Title: Baywatch Angel
Summary: PTB vision case file.
Spoilers: AtS3. Vaguely set in season 3, some time after Fredless, although I have changed some canon events.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: I wasn’t going to start posting this until I’d finished the whole story, but I’m completely feedback addicted, and simply can’t leave finished parts of a fic sitting on my computer unposted!
Based on a challenge by Manders-21: I’ll tell you what it is in later parts, as it’s a bit too spoilery to mention now. I kind of broke the rules though – it’s supposed to be a feel-good standalone, but I’ve turned it into a short serial fic with a little bit of angst in it! Oops! Sorry Amanda! The angsty stuff is mainly resolved early on, so it’s basically a feel-good fic. Hope u like.
Thanks/Dedication: Thanks to Cali for wonderful ficpic!
Cordelia Chase set her emery board aside and picked up a small bottle of nail polish. Holding it between her thumb and forefinger, she up-ended it several times to mix up the thick liquid within, then removed the tiny wand and began to paint her fingernails with meticulous precision.
Once she’d applied an even coat of the pink pearlescent lacquer, she returned the brush to the glass container, pursed her lips and blew on her freshly painted nails, coaxing the sticky polish to dry with warm puffs of breath.
She then repeated the whole routine with her other hand, finally waggling her fingers in the air to complete the drying process. That done, she placed her newly manicured hands down on her desk’s wooden surface, and surveyed the outcome of her endeavours with a critical eye.
“Salon perfect if I do say so myself,” she muttered under her breath, immensely pleased with the almost flawless result. Of course, she didn’t know why she was bothering. The next time one of her agonisingly painful visions hit, or some icky demon attacked, then her manicure would be the first casualty – it always was.
Drumming the pads of her fingers on the desktop, the bored seer glanced around the lobby, searching for something else to occupy her mind. Why was she here? It was Sunday; they had no cases – she should be out enjoying herself. It was a bright, sunny day – the perfect weather to visit the beach. Why then had she been drawn to the Hyperion like the proverbial bee to the honey-pot? It made no sense whatsoever.
As Cordelia absently took in her surroundings, it gradually occurred to her that she wasn’t the only one to succumb to the strange gravitation pull of the Hotel – all of her friends appeared similarly afflicted.
Gunn sat cross-legged on the floor, next to the weapons cabinet, polishing the myriad of swords, axes, and crossbows with a soft cloth. Grimacing with effort, he rubbed hard at the tarnished metal implements until they gleamed bright silver and cast dancing beams of refracted light back into the lobby.
Every so often, when a particular weapon caught his fancy, the young black man rose to his feet and play-acted a pretend fight with a make-believe demon. Muttering a running commentary to himself under his breath, he moved agilely about the floor space, trading thrusts and parries with his imaginary adversaries.
Someone seriously needs a girlfriend, Cordelia thought derisively, rolling her eyes at her colleague’s juvenile antics. Maybe I should introduce him to Sarah? she mused, bringing to mind the attractive young woman that she’d recently befriended down at the Gym.
Sarah was athletic, easy-going, and lots of fun – Cordelia reckoned that she and Gunn would be perfect for each other. I’ll call her tomorrow and invite her to lunch, then drag Gunn along with me.
The wheels of her match-making scheme set in motion, the seer’s attention shifted away from the former street kid towards the newest member of the AI team – Winifred Birkle, aka Fred.
Ever since the cathartic visit from her parents, Fred had been slowly coming out of her shell and integrating herself into their little family. She was currently seated on the floor, her back to the circular sofa that stood in the centre of the foyer, and her slim legs stretched out in front of her. Dressed in a pale green cotton sundress, with tiny blue flowers dotted in a haphazard fashion over the thin material, she sat playing with a small hand-held puzzle, her forehead creased in concentration.
The Texan’s hero-worship of Angel had gradually subsided as her confidence grew, and Cordelia had recently caught the gangling brunette gazing doe-eyed at their boss instead – a happenstance that made Wesley’s indecision about asking her out completely pointless. It wasn’t as if Fred was going to say no – the seer was almost certain that the shy young woman would jump at the chance. Cordelia decided it was about time she gave her reserved friend a good hard shove in the right direction.
Turning her gaze away from Fred, she let her thoughtful eyes settle on the reticent Englishman. Wesley sat at the counter, studying a pair of thick dusty tomes, his wire-rimmed glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose. Since their return from Pylea a few months ago, the ex-watcher had slowly undergone an image re-vamp – gone were the smart suits, shiny shoes, and severe hairstyle of yesteryear, and in had come an altogether more rugged look.
Today, he was dressed in a pair of beige slacks, brown leather boots, and a dark grey t-shirt, while his longer hair looked fashionably unkempt. Wesley’s whole demeanour radiated a newly acquired confidence in himself and his abilities to run Angel Investigations.
This self-assurance was a direct result of leading the victorious Palace cue in Pylea, and Cordelia couldn’t decide whether she liked her friend’s transformation or not. On the one hand, she was proud that he had managed to overcome his insecurities enough to settle properly into his role as leader of their little group, but on the other, she missed the clumsy, dorky Wesley too.
Needless to say, the ex-watcher’s newfound confidence did not extend as far as his personal life – his hesitancy with regard to his growing feelings for Fred was strongly reminiscent of his former self. Knowing that there was still some of the old Wesley left inside, made it a whole lot easier for the young seer to accept the subtle changes in her friend.
Cordelia shook her head, not quite sure why the ex-watcher’s personality makeover bothered her so much. Her wandering eyes finally landed on Angel though, and the underlying reason for her disquiet hit her with a lightening bolt of clarity.
The vampire and ex-watcher were the foundation stones of her surrogate family – they, along with Doyle, had been her lifesavers when she had first moved to LA, and she depended on them to be there for her. The recent upheaval that had taken place in their lives had stolen that security blanket away from her, however. Too much was changing, and the seer was petrified that she might have to navigate the emotional minefield of her visions, without her two closest friends by her side.
Cordelia frowned at Angel – the dark-haired vampire was lounging on the sofa, reading a book, his booted feet propped up on the low table in front of him. He looked like he didn’t have a care in the world, and she just didn’t understand how he could be so unaffected by everything that had happened to him in the past few months.
Angel had returned from his grief trip to Tibet, quite literally, a changed man, or more accurately, a changed vampire. In gratitude for ridding their monastery of its demon infestation, the monks had nullified the perfect happiness clause in Angel’s curse, granting him the precious gift of a permanent soul.
The seer understood his apathy about the event at the time – with Buffy dead, it must have seemed like too little, too late. It was a month since the Scooby Gang had brought the twice-deceased slayer back to life however; but, so far, the vampire’s only response had been to call up his ex to see how she was coping.
Buffy was supposed to be the love of his life, and yet Angel showed no visible sign of wanting to renew his relationship with her, an unexplainable state of affairs that puzzled Cordelia immensely. She was nervous to broach the issue with him though, worried that his reason for staying might be due to her and the mind splitting visions from the Powers That Be.
The seer knew that if that turned out to be the case, she would urge him to take this chance to be happy, even though, in truth, all she really wanted to do was to cling on to him like a limpet, and never ever let go. Therefore, fully expecting Angel to pack his bags and leave at some point, she held her peace on the subject, wanting to put off that inevitable occurrence for as long as possible.
As if sensing her eyes on him, the vampire looked up from his novel and flashed her a quick grin, his deep brown eyes sparkling with friendly affection. Her answering smile was weak and rather watery, and Angel’s broad brow furrowed with slight alarm, making the seer’s heart jump in anxiety.
Folding over the corner of the page to mark his place, the vampire rose to his feet and walked across the room towards her. Cordelia flustered a little as he approached, and – in a last-ditch attempt to evade the conversation she’d been trying to avoid for several weeks – desperately tried to come up with a plausible reason for her upset.
“Cordy…” Angel began, his deep voice laced with concern.
“Look Angel, I…” Cordelia quickly interrupted, and then stopped as she felt a familiar tightening between her eyes. Reaching up, she pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and her forefinger, just as the approaching vision hit with a vengeance.
Angel leapt forward with lightening speed, catching his seer as her flailing body toppled her chair over backwards. Wrapping one arm around her upper back, he shoved the offending piece of furniture to one side, and sank down to the floor with her. While her body jerked like a puppet on a string, he was powerless to do anything but cradle her within the circle of his arms, watching helplessly as the painful image flashes assailed her mind.
The seer’s screams of agony reverberated around the hotel lobby, bringing the rest of their friends running – Gunn dropped the sword he was polishing with a clatter; Fred rushed over, wringing her hands in agitated concern; and Wesley knocked over his stool in his haste to get to his stricken friend’s side.
Cordelia eventually calmed, but turned her face into the vampire’s chest and began to sob, clutching desperately at his shirt with one hand, still lost in the all-consuming agony of her vision.
Angel gathered her closer, and stroked his fingers through her silky hair, bending to murmur nonsensical words of comfort in her ear. “Ssh baby, it’s okay. It’s all over now.”
Fleetingly lifting his head, he focused his worried gaze on Fred, “Can you…?” the vampire left his question hanging, but the pretty brunette quickly cottoned on to what he meant.
“Pills!” she exclaimed, rising to her feet. “I’ll go and get them and a glass of water too. You think she’d like some ice? No, no, of course not – duh! – freezing cold, headaches, don’t mix.”
The young Texan scurried away, still muttering to herself, and Angel returned his attention to the weeping woman in his arms. He rubbed his hand soothingly up and down her back, and sighed in relief as she began to relax, the tremors assaulting her body gradually lessening in their intensity.
Although she was no longer dying from their effects, the pain Cordelia went through because of the visions never got any easier to watch. Hooking one arm under her shoulders, and the other under her knees, the troubled vampire rose to his feet and carried his precious cargo over to the couch, casting his mind back to a few weeks earlier…
Cordelia’s voice was weak and faint, and the vampire turned back towards the bed at the sound of it, “Yes?”
“I…” the seer swallowed and worried at her bottom lip with her teeth. She gazed apprehensively up at him, her liquid brown eyes swimming with unshed tears.
Angel perched on the mattress next to her hip, reached out a hand to tuck her dark hair behind her ear, and then gently cupped the side of her face in his palm. Stroking his thumb over her cheek, he was glad to find her skin smooth and unblemished; the horrific boils and burns, courtesy of Lilah Morgan, thankfully gone for good.
“Tell me,” he urged, his voice low and vibrating with deeply held affection.
“There’s something I should tell you,” she whispered brokenly. “I… the visions… I’m dying, Angel.”
“No,” the vampire shook his head, refusing to hear her heart-rending words. “I fixed it, baby. These latest visions, they were from Wolfram and Hart, not the Powers, that’s why they were so bad. I fixed it, I did.”
“No Angel, you didn’t, I’m so sorry. I’ve been to the hospital, had tests, there’s nothing that can be done. Every time I have a vision, more of my brain is damaged – one day I’ll lapse into a coma and I won’t ever wake up.”
“No!” Angel repeated, tears streaking unchecked down his pale cheeks. “Listen to me – we’ll find a way to fix it, we will. Wes will know what to do.”
The vampire barely heard her calling after him as he escaped into the living room. “Where’s Wes?” he demanded of Gunn, who was seated in an armchair, his crossbow resting across his knees.
“Umm – I think he and Fred went back to the Hotel. What’s up man?”
“Take care of her,” Angel curtly instructed, gesturing towards the bedroom as he grabbed his jacket and headed for the front door.
Fear ran like ice water through his veins as he took the stairs two at a time. He couldn’t lose her, he couldn’t; Cordy was everything – his confidante and his best friend. He loved her more than he ever thought possible, she completely owned his heart, he just hadn’t been aware of that truth until now…
Back in the present, Angel settled Cordelia on the couch, holding her hand in both of his as she gradually regained her senses after the disorientating effect of the vision.
Luckily, Wesley had found a way to fix it, locating a mystical healer who had been able to cure her. The strange man had cast an enchantment to repair the damage to the seer’s brain, and then made her drink a potion, which he claimed would give her life-long immunity to the vision’s harmful effects. So far, all subsequent tests had come back clear, and the hospital was currently investigating a possible malfunction of their MRI equipment.
The price had been high though – his shanshu – his life for hers. Angel had paid it without hesitation, Cordelia was more important, and it didn’t seem to matter now that his soul was permanent. The seer was not aware of what he had sacrificed for her however – Wesley was the only one privy to that information.
What’s more, the vampire still hadn’t found a way to confess his newly discovered feelings for her; the right opportunity just hadn’t presented itself. So much had happened since that night – first, there had been Buffy’s surprise resurrection, then Fred’s mini-breakdown to contend with, and now, to cap it all, his seer’s unexplainable avoidance of him had thrown another spanner in the works. To say Angel was getting seriously frustrated with the whole situation was a severe understatement.
“Thanks.” Cordelia’s soft voice brought the vampire back out of his reverie, and he returned his focus to the matter at hand.
“What did you see?” he asked softly, tenderly brushing several stray strands of her dark hair off her face.
Cordelia swallowed her painkiller with a big gulp of water from the glass that Fred had handed to her, and then closed her eyes, trying to gather her thoughts enough to answer Angel’s diffident question. “Umm, I’m not sure. It was at a swimming pool and it was as if the water was devouring people. You know like in ‘The Abyss.’ I don’t know for certain where the pool is, but I get the feeling it’s not too far away.”
She opened her eyes and looked at her friends apologetically. “Sorry guys, that’s all I’ve got.”
“Don’t worry,” Wesley said, patting her arm in reassurance. “We’ll start by checking to see if there have been any reports of unexplainable deaths at local swimming baths. If we don’t find anything, then we’ll check out all the pools within a ten mile radius of here – there can’t be that many to choose from.”
Cordelia nodded, and then started to get to her feet. “Okay, I’ll log on to…”
“You need to rest,” Angel said, catching her arm to prevent her from rising.
“Angel, I’m fine. Not waiting-for-my-head-to-explode girl any longer, remember?”
The vampire winced at his seer’s characteristically blunt assessment of her prior predicament. “You still need to rest,” he reiterated, his tone insistent.
“Geez! Mollycoddle much?”
“It only takes one person to look on the internet for information,” Wesley said, quickly interceding to derail the brewing battle of wills between his two friends. “I’m sure that Fred is more than capable of doing that.”
“I’m not an invalid, Wes.”
“I know,” the ex-watcher replied calmly. “But your visions are no walk in the park either. Besides, staring at a computer screen is hardly the best way to relieve a headache. Wouldn’t you like to take a few minutes to recuperate a little?”
Given the staccato drumbeat currently reverberated around her head, the seer would be lying if she answered in the negative. “All right,” she agreed sullenly.
“But I’m not going to lie down,” she added, throwing a defiant glance at the overly concerned vampire seated beside her.
Reluctantly desisting to the warning look Wesley threw in his direction; Angel kept his mouth shut and resisted the urge to forcibly insist that the obstinate young brunette took some bed-rest. He knew he overcompensated and cosseted her when a vision hit, but the sight of her pain just ate away at the burning sense of responsibility inside of him. Everything she’d been through, it was because of him, because he needed a link to the Powers At Be to fulfil his destiny and gain his hard-won redemption.
Satisfied that the potentially explosive situation had been defused, Wesley got to his feet. “Okay, let’s get to work,” he said, striding confidently across the Lobby towards his office.
Responding to his commanding tone and determined expression, Fred and Gunn immediately followed in his wake, abandoning their earlier recreational activities and switching effortlessly into research and destroy mode.
Cordelia tipped her head back against the sofa and closed her eyes with a deep sigh, trying to calm the turmoil in her brain and ignore the churning nausea in her stomach. Cool fingers stroked gently over her pale cheek, and she opened her eyes to look at their owner with a weary smile.
“I worry about you.” Angel’s voice was gruff with suppressed emotion, his deep brown eyes heavy with guilt.
“I know,” the seer replied softly, her earlier irritation with him vanishing in the face of his tender caring. “I’m okay though – it hurts like holy frickin’ hell, but it’s not like before. I can handle it.”
“You shouldn’t have to.”
“It’s a gift – a mind-splitting, frequently vomit-inducing gift – but a gift all the same. Helping the helpless, helping *you,* it gives my life purpose, real meaning. I lived a shallow existence for a long time, Angel; there is no way I would ever go back to that, not now.”
Angel curled his hand around her fingers and raised their joined hands to his mouth, brushing a whisper of a kiss across the backs of her knuckles. “You never cease to amaze me, Cordelia Chase,” he told her, his eyes holding hers captive as he spoke.
“Get some rest,” he added, releasing her hand and unfurling his tall, sinewy body from the sofa cushions.
Wide-eyed and confused, Cordelia watched the vampire walk away, her heart racing at the depth of emotion that she’d seen swirling in his chocolate brown orbs, her skin tingling from the touch of his soft lips against her flesh.
What did it mean? He couldn’t possibly be in love with her…