Act Two: Brand New Way(continued)

Dealing, and Not

Cordelia checked the clock again. Yup, two minutes past the last time she looked. She was starting to worry. They’d been gone for over two hours. What the hell was taking them so long? The mission should have been no big deal – just a nest of carnivorous demons down at the San Pedro waterfront that needed to be cleared out. They were slimy, two foot tall reptilian things a nasty surprise for young couples sneaking under the pier for a little canoodling, but no biggie for two heavily armed bad-ass vamps and a demon. Even if Lorne was mostly there to carry the spare weapons.

The familiar sound of the lobby door opening brought instant relief. But the smile on her face slipped away when she saw Angel hanging limp and unconscious between Lorne and Gunn, his shoes dragging along the polished floor as they carried him across the lobby and eased him down onto the couch. Lorne had to put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from toppling over. Cordelia stared. She’d seen Angel damaged before, many, many, times, but she’d never seen him like this. He was covered in greenish ooze and blood. His face was so swollen and bruised she barely recognized him. Something, a claw or weapon had sliced through the left side of his head, removing part of his ear. He had a hole in his midsection and even through the mess of blood she could tell there was stuff *missing*. His hands – Christ, his hands – they looked like raw meat, like he’d been breaking through brick walls with them. Cordelia glared accusingly at his companions.

“He ran ahead of us. Just tore into them with his bare hands,” Gunn told her defensively.

“Nothing we could do sweetpea,” Lorne chimed in.

She wanted to scream at them. She didn’t. “Give me a few minutes, and then bring him up to his room.” She turned her back on them and walked to the elevator. She stabbed the button and waited, aware of their eyes on her back. When the car arrived she stepped inside without a backwards glance.

She felt the usual chill as the elevator slid past the fourth floor. No-one used that floor anymore. There had been too much blood and misery spilled up there; too many ghosts haunted the abandoned rooms. Angel lived on the sixth floor now.

There’s dust on the old carpet and the air tastes stale inside his room. Angel had never been big on the decorating, but nowadays his room was downright monastic. As far as she could tell the only thing he’d done to the room was to hang blackout curtains over the windows. His personal stuff was still sitting in the boxes they’d moved it in. When she pulled the dirty sheets off the bed she saw that the mattress was still wrapped in plastic. He spent most of his time up here, brooding, emerging only to deal with her visions. He was worse than when he first came to L.A.; at least then he was trying.

Goddamn him anyway, how the hell is it that he was more upset about what happened than she was? Dammit, if anyone was going to go into a funk, shouldn’t it be her? She’d been raped, had her lover and her friend killed and she wasn’t moping around and hiding in her room.

She was scared. She didn’t know how to fix Angel this time. Talking to him was like talking to a wall, a big dead wall. He hardly ever spoke to her and his eyes, when she can catch them, were dark and empty. He barely seemed like Angel anymore.

“Princess?” Lorne sounded nervous. If she hummed right now his head would probably explode. Not his fault, she reminded herself.

“I’m ready; bring him in.”

Angel lay on the bed like a medical school project, blood pooling slowly around him on the plastic. She couldn’t let it bother her, he’s a mess, but there was really nothing new here. Just follow procedure: pull on gloves, remove any clothing that’s in the way, clean the wound, picking out any obvious foreign matter, apply probably useless antibiotic/antiseptic and tape/bandage/stitch the wound shut. Repeat as necessary. It was a sign of how badly he was hurt that he never woke up during any of it, not even when she had to line up the shattered bits of his left arm before splinting it. He just lay there giving no hint he wasn’t plain old dead as opposed to undead.

All done. She peeled off her gloved and dropped them onto the pile of waste, then turned to face Lorne and Gunn.

“He’s trying to get himself killed, isn’t he?” Neither demon would look her in the eye.

“Not consciously, Princess,” Lorne says uncomfortably. “But you know what he’s been like, since…”

“Yeah.” Cordelia sighed. “So what do we do about it?”

“I think maybe we’d better take him off-duty?” Gunn said uncomfortably. “Just till he’s better.”

“Which will be when?” Cordelia asked.

No one answered.


Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale

“Night Xander.”

“Night Buff.” He grinned. “Hey, admit it, you enjoyed it.”

“Sure, hardly hurt at all,” she said with a plastic smile. Xander wilted. Oops. Maybe ‘Fast and the Furious’, ‘Anaconda,’ and ‘Little Nicky’ on the same bill had been a little bit too XY.

“We’re talking Hugh Grant marathon next week aren’t we?”

“'Bridget Jones', 'About a Boy', and 'Notting Hill'. Smile Xander, or I’ll add Titanic: the Director’s cut.”

Xander forced a smile. “I’ll be here with the snacks. Pizza or Chinese?”

“Surprise me. Night Xander.” She hugged him until he made that little grunt that meant she was applying a little too much Slayer strength. Reluctantly she let him go. Xander waved from the curb before getting into his shiny new gas-guzzler and driving away. With a sigh Buffy closed the door and locked it.

Friday night was movie night. It was just her and Xander now. Giles had taken Willow back to England to work on controlling her apocalyptic urges and Dawn was spending the summer with Dad in San Diego. Clem dropped out after Dawn left; he’d told Buffy it just wasn’t the same without her.

Anya was long gone from Sunnydale; what was left of the Magic Box sat boarded up and desolate but Xander still clung to the hope that she’d come back. Buffy didn’t try to argue with him, but she didn’t think Anya was ever coming back.

She’d talked to Dawn night before last. She’d sounded like she was having a good time. Even in her weirdness-filled life her Dad acting like a parent stood out. He’d even paid the back child support. What was next, honest politicians? He’d very earnestly explained that it was all about the born again thing, that accepting Christ as his savior meant accepting and fulfilling his parental responsibilities. Whatever. The number of loonies she’d had to deal with who’d been dedicated to the worship of various freaky deities had made her a little wary of True Believers, but so far Dad seemed harmless. If he started speaking in tongues or mumbling about ‘impurity’ Dawn had a cell phone with both her and Angel’s numbers on speed dial.

She shut off the lights and went upstairs. The crickets’ racket just made the dead quiet inside the house more obvious. The summer heat clung stickily to her skin. She decided to take a shower.

She locked the bathroom door. Habit. She still wasn’t used to having the house all to herself. Still not used to not having Dawn around as an alibi. There was no one else to blame for the towels lying on the floor, the hair in the sink, and the overflowing trashcan. Tomorrow she was going to have to clean this dump up.

As she stepped into the shower her gaze snagged on the dent Spike's head had left in the wall. Xander had done a good job fixing most of the damage, but there was still a mark there if you knew where to look.

She hated him, for what he tried to do, for making her feel so helpless, for betraying her trust. She could close her eyes and hear the sound of ripping cloth, the shock and pain of him holding her down, the panic she’d felt when she realized that he’d lost control, that he wasn’t hearing her, that he wasn’t going to stop.

So she’d stopped him. Remembered she was the Slayer, thrown him off of her and into the wall, stood glaring at him while she shuddered with disgust and terror, but when he’d looked up at her it was like looking into a twisted mirror. Her own fear and disgust and pain thrown back at her, too raw and real to be denied and oh God it had been so much easier for her when she believed it wasn’t real. That nothing she did to Spike mattered really because demons had no true emotions.

She hated being left like this, in limbo. She’d been robbed of her chance to scream at him, to curse him, to talk to him, to stake him; she needed him to give her some kind of goddamned closure. Only he’s not here. Where the hell was he?

Asshole. She didn’t miss him, not even a little bit because that would be beyond sick. She turned on the shower full strength and as hot as she could stand it and let the scalding water pound some of the tension out of her back while refusing to think about cool steely fingers teasing out every knot.

The cool breeze from the open window tickled her face and bare shoulders as she lay in bed. The weekend stretched before her; she had a whole lot of nothing to do until it got dark enough to patrol. The Doublemeat gig was history; that last apocalypse and attendant unscheduled absences had finished off what was left of Darlene’s patience. Luckily, thanks to Dad she had at least a month before she’d have to go out on the streets.

Summer stretched out before her, formless and empty. There will be patrolling, of course, but summer was always quiet time on the Hellmouth. Giles had a theory that the combination of long days, short nights and Sunnydale U being closed. The local vamps were forced to migrate or starve. Or maybe they all had cabins up at Tahoe. Whatever, it meant that summers tended to be slow and she was going to be more than usually bored.

She’ll have to find a job eventually, which will fill up some of the time. It will only be a few months before Dawn will be back and hopefully Willow and Giles too. If she can get a loan and talk her way past admissions she might even be able to re-enroll at S.U. Everything will work out.

Except – it wasn’t that simple. Nothing was anymore. She remembered when love was painful but perfectly transparent: she’d loved Angel and Angel had loved her and nothing else really mattered. The bad guys lost, the good guys won. Simple. Easy. Clear.

She’d been 16.


Fuck. Me.

Cordelia said it was big but she’d forgotten to tell him that the motherfucker was so huge that it could barely fit in the tunnel or that it had two goddamn heads and looked like a crocodile wearing a llama coat. Funny looking thing, not so funny when it bared its teeth, hissed like an airhose, and attacked. Gunn pulled out his ax as it charged towards him on too-fucking-many legs and got ready for a fight.

The fucker was almost on top of him when it bent in the middle and he all of a sudden had both pointy-toothed heads snapping at him. Gunn threw himself sideways, rebounded off the tunnel wall and laid the axe down hard on its back. Yeah, how do you like that shit!

Damn. His weapon bounced off the shaggy coat and he really had to hustle to keep clear of the two sets of eager teeth, not to mention the claws of the really pissed-off whateverthehellitis (don’t even know what this one’s called, without Wes they’re flying blind too damned much of the time). He struck back but the axe blade kept sliding off the damned pelt like water off a duck’s back.

A leathery paw collided hard with his chest and he went flying again. His collided with the wall shoulder-first and his right arm went numb. He dropped the axe. Fuck. Time for plan B. He stood, leaving the axe where it lay and wrenched a loose block out of the wall. Ugly came at him and he slammed it upside the nearest head. He felt the impact all the way down his spine but felt a vicious joy when it grunted and bled yellow. Oh yeah, that’s the shit!

He went after it, tearing the tunnel walls apart for ammunition, slamming it, never letting it get a rest. Its yellow blood burned when it touched him but he was too caught up in the dance to care. Times like these he thinks it’s almost worth being dead to be so fucking strong and fast. He was aware that he was taking damage from raking claws and vicious kicks but it was ghost-pain no way real enough to stop him. On a roll, he grabbed hold of a thin leg and used his weight and leverage to twist it hard; it gave with a satisfying crack. He laughed as he dodged a vengefully howling head. Got thing-spit all over his face but he didn’t care. Yeah baby!

He managed to cripple two more legs and was going for a third when his foot slipped in the nastiness underfoot. He staggered off balance for a second and wham! The claw ripped into his chest and shit and fuck and that was real pain alright. The thing clenched its paw and pulled him in close, its gleaming teeth angled in to rip open his throat. He jabbed desperately upwards at the soft underside of the thing’s jaw with Angel’s patented spring-loaded stake and pulled the trigger. Thankyoujesus it went in smooth as butter. The creature shuddered and flung Gunn away, and he’s getting pretty sick of this shit; he hit the wall and slid down into a puddle and stayed there. Luckily the thing had lost interest in him. The head he’d staked sagged, its eyes glazing over as yellow fluid ran out of the gash in its throat. The other head craned around hooting softly as the legs on the opposite end folded. It teetered for a moment on its knees then went down with a crash. The other head whistled sadly as it nuzzled at the stricken head, while ichor spread in a daffodil puddle around it. Then the living head made a sighing noise, put its chin down on the ground like a dog going to sleep and closed its eyes. One last shudder and it was done.

“Yes! Ugly-assed monster 0, Gunn 1! Uhhh!” Gunn’s whoop of triumph turned into a groan as the pain that had stayed clear during the fight suddenly came home. His whole body ached. Especially his chest. He looked down and wished he hadn’t ‘cause it looked like Freddie Krueger had been playing tic-tac-toe on his rib cage. There were raw red burns where the blood had burned through to the skin and a deep puncture where a claw had punched all the way through to his back. He could feel the splintered bones grinding against each other when he moved and he figured it was lucky he didn’t need to breathe. If he’d still been human he’d be spurting from a dozen places, but no heartbeat meant just a slow trickle, so that was cool.

Quitting time.

So, gonna get up now. One, two, three – He fell back with a splash, aww man that hurt. Can’t rest here. The sun’ll be up in about five hours, and the way he’s feeling it might take that long to make it home. He tried again, managed to get on his feet this time. Got a little dizzy bending down to pick up his axe. Felt like crying when he saw the state of the blade. Fucking monster messing up his favorite weapon. With a sigh he transferred it to his left hand and started walking.

Yup, just another night’s work for Charles Gunn, Dark Knight, which would be funny except that it ain't. He’s got the super-speed and super-strength and the well-nigh-invulnerability thing going on but he sure don't have Angel's 200-plus years of experience at killing things. Which is why way too many of these missions are ending up like tonight's: with him getting his ass kicked all over the place. Not much choice though, he’s the only muscle AI’s got on tap since the three of them decided it was better to just let Angel stay up in his room. Cordelia was the seer, not the champion.

Just put one foot in front of the other. All he had to do is make it home and everything would be all right. Back at the Hyperion Cordy was waiting for him with nice clean bandages and lots of painkillers to mix into his blood. All he has to do is just keep on keeping on and everything will be cool.

Lorne tries to help, he’s surprisingly strong but ain’t much of a fighter; poor guy had gotten himself pretty badly hurt by a pissed-off Fyarl two nights ago so Gunn left him home tonight. The demon wasn’t a happy camper these days. “Too much psychic static, cheese puff,” he’d said last week, and Gunn got that; sometimes the buzzing in his head was so loud he couldn’t hear himself think.

…Cordy’s nice soft hands, gonna wash away the blood and dirt and all the pain.

Cordelia looked up as Gunn came in through the lobby doors and watched silently as he limped slowly over to the couch and dropped onto it, dead weight. She knew it was bad because he wasn’t even trying to maintain a front.

First aid box in hand she hurried over to him. He looked up at her pitifully, not arguing. “Hey, Gunn, have you ever heard of ‘ducking. Sheesh.” Her hands shook a little as she started to clean away the blood. Stupid vampire, trying to get himself killed. Again. Wasn’t once enough?

Gunn struggled to hide his reaction when Cordelia’s deft hands touched his bare skin. He got it now: that stupid grin used to be on Angel’s face back in the day while he waited for his turn with Nurse Cordy. It was worth getting hurt to have this close contact with her, to be inside the aura of Cordy-scent: honeysuckle and musk and under it the sweetly beguiling rush of blood. …and fuck it, there he goes again. Gunn shifted uncomfortably, praying she didn’t notice his excitement. He tried to focus on the sizzle of peroxide in his wounds (maybe you can’t get infected, but why take a chance?) ‘cause it would be a bad, bad, idea to focus on the heat of her hand resting on his shoulder like a brand…

Aw fuck. It was like he was 14 again, sprouting wood every time his English teacher Miss Cooley bent over for something or stretched up to point out something on the board or *smiled*.

She patted him on the shoulder giving him a quick glimpse of sun as she stepped back. Damn, Cordy’s smile just lit up the room, it made him want to just sit there soaking it in. Though she didn’t smile much these days. Can’t blame her, there ain’t much to smile about around here with no money, one fighter, and demons popping up everywhere. “All done,” she said. “You know the drill: drink as much as you can, I just picked up our order from the butchers, so there’s plenty.”

“Thanks.” He stood looming awkwardly over her with a grin that felt weird on his face. He wished things were still simple like they used to be when he was with Fred and Cordy was his friend and nothing more. Back when he had a pulse. No one had to tell him how whack the idea of him and Cordy was. Girl had been through enough without him making it worse. Even if she was into dating the undead, it wouldn’t be him.

“Anything wrong?” Cordelia looked worried, guess he’d been standing there a little too long.

“Uh, no. Night.”

“O.K. Night.”

Cordelia watched Gunn leave for the kitchen. He’d been kind of down lately and she was starting to worry about him. Sighing she started to clean up. She’s going to have to ask Lorne to talk to his friend down at the morgue about getting some more human blood because Gunn needed it. The monsters seem to be getting bigger and badder, like they’ve heard that AI’s big gun is out of commission. Too bad the PTB hadn’t gotten the memo, but no: the visions kept on coming and the good guys kept heading out to fight the bad things and getting thrashed. Bottom line was: they needed help. She’d gone over the options and there was only one thing she could think of that might help, so she was going to do it, no matter how much it hurt. Tomorrow, first thing.

Down in the kitchen, Gunn heated and gulped down pig’s blood until his legs stopped feeling like overcooked spaghetti. Nasty stuff, but until Angel Investigations started pulling in serious cash, it’ll have to do ‘cause the prices they charged for human blood were scandalous. He had to give props to Angel for managing to live on this shit for more than a century.

He yawned. Dawn was getting close and all he wanted right now was to lie down and sleep for a couple of years, but there’s one more thing he’s got to do first. Wearily he heated up another container of blood, poured it into a commuter mug and went upstairs.

He knocked on Angel’s door. No answer, like always, but he could feel Angel in there. He stepped inside. Yeah, there he was, same old same old, lying curled up on himself on the unmade bed. The stink of old blood and unwashed vampire set off all kind of strange feelings in him that he didn’t want to study too close. He placed the blood on the bedside table pushing aside the empty one from that morning. Not sure if Angel actually drinks it, or if he dumps it down the sink, ‘cause he seemed to be getting thinner. Gunn hesitated, hoping like always that Angel will give some sign he knows he’s there, but like always, he just lay there. Goddamn useless motherfucker. He slammed the door behind him and marched down the hallway, headed for his own room and bed.

Gunn was halfway there when Lorne’s door opened. Gunn couldn’t help staring because, damn. The demon was wearing lilac pajamas and a genuine no-shit night cap, like an illustration in a kid’s book. “Hey, paisan – whoa. Looks like you had a tough night. You O.K.?”

Gunn shrugged. “Yeah, just tired mostly.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Gunn hesitated. Yeah, he did but he couldn’t see how talking to Lorne would help. “Naw, man, I’m just gonna get some sleep.”

“Well, O.K. If you’re sure. My door’s always open…” An unhappy Lorne watched Gunn until he disappeared into his own room, and then shut the door with a sigh.

“Sorry,” he told the empty room. “I tried, but you know our Charles. He’s kinda caught up in the whole manly-man deal, and face it I’m no Robert Bly.” He cocked his head as if listening then sighed. “Yeah, I know, I know, the kid’s riding for a fall, but what the hell can I do about it?” He sighed. “Sweetcheeks, if I thought he’d believe me, I would tell him.”


The early morning light straggled through the blinds as Lilah directed a gleaming smile at the people gathered around the conference table for the meeting she’d called. “Good morning everyone. Thanks for showing up at such short notice.” They all dutifully smiled back as though that they’d really had a choice. It was good to be Director in Charge of Special Projects. True, she was currently only ‘acting’ Director, but she was confident she could turn the latest development to her advantage and prove to the Senior Partners that she deserved to be made permanent.

“If you’ll look at your handouts.” She paused for the obligatory shuffling of paper as the attorneys quickly scanned the contents. Then she dimmed the lights and put the first image up on the projector screen.

The first image caused very little reaction; they all knew this player. “Angel, the vampire with a soul. As we all know, such a creature features in a collection of very important prophecies related to the firm’s endgame. His role in the concluding battles will be pivotal. One of Special Projects primary goals over the past three years has been his subversion to our side. Unfortunately, Angel has proved to be a difficult prospect, he is after all over 240 years old and is somewhat set in his ways. Thus far we’ve failed to move him into our column.” She watched her minions struggling, with variable success, to not show how very bored they are by her recap.

“However, I believe I’ve found a solution to our problem.” New picture. Her audience wasn't so bored this time since while a few have seen this face before most of them haven’t. Lilah thought it was a nice shot of the subject, it had been taken a few nights ago and Lilah was struck by how vampirism suited him. He’d always been vaguely attractive, in a rough-trade kind of way, but now that all the tiny imperfections of humanity had been smoothed away he positively gleamed.

“Charles Gunn, born November 2, 1978, parents Charles Gunn Sr. and Susan Gunn maiden name Stevens, both now deceased. One sister, Alonna born June 14, 1981 also now deceased.”

“A long time associate of Angel, Mr. Gunn was turned by Angelus a little over six weeks ago.” No need to go over how exactly Angelus had reemerged but thank you Linwood, you dumb, dead, dick. “He and with Angel were resouled through the intervention of Wesley Wyndham-Price, another former associate of Angel’s.” She flashed a picture of Wesley for the new hires. “Currently estranged and a secondary target for acquisition.” Though he was being a stubborn bastard at the moment. She pushed the trigger; they were back to Gunn sitting outside in the Hyperion’s garden after dark. He looked sad, poor baby, she’d have to see what she could do about that.

“My point, boys and girls, is that we now have not one but two souled vampires of the line of Aurelius. This raises certain interesting possibilities because while the prophecies refer to ‘the vampire with a soul’ and occasionally mention ‘the line of Aurelius’ they don’t actually identify Angel by name.” She has their full attention now.

“I believe we have a new candidate capable of fulfilling the prophecies. A souled vampire who is very different from Angel. Charles Gunn is a volatile young man with a history of violence and contempt towards the law. A young man who recently had his world turned upside down and who is in, shall we say, a potentially vulnerable state. A newly fledged vampire with all the desires and urges of a powerful demon, and very little experience in controlling them.”

Lilah’s smile gleamed white and uncompromising. “Forget about Angel. Angel is the old mission. We have a new mission: Charles Gunn. We will subvert and gain control of Mr. Gunn before the end of the quarter by, need I say it, any means necessary.”

She leaned forward. “Ideas?”


Linwood glanced at the clock. It was 9:22 a.m. It was always 9:22 a.m. Except when it was 1:55 p.m. The smell of burnt coffee hung teasingly in the air, a lie like everything else here: there was no coffee in hell. He felt the warning tingle and immediately returned his gaze to the terminal screen before the correction started. The pain of the corrections was quite extraordinary, especially considering the fact that this body, with all its aches and pains was as unreal as the coffee. Nevertheless his back and neck ache constantly, his eyes burn and his head pounds from the (literally) endless hours of staring at glowing green characters on a black screen. During the immeasurable time he’s been here, he’d noticed an ache spreading from his wrist to his forearm. The illusion only went so far though: he never needed to sleep, or eat, or use the toilet. Which was just as well since his unreal body was chained by the ankle to his immovable and anti-ergonomic chair.

Back to work.

The index cards he had to transcribe were battered manila, handwritten in faded ink. From the look of them Linwood guessed they date from the 1930’s. It appeared that Wolfram and Hart’s digitization program was running a little bit behind schedule. He put his hands back on the keyboard and carefully entered the information.

Client name: Xxxrgeraz Otezarg
Title: Lord
Id#: 48670912490765550001210
Species: Drantorian
Sex (if any): Male
Attorney: Geoff Entemann
Billing history: ref #268559200

When he was done, he dropped the card into the bin at the side of his desk and picked up the next one. Repeat, ad infinitum. Linwood hasn’t been this bored since first year torts. He’d never thought he’d envy Holland Manners, but it was obvious now that his predecessor had had a far superior contract. He at least rated a corporeal presence.

The phone rang.

It took him a moment to register that it was happening outside his head. He’d always regarded the blank-faced instrument as background detail, no more useful than the clock. It rang again and he warily picked up the receiver.

“Linwood? Honey? Is that you?”

“Marta?” His starved imagination provided an image of her sitting on the edge of their bed in expensive lingerie, looking every inch the trophy wife as she smiled into the phone. “How did you get this number?”

“A friend of a friend. Linnie, how are you?” She sounded so cheery, his defenses immediately went up.

“I’m dead, my dear. I’m a data entry clerk. How do you suppose I am?”

“I’m so sorry Linnie, about everything. If it helps, you had a lovely funeral. Everyone came.”

“Marta, dear; you never were much good at the schmoozing. Why not save both of us some pain and simply tell me why you’re calling?”

“Linnie! I can’t believe…”

“Marta,” he interrupted. “I imagine this is a very expensive call for you.” He heard her shift gears.

“Fine then Linnie. Well, after the funeral I was putting our affairs in order and do you know what I found when I checked the Swiss account?”

“Approximately 1,000 euros?”

“Yes. Which I thought was strange since according to the quarterly statement we received just before your death, the balance was 1.5 million. So I phoned Zurich and guess what? The bank informed me that according to their records there’s never been more than 1,500 euro in that account.”

“That’s right.”

“Where’s the money Linnie?”

“It’s in a safe place.”

“Linnie! You’re just being petty now, it’s not like it can do you any good where you are.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He could almost hear her finely manicured fingers tighten on the receiver.

“What do you want Linnie?”

“Revenge. I want them dead. All of them: Angel, Wesley, his vamp sidekick Gunn, that little bitch Cordelia and anyone who’s standing too close. If I could kill the brat again, I would. And I want out of here: I want a new body.”

“Linnie, be reasonable.” The sugar had leached from of her voice, leaving only the bare boned bitch behind. “We both worked in Contracts; you know what the chances are of breaking your employment agreement. Plus, the senior partners really don’t want Angel dead. The money won’t be much use to me if I’m flayed alive and roasted over an eternal flame.”

“Nothing worthwhile comes without risk Marta.”

“Linnie, please.”

“Marta, I understand, it’s a difficult decision. I you don’t want to take the risk, well you have other options. Of course, you’d probably need to sell the house and buy something a little more practical. You could always get a job, I’m sure the firm would be glad to take you back.” They both knew that if Marta had wanted to work she would never have married him.

She gave a dainty sigh. “Linnie, there’s no need to be nasty. Of course I’ll help you. But you do understand it’s going to be expensive…”

“I’m sure you’ll manage to cope my dear. There’s that sapphire set I gave you last Christmas, you should be able to get at least $10,000 for it if you’re strapped for cash.”

Silence. She’d have that face on now, the one that used to mean that he would be sleeping in the other bedroom until she was suitably bribed. “I’ll get back to you Linnie.”

She hung up.

Linwood trembled, then picked up the next card.


Cordelia stared at the phone. She’d been staring at the phone for almost an hour, working up her courage. C’mon girl, you’ve faced demons, survived a hell-dimension, not to mention Angelus. You can do this.

She picked up the phone and dialed. The phone rang, and rang again. And again. Oh well, nobody home; she’ll just try again later…

“Hello?” Hanging up now would be childish, irresponsible, and would only delay the inevitable. Stand and deliver, you wuss.

“Hi Buffy.” She could feel the shock traveling back down the telephone line. It was a really good connection. Cordelia could hear birds chirping in the background.

“Cordelia?” Not the warmest greeting but hey, not like they’d ever been friends.

“Been awhile, huh?”

“Is Angel O.K.?” Well, that didn’t take long.

Cordelia cleared her throat. “Physically, yeah. Mentally – not so much. He hasn’t left his room in weeks. Gunn’s the only one who sees him, and he hasn’t said a word to him in a while.”

“What happened?”

Cordelia Chase does not wimp out, she thought: I can do this. "Long story well, still kinda long. Feel free to interrupt if you've heard any of it before. O.K., it's like this: Last year, the lawyers raised Darla as a human being---"

The whole sad story didn’t take as long to tell as she’d thought it might, it helped that Buffy only interrupted a few times. Mostly she just made various sound of shock, especially when Cordelia got to the part about Connor.

“Angel had a kid.” Cordelia could hear the strain of unwilling belief in Buffy’s voice.

“Yeah. His name was Connor, and he was the most beautiful, most perfect little baby and Angel – Angel loved him so much.”

“Poor Angel.” Poor Connor, Cordelia thought. “No wonder he’s depressed.”

Now came the really hard part. Cordelia steeled herself, determined not to reveal too much. “Yeah, losing Connor pretty much wrecked him, but there’s more: a week after Connor was stolen this lawyer, name of Linwood Murrow, decided it would be fun to rip out Angel’s soul.”

“Angelus,” Buffy breathed.

“Yup. And just as much fun as ever. Also Drusilla showed up to help him.”

“Ohmigod, Cordelia. Is everyone O.K.?”

“No. Angelus killed Groo my boyfriend and Gunn and Fred – uh, you didn’t know her, she worked with us and she was a really nice person,. Kindatorturedme…”

“Um, Cordelia, didn’t you say something about Gunn a minute ago…” She stopped. “Oh.”

“Yeah, but it’s O.K.—well kinda. Wesley got his soul back. Angel's is permanent too, no more clause. Problem is, Angel’s been kinda out of it, I’m still getting the visions, and Gunn’s been doing most of the heavy demon-killing and rescue, but he's not Angel. We really need help, at least until Angel’s better."

“So, Buffy, are you doing anything this summer?”

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