Almost a Very Good Life (parts 11-15)
Almost a Very Good Life (parts 11-15)
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.
A small dingy brought us to shore a few hours after sunset, thankfully saving us from having to spend even one more minute in the dark, smelly, and very tiny room that had been home for the last four days. I was tired, grimy, and feeling totally unsettled as we left the ship behind us, heading across the beach to the thick line of trees. Angel pointed silently into the sky, showing me the thin streams of smoke that were trailing into the air from somewhere on the other side of the forest.
"Angel?" I whispered, my voice sounding unsure even to my own ears. My stomach was flipping around nervously, and I had to grip my hands tightly into fists to keep them from shaking.
"What?" He snapped, softening his voice at the last second, making the word draw out into a long sigh. "What?" He repeated gently.
I bit my lip, not really knowing what I wanted to say, or even that I had anything to say at all. Mostly I just wanted to feel close to him, to reassure myself that I wasn't totally alone in my need to protect these people that Doyle had died to save. At the same time, I needed to know that even here I would be okay, that I had made it through. Losing Doyle was the worst thing that ever happened to me, and I was afraid I would make it even worse if I somehow failed these people. "Nothing." I mumbled, realizing there was no way I could make the jumble of my thoughts come out in a way that made sense.
A small smile of understanding lit Angel's lips. "I know." He stated, his brown eyes reflecting the light of the moon. "It brings it all back."
"We'll save them, right?" I asked, uncertainty lacing my voice. Laughing nervously, I corrected myself. "You'll save them."
"It'll be fine." He promised, taking my hand in his larger one, and leading us into the forest. I pulled away when we were in the shelter of the trees, content to let him lead the way. I followed his footsteps, tripping over rocks and branches along the way, but somehow staying on my feet.
We emerged into a clearing, still hidden back in the shadows of the trees. Our bodies stilled at the same time, our eyes widening at the scene in front of us. The village spread out in a large circle, buildings shaping the boundaries of their little town.
I stared in open-mouthed amazement at the scene in front of me, at the houses with their thick log walls, and the streets of green grass. It seemed impossible to believe that they had done so much in just a few months. Everything was very basic, but obviously made with great pride. I felt a little like I had just stepped back into the past, and any minute a cowboy would come riding along the road, his chaps white with dust from the trail.
There were people around, familiar faces that looked much happier than when I had last seen them. They laughed and joked as they passed each other, the smiles lingering long after they were alone again.
"Most of them are headed that way." Angel whispered, pointing to an area to the left of the village. "I'm going to follow them."
I nodded, setting out of the shadows after him. We kept to the edge of the forest, skirting around the sides of the fields they had planted and that were just beginning to sprout. Angel paused, becoming very still as he searched the night for danger. I waited for him, my eyes drifting up to the sky. The stars shone brightly down on me, and I closed my eyes, hoping that Doyle could see how much they had done with the gift he had given them. He would be proud of them.
Angel shifted, patting my arm as he started to move forward again. Motioning to the left, he herded me into a small grove of trees. It was only then that I smelled the smoke from their campfire. Following Angel and the smell to the other side of the trees, we peeked out. The villagers were sitting in a large circle around the fire, smiles wreathing their faces. I nudged Angel, whispering, "They don't look afraid."
He glared at me, pulling me further back into the trees before answering. "Don't talk. We don't want to frighten them."
"We're not going to frighten them." I argued in a low whisper. "They know us. We should just go over to them."
Angel shook his head. "I need to know if there's anything else out there. I want to make sure we're the only ones watching." His face hardened, becoming predatory. I shivered in the warm night air, feeling a thousand eyes crawling up my back.
I took a small step closer to Angel, scanning the darkness with him. Of course without the supernatural vision, all I saw other than the faces around the campfire were shadows and darkness. It was like the world ended outside the light from the fire.
We passed over an hour in silence, Angel continually searching for whatever it was we were here to find. He stiffened suddenly, his body tense and ready for battle beside me. I looked around, trying to search out the danger he was already sensing. My stomach began to roll again, and small beads of sweat dropped down between my shoulder blades, trickling down my spine. Angel moved slightly and I turned back to him, focusing on his face, and trusting that whatever it was he would protect me along with the others from it.
Angel reached out suddenly, his hand clamping over my mouth and dragging me further back into the shadow of the trees. He pulled us down into a crouch, his hand still tightly over my lips. I glared out into the darkness, but didn't struggle to get free.
Slowly, the sounds that had alerted him became clear to me. Feet, hooves, something, running through the woods, not caring how much noise it made. It was headed straight for us, and then for the campfire, and it was moving fast. I shrank back against Angel, trying to keep my limbs from shaking. Nausea swirled in my stomach, and I forced myself to breathe evenly.
It's funny, once the bad guys arrive, I never remember what this feels like, I'm never really afraid. But, before they do, the waiting part, terrifies me. It makes me feel like my limbs will never support me again, and that every bad thought I've ever thought about myself is true. I always feel that I'm a coward, that this shaking person is the real me. She's not. Once the demons arrive, I'll be fine. It does help having Angel around. Who's afraid of a little demon when you've seen him kill things that your worst nightmares could never have dreamed up?
Angel moved again, releasing my mouth and pulling me around beside him. I stared at him with wide eyes and he lifted one finger to cover his lips. I frowned at him, like I couldn't get that I needed to be quiet from the muzzle his hand just turned into?
The sounds from the woods grew louder, branches snapping as they pushed ever closer to us. They were yelling, the sound of voices carrying even if the words didn't. I swallowed heavily, biting down hard on my lip.
Angel leaned forward, his eyes glowing a soft yellow. His body lifted slightly in preparation. I was tense beside him, my fingers searching the ground for something I could use as a weapon. A rock was stuck partly in the ground beneath my fingers, and I dug around it, struggling to free it, and not alert anyone of our presence at the same time.
When I finally freed it, the footfall was almost to us. I shifted, bouncing slightly to prepare to move. Angel reached out, putting a warning hand on my leg and shaking his head. I closed my eyes, nodding my agreement that I would wait for him.
The voices grew louder, three distinct sounds. I tilted my head, trying to make out the words, but the most I could come up with was 'Belina.'
Angel frowned, his fingers digging into my leg. I pushed them away, shaking my head at him. His face softened, the predatory look fading into puzzlement. He stood, holding out his hand to help me up as the footsteps raced past us, happy voices calling out to the people at the fire.
"Oh great." I chastised Angel, holding out my dirty hands for him to see. "It was a bunch of kids. Some evil hunter you are."
Angel shook his head, still looking puzzled. "Something didn't smell right. It was familiar, but...I don't know, I don't think I've ever smelled it that strongly before."
"Do you know what it was?" I asked quietly, remembering that we were supposed to be hiding out.
"No." Angel shrugged, turning towards the fire. "Let's just go tell them we're here."
"I won't say that I wanted to do that from the beginning." I muttered, brushing dirt off my legs and hands as we left the cover of the trees and began to make our way across the clearing. We walked slowly, keeping our hands swinging loosely by our sides as we closed the distance.
They stood as one, their voices rising in confusion as they watched our approach. Towards the back of the group there was a flurry of activity, as if someone was afraid of us and trying to get away. My eyes darted over to Angel, to make sure he was seeing what I was seeing.
The look on his face surprised me. It was a strange mix of anger and happiness, his lips turning up into a fond smile even as his eyes flashed with rage. I lifted one eyebrow, questioning him silently. He looked down at me, closing his eyes for a moment as if he was in pain. "I have to make sure."
"Make sure of what?" I asked, running now to keep up with him as he made his way through the villagers, not stopping to greet any of them. In the back of my mind I wondered why they didn't look surprised, not at our appearance, or at the speed Angel was moving through the crowd. "Sorry." I mumbled to a young boy who I almost ran into. I looked at him, recognizing the confused teenager Doyle had brought to the ship. "Reiff."
"Cordelia." He greeted me, taking my hand in his. He moved forward, as if he could lead me away from Angel's direction. I yanked my hand away, frowning at him in confusion. He grimaced, his eyes darting in Angel's direction and then back to me. "It might be best if you wait. Let Angel tell you later what happened."
"What are you talking about?" I demanded, my heart starting to pound loudly in my chest. Spinning around I took off after Angel, my feet barely touching the ground as I caught up with him. Reiff followed close behind me, his pleas for me to stop continuing.
I came up to a smaller fire, hidden behind the bigger one. Angel was standing on one side, and on the other stood a man hidden in the shadows. Angel moved forward, his whole body exuding anger. I watched him in shock, my body moving numbly forward so that I could see what he saw.
Angel shifted when he heard me come up behind him. Shaking his head at me, he spoke. "Go with Reiff. I'll explain it to you later."
"Explain what?" I asked in a low voice. My skin was littered with goose bumps, and my mouth was dry. "Why are you so angry?"
"Cordelia." Angel pleaded, but I shook my head.
"We're a team Angel. I don't go anywhere." I stated, crossing my arms defiantly and staring him down.
He nodded finally, turning back to the figure on the other side of the fire. "How could you?" He asked it, his voice thick with anger and hurt. "How could you do this to me, and even more, how could you do this to her?"
The figure stirred, his voice thick and gravely as he answered. "It was for the best." I started trembling then, hearing the familiar lilt underneath the gravel. My eyes filled with tears and I reached out to hold onto Angel.
"Why?" Angel asked rapidly.
"You know Angel. You smelled me." The voice, I couldn't say his name, I was afraid to even think it, answered. "I don't have any humanity left."
"So you let us think you were dead?" Angel growled, pulling me behind him as he stalked around the fire. "How is that better?"
"Doyle?" I whimpered, as my throat closed over with unshed tears. The firelight illuminated his face, showing every spike, and every tint of blue in perfect clarity. I swallowed, tilting my head to look at Angel. "Is it Doyle?"
There was a harsh intake of breath from the figure, and I pursed my lips, knowing that I had hurt him. Angel nodded, his eyes understanding as I stared into them. Finally I turned back, my eyes finding Doyle's in the darkness. I sniffed, letting go of Angel's hand and moving forward, stopping just in front of him.
Doyle didn't move, I didn't even see him breath. I stared at him, a smile spreading across my face as tears spilled from my eyes. Reaching out I let my hand hover in the air by his hand; afraid if I touched him he would disappear into a dream. "You're alive." I whispered in a voice filled with awe. "You're alive."
"Not really Princess." He replied, taking a step backwards away from me.
His calm voice felt like a punch. I had dreamed of seeing him again, of getting a chance to tell him everything I hadn't before, and now I had to face the fact that I had mourned for nothing. For some reason he had chosen to leave us, me, behind. My eyes narrowed, and I understood Angel's anger of a few minutes ago. He was alive. He had been alive all along. Rage flew through my veins, hardening my skin as I stared at him. "How could you? We mourned for you. We still mourn for you."
"I couldn't ruin your life." He whispered, his head bowing down. "I'm nothing now Cordy."
I looked at him, my vision blurred with tears. "You weren't ever anything." I told him viciously, my hand raising as if I would hit him. Angel grabbed my hand, his fist closing around mine. I let him; my eyes still focused only on Doyle. "I wish I'd never found out you were still alive."
Swinging around I ripped my arm from Angel's, not caring about anything but getting away. Tears filled my throat, and my eyes, spilling down my cheeks as I ran. How could he have done this to me? It felt like I was being torn in half, with one side wanting to run back to him, to hug him and beg him never to leave me again. The other half was furious; his betrayal cut so deep that I didnít think I could ever recover from it. The only thing I knew was that I would never understand how he could have been so cruel to us.
Finding shelter underneath a tree, I collapsed on the ground, for once not caring if anyone heard me cry.
I watched her run, torn between running after her, and remaining where I was to make sure Doyle didn't disappear. I turned slightly, meeting his eyes. He nodded slowly, as if giving me permission to leave. I shook my head, my fists clenched tightly by my sides. Shifting again, I watched as Cordelia collapsed under a tree, her body crumbling into the ground.
Doyle turned with me, his eyes scanning the darkness for her. "Do you understand now?" He asked quietly.
"No." I ground out, glancing over to him. There was so much I wanted to say to him, so many explanations that I needed to hear from him, but they would have to wait. "Don't leave." I barked, my feet already carrying me across the clearing to Cordelia. Doyle would wait: he would have to wait.
I reached Cordelia quickly, gathering her up into my arms. She didn't fight me, just let me curl her into my cold body as she sobbed. I whispered nonsense to her, my face pressed close to her hair. Lifting my eyes, I watched as Doyle stared across the clearing to us, his face unreadable.
"Why?" She whispered finally, pulling away to look at me. "Why did he do this?"
I hesitated before answering, my eyes drawn once again to the still figure who watched us. I didn't have the answers she wanted, he did. "He thought it was for the best." I whispered, seeing the soft light of the fire reflecting the blue of his skin. I had thought I knew how much he hated his demon side, how angry it made him to not be fully human, but until this moment, I don't think I ever did. Understanding soothed the anger that raged inside me, replacing it with hurt for him. He had suffered his own hell while we mourned him. I pulled back, meeting Cordelia's red rimmed eyes. "He's a demon Cordelia."
"I know." She whispered, "I knew before he died." She pulled away from me, and I watched as her face hardened. A chill ran down my spine as I watched her close herself off from me. "When can we get off this damn island?"
"Cordelia..." I whispered, reaching out to smooth her hair. She tensed, moving her head so that my hand didn't touch her. "We need to talk to him. He's...he's alive Cordelia." My voice trailed off, as a smile broke across my face. I searched her eyes, waiting for the same happiness to light her face.
"So?" She stood, brushing the dirt from her pants as she glared at me. "Am I supposed to be doing a dance of joy?"
"You don't understand." I said, climbing to my feet. Reaching out I placed one hand on her shoulder, ignoring the tightness of her muscles, and the anger in her eyes. "I know you're angry, but you don't understand." I smiled again; sure that once she understood what had happened to him she would be racing across the clearing to him. "He's..."
"I don't care." She interrupted me, her voice icy. Pushing my hand from her shoulder, she straightened her eyes deadly as she spoke again. "I don't care why he left, and I don't care that he's still alive."
"Don't Angel." She warned me, her lips pursed tightly. "Don't you dare try to tell me that I have to be happy about this. Don't you get it? He left us. He chose to leave us. So, why don't we just let him have his way?"
"It wasn't that way." I argued, my shoulders slumping slightly. Cordelia angry was a frightening sight, and I wasn't sure that I knew how to get through to her. "There's a reason."
"What, do you have some demon ESP that I don't know about?" She asked, her body shaking as she spoke. "Cause I was standing next to you, and there didn't seem to be much of an explanation."
"You just didn't hear it." I whispered sadly. "Will you let me explain it?"
"No." She shook her head wildly, tears springing to her eyes again. "The only person I want to hear an explanation from is Doyle, and he seemed to be quite happy with the idea of never telling me. Or you." She paused, wiping the tears from her face viciously. "Have you forgotten already? He left us. He left both of us behind with nothing."
"Maybe he didn't have a choice." I offered tentatively, not wanting to anger her further.
"What, those sweet people kidnapped him? Is that the reason?" She asked, her tone sarcastic, but her eyes almost hopeful. I shook my head, watching as the hope dimmed again. "Well, then he had a choice."
"You have to listen to me." I pleaded, looking over her shoulder as a younger man joined Doyle by the fire. Doyle's shoulders were slumped in defeat, and I wanted nothing more than to drag Cordelia over to him and make them sit there until they admitted how much they needed each other.
"No, I don't." Cordelia argued. She moved a few steps away from me, blowing out a soft breath. "I want to hear it from him." Crossing her arms over her chest she narrowed her eyes and frowned. "I want him to say something that makes the pain I went through okay." She hesitated, her eyes welling with tears again as she continued. "I want him to say something that makes me remember exactly why I was so upset when I thought he died."
I swallowed my next words, knowing that until she calmed down she wouldn't be willing to listen to anything I had to say. I turned away from her slightly, checking to make sure that Doyle hadn't disappeared again. He was still sitting beside the other man; his head ducked low as he stared at the ground. I closed my eyes, feeling a wave of something resembling happiness flow through me. He was alive, and demon form or not, we had him back.
I turned back to Cordelia, hiding my happiness from her eyes. I understood what she was feeling, I had felt the same thing until I understood why he hadn't come back to us, and I was positive she would change her mind as soon as she stopped being so stubborn and let me tell her what had happened.
To be honest, I was more worried about Doyle.
"We need to find somewhere to stay tonight." I finally said.
"The boat." She answered flatly, refusing to look at me as she spoke. "It's not far. We can make it before sunrise."
"It's anchored outside the cove." I whispered, readying myself for another burst of anger. "We'll have to stay here until tomorrow." I didn't have any intention of leaving that soon, but I wasn't ready to tell her that.
"Fine." She agreed shortly. "Then we'll ask Reiff to let us stay in his house." She moved forward, coming to stand beside me. "Come on."
I hesitated, reaching out to touch her hand. "Doyle's still over there."
"Doyle's dead." She answered flatly, before walking away. I hurried after her, afraid she would reach the fire before I did, and say something that would destroy the last threads of their relationship. Something that would haunt her forever once she realized why he had left.
I watched her run from me, then I watched him run after her. I stood, staring at them, unable to believe that they were here. Some small part of me was singing in joy just to see her face again. But mostly, I felt like I had been beaten by an unseen enemy. I couldn't pretend to myself any more that she would find a way to accept me. Her words echoed in my head, confirming every nightmare I'd ever had about seeing her again. She didn't want to see me like this, didn't want the demon that I was to invade her life. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to find a way to contain the pain that the reality of her actions brought.
Opening my eyes again slowly, I watched in silence as Angel crossed the field to kneel beneath a tree. Even with the advantage of fully demon eyesight I still couldn't make out what he was doing, not until he pulled another figure from the shadows, cradling her in his arms.
"Are you okay?" Reiff asked softly. I spun around, grateful to be given a reason not to watch them anymore.
"Yeah." I muttered, waving off his concern. "Bit of a shock."
"I'd say." Reiff responded, walking over to sit in the dirt beside the fire. "Come. Sit with me."
"Reiff." I began warning him, there was no use crying over spilt milk. I had lost them as surely as they had lost me. There wasn't any way to change that. "Don't tell me that everything will be okay."
"I won't." He promised, patting the earth beside him. "I just thought maybe you could use a friend."
In spite of the pain I knew it would bring me, I turned again, sneaking another look at the pair huddled together in the shadows. "Maybe." I admitted, walking over to sit next to him. "I wasn't expecting it."
"What?" Reiff asked. "Them being here, or the anger?" He picked up a stick and began idly drawing stick figures in the ground.
"Both." I shrugged, trying to keep my voice even as I continued. "Why are they here? Does anyone know?"
"Oh." I murmured, and we fell into silence. Reiff continued drawing, and I watched numbly as he created the three of us in the ground. Angel and Cordelia were placed close to each other, their hands touching. I was set apart, in the background, a part of them, but at the same time, not. "She hates me." I whispered.
"She's angry." Reiff replied quickly. "She thought you were dead. You let her think you were dead."
"I had no choice." I whispered defensively. "You saw how she reacted to seeing me. Do you think it would have been better if she had seen me right away, if she had to pretend that there was someway she could still care for me?"
"Yes." Reiff answered honestly. He lifted his eyes from the ground, turning so that he was facing me. "But even if I'm wrong, you never gave her the chance."
"I was protecting her."
"From what?" Her voice slide along my spine, sending shivers through my body. I looked up in surprise, wondering how they had made their approach without me noticing. She stood before me, her perfect face contorted with grief and anger. "From you? I never needed protection from you Doyle. Ever."
"Look at me." I whispered, unable to make my voice any louder. Lifting my hand I pressed at my face, at the spikes that covered it. "Look at me!" I repeated, my voice louder.
"I'm looking." She whispered shakily, tears welling up in her eyes even as her lips tightened with rage. "What am I supposed to see?"
"A demon." I shouted, jumping to my feet and closing the distance between us. She tensed, her eyes flitting to Angel's and then back to mine. Grabbing her hand from her side I brought it to my face, pressing it into the spikes. "This is what I am now." Tears broke from her eyes, spilling down her face as I glared at her. "Just a demon. Just everything you thought was sick or disgusting. That's what I am." Throwing her hand away from me, I stalked away from her to stand on the other side of the fire. "And I don't want you in my life."
She remained motionless, her tears seeming to slow as they traveled down her cheeks. Angel started towards her, his face betraying his shock. When his hand reached out to touch her shoulder, she started, coming back to life again. Waving him off, she moved towards me, her expression deadly as she spoke. "Agreed." My shock must have been apparent, because a cold smile spread across her face. "Surprised? Why? You chose to leave, I'm agreeing with your decision."
"Cordelia." Angel whispered, his voice soothing. He moved forward, fear and worry in his tone. "Why don't we wait until tomorrow?"
"No." She dismissed his suggestion calmly, her eyes still burning into mine. "Doyle has to understand this now." Her cold expression faltered for a moment, pain appearing and disappearing in a second. Blowing out a breath, she spoke to me again. "You choose to let us think you were dead. You decided that you wanted out of my life, out of Angel's life. At no point did you stop to ask us what we wanted."
"I couldn't." I whispered, feeling my insides burn with the anger coming from her.
"Whatever." She dismissed me easily, her dark eyes as cold as ice as she considered me. Then she turned slightly, her eyes meeting Reiff's. Her voice softened as she spoke to him. "We need somewhere to stay. Just for tonight. We'll be out of here tomorrow."
"You can stay with us." Reiff answered her quickly. "We can cover the windows for Angel."
"Thank you." She whispered. Reaching over she placed her hand on Angel's arm. "Let's go."
"I need to talk to Doyle." Angel whispered to her, his voice unbearably gentle. "Will you stay?"
"Why?" She asked, her voice like acid.
"You don't understand." He argued gently, his eyes flitting to mine with a pleading expression. I stared at them, unable to understand what he was trying to tell me.
"I understand enough." She returned. Turning to Reiff, she spoke to him. "Can we go?"
Reiff nodded, holding out his hand for her to hold onto. She took it, her back stiff as she started to walk away from us. I almost let her go, but against my will, I spoke again. "Princess?"
She stopped, her body trembling violently. It took a minute for her answer to register in my mind. "Don't call me that. That was Doyle's name for me, and he's gone."
I closed my eyes against her words, not noticing as I sank to the ground. Angel moved towards me, his arm touching lightly on my shoulder. "She's hurting." Angel whispered, his fingers moving across my back. "She doesn't understand."
"I think she does." I managed to say, fighting back tears with every ounce of my strength. "She knows what I am now, and she's right, I'm not the Doyle she knew anymore."
"That's not it." Angel argued, kneeling down so that he could look at me. "She doesn't know. She's hurt, and angry..."
"She doesn't want to be friends with a demon." I finished for him, ignoring the obvious lie of my words. She was friends with Angel, it was blatantly obvious how much he meant to her, and she to him. "At least not an ugly demon." I continued, unable to hide the bitterness in my voice.
"You're wrong." Angel stated, settling onto the log Reiff had been sitting on earlier. "And once she calms down, she'll tell you how wrong you are."
I didn't answer him, there didn't seem to be any point to arguing with him. He was leaving tomorrow, and I would probably never see him again. I didn't want this last memory to be as tainted as the first one. "I'm sorry you had to mourn for me." I said finally, feeling a new layer of guilt settling onto my soul.
"I'm sorry you went through this alone." He answered, shifting his eyes from the fire to me. "I wish you had told me. I didn't know...I thought you were dead."
"So did I." I answered sadly. "'Til I woke up in the hold, your damn ring of Amara on my finger."
"The ring?" Angel asked in surprise. "The one I destroyed?"
"You didn't destroy it very well." I spoke bitterly, not knowing how to hide my hatred of the life that had been given back to me.
"I'm not sorry." Angel spoke mildly, his face empty of any emotion I could read.
"Of course not." I replied, growing angrier by the moment. "Why would you? You've been a demon for a couple of centuries, why would it bother you to be friends with a blue faced pinhead."
"Don't talk." I ordered him, standing up and walking to the other side of the fire. "I've got some sort of life here. I teach, and I make the kids laugh. It's not totally empty. But don't think for one second that I'm happy to be alive. I'm not. I haven't been, and I won't be."
"Doyle." Angel repeated; his voice tinged with shock. "You don't mean that. It's a big change, but you can't mean that."
"I do." I whispered, the anger fading back into the comfortable numbness that I knew so well. It was better than feeling. "And don't make like this is something that I can adjust to. Have you adjusted to being a vampire? Do you wake up and sing a little tune because you made it one day without ripping someone's throat out?"
"Doyle." Angel said again, his voice tight with repressed emotion. "You're not a killer."
"Oh, and of course that makes your lot in life so much worse than mine."
"I didn't say that." He argued, pounding his fists down on his legs. "Would you just listen to me for one second."
"There isn't anything you can say." I answered. "The moment I realized that I couldn't even look human anymore I knew my life was over. I couldn't come back and expect you to accept me. And it's pretty plain that I couldn't expect Cordelia to accept me."
"But you were wrong. I can accept you. Cordelia will accept you. Doyle..." His voice trailed off as he stood, taking a step towards me.
I was moving backwards before I knew it, my hand rising up as if to protect myself. I wanted to believe him, to let him comfort me and tell me that I could still have a place in their lives, but something wouldn't let me. It wasn't fair for me to take his words and use them to force my way back into their lives. I shook my head, still backing away from him. "What if I can't?" I whispered before turning and running into the shelter of the night.
I followed Reiff blindly, my eyes too full of tears to see more than a blur. Thankfully, he didn't speak as we made our way to the center of the village. I didn't want to talk to him, or to anyone. What I wanted was to hide in a corner and let the rest of the world fade away. Sucking in a breath, I ordered myself to get it together. I'd been rejected before, more times than I cared to admit, this wasn't any different.
But, it was. Doyle was my friend. Doyle was my maybe lover. He was the guy who had somehow crawled under my walls without me even noticing. He was the guy I thought gave his life to protect innocents.
Now I didn't even know who he was. Fresh tears ran down my face, stealing the last of my vision, and before I knew it, I was face down on the grass.
"Cordelia?" Reiff asked, his voice gentle as he knelt beside me. "Are you okay?"
"Great. Fine." I shot back bitterly. "This has been a once in a lifetime vacation. I'll be sure to do it again in another hundred years."
Reiff frowned, rocking back on his heels to look at me. I glared at him as I climbed to my feet. He looked up at me, his young face making me feel small somehow. "You don't understand."
"No argument here." I answered, folding my arms across my chest, and using every inch of the bitch that I was to stare him down. "But I'm starting to get it."
"You are?" Reiff asked hopefully, jumping to his feet. He reached out, grabbing my hand with a smile. "Then we should go talk to Doyle now."
"Why?" I questioned, pulling my hand free of his. "Doyle doesn't want to be in my life. I get it." I paused, feeling my tears threatening to break free again. Opening my eyes wide, I willed them not to fall as I continued. "He wanted out of the fighting, and the evil, and the general yuckiness of our lives." Another thought hit me, pushing the tears out of my eyes. My stomach lurched as I wrapped my arms around myself, trying to force the thought back out of my head. "He wanted out of the visions." I whispered brokenly, suddenly wishing that Angel was with me.
"What?" Reiff inquired, his face blending into the shadows that surrounded us. "Visions? The ones Doyle used to have...before? He doesn't get them any more."
"I know." I answered slowly, my limbs turning to ice. This couldn't be happening. Everything in me fought against thinking that Doyle had done this to me deliberately. Even now, even after we found out he was alive, somehow believing that he would sentence me to his old life was unthinkable. "Can we just get to your place?" I pleaded, my voice breaking with the strain of the night. I didn't want to think any more, I didn't want anything more than oblivion.
Reiff stared at me for a second longer, and then nodded. "Of course." He held out his hand and I took it gratefully, following him silently to a small house on the edge of the village. Smiling reassuringly at me, he led me inside.
The room we entered was small, but clean and airy. A fire roared in the corner, with homemade pots settled off to the side. An older couple sat at the table, their hands clasped together. They looked up when we entered, both of them offering me open smiles. I tried to smile back, but couldn't. I didn't have the energy to fake politeness.
"Cordelia." The man greeted me, and I turned, looking closer at him. Reiff threw another log on the fire behind me and the room brightened enough for me to recognize the man as the one who had told me about Doyle being half-demon. I stifled a cry as memories of that night flooded back to me. One stupid night that had haunted me for months, and didn't end up meaning anything at all. "I'm Keiden. This is my wife, Bydel."
"Hello." I answered automatically, my eyes dropping to stare at the floor. "Thank you for letting us stay."
"We're honored." Bydel replied, getting up from her chair and walking over to the fire. "Would you like something to drink?"
"No." I whispered numbly. "I just need to make a room safe for Angel."
"We've already done that. We thought he might need somewhere to stay for the day." Keiden answered, pointing to a door off to the side of the kitchen. "We thought you might want to stay there too, but if not..."
"It's fine." I interrupted him, "Thank you." He nodded, staring questioningly at Reiff and I. I stood silently, unsure if there was something else I was supposed to say, or do. Reiff tugged my arm, and I turned to him.
"I'm going to wait for Angel by the main fire."
"Thank you." I whispered gratefully, watching as he made his way out of the house. Turning back to his parents, I spoke. "He's been so helpful."
"He's a good boy." His father replied fondly. "I don't know that Doyle would have survived if it weren't for Reiff."
"What?" I blurted out the question before my anger had time to keep my mouth shut. "Why?" Panic swirled in my stomach as I waited for his answer.
Keiden looked at his wife, then at me, his face clearly showing his confusion. "You don't know?"
"I don't know anything any more." I admitted, pushing my hair back behind my ears. "Was he hurt?" I asked, my voice more strident. "You have to tell me!"
"Daddy?" A small voice interrupted us, and I swung around to face the source. A small girl scurried across the floor, flinging herself into her father's protective arms. "Daddy, I heard strange voices."
"That was just us and Cordelia." He soothed her, rubbing his large hand over her hair. "Do you remember her?" He questioned her gently.
The small child peeked from under her father's arm, her eyes still blinking sleepily. "No."
"Cordelia helped Mr. Doyle, when we were in the ship." Her mother informed her, coming around to stand behind her husband and daughter. "She's his friend."
My stomach tensed at her words, but I forced a smile on my face as I spoke. "Hi. What's your name?"
"Belina." Her voice was muffled into her father's sleeve. "It's a pretty name."
I smiled at her words, leaning forward slightly to answer. "It is a pretty name."
"Mr. Doyle thinks it's beautiful." She told me, her little face peeking out again. "He said it's as beautiful as I am."
I swallowed the sudden rush of pain her words brought. How could it be that he could do something so mean to us, and make this little girl so happy? "He's right."
"Of course he's right." She answered indignantly. "He's the teacher, he's always right."
I sucked in a breath, my eyes searching out Keiden. "Teacher?"
Keiden shook his head, his face closing off to me. "I think you should get some sleep. We can talk tomorrow."
I bit my lip, almost arguing with him, but at the last minute I nodded, not wanting to frighten the little girl sitting on his lap any more.
I left the room quickly, climbing into the bed, surprised at how comfortable it was. Pulling the covers up to hide my head, I let the tears fall freely, unable to stop them. My anger was fading now, and as it did, a horrible feeling was taking over. Something had happened, I was sure of it. Something that had prevented him from coming back to us.
A little voice in the back of my head argued with me, insisting that Doyle had just wanted out. Squeezing my eyes tightly shut, I waited for Angel to return. I was ready to listen.
When Doyle ran into the woods, I was torn once again between them. Should I follow Doyle or check up on Cordelia? After a moment's indecision I returned to the main fire, thinking that maybe Reiff, or one of the others might have better luck with Doyle. Reiff was waiting for me there, his young face full of sorrow as he led me silently to a simple cabin on the outskirts of the small village.
"He ran into the woods." I said, hesitating outside the cabin. "I didn't know if I should follow him."
Reiff shook his head, looking up at the sky. "Dawn is coming." I followed his gaze, seeing the light filling the sky, warning me to take shelter. "He'll be back come morning."
"I don't know." Doyle's face flashed in my mind, the pain on it making my stomach tighten. "He thinks Cordelia was rejecting him."
"He'll be back." Reiff said confidently. "He has class, and he won't disappoint the children."
I nodded, staring off into the forest, hoping somehow that he would reappear. "Does he...is he ever..."
"It's been hard for him." Reiff answered before I could finish. "Teaching gives him a purpose, and the kids give him the only happiness he gets. I'm not sure if he fakes it for them, but I do know I've never seen him frown around them."
"I'm glad." I whispered, grateful that he had something to hold onto. "We'll help him." I promised Reiff as he opened the door.
"Come in." He whispered, stepping into the cabin. I walked behind him, my hands folded together as we stopped before Reiff's parents. They smiled at me, nodding their heads to the left. I followed their gaze to a door that stood slightly ajar.
"She's sleeping." Reiff's father whispered. "We put up protection for you in there."
I nodded, "Thank you." Nodding once more, I made my way across the room, stepping quietly into the room and pulling the door tightly shut behind me. I knew Cordelia, I understood her anger, but I wasn't sure Reiff and his family would.
She was curled up on one of the beds, her body covered by blankets. Only a thin strand of dark hair peeked from the covers. Sighing, I lowered myself to the floor next to the bed and leaned back against the wall. The sun was rising on the other side of the wall, and my body craved sleep, but all I could do was watch her, and think of Doyle.
"What happened?" She whispered softly, her head still hidden under the covers.
I started slightly, smiling fondly at her hidden form. "He ran away from me."
"No." She corrected me, pushing the blankets down to turn and stare at me. "What happened to him? Why did he leave us?" Her face was very young in the dark room.
"He didn't think he had a choice." I whispered, afraid to speak any louder. It was nice in the room, warm and dark and very safe. "He wanted to protect us."
"From what?" She asked softly, lifting her head off the bed and resting it on her arm. "I don't understand."
I moved closer to her, settling my body against the frame of the bed. Looking up at her, I answered. "He isn't human Cordelia."
"What do you mean?" Tears filled her dark eyes, spilling down over her cheeks. She reached out with one hand to touch my shoulder. "I saw him."
"In demon form." I whispered sadly. She didn't see it yet, and for some reason that gave me hope for both of them. "He's all demon now. There isn't anything human."
"Is he evil?" She asked slowly, her eyes begging me to make it okay.
"No." I shook my head. "He's not evil."
"I don't get it then." She wiped the tears from her eyes, her voice trembling as she continued. "Why did he let us hurt so much?"
"Because he hurt." I whispered, seeing her understanding grow with every word I spoke. "He isn't human." I repeated, still not sure that she truly understood what I was saying.
"He's still Doyle." She replied in an uncertain voice. "Isn't he?" Her voice dropped lower as she continued. "He called me princess."
"He's still Doyle." I confirmed for her, watching as a tentative smile crossed her lips. "Where it counts."
She was silent for a minute, a dozen different emotions racing across her face. Finally she seemed to settle on one, her dark eyes dimming. "Why didn't he tell us? It wouldn't have mattered."
"I know." I responded as a surge of relief coursed through me. As much as she had grown from her time in Sunnydale, I had still doubted her ability to accept him. "But maybe he didn't."
"Because of me." She whispered, bowing her head. "You would have accepted him, he would have known that."
"Don't." I whispered, placing one hand under her chin and lifting her face up. "It isn't your fault."
She shook her head, her eyes refusing to meet mine. "You don't usually lie to me Angel." She whispered reproachfully. "Please don't start now."
"I'm not. I don't know what he was thinking Cordelia. It must have been terrible for him, and he wouldn't want us to suffer with him." I spoke softly, but firmly. Maybe Doyle had decided that Cordelia wouldn't accept him, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell her that. It didn't matter anyway, even if he had thought it, he was wrong. "It's been hard for him. He didn't really accept being half-demon, and now..."
"How?" She interrupted her voice thick with tears. "How did it happen?"
"The ring of Amara." I whispered. "Something must have happened when I smashed it. I thought it was destroyed."
"The ring." She repeated, sitting up in bed and staring at me. "But it only protected his demon half?"
Her face collapsed slowly, the last pieces of her control breaking free as sobs racked her body. I climbed onto the bed with her, holding her in my arms as she wept. "What did I do?"
"Don't." I begged her, my hand running gently through her hair. "You didn't know."
"I should have known. He was my friend. He was always good to me..." Her voice wavered brokenly as she spoke. "I'm the monster here."
"No, you aren't." I argued with her, my arms gripping her shoulders and pushing her away so I could look into her eyes. "You didn't know. You were hurt, and you lashed out. It's okay. You can tell Doyle that you understand now. He needs you."
"He doesn't need me. I'm a horrible person." She whispered, refusing to meet my eyes as she continued. "I actually thought he did it to get rid of the visions. I blamed him for them."
"You didn't know." I repeated, lifting her chin up to look at her. "Now you do."
She stared at me; her breath coming in short gasps as she struggled to stop the tears. "How can I apologize for what I said? I was so cruel."
"He'll understand." I whispered, begging anyone power that was listening to let me be right. "But, Cordelia, be gentle with him. He's suffered a lot. I don't think he's okay with being all demon yet."
"Oh God." She shook her head, pushing away from me and climbing from the bed. "I have to go to him. He's been all alone with this, he needs me."
"I don't know where he is." I told her, pulling her back to the bed. "Reiff said he'll return to teach in the morning."
"Oh." She nodded, a small smile breaking through her tears. "I met one of his students. She thinks he's perfect."
I smiled back at her, feeling one weight lift from my chest. "You can talk to him after his classes."
"I don't want to wait." She argued mildly, leaning her head against my shoulder. "But I will." She snuggled under my arm, her breath slowing. "Angel?"
"Yes?" I answered.
"We have him back." Her voice was teary again, and I squeezed her tightly as I leaned back against the headboard.
"I know." I answered, surprised that my own voice was choked with emotion. Closing my eyes, I repeated myself. "I know."
I walked back into the village with the dawn. Angel would be tucked away from the sun by now, and I wasn't worried about Cordelia searching me out. Her words still rang loudly in my head, her anger and disgust still churned inside my stomach. The long night alone hadn't helped any. I sat down by the fire, staring blankly into the ashes.
"Mr. Doyle?" A small voice inquired. I turned slightly, watching as Belina made her way to me, her worn teddy bear hanging from one hand. She stopped in front of me, her bare feet brown from the dust on the ground. "Are you sad?"
"It's early Beli. You should be sleeping." I answered, avoiding her question. I couldn't lie to her, and she was too young to understand the truth.
"I couldn't sleep." She pouted, forcing her way onto my lap. Leaning her head back on my shoulder, she closed her eyes sleepily. "Mommy gave my room to the new people."
My eyes lifted before I could stop them, looking across the village to the house that Cordy slept in. She hated me, and my heart still leapt at the thought that she was so close. "They'll be gone soon." I reassured her, rocking her gently back and forth. Closing my eyes, I leaned against her small head.
"Daddy says they won't." Belina replied drowsily. "Daddy says they're your friends."
"They were." I whispered, my vision blurring slightly. "Once upon a time they were."
"Aren't things that start with once upon a time supposed to end with happily ever after?" Another voice questioned huskily, and I tensed. My eyes opened slowly as I lifted my head to face her. She was standing in front of me; her eyes bright with unshed tears.
"Sometimes they don't." I whispered, unable to tear my eyes from her. She was so beautiful, the early morning sun behind her back, making her hair shine. Her feet were as bare and dusty as Belina's, and her shorts and shirt were obviously meant only for sleeping. My breath caught in my throat. "Some people never get happily ever after."
"Doyle." She breathed my name, taking another step towards me. "I don't even know how to tell you how sorry I am."
"Sorry?" I asked dumbly. Her expression was so different from the anger of the night before. The hurt was still there, and the sadness, but the rage had disappeared.
"I didn't understand." She whispered, bowing her head and running her hands through her hair. "I didn't know. I thought...I thought you just left us."
"You didn't." She argued, lifting her eyes to meet mine. Moving forward a step, she reached out towards me. I pulled back, holding Belina tighter as if the small child could protect me. Cordelia's eyes dimmed, and she stepped back slightly. "I know it's not fair to ask you to forgive me...for what I said..."
"I forgive you." I said shortly. I wanted her to leave. It was too bright, I was too visible. Every spike was showing, and I didn't want her looking at me. "It's not a big deal."
"It is a big deal." She replied, blowing out a soft breath. "Doyle..."
"I don't want to talk about it." I whispered, looking down at the child in my arms.
She started to speak, then paused, her eyes going to the child in my arms. "We have too." She whispered. "But I'll wait until after school."
She didn't speak again as she sat down on the log beside me, her long legs crossed in front of her as she stared up into the sky. I watched her in spite of myself. My eyes wouldn't let me look away. Belina stirred against me, her little body wiggling free of mine. Then she caught sight of Cordelia, and snuggled back into my arms. "That's the lady that took my room."
Cordelia slid her gaze to Belina, blinking away the sunlight in her eyes. "I'm sorry." She said softly, her lips curling in that careful smile of hers. She has a million different smiles, Cordy does. Smiles that wound, and ones that bite. Smiles that tell you everything's going to be okay, and make you believe it even when the world is falling down around you. She has smiles that make you feel like she'd never smile like that for anyone else, and smiles that make you feel like no one in the world will ever care about you again. Then she has a smile like this one, a smile that makes you feel warm and safe, just by being in the light of it.
Belina responded to it like everyone does. She fell totally and completely in love with her. Leaving the shelter of my arms, she walked cautiously over to Cordelia. "Mr. Doyle says you're leaving soon, but Daddy says you won't."
"Your daddy is right." Cordelia murmured, her eyes lifting to meet mine as she spoke. I turned away not wanting to see the challenge I knew was there. When I turned back she was focused on Belina again. "What's your bears name?"
"Sammie." Belina whispered, leaning closer to Cordelia. "I like your hair."
Cordelia laughed, reaching up to run her fingers through the dark locks. "I didn't even brush it this morning."
"Why not?" Belina asked, her eyes wide with interest. I almost smiled at the expression on her face; usually it was reserved for me. Not that I could blame Belina, I had fallen for Cordy within minutes of meeting her too.
"I wanted to see Doyle...Mr. Doyle." She replied softly, her eyes darkening with sorrow again. "I haven't seen him in a long time, and I missed him."
"He missed you too." Belina told her, looking at me over her shoulder with a huge grin. I shook my head at her, not wanting to hurt her feelings by telling her to be quiet. She was too young yet to understand that you didn't always tell everything. Although, one of the nice things about this island was that keeping secrets wasn't really necessary. "I listen sometimes at night when he talks to Reiff about you."
Cordelia's eyes lit up with Belina's words. She leaned forward, speaking in a stage whisper to the little girl. "Does he say nice things?"
"Most of the time." Belina whispered her joy at getting all of Cordelia's attention obvious. "But sometimes he's sad, and he talks about how you couldn't ever accept him. Why couldn't you?"
Cordelia's face paled as she pulled back from the child, her dark eyes bright with tears as she answered. "I think that maybe he thought I wouldn't because sometimes I say things that I don't mean, and it hurts peoples feelings. Maybe he was afraid I would hurt his." She paused, looking directly at me as she finished. "But he was wrong."
"Oh." Belina said, looking over her shoulder at her house. "Mommy's up." She announced, stepping away from Cordelia. "I have to go."
"Okay." Cordelia answered, smiling at Belina's back as she ran towards her home. Then she turned to me, her smile fading as she met my eyes. "Will you sit with me for a while?"
"I should get ready for my class." I answered, my skin itching with the need to hide away from her. It was nice to be sitting with her, too nice. It reminded me of what I could never have. If I closed my eyes, I would be back in our office, listening to Cordy tell me about her night, or complaining about a job Angel was making her do. If I closed my eyes I might believe I could have all that back.
I couldn't. It didn't take a mirror to tell me that. The demon had changed me inside too. I was more aware of her than I had ever been. I could hear every breath she made echoing inside my head; I could smell a dozen different scents on her body. When I looked at her, I saw more details than I had before, small lines that wouldn't dare become wrinkles for years, faint hints of green in the brown of her eyes. She was even more beautiful to me now, which only meant that I had to get away faster.
"Oh." She breathed, her face falling with disappointment. "Then later?"
"I don't think so." I answered; relieved that my voice sounded calm when I spoke. "I think it's better if we just leave it alone."
"What?" Cordelia said, her voice deceptively soft. She swung around on the log, her eyes pining me in place. "You want me to leave? To go back to LA and pretend that this never happened?"
"Yes." I whispered, "That's what I want."
Her eyes flashed dangerously for a second, and then dimmed. She leaned forward, her shoulders rounding. "Why?"
"Why what?" I asked.
"Why do you want us, me, to leave?" She breathed the words, as if saying them any louder would break her.
"Look at me." I replied, the same way I had the night before. I lifted my hand to my face, pushing at the spikes that littered my face. "I'm a demon."
"I know that." She reached out, her hand moving towards my face. I backed away quickly, my mouth setting in a hard line. "Doyle, please? I don't care if you're a demon."
I laughed bitterly, standing up and looking down at her. "Don't say that. It's not true." She opened her mouth, but I rushed on. "Don't tell me that my appearance is pleasing to the eye, I've seen it before. And don't tell me that it doesn't make any difference because it does. Do you think I'd be here if it didn't?" I stopped speaking, my breath coming fast. She was sitting quietly her eyes filling with tears as she stared up at me. "No quick comeback for that? Aren't you going to tell me that I'm being stupid? That I could just come back to LA and pick up my life again?"
"I don't know if you can." She burst in finally, tears spilling down her cheeks as she spoke. "The only thing I know is that I want you too. I want you to pick up your life again, because I want you in mine."
"With this face?" I asked her, struggling to keep my voice low.
Her lips trembled as she struggled to speak. "Yes." She looked down, her face flushed with color. "It doesn't mean anything to me."
"It doesn't mean anything to you?" I asked her bitterly. "The same Cordelia Chase who wouldn't date a man without seeing his head shots and stock portfolio now doesn't care if a man has spikes and blue skin?"
She let out a shaky breath, her face blank as she looked up at me. "You're my friend." She whispered, her voice begging me to believe her.
I shook my head, pushing away the part of me that wanted to collapse into her arms. "Your friend is dead." I whispered, turning around and walking away. I could hear her crying until I shut the door to my cabin.