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The Blue Dahlia
Author: Jennifer-Oksana (jenniferoksana@yahoo.com)
Website: http://www.imjustsayin.net/jennyo/buffy.html
Rating: R
Spoilers: Second Season Angel
Summary: Cordelia saves a young woman's life, and gets involved in a world of glamour, sex, and drugs. But this friend's secret may end up destroying both of them. Slash, Cordelia/Other. Set after Kiss Me Deadly, but not a sequel.
Archive: List archives, others ask first.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Rubel/Kuzui, Mutant Enemy, and FOX have the copyright, not me. No infringement intended.


"no words, no talk, we'll go dreaming--no pain, no hurt, we'll go dreaming--" BT, "Dreaming"

"Another club/Another friend/Another night/Another end/Black Magic--" The Hellfire Club, "Black Magic"

Chapter One

Every Thursday at 1:30, we have a meeting. It's mandatory, non-negotiable, and naturally, everyone tries like hell to avoid them. On that particular Thursday, it was 1:25 and I was alone with my notebooks in the lobby, looking around for all of my coworkers.

"Hey, Cordy," Angel said, slinking down the stairs. "Am I late?"

"No, you're on time," I said, looking at my watch. "Everyone else is going to be late."

Angel looked strangely pleased to hear that.

"Wesley's going to be so disappointed. He got to work early and everything," Angel said smugly. "And he hates to be late."

"Where's Wes anyway?" I asked.

"Call to Birmingham," Angel said, rolling his eyes. I understood exactly how he felt. Laura was a cool enough person, and she was much better than the rotating schedule of skanktastic hos, but Wes needed to be involved with her like he needed a hole in the head. But danger did it for him, I guessed.

"Didn't I tell everyone there was a meeting at 1:30 today?" I asked.

"I remembered," Angel said mildly. "And it's only 1:25, like you said."

"Time is money," I said, "And I have lots of ideas to help our business seem more like a business and less like a plot straight out of the Real World Miami."

The door to the hotel opened on cue. It was Fred, and she was having a good day. We could tell because her clothes weren't on inside out, she was wearing the same type of shoe on her both feet, or any of the other tell-tale residuals that come with being trapped in an alien dimension for five years.

"I think I'm going to get one of those Palm Pilots," she said. "I almost missed this meeting because I was so busy working at the lab. Plus, one of the graduate assistants says you can play Tetris on them or read an e-book, and that would make my bus ride easier and more entertaining than fending off perverts on the bus."

Wow. Fred was having an exceptional sanity day. I really like her, but she has a tendency to ramble on like a homeless person on a corner due to her post-traumatic stress disorder. It was refreshing to hear her talking like a normal person.

"Where's everyone else?" she asked.

"Wesley's on the phone--"

"Birmingham? AGAIN?" she said, exasperated. "Could that woman ever leave him alone to work?"

"No," Angel and I said in unison.

"Let me guess," Gunn said, dropping his bag of weapons at the door with a bang. "Laura's on the phone?"

"How'd you guess?" I asked sarcastically.

"Cuz you all look like bitter people who don't ever have dates," he said, walking over to the main lobby phone. He picked it up. "Hey! Laura! Wes has to do work now. He'll tell you about his magic fingers later! Get off the phone!"

He hung up. We all busted up laughing. It took Wesley about twenty seconds to come out of the back office and join the meeting.

"Sorry," he said, red-faced. He must really have been talking about his magic fingers, the slut. "Am I late for the meeting?"

"Two minutes," I said, pointing at the clock. "Anyway, we have a good amount of material to cover. First of all, it's only eight more weeks until I take the examination for my PI license. Study parties at my house every Thursday, and like we've discussed, we all have to pass two of my practice exams before I take the exam."

Gunn sighed. "Do I have to learn Quickbooks, too?"

"It wouldn't hurt," I said acidly. "Speaking of books, Wesley wanted to address the floor about purchasing a few more demonologies and spellbooks at a discount for our library out of this month and next month's budget."

Of course, this summary more or less prevented the need for Wesley to speak, but considering his tendency to ramble, that was a good thing.

"Seconded," Fred said. "I'd also like to suggest getting some of the library science kids at UCLA to help us transfer our books onto computer when we can afford it. Maybe we could even offer it as an internship or something for credit and not have to pay them."

"Fabulous idea," Wes replied. "I can help you look into that. I have a few contacts there."

I smiled. I loved it when a plan came together. The weekly business meetings had been my idea after checking a few small business books out of the library while babysitting Wes at the end of the summer, and they had been a stroke of genius. Angel and Gunn were usually bored at our meetings, but even they admitted it kept us on track between visions and Wolfram and Hart attacks.

This would be a successful business yet, in both the sense that it turned a profit and also in the sense that we'd be helping those in need. I knew it. I had faith that the five of us could change lives. Plus, all that money from Wesley's recent misadventures reminded me what it was like to have any money at all. And I really needed a car.

"Anyone have any case leads?" I asked.

Everyone looked down. That was a small problem with my coworkers. None of them were salesmen in any way, shape, or form. Wes occasionally found paying customers through his girly connections, but we were still relying too much on my visions and dumb luck.

"OK," I said. "Well, first objective of next week's meeting is to determine ways to get the word out that we're here to help."

Everyone nodded dutifully. It hurt my ears. Then I realized--

vision

girl's shoulder with a blue tattoo on it. big blue flower.

she's afraid

she's very afraid that this guy is going to hurt her because she has the mark, the blue dahlia

they're in the basement of some club, a place to be seen, and she's too butch for their little club now

blue dahlia is the mark

this guy she's fighting with, he's working for bad people

he looks like a coked-out Hollywood type his name is Mark too and he's no good

her name is Daisy

daisywhatthehellareyathinkin?

he hit her. they're in Westwood, very trendy people, MarkandDaisy daisyandmark, their bosses want the money.

she doesn't have it.

he's going to kill her.

She screams.

So did I. On the scale of one to ten of vision fallout, it was about a six, which was plenty enough mind-destroying pain for me. I clutched my head in agony as Gunn eased me over to one of the couches.

"Her name is Daisy. She's at a club in Westwood. Very Trendy People," I said in short gasps, trying to think through the pain. "Blonde, short. Big red shoes. Blue dahlia tattoo. Her partner is Mark. She's supposed to have money and doesn't. He'll kill her."

"We're moving," Gunn said. "Any demonic activity in the vision?"

"Not that I can see, but the club is iffy. It may be run by some baddies," I said. "But we have to go now!"

So we went.

Like most nightclubs during daylight hours, Very Trendy People looked like an abandoned building. I ignored the emptiness of the place and marched toward the back doors, where I was confronted with two demon gangsters standing watch.

"The club don't open 'til eight," the first one told me, polishing a very gaudy pinky ring on his green double-breasted suit. He had obviously watched too many Mafia movies.

"I'm not here to dance," I said. "There's a woman in your club that's in trouble and I'm here to stop that."

They looked at me and laughed.

"Look, baby," the first one told me. "I'd love to stand around and be amused by you all day, but this here's a private establishment and what goes on inside isn't any of your business. So why don't you take your little entourage and get out of here before me and my friend here have to get ugly?"

"Too late for that," I said. "We are going in there, and if you don't like it you can--"

They suddenly sprouted fangs and brass knuckles. Oops.

"Get the crap kicked out of us," Gunn said.

The demons attacked and the fists started flying. Well, their fists. Wesley had a baseball bat, Gunn had his cool axe, and I had the good sense to stay out of the way until the way to the door was clear. Then, feeling ready for anything, I threw it open and rushed into the club.

"Daisy?" I called. "Daisy?"

There was no answer, but I could hear the sickening thump of fists hitting flesh. I ran toward the sound, and quickly found the two of them in the bathroom.

"Where's the money, Daisy?" Mark screamed before punching her in the ribs. "Where's the fucking money, Daisy?"

"I don't know!" she screamed, trying to shield herself from the violence. "You have the money! Not me!"

"Where's the money, Daisy?" he asked again, slamming his fist into her stomach. She screamed again, doubling over in pain. That was more than enough for me.

"Excuse me," I said politely. "Haven't you ever heard that it's wrong to hit girls?"

Mark paused and looked at me in disbelief. "Who the fuck are you, bitch?" he asked.

"I said, it's wrong to hit a girl, especially when you know that you've got that money safely stowed in a safety deposit box in West LA," I said. I didn't know that at all, but he looked like the type of scumbag who would do something like that.

"Bitch!" he hissed, letting Daisy go and walking toward me menacingly. "Who the hell do you think you are, poking your nose into my fucking business?"

"I'm the girl who's got a can of pepper spray," I said, pulling it out of my purse and spraying it liberally in Mark's face and eyes. I followed up with a swift kick to the groin for good measure.

Mark fell down screaming. Daisy, holding onto the porcelain edge of the bathroom sink for stability, stared at him and then stared at me, blinking very quickly.

"Come on!" I said, holding my hand out. She grabbed it and we ran out of the club, my heart pounding like a snare drum until we were outside in the glaring sunlight. That's when I finally got my first good look at her.

She was definitely a hipster, from her short, slightly spiky blonde hair, to her cat's-eye glasses with the rhinestone frames, to the red Boys Lie t-shirt, shiny, spiky belt, and faded denim capris. I wanted to take her shopping with me and have her explain how she managed her magic mojo without looking too hip or too alterna-teen.

"Cordy, we have to go now!" Gunn shouted. "We got the one guy down, but the quiet guy ran off and he's probably going to bring back some friends to help."

"Crap!" I said. "Daisy, you need to come with us."

She gaped at me for a second and then nodded quickly, running to the car and wincing with each step.

"Is she all right?" Wes asked, turning the key in the ignition.

"No, she got beat up in a bathroom by her business partner," I said, helping her into the backseat and slamming the door behind us. "But we'll all be a lot worse if we don't get out of here."

Wesley got the hint and we went roaring down the street and into Westwood like a bat out of hell. Daisy held her bruised ribs tenderly and closed her eyes.

"Hi," I said. "I'm Cordelia. Do you want to go to the hospital?"

"No," she said, not opening her eyes. "It'll heal. Thanks, though. And thanks for saving my life back there."

"No problem," I said. "That's what we do."

She opened one cat-framed eye suspiciously. "You're not, like, cultists or missionaries, are you?" she asked. "Because I'm against organized religion. My God is the Prince of Groove, you know? Jesus can save me later."

"No, we're not religious," I said. "We run a detective agency nearby and we try to help people in need."

Daisy nodded and tilted her head back. Then she yawned, running her fingers through her short blonde hair.

"Sorry," she said. "I'm just never awake this early. I shouldn't even be awake right now. I finished an after-hours set at 4:30 and I didn't get home until 5:00. I'm a creature of the night."

"A vampire?" Gunn asked.

"Worse," Daisy said with a wry smile. "A DJ."

Then she smacked her head. "Oh, crap! My car!" she said.

"Your car?" I asked.

"I left my car in Westwood. Could we turn around and get it? I need my car to live and I don't want to have to figure out a way to get back to it from my place in Marina del Rey."

"But what about the demon guys?" I asked.

"I didn't park the Mambo Taxi near the VTP. It's actually right next to UCLA. Please can we get it? It's really important," she said. "Not that I'm not grateful to you guys or anything, but it's my car."

"We could pick up Fred," I pointed out. "You know how much she hates taking the bus."

"Fine," Wes said irritably. "Just a moment."

"Groovetastic," Daisy said, relaxing a lot. "So, Cordelia, right?"

I nodded vigorously. Then I realized I had forgotten to introduce everyone.

"Yeah," I said. "Nice to meet you. By the way, the British guy driving is Wesley, and over there, that's Gunn."

"Hey," Gunn said, turning around to see us and wave at Daisy.

"Hi," she replied. "I'm Daisy, or DJ Dizzy Daze when I'm on the decks. How's it going?"

"All right," he said, nodding. "You?"

She shrugged. "Can't complain. You all just saved my life, and I can tell my bosses that Mark has the missing money, so I'm not gonna lose my job, either. Except for the bruised ribs, it's a good day. Hey, how did you know my name, anyway?"

I raised my hand slightly. "I have visions and stuff. That's how we knew where to find you, too."

"You have visions?" Daisy asked incredulously. I nodded. "That's so cool!"

"Well, except for the blinding headaches afterwards," I said. Daisy nodded sympathetically, and then started rummaging through her totally cool black messenger bag, pulling out a small white bottle.

"I've got just the thing for that," she said, opening the bottle and tapping out two tiny blue pills. "My doctor gives these to me for my migraines. They work, like, better than anything ever. Consider it a small token of my gratitude."

"You shouldn't take medicine meant for others," Wes said prissily from the front seat. Daisy rolled her eyes.

"This stuff's so safe they could put it in the drinking water. Even pregnant women can use it, so there," Daisy said, dropping the pills into my hand. "It's not like this is Vicodin I got in Tijuana or something."

I stuck out my tongue and dry-swallowed the pills. Wes grumbled but didn't say anything as we drifted back into Westwood.

"Make a left there," Daisy said. "So, um, how much do I owe you guys for saving me?"

"No charge," I said before either of the guys could say anything.

"Oh, no," Daisy said. "I owe you guys something. Turn left at the next light and then go up three streets."

"Seriously," I said. She shook her head.

"No way. I'm going to write you a check. Except that I left my checkbook at my apartment. Maybe one of you can come with me to my place and I'll drop you back at your office?" she asked, looking right at me.

"Sure, I can do that," I said. In the front seat, Gunn groaned, knowing that left him alone with Wesley, Fred, and their never-ending argument about the place of science in magic. I smirked.

Daisy smiled. "Great!" she said. "Stop! There's my car!"

Wesley squealed over to the curb, just in front of a hunter green Honda Civic. It didn't look like a taxi, much less a mambo taxi. Daisy leaned forward and patted him on the shoulder.

"Thanks, man," she said. "Hey, next time I do a show, you all are totally on the guest list, okay?"

"Thanks," Wes said. Daisy patted him on the shoulder again and got out of the car.

"You coming, Cordelia?" she asked. I smiled at Gunn, who looked pouty.

"This is cruel, leaving me alone with Mulder and Scully here," he said. I waved at him and got out of the car, slamming the door behind me.

"Yep," I said, following Daisy to the Civic. "See you guys later!"

Daisy grinned at me as the boys drove away to find parking closer to Fred's lab. She was so cute. I really had to ask her where she did her shopping and got her hair cut, because I hadn't had any luck finding good hairdressers in LA that didn't charge five hundred dollars for a trim.

"Welcome to the Mambo Taxi," she said, opening the door. "Hope you like electronica."


Chapter Two

The inside of the car was completely different from its exterior. Instead of being tasteful and neutral, it screamed with color and sound and groove. The front seats were recovered in fuzzy dalmatian spots, and the back seat was snow leopard print. It should have clashed, but it didn't. The dashboard had been painstakingly recovered with stickers for various bands and events where I assumed she'd DJ'd. The steering wheel was glittery, and a mirror ball hung from the rear view mirror.

Damn, the car was cool. Cooler than I was, as a matter of fact. I fastened the dalmatian-spotted seatbelt and held on as the excellent, souped-up sound system started pumping out loud music.

"Wow," I said. "Great car."

"I named it after this car in an Almodovar movie," Daisy explained as we sped away from Westwood. "Wanna get coffee?"

"Sure," I said. "I'm dying for a Frappuccino."

She made a face.

"Sorry," Daisy said. "I don't buy from the Evil Empire. But I know this great place that makes iced coffees that are just as good as the Evil Empire's, and without totally gentrifying a neighborhood or driving out local merchants."

"Let me guess. Not a big Barnes & Noble fan, either?" I asked. Daisy leveled me with a sardonic gaze and made the sign of the cross.

"Protect me from the evils of consumerism dressed up as culture," she said. "Sorry. I'm just one of those wacky WTO-hating, boomer-bashing, bleeding-heart radicals. It drives my mom crazy. When I go visit her in Encino, she's always trying to foist her mass-media bullshit on me. I am all about small business, independent thought, and music that's not forced on me by the rotten RIAA. Britney Spears can go chase herself."

She drove us onto the 10 headed for the 405 and off we went. The place we stopped was a hole in the wall strip-mall coffee joint with a decaying sign, but she was right. The iced coffee was really good. I didn't see why it was morally superior to a Frappuccino, but it was tasty and besides, Daisy was going to pay us for saving her life. Even if it was just twenty bucks, that would at least cover the gas we'd eaten up saving her. I was definitely going to humor her. Plus, the lucky wench lived in Marina del Rey, and I wanted to see where she was located so maybe I could go out there once I got a car.

Her apartment was great. It looked like something out of this design book I'd been reading at Urban Outfitters, where I can't actually afford to buy anything, so I just browse. It was a swinging ultra-pad with verve, style, and originality. I suddenly felt very embarrassed of my modest little place with the bland furniture and benign phantom.

"Sit down wherever it's not covered by 45s and I'll get my checkbook, okay?" she said, disappearing behind a door covered with an old Sex Pistols poster. I found a spot, sat down, and stared at the decor.

"Your place is great," I said.

"I've worked to make it so," she said cheerfully, reemerging with her checkbook and a pen. "How's a hundred and twenty made out to Angel Investigations sound?"

"Great," I said sincerely. She nodded, knelt down, and wrote out the check, handing it to me with a flourish. I tucked it deep into my pocket. "Thanks."

"Now I have to confess my devious plan," she said, looking up at me behind long lashes.

"Devious plan?" I asked.

"My checkbook was in my bag," she said sheepishly. "I wanted to like, ask you to hang out this afternoon, but I thought it would sound weird to ask you. I'm sorry."

"You don't have a demon sex virus you want to propagate, do you?" I asked suspiciously. Daisy looked at me and shook her head with a bizarre expression on her face.

"Nooooo. Why?"

"Just making sure," I said, deciding not to share Wesley's recent humiliations. That little story was for special occasions only, or whenever I was really mad at him.

"Yeah," she said. "I just...well, you saved my life. Your friends helped, but you kicked Mark in the testicles. Something I've wanted to do for a long time."

She giggled. "That was so cool, yo."

I giggled and relaxed. It had been so long since I'd gotten to hang out with a girlfriend. I mean, Fred was around now, but Fred was totally different, and so not the type of girl I would have chosen as a friend. She was too sweet and kinda crazy. Come to think of it, I probably wouldn't have chosen Daisy off the street either, but she was cool as hell. Plus, she had a car and *wanted* to be my friend--a first since I'd graduated high school.

"I'm supposed to study for my PI license today, but I do that all the time," I said. "What are you thinking?"

"Toonami," Daisy said, flipping on the TV. "And ice cream."

"Excellent plan," I said.

Daisy smiled and sashayed away to get bowls of ice cream while I tried to stretch out without crunching one of her bazillion records. She returned with heaping bowls of chocolatey goodness and as she leaned down, I saw the tattoo on her upper arm that had featured so prominently in my vision earlier.

"That's a cool tattoo," I said nonchalantly, taking the bowl of ice cream. "What is it?"

"Oh!" she cried happily, setting the other bowl atop a pile of records. "It's my blue dahlia. Isn't it great?"

She bared her arm and I gingerly reached out to touch the bright splotch of blue. It looked so much less frightening on her arm than in my vision.

"It's nice," I said softly.

"I got it when I was in Toronto," Daisy said proudly, sitting down on the floor and retrieving her bowl. "Toronto's a great town. I was there for this show and the spirit just moved me, you know?"

"Cool," I said.

"It was me and a bunch of friends," she said, in between large slurps of ice cream. "It had been the worst time of my life before that, I had this boyfriend who was a real dickwad and I wasn't going anywhere with my life and my music and I was into a bad scene, the worst scene, lots of heroin and coke and shit that's no good."

Her voice sounded dreamy as she talked about it, and looking at her, she seemed so young for someone who had lived a life that crazy.

"Going to Toronto saved my life," Daisy said. "Everything just got really clear, and when I came back, that's when I started meeting the backers for all the clubs I've been working at. So my dahlia's like my good luck charm."

I nodded. "That's great."

She took a bite of ice cream, swaying slightly in the glow of the TV. Then she winced and abruptly stood up again.

"Hey, don't tell your British friend, but I do have some Vicodin from TJ and I gotta take some now, because my ribs hurt like a motherfucker," Daisy said, walking into what I assumed was the kitchen. "You want any?"

"No, that's okay," I said.

She didn't reply. After a moment, she walked back into the room and sat down next to me on the couch. We didn't talk for a second, even though we were just watching commercials for Legos and kid's music.

"I do a lot of drugs," she said finally. "Not hard shit or anything, or all the time, but I use 'em. If we want to be friends, you gotta know that. I don't want to misrepresent, and you look pretty straight, so I understand if you're like, not comfortable with it."

I had to think about it for a minute. For whatever reason, nobody I knew in high school, except Oz, had used drugs. Maybe the football players had all been on steroids or whatever, but it just hadn't been a thing with us. I didn't know what I felt about it. I didn't want to be a drug addict, but there was a difference between being a junky and partying.

"I dunno," I said. "I'm not into it."

"It's all right," Daisy said. "At least you're honest. I know lots of people who would be all, err, like, I dunno, dude, and they don't know themselves. I'm attracted to you as a person cuz you do."

I laughed. "Right."

"No, seriously," Daisy said. "I totally respect that. Plus, you kicked a guy's ass you didn't know to save some person you never met because you had a vision. Don't you know how cool that is?"

I looked her straight in the eye, trying to figure out if she was being honest. And she was. The look on her face was totally impressed and I felt a little embarrassed. Usually, people looked awestruck when Angel saved them. I was just the office wench in the corner, not the hero. But right then, I was her hero, and I didn't know what to say.

I turned my head.

"I feel silly," I said. "I'm not really a hero-type person."

"Who the fuck is?" Daisy asked. "No offense, but you really need to relax and take a compliment. Hey, don't think I'm a creepy stalker-type or anything, but what are you doing tomorrow night?"

"Sulking alone in my house with my phantom," I said.

"Oh, no. You and your hot guy friends are coming to hear my set at Club Lingerie on Sunset. You're totally on the list, so it doesn't matter if you all have ID or not or whatever. Come, dance, drink, turn the fucking world on with your smile."

I smiled. "We'll be there," I said, standing up. "But I have a study party I have to be at tonight."

Daisy nodded. "OK, I'll take you back to your apartment."

We drove back a little quietly in the Mambo Taxi, aware that we wanted to be friends more than we were friends at that point. Still, when Daisy stopped the car in front of my building, she gave me a quick hug good-bye and pressed a flyer for her club into my hand.

"My cell number's on the back, just in case you need extra people added to the list tomorrow or if you want to talk or whatever," she said, pulling away. "Bye, Cord!"

She drove away, the air vibrating with the bass pumping from her stereo system. I watched her turn the corner and then hurried into my apartment.

"Hey, PD," I said. "Guess what? I have a friend!"

Phantom Dennis probably did something to express his approval, but being spectral, I didn't get to see it. But I was busy anyway. The answering machine was blinking and I hurried over to see who had called.

"Cordelia, it's Gunn. Save me," the voice on the answering machine told me. "Correction. Save us. Angel wants to come, too. Wesley and Fred have gone to DefCon 3, and we need to escape somewhere safe. Namely, your place. Call us when you get this message. Please. We'll bring anything you want."

I smiled. That meant I got free munchies. I picked up the phone and made the call to the hotel. You could actually hear Fred and Wes screaming at each other in the background.

"Open your mind, Wesley! There have been vast gains in knowledge since 1066!" Fred shouted.

"Not in anything I give a damn about!" Wes yelled.

"Please, God, tell me it's you," Gunn said over them.

"Sorry, I'm not God, just Cordelia, though I'm a close second to the big guy for answering prayers," I said. "So I hear that Fred and Wesley are scaring you again. Don't you and Angel have whips and chains and other silence-inducing things?"

"Angel almost got out the broadsword, but then he realized he's not the brightest bulb on the shelf, so we'd better just let those two fight it out," Gunn explained. "I just don't get what they're fighting about."

"It's a mystery to both man and vampire," I said. "So come over, bring munchies, and someday, they'll both go hoarse."

"Or we'll find them making out on the stairs."

For some unknown reason, I suddenly thought of Giles and Jenny Calendar, but then I laughed it off. Wesley and Fred was like, the silliest idea I'd ever thought of. Ever.

Then I remembered the last time I'd seen Giles, during that weekend we'd spent in Sunnydale without Angel for Buffy's funeral. I remembered how old he had suddenly looked, holding Dawn's hand next to the casket. It had been horrible. The monks' spell hadn't worked on me because I was too far away, and so when I saw Dawn, I knew rationally that she was Buffy's sister, but she wasn't to me. At all.

"Yo, Cordy?" Gunn asked, waking me up out of the Twilight Zone. "You awake?"

"I want Pirate's Booty. Bring Pirate's Booty and Diet Coke," I said, thinking of the delicious cheesy goodness of Pirate's Booty and trying to forget the image of Giles and Dawn at the graveside.

"You got it. See you soon," Gunn said, hanging up the phone. I set the handset down and sat on the couch, unable to shake the weird memories of being back in town after two years of finding my own way. There were just too many things I didn't want to think about.

Like Buffy's mom dropping dead and me never hearing about it.

Like Xander marrying the vengeance demon who'd almost destroyed reality as we knew it.

Like Willow and her new girlfriend.

Like Spike teaming up with the good guys because he loved Buffy.

Like Buffy having a sister who wasn't actually her sister. Like that sister being the Key to life and death.

Like seeing my mom and her new boyfriend, Chuck. Like especially when Chuck pinched my ass and winked.

Like hearing that my dad was sick in jail and my mom not giving a damn.

It was too much. I wanted to forget. I wanted to find something new in my life, so that I could bury all of those memories of Sunnydale and the girl I'd been.

Maybe Daisy could help me. I didn't want to ask anyone at work, because it wasn't fair, considering that I was just Buffy's nemesis and Angel had been the love of her life. I didn't need the attention he did. But I wasn't going to say no to someone who could help me and wanted to.

I picked up the little flyer that I'd set on the coffee table. DJ Dizzy Daze playing at Club Lingerie. I smiled hopefully. I did need to relax. And how long had it been since I'd gone dancing?

I was tired of being nobody and going nowhere. It was time to emerge from my little hibernation from the world around me and live in it as often as I tried to save it.


Chapter Three

Friday night took at least twice as long as usual to arrive, and of course, everyone had to be three times as annoying as usual to make up for the way time was dragging.

Fred, first of all, had a bad day, so she arrived with her sweater inside out and backwards, and every time Angel looked at her funny, she got choked up.

"You hate me, don't you?" she kept asking him, following him around like a lost puppy dog, daring him to answer. Angel wouldn't say anything, and finally Wes of all people had to take her outside to get coffee and calm her down. When she came back, her eyes were very red and she wouldn't speak to anyone except for Wes, who looked tired and exasperated with both her and Angel.

Gunn and I got into a fight when I announced we were invited to Club Lingerie because he didn't want to go, and I thought we should all go in the interests of group unity.

"Look, Cordelia, no offense, but I don't like techno!" he finally bellowed at me. "I need to go check in with my crew tonight anyway. So count me out!"

I gave him an angry look, flounced over to the office, and tried to see if we had any leads on a case. Finding none, I had to find my books and papers to study for my looming exam. You would think learning how to be a PI would be interesting, but it was actually duller than the stuff I used to do with the Scoobies in Sunnydale. Everything was about all these laws you couldn't break, all these boundaries and differences between a PI and a cop, and how weapons were supposed to be handed out. That section was going to be discreetly ignored, because while I was going to take a gun course, there was no way the boys could be without their weapons.

"Cordelia?" Angel asked, breaking into my intensive study. "The phone's for you. It's some girl named Daisy?"

"Oh!" I said, springing up out of my chair. "Just a second!"

I ran into the back office and picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"Hey, Cordelia, it's me. You still going tonight?" Daisy asked.

"Totally," I said. "It's the only thing getting me through this crappy day."

"I heard that," she said. "How many people are coming with you?"

"Three, so there'll be four of us."

"Excellente. You remember how to get there, right?"

"Yep," I said.

"Cool beans. See you at ten," she said.

"See you," I said, hanging up the phone and grinning. I almost skipped into the lobby, where Angel was staring into space and trying not to look at Fred. "You need to be cheered up."

"No," Angel grumped. "Please. No cheering up."

Fine. If he was going to be difficult, I was just going to have to give orders.

"Don't be a downer," I said. "We're going dancing tonight and it's going to be fun. We all need to stop brooding about things."

He looked at me for what felt like a long time, and then nodded.

"I think you're right," he said. "But Cordy, I don't dance. You know that."

"I know, I know. You can drink and protect us from skeezy guys, then," I said.

He nodded. "I can do that."

Fred, who had been very obviously not looking at Angel, suddenly looked up at us with fright in her eyes.

"Did you say we're goin' dancing?" she asked, her glasses half-off. "I don't like dancing. I trip over my feet."

I glowered. Why was everyone trying to kill my good time before it even got off the ground?

"Then you can keep Angel company, and Wes and I can dance until our feet bleed," I said. "We're going to have a good time, dammit!"

"Okay, okay, no need to bite my head off," she said, looking away from Angel again. I didn't know what the hell was up with her that day and I didn't want to ask, so I went back to my books, only to be interrupted by Wesley fifteen minutes later.

"What's the attire like for the club?" he asked. "I don't want to look out of place."

Well, at least there was someone around that wanted to have fun tonight. Of course, fun for Wes probably meant dancing with all the pretty girls, but he was great to go out with even with the womanizing problem.

"I dunno."

"Do you have a flyer?" he asked, trying not to sound testy. I handed over Daisy's flyer and he looked it over carefully. "This is going to be hell for Angel and Fred."

"So what are you saying? We shouldn't go?" I asked, ready to beat the shit out of him if he said yes.

He smiled at me. "I'm saying we should go and mock them for their social cowardice."

I took that to mean that Wes knew how to handle places like Club Lingerie, and so I asked him an embarrassing question.

"What do you think I should wear?" I asked.

Before he could answer, Fred came wailing into the office.

"Wesley, he's looking at me again!" she whined. "He hates me, I know it."

Wes gave me a pleading look that begged me to take Fred off his hands. Seeing as I needed to get something for us both to wear to Lingerie, I decided to take pity on the pathetic little manslut.

"Come on, Fred. We're going shopping," I said, standing up and putting my arm around her. She looked confused, but that was normal, so I escorted her out and waved at Wes, who sighed with relief.

"Does Wesley hate me, too?" Fred asked the second we left the hotel.

"No," I said. "Totally not. He wouldn't fight with you so much if he hated you. Actually, if he hated you, he'd probably try to stake you. That's what he did to my friend Harmony."

Fred looked alarmed. "He tried to stake a person?"

Oops. "No, no. Harmony was a vampire."

"You have a vampire friend?" Fred asked. "Isn't that a little dangerous?"

"Well, when she was first my friend, she wasn't a vampire. She got vamped at my high school graduation, and I didn't know, then she came to visit me, and she pissed Wesley off hardcore," I explained. "Anyway. We are going to make us look like we're the queens of LA, okay?"

"All right," Fred said inoffensively, and off we went.

Hours later, looking glam and fabulous and posh, we finally arrived at Club Lingerie and strolled right up to the bouncers. We didn't get any crap, either. All I had to say was, "I'm Cordelia Chase and I'm on the list with DJ Dizzy Daze," and they let the four of us right in.

I felt like a total scenester queen. Of course, the minute we walked in, Fred and Angel found a little table with barstools to hide at, but I wasn't going to let their irrational fear of dance prevent me from having a great time. Plus, I needed to find Daisy and say hey.

"You going to find Daisy?" Wes asked me.

"Yeah, I should say hi," I said.

"Good idea. I'll get drinks. Tequila for you, right?" he asked. I nodded and we separated. Daisy wasn't hard to find. She was at the booth, chatting up the DJ on the decks. I rushed up and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Cordelia!" she cried, throwing her arms around me. "You look such the queen of the universe. Hey, Dave, this is my girl Cordelia. She was the one who kicked that fucker Mark in the balls and saved my life."

Dave looked exactly like Matt from Real World New Orleans. He even had the awful yellow wraparound glasses. It was creepy. He smiled at me and nodded.

"Tight," he said before going back to his equipment. Daisy snorted.

"So where are your friends?" she asked, walking us away from the booth.

"Wesley's getting drinks and Angel and Fred--my friends you haven't met yet--are staking out a table for us," I explained. Daisy nodded.

"Cool," she said. "I got to get back to the booth, but after my set ends, we totally have to do some dancing together, okay?"

"Totally," I agreed. She waved and disappeared into the crowd and I went to find Wesley and my tequila. He was easy to find, and after about fifteen or twenty minutes spent with Angel and Fred, who both totally wanted to dance but wouldn't, Wesley and I excused ourselves to get down to the awesome beats being pumped out.

I really like dancing with Wesley and Gunn, because they're fun and they drive away obvious slimeballs, so I was kind of sad that Gunn wasn't there, but the music was so wonderful and everything so electric that I got over my regret fairly quickly. I just gave in to the beat and forgot that I had a name or a purpose besides dancing the night away.

Wes and I broke away from each other after a decent interval, dancing our asses off with the many attractive patrons of the club. Every so often, we'd spot each other, or Angel and Fred hunched over at their table, and give little waves. Twice, I saw Daisy presiding over the room in her DJ booth, looking like a creature from another planet. She saw me once, grinned, and made a little 'raise the roof' gesture.

The other time, when I saw her, she didn't see me and I had time to really look. I was watching how intense she was, how much she clearly loved what she was doing. I was almost awed by the honesty and intensity of her passion for dropping the beats and being absorbed by the music. I realized that I would be friends with her, no matter how nervous all of the drugs made me. She was real. She could understand what it was like to be part of the crazy, slightly wrong world I lived in.

That realized, I went back to dancing my ass off with occasional stops for tequila, waiting for Daisy's set to get over so we could talk and dance.

Wesley and I started dancing together again right when the DJ changed. I could tell immediately, which was kind of cool and kind of strange. The new DJ was lighter, less intense, but fun, totally fun. He or she, I didn't know which, started playing this bouncy poppy thing that I couldn't help lipsynching at Wes.

"Boys, boys, be my boy, I want to feel your body-- boys boys, be my boy--tonight I'm ready, honey-- boys boys, be my boy-- I want to be your lover girl-- be my lover boy--"

It was kind of mean, but he knew I was just playing around and we got into it and for a second, I wished that we had been just a little different at Sunnydale High. Then I remembered this was Wesley, King of the Dorks and King of the Mansluts, and I went back to having fun teasing him.

"Daisy off the port bow," Wesley told me after the song blended into something less poppy. I turned around and Daisy waved, hurrying over to meet us. She practically knocked three people over trying to reach us. She looked cool as ever, wearing an elaborately braided magenta wig, elaborate silver and pink eyeshadow, and lip gloss as thick as icing. I would have looked like a scary clown in her outfit. And yet it looked great on her.

"Cordelia! My girl!" she cried, pushing herself and her drink past two last dancers. "You look like ten million dollars, and you guys look so great dancing together! Hey, where are the other friends?"

"Angel and Fred are still over at a table. They don't dance," I explained. Daisy wiggled her eyebrows.

"Well, your friends don't dance? If they don't dance, well, then they're--"

"No friends of mine?" Wes said.

"Exactly," Daisy said, knocking back her drink. She looked at us and began laughing. "I am so happy that you guys decided to come! Wanna dance?"

"Well, that's why we're here," I said. "This is so great."

"Your set was fantastic, by the way. You've got a great ear for music," Wes said. Daisy beamed.

"Thank you so much, you guys!" she said, swaying to the music. "That's so nice of you!"

"Well, I'm serious. The last time I had such a good time on the town was when I was at Circus Disco," Wes told her. She immediately got this amused, puzzled look on her face.

"Circus Disco? On Santa Monica Boulevard? Isn't that a gay club?" she asked, lifting her eyebrows. Wes looked at her, then at me, and then sighed and gave the tiniest little nod.

"It's more mixed on Fridays," he said.

Daisy burst into giggles.

"Circus Disco, dude. I'm so impressed. So you're just a big equal-opportunity slut, aren't you?" she asked, throwing one arm around me and one around him. "Maybe we'll take your pretty British ass with us when Cordy and I go to Club Makeup."

Wes suddenly looked terrified.

"I'm going to have to pass," he said. "I don't do well with drag queens and glam rock. Actually, just drag queens. No on drag queens."

Daisy almost fell over laughing.

"You are so beautiful! Cordy, he's so beautiful! Can I have one just like him?" she asked, giving me a hug and laughing again. "This has been the greatest night. Mark's been fired like the bitch he is, I did the greatest fucking set ever, and it's just beautiful! Cordelia, isn't it beautiful?"

It was. I hugged her back, feeling like I had been rewarded for all of the crappy shit that had happened in the last year. Daisy squealed and hugged me back. Then I hugged her again. It was a regular hug-fest.

"You didn't take any X, did you?" she asked, laughing again. "Cuz you're touchy-feely tonight, girl."

"No, no, no," I said. "I just feel wonderful. I've got my friends with me, I've had way too much to drink and I feel the music and I'm having so much fun."

"Then let's keep dancing, baby," she said, letting go of me and shaking her hips provocatively. "Let's not stop til they throw us out."

Sounded like a good idea to me.

They threw us out about two-thirty and Daisy and I staggered out like lovers, feet screaming in agony in our platform shoes and the gang following, with the exception of Wes, who was off getting some blonde girl's phone number.

"You guys looked fabulous out there," Angel said. "I mean, it looked like fun."

Daisy turned around and nodded at him enthusiastically. "Next time, you totally have to dance with us. Both of you. Everyone there is cracked out of their heads. They could give a damn if you look like Elaine on Seinfeld. You must dance! You must feel the beat race through your bones."

Wesley strolled up looking as innocent as a newborn, despite the fact we all knew he'd just added another number to his rolodex-o-girls.

"All right, well, who's sober enough to drive?" he asked. Daisy burst into laughter, her swaying almost enough to make me lose my balance.

"Fuck. Not me," she said. "I'll crash in the car 'til morning. It's cool. I've done it a million times. Cordelia, want to have an adventure with me?"

It felt like everyone was looking at me, but I was euphoric and I didn't care. Besides, I did want to have an adventure.

"Sure," I said. "Let's camp in your car."


Chapter Four

I woke up on Daisy's couch, confused, dry-mouthed, and headachey. I didn't know how I'd gotten where I was. So much for adventure. My head had barely touched the headrest of the Mambo Taxi before I had passed out cold. It was sort of disturbing that I didn't remember getting into her apartment, though. But I was in a safe place and that was okay.

I opened my eyes and immediately squeezed them shut again. It was too bright. I pulled the scratchy blanket over my head and groaned. Bad tequila. Bad tequila. And stupid me for drinking that much.

A door creaked open and I peeked out of the blanket to see who it was. I didn't recognize him, but he blew a kiss into the room before walking out of the apartment. There was a lot about the end of the evening I apparently hadn't remembered. I glanced a little further out of the blanket and noticed another couple tangled up in each other's arms, passed out on the floor. Damn. The Mambo Taxi had clearly lived up to its name last night.

Feeling queasy, I got to my feet and made for the toilets for a quick bathroom break. When I emerged, Daisy was sitting on the couch, eyes ringed in mascara. She waved, looking just as hung over as I was.

"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," she whispered. "Tequila's a fucking cruel mistress, I'm fucking tellin' ya."

"Word," I replied. "Who was that guy?"

She shrugged. "That was my friend Andrew. On the floor, that's Kristin and Brett."

I nodded and yawned. Then I pressed my hands against my face. Yawning hurt. Daisy looked at me, head tilted.

"Hung over?" she murmured. "I've got aspirin. Or whatever you want."

"Aspirin doesn't work on my headaches anymore," I told her. "I've had too many since I got my visions. I could swallow a bottle and no effect."

She nodded. "I've got just the thing. A friend of mine found this herbalist in Koreatown," she said, easing off the couch and disappearing into the kitchen. I imagined the friend, like one of the dozens of friends that appeared and disappeared in Daisy's life, her car, her bedroom, friends that had one interesting moment in the plot and then never mattered again. It would be weird to have so many friends.

Daisy returned with two mugs of cold tea that stank a little like patchouli, or tea tree oil, some sort of herb smell that was astringent and bitter.

"It's magic. You feel a hundred percent better in ten minutes," she said, lifting her own mug and downing it with a grimace. "Tastes like shit, though. You just gotta gulp it or you'll never finish it."

I took my own cup nervously and, nose tingling from the smell, gulped it back. It tasted vile. I almost spit it out, but I managed to keep it down.

"Ick," I said.

"Works like a charm, though," Daisy replied. "Your friend Angel called earlier. He says you have a meeting with some guy, the guy in Van Nuys. He wasn't really forthcoming with what was up."

I was confused for a second--and then I realized what Angel meant. I shrieked.

"Shit!" I cried. "Shit shit shit!"

"What?" Daisy asked, as Kristin and Brett on the floor moaned and cursed.

"I have to go turn in my coursework for the PI license today. By noon, or the guy won't take it. And I have to get this license and--"

Daisy grabbed my hand. "Chill down, Cordelia. I'll go get my keys, and you can take the Mambo Taxi up to Van Nuys. Just bring it back with gas in it, okay?"

I hugged her impulsively. "You are the best."

"It's part of the gig," she replied. "Now you got an hour. Get your ass to Van Nuys, chicadore."

I did, barely remembering to grab my purse and shoes. Eddie was going to lift an eyebrow at my ensemble, but the important thing was that I was a week ahead in my work and that he couldn't insinuate I wasn't serious about being a PI. When he'd first seen me, wearing a big UCLA sweatshirt and a pair of raggedy jeans, he apparently thought that I was doing this for fun. He'd told me to take a martial arts class instead. I had kept going anyway, until he had to accept I was not only serious, but insanely serious.

Zooming up the 405, thanking God there wasn't any traffic, I tried to think about what had inspired me to be the one to get the PI license, to be semi-legit in the world of crime-fighting. There had been a moment in Sunnydale, that horrible, unreal weekend in Sunnydale, a moment I wouldn't think about. I'd come back, and told Angel and Wesley that they were going to fund my PI course and license exam. They'd agreed without argument. That was how this had happened. I just didn't really want to think about why.

Angel was waiting in the lobby of the Hyperion with my homework. I grabbed it from him and didn't say anything. He wanted to talk, but I was on deadline.

"Later, okay?" I said before disappearing onto the freeway again.

There was something cathartic about driving the Mambo Taxi, or maybe it was just having a car again. It made me think of how I could get away from everything if I had a car to transport my overworked and underpaid ass out of the basin, out of the state, or even out of the country if I wanted. Besides, when you can actually drive on an LA freeway, it's the best thing ever, flying across time and space at eighty-five miles an hour.

I reached Eddie's ramshackle correspondence school/office at 11:48 AM on the dot. When I opened the door, there wasn't anyone around except Eddie, and he was busy watching a college football game.

"Hey, Eddie," I said, holding the pile of papers against my breasts.

"Miss Chase," he said, giving me an objective once-over. "Late night, I see."

"Yeah," I said.

"Your work last week was good," he said. "You got this week's stuff?"

"Yes," I said, handing him the papers and taking back a manila folder of corrected work. "Who's winning?"

"I got money riding on SC, so Cal, of course," he said. "When are you going to sign up for a gun course? You know you have to."

"Next week," I said confidently. "Later, Eddie."

"Later, Miss Chase," he replied, going back to his game.

When I walked outside, I realized I felt great. I felt like I hadn't tried to kill brain cells the night before. My stomach didn't hurt, my eyes were just fine, and there wasn't even the memory of a headache in my skull. Those herbs had done some serious good mojo on me. I felt good, but not in some strange, euphoric, drugged-out way. I felt rested, like I'd slept ten hours and eaten a healthy breakfast.

Plus, I had a car. I could go anywhere I wanted. It was extremely exciting to feel footloose and fancy-free.

Of course, all I ended up doing was filling up the Mambo Taxi's gas tank, driving it back to Marina del Rey, and waiting around until Gunn could pick me up, but the feeling was the important part, anyway.

Angel was waiting with this strange look on his face when I got back to the hotel. I didn't know what he was thinking. Ever since she died, he'd been different. He'd gone back into himself, and just when we had gotten him back from the Land of Darla-Broodage.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"Pretty good, actually. Daisy has this great hangover tea she made for me. It really works," I said. "What's up?"

"I wanted to tell you something this morning, but you were gone really fast," he said.

"Yeah?" I asked.

"I'm glad you're getting out again," he said. "You've been working really hard lately, and I think we've all been a little edgy and it's just good that you're having fun, too."

For Angel, that was about as close as he would ever get to eloquence. I accepted it for what it meant.

"I know exactly what you mean," I said. "I think the Powers that Be owe us some serious vacation time. Possibly benefits, too."

He smiled. "Yeah, I've always wondered what it would be like to fight the forces of evil AND get decent dental."

He was trying to make jokes again. It was maybe a good sign after months and months of bad ones. Angel was unstable as hell, but he always came back to us from beyond the dark.

"I should go home. I need a shower," I said. "Phantom Dennis gets worried if I don't come home."

Angel nodded. "Yeah, you look a little--" the words failed him-- "Around the edges."

"That'll happen after a good night out," I said. "Don't worry, Angel. I'm fine."

That was the last of the conversations we had about Daisy and the sudden changes in my life. Because after that night at Club Lingerie, things most definitely changed. I was out at least three nights a week, sometimes dancing, sometimes watching on the sidelines. I would arrive at work with dark circles under my eyes, flying high on adrenaline.

No one minded. We were all too busy with our own lives and the sudden influx of business we'd received through visions and word of mouth. Our meetings could last for an hour and a half with things that needed to be done, money that needed to be dispersed, et cetera, et cetera. The nights I wasn't out until four with Daisy and Kristin and Brett and Shannon and Tracey and Keith and Amy and Kath and Andrew and a thousand other people who wandered through the car and the apartment, I was studying. I was as devoted to passing my license exam--no, make that kicking the shit out of that license exam--as I was to throwing back an fifth shot of tequila before dragging a lean, mean boy onto the floor and having my wicked way with him.

Despite the way everything was too busy, it was a good time for all of us. Angel was slowly but surely being his goofy, slightly sulky self again, we helped a lot of people, and we were even turning a slight profit.

Of course, there were a few small bumps in the road. Fred and Wesley would not stop fighting. At first, it had been funny, because the things they fought about were so obscure and bizarre that nobody could understand what the hell they were talking about. It quickly became a running battle that was slowly driving the rest of us crazy.

"I don't understand how anyone with any practical sense could consider scientific analysis of demon chemistry and biology to be a wasted pursuit!" Fred yelled, her bewildered loopiness gone.

"Some afternoon when you're around, let me tell you a story about a little government unit known as the Initiative," Wes told her, dripping polite sarcasm. "The fact is, human beings as they are cannot accept the idea of demons in their reality."

"Well, they're here, aren't they?" Fred asked. "To pretend otherwise is a grievous error and will only increase resentment when the truth is finally uncovered."

I rubbed my temples. I so did not need to hear the endless bitching.

"What makes you think that the truth will ever be uncovered? A giant snake ate twenty or more people before being exploded in Sunnydale, California, and the story didn't even make the LA Times Lifestyles section. Nobody wants to know that all their worst nightmares are real," Wes replied. "It may be underestimating humankind, but it has always been more prudent to protect illusions than shatter them in the case of demons."

Fred glared at him icily. "That is the single most pessimistic take on humanity I've ever heard."

"When you can find me an example of a large group of people handling the existence of demon positively, tell me and I can revise my take," Wes said.

"Children," Angel said. "Argue comparative morality somewhere without an echo. Cordy's studying and I'm trying to figure out where the Lamdor's nest is."

"For real, yo. Some of us like to hear ourselves think," Gunn chimed in. Fred and Wes glared at both of them, then at each other, and politely stopped arguing. Gunn walked over to my desk.

"How's the studying going?" he asked.

"Really well. I've been so with it the last few weeks. It's like, the coolest thing," I said.

"Ever since you met that Daisy chick, you've been on," Gunn agreed. "She's good for you."

I nodded and hoped that he wasn't trying to subtly ask if there was some sort of sex type thing going on. But Gunn wouldn't do that. He was all about respecting personal space, except with Wes, and that was something else entirely that I didn't get.

"Yeah, she is."

He looked like he wanted to say something, but he couldn't. I can't stand to have questions sitting there, like giant shoes waiting to drop on your head.

"Is this a sex question or a drug question?" I asked.

He had the grace to look ashamed.

"Well, she's into that scene--it's not like I'm making groundless accusations, you know?" he said. I still wasn't sure if he was talking sex or drugs.

"I don't do any of it. We're friends. The most I've taken from Daisy are some headache pills and herb tea she gets from this guy in Koreatown," I said. "That's it, okay?"

"Okay, I was just checking up on you. I do that with people I care about," he said. "You look great. You're doing great. Okay?"

"Yeah," I said.

The weird conversation stuck in my head all the way to Daisy's apartment, and started repeating itself as I walked in on a circle of people smoking up, Daisy presiding as per usual.

"Hey, Cordy Dee," she said, waving at me through the smoke. "It's an inside night tonight. Tracey brought her copy of Fear and Loathing and we're gonna trip and watch and be fucking slackers. Sorry. I should have called and told you."

"Dude, we're fucking making it a Blockbuster night," Tracey said, lounging against the coffee table. "Is that so wrong?"

They all laughed, which was kind of weird. All of Daisy's friends hated large chain stores with an unholy passion. I couldn't even wear Gap jeans whenever Jesse went out with us. And now we laughed at making it a Blockbuster night? Whatever, like it mattered, but weird.

"No, except for the part where you better not have rented this tape from Censorship-R-Us," Brett said. That made me feel better. Tracey flipped him off, but Tracey was the master of flipping people off, so I relaxed and sat down on the couch next to Keith, who was apparently abstaining from the ritual smoking up.

"Like I ever would," she said, taking the bong from Amy. I looked at Keith. He was tired, I could tell.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's my yearly purification," he said in throaty growl. "I'm off drugs for a month, lots of green tea and meditation and Pink Floyd. It keeps me grounded in this world, you know?"

"Cool."

"I miss drugs already, man," he said mournfully. "But that's totally when I need to give 'em up."

I nodded and leaned into the fabric of the couch, watching Daisy flirt and giggle with our friends. She was the light in the middle of the world, it felt like, and it was strange thinking about her with Gunn's unspoken questions in my head. Was there some sort of sex-type thing between us? I never even thought about girls like that ever in my life, but I remembered the last time I'd been in love, and how the person you love is lit with a spotlight. Being friends with Daisy was kind of like that.

"She's got you under her spell," Keith said, his head lolling limply against the cushions. "She does that. No one can resist the evil powers of Daisy."

"Everybody loves Daisy," I said, realizing how true it was as the words came out of my mouth. "She's our girl."

"Yep," he said.

I rested my head against the cushion, eyes fastened on Daisy. It didn't matter how sickly sweet the room would get with pot smoke, how many times Kath would cuss out Andrew for being a giant asshole, how I wouldn't understand two minutes of the movie. Things were right. I had my friends, I had my life, and it was right.

That was before Halloween spoiled everything.


Chapter Five

"Cor, you are going to make a fantastic Trinity," Daisy said, rubbing the temporary dye into my hair. "I'm too short and blonde to be anyone but Switch. And trust me. Our costumes are fabulous. We will make everyone at the gig tonight green with envy. And are you sure that Wes won't come with us?"

"He's adamantly opposed, or so he told me," I said, trying not to twitch from all the rubbing and chemicals.

"Such a bummer," she said, putting the dye bottle to a stubborn piece of hair. "Wes is like, my hero for being the campiest straight man on earth. But this way, I can down my pretty red pills. Cuz I know how he is on the subject of illicit chemicals."

"The psychological and physical damage are immeasurable," I said in my best Wes-accent. "They far outweigh any pleasures gained by their use."

"Do you think he's ever had a pregnancy scare? Or an STD? That's a lot worse than any bad drug experiences I've ever had," Daisy said, trying not to giggle and squirt too much hair dye into my roots.

"I told you about the demon sex virus, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, but that's so not the same," Daisy said. "But that was the funniest story I ever heard. And he still calls that woman in Birmingham? Even though her family's evil?"

I shrugged. "He's like that."

Daisy released my skull from her rubbing. "All right, ten minutes and we can wash this shit out," she said professionally. "God, I love hair dye."

I didn't, but I wasn't going to take any enjoyment of a job well done from her. We sat at her kitchen table, her hands encased in dye-drenched plastic gloves, my hands covered in drying black nail polish, preparing for the Halloween extravaganza of a lifetime.

Club Makeup, Club Cherry, and a whole bunch of other clubs I didn't know but Daisy did, were holding a gigantic Halloween bash at the El Rey Theatre that required you dress to impress. Daisy had decided that we were going to dress as Trinity and Switch from the Matrix and get our pictures all over the websites.

I hadn't been sure that I wanted to go until Daisy had produced the costume. Then I'd almost died. Daisy had explained that it was made from silicon-coated rubber and that it hugged curves better than vinyl. When I'd tried it on, along with the spiked-heel boots that went with it, I felt dangerous and badass.

"So where are your people going tonight?" Daisy asked.

"Fred's friend is putting on a little costume bash in Toluca Lake," I said. "Fred and Wes were very disappointed I wasn't going."

"Why?"

"They have something planned. I think they're gonna go as the Odd Couple. Or maybe Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," I said.

Daisy nodded. "They caught on to all the mocking, hmm?"

"It only took them a month," I said. "They still fight all the time, though."

I didn't mention the fighting was slightly different now, even though it was still loud, obnoxious, and about things only those two cared about. They seemed to be having a wonderful time making the hotel echo with their devastating intellects.

"Okay, rinse," she said. "This is going to be the greatest night of our lives, Cordelia. You just wait and see."

We were at the club at nine o'clock sharp, and even though we'd never been at this place before, it seemed like every third person in line was saying hey to us--and all of the people who didn't know us wanted to.

"Was that David Arquette?" I whispered to Daisy as we cut into line next to a group of people who didn't know us.

"Probably," Daisy replied. "God, this outfit is hot!"

"Mm, that is a bad sign," the guy next to us said. "You could always take it off."

Daisy licked the tip of her middle finger and touched it to her chest sarcastically. "I think I prefer to sizzle."

"Rrow," I murmured to her, linking arms as we waved at the bouncer. It was so nice to know someone who never had to pay cover.

"Well, you know me. Always the last word on the subject," she said, leaning her head against my shoulder. "I love you, Cordelia."

"I love you, too, Daisy."

"Wanna run away to Ibiza and have my love child?" she asked.

"Not tonight, dear," I said.

"Damn," she said with a laugh. "Someday."

We spotted Kristin from across the room, dressed like Lara Croft, and Daisy took out her first pill of the evening, dropping it on her tongue delicately and swallowing, hand still pressed in mine. Kristin finally registered that it was us, and came running across the room.

"You two look awesome!" she screamed. "So killer! Hey, have you guys seen Keith? He was supposed to come with me tonight."

Daisy blinked. "He's been gone a lot lately. He's on his purification trip."

"Yeah, but tonight was the night he was going to re-enter the scene," Kristin said. "He's been weird. You know how he's like, totally mellow all the time? He's been being such an asshole. It's weird."

"Yeah," Daisy said, but before she could say anything else, Kristin shrieked.

"Oh, my God, I love this song!" she said, grabbing Daisy and pulling her away. "Come on, you guys!"

We cut through the crowd, everyone making way for the princesses, and the dance floor was already hot and airless. It didn't matter. The music was blaring, the air was heavy with glitter and alcohol and sex, and I was undoubtedly Queen C.

It was the greatest feeling in the world.

I started dancing with this guy. He didn't last through Alexis Arquette's number. I kept finding other guys, cuter guys, guys with more leather and vinyl who told me I could hack their Matrix any day (yes, somebody actually told me that) and in between songs, I'd find Daisy and I'd watch her do another shot.

About midnight, I realized that my brain was gone. Gone gone gone through an inter-dimensional portal and that I was real tired of all the guys who kept trying to get me drinks and pills. I needed Daisy.

I found her flirting with some quasi-famous girl who was wearing enough silver body paint to disguise her identity, like anyone gave a fuck anyway.

"I want to dance," I whispered (well, more like yelled, but in the noise, it was definitely whispering) into Daisy's ear. She looked at me coyly over her right shoulder.

"Wait one minute," she said, waving goodbye to her celebrity friend, who looked pouty about being ditched. She pushed us into the crowd just as some diva I didn't know flamboyantly threw himself on stage, covered in glitter and sneering at us like a true queen.

"You've got your mother in a whirl," he informed us, his voice trembling over the microphone like some sort of transsexual god or prophet from outerspace. "She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl--"

We danced. Daisy was shining. It might have been glitter, it might have been exhaustion, it might have been residual from all the lights in the air, but she was shining.

"You like me, and I like it all--we like dancing and we look divine--" Daisy mouthed at me as the crowd started going wild with agreement. I couldn't see anyone but her, glowing.

Then, suddenly, I was tired. I didn't want to be there anymore. I was happy, it had been wonderful--but I needed to go.

I asked Daisy if we could leave. Twenty minutes later, we were out of there.

Of course, I'd left my duffel bag with all of my important papers and a change of clothing in the hotel. I'd meant to take it to Daisy's, but she'd picked me up really early and I'd completely forgotten. As we sped toward the Hyperion, I started to think it might be good to make a stop at the hotel. No one was there except for Angel, unlike Daisy's apartment, which was more like a hotel than the actual hotel I worked at. I needed to talk to her about something. I needed to talk to her about what our thing was.

We stumbled into the hotel, and Daisy was out of her mind on whatever she'd taken. I mean she was so gone that she could barely function. I didn't care. Life was great. Me and my best friend were crazy LA ladies out on the town and we had had the best costumes at Club Makeup. There was only good in my life and in the world around me. I just needed to ask Daisy a question.

"Trinity, what is the Matrix?" Daisy asked me dizzily. "Too many red pills?"

"Too many blue pills, too many red pills, all washed down with that suspicious steaming punch, and WHY is every light in this place off?" I snarled, tripping over my feet.

"Maybe someone's here," Daisy suggested.

"No way. They all went to a costume party in Toluca Lake," I said. "I'm sure they're all tucked in their safe little beds."

"OK," Daisy said dubiously, as I found a light switch and flipped it on. It made my head hurt, but at least I could see--

Fred and Wes making out on the stairs. Dressed like Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. Did I work in Peyton Place or something? Or was this just the bizarro universe? Damn Halloween.

Daisy started to laugh.

"I was just gonna ask who was giggling over yah," Daisy said. "Oh, wow. I'm sooooooooooo stoned and you all are so busted!"

She collapsed onto a couch, laughing like a madwoman. I stood in front of the happy couple, hands on hips, trying to say something. To my surprise, Fred and Wes didn't stop macking even though I was staring at them. Wes then actually had the gall to wave me away.

"Slut!" I hissed, stomping over to Daisy, who patted me on the cheek.

"Don't be mad, Cor," she said, trying not to bust a gut laughing. "They're not kissing. They're doing an in-depth probe for alien implants. Come on, let's get your stuff and get out of here."

I nodded and quickly ran into the back office to get my duffel bag, ignoring the disgusting sights and sounds a few feet away. Life was manifestly unfair. I slung my bag over my shoulder and stormed back to Daisy, who was watching Fred and Wes go at it like a pair of sixteen-year-olds, for they had no shame at all. None.

"This is better than pay-per-view porn," Daisy said indolently. "We going?"

"Oh yes. We going. The sooner the better," I snapped.

Daisy snickered and followed me out. "Don't get her pregnant! It'll ruin the show!" she called behind us. "And remember to breathe!"

I slammed the door behind us.

"He's such a slut!" I said. "Oh my God! Could the man be getting any more booty?"

"I don't think she minds, Cordy," Daisy said sagely. "You really need to be less jealous."

"How come everyone in the world gets some except me?" I whined.

Daisy looked at me with a funny look on her face and shook her head.

"Cordelia, you could have SO easily gotten some tonight," she said. "In fact, you could still get some tonight. You just choose not to."

"What's that mean?" I asked, feeling dizzy.

"Are you playing dumb on purpose or do you really not--oh, fuck it, you're the straightest person on earth, I know that," she rambled.

"No, what were you going to say?" I asked.

"I'm taking you home," she said tiredly. "I can't deal with you tonight. I don't want to--"

"Daisy!" I yelled. "Tell me."

"Is it really that hard to understand?" she asked in a voice aching with longing and tiredness. "I'm into you. I'm way into you. You're not into me, not at all. I get that. You don't do girls. And so every time you have one of these nights where you act into me, it's no fun for me at all. So I'd just rather take you home. OK?"

I nodded, feeling like a complete retard. She was way into me. Oh. God. What was I going to say?

"But I think I'm into you," I said. It was shocking to hear the words hang in the air like Michael Jordan, but there it was. "I think I'm really into you, but I don't know."

"How do you not know?" she asked, moving two tiny steps closer.

"If you were a boy, I'd know what I felt like," I said. "I don't know how it feels to be into a girl. That's really stupid, but I don't know."

She laughed, a short, surprised laugh. Then she walked forward a few more steps.

"You're so funny," she said with a little smile. "Come here."

I walked over to her, trying to understand her smile, the way she had her head tilted at me. But I didn't have time to understand when her arm was around me, pulling me closer until our lips finally met.

Then we were kissing, oh sweet Lord GOD, we were kissing, her lips hot and hard and soft at the same time. They tasted like mint, a harsh sort of mint, probably from menthol cigarettes and I ran my tongue across the lower one. Weird. It was just as easy to kiss a girl as it was to kiss a guy, if you were into the girl. Not weird, maybe. But new. Unexpectedly new.

She was all-new to me, the way her lips were slick and soft under my tongue, the way her lips parted and fought with mine, trying to trace the outlines of my teeth. The persistence with which her tongue tangled up with mine. The wobbly way she kept falling against me, reminding me how there was seven inches of difference between us in the spike heels.

I broke away from her, panting slightly.

"You're too tall tonight," she said, blinking owlishly. "We gotta go somewhere. Come on, let's go home."

"Okay," I said. "Can I kiss you one more time before we go?"

She pushed me up against the car, shoving her hips against mine. Then she kissed me again, a harsh, delicious kiss that made my heart race like the Indy 500 and my knees wobble. Maybe that was just the heels, but still.

"No," she said with a smirk after pulling away.

We drove all the way to her place at ninety-five, daring the cops to pull us over. No one did. It was a good omen. I knew it was a good omen. Someone up there wanted us together.

"God, I hope no one's actually in my apartment for once," Daisy said as we walked down the hall to her apartment, fingering the slick black rubber over my hip suggestively. "You sure about this?"

"Ask me five more times and I might say no," I said.

"Just making sure," she said, running her tongue across her lower lip unconsciously. "God, why is my house always the hotel of the masses?"

We stumbled forward a few more steps. Daisy found the key to her place around her neck, and for once, the door was locked. Praise the Lord Jesus, I might actually get laid tonight without having fifty people watching, I thought as we fell through the door.

"Don't look at me!" someone screamed. It was Keith. He was sitting on the floor, surrounded by every sort of drug, needle, paper, anything you could think of. It was a drug paraphernalia warehouse on the living room floor. There was also a knife and a razor.

He was bleeding. I realized that he had cut himself all over. Next to me, Daisy started shaking.

"Keith," I said.

"They're inside my head," he said. "They tell me to do things and sing their orders to me in little bouncy jingles. Jingle jingle jingle--"

"Keith," Daisy whispered. "There's no they. You just had a bad trip, man, put down the razor, please--"

"You can't hear them!" he screamed at her. "Only I can hear them, because I tuned out. They don't like it when you tune out. They're in your head, too, but you just can't hear them. They're in you!"

He stood up and we both moved back a step. His eyes were bloodshot and dilated, and there were thin lines of spittle running down each corner of his mouth. The cut was on his left cheek, thin and vertical.

"Keither, baby," Daisy said, her voice just this side of hysterical. "Nothing's in me. Please stop it. Please just calm down and sit down and we'll get a doctor or something, we'll make you better."

He shook his head, the veins in his neck looking ready to burst. His eyes were empty. I could tell there was no one in there. Daisy was shaking against my body, scared out of her wits. But she kept trying to reach him.

"Nobody can help me! Nobody can help us!" he screamed back. "We're all puppets! We have them in our heads now and they can't get out!"

He was getting frantic now, waving the razor (it was on an Exacto knife) at us from side to side. His eyes were big, too big. I was starting to freak out, and Daisy was about to cry.

"Please, Keith," she whimpered.

"I'm getting them out of my head," he said. "If you were smart, you'd do that same thing."

He clenched the razor in his hand, staring at it like it were a tool of salvation. We were frozen in place, unable to think or move or do anything.

"Consider this my suicide note," he said, running toward the window behind the tv. At the last second of the half-second it seemed to take him to reach the window, he shoved the razor up his nose and fell through the glass screaming.

I let Daisy go, and she sank to the floor, sobbing hysterically. I went to the window and stared out of it, crunching glass and metal underneath my heels. I felt sick to my stomach.

"Oh, my God," Daisy kept gasping. "Oh, my God."

A strange calm--it might have been shock--came over me. I walked past the sobbing, incoherent Daisy into the kitchen, where the cordless was plugged in and waiting. I picked up the handset and dialed 911.

"We need the police," I said when the operator answered. "There's been an accident."


Chapter Six

The cops finally let me leave at five-fifteen, after taking down every possible location I could be ever. I understood, but it was still frightening and a little demeaning. I had been completely forthright about everything, except for how many pills Daisy had taken, because I simply didn't know. I had agreed to a urine test. I had agreed to everything. They had still been assholes.

Daisy kept staring out the window, her eyes unfocused and sad. They told me they were going to put her up at a hotel and that I didn't need to worry. She didn't even notice when I said good-bye and walked downstairs.

Angel was waiting. The police wouldn't let him upstairs and I could tell he'd almost gone crazy trying to think of a sneaky way up.

"Are you okay?" he asked anxiously, swooping down on me like a big bat as I passed the police line and the crowd of tired, cranky neighbors. "I was about to break some guy's face to get up there."

"I'll be all right," I said. "I just want to go home and go to sleep."

He nodded vigorously, guiding us out of the crowds and toward his car. He was acting like a mama bear, but I was so tired and so freaked out that it was actually kinda nice that he was being so attentive.

"So, what happened?" he asked quietly as I got into the car. "I only caught a glimpse of the body, but--"

"He was out of his mind on drugs," I said dully. "He was paranoid. He kept saying that 'they'd' put something in him. Then he stuck a razor up his nose and jumped."

Angel seemed rather nonplussed at the revelations. Then again, Angel's not real big on expression, so it might have just been gas.

"Did he try to hurt you?" he asked.

"No," I said. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

He nodded again and we drove away. I felt sick to my stomach and the rubber surrounding my body was starting to itch like crazy. I wanted to go home, take a shower, cry my eyes out, and go to sleep. I didn't want to think about Keith falling through the window ever again.

"I'm sorry your night was ruined," he said as we turned the last corner to my apartment. "Your costume looks great."

"Thanks. Did you know Fred and Wes made out on the stairs last night?" I blurted out stupidly, trying to get attention away from me.

Angel turned his head, looking at me as if I'd grown a third head.

"What?" he asked.

"I left my bag in the hotel last night and so I came back and when I flipped on a light, bam! Massive macking. I wanted to be blind."

He started to laugh.

"You're kidding me. They were being completely snippy to each other through the entire costume party," he said. "Not that they didn't have the appropriate costumes, but the bickering was getting old. Hmmf."

I knew exactly what he meant.

"I know," I said. "It's against all laws of God and man. Of course, that's what Willow said when she caught me and Xander, but--"

I realized that was exactly what it was like. Wes and Fred were the new Xander and Cordelia. Except this time, I was Willow. It was so depressing, but almost funny in that 'life's a bitch' sort of way.

Angel smiled. "I understand."

"Yeah, it's--" and suddenly, I felt the world split in two. "Vision."

"Vision?" he asked, pulling the car over.

"Yes, vision!" I screamed as it hit me square in the base of the skull.

blonde girl in front of the mirror

pretty

big shadows under her eyes

her apartment, off Sunset, near Hollywood but not quite there

her bedside table is covered in pills and powders

bloodshot eyes

there's something in her head she can feel it moving

they put something in her

she has to get it out because it keeps singing ringtingly jingles and it's trying to make her feel things and do things

it's taking over

"Off Sunset. Near Hollywood, she's going to hurt herself," I said. "It's in her head."

"What's in her head?" Angel asked.

"Some sort of monster, go! Hurry!" I cried. I almost burst into my tears. My head felt like it was on fire and I was two blocks from my bed, but we had to help her now.

Angel didn't move. "You should go to bed. I can take this on my own," he said.

"No," I said, eyes watering. "I have to go. It's important."

"You sure?" he asked.

"Yes," I said. "I have to come with you."

So we went, the roar of the engine giving me vision aftershocks the whole way. The little twinges of pain managed to spike through the grand mal headache, too. I wasn't sure that I wasn't going to puke all over the car, but I had to help this girl.

It was a nice apartment building. I think we were both surprised to see how nice it was. As a rule, I don't see wealthy, healthy people in my visions.

"What's the name?" Angel asked.

"Annie," I said, remembering. "Number 24."

He pounded on the intercom buzzer, but Annie wouldn't answer. So Angel sort of tore the doorknob off and we practically ran to Apartment 24. I felt this sickening sort of dread. Deja vu all over again. Too many apartments with people in pain hiding behind the door.

"Annie!" Angel called, pounding on the door. "Open the door!"

"Go away," a faint voice called. "I want to be alone."

"We can help you," I said. "Please."

The door swung open. "No, you can't," she said. "Nobody can help me."

I walked in and Angel gave me the look that told me he couldn't. But he had a clear view of the apartment, and an even clearer view of the way I had to grab the doorframe to prevent myself from sinking to the ground.

It was as if I'd gone back in time four hours. The room was trashed, covered in drug stuff, with another crazy person wielding a weapon. She stared at me, eyeball twitching. I wanted to scream. I didn't scream.

"Hey, I saw you last night at Makeup," she said. "Why are you here? Are you narcs?"

"No," I said. "We're not narcs. We're trying to help you with whatever's wrong."

"Then why's he standing out there like that? Why don't you come in?" she asked nervously, as Angel quickly entered the apartment and shut the door. "And you can't help me. It's in my head, trying to eat my brain. It wants to take over."

She sounded exactly like Keith. She even had the same verbal tics. It couldn't be a coincidence. And I had felt the something in her head. It had been terrifying and oppressive. It had been alien. It had seemed real. But was that just from the massive drug overdose--or was it something else?

"If you hurt yourself, it wins," I said, easing forward. "It's afraid of you telling the truth, Annie."

Annie stared at me, fist still clenched around a very sharp steak knife. I didn't want to be on the receiving end of the knife and I could tell Angel was trying to think of a quick way to get it away from her.

"I can't live with it in my head like this," she whimpered. "It won't go away unless I kill it."

She raised the knife tentatively. I moved closer. She stared at me, ready to strike if she needed to.

"Annie, it's lying to you," I said with a sudden flash of intuition. "You were clean, weren't you? Before it started to hurt you. You were clean."

"Two months," she said, bobbing her head. "Then it started talking to me."

"It wanted you to take all those pills," I said, feeling bitchslapped by all the pieces falling together in my head. "It couldn't get in your head without the pills. But you knew that it existed and it knew that you'd tell."

Annie stared at me, knife hand limp at her side. "Yes," she said. "Yes."

"If you overdosed and died, the police would think you were another freaked out junky," I whispered. "They won't know it exists. It could get into other heads."

Annie dropped the knife. It fell on the floor noisily. We stared at each other, breathing raggedly. The adrenaline was high, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Angel waiting to pounce if necessary.

She started to sob, sinking to her knees weakly. "I want it out of my head," she moaned. "Help me."

Before either of us could reach her, she threw up, sobbing and gasping. We could see undigested pills all over. It was disgusting, and I knew Angel still wanted that steak knife well out of Annie's grasp.

She stared up at me, eyes glassy and feverish.

"I gotta clean this up," she said. "I'm sorry."

She sprang to her feet and ran toward the kitchen.

Angel and I stared at each other unhappily.

"Do you believe anything you just said?" he asked. "Because that sounds like a crazy theory to me."

"I think it's for real," I said. "This is exactly what happened with Keith, Angel. It's so much alike that it's uncanny. And why would the Powers send me a vision about this if there wasn't something more significant than two drug overdoses?"

"Maybe the Powers were trying to help you feel better about not saving Keith."

I glowered at Angel and delicately walked into the mess in the living room that wasn't half-digested pills. There were boxes, pills, powders, papers, and razors all over the floor. It was worse than the aftermath of one of Daisy's parties.

"I don't think so," I said, looking at the trash. "Something about this feels the same. It feels--I can't explain it. I just know that there's something bigger involved."

One of the baggies caught my eyes. I leaned down to look at the pills inside and got a horrible shock.

"Thank you so much for being here," Annie said, sailing out of the kitchen with a trash bag, a bottle of carpet cleaner, and paper towels. "I already feel a hundred percent better."

She started tossing all of the stuff on the floor. I grabbed the baggie of blue pills and stared at them, shell-shocked.

"Are you into those?" Annie asked. "Blue D's, man. Those things are lame. My friend who gave 'em to me, Kristin, said they were better than X. Whatever. Maybe for bubblegum ravers, but I know my stuff, and Blue D's suck. I have better stuff lying on the floor if you want it."

"Kristin?" I asked, feeling nervous and sick. "The Mouse? Wears hot pink fairy wings to all the clubs?"

"Yeah!" Annie said. "You know the Mouse?"

"Yeah," I said, suddenly exhausted. "I'm Dizzy's friend."

"Oh my God, Dizzy!" Annie said. "Dizzy is my goddess. She's so cool. How is she?"

I wasn't about to tell this woman about Keith's sudden death, or Daisy's mental state. She was in no condition to hear it, and I didn't want to betray Daisy's privacy anyway.

"She's okay," I lied. "We had a good Halloween."

Annie nodded. "Good," she said. "So I, uh, called my mom while I was in the kitchen. She's going to watch me so that I don't hurt myself today. So you don't have to sit around here and watch me clean barf. She'll be here in five minutes."

I was going to protest, but Angel firmly took me by the elbow.

"You sure you'll be okay?" he asked, pulling me back.

"Yeah. I'm just gonna clean and probably barf again," she said. "Thank you. You saved my life. Next time I see you, I owe you a drink, okay?"

"Okay," Angel said, giving a fake wave good-bye. "Good luck."

"Thanks," she said. Angel dragged me out of the house and toward the car. I realized it was getting near sunrise and he had to get inside.

"We'll hurry," I said, helping him put the top up just in case.

"Cordy, what's so important about those pills?" he asked. "You were staring at them in the apartment like they were hundred dollar bills."

"They have a dahlia on them," I said, taking one out of the baggie and trying to look at the detailed shape on the pill. It wasn't easy in the dim, pre-dawn light. But I had seen the shape already. It was the same shape as Daisy's tattoo. These were the blue dahlias that had been the mark in my first vision.

Angel peered at it. "It looks more like a pinwheel to me."

"Whatever," I said. "It looks just like Daisy's tattoo. I know it's connected. All of this has been connected since I first saw the blue dahlia in my vision."

"All right," Angel agreed. "I think you're right. But Cordy, you're about to pass out in mid-sentence. You needed to go to bed four hours ago. I'm going to take you home, you're going to sleep, and I'm going to take these little blue pills to the gang and figure out where they come from."

I was about to argue with him when I realized he was right. I needed to sleep very, very badly. I needed to curl up under my chenille blanket on my bed and sleep out all the pain. My vision headache was suddenly back with a vengeance (how nice of it to wait until after I did the life-saving), and I couldn't think of anything except a cool, soft bed, and several weeks of sleep.

"Okay," I said.

"Okay?" he asked, surprised. Apparently, he'd been expecting an argument, too.

"I'm tired, Angel. Take me home," I said.

He did. Dennis was practically hovering at the front door, his presence tinged with fright and concern. I waved them both aside and peeled off my hot, uncomfortable costume, turning on the shower and making the water stream. I was so tired that I wasn't thinking. I was doing things mechanically, aimed toward bed and sleep.

I let the water wash away the dirt and makeup caked over my skin, scrubbing lightly, letting it all run down the drain.

I dried off, pulling the worst of the tangles out with my comb.

I considered if I was hungry. I wasn't.

I walked into my bedroom, naked except for the skinny little Wal-Mart robe I'd tied around me. The room was slowly filling with November sunlight. I closed the blinds. I pulled back the sheets.

Then I crawled into bed, pulling the sheet and blanket over my body. I was asleep in three minutes.

I didn't dream.


Chapter Seven

When I woke up, it was the next day, and Angel was sitting next to me in my armchair, trying to read a Cosmo. I tried not to laugh. Some men can read Cosmo just because (Wes), and some men can mock Cosmo and then sneak peeks to see what it's saying about them (Gunn). Some men should never even know Cosmo exists, let alone try to read it, and that was the category Angel fell into.

"Trying to figure out the best way to wax your legs?" I asked sleepily, clinging to my pillow.

"Actually, I'm learning how to lose twenty pounds by Thanksgiving so I can have Mom's famous pecan pie with dinner," he said. "You feeling better?"

"I'm less tired now," I said. "Still upset about things."

"We traced your blue dahlia pills," he said. I sat up, forgetting that all I was wearing was a badly tied and gaping bathrobe.

"What? Share!" I said. Angel turned his head away demurely. I looked down, sighed, and pulled the robe closed. "Come on, I'm dressed now."

He very slowly turned his glance back toward me and then started explaining.

"The pills are manufactured by a firm known as Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals," he said. "They're a new firm with big ideas and lots of big clients. But there's no information on these guys outside of the blurbs you get on client websites."

"What sorts of clients?" I asked.

He sighed heavily and grimaced.

"NASA, JPL, every major pharmaceutical in the West, PG&E, the University of California, several major advertising agencies, and LAPD."

"Let me guess. Wolfram and Hart are their legal representation," I said tiredly. I was getting pretty tired of being able to play six degrees of separation between those lawyer bastards and every case we got involved with.

Angel nodded. I rolled my eyes. Great. So not only did we have a big corporation involved with drug overdoses, we were going to have Wolfram and Hart riding our asses, too. Next I would find out that the drug was already in the drinking water and it caused demons to lay their eggs in your brain.

"Not only that, but Wolfram and Hart are currently representing them in a lawsuit against one of their advertising clients," Angel said, fumbling around in his pockets. He produced a printout of an old LA Times article dated about two years ago. I took it and scanned the article. It was pretty much the same as Angel's summary except for the explosion of pr quotes. I put it aside.

"Why is an advertising agency a client of a drug firm, anyway?" I asked.

"Well, that depends on if you believe Wesley or Fred," Angel said. "According to Wesley, it's obvious that Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals and its clients are engaged in some sort of behavior-modification experiment, and the ad agency sued when the pill didn't convince kids to buy Nikes instead of Reeboks."

"And what does Fred say?" I asked.

"Fred suggested that the ad agency might have brought Pinwheel in to consult about an ad and Pinwheel broke confidentiality or something," Angel said.

"Who do you think is closer to being right?" I asked.

"This round goes to Wes, mostly because we think we've figured out what makes the kids freak out," Angel said. "Speaking of which, we've found six incidences like Keith's in the past month. All except one of them--and that woman Annie today--successfully killed themselves."

"What do you think's doing it?" I asked, feeling sick and cold inside.

"Wes is fairly certain that it's a Mal-Penz demon," he said. "He says it's weird because Mal-Penz have symbiotic relationships with humans. Mal-Penz feed off excess brain energy and in return, they do little things to the brain that stimulate creativity and original thought."

I wrinkled my nose. "Creepy."

"That's what I said, but Wesley assured me that if you don't know that it's a demon, the experience is invisible or pleasant, and that it's usual not a mind-control sort of thing. He compared it to feeling like you were inspired by a muse of some sort."

"Still," I said. "Thing feeding on brain energy. Ew."

"I'm with you," Angel said. "He says that when Annie threw up all those pills, she exorcised the Mal-Penz. That's why she was normal all of the sudden."

"Ew factor growing," I said. "So what you're saying is that this drug company uses this demon to control minds so that they'll buy whatever's advertised. Don't people do that anyway? That's a fairly meager return on the effort involved."

He nodded again.

"That's what we all thought," he said. "But that's the best explanation we have right now without your help."

"My help?" I asked, yawning.

"We think that Daisy might have known all the dead kids," Angel said blandly. "You said in your first vision that blue dahlia was the mark. She's the one carrying the mark. It's not an unfair assumption that she's involved somehow."

I glared at him. "Daisy is not in on this," I said icily. "I know her. If anything, she's probably been possessed by this Mal-Penz demon herself. We should be helping her, not accusing her."

"I'm not saying that we shouldn't help her, but we should also follow the visions. Even if she's not in on this, she may be able to give us some insight on where the blue pills came from."

"Yeah, cuz Daisy's the X lord of Marina del Rey," I said sarcastically.

"Ex-lord?" Angel asked cluelessly.

"Never mind," I said. "I'll ask her."

Another little thing sprang to mind as I yawned noisily and decided to get out of bed.

"Why are you in my house?" I asked.

"Phantom Dennis called. Well, he dialed and left the phone by your head," he said. "You were crying in your sleep. I came over in case you needed someone."

"And to tell me that my best friend's working with some corporate conspiracy to control people's minds."

"Cordelia," he said in his exasperated voice.

"Well, you did," I said.

He looked at me with his perpetually anguished puppy dog eyes. But I wasn't falling for it.

"Did you or didn't you just ask me to ask my friend if she's involved in this conspiracy?" I asked coldly.

"I asked you to ask her if she knew some possible murder victims," he replied. "I didn't ask you to accuse her of killing the Kennedys."

"I have to change. Get out," I said.

He looked at me like a hurt puppy one more time before leaving the room quietly. Shit. What was I going to do? Not only did I need to talk to Daisy immediately, I needed to talk to her about Cordelia and Daisy's Big Bedroom Scene, Interrupted. Then I was going to accuse her of being involved in a conspiracy. All this after one of her best friends threw himself out of a window.

Right. Because I never wanted to have a life ever again.

I emerged with my hair looking like ass and claws about to come out if Angel made one more stupid comment about Daisy.

"All right, listen, Mr. Smarty Pants. You may have some questions about Daisy, but I don't. Maybe she knows all those freaked-out dead kids. Maybe she's somehow connected to this Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals, but you know what? I don't care. She's my friend and--"

Daisy was sitting next to Angel on the couch. She looked worse than I did.

"Daisy," I said.

"Keep going. I like hearing my virtues praised from time to time," she said with a tired little smile.

"How'd you get here?" I asked, annoyed that Angel had pulled this game with me.

"Your friend Gunn picked me up," she said. "Your hair looks awful."

"Thanks," I said.

"I knew all of them," she said softly.

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"I knew every last one of those people who died," she said. "I didn't know they died. But I knew all of 'em."

I didn't even want to look at Angel. But it was inevitable, and it least it wasn't Wesley. Especially considering the unpleasant macking fallout I'd have to deal with it had been Wes.

I finally gave Angel the look of death, realizing the only way I could drag the story out of Daisy is alone and not with him looming about like a big dumb creature of the night. "Daisy and I are going to my room to talk. Alone," I said.

"All right," he said mildly. "I'm going to call the hotel. Gunn was out doing some recon around Pinwheel, and I want to make sure he's back and if we know anything new. Can I use your phone?"

"Sure," I said. "Do whatever. Leave us alone."

Daisy followed me into my bedroom, watching me slam and lock the door. She looked nervous. She looked like she didn't trust me.

"What do you want?" she hissed.

"I don't know. I don't want you to think I believe anything they've told you," I whispered back. "God, I was so worried. You didn't need this today."

She laughed again. "No shit," she murmured. "Cordy, I don't have any special revelations for you. I didn't know that Blue D did things to you that were any different than any other drug. I swear to God."

"I believe you," I said, sitting down on the bed. "It's the tattoo. You know? The visions focused on the tattoo and I was so busy saving you that I didn't think that there might be more to the vision. And I didn't feel that anxiety I usually do when something's not finished--"

Daisy's eyes suddenly went very wide. "Oh fuck," she whispered. "I think--I think I gave you the wrong blue pills. Oh fuck."

"What?" I asked.

"That day," she said, her voice getting younger and higher and tighter with every breath. "The first day, when I tricked you over to the apartment and I gave you those headache pills. I gave you Blue D. It was an accident--and Blue D doesn't DO anything, that was always the annoying joke, it was just a fucking placebo someone tried to pass off as better than X. I didn't even know I had any on me--oh God, Cordy, I'm sorry."

She started to cry. I didn't quite understand why. I was really freaked out, because I didn't know what the damn things had done to me, and why I was having mind-bending visions and anxiety again, but why was she crying?

"Don't cry," I said. "Why are you crying?"

She looked over at me, eyes distorted with tears.

"If I hadn't given you those pills, all of those kids might be alive," she whispered. "Keith might not be dead. Fifty thousand fucking cops wouldn't be crawling over my bedroom. And I might have got to do more than kiss you last night. It's all my goddamn fault."

Daisy moved back, trying to become part of the wall and disappear. Her face was red with held-back tears, and her breathing sounded the way every girl's does when she's got tears stuck in her throat. Her fingers were clinging to the doorframe, holding to it like it was her only friend.

"Daisy," I said. She shook her head, holding tight to the doorframe. "I don't hate you. I don't blame you. You didn't try to do any of this."

"Thanks for the absolution," she said. "I gotta go. I gotta find my friends and make sure they're okay and that they know about this."

She fumbled behind herself for the doorknob, grasping desperately for the way out. I didn't understand.

"Are you kidding me?" I asked. "Daisy, you just can't go."

"I have places to be," she said quietly. "I have people I'm responsible to. You can take care of yourself."

This couldn't be happening. There was no way in hell she was leaving me like this. No. Could not be happening. No no no. I needed to go with her. Or I needed her to explain to me why she was leaving me behind.

I grabbed her arm as the other finally found the doorknob.

"Don't go," I said. "I don't want you to go. I need you."

She stood there looking at me. Her face was streaky from all the tears that had accidentally slipped out. I didn't want to let go, but there was nothing else that I could do.

"I'll call you, okay?" she said, sliding away from me. "You've got important stuff to do anyway."

I watched her go and felt this strange hollowness in the pit of my stomach. There was something terribly wrong with everything. Daisy was acting scared and strange and it wasn't just about the kids and the drugs. There was something about her and me that wasn't right. Maybe. I didn't understand at all.

I sat down on the bed and closed my eyes. The headache that should have gone away during my nap was back and it was threatening to dissolve my brain.

Angel knocked on the doorframe quietly. "Cordy?"

"Can you go to the kitchen and get me some painkillers?" I asked without opening my eyes. "Anything that's not blue."

"We have to go to the hotel. Wesley and Fred have some important information they found," Angel said. "I didn't ask how much time they spent working and how much time they spent making out, but I figure that's something we'll be able to guess when we get there."

I still refused to open my eyes. "I need a damn painkiller," I said.

"But the hotel?"

"I have time to take a pill before we go to the hotel," I said. "Now, Angel."

I actually heard him leave the room. I opened my eyes and rubbed my temples, trying to think about the case that had fallen in front of us. I didn't want to think about it.

Angel returned with pills and glass of water. "You had a fight with Daisy," he said.

"Yeah, I did," I said, taking the pills from him and gulping them back. "She's not dealing well."

"No. She looked really upset when she left," Angel replied. "I'm really sorry that we have to mess up your life like this. It's been good that you had these friends."

I laughed, the same sort of bitter laughter that Daisy had been laughing.

"Except they were all messed-up drug addicts who are possessed by demons," I said. "You know, why can't I meet nice people? People who aren't in trouble or dying or--"

That was when I started to cry. It was inevitable, I guess. Angel didn't do anything stupid, like hug me, but he squeezed my shoulder. That was actually nice of him, especially because he didn't say anything. He let me cry it out of my system until I was making those awfully snuffly sounds and wiping my eyes to try to get the red out.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"No," I said. "But let's go anyway."


Chapter Eight

"We've got a name," Fred said briskly, looking up from the computer screen. I wondered briefly when she'd taken over my role as research girl, but I was going to be the investigator anyway. It wasn't a big deal. Not like finding out who'd done this was. "Dr. Charles Lennart. He's a behavioral psychologist and a neurosurgeon. He's been working with a partner--a Dr. Daniel Naismith--for the past twenty years on the convergence of human behavior and human neurochemistry."

"And?" I asked. "How's he connected? What's the story?"

Fred almost rolled her eyes, but then remembered that she was the one who'd made out with Wesley on the stairs and not me.

"Lennart and Naismith are the big names at Pinwheel Pharmaceutical," she explained patiently. "The entire company seems set up to support their projects... oh. Hmm."

Hmm was bad. I knew hmm was bad. "What, hmm?"

"Dr. Naismith passed away recently," she said. "Died of a heart attack four months ago."

"He was probably murdered," Wes said, poking his head up from a huge, dusty book. "It was probably made to look like an accident."

"Not *everything* is a conspiracy," Fred snipped back.

"But everything involved with Pinwheel seems to be."

"Shut up, Wesley," she said without breaking stride. "Anyway. Naismith's death must be the reason why public trials for the newest Pinwheel product were delayed."

"What sort of product is it?" I asked, feeling slightly annoyed. Was it so hard to give a person all the vital information without the prologue? Or the bickering?

"Oh," Fred said, looking back at the computer screen. "It's for kids with asthma. It's a maintenance drug. Keeps the asthma under control."

"Meaning steady customers, which would lessen the risk of damaging the connection between the Mal-Penz demon and its food," I said. "Speaking of our friend the Mal-Penz, Wesley. What's the four-eleven on this thing?"

I took a moment to notice how professional I sounded. All of that PI study and training was paying off. I almost grinned, but then I remembered Daisy's panicked face and sobered up quick.

"As I've said before, in general the Mal-Penz seek to form mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships with humans. The energy generated from the brain is excess waste and the creativity the Mal-Penz inspire is awe-inspiring. Historically, it's believed that people such as Queen Elizabeth I, John Keats, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Plato were linked to the Mal-Penz," Wesley said pedantically.

"Okay, great," I said. "But Queen Elizabeth didn't try to shove an Exacto knife up her nose last time I heard. These people have. What's the problem?"

"My 'theory?'" Wes asked, doing quoty fingers. Behind me, Fred snorted. It was obviously a them thing. I ignored it and charged on.

"Yes, dumbass, your theory," I said.

"I believe Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals, probably this Dr. Lennart, has enslaved a Mal-Penz demon somehow and forced it somehow to do what it's doing," he said.

"That's a detail-heavy theory," I said sarcastically. "But I'll go with it, even though brain-feeding demons are creepy no matter how many smart people use 'em."

"Well, there's also the point that scientists who know about demons have a tendency to make worse demons from them," Wes said. "For all we know, Lennart has grafted a Mal-Penz to some sort of radio broadcasting system and the static has driven the demon into madness and petty vengeance."

Fred snorted again. I was pretty tired of the important conversation being turned into a lover's spat, too.

"Could we talk to me and not each other now?" I asked. "Look, you two. Understanding that there's fallout from Halloween here. But that's not important right now. What's important is--"

"Not discussing private matters at the top of your lungs," Wes said acidly. "Especially when it's none of your business."

"Then stop discussing them while we're working," I said. "Especially when I'm standing here needing information and not private bickering."

Wes had the good sense to look abashed.

"Understood," he said.

"We don't mean to bicker," Fred said. "It's just how we work together. But despite the dangerously anti-rationalist worldview being forwarded here, I think Wes has come fairly close to what's going on. This Dr. Lennart guy is bad news."

"Gunn should be here any time with information about the setup of Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals. It would have been easier if we'd had the name, but you can't have everything," Wes said.

The door flew open. "Man, that place is sealed up tight," Gunn said. "Getting in there ain't gonna be easy. It's crawling with security and they're all paranoid."

"Good to know," I said. "Give me details."

Gunn yawned a little and rubbed his eyes. "Just a second," he said, closing the door and finding himself a place to sit. "Like I said, the place is covered with security guards, and they're all real tense dudes. I only got one of them to talk to me for a second, and he said that management likes to keep security tight all the time. He also said that they double the number of guards on the place after dark."

"How many guards were there when you stopped by?"

"Six on the perimeter that I saw. Don't know how many inside. The fence is about twelve feet high. No barbed wire, but the guy told me, and I quote, 'I wouldn't touch that if I were you, but I kinda like having my testicles, so up to you' so I think they got that covered, too."

I nodded. "This may be a problem," I said, feeling overwhelmed.

"There's no way we're getting five of us in there," Gunn said. "Not a chance in hell."

"I don't need that many," I said. "I need someone to get to Lennart as a distraction and someone else to loose the Mal-Penz demon. So that probably means me and Paranoia Boy over there."

"You?" Gunn asked. "Why not Angel?"

"Because this is important to me and I need accurate information from this guy. Angel might get a little high-strung and then poof. No witness, no admissible evidence," I said. "Wolfram and Hart laughs all the way to the verdict."

"This isn't exactly the most constitutional thing in any case, Cordelia," Wes pointed out. "We will be trespassing."

"No, you'll be trespassing and if you get caught, I don't know you," I said. "Lennart and his goons willfully distributed Blue D into the population, knowing that it was dangerous. I'm simply trying to substantiate that claim as a victim of the drug. My reasons for trying to see Lennart are legit."

"You're going to get the cops involved? Cordy, you're nuts," Gunn said. "Even if they're not zombie cops, no one's gonna believe you over him."

"I don't have to get the cops to believe me. I just have to get it on tape and leak it to the papers," I said. I was lying through my teeth. I wanted to see this Lennart guy because he had hurt my friends. Because of Lennart, Daisy was broken in some way I couldn't see and I couldn't fix. There were images in my head that I didn't want to see because this man was playing God. Or playing something.

I didn't know what I would do to him. But I was going to do something.

"That's a good plan," Gunn said.

I nodded rapidly, pretending that I had been paying a bit of attention. I noticed that Wes and Angel were both giving me funny looks. Maybe Wes was looking at Fred, who was sitting next to me. Angel hadn't said anything since Fred had told us about Lennart. He'd been watching me with a broody look, but that's Angel.

"When are you thinking we should put this into action?" Angel asked.

"As soon as possible," I answered.

"Really?" he asked mildly.

"Yes, really," I said. "What if someone else dies because of this? Even without the damage the Blue D pills did to my visions, they've never been reliable. I may not see the next victim. And I don't think anyone here wants another person to die because of this Lennart."

It sounded good. It sounded convincing. It was even mostly true.

"No, nobody does," Angel agreed. "I especially don't want that person to be you."

Fuck. I knew he was going to be difficult.

"I can take care of myself," I said.

"Cordy, if you're right, this guy has allowed five people to die already," he said. "He's not going to be forthcoming about his secret plan to control people's minds. He'll probably have demons to unleash on you."

"In the middle of a respectable lab facility?" Fred asked for me. Poor Fred. Even with the five years of alternate universe experience, she still had certain boundaries where demons shouldn't be.

"Yes," he said. Fred made a small sniffy sound, but we all ignored her. I was getting frustrated. Angel was not going to fuck up my plan.

"I want to do this," I said. "I need to do this."

Angel got up and walked over to me. "No, Cordelia, you don't."

"You don't know," I said angrily, even though he did. "Do you think I can't do this? Do you think I haven't been working my ass off for the past two months, trying to get this PI license and keep us in business? Dammit, I know what I'm doing!"

He looked me straight in the eye. "Daisy knows what she's doing, too," he said. "You can't let yourself go after this guy. I know that you can handle yourself, but you're doing this for revenge, and take it from someone who knows. When you're getting revenge, let someone else do it."

"It's not revenge. It's prevention."

"You're going to stop the guy who hurt you and your friends so he won't hurt any more of your friends ever again," Angel replies. "Same thing. I won't let you do this, Cordy."

"He's right, Cordelia," Wes said. "Dr. Lennart is dangerous and you're in no condition to do this right now."

I felt the tears trying to sneak into my eyes. I pushed them back. I wasn't going to cry. There was no reason to cry. They were right. I was a mess of nerves and visions and revenge fantasies and frustrated sexuality. I sank into the nearest chair and stared into space. I concentrated on not-crying. It was tougher than it should have been.

"All right," I said after forcing the tears away for good. "You're right. What should I do now?"

"Well, Fred and I are going to go to the UCLA library and see if we can dig up more information about Dr. Lennart and this operation," Wes said. "Angel, I think, was going to ask around about Pinwheel to the demon crowd. And--"

"So I should just go home, go to bed, maybe watch a video," I said viciously. "Or maybe I should get coffee and doughnuts for everyone, like I used to in Sunnydale while everyone else was doing the important work."

Angel almost said something. I could tell that he wanted to. I wasn't sure if it was a snappy comeback something or a falsely encouraging something, but he managed to choke it off before it embarrassed us all deeply.

"I'm gonna go," he said, easing back. "You--you do something. Okay?"

He flapped away awkwardly, leaving me with the rest of the group staring at me as if I were a shiny neon sign.

"What?" I snapped.

"Cordelia--"

"Shut up, Wesley."

I stormed off to a corner of the room and gave everyone the evil eye. After a few awkward seconds, everyone tried to ignore me and move on. I pouted angrily and tried to think of a way to salvage the situation. There was no way in hell Wes was going to let me run off to Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals on my own. In fact, he probably wouldn't let me leave the hotel on my own. He'd had experience with unreliable, vengeance-driven friends before. So I was going to have to be sneaky.

"I want to get coffee," I said. "You know caffeine helps my headaches."

"One of us will go with you," Wes said, right on cue.

"Okay," I said calmly. "Fred, do you want to come with?"

Fred looked up, surprised. "I'm kinda busy--"

"Come on," I said impatiently. "I always forget what you order. You can help me."

She still looked bewildered as she stood up. "All right, but it's, I--oh, all right."

Wesley gave me the evil eye of suspiciousness, but I ignored it and almost smiled as we made for the door.

"We'll be back," I said, hustling Fred out of the hotel and into the Angelmobile.

"Are you gonna yell at me about kissing Wesley?" she asked, giving me nervous glances out of the corners of her eyes. "Cuz it was an accident."

Oh, this was about the last thing I ever ever wanted to hear about. Ever. But it was a good cover story and I wasn't about to waste an opportunity to have an alibi.

"I'm just surprised," I said honestly. "It's Wesley. He's got girl problems."

"I know, I know," Fred said. "It was stupid. But it was my fault."

"Right," I said.

"No, I'm not joking. We were gonna go home from the hotel and we got into one of our fights and it was real mean and then I just--and then there were the very convenient stairs. It was a one-time thing. We've kinda discussed it. It's kinda embarrassing. We're about being professional in the workplace."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah, really," Fred said. "Besides, there's Laura. I think he really likes her. Actually, I know he really likes her. And he's not my type and I'm not his. We just like to fight with each other and we were kind of drunk at the time and--it was an accident. Not an emerging pattern."

"Yeah, I know," I said, deciding to believe her for the time being. "It's a story we've all heard."

"Thanks," she said. "I'm sorry you're fighting with your friend."

"Me, too," I said. "Who told you?"

"Angel was saying on the phone you guys went off to talk and it sounded sort of tense."

I nodded. "She's upset. I'm upset. It's not a good scene."

We got to the coffee shop, and I noticed that I went the closest non-chain coffee shop, even though there was a Starbuck's that was closer to the hotel. How very new me. Fred didn't even notice where we were. She simply got out of the car and waited for me to follow her into the coffee shop.

"I like this place," Fred said while we were waiting in the short line. "It's got style."

It did indeed have style, but I was too busy plotting my next move to care. We ordered coffee and I came up with details.

Everybody was going to be so pissed off at me for doing this. But it didn't matter. I had to do it. Had to.

"Hey, Fred?" I said as the barista placed our order on the counter. "I'm really sorry."

"About what?" she asked.

"About this," I said, punching her in the stomach and shoving her back into the crowd of people as hard as I could and running like hell. I couldn't believe myself. I had totally just assaulted my friend and I was stealing my boss's car.

It was all shades of incredibly fucked up. But I didn't think about it as I cranked up the car and squealed away, Fred ten feet behind me, hollering like crazy as I zoomed away, toward the freeway, Simi Valley, and Dr. Lennart.

The car's engine purred like a pleased jungle cat as I got on the 10, heading for 101. Sweet Lord Jesus, what was I going to do? Especially if Lennart did have a small army of demons around him. It was the stupidest thing I'd ever done in my life and that included falling through the floor of the factory and getting a big stake through my guts.

I had to do it anyway. There were Rite Aids up and down the 101 where I could grab a voice recorder and duck the inevitable rescue mission trying to keep me away from the scumbags at Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals.

I took a deep breath. Turned onto 101. Realized the traffic was going to delay me as long as a trip to Rite Aid. Then I turned Angel's radio (discreetly upgraded to an AM/FM model after Wesley, of all people, had a bitch fit about listening to 1940s pop standards) to KROQ and let it go.

Weezer blared out of the speakers and I slowly churned through the traffic, I plotted the ways I was going to do this right.

I wasn't going to lose control. That always the Angel mistake. He made it too personal. I had personal reasons for going after this guy, of course, but it wasn't about me. It wasn't about getting revenge. I was simply confronting someone who had done very bad things to a lot of people.

"You've got your problems--I've got my eyes wide--you've got your big g's--I've got my eyes wide--"

The traffic was picking up. I knew I couldn't lose control or get caught up in personal vengeance. I was investigating a case.

Fucking KROQ, I thought, as the song switched from Weezer to some crap band I didn't recognize. Why they couldn't play music that actually went with driving?

Would Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals even let me in?

I wished for the traffic to melt as I trudged up 101, alone with the thoughts running around in my brain. I was living a Madonna video, but at least I had just cause.

I thought about that all the way through the traffic and into the valley. Then the music drowned out all the thinking and I drove on, with only purpose to keep me moving forward.


Chapter Nine

Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals was a collection of tan buildings with small windows protected by a six foot high fence. It looked out of place with its surroundings, and it definitely looked out of place with my expectations. There was nothing evil about the way the company looked. Even the retro marquee looked neutral, except for the pinwheel/dahlia.

I took a deep breath. On the way to Simi Valley, I'd stopped at a mall, taken out the nearly-maxed credit card and slapped a reporter-looking outfit and voice recorder on it, grimaced at the thought of paying the minimum, and drove on. The important thing was that I looked like I could be someone from a legitimate journalistic institution. I checked myself in the mirror. I did.

"Cordelia Chase, Orange County Register," I said, trying to look confident and professional. "I'd like to interview Dr. Lennart about his work for a feature about new leaders in biotech."

I shook my head. That sounded wrong. Besides, why hadn't I called for an interview beforehand?

"Cordelia Chase, Orange County Times," I said again. "I've tried to reach Dr. Lennart, but I've been unable to. Is he available for an interview?"

What if they said no?

"Cordelia Chase, LA Weekly. I'm here for an interview with Dr. Lennart," I said, trying to look hip and unmoveable. "Really, he didn't mention it? I've had this planned for weeks."

That was the line. If anything was going to get me inside the compound, it would be that. Definitely that. I closed my eyes, centered myself, and then turned into the driveway and security gate.

"Excuse me, ma'am, no visitors," the guard said.

"I have an appointment. I'm Cordelia Chase, LA Weekly," I said with a big smile. The guard didn't smile. He picked up a phone.

"Dr. Lennart, there's a reporter here," he said. "Cordelia Chase, LA Weekly?"

I waited, my heart and stomach a-flutter. I was in for some massive shit when I went back to the hotel, and I at least wanted to have something to bring home. Information, Dr. Lennart's head, some dead demon entrails--

The guard hung up the phone. "He says he's been expecting you. Here, take this pass. Go to the first parking space on your right. Then enter the first tan building on the path and ask to be taken to Dr. Lennart's office. No funny business. If you pull out a camera, we will take it away from you before you get off the premises."

I nodded. I'd forgotten my camera. But that was okay, because I didn't need for the security guy to pat me down and find my recording of the damning evidence I would somehow get out of Dr. Lennart.

Who was expecting me.

Oh, shit. Bad sign. He knew who I was. How did he know?

I needed to turn around and get out of here. But where was I going to go? Back to the hotel?

Sorry I punched Fred in the stomach and put Dr. Lennart on to the fact we're looking for him.

Sorry I stole your car.

Sorry I pussed out on doing what I needed to do. Sorry more people are going to die.

No. That was too much.

I parked the car. I made sure that the voice recorder was hidden in the jacket (maybe I could take the outfit back) and I was ready. I would be the woman. I would be smooth and perfect and I would get this information.

The walk up the path was a slow-motion waking dream. I kept looking around to find a sign of the evil inside. I couldn't see any. The path was dry. They didn't overwater the iceplant. The doors were smoky glass, hiding the industry secrets within. I opened the door, feeling it move heartbeat by heartbeat.

"Excuse me?" asked the receptionist at the front desk. She was grim-faced, fortyish, and reading Science.

"Cordelia Chase, LA Weekly. Here to interview Dr. Lennart," I said, smiling professionally. "The security guard said that you were going to take me up there?"

The woman glared at me and picked up another phone.

"Harold, this is Susan," she said. "You know anything about this reporter here for Dr. Lennart?"

She kept giving me the evil eye while Harold filled her in on the details.

"Okay, well you'd better come down here. You know I don't have clearance to go up there," she said, slamming down the receiver vengefully. "Sit over there. Harold will be down in a minute to take you up to Dr. Lennart. Don't try anything funny. I'm keeping an eye on you."

I managed not to look at her like she was psychotic. Instead, I sat down and folded my hands in my lap, thinking of interview questions for Lennart.

Dr. Lennart, biotechnology is full of complicated questions. Which one gives you the most reason to--

Dr. Lennart, what important ethical question in biotech concerns you the most?

Are you foisting so-called asthma drugs on a bunch of raver clubkids to experiment with demon mind control? How do you make that stop?

Do you enjoy watching people kill themselves because your demon's freaking out?

How'd you torture the Mal-Penz demon into controlling minds? And how was the part where you murdered Dr. Naismith?

"Miss Chase," the receptionist said. "Wake up."

I looked up. A burly looking dude was standing next to Susan the receptionist and both looked more than a little annoyed.

"I'm very sorry," I said, springing up from the plastic chair. "I was just thinking of questions to ask Dr. Lennart."

"Well, you can think of more on the way up," Susan said. "This is Harold. He'll show you the way to Dr. Lennart's office. Anything you see in here, by the way, is not meant for public information."

"And we'll sue the pants off you and your paper if you try," Harold said.

"I'm just here for my appointment for Dr. Lennart," I said with what I hoped was a pleasant smile. "I don't want to cause a problem."

Harold nodded. "I'm glad you understand, Miss Chase," he said. "Follow me."

I did. I didn't look anywhere but at the back of his head the whole way. It was shiny, and he smelled like chemicals and lint. And cheap polyester--his suit was so damn ugly and a strange icky brown color to boot. But he was taking me to Dr. Lennart, and so he could wear paisley and I'd let it go.

My thoughts were racing ahead of me into Dr. Lennart's office, apparently hidden deep in the maze. What would he look like? What was going to be in his office? How would I introduce myself?

The shiny spot stopped moving. I almost tripped over my feet and crashed into it.

"We're here," Harold said, turning to look at me over his shoulder. "No photographs. We have file photos your publication can use."

"Fine. I don't have a camera anyway. I have a photographer for that," I lied.

"Good," Harold said, knocking on the door. "Dr. Lennart? It's the reporter for you."

He immediately stepped away as the door opened.

"Come in," a clear, crisp voice said. It had a touch of a Northeastern accent.

I gulped, watched Harold turn around and head back down the hallway, and entered the office.

The evil man was sitting in a leather desk chair on a desk stacked with papers. He didn't actually look evil. He was dignified, with neat white hair and dark eyes that looked at me without emotion.

"Miss Cordelia Chase," he said. "I'd been expecting you."

"I don't know what you're talking about," I said instinctively. "I'm here to interview you."

Lucky for me, the tape was voice activated. And it went for forty-five minutes. There was no need to fumble suspiciously at my pocket.

"Look, my people are gone, there's no need to continue this ridiculous charade. I know you're not a journalist, you know you're not a journalist, so let's lay it on the table, shall we?" he asked.

Okay, so I had no cover. But I had questions and he had answers, and I wasn't going to let a silly thing like being discovered stop me from asking.

"What's in those pills?" I asked. "The blue dahlia pills. What's in them that's killing people? Or is that the demon doing the killing?"

He looked at me like I was a rodent, or perhaps subhuman. An ooze-dripping demon, maybe.

"Sit down, Miss Chase."

"What's in the pills?" I asked again, sitting in a wooden chair across from his chair. "What sort of sick twisted weirdo are you, anyway?"

"Why don't you let me tell my story and then you can ask questions?" he asked in that cool, rational voice that made everything seem less scary and horrible than it was. Of course, he wasn't really asking. He was telling me to sit down and shut up.

"Okay, fine," I said, leaning forward. "Tell me why this isn't so bad, Dr. Lennart. I'd like to hear it."

He favored me with a look that told me I was being a pain in the ass. I smiled at him, trying to remain a pain in the ass.

"First of all, the project you've blundered into with you and your pill-popping idiot friends is far less sinister and far more important you could ever imagine," Lennart said, handing me a manila folder. "These little blue pills are not what you think they are."

"They're not a demon-calling mechanism?" I asked.

"They are, but that's not a bad thing," Lennart said. "You see, demons have been with us since before the beginning of time. Humans owe their intelligence and the nature of it to the omnipresent threat of demons. They've been an evolutionary force that far outstripped tigers or other mindless beasts. Civilization exists due to our demons, Miss Chase. What is the point of using a nuclear missile on a lion or a jaguar or a bear?"

"Glowing bear meat treats?" I said dryly.

Another glare. The man was definitely a glarey type. I tried not to look totally unimpressed and let him continue.

"Yes, but what I have discovered in the course of my study--myself and Dr. Naismith, of course, he was a great loss to the community--is that human intelligence developed and moved on its current course thanks to demons. The necessity of outwitting those who would prey upon the tribe created paranoia and innovation," he said, suddenly alive with the significance of his discoveries. "Daniel and I realized that there was no way it could happen--unless some demons fought on the side of humans."

I thought about it. "Not really a positive view of the species, is it?"

"How well do fire and pointy sticks work against most demons you know?" Lennart replied, chuckling at his own bon mot.

"Depends on the demon. Most of the time, fire and pointy sticks are pretty effective," I said. Lennart's smile faded.

"In any case," he said, sounding exasperated again. "In any case, it was fairly easy to discover the desperate plight of humanity and the Mal-Penz demon after coming to these conclusion. You see, Miss Chase, the Mal-Penz are most unfairly thought of as brain-suckers. Instead, one should think of them as one would consider a particularly deft financial manager. You invest a certain amount of energy in your thoughts. They take that energy and magnify it in ways that humans are incapable of except in crisis situations. The energy they take is minimal, much like mutual fund fees."

"Except most people don't invest without their knowledge and consent," I said.

"Do the words Social Security ring a bell?" Lennart asked.

"You realize Social Security's failed, right?" I replied.

He went red-faced and stopped his endless self-justification. Thank God. I already knew where he was going. People were stupid and uncreative, so handing them the pills was doing them a favor. He was really mad, though. His nostrils were doing the flare thing that both Wes and Giles' noses did when they were really pissed off, and he was gripping the table kinda tight.

"Do you have any sense of respect? I've done a great thing. I'm leveling the damn playing field, girl!" he said, pulling himself to his feet. "Every child, no matter how uncreative, how dull, how easily led by the titanic banality of modern advertising, could be an Einstein! A Socrates! A Byron! We would be gods on earth! And you want to stop it in the name of a free will we don't have?"

I stared back at him, feeling human and normal and all of the things that he was railing against. I thought about it, how it could be better if everyone really was above average. Then I remembered Angel and how he was special and unique and wonderful, and all he wanted was to be human and like everyone else. Being human--really and truly human--was something so wonderful that immortality couldn't make up for losing it. That had to mean something.

I stood up and looked back at him, eye to eye.

"Yes, I do," I said. Lennart sighed very heavily.

"Goddamn sentimental humanist bullshit," he said, snapping his fingers. A giant see-through demon thing appeared behind him. The demon was sort of like a ghost except it had a truly nasty looking face. But that par for demon course. A beautiful demon wasn't something I saw often--and if I did see one, it was usually an entrail-eater.

"This is a Mal-Penz demon. In fact, this was your Mal-Penz demon," Lennart said, his eyes gleaming. "Our Mal-Penz demon."

That made me look at the thing again, half-fascinated, half-sick to my stomach. The face was still hideous, but the eyes--did it have eyes?--were almost human. But watching the twist of its tentacles, the Mal-Penz suddenly looked less human and more like a brain-sucking demon.

"They're almost extinct, you know," Lennart said. "They're something useful and wonderful and they're almost gone."

"If you want it, good for you," I said defiantly, crossing my arms. "But I don't. My friends don't. And I can--"

"What can you do?" Lennart asked. "Scowl at me? Threaten that you'll get me? Send your tame vampire and your tamer wizard to give me a roughing-up? I'd like to see them get past the gate."

"I want the truth, Dr. Lennart," I said, feeling like I'd stumbled into a bad 70s cop show. "You hurt my friends."

"And you're going to bring me down," he said with a little sneer. "If that's all, you might as well go and tell your friends how down I'm going and all of that macho bravado."

I looked at him and shook my head. I had what I needed, and I didn't need to trade insults with this raving megalomaniac anymore.

"I'm going. You can keep rambling at me if you want, but I'm leaving," I said, turning away and heading for the door. I curled my hand around the handle and almost had the door open.

"Say goodbye to the demon first," the doctor said.

Knowing that what I would see a scary tentacle reaching for me when I turned around, I slammed down on the handle as hard as I could and tried to push the door open. But then I realized the filmy tentacle was wrapped around my hand and I was stuck.

Shit. Shit. And fuck too.

I didn't turn around. I started screaming, pulling desperately on the door handle before everything around me went black.

I only had one thought before going under: how very, very Philip Marlowe of me.


Chapter Ten

"What on God's green earth was that?" Dr. Lennart asked, smacking me across the face in that way that's not quite a slap, but that's not a gentle shake either. It stung. "Get up. It didn't try to possess you, you silly twit."

I sat straight up. I was still on the floor. I checked the nearest clock. I hadn't been out for more than a minute. How embarrassing. But not really, because filmy tentacle on hand!

"How I was I supposed to know? And you with the sinister, say goodbye to the demon?! I did the completely unsurprising thing there!" I said. "And you're still an evil man anyway, I don't have to apologize to you!"

Lennart made a sniffy, offended noise. He was such a crappy villain. Compared to Wolfram and Hart, he was distinctly a Diet Coke type bad guy. First he let me in without resistance, then he lectured me, and finally not even a kidnapping attempt? What was I supposed to think, that maybe he meant only good after all? Whatever.

"Right," he said tiredly. "I think you need to go. By the way, found your voice-activated recorder."

I felt around in my coat frantically. I pulled out the recorder and stared at it in complete confusion.

"Why do I still have it, then?" I asked, holding it tight. "And how do I know if I'm not possessed?"

"You scared it away with the screaming," he said, sounding exactly like Giles when I did something stupid in the library and helping me to my feet. "If you'd like, I'll even give you the spell to exorcise the demon from the room right now. And I'm sure your little wizard friend can exorcise you properly at home if you're not convinced."

I felt like everything was suddenly inside out and backwards. "Why are you doing this?"

"That tape is worthless. Whatever you do is worthless. Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals has concluded that the pills in question, while they may be useful as 'smart drugs' in the future, have nothing to do with asthma and therefore aren't testing them on the open market. Everyone involved in this unfortunate situation is getting due compensation," Lennart said with a heavy sigh. "We've been following the deaths. Everything was decided even before you got here. You wasted a trip."

"You're buying them off," I said.

"We're compensating people for their suffering," Lennart replied with a shrug.

"But I have evidence."

"You have an illegally taped fight. Do what you want to, Miss Chase. But this is a battle you won't win. I've called Harold in. He'll take you to the gate and then you may go," Lennart said. "And for the love of God, don't faint on the way out!"

I ignored that. Ten minutes later, I was sitting in Angel's car, feeling like a complete and total idiot. But I still had the tape. And I didn't care what the guy said. Someone at the LA Times would be interested in it if I could connect it to mysterious deaths and strange incidents in the lives of people. Especially with children involved.

Why had he let me leave with the tape? I sat in the parking lot of a Ralph's in Simi Valley and listened to it four times. It sounded like a story to me. WONDER DRUG -- OR MIND CONTROL? Okay, that was too tabloid, but still. Children at risk of being used as guinea pigs in an unethical science experiment. It was five thousand episodes of X-Files and Law and Order rolled into one future Pulitzer Prize for the right reporter. Who wouldn't at least look at the tape? Listen to the tape?

It would be better if I had somebody to back me up, of course. Possessed or not, I hadn't tried to stick an Exacto knife up my nose. And witnesses helped a story along.

I really didn't want to go back to the hotel. Possibly ever again. I had to give back Angel's car, but I didn't want to have to look at everyone and explain I'd completely ruined any chance we had to destroy Lennart's Mal-Penz demon.

No wonder Daisy had freaked out earlier. Knowing you've fucked up hardcore and then having to face everyone is about the scariest thing ever. Except for particularly icky demons or Angel turning into Angelus and even that wasn't as scary in the knowing what to do part.

My cell phone rang. I picked it up, sick to my stomach.

"Cordy?" someone asked. It was Daisy. Oh, thank God.

"Daisy?" I asked.

"Oh, thank goodness. I've been trying to reach you for like, an hour. Can you come over? I have news," she said, sounding much better than she had before.

"Me, too," I said. "I have to drop the car off at the hotel, though, so can I meet you somewhere?"

"Dude, they're freaking out, by the way," Daisy said. "I called the hotel and they practically jumped through the phone asking if I'd seen you. What did you do?"

"I hit Fred and stole Angel's car."

Moment of silence. "Did you have a good reason?"

"I thought so."

Another moment of silence. "I'll meet you at that coffee shop near your hotel."

"No," I said quickly. "That's where I did everything."

"Shit, Cordy," she said. "You had a day. Or should I say, evening. Where are you?"

"Simi fucking Valley."

"Oh," Daisy said. "So see you sometime around tomorrow, then?"

I snorted. She had a point.

"Maybe. We'll see how the 405 runs near 10."

"As opposed to perennially shitty?" Daisy asked. "Come over. Please? We'll drop the car off later. I need to see you. I want to see you."

I blinked. There was a distinct sexual undertone to her last statement. That was a good thing. I decided that Angel didn't need the car immediately and I did. I took off like a bat out of hell for Daisy's apartment, everything else becoming momentarily unimportant.

Of course, when I was trapped on the 405 for an extra forty-five minutes, the everything else came back and slapped me in the face like a two by four. I sat and steamed in the cooling sunlight, thinking about the story I had tucked away in my pocket, dealing with Angel and everyone, and what Daisy wanted with me.

By the time I reached her apartment, I was a mess. All of the brooding on the freeway had made me nervous and frightened, and very Angel-like. I wanted to go hide and pout and possibly wear large amounts of black. But I also really wanted to see Daisy.

There were still parting gifts from LAPD everywhere, but it was pretty quiet. I knocked on the door and waited. My hands shook.

"Cordy!" Daisy squealed when the door flew open. She threw her arms around my neck, and half jumped up and kissed me. I was so shocked it took me a moment to kiss back.

We half-walked, half-stumbled across the trashed apartment onto the couch, tumbling onto the abused item and barely coming up for air. Daisy's hands were all over the place, rubbing the back of my neck, letting go and tugging at my shirt, tickling the skin at my waist, my shoulder, my back. My hands were a little more focused, holding her so that she couldn't get away.

Finally, we had to start breathing again.

"It's the best day of my life," she gasped, pulling herself into my lap. "It was the worst day and now it's the best."

"It's looking up for me, too," I said, fending off another kiss. "What's the good news?"

"I got a recording contract with this European label," she said, settling for a kiss on the neck. "I'm going to go to Ibiza next week to meet with the label. Maybe even do a set. How cool is THAT? And they're paying for everything."

"Wow," I said. "That's great."

She nodded and we started kissing again. There was something so sweet about her lower lip and the way my lips could twist around it. And she was so warm under her oh-so-trendy anime t-shirt. She felt good in my lap. We felt good.

She pulled back, and without further ado, took off her glasses and her shirt.

"About time we got there," she said with a little laugh. "My God, you're fucking incredible."

She leaned forward, tracing my lips with her finger and then sliding it down my throat, stopping at the hollow. She didn't take her eyes off mine as she eased upward, put both hands near my throat, and tore open my shirt, making all of the button pop off.

So much for returning that outfit.

She started kissing my collarbone, trying to push all the unnecessary clothing away. I wiggled out of my coat and my shirt, leaving me naked to the waist except for my bra. Daisy's tongue slid down, slowly dragging across the top of my breast. I took a sharp little breath and arched my back.

Daisy delicately dragged her fingernails across my other breast, causing all sorts of warm, yummy sensations to move up and down my spine before they settled in my increasingly messy underwear.

"Mmm," I managed to say.

"Mmm," she agreed, kissing and nibbling my cleavage. It had been way too long since someone had done that. I whimpered. "Bedrooom now?"

I nodded, not trusting me to say anything.

"Good idea," she said. I smiled. "Oh, but before I forget."

"What?" I asked.

"What's your news?" she asked breathlessly. "Before I take you back to my room and you forget."

"My news?" I asked, trying to wake up a little from the happy fog I was in. I had news. It could wait, but hell, we had all the time in the world.

"Yeah."

"I found the guy who made those pills," I said, reaching out and running my fingers over her clothed breast. Her breast had this wonderful texture to it, if that's the word. I understood suddenly why Xander always liked touching mine. I needed to get her bra off soon and feel what the skin felt like, too. "I've got a tape. We can bust him. We can give the story to the press."

She pulled away abruptly, looking at me. "What story?"

That was not what I was expecting to hear. The fog in my head immediately went away.

"Our friends! They got sick on those pills!" I said, shocked. "I found out that a drug company did it. It was an experiment and there are demons involved. Daisy, it's a major story."

Daisy shook her head, like she was surprised I could be so naïve.

"Our friends are drug addicts. No one cares," she replied. "I wish that weren't the way it was, but it is. The media's going to laugh. So a few drugged out kids got what was coming to them. So? I know how these people think. They don't care."

I stared at her, my stomach turning in horror and shock. Whatever I had expected Daisy to say, it wasn't anything as horrible as what she was saying.

"Daisy, we have evidence. We were witnesses to one of these deaths. I was a witness to another attempt!" I said. "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing," she said. "I'm just telling you that no one's going to believe you. Forget about it. No one else is gonna die. I warned everyone. We're cool. Don't worry. We're gonna go to Ibiza, and I'm gonna be a big time DJ. And we'll be cool. We'll be extremely cool."

I suddenly realized exactly what had happened. I pushed her off me, nauseous with knowing.

"Oh my God," I whispered, shaking. "They bought you off."

"What?" Daisy asked, but her sneer was wrong. It was studied. "Are you crazy?"

"Pinwheel Pharmaceuticals found you. They must know you from the tattoo. They got you the record contract. Didn't they?" I asked. "That's what Dr. Lennart meant. He paid you off, didn't he?"

"Cordelia, you're fucking crazy. I don't know what you're talking about," Daisy said defensively, folding her arms across her chest.

"The magic ticket to Ibiza," I said. "Come on, Daisy, be honest. They gave you your break in exchange for your silence and a little help in calming me down. You don't have to do anything, either. Just tell me the truth, that it's too hard to try to break a story like this. It's believable, and who's it gonna hurt? Right?"

She stared at me, mouth open.

"Well, come on!" I snapped.

"I would never try to sell you out with me," she said. "Cordy, I love you. I want you. You're not part of any deal."

My stomach plunged into my feet. What she was saying was that the rest of it was true. And she knew I knew. She was having a hard time meeting my eyes for someone who was only two feet away.

"Maybe not, but it's easier if I'm with you in Ibiza or with you here, having fun, having lots of sex, and not thinking about dead kids or unwanted demon possessions."

"Dammit, Cordy," she said wearily. "It's not a bad demon. And no one else is going to die. I made sure. I'm not a monster. I'm not doing anything that's not smart. I'm not going to change because of the contract. I'm just going to let something go."

I understood everything now. I knew why Lennart had been so nonchalant about letting me waltz in and out of his office with that tape. The evidence and the witnesses were already gone before I got there. I'd wasted a trip. And now I'd lost my friend.

"I can't do that," I said, numb. "Oh, God, I can't be here now."

The numbness was horrible. I knew that I couldn't sit there another minute with Daisy, not a Daisy who would sell out her friends for money. It was too much.

"What are you talking about? Cordelia--"

"No," I said, sick and disgusted and lost. "Don't touch me. I have to go. I can't be with you. You--you-- you sold your soul for a record contract."

"Are you serious?" Daisy asked. "It's not--oh, my God, woman, let me explain. I didn't do anything!"

And I didn't want to hear anything else. I had to go. I stood up and I walked away. My legs felt like lead trying to stand and move, but I managed to do it.

"Cordelia!"

I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of a response. She knew what I thought. And that was that.

"Cordy, baby, come back," she wailed one last time as I slammed the door. If she had anything else to say, I wasn't going to listen.

I didn't know what to do as I stumbled down the hall, trying not to look obscene in my shredded blouse and tousled hair. I wanted to go back. I wanted to pretend I didn't hear Daisy say she didn't care. I wanted to celebrate her record contract and I wanted her. It wasn't just a sex thing, either. She was my friend. She was the part of my life where I had friends and fun and more than just visions and pain and justice-seeking. I wanted her so badly that twice I almost turned around and went back.

But I couldn't.

I managed to get out of the building. I dropped the keys twice on the way to the car. When I finally reached the car, I realized there was huge scratch on it. Angel was going to be very unhappy.

Angel was already going to be pissed at me anyway, but this was no good at all.

I got in the car and stared at the sky. The lights of the city were so bright they obliterated most of the stars. There was nothing to see. It was the perfect metaphor for my life. Faded out by the petty lights of a petty world. Never allowed to leave the ground and shine. It was a stupid metaphor, but I was so upset I thought it was perfect.

I refused to cry and drove back to the hotel. I needed to give back the car. I didn't care what they said when they saw me. It couldn't be any worse than what I already thought about myself.


Chapter Eleven

The bar was crummy, stinky, and full of scary-looking drunk men who kept staring at me as they walked by on their way to the bathroom. I didn't care. They didn't card and the shots were only a dollar-fifty a pop.

Three days of trying to convince anyone that I wasn't a crazy freak and that I had an important news story--and failing miserably--had numbed me to scary looks and scarier people. Whoever had bought Daisy had apparently found that the others had even cheaper selling prices. No one backed me up. No one even said I wasn't crazy.

I gave up after the local conspiracy Internet paper refused to even glance at my story. They were looking for the truth, and not a ghost story told by a hysterical hipster.

Daisy had tried to call. I refused to answer the phone. In fact, after hearing her voice pleading with me to come back and to go to Ibiza with her for a full day, I unplugged the machine and threw it against the wall.

I went into work after returning the car and tried to act normal. After I asked Wesley to make sure I wasn't infected with a Mal-Penz demon. I wasn't. I promptly thanked him for making sure, and then I went off and made dozens and dozens of phone calls.

Everyone was very quiet while I made all the calls. I couldn't tell if they were furious or if they were afraid to send me running off again. Fred looked particularly skittish near me. I felt stupid and ashamed, but I couldn't say anything. It was an effort to open my mouth.

The minute I could leave that third night, I did. I went for a long walk until I found the bar. They let me in, I found the bartender, and I started drinking away all the pain.

I threw back another shot of tequila without even pausing for lime, salt, or a deep breath. God, the world sucked. It sucked in ways that I would never have expected or even wanted to expect.

"I wan'another one," I told the bartender when he passed by. He was trying very hard to ignore me. "Another shot of tequila, por favor. Hey!"

He looked down and hurried along. I felt like death, but as I wished I were dead--or back in Groo's dimension--it was okay. I could look like ass forever. It didn't matter. Why would it matter? I was crazy, alone, and friendless all over again.

Daisy had sold her soul for a damned record contract and a trip to Ibiza. There were six dead bodies in the morgue and nobody cared. Nobody believed me about the experiments. Even if they did, money was more important. And I was doomed to nauseating, endless headaches from my visions until one of them finally killed me. The best part was that I'd probably die trying to save someone who didn't give a fuck, either.

There was nothing left to believe in except for how crappy the world really was.

"This seat taken?" someone asked. Great. Maybe I could die tonight, or just get taken advantage of in the alley outside the bar. That sounded absolutely fabulous.

I shook my head drunkenly.

"Yeah, it's for my--Angel," I said, looking up at the familiar face. "What do you want?"

"A neat bourbon, and the lady would like some water," he said to the bartender, who nodded.

"And another shot of tequila," I said. The bartender didn't nod for me.

"You're going to have the hangover of all time in the morning," Angel warned.

"Who cares?" I asked. "I mean, really, does it matter? So I have a hangover. So I have a vision. So I help someone in need. There are always more needy people, more visions, and more people who will spit on you for all the good you try to do. And then you die. Who cares? I don't care."

"Yes, you do," he contradicted me. "If you really didn't care, you wouldn't be so angry."

"Damn right," I said. "But it doesn't matter. Nothing we do matters. There's always evil. Buffy saved the world a bazillion times and she fought and fought and fought and now she's dead and there's still fighting to be done. The world's still gonna end. We just got a delay of game. And you know what? The people we're fighting for don't give a shit."

He looked down sadly. Oh, hell. That was a mean thing to say in front of Angel, especially considering I'd used up all of my get out of jail free cards with the car theft. And Daisy wasn't dead. Just a sell-out with a shiny new record contract and no soul, whereas Buffy wasn't coming back ever again.

"I know how you feel," he said. "There are days when it seems like evil always wins, even though good's working a hundred times harder just to keep a foothold. But Cordy, it's not really evil we're fighting."

"We're not?" I slurred, looking around for my tequila, which wasn't there. Damn bartender. "That's news to me!"

"We're fighting evil because we're fighting indifference," he said. "We can't just defeat evil. Evil is eternal, like good is. The problem is that evil is moving, while good sometimes sits still. And sometimes, what we call good is indifference. But it's not the same. Not at all."

Deep. A little too deep for me. My brain was barely functioning.

"I get it," I said. The bartender handed me a plastic cup of water and Angel his bourbon. I took a resentful drink of the water and realized immediately that I'd had far, far too much to drink.

"Wanna sit down at a table, then?" he asked, helping me up from the barstool. I nodded and tottered over to the sticky little table he led us to. "How you feelin?"

"Horrible," I said, taking another drink of water and laying my head on the table. "I'm going to have a bad hangover, I can fight the good fight forever and not change anything, and my best friend sold her soul for a record contract. I wish I were dead. Or I wish that I was my old self, you know? I could have been one of those indifferent people. I would have been happy."

Angel nodded blandly.

"You don't wish any of that," he said, covering my hand with one of his. "If you really wanted to be like your old self, you wouldn't have found Dr. Lennart, you wouldn't have tried to go public, you wouldn't be so upset. Cordy, I hate to tell you, but you're one of the good guys. You're a hero. And that's not ever going to be easy."

He squeezed my hand. I started to cry, the tears tasting exactly like margarita salt. My eyes burned. There was probably mascara running down my face, too.

"It hurts," I said, trying to brush away the tears. "I hurt when my friends do this to me. First the Sunnydale gang forgot I existed after I left Xander, then you scared us, and now Daisy--what's next? Wes runs off to rejoin the Council and Gunn sells his life story to NBC for a swell movie of the week? I mean, seriously!"

It sounded silly, but it was all the fear inside me bubbling over like a newly opened bottle of champagne. Angel looked somber. I could tell that he was thinking about Buffy. It was so strange to think of her being dead, even though her life had always been about dying at a moment's notice. Still, it wasn't right that she was dead.

"I can't give you any guarantees," he said. "I can't even tell you if we'll all live to see tomorrow. But Cordelia, what I can tell you is that no matter how bad it is, having friends, having family with you to share the burden makes it feel better. Even if it's only a little bit. And we're here for you, Cordy. I'm here for you, and so are Wes, Gunn, and Fred. We love you. I love you."

For some reason, that made me cry harder, sobs choking my throat as I tried to get under control. Finally, I gave up and cried my eyes out into my arms.

"I'm sorry," I said between sobs. "I'm sorry about Buffy, I'm sorry about getting into this mess, I'm sorry I treated everyone like shit, I'm sorry I stole your car and got it scratched, I'm sorry about everything. It hurts so much and I'm sorry."

He held me steady.

"It's all right," he said. "It's all right. Come on, we should go somewhere."

"Go where?" I asked, stumbling up.

"I dunno. Sunnydale. Santa Monica Pier. Mexico. Around. Somewhere I don't know yet," he said, placing his untouched whiskey on the table. "Let's just go and keep going until we stop."

"Sounds like a plan."

I took his hand and we walked out of the bar. His car was waiting outside. We got in, he revved the engine, and we started to go. And then we kept going, together, trying to find a stopping place in a world without them.

The End

Author's Note: Just a couple quick things. Only actually borrowed three songs in this, Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," the Weezer "Hash Pipe" song, and that song in the club which is "Boys" from the Dance Dance Revolution video game. Felt like more. Thanks to Rum and Jaina for the read-over, and thank you so much for reading. Send feedback to jenniferoksana@yahoo.com


Jennifer
"I'm blaming it on the bossa nova!"
Visit my domain: http://www.imjustsayin.net


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