Keeping Watch
by Lar

Cordelia is sick to death of it all. The visions keep on a comin', thanks so very much for that, it's the cherry on her brain-embolism sundae. The Wolfram & Hart sharks must be able to smell the blood in the water because there has been one of those expensive, creamy, linen envelopes delivered by messenger every day since they got back from Pylea. Wesley took the first one, signed for it just to get the man out of the hotel since Angel was upstairs somewhere having another one of his demon-rage fits, maybe on the fourth floor judging from the muffled sounds of shattering glass and smashing furniture.

Cordelia turns the rest away with a look that kills and some choice words that help the intention of that look along. She's pretty sure the circles under her eyes are as scary as the bloodshot whites themselves, but she's past the point of giving a damn. About anything.

Angel's lost his mind again, and it's all Buffy's fault, no sympathy in Cordelia for her being dead at all . Dead people don't need sympathy anyway. She wonders briefly what it is with him and blondes, can't see that he's had much luck with them from what she knows of it all. But she can't make herself care. She has too much else to worry about, too many other things landing in her lap now that Angel's taken the last train to Clarkesville and left her to deal with the fallout. Wesley doesn't even attempt to play boss anymore; he's quiet and distracted, buried in his books whenever he's at the hotel. And lately, none of them leave the hotel for longer than the trip to their own apartments for a change of clothes and a brief change of scenery.

In Cordelia's case, tonight's anti-Hyperion idyll involves a scalding hot bubble bath with a cool rag over her aching eyes. Dennis tunes the radio around the dial until something she likes comes on, and she tells him to stop. She sucks in deep, steamy lung-fulls of the freesia-scented air, wills the muscles in her neck to relax, and looks inside her ever shrinking brain storage area for some fantasy that will take her away from whatever putrid Evil du Jour has been sent to her in Technicolor and surround-sound.

Sometimes she manages to call up the ocean. She gets to the place where she's on the beach, waves rolling in to a soft, sandy shore. She pictures herself in the perfect little red bikini that she found on one of the last shopping sprees she ever went on with her mom. Her hair gleams in it's long, shiny glory, reflecting the sun; she never had to have it cut short to hide the fact that it was falling out in clumps on her pillow every time she slept, had to have it streaked to cover the gray when her stylist said that it was getting so hard to keep it brunette that he was going to have to charge her extra. She has a manicure and a pedicure, and no lines on her face. No scar on her torso. The waiter comes over to take her order, and she smiles at him. In one particular fantasy the waiter is Groo, loincloth and all. He serves her a tall glass of something pink and sweet, and then calls her his princess before wandering off into the misty places outside of this particular mind-trip.

She could stay there forever, thinks that maybe if she slides down in the water she'll just die and wake up to find that her beach is heaven. Wanting too hard to make it real is always the point where she loses it, and today is no exception. The sound of the ocean recedes; the water of the bath cools enough to be uncomfortable. When she opens her eyes, shoulder and back muscles contract, and she forces down a sigh. Tosses the damp washcloth over the side of the tub and sees Dennis catch it before it hits the tile. Sits up and rolls her head from side to side in an attempt to increase the range of motion. Sometimes it works; usually, including tonight, it doesn't.

A towel floats into her line of sight, wraps around her shoulders as she steps from the tub. She murmurs a quiet thank you to Dennis and hears the pop when he pulls the plug, the gush of the water as it runs down the drain. Having been In the sewer more times than she can count, she often wonders what variety of demon mucks around where her bathwater lands, if they like freesia-flavored water, if they can scent her in it, know where she lives. She shakes off the Wesley-transferred paranoia and walks through to her bedroom, absently toweling off as she goes, and sits on the edge of the bed. Dangerous move, she knows that, but the same old phrase flips its switch in her head: "I just don't care," in neon purple. Reaches for the lotion and rubs it into elbows and knees, over her heels and then into her hands, tries not to think how much she wants to lie back and let Dennis tuck her into her own bed as she snuggles into her pillow. How she would like to abandon the Angel-watch for about two or three months and do nothing but sleep here, far away from the sounds of uncontrollable grief and the sight of everything in that damn hotel.

Hates the nasty little thrill she gets from thinking about not going back, not seeing Wesley suck up his tea and page through his books. Not listening to Gunn sharpen his axe over and over again, humming while he does it, or tapping his boots to some inner rhythm that she can't hear. Forego Fred reading back issues of magazines and newspapers on microfiche, babbling on about events she didn't even know about when they actually happened.

Not seeing Angel wander down to the lobby, filthy and disheveled and so not there that it scares her into a shriek, thinking he's some kind of ghost. Not feeling the way her skin burns and crawls whenever he locks eyes with her and lets her see his soul screaming inside of him, trapped and shredding.

She forces her mind away from those thoughts, grabs panties, jeans, bra, turtleneck, tries to put everything on without looking in the mirror so she can pretend that nothing else ever happens when he comes down to her nights, when he calls her Kathy and puts his head in her lap and cries, hands tight on her hips that leave fingerprint bruises for the next day to remind her it wasn't a nightmare.

Or worse, when he calls her Cordy and the bruises are other places, and she lets him, wants him to, never thinks of carrying the cross or telling the men. Because she knows what they'll do.

She wonders what's going to happen when Faith is released. Giles called Wesley, told him the Watchers were pulling strings to get their Active Slayer active again. Wes told her himself that the Council was most likely going to attempt to assassinate Faith as soon as she was out, to call a new, more placid girl to take her place, and they might need to take her into the hotel for her own protection. She remembers nodding at Wes, giving her permission and feeling the marks on her arms and neck tingle under the silk blouse she wore that day. Wondering where they were going to get a placid girl in this day and age.

The phone rings, startling her out of her thoughts, and she grabs it from the nightstand. Knows it's Wesley and isn't wrong. He's not saying that it's a hurry-along call, but that's what it is, no matter how many times he assures her he's just checking to be sure she hasn't had a vision. She tells him she's leaving now, does he mind if she gets dressed or should she just come over as is and maybe tryout in the topless bars along the way. He stutters an apology and hangs up, leaving her to tug on the turtleneck and find her shoes. Says goodbye to Dennis, who's rattling appliances and dishes all around the kitchen to let her know just what he thinks of her leaving so soon.

She's shocked to feel the door jerk back open when she pulls it closed, but before she can yell there's a flutter of soft cotton on her hand. Tissues. She stares at them until one floats up, brushes her cheek, comes away damp. She wonders how long she's been crying.


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