Just Across the Hall
by indie & tango
She curled her hands around the key ring, debating the merit of swinging her elbow backwards into the face of the man standing behind her. It probably wouldn’t be the smartest move, but her instincts were telling her not to go inside with this guy. Of course, she noted wryly, her instincts picked a wonderful time to show up. Perhaps they should have tipped her off not to pick him up in the first place. Her hands shook a bit as she lifted them to unlock the myriad deadbolts. She needed the money. Really needed the money. From the cut of the guy’s clothes, she knew he could pay ... and from the vaguely ill feeling he gave her in the pit of her stomach, she was almost certain she would be able to charge him extra for some of his special requests. That thought alone was enough to give her pause.
She was a whore, but she wasn’t a stupid whore. She still had trouble with her left wrist from where one of her customers got upset with her almost a year earlier. This guy was giving her that same nasty vibe. Oh hell, she could pawn her television if it came to that. Anything was better than being at the mercy of some sick fuck she couldn’t hope to take in a fair fight. Not that she intended to fight fair. She kept weapons hidden all over her apartment and wasn’t afraid to use them, but still, if you could avoid a situation, it was always best to do so. She’d find some way to make rent this month. She took a deep breath and lowered the keys. Slowly, she turned around to face him. “Maybe a date isn’t such a good idea,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
He stared at her blankly for a moment. “What?” he snapped acridly.
She straightened up, staring him in the eyes. “I changed my mind,” she said firmly. “You’re going to have to leave.”
He snarled, slamming her back against the door. She didn’t yelp. She had been expecting this. She managed to stare up at him without betraying the fear screaming through her veins. “Marco said you were good,” he growled, “he said you did kinky shit and didn’t ask too many questions. He didn’t mention that you liked to back out of business arrangements.”
“I don’t,” she countered, “but tonight feels off. I think we should both just go our separate ways.“
He grabbed her chin and she could already feel bruises forming. “Listen you stupid fucking whore, I’m not leaving here until I get what I came for – “
“And what exactly would that be?”
Buffy didn’t need to look down the hall to see whose voice it was, but she did anyway, as did her potential John. His grip on her chin loosened as he stared at the interloper. “Fuck off,” the John spat. “This isn’t your business.”
Buffy groaned, closing her eyes. She could hear his heavy footfalls as he approached. She looked up in time to see Angel pull open his leather duster and tuck it behind the pistol holstered at his right hip. The John tensed at the sight of the weapon and let his hand fall from Buffy’s face slowly. Angel flipped open his badge and smiled malevolently. The John backed up several steps, moving away from Buffy. “Officer, I don’t want any trouble – “
“Detective,” Angel corrected curtly. “And I’d like to see some identification.”
“I just – we were just talking – I, uh ... “ the John sputtered. He backed up another step and fought the urge to snarl at the hooker leaning against her door, flaunting those sweet tits in her low cut top.
“We can do this here, or I can take you down to the station,” Angel bit out with a snarl. The John’s beady eyes widened as he fumbled to get his wallet out of his pocket.
Buffy sighed and looked at her shoes. As far as next door neighbors went, Angel was wonderful. He was quiet, he minded his own business and he was occasionally handy. One time two years ago, he helped her change a light bulb she couldn’t reach. But for the most part, she avoided him. He was a cop and a rather anti-social one at that. She had never seen him with anybody else. As far as she knew, he didn’t have any friends or family, but that really wasn’t her problem. She gave him his distance and he gave her hers. Buffy knew from the looks the other tenants gave her that most of them either knew or heavily suspected what she did to pay rent. Angel could have made her life very unpleasant, but he seemed rather content to look the other way – until now. Maybe if she sold her television, her stereo and her car she’d be able to afford all the court costs for this little visit.
Angel looked at the John’s wallet. He flipped it around, flashing a picture. “Nice family,” he said dryly, “do they know where you are tonight?”
“I, uh ... “ the John said lamely.
Angel snorted in disgust, taking out a notepad and writing down all of her potential client’s identification information. As Angel removed the stack of crisp bills from the wallet, the John made a strangled noise. Angel glared at him. “Trust me,” he said, “going to jail for this will be a whole lot more expensive,“ he looked at the family photo again, “in all kinds of ways.”
The John bit back his protests and mutely took the wallet.
Angel stared at him with undisguised loathing. “If I see you in this building or near her again, I will take you in,” he said.
The John nodded and left as quickly as he could without actually running.
Buffy was still staring at her shoes. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. She just assumed Angel would be escorting her to the police station. As his hand, wrapped around the wad of money, came into her line of sight, she snapped her head up and looked at him. He shook his hand again, motioning for her to take the money. Her brow furrowed, looking from the money to Angel and back again with obvious confusion. He sighed in exasperation and grabbed her hand, slapping the money into her palm. “You need to be more careful,” he said tightly, “he would have hurt you.”
He was already turned away and walking down the hall by the time she found her voice. “I, uh, thank you,” she called, just as his door slammed.
“You can all go home now,” the woman called loudly, “the role has been filled.”
Along with the thirty other women in the cramped waiting area, Buffy groaned. She had been sitting in this damn chair for hours waiting her turn, only to be kicked out before she even had a chance to read for the part. It was always like this. She couldn’t seem to catch a break. Grumbling, she threw her backpack over her shoulder and headed out the door. Three years of acting classes and auditions and the best she could do was bit roles in the local community theatre.
Hours later, on the roof of her apartment building, Buffy’s face was bright red as she screamed her line. As the sound died, she heard a chuckle and quickly spun around. Angel was standing there, leaning against the door as he clapped. “Personally, I wouldn’t have cast you as Stanley, but you did a hell of a job.”
Buffy blushed brightly, mortified that anyone, much less Angel, had heard her doing the scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. “My acting teacher says we need to branch out,” she offered by way of explanation for her ridiculous behavior. Truth was, she merely wanted to burn off some steam after her crushing rejection earlier. Screaming at the top of her lungs was a very good way to do that.
Angel smirked at her excuse. You couldn’t take two steps without tripping over an aspiring actress in this neighborhood. Of course, he found Buffy infinitely more amusing than most. “And here I thought when acting teachers talked about branching they meant in the sense of being trees.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m a little past the tree stage,” she said, bending over to scoop up her backpack before heading for the door which he was blocking.
He stepped aside and followed her down the narrow stairs that led to their fourth floor apartments. Angel couldn’t keep his gaze from wondering over her lithe form, deliciously evident in her little sundress. With some effort, he forced his brain to work. “I didn’t know you were an actress,” he said blandly.
“What, you thought it was my lifelong dream to be a hooker?” she asked cheekily. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could take them back. She really didn’t want to remind the nice police officer that she made money by selling her body – both because she liked him and because she didn’t particularly want to go to jail. But as she turned around and looked at him, trying to gauge his reaction, he didn’t seem bothered.
He shrugged noncommittally, his expression free of condemnation. “I’ve seen people do a lot of things to get by in this town. You seem to be taking care of yourself better than most.” He omitted the details about the homicide he worked two months ago where they found several prostitutes cut into little pieces by some wacko or the coked out hooker they dug out of a dumpster on the east side six months before that. He knew that Buffy tended to cater to a higher class of clientele than the runaways, but money didn’t necessarily mean anything. A rich man could be a sadist just as easily as a poor one – more easily sometimes because their victims were less willing to come forward.
She stared at him incredulously, her brow furrowing. “Are you sure you’re a cop?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered dryly. “I’m a cop.” A cop with a big ol’ yen for the cute young woman that lived across the hall- regardless of how she made her money. But he wasn’t going to share that bit of information just yet. He was tempted to, however, when she shifted her backpack on her shoulder and the narrow strap of her dress on her opposing shoulder slipped down her arm. She replaced it immediately in a smooth, sliding motion.
She rolled her eyes. “You’re awful progressive thinking for a pig,” she said in a teasing voice.
“And you’re a damn good actress for a working girl,” he countered easily.
“Touché,” she said wryly, smiling. “And since when are you such a connoisseur of dramatic skills anyway?”
“Since I had to spend most of my teen years helping my sister read lines,” he answered.
“Oh and is your sister a hooker too?” Buffy asked sardonically.
“No,” he answered, dead pan, “my sister’s just an actress. Though there were a couple of months where Cordy worked at a gentlemen’s club.” Angel wasn’t about to condemn Buffy for doing what she had to do to make ends meet. Buffy was a quality person. She always had a smile for everyone and she respected people. He knew that those were the things that really mattered. The way he got hot just looking at her perky breasts in that sundress didn’t hurt either. It really bothered him that she chose to sell her body to pay the bills, but he sure as hell wasn’t in any position to complain. He did what he could, keeping an eye and an ear out for her safety, making sure she knew she could come to him for help, but he couldn’t push. Not yet.
Buffy gaped at him. He couldn’t honestly be this hard to rattle. “Are you for real?” she asked dubiously.
“Of course,” he answered blandly. “Are you?”
She just laughed at him. “Good night, detective,” she said, putting her key in the dead bolt of her apartment.
He smiled crookedly, tipping his head. “Good night, Ms. Summers,” he said.
“A cop? Are you out of your fucking skull?”
Buffy shifted uncomfortably in the richly upholstered booth. “It’s not like that,” she said, stirring her olives around in the martini, “he’s a friend.”
Faith glared at her best friend, rearranging her red pleather shirt so that her breasts were plainly visible. “Hookers and cops are not friends, B.”
“I prefer to think of it as neighbors, not hookers and cops,” Buffy countered wryly. She knew she was being absurd, but she couldn’t help it. Angel was just so damn cute. And he knew what she was and didn’t freak – or arrest her. That was always a perk.
Rolling her eyes, Faith groaned, “Oh gods, you like him.” She took a healthy swallow of her drink watching her friend with obvious irritation.
“I don’t,” Buffy protested, but her voice was a squeak that completely betrayed her lie.
“What do you think is gonna happen here?” Faith demanded in a harsh whisper, leaning forward across the table so none of the upscale bar’s other patrons would hear. “This isn’t Pretty Woman, you’re not Julia Roberts and some L.A. cop sure as hell isn’t as loaded as Richard Gere. What’s he going to do, swoop in and take you away to his apartment – across the hall?”
“I know this isn’t Pretty Woman,” Buffy said with a frown that looked an awful lot like a pout. If anyone ever looked like they belonged riding in to save the day on their white steed, it was Angel. Why couldn’t she play the fairy princess just this once?
Faith snorted derisively. “And what if you do hook up with him?” she asked. “He lives next door, B. It’s not like he won’t know when you’re turning a trick. Is he just gonna lay in his bed and listen to you go at it with some John?” Faith laughed. “Or maybe he’s into that,” she mused, ignoring the annoyed look on Buffy’s face. “Your boy’s wicked creepy, B.”
“He’s not into that,” Buffy said with a conviction she absolutely didn’t feel. What if Angel was into that? Oh hell she didn’t even know if Angel was interested. And even if he was, there were so many complications, the least of which being that she made money by fucking other men. Buffy had learned very early on that boyfriends and hooking didn’t mix. At least not after the boyfriend found out about the hooking. Some of them would say they were okay with it, but inevitably when she had to cut a date short to meet a paying customer, the guy would break it off.
Faith frowned at her friend, obviously pitying her situation. She glanced at the door and smirked. “Looks like your date’s here,” she said.
Forgetting that Faith didn’t know what he looked like and half expecting Angel, Buffy looked at the door and sighed. Lindsey. She smiled at Faith and pushed herself out of the booth. She smoothed down her simple black sheath dress, making sure everything was just right before she sauntered over to him. Buffy really did like Lindsey. He was one of her regular customers. He was fun and wealthy and a couple of times he had offered to make her his mistress. Buffy had turned him down. She liked Lindsey, but she liked her freedom more.
He wrapped his arm around her waist, kissing her deeply before saying, “Evenin’, darlin’.”
It was seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and common courtesy dictated that she wait another several hours before banging on any doors. But Buffy couldn’t wait, nor could she spare the rest of the building’s early morning peace. She pounded on Angel’s door relentlessly.
The door opened slowly and Buffy sucked in a deep breath and nearly ended up choking. Angel was standing there in nothing but a pair of low slung black pajama bottoms. His hair was rumpled and he looked sleepy and grouchy. She had never seen anything quite so carnally delicious. She had this nearly overwhelming desire to scale him like Mount Everest and show him exactly why she could make three hundred bucks an hour.
“Buffy,” he grumbled, his voice still scratchy from sleep. He stepped aside so she could enter his apartment. Being across the hall, the layout was the mirror image of her place, but it managed to look completely different. He obviously had an eye for art and had done a hell of a job decorating his place. He motioned her over to the small breakfast table and she took a seat, watching him rub his eyes. “Something wrong?” he asked.
Suddenly her entire reason for waking him came crashing back and she screeched, “You didn’t tell me Cordelia Chase was your sister!”
He jumped at the high pitch of her outburst, wincing as he looked at her. “You didn’t ask,” he said.
“Oh no,” she hounded, “you just offhandedly mention that you used to read lines with your sister Cordy. How could you not tell me that your little sister is one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood?”
He frowned. “Once again, you didn’t ask,” he said. “Call me crazy, but I generally don’t go around advertising the fact.” It was true. He found it to be overly annoying when people found out who his sister was. Generally, it was a well-kept secret, but in this situation, he had no option but to let Buffy know.
Buffy’s face softened and she said, “Her agent called me, I’m supposed to go in on Monday for a meeting.”
A small smile tugged at Angel’s lips. “Okay, so I mentioned you to my sister,” he admitted. “I know how hard it is to try and break into the business. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have some connections.” Connections that could possibly lead to a new line of work and let him stop wondering what she was doing with her nights – and start knowing because she was spending them with him.
She toyed with the hem of her shirt, looking at him demurely. “Thank you,” she said seriously. “It really means a lot.”
“You are very welcome.”
Buffy shifted nervously on the balls of her feet as Cordelia Chase looked her over from head to toe. Narrowing her gaze, Cordelia turned her attention to Buffy’s resume. “Well, at least you’ve studied,” she noted wryly. Buffy bristled, but held her tongue. Cordelia walked across the room, standing toe to toe with her. “Let’s just get this straight right now,” Cordelia said, “I don’t like you. I don’t trust you. I’m doing this strictly as a favor to my brother. Odds are that you’ll crash and burn and I’ll be done with you in a couple of weeks.”
“Thank you,” Buffy said tightly.
“Oh, don’t mention it.”
Despite her serious loathing for Cordelia, Buffy had to admit that her agent had some pull. She had ten auditions scheduled for the week, something absolutely unheard of while she was working by herself.
Friday night, Buffy slid into the regular booth across from Faith. “Do me a favor,” she said with a wicked grin. She was practically glowing from excitement.
Faith narrowed her gaze, but asked, “What’s up?”
“Take my date with Lindsey tonight.”
Frowning, Faith lit a cigarette and took a long drag. Buffy was always really protective of her regular clients, especially Lindsey. “Cop guy’s snotty sister manage to help you out or you just giving the pig a freebie?” she asked skeptically.
“I have a job!” Buffy squeaked.
“Seriously!” Buffy squeed. “I got the call today. It’s a regular gig, shoots Monday through Friday and I get paid eight hundred bucks a week. If things go according to plan, you can keep Lindsey permanently.” Buffy knocked superstitiously on the scarred wooden table and beamed another bright smile at her friend.
“All right, B. Way to go,” Faith said with a huge smile. “So what’s the show?”
Buffy blushed and fidgeted with the stem of her martini glass. “It’s a ... home improvement show,” she mumbled.
Faith stared at her friend blankly. “Home improvement? B, you’re the girl that can’t make microwave popcorn, you’re going to be on a home improvement show? Please tell me it’s a sitcom.”
Biting down on her bottom lip, Buffy shook her head. “Nope, it’s a how-to show. But it’s not just me. There’s other people, I’m just one of many.”
“So are you going to be the how-not-to gal?” Faith offered.
Buffy sighed. “I don’t think so. But to be honest, they didn’t actually see if I could make anything. They just asked and maybe I fibbed a little.”
“You lied, you mean.” Faith was already grinning at the image of Buffy Summers, ex-hooker trying to hammer in a nail. Girls like them were only good at nailing one thing – and it was an entirely different sort of wood.
“This whole town is about marketing yourself,” Buffy said, straightening her back and raising her chin, “I just have to figure out how to do these things before they figure out I don’t know how to do these things.”
“Good luck, girlfriend,” Faith said, shaking her head. Raising her long neck bottle of beer, she toasted, “Here’s hoping they don’t find out you can’t do shit.”
“Detective Angelus.” Angel said dryly into the phone, taking a sip of his coffee as he stared at the apartment complex’s front door. Damn, he hated stakeouts. He hated shitty gas station coffee in styrofoam cups almost more than sitting in the same spot for hours on end.
“Uh, it’s Buffy. Are you busy?”
Angel smiled, switching the phone to the other ear. From the passenger’s seat, Kate stared at him like he’d grown two heads. Angel turned his body away from his partner, lowering his voice. “No, I’m not busy. What’s up? You in trouble?”
“Not exactly,” she said carefully. “I’m just taking a poll. I wanted to know if you had ever replaced a faucet before.”
Angel’s brow furrowed. “Did you break something in your apartment?”
“No, this is strictly hypothetical,” she asked mysteriously. “Have you ever replaced one?”
Angel shook his head, snorting in amusement. This girl definitely wasn’t boring or predictable. “Yeah. I worked as a handyman through high school. Why?”
“Do you think, maybe, you could show me?” she asked quietly. “Sometime. Like maybe later tonight?”
Angel looked at his watch. It was already after eight. “I don’t get off until midnight,” he said. Warmth shot through his body at the idea of going to her apartment in the middle of the night. He hoped for now on he’d be the only male passing through her door.
“Midnight works for me, see you then.”
Angel stared blankly at the phone and its dead air. “Strange girl,” he said with a smile. He relaxed in his seat and shook his head, unable to keep the corners of his mouth from turning up. Before he knew it, a full grin had broken its way across his face. Even the taste of the rotten coffee he sipped couldn’t ruin it.
“Don’t do that,” Kate snapped.
Angel put the phone back in his pocket and looked at his partner. “Do what?” he demanded.
“Smile,” she said, “it
makes me nervous."