Subject: ATS: "A Stitch In Time" Book I by Yahtzee and Rheanna Date: Sunday, February 02, 2003 4:41 PM
The following characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt and so forth. They are used without permission, intent of infringement or expectation of profit.
This story contains spoilers through the ATS third-season episode "Double or Nothing" and is rated R for occasional violent content.
Feedback of any remotely constructive nature is welcomed at Yahtzee63@aol.com and email@example.com. Character-, relationship- or show-bashing is not.
We're very grateful for the beta help of Corinna and everybody else at the Angel Fanfic Workshop.
Summary: The story of 104 years and five months.
"The past isn't dead. It's not even the past." -- William Faulkner
A STITCH IN TIME
By Yahtzee (Yahtzee63@aol.com)
and Rheanna (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Museum closes in ten minutes, folks. Please make your way to the exit."
Vern's voice, raspy with age and a thirty-a-day habit which his doctor said was going to kill him, cut through the silence of the main display hall of the Museum of Victoriana. The three visitors left in the room -- a middle-aged man who had an air of academia about him, and two elderly Japanese tourists -- looked at Vern with, respectively, annoyance and incomprehension.
For the benefit of the tourists, Vern pointed at the clock hanging above the "Great Exhibition of 1851" wall display, then at the way out. After a brief discussion in Japanese, the couple shuffled toward the door. A second later, the professor-type followed them, shutting his notebook with a firm snap.
"Thank you," Vern said pleasantly. "Come again."
Once the Great Exhibition room was empty, he switched off the lights, and continued on his last circuit of the museum for the day. Panels on the walls directed visitors around the various exhibitions, but Vern didn't even have to glance at them on his way past. The displays sometimes changed, but Vern's route never did. Main concourse, exhibition rooms, cafeteria, gift shop, lights out, lock up.
The last stop on Vern's tour was the small display room, used for temporary exhibitions. The current installation was dedicated to Victorian china dolls -- row upon row of them, with hard, white faces and glassy eyes. Vern wouldn't have admitted it, but the doll exhibition creeped him out. At least he wasn't alone -- visitor numbers had been especially low, and the small display room was usually empty.
Tonight, it wasn't.
"Museum closes in five minutes, miss," Vern said.
The girl didn't answer -- just kept staring at the dolls, enraptured -- so Vern came into the room. Up close, she almost looked like a doll herself. Her hair was uniformly dark and glossy, as if it had been woven instead of grown, and her skin was chalk-pale. She looked as if she belonged here, in a room filled with mannequins.
"Miss, it's time to leave," Vern said, more firmly.
"Time," the girl said, drawing out the word into a sigh. Her accent was --English, maybe? Vern thought so, but he wasn't sure. She didn't sound like any of the British visitors who'd come to the museum recently.
"Time," the girl said again. She reached out and lifted the nearest doll from its stand. Holding it up, she said, "Time is naughty. It makes everything change. But we don't change, do we?"
"Put the doll back, please, miss," Vern said. "It's not permitted to touch items on display."
The girl ignored him and instead held the doll up higher, her fingers tugging the silk bow in its curly hair before stroking the green velvet of the miniature ball gown it wore. "Such a pretty dress," the girl said. She looked down wistfully at her own dress -- a crimson-red slip of chiffon that showed a little leg and a lot of back, the sort of things girls wore for special occasions, not for visiting museums. But this dress looked as though it had seen a few special occasions too many: The hem was torn in several places, and Vern could see a few dark stains. "We used to have real dresses, not scraps and handkerchiefs," the girl continued. "Real dresses. Beautiful dresses. And there was music and dancing and everyone said I was beautiful."
Vern fought down a sigh. What was it about museums that attracted crazies? "Look, we're closing now, and you can't stay here tonight, you understand? There's a shelter on Stanford Avenue where they'll give you a bed and a hot meal." As he said it, Vern noticed how pitifully thin the girl was. "You look like you could use it."
The girl leaned toward the doll, and whispered to it, "I had a clock, but it only ran forward. I wanted to know if the clock ran backward, would time follow it?" She lowered her voice. "It didn't."
"No kidding," Vern said dryly.
"I pulled out all the springs to see what made it go. And then there wasn't any tick-tock any more. It went all quiet." The girl turned around, looking at Vern for the first time. Her gaze, unlike the rest of her manner, was focused and intense, almost hypnotic, and Vern was filled with the unnerving conviction that if he looked too long into those dark eyes, he might never be able to look away again. "People are like clocks, you know. Tick-tock, tick-tock, and then nothing -- unless they start up again." She smiled. "I started up again."
"Okay, that's it," Vern snapped. "It's time for you to go." Reaching out, he took the doll away from the girl and put it back on to its stand.
"Time to go," the girl repeated, her voice a lilting sing-song. "Time to go. It's time to go, but I haven't found what I came for yet."
"You've seen the dolls," Vern said.
"Not the dollies," she said scornfully. "I came for something much prettier."
Vern put his hand on the girl's arm, intending to guide her to the door. She didn't move, and when he tried to pull her away from the display of dolls, he felt her body stiffen, muscles tightening. Her thin arm hardened to iron in his grasp. She was stronger than she looked.
Attempting to sound persuasive, he said, "Whatever you came see, it'll still be here tomorrow."
The girl smiled, and suddenly Vern wasn't standing beside her anymore. He was on the museum floor, pinned down by a yellow-eyed, smiling monster.
"There isn't any tomorrow," Vern heard the girl whisper, as if from a great distance. "There's only yesterday."
That was the last thing he heard.
"The Tenth of Never"
"So, the beach was really beautiful," Cordelia said. "You should have seen it. At night, of course, unless Coppertone now makes SPF 8000."
Angel knew she was trying very hard to make a joke. He knew he ought to smile. He wanted to smile, to ask her about her trip, to do his best to be happy for her and Groo.
But he didn't care about the trip, and he knew she didn't either. It was just something to talk about, so they didn't have to talk about what they were doing, which was boxing up Connor's things.
"They had a limbo contest," Cordelia said, stepping sideways. She had on her oldest jeans and a soft-green T-shirt white-flecked with bleach; a simple clip held back the bangs of her newly short, newly blonde hair. From that angle, her body almost hid the little pile of baby blankets she'd folded. "Groo just couldn't see the point of the limbo. Not that there really is a point to the limbo. But yours truly took third place."
Connor's teddy bear. Its fur was matted together with soot and grime from the fire. Angel stared down into its glassy, doll-like eyes. "Only third place?"
"Hey, I'm proud to say that my knees don't bend as wide as some people's."
If he shut his eyes -- even for a moment -- he could feel Connor in his arms. His son's living warmth, his weight, the faint pressure of each breath. The overwhelming desire to protect him, take care of him --
Angel felt a moment of disorientation, then shook his head and tried to concentrate on Cordy. She was studying his face carefully, looking, he knew, for any sign of strain. Quickly, he cast about for another topic. "What's that you're wearing on your arm?"
"Oh, right. This." Cordelia looked, if it were possible, even more awkward. She held out her slim wrist; the strip around her arm shimmered in a dozen colors. "Behold the hologram bracelet, available from only the beach's finest souvenir shops."
She was grimacing slightly as she looked at it. Angel shook his head. "Let me guess. They don't have holograms in Pylea."
"Groo thought it was pretty," Cordy said with a sigh. "Apparently, if you've never seen a hologram before, it looks like a beautiful, wonderful, shiny miracle bracelet instead of, well, beach crap. I guess Groo just needs to be in L.A. a while longer before he figures out that haute couture generally costs more than $3.99."
"It's like I always say," Angel said. "You can't go wrong with jewelry."
He'd given Darla and Dru jewelry whenever he could procure it -- through murder, through theft or, on very rare occasions, through legitimate purchase. For one moment, he could see them as vividly as though they were in the room: a crystal tiara glittering in Drusilla's dark locks, a choker of black pearls sheathing Darla's swan-white neck --
- Darla, lying on the pavement in the rain, begging Angel to take good care of their son --
He snapped his head up. Cordelia had a pained look on her face, but right now, Angel didn't want her pity. He turned back to his work, stuffing Connor's mobile in a box more roughly than he meant to. "So, what else did you guys do?"
"We -- well, we --" Angel didn't have to look up to know that Cordelia was trying to figure out whether or not to draw him out or keep trying to distract him. She chose the latter. "We ate out a lot -- I figured it'd be a good way to introduce Groo to Earth food. Turns out he loves Mexican. Should give him and Fred a lot to talk about."
Angel was hungry. He hadn't eaten in days, not since the last time he'd drunk his son's blood. He hadn't wanted to. "Glad Groo enjoys that." Connor's little shoes would fit in this box too. Everything his son had owned would just about fit in two boxes.
"And -- oh, I went and got my hair done. What do you think?"
Angel didn't look up. "I don't like it."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Sorry," he said flatly. "I don't." He glanced up finally to see that Cordelia was staring at him, hands on hips, nostrils flaring in an unflattering manner. He'd made her mad, and Angel dimly knew he should feel worse about that than he did.
"Okay, we're picking you up a copy of Tact for Dummies," Cordelia said. "You can't just tell someone you don't like her hair!"
"You asked me," Angel pointed out.
"Yeah, but -- but --" Cordelia gestured with one hand. "The question, 'do you like my hair?' is in the same category as 'does this make me look fat?' Honesty not required."
Cordelia's hair used to be long and soft and dark. He'd buried his face in it once, drunk in the scent. Angel hadn't been himself at the time, but more than a year later, he could still remember the smell, the feel of it against his skin. "The cut is okay," he said. "It shows off your neck --"
"So NOT the compliment I was looking for from you."
"-- but the color's all wrong." Angel could tell Cordelia was going from merely angry to furious, but he still didn't care. In fact, weirdly, he felt himself getting angry in return. No -- it wasn't anger -- something else building up inside him, pressure tightening all around him, inside him.
"Well, excuse me for expecting good advice from a hair-gel addict."
"You asked me what I thought --"
"I didn't expect you to TELL me!"
Angel slammed his fist into the wall and yelled, "I just want everything back the way it was!"
Cordy stared at him. He stared at the wall. The plaster had cracked all around his hand, a spiderweb of cement. His fist hurt, and he felt his throat closing up. "Cordy -- oh, God, Cordy, I'm sorry."
"Jesus," Cordelia breathed. "Angel -- are you --"
"It's like I can't concentrate," Angel said. "I can't think about Connor, and I can't stop thinking about Connor, and nothing makes any sense to me anymore."
She flung her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "I know you didn't mean it. I know you're upset. I'm being so stupid, talking about my hair -- I just don't know what to say."
Angel hugged her back. "You don't have to say anything," he said. "You're here."
"I want to say something to make it all better, and I can't, I can't make it better --"
"It's okay. It's okay, you can talk about anything, I won't get mad again, I promise --"
Cordelia lifted her head and blinked several times, hard. She forced a smile. "You know what? On reflection, I'm not sure 'Golden Shimmer' was the right shade after all."
Angel tried to smile in return. "You're always beautiful to me."
"Are y'all okay?"
Fred's voice from the doorway brought Angel back to something like clarity. He realized that Fred, Gunn, Groo and Lorne were all staring at them --brought up the stairs, no doubt, by the sound of his punching the wall. Now they were all staring at him and Cordelia.
Angel stepped away at the same moment Cordelia did. She smiled and wiped quickly at her eyes. "Everything's fine," she promised. "Angel and I were --we were talking about my hair."
Gunn nodded sympathetically. "I figured you had to be upset about that. Don't worry, Cordy. It'll grow out."
"Excuse me?" Cordelia scowled.
Gunn held up his hands. "But, hey, what do I know about hair?"
"I see you kids have been busy," Lorne said, stepping gingerly through the debris. "It's no longer a federal disaster area in here. I'd downgrade this to a plain ol' mess." Lorne patted Angel's shoulder. "What say I get some of this out of your way?"
Angel looked down at the two boxes sitting on the dresser. Once they were gone, Connor would be, too. "Not yet," he said quietly.
Groo put his arms around Cordelia's waist. "Truly you have worked miracles, my princess. So much has been done in so little time." He kissed her lightly on the forehead, and she smiled up at him.
"Maybe that's your demon power, Cordy," Fred suggested. "Amazing cleaning-up ability."
"What demon would that be from?" Cordelia asked. "The Tidy-Bowl Man?"
"Sounds like a demon candidate to me," Gunn said. He, too, was joining in the forced cheer. "I mean, you gotta wonder why the man's choosing to float his rowboat in the toilet in the first place."
"I do not understand," Groo said. "You explained what the toilets are for, princess, but you never spoke of boats."
"Stick with the first explanation," Cordelia said quickly.
Angel kept looking at the cracks in the plaster. Just like a spiderweb. Drusilla had loved spiderwebs. She pretended they were bridal veils and tried to put them in her hair, and when they broke she cried and cried --
All at once it came together. The glassy doll's eyes of the teddy bear. The memories of the tiara, of the feel of dark, silky hair against his hand. The need to protect. The need to attack.
"Drusilla," Angel whispered.
Everyone stared at him. Finally, Cordelia said, "Drusilla -- what?"
"She's here," Angel said. "In Los Angeles. Not far away."
Cordelia looked skyward. "And I thought it could not get worse."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Gunn said. "How do you know this, Angel? You got spidey-sense or something?"
"Something like that," Angel said, though he didn't have slightest idea what "spidey-sense" was. "I could always tell when the vampires in my line were close by. And Drusilla's close by now. I've been feeling it for a while. I didn't realize it earlier because -- well, I didn't."
"Um, I think I didn't get the memo," Fred said. "Who's Drusilla?"
"Bad-ass vampire from Angel's own bad-ass days," Cordelia supplied. She stepped away from Groo, already all business. "If she thinks she can waltz in here and kick Angel while he's down, she's got another think coming. Assuming Drusilla thinks anything at all." Fred frowned. Gunn held his hand up to his temple and twirled his finger around in the international sign for "crazy as a loon."
"Just peachy," Lorne said. "You sure about this, big guy? Not just a bad dream, some tuna salad that was just a smidge off?"
"I'm sure," Angel said. Now that he'd identified the sensation, he couldn't believe he hadn't recognized it before. Drusilla was very close, within a few miles.
Groo held up one hand uncertainly. "Of course I wish to join in the slaying of the Drusilla beast," he said. "But what of the vampire attack Cordelia has foreseen? I am certain we all remember the eventful vision of this morning, and the unfortunate fate of the pancakes."
"Oh, great," Cordelia sighed. "We have to be at LAX in an hour and a half, Angel. Any chance Drusilla's hanging out at the airport?"
"She's closer than that," Angel said.
"Here's a plan," Lorne said, stepping to Groo's side. "How about the Boy Wonder and I cruise down to the terminal and take care of the undead ruffians? That frees you guys up to hunt down Drusilla."
"You are willing to go into battle with me?" Groo said. He smiled at Lorne. "I am surprised, for your unwrinkled clothing and well-trimmed nails do not speak of a warrior. But I salute your courage, my groomed friend."
Lorne closed his eyes in a pained wince. "I can go with Groo," Cordelia offered quickly.
"Oh, no, you don't," Lorne said. "I haven't met Dru for myself, but I've gotten a peek during Angel-cakes' musical numbers. And there is no WAY I'm going anywhere near that chick. She makes Anna Nicole Smith look stable, and my head will probably explode if she so much as hums."
"That settles that," Gunn said. "Only question is, where's Drusilla?"
"Someplace she likes," Angel said. "Someplace -- fun."
"That could be anyplace where people can bleed," Cordelia said. "Can you narrow it down?"
Angel took a mental tour of the surrounding blocks, then remembered a museum he'd passed before. He'd thought of Drusilla then.
"I think I can," Angel said.
Fred lowered herself through the skylight, straightening her arms slowly while pressing her feet together to avoid the shards of broken glass still clinging to the edges of the shattered pane. It was hard work, and before she was halfway through her arms ached with the effort. Then, just as she was sure she was about to drop the rest of the way and land in an ungainly heap on the floor, she felt broad shoulders rise up under her feet, bearing her weight. Strong arms gripped her legs, anchoring her.
"I got ya," Charles said from below her, and Fred felt herself sinking smoothly and gracefully toward the floor, like a ballerina descending from a high lift. Once she was safely on the ground, she tugged her T-shirt back into place and peered into the gloom around them, trying to make out the details of their surroundings. The Museum of Victoriana had probably looked very elegant 25 years ago. But the wood paneling was darker than was now fashionable, the ceilings a little low. The wall-to-wall carpeting had worn thin. Fred thought it looked genteel but shabby -- a place built with care and then forgotten.
Cordelia, who was standing next to Angel, frowned. "THIS is your idea of 'someplace fun'? Angel, I've been in morgues with more atmosphere."
"Not my idea," Angel said. He sounded distracted, Fred thought, as if he were only half-concentrating on talking to Cordy. "Drusilla's. She always liked museums. This way."
He set off along the hallway; first Cordelia, then Charles and Fred, followed him. As they walked, Fred's attention was drawn by the paintings and even some photographs of men and women in stiff poses and stiffer clothes that lined the museum's hallways. In the gaps between the wall displays there were cabinets filled with strange, old-fashioned objects. Fred had always been more interested in science than history, but even so her fingers itched with the desire to pick things up, shake them, figure out what they were for and how they worked.
"Museums ARE fun," she said. "All these things are little pieces of time, preserved like -- like the marshmallows in a gallon of rocky road." Fred broke off and frowned to herself. "That wasn't a very good analogy."
"Worked fine for me," Charles said, taking her hand lightly in his. "Hey, my uncanny sixth sense is tellin' me you might want to go grab a midnight sundae after this. Am I right?" In reply, Fred squeezed his hand and smiled at him.
"The summer we went to France, I visited the Louvre in Paris," Cordelia said. "It was okay, I guess, although after a while you start wondering how many marble statues a country actually NEEDS. And the Mona Lisa looked like she was about to say -- ohmigod!"
Somehow, Fred sensed that quote wasn't from the Mona Lisa. Charles tightened his hand around hers, and together they hurried to catch up with Cordelia, who was standing in the doorway of the next exhibition room.
The room was filled with dolls from floor to ceiling. A hundred or more glittering eyes gazed down at Fred unblinkingly. The dolls' painted faces were individually benign -- but there was something unnerving about the sight of ranks of undifferentiated perfection.
"Creepy," Fred said.
"Creepier," Cordelia amended. She pointed at the floor.
The body lying in the middle of the room belonged to a man in his late fifties or early sixties, gray-haired and jowly. Or he would have been jowly, if most of his throat hadn't been ripped out. But Fred saw straight away that Cordelia hadn't been talking about the gore.
The man on the floor had been killed savagely, by something that had taken pure, visceral pleasure in the act of violence. But, after the kill, the same something had rolled the body on to its back and tucked a cushion under the corpse's head and a teddy bear into the crook of its arm.
"Drusilla wants to care for things," Angel said. "But she doesn't know how."
Charles slipped his hand free from Fred's and flicked his wrist. When she looked down, she saw he was holding a stake. "If she's crazy, that plays better for us. A vamp that doesn't think straight is a vamp that's easier to dust."
Sharply, Angel said, "That's the biggest mistake you can make about Drusilla. She's insane, but she's smart. She thinks differently -- but she does think. That's how she's survived this long. That's why she's so dangerous." Suddenly, his stance changed, becoming harder, tenser, and his face darkened. "Isn't that right, Dru?"
As he spoke, Angel stepped to one side and turned around, revealing the figure who had been standing behind him, in the doorway of the doll room.
In the last year, Fred had slowly grown used to the idea that vampires looked like the people they had been when they'd died -- normal people, fat or thin or ugly or handsome, superficially no different than anyone you might see on the subway, except a whole lot more dangerous. Well, maybe a little paler, too. But the girl who was gliding toward Angel carried about her an aura of the supernatural so strong it seemed to make the air around her hum. Her skin glowed moon-white, and her black hair rippled over her shoulders like a veil of mourning. Her lips and cheeks were flushed, and her eyes glowed feverishly. The body sheathed in its grubby red dress was skeletal even by L.A. standards. There could be no mistaking this vampire for a normal person.
"My thoughts are wasps," Drusilla said. "They sting my brain all over. Pzzzt!"
As she spoke, she lifted her hand and waved her finger through the air, mimicking the helter-skelter flight of an insect. Her gaze followed her fingertip as it spiraled and danced in front of her; the sight seemed to entrance her, as if she had no idea what direction her hand was going to take next. Maybe, Fred thought, she really didn't.
Drusilla's finger darted toward her bare arm, like an insect diving to attack. Her nails, talon-sharp, left a red score on the delicate skin.
"That's enough, Dru," Angel said.
Drusilla's hand continued to arc and dip in the air. As Fred looked on, she realized that there was a rhythm to the apparently random motion, a pattern that was strangely soothing, even hypnotic --
"I said that's ENOUGH."
Fred blinked. Angel's hand was wrapped around Drusilla's thin wrist, encircling it easily, preventing her from moving. He was gripping her tightly -- so tightly that Drusilla gasped. Then she gave a soft moan which was equal parts pain and pleasure. She looked up at Angel and smiled. "Hurt me again."
Angel stared at her, then at his fingers digging into her arm. Slowly he released his grip. "No. I know what you want from me. But I'm not going to give you what you want anymore."
Drusilla cradled her wrist to her chest. She looked up at Angel with huge, sorrowful eyes. "Why did you go away? That was when all the bad things started. You all went away, one by one, and now I'm the only one left. I'm all alone."
Cordelia glanced at the body on the floor. "Keeping friends is easier if you don't brutally murder everyone you meet. I'm just throwing out an idea, here."
"Spike's gone away. They put metal in his mind, and now he can't drink. It poisons him from the inside out." Slowly, Drusilla's voice was taking on a dreamy quality; she sounded as if she were telling a story she had rehearsed many times to herself. "She was next. I wasn't there, but I felt her crumble, with remorse in her heart and little hands and feet in her belly."
A tear rolled down Drusilla's cheek; her gaze had turned inward, and she didn't appear to be aware of anyone else in the room. Softly, Angel took a step back, then another. He motioned to Charles, who silently threw him the stake.
The movement caught Drusilla's attention. She lifted her arms toward Angel in a gesture of entreaty. "Daddy," she said.
Angel froze. In a low voice that sounded as if it might crack, he said, "Never call me that again."
Then he struck.
Angel moved fast, the motion a blur in the dimness, but Drusilla was faster; she seemed to know what he was going to do before he did it. Fred heard his stake clatter to the ground and saw a slash of red chiffon and black hair dart through the door of the doll room.
Led by Angel, they ran after her, but the hallway outside the doll room stretched emptily in both directions, and there was no sign of Drusilla.
"She's going to get away," Fred said.
"Not this time," Angel said. He sounded as determined as Fred had ever heard him. "She's caused too much suffering. I've let her go too many times already. It's time to end this."
"I'll second that," Cordelia added. "Did you see the stains on her dress? I'm adding 'crimes against couture' to the list of reasons why Dru's gotta be dusted."
While she'd been talking, Angel had been looking intently up and down the corridor. Now he pointed to an exhibition room just a few yards away. The doors to the room were quivering on their hinges, not much, but enough to indicate that someone had recently passed through them. "She went in there."
Fred read the sign above the door out loud. "'The Old Curiosity Shop: Victorian Inventions and Curios.' Well, that sounds interesting."
"More importantly, it sounds non-lethal," Cordelia said. "Unlucky for us if Dru holed up in the Antique Weapons Gallery."
Charles was studying a museum floor plan on the wall. He tapped it to draw their attention. "There's no other way out of this room. She's trapped."
Angel nodded. "Then let's finish this." He pushed the door open, and they looked into the room.
"Jeez," Cordelia said. "It's the garage sale that time forgot."
Fred saw what she meant. The room they entered was more like an attic that hadn't been cleared out in years, instead of an organized museum exhibition. Some of the objects in cases and on stands around her were old-fashioned but recognizable -- Fred saw a sewing machine and a telephone in the 'Household' section -- but others were entirely mysterious. A printed label on a black box which spewed copper wires identified the device as an early X-ray machine, but what was the equally strange contraption resting on a tripod next to it?
A high pitched, reedy giggle broke the silence. "Cold!" Drusilla's voice sang out. "Cold, colder, coldest."
Gunn started. "What the hell?"
"It's a game," Angel said in a low voice. "Hide and seek." He took several careful steps forward.
More laughter. "Coldest, cooler, warm."
Cordelia shook her head in disbelief. "She's giving us HINTS so we can find her and stake her? Whatever."
Fred tipped her head, trying to place the source of the laughter. "She's over there."
Directed by Drusilla's voice, they ventured further into the exhibition hall. It seemed to Fred that the further they went, the more arcane and fantastical the objects on display became, until it was impossible to tell what any of them might have been intended to be. Fred was unwillingly reminded of how she had felt as a child waking up from a bad dream to find her bedroom suddenly a strange and unfriendly place, filled with distorted, wavering shapes. In Pylea, she had crouched in her cave, overwhelmed by the same sense of dislocation, but on a massive scale. The memory still made her shake.
Ahead of them, Drusilla's voice was growing louder. "Hot. Hotter. Flames licking all around, hot coals!"
But she'd been alone in her cave, Fred reminded herself. Now, she could reach out and take Charles' hand. And that made all the difference.
"Burning," Drusilla whispered.
She was crouching inside one of the exhibits, sitting cross-legged in the base of a pyramid which seemed to be made of some kind of black stone. The pyramid was so large it had been placed on a plinth by itself, apart from the other exhibits; it had a square base and four sides that tapered to a sharp point some ten feet above. The near side was hinged, to make a door. Fred had never seen anything like it before.
"The game's over, Dru," Angel said. "You know how this is going to end."
"I know how it began," Drusilla said. "Such a long time ago, like a bedtime story. You used to tell me wonderful stories, with screaming in them. The ending stays the same, but the beginning can change. I'm going to tell the story the way it should have been."
And she quickly pulled the door at the front of the pyramid closed, sealing herself inside.
No one spoke for several seconds. Finally, Cordelia said, "Is it just me, or did Dru just do a really, really stupid thing?"
"She ran into a dead end, told us how to find her, then went and locked herself up right in front of us," Fred said. "Tactically, not the smartest moves."
Charles looked at Angel. "What was it you said? Oh, yeah -- 'She's insane, but she's smart.' Man, I think you should've just quit at 'insane'." Angel didn't respond; he just kept staring intently at the pyramid.
Cordy was eyeing the black pyramid as well. "How heavy do you think that thing is? I mean, could we load it on Gunn's truck, take it outside and open it up after sunrise? Because I'm thinking simple, risk-free Dru-disposal."
Tentatively, Fred stepped up on to the plinth, and rapped the outside of the pyramid with her knuckles. It was smooth and cool to the touch, and felt solid -- could it be marble? Given the pyramid's height, even if the sides were only six inches thick, that would still imply a mass of at least -- Fred did some quick mental calculations and frowned. "This is way too heavy for us to move."
Without warning, the door of the pyramid started to swing open again. Fred heard Charles shout, and she stumbled back, trying desperately to get out of Drusilla's reach --
- But Drusilla was gone. The space inside the pyramid was empty.
"Damn, that thing's got a back door," Charles said. "She musta got out."
Fred peered inside the pyramid and, when she was completely certain it was empty, went inside. The interior was surprisingly roomy -- there was enough space for at least a few people -- but there was nowhere to hide. The floor was solid, and although the walls were covered in all sorts of intriguing dials and levers and golden rings, there was no other door. "I don't think she could have."
"She's not here," Angel said. "Not even close. She's -- gone."
"Pardon me for asking the obvious question," Cordelia said, "but what the hell is that thing, and what's it doing in a museum filled with nineteenth century English stuff?"
Fred started to read the notes for exhibition visitors, displayed on a board attached to the side of the plinth. "According to this, it belonged to the fifth Earl of Ashford. He was an eccentric millionaire."
"Eccentric?" Charles said, raising one eyebrow.
"As in, died in Bedlam," Fred said. "He was an amateur Egyptologist --"
"A lot of Victorians were," Angel said.
"And he built this as a -- as a --"
Fred's eyes went wide. The silence stretched out, and she knew the others were impatiently waiting for her to speak again, but no words would come.
"Fred, you wanna help us out here?" Cordelia prompted.
She still couldn't come up with anything to say, so Fred just read the plaque's words aloud. "The Earl of Ashford's many delusions included his belief that the ancient Egyptian religion held the keys toward practicing various forms of magic. Experts disagree on the interpretation of this device, though most believe it to be a private sanctum of worship. But theories are as diverse as experts -- some think it was a mausoleum, others a sculpture, and one writer even posited that it was intended as a --" Fred took a deep breath. "As a time machine."
There was a short pause. Then Cordelia said, "I don't guess there's any hope for the 'sculpture' option?"
"This is not a time machine," Charles said. "Ain't no such thing."
In a quiet voice, Fred said, "Then where'd Drusilla go?"
For a long time, no one spoke. Fred was aware that her stomach was churning, her mind humming with surprise and fear, and she wondered if the others felt the same way. Finally, Angel said, "I've been around a long time, but every time I think I've seen it all, something new comes along. A time machine --is that possible, Fred?"
"There's no technology -- not even an approximation of the technology -- for that," Fred said. "But there's a whole heap of different ideas. Some people don't think you can travel in time, even in theory. Some think you could go back, but not forward. But, as a general principle, do most physicists think it's possible? Yes."
The other three were staring at her. No, Fred realized, not at her -- past her, at the black pyramid, looming silent and empty behind her.
"This is NOT a time machine," Charles repeated, shaking his head.
"I know it sounds farfetched," Angel said. "But Drusilla used that device to do something -- to go somewhere. We have to --"
"No, no, NO," Charles said. He started pacing. "No time machines! Absolutely not. I mean, okay, vampires are real. Found that out a few years ago. Freaked out, dealt with it. Then I found out that zombies are real. Werewolves are real. Witches are real. Freaky telekinetic chicks with personal problems are real. But not time machines! Okay, maybe every single other weird-ass thing out of a horror movie is real, but not this!"
"Charles?" Fred wasn't used to seeing him out of control, and it unnerved her more than it should have done. She looked around at the others to see if they were as worried as she was. They didn't seem to be.
Charles looked at them all in a mixture of frustration and misery. "I just want one damn thing not to be real," he said. "Just one fake thing. That's all I ask."
"I hear the Easter Bunny is a crock," Cordelia offered. She patted his shoulder and smiled ruefully. "I know how you feel. I've been there myself. You just have to face it -- that moment when you realize, no matter how high your weirdness threshold gets, it's never gonna be high enough."
Fred went to Charles and squeezed his arm. "This is weird, I know. But we have to focus. I think we might be in a lot of trouble."
That seemed to work, and Fred was relieved. Charles breathed out. "A time machine. That's -- crazy. I mean, you'd have to be crazy to even --" He broke off, his face changing. "You'd have to be crazy."
"Suppose that thing is a time machine," Angel said, "and suppose Drusilla just used it to go somewhere, then -- hypothetically -- what kind of damage could she do?"
Cordelia said, "Just before she closed the door, she was ranting about changing the beginning."
Fred felt her heart flutter as her mind started to work out the implications. "She could go back to the beginning of human history and kill the first homo sapiens. Or create so many vampires that human civilization never develops past the stone age. She could --"
Cordelia held up a hand, cutting Fred off. "Okay, so she could do very bad things, up to and including wiping out civilization as we know it." She frowned, then brightened. "Wait a second. Dru can't have changed the past --if she had, we wouldn't be standing here having this conversation. Right?"
She looked so hopeful that Fred hated to let her down. "It's called the ripple effect. Reality is a little like the surface of a pond. Drop a stone in it, and the waves move out from the point of impact. So if the past has changed, we probably haven't got that long before the effects work their way to 2002."
"We have to figure out where Dru went -- when she went," Angel corrected himself. "Then we have to follow her."
Charles grimaced. "Man, I KNEW you were gonna say that."
"Fred --" Angel said.
Fred nodded and hopped on to her feet to enter the pyramid again. "There's some kind of writing in here, around all the dials and such. It looks a little like Egyptian hieroglyphics."
Angel, Cordy and Charles crowded into the space inside the pyramid. Four bodies was a crush, but there was just enough room for them all. "Can you read it?" Angel asked.
"Math is my thing, not languages. I mean, I've picked up bits and pieces from W--" Fred stopped herself from saying the name just in time. It didn't make any difference -- from the uncomfortable looks on Charles and Cordy's faces, she knew they were thinking the same thing she was. But, as useful as Wesley's presence would have been right now, Fred doubted he was ever going to get the opportunity to do any translating anywhere near Angel, ever again. "I've picked up a little, but not enough. I can't read this."
"Lemme see," Cordelia said. As she jockeyed for a better position, she nudged against Fred. Fred put her hand against the wall of the pyramid to steady herself, and felt something give under her fingers. The pyramid door swung smoothly shut, and they were suddenly confined in darkness.
"Cozy," Gunn's voice said. She heard him fumbling in his pocket, and then he pulled out his lighter and flicked it. "Now we can see exactly how much trouble we're in."
"This had better be a time machine," Cordelia said, "because I do NOT want to have to explain how we got trapped in here to the museum staff when they open up tomorrow."
"What are all these rings for?" Charles said. The highest level of the pyramid was covered in small, carved hooks; from each hung a small golden ring. No, Fred realized -- from all but one. One of the rings had been taken. Acting on instinct, she reached up and took one herself.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Charles said.
The ring shone dully in Fred's hand. "Why not?"
"Didn't you ever see an Indiana Jones movie? This thing could be booby trapped."
"Decapitated by a museum exhibit," Cordelia said. "Yeah, that's gonna look really dignified on my death certificate."
"Something's happening," Angel said.
He was right, Fred realized. On each of the four walls of the pyramid, individual hieroglyphs were starting to glow softly. She counted seven -- no, eight -- in all, each one exuding a soft lambency. Each was under one of the dials; Fred didn't understand the settings, but she knew not to change them. She touched the nearest glowing symbol. Immediately, it went out. "I think you're meant to use the rings to activate the machine. Like -- like the key of a car. You use the dials to set it, to determine where you're going, maybe like the steering wheel. And the symbols record -- something."
"What kind of something?" Charles asked.
"I'm not sure. The most recently used settings, maybe?" She frowned. "I can't think of anything like that on a car."
"You mean, these could be the settings Drusilla used," Angel said.
Fred shook her head. "I'm not sure."
"Only one way to find out," Cordelia said determinedly. She reached up and placed her fingertips on two more of the glowing hieroglyphs. Both instantly went out, making the pyramid's interior noticeably darker.
Charles pressed the two lit shapes closest to him, and Angel took two more. Now only one symbol still glowed.
"If we press this, and nothing happens, we are gonna feel so dumb," Cordelia said.
Fred's hand hovered over the last glowing hieroglyph.
"Do it," Angel said.
Fred touched the symbol. It went out. For a moment, she was kneeling in perfect darkness, the musty smell of the museum in her nostrils and the feel of three bodies -- two warm and one cool -- close by.
Then the floor vanished.
Fred screamed. She thought they all screamed, but she could only hear her own terrified cries. She felt herself tumbling and falling through a vast and empty void, and in her terror, her only clear thought was that this time there wouldn't be anyone there to catch her at the other end.
Cordelia started screaming the moment the floor fell out from beneath her and didn't stop until it reappeared, just in time for her to belly-flop onto the ground.
"Nyungh," she said, which was about all she could say, or think, after having her breath knocked out of her. She could taste dust in her mouth and hear Gunn and Fred gasping beside her in the dark.
Angel, who'd had the breath knocked out of him in a permanent sense a long time ago, said, "Thank God."
"For what?" Cordelia croaked, turning over on her back. Then her eyes opened wide. "I hope you don't mean for that."
Above them, waves of red-gold light shimmered, fluctuated, bent and shone anew. Cordelia thought it looked like the surface of a pool -- if the pool happened to be on fire.
"If you're thanking the big guy upstairs for stoppin' us falling any further, I'm on board with that," Gunn said. "Next time, we gotta learn the difference between a time machine and a trapdoor, okay?"
Angel turned his face toward Cordelia; she couldn't see him well in the dim, shifting light, but she could tell he was concerned. "Are you hurt?"
Cordelia wiggled her toes and fingers, then sat upright. Her body groaned in protest, but she felt no fresh pain. "Not hurt as in injured, no. But hurt as in, I'm gonna be sore for days -- that's another story " She peered anxiously into the dark. "Drusilla -- she's not --"
"She's headed away from us," Angel said. "It's safe for now."
"What the hell is that stuff?" Gunn said, looking upward.
Angel said, "I think it's the way back to where we came from. It might have closed up when we passed through, and I'm not sure we could have opened it up again. But it's still open."
"Ergo the thanking God," Cordelia said. She blinked and tried to make out their surroundings; the shimmering light from the portal above them cast strange shadows on her friends' faces, and the bracelet Groo had given her scattered rainbow reflections on to the cave walls as she moved, like a mirror ball spinning too fast. "Where are we, anyway?"
Fred's voice echoed slightly as she said, "We're in a cave." She pushed herself up on her elbows, and Cordelia saw that her body and face were tense and drawn. "Smells like a cave. Sounds like a cave. I know caves. This is one."
"Hey, there," Gunn said gently. He rubbed Fred's shoulder. "You ain't alone in this cave, okay? You got your friends, and you got your way out. You're all right."
"I'm all right," Fred repeated, as if by rote. Then she squeezed her eyes shut, opened them again and took a deep breath. "I'm all right," she said once more, and this time it seemed as though she meant it.
"I guess the 'where' is not so much the point," Cordelia said. "The 'when' is really what we want to figure out."
"I still don't think that was a time machine," Gunn said.
Cordelia pointed upward toward the gleaming pool directly over their heads. "Does that look like a trapdoor to you?"
"No," Gunn admitted. "But it doesn't look like a time machine, neither."
"How many times have you been through a time machine?" Cordelia demanded.
Gunn folded his arms across his chest. "How many times have you been through a trapdoor?"
"There's only one way to settle this," Angel said as he got to his feet. He offered her a hand, and she let him help her stand. The sudden move made the blood rush to her head, and she clasped Angel's arms tight for a moment, hanging on for support. "Cordy?" he said quietly.
"I'm good," she said. "Just still with the freaky from our death-defying plunge back there."
"Fred, do you still have that ring?" Angel said.
Fred held up the gold circle, still clutched in her hand, as she got to her feet. Gunn dusted her off before turning to himself. "Sure thing. I'm still not certain about its exact function --" She peered at the cave's roof and held the ring up experimentally. Red-gold sparks crackled on the portal's surface, and Fred pulled the ring back in a hurry. "But I think it's our ticket back."
"Very glad that ticket was round-trip," Cordelia said. "So, which way is the exit?"
Fred sniffled, and Cordelia wondered for a moment if she'd started crying. But then Fred pointed to her right. "The fresher air is coming from that direction."
"Let's hurry," Angel said. "It's going to be sunrise before too long, and then I'm not going to be able to go out with you."
As they moved away from the portal's unearthly light, the cave became steadily darker, until Cordelia was forced to feel her way by running her hand along the rough wall. Then, to her relief, the way ahead started to brighten.
"I got a question," Gunn said to Angel. "How come, if we're on the inside of a mountain, you know the sun's about to rise?"
"I don't know how, exactly," Angel said. "I just know."
Score one for weird undead sixth sense, Cordelia thought as they emerged from the mouth of the cave -- Angel was right. The sun wasn't up yet, but the horizon was distinctly lighter in what was apparently the east. Cordelia looked around in the gray pre-dawn murk, and saw what looked like a totally normal forest -- big trees, ferns, moss. Turning to Gunn, she said, "Unless the museum is doing some radical redevelopment to its basement, I think your trapdoor theory is blown."
"Yeah, I'm getting that," Gunn said. "But this looks just like the present to me. I mean, the present in some woods somewhere, but the present."
"Forests haven't changed much in the last hundred centuries," Angel pointed out. "We're going to have to find something we can use to date this place."
Cordelia said, "If we see a whole bunch of people who look like John Malkovich, I'm gonna panic. Just warning you now."
Fred began making her way down the slope that led away from the cave, her feet making rustling sounds through the leaves. She called back, "I think there's a road down here! Or a path, or a trail."
Gunn bounded down after her, and Cordelia grabbed Angel's hand for balance as they followed. He was looking eastward, more than a little worried, not that she could blame him. "How long have we got before you've got to get to shelter?" she said.
"Not long," he said, wincing slightly. "More than five minutes. Less than ten."
Gunn shook his head. "How are we gonna catch up with Dru if you're stuck in a cave?"
"If I can't move, Dru can't move," Angel said. "We're far away from any subways or sewer systems. That means she's going to have to find shelter in a minute herself."
Cordelia sighed, relieved. "Okay, that's good news, right? You vampy types can't move during the day, but we can. So that gives us time to investigate, figure out what's the what, while you two are getting your beauty sleep." Looking at Angel's drawn, tired face, Cordelia wondered if he'd slept since Connor was taken. Probably not, she thought. "Angel, you should go on back. It'll probably take us a while to get anywhere, since I don't see any signs, or cars, or --"
"Found something," Fred called.
She was kneeling on the edge of the dirt road, examining what appeared to be a stone. As the others went to her side, Cordelia saw, etched in the stone --SIGHISOARA 3.
"Ziggy Sahara," Gunn said. "Don't guess you have any idea where that might be?"
"Romania," Angel said. "It's in Romania."
He spoke quietly, but Cordelia felt her whole body tense up as though he'd screamed. Romania. She whispered, "Angel -- we still don't know when we are --"
"It's 1898," he replied. His hands were clenching by his sides, his face set. "That's the only reason she'd come back here. Drusilla hated Romania. She'd only come back for one thing."
1898. Cordelia's mind was whirling. Just over 100 years ago. That meant --
"We'll stop her," Cordelia said quickly, taking Angel's hand in her own. "Angel, it's going to be okay. Dru's not going to do this."
"Do what?" Gunn said, staring at Angel and Cordelia in turn. "What the hell happened in Romania in 1898?"
Angel said quietly, "That's when I killed a gypsy girl. For revenge, the gypsies cursed me to have a soul. And that's what Drusilla's come back in time to stop. She's going to stop me from getting a soul."
For a few moments, they were all silent together. Fred's hand covered her mouth, and Gunn brushed his fingertips against her shoulder. At last, Gunn said, "I'm gonna go for understatement here and say that would be bad."
"We have to find Drusilla," Cordelia said. She looked over her shoulder at the horizon, which was getting even more pink. "Angel, you've got to get back in the cave. Angel?"
Angel looked zoned, she thought. No -- worse than that. Even more tired than he'd seemed just a few moments ago. She would have thought he'd be worried or angry or plain old pissed-off at Drusilla's plan. Instead, he was just quieter and, somehow, even more sad. Cordelia felt as though she should do something, but couldn't think what. So she simply took his hand in hers. The distant look on his face didn't change, but he came back to reality enough to say, "Can you guys check out the area for a while? Don't confront Drusilla if you find her. Just come back and let us know."
"Yeah, sure," Gunn said. Fred nodded. As the two of them headed down the road, Angel turned and walked back toward the cave. Cordelia had to either follow him or let go of his hand.
She followed him back inside.
"Crazy vamp chick didn't have more than a twenty minute head start, and then it got light. So she's gotta be hiding somewhere near the caves. And since there aren't many places to hide -- where is she?" Charles rubbed his ankle. "We musta walked at least five miles already."
Fred looked at the sky and did a mental calculation based on the height of the sun and what she estimated their average walking speed had been since leaving Angel and Cordy at the caves. "Actually, it's more like one or two. You never complain about having to walk back home."
"Because back home, I never have to walk. If God had meant us to wear out shoe leather, he wouldn't have given us trucks." Charles waved a hand around himself, indicating the vast, monotonous expanse of forest. "At least in L.A. there's plenty to look at -- store windows, billboards, the occasional minor celebrity bein' done for possession. Even the trees ain't changed in the last four hours. And how do we know we're not just goin' around in one great big loop?"
"Because we've been walking in a straight line, toward the sun. We're heading due east, so we can't get lost. And the trees are different -- these have thinner, lighter-colored bank, and they have wider leaves than the trees back at the cave." As she looked more closely at the trees, Fred saw something she hadn't noticed before. "And I think there's a village or camp or something nearby."
"How'd you figure that?"
"Those trees don't have any branches low down," Fred said. "They've been taken for firewood. There must be people someplace close."
"Listen to you with the tree forensics." Charles grinned. "You're a regular Girl Scout."
"I was never a Girl Scout," Fred said. They started walking again, picking their way over the uneven road, Fred with considerably more dexterity than Charles. "I didn't know what trees with branches missing meant until I was in Pylea. I went too close to a town, and they nearly caught me -- I was lucky to get away, and afterward all I could think was how stupid I'd been not to figure out what the missing branches meant --"
Fred broke off, remembering those first, terrible months in Pylea, when she'd realized just how poorly equipped for survival her comfortable upbringing and college education had left her. She'd had no idea how to hunt for food; the forest trees had been heavy with fruits, but the first time she dared to try the red berries she'd seen the birds eat, she'd spent the next three days doubled over in agony. And even the berries had disappeared during the first winter, when she'd cowered, shivering in her cave because she had no way of making a fire --
That thought triggered another memory, an unexpected one -- the sense of triumph she had felt the first time her attempts to use the lens of her glasses to focus the sun's rays on to dry leaves had produced crawling red sparks and then the glorious warmth of rising flames. Not long after, the hook and line she'd improvised had caught a fish in the stream near the cave, and Fred had enjoyed her first hot meal in over a year.
Walking with Charles through the Romanian forest, sure-footed and confident she could find her way, Fred found for the first time she could think about Pylea without having to suppress a shudder of panic.
"Hey." Charles's voice broke in on her thoughts. She felt his hand on her shoulder, comforting. "It's okay. I know this has gotta be a lot like gettin' sucked into Pylea. I know you're doing some hard dealin'. But you're not all alone this time. We're here. I'm here."
Charles was so protective and sweet; that was one of the main reasons she'd fallen for him. But she didn't feel frightened now -- she felt strong. Fred opened her mouth to tell him so, but before she could speak, she heard the clatter of wooden wheels on the bumpy ground, accompanied by a rough voice and the clip of hooves. "Someone's coming."
"Must be rush hour," Charles said.
The cart that appeared around the next bend in the track was a ramshackle contraption pulled by a weary-looking horse and driven by an old man whose eyes were tiny slits buried beneath his white-tufted, wrinkled brow. The frown that appeared on his face when he saw Fred and Charles deepened to a scowl when Fred stepped out into his path.
"Good morning," she said politely. "We're not from around here and we were wondering if you could -- well, first, if you could speak English, and if you can --"
The man reached into the cart behind him and produced a large stick, which he brandished threateningly.
"Now, there's no need to --" Fred began.
The man brought the stick down, hard, on the horse's flank. The animal whinnied and broke into a trot. Just as the cart was bearing down on her, Charles pulled Fred out of its way.
Fred ran after the cart -- on the rutted track, she could easily match its speed. She reached out, and her fingers grasped the waxed cloth that covered the cart's load. "Wait! We only want to ask a couple of questions --"
She heard another crack of the old man's stick, and the cart accelerated away from her. Fred gave up the chase and stood in the middle of the track, catching her breath.
Charles caught up with her. "Good roads, and the locals are SO friendly. I'm writing to the L.A. Times travel section about this place when we get home."
"I guess we don't exactly look like we're from around here."
"You mean I don't."
At that, Fred looked up. "Charles, we must have BOTH looked weird to him."
"Sure," Charles said, an edge of sarcasm in his voice. "It musta been that blue T-shirt you're wearin' that scared him off and not, say, the fact he's never seen a black guy before."
"Actually, the fact that I'm wearing pants instead of a skirt probably makes me look like a prostitute or something." She frowned. "Maybe I should be glad he didn't stop."
Charles said, "You would think this girl would not be that hard to find. A red dress oughta stand out like a signal flare."
"She's got to be hidden from the sunlight, Charles," Fred pointed out. "So she could be under a log. Or in another cave. Or buried under leaves. Or --"
"I get the picture. Unfortunately, that picture includes us not finding her before dark." Charles exhaled heavily. "Okay, nothing for it but to head back and tell Angel and Cordy --" He broke off. "Man, maybe I'm just hallucinating 'cause I didn't get any breakfast, but I can smell something cooking, and it's GOOD."
Fred sniffed the air -- he was right. The faint aroma of something frying was drifting toward them from the woods on the other side of the track. "The village must be that way. Maybe the people there will be friendlier."
Charles nodded. Together, they crossed the track and followed, first the smell of cooking food, and then the sound of voices laughing and talking, until they came to a low hill. Fred started to pick up her pace, but Charles held her back.
"This time," he said, "let's hold off on the introductions, okay?"
Fred looked at the trees around them. One, an ancient oak, was taller than the rest, with strong branches and an abundance of leaves. "I've got an idea," she said. "Help me up."
Charles needed no further explanation. He laced his fingers together, making a platform to boost Fred up to the level of the tree's lowest branches. Once they were within her reach, it was easy to pull herself the rest of the way. She wriggled upward into the tree, climbing until she had found a solid perch high above the ground.
She shuffled into a secure position on a lofty branch, then pushed the leaves aside to survey the forest from her new vantage point.
"See anything?" Charles called from below.
Fred was looking down on a village -- although not of the kind she had expected. Instead of buildings, there were brightly painted wagons; instead of public buildings, there were large tents, big enough to hold twenty people or more. The camp was bustling with activity, and everywhere Fred looked, she saw people busily at work mending, unpacking, and building. A woman was cooking on a griddle over an open fire, keeping a watchful eye over the children playing next to her at the same time, while near them a man used a knife to extract a stone from the hoof of one of the horses tethered at the campsite's edge.
Fred described everything she saw to Gunn, feeling all the while an odd mix of fascination and slight but insistent guilt at the knowledge that she was spying on these people's daily lives. But there was something compelling about observing, unseen, and it was all the stranger when she remembered that what she was seeing was more than a hundred years old, a slice of history brought to life.
"They look friendly," she decided. "I'm gonna come down and --"
She was about to descend, when the thundering noise of a galloping horse stopped her. Gunn had heard it, too. "What's happening?"
"I'm not sure --" Fred watched, and saw a man on horseback ride into the camp, so recklessly that piles of carefully stacked pots and pans were overturned. Fred could hear more than one person raise their voices to complain -- she was too far away to make out the words, but the tone was clear -- but the new arrival didn't seem to hear them. Instead he dismounted and went straight to a tall man who was standing by the largest wagon.
The horse rider said something to the tall man, then embraced him. The tall man nodded and held out a hand to the woman who had been cooking. She didn't take his hand, but instead collapsed, very slowly, like a puppet whose strings were being cut, one by one. As she started crying, a group of the other women swiftly gathered around and led her into the largest wagon. Fred knew she was watching a tragedy unfold before her.
A hundred years ago, she thought: This all happened a hundred years ago. But she could hear the noise of the woman wailing as she climbed down the tree, the sound of fresh, raw grief piercing the clear, calm morning.
"What happened?" Charles asked.
"They're gypsies," Fred said. "I think they might be THE gypsies. Charles, everything that happened -- I think it just started."
"I just want you to try to sleep," Cordelia said again.
Try to sleep, Angel thought. Sleep seemed like some strange, foreign concept -- something he used to do a long time ago, like riding in carriages and powdering his hair. Something that belonged in the museum back in Los Angeles. The last time Angel had slept, his son had been in a crib in the next room with his soft, regular breathing echoing reassuringly from the baby monitor, his good friend Wesley was taking care of things downstairs; and Angel's greatest care had been the fact that Cordelia loved somebody else. That world seemed further away than the Victorian era. In fact, Angel realized, right now it was -- in 1898, Queen Victoria was still alive, but his life in L.A. was more than 100 years in the future. Somehow, that idea made him even more exhausted than he had been before.
"Angel?" Cordelia's voice echoed a little within the cave. "Are you even listening to me?"
"I'm listening, Cordy," he said. "I just don't think sleep is an option right now."
"Come on," she said as she stepped to his side. She was smiling gently at him, trying to tease him from his gloom. Angel recognized the look, loved it dearly, but knew even Cordelia's ability to handle his moods had limits. "It's bright and early in the morning. That makes it naptime for vamps, right?"
"Drusilla's on the loose, we're in the past and there's a chance my all-too-mortal soul is in danger," Angel said. "That makes it not naptime. It's about as far from naptime as it gets."
She held out her hands, placating him. "Okay, so, sleep's off the activities list. But you need to rest, Angel. If we're going up against Drusilla, we need you at full strength, right? Fred and Gunn and I might be able to handle her on our own, but I'd feel better if you weren't dozing off during the battle."
Memory pulled at Angel again, and his stomach dropped as the implications hit him. "It's not just Drusilla," he said. "That month in Romania, all four of us were together. Me and Dru and Darla and Spike. There's a chance we could encounter any or all of them."
Even in the uncertain light in the cave, Angel could see Cordelia's face go pale. To her credit, she said only, "All the more reason you've got to rest. If you can't sleep, you can at least lie down. Give your legs a break to get ready for all that running-for-our-lives that's probably coming up."
Angel sat down heavily on the ground; Cordelia stretched out next to him and, to his surprise, pillowed her head on his legs. Of course, he thought. She's tired too. I should let her get some sleep instead of worrying over me. He lay back on the earth, and he was surprised how comfortable he felt.
Cordelia murmured, "Outside -- when we found out where we are -- when we are -- whatever. You looked upset."
The red-gold light on the roof of the cave still flickered nearby. It didn't look as though their portal would close until they went back through. "You guys didn't look happy either. With good reason."
"That's not what I meant, exactly," Cordelia said. "I just wondered what you were thinking, is all. And by now, I almost always know what you're thinking, so not knowing kinda threw me off there."
Cordelia knew so much, Angel thought, and yet didn't know anything at all. "I was thinking that I have to start it all over."
"All of it," he said. The red-gold light was distracting if he stared at it for too long, so Angel shut his eyes. "We have to stop Dru. We have to make sure that I get cursed with a soul, and spend 100 years wandering the earth alone, and meet and fall in love with Buffy so I can lose my soul again and terrorize her and kill again. And get cursed again, and get Buffy back just to lose her again, and have to leave her. And go to Los Angeles, and start to have a decent existence, and -- and have a son. And lose him."
Cordelia was quiet for a while, and then he felt her turn over. He opened his eyes to see her on her side, her cheek against his thigh, a worried crease between her eyes. "Hey. There's a lot of good in there you just left out, you know. Like your mission, and the whole shanshu prophecy. Not to mention yours truly."
"I know," Angel said. "Believe me, I know that. It's just right now -- so soon after -- just thinking about it all makes me -- tired." The word seemed to mean something else right then, something Angel couldn't exactly define, but it was the force weighing down so heavily on him that even sitting up seemed impossible. "I'm just so tired, Cordy."
She was quiet for a few moments. Then her hand patted his gently. "Let's think about the good stuff, okay?" Cordelia said. "Like -- Angel, you remember the suntan lotion commercial I did? How you showed up on the set and freaked out?"
He knew Cordelia was just trying to distract him. Of course, she couldn't have chosen a much better memory to distract him than that bikini. Angel closed his eyes again and shook his head. "They might as well have made you wear dental floss."
"Dental floss would have been more comfortable," she said. "It was so funny seeing you on the beach set. Like you were going to start playing volleyball or something."
All those stage lights. Angel remembered the stage as broiling hot, but he'd liked the simulation of sunlight. That thought made him remember the daylight outside, felt if not seen; he'd all but learned to ignore its diurnal influence the past couple of years, but right now, he felt it as strongly as ever. The urge to sleep, brought on by the rising sun, bound him up so that he didn't want to move; it was confining and comforting at once, like an infant's swaddling. And so warm.
"The other swimsuit was less obnoxious." Cordelia's voice seemed more distant. "I wanted that one instead of that bizarre macrame thing. It was probably somebody's art therapy project in prison."
"They have prisoners make bikinis?"
"Who knows? Might be a nice change from license plates. Anyway, I got to talking with the other model, and we decided to flip a coin --"
Angel his muscles relaxing involuntarily, melting into the ground beneath them. Cordelia had known what she was doing. She was too good at this.
"-- and I was totally going to call heads, because you call it after you catch the coin, right? But while it's in the air, she called heads, and then --"
Angel fell asleep.
"Wow. Amazing what the sky looks like without smog, huh?"
Nobody answered Cordelia. Without the familiar noises of traffic, sirens and overhead planes, the night was eerily quiet. She shivered and wished she had something to put on over her green T-shirt.
Conversation might take her mind off the chill, but Cordelia was realizing there wasn't much chance of that. Gunn and Fred, who had spent most of the day walking already, had little energy for anything other than trudging side by side; Angel's long sleep had clearly left him more alert, but his face was closed off, and by now she knew the body language that went with that look well enough to understand no amount of perkiness was going to penetrate his silence. It was going to be a very long night. "It won't take too long to walk to the city, right?" she asked hopefully. "The sign said Sighisoara was just 3 miles away."
"It's not far," Fred agreed, "but the road runs right past the gypsies' camp."
Cordelia frowned. "Then I vote we take a BIG detour. We know they're out to wreak terrible vengeance on Angel. We don't want our version to get accidentally wreaked upon twice." She tapped his arm. "Right?"
"Yeah," Angel said after a second, but he didn't sound convinced. Cordelia remembered what he'd been talking about in the cave, just before he fell asleep, and realized that Angel's state of mind must be even lower than she'd thought.
"How big a detour can we risk?" Fred asked. "We can't risk Angel getting trapped in the open if we're still walking when the sun comes up. And even when we get to the city, we have to find a place to stay without any money and explain the way we look." She groaned. "This gets more complicated the more I think about it."
Angel opened his mouth to reply, then apparently decided to say something else. "Someone's coming."
Cordelia started -- she hadn't heard anything -- but a few seconds later she saw a light approaching along the dark track. As it neared, she realized it was a lantern, bouncing where it hung on the front of a carriage. The carriage was pulled by a team of four horses and guided by a driver in a smart blue uniform, a plumed hat sitting jauntily on his head. Cordelia didn't know a lot about history, but she knew she was looking at the late-nineteenth-century equivalent of a chauffeur-driven limousine.
"Think we could hitch a lift?" she asked.
"They won't stop for pedestrians," Angel said. "This is the age of highwaymen, remember."
"You never know until you try," Cordelia said with determination. She stepped out into the road and stuck out her thumb -- would nineteenth-century people know what that meant? They seemed to, because the driver of the carriage pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse slowed from a trot to a brisk walk. When the carriage had drawn level with them, another tug on the reins brought it to a stop.
The carriage door opened, allowing Cordelia to see its three passengers -- a broad-shouldered young man wearing a stiff wool suit, an even younger woman whose face, incomprehensibly, went bright red as soon as she saw Cordelia, and a much older woman, small and thin, whose graying hair was wound around the crown of her head in a severe and impossibly complicated pattern of braids.
Cordelia treated them all to her brightest, most winning smile. "Hi there. We're going to Sighisoara, and we were wondering --"
"Sighisoara!" the man exclaimed. He had an English accent, and Cordelia thought -- unwillingly, and just for a second -- of Wesley. "Why, that's where we're going. I don't suppose you know if this is the right road?"
"There's a signpost in that direction," Fred said, pointing. "The city's beyond that."
"But it's a long walk," Cordelia said quickly, "and since we don't have a carriage, we'd be really grateful for a ride."
"Certainly not!" the older woman said, apparently horrified at the idea. "Edgar, what are you thinking, conversing with these -- these circus ruffians?"
"Mama, you were the one who insisted we stop to ask for directions," Edgar began, with a tone of weary infuriation that suggested this kind of argument was a regular feature of his existence.
Cordelia placed her hands on her hips. "Hey! A little less with the abusive language, okay? Who do you think you are, lady?"
The woman regarded her icily. "I am exactly that -- a lady. Lady Clara Oxley. And you, my dear, are plainly anything but. Look at you," she added scornfully, "walking around with your legs showing and your hair as short as a man's! I declare I never saw anything so base! Why, you have nearly shocked poor Elspeth into a faint."
The girl -- Elspeth, Cordelia guessed -- went even redder and covered her mouth with her hand.
"Base?!" Cordelia repeated. "Listen, you old --"
"She's in costume!" Fred interrupted, hastily stepping in front of Cordelia.
Cordelia looked at her. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you ARE," Fred said. "For -- the play. The play -- we're going to put on in Sighisoara because --" she screwed her eyes shut, struggling for inspiration.
"Because we're entertainers," Gunn interjected. "Traveling entertainers."
Cordelia turned to Angel, but he looked as confused as she was. She grabbed Fred and hissed, "What are you doing?"
"We need to get to the city as fast as we can, which involves them taking us there," Fred whispered back. "We need a cover story -- so start improvising."
Lady Clara was looking down on them from the carriage with obvious disdain. But Edgar and Elspeth, Cordelia saw, seemed interested. "A play, you say?" Edgar said. "How capital! What's it about?"
Fred looked at Gunn. Gunn looked at Cordelia. Angel just looked bemused.
"It's about -- " Cordelia began, "-- about some kind of disaster. A disaster that, um, ruined our clothing and left us in, in rags. Right. A disaster." A single idea popped into her head -- a terrible, humiliating idea that instantly pushed out all her other thoughts and made it impossible to think of anything else. "It's a -- musical. About a shipwreck," she blurted. Her voice wavering, she slowly started to sing:
"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of fateful trip --"
"Oh, no," Gunn said. He looked horrified. "Not that. Anything but that."
It was too late to stop now. Cordelia made frantic motions with her hands, urging the others to join in.
"-- That started from this tropic port, aboard this tiny ship. The mate was a mighty sailing man, the skipper brave and sure --"
Cordelia seized Gunn and Angel by their arms and dragged them to stand beside her.
"Five passengers set sail that day for a three-hour tour --"
"-- A three-hour tour!" Fred piped, making a brave but doomed attempt at harmonizing. Cordelia nodded at her in gratitude.
In a timid voice, Elspeth said, "But there's only four of you."
"We're doubling parts," Gunn said. Then, adding his rough baritone to Cordelia's voice, he sang:
"The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was, uhh..."
"Tossed," Cordelia prompted. "The tiny ship was tossed."
"-- the tiny ship was tossed -- thanks --If not for the courage of the fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost --"
"The Minnow would be lost!" Fred cried, clutching her hands dramatically to her chest.
The end was in sight. Cordelia took a deep breath and raced through the remaining lines:
"The ship took ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle, with Gilligan, the Skipper, too, the millionaire and his wife --"
She tossed her hair and sold the next line -- might as well enjoy herself --
"-- the MOOOVIE star --"
She was running out of breath now, but didn't dare stop:
Cordelia took a deep, gasping breath. That wasn't as bad as she'd thought. Grinning, she pointed at Angel, who had remained silent throughout the performance. "Then he does a kind of a hula dance."
"The hell I do," Angel muttered.
"And that's just the opening number," Fred concluded. "It gets even better after that. MaryAnn gets hit on the head with a coconut and thinks she's Ginger -- and then the millionaire finds out he's lost all his money -- and all sorts of interesting people, and Globetrotters, and Gabors wash up on the island too."
"They went wild for us in Paris," Cordelia added.
"Well, I say bravo!" Edgar applauded with what seemed to Cordelia to be genuine enthusiasm, and after a second Elspeth joined in, too. "That was perfectly marvelous. Wasn't it, mama?"
"Hmmph," Lady Clara Oxley said doubtfully.
"But where are your accoutrements?" Edgar asked.
Cordelia blinked. "Our what?"
Edgar waved his hands expansively. "Your play-scenes, and props, and suchlike. The necessary business of acting."
"Oh, THOSE accoutrements," Fred said. She bit her lip, in a way that Cordelia knew meant she was thinking very hard and very fast. "Well, see, we were viciously attacked --"
"How ghastly!" Elspeth exclaimed. Even Lady Clara looked a little more sympathetic. "By whom?"
"Bob Denver's lawyers," Gunn muttered under his breath. Cordelia shushed him.
"Bandits," Fred said. "They took our horses, too. And now we won't be able to open in Sighisoara tomorrow night." She sighed theatrically.
"The forces of lawlessness shall NOT triumph," Lady Clara declared. She turned to her son. "Edgar, why have you not invited these honest people to share our carriage? Have I imbued you with no spirit of Christian charity?"
Edgar obediently leaned forward, offering Cordelia his hand to help her into the carriage. As she reached up to take it, his eyes widened. "My word. What is that?"
He was staring at the bracelet that Groo had bought her; even in the faint light cast by the carriage's lamps, it shimmered with a myriad of colors. "May I?" Edgar asked. When Cordelia nodded, he brought out a pair of spectacles and examined the bracelet closely. "How extraordinary. It's flat, and yet one would swear the pattern hovers above it -- I've never seen anything quite like this. Wherever did you get it?"
"It's, uh, it was -- A prince gave it to me." Well, that wasn't exactly a lie, Cordelia told herself. And, besides, now that she was deep in pretense anyway, what harm was there in rounding out her backstory? That's what they'd told her to do in the acting classes she'd taken.
"A -- a real prince?" Elspeth whispered, agog.
"From a distant land," Cordelia elaborated. "We gave a special performance there. The prince loved it so much, he insisted on giving me this."
"Oh," Elspeth breathed. "How wonderfully exotic. Oh, Edgar --"
"My sister appears to be quite taken with your bauble," Edgar said. "Would you consider allowing me to obtain this marvelous piece of craftsmanship for her?"
"I don't know about that," Cordelia said. "It's got sentimental value."
"I'll pay you."
Edgar got out his wallet, and Cordelia slipped the bracelet off her wrist. Behind her, Cordelia could hear Gunn mutter, "Is this a good idea? You remember 'Back to the Future' -- spend one quarter the wrong way, the whole world changes."
Just as quietly, Angel answered, "Sooner or later, you guys will need food. We'll all need a place to stay. We're not going to get those without money."
Gunn said, "And I'm guessin' they don't take American Express round these parts." Cordelia figured that meant he was okay with the plan, which was a good thing, since the bracelet was gone and the coins were heavy in her hand.
Angel murmured, "This is probably the least damaging way to make some money." Easy for him to say, Cordelia thought, a little glumly. Sure, it was tacky, but it was the first gift she'd gotten from a man in years, not counting gifts from Angel. Oh, well, she decided. She'd find a way to explain it to Groo.
Edgar took out his pocket handkerchief and folded the bracelet carefully up in it. "This has turned out splendidly all round. I anticipated a dull journey, but now Mama and Elspeth and I will be richly entertained by stories of your travels."
Six or seven hours of inventing stories about the exploits of the Angel Investigations Theatre Workshop was going to be a trial, Cordelia thought, but it'd be worth it if they didn't have to walk all the way to the city. When Edgar offered his hand for the second time, she reached up to accept it gratefully.
Before she could, Angel stepped between them. "What's today's date?"
Edgar looked nonplussed. "Well, we left Salzburg five days ago -- so today must be the fifteenth. November 15."
"And the year is 1898?" Angel pressed.
Edgar looked at him oddly. "Well, of course."
"Thank you," Angel said, "but we can't accept your kind offer. We have --other business to attend to before we go to the city."
"Oh," Edgar said. "If you insist, my dear fellow. Terribly sorry to lose your company. We'll be sure to come and see this play of yours. Break a leg, what?"
He signaled to the driver, who cracked the whip once, spurring the horses forward. Just before the carriage jerked away, Elspeth leaned forward and whispered to Cordelia with frank admiration, "I think your hair is awfully daring."
As soon as they were gone, Cordelia hit Angel square in the chest. "What IS it with you? They were gonna give us a ride, and you said no! Angel, are you even listening?"
He wasn't -- he was staring after the fast-vanishing carriage lamps, frowning slightly. "I have the weirdest feeling I've met those people somewhere before."
"Man, I had to sing the Gilligan's Island song," Gunn said, coming to stand beside Cordelia. "In public. With actions. For nothing! That kind of thing sours good relationships, you hear what I'm sayin'?"
Some distance along the track, the faint lights of the carriage finally winked out. Angel blinked, and seemed to snap back to the current moment. "Tomorrow is November 16, 1898," he said, turning back to them. "That's the night I was cursed. We've only got one day to find Drusilla and stop her from changing history."
"Right," Cordelia said. "All the more reason to get to the city as quickly as possible."
But Angel was shaking his head. "There's no point if we don't know exactly where Drusilla is or what she's planning. To be certain of stopping her, we're going to need help, and fast."
"Help from where?" Fred asked. "We don't know anybody in 1898. Well, I guess we know some people, like Queen Victoria, but that's more knowing OF them than knowing them, and anyhow, she's in England and I don't think there's much she could do to help us."
Angel closed his eyes briefly, and Cordelia could sense what it cost him to say what he did next. "There is one place we can go."
"The creature who did this," the gypsy said, "the vile monster who stole my child -- he shall suffer. He shall suffer as no other of his kind has ever suffered. For all eternity, he will know our pain. Soon he will feel our wrath."
"Right there with ya," Cordelia said, smiling nervously as she stood in the center of the gypsy camp, where a hundred eyes stared at her suspiciously. "Now, what if you could get some help in tracking down this vile monster?"
The gypsies looked at one another. Cordelia plowed on. "And what if that help came from the absolute LAST place you'd expect?"
Angel kept his body still and his back pressed against one of the oak trees. He didn't turn toward the gypsy camp, but he could see the faint flickering of their bonfires reflected in Gunn and Fred's eyes. He could just hear Cordelia saying, "the absolute LAST place you'd expect," and briefly he looked skyward. Only Cordy.
Gunn muttered, "Have I mentioned that this is a real bad plan?"
"Only six thousand times or so," Angel replied.
"Well, here's six thousand and one," Gunn said. "Angel, these guys hate you. You killed, what was it, the favored daughter of their clan? The second you walk outta the woods, you are gonna get staked. Or beheaded. Maybe both."
Far away, Cordelia was saying, "And you wouldn't, like, you know, KILL anybody who was trying to help you get revenge, right?"
Angel said, "Gunn, if the gypsies had wanted to stake me, they had their opportunity. They didn't take it. They want to curse me."
"They'll want to curse you tomorrow," Fred pointed out. "Today, they might just want to stake you."
That, Angel had to admit to himself, was a good point. But it was already too late. Cordelia was calling, "Um, unexpected help? I think they're ready for you."
"I'm going out there," Angel said. "Stay on either side of me -- but stay at a distance. If they see I'm in human company, they'll know something's changed right away."
"What if they just think we're vampires?" Gunn said.
"Then duck any stakes." Angel took a deep breath -- purely for courage -- and walked forward.
As he stepped into the circumference of the firelight, gasps rang out. Mothers snatched up their children and retreated into the shadows, while the men all reached for the closest weapons to hand, grabbing knives, axes, pitchforks and wielding them threateningly.
Yet, strangely, within a few paces Angel realized that he didn't have to steel himself to walk toward the gypsies. In fact, it felt almost as if he was drawn to them, as if the morass of grief and anger and pain he'd created was pulling him in. All his troubles -- every wretched second of souled existence, from the first rush of stunned guilt over the gypsy girl's death to the moment he'd realized Connor would never come back -- they all flowed from this place, this moment. It was dangerous and terrible, and he was likely to get killed, and yet Angel felt as if this place was where he belonged.
No, he couldn't think about that now. He had to concentrate. Everything depended on what happened next. Angel held up his hands, as though showing he was without a weapon could possibly reassure these people.
A very tall, powerfully built man with a gray beard-- the girl's father, Angel remembered with an agonizing jolt -- stepped forward. "Angelus," he said.
Fully aware of how improbable it must sound, Angel said, "I've come here to help you." At the sound of his voice, the gypsies jumped again.
"Help us?" another man exclaimed. His accent was thicker than the others. "This beast killed our Gia, and he pretends that he wants to help us?"
"I'm not the Angelus of 1898," Angel said. "We're not from the present day. Magic has brought us from a time more than a century in the future. I have the soul you cursed me with."
At that, a ripple of shocked and outraged exclamations passed around the crowd. "He lies!" the girl's father shouted, and a chorus of agreement rang out around him. Now that the initial shock of Angel's appearance was wearing off, the mood of the gathering was rapidly becoming violent.
Fred and Gunn crowded closer to Angel, trying, as Cordelia was, to form some kind of human shield around him. "I don't guess I could convince you guys to stand at a safe distance," Angel said.
"Nope," Gunn said. "Let's face it, Angel. A safe distance would probably be, like, Detroit."
Suddenly the crowd quieted, then parted. Angel didn't realize why until the gypsies nearest to him stepped back deferentially to reveal a very tiny, very old woman who hobbled slowly toward Angel, leaning on a carved stick. Her back was bent with age, so that when she raised her head it was clear the movement caused her no small measure of pain. But the rheumy eyes that gazed at Angel were unafraid.
"Gregor," she said, addressing the gray-bearded man. He replied in Romanii, and for several tense minutes Angel could only stand quietly while they debated vehemently in a language he didn't know. Unsure what else to do, Angel kept his hands in the air and tried very hard to look sincere.
The gray-bearded man, Gregor, finally said, "Mother Yanna says you have your soul. But how can this be? What magic takes people through time?"
"We're kind of wondering that ourselves," Fred said helpfully.
"It is a trick," the thickly accented gypsy said. "He has some kind of spell, something that makes it appear he has a soul. He discovered our plan and tries to stop us through deceit. This is the Angelus we seek."
The mob muttered angrily, and a few of the weapons were hoisted even higher. Angel thought fast. "I am from the future," he said. "And I can prove it."
Gregor held his head high. "Prove it, then."
"There's a loophole in the curse," Angel said. He meant to use this only as evidence, but as he spoke, long-buried anger began to push its way to the surface. As dangerous as it was -- to him and to his friends -- Angel couldn't keep the edge out of his voice as he continued. "If I experience perfect happiness, and only perfect happiness, then I lose my soul, become the monster again. The curse you put on me made it possible for me to kill innocents again, people who had nothing to do with your daughter's death, people who haven't even been born yet. But since you never saw fit to tell me that, how could I know -- unless it happened?"
They all stared at him. Gregor said, "But -- you have your soul now --"
"We re-cursed him," Cordelia said. "Nifty spell, by the way. Nice, smelly herbs."
"As long as we're having this conversation, maybe you'd like to explain it to me," Angel said. As his anger grew, he could hear his voice becoming colder, harder. "Why did you make it possible for Angelus to get out again? You freed me from all that guilt, for a while. I didn't suffer at all after my soul was gone. Is that really what you intended?"
The old woman, Mother Yanna, stepped forward and spoke in halting English. "That part of the curse -- that was not for you."
"Sure felt like it was for me," Angel said.
"What would give a creature -- creature like you -- perfect happiness?" Mother Yanna said. Her gnarled hands were clasped in front of her, and Angel realized with shock and disgust that she was smiling. "Only -- only to be forgiven. Only to be loved. If such a creature were forgiven, if he were accepted and wanted, then our curse, it would have no meaning anymore. You would be young and strong and happy forever. This we would not have."
"Rather than let me be happy, you'd condemn more people to die?" he demanded.
She shrugged. "Their deaths would be the price of vengeance. But only one we wanted you to hurt -- whoever it was who was fool enough to forgive such a monster as you. Whoever cared so little for our lost Gia that she would love the monster who killed her. That one -- she ended our vengeance, and so she had to pay." Mother Yanna smiled a gap-toothed grin. "The soul, it was your punishment. The return of the monster -- that was her punishment. Our revenge on the one who loved you. And I see by your face that this is how it came to pass."
Angel couldn't speak. He wanted to kill that old woman, feel her brittle old bones snapping in his hands like matchsticks. He wanted to kneel down on the ground and weep. Perhaps more than anything, he wanted to just turn around and walk away. Cordelia's hand tightened around his arm, and he wondered if she were remembering that bleak winter of 1998 and her terror for her own life. God, he could have killed Cordelia then, and he would never even have known who she really was --
Somehow, Angel kept his voice steady as he said, "You chose a powerful vengeance. But someone has come from the future to try and prevent that vengeance. You want to curse me with a soul. Believe it or not, I want you to curse me with a soul. But if that's going to happen, we're going to have to work together." As the crowd murmured, he added, "I don't like it any more than you do, but there's no other way."
Finally, Gregor asked, "This person -- you know who it is?"
"It's not a person," Angel said. "It's a vampire. She's powerful, and she's insane, and it's going to be difficult to predict her moves. But I can predict my own -- because I remember them."
More murmuring. As the gypsies argued among themselves in Romanii, Gunn glanced over at Angel. "So far, would you say this is going well or badly?"
"None of us are dead yet," Cordelia said.
"Speak for yourself," Angel said.
She made a face. "None of us are more dead than we were ten minutes ago. I think that means it's going well."
Fred said, "I would really like to have a higher standard than that."
"Silence!" one of the men shouted. "If you want to talk of other things --while we talk of our dead daughter --" He gestured toward a nearby tent. "Go there. Talk of other things there, if you can."
Cordelia began tugging Angel toward the tent. "Let's get out of immediate staking distance, okay?"
"'Bout time somebody had a good plan," Gunn said as he took Fred's hand in his and headed toward the tent. Angel and Cordelia followed them, but as they walked closer, events from the past -- from the near future -- began to come back to him. He realized what the tent was, why the gypsy had taunted him to enter.
"Maybe you guys should stay outside," Angel said.
"Excuse me, did you not see the hysterical, torch-wielding mob?" Cordelia said. "I think we're better off out of sight."
Gunn reached for the flap that served as the tent's entrance, but Angel put a hand on his arm, stopping him. "She's in there. The gypsy girl, or what's left of her." After a moment, he added, "Gia." He hadn't ever known her name. It seemed appropriate to finally call her that.
The others stood very still. Finally, Fred said, "Angel, would you mind so much if I didn't see her? It's not like I don't know you used to kill people, 'cause I do know that, and I understand that things are different now, and I love you all to pieces -- not in a Charles way! Just in a friends way, but a really-good-friends way, and that's not going to change, not ever, not even if I see her, but -- but -- I don't want to see her."
Gunn sighed heavily. "What she said. But shorter."
"You don't have to go in either, Angel," Cordelia said. Her eyes were brilliant in the firelight, and she was staring at him intently, trying hard to read him. "Not if you don't want to."
"They want me to," Angel said. "Given what we're asking them to do, I think I should do what they ask. And -- I just think I should."
Cordelia squared her shoulders. "Okay, then. Let's go in."
"Cordy --" Angel felt his chest constrict at the thought of Cordelia seeing the evidence of his brutality.
Maybe she could read what he was thinking after all, because she simply said, "I went to Miss Calendar's funeral."
Angel nodded and went into the tent, Cordelia at his side.
The gypsy girl -- Gia, her name was Gia -- lay on a bier. Angel remembered the glimpse he'd had of her when the gypsies herded him into this camp to be cursed; they'd changed her clothing by then, straightened her limbs, wiped the blood from her body. None of that had been done yet. Angel could see the blood on her mouth, where he'd kissed her as she shook in her death tremors. A hundred years ago. Yesterday.
The sleeve of her dress was ripped away, and the dark bruises of his fingertips were deep in her arms where he'd held her down. But what sickened Angel most about his memories of her death was not how brutal it had been, but how ordinary. She had been a special treat, but still, in the end, just another kill, a few hours' distraction. His recollections of her death were mixed up with all the other things he'd thought about during it -- places he meant to go, things he meant to do. He walked closer to the body, let the memories come back to sting. He could use them; this was pain with purpose.
"Did you break her neck?" Cordelia whispered. She was still at his side; Angel had thought and wished that she would remain at the entrance, but instead she was leaning over the girl's body as well. She was looking at the girl's smooth, unmarred throat.
"No," Angel said. He hesitated, wondering if the indignity of what he was about to do was too much. Then he looked again at Gia's dead body and realized it wasn't; he had already committed the ultimate crimes against this girl. There was nothing else to be done to her, no further injury she could suffer. He pushed her skirt up away from her legs. Cordelia's eyes went wide as she took in the brutal bite marks on the insides of the girl's thighs.
Angel could remember the pure sensual satisfaction of drinking from her there; for a moment, it was as if he could taste the blood again. Cordelia was staring at him, unnerved at what he had done -- not only in killing her, but in showing her off now. Angel realized, with disgust, that he felt a sense of ownership of this girl, or what was left of her. Claiming her was a vampire's instinct, and still his own.
Then again -- wasn't she really the one who owned him? Angel looked down into Gia's still, drawn face and murmured, "You were avenged." It didn't seem as though there could be anything else to say.
Angel smoothed her skirts back down and looked into Cordelia's face. Miss Calendar's funeral, he knew, was no preparation for this. He had killed Jenny Calendar quickly, after a only few brief moments of fear. Her death had been easier than most of his victims', easier by far than Gia's. Angel felt a deep, horrified shame that Cordelia was seeing this -- and yet, at the same time, it felt right. She should know, he thought. She deserves to know.
Cordelia's fingers fluttered out, as though she meant to touch Gia's hair, but then she let her hand drop. She said only, "This is what you remember."
Angel nodded. To his surprise, and deep gratitude, he felt Cordelia wrap her hand around his own.
"Memory," said a voice behind them. "A difficult thing. What do you think I will remember?"
Angel and Cordelia wheeled around to see old Mother Yanna, who stood in the entrance to the end. Behind her, Angel could just make out the figures of Fred and Gunn, both of whom were determinedly not looking into the tent.
With an imperious wave of her hand, the old woman said to Cordelia, "Leave us."
Cordelia -- never one to respond well to direct orders, Angel thought ruefully -- looked like she meant to argue with that. He touched her arm. "It's okay, Cordy. Go to Fred and Gunn. I'll handle this."
"Are you sure?" Cordelia whispered. "She's giving you the harmless-old-biddy routine, but she could be packin' wood."
"She doesn't do her work with stakes," Angel said. "Wait outside."
With a dubious backward glance, Cordelia left the tent. Angel faced Mother Yanna alone. Somehow, she was more intimidating than the entire mob outside -- this one woman's pain, and fury, and complete lack of fright.
Mother Yanna gestured toward Gia. "A pretty girl. Clever. Good with herbs and medicines. I was to teach her my craft." Angel, wordless, could only nod. "My granddaughter. Did you know this?"
"No," he whispered. "I didn't."
The memory came rushing back, so sudden and so strong that it felt as though he were possessed -- not by a spirit, but by the past. Angel could almost feel Connor, shifting ever so slightly within his father's arms as he sucked greedily at the bottle of formula Angel held, its microwaved heat warming both his tiny body and Angel's cold hand. Small eyes, unfocused but clear, gazed up at Angel in the early morning hours in total contentment and trust. It was the only hour in Angel's life when he'd known with complete certainty that he was exactly where he needed to be, when his heart asked for nothing else but what he held. It wasn't perfect happiness -- his fear for his son was always there, beating away the seconds in the place of his heart -- but in some ways it was better than perfect happiness. What he'd felt for his son was too real for perfection.
Angel had mourned his victims before, sincerely and deeply, but also, he now realized, blindly. He had imagined what it would be to lose a child. Now he knew, and he finally understood that a century's imaginings of grief still weren't adequate to grasp the truth of it.
"I know what it means, now," he said. "To lose someone you love. I know that I made hundreds -- thousands -- of people feel that pain. I know what I did to them, and to you." He repeated, slowly, "Because of you, I understand."
"You have lost someone, then," Mother Yanna said. Her deep, creased eyelids blinked contemplatively. "Not long ago, I think."
"A few days," Angel replied.
"The pain -- it is like no other, is it not? And you understand pain, if I have done my work well."
Angel closed his eyes. "You have."
She made a sound that was neither a laugh nor a sigh -- a sound of satisfaction and surprise. "It tears at you, this grief. It makes you something that you were not before, something -- lesser. Something you despise."
He tried to remember exactly what Wesley's face looked like in the moment before he grabbed the pillow. He couldn't remember. He could only recall how the pillow had felt in his hands, how weak Wesley's struggles had been beneath it. "Yes," Angel said.
"I must endure this forever," she said. "You have done this to me, to everyone who ever loved her. We must be these creatures until we die."
Angel opened his mouth to -- to say what? To apologize? How stupidly inadequate, but what else could he possibly say? Yet Mother Yanna kept talking. "But you -- you need not suffer as we suffer. The grief you feel, this can be lifted from you."
What could she mean? Angel stepped away from her. "You still have to curse me with my soul," he said. "You can't take that back. I can't allow that to happen."
"Fool," she said, strangely gentle. "It would take more than this to stay my hand. You will suffer; we will see to that."
Angel wondered just how strange his world was that her words made him feel relieved.
"Your soul, it will remain. But I can do more. I can do far better by you than you have done by us," she said. Her voice was gentler yet. "I have shown you that we are stronger than you. I will show you that we are better than you as well. I will stop your pain."
Transfixed by her voice, by her wrinkled old hands held out to him, Angel whispered, "How? It feels -- it feels like nothing could ever --"
"Your memories of the one you have lost are nothing to you now but torment," she said. "Nor will they ever be anything else to you any longer."
She spoke quietly, so quietly Angel had to strain to hear her, and yet it seemed as though her voice were the only sound in the world, soothing and calming him. "I can't stop thinking about what I've lost," he said.
"I can take this pain," she said. "Let me take it from you. So many burdens you carry, and this is your heaviest. This burden, you can lay down."
Angel felt himself relaxing as he stepped closer to her. "I'm so tired," he said.
"I understand," she whispered. Her hands -- trembling not with fear, but only with age -- went to his temples, and he felt the soft brush of her skin against his. "You need only lay the burden down, and then you will be free."
Lay it down. Let it go. Let the memories go.
Connor in his arms, looking up at his father. The tiny face receding, the memory becoming strangely dim...
Angel reeled back, pushing the old woman away. She raised an eyebrow as he stared at her.
"My memories," he said. "You were going to take away my memories of my son."
Mother Yanna shrugged, her lips curling in a cruel smile. "Would this not end your pain?"
Connor, Angel thought. I wouldn't even have remembered him. I'd never even be able to think what his face looked like. I'd never have remembered that again. He felt his body begin to shake. "It would have been -- worse than pain. A thousand times worse. And you know it. You would have robbed me of the only thing I had left."
"Yes!" she shrieked, all pretense gone. "As you robbed me!"
"If you want to find out if I'll still fight you," Angel said. "I will. I'm here to make sure you curse Angelus. That's the punishment you chose, and that's the punishment I'll help you with. If you try to take my memories --this truce is over." He stepped closer to the old woman; this time, she couldn't hide a moment of fear, and Angel felt a sick satisfaction as he saw it. "And if you hurt my friends, you'll spend the rest of your life wishing you were dealing with the demon."
She smiled that terrible smile of hers again. "You come to us and you speak soft words of help and guilt. But deep in your heart, you hate us still."
Angel remembered lying in Buffy's arms that long-ago night, with no idea that her punishment was bound to his own. "Yes," he said. "I hate you."
Mother Yanna nodded. "I do not trust your soft words, vampire," she said. "But your hatred -- this I can trust. If your hate is true, perhaps the rest is too, hmm? We shall see. We shall see."
The gypsies are going to help, Angel realized. We did it. He wondered whether he ought to feel better or a hell of a lot more afraid.
Darla sat up in bed, wondering what had woken her.
Beside her, Angelus slumbered on, one arm sprawled comfortably across the bolster. The curtains of the villa's master bedroom were tightly shut, although the sharp glow around their edges told Darla it was daytime.
Downstairs, she heard the crash of something being violently destroyed.
She shook Angelus roughly. "Wake up."
He rolled over on the mattress, opened one eye and smiled at her lazily, still sated in every way from the previous night. "Again? Well, if you insist...."
"Listen," she instructed him. A second later, the noises downstairs started again. Angelus frowned, then sat up beside her, now fully awake.
"What time is it?" he asked.
Darla looked to the clock which sat on the mantle above the bedroom's fireplace. Or, more accurately, she looked to where the clock should have been. It was gone.
Angelus had seen it, too. "Thieves," he said. "And still downstairs, plundering. To think, there are people of such low morals in the world." He smiled, a wolfish, hungry smile that wakened Darla's own appetite.
She smiled back and got out of the bed, pulling on her robe before tossing Angelus his. Quietly, they moved along the upper floor of the villa, then down the ornate stairs to the tiled entrance hall. The dwelling was among the finest in Sighisoara and must have seemed as ideal a target for robbers as for the local gossips who had lately been wondering about its new tenants, who had arrived so much earlier than anticipated.
The noises were coming from the drawing room. Darla reached out to open the door, but stopped when Angelus laid his hand over hers. She looked at him questioningly.
In a low voice he said, "When we confront them, pretend to be frightened, as a woman would be. It will be a great ruse."
Angelus and his games. Usually Darla was happy to indulge him, but sometimes she craved killing in its purer forms -- straightforward, quick and satisfying. But for Angelus, even such an unexpected opportunity as this had to be molded into artifice. Men and their hobbies. Without answering him, Darla pushed the door open and went into the drawing room.
Deception was unnecessary. There were no thieves.
In the center of the room, every clock in the villa had been piled into a ticking, chiming heap. Darla saw the clock from the bedroom, the kitchen clock -- even the grandfather clock had been dragged in from the hall and now lay in an undignified position on its side next to the writing desk. Every inch of the drawing room floor was covered in shards of broken glass and wood. At the center of the orgy of destruction, Drusilla sat cross-legged, intently smashing the clocks one by one with the fireplace tongs. She was humming to herself, wholly content.
"Drusilla!" Darla snapped.
Drusilla didn't respond, and after a second Darla saw why -- she had wound her hair ribbons, one green and one violet, into rolls and then pushed them into her ears. She reached for another clock -- one that had walnut casing and was probably an antique -- and happily smashed its face. Darla noted with annoyance that Drusilla was wearing that outfit again -- the black velvet basque with the tartan skirt -- that made her look like some escaped Scottish lunatic. She raised an eyebrow at Angelus, who understood her meaning and laughed. "It's appropriate," he pointed out. "Drusilla hath murdered sleep."
Not in the mood for literary allusion, Darla marched across the room and pulled out Drusilla's improvised earplugs. "What are you doing?"
"Killing time," Drusilla said. "Before midnight comes, and we all turn to pumpkins. Tick tock, tick tock, I couldn't sleep for the noise." She looked at the ribbons dangling from Darla's fingers and playfully snapped at them, like a kitten playing with a ball of string.
"You've broken every clock in the house," Darla said angrily, waving a hand at the wreckage. "How are we supposed to tell the time now?" She marched to the window and yanked open the curtains, making sure to stand well back while noting with satisfaction how Drusilla threw her hands over her face and cowered from the light. "I know -- there's a sundial in the garden. Perhaps we'll send you outside to look at it."
"A monster with a clockwork heart," Drusilla muttered. "But it turns to flesh under the hammer, and he will bleed and bleed."
Darla looked to Angelus for support and saw with irritation that he was smirking, amused by what he no doubt saw as Drusilla's delightfully crazed antics. His patience with her was far greater than Darla's own; while Angelus saw Drusilla as a work of art, Darla was more inclined to view her as their halfwit child.
Spike's voice came from the hallway outside the drawing room. "What's happening? Drusilla's gone --"
Two halfwit children, Darla thought sourly. What a fine family we make.
Spike appeared at the door, and he ignored the devastation to comfort Drusilla. She clung to him, and he stroked her hair. "What's the matter, pet? Were the clocks saying nasty things to you? Like the lampshade last week?"
"I did it to stop the future," Drusilla said. "It hurtles toward us and brings terrible things with it."
"The only thing bringing terrible things to you in the near future will be me," Darla said.
"Come, Darla," Angelus said lightly. "A little destruction is good for the spirit. And draw the blinds, lest you end up punishing us all for Drusilla's little game."
Darla brought the curtains together so hard they cracked; the last shaft of sunlight made something in the debris glint familiarly. Darla leaned down to retrieve it and smiled smugly when she recognized the ruined remains of Angelus' gold pocket watch. "Yours, I believe," she said, handing it to him.
His face changed, darkening with anger, and he threw the watch down in disgust. "Our little magpie's almost more trouble than she's worth."
"She's just bored," Spike said. "Christ, we're all bored. Bored of this provincial piss-hole, bored of superstitious, garlic-chewing peasants, and most of all, bored of hanging around while YOU --" he pointed to Darla, "--wait for a fancy dress party where you're not even planning on killing ANYONE, and YOU --" now he pointed at Angelus, "-- plan one of your theatrical kills that any REAL vampire could manage in less time than it takes to snuff out a candle."
Angelus snarled. He grabbed Spike by the neck, lifting him and pinning him to the drawing room wall. "If I were you, I would not speak so freely of being snuffed out. It might give me ideas."
Spike, unable to reply because of the hand on his throat, just grinned, a touch nervously. After a moment Angelus, apparently satisfied to have won the point, let him slide to the floor. "Leave my sight. Both of you."
Drusilla looked forlorn at her banishment, but Spike was smiling as he picked himself up. He was always happy, Darla noticed, to get Drusilla away from Angelus, to reserve her attention solely for himself. "It'd be a pleasure," he said. "How about it, love? It's early enough for us to go out the back. We'll take a stroll in the shadows to the cathedral, then snack on the pious all day long."
He helped Drusilla to her feet and guided her to the door. But as they passed Angelus, Drusilla stopped, refusing to move even when Spike pulled her arm. She placed one bony finger in the middle of Angelus' chest. "Daddy has a reflection again. It's looking down at the little dead girl, and it has guards -- a lady with short hair, and a lady with long hair, and a man with not any hair at all. The reflection's put his hands through a mirror to reach you, and they're all cut up, and he wants you to be cut up too."
Darla made a noise of exasperation. Sometimes Drusilla even sounded insane by Drusilla standards. Angelus was the one who tried hardest -- and had the most success -- at finding the occasional method to Drusilla's madness, but even he was merely shaking his head at this.
"Come on, Drusilla," Spike said as he towed her out of the drawing room. "The pious are piping hot and waiting for us."
"Hot cross buns," Drusilla said, already cheerful again, as they passed out of hearing.
Angelus shook his head. "The time it takes to snuff out a candle. That's what Spike thinks of as an appropriate duration for pleasure. No wonder we're forever trying to get Drusilla out of our bed and into his."
Her patience ended and her mood black, Darla snapped at him. "He's just tired of your amateur theatricals," she said.
"I don't expect Spike to understand the difference between pleasure and art -- but you, Darla," Angelus shook his head. "You were the one who taught me this. This theatre is not the work of an amateur. And timing is everything."
"Perhaps," Darla said, making no effort to hide her irritation, "you should explain the plot to me again."
Angelus began to pace the drawing room, feet crunching over the scattered cogs and wires and hands. "Lord Percival Dalton believes he is a vampire hunter. Indeed, he has become obsessed with the creatures since reading a certain recently published novel by Mr. Stoker."
"That hack." Darla rolled her eyes. "It's so blindingly obvious that he's never even met Dracula. If he had, he wouldn't have been half so impressed."
"Lord Percy has come all the way from his comfortable residence in London to the book's setting, Transylvania, to find vampires. And, by a happy coincidence, he has struck up a friendship with a gentleman with similar interests." Angelus gave a low bow, as if introducing himself. "Tonight, I expect to receive an invitation to dine with Lord Percy at his home. I have given him reason to believe that should such an invitation be extended, I will use the occasion to present him with a genuine vampire."
"This deception may amuse you, but I'm growing bored waiting for your elaborate plans to come to fruition. For once, can't you just kill someone without making a show of it?"
"It takes a second to stop a heart beating. To destroy a life takes time and planning." Angelus stopped pacing, and drew Darla into his arms. "You understand that."
His hand rested on the small of her back, then began to slide down. Darla wasn't in the mood and twisted away from him. "I understand that when I desire a little novelty, I have to conjure it myself. Just last night, I brought you the gypsy whore. I didn't hear you talking of the benefits of planning as you took her virtue and her blood. What gifts have you brought me of late?"
"I paid for those fool rooms in the hotel," Angelus said. "Where we're to pack up and move tomorrow, even though we're quite well-established here. Why? So you can have one of your wretched views and be a half-mile closer to the grand ball tomorrow night, where you'll wear all the finery I've bought you --"
"Dresses. Hotel rooms." Darla was pacing. "The sort of banalities any mortal might bestow on his wife. Those aren't gifts. Those are no less than I deserve."
"You refuse to be pleased," Angelus said angrily.
"And you refuse to please me!"
"Who are you?" said a strange, feminine voice. "This is intolerable! Edgar, come here at once!"
Darla spun around, surprised by the unexpected voice. A woman was standing in the doorway of the drawing room, glaring at herself and Angelus with haughty disdain.
A man, with an Englishman's irritating deference of manner and poor taste in tailoring, came to join the older woman. Behind them, Darla could see a few people moving about, bringing trunks and cases into the villa's entrance hall.
"Edgar," the woman said, "These people should not be here. Make them leave."
"Now, Mama," the man said, "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation." He looked around at the wrecked clocks lying over the floor, before apparently deciding that politeness required pretending to have noticed nothing amiss. "I'm dreadfully sorry about this, but there seems to have been some kind of mix-up --" Abruptly, he broke off, and to Darla's surprise, smiled widely at Angelus. "Why, my dear fellow, how excellent to see you again. I nearly didn't recognize you out of costume. And what a smashing wig! Quite wild, very in the spirit of Robinson Crusoe, what? Elspeth, come here -- it's our good friend the actor."
Another woman -- young and oozing sweetness, docility and every other quality Darla loathed about her sex -- rushed to join the man. "What a marvelous surprise," she gushed. "However did you get here before us?"
"Another of your amusing deceits, Angelus?" Darla asked wearily.
But he shook his head. "I don't know these people."
"Of course you remember," the man prompted. "We met on the road. You sang that song about the little boat, and the shipwreck --"
"And the coconuts," the young woman added.
Darla stared at them, then at Angelus. "He sang a song about -- coconuts?"
"I did not," Angelus snapped.
"Edgar," the older woman said imperiously. "When are you going to tell these intruders to get out of our house?"
"YOUR house?" Darla repeated. "Oh, no. I don't believe so."
"It is ours for six weeks," the woman said. Her manner was superior, her tone arrogant, as if the world had an obligation to conform to her view of it. "We're renting it. You should not be here."
"The previous tenants haven't left," Angelus said smoothly. This was true, after a fashion; their desiccated corpses were sealed up in barrels in the kitchen.
Suddenly, Darla was bored with all of them. Bored with foolish little humans who did not understand their importance began and ended with the red fluid in their veins. Bored with Drusilla's crazed antics, with Spike's constant impudence, with Angelus' obsessive game-playing. Most of all, she was bored of the grinding, unchanging sameness of her recent existence.
"I'm going back to bed," she announced. "When I wake, I expect this --" she waved at the mess on the floor, "-- and them --" she pointed at the three people standing in the doorway, "-- to be gone. No more unpleasant surprises."
Angelus glared at her. "And I thought you were eager for novelty."
Darla didn't answer him; instead she stalked out of the drawing room, past the newly deposited pile of luggage in the entrance hall, and up the stairs. Behind her, she could hear Angelus' voice as he took care of their unexpected visitors.
"See, now -- renting. That was a mistake. You have far more rights in a home as an owner than you do as a renter. For instance, the right to deny someone permission to enter --"
Not even the sound of screaming that followed was enough to lift Darla's foul temper.
"Okay, so, I know the peasant look is back in style," Cordelia said to Fred. "But I don't think it would be if people had to wear real peasant underwear."
Fred grimaced slightly as she nodded. Discomfort aside, though, it was sort of interesting to wear these clothes, so different from the ones she was used to. She had a long, heavy skirt that fell almost to the ground, cloth shoes and a loose blouse; her hair was braided up on top of her head in a more complicated style than she'd ever attempted herself. The gypsies only had the smallest hand mirrors, so Fred had no idea what she looked like. But from the amusement on Charles' face, she suspected the overall effect was more than a little silly.
Cordelia, as usual, made it look good. The skirt that dragged around Fred's legs flowed around Cordy's, and the folds of the soft peasant blouse draped the best curves of her figure. The kerchief tied around her head to hide her short hair was brilliantly colored and patterned. But the face beneath the kerchief still looked unhappy. "I mean, what IS this?" Cordy muttered, pulling in an undignified way at the material beneath her skirt. "Burlap?"
"At least you HAVE underwear," Charles said.
"You are now entering the TMI zone," Cordelia said. "Gotta say, though, they did a pretty good job of wrapping you up otherwise." With the high-collared coat, muffler, gloves and wide-brimmed hat Charles now wore, very little of his decidedly non-Romanian skin tone showed. Fred giggled as Charles posed, model-style, in his gypsy clothes; she clasped her hands together, felt the gold ring she'd slipped on one finger and became quiet again. She looked down at the ring, their one-and-only ticket back to the present -- assuming there was still a present to get back to.
Angel had only pulled on a coat over his normal clothes; if things went according to plan -- insofar as they had a plan, Fred reminded herself -- he wouldn't be seen by anyone until after dark, if at all. He was pacing the tent where they now stood, restless and uneasy, and Fred suspected that had very little to do with the fact that he was shielded from the sunlight by only a drape of canvas. "Let's review this, okay?"
They'd done little besides reviewing it all morning, but Fred thought it wisest to humor him. "Sure thing. Take it from the top."
"No, I want you guys to take it from the top," Angel said. "Step by step. Come on."
For a brief moment, Fred was reminded of Wesley, drilling them on the details of a case. She put that thought aside, took a deep breath and spoke. "Drusilla -- old-timey Drusilla, the one who actually belongs in this century -- she left the house you were all staying with early in the morning with the vampire called Spike."
Charles picked up the story. "Wasn't a whole lot of way to get in that house except first thing in the morning and after sundown. So Dru -- the one who belongs in the 21st century -- what do we call her? New Dru? Dru Two?"
Angel looked slightly pained. "Just keep going."
"Dru couldn't have gotten in as early as this morning, and so she can't get back to you to warn you or anything before tonight," Gunn said. "So she can't make her move until sundown."
"As it so happens," Cordelia chimed in, "sundown is just the time when a certain Scourge of Europe gets into a bust-up with his girlfriend and announces he's going out for a while, to -- where did you say you were going when you left Darla?"
"I didn't." Angel frowned. "I remember arguing with Darla, and I remember leaving, but I don't remember where I was going. But the important part is that I left."
Charles cast a worried glance at Fred. She fought the urge to return it, though her stomach was clenching with fear. This entire operation depended on Angel's ability to remember exact details of the most traumatic, confusing night of his existence. What if he got it wrong?
Cordelia quickly said, "Let's just say you were -- I mean, Angelus was --going for a moonlit stroll. But while Angelus is admiring the stars, he's attacked by gypsies. They drag him out into the woods, all the way back to the camp, and boom! Curse-o-matic pops the dice."
"Drusilla would have heard some of this story from Darla," Angel said. "I told of her some of the rest myself, back in 1998. So she knows where she needs to be."
"Somewhere between your front door and the gypsies," Fred said. "So right outside your front door is where we need to be."
"See, Angel?" Cordelia said. She spoke playfully, but Fred could hear the gentler tone beneath her words. "We know the drill. We know what we're doing. We're ready."
Angel straightened up a little and actually smiled at Cordelia. "Yeah," he said. "We are." He glanced at the others. "Have you guys slept enough? Had plenty to eat?"
"Too much adrenalin to do more than nap," Fred said. "And we've eaten. That goulash was the -- goulashiest."
"So, now we get to call for our wagon," Gunn said. He didn't look happy. "Are we gonna have one of these gypsies driving us?"
Cordelia shrugged. "I can ride, but I never tried to drive a wagon or carriage or anything. So I guess we'd better ask."
Gunn looked even less happy. "I'd much rather have somebody who didn't mostly want us dead behind the wheel. Well, not 'wheel,' really, but --"
"I can handle the reins," Fred said. When the rest of them stared at her, she shrugged. "My granddaddy had horses out on his farm."
"You learn how to handle horses in Texas," Cordelia said. "See, I KNEW the flyover states had a purpose."
Memories were dreams, insubstantial and ever-changing, and not to be trusted. But there were a few, a very few, which never changed, which were somehow more real than the rest.
Dru remembered a time before the cold and the hunger and the constant confusion, a time when everything had made a lot more sense than it did now. She remembered the taste of bread dipped in warm sweet milk, eaten sitting at the feet of an old woman whose thumbs clicked as she knitted. She remembered picking up the needles herself and crying when the delicate pattern of yarn disintegrated in her clumsy fingers. She remembered a kindly voice telling her, "The whole pattern hangs by a single stitch, my dear. Drop one, and it all unravels."
Change one stitch, and everything would fall apart. A stitch in time...
Dru looked down at the gold ring she'd slid on her finger for safekeeping. It was the needle, and time was the thread. She would change this one stitch.
Daddy would come back. Or else never leave.
The cathedral was quiet: on this bitter November afternoon, most of the pious had decided to choose the warmth of their homes over godliness. Dru wasn't cold -- she'd met a kind man who'd given her his woolen cloak and his nice, warm blood. Her tummy was full and her head buzzed as she walked down the aisles, chills running up and down her back from the knowledge of the cross behind her. She wasn't precisely sure what was supposed to happen next, but that didn't concern her -- Dru never planned further ahead than her next footstep, and yet somehow she was always just where she needed to be.
She knew she was in the right place, again, when she heard her name being spoken.
"Come on, Drusilla. I know something's wrong. You can tell me what it is. You can tell Spike."
She ducked behind a pew and waited. When Spike and the other Drusilla appeared, she pushed herself further back into the shadows and watched them. Spike's hair was that boring old color again, and the her-who-wasn't-her was wearing that lovely plaid skirt, the one that made her think of thistles and dirks and beheadings. Dru remembered wearing it, and there she was, wearing it. It was like one of those funny stories, she decided, the ones Spike used to like to stare at on the glowing television-box, the stories of people who weren't really real. Drusilla thought those were silly stories -- why would anyone be interested in people who weren't real? This story was much better, because it was real, and because she was going to change it.
"Didn't you like the vagrant?" Spike smacked his mouth with some distaste. Their footsteps echoed on the stone. "Don't blame you. That was cheap plonk he'd been drinking. Bit of an aftertaste, there."
The other Drusilla peered over Spike's shoulder, and her eyes met Dru's. At first Dru felt confused -- then she smiled at the other Drusilla. The other Drusilla hesitated, then smiled back.
"Spike," the other Drusilla murmured, "I'm cold. Kill me something warm. Something nice."
From where she stood, Dru could see Spike grin as he put his finger under the other Drusilla's chin, tilting her head up toward him. "That's more like my girl. You wait here. I'll try and find someone who's been drinking a little less. Or at least a little less dangerously. I'm sure there's a nice prior or friar downstairs." He paused. "Any particular denomination? All right. I'll be off then."
He disappeared into the outer chambers of the cathedral, and Dru came forward, out of the shadows of the pews. She waved at the other Drusilla, who bounced on her heels and clapped her hands in glee. "There's two of me!" the other Drusilla said. "Do you remember things forwards, like I do?"
"And backward," Dru said. "But I have more backwards than you do."
The other Drusilla nodded. Lowering her voice, she whispered, "He's going away. Soon. Daddy's going away, and none of them care."
"He won't come back until he's happy," Dru told her, taking the other Drusilla's hands in hers. They were cold and pale and exactly like her own.
"What makes him happy?"
"A slayer," Dru said. "A slayer in his thoughts and his heart and his bed. And Spike will follow."
The other Drusilla's eyes filled with tears. "I'm a good girl. Aren't I a good girl?"
"Don't fret, pretty. All the stitches will come undone."
The other Drusilla looked hopeful, but uncertain. "How?"
Dru let go of the other Drusilla's hands. "Like this," she said, then hit her over the head.
The other Drusilla's eyes rolled up into her skull, and she slid down on to the cathedral's cold stone floor. Dru took her by the ankles and dragged her into a confessional. Once they were out of sight, she set to work unbuttoning the other Drusilla's velvet cloak, followed by the basque and the skirt and layers of petticoats and corsets she wore underneath it. Corsets were so stiff, and they hurt so. Oh, how she had missed corsets. And what pretty, pretty skin she had. What pretty marks Spike and Darla and Angelus all made. Maybe she'd have such pretty marks again soon.
The last buttons slid through their buttonholes just as she heard footsteps approaching. Dru stepped back out into the church at the same time as Spike rounded the corner, pulling a half-unconscious man with dark hair and swarthy skin behind him. He was smiling, obviously pleased with himself. "You wanted something hot -- this one was in charge of the spices for the monsignor's kitchen. At least, that would explain the paprika." He noticed the feet sticking out of the confessional and looked disappointed. "Oh, you've eaten already."
"Just a taste," Dru told him. She smoothed down the front of her gown. "Is this a pretty dress, Spike?"
Spike let go of the cook, who collapsed on to the floor with a moan of pain. He came toward Dru, taking her by the shoulders and kissing her deeply. She felt the thrill of being worshipped, as she deserved. "'Course it is, love."
She smiled at him. "I missed the pretty dresses. I don't like dressing like a man."
Spike laughed. "You should try it. A bit racy, that. But if you think I'm putting on corsets and a bustle, think again." The cook moaned again and tried desperately to crawl away from them. Spike stopped him by bringing his boot down on the man's hand. "You want any of this? Before it gets cold?"
"Save him for afters," Dru said. She held out her arm and smiled when Spike took it. As they started to walk away, she said, "I dreamed there was another me. A me who wasn't. Could you stake another you?"
Spike thought for a second. "Someone who looked like me, you mean? Yeah, I reckon I could." He grinned. "I wouldn't, though. I'd keep the bugger around for a bit, see what I looked like with different hair, make sure my clothes looked right, that kind of thing. It would be like a mirror you could maim."
"Mirrors have sharp edges, and they cut," she said. "The sharp edges came crashing down on my head, only it wasn't my head at all."
"That's a lovely story, pet," Spike said absently.
"Yes, the story's lovely," Dru said blissfully, "now I'm telling it."
Cordelia sniffled. "You've got to tell me how you keep from sneezing with all this hay."
"I avoid breathing," Angel replied.
"Of course you do." Cordelia sighed. "I guess Tavist-D was invented a long time after 1898, huh?"
"You don't have to ride back here with me," Angel said. Cordelia was sitting beside him in the back of their borrowed transportation, a lieterwagon with a heavy cloth drape covering its top and sides. The drape was effective at keeping out the late-afternoon light, but unfortunately equally effective at keeping in dust from the hay piled inside. The gypsies hadn't bothered cleaning out the wagon on their behalf. Fred was handling the horses up front with Gunn by her side, and Angel was sure there was room for Cordelia up there as well.
"I'm going any time now," she insisted. "I'm gonna be there to see Old Evil You come barreling out of the house. Do you think I'd miss the chance to see you with even dorkier hair than you now have?"
"First of all, Golden Shimmer, my hair looks fine," Angel said, hoping this was true. "And second, you don't have to ride back here at all, if it's making you uncomfortable."
Cordelia didn't even bother reacting to the Golden Shimmer remark. She put the bundle of twenty-first century clothes she was holding on her lap to one side, allowing her to lean closer to Angel. In a softer tone, she said, "I just wanted to -- Angel, this is all pretty intense. Even for me, and I'm not the one having the real-life flashback. And this is a bad time for this to happen -- not that there's a good time to have your psycho ex try and mess with history --"
Angel interjected, "Cordy, I'm all right. At least as close to all right as I'm going to get for a while."
Only after he said it did Angel realize it was true. In Cordelia's face, he could see an echo of his inner surprise, but even as she opened her mouth to ask him about it, Gunn called to them. "I think we're at the right place, Angel. You wanna catch a glimpse of this and see?"
"Sure," Angel said. He ducked into one side of the wagon as Gunn pulled the drape back, revealing a slim, bright triangle of daylight. Fred's hand --holding a tiny mirror -- swerved around, showing him the sunlit world outside.
He squinted, trying to remember the street and recognize it in the unfamiliar afternoon light. At last Fred's swiveling wrist hit the right angle, and he quickly said, "There. Stop there."
The villa. Slate roof and gables. The deep score in the door, made by the flailing boots of one of their victims. Angel glanced at Cordelia and nodded.
"We've got our home base," Cordelia confirmed for Fred and Gunn. "How long before Elvis leaves the building?"
"I ran out just a minute or two after the sun went down," Angel said. "And it's not long until sunset now."
"Then I'm going up," Cordelia said. She hopped out of the back of the wagon, and Angel could hear her going around to join Fred and Gunn. As she went, she called, "So, you and Darla are having a big fight in there, huh?"
She was just trying to keep him talking, Angel knew. He didn't mind. It would help him to focus on what had happened, to hold the necessary memories close. "Not that big a fight. At least, not by our standards. Some of our battles weren't on the same scale as your usual relationship spats."
"I don't think I want to hear about those," Fred said hurriedly.
"What were you fighting about?" Gunn asked. "She eat somebody you had your mind on?"
"No." He remembered Darla, icicle-sharp and gleaming in white satin, the disapproving purse of her lips. "We were supposedly fighting about a kill I wanted to make that night. She was in the mood for something different."
Cordelia said, "What do you mean, supposedly?"
"Really, the fight was about something we didn't talk about," Angel said slowly. "Sometimes she ruled me. I mean, she dictated everything I did, everything I felt. I existed only for her."
He could hear Cordelia mutter, "So glad I asked."
"But sometimes -- sometimes I ruled over her," he continued. "Then she was a slave to me. We'd go months or years at a stretch, one of us controlling the other, and then we'd switch. When we were here, in Romania -- I ruled her. Darla wanted the whip hand back, and I wasn't ready to give it to her." He'd never consciously understood that, not once in the 150 years he and Darla were together, nor in the century after her. How was it he was only realizing that now?
"Please, in future, try to leave any whip details out of your memories, okay?" Cordelia sounded a little more terse than usual. "Get back to the color commentary."
"I had this kill set up," Angel said. Somehow, returning to this place, at this moment, was causing details of memory to resurface for the first time in decades. "He was an English lord. His name was -- Dunstan? Dalton? Something like that, I think. Anyhow, she thought it was too stagy, and she wanted me to call it off."
He dressed with such care, Darla thought as she watched him. Sliding on his shirt, enjoying the feel of fabric against his skin. Buttoning up his waistcoat, his strong hands delicately plucking the whalebone buttons. Angelus took a positively decadent interest in his clothing.
She often enjoyed watching him get dressed for just that reason; his sensual delight in the smallest details was one of the qualities she prized most in her lover. But tonight, for some reason, it annoyed her. "He hasn't even invited you yet," she snapped from her place on the bed.
"He will," Angelus said, self-assured and smiling. Darla fought back the desire to slap him. "And when he does, I shall be ready. Now, tell me, my pretty mirror -- how do I look?"
Darla folded her arms in front of her. "Like an overweening dandy, if you must know."
Angelus just grinned more widely. "Ah, such temper. I believe someone's feeling neglected." He slid his hand along her leg, brushing aside the white silk of her robe. "Don't worry. I'll make up for lost time when I come home. You know how I get after a particularly fine kill."
The liquid warmth in his voice threatened to melt her resolve, but only for a moment. Darla jerked away from him and slid off the other side of the bed. "When you come home, you may have to take out your -- enthusiasm -- on Drusilla. Or maybe Spike would be happy to service you. I expect to be elsewhere, enjoying other company."
"Other company, is it?" Angelus' eyes glinted dangerously as he crossed the floor. "And what other company might that be?"
The only company Darla had had in mind was that of a few warm-blooded street urchins no one would miss. But Angelus' anger was immediate and satisfying; it aroused her more than his smugness had. She decided to embellish the lie.
Smiling at him, Darla lifted her chin. "While you've been dining with your bookish young lord, I've had to fill so many hours. What luck, to find someone so willing to help me while away the long, lonely nights."
Angelus stared at her as though he'd never seen her before. "You know I don't begrudge you a sailor now and then," he said. "You allow me my nuns, after all. But I won't have you throwing some scrap of a mortal in my face."
"You won't have it?" Darla repeated incredulously, more outraged by these simple words than anything he'd said or done in years. "YOU won't have it? And am I to live by what you will and won't have?"
"I think perhaps you are," Angelus growled.
She laughed in his face. "Well, then, you can think again."
"Girl was gettin' down an' dirty with somebody else?" Gunn said.
"Maybe," Angel said. "She lied a lot, but then so did I. In any case, that wasn't the point of the argument."
Fred said, "Just in case you were wondering, Charles, if this ever comes up for us, it WILL be the point of the argument."
"Back at ya," Gunn said. Angel could tell by the sound of his voice that Gunn was smiling.
"So, Mr. and Mrs. Co-dependency are in a plain old power struggle," Cordelia said. "But if you guys did this all the time, why did you run off and leave her?"
"Because running off and leaving each other was something else we did all the time," Angel said. He settled back into the hay; he still had a couple of minutes left. The setting sun made the dark red of the wagon's drape the color of fire. "But we always came back. I didn't have any idea that this time, when I left -- it would be for good."
Not quite for good. Angel remembered a scant few weeks in China, days of desperate lovemaking and nightmare-riddled sleep, nights of deceit and trickery and lies. He remembered a hotel room with a warm, human Darla who had given him her life and her soul seconds before Drusilla took both from her. He remembered one night in his room at the Hyperion, broken glass on his floor and in his bed. Worst of all, he remembered her suffering in labor, bleeding and despairing, giving him their son as she gave herself up to die.
Not these memories, Angel reminded himself. He tried to pull his thoughts back to what would have to pass for the here and now. "Darla claimed that I had forgotten her," he said, hoping that Gunn and Fred and Cordy hadn't noticed his long silence. "She said wanted someone who would never forget her."
"I've been thinking," Darla said, stretching out her arms as if admiring them. "Spike's a hindrance, and nothing but. He's forever wrecking our plans, ruining our hiding places, the like."
"As he has been for almost twenty years," Angelus snapped. He was agitated now, as Darla had intended he should be. "I don't see what this painfully obvious fact has to do with your poor taste in infidelities."
"Let's replace him," she said. She gave Angelus her most stunning smile as she began tucking her hair up into a chignon. The posture of her arms, raised behind her head, lifted her breasts in a way she knew Angelus found very appealing -- not that she intended to fulfill his desire, even if she did succeed in reawakening it. "I'll even let you do the staking, as much as I'd enjoy it. But my treat would come later."
Angelus stopped pacing and stared at her, hard and cold. "Don't tell me you seriously intend to turn your latest infatuation."
"He's far superior to Spike in every respect. He'll make a good companion for us. For me, especially. While you're off amusing yourself with your elaborate games, he can amuse me here. And then we'll all be happy." Darla paused a moment, purely to heighten the impact of what she said next. "Besides, let's not forget -- you owe everything you are to my capacity for infatuation."
That reminder of his own origins had exactly the effect Darla had hoped to achieve. "I forbid it!" Angelus exploded.
"You forbid it? You dare forbid ME from doing anything?" Darla wanted to attack him. To rip his silken skin to shreds with her claws, drink his blood and laugh in his face. "And this is all the notice I can expect from you? I warn you now, Angelus -- if you think so little of me, others don't. And Spike isn't the only one who can be replaced."
Gunn said, "Wait. She was going to off this Spike guy? Just -- poof? Like that?"
"That was Darla's solution to anything who got in her way," Angel said. The sun was low now. Angel could feel its weight lifting from him, feel his body becoming stronger and more free. So close now. So close. "Humans, vampires, anyone. I don't think she really intended to get rid of Spike -- but she would have done it. So would I. And Spike would have staked both of us, if he'd thought he could get away with it. That's just how things were."
"You do realize just how dysfunctional all this was, right?" Gunn asked. "Compared to this, the guests on Springer look normal."
"How long now?" Fred asked quietly.
"Not long," Angel said. "I ran out just after sundown. The last things we said to each other --" How trivial it all seemed now. Such a stupid reason to go running off. And to this he owed everything he'd become, everything he'd done -- to this stupid fight. "She said I had nothing to give her anymore. And I told her I wasn't going to waste my gifts on an ungrateful bitch."
"You are SO lucky you're not dust," Cordelia said.
Darla followed him down the stairs, shouting at him all the while. "I don't need this from you, Angelus. I don't need ANYTHING from you. You have nothing to give me anymore."
Angelus whirled around as if to shout back at her. Then, to her surprise, he hesitated. Slowly, a catlike smile spread across his face. "I think perhaps I do." He continued down the stairs, and Darla stared after him for a moment before she followed.
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
Angelus called from the foyer. "I killed some intruders for you this morning, remember?"
"Oh, please," Darla scoffed. "As if you didn't enjoy that yourself."
"Killing them proves nothing," Angelus said. She could hear the sounds of rummaging, as if through a box or trunk. "But taking the time to find out what they brought with them..."
Unwillingly, Darla felt the tiniest bit curious. "They brought something interesting?"
"Many fine things," Angelus said soothingly. He came back into the room with his hands behind his back. "Now, you see, you or Spike -- or that fool of a mortal, whoever he may be -- you'd just kill them as quick as ever you could, get rid of the evidence even quicker. But I take my time. And even you'll admit that's where my patience brings rewards."
With that, Angelus brought his hand forward, and in it was --
"What is that?" Darla said.
"It's a bracelet."
"I can see that," she replied, not even bothering to sound angry. Cautiously, she brought her fingers toward its glittering surface. So many colors, and they floated above the material, instead of lying within it. A bracelet of a thousand jewels, and yet it was perfectly smooth. "What metal is this? I've never seen the like."
"Nor have I," Angelus said. "But it's beautiful, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes," she whispered.
"Then she slapped me," Angel said.
"You had it coming, buddy," Cordelia confirmed.
"I slapped her back," Angel said. "She told me it would be a cold day in hell before I slept with her again, and I told her that the thought of sleeping with her put me in mind of both hell and cold days --"
"Whoo, this got nasty," Gunn said. "Damn, cuz, no wonder you remember all this."
"This wasn't that unusual," Angel said. "I told you." But the memories seemed to be growing stronger by the moment. His past was his present again. Everything happening across the street -- it was as real to him as though it had happened yesterday. No, he reminded himself. It's happening now. "Then she started throwing things at me. Lamps, pictures, anything she could get her hands on."
"I guess the crashing starts anytime now," Fred said.
"I was saving this," Angelus said. His voice was low and smooth, and Darla lifted her eyes to his slowly, almost coquettishly. He smiled. "I wanted to give it to you on a special occasion."
Darla dimpled up at him. "Today's very special."
Angelus took her hand in his, and the touch of his skin against hers excited her against her will. He gently slipped the bracelet over her fingers, up her arm, caressing her as he did so. "Do you really believe I don't think of you?" he murmured. "I think of you all the time. Even as I plan my surprise for Lord Percy -- I'm also planning surprises for you."
"I like this kind of surprise," Darla said. She turned her arm this way and that, and the bracelet caught the light in a dizzy flush of colors. Darla laughed like a spoiled, greedy child, her anger forgotten.
"Just a minute or two more now," Angel warned. Already, almost no light was coming through the drape. He got to his knees and began brushing away the hay.
"We're keeping a lookout," Cordelia assured him from the front of the wagon. He could hear her alighting, the soft pat of her feet on the dirt road. "Just how does this big fight wrap up?"
"I told her I was tired of her behaving like a fishwife," Angel said. "She told me she was tired of me, period. I threw one of the lamps back at her, just as I felt the sun go down. Darla was screaming at me as I went out the door."
"Can't wait to hear her voice again," Gunn said dryly. "Okay, it's showtime."
Angelus pulled Darla close, and she didn't bother fighting him. She didn't want to fight him. Her sweet, darling boy. Always thinking of her. His games really weren't so bad -- not when they brought her dividends such as this. "Mmmm," she said, moving sinuously against him. "What a fine, generous man I have."
"And what a beautiful, desirous woman I have," Angelus said. He ran his tongue along the length of her throat, and she shivered. He whispered, "Wanting as much as she is wanted."
Darla slid her arms around his shoulders, which had the dual effect of drawing him nearer and bringing the strange, glittering bracelet back into her view. "Lord Dalton is a proper English gentleman," she murmured. "Surely he won't have dinner so early as this."
"Probably not," Angelus agreed. He began untying the sash of her robe. "He'll probably be an hour or so sending his invitation."
"Only an hour?" Darla pouted. "You with your preening. It would take your more than an hour to get dressed again." She stuck out her bottom lip, mock-sorrowful. "How disappointing."
"I'm a patient man," Angelus said. "But I can work quickly when the incentive is right." He tugged her robe away from her shoulders, leaving her naked to his gaze -- save for the bracelet. "Leave that on."
"As if I'd remove it," she said. "Even for you."
Angelus laughed and swung her up into his arms. "Let's go upstairs," he said. "And there we'll see just what you will and won't do for me."
"Yes," she said, nipping at his throat as he carried her up. "Oh, yes."
"The sun's going down," Angel said.
"We can actually see it this time," Cordelia said. "Okay, watching for Dru. Watching the door."
Angel lifted the corner of the wagon's drape, giving him his first direct look at the street. The familiarity of it hit him hard, but he focused on the door. "Any moment."
"She's gonna waylay him right here. Right here," Gunn said. "But we are waiting."
The sun was gone. He could feel the remnants of it against his skin, remember that it was just as it had felt when he stormed out that night. "It's happening," he said. "It's happening -- now."
Angel tensed. So did the others. The door didn't open.
Then the door didn't open.
Several minutes later, the door still hadn't opened.
"Uh, Angel?" Fred said. "When you say 'now,' when exactly do you mean?"
"This is it," Angel said, stunned. "This -- this should be it."
"It's okay," Cordelia said quietly. "It was a hundred and some odd years ago, Angel. You're off by a couple minutes. No big. It's gonna happen any second."
"I'm not off," Angel insisted. "I remember this. I know how it happened, except -- except it's not happening."
"Dru," Gunn said flatly. "Gal got in there and screwed this up already."
"She couldn't have," Angel said. "The back entrance was shaded from the sun first thing in the morning, but only then. There's no way she could have gotten in any later, and there's no way she could have gotten from where we were last night to here any faster."
"She could've used a blanket," Cordelia said. "You do all the time -- plenty of vamps have ways of moving around in the daytime."
Angel shook his head. "Drusilla's terrified of daylight. She doesn't understand that blankets will protect her. If she didn't get in first thing in the morning, she didn't get in at all."
"Are you sure?" Fred said. She clearly hoped Angel would answer quickly in the affirmative.
But the door stayed closed.
"I don't know," Angel said. "I don't know what Dru's done. I don't know where she is. All I know is --"
"-- you're not running out to get cursed," Cordelia said. "When I get my hands on Dru --"
Drusilla could hear the voices as though they were at a very great distance. They rang like bells, great clangy bells. Everything in her head was ringing, and Drusilla did not like it at all. She tried to put her fingers in her ears, but her arms wouldn't move. Naughty arms.
She felt fingers -- warm, human fingers, so very appetizing -- against her throat. The voice nearest to her spoke again, in that language she hadn't bothered to learn. She didn't have to know what the words meant, when she could see the thoughts behind them, flickering and spinning like a zoetrope machine.
She opened her eyes and sat up.
The priest -- nasty priest, wearing a nasty cross -- gave a cry of surprise and leaped back. He called out to another priest, who hurried over to join him at Drusilla's side.
The priests had found all the dead people in their church, and they thought she was a dead person too, and they were right. But she was the only dead person who would get up again.
The first priest clasped his hands together and, face alight with joy, began to babble loudly in that silly language. Drusilla ignored him as she attempted a mental feat she undertook only rarely, and never with much success. She tried to concentrate.
Her reflection had hit her on the head. Naughty reflection. Now Drusilla was wearing her reflection's dress, which was very strange -- the crimson cloth glittered as she moved, the stitches were so tiny they must have been sewn by fairies, the skirt was so short that her legs showed almost to the knees, and she hadn't a corset at all. "How very daring," she said to herself. "I'm a boHEEEMian." That was a funny word, and she said it to herself a few dozen times. If she was wearing her reflection's clothes, did that mean she was her reflection, now? Was her reflection, her?
The priests were still jabbering, their words clogging her ears and their thoughts muddling her brain. The crosses they wore made Drusilla's skin itch. So she grabbed their heads and smashed them together as hard as she could.
So much clanging! But the bells broke, and now they were all soft.
Drusilla thoughtfully lifted her bloody fingers to his mouth and began licking them, one by one. She felt pleased with herself, because now it was nice and quiet again, and she could think clearly, about important things.
She wanted her own pretty dress back. Then she could be herself again.
Pleased with this line of reasoning, Drusilla got up and headed purposefully out of the church.
"All right, all right!" Spike was laughing as he lifted the crowbar. "What is it I'm supposed to say again?"
"Batter up!" Dru cried. "You say batter up! Say it, say it, say it --"
"Batter up!" Spike yelled. Dru hefted the pitcher in her hands, then tossed it the length of the china shop. Spike swung the bar and smashed the pitcher to pieces.
"Run the bases!" Dru said. "You have to run the bases, if you're a good boy."
"Then I shouldn't run them at all," Spike pointed out. But he began running them anyway. The china shop's owner was first -- at any rate, what was left of him -- and the two patrons who'd entered that evening were second and third. Home was Spike's own coat, but Dru didn't intend to let him get there.
She ran to his coat, trying to reach out and touch him. "You're out!" she said, giggling. "You're out!"
"Am I?" Spike said. He was grinning insanely at her. "What are the rules of this game -- what is it called again?"
"Something-ball," Dru said. "There's a song all about it. Peanuts and crackerjack and huge leather mittens. They play it in America."
"You've never been to America, you silly bint," Spike said.
"I've been all sorts of places," Dru said. "You'll go to all sorts of places too. And we shan't have any fighting, and you'll make your hair all sorts of pretty colors, and we will have Daddy and Grandmother with us forever and ever."
Spike didn't seem as happy about that last part. "Oh, yeah, there's the icing on the cake."
"Won't be any nasty slayers," Dru said. She could see this better future now, full and shining, like the moon. The moon would be coming out soon, and she could dance for it in the streets, with Spike by her side. "Won't be any metal in your mind to take away your thirst. The dollies won't pack up their bags and hide."
"You said it. None of that," Spike said. He sounded a little tired. "We ought to be getting back, Dru. Angelus is going out, and you know how Darla gets when she's bored."
"No," Dru said. "We won't go back. I've come back, and now there's only going forward. Everything's all right again. Let's play something-ball some more."
"You're batty," Spike said. Dru drew her arms up and pretended to be a bat, flapping all around the china shop. She danced over the bodies of the people they'd killed, and Spike laughed and laughed. The boning of her corset cut into her skin, sweet familiar pain. "Ah, what the hell," Spike finally said. "Darla can amuse herself for one night."
Dru grabbed up the crowbar. "In the belfry," she sighed, smiling dreamily at him. "Batter up, bats up, bats, bats, bats."
Spike selected a heavy platter and began making moves like a discus thrower. "Play ball!"
The sun had gone down a full ten minutes ago, and the darkness on the street, unbroken by electric streetlights or car headlamps, was complete. But the windows of the villa glowed with a gentle golden tint, lit from within by oil lamps and candles. From time to time, Cordelia could see shapes moving behind the drawn blinds, evidence that the vampires were still inside the house.
"That's it," Angel said at last. "I'm going in there."
He jumped down from the cart, but before he could start crossing the street, Cordelia grabbed his arms; Gunn helped hold him back. "SO not a good idea," she said. "What are you planning on doing? Because somehow I don't think knocking on the door and explaining nicely to yourself that you have to come outside so you can begin a century of torment is gonna work."
"I'm going to make sure he gets cursed," Angel said, "even if it means I have to knock him -- me -- him out, tie him up and drag him to the gypsies myself." As he spoke, his arms and shoulders tensed, as if he were getting ready to do just that.
"Darla's in there, too," Gunn reminded him. "The way I remember it, she was pretty mean in a fight -- and I don't guess she got much softer in the last hundred years. You gonna take two to one odds?"
"Maybe five to one," Fred said. "Angelus and Darla being alone in the house is the way things should have been. But we know Drusilla's changed something already. Maybe she found herself and Spike and told them everything. Maybe they're all in there right now."
That, finally, seemed to get through to Angel. His shoulders slumped, and he shrugged off their restraining hands. "This is all wrong," he said.
"And we're gonna put it right," Cordelia told him firmly. For whatever reason, Angel seemed to have shaken free of the worst of his depression; she didn't intend to let him sink back into it. "So, the first thing we've gotta figure out is how to get your evil ol' self out of there. Ideas?"
Gunn turned to Angel. "Where were you headed when you stormed out? 'Cause I'm thinkin', maybe if we found another way to get you to go there --"
But Angel was shaking his head in frustration. "I don't remember. When I left, I was angry. I wasn't thinking about where I was going."
"Maybe you were going to that guy Dalton's place," Cordelia suggested.
"No," Angel said. "Fighting with Darla made me lose any interest I'd had in him. When I left the house, I just wanted to --" Angel hesitated, then finished reluctantly, "I just wanted to kill the first person I came across. Preferably as brutally as possible."
Gunn crossed his arms. "I don't guess you ever thought of working out your excess aggression some other way. You know, punching bag, quick game of squash, that kinda thing."
Angel gave him a look, then went on, "I wanted to kill someone, but I never got the opportunity. I got as far as the theatre when the gypsies jumped me --" He stopped, and suddenly his face cleared. "The theatre. It happened in an alleyway behind the theatre. They had garlic and crosses and holy water, and there were about fifty of them. They caught me off guard, overpowered me and dragged me back to their camp. I remembered all that, but I'd forgotten it happened outside the theatre. How did I forget that?"
"Just a guess, but maybe being beaten to a pulp by a vengeful mob took your mind off the scenery for a second," Cordelia said. "We'll forgive you."
"The theatre," Fred said. "That's where we've got to get you -- I mean, him -- to."
"Heads up, guys," Gunn said suddenly. "Someone's coming."
A cloaked figure -- indistinct in the darkness but definitely female -- was walking up to the villa's front entrance. "Is that Drusilla?" Fred asked.
"And if it is, which one of them is it?" Cordelia added. She sighed, thinking that the one thing the world emphatically did not need was multiple Drusillas.
"That's not Dru," Angel said with certainty.
"Damn," Gunn said. "Then it must be the nineteenth-century equivalent of a pizza delivery guy. Except, if we don't do something, she's gonna be the hot snack. Come on."
Without waiting for a response, he headed off across the street. "Charles, wait!" Fred called after him.
It was too late. The cloaked woman had already put her hand on the chain which hung at the side of the villa's front door. Even from her position across the street, Cordelia could hear the faint clanging of bells inside the house.
"If they open the door and see Charles too --" Fred said.
She didn't have to finish the thought. Immediately Angel started running toward the villa; Fred and Cordy quickly followed him, stumbling as they went. Lucky dead guy with his night vision, Cordelia thought. He can just get around all the loose stones and -- eww -- horse poo on the roads. But, smelly-stuff danger to cloth shoes aside, she couldn't look down: she could only focus straight ahead, on the villa's front entrance, where Gunn stood in plain view.
She barely slowed down as they reached him. Somewhere inside the house, bells were still ringing loudly.
"-- You gotta get out of here," Gunn was saying to the cloaked woman.
"Who are you?" the woman gasped in an English accent. Not even a woman, Cordelia realized -- a girl, maybe even younger than she was herself.
No time for "Gilligan's Island," Cordelia decided. As they all reached the villa's steps, she said, "We're time travelers from the twenty first century. Inside this house, there are a couple of vampires who'll kill you if you're still here when the door opens. So now we've got the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 explanation out of the way, how about you just RUN?"
The look on the girl's face changed from surprise to fear. "Gypsies! You're gypsies!"
"No, we're not," Fred said. She glanced down at her borrowed clothes. "Although I see why you might think that."
The girl started to sob. Sinking down on to her knees, she clasped her hands together in supplication. "Please, don't kill me. I've nothing of value. I'm just a servant --"
"No one is gonna get killed," Gunn said. "Not if you listen to me --"
But the girl was beyond listening, Cordelia realized. She was shaking with terror, and her sobs were becoming louder and higher-pitched.
"Somebody better get her quiet --" Fred began.
Cordelia looked worriedly at the villa's entrance. Angelus and Darla were inside. Why hadn't the bell ringing brought them to the door? If the bell-ringing hadn't done it, surely the screaming would soon --
There was a thunk, and the servant girl's cries abruptly stopped. When Cordelia looked around, the girl was lying unconscious on the steps. Angel was standing over her, fist closed.
"You hit her!" Cordelia said to him accusingly.
Angel looked uncomfortable. "I had to stop her screaming, and gentle persuasion didn't seem like an option."
"Guys, maybe we should move," Fred said. "You know, before they decide to find out what all the noise out here is about."
That provoked an immediate response. Gunn and Angel picked up the girl's unconscious body between them, while Fred and Cordy found a path around the side of the house. It wasn't until they were safely out of sight of the door that Cordelia began to feel even a little safer.
Gunn and Angel laid the servant girl out on the cool ground, and Cordelia checked her over. A large bump was already swelling just above the girl's ear, and when she woke up she was going to have a particularly unattractive bruise. "You are SO lucky this isn't 2002," Cordelia said to Angel, "or you'd be looking at a personal injury suit for sure."
But Angel looked as if he had other things on his mind. "This isn't right. I have to think about this."
"About which part?" Gunn said. "The part where history's all screwed up, or the part where Dru couldn't have done it, except that she did, or the part where we don't know what the hell is going on?"
"The part where you saved her life," Angel said.
"That's not top on our list of worries," Gunn said. But then he hesitated, realizing what Angel meant a half-second before Cordelia did herself. She stared down at the unconscious girl in the street, feeling vaguely sick in her stomach.
"You weren't there when she arrived before," Cordelia whispered. "I mean, in the history that was supposed to happen. But Darla might have been."
"So Darla might have killed her," Fred said, catching on. "Which means --"
Fred didn't say it. Neither did anyone else. History was even more out of joint than it had been before.
Cordelia wondered what they could do, then realized the answer and rejected it in the same moment. "Angel, we can't," she said. "We can't kill her. I know it changes things even more, but -- we just can't."
"No, we can't," Angel agreed, to Cordelia's immense relief. But his face was still troubled as he said, "We don't know if we changed history here. So we also don't know if we'd change it by killing her. That means we leave her alone."
The night breeze moved the girl's cloak, and Cordelia saw there was an envelope tucked into it. She took it out and opened it; the card inside was cream-colored and inscribed with elegant, old-fashioned script. She read it out loud for the benefit of the others: "'Percival, Lord Dalton, requests the pleasure of your company for dinner at his home in Leiberstrasse, Sighisoara, on November 16, 1898, at nine o'clock.'"
"Give me that," Angel said. He took the card from her. "This is one invitation I won't be accepting." He ripped it to shreds, taking out some of that repressed violence on the paper; Cordelia watched him carefully, but Angel seemed reasonably controlled, at least for the moment.
Then a noise from somewhere above them made them all look up. A light shone out from a room on the villa's upper floor; the window was open, and the sounds coming from within were clearly audible in the quiet night.
"Oh," Darla's voice cried. "Oh, ohhh, ahhh, OHHH --"
Even in the darkness, Cordelia could see Fred turning a brilliant shade of pink. Cordelia herself was too annoyed to be embarrassed. She folded her arms and looked at Angel. "Now we know why no one's coming to the door. They're too busy just coming. I thought you said you FOUGHT with Darla?"
"Apparently we made up," Angel said uncomfortably.
His embarrassment deepened a second later, when another voice joined in with Darla's moans. This voice was lower, male, and instantly familiar to Cordelia. The last time she'd heard Angel make noises like THAT had been in the freaky haunted dressing room at the ballet.
Angel winced. Gunn covered his mouth with his hand, trying very hard not to laugh. Cordelia felt herself going from annoyed to furious. It was one thing to think about Angel having sex with Darla, but it was another, altogether more upsetting thing to think about Angel enjoying sex with Darla. Not to mention sounding just like he had that one time he'd made out with Cordelia at the ballet, even if neither of them had really been themselves at the time, because a girl liked to feel special, possessed or not. Cordelia was aware that this line of reasoning didn't make sense, and she also didn't care. She gave Angel her best subzero-arctic glare. He winced again.
Fred was staring up at the window too, but fortunately she was focusing on more important matters. "I think I know how we can get Angelus out of there."
"You mean, out of her," Gunn said, smirking. Cordelia and Angel both stared at him until he became serious. "Okay, what's the plan?"
Fred gazed down at the still-unconscious servant girl. Then she looked at the shredded invitation Angel still held in his hand. "Well, it's a little risky..."
"That's not risky," Charles said. There was no longer even the slightest hint of amusement in his voice. "Risky is not putting on a seatbelt. This is suicide."
Fred took a step back, which made it easier to look him in the eye. "No, it isn't. It's a calculated risk. Charles, we're running out of time. If Angelus doesn't get cursed tonight -- well, history might get changed so much we'd never be able to put it right." She took a breath, and tried to sound reassuring as she said, "Besides, if this works, I won't even have to go into the house."
"IF it works," Charles said stonily. "What makes you think you won't end up as cocktails, just like she would have?"
He pointed down the street, where Cordelia was bundling the semi-conscious servant girl into a carriage while Angel paid the driver to take her back to her employer's house. From the gestures Angel was making to accompany his halting Romanian, Fred guessed he was saying the girl had been attacked by gypsies -- although what explanation he was offering for the theft of her servant's uniform was anyone's guess.
The uniform -- an over-starched white blouse and black pinafore -- wasn't nearly as warm as the gypsy clothing had been, and Fred pulled the cloak more tightly around herself as a chill wind rattled dry leaves along the street. "I've been with y'all for almost a year now, Charles. I may not be a champion like Angel or Cordy, or a really great fighter like you and -- like you. That doesn't mean I can't help. That girl didn't have any idea what she was getting into, but I do. I've learned a few things, you know -- battle tactics, and strategy, and --"
"You're not researching a term paper!" Charles snapped. "This is for real."
Fred blinked; she'd never heard him get angry like this before. Quietly, she said, "I know it is. That's why I'm doing it."
Charles began to pace up and down in front of her. "Why you? Why not Cordy?"
"Because I'm the right size to wear these clothes," Fred said, gesturing at the servant girl's uniform she now wore.
"That's a hell of a stupid reason for risking your life," Charles said angrily.
Fred started to feel herself getting angry in return. "Then here's a better reason -- this was my idea, and I can do it, and it's my risk to take." She stepped in front of him and stopped him from pacing by jabbing her finger in the center of his chest. "You take risks all the time."
"Like when?" Charles demanded.
"Like just now! You ran right up to the front of the house when you thought that girl was in danger. What if Angelus and Darla HAD answered the door?"
"That was different."
"Because I can look after myself."
"So can I!"
Charles was staring at her, a peculiar kind of hurt in his eyes, but it was too late to take it back, even if she could have. "So can I. Charles, I spent so long in Pylea looking after myself, and it was so hard to keep doing it, all the time, I went kinda crazy trying. And then, when I got home, I guess I wanted -- I needed -- someone else to look after ME for a while. And you did. You make me feel safe, and that's the best thing you could've done for me, because now I can be brave again. But you have to let me be brave."
Charles looked at her, and for a long time his face barely changed. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft again, and sounded more like the Charles she knew. "I lost so many people. Lost my friends. Lost my sister. They were all brave, and it didn't save them. I'm not gonna lose you."
As he finished, Charles put his arms around her, hugging Fred to himself so fiercely that it was a little difficult to breathe. She didn't mind.
"That's okay," she told him. "Now I'm found, I'm not gonna get lost again."
As Angel approached them, Fred tried out her English accent. "Tell me, guv'nor, did they bleeve you about the gypsies?"
"Seems like it," Angel said. He raised an eyebrow. "That's a little heavy."
"I'm taking the accent from 'My Fair Lady,'" Fred said. "I guess maybe that's not 100% accurate."
Angel said, "Say as little as possible, and just try to not to sound like you come from Texas. You shouldn't be talking to him for long, so hopefully he won't notice much."
Charles was still glowering. "I just wish there was somethin' else we could do to make this safer apart from voice coaching."
"There might be," Angel said. "Do either of you have any string?"
The front door bell rang for the third time. Darla propped herself up on one elbow, so that the bed sheets slipped off her in a manner which Angelus might almost have thought was unintended, if he hadn't known her as well as he did. "Aren't you going to answer that?" she asked.
He was too comfortable to think about moving. "Most likely it's only Spike and Drusilla."
Darla sniffed her derision. "Hardly. He lacks the requisite gentility and she the soundness of mind to use a bell pull. Perhaps whomever called earlier, while we were..." She gave a half smile and dragged her finger down the center of his chest, "...otherwise occupied has returned. Perhaps it is your invitation to dine with the foolish Lord Dalton."
The bracelet on her slim wrist scintillated in a myriad of colors. Angelus caught hold of her hand and kissed her fingers lightly, one by one. "Should I answer it, then?"
"One should never disappoint the aristocracy," Darla murmured, her attention fixed on the bracelet she wore. She was captivated by it, Angelus saw, as in thrall to its beauty and novelty as she was to her desire for him. Pretty, foolish Darla. A vicious, magnificent creature -- but still, in her cold heart, greedy and selfish and easy to manipulate, if you knew the tricks. After 150 years, Angelus was pretty sure he'd learned them all. "You should go," she said.
He savored the subtle pleasure of victory as he pulled on a robe and left her, and he was savoring it still when he opened the front door of the house on the cold night outside. "Yes?"
The girl staring up at him from the villa's steps was little more than a waif, nearly swamped by her servant's uniform and cloak. Sounding as if she had rehearsed the words by rote, she said, "Sir, my master, Lord Dalton, sent me. He wishes to invite you --"
"-- to meet him outside the theatre this evening."
Angelus felt his good humor begin to sour. There was, of course, no reason why Lord Percy couldn't meet his end anywhere, but Angelus hadn't spent weeks enduring the man's tedious company for the privilege of drinking from him in some alleyway. No, the artistry of this kill depended on subverting His Lordship's insufferable sense of invulnerability, and that could only be accomplished by demonstrating just how little security he enjoyed, even in his own home.
"Tell Lord Dalton," Angelus said, "I very much regret that I have another engagement this evening." He started to close the door.
"Wait!" the servant girl said. Her accent was strange -- as if she were aping a high-class tone, the exact opposite of Spike and his put-on Cockney. "You have to go!"
It was surprise, more than anything else, that stayed Angelus' hand on the door. He stared at the girl, undecided as to whether to be amused or offended. "Perhaps in my age my hearing is suffering -- did I just hear a maid give a gentleman an order?"
"No," the girl said, looking increasingly flustered. "I mean, yes. I mean --Lord Dalton said to tell you -- that he has something to give you. A gift."
Now Angelus was curious. "What manner of gift?"
"Something you'll have for a very long time," the girl said. "It's --priceless."
"Intriguing," Angelus said, looking at the girl closely for the first time. She was thin, but her complexion was pleasingly smooth and her eyes were bright. He wondered if he should present her to Darla, to occupy her while he went out. Softening his voice, he said to the girl, "You're shivering, my dear. The night is cold. Won't you step inside?"
The girl hesitated. "Oh -- oh no," she said at last. "It wouldn't be proper."
"Come, come," Angelus said briskly, smiling at her as kindly as he could manage. "We needn't tell Lord Dalton. And it is only a few minutes by a warm fire."
Her eyes were wide as she slowly stood more upright, straightening as she became more confident, her cloak slipping open slightly to reveal her throat -- and, hanging on a loop of twine, a small, crudely made cross.
Revulsion lanced through him, and Angelus fought to keep from wincing. He turned his head slightly to remove it from his sight. The cross could not have kept him from the girl if he were truly hungry, but he was not. Neither was Darla. And such a bony little thing was not worth even the minimal trouble.
"On second thought," Angelus said, "go back to your master. Tell him I will join him outside the theatre, and that I very much look forward to spending tonight in his delightful company."
At that, the girl looked relieved. "Yes, sir," she gasped and, before Angelus could dismiss her, turned and ran down the villa steps and across the street. Angelus watched her go, amused, before closing the door.
Upstairs, Darla was still lounging in their bed. "My beautiful boy," she said to Angelus as he returned, her earlier displeasure entirely forgotten. When he reached for his waistcoat and jacket instead of rejoining her, she merely pouted. "You're leaving me."
He leaned down and kissed her. "For the shortest of times."
"Are you dining with Lord Dalton?" Darla smiled languidly. "Or are you dining on Lord Dalton?"
"There's been a change of plan," Angelus told her. "But I can improvise. All the great artists do."
When he left her, she was twisting her arm in the glow of the oil lamp, marveling at the way the pattern on the bracelet changed in response to her movements.
Angelus smiled. "It's like I always say," he murmured to himself. "You can never go wrong with jewelry."
Drusilla peered in through the window of the china shop. She could see Spike, running in a mad circle. And Drusilla could see her reflection, wearing the clothes that belonged to her. Her favorite skirt, the one with the tartan pattern Grandmother said made her head ache.
But right now it was Drusilla's head that hurt. All the dishes were flying about in the china shop, shattering into smithereens and creating a kind of blizzard of broken china. So much crashing. Drusilla only liked crashing when she made things crash. Then she liked it a lot.
Did her reflection's head hurt, too? She had the same head as Drusilla, after all. They both had long, dark hair in pretty curls, and they both could see forward and backwards all at the same time, and Spike didn't seem able to tell the difference between them at all.
Spike was laughing with her reflection now. Their mouths were all bloody.
"They've been having a lovely party," Drusilla said, frowning. "No invitations were sent, and I have no cake."
She wanted to ask the reflection why she'd swapped their clothes. She also wanted to ask Spike which of them he liked better -- or perhaps he liked them both. Drusilla took a moment to consider how that might be, and shivered in pleasure. She smiled. "A party, a party. Crackers for everyone."
But as Drusilla began skipping toward the china shop's door, she started seeing forwards again. She froze in her tracks and gripped the sides of her head. Too many things to see -- all locked up inside her head, and her head was full to bursting -- "Daddy?" she gasped.
Angelus was running. He was in the street behind the theatre, the place with all the lovely costumes and the people who sang for their suppers. But he wasn't alone, oh no, oh no. They were waiting for him. A mob with terrible fire and spells, and they were a net, and Angelus was a fish. She could see him, the only point of clarity in the maelstrom of her mind's eye. He was writhing and twitching as though he were caught on a hook.
They were going to do terrible things to him. Not stake him. Worse than staking him, so much worse --
"Daddy!" she cried out again. She forgot about her reflection, about the party, about everything except getting to Angelus' side.
Desperately, frantically, she started to run.
"You sure you're all right?" Spike said. "Looked like a nasty one, that."
"Verrrry nasty," Dru said, unclenching her fists from her hair. She'd still had shards of china in her hands when the vision overtook her, and now their broken edges had cut up her hands. Smiling, she held out her palms to Spike, who began doing something between kissing them and licking them. Either way, she liked it.
Between licks, Spike said, "What was that, anyway? You were shrieking about Angelus something awful. Don't tell me his little theatricale has gone wrong." He snickered. "Not that I'd mind pulling his irons out of the fire, watching him try to explain it all away."
"He's in the fire now," Dru said sadly. She knew not to go running off this time, but it was hard, so hard. Poor Daddy. "It will make him too warm to stay in the night with us. He will have to go into the day, no matter how much it burns."
"This is music to my ears," Spike said, moving on to her fingers. His tongue flickered over a knuckle.
"I went to him before," she said. "When there was only one of me. I went there, but I was too late, and there was ever so much crying. I followed him into the forest, and I was all alone, and no one was there to stop my tears." Dru looked down at Spike with vague displeasure. "You'd found yourself a traveling salesman, and you were playing with his wares."
"Sounds like fun," Spike said genially, not attempting to understand her. Then he straightened up and frowned. "When you say 'wares,' is that a euphemism?"
Dru was not thinking about the salesman. He had not happened. Other things would happen. Some of them were very painful to see, very frightening, but they would make her story come out right at last.
"I shan't be alone in the forest this time," Dru said.
Angelus walked easily through the streets on his way to the theatre. He paused from time to time, glancing over his shoulder, then shook his head and continued on his path.
A few moments after one backward glance, Cordelia, Fred, Gunn and Angel all stood up from behind the small cart they'd ducked behind. "That was close," Gunn said in a low voice. "It's like he knows he's being followed."
"He senses a vampire," Angel said.
"Where?" Cordelia said, looking around. Everyone stared at her, and she folded her arms across her chest. "I think we have more important things to do than make fun of me for saying that."
Fred turned to Angel. "If you're setting off his vampire radar or sonar or whatever it is, maybe you should stay further back and let us follow him."
"This is too important," Angel said, shaking his head. "I can't sit back and hope the gypsies get to perform the curse. I have to do something."
Cordelia took his arms in her hands. She could feel the tension coiled inside him still; he was desperate to strike, to act. "If the 'something' you do is tip Angelus off to a trap, then that's not so great, right? Just take it easy, cowboy."
"Cowboy," Angel repeated, looking skyward. She couldn't tell if she'd amused him or annoyed him. As long as it kept him from doing something stupid, Cordelia would take either option.
"All right," Gunn said. "Let's think strategically, okay? I may not know jack about Sighisoara or Romania or gypsies and all, but I know street fighting, and that's what's about to go down here."
Fred smiled up at Gunn, her face expressing both surprise and relief. Angel didn't say anything in agreement, but he was listening calmly, always a good sign. "Strategy," Cordelia said. "Strategy is good. Except -- can we maybe strategize and walk at the same time? He's getting ahead of us."
They started to follow the dark figure ahead of them again, keeping to the shadows. "He's going straight to the theatre," Gunn said.
"We think he is," Angel said. He was staring straight ahead at the past version of himself. Cordelia knew Angel's night vision was much better than a human's, but unless he had some kind of vampire fog-vision he'd never mentioned, she doubted he could see Angelus any more easily than she could. A light mist was forming, and to Cordelia, Angelus was a blurred and indistinct silhouette. "He could decide on an impulse kill at any moment," Angel said.
"He can't kill anybody else!" Cordelia whispered. "We've already monkeyed with history once. That's enough monkeying. No more monkey do we need."
"Not to devalue the lives of any innocent Romanian citizens," Fred said, "but shouldn't we be watching out for Drusilla?"
Cordelia groaned. "She's already done her damage."
"We don't know that," Angel said. "She might keep watch until she's sure the danger has passed, and it hasn't."
"So, two objectives," Gunn said. "Keep Angelus on his track, and don't let Drusilla or anybody else get too close. Anybody who ain't a gypsy with a chip on their shoulder, I mean."
Cordelia realized they were all already walking a little faster, purpose driving their steps. Angelus' outline was a little clearer. She gathered up the hem of her heavy skirt in her hand. "What positions do we take?"
Angel said, "I'll stay as far back as I can, in case I tip him off. Gunn, that leaves you."
"And me," Cordelia chimed in. When Angel stared at her, she said, "Trained fighter, remember? I know everything he knows, because you know everything he knows, and you taught me everything -- dammit, I can handle it."
"I don't like it," Angel said, but to her surprise he then continued, "but I don't like any of this. Fred, you and I will stay on the outskirts. We'll steer people away from him, and if we see Drusilla -- we stake her."
The hesitation in his voice was so slight that Cordelia was sure Fred and Gunn hadn't noticed. When she looked at Angel's face -- stern with resolve --Cordelia wondered if she had imagined it. She said only, "Let's go."
Tendrils of mist curled along the street outside the theatre, blurring the edges of buildings and lending the night a mysterious, almost sinister edge. Angelus curled his lip in wry amusement at that thought -- after all, it wasn't the fog that made this particular part of Sighisoara more dangerous than anywhere else. It was him.
Nevertheless, something about the way the fog swirled and churned, distorting familiar shapes out of recognition, disquieted Angelus, and he wasn't sure why. The vague sense that another vampire was close wasn't new -- eastern Europe was crawling with the undead, most of them barely one step up from the ignorant, ill-bred peasants they had once been and now hunted. No, it was the odd sense of familiarity that bothered him -- not Darla or Drusilla or Spike, or even Penn, if by some unfortunate coincidence he had come to Romania too. This was something else, something that was at once more familiar and more alien than any of them.
Ridiculous thoughts. Darla had always said he was too inclined toward pensiveness, and for once Angelus was inclined to agree with her. He reached for his pocket watch, before remembering Drusilla's clock-destroying spree. Well, no matter -- he could tell the time well enough by the height of the silver-hazed moon above the mist. Lord Dalton was late and, unlike the fictional vampires that had caught his Lordship's imagination, Angelus had no particular love of lurking in cold, damp alleys. Not when a roaring fire, a comfortable bed and a pliant -- for the moment, at least -- woman waited for him back at the villa.
Tomorrow, Angelus would play the role of contrite friend again. Tomorrow he would earn his invitation into Lord Dalton's home. Tonight, he was simply bored and irritated, and in no mood for play-acting.
He started to walk away from the theatre.
The rain-barrel Cordelia was squeezing up against was almost as tall as she was and easily wide enough to conceal both herself and Gunn. It was also, unfortunately, damp and cold and more than a little slimy. While Gunn peered around the barrel's curved edge, Cordelia concentrated on not getting green gloop on her borrowed clothes.
"Fog's getting thicker," Gunn said. "I can't see nothin' out there."
"Do you see Drusilla?" Cordelia asked.
"Do you see the gypsies?"
Cordelia sighed. "Well, at least you can see Angelus."
"Actually," Gunn said after a second, "I can't."
Cordelia pushed in next to Gunn and looked around the side of the rain-barrel with him. At once she saw what he had meant about the fog -- the light mist that had descended while they had been following Angelus to the theatre was now a soupy murk through which it was impossible to make out much of anything. "Where'd he go?"
"He's probably still there. We just can't see him."
Cordelia squinted, trying to make out definite forms in the haze. But every time she thought she saw a man's silhouette, the fog's twisting vapors revealed it to be something else -- a stack of crates or a sack hanging on a hook. She felt a stab of anxiety as she realized the street outside the theatre was empty. Angelus was gone.
"He's not there." She hit Gunn on the arm. "He was there a second ago! How'd we lose him?"
Gunn was looking up and down the street, his face serious. "Damn. He coulda gone either way. If we want to find him fast, we're gonna have to split up."
Cordelia stood up. "Fine. I'll go left, you go right." That made it sound more as if they had a plan, and less as if the plan they'd had was rapidly coming apart.
She started to leave, but Gunn's voice behind her made her look back. His face was grave as he said, "If you see him first, you stay back. Stay out of sight."
Cordelia nodded. "Sure."
"Cordy, I mean it," he said, more harshly. "Don't think just 'cause Angel taught you a few moves you can take him. And don't go thinkin' that 'cause you're buddies with our Angel you can appeal to this one's better nature. Because, until those gypsies get hold of him, he doesn't HAVE a better nature."
The fog made surveillance difficult, but it had certain advantages, Fred thought. Such as, the ease with which she was able to hide herself at the side of the street, keeping watch without fear of being seen. She was hiding near the theatre's side entrance; from there, she could hear muffled applause from the audience inside. The playbill above the door was in Romanian, so Fred wasn't certain what they were showing their appreciation for, but from the sounds of raucous laughter, she guessed it was a comedy.
She heard footsteps approaching before she saw their owner and tensed as she peered into the foggy darkness. But the shape that started to form out of the murk was familiar -- tall and broad-shouldered -- and Fred relaxed a little. Just Angel, back after making a sweep of the other side of the street. She stepped out to meet him.
She realized, a second too late, that this Angel had longer hair than he should have, and wore a finely tailored jacket instead of the peasant's wool coat the gypsies had provided for him. If she ran he would hear her, and any moment now he would see her --
Hands grabbed Fred from behind and pulled her back into the shadows. Instinctively, she started to struggle, before realizing that the hands holding on to her were pale and cool. She tried to stand still, but her heart was thudding in her chest and her breath seemed to explode out of her, air warmed in her lungs condensing into clouds that thickened the mist. Fred sucked in a lungful of air and held it as long as she could, until her heartbeat pounding in her ears threatened to deafen her. Next to her, Angel stood so rigidly that it was easy to imagine she was being held by a granite statue that someone had put clothes on.
Angelus' steps slowed as he passed them. He looked over his shoulder. But he walked on, and didn't stop.
Fred exhaled. Angel let go of her arm, and it was only when she tried to move it she realized he'd gripped her tightly enough to bruise her.
"He's going," she whispered. "Angel, he's not supposed to leave."
Angel nodded his agreement. "We have to stop him." He stepped out of the alcove and began to follow the already-indistinct form of Angelus. From inside the theatre, more laughter rang out, the happy sound a stark contrast to what has happening in the street outside. But it gave Fred an idea.
"Help me get this door open," she said, indicating the stage door. Angel hesitated, still staring after Angelus, but when Fred started to tug more urgently at the door, he came back to help her. "In about a minute, he's going to walk right past the theatre's main entrance."
Angel wrapped his hands around the stage door's handle and pulled hard at it. "How does that help us?"
There was a snap from within the door, and it swung open. The previously muted noises of laughter and applause were suddenly loud and clear. "I'm exercising my power of free speech," she said. "Turns out there is a good reason to do this, after all."
"Do what?" Angel was still confused, but Fred had no time to answer, so she just ducked inside.
She was standing at the side of the theatre. The first row of seats was in front of her, and steps to her left led up on to the stage. Opening the side door had allowed a blast of chill air into the warm theatre, and one of the actors standing at the side of the stage looked down at her in irritation. But his costume consisted of a bright red turban, a sleeveless shirt that opened all the way to his navel and a pair of gold and blue pantaloons, and so it was hard to take his annoyance very seriously.
Fred ran up the steps and on to the stage, almost knocking over an actress wearing a belly-dancer's costume on the way. The actor dressed as a sultan who was currently standing in the middle of the stage giving a speech broke off when Fred barged in front of him, launching instead into a stream of angry Romanian that was aimed at her. Fred was glad she couldn't understand what he was saying.
The audience, meanwhile, laughed louder. They thought this was part of the performance.
"Everybody has to get out," Fred shouted. "There's a fire."
More laughter and applause.
Fred cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted again, her voice cutting through the noise. "I said, there's a FIRE!"
Some people were still laughing, but others had stopped and now looked uncertain. Fred didn't know how many of the theatre audience understood English, but apparently her urgent tone and frantic hand-waving was getting the message across. "Fire!" she yelled again.
At the back of the theatre, she heard a voice shout something which she guessed was the Romanian translation of what she'd just said. That did it. Within seconds, people were clambering out of their seats and running toward the theatre exit. Some pushed past Fred and fled out of the stage door, but that was okay. Most would run out of the main entrance into the narrow street -- and that was a lot of people, because whatever they'd come to see had been playing to a full house. Until the crowds cleared, it wouldn't be possible to move in the street outside. Fred hoped that delaying Angelus' escape by five or ten minutes would be long enough.
On the other hand, it was possible that neither they nor the gypsies would be able to find him in the crowd. And that wouldn't be good.
The theatre was empty. Fred followed the last of the audience out through the stage door, and back on to the street where Angel was waiting.
But he wasn't. When she got outside, Angel had gone.
Angelus was walking past the theatre's doors when they burst open, engulfing him in a stream of terrified humanity. For a second, he was too surprised to do anything except stay where he was while the crowd surged out of the building. They reeked of fear, and he could hear shouts of, "Fire!" in English, Romanian and a few other languages, too, but he quickly realized there was no smell of smoke in the air. A hoax, then.
Usually, Angelus relished this kind of hysterical mass panic; on many occasions, he'd been its instigator. Tonight it merely exasperated him, and as he tried to fight his way against the flow of the fleeing crowds, he seriously considered snapping a few necks to make his progress easier. As tempting as the idea was, he rejected it. Only the desperate or the inexperienced killed in public, and Angelus was neither.
Instead, he allowed himself to be carried along with the stampede until an opportunity to extricate himself presented itself. As the throng pushed him by the entrance to an alleyway at the side of the theatre, Angelus slipped into it. He quickly realized why none of the crowd followed him -- the alley was a dead end, and if the theatre had been burning down, it would have trapped anyone who tried to shelter in it. But the theatre wasn't on fire, and Angelus only sought a place to wait while the fleeing hordes dispersed.
He was pleasantly surprised, then, when someone else had the same idea. As Angelus was straightening his cravat and brushing off his jacket, a girl stumbled out of the mob and into the alleyway. She couldn't have been a member of the fleeing audience, he realized immediately -- she was wearing the rough, coarse clothes of a peasant rather than the theatergoers' finery. Her headscarf had fallen down over her eyes, blinding her, and she fumbled as she tried to adjust it, before giving up and taking it off. The hair underneath had been sliced short and was a deep blonde color, unflattering to her complexion. That was a pity, Angelus thought, because in all other respects she was a comely lass. Very comely, in fact.
He smiled to himself. A pretty girl, a secluded alleyway and the noise of a crowd to mask the screams. Perhaps tonight would not be entirely wasted, after all.
The girl knotted her headscarf and pulled it back into place. To herself, in English, she said, "Okay, Cor. Time to get back out there."
"There is no hurry," Angelus said pleasantly. "Tarry a while, here with me."
The girl started and looked round, seeing him for the first time. Her eyes widened.
"Oh, hell," she said.
Fred had given up trying to go in any particular direction -- it was all she could do to stay on her feet, and if she fell she was sure she'd be trampled in seconds. Swept along by the tide of people, she clutched at coat-tails and cloaks, anything to keep herself upright. With relief, she saw that the street opened up ahead of her into a large, paved square -- if she could make it that far, she'd be okay.
She couldn't. The shoes she'd borrowed along with the maid's uniform --heavy-soled and clumsy -- were too large on her, and she tripped. Fred gasped as she started to lose her balance, putting her arms out in front of herself as she fell. For an instant, she felt nothing except blind terror -- this is it, I'm going to die, I'm really going to die -- then it passed, replaced by a kind of obstinate determination. She'd survived Pylea. She'd staked vampires. Those were difficult things. Right now, all she had to do to survive was something easier. She had to get up. GET UP.
She levered herself up on to her hands and knees, and from that position somehow regained her footing. A moment later, the force of the crowd pushed her out into the paved square, like a cork popping out of a bottle. Fred was hurled forward, unable to stop until she collided head-on with some unfortunate person who was trying to go in the opposite direction.
"Fred!" It was Charles. Fred wanted to weep with relief; instead she just grabbed him. He hugged her back, then pulled her to one side, out of the way of the thinning crowd. "Are you okay? What the hell's happening? Where'd all these people come from?"
"Theatre," Fred gasped. "Fire --"
"The theatre's on fire?"
"No." Fred was slowly catching her breath. "But the people inside thought it was, and they panicked."
"That's all we needed," Charles said. "Some idiot startin' a riot for fun."
"The idiot was me."
"Oh." Charles paused for the briefest of seconds before saying positively, "Good thinkin'."
"No, it wasn't!" Fred cried. "I mean, I thought it was. Angelus was leaving, and we just needed to hold him up for a couple of minutes, but now we've lost him, and I don't know where Angel is either --"
"Whoah, backtrack," Charles said, holding up one hand. "You saw Angelus? Where?"
Fred pointed back down the street. "Right outside the theatre."
Charles looked grim. "Hell. That's the way Cordy went --"
The clatter of hooves and wooden wheels on cobblestones interrupted him. Fred looked around, and saw a caravan almost identical to the one the gypsies had given them racing up. After a second, she realized that the similarity was no coincidence -- this wagon was packed with grim-faced, armed gypsies, and more of them clung to its sides.
"Hooray for the cavalry," Charles said in a low voice.
The gypsy driving the caravan was the tall, gray-bearded man who Fred remembered was Gia's father. He tugged on the reins, guiding the horses toward Fred and Charles, but even when he was close enough to be heard above the noise of the crowd, he didn't speak to them. Instead he simply eyed Fred and Charles with an interrogatory, half-hostile stare.
Charles pointed back along the street. "He went thataway."
The gypsy nodded, and cracked the reins. Leather snapped against the horse's flank, and the caravan charged up the street Fred had just left, forcing a passage through the thinning crowd.
Charles watched the gypsies go, looking pleased with himself. "I always wanted to say that."
Be careful what you go looking for, Cordelia thought. You just might find it.
That wasn't exactly how the saying went, but it was close enough. She'd gone looking for Angelus, and she'd found him. But this part of finding him -- the part where he found her, too -- that hadn't been in the plan.
He sauntered toward her, smiling slightly, and she was amazed not at how much like Angel he was, but how different. Sure, the old-fashioned clothes and even stupider hair made for a superficial distinction, but it was more than that. It was in his eyes, she realized. She'd gotten used to seeing warmth and affection in those eyes, but Angelus' gaze was coldly appraising. Acquisitive. There was nothing of Angel in the creature in front of her. Cordelia had known that, but she hadn't truly felt it until now.
"Come, now," he said. "The crowds have frightened you. Take my hand. It will give you courage."
He held out his hand to her. Instinctively, Cordelia backed away. She was closer to the entrance of the alleyway than he was, so running back out into the street was still an option. It probably wouldn't do her much good, though -- if he decided to chase her, her heavy skirt and cloth shoes meant she didn't stand a chance of outrunning him. Cordelia had never wanted anything quite as much as she now wanted a pair of Nikes and a fifty-yard head start.
Angelus' hand was still extended toward her, but the look on his face was growing noticeably less kindly. Too much effort to keep up the act, Cordelia figured. Still, she had to do something -- she couldn't stand here staring at him forever --
She looked at his outstretched hand, and suddenly saw Angel standing in exactly the same position on the mat in the training room in the Hyperion's basement. A few seconds later, he'd been flat on his back, and Cordelia had been jubilant because the judo move she didn't think she could possibly pull off had worked.
Confidence surged through her. She could throw him. She'd thrown Angel --
(-- just once and he'd let her do it --)
- and she could do it again. She reached out to take his hand, trying to adjust her stance the way Angel had shown her. She'd only get one shot at this.
She gripped his hand, tensed all her muscles -- and pulled Angelus forward.
In the judo move, what should have happened next was that the opponent, in this case Angelus, went flying head over heels. What actually happened was that Angelus stumbled a little, then glared at her. Oh, shit, Cordelia thought.
She was still trying to decide whether running or fighting was the marginally less suicidal plan, when a brick plunged through the layers of mist and landed with comical accuracy on Angelus' head.
He slumped onto the ground, and the hand Cordelia was still holding went limp. A dark shadow dropped down through the fog, landing with a soft thud just behind Angelus' still form. Cordelia let Angelus' hand fall and looked at Angel. "Where did you come from?"
"The roof," Angel said, pointing upward. Then he looked down at his unconscious past self. "You shouldn't have tried to throw him. That would never have worked."
Cordelia put her hands on her hips. "Hey, I could've done it. I just --didn't."
"Your stance was all wrong," Angel said. "Your feet aren't far enough apart."
"How can you even tell where my feet are under this tent?" Cordelia asked, holding up a handful of skirt for emphasis. "Okay, sure, something was off, and we need to practice --" On the ground between them, Angelus gave a low moan as he started to come round. "You really don't stay out for long, do you? I think I'm gonna have to clock you again."
"Be my guest."
Cordelia picked up the brick, but before she could strike, a caravan pulled up at the alley's entrance. Quietly, Angel said, "They're here. Come on."
Taking Cordelia's hand, he pulled her to the edge of the alley, leaving Angelus still woozily trying to sit up. Before he could, a gang of gypsy men were leaping down from the sides and back of the caravan and crowding into the alleyway. As far as Cordelia could tell, every man in the camp who could lift a weapon had come, from teenagers to white-bearded grandfathers. They swarmed around Angelus, who was now sufficiently recovered to offer some resistance, but he was disoriented and hugely outnumbered. Within seconds, he was bound tightly.
Cordelia expected them to stop at that, to bundle their prisoner into the back of the wagon and go. But overpowering Angelus only seemed to fuel the gypsies' anger. They kicked and stabbed and punched the hunched figure on the ground with a collective fury more extreme than anything Cordelia had ever seen before, and in their faces she saw something that was not unlike Angelus' inhumanity.
Then, as if on some signal, the attack was over. Four of the burliest gypsies lifted Angelus -- who, incredibly, was somehow still able to struggle -- and threw him into the cart. The wagon pulled away, and she and Angel were alone in the alleyway. Cordelia was surprised to find she was shaking.
She heard the clatter of footsteps, and Gunn, swiftly followed by Fred, appeared at the top of the alley. "The gypsies --" Fred gasped.
"They were here," Angel said. "They have him."
Gunn grinned, and punched the air. "All right! We fixed it."
We fixed it, Cordelia thought. She breathed out in relief.
Behind her, Angel said, "Not yet. We can't be certain until they perform the curse. Tonight isn't over yet."
Relief drained away as Cordelia realized Angel was right. Drusilla could still interfere; the night wasn't over. Not by a long shot.
"So what do we do now?" Gunn asked. "Follow them?"
"That's exactly what we do," Angel said. "Spread out. Cover as much ground as you can. It's just another few minutes -- but if Dru can still stop us, she will."
Cordelia could feel the dirt road turning into scrubby grass beneath the soles of her cloth shoes. She was out of breath and exhausted; apparently her demon powers didn't include long-distance running. She held one hand to her chest and desperately sucked in air. Angel and Gunn and Fred had separated, like Angel had said; she knew they weren't far away, but it didn't change the fact that she felt isolated and on edge, alone in the dark.
She hadn't lost sight of the gypsy caravan. The mob was beating the sides of the wagon with sticks and shovels, shouting at the bound figure inside. Cordelia didn't understand one word of what they were saying, but the tone of the chorus was clear. Fury. Pain. Contempt.
Against all logic, she felt herself becoming angry at the gypsies. Cordelia bit down on her lip and forced herself to remember that the creature in that wagon was only a part of the Angel she knew. "It's okay," she whispered, not knowing if she spoke to the Angel of the future, the Angel of the present, herself or all three. "It's supposed to happen like this."
Cordelia whirled around and saw Drusilla, crouched low to the ground, her curved fingers digging into the earth like a burrowing beast. Her hair was wild, and blood flecked her dress, her hands and her face.
The dress -- pencil straps and filmy red silk -- was from Saks. Cordelia had longed for it to go on sale, but it never had; it had been galling to see it a faded, soiled wreck on Drusilla at the museum. Now it was bloodied and torn, spoiled utterly by the vampire's casual destructiveness. Ruined in the same way she wanted to ruin Angel's future. All their futures.
"Drusilla," Cordelia said, taking her stake from her belt and brandishing it. "So lucky I ran into you."
"You know my name," Drusilla said wonderingly. "I don't know yours. I saw you with your funny hair, but I didn't see your name."
"Funny hair? Excuse me, but I have just one word for you: Volumizer. Try it." Cordelia snapped at her, but the anger was all for her words. She kept her body still and her eyes focused on Drusilla. Funny -- she'd never thought about it, but Drusilla probably didn't know her name. Not that it mattered.
"Voll. You. Miser." Drusilla straightened up and smiled. Her teeth were unexpectedly bright in the darkness, and Cordelia realized she was staring. Why shouldn't she stare? Dru was definitely stare-worthy.
Behind them, the gypsies continued to shout.
"You've a pain in your belly," Drusilla said.
"I'm fine," Cordelia said automatically. She wanted to stop staring at Drusilla's mouth, but somehow couldn't look away.
"No, no, no," Drusilla said. "The building has a skeleton, with sharp metal bones. You were falling and falling and falling, and the bones bit into you. I look inside you and I see the bite."
Cordelia gasped in agony as pain cut through her, pain so complete and overwhelming that she thought she would black out. A shaft of heat slashed her clear through -- from her back through her ribs --
She fumbled at her shirt, and her fingers hit metal. Hot blood flowed over her skin. Cordelia looked down, horrified, to see the rebar protruding from her torso. "No --" she choked out.
"Oh, yes," Drusilla said. Her voice grew nearer, but Cordelia could only stare down at the metal bar that had impaled her. "The bite is real. The pain is real. It twists you all up inside, and all that lovely blood's been spilled."
"Help -- help me --" Cordelia didn't know who she was speaking to anymore. She didn't know where she was, who she was. She could only concentrate on the metal pinning her to the ground. Dizziness washed over her, and she could feel herself swaying. Or was that the ground moving? Not an earthquake -- not another earthquake.
"Let me help you," said a voice she knew. Cordelia opened her eyes and saw Xander standing next to her. He looked horrified and concerned and guilty. He had been kissing Willow, and oh, God, Cordelia was going to kill him the very second she was sure she wasn't going to die. Xander said, "I can get this out of you. Then you'll feel better."
Xander would help her. He would, she knew he would, he might kiss Willow, but that didn't mean he didn't care, that he wouldn't help. Cordelia whispered, "Get it out of me."
"I need your stake," Xander said.
Stake. Stake. She didn't have a stake. She had been in the van with Oz -- but no, there was a stake in her hand, and so she must have had one --
Xander said, "Hurry. We'll get out of here. Just you and me."
Oh, God, it hurt so bad. She'd do anything to make it stop hurting. But Cordelia still gasped, "And Willow? And -- and Oz?"
"We don't need them," Xander said.
Xander had said that. Xander would never say that. Cordelia stared at him. With all the strength she had left, she slapped him hard across the face.
He shrieked -- and in that moment, his voice and face turned back into Drusilla's. The pain lifted from Cordelia instantly; the bar and the accompanying agony vanished so quickly that she stumbled, thrown off balance by nothing more than the change in sensation. "You hypnotized me!" Cordelia cried.
"Memories are the best dollies of all," Drusilla said, and she lunged for Cordelia.
It was now, when Cordelia didn't have time to think about it, that Angel's training paid off. She forgot all about complicated judo moves she'd tried once, and instead ducked and spun in the way Angel had made her practice until she was sick of it, and then made her practice some more. By now the response was instinctive, and suddenly Cordelia found she was in fighting stance, her stake raised and ready.
Drusilla clawed at Cordy's face. Cordelia blocked the blow with her free arm, spun and kicked hard. It caught Drusilla, who had apparently not been expecting any kind of resistance, off guard and off balance. She stumbled backward. Now Cordelia was on the offensive.
"What's this? Eager, eager." Drusilla stared at Cordelia. "I see those who fight us in my dreams. I haven't seen you in my dreams."
"You want to dream? Fine. Goodnight, Dru."
Cordelia lashed out with the stake again; Drusilla blocked her, but clumsily -- so clumsily, for a split second she left her chest exposed to attack. Sensing that she'd never get a better opportunity, Cordelia lunged forward and plunged her stake deep into the hollow between Drusilla's ribs.
Drusilla cried out, not in pain or fury, but in what sounded like the disappointment of a child. She whispered, "You broke it. You broke it. You br--"
She crumbled into dust.
Cordelia stared at the heap of ashes on the grass. "I staked Drusilla," she said. It didn't work. She still didn't believe it. She tried saying it a little louder. "I staked Drusilla." Staring at the stake in her hand, Cordelia felt herself begin to laugh shakily. "Oh, my God, I am such a bad-ass." She put one hand out to balance herself on a nearby tree and used the other to feel her abdomen again. The hard, ridged scar near her ribs still tingled faintly. For a moment, Cordelia did nothing but try and convince herself that her surroundings were real. The vampire-dust still swirling in the breeze was real. The scent of the evergreens was real. The faint hooting of an owl was -- not only real, but the only sound she could hear.
"Angel?" Cordelia whirled around. No gypsies. The caravan Angelus had been in was sitting there abandoned -- one of its sides had obviously been bashed through. From the inside.
He's out, she realized. He's loose. While Drusilla had me in flashback mode, Angelus got away from them. The gypsies are after him, and if they can't curse him, they'll just try to kill him.
Far away, she heard a man's shout. Was that Angel's voice?
"Angel!" She began running toward the sound, not thinking of anything besides reaching him. Her feet pounded against the earth, stumbled over tree roots. Branches scraped her legs and her shoulders. Cordelia tried to focus, though it was hard in such total darkness. No, not total -- far ahead, she thought she could see torchlight. "Angel, I'm coming --"
A hand snapped out and grabbed her arm, and she screamed until another hand covered her mouth. One of the gypsies -- the young one with the thick accent, hissed at her, "Shhh, foolish girl! It is being done."
"WHAT is being done?" Cordelia pulled her arm from his grasp and brandished her stake. "Be specific."
"The curse," he said. "It is the hour of our vengeance."
She stared at him, wondering whether or not to believe him. At last she said, "I'm gonna go see for myself." When he opened his mouth to object, she snarled, "Do NOT try to stop me."
He said only, "When this is over, leave these woods. Leave this time. Tonight we will have our vengeance -- and our purpose in leaving you alive ends."
"Yeah, I'm so tempted to hang around," she muttered as she turned away.
Slowly, quietly, she picked her way through the forest undergrowth. If other gypsies lurked nearby, they said nothing to alert her to their presence or to prevent her from getting closer. The torchlight grew brighter and brighter; Cordelia could hear someone speaking now, one of the gypsies -- but she couldn't quite make out the words.
The gypsy stopped speaking. She heard rustling nearby, as if other figures were moving away. They were done watching. The curse was over.
She crept forward toward the edge of a small clearing. A few torches still illuminated the area, but only she could only see one figure: Angel, bent low on the ground, doubled over in what looked like physical agony. "No," she heard him whisper. "No, it cannot be -- "
Cordelia leaned against a tree-trunk, weak with exhaustion and an emotion she couldn't quite name. That was Angel. Her Angel. It was like he had just been born.
His hair was long. His hands were clenched in fists. She could hear him crying. Cordelia had never seen Angel cry before. The sound of it tore at her, brought tears to her own eyes.
She felt Angel's hands against her shoulders, and she didn't have to turn around to see his face. She leaned back into his half-embrace, comforting the Angel she could reach in the place of the Angel she couldn't. Together, they watched his past self crumble under a swelling, unendurable weight of guilt and self-knowledge.
After a few long minutes, Angel pulled her back gently, urging her away from the crumpled figure on the ground. Cordelia didn't budge. She whispered, "I can't leave him there."
Angel almost smiled. "You have to leave him there," he replied. "He has to be there before I can be here."
Cordelia took a deep breath, nodded and sighed. Somehow she forced herself to walk away with Angel and never once look back.
Dru wandered along the street, weaving a random path through the crowd. Spike continued on his way, slightly ahead of her, laughing at the mayhem. There were lots of people shouting and shrieking in words Dru didn't know, but she could see the high, leaping flames that were only in their minds. She didn't remember this part, and that confused her, but so many things confused her that it scarcely seemed worth the trouble to worry about this one.
"The moon is high," she said. "It's time, time, time."
Spike heard her voice even amid the chaos. "Time for what, my venomous black blossom?"
"Crying over spilt milk. Can't pour it back again." Then she laughed in jubilation. "But I did. I poured the milk back up into the glass, didn't I? Didn't I, Spike?"
"You bet," Spike said. He wasn't really listening. Nobody listened to her for very long. Dru didn't mind that. When nobody listened to you, you could scream ever so loud, so loud you broke all the mirrors.
"I found a book," she said. "Many men tried to read it, and they couldn't. They said it didn't make any sense. But they said I didn't make any sense, either. And so I tried to read it, and when I did, the letters untwisted themselves and did a lovely dance on the page. They danced and danced until I knew all the steps. They sang to me. They were crazed, you see? Just like me."
Spike fell back a couple of steps and slid his arm around her waist. "You wear lunacy the way lesser women wear satin," he purred. "It clings to you, Drusilla. It shines in the night, and it makes you beautiful."
"I know," she said. This was Spike as he should be. This was the world as it should be. Except, of course, for just one thing. "Daddy's very sad right now."
"I'm deeply concerned," Spike said, nibbling at her neck. Then he scowled. "You don't want to go to him tonight, do you?"
"No," she said. "That's not what I went backwards to do, oh no. I did that once, and it wasn't any good at all. Ashes, ashes, we all fell down. Do you think the moon knows my name?"
"Yours and no other." Spike was already threading his way among the crowds again, leading her as they went. "Out of an entirely bent curiosity -- what did you 'go backwards' to do?"
Dru laughed and laughed, spinning around in the center of the thronging masses. "You'll see, you'll see," she said. "Save it for afters."
"You staked Drusilla," Angel said again. He still couldn't quite believe it.
"Yup," Cordelia confirmed. She had her arm looped through his, ostensibly for support in case she tripped on the rough, potholed dirt track that led back to the caves as they made their way through the pre-dawn murk. She hadn't so much as stumbled once throughout the journey, and Angel doubted she really needed his guidance. But he still let her hold on to his arm. "She swiped me with her nails, tried to scratch my face off --"
Gunn, who was walking a little way ahead, holding hands with Fred, looked back at them. "Hey, how about sticking to the facts? One tiny little nick on your cheek does NOT equate to your face bein' scratched off."
"The quote was, she TRIED to scratch my face off." Cordy was trying to sound annoyed, but with little success. "She didn't. I staked her first. I --staked -- Drusilla."
Angel could not share in Cordelia's giddy excitement about Dru's end -- he remembered her first death too well for that. Drusilla had been his creation, his responsibility and, in her own, twisted way, a kind of innocent. Angel had always expected to feel both guilt and grief when this day came, and yet he wasn't feeling that at all.
Cordelia giggled and said it a few more times, with different emphasis each time. "I STAKED Drusilla. I staked DRUSILLA."
Gunn groaned. "Enough already! You'd think no one ever dusted a vamp before."
"He doesn't get it," Cordelia said. She squeezed Angel's arm. "You get it, right?"
"I get it," Angel said quietly. He got something, although he wasn't sure it was the same thing Cordelia meant. Angel got that the future he'd thought held nothing for him without his son in it was back on track, and that he felt something about that he hadn't expected to. It wasn't happiness -- never that, not now -- but it was a better emotion than he'd ever thought he'd feel again. Gratitude, perhaps.
It wasn't until they left the track and started to climb uphill toward the cave's entrance that Cordelia let go of Angel. "You know what?" she said. "When we get home, I think I'm gonna have to break a longstanding resolution and call Xander Harris. I want to hear what he has to say when I tell him Dru's dust and I did it."
"When I get home," Gunn said, "I'm gonna eat microwaved popcorn and toasted Pop Tarts and watch TV. No -- first I'm gonna drive my truck around for a while. Or maybe I'll listen to a CD --" Suddenly he broke off and looked at Fred. "You've still got that magic ring thing that's going to get us home, right?"
"Sure I do," Fred said. "When I changed into the clothes the gypsies gave us, I made sure I took it out of the pocket of my jeans." She was silent for a moment. Then, in a very quiet voice, she said, "Of course, then I switched clothes with the maid."
They all stopped walking and stared at Fred. Cordelia clutched Angel's arm again, and this time he thought perhaps she did need his support, a little. Gunn looked most horrified of all.
Then Fred held up her left hand, the ring shining on her finger. "I'm only foolin' y'all. You think I'd lose our way home?"
"That," Gunn said as he stooped to enter the cave, "was NOT funny. Speakin' of clothes -- who's got our regular gear?"
"I do," Fred said, holding up a bundle of pants and T-shirts secured with a belt. She pulled at the maid's uniform she was still wearing. "Can't say I'll miss nineteenth century clothing."
"We can only pray burlap isn't big on the catwalks next season," Cordelia said. "Or ever." She followed Fred and Gunn into the cave.
Before he went inside, Angel looked back one last time, at the dark and deceptively tranquil countryside. It was peaceful, even beautiful, and Angel decided that if it was another century before he saw Romania again, it'd be too soon.
By the time Angel had caught up with the others, they had changed back into their own clothes and were gathered underneath the portal in the cave's roof. It was still, he noted with relief, open and as active as it had been when they'd come through it. The only question that remained now was --
"How does this thing work, again?" Cordy asked.
"I don't know," Fred said. She took the ring off her finger and started to raise it over her head, toward the portal's shining, crawling surface. "But I think proximity may be the trigger --"
As she spoke, the surface of the portal bulged downward, as if drawn by some force exerted on it by the ring. Fred inhaled sharply, and when Angel looked down at her feet, he saw only her toes were in contact with the cave floor. "Everyone," he said, "take hold of her."
Gunn put his arms around Fred's waist, while Cordelia grabbed her raised arm and Angel her free hand. Now he was in physical contact with Fred, Angel could feel the raw power of magic coursing through her. He looked up just as the ring touched the portal --
The ride was no less wild this time. If anything, plummeting upward -- which was the best description Angel could think of for the sensation -- was an even more disorienting experience.
Then it was over, and he was back inside the black marble pyramid at the museum, crammed into the dark, confined space with three other bodies. At least, Angel hoped there were three other bodies. "Is everyone here?"
"I'm here," Gunn said. "And I got hold of someone's arm."
"My arm," Fred said. "I'm okay. Or I will be when my head stops rotating."
"I'm here," Cordy's voice said, "but I think my stomach is still in the 1970s."
Angel put his shoulder against the pyramid's door and pushed. "Let's go home."
They all stumbled out into the museum, which was only slightly less dark than the interior of the pyramid. Angel smelled the familiar smells of a museum --mustiness and dust, industrial cleaning products and the faint remnants of thousands of people -- and something else too, something less familiar --
"Y'all never asked me what the first thing I'm going to do is," Fred said as they began making their way through the exhibits.
Gunn ducked underneath the extended arm of a Grecian goddess. "I'll bite. What's that?"
"Two words," Fred said dreamily. "Indoor bathrooms."
"Oh, GOD, yes," Cordelia said. "Until yesterday, I never fully appreciated the miracle that is Charmin."
Smoke. The unfamiliar smell was smoke. Angel frowned. Was there a fire in the museum? "I think we should get outside."
"Let's please not shimmy through the air vents again, all right?" Gunn said. "We can hop on out the front. If the security alarm goes off, what the hell. We're outta here."
They went into the high, arched hallway that led to the main entrance. Funny, Angel thought. I remember the ceilings being a lot lower -- of course, we were never out here --
"That's weird," Fred said, pointing at a rough-hewn marble statue. "That looks like a Michelangelo. What's that doing in a Museum of Victoriana?"
The smell of smoke was getting stronger. Angel realized he'd begun to walk faster, as had the others. "Something's not right," Angel said.
"What?" Gunn said. "Like what?"
Angel reached the front door first. The alarm didn't seem worth worrying about, so he flung open the door and saw --
The streets were ablaze. All around them, buildings were going up in flames or smoldering into ash. Distant screams and shouting echoed through the night. Angel realized he could smell the metallic gristle of ruined electrical wiring, the thick haze of blood, the slimy tracks of things not human. Worst of all, he could smell death -- death on a scale he'd never known before. The air was thick with the rancid stench of it.
Next to him, the others stood agape. For a few moments, they could only stare at the carnage before them.
Finally, Cordelia said, "Okay. Who left the gas on?"
END of "The Tenth of Never"
The story continues in A STITCH IN TIME Book II: "The Eleventh Hour"My fanfic archive: http://www.thechicagoloop.net/yahtzee Join the updates list at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/YahtzeeFicUpdates Read my ATS reviews at: http://www.zentertainment.com "Easy cynicism is no more truthful than easy optimism, though it seems to be so to the young." -- Philip Pullman
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