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Breakdown
by Jennifer-Oksana (jenniferoksana@yahoo.com)
website: http://www.imjustsayin.net/jennyo
rating: PG-13
spoilers: Dad
archive: lists, others by permission
summary: A moment of weakness in the dead of night.
disclaimer: Joss, ME, FOX, the WB own. Not me.


I didn't think that I'd ever quite get acclimated to Los Angeles. Every time I thought that I was used to it, that I was becoming another Angeleno, something would strike me and I'd be an alien all over again. Tonight it was at the twenty-four-hour diner just off Sunset with Gunn and Cordelia that Cordy swore on a stack of Bibles was the place from Pulp Fiction. I ordered a cup of tea and when the waitress with the improbable name of Starlette returned, there wasn't any milk.

"May I get some milk for my tea, please?" I asked.

Starlette looked at me like I'd grown a second head. "You want milk for tea?" she asked.

"Yes, I'd like milk for my tea, please," I said politely. She shrugged, plainly nonplussed by the request but determined not to be.

"All right," she said. "I guess it's an English thing."

For a moment, I wanted to scream at her, but she was young, American, and not actually being rude. It was, after all, only tea. Wars have been instigated over tea, but it wasn't worth the effort to explain that to a waitress in a fluorescent-lit coffee shop off Sunset.

"So," I said. We'd been out getting information from the street about current threats to Connor and the world, with Angel implying heavily that Connor's safety mattered the most by a wide margin. It hadn't been a pleasant night by any definition.

"So," Gunn replied. "We got to talk to Angel about this."

Cordy nodded quietly. She'd been tired and snappish the entire evening and she held her coffee mug in both hands, focusing her attention on it rather than us. I noticed that she was pale and the smudges under her eyes had a certain haunted effect to them.

"Agreed," I said. "And immediately."

"What are we going to say, though?" Cordy said hoarsely. "Angel, the baby is just a baby--even if it's human and souly with two vamp parents, and you gotta get back into the evil-destroying game? Oh, and by the way, hire a nanny because we don't wanna take care of your baby?"

She had a point.

"Angel's not rational when it comes to Connor," I said.

"You got that right," Gunn muttered. "But we're the ones putting our asses on the line for the cause and he's at home, trying to find a way to block out evil and afford pre-school. If we keep letting him do this to us, we're going to be Angel's unpaid daycare. His dead unpaid daycare if Holtz has anything to say about it."

Starlette returned about then with the milk, as well as a plate of French fries for Gunn and toast and marmalade for me. Cordelia, we noticed, hadn't ordered anything except for the coffee. She hadn't been eating a great deal lately and it worried us all a bit, even Angel.

"Thank you," I said as Starlette handed me the container of milk.

"No problem," she said. "Milk in tea...hmmf. Is everything all right here? Can I get you anything?"

"No thanks," Gunn said. Starlette nodded and walked away to her other table, a group of faded clubbers who were dressed up and wearing lots of makeup. "So, what's the plan? Or are we gonna not have one until the next big crisis hits?"

"Plan," Cordy said. "Hell if I got one. I just want to make it to twenty-one and maybe meet Christian Bale. And when I say meet, I mean, have a hot, torrid affair with."

She took a drink of her coffee and looked away from us, toward the people who were out this late having fun and being young and stupid. Another bubble of pointless rage was about to explode in my chest. We should be the ones wearing fancy dress and prancing about on the town. Damn Angel and his multitude of problems anyhow, for at least Cordy and Gunn's sakes. I'd chosen the whole Watcher lifestyle; I hadn't had it thrust upon me by living in a world crawling with bad and wicked things. I'd had the choice.

"Let's quit," I said suddenly. "Let's get the hell out of Los Angeles."

Gunn looked at me. "You serious?"

"I don't know," I said, wishing I could have said that I was deadly serious. "But this is--this is--bollocks. No good at all, dragging ourselves out and about for a fight that we can't even--"

Gunn smiled at me, a bitter, sharkish sort of smile. I looked at him for a long while, wondering what would happen if we quit. Where would we go? I'd always wanted to see the rest of the state, let alone the rest of America. It would be better with my friends along.

"If we left now, we could be in Vegas by dawn," Cordelia said hoarsely, her voice rough and cracked. "I've never been to Vegas."

She set her coffee mug down and I felt her looking at me. I looked her way and met her eyes, and they were tired. They were more than that, they were exhausted. Not the extreme tired that could be slept off and jollied away with enough cappuccino and new CDs, but the deadly sort of worn that was an inch away from being broken for a long, long time. Something in my stomach twisted. If we didn't get Cordelia some down time, she was going to wake up one morning and refuse to move. Ever again.

"Neither have I," I said slowly, trying to put all the information together and formulate a plan. "It seemed rather garish to me, to be honest."

"I ain't ever been, but my cousin Shawn goes a lot and he's all about that stuff," Gunn said, sounding dazed. We were all dazed because we were all thinking the same thing. We wanted to get out, get away from Angel. "He says you can go about a hundred on the way up and there ain't no Highway Patrol, just people tryin' to get there like you."

There was a sudden silence as we all paused to consider how serious this was. I took a sip of my tea and grimaced. Even with the milk, it was vile, clearly brewed in a percolator or some ghastly rot. I grimaced and set the cup down with a loud clink.

"What do you think Angel will do?" Cordy said, breaking the silence. "Do you think he'll come after us?"

"He'll send someone after us," I predicted softly. "Maybe Lorne. He can't come himself. Too risky--and no way to know where we'd gone at first. That is, if he thinks we've taken off. He'll probably think--"

Cordelia nodded. "Holtz will get him, if we go," she said brutally. "He'll be dead within a year."

She wasn't wrong. Gunn didn't look perturbed about that, either.

"We could come back," I said, but even as the words were leaving my mouth, I knew it was a lie. If we left, we'd never come back. We'd never be able to make it right if we just took off in the middle of the night, begging for a little mercy. But--and I realized it with a sick feeling in my gut--I wanted it to be a lie that they believed. I wanted us to leave.

"We could, maybe," Gunn said slowly, his eye catching mine. "Maybe we could just take some time off. Do some work in Vegas--I got to believe that there's some weird demon shit going down there. We'd be doing some good work there. Helping people--but just somewhere new."

"A change of venue," I said, trying to believe my own story. "It would be good for us."

I almost wanted to cry when I saw Cordelia's face. She wanted to believe me--we all wanted to believe me--but she couldn't, not with the visions she bore, not being the person she was. If she believed for a second that she was betraying Angel and the good fight, she wouldn't go, no matter if we did good in Vegas or Phoenix or Smallville, Kansas. Her place was here and she felt obligated to do her duty, even if she was helping a selfish, pain in the ass vampire who screwed up over and over again and never said sorry or thank you.

"I don't know," Cordelia said, and that was the end of seeing Vegas by dawn. Just like that. "The air in Vegas is awfully dry--"

"The economy's shot to hell there, anyway," I said in my pompous and knowledgeable voice.

"Yeah," Gunn said, the same tone of defeat in his voice. "We should go for the weekend sometime. Ask Fred along, you know? It'll be badass--we'll get tricked out and cruise the strip in Angel's car--"

"Sounds great," Cordy said, her eyelids fluttering open and closed. "We should do it sometime. Totally."

Starlette walked by holding the check, which we hadn't asked for. Her face was utterly emotionless and I wondered if she'd been listening to us discussing escape, or if she just had excellent check-bringing instincts. I took it from her wordlessly.

"Wes?" Cordy said.

"Yes?" I said, calculating how to split the bill with tax, not looking up.

"I really wanted to go to Vegas," she said, breaking my heart with every word. "But we can't go, can we? It wouldn't be the right thing to do. We have a duty."

"I know," I said. "With tip, your share is two fifty, Cordy. Gunn, yours cost five, and mine is three-fifty."

"Okay," Gunn said, handing me the money. His eyes were blanks again and I knew he was thinking about leaving. The day he could convince himself it was right to leave me and Cordy and Fred behind--he was gone. And he knew I knew it, and that I'd go with him when he left.

"Here," Cordy said, a little tightness at the corners of her lips. "Here's three. Wes--"

I couldn't look at her--I didn't want to see that much pain and know that there wasn't anything that I could do. Well, short of knocking her unconscious and dragging her with me and Gunn when we left--not tonight, but that night when there was no choice other than to quit or to abjectly surrender to Angel's whims.

"I'll give you the change," I said. "I have fifty cents."

Her hand was cool and dry as I handed her the change. I looked at her as I turned to get my own wallet and she had withdrawn into herself. All I could see was a tired, slightly dirty woman who had spent too much of the night helping shake down demon thugs for information. There was nothing of the person screaming to run, screaming to get the hell out. I knew that my face looked the same way.

"Thanks," she said. "Let's get out of here."

And we did.

The End


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