Cheques and Balances
Disclaimer: "ANGEL" is a trademark of Twentieth Television © 1999.

Author's Note: This story is set after "Rm w/a Vu" and before "Bachelor Party."

Cheques and Balances
by Tara O'Shea

She had been a class act, in her day. Sure, that day had been three thousand years earlier, but Tia didn't look a day over two thousand.

Doyle sat in the back of the club, nursing a pint of truly dreadful watered down lager. He watched her dance through the blue cigarette smoke haze, a few businessmen on their lunch waving bills in the air to beckon her closer. Her full breasts were tipped in dark brown, hidden and then revealed as she flipped her long black hair over her shoulders as she danced. Her body swayed in time to the beat of some wretched band the name of which escaped him. Her black eyes were feral, swallowing men's souls as she danced on the narrow catwalk—she put the "exotic" in "exotic dancer." The slumming yuppies were mesmerised, and once, Doyle had been too.

He sipped his pathetic excuse for beer, and waited until the music swelled and died, and to drunken cheers Tia slipped back behind the gaudy silver curtains. He left a few crumpled dollars in the bar and slipped backstage just as the next girl went on. He smiled at the bouncer, whose broad face remained utterly impassive as he knocked on the door to the lone dressing room which doubled as a storage closet.

"Hey there, stranger." Tia sat at a dressing table, a kimono unbelted over her nudity as she towelled off. "It's been a while." She took in the rumpled shirt that looked like somewhere a Winebago was missing its curtains, the pork-pie hat straight out of an old movie, and scuffed leather coat without batting an eye.

"Yeah, well, you know how it is..." He shrugged, and took the remaining chair she gestured to with one foot, toenails glittering silver. He averted his eyes, and with a smile she tied the robe closed and leaned back in the chair to study him, black eyes heavily rimmed with kohl.

"Don't I just..." She nodded. "I wasn't expecting to see you."

"Really?"

"There were some guys here a while back, looking for you."

"Ah." Doyle scratched beneath his right ear, his blue eyes slipping away from her black ones.

"I heard they won't be coming 'round any more." She did a passable Irish accent, for an Akkadian. "I heard that they won't be doing much of anything. I heard—"

"You know how rumours are. Can't believe half the stuff floating around these days—"

"—that you had some help." She offered him the packet before placing a long thin black cigarette between her lips.

"I quit." He watched her light a stick of incense before bringing the wooden match to her cigarette, and shrugged. "He was just a gombeen man."

"He was a kailiff demon," she corrected, and took a long slow drag.

"So I'm working for a guy—"

"You're working for a vampire who doesn't mind snapping a few kailiff necks, every now and again."

"You always did have a way about it, Tia. Straight to the heart of the matter."

"Word gets around. So you're working for a guy," she prompted, exhaling a could of clove scented smoke.

Doyle stood, breathing in the tobacco and patchouli as he began to pace. "He's not your typical vampire. He had a run in with the Rom, and you know how they are. He's got a soul. He's a mick too, can you beat that? You know what they say. You can take the boy out of the bog... Two hundred years out of the bog, even..." He chuckled. "So anyway, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men and all that. And he's lookin' t' settle his bill, as it were. Try and make things right."

"And out of the kindness of your soul, you decided to...?"

"Let's just say that somebody hooked us up. Somebody with a Plan."

"And...?"

"There's... this...girl...." He seemed, to her apparent delight, almost embarrassed.

Tia laughed. "There always is. What happened to.... what was her name? Pretty little thing—curly hair."

"I haven't seen Harry in four years. And thank you so much for bringin' her up, I haven't had my daily dose of 'wow I made a crappy husband' yet today. It just wouldn't be the same without it." He took the her cigarette from the ashtray on the dressing table and breathed deep. "Cordelia's... she's so alive. She's younger than I am—barely out of high school—"

"Barely legal, you mean," she corrected.

"I fancy myself a bit of a cradle robber, I will admit. But this girl—she's got somethin'. I mean, it's not just that she's beautiful—and she is utterly.... She's strong. You know—tough. She came out here, broke, pocket full of dreams just like every other kid what gets off the bus in Hollywood with stars in their eyes. Folks came from money, but now she's got nothin'. Real riches to rags story, but she doesn't sit around moanin' about it. Okay, she does. But she's done the whole waitress and shop girl bit, and she works for Angel now too. That's how I met her. She came out here from Sunnydale—"

"I haven't thought of Sunnydale in years!" Tia chuckled. "I've got family out there."

"Don't we all. The thing is, she doesn't let anything get her down. She knows what she he wants, and she's goin' after it. Not like some spoiled brat who expects to get everything she wants. Not exactly. But she's just so... honest. The one thing about Cordy you can count on is that she won't lie to ya. She may not sugar coat things, or even be particularly aware of anything outside her little sphere, as it were. Including, well, Angel and me. But she's never really malicious. Just, forthright, I guess. In a way that you can almost admire. Maybe I might go at it with a bit more tact..." He shrugged. "Problem is, she doesn't exactly know about my mixed heritage. And she has some pretty strong feelings about my da's side of the family tree."

"You can't hide who you are forever, Doyle."

"Yeah, well I don't exactly see you goin' in for truth in advertising."

"The Sweet Spot is only my day job. I do house calls." Her brow was briefly marked by horns and her smile had fangs. "So, how much you need?"

He feigned shock. "Tia, can't a fella just stop by to visit an old friend?"

"Bullshit. You only ever come here when you're tapped and in trouble."

"I am crushed. I am sincerely hurt that that's how you see me—"

"Ponies?"

"Card game. I coulda sworn the guy was bluffing."

"How deep are you in?"

"Three large. Can ya lend a guy a hand?"

"I'm a stripper—not a bank." She stubbed out the cigarette and reached for her purse. "I can float you twelve hundred—that's it. And you'll owe me."

"And I will make good on that debt, I swear—"

"No, don't swear." She held out the folded bills, and then pulled them back out of reach as his fingers brushed hers. "Promise me something."

His eyes were fastened on the dead presidents she held so tantalisingly close. "Anything."

"Promise me that you won't take this down to the bookie and get yourself into even bigger trouble trying to score the rest? Quit while you're ahead; settle up your bills."

"But I've got this feeling about the Packers—"

"The Bears are going to kick the Packers asses."

"Have you got some inside track on that game? 'Cause the odds are looking good—"

"Doyle, are you not listening to a word I'm saying?"

"I'm listening. Honest."

She uncoiled from the chair and tucked the folded bills into his shirt pocket even as her crimson lips brushed his. "You can pay part of it now, you know," she said against his throat.

He shuddered. "My mother always told me to never take rides from strange succubi—"

"Never stopped you in the past—" she whispered, and licked his ear playfully. "Just one little memory. To tide me over. You'll never even miss it."

"Sorry, pet." He took a step back, and kissed her hand. "As tempting as you know I find you, I'd like to exit this afternoon with all my memories intact. "

"A fantasy then."

"Do I get to keep it?"

"If you wish."

"Right... lemme think." he closed his eyes, brows drawing together in a slight frown as he drew a mental picture. "Okay, I got one. It's a doozy. You ready?"

"Always," she purred, and then she crushed him to her, fingers twining in his black hair as their lips met.

brown hair brown eyes he wasn't kidding when he said young she couldn't have been much more than eighteen with legs up to there smile that was sweet hides the venom child what a child she is but kind in her own way centre of her universe red lips warm arms around him tan shoulders bared by a grace kelly dress that falls away with the barest touch gratitude and friendship sweet smoky desire smooth round shoulders the curve of the small of her back soft little cries traced a path from her ear to her collar bone with his tongue she whispered his name—

Doyle broke away, panting for breath. Tiamat licked her lips, white of her eyes swallowed entirely by black as she shuddered, arching her back. "I look forward to collecting on the rest of this debt someday. You actually care about her."

"Yeah." Doyle was a little pale, except for the tips of his ears, which were pink.

"Lucky girl."

There was a knock at the door, and the mammoth bouncer stuck his head in. "Jilly's almost finished—you're on in five."

"I'll just be goin' then," Doyle backed toward the door, patting his pocket. "And thanks—I mean it. You're saving my life here." He slipped out into the dark hallway, the music from the stage pounding through the soles of his feet. He never heard her sigh. By the time she looked into the mirror of her dressing room and whispered I wish I could he was already out on the street.