SUMMARY: On Halloween Ghost Hunters comes to town and Cordelia is everyone’s choice for bait.
POSTED: 15 Nov 2008
CATEGORY: HOLIDAY FIC (HALLOWEEN)
WARNINGS: Language and Bloodplay
FICPIC CREDIT: N/A
1) Thanks, always, to Damnskippy, for her encouragement and her mad beta skills. She makes the very short list of people whom I strive to be like creatively. This is set AU, in place of the Halloween episode we saw in s2 BtVS. Emphasis on the C/A subtext, and a little bit of canon B/A but it’s barely noticeable. Since I’ve seen very few episodes of Ghost Hunters, liberties were no doubt taken.
Okay, The Atlantic Paranormal Society is going to California this Halloween, to investigate a small town two hours up from LA. There have been rumors for years about this town, Grant, and we’re going to set up downtown, a hot bed of activity from what we understand, and see if we can get some good stuff, and maybe debunk some others. Ready, buddy?
“It’s Halloween. Something’s bound to happen.”
Rooting through the potato chip bag for crumbs, Grant smiles without a lot of real humor.
“The town’s haunted, right? That’s what the contact said. Graveyards with more traffic than the Beltway in DC, a high school reputed to be on the mouth of hell and deformed demons buying munchies at the 7-Eleven? So what have we seen in the six hours we’ve been here on Halloween night? Bupkus.”
Licking the salt off his fingers, he tosses the bag away and adjusts his headset.
“What a waste of electricity,” he finishes, slumping down in the passenger seat of their tricked out van.
“Whoa, there’s something,” Jason mutters in appreciation.
Grant stretches his head up and peers out of the windshield.
A girl climbs out of a candy apple red sports car with an intriguing vanity plate, and straightens up with practiced ease, smoothing the skirt of her uniform over the finest ass Grant had seen since Gracie bent over to pick up the trash yesterday morning.
“A cheerleader. Now that’s some sharp eyes on you partner.” He drawls, preparing to close his own peepers instead.
“No, dude, check out the guy behind the coffee house.”
Finger pointing out, he gestures to a dark figure lurking behind a public trashcan along the tree lined sidewalk. Grant looks again, his gaze sharpening in professional curiosity.
Paler than the moon above their heads, and still in a way Grant is not used to seeing in the living, the man’s hands are clasped together as he keeps his eyes on the cheerleader striding into the Expresso Pump.
Too far away to see the expression on the stranger’s face, Grant follows his finely honed ‘what the fuck is that’ instinct and picks up the digital thermometer and fires it up, making sweeping motions across the downtown tableau outside their van.
Everything is registering a heat signature but the figure in the black coat.
“Fuck,” he says succinctly. “I think we have something.”
A few minutes later, the equipment in the van is up and running and Jason has fifty pieces of hardware aimed at the figure in the distance.
The cheerleader comes out of the coffee house holding onto a container with four coffees and a box Grant assumes contains doughnuts or biscotti or whatever the coffee crowd is paying too much money for this week.
The man with no body heat steps slowly toward her and Grant tenses, wondering if he needs to jump out of the van. He’s fairly certain the man is not human since he’s not registering on any of their equipment and the girl appears to be oblivious.
Until she swings her head to the side and sees him.
Ponytail whipping against her neck, she glares for a second before turning a smile on him that threatens to blow out their infrared scanner.
Goddamn, he can see the glow of her teeth from thirty feet away.
The figure pauses now that he’s been spotted and then extends his hand offering, Grant presumes, his help with her load. She shakes her head, though, and moves her lips in thanks. Moving to her car, the man watches her go, an unreadable expression darkening his eyes.
After the cheerleader stores her stuff in the car under the man’s watchful observation, she waves lightly at him and drops back into her cherry ride gunning the engine and shifting into reverse with the practiced ease of the very rich.
In a cloud of tailpipe smoke, she’s gone and both Grant and Jason take a moment to appreciate the sound of her purring engine before it fades from sight.
When they look again, the man is no longer in front of the coffee house.
Just as suddenly he’s standing outside Grant’s window.
Grant resists the urge to jump into his partner’s lap by sheer force of will alone.
Up close, the man in the black coat looks less human than anything Grant’s ever seen through his computer screen before. To say his skin is pale is like saying black is dark. It’s washed of color, life. Whatever. There’s just nothing there.
Same with his eyes.
The fine hairs on his arms stand up at attention.
“Is there something I can do for you gentlemen?” The figure asks, his gaze taking in their equipment before settling on them again.
“No,” Jason mutters, finding his voice while discreetly taking readings and praying the man doesn’t notice.
They are considered for a moment before the man nods slightly, head turning and eyes taking in the direction of the cheerleader’s car.
“Whatever you’re thinking about my friend, don’t. If you’re thinking about using some of this hardware on her, don’t. If you’re thinking of following her, don’t.”
His gaze swings back to them, the warning clear.
“No, we’re – ah, we’re on a location scout for possible filming, that’s all.” Totally full of shit but Grant has to try. They just need the guy to step back and Jason will gun the engine and floor the gas pedal and that’ll be all she wrote.
He takes in the bullshit excuse with all the due consideration a predator gives prey and then nods slightly.
“Sunnydale’s usually not this quiet,” he replies. “Or this hospitable. Be careful when you leave town.”
He turns on his heel and saunters around towards the back side of the van.
Panic making him brave, Grant jerks open the door and jumps out.
No one’s there.
Moving to the back of the van, he can’t see the guy anymore.
Jason joins him and neither of them says anything for awhile, Grant exhaling in shaky relief.
“That, my friend, was unreal.”
“No kidding,” Jason says in a shaky voice, laughing slightly in relief.
“Did you get everything?”
“On him? You bet,” Jason replies, excitement creeping into his voice. “Should we leave town?”
“Fuck no, buddy. We’re going to find that cheerleader again.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
Angel is already in the library when Cordelia comes through the double doors, carefully balancing the coffee and biscotti in her hands.
Giles looks up in relief at the sight of her, already coming over to relieve her of her precious caffeine burden.
“Thank God,” he mutters, hunching over the treats and carrying them over to the counter.
“I thought you were all tea and scones all the time, Giles,” she remarks, following behind. Her skirt swishes up on every forward motion of her legs, and Angel is careful not to trace the femoral artery weaving up her leg to her inner thigh with his eyes.
Giles glances over his shoulder at her, preparing to sputter when Buffy, coming out of the office, saves him from answering.
“Hey, Watchers can have layers, too,” she quips. “It’s not all tweed and Earl Grey twenty-four/seven.”
Angel almost smiles at Giles’ discomfort, but is distracted by Cordelia sliding up onto the research table, legs dangling.
The soft, secret center of her is shadowed in nylon and spandex, but he can smell the copper tang of her oncoming monthly cycle.
It’s why he can’t stop from following her around.
Ever since he drove her into a dumpster and then pulled her out again, she seems to have unleashed all of his predatory instincts. He finds the weakness expanding in his bones, the dreams of his mouth on her, between her thighs, drawing forth that which he needs to live and survive, that which he craves more than he craves being good, being worthy, seductive in a way that not even Buffy with her soft eyes and softer touch, can drive away.
He deliberately moves his gaze away.
Only to encounter Xander’s hostile stare.
That’s right, boy, the demon inside his caged soul thinks; I’ll get there first no matter which woman you try to claim.
“Alright, now that we’ve established I’m English, can we get this meeting under way? Hmm?”
Dipping chocolate biscotti into his steaming coffee, Giles commences the emergency gathering.
He feels exposed, an element in the air during Samhain that doesn’t want him around.
The Master theorized once it was the white hat powers wanting to commune with their human pets when the walls were thinnest, pushing the undead back into the shelter of the earth and out of the way.
Angel can feel the itch under his collar, to go to ground, to wrap himself in the dirt and sleep.
Only the need to see Cordelia, to be around the earthy scent of her body about to bloom bright red and humid, was just a little stronger tonight, and Buffy found him because of it. She asked for his help so prettily that he found himself agreeing in spite of his trepidation to be any closer to Cordelia than he’s allowed himself so far.
Now he’s standing at the lookout under a line of trees at the edge of the oldest part of the cemetery, waiting for a teenaged witch to summon forth a mummy some scientist/wannabe occultist brought over from Egypt seventy years ago.
He thinks Sunnydale’s reputation as the seat of evil is going to take a beating tonight.
“Hey! Hey, stop, there she is,” Grant points to the entrance of Restfield Cemetery. The cheerleader’s car was parked a block away, and the girl herself was striding through the gates of the cemetery in the company of an older man and two other kids. None of them even hesitated to enter the domain of the dead on the scariest night of the year.
Grant raised an eyebrow, wondering if they weren’t closet occultists looking for a thrill.
But where she is, the man that hadn’t registered with any of their equipment might also be, so they rolled past the gates looking for a service entrance.
“Are you ready, Cordelia?” Giles asks in a slightly worried tone.
Cordelia nods, almost eager to get going and Giles frowns.
She rolls her eyes at him.
“I’d tell you not to worry because of lines, but – well, that boat’s pretty much sailed, huh? But even so, don’t worry. I’ve been bait a couple of times, even when I wasn’t really trying to be, so this’ll be easy.”
Without waiting for him to respond, she runs off, Nikes digging confidently into the earth.
Angel watches her slow as she reaches the center of the cemetery, reaching up to undo her hair from its binding. The mass swings free, releasing its scent into the air where he catches the edge of expensive chemicals masked in artificial flowers.
In his time, ladies washed their hair with rosemary water and soap made with real rose petals.
He keeps his eyes on Cordelia, senses reaching out for any sign of demons or animated ancient mummies.
She circles slowly around some planted flowers and plots, hands propped on her hips.
It’s an almost irresistible invitation to play, and he wants to. Rush her and drive her to the ground, put his face into hers until her fear sweetens the sweat on her skin and the wine of her blood.
On the other side of the property he can see Buffy sitting on a tombstone, waiting. Her heart is beating normally and there isn’t even a tinge of fear to draw out of her.
“Jesus, dude, look at some of these readings,” Jason sticks the EVP meter into Grant’s line of vision. The thing is going off like he’s never seen it do before, no matter which direction Jason points it in.
“The whole cemetery is a hot spot,” he mutters to his friend.
It’s going to take hours to go through all the data, he thinks. They’ll have to call in the whole team over the weekend to do it.
Lugging the strap of his equipment bag higher on his shoulder, he follows Jason deeper into the darkness of the cemetery, resisting the urge to gaze over his shoulder.
“Stop, stop. There she is.”
Grant nearly runs into Jason’s back, stopping himself and twenty pounds of expensive hardware from toppling over.
The cheerleader is standing in the center of the cemetery, hair loose and posture relaxed.
Like she’s waiting for the kickoff to start the game.
A loud pop comes from the direction of a mausoleum right then, and the smell of incense and ozone pervades Grant’s nostrils. He shakes his head, his skin trying to rearrange itself over his skull.
He suspects the kickoff just commenced.
“Dude, the guy,” Jason nudges him with the EVP meter, pointing.
Grant searches the edges of the property and sees him standing shadowed by the night and the trees. That same stillness gives him away, but it’s edged with tension now after the odd explosion.
The girl doesn’t run away, and doesn’t seem to be aware of the presence watching her.
Then an unholy noise rips through the air and the EVP meter goes haywire, lights popping and needles going in all directions.
“What the hell was that?” he asks Jason, looking everywhere, ready to run, keeping one eye on the girl alone in the spotlight.
“I don’t know but get ready to run, dude,” Jason warns him.
It sounds like a wounded animal, whatever it is, and the girl still doesn’t move, still stands like she’s waiting for a call.
It comes in the form of a very large, lumbering shambles of a figure wrapped in dirty gauze, strips falling from it as it charges out of the doors it rips off the mausoleum.
Straight at the cheerleader.
Grant doesn’t think about it, he just starts running towards her, shouting at her and waving with his free hand while pointing his EMF scanner.
A small figure explodes out of the shadows perpendicular to his position, blond and petite, but a ball of fire comes out of nowhere and strikes her off her feet in the blink of an eye. Turning towards the source, he sees a stick figure in black, hand blazing with fire.
Another shout from the opposite side and the older man they saw earlier streaks over to the now still figure on the ground, calling her name.
Suddenly it’s a party in Restfield Cemetery, the cheerleader finally, finally, spinning on her bright white Nikes and running full stop, screaming Buffy’s name as well. The mummy doesn’t even hesitate, just speeds up like it’s got eight cylinders under the hood and gives chase.
Grant runs full stop at her, intending on doing what, he has no idea. But he’s a man, and there’s a girl in trouble so he does what nature programmed him to do.
Except something beyond the laws of nature is watching out for her as well. The dark figure in the coat seems to throw himself through the air, landing between the cheerleader and the monster, face distorted.
“Jason!” He calls, dropping his load so that he can pull out his digital recorder.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, he just missed the shot of the fucking century!
The guy growls, sounding like a lion, and lunges at the mummy, fists swinging. The mummy doesn’t bother dodging, the punches having no effect on him, and keeps dragging himself after the girl.
Grant points his recorder at her, watching from two feet away as she stops and hesitates, her eyes on the fight. Her eyes flicker over at him, frowning in anger.
“Who are you?” she demands, voice high pitched with fear and anxiety. Not waiting for an answer, she turns on him. “What are you just standing there for? Help him! Buffy’s out – I didn’t see the shot but that little witch got her good – someone needs to help him!”
She runs over and shoves his shoulder while Grant stands looking at her in confusion.
Who’s going to –?
“I said help him, you little girly man!” She shoves him again and waits. Grants opens his mouth to speak and she rolls her eyes and huffs out a breath then she turns and runs at the mummy wrestling with the – were those fangs?
“Holy shit,” Grant mutters, gazing frantically for Jason. But Jason is no longer where he was. Focusing on the fight again, he sees the girl take her shoe off and throw it at the two beings. It glances off the shoulder of the mummy, and the thing focuses on her again, throwing the man off his back and shambling after her.
“Cordelia! Run!” The deformity on his face distorts his voice as well, but the girl hears him just fine. Squeaking, she turns and runs again, clearly trying to lead the mummy away from her friend.
Roaring in frustration, he raises straight up from his kneeling position and goes after them.
Angel feels the earth churn under his boots, his face curled against the fangs crowding his mouth.
The mummy’s old but strong and surprisingly faster than he thought it would be. Cordelia is just barely keeping ahead of it by the force of her fright and he silently begs her to hang on, to go faster. If it gets one hand on her, it’ll tear her shoulder from the socket, or punch a hole in her trying to get her to stop.
Run, baby, run
He reaches out and grabs a strip of wrapping, but it tears out of his grip and he growls in frustration, Cordelia leading all of them into the trees surrounding the cemetery and separating it from a nearby track of housing.
Then, just as the mummy reaches out and grazes her shoulder and Angel can almost hear the sound her arm will make as its pulled from her shoulder, a blond ball of slayer fury rockets past him and tackles the mummy to the ground.
Cordelia gets caught by the tumbling figures and stumbles, trying to keep her balance. Too late, she falls close to the edge of a ravine and goes over.
Angel reaches with his whole body and pushes past the fighting slayer and monster, extending the molecules of his body until he’s part of the air.
He pulls a screaming Cordelia into the sphere and safety of his body and hugs her hard, covering her head as they tumble head over feet down into the darker part of the ravine.
The scent of her blood blankets the air as her skin is opened by the fall.
Just scrapes and cuts, he hopes frantically, ground and sky trading spaces in his tumbled vision.
He stops their free fall by grabbing the root of a dying tree and gripping hard.
He almost loses his grip on her in the pull back force and grunts against the pressure.
“I’ve got you!” He growls, peering up as they dangle against the downward sloping earth.
“Keep me!” she snaps, her voice laced with fear and pain.
He almost laughs, thinking he just might have to.
Then he instantly regrets the sentiment, thinking about Buffy fighting for her life above their heads.
“Don’t wiggle,” he tells her as he tightens his grip on her body, preparing to haul her up.
“Don’t worry,” she replies through gritted teeth. He grunts again and pulls her up, getting her between him and the sloping ravine. Pushing her body securely against the ravine wall, he takes a second to feel her body, the curves and soft strength of her limbs and torso, before urging her to lace her hands behind his neck.
A few moments later, he begins the long, arduous climb back up.
Cordelia groans as Angel hauls her up over the edge back onto flat ground. Crawling after her, he pulls himself over her prone body, turning her over on her back despite her obvious discomfort, and runs a trembling hand over her arms and down her legs, kneads her ribs gently to check for breaks.
She flinches and lifts her hands up, onto his, unsure. He stills his touch anyway, under the slope of her breasts, and squeezes gently, compulsively. There’s a catch in her breath that’s not from the climb back up and a dark, tight thrill goes through him at the unmistakable sound.
“Does anything feel broken or wrong?” He asks her in a quiet voice. Unable to stop himself, he traces the paths of his hands with his eyes, noting the various cuts that ooze blood against her soft flesh. Opening her eyes, she gazes up at him silently, and he can feel the prickly sensation of awareness, like an electric shock between them.
“I’m fine,” she replies, telling him nothing, getting up on her elbows and dragging herself out from under him. He closes his eyes against the slide of her body on his, not moving, not making it easier on either of them. It’s what he’ll have, the only thing he’ll allow himself the memory of, when things go back to normal.
“Everything okay here?”
He looks up into Buffy’s tight face, taking in the pressed together lips and crossed arms. Her voice, while concerned, is asking something altogether different.
He climbs to his feet gingerly, deciding to ignore it. The aches are settling in, and he knows it’s going to take a couple of pints of blood to set things right inside. Stooping over and bracing his hands against his knees, he takes a second to assess things, and despite her edginess, she rushes forward, offering him the strength of her shoulder to hold onto.
He does so, closing his eyes again so he doesn’t have to watch someone else prop Cordelia up.
When he opens them again, one of the strangers from the van is the one helping her to her feet.
Aches forgotten, he lunges forward and grabs the one holding Cordelia, jerking him up by the collar of his t-shirt.
“Who are you? What do you want?” He grits through his teeth, shaking the man a little.
“Put him down, Angel,” Giles snaps, appearing with the other man from the van, Willow and Xander taking up the rear.
“Angel, stop,” Buffy urges him, hand on his torn up shoulder.
“Not until he tells me why he’s been following Cordelia around,” Angel replies resolutely, not taking his eyes off the man’s panicked face.
“We weren’t –“ Angel shakes him for the lie. “We were, but we aren’t – we wouldn’t have hurt her.”
“Angel.” The slayer’s hand grips his shoulder and spins him, breaking his hold. The other man drops down in a heap and Angel almost glares at Buffy.
“Has it occurred to you that they may have had something to do with the mummy?” He demands, blinking down at her.
“Oh, God. The mummy!” Cordelia exclaims, breaking through the raised voices. “What happened to it?”
Xander puts a hand on her shoulder, stepping up next to her.
“Don’t worry Cordy, we didn’t let it get away with scuffing your shoes,” he mock comforts her.
Cordelia knocks his arm away, impatient.
“I don’t care about that –“ Xander snorts in disbelief. “-moron.” She turns to Willow standing next to Giles. “Willow? What happened?”
“Mummy’s back in the ground,” Willow confirms with a nod.
Angel turns back to the two strangers in their midst.
“Who are you and why have you been following Cordelia?” he demands, refusing to be distracted by details.
The dark-haired one climbs gingerly to his feet, hand at his throat.
“We’re ghost hunters,” he says. Everyone looks unimpressed and he tries again. “Ever see our show?”
“No,” Buffy says, crossing her arms again.
Xander raises his hand cautiously.
“I have.” He smiles at Grant slightly.
“Thanks for watching,” Jason automatically replies.
“What, Xander, not enough weirdness in your during-and-after school activities? You need a TV show about ghosts to top things off?” Buffy asks Xander with a smile.
“I guess,” he says ruefully. “It’s totally cool, though. They set up camp in some wicked haunted house or asylum and record paranormal activity. Sometimes they debunk it.”
Angel, annoyed at Xander’s scruffy puppy routine, again tries to grab the brunette.
“Once again I’m going to ask you why you were following Cordelia around. Last I checked, she was corporeal.”
Buffy throws Angel an unreadable look before turning to Grant as well.
“Yeah, how about that, guys?” she repeats.
Grant shuffles, sheepish, sensing the undercurrents around them and not wanting to add to it. But the look on Angel’s face says he’s not going to let anything go anytime soon so…
“We were following her hoping to run into him,” Grant points at Angel. “Again.”
“Again?” Buffy parrots with a touch of suspicion.
“Angel ran into me outside the Pump getting coffee,” Cordelia chimes in, diffusing things. “He told me about the emergency Scoobie meeting, which I already knew about.” She turns on Grant and Jason. “What I didn’t know about was being followed. Stalk much?” She demands, crossing her arms carefully over her torso.
“It’s our job,” Grant assures her. “There wasn’t anything funny about it.”
“Funny how I don’t see it that way,” Cordelia remarks, unconvinced.
“I think we’ve cleared things up enough,” Giles replies, his tone saying the exact opposite. “But you understand we can’t allow you to leave with your equipment. For Buffy and the others to remain effective, they must remain under the radar of mainstream society.”
Angel doesn’t wait for their agreement, but steps forward and demands their hardware silently. Grant thinks about refusing but the look in the vampire’s face – How about that? No ghosts, but one mummy and one vampire in action. Not bad for a night’s work. – and backs down, handing over the bag and the digital recorder around his neck.
Jason gives his over to Xander.
Neither of them will mention the collection of data in their van.
An hour before daybreak, Angel stands on Cordelia’s balcony, watching through gauzy curtains as she limps from the bathroom to her bed.
She looks up and sees him, not reacting.
After a second, she tightens the belt of her robe and pulls up the lapels so that her throat is covered, and comes over.
Opening the door, she eyes him silently.
“How are you?” he asks her quietly.
“Aside from about a thousand different colored bruises decorating my back and legs, I’m doing okay.” she replies. “How about you?”
It’s awkward talking with her. Up until a few hours ago, they were almost strangers with a few events and people in common. Everything he wanted from her was hidden, subsumed by his feelings for Buffy. Now there’s an awareness running silently between them, fed by the memory of the press of their bodies against each other, and the smell of her blood on his skin.
“I’m doing good,” he says.
“Yeah, I got that. You know, a few weeks back Buffy told me something about you, something I just thought she was saying to get me to,“ she stops. “Well, never mind about that part.” She looks up at him. “Now I think it might be true.”
“And how do you feel about it?” he asks tentatively.
She sighs and looks down at the space between their bodies before gazing up at him again.
“I think you and Buffy are more made for each other than I thought, even if the actual thought makes me barf a little in my mouth,” she admits. “How is she anyway? She got hit pretty good by that witch or whatever.”
“You know Buffy. You hit her, she just gets up again.”
Cordelia laughs without any real humor.
“What a gal,” she comments.
“Have a good night, Cordelia,” he tells her, backing up, back into the shadows of her balcony.
“You too, Angel.” Her whisper is soft and full of longing.
She closes the door again but the scent of her bath and the perfume of her blood and sweat follow him long after the lights of her estate fade into the distance.
On his way back to his apartment, Angel stops by the motel the ghost hunters are staying at and rips apart the inside of their van, destroying their digital recordings and EVP readings while they sleep inside their room.
Good thing they rented the van, or it might have been a problem to get into it.
He gets back to his apartment just as the sky begins to lighten into the rosy glow of daybreak.
He goes to sleep without showering, keeping the smell of her on him a little bit longer, and dreams.