simple steps. "How did you meet her, 
exactly?"
 
"You mean in Pylea? There were some people who wanted me to chop her head 
off, and I refused. When things turned nasty, I stole a horse and we got out 
of there."
 
"Uh-huh. So, you appeared like some knight in shining armor, saved her life, 
then literally swept her off her feet and on to the back of a noble steed."
 
Angel shook his head. "I would have done that for anyone. She's grateful, 
sure, but --"
 
"Yes, but you did it for her," Cordelia said, holding up a hand to cut him 
off. "And then you took her away from Pylea, a dimension whose chief 
attractions are slavery, uncomfortable underwear and cheese that bites back. 
And you brought her home."
 
"It's not really home --" said Angel, but she could see he was beginning to 
get it.
 
"And now she's all with the big doe eyes and 'Angel will keep us safe'." 
Cordelia allowed him a moment to process that. "Maybe it's slipped under your 
radar, but Fred digs you with a spade. And you're going to nip this thing in 
the bud. Not even the bud. Whatever comes before the bud, you're going to 
stop it there."
 
Angel looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Cordelia, even if Fred did think -- 
that -- I could never --"
 
Coldly, Cordelia said, "Never what? Sleep with her and lose your soul? 
Because, hey, third time's a charm, right?" Angel was silent, stung. Cordelia 
felt an unaccustomed pang of regret for her sharp words; something about this 
situation just brought the worst out in her. More gently, she finished, "You 
don't get to do the relationship thing, Angel, not with Fred or Buffy or 
Darla or anyone else. The proof's walking around out there."
 
Quietly, Angel said, "I know."
 
"So you're going to talk to Fred right now and explain to her exactly why it 
is you don't date. I'll get the rest of the books and journals." She held out 
her hand. "Give me the list."
 
Angel looked thoroughly unhappy, but he handed her the list and set down the 
book he was holding on top of the pile on the floor at his feet. "Cordy --"
 
"I know. Just go and get it over with."
 
She didn't relax until he was out of sight. Then she exhaled slowly and began 
checking the titles of the volumes in the pile against those on the list, 
making a mental note of the ones she still needed to find. How was it 
possible, she thought. How could he keep making the same mistakes again and 
again?
 
She set the list atop the books and lifted the pile. When she turned around, 
she saw with annoyance that she wasn't alone.
 
"I'm not gonna do this for you, Angel. You know what you need to do. Go do 
it."
 
He didn't move. Instead he cocked his head to one side, as if he wanted to 
examine her from a different angle. The merest ghost of a smile played over 
his features. 
 
Cordelia felt ice form in her bones.
 
And then he was in front of her, his face inches from hers, his weight 
pushing her up against the shelves. She could feel the metal ledges against 
her back, her thighs, her calves. She loosened her grip on the books -- they 
were heavy, they'd make a noise, surely someone would hear and come.  But he 
took the books from her and set them on the floor in silence. As he turned 
away from her, she opened her mouth to scream -- and felt a hand, cool as 
clay, clamp over her mouth. The other rested on the back of her neck, fingers 
lightly pressing into the hollow at the top of her spine.
 
"Be quiet for me," Angelus said in a low voice.
 
As he led her away, Cordelia hoped he was going to kill her quickly. Because 
the alternatives were much worse.
 
 
 
*************
Chapter 4
*************
 
 
 
"Wes, man, maybe you should slow down."
 
"Perhaps you should keep up," Wesley said. He was walking as quickly as he 
could along the blazing-hot sidewalk, paying no attention to where he was 
going, whether Gunn was still with him, anything. All that mattered was 
getting back to Cordelia's apartment, back to Cordelia, where they could see 
her alive and well again. 
 
And tell Angel just what --
 
No, no. There was no time for anger now, no place for it. Wesley knew this, 
and yet it kept roiling within him, pushing its way to the surface.
 
"Good thing I wore my Nikes," Gunn said.  "But I still think you should 
consider slowing down sometime soon."
 
"I'm not slowing down," Wesley snapped. "And I'm not going to stop until --" 
Sharp pain lanced from his gut, stopping him in his tracks. 
 
"Until you rip your wound open and spill yourself all over the sidewalk," 
Gunn said as Wesley clutched his stomach. "Don't guess that's gonna be long 
now. So keep at it."
 
"Point taken," Wesley gasped. Though he was almost entirely recovered from 
his gunshot wound, he was still in no shape to run halfway across town. 
"Remind me why we let Angel have the car?"
 
"Partly because walking in the sun ain't really an option for him anywhere 
except Pylea; mostly because we are two stupid, gallant lunkheads who caved 
in when Cordelia gave us that look. It's hotter than hell out here. You want 
to take a shortcut in the shade?" When Wesley frowned, Gunn explained, 
"There's underground tunnels that'll get us halfway to Cordy's in a whole lot 
less time."
 
"You could have mentioned it before," Wesley said. 
 
"Like you were listening to a word I was saying," Gunn replied. "Anyway, you 
ought to know -- sometimes there's vamps down there." He paused, then 
continued. "Angel knows those tunnels, too. Which means --"
 
"We might run into Angelus," Wesley said. Briefly, he weighed the remote 
possibility of an unwanted encounter in the city's extensive tunnels against 
the overwhelming desire to get back as quickly as possible. It wasn't a 
difficult decision. "We'll take the risk. Do you have a stake with you?"
 
"Sure. Fixed one up this morning." When Gunn lifted his T shirt and pulled a 
stake out of his belt as evidence, Wesley took it into his own hand. His fist 
closed tightly over the wood.
 
"Let's not lose any more time," Wesley said.
 
***
 
Wesley had, of course, taken the underground tunnels before -- usually with 
Angel by his side. For safety.
 
Gunn was with him now, walking through the dank, black tunnels, and confident 
though Wesley was in Gunn's ability, he did not feel safe here at all. He 
knew that Angel could appear at any moment -- and no doubt the vampire would 
take delight in killing him for a second time. 
 
Though perhaps he'd at least be surprised by the sight of one of his victims 
returned from the dead -- and maybe that moment of surprise would give Wesley 
the opportunity he needed. He could envision it now, the stake plunging into 
Angel's chest, Angel turning into so much dust --
 
Angelus. He meant Angelus.
 
Then he heard it, began slowing down. Gunn didn't seem to notice.
 
"Gotta love the smell down here," Gunn said. "I was just messing with Cordy's 
head, but you know, we really might want to pick up some Old Spice or 
something. Because when we get up to the surface again, we are going to be 
mighty ripe, if you know what I mean --"
 
"Shhh," Wesley said. "Listen."
 
Gunn leaned back on his heels, then tensed as he, too, heard the sound. 
Footsteps -- distant, but coming closer. 
 
Wesley peered through the darkness -- a grate not far ahead offered the only 
light, filtering sunlight through in faint beams. He could still see nothing, 
but the steps were getting closer now. "Walk into the light," he whispered.
 
"Oh, great plan," Gunn muttered. "Why don't we send up a flare while we're at 
it?"
 
"He can see us in the dark," Wesley said. "But he can't touch us in the 
light. Not without pain."
 
Gunn nodded, understanding, and the two of them moved as one into the light 
from the grate. Wesley glanced quickly at his friend; bands of darkness 
crisscrossed his face, as though he were in a cell, staring back from behind 
the bars. 
 
The steps came closer, and Gunn whispered, "Hand that back over here, will 
you?"
 
Wesley's hand tightened around the stake. "I won't fail."
 
"That's not what I --" Gunn froze as a shape became distinguishable at the 
end of the corridor. Wesley squinted as he made it out: a tall figure, all in 
black, long coat that reached to his knees, heavy boots --
 
"Well, this is new," the figure said.
 
He spoke in Gunn's voice.
 
Gunn's jaw dropped as his double stepped forward into the sunlight and 
crossed his arms against his chest. Strangely, this other Gunn didn't seem 
all that surprised to come face to face with himself. "Now, here I was 
feeling all jaded, you know? Like I'd seen all there was to see. Then my 
identical twin shows up, hanging out in the sewers and wearing a stylin' 
shirt. Any chance we can trade? Trust me, this coat would look good on you."
 
"You're Charles Gunn. This universe's Charles Gunn," Wesley said. "Good 
Lord."
 
Gunn kept staring at the Other Gunn, his jaw still slack. After a moment, he 
finally said, "It's gonna take me a while to come up with something here. You 
guys talk without me."
 
"What's going on up there?" A figure jogged up out of the darkness to Other 
Gunn's side.
 
Gunn somehow managed to look even more surprised. "George! George, man, 
you're alive!"
 
"So far," George said. "Hell, now I have two of you to deal with."
 
Wesley remembered George's face, though it seemed to be coming back to him 
from a great distance -- oh, yes. George had helped him the night he'd been 
shot. According to Gunn, George had died in a vampire fight just before 
they'd all gone to Pylea in search of Cordelia. At least this universe was a 
better place for someone, he thought.
 
"I thought you were dead," Gunn said, briefly grasping his friend's arm. "I 
mean -- you are dead. You were one of my best friends, and you died because I 
wasn't there to back you up. George, I'm so sorry. You meant a lot to me, and 
I never told you --"
 
"Hey!" Other Gunn said. "You want to hold off on revealing my inner Hallmark 
card?"
 
"Sorry," Gunn said, still unable to look at his double. "But -- he was dead."
 
"Lotta that going around," Other Gunn said. He was looking at Wesley almost 
coldly. "Last time I saw you, you were flatlining in a hospital bed. If you 
weren't standing in the sunlight right now, I'd have to wonder."
 
"I can explain," Wesley began, but Other Gunn cut him off with a gesture.
 
"You know, these days, I really don't care about explanations," Other Gunn 
said tiredly. He stepped a little closer, and Wesley took in a deep breath. 
Other Gunn looked far older than the Gunn who stood at his side. He was 
unshaven, had bags under his eyes and radiated none of Gunn's remarkable 
vitality. He had a long, jagged cut that curved down the side of his face -- 
a recent one, to judge from the pink color of the scar.
 
"Angelus," Wesley said, indicating the cut.
 
Other Gunn smiled bitterly. "How did you guess?" 
 
"He tried to kill you," Gunn said.
 
"And this surprises you?" Other Gunn said. "Why the hell I ever trusted that 
serial-killing son-of-a-bitch, I'd like to know."
 
"Serial murders?" Wesley said. He was surprised at first -- most of Angelus' 
career was dedicated to seeking out new and more reprehensible crimes to 
commit, not to repetition. But then he reminded himself of all the crosses 
cut in the cheeks of long-ago victims; if Angelus found something that amused 
him, he could keep it up long enough to form a pattern. "What is he doing? Be 
precise. If it matches his old habits, we might be able to track him down."
 
"Since when are we trying to track him down?" Gunn said, jolted out of 
silence. 
 
"I'm with your good-lookin' friend here," George said to Other Gunn. "I 
personally try to avoid Angelus. Call me crazy."
 
"You should listen to George," Other Gunn said. "Unless you want your liver 
ripped out. Because you're not gonna stop him with a bottle of aftershave."
 
Wesley froze and looked down. Where he had been clutching a stake in his 
hand, he now held a bottle of Old Spice. He stared at it for a few seconds. 
"This is all starting to make sense now," Wesley said.
 
"Glad to hear you say that," Gunn said. "'Cause it ain't making a whole lotta 
sense to me. And where the hell did the Old Spice come from?"
 
"Give me a moment," Wesley said, looking back up at Other Gunn. "Angelus is 
removing his victims' livers?"
 
"Bet that's not all he does," Other Gunn said. "Not by a long shot. But yeah, 
he's developed a taste for livers. Rips 'em out, leaves the person there to 
just bleed to death. Sometimes it takes a while to die like that, and it's no 
fun. I've been with a couple of them when -- I mean, I try to patrol this 
place, but sometimes you just get there too late."
 
"Is he doing this in specific locations?" Wesley said. "The same places, over 
and over?"
 
"English, are you on to something?" Gunn said. Wesley motioned for him to be 
quiet.
 
"Seems to me, you understand him a little too well," Other Gunn said, his 
eyes narrow. But he nodded, and Wesley knew he had guessed correctly. "He 
does go to the same places. He's got a thing for the Paramount Gates."
 
"And the Hollywood sign," George added. "Plus this one weird-ass bar in town 
-- The Longhorn. You know it?"
 
"I'm afraid we do," Wesley said. 
 
"Portals," Gunn said. "They're all portals. That means something, doesn't 
it?" 
 
"Yes," Wesley said. Then his eyes widened -- "Dear God. The library. There's 
a portal in the library."
 
"Oh, shit," Gunn said. "We sent them right to him."
 
***
 
There was no possibility of calling for help.
 
Angelus had looped his right arm almost casually around Cordelia's waist; he 
held her right hand loosely in his left, pulling her arm across the front of 
her body. As he led her between aisles of books and through public reading 
areas, a few people looked up to see them pass, then looked away again. 
Cordelia guessed they saw nothing more unusual than a college student and her 
boyfriend, taking a study break to make out in the stacks.  
 
If she took a breath to scream, he'd break her neck before she made a sound. 
And then he'd probably kill everyone who witnessed it.
 
Stay calm, she thought, then repeated it to herself, over and over. Stay 
calm, stay calm. Panic kills you right now; calm keeps you alive maybe an 
extra couple of minutes. Not long, but maybe just long enough for someone to 
come -- for Angel to come --
 
Angelus stopped outside a door bearing a familiar symbol and pushed it open. 
Cordelia's mind was halfway numb with terror, and it took her a second to 
realize where they were. When she did, the absurdity of it almost made her 
giggle.
 
She was going to die in the women's restroom.
 
Still holding her, Angelus walked along the row of stalls. When he had made 
sure they were all empty, he pushed the trash can with his foot from under 
the sinks to jam it against the door that led back to the library. There was 
no other exit, and the room had no windows. She was closed in with him.
 
Angelus let go of Cordelia. She was weak with fear, and her legs nearly 
buckled under her. She staggered backwards several paces, almost losing her 
balance before previously unsuspected reserves of strength kicked in and kept 
her on her feet. She put a hand against the wall for support and looked at 
Angelus, expecting to see a cruel victor's smile, or mocking sympathy for her 
distress.
 
Nothing.
 
Angelus watched her, blank-faced and impassive. It was crazy, she thought, 
but he looked exactly how Angel did when he was steeling himself to do 
something he really didn't want to do. She'd never realized before just how 
much they were still alike -- 
 
Then he vamped out, and a second later she felt his teeth at her throat.
 
Cordelia struggled, kicking and twisting as hard as she could, desperately 
trying to loosen his grip on her wrists, to shift his weight off her. It was 
useless; she was jammed up against the cold, hard tiles of the wall, and even 
if she could have pushed him off her, there was nowhere to run.  
 
He was holding her so tightly she was sure she should be in pain, but the 
only sensation Cordelia was aware of was the needle-sharp tips of his fangs 
pressing into the soft skin on her neck. Does it hurt a lot? she wondered. I 
hope it doesn't hurt a lot -- please don't let it hurt --
 
But the bite never came.
 
Angelus let go and backed away as quickly as if she'd struck him. The ridges 
on his forehead and around his eyes made it hard to tell, but she thought she 
saw his expression change for an instant, to something more -- more what? She 
couldn't tell. Then his face smoothed, and by the time he was recognizably 
human again, the blankness was back.
 
Behind him, the door jerked as someone tried to open it from the outside. The 
trash can he had wedged under the handle rattled but stayed stuck. Cordelia 
considered screaming -- then realized she was less likely to save herself 
than to get whoever was trying to come in killed as well. After a few more 
attempts, the person outside the door apparently gave up and moved on.
 
Angelus reached down and pulled something from a sheath at the side of his 
boot. As he straightened up, Cordelia saw with terror he was holding a knife. 
It had a carved ivory handle and a blade that was at least four inches long. 
Angelus held it up, examining it critically under the flat white glow of the 
toilets' strip lighting. He appeared dissatisfied with what he saw.
 
Reaching into a pocket, he took out a Swiss Army knife and flicked it open. 
With short, precise movements, he began to hone the edge of the ivory-handled 
knife. Making it sharper.
 
"You have beautiful eyes," he told her without looking up.
 
Cordelia didn't say anything.
 
Still sharpening the knife, Angelus asked, "Did I ever tell you how beautiful 
your eyes are?"
 
"No," Cordelia said. It was barely a whisper.
 
"I should have," Angelus said. "I'm sorry." 
 
He sounded so sincere. So like Angel.
 
"There are so many things you want to say," he went on. "But you don't. And 
then the moment's gone. You can't change it. It's too late." He blinked, as 
if he'd just noticed something. "You're frightened. Don't be."
 
With every last ounce of courage she could summon, Cordelia said, "I'm not."
 
At that, he raised his head. Unexpectedly, she saw something that resembled 
pride in his expression. "You're brave. She was brave, too. Right up to the 
point where her mind snapped." 
 
As he spoke, Angelus held up the knife and flipped it over so he could 
examine each side in turn. He nodded to himself. Then he slipped the Swiss 
army knife back into his pocket and brought up his free hand to touch her 
face softly. His fingertips brushed ever so lightly against her eyelashes. "I 
was too careless, before. I won't be this time. I won't lose her again."
 
Suddenly the knife in his hand was being raised toward her head, her face, 
ohgodohgod, please no, not her eyes, nottheeyes --
 
She heard a snip. When she dared look up, Angelus was holding a lock of her 
hair between the thumb and forefinger of one hand. In the other, he held the 
knife. "Sharp enough now," he said.
 
He stepped back. Cordelia was shaking so hard she could hear her teeth 
chattering in her skull, as if from cold. Angelus held the knife in his left 
hand while he used his right hand to roll up the sleeve of his shirt, 
exposing the arm below the elbow. 
 
Then, calmly, he transferred the knife to his right hand and began to cut.
 
The blade sliced through his skin easily, and in seconds he had made an 
incision that ran from the inside of his elbow to his wrist. Cordelia stared, 
horrified, half expecting the wound to gush blood like a fire hydrant. In a 
living person, it would have. But the cut Angelus had given himself only 
oozed dark fluid sluggishly. Beads of blood welled up from within his flesh, 
then slowly ran down his forearm, criss-crossing and joining to form a 
delicate web of red on his pale skin.
 
He wiped the blade clean on his jacket and drew close to Cordelia. "Give me 
your arm."
 
"No."  The defiance was instinctive and immediate, and useless. He came 
closer to her again, dominating her. He was holding the knife at the level of 
her chest, and without thinking she raised her hands to protect herself. 
 
It was the wrong thing to do. Angelus took hold of her wrist and sharply 
tugged the sleeve of her sweatshirt upwards. 
 
The blade shone as he cut her.
 
For several seconds, it didn't hurt at all. She looked dumbly at her arm, and 
at the blood seeping, welling, and very soon flowing out of the incision he'd 
made across her wrist. Then the pain hit, raw slivers of it crawling up her 
muscles and into her shoulder, and she gasped.
 
Almost immediately she began to feel dizzy. She heard the patpatpat of rapid 
dripping and wondered why she hadn't noticed before now that one of the sink 
faucets was still running. But the faucet was her fingertips, and the liquid 
streaming off them wasn't water. Cordelia watched as red drops of blood 
spattered, as if in slow motion, onto the green-and-white tile.
 
She thought, he's going to cut me to pieces -- 
 
Fear took the last of her strength, and she started to fall.
 
Angelus caught her.
 
She felt him lower her on to the cold floor. Or maybe the floor was warm and 
she was cold, Cordelia wasn't sure any more. Blood loss and panic were 
pushing her toward a place that seemed disconnected from everything else, 
even from her own body. The edges of her vision were closing in, and when she 
looked up at him, it was as if he was at the other end of a long tunnel. But 
he must have been close, very close, because she felt his hand on her cheek, 
his body against hers. Cordelia felt something cool and wet on her arm, a 
soft lapping against her skin. His lips, she realized; it felt as though he 
were kissing the pulse at her wrist.
 
He slid his fingers inside her mouth. They were slick with his blood; it 
tasted thick and salty and -- something else. She was by now dazed with 
panic, and she was chilled to the core. The world around her no longer felt 
important or real. The only thing that was real was the taste that filled her 
mouth and made her throat tingle. It wasn't life but it was the next best 
thing. 
 
She swallowed, feeling the pressure of his fingers against her tongue. 
Faintly, she heard his voice. 
 
"You'll never grow old," he was saying. "Never suffer. Never die --"
 
With horror, she realized what was happening. He was drinking from her, 
making her drink from him. He was turning her.
 
Cordelia clamped her jaws together, as hard as she could. Angelus cried out 
and snatched his fingers from her mouth. As he swore, Cordelia spat a mixture 
of blood and saliva on to the floor, where it disappeared instantly into the 
rapidly expanding red pool.
 
Angelus held out his hand again. "Drink."
 
Cordelia's breathing had shortened to shallow, fast gasps, and it was 
difficult to speak, so instead she turned her head away.
 
"You'll drink in the end," he said. "In the end, everyone drinks."
 
She felt the truth of that, as clearly as she felt the blood leaking out of 
her. When it came down to a choice between taking what he was offering and 
sliding down into the darkness, Cordelia didn't think she'd be strong enough 
to resist. What kind of vampire would she be? Would she be worse than Darla, 
or Drusilla? Would Wesley be the one to drive the stake through her heart, or 
Gunn --
 
"No," she gasped. "No. No!" 
 
To her surprise, Angelus smiled fondly. "So defiant. So vital. Just like she 
was."
 
So he wasn't just psychotic, Cordelia thought distantly; he was deluded too. 
Because if there was one person she was certain she was nothing like, it was 
-- "Buffy?"
 
The smile vanished, and that unnerving blankness settled over him again. "I 
already have something like Buffy. Now I want something like Cordelia." He 
lifted his other hand and brushed the fingers through her hair, softly, like 
a lover would caress her. "Stop fighting. Give in. I promise it's easier." 
 
She coughed, gulped air. "I don't want -- to be -- like you --"
 
Angelus stared at her. His impassive, blank expression cracked open and an 
inner well of raw pain flooded his face. With grim determination, Cordelia 
struggled to stay conscious, aware it was a lost cause.
 
He stood up, and a second later she heard a metallic clink as he unfastened 
his belt. She could only think of one reason he might do that, and she began 
to shake. Cordelia's last despairing wish was that he would just let her die 
in peace, without this final act of violation.  Her only small consolation 
was that she had very little time left to be awake -- or even alive.
 
Just when you think things can't get any worse, Cordelia thought, and blacked 
out.
 
***
 
Cordelia was angry, Fred was misguided, and the universe was just plain 
wrong. All in all, Angel wasn't sure how things could get worse.
 
Cordelia said Fred had a crush on him. Could she be right? Angel hadn't 
thought so -- but then, Angel had had other matters on his mind both in Pylea 
and after they had left. He stopped for a moment, and gave Cordelia the 
benefit of the doubt. 
 
Under other circumstances, he might have been flattered, if a little 
confused. He might even have sought Cordelia's advice on how best to deal 
with the situation. But everything was different now; there was a tension 
between him and Cordelia that Angel didn't know how to heal. Now that the 
truth about Darla was out, Fred's harmless affection had become, in 
Cordelia's eyes, something potentially dangerous, even destructive. And Angel 
knew that had nothing to do with Fred and everything to do with him. 
 
Images from that night with Darla flickered in his mind. He'd pushed the 
memories of having sex with her out of his mind as quickly and forcefully as 
possible, so this was the first time he'd allowed himself think back to it in 
detail. He couldn't deny, even to himself, that mixed up with the remembered 
guilt and desperation was something else. Release. Reckless, self-destructive 
pleasure. He'd told himself, once or twice, that what had happened had been 
for the best -- if that was what it took to wake him up, then --
 
But that rationalization seemed so cheap, so small, when compared to the 
price his friends had paid for it in this universe. For his own enjoyment, he 
had endangered his soul --
 
Angel stopped and forced himself to focus. There was a time and a place for 
guilt, he reminded himself, but there was also a time and a place to put it 
aside. He'd gotten a lot better at remembering this the past few months; 
something about this place threatened to drive that lesson from his mind.
 
His immediate priority was finding a way to discount Cordelia's fears without 
embarrassing himself, Fred or both of them beyond endurance. No immediate 
means of doing this were springing to mind. After all, there wasn't really 
any good way to say, just in case you were thinking of falling in love with 
me, don't bother.
 
Feeling apprehensive, Angel returned to where they had left Fred and sat down 
beside her. She was typing at the computer with a speed and dexterity he'd 
rarely seen. "I guess it's all coming back to you," he said. 
 
"Oh, yeah," Fred said. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at him, her 
face radiant with discovery. "I can't believe how many search engines there 
are now. And there's so much out there! Every university seems to have one, 
and all this lovely data is just --" Fred sighed contentedly, and tapped the 
computer's screen; the monitor's light made her skin glow warmly. "You put in 
the words you want, and the information comes flying to you. I never 
appreciated how wonderful it is. And everybody here -- they all take it for 
granted."
 
"Like having other people to talk to. Or walking around in the sunlight," 
Angel said, leaning back slightly as Fred began busily clicking on links. "Or 
not having to worry about cheese."
 
"Don't say that word. Hmmm, that's interesting." Fred's mouth screwed up in 
the strange expression Angel was learning meant "intense concentration". She 
grabbed up her pencil and began jotting down some notes. "Odd measurements 
this lab published --"
 
She was about to dive back into her work, and Angel already sensed that this 
was something likely to absorb her completely until she was done. Better 
speak now. "Fred? There was something I wanted to -- ask you, I guess -- "
 
"Well, this isn't right at all," Fred said. She was scowling at the computer; 
she'd jumped to another site, another set of measurements. "I mean, none of 
this matches. Some discrepancy between different observers, sure, you expect 
that. But Stanford's numbers don't bear any relationship to M.I.T.'s. I mean, 
none." 
 
Angel briefly considered trying to contribute to the conversation she wanted 
to have, looked again at the long columns of numbers streaming out behind 
each decimal point, and realized that impulse was utterly futile. "If we 
could just talk for a second, I'd really appreciate it."
 
"Oh, go ahead! I'm listening," Fred said. She looked back over her shoulder 
and gave him that smile once more. 
 
"Well --" How did you do this? Best to spell out the main problem first; 
she'd realize the rest on her own, most likely. "You remember how we've 
talked about -- about Buffy?"
 
Fred's fingers stopped their brisk clicking on the keyboard. "Buffy. The girl 
you love."
 
"Right. And how we've talked about Angelus --"
 
"The bad man here who looks like you." Fred was typing -- and frowning -- 
once more. 
 
"Exactly. And how we'd met him before -- how I became him, before. And that 
it could happen again."
 
"It won't happen again," Fred said, her voice warm with confidence in him. 
She tapped the computer screen with her finger. "Oxford's got the strangest 
numbers of all. Nothing works together! These measurements don't just not 
match the other schools, Angel -- they're not even internally consistent. 
They don't create a coherent picture of -- of -- "
 
She grabbed his arm, her fingers surprisingly strong. "Oh, no. No, no."
 
"What?" Angel leaned over her shoulder to look at the screen with her; the 
numbers were as meaningless to him as ever, but her urgency demanded a 
response. 
 
"These measurements I've been looking up -- they're the data I need to 
establish this universe's unique parameters. But the parameters aren't here. 
The structure's not here. There's no foundation to stand on --"
 
When she turned back to him, Angel was shocked to see that she was afraid. 
Her eyes were bright, her breath was speeding up, and her quick heartbeat was 
rushing blood to her cheeks. Then, suddenly, he realized how close they were 
and wondered if it was fear she was feeling --
 
The earth moved. 
 
Fred cried out as the floor began to tremble beneath them. The light fixtures 
began to swing back and forth as books started tumbling off shelves. Angel 
could hear screaming all around them as the power flickered. 
 
He grabbed Fred and ducked beneath the table. "Hold on," he shouted over the 
din as he rolled on top of her for whatever protection he could provide. 
"It's an earthquake."
 
Fred's hands were tense as she gripped his shoulders. "I don't think so. I 
think it's more than that."
 
The floor lurched again, and Angel curled around her more tightly. He 
reminded himself to find out exactly what else Fred thought this could be, 
after they were all safe --
 
Oh, God. Cordelia.
 
In a few moments, the shaking stilled. The screaming died down as people 
began hurrying for the stairs. Angel shifted his weight off Fred and pushed 
her toward the others. "There might be aftershocks. Go outside and wait for 
me there."
 
Fred shook her head. "I'm not leaving this library. Not until I know --" She 
pulled herself up, then stared at the bookshelves for a moment.
 
Angel frowned as he looked at them with her. A moment earlier they had been 
in the academic section, surrounded by dusty, hardcover tomes in black and 
tan. But now shelves of romance novels ringed them, pink and gold dust 
jackets displaying titles in decorative cursive script. Angel lifted a copy 
of "Bandit's Embrace" and opened it up, just in case it was about 
astrophysics. It wasn't. 
 
"I knew it," Fred said. Then she glanced back at the computer and yelped in 
distress. Angel instinctively pulled her back as he leaned forward to read 
the screen; instead of reflecting the hard work of Oxford University's 
astrophysics department, the webpage now belonged to the American Dairy 
Council and proclaimed, "Behold the Power of Cheese!"
 
"What are the chances?" he muttered.
 
"It's not chance," Fred said. "We need to get back to Wesley and Lorne and 
that guy with no hair. Right away."
 
"I need to find Cordelia first. Fred, it's not safe here. Go outside and wait 
for us. And -- stay in the sunlight."
 
Fred didn't argue this time, just took off running toward the steps. For his 
part, Angel went back into the stacks, trying to find the place where he and 
Cordelia had spoken before. But none of the shelves looked the same -- where 
he remembered novels, he saw frying pans. Something that he would've sworn 
had been a magazine rack was stuffed with hay. He actually paused as he saw 
that, where a light fixture should have been, a candelabra -- with real 
candles -- hung from the ceiling.
 
And he'd thought Pylea was a strong contender for the "weirdest dimension" 
prize. 
 
"Cordelia? Cordy?"
 
No answer.
 
He rounded another corner and saw the sign for the bathrooms. Not a bad room 
to duck into, if you were in a library during an earthquake and wanted to 
avoid being crushed by toppling bookcases. Angel went to the door of the 
ladies' room. "Cordelia?"
 
Very quietly, too softly for any human to perceive, Angel heard a low groan. 
He tried to push the door open, but it wouldn't swing more than an inch or 
two. Metal echoed against tile -- something must have fallen against the 
door. Angel started to push again --
 
And then he smelled it. Blood -- Cordelia's blood. Enough of it that the 
scent was overpowering.
 
"Cordy!" he yelled, throwing himself against the door with as much force as 
he could bring to bear. "Hang on --"
 
Angel slammed his way through the door; a trash can crashed to the floor with 
a metallic clang that echoed in the small room. In the mirrors, he could see 
a reflection --
 
Angelus! His mind leaped to the thought, but then Angel realized -- no, those 
were mirrors. And those really were his reflections, one right after the 
other.
 
Until the end, when the mirrors ran out and he was still standing there.
 
Angelus was drenched in blood -- Cordelia's and his own. He stared at Angel 
with glassy, unreflective eyes. 
 
Angel braced himself, dropping into fighting stance even as panic welled up 
within him. He couldn't see behind Angelus -- Cordelia was behind Angelus -- 
oh, please, don't let Cordelia be dead, Cordelia can't be dead --
 
"Cordelia can't die," Angelus said. 
 
Angel froze. Angelus ran past him, out into the library. For a split second, 
Angel considered going after him. Then that thought, and every other, left 
him, because he could now see Cordelia lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
 
He dropped to his knees by her side, desperately pressed his fingers to her 
throat. Her pulse was still steady; it wasn't as strong as it should have 
been, but not so weak as to be life-threatening.  His vampire senses told him 
that she had lost a pint or two; she'd feel weak for a while yet, but she was 
in no danger of dying. There was blood -- Angelus' blood -- smeared on her 
chin and around her mouth, but her face showed no sign of harm. The blood was 
flowing from a nasty gash across her wrist. But at her elbow -- 
 
-- her arm had been bound with a tourniquet. 
 
Angel touched the leather strap. The pattern on it matched the belt he was 
wearing exactly.
 
Perhaps in response to the touch at her arm, Cordelia moved her head. Her 
eyelids fluttered open, and Angel leaned over her to ask her what had 
happened. Before he could speak, she focused on him and began to scream.
 
"Get away from me! Don't you touch me!" She lashed out at him with pitifully 
little strength, but he still winced as her hand slapped his face.
 
"Cordy, it's okay. You're going to be all right."
 
His words did nothing to reassure her. She was shaking and sobbing -- but 
then she grabbed his left arm and stared at it. "You're not cut," she 
whispered. "It's you. Oh, God, Angel, it's you --"
 
"Yes," he said, holding her to his chest as he closed his eyes tightly. "It's 
me."
 
 
 
************
Chapter 5
************
 
 
 
"You can't go any faster than this?" Wesley demanded.
 
"Pedal's to the metal, buddy," the cab driver said. 
 
The veracity of this statement seemed questionable to Wesley; the taxi's 
speed couldn't have been more than 45 miles per hour, and he was sure even 
this ratty old vehicle should have been able to go faster than that. But he 
refrained from complaining any further. He knew that, even if the taxi had 
suddenly flared into warp speed, they still couldn't have arrived at the 
library fast enough to suit him.
 
"Chillax, will ya?" Gunn said, sprawling in the seat next to him. "We don't 
even know for sure that Angelus would go there."
 
"Any chance is too great a chance," Wesley insisted. 
 
"Thought you were done power-freaking about Cordelia."
 
"I am. I just -- think -- she should know all the facts as soon as possible. 
Know to be careful. You of all people won't argue with that."
 
"No, no arguments here," Gunn sighed. "Just tired of you fidgeting like a 
Mexican jumping bean -- what the --"
 
The cab began to shake violently, and for one moment Wesley wondered if the 
vehicle actually had been pushed to its limits and was about to break down, 
or explode. But then he realized that other cars were swerving on the 
streets, and that the palm trees were swaying wildly. 
 
"Earthquake!" Gunn yelled. "Holy hell!"
 
"Pull over!" Wesley shouted.
 
"Like I didn't know to do that!" the cabdriver snapped. He began steering to 
the side.
 
"This is going to delay us," Wesley muttered.
 
"Let's live through the earthquake, then worry about our punctuality," Gunn 
said, bracing himself against the door. 
 
And then suddenly there was no door; Gunn tumbled forward, and Wesley shot an 
arm out to grab him, pull him back into the -- into the --
 
Well, it had been a cab -- but the ceiling was gone. The seats were now a 
dark, polished wood, the same as the sides. Behind them was an enormous sack 
stuffed with -- what? And in front --
 
Gunn, still staring out the opening in the side he had nearly fallen through, 
said, "Is it my imagination, or are we flying here?"
 
"If it's your imagination, it's mine too," Wesley said. "Could you please 
take a look in here for one moment?"
 
Gunn sat up to see what Wesley was referring to. His jaw dropped. 
 
In the front, where the cabdriver had been --
 
Wesley stared. Next to him, he heard Gunn gulp.
 
The cab driver was a fat, jolly man in a red suit. He had a white beard, rosy 
cheeks and a round belly. "Ho ho ho!" he cried merrily. "To the library!"
 
For a few long moments, Wesley and Gunn sat side-by-side and simply stared at 
the eight flying reindeer who were pulling them through the sky toward their 
destination. Finally, Gunn said, "You ever do any serious drugs, English?"
 
"I once drank three-quarters of a bottle of Crown Royal at a go," Wesley 
said.
 
"I got high this one time," Gunn said. "Ate two bags of Cheetos, watched an 
old Godzilla movie. But that's about it. That's not the kinda thing that 
would cause flashbacks, would it?"
 
"I don't think so," Wesley said. The breeze ruffled his hair, not 
unpleasantly. "I don't believe this."
 
"What?" the loud voice in the front boomed. "You don't believe in SANTA 
CLAUS?"
 
In an instant, the sleigh swooped lower and touched down to earth with a 
pattering of hooves and jingling of bells. Gunn turned to glare at Wesley. 
"What is your problem? You go telling Santa Claus you don't believe --"
 
"But you believe, don't you, Charles?" Santa said with a merry smile.
 
"How does he know your name?" Wesley muttered as he climbed out of the 
sleigh.
 
Gunn rolled his eyes as he followed. "Santa knows everybody's name," he 
hissed. 
 
"Tell me, Charles," Santa said, "have you been a good boy this year?"
 
Gunn stared at Santa, apparently at a loss for words. He opened his mouth and 
closed it again a few times. His expression was one of the deepest 
concentration, as if a very great deal rested on his answer. Finally, very 
carefully, he said, "Yes."
 
"HO ho ho!" Santa gestured grandly to the huge sack behind them. With a 
twinkling of red and green glitter, something sailed out; Wesley was startled 
to realize it was a replica of Gunn's hubcap axe, now with a large crimson 
bow on it. "There you go, Charles! Merry Christmas!"
 
Gunn took the axe in his hands, his face split with a huge, open-mouthed 
grin. "Thank you, Santa!" 
 
"And to all a good night!" Santa cried as he jingled the reins once more. The 
reindeer lifted up into the sky and flew away. Wesley and Gunn watched them 
go for a while. 
 
"Man, I don't care if that was a dream or what," Gunn breathed. "Because that 
was incredibly cool."
 
"We -- I don't -- maybe -- we can discuss this later," Wesley said. "We still 
have to get to the library."
 
"Library, right," Gunn said, gripping his axe a little tighter. "This was a 
seriously good present, considering."
 
"We're still thirty minutes away on foot. Though I hate to mention it, we 
might want to look for another taxi," Wesley said, stuffing his hands in his 
pockets. Then he drew out what he found there.
 
"What's that?" Gunn asked.
 
"Nothing," Wesley muttered, tossing the lumps of coal into the gutter. 
"Nothing at all."
 
***
 
It was very important to stay focused.
 
The convertible careered around a corner at high speed, ran a red light and 
made an ill-judged left turn across the stream of oncoming traffic. In the 
passenger seat beside Fred, Cordelia hugged her cut arm to her chest and 
blinked 
woozily, still half-doped on whatever pain medication the paramedics had 
given her. The 
emergency medical station set up on the road outside the library had been 
busy with casualties of the quake, and no one had questioned her injuries 
too closely. Behind her, Angel huddled beneath a blanket. They were both 
completely quiet, which fortunately gave Fred a chance to concentrate.
 
Foot on the pedal -- steering wheel -- it was all coming back now --
 
LA's City Hall loomed into view ahead, 28 stories of civic dignity and 
authority. Or it would have been, if every single one of those stories 
hadn't been decorated in pink and white swirls of icing, and topped in a 
blob of whipped cream so expansive it resembled a sugary rain cloud.
 
City Hall was a giant cake. Fred thought that must be awkward for the people 
who worked in it.
 
In the back seat, Angel lifted the blanket he was sheltering under long 
enough to shout a warning. "Fred --!"
 
There was a large staircase in the middle of the road ahead. It was carpeted 
in ugly floral deep pile and didn't seem to lead anywhere. Fred twisted the 
car's steering wheel just in time to swerve around it.
 
Focus. Gotta keep focused.
 
"Like riding a bike," she said out loud as she grappled with the mechanics 
of driving. "You don't forget, you don't forget, riding a bike --"
 
She knew that was a lie. You did forget. After five years, you forgot all 
kinds of things you never thought you could. Like your address, how to talk 
to people, your mother's maiden name, how to drive.
 
Or just what a "bike" was, anyway.
 
But Cordelia was hurt and Angel had to stay under the blanket (this is not 
Pylea, she thought, sunlight burns, remember that, focus) and Fred was 
driving the car. Badly.
 
Of course, three days earlier, she couldn't have said for certain what the 
words "driver's license" on the small rectangle of plastic in her cave 
meant. On those grounds alone, Fred felt reasonably confident she was making 
progress.
 
But she had to keep concentrating -- keep focused on what was important.
 
 
***
 
After half an hour of searching, Wesley finally had to accept that Cordelia, 
Fred and Angel must have already left the library; the emergency-medical 
workers had told them nobody died in the quake, which was at least vaguely 
encouraging.
 
But it was still no guarantee that Angelus hadn't spirited any or all of them 
away somewhere, against their will.
 
When he posited this theory, Gunn shook his head. "It's also no guarantee the 
Easter Bunny didn't give 'em candy. Today, I mean this literally. Wes, we 
ain't doing anybody any good hanging around here any more. We're just killing 
time in a weird-ass library."
 
"The disco on the third floor was a touch unusual, I grant you."
 
"Or this whole row of books? Printed on maple leaves." Gunn gestured at the 
torches on the wall. "And tell me L.A. fire codes don't have something to say 
about those."
 
"This universe appears to be unstable," Wesley said. 
 
His voice thick with sarcasm, Gunn said, "No, really?"
 
Wesley ignored him. "And I believe Angelus is to blame for it."
 
"Angelus? How do you figure that?"
 
"What your counterpart was telling us in the sewer tunnels -- I think that 
was important." Wesley rounded a corner, Gunn by his side -- then stopped in 
his tracks as he saw what lay before them: the all-new library Dark Arts and 
Magical Forces section. "For once, I believe this instability is working for 
us."
 
"Speak for yourself," Gunn said. "I already got an axe out of this deal."
 
Wesley began scanning the volumes; some of them were unknown to him, but 
others were reassuringly familiar. "There's one from Earnshaw -- he'll have 
something to say about this, I warrant."
 
He leafed through the fragile, yellowing pages until he saw the passage he 
sought; although it had been a few years since he'd studied this in Watcher's 
training, memory still served. "Here's the ritual Angelus is carrying out."
 
"What ritual?" Gunn said. His face was twisted with unhappiness. "This has 
got to do with livers, doesn't it? As in, Angelus ripping them out of 
people."
 
"That's the one," Wesley said absently, licking his thumb before he flipped a 
page. "It's a form of sacrifice to the ancient Phoenician gods of darkness. 
Designed to bring about the end of the world."
 
Gunn exhaled slowly, then said, "I'm gonna start my questions off small. Why 
take out the livers?"
 
"The liver is a symbol of regeneration," Wesley explained. "By sacrificing 
humans at certain points -- but removing their livers so as to further 
degrade the form -- a penitent to the darker powers could bring about 
instability in the universe. Eventually, he would be able to destroy it."
 
"Certain points?" Gunn said, frowning. "You mean portals, ergo the Class One 
freakout you went into when you figured out about the library."
 
"Precisely."
 
"So Angelus has been picking off my gang to try to destroy the world?"
 
"To judge from the strange events that have been occuring, Angelus has 
managed to do some damage already. This dimension is already extraordinarily 
unstable."
 
"So are talking about put-on-a-sandwich-board, Jesus-is-coming-soon time 
here? How much time have we got?"
 
"Years," Wesley said. At Gunn's surprised reaction, he continued, 
"Fortunately for us, this ritual is very demanding. A sacrifice must be made 
on each of two consecutive nights, including the night of the full moon, 
every month for nine years for the magic to take full effect. That's how the 
legends have it, anyway. As we're all still here, I suppose no one knows for 
certain."
 
"So the guy is into long-range planning. How do we stop him NOW?" Gunn said. 
"I think this information is key."
 
"Well, first and best of all is stopping him from taking any more victims," 
Wesley said. 
 
"On board with that plan," Gunn said evenly. "But I think we need a backup."
 
"If we should fail, then there's a counter-spell; it's actually better known 
than the Phoenician ritual, as it works against other forces of darkness and 
entropy as well. We'll need to take the liver that's been cut out --"
 
"I had to ask," Gunn muttered.
 
"-- and purify it with Veldar's Flame -- it's a kind of blue-white, magical 
fire," he added, seeing Gunn's bemused look. "It's simple enough to make. 
Lorne should have all the ingredients we need from his shopping for the 
disinvitation spell." Wesley paused, considering.
 
"You still all hot to toss Angel out of the house?"
 
"No," Wesley said quietly. "I'm still -- it's hard to face. To know what his 
soulless self has done in this universe."
 
"Tell me about it," Gunn said. "But you were totally feral back there, seeing 
as how it's not actually our Angel we're talking about."
 
"I realize that," Wesley said. Tension was knotting up his shoulders, but he 
forced himself to relax. "We'll have to deal with this later, I think. But 
for now, our priorities are simple -- stopping Angelus, saving Cordelia and 
getting home."
 
He did not mean the Cordelia who was, hopefully, waiting at her apartment. 
From the dark spark in Gunn's eyes, Gunn knew what he meant, and still didn't 
like it. Wesley looked steadily at him, daring his friend to argue.
 
He didn't. "Then let's get on it," Gunn said. "Let's get back to check on 
Cordy. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll get a real taxi this time."
 
***
 
 
"Turn left," Angel said. "Left here."
 
Fred swung the car off the road and on to the lawn in front of Cordelia's 
apartment block. She drove it through the communal garden and didn't brake 
until the whole vehicle was in the shade underneath the awning at the front 
of the building.
 
The car screeched to a shuddering halt two inches shy of Cordelia's front 
door.
 
Fred let out a slow, shaky breath. She took her hands off the wheel and 
twisted around in the driver's seat. The car's wheels had plowed two deep 
furrows in the otherwise neat lawn. Fred winced. "Sorry, grass."
 
Behind her, Angel shrugged off the blanket and got out of the car. He didn't 
say anything as he lifted Cordelia out of the front seat and carried her 
into the apartment in the safety of the shade. Fred was quiet too; things 
were becoming clearer now, making sense in a way they hadn't for almost as 
long as she could remember. But her thoughts still had a frustrating 
tendency to fly around inside her head like butterflies, and she was aware 
of the need to focus, to concentrate -- she couldn't let the answers slip 
away --
 
Just as they came through the door, Lorne walked out of the kitchen, holding 
a coffee pot in one hand and a plate piled high with sandwiches in the 
other, and wearing a cowboy hat on his head. "This is one wacky universe," 
he said, "but I gotta hand it to 'em; they know how to have a sale. Like my 
hat? Got it in honor of The Longhorn, The Bar Formerly Known As Caritas. I 
thought it would make you all die laughing, be a little morale-booster for 
the gang, but in fact Cordelia just looks like death and 
suddenly my habitual flippancy feels strangely inappropriate."
 
Angel set Cordelia down gently on the couch, and  Dennis moved a low box 
closer so she could rest her feet on it. "I'd ask for the gory details," 
Lorne said, "but I have a nasty feeling they might be gory. How's our 
princess?"
 
Cordelia nodded weakly. "I'm okay. It was -- scary -- but I'm okay." She 
looked up at Angel, smiled. "Angel was there."
 
Her smile was fragile, but so sincere that Fred wondered why Angel wasn't 
smiling back. As Cordelia beamed up at him, he simply stood next to her, his 
expression haunted.
 
As Lorne fussed over Cordelia and Angel, well, just stood there, Fred looked 
around the cluttered apartment. Some of the furnishings had changed (and, to 
judge from the 
orange and yellow floral drapes, not for the better) but no computer had 
materialized into existence. Fred grabbed a pen and tried to think where to 
look; finally, she just looked up at the ceiling.
 
"Dennis? Nice dead man? I have to do some math now. I can't do it in my 
head, and I kinda need to be able to pull back and look at the equations all 
at once. So, if you don't mind --"
 
No chill ghostly wind howled through the apartment, and the walls didn't 
start bleeding, so Fred figured it was probably safe to start writing on 
them. She started with the basics, began deriving from first principles the 
rules that should define this world. It was clear after the first few lines 
that the answers were crazy, but the math behind them made sense, and that 
was all that mattered. Fred had finally found a set of rules that worked; 
here was her focus, her structure. It was all coming back now.
 
Fred tuned in and out of the conversation going on behind her, following 
just enough to notice that Cordelia was telling Lorne what had happened at 
the library, Lorne was being sympathetic and offering to make hot, sweet tea 
and Angel wasn't saying anything much. Then a particularly stubborn 
derivative took up her full attention, and when she next surfaced, Lorne had 
returned to the kitchen and Cordelia was speaking to Angel in a low voice.
 
"I mean it, Angel. Thank you."
 
"I --" He broke off abruptly. "For what?"
 
"Hello? The whole stopping Angelus thing? You saved me." Cordelia's voice 
was slightly throaty, as though she might be trying not to cry. "I -- I just 
wanted to say that I feel safe with you."
 
"Oh, God." Angel did not sound as if he were going to cry. But he sounded -- 
strange. The way he had after he'd seen the monster inside him. Fred peeked 
over her shoulder at him to see if he would fall down and start shaking 
again. He didn't. She went back to work.
 
"Angel, did you get hurt?" Cordelia asked.
 
"No. No, I didn't get hurt."
 
"Well, then, at least tell me he got hurt. I mean, if he didn't even lay a 
finger on you, you must have just kicked his ass, huh?"
 
"We didn't fight. He just -- walked away."
 
"This Angelus is way more of a scaredy-cat than the other one. Which is 
definitely a good thing. We get some Halloween masks and a videotape of 'The 
Birds,' and he's history."
 
Fred thumped her fingers against the wall as she considered what she'd 
written, then quickly tore down a "Highlander" poster to make some more room 
and kept writing.
 
"I don't think it's that simple," Angel said.
 
"Of COURSE it's not that simple. I am trying valiantly to maintain my sense 
of humor in the face of a day that, on a trauma scale of 1 to 10, gets about 
a 98. Work with me here."
 
The door flew open with a bang, startling them all. When Fred spun around, 
she saw Wesley come in. When he saw Cordelia, lying bandaged and wan on the 
sofa, he went pale. Behind him, Gunn drew in a breath, as though he'd been 
hurt. Angel didn't even look at them; he just shifted his stance so that he 
wouldn't be in the way of the sunset light coming in through the door.
 
"Dear God," Wesley said, dropping to his knees at her side. "What happened 
to you?"
 
"Everybody's favorite evil twin decided to renew his library card," Cordelia 
said. "Tried to vamp me, tried to rape me." She took a deep, shuddering 
breath, then apparently got her courage back. "But he got stopped by 
everybody's favorite good twin."
 
"He got to you," Wesley said. "He could have --"
 
Wesley stopped talking and embraced Cordelia tightly. After a few moments, 
Cordelia laughed a little. "Jeez, Wesley, you're embarrassing me." Wesley 
didn't let go, and in a few moments more, Cordelia said, "Now you're scaring 
me."
 
"I'm sorry," he said, pulling back. "I needed to -- see your face --" He 
broke off, clearly uncomfortable. Hypothesis, thought Fred: Wesley doesn't 
make emotional declarations very often. Evidence: his unease, Cordelia's 
expression of discomfort. Evidence: overwhelming.
 
She looked back at the expanse of black marker now covering most of one wall 
of the apartment. Here too she saw the familiar pattern of hypothesis and 
evidence. Here, as well, the evidence was overwhelming.
 
"Put me down for one of those hugs, too," Gunn said. "But I'll let you get 
your breath back."
 
"Okay. Feeling the love just a little too much." Cordelia said, slowly, 
"What did you find at the hospital?"
 
Fred began to get a slightly uneasy feeling about all this; the math on the 
wall behind her was, for the moment, the least disturbing thing in the room, 
which was saying something.
 
Gunn and Wesley were both quiet. After a pause, Gunn stepped inside, 
shutting the door behind him. He said, "Sure you want to know?"
 
"I think you'd better tell me."
 
"Angelus," Wesley said, putting some bite into the name, "made you insane. 
And he -- Cordelia, he blinded you."
 
Angel made a small, strangled sound. None of the others seemed to hear. 
Cordelia put her hand to her throat. "He -- he cut out my eyes. Didn't he?"
 
Wesley grabbed her shoulders. "Did he try to --"
 
"I think -- I think he thought about it," Cordelia said. "But then he 
decided I'd make a great vampire. Which I now have to be grateful for. Oh, 
my God."
 
"How could you?" Wesley didn't look away from Cordelia, but there was no 
doubt who he was talking to now. 
 
"Wesley, don't," Cordelia said. "Angel's the one who saved me. If it hadn't 
been for him --"
 
Wesley took a deep breath. He still seemed tense, but he was making a 
visible effort to calm down. "I'm sorry," he said. "This has all been so -- 
I'm sorry, Angel."
 
"Don't apologize," Angel said. His arms were folded against his chest in 
unconscious defense and when he spoke again, it seemed to Fred every word 
was an effort. "There's something more happening here -- I can't explain why 
-- but I'm sure now --"
 
"Your instincts are telling you much the same thing we found out," Wesley 
said.
 
Angel looked pale -- now that Fred thought about it, Angel always looked 
pale, but there was something else behind his eyes now, something truly 
stricken. She reluctantly turned back to her equations, but she kept her 
ears wide open.
 
"You -- you know?" Angel said.
 
"We've put it together," Wesley replied.
 
The room was suddenly very still.  The only sound was the squeak of black 
marker on plaster as Fred raced through the final lines of the calculation. 
They were hardly necessary: the calculus was reducing and reducing to a 
single inevitable statement of fact. Fred felt her stomach twist as she 
scrawled the last symbols on to the wall.
 
"What is it?" Cordelia asked.
 
Everything made sense.
 
Fred dropped the pen and turned around. The math and the moment fused as she 
heard a question she could answer with perfect clarity and focus. She felt 
connected to the people around her, to the math surrounding her, to the 
person she'd thought she'd lost for good somewhere in the Pylean woods. How 
good it felt to be so clear, so sure, to be able to open her mouth and 
announce --
 
"The world is ending."
 
"I was just about to say that," Wesley said, peeved.
 
"Oh, crap," Cordelia said tiredly. "Here we go again."
 
***
 
Cordelia felt the familiar mixture of panic, determination and plain old 
annoyance settle in. "How long have we got before the world ends?" she said. 
"Because in cases like this, the deadline is pretty crucial. In my 
experience, you play the game entirely differently if you've got, say, two 
months, versus, you know, tomorrow. Or today." She put a hand to her head, 
fighting off another wave of dizziness. "Please, not today."
 
"Not today," Wesley confirmed.
 
Behind him, Fred looked puzzled. "Excuse me?"
 
Everyone turned their attention to Fred, who pushed her glasses up her nose 
and said, "I would appreciate it if you could tell me a little bit more about 
the end of the world. With the math, if possible."
 
"Math?" Wesley said, momentarily nonplussed. "I don't -- this is an ancient 
Phoenician ritual. I don't think they even had a concept of zero, so their 
math is probably -- well, it's not the point."
 
Fred pulled herself up straight. "The math is always the point."
 
"It's not an immediate crisis, Fred," Wesley sighed. "The ritual involved 
requires nine years to complete."
 
"And involves the extraction of human livers," Angel said.
 
"So you already know it," Wesley answered quietly.
 
Angel nodded. 
 
Cordelia glossed over the potentially icky bit about livers; she was too 
relieved about the duration of the ritual to much care. Nine years seemed 
like a very workable time frame. But then Fred spoke again.
 
"I know one thing for certain. It won't take nine years," Fred said. "I think 
this universe is pretty close to collapsing. Within days, maybe."
 
Cordelia twisted up her mouth. Wesley gaped. Angel frowned. Lorne winced. 
Nobody said anything helpful. Fred sighed.
 
"Days?" Cordelia said. "We only have days?"
 
Fred blinked behind her glasses, and gestured at the math covering most of 
the wall behind her. "I've only derived the basic equations. I'll need to do 
more work to calculate the precise rate of decay. But that's what's 
happening. I mean --" she gestured at the impenetrable layers of code behind 
her, "-- it's obvious."
 
It wasn't obvious to Cordelia, and a quick poll of four other blank 
expressions established it wasn't obvious to anyone else either.
 
"What do you mean, rate of decay?" asked Wesley.  
 
"Fred," Angel interrupted, "We don't understand this the way you do. You have 
to find another way of telling us."
 
Fred stopped. She nodded. "This universe isn't real," she said.
 
Cordelia breathed a sigh of relief. "So this really is all just a bad dream. 
I knew it."
 
But Fred was shaking her head. "No -- I mean, it shouldn't be real. It's here 
but it shouldn't be. The numbers are wrong."
 
"Which numbers?" Angel asked.
 
"There are certain constants -- numbers that are always the same, however you 
measure them."
 
"Like pi," Wesley said. "Three point one four one --"
 
Fred smiled. " -- five nine two seven. Except it isn't, here. M.I.T estimates 
pi at 3.14156. Oxford University puts it at 3.14163. They're having an 
argument over it in the journals."
 
Cordelia ran this through her head, hoping for some bit of wisdom gleaned in 
9th-grade geometry to kick in and illuminate this conversation. "Okay, sure, 
that's weird. But how do wonky circles bring the world to an end?
 
"You can't just be a little wrong about pi! It's -- crazy!" Fred sounded 
distressed; privately, Cordelia thought that 'crazy' was a risky word for 
someone with a cheese phobia to be using so readily. 
 
Slowly, Angel said, "In the library this morning, you said something about 
there being no structure, no foundation. This is what you were talking about, 
isn't it? The rules here don't make sense."
 
Fred nodded so eagerly Cordelia thought her glasses would fly off. "And when 
the rules don't make sense, the world they define can't make sense either."
 
"Which is why all this weird-ass stuff has been happening?" Gunn said. "You 
would not believe what happened when that earthquake hit."
 
"That wasn't an earthquake," Fred said. "It was -- I guess we could say, a 
reality quake."
 
"And we would be having reality quakes why?" Cordelia asked.
 
"I think this place is an offshoot of our universe, that it was created when 
we came through the portal. Possibly because we came through the portal. 
Something happened that made all the dimensions go hinky --"
 
"Glory," Angel said grimly.
 
" -- and this little sliver of reality we're in splintered off from the real 
world -- well, one of the real worlds. Everyone here thinks they have a 
history, but they don't. They didn't exist for very long before we got here. 
All the true universes in the multiverse are infinite; but this place is 
finite. Nothing finite can exist in infinity."
 
"Hence the word finite," Wesley muttered.
 
Fred continued, "And because this universe is inherently unstable, not only 
has it not existed for long, but it won't exist for very much longer either. 
The reality quakes will get worse until this universe implodes. It won't just 
cease to exist -- it never will have existed. And -- umm -- that's it."
 
Fred trailed off, shrugging apologetically. Cordelia bounced up and down 
experimentally on the sofa. It felt solid. So did the cushions under her 
arms. She lifted the cup of tea Lorne had made her and sipped it. It was 
sugary and strong and far too hot, and burned her throat on the way to her 
stomach. "I don't get it. You're saying none of this is real?"
 
"It is real. In a sense. But this world is more -- fluid than ours. 
Malleable. Which means anything in it is susceptible to change or erasure at 
any moment. So the way we perceive reality might actually impact on its 
substance... " Fred trailed off, and looked thoughtfully back at the 
calculations on the wall. "That could be significant. I didn't introduce a 
variable to reflect it."
 
"Hating to interrupt the math masterclass," Lorne said, "but, you recall that 
part about the universe crunching in like a light bulb in a car crusher? Any 
thoughts on how we might NOT be here when it happens?"
 
Fred brightened. "Oh, that's easy."
 
Wesley blinked. "It -- is?"
 
"Oh, yes. Well, easier than it might be in a 'real' universe. The structure 
is so unstable that opening a portal in it should be fairly simple. 
Comparatively speaking."
 
Fred positively glowed. Cordelia sighed in relief. The atmosphere in the room 
lightened considerably, and even Angel seemed to snap momentarily out of the 
odd funk he'd been in since the library. Still, Cordelia thought, it was 
sweet of him to be so worried about her. Reminded her of the old days, the 
way it used to be, when they watched each other's back no matter what.
 
No, she told herself. That's not the way it used to be. That's the way it is 
again.
 
"That's very promising," Wesley said. "Fred here can figure out exactly how 
we'd go about opening up the portal. And then we can go, and when we leave, 
we can bring the other Cordelia back with us."
 
Cordelia looked at him. "Bring her back?"
 
Wesley nodded. "We can't leave her here to die."
 
"English --" said Gunn, and Cordelia had the sudden feeling that this wasn't 
the first time Wesley had raised this particular subject. She should have 
felt touched -- he only wanted to do this to help her, or some less fortunate 
version of her, at any rate -- but instead she felt profoundly uneasy, in 
ways she couldn't articulate. She thought about that other Cordelia, strapped 
to a bed somewhere, blind and crazy, and shuddered.
 
"I don't want to talk about this right now," Cordelia said.
 
To her surprise, Fred chimed in, "That's right. We have to stay focused on 
what's important."
 
"What's -- important?" Wesley said, his incredulity failing to mask his 
anger. "Cordelia's suffering isn't important? Her fate isn't important?"
 
"Not compared to our staying alive and getting home," Fred said.
 
"I suppose I shouldn't judge," Wesley said, and know his words were like 
knives.  "You've been through so much of your own suffering. But I might have 
thought that would teach you some compassion. Some basic sense of --"
 
"Stop this," Angel said. "Wesley, she's telling the facts as she understands 
them. This isn't personal."
 
"Not personal?" repeated Wesley. "Are you forgetting where the responsibility 
rests for what happened to this universe's Cordelia?" As if to emphasize his 
point, he placed his hand on Cordelia's arm, resting it lightly on the belt 
still wrapped around it just above the elbow. Cordelia felt as if she should 
say something, but could not, for the life of her, think what.
 
Angel looked away. "No. Of course not."
 
"Very well, then," Wesley said stiffly. "We'll revisit this subject in the 
morning, when perhaps Fred can be convinced to re-examine her facts." Fred's 
face went dark, but before she could renew the argument, Wesley continued, 
"We should get settled in for the night. Cordelia needs her rest. I dare say 
we all do. Except perhaps Angel."
 
"Speaking of things that go chomp in the night, what about this disinvite 
spell?" Gunn said. "We need to keep Angelus out and keep Angel in. How are we 
going to swing that?"
 
"I have a theory about rewording the spell to bring in the concept of the 
soul --" Wesley began.
 
"We can't afford for you to test it," Angel said. "Besides, you -- you need 
to know this anyway --" He looked so strange when he said that, Cordelia 
thought, so sad --
 
"What's that?" Wesley said. "Something about Angelus?"
 
"That's not Angelus," Angel said. He was speaking so quietly Cordelia had to 
strain to make him out, but every word was clear. "Not the way you're using 
the name."
 
Cordelia felt her body go cold as Angel continued, "The vampire I saw today -
- he has his soul. He's me."
 
 

Part 2


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