Title: Life’s A Picnic
Category: Sort of angst, I guess. Theme challenge fic (AO/FSB)
Content: C/A friendship
Summary: Angel rescues Cordelia from a date gone wrong and learns there’s more to this sort-of-Scooby then he’d ever dreamed.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: I have no idea who can have this because it’s part of a challenge so ask Helen or CordynAngel.
Notes: This is based on Challenge #2, BTVS Theme 2 – Cordelia’s date takes her for a clandestine picnic in the woods around Angel’s mansion, and leaves her there when darkness falls and the vamps come out to play.
Note #2:Sorry this squeaked in just under the wire. I’ve been really sick for the past week and this didn’t even get finished until about half an hour ago.
Feedback:Always appreciated, never discouraged.
Cordelia looked down morosely at the egg-salad sandwich in her hand. She wondered if she might be lucky enough that it had spoiled and would kill her instantly upon ingestion. Sighing at the vain hope, she threw the uneaten sandwich back onto the paper plate and resigned herself to a fate worse than death – listening to Kyle Sanderson’s endless stories about football glory.
Geez! She was only there, cheering at *every* stupid game. Did he not think that she’d paid attention? Probably, ‘cause if he understood that she’d watched them all he certainly wouldn’t be altering the facts to make it seem as if he were the only member of the team and he covered all the positions. In fact, she was surprised that he hadn’t tried to tell her that he single-handedly won last week’s game by taking over for the quarterback and passing himself the ball so he could make the game-winning touchdown.
When Kyle had asked her out her only thought had been proving to herself that she was completely over Xander Harris. But now, after an hour which felt more like a lifetime, she realized that punishing herself like this certainly wasn’t the way to go about it. She was only making herself miserable. In fact, the only good thing about the whole disaster had been the fact that she was miserable because she was with Kyle, but *not* because she wasn’t with Xander. That had certainly been cause for relief.
Even as thoughts of Xander entered her head her hand moved downward to absent-mindedly rub over her healing scar; the permanent memento of that doomed relationship. Though the wound had healed, she still felt the pain inside. And although she was mad at the cheating bastard, she was angrier with herself.
She had known since kindergarten that Willow was the most important thing in Xander Harris’ life. Then Buffy had come and Cordelia had a front row seat to the deeper feelings hidden under his slayer hero worship.
Her natural confidence had convinced her that those things were not an obstacle. Cordelia had a deep and abiding sense of self, and she’d let that be shaken, let herself believe that she could accept second – third best. And she laid the blame for that squarely on her own shoulders.
But she could admit when she was wrong, and both her relationship with Xander and this date had obviously been a huge error in judgment; and as the sun was beginning to dip lower in the sky she sighed with relief that this mistake was about to correct itself.
“Kyle, it’s almost sundown. You know the deal – a nice afternoon picnic and home before it gets dark.”
No matter how oblivious Kyle might be to the dangers of Sunnydale, Cordelia was more than aware enough for the both of them, and she had been very clear that any date she had with even a muscle bound football player like Kyle had to end before sundown. She wasn’t gonna die for cold chicken and watery macaroni salad.
So she was surprised by Kyle’s lack of packing up and going. If anything, the blonde teenager was reclining on the blanket, as if he was making himself comfortable for an extended stay.
“Now Cordelia, don’t be like that. There plenty of time for us to enjoy tonight. After all, what could be more romantic than you and me on a blanket under the moonlight?”
“Waking up tomorrow in one piece sounds like a pretty good trade off. We had a deal, Kyle, and if you’re not gonna take me home then I’ll just take myself there.”
With those words Cordy made to rise. They were in an isolated and abandoned area of Sunnydale and dusk was fast upon them; and although she knew that she’d never be able to make it home on foot in time, she was pretty sure she could get to a road and flag down a ride, or make it to an occupied house and beg to call a taxi. She’d be alright if she could just get going now.
As she turned to leave she was taking by surprise as a hand whipped out and latched onto her ankle. With a sharp tug she found herself tumbling backwards, landing ungracefully in a heap in Kyle’s arms.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing Kyle Sanderson?”
The question, dripping with venom and disdain seemed not to phase the oblivious young man as he rolled over, pinning the brunette beneath him.
“Don’t be such a tease Cordy. We both know why you agreed to go out with me today. You’ve learned your lesson about mixing with the wrong crowd and you want back in to the good life. Well I can get you in baby, but you got to show me how bad you want it.”
Cordelia was torn – should she spit in Kyle’s face for his arrogance or vomit all over him at his nearness. It was really too close to call at the moment. She may not have been a slayer, but she’d been in enough of the minor skirmishes to know that there was always a way for brains to win out over brawn. Swallowing down the bile in her throat she shot Kyle a winning smile.
“So what you’re saying is that if we do this then I’m back in?”
Sensing that he was about to score, Kyle loosened this hold and eased to Cordelia’s side.
“Yeah baby. If you’re good to me I’ll be more than good to you.”
Letting her hand trail over his shoulder and down his arm, Cordelia levered herself into a sitting position. Fingers deftly removing her earrings she shot Kyle a sultry look from under lowered lashes.
“Just let me put these away. I wouldn’t want to loose them in all the action.”
As she turned the intimate look dropped from her eyes leaving hardened fury in its wake. Opening her purse she tucked her earrings away and closed her hands over a thick wooden stake. Apparently knowing Buffy Summers did come with some benefits.
Knowing that with Kyle’s size and strength she would need to use the element of surprise to the greatest advantage she pulled the stake in close to her and called over her shoulder, “I hope you’re getting ready, Kyle. After tonight, you’ll never look at me the same way again.”
As soon as she heard the rustling sound of clothes being removed, Cordelia turned and lunged in one graceful movement bringing the stake down in an arch the landed it square in Kyle’s thigh.
As Kyle’s roar of outrage echoed through the field, Cordelia scrambled up to run. The sun had already dipped below the horizon leaving nothing but a pale strip of gold in its wake. If there was one thing she knew was more important than being in before dark was that if you were out, don’t draw attention to yourself.
Unfortunately Kyle was ignorant of this fact, too, and continued to spew out obscenities at the top of his lungs. Ignoring him, Cordelia turned to run, but fortune seemed to have deserted her as the blanket shifted under her feet, tangling around them and bringing her to her knees.
Seeing her stumble, Kyle rose up and grabbed her shoulders. Squeezing hard enough to leave finger sized bruises on her skin he was pleased by her small scream as he twisted them around, hurling her smaller body into the large oak that had shaded their picnic. A cruel smile twisted his hate-filled features as Cordelia’s head met the wood with a sickening thud, and as he watched her eyes lose focus he delighted in the look of abject terror that crossed her face.
Cordelia struggled against the blackness slowly engulfing her. She knew that she needed to keep her wits about her if she was going to get out of this. Forcing her vision to steady she realized that Kyle Sanderson had now become the least of her worries, as over his shoulder she made out what was either 3 or 6, depending on her blurring vision, vampires quickly making their way towards them.
She watched as an ugly look of pleasure passed over Kyle’s face as he reached towards her crumpled form. Darkness looming, Cordelia smiled slightly at the fact that at least if she had to go like this Kyle would be going with her. And then all thoughts ceased.
Slowly making his way to the library, Angel was caught in a mix of emotions. He was, as always, excited at the prospect of seeing Buffy. But these days his anticipation was met by an equal need to bring an end to even part of the unrelenting pain that seemed to characterize his relationship with the slayer lately.
It wasn’t that they didn’t love each other, they did. It was just that so much had happened; maybe too much. A relationship built on forbidden love, it was all-consuming, but it left them little foundation for anything other than clandestine meetings and stolen moments. It felt like the love of a lifetime, but not necessarily like a lifetime of love.
It was hard and confusing and after his lengthy stint in Hell, it was slowly eating away at any emotional reserves that he may have had. But it really was all her had, and he wasn’t ready to let it go.
Musings of life and love were halted as a scream pierced the air. The clearly female voice seemed vaguely familiar, but he wasted no time trying to decipher why as he sped off in the direction of the shout.
Leaving the sparsely housed neighborhood behind him, Angel made his way through a small wooded area before breaking out into a clearing. This time it was a masculine scream that caught his attention as he saw a young, obviously athletic man pull himself up next to the large oak in the middle of the field, and looking alternately at the figure below him and the 3 vampires making their way towards him, began limping towards the car parked on the other side of the tree.
Even with all of the years he’d lived, human cruelty could still shock him as it did now as he watched the boy tumble into his car and peel out of the area, leaving his girlfriend behind. That wasn’t all that bothered Angel; for as he moved forward to intercept the demons he noticed that the girl was strangely still, especially in light of the approaching vampires and the abandonment of her boyfriend.
Seeing him approach, the vampire in the lead growled at him as he edged closer to the girl.
“This one’s ours pal. Go find your own dinner, we don’t share.”
Smirking at the vampires who were obviously new enough to have no idea who he was he slipped a stake from his sleeve into his hand.
“What a coincidence. I don’t share either.”
And with that he whipped around, extending his foot and catching the vampire closest to him in the chest, knocking him backwards and leaving him defenseless to the sharpened wood that descended at near light speed to bury itself deep into his still heart.
With an animalistic roar the other two threw themselves forward mistakenly believing that there would be greater safety in numbers. They were quickly disabused of that notion as Angel grabbed an arm, bending it back until he heard the satisfying crack of bones. Using the injured limb he propelled the vampire in his grasp into the oak in front of them, impaling him on a broken branch and showering the girl below with ash.
The third vampire, seeing the demise of his comrades and knowing he was hopelessly outmatched wisely chose retreat. Shoving his shoulder into Angel as he was spinning around he took advantage of the momentary distraction to make his way out of the area, pausing only long enough to call a last threat over his shoulder.
“You’re dust, man. I’m not alone, and I’ll be back. You won’t even make it out of this field before you feel the sharp end of a stake and the bitch will still end up as dinner.”
As he watched the last vampire flee into the woods, he bent down to check on the girl who still hadn’t awoken. As he drew closer he realized that much like her voice, her scent seemed familiar. Gently brushing long, silky strands of mahogany hair away from her face he realized why as he stared down into the blood-streaked face of Cordelia Chase.
Angel was almost surprised by the oath that tore from his mouth. Although Cordelia had been a part of the Scoobies, she’d always been, much like himself, relegated to the fringes. They had never really spent much time together, he preferring to spend most of his time with Buffy, and Cordelia dating the moron. So he was caught off guard by the anger that surged through him at seeing her lying there, bleeding.
Of course, if he really thought about it, vampires were, by nature, social creatures, belonging to orders and creating families. It was merely the soul that excluded him from these things, not the lack of desire. When he met Buffy he was, however reluctantly, dragged into a small group that, in retrospect, he had apparently adopted as his own. And while he didn’t plan on engaging in any group hugs any time soon, he could sense in himself the growing upset that one of his small links to the world around him had been damaged.
Checking her pulse and breathing and finding both steady he wrapped Cordelia in his duster and lifted her gently into his arms, turning to make his way back to the mansion to call Buffy to come help the girl. But halfway across the clearing he paused, picking up the sound of bodies, many bodies, moving towards them.
Cursing as he realized that the last of the trio hadn’t been lying, he quickly turned and made his way through the woods on the opposite side of the field. Knowing that with Cordelia’s head wound they’d be easy to track, Angel turned northward to where he knew he’d find a sizable stream. He held Cordelia as high as he could in the waist level water, as he moved quickly some distance upstream before exiting, knowing that it would be harder to follow their scent through the water.
Even so, he knew that he’d need to find them a place to hide out for a few hours. Moving away from the town had been necessary if not advisable, and with an injured young woman in his care he couldn’t afford to wander the woods hoping to avoid the demons pursuing them. They needed to find a defensible position until the danger passed and he could get her some medical care. He’d just have to hope that her vital signs would remain steady, and, if luck was with him that she’d remain unconscious. She may be part of his makeshift clan, but she wasn’t always the most pleasant part.
Angel stretched his legs out. He wasn’t good with close contact, but there was no other place for him to lay Cordelia except against his side in the long, narrow cavern he’d found carved into one of the many hills of the Sunnydale backwoods. It wasn’t where he’d wanted to be tonight, but given the situation he was satisfied with the accommodations.
Hidden behind large, dense California brush, the entrance would be difficult to find for someone not looking for such an opening. It was imminently defensible as anyone approaching them could only do so from the open and only in one direction. It’s length had the many advantages of allowing him to keep the fighting well away from Cordelia, hiding their scent from those who might still be searching for them, and keeping out the dangerous rays of the sun if, God forbid, the were still here come sunrise.
It was odd, except for Buffy, human touches had been few and far between for the vampire; yet sitting there for the past few hours with Cordelia pressed up against him felt as natural as if they’d done it a thousand times before. Maybe it was her lack of awareness which meant a lack of suspicion and fear. Because if there was one thing that Angel was sure of it was that where those closed eyes finally fluttered open, the last thing he would find would be acceptance.
As if his thoughts had stirred the girl to wakefulness, her eyelids slowly began to lift. Watching the hazel eyes struggle to focus he prepared himself to cover her mouth should her first instinct be to scream. Angel was surprised when no noise was forthcoming, and instead a look of confusion settled on her brow. That surprise paled in comparison to the shock of what occurred next.
“Who – who are you?”
Angel felt silly as he realized that they were in a dark cave and only one of them had demon eyesight. Letting out the air he’d reflexively inhaled, he answered Cordelia’s question in a soothing tone.
“It’s okay, Cordelia. It’s me, Angel. There was a…problem with your date. Vampires. This was the safest place I could find for us given the circumstances.”
She was so still that he’d thought maybe she’d fallen unconscious once again. But a quick glance down showed that her bright, steady gaze was still pinned on his face as if somehow she too could see through the inky blackness of the night. Slowly, hesitantly her voice emerged again.
“You’re an Angel? Am I dead?”
A cold shiver shot through Angel at Cordelia’s question. Sure, they might not have been the best of friends, but she should at least recognize his name, his voice.
Whatever he was about to say was lost as the girl next to him broke in.
“Cordelia. That’s me, right?”
“What? Uh…right. No.” Taking another steadying breath, Angel started again. “Yes, you’re Cordelia. No. I’m not an angel, my name is Angel. Cordelia, what exactly do you remember?”
As her brows furrowed in deep concentration, a finger seemed to make its way of its own accord to her mouth as she gently worried the tip.
“You mean other than waking up here, right?”
“Yes, Cordelia. I mean before that.”
“Oh. About me?”
“Yes, Cordelia. About you.”
“Oh. Then that would be nothing apparently.”
Hand leaving her mouth her eyes once again unerringly found his.
“That’s not normal, right? This is amnesia, isn’t it?”
Angel wasn’t sure how to answer her. He really didn’t want to deal with a hysterical female, and her denial so far had kept her relatively calm. But really, how long could he keep her unaware of the fact that she didn’t remember anything? As he was debating the pros and cons on rendering unconscious someone who was already suffering some form of head trauma, he was diverted from that line of thought as a bright smile lit her face. As out of place as her happiness seemed, it wasn’t hysterics, so, even knowing that she really couldn’t see him, he tentatively returned the smile.
“Hey! I remembered what amnesia is. Yay me!”
What had been a hesitant smile on the vampire’s face grew until it reflected a genuine sense of pleasure. From what he understood of amnesia it was possible for a person to forget everything about themselves and yet retain knowledge of language, culture, social rules and the like. It didn’t necessarily strip the person of their personality, but rather left them without the natural defenses that a person built up over the years of their life.
As he gazed down at the open expression of the girl before him he found himself wondering what she might be like without the deeply fortified walls he’d sensed in her since their first meeting.
Cordelia’s brow wrinkled once again. Something niggled at her brain. At first she’d thought that it might be a memory, but when she finally caught it and pinned it down she realized that it was something that the man – Angel had said to her.
“Did you say ‘vampires’? ‘Cause I don’t remember a whole lot, but I seem to remember that those aren’t real.”
Feeling him tense next to her, she strained in the darkness, wishing she could make out the features of the man she was leaning against. It was odd, but she could almost feel him struggling with whether or not to tell her the truth. Feeling him relax, she knew that he’d opted for honesty.
“Cordelia, most people do believe that vampires and demons aren’t real. But given that you live in Sunnydale I don’t think that I’d be doing you much of a service by letting you continue to believe that.”
“Oh. Do we have a lot of vampires here in Sunnydale? ‘Cause any place with Sunny in the name wouldn’t seem to be a place for vampires to settle down.”
“Well, they used to call it Boca del Infierno.”
Confusion rearranged her features once again as Cordelia searched her empty memory banks.
“Am I supposed to know Spanish? Hey! I knew it was Spanish.”
Angel was once again fighting the urge to smile as the dirty, blood covered girl who’d just learned about the existence of demons celebrated recognizing a foreign language that she couldn’t even speak. Her ability to pull the good out of what to him seemed like overwhelming bad was endearing and it made him even more curious about the girl under the carefully maintained image.
“You’re right. It is Spanish. It means ‘Mouth of Hell’.”
“Well, I can see why they’d change that. I mean how would you get anyone to move to a place with a name like that? Property values must have soared once they went with Sunnydale.”
Cordelia felt as if her brain was soaking up everything it could to replace everything that was gone; much like a dry sponge pulls in water. Because of that it took a minute for the importance of Angel’s words to settle in.
“Wait. Mouth of Hell? That’s not a good thing, is it?”
Mouth tilting slightly, Angel acknowledged her incredible understatement with one of his own.
“No, in the time that I’ve been here I’ve never found it to be a good thing.”
“So why do people live here? Why do we live here?”
Angel had wondered that himself, often. He supplied her with the conclusions that he had reached.
“Most people seem almost purposefully unaware about the dangers here. It’s almost as if they won’t let their sense of normalcy be disrupted, even if it costs them their lives.”
That sounded reasonable to Cordelia, but she still wasn’t sure she understood.
“Okay, I get why they stay, but you know the truth, and apparently I knew the truth until recently, so why are we still here?”
This question was a little more complex, although Angel had pondered this too at length.
“Well, honestly, you’re a senior in high school. You live at home with your family, and I think they’re among those still in denial. You could try telling them that vampires are real, but I have a feeling they’d lock you in a little, padded cell for a while. So I think that you’re kind of stuck here for the time being.”
“But besides that, you and I, we help. We work with a girl known as The Slayer. A chosen one who is mystically equipped to fight evil and protect the Hellmouth. We help her do that. That’s why I stay. Maybe that’s why you stay, too.”
“Are we mystically equipped to fight evil?”
Angel wondered if any of her questions were going to be easy.
“Not exactly. We each have our…strengths, but we’re not like Buffy.”
“Buffy? The all powerful slayer of evil is named Buffy??? Am I just not remembering something important, or is that name totally not fear striking?”
He couldn’t help it. Maybe it was because she seemed equally surprised by everything she said, and maybe it was just because she didn’t know that he was supposed to be broody and stoic, but before he could stop it a bark of laughter flew from his lips.
Cordelia smile widened at the happy sound. Maybe she couldn’t see him, but she could here him, honest and patient, and she could feel him holding her against him, safe and strong. She might not know him, but he’d saved her and she couldn’t help but enjoy the sound of his joy.
“No, it’s not your memory. Buffy is not the scariest name ever created.”
A sly smile lifted the corners of her lips as she glanced in his direction.
“Of course Angel’s not to scary either, is it?”
Pulling her in tighter to his side before he realized he was doing it, he mock scowled into the darkness as he playfully growled, “Are you ridiculing your savior, girl?”
Swallowing down her laughter at the light-hearted moment, Cordelia strove to hit a serious note.
“Why Angel, how could something as irrelevant as your girlie name keep me from lavishing you with hero worship?”
Another uncharacteristic shout of laughter was pulled from Angel at Cordelia’s teasing. Even with his deep love for Buffy, they had never done this; never just sat and enjoyed being light and carefree. Of course he probably wouldn’t be sharing those things with Cordelia either except that she couldn’t remember her cares for the moment. Those thoughts were halted as a musing voice broke.
“So tell me something about myself.”
Cordelia had thought that the request was simple. However the sudden tensing of the body next to her implied that it was anything but.
Wracking his brains for something to tell her, Angel was suddenly saddened by just how little he knew about the girl trapped here with him.
“Your name is Cordelia Chase. Your parents are wealthy and you were very popular in high school. You started dating Xander Harris, although God knows why, and gave up your old friends who refused to accept him.”
“Wow.” Cordelia broke in. “That sounds romantic.”
Hearing the longing in her voice, Angel decided not to disillusion her with the specifics of their breakup.
“You two eventually decided to…part ways, but you’ve put your differences aside to continue to help the slayer when needed.”
“So, I may not have true love, but at least I’m very mature.”
Not able to look down into her wistful face and rob her of that small comfort and not willing to damage her startling sense of optimism, he said the only thing he could.
“Extremely mature, Cordelia.”
She seemed content with that for the moment, but as Angel began to relax he was hit with another question.
“Angel, tell me some other things about me. Not about my life, but things I like. What’s my favorite color? Or which flower I like best. Or how about my favorite food?”
It was funny, but earlier today he hadn’t known any of those things and he was glad. Glad that he wasn’t encumbered by people with their endless needs for interaction and emotional contact. He was glad that he didn’t know more than just Buffy that he didn’t have to care. And yet now, after this short amount of time he’d pay to be able to answer the simple questions she’d asked. And it left him questioning his own life, so solitary; so alone. And much like her questions, his own had no immediate answers.
“I’m sorry, Cordelia. I don’t really know those things about you.”
He sounded so sad, that Cordelia felt worse that she’d asked him than that he hadn’t known. Searching for his hand, despite the pain involved in moving, she finally grasped it. Giving him a squeeze she reassured him.
“It’s okay, Angel. I don’t know those things about me either. Let’s figure them out together. Hmmm…my favorite color. I’m thinking….green. I remember spring. Not a specific one, but generally. It’s pretty green and I like it, so green it is.”
Angel looked down at the hand in his, surprised by the resilience of a girl who was injured, hiding in a cave, and unable to remember any of her life, but was comforting him because he had never bothered to take the time to know her. The only thing he knew for certain in that one moment was that Xander Harris was an absolute fool.
“Okay, flower. I don’t want to be ordinary, and I have a feeling that roses would be ordinary, wouldn’t it?”
Cordelia glanced towards where she knew his face to be, finding it comforting to pretend that she could see the only thing she had to hold onto in the darkness.
“I don’t think you could ever be described as ordinary, Cordelia.”
She flashed a smile at him, also finding comfort in the thought that he could see her and continued.
“Okay, then how abooooout…tulips. Beautiful orange tulips. This is fun, isn’t it Angel. And when I remember everything, if it doesn’t match I’ll just have twice as many favorite things.”
“Now, on to the best part – food. My brain is telling me that chocolate is a wonderful thing and I know that it’s true, but I can’t remember having it. It is good, right Angel?”
Searching the darkness for a reply she finally heard him drawl out, “That’s what I hear.”
Giving a pfft, that must have been stored in an instinctual part of her brain; she rolled her eyes even knowing that he couldn’t see it.
“Yeah, cause you’re too manly to indulge in chocolate, right *Angel*.”
“Hey!” Angel replied indignantly. “Are you impugning my manhood?” Joining in the teasing by pretending to take exception.
“Never, Angel. After all, not only have you saved my life, but you’ve helped me figure out the three most important things about myself.”
He heard Cordelia stifle a yawn, even as her body settled more heavily against his.
“You’re welcome, Cordelia.”
Angel knew that even as he said it she had already drifted off to sleep. Torn between wanting her to rest and wondering if, given her head injury, it was a good idea, he decided that her body probably knew best and, pulling her in so that her head lay against his shoulder, he let her sleep as he began to ponder the complexity that was Cordelia Chase, wondering what had happened in her short life that had left such boundless optimism buried under a mountain of sarcasm and distrust.