Title: PROMISES (3) Looking For Redemption
Rating: R upwards
Summary: A Darkness Within Fic. Third in a series of Vignettes. A second promise made voids a first with repercussions.
Spoilers: S2 Epiphany. and some of S5 BtVS (Post The Body).
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: DW/GTCA. anywhere else, please ask first.
Notes: Sequel to Regrets. ohmyGod! I promised to post this but am warning you now – I HATE THIS SEQUEL! Grrr. One of the most difficult ones to write. Either the content got me or simply my Muse is still refusing to co operate. Please forgive me if you hate it too.
Thanks/Dedication:to Cat, my long-suffering Promises beta. *mwah*
Feedback: Like Manna
3: Looking for Redemption
Tapping the side of her glass with a well-manicured nail, Cordelia eyed to two men sharing the table with a sharp gaze. “So… are you one hundred percent sure they’re of the none-rip-out-your-innards kind?” she asked for the zillionth time, “or are you just saying that to stop me from going with you?”
Wes sighed wearily and sat back in his chair.
“He checked his books. If he says they’re harmless, then that’s what they’re gonna be,” Gunn answered for the older man, reaching out to lightly slap his shoulder with a grin. “When has he been wrong?” he stated rather than asked, confident that her reply would mirror his.
A little mollified, Cordy nodded in agreement. Loosely folding her arms she rested them on the illuminated table top. “Okay, you’ve got me,” she admitted, albeit reluctantly, but an eyebrow arched as she asked; “If they’re so harmless, why didn’t you tell the guy to do it himself?”
“Twelve hundred dollars was good enough reason not to, I think.” Wes said with a smirk, lifting his drink in the air and clinking it against Gunn’s, whose smug expression matched Wes’.
A reluctant smile tugged at the corners of Cordy’s mouth at that timely reminder. “The money will be a godsend, but I’m still not sure how I feel about it,” she finally replied, reaching out a finger to push her glass towards them. “Maybe a beer would help settle the heebie jeebies?” a glint of mischief twinkled in her eyes.
Gunn snorted into his own beer even as Wes sent her a look of ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ “You guys are no fun,” Cordy leaned back with a pout pushing out her full bottom lip.
“In our line of business, Cordelia, ‘fun’ has to take a back seat,” deadpanned Wes, then chuckled at the responding finger gesture aimed his way. He’d spent most of the night determined to convince Cordy that her presence wasn’t needed. But being totally honest with himself, Wes would have preferred if she always stayed at home rather than get involved in the fighting side.
Neither man could ignore the pain that Cordelia tried so hard to hide after a vision. No matter how much Wes and Gunn tried to keep vigilant, more often than not she ended up sprawled on the floor. As she lifted her half empty glass, Wes winced almost imperceptibly on noticing an array of faded bruises peeking from the short sleeve of her slinky blue blouse.
It didn’t take ex-ray vision to figure out that most likely her back and shoulders were covered with bruises too. Wes swallowed his mouthful of beer convulsively, his thoughts momentarily turning to their now absent so-called Champion. His mood began to sour until Gunn’s teasing voice brought him back to the present.
“Come on girl, think of all the paper clips you can buy when we pick up the check,” the younger man reminded her with a cheeky wink.
“Pfft, paper clips!” Cordy derided the idea, but the pout melted away as the thought of the well needed money coming their way, a blinding smile taking lighting up her face. “Our second paying customer! “She grinned at the prospect and held her glass out. “Here’s to many more,” The others clinked their drinks to hers amidst echoes of ‘hear hear’ and ‘Kertchingg.”
“To the growing coffers of,” Wes glanced at Cordy before continuing “Anffptthff Investigations.” Her eyes darkened with the memory of using that phrase not so long ago, and Wes, on seeing the telling hint of bitterness strove to lighten the mood.. “Wyndham-Pryce Investigation Agency has a better ring to it I think.” He considered the name half seriously.
“Hell no,” Gunn refuted instantly. “Gunn Investigations all the way.” He sucked his teeth, leaning forward to add with a nod, “It has that edge of cool; just what we need right now.”
“Says you, “Cordy retorted with a giggle.. “Sounds like we’re some kind of shady weapons dealer. Chase Investigations.” She added with a gleam in her eyes. “It just screams chic and elegance, doncha think?” Both men shook their heads, Wes commenting that ‘chic’ wasn’t what came to mind when thinking of what they did for a living.
An easy silence fell between them, and for a while they forgot about the Mission that more often than not left them exhausted and aching. The appearance of another client a few days ago had done a lot to bolster their flagging spirits. Plus it was wonderful to be able to have something to celebrate after so many weeks of struggle.
Draining the last of her drink, Cordy again proffered her glass with a hopeful smile. “You know, guys, one tiny little beer wouldn’t hurt,” she wheedled, then added pointedly, “It would go part of the way to making up for the long and exhausting day I’ve had.” Her attempt to guilt them into agreeing fell on deaf ears, and a dramatic sigh burst from her when they slurped their beers with evil little smirks.
“No fair.” Cordy slumped in her seat. “It’s not my fault I’m physically younger than my mental age.”
Gunn’s smirk widened, while Wes leaned over the table and patted her hand with a teasing glint in his eye. “Just one more year to go, then I promise I’ll make it up to you,” he reassured her, quickly moving his beer from Cordy’s snatching hand.
After blowing out a resigned breath, Cordy let it go, her mind going back to her original concerns. She eyed Wes with a hint of worry in her narrowed eyes. “Are you sure these Demons are really harmless?” she asked.
Both men groaned into their beers.
Crap! The curse resonated in Wes head as his heart sped up in pure fear when catching sight of three demons playing cards at the rickety table set up in the only clear area of the vast storage warehouse.
Swallowing convulsively in an attempt to moisten his rapidly drying mouth, he leaned towards Gunn, who crouched next to him behind a low stack of crates, without taking his eyes off the demons. “We need to get out of here now.” He whispered harshly.
“Huh?” Gunn’s head shot round in surprise, his own mouth drying at the sight of Wesley’s rapidly paling face. “What’s the problem?” he whispered back.
“I, um… made a mistake,” Gunn swallowed thickly at the expression of growing dread on Wes’ drawn face. “Those are Cremur demons, not Crealus.” He whispered back through gritted teeth, attempting to swallow down the fear that had begun to rise from his churning gut.
“I’m guessing by your extra-pasty face that that means trouble,” Wes almost rolled his eyes at the understatement of the year, and then licked his lips before replying.
“Think at least four times the strength, tough skin and retractable hooks for fingernails. We need to leave now!” Wes added desperately, edging backwards even as he hissed out the words .
They almost made it to the side door before the sound of a clattering chair and a roar sounded out behind them. Shoulders drooping in pained resignation, both men turned to see one of the demons had risen to its feet, black gaze pinning them to the spot; nostrils flared in rage. Gunn whipped out his Axe and straightened up, his dark face outwardly expressionless even as he inwardly recited a desperate prayer.
Wes retrieved the compact but deadly crossbow that had been slung over his shoulder and readied it, swallowing down his burgeoning fear that they most likely wouldn’t survive the confrontation. His eyes widened upon seeing what were a moment ago normal fingers now flexed and sporting deadly claws.
Shoving the chair out of the way with a guttural snarl, it lumbered towards them. The other two, Wes noted sickly, didn’t even bother to do more than turn their grotesque heads and watch. It was painfully clear to both men that the demons didn’t regard them as a serious threat, obviously confident in the knowledge that their cohort could deal with the interruption without their help.
Steadying his slightly trembling hands, Wes loaded and aimed the crossbow and let loose a bolt. It sank deeply into the demons shoulder, but after staggering only momentarily from the impact, it kept coming. Instinctively both men retreated a few steps.
Gunn weighed his Axe in both hands, readying himself for the moment the demon came within range. Unfortunately, that left Wes unable to aim and fire the crossbow, so, with a fatalistic shrug he instead gripped it tightly and used it as a club, grateful for the fact the chassis was solid steel.
Several desperate blows later and the demon swung up a heavily muscled arm and sent Wes flying into a small stack of crates, while the weapon landed with a loud clang in the opposite direction. Luckily the crates were sturdy and instead of splintering on impact, the wood flexed and he rebounded heavily onto the floor.
Groggily shaking his head, Wes looked up dazedly to see that Gunn, although as of yet unhurt, the Axe he’d been swinging tirelessly had been wrenched from his blood-slicked hands. Ducking and diving from side to side, attempting to get his boots or fists in but the demon was gradually forcing Gunn back until he was practically hemmed by closely surrounding stacks of crates.
The sight had Wes pulling himself up to his knees, knowing that if he didn’t do something and quickly, his friend would soon be either severely wounded or dead. Groaning under his breath at the sharp twinge that went through his spine, he looked around frantically, and was more than relieved to find that the crossbow lay on the cement floor only several feet from him was still, thankfully intact.
Crawling towards it, trying for both speed and stealth, Wes kept one eye on the demon, pleased to see its back was now turned to him and a gap of several feet separated them. Grabbing the crossbow with one hand, Wes pulled out a bolt and quickly loaded it. Still on his knees, he aimed it at the back of the demon’s head and squeezed the trigger..
The demon dropped to the floor like a stone as soon as the bolt sunk into its skull with a sickening thud–and not a moment too soon, Wes thought, relieved on finding his friend had somehow managed to avoid injury..
Both men remembered simultaneously that the danger wasn’t yet over and tensed in readiness to face the other demons. Wes climbed shakily to his feet and Gunn automatically reached down for his Axe straightening out of his defensive crouch, identical frowns of confusion marring their brows at the unexpected sight that awaited them.
After exchanging a stunned look, they walked slowly forward keeping their weapons clutched close to their chests. Not far from the now overturned table, the other demons lay sprawled awkwardly on the cement floor. Although completely still, Wes and Gunn still eyed them with not only shock but deep suspicion.
After warily searching the surrounding darkness even as they circled the corpses Gunn signaled for Wes to stand back and keep his guard up while he crept over to the nearest of the bodies and tentatively dropped to his haunches to check it out, his large frame tensed and ready to spring away in the remote off-chance it was a trap..
Wes let out a held-in breath and relaxed as soon as Gunn’s coiled body loosened a little. He scratched his head in perplexity. What the hell had happened? Wondered Wes, totally thrown by the evidence before their stunned eyes.
“This is just too freaky, man” Gunn muttered out loud, his dark eyes darting around with growing suspicion, his Axe still held defensively in front of him. “These dudes are definitely dead.” He added.
Moving closer, Wes peered down and asked numbly, “We didn’t kill them, right?”
Gunn stared at Wes with raised brows before replying. “Unless we both had some kind of weird ass blackout I’d say a big fat nope to that,” his tone reflecting complete bafflement.
Shaking his head Wes walked over and checked the other corpse. “We didn’t do this.” he responded with growing certainty but was no less confused by the whole scenario.
Leaning in a little closer, Gunn carefully examined the twisted throat of the demon, then shook his head before glancing up at his friend; a deep frown marring his brow. “You know what? This technique kinda looks familiar.”
Wes lifted an eyebrow in surprise and went over to lean in for a closer look. A shiver worked its way down his spine as he scrutinized the corpse; its head wrenched round to almost 360 degrees. He straightened up releasing a heavy sigh as he did so.
“A broken neck is a broken neck,” he replied, even as doubt colored his subdued tone. Someone -or something had obviously intervened, definitely saving their hides but as to who it could have been or why… “I doubt there is a special technique involved,” he added.
“I suppose,” Gunn agreed with a sigh, rising quickly to his feet. “This whole scene is seriously giving me the creeps. Let’s get out of here.” He gave Wes a light nudge and as one they headed towards the entrance. “Whoever–or whatever did this might still be around.”
The chilling thought had Wes picking up his pace. “Good idea,” he agreed, earlier confusion quickly replaced by renewed fear. Neither man relaxed until safely ensconced in Gunn’s truck.
“I think we should keep this to ourselves,” Wes suggested after a moment’s thought.. “No need to worry Cordelia unnecessarily.”
Gunn grinned knowingly. “You just don’t want to admit to our girl that you got it wrong, English.”
Wes instantly stiffened and glared offended at his smirking friend. “I did not,” he denied heatedly. “It was the client actually. He gave me the wrong description.”
“Sure he did,” Gunn snickered. “’Like he’d know the difference – considering he ain’t exactly a supernatural know-it-all like you.”
The light banter continued as they pulled away from the shadow of the deserted warehouse behind them, oblivious to the narrowed dark eyes trained on them from the roof.
Pacing the floor, Cordy kept one eye on the door and one on the clock on the mantle. “Where the hell are they?” she asked herself for the tenth time in the past hour.
Wes and Gunn had been gone for well over two hours and to say she was anxious was the understatement of the century. “They could at least call me and tell me they aren’t….” Cordy couldn’t finish the dreaded sentence, Right now, it would be like tempting fate, she thought, her anxiety growing by the second.
Oh God, what would I do without them? she wondered almost blubbering at the thought, then berated herself for thinking like that. But they were the only family she had–now. It had been bad enough worrying about Angel, but he had supernatural abilities; something Wes and Gunn were lacking. Her full mouth tightened at the thought of her once-friend, now living it up in SunnyHell. Okay, not exactly, living, but… God, she still couldn’t get her head around his abandonment. It still hurt, dammit.
Her thoughts pulled back to her biggest concern and the pacing gathered momentum. Absently, Cordy rubbed the back of her neck, a tingly feeling had crept up and refused to move for the past half hour and now it was bugging the hell out of her.
What if it was like some kind of premonition? She wondered sickly. Sometimes it really sucked that the PTB couldn’t let her know that things were okay. It was one of the reasons Cordy demanded to accompany them. At least that way, she was there to see with her own eyes- to help out some way.
With a heavy, irritated sigh, she kneaded the nape of her neck and stalked angrily over to the window to look outside, then almost jumped out of her skin when the door abruptly opened. “Arrgh!” she yelled, swiveling round with her hands clutching her chest- then sagged in relief to find her two champions, looking worse for wear traipsing slowly in.
“Are you two trying to give me a heart attack?” she began, but the anger scrunching her lovely features was mixed with worry as she took in their bruised faces and torn, dirty clothes. “My God, look at you!” rushing forward, she reached out and grabbed Wes’ jacket, pulling it open to check for injuries. “Are you hurt?” she asked, her voice wobbling a little.
Wes caught her hands and squeezed them gently. “We’re fine.” He assured her soothingly.
“You don’t look ‘fine,’” she retorted shakily and pulled her hands loose and reached up to help remove his bloodstained jacket.
“It’s not our blood, Cordelia, please calm down,” Wes shrugged out of the jacket and gestured to his blood-free shirt.
Reassured, Cordy turned to Gunn and tugged his jacket off too, ignoring his complaints. “Even so, you look like crap,” Cordy let out an absent smile as Dennis relieved her of the jackets. A small frown creased her brow when Wes immediately reached out to grab his jacket. Wes ignored her perplexed expression and rifled through the pockets before handing it back to Dennis.
“We stopped off at Mister Benedicts on the way back, and collected this.” He held out the piece of paper with a triumphant smile. Cordy took it from him and unfolded it, a wan smile tilting her lips when she realized it was the check they so badly needed.
The smile fought with a glare. “So this is why you took so long,” she commented, then poked Wes in the chest hard. “You were gone a long time. Didn’t it occur to you to call me?” Her annoyed expression slipped slightly, showing the deep worry and fear that had obviously hounded her in their absence, and Wes immediately felt remorse for not thinking of letting her know they were okay.
“I’m sorry, we didn’t think.” He swallowed down the lump that formed recalling his mistake and thought again as to how close they’d been to death. Whatever had happened to turn it around, Wes could only be thankful, for Cordelia’s sake especially.
“Yeah, well. Don’t do it again… But I still don’t get it,” Cordy continued on, oblivious to the furtive glances Wes and Gunn quickly shared. “I thought you said it was just a case of moving them on- what happened?” ” she asked, her confusion palpable.
Before Wes could think of a response, Gunn reached out and squeezed her shoulder affectionately. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Cor. They just didn’t wanna move their butts without a fight,” he replied, throwing in a careless shrug for effect.
“They were obviously not used to physical confrontations, so their resistance didn’t last long,” Wes added to the reassurance then quickly changed the subject when it appeared that she wasn’t quite ready to let it go. “Mister Benedict made the check out to cash, so I thought we could all go to the bank first thing.”
“Yeah, then maybe go to Giordino’s for a celebratory chowdown,” Gunn inserted, stretching his frame tiredly on the couch. At the mention of the Italian cafeteria that served Cappuccino’s and fresh cream pastries to die for, Cordy was suitably distracted.
Wes let out a soft sigh of relief under his breath and walked over to join Gunn, wearily dropping to the couch and simply watched with a faint smile as she talked about the delights of the Cafeteria’s menu.
Several nights later…
“Come on English. We’re gonna miss the match.”
Wes glanced at his watch with a slight frown. “We have forty minutes, yet,” he replied absently. “Let me just collate these invoices and we can be on our way.”
Gunn shook his head and leaned back against his desk. “Dude, we only have two. How long can that take?” He asked with an exasperated grin. Wes ignored him and continued to write in the ledger with care.
“Cordy’s so gonna whip our butts if she gets there before us,” Gunn smirked when Wes instantly sped up at the thought, hopping onto his own desk and swinging his legs impatiently.
The three of them had taken to regular social activities in order to ease the strain of keeping the Agency going. Neither would admit that weariness had become a problem as they struggled to continue with the Mission, and when Wes had mentioned his once-weekly night out enjoying a relaxing game of darts at a public house he’d stumbled upon several months ago, it didn’t take much persuading to get the others to join him.
Surprisingly, the weekly event ended up being more relaxing than spending nights that weren’t taken over by fighting visions at home. It became a treat to look forward to each week – something they could actually afford to do.
“Done!” Wes shut his desk drawer with a flourish and rose to his feet. Gunn opened his mouth to reply when the small bell above the agency door jangled. Both men instantly looked towards the source of the sound with forming smiles on their faces, which instantly faded as they took in their visitor.
“Angel.” Wes pulled his jacket from the back of his chair before moving round the desk, slowly sliding his arms into the sleeves. He glanced towards Gunn warningly when the younger man straightened up from his desk and took a threatening step forward, his dark face set in angry lines. “To what do we owe this unexpected, um pleasure?” He ignored the hiss of air that sucked through Gunn’s clenched teeth and stepped forward until level with his colleague.
“Pleasure my ass,” Gunn interjected with a scowl. “What the hell are you doing here?” he added harshly, every line of his big body reflecting his anger at the presence of someone he’d lost faith in months ago. Hell, he’d been willing, albeit reluctantly, to give the vampire a chance, but after turning his back on them again… As far as Gunn was concerned, Angel had used all his Get Out of Jail Free cards.
Closing the door but remaining in front of it, Angel kept his eyes pinned to Wes, who had frozen to the spot in shock. “I’m back,” He replied simply.
“Back?” Wes echoed, confusion building by the second. “To collect the rest of your belongings, I presume?” he finally responded, unable to keep the ice out of his tone as the recollection of Cordelia’s wan face came back to haunt him.
“No.” For a second, Angel’s dark eyes flickered away from his, and Wes could have sworn he’d seen a fleeting tinge of shame. “I’m back for good.”
“Oh,” Wes’ eyes widened in surprise, then he removed his glasses – a habit long established whenever thrown off balance.
Pulling a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, his mind reeled as he absently polished them, at a loss for words even as Gunn muttered “Yeah, right” with a curled lip.
Hastily gathering his thoughts together Wes slid on his glasses and cleared his throat before speaking. “I’m sure whatever… disagreement you’ve had with Buffy will soon blow over.” he assured. His voice reflected a marked lack of interest and he wasn’t that surprised to receive an irritated gaze.
Straightening up from the door, Angel shoved his hands into his pants’ pockets before responding. “We haven’t had a ‘disagreement’. I just realized I’d made a mistake.” His eyes flickered to Gunn, who pursed his lips and looked up towards the ceiling with an expression of marked boredom.
“You seem to make a lot of those, Angel,” Wes replied brusquely, it suddenly dawning on him that he no longer cared to hear his ex-boss’ reasons for returning. He paused before adding; “If this is purely a social visit, then I’m afraid your timing is a little off.” He glanced pointedly at his watch.
Gunn straightened up, his eyes locking with the vampire’s. “Yeah, we have places to be. “People to meet.” His lip curled, “And unlike some undead dudes I could mention, we don’t wanna leave her hangin’ high and dry.” He watched with satisfaction when Angel’s mouth tightened at the not-so-subtle dig.
Wes fidgeted on the spot, wanting this to be over, but not entirely comfortable with outright rudeness. It was times like these that he wished for a healthy portion of Gunn’s gumption. As the strained silence continued, it became too much for him and he felt compelled to ask what had hovered on the tip of his tongue since his ex boss had unexpectedly turned up.
“Angel…why exactly are you here?”
Angel bent his dark head; seemingly taking a sudden interest in his boots. A muscle in his jaw jumped erratically, and for a moment Wes thought he wasn’t going to reply. Then he looked up. “I was hoping you might need some extra muscle.”
A stunned silence pervaded the room. Wes’ mouth gaped, not entirely sure if the knot in his gut was caused by pure shock or a raging fury at the sheer nerve of the vampire. Either way, speech was at present impossible.
Gunn recovered first and took a threatening step forward. “We’re doing just peachy without you,” he literally spat out the words. “Don’t let the door hit your self-lovin ass on the way out.”
Angel’s Broad shoulders stiffened and his eyes flared hotly before extinguishing just as rapidly. He took in a breath, and it was obvious to the others that he was making an effort to relax his jaw before finally responding; his voice a flat monotone. “It didn’t look that ‘peachy’ the other night.” Unreadable eyes glanced from one man to the other letting his words sink in. It didn’t take long.
Gunn visibly tensed, but surprised Wes by choosing to keep his mouth shut. Not that there was much either of them could say. Not like he hadn’t doubted they wouldn’t have survived without interference.
But still… Wes was uncertain as to whether to be grateful or just plain angry that it had been Angel who’d unexpectedly stepped in. He quickly reminded himself that it was something that would have had less chance of occurring if he hadn’t left himself, Gunn and Cordelia to fight his battles in the first place.
Thoughts of Cordelia had him automatically glancing at his watch, noting that if they didn’t make a move shortly, they would be late. The unnerving image of his friend tapping her foot with a glare that could melt steel came to him – which then brought to his mind how this unexpected news would affect her. That added reminder strengthened his resolve.
Blue eyes reflecting a deep-seated bitterness pinned wary brown. “I’m afraid we have no vacancies at present,” his tone implying anything but regret. “But if you’d like to leave your number, we’ll be sure to contact you if that changes.” Catching Gunn’s approving nod, Wes let out a relieved breath and walked forward with renewed determination.
Brushing past the unnaturally still vampire, he grasped the handle and pulled open the door, indicating the exit with his other hand. Angel ignored the gesture and turned fully to face his ex employee.
“Those visions are for me, Wes. You know that,” he reminded Wes, his voice thick with an indecipherable emotion. .
After several moments of hushed silence, Wes realized his mouth was again hanging open. Shutting it with a loud click of his teeth, he swallowed several times. Catching Gunn’s belated but aggressive move forward in his peripheral vision, he reached out a staying hand, taking advantage of the move to control his own tumultuous reaction.
By the time his gaze lifted, they were completely devoid of emotion. “Yes, we do know” Wes agreed stonily. “It’s just a pity you didn’t think of that when you walked away. Again.” Angel had the grace to look away, his broad shoulders sagging slightly as he finally turned to leave.
“Oh, and Angel? A word of friendly advice.” At Wes’ words, Angel paused and glanced back, his lips twisting on easily picking up the sarcasm in the younger man’s tone. “Keep away from Cordelia.” The soft warning hung heavily in the air between them. .
Instantly Angel’s mouth opened but Wes forestalled him with a sharply raised hand. “She’s been through more than enough.”
When no immediate reply was forthcoming, Wes let out a long drawn out sigh. “Goodbye.” The ring of finality caused Angel to stiffen then turn back to face Wes fully.
Anxious to get it over with, Wes stepped back and closed the door softly between them. He turned away with a shaky sigh, grateful not to have to look into those stormy eyes a moment longer. As he walked further into the office, he was unable to resist the urge to look back and was relieved to see that the dark figure on the other side of the glass had finally disappeared.