Title:: Spinning in Infinity (ST Halloween Ficathon)
Author: Chatty (liz)
Disclaimer:: Not mine. Just like to poke ’em and make ’em squirm every once in a while.
Summary: No such thing as a night off. (I know, it’s a terrible summary, I’m sorry! )
A/N: Better late then never? I wanted to write great Halloween adventures and mystery, but this is what came out. Should fit in after Hearthrob. Hope you enjoy!
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The ship’s hull gleams gunmetal gray in the moonlight, and in her entire life of creepiness, this may just take the cake. It practically screams ‘Do Not Enter’, and yet here they are, preparing to do exactly that. The night air is sharp and briny and the cold winds streams her hair out behind her, tickling her neck. She jumps, on edge.
Angel clears his throat, a subtle reminder to keep still and quiet. For a moment she envies him, able to stride in to any situation without the slightest hesitation. His back looms large in front of her, and she hefts her own short ax, testing its weight. He’s already warned her about being careful, a silent eyebrow raise to silently remind her not to screw up. Not that she’s about to. It’s almost Halloween and she’s actually got a party invite, the first decent one to come her way in months.
Sure, it’s not red carpet and paparazzi, but she’s heard the host is Joel’s Silver’s secretary’s cousin and that is almost as good. There’ll be agents there, and producers and casting directors. It’s the next step to being discovered, and it’s just in time. She can almost see it now: Cordelia Chase, actress. Oscar Nominee. Walking down the red carpet draped in diamonds and Balenciaga. Or maybe Gaultier. Something gorgeous and totally couture and she’ll smile and wave and maybe grant a few interviews amid the bright photograph flashes.
Angel clears his throat and her dream dissolves away. He’s got that impatient, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ look with his shoulders all hunched up and face all annoyed.
It backfires. She has to bite back a giggle, because she’s actually relieved to have him back, him back, not some grieving shadow of her friend, but her broody, grumpy, vamp ex-boss.
Except it is all a little different. She doesn’t want to think about it, but she knows it.
He is walking away from her, utterly silent and focused. It’s follow or be left behind, and she knows which one to choose. She follows, lugging her axe and trying to peer through the darkness. Jittery nerves prickle her back, neck, arms; perhaps because she’s hunting with Angel again after his months of absence, or maybe because they’re on a deserted dock just before Halloween, with only a dingy streetlamp and a tiny sliver of moon for light.
Either way, she wishes she were home. Home, with her doting ghost and a scalding hot bath to soak away the vision pain that won’t stop throbbing behind her eyelids.
Angel stops so suddenly she runs into him. He huffs a little, glancing down at her with another pointed frown. She winces guiltily and smiles up at him in silent apology. He gestures to the gangplank, if it can even be called that. It looks old and decrepit, but that doesn’t stop Angel from crossing it easily and leaping the foot of space from its end onto the deck.
He makes it look easy. It isn’t. The gangplank bobs with the water’s movement, and her leap is just a little short. There’s a terrifying moment of falling, complete with a half-shriek of fear. Then Angel catches her in mid-air, hauling her onboard with a silencing hand over her mouth and a strong arm wrapped around her waist. Her heart is racing, filling her own ears with echoes of racing blood and fear, and she thinks for a moment that he must sense these also.
Does it thrill him? Deep inside, does his demon twist in greedy hunger? Months ago, she wouldn’t have worried as much, but maybe Angel is different now. Or maybe she just knows him a little better. She knows now that it’s not just Angelus that is capable of cruelty, but Angel as well, and that awareness burrows deep inside and lurks in her mind.
He raises a single finger to his mouth, the universe sign of silence, and his fingers slip to clasp her wrist and keep her near. She should pull back, keep her distance, but it is so too late for that, so instead she draws closer to him. The dark presses in, and if she shuts her eyes, they’re hiding in the sewers again, she’s pressing close to him as the tunnels rumble and shake and a sicko vampire hunts their every move.
The fight is over nearly before she realizes that it has started. The demon is slick and slimy, smeared with sea foam and dripping hungry drool from each sharp, pointy tooth. The tentacles are the worst, uncoiling and striking in mere seconds, and the force of a blow is enough to set her skin aflame and light stars sparkling in her pain-darkened vision.
She hears Angel grunting, and she can still move fast enough to swing her ax through another tentacle as it comes whipping her way. But it is Angel’s sword that hacks through the demon’s head, sending it tumbling as the body flails, keens, collapses into a bloody pile at her feet.
Her face is still throbbing, burning actually, the pain so intense it steals the breath from her lungs. She presses her hand against it, but it doesn’t help. It’s worsening, in fact, and she stumbles backward, nausea swirling in her belly, pain thick and acrid in her throat.
Angel is there in mere seconds. “You okay?” He sounds almost frantic, pulling her hand gently from her face.
How many times has he asked her that? He still hasn’t figured out that nothing hurts more than his abandonment did, no bruise or bump or demon pregnancy had been worse than those two little words: you’re fired. But they’re past that now, he’s back, he’s Angel again, except better because he’s finally learned to buy presents. The weight of her necklace is heavy and comforting and she tries to think of that instead of the unbearable burn of her skin.
“Fine,” she tries to say, but her voice sounds all whispery and not like her. Angel isn’t fooled, and peers at her intently.
“Did it hit you?” he asks, and talking would take too much energy so she nods instead.
He curses, whispered but vulgar enough to startle her into awareness again. “There must be some kind of venom in the slime. Hold still.” Moments later, something wet and clammy hits her face, and she sucks in a half-startled, half-pained gasp.
He is everywhere, ushering her down to sit somewhere, tilting her face up into the moonlight. The cloth against her face sends rivulets of cold sea water streaming down her face, stinging her eyes. “Hold still,” he says again.
The headlights barely cut a swath through inky blackness; the car is hugging the road’s tight curves, swooping up, over and down until Cordelia’s stomach threatens to revolt. Angel is all Mr. Joe Stoic, hands loose on the steering wheel and foot, apparently, heavy on the gas pedal.
The fact that she can barely even see the road shouldn’t bother her, because he is the one driving and let’s face it: vampires have some pretty decent night vision. Maybe if he would actual talk, she could distract herself, but he is even quieter than usual. And that is saying something.
She’d tried to turn on the radio, but he’d sent a pained glance in her direction and her hand stilled despite her best intentions. But without the distraction of music or conversation, her cheek throbs in a painful beat with her angry, upset stomach. A sudden pang stabs at her, of longing for the bright lights and predictable traffic of the I-5 corridor, of civilization and nearby clean restrooms in case she does the unthinkable and actually loses her dinner.
Angel’s glance flickers off the road and onto her for a quick moment, and his voice is quiet and concerned. “Hey. You okay?”
She tries her best to inject some carefree Cordelia into her answer. “Sure? What’s another venomous demon tentacle in my life?” He makes this quiet little humph, but turns his attention back to the road. Guess that conversation is over.
Flipping down the sun visor, she peers at her face in the mirror. Even in the darkness, she can see the faint outline of an ugly, red welt. And, there goes her fabulous Halloween party plans. Like she can show up at any L.A. party with her face all puffy and disfigured. Maybe in Sunnydale she could have worn a mask, but in L.A., the whole point is to be seen. And she doesn’t want anyone to see her like this.
She can’t even feel disappointed. Sure, supposedly Halloween is supposed to be their one guaranteed night off, but somehow she’d known something would come up. Something always does.
She glances over again, only to find Angel’s eyes on her again. “You’d tell me if you weren’t, right?” She casts her mind back, trying to remember the last thing they’d talked about. “If you weren’t okay,” he clarifies a moment later. “You would, right?”
She shifts uncomfortably, tried not to think of the secret doctor visits, the pile of cat scans and test results, and the mounting stash of empty pile vials under her bed. The leather upholstery creaks under her weight and his gaze hones in.
“Of course I would,” she says, and even to her own ears it sounds not quiet true. But he seems to accept it, or at least he doesn’t continue prying. Course, that’s Angel. Not big with the conversation. But as the car swoops around another bend, sending her stomach up into her throat, she decides to ignore what he wants. She needs to talk. Whether he wants to or not.
“So, Fred is settling in a bit better now,” she starts confidently, and from the half glance out of the corner of his eyes, she guesses he knows exactly what she’s trying to do. But he lets her get away with it. He usually does.
“Seems to be,” is all he says, and she can’t just let the conversation die out.
“She still likes that hiding thing though. I’ve started checking under desks and in cupboards when I walk into a room, otherwise she suddenly jumps out and scares the pants off me.”
His lips quirk in a little smile. “Thought you’d be used to that by now.”
She smiles back, remembering countless times when he’d knocked years off her life by sneaking up behind her, even if he’d thought he was being noisy. Then her smile fades. According to the doctors, she doesn’t have enough years left to be wasting them.
“I’m just saying. I think the girl needs some help,” she says, chattering over the silent fear warring with the not so subtle nausea and pain. “I mean, you’ve seen her room! That’s not exactly sanity personified, Angel. Doesn’t she have anyone? Friends? Family?”
Angel shrugs, shapes his hands idly over the wheel. “She hasn’t said.”
“Maybe you should ask?” Cordy offers, and his jaw tenses.
“Maybe we shouldn’t.” His glance now is firm, and a bit disgruntled. “Maybe she just needs time.”
Her eyes roll up automatically, and she flops back into her seat. “Time isn’t everything, you know.”
He’s silent again, and it’s clear that their conversation is over. Too bad, because now she’s stuck thinking about really time is everything, and she’s really got to figure out someway to extend hers. Because regardless of what the doctors predict and whatever the PTB think, there’s no way she’s just sitting around and waiting for her brain to implode.
She has way too much to live for, and way too much left to do. There are people to help, movies to star in, innocents to save, directors to wow, monsters to slay … and she can do it all. Because she’s Cordelia Chase.
She sucks in a deep breath, tosses her head, and forces herself to relax. She tries staring out of the window, struggling to identify anything in the blackness. She misses her long hair in moments like these. There’s nothing as empowering as flipping her long hair over her shoulder, but she had to go all crazy and hack it off. Maybe she should grow it out again.
A woman’s hair is her crowning glory, her mother used to say, and she’s beginning to understand why.
And then, through the night and amid a sea of blackness, a thin line of glimmering lights sparkle. What the …
“Angel, pull over!”
It’s her ‘I mean business’ tone, and Angel recognizes it. But still, it takes him a few moments to find a suitable spot, and he stops the car slowly, like the baby he thinks it is.
“What is it?” He sounds a little irritated, but Cordelia is too focused on the mysterious lights to really notice. Instead, she slides out of the car, promptly slipping in the loose gravel.
“Careful,” he says, and is somehow instantly there, supporting her arm. “What’d you see?”
“I’m not sure,” she says, and gestures what she now realizes is a long way down. “Lights, somehow.”
He’s watching her intently. “Cordelia, it’s all ocean out there. You probably saw a boat or something.”
She rolls her eyes, hoping his vamp vision is good enough to notice. From the subtle tightening of his arm muscle about her, it is. “It wasn’t a boat, Angel. Hello? I know a little bit about cruising the seven seas. I know what boat lights look like.”
His deep, purposeful – and by the way, completely unnecessary! – sigh makes his leather coat creak. He tries once more to get her to drop it: “I thought you wanted to get home for your party?”
Her pfft is instinctive. “Like I can go to the party like this. No way, buster. Let’s go check those lights out.”
They start walking up the side of the road, each step almost preternaturally loud in the palpable silence. It takes longer than she expects, and her legs are burning by the time she sees the lights again, eerie little flickering dots, bobbing, blinking, flickering in an oddly compelling dance. A stream of fire on what she knows must be ocean, because the crash of waves on rocks is suddenly loud in her ears, echoing in a timeless, primal rhythm.
“What is it?” she whispers, and Angel shakes his head before she even finishes the question.
“I don’t know,” he says. His voice is odd, almost hypnotized, and a sudden frisson of unease zips through her. Angel has always been so predictable, until Darla and her mind games made him go bonkers. Everything happened so fast afterwards – his epiphany, her portal sucking journey, Buffy’s death – and suddenly he is back and supposedly the same old vamp.
But everything is somehow completely different. Part of her hates not knowing what he is thinking. Part of her recognizes that perhaps, she never did know.
So she asks.
His face is creased with thought, and he’s staring out over the water. “I don’t understand,” he says carefully. “I feel …”
He’s probably searching through years of languages for the exact, precise word, but patience has never been her strong suit. She pokes him with a sharp elbow. “You feel what?”
It’s a mistake. He shuts down a little, face carefully blank. “I’m not sure.”
That little nagging feeling of unease blossoms into full on worry. “Is it bad? Is it a sign? A prophecy? Are we all going to die? Again?”
He unbends a little, that massive brow lifting a titch. “I don’t think so.” He sounds wry, and a little amused, and relief unfurls warmly inside her belly. “It just feels familiar.”
Figures. “Familiar like how? Like running into an old friend? Or, like meeting up with someone who wants to stake you in a dark alley?”
He squats down, runs his fingers over the small stones by their feet. “Neither, really,” he says, scooping up a small handful, jiggling them lightly. “It reminds me of a story I once heard. When I was human.”
“So, a long time ago then,” Cordelia says automatically, and his face shines ghostly white in a thread of moonlight when he looks up at her. “It is!” she insists, and he inclines his head in a little nod. He stays down for a moment, looking out over the weaving lights, the dark expanse of water.
“It’s beautiful,” he says finally. “Whatever it is. It doesn’t feel wrong, or unnatural. For some reason, it feels right.”
She can feel her eyebrows climbing her face in disbelief. “Oh-kay,” she says, blowing out an exasperated breath. “What do you know that I don’t know?”
He shrugs again and then rises; the pebbles fall slowly and ping as they hit the ground. “I don’t know.” After a pause, he adds: “Maybe nothing.”
She sighs, already knowing where this is going. But it was her idea to stop the car and investigate, so she can’t really complain about trudging down to take a closer look. Except of course she can.
“You don’t happen to have a pair of trendy yet comfortable hiking boots in that mammoth car of yours, do you? Cause, these,” she gestures to her trendy yet comfortable flats, “are not gonna make it.”
“I’ll buy you another pair,” he says easily, his voice suddenly as warm as honey, and she can’t help but brighten up.
“Okay, let’s go!”
The trip down is worse then she could imagine. There’s no real path, no guard rail, just prickly weeds and sharp stones jutting up out of the darkness. She bruises her hand clutching at one, slipping and sliding down as fast as she can. She tries not to think about the expanse of ocean roaring at her feet, cold and salty and probably deadly if she should fall. She wonders if Angel knows CPR, then remembers that he’s not exactly a breather, which isn’t exactly comforting.
Eventually she settles into a rhythm, leaning into the hill, grasping as rocks as they loom next to her, and her eyes become more accustomed to the darkness. Still, she wishes she’d been going to a gym or a climbing wall or something, because her arms are already throbbing under the strain. It goes on forever, until suddenly her feet touch sand, and she can breathe again, a silent rush of relief.
Angel’s head turns toward her questioningly. Maybe not so silent then.
And then, the sight catches her, steals all her breath away. The ocean is glowing, aflame with light, and she can see each wave swell, surge and then crash down, and her feet hum from the vibration in the sand. It is beautiful and gorgeous and she can barely even find words to describe it. But she tries anyway: “Are those –”
“I think they’re pumpkins,” Angel confirms, and the light is enough for her to see humor shining in his eyes.
“No, not pumpkins,” she corrects archly. “Jack-o-lanterns!” It’s true. They’re too far away to see clearly, and the motion of the ocean makes the exact carvings indistinct, but if she stares hard, she can make out the odd eye; a lopsided grin; a flourish glowing by candlelight.
He stuffs his hands into his pockets and suddenly, despite the big shoulders and the cool swishy coat, he looks a bit lost. “Guess we don’t really need to investigate pumpkins.”
She wraps her arms around her waist, hugging herself tightly. “I don’t know … they could be demon pumpkins. With our luck, they probably are.”
He doesn’t answer.
Stepping closer, she puts her hand on his arm, peering up at him. “Are you okay?” and cuts off his inevitable response. “I mean, really? I know you don’t want to talk about it, but instead of communing with monks or living it up in Vegas you got more demons and fighting and I keep expecting to see you brooding and mourning and moping, but you’re not, and not to be rude or anything Angel, but it’s weird. And kinda creepy!”
He sits on some nearby driftwood, stretching long legs out toward the ocean. She’s completely prepared for him to ignore everything she’s just said, but instead, he actually starts talking. “We used to hear stories about the old druids, when I was human,” he says, and she doesn’t mention he’s talking about the wrong thing again. “All these bloody battles and sacrifices, worshiping death in so many ways. When someone especially beloved died, they would wrap the bodies in the softest robes and most beautiful adornments, and float them out to sea on these driftwood rafts.” His hands shape the rafts idly, drawing a picture of the stories until Cordelia can almost see them, pagan and wild, mourning and celebrating, all death and passion and destruction. “Most times, they’d light the rafts on fire, to illuminate the way to paradise,. But sometimes, they would hollow out gourds and light them, and let them float alongside instead.”
He clears his throat a little, ducks his head against the cold briny wind. “I always wondered why the bodies never washed up,” he says, a bit lamely.
She sits next to him, ignoring the uncomfortably cold damp wood. “You miss her?”
Turning to her, he looks directly into her eyes, and she realizes how rarely he does that. “I do. And I don’t,” he says, so quietly the wind and waves nearly snatch the words away. “I always thought I would. But she’s been gone for so long, it’s hard to feel like this is any different.”
“But it is different,” she protests. “This isn’t just gone as in Sunnydale, Angel. And you loved her.”
“I loved her,” he agrees. “But she hasn’t been real. She’s been a dream, a wish, and somehow, I stopped believing. I don’t even know when. And it hasn’t been easy, but it feels—”
“Bearable,” she says. “That’s what you said before. That you could live without her.”
He nods, tilts his head back and lets the whole world rush over his bared throat. “It feels complete,” he says. “That feeling, up there,” he gestures to the road above them, “it was peaceful. Like everything that starts has to end, and that maybe this was her time. She lived a good life. I have to honor that. And you’re right – fighting, the mission – those both honor her.”
They sit a while longer, watching the pumpkins bob on cavorting waves, and when she licks her lips they taste salty. The thought pops into her head and out of her mouth before she can stop it. “Do you think someone is saying goodbye? With the pumpkins, I mean.”
He smiles, full and bright. “No. I think the kids down the beach are celebrating Halloween.”
He laughs a little and taps his ear. “Good hearing.”
“How long have you known?” she says, and if her voice is a little screechy it’s only because she aches all over and there are rocks in her shoes.
“I heard them while we were coming down,” he says. He doesn’t move, but somehow seems the tiniest bit closer. “They’re beautiful,” he says, but he’s not looking at the glimmering pumpkins or even the sparkling stars. He’s looking at her, and her heart skitters nervously until her breath catches in her throat. He probably hears that too, because his gaze flickers away.
She leans comfortably closer to him, and moments later, an arm settles heavily around her shoulders. She’s not sure if he’s drawing her close, but somehow her cheek finds a perfect spot against his shoulder, and even the cold spray of ocean foam feels almost peaceful and nice. She’s not used to this nearness, to him touching her at all unless it’s post-vision.
But then again, Angel is different now. They are all different now.
Thanks to pythia for a great prompt: wistful, coast, jack-o-lanterns! I didn’t do it justice but it was still great fun to write.