ficbitch82: ({cordy/angel} that's cinnamon)
[personal profile] ficbitch82
Title: Downward Spiral
Author: Christie
E-mail: frittee82@gmail.com
Summary: The Gang go out to investigate a case, much to the chagrin of Cordelia who was supposed to be on a date. She goes - unwillingly - and winds up locked in a room with Angel.
Spoilers: Everything up to but not including Disharmony in S2. Also? I've fudged the timelines about a bit for BTVS/ATS and where Cordelia's birthday falls. I cheat. Mercilessly. :p
Disclaimer: Truly, truly not mine. They all belong to Joss Whedon (unfortunately).
Authors Notes: Written for the Stranger Things Halloween Ficathon 2009.

Not beta-ed. All mistakes are mine.

Dedicated to Livvie for the awesome prompt of: A haunted house, pumpkins and Cordy dressed up as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

Okay, some of the parts of the prompt were only in passing. Brief word mention, in fact. But I tried, Liv. :) Hope you enjoy.

And to my lovely fanartist, [livejournal.com profile] nikkiwawa79. Who made me such a pretty, pretty ficpic! :) And who has had to put up with me being the worst author in the world and saying 'I don't know what I want, anything's fine, really!' *cuddles her up*




---------




This was officially the worst Halloween of Angel's life ever.

There weren't many things that could earn a night that title. He'd lived through a couple of plagues, the Depression, he'd seen a lot of sick and depraved things. Caused about three quarters of them...

But this, right here. This was fear.

He waited, holding non-existent breath as the first ring came and went. The second, the third...

And when finally the call connected, and Cordelia snapped out a harsh, "The world had better be ending!" Angel finally knew what it was like to truly fear for your life.


----------




"The one night a year we actually get off and I get called in on a case? How unfair is that?" Cordelia demanded, stomping down the stairs and into the lobby. She was officially over the demon-killing business. Her second year of being Vision-Girl and the one night she'd been guaranteed by, like, all those in the "know" that business would be quiet?

Was, thus far, turning out to be the very opposite of quiet, despite her best efforts and her continued prayers that her cellphone wouldn't ring tonight.

Dressed to impress in her Elvira, Mistress of the Dark costume and looking for a night that didn't involve visions, vampires or demon-goop, Cordelia was ready for a night of relaxation.

A night of date-type fun with a guy who not only had a pulse and didn't carry a deadly weapon, like, everywhere he went; but also had enough money to buy a small country.

And here she was, standing in the middle of the lobby with Angel who looked - and rightly so - like she was about to shove her foot somewhere unpleasant.

Still on shaky ground on account of the whole Going-Crazy-and-Firing-His-Team-Horribly? Angel was in grovel mode. Worse? Angel was in needy-grovel mode. And he wasn't letting up.

"Cordy, we need the whole team there. I know you had plans--"

"You're damn right I had plans!" Cordelia snapped, dumping her clutch on the desk in front of her and watching with a frown as the contents spilled out - cellphone, pepper spray, keys, stake and cash. Quiet night or not, living in Sunnydale had pretty much guaranteed that Cordelia never left the house without some kind of weapon in her purse.

"Do you know how many times I've had to blow this guy off because of a case? I'm officially running out of excuses and he doesn't seem to get why the supposed secretary-slash-all-round-awesome-assistant of a detective agency has to be there for every case."

Because, honestly? They'd been worked to the bone these last couple of weeks. And while Cordelia so didn't mind the money that was currently being frittered away in her account, there was such a thing as being run into the ground.

Not that the guys were complaining. Angel was pretty happy just to be working again and all yay-team! over helping those helpless.

Wes? Well, he was a geek - the guy was only ever happy when he could consult his books over something and Gunn?

Gunn's axe had seen more action in one week than she had in 3-years as reigning champ of Hotties at Sunnydale High School. And that was saying something.

Cordelia was tired. And so very much in need of that elusive thing called fun. On the one night of the year that most of the demons of the world wanted to behave? There was a ghost somewhere that didn't and Angel Investigations had officially been hired, much to her annoyance.

She looked at Angel who was erring on the side of uncomfortable and waited a beat before arching her eyebrow. "Well?"

"I--I was... Do you think maybe you should get changed before we hit the road?" He tried not to look. A valiant effort, really... And Angel was nothing if not chivalrous but he still didn't manage it.

There was quite a hefty amount of leg on show, if he was honest. A split up the side of her long, dark skirt revealing longer legs, hidden by dark hose.

And then there was the top half. Which would have been all kinds of interesting if he dared look.

He didn't.

Cordelia's gaze darkened, "And what's wrong with me?"

"Nothing! Nothing, I just thought--" What he thought was that her outfit was wildly inappropriate for working a case but since he didn't dare suggest that to her, he was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Looking browbeat, Angel glanced at his shoes. "We should go," he mumbled, hefting his broadsword from the crappy little desk he'd been given, right between the coffee pot and the phone.

"Clock's ticking," he reminded her gently. "Wes and Gunn are already there."

Cordelia rolled her eyes, "Well, whoop-de-friggin'-do. You're buying me dinner after this, I hope you know."


-----


Things, of course, weren't that simple.

After meeting Phantom Dennis' mother and unleashing all hell on the bitch herself, Cordelia had assumed that the haunted house gig would be a walk in the park. Open and shut case, back home in time for Angel to supply her with Chinese and be on his merry way back to the hotel to brood. Alone.

Things, of course, didn't go to plan.

"We're locked in."

Angel knew this.

"Did you hear me?"

He had.

"Angel?" Her voice sharpened considerably when she said his name.

He turned to look at her, tried to look everywhere but below her neck, and didn't miss the look of annoyance on her face. Or the undercurrent of fear. "I'm working on it."

"By pounding on a door that's been locked for 20 minutes? Shouldn't you be, like, conserving energy in case the old guy comes back?"

He bit his tongue, painfully aware he was still on probation regardless of whether he'd given up leadership or not and settled for smiling patiently at her instead.

"You look like a serial killer when you do that," she pointed out, sitting down on a crate and glancing at her nails.

He'd been banging on that door for what seemed like forever and, unlike the headache raging behind her eyes, help wasn't coming. At all.

"What I want to know is what the hell Wes and Gunn are doing," she murmured, incensed that they'd been abandoned by their friends. Well, maybe abandoning was stretching it a little.

It was Angel who suggested they go their separate ways, right before he'd remembered that he wasn't in charge any more. Fearless leader guy was now Wes, only he didn't look so fearless when he was suggesting the same thing Angel had in a less manly, more throat-clearing voice.

Cover more ground, he'd said, which had suited Cordelia down to the ground. Covering more ground had meant getting out of here faster... Or it would've, if Wes hadn't paired her with Angel and the ghost haunting the house hadn't seen fit to lock them in the attic upstairs.

Right now, Angel was hammering on the door like being locked in here with her was the worst torture he could think of in his actual serial-killing unlife.

"What's the deal with this place, anyway?" She asked. It looked like something out of a lame TV show. All fake spider-webs and equally lame Halloween-style dressing, pumpkins, the lot - not convincing at all until you saw the extreme dead-guy coming at you with an axe.

He was very real. And very, very pissed that people were in his house. "I mean it's obviously haunted--" (and Cordelia had to give Angel bonus points for shoving her behind him when Creepy McScary had come at her even if the ensuing chase had ended up with Angel locking them in with no way of getting out) "--but all this stuff?"

She plucked at the fake spiders-web with a fingernail and rolled her eyes. "Please. It doesn't even look real. Do these people just really like Halloween or what?"

"The guy was from a TV station," said Angel absently, still trying to find a way to get them out. He'd tried shouldering through the door but even that hadn't worked. "He told me the name of the show... Ghost--something?"

He hadn't been listening. Not really. Wes had handled much of the conversation from the guy, Angel had been too busy trying to think of a way to get himself back in Cordelia's good graces after falling into a black hole of Darla-shaped despair and firing them all.

It was Angel who'd half-suggested Wes and Gunn to go on ahead, scope out the place. It was Angel who'd jumped at the chance to wait for Cordelia, drive her over. He hadn't been expecting her outfit. Or, in fact, the wrath at her failed date. Had he not heard her on the phone to a fellow Sunnydale graduate, telling her that the guy wasn't really her type?

Angel had, of course, but if Cordelia knew that she'd accuse him of eavesdropping which--Okay, he had been, but he didn't like the idea of Cordelia being out there aone with a guy he hadn't personally vetted.

"Ghostfacers?"

Angel glanced over at her and made a face, thinking for a moment. "I think that was it, yeah. You know it?"

"Know it?" Fire danced in her eyes now and she hopped down off the crate, wondering when her apparent lot in life had changed from bound-for-superstardom to working-for-people-who-just-didn't-get-her. Ever.

"Jesus, Angel, do you guys ever even listen to me?"

Her voice pitched at that and Angel knew she was pissed. He felt like a heel. Aside from wondering whether this was before or after he'd fired her, he didn't honestly have a clue what she was talking about. "Uh..."

"Don't strain yourself." She held up a hand. "It was three months ago. And, to be fair? You were kinda obsessed with the blonde and skanky one."

She'd had an audition with one of the executives for the TV station that produced Ghostfacers. He was kinda creepy, if she was honest, but Cordelia was willing to overlook that for the fact that he'd offered her the lead in his show and who did scary and screaming better than her?

She told Angel as much, frowning, and added that one Todd Landers (the same guy who'd offered her what amounted to the lead in this show) had been more interested in her talents on the casting couch than off it.

"You didn't get the part?" Angel felt his chest swell a little.

"Eww," Cordelia glared at him, killing the chest-swell with just one glance, "What do I look like to you, a hooker?" Then, "Don't answer that." She didn't suppose her Elvira outfit put her in the virginal category, exactly.

"Anyway, the show's a total fake. I mean, for one? The special effects are totally lame. Nobody actually buys it." She pointed to the spiders-webs and then the pumpkins, accordingly. "You see what they dress their set with?"

Angel had to agree but the parts he had been listening to and which he hadn't told Cordelia yet were currently running a marathon in his mind. "How do you explain the ghost?"

Her eyerows shot up, "How do I explain the ghost? Uh, newsflash, Broody - that's your department. All I know is that the creepy-dead guy is way more real than Ghostfacers have ever done so either they've stumbled onto an actual haunted house in their play for ratings and called in the real paranormal detectives..."

"Or?"

Cordelia frowned, "I don't have an or. You're the detective," she made a shooing motion with her hands, "Go. Detect."


----------


"I'm gettin' kinda tired of this," said Gunn, glancing at Wes who, much like his former employer, was whaling on a door that was showing no signs of opening. "Vampires, I can deal with. The odd demon? Hey, why not. But ghosts comin' at me with an axe and then lockin' me in a room for an hour?"

"You're not being helpful..." Wesley pointed out, hitting the door. Again. "And it hasn't been an hour."

Gunn rubbed a hand over his head, exasperated, "What do you want me to do, Wes? I figure you got the monopoly of bangin' on a door over there. You let me know how that works out, yeah?"

Wesley sighed. Gunn was right. They'd been stuck in here for twenty minutes and all they'd worked out was the fact that the door wasn't opening and the house was indeed haunted.

"Where the hell are Cordelia and Angel?"


----------


"What made Wes take this case anyway?"

Angel glanced over from where he'd been sitting, frowning at the fact that all they were doing was waiting around for the ghost to either come and kill them or let them out. He felt helpless, unsure of whether Wes and Gunn were okay, and more than uncomfortable with the close scrutiny Cordelia had him placed under.

It was the first time they'd been alone together in months; the first time, definitely, since Darla.

"We don't usually go off so little and it's not like I had a vision or anything." For which she was utterly, utterly thankful.

Angel had explained to her about Wesley checking the background of the place. An executive of Todd Landers had shown up earlier that day. They'd been filming in the house for a week, despite the lies to the shows 'fanbase' that it was filmed live on All Hallows Eve; a creepy, spooky, spectacular.

And just three mornings ago, one of their camera crew had gone missing.

The police, of course, hadn't taken their claims seriously. In the harsh light of day, things had a tendency of looking less spooky and their cameraman - Jonathon - had a tendency of bailing when things weren't going to plan in his life.

Though none of the crew could honestly say that Jonathon wasn't having a great time as of late; none of them could say that he was... Which was where Angel Investigations came into it.

"Not like it matters now," Cordelia mused, doing most of the talking since Angel was staying quiet and it was, almost literally, killing her. "I mean, we're obviously supposed to be here, given the fact that it's actually haunted but... You guys got nothing today?"

They'd afforded her the luxury of getting ready for the Date-That-Wasn't; the costume party that she'd only scored an invite to that morning when Lane's other date had come down with mono or herpes or something and there was enough desperation in that alone, the fact that she'd actually agreed to the date.

She'd gone to a Halloween shop to find that the last decent costume there was Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and though initially, she'd thought that it was maybe a little passé, she'd tried it on anyway and found she could really work the Mistress of the Dark angle.

Now? There was no chance of her even returning the dress. She'd had to rip the split in the leg even higher in order to run and the killer pumps which had almost actually got her killed? Were lying in the house somewhere, probably being carressed by some creepy, pervy dead guy with scaly hands and a shoe-fetish.

"No suspicious deaths, no suicides... Nothing before this place went on the market."

"And after?"

"Repair guy had his hand cut off by the garbage disposal. Realtors complaining about weird noises - and now the camera-guy from that show..."

Cordelia frowned, glanced at the lame-ass decor again. "He's pissed about them selling the place? Geez, it's not like it's a palace or anything. Has anyone thought about just saying 'hey, you're dead, get over it and move on?'" They'd done the legwork, she knew. Their police contact was lacking after Kate had tried to off herself, so Wes had been downgraded to Cordelia's part of the investigation in her absence; the internet.

He'd even called her to ask how to work 'that Google thing', which Cordelia had explained oh-so-patiently while waiting for her nail polish to dry.

They'd come up with nothing on the house before it had gone up for sale and her date with Lane Daniels, playboy extraordinaire, was officially over.

"It probably wouldn't have worked out anyway," she muttered under her breath. Then, remembering Angel had all kinds of super-hearing skills, she made a face. "With Lane."

"Lane?" Angel snorted, "That was his--"

She cut him off with a death glare. "Shut up. He was rich, okay? And he knew people. And he was really, really hot."

Which just served to plunge her into a darker mood. Okay, dating Lane Daniels probably wouldn't have worked out. He was a playboy with a mansion and a fantastical amount of money that Cordelia had once had herself.

She was a secretary living in an apartment with a ghost - talk about being from different walks of life.

The guy was rich, sure, but Cordelia was looking for... Well, something different, she guessed. She'd touched on it briefly when she'd been talking to Aura earlier but she hadn't gotten into it too much; the guy was filthy rich, after all.

"I'm sorry," Angel tried, turning his palm outwards in a sign of surrender.

"You're not sorry," she frowned, drawn back to the here and now - the now, of course, that involved her being locked in an attic with Angel and feeling more pissed by the nanosecond. "You didn't even want me to go on the damn date anyway and what was your alternative? Staying at the hotel and playing Pictionary with you and Wes... To which, thanks, but no thanks. I've not entered little old lady-dom yet."

Her date with Lane had been her last ditch attempt to hold onto a social life that was virtually non-existant, what with the visions and all. And if there was one night a year she was sure one wouldn't happen? This was it.

"I'm 19, Angel, not 90. Occasionally? I want to go out and do normal stuff. Date. Be kissed. Maybe have a guy cop a little feel and not knock me up with demon spawn, if that's not too much to ask but no..."

"I've said I'm sorry," said Angel, looking miserable, "but Wes thought--"

Cordelia continued as though she hadn't even heard him, voice rising in pitch with her words, "The Powers That Be are, apparently, against me having a social life. Or any kind of life, really, and y'know what really bugs me about all of this?"

Angel didn't but he had a feeling he was going to. He opened his mouth to protest, to tell her that they'd talk about this when he'd got them out of here and somewhere safe but Cordelia got there first.

"You got to walk away."

His mouth closed abruptly, his shoulders slumping. As usual, Cordelia had jumped from one thing to the next and had managed to stake him to the wall with her blunt observation of what he'd done all those months ago.

What, exactly, could he say to that?

Her eyes were bright now, shining with unuttered fury. "You gave up your mission and walked away. Meanwhile, other people - like vision girls who had no option whatsoever in giving up said life were stuck there. Still with the visions. And on the one night a year she's actually got a chance of having a normal life and maybe getting laid? Who spoils it? You!"

Angel was officially flustered. Aside from her catching him out of left field with the comments he'd known had been simmering for the last two weeks, she'd just admitted to--wanting laid?

This was too much. Forget talking this all out, he'd rather impale himself on the end of his broadsword - he did not want to talk about why, exactly, Cordelia hadn't been laid tonight.

He went to open his mouth, give some approximation of an apology that, even though sincere, wouldn't come close to making it up to her but Cordelia got there first, squaring her shoulders as if bracing herself for a fight.

"What? What can you possibly say to me that'll make this okay?"

He didn't know and that, honestly, made him feel more helpless than he ever had in his whole 246 years of living. He didn't know how he could make this right, didn't even know how to start. He'd hurt her - immeasurably - the fact that she'd even told him he'd hurt her feelings had clued him in that much, had just scratched the surface.

Making it right was the hard part.

He'd tried, over the last couple of weeks, to be the perfect friend. To be there for her when she needed him, the way he hadn't been those last few months because he'd been too interested in Darla and everything else he'd let himself get caught up in.

Since then, Cordelia had held him at arms length.

He had high hopes of getting back in, simply because he couldn't imagine his world now without his friends in it, without Cordelia in it. He'd tried buying her clothes, a closetful, in fact, but they lay in his own closet in bags, untouched and gathering dust.

The move felt cheap. He felt like he was trying to buy her friendship back and he didn't want to do that. Now or ever.

"I can't say anything." He finally settled on. "I know I hurt you, I know I scared you. And I can't do anything to change that."

"You're right." Cordelia blew out a sigh. Pettyness had gone out the window about three weeks ago. There was only so much grovelly Angel she could take, after all.

Underneath wanting to make Angel pay for what he'd done simply because he deserved it lay the real reason Cordelia was holding him at arms length: she was scared to let him back in.

"You can't change it. And you can't make it up to me. How do I know that next week, someone else from the powdered wig days isn't going to show up and make you go all nutso?"

"They won't."

Cordelia frowned, "What, and you know that for sure? Every year running we've had someone from the past come back and bite you in the proverbial ass and y'know, 250 years of past is a lot for someone - anyone - to compete with." Especially her. Hell, she'd had to compete with Willow for Xander and all they'd had was 13 years of friendship as history. Angel had had a bicentennial. "You don't have to be vision girl to see where this is gonna end up."

He stared at her a beat. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't trust you any more." And there it was. Out and laid bare. She watched as Angel flinched, as he shrank back against her words, and she really couldn't seem to care. That wasn't half of what he'd put her through the last couple of months when he'd been off doing God knew what with Darla. "It took a year and a half to get our business up and sputtering. It took you five minutes to walk out on us, which by the way? I think is some kind of record."

"I was trying to--"

Cordelia scoffed, didn't let him finish. "What, protect us from the scary-ass monster you were gonna become, locking those lawyers in that dungeon? I saw you as Angelus and came out the other side so spare me the bullshit, okay? I've at least earned that. You walked away because it was easier for you, nobody else."

Angel sighed, remembering the Cordelia of old for just a moment and wondering if she'd have been easier to deal with than this Cordelia right here.

Shallow and popular, the old Cordelia had lived to make the lives of others a living hell - those less fortunate than her and, let's be honest, those not as high up the money or popularity scale.

He didn't see any of that now. Sure, there were glimpses from time to time. She still had that acid tongue, that sharp wit, could cut a man to pieces with her words alone and that was exactly what she was doing here.

He deserved all of it.

She'd taken the visions because of him. She'd stayed, fought, even when Angel himself had lost his way, when he couldn't see a reason to continue and she'd come out the other end.

It was more than he'd done.

Shamed, Angel turned back towards the door, not knowing what he could say to her, not knowing how he could thank her for what she'd done, what she was continuing to do when the temperature in the room dropped.

He spun towards her, right as the ghost came out of nowhere and lunged.

Angel felt a wave of panic and dove, shoving her out of the way. He flattened his body atop hers, and in that split second, the ghost disappeared and Angel realized he'd thrown himself on top of Cordelia. And he was a damn sight heavier than she was.

He scrambled up, raising himself on his elbows to check her over, frantic. "Cordy? Cordelia?"

She grunted and turned to look at him, clearly in pain. "I think you just broke about seven of my ribs," she sniped, so very much over this.

It was 9.30pm. She was officially supposed to be on her way to getting pleasantly buzzed from the alcohol, not being thrown to the floor by Angel, regardless of whether he was saving her life or not.

He helped her to her feet and it was testimony to just how much pain she was in that she let him. "I'm--"

"Do not apologize," she snapped, batting away his hands, "don't you dare apologize." Because honestly? She was done with apologies. She was done with grovelly-Angel.

And needy-Angel.

And I-fucked-up-please-note-my-kicked-puppy-look-and-forgive-me-Angel.

"I am SO done with this."

Every event she'd ever had since Buffy had come to Sunnydale had pretty much sucked. Her 17th birthday? She'd been invited to attend a college party at an actual fraternity house by hot cute college boys who'd really seemed to listen when she talked. Only, by some stroke of sheer bad luck, Buffy had been invited too and they'd almost been eaten by a demon.

Her 18th birthday had been marred by the Homecoming incident which had seen her running up against Buffy for Queen (as if anyone else deserved that title) and, shocker here, because of Buffy? She'd lost out to Holly Charleston and Michelle Blake who, really, had only secured votes by the sheer amount of handjobs she'd given out to the football team behind the bleachers.

Graduation? Their guest speaker had turned into a giant snake and tried to end the world and on her last birthday? Angel had confessed to dreaming about Darla. A lot.

All in all, Cordelia was gonna go out on a limb and say that the PTB officially hated her - especially since they'd seen fit to ruin yet another night: Halloween.

Her life wasn't even hers any more. Forget going out and having a social life - she was 19 years old and too scared to even date on account of the drool-fest post-vision and the sheer what-the-fuckery when she had to explain that the guy she worked for; the guy with the extreme aversion to sunlight was, in fact, a goddamn vampire.

"I'm gonna get us out of here."

"I'm not talking about the house," Cordelia snapped, holding her stomach as if that'd stop the feeling of her insides spilling out, "I'm talking about this! This job! This--This life. These stupid visions! They're ruining my life, Angel - if they don't kill me some other part of this job is gonna and I'm nineteen. I don't wanna die."

Angel looked at her, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him that everything he'd tried so hard to regain over these last couple of weeks was slipping away from him. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying I quit, Angel," said Cordelia, "I'm saying I'm tired of this fight and I don't wanna do it any more. I quit."


----------


Three days had passed since he'd last spoken to Cordelia and the black-hole-of-Darla-shaped-despair had multiplied.

Cordelia had refused to talk to Angel after tending her resignation.

Actually, she'd refused to talk to anyone. She'd remained stony-faced and in pain even as their ghost had tossed Angel through the attic door itself, it still wasn't all he deserved in her book.

He'd remembered his latin then, much to Cordelia's annoyance. Okay, so it sorta had something to do with his getting his hands on Wes' book again, but still--She'd been reunited with her shoes when the burst of bright light happened and that was it over with.

Pervy Dead guy had crossed over to wherever it was creepy-ass poltergeists crossed over to and now they were left holding the pieces. Literally.

When Wes had shot from the room they'd been locked in, all bat-out-of-hell like and took one look at her, Cordelia had shot him the death glare. He didn't want to know. Really.

It was Angel who'd had to explain. About the dress that she couldn't return now, about the fact that he'd broken a couple of her ribs and finally, about her quitting and he did it all looking like he'd been staked through the heart and, miraculously, lived.

It was Angel who'd watched and felt his heart sink as Cordelia had hopped up into Gunn's truck, leaving him no choice but to deliver Wes home instead.

"Have you heard from her?"

"No, Angel," Wesley sighed, "I have not, in the last five minutes since you asked, heard from Cordelia."

He'd talked to her early that morning and again late afternoon, neither of which he'd told Angel about. She sounded quieter than usual, worse than she had the entire time they'd been fired only, when pressed, Cordelia had got angry.

"I'm so sick of everyone asking how I'm doing. I have seven broken ribs, I just quit my job and have no way of paying rent, all in all? I'd say I'm pretty shitty, actually."

Wesley didn't have the heart or, indeed, the gall to suggest that Cordelia come back to work. He'd offered to quit with her, to start their own team up yet again because if that's what she wanted, then that's what he'd do.

She hadn't got back to him on that and Wesley had thought that perhaps leaving Cordelia to her own devices was best.

Whichever path she took (and he'd stand by her, no matter what) she had to decide on it herself. It was no good camping outside her apartment and demanding she see sense.

No, Cordelia had to make her own decisions. All they had to do was wait.


----------


It had taken three days, a vat of ice cream and a round of bitching at Phantom Dennis to even clue Cordelia in to the fact that maybe she'd made a mistake.

The PTB had kept the noise in her head to a minimum over the last couple of days and Cordelia couldn't work out why she'd panicked until she realized that they may have actually taken her quitting seriously.

Of course, that thought had made her all the more pissed. She had been serious. Why the hell should she work for Angel or even with Angel when he hadn't even spared her or his mission a thought in the last three months?

Why the hell should she have every social event ever ruined because the PTB had, like, no sense of timing whatsoever?

Why the hell had Angel got to walk away, abandon his mission, when she was stuck there with visions she hadn't even wanted in the first place?

She was too young for this, damnit! She was supposed to be out partying, dating rich playboy milionaires that'd take her away from this lifestyle and never let her think about it again.

And here she was, hugging the empty vat of ice cream for support.

She was feeling pretty miserable, slouched on her couch with the TV providing a low hum of noise in the background when Phantom Dennis switched stations on her.

He cranked up the volume and tuned her in for the pep talk of doom on some lame-ass movie that was playing.

"Dennis, cut it out," Cordelia frowned, reaching for the remote and shutting off her set. She already felt like she'd made the biggest mistake of her life to date and her ghosty-roommate wasn't helping.

The set flickered again, this time to an actor doing sad-face and Cordelia snapped altogether. "Jesus, Dennis! Do you want me to hire an exorcist? Really?"

The set shut off, the apartment plunged into silence and Cordelia immediately felt bad. It wasn't Dennis' fault. Was he not the ghost who'd brought her the vat of butter pecan from her freezer just one hour ago when she was really at her lowest ebb?

"Dennis, I'm sorry--" Cordelia started. It wasn't fair to take her frustrations at Angel out on anybody, least of all him.

Frowning, she got up and grabbed her jacket off the back of the couch. "I'm going out."


----------


An hour later and Cordelia had realized two things. One; her credit card was maxed to the absolute limit, something she'd discovered after she'd tried to buy the way over-priced shoes at Neiman Marcus that she didn't even want anyway but would totally make her feel better...

And two? She had no job, no official prospects and going back to Angel Investigations would be like crawling back with her tail between her legs and she had way way too much pride for that.

She was feeling pretty miserable when she stepped off the sidewalk. She never even saw the vision coming.

The pain exploded behind her eyelids and Cordelia barely had time to let out a whimper before down she went, scraping her knees on the ground beneath her.

A series of flashes, a huge demon dripping spittle that burned like acid, and suddenly it was over.

Cordelia blinked, seconds away from tears as the world bled back into focus around her, a guy kneeling over her and cradling her head so that it didn't hit the floor.

"You're okay," he was saying, though his words seemed slurred and hazy through the pain. "We called for help."

He was older than her, probably in his 60's with tired eyes. He looked like he'd seen it all and then some and now he'd met with her on the night she'd had a vision. Lucky guy.

She moved to get up, winced, and let him lift her, still feeling a little shaky on her feet. "You whacked your head pretty hard," he was telling her, "the EMT's are on their way."

"I'm fine." It was Cordelia's standard response for the usual people, except the usual people weren't around here. She was out, again, in public, embarassing herself horribly following a pretty shitty vision.

She tried to be gracious in batting the guys hands away, it wasn't like he was trying to cop a feel or anything, but time was of the essence on this vision and if she didn't call it in--

"Shit." Her stuff was littered across the sidewalk. Her money clip, pepper spray, stake and keys had all survived. Her cellphone, however, had smashed into little bitty pieces on the ground.

Her night had just been upgraded from bad to worse. She turned to the guy who'd stopped her skull from ending up like her cellphone. "I don't suppose you have a cellphone?"

He looked immediately apologetic, shook his head. "Never had one. Don't believe in 'em. You should probably wait for the EMT's anyway..."

"I'm fine," Cordelia told him again, "Really. I just--I need to call my friends. They'll come get me."

"I have a cab," he offered, gesturing behind him to the yellow cab he seemed to have abandoned hastily when Cordelia had gone down. "I'll take you wherever you wanna go, free of charge."

Her eyebrows lifted. Her first instinct was to be suspicious; after all, random kindness from strangers wasn't something she was used to, especially not in LA. "Free of charge?"

He gave a smile and Cordelia realized that his eyes were brown, crinkled at the edges. He reminded her of an older Wes.

"You look like you're having a rough night, is all."

Okay, she couldn't disagree with that.

He asked where she wanted to go and Cordelia told him, no hesitation. It didn't occur to her to head home.

She had enough money in her purse to get back home on a bus, her credit cards maxed to the absolute limit - she couldn't have paid him if she'd wanted to.

She'd tell herself later that the hotel was closer, that taking the guy halfway across the other side of town and way out of his way just wasn't fair. She'd get Wes to drop her off once they'd killed the thing in her vision.

The guy was pretty polite. He'd talked quietly on the way to the Hyperion, introduced himself as Sam in a voice as soft as a murmur and left her to ride out the waves of pain that were written all over her face.

He didn't ask once what the hell was the matter with her and Cordelia had upgraded him from kind, random stranger to a prince among men.

He helped her out of his cab and to the door of the Hyperion, cupping her elbow in his palm.

"I'll get you some money," Cordelia started, as she reached for the door handle but Sam shook his head, no, smiled a little.

"I'd want someone to help my daughter. If she were," he paused, choosing his words carefully as if he were trying not to offend after everything he'd done for her, "in trouble. Go on now."

"Thanks," said Cordelia, "Really. You're--Pretty much a lifesaver."

He ducked his head and gave a tiny wave as he headed back to his cab.

She pushed open the door to the hotel. At first glance, the place was deserted. No Wes researching, no Gunn... Definitely no Angel, and Cordelia felt a stab of uncertainty.

Before she could even get the words out of her mouth, he appeared, his brow wrinkled in concern. "Cordy?"

She figured she should feel mad. Within the space of three seconds he'd crossed the room, hand at her elbow where Sam's had been to lead her into the lobby and if he thought she'd missed the way his nostrils had flared at the blood, he was very much mistaken.

"What happened?"

Cordelia winced as he lowered her carefully into the chair, treating her like spun glass. Her bloody knee scraped painfully against the denim of her jeans. "Duh. Vision. Apparently the PTB didn't get my memo about quitting."

It was Angel's turn to wince at the tone of her voice and he looked down.

Her heart squeezed involuntarily and she was thankful Angel wasn't looking at her properly because she really had to work to keep her face impassive. "You wanna know what I saw or not?"


----------


Credit wasn't something she'd wanted to give Angel again any time soon (if ever) but he'd jumped at her vision pretty much as soon as the words had left her mouth.

Wes and Gunn were out of the hotel, following up a new case that'd landed on their desk just that evening. They'd cultivated new informants when they'd been Team-Angel-Without-The-Angel and this particular informant had an aversion to vampires which, lucky for Cordelia, meant that Angel had got to stay home while they went and did their thing.

He'd offered to take her home first but her apartment was right out of the way and time was of the essence on her spittle-demon.

She'd waved him off, watching him collect his broadsword like the dutiful little soldier he was trying to be these days and sighed.

He wasn't making it very easy to be mad at him. Her earlier assessment had been wrong - she hadn't had to crawl in here, tail between her legs. No, her vision had given her some lead-in, at least, and a hefty dose of concern ala Angel that usually got her mad.

There was no mad here. She just felt... Well, tired, really. Her head hurt from the vision and Cordelia couldn't help but thinking that she'd made a huge, huge mistake in quitting.

That, and a little voice was needling at her, telling her to cut the guy some slack. He didn't have to answer her vision, after all.

It was testimony to Angel that he had, in fact, though that opened a can of worms that Cordelia didn't want opened.

"He owes me," she'd argued with herself, annoyed that she'd even tried cutting him some slack, until she realized that she was actually arguing. With herself. And that pretty soon the guys in the white coats would come take her away.

She'd stomped her foot at that, acting almost petulant at the inner voice that was actually making some sense right now, and headed upstairs to shower.

It wasn't until she emerged on a cloud of steam, knee sans-blood and hair and body both wrapped in a towel that Cordelia remembered that Angel had sold all her clothes.

The crank intensified. Not only had she not been able to find any halfway decent painkillers, but now she had no clothes either?

Deciding that not only was this turning out to be worse than Halloween but that Angel owed her (again), Cordelia pulled the towel from her hair, dropping it onto the floor of the bedroom she often used if she was too tired to go home post-vision.

It felt weird walking into Angel's bedroom after months of never being in it. Actually, it felt weird walking into Angel's room when he wasn't there all overhanging forehead and skulky manpire act.

She'd been there a couple of times. Mostly to wake him, those last few months, when he'd been sleeping more and more and she'd worried about the same.

It hadn't really changed much.

She pulled open the closet door, aware that the assault of black was almost going to be too much--And then paused, dropping to her knees.

On the floor of Angel's closet lay bags. Dozens of bags filled with an array of colors and fabrics. Puzzled, she began rooting through, wondering when it was Angel had turned into a big cross-dressing freak.

It wasn't until a moment later that she noticed the clothes were all her size.

Infuriated, she stood and kicked one of the bags, watching it up-end and spill its contents across the closet floor. What, Angel thought he could buy her back? As if she were honestly that shallow?

Okay, she'd give him that she was shallow - hell, she'd made a name for herself out of it. But seriously? That just stung. She stepped back and grabbed one of his oversize t-shirts, ready to stomp back down the stairs and wait for him to return so she could give him a piece of her mind when her gaze caught on something she hadn't seen in about a year.

High on the shelf was a tape, labelled in Angel's block letters: DOYLE.


----------


He found her lying on the sofa in Wes' office, illuminated by the glow of the TV she was no longer watching, wearing a pair of his sweat pants and one of his shirts. A glass of water lay on the table beside her, a small piece of white residue beside it - a telltale sign that Cordelia had taken something for the vision headache.

She was asleep.

Angel sighed, feeling his gut twist. He wanted her back, needed her back. Not because of the visions. But because--she was his friend and he missed her, damnit.

She was different to a year and a half ago, when she'd first breezed into his life. Her hair was shorter, sure. Her clothes hung a little differently, she'd lost weight in the last few months too.

But she was beautiful, still, and so very young compared to him.

Her breathing was even, her chest rising and falling with a gentle rhythm that seemed to soothe him, he wasn't used to seeing her so still.

He turned, aimed the remote at the TV to switch it off, which was when he noted the tape sticking out of the VCR.

Angel felt a pang and he looked back at Cordelia, pressing a different button instead and turning the volume right down to a low hum.

Instantly, Doyle filled the screen.

"When the chips are down, and you're at the end of your rope you need someone that you can count on. And that's what you'll find here - someone that will go all the way, no matter what. So don't lose hope. Come on over to our offices and you'll see that there's still heroes in this world..."

Angel swallowed, he'd watched the video a dozen times, more, and it never seemed to hurt any less.

"Is that it? Am I done?"

His throat worked as the tape cut out and he looked down, flicking off the set. He'd lost almost everything for this fight; some of it -- Cordelia -- through his own stupidity.

The glow from the TV faded and Angel sat there for a moment, not noticing that Cordelia's breathing had changed or that she was awake.

"I was snooping," she said quietly, after a minute had passed. "I found that."

Her words were tinged with sadness, not anger. Angel turned towards her, letting his gaze sweep over her face. Her eyes were red and puffy. She'd been crying and he hadn't noticed, initially. He went to tell her it was okay when she continued.

"I found the clothes."

She didn't sound mad about it, but she didn't sound thrilled either and Angel hurried to explain. "I was going to give you them but I thought--I thought you'd think I was trying to buy your friendship and--I didn't wanna do that."

She seemed to think about that for a moment, weigh her options before she spoke again. "I'm right, y'know."

"With what?

"What I said. About people coming back from the powdered wig days to bite you in the ass. It's always gonna happen, isn't it?"

"Cordy--"

"Angel, let me finish," she frowned, moving to sit up on the couch. "I'm still mad at you, okay? You hurt me, more than I thought possible. More than I knew anyone could after--" Cordelia paused, refusing to say Xander's name aloud and bring him into this.

This, no matter how she compared it, was different. "I bounce back. That's my thing. I spank my inner moppet, move on, and usually do it all wearing killer pumps and a skirt that's three inches shorter than my last one, but this..."

It had taken a bag full of Xander-heads that she'd cut from photos and reading about spells ala boils on the penis for her to start even getting over the guy - and he hadn't even been worth it, not when he'd traded her in for a mousy, boyfriend stealing little wimp like Willow.

Angel was different.

She wasn't in love with him, the guy had some major fixer-upper issues going on and she so did not hate herself that much.

No, Angel was different because Angel was her friend. Her first real friend. And that was what had stung the most. "I spent about 15 years of my life hanging with people who only wanted to be around me 'cause I was rich or popular and I was fine with that, way back when. They weren't real friends. You were. And that's what's hard about this, I guess."

"I really am sorry."

"I know you are," she nodded, "I don't know anyone who flagellates the way you do, Angel. You'll dissect it and you'll think of ways you should've done this and should've done that and, y'know, for a while? That's fine. You have a forever, you have time to make it up to me."

Angel glanced up at her, barely daring to hope. "Does that mean--"

"That I'm coming back to work?" Cordelia smiled before she could stop herself. "I guess it does. I mean... If you think you can use me?"

He found himself warmed by those simple words. It had been him who'd reached out to Cordelia way back when, offered her a job and, later, she'd admit, a lifeline. Now, roles reversed, he'd come to realize how much he needed her.

Doyle had been right; Cordelia was a humanizing influence.

Angel reached out, placing his hand over the top of hers and squeezing gently. "I can't do this by myself."

Cordelia grinned, "Y'know, you're pretty slow to catch on for a guy whose had about a billion years of experience."

"Two hundred," he amended, then, "I guess I'm still learning."

"Yeah, well, I guess me too. You're not the only one who lost their way for a while there." She glanced back towards the tape sticking out the VCR. "The visions suck, Angel, I'm not gonna lie. But helping people, doing what we do... It's worth it, y'know? Even if the Powers do see fit to screw up every attempt at a social life I have..."

"You gonna see him again?" Angel asked, even though there was something in him that made him not want to know.

"Who, Lane?" Cordelia thought about that for a second, wrinkling her nose. "As much as it pains me to say this considering his investment portfolio? I don't think so. We're from different worlds. The closest he's ever come to a demon is his mother and believe me when I say no weapon forged could ever slay that beast. I don't think it's meant to be."

And though initially she'd been narked at that, thinking of all the things she could've had being at the mercy of one Lane Daniels for all the right reasons? Cordelia found she didn't actually care.

"I'm over it. Well, I'm kinda over it. I'm getting there," said Cordelia, wiping the smile off her face and replacing it with a sombre expression, "I know what could help."

He looked ready to offer her the world if she wanted it and Cordelia knew she'd made the right choice in saying what she had tonight.

"Those clothes. Upstairs? They're too pretty to return and my closet is seriously feeling the pinch tonight."

"They're yours," said Angel, feeling more at peace than he had in months as he got off the sofa to go get her bags.

"And Chinese?"

"Now you're pushing it," Angel joked, chuckling to himself as he headed upstairs, leaving Cordelia alone in the office.

She sat back on the sofa, glancing at the TV again. She could hear Doyle as plain as if it'd been yesterday, not a year and a half and a few dozen viewings of that tape later.

"Someone that'll go all the way, no matter what," she murmured, smiling to herself. "Yup. Even if they do get lost along the way sometimes."


FIN

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