Ugly Duckling And D-Day by Princess Twilite

 

Summary: A series of loosely tied moments in Cordelia's life, lead up to the end of the world.

 

Spoilers: Rain Of Fire, Season Four.

 

Notes: This is basically a character study.

 

 

"I've been here sleeping all these years." (Into The Dark – Melissa Etheridge.)

~*~*~*~

A cliff was a high, terrifying thing that I'd always been afraid of. In dreams, in life, I never wanted to be near one of those suckers. I could always imagine myself, like a man on the ledge, getting vertigo from standing there so long.

Sometimes, in these dreams, I'd get to the point where I'd look down so long, at the rocky landscape so far below - that I'd actually get the impression that I might just walk off, like the end of the earth if it was still flat.

All about perception right?

Well, my perception tells me I should have known that something was wrong. I should have done SOMETHING, said something. But I didn't know, I was too wrapped up in my love affair with Groo, if that's what you want to call it and I don't.

I had a dream one night. Nothing out of the usual, sure. But this dream felt more like someone was whispering in my ear, poking my neck, telling me to get off my ass and DO something.

Of course, being myself, I ignored the warning.

I was nothing if not stubborn.

In the dream I stood at the edge of one of those scary cliffs, looking down. Cold, black waves crashed into the wall of rock and dirt below me. Splashing up, toward the sky in white, unnerving sparks.

I stared so long and hard at those waves that I could almost feel the water swallowing me, dragging me under. I could taste the salt of the sea air that whipped my hair around my face, stinging the sensitive skin below my nose.

I tried to look up toward the night sky, and I think it WAS night, but something was holding me back, and invisible hand. It was as though if I looked up, I might be looking into the eyes of something I could never want to see.

"You're late." Angel said, toward my left.

"I know, I tried to get here sooner, but my car…"

In my dream, I just stopped speaking. I didn't really know WHAT had happened to my car. Where was my car?

Angel nodded, seemingly satisfied. He looked still, as though standing near possible death didn't frighten him. His face was pale, silver almost, and seemed somehow unearthly. A small, angry frown stretched across his mouth and brow.

"What's wrong?" I asked him, but he just shook his head. "Angel?"

His eyes met mine and I gasped.

Angel's eyes were like two black holes, absent, cold.

"You're here just in time to jump!" He growled, and made a lightning fast grab for my arm. I ducked away just in time but Angel stumbled, slipped on the edge of the cliff and fell back. His arms pin wheeled and I watched in horror as he seemed to pause and reach out his hand toward me, waiting.

I couldn't move, didn't want to, too afraid.

He closed his eyes and threw himself back, down into the icy depths.

I watched him fall, stunned. The ocean swallowed him, like a spider and a fly.

That was a dream you wake up screaming from, right?

Well, I didn't.

I woke up choking, like I was drowning.

Groo slept soundly on the other side of the bed, stealing all the covers and leaving me naked, shivering. He was snoring like a freight train speeding down the rail rood tracks.

Thanks Cupid, you chubby little brat.

So much for the romance.

~*~*~*~

When I was a child, still tender and moldable, I had this infallible need to hurt someone. I can't really explain it beyond a rage that filled my small stomach and ached in my pint sized fists.

I hated my parents.

Even now, I'm confused as to why. They weren't cruel to me. They never harmed me or made me go without. They just… weren't there.

I was an accident, a child born to parents that were never meant to have children and didn't really want any. It wasn't something I could blame them for, that's just the way they were. Hard working during the day, wearing navy suits and polished shoes. And then they were glitz and glam by night, going to charity ball after ball, from this party to that. Rubbing elbows with the stars.

I envied them as much as I missed them.

I spent evenings dining with the tight assed nanny as she tapped my fingers, prodded my shoulders, made me sit up taller. Told me that these were thing things that I must learn to become a LADY.

Huh. That turned out well.

So yes, I became a little - cold.

Brutal.

There was this one time, when I was about ten and already learning to put on the proper make up and dye those red streaks that were SO in, into my hair - that I was leaning against the fence of the playground, cool and uncaring. Harmony, her golden hair down around her hips, was at my side, talking about something.

I don't know what she said, I can't really recall.

Something about her new shoes. I wanted to tell her that they weren't all that she thought they were but we were FRIENDS. Kinda.

It was as I was forcing myself not to speak that the little red headed nerd ran by, splashing in the mud puddles. I looked around, Xander would be somewhere near by. Those two never went far without each other. I couldn't see him.

Harmony nudged my side with her elbow. I looked at her curiously, she had this devilish smirk on her face that I was so familiar with. We'd gotten into a great deal of trouble whenever she got that look.

Luckily, my parents never seemed to give a damn as long as I didn't make TOO much of a commotion.

Harmony dared me to scoop up some mud and throw it at Willow.

I looked back toward the young girl, whose life I had made a living hell, and thought: Why not? Plus, Harmony never would let me live it down if I backed down from a challenge.

I took a handkerchief from my jacket pocket and bent to delicately scoop up some mud from the wet ground. It had rained furiously the night before and was still lightly sprinkling.

"Hey brain!" I called.

Willow was used to it, so she turned, eyes rolling toward the sky. I could see on her face that she expected me to say something nasty. So when I lifted up the snow white cloth, with a large chunk of mud in the center, her eyes got wide and she opened up her mouth on a croak, backing away.

It was no use.

I lobbed the mud at her.

It landed on the right side of her face, splattering across her hooded rain coat, dripping down her neck. Harmony and I laughed our asses off the entire day, even though I was sure we both felt that same sick feeling in our gut when we'd done something particularly vicious.

Willow had cried, looking at me. Just a tremble of her lips as she turned her face away, closing her eyelids as a single tear dripped from them. I watched her walk away through my laughter. Xander intercepted her at the Jungle Jims, putting a hand on her shoulder while he used his sweater to wipe the mud off. He threw his arm around her and glared at him.

"Dork," I had muttered.

The whistle blew. Time to go in.

That night, in the privacy of my large, impeccable bedroom - I sat at my desk for hours, carefully making an apology card. I painted a picture of a little redheaded girl holding a flower in the sun. It wasn't Picasso, but it wasn't bad either.

Inside I wrote, simply: Sorry.

I never did give the card to her.

It stayed hidden beneath my pillow for nearly two years. I'd occasionally take it out and look at it, running my fingers over the crayon marks. But I couldn't brink myself to apologize. One night, near that second year mark, I just gave up and threw it away.

I was tired of pretending I could be someone who I wasn't.

Maybe I was careless, just like my parents. Except worse, because I liked to hurt people. It made me feel… real. And that was something I couldn't give up.

~*~*~*~

Angel had somehow become my movie buddy. It was crazy because he never liked the movie I picked out.

Once, I tried watching Steel Magnolia's with him in the same room.

Not a good idea.

The entire time, he groaned and laughed at the screen, pointing out the clichés and generally ruining the entire experience. Granted, I'd seen the movie way more than healthy, but it was for a good reason.

It was the ULTIMATE love story.

I swear, he was such a guy sometimes.

He sat on the other end of the couch while I sprawled across it, tossing my feet into his lap. When I did it, wriggling my cotton covered toes at him, he looked at me oddly, like I had something on my face.

I rubbed my hands over my cheeks, just in case.

Then I basically ignored him, getting into the movie. It was a comedy this time. Deuce Bigalo: Male Gigolo.

I was laughing so hard my sides hurt, but Angel just sat there stoically, eyebrows raised. Why did he even bother to come every time I told him I'd be watching movies? All he did was pretend he didn't understand the plots or say that there WASN'T a plot and if it had a GOOD plot, the plot sucked.

He was good at annoying me.

This time, he was shifting every five seconds and sighing.

1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5.

Shift. Sigh. Like clockwork.

I mean, I loved the guy, sure. I knew it. Didn't like it, but in my more honest moods I could admit that he was IT. My heart was just gone to him. Of course that didn't really matter, because he couldn't see three inches past his nose or ME standing right in front of him, waiting.

I'd given up on trying to make him notice early on.

He was in love with Buffy. That wasn't changing.

But damn it, did he HAVE to be so obvious about it? He could have at least been a little bit easier on my stomach and stopped brooding every time her name was mentioned or a new blonde walked into his life.

I took my frustrations out on his gut when he sighed one too many times. The ball of my foot connected solidly with the abdomen. Angel grunted, bending over at the waist and clutching his sore belly. He tossed me a glare, eyes glinting a little yellow and I grinned, dragging my feet out of his lap before he could do anything lethal to them.

My mood had suddenly improved ten fold.

"What the hell was that for?" He growled. I flicked my eyebrows at him and curled my legs up, tucking my feet beneath my thighs.

"You don't have to come and watch movies with me Angel," I told him, glancing back at the television screen. "You never like what I rent and there is NO way I'm letting you pick out the movie again after that one disaster with the subtitles."

"I want to come," Angel said, his voice hesitant. I could tell that his eyes were on me, but I couldn't quite bring myself to meet his gaze. Something was hopping jack rabbit fast near my heart. I didn't ask him why he was so dead set on ruining my Tuesday nights, okay, not RUIN per say. I wasn't sure I wanted to know.

I nodded silently and tried to focus on the movie again.

It got very quiet, strangely. As though there was a rubber band stretching across the room and squeezing all the noise tightly into an unmovable bundle. But there was nothing I could do about the tension… so I didn't try.

~*~*~*~

There was a book I loved when I was young.

The Ugly Duckling.

It wasn't all that special I guess, but my teacher read a little bit of it during story time every day and I found myself fascinated with it.

I remember, if not the words, the meaning behind the story.

How you can evolve from something ugly to beautiful. That you should never judge someone by their appearance. Of course I didn't quite get the concept beyond my boundless love for all things beautiful just then, but the book stuck somewhere inside me for all the years of my life.

During high school, I considered myself beautiful - loved. Adored. I compared myself to this Swan character even though I had never faced real adversity.

And then one day, I began to change. Grow up, just a little.

I can't pin point it exactly. Not the moment when it began. It wasn't Xander that did it, but something he triggered. My heart? Who knows?

Evolution was slow, but eventually I understood that beloved story for what it was and not just a cute tale of a misunderstood bird that got all the attention in the end for being so gorgeous.

There had always been something ugly inside me, something I used wrong, a power of perception - I could hurt people just by looking at them.

I guess everyone has to face the swans in themselves, sooner or later.

I'm not saying I really wanted to, I was perfectly happy being a cold- hearted bitch. But my little Ugly Duckling became a Swan and there was nothing I could do about it. I began to care about things. Whether I wanted to or not.

I have a copy of that children's book tucked into a box that sits on top shelf of my closet.

~*~*~*~

God this sucks. Bad.

I feel like someone has hollowed out my head with an ice cream scooper.

Empty.

And then there is these people in this place where I don't remember going to, not surprising considering I have NO clue who I am. These people keep looking at me like they expect me to just through flaming hoola hoops.

I hate to disappoint them, but it's not happening anytime soon.

And this guy, Angus?

Well, he just keeps pushing forward, toward me.

"You're safe now." He says.

"Thank god, you're back."

Yay me.

Oh and my favorite: You really don't have to be afraid.

Right. Cause not knowing who I am in the middle of some weird place, with a bunch of strangers who act like they've murdered someone.

Nice.

And did I mention that Angus looks my way like he could eat me with his eyes.

Stalker-material right there.

Maybe I'm an alcoholic.

Or a spy.

~*~*~*~

Cliffs aren't the only thing I've feared since childhood.

I've never been too fond of forests and there's a reason for that beyond the fact that you never know what could be skulking in the dark corners, or hey isn't that Oz behind the bush over there?

No, it's all because of Harmony. Yeah, yeah - point a finger and three more point back at you. I get that, really. But if she hadn't dared me to sneak out of the house at midnight and meet her in the woods to smoke the pack of cigarette's she'd stolen from her father, then I wouldn't have gotten into the mess I'd found myself in.

Turns out, Harmony never made it out of the house. Cause wow, her parents actually gave a shit. Weird.

So there I was, a thirteen year old girl, waiting alone in the woods. At NIGHT. I wasn't stupid, I'd brought a knife and pepper spray, but this was Sunnydale people and I knew things were weird.

There wasn't much of a moon, because the night was cloudy and the trees were close together, branches criss-crossing like a roof. There wasn't much room for light to peek through. I was doing fine, even though I was pissed, for a few minutes. But when I was about to give up and go home, I heard a growl.

The low kind that came from beast ready for its meal.

I did what any normal teenage girl would have done.

I screamed and ran away, knife or no. I found myself scrambling through the woods over cracking leaves and devious roots. They tripped me up, so that I landed on my face in the dirt, eating it like I had once made Willow.

Irony could kiss my ass.

I hopped up spitting dirt out, all the more panicked and scrambled through the trees, narrowly avoiding ramming straight into them. I felt like the beast was behind me, hungry. A child's imagination I guess, but I was freaked.

It wasn't for about ten minutes that I stopped running and looked around me. I was in a completely different part of the forest than I had ever been in before. It wasn't familiar to me. All I could see were the spindly limbs of trees and the thick blackness of the night.

I didn't dare call out, just in case.

Maybe it was my just desserts, I don't know, but I was terrified. I clutched at a tree trunk, pressing my face against the rough bark and pleaded to God that I would be okay. The night wore on and I fell asleep, lost in the woods.

No one noticed until the next evening that I was gone. Nanny was away on vacation and my parents… well, they were who they were. They found my three days after I had disappeared, still in the same spot, because I knew that I was supposed to stay in one place until someone found me.

I spent two days in the hospital, recuperating for exposure and dehydration.

I really hated my parents, even though it was my fault for getting lost in the first place. Or Harmony's.

But hey, a full week off from school. Too bad I hadn't been able to enjoy it.

 
~*~*~*~

When you realize you could go on Jerry Springer, now that's when you begin to evaluate your life.

I wasn't quite sure how I knew, but I did know that Angel and I were… we were.. something. But the hard part, the part that made me uncomfortable - Connor was falling in love with me. And somehow, against all the laws of nature, Connor was Angel's son.

I kissed Angel's son.

Stupid.

I have a feeling that in my past, I'd done a lot of idiotic things. Like falling in love with a vampire. How smart is that?

The kiss wasn't bad, in fact I enjoyed it. That's what worries me. Wasn't it wrong somehow?

I just can't remember. There's a big black hole in the center of my brain, sucking all the memories in. Sometimes I'll think I have just a bit of it, just a flash of a guy with sharp cheekbones and a heavy Irish accent. I think the guy is dead. But then that flash is gone, back in hiding with the rest.

Sometimes I think it's good that I don't remember these things.

It's easier that way, to pretend that kissing Connor isn't gonna hurt Angel in some way. Easy to pretend that it'll all be okay if I let someone hold me. Just a little. I can even pretend that they're not still a kid and that they aren't getting an erection. Sometimes I can even ignore when they cop a feel when I'm sleeping.

Poor kid. I never meant to make him fall in… whatever the hell it was… with me. I just… needed someone who didn't have all these intentions and pressures and didn't look at me with the haunted eyes of lost love.

Guess I screwed that up.

What I DO know? Something bad is going to happen and I'm going to be right in the center of it when it does.

~*~*~*~

There was this boy once, who I had considered dating. I'm not sure why - he wasn't all that good looking. But he was muscular as hell and way popular.

Imagine me saying this, while tossing my hair.

I flirted like crazy and he never noticed me.

Then one day he died.

Of course in Sunnydale, no one stays dead for long. His lab rat of a brother brought him back to life.

Ex-foot ball hero, newly Frankenstein-ed tried to kill me.

That's a bad habit of my love interests.

It makes me worry for the future, because who knows how many times I can cheat death before it begins to catch up to me?

~*~*~*~

Fire balls fell from the sky. Night became day as they lit up the air. Spun, zig zagged, dropped.

I felt tears clog my throat as the beauty seared me as surely as it would kill me.

We'd failed. I had. What did the end of the world feel like? Would it hurt?

God, I hoped it didn't hurt. I've never been good with pain.

I've known for so long that something was wrong, not quite right. Something has been calling in my blood, tugging me toward some turning point. The beginning of goodbye. Salt burned behind my eyelids as I remembered sweet things, like the pleasure of Angel's smile. The way Wesley would get so serious, mouth taut, eyes earnest. And Gunn, I laugh when I think about his goatee. God WHAT was he thinking? That adorable idiot. So in love with lost little Fred.

We were all lost now. Separated by flamed.

Was this what World War II was like? Every day was D-day.

I was in love with Angel. I am. I can feel his heart inside me as if it still could beat. It pumped just below my own, waiting for someday. A someday that would never ever come.

Not even if there was another seventy-five for me to live.

I couldn't look at him without seeing Angelus. Blood. The pleasure of pain. I had FELT it. I had been in him while he slaughtered infants. And a part of me just couldn't accept that side of him, even though he never tried to hide it from me.

I broke his heart. Didn't matter now.

Maybe that's how I had gotten the courage to do it in the first place.

I knew it wouldn't make a difference.

He was probably dead.

I closed my eyes again. Stopped caring.

It was the end of the world after all and I had a bad feeling that it was my fault. Somehow. As if by foreseeing the end, I spurred it into action.

There were some many things that I had wanted to do.

Did I want to have children someday? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe.

I guess all those maybe's were void now, like unused coupons. I wonder how many people out there are cursing the fact that they didn't use that free trip to Tahiti. I wonder how many people had pushed away happiness for SOMEDAY, expecting all their hard work to be worth it. In the end.

With a sigh, I look toward Connor.

His face glowed, devastated.

Time to give up, wave that blood stained, white flag. Life had been short, but I knew people whose had been cut shorter.

Fire streaked past the window and I listened to Connor break, all too familiar with the sound. I assured him that none of this was his fault, that we would all be okay. I think I lied.

Who cared anymore? Nothing mattered anyway.

~*~*~*~

There was a brief moment in life, where I had been truly and utterly happy. Pure joy. Only one time and such a silly thing to be happy over.

It wasn't because of Angel or Xander or Doyle or Peter Pan.

None of them weighed in, no matter how much I had loved them, no matter how they mattered to me at the time.

I hadn't been in love or a success story.

I was eight, running across my lawn on the fourth of July. I had a sparkler raised in my hand, dragging it along behind me through the air. It sparked a blue and yellow color, like a fire ball, smoking in the sky.

The sound of my own laughter will haunt me forever. However long that may be.

 

End.

 

Contact Princess Twilite