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Title: Odds Against Tomorrow
Author: Jennifer-Oksana (
Rating: R (Heavy intimations of Spike/Angel in the past, with A/W, A/C, and A/F UST. Character death.)
Spoilers: Eternity, There's No Place Like Plrtz Grb
Summary: Survival is a cruel thing to test a friendship with.
Archive: List archives, all others please ask.
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel (and the show) do not belong to me. They are owned by Joss Whedon/David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy, the WB, and FOX. No infringement intended.

07.09.01 (Three Days Afterwards) Frankie's Diner

This was the sort of case Kate Lockley used to do, John Ramirez thought to himself as he walked into the squalid, deserted diner in the shadow of the hospital next door. Mysterious explosions, missing bodies, hints of stuff no sane cop would think about--it wasn't his usual ballgame. For a second, Ramirez wished that Lockley wasn't off drying out somewhere in Arizona. He could have used a nice long chat with the (former) detective. She could have given him a clue to what this bullshit was all about and then he wouldn't feel like such an asshole going into this.

Wyndham-Pryce was waiting for him. They'd talked on the phone last night, him and this overly polite British guy, going around in circles until Wyndham-Pryce had agreed to a short meeting at Frankie's this morning. Ramirez nodded to him, internally surprised at how much bruising the guy had. Someone had obviously worked him over that night. There was a nasty shiner on his left eye, and multi-colored contusions down his jaw and neck. Besides which, he was wearing a long sleeved shirt in LA in July, which screamed louder than words that he was one physically fucked-up British guy.

He wasn't gonna talk about it, either. Ramirez had an eye for witnesses, and this Wyndham-Pryce character had the look of an uncooperative witness. There was a little tightness around the eyes, a certain set to the jaw. This guy didn't want to talk to the police, no matter what had happened to him.

"Detective Ramirez, I presume?" he said, sticking out his hand and nodding in a perfectly polite greeting. "I'm Wesley Wyndham-Pryce."

"John Ramirez," the detective answered, taking the other man's hand and shaking it quickly. "Thanks for agreeing to meet with me. How's your friend--Cordelia, I think it was? How's she?"

Wyndham-Pryce rubbed his temple tiredly. It was obvious he was worried, but he also wasn't going to admit that to a cop.

"Annoyed, mostly," he said. "She's very tired of all the stitches and warnings about anemia."

"Well, she did almost die, didn't she?" Ramirez said with a shrug. "They're just trying to be careful. And then there was your other friend, the tall guy with the nasty cut on his face. How's he doing?"

There was a momentary pause as Wyndham-Pryce thought of the proper way to answer the question.

"Angel is doing well enough," he told the detective. "He's had a great deal of grief to deal with recently."

"You could say the same thing," Ramirez replied. Wyndham-Pryce nodded again without saying anything or relaxing a single muscle. "So, your girlfriend, is she really gonna be okay?"

It was the wrong thing to say. Ramirez knew it before the words were completely out of his mouth. Wyndham-Pryce (Wesley, whatever) looked immediately amused, but the set of his jaw wasn't. That was weird, mostly because the vibes Ramirez had gotten had screamed that the two were dating. But apparently not.

"If you mean Miss Chase, she'll be fine," Wesley said. "Her recovery has been inhibited by her migraines more than by anything else. But you know so much about the case, I'm sure you knew that."

Ramirez didn't bother to deny it. He was the investigating officer on this one and he had every right to know everything about the case. He was too busy noticing the way Wyndham-Pryce kept touching his stomach. It was an unconscious gesture, but whenever Ramirez opened his mouth, the hand fluttered back to the stomach. Ramirez needed to ask his contact about that. Maybe it would explain why Mr. Wesley "I'm So Very British"-Pryce was preparing to be so very uncooperative.

"Yeah, I know a lot about you and your friends, Wesley," Ramirez said. "Like that your friend Angel doesn't exist on any of my databases. Or that Winifred Burke's back in LA after dropping off the face of the earth five years ago--"

"Let's leave Fred out of this," Wesley said crisply. "Unless you'd prefer that my lawyer joined us."

Right. Mr. Wesley apparently didn't think much of LAPD, and Ramirez knew the man had a point. Winifred Burke's case had a lot of guys on the force seriously pissed off. The poor kid was certifiable, and until they had bodies, no way she deserved to be questioned for murder two, let alone stuck in a county holding cell--especially not with her friends in the hospital or bruised all to hell. The ACLU was going to feast like rabid vultures the minute one of these seriously injured people got his or her head on straight.

But that was why Ramirez was there. He knew how to investigate sensitive homicides and make sure LAPD came out of it clean and looking good. He had to make damn sure this nervous bastard didn't leave this meeting looking for a reporter without pissing off the victims' families or friends.

"Why don't we sit down, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce?" Ramirez asked. Wesley looked at him coolly and then nodded.

"I've already given my deposition, Detective," he said as the two men walked over to a dark, quiet corner of the diner. "Are you expecting me to change my story to protect Fred? Or myself?"

Ramirez shook his head.

"You're not under suspicion," he said honestly. "Look, if your friend Fred hadn't gotten so noisy about killing people--or if that little bastard with the camera hadn't been so eager to cash in, LAPD would leave this alone. But we got bodies to account for, and we aren't gonna let up until we find 'em. Otherwise, LAPD looks bad, you know what I'm sayin?"

"Because locking up a mentally unstable girl makes you look good?" Wesley said. "Besides. You won't find any bodies at the Hyperion Hotel."

"But what about Miss Burke's--"

"I'm not at liberty to discuss that, Detective," he said curtly.

"So you're gonna let your friend go up rather than talk to a cop?" Ramirez asked, thinking that it was time to apply a little pressure.

Wesley gave Ramirez a look that could have burnt a hole in the linoleum.

"I'm not a fool, Detective Ramirez. Talking to the cops isn't going to help any of us. So you might as well fuck off if you think I'm going to assist your little investigation--"

He stopped, because Ramirez was suddenly holding a slim voice-activated tape recorder in his unexpectedly gloved right hand. Wesley's face turned sullen.

The tape recorder was covered in blood.

"The blood on this little beauty doesn't belong to any of you," Ramirez said quietly. "Unless it's your friend Angel's, and somehow, I doubt that. Someone got bloody at your hotel three nights ago. Someone who didn't leave the hotel, alive or dead."

Wyndham-Pryce, despite being trapped, maintained his aura of cool Britishness and glowered. Ramirez found that somewhat impressive.

"This is entrapment."

"You haven't been involved in much police work around here, have you?" Ramirez asked. "Nobody much gives a shit about due process unless you're rich and have good lawyers. Remember, this is America, buddy. We put fifteen-year-olds in prison for life and pat ourselves on the back for doing it. Nobody's going to care if some crazy woman goes to jail or to the mental hospital as long as it looks like she's getting her just desserts."

That was too much for Wesley. His hand slammed against the table, although the expression on his face didn't change one bit.

"That was unnecessary, Detective," Wyndham-Pryce said. His eyes narrowed. "Since I'm going to cooperate with you anyway, you needn't resort to empty threats."

Ramirez nodded, and returned the recorder to the evidence bag in his coat pocket. There was going to be hell to pay for that bravado display later on, but only if the gamble didn't pay off. After all, there was due process, and you never knew who had a good lawyer and who didn't, especially if these people looked for help from public opinion--

"All right," he said. "I assume that you're not going to come downtown with me."

"I have to take Cordelia home in twenty minutes," Wesley reminded him. "And I've given my deposition. The story that LAPD's going to believe is in that. Everything else isn't going to fly downtown."

Holy shit. It really was a Kate Lockley case, complete with the things going bump in the night. Nobody in the department was going to want to deal with that on the evening news. Thank God Wyndham-Pryce had just given him the out. Ramirez had to play by this guy's rules, and maybe, just maybe, he'd get the information he needed to close the case without hassle.

"Yes, that's right," Ramirez said. "You said that there was a mysterious bomber in the hotel. I've heard better conspiracy theories on an episode of the X-Files, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce."

"How's this for an episode of the X-Files, then?" Wesley said angrily. "The mystery bomber was a paid employee of Wolfram and Hart, one of the city's most prestigious law firms. Your missing bodies belong to two homicidal vampires who were paid to detain myself and my friends until the bomber could finish his work. We simply tried to survive the evening. What do you think of that, Detective?"

"Sounds more entertaining than watching reruns of CSI," Ramirez said with an indifferent-looking shrug. "And you wouldn't lie to me, would you?"

He tapped his coat pocket. Wesley's glare grew uncomfortably warm.

"I'm a poor liar," the man replied civilly. "And I refuse to play this game with you, Detective Ramirez."

With a dismissive glare, Wyndham-Pryce stood up and reached into his pocket, pulling out an envelope. He handed it to Ramirez silently.

"What's this?"

"I found it in my possession yesterday morning," Wesley said. "You might find the contents interesting."

Ramirez realized he was losing control of the situation, but he took the envelope anyway. It was either that or believe the crazy girl in the holding cell who swore that she'd turned the bodies to dust by accident. Which was not going to happen in any reality.

"Don't leave town, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce."

"Of course not," the man said, leaving quietly and heading for the hospital.

Ramirez stared at the envelope for a good two minutes. Then he snapped out of it, tore the thing open, and shook out the contents. Four slim sixty minute mini-tapes--exactly the sort that fit in the bloody recorder--fell onto the plastic tabletop.

Well, fuck. And fuck fuck fuck and fuck some more.

Ramirez was on his feet in five seconds. Twenty seconds later, he was on a landline to his precinct.

"Yeah, this is Ramirez. I just picked up some evidence we need to listen to immediately--"

8:07 PM, 07.06.01 Roberto's Taco Shop

"Does anyone actually drink horchata?" Cordelia asked between bites of cheese enchilada. "It's at all the Mexican places in town, but I've never actually seen anyone order horchata."

Wesley shrugged. "I wouldn't know. What is it, anyway?"

"It's a rice drink," Fred said, smiling blissfully. That girl was damned easy to please. Give her a plate of five rolled tacos and a giant bean and cheese burrito and she would be happy as a clam for at least a day. I sometimes wished that everyone else was that simple. "I had it once. I didn't like it."

"Right, then," Wes said. "No on horchata."

"I didn't like it. Doesn't mean you wouldn't," Fred said.

"Of course," Wes replied.

Cordelia tried to talk through her bite of food and almost choked. Gunn thumped her on the back and she waved him off, coughing and sputtering.

"That was quite eloquent," Wes said. Cordelia stuck her tongue out at him and went back to her meal. I smiled at them both. I was having a good time despite myself.

"We should all go out for dinner together more often," I said. Everyone except for Fred, who was busy munching a rolled taco, gave me a sour look.

"Not unless the place serves lots of alcohol," Cordy replied dourly. "Preferably of the tequila kind."

Gunn made a face, but didn't say anything.

"I hear that you can get frozen margaritas at Las Palmas," Wes said obliviously. "Or have you heard about the new sushi place?"

"Mmm, saki," Cordy said, still off in an alcoholic dreamworld.

"Mmm, liver damage," Gunn said. "Plus, I don't care what you say. It's still raw fish."

Cordy wrinkled her nose and everyone went back to the half-eaten tacos. I made a note to talk to her later about the drinking. I hadn't really noticed it, but Gunn was making a big deal about it, so it was probably my place to ask.

Twenty minutes later, we were walking back to the hotel, enjoying how perfect the weather was. I have to admit, if there's one thing about LA that I like, it's how nice the weather turns just after dark. It's the best weather for walking and makes me wonder how this city got so hooked on cars.

"Why does it always take five times longer getting back from Roberto's than it does getting there?" Gunn asked. "Jeez."

"It's a nice night out," Fred said. "And I like seeing the city. I forgot how pretty the cars are."

"Yeah, until one of them runs you over," Gunn replied dryly. He must have been taking a few lessons from Wesley.

Fred looked up at him, a little perturbed. Her eyes looked enormous behind the glasses.

"Do you think they would?" she asked him quite seriously. "I've never tried to hurt a car."

For a second, I got the weirdest shiver. The expression on Fred's face was too familiar, too eerie. Madness has a way of looking the same on delicate women and just for a second, I could hear another voice chasing after me--

"Hey, slowpoke!" Cordelia snapped, pushing past me. "This is a great walk and I'm glad we're communing with nature and cars and stuff, but I have to pee. Like, hardcore."

"Okay, okay," I said. "Don't get bent out of shape."

She didn't even bother to answer, half-running, half-walking the last block to the Hyperion. We tried to keep up, but the weather was too nice, so the rest of us dropped back to our normal slow pace. There was no rush to get back into the somewhat dusty air of the hotel, especially not on a beautiful July night in the city.

"She shoulda gone at the restaurant," Gunn muttered. "It's all that damn alcohol."

"Gunn, you've got to lay off talking about alcohol," Wes replied in guarded tones, flicking his eyes over at me. "She's going to throw a fit if she hears you complain again."

Gunn gave me a little look, then looked back at Wes and shook his head.

"Come on, man," he said irritably. "You don't think she's been hitting the bottle a little hard?"

Wesley drew himself up very properly, in his ever-so-damn-British way, and sighed.

"Perhaps," he replied softly. "She is fairly fond of social binge drinking."

Gunn snorted and shook his head.

"Oh, you've known for a long time, then, haven't you?" he asked Wes. "Why are you lettin' it go?"

"The funeral and the wake were fairly devastating," Wes replied mildly, trying very obviously not to look at me. "We also paid a visit to Mrs. Chase while we were in town. It was a nightmare. Her mother's fairly sharp-tongued and her new boyfriend--"

He grimaced. I was downright shocked to hear about this open secret I'd never heard about. Granted, I wasn't in any state to help people at the time, but still. I would have pulled myself together if I'd known--

They both sighed. In unison.

"I heard that story a few times," Gunn said.

"Yes," Wes said. "Chuck is one of those fine specimens of male ape who think they have the right and the privilege to be complete lecherous bastards. It was unbearable. The man actually grabbed her ass in front of me, not to mention her grandmother. I almost tried to kill him, but you know Cordelia. She told me to leave it be."

I wanted to find this Chuck, and use his head for target practice. I wouldn't mention it to anyone. I'd just go off and "brood" for the day and come back with Chuck's lecherous, ass-groping hand as a present for Cordy. I was sure she wouldn't mind.

"So what happened then?" Fred asked.

"After the wake, we went off with--well, her old friends, really, not so much mine--and after an hour or two of that, we both needed to take a trip to the local Big Nine Liquor Palace," Wes said, looking embarrassed. "Between us, we ended up killing a bottle of brandy, which was probably a bad idea."

Gunn was snarling now. "Probably? When did you figure that one out? When she was holding your dumb head over a toilet with one hand and knocking back shots with the other?" he asked. "Did y'all have a good cry?"

"Gunn, let it go for now," I said. "We'll talk about it later."

I opened the waiting gate to the hotel courtyard and we all walked in, a little depressed--and definitely distracted--by what we'd discussed. Everyone was looking at his or her feet when I opened the door to the hotel and heard that familiar honeyed voice in my ears.

"Angel," Darla crooned. "How nice of you and your little hostages to finally join us."

I immediately reached for whatever knife I had in my coat. Behind me, everyone else tensed for battle, looking around for Darla's inevitable minions.

"I told you not to come back," I said in a low voice.

"I didn't listen," she replied with a flip shrug. "Oh, well. Stand down and tell your little friends to come inside or your little Seer gets it--worse, that is."

We all stared in horror across the room. I should have known what was waiting. Even when I saw it, I couldn't register it.

"Oh, God," Wesley whispered. "Cordelia--"

That was when I realized that Cordelia was slumped in Drusilla's arms, covered in tiny bite marks--except at the shoulder, which was fairly bloody.

Cordy looked up at us and she already had the look that the half-drained have--disoriented and sleepy. Her eyes were glazed and she didn't seem to fully comprehend that we were there.

I was going to have to do some serious killing.

"Ah, ah, ah, prissy British. Tell Daddy Angel to put down the knife and come in or Drusilla's going to snap her pretty little neck. Or worse," Darla said with as smug a grin as I'd ever seen on her face. "Dru, would you like a new Seer as a toy?"

Dru's ridiculous voice hit me in the gut.

"Grandmother, could I?" she asked, her arm caressing Cordy's waist almost sexually. "I've never had my own seer to play with."

She nipped into Cordelia's shoulder and started drinking again. Cordy yelped, but she didn't seem to have the energy for screaming.

"If you're good, I'll buy you a puppy," Dru crooned. "Be a good girl for mummy, sweet--"

I let the knife fall to the ground. "Darla, tell her to let Cordelia go."

"Dru!" Darla snapped. Drusilla whimpered and stopped feeding. "Okay, Angel, you and your people walk through the door slowly and then lock it. Then we can discuss what's going to happen next."

We didn't have a choice, not with Cordy trapped in Dru's embrace. I waved everyone inside, and we bolted the door. Darla smiled like she was Miss America as we did it.

"Good," she said as I turned to face her again. "Angel, honey, we need to talk."

07.09.01 (1:55 PM) 14th Precinct

Ramirez had the tapes cued in the machine and a pair of earphones on when Captain Preston huffed and puffed toward Ramirez's shitty little desk. He wasn't exactly pleased to see the guy. Preston had a habit of turning everything into exactly the kind of ordeal Ramirez was supposed to avoid. Plus, the tapes were going to blow the Hyperion Hotel case wide open--provided Preston didn't take them away for some idiot reason.

"Detective, why are you sitting at a desk and not calling those Hyperion Hotel nuts into separate interrogation rooms?" Preston asked, looking ready to breathe fire. Ramirez hid his disgust and stayed calm.

"Because, sir, they've all given their depositions," he said politely. "The guy I spoke to today, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, told me that they've already got a lawyer. Besides, I've checked them out through a few contacts. Playing hardball isn't going to get us anywhere on the Hyperion case. In fact, it'll make things worse."

"It's already worse, Detective," Preston said. "You ever hear of a friendly little local law firm known as Wolfram and Hart?"

Ramirez closed his eyes. Fucking lawyers. Fucking high-priced worthless hotel-bombing fucking pieces of shit lawyers.

"Yeah, I might have."

"Well, get this," Preston said. "They're claiming they're counsel for our missing bodies."

"What the fuck?" Ramirez asked. "When did the dead get legal rights?"

"They claim that the bodies belonged to agents of Wolfram and Hart who were probably murdered in a cover-up," Preston said.

"Give me a fuckin' break."

"I know what you mean, but apparently, this ain't the first time Angel Investigations and Wolfram and Hart have clashed. Apparently, the lawyers want the hotel's lease and Angel Investigations is telling them to fuck off," Preston said. "And if you know anything about anything, you know you don't want to fuck with Wolfram and Hart."

Interesting. Very, very interesting, Ramirez thought as he drummed his fingers on the desk. Especially considering the identity of their two missing bodies. He hadn't thought anyone would have given much of a fuck for these ladies--particularly Wolfram and Hart.

"Understood, sir," Ramirez said. "Of course, I'm sort of confused now. See, I just got a report from Jean Flores. Our missing bodies belonged to two women wanted for homicide--notably, the murder of thirteen lawyers. One guess as to who they worked for."

Preston didn't have an answer for him. He blinked for a few seconds and then stared at the window. Ramirez wished the man would just spit it out so he could get back to the tapes.

"I hadn't heard that," Preston said slowly. "When did you find out?"

"Twenty minutes ago," Ramirez answered.

"Oh," Preston said. Something was clearly up, but Ramirez didn't give a shit. He was here to solve this quickly and quietly, not to coddle dimwitted paper pushers.

"Yeah," Ramirez said. "As far as I'm concerned, everything we've got on paper now it bullshit. These tapes have the real story on them, and that's the only way we're going to find the bodies. And until we have the bodies, we've got jack shit. So in my opinion, Wolfram and Hart can go fuck themselves until I hear the tapes. Same for Angel Investigations. Keep that girl in the holding cell as long as you can, got it?"

Preston nodded. There wasn't much else he could do except ask stupid questions that had already been answered.

"So you think the tapes will lead us to the bodies?" he said. "What about the rest of us? What do you want us to do, Detective?"

Ramirez shrugged. "Forensics, mostly. I'd like the data on the recorder recovered if possible, and Ben Rogers is doing the lab work on the blood. Find me something physical to link to all this audiotape. Make sure the nice people from Angel Investigations don't die or skip town. And keep those fucking lawyers the fuck away from me."

"You got it," Preston said, bobbing his head up and down mindlessly. "Good luck, Ramirez. Hope there's something on those tapes."

"Yeah," Ramirez said. "You and me both."

Preston finally got out of his face and Ramirez quickly grabbed the recorder and the tapes and found himself an investigation room to hide in. He locked the door behind him, sat down, and put the headphones on. He was ready to go.

He pressed Play. The cassette whirred for a second and then--

"I don't think so, prissy British," a woman's voice said. "Tell Daddy Angel to put the knife down and come in or Drusilla's going to snap her pretty little neck. Or worse."

Talk about starting off with a bang. Ramirez slammed the pause button and closed his eyes. There went any hope of it being an open and shut case. The employees of Angel Investigations had been hostages of wanted killers. Of course, this was definitely not in any of the depositions. Fucking A. He'd known they'd been lying, but what the fuck was wrong with these people? So Winifred Burke had killed a terrorist holding her prisoner. So what? Good for her.

But they had lied. That meant there was more to it, because a third-year law student could plea bargain this case as it stood. So why had everyone lied? And why was Burke taking the fall?

Ramirez unpaused the tape, listening to the threats and the assault passively. Chase's injuries were a matter of public record and it was obvious that this Drusilla had caused them. That wasn't new. Nor did Ramirez give a damn about the other woman's mincing and cooing. She was evidently the big guy's--Angel's--ex. In fact, it was playing out like a bad movie except for one really big unanswered question.

Who the fuck had made these tapes?

"You can't leave us alone down here with Drusilla," Wyndham-Pryce suddenly gasped through the insults and threats. "She's insane and untrustworthy. She could kill us all."

"I suppose she could," the woman simpered. "But that's your problem. Angel and I are going upstairs. You five play nice now, all right?"

"Fuck," the someone who was recording everything muttered. "Fuck fuck fuck."

There was dead silence.

"Four little Indians, all in a row," Drusilla cooed. "Who will be the first. to. go?"

Ramirez could almost see the woman in his head, pointing at the four people one by one. He immediately made himself forget the image. For all he knew, Drusilla was dancing in a circle while she was chanting in that frightening, crazy voice. It wasn't important anyway. He was gathering the facts, not making up a story.

"Leave Fred alone," said a new male voice. That was probably Charles Gunn, the only person in the entire incident not to be injured in some way. "Don't hurt her."

"I'm not going to hurt her," Drusilla replied, her voice getting louder and then softer as she passed by the mystery taper. "I'm going to brush her beautiful hair. And then it's time for tea, isn't that right, lovey?"

Before Fred could answer, someone knocked on the door. Ramirez groaned, stopped the tape, and quickly unlocked the door.

"Yes?" he asked, opening the door partway. Jean Flores was standing there with a faint smile on her face. She also looked really busy.

"I'm sorry to bother you, John, but there's a Lilah Morgan from Wolfram and Hart here to see you," Jean said. "Oh, and Ben Rogers is on the phone for you. He's freaked out about the blood on your Hyperion Hotel recorder."

"Thanks, Jean. I'll be out in a minute," he said, trying not to shout. He closed the door and took a deep breath. Great. Now the case didn't make any sense and lawyers were already hassling him. This was just perfect.

07.06.01, 9:17 PM

Darla's smugness was already unbearable. She seemed to think it was a great triumph that she'd forced me upstairs alone with her, even though I had no intentions of cooperating with her. I was curious about what she had in mind. I was going to laugh and through her out a window if it was something as uncreative and ridiculous as seducing me back into Angelus. Wes and Gunn were more than capable of keeping Dru busy until I came back downstairs. Then we'd take Cordy to the hospital and except for a little dust, everything would be back to normal.

"So I heard your little Slayer girlfriend killer herself," Darla said as we turned down a hallway on the fourth floor. "That means she's in Hell, right? Suicides always go to Hell."

"She didn't kill herself," I said evenly. "She saved the world for everyone, including you."

"Good for her," Darla replied. "So, think Dru's killed any of your pathetic mortal friends yet?"

"Are you trying to provoke me?" I asked.

"I don't know, Angel, what do you think?" she asked. "I can't love you evil, so I figure if I make your blood boil--"

She smirked.

"You know, when you do that, you look like you're six," I said.

Her expression went cold and she raised an eyebrow. "Come on, Angelus," she said. "Why don't you tell me how you really feel?"

"Well, mostly I feel confused and a little annoyed, because I told you to get the hell out of my life and yet, here you are, like a fungus," I said. "What part of 'I will stake you if I run into you again' didn't you understand?"

"I understood you just fine," Darla replied with another shrug. "But I didn't feel like following your inconsequential little orders. Stop, we're here."

She opened the door to one of the rooms. I blinked. The room was lit and not full of rotting furniture. In fact, I could hear the familiar strains of Aida playing.

"How'd you get in?"

"It's not important," Darla replied, pointing to a red leather wingchair. "Sit."

I sat and looked at her.

"What do you want, Darla?" I asked bluntly. She smiled, walked over to a little table, and poured us two champagne flutes of blood.

"I want to talk," she said, bringing me one of the glasses. I looked at it dubiously. "Do you think I poisoned it or something?"

I shrugged. "You never know."

She rolled her eyes. "I hate your soul. Not just because it's a soul, but because it makes you a complete bore."

Darla then took my glass and took a long, slow drink from it, letting a couple of drops slip out of the corner of her mouth and licking them up with the tip of her tongue. She handed it back to me with an offended expression.

"See?" she asked.

I held the glass disdainfully and stared her straight in the eyes.

"You said you wanted to talk," I said. "So talk."

Darla pouted and took another drink of blood. "You and I have unfinished business, Angel. We've been together so many years and you just toss me away like a dirty tissue."

"Darla, we don't have any unfinished business. You're a vicious murderer. I'm not anymore. I don't love you. I never will. I want you out of my life and if that requires me putting a stake through your heart, it'll be my pleasure to do so."

She smiled at me. "If you kill me, Drusilla will kill your little friends."

"She'll try," I corrected her. "Wesley and Gunn can hold her off and I'll help them out. It shouldn't take too long."

Darla snorted. "Unless she pulls the Jedi mind trick on them. Then all your bragging comes to nothing."

"All the more reason for me to kill you now and go downstairs and kill Drusilla," I said flatly, setting the glass down. "This is ridiculous. Why did you even bother? And who helped you get in here?"

"I bothered because I thought maybe you'd get lonely without me around," Darla said pathetically. "Or maybe you'd fuck a girl who didn't give you perfect happiness."

As usual, I could tell Darla was full of shit. She was being unusually pathetic, too, which meant she had something big planned.

"How much doximal is in the blood?" I asked.

"Large, large amounts," she said, slinging back the rest of her blood. "It would have done for the night. It was going to be fun. I was going to watch you do wonderfully horrible things to your irritating little friends and then we were going to fuck as they watched and prepared to die. I figured your standards for perfect happiness would be lower on drugs."

She sighed. I didn't feel sorry for her.

"Then we were going to go to South America and have some real fun," Darla said. "But you're being wicked uncooperative, so you know what? Forget it. I have better things to do than hassle you."

I didn't believe her for a second. Then again, Darla was always a bad planner when she was rattled or pissed and she was definitely both at the moment.

"All right. Let's go downstairs and you and Dru can go on your merry way," I said.

Darla immediately stood up. "Fine, whatever," she said. "Let's go. Dru and I can still find something to eat this early and be out of town before dawn."

"Good for you. If any of my friends are dead, so are you," I warned her.

"What-the-fuck-ever. I told Dru no killing," she said. "And it's only been ten minutes. If your friends can't survive ten minutes, they're pretty useless."

I shrugged and we left the prettied-up room. There was a lot I didn't like about the situation. She still hadn't told me who'd let her into the hotel, or why she was giving up so easily. It had been a third-rate seduction attempt, and that wasn't Darla's style at all.

Someone else had scripted this for her. My suspicion was that the someone else worked for Wolfram and Hart, but I didn't have anything to back that up except my gut. For all I knew, Spike had been the mastermind of this lame scheme, or the Council of Watchers, or the government.

"You're not being very interesting, Darla," I said. "It's very unlike you. What do you have planned?"

She looked at me with hateful eyes and shrugged. I grabbed her arm.

"I mean it this time, Darla. Leave me alone," I whispered. "Call off whatever you've got planned. It isn't worth it. You'll be dead before a single person hits the floor."

She pulled away. "I know you don't believe this, but I don't have a damned thing planned. So why don't you leave me the fuck alone? I'm going to be gone in ten minutes, okay?"

Her voice was honest. I was shocked. Maybe she didn't have any other plan. It was impossible, but maybe she just thought that with Buffy gone, my defenses would be weakened and she could slip in. It was still really unlikely, but that edge in her voice--

We were nearly at the grand staircase when we heard the scream. I broke away from Darla and ran for the lobby.

"It's burning!" Cordelia screamed, curled into a little ball against the wall. "Oh, my God, everything's burning!"

Her face was contorted in agony. I ran down the last few stairs and I genuinely can't remember how I got to Cordy, but the next thing I knew, I was there, pulling her into my arms.

"It's all right," I said. "You're just having a vision. It's all right. We're going to the hospital now and you can tell me what's burning and I'll stop it."

She began to sob, burying her head into my shoulder. I turned around and looked to see why nobody else had tried to get to Cordy.

"Angel," Gunn said. "What's going on?"

Cordy sniffled into my shoulder. She felt way too cold. Humans usually feel much warmer than Cordy, which let me know she needed a major transfusion of blood, which I'd get if I had to hassle every person in the hospital.

"I'm taking care of Cordelia. She's about a quart low on blood and she just had a vision. Other than that, she's fine," I said sarcastically, wondering why everyone was frozen in place.

"That's not Cordy," Gunn replied. "Cordy's over there."

Something stung in my shoulder.

I pulled away from the cold woman in my arms, just as Drusilla's familiar giggle pierced my eardrums.

"Hello, daddy," she said, lifting her head and smiling at me. "Have you got a kiss for me?"

I rubbed my shoulder nervously. Dru rarely called me daddy, and when she did, it only meant trouble.

"Drusilla, what did you just do?" I asked.

"I gave you a little prick," she said, holding up a tiny hypodermic syringe. "Grandmother told me to do it. Did it hurt?"

I backed away from her, standing up and hurrying backward.

"Angel, what is it?" Wes asked.

"Doximal," I said. "At least that's what I'm assuming. Get out of here. Get out of here NOW."

Wesley immediately stood up and knocked his chair over in the attempt, hustling across the suddenly huge lobby.

"Angel, get Cordelia and give her to me. Now," he said. "Gunn, get Fred and let's get out of here."

Looking across the room, I noticed Fred's hair had been braided into a rope that was tied to the door. Drusilla had always been strangely clever with her torments.

Cordelia's body lay ten feet away from Dru's, slumped awkwardly against the wall. Feeling the adrenaline race in my veins, I rushed to her side, pulling her to her feet. Her eyelids fluttered open as I felt this strange euphoria start to spread through my muscles.

It would be okay. I'd get them out and then I'd spend a little time being Angelus and then tomorrow, I'd be back to normal. Nothing too horrible to worry about. No.

Cordy was pretty damn cold. I dragged her across the room, ignoring her mumblings. I remembered what Gunn and Wes had said about her drinking. She sounded very much like a drunk, actually. I pulled her up a little further in my arms and stared into her glassy eyes.

"Cordy, have you been drinking again?" I asked with a smile. "Don't worry. Gunn and Wesley will take you to the hospital to get you straightened out."

"Angel?" she asked, her breathing sounding wrong.

"Angel, come on," Wesley said, holding his arms out like an expectant father. "She needs to go to the hospital."

I smiled at him. Cordelia might have been pretty damn cold, but Wes was warm and too solicitous to just trust me with Cordelia. Mmm.

Gunn had Fred loose and the two of them were at the door, while Darla sneered at them. Wesley looked over his shoulder and then back at me, still holding his arms out. But he knew exactly what had happened.

"Gunn! Go!" he shouted. "Get out now!"

"We ain't leaving you two behind," Gunn replied. I grinned.

"Go!" Wesley yelled, jumping toward me and trying to pull Cordelia away. "Don't argue with me."

I shoved Wes back and let Cordelia fall to the floor. Then I very slowly advanced on Wes, finally pinning him against the couch, my hips shoved up against his and my arms wrapped around his scrawny arms.

Spike had been thin like this. And the things I'd done to that skinny little body were all coming back to me. I licked my lips and gave Wesley an undeniably lecherous look. He stared back at me in horror.

"Angel, what the hell are you doing?" Gunn asked, still completely clueless.

"He's not Angel, dumbass," Cordelia said from the floor in a fluttery little voice. "He's Angelus."

"Oh," Gunn said dumbly. "Fuck."

07.09.01 (2:35 PM) 14th Precinct

So now the Hyperion Hotel case wasn't merely internally divisive and a PR nightmare. It was also scientifically groundbreaking. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

Ramirez wished he was on vacation. Or possibly in traction.

"John, just so we're clear, the blood on the recorder can't be human," Ben Rogers told him for the fourth time. "Not unless there's some radical new breakthrough in genetics that I'm unaware of."

If it had been yesterday, Ramirez would have been surprised. Now he just sighed, and tried to get acclimated to the fact that there were probably real demons and vampires in Los Angeles. He also got the feeling he should be having himself checked out by a shrink, or laughing in Rogers' face. Instead, he let it go.

"So definitely not animal blood?" Ramirez asked. "Pig's blood, sheep, whatever?"

"Hell no. Actually, we checked to see if it was chimp blood, cuz it's almost human, this stuff, but not quite," Rogers said. "Like I said, it's un-fucking-precedented. I'd love to know where they got this stuff."

"Probably from a murder victim," Ramirez said wryly. "Anything else you want to tell me? I've got a meeting with a lawyer."

Rogers made a noise. "Sorry, man," he said. "But I'll let you know if we turn anything else up, John."

"Thanks, Ben," Ramirez said. "Good luck."

"You, too, John," Ben said. "Later."

He hung up and Ramirez took a moment to process the latest twist in a case that was more complicated than programming a VCR. There were still no bodies. The blood on the recorder wasn't human. The two missing women had assaulted and tortured the five survivors. And there had been an explosion.

Oh, yeah, and a big-time law firm was sticking their nose where it didn't belong. He needed to go take care of that.

Ramirez walked into the reception area, where a tall, silky-looking brunette with an overpriced suit was waiting impatiently.

"Are you Lilah Morgan?" he asked. She nodded and stood up. "What do you need, ma'am?"

"I represent Darla Smith and Drusilla LeGrange," she said smoothly. "I'd like to know if you've found anything of them yet."

"Darla Smith? Drusilla LeGrange?" Ramirez asked, genuinely amused by the bullshit line and bullshit names she'd just fed him. "You mean the homicidal lawyer killers who took out thirteen of your colleagues a few months ago?"

Lilah narrowed her eyes at him. "There's no proof of that, Mr. Ramirez. It's all allegations."

"What do you want, Ms. Morgan?" Ramirez replied icily. "I'm very busy and I don't have time for legalistic bullshit."

"I'd like to know if you found a recorder and a few microtapes on the premises of the Hyperion Hotel," Lilah said. "Those tapes are the property of Wolfram and Hart and have nothing to do with the investigation. We already have a judge's order demanding the return of our proprietary tapes if you don't comply."

Ramirez almost snorted.

"We've found a recorder with one tape stuck inside of it, but it's unplayable," he said. "And the recorder was covered in blood, so it's part of our investigation. We haven't seen any other tapes, Ms. Morgan."

Lilah's expression turned dark. "Are you sure?"

"I'm very sure. This case has been a bitch--sorry--cuz we don't have jack shit to go on. It's like the bodies turned to dust," Ramirez said, looking blank.

She flinched. Ramirez made another mental note. Bodies turned to dust. Was that even possible? He'd have the boys check the furnace, which had been turned off immediately upon LAPD's arrival. So far, nothing had turned up, but maybe the dust would be like the blood and--not human.

"You keep me updated," Lilah said. "Here's my card. My cell number is written on the back."

He nodded. "Yes, of course."

Her eyes narrowed again, but she accepted his innocent replies. Ramirez could hear his heart beat very slowly. He was going to have to get the tapes out if he wanted to listen to them without interference from these obnoxious bastards.

"You'll call if the tapes turn up?" she asked again.

"You'll be the first person to know," he lied with a smile. "Thanks for coming by, Ms. Morgan."

"Right," she said, leaving. "Sure."

Ramirez hurried back to his investigation room, and grabbed the tapes, including the one in the recorder. He stuck them all in his pants pocket right before Preston walked into the room.

"What the hell was that all about?"

"Empty threats," Ramirez said. "I'm gonna go down to the crime scene and look around. Thanks for keeping the lawyers off my back, by the way."

He hustled out of the precinct, taking his own car out for a spin. After a brief stop at Rite Aide, he found himself in the dingy diner where he'd first met up with Wyndham-Pryce, looking around nervously for a sinister figure and finding only bums and tired-looking people from the hospital.

Quietly, Ramirez slipped the tape into the tiny recorder and put on a pair of earphones. He pressed play again and sipped his coffee.

Drusilla tormented Fred for a while, finally getting bored of the game and braiding Fred's hair into a rope. Or so she said. The men were quiet--a little too quiet. Ramirez didn't know what they were up to. For a good ten minutes, the loudest noise was Cordelia Chase's injured moans.

Then there was a scream.

"It's on fire!" Cordelia screamed. "Oh my God! It's burning! Everything's burning! Oh God, make it stop, make it stop, he's going to blow up the building!"

How the hell did she know that, Ramirez thought. Apparently he wasn't the only one.

"Shit," the mystery man muttered. Ramirez couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for him.

"Cordelia!" Wyndham-Pryce shouted. "Cordy, what did you see?"

There was a long whimper.

"He's in the floorboards," she said. "He's got a bomb. Things get fiery. Wes, I'm scared. And I'm cold."

"I see him!" Drusilla cried. "He's a little ratty in the floors. Do you see him skittering, too?"

"Fuck!" the bomber muttered. He abruptly clicked off the tape, which then started making funny hissing sounds. Ramirez cursed softly and prayed for the tape to come back on. When it did, the action had skipped ahead somewhat.

"Get out now!" Wyndham-Pryce suddenly yelled. "I'll take care of Cordelia, just go!"

There was a strange cry and a loud thump, like someone had fallen to the floor.

"Angel, what the hell are you doing?" Gunn asked, sounding surprised.

"He's not Angel, dumbass," Cordelia Chase said. "He's Angelus."

"Oh," Gunn replied. "Fuck."

Ramirez was now officially confused. Was Angelus Angel's evil twin brother, or his repressed personality, or something even more ridiculous and soap-opera-esque? Because apparently Angelus was a bad thing, even though Angel had survived and no one was pressing charges against him.

"That's right," Angel said. "How's everyone been?"

"Better," Wyndham-Pryce said in a strangled voice.

"I'm sorry to hear that, Wes old boy," Angel said. "You're looking quite well. Have I ever mentioned that I like your cologne?"

The voice was the same voice as from earlier, but this Angel guy sounded different. He sounded meaner. Maybe he'd gotten drunk, but there hadn't been enough time. Maybe this Darla chick had shot him up with something. Ramirez didn't want to think of any other reasons why Angel sounded like he did.

"She needs to go to the hospital," Wes-old-boy said. "Do what you must to me, but please let her go."

Angel laughed, and Ramirez felt for Wyndham-Pryce. Hostage negotiations were tough enough without being surrounded by crazy, homicidal bloodsuckers who apparently wanted more than a little blood--unless Ramirez was wrong about the counter-offer Wyndham-Pryce had just made his boss.

"Angelus doesn't make deals," Darla said smug, her voice getting louder. "Come on, love, make him squeal and then make him dead. Want me to show you how?"

"I don't recall asking you for any help," Angel said. "In fact, I don't seem to recall asking you for anything except to get the hell out of my life."

Well, at least Ramirez was right about Darla being Angel's ex.

"But that was Angel! That was your filthy soul!" Darla protested. "You and I are meant to be. It's fate. It's destiny. It's--"

Angel yawned.

"Look, Darla, there's something I've been meaning to tell you, except I've been souly and you've been dead," he said with a drawl. "I'm tired of you, because frankly, you're just not evil enough."

"What?" Darla squawked, suddenly sounding much less smug.

"Sorry. You're quasi-evil. You're semi-evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil," Angel said. "I'm sick of your whining, your posturing, and your half-assed evil plans. Staking you was the best thing my boring little soul ever did. And it really sucks that you're back, except for the part where I get to stake you properly, after the hours of begging and bleeding and hurting. Understand?"

There was silence.

"Ouch," Gunn finally said in spite of himself.

"But Angelus--we were together for centuries--" Darla stuttered.

"That was then. This is now," Angel replied. "Darla, get over it. I'm really sorry, but you're not ready to cross the bridge to the twenty-first century, and I'm looking for vamps who are. Or potential vamps, anyway--"

The waitress arrived with a warm-up. A shaken Ramirez turned off the tape and tore off the earphones.

It was time to talk to the staff of Angel Investigations.

07.06.01, 9:45 PM

Darla didn't much like what happened next. I think she'd actually thought everyone was going to happen according to her idiotic scheme. So she was actually surprised when I knocked her halfway across the room (a nice little rush), tied her up with two or three of the ropes Dru'd left lying around (like old times), stuffed a dirty rag in her mouth, and knocked her cold.

I was hoping she'd be surprised to wake up in a dark, dirty closet, too. It would make my day, and I was already having a simply wonderful time. That was all that really mattered. I was myself again, and with the people who mattered most to me. Well, except for Drusilla, who was already trying to get my attention pathetically.

"Daddy daddy daddy!" Dru cried. "You're back!"

Yawn. I should have locked her into a broom closet, too, but she was my fault. Besides, since I'd last seen her, she'd picked up a casual cruel streak that I could put to good use, and staking Dru wasn't going to be nearly as fun as staking Darla.

"Honey, Daddy's busy," I said. "Why don't you go make everyone some lovely tea?"

"Right," she said. "Warm sweet tea."

She wandered away somewhere in the direction of our kitchen area. I didn't even want to think about what she would put in the tea.

"Good for you," I said, walking over to where my cute little humans were watching me and keeping an eye on poor half-drained Cordy. "She dead yet?"

"No, not yet," Wesley replied, covering her up with his coat protectively. "What do you want, Angel?"

"A pony," I said disingenuously. Then I pulled Wes to his feet by his collar. "And the blood of an Englishman."

Gunn leapt to his feet and Fred gasped. Everyone was way too tense in the room, like they expected me to break his neck or something.

"I'll kill you," Gunn said. "Lay a finger on him and I'll do it, temporarily evil or not."

"Sit down, Gunn," I said. "If you don't, I'll snap his neck. I might do it anyway, but I promise if you're not sitting on the couch in ten seconds, I'll kill him."

It was very, very good to be me. Fred and Gunn were sitting on the couch in four seconds and Cordy was staring daggers at me from her place on the floor.

"Now that's compliance," I said, my fingers still curled around Wesley's neck. "Don't you think, old boy?"

Funny how he kept reminding me of William. Very funny, and maybe all in my head. Drusilla hadn't said one single word about the resemblance, and she, of all people, should notice. Then again, Dru and Spike weren't an item anymore--

"Put me down," he said tiredly. I let him go and he immediately went back to Cordelia, helping the pale, gasping little seer into the most comfortable chair and sitting down next to Fred. He had been all about protecting Cordy lately. I suddenly had a very interesting little thought.

"You two had sex after the Slayer's funeral, didn't you?" I asked. "That's why you've been Mr. Ignore-the-boozing lately. Oh, it all makes sense to me now. You guys got plastered and--"

Everyone gaped at me like I wasn't a homicidal evil vampire, but instead a big jerklike thing of a much more mundane type. Then again, they weren't in on my plans for the evening, so maybe I did come off like a nosy Nelly.

"So this is Angelus, hmm?" Gunn asked. "I thought you said he was evil, like Darth Vader evil. Like Attila the Hun, like Keyzer Soze evil. Because this ain't evil. This is Joan Rivers can we tawk bullshit."

"Oh, Charlie, Charlie, Charlie," I said, knocking over one of the piquant little coffee tables and dropping to my knees in front of him. "I'm just trying to make conversation. I like when the group is loosened up and honest. It makes the screaming later so much more fun."

"Talk, talk, talk. Why don't you get down to proving that old Scourge of Europe title already? Or did you scourge yourself out back in the 1880s?" he asked boredly.

Gunn clearly had no respect for my well-deserved reputation. I'd have to teach it to him later, provided he survived. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Wes was about to wet his pants, he was so nervous.

"We didn't have sex, just for your information," Cordy piped in. I couldn't tell if she was protecting Gunn or telling me what was what. "We did get extremely drunk, that much is true. But nothing happened. Nothing. Not that it's any of your business anyway, Angelus or not. I might as well accuse you of having sex with Darla that one night before you got sane again."

She gave me a superior little smirk. Ooh, I was going to wipe the grin off her all-knowing little face.

"Oh, I did have sex with Darla that night. Several times, in several positions that would make all of you blush," I said, turning to Fred and caressing her face. "Isn't that right, pretty?"

She stared at me, hypnotized. I recognized the stare. It was the half-terrorized, half-adoring look that all the girls used to have when I walked down the streets of Europe. They knew I'd leave them sucked dry in an alley, but they also knew they'd be in ecstasy before they went. I grinned at her and licked my lips.

Fred immediately looked away, an old-fashioned blush burning through her face. I liked the blush. People don't blush enough in these degenerate times.

"How long before he gets good again?" she asked the floor, refusing to meet my eyes. "Is there something we can do to make it faster?"

I smiled and slid back over to my own chair, leering at each one of them. They all stared back at me coldly, like they were afraid or disgusted.

Cordelia broke the silence. "You had sex with Darla? Ew."

"I tend to agree," I said. "I gotta admit, my former family is getting a little old and tired, like Brady Bunch Reunions. Much like using them to do simple things like destroy the world. It didn't work then, and you know, it's really, really not working now. So I'm thinking--get this, because I think this is the clever part--"

I leaned forward, sure I had everyone's complete attention. I could hear all of them breathing and watching me with perfect concentration. I liked that. I wanted it to happen more often.

"We're a family, aren't we?" I asked. "And I believe that families should be together forever."

It took everyone a second to get my drift.

"Oh, God," Wes whispered. "You'd turn all of us?"

"Of course I would. So what do you say, guys?" I asked with a smile. "I know it's a hard decision. I'll give you a few minutes to think about it, and then everyone who says no has to die. Is that all right?"

07.09.01 (4:50 PM) Cordelia's Apartment

"We don't talk without a lawyer," the young woman informed Ramirez when she opened the door.

So this was Cordelia. Poor kid looked like death warmed over, but mentally she seemed to be recovering from her trauma pretty damn fast.

"I have to know where you got the tapes," Ramirez said, holding the door open with his weight. It was harder than it should have been. "A friend of yours from Wolfram and Hart is trying to get them back and I don't want to lose this evidence."

Cordelia's eyes widened.

"Excuse me a moment," she said politely, forcing the door closed. "WESLEY!"

Ramirez couldn't hear what Wesley said next, but he definitely heard what she had to say to him.

"You gave him those tapes? Are you insane? Or maybe you want us all to go to jail! Do you not remember what you--you, not anyone else, YOU--said? No cops without the lawyer. And then, la-da-da-da, you hand over the audiotapes that have everything on them! You're a dumbass!" she shrieked.

Ramirez grimaced. Poor bastard.

The door reopened and Cordelia looked vigorously pissed off.

"We're still not talking to you," she said. "What do you want, anyway?"

"I'd like to know why you perjured yourselves in the depositions," Ramirez said. "I'd also like to know why you're not pressing any charges against this Angelus/Angel guy. I checked the hospital records. Between the bruised jaw, the four cracked ribs, the extensive soft tissue damage, et cetera, Wesley over there could probably nail the bastard for attempted murder--among other things. Then there's you and your cuts and--"

"Don't remind me," she said acidly. "I look like I'm auditioning for Secret Cutting Two."

"There was a Secret Cutting One?" Ramirez asked.

"Excuse me again," she said.

The door closed again, and this time, Ramirez couldn't hear anyone except for the low murmur of their voices. He was not amused. They were certainly behaving like guilty people. They had secrets that needed to be shared. At the very least, they needed to admit they were working for a schizo vampire who liked to hit.

Someone else opened the door for the third time. Surprise, surprise, it was the schizo vamp himself, and he looked bruised, too. Ramirez didn't feel sorry for him.

"Please come in, Detective Ramirez," Angel said, opening the door wide. "We've been waiting to see you."

"I haven't," Cordelia retorted. "I have a bad feeling about this. No offense."

"It's all right," Ramirez said absently, eyeballing the bruised and tired set of people sitting around in the apartment. "Just tell me why you even bothered with those bullshit depositions. You all were just having a pleasant night out, my ass. Those things are going to be more trouble than they're worth, let me tell you."

Wesley looked worried. "Will we be arrested for obstruction of justice?" he asked.

"Say what?" Ramirez said.

"You should probably ignore him," Cordelia said. "Everything Wes knows about American law, he learned watching Law and Order reruns on A&E."

"Ah," Ramirez said. "No, we're probably not going to bother with obstruction of justice, but we could very well have accessory after the fact, or plain ol' accessory if we go on the lies, half-truths, and crap evidence that we've got."

"Detective, it's not that easy," Angel said earnestly. "We'd like to tell you the whole story, but no one would buy it. It's full of the kind of stuff you see on TV."

"Look, smart guy," Ramirez said tiredly. "I understand that you're a schizo vampire. There's blood on a tape recorder that's not human. After I finish this case, I'm either gonna have to get some therapy or maybe go into denial for the rest of my life, but for now, I get it. There are forces out there that usually end up being shown on the X-Files. I don't like it, but I don't have a choice, do I?"

They all looked at Ramirez with surprised and then started nodding.

"That still doesn't answer my question," Cordelia said. "Why should we talk to you? How do we know you won't freak out and send us all to prison forever?"

"If you didn't do anything wrong, why would that be an issue?" Ramirez asked.

"Because with a clever DA, lots of things that weren't wrong can be made to look like we were drowning babies and we were just trying to stay alive and not kill our friend," Cordelia said bitterly.

Ramirez looked at the girl. God, she was young to be so bitter and tired. Then again, he didn't have a pattern of bite marks on his neck and shoulders. Probably wasn't her first time dealing with this sort of shit, either.

"I don't like lawyers," he said. "I got kids at home. I got other things to do than to persecute people who did they best they could. I'm looking to solve this thing the best I can. I can't do that if I have to drag you all up into separate rooms at the precinct while those bastards at Wolfram and Hart tail me."

She didn't soften. "Why's Fred still in a holding cell?"

"She confessed to murder," he said. "Nobody here proved she didn't do it."

Cordelia looked at Ramirez and shook her head. "Before I say anything, I want to hear the rest of the tapes with you here. Okay?" she asked.

Ramirez nodded and pulled the recorder and tapes out of his bag.


He turned the little thing up to 10, pressed play for the ten millionth time and everyone listened as Angel threw Darla into a closet and then offered to turn everyone in the room into a vampire. Ramirez looked around and pressed pause.

"You guys didn't take him up on that, did you?" he asked.

In response, Cordelia stuck her arm into a shaft of sunlight filtering across her living room. Then she flipped Ramirez off.

"Just checking," he said.

"I said, is that all right?" Angel asked on the tape. "Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller--you know, I hated that movie. I saw it in the theatres and I never understood why someone didn't just take that smarmy little bastard and just, you know, snap him in half--"

There was a sound and everyone looked at Angel, who stared at his feet.

"I'm assuming that wasn't a broken neck," Ramirez said.

"Bruised ribs," Wesley said. He didn't have to mention they were his.

"I guess being a schizo vampire means never having to say you're sorry."

No one laughed. Ramirez shut up and kept listening as the world closed in and he imagined being trapped in the hotel, being told that the choices were death and death. And the room suddenly got smaller.

07.06.01, 10:08 PM

Wesley stood up awkwardly, glasses knocked clear off his pretty face. He was holding his jaw delicately, but there was no fear in his eyes. I'd given too much away and there was just enough of a bastard in him to run with it. He stood there before me, and his posture was insolent, sexual, begging to be beaten within an inch of his life. I wanted to give him that beating badly, but not. just. then.

He leaned over and picked up his glasses, slipping them back on casually.

"Was it good for you, too?" he asked me softly.

Oh, I couldn't stand it anymore. It couldn't have been more Spikelike if he'd sprouted bleached blonde hair and a fake East End accent. I had to see what Drusilla thought of him, because there was definitely, definitely a resemblance.

"Dru!" I shouted. She came trotting back into the lobby with oddly colored liquid that I supposed in a different universe might be tea. It smelled burnt, too.

"Yes?" she asked. "Are we going to hurt them now?"

I shook my head. "Not yet. Look at him for me," I said, gesturing at Wesley. "Does this one remind you of anyone we know?"

She glided past me, handing me the tray of tea, and got that funny vague look in her eyes she gets whenever she's remembering things in her lost-Ophelia way.

"Hello," she said, grabbing the bruised jaw. "Do I know you, lovey?"

"No," Wes replied tightly. "We've never been introduced. You would be Drusilla."

"You don't know him, Dru. He's a Watcher, or he was a Watcher. They fired him because he was lousy at his job. But look at him," I said. "Doesn't he remind you of another posh English boy? One with stars in his eyes--?"

She let him go and started to sniff around his neck and shoulders. Wes held very, very still and glared at me as though I was Angel and might feel bad about it. Instead, I winked at him as Drusilla finished her inspection.

"I know what you want me to say," she murmured. "But it's all in the face, not the heart. My Spike was a soul full of beauty and glorious dreams. You've got shadows in your heart, dark as pitch. Evil dreams that poison your soul--"

Wesley was too busy looking at me to pay her any attention. Gunn was busy trying to decide which one of us to kill first (don't you just love vampire hunters? So cheerless. So likely to end up with their entrails wrapped around their neck), and Fred had her eyes closed. She was probably imagining that this was all a dream and she'd wake up and everyone would be happyfuntime again.

That left Cordelia to break the spell that was dragging all the fun out of the room. Which she proceeded to do with admirable tactlessness I hoped would survive her turning.

"Because evil, poisonous dreams are much more likely to come from normal people than, say, psychotic vampires with visions?" Cordy asked, looking angry. "And come ON, people. Wesley does not look like Spike. Come on. Spike's the bleached blonde evil guy. Wesley's the whiny little ex-Watcher. The resemblance is nil."

Drusilla turned around and remembered suddenly that she'd left dinner half-finished. Cordy made a little eep sound. I couldn't help but snicker.

"Oh, *yeah*," Dru said with a wicked grin. "There you are. Do you still want a puppy?"

Cordelia's eyes got round and wide. She looked over at Gunn and Wesley in utter consternation as the two shook their heads.

"Oops. Somebody should have just dealt with being ignored," I said, heading Dru off at the metaphorical pass. "So what is it, Cordelia? Isn't there enough drama in the room for you? Do you want a nice matching bruise to go with Wesley's pretty pretty contusion? It would go so well with all the bite marks and dried blood, wouldn't it?"

Cordelia's mouth opened and closed with a fishlike pop. Then she looked for someone to rescue her, and finding nobody to fit the bill, tried to save herself as only she could.

"You really suck," she said. "I know you're big bad Angelus right now and you're probably going to do something really painful and possibly permanent when I tell you this, but you're a crappy big bad. Maybe you don't remember, but Buffy kicked your ass to hell when you were in top form. You're not going to win, so get over yourself, okay?"

Everyone, including Dru, gawked at her. Cordy shrank back.

"Please don't kill me," she said in a little voice. "And if it's possible, no maiming the face?"

I couldn't help it. I laughed, picked my seer up, and swung her around like a pinata.

"See? This is what I've needed! Honesty! Brutal honesty!" I said, copping a feel as I stopped with the swinging. "By the way, you have some great breasts."

"Oh, that was quite unnecessary," Wes said.

"You don't believe in foreplay?" I asked, squeezing again to emphasize my point. "How did he ever get you in bed, Queen C? Personally, I'd never take you for a wham-bam-thank you ma'am. You need to be romanced, don't you?"

"Three things," Cordy replied. "One, we did not have sex. Stop with the speculation. There was no sex to speculate about. Ever."

"Are you sure about that? I mean, really really sure? Come on, Cordy. Don't be shy. We're all family here," I said.

I could almost see the story that actually happened. It had been a late night. They'd been lonely and alone in an ugly motel room in Sunnydale. That vengeance demon bitch had probably made a few comments. There had been large amounts of alcohol involved. They had started remembering the way he'd been hot for her and vice versa. One thing led to another and there was a bittersweet romantic kiss--

Which, on four glasses of brandy, turned into tongues--and so on and so forth, world without end, amen.

"We were very drunk at the time," Wes said with some attempt at dignity. "And nothing--really--happened."

I let Cordy go and snickered.

"So, a clothed makeout session? Probably with a little dry-humping? You really did pick up right where you left off at Sunnydale High. I bet that was a good time."

Cordelia turned around and snarled at me.

"I haven't finished talking about the three things. But that's okay, because number two was get your hand off my breast, Angelus or not. And three, no one here wants to be a vampire. They drink blood and they're evil. They're soulless and their fashion sense usually sucks. But reiterating, I did not have sex with that woman--"

"I resent that," Wesley said.

"Shut up, Wes. Fortunately for me, you did get queasy right before we did more than kiss twice," Cordelia snapped. "And by the way, tomorrow when Angelus here wakes up with a soul hangover, none of you will ever mention this to me again or I will make you wish that Angelus had gotten to you with a rusty chainsaw."

Gunn, who she was actually talking to, nodded.

"So," I said, grabbing Cordelia again. "Is that the consensus? Nobody wants to be a vampire? Everyone wants to die tonight?"

I pulled Cordelia close, listening to that nervous, fluttering heartbeat and the short, ragged bursts of breath leaking from her delicate lungs.

"Think about it carefully, Cordy," I whispered. "I'm not just yanking your chain here. You know that the visions are going to kill you eventually, don't you? One day the pain is going to kill you. And you know it."

Her muscles weakened the tiniest bit.

"The Powers wouldn't let that happen," she said. "You need me."

"You're right. The Powers wouldn't let this happen and I do need you," I said, pressing my arm against her waist a little harder. "This is the way out. All I have to do is sink my teeth right into your neck and when you wake up, the pain will be gone. Imagine that. No more mornings spent looking for painkillers that don't work. No more afternoons spent hidden in a dark room, wincing every time you turn your head. You would be healthy again. All the pain will go away."

"It's not worth it," she said, but her voice was softer. "I like my soul. I like helping others. I don't want to be evil."

"You could help me. And I'm your family, aren't I?" I asked. "Think about it. I do well with families. Until I got that lousy soul, I had Darla and Dru and Spike and we were together and safe. And I loved--well, not Spike, but I loved my girls. I took care of them. I love you, too. I can give you whatever you want. It's not as bad as you think."

A little sob rose up in that beautiful throat.

"Stop it," she pleaded. "Stop it, please."

I ran my finger down her neck and across her messy shoulder. She shuddered.

"Why is it wrong of me to want you with me forever? Why is it wrong to want to see you happy and healthy and free of pain? So that you can suffer? So that you can die? So that another filthy demon can try to impregnate you with his spawn?" I asked.

I was laying it on thick. But she was about to break. She wouldn't, not yet, but when I got the others, she'd be the first to beg me to do it. I could tell. I could feel the defeat in her every breath.

"Let her go," Wesley said clearly, standing up. He was right on cue. "Cordelia, you're not well and he's manipulating you. Don't listen to him. Let her go, Angelus."

I gave Cordy one soft kiss right where her neck met her shoulder. That was when she started to sob.

"Think about it," I said, letting her go. Wesley nearly pulled her across the room, setting her down on the couch again and covering up with his jacket, staring daggers at me. I looked to see what the effect of my little speech was on everyone else.

Gunn was unconvinced. I realized that he could undo everything. He had seen his sister turned and he'd put a stake through her heart. If she couldn't convince him, I probably couldn't. He'd stake every last one of us.

He would probably have to die. Obviously when Wesley couldn't see, because that would be the thing that would stop Wes from joining up. It was a pity, because Gunn would have been an excellent vampire, but you can't make a new family without getting a little bloody. Women all around the world know that.

I sat down on my chair again and looked them all over. This town was going to burn with that old-time religion--of pain and misery.

Gunn was the stumbling block. I had to deal with Gunn. So I ignored Wes and Fred and Dru and turned to the obstacle keeping me from perfect happiness and thus the end of my temporary soul.

I sat back and looked at him with honest respect.

"Gunn. You don't want to be a vampire no matter what," I said. "How can I change that?"

07.09.01 (6:27 PM) Cordelia's Apartment

"Why didn't you say yes?" Ramirez asked Cordelia. She blinked.

It seemed rude of him to ask, but he wanted to hear her explain why.

"Because I didn't want to be a soulless bloodsucker?" she asked sarcastically, blinking furiously. Ramirez wasn't convinced.

"You sure? Because it sounded like a good deal," he said. "And you didn't try to run away from him or anything."

She glowered at him.

"Not really," she said darkly. "Besides, it wasn't like he was permanently evil. We were trying to keep him distracted for the night."

Cordelia crossed her legs, twisting her hands together fretfully. Ramirez looked her over again and noticed that there was a red welt on her neck that she'd tried to hide under some serious heavy make-up. Actually, she'd done a good job. Ramirez was simply used to seeing bruises hidden on victims.

She saw Ramirez looking at her and her eyes flickered over toward Angel with a guilty expression hovering on her lips. Ramirez understood completely. She'd asked Angel to bite her--to maybe even make her a vampire--and the rest of them didn't know. Or maybe they did.

"It must have been the longest night of your life," he said absently.

"Yes, it was," Wyndham-Pryce agreed loudly. "I know I've asked you before, Detective Ramirez, but what do you hope to accomplish by forcing us all to relive this experience?"

Angel was right. Wesley and Cordelia had slept together--or done something horrible. Wesley was far too protective of the young woman and Ramirez couldn't figure out why.

"Oh, nothing important," he answered, trying to think of reasons why Wyndham-Pryce was so worried about Cordelia. "The truth. Some justice. A reason why I shouldn't arrest you all for murder or accessory after the fact."

"It was self-defense!" Wyndham-Pryce snapped. "Just like it says in the depositions."

"Maybe this isn't the case in your country, but in America, it's not self-defense when you have the capability to overpower your attacker and throw her in a broom closet," Ramirez replied smoothly.

"One would think," Cordelia said lightly. She fingered her neck unconsciously, tapping her foot against empty air in a staccato rhythm. "Things are a little more complicated."

"I noticed that," Ramirez said dryly. "I'm still not entirely sure how you all survived the night. I assume Angelus didn't need your permission to turn you into vampires."


"No," Angel said. "He wouldn't have."

There were too many questions Ramirez needed to ask before he could continue with the tapes. He didn't understand why one of the others hadn't tried to kill Angelus--or hit him on the head with a big stick if they were that concerned with keeping him alive. He didn't understand the secret between Cordelia and Wesley. He didn't understand what this case was at all. Murder? Manslaughter? Self-defense? A giant mistake?

"Goddammit," he finally said. "I wish someone would give me a straight answer."

"We would if we could," Gunn said. "It's too crazy even for us."

He rubbed his head tiredly. Ramirez jumped on the opportunity.

"So why didn't you kill Angelus? Or at least knock him out?"

"It's a bad habit I didn't have time to overcome," Gunn said. "Next time, if there is a next time--"

He trailed off into silence and stared into his hands. Everyone else sat there like statues until Ramirez couldn't stand it. He hit play on the recorder and the tinny, faded voices drowned out the thick quiet.

"You don't want to be a vampire no matter what," Angel said. "How can I change that?"

"You can't," Gunn replied. "Look, man, I'm still not impressed by your so-called evil. I seen too many vamps to care about one with issues like yours. So why don't we get to fighting so I can see what you're really made of? Cuz any scumbag vamp can threaten and blackmail and torture people who ain't on their game. If you're so great, you'll have the skills to back it up."

"You want me to fight you?" Angel asked contemptuously. "I almost had the world sucked into hell and you think you stand a chance?"

"Wait, was that the time you got your ass kicked and got sucked into hell instead?" Gunn asked.

There was a momentary pause.

"In my defense, I was defeated by someone who later defeated a god," Angelus said huffily. "And I was winning until I got my soul back. It wasn't like I got wacked by a garden-variety vamp hunter."

"Whatever," Gunn said. "You gonna fight me or not?"

Ramirez paused the tape. There was absolutely no emotion on the young man's face.

"Didn't go too well, did it?" he asked, thoroughly confused by the fact there were no bruises.

"Maybe you'll find out when you listen to the tape," Gunn said.

"Maybe," Ramirez said, unpausing the tape. "I think you people like making it harder on yourselves--"

07.06.01, 10:58 PM

Fighting Gunn was a bad idea. Too many things could go wrong. Defeat aside (unlikely, but possible), watching the bloody death of their friend might make everyone else difficult. Oh, hell.

I should have just turned all of them without listening to all the half-assed whining. It would have been much easier and I wouldn't have to watch Gunn wield his axe.

"If we're going to fight--and it's your funeral, not mine--there need to be some rules," I said.

"Rules?" he asked. "Like what, don't touch the hair?"

"No," I said. "More like, you and me are going to fight. Not you, me, and everyone else trying to help you out. Pull any of that shit on me and I'll knock you to the ground and turn everyone else while you're out cold. Then we'll see how much luck you have staying human."

"Fine," he said. "The same thing goes for you. You know you got the homefield advantage here. Keep that crazy vamp off everyone so I don't get distracted and find my head on the wrong side of a sword."

I smiled and decided to make a big gesture and not immediately sic Drusilla on someone. I had all of the power in this situation and maybe it was stupid of me, but giving a little bit of the power away didn't seem to be such a big deal after all.

"Dru, you have to behave," I said. "Be nice to everybody. No throat-ripping out or anything like that. Daddy has to go defeat this puny human. Then we can have some fun."

Dru clapped her hands together cheerfully.

"Hooray!" she cried. "Do it fast, my Angel. I want it to go like lightning."

"You're not the only one," Wesley muttered. I turned around and grinned at him.

"Don't worry, Wes," I said. "I'll get this over with fast and then you and I can spend the rest of the evening talking about how much you'll enjoy being a vampire."

Gunn shook his head and marched into the office, where he usually stowed his axe. I followed him and found my favorite sword.

"So, do you think you have any chance of winning?" I asked casually. "I mean, really, all macho posturing aside."

"Why would I fight you if I didn't think I could win?" Gunn asked, testing his grip on the axe. It whizzed through the air menacingly.

"Because you think you might get in a lucky shot," I said. "You're thinking that maybe you can keep me distracted long enough for me to go all whiny and brooding and soulful again."

He shifted his weight backward. "You think you got me all figured out, don't you?"

"No, I think you think you got me figured out," I said, leaning forward and intruding into that personal bubble Cordy cared so much about. "I can kill you any time I want, or anyone else here, for that matter. I'm being merciful and when I'm tired of that, I'll kill you, and then I'll turn you. So don't bore me with the attitude, understand?"

Gunn stared at me with a look in his eye that could only have been realization. He understood, suddenly, that I was not a joke. I was not merely Angel in a bad mood.

"All right," he said, trying very hard not to betray anything. "Let's go. Unless you want to fight right here?"

"Nah," I said. "It's better if we have witnesses around, don't you think? That way, when I beat you, nobody can say it wasn't fair."

He almost growled at me, but thought better of it and strode back into the lobby, where Wesley and Drusilla were eyeing each other.

"What do you dream of, when you dream at night?" she asked. "Do you dream of your mummy and daddy?"

"Not often, no," Wes replied tightly. "I don't get on too well with my parents."

Dru smiled and slid closer, her eyes glowing. "You dream about it. I can see in your head. It's very black under the stairs. It got under your skin."

He sighed, looking over at me. Then he turned back to Drusilla.

"I dream about a lot of things. Not just the dark underneath the stairs."

"I know," she said with one of her mad-imp smiles. "You dream about spiders quite a lot, too. Spiders and girls, actually."

"I don't even want to know," Gunn said. Wesley rubbed his temples fitfully. "Come on, Angelus. Let's get going."

I left Drusilla and Wesley to stare at each other, while quiet little Fred sat next to Cordy, awkwardly rubbing her shoulders. I looked at her and shook my head.

"Why bother?" I asked.

"She's sick," Fred replied. "I want to help her feel better."

"Aren't we just Florence Nightingale!" I said with a laugh.

Gunn's axe sliced past my head, making a horrible noise. I went game face and immediately turned toward him.

"I said let's get going, didn't I?" he asked, swinging the axe again. This time I met him with a sword stroke and we got down to business.

Fighting with Gunn was something like an elaborate dance, the type we used to do in the 18th and 19th centuries before the Victorians reduced sex into nothing more than base animal instinct. Damn Victorians anyway. If they'd weren't so damn afraid of the itch, they'd understand there was a certain pleasure in waiting to scratch, in letting that itch fester--

Gunn jumped back three feet after I tried to parry his ridiculous axe, and then made another controlled swing at my head. I wasn't sure if he was trying to knock me out or behead me.

"You know, you've got some serious power in that swing," I said conversationally. "Ever think of trying out for a major league baseball team?"

He answered with a stroke toward my feet, causing me to jump and make another sword-stroke toward his head. He gracefully ducked the stroke and followed up with a kick to the gut. Not only did it hurt, I was impressed at how the axe was still under control. He was good. Most candy-assed fledgling vamps didn't stand a chance next to our Gunn.

I was not a candy-assed fledgling. I followed his kick with a parry that got the axe out of the way, and a quick spin that made it easy to nail him in the solar plexus with my foot.

Gunn flew back five feet, bent double, still holding onto his axe, but without the control that would keep him safe. I didn't feel like fucking around. I was ready to deliver the stroke that would knock him out.

He managed to see me coming. Maybe it was the sound of my shoes against the linoleum, but his axe blocked the sword, holding it back as Gunn struggled to his feet.

"We having fun yet?" I asked, trying to force him off balance again. Sheer determination was keeping him up from what I could tell. He managed to duck the sword and back away from me.

"Sure," he replied. "It's been too long since I actually got to fight one of you bloodsuckers."

We were only circling by then, watching each other's muscles and eyes for the slightest hint of weakness. He was good at hiding fear. I could only catch it when he got upwind of me and then only a little.

"It's never a bad idea to avoid something that's going to kill you," I said. "Because it doesn't matter how good you are. You're going to lose eventually."

I followed up this cogent point by slashing wildly toward his head. He dodged the swing easily (I'd meant him to) and unknowingly moved himself far too close to a stair.

"It's not about winning or losing," he said. "It's about--"

He moved another step back and tripped on the stair, falling back into a strange defensive posture, the sword lost in his blind spot. He knew that, and he was ready for the obvious stroke.

I never liked obvious.

I feinted left and aimed for one of the huge torchiere lights instead. After an enormous clatter, it slowly fell toward Gunn's head and I was waiting with the sword when he leapt forward--

"Gunn!" Wes shouted. "Look out!"

Gunn saw the light in time and scrambled back, getting to his feet and knocking the lamp toward me--probably a dumb idea, considering the potential for electric shock, but it worked. I jumped back five feet and almost took a nice blow to the head.

But it was Gunn who fell down.

Drusilla wasn't allowed to hurt any of the others, but Gunn had forgotten to include himself in that condition. I smiled. Dru could always knock 'em dead--and always without bruises.

"Can we start now?" she asked. "It's getting late and there's a ratty in the floors who wants to make us all go boom."

The crazy talk hadn't quite caught up to the twenty-first century yet. But she had a point.

"I think it's about that time. Do you want to help?" I asked, gesturing toward the others. "You may get to live."

"Oh, goody," she said. If it had been anyone other than Dru, I would have thought they were being sarcastic. "But Grandmum will be so angry!"

"Except Grandmum's locked in a closet waiting to die," I said sardonically.

"Except not," Darla said from right behind me. "By the way, I have a stake aimed exactly where it counts. So don't move and don't mess with me, Angel. I'm not in the mood."

Well, wasn't that just like Darla? But she'd given too much away. I turned around, grabbed her arm, and twisted it with all my might, forcing the tip toward her chest, slowly--very, very slowly--

"I wanted it to be as exquisite as the pain you inflicted on me, lover," I said. "But we don't have time."

"No, we don't," she said. "Cuz Wolfram and Hart paid me and Dru to do them a favor. And in--ten minutes?--it'll be taken care of."

She smiled at me and Dru started to giggle. My plans for the evening were looking derailed.

07.09.01 (7:21 PM) Cordelia's Apartment

The tape hissed and clicked off. Nobody said anything.

Ramirez stared at four tired, psychologically damaged people who gazed back at him like slack-jawed yokels.

"I suppose that's why Ms. Morgan wants these tapes," he said. "So I still have a question. Why the hell didn't you say anything? Darla Smith clearly confessed on these tapes on being part of a conspiracy to blow your asses to Kingdom Come. Anything Winifred--or any of you, for that matter--did is in self-defense. She was trying to kill all of you. Even with all your bullshit, LAPD is going to let you go, but I want to know why this drama had to happen."

"We didn't have the tapes when you first arrived," Wesley said. "Without the tapes, all you have are two missing bodies supported by a hysterical murder confession, and those mysterious photographs of us entering the hotel with two smallish women."

Ramirez nodded. Things were slowly starting to come together--not because anyone was being helpful. Quite the opposite.

"She took the fall," he said slowly. "She's the size of your lady vampires, and a judge would believe her. Especially with the fits of mental instability. She took the fall for you all. And I'm wondering if you asked her to."

Everyone looked stunned.

"Of course not," Angel said. "Fred thought she was saving us all and that LAPD would believe her story without question."

Cordelia nodded. "She's been out of town for the last five years. She doesn't quite remember how to act," she added, trying to be helpful.

Ramirez had heard enough bullshit from everyone. He needed to get back to the precinct and figure out a way to explain to his captain that he had the Wolfram and Hart tapes, and that the bastards were the villains of the piece for all intents and purposes. That was clear now. Winifred Burke needed to be out of the holding cell twenty-four hours ago and while everyone involved was a lying asshole moron, they were innocent of any legal wrongdoing.

"I think I have all the information I need from you people," Ramirez said, standing up. "Don't go too far, of course. But you crazy bastards have lucked out. Your friend should be home in a few hours and LAPD won't be pressing any charges against you."

Wyndham-Pryce let out a long, relieved breath. "Thank God," he murmured. "And thank you, Detective."

"Don't thank me. I think you're all insane and should seek therapy," he said. "You're lucky you found these tapes. And you don't have any idea who gave them to you?"

If another shocking revelation was thrown at him, he was going to strangle somebody.

Why yes, now that you mention it, I was given these tapes by a talking bear who told me that if I ratted him out, he would eat me. But because you're LAPD--

No, it wouldn't be a talking bear. It would be something crazier, like a monkey or Ross Perot. Or maybe Miss Cleo from the Psychic Friends Network.

"Honestly, I don't," Wyndham-Pryce said. "I don't even remember anyone running into me. I just found them in my jacket pocket while I was at the hospital with Cordelia."

Ramirez believed him. Probably shouldn't have, but except for maybe the very quiet Mr. Gunn, Wyndham-Pryce was the person most likely to tell the truth unless there was a very good lie available. Maybe he was the only one to see what happened to the vampire women.

It didn't matter. The tapes proved that it was self-defense, unless something truly horrible had happened in those last ten minutes and even then, no one was going to feel sympathy for the dead.

"We're going to call again," he said, gathering the tapes. No one offered to show him the way out. "But I think it's over for the most part."

They didn't say anything. For a moment, he was almost annoyed at the lack of gratitude. But he took a deep breath and looked at the bruises, the bite marks, and the guilt that was screaming through these people. Obnoxious or not (and they were pretty damned obnoxious), they had almost died three days ago. It was fucking harsh to expect them to be all that helpful.

"When will Fred be released?" Angel asked.

"Sometime tonight," Ramirez replied. "Even without the tapes, they didn't have much evidence to hold her on."

"Except that confession," Cordelia said.

"Which doesn't hold up," Ramirez said. "I'm going to go."

"You said that before," Cordelia said. "And you're still here."

He closed his eyes. Obnoxious was not a criminal offense. Obnoxious was not a criminal offense. He opened his eyes again and smiled.

"That's true," he said. "But I mean it this time."

He walked toward the door. Everyone was silent as he opened it.

"Good luck," Wesley said.

"Same to you," he said, leaving the apartment and closing the door behind him loudly. He walked to the car, still not quite able to believe how strange everyone had been. All that hassle for a relatively simple (well, maybe not, but it hadn't needed to be an ordeal) self-defense case.

He opened his car door and closed it, instinctively locking out all the beasts and monsters that actually did cruise Los Angeles.

"Fucking A, that was intense," he muttered to himself, fumbling to get the key into the ignition.

"It's about to get worse," a male voice informed him as Ramirez felt the cold metal kiss of a gun against his head.

"You're the bomber," Ramirez said, letting the keys fall from his hand to the floor. "Our mystery tape man."

"Yes, I am," the man said. "And you're the guy who's going to make sure nobody knows there was a bomber or you're the guy who's going to die."


07.06.01, 11:38 PM


Darla smirked at me like she'd won a Nobel prize. "So, Angel, what are you going to do? I think I'm supposed to leave you here to die with all your tedious human flunkies, but that seems like such a waste of my boy."

"Ah, yes, so we're at the part where I'm supposed to beg for my life, aren't we?" I asked, still holding the stake about an inch from her filthy, worm-ridden heart. "Sorry. I think I'd rather die with my tedious human flunkies than be forced to spend another two hundred years listening to your self-serving crap."

Before we could get into another round of recriminations, Fred started to scream hysterically.

"No!" she shrieked, practically leaping to her feet and backing away, arms clasped around herself. Everyone's attention, which had been focused elsewhere, immediately fastened on Fred, whose eyes were huge and terrified behind her glasses. "I don't wanna--no, I don't wanna, don't kill me don't kill me!"

"Fred, calm down," Cordy said tiredly from her chair. She was now the only one not on her feet, probably because of the blood loss. "Don't panic."

"Why?" she asked, looking at us frantically. "I should panic. There's a man in the floor who's going to kill us and we're just standing here, waiting to die! I don't want to die!"

The hysteria was contagious. Dru immediately caught it. She started to moan and do the convulsing dance thing she always does when she's full of crazy hysteria or any sort of emotion, really.

"I hear him like the footsteps of the dead!" she wailed. "Grandmum, let's go away. I don't want to hear the dead dancing."

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Gunn was edging toward Fred and he was probably armed. I shifted my eyes over to where Wes was keeping an eye on me and Darla--and Gunn, too.

Damn. Where had they learned to make plans without any talking? The souled me was way too busy with the whinging. The boys were keeping secrets from me, and I was the center of the group. I should have known all these signals.

"What are you doing?" I asked casually when Gunn was ten feet away from the screaming Fred. She immediately noticed him and practically ran backwards into the office door, clutching the doorknob and sobbing.

"Trying to get to Fred without her seeing me and freaking out," he replied. "Thanks, Angelus. Got any other final words for us before we end up dust and rubble?"

"You should have agreed to be turned," I said. "Then when Miss Blonde Skank here started her bomber spiel, it would have been five against two and I prefer those odds."

"It can still be five against two," Wes said. "Angel, this isn't you. This is a temporary madness. Fight with us for whatever reason you want and then--"

"You and Gunn bop me on the head until I'm your favorite neutered pet again, right?" I asked, twisting my wrist down two inches and slamming the stack into Darla's middle. "What's the secret signal for that? Thumbs up? A little hip shimmy?"

Darla howled and fell down, clawing at the stake. "Angel!"

We ignored her.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Wesley said coldly. "And we don't have time for this nonsense. If you want to die, that's fine, but I don't think any of us want to be blown to smithereens thanks to all this ridiculous posturing."

I advanced on Wesley, while Gunn went back to trying to get near Fred and Cordelia gasped.

"I don't," I said. "But I don't like it when I'm given orders by effeminate wannabe leaders who don't have any reason to be mouthing off at all."

Wesley stood his ground. "We're going, Angel. Whether you like it or not."

"Look at you!" I said, almost close enough to reach out and strangle him. "Trying to grow a pair before our very eyes."

"Fuck off, Angel," Wesley said in his most calm and important voice. "We're leaving and not you, not Darla and Drusilla, not anyone, is going to keep us in here."

"How's that?" I asked, reaching out for his very snappable little throat.

"Oh, like this," he said, reaching out and pulling me in for a very long and tongue-heavy kiss.

Apparently he had learned something since his Sunnydale days.

I pulled away and gaped at him. Even with two hundred, three hundred years experience, this wasn't something I was used to. Especially when mild-mannered Wesley was smirking at me like he'd climbed Everest. Cordelia looked like she was about to have a heart attack and I wasn't about to turn my head and see what Darla, Gunn, Faith, or Dru thought about it.

"Wesley?" I asked, hoping my eyes weren't bulging out of my head.

"I can't help it," he said, the smirk turning into a speculative little smile. "If I'm going to have to die, I want you to know how I feel."

"You feel--about Angel?" Cordy asked. "You're joking, right?"

Wesley turned to look at her and shook his head. "I've been in love with Angel for a long, long time."

Cordy moaned. "Oh, God. This is just wrong. And shouldn't we be trying to find and disarm this bomb thing? Evil people, good people, hello? Survival? Survival's a universal thing. It transcends good and evil--"

In my defense, I was still in shock. Darla was caterwauling on the floor, but even with the shock factor and the insane impossibility of it all, Wesley was still more attractive than Darla, so I was watching him.

"How is your love going to stop me?" I asked. "We're going to die now, not later. And I don't love you."

"You're lying," Wes said cheerfully. "Perhaps it's not a sexual love, but you'd love to hurt me right now. That's why you keep trying to make me Spike in your head. You liked hurting him. You loved him because you could--"

This time my hand found his throat and started to squeeze. I stared at him, slowly increasing the pressure.

"I could do this?" I asked, loosening my grip a little. "Yes, I could. But you see, when it was William, I could squeeze like this--" he made a squeaky noise-- "And it wouldn't leave bruises. If I squeeze you too hard, you're a bunch of inert chemicals lying on the hotel floor. And this, Wes, this is not love. You know what I mean. Violence is not about love. Violence is about power. Violence is about being able to force you to turn your head like this so that I can tear into your throat and suck you--"

"Don't," Cordelia said. "Don't you dare kill him first."

Shocks seemed to be in the air. I let Wes go and turned to where Cordy was standing, holding her neck out. She was grey from the lack of blood, but she was still standing. I had to admire the survival instinct, if not the things that bloodlessness was doing to her complexion.

"If you're going to do any killing or turning, I want it," she said, stumbling forward a few steps. "You owe me."

"Excuse me?" I asked. "Maybe when I'm soul-boy, I owe you. But right now?"

"You said," she said, shaking. "Don't you remember?"

I did remember, even though the sudden rush of enthusiasm was somewhat suspicious.

"That's right," I said. "So you've decided you want me to do it?"

She nodded, as if she didn't trust herself to speak, and stepped forward. Behind us, Wesley was coughing hard. I'd take care of him later, maybe after we got out of the damn hotel.

Oh, that was right. There was a bomb. And Dru and Darla, too. Hmm. I was going to have to wait before turning anyone, but it wouldn't take too long. We'd go to the Strip after the main event. But first, we had to get the fuck out of the Hyperion.

"That's great, but not now," I said. "It's time to get out of the hotel, don't you think? Darla, sweetie, did your bomber do something to the doors? Plastic explosives, trip wires, do you have any idea of anything about bombs?"

She stared at me from the floor, the bloody stake lying next to her. Her dress was ruined, and the only effort she made to help me was to spit some blood toward my feet.

"Grandmum's hurt," Dru said accusingly. "The little ratty in the floor is listening and he's afraid. He's afraid he won't find the hole in the floor without Grandmother."

"He's listening?" I asked. "Can someone down there hear us?"

Silence. Everyone stood frozen in place, trying to hear the rat in the floorboards. At least, that's what I thought. I was too busy looking at Cordelia and Wesley, wondering which one I would kill first (and also wondering when, precisely, Wes had fallen in love with me), and how the blood would taste.

"I said, can someone down there hear us?" I asked after a good pause. "I'm going to come down there and kill you no matter what, so you might as well stop trying to find the way out, you fucking sewer rat. You might as well see what you've been listening to. Don't you want to see?"

"Angel, there's no time," Wesley urged me. "Let's go. There's no way the doors are hooked up, let's go, let's just go--"

He had a point. But I had to make sure, first, that this wasn't an elaborate set-up. It would be like them.

I pulled Cordelia close, then turned around to where Fred was waiting.

With a crossbow.

"I think that you should, well, I think it's only right you let us go," she said, her glasses sliding down her nose. "You shouldn't hurt people. As a rule, that's a very wrong thing to do."

"Guess what, Fred?" I asked, tilting Cordy's head to reveal a part of her neck Dru hadn't gnawed on. "I'm a vampire, and as a rule, we do this."

I buried my teeth in Cordy's neck and took a nice drink. When I looked up, Fred had fired the crossbow.

Apparently into Darla. There was some blood and dust where she'd been.

"I wasn't talkin' to you," Fred said. "But I am now. Do you want me to shoot him in the eye, Wesley?"

"Sounds like a plan," Wes said.

I looked around. Drusilla was being held at bay by Gunn and his enormous axe, Wesley was moving toward the door, and Fred had a crossbow aimed at my eye.

How the hell had that happened?

07.09.01 (8:02 PM)

He had been brought onto the Hyperion case to make things nice and quiet for LAPD. Now he was going to be lucky to get out of this alive, and forget about quiet. It all came down to his famous diplomatic skills with criminals.

Yeah, right.

"Look, man," Ramirez said calmly. "I don't want this to get messy, and I don't think you do either."

God, he was a fucking moron for pulling this unofficial shit. Wolfram and Hart had sent out that creamy woman lawyer as a warning shot. And as he'd just found out, they were willing to blow up a city landmark and a whole bunch of innocent people to get what they wanted. Had he really thought they wouldn't shoot a cop in the back of the head for the tapes?

"No, I don't," the guy said in a low voice. "But I sure as hell don't want to end up dead, either."

"Understandable," Ramirez said, sounding as reasonable as he could. "So what do I have to do to get you out of my car?"

It was damn hard to stay cool. This guy was an opportunistic weasel with just enough conscience to feel bad about what he was doing, and thus fuck it up because he did the bad things half-assed. Ramirez had no fucking patience for this asshole and his pain. He deserved to end up in shit.

"It's not hard," the man said. "Erase the last ten seconds of the tape. Don't let there be any evidence Wolfram and Hart was involved. I mean, the existence of these tapes proves there's some outside guy on the job, hey? And that it was self-defense. Just get rid of the ten seconds with Wolfram and Hart. You don't want to fuck with them, man."

"That's what everyone's been telling me," Ramirez said. He wanted to punch this bastard in the face, take the gun away, and shout at this miserable chickenshit until he understood that he deserved all the fucking misery he was going to get once Wolfram and Hart got their shit together. What the fuck was he thinking anyway, taping one of his own bombings? This guy was a fucker. This guy wanted to use the tapes against his bosses. Like insurance.

He could hear this sucker making threats on the phone: if I mysteriously turn up dead, something may mysteriously turn up on the evening news. So I'd better get a raise on the job too, and--


"Do you think I'm joking?" the bomber asked frantically. "Do you think I won't pull the trigger? I'm serious about this. Erase the tape, and everyone wins. LAPD can bury this quietly--and that's what you're on this case for, isn't it?"

He had a point. LAPD had wanted to bury this quietly--but a major law firm bombing a hotel? For no apparent rhyme or reason? There was burying a case quietly and then there was playing dirty. This was definitely an example of the latter, and Ramirez didn't like it, not one bit.

He didn't like the idea of being dead, either.

"All right, buddy," Ramirez said. "No problem. I can erase it."

That didn't mean he was gonna, not right away, but it bought him some needed time. The guy took a deep breath.

"It doesn't make any sense, does it?" he asked. "Why they'd do something like this? Cuz it's stupid. The thin guy, the one with the glasses, he had it figured out. He was thinking they were gonna see the basement wired up like Fight Club, and it was just this tiny bit of plastic explosive, nothing spectacular. But instead it's just me hiding out and a cheap bomb, almost like a damn pipe bomb kids make for fun, you know?"

Ramirez wished they were in an interrogation room. There were SO many damn ways to answer that pipe bomb line, but he had to bite his fucking tongue. No need to tell a man with a gun aimed right at Ramirez's head that normal kids don't make pipe bombs for fun. Hell, most of 'em hadn't ever even lit an M-80 on the Fourth, not in Los Angeles anyway.

"So, what are you saying?" Ramirez asked, playing dumber than a first-time offender playing cool. "That Wolfram and Hart didn't want to blow up the vampire and his friends?"

"Eh," the bomber said. "I think that was a bonus. Nah, I think Wolfram and Hart wanted those chicks dead and they wanted the blood on someone else's hands. This Angel guy, he'd have motive and shit, if he'd done it. And then when you look at all the bruises on his friends, you've got proof the guy's a psycho--"

He kept talking, but Ramirez stopped listening. Everything suddenly made way too much sense.

The bombing was never meant seriously. Of course not. When considered in the context of everything around it--the bloodthirsty vampires, the secrets, the deaths--it was ridiculous. Especially considering the huge grudge Wolfram and Hart had against Darla and Drusilla.

"It was all a diversion," Ramirez murmured. "All the attention on the missing bodies, and what Wolfram and Hart want is proof you didn't let the vamps out of the hotel alive. Or undead, as the case may be."

The gun wavered a millimeter. "You think?"

"You said it yourself. It was a ridiculous bombing," Ramirez said.

"Fuck yeah it was," the bomber said. "In all my life, I never saw anything like it."

Ramirez nodded. "What happened in the end? We finished the tapes. There's just the one left in the recorder, covered in vamp blood," he said. "Did you let Drusilla get away? I got that Darla was dust, but what happened to Drusilla?"

There was a telling pause.

"You gonna erase the tape or not, Ramirez?" the bomber asked.

Ramirez decided to go with his gut. If he was wrong, it wasn't going to matter. If he was right, maybe he could throw the son of a bitch off-balance.

"Why do you care? You're dead anyway," Ramirez said. "What's Wolfram and Hart going to do to you? I have a feeling you're out of here yesterday, right?"

The pressure of the gun was suddenly gone.

"Yeah. I'm giving up my LA privileges. But it's funny. I feel the need NOT to be hunted down like a goddamn dog, and that's what'll happen if this story breaks anywhere near Wolfram and Hart."

"And I'm supposed to feel sorry for you?" Ramirez asked. "Look, I'm not sayin' that I'm prejudiced against vampires--because, you know, LAPD employees are free of all prejudice--but I don't like you. Even when you were alive, you were a low-down, dirty, chickenshit coward who almost got four real people killed. Now you're a parasite bloodsucker. Explain where I'm supposed to give a damn about you, you worthless son of a bitch."

There. If he had to die, at least it was going to be a moderately acceptable death, without the whining and begging. Ramirez wasn't a hero or even a tough guy, but he had standards, and being sucked dry by an incompetent flunky while begging for his life was not the way he wanted to die.

"I'm getting tired of this, Detective," the bomber said. "Do you really think it's going to make a difference if you take those unexpunged tapes to the top brass at LAPD? You're not supposed to have them."

"Maybe not. I think LAPD might overlook that, seeing as the people who wanted them back neglected to mention that they were important evidence for a murder case," Ramirez said.

The bomber (and for a minute, Ramirez really wished he knew the guy's name) laughed.

"Fine," he said. "Like you said, I'm gone, and if you ever get the blood off that tape, I'm the right sort of gone. But take some advice: don't go after Wolfram and Hart."

Ramirez sighed. "Because they'll crush me like a bug, right?" he asked.

"Naw," the vampire-bomber-son-of-a-bitch said, opening the car door and sliding out. "It's because they won't."

Before Ramirez could ask what that meant, he was gone. He hadn't been anyone in the first place. It was funny. He had been able to smell the son of a bitch, to feel his hand trembling three inches from his skull, but for all that, he hadn't had any more real presence than he'd had on the tape. All you could remember about him was his bland, Californian voice and the hint of menace under the cool exterior.

Dumbass son of a bitch, in any case.

He had to get to the precinct. Winifred Burke needed to be released, and there was a lot to get done.


Ramirez stared at his steering wheel for the next two hours.

07.06.01, 11:55 PM

"How did this happen?" I asked the universe aloud, because honestly, just thinking the question to myself hadn't given the universe--or anyone else--the chance to answer.

"I'd love to explain it to you, but we're in a tight spot," Wesley replied flippantly. "All right, we need to check the doors, and you need to let Cordelia go immediately."

I've mentioned the part where I'd been foiled by a crazy girl, a twentysomething vamp hunter, and a prissy British man who was madly in love with me, right? The part that's too impossible to be anything but true? Well, it wasn't getting any more possible as it went along. In fact, I was deeply annoyed that even with Cordelia as a hostage, everyone was treating me like a defeated foe.

"Sure, no problem, I'll do exactly what you tell me to do," I said with a snarl. "Cordy's with me for the time being."

Wesley was still on his roll. Apparently all the chemicals that get stirred up when you kiss someone gave him a massive dose of cockiness. He didn't even pause before he gave the next order.

"Fred, do you think you can hit his forehead?" he asked.

"She'll be dead before Fred can hit me," I said. That seemed to rattle Wes a little bit.

"Dammit, Angel--or Angelus, or whatever," he said. "Do you really want to die?"

"I don't care, actually," I replied. "I'd like to live, especially if I don't have to get pathetic and soulful again. But if the choice is death or taking orders from a hapless pansy-ass like you, death is looking pretty good."

I was lying through my teeth, of course (being blown up by lawyers was not in any plans I'd made), but I knew he'd have to accept the bluff if he wanted to get Cordelia out alive. That's what nice people like Wes do: try. They don't know how to sacrifice for the cause. And that was why I'd win.

"All right, then," Wes said with a hint of resignation in his voice. I knew it. "Gunn, kill Drusilla. Fred, shoot Angel in the head. Try to avoid hitting Cordy. Cordelia, we're going to take you to a hospital as soon as Angel is out of the way. Hold on."

Unfortunately, I couldn't see him. I couldn't tell if he was lying, but Wes is a notoriously bad liar. He had to be bluffing anyway. This was Cordelia we were fighting over. He would not--could not--sacrifice Cordelia.

"Nice try, Wes, but you're bluffing," I said. "Isn't that right, Cordy?"

She looked up at me, her eyes glassy.

"Wanna bet?" she whispered. "You said you wanted to know what happened when we went to Sunnydale for Buffy's funeral."

"Yeah, and you told me. A really bad drunken makeout session."

"Actually, not," she said.

"What, then?" I asked, humoring her. She wasn't doing too well.

"We made a promise," she said. "It's a long story, but I'll sum it up for you so that I can get out of here. I cut myself on the brandy glass."

"It was the cheap hotel tumbler," Wes corrected her. "The damn thing shattered in the sink when you were making yourself a drink."

"Whatever. I was bleeding like crazy--not seriously, but it was blood everywhere and when Wes saw me--we were both wasted so we weren't thinking right--he just grabbed my wrist and we stared at each other and--"

The tone of her voice was telling the story more effectively than she was. I could see her, staring at the blood like it was something glamorous or unexpected, accidentally smearing it everywhere, trying to remember what she needed to do next.

I could see him, looking at her, gaping actually, holding her injured arm, wanting to help. He wouldn't have the words.

They understood anyway.

"What then?" I asked. "You promise to protect each other? To be best friends forever?"

"Yeah, something like that," she said in a raspy whisper. "It was more along the lines of, 'do what you have to in case of emergency situation,' and this more than qualifies."

She took a deep breath.

"Dammit, Fred, shoot him!" she snapped.

Fred whimpered. "I could miss."

"Come on, do it," Cordy snarled. "You saw Speed, didn't you? I'm Jeff Daniels here. Shoot the hostage. And hey, Gunn? Drusilla dead yet?"

Silence. Maybe even the kind of silence that can be called dead silence.


"Oh, *bloody hell*," Wesley replied. I knew exactly what that meant.

"Damn. Didn't any of you remember that Dru can do the Jedi mind trick?" I asked. "Oops."

Unfortunately, it was no time to gloat. Instead, I settled for sweeping Cordy off her feet and dodging Fred's trembly trigger finger with a rakish grin.

"Forget the doors," I said. "I'm out of here. Actually, we're out of here, right, Cordy?"

She kicked at me, but she really didn't have much recourse besides pouting.

"Angel--" Wes said nervously.

"Oh, you can do what you want. I'm taking the sewers--and Cordy. See you in the funny papers."

Yes, I actually said that. Perhaps not the wittiest bad guy tagline in recent memory, but at least more original than, "Come along if you want to see her alive" or "See you in hell" or anything else I could have said. Especially when I knew everyone was going to follow me anyway.

Cordelia kicked and wriggled all the way, making it much harder to get downstairs, but I was still ahead of Wes and Fred, who were keeping an eye on me and Dru at the same time, making their progress a lot slower. I didn't know or care what Gunn and Dru were doing. As for the mystery guest, he was either trapped like the rat he was, or he was gone and we were probably all dead men walking. Either way, I was done with playing around.

"Daddy!" Dru suddenly wailed. Of course. She couldn't just not follow along. "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere else," I said.

"This is getting ridiculous," Cordelia said, twisting and turning. "Why doesn't the damn hotel just blow up already? Cuz I saw it. All of it in that vision I had, you know, the one that you ignored?"

"So do you remember where he's hiding?" I asked. "I'm paying attention now."

"Well, I'm dying now," she replied. "So fuck you."

"With pleasure," I said. "But not yet."

We reached the basement without incident (except for the bruises I was going to have from Cordelia's kicking) and everyone stopped cold.

"That's it?" Fred said. "Is that even real?"

"We're supposed to know?" I asked.

"Well, it's got one of those red glowing timers," Cordy pointed out. "And it could be like, plastic explosive. One time I saw in a movie, that one with John Cusack, where an assassin put plastic explosive in a microwave like a baked potato. He blew up the Ultra-Mart that used to be John Cusack's house. Bastard. Maybe it was a Mega Mart."

Cordy was not doing so well.

"At least it's not like the end of Fight Club," Wesley said hopefully, glaring at me. He wanted me dead. Funny how they go from loving you to wanting your dusty corpse on the floor. "That would have been more difficult to handle."

"They want the structure to survive," someone explained. This was a new someone, and obviously our friend, the Wolfram and Hart bomber.

"But they want us dead?" Wes asked. "Something's not right about that. They're going to blow us up but they want the hotel to survive? What?"

"Angelus was supposed to take care of you people," the someone explained. He was very obviously not going to let us see him. "Then Darla was supposed to freak out and want to escape into the sewers. Then boom, fire and vamp dust."

He could not be serious, and Wes agreed with me.

"That's a truly stupid plan," he said. "I mean, come now. A drunken imbecile could have outwitted that scheme. If it weren't for Angelus's wild card behavior, we would have easily dispatched Darla and Drusilla and left the hotel. You didn't even bother to wire the doors. As a matter of fact, nothing's stopping us from walking past you and your childish bomb and into the sewers to escape and then laugh at your idiotic plan."

Our invisible man laughed. "Look, bro, I don't plan 'em. I just carry 'em out for lots of money. Who knows? Maybe the boys up at Wolfram and Hart want the plan to fail. And unless the girl over there's a really good actress, I don't think you're safe just yet."

"Can we kill him, too?" Fred asked Wes. "Or do we have to stick to the rules?"

"I think he's human--technically, anyway--so I'm afraid we have to leave him to regular justice," Wes replied.

Again, everyone was taking my defeat for granted. That had to stop. Gunn, who was their only actual fighting person, was neutralized, and I still had Cordelia in my possession. If anyone deserved to mock plans and make threats about killing, it was me.

"Don't get ahead of yourself, Wes baby," I said. Cordy had finally passed out--probably a bad thing. "Remember, I have something that you want. Plus, didn't you just confess you were my love monkey? I think that I'm the one in charge here. So tell sweet little Fred to put the crossbow down, or--"

"Now?" Fred asked.

"Now," Wes agreed.

Fred fired the crossbow. Directly at the bomb. Then she and Wes hit the deck as it failed to blow up.

"You stupid sons of bitches," the bomber snarled. "Is everything you learned about bombs from the movies? Anyway, the explosives are sort of enchanted not to explode until the timer hits zero."

"Oh," Wes said. "All right."

He took the crossbow and aimed it at the timer. That was when I had to let Cordy go and get involved because no way was I going to let that cowardly little weasel get all the glory and the attention. It would be ludicrous and offensive if he got to save the day.

I strode over to the bomb while Wes made a run for Cordy. This thing looked like a homemade tin can, not nearly as impressive as the firepower Buffy'd brought to destroy the Judge or the high school. While Wes was trying to get Cordy up, Dru was advancing on Fred, who had the crossbow and looked ready to use it. Then there was the bomber, who was skulking like an Anne Rice vampire.

I looked at the bomb. I had no idea how to defuse it, what sort of bomb it was, or if it was going to blow up like in Fight Club or Grosse Pointe Blank or the office last year. For some reason, I really didn't think picking it up was a good idea.

But someone needed to. The best way to get the bomb out of the hotel, and thus leave me with at least four delicious treats (who knew what the bomber was) for fun and enjoyment, was to have someone take it into the sewers.

"Dru!" I called. "Come here!"

She half-floated toward me. "Angelus? What is it?"

"I need you to go drop this off into the sewer," I said, pointing at the bomb. Dru looked at me with the first glimmer of intelligence I'd seen in her possibly ever.

"You want me to take this into the sewer?" she asked. "Why me?"

"Because I have to go over there and stop my minions from getting away and because this is my home and where will we live if we don't have a home, Dru?" I asked, trying to sound serious.

"What if it goes boom?" she asked, gingerly walking toward the bomb while keeping an eye out for Fred's crossbow.

"You heard what the man said," I said, inching away from Dru and toward Wes and Cordy, who were making slow progress out of the basement. "It won't go off until it hits zero. So come on, Dru, go take the little thing down to the sewer and then--"

"All right," she said. "But when I come back, I want something for dinner. I'm hungry."

She walked over to the explosive ticking thing and actually picked it up. That's when things got very confusing.

"No!" the bomber screamed. "You can't pick it up--"

All the noise freaked Dru out, and she pulled the thing closer to her chest and started running around toward the general direction of the sewer, screaming at the top of her lungs. That sent Fred into hyper-sensitive mode and her finger finally slipped on the crossbow trigger.

The bolt ended up in my stomach. Naturally, I jumped on top of her like a ton of bricks because anything that penetrates your gut is going to turn you into a psychotic, and I was already evil.

"Help!" Fred screamed, trying to push me away. "Oh, God, somebody help me!"

Unfortunately for Fred, she was more or less on her own. Gunn was still missing in action and Wes couldn't let Cordelia fall down again. I admit that she was doing fairly well for a ninety-pound girl whose hair weighed at least twice as much for the rest of her, but it was fairly easy to ignore clawing fingernails and kicking legs. She probably would have been dead fifteen seconds later, but in those fifteen seconds some interesting things happened.

I didn't quite witness them, though, because the first interesting thing that happened was that the bomber hit me on the head with all his might and knocked me out.

Or maybe it was some shrapnel from the explosion, which, while it was a fairly unspectacular, still cut me up like a pinata, and put Cordelia in a state of shock.

Other things happened, too, like Drusilla screaming some more and the bomber taking off after her into the sewers, but that's not what I remember next.

I remember being face-down on the floor of the basement, dusty, cut-up and hurting. Besides that, I was in handcuffs and my head felt like it was about to explode.

"Get up," Gunn said.

"Nice to see you're back in the--oof!"

Gunn had extremely big boots on and he seemed more than happy to put them through my back. I got up. Fred was waiting with her crossbow and a few nasty scars of her own.

"LAPD is on its way," he said. "Wes is already on the way to the hospital with Cordy and I got orders to take you up to my place and to stake your ass with extreme prejudice if you pull any shit. You got me, Angelus?"

"This is tiresome," I said. "I'm--"

Fred shot me in the leg with another crossbow bolt. I growled.

"Gonna be in pain for a while," Gunn said. "Let's get going."

He broke the bolt off so that it wasn't obvious I was a vampire with a serious leg injury, and we marched upstairs to the lobby. The sirens got louder with every step.

"How are we going to explain the injuries? And the dead bodies? How are you amateurs going to explain the dead bodies to the police?" I asked, aching with every step.

"Don't worry about it," Fred said, refusing to look back at me. "We have a plan."

That was the last thing she said to me before her confession.

Epilogue 07.16.01 (Much, Much Later)

"So you actually believed that he was in love with you?" Cordelia asked over her tequila sunrise. "I thought we were all so screwed at that point."

Obviously, things were getting back to normal. I still felt like I'd been run over by Lindsey's redneck pickup truck, but I looked better than either Cordelia or Wesley, so I didn't mention how much it hurt to walk or stand or anything involving my leg and the crossbow bolt.

Fred wasn't talking. She had come along with us, but since she'd come back from county jail, she'd spoken maybe thirty words. I was the only one who'd noticed. Cordy was still under doctor's orders (which she was sort of ignoring), and Wes and Gunn were still handling the official fallout and congratulating themselves on a plan successfully executed.

But back to the subject at hand. It turned out that Wesley's confession of undying love had been the best acting I'd ever seen and no one else had expected it either.

"He was extremely convincing," I said, looking down. "And he used tongue."

I refrained from making any Spike Junior comments because honestly, I didn't want to explain what I used to do to William the Bloody in my spare, soulless time. Not that anyone would believe me; Spike was much better at seeming like a punk rogue than he ever was, is, or will be. But Spike would have used tongue, too.

"You slipped Angel the--oh my God," Cordelia said. "Damn, Wes. Talk about taking one for the team."

"Well, it wouldn't be very convincing if I'd just announced my undying love and kissed him like he was my mother, now would it?" he said. "Besides, I was--"

"Pulling things out of your ass," Gunn said. "But damn, you were all over our man Angel!"

Wesley shrugged. He didn't seem nearly as upset about the entire faked scene as everyone else, but he was probably still feeling smug about being able to pull it off. I didn't blame him. He'd had everyone completely fooled and like he's said himself, he's a lousy liar.

"I like being alive," he said mildly. "And after all, it was your suggestion that inspired me."

Gunn snorted. "Me?"

"Remember when we were discussing the best ways to distract Angelus and you suggested that a big kiss would probably work?" Wes asked, finishing his drink.

"I was being facetious," Gunn said.

"I was really desperate," Wes replied. "Not to mention Angelus' bizarre fixation with me being like Spike. I found that extremely disconcerting."

Before I could explain, Fred jumped to her feet. We all shut up.

"Isn't that Detective Ramirez?" she asked, pointing to a table in the corner. "Am I seeing things?"

Wes craned his neck toward the table. "I think it is," he said. "Why do you think he's here?"

"He's here to sing, compadres," Lorne said, causing us all to jump a little. "So how are my favorite Calamity Janes and Johns? Especially after all that unfortunate legal trouble."

"I have to talk to him," Fred said, ignoring us completely. She walked away and everyone gaped after her, not willing to move.

"Wow. She's handling it all pretty well, despite the visible guilt-waves you've been giving off," Lorne said conversationally. "She's tougher than she looks, kids. She survived five years in that cosmic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that is Pylea. Two days in LA County Jail doesn't even rate."

For some reason, that didn't make me feel better.

"Besides, she got rid of the Darlinator for you," Lorne continued. "And won't you sleep better at night knowing she's gone for good? So cheer up and stop acting like such Gloomy Guses. Your girl Fred's going to be fine and you're not the worst friends ever or whatever you're brooding about in your little heads."

Cordelia snorted ruefully. "Right."

"What are you guilting about? You spent most of this one being treated like a chew toy," Gunn replied. "Uh, I mean--"

"I know, Gunn. I see the scars in the mirror more often than you," she replied. "Everyone wanted a piece of this delicious--Detective Ramirez."

Ramirez was standing there next to Fred, and he didn't look as tough or as slick as he had when he'd been giving us the third degree about what had really happened the night the bomb went off. He looked rattled.

"Miss Burke here told me I had to come sit with you all. She was quite insistent," he said awkwardly.

"You got me out of that cell," she said. "It was--it was like when I was in that place. I don't think I coulda stood it much longer."

Ramirez nodded. "Don't thank me," he said. "It was unacceptable that you were in there in the first place."

Fred smiled at him as her glasses started to wiggle down her nose again.

"Aren't you going to sit down?" she asked. He shook his head.

"I'm here to sing, and then I've got to go," he said. "I'm trying to track this case--I can't really talk about it. But it's something related to our lawyer friend Wolfram and Hart, so it's complicated and LAPD wants to make sure there's not a big hassle with it."

I recognized the look in his eyes. It was that bitter, half-crazed look that Kate'd had before she'd gone under. But he was also determined, this guy. He didn't have the personal stake she did.

"Good luck," I said. "Oh, and if you're dealing with Wolfram and Hart, let me give you some advice: don't play their game. Make them play yours."

He'd tensed up for a second (I had the feeling he'd been given advice about Wolfram and Hart before), but then he calmed down and started nodding when he heard what I actually had to say.

"Thanks," he said. "So, you all doing okay? I mean, no one's hassling you about what happened at the hotel, right?"

"No," I said. "We're trying to get back to normal."

He laughed. "You guys? Normal? No offense, but you're about the least normal people I've ever met, and I've met some real specimens in my day," he said. "But hey, you guys are dealing with it well at least."

He took a nervous drink. "How long does it take?"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I found out about demons and vampires and this whole other world just last week. I gotta admit, sometimes I wish I'd never taken your case," he said. "It's taking me a while to get used to the fact there are green guys who read your soul when you sing karaoke."

"Hey, I still ain't used to it," Gunn piped in. "You're gonna do okay, detective."

He smiled tiredly. "I guess. I can handle green karaoke guys. Wolfram and Hart, though--"

"You can't let them get in your head," Fred said. "It's like when I used to be in the place and I'd think about being nothing but a cow, I'd get crazy. I'd want to do things that were crazy to prove I wasn't a cow. I think maybe they're like that. In your head."

Her voice was fluttering and nervous, but she was right. Ramirez looked thoughtful as he listened to her.

"I think you're right," he said. "And it'll take time. But you're right. I can't let them get in my head like that."

Lorne stood up. "Good for you," he said lamely. "Still ready to sing?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," Ramirez said. "Thanks, you guys. It's been something else."

He walked off with Lorne and we all looked at each other, awkward as hell. Jokes aside, we were still bruised and betrayed and wary. It wasn't actually comfortable sitting there with them.

"Is this where we talk about what we've learned and how we still love each other?" Cordelia asked. "Cuz I'm glad he's on the path to whatever and all, but I really didn't like being a chew toy damsel in distress. And I cannot believe you french-kissed Angel."

She touched her neck where I'd bitten her, rubbing it slowly.

"I'm really sorry," I began to say. She cut me off.

"Don't," she said. "You didn't actively choose to be Angelus. None of us actually tried to do things to hurt each other. It just happened. Sometimes life is crappy like that."

"Thank you, wheel of morality," Gunn said. Cordelia glared for a second and then giggled.

"Oh my God, yeah," she said. "Wheel of Morality, turn turn turn, tell us the lesson that we should learn."

Wes looked confused. "This is an obscure American joke, isn't it?" he asked.

"If it is, it's one I never heard," Fred said. "What's the Wheel of Morality?"

"They've never seen Animaniacs," Gunn said. "That's vaguely wrong."

As Ramirez hopped on stage to sing Hotel California and everyone else got into a heated debated about the pros and cons of cartoons, I took another drink and let it sink in.

This was the ways things were. And we really were getting back to normal, which wasn't perfect or even good a lot of the time, but it was us, flawed people or people wannabes trying to make our way.

"Lesson number six," Gunn said, cutting through my reverie. "When in doubt, give 'em a big wet sloppy one on the mouth."

Then again, back to normal has always been overrated. At least slightly.

The End

Credits/Thanks: This was NOT easy to write by any means (which is why Merciful, which was inspired by a beta's discussion about chapter four, came out before Odds) and it relied heavily on my betas, Christine CGB, Twinkledru, Spicedrum, and Jaina to come to fruition. I'm deeply grateful to them for waiting it out with me. I think I'm better when it's all about sex. Anyway, thanks for reading!

"share with me a common disaster" --Cowboy Junkies
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