Title: Reflections Revealed
Author: Mike Dewar
Rating: PG
Spoilers: The Wish, Dopplegangland
Summary: Angel finds himself transported into the realm of the Wishverse by an unknown force, leaving him fighting for his life in the much darker reflection of his world. Meanwhile, Wesley and Cordelia, with the help of an old friend, try to fend off a new enemy, who's hungry for revenge and about to strike at a
weakened A.I...

* * *

The vampire watched the men playing pool, a hungry smile sliding across her face. Anyone looking at her as she sat deep in the shadows of the small bar, would have seen nothing more than a pretty blonde girl, admiring the men. Of course, the desire flickering in her eyes seemed to them something entirely more
wholesome than her true intentions.

One of the men caught her fancy especially. Slightly on the skinny side, his leather jacket in shiny contrast to his civilized face, he was clearly very drunk. Easy pickings. She watched as he bent over his snooker cue, frowning with concentration. He leaned back from the table, adjusting his spectacles and seeming to consider the shot. Then he bent over again, sliding the cue back and forth in preparation. The other semi-drunk player watched with some amusement as he shot the cue forward in a sharp movement, causing the white ball to hop upwards. With a soft thud, it landed barely an inch to the side of the cue. The vampire smiled again. No co-ordination, not thinking straight...it would be almost too easy to make him her supper. However, she decided to let him finish his game first. It was only polite, after all.

A few minutes later, as the black ball slid into the hole, she rose to her feet. Her supper, cursing his luck, handed over a few dollars to his grinning opponent and staggered to the bar.

" 'Nother one," he slurred to the bartender, as she made her way to his side.

" It's on me," she told the bartender, sliding onto a seat beside Supper.

" That's very genra - gener - nice," Supper said.

She smiled. " I'm a nice girl."

Supper returned her smile, as the bartender placed the drink before him.
" Whatcha called, nice girl?

" Calina."

" Funny name," he giggled. " What kinda name is Carbina?"

She rolled her eyes, wondering if he'd be able to stand, much less make it to a suitable eating venue. "Calina. My name is Calina."

"That'sh what I said," he said, sounding slightly offended.

"Sure you did, honey," she soothed. "Sure you did."

" So whatza nice girl like you doing in a dump like this?"

She smirked. He really was far gone if was trying a line like that. "Maybe I'm lonely."

Supper frowned. "It's not nice being lonely. No fun."

"Maybe we could have some fun together, you and me," she hinted, brushing back her hair. When she was alive, her petite, weak frame and fragile features had inspired nothing but derision from more strong-willed women. In undeath, however, it was a blessing. No one, looking at her, would guess that those delicate hands could dent steel, that her soft features could become terrifying, that her red lips would part to reveal fangs. "Whatddya think?" she asked him.

Supper grinned. "That would be fun."

"Uh-huh. What's your name, Supp - handsome?"

" Wesley."

* * *

Calina allowed herself a smile of relief as they left the bar. It had taken her a surprisingly long time to convince him to go someplace more private with her, mainly because he kept on missing her not-too-subtle hints. That was the problem with drunk meals; it was always so hard to get your opinion across. She
glanced around her as they entered an empty alley, between a butcher and a newsagent's. Perfect feeding ground.

"Wesley?" she asked him, slowing her pace.

Wesley turned to face her, a drunken smile plastered to his features. "Yes?"

She felt her face shift and change. "You can scream now." The man's eyes widened in horror, as adrenalin shot through him, doing the work of several pints of black coffee. "Aren't you going to scream?" she asked him teasingly, vicelike hands closing over his shoulders. "It's more fun if you scream." Then she dragged him close, fangs hovering over the thick jugular vein in his neck.

" I think you're eating a friend of mine," a new voice said. Lifting her head from Wesley's neck, Calina looked over her shoulder. Standing barely three meters away, a dark-haired man adjusted his black leather duster. " I'd like you to stop."

She sniffed the air, picking up the cool scent of undeath coming from him. "Get your own meal, buddy."

"I don't think I'm making myself understood," he told her, pulling a sharp stake from beneath his coat. "Let me drive the point home."

"Listen, pal, I don't know what your problem is," Calina spat, dragging Wesley in front of her. "But you want me, you'll have to throw that stick through Chuckles here." Her forearm clamped tight across Wesley's throat, applying pressure. "And wouldn't that be a shame?"

* * *

His stake held uselessly high, Angel felt an icy trickle of uncertainty slide into the back of his skull. "A shame," he echoed, hand tightening on the stake. It was bad situation. Things weren't going according to the plan. No way to stake her before she could snap Wesley's neck, or tear out his throat, or shatter his spine... Angel was very familiar with all the methods with which a vampire could kill, from personal experience more than anything else.

Calina grinned wickedly, tightening the throat lock, as Wesley choked and gagged. Angel couldn't conceal a wince. "Concerned for the human? What kind of a vampire *are* you?" she asked incredulously, scraping her fangs teasingly along Wesley's neck. "We don't care for them! We kill them, feed off them!"

Angel shrugged. "Then I guess I'm going to have to teach you not to play with your food." His hand was steady as it flipped the stake over and threw. The wooden missile spun over Wesley's shoulder, plunging into Calina's throat. She hissed, shoving Wesley aside with one hand, ripping the stake from her throat with the other.

Red blood sprayed from her wound as she growled, an unpleasant sucking sound accompanying the noise.
"You're dust, buddy," she bit out.

"Didn't anyone tell you it's not nice to spit?" Angel asked innocently. She howled with fury as charged him, the stake raised with lethal intent. But she underestimated her opponent. As she approached, Angel hurled himself into her, driving her backwards and tangling her limbs with his.

Hours of sparring with Buffy had taught Angel that the easiest way to avoid being staked was to get in close, making it harder for the enemy to get in a shot to the heart or a good punch. Of course, a skilled fighter could use other options.

Angel slammed his head forward, crunching his forehead into Calina's nose. Her long nails tore across his cheek, the pain driving his vampire face to the surface as he drove both his clenched fists into her belly. As she doubled over, he stabbed an elbow down hard into the small of her back. She swayed, nearly falling, but then pain lanced through him as she thrust the stake home. Not into his heart, but into his leg. With a roar of agony, he grabbed her shoulders and flung her backwards, yanking the stake from his flesh. For the second time that night the stake whirled through the air, and this time it plunged directly into her heart.

As Calina vanished in a cloud of dust and ash, Angel prodded gingerly at his bleeding wound. "So much for that pair of trousers," he observed. Rubbing his leg, he walked over to where Wesley's unmoving form lay, slumped against a dumpster. " Okay, Wesley, time to go home."

Wesley muttered something and rolled over, snuggling into the trash scattered around the dumpster.


* * *

Three words strike fear into the hearts of all heavy drinkers. The morning after.

Wesley Wyndham-Price was becoming painfully aware of this phenomenon as he staggered into the office of Angel Investigations, shielding his eyes.

" You look unhappy," Cordelia noted with a complete lack of sympathy.

" Let us merely say that I currently feel much the same way about sunlight as Angel does," Wesley told the brunette sitting behind her desk. He groaned.
" Though, actually, the idea of *no* light is becoming more attractive with every second. If I thought I could actually manage to read with this pounding pain in my head, I would be researching an eclipse spell right now."

" Correct me if I'm wrong," Cordelia asked dryly," but wasn't the point of last night's little operation for you to just *pretend* that you were drunk, so vamp-lady would come try to kill you? Then Angel could do his whole Batman thing and poof! No more 300-year-old vampire psycho. Now either you *really* got into
your part, or someone's been drinking on the job," she chided.

Wesley rubbed his aching temples. "Actually, I believe someone fiddled with my drink as some kind of joke. Either that, or the bartender thought that the words, 'scotch and soda' actually mean, 'Extra scotch.' Add to that being half-choked by an angry vampire and then thrown into a wall, and my condition is easily explained. "

Cordelia rolled her eyes. " Sure."

" It's the truth!" Wesley protested vainly.

The creaking of the lift interrupted their conversation. " It doesn't really matter," Angel said, shoving the grate aside. " Vampire's dead. Wesley still has a throat. Case closed." He raised an eyebrow." Although,
Wesley, I happen to know you get tipsy on one glass of wine."

" I do not!"

" Oh, really?" Angel countered. "Remember the Pearson case? The dinner party? You passed out on the table, after singing 'Anarchy in the UK' to a Quoshi demon."

" Well, it didn't look like a Quoshi demon to me," Wesley muttered.

" Wes, at the time you thought I looked like Ronald Reagan."

" In a certain light, there is quite a likeness..." Wesley said defensively. Angel looked at him. " After a few drinks," he confessed.

* * *

Another place...another time....

The Bronze seemed empty, deserted. If Sunnydale seemed a ghost town, the Bronze was a ghost club. But the dead in the club were a lot less ethereal...

The man groaned, shifting in his sleep. The chain wrapped around his worn shirt clinked with the movement, as he started awake, staring nervously into the darkness. Seeing nothing, he let his eyes close again.

" Here, Puppy, Puppy, Puppy..." Angel's eyes flicked open, as a figure detached itself from the shadows, smiling at him through the bars of his cell. "What were you dreaming about, Puppy?"

" Nothing," he whispered.

The cell door slid open and she stepped inside. " Is that true? It's naughty to lie..."

" T-true," he said, voice harsh from lack of use.

She bent down close, putting her head near his. " You were dreaming about her, weren't you, Puppy? Your pretty little Slayer, the one who you thought was going to come and save the whole wide world, right, Puppy?"

Angel trembled at her nearness. He could have struck out, forced her away, but he knew from experience that that would only bring more pain. " Yes."

Willow ran a single white finger over his lips. " But don't you get it, Puppy? I'm the only girl in your life now. Just me." She drove her nail into the fleshy part of his lip, watching as his face tightened with pain.
" Isn't that nice, Puppy?"

* * *

Wesley poked uncertainly at the calculator. " Er...according to this, our profits stand at several million US dollars. I think I might have pushed multiply instead of divide."

Cordelia snatched the calculator out of his hand. " Wesley, it's not so hard! Just add up the pretty columns in the book, and we find out how much money we've made," she told him sarcastically, punching numbers into the calculator. She stared at the total. The very, very small total. " I think I preferred your version."

" Cordelia, can I put these down now?" Angel asked, struggling with the weight of several large accounting advice books.

" Oh, yeah, sure," she said airily. " And then we might as well close down the business."

" Excuse me?"

Cordelia stormed over to him and waved the calculator in front of his nose.
" We're broke. Again! God, I try so hard to balance our books and it's just wasted effort - "

Angel looked down. " And yet you're wearing new shoes."

" They were on sale," she answered. " It was a business expense."

" Uh-huh," Angel agreed, glancing over at the sheets of paper laid out of Cordelia's desk. " Just like the mini-skirt, the tank top and the gold-plated Parker pen."

" The Parker pen was Wesley's," she said defensively.

" Only because you told me we had, and I quote,' Enough money to start buying Angel gold-plated stakes,'" Wesley countered.

Cordelia shifted from foot to foot. " Maybe I was exaggerating just a little."

Angel rushed to head the budding argument off. " Guys, I thought the whole idea was to help people, not make money. If we can't afford gold-plated pens, or very short skirts, what does it matter?"

Cordelia looked at him as if he had sprouted a second head." You have a very strange 'whole idea'."

" I have to admit, Angel does have a point," Wesley broke in, a note of guilt entering his voice. " We're supposed to fight the forces of darkness for the sake of humanity, for the good of all, not to afford expensive knick-knacks."

Cordelia threw her hands up in exasperation. " But who says that the sake of humanity can't be combined with the sake of trying-to-stay-in-the-same-decade-as-the-rest-of-the-fashion-world?"

Wesley snorted dismissively. " We shouldn't be concerned with such shallow gains."

" Okay," Cordelia agreed. " Let's sell your pen so we can buy some new weapons."

" There's no need to go to extremes," Wesley objected.

Angel coughed. " Ew, germs!" Cordelia yelped, stepping away from him. " Don't get them on me!"

" I was trying to interrupt politely," the vampire explained. " I don't get sick."

Cordelia's face cleared. " Oh right. Well, at least we save on doctor's bills."

Angel decided to ignore that. " All we need to do is cut down the spending a little. Cordelia, no new shoes." Cordelia crossed her arms sulkily. " And Wesley, no more gold pens or 3D Word Puzzles." Wesley gave a heartfelt sigh.
" Okay, everyone happy?"

" No."

" No."

Angel shrugged. " Who said life was fair?"

" I do note one flaw in your suggestion," Wesley said, polishing his glasses thoughtfully. " If we try to cut back spending, that will of course mean that we cut back spending on all things. Shoes, pens...and research material. We might have a little problem identifying demons if the demon-identifying books are sitting in Rick's Friendly Pawn Shop."

" So give me another option," Angel said grimly.

" Buy lots of lottery tickets?" Cordelia suggested.

" I'll keep that in mind."

Wesley sighed. " Barring Cordelia's lottery tickets, what other options can we take? It's not like a huge pile of arcane texts is just going to walk through the door!"

The office door opened. And a pile of arcane texts walked inside.

" Not bad, Wes," Cordelia commented. " You getting visions too now, huh?"

More specifically, the books were in someone's arms. The someone staggered forward vaguely, books swaying precariously before it. Unfortunately, with the books obscuring its view, it didn't notice the desk in front of it.

" Ow!" a female voice yelped, as the tower of books collapsed around it.

Angel moved to its side, steadying the figure. " Are you okay?"

" Uh-huh, I'm fine," the girl said, staring dejectedly at the books lying around her. " Oops."

But Angel only stared. Stared at the familiar red hair, the gentle eyes, and delicate face. " Willow?"

"Willow?" Cordelia asked incredulously.

Wesley shielded his eyes from the open doorway. " Could someone please close the door? My eyes are hurting something dreadful."

* * *

Willow shifted nervously in her seat. " Nice place, Angel. Very...detective-like."

Angel closed the door to his office and sat down opposite her. " It's okay."

" Yup," she agreed.

" So." Angel stared at her, studying her movements. Her face bought back floods of memories, of times both good and bad. Her smile, as he watched her chatting with Buffy and Xander at the Bronze...a studious expression as she researched demonic perils alongside Giles...her surprising force of will, brow-beating
him and Giles into forgetting their differences to rescue Buffy and Cordelia from some demon-worshipping college students...the tautness of fear in her limbs, as he pinned her tightly against him the night his soul was lost, taunting Buffy...

Willow coughed. " I know you like the whole silent, brooding thing, Angel, but it's kinda disconcerting. Maybe you could, you know, talk?"

" Uh...nice weather today," Angel offered.

" Yeah," Willow agreed quickly. " Nice."

" So."

Willow smiled. " Do you get the feeling we're in a conversational rut?"

Angel nodded thankfully. " Good point. Any suggestions?"

" Well...Buffy says hi," Willow said cheerfully.

Angel seemed to grow even more silent.

" And...so does Giles," she added awkwardly. " And Xander...Xander probably says something nasty with 'Deadboy' in it, so I guess I'll skip him."

Angel smiled slightly. " So you're good. All of you."

Willow nodded. " That's right."

" Good." Angel paused. " How's Oz?"

Willow looked away, her hair forming a protective curtain. " Oz...isn't around anymore. In the sense of being anywhere near me, that is."

" I'm sorry," Angel said sincerely. " He was a good guy."

" The best," Willow said, smiling sadly.

" What happened?"

" There was some...werewolf stuff," she answered slowly. " It wasn't working out."

" Oh." Angel noticed the slight tightening of her throat muscles and decided it was time to change to subject, and also time to stop staring at her throat. Even Willow might take that the wrong way. "So, why are you here?"

" Well, there's this computer course running at UCLA," Willow explained, her awkwardness melting away as she entered the safe realm of knowledge. " It's really neat, all the latest programs and equipment. My parents got me in, since it's only a three-day course. And so I was, you know, in the area...so I dropped in to say hi."

Angel picked up one of the books that she had dropped when she entered.
" Dropped in with a copy of 'The Third Ring of the Abyss - Collector's Edition'?"

" Oh. That," Willow said, as if a text used for the binding of Archdemons was a mere paperback. " Just some stuff Giles wanted me to drop off. Since we blew up the library, he kinda ran out of space for some of his books. He wanted to make sure they went to a good cause, so here they are for Good Cause Angel."

Angel examined the pile of tomes with new respect. Several were very old but lovingly preserved, from Giles's personal collection he was sure. " I don't know what to say."

" You could always do the broody silence thing again," Willow suggested with a small smile. " That seemed to work." Angel chuckled in response.
Willow's eyes widened. " Are you sure you're not evil or possessed or something? 'Cause you didn't use to laugh. Or smile. Or wear anything that wasn't black."

" I am wearing black," Angel pointed out.

" So at least one thing hasn't changed," Willow shot back.

Angel chuckled again. " I guess I've just let my sphere of experience broaden a bit."

" Cordelia," Willow said wisely.

" Excuse me?"

" She's like an unstoppable force of nature," Willow explained. " In high heels. I guess it must just be hard to brood with her around. Not that I'm particularly prone to brooding myself, or anything."

" I didn't think as much," Angel said, eyeing her smiley-face T-shirt.

" Uh, Angel?" Willow asked, her face wrinkling with confusion. " Why is Cordelia spying on us through your office window?" There was a flurry of movement from the window, and the sound of a pot plant overturning.

Angel chuckled.

* * *

Cordelia pulled Wesley down beneath the desk." Do you think they saw us?" she hissed.

" Judging from the fact that Willow was looking right at you, yes," Wesley replied dryly. " And remind me exactly why it is we're spying on Willow and Angel through windows?"

" Because Willow's bad," Cordelia snapped. " Pay attention."

Wesley frowned with confusion. " Willow? Why is Willow bad? She's a lovely, sweet girl..."

" ...who comes from Sunnydale," Cordelia finished in dire tones.

" So?"

Cordelia sighed with exasperation at Wesley's inability to see the plainly obvious. " When Angel thinks about Sunnydale, he thinks about Buffy. Then he goes off and sulks."

" I'm not sure it's quite that simple," Wesley objected. " And I can't exactly see Angel sulking..."

" Sulk. Brood. Whatever. Anyway, he gets all mopey and acts like a character in an Anne Rice novel. And considering our current cash-flow problem, we need Superhero Angel, out there saving people and getting paid for it, not wimpy Buffy-whipped Angel, all angst-filled and reading love poems to the rats."

" I see," Wesley said. " So, Willow is bad, because Willow reminds him of Sunnydale, which reminds him of Buffy, which makes him retreat into a depressive state."

Cordelia smiled proudly. Wesley really wasn't that stupid, you just had to guide him right. Pretty soon she'd have him totally trained in Vampire-Management.
" That's right."

" One query, though."

Cordelia rolled her eyes. After all her patient explanations... " Yes?"

" Don't we remind Angel of Sunnydale, too?"

Cordelia paused. Wesley actually had a point. " Yes," she said finally," but we remind him of Sunnydale in a good way, a Non-Buffy way. Get with the program, Wes!"

" Ah," Wesley said slowly. He frowned. " Maybe it's the remnants of my hangover, but that still makes absolutely no sense whatsoever."

Cordelia tried to resist the urge to strangle the gangly Englishman. " Just focus on one thing. Willow here means Grumpy Angel. And that's bad."

" He didn't seem grumpy," Wesley noted, " when we were spying on them, that is."

Cordelia started to look for a blunt instrument.

* * *

Perhaps half-an-hour later, Angel's door swung open. " Cordelia? Wesley?" the vampire called. " Willow's about to go...I thought you might like to say goodbye...guys?"

Willow peered over his shoulder. " Maybe they went to get coffee?" she suggested.

" Probably, but I wish they could have said something - oh. Hey, guys."

Cordelia and Wesley stepped out from behind a filing cabinet. Cordelia's expression was stony. Wesley's expression...Wesley's expression was somewhere between mild pain, confusion, with just a tinge of embarrassment.

Cordelia nodded. " Hey."

" You're being grim," Angel observed.

Wesley laughed awkwardly. " Grim? Us? Perish the thought!"

Willow looked nervously from Angel to Cordelia's stone-face. " Is something wrong?"

Cordelia seemed to jerk herself from a trance. " Nope. We're just peachy. Aren't we, Wesley?"

The Englishman frowned. " Aren't we what?"

" Peachy."

" What does fruit have to do with - oh, I *see*. Yes, peachy indeed!" Wesley smiled brightly.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. " Excuse him - his brain cells were pickled in alcohol last night and I think the shock of drinking anything other than tea might have pushed him over the edge."

Angel forced a pleasant smile. " So, Willow's leaving now - "

" Great," Cordelia said without a trace of irony.

The vampire shot a surprised glance at her. " Cordelia..."

" Stop it!" Willow burst out suddenly. Everyone turned to look at her, surprised by the uncharacteristic outburst. " Just stop it. I don't know why, but everyone's behaving like I descended from the moon or something, and that's okay. But this cold silence stuff has go to stop. Cordelia, I don't know what I did wrong, but whatever it is - "

Cordelia's harsh sigh cut her off. " It's not you, Willow." She paused. " Well, actually it is you. But not because of anything you did. It's just...you know, you."

" You're bad Sunnydale," Wesley said helpfully.

" Excuse me?" Willow said, confusion scribbling its way across her face. " I'm totally lost. What are you talking abou - "

And that was when Angel collapsed.

* * *

Angel groaned as Willow drove her red-painted nails into the flesh of his chest. Similar welts and marks covered all of his upper torso. She lifted a slender hand, ethereal in its delicacy, and sent it across his face in a sharp, brutal slap. Angel's head lolled to one side, his vision blurring as consciousness slipped away.

Willow grabbed his chin in a steely grip and turned his face towards her own.
" Don't fall asleep on me, Puppy. That's very rude. I want to stay up and play and it's no fun if you're snoozing."

" Maybe you tired him out, Will," a male voice suggested from the cell entrance.

She glanced at the new visitor, a radiant smile spreading across her face.
" Look, Puppy! It's Xander, come to say hi! Say hi to Xander, Puppy." Angel grunted as she drove a short, jagged knife into his stomach. Her face twisted with glee, as she gave the knife a twist. " Would you look at that!" she told Xander over Angel's hoarse scream. " He's saying hello."

" I'm touched," Xander Harris said coolly, stepping into the cell and bending down beside his lover. He ran a casual hand over Angel's wounds, smearing his fingers with the tortured vampire's sticky blood. "You've been busy," he noted.

" Busy as a bee," she confirmed, resting her own hand over his. " We were having lots of fun."

Xander smiled. " I can tell." He slid his bloodstained fingers up the curve of Willow's arm, placing them on her shoulder. From there, the pale digits danced across the skin of her neck and began to stroke her jaw line.

" Isn't he sweet, Puppy?" Willow asked Angel, closing her eyes in response to Xander's cool touch. She lowered red lips to the pale white fingertips and slowly licked the blood off them, the red of the blood matching her dark-red lipstick. Xander's other hand crept possessively around the back of her head, as he leaned in for a kiss.

Bare inches from her lips, he was distracted by a gut-wrenching scream. Xander sighed. " Please, Will. Focus on one thing at a time. You can play with Puppy later."

Willow opened her eyes, frowning. " But I didn't touch him."

As one, the vampires looked down at their victim as he writhed and twisted, untouched by any weapon.

* * *

Angel shook on the floor on Angel Investigations, howling incoherently. Sharp, piercing pain transfixed his unbeating heart as he began to curl in himself. His body seemed to be flying away in a thousand different directions, all at once, scattering into white nothingness.

Is this what it's like to be staked? he wondered.

* * *

Angel was dimly aware of Willow and Xander being flung away, as white light flared around him. The stabbing pain intensified, becoming unbearable. He yammered nonsense sounds, forced from him by the pain, as his body shook and shivered.

Am I dying? he wondered.

Am I free?

* * *

Suddenly it stopped. All the pain, all the light gone, as if someone had flicked a switch. He was lying flat on his back, surrounded by empty blackness. He felt something cold and metal, wrapped around him.

*What the...Cordy? Wes?*

Slowly, Angel opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor of somewhere strangely familiar, yet not. And a steel chain was wrapped around his waist. His clothes were different. No, not different. He owned a shirt exactly like the one he wore now, but it wasn't...torn, ragged and bloodstained?

Angel sat up, grimacing at the throbbing in his muscles. He *did* know this place! The basement of the Bronze, but someone had converted it into a prison cell of sorts, with iron bars separating it from the rest of the club.

" Oww..." someone moaned from a corner in the shadows.

" Willow?" Angel asked, tugging at the chains. " Is that you?"

A dark figure pulled itself to its feet in another corner. " Baby? You all right?"

Angel shifted his gaze, squinting to see. His eyes weren't adjusting well to the darkness, but he could still make out the outline of the figure. And he knew that voice all too well. " Xander? What are you doing here?" he asked incredulously.

The other figure, the one he guessed was Willow, rose to its feet as well.
" Xander? My head hurts..."

Xander stepped out of the shadows, ignoring Angel on the floor. " Join the club, Will. I would really kill for an aspirin right now. In fact, I'd kill for a glass of water."

Maybe-Willow giggled. " As if you ever needed a reason for killing."

Xander smirked. "Flatterer." He sniffed the air. " What the hell was that about then, Will? You used to get the high grades, remember? This looks like brain-work, very X-files, with the bright light and all." Angel stared. Xander looked...different. An air of easy confidence surrounded him, and also Angel had never seen Xander wearing a black leather jacket and leather pants. He had to admit he wore them better than Wesley had, though. And there was something else, something his zoned-out senses just couldn't quite pick up...

" What's going on?" Angel asked, a touch of a frustration in his tone. Something was very wrong about this whole setup, but Xander and Willow just kept on talking over his head as if he was something irrelevant, like a piece of furniture or a child. Or a pet.

Maybe-Willow moved into the light. Her face came into view and Angel allowed himself a sigh of relief. It was Willow, and she was unhurt. But then she stepped fully into his sight.

It wasn't Willow. Or maybe it was. A pale Willow, her hair a different shade of red, like crimson blood spilling over her shoulders. A Willow whose slender frame was wrapped tightly in leather, dark red fabric encasing her arms and cupping her breasts. A Willow with a strange smile on her face, one which didn't
belong, and a hip-swaying walk more blatantly sensual than shy Willow would even dream of. A Willow who was bending down and straddling his surprised form...a Willow who smelt of death, both old and new.

Angel's senses finally caught his attention. Not what he was hearing, but what he *wasn't*.

No heartbeats. No life, no breath.

Willow's hands smashed into his face, a quick one-two with brutal force.
Angel's head snapped to the side and he spat blood. She placed her palms on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her. Angel stared with disbelief into that familiar face, with those horrifyingly different eyes.

For perhaps the first time in his long life, Angel truly understood the terror of vampirism. To see someone you know and care for, to see a friend's face, with a merciless twisted perversion of them living behind it...the look of terror on his father's face, just before the man died, was so much easier to understand...
Angel wore a similar expression as Willow smiled at him.

He remembered now...a visit to the Bronze...a very different Willow...one who they returned to her home world. Her home world.

" Oh hell," he whispered.

" Puppies mustn't talk." Willow told him, shaking her head disapprovingly. Angel tensed, expecting another blow, but instead, she leaned forward, pressing her lips against his. She shifted her head, her cool tongue gently probing his lips. Her hands squeezed the sides of his face tighter as she slid it into his mouth,
moaning slightly. Angel remained motionless, horrified and aroused at the same time. Gently, her tongue swirled around, licking at his bleeding mouth. He felt her face pressed against his change, as ridges formed and teeth lengthened. The kiss became more aggressive, more demanding, as she sunk fangs into his lower
lip. Angel gasped in pain, forcing her away.

Willow's demon-twisted face grinned at him, crimson hair hanging in front of her yellow eyes. " You taste yummy, Puppy." She leaned closer again.

With a snarl of revulsion and fury, Angel smashed a fist into her belly. Willow's yellow eyes widened in pain and shock. He lashed out with his other hand, the force of the blow lifting her up and sending her crashing against the cell bars. Willow sagged against the iron bars, giggling. " Puppy, Puppy, Puppy..." she cooed. " You're not allowed to fight back. We discussed this. Xander, I think you'll need to housebreak him again."

Forewarned, Angel began to spin towards Xander, but a blow smashed hard into his jaw, causing him to turn away. A foot drove into his side and the vampire tried desperately to cover up, hindered by the chains.

Xander kicked him again and again, smiling tightly at each grunt and groan.

Angel tried to stay conscious as Xander backed off. Willow, her face normal again, bent down near him.

" Bad dog," she told him. Then her palm hammered into the center of his face and everything went black.

* * *

Angel hit the floor with a thud, his head reeling and aching. A new place, new sights, new scents. An unfamiliar woman's voice speaking out.

" Oh my God! Angel, are you okay?"

A man's voice. " Cordelia, calm down! There are no visible wounds, it looked like some kind of fit..."

Angel raised his head from the wooden floor, his muscles protesting. A face came into view, framed by long black hair. " Angel!" it told him firmly. " Snap out of it! Say something!"

Behind it, peering over its shoulder, a concerned bespectacled face. " Angel?"

" I - I..." Angel forced. " 'm Angel."

" What did he say?" the woman asked quickly.

" He said...that he was Angel, I think," the other voice said slowly.

The black-haired woman frowned, her face moving closer to Angel's. " Duh. We know who you are - how do you feel? If you're going to barf, I'm outta here," she warned him. " Wesley can play doctor."

" Give him some air," the man suggested.

" Wesley, vampires don't need to breathe!" the woman flashed back. " What's the point?"

" He looks kinda bad," a new voice said. " As in a beat-up, painful sort of way."

Angel cringed as the speaker moved into his field of view. " W-willow..."

That cruel face moved closer. " What's wrong?" Her hands touched his body and Angel flinched, waiting for the nails to dig in and tear..." What's wrong?" she repeated.

He could stand it no longer. Even though he knew the penalty for lashing out, he couldn't bear this new game anymore. Angel's face became vampiric, eyes turning gold and furious, as a threatening growl escaped his throat. As Willow leaned backwards, Angel's hands closed on her wrists, squeezing hard. A sharp motion sent her flying away, even as he came up from his prone position, leaping away from the inevitable counterattack. But there was no counterattack. Angel landed on a desk, paused to assess the situation and then lunged for a nearby door.

The door crashed open. And stinging sunlight swept in, scorching his forearms and face. Hissing in shock and pain, Angel leapt backwards away from the light. Instinctively, he sought shelter from the brightness, making it across the office with lightning speed and diving down a flight of stairs. He rolled down the steps, each step sending a jolt through his tortured frame. Landing at the bottom of the stairs, he paused in the cool darkness, exhausted by the unfamiliar exertion.

Up in the office above, Cordelia and Wesley stared in shock and disbelief at Willow, lying slumped against a wall, her eyes closed and blood trickling from a cut on her brow.

* * *

Angel screamed.

Willow smiled. " What was that, puppy?" She ripped the bloodstained stake from his leg and dropped it casually on the floor. " A little bit sensitive today, are we?" Angel didn't respond, his hand clamping to the wound, trying to stop the blood flow. He'd already learnt that trying to fight back was useless. Xander stood nearby, an tire iron held ready in his hands and if Willow became upset, her boyfriend was more than willing to make Angel pay for disappointing her. The prone vampire fought the pain and fear, as Willow cooed over him like a vicious parody of a caring mother.

Willow sighed softly, tugging at Angel's hand. " Come on. Let me see the sore bit. I'll kiss it better." Her tone sharpened. " Puppy. Let. Go." Angel yelped as she jabbed her nails into his hand. " That's better," she told him sweetly, pushing his hand aside and eyeing the large ragged red hole. She bent over the wounds, her face twisting and revealing her demon side. " Oooh. Such a nasty cut. I'll make it feel better." She sank her fangs into the bloody wound, ignoring Angel's howl. The howl became a muted groan of pain, as Willow drank her fill. Finally, pushing her mouth back from the wound, she smiled that sweet smile again. " Isn't that better?"

" Not really," Angel responded, dark irony hiding the pain in his voice.

Willow laughed, a clear sound, like a bell. " Funny boy." She planted her hands on his chest and shoved him playfully, perching herself on his groin. As she studied the two marks her teeth had left, she noticed something strange. There was a new scar, a wound nearly healed, just below the fresh ones. It looked
exactly like the stake wound she had given him. " Hmmm. Where did you get that nasty little scratch? Has someone else been playing with you? Xander?"

" Not me. I like to watch, remember?" Xander replied. " I'm not a hands-on guy."

" Evidently," Angel said, his words rasping and slow. " A real vamp would at least have the guts to get down and dirty with the torture too, instead of letting his girl get all the fun. What's wrong, Xand? You still a wimp, like you were when you were alive?"

Xander's face darkened as the verbal barb hit home. " Will. He's got a point. You have been kind of hogging the scene here. Move over, I want a turn with Puppy."

Pouting, Willow rose to her feet. " No fair."

" Oh, no, Will. Don't do the thing you do with your lips. You know I can't resist the lip thing."

Willow's pout became a wicked smile. " Which lip thing?"

Xander chuckled. " I like them all, baby. Tell you what, you can pour the boiling oil on him. I had it warmed up especially."

She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. " You're so sweet, Xander. You always know just the right thing to say."

" What can I say, I'm a lady-killer. And a man-killer. And a child-killer."

Angel snickered mockingly. " Big mouth. All words, no action. If I was out of these chains, I'd rip you apart."

" Is that so?" Xander asked, his tone dangerous as he bent down next to the other vampire. He poked at Angel's face with the hooked metal of the tire iron. " Well maybe I should stop talking and get torturing. Wouldn't want to get bored, would we?" The tire iron swept back and then down.

But Angel was already moving, getting in close within the swing. His arms wrapped tight around Xander's torso, tangling his attacker in the chains that held him. Xander's tire iron flailed ineffectually against his shoulder, as Angel squeezed his arms together tightly. His teeth gritted, he heard ribs crack and Xander grunt with pain, as Willow screamed Xander's name in shock and fear. Her cry seemed distant as he focused all his strength on the task at hand. Xander groaned as more ribs cracked. Angel's one hand closed on the wooden stake Willow had been using and started to raise it.

In a blur of motion, something tore Xander from his grasp and lifted him up against the wall, claws biting into his throat. Blindly, Angel stabbed down with the stake but the creature batted it from his grasp.

The souled vampire stared into ancient, hideous features, seeming more like a Halloween mask than a true face. " You're dead..." he hissed disbelievingly.

" As are you, Angelus," the Master told him smugly. " And you will shortly be dead and headless if you continue to attack my children."

" Not possible...Buffy killed..."

" Buffy, Buffy, Buffy!" the Master snarled. " I am truly sick of hearing that name. Ever since you began your stay here, you've been mindlessly droning on about your precious little Slayer...on and on, like a babbling idiot." He growled threateningly. " Find a new theme."

" Nice moves, boss," Xander said, leaning against a wall rubbing his side. " He caught me by surprise."

The old vampire leveled a cold stare at the younger one. " You assured me that you could handle him. I wanted someone to take the traitor apart, piece by piece, and you and Willow told me you could do it. Where is your confidence now?" he hissed. " If Angelus had slain you and escaped, then...then my reaction
would have been highly unpleasant."

" We're sorry," Willow said meekly, slipping a possessive arm around Xander.

Xander swallowed in the face of that daunting ancient rage. " Yeah. A bit of a miscalculation. Still, no harm done, huh?" He laughed awkwardly.

The Master nodded slowly. " Indeed. But I warn you, don't repeat your mistakes."

" Nope," Xander said quickly. " Learning and moving on. That's us. Besides, we thought we finally had him broken, but it looks like he found some more spunk. Ever since that pretty light show, he's been like a different person."

" Pretty light show?" the Master asked slowly, menace ringing in his tones.
" What...light show?"

Xander and Willow exchanged uncomfortable glances. " Just some white light. Around Puppy."

The Master smiled unpleasantly. " And when would you have seen fit to tell me this?"

" We were going to," Willow said, " we just wanted to play a little first. I was bored."

A hiss of exasperation left the old vampire's mouth. " Youth. Always concerned with the pleasures at hand, never with duty. I'm very disappointed in you."

" We're sorry," Willow said for the second time.

" Was it magic?" the Master asked curiously, glancing at Angel as if he were a crawling, disgusting insect which had just happened to wander into his unlife.

Xander shrugged. " Looked like it. Whatever it was didn't work though, just made Puppy glow a bit, and then it went away. I've seen better from David Copperfield."

" Magic," he mused. " Someone using magic on my prisoners. I find that...upsetting. Probably the work of that idiot librarian and his crew of do-gooders."

" Are you sure?" Xander asked dubiously. " That gang isn't exactly what I'd call organized. Or even daring enough to pull a stunt like this."

" Can you think of anyone else with access to magical tomes and a fondness for fighting vampires?" the Master inquired sarcastically. Angel groaned as the old vampire dug his claws tighter into the souled vampire's neck.
" And you, Angel. Did you think you were being freed? Did you think I would let those pathetic Whitehats take anything of mine?"

" I'm...not...yours," Angel ground out through the choking pain.

" Yes, you are. Everything in this town in mine. Everything and everyone. Remember that, Angelus. Remember that." As if releasing something repulsive, the Master let him drop to the floor. " Xander. Willow," he said sharply.

" Yes?" the redhead drawled, stroking her lover's neck with a delicate hand.

" I want a group organized to attack that library of theirs. I want them all dead before the factory starts operations, just to avoid any more inconveniences."

" Consider it done," Xander answered easily, waving a hand in a mock-salute.

The old vampire smiled almost tenderly. " Such obedient children. Your loyalty warms my heart." With a graceful, measured tread, he walked out of the cell. At the door, he paused, glancing over his shoulder. " And children?"

" Yes?"

" I think Angel needs to be re-acquainted with certain basic facts of life in Sunnydale. Take him out, show him around. Let him see a few of the dead and dying, and the terror on the streets. We'll soon have him back in a respectful attitude again."

" Did you hear that, Puppy?" Willow asked Angel eagerly. " Walkies!"

* * *

Willow grimaced as Cordelia dabbed at the cut above her eyebrow.
" Don't be a baby," Cordy said firmly. " It doesn't hurt."

Willow winced at the stinging antiseptic. " That's really a matter of opinion."
Cordelia's nursing skills definitely left something to be desired, she decided, leaning back against Angel's desk.

" If I were you, I'd be more worried about how you're going to look in the morning," Cordelia told her." It's probably going to go all yucky and crusty. Not very attractive."

" Next time someone hits me, I'll be sure to tell them to make sure it's not in an immediately visible place," Willow responded dryly.

Cordelia shrugged, unfolding a band-aid. " Or you could just duck. Now sit still."

Willow fidgeted quietly as Cordelia carefully affixed the small white band-aid to her head. She allowed herself a sigh of relief as her 'nurse' finally backed off. " Thanks, Cor - " Cordelia ripped the band-aid off. " Ow!"

" It was askew," she explained. " Hold still this time!"

" I am being still!" Willow retorted.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. " Then why are you shaking like that?"

" Fear, maybe?" Willow answered.

" Ha, ha, ha," Cordy said flatly. " I think Xander is finally rubbing off on you."

" Thanks!" Willow said, smiling warmly. She paused. " That wasn't really a compliment, was it?"

The budding argument was interrupted by the sound of the door to Angel's office opening. Wesley peered inside. " Are you ladies all right?"

Willow sat up quickly, smiling her healthiest-looking smile. " Yup! Fit as a fiddle!" she said, moving out of range of Cordelia's band-aid-wielding fingers.

" Sit still!" Cordy complained. " Wesley, make her sit still!"

" Cordelia, stop it," Wesley ordered. " Willow's wound hardly merits your torture."

" Torture?" she asked sharply.

" I meant treatment, of course," Wesley said innocently.

Willow broke in on their bickering with the question that was on everyone's mind. " How's Angel?"

Wesley glanced nervously over his shoulder, as if expecting the vampire to loom up behind him and club him to death. " He doesn't seem to be injured, I've heard him moving around quite loudly downstairs. But as to the cause of his behaviour, I have no idea."

Cordelia frowned. " Moving around? What's he doing? Normally he just sits and broods," she told Willow, by way of explanation.

Wesley shrugged. " Anyone's guess. But, if I did have to essay a suspicion - "

" You do. Or else," Cordelia interjected.

" - I'd say he's in some kind of highly emotional state, rushing around, banging things, that type of behaviour."

" Could he have...you know, lost it?" Willow asked nervously.

" It?"

" It! His soul," Willow explained in lower tones.

" I doubt it," Wesley soothed her. " I've seen no outward signs of Angelus-like behaviour - "

" Which are usually *so* easy to miss," Cordelia continued sarcastically. " You know, killing and maiming everyone in sight and all that stuff? Besides which, unless Buffy came to town when we weren't looking, I don't see how that could happen. And he hasn't been having happy pills either."

" So if we assume that Angel is still Angel, soul and all, we need to find a new hypothesis for these events," he suggested.

Cordelia looked at him blankly. " Huh? Wesley, we know you get some sick thrill out of using words no one can understand - "

" He means we've got to find another reason for Angel's weirdness," Willow interrupted.

" Except her," Cordelia said dryly. " Okay, so we're trying to figure out why Mr Broody has suddenly become Mr Weird Psycho Guy. Plan, anyone?"

" It could be magically related," Wesley offered, polishing his glasses. " Some kind of emotion-fogging spell or some such, perhaps?"

" Oh!" Willow squeaked with sudden excitement. " I've got it!"

" What? Share the knowledge," Cordy told her. " And less of the shrill."

" Sorry. In Giles's books, I'm sure I saw a spell to detect hostile magic cast on someone. We could try that."

" Excellent idea, Willow," Wesley congratulated her. Willow glowed.

" So, we have a plan?" Cordelia asked.

" We have a plan," he confirmed.

Cordelia heaved a self-sacrificing sigh. " I'll get the stinky herbs, even though they'll probably totally clash with my perfume and leave me smelling like a rotting rose bush. What do we need?"

Willow's brow wrinkled as she thought back. " Uh...hethbane, rose petals and white sand."

" Surprisingly simple," Wesley remarked cheerfully. " That's a welcome change."

Willow shook her head. " Not really. We also need some bodily fluid from Angel."

" Bodily...fluid?" Wesley asked, dreading the answer.

Willow nodded glumly. " Blood."

" Oh great!" Cordy groaned. " What is it with magic and blood? Why couldn't it be something else?"

" You would prefer another form of bodily fluid?" Wesley asked irritably.
" Saliva perhaps? Urine?"

Cordelia grimaced. " Stop sharing your disgusting little thoughts. Blood it is." She turned huffily and headed for the door. " I'll borrow Angel's credit card. I don't think he'll mind."

" Something tells me Angel will be broke long before Cordelia reached the magic shop," Wesley commented to Willow.

Willow nodded in agreement. " Let's just hope she doesn't notice any sales."

" I heard that!" Cordelia yelled from outside.

* * *

The three of them crept quietly down the stairs. Wesley led, a baseball bat gripped tightly in his fingers. Willow followed, fumbling with the spellbook, and bringing up the rear, Cordelia wrestled with the paper packages which held the ingredients.

" So, Willow," Cordelia said," how many times have you done this spell thingy before?"

" Uh, counting this one? None."

" Great," Cordy groused.

" When did you even get a chance to study it?" Wesley asked curiously.

Willow shrugged. " Well, it was a long bus ride, and I forgot to bring anything else to do..."

" So you read a collection of spellbooks," Cordelia finished. " Jeez. Why didn't you just take a magazine?"

" Well, let's be glad she didn't," Wesley replied. " I very much doubt make-up tips and clothing prices would come in handy right now."

" Shush!" Cordelia whispered. " We're almost at the bottom."

" I don't hear anything," Wesley hissed.

" Maybe he's having a nap," Willow said hopefully.

" Sure," Cordy said sarcastically. " He just bashed everything up and then had a nice rest."

'Bashed everything up' was an understatement. Angel's apartment was a wreck. The weapons that lined his walls had been ripped from their hangings and slammed into just about anything with deadly force. His unoffending sofa bristled with knives and in the bedroom, his bed was torn and ripped. The room spoke of rage, burning uncontrollable rage, yet the strangest things remained untouched. A coffee mug...a small Walkman that belonged to Cordelia...a photograph of Angel Investigations, with its employer and employees standing outside, smiling...but an expensive Ming vase was in pieces and a beautifully carved spear snapped in two.

" How bizarre," Wesley whispered.

" 'Bizarre' pretty much covers it," Cordelia agreed, looking around nervously.
" Is he still here?"

Wesley picked up the photograph. " Why would he destroy so much, but then leave other things untouched?"

" He's destroying the past," Willow said softly.

" Excuse me?"

" Look," she pointed. " Everything old, or which reminds him of olden times, is smashed. There's practically nothing intact here that doesn't come from the twentieth century."

" Incredible," Wesley breathed. " I think you've got it, Willow. He's destroying the objects that belong to the past, as if to wipe it out of existence."

" Yeah, yeah, yeah," Cordelia said, still nervy. " But back to my question - where's Angel?"

" Maybe he left through the sewers?" Willow suggested, as they entered Angel's bedroom. Her feet crunched on broken glass and wood as she walked across the floor and perched on the edge of the bed.

" Possible," Wesley allowed. " I'll - " The ex-Watcher stopped talking abruptly.

" What?" Cordy asked. " You'll what?"

" Do you hear that?" he asked in a voice thick with dread.

" What?"

Willow ignored Cordelia, listening intently. She could hear it too, a low, erratic humming, like a terrified child. " Where is that coming from?"

" What?"

Wesley frowned. " I'm not sure..."

" *What?*"

Willow's eyebrows came together in a thin red line. " It sounds close...really close."

" *What?*"

" It should," Wesley said softly, his voice strangely thick and strained. He stretched out a finger, pointing at Willow. *Under* Willow.

Her face reflecting the same stunned horror as Wesley, Willow carefully stood up and walked away from the bed. Then she turned around and bent down.

Angelus, the Scourge of Europe, was huddled under the bed in a mass of pale flesh and black clothing. He was slowly rocking himself backwards and forwards with his face in its vampiric form, but to Willow, his vampire face didn't show its usual rage and viciousness. It showed fear.

" A-Angel," Willow asked in a small voice. " Are you all right?"

Angel's humming continued, his lips pursued slightly so Willow could see the white tips of his fangs.

" Oh, God, Angel..." Cordelia whispered, a compassion Willow wouldn't have thought the girl was capable of filling her voice. " Talk to me. Angel, are you okay?"

" Stay a-away," Angel whispered. " Away from me."

Wesley took a step towards the huddled vampire, trying hard to maintain his composure. The baseball bat drooped in his hand like a wilting flower. " Angel. We want to help you, but we need your help."

Willow thought she saw Angel's lips form the word 'Why'. " Because we're your friends, Angel. And that's what friends do. They help." She tried to smile as reassuringly as possible.

There was a disturbingly manic edge to Angel's voice as he replied. " You're not my friends. I have no friends. I'm just a pet...a useless little puppy..."

" Angel," Cordelia said sharply. " Snap out of it. I'm Cordelia, this is Wesley and that's Willow. We're your friends, remember? Quit with the trauma patient act and talk to us. We can help."

Willow shot a surprised glance at her. " Uh, Cordy? Trying to calm down maybe-insane-vampire? Tact sounding like a good idea?"

" Willow..." Angel breathed.

" Y-yes?"

" You're different...your eyes, your scent..."

Willow tried to hide her confusion. Badly. " Me? I'm just the same as always. Me. Willow. Willow is me. I mean, I'm Willow. No changes here!"

Angel shifted his body slightly, shaking as if with intense cold. " How can you help me?"

Wesley stepped in. " We think it's a spell that made you like this, Angel. We can fix it, but we need some of your blood - "

" Blood!" Angel hissed suddenly. " That's what you always want, isn't it, Willow? My blood, my pain?"

" Angel, I don't know what you're talking about - " Willow began.

" Liar!" he roared, reaching out for her in a sudden burst of motion. Willow yelped as his harsh grip closed on her leg and he dragged her close. She closed her eyes in fear as she felt the coolness of his body close to hers. His mouth hovered by her neck, cool lips brushing the skin.

Wesley squared his jaw, raising the bat. " Angel, let her go or I swear I'll..."

" So warm..." Angel whispered in Willow's ear. " Alive."

" That's me," she said nervously. " Alive. And hoping to stay that way."

" Alive..." Angel said wonderingly. " And you want to help me?"

" We all do," Cordelia said. " But I wouldn't advise killing Willow because that would be, you know, kinda rude."

Angel's body rolled slightly away from Willow's. " Take my blood, then," he whispered to her. Her movements jerky and awkward with fear, Willow turned to face him under the bed. She pulled a small knife and bottle from her pocket and, moving very slowly, pressed the edge of the blade against Angel's hand. Angel rumbled softly in pain as she applied pressure, letting his blood run into the confines of the small bottle.

" Sorry," she apologized weakly.

Angel's rumble became louder as more blood poured into the bottle, gaining a definite edge. " Just a few drops more," Willow promised. " Then we'll be done." The rumble began a full-fledged growl, as Willow corked the bottle and rolled hastily back to Wesley and Cordelia. " Leave now?" she suggested.

Angel's growl grew louder as they hurried for the stairs.

* * *

The sun had dipped below the horizon an hour ago, and the night air was cool and sharp.

Cutter stared through the binoculars at the sign on the door. " Angel Investigations. Cute."

" That's the place," the smaller vampire next to him said nervously. " The guy who dusted Carlina owns the place."

" A vampire do-gooder," Cutter sneered. " What is the world coming to?"

" So, do I gather the rest of the gang?" his companion asked.

Cutter smiled condescendingly at the other. Even without his vampire side visible, Cutter was intimidating. His tall rangy frame was packed with muscles and his shaved head had an almost skull-like sheen, so it was no surprise that the other demon cowered before his imposing form. " Not yet," he said. " We wait. We watch. *Then* we eat. Tactics. "

" I don't know," the small vamp said warily. " I've heard some bad things about this Angel guy. He's done some serious damage, for *both* sides or so they say."

" Doesn't matter," Cutter said sharply. " He killed Carlina. He's dead meat. Got it? Nobody kills my sire and lives to boast about it. Fifty damn years, she and I had together. You don't forget that. It's a matter of principles. "

" Yeah," his companion agreed. " 'Sides, the brunette looks like pretty good eating."

" Uh-huh," Cutter smiled. " But I bags the redhead. We'll share the Brit."

* * *

At first, Angel had wondered exactly what Willow meant by 'Walkies.' Now he knew. He had been dragged from his cell by several vampires, through the main section of the slaughterhouse that was this world's Bronze and out on to the empty, silent street. There, they'd put it on. The collar.

Made of steel, it fit snugly to his neck and was attached to a thick metal chain. That would have been bad enough. But painstakingly carved on the inside of the collar were eight small crucifixes spread so as to touch all around his neck. When the collar's chain was slack, they barely touched his flesh, raising welts and causing stinging pain. When the chain was pulled tight, they pressed hard against his neck, scorching and wounding.

Angel could already feel the stickiness of blood rimming his neck as Xander and Willow led him down Sunnydale's main road.

" Are you having fun?" Willow asked him, smiling gently.

" Enjoying the fresh air?" Xander quipped. The vampire tugged hard on the chain and Angel hissed in pain. " It's good for the lungs, I hear."

Willow slowed her pace, now walking beside Angel, while Xander led the vampire by the chain. She ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it like he was a young child. " Someone needs a haircut," she announced, kissing the top of his head. Angel struck out, but she skipped out of the way, giggling.

Xander yanked hard on the chain, bringing the souled vampire to his knees. Angel desperately tugged at the collar, trying to keep it off his flesh, ignoring the blisters that were forming on his fingertips.

Xander chuckled. " You know, I could watch this all night." He pulled harder.

Willow smiled. " It is pretty entertaining. Better than Pay-Per-View." She wandered casually around the agonized vampire, circling like a shark around a sinking ship. " Oh, look. A barber's shop. Want to get that haircut, Puppy?"

Angel slowly turned his head to see where she was pointing, and grief and horror choked his throat. The door to the shop had been torn off its hinges, and he could see the corpse of a young girl lying facedown in the doorway, a pool of blood spreading around her. Another older woman lay protectively on top of the
girl. Her face was just a mass of blood and pulped flesh.

" Puppy looks very sad. I think he wants that haircut," Willow suggested to Xander.

A grin spread across Xander's face. " Barber's shop, huh? Lots of scissors and knives. What a wonderful mind you have, Will."

She dimpled. " Thanks."

Laughing, the two vampires dragged their captive towards the shop. Angel staggered to keep up, trying to avoid too much pressure on his collar.

"Going somewhere?"

Angel turned to face the figure that stood on the sidewalk behind them, ignoring the searing pain of the collar. " Buffy..."

She wore a grey tank top and long brown trousers which ended with her heavy metal-tipped combat boots. Angel barely noticed the pale scar that cut across her mouth as he studied the lines of her face. There was coldness there, and fury, and determination. But there was something else, something he had never seen on Buffy's face before. She was tired. Tired of battle, of fighting. Of life. The spark of courage and inventiveness that belonged in her eyes was gone, leaving only the embers of a fire that was long dead. She wasn't afraid, because there was nothing left for her to lose except her life, and she assigned that no value at all.

" So you know who I am already," she said calmly. " Man, news travels fast in these small towns."

Xander shrugged, his eyes fixed on the Slayer. " You should see the gossip column in the Sunnydale Times. Now that's scary."

" Scarier than you two, I imagine."

Xander laid a hand on his chest. " Oh, I am cut to the quick. Will, this is a sharp-tongued lady. Beware."

Willow ran over the back of his neck, caressing his flesh. " Then let's cut that sharp little tongue out."

Xander smirked. " Sounds like fun."

Buffy took a second longer to appraise her opponents, and then walked forward, her stride regular and easy. As she stepped within range, Xander threw a punch at her head, fast and smooth. Angel hid a smile - no Slayer would ever fall for such a direct attack. Sure enough, Buffy ducked under the blow, lashing out with
an elbow for the vampire's body while simultaneously drawing a stake and thrusting it for Willow's heart.

It was an excellent move, executed with textbook skill and precision, but Willow and Xander had been fighting - and killing - side by side for years. Xander twisted his body to the side, taking the blow on his upper thigh, sending her elbow glancing off his leather jacket. Willow dodged behind Angel, yanking him
in front of her like an undead shield. Angel closed his eyes reflexively as Buffy's stake lanced in. He felt it prick the flesh of his neck as she arrested the blow in mid-strike. As she drew the stake back, Xander waded in, sending a left jab thrusting at her head. The distracted Slayer was hit hard and barely dodged a second blow. And a third. Taking a quick hopping step backwards, she threw herself into Xander, her feet leading. He crumpled to the ground, the Slayer crashing down beside him. Angel heard his chain slip from Xander's stunned fingers and land with a clink on the ground.

Willow's grip on his body loosened slightly as she turned to help her lover.

Angel smiled tightly. " Bad move." He drove both his elbows backwards, plunging them into Willow's vulnerable belly. Unneeded breath whooshed out of her as she let go of him, growling with fury. Angel locked both his hands together and spun to face her, sending his fists up and across like a sledgehammer. They slammed across Willow's face and she was sent tumbling backwards, her neck snapped back at a brutal angle. Angel balled his fists and leapt after her.

Xander rolled frantically to one side as Buffy brought her stake down with lethal force. The wooden weapon splintered against the sidewalk, and she hissed in frustration.

" What's wrong?" Xander taunted her, rolling to his feet. " Did the poor little Slayer go and break her pointy stick? How ya going to kill me now, Buffster?"

Buffy shrugged, hands ready in a combat stance. " I guess I'll just rip your head off your shoulders."

Weak from torture and from the biting pain of his collar, Angel was no match for Willow's ferocity. She smashed the souled vampire to the ground and leapt atop his prone form, straddling him as her nails dived for his throat. The two vampires twisted and writhed in a grotesque parody of lovemaking, pale hands
tearing and punching. Trying to keep Willow's hands away from his throat, Angel flicked a quick glance at Buffy.

The Slayer traded blows with Xander, but she lacked any weapons to capitalize on her skills and strikes. Her moves were all technically perfect, showing years of training, but the fire and innovation behind the Buffy he knew was long gone, trained out of her. Xander, for all his relative youth, was holding his own
against the Slayer and -

A vicious punch brought Angel back to his own battle. Angel sent his whole body rolling with the blow, trying to pin Willow beneath him. She hissed and clawed, her nails raking across his back, cutting through his shirt and leaving crimson trails behind them. A sharp twist of Willow's hips put Angel beneath her
again and she took advantage of the position, pounding his head and shoulders with blows.

Bleeding and bruised, his one eye swelling closed, Angel saw Willow smiling down at him.

" Naughty boy. Remember, *I* always get to be on top." Her face shifted, her eyes burning yellow and her fangs jutting out.

That was her mistake. If she had kept wearing her human face, kept on attacking Angel with the body and features of a dear friend, he might have given up, just lay there and surrendered. But when he saw the demon rise to the surface of sweet, innocent Willow's face, it ignited a burning rage that surprised even him.

He reached up and grabbed her short red hair, pulling her face sharply down against his forehead. Willow grunted, stunned, as Angel shoved her off him.

" Sorry, Will. I think a physical relationship would spoil our friendship." Grabbing her by the hair again, he smashed her face down into the sidewalk, again and again. Angel growled with fury, feeling his vampire features spread across his face, almost against his conscious will. The world seemed tinged in red, as he lifted Willow's head again and again, pounding the sidewalk with her features. Red blood stained the dark gravel. Willow's growls of pain grew less frequent, and finally ended. Raising her head for another blow, Angel saw Willow's demon features melt back to human. Blood caked her cheeks and nose, and her eyes were glazed and empty. Angel let her slip from his grasp, sickened by himself and his actions, fighting the urge to vomit. Angel forced his face to revert to human, feeling darker impulses pull and tug at him as he stared at Willow's motionless form.

Buffy threw Xander back with a powerful series of punches. " Hey, pal! Some back-up, if you please?"

" Willow! Xander! You all right? The Master wants a word!" a new voice asked from further up the street. Angel growled reflexively, seeing more vampires approaching further up the road.

" You mentioned back-up?" Xander said, grinning sadistically, his clothes battered and torn.

Buffy inclined her head. " I'll just get around to killing you later, vampire." She turned and sprinted away, dashing down an alleyway. Angel cast a guarded look at Xander and loped after her.

" We'll get you back!" Xander called after him. " Enjoy your freedom. It won't last!"

Willow slowly lifted her bloody face from the ground.
" Puppy has been very, very naughty," she whispered viciously, staring after the two fleeing figures.

* * *

Willow bent over the herbs, chanting.

" I cast patterns of life, of magic, of all things old and new..."
Cordelia sneezed, and Willow sighed. " Cordy..."

" I'm allergic to something in there," the other girl said firmly. " Couldn't we help Angel with something less stinky?"

Wesley slipped into Angel's office, closing the door behind him. " How's the spell?"

Willow gave him a strained smile. " Apart from the fact that every time I try to cast it someone, who shall remain nameless, ruins my concentration...we're peachy."

" Sorry," Cordy muttered.

Wesley hissed with frustration. " I would suggest you hurry. Angel sounds like he's moving around again down there. I think we may have upset him."

" Sure," Cordelia said ironically. " We just stuck a little knife in him and drained his blood, but I'm sure he's fine with that."

Ignoring her, Willow bent over the bowl of sacred herbs and began the spell again. By some miracle, and thanks to Wesley putting a well-placed hand over Cordelia's mouth, she made it all the way through this time. Upending the small bottle over the bowl, Willow watched with satisfaction as the mixture bubbled
and smoked.

" Purple," Wesley murmured. " Let me check the book."

" Actually, I think it's more of a violet," Cordelia disagreed.

" It's definitely not," Wesley replied firmly, holding the half-open spellbook in his hands.

" Oh, please! That is so violet."

" Purple," he disagreed.

" Violet."

" Purple."

" Violet."

" Pur - hey! " With a sigh of impatience, Willow yanked the spellbook out of Wesley's hands and flipped it to the correct page.

" It's purple," she said firmly," and it means...hey, that can't be right!"

" What can't?" a quiet voice asked from the doorway. Angel leaned against the door, his eyes flicking from one to the other.

" Angel!" Cordelia blurted. " Hi! You're looking much better! As in, you know, not breaking everything in sight and throwing stuff...which is better, I guess." She glanced nervously at Wesley. " It is better, right?"

" The spell," Willow told the motionless vampire, her heart in her throat. " The reaction doesn't make any sense."

" What does it say?" Wesley asked, keeping a cautious eye on Angel.

" Uh...some kind of transportation magic. Like a gate or transferal spell."

Angel blinked. " Transferal."

" Uh-huh," Willow said. " Maybe you could said some light on the subject...now that you're acting slightly less crazy and all. No offense."

Angel frowned with concentration. " I...I remember...pain. Sharp, piercing pain, like someone had stabbed me. And this world isn't....right."

" Right?" Wesley queried.

" Things are...different," Angel said hollowly.

" Like what?" Cordelia asked. Then she screamed.

As she began to collapse, clutching her head, Wesley was beside her, steadying her balance. " Cordelia, what do you see?"

Willow moved towards the twitching girl, as Angel drew back into the shadows.
" What's wrong?"

" She's having a vision," Wesley answered shortly, struggling with Cordelia.

Willow nodded. " Oh. Vision? Does this...happen often?"

" Way too often for *my* liking," Cordelia muttered, sagging as the pain released her.

Wesley held her upright, his eyes clouded by concern. " Do you want a painkiller?"

" No, I enjoy having a killer headache," Cordy bit out sarcastically. As Wesley reached for the bottle of pills, she continued haltingly," It's a homeless shelter, on 4th street. There's a bunch of really creepy green demon things trying to make snacks out of the populace."

" We can't allow that to happen," Wesley said grimly, handing her the pills.

" I'll get the weapons," Willow offered. As she moved towards the door, a tall form stepped in front of her. " Angel," she said hesitantly. " I need to get out of here. So I can get the weapons. So we can stop green demon things."

" You can't face demons," Angel said quietly. " They'll kill you."

Cordelia bridled. " Hey, excuse me! We have done this before, you know."

" You should just stay put," the vampire advised. " Discretion is the better part of valor. I learnt that the hard way."

" Oh yeah?" Cordelia asked sharply, stepping away from Wesley. " Looks to me like all you learnt was how to be a coward. Now get out of our way, or I'll move you myself!"

Angel looked down at the young woman. Cordelia's eyes burnt with fury as she matched his gaze. Slowly, the vampire stepped aside.

" Right," Cordelia said with satisfaction. " Good boy. Now, Willow, get the weapons and Wesley, get me a damn glass of water! How do you expect me to take these pills? You want me to choke to death or something?" She swept past Angel, Wesley and Willow following.

" You're going to die," Angel called after them, his voice filled with old pain.

" Oh yeah, like we haven't heard that before," Cordelia shot back as she headed for the door. " Now go and help Willow move those weapons!"

Angel stared at her.

" Now!" Cordy snapped, stamping her foot. Slowly, the vampire moved to obey.

* * *

On the roof outside Angel Investigations, Cutter looked down at the office.

" What the hell are they doing?" he wondered aloud, as the humans and the vampire left the office in a black convertible.

" We could take them now," his companion suggested hesitantly.

" No," Cutter decided. " Follow them. I want to see what's so important they're rushing around like this."

" Why? Isn't it kind of risky?"

" Tactics," Cutter told the lesser vampire. " Watch, then eat."

* * *

Angel staggered down a side street, his side burning with throbbing pain. For nearly fifteen minutes, the Slayer had led him on a whirling chase through Sunnydale, crisscrossing backwards and forwards across its streets. Their pursuers had given up long ago, but still Buffy kept running. " Maybe...we could take...a rest break," he gasped out to the seemingly tireless figure.

Wordlessly, Buffy stopped and regarded him. Angel leaned against a wall, wiping his sleeve across his sweating brow. The collar was tight and painful around his throat as he tried to catch his breath. " Thanks."

Buffy shrugged. " Whatever. Can you make it to shelter without dying on me?"

" Give me a few minutes. I won't enjoy it, but I'll get there," he replied dryly.

" Good," she said flatly. " Then I'll be seeing you. Try not to get kidnapped by vampires again." The Slayer turned to go.

Blinking sweat away from his eyes, Angel forced himself away from the wall, taking an awkward step towards her. " Where are you going?"

" To kill things," Buffy answered bluntly. " One thing to be precise. Supreme vampire around here or something. Then I'm outta here."

" The Master."

" That's the one," she said, putting her hands on her hips. " Know where I can find him?"

Angel shook his head. " You can't fight him. He'll kill you."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence. I wouldn't write me off yet, thank you very much."

" You don't understand," Angel said. " It's a prophecy, written in the Perganum Codex. The Master will rise, and the Slayer will fall. It's foretold."

" Uh-huh," Buffy said dubiously. " Nobody told me that. Or foretold me. Besides which, everyone dies. Way of the world." She started to turn away. Angel's hand closed on her arm.

" You seem awfully eager to die," the vampire bit out. " I've seen a lot of people die, and believe me, not many looked like they were having much fun at the time."

Buffy looked up at him, her brown eyes empty and hard. " Let go of me, or I'll break your hand."

" And then the Master will break your neck," Angel answered.

Buffy measured him with her gaze for a few seconds longer. " I know a guy. He might be able to help us with your prophecy. But if you're spinning me a line, you're dead." Knocking his hand aside, she walked away. Tearing the worn collar from his neck, Angel followed.

The collar lay alone on the sidewalk, rimmed in blood.

* * *

Angel's convertible roared as the demons scattered, fleeing ahead of the onrushing vehicle.

" Watch the road! Watch the road!" Cordelia squealed, trying to aim a crossbow at one of the fleeing monsters.

Wesley muttered several unWatcher-like words as he spun the wheel, narrowly avoiding a trash can.

In the back, Willow hefted a machete far too large for her and glanced nervously at Angel, who sat motionless next to her, his eyes studying the fleeing demons emotionlessly.

A bolt from Cordelia's crossbow totally missed one of the demons and narrowly avoided one of the homeless they were trying to rescue.

" Remind me what the plan was again?" Wesley said grimly.

" We scare the demons away from the shelter with the car," Cordelia answered.

" Check."

" We chase the demons."

" Check. And when we catch them?"

" I'm still working on that one," Cordelia said awkwardly.

" Bloody marvelous," he snarled. Two of the demons turned to face the oncoming vehicle, claws bared.

" Any luck on that next step of the plan?" Willow quavered.

" Sod this," Wesley ground out. Stomping on the gas pedal, he watched with satisfaction as the expressions demons' faces changed from fury to panic as the car thundered towards them.

There was a sickening thud as the first demon hit the front of the car, the vehicle grinding its bones to powder. The second demon came crashing over the bonnet and into the windscreen, glass crunching around it as it snarled.

" I got it! I got it!" Cordelia yelped, firing the crossbow at point-blank range. The demon went silent as the bolt punched into its throat and its body slid off the bonnet.

Wesley smiled tightly, glancing at her. " Nice work, Cor - "

" Guys! WALL!" Willow screamed.

Wesley looked forward again and very nearly lost his lunch. Yanking the wheel around, he sent the car into a spin. The car slammed sideways into a wall and rebounded off, coming to a spluttering halt in the middle of the road, shaking its occupants like paper dolls.

The demons cautiously approached the smoking car. Wesley was slumped over the steering wheel, motionless. Willow lay in the back, a tangled mass of limbs and red hair. Cordelia groaned, rubbing her bleeding forehead and shifting in her seat. Of Angel, there was no sign. The demons approached the moaning girl. Cordelia's eyes were closed as she fought to maintain consciousness.

She didn't see them.

The lead demon bent over her, snuffling eagerly, and a yellow-eyed ball of fury erupted from behind the driver's seat, bounding over the seat and into the confused creature.

Angel hit the demon twice, growling with feral rage, and then smashed the demon's face into the passenger's door. The snap of its neck breaking sounded like a twig being trodden on. Angel let its body sag to the ground, sickened. He'd killed again, for the first time in so long. He hated it, but some part of
him had missed killing.

Angel stared at the crumpled form at his feet, his mind roiling with disgust and turmoil. The other demons moved cautiously around the lone, dark form of the vampire. Angel didn't look up as they began to pull Cordelia from her seat.

" Angel!" she screamed, her eyes opening. " Angel!"

Angel didn't look up.

* * *

Rupert Giles frowned as he surveyed the spell components laid out on his living room table.

" Yes, that seems like everything," he announced to no one in particular. He smiled slightly, amused at his foibles. He'd fallen into the habit of talking to himself, with no one else to share the burden of Watcher and leader of the little group nicknamed the 'White Hats' with. No one else understood his strange and seemingly pointless crusade against the darkness, except maybe the teenagers he fought with. And even they didn't understand the nature of his sacred calling. He'd hoped that with the arrival of the Slayer, things might change for the better, but the foolish girl just went off like a wild cannon. Giles already counted her as dead. No, there was only one hope. The dream of a better world Cordelia Chase had claimed existed, and the key to that lay with one being.

" Anyanka," he whispered. " I summon thee - "

A knocking at his door interrupted him. Reflexively, Giles scooped up a cross and walked towards it. Vampires could not enter without invitation, but many demons could, and holy symbols often still affected them. At the very least, a cross might buy him an extra second of life.

But it wasn't a demon at the door. It was a grim-looking Buffy Summers, and a tall dark-haired man he didn't recognize.

" Miss Summers, you're...back," Giles noted with some asperity.

" Wow, Jeeves, full marks for observation."

" Giles," he corrected, wincing.

Buffy folded her arms. " Whatever. I rescued this guy..."

" Angel," the man said quietly.

"...Angel from a pair of vamps. He says he knows something about some book called the Peregrine Codex. Books seemed more your deal than mine, so here we are."

" Perganum Codex," Angel corrected, glancing at the Slayer, a fond smile starting to spread across his face. But then it stopped and vanished, as if he had suddenly remembered something upsetting. Giles watched with interest.

" The Codex, you say?" he asked curiously. " I believed it destroyed."

Angel shifted uncomfortably. " I caught a peek once."

" Fascinating. I wonder - "

Buffy cleared her throat, tapping her foot.

Giles flushed. " Oh, of course. Do come inside."

Buffy shoved past him and Angel followed slowly, keeping his distance from Giles. Something about the way he shied away from the Watcher set off alarm bells in his mind. Giles raised the cross and shoved it in the man's face.

Angel staggered backwards, flinching.

Buffy rolled her eyes. " Oh great. I rescued a vampire from a pair of other vampires. Yay me."

" Wait..." Angel said, keeping clear of the cross. " I won't hurt you."

Buffy pulled a stake from her belt. " No, you won't. I'll make sure of that."

Angel opened his mouth to speak again, and Giles rushed him with the cross. As the vampire staggered, Buffy stepped up to him and struck him hard across the face. Angel fell like a falling tree, crashing to the floor. Buffy raised the stake.

* * *

The door to Angel Investigations swung open, and Angel walked inside, his eyes dark and empty. He sat down at desk and stared blankly ahead. Willow followed, her face drawn and pale, her machete hanging in her like a dying thing. Then Wesley, also pale, and with his glasses bent. The two of them trooped inside.

The silence in the room was like a living, breathing thing.

Until a voice broke it.

" Ow. And ow. And ow again," Cordelia complained, closing the door. She glared at Angel. " You've got some explaining to do, Mister. I was nearly demon-munchies, and you didn't even raise a finger! If it wasn't for Willow and her Knife From Hell, I could be very seriously dead by now."

Angel said nothing.

" Hey! Silence boy! I'm talking to you! What the hell did you think you were doing?"

" I froze," Angel said quietly.

" Excuse me?" Cordy asked angrily. Willow and Wesley exchanged uncomfortable glances.

" I froze. I was scared. I couldn't think or move."

" Scared?" Cordelia asked disbelievingly. " You eat creepy demons for breakfast! And you killed one of them without even trying!"

" I wasn't scared of the demons," Angel replied, his voice as dead as his body. " I was just...scared. Of action, of anything."

Cordelia grabbed his shoulders. The vampire didn't respond. " What the hell is wrong with you? Whatever's going with spells or curses or anything, you're still Angel! You're still the bravest person I know, the strongest, and the most depressing! You're still my friend, and friends don't give up on each other!"

" I'm none of those things," Angel whispered, staring at the floor. " I'm worthless, useless...I have no purpose...I'm just a pointless waste...a pet for others to control."

Cordelia let go of his shoulders, staring at him. " Okay, Angel, this is depressing, even by your standards. What happened to you? What happened that makes you so different from normal Angel?" she asked, her tone desperate, even slightly panicked.

" Cordelia - " Wesley said.

She cut him off with a glance. " What happened?" she asked softly.

" Cordelia -"

" Wesley, shut up!"

" Cordelia, I may know what is wrong with Angel!"

" Shut - oh. Really? Okay, talk."

Wesley licked his dry lips. " It's been theorized for many years that parallel universes exist, running concurrently to this one. They are like reflections of the existing one, each one different to a greater or lesser degree, but sharing certain characteristics. If some kind of travel spell *was* used on Angel, like
Willow's divination said, then perhaps the Angel we see before us is actually the Angel that belongs in another reality. That would explain the world seeming different to him, as well as his different behaviour. Our experiences shape our personalities, it's a proven fact."

Cordelia shook her head. " No 'experiences' can change a person this much."

" That's very debatable, Cordelia. What if Angel had never been cursed? That would certainly affect his behaviour!"

Cordelia nodded slowly. " Okay. Point for Wesley. So what happened to you, Angel?"

Angel stared at her, and then glanced at Willow and Wesley. Then, his gaze shifting to the floor, he began to talk, his voice empty of all emotion. " After I was cursed with my soul, I spent a lot of time wandering the cities of the world, living off rats, staying on the edges...until the balancer demon called Whistler found me. He told me I had a destiny, a purpose." Angel smiled bitterly at the thought." He showed me something he thought would change my life. A girl. Who was about to be a Slayer. Her name was - "

" Buffy, yeah, yeah, been there, heard that," Cordelia broke in, rolling her eyes. " Please don't start the whole romance angst thing again - "

" Cordelia," Wesley said sternly.

" Oh. Sorry. You were saying?"

" Whistler told me I had to get strong. To help her. So I did, I watched I fight, and then I came to Sunnydale, the town she was supposed to protect, to wait for her. But she never came. I waited...and waited...but she never came. The Harvest came, she still wasn't there. The Master rose, and I fought him and his minions. Alone. Without her. A lot of people died...the streets ran red with blood. I can still smell it...the Master let me live, to punish me. Death would be too kind for a traitor like me, he decided. So he had me chained up, for him and his followers to...play with. Three years, and still she never came."

" Three years of torture," Willow whispered. " God."

" You were the worst," Angel told her emotionlessly. " Most were just brutal, but you, you were an artist."

" Me?" Willow said disbelievingly.

Cordelia snorted." Oh come on. Willow couldn't hurt a fly. Unless it was like, a demon fly or something."

Wesley nodded. " I must say I concur."

" He means I'm right," she translated.

" Uh guys," Willow said uncomfortably, an unpleasant memory surfacing. " Beg to differ? Remember last year, that teensy little spell I did with Anya? The temporal fold?"

" Oh, yeah, *that* one," Cordelia said. " Hey! You tried to kill me! Other you, that is."

" You've met her, then," Angel said hollowly. " You know what I'm talking about."

Willow nodded. " Do I ever know. She gave a wiggins unmatched by anything else I've seen."

" She tortured me...for hours at a time...for pleasure," Angel said haltingly, his face shadowed with remembered pain.

" Sorry," Willow said awkwardly.

" So you were tortured. A lot. Do you think that just gives you the right to give up on yourself like this?" Cordelia demanded. " That means Willow, the other one I mean, wins! She finally broke you."

" She broke me a long time ago," Angel said distantly.

A grim silence settled over the four of them. Several times, Cordelia opened her mouth as if to say something, and then shut it again.

And it was then that the office door slammed back on its hinges and the vampires charged in.

* * *

Angel shifted on the cold floor, groaning. " Well, I'm not dead," he announced to the darkness behind his eyes lids.

" That could be arranged," Giles said coldly.

Angel opened his eyes and sat up. " Great. The library cage."

The Watcher eyed him cautiously from the other side of the bars. Buffy leaned against the library counter, glaring coldly at him. Next to her, was a figure wearing a familiarly blank expression.

" Oz," Angel muttered.

The werewolf raised an eyebrow. " Have we met?"

" You could say that," Angel said under his breath, pulling himself to his feet. " So, why aren't I dead?"

" You know, I was asking that very same question not so long ago," Buffy said harshly.

" You're alive because I want to know why a vampire would play such a risky and elaborate game," Giles said, his eyes hard and distant behind his glasses. The old ones, Angel noted, the ones he'd broken when he was torturing Giles while he was soulless.

Angel forced his mind away from that line of thought. " I won't hurt you."

" That's the second time I've heard that line, and I still don't believe it," Buffy responded. " Try again."

A heavy-built boy, one Angel didn't recognize, entered the library.
" Perimeter's secure," he told Giles. " How's Dracula?"

" My name is Angel."

" Whatever," the boy said, sitting down next to Buffy. " Hey, I'm Larry." Buffy just stared coldly at him. " Nice. Very psycho-killer, that stare," Larry said awkwardly.

" I'm still waiting for your answer to my question," Giles said flatly.

Angel shifted his gaze back to the librarian. " I want to help you."

Buffy laughed bitterly, a harsh, jarring sound. " Not winning points on the belief scale here."

" It's true," Angel tried. " I'm not like the others. I was cursed by gypsies, my soul restor - "

Buffy yawned openly.

Angel racked his brain for proof of his true nature. A very painful memory gave him the answer. " Jenny Calender, she can prove my story, she - "

" She's dead. Has been for four weeks," Giles said quietly.

Angel swallowed. " I'm sorry." His last hope, gone. There was no way these people would ever trust him.

" So, we done with the cover stories yet?" Buffy asked. " 'Cause I'm losing patience fast. What is your Master planning?"

" I heard him ordering Xander and Will - two of his minions to gather vampires for an attack. He said he wanted you dead before the factory opens. And he's not my Master."

" Factory? What factory?" Giles asked.

" I didn't take vampires for industrial types," Oz noted.

The doors to the library slammed open.

" We're not, usually," Xander announced casually.

" But we can make exceptions," Willow added, running her hand down her lover's neck. Her face was dark with bruises, her eyes glaring out from her injured features with lethal fury.

Buffy rolled her eyes. " Oh look. The Terrible Two. Again. What does it *take* to get rid of you guys?"

" We'd settle for your head on a stick," Willow answered.

Buffy chuckled. " Coming on pretty hard, aren't you?" She drew a stake. " Okay, you want my head? Come and get it."

" Thank you for your generous offer," the Master said, stepping through the doorway after his favorites. The four vampires behind him growled threateningly. " I believe we'll take you up on it."

* * *

Cordelia shrieked as the female vampire lunged at her. She brought her desk lamp across, hard, and the vampire crumpled to one side, hissing in frustration and fury. Clutching the latest in office lighting, Cordy warded the monster off.

A few meters away, Wesley was not doing as well. The Englishman slammed hard into a wall, grunting in pain. The two vampires holding his arms grinned at each other and slammed him against the hard plaster again.

Willow held off another vampire, waving a bottle of water threateningly at him. It was fresh from the water cooler, but the vampire didn't know that. Her machete lay uselessly on the floor, too far for her to get to it.

Cutter looked around the office with satisfaction. Half a minute after his gang's entrance, and all the humans were helpless and extremely close to messy deaths. He liked messy deaths. The only remaining problem, the do-gooder who dusted Carlina, was just sitting on the sofa, his hands shaking slightly, like a
drinker who's spent too many nights and too many years full of the hard stuff.

" Hey, Mr Savior," Cutter called.

The other vampire didn't look up.

Cutter frowned. " Hey, pal. I'm talking to you."

The other vampire remained still, apart from the slight trembling of his hands.

" Bud, what *is* your case?" Cutter asked, sauntering over to him. " Any last words? Come on, Mr Hero! You gotta have some last words!"

The other vampire looked up, and Cutter couldn't restrain a shudder. He'd seen some twisted stuff in his time, but that face was so full of pain and rage and fear, it was a wonder the guy didn't just explode from the tension right there. Cutter felt a nervous tremor in what, if he was human, would have been his soul.

" My name is Angelus," the vampire said, rising to his feet. His fist shot out, crunching hard into Cutter's jaw. " And why do I need last words, when I'm not the one who's going to die?"

Cutter wiped a trickle of blood away from his lip. He felt almost relieved. This wasn't any weird psycho stuff. This was just good old-fashioned violence. Cutter knew how to handle violence. " We'll see about that, Angelus or whoever the hell you are."

Smiling pleasantly, Cutter reached out, as if to clap Angelus on the shoulder. At the last second, his hand balled and darted for the other's face. It was batted aside. Cutter growled as he swung again. Again the blow was deflected by a swift block. Cutter took a third futile swing and then Angelus moved, dropping
low, his legs scything out. Cutter leapt on reflex, grinning with satisfaction as his enemy's feet swept below him.

" Nice try, but - "

Angel snatched up Willow's machete and came up from the floor, the large blade slashing across.

And then there was only dust.

" Who's next?" he growled, the blood-splattered machete weaving a steel circle in front of him.

* * *

Oz grunted in pain as the female vampire slammed him up against the library cage, her hands closing around his throat. He heard the other vamp, Angel, snarl in frustration and strike out against the cage. Oz stared into the red-haired girl's bruised, innocent face through dimming eyes as he fought for air. Looking
past her with his black-rimmed vision, he could see the battle wasn't going their way. Larry was slumped against a bookshelf with a vampire's fangs in his throat, the same vampire who had led the charge alongside the redhead. Oz allowed himself a moment's sorrow for himself and his friend, as the redhead's
grip tightened. She could have snapped his neck by then, but he could tell she was enjoying choking him slowly, savoring his death. Giles was probably going to be the next to fall, backed into a corner by two vampires, an axe cutting protective semi-circle in front of him. But axes were heavy, and mortal arms get
tired. It was just a matter of time.

The only one who was holding her own was that Slayer girl, who had downed one vamp and was taking on another. But the big bad, the Master, hadn't even entered the fray yet. He was just standing by the door, arms folded, a smile on his ugly face like the entire thing was just some big joke. When he got involved, Oz
was willing to bet the Slayer wouldn't stand much of a chance.

Oz could feel himself getting light-headed. He couldn't really feel his fingers any more, and the black spots on the edges of his sight were getting bigger.

" No!" he heard Angel curse, but it seemed very far away.

Oz's hands dropped from his neck, flopping limp. He felt something cool brush his fingertips. Angling his eyes down, he saw what he had touched. The library key, hanging on a chain, right next to the cage. Angel slammed himself into the cage again, making the whole thing shake. Oz's oxygen-starved mind fought to
tell his hand what to do.

* * *

Angel ducked an out-swept arm, thrusting the machete hard into the arm's vampire owner. It wouldn't kill him, but it would hurt like hell. As the vampire staggered back, clutching his red-stained side, Angel whipped a boot into the chest of another onrushing enemy. Willow, Cordelia and Wesley were safe, if
bruised. The vampires were all going after him now. Angel wondered if this was a good thing.

Sure, he was tougher and older than these youngsters, but three years of torture hadn't exactly left him in prime physical condition, and four-on-one wasn't exactly good odds.

Angel felt, rather than heard, another opponent closing in from behind. The female vampire wrapped her arms hard around Angel's body, pinning his arms from the back, as one of her buddies rushed in from the front. Tensing his muscles, Angel threw his weight backwards. All vampires were strong, but strength
wasn't the same as mass, and the female staggered, buckling beneath his weight. Using this leverage, Angel brought both his boots up into her friend's face. As the other vampire reeled back, Angel and the woman collapsed to the floor in a tangle of limbs. Several brutal blows later, Angel rose to his feet, alone.

Out of the corner of his eye, Angel saw something spinning towards him. He snatched the stake out of the air and plunged it into the vampire he had wounded with the machete. " Thanks, Wes."

The last standing vampire looked nervously at the stake as Angel stepped forward.

Then the souled vampire staggered, a quiver running through his body. Something was wrong.

* * *

Oz's exhausted brain was on the verge of shutting down, but his hand wasn't prepared to go down without a fight. It was a miracle that he got the key into the lock, one-handed and with a vampire strangling him. The fact that he was still able to turn it, was just plain unbelievable.

Angel burst from the cage like the wrath of God, smashing Willow away from Oz. The stunned vampire went flying, hissing in rage and shock. Xander pulled his face away from Larry's neck, blood running down his jaw.
" Oh, great. Puppy's on a rampage."

Buffy threw Angel a distrustful glance of acknowledgement, staking her opponent with a blow so fast it was nearly invisible. She turned to support Giles and, in a blur of motion, the Master was in front of her.

" Your time is up, my dear," the Master told her, smiling horribly. Buffy, looking into his dark reddish eyes, had no reply as the vampire lord's hand closed around her neck.

Angel roared in denial, his face twisting into the visage of the vampire as he scooped up a stake and moved for the pair of them. Then he stopped, staggering as a quiver ran through him. Something was wrong.

* * *

Angel took another step towards the younger vampire, raising his stake. Another quiver shot through his veins, and he realized his flesh was turning transparent.

" No..." he hissed with frustration. The vampire was turning towards Cordelia...

* * *

Angel stared in disbelief at his transparent skin and bones, time around him seeming to slow to a crawl.

Each second was a hour, each minute a day. The Master's hand tightened on Buffy's neck in preparation for the fatal twist. His back was to Angel, he hadn't noticed the approaching vampire. Xander's mouth was opening to scream a warning. The stake began to slip from Angel's suddenly insubstantial fingers.

* * *

Angel's hand could no longer feel the stake in his hand. Cordelia was staring at his spectral figure in disbelief, not noticing the attacking vampire.

* * *

In both worlds, stakes slipped from insubstantial fingers, beginning to drop with painstaking slowness for the ground. Both Angels saw their skin lighten to almost invisibility, wraithlike and ethereal. Both felt a feeling of great speed, while remaining painstakingly slow in their movements.

Then, with an almost audible snap, both Angels felt something pass through them, like an echo of themselves. Their skin darkened and became real once more, their hands closed on stakes.

Together, their hands thrust.

* * *

Angel blinked in confusion. He was standing...in a library, surrounded by humans and vampires, and he was holding...a stake buried half its length in the Master's back?

The ancient vampire groaned in shock and pain as the wood lanced his corrupt heart. The flesh stripped itself from his bones in a storm of ash, whirling upwards towards the roof. His white skeleton, picked clean, tumbled to the ground and Angel was face-to-face with her. Her. Buffy. The Slayer. Real.

As the shocked vampire stared at the equally shocked Slayer, Xander and Willow exchanged glances and dove for the exits.

* * *

Angel stared at Cordelia. At Wesley. At a Willow who, thank god, was *not* wearing leather. " Wha- what?"

Cordelia stared at him. " Angel? Is that you?"

He looked around the office. " Yes. I think so." He glanced at the stake in his hand. " Who did I just kill?"

* * *

In a small rented apartment, opposite the building that numbered Angel Investigations among its tenants, something inexplicable was going on.

The last of the mixture bubbled into nothingness at the bottom of the dish, its magic spent. Beside it, a crystal ball faded and went dark. The man standing over them sighed in disappointment. " How unfortunate." His voice sounded cool and crisp in the silent apartment.

He was thin, almost skeletal, beneath his elegantly tailored business suit. His smooth white skin seemed to have a sheen of its own, and his hairless pale head was encased in a pair of dark sunglasses.

Carefully, his delicate hands scooped up the dish and placed it neatly inside a black satchel. Wolfram & Hart, the gold-embossed lettering on the side read.

Heaving the sigh of someone forced to accept an unpleasant duty, the man pulled a cellphone from the case and hit speed-dial.

" Yes, sir. The objective was not achieved. Yes. I understand. The subject, actually the subject*s*, proved stronger than we expected. Yes. Yes. I am aware the materials required for the spell were extremely difficult to obtain - "

The sound of a door opening interrupted the man's conversation.

" Dent? Dent, you there?" the small vampire called, peering into the darkness.

The man sighed, lowering the phone. " Yes. And it's Mr Dent, if you please."

" Cut the crap, Dent," the vampire retorted, moving through the dark apartment towards the man. " Listen, man, I did like you said. Got Cutter all riled up, got him pointed towards this Angel and everything, and what happens? We get our asses kicked, that's what! I need my money, man, I've gotta get out of town. If
any of the big news vamps find out I set Cutter up for a fall, I'm going to be taking up sunbathing, if you know what I mean?"

The man inclined his head. " I see your dilemma. But unfortunately, I can't pay you." He held up a placating hand. " But...but, I can give you a very valuable item instead. It'll be worth enough sold to keep you in funding."

The vampire shifted from foot to foot nervously. " I'd prefer cash, but I'll take whatever you've got."

" Excellent." The man pulled a crossbow from his satchel and fired. " That was an antique crossbow bolt," he told the column of dust. " Very valuable. I hope you liked it." He turned his attention to the phone once more. " Sorry to keep you waiting, sir, just terminating an employee. No, we won't need to give him a
severance package...I understand your disappointment, and I share it completely, but might I remind you that we still have another option. It will be expensive to work, but I believe the rewards could prove quite remarkable."

Mr Dent picked up the small crystal ball and gazed into its depths. Just visible, if you looked closely, were two small figures. One of them had red hair. " Quite remarkable indeed."

* * *