Rating: NC-17 for violence, language, and a little sex
Summary: Angel has been back from Hell for a while and it is Halloween
Spoilers: BtVS S3
Disclaimer: Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Notes: Okay, haven’t done this for a while and used no beta. I’m sure there are a mountain of mistakes but hey…Enjoy.
Thanks/Dedication: This story was created in response to a prompt submitted by Starlet2367.
The prompt: (BtVS years) A haunted house, Willy’s, Cordy driving Angel’s car
Cordelia Chase stared at the Bunny costume hanging on the door of her antique armoire in her massive bedroom. Automatically the fashion hemisphere of her brain did a mental check. Had anyone worn such a costume in the last couple of years? After a quick scan and catalogue of her near perfect memory of every outfit ever worn by anyone she’d ever known, she came across another bunny costume.
Willow Rosenberg. She had worn one two years ago.
Chewing on her bottom lip, Cordelia eyed the outfit, pondering a change. No. She would go with the Bunny. It was the best choice for the night and it wouldn’t be as if she were exactly repeating a costume Willow had worn before. After all, Willow’s costume had been made of some kind of synthetic fluffatude: complete with sewn in zipper, slippered feet, and floppy ears. The only thing made of fluff on Cordelia’s was the little white tail meant to pin on her backside.
Plus, it was perfect for tonight. Not because of it’s deep crimson satin or the way it hiked up high on her hips. Not because its tight fit and low cut neckline made her a full cup size bigger. What made it perfect was that it was simply the vainest most self-absorbed costume that she owned; therefore, her sturdiest suit of armor. And tonight she needed that armor more than ever.
Oh she had other armor along with a whole stash of weapons. Shields made of Gucci, Versace. Swords in the form of a quick quip, jabs at others to make her appear totally shallow, heartless. But those were her everyday assortment. And they certainly served their purpose to fight her everyday battle. Convincing the world that a self-absorbed, shallow, self-proclaimed queen could never be deep enough to know what really went on in the world. Could never see beyond her manicured nails and her daddy’s credit card. But she could see. More than they knew.
Buffy and her friends – even Giles – had no idea what she could see. They thought they knew evil because they knew about demons and vampires. Pfft! She’d known about them forever. They were the easiest ones to spot. So corporal that she could almost choke on the darkness that radiated from them, making it all the more difficult to act as if she was oblivious to their existence. Granted, they were evil, but just like everything else in life, evil had its levels.
Vampires and the demons that had run amuck in Sunnydale for ages were not the only evil in the world. There were others that walked among humans unseen, forgotten. The Ancient Ones. Waiting, watching for a chance to break some veil that seemed to separate them from the real world.
Luckily the “real world” couldn’t see them, couldn’t sense them. And in that lay all human safety. For it seemed that those who could not see them or sense them, could also not be touched by them, hurt by them, forced to do their bidding in order to bring them back into the world.
“Never let the Ancient Ones know you see them,” Cordelia’s great-grandmother had whispered to her long ago, just before her death. “And never tell another human about it. Most would never believe you and the one‘s that do believe are never to be trusted. There are human monsters too, Cordelia.“ Cordelia had been only seven years old when her Great-Gram had set her on her path, helped her define who she would have to be.
“It is how I’ve survived so long. The monsters are looking for us, dear. Those of us that can see. Those of us that know things we should not know. We are their only way back. I had hoped the cursed gift would die with me. Your grandmother nor your mother ever showed any signs of sensing them. But you, my dear, are like me and my mother before me. And you must do what we have done. Close yourself off, hide your open soul and questioning mind. They can sense those with deeper thoughts, farther vision. Shut off your senses as best you can and simply……..pretend. Pretend they are not there, pretend you don’t see them, pretend you are not what you are.”
That night Great-Gram had passed away. Great-Gram’s pretend life had ended, and Cordelia’s had began. It was the first night of Cordelia’s “pretend” life. The first night that Cordelia didn’t call out to her mother and father. The first night that she didn’t cry because “there might monster in the closet, or one pacing outside her window” during one of their many searches for one of her kind.
Whatever “her kind“ was.. Somehow, even at seven years old, she knew that what Great-Gram had told her to do would protect her, and all those she loved. So, she had kissed her parents and said goodnight. Pretending to fall fast asleep, pretending not to hear the scrape of claws on her window screen, pretending the floor boards weren’t creaking under heavy hoofed feet, pretending she wasn’t the one they were searching for.
Taking the costume from the wooden hanger, Cordelia forced her mind away from the past. Tonight the Ancient Ones, as her Great-Gram had called them, would be out in full force, they always were on Halloween. Her parents had taken yet another one of their weekend vacations and conveniently not taken her along and there was no way in hell she would be alone with so many out. Nope, tonight especially she had to appear as just one of the human herd. A silly, shallow, vain, teen out for a night of fun. Not a terrified freak cowering in her room.
Angel was feeling on edge. Guess that happened after you spent what seemed like a hundred years in hell only to be brought back, insane, and trying hard to pretend that everything was normal. Well, as normal as things could get in his existence.
Angel had parked his car a few blocks away from his destination, opting to walk the rest of the way, watching as human children dressed in their worst nightmares or as their favorite cartoon character began to fill the sidewalks of Sunnydale. He puzzled over how such a night had become more about plastic masks and Hershey bars than about its true purpose.
Now the once sacred holiday consisted of Frat parties, innocent faces on a sugar high, and marathons of bad B movies playing all month on television. It was ironic that the evils that preyed on humans three-hundred-sixty-four days out of the year usually took the one night off that humans actually wanted to be terrified. Reveled in the adrenaline thrill that being frightened gave them.
Angel crossed the street, sidestepping two adolescent boys with silicone blood and gore glued to their faces. The boys jumped back into his view and roared at him, giving him their scariest pose.
Angel stood still in front of them, staring at them as if they were insane then morphing his face, giving them a roar of his own.
“Holy Shit!” One of the boys yelled as they ran away, laughing. “Did you see his mask! That was sooo cool!”
Angel shook his head as he morphed back and continued walking, trying not to let the smile in his mind slip down to his face. He couldn’t even scare humans tonight. He guessed it was because none of them truly knew what scary was. None had ever faced real evil. Even Buffy and her pack of followers didn’t know genuine evil in its purest form. Oh Giles had volumes on every demon they would probably see in this realm. But Angel had seen things that no human would probably ever see.
He’d been to Hell and back – literally – and what he had faced there at the border of Hell had been unlike anything he had ever felt or seen. Even Angelus was a lightweight compared to the Ancient Ones.
Looking around at the squealing kids that dotted the dark sidewalks, Angel wondered how they would feel if they knew what he knew. Knew that Hell wasn’t a deep cavernous steam bath beneath the Earth, or a psychological state of the human brain. Hell was real and tangible. And Sunnydale wasn’t just at the Hellmouth, it was the Hellmouth. And not any simple Hellmouth either. It was The Gateway to the worst dimension of Hell. The Hell reserved solely for demons..
The Border of the demon Hell was smack down right on top of the little unsuspecting town. A thin invisible veil the only thing separating the border patrolled by the Ancient Ones and the bustling streets of Sunnydale. It was part of the torture and torment of Hell. Being pulled into the abyss while still able to see the world you could no longer touch, be a part of, trying to escape, the Ancient Ones always on your heels, eager to bestow unimaginable agony and suffering.
They were the guardians between the realms. The jailers who were as much a prisoner as any other thing in that dimension. But they were able to walk the line that separated the two worlds. Always searching for a way out of their service. Angel had lasted longer than most on that border, destroying two Ancient Ones before finally being over powered by them, entering into a world that had almost cost him his sanity and his soul.
It had been beyond his darkest imagination, the few months that had felt to him as if a hundred years. But if he had to choose he knew he would do it again in an instant. Because, although he had not admitted it to anyone, he had actually gotten something from his time there. Or more accurately, left something behind.
The fact that he hadn’t told Buffy about the loss of Angelus in Hell flooded him with guilt. He should have told her. Let her know that Angelus was no longer a threat to humanity. But he was a coward. Avoiding the inevitable. Because the moment he told her that Angelus was gone she would want to pick things up where they had left them. And he would have to talk to her about his feelings. Or lack there of.
Sure, he cared for her. But after their night together it wasn’t what he wanted, what he thought it had been or would be. He had been so obsessed with her after he first saw her through her parent’s window. Whistler had given him hope, telling him that helping the Slayer would make him worth something again. And so, to him, Buffy had represented the world of good. The world he had never been accepted into, even as a mortal man.
He supposed now that he looked at it from a little distance that he had wanted her acceptance – body and soul. As if Buffy accepting him into her heart, into her body, was some sort of redemption. A symbol of acceptance and forgiveness for Angelus’ atrocities and Liam’s life as a rogue.
But their night together had left him wanting. Sure it had been sweet and comforting, but somehow he had expected …..fireworks?….all consuming passion? Instead, being with Buffy had made him feel frustrated and a little guilty. Sure the few seconds of bliss that every man experiences at the moment of climax had made way for Angelus, but that was just a trigger that had sent him out, not an indication of Angel’s true feelings.
He wanted something….more. Deeper. Stronger. He supposed he was reaching. Trying to grasp something he didn’t deserve or that possibly didn’t even exist. The only time he had even glimpsed that something had been a couple of years ago, sitting in that stupid teen bar at a little round table talking to Cordelia Chase. She had been so fascinating that night, switching from playful frivolous banter to deep thought in one sentence.
Flashing a smile that he had never seen on her face before – or since for that matter. He had always found her attractive. He supposed his body reacted to her just as any other man’s would. But that night, there had been something about her, about being there with her that made him want more. But when Buffy had shown up, quickly leaving after seeing Cordelia, things had changed. He had gone back to the table, not wanting to end his night with Cordelia, assuring himself he would check on Buffy later. He had approached the table, intent on continuing their conversation, maybe even taking a walk.
But as he approached the table, a different Cordelia greeted him. All practiced flirtation and big plastic smiles. He had been so disappointed and marked it up to his extreme physical attraction to her. He must have wanted there to be something more there so badly that he had convinced himself she was deeper than the shallow pool she swam in.
Or maybe it had been Angelus. Maybe Angelus had wanted her so badly that he had played with Angel’s mind, his emotions. He had often tried little tricks on Angel when he had been in residence. Creeping into Angel’s thoughts, feeding his fears. Angelus would have known what thoughts Angel had of Cordelia that night. How much he had wanted her.
Tearing his mind away from dark thoughts, Angel finally spotted the large brick house on the corner, draped with cotton cobwebs and screaming with a sound system of scary noises from all the windows. He cringed. Spending a Halloween night at the Sunnydale High School PTO Fifth Annual Haunted House was the last thing he wanted to do.
But he needed to see Buffy. Needed to tell her the truth. Maybe he could get her alone long enough to talk to her, explain things a bit. He only hoped that she would take it well, would still allow him to help. Because, in a way, following her to Sunnydale had been a step to redemption, putting meaning into his existence.
It just hadn’t been the girl that had redeemed him, it had been the act of helping, of doing good. And now that he had tasted that satisfaction, knew that he could help, he didn’t want to stop. Bracing himself, he pushed open the door of the large home, entering the massive living room where the pre-party was taking place.
Angel spotted Buffy in an instant in the crowded room and watched her for a moment before approaching. Xander Harris was leaning close to her ear, obviously trying to speak above the noise of bad teen mood music, and Buffy was smiling. A thought suddenly occurred to Angel. How many times had he himself made her smile? Once, maybe. But here was a perfect picture of what she should be. Happy. Suddenly his reluctance to tell her the truth seemed foolish, self-serving. She deserved the truth, about everything. Keeping it in just kept her wishing, believing, in something that did not exist.
Making up his mind, Angel made his way through the throng of teens and the few parents, determined to get her alone.
Cordelia checked her make-up in the rearview mirror, straightened her bunny ears, and took a deep breath. Harmony’s Halloween party was the first invitation she had gotten from the “A” crowd since her shunning by the shallower members of Sunnydale High. But of course, like all groups that occupied the upper crust of society, eventually her wealth and status had deemed her forgiven.
Oh, she knew that this was her probationary period. They would be watching her every move during the party to make absolutely sure she was one of “them” again. God, she felt like a Stepford.
Shaking her melancholy mood, Cordelia looked back into the mirror and smiled the smile that she had practiced down to an art. The plastic, superficial, I’m a beauty queen and I vote for world peace smile. This is good, she told herself. These were the people she belonged with. Easier to pretend there is nothing inside of you deeper than your pocketbook when you hung out with people no deeper than theirs.
Getting out of the car a sense of relief washed over her at not spotting one AO on the way to Harmony’s. Maybe tonight would not turn out too badly. Harmony always did throw a great party. She would have a good time, at least a decent time. And if it took the whole party to convince herself of that fact well then so be it.
Straightening her shoulders, she began to walk to the door, ignoring the catcalls and whistles from some of the football team members drinking outside.
Forty-five minutes later and Angel still had not gotten to talk to Buffy alone. Instead, he found himself walking with her through a horribly homemade haunting, complete with black garbage bags, peeled grapes, and really bad monster impersonations. The only thing remotely accurate was the continuing theme through the house, the story of an ancient evil being banished to the edge of Hell.
Oh, they had almost all of the story wrong, but it seemed they had looked up just enough information – undoubtedly from the internet – to come just close enough to give Angel some pause.
He glanced at Buffy who had been content to avoid direct eye contact for most of the evening and took her arm, pulling her to the back of the group of giggling kids.
“We need to talk.”
“About what, Angel?” she asked with a sigh of frustration, keeping pace with the group ahead as they approached a room with a title written in marker above the door. It read “The Banishment” in red letters made to look as if they were dripping blood.
“There are some things…..particularly one thing….It’s about my time ” Angel looked at the backs in front of them as they walked, “my time away,” he continued softer as they entered what appeared to be the finale of the story, a small back room with a door leading outside.
“Angel,” Buffy answered just as softly when the guide introduced the last exhibit. “Can’t we just pretend for one night that you are a normal guy and I’m a normal girl out together?”
“No, that’s just it. I’m tired of pretending. Pretending I’m something you want me to be.”
The guide shot Angel a fierce look meant to hush him as the occupants enacting some concocted ritual began their show. Both Angel and Buffy stared forward, holding off the pending storm while the haunted house reached its anti-climatic ending. Angel leaned his back against the wall behind Buffy and stared seemingly at the three women sitting around a table, a bowl filled with dry ice in the middle.
The women, parents he was sure, wore grave and serious faces as they began to speak, waving their hands around the bowl dramatically with each word.
“Exsilium sepono proeliator immortalis supplicium curtail abyssus ambitus,” the three spoke in unison.
His body, usually cold, felt as if it was on fire. Pain shot through him so intense that he had to bend slightly at the knees just to keep from falling.
“Buffy,” he called to her for help.
Buffy didn’t answer, her face a grim mask as she continued to watch as the women celebrated.
Okay, she was mad. “Buffy,” he tried again as another wave passed through him, this time succeeding in bringing him to his knees.
“And the villagers were free of their immortal torturers, the hell warriors that had terrorized them for centuries,” their guide and narrator began his conclusion. “But beware!” he was all theatrics. “there are those who say they walk amongst us, unseen, unheard, forgotten. But although we have forgotten them, they have not forgotten us and are always searching for a way back into our world.”
Angel’s pain eased as the group began to file out the back door of the house. Confused, he looked to Buffy again, “What the hell was that?” he asked.
Buffy turned and looked, a frown of confusion and then one of anger crossing her face.
“I’m sorry, I know I was loud but……something’s wrong.” He ran a hand through his hair and noticed he was shaking. Shaking!
Buffy turned and stomped from the room to the yard outside.
“Buffy, wait!” Angel called and followed. “I know you’re mad,” he tried softer when he caught up to her. He didn’t want this to go badly, that hadn’t been his intention. And she was scanning the backyard full of partiers, her eyes passing right by him. Christ, he knew she was young, but she didn’t have to act like a baby about it. She was going to have to face some hard truths whether she wanted to or not.
“Buffy, ignoring me won’t make what I have to say any less painful.” When she continued her little charade, Angel’s patience began to run thin. Reaching out for her arm as she began to turn he said, “Buffy, Angelus is………”Angel’s words faded. He stood motionless as he stared down at his hand. The hand that had been reaching out to take hold of Buffy. The one that had passed right through her.
He couldn’t think for a moment, could barely wrap his mind around the sight.
Xander’s voice broke in on Angel’s shocked silence, drawing his attention. “Where’s His Royal Impotency?” was the wisecrack first out of the boy’s mouth.
Buffy shrugged, “We had an argument. When I looked up, he was gone.”
“Typical,” Xander snorted.
“Don’t,” she warned, her eyes still half scanning the crowd as if to catch a glimpse of his retreat. “I don’t understand why he would just leave.”
“Isn’t that what he does? Stalks, broods, leaves, maims, kills…..” Xander’s words overlapped Angel’s unheard answer.
“Xander,” Buffy warned again.
Giving up, Xander moved close to his friend, slinging an arm around her shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go see if Giles still has any of the good stuff left.”
Buffy gave a small smile, “He buys the full size bars ya know.”
“I know. I raided his stash two days before Halloween last year,” Xander confessed as the two friends headed down the sidewalk.
And just like that, Angel thought, he was forgotten. Or maybe not forgotten. Maybe they were just used to his usually routine. He had to admit, he had been the king of avoidance, using his power of speed and stealth to get him out of any uncomfortable emotional situation. But damn it! He had wanted to talk it out this time. Wanted to come clean.
And now…..now he was invisible. Angel raised his hand in the air. At least he could see himself.
What had happened? Angel’s thoughts began to rewind to the haunted house when he had doubled over in pain. As he thought, he absently leaned against a nearby tree and crossed his arms. The tree was solid behind him, supporting his weight. Angel stepped away from the tree and turned toward it, running his hand over the rough bark.
Okay, so he could touch trees. He bent to the ground, brushed his hand over the grass, picked up an empty plastic cup and let it drop to the ground. And it seems other things as well. So people were the only thing affected by the invisibility. He leaned against the tree again and felt the burning he had felt in the house before creeping up his spine. What was that?
He thought of the room. He’d been trying to talk to Buffy. To tell her about Angelus, to open up a discussion about the nature of their relationship. And ….. His thoughts trailed…… the women. The ones at the table. They had said……what had they said? ……Exsillium sepono ….proeliator immortalis supplicium curail abyssus ambitus…….Oh, no. Oh, shit!
They had gotten the curse down with just as little accuracy as they had the story. But, it would seem, enough to have caused a real curse. He went through his mental Latin translator. They had said something close to “banish the tortured, immortal warrior beyond the curtain – or veil maybe – to the border of Hell”
The heat passed through him on a stronger wave this time and a familiar taste ran down the back of his throat. He should have remembered that taste, the feeling of heat washing through a cold body. A sound that could almost be defined as a laugh escaped his mouth, full of bitterness and a little left of sane.
He was on the border of Hell. Again. And soon they would sense him. Drag him back down to the darkest nightmares beyond anyone’s imagination. Where Angelus waited to claim him again. He scanned the area. One of the Ancient Ones had to be close. That was the taste in the back of his mouth, the one of burnt ash. Their personal calling card to the hunted, damned souls.
He wouldn’t stay. Not this time. He had killed two of them before. He could hold them off until he found a way back. Giles would know. But how the hell would he be able to get anything from the Watcher? No one could see him.
Convincing himself he would find a way, Angel began to move through the yard and then down the street. He had to keep moving, they would begin tracking him soon if they hadn’t already. And the less Ancients he had to face the better.