Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.


:: Heat Stroke ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }


Cordelia spat dust. "Get--" Sucked in a gasping breath. "Off-- Of--" Took another and nearly screamed as her lungs burned with pain. "Me!"

Angel groaned and rolled away slowly. Then he yelped and jumped back on top of her, his big body pinning her to the ground.

"Angel!" She shoved at him but he curled closer.

"Sorry!" He said, pressing his face into her neck. "Sunlight."

The smell of singeing flesh filled the air. The back of her throat filled with saliva, like she was about to be sick. Panting, she tried to control the urge to hurl. She shoved him again.

Angel scooted this time--she didn't open her eyes, didn't care where he went as long as he was off of her--and she heard him sucking in breaths, too. She eased off her belly and onto her side, cradling her ribs.

Without his weight, and with the smell of cooking flesh dissipating, the nausea receded. "Did you say sunlight?"

Angel grunted.

Cordy opened her eyes and drew another breath. The burn dialed down to a dull ache. "Weren't we just--" She pressed her fingers to her forehead. "Wasn't it just dark where we were?" She glanced at him. Bruise blooming on his temple, trickle of blood from his lip. Dusty hair, torn coat.

God, did she look that bad? She raised her hands to her face, running fingertips over her skin and hair. Glancing down she saw a ball gown, still satiny and gorgeous but for the dust and a tiny rip along the hem. She seemed fine--if you didn't count the bruised ribs, a throbbing elbow--and a big, foggy blank on how she got here.

Panicking was for losers. Instead, she quietly freaked.

Her eyes skimmed the room. Hard-packed dirt floor. Walls of wide, rough boards, some with cracks so big that streamers of light flowed through. Dust motes, floating and flitting, caught the light and turned it an iridescent gold.

It would have been pretty in a rustic way, except for the fact that she hated rustic--especially when she didn't fly first-class to find it. She rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Beams topped by an exposed wooden roof. More sunlight, punching through the holes.

Freaking continued. Especially when the smell hit her: sweet, clinging. Death. God, she hated that smell. She glanced at Angel, wondering why she was bothering to keep cool. Really, this seemed like a situation that deserved some drama. "Did you forget to take a bath, again?"

He shot her a huffy glare and pointed across the room.

"Oh, ugh." She shuffled to her feet, feeling like Wesley in old-maid mode. A spasm in her side had her grabbing her ribs.

Angel reached out to touch her, but jerked his hand back when sunlight stripped him raw. "Cordy?"

"Next time you wanna knock someone down, pick on someone your own size." But she said it without heat, because now she was standing over the...whatever it had been. Something with fur. And flies. She waved her hand, scattering the black cloud. "Gross."

"Where are we?" It made her feel better to hear that fringe of alarm decorating his voice.

Steadier now, she stood on tip-toe and peered out the small, grimy pane of glass that may once have resembled a window. "Wow. Okay, that's...wow." She dropped to her heels and turned.

Angel was gathering his coat around him, trying to hold the rips together to make a cloak that blocked the sun. "Could ya help me out?" His voice rose.

Wherever they'd been before, she was 99.999 per cent certain it wasn't here. For one thing, ball gown. For another, desert. "What do you want me to do?" She slapped her hands on her hips. "Sew it together? Betsey Johnson, I ain't."

He went from panicked to blank. "You mean Betsy Ross."

"No, I mean Betsey Johnson. The designer? Jeez." But she squatted next to him and helped fashion the coat into some sort of covering.

Angel nodded toward the window. "Please tell me there's a Kwik-E-Mart next door."

Cordy pulled her face into a mask of surprise. "Why, Angel! How'd you know?" She slapped him on the arm. "No, dummy. There's nothing but desert. Flat, empty, stupid desert." Something nibbled at the edges of her consciousness. A thought, a memory, and she narrowed her eyes, trying to track it.

"What?" He leaned away from an encroaching finger of light.

A line of sweat beaded between her breasts. The tickle distracted her, sending the nibbling thoughts scurrying back into the shadows. She glanced down, wiped the sweat with her fingers and held it out to stare at it. "Great." She grimaced. "Now I'll never be able to take this dress back."

Angel glanced around the room, eyes flat as he took in the scene. "I'd say your dress is the least of our worries."

She blew out a frustrated breath. "Spoken like someone who dresses like a mortician."

He got that look. "A-A mortician? I do not dress-" He gave up and crossed his arms. "Just figure out how we're gonna get out of here."

"Me?" She pointed at herself. "Seer, remember? Not the figure-outer-er. That's Wesley's job." The Wesley who was nowhere to be seen. "Hey, where *is* Wesley?" Glancing around the room netted her the same view as before: window, door, dead guy, dead thing.

Angel's brows lifted. "Good question."

She stood and went for the door. "Maybe he's outside. Dive for cover." When she cracked it open a shard of sunlight shot through.

Angel yelped.

"I warned you!" She slipped outside, feet landing on soft, golden sand and pulled the door closed behind her. Too late, she realized it could have locked, with Angel trapped across the room in his pretty, golden prison. "Crap!" But when she turned the handle it opened easily.

"Hey!" Angel rolled out of the way of the fist of light.

She ignored him and closed the door again, then turned to look at the strange scene before her. Cordy grew up in Sunnydale. She'd been to Twentynine Palms, Palm Springs, Vegas. She knew from desert. This wasn't any desert she'd ever seen.

The undulating field of sand gave way to brown, ridged mountains. Huge cacti reached their arms up toward the sun. Layers of bush, gold to tan to sage-green, lay under a solid sheet of blue-white sky. Cloudless, burned-out sky going on and on and on.... "Montana's sky's got nothing on this."

She pulled the hem of her dress around her knees and struggled through the sand in her stilettos, making her way slowly around the small shack that seemed to be the only shelter under the miles of blue. She raised her hand to block out the sun and, even though squinting was clearly against her religion, she squinted into the distance.

"Wesley?" Her voice echoed out across the undulating sand. "WESLEY!" Only a wash of desert sound waving back at her. "Dammit."

A fly buzzed around her head and she swatted at it. At least the air was kind of moving, and there wasn't anything dead stinking the place up. She leaned against the shack, as far back under the eaves as she could get. You couldn't exactly call it shade, but at least the sun wasn't cooking her anymore.

Her eyes skimmed the horizon. Nothing but mountains, sand and sky. No cars. No people. No buildings.

Stuck in the desert. With a vampire. And no obvious way out. She pressed her hand to her stomach and realized she was thirsty...and hungry. A tremor ran through her.

She flung herself back into the shack. "Oh, my God, Angel! I'm gonna die of starvation and not in a cool, Gia-type way!"

"More likely to die of thirst," Angel replied, curling up into a tighter ball.

"Gee, thanks." She slammed the door. "At least I won't be alone." A thought occurred to her, and she pointed at him. "Don't even *think* about it."

He wrinkled his forehead. "What?"

"Eating me."

She couldn't decide if the snort was comforting or insulting.

"Look, why don't you just sit down and relax. When night comes, I'll see about getting us out."

Cordy plopped down next to him. "God, what a nightmare."

Angel eyeballed her. "Tell me about it."

"Doesn't it even bother you that we have no idea where we are? Or how we got here?"

He closed his eyes. "Yes. But I can't do anything about it now."

She leaned her head against the wall, ignoring the way the splinters tugged at the swept-up do. "So you're getting the big, blank wall, too?"

He shrugged, big body slowly melting in the sweltering heat. "Mmm. Now, hush."

Sweat slicked her temples and trickled down her back to curl around the edges of her thong. Wriggling, she tried to get comfortable on the dirt floor.

"Cordy." The warning was dulled by the sleepy, drifting tone.

If only she could relax, like Angel. Must be one of those sleep-during-the-day vamp things. She drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them. Banged her head against the wall.

"Cordy," he slurred. "Sit still."

She started fiddling with the satin buttons that concealed the zipper at her waist, instead. Why wasn't she tired? It had been night when they'd--whatever they'd done to get here. Somehow she knew that much.

Her mind jumped, searching for answers. Nothing came but that big, black cloud on her mind's horizon. And she still felt as awake as if it were broad daylight.

Her lips curled. Geez, Cor, obvious much? It *was* broad daylight. She stared at the sunlight, willing it to move. The faster it set, the faster they could get home. No way she was spending more than one night trapped in the middle of Dust-ville.

But the sun stayed still, streamers hung like something left after a party, before the clean-up crew got there.

Her stomach growled. She ignored it and breathed through her mouth, so she didn't have to smell Mr. Deady-dead in the corner. She really should do something about that. She elbowed Angel. "Go move that dead thing. It stinks."

He snored in response.

Finally, the rumbling, empty tug of hunger and the faint whistle of her breath distracted her.

Warm waves of heat shimmered and the dry-sauna feel of the room intensified. Shards of sunlight shifted, drifted. The throb of abused ribs and elbows eased off to a dull ache. Nothing broke the pure, perfect silence but the buzz of flies and the sound of her breathing. Even Angel was completely still, curled into a ball in the small patch of shade.

Following the sunlight's slow march across the floor, her eyelids drooped. Soundless, weightless, everything ceased to exist but this one moment, which spun out and out and out....


Cordelia stood outside the shack watching the sun slide down the horizon. The colors were intense, otherworldly; thin fingers of pink spreading over the sky, fading slowly to darkness.

Behind her was a noise--just a shimmer of sound--but it seemed like every single cell in her body heard it. She whirled.

Her eyes widened and her body froze. "Oh. God."

The wolf watched her from the corner of shadow next to the shack. She could see the reflection of his eyes, a bright, sparkling gold, pulsing with the last of the light.

"Nice wolfie," she said, slowly stepping back. Memories of Oz, full moons and ripped throats, rushed her. Survival instinct kicked in. Run or fight? Her muscles tensed.

She eased back and back, watching as the wolf stared. When he started following her, moving when she did, she stopped. The pounding of her heart reverberated like through her like a drum. Boom-boom. Boom-boom.

With every beat the wolf grew closer, his movements in perfect tune with her, like he could *hear* the pulse of her terror.

She struggled back, her heels catching in the sand -- Five steps, three, one.

Cordy jerked awake to fading sunlight and a pain in her neck. She lay curled on the floor in an awkward fetal position, one arm under her head, the other tucked at her waist.

Even as her racing heart slowed, she realized she'd been dreaming something. Blinking, she surveyed the room. A strange feeling of disconnectedness settled over her. This wasn't her bedroom.

Awareness hit hard. "Angel?"

Cordy leapt to her feet and went to the window, feeling the grate and tug of injured ribs as she peered out through the dusty glass at the half-lit desert. Aqua, rose, purple, orange flew over the blackened sand like flags. Drawn, she slipped out the door and stared.

Something behind her moved.

She whirled. Angel stood in the shadows of the shack, the coat draped over his head. Through the slits in the leather she could see the pale wash of his face, the sparkle of his eyes.

Her heart nearly blew out her chest. Only when he looked at her strangely did she realize he could hear it.

"Cordy? You okay?"

It was just Angel. Nothing to be afraid of. "Just--" She blew out a breath, ruffling her bangs. "Weird deja vu." Shrugging it off, she turned and watched as the semi-circle sun dipped and disappeared.

Fingers of color tickled the purpling sky and when she looked up, Angel was standing next to her, the tattered coat hanging from his shoulders like something out of Les Mis.

Her fear of him seemed silly now. It was just Angel. He'd save them; he always did. "What now, boss?" So much she wanted to know. How his coat got ripped; who they'd been fighting. How in the hell they got here. But most important was getting home.

"First thing we need to do is find you some water."

Bzzz--wrong answer. "Which would require us hanging around her for approximately one second more than we need to." She shook her head. "No, first thing we need to do is get the hell outta Dodge." She glanced around. "Except that we already kinda did that. So maybe we should get the hell back *into* Dodge."

Angel stared off into the shadowed desert. She followed his gaze, noticing that the cacti that had seemed like something out of a friendly cartoon earlier looked grotesque and misshapen in the growing dark.

"We can survive in this shack indefinitely if we have to," Angel said. He cut a glance at her. "But you can't live without water." He squeezed her hand and she saw in his eyes that he was as unnerved as she was.


"I'll be back. Go inside and wait for me." Then he was gone, leaving behind only a little tornado of dust.


God only knew how long he'd been gone--watches didn't go with ball gowns unless they were diamond, and she'd sold her pave Tiffany two months ago to buy food and pay rent. Long enough that it was mostly dark, anyway.

Her stomach rumbled again and she bit her tongue to try to work up some spit. Her throat felt dry, tight. When she breathed, air burned through it, making her wish for one of those glasses of champagne she'd had at the party, or a super-sized Slurpee. Heck, even just a glass of water would do. Anything to soothe the ache.

Wait. Her mind back-tracked, replaying the last series of thoughts. Thirsty. Champagne. Party. She hung there, like a hangnail in satin.

Cordy closed her eyes, teased the memory back to the surface. Concentrating on the feelings that the thoughts generated made the fog shift, lift, and she peeked under the edge. Now there were images, disconnected like in a vision, like they were happening to someone besides her.

She stood in some kind of ballroom, smoothing the bodice of her satin gown--lipstick red with a low, cut, cap-sleeved bodice--and adjusting the long, thin skirt so it hung just right. God knew her ass was fantastic, but you could never be too careful in skin-tight satin.

The images spun, focused, and then she was looking at Wes as he doddered over in his tux, his hands full of champagne glasses. She'd grabbed one away just as he got within snatching distance. "Geez, Wes, loosen up. You'd think the Watcher's Council never had big, tux-y do's."

Now that one hand was empty, he'd adjusted his glasses then tugged at his bow tie. "Rogue demon hunters pride themselves on their rough-and-tumble appearance, Cordelia."

"Riiiiight. You guys only go for the leather that chafes your...." Her eyes had trailed down to his crotch, and eww, *so* not the visual she wanted.

Suddenly, her Big-money Spidey sense, which had been going off all night, went into hyperdrive. Sure enough, when she'd turned, David Nabbit had been standing behind her. But instead of the music she remembered, something graceful and classical, the world of the party faded to darkness.

Her eyes blinked open, startled by the silence that penetrated everything until she thought she could actually hear it. A dull, low roar in the back of her mind, driving her insane.

So she paced, scuffing her stilettos against the dirt, trying to break the silence barrier. In the corner, the pile of flesh and bones continued rotting.

"Hello, I'm Cordelia," she said to it-anything to get some action going.

She put on a deeper, growlier voice. "Hello, Cordelia, I'm a--" She peered down at it. "Mammal of unspecified origins."

"Nice to meet you, unspecified mammal. Have you lived here long?"

She switched to the other voice. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not actually alive."

In the distance something howled and she stared out the window, chill bumps breaking out on her arms. She ran to the door to look for the moon and didn't relax till she saw it, hovering a few inches over the mountains, a silver sliver.

Not a werewolf, then. But that wasn't much of a comfort. Something tugged at the edge of her consciousness-something she should remember but....

Still no Angel. And the dark felt a lot like the silence. Her skin crawled as she realized she was alone--totally, completely alone--in the middle of nowhere. The theme music to Deliverance started playing through her head.

"Stop it," she whispered to herself. She looked around and found a branch from one of the bushes near the door, which she broke off and held in her hand like a weapon. Not that it would do her much good, but it made her feel better.

When she went back inside, the leftover, baking heat of the day slapped her square in the face. The sweet, rotting smell of the dead animal had her stomach churning. Instinct drove her to its side where, in the deep shadows, she poked it with the stick.

It didn't move, and in this creepy place she'd half expected it to. She poked it again, then dug the stick under one edge of the carcass and lifted. It peeled off the floor and hung, limp. Holding her nose, she walked it to the door, taking tentative steps so she didn't drop it.

Just as her foot met sand, Angel burst out of the darkness, knocking her back onto her butt. The fur-thing splatted against her legs and landed on the floor. "Aaaahhhh! You made it touch me! You made it touch me!"

Angel helped her stand, staring down at her dress, and then at the black, shadowy lump. "What *is* it?" He seemed distracted, in a hurry.

"Remember the unspecified mammal? It is now better acquainted with the fibers of my dress than I am." She grimaced down at the looked around for her stick and found it still attached to the underside of the carcass. "I was trying to get it out of here."

He glanced toward the open door, shoulders a broad, tight band. "Leave it alone."

"What, you're gonna move it for me?" She clasped her hands at her breasts and fluttered her eyelashes, trying to break the tension. "My hero."

He gave her that "Stop being stupid" look then shook his head. "No, I mean, leave it alone because I think I can get us out of here."

Her heart shot straight into her throat. "Really?" She threw her arms around him. "Oh, thank God!"

He pushed her back. "We have to go now, though. It's gonna take a while to get there."

"I don't care how long it takes," she said, not bothering to shut the door behind her. "Just get me back to civilization."


She could barely see Angel in front of her. The night was inky black, with a sky that sailed high and star-lit, miles and miles above them. She shivered. The temperature had started dropping ages ago, and now she felt like one big chill-bump.

The desert seemed huge; a mouth opening to swallow her. Sand rubbed her feet through the sandals, which was like an instant pedicure at first. Now every step sent a surge of hot, raw pain up her legs.

They'd been walking for hours, which she knew because she'd watched the big Jeopardy Wheel of the sky turn over her head. Too bad she couldn't spin it to land on, "Back to L.A."

"I thought you said you were getting us out of here." Her throat burned with thirst. She felt dried out, irritable, woozy.

Angel stopped so suddenly her nose bumped into his back. "Angel?" She felt him turn, saw the brief, white shadow of his face, and then felt his coat settle over her shoulders.

"Just a little bit farther," he said. There was something he wasn't telling her but the sparkle-shine of exhaustion wasn't letting her ask.

She stumbled slightly as the world shifted around her, the stars spinning in their hungry black sky.

Angel's hand rose to her shoulder, steadying her. "Cordy? Stay with me." His skin was as cool as the night wind.


He stared at her for a beat, then the world tilted and she closed her eyes against the spin. "Hey!"

He cradled her in his arms like a child. "Hush."

Against her cheek his breath was a cool, dry brush. She rested her head on his shoulder and smelled the light, incense-like fragrance that seemed to define him. "Thirsty," she whispered. Her tongue felt hot, swollen.

"I know. There's water. Not far."

Sighing, she slid an arm around his back and held on.


"Cordy, wake up."

She opened her eyes and stared up into Angel's half-lit face.

He dropped her to her feet and steadied her. "We're here."

"Here" was, from what she could tell, an RV-not the kind you drove, but one of those old-fashioned Airstream trailers with a hitch on the front. She could only make out the faintest outlines of its round, silver body. "This is 'out of here'?"

Angel twisted the inset doorknob and opened the door. "Better than the shack."

That much was true. "What if someone's--"

"They're not. I checked." He moved up the steps, a graceful shadow in the dark, and held the door open for her.

She slipped past him into what felt like a small room, and smelled like it, too. Musty, closed-off, but relatively clean.

A match flared, cutting the dark. She closed her eyes tight against it.


She heard him blow out the match and felt his hand on her arm.

"Here. Sit down." He guided her into a seat that, when she opened her eyes, turned out to be a vinyl-covered dinette.

He slipped out of the circle of golden candlelight and she heard him rummaging in the cupboards. There was the sound of water hitting a pot, then the pungent smell of gas. A thin, blue flame popped up about waist height and she could see he was standing at a tiny stove, heating water.

Her body throbbed. She was so thirsty she could smell the water. "Angel--" It sounded whiny, desperate.

His smile was full of an understanding she could only grasp the edges of. "When it's boiled."

Some part of her knew he was right. The other part, the *thirsty* part, didn't care. She glared at him, but that took too much energy to keep up, so she stopped. "Where are we?"

"Somewhere due east of the shack. About ten miles."

Cordy moaned. "I end up stuck in the desert-God only knows how-with a vamp. And then I have to walk ten miles in Jimmy Choos?"

"Well, technically you didn't walk--"

She reached down and tugged off a sandal, scattering sand on the floor. Her foot, held up for his inspection, showed red blotches where the straps had cut into her instep, and a raw burn along the arch.

Angel stared at it, a look of concern furrowing his brow. "Okay, the situation could be better. But, hey." He waved at the room, and in the dim, gold light, he looked like a magician conjuring up a rabbit. "Sun-free shelter. No bursting into flames."

He started opening drawers and came up with a dishtowel, which he doused with water. "Here. Put that on your feet."

She slipped off the other shoe and put the cool, soft, wet fabric against her abraded skin. It stung, but she left it there, letting the stinging subside and turn into something soothing. She sighed. "What about the owner?" She sensed, more than saw, his shrug.

"Guess they could come back. In which case, we'll deal." A soft hiss of steam broke the air. "Until then, we'll use this as home base while we figure out how we got here."

"And how we get out." Cordy leaned her head back on the cushion. "My throat hurts."

"I know. Hang on. This just needs to boil for a minute or two more."

The black pool started leaking in again and she closed her eyes. The soft sounds of Angel shifting from one foot to the other, clinking glassware, lulled her back into that almost-sleep state.

She snapped up, fully conscious, when he brushed his hand over her shoulder. "What?"

He set a mug of steaming water in front of her. "Drink."

It was flat, metallic, and nearly scalded her tongue, but she drank the whole thing and handed it back to him. "More." She drank until the pot was empty and watched in a stupor as he started the whole process again.

Her cells stopped feeling so dry and her stomach relaxed enough to let out a long, low rumble. She pressed her hand against it and tried not to think of food. Thai, Chinese. Oooh, pizza. With chicken and mushrooms, or maybe ham and pineapple.

"When was the last time you ate?"

She shrugged. "Breakfast."

He shot her a look.

"What? Like I was gonna eat three squares and then get into *this*?" She waved her hand in front of the dress.

He sighed. "I'll go find you something to eat."

She thought about being holed up here alone. In the dark. "It's okay. I'll get something tomorrow."

He shook his head. "Like what? In case you haven't noticed, we're miles from a Fatburger. You have no idea how to trap and kill anything, Cordy. It'll be tomorrow night before I can get back out."

Cordy shuddered. "Trap and kill? As in pioneers and big-knuckled farm women? No thanks. I'll take my chances with the water."

"Well, I won't. I need you at your best, and half-starved won't cut it."

She watched as he poured the last of the water into the mug. "Take me with you."

He shook his head. "Nuh uh. I'll be faster on my own."

She stood and went to his side, wincing as her feet hit indoor-outdoor carpet. Her fingers wrapped around his hand. "Angel."

It was too dark to make out his eyes, but she could feel them on her. "You'll be okay. Just lock the door behind me. And drink as much water as you can hold, okay?" He linked their fingers together and squeezed. "You'll be fine."

"You'll come back?"

"I promise."

And he was gone. Again.


Cordy sat on the bench drinking tepid water by candlelight. She could hear the wind blowing outside, a light shuffle against the windows. The room was stuffy and, between the residual heat from the stove and the flame of the candle, getting hotter.

She shucked off Angel's coat, folded it, and settled it on the bench across from her. The last of the water went down almost-cool, and despite the flat-metal taste, her body seemed to absorb it like a sponge.

Rising, she set the cup in the sink with the pot. Bottles of water were stacked in the tiny pantry, but no food.

Miles from nowhere. No Elle magazines; no grande, half-caf, wet cappuccinos; not even a crappy frozen dinner, which, now that she thought about it, actually sounded really good.

Not very comforting to imagine all that endless, vast space out there, especially when she was stuck in here alone. There wasn't much that made her feel small, and when it did she usually got pissed.

Tonight was the exception. She'd gone without food before, but never this long. And the toll of thirst, the long walk, and the shock of being transported to nowhere made her feel like she'd just played about twenty sets of tennis and sat in the sauna for an hour. Without a cool towel on her forehead or a masseuse to rub her down after.

With a deep, dull ache, she wished for her bed and for Dennis to tuck her in. The darkness seemed to press in, a physical presence, despite the candle.

"Dennis," she whispered. He might not be there, but that didn't mean he couldn't hear her. For all she knew, death gave you the equivalent of a really big hearing aid, and you could listen in on anything.

"Dennis! Help! I'm trapped in the desert!" Silence. "Come on, give me *something*!" Nothing. Well, it had been worth a shot.

Maybe if she snooped, she'd feel better. She dragged herself up onto bare, throbbing feet, and went through the room, opening drawers and doors haphazardly, peering into the tiny, lightless fridge. The only thing that made her feel marginally better was the little bathroom, with its shower, toilet and miniature sink. Once this water hit, at least she'd have a place to pee.

The hallway was covered with fake, plastic paneling, the kind that looked like it should be accessorized with Avocado or Harvest Gold curtains. She wrinkled her nose, running her hand across the paneling, and noticed some hinges, about chest height. The door was directly across from the bathroom, which probably made it nothing more than a towel cabinet, but she opened it anyway.

The space was bigger than it looked from the outside, running the length of the wall, all the way back to the butt-end of the trailer. She peered inside and found cobwebs, dust and, stacked against the back wall, a tiny air conditioner. It rested on a crate of some kind, wooden, maybe the sort of thing fruit came in, if she cared enough to know anything about agriculture, which she *so* didn't.

Her eyes widened. "No way!" She tugged, trying to get it out, but it was too heavy to move.

An idea struck her, and she looked around for power outlets. If Angel could get the little AC out of the closet, they might be able to cool this place off. Then she remembered the whole "middle of nowhere" thing and stomped her foot. "That's just mean," she said, to anyone who was listening. There wasn't any power, so even if Angel got the machine out of the closet, there wasn't any way to make it run.

"What a joke," she said, suddenly convinced that this was all a big hoax. What else would it be? No TV, not even a radio. Just a useless trailer, sitting there empty in the middle of the desert, like it was waiting.

Waiting. For them?

She ran her finger along the wall, feeling for the electrical tingle that should be there if they were in the midst of a spell. Nothing. And who would play a joke this elaborate? Xander was too busy reading X-Men comics, Buffy was slaying, Willow was...doing whatever it was she did. No one in L.A. cared enough about her to put this much work into a practical joke.

Except maybe Wolfram & Hart.

"Crap." She concentrated hard, trying to bring up something more than the moment at the party she'd flashed on earlier. "I got nothin'." Nothing but a big, blank hole where her memories of earlier today should have been.

She sighed, closed the door, and leaned her head against the wall. Whatever the truth was, it wasn't showing its face. And right now, she was too tired to try to figure it all out. A yawn cracked her jaw. Her head felt heavy, stuffy. The air was so still.

One more place to snoop. She stuck her hand into the little couch and then pulled at the cushion. It folded out easily into a full-sized bed. "Oh, thank God," she muttered as she sat down on it.

The bed was lumpy and the cushion bowed in toward the middle. There were two drawers in the sides of the couch for extra storage, and when she opened one, she found some sheets. Pulling them out, she laid the fitted one on the cushion, tucked the edges under, and then shook out the flat one. It fluttered on top of the fitted sheet, its ugly floral pattern clashing with the green and brown stripes of the one beneath.

Nothing like her bed at home, with its perfectly firm mattress and wash-softened, rose-colored sheets. She tucked her arm beneath her head and imagined herself dressing for work, choosing clothes from the spring line at Chanel.

Pale yellow sheathe dress with black flats. Kicky little baby-blue suit with pearls sewn around the edge of the jacket. Black mini--the one with the chain belt, not the kick-pleated one--with a red silk tee and sweater....


Radisson, Wilshire Plaza
Los Angeles
Earlier that evening

"Hey, David," she said, sipping her champagne. Around them wove the chirp of laughter, the flowing sound of a jazz standard. For some reason, watching men through golden bubbles made even the ugly ones look good.

Not that David didn't look good. After all, he had lots of money to buy a tux that fit...kinda well. She ran her eyes from gleaming, black shoes to his round face. His hair was a nice, nutty brown, except for the part where he'd slicked it back with some kind of shiny gel, and now it looked like....

Oh, who was she kidding. He looked like a pudgy pelican stuffed into a penguin suit.

"C-Cordelia, Wes." He cleared his throat. "Good to see you." His nod to Wes was quick, decisive, but then he giggled, effectively killing any trace of dignity.

"You too," Wes said. He took another sip of his champagne and smiled awkwardly, clearly as flustered by small talk as David. The music shifted, going from upbeat jazz to "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

"Thanks for inviting us," Cordy said, figuring she'd better stop them from committing suicide by geekdom. She glanced around and spotted one well-known producer, a football player, and a country music star.

"There are tons of rich people here-- Think you could introduce me to that one?" She pointed at a trim, gray-haired man who cradled his champagne glass in a manicured hand. He looked very at home in his tux, and considering he'd spoken to nearly half the people in the room since he came in, he was obviously well-connected. Exactly the type of person to get her on the road to her inevitable stardom.

David cleared his throat. "Uh, sure. I mean, yes, absolutely."

Cordy drained the champagne glass and dropped it on a passing tray. "Great." At least David knew to hold out his arm for her to take. She slid her hand through the crook of his elbow and guided him across the room.

"Where's Angel?" David asked. A Strauss waltz floated through the air, light and pretty. In the full hotel ballroom, a few couples twirled like figures in a music box.

"Oh, he's coming. Had a hold-up with the demon thingy I saw in my last vision." She waved her hand in front of her nose. "Talk about stink-o-rama."

They passed the table with canapes; an ice sculpture of a swan floated gracefully above the champagne fountain. Cordy ignored her growling stomach, looking away from the perfect circles of pink shrimp, the golden crab puffs, the miniature blintzes.

This was a fundraiser for one of David's pet charities and L.A.'s biggest and brightest had shown up in their Versaces and St. Laurents to write big checks and tuck them in the pockets of the foundation's board members, who mixed and mingled.

Pictures of smiling children in wheelchairs, or standing with braces on their arms or legs, were set strategically on each table next to the door prizes. Since this year's theme was "Swim into Action," (whatever that meant), the door prizes were things like diamond pins shaped like swim goggles or exotic fish twirling lazily in bowls with plants growing out the top.

Cordy thought it was a really smart way to get lots of dough. People always coughed it up for helpless kids.

"Wow," David said. "You, like, smell them, and everything? That is so cool!"

"Only if you like the smell of demon breath. Hello!" she said, dropping David's arm and stepping into the other man's tractor beam.

"Um, hello." He glanced from Cordy to David. "Mr. Nabbit," he said, sticking out his hand. "It's a lovely party."

David took his hand and smiled like a man who'd had prunes for dinner. "Thanks. Glad you could come. Uh--" He stalled, nosedived.

Cordy sailed into the breach. "I was just saying the same thing! Wasn't I, David?" She stuck her hand out. "Cordelia Chase."

He shook her hand. "Ms. Chase." She waited for him to introduce himself in return, but instead, he said, "Are you a friend of David's?"

She laughed, trying to think of another way to get his name. Something about him just *smelled* important. Or maybe it was just the CKOne. "Not in the sense that-- I mean, yes, but only because--" She stopped, flashing him her biggest smile. "We're best friends, aren't we, David?"

David stuttered out a laugh. "Uh, yeah." He looked like he did that time he thought he lost his PDA at their office.

"So." Cordy sized up the man's tux. "Is that Armani? I only ask because the cut of the lapels--"

He gave her a look that suggested she was seriously deficient, and moved off into the crowd. "Well," Cordy said. "That was rude."

"Was it?" David asked. "I can never tell."


She turned to find Angel in his traditional all-black, covered with an ankle-length leather duster. Long slices slit the leather and he wore a big, purple bruise on his temple.

"Nice to see you dressed for the occasion," she said. "You okay?"

He grunted and scanned the crowd. "I killed the demon. I came to the party. Now, can we go?"

"Just so you know, David," she said, "that was rude, too."

David watched them, wide-eyed.

"Where's Wesley?" Angel looked like he was about to slip over into Broodland at any second.

Cordy pointed. "I'm not sure whether he's seizing or dancing. Thus, I am out of all range of association." She smoothed her dress again. "Aren't you going to tell me how fabulous I look?"

He glanced at her. "Yeah. You look, uh, great." He turned to David. "Since Cordy won't let us leave-"

"Damn right, I won't," she said, crossing her arms and shooting him "the brow." "It's not every night I get to wear a dress like this."

Angel narrowed his eyes at her. "-did the suspect ever show?"

David nodded his head. Or maybe twitched. It was hard to tell. "That one," he said, pointing toward the canapé table.

Cordy followed the line of David's finger and saw a tall, well-built black man with close-cropped hair. As if he sensed their gaze, he turned, and his eyes met hers.

Gold eyes in a black face. Dangerous. Powerful. Beautiful.

She smiled in a friendly sort of fashion then turned back to David and Angel. "Kinda spooky, if a little obvious. I mean, if Central Casting were going for 'big, bad sorcerer,' he'd totally get the part." She mimed a yawn, as if to say, "How boring."

"He's supposed to be one of the most powerful mages in the city," David said, gaze scooting between the sorcerer and Cordy. "I mean, he stole my Sorcerer's Stone right out of my safe."

"Anyone with a good set of blueprints, some grease paint, and a decent set of lock picks can do that," she scoffed. "And, hey, at least he's better than that one we interviewed the other day, right?" She put air quotes around "interview," since it had mostly consisted of Angel threatening to strangle the guy if he didn't share his information with the class.

"That guy was a lightweight," Angel said, crossing his arms over his chest.

"As you'd know, since you dangled him off the floor by the scruff of his neck," Cordy said. "He was also hygienically challenged. I mean, hello. You'd think if he was such a bigwig in the magic world, he could at least conjure up some shampoo. So," she said to Angel. "What's the plan?"

She glanced around the room, taking in the crowd of well-dressed, expensive-smelling people, and the loaded trays, balanced on the servers' arms. Sparkling glasses of champagne, bowls of strawberries, delicately glittering red wine in fat glasses. "You try to take him down in here and you're just gonna end up ruining somebody's Balenciaga. Which would not be cool."

Angel pinned the Mage with his eyes. "The plan is, we watch and wait."

"Wait?" David asked, a line forming between his eyebrows. "But I thought-"

"Like Cordy said, no need to ruin a Bal-- Bal--" He waved his hand. "Whatever she said."


Dreams shivered up, brightly colored and contorted.

She shifted in her sleep, breaking their surface, and the projector shifted, leaving her in front of a mirror brushing her hair. The boar-head bristles snagged in a tangle and she pulled and pulled, only to watch the tangle grow, swallowing the brush and coiling into a long, brown snake.

It dropped from her head and wound through the sand over her feet. Her heart dropped right into her stomach and she moved her legs, trying to get away. But no matter how fast she ran, she couldn't go anywhere.

She could only wait and watch as the snake lifted up on its tail and swayed. As tiny beaded eyes flashed, and long line of its mouth drew back in a, slow, secret smile.

Then it flicked its tongue, bared its fangs, and struck.

Her eyes popped open and the dream faded, leaving her with a vague sense of unease. She unballed her hands and dropped the sheet she'd been clutching. Looked up and found herself staring at Angel's back. He was barefoot and stirring something at the stove. "Please tell me you're brewing coffee."

He turned. "You're awake. Good."

When she sat up, she saw that he'd blown out the candle and put his coat over her. The first rays of sunlight were turning the room a soft gray. The curtains were tight over the windows, leaving just enough light for her to see by. "Why good?"

He turned off the stove. "Because you need to eat."

"You found food?" That had her out of the bed and on her feet. "Really? God, I could *so* use a cheeseburger."

The pot landed on the table in front of her, wooden spoon sticking out an awkward angle. "Well, it *is* meat."

She picked up the spoon and watched as the slop dripped back into the pot. "I can't eat this."

"Sure you can. I did."

A cringe-worthy comment if ever there was one. "Don't tell me you--" She made a fang-face, suggesting that he'd sucked the thing dry.

"Lots easier to clean if they're not full of blood." He wiped his hands on the dishtowel.

"The words 'gag me with a spoon' take on new meaning. And how do you know about--" she waved a hand toward the pot- "big-knuckled-farm-women stuff?"

"How do you think we ate meat when I was growing up?"

"Frozen food aisle?" She glanced up at him hopefully. "Red Baron? Mrs. Paul's? This ringing any bells?"

"Eat your soup, Cordelia." Angel pulled another bottle of water from the pantry. "When you're done, I'll boil some more water. Then I'm going to bed."

Cordy took a small bite of the soup-type-food-product. "Ugh." Even though she was starving, she shook her head and dropped the spoon back into the pot. "No way. Tastes like road kill."

It was usually pretty funny when Angel did that thing with his face. Now that she was alone with him in the middle of nowhere, it was a little intimidating. "Okay, fine." She took a big bite, and chewed. "Are you happy now?"

He ran his hands through his hair. "Unfortunately, I didn't see anyone or anything that looked like civilization out there."

Cordy held her nose and took another bite. She swallowed. The information processed; her worst nightmare. Stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no way out.

Between Vocah and the head-splitting visions, nothing surprised her anymore. But she couldn't stop the helpless spin of terror that gripped her.

"This totally sucks," she said, not even bothering to keep the fear out of her voice. With her fingers pinching her nose shut, though, she sounded all Minnie-Mouse. So she said it again. "This totally sucks!" Then she giggled wildly, a sound that snorted against her closed nostrils. That sense of turning, of falling, of emptiness overwhelmed her, and the laughter bubbled and bubbled, spilling over, taking her with it.

Gasping, clutching her sides, helpless with laughter. Helpless.

"Cordy." Angel put his hands on her shoulders.

"What?" she gasped. The blank, bland look on his face--his "oh-shit" stare--sent her off again.


The feel of Angel's hand cupping her chin morphed the laugher into tears. "I wanna go home!" she wailed.

He pulled her to him, patting her awkwardly on the back. "I know. I'm working on it."

Relaxing into him was difficult, considering the only thing touching her was his shoulders and his hands. Full-body contact freaked him out; she knew this, but right now, his brand of comfort wasn't exactly comforting. She pulled back, sniffling. "You kinda suck at the whole nurturing thing." That was the old her. "But thanks for trying, anyway." And that was the new her.

He wiped her face with his sleeve. "Well, you know. I spent more years scaring people than making them feel better." There was that smile. "You should be glad I'm making you breakfast, instead of having you for breakfast."

Cordy smiled, warmed by the macabre humor. "Did you just make a joke?"

Angel made a "huh" face. "You know, I think I did." He looked pointedly at the pot. "Finish eating, Cordy."

If you pretended it was that soup you got with a meal at La Cantina, it wasn't so bad. A little stringy, and the meat was definitely gamy, but after the first couple of bites, her stomach actually seemed to like it. So she finished the pot and handed it back to Angel. And there was all that water she drank earlier, putting pressure on her bladder. "Must pee." She headed toward the bathroom.

"Uh, Cordy?"

She turned and he pointed toward the front door.

"No way." She threw up her hands. "If I wanted to go camping, I'd have checked in at the Awahnee!"

Angel rummaged under the sink and came up with a roll of paper towels. "Dig a cat hole. Bury everything in it. Cover it so you don't attract animals."

"There's a perfectly good toilet in there. Why should I go outside to do my business?"

"Because there's no way of knowing if that toilet works. Until I can check it out-"

She held up a hand, stopping him mid-sentence. "I'm like that lady in that sixties TV show."

His brow wrinkled.

She pantomimed banging a pitchfork on the floor and hummed the theme song.

Angel's confusion cleared. "Green Acres!" His laugh was genuinely amused. "I guess you are. Zsa-Zsa Gabor, camping in a ball gown." He ran a finger over the satin covering her shoulder. "Speaking of, we should probably find you something a little more comfortable to wear."

Cordy snatched the towels from him. "What, a fig leaf?" She made sure she slammed the door behind her.

So this is what people did before television, she thought, looking around the dead silent RV. Absolutely nothing.

She kicked her feet out and reclined on the bench, staring at the ceiling. Angel snored on the bed a few feet away. Her dress was hot, sticky. Her feet didn't hurt any more but the dirt crawling between her toes was about to gross her out.

She could smell herself. She *never* smelled. Well, except for that one time before she got the apartment with Dennis, but that didn't count any more. Not after almost two whole days in the desert.

Cordy stood up and stared at Angel. Why did he snore if he didn't breathe? She needed to ask him that.

Tempted to poke him to see if he'd wake, she remembered how grumpy he got if he missed his beauty sleep. Instead she wandered to the front of the RV and turned on the taps in the sink.

A loud banging filled the air and she jumped, twisting the taps off frantically, and looking over her shoulder. Thank God, Angel hadn't moved.

She stared at the sink, thinking. Did that banging mean there was something in the pipes that wanted out? Like air? Or water?

Squatting in front of the cabinet, she pulled the door open. It popped free of the magnetic latch and she stared in at the S-curve of the pipes and the two, silver knobs. When she stuck her head in, she noticed that the pipes seemed to go down, through a hole in the floor, outside the camper.

Curious, she went outside, got down on her hands and knees, and peered under the RV's hulking belly. Sure enough, a pipe ran down into the earth. "Well, well, well," she said, then laughed at her pun.

When she stood she noticed something else. An awning on the side of the trailer, carefully rolled and strapped to the side. It seemed like the kind of thing you could unfurl and make shade with. A great way to watch sunsets, if they did happen to get stuck out here forever.

Which they weren't. Because she was going to figure out a way to get them out of there. Then she was gonna let Angel go and do it. Delegating was more her style than actual work, but if she could ace her SATs, then she should be able to find a way to get them out.

She slipped back into the quiet trailer. Angel had flipped over onto his back, with one arm flung across the mattress. His mouth hung open.

She leaned down and peered in at his teeth, surprised to find that his mouth looked exactly like hers, down to the little hangy-thing on the back of his throat. So what happened when he vamped, she wondered, standing back up. She'd have to add that to her list of things to ask when he woke.

He'd taken off his shirt and slept, in his wife-beater and pants. The shirt lay neatly on top of the coat--he was such a freak that way--and the shoes sat in a tidy row on the floor next to the bed.

She eyeballed the shirt. Picked it up and sniffed. She lifted her arm and took a discreet whiff, then ducked away, mouthing, "Yuck!" Either he didn't sweat or his sweat smelled better than hers. She shrugged, draped the shirt over her shoulder, and went to the sink.

There was a stack of dishtowels on the cabinet, and she picked one up with a bottle of water, and went outside. The tarp was too high for her to reach, so she pulled the steps over and used them like a ladder.

Poles, wrapped up in the middle of the tarp, clanged down on her head. "Ow!" They hit the desert floor, shooting flares of reflected sun back at her. The tarp hung limply against the side of the RV.

She waited breathlessly for Angel to open the door or bang on the window. Nothing. It took her a minute to figure out how it all went together, but finally she had the poles inserted into the holes and the little tent-like cover erected.

Sun beat down, making everything white-hot and dazzling. She glanced around, and that vulnerable, exposed feeling came back. But nothing stirred. Not birds, not rodents, not even the breeze.

Before she could lose her nerve, she unzipped the dress and stepped out of it. How standing out here in nothing but her thong was different from standing in St. Tropez in nothing but her bikini bottoms defied explanation. There she felt powerful, sexy, beautiful. Here, she felt intimidated. Afraid. Like the entire world was staring at her, and not in a nice way.

Ignoring the feeling, she skinned out of the thong and rinsed it in the water. She laid it on the steps to dry in the sun then poured a little bit of the water on the towel.

Her hair felt heavy, hot. She pulled out the pins and set them carefully on Angel's shirt. Then she scrubbed her face and neck, feeling layers of grime peel away.

At some point between scrubbing under her arms and behind her knees she started to get comfortable with being naked in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that was when Angel tapped on the window.

"Yaaah!" She grabbed his shirt, scattering pins. "Some privacy, please?"

"You're in the middle of nowhere," he yelled through the glass. The curtains remained tightly in place; no way he was going to risk frying. "How much more privacy do you need?"

"Five more minutes worth," she yelled.

She finished her bath, pulled on his shirt, buttoned it, and started hunting for pins. She got three of them back; the others disappeared into the sand. Maybe Angel's vamp-eye could spot them tonight. Gathering the dress, towel and water, she started toward the stairs, where she saw her thong.

She scooped it on the end of her finger and tapped at the door. "Open up."

Shuffling, muttering, she heard him get behind the door, well into the shade, and pull it open. "Since when can't you work a door knob?"

"Since my hands are full." She strolled past him, dropped the water and the cloth, and turned.

His eyes fell to her thong, still looped around one finger, then worked their way up her body to her face. "My shirt," he said, voice gravelly with sleep. Or irritation. It was hard to tell. "What am I supposed to wear?"

She thrust the dress at him. "Red's definitely your color."

He shook his head. "Cordy...."

"I'll give it back when the sun sets." She wiggled her finger, absently swinging the thong. "What's the difference? It's not like anyone's around to see." Glancing around, she spotted a sunny spot on a shelf, just under the window. She spread the tiny bit of fabric out, carefully smoothing it down, so it'd dry in the right position.

Angel made a noise in the back of his throat.

"What?" She turned, walked past him, and sat on the bench.

Angel grimaced. "Tell me there's something between your skin and that bench."

Cordy shrugged. "Your shirt."

The grimace grew to a look of horror. Then, as if that were too much to take in, he pointed toward the thong. "*That's* what you've been wearing under your clothes for two days?"

"Well, yeah." Her forehead wrinkled. "Why?"

He slapped his forehead. "I am stuck in the desert. No easy way out. With a woman who wears dental floss for underwear." He cast his gaze to the ceiling. "God, can my life *be* any worse?"

"Vampires pray?" Cordy crossed her legs and swung her foot. "You don't, like, burst into flames, or something?"

Angel leveled a look at her. "Those things--" He nodded toward the thong. "They can't be healthy--" His mouth closed and his lips pinched together. "No. Never mind. I don't want to know."

"Well, if you're not gonna ask me a question, can I ask you one?"

It sounded like he was being strangled. She took that as a yes.

"Earlier, when you were asleep, I looked in your mouth--"

"You looked in my mouth."

"Well, it was open. I was bored." She shrugged. "It looks normal."

A muscle twitched in his jaw.

"So, what I want to know is, where do the fangs go? Up in your head? Or do they just disappear--"

"I don't know, Cordelia."

She frowned. "You've been a vamp for two-hundred-some-odd years, and you never got curious?"

"No," he snapped. "What was I gonna do, Google for it?"

Her eyebrow arched. "You know about Google? And here I was feeling sorry for the poor, technologically challenged old guy."

Was that a growl? He ran his fingers through his hair and paced. Then he stopped and stared at her. "Earlier," he said, like a man grabbing for a lifeline. "I heard banging, didn't I?"

"Banging, as in naughty dreams, or as in empty sink pipes? Or what about poles crashing--"

"Sink pipes?" No one loved a project like Angel. He was Mr. Do-It, and he seemed to have found something to occupy him as he dropped in front of the sink and opened the doors.


"Well, what?" She started picking dirt out from under her fingernails. Then she held her hands out in front of her and grimaced. "God, I need a manicure."

"Is there a *well*, Cordelia?"

"Looks like it, doesn't it? Of course, I don't know for sure because I didn't want to wake you up, so after the pipes did the whole big-bang thing, I dropped it." She smiled, making sure her dimples winked. "Aren't you glad I didn't wake you?"

She could tell she was getting to him by how he pretended to ignore her. Shifting to her hands and knees, she stuck her head in next to his. "Not much under here but pipes. But it does go into the ground. I checked while I was out there."

He turned his head and they were nose-to-nose. "Could you tell anything about it? Was there a cover, or was it just the pipe?"

She shrugged and their shoulders brushed. "Just the pipe, but I think it had some kind of knob thingy. Kinda hard to tell in the shade, and I wasn't about to crawl in the sand." She wrinkled her nose. "Even after rinsing off I hardly feel clean."

Angel pulled out and sat back on his heels. "Huh. So someone must have lived here for awhile, or planned to, anyway. Wonder what happened to them." He glanced over at her, then closed his eyes tightly. "Uh, Cordy, would you mind...." He gestured toward her butt.

She looked down to where he was pointing and realized that the shirt barely covered the necessities and that she was nearly mooning him. "Good thing I'm not modest." She sat on her heels and tucked the shirt around her thighs. "Better?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Thanks." His gaze trailed back down to her thighs and lingered.

Cordy raised her brows. "See something you like?"

Angel's eyes snapped to hers. "Wh-- What?"

God, he was easy. She laughed and punched his shoulder. "So, you were saying, about the owners?"

"Right. Uh. Yeah." His eyes lost their focus as he seemed to think about something. "I'm trying to figure out why they'd leave a perfectly good trailer out here, with water hook-ups, and just disappear."

"Maybe it's a vacation home. Not my idea of one, mind you. I prefer a ski lodge in--"

"But it was awfully convenient how I found it. I mean, I almost walked right into it."

"You consider ten miles 'walking right into it'?"

He glanced at her. "I can move fast when I need to." The shrug was easy, the punctuation on a statement of fact. "It was just weird how it was here."

Cordy thought back to that moment last night when she felt the walls, looking for remnants of magic. "I actually wondered the same thing."

Now he looked very focused. "You did?"

"Yeah. Last night. While you were out killing things." She looked around, taking in the small, plain room. "I even poked around, looking for that--" She motioned, not sure of the word.


She nodded. "Yeah. No...vibe. Not even a smell. And usually you can smell it."

His turn to nod. Then he stood and held out his hand. "Come on."


"You need to go outside, crawl under the trailer, and tell me what you see so I can figure out how to start the well."

Cordelia laughed. "Yeah, right. What part of 'not crawling around in the sand' wasn't clear? We have plenty of water. Besides, why are we focusing on the well, when we need to be focusing on getting out of here?"

"Because, Cordelia, if we don't get out of here, we need a more constant water supply."

She opened the pantry door and pointed at the bottles. "There's at least twenty bottles in there."

"And how many have we used in the last twenty-four hours?"

Her brow wrinkled. "Oh."

"Yeah. I estimate that we have about ten days' worth."

"And if we don't find a way out before then?" She studied his face, looking for answers.

His face didn't give any. "That's why I want to get the well started."

The constant quiet leapt between them and hovered, midair. One beat. Two. "Tell me what you need me to do."


Her formal gown offered more coverage than the shirt, and she made Angel turn around while she shimmied into it and did the zip. "Here. Thanks for the loan."

Angel took the shirt from her. "Sure."

Cordy tied her hair in a knot on top of her head. "I want you to look for my pins tonight. I lost them when you banged on the window earlier."

"I can do that." He looked around the room and came up with the big, wooden spoon. "Speaking of banging."

Cordy's eyebrows flew up.

Angel's face remained bland, but his eyes sparkled. "Bang this on the bottom of the RV before you crawl under. Things could be hiding in the shade."

Cordy stared at the spoon, then at him. "So I'll just...what? Spoon them to death?"

"The noise should scare them off."

She took the spoon and tapped it against her palm. "And the minute the sun sets, you're under there to try to fix this thing."

"Yeah. Hey...." He looked down at his feet, then up at her from under his eyelashes. "How you holding up?"

The spoon, she found, made an excellent pointer. "You want the list of complaints?"

He looked like he'd fallen off the deep end. But he was willing to swim. "Uh.... Sure."

Yeah, he'd listen. And then he'd feel guilty. Which meant she'd not only be stuck in the desert with a vampire, she'd be stuck with a depressed vampire. "I'm fine, Angel. A little hungry--okay, a lot hungry. And in need of a real bath, but otherwise I'm Jim dandy."

She tapped him with the spoon and said, like some sort of wish-granting fairy, "I'm sure we're gonna get through this. Even if we have to live out here alone together until I die at the ripe old age of a hundred." Her nose wrinkled. "Wait--Can I take that back? 'Cause I don't want to live out here--"

Angel laughed. "I'm glad you're okay, Cordelia. Now would you please go look at that well?"


The spoon made a wimpy little clang against the underside of the RV. Cordy, on her hands and knees, squinted under the chassis to see if anything moved. Nothing did, so she yelled. "Yo! Creepy things! Get out!"

Movement, something shifting, slithering. She backpedaled. "Shit!"

"You okay?" Angel's voice was dull, tinny, through the walls.

"Yeah." Eventually the sand stopped shifting and she dropped to her stomach. "I can't believe I'm doing this," she said, as she shimmied under the hitch. The sand was soft, cool, in the shade, while the slit in the skirt left her legs exposed, letting sunlight sting her ankles.

The pipe ran from the open hole under the sink, down into the sand. There was a small wedge of concrete around it, and an engine--a pump?--sticking out the side. She couldn't see a plug, or batteries. Didn't pumps have a handle that you, well, pumped?

Nothing like that, not even a place for it, showed up in her inspection. It was just a pipe with a little pump attached. A feeling of panicky frustration washed over her. It's okay, it's okay. "Just calm down. You can figure this out." She rolled over on her stomach to peer up into the guts of the RV.

And came face-to-face with a snake, coiled deep in the trailer's innards.

A napalm blast of terror exploded in her head. Time expanded as her eyes focused like a camera lens on the diamond-shaped head. Her gaze slid along its coils, noticing the distinct markings, the pale beehive of the rattles.

A scream rose from her throat, a pure, animal pulse of terror.



It twitched, a hollow, clattering sound sending out a warning.

"Don't move!" Angel yelled.

She heard him rushing around in the trailer. The sound added to the snake's agitation and its long, silver-brown body uncoiled, releasing itself from its nest. The rattles sounded again, a deadly crackle.

Cordy watched, frozen, as she realized that Angel was trapped inside by the sunlight. And she was trapped out here by the rattler.

It slid down, out of the engine, and landed with a soft thud on the sand less than a foot away from her head. She could see it out the corner of her eye and waited for the full-force slam of its teeth in her face.

Nothing but the soft shift of scales on sand and the skin-crawling sound of the rattle. She held her breath, forced her eyes wide open, afraid to blink, to breathe.

Dear God, don't let it bite me. Please, please, please....

Then something cool and strong wrapped around her legs and yanked. Hard.

Sand rushed under her like water and she was staring into Angel's face. He held the coat over him, but the sun was frying him through the rips.

Before she could move, he jerked her off the ground and threw her through the open door. She slammed against the far wall and lay there, stunned. The next thing she knew, the trailer was dark again, and Angel was leaning over her, smoothing her hair off her face with blistered, shaking hands.

"Shh, shh, it's okay, it's okay...."

The words Dopplered in and out as she lay there struggling for air. Over it all was sharp stench of burning flesh.

Angel turned her head back and forth, skimmed his fingers over her neck and shoulders. "Did it get you?"

Her skin felt like it had been pulled back to expose everything underneath. All she could do was stare at him.

Oh, God. There was-- It was-- She'd nearly been-- Hot tears leaked out of her eyes and slid into the hair at her temples, mixing with sweat and sand.

"Shh, Cordy. Hey. Look at me."

Her lips trembled. "S-s-snnn--"

"I know. I know." He cupped her face in his hands. "I'm sorry."

She closed her eyes and turned her face into his hand, sniffling, feeling her body coming down from the rush of adrenaline. It left her wrung out, queasy.

He picked her up and put her on the bed, then went to the sink and poured water on a towel. "Here," he said, wiping it across her forehead. "Let's get you cleaned up."

"I want to go home," she said, voice trembling.

The towel smoothed the skin of her eyelids, her temples. He wiped the curve of her neck then picked up her hand and wiped it, front and back, drawing it over and between each finger. "We'll be home soon. I promise."

She drew a breath that hitched somewhere up high in her chest. "No we won't. We're never gonna make it back."

Angel laid one hand down on the mattress and picked up the other. The sheet was rough against her cheek when she turned her head away from him. In her line of site was the empty back end of the RV, with the little, useless bathroom, and the tiny closet where nothing hung but dust motes.

She was stuck in the desert with Angel and a bunch of snakes and they were running out of water. "I'm gonna die."

"You're not going to die. I promise."

She rolled her head and looked at him. "Real friends don't lie, Angel."

He lay the towel down on the floor then sat there looking at her, eyes full of things he didn't know how to say. He ran his hand over her hair again, then hesitated, went still. After a moment he seemed to make some kind of decision. He reached both hands into her hair and began pulling it out of its knot, gently unraveling it and finger combing out the sand. "I'm not lying to you, Cordelia."

She wanted to yell at him. She knew he was only trying to protect her. But he was so gentle, so sure. He wouldn't hurt her and *that* was the truth, no matter what came out of his mouth. "I know you don't mean to, Angel. But you have no idea what or how or *anything*."

He listened, eyes on his hands, which were unraveling sprayed, perfumed tangles. The familiar scent reminded her of how she'd misted her hair before she put it up. In her apartment with Dennis looking on, while everything was normal.

"I used to be able to open the freezer and pull out macaroni and cheese," she said. "You know? I mean, I don't really even *like* macaroni and cheese, but I could eat it if I wanted."

"I know," he said, tilting her head up and pulling her hair around to one side. His face wove into a mask of concentration as he combed through a thick knot, but he didn't pull too hard, even once.

"And I could turn on the faucet and water came out. No questions asked. Just, bam! Shower? You got it. Wanna brush your teeth?" She ran her tongue around her mouth and grimaced. "Oh, God, don't even get me started on my teeth."

"Tell me about it."

"Are you saying I have bad breath?" But the words came out without heat.

He shook his head. "Just that I'd love a toothbrush right about now." His eyes lifted toward the ceiling, dreamy and unfocused. "And some tooth paste. Something minty."

The sound she made was somewhere between a laugh and a yawn. "Hey, do you ever vamp out just to brush your fangs?"

His laugh was soft, genuine. "I'll never tell." His hands slid over her scalp, her temples, the nape of her neck. They tugged gently, breaking up tangles, drawing her hair into a long, dark column.

She lay still, letting the quiet and the motion of his hands soothe away the last rumbles of fear. "Angel?" Her voice was hushed, slurred around the edges.

He ran the flat of his hand down the fall of hair like he was petting a cat. "Mmm?"

"Do you really think we're gonna make it back?"

He went still, staring off into space. "I have no idea." Silence permeated the twilight-colored room. His eyes slid back to hers. "But if we don't, I promise I'll make this life good for you."

Touched, speechless, she linked their fingers together. Squeezed.

He tilted his head and lifted his lips in a sweet smile. "Go to sleep, Cordelia. We'll worry about it later."

She was weightless, melting into the mattress. Safe. She was safe with his hand in hers, with him watching over her. "Don't go."


She floated off into the darkness.


Cordy floated back to consciousness. Angel sat in the dinette across from her, head on his folded arms, sleeping.

The trailer was hot, still. Sweat dampened her hair, tickled her back. Her fingers fumbled with her zipper and the dress released, baring a long strip of skin from armpit to hip. It didn't help.

"Hot," she moaned.

Angel didn't move.

Cordy rolled off the bed, holding her dress with one hand, and went to the sink. She gazed out the porthole onto the sandy sea outside, noticing that the sun had dropped low in the sky.

It was just now June and the trailer already collected heat like someone baking in a tanning bed. How in the hell were they going to survive it in July? August?

Cordy swallowed, feeling the deep, dry thirst that said she hadn't had enough to drink today. She opened one of the heavy glass bottles of water and chugged.

It slid down her throat and hit her empty stomach. Even tepid it felt cool against her desert-dry throat and lips. The bottle made a little pop when she pulled it away from her mouth and she realized she'd just swallowed nearly half of the gallon.

She burped, a little puff of air, then let out a long, windy sigh and dropped the water back on the counter. Slipping past Angel, she went to the door and peeked outside. No snakes in her direct line of vision. She sat on the steps, keeping her feet off of the ground, and wrapped her arms around her knees.

A woozy, cottony feeling came over her. Hunger made her belly throb and a loneliness she'd never come close to feeling enveloped her. She really was the only living person out here. It made her shiver and she hugged her knees tighter.

The sun did its magical thing, painting the sky and then trailing off, leaving behind streamers of darkness. Birds and animals started stirring, something she hadn't noticed the night before on their run to the trailer. Maybe her ears were used to the pulsing silence now.

She put her hand up like a visor over her eyes and followed the path of a black speck high in the sky. It circled lazily like a kite on a string and she wondered what it watched. Whether it could see her, too.

Through the open door she could hear Angel stir, call her name.

"I'm here." Reluctantly she slid the zipper up, pinching herself back into the impossible dress. If they ever made it out of here, she was never wearing satin again.

He hulked just inside the shadow of the door until the sun's final rays disappeared. Then he settled on the floor and dropped his feet to the step beside her. She scooted over to make room, letting her hip rest against his warm skin.

"I'm not used to you being warm."

He yawned. "Me either."

Cordy rested her head on the doorframe and stared out across the sand. The wind picked up with the sun's release, bringing with it strange odors. Herbaceous, dry, animal; she couldn't put a name to any of them, just knew that she'd never smell them again without thinking of this quiet moment.

"You hungry?"

She nodded.

"Ever eat rattlesnake?"

"Once. At a lodge in Montana. It was way better than I expected."

He stretched. "Good. I'm in the mood to kick some snakey ass."

Cordy laughed and did her fluttery eyelash trick. "My hero."

Angel's face went serious. "You called me that before. I'm not sure it's true."

A line twitched between her eyebrows. "Really? That's stupid."

He went blank-faced then burst out laughing. "You're good for me, you know that?"

"Of course." She shrugged and stood. "Now, go be a good hero and find me something to eat."

He came back with a long, limp snake hanging from his hand. "Told you."

She couldn't help but shudder and she stood well back as he cut it into chunks and roasted one on the end of his knife in the open flame. It did smell good--so much like chicken that her mouth watered--and by the time he was finished, she grabbed the first chunk before it was even cool.

Fanning her tongue and sucking in air didn't help much, but she was too hungry to care if she got burned. Angel took the next chunk off the fire and waved it around on the tip of the knife. She went for it, but he pulled it away. "No. It's not cool enough," he said.

Standing on tiptoes, she swung her hand. He moved again, laughing, and held it over his head. Even on her toes she couldn't reach. "Give it!"

"In a minute." He slid his arm around her waist and held her still.

"Don't be such a daddy."

"I'm not. I just don't want to listen to you bitch about your sore tongue." Finally he dropped his hand and tilted the knife toward her. "Don't cut yourself."

She stuck her sore tongue out at him.

The temperature dropped with the sunset and a cool breeze blew in the open door, reviving the stale air in the trailer.

"God, that feels good." She let the zip down an inch or two and lifted her arms.

"Mmm," he said, putting another piece on the fire. "You wanna take over here? I'm gonna climb up on the roof. Have a look around." He handed her the knife handle and traded places with her.

The heat from the flame reminded her of the day, sunlight dancing off the sand like the blue-centered flame off the stove's eye. "Yeah. Let me know if you see any Seven-Elevens up there. I want a Slurpee."

"Sure thing."

She heard his treads on the ladder, then felt the trailer rock as he landed on the roof. For a minute she panicked, thinking, what if he falls through.

Then his voice cut the twilight. "Hey, come up here!"

He sounded so excited that she immediately cut off the gas and set the speared piece of snake on a kitchen towel. She bolted down the stairs and up the ladder, stopping at the top rung.

Instead of looking out, like she'd expected, he was staring down at something on the roof. She held on to the tops of the rails with both hands and studied the flat panels resting against the top of the RV. "Shit."

His grin was a brilliant flash in the glowing air. "Yeah." He reached down and tugged one until it popped up, sitting at an angle on two struts.

"So that's how it works."

"Probably powers the whole trailer." His forehead wrinkled. "That air conditioner you saw, in the bottom of the back closet?"

"Fits in the window." She laughed. "Woo hoo!" Her voice echoed, and somewhere far off a bird answered. "Solar panels. You're a fricking genius, Angel!"

He beamed. "Hey, I didn't put them up here." Squatting, he started looking more closely at the box next to them, which seemed to be some sort of generator. "But I'll be the one who figures out how they work." His voice rang with promise.

Cordy watched for a few minutes as he tinkered, then climbed the rest of the way up and stood on the roof looking out at the skyline. The crumpled brownbag outline of the mountains grew out of the long, flat expanse of sand. There wasn't a single light glowing, beyond the first flare of moonlight. She turned, gazing out in all directions.

The last light left everything shadowed in sage green, deep lavender, smoky gray. Los Angeles was filled with colors like that, on the houses, in the plants. But she'd only seen it through the press of buildings and reflections of car windows.

Her stomach rumbled and she pressed her hand against it.

Angel glanced up at her. "You okay?"

"Sure. Glad I ate it and not the other way around."

He grunted and went back to tinkering.

"Think I'm gonna go cook the rest before the flies find it." She backed down the ladder. "Maybe if you get that thing working, the fridge will come on."

He was too far into it to reply, so she wandered back into the trailer and went to the stove. Flame on, meat in fire. It was pretty simple but kind of satisfying. Though she'd sure love a salad right about now.

She reached for the bottle of water and swigged while she roasted the meat. Her stomach clenched and grumbled. "Huh," she said, sliding the meat off the knife and picking up another piece.

Just as she put it in the fire, her stomach cramped, a low, deep wrench of pain that left her gasping and queasy. She stood, panting open-mouthed, waiting for it to pass.

Finally it eased off and she went back to grilling. The piece was just getting a nice, golden crust when her stomach gave another lurch. "Oh, God."

The knife hit the floor with a clatter. She stumbled out the door and slammed to the ground on her hands and knees. Her stomach spasmed like a clenching fist and she hurled up everything she'd just eaten, along with the water.

Clammy sweat broke out at her hairline and stung under her arms. Her stomach lunged and she vomited again and again, lost to everything but the feeling of her body, getting rid of something it hated.

At some point she realized Angel was there, talking to her in a panicky voice that he tried to make sound calming. Heroically, he held her hair back, while she crouched like a dog, sweating and coughing.

"Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God." It was a prayer and a lament and it was all she could think to say. Her whole body quivered, arms and legs weak, body covered with a thin sheen of sweat.

She rolled onto her side like a baby and tucked her knees against her chest. Her stomach rolled and cramped. "Make it stop."

Angel's eyes were flat with terror. "What happened?"

The moan was long, ragged. Her stomach lurched and she sat up and vomited again. Nothing but dry heaves now, wracking and painful. The sour taste of stomach acid made her wretch and she spat, trying to get rid of it.

"Water. I need--"

He left her there and came out with the opened, half-drunk bottle. "Did you drink this?"

She moaned. "Hurts."


When she opened her eyes he thrust the bottle at her. "Did you *drink* this?"

Her hand rose. "Give it."

He threw it into the sand. "Fuck! Cordelia, you didn't boil it!"

The whimper that came up sounded like something an animal would make. "Just. Get me. Some...."

Angel slid his arms around her and helped her to her feet. "Can you walk?"

She wavered and her stomach roiled. "Wait." Sweet water pooled on the back of her tongue and she put her hands on her knees and spat in the sand until the need to puke passed.

"Okay," she said. She pushed herself the few steps to the trailer, letting Angel drag her up and inside. "What if I'm sick again?"

His face was grim, his mouth a long, flat line. "I'm sure you will be. Probably out of both ends."

Maybe it was possible to feel paler. But probably not. "No."

He settled her on the edge of the bed. "Yes." His fist banged the mattress and she jolted. "You idiot. You couldn't wait ten minutes for the water to boil?"

Her head drooped. "I didn't think--"

"No, really? Dammit, Cordelia. This is serious!"

She took breath in shallow sips. "Don't yell at me. I'm sick." Her stomach clenched. "Oh--" She flew to the sink and retched, felt Angel move in behind her and support her when her knees went weak.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. The helpless feeling overwhelmed her and her eyes watered. "I didn't mean to...." She rested her head on her arm and felt hot tears trickle over her skin. She hated this feeling, of being sick, dependent. Disconnected.

"Shh, shh. I'm sorry I yelled," he said, voice low and apologetic. He turned her and wiped her face with a damp towel. "Let's get you to bed."

She nodded and leaned on him as he helped her lie down. Sliding down on the mattress, she realized her whole body felt watery, and she was glad to have the support.

Angel stripped off his shirt and underneath his t-shirt was a soft, white glow. He pulled it over his head and put his black shirt back on.

"Sit up."

She moaned as he pulled her to a sitting position. With gentle hands he unzipped her dress and slid it down her, leaving her in her thong and nothing else.

"Lift your arms."

The t-shirt settled over her head and smoothed down over her thighs.

"Lie down."

The t-shirt smelled like him, like sweat and incense. She turned her face against the mattress and closed her eyes. "Thank you."

"Want the coat?"

She shook her head. "Hot."

A cool hand brushed her forehead. "Okay. This isn't unexpected." But it obviously wasn't something he was comfortable with.


"Fever. Your body's fighting whatever it got in that water."

Her eyes opened and caught his. She could see by the look on his face how serious she was. Everyone knew stories about people who got sick drinking the water in Mexico. "This is bad, isn't it?"

His mouth got thin again. "I refuse to live out here by myself, Cordelia."

"So if I live, it'll be to keep you from being a lonely old vamp?" The laugh trailed off into a groan.

Angel smiled. "Yeah. Shh, be careful. You'll make yourself sick again."

Through a fevered haze she watched him cook the rest of the meat, wrap it carefully in a towel, and set it on the counter. He moved in slow motion, picking up the pot and pouring in a sparkling silver stream of water.

Time dove, a swallow swooping and climbing, breaking free of its earthbound rules. Angel moved around the trailer like a shadow, pausing to light the candle, rushing her to the sink when she got sick, sponging her face and making her drink the water when it boiled.

She heard him climb the ladder and it sounded like she'd stuck her head in a speaker. The booming footfalls made her flinch, moan. Rolling, moving, trying to get comfortable, it was impossible with the dull ache at the base of her skull, the hot pinch at her joints.

Sleep. Just go to sleep. Was that Angel whispering to her? His dark eyes anchors in the night, his hand stroking her face.

A bright, golden light pierced her eyes and she cried out. A low hum rattled through the trailer. She mumbled as it mixed in with a dream. Earthquake. Rattlesnake.

Floating. Falling.



"Cordelia. Come on, wake up."

She blinked awake. Angel sat over her, hair mussed, shadows under his eyes.

"Where am I?"

"In the RV. Here, can you sit up some?" He slid an arm under her and lifted. "Drink this."

She swallowed, gagged. "What *is* that?"


"Gag. No." She pushed it away with a limp, pale hand.

He drove it back toward her mouth. "Drink it. You need it." The pot pressed against her lips. "Don't make me hold your nose."

She drank. Just a few swallows, but it killed the hangover taste in her mouth enough that she felt better for it. "Is this force-Cordy-to-eat-weird-stuff day?"

"Uh huh. Can you drink a little more?" His voice was ragged, tired.

It worried her, and if drinking more would make him feel better, she'd do it. She drank until there were only a few swallows left in the pot. "Enough." Her breath came hard from the effort, but her stomach felt calmer than it had since last night.

"You look pretty tired," she said.

"Not too bad." But when he stood she could see the slumping shoulders, the droop to his head.

"Why don't I get up and give you the bed?" She rolled to her side and tried to sit up.

He was there, supporting her. "Cordy--"

The room spun. "Ooookay." She slid back down onto the cushion. "That was some night."

He squinted at her. "'Some night' times three."

She squinted back. "I was out for three nights?" That didn't make sense. "That doesn't make sense." But then she noticed that his cheeks and chin were dark with razor stubble--far more than one night would have given him.

He walked to the stove and set the pot down. "This is the start of the fourth day, Cordy." His back was to her.

She didn't like not being able to see his face. Not when he used that tone of voice. "Angel."

He didn't turn.

"Angel. Turn around."

He did, slowly.

"You were scared."

A shrug.

Cordy stared at him. "You thought I was gonna die."

Another shrug. Then he put his face in his hands and shuddered. They'd just been through this a few weeks before. The clench of his hand, the way he'd woven their fingers together in the hospital.... She knew the last three nights had cost him more than he wanted to reveal.

Swallowing helped move the lump in her throat down enough that she could speak. "Oh, come on, Angel. If I died, who would make your life hell?" She could feel the tears welling up but she did her best to keep the tone light.

When he looked up, though his eyes were bright, he was smiling. "Good point." That seemed to break down the wall between them and he came to sit next to her on the bed. "I have a surprise for you."

She didn't have the energy to do much more than pull her eyebrows up into her hairline. "Is it a good surprise, or a snakey, bad-watery surprise?"

He held out a round, plastic bottle.

"Doctor Bronner's Peppermint Castille Soap?" Her mouth dropped open. "You found *soap*? Oh, my God!" She threw her arms around him. "I think I love you!"

He hugged her tight against him, a full-body hug, maybe the first she'd ever gotten from him. "Want a shower?"

Cordy pulled away. "You're joking, right?"

That lighting flash of grin lit up his face. "Nope. I got the solar panels working. We've got air conditioning, running water and lights."

A laugh bubbled out of her, pure joy. Yeah, they were stuck in the desert. But, by God, they had amenities! "Help me up!" The broth must have pumped her up because this time she actually sat up and dangled her legs over the side of the bed before she got dizzy. "Hang on. Head rush."

He put a steadying hand on her shoulder. "Easy."

When the room stopped spinning she held up her hands. "Okay. Here we go."

Angel pulled her slowly to her feet, then kept an arm around her while she adjusted to gravity.

"Okay, now it feels like I've been down for nearly five days. My legs are like jell-o."

They stood, tucked together in a parody of an intimate dance. "Want me to carry you?"

She marshaled her breath, concentrated on taking a step. "No thanks. I got it."

It took a long time to get to the bathroom, but Angel seemed content to just hang with her while they did it. "You're being awfully nice to me."

"Don't have much choice."

She raised her eyes, and from the look on his face he was half-kidding, totally serious. "Ohhhh. I get it."

He met her gaze. "Get what?"

"I'm part of your path to redemption, right? Help the helpless, even the ones who barf on you?"

The corners of his eyes crinkled. "Looks like it."

They reached the bathroom. "Well, they oughta give you extra points for this."

Angel slid the door into its recess, reached in, and flipped on the shower. Water ran out of the showerhead, more than a trickle, but not as forcefully as her shower at home. "Sorry it's so slow. I tried to up the pressure, but--"

"Angel, get real. This is amazing. And you did it all while you were taking care of me?"

He nodded.

Cordy laid her head against his chest. "Thank you."

They stood there for a few minutes, listening to the water run. "You should probably get in there before there's no hot water left."


He put the bottle on the ledge next to the sink. "I'll be right out here. Call if you need anything."

She nodded. "Okay." She didn't close the door, figuring he'd seen it all, anyway, and if she fell or something, he could get there faster.

Not that she was gonna do anything as stupid as fall in the shower. She stripped off the t-shirt and thong and stepped under the water. That was for old ladies.

Luckily the shower stall was small, which didn't leave her much room to move. If she leaned against the back wall, there was only about two feet of space between her and the front wall. "It's a Barbie shower," she said with a laugh.

Wedging herself in kept her weak knees from giving out, and she braced her hands next to the knobs and let the water sluice through her hair and over her skin. "Oh, God." It was the best thing she'd ever felt.

A week of accumulated sweat, dirt and who-wanted-to-think what else rolled off her body and down the drain. All those sticky-itchy places, under her arms, between her legs, under her toes, stopped sticking and itching and went back to being normal, pink, and fresh.

She squirted a dollop of the clear, sharp-scented soap into her palm and took a whiff. The peppermint smell ran through her brain and lit up her senses. Her stomach calmed. Her sinuses cleared.

Washing her hair was a revelation. Sand puddled on the floor of the shower as she lathered, rinsed and repeated. Her scalp perked up as she chased the last of the accumulated oil and sweat down the drain.

The bottle said she could use it as toothpaste, and since her teeth felt furry enough to grow something on, she dribbled some on her finger and scrubbed around her gums. "Blech!" It tasted terrible, and there was no way in hell she'd ever swallow the stuff--hello, she'd barfed enough in the last few days--but when she took a mouthful of water, swished, and spat, her mouth felt way better.

By the time she turned off the water, she felt more on top of things than she had since the night of the party. When she wasn't clean, she was at a loss. On the defensive.

She was also about to pass out. "Angel." Her arms and legs trembled; her body felt light, insubstantial. "Angel!"

He appeared in the door with two dishtowels. "I'm here."

"What took you so long?"

His hands were gentle as they brushed one towel over her dripping body. "I was vacuuming the library, madam."

Cordy laughed. "You're seriously denting your cool factor."

Angel shot her a wry smile. "It was all a lie, anyway. Turn around."

She was too tired to be self conscious, though the thought that her boss was so comfortable seeing her naked would probably bear some thinking about later.

He finished drying her off and took her hair, squeezing the water out into the bottom of the shower. The tiny towel wouldn't hold it all, so he draped it over her head and motioned her out into the hall. "Come on."

"I don't think I can move." She raised an eyebrow and nodded toward her arms, which she'd braced on the other side of the shower wall. "They're locked in place."

Angel laughed. "I guess you're stuck there. See ya later." He turned and wandered away.

"Angel! You asshole! Get back here!" But she was laughing with him, and it felt so good to be clean and cool, and to be laughing, that she didn't mind sitting in there for an extra thirty seconds while he hauled butt back in.

"Here." He put his arm around her waist and tugged.

She popped out. "Hey, if that stall's a tight fit for me, how in the world did you get in there?"

"I only showered half of myself at a time."

Cordy giggled as she stumbled toward the bed. Against her skin the air from the AC felt cool, refreshing. "Where'd you find the soap?"

"In a box under the air conditioner. I also found a pair of men's pajamas and a couple of other things." He nodded toward the bed where striped pants and a matching shirt lay. "I figured you might want to change clothes."

Cordy felt her face light up. "This is better than Christmas."

"I doubt that after the holidays you used to have." He settled her on the bed and helped her shimmy into the pants, cuffing the waist three times and tying them off to get them to fit.

"I feel like I'm playing dress-up." She put her hand on his arm. "About Christmas."

"Yeah?" He looked up from turning back the shirtsleeves.

Her gaze caught his. Held. "Don't ever tell anyone I said this." She waited till he nodded. "I never liked those Christmases with my family. All that stuff, sure it was great and I'd love to have it back. But this means way more."

Angel squeezed her shoulder. "It does to me, too."

She arched a brow. "I'll deny it till my dying day."

He blanked his face. "Deny what?"

Cordy grinned. When it faded, she noticed again how shadowed his face looked. "How long has it been since you slept?"

He gave another one of those shrugs.

"Angel. You can't keep pushing yourself. You have to eat. You have to sleep." She blinked up at him, surprised at herself. "Ooookay. Not sure where that Jewish mother came from, but we'll go with it."

"I'm fine, Cordelia."

She lay back against the mattress. "You are not. Now lie down and take a nap. You can't do anything else until sunset, anyway."

His shoulders slumped. "I'll just sleep over there." He pointed at the banquette.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Look, I know you're in love with Buffy, and sharing a bed with me is the last thing you want to do." She shook her head. "Which must make you totally deficient, but whatever. You need to sleep. I could use another couple of hours. This is the only bed." She patted the cushion next to her. "So shut up and lie down."

Angel stared at her for a good, long moment. Then he sighed. "You sure this is okay?"

She tugged him down next to her. "You need this, Angel. You just don't realize it." Her smile flared, despite her exhaustion. "That's what you have me for."

He lay down next to her on his back, folding his hands on his stomach. "Okay," he said, closing his eyes. He seemed rigid, tense, but after a minute his body sagged. "I'll stay...for just...a few...."

Cordy watched him drift away and felt an ache in her heart. He was the closest thing to a best friend she had and she owed him her life. Again. Slowly, uncertainly, she twined her fingers with his and squeezed.

Even in sleep he squeezed back.

One of the things Angel found in the box was a gun. A snub-nosed black handgun and a box of shells. He said what kind it was, but she couldn't remember. But it looked like the ones you always saw in those Film Noir marathons on A&E.

It felt strange in her hand. Crossbows she knew. Stakes, no problem. But a gun? "This is way weird."

He stood behind her, arms parallel to hers, hands cupping her wrists. "You have to get used to it. You need to know how to defend yourself." He adjusted their stances and realigned her grip. "Now, just aim at that cactus and fire."

She blew out a breath and pulled the trigger. The gun kicked her hands into the air, sending the shot wide and high. "Holy shit." Her ears were ringing and the burnt smell of gunpowder wreathed around her head. She coughed.

Angel was laughing. "I told you it had a kick." He snuggled closer and went through the whole line-up again. "Okay, now this time, take a breath and hold it. And keep your eye on the target."

Deep breath. Hold it. Fire.

"That was better."

"What? My ears are ringing."

"Better!" he yelled.

She looked over her shoulder at him. "Yeah, but I still missed."

"But you didn't shoot any birds this time."

Cordy mock-screamed. "I shot a bird?"

He kicked the back of her bare heel, just below the strap of her sandal. "Pay attention." There was a whole thing earlier where he broke the heels off of her shoes and nearly made her cry. But they were tons easier to walk in now, so she'd almost forgiven him.

It was that lavender time between sunset and dark when they could both be outside. Angel made sure their spot was snake-free and then helped her walk out. She was sure that half of the reason he stood so close was to keep her from falling over in the sand.

They went through the whole routine until she was able to hit the cactus.

"Okay, one more time, and let's call it a night."

"Fine by me. My human eyes are losing the ability to see, anyway."

They assumed the position. Something about the way he moved behind her, cupping against her, sheltering her, made time slow down. Crystallize. The darkening sky, the hushed whistle of wind against cactus and scrub, the colors shifting, deepening.... She sighed and leaned into him and they stood quietly together watching the night take over.

Angel's thumb stroked her hand once, twice, and her senses focused there. "You ready?" he whispered, breath fanning against her ear.

She swallowed, surprised at the sweet, hot ache in her belly. "Uh, yeah." Her voice felt rusty; she cleared her throat. Concentrate, concentrate. She closed her eyes and pulled the trigger.

The familiar kick of the gun pushed their bodies together, and she could feel the long, lean plane of his chest and stomach against her back.

"Good job."

When she opened her eyes she saw she'd taken off the top of one of the up-turned arms. "Thanks."

Angel dropped her hands and stepped away. They stood together in awkward silence, the gun hanging at her side, sending silver tendrils of smoke into the cooling air.

"Cordy, I--"

"It's okay, Angel. It didn't mean anything."

He tilted his head. "Huh?"

Cordy's eyes swept his face. "Uh--" Okay *that* was embarrassing. "Never mind. What were you gonna say?"

"Just that I think it's time for me to go."

A jolt of panic shot through her. "What? Go where?"

He tucked his hands in his pockets and looked out toward the black outline of the hills. "To try to find help. We've been out here nearly a week, already."

She thought of the silence, the isolation, the fact that there was nothing to do. "I know. But--" Was she saying she wanted to stay?

"You'll be okay. I'll only go as far as I can get back safely in one night."

She could see that he needed to get out. That he was itching to do something. "You promise."

He nodded. "I told you I'd get you home safely, Cordy." His hand lifted, like he was going to cup her face, but then it dropped back to his side.

Dammit, she was missing him already. "No, you're right. You should go." She started the slow walk back to the trailer.

Angel caught up with her about five steps in. "Here, let me help you."

"No, I got it." Her legs felt weak, watery, and exhaustion lingered like a halo. "I'll probably sleep till morning anyway, right?"

He took her elbow and helped her up the steps. "I hope so."

She put the gun and the box of ammo on the floor next to the door. "Plus, I have protection."

Angel stood on the top step, but he didn't come in. "You sure you'll be okay?"

Cordy put on her best smile. "Who would mess with me?"

This time he did caress her face. "I'll be back before dawn. Hopefully with some good news."

"Great." She watched as he skimmed down the steps. Man becoming shadow and dissolving to darkness. She reached out her hand. "Bye."

A skin-crawling shudder went through her as she locked the door behind him. She turned on every light in the trailer and went to the bathroom to rinse out her mouth with some of the boiled water, just to have something to do. Hunger panged, but she ignored it. Keeping food down was still iffy, and even though Angel had left some broth for her to reheat, the idea of eating didn't appeal to her.

When she went back to the main room, she saw his coat draped across one of the benches and she picked it up and put it on over the pajamas. It swallowed her, sleeves hanging several inches below her fingers, hem brushing the floor. She gathered it tight, turning her face into the collar and sniffing deeply.

Angel's scent exploded through her: leather, sweat and spice. She checked the door one more time to make sure it was locked, loaded the gun and laid it next to the bed. When she sat down, she noticed something tucked into the corner of the cushion on her side of the bed.

She skimmed it with the tips of her fingers, trying to understand where it came from, and what it meant. He must have found it in the box and left it here--a gift to keep her company while he was gone.

Picking it up, she thumbed the pages, stroked the cover, held it to her face and felt hot, lonely tears prick her eyes. He was such a good man. Even when he was gone, he left little pieces of himself there to comfort her.

She turned to the first page. "Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff...."


Just like he'd promised, Angel returned before dawn. She woke to find him pulling the book out from under her cheek, where she must have rolled on it.

"Hey," he said, sitting down next to her.

She smiled. "You're back. Where's my good news?"

He shook his head, his mouth drawn into a disappointed line. "I wish I had some to give you. I thought maybe if I went to the mountains I'd be able to climb up and see something."

"And?" She sat up, pushing her hair out of her eyes. All the lights still burned, as if he had come to her the minute he walked in the door.

"I didn't have time to make it there and back in one night."

Cordy clasped his hand. "Now what?"

He squeezed her fingers, then stood and started unbuttoning his shirt. "I'll keep trying. Other directions. Starting earlier." He toed off his shoes. "One night, I'll get lucky. Until then...." Settling on the bed next to her, he let out a long, tired sigh. "I'll take a nap."

She reached out a hand and brushed a streak of dirt off of his face. "You want a shower first?"

But he was already asleep.


The days passed. She rationed the book, wanting it to last for the long nights while she was alone.

Angel typically slept most of the day, so she puttered around in the trailer, dusting and straightening. Sometimes she pulled the stairs under the big cactus next to the trailer, and sat there watching the sun roll across the sky. By mid-afternoon she ate lunch and took a nap. It was too hot to do anything else, even with the AC on full blast.

Around sunset, Angel would rise and hunt, and they'd eat dinner. By the time it was fully dark, he was gone.

That's when it got hard. The silence overwhelmed her at times, leaving her with nothing but her thoughts. Memories surfaced, good and bad, and she'd find herself obsessing about things that had happened years before.

One night when the moon was full, she couldn't sleep, so she climbed up on top of the trailer and sat, watching the dark desert. The moonlight silvered everything, from rocky floor to spearing cacti. Birds flickered in and out of the darkness, and their cheeps and chirps kept her company.


The ballroom glittered with ice and diamonds. Music swirled, carrying dancers across the floor, the sound weaving with the low buzz of conversation and the occasional piccolo-like trill of laughter. Cordy stared across the room at the sorcerer, not bothering to hide her curiosity.

"You know, he really looks a lot like that football player. What's his name?" She snapped her fingers, trying to call the name up from vague memories of Super Bowl parties. Maybe it was the one where she wore the tangerine mini-dress. Or was it the--

"Jerry Rice?" asked Angel.

Cordy tilted her head and studied the amazingly well-built black man with the scary eyes. "That's the one that does, like, karate, and stuff?"

Angel grunted again.

Luckily she was learning to read Angel's Language of Grunts and knew that one meant yes. Or maybe he was hungry. Except she knew he'd eaten before he killed the demon du jour, so it had to be a yes.

"I wish it was Jerry Rice, instead of, you know--" David waggled his eyebrows by way of finishing the sentence.

Cordy, annoyed by his face-pulling, waggled hers back. "You mean a magician guy who's trying to blackmail you?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "What is it with you and blackmail, anyway? Didn't they tell you how to avoid that in the Billionaire's Handbook?"

"There's a handbook for billionaires?" David asked.

Cordy smirked. "I'm sure they meant to give it to you at the first meeting and just forgot."

David looked like a man who finally figured out he'd been the brunt of a joke, and was actually sort of flattered by it. "Ha ha! That's-- You're very funny, you know."

"I try. Not that people ever notice." She glanced at Angel who was watching Not-The-Football-Player with his scary vamp eyes. "You playing the intimidation card, Angel? 'Cause I'm thinking it might work better if he was actually paying attention to you."

Angel glanced at her. "Why don't you let David get you a refill, Cordelia?"

"I don't want a refill, actually. I've already had two and since I didn't ea--"


This whole working-for-a-vamp thing was obviously turning into a bad buddy-cop movie. The kind where the buddy cops had absolutely no chemistry and spent the entire, endless two hours sniping at each other. "Yeah, I'm going." She tugged David by the arm. "C'mon, David. Sheesh. Even Wes is more fun than this."

David moved with her like her mother's Bichon, Lucille. Obedient, easy to lead around, but likely to yap at the most inopportune moments.

"So, what's it like to actually *smell* a vision?"

Like now. She sized him up. "Too bad that whole kissing thing didn't work. Then you could be asking Angel this question."

His finger moved to loosen his collar. "What kissing thing?" he squeaked. Then, "You kissed *Angel*?"

"Only because I was desperate." She waved a hand. "That's how I got the visions. Like an STD, only...I'm not sure what they'd actually be. Demonically transmitted disease?"

David blinked. "Huh?"

"Wes!" she called.

He stopped seizing and joined them. "I think that girl actually danced with me!"

"Um, I think she was trying not to get hit by your--" She did an imitation of his flailing arms.

"Oh." Wes pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his brow. "Where's Angel?"

Cordy shrugged. "He's scoping out the dude who looks like Jerry Rice, but isn't." She glanced over her shoulder. "Jerry Rice. Is that right? I mean, I thought maybe something a little less...food-like, you know? Someone on TV as often as he is, you'd think he'd at least consider changing his--"

"Anyone want a canape?" David asked, trailing off behind a passing waiter.

"Well, I think I'll just go see if Angel needs any help." Wes pushed the sleeves of his tux up and puffed out his chest. "One never knows when a Rogue Demon Hunter could be of service."

"Please, Wesley. How many times can you use the words 'rogue,' 'demon,' and 'hunter' in the same night? And put your sleeves down. You look like Don Johnson."

He muttered something under his breath, which Cordy decided to ignore in favor of the band, who had switched to Benny Goodman. Wes smoothed the wrinkles out of his sleeves. "Better?"

Cordy nodded, then followed him to the corner where Angel stood, glaring and lurking. "So, boss. How's that stink eye workin' out for ya?"

He turned the stink eye on her. "I thought I told you to go find some champagne." God, he was like Harmony on a bad hair day.

"I told you I didn't want any." She shrugged. "Look." She pointed at Wes. "I saved Wes from making an even bigger fool of himself than usual."

"For which I am forever grateful, I assure you," Wes said in his stuffiest Brit-speak.

Great. Now she'd annoyed him. He could be so sensitive sometimes. "What do we do now? Continue with the stand-and-wait plan?"

"No," Angel said, breaking away from the wall. "I'm going to go talk to him." He glanced over his shoulder, but she didn't think he really saw them. He was already focused on the task at hand.

For a rabbity guy, David sure did get into lots of trouble. First there was the whole deal with the demon brothel. Now there was this thing with the sorcerer and the threat of the banishing spell and--

God knew, they wanted to cut a deal if they could. After all, it was impossible to run a multi-national corporation from...wherever the mage planned to banish David to if he didn't cough up the Sorcerer's Stone he'd bought from the auction last month.

He'd kept it in a vault, but evidently he just *had* to show off his new toy, and one of the losers at D&D night had let slip that David had it. The demon grapevine traveled faster than Sunnydale's, and that was saying something, considering she could whisper a comment about Willow's latest fashion freak-out to Aura at their lockers between first and second period, and by the time the bell rang, someone would be repeating it back to her.

She and Wes watched--well, she watched and Wes dabbed his face again--as Angel approached the big, dark-skinned man in the black turtleneck and pants. Seemed like the rules of the formal dress code got bent for vampires and sorcerers; she'd have to ask if they also got bent for seers. But then, she wouldn't have gotten to wear this dress, so maybe she didn't want them to bend the rules for her.

"What do you think they're talking about?" she whispered.

Wes returned his handkerchief to his pants pocket. "I don't know," he whispered back. "Shall we go find out?"

"Yeah. Angel might need us," she said, cutting through the crowd to resurface about five feet from Angel.

From here, she could see the mage's strange, gold eyes flash. Angel's shoulders got all square and big. "Damn. They're already into it. We've got to get them out of here before--"

The mage flung out his hand, knocking Angel back a couple of steps. Cordelia felt the magic like a wave: one powerful surge, and then undertow. The crowd swayed and a couple of people fell. Someone screamed.

"Too late," Wes said.

The trumpeter bobbled the high note, and it broke in a pig-like squeal. Before the conductor could get them going again, Angel grabbed the sorcerer by the arm and started dragging him toward an exit.

Cordy and Wes followed. This was a good time for security--but instead of waiting, Angel hurled the guy toward the door. The big, black man somersaulted, taking down a couple of partiers in the process.

"Told him he was going to ruin a Balenciaga," Cordy said.

The crowd watched, stunned, as the two, big men-black-and-white negatives of each other-started fighting. A scramble, as the people who went down in the tackle were helped up; the others going into that "Is this for real?" mode that meant most of them stood there with their mouths open, watching.

Cordy and Wes chased Angel toward the doors. "Get them out of here!" Cordy yelled, thinking of the hallway outside, which wouldn't be nearly so peopled.

"The service hall," Wes yelled back, fighting the rumbling crowd. "Maybe if we can somehow get them back there--"

Cordy nodded as Wes crashed through, sprinting toward a pair of highly-polished wooden doors marked, "Employees Only." He hit the brass crash-bar and went on through, motioning for her to follow. "Angel!" he yelled, trying to get his attention.

The mage had Angel by the lapels. Cordy heard leather rip and watched as Angel vamped. Then he did one of those Angel-y moves and had the other guy by *his* lapels--or he would have if the guy had been wearing them.

"Everyone get back!" a blue-blazered guard shouted. His brass name-badge flashed in the tasteful light from the chandeliers. The crowd widened to give him room but was too mesmerized by the fight to disperse.

"Go back in and find David," Wes shouted at her as she stumbled toward the yawning doors. "Tell him we've got the situation under control."

She turned to do what he said, and there was the mage, flying straight toward her. "Dav--" Cordy's words were cut off as a big, dark hand reached out, faster than she could dodge, and grabbed her hair.

"Hey! Ow!" All she could see was flying feet and carpet speeding by as he rushed her through the room. Concrete floor against her shoes and the sharp edge of the panic bar banging against her hip.

Then she was falling, landing, rolling. She came up, elbows stinging, chin throbbing, tasting blood. Furious. "You son of a--"

Nearly 200 pounds of dead weight--literally--came crashing down on her. Her ribs belted the concrete and all the air in her lungs exited with a "whoosh."

And then all she heard were some strange words and she felt the wave again, picking her up, sucking her under.


Lightning cracked, sending sharp-nailed fingers across the boiling, black sky. "One Mississippi, Two Mississippi-" She curled into a ball and put her hands over her ears as the thunder broke. It rattled her body, teeth to toes, and the electric wind sent shivers skating over her arms and back.

The wave rolled, swirled, spat her high and she landed hard on dry land. She lay there, panting, thinking, "I'm safe," until she looked over her shoulder and saw the clouds, shifting, forming shapes, becoming something familiar, something- Oh, God, they weren't clouds at all, but a wolf, eyes flashing lightning-gold.

Nowhere to hide. Nothing but flat, flat desert.

And the wolf, mouth sliding back into a secret, hungry smile.

She woke on top of the trailer, chilled, to the slowly lightening dawn. The first thing she realized was that she was alone. "Angel?"

No answer.

She pushed herself up and peered out into the gloam. "Angel? You there?" He was always back before now. Fear quivered through her.

Getting to her feet, she cupped her hands around her mouth. "ANGEL!" Her voice disappeared on the wind. Where was he? The sun was rising on another hot, deadly day.

Desperate, she shimmied down the ladder and dashed into the RV. Empty. Had he come back while she was asleep, thought she was gone, and panicked? "No, he wouldn't do that. He'd be able to smell me, right? I mean, eww, but that extra sensory stuff is his stock in trade."

She went to the door and yelled for him again. Now the sun was crawling so fast she could nearly see it move. Red ball, to orange to yellow. By the time she went back in, it was a white-hot disk, hanging low over the desert's head.

Cordy paced. "What should I do? Should I go after him?" She turned, walked to the other side of the room. "There's no way I could find him. But what if he's injured?" She tugged her hair. "What if I got lost?"

She collapsed onto the bed. "Oh, God. I knew this would happen. I knew he'd go off and get killed and I'd be stuck here forever." A bird of panic flapped in her chest. "Damn. Damn!" She heaved herself off of the bed and paced again, from the bathroom to the kitchen.

Finally she sat. She fingered the book absently while her mind blanked out. The thought of being here alone was too much to comprehend. So she wouldn't.

Instead, she cleaned, using a tiny bit of the castille soap on a towel to scrub the trailer. She rinsed out her pajamas and hung them in the bathroom to dry. Taking the knife, she cut the skirt of her dress to mid-thigh-length, then slid it over her head and zipped it up. It hung loose around her hips and under her arms, and she realized she must have lost weight.

"The Desert Diet. How to make it work for you," she muttered, as she sliced a long ribbon of fabric from the skirt. She doubled it, pulled her hair up on top of her head, and tied it into a ponytail.

Just getting it off the back of her neck made it easier to breathe--and think. "You can do this, Cordelia. You just have to figure out a way."

What about lighting a fire? She could burn one of the tires from the trailer, maybe. Or the cushion from the bed. Either would send up a plume of black smoke that might get her noticed. She might even be able to feed the fire with wood from around the trailer.

That was it. She put on her shoes and went outside. The desert floor throbbed with heat, and she knew she had to go slowly and not get too far from the trailer. Most of the big plants were cacti, and she couldn't pick them up because of the spines. But she found a whole bunch of scrubby bushes that she pulled up and dragged back to the trailer.

The wind blew, hot and stinging, sending a spray of sand into her face. Her lips, chapped since the first night, tingled when she spat. She covered her face with her hands and waited for the wind to die.

There in the heat, buffeted by the desert's arid breath, she realized there was no way she could light a fire. It could spread to the trailer, to the rest of the countryside. And there wasn't enough water to do a damn thing about it if it did.

Her eyes teared up and she bit her lips, unwilling to give the desert any more water than it deserved. She screamed, pissed off, frustrated, lost. Alone.

All she got was a mouth full of sand.

on to part two