Almost a Very Good Life (parts 1-10)
Almost a Very Good Life (parts 1-10)
Disclaimer: All characters in this fic are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Fox, and the WB. They are not mine.
Spoilers: Hero, and the things that happen in 'Parting Gifts.' It's not the same as the show though. Okay, that didn't make a lot of sense, but hopefully it will after you read it.
Distribution: Sure, just let me know.
Feedback: Please? Good, bad, anything.
Summary: Yet another bring Doyle back fic. I actually think someone posted a challenge along these lines, but I can't remember who. I had started writing this before the challenge, but it inspired me to finish it. Thanks.
Dedicated to Christine, for all her help with this, and for lots more.
The night Doyle died, I didn't sleep. The day after, I still couldn't. Cordelia had gone home hours ago; her tears fading into a numbness that frightened me. I let her go though, because I didn't know how to make her stay. I knew what she was doing, I'd done it myself time and again, but somehow, this time, I didn't want to hide.
I was still sitting in my office when she arrived back for work. I hadn't expected her. There wasn't any one for me to save today. Not that there would be anyone to save any other day, without Doyle I had no contact with the Powers that Be; and no hint of people in trouble. Tonight I would be back on the streets, searching alleys and dives, but for now, I was going to watch the tape again. Offering Cordelia a somber smile, I motioned to the seat next to me. "I was going to watch it again..."
"Why?" She asked coolly, walking over to the VCR and pressing the eject button. "He's not on this tape. He's gone, and we have to deal." Her eyes met mine for a moment, and I saw the pain that we shared, the pain she was desperately trying to deny.
Walking briskly, she crossed the room, opened her desk drawer and dropped the tape into it, and if her hands shook as she did it, I didn't mention it. Closing the drawer she turned to me, her eyes pools of darkness. "Are we..." Faltering slightly, she shook her head, anger at her weakness apparent in the clenching of her jaw. "Are you still doing this?" She encompassed the office with her arms before crossing them over her chest and staring at me. "I mean, do you still want me here? Or are you going out on your own?"
Her voice was calm, classic Cordelia demeanor, but now I understood the cover for what it was. Doyle had seen it right away, but it took this for me to see her for more than the persona she wore, to see the frightened, lonely woman inside. "Yes." Simple answer when there was so much more I should say.
"Fine." She nodded, blowing out a determined breath. "First thing, we're going to have to find our customers some other way." Slipping into her seat, she flicked on the computer, her eyes focusing desperately on the screen. "I can check newspapers for strange attacks. And maybe you could talk to Kate..." Her voice trailed off and she looked down suddenly in defeat. "Or maybe we should wait. You're still all sad about Buffy, and now..." She cleared her throat, her voice hoarse as she tried again. "Now..."
"Now it's worse." I finished for her, walking over to stand behind her. Reaching out tentatively I set my hand on her shoulder, trying to convey what I couldn't find the words to say. "But it will get better."
Cordelia shrugged my hand away and turned the chair around until she faced me. "Of course." She said firmly, rolling her eyes at me as if I said something stupid. "You barely knew him. I barely knew him. It's not like we lost..." She faltered again, her eyes welling with tears. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a minute before she pushed back from the computer and stood. "I'm going to get coffee. Do you want one?"
"Cordy?" I began. She was the only person I had. The only one who could begin to understand who Doyle was, and why his loss hurt so much. I knew she was hurting, and as much as I was grieving, it was worse for her. She never had to deal with a loss like this before, never had to face all the regrets, the things you wished you had said and done. It's a bigger loss of innocence in some ways than finding out that demons are real. This is fate ringing the buzzer to end the game, when you didn't even realize the first half was finished. Time runs out, and you never did make your big move. Up until now, I don't think she understood that time isn't always your friend. Funny how I've learned that, I've got much longer than most people, and still, somehow, it's never enough.
"Angel." She returned, her nostrils flaring slightly as she fought for composure. "What?"
"How are you?" I asked lamely. My people skills weren't up for this. I don't know that they ever will be.
"I'm fine." Fiddling with her limp hair, she tucked it behind her ears before adding, "I lived in Sunnydale. I've seen death before."
"Not this close."
"Really?" She asked bitingly, "Did you forget Ms. Calendar?"
Forget? Never. I haven't forgotten anyone whose life I took. How could I? Cordelia flushed, looking down at the floor as she mumbled an apology. "I'm sorry. I didn't sleep well."
I studied her; wanting nothing more than to reach into her shell and mourn with her. She didn't want me though; she wasn't ready to face the reality. "A cappuccino wouldn't be bad." I offered, and was rewarded with a grateful smile as she escaped from the office.
I didn't blame her, Doyle was everywhere, and yet nowhere. The office had never looked so empty; the lack of him was everywhere. I moved around aimlessly, wondering what I should do, if there was anything I could do, to help her through this. Over two hundred years of existence and I couldn't think of a single thing to do other than wait.
I spent the first night of my death in more agony than I would have thought possible. Wasn't death supposed to bring peace? The answers to all the questions that haunt you? Mine didn't, that's for sure. I was just floating, my mind screaming in pain.
The second day, it got worse. Voices began to rise around me, calling to me, calling to the PTB, praying for help. I thought it was some sort of replay loop; that I was doomed to listen to the fear in the voices of those I had saved endlessly. It didn't seem fair. I did the right thing, gave up my life so that they could live. So that Angel could continue his work. So that Cordelia's smile would still exist in the world.
I still wouldn't change it. If this was the cost, if I never rest, I wouldn't change a thing. Although, rest wouldn't be a bad thing. The voices are closer now, calling to me, begging me to speak. I'm dead, how can I answer? After a while it got to me, all those people, crying, talking, speaking as if I was still alive.
That's when I realized that something was different. I wasn't floating anymore. My mind was attached to my body again. Opening my eyes, I looked up and saw the instrument of my death hanging quietly from a cable, the wires ripped from it. Moving my head carefully I met the eyes of Reiff. "No." Denial burst from my lips. "I saved you." How could he be dead too? Did that mean that I failed?
"You did." He whispered, reaching out as if to touch me, and then pulling back. "You saved us all."
"Then why are you here?" I asked, my head pounding a symphony of pain a hundred times worse than any vision I had ever had.
"We were wondering the same thing about you." Reiff's father answered, smiling comfortingly at me as he held out a cup of liquid.
"Look," Struggling to a sitting position I took the cup from him, barely noticing the spikes the cup banged against on its journey to my mouth. "I died for you guys, the least you can do is tell me why you're visiting my afterlife so soon."
"Afterlife?" He repeated, his eyes confused. "This isn't your afterlife."
"That's a relief." I muttered, finishing the rest of the drink in one gulp. "Cause spending eternity reliving my greatest, yet last, moment may sound like fun, but the reality is distinctly not."
"You aren't dead." He continued, ignoring my rambling easily. "You have a pulse, you breathe. You aren't dead."
I stared at him in disbelief, unable to comprehend his words. He motioned to the room behind him and I followed his movements with my eyes. The hold of the ship looked exactly as it had on the night I died. The same groups of half-demons still cluttered the space, their eyes wide with amazement as they looked back at me. "I remember dying."
"We thought you died also." Reiff whispered reverently, his eyes lit with worship. "Your friends believed you were gone. We saw you die, and now you live."
And now I live? Looking down at my hands, I opened and closed my fingers, testing that they worked. I flexed my legs next, checking to make sure they were working, before attempting to climb to my feet. A wave of dizziness passed over me and I slumped into the waiting arms of Reiff's father. "How?"
Reiff shrugged nervously, shooting a questioning look at his Father. After a minute he cleared his throat and began to speak. "We don't really know. You..." He bit his lip, looking extremely uncomfortable as he continued. "There was this glow. Sort of." He rocked back and forth on his heels, still chewing nervously on his lip.
I waited, somewhat patiently for him to finish, but when another minute passed with him remaining silent I had to say something. "We're half-demons man, the supernatural shouldn't be a big freaky thing to you."
Reiff flushed, his eyes flashing with anger. It faded quickly though, back into the almost pitying look everyone else had been giving me since I woke. "We don't know why, or how it happened, but your body just reformed, here, on the floor. We didn't realize what was happening at first." Guilt flashed over his young face. "We haven't called your friends. We were already at sea..."
"It's okay." I mumbled automatically, holding up my hand to stop him from worrying. "I can call them when we get..." A thought hit me then, and I sat up straighter. "Where are we going? An island somewhere?"
"It's off Ecuador." Reiff's father answered, as his arms released me slowly, testing to see if I could sit on my own.
I shook off his concern, grateful for the worry he showed for me. "I'm fine now. In fact, I feel great. Strong, refreshed. Everyone should disintegrate once in a while." Climbing to my feet I stretched, a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. I was alive. Alive. There were so many things I suddenly wanted to do. Have a beer, have another. I grinned to myself, see Cordelia. Her face flashed into my mind, the shock and pain in her eyes as I left her. Did she mourn me at all? Somehow, I believe that she did, that she still is now. "Do you have a phone?"
"The captain has a radio." Reiff answered, "But he doesn't like us leaving the hold."
"Cause of the demon thing." I nodded in understanding. "How long 'til we arrive?" Angel was right; I really should pay more attention to the details. I smiled then, realizing that I was going to get a chance to ignore that advice again.
"Two days." Someone I hadn't met yet answers, staring at me strangely. Finally he holds out his hand. "I'm Dryan."
"Doyle." I answered, shaking his hand almost gleefully. It felt so good to touch another being, I was reluctant to let go. He seemed tense, his fingers pulled back from my hand before I was ready to let the contact go. I let him go, my hand lingering in the air just long enough for me to see the ring that now circled my finger.
At first I thought I was seeing things, that it just looked like the ring I had watched Angel destroy. Pulling my hand close to my face I studied it, the swirl of fear in my stomach growing more insistent the more certain I got that it was the same ring. No longer smashed into a thousand pieces, but here and whole, on a finger that should have been dead.
I realized then that the room had gone silent around me, absent of even the most casual movements. Stiffening, I looked up into the concerned eyes of Dryan, Reiff and his father. Flexing the hand that held the ring, I addressed them. "I'm guessing that I came back with this on."
"Yes." Reiff murmured, inching closer to look at my hand. His Father stopped him, his hand clamping down firmly on the boys shoulder. "Why does that surprise you?"
I shook my head, not feeling up to getting into the whole Ring of Amara explanation. Especially since I couldn't figure out how the explanation had anything to do with me being alive. I got that it did, I just didn't get why. I felt a sudden need for Angel's musty old books, or even a nice, skull splitting vision. But they were waiting for an answer, so I settled for, "It's probably the reason I'm here." I turned away slightly, needing a second to calm my shaking body. "Which, other than the fact that I have no idea why, is a good thing. I guess." Reaching up, I moved to run my hands through my hair. I was stopped though; by the spikes that covered my forehead. I think I yelped, and pulled my hands away like they burned. Shaking my head quickly, I waited for the change to occur.
The other occupants of the room had backed away slightly, their faces concerned, but also wary. I shook my head again, almost growling in frustration when nothing happened. Lifting my hands to my face, I pushed at the spikes, trying desperately to drive them back under my skin. Reiff moved forward, his face more open than the others. He wasn't afraid of me at least. "Doyle?"
"I can't make them go away." I whispered, hoping I could keep a lid on the panic that was choking me. "I can't look human."
"You haven't." He replied, his voice low. As if the conversation was only for the two of us; like there wasn't a room full of people hanging on our every word. "You've been in demon form since you came back."
"And you didn't think to mention it?" I asked, my voice rising in desperation. "Something along the lines of 'Hey Doyle, you realize you've got spikes sticking out of your face.' I really could have used the hint."
"We thought you knew." Reiff answered. "You said you healed easier in demon form. I thought you did it to heal." There was hurt in his words, and any other time, I like to think I would have responded to it.
"I have to change back." I shuddered, my hands clenched at my sides. Shaking my head again, praying that this time, it would work. There was nothing. I breathed in deeply, searching the air for the scent of human that usually clung to my body. It wasn't there, and it only took one look at Reiff's face to confirm that he couldn't smell it either. I nodded at him, understanding with a kind of numb certainty that it was gone. I wasn't ever going to pass again. From now on, I would hide in the dark corners of the world, shunned by the humans around me. My next decision was an easy one. Lifting my hand, I slipped the ring from my finger, hoping it was the only thing holding me to this world.
I never meant for her to know I was going to see the Oracles. She found out though, saw me leaving the office with the vase I was bringing as an offering. I tried to lie, but I wasn't quick enough. I didn't seem to be quick enough to prevent anything lately. Her eyes came alive when she realized what I was doing; life filling her body as she practically pushed me into the sewers.
Now I have to go back and tell her I failed. That they won't bring Doyle back, or turn time back so that I could die instead of him. I have to watch the light dim in her eyes one more time.
She was sitting on the couch when I entered the office, a full cup of coffee resting on her knee. I walked quickly over to her, sitting down beside her, and ducking my head so that my face didn't give it away. When I was finally ready to speak, I lifted my eyes to meet hers. Shaking my head sadly, I spoke. "They won't help."
"So that's it?" She asked softly, her eyes begging me not to break the slim thread of hope she had left. I shifted uncomfortably, wishing there was some way I could lie to her, or make it sound less final than it was. Her eyes drifted from mine as I hesitated, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "That's it." She repeated her words, the questioning lilt gone from them. Squeezing her eyes tightly shut she bit down on her lower lip. "I guess I knew that."
"It's okay to want to try." I offered, helplessly holding out my hands out towards her. I wanted to move closer, to break through the circle of her grief and help her.
"It's not okay." She argued brokenly, tears spilling from her eyes. "I don't want it ever to be okay. He's not coming back Angel. I will never..." She paused, her fingers reaching out to grip mine, holding on like it was the only thing she could do. "I'm never going to see him again?"
"We'll remember him." It was lame, and useless, but it was all I had. "You won't forget."
"What if I do?" She asked, her body trembling violently.
"I won't let you forget." I promised, wrapping my arms around her and pulling her to me. "You won't let yourself forget."
She sobbed into my shoulder; her tears hot against my skin. "I'm so afraid I will. I'm afraid that I'll forget what color his eyes were, and how he smiled when he saw me. How he kissed me good bye..."
"Cordelia." I murmured, brushing my hand down her hair soothingly. She stiffened, pulling away to look at me. "You won't lose any of it."
"Yes I will." She whispered, her eyes deepening with sorrow. "Years from now something will remind me of him, and I'll turn to my perfect, rich husband, and I'll mention Doyle, and he won't even know who I'm talking about. Maybe I'll try to tell him, but the memories will have faded, and I'll give up, shrug my shoulders and tell him that he was just someone I used to know." A single tear fell from her eye, sliding slowly down her cheek. "I won't remember how good he was to me, or how brave he was. He'll just be one more person that died."
"Cordelia..." I murmured helplessly, hating the Oracles for their refusal, and hating myself more for not being the one who was gone. "It's going to be okay." It seemed to be the only thing I knew how to say any more, and it was empty. I couldn't tell her that she was right, that someday she would move on and Doyle would fade in her mind. Someday she wouldn't want to cry when someone spoke in an Irish accent, or drank cheap whiskey. She would go on with her life, marry her version of the perfect man, and never, ever, know what could have been if he had lived.
Sucking in a deep breath, she pulled away from me, her face closing off. She wiped her eyes slowly, refusing to look at me. "Yup." She whispered forlornly. "It's all going to be okay. Why wouldn't it be?" Standing up, she walked away from me, her heels clicking loudly in the quiet room.
I couldn't be near Angel; it hurt too much to see him. His face, his solemn, sad face just reminded me of all the pain I didn't want to feel. It was stupid; getting so excited about his visit to the Oracles. I actually thought Angel would come back with Doyle. Stupid, dumb Cordy, unable to believe even now that the world doesn't revolve around her.
God, I didn't even believe that there could be this much pain in the world. I thought what I felt when Xander betrayed me, and my Father lost his money was the worst it could ever get. I can't believe how wrong I was. This pain makes everything else seem like joy. I miss him, every second, every breath. It's all I can do to keep breathing.
Which is why I'm here, at the office, when I'd rather be curled up on my bed, crying until I don't have any tears left. As much as it hurts to be around Angel, it's worse when I'm not. He's the only other person who understands what we lost. He's all I have left, my only connection to Doyle, and to the family we were starting to form together. Stupid Cordy, thinking it could last forever. Living in Sunnydale should have cured me of that idea, if nothing else.
So, I'm here, needing Angel's presence, and yet barely able to stand it. The only way I can deal is to pretend it doesn't matter, like pretending is somehow going to make it true. I miss Doyle. He was my friend, and I want him back. But I'm never going to. The thought steals my breath, twisting my stomach into knots. It's like a piece of me died with him, and I'm not sure I want to live without it.
I should be talking to Angel. I know he's mourning too, and we should be there for each other. He's got it worse than I do in some ways; he was ready to die that night. Instead, he lived, and another death was added to the pile he blames himself for. This one wasn't his fault though, and I should tell him that, if I could figure out a way to form my lips around the words.
"Cordelia?" He surprised me, appearing in the doorway with no noise hinting at his arrival. Damn his silent feet. "Can I help?"
He's so earnest, so desperate to make this better for me. I had to say something. "Peachy." It came out cold and bitter, but he didn't flinch. Making his way further into the room, he came to rest beside me.
"Maybe you should go home. Take a break?"
"No." My response is quick, horror ringing out in my voice. Trying to cover for it, I continued. "We should be working. There's probably a ton of demons out having a party while we sit around and sulk."
Angel dropped his head, his fingers clasping together in front of him. I know this pose, it's the classic, People are in trouble and it's my fault pose. Some other time I might have called him on it, but now, I'm going to use it against him. "Have you checked the paper yet today?" My voice is acid to my ears, but I can't stop now. "Did you think to ask the Oracles how you were supposed to know who to save?"
"They said another window would open." He answered, not reacting in the least to the cruelty of my voice.
"Great. Did they happen to mention if they gave the window your address?" It felt good to be mean. It's what I'm good at, my special talent. In the past, it's protected me against pain I didn't want to feel, and I guess I'm still hoping it'll protect me against this.
"No." He muttered, his shoulders slumping slightly, giving his shirt the appearance of being too big. Like that would ever happen, if he could ever get over his penchant for black, he'd be the best dressed man I've ever known.
"Wonderful." I replied angrily, pacing around the office. It felt too confined in here, like there wasn't enough air to sustain me. My skin was crawling with something, like I suddenly didn't belong in my body.
And then the pain hit. I doubled over in agony, clutching at my head. Images, shapes, flashed in my brain, but they went so fast I couldn't hold onto any of them. My stomach lurched, threatening to empty the little I had eaten in the last two days. Finally, thankfully, it faded, leaving me weak and gasping for breath.
Angel was holding me, his arms the only thing keeping me from hitting the floor. When I had recovered enough to open my eyes, I choked out, "What the hell happened?"
Angel's arms tightened around me, his voice worried as he answered. "I don't know." He paused, his voice changing slightly as he continued, becoming softer. "Did you see anything?"
"Flashes, I couldn't tell what it was." I replied, before the meaning of what he said hit me. Pulling away from him, I collapsed on the couch, tears burning my eyes. "No." I denied the implication, praying that it wasn't true.
"Another window." He murmured, almost to himself. A cup of whiskey appeared in my hand, and I took it numbly, not looking up as I did. "Cordelia? I think you're the window."
"No." I repeated stubbornly, as the images I had seen began to regain shape in my mind. A vase, dead flowers lining a small box. They didn't make any sense to me. "I can't. Don't make me." I think I was talking to Doyle more than I was to Angel.
"I have to know what you saw." Angel whispered.
"I don't know." I was crying now, tears leaking down my cheeks in a steady stream. I didn't want this responsibly. I wanted to be vain, and selfish, and not have people depend on me for their lives. This was Doyle's job, and damn him, he should have been here to do it. "A vase. A room with dead flowers in a box."
"Did you get an address?" He asked, his tone becoming more businesslike.
"No." Another image sorted itself out in my mind. Nodding, I corrected myself. "Yes. I think. 253 Southhaven."
He nodded, patting my hand gently. "I have to go."
"I know." I replied, to caught up in my own terror to offer to help. Curling up into a ball on the couch, I let the tears fall. edicated to Christine, for all her help with this, and for lots more.
When I took the ring off, there was nothing. No change, no falling back into the dust that I should be. I let it fall to the floor, unnoticed, not caring whose hands it fell into next. I wanted to scream, and cry, and curse the Powers for not even allowing me to die with dignity.
I had done what they asked. I found Angel; I made him care about the people he saved. Hell, I made him care about me. And what was my reward? A life spent alone, a life that I couldn't even live in sight of humans.
Reiff moved forward, picking the ring off the floor and holding it in his hand. I watched him, ready to pounce if he tried to offer it back to me. That ring was a curse to me, as hateful a thing as I had ever seen. "Get it away from me." I growled, backing away from where he stood. "Now."
He nodded, slipping it into his pocket. "I'll give it to Angel when he comes to get you."
"He's not coming." I replied angrily, my hands shaking with the effort of not screaming. I stepped forward, knowing my eyes were glowing brightly in my face. "You, none of you, are ever to tell Angel that I'm alive." Laughing bitterly, I added. "If you can call it that."
"Doyle. You're angry." Dryan spoke, stepping forward to stand beside Reiff. "We've all struggled to accept our differences. To accept that if we are seen by full humans, they won't understand what we are." I glared at him, but he continued. "You are lucky. Your friends will understand. They know what you are, and accepted you regardless. This will not make any difference to them."
"It makes a difference to me." I whispered, still stunned by the enormity of what I had regained, and now had lost again. I couldn't say the rest of what I was thinking. Cordelia. She wouldn't, couldn't, ever love me now. I would be a freak to her, just another monster that she worked with. Her reaction to learning I was half-demon had given me hope, but this was too much to even ask her to deal with. "I love a girl." I murmured, to myself mostly, but Reiff picked up on my words.
"Cordelia." He stated, looking to his Father for guidance. The older man stepped forward, joining the two in front of me.
"She only found out you were part demon recently." He asked, but didn't wait for my answer. "And she accepted it. Didn't she?"
"She hadn't seen my face." I whispered, leaning back against the cool wall for support. "She's used to demons that look like Angel." And I hadn't been much competition for him in the looks department even when I hid behind a human mask. "Or horrible slimy creatures that are trying to kill her. I can't ask her to accept this." The last word dripped from my mouth full of disgust.
"You owe it to her to let her make her own choice." Dryan said, his eyes meeting mine.
"I owe it to her to let her live her life. A normal life, like she wants." I replied, turning away from them to stare blankly at the wall. God, I wanted a drink, or a thousand. Enough to blur the world so that I couldn't see it anymore. So I couldn't see myself anymore. I wanted oblivion, and emptiness, and death that meant death.
My fist flung out before the thought had formed in my head, smashing into the concrete with a loud crack. My bones broke, but it didn't matter, in my demon form I'd be well within the hour. I let go with a flurry of punches, my screams echoing in the high walled hold. I pounded against it until my fists were nothing more than a mass of bloody skin and shattered bones.
Then I sunk to the floor, curling myself into a tight ball, unable to stop the tears from falling.
Angel-- She got the address almost right, I found the demons only a few doors away. It felt good to kill them; to let my anger at how unfair the world is out on these creatures of evil before I sent them back to Hell. I missed Doyle being there, the whole-hearted way he threw himself into the fight, even after all his insistence that he wasn't getting involved in the physical side of my work. I missed his smile when all the bad guys were gone, and how he would be so gentle with the victim. Half the time he ended up looking worse than they did, and as much as I understood his refusal to use his demon side to help him fight, I wish I didn't have so many memories of him bruised and battered.
It's odd, how he helped me accept my demon side; to learn to use it more than I ever had before, and yet still couldn't accept his own. My demon is evil, a killer, when his was benign. He never had to fight against the urge to let go, to kill both the innocent and the guilty. There wasn't any blood on his hands, no fear that he would go so far that he couldn't ever get back.
I wish there had been more time. After Harry came, and he shared the story of their marriage, I should have done more, shared more. It's a human mistake, to put things off, to avoid conversations that would hurt. Not that it matters now, in the end, he used his demon side to save our lives. I wonder what it cost him to show Cordelia that face, knowing it would be the last image she had of him.
I should go inside the office, instead of standing outside the door like a coward. She's still there, in shock probably, and I don't blame her. She's tied to me now, another person recruited without warning into the fight. It won't be easy, she still thinks that her time with me is only temporary, a kink on the road to her perfect life. She doesn't realize that from now on, normal is going to be out of her reach.
I don't know what I'm supposed to say to her. She's lost almost everything in the last few days, and I don't understand how I can make that any better. If Doyle was here, he could. But, if Doyle was here, this wouldn't be happening. It all comes down to that. I should have died. It doesn't matter that he believed I could save more lives by continuing, what matters is that I couldn't save his, and I'm afraid that I won't be able to save hers. What's the point of all of this if I can't save the people that matter?
"Angel?" Cordelia's voice was low, and afraid, her eyes bright with unshed tears as she stepped out of the office. "Why didn't you come in?"
"Sorry." I murmured, walking up to the door to join her. "I was just thinking."
"About the visions?" She asked, her tone implying that she hadn't thought of anything else. Her mouth opened, then closed, as if the words she wanted to say were hard for her. Finally, she took a deep breath, and let the words out in a rush. "Do you think he meant to give them to me?"
I hadn't thought of that. "No." I answered slowly, shaking my head.
"I don't either." She agreed, relief softening her posture. "I know they're important, that what Doyle did was as important as what you do, but I don't want them." Lifting her eyes, she stared at me defiantly.
"I don't blame you." I admitted quietly, afraid to break the calmness of this conversation by speaking too loudly. The moon shone brightly in the sky, sending a soft light to meld with the streetlights. There wasn't any traffic, or people walking the streets. It was just the two of us, the way it was going to be from now on. "It's not going to be easy."
"I can't get rid of them, can I?" She dropped her eyes as she asked the question, leaning back against the door. "No." She answered herself, before I could gather the courage to say the same thing. "I'm stuck."
"Cordelia..." I reached for her, to comfort her.
"No." She cut me off, her voice barely rising above a whisper. I stopped, my hands falling loosely to my sides. "This was never supposed to be forever. I'm not that giving, or good. I want the normal life, with all the extras money can buy. Okay, maybe lately I started to want a little more than the superficial stuff, but it was supposed to be more, not all."
"You can still..." I started to say, but stopped the lie before I finished it.
She smiled, a sad, empty smile. "I can't. How could I? Hey honey, call Angel when I start holding my head in agony, okay? It's just visions of unspeakable evil, and I have to tell him where it is." Shaking her head as tears fell down her cheeks, she continued. "Does that sound normal?"
"You might find someone who would understand." I offered; hating that this had happened to her. Hating that I had involved her in my life.
"I did." She whispered, her face contorting with the effort to keep from sobbing. "But he's gone."
I stood there, my eyes dropping to watch my feet. It felt wrong to look at her, to see the pain that she was in, and not be able to help her.
"I feel so cheated." Her words brought my head back up, my eyes searching hers. Her chin trembled as she continued. "I'm so angry at him for dying, for never letting me find out what we could have had. And I'm so angry at myself for waiting so long, for thinking that I could just string him along forever."
"You couldn't know." I told her. "You didn't do anything wrong. Doyle didn't do anything wrong. It just...he just..." My voice faded as I struggled to find the right words.
"He did the right thing." Cordelia finished for me, reaching out and grasping my arm. It was the first time she had initiated any contact since he died. "He knew that you had more people to save, and he gave his life so you could. So that we all could live. It was the right thing, and I'm proud of him for it." She sniffled, and wiped the tears from her face. "Does that make any sense? I'm proud of him, and I'm furious with him. I want so badly to have him back, but I know what he did was right."
"He was a hero." I whispered.
"But I'm not." She admitted sadly, pulling her hand away from me. Crossing her arms tightly around her chest, she hugged herself. "I don't think I could have done it. I'm not like him; I'm not brave, or unselfish. I shouldn't be the one you depend on to tell you who needs help."
"You'll be fine." I answered, surprised to find out that I meant it. She could handle it. It would take time for her to believe it, but my belief would be enough for now. She would adapt to the visions, and the new direction her life was taking, but I would give anything for Doyle to be here to help her through it.
It rained our entire first day on the island; huge balls of water that soaked you to the skin in seconds. I stood outside the tent I was sharing with Reiff and his family for hours, as if somehow the rain could wash the demon away. It didn't of course. There wasn't anything to wash the demon away from. I remember a phrase my mother used to use to describe a man in the village where I grew up whose wife had died in childbirth, 'He's only half a man now.' She would cluck sadly as she said it, as if it was the worst fate that could befall someone.
I wonder how she felt when I told her that my demon side had shown itself. Had she buried the truth so deeply in her mind that she didn't realize I was always only half a man? She was good to me, my Ma, never made me feel like a monster, but she never asked to see my demon face, my true face. If she saw me now, she wouldn't recognize me as her son. The baby she named Allen Francis Doyle who once was half a man and now isn't a man at all.
Tears sting my eyes and my skin as they trail down my cheeks. I can cry in the rain, and it blends into the other water. Reiff and his Father, all of them have been so kind to me, taking turns sitting with me, offering whatever comfort they can. Reiff explained, after my anger had faded into apathy, that they had been afraid at first, not of me, but about how death might have changed me. In their culture, someone who returns from the dead is considered a Halwi, a creature who seeks souls to seduce into evil. I considered telling them that I was one, in the hopes that they put me to death, but the look in Reiff's eyes stopped me. Besides, I'm not even sure if I can die now.
Wouldn't that be perfect? An eternity spent with the damn magic of the Amara keeping my body alive. I could spend a few thousand years in a hut, then maybe move into a cave for a change.
"Doyle?" Reiff opened the flap to the tent, his young eyes old as he watched me. "Are you ever coming in?"
I didn't answer him. I didn't want to talk to any of them. Sharing my pain isn't going to make it any better, and even if it could, I couldn't do it to them. They have never passed for human. They've spent their whole lives like I'm going to spend mine from now on. I don't know whether to be jealous that they don't know what they're missing, or happy that I at least had a chance to live in the human world.
Reiff stepped out of the tent pulling a garbage bag pulled over his body. I turned away from him slowly, looking out over the scenery in front of me. He came to a stop beside me, his voice conversational as he spoke. "It's nice here, isn't it?"
"Beautiful." I answered him angrily. It was beautiful, even with the rain pouring down, and the ground growing muddier by the second. The trees were huge, and a shade of green I don't think I've ever seen before. A stream flowed from the forest, leading back into the ocean. Sand lined the land for as far as my eyes could see, and when it ended, tall grass blended the line between forest and beach. I hated it, every grain of sand, every leaf, even the small birds that chattered happily in the protection of the woods. This was my world, and if I could, I would burn it to the ground.
"We're going to start building homes as soon as the rain clears." He continued, as if he didn't hear the anger in my voice. "Dad said that you can live with us, or we can help you build your own place. There's lots of wood."
"I was thinking I'd leave. Go to the other side of the island." There wasn't as much anger in my voice now, just hopelessness.
"Why? You'll be alone over there." Reiff asked, his voice filled with confusion.
"I need to get used to it." I answered, hating the self-pity that rolled through every cell in my body. I couldn't control it though, I was too angry at what fate had done to me.
"No, you don't." Reiff replied, the sudden force of his voice shocking me. I turned to face him, my eyes narrowing into small red slits. He glared back, his small shoulders straightening defiantly. "I'm sick of you. How can you say you have to be alone when you have friends who would be so happy to know you were alive? How can you say it when you have us, all of us, here and willing to help you?"
"I don't want to live like this." I whispered, "And I don't want Cordy and Angel to see me like this."
"Oh, I get it." Reiff exploded, his body shaking with anger. "It's okay for you to save us, to get us to this island so that we can live, but it's not okay for you. You're too good to be demon? Well, here's a thought. Tough. You are a demon. You've always been a demon. It doesn't matter that you used to pass, that you looked human. You never were. So now, the only thing that's changed is that you look the part." He paused, taking a deep breath to calm down. "We all look the part Doyle. All of us here. I'm not saying you have to call Angel or Cordelia, but you could at least stop acting as if being like us is a fate worse than death."
I didn't answer him for the second time that day. Putting one foot in front of the other I walked away from him, towards the forest and the cover of shadows that I craved. He was right, and he was wrong. I had always been part demon, not all. The face I used to wear, my human face; that was mine too. So maybe I was guilty of avoiding the demon half, of wishing that it didn't exist, but I never forgot, not for one moment after my twenty-first birthday, that it was there. This is different; this isn't some awakening of genetics, some as yet unknown part of my body coming to life. It's death. My human side, my Mother's half, is dead. I'm not like them any more than I'm like Cordelia. I am a Brachen demon and that's all I am. Reiff is wrong, being like them wouldn't be a fate worse than death, being like I am now is. If I could go back, be given back the human to go along with the demon...
I don't think I'll ever get used to the office without Doyle. I bought more plants, and brought pictures from my apartment to try and cover up the empty space, but it doesn't work. Doyle was always so visible, so here. Whether he was lounging on the couch, complaining about his hangover, or hunched over the computer checking the race results, or just sitting silently. It never mattered what he was doing, when I walked in he would look at me, and smile. Starting the day without that smile still feels wrong. Despite that, I'm always here until the early morning hours, sitting in the darkness with Angel. We don't talk much, unless it's about a case, but the silence is comfortable.
Tonight it's been a month. A month ago Doyle was alive, and now he isn't. We had a drink, toasted his memory, and the fact that we're still surviving. It's not getting easier, or maybe, it is, but that just makes it harder. We're out of balance, still learning how to relate to each other without him as our middle. Plus, there's the whole vision deal. Angel is walking on eggshells around me, afraid to talk too much about it, or ask how Iím doing.
How am I doing? The truth is, I don't know. The initial terror has numbed a little, but that doesn't mean Iím doing a happy dance every time my head is invaded. I wish now that I had been nicer to Doyle after a vision. Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it right, not that I have any control over it, it's just that Doyle used to get a vision every few days, and I've only had four in a month. What if people are dying because my brain isn't right for getting visions? What if how badly I want not to get them is affecting them?
But Doyle didn't want them either. He was like me; he wanted to be normal. Harry came to visit us last week, to talk about Doyle. She told me the whole story of their marriage, and how he found out about his demon half. We talked about him all night, drinking one glass of wine after another. Angel told me the next day about Doyle's first vision and the guilt he felt over not following it. I'm glad he didn't. He would have died then, along with the other Brachen demons, and I would never have known him.
I'm afraid that this gratitude I feel for him means I'm healing. I don't want to heal, I'd rather be like Angel, and brood about it forever. Some nights, as I sit in the dark waiting for Angel, I talk to Doyle, tell him all the things I should have said before, and some things I never knew I should say. About how sorry I am that he had to find out about his Father like that, and how much I wish I could have been the one to help him accept it.
Funny, Cordelia Chase wanting to help someone accept their flaws. Except it wasn't a flaw, it was just Doyle. Short, poor, drank too much, and half-demon. It doesn't do him justice. There should be more about how caring he was, and how brave, and all that stuff that I usually ignore in favor of looking for imperfections.
"Cordelia? It's late." Angel spoke quietly, but I still jumped. Silence becomes normal after a while, and words begin to feel like the intruder.
"Not that late." I answered, curling my legs underneath me on the couch. I should be home, in bed, sleeping, but I don't want to leave yet. My home was a gift from Doyle, a scary gift at first, but a gift. When I'm there, I remember how much he wanted to make me happy, and it hurts. "Let's have another drink."
He doesn't answer, but I can hear the glasses clinking in the dark room. I hold my hand out, knowing he'll see it, even if I can't. My fingers are tightening around the crystal when it hits, and the glass crashes to the floor, shattering into tiny pieces. I'm more aware through the visions now, I watch everything carefully through the pain; desperately afraid I'm going to miss some vital piece of information that will mean someone's life. This vision was clearer than most, but the face I saw shocked me.
I came out of it slowly, hearing myself moaning in pain almost as if it's someone else. Angel was holding me, his cold hand covering my forehead. It felt good, like a wet towel does when you have a fever. "I'm okay." I told him, when my voice came back to me. He let go, walking over to flick the lights on. I squinted at the sudden brightness, bringing my hand up to shield my eyes. "Are you trying to blind me?"
"What did you see?" He asked, coming back over to kneel in front of me.
"Wesley." I answered, raising my eyebrows in amazement. "But he's not in England, he's here. It looked like he was tracking a demon, and got caught. I'm not sure."
"Wesley?" Angel repeated, his face almost showing surprise. "Did you get a place?"
"The docks. I'm not sure exactly. Sorry." My eyes slipped down, feeling a surge of fear that I had failed.
"I'll go, I'm pretty familiar with the docks, I'll find him." Angel was speaking even as he was pulling his jacket on, loading his weapons into the pockets.
"I'll come with you." I offered, shocking both of us. I didn't usually go with him, I was there for visions, and for clean-up, but the actual fighting I usually steered clear of.
"No." His response was quick, and firm. "You are not putting yourself in any danger."
I was going to fight with him, but the vision tired me out, and all I could do was nod in agreement. I wasn't any good to him out there; I couldn't fight, couldn't shoot, couldn't do anything but make it more difficult for Angel.
He smiled at me, and then disappeared out the door. The Dark Avenger, gone to do his work. Doyle loved the image.
But Doyle isn't here.
After a while, I got up and went down to Angel's apartment to get some blankets and a pillow. I should just leave them in the office, but I know tomorrow morning I'll bring them back down. It feels too permanent to leave them in the office, too much like admitting this is my life. I know it is. I know that there isn't anywhere else for me to go, and to be honest, Iím not sure that I would want to be anywhere else.
Angel's told me time and again to just wait in his apartment. He's given up on telling me to go home. I feel better waiting in the office, so I can be close if he needs my help when he gets back. Sometimes, when he doesn't get back until after sunrise, I wonder if he's gone too. I wonder what I'll do if that day ever comes.
The dark part of me thinks that I'll just sit in this office and wait forever. I never used to have a dark part. Once upon a time I believed in easy lives and shallow souls.
This time, he was back in less than two hours, carrying a very bruised and bloody Wesley. "Cordelia, get the first aid kit."
I jumped up and grabbed it from the shelf it sat on. Taking it back over to Angel, I stood behind him as he cleaned and bandaged Wesley's wounds. When he was done, I covered Wesley with my blanket, and waited for Angel to speak.
"Some Rakeyn demons had him. Luckily, they don't like to kill humans. They're more into small animals and birds. If Wesley hadn't been following them, they never would have attacked him."
"Why was he following them?" I asked, sneaking a look at the Watcher I once had a crush on. Until that kiss, the memory of which I will be trying to repress until my dying day. "Don't Watchers just watch?"
"That's the rule." Angel answered, reaching down to check Wesley's pulse. "We'll have to wait until he's awake to find out why he was following them."
"I'll have you know that I am awake." Wesley stated, his hands moving towards his face. He felt around for a minute, wincing when he touched a bruise. His eyes opened slowly, staring in Angel's direction. "Where are my glasses?"
"They're broken." Angel said, moving around his desk and sitting in his chair. He leaned forward, his elbows planted on the desktop. "Now I have a question for you. What were you doing following those demons?"
"I was trying to kill them." Wesley answered proudly.
"How?" Angel asked, his eyes flitting over to mine before returning to Wesley.
"How?" Wesley repeated, struggling into a sitting position. "With weapons. I have a wide array of instruments designed to cause great pain, and eventual death to any demon I might cross."
"But a Rakeyn demon? Can't they only be killed by melted copper?"
"Well, um, I didn't realize they were Rakeyn demons at first. They look remarkably like Gokeils, which can be killed quite easily." Wesley had the grace to look ashamed of his mistake. I shrugged in Angel's direction, before walking out of his office to make some coffee. It looked like a long night in the making.
As I poured water into the coffeepot I heard Angel's reply. "But aren't Rakeyn's green, and Gokeil's a bright orange?"
"Yes, well really, I have, um, I do sometimes have trouble seeing certain colors." Wesley answered slowly. I could almost picture the uncomfortable expression on his face.
"You mean you're color blind?" Angel asked, his voice tinged with disbelief. I couldn't help it; I laughed out loud, the sound echoing in the empty room.
Then I stopped, my laughter turning to tears as I realized how much Doyle would be enjoying this moment.
I watched them work for a week before I picked up a hammer and started helping. Dryan says that work is balm to the wounded soul. I don't know that I agree with him, but at least I'm too tired to spend my nights mourning for what's never going to be again. Now it's only early mornings that I fear, that split second when I wake up and I think that my life isn't what it is. But then I remember. Cordelia's face is much clearer to me in those hours, her smile making even the sun that shines here seem dim. I miss her, sometimes almost more than I can stand. In those hours, before the others wake and the days work begins, I understand more than ever what it is I lost.
I try never to think of Angel, but I hear his voice in my mind constantly. He's the one who tells me that I'm cheating both him and Cordelia out of their choice. He's the one who promises that he is my friend, no matter what my face looks like. I hate hearing him, even if it is my own thoughts he's speaking. Reiff asked me the other day if I would have gone back if it had only been Angel. I didn't know what to say to him at first, the question shocked me. I wanted to say that I wouldn't have, that I was protecting both of them, but the truth is; I'm only protecting her.
Angel could have accepted me; he's accepted worse things about himself. I don't want to think about that though, it just leads into the next question, which is, am I being unfair to Cordelia to believe that she couldn't? She accepted Angel, with his past, and his brooding, and the ever present threat of the curse breaking. Who am I to say that she wouldn't accept me?
I'm her friend. I'm the short, poor guy that didn't fit into any of her lists, or plans. I'm the guy she was going to date even if he was a half-demon. I'm the guy who showed her the face of a demon for the first time seconds before she watched me die. I think I've overextended my acceptance credit with Cordelia, I'm not going to force this latest change on her.
By now, she's probably getting on with her life, dating the proper men again and making Angel's life a little more bearable with her presence. I can't, I won't, ruin that for her, force her to pretend that she can accept the new me. To have her feel obligated to me, to pity me, is something I can't ever live with.
Reiff says that I'm just being selfish, and maybe he's right. But I can't take the chance that she would pity me, and I can't take the chance that she couldn't even pretend to accept me. I don't have much left in my life, the memory of her telling me to ask her out, even knowing about my demon half, is the one bright spot on my soul. I refuse to take the chance of losing it.
The sun is well above the horizon now, and the temperature is rising. The heat here is almost unbearable, or it would be if I were still human. The demon I am now revels in it. The others are already up, talking and laughing as they prepare for the days work. I'll join them soon, when I hear the pounding of the hammers. I try never to intrude on their small amount of relaxation before work starts. I don't want the cloud that hangs over me to infect them.
They're so happy with their new life, so full of optimism and plans for the future. To them, this island is a promised land, to me it's still purgatory. But sometimes, their hope gets to me, I can feel the slightest hint of a life that may still be worth living. It passes quickly, but those small moments give me the strength to get through the dawn hours.
When I climb out of my tent, they're hard at work. I watched them silently for a minute, listening to the easy laughter that will fade when I join them. Slowly, I make my feet move forward, plastering a weak smile on my demon face, determined, as I am every morning, that I will not steal their joy. It won't last long though.
"Doyle!" Reiff shouted, his voice ringing with excitement. He's the only one who refuses to cater to my mood, to the doom and gloom that I live with. "We need to talk to you." He came bounding across the clearing, jumping over the logs that lay in his path. When he reached me, he was out of breath, but beaming.
"What's up?" I asked, the smile still on my face. It feels unnatural to me now.
"You used to be a teacher, right?" He asked, his small frame, now filled out slightly from all the hard work he's been doing, trembling with enthusiasm. "Weren't you?" He asked again, when I didn't answer.
"Yes." I finally said, the smile disappearing as the thought crosses my mind that whatever he's so excited about is something that isn't going to be quite as thrilling to me.
He ignored my distinct lack of enthusiasm, nodding his head back in the direction of his father. I looked towards the others, only realizing then that all work had come to a halt. They were just standing, shoulder to shoulder, watching Reiff and I. My eyes drifted from them, and traveled over the half built homes that littered the area. It reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, the simple wooded frames, and the large logs that covered them. Los Angeles, it was not. It amazes me how much they have accomplished in the short month we've been here. When I looked back at Reiff, he was standing with his arms crossed over his chest, his expression patient as he waited to regain my attention.
"We need a teacher." Reiff said, as if that was all the explanation he needed to give. I eyed him blankly, waiting to hear the rest of his story. In another lifetime I would have realized what he wanted immediately, but now, I just waited for him to tell me. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head slightly as he explained. "We want you to teach."
"No." I answered immediately, backing away from him. That part of my life had ended with the appearance of my demon half; I couldn't resurrect it now. Teaching had been about sharing my joy in life with children, about teaching them how wonderful the world was, and how much fun there could be in learning about it. What could I teach now? How to accept your demon half in three easy steps? Humanity, and how to live without it? There wasn't any way I was teaching again. Not now, not ever. "No." I repeated again, more forcefully.
Reiff's face fell, his body shrinking towards the ground as he shook his head in the direction of the others. I squeezed my eyes shut for a minute, swallowing back my intense need to tell him how stupid his idea was. When I opened them again, Dryan had moved away from the group and was coming towards me. I shifted; knowing Dryan wouldn't let me off the hook easily. "Don't start." I warned him as he came to a stop beside Reiff.
"I won't." He answered with a shrug, wrapping one arm around Reiff's shoulders. "I don't think it's a good idea either."
"Then why did you let him ask?" I questioned, a glare hovering around the edges of my face. And why did he think it wasn't a good idea anyway? I was a damn good teacher. Children loved me.
"Because he seems to think you still have something to offer to our community. I tried to tell him that you weren't interested in anything more than sulking." Dryan answered calmly, his dark eyes meeting mine easily. "Our children don't need to be taught about the dark side of life, they've already seen it. They don't need to be taught by someone who doesn't see the positive. What they need is someone who sees the beauty in life, and is willing to share it."
"I see the beauty." I ground out between clenched teeth. "I'm just not part of it."
"Do you?" Dryan asked, one eyebrow lifting slightly. "I haven't heard you once speak of the beauty of this island, or how nicely our village is coming along. In fact, I haven't heard you say one thing that could in any way be construed as positive, or good."
I was so shocked by his words I didn't see Reiff's father approach. He stepped in front of Dryan, silencing him with a lift of his hand. Turning to me, he stepped forward, placing one hand on my shoulder. "Doyle. We believe that you could be a valuable member of our community. We want you to be. That's why we are offering you the chance to teach our young. Not only so that they will have an education, but also so that you might rediscover the things you have lost." He paused, looking behind him to the village, and the people standing there. When he turned back to me, a small smile lingered on his face. "We won't force you to become part of us. You can live as you choose here, and if you choose to remain on the edges we will accept that. But you saved us. When we had lost all hope, you gave us a new life. We want the same thing for you."
I opened my mouth to rebuke him, to tell him that our situations weren't the same. A small face caught my attention before I could. Reiff's sister had snuck up on us, her tiny hand reaching up to clasp her father's. She smiled at me, her expression open and accepting of the deformity of my face. I smiled back before I could help myself, and suddenly found myself nodding. "I'll do it." I said quickly, afraid I would change my mind if I didn't get it out immediately. Reiff grinned, and Dryan smiled knowingly before drifting back to the others. Somewhere inside me a small ember burst into flame again.
"Thank you." A little voice peeped up. I smiled down at her, almost laughing as she attempted to hide in her fathers' shadow.
"Thank you." I told her solemnly, rewarded with an even brighter smile. I bent my knees, lowering myself to eye level with her. "And your name is?"
"Belina." She whispered, her cheeks burning a bright red.
"That's a beautiful name." I replied, feeling momentarily ashamed that I hadn't bothered to find out earlier. I pushed it back, refusing to let it interfere. "I'm Doyle."
"I know." She said, smiling as if I had said something really silly.
"Everyone knows who you are." Reiff said. "You are the chosen one."
"I prefer Doyle." I answered straight-faced. Reiff laughed, his face relaxing into youth again. Straightening up, I smiled at the two men standing in front of me before looking in the direction of the village. "Well, shouldn't we get to work? We've got a school to build." Without waiting for an answer, I headed towards the village. It might just have been me, but the sun seemed to shine a little brighter over my head.
Wesley never left. Two months later and he's still here, still thinking that he's the one in charge. If I live another two centuries, I don't think I'll ever quite understand why I invited him to stay. The now ex-Watcher hadn't done anything in Sunnydale to endear himself to me, and the first time I saw him after that he was almost dead at the hands of demons that don't hunt humans. It's not exactly a stellar resume.
But I find myself liking him. He does have a lot to offer us, once you get past his superiority complex. I think he's familiar with every book I have, and can find information on anything that I ask in a matter of minutes. That's something I don't think Cordelia was ever going to be able, or willing, to do.
He's good company for her too, someone to wait with while I'm out fighting. She hasn't bonded with him like she did with Doyle. I'm not sure she's ever going to. Wesley isn't him, and we still feel the loss. But she laughs a little now, usually at Wesley's attempts to be serious. It always fades quickly, and I know she's thinking the same thing I am, Doyle would be in heaven having Wesley around the office to make fun of.
"Angel." Cordelia practically shouted. I swung my chair around, knocking the plant off my windowsill in the process. She grimaced, walking over to rescue it. "I've told you a million times to be more careful if you're going to insist on putting your feet up there." Setting the plant back on its shelf, she scooped the dirt from the floor, patting it back in place. "Why can't you just sit at your desk like a normal person, facing forward. Where the desk is."
"Why can't you come into my office and speak in a normal voice?" I countered, straightening the papers that covered my desk as if I had been hard at work rather than lost in my thoughts.
"I tried that." Cordelia answered, shaking her head as she walked over to the couch. Dropping gracefully onto the cushions, she studied her hands carefully. "Now my manicure is ruined. Wonderful. And I was calling your name for about five minutes and nothing. What was I supposed to do, use ESP?"
"Sorry." I mumbled; rummaging through the papers for the file I was supposed to be looking at. "What did you want?"
"I'm going to need Wednesdays and Thursdays off." She announced, still staring intently at her nails. "Of course, if I have a vision, or something, I'll be here. Or if you need me. Actually, I only really need the afternoons off. I tried to do it in the morning, but I couldn't get the right classes, and..."
"Cordelia." I stopped her before her ramble got any more out of control. One word in particular caught my attention, classes; she was going to school. I smiled at her. "You're going to school? That's great."
"Yeah, well." She mumbled as a faint tinge of red colored her cheeks. Flipping her hair back over her shoulder she met my eyes. "The actress thing is sort of out now. I don't think I can find enough roles that call for severe migraines."
"I'm sorry." I answered, the familiar guilt rising again. "I know this must be hard for you."
"Yeah, well." She answered with a shrug; "I'm not a very good actress. At least, not when a camera is in front of me. But I was a pretty good student."
"What are you going to take?" I asked, leaning back in my chair and putting my feet up on the desk.
She shifted uncomfortably, pulling her legs up under her. "Did you know that Doyle was a teacher? A third grade teacher?"
"Well, at first, I thought I'd follow in his footsteps." She smiled sadly at me, her eyes still full of the grief we were slowly trying to get past. "But I can't do that. Obviously. I'd frighten the children if I had a vision." A wave of regret filled me, reminding me again of all the roads that were closed for her now. "Which coincidentally, also make me unsuitable for most jobs."
"You don't want to work here?" I asked, surprised at the hurt that caused. I liked her, liked having her around. Somehow I had gotten used to the image of us together, battling the forces of evil. Not in the way that Buffy and I had done, but more in the way that I thought Doyle and I would have, long after Cordelia had moved on. "I thought we were doing okay."
"We are." She replied immediately. "We're doing better than I ever imagined. It's not you, or working for you, it's just...what if it stops? What if you decide to move on, or something happens to you? What if the visions go away and you don't need me anymore? What will happen to me then?"
"Cordelia." I whispered. Someday I was going to figure her out, and she wouldn't be able to surprise me any more. I hadn't even thought about the what-ifs. But she was right; she needed to know that things were going to be okay for her, if the day ever came that I didn't come home. "You're always going to be okay. If the visions stop, it won't change anything. You'll always have a job here. And I'm not moving on, not unless you come with me."
"So, we're a team." She smiled, relief softening her features. "And I'm not just a pain?"
"Not just." I teased carefully, earning a small chuckle from her. I grew serious then, knowing that the time for just coasting along was coming to an end. I had made provisions for my death long ago, registering the building in Buffy's name, and making sure my accounts would be transferred to her, but now, it was time to change them. "Cordelia? No matter what happens, you will be okay. I'll make sure of it."
She opened her mouth, and then shut it again, shaking her head as if she could loosen the words from her throat. Finally, she unfolded her legs, her eyes flashing dangerously. "Of course I'll be okay. Did you not hear me say that I was taking classes? I don't need you to take care of me. I would be fine on my own. I don't need your pity. I'm not helpless."
"I didn't say that." I answered, not understanding in the least how I had managed to make her so mad. "I don't think that. I just wanted you to know..."
"To know that you'll take care of me, like my Father was supposed to take care of me?" She interrupted, her brown eyes welling with tears. She shook them off, her jaw muscles pulsing wildly. "I don't want to be that person anymore. I don't want to need someone so badly that I don't think I can survive without them. Because I can."
"I know you can." I whispered, standing up and walking over to her. I lowered my body cautiously into the seat next to her, keeping my voice low as I continued. "I didn't mean to imply that you couldn't."
"I depended on Doyle you know." She interrupted me, her dark eyes shining with tears. "When he died, I thought I wouldn't be able to keep going without him. It's funny, I only knew him for a few months, but he meant so much to me."
"He meant a lot to me too." I whispered.
She continued on as if I hadn't spoken. "Now, when I think about my life, I can't imagine it without you." She paused, wrinkling her nose as she thought about what she said. "Not in a dating way." She added with a small smile, before pausing. She chewed on her lip thoughtfully for a while, then continued. "I'm afraid of that feeling now. Before Doyle, before Xander, before my parents, I believed that if someone was important to you, if you depended on them, they wouldn't fail you. But they will, whether it's by choice, or because...because they die."
"Cordelia." I started, not knowing exactly where I was going. She shook her head, her jaw set as she looked at me.
"Just let me say this." She ordered, her voice shaking a little. "I want to take classes so that there's more than you, more than fighting evil, in my life. I don't want to lose you and only then realize that I don't have anything left. I survived losing Doyle, because you were there. I won't be that lucky if I lose you."
She stopped speaking, her eyes searching mine as she waited for me to speak. I cleared my throat, stalling for time, trying to figure out what to say. I wasn't a big talker; it was easier to brood, and to care in silence. "I understand." I began finally, pausing to organize my thoughts. She waited quietly, her body still. "And I shouldn't be the only thing in your life. It's not right. You're young and healthy, and getting visions and doing filing shouldn't be all you do. But, depending on people is part of life. You can't expect to get through without other people. They'll let you down, and you'll let them down, but it's still worth it." I hesitated again, checking to make sure she was still listening.
Her eyes were wide as she stared at me, but the tears had dried. She nodded, and I took it as agreement. "Don't think that you're not important to me too. I can't imagine coming in here some morning and not suffering through your awful coffee. It frightens me, but I can't let it stop me from caring. Losing Doyle was one of the worst things I've ever been through, but I made it, because of you. Because I had you to depend on, and to care about."
"Boy, when you decide to share, you really share." Cordelia interrupted, her eyes lit with laughter. All hints of her earlier misery had disappeared as she looked at me.
I shook my head, a small smile twisting the corners of my mouth. I was never going to understand her. "I'm done."
"Good." She said, her nose wrinkling mischievously. "I was afraid you were going to start singing songs from Barney."
"I'm a brooder, not a singer." I deadpanned, earning a burst of laughter from her.
She quieted, her face growing serious again as she spoke. "Thanks."
"No problem." I answered, squeezing her shoulder as I stood. "When do your classes start?"
"Two weeks." She answered. She stood too, and began heading towards the door. Stopping at the doorway she turned back to me. "You're not going to try and cut my salary are you? Cause I'll have you know that I could charge some demon twice what you pay for my visions. Maybe three times."
"I wouldn't dare." I responded. She smiled, turning back towards the outer office. I looked back down at the papers on my desk, a smile lingering on my face.
A loud groan made me look up again. Cordelia was hanging onto the door frame with one hand, the other cradling her head. I jumped up, running to support her as the vision invaded her mind. Practically carrying her back to the couch, I settled her into it, sitting beside her and rubbing her back. She whimpered; lifting her head to look at me through pain filled eyes. There was a catch in her voice as she spoke. "Do you remember what island we sent those demons... people too?"
I didn't have to ask what demons. "Yes." A ball settled in the pit of my stomach at the thought that the Scourge had found them. "They were in your vision?"
"We have to go there." She answered firmly. "I didn't any danger. Just faces, their faces. But we have to go. I wouldn't have had a vision if they weren't in danger." She hesitated, dropping her head down to look at the floor. "It was just so fast, I could only pick out their faces."
"It's okay." I comforted her, knowing how afraid she was of missing something. "I'll go."
"I'm coming with you." She announced, her face determined as she looked at me. "Wesley can watch the phones."
"He won't be happy about that." I wasn't happy about letting her come, but I knew that she needed to see for herself that the people Doyle had given his life for were safe. That they were settled and happy on the small island that was their home. I understood that feeling, I felt like I could destroy the entire Scourge with my bare hands if they dared harm any of the Javaran.
"I don't care." She whispered. Covering her face with her hands she breathed in deeply. When she took her hands away, I was shocked at the fear and pain on her face. She tried to smile, but it never made it to her face. Reaching out she grabbed my hand, her voice full of some emotion I couldn't name as she spoke. "We have to make sure they're okay Angel."
"I know." I answered softly, reaching down to grab one of her hands in mine. "We will."
I woke slowly, listening to the excited chatter of the children milling outside my window. They had started gathering there every morning, eager to start the day's lessons. To be honest, I was glad they did. It was impossible to feel sorry for myself around them. They wanted to know everything, and they wanted me to teach it to them.
It's a nice feeling, to be wanted. Even if it's only by children who don't know any better. In the two months since my classes started I've actually started to think that my life, such as it is, might be worthwhile. I'm not happy. I don't think that's in the cards for me anymore, but I'm content. I can see the years stretch out in front of me, teaching generation after generation of Javaran how to read, and to multiply, and anything else I can come up with, and I'm satisfied.
We're going to explore the caves on the other side of the island today, which explains the even earlier hour of the children's arrival outside my home. They've been looking forward to this trip for weeks. Reiff will be here soon, to force the children back to the fire for breakfast. He always does, giving me a few minutes to look at the world around me, and to push away all thoughts of the world that doesn't surround me anymore.
A soft rapping on my door interrupted my thoughts. I pulled a shirt over my head before opening the door. A small face peered up at me, her eyes sparkling. "Mr. Doyle? Is it time to go yet?"
"No." I smiled back at her. "You have to eat first."
"I packed food." She answered, holding out a ragged sack. "For you too."
"Belina." I shook my head, shrugging my shoulders helplessly as I motioned her into my cabin. "Would you like to have breakfast with me?"
Her only response was a rapid nodding of her head. Grinning, she set her sack carefully down on my table, and hopped into a chair. I moved quickly about my small kitchen, deciding that a cold breakfast would have to do. I didn't want to make the children wait much longer. Taking a loaf of bread off the shelf, I ripped it in half, offering one to Belina. She took it happily, biting into it before I had a chance to set the cheese and jam on the table.
"Piggie." I teased her, laughing softly as she blushed. "It's okay. I'm a pig too." I consoled her, taking my bread and stuffing it into my mouth.
She giggled, her little face scrunching up in a way that reminded me of Cordelia. In one of the few unguarded moments she had around me. My smile faded, and I looked away before Belina could see the sadness in my eyes. Getting up from the table, I held my hand out to help her down.
"Is it time?" She asked, her eyes glowing with excitement.
"It's time." I answered, swinging her up onto my shoulders and heading for the village fire.
Reiff had the children all gathered together by the time we reached them. They were silent, but almost quivering with anticipation. I smiled at them, leaning over so that Belina could slide off and join her friends. Reiff walked over to me, clamping one hand down on my shoulder.
I smiled at him, nodding slowly. Reiff may be young in years, but there's nothing young about his soul. He's the only one who truly understands how hard this is for me. How hard it is to smile, and to pretend that life is good. Maybe it's because before this island, he felt the same way. He raged against the unfairness of his appearance, the forced isolation, and the knowledge that outside his own species he would never be accepted.
This island is good for him. Away from the real world he's growing into the man he's supposed to be. But I worry whether this island will always be enough for him. He's so interested in everything, scooping up knowledge as quickly as I can feed it to him. He wonít go to school though, he thinks he's too old for it. Which is why I asked him to be my assistant, it's the only way I can make sure he gets as much of an education as I can give him.
Sometimes I toy with the idea of writing to Angel, not as myself, but pretending I'm one of the Javaren. Angel could get in touch with Harry, find out if there are any other demon communities in the world that would accept an outsider. I want Reiff to see more of the world that he can from here.
"Mr. Doyle?" Belina asked, stepping forward from the group. "Can we go now?"
"Yes." I answered, smiling at my charges. "Let's get on the road."
Reiff took the lead, taking two children by the hand. The others followed quickly, but Belina hovered back, waiting for me. She sidled up to me, slipping her small hand in mine. I held onto it, swinging my pack over my shoulder as we headed into the forest.
The children had enough questions to keep them from noticing how long we walked. Their appetite for information amazed me, as it always does. It took every inch of my intellect to come up with answers to their questions. Thankfully, Reiff fielded some of them.
We came upon the cave after two hours of travel. Cautioning the children to stick close to Reiff and I, we lit two torches and made our way inside. The children were as impressed as I'd hoped they'd be at the rock formations inside.
We spent two hours in the caves, only heading back when Reiff reminded me that we didn't want to be stuck in the forest after nightfall. It was different from LA, there weren't any demons, or humans to fear, but the animals native to our island could kill a small child easily.
"Okay guys, it's time to head back." I announced, smiling at Reiff when the children begged to stay.
"Can we come back?" One child asked, tugging at my sleeve as he spoke.
"Of course we can." Reiff answered for me, his face glowing with satisfaction. I frowned at him, turning away from the children to check for any belongings they had left behind. Once I was sure we had everything we headed off, the children singing loudly as they crashed through the forest.
Reiff hung back, trying to remain by my side. I ignored him, keeping my eyes on the children in front of us to make sure no one slipped from our trail.
"Doyle?" Reiff said eventually, "It's not so bad. Is it?"
I hesitated, almost tripping over a branch that lay broken on the forest floor. After I steadied myself I answered. "It's not good." I didn't have to clarify what he was asking about. He didn't ever ask about anything else, at least not with the tentative voice he asked this question. I tilted my head, looking at him through the corner of my eye. "But I like teaching. I like the children. They take my mind off what I don't have."
"Cordelia." He stated softly, like he was talking to himself. He nodded, chewing thoughtfully on his lip for a minute before speaking again. "Maybe one day you'll find someone else."
"I won't." I answered firmly, quickening my pace. He trotted after me, placing one hand on my arm to slow me down. I let him, checking to see that the children were all happily walking ahead of us. "Reiff, I appreciate what you're trying to do. But, as much as you want a happy ending for me, like you found on this island, it's not going to happen."
"You won't let it happen." He accused. "I think you like being miserable."
"What?" I questioned, my voice a low growl. "You think I like who I am? I don't. Do you think I liked losing the best friends I ever had? Do you think I like that I let them think I was dead?"
"No." He interrupted me, his voice shaking. "But I do think you're letting choices you already made prevent you from enjoying your life here." He took a deep breath and continued. "And I think you should either tell your friends you're alive, and deal with that, or forget about them."
"I can't ever forget." I whispered. "And I can't ever tell them I'm alive."
Reiff exhaled slowly, his eyes searching mine intently. He seemed to come to a decision finally, and his voice was much lighter when he spoke again. "You do like teaching though."
"I love teaching." I answered him truthfully. I did love it. It was the only thing I had worth hanging onto anymore. I watched as he sped up again, his shoulders rounded. I knew he was disappointed that I hadn't given him the answers he wanted to hear. I sped up, catching up with him easily. Tapping him on the shoulder, I smiled at him. "It's not so bad." I whispered.
He grinned, seeming to revert back to his true age in an instant. I nodded at him, grateful I could at least ease his mind, if not my own.