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Hoop Screams

by Yahtzee

Subject: [glass_onion] ATS FIC: "Hoop Screams" by Yahtzee (PG) Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2002 6:36 AM

The characters herein are the property of Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Mutant Enemy, Fox and a host of other entities. They are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit. I do not use relationship or character-death spoilers; you read the fic, you take your chances. However, for this fic I will add the following caveats: (1) This is farce. Do not take any of what follows too seriously. (2) Some real-life people are portrayed in this fic, but only for the purposes of parody. In no way should the story be taken to reflect their real actions or attitudes.

This story takes place during ATS' third season, pre-baby and pre-"Billy," though any further effort to fit it into a timeline is entirely beside the point. Readers may run into spoilers for anything up to that point. Thanks to the great beta team of Rheanna and Amy. This is dedicated to Rodney and Jesse, the two nicest guys on planet Earth, who have waited for this story for a long while now -- but no longer. (And a special happy birthday to Jesse.) Any and all comments are greatly appreciated; send praise or flames to

Rating: PG

Archive: Anyplace you wish, but please let me know.

Summary: When the Staples Center becomes infested by demons, there's only one detective agency in L.A. the Lakers can call on.

by Yahtzee

Chapter 1: Let's Get Ready To Rumble

"Ready?" Angel said. He stared across the Hyperion lobby at Cordelia, then held up the Interdimensional Grimoire to reveal a drawing of a spiny demon. "Well?"

Cordelia sighed, "Velga demon. Like I don't know THAT one."

"How can you tell it's a Velga demon?"

"Spines on their hands. Dead giveaway. Suppose their moms never have to tell them any stories about going blind, huh?"

"Traits and habits?" Angel insisted.

She didn't bother looking up from her manicure (L'Oreal Jet Set #155, "Soar") as she answered. "The spines contain a mind-altering toxin. They tend to nest near bodies of water, so they're totally guaranteed to ruin your beach volleyball game. They make this weirdo barking sound."

Angel relaxed slightly. "Good." She smiled.

"Your turn!" Cordelia said, picking up the most important text of her area of expertise, taking care not to smudge her still-wet nails. "Well?"

Angel squinted. "Umm -- Jimmy Choos?"

Cordelia nodded and patted her hand against the glossy pages of the November Vogue. "How can you tell?" she persisted.

"The little spiky heel?" Angel said, then smiled as Cordelia nodded.

From their place at the counter, Fred, Wesley and Gunn watched the study session. Gunn said, "Do you believe this?"

"It's astonishing," Wesley said, shaking his head in amazement. "I would've sworn those were Manolo Blahniks."

Gunn sighed deeply. "Fred, you wanna make a little run for the border?"

"Not in those shoes," Fred said. "I mean, they look like Chinese foot-binding. Except, you know, in patent leather instead of - whatever it is Chinese people used -- "

"How 'bout I drive us instead?" Gunn held a hand out to the door, and Fred smiled as they went on their way.

Wesley waved them off absently, participating in Angel and Cordelia's game as best he could. Given that he had years of training as a Watcher and a six-month relationship with Virginia Bryce, who didn't even consider buying a garment unless its price was in four figures, he was quite good at it, if he did say so himself. Cuzfau beast -- Michael Kors -- Hevreth demon -- Stella McCartney --

The door swung open, and a man walked in -- at least, Wesley thought it was a man. The face looked human, and the suit was ordinary enough, if rather upscale. (Hugo Boss?) But the size of him -- good lord, he was practically seven feet high --

Wesley shot a warning glance at Angel, who sniffed the air carefully, then shrugged. "Smells human."

"Excuse me?" the tall man said.

"Don't mind him," Cordelia said, smiling brightly as she tossed Harper's Bazaar aside. "He's a social outcast, nothing like yourself, I'm sure --"

The tall man looked doubtful. "Is this Angel Investigations?"

"Indeed it is," Wesley said hurriedly, stepping out from behind the counter. "How may we assist you today?"

The tall man still looked doubtful, but he followed Wesley into his office, only casting one suspicious glance back at Angel (who was still discreetly trying to take a whiff of their new client) and Cordelia (who was not-so-discreetly waving her hands around so her nails could dry) as they followed. He took a seat in the chair opposite the desk; as he was approximately twice the chair's size, he folded up in it rather uncomfortably, knees a little too high, elbows slightly akimbo. "Now how may we help you today?" Wesley said.

"I understand your agency deals with, ah, unusual problems," the man said. He stroked his grayish mustache for a moment, stalling, to see what they would say. When Wesley just nodded (they had learned, the hard way, to let the client be the first to say "demon"), the man sighed and said, "Supernatural problems?"

They all relaxed and smiled. Good, Wesley thought, a man who needs our help.

Hmm, Angel thought. Could he be a demon who just changed into human form from time to time? A very large human form? He inhaled deeply again.

At last, Cordelia thought, a bona fide client, who understands what's going on, who needs the kind of help we provide for a fee, and who, to judge from the totally excellent suit and major jewelry overload, will be able to pay us for it. Enough to cover the phone bill, and the heat, and also possibly a nice suede jacket, seeing as how they were discounted for fall.

"That's right," Angel said, sniffing the tall man once more. "How did you figure out that your problem was otherwordly in origin?"

The tall man relaxed a little bit -- but not much. "I've been around. I've seen a few things. And when you start finding animal bones in pentagrams in your office, and blood starts running from the walls, and two cheerleaders start ripping out their hair and declaring that they're Princesses of Zambari of the Elwek Dimension -- well, it's either cult activity or pilot season. And it's not pilot season."

Behind her, Cordelia heard the front door swing open and Gunn call out, "Hey! Fred's feelin' all overexposed in the convertible. We got a car with an actual roof I can borrow?"

"Excuse me," she whispered, then hurried into the lobby, flapping her hands to finish drying the nail polish. Jet set my ass, she thought. "Gunn, what is your damage? We have a client in here."

Gunn was unrepentant. "Yeah, and of all the scary things this guy could find out about us, the fact that we use a convertible is numero uno. This guy look legit?"

"He looks like money," she confided. "New money, of course. I mean, the jewelry thing? Just shy of Mr. T with the rings there."

"I don't care how green his green is," Gunn said, strolling toward the office. "God knows we can use the ca--"

Gunn saw their client and froze -- stood shock still. Ohmigod, Cordelia thought, paralyzing venom! Time's standing still again! Oh, wait, he blinked --

"You -- you're -- ya --" Gunn waved weakly in the client's direction, then breathed out, reverently, "You're PHIL JACKSON." The tall man smiled and held out a hand to shake Gunn's. Gunn didn't shake, but stared down at the hand. He whispered, "Championship rings. Is -- is that 1997?" He pointed at Coach Jackson's index finger. Coach Jackson drew his hand back and looked askance at Gunn.

"Championship rings?" Wesley said.

"I'm a champion," Angel said. "The Powers have been really clear about that. Almost too clear. But so far no jewelry."

"NBA championships!" Gunn said. "This is PHIL JACKSON. The coach of the Lakers? Coach of the Chicago Bulls before that? Please tell me you've heard of Michael Jordan."

Wesley's face brightened. "The chap who sells trainers?"

"And underwear," Angel said.

"They're foreign," Gunn said apologetically to Coach Jackson.

The Lakers. The Bulls. Michael Jordan. Cordelia was not much on sports, unless she was specifically cheering for them. Even then, her interest usually was limited to knowing whether she should be yelling for defense or offense. But she paid enough attention to television and papers to know that Coach Jackson was a very good basketball coach, and therefore a very wealthy basketball coach, as well as the leader of a team of very wealthy players, all of whom were financially backed by extremely large, multinational corporations. No doubt Coach Jackson's money was new, but there was a whole lot of it, and all signs indicated that it was just going to keep on coming.

She gave him her most stunning smile, which she knew full well was very stunning indeed. "So, let's get down to work on this pentagram business, okay?"

Wesley was used to their investigations taking some time. A client generally came in with only the barest few facts about the situation; descriptions consisted of less-specific terms such as "gross green thing" and "some freakin' MONSTER," which were not useful for purposes of cross-referencing.

However, Coach Jackson was a more careful observer than most, and by the time he'd finished telling them all the strange events taking place at the Staples Center, Wesley had managed to look up enough details to have an idea what was going on.

Normally, he still would have waited before saying anything specific. But Wesley could tell -- Coach Jackson was becoming unnerved by his situation. Not by Angel, despite the fact that he was still periodically smelling the coach to verify his humanity. Not by Cordelia, despite the fact that she'd had a vision just as she took a big sip of water, which led to a very difficult-to-explain, not to mention wet, situation. (Fortunately, the vision was about a Seliav demon appearing in about two weeks, something they'd already penciled in the schedule after some prophecy translation last summer.) Nor by Fred, who had been coaxed in from the car and was doodling on the wall -- in pencil, now, which Wesley considered as progress.

However, Gunn had stared at Coach Jackson, slack-jawed, for two hours straight.

Coach Jackson glanced sideways at Gunn again, then looked back at Angel. "Is he -- you know -- well?"

"Smells healthy enough," Angel said. Coach Jackson fidgeted in his chair.

"Right, then," Wesley interjected. "Based on the clues you've given me, I believe I know what's happening in your stadium."

"Great," Coach Jackson said, clearly relieved on many levels. "What's going on?"

"It appears that someone has prepared the Staples Center for the emergence of several Mueg demons from the hell dimension of Elwek. If I understand the signs correctly, the demons are actually here already -- but they have been forced to assume human shape. When the hell dimension is connected to our dimension at the proper time, those human shapes will be discarded, and the demons will at last be free to create havoc and mayhem."

"Not good," Cordelia summarized.

"The proper time, you said." Coach Jackson frowned. "When is that, exactly?"

"It appears to be -- and mind you, this might be off by a smidge --" Wesley looked at his books again, then checked his watch. "-- tomorrow night. Perhaps 9 p.m."

"Oh, no," Coach Jackson said. "We have a home game tomorrow night. The Knicks. The Center's going to be packed."

"Can't you just cancel the game?" Angel said. Everyone else stared at him. "This is one of those social things I don't get, right?"

Cordelia patted his shoulder. "At least you're pretty."

"This is a dangerous situation," Wesley said. "But I think raising an alarm would only lead the demons to change their plans."

"Seems like a pretty dumb plan," Fred said, her voice somewhat muffled by the fact that she was chewing on one of her braids. "I mean, aren't there some fortresses of doom or something they could use? If you were gonna pop out into a new dimension, I'd think you'd want some privacy."

"There could be any number of reasons the Staples Center was chosen," Wesley said. "Astrological, geological, historical --"

"What do you mean, historical?" Gunn shook his head. "The Lakers only moved in there a few years ago."

"Human history didn't begin with the Lakers, Charles," Fred chided gently. Then she blushed and smiled weakly at Coach Jackson. "I hope it wasn't rude to mention that."

Coach Jackson shook his head. "Six of these rings don't involve the Lakers."

"So, what we have here is a situation where a whole bunch of demons are gonna show up and rock the house," Cordelia said. "We have a set plan for dealing with this, right, guys? We show up first, with better weapons."

"That's the plan?" Coach Jackson said. "You guys are supernatural experts, and the whole plan is -- Get 'em?"

Angel folded his arms. "Got a better one?"

"Come to think of it, no." Coach Jackson sighed. "Okay. We need to get you guys in there. I can arrange for some seats pretty close to the court."

Wesley and Angel nodded. Gunn looked heavenward and mouthed "thank you."

"But the two places there's been the most activity are up in the sound booth and on the court itself," Coach Jackson said.

"So we should have someone in both those places during the game," Wesley said.

"The sound booth," Cordelia mused. "Hey -- who's singing the National Anthem?"

Coach Jackson raised an eyebrow. "You?"

Angel snorted. Cordelia whacked him on the arm. "No. But we have a friend who can totally belt it out. He'd be great up there. Now, he's a demon himself, but don't worry. Totally harmless, unless you interrupt his Donna Summer set."

"Is there anyone up there who's going to be, you know, alarmed to see a demon?" Angel said.

"Maxine runs the sound board," Coach Jackson said. "And after Mariah Carey flipped out last year, trust me, she doesn't shock easily."

"We'll talk to Lorne," Wesley said. "That just leaves the basketball court itself."

Gunn's eyes went wide. "Does -- does this mean -- that -- we're gonna suit up?"

"No," Coach Jackson said quickly. Then he tried to gloss it over with a smile. "I think I know a way you can manage that."

Tamara Glendale was from Lawrenceville, Kansas, and as the season program said, she was the leader of the Laker Girls and earned her living as a "dancer in the film and television industries."

Tamara had since learned that being a "dancer in the film and television industries" was not quite as glamorous as it was cracked up to be. Mostly, it consisted of wearing thongs in music videos and occasionally doing a thankless opening number for an awards show. However, she was pretty happy with the Laker Girl gig, which really did involve celebrities and excitement, if not as much money as she might have hoped.

However, the last couple of weeks had gotten to be a MAJOR drag. Gross rabbit innards in their gym bags, pentagrams no the floor, and then Debbie and Carolyn had totally lost it, screaming about the whole princess thing.

And now, she had to replace them -- not with the trained, practiced alternates she'd worked with, but two mercy hires. What did they do for this? Tamara thought tiredly. Or, more likely, who?

"I do have cheer experience," said the short-haired one -- Cornelia? Cordelia, that was it. "Just high school, but we took it way seriously."

"You have four routines to learn before tomorrow night," Tamara said. "Can you handle that?"

"No prob," Cordelia said. "They never had to show me a combination twice."

Cordelia smiled, and Tamara managed to smile back. This one seemed game, at least. They could stick her in the back, and it wouldn't be too bad.

But the other one --

"Have you ever done any tests on the tensile strength of spandex?" Fred pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose and smiled.

It's gonna be a long day, Tamara thought.

Of all the group, Angel was physically the strongest, most experienced and most coordinated. This meant that he naturally had the jobs requiring the most strength, experience and coordination; Angel had noticed that these were usually also the jobs requiring beating up large, ferocious things and getting beaten up by them in return. He didn't mind it, though. The rewards outweighed the problems, as long as the impalings were kept to a minimum.

For instance, another job requiring strength and coordination was that of spotter to two young, scantily clad women working through a very gymnastic routine.

"And twist -- turn -- down-and-shake-your-butt and toss -- toss --" Cordelia chanted, swinging her head from side to side, not to mention certain other parts. Angel was amazed by a lot of things at the moment, among them the fact that Cordelia seemed to have this routine down perfectly. Certainly it was hard to imagine that the way she was moving couldn't be absolutely, totally right --

Angel forced himself to focus on Fred, who was a beat behind, and only shaking her hips very awkwardly. Cordelia sighed and punched "pause" on the jam box. "Come on, Fred. We've done this, like, eight times. You should know this by now."

"It's not that I don't remember," Fred said. "I remember just fine. I mean, if you can learn the atomic weight of meitnerium, you can learn to shake your butt on four."

Cordelia folded her arms in front of her. "So why, then, does the butt not shake?"

"I think Fred's just feeling uncomfortable," Angel said. "She does know the moves. And she's got rhythm."

"And you would recognize rhythm how?" Cordelia asked.

"Angel's right," Fred said. "I mean, if I could do this alone in my room, I bet I'd be just great. But the idea of, you know, moving all sexy in front of people --" She flushed scarlet. "Well, I just feel weird about it."

"You must have moved sexy in front of someone, sometime," Cordelia said with a raised eyebrow.

Fred shook her head and said, "Not on purpose."

"We can't do this alone in your room, Fred," Cordelia said. "We have to be in front of thousands of people tonight. And you're going to stand out a LOT less if your dancing fits in a lot more."

"That makes sense, I know," Fred said. "But I just feel strange about it. And have you SEEN what we have to wear?" She went to the wall, where a very purple, very shiny and very small outfit hung. "I am about the tiniest girl on earth, and there is no way this thing is gonna cover me."

"It stretches," Cordelia said.

"It stretches how far?" Fred asked. "Besides, there's one area where it's not gonna stretch -- it's gonna sag --"

"Oh, that," Cordelia said. "I've taken care of that."

"What?" Angel asked.

The basement door opened, and Gunn's voice called down, "I bought Fred's boobs!"

Fred glared at Cordelia. "I will get you for this."

"You'll thank me for this," Cordelia said. "Trust me. Confidence, thy name is C-cup."

Fred, still blushing, went upstairs to deal with Gunn and what he'd bought. Angel glanced sideways at Cordelia. "You really did embarrass her."

"She embarrasses too easily," Cordelia said. "I mean, come on. We all saw her in her burlap-sack stage, right? I don't think a pair of falsies is anything to get freaked out about."

"You're doing great," Angel said. "If we don't watch out, we might lose you to the Lakers."

"Don't be silly," Cordelia said. "Being a Laker Girl is only part-time."

"Wait -- you're serious?"

"Being a Laker Girl can be a major stepping stone, Angel," Cordelia said. "I mean, a lot of celebrities got started that way. Paula Abdul used to be a Laker Girl!"

"Who's Paula Abdul?"

"Hmm. Good point," Cordelia said thoughtfully.

"I just figured -- I mean, you haven't talked about acting since that suntan oil thing," Angel said. "I thought you weren't worried about that kind of stuff anymore."

"Fame and fortune and all that jazz?" Cordelia smiled and looked wistful. "I know I have a higher purpose, Angel. A higher responsibility. Being a seer and a champion -- that means a lot more than just being some vapid, self-centered movie star."

Angel smiled. Cordelia continued, "So, I'm thinking about being an enlightened, role-model movie star. Like maybe Richard Gere."

"I guess that would be a change," Angel said uncertainly. Eager for a change of subject, he said, "Tonight's going to be difficult."

"The demons?"

"The game," Angel said. "I just don't get sports."

"Oh, no, you don't." Cordelia poked Angel in the chest with one finger. "This is not the time for you do go into social-recluse mode."

"That's my mode."

"Well, you're gonna find a new one." Cordelia kept poking to emphasize her words. "There are gonna be really important people at this game, Angel. Courtside at a Lakers game? Major money. Major power. People that it would be really good for us, particularly me, to know. So no brooding, no questions like 'what is a basketball,' nothing. Make conversation. Make nice. Make normal. For me, okay?"

She looked up at him in a way that, Angel was quickly learning, meant he was going to do whatever she said. He smiled. "Okay. One order of normal, coming up."

Chapter 2: Who DID Let The Dogs Out?

The highways of Los Angeles were jammed. Some of the cars were steering toward the Staples Center, carrying either the very wealthy or the very lucky. Most of the cars were trying to go other places, but were inhabited by the poor and less lucky, who could not move until the basketball-game traffic cleared.

However, those few who had planned far enough in advance were in the stadium, ready for anything.


Officially, the Staples Center was a no-smoking complex. Maxine had run the Lakers soundboard for thirty years and wasn't leaving anytime soon. She had been smoking for more than thirty years, and she wasn't quitting anytime soon, regardless of how much crap she took from health inspectors, fire marshals or temperamental talent.

"Hon, the nicotine is so not my thing," said tonight's anthem singer, who looked even weirder than usual. Rapper, Maxine decided, taking another drag on her Marlboro Light. Damn rappers always look strange.

"Step outside if it bothers you," Maxine said.

"I have to sing in here! Listen, my little gray-haired vixen, maybe the menthol helps you feel mellow, but it does not do wonders for the golden throat." He gestured to his neck, which looked more green than gold to Maxine, but, whatever. "The mystique of the smoke-filled nightclub died right along with Dean Martin, God rest his gin-soaked soul. C'mon. Be a pal."

Maxine took another drag. "Thirty years and it hasn't killed me yet," she said. "You'll make it to game time."

Wesley, Gunn and Angel made their way through the crowded corridors; the journey took time, as Gunn stopped every ten feet to buy a jersey, a pennant, a commemorative hat or just some hot dogs. As they got closer to their seats, Angel peered into the crowd, then froze. "Dammit! It's started already."

"Demons?" Wesley said. "What? Where?"

Angel grabbed Wesley's arm and pointed. "There. A living skeleton."

"That's Lara Flynn Boyle," Gunn said. "Actress. Looks like that all the time."

"You're kidding," Angel said.

"Sadly, no," Wesley said.

"Girl needs some hot dogs, stat," Gunn said, gesturing to his own. "I'm surprised you're eating one, Angel. You're not big on the fast food, as a rule."

"Hot dogs are okay," Angel said. "They're close enough to entrails."

Wesley and Gunn looked at each other, then dumped their hot dogs in the trash can. "With my appetite quite permanently taken care of," Wesley said, "let's find our seats. The pre-game show's about to get started."

This song, Lorne thought -- not for amateurs. Separates the men from the larva.

"O'er the laaaaaaaa-aand -- of the freeeeeeeee-heeeeeeeee!" he belted. Oh, yeah. Move over, Whitney Houston.

"And the hooome -- of the --" Here we go, Lorne baby.. Take it home. "Braaaaaaaa-ayyyyyyyy-aaaaaaaaaave!"

The crowd roared. Maxine frowned. "Show-off."

Lorne grinned down at the crowd, then shook his head. "I realize you can't shed the frump, but you want to at least dump the grump? You and I have a long game to get through."

"You're not leaving?" Maxine stared at him. "You haven't got a game to watch? Execs to shmooze?"

"I've got a sound booth to protect from the evil hordes," Lorne said. "And really, hold your thanks. I'm sure I'd be too choked up."

"Show-off," Maxine muttered. She looked down at her sound board, found the button marked "Mick" in ballpoint pen and punched it.

The speakers began blaring "Satisfaction," and a voice on the loudspeaker said, "And now presenting the -- Laker Girls!"

In the corridor outside, the crowd's roar echoed, and Cordelia nudged Fred in the elbow. "Hey. You doing all right?"

The first girls began to run out on the court. Fred was staring down at her newly curvaceous chest. "I think these must be made with silicone or a close analogue."

"How did you come up with that? Chemical analysis?"

"More a test of gravity reaction." Fred bounced on her heels by way of demonstration. "In other words, they kinda sploosh around."

"That's the idea," Cordelia said. The second group ran. "Come on, it's our turn next, okay? You're gonna be great." Cordelia was exaggerating to make Fred feel better. She'd already done Fred's hair and makeup for her, with results that were really a lot better than Cordelia had dared hope. Fred definitely had potential beyond burlap. However, her sex appeal was still stuck at the level of "deer caught in the headlights;" i.e., somewhere beneath zero.

Fred was still staring at her fake breasts. "I feel like I'm gonna fall forward."

Cordelia adjusted her own cleavage as their cue finally came. "Welcome to the club. Here we go, Fred. Showtime!"

And they ran out into the blare of sound and light, and into a sea of cheers.

Cordelia struck her pose midcourt, and from the corner of her eye she could see Fred do the same. People in the crowd were, of course, going nuts, and Cordy flashed back to high school -- in a good way, for once.

"Cordy?" Fred's voice was a whisper, but she could still hear.

"I know it's a lot of people," Cordelia said through her determined smile. "But hang in there. The dance mix will start soon."

"I was a flag girl."

"What?" Oh, please, do not let Fred have a fugue state here in the game, she thought. All we need is Fred running over to write odes to Angel on the walls.

"I wasn't popular enough to be a cheerleader," Fred said. "And I never could twirl a baton. So I had to be a flag girl. The cheerleaders wore little short skirts. WE wore green polyester coveralls. And furry hats. Nobody looks at a girl who looks like a big green Q-Tip."

Cordelia prayed for the cheering to die down so the music would start. "I know it was better when nobody looked at you --"

"No, it wasn't." Cordelia turned her head the tiniest bit and saw that Fred was staring up at the crowd -- and beaming. "It SUCKS to have no one look at you. That means you're one of the plain girls. But now -- Cordy -- I'm one of the sexy girls."

Cordy looked at Fred -- long, luxurious hair, big smoky eyes, temporarily stacked and loving every minute of it. The combination of excitement and bravado was one Cordelia had seen before, year after year, during the Miss America pageant. Always on the cosmetic-coated face of Miss Texas.

Oh, God, Cordy thought. I've created a monster.

Fred tossed her hair. "Let's hit it."

And the music began to play.

The Lakers were warming up during the dance number, and Gunn was watching the players with undisguised reverence. "The Lakers," he breathed. "The almighty freakin' L.A. Lakers. They're like, thirty feet away."

"This Shack person," Angel said. "He's human too?"

Gunn didn't answer. "Rick Fox," he whispered. "Derek Fisher."

"Fred," Wesley said. Gunn glanced over at Wesley, who had brought some kind of pansy binoculars called opera glasses and was now peering through them, open-mouthed.

Gunn turned to look at the Laker Girls. One of them was very, very into the music. This made her very, very hot. And, to his amazement, she also appeared to be very, very Fred.

He stared. Next to him, Wesley stared. On the other side, Angel stared.

Wesley sat back for a moment. "I -- well -- yes -- it appears that, ah, Fred has -- come out of her shell."

"That ain't all she's come out of," Gunn muttered. Man, he thought, do I know how to shop or what?

"You don't think Cordy would really quit to be a Laker Girl, do you?" said Angel, whose attention was apparently elsewhere.

"Gimme those binoculars," Gunn said.

"Not on your life," Wesley said.

Maxine took another drag on her cigarette and evaluated the crowd. The Lakers were ahead of the Knicks, thus far -- but it was early in the game, and given how godawful the Knicks were this year, they ought to have been further ahead than they were. Enthusiasm, but mid-level. With this in mind, Maxine punched a button marked "YMCA" and let the Village People begin to sing.

Lorne winced. "Oh, come on. We couldn't at least have Queen? Freddie Mercury -- now, there was a set of pipes."

"The action's going too fast for Queen," Maxine explained. Amateurs. Thought they knew everything. "You gotta wait for a strong lead, slow play, a long time-out. Otherwise, the Queen's not gonna do a damn bit of good."

"Huh. That's interesting." Lorne cocked his head to one side, then said, "What about when the Lakers are behind?"

"Heavy dance stuff," Maxine said, then coughed. "That bam-bam-bam stuff the kids like. Come on and ride the train and all that. Gets 'em even more riled up."

"I never realized this was so complicated," Lorne said, and then he smiled. "In your own remarkably inarticulate way, you are an advanced student of group psychology, Maxine."

Maxine weighed that for a moment, decided it was more nice than not, and gave him a tobacco-stained smile back. "You know, you're not too bad. At least, not compared to that Mariah Carey."

"Biologically speaking, I'm actually closer to human. But we'll discuss that later."

Angel watched the game in bemusement for a while. The point was to put the ball through the hoop, which he would have thought would be accomplished more often, given how tall most of the men on the court were. Of course, Angel reasoned, with vampiric reflexes and jumping ability, this game would be far easier.

He glanced upward. Solid roof, no windows. It appeared that basketball was played indoors, at night. Maybe, if Cordy decided to join the Laker Girls, he could join the Lakers. This might be something fun they could do together in their spare time. He would have to remember to mention it to Coach Jackson.

Sighing in boredom, he glanced over at his two friends. Gunn might have explained the arcane rules and nuances of this game to him, but he was much too busy bargaining with Wesley for the opera glasses.

He glanced in the other direction at the stranger sitting next to him. Wait -- not such a stranger. The man looked familiar --

Angel smiled. At last, an important person, just like Cordy said, and Angel would be able to talk with him about normal subjects, and Cordy would be very happy when she heard about it.

"Hey," Angel said. The man turned his head slightly; his eyes were invisible beneath the dark glasses he wore. Angel grinned. "Weren't you in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?"

Cordelia had tried, for a while, to come up with a reaction besides staring. Indignation seemed too strong -- after all, Fred wasn't doing anything Cordelia hadn't told her to do. Envy was just NOT the Cordelia Chase style. But, at the same time, Cordelia was finding the very new experience of being eclipsed too unpleasant to come up with any positive emotions. So, for the time being, she stared.

Tamara seemed to have settled on Indignation. "Who the hell is she?" Tamara hissed to Cordelia during a break. "And what was with the nerdy-girl act?"

"You got me," Cordelia said, watching as Fred chatted with the VIPs in the front row. She was pretty sure that was Denzel Washington gazing up at Fred. At least, one of the dozens of people gazing at Fred was Denzel Washington..

"Do you have any IDEA how long some of us have waited to talk to those guys?" Tamara said. Without waiting for an answer, she huffed, "Get her back out here, anyway. We're about to have the quarter-break routine."

Cordy waved to Fred, who came back with a broad smile and some kind of snack in one hand. "Those people are a whole lot friendlier than most folks in L.A.," Fred said. "Dyan Cannon gave me a brownie! Plus, you know, the card of some agent person. Don't know what I'm supposed to do with that."

"Don't let the other girls see it," Cordelia said. "They'd probably kill you for it. Two years ago, I'd at least have maimed you."

Fred munched on the last of her brownie. "This being gorgeous -- I think I like it." And Cordelia felt like smacking her one until Fred added, "Is this what it's like for you all the time?"

Cordelia felt herself starting to smile. She tossed her hair. "Well -- of COURSE."

Robert Horry leaped for the ball and got it -- but ended up flying into the stands, landing just inches from Charles Gunn.

Gunn absent-mindedly pushed Horry away from him without taking his eyes off Wesley. "I'll wash your new jeep. Like, for a month."

"Really, Charles. I don't know why you'd want to use these things, when they're so -- what was your term? Pansy?"

Next to them, Angel was aglow with excitement. Granted, he wasn't the best judge of social suavity, but as far as he could tell, the conversation was going quite well.

"I mean, I'm not saying 'Wolf' isn't a good movie," Angel hastened to add. "I just thought, maybe the next time you do a werewolf film, you can tell the director to work on those inaccuracies. Drama's always best when it's true to life, right?"

Jack -- he'd said to call him Jack -- seemed to consider this very carefully. "Right," he said, slowly.

They were talking about drama! Cordelia would be so proud. "When it's real, you can just feel the difference," Angel added. "Now, 'The Shining' -- THAT was accurate. I know a thing or two about haunted hotels."

"You don't say."

"I have a couple questions about 'The Witches of Eastwick,' though --"

Kobe Bryant stayed close on Latrell Sprewell, edging him left, giving him no mercy. Latrell made a clumsy move, and the ball bounced out of bounds. Possession, Lakers. Kobe grinned.

Latrell did not grin. He stared malevolently at Kobe. This was to be expected.

What was less expected was the way Latrell's dreadlocks began to lengthen. And turn green.

"What the hell?" Kobe said, backing up.

Behind him, Shaquille said, "I ain't seen hair like that since Dennis Rodman left the league."

The crowd began to shout. Gunn glanced around in annoyance. What were they making such a stir about? The girls weren't even dancing yet. "How come --uh-oh."

"They'll dance soon, Charles," Wesley said absently, still peering through his opera glasses.

"English, how about you shift your view midcourt?" Gunn elbowed Angel. "Check it out."

"I see it," Angel said, putting one hand beneath his coat, where he had his Merovian battle ax.

As the Lakers backed up, Latrell's hair kept getting longer, and greener. Then it began moving of its own accord.

"Those aren't dreadlocks," Wesley said. "They're -- tentacles."

"Latrell Sprewell is a demon," Gunn said. "Man, does this explain a lot."

"Excuse me, Jack. Nice talking to you, but --" Angel took out his ax. "I think we're getting to the part of the game I like."

Maxine was cueing up the girls' dance music when Lorne said, "Oh, here we go."

She stared out the window -- where every single player of the New York Knicks was growing tentacles and turning green. Maxine screamed and fell back onto the panel. One finger hit the button marked "Glitter."

"Rock & Roll Part 2" began blaring throughout the stadium.

"Maxine!" Lorne yelled. "That's PERFECT!"

"I'm on the court at last!" Gunn shouted, and he, Angel and Wesley all ran from the stands.

The crowds were screaming, and the music was thumping, and most of the Laker Girls were running for cover. The Knicks -- or rather, the demons -- stared at them, then charged. Angel began swinging his ax. "Let's find out how they play this game."

Meanwhile, the Lakers, who had dealt with many strange on-court activities, including the Macarena, weren't dealing well with this. As a group, they stumbled back toward their bench. "Coach Jackson," Kobe said, "What do we do?"

"I've waited a long time to hear you say that." Coach Jackson pointed toward the court. "Do just what you've always wanted to do," he growled. "Kill the Knicks!"

The fists were flying, the swords were spinning, and the tentacles were doing whatever it is tentacles do. Cordelia gasped as Angel went flying over one demon, then spun around to kick it in the back. "There's a LOT of them," she whispered to Fred.

"But they don't really know what they're doing," Fred said. "Angel does. And Charles, and Wesley --"

"And -- Shaquille?" Cordelia said, watching as Shaq punched a demon very hard in the face.

The demon went flying past Angel before hitting the floor and dissolving into so much green goo. That Shack fellow knew what he was doing, Angel thought, before getting punched in the face himself. Professional sports weren't as easy as they looked, apparently. Angel punched back, then shrugged and tripped the guy. As soon as he hit the floor hard, Angel swung his ax to behead the demon -- which turned into goo even before Angel could pull his ax back. "This is going to be messy," he muttered.

The demons weren't yet solidified in their new forms, which meant that they were still prone to liquefaction. This was going to make their work quite a bit easier, Wesley surmised, as the creature that had been Marcus Camby tossed him over his shoulder onto the hard, hard court, knocking the breath out of Wes. Easy being a relative term, he thought as he gasped.

The Marcus Camby demon broke away from the others, running for the door. Angel saw it and began running after it -- he didn't want to leave Gunn and Wes alone out there, but if the demon got away, it could call forth more and more demons until there was no hope. But if the demons weren't very solid, they WERE very fast; Angel began to despair as he saw the demon get to the door --

Angel looked at who'd killed the demon and smiled. "Good work, Jack!" Jack grinned and gave him a thumbs-up.

"Not seen this much slime since I watched Nickelodeon!" Gunn shouted. "How we doin' out here?"

Wesley looked around. The number of demons had increased, and Angel was running back onto the court. "I think we're winning!"

"Don't say that!" Gunn said. "Remember what happened the last time you said that?"

"Uh-oh," Angel said. He clutched his ax tighter and kept swinging. SWOOSH and one Knick was goo. SWOOSH and one more was a puddle on the floor. He was just going to have to skip all the punching and kicking and go straight to the slaying. Basketball wasn't any fun.

Angel went SWOOSH and another demon went down. Gunn slammed another demon into the floor and it went down. Kobe punched another one hard in the face, and it went down. Everything was going well, except --

"Wesley!" Fred cried. Still shaken from his fall, he'd run into one of the stronger demons -- once in the form of Charlie Ward -- and was being battered backwards, away from the others, who might help.

"We gotta get that guy," Cordelia said. "Quick! What can we use?"

Fred looked around, then looked down. She pulled her halter top forward, and her two gel-filled falsies plopped to the floor. Quickly she grabbed them and tossed them at the attacking demon's feet.

The demon slipped on them, wobbled and fell over. Wesley hastily slammed the demon's head into the floor, and was left with handfuls of goo.

"Who said silicone's a bad thing?" Cordelia said.

At last only one demon -- the one that had been Latrell Sprewell -- was left on the court. Angel and Gunn both ran toward it, but it spun about, avoiding them both -- and running into Shaquille. Shaquille grabbed it hard, lifted it above his head, ran for the backboard and dunked it.

The scoreboard buzzed.

The official explanation was LSD in the water supply, perhaps -- gossips said -- perpetrated by the same people who'd drugged the Titanic set.

"We made some calls," Coach Jackson said as he walked the Angel Investigations team toward the exit. "Some people did some looking around. Turns out the real Knicks have been trapped in a hypnotic state beneath Madison Square Garden for quite some time."

"Figures," Gunn said. "I knew no human beings woulda treated Patrick Ewing that way."

"I finally realized why the Staples Center was chosen," Wesley explained. "It turns out that one of the sacred chants of the Elwek dimension is Kobay-shacshac-kobay."

"People have really got to get back to naming their kids stuff like 'Edward,'" Gunn sighed.

"Did you do some networking?" Cordelia asked Angel.

"I did talk to this one guy," Angel said. "And I really thought we were getting along, communicating, you know? But all he wanted to do was drag me to this party." What were the names of the hosts again? Warren and Annette? No matter. "Parties really aren't my scene."

Cordelia smiled and linked her arm with his. "I'm too shocked for words."

"I know they were lost in a good cause," Fred said, looking sorrowfully at her chest. "But I kinda miss 'em."

Wesley coughed and blushed. Lorne smiled and said, "More where that came from, sweetie. And if you don't believe me, ask ANY of the other Laker Girls."

"Thank God this game wasn't televised," Coach Jackson said. "We could never have explained that."

"Oh, I don't know," Cordelia said. "What about -- it was a failed pilot for a reality show?"

"Hey, that's not bad," Coach Jackson said.

Cordelia sighed. "Years of practice."


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