Title: PROMISES (4) Tightrope
Rating: R upwards
Summary: A Darkness Within Fic. 4th 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: GTCA. anywhere else, please ask first.
Notes: Sequel to Looking for Redemption.
Thanks/Dedication:To Lysa. I seriously couldn’t have done this without her- much needed motivation as well as faboo betaring. Thank You! **mwah** and Stormy for giving me a title for this sequel. My mind had become a desert. *licks*
Several weeks later”
Tired, irritable and laden with groceries, Cordy called out to Dennis to open her apartment door. As she stepped over the threshold she rubbed the back of her neck to rid herself of the tingles that had begun the moment she’d stepped down from Gunn’s truck.
Maybe it was because the guys had become more protective than usual the past few weeks. Cordy wasn’t entirely sure, and couldn’t remember when it had started. Normally she’d put it down to the creepy feeling of being watched, but as it happened mostly in her apartment, and her gorgeous panoramic window had only the side of a sheer wall of another block of apartments across from her, she instantly quashed that thought.
Although relieved to be inside, Cordy didn’t relax until the door shut firmly behind her. Then the itch was quickly forgotten as a wave of sheer exhaustion took over.
“Thanks, Dennis. Be a honey and put the kettle on?” Within seconds of her weary request, she heard the sound of water hitting metal and followed it like a beacon. Placing the carton on the small Formica topped table and pulling out a chair, Cordelia flopped into it with a grateful sigh.
It was wonderful to have enough money to stock up. Gunn had accompanied her, much to her annoyance. Their recent hovering drove her nuts, but she did appreciate the lift home especially since shopping wasn’t at the top of her list of fun things to do after a long day at the office and a bone-crushing vision earlier that night. It was a task she could have done without.
As for the over protectiveness, Cordy usually held back from snapping their heads off, having a strong feeling that some of their new and restrictive behavior was guilt-driven. Most visions came out of nowhere and eight times out of ten, she ended up on the floor. They were especially hovery afterward.
A grimace scrunched her face on realizing she’d been absently scratching the nape of her neck- again. It had to be a stress rash caused by all the mollycoddling, she decided, and after promising herself to confront them about it, Cordy pushed it from her mind. Right now bath and bed were on her list of to-dos.
Taking the cup of coffee from Dennis gratefully, Cordy proceeded to reel through the details of her day, sharing with him the good news of another client turning up.
“Okay, I know that’s only three up till now, but it’s a start, doncha think?” She sat back stretching her achy legs, lifting the teaspoon from the sugar to tap it against the bowl.
Relishing every drop of the hot brew, Cordy absently listened as Dennis pottered in the bathroom, running the water in the tub. The rich aroma of violets drifted into the kitchen and she rose in anticipation of a good long soak.
Satisfied that Cordy was home and safe, Angel relaxed his taut muscles and shifted his perch on the roof across from her window. He lost sight of her since she entered the kitchen twenty minutes earlier and wondered why he was still there.
He knew her routine pretty well by now. After a particularly heavy day, Cordy headed straight for the kitchen once home, then into her bedroom blocking out his view. She had a habit of half-shutting the door on her way through to the bathroom. Remembering the scent of violets steaming from her rooms during the time they had shared her apartment, Angel heaved a sigh. Unfolding his large frame and half turning to leave, he halted abruptly when catching sight of her leaving the kitchen.
Just one more glimpse of her, he thought, squatting low, continuing to watch a little longer, greedy for the sight of her and reluctant to leave. Framed by the window as she crossed the lounge floor, she paused to stretch her arms above her head. Angel’s eyes lingered on the curves of her breasts, the exposed flash of taut midriff as her shirt pulled against the movement. When her fingers unexpectedly dropped down to undo the buttons on her blouse, shrugging it off smooth shoulders and letting it fall to the ground, he told himself to stop staring and go.
After all, she was home safe and sound. He’d accomplished what he set out to do by checking on her. Now he should just go.
Angel swallowed thickly, eyes riveted on the plump golden flesh revealed by the skimpy silk bra that was now all that covered her torso. An instantaneous image of tugging down the thin straps, of filling his hands with her breasts caused a tightening in his groin. It should have been enough to force his departure, but he was rooted to the spot, his mouth watering.
If catching Cordelia at such an intimate moment was unexpected, his reaction was ten times more shocking. His gaze refused to leave her although he knew it was wrong to watch. She turned, unzipping her floaty skirt. It fell to her ankles revealing the gorgeous length of her legs and the curves of her ass leaving her standing there in two scraps of matching silk and a pair of high heels.
His body instantly hardened, the response confusing him. This was Cordy. A large part of Angel couldn’t understand why seeing her disrobe would get such a reaction. In his long and eventful unlife, he’d seen enough nude women not to be moved by one more, he reasoned. But he was. His gut reaction suddenly reminded of that flash of unexpected lust he’d experienced when confronting her at the new office.
Self-anger surged to the surface. Want and arousal were not emotions Angel was supposed to associate with her. His brow furrowed as he attempted to sort out his head. Maybe it was down to being pissed off that he hadn’t been let back in… If they’d accepted him back he wouldn’t be standing here staring at her in the first place, would he”
So it wasn’t lust he felt, just anger that Cordy had forced him to watch her from a distance for her own safety. It was just habit to watch until she walked into the bedroom, until she closed the door blocking out his view. Only a few more steps and he’d be free to go. Feeling justified in his actions, Angel continued to watch as Cordy kicked off her shoes and walked wearily toward the bedroom. Pushing the door open, she grasped the knob as if to close it out of habit, but paused to rub the back of her neck instead.
When her slim fingers reached for the back fastening of her bra, the bedroom door remained wide open providing him with a surprisingly direct view from his crouched position on the opposite rooftop. Her name rolled off his tongue when she pulled it off and tossed it haphazardly towards the bed willing her to turn around, but she walked directly through to the bathroom out of sight.
Face tight with frustration, Angel cursed virulently and rose abruptly to his feet. There was a huge difference between ensuring Cordy’s safety and lusting after her like a Peeping Tom. If he ever caught anyone doing what he’d just done, Angel knew he would’ve shown the bastard several shades of black and blue. Shaking his head roughly, he dropped soundlessly from the edge of the roof onto the sidewalk below refusing to think along that path.
Angel forced himself to change focus, to turn his mind back to his disastrous confrontation with his ex-colleagues. Although understanding where they were coming from, he refused to give up. The need to prove them wrong had brought Angel to the point of staking out their office and eavesdropping on their conversations so he could be there to help out, making sure to keep out of sight.
It wasn’t always easy, and he knew Wes and Gunn were more than aware of his presence; his guilt making it easy to ignore Gunn’s rapidly growing anger at his interference.
Then there were the visions.
How Angel had stopped himself from barging in each time Cordy had had a vision eluded him right now.
The emotional agony he’d experienced on seeing her fragile body hit the floor time and time again couldn’t have matched the physical pain Cordy had to have endured on contact with the unyielding surface… Angel shuddered as instant replays invaded his guilt-ridden mind.
He’d conceded reluctantly to Wes’ ‘request’ not to confront Cordy, but Angel refused to keep away from her; couldn’t stop himself shadowing her when he was able – watching her when she was at home. But he was quickly realizing it wasn’t enough.
It hadn’t taken Angel long to decide to return to LA, ending up pacing restlessly as he waited for the sun that had come up not long after Buffy had left to set so he could make the journey back.
He’d reminded himself all the way back that he was returning to take up the mission he’d abandoned yet again, shoving down the growing realization that the mission was only part of it.
The cold reception and continued lack in his life of the one person Angel needed to connect to the most was slowly pushing him back into the cold he’d once mindlessly embraced. Things had to change soon, Angel decided grimly, or he’d just have to take things into his own hands.
Two weeks later.
“We can’t stop him from helping, Gunn.” Wes rubbed a weary hand over his face as he repeated a sentence already uttered many times over the past month, to his friend.
Each time Angel intervened, they would have these pointless discussions. He understood Gunn’s feelings fully on the issue – both were resentful, yet couldn’t argue that it was a help, but still they’d refused have him back. Both agreed on that too.
But the guilt of keeping Angel’s presence and interference from Cordelia was becoming unbearable, only relieved that- for now, anyway, he’d made no attempt to confront her. A month down the line and still Wes had no idea how to resolve this.
Gunn had come up with a solution a few nights earlier. When out on the last vision, he’d yelled out a warning for Angel to back off, but Wes sincerely doubted Gunn’s threats had made an ounce of difference.
“Although I have to admit, each time he’s helped us out it has been at a crucial point.” No matter his reasons, Wes could not deny the vampire his due.
Gunn grunted in reluctant acknowledgement, their chances at those times, of coming out of the fights without being killed or seriously injured had been more or less zero. “We did ok when he was out of LA. We can still hold our own.” Silence followed his words. Both knew they were struggling. They were, after all, only human.
Angel was supposedly the champion to the PTB. But whether that was the case or not, they were the ones out here on the street doing his dirty work. This is what Gunn brought up every time they talked about it, and he knew Wes couldn’t dispute any of it.
First Angel wasn’t around at all, didn’t want them messing with his business, and now he was back and they couldn’t get rid of him. He was dogging their every move, and it drove Gunn nuts.
Wes’ resolve was weakening. “We have to consider Cordelia in all of this,” he finally spoke, weariness and resignation lacing every word. “If anything happened to either of us…” seeing the instant understanding that warred with dissention, Wes left the rest of the sentence unspoken.
Angel’s repeated desertion in the past would be nothing in comparison. Each relied on the other; considered themselves family. The thought of Cordelia being left alone with the visions didn’t bear thinking about.
He knew Angel would make his move then. He also knew no matter how vulnerable, Cordelia would reject him hands down. There was no way Angel could watch her every minute, and Wes didn’t doubt for a second that she would attempt to fight them herself.
Maybe he should rethink their options after all, he thought- and said as much to Gunn, pointing out his worries. “Better now than if the time ever comes that we aren’t around to avoid such occurrences,” he added worriedly.
For the first time since they’d had one of these discussions, Gunn seemed to be willing to reconsider the possibility. He’d come to think of Cordelia as a sister over the many months they’d shared space. He’d lost one to the demon world already and had no intention of losing her too. Any chance of avoiding that was worth thinking about in his book.
But the thought of letting Angel back in stuck in his craw. “He can’t be trusted,” he pointed out doggedly. When Wes opened his mouth to respond, he forestalled him, “Not talking about the fighting side here. What’s it gonna do to Cor? The way I see it, the farther away from our girl he is the better I’ll sleep at night.”
Wes sighed heavily and rubbed his face for what seemed the tenth time that night. “Whether we have Angel back or not, if he wants to confront her, there is little we can do.”
“We ain’t doing too bad a job so far,” Gunn reminded him, his chin lifting stubbornly.
“We can’t watch her 24/7, Gunn,” Wes returned. “And Cordelia is already showing signs of…” he paused, searching for the right word.
“Kicking our Asses?” Gunn supplied helpfully and shrugged when Wes glared at him.
“I was thinking along the lines of mild irritation, actually,” he replied shortly, then sighed, a wry expression on his face.” But you’re probably closer to how she’s feeling right now.” Wes straightened up from the edge of his desk.
“My point is that if Angel returns to the fold, at least we’ll have knowledge of his whereabouts the majority of the time,” Wes reasoned, adding on a upbeat tone; “Which also happens to be when he would be most able to act on any compulsions he may have with regards to Cordelia.” Gunn nodded, his face clearing a little at that.
“A vamp can’t do much in the day.” Rising out of his chair, Gunn grabbed his denim jacket and shrugged it on. “Whatever you wanna do, I’m all over it,” he finally conceded, then frowned on noticing his friends” suddenly tense frame. “What’s up?”
Wes swallowed the forming lump of dread in his throat before looking at his friend. “One last thing,” His nervous tone had Gunn’s whole body tensing. “Who’s going to tell Cordelia how long he’s been back?”
Both men stared at each other and gulped.
Pacing around her lounge, her teeth clamped on a well-manicured nail, Cordy barely resisted the urge to chew furiously each time she glared in the direction of the open hall closet.
The cute denim jacket she’d bought shortly before asswipe fired them was definitely not in there, or anywhere else in her apartment. Pulling her hand away from her mouth with a frustrated sigh, she flopped down onto the couch and ran restless fingers through already tousled hair as she attempted to recall the last time she’d seen it. Just as she was about to admit defeat, an image of it draped over the back of a chair hit her.
The desk chair at the hotel.
“Damn it!” That jacket had almost cost her a month’s crappy wages- and she wanted it back. Her eyes turned to linger speculatively on the cupboard along the far wall.
A spare set of keys to the hotel lay in one of the drawers. Cordy had kept them, unable initially to accept that she’d been fired. When it became painfully clear that he’d meant it, she’d forgotten all about the keys.
Angel was with the love of his unlife in good ol’ Sunnyhell, and it was still pretty early, she reasoned to herself, and then it occurred to her that maybe he gave away more than just that blouse… Her face tightened in anger at the memory and she shot to her feet.
“I’m going to check it out,” she muttered aloud, determination in every line as she headed for the cupboard. Why let something that belonged to her sit there and gather rot along with his stuff?
Pulling open the right drawer first time round, Cordy hesitated for a split second at the thought of entering Angel’s home… Did she really want to go there, to see it abandoned like so much rubbish like she had been?
A flash of pain struck her unexpectedly, her breath hitching in her throat. Roughly pulling herself together and cursing her momentary weakness, Cordy snatched up the keys and left her apartment.
Pale lids flickered open and sleep-softened brown eyes cleared in an instant. Something had woken him from his fitful slumber- but what?
Angel rose up on his elbows and cocked his head, every preternatural sense on alert for anything out of the ordinary, then he heard it; the soft thud of the main door. Throwing back the covers, he left the bed and grabbed his pants off the nearby chair, all the time listening out for any clue as to who entered his home.
The familiar tingle at the base of his spine told him that the sun was up, so he ruled out vampires as possible trespassers. Anyway, most of the demons in L.A. knew he was back, so he seriously doubted any would be stupid enough to think of encroaching on his territory.
Whoever- or whatever it was hadn’t used force, so how the hell had they got in, he wondered? It had been a long time since anyone had used the main door, and thus it had remained locked since his return.
Even before Angel reached the top of the stairs, he knew exactly who his visitor was, her scent achingly familiar. Anticipation as well as curiosity grew with each step down the stairs. As his eyes fixed on her in the dimmed lobby, he wondered what had brought her here. About a month had passed since his return and as far as he knew, the others hadn’t told her he was back.
The jacket wasn’t there.
Cordy blew out a frustrated breath and quickly glanced around, shuddering a little as she attempted to breach the gloomy shadows.
She hadn’t wanted to turn on the overhead lights when first arriving, still reeling from the signs of neglect that were visible even without the harsh glow of yellow. Cordy hadn’t wanted the extra reminder of the end of that part of her life, but judging by the state of her desk, it had to be worse than when Angel had first moved in here.
Running a finger through the thick dust on her desk brought a eww of disgust, and she quickly wiped her hand down the side of her jeans and concentrated on the reason for being here in the first place. Her jacket.
He must have given that away too,” she muttered furiously and half turned away. “Why am I not surprised? Asswipe- ARGH!” the short scream died in her throat on recognizing the dark man-shaped shadow hovering directly behind her.
“What are you doing here?”
Angel had moved soundlessly across dark lobby until he was less that a foot behind her, then stopped. He watched as she ran a finger through the dust. Cleaning up the place had been the last thing on his mind, but after hearing her sound of disgust he promised himself it would be done before nightfall.
Then she was turning towards him, muttering bitterly under her breath about him giving away her clothes. Angel jolted and guilt blossomed in his chest at her words- then she screamed, fear tightening her lovely features for an instant until shocked recognition quickly silenced her knee-jerk reaction.
A wave of anger unexpectedly hit him. He could have been anybody- thing, and she was defenseless. Considering where she’d grown up and their line of work, that fact suddenly made him want to show her just how rash she’d been.
But after looking directly into her wide beautiful eyes he soon quashed that impulse as another deeper realization took over: the confirmation of what he already knew to be true. That without her he had no real purpose.
Taking a step back to give her space, Angel opened his mouth to apologize, but Cordy spoke first. “What are you doing here?” the shock still evident in every line in her face
“I live here” Angel replied distractedly, still a little giddy at finding himself face to face with her after so long. As an angry frown began to crease her brow, he quickly pulled his wits about him and added “I moved back about a month ago.”
The frown vanished, but for a long moment Cordy silently stared up at him and for once he wasn’t able to read her expression. Even knowing he deserved her anger, it still burned that she was able to close him out. Then she turned her back on him and pulled open the top drawer of her desk. He resisted the urge to pull her back round to face him, instead waiting on tenterhooks for her reply.
Rifling blindly through sparse contents, Cordy used the distraction to find her equilibrium after hearing how long Angel had been back.
“So, what happened?” she finally asked, attempting to keep her tone on neutral ground; it didn’t last.
Her tone sharpened into bitterness. “Buffy find out what a total bastard you really are and kick you out of her bed?” Silence as thick as molasses surrounded her harshly spoken words.
Feeling the heavy weight of his eyes drilling into the back of her head became too much to bear and Cordy risked a glance over her shoulder, making sure to avoid his gaze. “Oh, I forgot. You had an ‘epiphany’,” she air quoted, sarcasm taking over, “Not a ‘Get out of Eunuch’ card.” Not waiting for his reply, she turned away and roughly pulled open another drawer, inwardly cursing her big mouth.
She didn’t know this man … vampire anymore, yet here she was riling him up with every word that dropped out of her angry mouth. A sudden flash came to her of his expression as he’d pressed her body against the bookcase at their ‘new’ office.
“Don’t make me move you…”
Angel quietly repeated what he’d told the others, then, unable to help himself decided to correct her continued assumption. “The curse isn’t about sex, Cordelia. It’s about forgetting who I am. That could never happen again.” Cordy’s shoulders tensed and her hands paused for a moment before continuing her search.
“How long are you staying this time?” His revelation stunned her, and the thought that Angel had found this out recently by putting his theory into practice caused a knife-like pain to twist into her already bruised heart.
It was easy to guess what was going through her mind at his revelation, but it was too late to take back his words, instead Angel stuck to answering her question. “I’m not leaving.”
Cordy pffted softly and reached into the last drawer. Irritated with her avoidance tactics, Angel grabbed her arm and pulled her to face him – then froze when she swung round holding a stake tightly in her free hand. Although her survival instincts had been on the slow side, he had to admire her accuracy as she homed in over his unbeating heart.
Cordy lifted the stake she’d found in the drawer and pressed it against his naked chest. “Don’t touch me,” she ground out angrily. She tensed when feeling his fingers flex on her arm before releasing her, surprised that he hadn’t instinctively stepped back and away from the sharp point of the stake.
Letting his arms hang loosely at his sides, Angel remained still, but Cordy still didn’t drop the stake, her widened eyes wary as well as angry. Both were acutely aware of the tip of the stake pressing into his skin just over his heart. The fine tremor in her hand had him choosing his next words with care.
“I want to help.”
A finely arched brow lifted. “Been there, heard that,” Cordy whispered through tense lips.
“It’s the truth,” Angel responded evenly. “That Gorscha demon they faced would’ve gutted one of them if I hadn’t stepped in when I did.” So desperate to prove himself that he unintentionally dropped the others in it. He might as well have told her he was helping out with the visions, and didn’t doubt that his slip would bite him on the ass- especially when it came to getting the others to take him back.
Shocked to the core, Cordy stared up at him speechless. She remembered getting a vision about that particular demon last week; easy to do considering the name of it sounded so like one of the imported beers Wes and Gunn occasionally brought round to her apartment- and never shared. Her brow creased with the annoyance she still felt about that, but it was fleeting as she quickly went back to the night in question.
They’d come back looking worse for wear and acting moody. At the time Cordy had assumed it was just bone crushing weariness, since she’d had three visions in as many days, so hadn’t pushed them for details.
The stake eased a little and she asked, “Wes and Gunn know you’re back?” Angel nodded, careful not to make any sudden moves- although her hold had relaxed slightly, the stake was still close enough to cause real damage.
Cordy refused to believe that. They would have told her. She took a calming breath but it didn’t help. Angel had to be trying to cause dissent, she decided. Even if he was helping, it wasn’t because the guys wanted him there. Not after everything that had happened.
“You’re lying!” she finally accused hotly, her grip once again tightening around the smooth wood. “I don’t believe Wes – and definitely not Gunn, would have you back.” The distrust in her narrowed eyes cut him to the quick.
“They haven’t,” he admitted flatly. “Refused outright.”
Cordy frowned in confusion. “Then how-?”
Angel’s eyes averted from her angrily questioning look. “I…lurk.” He reluctantly admitted, then looked her straight in the eye, his expression unrepentant. He refused to regret his actions since coming back.
None of them.
Understanding dawned in Cordy’s eyes. He must have been watching them to know where the visions were taking place. Her pupils dilated in anger when she also recalled the tingles that had assailed her for weeks. The tingles she’d put down to stress even when knowing it but ignoring that it had to be something more. He’d been stalking her! Even at her apartment!
The thought of her privacy being compromised -by him of all people caused her to feel both furious and freaked out, always looking behind her at night lately. Feeling uncomfortable, on edge even in her own home.
Swallowing convulsively, she pressed the stake hard against his skin. “You have no right to do that!” Cordy retorted angrily, unconsciously stepping a little closer she added; “Leave us alone- and keep away from my apartment- me! You’re not welcome!”
His wide mouth thinned and he leaned in, even as his muscles tensed at the added pressure of the wooden tip. “You may not want me in your life, but you can’t stop me from watching over you- them.” Angel responded darkly, eyes locking with hers.
“I can if you’re dust,” she threatened. Her fury growing, she pressed the tip until it lightly punctured the surface of his skin, which reddened instantly.
Angel hardly felt it, his blood heating as emotions ran high. He then spread his arms, outwardly relaxed. “Go ahead”, he offered, keeping his face and voice deliberately blank. Their eyes clashed for several long seconds; his unreadable, hers rich with a multitude of emotions.
Letting out a strangled breath, Cordy suddenly reared back and hit him across the face with the stake, furious that she couldn’t bring herself to do it. His head lashed abruptly to the side, and when he turned back to face her she noted with barely hidden horror the slow well of blood seeping from the corner of his mouth, the surrounding skin rapidly discoloring under her stunned gaze.
After a long moment of shocked silence, Cordy found her voice; refusing to feel bad over what she’d done. “Stay the hell away from me, Angel,” she warned in a low trembling voice, then pushed past him and stalked off, head held high.
Angel turned to watch her go, absently lifting a hand to his mouth to wipe the blood away. His dark eyes remained fixed on the main doors even after they thudded shut behind her. As he heard her heels clatter quickly along the path until they faded into the distance, the deep brown irises flickered with building heat and determination.
“Not a chance in hell” he whispered hoarsely.