Title: Underneath the Drowning Water. (Book 2)
Rating: R going into NC-17 eventually
Summary: Fighting her way back to sanity after Angelus’ attentions the previous spring, Cordelia now has to deal with his return from hell. AU of BtVS s3.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Part of my Persephone series of fics, this is sort of Book 2. The previous four ficlets that make up Book 1 have been organized under a tag and stored in my memories for anyone who wants to go back and refresh their memory before starting this one. This is now a WiP – something I hate with a passion…but it can’t be helped. The previous fics were very dark; this one is a bit lighter but will eventually nose dive back into the same sort of darkness as the others.
Giles gazes down at Cordelia’s catatonic, wide vacant eyes and cleans his glasses with a handkerchief he takes out of his pocket. Small useless circles, over and over again. The lenses shine from the work he gives them, but everything else is so painfully muddied. His missing Slayer, a vibrant girl such as Cordelia reduced to a vegetable.
It’s as though Angel’s eaten his world from the outside in, and left the best parts wallowing in some shallow grave half drowned in rain and mud.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers to the girl who can’t hear, touching her shoulder.
It goes like this, says the devil crouching over your shaking body.
You are his. You have no name, you are not a person. You are his vessel, his footstool. He wipes his feet on your back and uses your hair for reins.
You are nothing.
Less than that.
Meaningless except when he has need of you.
This is what the devil tells you as you lie in filth, as you become filth.
An insidious whisper.
No one misses you, no one wants you.
Well, he does.
But you, in your deepest mind, in the farthest corner of your shrunken soul, do not accept this.
You think that you are not unwanted, that there was a girl who mattered.
She wore red nail polish and high heels and she was mean.
The meanest, nastiest girl in the land.
It takes more time than is in existence, but this truth becomes your light; it keeps you from disappearing into nothing and you chant it and you chant it and you hold it to you until it becomes like a prayer on your skin.
Then one day you raise your head, focus your eyes, and see something else besides the corrupted interior of your own soul.
A pair of glasses catching the light of the sun.
It sparks a word in your battered mind.
The devil crouching over you looks away.
The faces change but the words never do.
They ask how she is, what she’s feeling. They give her little blue pills, little pink pills, no knives with her dinner and the threat of restraints on the corners of her bed.
She can’t tell them she’s not crazy, mostly because she’s not sure she isn’t.
Giles visits, and tells her about what happened, to the best of his knowledge. Tells her Buffy is missing and he doesn’t know if she’s dead, turned or just gone.
He tells her that Angel is gone too. Short broken sentences while he stares at his shoes.
She doesn’t react much because there’s nothing for her to react to. This wasn’t her drama, was it? She’s simply a victim of someone else’s love story. Hate story. Whatever.
She wants to get well. She wants to forget and get on with her life.
Giles gazes at her sometimes with a question she doesn’t understand in his tragic blue eyes.
Two of the fingers on his left hand twist differently than they used to, and she stares at them, huddling closer in the wrap her mother sent her from South America.
Xander brings flowers and tells her she’s looking better every day.
It’s hard to know what to say to him.
Even with the pills to help her along, she still dreams about Angel. Snatches with no sounds, no words.
It wakes her up, the feel of his teeth in her skin again.
Buffy comes one day, with Giles and Willow and Xander.
She gets that she’s supposed to be happy, the Slayer is back and Sunnydale can breathe again. All that.
The others talk around them, the silent two. Buffy’s eyes dim whenever Willow and Xander aren’t looking at her, but Cordelia catches Giles gazing at his slayer. Buffy isn’t fooling Giles.
Cordelia fools everyone.
Fake it ‘til you make it.
She’ll be better one day and then no one will look at her the way they look at Buffy.
Giles keeps coming even when Xander doesn’t. She thinks it probably has to do with his job. The real one, not the fake librarian one.
He tells her Angel rarely leaves survivors, almost never, in fact. And his voice trails.
“Should I feel lucky then?” she asks, looking somewhere off to his left. What she doesn’t want to say is that her survival is an accident of timing, nothing more. Angel had no special plans for her, no secret motivations she can impart to Giles.
That’s what he seems to be waiting for, sitting there on the edge of his chair. She glances down at his twisted fingers.
“Do you feel lucky, Giles?”
There are no answers from either of them.
A month passes and fall begins to creep over summer. The air turns colder. Leaves change and fall from the trees.
Cordelia spends her time walking around outside, hearing them crunch under her feet. She lifts her face to the distant autumn sun and smells the smoke from a dozen different fireplaces.
One night she dreams Angel comes back as a beast and chases her through the woods. Everything is silent. The forest, her feet as she runs, him. The moon in the sky stares down indifferently.
She wakes up without a sound, cold sweat dampening her neck like the faint touch of grave-cold fingers.
It’s easier than she thought, fitting back into school.
Two weeks ago she was sleeping in a bed with wrist restraints at the corners and now –
Now she’s slipping back into her life, easily, comfortably.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are just words to her, she has no symptoms that she can’t wrestle to the ground and stomp on. She is in charge of her life again and she has choices, autonomy. Only the weak minded drown beneath the flood of Angel’s adoration.
She’s not Drusilla.
Then Xander stomps into the library one afternoon and tells them that Angel is alive.
“Buffy’s been hiding him,” he says in a tight, angry voice. “At the mansion. She was kissing him when I saw them.”
Willow goes pasty white with shock.
Giles seems to wilt visibly. Cordelia has to wonder if Xander is enjoying this in some perverse way, the words he chooses like bullets from a gun. It isn’t as if Giles needs to be goaded into being angry. He’s the one with the crooked fingers and the dead girlfriend.
Then they turn to her as Xander suddenly realizes she’s in the room.
“What about what he did to Cordy?” He demands furiously, looking at her as though she’s his chair that Angel broke. “How could Buffy just….kiss him after what he did to Cordy?” He turns back to Giles. “How could she, Giles?”
She wants to ask Xander what upsets him more, that Angel seems to be back or that Buffy is kissing him instead of staking him.
But she doesn’t care enough to.
She gets up as Xander’s voice collides with Giles and Willow’s and leaves the library.
The dreams are sharply focused and she can’t run fast enough in them. She wakes up with a pounding heart and the feel of his breath on the back of her neck.
She slips from her bed and stands in the full darkness of her bedroom, trying to hold onto what is real and what is not.
The soft carpeting beneath her feet is real.
The teeth in her neck are not.
The crickets on the far side of the swimming pool are real, chirping and singing and going about the business of living their short little lives.
Is the monster real?
She doesn’t want to believe he is, but she can feel his touch running under the surface of her skin, like mice in a wall.
scratch, scratch, scratch
Behind the shut door of her mind comes the sound of faint laughter.
School is like trying to swim upstream, the swarm of bodies and voices almost too much for her sometimes. In the wake of Angel’s return and Buffy’s defection, Xander has lost interest in trying to be her boyfriend, too busy trying to paint a red ‘A’ onto Buffy’s chest, and Willow simply stands by and twists her hands together in worry, eyes Hummel-wide and helpless.
Giles walks through the halls like a man bleeding from a wound no one can see.
Buffy hurt him, but he’ll still stand by her.
She feels a sharp pang of something like jealousy digging like a splinter into her heart.
In the cafeteria she turns too sharply away from the line and nearly runs into someone more petite.
The slayer slides her eyes away from Cordelia at first, a touch of shame in them, but then firms her jaw and turns back to look up into her face.
“Cordelia,” she says, determined. “How are you?”
Cordelia blinks down at the other girl without saying a word.
The stand off ends when someone else bumps into them and they move in opposite but parallel directions, like moons orbiting the same heavenly body.
Buffy wants Angel, and even the pain he’s caused, to her watcher and her enemy, doesn’t quantify in the face of Buffy’s love for him.
She can smell him on the other girl’s skin.
Cordelia wakes up after another nightmare and finds herself in the garden, in the rose beds.
There is dirt in her nails, along her ice cold skin.
In the distance she hears a sharp, thin scream.
Getting up, she follows the thick sound of someone swallowing.
Going further from her backyard and into the empty lot between the Chase property and the woods, her feet are too cold to feel the rocks and dry dirt but she knows she’s cutting her skin open. Something is driving her forward, though, or pulling her forward, and she needs to find the source of those sounds.
Because they are familiar, like something her body remembers even if her mind won’t.
Edging into the woods, she stops and listens. The moon is gone and all she can see is shadows of trees, reaching up to the sky with bared branches, and the sound of owls in the distance.
Then she sees what she came to see.
A dark shadow is hunching over, pale arms holding something down.
Her focus narrows down to only him and she’s rooted to the ground like Daphne. Horror makes her throat tight, terror burning like a candle in the middle of her body, becoming like a beacon that calls to him.
He half turns and she sees the doe in his clutch, eyes wide in death, throat torn open.
The world tilts wildly and she almost falls. Becomes the deer so limp in his arms, throat open to the night air.
Blood on his mouth, his smiling joker mouth.
In the distance between them, his feral eyes smoothes into something calmer, and recognition makes him jerk to his feet.
The doe drops to the ground, drained to a husk.