Angel was in the throes of some kind of seizure. His arms and legs were shaking uncontrollably and his eyes had rolled back in his head.
"Move the coffee table!" Aggie shouted over the din. "And someone get me some cornmeal from the pantry."
Fred raced into the kitchen while Lorne and Wesley moved the coffee table against the wall. Aggie rolled back the rug, revealing the voodoo vever she'd painted on the floorboards.
Gunn leaned over to Lorne. "She's psychic and a witch?"
"Not a witch," said Lorne. "Her grandmother was some kind of voodoo priestess."
"Root doctor," corrected Aggie. "But I prefer to think of myself as a practical occultist. It's just a hobby, really."
"Hey, whatever," said Gunn. "Anyone who can put the gris-gris on me gets to call themselves whatever they want."
Everyone jumped as the house shook with another loud crash. This one sounded as though someone had dropped a smallish pachyderm on the roof. The roaring sound had by now grown to an ear-piercing howl.
"Here's the cornmeal." Fred thrust the bag at Aggie.
Aggie scooped out a handful and began carefully outlining the design on the floor as she chanted the warding spell her grandmother had taught her. At least, she hoped she was chanting a warding spell. It had been so long she wasn't entirely certain she wasn't reciting her Mamaw's recipe for callaloo.
"Now what?" shouted Wesley when Aggie had completed the spell.
"To see if it worked or if my house is going to go all Poltergeist on us."
"What, you mean like the end, where it all crumples up on itself?" said Gunn. "That would be very, very bad."
Fortunately, the noise outside had already begun to die down. The next crash was somewhat quieter than the last, and the one after that was downright half-hearted. Finally, Angel stopped shaking, blinked and looked around, weak but conscious once again.
"Welcome back," said Fred. The howling had faded to a depressed-sounding whistle in the distance.
"I miss anything good?" said Angel.
"Just the usual, apocalyptic displays of magic," said Gunn. "No big."
Wesley looked approvingly at Aggie. "Nicely done."
"What did you do?" asked Angel.
"A warding spell. Combined with the sanctorum spells I've already got set around the house I think our bad guy got discouraged."
"We have to assume he'll try again, however," said Wesley.
"A display like that over distance had to use up a lot of juice," said Aggie. "My guess is he'll need time to regroup before he tries anything else."
"I hate to imagine what your neighbors must think," said Lorne.
"Oh no," said Fred. "Spike!" She ran to the front door and threw it open.
Spike lay crumpled on the doormat, looking dazed. "Bugger this for a lark," he mumbled blearily.
Fred bent to help him up. "Are you all right?"
"Sure, pet, take more'n a few bumps in the night to keep ol' Spike down." He swayed precariously as Fred tried to keep him from falling down again.
Fred gave Aggie a pitiful, pleading look. She was quite good at it, with those big brown eyes of hers.
Aggie's formally steadfast resolve was no match for Fred's earnestness. "Oh, sure," she said. "Bring that vampire in, too."
Fred gave Aggie a grateful smile and led Spike into the house.
"Maybe while we're at it, we could check the nearby dark alleys to see if there are any more vampires we could invite into my house," Aggie grumbled.
"I think I know where to find most of these ingredients," said Wesley, who'd gone back to poring over the magical text. "Except maybe the vestal ritual oil, that's usually a special order."
"I've got some in the bedroom," said Aggie.
"I see. Well, all right, then," said Wesley.
Aggie realized everyone was looking at her. "It smells nice in a bubble bath."
"The real problem is the draconian shielding stone," continued Wesley. "There's only one that I know of in L.A."
"I don't suppose it's at the Ralph's on Pico?" said Gunn.
"Unfortunately, no. It's in the private collection of a man named Bernard Havelock."
"Lemme guess," said Gunn. "Well-armed guards, high-tech security systems, impenetrable solid-steel vaults?"
"Pretty much," said Wesley.
"So what now?" asked Aggie.
"Break in and steal it, of course," said Wesley.
"Just like that?"
"No problem," said Gunn. "We do this Ocean's Eleven type stuff all the time."
Aggie was just a tad skeptical. "Is that so?"
"Okay, two or three times, now. But it's cool. I'm like George Clooney and Brad Pitt all rolled into one. And Wes here's our Elliot Gould."
Wesley looked affronted in the way that only British men can. "Elliot Gould?"
"Okay, you can be the little Chinese guy," conceded Gunn.
"Clooney was the brains," said Wesley, "and if anyone fits that bill--"
"It's me," said Fred.
"You all realize Clooney doesn't hold a candle to Frank Sinatra, right?" said Angel.
"Not to rain on your macho heist fantasy or anything," continued Fred, "but you're going to have to do all the breaking and entering without Angel's help this time."
"I'm okay," said Angel. "I can do it." He made a valiant but spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to stand.
Aggie pushed him back onto the couch. "You're not going anywhere unless you want another magic-induced seizure."
Wesley frowned. "We do have Spike, he's as useful as Angel."
"You take that back right now!" said Angel.
Spike grinned smugly. "Guess I'm up for a good old-fashioned heist. What're we stealing, then?"
"Draconian shielding stone," said Wesley. "Pay attention."
"It's settled, then," said Wesley, "Gunn, Spike and I will steal the stone. Fred and Lorne can go pick up the other ingredients we'll need. Angel will stay here under Aggie's protection."
Of course, thought Aggie sourly, I get to babysit the sick vampire.
"We'll need some specialized equipment for this job, yeah?" said Spike. "Abseiling gear, fancy headsets, maybe some of that nifty aerosol spray they use to identify laser sensors in the movies."
"Yeah, we don't have any of that stuff," said Gunn. "And I don't know where we'd get it this time of night."
Spike shrugged. "Kicking the front door in it is."
Aggie had a strange suspicion this was not going to end well. "Do you even know where Havelock keeps the stone?"
"Yes," said Wesley. "I attended a party once at his home. It's in a special display room, behind a false wall in his study."
"See," said Gunn. "My man Wes is large and in charge."
"We should gather some supplies," said Wesley. "Do you perhaps have any flashlights or weapons?"
"Flashlights, yes. Weapons, no."
Spike reached for the sword mounted above the couch. "What about this?"
"It's decorative," said Aggie. "It's just a replica of a sword from a movie."
"Highlander. Friend of mine got it in Thailand. It's not even sharp."
"Still hurt if you're hit over the head with it, I'll wager. Plus, it looks cool." Spike swung the sword in a wide arc. "There can be only one!"
"One jackass," muttered Angel.
"I'll get those flashlights," said Aggie.
She and Wesley collected a few other potentially useful items for the imminent break-in including rope, bungie cords, a crow bar, and duct tape.
She also gave Wesley a small, ancient-looking glass bottle.
He looked at it uncertainly. "What's this?"
"Black cat spirits. It'll make you--"
"Invisible," finished Wesley, sounding impressed.
"Well, not invisible, exactly, but less noticeable."
"Thank you," said Wesley, tucking it safely in his pocket. "This will definitely come in handy."
"If you get caught, don't call me to come bail you out."
"Better yet," said Angel, "don't get caught."
Wesley handed Fred the list of ingredients needed for the counter-curse. "You know where to find them?"
She nodded. "The 24-hour magic shop on Melrose."
"Only in L.A.," said Gunn.
"Okay, then, we all know what to do," said Wesley.
"Be careful," said Fred.
"What she said," said Angel. "Don't do anything stupid. I mean it."
"Not to worry," said Wesley.
"Yeah," said Spike, tucking the sword into his belt. "Anyone gets in our way I'll chop their head off with my fake sword."
Aggie watched them walk out the door, full of bluster and bravado. She couldn't quite decide if they were brave or just the three biggest fools she'd ever seen.
Fred looked miserably at Angel. "They're totally going to get caught, aren't they?"
He shrugged. "Maybe not."
"Don't worry, Freddles," said Lorne. "Our boys always come through in a pinch. Or a large vise, even. In the meantime, though, our little shopping list isn't going to buy itself."
"I guess you're right," said Fred. She fixed Aggie with a surprisingly stern look. "Take good care of Angel for us, okay?"
"I'll love him and squeeze him and call him Spooky," promised Aggie.
She shut the door behind them and turned back to Angel. It was just the two of them now. Her and a vampire, albeit one with a soul. A soul that she'd just gotten a close-up view of, which somehow didn't serve to make things less awkward. She knew things about Angel now, things that she was sure he'd prefer to keep to himself.
"So," she said.
"So," he echoed.
"Here we are."
There was a pause. They stared at one another.
"I make you uncomfortable, don't I?" asked Angel.
"Little bit," said Aggie. "Nothing personal, though."
"It's okay. I get that a lot."
"Can't imagine why." It suddenly occurred to Aggie that she was still wearing her pajamas, which did little to improve her comfort level. She cast about for something normal to say.
"Would you like something to eat?" she said, and instantly regretted it. "I mean, I don't have any blood, except, you know, mine, which you can't have, obviously, but I could make you some eggs or something."
"Thanks, but I don't really eat food."
"I wouldn't say no to some coffee, though."
"Okay, coffee it is. Black?"
"Black is fine."
"Coming right up." Aggie dashed into the kitchen, grateful for something to do. While the coffee was brewing she took the opportunity to change into actual clothes and tame her long hair into a ponytail. When the coffee pot was full she poured two cups, took a deep, calming breath and went back into the living room.
Angel thanked her politely as he accepted his mug. Aggie sat down with her own coffee and tried to look relaxed. She was pretty sure that she was not doing a good job of it.
"So, you're a psychic," Angel said, after a lengthy and rather awkward pause.
"More of an empath, really. I don't foretell the future or anything."
"How does that work, exactly? Lorne reads people when they sing--"
"Yeah, that's some crazy Pylean thing," said Aggie. "I just look at their auras."
"Sounds kind of new-agey."
Aggie huffed indignantly. "I'm not some crystal-waving neo-pagan. Everyone's got energies--emotional, physical, spiritual, magical, whatever--I just happen to be able to see them. Or feel them. Whatever."
"That must be incredible."
"Incredibly annoying and intrusive, sure."
"So what do you see?"
"When you look at someone and you see these energies. What kinds of things can you tell about them? Can you read their minds?"
"Not exactly. I just get vibes, mostly. Flashes of emotion, that sort of thing."
"Oh." Angel looked uncomfortable.
"Don't worry," she said, "I'm not sitting here sifting through your innermost thoughts and feelings."
"But you could if you wanted to."
"Most people's thoughts are actually not that interesting. Usually I'm just trying to tune everyone out rather than eavesdropping. Besides, I already rifled around in your head, remember? Got a pretty good eyeful already. More than I cared to, frankly."
"I'm sorry you had to do that."
She shrugged. "It's what I do, isn't it? It's like going to the doctor's office and showing your goodies. Pretty or not, the doc's gotta look."
If Angel had had a pulse, Aggie was certain he would have blushed. "For some reason that metaphor fails to make me feel any better."
"It's not meant to." Aggie glanced at the clock. There were still a few hours before dawn.
Angel leaned forward to set his empty coffee mug down and then settled back into the couch wearily.
"You doing okay?" she asked.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Do you need me to tell you the answer to that question?"
"Not really." She already knew that he was getting worse, and even more quickly than she'd expected.
Generally, Aggie adhered to a strict policy of butting the hell out of other people's problems. There was just too much pain in the world to let yourself get worked up every time you passed someone on the street.
The problem was, thanks to Lorne--who she was still ticked at--she'd gone and spent some time inside Angel's head. And once she'd done that, well, the policy became somewhat more difficult to enforce. You get that good of a look at someone's psyche and you start to feel a connection, like you're responsible for them or something. It was a feeling that Aggie detested.
"Listen," she said, sitting up a little straighter, "about that girl..."
Angel looked at her sharply. "What girl?"
"The dead one."
"There've been a lot of dead girls," he said flatly. "You'll have to be more specific." Something in his expression sent a tendril of ice down her spine.
He was trying to scare her, she knew. It was how he protected himself. But Aggie wasn't going to have any of it, even if she had seen enough of what was inside of him to know there was good reason to be scared.
The Belfleur women could be scary, too, when they wanted to be.
She folded her arms resolutely and matched his look with one of her own. "Cordelia. That was her name, wasn't it?"
Angel didn't say anything and his expression didn't change. But Aggie didn't need to see his expression to know what he was feeling.
"You have to let her go," she said.
He looked away. "I'm not talking about this."
"I know it, and that's the problem. You're trying to bury your grief and it's eating you up inside--just as surely as that curse is."
"Anyone ever tell you to mind your own business?"
Aggie smiled. "All the time. People don't like to hear the truth."
"People don't like sharing their private thoughts and feelings with strangers."
"Hey, you're the one who showed up in the middle of the night and dumped your problems on my doorstep."
"Not this one."
"I'm having a two-for-one sale."
Angel retreated into a sulky silence.
Sensing the conversational portion of their evening had come to an end, Aggie reached for the remote. "Mind if I turn on the TV?"
Angel made an indistinct, noncommittal kind of noise that she decided to take as assent.
The television universe, unfortunately, seemed unlikely to provide much in the way of diversion this time of night. Infomercials, religious shows, more infomercials. Finally she managed to find an old episode of "Fantasy Island."
The show had just started; Mr. Roarke and Tatoo were greeting guest stars Arte Johnson and Judy Landers. Out of the corner of her eye, Aggie caught Angel watching with somewhat more than feigned interest.
"That Mr. Roarke was one smooth guy," she said.
"Excellent taste in suits," conceded Angel. "Although white's never really been my color."
[Go on to Chapter Five]