Title: In the Company of Wolves
Summary: Don’t go walking in the woods after dark. It’s good advice.
Characters: Cordelia, Angel, & Drusilla
Disclaimer: Not mine. All characters belong to Whedon, ME, Fox. I’m playing.
Notes: Beta’d by DamnSkippytoo. Ficlet-length darkness.
Don’t go walking in the woods after dark.
It’s just a cautionary warning from a fairy tale, Cordelia thinks. So what if every mother and father in Sunnydale repeats the same warning? Parents do that.
Don’t stray from the path.
She knows that one too. Same story, same bad ending.
She looked it up once, on the internet, because she knew that the woodsman saving Red Riding Hood in the nick of time must have been tacked on. She’s attended too many funerals of friends to believe heroes lurked in bushes waiting to save innocent girls.
But it’s not like she’s some little waif lost in the woods. She’s stranded in the park, that’s all. By a date who turned out to be a creep.
And she’s not wearing red. She’s wearing plum, an autumn color suited to her skin tone, according to the personal shopper her father hired to take her to Rodeo Drive on her last birthday. Her hair is up, not tucked into a hood.
She keeps her eyes on the ribbon of white in front of her, the path that leads to the other side of the park and to Sunnydale proper. She doesn’t look too deeply into the woods that border the path on either side of her, because she’s not afraid of something looking back.
The moon is bright, lighting her way like a lantern, and the stars are like diamonds that she can wish on if she wants to, and her daddy will make those wishes come true.
But try as she does, she can’t keep from seeing out of the corners of her eyes.
Daddy took her to get her eyes checked last summer, and the doctor told her she had excellent peripheral vision. She wishes now that she didn’t. She wants to be vision poor and needing glasses, because then she wouldn’t see the girl in white drifting on the edge of the path, in and out of the woods like a firefly, silent like Cordelia’s nightmares.
A world of silence in the heart of the park, with only the whisper of the trees bending in the breeze.
If she screams, she wonders if it would be silent as well.
Then it disappears again into the black woods only to reappear on the other side of the path closer to Cordelia’s trembling foot falls.
Close enough to hear the slow pounding of her heart, the sluggish push of her blood through her veins.
The firefly stops dancing and pauses, and like a wraith from an Irish legend, it turns slowly and focuses its pale marble face on Cordelia.
If she keeps walking, if she keeps her eyes on the path in front of her and not go into the woods, she won’t need the woodsman to live. She can ignore what’s in the corner of her vision like she ignores the ass-kissing freshman girls in school, like she ignores her mother’s glassy eyes at dinner time.
If she just keeps her eyes ahead of her.
Closer comes the firefly
If she just keeps her eyes in front –
“I know you,” it says.
And Cordelia stops on the path.
“The moon whispers to me,” the firefly tells her, pale hand with veins like ropes under her skin touching Cordelia’s face. “Do you know what it tells me, hmmm?”
Cordelia turns her head slowly.
Not a wolf, not really. A dead girl, seventeen at best, hair wound with ribbons and curls, blue eyes bloodshot red, old dress with tattered edges and cobwebs snarled in the lacing at her breasts.
Her lost mind and vacant eyes can’t hide the cunning or the hunger, though.
She’s the wolf after all, dressed in the skin of a waif.
Sharp white teeth under her blood stained lips, and a sickly smile that keeps edging off her mouth like a lop-sided toupee off a bald man’s head.
The crickets chirping suddenly breaks through the silence of Cordelia’s fear, and she swallows the mouthful of saliva that had gathered in the back of her mouth as she walked along the path.
“We’re the same, it says, you an’ me.” Drifting around Cordelia’s frozen body, hands on her shoulders, colder than snow, squeezing her flesh. “You see pretty things, drink sweet fear,” she whispers in a sotto voice. “But then he comes and makes them unpretty again, takes the fear and makes it small.”
Standing in front of Cordelia again, eyes gazing at her and Cordelia can’t stop from staring back, lost in the void she sees, the nonsensical words like the brushings of a fly against her skin.
“We can play, now that we’re sisters an’ all,” she says, doing a little jig, hunching her back like the wicked witch and pointing into Cordelia’s face. “You can show me the pretty things.” She stops and straightens. “Wouldn’t you like that?”
Then the waif sheds her skin and shows the wolf beneath, hissing through her sharpened fangs.
What big teeth you have
Then it rears back like a snake about to strike and she closes her eyes, ready to swing her fist. Ready to run. Ready to die.
She’ll never know which.
The wolf cries out in the darkness beyond Cordelia’s closed eyes and she opens them to see the waif again.
Angel has no axe, but he’s got his fist tangled in the girl’s ribbons and curls, and he’s holding her still.
“Quiet now, Drusilla,” he whispers quietly. “You don’t want to get me mad, do you?”
“Daddy,” Drusilla wails in a grieving voice. “Grandmother said you were dead, but I knew you weren’t, the stars told me so.” Reaching up, she tries to touch his face but he pulls away from her seeking fingers.
He pushes her away and tells her to leave in a voice sounding like it’s been dragged over gravel and broken glass.
“Take Spike and leave town, Drusilla, don’t make me kill you too.”
She stands like a lost little girl, trembling in her tattered dress, hair hiding her tear-streaked face.
“Daddy,” she whispers entreatingly, her fingers bunching into her dress, tearing the fabric and scoring the skin beneath.
Angel flinches at the name, guilt and revulsion mixing with something darker than the woods around them in his face.
Cordelia watches him.
An urge to hurt, maybe.
She watches his hands tremble.
An urge to turn Drusilla’s weeping into wails.
She watches the swirls of a distant light gathering in his eyes.
And the wails into screams.
He moves suddenly, and takes Cordelia’s arm in a loose grip.
His face is calm, neutral.
“You’re safe now,” he tells her, and she blinks at the insanity of his words.
He’ll lead her out of the woods, back to the safety of town and people.
She knows this, and trusts in it.
But she also knows, as he leads her away, that she’s still in the company of a wolf.