Grim. Grimmer than grim. The atmosphere in the Hyperion made the Fisher Family Mortuary look like party central. Cordelia glared down at her desk, occasionally sighing a deep, soul felt sigh of despair.
Angel sat nearby, silent and unmoving and staring off into space. Wesley was holed up in his office, probably playing online literati with someone named something like ‘Hotnwet4U’. And Gunn. Gunn was the small child in the middle of the custody battle.
Cordelia had begun funneling all her communications to Angel though Gunn, and at night, Angel suddenly wanted to treat Gunn to a friendly beer after the sun went down. It had been like this for two weeks, ever since the teeny weeny bikini episode, as Gunn and Wesley called it.
Two weeks of hostility, silence, and death glares had taken its toll, and Gunn was about to snap. He had moved his desk out into the lobby just to be away from the Angry Assholes…the Fighting Fangers….the Terrible Twits. That last one had been Wesley’s contribution.
Gunn rolled his eyes as he heard Angel speak. The fun had arrived.
“Cordy, knock it off.”
There was a silence and then Gunn winced at the sound of a soft swoosh followed by the sound of smashing pottery.
“That was my favorite mug.” Angel’s voice sounded like it was issued through clenched teeth.
“You told me to knock it off. I did.”
“I meant the tapping of the nails. You know that drives me crazy.”
“Yeah, that’s a short trip.”
Gunn got up, sighing and walked to the office, head bowed. If he or Wesley weren’t ready to step in at some point, fangs would emerge, stakes would be pointed, it could get ugly. He poked his head in the doorway in time to see Angel and Cordy, almost nose to nose.
“Did you overdose on your daily fix of bitch? Because Cordy, the whole pouting and snarking thing is getting real old.”
“Nothin’s as old as you, grandpa, so you would know.”
“Nothing’s as bitchy as you, Cordy.”
“Ok, that’s it.” Angel took a step closer, his eyes blazing a fiery gold. Cordelia grabbed at the length of her hair and pushed it aside baring her throat.
“Go ahead! Help yourself! I dare you. Do it. Doitdoitdoit.” Angel raised his hands as if he was going to strangle her and Gunn quickly stepped in between them.
“HoooKay now…” His voice was falsely jovial. “Looks like Uncle Gunn needs to impose a little time out.” Angel glared at him while Cordy peeked around his larger body and stuck her tongue out at Angel. Gunn caught her and casually flicked her on the forehead.
Ignoring her disgruntled “ow” he turned back to Angel. “This has got to stop. You two….I don’t know what exactly hell was like, man, but it can’t have been worse than hanging around you two during a spat.”
“This isn’t a spat.” Angel’s voice was calm. “This is one calm, well-thought mind dealing with one self-centered shrill whine.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Angel. You’re not shrill.” Cordy’s voice was just as calm. He glared back at her.
“OK, gonna go out on a limb here. Angel, man, take the afternoon off. Go upstairs. Brood. Watch some tv. Ya got that MGM musical collection, watch a movie.” Angel stiffened as Cordy rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, Bernice. Go watch Judy Garland sing and dance.”
Angel raised one finger and pointed it at Cordy. “Hey. The woman was a goddess.” Cordy rolled her eyes again. He thought a moment. “Gunn, you’re a wise man. I’m going upstairs and relaxing. Hanging around this toxic environment is keeping me from dealing with my true self.”
Gunn stared at him. “Bro. Ya gotta quit watching Dr. Phil.” Angel looked embarrassed. “I’m just sayin’. Let’s have a little p and q around here, because you two….jeeze.”
“Gunn’s right.” Wesley’s voice sounded from the doorway. He walked into the room ramrod straight, his arms folded over his chest. “I think the best thing would be a break for the two of you. Angel, take the rest of the afternoon off. Cordelia, finish the day out and take the next couple of days off.” Cordelia opened her mouth to protest. “With pay.” She shut it again.
“I think a little distance….a little time away will be good for you both, and for the agency.” Angel and Cordelia stared at each other silently and then Angel turned without a word and walked up the stairs to his suite.
Cordy watched him, her eyes narrowed. Wesley awkwardly patted her shoulder. “See. Everything will be fine.” Cordelia turned to glare at him.
“No, Wesley, it will not be fine. He has ruined my career. I’ve called my agent every single day since the suntan lotion shoot, aka invasion of the pale bloodsucker, and the word is out. I’m unreliable, I’m not professional, and I’m dating a psychopath. They’re not lining up for me, Wes. I can’t even get a damn audition. Because of him.” She plopped down in her chair.
Wes and Gunn looked at each other, and Wes leaned on the corner of her desk while Gunn sat on the sofa. Cordy sighed and buried her head in her arms on her desktop.
Wesley looked down at his hands a moment and then up at her, concern on his face. “Cordelia, I know acting is your dream…”
“No, it’s not.” Her voice was muffled. Wes looked at her, startled.
“What was that?”
She raised her head and looked at him, resigned. “It’s not my dream, Wes. It never was.” She sighed. “My dream used to be just to be famous and have everyone like me and have nothing but buff studmuffins surrounding me, offering me nice diamondy stuff in little blue satin boxes. I really didn’t care how I got there….acting seemed to be the pond to cross.”
Wesley listened, glancing at Gunn. She looked up them both. “We all know that’s not going to happen in any way.” She sighed. “And, really, ya know…somehow….” She looked around. “…the dream changed. Now my dream is….just to have something that says I’m normal. That I have a normal life.” They were all quiet a moment. “God. I’m just sad.”
Gunn looked at her a moment before speaking. “Barbs, we’re all in a big fight here by our little lonesomes. No one can understand what we do. Hell, I have a hard time buying it sometimes, myself. But what you do, standing beside us, right there with us….you’re incredible. You don’t need the jewelry and the boxes and the studmuffins for us to know that.”
Cordy smiled a little sadly. “Aw, Gunn. I did get one out of three.” He looked at her blankly. She wiggled her eyebrows at him and made him laugh. “I got me the buff studmuffins standin’ right here.” She rose and hugged Wesley before turning to grab a cup of coffee.
Wesley watched her. “Um. Cordelia. If you don’t mind my asking, if the deflated acting dream isn’t that big a deal to you, why the fight to the death with Angel?”
“BECAUSE.” She waved a hand impatiently. “He ordered me around. You guys heard him.” She wrinkled her brow and growled out, “You’re never doing that again.” She shook her head. “Jeeze. Like I’m some clueless little sister or something.” Wes sucked in a breath. He was pretty sure Angel’s demand had not been made in sibling interest.
He looked at Gunn, who rolled his eyes, thinking the same thing. Wesley turned back to her, treading very lightly as he spoke. “Well, Cordelia, I think, and I’m sure that Gunn agrees, that Angel….was…um….startled…at the sight of your…um…swimming attire. Do remember that, you know, ‘back in the day’, that was considered, well, not at all.” He thought a moment.
“Goodness. I never thought of that. I mean, the difference among social mores alone must be difficult to grasp, but going from layers of head to toe clothing to…well….a bikini, that must be extremely hard to get past. Angel must have had a tremendous shock at seeing you in a bikini.”
Cordy looked at him over the rim of her coffee cup. “Well, he needs to get over it. And while he’s at it, he can just lose that whole boss of me mindset.” She sipped, lost in thought, and just then the phone rang. She looked down at the caller id and blanched.
“Not answering that one.”
Wesley looked over her shoulder. “Isn’t that your agent?”
“Yeah. I bet he’s going to let me go. The weasel. Can’t even talk to me in person….he’s such a bottom dweller.”
The phone stopped ringing as the answering machine picked up. Cordelia sipped at her coffee again, listening to the recording of her voice on the outgoing message. After the beep, the voice of Sid, her agent, boomed out.
“Cordy! Baby! Listen, honey, a local brewery is doing some local ads and wants local talent! Great chance, sweetie, ya need to….” Cordy shrieked and snatched up the phone.
“Sid!!! Sid! I’m here!…….yeah………God yeah!………He’s not my boyfriend, Sid. Gross. And yeah, I’m up for it. Really up and Ready………….God, Sid, you’re like the best. My favorite, wonderful person in the whole world! Meet you there…thank you, thank you, thank you!” And she hung up, a huge grin on her face.
“Yea me!!!!!!! I got a commercial. A local brewery is doing an ad and they want local talent, I guess, and Sid got me a slot! I have to go now…oh, yeah, oh yeah….” She sang a little as she scooped up her totebag and slung it over her shoulder, running around her desk.
“Cordy…” Wesley spoke up. “We’re, of course, happy for you, but don’t you think maybe you should stop and think…”
“That this is going to put a little spark of cranky in the Dark One? Yeah, I do believe it will.” She busied herself, grabbing up her shoes and tugging them on. “Here’s the thing. I’d do it if it were NAKED, Wes, just to show him he’s not the king of me. I have to take this, or he’ll think he’s right and I’m wrong and he can tell me what to do and I’ll just bleat along like some stupid sheep and then we’ll just keep on fighting….do you want that?” Wesley shook his head no, caught up in her rambling.
“Good. I’m doing this for US….” She gestured at them. “Can’t let him have the upper hand….” And she breezed out the door, leaving Gunn and Wesley standing there in complete silence. Finally, after a moment, Gunn spoke.
“What just happened?” Just then, they heard the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Wesley sighed as he watched Angel strolling into the office, looking at the front door.
“We got screwed.” He whispered to Gunn. “That’s what just happened.”
Angel gestured nonchalantly towards the door. “Was that Cordy? She go home already?”
“Um…not exactly…I mean, eventually, I believe home is her destination…but, not at the moment, till, of course….” Angel looked at Wesley a moment before looking at Gunn.
“OK, let’s give the coherent one a try. Cordy leave for the day?”
“Yeah. Don’t think she’s coming back. The days off thing, ya know.”
“Yeah. Sure. For the best.” Angel tried to be casual. “Because, you know, she was totally out of control here. I tried to maintain some dignity, but some people just can’t, you know, take the mature road.” Wesley sighed and turned to go back into his office and Angel crossed to sit at Cordy’s desk, glancing at the phone.
“Message, guys. What…Cordy won’t answer it and now you guys won’t either?” He shook his head and reached for the answering machine. Wesley stopped, shocked, and turned seemingly in slow-motion as Angel leaned over to press the play button on the answering machine. Wesley opened his mouth to say something when Sid’s voice sounded out loudly in the room.
“Cordy! Baby! Listen, honey, a local brewery is doing some local ads and wants local talent! Great chance, sweetie, ya need to….”
“Sid!! Sid I’m here!”
“Listen Cordy, Baby, ya know that new brewery down on the front? Mad Dog?”
“They’re doing a local ad and want local talent. Interested?”
“Gotta tell you, sweetheart, it’s another swimsuit shoot. Ya up for that? Your boyfriend isn’t going to…”
“He’s not my boyfriend, Sid, gross. And yeah, I’m up for it. Really up and ready.”
“Okay…they’ve seen your pic and they want you there like now. 3712 Emery, down off the pier. Get your little hiney down there now. I’ll meet you there.”
“God, Sid, you’re the best! You’re like, my favorite wonderful person in the whole world. Meet you there…thank you, thank you, thank you!” Click.
The room seemed to dip in temperature all of a sudden. Wesley had the urge to run into his office and to close his door, and Gunn was thankful at that moment that he wasn’t Cordelia Chase. Because the Dark One in front of him looked as if he were ready to tear someone a new one.
Someone in a bikini.
“Angel…” Wesley’s voice was low. “She really wants…”
“That’s just the thing, Wes.” Angel reached for his coat and shrugged it on. “she doesn’t want the right thing. And she doesn’t seem to care. I’m not going to let her sit there in some little next to nothing while a bunch of losers savor the image to take home and wank off to later. She’s way better than that. No one can see her that way. No one appreciates who she is except…” He stopped, choking a little as he realized what he was about to say.
He looked at the two men, pressing his lips together, before turning towards the basement door. “I’m outta here. This stops now.” And the door slammed behind him.
Wesley and Gunn stayed still a moment, lost in thought. Finally, Gunn spoke up, his voice casual. “Oh yeah, baby. Jewels are getting smashed tonight.”