Friday, December 24, 1999
Wesley jolted awake. Bugger. He'd meant to stay alert, keep an eye open for anything suspicious, and instead he'd dozed off under a blanket on Angel's couch. He looked at the luminous dial on his watch. The soft green numbers showed four-twenty-two a.m. He remembered someone mentioning to him that the hour between four and five was when the undead walked the earth. His flesh prickled and he pulled the blanket up under his chin.
"Cold, Wesley?" Angel's voice made him jump. In this instance the undead weren't walking -- they were reading a book in the chair opposite him.
"No, no, just a bit peckish actually," Wesley replied. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. He remembered the giant, sugar-coated biscuit, still sitting in its paper bag on the counter. It was calling to him. Angel turned back to his book as Wesley folded back the blanket and padded, barefoot, into the darkened kitchen.
By the dim glow from the microwave display, he located the bag. His stomach growled louder, sounding very much like the Golvar demon he'd been telling the children about earlier that day. Not that they'd been particularly interested. No respect -- that was the problem with the younger generation.
Taking a plate from the cupboard, Wesley unravelled the crumpled edge of the bag, lifting it open to expose the biscuit, in all its sugary glory. "Oh my."
"What?" Angel asked.
"You might want to take a look at this."
Cordelia shifted, restless, and pulled the covers up higher.
"Dennis, I'm ignoring you, if you hadn't noticed," she grumbled. In response, the bed started shaking. Or possibly it was an earthquake. She sat up, ready to run for the doorframe. In her experience, earthquakes weren't just tectonic plates jiggling around -- they were often portents of apocalypsey things about to happen. But everything else was still and quiet.
The covers flew back, exposing her to the chilly air of the bedroom. "Dennis, I swear, what's gotten into you?" She grabbed the sheet, irritated, and tried to pull it up. Dennis pulled back. A short tug-of-war ensued, until she refused to participate any longer, laying back down, blanketless and defiant. She was not getting up at quarter past five, no matter what he did.
Without warning, all the drawers and cupboards in the room flew open, their contents exploding into the air and scattering across the floor. Okay, that was the last straw. Now she was really pissed.
"Dammit, Dennis, I am so gonna kick your insubstantial..." Oh, shit. Cordelia was certain she was waving a finger in front of her face. In the artificial light from the street that filtered through her window, it should have been easy to see. So where was it? She glanced down at herself and saw only empty bed, and an indentation in the rumpled sheet where her thighs should have been. "Oh, crap." Heart in her throat, she scrambled out of bed and into the bathroom. The light flicked on as she leaned over the sink, looking into the mirror.
Nobody looked back. She was invisible.
Okay, this was -- unexpected. Cordelia patted her arms and legs, and then her stomach, and lastly her breasts. Oh, thank God, they were still there. She was solid enough, just see-through. She wandered, slightly dazed, back into the bedroom, picking her robe out of the pile of clothes on the floor, and slipping it on. As soon as it covered her body, it too disappeared. Interesting. She kicked a few sweaters aside to unearth her slippers. As each foot nudged inside, they vanished too. She shook one off, and it re-appeared.
"Well, look at us, just a couple of invisible room-mates," she said, hoping that verbalising it would make it less spooky. The wall knocked twice. So, Dennis agreed -- it wasn't just her sleep-addled brain giving her the wiggins. No wonder he'd been going crazy trying to get her attention. "I'm sorry I ignored you," she sighed. Dennis, obviously feeling a little guilty, began picking up her clothes and folding them.
Cordelia put her slipper back on, watching it dissolve again. Invisible. Wow, that was shitty. She'd come to LA to get away from shitty things -- like vampires and hellhounds and mayors that turned into giant snakes -- and the IRS. Although, she had to concede, you never really got away from the latter. She'd had such high hopes of fame and fortune, sacks of money and rich, eligible men lining up to wine and dine her. It was supposed to be easy and happen right away.
But what had she actually ended up with? Russell Winters, donkey demons, Spike and his little torture pal, detatcho-limb guy, cockroaches, vengeful ghosts, Doyle frying himself, drool-o-vision, almost having her eyes removed for the highest bidder -- and now this. This sucked most of all. Okay, no, Doyle dying sucked most of all, but this ran a close second. And the timing sucked too. It was a yuletide suck-fest.
How on earth was she supposed to go to auditions in this state? As far as Cordelia could remember, there were no Academy awards for 'best actress in a transparent role'. Her inevitable stardom seemed a lot less assured right at this moment.
She sank down on the edge of her bed, elbows on knees and face in hands. "Okay, Universe, I give up. I don't care about having a nice Christmas anymore. I'll embrace the crappiness, I promise. Please, just fix this." Silence pressed around her.
A one hundred and fifty dollar dress, salvaged from her Sunnydale wardrobe, slipped onto a hanger and floated into the wardrobe -- and suddenly it all made sense. "I'm still being punished, aren't I?" she asked the air.
Cordelia had thought that was all over when she moved into her new apartment. Finally she had something nice, where she could be herself again. I've already paid, she thought. Paid for being super-bitch Queen C, for being haughty and self-centred. Obviously she hadn't paid nearly enough. Not for all the misery she put people through. People like Willow -- and Marcy.
Oh, God, now there was a relevant memory -- Marcy, who turned invisible because everyone ignored her. Marcy who had idolised Cordelia and her gang. They'd been so awful to her. Cordelia remembered how that had ended. Tied up on the May Queen throne while a scalpel danced inches from her face.
Psycho girl never got a chance to finish the job, so now the universe was doing it for her, and for all the others like her. What better punishment for vanity than invisibility? Plastic surgery won't fix this one.
And then the most awful thought of all struck. "Oh my God, how am I going to put my makeup on?"
The doorbell made her jump. "Cordelia?" Angel's voice was tense. Was everyone determined not to let her sleep today? She tied her robe around her, and then remembered that it didn't really matter. She could be naked and he'd never know. With a sigh she shuffled to the front door, and pulled it open.
Wesley and Angel stood in the doorway, both looking anxious.
"Thanks Dennis," Angel said, stepping inside and looking around the darkened room.
Cordelia's skin crawled. Angel couldn't see her either. And he had super-hero eyesight. She swallowed hard. "It's not Dennis, it's me."
"Cordelia?" Wesley gasped, reaching out and waving his hand in front of him.
"Ow! Look out, you just about poked me in the eye!" she snapped, jumping backwards. Turning to Angel, she said, "Whatever this is about, it better be good. As you can see, I'm having a bit of a visibility problem."
"Yes, yes, very interesting." Wesley nodded, rummaging in his satchel. He held out a crumpled paper bag.
Cordelia took it and peered inside. "You came all the way over here at the crack of dawn to bring me a stale cookie for breakfast?"
"No, look at it again, Cordelia," Angel replied.
With a sigh, she took another look, and chills raced across her invisible skin. The damn thing was glowing. Not that brightly, which is why she'd missed it at first glance. A sort of iridescent blue that pulsed in and out, like it was breathing. She looked at Wesley and raised an eyebrow. He was standing there, looking creeped-out, as she floated the bag in mid-air.
"For those of you who can't see my expression," she said, "please refer to Wesley's face for a good imitation. What the hell is going on?"
"Why don't we all sit down?" Angel gestured towards the couch.
"You two sit. I'll stay over here. I don't want your bony vampire butt in my lap." Cordelia began to imagine the endless possibilities for being injured that came with her condition. Being sat on, having doors slammed in her face, getting run over... She clapped a hand over her mouth in horror, as it all became crystal clear.
Angel and Wesley perched on her sofa, placing the cookie in the middle of the coffee table, where it cast an eerie blue glow. Dennis must have disliked it as much as she did, because he chose that moment to turn on the lights, drowning it out.
Cordelia began to pace the floor, her feet almost keeping up with her spinning brain. "That cookie was meant for Angel, because he was dressed as Santa," she said, thinking aloud. Angel and Wesley's eyes tracked her voice as she moved. "But because I ate it, I disappeared. That must be what happened to the other two."
"It makes sense. Miriam said that one of the bodies looked fuzzy," Angel said, nodding.
Cordelia didn't like where her train of thought was leading her. "No wonder Bob freaked out in his bathroom -- I know I had a Sunnydale moment when I looked in my mirror -- and no wonder both men ended up dead. You two have only been here a few minutes and I've already nearly lost an eye. Being see-through is dangerous. Fear may have killed Bob, but I guarantee the other one had some sort of accident because nobody could see him. They both died as a result of being invisible."
"Yes, but Miriam identified them at the morgue -- so at least we know it wore off," Wesley mused.
"Or perhaps it only works on people while they are alive," Cordelia said, shuddering. "Angel, have a bite. Of the cookie, not me. Maybe...
"No, no, I can't have both of you invisible." Wesley glanced up, looking panicked. Except he looked at where she had been when she spoke, not where she was now. For some reason, that freaked her out most of all.
"I'm over here, Wesley," she said, hugging her arms around herself.
"Well, for God's sake, stand still so I know where to look." He turned towards the sound of her voice. Okay, now it looked like he was ogling her breasts. Nothing new really, but still kind of yucky.
Angel rubbed his face, looking tired. "Why don't you put on a hat, so we know where your face is?"
"Fine in theory," she said. "But -- watch." She shook off one of her slippers, and it revealed itself. The look on both their faces would have been hilarious in any other situation.
"Fascinating," Wesley breathed, as she put it back on.
"I'm glad you're so excited by all of this." Cordelia slumped into a chair. "Forgive me if I don't share your enthusiasm. This Christmas officially can't get any worse."
"I'm sorry. This was supposed to happen to me," Angel said, rising and coming over to her. He reached out to her, resting his fingers on her in what she hoped was supposed to be a comforting gesture.
"Angel, do you know what you're touching?" she said, teeth gritted.
"Not your shoulder?" He snatched his hand away.
"Not quite," she sighed.
"Cordelia, where did you get these from anyway?" Wesley asked, pointing to the cookie.
He was unbelievable, thinking of his stomach at a time like this. She wondered if he would hear her coming before she kicked him in the shin. "If you're hungry, there's cereal in the kitchen."
His face lit up. "Well, yes please, I'd love some. But I was more interested in the magical qualities of the biscuit, rather than its nutritional value."
"I -- I'll make eggs," Angel said, looking relieved to have an excuse to escape after his unintentional fondle.
While Angel poached, or scrambled, or whatever you did with eggs to make them edible -- Cordelia hadn't gotten around to working that out yet -- she sat down next to Wesley on the couch and recounted her conversation with Jack, the security guard. It wasn't that she needed to sit next to Wesley, but the closer her voice was, the better his ability to "look" at her face, rather than the wall beside her. It made her feel better -- enough to risk the odd poke in the eye.
"He was such a sweet old guy," she sighed, turning the cookie over and over in her hands. "Do you really think he knew what was in these?"
"Hard to tell," Wesley replied, eyes turning towards the cookie, which even to Cordelia herself, looked like it was spinning in mid-air of it's own volition. Little grains of sugar dropped off and fell to the floor. He jerked his head up, as if struck by a thought. "Dennis, can we have the lights off please?"
Cordelia felt the rush of cold air a second before Wesley's glasses flicked off his face, flew in a spectacular arc over his head, and landed behind him on the sofa. "That's his way of saying he doesn't like you," she said, retrieving them. "It's okay, Dennis."
The lights clicked off, and Wesley got down on his hands and knees, nose touching the floor.
"Sorry, are we interrupting your morning prayers or something?" she asked, mystified.
"It's not the biscuit. It's the topping," he replied. "Come down here and have a look."
She didn't need to bend all the way down. The little blue specks on the polished wood pulsed just bright enough for her to pick them out. "Just another reason why sugar is bad for you," she sighed.
Wesley got to his feet, dusting himself down. "I think we need to make another trip to the mall. There's a security guard I'd really like to have a chat with."
Angel pulled Cordelia's bedspread around him. For the third time in three days he was crouched in the back of his car while they drove to the mall. It was like some sort of recurring nightmare that he couldn't seem to wake up from.
He stifled a yawn. The sun had come up while they ate breakfast, and waited for the mall to open for the day. Trying to keep human hours was messing up his sleeping patterns, and he was tired. Maybe this is what it was like for people who worked night-shift. For Buffy, patrolling the graveyard when other girls her age were tucked up in their beds. His heart squeezed tight in his chest, as he recalled how beautiful she had looked in the sunlight, turning towards him as he strode out to meet her -- to kiss her...
"I don't see why I couldn't drive," Cordelia whined from the front passenger seat. "Wesley had his turn yesterday."
"Because, Cordelia, I'd rather not have to explain to the fine constabulary of Los Angeles why I was a passenger in an apparently driverless car," Wesley replied.
"Yeah, it would look weird," Angel agreed. The last thing in the work he wanted was for Cordelia to take control of his car again. Especially with him as a passenger.
"This coming from the guy in the Laura Ashley shroud," she said.
The sound of an apple being bitten filled the air, and then the sharp smell of Granny Smith tickled Angel's nostrils. It was followed by Cordelia's sigh. "What?"
"Nothing," Wesley said.
"You have 'something' face." The sound of leather squeaking indicated she'd turned in her seat.
It was Wesley's turn to sigh. "I was just thinking how happy I am that food becomes invisible as soon as it goes in your mouth. Otherwise breakfast would have been a rather stomach-churning affair, as would your consumption of that apple. Oh, dear God, woman. Stop it!"
"What's going on?" Angel said, trying to peer out from under the bedspread.
"It appears that when Cordelia pokes her tongue out, the chewed-up food on it becomes visible again," Wesley answered. "As will my omelette, if she keeps that up."
"You'd deny an invisible girl her only pleasure in life?" Cordelia sounded mock-hurt.
"Oh, well, carry on, if your pleasure includes wearing the remains of my breakfast," Wesley snapped.
Angel pulled the bedspread closer around his head, suppressing a growl. "If you two don't stop it..." He felt the car glide gently over the speed bump that signified their entrance to the car park, and threw off his cover. The corner draped over Cordelia's shoulder, and for the first time that day he could see the contours of her body. Something that could have saved him from excessive embarrassment earlier.
Cordelia stood behind Wesley and Angel, who were seated in front of Miriam Saunders' desk. She'd discovered on the way through the mall that it was the safest place to be, if she didn't want to be walked into, or kneecapped with a shopping bag.
Miriam was looking through the staff database, a frown marring her tired face. "Are you sure his name was Jack?"
"Yes, an elderly gentleman, by all accounts. He wore a security guard's uniform," Wesley replied.
"I'm sorry." Miriam shook her head. "There's no Jack working here."
"You've got to be frickin' kidding me," Cordelia huffed.
Miriam's head snapped up. "Who said that?"
"I did," Cordelia said. Okay, sure, they'd decided that Miriam wouldn't be able to handle talking to an invisible person, but this was now beyond a joke, and Cordelia wasn't going to stay silent.
"That's Cordelia," Angel said, casting an irritated glance in the direction of her voice. "She's sort of --invisible."
"That's what happened to Bob and Ed," Wesley added. "And we believe it's as a result of a biscuit Angel was given by this Jack fellow -- which Cordelia ate."
"Invisible," Miriam echoed. "Because of a biscuit. This is a trick, right?"
"Honey, I wish it was." Cordelia moved around to Miriam's desk, picking up a marble egg and tossing it from hand to hand.
Angel leaned forward. "Remember Cordelia said we deal with unusual cases? This is one of them."
Miriam's eyes were glued to the marble egg as it plopped backwards and forwards.
"Jeez, it's rude to stare," Cordelia said, putting the egg back down.
Miriam went a couple of shades paler, and began to hammer on her keyboard with alarming force. "Here -- we had a Jack working here eight years ago, in security. According to his records, he had to take compulsory retirement because he was too old."
"It looks like Jack decided to come back to work," Angel said.
"And we have to find him. Perhaps we should split up," Wesley suggested. "That way we can cover more ground."
Angel looked uncomfortable with the suggestion, and Cordelia remembered his comments in the bathroom the previous day. The whole place must give him the wiggins. She tried to imagine walking along Fifth Avenue, and not wanting something from every shop window. She couldn't. "Are you sure?"
Her voice made Miriam jump.
"Yes, that's usually how it works," Wesley said.
"I was looking at Angel when I said that," she sighed. Having no visible body language was proving to be a real hamper to effective communication.
Angel nodded, rising from his chair in a slow, deliberate movement. "I can move faster alone."
"Cordelia had better come with me." Wesley got up and shouldered his satchel.
"Great, I get to hang with the geek," she muttered.
Wesley scowled in her general direction. "Well, since nobody can see you, it's hardly going to ruin your image, is it?"
"We'll meet at the Grotto in thirty minutes. Check your watches." Angel said, heading for the door.
"Check." Wesley held up his wrist.
Cordelia glanced down at her arm automatically. Oh, of course. Invisible. She felt it with her other hand. No watch anyway. Like it or not, she needed Wesley as a timekeeper, as well as a shield from the crowd. She squared her shoulders. "Lead on, satchel boy."
Forty minutes later, Cordelia and Wesley stood in front of the Grotto. The large sign at the gate now informed shoppers that Santa was so busy making presents that he'd had to take the day off. Cordelia grabbed Wesley's arm, raising his watch level with her face. "He's ten minutes late. Do you think he's okay?"
Just as Wesley was about to reply, Angel swept into view. Cordelia looked hopefully at him for a moment, and then realized that she wasn't going to prompt a response that way. "Any luck?"
"Sorry, no." He shook his head.
Wesley removed his glasses and began to polish them with his handkerchief. "Perhaps if Angel invested in some laboratory equipment, I may be able to determine the chemical composition of the biscuit topping. Unfortunately that may take some time, and these things usually..." He trailed off, his face betraying the fact that he'd almost revealed something he'd been trying to keep secret.
A tide of panic washed over Cordelia, her heart leaping into her throat. The sudden rush of adrenaline made her dizzy. Angel's eyes flicked straight towards her, and she knew he could hear her fear -- or smell it. "Stop sniffing me," she said, her voice sounding more strangled than she intended.
"Wesley, what were you saying?" Angel asked.
"Oh dear, I don't want to alarm anyone. It's just that invisibility spells tend to have a compounding effect." Wesley's polishing grew more vigorous. "The longer you're transparent, the harder they are to break. In the worst cases, people have been known to lose solidity, and cease to exist altogether. I fear time is of the essence."
Cordelia sank onto the nearby imitation park bench. Okay, she took back what she said earlier about Christmas not being able to get any worse. It just did.
"Cordelia?" Wesley looked around, placing his glasses on his nose. He reached out and felt the air around him. "Oh, heavens, it's happened already."
"I'm over here, dumbass," she sighed. Angel tracked towards her voice, and sat beside her. At least he didn't sit on her, she thought.
"We'll fix this, I promise," he said, leaning his elbows on his knees, his hands pressed together.
Before Cordelia could reply, Angel's far arm shot out, latching around someone's wrist. He tugged, and Jack stumbled into her range of vision. He looked old, sad, and seriously surprised. He couldn't be evil -- could he?
"Wha -- what's going on?" he stammered, looking at Angel's hand, and then at his face.
Cordelia sucked in an angry breath. "Oh, boy, do you have some explaining to do."
Angel watched Cordelia's brightly-coloured coffee cup drift back to the table, and swivel back and forth on its saucer. They were all huddled in a booth in the furthest corner of the food hall, sheltered behind a large potted plant, where it was less likely that early-morning shoppers would notice the strange sight of floating china, and little packets of flying sugar.
Jack sat on the long moulded plastic bench, between Angel and Wesley. He'd come with them quietly, and seemed more than shocked at the current situation. Angel could hear he had a heart murmur, and he definitely smelled human. Hardly the usual 'big bad', as Buffy used to call the villain du jour.
"Well?" Wesley motioned to Cordelia's chair. "Would you care to explain this?"
"Missy, I'm so sorry," Jack said, addressing Cordelia, but staring with unwavering attention at the serviette twisted between his bony fingers. "I didn't mean for this to happen. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was hurt anyone."
"Really," Cordelia snorted. "What kind of nasty old man goes 'round making Santas invisible?"
Jack's blue eyes filled with tears. "That's not what I was tryin' to do."
"What were you trying to do?" Angel asked, unable to help feeling sorry for the man. Sure, he'd made Cordelia invisible, but the vibe he was giving off shouted 'victim' more than anything else.
Jack raised his head to look Angel square in the eye. "I wanted to hide."
"You wanted to make yourself invisible? Boy, did you ever mess up," Cordelia said.
Angel held up a hand to silence her, and for once, it worked. "What were you trying to hide from?"
"No, you don't understand," Jack said, his eyes sparking. "I didn't want to hide anyone, I wanted to hide the lie."
Cordelia's cup banged against her saucer loud enough to make Wesley jump. "Cryptic, much?" Her voice resonated frustration.
"I'm sorry, I'm not explaining this very well." Jack cast his eyes around the table, and took a deep, shaky breath. "When I was younger, Christmas was different. The kiddies looked at Santa and they saw the magic. They believed, you know? All those shining eyes, the little smiling faces..."
"I think I'm going to barf," Cordelia interrupted.
Jack shook his head. "Exactly my point. These days everyone is so -- cynical. Even the kiddies seem jaded and old. They don't see the miracle anymore. I just wanted to hide the fact that the Santa in our grotto wasn't the real one."
"You do know Santa isn't real, right?" she said. Angel could imagine the look on her face. And if they didn't get this fixed, he'd have to make it a regular exercise.
"Of course," Jack sighed, "but the kids should have some time to believe. They grow up too fast these days."
"So it was a concealment spell." Wesley got a notepad and pen out of his jacket. "Do you remember what the ingredients were?"
Angel half-listened as Jack listed what he had boiled, dried, and ground up to sprinkle on the sugar-coated cookie. He wasn't much with spells. Mainly he was concentrating on the noises around him. The chink of cutlery, the murmur of conversation, footfalls and rustling bags -- the sounds of humanity. It didn't bother him as much today as it had two days ago. Perhaps he was getting used to it, being around people.
Doyle flashed into his mind. 'She'll provide a connection to the world. She's got a very -- humanizing influence.' Thank you, Cordelia, he thought, watching her bagel descend, partially chewed, onto her plate. Doyle had been right. Angel wondered if his friend would have been proud of him at the moment, drinking coffee at the mall, in the midst of the pre-Christmas rush. No, probably not. Doyle would have been too preoccupied with not being able to see Cordelia.
Angel smiled and took another mouthful of coffee.
"A-ha!" Wesley's exclamation brought his full attention back to the conversation at the table. "You say you substituted skink's eyes for newt?"
Jack nodded. "It's impossible to get newt at this time of year. Everywhere I went was sold out."
"A common amateur's mistake -- or so I'm told," Wesley said. "Responsible for many a spell going wrong."
"Can you fix it?" Cordelia asked. Jack and Wesley both looked in the direction of her voice.
"Maybe," said Wesley.
"No, I'm sorry miss. I didn't really know what I was doin' to start with," Jack said, at the same time.
Angel could sense Cordelia's temper snapping, like the air around him shifted somehow. For a split-second he imagined an invisible Cordelia beating Jack to death with a half-eaten bagel. He'd had too much caffeine, obviously. He put his cup down, and pushed it away.
"Thank you, Jack. I think we can take it from here." He rose and offered Jack a hand, helping the old man to his feet.
"Angel," Cordelia said, and he could hear her teeth were gritted.
"Leave it, Cordelia," he said. "Jack's going to go home now, lay his uniform away, and never dabble in the dark arts again, right?"
"Certainly, sir. I'm so sorry. So sorry," Jack shook his head towards Cordelia's seat and performed the customary tip of his cap. Wesley stood aside, letting the old man out of the booth. They watched in silence as Jack shuffled away.
"Why didn't you tell him what happened to the other two?" Wesley asked, putting his pad and pen away.
"What good will it do, other than give him a coronary?" Angel said, thinking of the heart murmur.
"Well, that would cheer me up," Cordelia sighed.
"Really?" Angel raised his eyebrows.
There was a long silence. "No," she finally said. "I guess he learned his lesson."
"I almost feel sorry for him," Wesley said. "What do we tell Miriam?"
"Nothing." Angel shook his head. There was no point. The police wouldn't believe a word of it anyway.
"Hey!" Cordelia's voice was so close to his ear it startled him. "If we don't tell her something, we can kiss our store credit goodbye. And, invisible or not, I want to shop. Of course, if I stay invisible, I might not need to pay for anything..."
"Cordelia, really," Wesley said, looking shocked. "You'd steal?"
"Or I could walk up to the counter and scare the crap out of the assistant," she snapped. "Either way, not getting much shoppy satisfaction otherwise."
Here they go again, Angel thought. He rubbed his temples, willing the sudden yearning for a nice brood in the dark to disappear. Except disappear was probably an inappropriate word right now... "We'll tell Miriam what happened, just not who. He's learned his lesson. All he wanted to do was make things better. It backfired. It happens to all of us, now and then."
Cordelia stretched out on Angel's couch, nibbling on the sushi he'd bought her and Wesley for lunch. Miriam had taken the news well, all things considered. The main thing was that she'd promised to send vouchers. Hopefully they'd arrive in time for the post-Christmas sales. That blue bra better still be there...
"Eeeeww, God, Wesley, what the hell are you doing in there?" she said, wrinkling her nose as the stench from the kitchen began to invade the rest of the basement apartment.
"Working on your cure, I hope," he called. There was a small 'pop' and a puff of smoke, followed by the clatter of Wesley slipping off his stool.
Angel rose from his chair, where he'd been resting, eyes drooping, looking like any moment he'd fall into a coma of vampiric proportions. Cordelia realized he'd probably been awake most of the last three days.
They hurried into the kitchen, where a sulphurous green cloud hung around the oven, tendrils creeping outwards like some ghostly form of ivy.
"Is that it?" Angel asked, blinking through the haze.
"I think so." Wesley replied, as his head appeared over the top of the table again. "Cordelia, if you'd like to try this." He poured the contents of the saucepan into glass beaker, and held it out in front of him. The mixture bubbled and frothed with a suspicious fervour.
"Sure, it smells a lot like my cooking, so no big deal," she said, trying to convince herself it wouldn't be as barf-worthy as the odour suggested. "What's in it?"
"Uh, probably not a good idea to ask," said Angel, who had accompanied Wesley into the little magic shop in Koreatown that they'd stopped at on the way home.
"Lizard guts. Got it." She smiled. "I'm smiling at you, by the way." God, it would be such a relief not to have to explain every facial quirk. Assuming it worked, if course. It was Wesley she was relying on here. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her fingers around the beaker. "I've got it, Wesley, you can let go."
Right, deep breaths, hold your nose, down it in one swallow, Cordelia thought. Don't dwell on the contents. She grasped her nostrils, screwed up her eyelids, and gulped the foamy liquid. Little abrasive chunks of something caught on the back of her tongue, and the vapour burned her throat and nose. She got half of it down, and then gave up, banging the beaker down on the bench top.
Her stomach did a somersault, lurching and heaving. "Look out, sushi coming back for an encore," she gasped, falling onto her hands and knees.
A cool hand rubbed her back. "Take deep breaths," Angel said. "It'll pass."
Cordelia gagged and swallowed, trying in vain to keep the vile liquid down. Angel's hand continued to glide up and down her back, and she was grateful he was there. It made her remember when she was a little girl, and their housekeeper would sit with her if she was sick. Once, after she'd come back from having her tonsils removed, her father had come into her room and read her the Wall Street Journal until she fell asleep.
But now they were both gone, taken away from her by the IRS, and she'd ended up here, on Angel's kitchen floor, about to puke her guts out. Thinking about other stuff only worked if it kept your mind off the original stuff, she thought ruefully.
She felt Angel's fingers hook under her hair, pulling it back in case she threw up. Thank-you, Angel. Nothing worse than having to wash puke out of your... "Hey, how did you know where my hair was?"
His hand stilled. "Same way I knew where your back was."
Cordelia opened her eyes, and there were her fingers, splayed on the linoleum in front of her. Sure, they were kinda stained-glass-window in appearance, and she could still see the floor though them, but it was a major improvement. "Wesley, if I didn't feel like I was about to go all 'Exorcist' here, I'd kiss you," she gasped.
"Really? Have a peppermint." He bent down, holding a box of tic tacs under her nose. She held up a semi-visible hand to accept one.
"Will it get better?" Angel asked, helping Cordelia into a sitting position.
Wesley nodded. "As she digests the antidote, she should get steadily more -- vivid."
Cordelia took a few deep breaths, and popped the mint into her mouth. She felt a little better now, barf-wise, but very, very tired. "Can I lay down for a while?"
"Sure," Angel nodded. "I was going to have a nap myself. Then I'll take you home."
"Great." She smiled, thinking how wonderful it was that he could actually see it -- or at least through it. "Wake me up at sunset." Hauling herself to her feet, she marched past Angel, through the living area, and flopped down on his bed.
"That's fine, Cordelia. I'll take the couch," Angel's voice was sarcastic, but faint, and getting fainter by the second. Within moments, sleep took her.
Cordelia sat in Angel's car, outside her apartment building. Every ounce of strength had vanished from her body, but it was worth it. She looked down at her hands, now almost completely solid again. Thank God. Wesley had saved her, and she hadn't even had a chance to thank him properly. By the time she'd woken from her nap, he'd gone home.
Angel came around and opened the passenger door. "Come on, I'll help you inside."
"I'm fine," she said, trying to stand. Her knees quaked and buckled. "Okay, maybe a little with the damsel in distress."
He pulled her to her feet, supporting her with an arm around her waist. "Are you sure you'll be all right on your own?"
She shot him a suspicious glance, as he helped her along the pathway. "You been playing with that sensitivity stick again?"
"Playing with what? Oh -- that. No." He chuckled. "It's just that someone recently told me that I should be more considerate of others, pay attention to their feelings, get involved more. I think maybe they had a point. I'm trying it out."
"Oh," she said, taken aback just a little. "Sounds like this person knew what they were talking about. Dennis!"
Her front door swung open, and they staggered towards the sofa, collapsing in a heap on the cushions. Angel sighed, and looked around the room. "Why aren't there any decorations here? I though you were big with the tinsel."
"But not big budget with the tinsel," she replied, easing her shoes off. "Since I spend most of my time at the office, I put it up there instead. Figured I'd get to see more of it."
"Oh." He looked uncomfortable. "You should take tomorrow off."
"Well, duh, it's Christmas. If you want me to come in you'll have to pay triple-time." She shook her head in resignation.
"No, it's fine. Stay here. Are you sure you'll be all right?" he asked, getting to his feet.
"Yes, go home, you're freaking me out now," she said, smiling.
Angel backed towards the door. "Okay, but any problems, call me."
"Go!" she cried, waving him away. "And, Angel..."
He smiled. "You too, Cordelia."
Concludes in the epilogue...