Disclaimer: All characters from "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" belong to His Jossness and Mutant Enemy. The story, however, is mine; do not borrow without permission.
Thanks, as always, to Tanja for the advice and encouragement.
Chapter 1: Wesley
Night fell over Los Angeles, California.
For every person sleeping in this city this night, another was awake. For those awake, the city's pace never slackened—the city roiled by night just as it did by day. Those who slept gained some measure of peace, a respite from the maddening pace.
Most of the time.
Anita Martinez was one of those who slept. She had a comfortable day job at the city planner's office, where she was slowly climbing the ladder upward. The pay kept her in her apartment and good clothes, she liked her coworkers, loved her boyfriend, got along great with her roommate, and was overall satisfied with her life. Very seldom was her sleep disturbed by nightmares.
Until recently, that was. It seemed to her lately that every time she fell asleep, her dreams would be haunted by dread—as if a malevolent presence were following her. She had become irritable during the daytime, too, as she'd been sleeping less and less to avoid the dreams. As she was normally a very even-tempered person, it worried her. More than once lately, she'd considered finding a psychologist to see if she could dig up from her subconscious whatever was disturbing her sleep.
This night, she found herself in yet another fear-haunted dreamscape. She was at her parents' house, and all her family was there. It was a scene of peace.
Nonetheless, the fear followed her. It was almost a tangible thing. No one else seemed to notice it—her brothers, her parents, her sister, her cousin Luisa, no one. As she wandered the house, trying to escape the sinister presence, her family continued about their business, unconcerned.
She climbed the stairs. At the top, there was a door she'd never noticed in her parents' house before. She opened it, glancing over her shoulder toward the presence she felt. As usual, she saw nothing. She stepped through the doorway and back into her own apartment.
The sense of dread had only grown. Now she wandered through the rooms of her apartment, trying to find the source of her fear. Nothing in the living room, nothing in the kitchen, nothing in her study, nothing in the bathroom—that left only one door left. She opened the door to her bedroom.
Inside, it was dark. She tried the light only to find it didn't work. She found she could see, even in the dark, and looked into the room.
A figure lay on the bed. It was herself. Sitting by the bedside was her boyfriend, Sam.
"Sam?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"Can't help you, baby," he said. "You should've figured this one out on your own."
She shook her head, feeling panicky. "But what is it?"
Sam looked at her. "Don't you know? Look behind you."
Anita turned slowly and looked. Then she screamed.
Across town, another young woman woke screaming, too.
Pain hammered through Cordelia Chase's head. Flashes of light, moving figures, locations, voices, all in a confused jumble, assaulted her mind. She gasped in pain, trying to hold onto the only solid thing she had: a pair of cold hands, gripping her shoulders.
Finally, the vision released her. She opened her eyes and found herself looking into Angel's face. She realized she was sitting up in bed, and he was sitting on the edge of the bed in sweatpants, his upper body bare, holding onto her shoulders with worry in his eyes. There was some confusion in her mind as to what he was doing there.
"Are you all right?" Angel asked softly. "I heard you scream from the living room."
Memory flooded back. Angel's apartment had been blown to Kingdom Come, and he was staying with her temporarily.
Cordelia took a deep breath, trying to center herself. "Yeah. Ow. I never had one of those things wake me before."
Angel let her shoulders go, but didn't get up. "What was it?"
"Um, I'm not sure." She closed her eyes again, trying to make sense of the vision. "It was really weird—I thought it was a dream of having a vision at first. That's what it felt like. Am I awake?"
A smile crossed Angel's face. "As far as I can tell."
"Good," she said. "There was a name—Anita Martinez. I also saw Providence Hospital. I don't know if she works there or is a patient, but that's where she is, or will be."
"Then that's where I'll be." Angel started to get up, but was stopped at Cordelia grabbed his arm with one hand.
"There was something else, too," she told him. "There was a presence. I'm not sure what it was, but Angel—it scared me. I couldn't see what it was."
Angel nodded. "I'll be careful. Why don't you go back to sleep?"
Providence Hospital was across town from Cordelia's apartment, and the quickest route had been cut off by construction. Angel arrived roughly a half-hour after leaving Cordelia's apartment. He hated these kinds of calls. Not knowing what he was going to have to do while going into a situation normally meant an unacceptable amount of actual human contact was going to have to take place.
Fortunately, things tended to make themselves clear relatively quickly. Angel decided to drop by the ER first, figuring that if it was an emergency, well, that's where she'd be. As he entered, he heard the sound of screaming.
The pitch and tone of the screams was eerily familiar. Not someone in great pain or even terror—he knew those screams well enough—but someone in great torment of mind. The way Cordelia had been a month ago.
"Excuse me," said a polite voice. Angel automatically turned, only to find the hail hadn't been for him. It was instead for a small, red-haired woman who reminded the vampire vaguely of Willow. A doctor had been trying to get her attention. "Are you the one who brought Ms. Martinez in?"
"Yes, I'm her roommate, Ellen Howard. How is she?" asked the woman in a desperately worried voice.
The doctor sighed. "We need some information. Do you know if she was on any sort of drugs?"
Ellen shook her head. "No."
"Has she ever had one of these attacks before?"
"Not since I've known her—that's about three years."
"Do you know if she has a family history of mental problems?"
"Not that she's mentioned. I've met her parents—they seemed pretty stable to me."
"Has she been under any sort of undue stress lately?"
Ellen sighed. "Nothing she told me about—except for the dreams. She said she'd been having really intense nightmares lately, and then tonight she woke up screaming and wouldn't stop. Do you know what's wrong with her?"
The doctor was wearing one of those perfectly neutral expressions that boded ill. "We've got her under sedation and are running tests. Have you contacted her family?"
The redhead looked confused. "Wait—that's not her screaming?"
Angel turned away from the conversation. Quietly, he made his way deeper into the ER. In one room, he saw a slim, dark-haired woman. Quickly checking her chart, he found that she was indeed Anita Martinez. He looked at her face. The expression he found there was also all too familiar: blank, tormented catatonia.
Beyond the next curtain was the same story. Further in, doctors were restraining and attempting to sedate a blond woman.
The doors of the ER busted open, and a dark-haired man, screaming and thrashing, was wheeled in.
This didn't look good. Not good at all.
"So what do you think is happening?"
Cordelia asked the question as she served morning drinks to Angel and Wesley.
Angel gestured helplessly. "I don't know. All I know is that that ER was full of people in the same condition Cordelia was in a month ago, but none of them had been visibly marked by a demon."
"Well, the fact that you couldn't see a mark doesn't necessarily mean one wasn't there," Wesley pointed out. "It could have been on an area of their bodies covered by clothing, or one not visible to the human eye."
"I don't have human eyes." Angel took a sip of his blood. "The only clue I have is what Anita Martinez's roommate said about her having nightmares before the attack. Wesley, are there demons that attack via dreams?"
Wesley looked thoughtful. "Several, actually. It will take awhile to find exactly which one, and I've not much to go on. More information would be desirable."
"Know what I think?" asked Cordelia. Both men looked at her. "I think it's time I dropped a 'Thank you for taking care of me while I was having a psychotic episode' present by the hospital."
Angel smiled. "Good thinking."
Laura Butler, R.N., was having a profoundly bad day. Not that there were that many really good days at the Neuro-Psych ward—it just seemed like lately, the bad ones were getting even worse.
Thus, she was disproportionately glad to see a patient who had actually recovered coming her way. The girl—her name was something fancy, like Carissa or Corinna—who was coming toward her with a bright smile and a pastry box was a welcome sight. Cordelia, that was it. Laura was good with names, but with all the new cases, her brain was over-stressed.
"Hi!" greeted Cordelia perkily. "I wanted to say thanks to the nursing staff for taking care of me when I, you know, went all nutso, so I brought eclairs from The Flying Dutchman."
"Hi, Cordelia," returned Laura warmly. "It's good to see you looking so well, and believe me, those eclairs are incredibly welcome." She accepted the box from Cordelia.
Cordelia looked like she was going to say something else, but she was interrupted by the sudden arrival of Dr. Nancy Evans.
"You!" said the doctor, fixing Cordelia with her eyes. "You were in here what, a month ago? Arrived screaming, then lapsed into catatonia?"
"That would be me," acknowledged Cordelia.
Dr. Evans stared intently at the young woman. "But you came out of it a day later." The doctor bit her lip, thinking. "Tell me, before the episode, were you having bad dreams?"
"Dr. Evans! We've got another one," called an intern from down the hall.
Evans cursed softly. "Laura, find out if her case matches the others. I've gotta go." With that, Evans rushed off.
Cordelia watched her go, then turned back to Laura. "Boy, what's her saga?"
Laura sighed. "About a week ago, we started getting all these new cases that actually look a lot like yours—people coming in screaming, having psychotic episodes, with no drug use or history of mental problems. Were you having nightmares before the incident?"
Cordelia shook her head. "Nope. Had a few afterward, but none before. I don't know if anyone's ever told you this, but psychotic episodes—big with the scary."
"Well, the common thread here is nightmares preceding the incidents." Laura glanced over to the room Cordelia had been put in during her stay. "At least, that we can tell. Most of the patients told their families or significant others they were having nightmares, and then they ended up here. It's scary." The nurse hugged herself. "I've started worrying about my dreams—like if I have a nightmare, that means I'll end up here."
Cordelia nodded, a sympathetic look on her face. "Are your patients okay? I mean, I know they're not okay okay, but has anyone . . ." She trailed off.
Laura knew exactly what she was asking. "We've had two deaths. One was an older man, and one was a teenage girl with heart problems. The stress on their hearts was too much. Worse, no one's spontaneously come out of it the way you did—they stop screaming, then go into catatonia or fugue states." She gave a short laugh. "Don't suppose a visit by that handsome brother of yours might bring some of them out of it?"
"Angel? Sorry, he's booked solid." Cordelia smiled at the nurse. "Here's hoping the eclairs help. In my experience, chocolate makes any problem easier to bear."
"So, that's what we know. People are dying from dreams." Cordelia shook her head. "Laura said that it wasn't just her hospital—it's happening all over. It's like an epidemic."
Angel looked even graver than usual. "An epidemic of dreams."
"Or a plague." Both Angel and Cordelia looked over at Wesley, who'd spoken. He was wearing an abstracted expression, and after a moment he got up, fetched the Scroll of Aberjian from the cupboard Cordelia kept it locked in, and spread it out. The ex-Watcher set about examining it while Angel and Cordelia traded a look. "Let's see—Sumerian, Greek, Latin, Fyarl, more Latin—where's the Hebrew? Ah." He pulled out a magnifying glass and focused on one corner of the Scroll, still muttering. "Beasts, pestilence, and here are the plagues. Aha!" Wesley straightened and began quoting. " 'And a plague of dreams shall strike the city, bringing madness and death.' Rough translation, of course."
"Sounds like what's happening out there," said Cordelia. "Does it say anything else that's useful? Like, step-by-step instructions for breaking the curse or whatever?"
"It's a section of the Scroll I hadn't gotten around to fully translating yet," Wesley admitted. "Hebrew gives me rather a headache. However, I think I can make at least some sense out of this as it is." He concentrated on the Scroll, pulled out a heavy volume, and examined both for a time. Finally, he seemed satisfied. " 'The Vampire-with-a-Soul and the Seeress must walk in the pathways of dreams, and they shall be joined with blood, bound in sleep, and guided by friend and foe to break the power of the demon lord.'"
"That's me," said Angel.
"Who's the Seeress?" asked Cordelia.
Wesley looked at her. "That would be you, Cordelia. You're mentioned in here several times."
Cordelia traded a look with Angel, then turned back to Wesley. "Okay, bonus question: what's a pathway of dreams?"
Wesley took off his glasses. "It's a different plane of consciousness than we usually occupy while awake. Simply put, whenever you dream, your consciousness moves to a different plane. To walk the pathway of dreams is to seek out that plane and move about it deliberately. Unfortunately, that pathway is also used by some malign forces."
"Yes," said Angel darkly. "It's also very dangerous. If you do battle on the dream plane, your mind can be ripped from your body."
"And this is what Angel and I have to do?" Cordelia shook her head. "Just another day on the job."
"No, Cordelia, you're not doing it," Angel stated. "I'll do it myself."
Cordelia looked at him. "Excuse me? I believe the Scroll says we do it together." She held up her hand to forestall Angel's next objection. "Look, Angel, I've been where those people filling the psycho wards are. It was by far the worst experience of my life, and when you look at my life, that's saying something. I'm gonna do my part."
A brief staring match commenced between Angel and Cordelia. It wasn't easy to stare down a vampire, but Cordelia could just manage it. Finally, Angel relented with a slight, proud smile. "All right, Wesley. What do we do?"
"I'm afraid the Scroll runs out of useful suggestions at this point," Wesley said apologetically. "Goes on about the raising of scourges and such. What I would imagine the correct course of action would be is to find some way of joining you two on the dream plane. Not an easy task, I'm afraid—most of the spells I know of are for one person only. That and, of course, figuring out exactly what demon lord we're dealing with."
"Research time." Cordelia reached for one of Angel's salvaged books. "Just like the old days in Sunnydale."
Cordelia and Angel both looked over at Wesley. "What is it?" asked Angel.
Wesley held up a book triumphantly. "This has a spell in it which is specifically designed to enjoin two minds. We could use it, then a simple dreamwalking spell to send you both to the dream plane."
"Any nasty side effects?" asked Cordelia warily.
"No, none at all. Look here: it says, 'This spell will bind two minds completely and safely,'" Wesley flipped the page, " 'and once done, can never be undone.'" His face fell. "Oh."
"Scratch that," decided Cordelia, and she went back to her own book off Angel's look of amusement. "Hey, wait a minute." She looked back up. "I think I might have found our demon." She laid the book out, and Angel and Wesley read over her shoulders.
A shadowy figure was sketched on one page. Wesley read the description. " 'The demon lord Agragon uses the dream paths as a mode of attack. He feeds upon the fears and anxieties of dreamers and uses his own presence to heighten those fears. When he has a dreamer fully in his grasp, their minds become so dominated by their own terror that they become imprisoned in the poisoned dreams the demon lord feeds them. As he feeds in an area, he grows stronger and needs less time to dominate the minds of dreamers. It is considered that the only way to attack Agragon is via the pathways of dreams. One Warrior must be sent along with an Anchor, preferably with the Sight. The dream plane itself will provide all weapons needed to break the demon lord's power; no mortal weapon will suffice.'"
Angel breathed a sigh. "That's him, all right. And that's us. Now all we need to do is find out how to get there."
Research dominated the evening. A few semi-promising spells were considered, then dropped. One stated specifically that it wouldn't work for non-humans. Another would work for humans and non-humans, but would cause each to permanently pick up aspects of the other's personality. Angel and Cordelia looked at each other before simultaneously declaring it a "No." Yet another had to be incanted by an experienced witch.
As night fell, Cordelia retired to her bedroom. Angel decided to take a shower while Wesley continued to research.
Wesley stood watching his father's car drive away. It was an exciting time—his first year at St. Michael's. He looked forward to being here, or, more accurately, being away from home. School had always been good to him. He had a bright, ready mind, albeit locked in a short, skinny body, and he invariably earned high marks.
Not that that ever particularly pleased his father. Nothing Wesley did ever would, he was sure. Yet he kept trying.
As Wesley entered his residence, he thought he heard something behind him. Fear prickled his scalp. He turned, looked, then decided it was nothing. He turned to the door of his dormitory room.
It opened, and he was inside his apartment from the time he attended the Watchers' Academy. His old roommate, Robin Parks, was sitting on his bed playing with a yo-yo, as was his wont.
"Always too serious, Wes," said Robin.
"It's a serious business, Robin," Wesley argued. "We stand between our world and the forces of darkness."
Robin kept playing with his yo-yo. "One got by you."
"Yes," Wesley conceded, "but it shan't happen again."
His roommate shrugged. "Before the fall, and all that."
The presence was back again. This time, it was very definite in its malevolence. Wesley looked over his shoulder.
"Is something here?" he asked.
"How can you even ask that?" asked Rupert Giles. "There's always something. Haven't you learned anything while here?"
Wesley shrugged. "I suppose I haven't. Still, I'd like to know what it is. Perhaps Buffy could slay it."
Buffy snorted from a nearby table, for they were in the Sunnydale High School library. "You're on your own, Wesley. I've already quit." With that, she stood and walked out. A moment later, she poked her head back in. "By the way, that's a terrible suit for fighting the forces of darkness in."
A terrible suspicion was building in Wesley. He turned back to Giles. "Is Angel here?"
"You're the one who knows him," shot back Giles irritably. Then he, too, left.
The shadows in the library grew deeper. Somewhere in them, Wesley was sure the malevolent presence was hiding. He picked up a stake from the table and went in among the stacks. In no time at all, he was lost.
As he and the presence stalked each other, the seed of fear Wesley had been feeling began to grow. It wasn't just any fear; it was the fear, the nameless dread that permeated all the worst experiences of Wesley's life.
"I'm a Watcher," he said aloud to himself. "It's only because I know that I can identify this. If not, I'd be as helpless as all the rest."
Two glittering golden eyes appeared in the darkness ahead. "You finally grow a pair, Wes?" mocked Angelus.
"You don't know me," Wesley told him. "He knows me, yes. You're not the whole him, though."
"Yeah, whatever." Angelus laughed, a terrible sound. "You really think you're going to take this thing on all by your lonesome, Wes? Please. Wesley Wimpy-Spice, stalking a demon with a stake. Hello! You're lost!"
And he was. Terribly so. He had no idea where he was coming from, where he was going, and the fear was growing more real and solid . . .
Something was shaking him, calling his name.
"Wesley! Are you in there?"
And he was back in Cordelia's apartment, sitting at the table with books spread around him. Angel's face was only inches from his. Wesley smelled the soap and shampoo rising off Angel's still-damp skin and hair and realized with great relief that he really was awake.
"Are you all right?" asked Angel.
"I—I think not," Wesley managed. "I believe I just had one of the nightmares."
Angel's mouth set in a grim line. "I'd say so. I could smell fear pouring off you in waves before I woke you up."
The next morning, Cordelia found both "her boys" still researching at the table. "Did you two stay up all night?" she asked sleepily.
Wesley removed his glasses, looking seriously frayed around the edges. "Well, technically, no."
Angel glanced up. "Wesley fell asleep and had one of the nightmares."
"The nightmares?" Cordelia blinked. "How do you know?"
"There was a presence," Wesley answered. "A definite presence. Malevolent, intelligent—I've no doubt it was a demon." He drank back the rest of the coffee in his mug.
"So, in other words, if Wesley falls asleep again . . ."
"He could find himself in the same condition as the people in the hospital," finished Angel. "If Agragon's gaining strength, he won't need as much time to trap people anymore."
"Sounds like our spell-quest just took a big step up in urgency," deduced Cordelia. "How about breakfast?"
Research—and keeping Wesley awake—continued throughout the day. No quick answers were forthcoming. A call to Giles in Sunnydale, followed by another to Willow, yielded only two strong warnings against Enjoinment spells as a means of ending nightmares. In frustration, Wesley went back to the Scroll.
"Prophecy!" he muttered angrily as he studied it. "Give some cryptic clues about things that are to happen, offer no help whatsoever, and record it all on a scroll just so some cosmic power can ultimately say 'I told you so.'"
"I hear you can get struck with lightning for saying things like that," said Cordelia, depositing another cup of coffee by the ex-Watcher's elbow.
"Not by lightning, but if old Professor Heathridge ever heard me talk like that . . ." Wesley sighed. "Something's trying to occur to me, but I may be too tired to see it. Cordelia, would you be so kind as to read what I've written here?" He handed her a piece of paper.
" 'And a plague of dreams shall strike the city in that year, bringing madness and death to its citizens,'" Cordelia read. " 'Therefore shall the Vampire-with-a-Soul and the Seeress walk the pathways of dreams, joined with blood, bound in sleep, and guided by friend and foe to break the power of the demon lord.' Okay, so what does that mean? By the way, I seriously don't like anything that mentions me and blood in the same sentence."
Wesley made an impatient sound. "That's what I'm trying to . . . blood!" With that word, he jumped up and dug through the books, finally pulling out a rather slim, but tall, volume. "Of course! The blood is the key! Now—where is that?"
Angel and Cordelia were watching Wesley's manic episode with a sort of stunned fascination. They traded a look and a shrug.
"There it is!" Wesley set the book down with a bang. "I should have seen it. I was so concerned about Angel being a vampire that I forgot he had a soul as well. What we need is a spell to create a bond between souls—don't worry, the effects are strictly temporary."
"So this is it?" asked Cordelia. "All this angst, and it's a simple little spell?"
"Fairly," Wesley agreed as Angel turned the book to read it. "I've got most of the ingredients at my place, and I'm sure I can pick up whatever else we need at the magic shop. Furthermore, we can combine this with a simple dreamwalking spell. I'll have to stay with you and make certain nothing goes wrong, of course, but . . . I think this is the answer."
Cordelia cocked an eyebrow. "Does it hurt?"
"I . . . shouldn't think so," Wesley hedged uneasily.
Angel broke in before Cordelia could pin Wesley down about that. "It has to be cast at sundown. Can you have everything ready by then?"
"I'm sure I can."
"And you've done this sort of thing before?" That was from Cordelia.
"Actually, I have." Wesley looked over at her. "Dreamwalking spells have been used to help Slayers find clarity and explore their Slayer dreams time out of mind. When you're to become a field Watcher, it's one of the first things you learn. I've even had one cast on me a few times. Once with my consent, even."
Angel straightened. "Let's do it, then."
Cordelia's bedroom had been transformed into Spell Central. Several varieties of candles were placed around the bed, spell-sand marked the floor, and the bed itself had been sprinkled with herbs.
"Good thing laundry day's coming up," Cordelia commented. She was wearing a set of Old Navy pajamas, her hair was unbound, and her face clean of makeup. Beside her, Angel stood in his white tank top and sweatpants. In spite of the relaxed trappings, however, he looked ready to do battle. Wesley was arranging a tray of spell paraphernalia.
"You will have from sundown until sunrise to accomplish what you need to," the ex-Watcher said. "I can break the spell if anything goes wrong, but obviously, I shan't know what's happening inside the dream plane. You must be prepared to see this through, no matter what you face."
Angel and Cordelia took this in and looked at each other seriously.
"You sure about this?" he asked her.
"Not even remotely. C'mon, let's go to bed."
Vampire and Seeress climbed onto the full-size bed, which was barely long enough for Angel. Angel sat on the right, Cordelia on the left. Wesley approached them and offered a silver goblet full of a dark green potion.
"Both of you need to drink from this. I apologize for the taste."
Cordelia took it first, smelled it, then took a quick swallow. Her nose wrinkled. "Ew! Tastes like . . . day-old coffee and cough syrup. Benadryl."
"Thanks," Angel remarked dryly as she passed the cup to him. He, too, took a drink.
Wesley took back the goblet, then handed Cordelia a vial of oil.
"Cordelia, you need to mark Angel's forehead, mouth, and chest with the oil."
Cordelia wet her thumb with it, then touched it to Angel's forehead, his cool lips, and then his chest, right over his still heart. The oil smelled of sandalwood.
"Angel, do the same for Cordelia."
She closed her eyes and felt Angel's cold thumb touch her forehead, lips, and finally her chest right above her pajama top. She was aware that Wesley had joined them on the bed, sitting so he had access to both of them. A warm hand that she knew to be Wesley's took her right hand. Then—
"Ow!" Something sharp had stabbed her palm. Cordelia opened her eyes to discover a drop of blood welling up.
"Sorry," apologized Wesley, who was holding a pocketknife. "Angel?"
Angel looked vaguely disapproving, but offered his left hand. Wesley used the same pocketknife to prick his palm. "Now, take each others' hands."
Cordelia looked at the blood pooling in her palm. "This won't turn me all 'grr!'?"
"It doesn't work that way, Cordelia," Angel assured her, offering his hand. His mouth quirked. "Promise I don't have any diseases."
Cordelia took his hand, and Wesley pulled out a scarlet cord. He wrapped it around their wrists, then tied it with three knots. "Now, both of you lie down."
They did so. Cordelia took one last look at Angel, who smiled reassuringly, then relaxed back into the bed, closing her eyes. Wesley was chanting in Latin now, and the candles were casting their scent around her, and it all seemed so soothing . . . she squeezed Angel's hand, and he squeezed back. Her thoughts began to scatter and drift.
Wesley's soft tenor continued, now in English. "Be ye joined with blood," and his finger gently touched both Cordelia's eyelids, marking them with oil, "bound in sleep," and he was moving over to the other side of the bed, where she knew he would also mark Angel's eyelids, "and guided by friend and foe in the pathways of dreams."
With that, his voice faded away, and sleep claimed Cordelia.