Season Two Historical Note: The action in this story takes place shortly before The Trial.
Author's Note: I had great fun with the Angel Investigations Week series for Summer 2000. Not that this is the Winter version, but I had an idea that fits in between a few of my in progress/planned fics. Ebonbird did the primo Beta job. e.c. 10 december 2000
by Evan Como
Cordelia leaned over the buffet table reaching for the last Lemongrass Prawn. Sparing it a brief stay on her tiny cocktail plate, she immediately chomped it in half and, with her eyes closed, savored the piquant flavor. Pre-Hyperion, she would have placed the remaining bit into a napkin and discreetly eased it into her evening bag for Angel to either recreate exactly or improve upon later.
She popped the morsel into her mouth.
Angel didn't cook anymore.
"If you're expecting to be paid for the evening, Cordelia, may I suggest that you actually do your job instead of snaaa -- Ooooooh!" Wesley's grey eyes glistened. "Cha Gio? Are there any more of those?"
Cordy smacked his inquisitive hand away from her last spring roll. "No, Wesley. And I'd thank you very much to get your own plate instead of munching off mine."
"Well!" Offended, Wesley snatched the plate from Cordy's hand and set it on a passing waiter's service tray. "As I was saying. If you're here to escort --"
Cordelia shot him an indignant golden glare. "Yeah, as you were saying. First off, I would love to be doing my job if you had informed my" -- she rabbit eared "date" -- "that when the Studio hires a young lady to provide cover for your gayocity, you don't ditch her to run off to nooky your boyfriend."
"He didn't!" Wesley exclaimed in mock-horror.
"And the Bindi? Someone *stylish* could have mentioned, 'not exactly *the* hetero fashion trend'." She fluffed the ends of her trendy haircut for emphasis, over-exaggerating the gesture after a near-lifetime of swishing a hairstyle that was once nearly three times longer. (Even though the more adult modified shag was way easier to care for, Cordy was sure she'd never get used to how light her head felt.)
"Speaking of escorting…" she continued while excitedly waving to their associate approaching the table, "…where's *your* date, Wesley?"
"Virginia is chatting with two of the premiere's stars. Quite a charming young pair, if I do say so -- Cammie and Tate Stanton. I was surprised to hear that the actress only gave birth a couple months ago. She doesn't look as if she'd very recently been pregnant."
Tall, dark, and impeccably dressed, their partner greeted Cordy and Wesley with a good-humored, "whassup my fellow rent-a-date's?"
"Gunn! Tell Wesley how Cammie Stanton does, too, so look like she just gave birth!"
Charles Gunn looked up from smoothing the lapel of his four-button single-breasted jacket. "Wes. You know damn well that Cammie Stanton's still wearing all her baby-havin' weight."
"See!" Vindicated, Cordelia slipped her arm around her champion's and looked up at him to bestow an appreciative grin.
Arching a cynical eyebrow above his rectangular glass frames, Wesley snidely remarked, "you have no idea who Cammie Stanton is."
A wide smile flattened Gunn's full lips. "Not. A. Clue."
Cordelia swiped her arm back to fold it and its mate across her chest. "Fine! Mock me. But I know for a fact that Cammie was already pregnant when we were doing this movie together."
"*You* were in this movie?" Gunn asked incredulously.
Wesley cut Cordelia's reply with one of his own, "she seems intent on convincing anyone who'll listen that she had a major role unceremoniously excised when she refused the romantic advances of the Producer."
"It's true!" Cordelia insisted, fury flushing her cheeks a color her blush was loathe to compliment. "*That* guy!" She pointed an accusatory index finger across the crowded room.
Gunn shrugged. "Whatever, Cordelia. Just be happy your pretty name's not attached to this stinker any more. What I still don't get is how a bunch of late twenty-something white folks that keep trying to pass themselves off as teenagers are making the kind of green they need to host parties like these."
Finished with one last survey of the room, Gunn checked his Fossil. "Seriously, Wes, I put my date in her limo a half-hour ago and since I was only booked 'til 1AM in the first place, I'm ready to bone-out."
But Wesley didn't answer; he wasn't there.
"Man! Where'd he go?" Gunn asked. Lowering his attention, he was startled by Cordelia's sickly appearance. "You-- You OK, Girl?"
Ignoring the inquiry regarding her health, Cordelia pointed elsewhere and mumbled something about Wesley needing to speak to "that Casting Director over there" before she hugged her purse to her chest and hurried from the ballroom.
Virginia Bryce's hourglass figure was straplessly sheathed in pewter irridescent satin, but that wasn't why she smiled uncomfortably. "Wesley did say he was coming right out, didn't he?" she repeated.
Gunn nodded once before looking in the opposite direction.
Cordelia didn't comment by voice or by mime.
Worry etched a line between the 24 year-old's brows. Virginia shrugged her Alençon lace wrap back onto her creamy shoulders before turning her head. "Because, it's strange that he would have had me wait out here if he wasn't coming right away."
A few times during her vigil, Virginia exchanged air-kisses with departing celebrity friends. Every other minute, the Cable-and-Software magnate nervously glanced at her bare wrist and frowned, then shimmied her shawl back into place.
"Miss me?" Wesley appeared from seemingly no where to bob down behind his petite girlfriend, sweeping aside her titian spirals to place a hasty kiss beneath her jaw.
Virginia's pale green eyes were alight as she beamed at her man, competing with the bulb-studded canopy of the hotel's bright front entrance glimmering off of Wesley's lenses and his pearly smile. "You had me waiting, Wesley!" she mock-scolded, up on her toes to reach his lips. "There's an after-party at Terrence Norwalk's and Rebecca Lowell's. You should come! His house is amazing since she redecorated! And, you'll make lots of business contacts!"
Lace bunching between his long fingers, Wesley eased the young woman back to her heels. "I'm sorry, Virginia. I-- What with an early day tomorrow, I'll have to beg off. But you go on, please. You don't mind, do you?"
Her disappointment was apparent, but that didn't keep her from hugging him. "Oh. Alright," she pouted. "Can you get the car to me by tomorrow afternoon?"
Wesley nodded agreeably while retrieving the valet ticket from inside his coat. Virginia vaulted for a goodbye peck and happily scurried after a few of her girlfriends.
Cordelia huffed, "early day my eye, Wesley."
Gunn's bald head shook side to side with disapproval. "Dude. Your cat-chowin'-canary look was *so* not cool."
The feline expression remained.
Gunn tch'd. "Since my ride's off on the side street, I'll see y'all back at Angel's?" Their blank looks prompted him to verify, "you *are* going back to Angel's, right?"
Wesley checked his watch, then loosened his necktie. "After I drop Cordelia off, I've another-- Appointment."
"I really am calling in sick tomorrow," Cordelia moaned to the valet who opened the car door for her.
Wesley continued speaking to Gunn. "If you ring me in the afternoon, I'll have the name of the tailor who'll fit you for the tuxedo you'll be needing for next Thursdays' Studio Christmas party."
After closing the door behind Cordelia, Gunn casually rested his left arm along the roofline of the X5. "Look, Wesley. I 'preciate the cool extra gig but I'm not gonna hold my tongue here. If Virginia hadn't been wearing a garden riot a her designer fragrance --"
Wesley swung the driver's side door shut but didn't close it completely. His voice was stern as offered an explanation. "I was detained conducting business, Mr. Gunn. Whatever it is that you think --"
"Whatever it is I *know*, Mr. W-P, is that *no* woman likes being played."
"Yes, well. Being the hater that you are, perhaps *your* experience would preclude your giving me advice on this subject? I take it that tonight's assignment left you hanging?"
Gunn fought the overwhelming desire to climb across the car to slap the smug off the know-it-all's face. "Orange or tangerine, Wes; all women expect the same kind of respect."
"You do realize that you just analogized using the same color?" Ridicule resonated in the Brit's voice.
Lowering his chin, the younger man issued a glare from under his brows. "No, dude. I just used pieces of fruit because, if you treat 'em bad, *all* women'll go rotten on your ass."
The Hyperion Hotel courtyard was tranquil. Seasonably dense mist stole down into the small enclosure and hovered thought-like above Angel's head.
While staring at nothing in particular, Angel sat on a concrete bench with his back against the outside staircase retaining wall. His arms were barred tightly across his chest, straining the sleeves across the back of his armholes. Long legs jutted in front of him, crossed at the ankles.
Gunn took a seat. After adjusting the sip-hole, he offered a take-out cup to the vampire. "I didn't know if you drank coffee this late -- Or maybe early -- Or, whatever this is for you."
Angel unfolded. By accepting the beverage, he managed to cover a momentary lapse of composure generated by the thoughtful gesture. "Black?"
"'Er than me," Gunn joked.
Cradling the cup, Angel absorbed the heat into his palms. "You have fun tonight with all those celebrities?"
"Was aw'ight. I escorted the songbird of the second." He managed to stifle his grin but not the glow that ruddied the gold out of his brown skin's tone. "Even though I wa'n't down with her soundtrack, she still invited me to church with her family this Sunday."
Angel smiled while he sipped. Satisfied, he relaxed forward with his forearms across his knees, the cup returned to its hand-warming usefulness.
Entertained by toying with the end of his tie, Gunn continued, "didn't look like Cordy had such a good time towards the end; but Wes was doing aw'ight for hisself --
"-- just in case you *weren't* asking." One brown eye sneaked a peek at Angel. Unable to detect a twitch crossing the angular face, Gunn couldn't determine why Angel suddenly appeared ten degrees unhappier.
The hazy atmosphere lowered considerably, seemingly attracted to the frostier mood.
He backhanded Angel's shoulder pad. "C'mon!"
Angel tipped his head before his eyes wandered upward; he had to lean sideways to compensate for Gunn's standing height. "We didn't have any place we need to be," he said.
"You need t' get outta this hotel, bruh," Gunn replied with honesty. "There's this nest of vamps in Temple City I heard about that we can check out and then, you know." He folded his arms and shrugged. "Just come and hang with *my* troops during the daylight."
Angel studied a vined trellis. One of his hands rose briefly beneath his chin, rubbing the area with the back of his fingers before returning to cup duty.
"Unless you're tired," Gunn taunted. "Because if you're tired, Angel, I kin go grab a coupla my boys instead."
The cup was retired to the bench.
Angel glowered at his conspirator. "If there's anyone sleepy here, it would have to be you."
A wry smile hiked one corner of Gunn's mouth while he finished tucking up a cuff that had unrolled; the long tail of his dress shirt already hung carefreely outside of his pants. "That a challenge, vampire? Because I think we both smell that *I* wasn't the one drinking coffee."
"You gonna play in your dress clothes?"
"Oh. Don't worry 'bout the wardrobe. Although with me Armani'd, too, the both of us are doin' a stylin' 'n' profilin' thang that'll make those tacky-ass bloodsuckers cry."
"Temple City, huh?" Angel thought aloud, "Mung Hoi Consortium's over there, too."
"You suggesting we wail on some after we do a little dusting off?" Walking backwards, Gunn took the first step heel-first. Before turning around, he used the slightest motion of head to nod up the staircase; a motion so slight, only a vampire would notice he'd done anything at all.
He waited at the lobby door for Angel's decision.
Angel rose quickly, causing his duster to vacuum against his legs. Before wisping up the steps, an edge of the coat flicked at the sleeping philodendra and swiped the condensation off their sturdy stalks. He ascended without seeming to climb.
Coiling through the door Gunn held for him, Angel spoke over his shoulder, "I don't know about spending the day, though, because I might be needed around here in case something comes up."
Gunn considered the comment while looking back over the courtyard, noting its eerie ambience as the mist finally touched earth. "Trust me on this one, bruh," he responded to the quietude, "I really don't think you'll be missed."