Disclaimer: the author does
not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong
to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation,20th Century Fox Television,
WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are
Season Two Historical Note:
The action in this story takes place shortly after "Epiphany".
Author's Note: This is the
end of the trilogy begun with Wiseblood's "Force of Habit". Odd, because
the second part hasn't been written yet, but I got a vibe one night and
this just started to come into being. Thanks to Wiseblood for getting
the whole trilogy ball rolling; a yodel to CamDK for a snowball of influence;
a nod to BigN for the scenery and Suzy Q's. And a huge hug for Ebonbird
who took time off from studying to Beta me.
"Fortress Around Your Heart"
by Sting fits this piece perfectly. e.c. 15 April, 01
FORCE OF HABIT: DISMANTLING
by Evan Como
Gunn rolled his golden brown
eyes at his associates. The Host rolled his ruby reds. Each, for different
reasons, shook his head in disgust.
"Y'all are just too weak,
is what is." Gunn slammed his Sprite on the tiny table in front of him.
Carbonation bubbled up with his complaint.
"Now, now, children. No one's
weak. You're all just wrong, wrong, wrong," corrected The Host.
The overhead lights dimmed
to nary a glow and, with one click, the lights in the center of the bar
tables were doused. With their closing duties completed, the restless and
grumbling Caritas staff waited near the Karaoke stage for the last three
patrons to vacate the premises.
"Ami*go*s, GO! Really! My
scorecard for this roundabout of verbal contention says 'draw'. Draw, and
use one of *your* quarters to finish it in," the not-so-jolly, green songmeister
fussed. The gold-stitched trapunto of his carrot-colored cuff glittered
as he raised his cocktail glass to his lips.
Gunn leaned forward, his
insistent palms facing Cordy and Wes. "I'm telling you, he rushed the door
Wesley interrupted Gunn with
a dubious huff. A dismissive flip of The Host's wrist sent the Caritas
staff scurrying for the exits.
"He didn't rush the door,
you let him in!" Wesley redressed.
"Nuh uh!" Gunn protested,
body language all up in affronts. "I was catchin' the door for the pizza
"Puhleeze!" Cordy pointed
her comment with an index finger. "Dennis even tried to warn you."
Wesley nodded. "That's very
true. Slamming the door closed after you've opened it? In DennisSpeak that
means: 'keep this shut!'"
They exhausted him, these
three -- Gunn, narrowing his eyes; Cordelia, fingering her cheek; Wesley,
Wesley... massaging his right arm. Roundtabling wasn't his thing, per se,
but The Host couldn't bring himself to turn them out any more than he could
bear listening to them sing. The Seer's non-key warbling insulted his ears;
the Soldier's strident defenses waged battle on his empathic nerves (usually
winning); the Watcher was repression personified -- his identity, destiny,
and sentimentality assaulted The Host's entirety.
The Host was wrung to the
nth degree. Surrendering to curiosity, he finally asked, "Dennis? Have
I heard him sing yet?"
"Cordy's apparitional roommate
is a mime," Wesley explained matter-of-factly.
"Forget Dennis! What did
*you* guys do?" Gunn interrogated.
Hoping for support, Cordelia
and Wesley turned to each other and met mutual shame. Wesley ducked into
a sip of his drink.
"But you *don't* understand!"
A swell of tears magnified the sorrow in Cordy's eyes. "He had -- " She
looked at each of her tablemates then dropped her head, miserable.
"He had . . . " Wesley focused
on the ceiling, his brows peaking at the bridge of his nose.
Suddenly, ten Firecraker-colored
fingers exploded across the table to clutch the Host's forearm. Cordy
gasped. She gasped again. Her youthful complexion was no match to the seizing
torment and she aged -- two or three weeks, at least, in front of her audience.
wailed. Her doleful cry was suspended by the room's acoustics for a moment
before expiring. Spent, she collapsed over the table.
"And to think, no one in
this town has discovered the fair Cordelia's talent," The Host asided,
unable to extricate himself from the aspiring actress's woeful attachment.
"Miss Desmond-in-training, I don't mind the touchy so much, but I can do
without the ouchy."
At Gunn's prod Wesley came
back around, exhaling "prawns" as if in prayer.
"Look, ya'll. I'm not gonna
let Angel crawl through my stomach anymore than I'ma let him gnaw on my
neck. And he can't just come over to Cordy's apartment like he has an open
invitation," Gunn railed while prying Cordelia from The Host's arm.
"Well, technically..." Wesley
grimaced. "And, also technically, Cordelia was the one who hired Angel
"Oh, nooooooooooooo, buddy
boy," Cordy snarled. She stood up straight, squared her shoulders, and,
with one sparring finger, jabbed Wesley into his seat."If *you* hadn't
been such an ass pansy --"
"Stop-it-ch'all!" Gunn barked.
Pounding his fist on the table additionally upset everyone's drinks.
The Host was inflamed. "First,
interrupting my sleepy. Now, interrupting my sippy? No, no, no," he waggled
a green index finger at each of the three. "Either explain *exactly* what
happened -- " He deliberately directed his chiding sight at Cordelia, "--
with the least amount of theatrics, or shoo!"
Cordy, Wesley and Gunn opened
their mouths at the same time, but it was Gunn that got off the first sound.
"So, here's what's the what," he began...
Gunn hadn't even considered
that anybody but the Dos-por-Uno Guy would come knocking at Cordelia's
door. Besides, his thoughts were distracted -- he'd been too busy trouncing
English at Risk -- man! homie was just rank at board games. Plus, he'd
figured Dennis was just being his usual cranky self.
As soon as he'd seen Angel,
Wesley froze. He was unsure if he'd managed to catch his excitement or
if it had slipped out and displayed 'oh, goody! you're here!' across
his face. Remembering how stupidly he'd just lost the entire South Pacific
put the appropriate glower on his face.
Angel had shown up at the
door bearing gifts in Gelson's brown paper bags. All the little snackables
that made Cordelia's tummy purr with delight. She forced a scowl while
visions of kebabs pirouetted in her mind's eye.
There he was. Pale-assed
as ever and wearing an enormous grin. Gunn hadn't reacted quickly enough
to slam the door closed and, besides, before the insult crossed his mind,
Angel had sped inside, tossed his coat across the back of one of Cordy's
dining room chairs, and vanished into the kitchen.
He'd said, "hi," somewhere
between the door and the coat-toss. As if...
As if he'd been expected.
Gunn charged the table and leveled his sight at Wesley, taking full advantage
of being slightly taller and several layers deeper of pissed-off.
Within the huddle, Wesley
hushed his innocence. "*I* didn't ask him over."
Cordelia glanced over her
shoulder and into the kitchen. "He's making mango salsa!" she whimpered.
Gunn wheeled her shoulders
forward. "Look, you two, we made a pact. He's on probation *and* he's just
Wesley had to grip the tabletop
to catch his balance. "Please..." His hand capped his mouth and he shuddered.
"Tell me he's *not* making guacamole."
Momentarily distracted, Gunn
leaned askance and peered over the top of Cordelia's head. "What's he making
"It doesn't matter," Cordy
replied, zombie-like. "It's *all* good."
"No," Gunn said to himself.
"No!" he scolded his counterparts. "He goes. Now! Tell him, Wesley!"
Wesley looked for Cordelia's
guidance in the matter, but her hazel eyes were glazed. She yawed towards
the kitchen, her resolve having long before flooded away. Wesley felt his
own emotional breakwater crumble, bombarded to bits by the culinary tempest
After a spray of water, the
clatter of stoneware, and the rhythm of a practiced dice, a mélange
of tropical fruit and cilantro perfumed the front room.
"He goes," Wesley repeated
Taking his cue, Dennis flew
Angel's coat the short distance from the chair and slopped it over Wesley's
head. Wesley swallowed in the darkness. He was damn tired of being the
referee. Unfortunately, no one else wanted the position.
For the several minutes at
curbside, Angel had been agreeable. "I completely understand. You know,
it's gonna take time for everyone else to trust me again and... You know
--" He paused and allowed reality to catch up with his words. A frown replaced
his amiable smile and he leaned in confidentially, "how long *do* you think
What resembled a laugh was
anything but. "Everyone else, Angel? You keep forgetting that *I* haven't
completely cozied up to your reentry into our lives. We've been fighting
fine without you.
Crossing his arms and his
legs, Wesley tipped back against the Plymouth's fender, an action that,
before the first of the year, he would have never considered doing. He
also brandished a smugness he didn't really feel. There just wasn't
the same degree of satisfaction in such brash gestures when Angel didn't
seem to mind.
Wesley considered snatching
the coat Angel strangleheld by its collar, of gleefully running down the
street with it billowing kite-like behind his head but there was no way
to anticipate Angel's reactions, not anymore. There was one possibility
that Angel might tackle and actually hurt him, or -- Wesley tried to avoid
the plaintive look on the vampire's face -- more likely, Angel might consider
the theft a romp, much like an ebullient puppy teased with a chew toy.
Wesley didn't much feel like
laundering grass stains out of his Dockers.
Angel's mouth listed on one
side and he shrugged. "I could come by *your* place tomorrow," he suggested
without removing his wistful brown gaze from the silhouettes in the upper
front apartment widow.
"Uh," Wesley readjusted his
glass frames by their right arm, stretched the tip of his nose to wriggle
them into exact place, "no."
Angel reluctantly made eye
contact. "You uninvited me," he assumed.
"I'm not inviting you, Angel,"
Wesley retorted before pushing upright and striding away. Back in the bar,
he polished off the rest of his ale in conclusion.
The Host pinched the corners
of his eyes. "Go. Please," he begged.
"You can't dismiss us. You
guide us," Wesley pointed out. He gently set his glass in the center of
the small table, sliding both Gunn's and Cordy's empties next to it.
The Host studied them. "I'm
your host, and that's all I am," he responded, disappointed a bit that
was truly the case. When he took an extended breath, his petitioners did
the same. "I'm not your pilot."
"But you are ground control."
To The Host's puzzlement, Wesley amended, "or, at least, you have been."
The Host stood up, tugged
the hem of his jacket, and walked his drink behind the bar. He took a bottle,
tipped its chrome spout and then, a second thought later, put it back on
the shelf. The glass went into the sink.
"Why did you let Angel back
into your lives at all?" He blew across the necks of his premium liquors
and adjusted a few spigots, making sure his loss margins would remain as
air tight as the precious essences. "Anyone got an answer for me?
"When he showed up at your
apartment, Bright Eyes, you didn't have to invite him in, but you didn't
want to die." In reply, Wesley rearranged the glasses again.
"You hired him, Goldilocks,
why? Because you had a vision?" Cordelia's answer came in the form of smoothing
her skirt across her lap. "You've had plenty of visions without him."
Turning off a display light
put the liquor into hibernation. "And you, my Nubian princeling, what's
your reason going to be for giving Angel an accidental second chance?"
Gunn, smirking, folded his
arms across his chest and reared back in his chair. "Don't have none; won't
"You know, instead of all
this aggression, you guys should just cut him loose," The Host suggested,
removing his jacket as he returned to the table. "Or, better yet -- find
that one ultimate act of humiliation. Say . . . bowling?"
Gunn's hands clasped both
sides of his bald head. "*I'm* visioning!" he exclaimed.
"That Angel hurtling 16 pounds
of fiberglass... not the best idea?" Cordy finished for him.
"Maybe just the shoes?" Wesley
recommended, but that got zero response.
Cordy, Wesley and Gunn shifted
more heavily into their chairs. After tucking up the sleeves of his cobalt
lamé shirt, the Host did the same.
He was trying his best to
work on their terms, had even adjusted his sleeping schedule to their hours.
Angel still didn't understand the 9 to 9 on Saturdays, but if that's what
they wanted, then --
He glanced again at the written
instructions: 4) Left leg.
He quickly unbagged the head
and set it aside, checking over his shoulder before making the exchange.
He had to admit that Gunn had hacked the creature very cleanly after Wesley
had incanted. But, if Cordelia hadn't distracted it in the first place,
the Funghoid demon would have never gone down.
Angel blinked a couple times,
trying to reassemble his concentration. But his thoughts kept drifting
to the different colored toes -- *his* toes, to be exact. Although he had
to admit, that for a multicolored patchwork of blue, red, green and off-white,
the bowling shoes were unusually comfortable.
"My brother," Gunn began,
handing the rescued teen a deflated innertube, "there's a reason why the
peeps don't hang in the Angelus Crest National Forest. Two words: 'e' and
Cordy plucked Angel's coat
off the young man's back before she sent him on his way. With his hoodie
hanging in shreds down his back, he hurried across the snow, back towards
the recreational slope.
Angel contemplated the youth's
dazed departure, unsure if the look was a result of nearly having his life
exhumed through the base of his skull or from the brilliance of Cordelia's
reassuring smile. It was pretty safe to assume the kid wouldn't even have
noticed Angel going into alterna-face.
Some things just couldn't
compete against genuine Cordelia Chase congeniality.