“Yet another difference between our two dimensions,” Wesley said unevenly, easily uttering the biggest understatement of the millennia.
Angel looked out the window of the modified SUV at the passing wreckages that had once been great buildings. They had wondered, when they first arrived in this dimension two weeks ago, why Los Angeles should seem so different. Yes it was a different world, a different reality with a different history, but still, some things should be the same, shouldn’t they?
“If you say so,” Liam muttered absently, his eyes scanning the road as he carelessly steered with one hand.
Angel turned away. He didn’t like looking at Liam – at the version of himself that existed in this dimension. Liam was a boy, as reckless, careless, ignorant and stupid as any Angel had ever seen. (Young, dumb and full of cum as Cordelia had aptly put it when she thought he wasn’t listening.) Liam was embarrassing his elder, deader, other self, giving the Angel Investigations team insight into their fearless leader that Angel would just as soon they didn’t possess. Let them think he had forever been this way, stoic, brooding, imbued with wisdom and knowledge. Instead they were presented with a living, breathing version of himself that ate, drank, smoked, whored and cursed like there was no tomorrow. Liam was actually a year or two older than Angel had been when he was turned, but it seemed the extra years had done little in terms of maturation. If Angel were honest with himself, which wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon, he would admit that the problem wasn’t that Liam gave the A.I. team a look at what Angel could have been, but more to the point that Liam gave them a look at what Angel was.
Wesley – well, both Wesleys actually - had been unable to explain to Angel’s satisfaction how so many things could be so different, yet so similar between the two worlds. It was unnerving at best. The entire Angel Investigations team learned never to take anything for granted. Anything. For example, in this dimension, all Slayers were male, which incidentally was why Liam was the one driving. As the Slayer, Liam was alpha. (If Liam wanted to drive the all black, steel reinforced Escalade, it was his prerogative. It was one of the few things on which Angel felt he and his other self were in perfect accord.) The Watcher’s Council, headquartered in Los Angeles and helmed by Rupert “Call Me Ripper” Giles, had Liam’s back.
It made Angel’s head hurt. The same people that he and the A.I. team knew from their world kept popping up, but the relationships between their inter-dimensional counterparts were often dramatically different than the ones to which they were accustomed. In this world, Liam had a younger brother named Riley. Angel almost hurt himself when he discovered that little tidbit. The biggest shocker though had to be the city itself. When they arrived, it was almost instantly apparent that things were different. This Los Angeles was a mass of soaring skyscrapers. Everything was modern, compact and clean. The other Wesley – who was American and preferred to be addressed as “Pryce” - had then filled them in on the ’67 quakes. Apparently Los Angeles had been leveled along with a good bit of the rest of the state of California. The ground where the Hollywood Bowl once stood was now an island sixty miles off the coast of California. The City had rebuild itself on top of its former ruins, towering towards the sky in triumph. That triumph hadn’t come cheap. In building towards the sky, the inhabitants of this world consequently created the Underworld, a demon playground. The same Underworld through which they were currently driving.
Angel was here to retrieve an artifact that was needed in his dimension. He didn’t particularly care about Liam or his troubles or the Underworld. Angel didn’t particularly care about anything. He hadn’t for a very long time.
Wesley and Cordelia hadn’t said anything, but Angel could feel their tension. Every time Liam or one of his associates called in a favor or brought someone back to headquarters, the air almost hummed with uncomfortable anticipation. Wesley and Cordelia were waiting for Buffy. More appropriately, they were waiting for Angel to fall apart when faced with this reality’s Buffy. If the entire A.I. team had doppelgangers ... if Willow, Giles, Oz, Xander and Spike’s other selves were all present and accounted for .... it was only a matter of time, wasn’t it? Angel’s Buffy was dead, having thrown herself into an inter-dimensional tear to save the universe, but surely this dimension had its own beautiful young woman with sun kissed locks, mutable hazel eyes and a heart fierce enough to save the universe. That’s what Wesley and Cordelia thought anyway.
Angel wasn’t so sure himself that this dimension was home to a look-alike Buffy. Liam bore scars – emotional rather than the nasty physical kind, though he had them too, a pronounced bite scar on his neck being the most prominent. Liam hid behind his bravado. He was losing himself in drink, in women, in the hunt. If Angel didn’t know better, he’d think that Liam had lost someone very dear, someone whose absence was eating away at the very thing that gave Liam substance ... someone like Buffy. So while the others waited with baited breath for a ghost to walk into the room, Angel was a bit more cynical.
Liam pulled the SUV to a stop in front of a crumbling building. It was teeming with activity. “This is Caritas,” he said. “Neutral ground. We can see if anyone here had leads on your artifact.”
Everyone filed out of the SUV and inside the demonic cantina. It didn’t escape Angel’s notice that Liam walked behind him, keeping an eye on him as always. The chip on Liam’s shoulder where Angel was concerned was threatening to crush the young man.
The bar was bigger than their Caritas, darker and dingier. Liam procured a table and everyone sat down. A small demon began setting drinks in front of everyone. At the quizzical looks, the demon tapped his head with one finger. “Mind reader,” he said, answering their unspoken question.
“Handy,” Angel said with a smirk before taking a drink of his O-pos. It didn’t escape his attention that Liam looked away.
In doing so, Liam inadvertently drew attention to himself. A vampiress in game face sidled up to him, reaching out to scrape one long, red fingernail over the bite scar on his neck. He jumped, shoving her hand away.
“Touchy, aren’t we?” she purred affectionately.
“I’m not interested,” Liam bit out.
“Don’t lie, precious,” the vamp continued, “I know a junkie when I see one.”
Liam spun out of the chair and was standing over the vampiress, one hand wrapped around her neck, pinning her to the table before she could react. He leaned down, his lips almost touching the shell of her ear. “I’m not interested,” he repeated in a hiss.
“So any ideas on what the hell happened tonight?” Cordelia asked.
The A.I. team had retreated to their suite of rooms deep inside the Council walls. Everyone’s gaze settled expectantly on Angel. He shifted uneasily where he was leaning against the wall. “Hey,” he said, pulling the collar of his shirt open, “I don’t have any scar. He and I may have the same genetic code, but I don’t have a clue what he’s up to?”
Cordelia frowned. Fred wrung her hands. “What exactly did that vampire mean by ‘junkie’?” she asked with a nervous smile.
“I believe,” Wesley said, glancing over at Angel, “that she was insinuating that Liam ... “ he trailed off, once again looking at Angel.
“For God’s sake,” Angel cursed, “he’s not me! I never made it a habit to let vamps feed off me socially.”
Fred paled noticeably. “That’s what she meant?” she said, grimacing.
“Yeah, did you see that puppy?” Cordy asked with a snort. “Growing up in Sunnydale, I know one time bite scars. That thing on his neck could get frequent flier miles for all its usage.”
“You mean Liam ... the Slayer ... lets vamps suck his blood?” Fred asked, astounded. “A lot?”
“That would seem to be the case, yes,” Wesley said.
“There’s more than you’re sayin’,” Cordelia said, narrowing her eyes at Wesley and Angel. “You two don’t seem real shocked by this.”
“Oh, it’s shocking,” Wesley countered. "The practice is rare, but it does happen. Just a few years ago, in fact, Mr. Giles called me. There was a ring of vampires who would feed off of humans for a fee in Sunnydale. A sort of vampire whorehouse if you will.”
Wes fell silent for a moment, searching through memories. “But as far as I can remember, I’ve never heard of a Slayer willingly allowing a vampire to feed from her.” He stopped short, swallowing thickly. “Well, except for that one incident,” he said guiltily looking at Angel.
“Then your sources are bad,” Angel snapped. “I wasn’t the first. There was a Slayer in the fifth century who allowed a vampire to drain her dry.”
“Oh, well, “ Wesley said, irritated at having been shown up. “Well, yes, but that doesn’t explain why Liam would engage in such activity.”
“I don’t know,” Gunn said, shrugging. “Slayin’s a tough gig. Maybe he needs some tough downtime to unwind.”
“Yeah,” Cordelia snorted, “if he’s taking a page from the Faith guide to Slaying.”
“Look!” Angel snapped in frustration. “I don’t really give a damn if he’s pimping himself out to every vamp between here and New York. I just want to find this damn artifact and get out of here.”
“Which is what I think Liam wants as well,” Wesley said quietly.
Everyone turned to look at him. Angel crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the rogue demon hunter expectantly. “Well,” Wesley said, “Liam doesn’t appear to be the go along and get along type. I don’t think that he would normally be this helpful to inter-dimensional travelers.”
“Meaning?” Angel asked.
“Meaning that I think he wants us out of here. Especially Angel. There is something he doesn’t want us to know.”
“I have good news,” Pryce said, tossing a small box to Angel as he and A.I. gang entered the large commons area.
Angel held the box in his hand as Fred and Wesley crowded closer. Carefully he opened it. The blue gem sparkled brightly. “That’s our artifact,” Angel said, happily snapping the box shut.
“I’m glad we could help,” Pryce told them. “We’ll get the Council sorcerers working on reopening the portal to your dimension. I know you must be anxious to get home.”
“Indeed,” Wesley replied a bit coldly, looking over his counterpart. He didn’t approve of this dimension’s Wesley anymore than Angel approved of Liam. Pryce was reckless and jaded. He was usually in need of a shave and seemed partial to worn jeans and leather jackets. He didn’t play by the rules. It made Wesley both envious and ashamed.
“Problem?” Pryce asked with equal acridity.
Angel shot a warning glare at Wesley that went completely ignored. “I’m just wondering,” Wesley said, “what exactly led to this discovery. We’ve been looking for this artifact for weeks and now it just suddenly appears?”
Pryce smiled coldly. “It was located last night by a Council associate.”
“Who exactly?” Wesley pressed.
Pryce was quiet for a very long time. “No one important,” he said with finality. “I’ll leave you time to collect your things. The sorcerers should have the portal open by sundown.”
“Well that wasn’t suspicious at all,” Cordelia intoned dryly once Pryce was out of earshot.
“So what are they hiding?” Fred asked.
“I don’t know,” Wesley said. He looked to Angel who shrugged.
“But what I do know,” Wesley continued, “is that up to now, whenever the Council in this dimension has had contact with us, Liam was present. I find his absence now conspicuous at best.”
Angel hated that after nearly three centuries of living that curiosity could still get the better of him. He had openly argued when Wesley suggested they split up and try and locate Liam. Angel had been outvoted. However, when they split up, Angel found himself eager to find Liam. And with vampirically enhanced senses, he had the upper hand on the tracking.
Liam's trail led Angel far into the bowels of the Council complex. Passage after passage led him so deep that Angel knew the bottom of the building must extend into the Underworld. Liam hadn’t been trying very hard to hide his trail, though if the conspiracy was as pervasive as Wesley seemed to think, he probably had little reason to do so.
Angel rounded a corner and found himself in an enormous room. It was obviously some sort of warehouse. In the far corner was a small enclosure, an office of some sort. Lights were on inside, but the windows were an opaque glass. Angel ventured closer.
He could hear sounds and knew Liam was inside with at least one other person. Angel could also smell blood and knew it was Liam’s. “Busted,” he murmured under his breath.
The door wasn’t latched and Angel moved in so he could press his face against the inch gap between the door and the frame. His lips pursed together tightly at the sight.
The office was an office, nothing more. There was a desk, filing cabinets and a chair. Liam sat in the chair, leaning back. His shirt was thrown carelessly on top of the desk. But that wasn’t the interesting part. The interesting part was the female vampire straddling his lap, her hands pinning his forearms to the arms of the chair while her face was buried against the side of his neck. Her tanktop joined Liam’s shirt on top of the desk and her pale breasts were brushing against his chest. Thin crimson rivulets escaped her mouth, running down Liam’s neck and chest, smearing against both of them.
Angel could hear the wet, suckling noises of her mouth, the breathy little grunts. Liam was breathing hard, his eyes screwed shut, his hands gripping the arm of the chair so hard his knuckles were white. They were grinding their pelvises against one another, mindless of their clothing.
“For a Slayer you sure have some interesting ha – “ Habits. Angel had been intending to say habits. But that thought, along with every other, was lost the second the vampiress turned her demonic face to him. He stood there, staring at her yellowed eyes, her ridged forehead, her bloodied lips and chin. It was possible he’d never seen anything more beautiful. “Buffy?” he managed to whisper.
Angel’s stupor was cut short by Wesley yanking open the door. “A ha! We knew – “
Wesley’s victory speech was cut short when Angel shoved him out of the way, stepped into the office and pulled the door shut behind himself. Vampire Buffy and Liam clutched at each other, turmoil on their features. Mutely, Angel grabbed their shirts off the desk and tossed them at the pair. Turning on his heel, he left the office.
What ensued was chaos. The A.I. team had all doubled back and followed Angel, knowing he was the only one with a hope of finding Liam. Pryce, in turn, had the A.I. team followed ... By the time Angel exited the office it seemed like half the Watcher’s Council, including Ripper were present and accounted for. When Liam and VampBuffy, now in human face, finally exited the office, things blew up.
It quickly became obvious that most of the Watcher’s Council not only knew about Liam’s vampire problem, but that it was a very touchy subject. Ripper yelled at both the pair, chewing them up one side and down the other before finally clamping a hand around VampBuffy’s upper arm and marching her out of the room. The A.I. team just watched, most of them gaping like yokels.
Angel cleared his throat uneasily, nervously shifting his weight on the balls of his feet. Night had fallen and the portal was long forgotten with all the other turmoil. Maybe tomorrow they would go home. But for now, they were here. Angel found Liam on the roof of the Council building, staring out into the night.
“Where is she?” Angel asked.
Liam shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Angel’s teeth ground together. He was really trying to give his other self some slack, especially seeing his weakness for a certain beautiful blonde. But right now Angel needed answers. “Aren’t you even worried?” he demanded. “In my world, the Council isn’t really known for their care and nurturing of vampires.”
Liam turned around, glaring. “The Council isn’t here either, but I find it impossible to imagine Ripper causing harm to his own daughter, vampire or not.”
“Daughter?” Angel’s heart fell to his feet. He hadn’t admitted it to himself, but he had been hoping that maybe ... “So she’s from this dimension?” he asked quietly. “She didn’t just ... appear ... one day?”
Liam’s expression was absolutely disgusted. “Appear?” he repeated venomously. “I’ve known her my entire life. We played together as children, we went to school together, we ... “ His voice cracked and tears welled in his eyes. “No, she didn’t just appear,” he said flatly.
“I just – “
Angel started to try and make amends, but Liam snorted, turning quickly and retreating back inside the building. Angel watched him go. He didn’t blame Liam. If Angel had been in his place, he would have been far less gracious.
With a sigh, Angel ran a hand through his hair. His shoulders slumped. Few times in his life had he felt so utterly defeated. He hadn’t even realized that he’d allowed himself to consider the possibility that maybe somehow, she was his Buffy caught up in this altworld ...
“What happened to her?”
Angel twisted around and saw VampBuffy leaning against the wall several yards away. She had showered and changed, now dressed in a long sleeved black turtleneck shirt, a long black suede skirt and black heeled boots. Her long blonde tresses were pulled back in a severe knot at the base of her head. Her skin was luminously pale and Angel had no trouble discerning she was a vampire, but she was still so much like ... “What happened to ...?” he repeated, prompting her.
She smiled at him in a slightly chastising manner. “Your Elizabeth,” she said as if the answer was obvious. Which it was.
“Elizabeth,” Angel said slowly. “Your name is Elizabeth?”
He let out a small laugh, shifting as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “In my world, her name was Buffy,” he said.
Elizabeth seemed to consider that for a moment and then frowned. “That would suck majorly,” she said.
“No,” Angel said lightly, “it was ... It was good. She liked her name. It fit.”
Elizabeth pushed off the wall and crossed her arms over her chest. She slowly ventured closer. “And you thought that maybe I was your Buffy,” she offered.
Angel nodded, his eyes glittering with tears. “Pretty pathetic isn’t it?” he asked hoarsely.
She stopped less than a foot in front of him and shook her head solemnly. “No. If you and Buffy loved each other half as much as Liam and I, then no, it isn’t pathetic.”
Angel shook his head, forced to look away from her knowing eyes. “She jumped into a tear between dimensions,” Angel explained. “There’s no reason to think she could possibly have lived through it, but ...”
“You hoped,” she offered.
“I hoped,” he confirmed. A single tear slid down his cheek.
Elizabeth stepped away from him, tears running down her own cheeks. She laughed, but it was a tortured, unhappy sound. “I see you like this, and my first instinct is to run to you, to offer you comfort,” she said, her voice trembling. “But you’re not Liam and he so would not be okay with that.”
“I don’t blame him,” Angel said wryly. “I wouldn’t have liked it either. I didn’t like it ...”
Elizabeth cocked her head to the side, looking at him. “Your Buffy ...” she ventured carefully. “She took other ...”
She didn’t say lovers and for that Angel was grateful. “We weren’t together,” he answered tightly.
Elizabeth laughed wryly. “Liam and I are at the ‘off-again’ phase right now,” she said. “But that doesn’t really slow us down most of the time.”
Angel smiled tightly, thinking of promises to take it slow followed by broken furniture. “I know what you mean,” he said.
Elizabeth walked over to the ledge and looked down at the city, just as Liam had done earlier. She took a deep, unnecessary breath and closed her eyes. After long moments she smiled, turning back to Angel. “I’m sorry he’s ...”
“An asshole?” Angel offered.
She frowned. “I was going to say difficult,” she corrected. “He feels threatened by you.”
So that was the hostility. Not that it made any more sense now. “Threatened?” Angel asked.
“Was your Buffy ... were you both vampires?”
Angel shook his head. “She was human, the Slayer.”
Elizabeth arched one expertly plucked eyebrow. “The weirdness of girl Slayers aside,” she said, “how did that happen? I can feel your age. No human could have been your mate for as long as you’ve walked worlds.”
Angel shifted uncomfortably again. “Buffy and I ... we weren’t like you and Liam. We didn’t grow up together. I lived and died centuries before she was born.”
Elizabeth smiled sadly. “And you still found each other.” She sighed. “I was hoping that you found some way around the age issue.”
Angel didn’t need her to elaborate. He knew well what she meant. He knew that she and Liam were the same age yet it hadn’t escaped his attention that Elizabeth looked the way Buffy had when he first saw her on the steps of Hemery High. The difference in their aging was already pronounced enough to be an issue. He knew from experience it would only become harder with time. “I left her,” Angel admitted quietly.
Elizabeth nodded, a gesture somewhere between acknowledgement and agreement. “And I left him.”
“Let me guess,” Angel offered sardonically, “he didn’t take it well?”
Elizabeth laughed. “Oh you could say that,” she agreed.
“And now my presence is making it worse.”
She nodded sadly. “We’ve been through everything together,” she said. “Except being a vampire.”
Angel looked at her with pity. “Buffy and I started out different,” he said. “In that respect it might have been easier.”
She laughed mirthlessly. “Maybe,” she said. “I talked to your Pryce and according to him, your vamps are different than ours.”
“Well, I gather that you still have a soul,” Angel offered. “That’s different than most. I’m definitely the exception to the rule.”
“Oh I’m a weirdo for the soul thing too,” she corrected. “No, I meant in other ways. Your Pryce says our vampiric structure is more rigid, more archaic than the one in your world.”
Angel shrugged. “There are some clans, some families, but it’s pretty much a free for all between vamps in my world.”
“Not here,” she said quietly. “Vampires in the Underground can trace their line back a thousand generations. It’s in our blood.”
Angel stared at her, for the first time reading the strain on her features. She was holding up very well, probably for Liam’s sake, but there was definitely something wrong. “Are you part of the structure?”
She shook her head, wrapping her arms around herself. “I’m ronin,” she said. “I live without a Master.”
Angel raised his eyebrows. “I guess you’re fighting tradition.”
“And instinct,” she said in a pained whisper.
Angel had taken half a step toward her before he caught himself. She was trembling. But it was more than that. She smelled. So. Damn. Good. He took a step back, staring at her with wide eyes.
She shook herself lightly and looked at him. “My heart and my soul belong to Liam,” she said. “But the ... animal ... in me longs for a Master. Up until now it has been easy to fight that instinct.”
Angel licked his dry lips. “Until I arrived,” he said knowingly.
Her breathing came in labored puffs and Angel could see the outline of her pebbled nipples through the tight fabric of her shirt. “Liam isn’t being paranoid,” she said quietly.
“God, would you stop twitching!” Cordelia snapped, shoving Angel in the shoulder.
They all winced, shielding their eyes as the portal burst into existence. Angel looked over his shoulder one last time at Elizabeth, held firmly against Liam’s side. “Let’s go,” he said, stepping into the swirling light.
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This universe has been continued and
expanded upon by Tango. Her series, Blink, is HERE.