The demon giving the message of Angel’s latest interference squatted when he saw the look in his employer’s eyes. The huge demon rose from where he was sitting and piled up over the frightened creature, rage in his eyes and pretty much everywhere else, too.
”What!?” he roared.
The demon certainly didn’t want to repeat his message, but didn’t see a way out.
”He was saved by Angel. The vampire, sir.” The huge demon was always addressed as ”sir”, since he was much too bright to give out his real name to people. He knew what name spells could do.
”I know who Angel is, you fool! How? No, I don’t even want to know. Incompetent bastards, that’s what you are, all of you!”
”Yes sir”, the messenger mumbled, relieved when the other demmon moved his eyes away from him.
The demon that had been called moved slowly into his master’s range.
”How’s the new recruit doing?”
”Well, sir… Badly, I’m afraid. He refuses to follow orders, and he claims he doesn’t want anything to do with any of us. If nothing changes soon, I’m afraid we will have to kill him.”
”Kill him? After all those spells and charms I wasted on him? I don’t think so. He’s got a very powerful ta’risha. But as you have said, he also has a rebellious mind. You know what that indicates, don’t you?” He grinned.
The trainer swallowed. ”You want me to mark him, sir?”
”Mark him, sow him up, and find someone to take over. After that, he’ll be perfect for killing Angel. Beautifully perfect…”
Angel walked into the office and noticed that Cordelia looked unusually tired even for her current state.
”Are you okay, Cordy?” he asked softly.
”Not really”, she replied, staring into thin air. ”It’s such a hard effort even to breathe. But I guess you wouldn’t know.”
He chose to ignore that tactless remark.
”I’m just wasted, you know.” She tried to smile, but failed miserably. ”I never thought… I never knew that it was possible to miss someone the way I miss Doyle. Even after all this time.”
”I miss him too”, Angel said, quietly. ”Hey, Cordy, go take a nap. You look like you could use one. I’ll take care of things for a while. It seems pretty quiet.”
She agreed without arguing and left the room. Angel sat around for a while, but pretty soon the door opened.
”How can we help you?” Angel asked, viewing the person standing in front of him. His face was wrapped in a middle-east looking scarf. A demon not wanting to be noticed, Angel guessed, as if people wouldn’t notice an ayatollah walking around. Why didn’t the guy say something?
”Do you need help? Do you…” Angel walked up to the person while speaking, but he didn’t have a chance to finish the sentence. Any doubt he might have had about the visitor’s species disappeared when he was flung into the wall. The demon moved after him, attempting to finish what he started. Damn it, he had a crossbow. Angel ducked for the first couple of shots, and managed to grip the demon in a way that prevented him from shooting again.
”Angel?” The battle had woken up Cordelia. The demon was startled by her voice and gave Angel the opportunity to use every bit of strength in his body to throw the demon’s head down on a table and right through it. The force of the blow didn’t fail its mission. Angel felt the demon’s body weakening under his grip.
”Is he dead?” Cordelia had entered the room and looked at the mess they had made without any sign of emotion.
Angel shook his head. ”Just unconscious. He’ll be out cold for quite some time, though.”
”Well, who is he? What is he?”
Angel stared at the lifeless body. He didn’t care much to turn it around and try to find out what kind of demon it was. Looking at the ridiculous scarf, a tiny smile flickered on his lips.
”The new taliban kind of demon”, he said.
Cordelia sat down beside him and took the demon’s hand.
”Well, *some* kind of demon, for sure”, she said, examining the hand. ”Was he here to kill you?”
”I guess”, Angel started, when the demon suddenly squeezed Cordelia’s hand and made her scream with fear. She moved away from it as quickly as possible.
”I thought you said he was out cold”, she panted with an accusing look at Angel.
”I was. He is.” Angel frowned and looked at the demon’s hand, that was moving around the dusty floor without any seeming connection to the rest of his body. He got a nasty suspicion and lifted the scarf away from the base of the demon’s skull to confirm it.
Cordelia stared at the half-healed brand.
”What is that?” she asked.
”It’s the monkey mark”, Angel replied. He was beginning to feel a little sick. ”It’s a spell that locks a person into his own mind. He can’t get any connection to his senses, and his body is controlled from a distance by someone else. Demons use it as a punishment for those who have failed badly or shown illojality, but who are too strong to be allowed to die. In the long run, the guy inside this body will probably go mad. The only time he can get in touch with *any* of his body parts is when he’s asleep or unconscious - and even then I guess it takes quite a lot of effort.”
”Gross”, Cordelia said.
”But hey”, she said, trying to get rid of the thought of what it would feel like to be in that situation yourself, ”what if he talks in his sleep or something? That could give stuff away, like who sent him?”
”They usually think of that.” He turned the demon around and unwrapped him. The demon turned out to be Brachen. Its face made him stop short for a second.
”Nothing. I just thought I recognized him, that’s all.” Angel shook his head. ”Now take a look at this”, he said, parting the demon’s lips. ”His jaws are sown together with wire. He’s not going to tell us anything.”
”Ouhh.” Cordelia turned away from the sight, and her eyes fell on the place on the floor where the demon had let his hand move. She froze, as she realised that this wasn’t random marks of fingers on dust. It was scribbling, and not hard to read either.
”Angel, look”, she whispered.
Angel looked in her direction.
”PRINC?” he said, not quite getting it.
”Princess.” Her voice was barely a breath, and she turned to look at the demon’s face. ”It couldn’t be.”
Then he hadn’t been mistaken. ”I think it is.”
She sank down by the demon, grabbing his restless hand. ”Doyle? Can you hear me?” Oh, God, she had wanted him back, but not like this.
Cordelia tried to speak to Doyle, but got no response apart from the weak movements of his hand. She wasn’t even sure he could hear her. After a while she even doubted that it was really him, and turned to Angel.
”Angel? You knew this face better than I did. Is it…?”
”It’s exactly like it was. I don’t understand it any more than you do. We saw him die, and yet here he is, in a state I wouldn’t wish for my worst enemy.” He hesitated for a second and then said: ”Listen, Cordy, you’re not going to like this, but I think we should tie him up. After all, the guy in control of his body wants to kill me, and he will wake up sooner or later.”
Cordelia nodded. ”You do it”, she said. ”Now, where is Wesley when you need him?” She sighed and thought for a second. ”I’m going to call Giles.”
As she picked up the phone, her hands trembled. What was she going to say? She couldn’t bring herself into saying that Doyle was back, somehow it felt as if that would jinx them. When she heard Giles’s voice, she almost jumped.
”Giles? It’s Cordelia. Hi… I need a little help… I was wondering whether you know something about the Monkey Mark… It’s a punishment used by demons… Oh, you’ve heard of it? Do you know any remedy?… Okay, I’ll wait.”
Angel had finished tying up Doyle’s body and looked up at her.
”He’s going to look in one of his books”, she said.
”I figured that much.”
Cordelia tapped her fingers to the desk, waiting for Giles to come back. When he told her he had found the place she held her breath, listening. Then she slowly let the air out. Disappointment was evident in her face.
”Are you sure?… Is there nothing else you can do?… No, that won’t be necessary. Thanks for your help… Bye.”
She slowly put down the phone.
”No remedy?” Angel asked.
She nodded. ”They… they make a human sacrifice.” She buried her head in her hands.
Angel thought about what she had said. It was ironic. There was a way to save Doyle, but a way they couldn’t possibly go through with. That was worse than none at all.
Angel walked up to Cordelia and held her around her shoulders.
”We’ll try and find another way”, he said.
”What if we can’t?”
He didn’t even want to think about that, but he knew what the answer must be.
”Then I’ll kill him. He deserves better than this.”
”Maybe you won’t have to. If we can’t find another way… I’ll be the sacrifice.”
”No.” His voice was sharp. ”Cordelia, do you know what you’re saying?”
”Yes.” She was pale. ”He’s died once on me already, I won’t allow it again. Then I’d rather let it be me.”
”Cordy…” He rocked her slowly. ”If Doyle dies again, it will just be death. A sacrifice is different. I’ve seen what happens to people who are sacrificed, and I know Doyle would stake me if I ever let that happen to you.”
She knew he was right and nodded.
”Can we at least move him into the bedroom?” she asked.
They both helped carry the unconscious demon. After they had put him down on the bed, Cordelia lent down and touched the palm of his hand. His fingers flickered a bit by the touch. She softly drew her finger in a bow, first to the right, then to the left, shaping a heart. If she couldn’t do anything else for him, she could tell him the answer to what he had wondered before he died.
The wailings when the demon regained consciousness made them cringe. Whether they thought of him as Doyle or not, it was just as horrible.
”Hi everybody.” Wesley entered the office and heard the desperate noise. ”Good Lord! What is that?” Without waiting for a reply he went downstairs. It took a short while before he came back, and when he did, he seemed very confused.
”Why is there a tied up demon in the bedroom?” he asked.
Wesley looked at them, shrugged, and then took a seat.
”I know this sounds strange”, Angel said, not sure how to continue. ”But that demon… is Doyle.”
Wesley looked stunned. ”Doyle?”
”Yes. I don’t know how he has returned, and I understand if you can’t believe it…”
”I do believe it.” Wesley went up, went to his desk and brought up a book. ”Do you remember the case we had about a month ago with the demon who killed girls and ate their tongues?”
Angel nodded, wondering what that particularly disgusting case had to do with anything.
”Well, I talked to some other demon hunters, and they swore they killed him long before that. I thought there must be some sort of mistake, but then we had another demon who had allegedly already been killed. So I got curious and did some research. At first I found nothing. Then I found this cult that was around in the sixteenth century. According to their beliefs, a person who had died in battle had a good ta’risha - I haven’t quite gotten the meaning of that word yet, but after what I have read, it’s something between mental strength and what the hindus call karma. It’s supposed to help them in the afterlife. Now, this cult thought they might as well use it in *this* life, so after a battle they worked very hard on spells to bring back those who had been killed. Even the enemies, if they had shown great courage. The more honourable the death had been, the more power had been received by it. Or that’s what they thought.”
”And that’s what you think has happened to Doyle?” Angel asked.
”Doyle and those other demons. Yes.”
”Hello?” Cordelia said. ”That was like five hundred years ago. You don’t know it’s the same cult.”
”I don’t know for sure”, Wesley admitted. ”But I’ve talked to people, and there are signs that indicate that it *is* the same cult. For one thing, there are lots of rumours about a demon leader referred to as ’sir’. The cult leaders never used their own name, for safety reasons, and they demanded reverence from their lackeys. There are lots of things that fits into the picture.”
Angel thought about it. It made sense, which surprised him. He hadn’t expected to find answers so soon.
”What does he want then, this ’sir’ person?” he asked.
”Still rumours”, Wesley said, ”but they say he’s creating an army. One of those ’take over the world’ kind of fellows.”
”So then we have more than Doyle to worry about”, Angel said with a sigh.
”Yes.” Wesley frowned. ”That reminds me - why are you keeping him tied up? Has he turned to them?” He sounded a bit surprised. Although he had never met Doyle, what the others had told him hadn’t made him believe the possibility of such an outcome.
”He has and he hasn’t”, Angel said. ”He’s not in control of his own body.”
Wesley’s eyes widened and he shook his head.
”I saw ’Being John Malcovich’ the other day and am getting strange flashbacks”, he said with a smile that soon disappeared when he saw the looks the others gave him. ”What do you mean? What has happened?”
”He’s been branded with the Monkey Mark. Do you know what that means?”
”I’ve heard of it. I’m so sorry.”
”Sorry doesn’t help much.” Cordelia couldn’t stand sitting down anymore, she rose and walked restlessly around the room. ”A counterspell would.”
Wesley shook his head in regret. ”The only thing I know of is…”
”…A human sacrifice.”
His eyes set on her. ”Yes.”
Cordelia shook her head and kept walking. Angel, on the other hand, buried his head into his hands, thinking. To have Doyle die on them had almost broken his heart, and it wasn’t until recently that he had learned how to cope with it. He would have thought after living this long he would have been prepared, but he hadn’t been. He had found Doyle’s death horrible, unnatural and simply *wrong*, but yet this was worse. He wondered to himself if this was some idea of a joke from the Powers That Be. All this time he had wanted to have Doyle back, was this their way of saying: ”See? Here’s your wish. How do you like that?” Well, he wouldn’t allow it. He would find some way, some acceptable way, of getting Doyle back to what he used to be. Meanwhile, there was business to attend to.
”We’d better do something about that army then”, he said.
The trouble with the demon army didn’t seem to be so much fighting them as finding them. Listening to the gossip of the otherworld and comparing it to what the books said did confirm that it was indeed the same cult that had been up and working five hundred years ago. It also taught the people at Angel Investigations quite a few things about rituals and other habits that they would rather not have known. But when it came to location - zero.
Angel hung up the phone after yet another pointless call to Giles, who hadn’t found out more than they had. He hadn’t told Giles about Doyle - what was the point? The person controlling Doyle’s body seemed to have resignated and was no longer wailing Doyle’s lunges out all the time, but he certainly wouldn’t let go of the body. He wasted very little energy and did not need sleep any more than he needed food. As it was now, Doyle’s body might as well have been left as ashes by the Beacon. He had no use for it, and neither did the sod who had brought him back.
Angel’s thought wandered off in another direction, and he rose quickly, causing Cordelia to stare surprised at him.
”I’m going to see the Oracles about Doyle”, he said.
She seemed to have expected that, because she simply nodded and said:
”Good luck. I hope they tell you something helpful for once.”
Angel left, and Cordelia stayed in the office, looking through some books in random. She had looked before, and she knew she wouldn’t find anything. Eventually, she began to doze off.
She woke by a heavy pounding on the door. Her first thought was that it was Angel coming back, but then she realised he wouldn’t have to knock. Yawning, she went up to open it, and stared at the people outside.
”You’re having some serious enemies, aren’t you?” Xander asked politely.
Part of her wanted her to ask him please get the hell out of her life and preferably rot forever, but the part that wanted to know what he was talking about won.
”Huh?” she said, wishing she could have come up with something better.
”Buffy has kicked some heavily armed demon ass”, he explained.
”I would have killed him”, Buffy said, ”but I figured he might come up with something useful.” She shoved the defeated demon in front of her inside the building, giving Cordelia a friendly nod on the way by. ”Hope you don’t mind us intruding here. Giles thought a few more people around here would be handy. I guess he was right.”
”I guess.” Cordelia was actually grateful to have them here. If they helped taking care of the army, she didn’t have to feel as guilty for worrying more about Doyle.
”So, where’s Angel?” Xander asked, looking around the office.
”He went of to see the Oracles.”
Xander looked confused, but Buffy nodded.
”Is he going to ask them about the cult?”
”Well, kind of.”
Cordelia looked at them and hesitated, but finally decided to go along with it. So she told them about Doyle. The whole story. It felt good. She only wished she knew how the story would proceed.
”We have already discussed this matter.” The Oracles were displeased.
”When he was dead. Now he is alive.”
”That was his choice, not ours.”
”His choice?” Angel was bemused, and he struggled to understand. ”I thought he was brought back by a cult.”
”He was. But they couldn’t have brought him back against his will. He had once chosen death, now he had the right to choose life.”
Angel felt anger rising in him.
”But you never told him what kind of a life it would be?”
”We never tell anyone that.”
He couldn’t hold himself from yelling at them.
”Have it your way, then. Why should you feel guilt for having him locked inside a body he can’t control? Let me just know - are you planning to keep him this way forever?”
”That is up to you.”
”Me?” Angel silenced. ”Okay, tell me what to do then.”
”His recovery demands a death.”
Angel closed his eyes. ”The human sacrifice. I know about that, but I won’t go through with it.”
”Those are your words. We only said death.”
They didn’t seem to want to be more specific, and when they saw the look on his face they added: ”If you want, we are willing to take him back.”
”No.” Angel’s answer was determined. ”I’ll get him back the way he was.”
Was there tiny smiles on their faces? He didn’t know. They didn’t look entirely displeased.
”You must fight your war well, and use your opponent’s strength against him. We make no promise, but you have the ability to set the messenger free. Whether or not he will be alive is another matter.”
Angel felt a door slamming behind him and found himself inside his own office. That was a pretty rude way of saying ”dismissed”, he thought.
He noticed Buffy and Xander sitting in the back of the room and the unknown demon forced into their corner. The demon intrigued him, but his eyes were set on Buffy. He couldn’t stand seeing her again, but at the same time he never wanted her out of his view. ”What are you doing here? And who is the demon guy?”
”He says he’s here to reclaim a warrior”, answered Buffy, ignoring the first question. It would need too much answering for the moment.
Angel immediately forgot all bittersweet emotions.
”I don’t know his name”, the demon said. He had tried reluctancy, but since it didn’t work he had resigned. ”They”, he nodded at his wardens, ”say that he is called that. All I know is that he’s powerful and that Elil wanted him back.”
”Elil is the guy who did the branding”, Cordelia explained to Angel.
Angel stared at the demon in disgusted rage and couldn’t help changing into vampire form as he gave the short command: ”Talk!”
The demon talked. Because Angel made him nervous, he talked very quickly and rather incoherently.
”Well, uhm, I told them already. This guy, Doyle or whatever, he’s really important, right? He’s got a fantastic ta’risha and they want him back, not just killed off. So Elil sent me to fetch him. And he said if I could kill Angel”, he swallowed, ”- that would be you - as well, it would be a really neat thing. But I think their main concern is just getting their warrior back. They had a really hard time bringing him back from the dead in the first place, since he didn’t have a body and had been dead for so long, but they seemed to think he was worth it. Even though they lost a piece.”
”Lost a piece?”
The demon only shrugged. He didn’t know anything else about that.
”Do you know anything about a demon they call ’sir’?” Angel pushed.
The demon nodded.
”He’s our leader. He brings back the dead. He has great powers. But I’ve never met him. I’ve already said that I don’t know how to find him.”
”He knows where this Elil guy is, though”, Cordelia said. ”Gave us pretty good directions, I’m sure I can find it.”
Angel backed away from the demon and got his human face back. He wanted to get away as soon as possible, to find this Elil who turned heroes into marionettes. The demon licked his lips.
”May I wish for a quick death?”
Angel stared at him.
The demon waited breathlessly. Giving away information was among the worst acts of treason that existed. The death waiting for him was worse than he wanted to think of. Anything would be better than to be sent back, but any death frightened him and he could only hope for a quick and merciful one from the vampire.
He was lucky.
Wesley was chosen to stay at the office to watch over Doyle as the rest of them headed off. Cordelia immediately placed herself in the driver’s seat and motioned for the others to get seated.
”Are you sure you know how to find the place?” Xander asked.
Cordelia looked firmly at the road. ”He said in the same block as Bill’s, and I know that place”, she said. ”And I think I know which house he was talking about. We’ll find it.”
An awkward silence fell over the car. Everyone felt slightly uncomfortable. Buffy and Angel tried not to look at each other, and Xander wondered to himself if Cordelia was still angry with him. Not that it really mattered if she was. The army of resurrected had affected Sunnydale as well, and it had become very clear that they had to fight it at the source - in L.A. Maybe it had been a bad idea to send him and Buffy of all people, but there wasn’t much to be done about that. ”Here we are”, Cordelia said and stopped the car.
Xander didn’t really have to worry. The truth was that Cordelia couldn’t care less who was sitting next to her in the car. She had said goodbye to Doyle before she left, well knowing that he didn’t even know she was there, and right now all she could think about was to get the guy who had done that to him. If she had given herself time to think, she might actually have been happy to have someone along who had never met Doyle and thus had a chance of staying calm.
”Where is it?” Angel asked.
”I don’t know!” Cordelia almost panicked when she looked around. ”He said under a green house - a house that used to be green, anyway - but I can’t find one!”
”Take it easy.” Buffy spoke to her in a calm voice that helped some, but Cordelia would doubtlessly have gone hysteric if the Slayer hadn’t added about half a minute later: ”I think it must be this one.” She pointed at a greyish looking house with traces of green paint in the cracks.
Buffy approached the house. The door was obviously locked, but so worn down that she found it worth a try to break right through it.
”I’ll do it”, Angel said. ”You and Xander take that cellar window. We will have a better chance if we split up.”
A thought went through Buffy’s mind that even though the drive had taken half an hour, this was the first thing he had said to her since they left the office. She nodded and went on to the business of kicking in the window he had pointed out for her. She carefully got rid of all the pieces of broken glass and then pulled down Xander after her. Cordelia looked at them for a moment, but then Angel tugged her jacket.
She followed him inside. For a moment she wondered if the noise they were making wouldn’t alert people. Then she knew for sure.
Angel quickly got rid of the guards, and they proceeded into the house. At the end of a corridor there was a staircase leading down into the basement. Cordelia started towards it, but Angel held her back.
”Be careful” he said.
She realised the sense in this short remark. There were bound to be more demons around, and rushing into things wouldn’t help. Staying close to Angel, she proceeded down the stairs in a more moderate pace.
They looked down another corridor and more demons, maybe seven or eight of them. In the far end of the corridor, Buffy and Xander were fighting their way through. Before the demons had any chance of adapting to the new number of enemies, Cordelia noticed a door with the same mark that was tattooed into Doyle’s head. It wasn’t locked, either.
”Angel, look!” she said, and before he had the time to do so, she opened the door. Angel gave one look at the room inside and then pushed Cordelia inside and closed the door behind them. He placed himself in front of the door so it couldn’t open. That way, they wouldn’t have to worry about the demons outside anymore, just the five in front of them.
For obvious reasons, nobody asked any questions before fighting. Angel could handle more than his share of demons. It was harder for Cordelia. When she had finally managed to kill her first opponent, she noticed that Angel was fighting two demons at the same time and that a third was coming up. That was no biggie. The biggie was that the third demon had a stake.
The knife she had been using was stuck in the dead demon’s body, so she grabbed the first weapon she could find, a long iron stick with a lump at the end. Using strength she didn’t know she had, she slammed the demon straight into the head. As he fell to the floor, the demons that Angel fought seemed to lose focus, but Cordelia didn’t notice. In rage and terror she kept pounding his head with the stick until Angel touched her shoulder.
”Hey. He’s dead now. He has too be.”
She looked up and realised that she and Angel were the only living people left in the room. What a massacre.
”What is that thing, anyway?” he asked, pointing at the stick she was holding.
”I don’t know.” She turned the stick slowly in her hands and saw that there was a relief picture of the Monkey Mark at the end of the lump. It was the branding device. With a disgusted cry she let go of the thing. There was a big fireplace nearby and she kicked it into the fire.
Angel had calmed down a bit.
”Let’s go through this place and see if we can find any clues on how to proceed. Then we go help the others. Okay?”
Wesley had started to think that watching Doyle would be more dull than anything else. He had brought a book from Angel’s library and was skimming it through when the demon suddenly convulsed. Wesley hurried to his side and desperately tried to do something, anything, but there was nothing to be done. With a sense of panic, Wesley realised that Doyle was dying. He wished that someone else could have been there to help, or just to be able to confirm that it wasn’t Wesley’s fault. He held the cramping body while his thoughts spun around without leading to anything. Then the convulsions stopped. Wesley licked his lips and wondered if this meant that the demon was dead.
Apparently not, since he opened his eyes and looked directly at Wesley. His eyes were still the usual demonic red, but there was exhaustion in them, and something else, something that made Wesley ask:
The demon tried to speak but yelped with pain when the wires stopped him. This made Wesley certain.
”Don’t talk”, he said. ”I will take away the wires. I have a potion that dissolves metal. It will just be a minute.”
The demon leaned back and looked around the room, stunned. He seemed too tired to do anything else. Wesley hurried to get the potion ready and poured it carefully over Doyle’s teeth. To his relief, he saw the wire disappear.
”Ow!” cried Doyle and touched his mouth. ”I think you dissolved a filling, too.”
”I’m terribly sorry”, Wesley stammered.
”That’s alright. It’s a whole lot better than before. Thanks, mate.” Doyle grinned a little bit. It was strange to see that kind of grin on a demon face. ”Who are you, anyway?” he asked curiously.
”My name is Wesley. I work here.”
Doyle frowned. ”No you don’t.”
”Yes. I was hired after you d… died.”
”Oh.” Doyle seemed to think about that for a moment. ”When was that?”
”About six months ago.”
”Six months!” He hadn’t expected that much. ”I must have been missing a lot. How is Cordelia?”
”She’s fine. She and Angel are fighting demons along with two of the Sunnydale people.”
Doyle nodded thoughtfully. ”Still the same old story, then?”
Wesley still didn’t understand what was going on. ”They were going to find the person who marked you. Maybe get you back to your normal state.” He stared at the demon. ”What just happened?”
”I have no idea”, Doyle said. ”I remember being taken over.” He shuddered. ”It was so dark and desolated, much worse than being dead. I kept fighting him, but I could hardly ever get through at all. I remember feeling Cordy’s hand”, he said with a little smile. ”That was the first good feeling I’ve had since the day I died. He soon fought me back, though, and after that he kept me in control. Then all of a sudden he didn’t, and I could get back to my senses as easily as ever. I guess somebody must have done something right.”
”I’m glad”, Wesley said and smiled at Doyle. Doyle smiled right back. Then he seemed to think about something.
”You know what? This also means it has been six months since I had a drink. I could really need one. That potion you had tasted awful.”
”Get things that could be useful”, Angel said, ”but not too much of it. We still have to be able to fight.”
”Okay.” Cordelia browsed through the room. There wasn’t much. She picked up a couple of books and papers with demon writing. They were a bit much to carry around, but on the other hand they could be used as weapons if necessary. Meanwhile, Angel leaned down over the demons’ bodies and went through their clothes.
Someone tried to open the door and Angel pressed his body towards it. There was a moment of pounding and then Buffy’s voice hollered: ”Angel!? Are you there?”
He opened the door so quickly she almost fell through. Stunned, he looked down the corridor. There wasn’t a living creature apart from Buffy and Xander. They had fought down eight demons on their own. He reproached himself for being so surprised. After all, she was the Slayer.
”What did you do?” Buffy asked, amazement evident in her voice. ”I was having a really hard time with a couple of these guys, and then all of a sudden they stopped fighting and I had killed them before I knew what had happened!”
”I don’t think we did anything”, Angel said. ”But I noticed the same thing. Did you?” He turned to Cordelia, who shrugged.
”The first guy was pretty hard to take. If the second stopped fighting, I didn’t notice.”
”I guess you wouldn’t.” He couldn’t help looking down at the demon whose head had been smashed into pieces.
Xander saw it too and grimaced. ”You did that?” he asked Cordelia.
”Gross.” But his voice revealed a new respect for his ex.
”Okay then”, Angel said while his eyes wandered across the room. ”Since nobody’s trying to kill us anymore, I guess this was all the people around. One of them was probably Elil. I know that at least one of the guys that fought me was marked, because his jaws were sown up just like Doyle’s.”
”Even if this was all of them, I still think we should get out of here as soon as possible”, said Xander.
”I second that”, said Buffy. ”If you have everything you need, let’s get back to the office.”
Wesley sat in the office sipping a cup of coffee, and he gave them a rather odd look as they came in.
”All the bad guys have been properly defeated!” Cordelia declared and dropped the books on his desk. ”Here’s some stuff for us to go through.”
”I take it you won”, he said cautiously.
”The battle”, Angel said. ”Not the war.”
”Oh, are we mister Optimistic”, Cordelia said with a pout.
”Did anything peculiar happen?” Wesley asked.
”I’d say everything is pretty much peculiar when you’re fighting demons”, Xander said and sat down in a chair that he balanced on two feet. Then he thought of something and put it back on all four. ”Why? Has something happened here?”
”You could say that”, he answered.
Cordelia turned cold.
”Doyle”, she said and grabbed Wesley’s shoulders. ”Has something happened to him? Is he alright?”
”He’s fine. That’s just it, really. He’s… fine.”
They let that sink in for a minute. Angel couldn’t find a single word to say.
”You mean…” Cordelia was pulled between hope and disbelief. ”He’s Doyle again?”
Wesley nodded. ”I never knew him before, but I have no reason to believe he has changed. He was really tired at first. Then he drank some whiskey, and that made him less tired, but then it made him sleepy. He’s sleeping now.”
”Oh my God!” Cordelia sank down in a chair. She put her hands in front of her mouth and tears began to fall down her cheeks. ”Oh my God!”
Wesley felt a pang of jealousy, but he still found it natural to smile at Cordelia.
”I don’t think he’ll mind terribly if you wake him up.”
She didn’t have to be told twice. She immediately rushed out of her chair and down to the apartment. Halfway into the bedroom she hesitated. What if Wesley was mistaken and Doyle *had* changed? It wouldn’t be unexpected after everything he had gone through. But there was really just one way to find out. She slowly walked into the bedroom and sat down at the side of the bed.
”Hi”, she said softly and took Doyle’s hand. He moved about a bit, then he yawned and opened his eyes. When he saw her face above his, he smiled.
”Good to see you again, princess”, he said and sat up to give her a hug. She return the hug almost violently, still crying. Then she pushed him back.
”I ought to slap you for dying on me like that!” she said. Her voice was half-choked. ”But I can’t very well do that until you turn back, so do that. Please.”
He got a painful expression on his face. ”Cordy…”
”Yeah, well, you have deserved it. We were supposed to have a dinner date, but no, you had to disarm that thing single-handedly. I hate you so much for that, so just turn back so I can slap you. Well? I’m surprised you keep that face on longer than necessary.”
When he didn’t answer she stared at him, and the truth finally dawned on her. The people who brought him back had ”lost a piece”.
”Oh, Doyle, I’m sorry…” she whispered.
He turned his head away from her. ”I think you’d better go, princess.”
”No, Doyle, I’m sorry I said anything. I don’t care if you can’t turn back, really!”
For a brief moment she stayed, but when his back clearly signaled that he didn’t want her presence, she left.
Angel had wanted to go down right behind Cordelia, but decided that it would be a very bad move. Still, he found it hard to concentrate on what the others said, and after a while he couldn’t stand it anymore. Never mind if he interrupted a sweet reunion, he had to see his friend.
When he walked down the stairs he was surprised to see Cordelia sitting on the bottom step. He was even more surprised when he realised that the sobs and tears were not expressions of happiness.
”Cordy? What’s wrong?”
”I am”, she sobbed.
He sat down next to her and waited for her to say something else. She buried her face in her hands and cried away.
”I just messed everything up”, she complained. ”I was so happy to have him back! Alright, I was angry too, but can you blame me? I really love that cheesy little guy. And then I just opened my big mouth and… What difference does it make if he can’t turn back? He’s still Doyle! All those days I didn’t know how to get through knowing I would never see him again, if they were good for anything it was to teach me that I don’t care how much demon he is.”
Angel tried to comfort her, but at the same time he felt worried.
”Cordelia”, he said, trying to get her attention. When she looked up, he asked: ”He can’t turn back?”
She shook her head. ”He’s stuck as a demon. And I had to make some stupid comment, didn’t I?”
”He knows you didn’t mean it”, Angel assured her. He stood up and ran his fingers through her hair. ”I’ll talk to him. Don’t you worry.”
He walked into the bedroom and found Doyle sitting on the bed, staring straight into the air. His face lit up a little when he saw Angel come, but it wasn’t much.
”Hey man, it’s so good to see you”, he said.
Angel embraced him, hard, and then sat down next to him and examined him closely.
”I have so much to say and I don’t even know where to start”, he said.
”Well, make up your mind and I’ll be ready with a reply”, Doyle said. He tried to keep up his usual mirth, but it didn’t work so well.
”Okay…” Angel thought for a while. ”Cordelia didn’t mean to hurt you. She’s just thoughtless. But she really loves you. We both do.”
Doyle smiled a little, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. ”Thanks man. And I know she didn’t mean it. It’s not her fault things are as they are. I just got downhearted. At first when she came, I was so happy to see her that I forgot what I am. But then I remembered.” His jaws tightened.
”It doesn’t matter to her.”
That wasn’t the point, Angel thought before Doyle even answered. He knew how Doyle felt about his demon side, and how those feelings had affected his marriage to Harry. Even if Angel thought Doyle was wrong, that didn’t much change anything. And Doyle’s answer confirmed that.
”It matters to me.” It took a while before he continued. ”Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy just to be alive and back with you. Giving up your own body - a body you’ve not even become used to having again - to some puppet master isn’t a very pleasant thing. This is so much better than that. Being a *cat* would be so much better than that. But I couldn’t ask Cordelia to go out with a cat, and I can’t ask her to go out with me. So when it comes to her, it matters. I can live with a face that makes me want to break the mirror every time I look in it, but love is kind of out of the question.”
”It doesn’t have to be”, Angel said, trying to convince himself as much as Doyle.
”Yes. On to the next topic.”
Angel didn’t try to push the issue. The next topic was one that had been bothering him since the night at the Quintessa.
”Why did you do it?”
Doyle sighed. ”Better me than you.”
”I’m not so sure about that”, Angel said, thinking of his unlife and how he sometimes could have done anything just to get to rest.
”Well, I am. You had lots of more people to save. Those few half-demons were the best I could hope for. And for me that was enough. Think it would have been for you?”
Doyle looked him straight into the eyes and Angel knew what he was saying. The Oracles had said that Doyle had atoned. If it took a horrible death by the Beacon to atone for a stupid misjudgement, what would it take for him?
”Death wasn’t even that bad”, Doyle continued. ”Dying was - Jesus, if I had known how much that thing would hurt I don’t know if I had dared to do it. But death…” He silenced. ”I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is a warm feeling and a darkness that didn’t frighten me. It was like the moment before you fall asleep, or like what a womb might feel like to judge by those biology book pictures. Maybe I was scheduled to be reborn?” He grinned at Angel. ”Then I felt something pulling me away with force. I was told, I don’t know by whom, that I didn’t have to leave if I didn’t want to. Considering how painful that pulling was I was better off being dead, but I wanted to come back to you and Cordelia.” He grimaced. ”It wasn’t much fun to end up in a demon training camp instead.”
His memories went forward from that camp. When they came as far as to the smell of his own flesh burning and the feeling of someone sneaking into his body, Doyle’s stomach told him exactly what it thought of bad memories on top of a glass of whiskey. He stood up so quickly he got dark flashes before his eyes.
”Sorry, man, I just have to…” He couldn’t say any more. With one hand in front of his mouth he rushed past Angel and headed for the bathroom. He got a glance of Cordelia sitting on the stairs, and as the whiskey left his system he felt her arms holding him up. Part of him wanted to push her away, but one thing at a time.
Cordelia had been flung between too many emotions in too little time. When she saw Doyle getting sick she went to him because it looked like he needed someone, and she knew that she was someone. She didn’t much feel anything until he turned back and looked at her. Then she felt sincerely grateful. Grateful that he let her hold him, let her care for him.
Before he could change his mind about that, she hugged him gently but hard, crying down his collar. She had been sure that Doyle’s usual set of clothing was as tasteless as can be, but this overall thing he was wearing at the moment was actually worse. What was that anyway, some sort of demon army uniform? There was another thing she had to change her mind about. She had thought that nothing could stink worse than the whiskey Doyle used to shove down his throat, but that was nothing compared to the stench of it coming up. She didn’t care.
”I’m so sorry for what I said”, she mumbled. ”I didn’t mean it.”
”I know, princess.” Doyle moved a bit away and looked at Angel, who stood by the door unsure of what to do. ”Can you give us a moment? I promise I’ll answer all your remaining questions later.”
Angel agreed and quickly decided to go upstairs in spite of Buffy’s presence. This was going to be hard on both Doyle and Cordelia, and he wanted to make sure they got their privacy.
They watched him leave and then Doyle slowly released himself from Cordelia. Yet he couldn’t stop himself from caressing her cheek.
”I’m sorry about the visions, Princess”, he said. ”I just wanted to go out with a kiss like some knight in shining armour.”
”So you didn’t know about it?” Cordelia said slowly. She had been wondering for the past six months whether the only reason he had kissed her was to give her the visions.
”I knew the moment I did it. Not before.”
”Well, I’m glad.”
None of them knew what to say for a moment. Then Cordelia tried:
”I would like to go on from where we were heading. Well, maybe you can’t ask me out for dinner, but whatever comes close.”
He turned his head away from her. ”That’s just not possible.”
Her mouth was dry. ”Why not? You remember what you said before you died, about loving your other face? Well, it’s a little early to tell, but I think I can.”
”But I can’t.”
The simple statement was rather shocking when spoken out loud. Cordelia leaned against the sink, staring at Doyle.
”You mustn’t think that I’m mad at you, Princess”, he said. ”It’s just that things would have been complicated enough back when I still had the chance to look human. Right now you may think that it doesn’t matter, but sooner or later you will want a guy that you can take outside. And you would be right in wanting that.”
”You can’t dump me over some future you assume will come!” she protested. ”I can and I do.” He left the bathroom and moved towards the stairs. Halfway there he looked back at her.
”Are you coming? I believe we have quite a lot of work to do.”
They walked up the stairs and joined the others in Angel’s office. The conversation stopped when they entered the room, and everyone looked at Doyle with faces that covered every emotion from compassion to expectation.
”So you two sorted things out, then?” Xander asked. He was sitting on the barrier with his feet dangling, and Cordelia considered for a moment to push him off.
”For the moment”, she said, and to her surprise Buffy gave her an encouraging smile.
Doyle didn’t care to protest. He sat down in an armchair and wished that he had been allowed to keep the whiskey down for a little longer.
”Mind if we ask you some more questions?” Angel asked.
”Not at all.”
”Okay.” Angel chose his words carefully. He knew resurrection hadn’t exactly been a treat for Doyle, and he wanted to make him feel alright, but this mission was pretty important, too.
”What do you know about the people who brought you back?”
Doyle sighed and stared right ahead, thinking. He didn’t like it much.
”They… they want to take control over the otherworld. Preferably without humans noticing anything, except when the demons have some use for them. The leader, ’sir’, is one of those guys who thinks he’s God - or more accurately his opposite. I only met him once, but you don’t forget that kind of thing. They’ve got control over more than half the town already, to judge from what people said. Oh, yeah”, he continued bitterly, ”they’re vicious sods who demand total obedience and are sure to get it one way or the other.”
”Do you have any idea how to get to them?” Buffy asked.
He tried to smile at her. ”Not being very helpful, am I? I know more or less where we were trained, and how you get to the fellow with the firestick from there. It’s not going to help much, though. You can kill demons all you like, they’ll bring them back.”
”Won’t they ever tire of it?” Cordelia asked.
”I don’t know. I mean, they brought us back because of this strength they thought we had from dying. Every time someone dies in battle, he will get some. So basically…”
”The more times a person dies, the better he will be”, Angel said slowly.
Doyle nodded. ”Well, that’s my theory, anyway. Don’t think they’ll bother to bring back any marked people, though. We were troublesome the first time around, imagine the second.”
”We can’t exactly outnumber them”, Buffy said thoughtfully, ”so we will have to rely on spells. Until we have had time to look through the things we found at Elil’s hangout, I suggest we keep a low profile.”
”Yeah, just starting to fight them seems a little bit too much like jumping into the Hellmouth by purpose”, Xander added.
Doyle put his head in his hands, then winced and took it away again. He had forgotten about the spikes.
”If we could only find and destroy that damned altar they use. The altar and the blokes who manage it, they’re the real cancer. The rest of it is just…”
”Metastasises?” Wesley suggested.
It wasn’t only his human face Doyle had lost while he was away. None of his possession were left, and the apartment had been let to someone else. A change of clothes belonging to Xander and the couch in Angel’s apartment solved the problem for the time being, but they couldn’t keep it that way forever. Considering everything, Angel couldn’t blame Doyle for finding another bottle of whiskey as soon as possible.
The place was silent now, with Cordelia at home, Buffy and Xander at their hotel and Doyle asleep. Angel could almost hear his own thoughts out loud. Boy, were they buzzing in there.
This mission wasn’t the biggest one he had ever encountered, but it certainly wasn’t one of the easier ones either. Each one of the demons had its own strength plus the collective strength from belonging somewhere. Even if they did manage to stop the resurrections, the remains of this cult would take forever to get rid of.
Angel decided to banish work from his mind for a while, but this only made it turn to Doyle’s position. He supposed it was ungrateful to not be pleased that Doyle was back and in shape, but that was the case. Doyle had let his self-hatred destroy one relationship, and he was about to do it again. There had been moments in the past when Angel had felt both pity and irritation with the half-demon’s attitude to himself. That attitude certainly wouldn’t improve now, and it didn’t have any reason to. And even though he was ashamed to admit the thought, this would affect Doyle’s work as well as his privacy. He couldn’t very well disappear into a crowd.
He juggled with a couple of ideas, and suddenly one of them stuck. When he had thought about it for a second, he went upstairs and into his office. It was a little late, but hopefully not too late to make a phone call.
Angel knew the number well, he had been forced to use it a lot these past few weeks.
”Giles? It’s Angel. Sorry I’m calling at this hour. Er… I have to talk to Spike, is he there?”
Giles was clearly surprised. Angel wondered to himself when he had last spoken to Spike out of his own free will and not due to some evil his childe had been up to. He heard the vampire come to the phone, and he heard the mocking hatred in his voice.
”Hello Spike.” It was hard even to talk to him. ”I need to get in touch with Wilma Romanoff, do you have her phone number? Well, what about her address, then?” Angel was getting impatient. ”No, I’m not going to hurt her. I need her help with something.” Of course, there was no reason why Spike would tell him anything. At this moment, he could have cut the other vampire’s head off. ”Spike, you can tell me now or I can ask Giles to cut your supplies for a week. I’m sure he’d do it.”
Angel got a pen from one of the desk drawers and wrote the address down.
”Thank you Spike.” He couldn’t help smiling at Spike’s invectives. ”Same to you, Spike. If we’re really unlucky, I’ll meet you there.”
He hung up the phone and looked at the piece of paper. It was too late to pay visits to an old lady. On the other hand, Wilma ought to be used to it.
Angel rang the doorbell hard and repeatedly. He waited a while, and when nothing happened he pounded the door. There were a couple of thuds from the inside, then after a while some mumbling that sounded suspiciously like swearing before finally someone called out:
”I’m coming! Keep your bloody pants on!”
An old woman opened the door. She was holding a stake, but considering the way she held it she didn’t count on having to use it.
”Stupid, impatient people”, she muttered. Not until then did she open her eyes fully. ”Oh, it’s you!” she said, sounding rather surprised. ”Come in!”
She walked into the kitchen and he followed her. She seemed to be thinking hard, and after a while her face lit up.
”Angel!” she said.
”That’s my name.”
”I know. I just remembered.”
He smiled a little. ”I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
”Oh, it’s not the sleeping part that’s the worst, it’s turning back. One day I’ll open the door as a turtle.”
She opened the fridge and looked it through.
”Care for some blood?” she asked in the same tone of voice other people would have used to offer alcoholic beverage. ”I’ve got some pig and some chicken - and I dare say there’s a little of mine somewhere too.”
”Pig will be fine”, he said. His tone of voice made her turn around and smile at him.
”You know”, she said, ”even Spike doesn’t much like it when I serve him my own blood. I can understand why, it’s a little like in ’Alice…’ when she is introduced to the pudding.” She poured some pig’s blood into a beer glass. ”I only keep it in case he really craves something human. He’s not getting much now, is he?”
She put the glass in front of Angel and sat down opposite him.
”I know it’s a blessing from one point of view, what they did to him. That doesn’t mean I have to approve. I’ve always respected the slayers, but this is different. This is like putting bells on a cat, like that horrible woman next door. Cats are hunters, if you can’t accept that, you shouldn’t keep one.”
Angel took a sip from his glass and looked silently at Wilma. She realised the slight tactlessness of her latest remark and made a gesture meaning bygones.
”So, what do you want?” she asked.
”I need your help.” Angel wondered how to put it. ”I know that you’re a shapeshifter, and I’ve heard that you teach other people how to do it.”
”Yes”, she admitted, but shook her head at the same time. ”But I don’t do vampires, I’m afraid. Not even a vamp with a soul.”
”No, it’s not for me, it’s for a friend.”
She studied him carefully. ”A human friend?”
She frowned, looking a bit reserved, so he hurried to assure her: ”He’s a nice guy.”
”Far be it from me to suggest otherwise”, she said. ”I’ve had a few demons, not many. What kind is he?”
She looked very thoughtful. ”Never did a Brachen. Not meaning I can’t, though. May I take a guess at which form he wants to take?”
”Human”, Angel said.
She nodded, seeming everything but surprised. He was relieved. At least she didn’t say no flat.
”He used to be half human”, he explained to her. ”He lost his humanity - it’s a little hard to explain.”
”Restoration is always easier”, she said absent-mindedly. ”And he’s done shapeshifting before…” You could almost hear the cog wheels moving inside her head. Finally, she smiled.
”Sounds like an interesting case! Bring your friend over!”
”Thank you”, Angel said, and he really meant it. He finished his drink and prepared to leave.
”Oh”, he suddenly said. ”One more thing. Do you think he could live with you?” ”Here?” She was surprised. ”Of course. But why? Does this have to happen quickly?”
”Well, yes, but that’s not the entire reason. He’s homeless.”
She stared at him.
”A homeless, former half-human Brachen demon”, she said slowly, ”who befriends a vampire with a soul. That is positively one of the freakiest things I have ever heard of. And I have heard of a lot. I can’t wait to meet your friend.”
Doyle hesitated when he stood by the door, but after Angel’s slight push in his back he knocked. Angel had said that the woman who lived here could help him, and he wanted that more than anything, but he was still a little afraid. Spells were like surgery - even a routine one will make you a bit nervous. And there was nothing routine about this.
Wilma opened almost immediately.
”Welcome!” she said with a friendly smile. ”You are, of course, Angel’s friend. I’m Wilma Romanoff.”
”Hi. Doyle.” Doyle shook the woman’s hand, and they visually examined each other. He knew what she saw and was slightly surprised at her utter calm. What he saw was a tall woman in her seventies, with blue eyes and almost white hair. She wasn’t big enough to be called stout, but healthy-looking and bosomy. She could have been his grandmother, only his grandmother would never have kept stakes by the door.
”Nice to meet you. Hello Angel, won’t you come in?”
”That’s alright”, Angel said, ”I’ll leave you two alone. I have some work to do.”
Doyle gave Angel a startled look, but Wilma seemed pleased with the answer.
”Very well then. You know you’re welcome to come over and visit me any time.”
Angel thanked her and prepared to leave when she called him back. She casually touched his head, his chest and his shoulders.
”There”, she said. ”Didn’t kill you, did it. Remember that.”
Angel looked down at his own body, then at her. There was nothing really to be said. He smiled at the two of them and left. The door closed behind him and Doyle was alone with the old woman. If this was his ”surgeon”, it could have been worse.
”Don’t just stand there!” the woman said, and he followed her inside. ”This is the kitchen and a perfect starting point if we want to get to know each other. Do you want something to drink? A cup of coffee?”
”No thank you”, he said.
What he really wanted must have been evident in his face, because she said: ”How about a Yellow Submarine? Russian style, beer and vodka.”
He accepted the suggestion and watched as she filled a large glass with beer and a small one with vodka, before putting the small glass into the big one. She then poured some beer for herself, without the vodka, and sat down at the table.
”Now, dear, tell me a little about yourself”, she asked him.
When he had told her everything he figured she needed to know and answered all her questions she seemed so cheery that it got him into a much better mood.
”Your conditions are excellent, so I really don’t think this will be very difficult”, she explained to him.
”Really?” He was incredibly relieved, and she nodded in an incouraging way.
”Yes. Even considering possible obstacles, like if you’re a slow learner, there’s no way this would take more than a month.”
His spirits immediately sunk. ”A *month*!? What kind of spell is this?”
”Spell?” She stared at him. ”Didn’t Angel tell you how I work?”
He shook his head, still shaken by her news. Another month of his life.
”I’m not a wicca. I am a shapeshifter. I can change my own shape into something different. That’s what I will teach you to do. I don’t use spells, I use faith.”
”Oh, so I just have to think that I’m human and I’ll be human again?” He couldn’t help being bitter. She viewed him with much compassion, but he had a feeling that none of this was new to her. Actually, since he had arrived, he hadn’t felt that anything was new to her.
”That’s not what I said”, she explained patiently. ”If that was true, all lunatics who think they are Napoleon would actually *be* Napoleon, and how would that look? No. But the world is to a high degree what we assume it to be. If we believe we can change it, we can. What you have to do is acknowledge the shape you’re already in, then get to know the shape you want to assume - that shouldn’t be a problem in your case - and have faith that you can change one into the other.”
”Faith in God?”
”If you want, but not necessarily. Have you heard of the placebo effect?”
”Well, that’s an example. People get well because they believe that they will get well. And they’re just the amateurs.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back. Being human after a month was better than never.
”If you have finished your drink, we can proceed into the living room”, she said. ”Oh, and by the way, drinking will not exactly help you get human faster.”
”I won’t drink”, he said quickly, so quickly that it made her smile.
They sat down in her sofa.
”So, I’ve told you about me”, Doyle said. ”What about you?”
”What about me?”
”Well, what about your name? Are you Russian?”
She shook her head. ”Dutch. My husbands family were exiled Russians living in America. And before you ask, my husband died in 1942. I have a daughter called Tineke, she was born after his death. I never remarried. Happy?”
He was, but still curious. ”You must have loved him a lot then?” When he saw her empty look he continued: ”Since you never married again.”
”Oh. Well, there have been other men, I just never married them. I always liked being a widow, you can control your own life and at the same time be much more respected than an old maid. Of course, all that is very different nowadays. As for my husband… I don’t know if I very much loved him at all. Is that a terrible thing to say?” she asked curiously.
He shrugged. ”No. But if you didn’t love him, why did you marry him?”
”Well that’s a question…” She sighed. ”When he preposed I wasn’t sure. I mean, I liked him and all. He was an American soldier - my family had fled to England since the Netherlands were occupied - and a sweet, fairly intelligent, good-looking young man from a nice, wealthy family. I just didn’t love him. I would tell people that, and they would say ’why not?’. There’s no way of answering that, not for a girl of nineteen. He was dull, that is the sad truth. No imagination, no sense of humour, his mind as dry as chalk. God bless his soul.”
”Was he killed in the war?”
She looked absent-minded. ”No, vampires.”
”Really?” That didn’t make much sense to Doyle. ”But you’re okay with Angel? I mean, I know since he’s got a soul he’s different from the other vampires, but still…”
”You don’t understand why I respect Angel?”
”I do! I mean, he’s my friend, of course I understand! Just… not… completely.”
She seemed very amused. ”I’ll let you in on a secret. He’s not the only vampire I let into my house. I’ve spent quite a lot of time with my husband’s killers.” She laughed at his shocked expression. ”It’s a long story. Do you want to hear some?”
/FLASHBACK/ Their dull little house in the outskirts of London had once belonged to some friends of Ivan, or so he said. Wilma didn’t find it surprising that they had abandoned it. She would have wanted to abandon it even without the war. Ivan being home on leave ought to have made it brighter, but she was more bored than ever.
This was only their second night together this time around. Wilma sat in an armchair pretending to read a book, but she couldn’t concentrate, her eyes kept moving in Ivan’s direction. She knew that he would want her this night as well, and God help her, but she wasn’t in the mood at all. She hadn’t even been yesterday, but she was too young and inexperienced to claim she had a headache. As far as she knew, there was no away around it. All she could do was stall it a bit.
This was awful of her. The little time spent together, and all she could think of was how much she missed her privacy. If she didn’t get out this instant she would go mad, she knew it.
She slammed the book shut. ”I think I’ll go for a walk.”
He looked at her, surprised, with raised eyebrows.
”It’s past curfew.”
”Oh.” She sank back into her chair, defeated. His face softened as he looked at her.
”Tell you what, why don’t we break curfew for once? We’ll take a romantic walk together?”
”We can’t do that.”
”Well, we oughtn’t, but what the heck. You’re the one who always tells me to lighten up.”
It was tempting. She still wouldn’t get any privacy, but at least she would get some fresh air, and a walk with Ivan was better than none at all. But the curfew was there for a reason. She was frightened to death of the bombs, and even though she knew they were far from safe in the house, it was much better than the outside. She stood up, slowly.
”Alright, Vanja”, she said. ”I’d love that.”
It was raining outside, not much, but enough for Wilma to take her umbrella. She would have preferred for Ivan to take his as well, instead of both of them using hers, but that would have forced them further apart than a newly wed couple were supposed to be. They walked a few blocks, and after a few attempts to start a conversation, Ivan was as silent as she was.
A woman’s voice, rather childish, disturbed the silence.
”What a pretty couple! Aren’t they pretty?”
The young woman who had spoken turned to the blonde young man who was with her.
”Very, love”, he assured her. The couple came closer to Ivan and Wilma, a little too close. Wilma, who was used to the English offishness, became uncomfortable, while Ivan was more confused.
”Thank you”, he said. ”Now if you excuse us, we were on our way…”
”You are such a pretty little thing”, the woman said, standing in Ivan’s way. ”I think I would like to kiss you.” He started to feel threatened and tried to move, but she grabbed him hard, with more strength than he had expected. ”Don’t you worry”, she cooed. Then her face changed.
Wilma was startled. In a second, the scary stories she had heard as a child entered her mind, and before the woman’s fangs were fully buried into Ivan’s neck, she had broken her umbrella. The blonde man had been coming at her, but had to take a step back. His face had changed, too, and she panicked at the thought of trying to keep this monster away with a stake made from a broken umbrella. She met his eyes, trying not to look at Ivan, who had stopped struggling the woman.
”Aren’t you a feisty little thing?” the man said. He gave her an utterly amused grin.
She could have tried to stake him, or run away, or scream her lungs out. Those were the logical options, and had she tried any of them she would most likely have been dead in a second. Instead, she found herself grinning back. That caught him off-guard. Before he had time to get over his surprise and attack her, a voice was heard:
”Hey! What are you up to?”
It was a police officer. Poor man, Wilma thought as she sneaked into the nearest unlocked gateway. He didn’t stand a chance.
Spike had barely finished the policeman before he realised that the girl had gotten away. That put him in a bad mood that lasted all the way home. Drusilla, on the other hand, was perfectly happy.
”That young man was an American”, she said.
”I like Americans”, she declared. ”They aren’t as dry as some people over here. Then again, I liked the policeman too. I thought he was very sweet.”
”I’m glad you enjoyed the meal, love.”
She looked up at him.
”Are you still mad about the girl? It was a pity she escaped, but I did let you have half of the policeman.”
”Yes you did. That was very kind of you.” He kissed her and sat silent for a while before he suddenly said: ”I want to give it another try. It bothers me that she got away. That lousy little stake she had wasn’t mush of a defence.”
Drusilla realised that Spike’s pride was hurt, and she agreed. ”Alright, I think you should. Do you think you can find her?”
”There aren’t all that many places she could have gone.” He thought for a while. ”You know, she did have a lot of spunk for such a little one. Maybe I should make her my childe instead.”
”Don’t you dare!” Drusilla sat straight up, jealous.
”It’s been kind of empty around here since Angelus left. Don’t you think you would enjoy some more company?”
”No!” Drusilla sulked. She didn’t want another woman that would take Spike’s mind off her. Angelus had been one thing, a new vamp was entirely different.
”Alright”, Spike said and shrugged. ”I’ll just kill her, then. As long as I get her one way or the other.”
Wilma had knocked on the door to an apartment, and heard footsteps from inside.
”Who is it?” a suspicious female voice asked.
”Please, you have to let me in”, she begged. ”My husband and I were attacked by…”, she couldn’t say vampires, ”…criminals. I ran away. Please let me in.”
The woman opened the door just a little.
”Are you German?”
”No!” Oh God, if the woman thought she was German she would send her right out to the vampires again. ”I’m Dutch. My husband is an American soldier. Was. I think they killed him.” Her eyes filled with tears. She hadn’t been very fond of Ivan, but he was her husband.
The woman hesitated for a moment, then opened the door fully.
”Come on in then. You shouldn’t be out at all, it’s past curfew.”
”I know. We were taking a walk.” This was all her fault! At this thought, the tears flowed vividly.
”There, there”, the woman said. ”You don’t look harmful, girl. Now you come on in, and have a cup of tea, and then I’ll let you use the spare bed for tonight. We don’t want you outside any more.” She pushed Wilma inside with mild force. ”What’s your name?”
”Wilma - Wilhelmina Romanoff.”
”Romanoff?” The woman looked uncertain. ”But that’s a Russian name, isn’t it?”
”Yes. My husband’s family emigrated from Russia.”
”I see. Well, I’m Mabel Patton. Nice to meet you, mrs Romanoff.”
She had gratefully accepted the cup of tea, but before she had the chance to try the spare bed, there was an air-raid warning, and the following hour she spent in a crowded shelter. This caused her to fall asleep instantly when she finally got the chance.
When she woke up, she found mrs. Patton standing by her bed with a concerned expression on her face.
”I’ve been talking to the police, dear”, she said. ”They think they have found your husband’s body.” She hesitated to tell the rest. ”A bomb ruined half the block, so the body… might be hard to identify. They want you to give it a try, though.”
Wilma nodded and sat up. Fear suddenly struck her with full impact, and she turned to her new-found friend.
”You have been so very kind to me, I’m ashamed to even ask, but there’s something I’d like to borrow from you. If you have one.”
Mrs Patton did have one, and even though she didn’t understand the first thing, she let the girl borrow it.
Wilma walked down the street in a hasty pace. The identification process had been hard on her nerves, but it had an advantage: Ivan’s body had been partly destroyed by the explosion, so there was no way of saying how he originally died. Officially he had died from the explosion, and she knew better than to bring up the vampires.
She was so deep into her own thoughts that she didn’t quite see the man standing in the shadowy street until he grabbed her and pulled her close to him. She looked up with a gasp into the face of the vampire of last night. This time he was going to kill her for sure. Knowing that she would die, she felt a strange calm, and before she knew what she was saying, she blurted out:
”I thought your kind was only out at night.”
He raised an eyebrow at her remark. ”Not at all. We just have to stay away from direct sunlight. A common mistake - but very fatal.”
He grinned and bent down his face over her neck, but quickly backed away again with a curse. Thank God, at least mrs Patton’s silver cross had worked on him. She took the few steps back into the sun. This was the perfect time to run away, but she didn’t. Instead, she stared at him thoroughly. When the pain from the burn had gone away, his eyes met hers for a moment. None of them knew exactly what to do. After a second, the vampire moved to sneak away. Her voice stopped him.
”I have a bomb shelter in the garden.”
He turned and looked at her. It was clear that he had no idea why she said this. She had no idea herself, and much less why she continued:
”In case you want to stay away from the sun.”
His astonishment didn’t stop him from accepting the offer once he had decided she was honest. She had planned to go back to mrs Patton, but instead, she turned her steps to the place she for the moment called home, and he followed her. Him in the shadows, her in the sun. As they proceeded, she felt a strange sensation of exstacy. To her, this was Death she was walking next to. She could do nothing about the war and the bombings, nothing about the evil made by men, but this soulless death that had killed her husband she could make a pact with. For the first time since she left Amsterdam, she felt she could control her own destiny.
”Here we are”, she said, entering the dull little garden. ”This is the shelter.”
He had stayed on the outside, in the shadows. Obviously.
”You can come at night or whenever you need it”, she said. ”I will be armed, and there is no one else around, now that you killed my husband, so shelter is all you will get.”
He spoke for the first time since they had started the walk. ”You will have to get in there and invite me in before I can enter.”
”Oh.” She thought for a while. ”Alright, call on me when you need it and I will invite you in.”
”Can I bring someone else?”
This startled her. ”The woman? The one who…”
”Yes.” He looked at her to esteem her reaction. Finally, she nodded.
”The woman then. But only her.”
As she went inside the house, into safety, she knew her life would never be the same. She had made a deal with Death - with the Devil, people would tell her later in her life. By then she didn’t care. She never took any part of the hunt, but she would hide Spike, and with him Drusilla, from any Slayer or demon hunter around. There was no logic in her actions, and morally they were wrong, but she couldn’t turn back on them, and wouldn’t if she could have.
”Quite a story”, Doyle said.
”It is, isn’t it?” She giggled softly. ”That’s how I became interested in the otherworld. Finding out that old wives’ tales are actually true will do that to you.”
”Hm.” That wasn’t what it had done to him, but then his story was different from hers. ”And they have never tried to kill you?”
”Actually… no. Occasionally I have had to protect my friends and family, but I was always safe myself. It really came down to two things. First of all, Spike for some reason finds me entertaining, not to mention useful. Second is that I have always stayed armed, in case his sense of humour would fail him.”
”What about Drusilla?”
”Drusilla”, she said distinctly, ”and Spike’s other friends who know what is best for them, leave me alone. I am Spike’s plaything, and if anyone is to kill me it’s him. That’s the way he sees it.”
”Interesting form of protection.” ”You could say that again.” She sat silent for a while. ”And in spite of what you might think, it never had anything to do with sexual attraction. Even though I was… what is the term nowadays… a babe?”
He laughed at her self-certainty. ”You where?”
”Oh yeah, most definitely. You want to see?”
He expected her to get an album or something. Instead, she took a deep breath, seemed to concentrate for a few seconds, and her face began to change. It didn’t take much longer than one of his old human-to-demon changes for her to become a slim, blonde teenage girl once again.
Doyle’s jaw dropped, and Wilma grinned.
”So you had to see it to believe it. Yes, sir, this is what faith can do.”
”Amazing.” His eyes wandered over her body. Well, she was no Cordelia, but not half bad either. ”You’re right, you are a babe.”
”Thank you.” She immediately turned back, and he frowned.
”Can’t you keep it on longer than that?” he asked. It wasn’t so much that he liked her young body better, but if she couldn’t stick to it, how could he possibly stick to his?
”I can keep it on for as long as I want”, she said. ”But I don’t. What’s the point in looking like one of my own granddaughters? I actually find that shape a bit creepy.”
She didn’t seem to be able to explain further, and as Doyle’s mind wandered, he said:
”Can I ask something? When I’m human again, will it be through and through, or just looking like it?”
”Ah. Now we’re entering philosophy. It’s not an illusion, if that’s what you mean. I usually shapeshift into a horse or a turtle, and I assure you that if anyone was to kill and dissect me while I’m in that form, they would find nothing strange about those animals, nothing that showed that there had been a human mind in them. My own young self, however… I’m not in the habit of self-healing, even though it’s entirely possible to do so. So what I just showed you was a young girl with heart and joints like an old woman. If you want to keep your demon powers when you shapeshift, you can do that, but it will take some work. Normally, when you start shifting some parts, the rest just comes along.” She smiled when she added: ”Which is usually a good thing, since it means you don’t have to believe in your own pancreas.”
”I see.” He melted the information. ”So - when are we going to get started?”
”If you want to, we can start right now.”
”Found something”, Buffy said and placed a finger in the book she was reading.
The rest of the bunch looked up. ”Anything on the altar thing?” Xander asked hopefully.
”Uhm… no”, Buffy had to admit. ”Just a description of some spell that keeps these guys loyal. Apparently, they’re not above ordinary methods like drilling, propaganda and brainwashing, but this spell makes sure the troops stay united. So it’s not unless that stuff fails that they try the extreme methods, and even then they prefer torture to branding.”
She didn’t realise at first why Cordelia stared at her, and when she did, she wished she had kept shut.
”Doyle didn’t say anything about being tortured”, Cordelia said, wishing the reason he hadn’t was because it hadn’t happened.
”You don’t talk about things like that”, Angel said silently. To keep himself from thinking any further down these lines he continued: ”So, Buffy, do you think this information will be helpful?”
”Well, by the look of it, it’s not a very complicated spell. I’m sure we can counter it by a stronger spell to cause discord among them. On the other hand, in the long run it might only tick them off completely.”
”Worth a try”, Angel said.
”Okay.” She moved for the phone. ”I’ll call Giles and ask him to find a spell we can use.”
”Or you could let me do it”, Wesley said mildly.
She stared at him in a way that clearly showed that the thought had never entered her mind. Finally, she shrugged.
”Alright, give it a try.”
In spite of what Buffy might have believed, it didn’t take Wesley long to work out a spell to divide the army.
”This will be very handy in the defence department”, Angel said. ”I still have to do my job, and quite frankly, I don’t like the way the demons have cluttered lately. So anytime any of you run into demons, I want you to do the spell on them. That’s even more important than killing them right now.”
”Still just small potatoes”, Cordelia said with a pout. With this demon uprising, all the extra work ought to mean a lot of extra money as well, but they were too busy to actually get any paying clients. What had started with Doyle’s condition had moved on to another one of those tedious apocalypses. Cordelia trusted Angel, she knew he could stop the bad guys. She just wanted it to happen quickly.
”Yeah, I know.” He sighed. ”That training camp Doyle was in might be worth a try, though. The demons there aren’t full-fledged yet, our counterspell will most likely have the greatest effect there.”
He shook his head. ”Hey, no guarantees.”
”That ought to be the guys Harry knew”, Angel said when the doorbell rang. They had decided that the best way to approach the camp was by infiltration, and to do that, they needed demons. When Angel called Doyle for directions and happened to hint something like that, Doyle had assumed they wanted him to come along, and sulked a bit when it turned out they didn’t.
”They know you by now”, Angel had said. ”Total strangers who have no connection to you or to us, that’s what we need.” Although he wouldn’t admit it to Doyle, it wouldn’t have mattered if the camp people had never seen Doyle before in their life. Angel still wouldn’t have wanted him to come. This time around, he wanted to keep that little half-demon alive.
Cordelia opened the door, and if she was startled by the looks of the four big demons, she didn’t show it. Instead, they shook hands and introduced themselves. Two of the demons were Brachen, one male and one female, and their names were Veta and Ord. The other two were Laexara demons. When Cordelia had first heard that word, she wasn’t sure if she had ever met one. Looking at these two brothers, Halvor and Haren, she was certain she hadn’t.
Considering that they were demons, the Laexara weren’t bad looking. Their statures were almost human, not counting the four arms and the short white fur. Their heads were shaped human, too, but the ears and faces looked more like goats’ than anything else, if you could imagine a goat with fangs. Hair more like a horse’s mane grew from the back of their heads. All this thrown into one, they most definitely looked weird, but not scary. Toy stores might actually be able to sell Laexara demons as stuffed animals.
Veta immediately turned to Angel.
”We are here to help you with your mission”, she said solemnly. ”We too have had trouble with this cult. There are always wars between the clans, but now even our own kind turn against us. If we can do anything to stop that, we will.” Her eyes moved towards the Laexara, and she seemed hesitant. ”These warriors have the same cause as we do, and have promised their help in every way.”
”I appreciate that”, Angel said, and with a few short instructions he explained the plan. ”And please remember”, he concluded, ”killing them will *not* help our case. If you must kill them, do so, but first choice is always to cast the spell. Is that clear?”
”Very clear”, Halvor muttered. ”Not that I wouldn’t prefer to rip their bloody heads off.”
”What’s your problem?” Cordelia asked sourly. ”Too much testosterone?”
Halvor growled at her, and Angel drew her aside and mumbled:
”You may not want to provoke him.”
”I thought Harry said the Laexara were benign”, she breathed. The demon’s attitude had frightened her a little.
”Oh yes, they’re benign. They have nothing against humans. However, they *are* warriors, and they are well known for their short temper. Okay?” He let go of her with a smile.
Ord looked around and asked:
”Are the humans coming, too?”
”Not all of us”, Buffy said. ”However, since I’m the Slayer and Wesley here is the one who knows the spell best, you are going to hand us over as a present to the leaders. You know, just to show your appreciation that you’re allowed to join them.”
”This is not usually how people join us”, the camp leader said, but he viewed the five applicants in a rather appreciative way, and setting his eyes on the two human gifts, he almost folded.
”How did you say you got here?” he asked.
”I have learned a lot from a demon called Elil”, the vampire said. The camp leader nodded, he knew the name. ”Since Elil is dead and can no longer help me, I had to search further. I found information that lead me from his place to yours.”
That was a plausible explanation. The camp leader nodded pensively.
”Alright then. Welcome, and thank you very much for your gifts. We will take proper care of them before you start your education.”
A bunch of demons grabbed Buffy and Wesley and dragged them off into different directions. Buffy let herself be dragged through damp corridors until she decided that she had waited long enough. Quickly and rather quietly she repeated the spell that Wesley had taught her.
”What did you say?” one of her guards asked her and shook her a bit.
”I said, you’re a bunch of fine morons”, Buffy said. This was it. If the spell didn’t work she was dead meat. ”I mean, why even bother to give me away as some sacrifice or whatever you guys are doing? You could just eat me yourself, here and now.”
”Hey, that’s not a bad idea”, a demon said.
”Shut up, Gard, you know our orders”, another snapped.
”Orders?” A third one entered the conversation. ”Only idiots like you let yourself be ordered around. I do as I like.”
The spell had worked perfectly, and Buffy could easily run off into the corridor once her guards started to really hit it off with the fighting. The first one she ran into was Wesley.
”I see it worked for you too”, she said.
The Englishman smiled a little.
”Yes. I told them they had to take me back, but since some of them thought it was a good idea and others thought it was a bad one, I offered to go myself. They were still arguing on whether or not they should let me do that when I took off.”
Buffy laughed at this. Wesley usually wasn’t much to hold onto in a thunderstorm, but any company felt good at the moment, and the fact that their defence actually worked felt even better.
A big lumber door led to a yard were hundreds of demons were working on drills. Or that’s what they were supposed to be doing. There were already uneasy voices, and the humans could spot Haren in the middle of the group. He had sat down on the ground and refused to move.
”I’m tired”, he declared, ”and I’m not in the mood for this.”
Several of the other demons yelled their agreement and sat down as well. The leader grabbed a whip of the kind called ”nine-tailed cat”. This made Haren rise and growl at the leader. When he stood up, his eyes met Buffy’s, and he grinned at her. None of the other demons noticed the humans, they were far to upset.
”Come on, you ninny!” Haren said to the leader. ”What sort of a coward are you? Can’t you get into a proper fight, demon to demon?”
”Alright!” the leader yelled. He was as affected by the spell as anyone else, and he longed to show this snotty Laexara who was in charge. The fight didn’t last long. Within seconds, Haren had ripped his head off.
”No!” Buffy cried. This caught the other demons’ attention, and they turned disbelievingly towards the humans. ”Haren, we *told* you not to kill if you could avoid it.”
”Oh. Right.” The demon looked a bit guilty. Then he noticed the looks the other demons gave the humans, and he held up the leader’s head. ”Anybody want some?”
A massive roar of ”I do!” answer his request, and he casually threw them the head.
”That will keep them busy for a while”, he said to the humans. ”I’m sorry about the killing, I forgot. Shall we find the others?”
When all seven of them had found their way back to each other, they shared a few laughs retelling their stories. However, they all had a feeling this was only helping marginally.
”We were thinking”, Ord said. ”It will take the cult some time to get this mess sorted out, but not very long.”
”I know”, Angel said. ”There’s just nothing more we can do right now.”
”Yes there is”, Halvor said, and he sounded very grave. ”The four of us could stay here and keep using the spell on everyone who comes here. With the mess around here, nobody will notice that we don’t belong here, and we will be able to cause quite a lot of trouble before anyone finds out.”
It wasn’t a bad idea, but good Lord, how dangerous! Angel hesitated.
”They’ll find out sooner or later”, he warned them.
”Hopefully, we will be able to escape. And in any case, it might buy you enough time to do something about the altar.”
Angel looked at the four demons. ”Are you all sure about this?”
They nodded, and after a moment’s thought he agreed.
”Alright then. Good luck, and thank you for your help.”
The goodbyes were sombre, they all knew they might never meet again. When Ord took Angel’s hand, he squeezed it hard and said:
”Speaking for all of us, it has been an honour to work with you.”
”You too”, Angel replied. ”Try to stay alive, will you?”
After the first day of practice, Doyle had been shown into a bedroom that contained quite a few bookshelves but no other personal things, unless you counted a model of a bird sceleton. He was surprised at his own tiredness. Most of the work that hadn’t been pure discussions could mostly be described as meditation tecniques, and that sort of stuff was supposed to be relaxing, wasn’t it? Instead, the welcoming softness of his bed made Doyle drift away.
Before he had fallen asleep completely, he heard a low, strange sound. It was a lot like a little motor, but Doyle drowsingly knew that it wasn’t, and that he ought to know what it was. Something carefully trodded over him, and a pair of yellow eyes showed up by his face. He couldn’t help but give a startled cry before he realised that it was only an ugly old tomcat.
”Hiya, mate”, he said, ”this your bed? How about we just share it for the night, okay?”
The cat walked around in a circle and finally lay down next to Doyle, who quickly fell asleep.
When he woke up the next morning and moved his hand about on the pillow, he felt something wet and sticky. He opened his eyes and realised that it was blood. Rushing out of bed, he went into the kitchen and informed Wilma, who was making coffee, that there was a dead bird on his pillow.
”Well, you had better thank Fluffy then”, she said. ”He must really like you.”
Doyle stared at the cat, who purred and stroke his head along Doyle’s legs. It was apparently an old fighter, because his fur was leathery and scarred.
”Fluffy?” he asked, and Wilma smiled a little.
”Old women are supposed to call their cats Fluffy, whether they are fluffy or not.” She poured him a cup of coffee. ”My youngest granddaughter Janie might be coming this afternoon, if you don’t mind having a giggly teenager in the house.”
”Of course not”, he answered. ”But what about… well, does she know that I’m here?”
Wilma shook her head, and then, catching Doyle’s glance, added: ”She *has* met demons before. ”
Doyle didn’t push the issue, although he didn’t like the thought of showing himself like this. Still, since the faith stuff was so demanding, he forgot all about it until later that day when the doorbell rang. Doyle winced, and as Wilma went to answer it, he sank deep into the sofa, cursing the thought of some kid rushing in and staring at him.
Wilma opened the front door and took in the sight of the two girls outside. The fact that there was one more grandchild than expected outside didn’t bother her, she was lucky all five of them didn’t decide to come.
”Hi Granny!” Kitty said. She slurred a little, not sounding drunk, but as if there was hot food in her mouth. ”I thought I’d go with Janie.”
”Well, you’re very welcome”, Wilma replied, and then asked, with a frown: ”Why are you talking so strange?”
Kitty proudly extracted her tongue, and Wilma gave a disgusted cry.
”Good Lord! Is there any part of your body you’re *not* going to shove metal through?”
”Not really…” Kitty said dreamily, which made her sister laugh.
”She’s insane”, Janie explained and proceeded towards the livingroom. ”We thought we might watch some videos, is that okay?”
”Well, I have a client, but I guess we can be in the kitchen.”
”Yes Alf, go into the kitchen”, Kitty said.
Janie had already discovered Doyle.
”Hi!” she said, a little surprised maybe to find a demon in her grandmother’s livingroom, but not very much so.
”Hi”, Doyle said and extracted his hand, trying to act casual. ”I’m Doyle.”
She took it. ”Janie Kincaid.” Her clothes were nice but discreet in grey and black, and with the rye blonde hair and grey eyes, she seemed a little colourless.
Yet she looked a lot better than her sister, who had also entered the room. Kitty’s checked man’s shirt and worn blue jeans were average for a certain style, but her hairdo was most definitely not: her head was shaved at the sides and the hair that was left was dyed black and made into tiny braids. Doyle looked at the chain that went from her nose to her ear and wondered why any girl would want to do that to herself. Rebellion? But she didn’t seem like that kind of girl. Mislead ideas of beauty, probably.
”Centerfold demon”, Janie said to her sister.
Kitty blushed. ”Brachen. Yeah.” She shook Doyle’s hand and said her name, then added: ”I have a picture of a Brachen in my room, but it’s *not* a centerfold, it’s an old drawing.”
”Oh yes”, Janie said and flung herself into the sofa. ”I didn’t mean to imply that you’re a sex object or anything”, she told Doyle. ”The only guys she likes are Cary Grant and a muppet-lookalike.”
”Oh. Oh”, Kitty said, pretending to be upset. ”Well, at least *my* boyfriend doesn’t wear a dress.”
Janie took a cushion and threw at her. Doyle’s eyes met Wilma’s, and the old lady just shook her head and said:
”Two giggly teenagers. Why don’t we just move into the kitchen and let them watch their videos. Although why you can’t do that at home is more than I understand.”
”Mom won’t let us”, Janie said. ”Not since last week, when mrs Carter came while we were watching Star Trek: Voyager.”
”Episode Blood Fever”, Kitty said. ”We were a little… loud.”
”Oh, right”, Wilma said. ”Tineke told me about that. Shouting undecent things, weren’t you?”
”We just said ’bonk her’”, Janie mumbled with a smile.
”Hm. What are you watching today?”
”Press Gang. No sex whatsoever. And don’t worry, we’re meeting Clifford and the bunch tonight, so we’ll only stay until supper.”
”Alright”, Wilma said. ”I’ll give you some soda to play drinking games with, but I’d appreciate it if you keep your voices down.”
”Thanks, Granny. And for what it’s worth, the L word.”
Wilma stopped in the doorway to the kitchen, then shook her head and went inside.
”Do they do this a lot?” Doyle asked her.
”My house is a complete hallway for every relative around”, Wilma said. ”That I don’t mind. But I don’t like the tendency those two have of speaking in quotes.”
Doyle sat down by the kitchen table and waited for Wilma to get started. He was a little surprised at the girls’ behavior. For most of the time they had ignored him completely, and funny enough, that felt good. He wasn’t weird enough for them to cause any attention.
Wilma looked thoroughly at him.
”I think we have a bit of a problem”, she said.
He felt a bit of panic rising. ”What?”
”Do you remember what I said about shapeshifting? That first you have to acknowledge the shape you’re in, then change it. We have been working on part two, but maybe we shouldn’t have. By the look of it, I would say you haven’t gotten past the acknowledgement part yet.”
”Well, if I liked being a demon I wouldn’t be here, would I?” he snapped.
”Quite a few demons who liked themselves have come here for practical reasons”, she said calmly. ”Listen, I’m not saying you have to prefer this shape, but you can’t be ashamed of it. Then you will block yourself completely.”
Doyle felt tears burning in his eyes. ”What am I supposed to do then?” he asked bitterly.
She took his hand, smiling. ”Don’t you worry, there are methods for this as well. I’ll turn into a sappy therapist for a while, though.”
He nodded his consent.
”Okay. Now, which part of yourself do you like the least?”
”I don’t know”, he said. ”I don’t much like any part.”
”Fine, then we’ll start with the face. That’s a part that gets a lot of attention, let’s give it some more.” She walked to a cupboard and brought forward a mirror, a notebook and a pencil, all of which she handed to Doyle.
”Look into the mirror carefully”, she said, ” and make a drawing of yourself. Not a caricature, a detailed drawing, and if you make something uglier or prettier than it is, don’t think I won’t make you change it. Is that clear?”
It wasn’t a very pleasant task, and it took forever with Wilma on his back making him change the picture over and over again, but finally they came to a point where Wilma’s comments were fewer and nicer. Doyle actually started enjoying what he was doing, and his wish to do a good job made him glance into the mirror without much emotion.
The phone rang and Wilma took it.
”Romanoff. Oh, hello Tineke! What?” Her face darkened as she listened. ”She did what!? No, I didn’t teach her to do that! I would never… Alright, so that part I might have encouraged, but I never told her she could do it in public… This isn’t a game, I’m as upset as you are… Well, of course I will punish her… Sounds good. Bye.”
Wilma hung up and went inside the living room, shouting:
”Jane Brittany Kincaid, you’re in deep trouble!”
The girls looked up from the TV, and by the look on Janie’s face, she knew exactly what the problem was.
”That was your mother calling, informing me that you had put on a rather remarkable act in school today. Not only were you levitating, but producing stigmata as well. Can you deny that?”
”No, granny”, the girl admitted.
”Well, I am disappointed in you. I thought you were aware of your responsibilities, but it appears I was wrong. First, you are not to use magic where people can see you, you know that. Second, and more importantly, stigmata are *not* acceptable, ever. Saints got stigmata when they felt close to their suffering Lord, and by producing them for fun you are making fun of other people’s beliefs. I will have none of it!”
”Okay granny”, Janie said reluctantly. Wilma thought for a while, then took a book from a shelf.
”Now, to make you realize that religious suffering isn’t funny, I want you to read this.”
Janie looked at the title. ”Perpetua’s martyrdom? Granny, you can’t be serious!”
”Go into my bedroom, read it, and when you’re finished I will question you of its contents. Also, you are grounded for the rest of the day, which means you’ll be sleeping in the vamp room tonight. Is that clear?”
Janie tried to meet her grandmother’s eyes, but failed.
When it was time for Janie to be questioned, Wilma told Doyle he could have the rest of the evening off. He was entirely grateful, and sank into the sofa next to Kitty, who was still watching videos.
/Driver, check the mirror/ the boy in the TV set said, but Doyle was more concerned with the sounds of interrogation coming from the next room. /I think my girlfriend is laughing./
”Is your sister in trouble?” he asked Kitty cautiously.
/Why would I be laughing? You haven’t even *tried* to kiss me yet./
Kitty reached for the remote. ”She should be”, she said and turned the TV off. ”She has been an extreme little idiot.”
”Yeah, I guess. I’m sorry if I disturbed you”, Doyle said, making a grimace in the TV’s direction. ”Seems like they were about to kiss.”
”That’s okay. I’ve seen this ep lots of times, and it still has the same ending.”
”They break up.” She grinned at him. ”As for Janie, she knows better than to show off like that. How will she ever be able to explain this to her teacher?”
”I take it you’ve never done anything like this?”
”No.” She glanced at him and sighed. ”Okay, obvious reason, I can’t. She’s a lot better at the arts of faith than I am.”
”But you’re the older, aren’t you?”
”Yes.” She looked at him curiously. ”How did you know? She looks older than she is.”
He shrugged. ”Just the way you talk about her.”
”Hm.” She sat silent for a few seconds, then rose. ”Are you hungry? I am.”
He hadn’t realised it before, but he *was* hungry, so he nodded and followed her into the kitchen. Her eyes went to the phone, and she hesitated.
”I ought to call Clifford. Can you check the fridge?”
”Sure”, he agreed, and she sat down on the kithen table, dialing the number.
”Hello, mrs Jamison, this is Kitty, can I speak to Derrick, please?” She waited a few seconds. ”Hi Clifford, it’s Kermit. Listen, we won’t be coming tonight, Janie is grounded and I want to keep her company… She made a spectacular saint impersonation, I’m sure you’ll get the details from the local newspaper… I know, she’s a little moron…”
Doyle listened with half an ear while trying to find something eatable in fridge and cupboards.
”Can we eat this?” he asked Kitty, showing her some potatoes that had started to sprout.
She gave them a quick glance and replied: ”I don’t know, maybe we ought to plant them instead.” She turned her attention back to the phone. ”Yes, Clifford, there is a *man* in here. Gorgeous one, too.” She grinned at Doyle. ”Actually, he’s not a man, he’s a Brachen demon… Oh, don’t flatter yourself, I’d prefer him to you any day of the week.”
Doyle felt a bit strange. She was teasing her boyfriend with him. Even though she was joking when she claimed he was gorgeous, you didn’t say that sort of things about someone you saw as a pitiful monster and nothing else. Again, Doyle got the feeling that being a demon around here wasn’t at all the same thing as being a demon somewhere else. Meanwhile, Kitty had moved to another subject.
”Yes, I had it done… What? Well, I’m sorry, but that’s one ’freakish sensation’ you’ll have to wait with. Besides, I’m still sore, definitely not up to any kissing.” She laughed at something the guy said. ”Are you a muppet of good character where women are concerned?”
Wilma and Janie had entered the room, and Kitty said: ”I have to get off the phone. Talk to you tomorrow, okay?”
She hung up and turned to Wilma. ”Do you have *any* food around here? I mean, look at these potatoes, they’re practically mutants. Your ability to not notice the perfectly obvious never fails, does it?”
The girl’s voice had gone nasty at the last comment, and Wilma stared at her for a second, but instead of replying, she calmly said:
”Why don’t you order some takeout, dear.”
Unlike most of his childhood friends, Doyle had been an only child, and he had been fascinated of the behaviour between family members. Watching families wasn’t a hobby he had pursued much lately, but with the girls staying overnight, he once again had an opportunity to do so, and he enjoyed it so much he almost forgot about his own condition. It had been years since he last dared to think about having a family of his own, but now he momentarily juggled with the idea, pushing aside the thought that any family of his hardly would be a model of normality.
Late at night some sound woke him, and listening for a while, he realised it was the phone. He also realised that he needed to use the bathroom, and he quitely left his bedroom, walking barefoot though the house. Wilma must have been in human shape, because she had already picked up the phone. Doyle stopped when he heard his own name be mentioned.
”Do you want to talk to Doyle?” Wilma said, and then listened to the person in the other end of the line. ”No dear, you shouldn’t feel guilty, this isn’t your fault.” She noticed Doyle standing there and turned to him: ”False alarm.”
He drowsily accepted this and proceeded to the bathroom, wondering who could have the nerve to call at this hour. When he returned, Wilma was still on the phone. He couldn’t hear what the other person was saying, but it seemed to be a woman, and she was rather upset. There was also something familiar about the voice. Wilma, in her turn, seemed mostly to be listening.
”Well, of course this is hard on you too”, Wilma told the caller. ”That doesn’t mean you care any less.” The caller seemed to get tangled up in a long explanation, and Wilma patiently listened until she was finished. ”Darling, determinism is *not* a healthy philosophy. Just because things haven’t turned out well so far, that doesn’t mean they never will. You don’t strike me as the kind of girl who would take no for an answer or easily give up on your love.”
That was the last thing Doyle heard before closing the door to his bedroom. He smiled in sympathy with Wilma. Poor woman, was it always like this for her? People calling in the middle of the night forcing her to play therapist, something that most definitely wasn’t her job.
Doyle pulled the blankets over his body and relaxed, but before he fell asleep he realised why the voice had seemed familiar. It was Cordelia.
Taking a five minute break, Doyle stretched out his body while keeping his eyes on his teacher. There were still things he didn’t quite understand about her. ”May I ask you something?”
”That pact you have with Spike - how can you stand teaming up with him all the time?”
Wilma leaned back, thinking. ”I’m rather fond of him and I don’t want to see him die, is that an answer?”
It was, and a clear one, but it shocked Doyle, who had seen what Spike could do at his worst. ”But he’s evil, you know that, don’t you?”
She sighed. ”I lost track of that sort of things after Hiroshima.”
”The bomb?” Doyle asked, confused.
”Yup. Thousands of innocent people killed, children born with deformities and cancer, and all of this was done by the good guys. The guys that we had hoped for all through the war. At least Spike is selfish.”
”I thought selfishness was a bad thing.”
”If a person has a cause”, she started, choosing her words carefully, ”and you disagree with the cause or with the methods, there’s no way of getting along with them. But Spike’s only cause is himself - his meals, his safety, his lady. You can only kill so many people to satisfy your own hunger. To satisfy some great ideal, there’s no limit.”
Janie, who once again, and this time of her own free will, had decided to spend the evening at her grandmother’s house, entered the room and stopped to listen to the philosophical conversation.
”Okay”, Doyle said after doing some thinking, ”so everything is relative. I’d still say that teaming up with a soulless sod with no remorse is taking a big risk.”
”I thought I had the perfect solution to that problem once”, Janie said, deciding to enter the conversation. ”Unfortunately, I didn’t.”
”What solution?” Doyle asked, since she seemed wanting to tell the rest.
”There’s this story by Anatole France”, she said, ”in which an old, half-blind priest comes to an island inhabited by penguins. He thinks they’re people, so he baptizes them. That causes a lot of headache in Heaven, because penguins aren’t humans with immortal souls, yet they’re baptized and must be allowed to enter. Finally, saint Catherine of Alexandria comes up with the idea to give them an immortal soul, but a small one. So I figured, let’s baptize the vamps! Then I remembered that if you were to baptize a vampire…”
”…he wouldn’t live through the ceremony”, Doyle concluded.
”Exactly.” She sighed. ”So much for my perfect solution.” She turned to her grandmother. ” I ran into mom and Sean down town, they said they might be coming over.”
Wilma gave Doyle a quick glance, and there were traces of worry in her face. ”I don’t know if that’s a good idea.”
Janie looked sympathetic to Wilma’s doubt, but shrugged to show there was nothing she could do about it. Doyle didn’t like those glances, even though he didn’t know what they meant. Yet.
Wilma’s daughter Tineke seemed to have her own key, because she just showed up in the hall. The man in his late twenties trailing her must be Sean, and by his looks Doyle guessed that he was another of Wilma’s grandchildren. Not that the man was of much concern to him, since all he did was give Doyle a quick nod and then settle down in a chair with a cigarette. Unlike his mother. Tineke didn’t say much when she spotted Doyle, who was currently playing cards with Janie, but her face froze and she gave Wilma an if-looks-could-kill stare.
”Mother”, she said coldly, and everyone in the room except Doyle knew that she only used that aloof word when she was furious. Doyle could guess. ”Can we have a talk?”
”If we have to”, Wilma said and the two of them left the room. When the door had closed behind them, Tineke immediately flamed her mother.
”What is that demon doing here?”
”He and Janie are playing poker for matches”, Wilma answered calmly.
”You know what I mean! Is he a client?”
”Not that it’s any of your business, but yes. He wishes to get a human shape and I’m helping him.”
”Oh, and why are you doing that?” Tineke asked sourly. ”So that he can go out and seduce my daughter - who by the way still is a minor?”
”Oh, for Christ’s sake, don’t be ridiculous”, Wilma snapped impatiently. ”And even if he were, wouldn’t that be Janie’s choice?”
”Why? Was it ever mine? Do you think it was my choice to grow up in a house with stakes in every corner? To have Jacob babysit me while you were curing some werewolf, or to lie to my highschool friends about who that gorgeous blonde cockney they saw in my house was? Did you even ask me, mom?”
”No”, Wilma admitted. ”I didn’t. But if you choose one thing I did to repeat, does it have to be one of my mistakes?”
Tineke’s face wasn’t quite as blushed as the moment before, and she took a deep breath to stay calm.
”All I want is a normal life, mom. I didn’t protest when Wilson got engaged to that Torun person, because it was about accepting her or losing my son. But I’m glad they broke up, glad to have a life without any traces of the otherworld, and I’d like to keep it that way, and I don’t want any more demons dating my children.”
”I can’t believe you”, Wilma said, and there was shock in her voice. ”To say something completely speciesist like that…”
”Speciesist?” Tineke interrupted her. ”I can’t stop the kids from playing your little games, or to meet your friends, but I’d like you to remember that I want a human family, human grandchildren, and if that makes me a speciesist, so be it.”
The youngsters watched the two women leave, and then Janie turned to Sean:
”Worse than usual, isn’t she?” she asked.
”Bad day at work”, Sean said briefly, speaking for the first time. ”So”, he said, turning to Doyle, ”you’re the demon guy my little sisters keep talking about? Kitty said you had ’certain aspects of perfection’. Sounds like highest praise to me. By the way, were is Kitty?”
”She’s out with Clifford”, Janie said, still involved in the card game.
”Ah. Well, I guess even perfection isn’t as good as a Bob Marley wannabe who ends up looking mighty muppety.”
”Oh, Doyle is a fine muppet, too”, Janie said absent-mindedly.
”Yeah, your mother seemed to think so”, Doyle said bitterly, ”judging by the look she gave me.”
”Never mind mom”, Sean said with a laugh. ”If the Arch-angel Gabriel came down from the heavens and told her she was to be the mother of the new Messiah, she would give him the exact same look she gave you. She hates the otherworld, it’s a simple as that. A severe case of bad pottytraining, I’d say, but apart from that, there’s no harm in her.”
Maybe that was true, Doyle thought, but even if it was, it wouldn’t help much. Even in human shape, he would always be part of the otherworld, whether he wanted to or not.
In spite of the fact that he completely trusted Wilma, in some corner of his heart Doyle hadn’t really thought that he would turn back. Not until they had reached that point in his tuition where he actually managed to focus on his hands and keep them human for several minutes. It was exhausting, but what a reward! When he was allowed to take a break, he would have fallen asleep on the sofa if it hadn’t been for the fact that Kitty’s legs was already occupying most of it.
”Getting somewhere?” she asked and moved aside enough for him to sit down.
”You bet!” he answered with a satisfied smile. Leaning back and relaxing - he had become rather good at varying hard work with complete relaxation - he continued: ”You know, it’s funny. I still don’t much like being a demon, but this body isn’t half bad. As long as I put aside what it *means*, that it nearly ruined my life and that everything I thought I knew turned out to be a lie, well it is pretty impressive. I could wear it to a fight no problem.”
”That’s what the transsexual said, too”, Kitty remarked.
He stared at her. ”Say what?”
”Well, not exactly that. But she said that when she saw her body as something apart from herself, she stopped thinking of it as a flawed woman’s body and realised she could easily fall in love with a man wearing it. Before, she couldn’t even stand the look of it, and then how are you supposed to change anything? It’s funny, Granny isn’t used to gender issues and didn’t know whether to take her at first, but then she figured what the heck, it’s reversible anyway. Unlike an operation.”
”I thought Wilma usually taught people how to become animals”, he said cautiously, trying to figure things out.
”That’s the expensive cases”, Kitty said. ”It takes years to turn into an animal, and it’s basically luxury, so yeah, that brings in the most money. Then there’s the stuff that’s practically charity. She has had three women who had their breasts removed.”
Doyle thought about that. It seemed like Wilma had experience from a vast number of areas. That meant that even if he was an extraordinary case, he wasn’t *quite* as extraordinary as he had thought. Kitty sensed some of this in his expression and laughed.
”’I don’t think I’m different or in any case unique’”, she said, ”’think about yourself for a minute and you’ll find the answer in it, everyone’s a freak.’”
Janie entered the room.
”Why are you quoting ABBA on him?” she asked.
”I’m just trying to teach him there’s no reason to play Eey-ore”, Kitty said.
”Sad, are you?” Janie said softly.
”Not at the moment, actually”, Doyle said with a grin.
”But he’s usually not half-bad at the Eey-ore thing”, Kitty pointed out. ”Who taught you, the Eey-ore master?”
”You work for him, don’t you?”
Doyle chuckled. ”Angel.”
”Eey-ore master doesn’t even cover it”, Janie said. ”He’s Eey-ore, Marvin and Puddleglum thrown into one. I’m the first to admit that self-pity is a noble art, but maybe not all the time. Cute and all, but how depressive! One the other hand, it’s better than the opposite.”
”What, being happy?”
Kitty giggled. ”Ah, let’s see, how would Pollyanna cover being a vampire? Oh, I know! ’At least I’ll finally have plenty of time to get around to reading the classics!’”
She burst into helpless laughter, and Doyle couldn’t help laughing, too. In this company, it was impossible to stay broody for long.
Still, there were moments when Doyle was feeling less than happy. A lot less. Okay, so he might soon get back his humanity, and that was a good thing, but it wouldn’t make him human, and he didn’t know what Cordelia would feel like once she got used to having him back. Maybe everything was alright as long as he could pass for human. Maybe it wasn’t. How was he to know which?
”Kitty, can I ask you something?” he asked at a moment when they were alone together. Kitty wasn’t the most desirable female in the universe, but she was female, and he trusted her to be truthful, and right now that was all he needed.
”Sure”, she said, trying to get Fluffy off a bookshelf.
”Do you.. Could you ever find me attractive?”
Fluffy could wait. She stared at Doyle. ”What kind of question is that?”
”Forget it”, he mumbled in embarrassment, trying to leave the room.
”No, Doyle, I don’t find you attractive. As for the ’could I ever’, that’s not a question I intend to ask myself. I have a boyfriend, whom I love very much, and I’m not going to mess things up with him just to satisfy your ego.” She stepped down from the chair she had been using. ”Because that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? You certainly don’t find *me* attractive.”
”Well…” he tried to stall, and she raised an eyebrow. ”Okay, then, no. I don’t.”
”But there are people who do”, she replied. ”And my opinion of you isn’t necessarily the same as anyone else’s. Anyone in particular?”
”Cordelia”, he said.
She made a grimace. ”Let’s hope she’s not what the name implies. Anyway, so this Cordelia, she likes you?”
”I think I dare say ’yes’ on that one”, he answered.
”But she’s not a big fan of demons.”
”Well, here’s a thought. If you want to know what she thinks about you, maybe I’m not the right person to ask, since I *do* like demons, but you personally… well, I like you and all, but my heart doesn’t exactly flutter when you enter the room.”
”What if this shapeshifting takes longer than Wilma thinks?” he asked.
”You mean seventeen years, like it did for me?” Kitty countered. ”Don’t worry. You’re almost done already.”
”Why did it take so long for you?” Doyle asked. He realised he was entering Kitty-centered territory, but after all that time the women in this house had spent listening to his problems, he might as well pay back some.
She sighed. ”That acknowledgement thing never worked for me. I wanted to get the hell out of my life as quickly as possible, and since there’s nothing physically wrong with me, granny never figured that one out.”
”What was wrong with your life?”
”To put it briefly: first day of first grade, I had promised to sit next to my best friend Melissa Duncan. Then Amanda Paterson, who had a golden bracelet and her own pony, came up to me and said ’I like your hair. Do you want to sit next to me?’ I abandoned Melissa in an instant.”
Doyle remembered moments like this from his days as a teacher, but didn’t quite understand. ”Is that all?”
”That, and ten years like it. Choosing hobbies, clothes, friends and boyfriends by what was considered cool by other people. We spent a few years in Europe that were a little better, but not much. It may sound trivial to you, but for most of us, that’s all it takes.”
”Hey, I had a human life too, once”, Doyle protested. ”Don’t think I can’t relate to the trivial. So, you snapped out of it and turned freaky instead?”
”More or less”, she said with a grin. ”I had a boyfriend that I was really tired of, so I icked him out of the relationship, and then I pleaded for sympathy. Only, I didn’t get any. A girl I considered the greatest bitch in humanity told me straight to my face that I only had myself to blame. It ended with me against the entire volley ball team, so I quit and started hockey instead. Funny thing is, I liked it. Then I cut my hair and liked that too, and one day when greatest-bitch-girl passes me in the hallway, she says ’Hey, Kincaid! Happiness becomes you!’ So here I am, two years down the road, and I will on demand change my eyecolour, stand on thin air, heal small wounds and *almost* turn into a pidgeon, but I will not wear cute clothes and a permanent fake smile on a sulky face, nor will I ever again date a handsome guy.”
Doyle had listened with sympathy, but this surprised him. ”You don’t like handsome guys?”
She frowned. ”Generalizing here - but in 90% of the cases, handsome guys are assholes who knows they can have any girl they want and don’t have to be nice. The exception would be Janie’s boyfriend Ray, he’s absolutely gorgeous, but on the other hand, he works as a dragqueen and has to prove that he’s straight all the time, so he doesn’t count. Clifford is a sweetheart, but ’his form and face, his manly grace, are not the kind that you would find in a statue’. But any better than him and you’ll be entering dragonslaying territory.” At this, she stopped to think and looked curiously at Doyle. ”Speaking of which, do you want to learn the best come-on in history? Just to use on girls who find you attractive?”
”Sure”, he agreed, and she quoted:
”Hey, can I tell you something? I mean, this might be kind of embarrassing coming from a guy you just met and everything, but, uh, I really think you should know. Say this was like the olden days, you know - thousands and thousands of years ago. I'd kill a dragon for you. Really I would. I'd get right out there and I'd kill one! In fact, I'll make you an offer. If you'll go out with me some night this week, I'll make a definite commitment to kill the first dragon that I see.”
Doyle laughed. ”Pretty good one. Still, I don’t think I’ll be using it. There’s too big a risk I would have to fulfil the promise.”
”True”, Kitty admitted. ”I don’t think it was designed for people with supernatural contacts.”
Angel entered Cordelia’s office only to see her slamming her own head into her desk. In two quick strides he was by her stride and held her until the vision ended.
”What did you see?” he asked, hoping it would have something to do with the cult. Her visions hadn’t been very helpful in that area so far.
”Snowball”, she breathed.
”A snowball? In L.A.!?”
”Not that kind of snowball!” she said impatiently. ”One of those crystal balls you shake, that have little snowflakes in them. A pretty tacky one, too.”
Angel sighed, a little disappointed. ”Was that all?”
”No, an address too.” She grabbed a paper and wrote it down, handing the paper to Angel. ”Does it ring any bell?”
”Not really. But the street is only a few blocks away.” Angel glanced at the window. Still light outside. ”I don’t want you to go alone. Where’s Wesley?”
”Wesley is at home, and apart from that he’d be of no help whatsoever. I can take care of myself.”
When Angel just looked at her, she sighed.
”Forget it, I’ll call Buffy.”
Buffy knew very well that this could be a breakthrough, so she hurried to meet with Cordelia and see what was at the address. It turned out to be a small shop with the somewhat nutty name ”Tokens and Things” written in green uneven letters on the pink front door.
”A bric-a-brac shop”, Buffy said, a little confused.
”And just as tacky as my vision, too”, Cordelia said and opened the door. A clerk answered the sound of the little bell. He was a middle-aged man in casual clothing who seemed a little bored by his occupation but eager to hide it.
”Hello!” he said with a big smile on his face. ”What can I do for you?”
”We’re looking for one of those balls with snowflakes in them, do you have one?” Buffy said
”Several”, he answered. ”Here’s one with puppydogs, for example. And here’s Cinderella. You know, it’s funny, I can’t remember it snowing in the Cinderella story. Once I had one with Hawaii palmtress, that was weird.”
”It’s not any of these”, Cordelia said to Buffy. ”It had the virgin Mary and baby Jesus in it, and a clock below. Really tacky.”
The clerk looked curious. ”Oh, so you’re looking for a special one?”
Cordelia bit her lip, realising she had said too much.
”Yes”, Buffy said. ”It… belonged to her… grandmother, but she… let a friend borrow it, and then the friend sold it. By mistake.”
”Oh. I see.” The clerk picked up a big box and started digging in it. ”I got this load of religious things the other day, I haven’t had time to go through it yet… aha! Something like that?” He triumphantly held up a ball. Inside, snowflakes were falling on the holy mother and her divine child.
”That’s it!” Cordelia cried and snatched the ball from his hands. ”That’s the one!”
”Shall we say five dollars?”
”Five dollars!?” The shopper in Cordelia took over. ”For this tacky piece of junk? Are you nuts!?”
”Two”, Buffy said.
The clerk shook his head. ”No, a beauty like this can’t go for any less than four fifty.”
”Three. We can buy a new one for her grandmother for less than that.”
”But you won’t, will you?” The clerk grinned. ”Okay, since you’re such a pretty girl, three it is.”
To their great disappointment when they went back, the ball absolutely refused to show why it was important enough to be in a vision. It looked and acted like the typical religious souvenir.
”No luck at all?” Angel asked, coming into the office where the girls were sitting, trying to figure out the ball.
”No, nothing”, Cordelia said. ”I’m beginning to think that we were tricked. Either by that clerk or those awful PTB. What’s wrong?”
Because Angel had picked up the ball and then quickly put it back on the desk again, and now gave it a peculiar look.
”It just felt funny. Warm, and… I can’t explain it. I feel a little sick.” He shook his head. ”If someone tricked us, it wasn’t the Powers That Be. Maybe you should go back to the shop and have a talk with that clerk.”
So that’s what they did, and as soon as they entered, the clerk brightened up.
”Why, back so soon! Did you forget something?”
”No”, Buffy said. ”I don’t know… Is there something else you can tell us about that ball?”
”You know”, the clerk said, ”it’s funny you should ask.” He picked up a piece of paper that was lying on a chair by the counter. ”I just found this in the box. I don’t know what it says, because it’s in Latin, but it seems to have come with the ball.”
He handed them the paper. It was just a regular Xerox thing, looking like a tourist brochure, except those usually don’t come in Latin. The clerk estimated the looks on their faces.
”Would you be interested in buying this? I would give you a good price, of course, since you already bought the ball it’s talking about. Still, it’s pretty interesting stuff…”
”A dollar”, Buffy said. ”Not another cent.”
They gave Wesley a call, and he spent a couple of hours reading dictionaries. At one point he asked for a bible, but apart from that he was reading, scribbling and impossible to contact.
”Amazing”, he finally said and looked up from the pile of books and papers. He looked stunned.
”Are you done?” Angel asked and hurried to sit down next to him. The others gathered around him as well.
Wesley nodded. ”This”, he said, pointing at the tacky souvenir, ”is a model of a statue made in the 14th century by a cleric that served under Gerard de Bretagne.”
”Oh, swell”, Cordelia muttered. ”A lesson in art history, just what we need.”
Buffy kicked her, and she silenced. Wesley continued without acting as if he had heard what she said.
”The cleric was well known to have powers over evil spirits, and the statue he made was soon made famous because of its abilities to fight off evil. The writer of this brochure mentions a few cases, of which the most remarcable one was set in the 16th century and quite clearly the downfall of the same cult we’re dealing with now.”
”So what we need is the original”, Angel said, who had followed the explanation with intense concentration. Wesley shook his head.
”No. The original was used in this manner now and then into the late 19th century, when a sever case forced the fighters of evil to take it out of the church. It was assumed to have been stolen, and when it returned it was put behind glass. Nowadays there is an alarm as well, and the statue is safely protected - and completely incapable of serving its purpose. The writer himself discovered the truth of the legends, and performed a rite that allowed the statue to share its powers with some of the miniature versions of itself. He explains that he wrote the brochure in Latin so that only people really trying would find the truth and no ordinary tourist would keep the magic object as a joke. He also deliberately chose the least artistic objects because nobody who didn’t know a lot about the otherworld would ever think it possible that a thing like this would have any powers. However, the miniature Mary-and-Jesus in this ball has the same powers as the original, and on top of it all, the writer, who is a priest, has blessed the ball so that it is in fact now filled with holy water.”
Xander gave a slow whistle. ”Not bad.”
”So how do you use it?” Angel asked.
”You open or crush the ball, then take the statuette and recite a chant in Greek. He has it transcribed into the Latin alphabet, thank heavens.”
Wesley showed the transcription. It said: ”Ei tis eis aichmalosian, eis aichmalosian hypagei, eis tis en machairei apoktenei, dei auton en machairei apoktanthenai. Hode estin he hypomone kai he pistis ton hagion.”
”Any clue what it means?” Buffy asked.
”Yes, actually, since it’s a Bible quote and the verse is mentioned. It’s from the 13th chapter of Revelations: ’He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.’ Once we’ve said that, according to the description of the last time the cult appeared, we can destroy the altar and their power is broken.”
A rare smile came upon Angel’s face.
”That’s the best news I’ve heard in a very long time”, he said.
”Will you help me with this?” Wilma asked Doyle, getting the heavy roller blinds down. ”It’s been a while since there was last a vamp here, and this blind seems to be stuck.”
”Sure.” Doyle jumped up and started tinkering with the blind. When it came down, so did a considerable amount of dust. Doyle sneezed, and then, out of pure habit, shook his head. ”Whoah, you could say that again. Has Spike deserted you lately?”
Wilma looked at him in a very funny way, then smiled and said: ”Well, he hasn’t needed my protection much, that’s for sure. Thank you for your help, now I can take care of the rest. Why don’t you just entertain me while I work, tell me an anecdote or something.”
He did as she told, and was well into a story from his slacker years when the granddaughter’s entered the room. They stopped short and stared at him.
”Oh my God”, said Janie. ”And I thought you couldn’t get any better.”
Kitty shook her head, fascinated. ”What is that, porcelaine?”
”Unicorns look like that”, Janie pointed out. ”That paleness with slight shades of blue in it.”
Doyle suddenly realised what it was that they were saying, and looked down at himself. He looked human. Even while he stared at his hands in disbelief they turned back to demon. He raised his head and looked quizzically at Wilma. She smiled at him.
”Twenty minutes and you didn’t even notice”, she said. ”Congratulations.”
”They’re coming now”, Janie said. ”I saw the car.”
And quite right, shortly afterwards the doorbell rang.
Angel, with a few comments from the others, explained what they had come up with, and then a discussion rose on how to plan the attack. They still didn’t know the exact location of the altar, but the books found in Elil’s place helped them cut possibilities down to a few likely locations. During the discussions, Doyle looked thoughtful, and when there was a moment’s silence, he asked:
”What about me?”
Heads turned in his direction.
”I mean, is there anything in there that tells what is going to happen to me once the power is broken? Will nothing happen to me, or will I go back to being dead?”
You could have cut the silence with a knife. Nobody had even thought about it. ”I… I don’t know”, Angel finally told him.
Doyle licked his lips and nodded. ”Never mind. It has to be done, so we’ll do it. Okay, so who will be doing what?”
Angel and friends dived into this question and came up with a few basic strategies. The resident ladies were long ignored, but finally Angel’s eyes set on Wilma, and he raised an eyebrow, implying an unsaid question. She noticed the look and shook her head with a smile.
”I’m too old to get into fights. Unless of course, you want to ride…”
”We could use your car?” Xander asked, and got another smile from her.
”’I got no car and it's breaking my heart’” she said, frowning for a split second as she realised she’d taken on her granddaughters’ habit of speaking in quotes. ”No, I meant to ride, literally. If you think a horse could be handy and you know how to ride one, I’m willing to fight as a horse. Even an old horse is a whole lot stronger than an old lady.”
”Anything weighing half a ton and with hoofs will be handy”, Angel said. ”And yes, I can ride. I haven’t done it in quite some time, but I think I remember how.”
Buffy nodded. ”She could add to your backwatching abilities when Doyle and I deal with the altar. There’s a whole lot of ’if’s in this plan, but we’ve been through worse. So, if we’re done…”
”Wait a minute”, Janie said. ”What about us?”
Kitty hurried to back her up. ”Yes. We want to help, too!”
”This isn’t for children!” Wilma said impatiently.
”We’re no younger than they are!” Janie protested.
”They’re right”, Buffy said suddenly. ”Can you two get along in a fight then? If you’re just going to get yourself killed we won’t have much use of you.”
”Janie can call unicorns”, Kitty said. ”They’re even more lethal than horses.”
If this impressed Buffy, she certainly didn’t show it. Instead, she nodded her approval and turned to Kitty to continue the interrogation:
”And what do you have to offer us?”
Kitty blushed. ”Well, I missed out on the unicorns, I’m afraid, and my faith skills aren’t all that good… But I do know my way with stakes, knives and hockey sticks.”
She seemed a little embarrassed, and didn’t quite understand what made the Slayer grin.
”That’s quite enough”, Buffy said.
Once again they approached the training camp, but this time they could never pass as volunteers. They stepped out of the car, and Angel got off Wilma-the-horse, and all of them prepared for a fight. As they entered, they were surprised to find the place empty.
”Looks like the guys have done a good job”, Xander remarked.
”We owe them big time”, Buffy said and pointed to a door some distance away. ”Okay through there we will eventually come to a tunnel that leads us to some temple. That’s our first destination.” She turned to Janie. ”Now would be a good time for those unicorns.”
”Okay.” The girl closed her eyes and concentrated, softly striking the air in front of her. She frowned a bit when the animals took time to come, but finally a slender mare and her foal appeared.
”They don’t like it here”, Janie mumbled. ”She’ll be hard to ride.”
Xander was fascinated. ”How did they get here?”
”I believed in them, so they came to existance”, Janie said shortly. The mare was uneasy, and she had little chance to chat.
”Can anyone do that?” Xander persisted.
Janie was too busy calming the unicorns to answer, but Kitty said with an attempt to replace her fear with mischief:
”Don’t you know the qualifications to approach a unicorn?”
”Okay, enough of this”, Angel interrupted and led them to the door. Doyle had to swallow hard, he remembered what was behind it. His body was strong now, but it trembled when they walked past the whips and iron of persuasion.
The back door was locked, and Angel rose Wilma to her hind legs, leading her to kick it down. Behind it lay the tunnel, and their first opponents in battle. A small bunch of guarding demons lined up to fight them, but it was quite obvious that the line-up and the kill was not as disciplined as it had been. The effects of the dividing spell were still very clear. Three pair of hoofs cleft demon heads like coconuts, and Angel on Wilma’s back showed that he had certainly not forgotten how to ride a horse, holding onto her back with his legs only while he used his arms in battle. The do-not-kill-rule didn’t apply anymore, if they didn’t succeed now there wouldn’t be a second chance. Fortunately, every slain demon meant less attention from those members of his own team who were thieves or cannibals, and who gathered around every corpse. Knives had been given to everyone, and even if Buffy and Doyle were pretty decent in a fistfight, that was what they used. It didn’t take long to come through and they hurried through the tunnel, leaving the remaining demons incapable or uniterested of following them.
Buffy had time to pant: ”Ball?” to Cordelia, and the other girl nodded in return. She still had it. Keeping the ball safe and getting it to the destination was their top priority.
More demons, more fighting, but their opponents were now clearly fighting as much between themselves as with their actual opponents. They entered the temple, but soon realised that this was not the correct place. It was full of ritual tokens, but no altar. A curse escaped Buffy’s lips, but after all, this was only the first try.
Someone grabbed her, and she spun around with the knife ready, but put it down again.
”Ord!” she said.
”I’m glad to see you too”, the demon replied. ”Is this the final battle, then?”
”If we can get to the altar”, Angel said. ”Do you know…”
Ord interrupted him. ”It’s not here, it’s in the Hall of Niflheim Rites.”
They knew the location of that hall, it was another one of the places they had intended to try. The way leading there was not full of demons, fortunately, but as they got closer the unicorns became very restless. When demons actually showed up, the unicorns fought them, but they didn’t like it much, and soon Janie flew through the air while the unicorns panicked and disappeared. She landed almost on top of a demon that would have killed her instantly if Xander hadn’t had his knife ready.
”Not the perfect time to fall off”, he said and handed her an extra knife.
”I’m not as good at this as I’d like to be”, she answered and accepted the weapon.
Her sister may not be any good at extraordinary stunts, but when it came to average fighting she was well in class with the slayerettes. Our warriors slowly moved forward to their destination as a semi-human arrowpoint, with Angel riding in the front, followed by Buffy and the two demons, and the rest covering the back. If the demons had been at their previous strength the human parts of this arrow would not have survived long, but the fake recruits had done their job well, and it was ”every demon for himself”.
Near the Hall, the demons were fewer, but their efforts were more connected. This was the elite, no question about it, and progress went a lot slower now. Finally getting near the big metal doors, demons were pushing from all sides.
”Alright girl”, Angel mumbled to Wilma, almost forgetting that she wasn’t an authentic horse, ”give it all you’ve got.”
Wilma did as he told her, with some effort. Taking small steps around in a circle, she managed to shake off enough demons to concentrate on the door, and the heavy hoofs fell on the metal. It didn’t buckle completely, but enough to let the stronger half of the bunch push it open with their bodies.
They barely got a glimpse of the huge demon known as ’sir’ before they got worse problems than the warrior demons they had left behind. Flaming holes opened in the ground, snakes fell from the roof, Indiana Jones meets the Apocalypse. The only thing surprising with having this kind of spells shoved into their faces was that it hadn’t happened earlier. All of this at once indicated that the ’sir’ was getting desperate, and that was a good thing, but it also meant that although the altar was within sight, they couldn’t get to it. Angel turned around on the horseback and grabbed Cordelia by the waist, lifting her up so she stood in front of him on Wilma’s back.
”Throw”, he said, and hoped she would have a good aim.
Cordelia took out the ball and looked as steadily at the altar as she could with everything going on around. Then she threw the ball away like a pitcher on a baseball field. Angel had no need to worry. Cheerleading, tennis and fighting evil all require good coordination. The ball hit the altar and burst into millions of pieces, the holy water forming a growing puddle. The Virgin Mother lay smiling among the splinters.
”Ei tis eis aichmalosian”, Angel started to shout, and the others joined him in the incantation, ”eis aichmalosian hypagei, eis tis en machairei apoktenei, dei auton en machairei apoktanthenai. Hode estin he hypomone kai he pistis ton hagion.”
The Industrial Light and Magic show disappeared in an instant, and Buffy and Doyle hurried to the altar, taking hold of the flat top stone and knocking it over. As they did that, a voice called for the ’sir’ in a series of foreign syllables, and the huge demon roared in pain as his true name was said and cursed. He was called back to face his destiny.
It didn’t take a flash of lightning. Suddenly, it just ended, and the calm falling over the Hall was such a contrast to the previus noise that it resembled a silent movie. Cordelia slid down from the horse’s back, moved towards the broken altar and said what at this moment was the most important thing to her:
”You’re still here.”
She met Doyle’s eyes and repeated her words. ”You’re still here.”
His face lit up in an astonished smile. ”Looks like it, Princess.”
”Well.” Her voice sharpened. ”How about this time you stay alive long enough for us to start dating? Because right now I don’t know what the hell I want with you, and I want to find out exactly that, I don’t care what your face looks like.”
Doyle smiled at her.”So you don’t prefer, say…” Slowly, concentrating on everything he had learned, he turned human. ”…this one?”
She stared at him for a second, and then her palm hit his cheek.
”Allen Francis Doyle, if you’re not the lowest form of lowlife…”
”Hey! Hey”, Buffy said, trying to calm Cordelia down. ”We won!”
The truth of this dawned on everyone, and the first attempts of laughter burst through.
It’s unsure who first noticed, but the laughter weakened as they realised that Ord was hurt. Not just a little, like most of them, either.
”It will heal”, he said irritably.
”Yeah right it will, with a spearpoint stuck in it”, Doyle said, now in demon form again. ”And you know as well as I do that if we pull it out you’ll bleed to death before you can heal yourself.”
”We can’t take him to a hospital”, Buffy mumbled. ”What…”
”Jacob”, Kitty said suddenly.
Janie lit up and nodded violently, while the others looked like living questionmarks. Wilma trotted up to Ord and pushed him gently with her muzzle.
”Who?” Xander asked.
”Granny’s friend. He’s a doctor. He can help”, Kitty said, trying to get Ord up on her grandmother’s back. Angel helped her out.
”Okay, take us there.”
Jacob Meyer, retired M.D., took one look at Ord and brought him in without any questions. The others were of little interest to him, and it almost seemed like he didn’t notice them.
”I will cool down your body and then take the spear out”, he explained to Ord, putting ice boxes around the wound. ”My bathrobe is in the closet, take it out for Wilma. Okay, here it goes. It’ll hurt a lot, but I know what I’m doing.”
It certainly seemed like he did, and after a while Ord’s torso was wrapped up in bandages and his face colour was a little more normal, that is, still green. Everyone sat down around him, Wilma now back to human and wearing the bathrobe, and conversation started while Jacob took care of the minor wounds of everyone else.
”I don’t know what happened to the others”, Ord said sadly. ”We were separated a long time ago, I can only hope they got out alive too.”
”I hope so too”, Angel answered. ”I don’t know how to thank you for what you did.”
Doyle relaxed his muscles like he had been taught. Now that all the adrenaline started to leave his system, he felt a little sleepy. Obviously he wasn’t the only one, because Cordelia came up to him and asked:
”Can I share that armchair with you? It looks so soft.”
He nodded his agreement and she sat down by him. They were both thin, but not quite thin enough, so most of her was actually in his lap. It felt good being so close to her…
The next thing Doyle knew was Jacob wrapping a blanket around the two of them. He looked up and noticed people sleeping all over the room. Buffy and Xander lying on a mattress, Wesley on the sofa bed next to the Kincaid girls.
”Where’s Angel?” he mumbled.
”In the bedroom with Ord. Less light.” Jacob wasn’t exactly talkative.
Cordelia moved, and it occured to Doyle that he was in demon form. Maybe he ought to change it - but he was too tired to remember how.
Not that Cordelia thought any change necessary. Sharing chair with Doyle felt like the most natural thing in the world. She glanced between half-closed eyelids at Jacob softly rousing Wilma to give her a more comfortable position. Were the two of them lovers, she wondered, or just friends? But there was no such thing as ”just friends”. There had been times when she was jealuos of the great passion Angel had shared with Buffy, but most of the time she was happier being herself. But to touch someone the way these two old people touched… She leaned down towards Doyle’s spiny neck and kissed him there.
”What was that for?” he asked in a low, sleepy voice.
”For being my best friend.”
He chuckled. ”I thought I was your true love.”
”We’ll see about that.” She sat silent for a while. ”Doyle?”
”Do you want to move in with me?”
He opened his eyes, that were full of laughter. ”We’re not quite at that point in our relationship, are we?”
”Not quite”, she admitted, ”but I don’t want you to be alone.”
”Look around”, he said, teasing her a little. ”The solitude is overwhelming.”
”That’s not what I meant.” She couldn’t find the right words. She, Cordelia Chase, was at loss for words. Incredible. This wasn’t really about the two of them, not even about having people around. There were things she had learned about what people would do to other people that she wished she didn’t have to know. But she only knew them with her mind, he knew them with his flesh. What she finally said came out all wrong.
”What did they do to you?”
She could feel his body go tense next to her.
”I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
”No, it’s okay. Part of me wants to talk about it, but Cordy, do you really want to hear?”
No, she thought. No, I don’t. ”Yes.”
So he told her. In a low voice not to wake anyone else, painfully objective, he tried to explain, and she couldn’t help wishing she hadn’t mentioned it.
”…and since my demon body heals better than the human one, they didn’t have to worry about leaving me fit for battle. They knew I would be, once they had broken my mind. You know, I’ve always been a coward. Pain? No way, leave me out of it. There were times when I thought ’this is it, I give up, I’ll join them and have it over with’. But I couldn’t. I don’t know why, it just wasn’t an option. So finally, they marked me.”
”Cordy, it’s no use. I can’t talk about that.”
Her face was full of the tears he hadn’t cried. ”Will it ever be alright again?”
He smiled a little and put her hand on his chest. ”Feel this.”
His heartbeat pounded under her palm.
”I’m alive, and I’m with you, and I have friends all around me. That’s better than alright. Now, try and get some beauty sleep, will you? There will be work to be done tomorrow as well.”
Oh yeah, she thought right before going to sleep, he will coming back to work. Isn’t that nice…
It doesn’t matter how difficult it is to save the day, once you’ve done it, things will eventually get back to normal. The people of Angel Investigations didn’t mind that a couple of slow weeks followed the downfall of the cult. The evident confusion among the demonic population caused a bit of draught in their bank accounts, sure, but even Cordelia thought it was worth it. So when they spent a late night at the office, it was merely to get some routine work off their hands.
Someone knocked on the door, and when Wesley went to open, it turned out to be Kitty.
”Hi!” she said. ”I’m not disturbing you, am I?”
”Not really”, Wesley admitted and let her in. ”What are you doing here at this time of hour? No trouble, I hope?”
”Absolutely not!” she said cheerfully. ”I’m going to the midnight movie theatre to see ’The Philadelphia Story’ with Clifford, and then when I passed by, I thought I’d see how you all were doing.”
Her eyes turned to Doyle. ”Humanity works for you, I see.”
”Yeah, I actually like it a lot”, he answered casually.
The interruption was not unwelcome, and it certainly gave space for some lightweight conversation, even if Kitty’s visit was by necessity brief. She was just about to leave when the phone called. Angel picked it up, and then handed it to Kitty.
”It’s for you.”
Surprised, she took the phone. ”Hello? Oh, hi Clifford, how did you know I was here?… Okay… What!?… No, that is *not* okay! The movie starts in twenty minutes, I can’t even return the tickets… You little sod, I’ll personally remove your lying tongue…” She sighed, and now seemed more disappointed than angry. ”Well, yes, I hate you forever. Take care.”
Hanging up, she turned to the others, who tried to look as sympathetic as possible.
”Well…” she said, seeming to take every one of them in consideration. Finally, she settled for Angel. ”You look like you could use a fun movie, are you willing to comfort a girl who has just been stood up?”
”Uhm.” Angel frowned. ”I’m not so sure…”
”Go!” said Doyle, and Cordelia and Wesley agreed. Kitty gave him her sweetest smile - which didn’t make her look any less like Tank Girl - and he agreed.
A couple of hours later, leaving the movie theatre, he had to admit he had enjoyed himself.
”I liked it”, he said, and wished he hadn’t sounded quite so surprised. ”I was surprised of the ending, though, I thought she would take the reporter.”
”Are you telling me you’ve never seen this film before?” Kitty sounded shocked. ”What have you been *doing* for the past sixty years? I’m only nineteen, and I… hold on!” She stopped short and stared at someone on the other side of the street. When Angel followed her glance, he saw a young blonde who had apparently tired of the drunken guy who tried to approach her, because she kicked him flying into the wall.
”Torun?” Kitty asked. When the blonde turned around Kitty started to cross the street, and Angel followed her. ”I almost didn’t recognize you. You’ve altered the shape.”
”Hello, Kitty”, Torun said with a hearty smile, immediately forgetting all pushy men. ”So have you.”
Angel could feel a faint smell of demon around the woman, and he asked Kitty: ”A friend of yours?”
”Oh, I’m so sorry! Angel, this is Torun, a friend of the family. Torun, this is Angel.”
Torun immediately turned serious. ”*The* Angel?” She sought confirmation from Kitty, and, getting it, bowed her head slightly like an ancient noblewoman. ”We all owe you a lot. My kinsman Haren told us what you have done for us.”
Angel felt the gratitude flowing through his body. ”Then he survived?”
”He did. His brother did not.”
Angel closed his eyes for a second. Damn. ”What about the woman - Veta?” he asked, dreading the answer.
”I have heard that both the Brachens are still alive”, Torun said.
”That’s good”, Angel said sincerely. ”Thank you for telling me, I was worried. And tell your family that Halvor fought well. I’m sorry to hear that he is dead.”
”I will tell them”, Torun promised. She said her goodbyes and returned to the crowd to enjoy the advantages of her present shape.
Angel was silent on the ride back, and Kitty tried to comfort him.
”Three out of four isn’t that bad, considering the odds”, she said. ”Think about everyone who are safe now! Think about Doyle!”
Angel nodded slowly, and a flicker of a smile came upon his face. He thought about Doyle, and he thought about second chances in people’s lives and unlives. Everything considered, things weren’t all that bad.
”For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad
For all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad”
-G.K. Chesterton, from ”The Ballad of the White Horse”