Night of the Hunter [Angel]

Night of the Hunter
by Jennifer-Oksana
Show: Angel
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Angel/Cordelia, Angelus/Darla, Drusilla/Spike
Summary: Cordelia has a vision of a brutal murder–which turn out to be copycats–or are they? Time gets cut to pieces, Angel and Cordelia get cozy and it may not turn out all right in the end.

i. visionary

Visions suck.

That was my first and only thought when I was jolted out of a dead sleep with a blistering, head-shaking motherfucker of a message from on high where migraine is just a word.

Dizzy like I’d been drugged

what year is this? what month? what century?

Standing over this girl and she’s screaming, she’s scared

what day? what city?

Oh God. Knife. He has a knife and he’s smiling at her like it’s a joke even though he feels sick to his stomach.

does it matter?

Why can’t anyone hear her? Where are they?

Alley, dark alley–all these noisy automobiles provide such a useful cover in the dark of night

Oh, where are they? It’s not near anything but freeway, why did they come here?

She’s a prostitute. Nobody will miss her.

Why did she come out tonight?

Rent’s due tomorrow oh god he’s got the knife out and he’s smiling and she’s sort of feeling dizzy and she can’t run any more and there’s that knife and it’s sharp.

Scalpel sharp.

Left to right, a good deep cut. That’ll shut her up.

it’s the third century, the third century, the third time, just another girl in another century–

Now for the rest.

I realized that I was hoarse from screaming when I snapped out of the vision, and that Dennis was fluttering around getting frantic. That wasn’t good. When Dennis is upset, things tend to happen–nothing I can’t handle, of course. But I didn’t want the plumbing to back up or my floor covered in slime or any of the totally inconvenient things that happen when my ghost gets flustered.

“I’m okay, Dennis, I’m okay,” I said, coughing. “It was just a bad dream. Don’t worry, don’t worry–”

I was lying through my teeth. I was going to have to call someone immediately. For all I knew, Dennis even knew I was lying. But he simply brushed past gently after my reassurances.

Sometimes Dennis can be just like having a nice warm blanket tossed around my shoulders. I like that, but I had work to do.

I picked up the phone and dialed Wesley’s number. If there was anything I didn’t want to hear, it was Angel panicking on my account. Wesley’s calmer. He may be a dork, but he’s a calm dork in cases of emergency.

“Yes, Cordelia?” he answered wearily when he finally picked up.

“Massive major bad vision,” I said. “Some psycho’s cutting up a girl in dark alley.”

“Where?”

“Don’t know,” I said. “Would you call Angel for me? I scared the hell out of Dennis and I don’t want him to get riled up again–and you know how Angel is when I have a late night vision.”

“Of course,” he said, following by a noisy, head-splitting yawn. “Was it bad, Cordelia?”

I almost made a flip comment, but the sheer terror of the girl in the vision stopped me in opening breath.

“Yeah,” I said, gulping back tears. “It was really bad.”

“We’ll be over to pick you up shortly,” he said. “Don’t worry.”

He hung up and I held the phone for a couple of seconds, feeling exhausted and out of breath. I looked over at the bedside clock. 1:06 AM. That was just great. Wonderful.

I groaned, swung out of bed, and tried to get myself together before the boys arrived with the car and lots of questions I couldn’t answer. I turned on the CD player to keep me company.

“If you leave it alone, it might just happen–anyway–it’s not up to you–”

I drank a glass of water after gulping back four Advil with it. No kidding it wasn’t up to me. If it was up to me, I would currently be asleep in a fancy Beverly Hills mansion with Heath Ledger next to me.

Gunn wasn’t with Wes and Angel when they showed. Neither was Fred, but she wasn’t much use in late night recon work. Gunn not being there, however, was definitely weird.

“He didn’t answer his cell phone,” Wes said crisply. He looked like hell and my God, did he need a haircut. He was starting to have Angel hair and that was so very wrong.

“What?”

“Gunn,” Wes said. “I figured you were wondering where he was, right?”

“Oh,” I said, slightly confused. “Yeah.”

“Cordy, do you have any idea of where this guy was?” Wes said, getting down to business. I could tell he really wanted to get back to his warm bed.

“It was this alley in a really industrial part of town–maybe off the 10? You know, right around where all the freeways come together?” I said. “I’m not sure. It could be anywhere.”

Angel looked at me thoughtfully. Sometimes Angel worries too much about me. Actually, that’s not true. Angel always worries too much about me, which is both touching and scary.

“You said the killer was after women, right?” he said. I could already see where his overprotective little mind was going.

“I don’t know who he’s after,” I said. “He killed a prostitute. He was disoriented, but I got the feeling he’d been killing people for a long time.”

Angel didn’t look happy to hear that.

“Are you sure you should come?” he asked.

“How else are we going to find the location, Angel? Be sensible,” Wesley said irritably. Wes needs his eight hours of beauty sleep or he gets mighty cranky and no amount of coffee or Earl Gray tea can fix him.

“I don’t want Cordy to be in any danger,” Angel said.

“She won’t be,” Wes said glibly. “Come on. You thought maybe off the 10?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Angel, don’t worry so much. You’re worse than Dennis. I’ll be okay. I’ve got you guys, don’t I?”

He managed a half-smile and then we were off into the night.

It took us an hour and a half to find the place. Instead of being off the 10, it was off the 5 in Norwalk, and a really ugly section of Norwalk at that, so close to the freeway that everyone had to shout to be heard. The nearest house was half a mile away.

I was sort of oblivious to the area, mostly because the closer we got, the worse my post-vision headache got. Every time I looked up, I’d get weird visual effects from the streetlights. Everything was washed out anyway because the neighborhood was full of those horrible yellowy sodium lights that turn everything black and white.

It was extremely creepy, and I knew I wasn’t the only one who thought so, because Wes kept looking over his shoulder at me, twitching like a rabbit.

“Are you going to be okay?” I asked as we turned a corner and my stomach gave another big lurch. “You look really freaked out.”

Wes grimaced.

“It’s rather grim, isn’t it?” he asked. “I can’t imagine anyone willingly coming here.”

I looked around at the world, bleached to grays and shadows and yellowish tones. For a second, I could have sworn everything blurred, became something else entirely. I blinked.

It was a different world. I blinked again and it was back to the industrial slums of Los Angeles. I tried to remember the question. I tried to have an answer.

“I–”

But that’s when the sirens started going off. We pulled over promptly and wordlessly, knowing instinctively that the best thing was to simply act dumb.

“Good evening,” the police officer said politely. “What are you folks doing in this part of town tonight?”

There really wasn’t a good answer for that, especially if the officer decided to search the trunk, which happened to be full of weapons that really couldn’t be explained–and I remembered that there was one still covered in ichor. Wesley had been trying to find a spell or compound that removed the slime, but no luck yet.

“We’re lost, officer,” Angel said mildly. “We’re trying to find our way back to 405.”

405? Angel was an idiot. For all the driving he does, you’d think he’d know the freeways a little better. I tensed up, hoping that we weren’t screwed. Part of the problem with helping the helpless is that sometimes, LAPD is trying to do the exact same thing and they don’t take well to civilians helping out.

“405? I think you’re more lost than you think,” the police officer said emotionlessly. He suspected something. Of course, you couldn’t blame him. We didn’t have a good reason for being around here–except that we were looking for a murder scene, which wouldn’t be a good reason in LAPD’s books. “You folks better find your way back home. There’s an investigation going on here.”

I immediately looked over at Wesley and Angel. They managed to remain calm. Angel even looked at the officer curiously, as if he didn’t KNOW exactly what sort of investigation was going on.

“Of course, officer,” Angel said. “Could you tell me the best way back to a freeway?”

“Turn around, make a right at the next light, go up three lights, make a left. You’ll see the onramp for the 5,” the officer said diffidently. Angel nodded, feigning mild middle-class concern. Thank God, that was enough for the police officer. He told us we could go and to have a good night.

We thanked him and promptly turned around, made a right and then made another right at the next light. I felt sick. We had obviously not made it in time. I tried to picture what the crime scene looked like to keep myself from getting sick when we actually got there.

“I wonder who made the call,” Wesley said quietly. “Or why LAPD was here so fast.”

“Fast?” I asked. “It’s 2:30. It’s been an hour and a half.”

“At one in the morning, our victim was still alive,” Wesley said softly, trying not to sound pedantic. “Let’s say she died about one thirty. That’s an hour. This isn’t a very high-traffic area at one thirty in the morning, so assuming the killer didn’t place the call himself–”

“That is fast,” I admitted, puzzling out time in my head. “God, I’m tired of the Powers sending me visions of people we can’t save.”

The world around us was still yellow-gray when Angel parked his car and we got out, trying to be as quiet as possible as we armed ourselves discreetly and headed toward the buzz of sirens. It was not a fun walk. Every shadow seemed to be hiding someone and I kept thinking about the man with the knife.

It’s the third century. But what, I asked myself, did that matter? The guy had been human. Normal, mortal, human. Insane, evil, and into cutting up prostitutes, but he wasn’t supernatural.

So how could it be the third century?

“I think we’re almost there,” Wesley said in a pig’s whisper. He looked properly watchful, so it was a complete surprise when Gunn said, in a normal conversational tone:

“Depends on where you’re going, English.”

Wesley shrieked like a twelve-year-old girl at an N’Sync concert. Which he would of course deny later, but he did anyway. Gunn smirked.

“Gunn?” Angel asked in a low voice. “What are you doing here?”

“Going home,” he said. “Or I was, until you three started creeping up in here. What are you doing here?”

“Trying to find a murder scene,” Wes said, dropping the whisper.

“Really?” Gunn said in a tone of voice I couldn’t decipher. “Why?”

“Cordelia had a vision,” Wes said. “So what do you know about the murder? Because I assume that’s what you were investigating tonight.”

Gunn gave Wes a disgusted look. “Yeah, I got a look at it. One of my people called me over right before they called the cops.”

He looked at all of us–wearing thrown-on bits of clothing, tired, unshowered–and shook his head.

“You don’t want to go over there,” he said. “The pictures will be in the LA Times tomorrow morning anyway. It’s–it’s intense. I got out of there three minutes before the cops showed up.”

“He cut her up,” I said, feeling the words pulled out of my stomach. “He cut her up really bad.”

Gunn nodded quietly. “We should go back to the hotel. I don’t know about you all, but standing around here gives me the creeps.”

Angel wanted to see the body. We could all tell from the way he stood there, the way he was giving quick glances toward the crime scene, the expression on his face–

“Why didn’t you mention it?” Wes asked, his glance sliding back and forth between Angel and Gunn.

“Because until Cordelia showed up with her vision, I thought it was your garden-variety psycho serial killer,” Gunn said. “So are we going to go or does Angel need to taste the blood before he’ll believe it?”

“Why are you so tense?” I asked. “You’ve got to be a match for any human serial killer out there. And there are four of us. No big bad bogeyman’s going to get you.”

“He’s an escalating serial killer,” Gunn said, sounding so much like Wesley when he said it that I almost thought it had been Wesley who’d spoken. “This is the second one tonight.”

“The second one TONIGHT?” I said, reeling. There had been nothing in the vision–nothing at all–the second one? “How many?”

“What?” Gunn asked, confused.

“I think she wants to know how many victims there have been,” Wesley said, sounding shaken.

“Four,” Gunn said soberly. “Maybe five.”

“Maybe FIVE?” Wes asked. “And you didn’t call us in? Gunn–”

“It was all street kids and prostitutes. My people were–are–scared out of their minds,” Gunn interrupted. “I was mostly involved with getting LAPD involved–the second murder was enough, but they sent the guy underground. Until tonight.”

He had been looking really tired lately, I realized. But that didn’t explain everything by a long shot, especially not the part where Gunn was nervous. Gunn didn’t get nervous. Ever.

“There’s something else,” Angel said mildly. Gunn looked at him with surprise and nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “This guy’s a copycat.”

“Of?”

Chapter II
Darla Discusses a Notorious Happening

“Jack the Ripper,” I announced to the room. “What a perfectly lovely name for the Whitechapel murderer.”

It was a crisp October evening in London, one heavy with scandal, murder, and blood among the poor and unwashed of Whitechapel. I had been reading the Times aloud for everyone’s amusement, though not every one had been amused by the notorious deaths of notorious women in the city’s seedier quarters.

“Tis not a laughing matter, Darla,” said Angelus in dour tones. For Angelus had been made strangely disconcerted by the Whitechapel murders, despite the advantages it gave us. As long as we avoided ‘ripping whores,’ we could evade the London police quite nicely, and we had had a merry time of it with various pieces of dockside rubbish of late.

Angelus, however, did not seem pleased. Where was the Scourge of Europe that I’d loved so?

Young William laughed. “What, Angelus? Upset because this Ripper bloke’s outdone you?”

“Hardly, young William, and he hasn’t outdone me,” Angelus said coldly. O! I knew that tone of voice. He was exceedingly jealous, but it made plenty of sense. “Do none of you know the meaning of caution?”

William, who seemed determined to be saucy and mocking at all costs, laughed again at Angelus’ sour humour. Ever since he’d embraced his status of a child of the night, he’d seemed determined to flaunt it most coarsely, like a tradesman with a new title.

“Don’t you know how to enjoy your unlife?” he said, springing to his feet. “If I were gloomy as you, I’d wish myself dead all over again. You might as well be in the bloody tomb, Angelus.”

Before Angelus could make a response, William walked over to the chair where I was sitting, snatched the Times from my hands with no apology but a rakish grin–and proceeded to take up where I’d left off reading with a lusty enjoyment of the subject. Drusilla, who was always unable to constrain her delight in William’s antics, clapped and cooed.

“Two communications of an extraordinary nature, both signed “Jack the Ripper,” have been received by the Central News Agency, the one on Thursday last and the other yesterday morning,” William informed us in a very proper voice. I tried to hide my smirk. No matter how he aped roguish ways, William was the most petit of the petit-bourgeois and he could never hide that most fundamental flaw.

“The first was a letter, bearing the E.C. postmark, in which reference was made to the atrocious murders previously committed in the East-end, which the writer confessed, in a brutally jocular vein, to have committed; stating that in the ‘next job’ he did he would ‘clip the lady’s ears off’ and send them to the police, and also asking that the letter might be kept back until he had done ‘a bit more work.’ Fancy that! Would you like it if I clipped your ear off, Dru love?” he asked. He blurred his features into the vampire face and bared his fangs, snapping his teeth at her playfully.

Drusilla clapped her hands over her ears. Her eyes were bulging most unattractively, though to me, she’d always been somewhat pop-eyed. I would of course never mention that–to her, anyway. It wasn’t something one said to one’s family, no matter how true it might be.

“O! I need my ears to hear!” she said in a passionate tone. William began howling with laughter. He dropped the newspaper onto the new Persian rug and crossed the room in two steps, and then swept Drusilla into his arms, while she kicked and shrieked like a struggling kitten.

“What? Even if I desire them to whisper sweet nothings into? You’d deny me?” William said in mock-offense. He rained kisses on her cheeks and forehead while Dru giggled and shrieked. Meanwhile, Angelus continued his dour, ill-humoured look. I resolved to find him a proper emetic, and then retrieved the newspaper. I was interested in Jack the Ripper and his savage adventures, even if no one else was.

“Perhaps he’s a vampire,” I said to Angelus. “All of the killings have been done at night and have been quite bloodthirsty.”

I was favored with yet another sour expression. Very irritating, those- -and so I promptly resolved to ignore them.

“O, you have no opinion, then?” I asked, rising from the chair and setting my hands upon my hips. “What if I confessed that I was the Ripper? It’s true. I’ve set about ridding London of its whores. They’re an insult to our ancient and glorious profession–”

William and Drusilla laughed merrily at my jest, but I still failed to move Angelus. He gave me a vexed look and shook his head.

“Hush, Darla,” he said. “Whoever this Ripper is, he’s a fool and an idiot. He’ll endanger us all.”

Angelus’ overweening caution stopped William sporting with Drusilla for a moment. He looked up and snorted rudely, and while I usually didn’t agree with William–he was an obnoxious twit not worth the blood he’d sucked from Dru–and my opinion of Drusilla was low indeed–I felt he was quite right.

“Angelus! You’re such a bore,” said William, in his most boisterous voice. “Why don’t we find this Ripper chap? Take him with us. He’d be a hell of a lot of fun as one of us, don’t you think?”

Angelus favored us with a scornful look, one that upset me incredibly. If he was going to be in the habit of acting like that, I would take myself elsewhere. England was dull enough as it stood, but if he chose to behave like a complete bastard, I wouldn’t stand around and watch. I was going to go shopping–perhaps find myself a nice shopgirl.

“Think what you will,” said I in my haughtiest tone. “I intend to go shopping. I’ve tired of Angelus’ ill-humours and I’m quite bored and hungry.”

“O, but Darla! It’s not fit for you to be out alone,” said William. He was up to another jest, I could tell. “What if you’re caught by the Ripper? I’ve heard he’s down on whores. Won’t stop til he does get buckled.”

I could suddenly guess his joke by his perfect timing and solicitous worries for me–both things not at all natural in William–and so I found no harm in sharing my guess.

“You nasty little creature,” I said, holding in the worst of my rage. “You’ve sent those letters to the Central News Agency, haven’t you?”

“I didn’t!” said he, an impish devil of a smile crossing his visage. “O, wait. I did. But don’t you approve, Darla dear, of the name I’ve given old Leather Apron? Jack the Ripper–a far superior name to anything the PAPERS have dreamt up so far.”

Once a writer, always a writer–the writing may be horrid, the logic worse, but such is always the case. Drusilla beamed her pride at her lover’s diabolical and dreadful wit and I found myself feeling ill.

“My Spike’s a poet of death,” she told me while slipping her arms around the obnoxious child, pressing her cheek against his. “His words ring with blood and pain.”

I found myself in immediate need of a stiff drink.

“It’s no use talking to any of you,” I said peevishly. “I’d prefer the Ripper’s company to you lot.”

With that, I made a dramatic exit from our lovely, fashionable home– completely ignoring the worried cries from within. I was weary of sour expressions and thoughtless merriment–and especially, I had tired of watching yet another pair of lovers dying of immortal love under my nose, while I woke up and was left with only Angelus.

Ill-tempered, boorish old Angelus. What! what could have driven him to such choleric peevishness? He had been a whirlwind, a very paragon of vampiric virtues–and now he behaved as dourly and dully as a village parson, always reminding us of what we should not do. What fear had altered him so?–could it be a lingering dread that Holtz would appear? Holtz had been dead at least a hundred years–could he still fear the man?

It was most likely Holtz. I knew it and should have known before. But, bah! who was I to heal him? One of those Viennese quacks claiming that talking about your mother and father would unlock the key to every grim ghost lingering in your memory? Not a chance of that.

I left our neighborhood, unsure as yet of where to go. Were I in the market for a new bonnet and a pert salesgirl, I had best stay in the right part of town, but I felt a want–nay, a need–for a stiff gin. No proper bar would serve a lady. I would have to cross over to the East End and that would probably require a cab.

London. I hated London and its filthy, noisy streets. We had taken lodgings too close to Lincoln’s Inn in Bloomsbury–William’s urgings, of course, had cemented us into too long a lease–and many a bankrupt found his day made even worse by passing us on our midnight rambles. The streets here stank of middle-class respectability and I knew that the tradesmen’s wives looked at Drusilla and I askance.

Covent Garden–that’s where I’d go to find some entertainment. Only a fool would consider me a lady alone at night and I’d be able to find a cuppa somewhere, though I’d probably be hassled by street-arabs and whores.

Stupid whores. I’d starve before I let myself be shoved against a fence by a common workingman. I’d freeze–I swore I would. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to get into those straits in the first place, no I would not have. Not that I had any great sympathies for them–they were as greasy and smelly as their clients with filthy skirts and empty bellies even after a night’s hard work.

When I had sold myself, I had kept myself in good money–though I had been pretty even when I was dying–and Colonial Virginia had hardly been the crisis of poverty and sin London was in this year of our Lord 1888. Poor wights, what else could they do?

Had I really just thought such a thing? It was too much–too much sympathy, and too much thinking in any particularity–Angelus’ influence on me, to be sure. If I didn’t watch myself, I would end up as cautious and careful as he.

I turned down Little Queen Street and passed a pair of toothless whores trying to look comely as they sat and shivered in the thickening fog– it was no pea-souper to-night, but between the October chill and their thin, inadequate garments, well might they shiver–and felt my stomach turn in revulsion. Were I starving to death, I wouldn’t have deigned to eat that pair of featherless birds. I found myself fumbling with my purse and pulling out a few shillings.

“God! Take this and find a boarding house,” said I, throwing the coins at their feet. “But take your stink away from me!”

The two unfortunates snatched the money from the gutter carefully, and fled from me in furtive delight, muttering what was either a curse or a God bless you, though I cared not what they said to me. I was possessed now, possessed of the desire to escape London, and quite preferably, all of England. I’ve never been fond of this country. In fact, I was quite wild to return to Eastern Europe, where a vampire was properly respected–and then off we should go to the Orient–perhaps even to Mandalay. I was seized with the urge to see Mandalay as soon as possible. That reverie was enough to distract me from the alley I’d turned into and cause the next crisis.

“Where are you headed, miss?” someone asked me in a coarse, loud voice. “You know it’s not safe out for man nor beast with Saucy Jacky abroad.”

I turned around and scowled at the solicitous gentleman interested in my wellbeing. Either he was a pickpocket looking for an easy mark or he was a policeman trying to get the whores off the streets. I didn’t want to be vexed by either.

“I know how to take care of myself,” I said, affecting a crisp, upperclass accent in hopes of scaring him away.

“Are you sure now, mum?” the man asked, a small leer slipping onto his spit-encrusted lips. “Are you sure you wouldn’t ‘ave been safer with a bit o’ protection?”

He was short, dirty, and definitely no policeman. I could smell him from eight feet away, a stench of fish and unwashed flesh that told me he was a desperate thing. He was carrying a pathetic dagger–hardly more than a steak knife–and his jacket was made of rags and tatters.

But fortune was upon my side in the matter–the street was fairly well deserted and the fog was growing thicker with every passing second. None would notice a squalid body for a time and I’d have time to return home and tell Angelus to get rid of the body–to drop it in the harbor. The police would assume he’d been a drunken market porter who’d lost his way, if they ever found the body.

The enterprising gentleman quickly found himself in surprise, as I shook my head and revealed my true nature. His eyes bulged to see me, running my teeth over my fangs with a coquettish smile. O, they were sharp tonight!

“Thank you for your kindness–but I have a bit of protection,” said I, drawling outrageously. I walked up to him and drew his filthy, stinking body against mine with the smooth motion of one arm. “Didn’t I tell you I could care for myself?”

I exposed his unwashed neck with my other hand, burying my fangs deep into it–and within a few moments he was eternally dry. I was pleasantly satiated as I practically twisted his neck from his shoulders and let the stinking carcass fall to the ground, licking a few stray drops of blood from the corners of my mouth.

“Rip that,” I said cheerfully. I checked quickly to see if any of his dirt had gotten on my dress–and with only a few quick brushes, I was passably clean again. I had decided I wanted a new hat and a bouquet of violets. There should be new fashions in from Paris and the flower girls in Covent Garden were never missed, so many existed in its borders.

“Darla! O, Darla!” someone cried as I was about to turn onto Great Queen Street. I was quite vexed. I could see the rest of London, glowing in the rising fog and in some ways, as far away from me as the moon and the stars. I turned about to see who was calling to me and discovered it was Drusilla. From the expression on her face, one of her dolls had told her to fetch me and tell me all about the blood and agony the stars had revealed to it.

“I saw it,” said she in an awed whisper. “I saw it with my own eyes.”

“What, Drusilla? What did you see?” I asked, feeling quite vexed. I wanted to go shopping. “Death? Destruction? War?”

“No,” she said, continuing to whisper. “It was much, much worse. Can’t you see it? It’s in the city in the lights.”

This was so remarkable a confidence that I laughed. “That’s London,” said I. “Remember, this is where you’re from. Can’t you recognize London, you silly girl?”

“O, no,” said she in tones even more bedazzled than her usual. “It’s comin’ together, can’t you see? It’s gotten caught and it’s twisting and turning and–”

“Whatever are you talking about?” I asked, interrupting her prattle. “Dru, you’re not making any sense.”

“Time!” she said in the manner of a sibyl. “The whole universe and time itself are coming together, and it’s ALL WRONG.”

In her visionary ecstasy, her eyes bulged more than usual and I was quite disarmed by the look upon her face–so I decided to humour the poor child. While I still needed a stiff drink–to say nothing of the foul carcass I’d drained–it would do me no harm to hear her request.

“What do you want of me, Drusilla?” I asked. Dru gazed at me with a face as vacant as a doll’s–and with a head nearly as empty, I thought. I managed not to scream at her.

“It’s already been done,” said she with a gruesome laugh. “You do what you was planning–but remember. It’s comin’ together. Don’t forget now.”

“Drusilla, you never make sense,” I said with a lusty sight. “Come on, girl, let’s find a pint or two before we return to the house of horrors.”

The smile and look on Drusilla’s face was suddenly pitying and contemptuous and I was frantic to make sense of it. Why should Drusilla pity me? What future had she seen in her madness?

“O, to hell with you!” said I passionately. “Go home and tell Angelus there’s a body on Little Queen Street. I’m going to Covent Garden.”

“I’ll tell him,” she said mildly. “Keep an eye out for the Ripper, dear.”

“I’ll watch,” I said, furious with the ridiculous child. “Maybe he’d like to join me.”

Before she could say another word, I walked away as fast as I could. I had turned the corner before I realized she hadn’t followed.

iii. nothing

“Jack the Ripper? Fascinating,” Wesley said after Gunn had sketched out his investigation into the murders of the past six weeks. “And it appears that this copycat’s done his research.”

“What do you mean?” Gunn asked, looking slightly nauseated.

“The first woman who died, the one you’re not sure about–Krystal? I would most definitely think she was a victim of our Ripper Junior. She was murdered on August 7th, the date for the non-canonical victim Martha Tabram. Ripperologists hotly debate her inclusion into the canon of Ripper victims–”

We were all staring at him at this point. Wesley looked around nervously and coughed.

“Why do you know that?” Angel asked.

I think if the light had been better, we could have seen Wes blushing.

“I was a bit of an amateur Ripperolgist–if that’s not a contradiction in terms–when I was younger,” Wes said. “One doesn’t easily forget the murders. It’s rather like the Angelians in the Watcher’s Council. They get absolutely obsessive. I knew a woman who’d written an entire dissertation psychoanalyzing the tendencies of Angelus and Darla to create blissfully happy couples while their own relation–”

Angel looked at Wesley blankly for a long minute. Wes started squirming.

“Angelians?” he said. “They couldn’t have thought of a better name?”

“Possibly,” Wes said. “But they’re far too involved in deciding who sired Spike, you or Drusilla.”

“You can’t be serious,” Angel said. Wes shrugged.

“Hey, guys,” Gunn interrupted. “I hate to ruin a discussion like this– well, not really–but I don’t want to hang out here anymore. This place gives me the creeps.”

I wanted to agree with him.

I did agree with him. The place was creepier than your average Sunnydale cemetery, but there was something I needed to see here. I stopped listening to the guys talk and walked away, not far away. Just a little ways toward the corner.

I was listening for a sound that I couldn’t imagine or explain.

The cement was cracked and dirty with weeds growing out of small breaks in the paving. Unfortunately, it was just dried-out grass, struggling to survive in the worst possible environment.

I was looking for something. Blood? A clue? The killer? I didn’t know. My head felt like it was full of sand. I stared at the wilted grass.

The pain hit me hard, but without the surprise I usually have at having a vision. It seemed, I don’t know, sort of inevitable.

“Guys!” I shrieked. “Vision!”

Then I fell to my knees–

nothingNoTHingNOTHINGnOthInGandnothingnothingNOthingnoTHINGnoThingnothi ngnothing and quick break naught not empty vacuum

nature abhors

it’s getting bigger

nothing

nothing

nothing

what the hell am I seeing?

nothing

nothing

nothing

It’s the void. I don’t know what it is.

“Cordy!” Angel said. “What do you see?”

“Nothing,” I said, trying to figure out what exactly I was seeing, had seen, didn’t understand. “It’s all nothing. It’s getting bigger, this empty thing.”

“Empty thing?”

“I don’t know what it is,” I said, frustrated. “It’s like a vacuum. A big nothing.”

“Does it have to do with the killer?” he asked. I shook my head.

“Well, maybe,” I amended. “It’s hard to know. I don’t understand this vision at all. It made me afraid. I felt sick to my stomach. Actually, I still feel sick.”

I started standing up. That didn’t immediately work. The grayed-out world, the yellow lights, and the sick stomach combined to make me massively dizzy. I closed my eyes.

“Could we try that again?” I asked. Angel’s arm was immediately around my waist, helping me to my feet and waiting gently as I opened my eyes. Sometimes he’s very nice to have around. “That was weird. It wasn’t really like a vision. But it was. Am I making any sense?”

“Not really.”

“Good,” I said sardonically. “That’s great and wonderful.”

Angel helped me toward the car. I didn’t want to go to the car. I needed to be here. I couldn’t go, not yet, not yet–

“No,” I said. “I can’t go. There’s something here still. It’s important.”

“Cordelia, if you think the killer’s here, you’re probably mistaken,” Wesley said. “The next death won’t be until November ninth, unless we catch him first. And the best way to do that is to weigh the evidence back at the office, not standing about on–”

“No!” I said again. “It’s here.”

My head was swimmy with pain, but I couldn’t go back to the hotel. Not yet. Something was here, something important, and I had to see it.

“What’s here?” Angel asked. “Cordy?”

I staggered away from him, trying to clear my head. I felt really sick and foggy. If it weren’t for the nagging feeling in my stomach that there was something desperately important in this filthy slum, I would have been first back into the car. I didn’t know what to think.

I walked away from everyone. Again.

“Wes, could you call Fred at the hotel?” I heard Angel say in a low voice. “Have her check into–what’s that word–stuff that’s involved with visions–”

“You mean some sort of phenomenon or epiphenomenon that could affect a seer?” Wes asked in his crisp, disapproving voice. “I’ll call. But we really should take her home immediately.”

“NO!” I cried. “I can’t go home yet.”

“Shh,” Gunn said anxiously. “You want to bring the cops over here?”

I quieted down and started looking around. One part of me felt like a total babbling idiot, like I was Drusilla or Fred or Willow or something. It was something like three in the morning and I was wandering around on scary deserted streets near a murder scene, trying to find a clue to a big pit of nothing that hit me like a vision in the back of the head.

Nothing.

“Wes!” I hissed, trying to be quiet. “What do you know about vortexes?”

“Besides that the proper plural of vortex is vortices? It depends on the vortex,” he said acidly. “Why?”

“My vision was about nothing. Lots and lots of nothing,” I said, trying to pull some kind of sense from the dazed, scary emptiness that was ringing through my head. “I don’t understand.”

Everyone was suddenly too quiet. I rubbed my temples and looked around again. It wasn’t here, whatever I was supposed to find. The void was close but not close enough.

“Help me,” I said to Angel, starting to feel frantic again. “It’s close.”

I started walking away, and even before I could register that I was running, I was, looking at the alleys and the warehouses around me, barely aware that Angel was following me, scared out of his mind. He was in good company. I was freaking out. I felt possessed. None of the visions had EVER done that to me before.

“God,” I gasped, staring up at the sky suddenly. It was browned out by all the low sodium lights. I could barely see a single star. “God.”

“Cordelia, what the hell is going on?” Angel asked fiercely, catching up to me and grabbing my arm. Usually I would have pulled away. Usually I would have snapped at him. Instead, I felt tears start to ooze down my face. It was humiliating–was I six years old or something?

“I don’t know,” I gasped. “There’s something bad here, Angel. It’s big bad.”

I stared up at the sky, trying to catch a glimpse of the stars.

“Do you think you’re going to find it, charging around in the alleys and the gutters like this?” he asked me, loosening his grip a little. I noticed he still was worried enough that he wasn’t letting go. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

I looked back at him. Angel usually has that look of worry or broody on his face, but I was struck by just how freaked he was for me. He was really scared I was either crazy or on track to get myself killed.

Come to think of it, I didn’t want to get noticed by Jack Junior on his way home.

“I guess we can go,” I said. “It’s creepy here. Like, seriously, seriously creepy.”

“I second that,” Angel said. “Come on, Cordelia. Let’s get back to the hotel. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

“Okay,” I said. We started to walk back toward the car.

That’s when I started getting more visuals to go with the strange frantic feelings I was having.

“Did you see that?” I asked, turning my head quickly. I could have sworn I’d seen someone out of the corner of my eye. “There was someone following us.”

“I didn’t notice,” Angel said, guiding me out of the alleys.

“Are you sure?” I asked, blinking quickly. When I’d looked down, I could have sworn the sidewalks were rain-slicked. But it definitely hadn’t rained recently. “You didn’t secretly smell someone, did you?”

“No, Cordelia,” he said. “There’s no one following us.”

“I think I’m seeing things,” I said, feeling ashamed. “Angel, what’s going on?”

He grasped my arm a little more tightly as we turned a corner. I guess I must have sounded sort of crazy by that point. I wasn’t, really. I was just confused and hurting and unable to understand what I’d seen in my vision.

But Angel wasn’t taking any chances. I could tell by the way he was holding his jaw in that grr way.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” he said stoically.

My hero. Sort of.

We stumbled back slowly (and I was stunned to discover just how far I’d gotten from the group–it felt like we were miles away from the car and safety) and every so often, something weird would cross my line of sight. Not weird in a being followed way–I know what it feels like to be followed by a creepy murderous person. The weird was that I could swear I was seeing something real, something absolutely there, but the moment I blinked or turned my head to get a better look–

nothing.

It was like the universe was out to torture me or something. Now while that’s nothing new (any universe that allows you to live and get crippling visions after a large object penetrates through your middle is clearly NOT your friend), I resented it.

“You know, what did I ever do to deserve this?” I complained to Angel. “So I was the queen bitch of Sunnydale High. My dad got poor and I lost everything! I had the fun of having a rebar right through the gut! I had that crush on Wesley! Isn’t the karmic debt paid yet?”

“Atonement’s a bitch,” Angel said. He had the weirdest little grin on his face and I suddenly felt–oh. OH. I remembered this feeling. And I totally remembered the expression. I kept seeing it on the dorkiest damn faces–Groo, Wes, Xander–oh, God help me.

Crushage. Possibly even mutual crushage. It couldn’t have come at a worse time. There was the whole dead Buffy factor, first off. I was so not interested in being rebound girl. Second of all, there was the whole vampire Angel deal with the perfect happiness and the Angelus problem–and I so knew better. I knew a lot better. I wasn’t a seventeen-year-old virgin dealing with the love of my life. I would stake evil Angel without a second thought.

And yet, I had that funny feeling in my tummy.

Why now? We had managed to grow up a hell of a lot with Angel in Sri Lanka finding inner peace. I had forgiven him. I had even accepted the eternal non-fun of having an unstable vampire boss. Having Angel around was never going to be easy, but I didn’t exactly sign up for absolutely impossible in the extreme, which is what an Angel-crush would be.

“I want to go home,” I said, feeling my sanity try to reassert itself. I needed to go home. Dennis would have a cup of hot chocolate waiting and a pair of headache pills. Dennis was my dream man, except for the part where he didn’t have a physical body. Of course, fucking the undead was almost as creepy as the idea of fucking an actual ghost, but there was still a there there.

“I’ll get you there, Cordy,” Angel said, that stupid smile still on his face. What the hell was wrong with him? Loving a living girl had gone so well the first time that he wanted another try? Angel was a bad, bad atoning vampire man and I was an incredible dumbass for letting my brain go right where it was going.

“I know you will,” I said almost chirpily. Oh, I so needed a date. Crippling headaches or not, going too long without sex would make a tall, dark and brooding bit of salty goodness like Angel look toothsome in the extreme. “I wonder what was pulling me here. Maybe it was the killer. Maybe his soul is like an abyss.”

Total lie, but it would get us home faster. Standing there with Angel in a moment of inappropriate lust was ten times more dangerous than whatever was hiding in the shadows of Norwalk. There would be a solution for the scary abyss stuff. Wesley would find a spell and do the Hokey-Pokey or whatever needed to be done. There wasn’t a spell that could make me not wish I could just cuddle up next to Big Broody Angel and make Wes and Gunn find another way home.

“Don’t sell your visions short.”

Bad was rapidly hitting worse and worse would soon be calamity. We had to get back to everyone else, where sanity would make short work of this whole moment of almost-innocent kindness.

“Like I ever would,” I said snarkily. “It’s just really late, Angel. If there’s a big gaping abyss here, we can come back tomorrow. Wesley’s going to turn into a pumpkin from the lack of sleep if we don’t get back soon.”

“Fair enough,” Angel said humorously. “Come on, we’re just around the corner.”

“About damn time,” I said, pulling away from Angel and striding around the corner.

I couldn’t believe what I saw next.

Chapter Four
An Encounter Beside a Infamous Pub

“London,” I said boisterously, raising my gin glass to the drunken crowd. “To beautiful, horrible London and all of us who live here!”

Not a single soul in the pub paid the least attention to me. I was starting to feel blowsy and disreputable about the edges–I’d had far too much gin and my clothes were dirty and disheveled again, all because of stinking London. We’d spent too many years sojourning in this glorified hellhole, and I hated it–O! how I hated London, its cheap gin, and its cheaper thrills.

“Hurry up please, it’s time!” shouted the stout little barman from his post. I stared at him, unbelieving–time? Already? Was he mad?

“But, sir! It can’t be time!” I said in tones of protest. “I’m not ready! It’s not time!”

“Hurry up, miss, it’s time,” he replied in a semi-gentle voice. “And you drunk up your doss money, I suppose.”

Doss money! What did he take me for? I found myself grown angry almost immediately. Doss money, indeed, as if I would sleep in a common house tonight!

“I haven’t need for doss money,” said I with a toss of the head. “I’m no common twist.”

A look of pity and lechery filled the barkeeper’s piggy little eyes– yes, definitely more lechery than pity. I was painfully aware I was about to get an offer of either lodging–or perhaps doss money–in exchange for a little fun. Neither offer placated my anger in the least.

“No, miss,” said he in honeyed tones. “I wasn’t suggesting such a thing at all.”

“Don’t need nobody to treat me like a whore,” I said sullenly, finishing my glass of gin. “I don’t want no trouble.”

O, I was in my cups tonight–hideously, foully drunk–and considering that even before I had been made a vampire, I could hold my liquor, the idea that I’d lost myself in cheap London gin was most disquieting. I realized with a sickened thump in my chest that I wasn’t even sure where I was nor how I’d gotten there.

“Hurry up, please, it’s time!” shouted the barman again, giving me a rude look and pounding his ludicrously large fist on the wood of the bar. “Hurry up, please, it’s time!”

Certain that if I didn’t leave soon, I’d find trouble with the barkeeper, I set my gin glass on the filthy bar. I had no need to patronize this establishment any further, none at all.

“Fine then,” said I boldly, standing up. I imagined I could be heard through the din of the laborers finishing their last drink. “I’m no whore and I don’t need your money. I’m leaving.”

To my deep disappointment, the barkeeper didn’t notice the polite way I’d disdained his offer. I left the place immediately, feeling deeply insulted–and quite ready to embark for Paris–on my own if necessary. I cared no more how easy it was to get a bit of fresh blood these days in London. I hadn’t been dressed as a whore and I’d certainly not solicited that gin-swilling lout running the bar. I could endure no more. I despised the British and their assumptions–in fact, I was weary of Europe in general and I was again struck with the desire to explore the Orient, where things were different.

Of course, I realized practically, we had tickets for the opening night of The Yeomen of the Guard at the Savoy tomorrow night. It would be worth it to stay to watch William clasp his hands together in delight at Gilbert and Sullivan’s latest masterpiece–and equally as amusing to watch Angel endeavor to stay awake. There was also the hope that Drusilla wouldn’t try to leap out of our box onto the stage this time as well, though this time I wouldn’t stop her if she did.

I decided I would remain in London only long enough to watch my companions at the opera, but then I was going to leave this city for Paris and from there, the ends of the earth. I would wreak havoc upon all the loathsome humans I could find–and Angelus would follow me or be reviled forever as a spiritless eunuch. I swore to myself that if he didn’t follow, every child of the night and half-witter follower of them would know that Angelus, the Scourge of Europe, was no better than a punter. O! I would make him pay.

Resolved and pleased at my resolution, I stumbled down the street, trying to ascertain my location. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to return to our home just yet, though the idea of returning drunk to our respectable street had appeal. I would have felt all the safer knowing where I was, for I’d crawled through every inch of London, both above and belowground.

“Hey, you!” I rudely importuned a man walking down the street. “What’s this pub ‘ere called?”

The man, one of middle height with a carroty moustache and a deerstalker hat, paused in his perambulation. He looked at me with contempt and the usual disdain a drunken whore receives when she’s shrieking in the streets.

“Can’t you read what’s right behind you?” asked he in a thick Irish accent. My heart sank–I’d had enough of loutish Irishmen since my fight with Angelus tonight. I simply wished to know where I was.

“Have you no regard for a lady?” I replied, throwing out my breasts provocatively. Stupid men–if this one tried to lay a finger on me, I’d have him as a late supper–and to hell with hiding the body. Let the Ripper take the blame of it.

“You’re no lady,” he said. “Whore, more like. Like any whore who’d drink at a place like the Ten Bells.”

It must be confessed that I responded with a vulgar gesture, but I had been provoked beyond patience. How dare he? Why, he was only a smelly human living in a London slum! I wanted him to come near me–to try to lay one finger upon me–for I would rip his throat out and suck the blood from his own heart.

“Fucking whore,” said my tormentor, spitting. I felt my eyes nearly pop from my head, but the street was far too busy and near the pub to take revenge. I also noticed a scared, mousy-looking woman passing by, looking at the Irishman, at me, and then down at her ill-shod feet. She hurried past before he noticed her.

“Why don’t you come over here and say that?” said I, my bloodlust reaching unheard-of proportions.

“Go look for your doss somewhere else, whore,” said he, giving me an undeniably lecherous–and contemptuous–look. “I ain’t interested in no blooming twists like yourself.”

I certainly would have found myself committing murder in a public street had Angelus not made his appearance right at that moment.

“Watch your mouth, friend,” said he in tones of false cheer. “Some might take offense at a no-good scoundrel like yourself talking that way to his wife.”

“Keep your wife off the streets then,” the man replied, sounding completely unconvinced. “Lord know she looks just like all them other blooming Dorset Street whores.”

“Get out of my sight,” Angelus said, slipping what appeared to be a friendly arm about my waist in a pseudo-romantic embrace. In fact, he practically snapped my spine in half, but I was glad enough to see him that I forgave his roughness. “Or I’ll take offense and you won’t like that at all, friend.”

The man spat again and crossed the street right in front of us, though he dared not say another word. I might have said something myself to provoke him, but Angelus’ stormy expression told me quite clearly I would do no such thing.

“Where have you been?” I asked him cheekily after the horrible man had disappeared around the street corner. I was far too aware I was trying to soothe Angelus, but I was far gone in drink and desirous to patch up the quarrel. “I’ve been here all night long being insulted by filthy humans offering me doss money.”

“O! But you reek of gin and look no better than one of them,” said Angelus with a disapproving glower. “After all your noise, you could do no better than a cheap pub in Whitechapel acting like a common judy?”

My rage, which had been soothed by Angelus’ arrival, flared as though he’d poured wine on it. It was too much to be borne! I would have my revenge on him now or I didn’t know myself.

“I suppose I couldn’t,” I said angrily. “If you think I’m a whore, why don’t you find us an appropriate alley and I’ll take your custom? You eunuch. Ever since Holtz, you’ve been gelded. Do you want to know why I came to this hole, Angelus? Do you really?”

He stared at me in quiet fury, the blood at last starting to rise in his soul.

“Why don’t you tell me, Darla?” he said in tones of utmost patience that goaded me to foolishness.

“I was looking for Jack,” said I flamboyantly and with no small part of dishonesty. “I’m tired of being surrounded by children and dour old women who pretend to be men. At least that one loves blood.”

That statement spurred him to violence, as I’d hoped. I found my head slammed against the nearest wall and Angelus’ body pinning mine– holding it fast against the wood, brick, and glass that made up the world behind me.

“I’m an old woman, am I?” asked he with hot, violent breath. It tickled against my ear and I realized he had fed recently, which pleased me. I felt him thrust against me roughly. “Am I?”

“Are you?” I asked, again casting the question into his teeth. “I don’t know.”

Angelus went demon on me and his eyes started to glitter lustfully and wrathfully, lighting up the fog-laden night. I could feel his cock pressed against my skirts, reminding me all to plainly that when Angelus wasn’t pretending to be a cantankerous old auntie, he was most surely not a gelding. I slid my arms ’round his neck blissfully.

“Will you?” asked he, one hand finding the top of my dress and tugging at it purposefully. It would be necessary to borrow his overcoat when we went home, but I decided it would be well worth that small price.

“Yes,” I said, smiling. We stumbled toward the nearest alley, halfdelirious with trembling desire. It was a vicious, destructive game we were playing, and I wondered wildly if either one of us would blink or if we would go to it among the puddles, the drunkards, and the rats.

Not long after, I found myself shoved against a wall again–though, to be honest, it was a fence, a rickety wooden thing that I feared wouldn’t survive our sport. I went demon myself and licked my lips delicately, curving my tongue around my fangs.

“Angel, Angel,” I said in plaintive, wanton tones. He laughed as though he was as drunk as I, and thrust a hand into my bodice, tearing the dress properly.

“You’ve drunk up your doss twice this evening already, haven’t you?” asked he, fumbling with the stays of my corset. “And that lovely example of mankind you left on the street for me to clean up–you’ve been a wicked girl tonight, Darla. I ought to punish you.”

Blithely ignoring his threats, I slapped his roaming hands away from my corset and unlaced it myself–for it was bad enough that he’d torn my dress. I’d be arrested for prostitution if he kept up his foul amusements.

“Love, we don’t have time to play,” said I, trying to move my hands to my skirts. “This is Whitechapel and the police are on patrol. You never know who’s prowling about.”

Angelus pushed me a second time, pinning my arms to the fence rudely and leaving us ultimately motionless while his hips and prick kept pushing into my skirts. My interest in his game rapidly waned–if he wanted to play, he should do the thing properly and not resort to brute force. I shoved him away from me.

“Hurt me another time,” I said with a warning growl. He hissed at me, but quite practically started to undo his trousers while I lifted my layers of skirts.

“Tis my money and I’ll get what I want from it,” he told me, shoving me into the fence for a third time. My head was starting to ache pitifully from all the knocks–though truthfully, I didn’t mind so. I wanted this Angelus, this wicked, taunting Angelus who would try to split me in two during intercourse.

“Do what you will,” warned I, my hands still holding up my skirts. “But pay attention. The cops will be on to you as fast as they will me.”

I surrendered myself to his mercy then, deciding that things would happen as they would and it was better not to delay Angelus any further. He sneered at me, needily rubbing himself against my petticoats.

“O, my darling thing, how could I resist such a beguilin’ invitation?” said he, his hands sliding round my breasts and his fingers pressing into the nipples through my red silk corset. “Damn Victorians. I’ve missed seeing your breasts.”

“Me, too–me too,” I said, gasping with pleasure. “Angelus, do stop fondling them and get to business.”

“Eh, miss,” he said, running a rough hand against my face. “I don’t like hearing such language from any woman–even an unfortunate like yourself.”

After he said this, he slid his hand between my–dare I admit it– quivering thighs and began to probe. I choked back a moan, still wary. There was no time for these amusements.

“An-gel-us,” whispered I, arching my back and pressing my breasts outward for him to admire. “Please.”

“When I say,” he replied in curt tones, sliding two fingers inside of me. “You’ve told me before and I agree–a man doesn’t listen.”

Angelus’ voice had an unmistakable smugness in its tone, which I found particularly unbearable. While I had indeed said such a thing, I had not truly meant it. He continued to probe and finger me most ungently, pumping those two fingers in and out of my increasingly aroused pussy as I feigned disinterest in his actions. If Angelus weren’t already primed for sport, I would have closed my eyes and completely surrendered to his touch, but I was wary. Angelus rarely delayed his pleasures without reasons.

I was about to reach conclusion when Angelus stopped touching me and just as suddenly slapped me across the face. The shock of it caused my eyes to open and I snarled at him, dropping my skirts.

“What troubles you?” said he in cruel, heart-rendering tones. “I thought you liked it to hurt. Darla, love, don’t you want to play?”

I leapt at him with my claws and teeth ready to tear into him–the heartless, wretched thing–and managed to rake his cheek with my fingernails before he quite overpowered me, pushing my skirts up without any pretenses of play.

“I’ve already paid for my pleasure,” he told me in a low growl, fumbling through the ruffles of my skirt.

“You’ll never have the kind of coin that’ll buy me,” said I as he found my entrance and thrust inside me artlessly.

“O! And aren’t I sorry about that, Darla?” he said, using me cruelly against that ramshackle fence. “I’m sorry I don’t care what the key to your heart is–that you loathe me so–that you can’t escape me. I’m sorry–”

My pride as sore as my body, I decided to remind the brute who had the power–and who pretended that he did. I pushed my hips a little further on his next thrust–and nearly threw us all off-kilter as I maneuvered myself around him, attacking his neck and earlobe with my mouth. His words shrank into a surprised gasp and with as much passion as I could muster, I wrapped my lips about his earlobe and bit into it hard as I could.

“Darla–”

I flexed around him then, riding him as best I could against that accursed fence–it being a bit of a trick, you see, to pull off the attempt. Without my vampire strength and flexibility, I would have been unable to manage it–but it was a pleasure to do it as soon as I heard his voice change from a low-pitched set of command to tones of unallayed passion as I showed Angelus who was in control.

“There, love,” said I in a falsely demure voice as he shuddered and found release, gasping and shivering against me. “Wasn’t that a treat?”

“Ah, fuck me, yes,” he moaned, loosening his grip on my bruised arms. “Darla, you’ll be the death of me someday.”

“I’d let no-one else have the pleasure,” I said with a smile, sidling away from him so I could smooth my skirts. I would be incredibly sticky all the way home, and I’d make Angelus regret that later.

Tired of playing among the unfortunates of London–and deeply amused at Angelus–I linked arms with my darling boy and allowed him to lead me toward home and hopefully a bit more sport and merriment to be had there.

Four blocks from our house, the headache decided to make itself known.

I’ve been a vampire since Jamestown first settled itself on the foul, swampy shore of what we laughingly called a civilized country. I’ve been places so full of death and decay that no man could hold his stomach and I’d never been ill of it–so the blinding, scorching pain that suddenly seared itself into the nerves behind my eyes was quite a shock to me.

“Angelus, stop,” I said, my hand moving to my temples.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“My head,” I said in a surprised gasp of a voice. “O, bloody–my head!”

“What nonsense is this?” asked he, grasping my other arm in his hand and shaking me violently. “Come now, we’re almost home.”

“My head is about to split open, you apish brute,” I said in tones of bitterest scorn, pulling my arm away from him. “It gave me pause.”

I stalked toward the corner of our street in high dudgeon, and Angelus followed behind, the tread of his boots rumbling like thunder inside my head. I’d never been in as much agony as I was at that moment–not even when I’d been dying of syphilis. I wanted more than anything to dunk my head into a bowl of water and drown.

“Tis the gin catching up with you, most like,” Angelus said with contempt, striding past me purposefully. I hissed at him and looked up from my feet just as I turned the corner onto our street–and found that I was not on the proper street. In fact, I was not even in the proper city.

I was stupefied with shock. A city entirely different from London spread before me, one hazy and glowing even in the depths of night–the lights that lit the streets glowed an uncanny, ugly yellow that turned the sky into an indistinct, brownish blur. I could hear the roar of a thousand strange engines and see a collection of motley warehouses where Angelus and our house should have been.

What the hell was going on?

I took a small step forward, but the other city didn’t disappear–and everything, everything about it was different. The ground was covered in dirt and the plants were alien to me. The paving was of strange stuff and an unrecognizable color. The very feel of it beneath my feet was different. It was no place on earth that I’d seen or heard of and that was enough to terrify me–where was Angelus? What madness was this? A gin-fueled dream? Something worse?

I almost screamed then, but the girl came racing about the corner and I started in shock. She was dressed unlike any woman I’d seen, in Europe or out–and that was enough to make me quiet.

What sort of woman wore such tight-fitting trousers? Perhaps a Chinawoman–but she was no Oriental. Her trousers seemed to be made of rough stuff anyway, not the flowing silks of the East. Her hair was too short–rather like a nun’s–and her stomach was showing obscenely. I could barely believe it–what was she, a harem-girl?

Strangest of all, the woman was staring back at me with her mouth hanging open and her eyes as wide as dinner-platters. She knew me. I’d never seen the girl before in my life, but she knew me.

I didn’t know what to do, so I did the only thing I could–I stared at her and got ready to scream for Angelus.

v. collision

Darla stared at me with round, terrified eyes. She was clutching her head like she’d had a vision and I might have been hallucinating, but I was sure she was wearing seriously out-of-style clothes. That couldn’t be good when we were dealing with a Jack the Ripper copycat.

Come to think of it, Angel had never mentioned where he was around then. Not that I would have ever asked if Angel had known or been Jack the Ripper, but I definitely wanted to know where he’d been.

But still. Staring at Darla staring at me was not the most comfortable thing I could have experienced, especially as the world around me seemed to have shifted slightly. The streets were made of cobblestones, it was extremely dark and the fog was thick and sort of yellow. I couldn’t tell if the smell was gasoline or something in the fog, but it was swampy and weird.

Where the hell was I? Why was Darla looking at me like that and why was she dressed like she was out of the 1800s?

I needed backup, anyway. Fighting Angel’s evil ex was definitely a bad idea, and I’d been off all night. I wasn’t even going to try to win a battle of taunts. I took one step away from Darla, breathing very quietly.

She looked at me like she didn’t get it, like there wasn’t massive bad blood between her and everyone involved with Angel.

“Cordelia?” Angel asked, his voice suddenly very close. Darla’s head shot up like it’d been detached from her shoulders and she looked at him and at me like the world had been turned upside down and inside out.

I got the same feeling when I saw Angel walk up behind Darla and put his arm around her waist.

“What the FUCK is going on here?” I asked, trying to see if the strange non-Darla Darla heard me. I don’t know if she heard me or not, but she definitely got the same vibe, because she looked at me and threw up her hands. I shrugged.

“Cordelia, what are you doing?” Angel asked, turning me around to look at him. I got one half-glimpse of the other Angel (probably Angelus) dragging Darla away and as I met Angel’s eyes I fell down

oh jesus

oh god

oh jesusgodjesusgod

The pain was unlike anything I’d ever felt and I couldn’t even force myself to scream. Instead I lay there on the ground, wishing I would die.

“Cordy!” Angel said, sounding panicked. He picked me up bodily and threw me over his shoulder. “Hold on, Cordy.”

I didn’t even whimper. I couldn’t. Entire universes were exploding in my brain and no one else could see what I could see. Angel hadn’t seen the other Darla, the Victorian Darla. Angelus had been right fucking there and he hadn’t seen it.

But Darla had. She’d probably even gotten the massive universe headache. I don’t think the other Angel saw me, though. It was all extremely confusing and I knew it would get worse when I could talk again. What I’d seen smacked of alternate dimensions and our resident expert on the subject still hid under the table to eat.

“What’s going on?” Wesley asked suddenly. I hadn’t opened my eyes. The idea of any sort of light piercing my already crispy-critterfried brains sounded like the worst thing ever.

“I don’t know. She was talking to someone I couldn’t see and then she fell down,” Angel said. “What the hell is going on, Wes? What’s wrong with Cordelia?”

“She’s the seer, Angel,” Wesley said, sounding slightly miffed. “Fred says that she’s not sure, but maybe this could have something to do with either alternate dimensions or something that I didn’t quite get about a timeline split.”

Angel was silent. I thought maybe, if I could say something, the question of my sanity could be resolved, but opening my mouth was remarkably difficult. I tried hard, too. But finally, I had to settle for being set in the back seat of the car with most of my upper body in Angel’s lap, complete with hair petting.

Wesley and Gunn must have been way not paying attention. Maybe they’d had a private Wes/Gunn council they way they sometimes do, but even with me voiceless and trying to recover from an event of pain that was unlike anything ever, sitting me in Angel’s lap was bad. It was much bad.

My head felt better, though. His hand was cool and really gentle and I felt hot. Of course, I didn’t understand how seeing a totally different world and walking into it would give me a fever, but this whole night was like having fever dreams.

“Are we taking her to the emergency room?” Angel asked.

“Obviously,” Wesley said. “Gunn will pick Fred up and hopefully by the time they return, Cordelia will be able to explain what happened.”

Angel ran his fingers through my hair. I wished that moving and talking didn’t hurt so much. I didn’t really need to go to the hospital. I was just winded in every cell of my body. But it was nice to hear that they cared.

We hit a bump and I whimpered and almost whimpered again because both had hurt so much.

“You didn’t see ANYTHING?” Wes asked Angel. “Nothing that would explain why she fell down the way she did? You didn’t feel something, or hear, or anything?”

“No, Wes, I didn’t. She turned the corner about five seconds before me and stopped cold. Then she started trying to talk to someone who wasn’t there. She wanted to know what was going on and then she fell down,” Angel said, his hand motionless and kind of clammy in my hair. “Wes, do you think she’ll be all right?”

“Of course she’ll be all right,” Gunn said. “Cordy’s tough. No invisible person’s going to take her out.”

“Invisible person?” Wes said.

“Well, we didn’t see what knocked her down, did we? It could have been an invisible person.”

I wanted to say something, to explain that I’d seen everything, but even licking my lips felt pretty awful, so talking was going to take a few more minutes. Besides, I was getting a decent conversation out of the boys while I was helpless. No cloud without a silver lining, I guess–though that’s always been the dumbest saying I’ve ever heard.

“I don’t think it was an invisible person,” Wes said. “Cordelia’s been acting strange all evening. Besides, the original vision is slightly unusual.”

“Yeah,” Gunn said. “How come she had a vision now and not back when the first girls were being chopped up? That’s just weird, man. Wouldn’t the Powers want to stop this guy?”

“It’s something else,” Wesley said, sounding very involved. I hoped he was paying attention to the road in front of him. Meanwhile, Angel continued to pet my hair. I liked that a little too much for my own good. Part of me wanted to snuggle in deeper, but the rest of me reminded that part that first of all, we weren’t moving due to the crippling pain we were in, and second, Angel.

Angel in love was bad. I’d seen it firsthand two times running and you know what they say about the third time being the charm. Besides, I was Angel’s Lassie. I was the tool. I was not the love of his life. I couldn’t be. I wasn’t blonde enough, small enough, or special enough. I was Cordelia and he was Angel. That was that.

I snuggled into his lap a little deeper and ignored the screaming pain it put me in.

“I think she’s feeling better, guys,” Angel said promptly. “She moved.”

“Cordy?” Wes said. “Can you tell us what happened yet?”

I decided it was time to try talking. It hadn’t hurt that much to snuggle and we didn’t have time for a Cordelia emergency room trip.

I managed a mmm before the shrieking pain hit me and I ended up squeaking.

“Meek?” Gunn said, sounding utterly confused. “Did she just say meek?”

Angel snorted before moving his hand to my shoulder and running his fingers up and down.

“She mmmed and then she squeaked, Gunn,” he said dryly. “We’re still on our way to the emergency room. But at least we know she’s awake and not crazy.”

I wanted to mention that there was no proof I wasn’t crazy. After all, I was playing snugglebunnies with my boss, who was not only a vampire, but a vampire who would go bloodthirsty the minute he achieved perfect happiness. But again, the whole overwhelming pain thing wasn’t good for talking.

It was stupid. It was intensely stupid and why weren’t we at a hospital yet? There would be doctors with morphine and possibly a nice thorazine drip for the crazy girl who was in so much pain she was squeaking. And I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet.

I didn’t want to imagine what I’d see. And, oh, God. What if I had a vision? I would die. I’d flat out die in Angel’s lap and there would suddenly be a vampire fondling a dead woman in the backseat of a convertible and that wouldn’t be good.

“Hold on, Cordy,” Angel said.

I didn’t move. I thought about the wrongness of suddenly feeling cuddly toward Angel (and yesterday, even yesterday, I would have told you my desire to cuddle Angel was nil and meant it), the other world waiting in the alley in Norwalk, and how very little I understood about everything.

Something had to be fixed. Hopefully Fred could figure something out, even if it took Gunn half an hour to coax her out of the hotel. I didn’t understand time, but it didn’t take a genius to realize that when you could walk into the past and have two Angels in the same very small space, it was a bad scene for time.

Time, time, time.

I blinked. The light streaming down from the low-sodium lights was blinding.

“Cordy?” Angel said, trying to be very quiet. “Did you just blink?”

Oh, hell. I had to tell him something or he’d turn the blink into something of cosmic significance. And nothing could hurt more than the blink, so I would say something.

“It hurt,” I muttered.

“Blinking?” Angel said, being a complete dumbass. “It hurt?”

“Mmm,” I said, feeling my jaw tighten up. God, whatever was wrong with me could not be good. I was going to need industrial-strength muscle relaxants and painkillers to be functional.

“Cordy, I promise, whatever did this to you, it’ll pay,” Angel said. If I could have laughed, I would have. Everyone was so sure it had been a something or a someone. But the idea of being hit by the force of crossing universes? I guess that was too Star Trek for the boys.

“We’re here,” Wes said with a big sigh of relief. “Cordelia, we’re here. It’s going to be all right.”

I wasn’t so sure about that. I was having too many thoughts, weird bad thoughts. Angel swept me up into his arms and I kept thinking that time might explode or stop and maybe turn inside out.

Stay calm, I wanted to say to the universe.

Stay calm.

The emergency room was noisy, like it always was. I played rag doll and didn’t try to open my eyes. That way, it didn’t hurt so much and besides, I needed medical attention first. I had world-saving to do.

It was amazing how fast I was in a semi-private room, getting muscle relaxants. Something about Angel gets us medical attention super-quick and while that’s bad if there are people bleeding to death around us, this time it was really important that I got taken care of immediately.

“I’ve never seen anyone in this condition,” the doctor was saying. “What happened?”

“We’re not sure,” Wes said. “She fell down.”

“It could be a brain event,” the doctor said. Oh, we had gotten a resident intern. Poor kid. He probably wasn’t up to diagnosing trauma caused by temporal forces no one in the room understood. “We’re going to need to do a CAT scan.”

No. No no no no no. We didn’t have time for that. Whatever was going on in my head and the universe was instantly aware of that.

“No,” I said, ignoring the pain. It didn’t hurt as much as it had, though I was still trying to keep my eyes very closed as much as possible. “We don’t have time.”

Everyone went quiet for about ten seconds.

“Cordy?” Wes asked. “Why don’t we have time?”

“We just don’t,” I said, wishing that some morphine really had been part of the muscle relaxant combo. I could feel each muscle loosening, and that wasn’t always quite comfortable. I wished there was time to sit in the hospital. I was going to need another trip back after this was all over, but there was no more time.

I blinked. For a second, I didn’t see the hospital at all. I was in a house, a decent house. I couldn’t hear anything, not the hospital noises, not the house noises. I could just see a house that wasn’t lit by electric light or candles. What did they use to light Victorian houses? I didn’t remember–if I ever knew.

I blinked again and I was back in the hospital.

Things were rapidly going from bad to worse and if I knew one thing, I knew that I didn’t want to go back into the other world because it would probably kill me. Of course, with that same sort of fatalistic logic, I knew that whatever we had to do to make time and dimensions stop blending into each other would require me going across.

Fuck, I hated the Powers that Be. Advance notice that time was about to crumble somehow would have been nice.

“I need to talk to Fred,” I said, keeping my eyes shut for the most part. “I mean, like seriously fast.”

“What is she talking about?” the intern asked. “Who’s Fred? Why doesn’t she want a CAT scan?”

“Doctor, it might behoove us to speak outside privately,” Wes said smoothly, going into damage control mode. “Miss Chase is disoriented and I don’t think any of us want her to get frantic without cause. Angel, do tell us if we’re needed.”

Smooth, slimy little weasel. I was glad he was on our side. Angel was practically on top of me before the door to the room closed.

“Cordy, what’s going on?” he asked, keeping his voice down so that the guy with the metal fan blade halfway through his hand didn’t hear us. “Why do you need Fred?”

“I think time is getting messed up,” I said quietly. “I fell down because I walked into the past.”

“What?” Angel asked.

“I saw you,” I said, aware that I wasn’t explaining too well. “When I was in the alley, I wasn’t really there. Or I was in two places at once. But I was in Victorian London and I was looking at Darla. She didn’t recognize me. Then you came around the corner. I think Darla could see you the way I could see the past you.”

“You’re sure it was Darla? And me?”

“As sure as I can be,” I said. “I keep having these flashes of the other place. It’s dark there. It doesn’t look like anywhere I’ve ever been. I’m just guessing it’s Victorian London because you were there, weren’t you? During the first murders. You were there.”

Before he could answer, I got violently sick. Something about muscle relaxant wasn’t reacting nicely with an empty stomach.

The answers would have to wait. So, for that matter, would time. I wasn’t feeling too excited about either.

Chapter VI
Questions Answered; Darla Seeks Help from Outside Sources

“What’s wrong with you, girl?” asked Angelus as he dragged me the last few feet to our house. By some small piece of luck–or perhaps just sheer force of will–I was managing not to vomit. I would still be cursed with the worst hangover of all time in the morning, if we survived that long. “You’ve been acting a bloomin’ fool all damn day.”

“I wish to leave London,” I said bluntly, dodging his question. Angelus didn’t need to know about the girl and the strange other him standing in an alien world at the end of Southampton Street. “I want to go to Prague and perhaps spend a season hunting among the Romany, but I won’t stay here in this pit any longer.”

“As you’d like,” Angelus said. “Let’s leave London. We’ll go to Prague if you wish, or the ends of the earth if that doesn’t please you. I don’t care. Will we be taking the children with us?”

“For now, I suppose,” said I, waving my hand irritably. “Where’s Drusilla? I must speak to her about one of her vile visions immediately.”

“Darla,” Angelus said in reproachful tones. “You oughn’t mock the sight. It’s a powerful gift.”

O! For all of his diabolical powers and demonic rages, Angelus was still a provincial, superstitious bogtrotter in the depths of his soul. Small wonder, then, that we returned to this dim swamp of a country so often. I never longed after the mores and legends of Colonial Virginia- -o, no, I knew better–but Angelus would probably still pray to the Virgin and all of her saints for protection if he believed they’d hear him.

The ridiculous fool–but I had to speak with Dru. She’d said something earlier that sounded much less foolish ever since I’d seen that strange girl and her strange city–ah, yes. The city in the lights–Dru had seen it before I, and perhaps knew what it was.

“Drusilla!” I shouted, feeling a sloppy, sodden mess. “Drusilla!”

I clambered up the stairs, aware of Angelus standing at the landing looking aghast at my hoyden behavior. I’m sure he thought it was just the drunk speaking, but I was downright frantic for other reasons. Something extraordinary was going on.

“Drusilla!” I shrieked like a fishwife. “Get out here!”

The heavy door to William’s bedchamber opened a sliver.

“Fuck off, dammit,” William said in his heaviest Cockney accent. “You’re drunk.”

“William, unless you wish to find your bollocks carved into bits, send Dru out here,” I said in my darkest voice. “I’m not drunk and I don’t want to argue with you.”

I heard sudden low mumbles, accompanied by Dru’s distinctive voice warbling and moaning.

“Dru,” said I, cooing and coaxing. “Come out, dear. Grandmother needs to ask you something. Please come out, darling, honey, lovey. Please.”

I couldn’t quite hear what Drusilla whimpered, but I could hear William’s response very clear.

“Go humor her, pet,” he said briskly. “She’ll only take a minute, I swear, and then we’ll have more fun, Dru, I promise.”

“Fine,” said Drusilla petulantly. Through the crack in the doorway, I could see her lithe figure sidle out of bed sinuously, pulling her shift on as slowly as possible before walking into the hall where I awaited her. I’d almost told her to ignore her modesty–I’d seen her worse than naked, after all–but it wasn’t worth the trouble.

“You had a vision tonight,” I said, feeling myself to be quite delirious for the moment. “What did you see?”

She gave me an odd look, as though she hadn’t quite heard me aright.

“I’ve already told you that,” she informed me quite bluntly. “I saw a city all in lights, but you said it was London–but it weren’t, was it?”

“No, Dru, it wasn’t London,” I said, grasping her arm before she could slide away and causing her to give a heart-rending scream.

“Bloody hell, Darla, can’t it wait?” William asked.

“No,” I replied curtly, pushing Drusilla into the wall remorselessly. “Tell me what you saw, Drusilla–for now I’ve seen it too. Tell me what it is.”

“The future,” said she, a cunning smile crossing her lips. “You saw Angel in the future.”

“To hell with Angel–I don’t give a damn about him,” I said wrathfully. The girl would drive me mad with her circumlocutions. “I saw a girl in strange clothes and she saw me.”

“She’s the seer,” Dru said. “Time is coming to a halt–and it’s all her fault–and yours. It’s twisting and turning, but it’s turned too close and we’ll all stop forever.”

“What?” I said, completely exasperated. “What do you mean?”

“Time’s stopping. You walked through the cut he made, so naughty naughty. You’re moving things much faster than they ought to move and you won’t fix it.”

Perhaps if I’d been blessed with all of the necessary knowledge, Drusilla’s ramblings would have made some sort of sense. However, as she was my only source of information, I was more confused than ever but for one thing. There was another city, and perhaps the alley and our corner were the intersection of worlds–a place that existed at the same place and the same time.

But that wasn’t possible. Perhaps I was just mad.

“Can anyone help me?” I asked, looking Drusilla directly in the eyes. Sanity flickered in them like a sputtering gaslight.

“You’ve got to find him,” said she, her eyes wild and hair loose, like some sort of mystic. “It’s him who cut it open. It’s him who can close it. You must find him.”

Find him? Who was I, the local detective?

“And who might he be?” I asked, fighting the desire to box her ears.

“O, he’s wicked,” Drusilla said, winking at me. “You’ll meet him. You know who he is.”

“Darla!” William’s voice was a rough wail. “For fuck’s sake, do bugger off.”

“Give me another moment, you lecher,” I replied easily. “Dru, you realize that if time stops, so do you–even if you’re playing with William.”

“Spike,” she said firmly.

“Or not,” said I, refusing to give his ridiculous nickname any credence at all. “Time stops. And I do hate the idea of some vagabond causing this sort of mischief without me.”

Drusilla cackled her mad cackle. “You’ll set the world ablaze,” she said with a smile.

“Perhaps another time,” I said, letting her go. She scrambled back into the bedroom, letting the door slam behind her. I sighed, turned about, and discovered Angelus standing there staring at me. I had to learn how he managed that–we were going on a hundred and fifty years together and I was really curious.

“What are you doin’, Darla?”

“If you must know, Angelus,” I said cuttingly. “I had a vision tonight and I needed Drusilla to explain it.”

“You?” asked Angelus, sounding ready to laugh. “What vision did you see?”

“A new world,” I said. “It was a city, in fact–not like anything I’ve ever seen before. It was strange, Angelus. I saw a woman–not more than a girl, really–and Dru said she was a seer. She was wearing trousers and short hair and then I saw you.”

“Me? In your future world? You’re in your cups,” he said.

“I wish I were,” I said, laughing bitterly. “Believe what you will, but Drusilla said time would stop for me and that girl.”

“Drusilla says the stars and her dolls talk to her, as well. Will you be consultin’ Miss Edith next?”

“Now who’s mocking the sight?” I said tartly. “I don’t have time for you, Angelus. Either help me or get out of my way, but I–”

“What’s this? You’re going to do some great deed for mankind?” Angelus said scornfully. “I’d remember you’re a demon and you ought let whatever will be happen.”

“I’m not doing any such thing,” said I coldly, wishing that I could overpower him and give him a good smack to the chops. “I’m saving myself. If you’re so lazy as to sit about like a leech, then to hell with you, but I’ll do what I please.”

His laughter burnt into my skin, it was so harsh and mocking. I glared at him darkly.

“O! Look at you, Darla–hundreds of years of terrorizin’ the world and the idea that the world could end tonight has you runnin’ for cover. You’re very funny.”

“You’re not,” said I, pushing him away from me and walking downstairs.

“Once you finish saving the world, bring me something to eat,” he called, still laughing that cruel, derisive laugh. “If you’re not too frozen, that is.”

I swept down the stairs as grandly as I could, feeling humiliated and sorely embarrassed. For Angelus was right–I was a demon. I wasn’t a heroine, rushing off to find a mystery man and rescue time from some injury or insult I could never understand. But still, I didn’t want to stop–especially not like this, and most certainly not in London. I hadn’t been to China nearly recently enough. I hadn’t killed William yet, nor seen The Yeomen of the Guard. Besides, who was this timekilling fool? How dare he?

“You’re a coward, Angelus!” I shouted suddenly, stirred by my thoughts. “A coward and a prissy old woman!”

I threw the front door open with great force, hoping I roused the neighborhood. I was through with Angelus’ caution and through with Angelus. I shouldn’t have spent so long a time with one vampire at all- -it was most unhealthy. It was human and craven and all of the foul, sickly things that humans were.

Behind me, the door sounded like a peal of thunder as I slammed it. Let the neighborhood try to complain–I’d break all their necks and not give their fallen corpses a second glance. The demon within me raged and I had no intentions of subtlety. I would find the time-hopping bastard and tear his throat out. Then I would find myself the nearest gypsy and tear her throat out if she didn’t fix what had gone wrong with the universe.

And last, I would find that dark-haired seer creature hanging about with Angelus and gut her like a fish for looking at me as she had. I would bathe in her blood and feast on her heart. Who was she to stare so? Who was she to have Angelus hover over her like an attentive lover dancing attendance? I would know who she was and what she had done to him before I killed her, or I didn’t know myself.

First, however, I would have to find this mysterious wicked man. I suspected that Drusilla had referred to the Ripper, but I wasn’t aware that I’d met him. Unfortunately, I had her word between myself and madness, and a line that thin must of course be pushed to its limits.

I closed my eyes delicately and tried to get the scent of blood upon the air. Vampires have always had the ability to do so, but I’d rarely used the power. It gave one away as inhuman and to hunt effectively, one must pass as human. Getting slobbery near a carcass would hardly keep that secret, but tonight–tonight was the last night I’d ever see if I weren’t careful and resourceful.

So I took a deep breath in and discovered, not to my surprise, that the world stank. I could scent animal blood everywhere–in fact, more than the usual, without any particular reason. Someone was doing a ritual.

I smiled. At least something had finally gone to my advantage. Perhaps I wouldn’t find this wicked man–Ripper or no–immediately, but the superstitious old woman who’d cut the throats of the chicken would help me–or she’d die. Of course, truth be told, she’d help me and then she’d die. But everyone dies–except for my kind, and even we can go when we get lax after too many centuries of living.

I sniffed the air again and followed the blood scent, vowing that if I ran into a bobbie on the beat, he’d quickly find himself in the worst situation of his life. But, much to my surprise, I found no one and nothing in my path, which made me quite suspicious. Someone–or something–was clearing my way. Still, I continued to follow the blood until I opened my eyes and looked down at the pavement. I discovered a trail of blood–small, dark spots that would barely be noticed tomorrow but would attract a vampire searching the streets of London in the middle of the night.

O, but wasn’t that interesting? I was being set up–or so my invisible new friends thought. I was coming willingly, no matter what sort of compulsion was set on that blood. The gypsies would find themselves caught in their own trap. Controlling a vampire isn’t easy.

I followed the trail of blood, feeling the power in the air increase along with the scent. Magyars, probably, or Bohemians–the sort of people who didn’t get along too well in London if they weren’t performing gypsies–and even then, they weren’t always wanted. In short, I wasn’t going to a respectable neighborhood.

The street I ended up on was even fouler and darker than the alleys of Whitechapel. I could hear the hungry wails of snot-nosed brats echoing through the walls. A lonely dog wandered the street, pausing every so often to howl and scratch himself as the beggars and drunks lay asleep or dead in the gutters.

Was this London or Hell? I wasn’t sure and it didn’t matter–I kept following the blood-track. The air was thick and sticky with the scent and I knew it was more than chicken blood–I could scent goat and a tiny bit of human blood to give the mixture power–most probably the gypsy’s own, from what I knew of the matter. The magic in the air was as thick as blood, but I didn’t pay much attention to its importuning. I would come without the compulsion laid upon me, for I didn’t want to be under any power but my own.

I stopped before the squalid tenement that belonged to whoever had called me to her, and without knowing exactly how I knew, I was certain that I had the right house. Though really, there was no great surprise- -a thousand bits of old folk magic protected the place–probably from the like of me. But I had an errand to run, and I wouldn’t be stopped by dried herbs and feathers hung strategically about the place.

I went to the paint-blistered door and knocked three times, loud, heavy knocks certain to be heard–and settled in to wait. It felt a long time–and perhaps it was, given the behavior of time around me recently. After a long while, the door creaked open and she was standing there, framed perfectly by the shadows behind her.

It wasn’t the dark-haired seer girl, whom I’d half-expected to see waiting for me. I wasn’t infallible–I was a vampire, not a psychic or clairvoyant. Instead, I found a gypsy woman waiting for me, looking most unsurprised that I darkened her doorstep.

“You are the vampire,” said the gypsy woman in a heavy accent. I found her to be fairly young–certainly no more than thirty–but she had ancient eyes, much like the rest of her kind. “And you have come at last.”

“Will you help me?” I asked, unwilling to reveal anything to the human without promises of aid.

“I will,” she said, her eyes glittering slightly. “I promised it the moment I set the charms in the air to draw you here. Do you know nothing of what you’re involved in, vampire?”

“My name is Darla,” said I, walking two steps closer to her threshold. “And I know this; time will stop tonight if something isn’t done to prevent it. Have you seen the other one, the seer?”

“She is not your concern, or mine,” the gypsy woman said, tossing her head like a proud colt. “You will come into my house at my invitation and under my power.”

“I could murder you and all you love in your beds,” I threatened, snarling a little. She shouldn’t forget that I was a predator and she merely a useful gypsy. Yet her face stayed completely calm and without cracking a smile or a frown, she reached into her bodice, pulled out a wooden cross, and thrust it toward my uncovered face.

“I could kill you first, I think,” said she. “Come in, vampire, but do not think yourself welcome.”

She led me into the house. I could smell protective herbs and charms on the air.

“Do we have much time?” I asked as we stumbled through her darkened house. It was cold with November air and I could hear half-a-dozen different bodies breathing in and out faintly. She hurried me past that temptation, pulling me from her house into the tiny, blood-drenched yard behind it.

“No, we have none at all,” said she grimly, shutting the door to her home behind us and muttering the curse that would keep me out of it–or so she believed.

I felt my skin shudder with cold suddenly, a sickening chill that flexed itself around my heart and invaded every iota of my being. I was cold and I was afraid. The woman looked at me and laughed.

“When even a vampire starts with fear,” she said in her heavy accent, pausing to shake her head. “This is a bad night, Darla Vampire.”

All of my braggadocio and mockery was nothing in this moment of weakness. I was as terrified as any child weeping in the dark. I prayed fervently–to what, I’ll never know–that this gypsy-woman might help me and everyone else. I prayed fervently as any man or priest alive– and I knew I was defeated utterly in that moment, and it hurt.

“Shall we start, then?” I said, nodding my head.

vii. sleepwalk

Fred looked like a nervous mouse trying to find a hole. I stared at her through pain-dulled eyes, wishing I could get some morphine. But then I’d be out for the rest of tonight and tonight was important.

“So you saw the past and the Angel of the past at the same time Angel was right next to you?” she said, pushing her glasses nervously up the bridge of her nose. “Wow. The question is whether or not what you experienced was a parallel dimension, the past of this dimension, or a delusion.”

“It’s not a delusion,” I said. “I wouldn’t be reacting like this if it were a delusion.”

Fred’s eyes narrowed cannily and she looked at me, tilting her head back and forth as if weighing my honesty. That was a little annoying.

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t,” she said slowly. “So it’s either a parallel dimension or the past. I think it may be the past we’re dealing with here.”

“No, really?” I asked, annoyed as hell. “Do you think me seeing Victorian Darla might have given us a clue there?”

Fred whimpered and Wesley gave me a reproachful look. I sighed. I was the one getting pumped full of chemicals that weren’t morphine. Wasn’t I suffering enough?

“Sorry,” I said casually. “So let’s say that I crossed into the past.”

“You didn’t cross into the past,” Fred said. “What happened is that something’s caused a temporal event–probably something that has to do with that Jack person–and a gateway’s opened between here and 1888 London. It probably opened tonight, as a matter of fact.”

“Why do you say that?” Wesley asked.

“Temporal gateways like this tend to destroy reality,” Fred said matter-of-factly. “Leave them open for more than a few days and kaplooey.”

I looked over at Angel and grimaced. There was no part of me that wanted to be kaplooey. Not even the cells that were telling me Angel was a bad, bad idea doomed to be its own special hell.

“How do we close it? What can we do about temporal pollution?” Wesley asked, sounding like he was ready to debate Kirk vs. Picard with her. Again. “How do we prevent someone from crossing into a different time?”

Fred wrinkled her nose at him. “We can’t stop temporal pollution. It’s a paradox. And if Angel saw his past self–”

“I didn’t see my past self. Cordelia saw my past self,” Angel said, arms folded across his chest.

“Well, if you two were that close and the universe didn’t fold in on itself and kill us all, I’d say that whatever temporal pollution that happened has already been part of our timeline and that the only way to close the gateway is to do what we’re going to do so that we can change the past.”

“Then we reverse the polarity of the neutron flow and we’re home free, right?” Gunn asked.

Fred looked at Gunn, her eyes huge and bewildered. She adjusted her glasses again and shook her head slightly.

“Neutrons don’t have polarity, silly,” she said. “What I’m concerned about is the nature of closing that portal. It’ll require the people who opened it and I don’t know who that is.”

“I’m going to venture a guess and say me,” I said. “I felt that thing open. It was like being dropped into a whole lot of nothing.”

Fred blinked. The little wheels were turning in her head clicketyclickety, and I felt like she was trying to divine something from my condition. Watching her got boring real quick, so I looked over at Angel.

He smiled at me. I smiled back and was delighted to see him get sort of surprised and embarrassed. When his eyes finally met mine again, they looked happy and a little, well, sexy.

“Oooooh!” Fred said, suddenly getting animated again. She looked around, probably for a convenient wall to write on. Wesley handed her a pad of paper and a pen. “Of course!”

She started scribbling frantically on the pad, turning pages almost at the speed of light. Everyone else looked at each other and shrugged.

“Fred?” Gunn said. “What’s so obvious that none of us got it?”

“Oh,” she said, stopping dead in her tracks. “I’m sorry. But this relates to the idea of transtemporal connection and aperturation within co-discrete temporal events and it’s sort of complicated and I had to write it down before I lost it completely.”

“Yeah,” Gunn replied, blinking. “We wouldn’t want that.”

I looked over at Angel and gave him another sly grin. He shook his head and before I started paying attention to Fred, I caught Wesley looking at us with a very nervous expression on his face. If we all survived tonight, I would be getting a stern talking-to later.

“So, can we get out of here?” I said. “Nighttime’s burning and we lose Angel at dawn.”

Wesley didn’t look pleased to hear that for some reason, but he nodded.

“Right then,” he said. “Let’s get to it.”

Twenty minutes later we were heading back to Norwalk–Gunn driving, Wesley nursing a scraped fist from our exciting escape, and Fred sitting between them, alternating between chatter and intense silent note-writing.

Angel was sitting next to me in the backseat of the car. His leg was brushing up against mine. If it were any other guy, his leg would be warm. But if he were any other guy, I wouldn’t have been kicking his foot with mine.

“I just don’t know how this works in practical terms,” Fred kept saying. “If we had laboratory equipment, we might be able to do something, but no one’s done this on real-world terms. It’s revolutionary.”

I felt weirdly calm, as compared to the last time I was in the car. It would be okay. We’d figure it out.

“How are you doing?” Angel murmured over Fred’s excited interjections.

“For someone who’s pumped full of muscle relaxants, I’m doing all right,” I said philosophically. “You?”

“Strangely enough, I’m fine,” he said. “I feel like it’s all going to work out and it’s sort of euphoric.”

I stomped on his foot. “Ouch!” Angel said. “Why’d you do that?”

“You euphoric is bad,” I said. “I don’t need you getting all perfecthappiness on me tonight.”

Angel shook his head and almost chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’ve still got guilt to spare.”

“Good,” I said. “Well, not good. But good. We need you on our side, Angel.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said, putting his hand on top of mine and rubbing it. I closed my hand and let him. I could give him the lecture tomorrow after I got mine from Wesley. Tonight, it was the present I was giving myself.

“We’re going to need the killer,” Fred said, ruining the moment. “He knows how he did it, and we’ll need him to know how to close it.”

“How are we going to find him?” Wes asked. “That’s not going to be easy.”

“Cordy doesn’t know?” Fred said in a surprised voice. “I thought she saw him in her vision and we’d follow the trail.”

“Nice try,” I said, “but no dice. I have no idea where our guy is.”

Fred made a little sound that was clearly disappointed in my seerish abilities. Well, tough. I couldn’t see where Angel was at any given moment, and I sure as hell didn’t know where our killer was hiding.

“Maybe he’ll be attracted to the portal,” Wesley said hopefully. “His ability to crack time like this–to the time of the original murders– suggests his connection to Jack the Ripper is real. If we go to the site and wait, he’s bound to turn up.”

“Yeah, and maybe he’ll go on his merry way until November ninth or until the universe blows up,” I said. “I don’t really want to sit in Norwalk waiting for Jack to show, Wesley.”

“Do you have a better suggestion, Cordy?” he said. I got mad, but Angel put his hand on my arm and shook his head. I sighed and sat back on the seat.

“We’re going to have to stick you in the trunk on the way home, you know,” I told him crossly. He shrugged.

“I’ve got a blanket in there,” he said. “Cordy, don’t worry. It’s going to be okay.”

I laid my head on his shoulder as though it were the most natural thing on earth. I could feel his muscle shift in surprise. After a minute of deciding, it relaxed, and I snuggled in.

“I know,” I said. “I don’t know how I know, but I think it’s going to be all right.”

He put his arm around me. He wasn’t warm. He wasn’t cold, either. He was just bulky and there and for once, I wasn’t thinking about the consequences. I rested there against him, looking at the sky. It seemed lighter. It had to be like, four thirty by now, but I felt like the sun was going to leap into the sky at any moment–and that was a weird, weird feeling. I’d never been afraid of sunrise before.

“We’re going to have to talk about this,” he said quietly so that the others–primarily Wes–couldn’t hear.

“I know,” I said. “But let’s not. Not tonight.”

He let it go and made sure his arm was comfortably draped around my waist. The rest of the car was silent. I couldn’t hear anything beside the motor as we sped toward Jack Junior, toward sunrise, toward the rest of my life.

“Can I turn on the radio?” Fred asked Gunn.

“It only gets AM,” he said. “But go ahead.”

Fred fiddled with the radio until she stopped on an oldies station. Through the flat tones and crackling static, we could hear the music wail a familiar tune.

“What’s it called?” I asked Angel.

“Hmm?” he said.

“The song. What’s it called?”

“Oh,” he said softly. “Sleepwalk, I think.”

“Oh,” I said. “Thanks.”

We kept driving, the dreamy, sad music playing as we headed for those yellowy lights and dreamless skies. I almost fell asleep, but every inch we got closer to that crack, the more I could feel it. Even though I still felt calm, I knew it was there, maybe waiting to swallow me up.

It could wait.

Not for long, though. It seemed like two seconds of listening to soft classics on the tinny AM radio before Gunn pulled the car over and I opened my eyes, still leaning against Angel. I could feel Wesley’s disapproving glare burning into my cheek.

“Let it go, Wes,” Angel said. “She’s tired and she’s been through a lot tonight. We can talk about it later.”

I looked over to see Wesley nodding in agreement. He looked like he was going to go home, take the phone off the hook, and tell us all to bugger off for a couple of days. I couldn’t blame him. I was going to go home and have Dennis make me a nice hot bath, complete with bubbles and aromatherapy candles.

“All right,” Wes said. “Well, then.”

“Yeah,” I said. We looked at each other and the awkward was hot and heavy.

“Right.”

The existential comedy probably would have gone on longer, but Gunn got out of the car and stretched his legs.

“I love the smell of industry in the morning,” he said wryly, offering a hand to Fred. “Come on, let’s get out of the car. Those three are gonna argue the rest of the night.”

Fred gave me a nasty, jealous look that totally belied the innocent crazy girl rep and took Gunn’s hand.

“That sounds like a good idea,” she said, pushing her glasses up again and sniffing.

I yawned and reluctantly pulled away from Angel. I was exhausted, but at least my muscles were working again.

“We should get weapons,” I said. “If this guy’s scary like Jack the Ripper, I think it would be good to be ready for him.”

“Good idea,” Wesley said. He opened his own door. I felt him ask us, without words, to step out of the car and please not act quite so touchy-feely. I needed to see if that meant if I was psychic or something sometime.

Angel and I got out of the car. It was weird, but for such a crazy night, we were going slow, like time was waiting for us or something. Sounds funny, but it felt true.

“Did you ever get the slime off that sword?” Angel asked as Wesley retrieved the keys from Gunn. “I really liked that one.”

“I’m working on it,” Wes replied prissily, slipping the key into the lock and letting the trunk spring open.

He had the element of surprise working for him.

Before Angel could go vamp or Wes could speak, he kicked Wes square in the stomach and jabbed the slime-covered sword right through Angel. I think I screamed. I can’t remember.

Angel fell. I remember that very clearly. For a minute, I thought he was dusted and my heart was in my throat. I looked, scared to death that was going to be my last look at Angel, but I remembered the blade was metal.

I looked back. He was two inches away from me, holding a long, slim knife. His eyes were cold and I could feel my skin crawling, trying to get away from him.

“Hello, darling,” he said, reaching out and putting one cold finger on my lips. “I think we have an appointment to keep.”

Chapter VIII
Darla and the Gypsy Parley; A Most Uncommon Event

“Give me your hand,” the gypsy woman ordered. Unused to obeying orders, I refused to put my hand out until she seized it roughly. “I will not help you if you don’t help me, Darla Vampire.”

“It’s Darla,” said I. “Please don’t call me Darla Vampire; it’s vulgar and I dislike it.”

The gypsy woman smiled a bitter smile; I was certain she’d had experience with vampires before, and she was used to our vagaries.

“You dislike it? But it is what you are,” she said. “I thought you liked who you were, Darla Vampire.”

“I do,” I said, unwilling to dispute this gypsy wench. “But nonetheless, don’t call me vampire.”

She tossed her head again and the next thing I knew, a glittering silver knife was in her other hand and she sliced my palm open, a deep cut that ached horribly. I attempted to pull my arm away, but she held it tight, an inhuman grip, and I watched as I dripped blood into the bowl I hadn’t known was waiting for it.

“I won’t, then,” she said as she released my hand from her grip. “Let us see what the spirits have in store.”

I watched in utter bemusement as she lifted the heavy bowl, threw some concoction into it and started chanting in Romany. I couldn’t comprehend a word, but I watched her, both curious and dismayed that I had sought her help. I realized that I hadn’t yet learned her name, and probably, she wouldn’t share it with me.

Finally, she set the bowl down. I supposed it would glow or explode or do something, but it sat there, remaining stubbornly mundane. I looked at my gypsy and then her bowl, deeply disappointed.

“That’s it?” said I, suddenly boiling up. “What foolishness is this? I shan’t be satisfied with this.”

“It is too late,” the gypsy said, still placid. “The spirits say nothing.”

I, whose patience had been sorely tried all evening, did not accept this explanation lightly. The gypsy found herself facing a toothy monster seeking blood.

“Then to hell with your spirits, and to hell with you!” said I, grown furious at last. I meant to pull her to me and snap her neck, but she held up her hand and I found myself rooted in place.

“Back, demon!” cried she. “You will not–you may not–attack one of the Romany in a sacred spot.”

“I will and I shall, as soon as you put that witch’s paw down,” said I, hissing and spitting. The woman shook her head, her hand still raised to keep me at bay.

“The spirits say nothing, but I may still be able to help you,” she said. “Give me a piece of your hair.”

“You’ve got my blood,” I said, leery of this latest development. “What would you want with my hair? I shan’t put myself in your power unless you explain.”

“The spirits told me to bring you here,” said the gypsy. “I will find out why.”

“How about if I told you it was to help me stop a very wicked man from stopping time?” asked I. The gypsy made the sign to ward off the evil eye and stepped back.

“Are you mad?”

“No, not at all,” I said. “But you must come with me.”

“What! I would be left unprotected, and my little ones–” her voice trailed off and she shook her head vehemently. “No. I can’t.”

“Come with me,” I said, looking at her solemnly. “There isn’t any time to argue if you’re right.”

I held out my hand, willing her to take it. She looked at the cut on my palm that had almost completely healed itself. Her eyes widened.

“Promise me that I’ll be safe in your keeping,” said she implacably.

“I won’t harm you,” I said. “I’ll swear to that.”

She took my hand heartily and the sound of our palms smacking together was a strange and discomfiting thing. I let go of her hand hastily.

“Then we go,” said she, a strange new light coming into her eyes. “But the spirits say it’s too late.”

“To hell with your spirits,” I said, grasping her arm firmly. “I’ve never let anyone boss me about before and I don’t intend to let your spirits be the first.”

She looked stunned at this blasphemy but acquiesced quietly enough and we were off, tearing through the dark streets of London. It was only three hours until dawn and I didn’t particularly want to preserve the world only to find myself at risk of becoming a pile of dust at the corner of Southampton Street.

Every so often on our way back, however, the gypsy would compel me to stop so that she could consult with some spirit or other–complete nonsense, of course, but I was certain enough I would need the woman’s help that I indulged her whims. Of course, this meant it took nearly an hour to reach the location of the rift, but there was little else I could do.

The streetcorner was bare, the street-paving slick with a light rain from earlier in the evening, and the gaslight giving a sickly greenish glow to the whole proceedings. My gypsy woman took one look at the unremarkable corner and fell to her knees, crossing herself fervently.

“Stand up,” I said unsympathetically. She shook her head emphatically and I was obliged to haul her to her feet with my bare hands. “Call your spirits and figure out a way to fix it. Or I shall break my promise and hurt you–see if I don’t.”

The gypsy witch trembled as she gazed at the ordinary street corner. She reached into her coat-pocket and drew out a small phial of glowing liquid, hands trembling violently. I felt slightly bored at her displays–certainly I knew that whatever existed on the corner of Southampton Street was overwhelming. I’d nearly died of the headache, hadn’t I?

“Do hurry up,” said I, feeling that I was being cheated in the bargain. The gypsy looked at me fearfully and began muttering again in Romany or Hungarian or whatever barbarian tongue she spoke. The phial began to glow even more brilliantly, like a little star and at the moment when her voice was loudest, she threw the phial with all her might into the street, where it shattered noisily. The vapors that rose were much like the fog, except they were glowing red and full of silver and gold sparkles.

The gypsy woman wailed as the silver and gold sparkles began to sizzle out, rather like burnt-out fireworks. She almost fell to her knees again, but I reached out to prevent that happening.

“It is a bad omen,” she whispered, clasping my arm and trembling as she watched the cloud and its sparkles fade. “The spirits–”

“Tell you nothing?”

She shook her head violently. Her face had gone chalk-white.

“No, they tell me plenty,” said she, a change coming over her previously calm face. Despair now reigned supreme in its lines and I wondered what she had seen in the clouds and sparkle.

“What do they tell you?”

“Death,” said she in sorrowful tones. “Two nights ago, or truly, three, there was a death here that should not have been. And now we can do nothing to stop the tragedy.”

She looked at me, rather alarmed; she knew that I would not like to hear this and she immediately began reaching for her cross.

“So we’ll die?” asked I. “Is that what your ridiculous spirits tell you?”

“Time is against us. That fatal night, two paths that ought not to have crossed did,” said she, sounding like one of the hoary old fortunetellers that haunted Covent Gardens along with the unfortunates. “I think that perhaps we’re doomed.”

The last tatters of the cloud seemed to fade away, but among them, one tiny sparkle continued to burn faintly, like a fairy-light of some sort. I imagined Angelus seeing that fairy-light and falling to his knees, begging the creature not to spoil the butter or some other such irrational nonsense.

“When will that damn thing fade?” I asked, not caring that it wasn’t proper to curse in the public street like this.

The gypsy’s eyes opened and she saw the light. She freed herself from my grasp and ran to the glittering light, her tread as light as an angel’s. I watched her gather the little thing into her hand and hold it to her ear. She stood stock-still for a long time, listening. I wondered if this was the beginning of the end of time until after an eon of waiting, the gypsy opened her hand. The little spark was gone.

“Well?” said I, feeling quite disgruntled that I’d been forced to witness such a lengthy spectacle but get no news of the event. “Are we still doomed?”

“Perhaps,” said she. “But perhaps not.”

The comment was so mysterious that it drove me to rash action. I rushed into the street and lifted the woman by her throat, causing her to sputter and gag before she managed to cough some incantation out.

I found myself suddenly bathed in searing agony–as I looked down at my hands, I found them covered in boils–or perhaps burn blisters. I dropped the woman and sank to my knees, howling in pain.

“You swore you wouldn’t harm me,” she said in a self-righteous cackle. “Now see what happens.”

To my horror and shock, the boils began to break–and except for the headache I’d had earlier this evening, I had never felt more pain as the sores cracked and bled. Sunk in pain and sorrow, I stared at the gypsy who stood above me with the air of gloating triumph and wished that I’d never stirred a step from my home.

“I see one dead gypsy,” said Angelus behind her, his presence suddenly welcome. “How about you, Darla?”

The smile faded from the gypsy’s face to be replaced by an air of terror as Angelus grasped the woman about the waist, pulling him against her and hissing in most beastly fashion. Despite the agony that I could feel in every bone and ligament of my body, I was quite pleased to see that her fear quite exceeded any prior claims she had to stoicism in the face of gruesome torture and death by vampires.

“No!” said she in hurried gasps. “You mustn’t–not yet. I’ll help you!”

Angelus laughed, his merry tones warming my heart immensely. No wonder he’d been cross. I had been acting like a fool–consorting with pathetic gypsies in an attempt to do what? Save a million million others like her? O, I had been in my cups tonight–listening to Drusilla and rushing about, behaving like a silly girl.

“What help do I need from a ragged thing like you?” I said scornfully, reflecting that it would be a mercy to kill her now. There would be less pain that if she starved in that wretched rookery–so Angelus most certainly needed to torture her first. Besides, I would be repaid for the hideous lesions that pocked my face.

“I can charm the boils from you,” she said, her breath coming fast and her heartbeat racing like a greyhound’s. “Please, please.”

I vowed to myself that I would drink her blood like wine before the end of the night–but I most certainly wished to be rid of the boils. I gave Angelus a look, and he loosened his grasp upon the witch only with great reluctance.

“Do it, then, or he’ll make you wish yourself dead,” I said, smiling as wickedly as I might with boils covering my body over. They would heal in a few days, but I preferred not to be bothered by them even for another minute–besides, Angelus would have been disinclined to sport if I remained pock-marked.

The gypsy sobbed, her witchery no safety for her now. I leered at her cheerfully and Angelus remained less than a pace away from her. She closed her eyes and with tears leaving salty traces on her cheeks, began to chant a counter-charm to heal me. I could feel the sores dry up and melt away as rapidly as they’d come.

“Do we kill her now, love?” asked Angel, his timing hideous as usual. The gypsy woman wailed, fumbling for her cross.

“No, love,” said I, smiling benevolently at the weeping woman. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”

It was as though the universe heard my insolent boast and decided to cast it into our teeth. Behind Angelus and our gypsy, the street corner split into a brilliant display of white light that screamed like a train wreck. Everyone was obliged to cover their ears as they turned about to stare–and stare we did, awestruck at the spectacle that unfolded before us like a carnival attraction.

“What is this?” I heard Angelus shout over the din, but I could pay no attention to his confusion. I stepped forward, suddenly certain that this was the event that the gypsy had been warned of, the event that might or might not prevent the end of time as we knew it.

As quickly as the display began, it ended, leaving us with the silence and dark–and a figure of medium height with carroty moustache. My eyes widened in disbelief. I recognized him from my earlier revels–but that was impossible, wasn’t it?

“O, o, I see that the cavalry’s arrived and all!” cried the figure to Angelus, who was immediately confused. “But you can’t sacrifice yourself this time, man. You’ve got to wait.”

I seethed at the implications of the Ripper’s statement. Angelus would sacrifice himself–but not here. Would he desert me for that girl in that strange, alien city? Would he sacrifice himself for her and not me?

“What nonsense are you blatherin’ on about?” said Angelus. “Darla, love, I really want to kill this one.”

I stood in the middle of the street, considering Angelus’ offer. Perhaps it would be the end of time if I let Angelus kill him–but would I want to live in a time where Angelus would desert me for a mewling girl? My wicked, heartless heart felt broken at the very prospect and I decided I could not bear it.

“Kill him,” said I. “Snap his neck. I’ll take the gypsy home, and after you’ve finished with this one, come home and O, I’ll repay you for all the torment I’ve given you this evening.”

The gypsy wailed brokenly as Angelus shoved her into my waiting arms. I clasped her about the waist and dragged her away as she kicked and screamed at me in English, Romany, and other tongues I didn’t speak. I paid no attention. I kept looking toward my lover and his prey– watching as Angelus circled him, his lust for blood evident in each move. I prayed quietly that Angelus would kill him quickly and if time stopped, that there would be no delay–not even enough time for the body to fall on the paving.

“Kill him,” I whispered, my prayer gaining voice. “Kill him.”

There was a moment of silence. Angelus feinted left, but just as the Ripper made to run, he pounced and dealt the man a stunning blow that left him dazed and bedazzled upon the ground. My heart should have been pounding in my chest (if my heart beat), but I found to my surprise that it wasn’t. Angelus would betray me for another woman. I couldn’t bear it. I would willingly abandon the universe and all of the pleasure I’d taken from it to stop that possibility.

And still the universe continued to move.

ix. climax

He had dark hair and he wasn’t very tall–about five-seven, I decided silently, trying to describe my probable killer to the policeman in my head. Light moustache, intelligent eyes–but what color? Darkish. Hazel, maybe? Brown? But intelligent and with no feeling whatsoever in them. He could have been reading the classifieds for all the emotion he showed.

“You, you, you,” he said softly, still pressing his finger into my lips. “Every dream on every night is about you. Every half-remembered thought that slips into my head unwanted is you. Who are you? Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I tried to say through the finger, but he pushed harder.

“Don’t speak,” he said, shaking his head. “Not you. You can change the world with your voice. And that’s not allowed.”

I wanted to scream or cry or possibly faint. Given that I was six inches from the world champion of misogynist killers, that would have been a really bad idea. I stared into his eyes instead, trying to find something in them.

“Let her go,” Angel said, practically on cue. He ignored Angel and continued staring at me, his finger feeling like a lead weight on my mouth.

“Do you think I’ll let you go because you make your faithful servants plead for you?” he asked me. “You with your wicked powers? I see you smiling like a benevolent god before I see the ones I have to get rid of, you know. You mark them. You mark me. And I’m going to mark you.”

He took the knife and pressed the blade against my cheek. It should have been colder than it was.

I broke a little. I whimpered. He smiled a sharkish sort of grin.

“You afraid?” he asked in a caressing whisper, pushing the knife a little harder into my cheek. I realized that both of his hands were on my face and that he’d just asked the sort of idiot question every supervillain asks just before he gets his ass kicked.

I kneed him in the groin and jumped back as fast as I could. While I got nicked in the temple for my trouble, I still managed to be free and standing next to Wesley and Angel when Mr. Jack Junior got back on his feet, holding his knife menacingly.

“Bitch,” he hissed, slashing his knife through the air. Angel, despite the nasty chest wound, was standing and holding the slime-sword like he meant to use it with extreme prejudice. “I’m going to cut you into little pieces, you fucking slut.”

“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” Wesley and Angel said in unison.

“Call off your boys if you want me to do anything,” he said, looking at both of them with a nasty, pitying expression. “You can’t let them kill me until I close that little hole.”

He wasn’t wrong. There was a big sucking chest wound in the fabric of space/time and the psychotic was the only one we knew of who could fix it.

“Maybe not,” I called. “But I don’t call anything off right now. We sort of have a conflict of interest, with you wanting me dead and all.”

“Oh, perhaps that could be worked around,” he said. “Maybe I could just take those big beautiful seer-harpy eyes of yours and we could call it even.”

“Maybe,” I said, feeling my stomach turn. “They’d bring you a small fortune on the black market, you know.”

“What are you doing?” Wesley asked. “He could run right now if you’re not careful. And you’re certainly not letting him cut out your eyes.”

“We have to get him to work with us,” I murmured, trying to prevent Jack from hearing us. “If we don’t, we’re in a lot of trouble.”

Angel grunted.

“What are you telling them, poppet?” Jack called, watching me clinically, like he was imagining how I’d look without my lungs. “Are you telling him the way to open me up like a treasure box?”

“I’m not the one into opening people up,” I replied. “It seems to me you’re getting an awful lot out of this bargain. My people could kill you where you stand, you know. I don’t know if you should get both eyes.”

The Ripper–Jack Junior–Scary Psycho Time Man–tilted his head and laughed.

“Are you trying to dicker with me?” he asked. “Oh that’s very very funny, Highness. You playing along before you have your bloodthirsty eunuchs destroy me, is that the game? I don’t have to play, you know. I can just shove my knife into my chest and be done with you.”

This was not a promising new development. And where the hell were Fred and Gunn? They had to have noticed that we hadn’t joined them in the alley yet. We needed a little extra firepower in case Jack had some superhuman evil tricks we didn’t know about.

“But you’d rather have mine, wouldn’t you?” I asked, taking a step forward. “And how do you know I’d let you do it? I choose your victims, don’t I? What if I say you can’t?”

Jack Junior’s smile grew wider and he took a step toward me, holding his knife professionally. Usually, I would have taken the opportunity to run away and let the guys handle it, but he was only listening to me. I had to be the one in charge.

“But I can see it in your eyes,” he said. “You don’t like me. You want me to close up your hole and then go away without any satisfaction. If I do what you want, you don’t care what happens to me next. You’d give me away to these horrible toys of yours, wouldn’t you?”

I took a slow, controlled breath. I was getting into his head, slowly but surely. Not that I wanted to be there, but I had to do what was necessary.

“That’s what you’d do to me,” I said, taking another step toward him. “You’d break my heart. You’d rip my heart out and let the blood run down your hands if you could.”

His breathing was coming faster and louder. I could hear it. I could almost taste his sudden rush of desire. He took another step toward me.

“Let me have it,” he said. “I promise I’ll treat it better than anyone. But give it to me. I want your heart.”

Sick, sick, sick. Of course, I had a crush on someone whose evil incarnation thought leaving dead women in other people’s beds was a hoot. Maybe there was something about me that did it for necrophiliacs.

I did NOT want to think about it.

“I can’t trust you,” I said, moving another step closer. “You’d run away into the past and break your promise. Besides, who’s to say you’re not just playing with me?”

“Who’s to say you’re not just playing with me?” he replied. I saw him lick his lips and it took everything left in me not to run and hide. But I had to do this. I had to. Nobody else was going to get the answer out of him any other way.

“I’ll give you a taste,” I said, keeping the nausea and fear out of my voice. “Give me your knife and I’ll give you a taste.”

He looked at me, unable to tell if I was joking. He walked up within three steps of me and I kept my calm, knowing that I could be dead in seconds if he wanted.

“Give me the knife,” I said again. He took a shuddery breath in and handed me the knife. I almost closed my eyes, but I had to do this without fear. I took the knife and held out my arm.

“Cordelia,” I heard Angel say, but he was far, far away and he couldn’t help me.

Jack watched me as I took the point of the very, very sharp knife and pressed it against the inside of my left forearm. I remembered what someone had once told me about suicide: cut down, not across. That way, you have a better chance of opening a longer length of vein–the blood drains out faster and you die quicker.

I sliced across the middle of my arm diagonally, leaving a thin red line behind me. Jack moaned.

So did Angel.

I held the arm in question out awkwardly, watching as the line thickened. Jack stared at it for a long, long time, finally reaching out and running his finger across the blood. I did close my eyes for a second as he licked it off.

“Close the gap,” I said. “I’ve kept my end, you do yours. Then we negotiate.”

He looked up at me, his eyes shining.

“One more taste,” he said. “You’ve got lots of blood left.”

Part of me wanted to bite my lip, shove my arm in his face and ensure his assistance. Part of me wanted to scream and shove his knife into his heart. The rest of me couldn’t move.

“No,” I whispered. He laughed.

“Are you really going to stop me? You gave me the first taste. Do you think I’d be satisfied with just one taste?” he asked, reaching out for my arm. “I want to drink your heart’s blood. I want to feast on your terror as I slit your throat and pull out your intestines.”

He wasn’t expecting me to cut him with his own knife. Three seconds later, he was clutching his arm, glowering at me.

“The deal’s off, bitch,” he said. “Give me back my knife.”

“Come over here and take it,” I said, ready to draw more blood if I had to. Jack Junior shook his head and attacked.

I don’t remember much of the next ninety seconds, but it went something like this in my head:

shitshitohmygodhe’sfastfastfastdodgehelp help
help
dodge left
ohgodhelpmehe’sfast
i’mnotgoingto
oh
god
god
angelwhereareyou?

Then he was on top of me.

But not, and this is the significant part, not holding the knife. In fact, he was bleeding more than I was. I was bruised all to hell and he was on top of me, but I had that knife held tight in my right hand.

“Give it back, bitch,” he hissed into my ear. “Give me back my knife.”

“No,” I said.

“Give it back,” he repeated.

“No!” I said again, louder this time. This was ridiculous. He wasn’t that big and I had a knife. So I did the thing that made sense.

I stabbed him in the stomach. Jack howled and leapt off me, covering me with serious icky fluids. I jumped up, too, feeling very cold and definitely wondering about the knife I was holding. He had tried very, very hard to take it from me. I still had it.

“This is what you used,” I said, waving the knife toward him. “You used this damn thing to cut the hole. Why did you do it? Why did you need to?”

Jack was trying to keep his intestines in his body. But Angel had suddenly realized that it wasn’t necessary to let the two of us continue our bloodsport and masochism minuet and he sprang into action like he was Chow Yun Fat.

“Tell the lady what she wants,” Angel growled, about ten seconds after he’d totally incapacitated Jack. “How does she use that knife?”

“I–”

Angel choked him a little. For some reason I can’t explain, the sight cheered me up a lot.

“I’ll ask again. How does Cordelia use the knife?”

Jack choked out something incomprehensible. Angel did something with his intestines that made my stomach turn, but somehow made Jack’s vocal cords work again.

“I–I just really willed it to work,” he said in gasps. “I wanted to see where the original guy was–like, what he did. I was obsessed with Jack the Ripper since I was like, ten.”

I looked at the knife very carefully as Angel pushed a few more answers out of our copycat. It looked like a regular knife at first glance but I stared at it, examining the thing from all angles until I noticed that the metallic sheen wasn’t exactly metallic. Actually, it was more like it was glowing–not exactly glowing, but giving off its own particular form of reflection.

“Where did you find this?” I asked, turning it over and over. “Didn’t you think that maybe it was a bad idea to use a knife to cut holes in time?”

Another Angel-induced grunt. I really did enjoy the sound of them.

“I found it on the ground,” he said. “What do you think you’re going to do with it, you fuckin’ bitch? Save the world? That thing has its own fucking agenda, you stupid, stupid bitch.”

“Does the original Ripper have a knife like this?” I asked, squeezing the knife handle tighter.

“Fuck if I know. I never met the guy. I tried to find him, too. I wanted to meet the guy who changed my life forever,” he said, sounding nauseous. I did NOT want to know what Angel had done to his guts. “So what are you going to do?”

“She’s going to heal you,” Angel said in a low voice. “Then she’s going to throw you through that portal that you’ve got waiting around the corner. And when it’s all over, you’re going to wish she’d gotten you in the heart with the knife.

I don’t think either Jack Junior or I was expecting that.

“What?” I said.

“Cordelia, take the knife and rip the flesh the opposite way,” Angel said calmly. “I think this is some sort of psychic event, so you really have to will that flesh to heal. Just reverse the cut you did earlier.”

“Okay,” I said, taking the knife and putting it against the end of the knife cut. I imagined the blood and guts doing a rewind and slowly pulled the knife backward.

I then almost dropped the knife when the blood and guts rewound themselves into Jack Junior.

“What the hell!” I screamed. “Angel! How did you–what the hell just happened here?”

“I remember what happened,” he said. “We thought we’d gotten the real Ripper, you know? But instead we got an impostor.”

He pulled himself and the wannabe Jack to their feet. Never mind that I was still totally confused. Angel seemed to know what was going on and that was fine by me.

“Screwing with time is a really bad idea,” he told Jack almost conversationally, motioning me to follow along. “It always backfires. I couldn’t figure it out at first. I remembered the night I got Saucy Jacky–except there was that unfortunate who was cut into pieces afterward. Never could figure it out. Now I have.”

We marched to the original cut where Fred and Gunn were waiting–sort of. The hole had gotten bigger since we’d last been there and there were all sorts of feedback and visuals. It was like looking at LA and Victorian London superimposed on each other like two transparencies– that’s what we were dealing with.

“Find the corner of the cut,” Angel told our killer. “Now.”

I caught Gunn’s eye when his part of reality flickered in. He looked extremely unhappy. We would have to make it up to both of them later, but as for right now–

“It’s right here,” Junior said. “There’s a time discrepancy I never figured out. It’s two days ahead.”

I took the knife and set it against the edge of the cut. I could feel the raggedness of it, the way it was growing the way any rip grows. It hurt. I was going to have another monster headache before the universe was back to normal.

I pulled along the rent, feeling the resistance.

“Cordy?” Angel asked as I tried to knit a tiny, tiny part of the universe back together with little more than a magic knife and my desire that space/time not fall apart.

“This is much, much more difficult than it looks,” I growled. “I don’t know if I can–”

I tugged harder. The hole shrank a little. I took a deep breath and the tear reopened again. I almost sobbed.

“Not so easy, is it, poppet?” Jack Junior asked. “Tryin’ to rebuild with a magic knife and a little bit of borrowed power. Just like a woman.”

“Okay,” Angel said. “I don’t know who you are or what this will do to the future, but I’ve had it with you. I hope that it takes you as long to die as I remember.”

With that, Angel hurled Jack Junior through the hole in the universe to where neither of us could see him anymore. Then he knelt next to me where I was struggling with that damn knife and getting tired fast.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, tugging and tugging. The universe did not want to be closed up. Damn perverse space/time.

“I know you can,” he said. “I can remember the burst of white light and chewing that creep up into rancid little pieces. I also know the universe didn’t end that morning. You’ve already done this, Cordy. Take a deep breath, close your eyes–”

I looked over toward Fred and Gunn. After a little flash of seeing them before I got another good eyeful of London fog, I noticed something else.

Sunrise. It hadn’t happened yet, but there was a smudge that suggested that the sun was about ready to make an appearance into the drama that was my life.

I had to do this now.

“Help me,” I said. “Angel, you have to help me.”

“How?” he asked.

“Put your arms around me and hold tight, okay?” I said, holding steady. “I just need to feel you with me.”

He wrapped his arms around my waist. I started to pull. It felt like it was taking forever. Maybe it was. Things around the borders of any sort of giant wound in reality tend to be strange. After spending all of my life on a Hellmouth, I should know that.

We finally pulled the last parts of the wound together, sweat rolling down my face and back and any part of my body that sweated. I was going to throw up as soon as I was sure the puke wouldn’t land in a London alley in 1888. Then I was going to take Angel home and–

“Cordelia,” he said softly.

When you’ve just saved the world, the last thing you want to see is the morning sun shining around you. At least, not when the person holding you is highly combustible and you’re a good solid run from the car.

“Run now?” I said.

I started to smell the smoke. Puke and romance would have to wait.

“Good plan.”

Chapter X
Darla Takes the Long View of Revenge; Time Is Set Aright–Perhaps

That moment of renunciation of my undead life and all of its attendant pleasures failed to last very long, and as the gradual comprehension of the consequences of allowing Angelus to murder the dark-haired man who had stepped through the gash between times resounded within me, the conviction that I must prevent it grew as well. I sprang toward the fallen man and my Angelus, who looked pleased that he’d finally committed a brutality again.

“What ails you now?” asked he when he saw me drawing onto the scene. “You’re to take the gypsy to the house–no complaints from you now, Darla, I’ve heard all I’ll hear tonight.”

“If we kill him–”

Angelus shook his head forebodingly. I could no more move him than a mountain–but still I tried, certain that if I strove passionately, I could preserve time–for how could that girl and that future exist if I did not succeed?

“If we kill him, we’ll have one less vermin crawling about in London,” Angelus said, dealing a sharp kick to the fallen man. “Isn’t that right, lad?”

My desperation reached a feverish height, so certain was I that the man before us was the key to saving myself and my lover.

“He’s Jack the Ripper!” I cried in tones of desperation and woe. “If you kill him, you shall–”

A wolfish look found itself affixed to Angelus’ handsome features. He lifted the man to his feet and dusted him off slowly.

“You, friend?” said he, looking at the blood upon the man’s shirt, the expression on his face, and the desperation upon mine–not necessarily in that order–and laughed. “Is the lady daft or is she telling me the truth?”

“She’s telling the truth,” Jack said, his hands lifted in desperate supplication. “You believe her, don’t you? You won’t kill me, will you?”

“Oh, lad, I won’t kill you,” said Angelus, the hungry look upon his face altering into a rakish grin. He then proceeded to go demon, his fangs gleaming in the suddenly lessening fog. “I’ll torture you and make you scream like a virgin on her wedding night. I’ll make you hope you die. But I won’t kill you. I wouldn’t kill such a promising student, now would I, Darla?”

The pathetic look on Jack’s face indicated that he believed Angelus’ grandiose claptrap. I knew my lover better than that. Angelus would give Jack a death worthy of the most notorious human killer to cross Angelus’ path, but no more than that. Nevertheless, I played along with the grotesque charade, formulating my own plan.

“Not you, my darling boy,” I said in honeyed tones. Angelus eyed me most suspiciously, but the innocent expression on my visage was apparently enough to allay his fears. Instead, with some graceful ease, he clapped his arm about Jack’s shoulder and marched him toward the house. I was left to stand alone in the street, looking for either the gypsy woman–who had wisely taken the opportunity to flee–or that damned seer girl from the future. For a moment, I found myself in turmoil, furious that my tormentors had escaped me.

Clearer thinking, however, triumphed–I would live forever, after all, and had far more time than a mere mortal to consider revenge–and I set out toward the house, revising and reconsidering my original plan. After Angelus finished finding new ways to experiment upon deviant flesh, I would take our houseguest to a secret corner and–upon exacting a strict promise–turn him.

I would be avenged for this night if it took a hundred years or even longer. There was no doubt my rage was thoroughly justifiable–hell, they say, hath no fury like a woman scorned–and an otherwise dreadful night would gain some redemption through this act.

I strode through the darkened streets, feeling my spirits lift and bring strength to my step–had there ever been a neater way to resolve so many conflicts?–and I had almost reached our house when I caught a strange sight from the corner of my eye. To be truthful, I wasn’t sure if I espied a true sight or merely another vision, but nonetheless, I was intrigued enough to pause and watch.

It was the gypsy woman, her face impossible to make out in the darkness, and she was talking to another woman–one wearing a rather sportive outfit, as though she were dressed for bicycling or riding. The woman’s face was hidden from my eyes by the nearest gaslamp, but I could hear the low tone of her voice.

“The real Jack?” said she in such weary timbre that I was amazed that she stood. “Where is he?”

“Whitechapel,” the gypsy, taking pains to look about for the watch, murmured. “He’ll do what must be done. And you, miss?”

“I’ll do the same,” said she. “They live in that house?”

“Yes, miss,” said the gypsy wench. “God bless you, child.”

The laughter that spilled from the woman’s lips was acid and gall; I still could get no clear sight of her and before I could a raucous bellow came from the inside of the house. O! I would miss all of the show if I weren’t quick about getting in.

I thundered up the stairs to find myself in the midst of a Byzantine and clearly enjoyable set of tortures. Angelus had the man prostrate upon our bed, the mark of the whip clearly visible across his back– besides which, a basin sat beside the bed and a strange dark liquid half-filled it.

“Is he dead yet?” asked I, forcing a modicum of boredom and feigned disinterest in the whole thing. Angelus laughed.

“Girl, you’ve given me a fine gift with this one,” said he. “Until I’d tasted his blood on my tongue, I hadn’t realized how sour my disposition had been. But this blood–”

Angelus’ tongue darted across his lips lasciviously, as though they were covered with a most dainty delicacy that he couldn’t bear to waste a single crumb of–though good blood does have that quality, truly–and I found myself smiling despite my desperate mission.

“Give us a kiss,” said I lustily. Angelus was quick to comply and I savored the contact, my heart rising. We had plenty of time yet as long as the Ripper lived–

It seemed only a twinkling before Angelus was snoring away on the bed, and I discovered myself creeping downstairs to the basement where the near-corpse rested until we cast it away safely. It had been too close to sunrise to discard him in the harbor–an action I had striven for quite actively–though I had encouraged the flourishing of Angelus’ bloodlust for many a reason. If I raised this Jack and he swore himself to vengeance, he would have a personal reason to kill Angelus when the time came.

“Wake up, darling,” said I. “Mother’s come to take all the pain away if you promise her something.”

I knelt beside him, my hopes of being avenged pulsing through my veins as I rolled Jack–who was perhaps, not actually Jack after all, if that gypsy woman and her mysterious friend were to be believed–onto his back, marvelling at Angelus’ handiwork.

“Mother?” he whispered dryly. “You don’t look much like her.”

“Shh,” said I, brushing his lips with my fingers. “Make me a promise and I’ll be your mother in a way you can’t imagine.”

“I promise,” said he, the faint glimmer in his eyes dull and sickly.

“You promise? I could be forcing you to promise to kill.”

“I promise,” he said with an air of finality, one that made my spirit rise in delight. “I’ll kill whom you wish me to kill, I’ll do what you’ll have me do. Just let me live.”

My lips curved upwards in a smile as I slashed my left wrist with my sharp talon of a thumbnail and gave over my arm to the dying thing before me, tingling with the prospect of revenge.

For a moment, I was certain it was too late, that the spark of life was too faint to carry him through–but then, my fledgling-to-be grasped my arm and began to suck the blood–ah! the pain was almost unbearable, so vigorous was his mouth’s grip. I allowed him to feed, feeling almost faint with the sensation, though I maintained enough presence of mind to pull my arm away when I felt he’d taken enough and watch for the signs of his rebirth.

His lips were red with my blood as I cradled my wrist against my chest, done being the vessel of his need. He had made a promise and I would know if he’d keep it or if I would stake him now.

“Do you remember where you are?” I asked. “And what you’ve promised?”

I waited impatiently for his eyes to open and for his spoken confirmation of his earlier oath. He would obey me or he would die– there was no other alternative. I was soon satisfied, as his eyes opened cautiously to gaze upon this new situation he found himself in. Still unsatisfied, I had to ask the question again.

“Do you remember your promise?”

“Who do you want me to kill?” asked he, Jack, perhaps the former Ripper, his voice a ghastly rattle. He was quite cold now, and his visage was pale and apart from the blood about his mouth, quite colorless. It was certainly an agreeable sight for me.

“You’ve met them both,” said I. “The one who killed you; he will betray me in the future for a dark-haired slip of a girl–”

His eyes blazed with a sudden passion that I could not penetrate. Within me, a strange quaver was born and I wondered that perhaps my avenging would have consequences not of my choosing. But, o, who could think of that? This would be a fine vampire; one who would wreak havoc on the land if he didn’t get himself killed within a week or a month or a year.

“I know them,” said he in dark tones. “The girl. You want me to murder the girl?”

“Slowly and bloodily,” I said, a flutter of excitement animating me. “Though you may have to wait–for I suspect, o, I more than suspect– that the girl is not from here.”

A smile so cold as to freeze hell crossed my new minion’s face. From the expression, I knew that he had a reason to hate that dark-haired girl that I did not know and would never know. Indeed, I was certain I’d never see this one again–why would I? Angelus had promised me that we’d flee London the week after this one–and that he would survive the week, the month–perhaps even a century.

“I can wait,” said he, reaching out tenderly to touch my face. “Mother.”

“Never mind that sentimental nonsense,” said I, my practical self continuing to function even though the flame of revenge burnt proudly within my unbeating heart. “Go. Find yourself a deep hole to hide in– for if Angelus finds you, you’ll be dead for good. Go and wait.”

He rose, a flame of death and pain that seared me delightfully, and blew me a final kiss.

“Bon chance,” said he. “May we never meet again until that girl lies dead at your feet with Angelus’ faithless ashes blowing over her lifeless corpse.”

Indeed, it was a grisly salutation, but one I warmed to as easily as the sight of a fresh young virgin’s blood. I smiled at my protg, my progeny, certain of my victory–and was cruelly betrayed in all my hopes, for behind him, eyes burnt holes in her head, was the seer girl, a wasted shell of the thing I had glimpsed before.

“Already done,” was all she said, her lips dry and cracked. A moment later and my hopes of revenges died into a puff of sodden ash. I stared at her, my ire burning yet–until I stared into her eyes. The unending pain that glowed back from them was enough to quench that fire forever.

“Who are you?” asked I, taken aback by the hollowed pain that emanated from the human girl that had so vexed me. “What are you?”

“It’s not important,” said she. “What’s important is that everything’s been fixed. Give my love to Angelus.”

“Go to hell,” said I. “You’re only mortal. You can’t do a thing to me.”

I bared my teeth–but quicker than a flash, the edge of a knife lay against my throat and I realized I was quite overpowered by this trifle of a girl. At first I was enraged–this thing that would cause Angelus to betray me, this–and with a gasp, I realized that the woman before me was a vampire.

“I would kill you, but I can’t. Not yet,” said she. “But remember this- -or don’t–you won’t, anyhow–when you die, whatever version of me survives will kill you.”

A strange emotion flitted through her eyes, something that looked like pain or perhaps truly, Pyrrhic victory–and again, a part of me was touched, though not in a human way. I feared this woman, who only looked like the girl from earlier in the evening in form, not in anything else.

“I’m stronger than you,” said I in a fit of contradiction. “I could kill you.”

“I’m already dead,” she replied, her face stalwart in its strangeness. “The world I came from doesn’t exist anymore–or if it does, I’ll never get back. You can kill me. It won’t matter.”

She looked at me, her eyes softening to a sort of pity–which I of course found repugnant–and removed the knife from my throat, standing up with such deliberate slowness that I found myself transfixed. I wanted to speak; to ask what her name was, to ask what had turned her; to discover her history–but I could not.

The seer-girl-vampire looked at me and smiled sadly, too sadly for a soulless vampire. I couldn’t comprehend her intent–though that was also too soon made clear as I followed her upstairs to the parlor. Despite the time–the clock had just struck seven o’clock–her hand was soon around the doorknob and she turned it, opening the door to the inimical sunlight.

“What on earth–?”

The thing I saw last–before I fled into the safety of my darkened bedroom–was the figure of the woman, striding into the morning streets of London and extending her arms outward…

And I sat up, screaming, safe in the back of Angel’s car. The image of my own vamped face–the figure that had walked into the daylight with such calm–was burned into my retinas, a vision I couldn’t quite grasp. Had it been me? Had it been nothing more than a dream?

“Cordelia?” Wesley asked, looking at me. I looked around. It was dawn and I wasn’t burning. I wasn’t burning. I was safe. Angel was in the trunk and I wasn’t a vampire. I knew I was safe. But–oh, God, what had I seen? Who had I been? “Cordelia, what’s wrong?”

The tears I hadn’t had time for burnt into my cheeks. Had it all been only a dream–after all?

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s over, Wes. I think it’s finally over.”

epilogue

And the strangeness of it all passed with time.

Actually, that’s a lie. Every time I think about waking up in the back of Angel’s convertible, unsure if the sun would burn me, unsure if I was the Cordelia who closed a hole in time or the Cordelia who watched her vampire lover die at the hands of a relentless enemy or the Cordelia who only dreamt of these things, I get this feeling in my stomach. I only have ordinary words to describe it–nausea, fear, ultimately little more than a dead chill that settles into the pit of my stomach and leaves me speechless.

It’s over–but I don’t know that it is. Screwing around with time seems to have lingering aftereffects–even if they’re only dreams.

I can’t stop dreaming.

The one that comes most often is the Cordelia who took her magic knife and cut a hole into the past to save Angel before walking into the sun to end her miserable existence. That one I think is real. That one I think may be me, may be a future that will never be and should have been. But there are others. Sometimes I dream of a world where I take that knife–my knife–and plunge it into Jack Junior’s chest, laughing as the blood covers me. Sometimes I dream of the world where I fail, where the last thing I remember is the darkness, knowing that my eyes are gone, that Jack has kept my promise for me.

I can’t stop dreaming, so I’ve stopped sleeping. We’ve changed history forever. We could have obliterated ourselves, made it so that we never existed. And who knows if we’re even in the same world?

Maybe things aren’t the same as they were before we threw Jack Junior through that hole in time. Maybe I’m completely changed from the way I would have been if that me had ever existed. How would I know? What proof would I have that there was ever another Cordelia Chase, let alone that she was different?

Fred assures me that even if it’s true, if the timeline was changed, that we don’t know. That the people who changed time don’t exist and never did–or that if it was us in some way, we’ll never know the difference. Most of me wants to accept that, to simply know that I am myself and that there was never another Cordelia. I have always been this Cordelia Chase because we obliterated the other one, the one who actually watched Angel throw that man into the past. Except that Angel didn’t because that Angel never existed, either.

I am not that Cordelia and Angel is not that Angel.

During that time where I don’t sleep (nighttime), I read a lot of books about time travel. They don’t make things any easier, either–and the one I’m reading now, this novel called Pastwatch, is making me absolutely Angelian in my brooding.

“Cordelia?” Wes asks gently, rapping on the office door to reinforce the real of his presence. He has a cup of coffee for me–as well as that ‘we need to talk’ look I’ve been evading. Of course, it’s been a week since then–and Wesley is nothing if not insistent. “Are you still brooding in here? You know that’s not healthy.”

I want to make a comment about pots and kettles, but I refrain. After all, he has given me an entire week to think about time and the utter wrongness–and the undeniable existence–of the thing that was Being In Love With Angel. Any Angel.

“Yeah, I got the memo about brooding being bad for my mental health,” I say flippantly, accepting the coffee and taking a long drink. “But you’re not having the dreams I have. I know that some version of me walked into the sun and burnt herself up last week. And even if it never really happened–if it was only just a dream–I can’t stop thinking about it. You’re not the same. I’m not the same–and this is all wrong.”

I gesture around the office. Wesley looks at me pensively.

“Perhaps that’s so,” he says. “But Cordelia, we can’t change the–”

He realizes, only a little too late, what he’s saying. Then he laughs, a brittle short kind of laugh that makes me feel a little better. He understands the strange. He knows what I’m feeling.

“Can’t we?” I say, waving at my knife. For some reason, I don’t feel comfortable leaving it by itself. It’s got its own agenda, and besides- -it’s my knife. It needs me. Wes and Fred haven’t been able to find out anything about it, but like Angel said, if we could find out everything just by research, we’d never need to fight a demon.

“Cordelia,” he says. “You know I didn’t come here to talk about your knife.”

“Well, you know, it’s not really your business,” I say, suddenly pissed off. “I didn’t lecture you about Virginia, which was actually awfully sketchy. I mean, I didn’t get MY boyfriend pretending to be Angel.”

Wesley’s jaw drops, though probably not from disbelief.

“That’s–”

“Wes,” I say, taking another drink of the coffee. “I know you’re worried. So am I. But I’m also in love.”

He doesn’t look happy to hear that.

“Angel’s curse–”

“I know, Wesley,” I say acidly. “I was there, remember? I got the fullTechnicolor experience of watching Angelus wreak havoc, complete with the almost-hell-sucked finale. I’m not eager to get the instant replay. Get off it.”

Wes shies back like I had hit him or something. I always wonder if we shouldn’t try and get Wes some hardcore therapy from time to time, but with the continual apocalyptic crisis that is our lives, there’s never enough time to ask him what he thinks of the idea–or find a therapist who believes in demons.

“I don’t want to see you hurt,” he says, going the blatantly manipulative route. I want to bitch slap him. I understand. I’m not dancing down the road to perfect happiness. I’m not doing this blindly- -in fact, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But it hurts to have Wesley lecture me like I’m stupid.

“Yeah and I don’t want you to butt in,” I say. “I had a bad week, Wesley. Give me a few days.”

“I did, Cordelia,” he points out.

“Give me a few more,” I reply. “Wes, what do you want? I promise I won’t turn Angel evil. OK? I promise. We’ll be good. Of course, there are about a billion other possible sources of evil or good that could totally turn Angel wiggy. But I hope I’ve made you feel better.”

“Cordy–”

I brace for a big lecture.

“Wesley?” Fred calls from the lobby. “I think we’ve got a match on the demon that’s been attacking the subway workers.”

Thank you, God.

“To be continued,” Wesley says sternly, walking out. That’s my cue to get the hell out of range and go upstairs. Angel’s still asleep, which is good. I’m almost jealous, what with all the not-sleeping and such. Besides, he looks so comfortable. I crawl into bed next to him.

“Still can’t sleep?” he mumbles, reaching out and stroking my hair. “You should tell me about the dreams.”

“I don’t want to,” I say. “Angel, you’re still sort of burnt and I just don’t–”

“What?” he asks, scooting across the bed to wrap me in his arms. “You know, it’s not good–”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Angel,” I say, staring off into space, not warm yet because he doesn’t have body heat to share. “If I talk, I’ll have to wake up.”

“You are awake,” he says, snuggling up against me. It’s nice–I kind of like it, body heat or no. “Unless I’m dreaming.”

“Could be,” I say. “I don’t know anymore.”

He kisses the back of my neck. I close my eyes, trying to relax my body, accept a little comfort and fall asleep. I can’t. Something in me won’t give in.

“I love you,” he murmurs softly. “Go to sleep, Cordy. We’ll talk about the dreams when you wake up. Or whatever you want. But you need to get some sleep. It’ll be better when you wake up.”

He loves me. That shouldn’t make me relax, but I can feel the muscles start to unwind a little as I nestle against him like the romantic lead in a movie. My eyes won’t stay closed but my body wants to sleep.

Angel strokes the side of my leg. I force myself to close my eyes, to accept that if I go to sleep, I’ll wake up and every dream is just a dream after all.

“If I wake up,” I say, keeping my eyes closed.

The strangeness of it will pass with time.

The strangeness will

The strangeness

“Go to sleep, Cordelia,” Angel murmurs, and a funny thing happens next.

I do.

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