Cursed. 2

****

The party had been a huge mistake. She should have known it would not have been that easy to blend right back into the flock. Of course there would be some kind of test. She should have expected it, seen it coming. But Holy Crap! What a freaking disaster.

Her test had been handed to her in the form of a drunken Ricky Stanton – current running back of the Sunnydale High football team and the one and only boy she had ever had sex with. He had been a little drunk then too, if memory served, and had taken all of three seconds to “fulfill her every fantasy“ – he had slurred the words into her ear in the confines of the car.

Wow, what a turn on. Of course she supposed she should be thankful for his brevity because in those three seconds he had been rough enough to turn her off of the physical stuff indefinitely.

Unfortunately, he had not gotten any smoother. Catching her by the arm, he had pulled her into a back room at the party occupied by a few of his friends, informing her that the only way to get rid of the smell of loser from her skin was to be with him again. While a couple of his closest friends looked on of course.

What a joke! As if she had had sex with Xander, or anyone else for that matter. “So you smell loser on me?” she had asked in the dingiest voice she could muster, adding a little pout for good measure.

“It’s all over you, baby,” he whispered in her ear and tried to kiss her neck.

Pulling away, she asked, “So, you’re saying I reek of loser from the last guy I slept with?”

“I can smell it all over you,” he smiled at the look of fear on her face. Female insecurity, worked every time.

“Well, I guess I’d better go find someone quick, asshole,” her tone changed to a whipping lash. “Because you were the last loser I let touch me.”

Cordelia closed her eyes as she made her way out of the house and down the walk. Harmony had been furious. Evidently she had “fixed” things up between Ricky and Cordelia. Her angry words bounced around in Cordelia’s head. “You told him what? He was your ticket back, Cordelia! How am I supposed to show my face around you at school now?”

God, what a nightmare. All she wanted to do was go home. Go home, hover under the covers in her room with a good book and pull a Scarlet O’Hara on her disastrous “come back”.

She had just taken a deep breath and almost made it to her car, determined to think about it all tomorrow, when she caught sight of Angel walking ahead. He was staring sightlessly forward as he walked, apparently in deep thought. Great, just what she needed. For where Angels tread Buffys were not far behind. It was all she needed for their little circle to witness her humiliation.

Now more than ever she needed her mask fully in place. If not for Xander, Buffy, and Willow for the vampire stalking up the sidewalk. He was a particular crack in her wall. Twice she had let her guard down around him. The first time could be explained away to everyone. No one else knew she could tell a vamp from a human.

And to be honest, her vampdar had been out of whack the first time she laid eyes on Angel, letting a “salty goodness” remark escape her lips before realizing what he was. It must have been the soul thing that had thrown her off.

The second time, however, there had been no excuse. She knew what he was. Still she had sat with him at the little table as he waited for Buffy. Talking about cars and old movies, forgetting herself, everything she had been taught, had practiced. For the first time in … well …. forever she had forgotten her Gram’s words and let herself free if only for a few moments.

Luckily Buffy had moped in, her life in full drama. (Pfft! At least the Slayer was powerful enough to kill the things that haunted her. ) By the time Angel had returned to their table, Cordelia had regained herself, wall in place, fortress secure.

He had seemed deflated when he returned to find her that way and in truth it had disappointed her. But she knew the reality of things. If he knew what she was and thought that it was important that Buffy know too, he would bark like the lap dog he was. Even worse, if he turned into Angelus again….. Well she didn’t want to think what that demon would do with the knowledge.

Nope, his great bod and puppy dog eyes would not get to her this time. He was what he was. A demon. And off limits.

Keep the mask on, she told herself, prepared for a confrontation as he neared. His eyes focused on her for a moment, scanned her up and down, focusing intently on her outfit before returning to her face. She hadn’t felt self-conscious in the bunny suit until that moment. She had worn it for the reaction it would cause in everyone else, to continue the game she played, the trick on them all.

But Angel. For some reason she wanted to crawl under a rock or throw a raincoat over herself. Because the look Angel had just given her wasn’t the look the boys from school gave. One that said “Wow she’s hot! Must be dumb and shallow too.” The look Angel had given her made her aware of every part of her that was exposed. And the parts that weren’t. She waited for his comment, or even a nod of acknowledgement as Angel reached the sidewalk next to her and then……passed right by.

She watched him, his gate angry and purposeful, reaching out and grabbing the cane held by one of the drunken teen partiers as part of a costume. The boy fell to the ground, the cane obviously his only source of vertical establishment. The boy shook his head and looked around, confused, and like he might just lose whatever concoction that had gotten him so smashed.

“Gee,” she called after, not able to help herself. The war in her mind and heart over wanting to be noticed and not be noticed coming to a draw. “Buffy try to send you to Hell again or is it just Angelus paying a visit?” Of course she knew it wasn’t Angelus, she could sense that monster a mile away. This was just Angel in full brood and a little pissed. She should have just let it go, but he had walked right passed her! Without even a word. Even though his look had held a thousand of them. It was just that she couldn’t seem to translate if the look had been one of disgust…..or approval?

Angel stopped, still as stone before turning to her, his brows down in a frown. “You see me,” his deep voice nearly rasped out.

“Yeah,” came her sing-song sarcasm peppered with a little hurt at his disregard. Remberthewall, rememberthemask. Catching herself, she flipped her hair to one side, all ice-princess. “Just taking up for my friends,” she gave a head nod to the still stunned second stringer on the ground who looked like he could puke at any moment.

The one who’s name she didn’t even know, much less counted as a friend. “It’s rude to push my friends around and I would appreciate it if you at least try to act hu….well civil at least.” With that, she turned on her spiky heels, chin held high, and beeped off her alarm on her car down the street.

He was beside her in less than a second, hesitated, then reached out and grabbed her arm, turning her around to face him.

“Hey!” God, she was tired of grabby male hands tonight.

But Angel ignored her protest and simply stared down where his hand had hold of her. Very slowly he looked up at her, but didn‘t let go. “You see me,” he repeated with amazement. “And I can touch you.”

“Uh, no you can’t, buster,” she snapped, pulling her arm away and turning back to her car.

Angel felt the burning spike up the back of his neck again, the bad taste in his mouth. The Ancients. Fuck, he didn’t need this right now. He knew they could sense him and as soon as they caught up with him….. He was not going back. Not ever. He’d burn in the sun before he was taken back to Hell by one of those bastards.

Angel moved around her, blocking her from stepping off the curb and reaching the driver’s side door. “Cordelia,” he said with as much patience as he could collect. “I need you to listen to me. I’ve been cursed.”

“Well, duh. Isn’t that your whole bio. Cursed vamp with a soul, cursed vamp with a Slayer for a girlfriend, cursed vamp who can’t…….”

“Cordelia, tonight. Tonight I was cursed. No one can see me. Except, for some odd reason, you.”

When she looked at him like he was insane, Angel stepped back onto the sidewalk and stood still, waiting for the next person to walk by. Cordelia’s eyes grew huge as the trick-or-treater passed right through him.

“What…..?” Cordelia trailed off as Angel walked back to her side. Reaching out, she made contact with his chest. “How can I feel you? You’re real, I feel you,” she reiterated while her hand roamed from chest to shoulder.

“I don’t have time to explain now,” he took a quick scan around. “And I’m not really sure why you can see me. But because you can see and hear me, I need your help. I need to get to Giles. Figure out if there is a reverse for this idiotic thing.” He looked around again.

Cordelia didn’t like the way his eyes kept searching, he seemed a little off. Nervous? Did Angel even get nervous? “Why are you looking around like that?”

“We need to go,” he said, his eyes still scanning, the heat now radiating his whole body. Grabbing her a little too hard, he pushed her toward her car.

“Hey! Again with the hands,” she shot, pushing him away and standing her ground. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what you’re so afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid!” He snapped his head back to her, his tone and stance making her take a step back. Christ, he didn’t need her scared. How could he get her to help him if she was terrified of him? It was just that he didn’t like to hear Cordelia call him afraid for some strange reason. He didn’t want her to think of him as weak. Even though it shouldn’t matter to him. Why did he care?

“I’m sorry,” he calmed. “It’s just… You probably won’t believe me. Being human you can’t see them or sense them.”

Cordelia crossed her arms over her chest, innocently pushing up her already elevated cleavage. Angel would not look down. He would not look……God, her breast were amazing.

“Excuse me,” Cordelia drew his attention back to her face. So the look had been approval. She hid her delight, secretly hating herself for finding pleasure in his appreciation of her body. “We’re not going anywhere until you tell me at least a little about what is going on.”

Angel paused for a moment, trying to think how to continue, ignoring the growing warning shooting through his body. He did owe her something if she was going to help him. Even if she wasn‘t going to be in any danger. “You know that they call Sunnydale the “Hellmouth” right? You’ve heard Giles or the others call it that?”

Cordelia nodded her head but still kept her distance. Noticing something about the vampire before her. He was confident even though he appeared a little worried. And he kept scanning around before looking back at her, like a warrior waiting for a fight. Primed. Dangerous. This was not Angel. Not the one she knew, the one that followed behind Buffy or sulked in corners until someone called his name. This Angel was full of aggression. Buzzing with the need to fight or get the hell out of the way of whatever he thought was coming.

“Look,“ he continued. “I’m here, but not here. I’m….stuck, I think…on the edge, or the border might be more accurate.” Jesus, this seemed so hard to explain. “I’m walking the border of a demon Hell, Cordelia. And the things that patrol that border sense me, are after me probably by now. They are beyond your imagination, Cordelia. Think of a demon’s demon. Something that would put fear into the things that hunt humans. I’m walking in both world’s, that one and this. I can touch some things, it appears, inanimate objects, but not humans. I can see and hear and smell them just as always, but it’s like I don’t exist anymore. Except, to you. Understand?”

“No, not really.” But it didn’t matter. She tried to remind herself that this was Angel, the vampire, the demon, the one that carried Angelus around with him. But how could she not help? She knew how that felt, walking in a world where no one really saw you. Oh, maybe in her case it was just metaphorical, but still, the idea. She knew.

Angel stared at her, watching her expression change, watching that counterfeit wall drop in an instant. This was the Cordelia that had sat and talked with him. This was what he thought he had seen that night, the person who had attracted him and drawn his interest. The one he had wanted to know more about.

Cordelia had to help him of course. Oh, she could fool herself for a moment and act as though the fact that he needed her, Cordelia Chase, to help him didn‘t thrill her beyond what she was comfortable admitting.. But it did. Someone needed her. Angel needed her. “Come on,” she moved to the car door acting put out by the effort it would take to help him, trying to convince herself and him that doing so was a great hardship. He followed her lead, going to the passenger side. “I’ll take you to Giles and explain what’s happened. Maybe he can help.”

“Cordelia,” Angel looked over the top of the little red car, grabbing her attention before they got in. It wasn‘t fair that he was asking this of her. She had apparently come from the party a few houses down. He imaged she had probably been having a great time too. How could she not have been having a great time looking like that? She had just gotten that idiot Xander Harris out of her life, barely escaping the break-up with her life. From what he understood, the rebar had come very close to some vital organs.

At least that is what her chart had said when he had snuck into the hospital. He should just walk away. Leave her alone. Let her go back to that big house down the road, flirt with boys, get grounded for pushing curfew. But she was his only hope of finding out how to reverse the curse. If there was a way. “Thanks,” was all he could offer now. Later, he promised himself. Later I’ll find a way to repay her.

She blew out a long breath she’d been holding, trying to relax herself, shaking the thrill of him needing her from her stupid head. Being around Angel was dangerous, and she really shouldn’t be inviting anymore danger into her life. “No problem.” But it was a problem. Getting mixed up with Angel and his curses was a huge mistake.

Hadn’t she learned anything from Buffy’s tragedy? “We’ll go see Giles and he will fix it,” she said to herself more than him as she reached for the handle. She would make sure he could help him then she was gone. Self-preserved, behind the wall. The tall, dense, lonely wall.

“Shit,” Angel’s voice stalled her hand on the door.

“What?” Cordelia looked at Angel, following his eyes to a far yard down the street.

Terror. Shear terror consumed her. There in the shadows of a large oak tree stood an Ancient One. Staring straight back at them. It had been years since she had dared look directly at one of the monsters. And then it had been in profile, with a little more distance than it stood now.

It was massive. The upper part of its body was similar to a human. Okay, a human with oversized muscles and a sprinkling of …. scales? . It’s bluish, gray skin was marred with something down one arm but from the distance she couldn’t tell if it was writing or scars. At the end of the arms, its human looking shape changed into something more along the lines of misshapen hands with long, sharp, dagger-like claws. It’s legs were also massive, fitting its size, but were more animal than anything, with joints opposing that of a humans and covered in hair.

It’s feet where hoofed. Mounted atop its head were a set of enormous horns that curled slightly then pointed out. It’s mouth, if you could call it a mouth, was parted slightly as it sniffed the air, showing off a set of terrifying fangs. And it’s face. It’s face was something she could not describe or place, unlike anything she had ever seen or wished to see.

And the image of that hellish face wavered every so often just like the top of asphalt on a hot August day, as if it were behind a wall of heat. It’s eyes. It’s eyes were fire, flames that flickered and burned……they were burning…….a hole right through Angel.

It wasn’t after her. Didn’t even seem to notice her really. It was after Angel. This was his demon. This was the thing after him. His monsters were her monsters. And he could see them and they could see him.

“Hurry up! Get in!” Angel ordered.

A thought paralyzed her. Self preservation kicked in. ‘Never let them know you see them’, her Gram’s voice echoed through her mind.

They would know. If they saw her with Angel, knew she could see him, they would know.

Angel pulled the door handle hard and jumped into the little car. Thank goodness Cordelia couldn’t see the Ancient. It couldn’t hurt her, being human and unable to see or feel the overlap of dimensions and that thought put his mind at ease somewhat. Relieved some guilt. But he wasn’t ready to give up on his fight to stay in the world just yet and if he couldn’t get her moving, his fight might be over before it began.

“Cordelia, come on,” he called from the car.

What was she going to do? She could ignore Angel. She was good at that. Then the AO would go away wouldn’t it? That was the way it had always worked for her. Careful not to ever let them get too close for fear that they would find out she could be touched by them. Always letting her eyes focus just long enough in their direction as not to look suspicious but not long enough as to appear able to see them. She could do it.

But Angel.

He needed her help. How could she do that to him? Could she actually leave him, listen to them capture him, take him away or worse?

The answer came quick and sharp.

No.

She couldn’t. She would not leave him alone as she had always been to face this. Quickly, she got in the car and started the engine. The Ancient let out a piercing call, louder than she had ever heard, and began a dead rum toward them.

“Cordelia, I know you can’t see it, but we’ve got company. And we need to move. Now!”

He didn’t know. He hadn’t realized that she had looked right at it. “See what? Where?” she asked the question she already knew the answer to as she started the car. She would help him, but that didn’t mean he had to know about her curse.

“Headed right this way. Go.”

Cordelia pulled out of the spot quickly, going as fast as she could down the residential street. “Crap,” she ground between her teeth as she swerved to miss a group of kids.

Angel’s head was turned, watching for the Ancient she was sure. Was he following? Her heart raced. She’d gotten so used to their presence, so used to pretending that they didn’t exist. But now that one was actually following her she could feel fractures in her wall. She had to keep calm, couldn’t let Angel know. She reminded herself of what had happened when she had thought about telling Xander her secret. Right before his betrayal. No. She could never do that again. Never risk it. Never trust someone enough.

Making up her mind to keep Angel in the dark, she stole a glance in the rearview mirror, a small, inaudible gasp escaping her mouth at the site of the demon picking up speed behind them, running like a bull in full charge. Her eyes shot to the road before her, her resolve back in place. She wouldn’t look again, not because she thought Angel might notice her looking, but because she was afraid to look, afraid to face the monster that had been searching for her all her life.

Turning back around halfway, Angel stared at Cordelia’s profile, his eyes hooded by his serious brow. She had gasped, he had heard it loud and clear. Suspicion crept into his mind. The fear coming off of her in waves could be explained by the situation they were in, that he was putting her in . But the gasp. His peripheral vision had caught a glimpse of her looking into the rearview mirror, and she had gasped.

Angel glanced back, the Ancient was growing smaller in the frame of the window. They were losing the creature. But it wouldn’t be for long. He knew how tenacious the things were. Their tracking skills were unmatched. He was going to have to find a way out of this and quick.

“I think we lost him, for now anyway,” Angel turned back around in the seat.

“Good,” Cordelia’s voice came in a calm practiced manner. Even her fear was ebbing a little. Maybe she hadn’t seen. Except that her knuckles were turning bone white from her death grip on the steering wheel and ….there….she had glanced again, the pupils of her eyes adjusting, focusing..

Crap. She couldn’t quit looking in the mirror, no matter how hard she tried. She wanted to be free and clear of the monster, verify it for herself that they had lost him, for now at least.

“Turn here,” Angel ordered softly, choosing not to call her out on her ability to see the Ancient. Apparently there was much more to Cordelia Chase than met the eye, and there would be time enough to find it all out. But right now his situation was becoming more serious, more deadly. Because if Cordelia could see them, that meant…..he didn’t want to think about what that meant at the moment. For now, losing that bullhead behind them was the first order of business.

“This isn’t the way to Giles,” she protested even as she turned.

“They’re extremely gifted trackers. We have to throw him off a little if we’re going to make it to Giles without the demon catching up to us. Here….pull over here.”

Cordelia parked the car behind a classic convertible. The kind that was kept in good, authentic condition. Not like the souped-up models at Saturday night car cruises by the local Auto Antique Guild. She turned off the engine, “Now what?”

“We change rides. He’ll track us to this car and before he can pick the scent back up again, we’ll have a few miles on him,” Angel explained as he got out of the vehicle.

Cordelia followed. Good God! She watched as Angel approached the beautiful piece of machinery. He wasn’t actually going to steal it? Was he? “Please tell me we‘re not adding Grand Theft Auto to this evening’s agenda,” she put her thoughts into words.

“Steal?” he sounded offended. “ It’s mine.” He pulled out the keys and proceeded to get in. On the driver’s side. “Get in.”

“You seem to be forgetting something. You can’t drive.”

“I’ve been driving since before you….make that since before you’re grandmother was born,” he tossed the comment.

“And when say, oh, Sunnydale’s finest stops us because, gee, there’s no one actually in the driver’s seat, how will your many, many years of driving experience help us out of that situation?” her brows raised, waiting for his reply.

“Fine,” he tossed her the keys and moved across the seat to the passenger side.

Normally, Cordelia would have been thrilled by the fact that she was going to drive the beauty. But normally, she wasn’t running from a Hell beast and trying to save Angel from eternal damnation – or at least another hundred year stint So she settled for a quiet pleasure as she slipped into the car, situated herself on the leather seat, and cranked the old baby up. What a piece of machinery. “Giles?” she asked, making sure this one switch was enough for now.

He nodded and only the panic that she was pressing down in her mind kept her from smiling at the look on his face. He was an over protective parent letting someone hold his baby for the first time. “Don’t worry. I’ve got too much respect for it to do any damage,” she assured and pulled away from the curb.

Three

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