Almost a Very Good Life (parts 16-19)
Almost a Very Good Life (parts 16-19)
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.
I couldn't stop crying. It didn't matter how many times I ordered the tears to stop, they kept on falling. I was wrong last night when I thought that my apology would make everything better. Doyle's pain went much deeper than my words, not that they didn't add insult to injury.
The village started to come alive as the sun rose higher in the sky. For the most part, the villagers avoided me, smiling gently in my direction from a safe distance away. Bydel did come near enough to offer me breakfast, but left quickly after I refused her. Even that small kindness seemed too much, and I finally got up and wandered towards the woods. A small voice inside my head warned me that I didn't know the area, but I ignored it, and headed into the cover of darkness the forest offered.
I walked for what felt like hours, but was probably less than twenty minutes, following a path that had been tramped down in the woods. It looked like it had been used often, and I felt somewhat safer thinking that I wasn't headed into unknown territory. It's so hot here, hotter than LA could ever dream of being. Sweat ran down my back, soaking through the thin T-shirt I wore. My hair was plastered against my head, and flies buzzed constantly around me. I didn't care about any of it. I just wanted to find a safe place, somewhere to lick my wounds before going back to find Doyle again.
I’ll admit there was a small part of me that was hoping he would notice I wasn't in the village and come looking for me, preferably to tell me that he forgave me and that he forgave himself and that he was coming back to LA with us. But I forced myself to face the truth.
He's not going to. Not yet anyway.
I fought my way through the trees as the path faded slightly, only to come out into the most beautiful place I had ever seen. The trees hid huge rocks that circled around a small pond. I walked over to it, seeing the caves that cut into the tiny mountain. One rock jutted out, almost as if it was meant to be a seat. I climbed over to it, sitting down with my legs hanging over the edge into the warm water.
The sun pounded into my back, and I leaned back on my elbows, staring up into the sky I shared with Doyle again. This was the perfect place for thinking. And I had a lot of it to do.
The pain of his rejection had dulled slightly, letting me look at his words from a distance. He was protecting himself, I got that much. He didn't believe that I would be able to accept him as he was now. I wanted to get angry about it, to yell at him for not having enough faith in me, but I couldn't. It was all too easy for me to understand why he thought that.
When he was with us, I didn't do anything to make him believe I thought of demons as anything more than monsters. I doubt that my acceptance of his demon half made much of a mark against all the other things I had said to him. I know it didn't. He wouldn't be here if it did.
The tears welled up again, dimming my view of the world in front of me. I pushed forward, slipping off the ledge into the water below. I could feel my body cooling as I swam in small circles, letting my mind go blank. When I finally grew tired of swimming, I hauled myself back onto the rock, closing my eyes as I drifted to sleep.
When I woke again, my body was soaked with sweat. I ran my hand over my legs, feeling the slight sting that meant I was going to be bright red by the time night arrived. I slipped back into the water, enjoying the wonderful coolness of it compared to my skin. I paddled around aimlessly, knowing I should get back to the village, but unwilling to leave the peacefulness of this place.
A rustling in the trees startled me, and I swam to the edge of the rock, hanging on to it tightly as I spoke. "Is someone there? Doyle?"
A small face peeked through the branches, her dress snagged with leaves. "Hi." She said shyly.
"Belina." I greeted her, pulling myself back up onto the rock. "What are you doing here? Your parents will worry."
"This is my place." She replied, eyeing me with suspicion. "My secret place."
"I'm sorry." I answered, patting the rock next to me. "Will you come sit with me?"
"It's a secret place." She repeated firmly, stepping out of the trees and onto the rocks. She clambered skillfully towards me, sitting down a few feet away. "How did you find it?"
"I was just walking in the woods and I ended up here." I answered, not wanting her to know how easy it would be for anyone to follow her path. She deserved to think her place was sacred to her, even if I would have to tell her parents about it when I got back to the village. She could easily drown, or hit her head on a rock, or something equally horrible, and no one would know where she was. "You shouldn't come here alone."
"I know." She said, her face flushing with guilt. "I was going to bring Mr. Doyle here."
My heart tightened at the mention of his name, but I smiled at her. "I think that's a good idea. He'd love it."
"He took us to see some caves the other day. They were nice, but not as nice as my caves."
I looked over my shoulder to the caves that were behind me. My pulse sped up at the thought of this tiny girl exploring them on her own. "Do you go in them?" I asked sharply.
She flinched at my tone, her chin trembling as she answered. "No."
"That's good." I said, softening my tone. "You should never go exploring alone."
"You did." She accused me, and I nodded.
"You got me. But I was wrong." Climbing to my feet, I held out my hand to her. "Will you show me the way back?"
She frowned at me for a minute before getting to her feet and sliding her hand into mine. Holding on to me tightly, she led me back into the forest and towards the village. She paused as we came to the clearing that led into the fields that surrounded the town, pulling on my hand.
"Yes?" I answered, smiling down at her.
"Are you going to tell on me?" She asked, her lips trembling as she spoke.
I nodded sadly, my eyes meeting hers as I answered. "Your parents wouldn't like you going there alone. It's not safe. But, if you promise to tell them about your secret place, I won't. Fair?"
"Fair." She echoed, her face brightening slightly. She let go of my hand, skipping off across the field to join her playmates on the other side. I watched her go, and then started my own lonely walk back to her home.
Angel was still sleeping when I got there. I tried to be as quiet as I could as I dug a skirt and a new shirt out of my bag. Slipping them on quickly, I settled into the corner of the room, laying my head back against the wall and closing my eyes.
The tears came back quickly, and I tried to stifle them, not wanting to wake Angel until it was closer to the time he could leave this room. He stirred anyway, his head peeking out from under the covers to glare at me. It faded quickly when he saw the tears and he threw the covers off. "Cordelia?"
"I'm sorry." I mumbled, still trying to keep the tears at bay. I was turning into a one-woman waterworks. "Long day?" I said, attempting to joke away the concern on his face.
"You saw Doyle." He said flatly. Throwing his legs over the side of the bed he stood, crossing the room to kneel beside me. "What happened?"
"Not much." I said, my voice breaking. I leaned into him, my shoulders shaking with the effort to remain in control. "He said he wanted us to leave."
He patted my head gently, his other hand running in soothing circles over my back. "He didn't mean it." He whispered. "He's just afraid."
"What if he does mean it?" I asked him, putting words to the nameless fear that had chased me all day. What if Doyle wouldn't ever let us back into his life? "What do we do then?"
"We change his mind." Angel said firmly. He sat back on his heels, lifting my chin so that I was looking in his eyes. "We will Cordelia."
"We'll make him understand how much he means to us." I whispered, trying to sound as sure as he did. I wanted to believe in Angel's belief. I wanted it more than anything, but I couldn't quite find it in me to have his confidence.
"Right." Angel smiled at me, patting my head once more before standing up and walking over to his cooler. He pulled a bag of blood from it, turning his head away from me as he drank. When he was finished he turned back to me, smiling ruefully. "We'll go see him as soon as the sun sets."
"You go." I whispered, leaning my head back against the wall again. "I think I upset him more than you do." My brave face faded and I swallowed back tears. "He's here because of me, not you. He's here because I made him think that being a demon was something shameful."
"You didn't make him think that." Angel disagreed, pulling a fresh shirt over his head as he crossed the room to me again. I waved him off, unable to bear any comforting. Angel sighed, settling onto the bed and continuing. "He thought that long before he met you Cordelia. This isn't your fault. It isn't anyone's fault."
"He knew me so well Angel." I whispered, ignoring his words because of my need to unburden myself, knowing he would listen, but not judge. "How can I convince him that I've changed? I keep thinking of all the stupid comments I made about demons. How many times did I say they were disgusting, or ugly, or evil? How many times did I stick a knife in him without even knowing it?" My voice got higher as I spoke, sounding more and more hysterical even to my own ears.
"You didn't know." Angel stated, leaning forward on the bed, his hands folded on his lap. "He didn't tell you."
"Because he knew me." I countered, my voice breaking as I spoke. Tears fell down my cheeks and I pushed them away. "Because everything I did made him think that I would reject him if he told me the truth."
"But you didn't." Angel whispered. "You found out and you didn't."
"Only because I was finally starting to get that not all demons are bad. If it weren't for the Scourge, would I ever have really understood that?" My words were spit out between sobs. I dropped my head, speaking into my chest as I continued; telling him the worst fear that haunted me. "I don't know what I would have done if he hadn't died that night."
"You said you would go on a date with him." Angel reminded me, his voice mild.
"But would I have?" I asked him, pleading with him to tell me I would have. I didn't know anymore, Doyle had been so certain I would reject him that he had given up his whole life. That had to mean something.
"Yes." Angel said firmly, standing up and coming over to sit beside me. He lifted my head, forcing me to look at him. "I don't know what kind of guilt trip you're pulling on yourself, but stop. If I know anything about you at all it's that you never would have told him to ask you out if you didn't have every intention of going."
I shook my head, my lips trembling violently as I asked my next question. "What would I have done if he hadn't come here? What if we knew he was alive from the start?"
"Why are you doing this to yourself?" He asked me.
"Because I have to know." My voice was barely more than a breath. "And I don't. What if he had been lying on the floor of that hold before we left? What if I never knew what it felt like to lose him? Would I have just let him drift away, unable to handle having a friend I had to hide in the dark to spend time with? A friend that couldn't even pass for human in a crowd."
"Cordelia." He murmured shakily. "Don't do this."
"I have too." I argued, swinging my head up to stare into his eyes. "Because I want him to come back with us, and before I can ask him to do that, I have to be sure that I'm not just being selfish."
"You're not." He replied immediately. "Believe me, you're not."
I looked at him for a minute, my eyes searching his intently. Finally I nodded, my shoulders relaxing slightly. "I don't think I would have rejected him, but he thought I would. It hurts, knowing that he didn't think he was important enough to me. That he thought that how he looked meant more to me than who he was."
"He was wrong." Angel whispered, and I smiled weakly.
"He was wrong." I echoed. "But he wouldn't have thought it if I hadn't made him think it."
"You can't do this to yourself." He told me. "You didn't know what was going to happen to him, you didn't even know he was half-demon."
"That's what I keep telling myself. But it doesn't help." I shrugged, sliding across the floor to dig in my bag. Pulling out a sweater I slipped it over my head. "Is it dark yet?"
I closed my eyes, my head dipping forward until my chin was resting on my chest. I could feel Angel's eyes on me, waiting for me to say something else. "Cordelia?"
I lifted my head, a soft sigh escaping my mouth. Talking to Angel had given me faith again; maybe he could do the same for Doyle. "Will you tell him? Will you tell him that it doesn't matter to me? Make him believe it?"
"I'll try." He promised. I nodded, telling myself that if he failed, I would try again. Between the two of us we would tell Doyle how much he meant to us until he had no choice but to believe it.
A soft rap at the door cut off whatever he was going to say next. I looked at Angel, feeling a sudden rush of hope. I knew it probably wasn't Doyle on the other side, but it could be. "Come in."
The door opened slowly to reveal Keidan. He smiled at both of us, holding out a bowl of soup to me. "I thought you might be hungry."
I took it from him, remaining silent as I held it in my lap. Keidan lingered, his eyes traveling back and forth between us. "Can I get anything for you?" He finally asked Angel. Angel shook his head and Keidan nodded, smiling quickly as he checked over his shoulder to see if anyone was in the kitchen. When he turned back, his face was harder, more determined. "Why are you here? Is there anything wrong? The scourge…"
I started, my eyes racing to Angel's as he opened his mouth to answer. I knew what he was going to say, and I couldn't let him. "We wanted to see how you were doing." I said quickly, my eyes narrowed in warning as Angel started to correct me.
Keidan smiled, relaxing against the door. "We're doing very well. We owe you both so much for helping us get to this place."
I shook his compliment off, a fake smile spreading desperately across my face. Angel frowned at me, obviously wondering why I was lying to Keidan "It's beautiful." I whispered, blinking away the tears that filled my eyes. "And we owe you more than you could ever owe us. You took care of Doyle for us."
"It was an honor." Keidan replied, his face becoming guarded when I mentioned Doyle. "He gave his life for our people. Without the ring, he never would have returned to life."
"What happened to it?" I questioned. "Did it come back with him?"
Keidan nodded, reaching into his pocket and pulling the ring from it. Holding it in the palm of his hand, he stretched his arm out towards me. I set the soup aside, rising to my feet to take it from him. Cradling it in my fingers I smiled at Keidan. "Thank you."
"You're happy." Keidan stated. "You're- grateful to have him back."
I nodded, my tears springing free. "We are." I stepped forward, taking Keidan's hand in mine. "He doesn't believe I am though."
"He will." Keidan reassured me. "He's very stubborn."
"Not as stubborn as I am." I vowed, my eyes catching Angel's. He raised an eyebrow, silently telling me that he wanted an explanation. I shrugged, my eyes leaving his and returning to Keidan. I would explain to him as soon as we were alone again. "We want to stay here, as long as we can."
"You're welcome to this room, and anything we have." Keidan answered, "And please join us for supper. We usually eat at the main fire, you know where it is?" I nodded, forcing a grateful smile on my lips. "Whatever we have, you are welcome too. As long as you need it." He turned then, pulling the door closed behind him.
Angel climbed to his feet, walking across the room to face me. "Why did you lie to him?"
"I don't want Doyle to know about the visions." I replied, crossing my arms defiantly over my chest. "He hated them. I don't want him to know they got passed on to me."
"He's going to find out." He warned me. I shook my head, my lips tight with determination.
"No he won't." I took a step closer to Angel, opening my palm and showing him the ring. "Do you want it?"
He reached out, closing his palm over mine. I watched him, knowing what the ring meant to him, a chance to see the sun, a chance to walk in the light. He wouldn't take it; I knew that before I asked the question. "You keep it." He said finally. "It's too important to destroy."
"It brought Doyle back to us." I whispered, looking down at our hands. I could feel the metal on my palm. "Are you sure you won't use it?"
"Not yet." Angel whispered, taking his hand from mine. He flexed his hand a few times before shoving it into his pocket. He rocked back on his heels uncomfortably.
I nodded, walking over to my bag. Opening one of the little pockets, I slipped it inside. "It's dark." I whispered.
"I'm going." He answered, walking out into the night to find our friend. I sunk down to the floor as the door shut behind him; afraid he wasn't going to have any better luck with Doyle than I had. I sucked in a deep breath, reminding myself that Angel had experience with this, he had learned to accept his demon. Well, not accept really, more like tolerate. At this point, I would be happy for Doyle to have that.
I climbed up from the floor, pulling a sweater from my bag and tying it over my shoulders. I could smell the smoke from the fire, and I decided it would be better to sit with them than sit in the room and worry. They knew Doyle anyway, better than I did now, and maybe one of them could offer me something, a hint, anything that could help me get through to him.
And if not, at least I could make sure that Belina had told her parents about her secret place.
I found Doyle alone at the edge of the village, staring blankly over at the large fire that the others were gathered around. He flinched when he saw me, and then his face went blank as he lowered himself onto the grass.
"Your turn now?" Doyle asked, still peering intently into the night. He wiped his hands on his pants, turning to look at me. "Share your wisdom with me then, I can barely wait to hear it."
"What do you want me to say?" I questioned as I sat down beside him, crossing my ankles in front of me.
"What?" His eyes narrowed quickly, his face contorting with anger, but he fought it back, hiding his emotions underneath the spines that covered his face. "You're the one who wants to be all sharing, I'm not doing all the work for you."
I nodded, turning my head so that I was facing him. I studied his face carefully, looking more intently at his demon form than I had ever thought to before. It wasn't a bad face, as far as demons go. He could have had it much worse, I've seen demons that make you want to rip your own eyes out just to be sure you never have to see them again. He frowned, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the attention.
"Would you stop?" He blurted out finally. I raised one eyebrow, my lips drawing out into a firm line. "I'm not on display here."
"No, you're my friend." I said simply, turning back to watch the last light of the fire dim. The night settled around us, the every day noise of the village fading as time went on. Doyle said nothing, but he didn't leave, and for the moment I was content with that.
Maybe he thought I would give up, that his silence would drive me away, or anger me into fighting with him. He had forgotten more than to tell us he was alive if he thought that would work. I could and would sit here in silence with him until the sun rose.
"It's not that I don't want to be your friend." He whispered. I looked at him, not surprised that he was very intent on not looking back.
"I know that." I replied. "You've got the idea that your appearance means you can't be around Cordelia."
He looked up, his face tightening at the mention of her name. "She deserves more than me."
"She didn't deserve to mourn you." I answered firmly. I may understand why he did it. I can even forgive him for it, but there wasn't any way I was letting him think he made the right decision. "You underestimated her."
"She hates demons." Doyle argued. "You've heard her Angel."
"She doesn't hate me." I countered steadily. "And she doesn't hate you."
"No." Doyle agreed mournfully. "She feels bad for me, and that's worse."
"You're an idiot." I stood, pulling him to his feet along with me. "Come on, we're going for a walk."
He pulled his arm free, his eyes flashing as he answered. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Now you're just being a baby." I grabbed his arm again, dragging him behind me as I headed for the woods.
"I resent that." He mumbled, falling into step beside me. I shook my head at him, stepping up my pace as we entered the forest. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know." I answered, shrugging my shoulders even if it was too dark for him to see it. "Anywhere."
Doyle paused, looking around at our surroundings quietly. He breathed in deeply, his head shifting to the left and then back again. Finally he nodded, pointing to the left. "There's water over there."
"Let's go." I headed off, my eyes scanning the darkness for any hint of trouble. Doyle kept up with me easily, his step light and agile as we pushed our way through thick brush and over uneven ground.
"Why are we doing this?" Doyle asked again, his breath steady and calm even after our exertion.
"Because we can." I answered honestly. I stopped and turned to face him, able to see his face clearly in the moonlight. He frowned, his expression more puzzled than angry as he waited for me to explain. I smiled, feeling a rush of exhilaration as the forest came alive to my senses. "We can do this Doyle, because of what we are. A human couldn't do this. You can walk in the night, you can lead us to water. You can hear the life that surrounds us, and protect yourself and the people you care about from any danger it brings."
"I don't want it." Doyle responded, the puzzlement fading away and leaving only anger. "I would gladly hide in my house at night if it meant I could walk outside in the day. If I could stand in a crowd of humans and not stand out at all."
"There isn't a choice here Doyle." I whispered, closing my eyes in sympathy. I knew what he felt; I understood the anger, and the loss. But Doyle had been there for me, his presence had tempered the ache in my soul when I realized that I could never have the humanity I craved. "You have to see the good in what you have, because you can't have your old life back."
Doyle flinched, his face closing off as my words faded into the darkness. I took a step towards him, worried that I had pushed too hard, or too fast. "Doyle?"
"I don't know how to accept it." He admitted quietly, sadly. He lifted his eyes as his hand reached up to float over the spikes on his face. "I wake up every morning, praying that they'll be gone. But I know, even before I touch them, that nothing's changed."
"I know." I murmured.
Doyle shifted, his teeth biting down on his lower lip. "I hate it. I hate me. I hate every enhanced sense. I hate every spike. I hate it."
"You have to accept it." I whispered. "You have to find the good in it."
"There isn't any good in it." He replied. His mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile as he added, "Well, except losing the killer headache visions. That's not all bad."
I winced, regretting that I had let Cordelia convince me to try to keep the truth about the visions from Doyle. "You're teaching again." I prodded, "You like that."
"I like the kids." Doyle agreed, "But it isn't right."
"What isn't right?"
"Everything." He shook his head, turning away from me. "I'm going back."
"Doyle." I whispered, wishing that there were something I could say that would make him see what I saw when I looked at him.
"I'm going back." He repeated, setting off in the direction we came. I watched him for a moment, and then followed after him.
He didn't speak again until we had left the clearing. "When are you leaving?"
"I don't know." I answered. I wanted to say that we weren't leaving until he left with us, but I was starting to think that might be an impossible dream. "Not for a while."
"Because of me?" Doyle asked. "Or is there some danger coming?"
I flashed back to Cordelia's vision, wondering if the only purpose of it was to lead us to Doyle. It seemed a little too benevolent for the Powers. Most likely there was some big evil on its way. I didn't know how to answer him without revealing Cordelia's secret. "We wanted to see how the Javeren were doing." I said finally, using Cordelia's answer to Keiden's inquiry. It seemed to satisfy Doyle.
We walked in silence for a while longer. I watched him move; noticing that he walked with his head down now, his shoulders rounded to his body. The change had broken him in some way I couldn't understand. It had been different for me, when I was cursed I was so busy being horrified about my actions that I didn't pay attention to the changes in my body. By the time I met Whistler, I was so accustomed to it, it still didn't mean anything.
It wasn't until I met Buffy that I realized what I had lost, how far I was removed from humanity. And it wasn't until I lost her that I realized how much I wanted to have it back. Doyle stopped, his gaze going to the small cabin we were beside. "This is my stop."
"I'll see you tomorrow." He said quickly, climbing the stairs to the house. I reached out, placing one hand on his arm to stop him. He turned his eyes wide with desperation as he waited for me to speak.
"You were there for me Doyle, when I gave up Buffy, gave up my last chance at being human. You helped me through it. I want to do the same for you."
Doyle nodded, sweat breaking out under the spines. He stepped down closer to me, his eyes meeting mine and holding them. My first impulse was to back away, to close my eyes, to do anything that meant I didn't have to face the pain my friend was in. "Then leave. Convince Cordelia it's time to go back to LA." He whispered finally. “Stop reminding me of everything I've lost.”
I shook my head automatically. "No."
"It's the only way." He said, determination etched into every inch of his face. "Help me do for Cordy what you did for Buffy."
"It's not the same." I let go of his arm, my fingers latching together. "It's not the same." I repeated, but for a split second I was at a loss to explain why, and Doyle saw it.
He pressed forward. "You left Buffy so she could have a normal life. That's all I want for Cordy. Why are you so willing to sentence her to a life you weren't willing to sentence Buffy too?"
I backed away from him, still shaking my head. "You're wrong. The curse."
Doyle snorted bitterly. "The curse? You didn't just leave because of the curse Angel."
"Maybe not just because of the curse, but it was a big part." I argued, still struggling to find my footing in this discussion.
"The other part being that you are a demon." Doyle said flatly. "Like I am."
"Not like you." I whispered. "I'm not like you. If I was, I'd still be in Sunnydale."
"Where you'd enjoy hiding in shadows, and watching your girlfriend miss out on a normal life because she has to hide with you."
"Appearance isn't everything."
Doyle shook his head. "But it is. It's the first thing you're judged by. It's every first impression, and every second glance."
"It doesn't matter to us." I whispered. "Not to me, not to Cordelia. We're your friends, and friends don't judge."
"Even if that means you stand by and watch as Cordelia throws her life away to the darkness that we have to live in?" Doyle demanded, his eyes glowing brightly in the moonlight.
I swallowed, stalling for time. How could I answer? Do I tell him that Cordelia's life has already been taken over? That because of the visions, she wasn't ever going to get a normal life. I couldn't do it. Partly because I told Cordelia I wouldn't, but more importantly, because I was too much of a coward to witness the pain finding out she had them was going to cause Doyle. "Cordelia's a big girl. She can make her own decisions." I answered finally.
"It's the wrong decision." Doyle said firmly.
"No, it isn't." Cordelia argued softly, coming up to stand beside me. Reiff followed slightly behind her, his face apologetic as he looked at Doyle.
"You can't do this." Doyle's voice was low as he stared at her. I watched him, knowing that Reiff and I had disappeared from his mind. I shifted, wondering if I should stay. Cordelia answered my silent question by reaching out to grab my hand. Her palm was damp against mine, and I could feel the trembling of her body through it.
"Why not?" She whispered her voice gentler than I had ever heard it. She spoke to him like you would speak to a frightened animal.
"For the same reason that Angel left Buffy." Doyle answered, shifting to meet my eyes for a second before looking at her again.
"It's not the same." Cordelia replied, repeating my denial. Her hand tightened around mine as she continued. "Buffy and Angel can't be together. Perfect happiness and all that." She looked over to me, checking to make sure her words hadn't hurt me. I smiled to reassure her, and she turned back to Doyle. "You're my friend, and maybe something more. But we don't know that yet. We didn’t have enough time. But I don't want to give up on you because of the demon thing. I won't give up on you because of that."
"You don't know what you're saying." Doyle argued. "Think about it Cordy, you want to go out for dinner, but we can't. You want to see a movie, we can't. You want to..."
"I get it." Cordelia interrupted him, her face pale. "And I don't care. Doyle, you're more important to me than that stuff."
"You're wrong." Doyle answered, dropping his head to stare at the ground. Cordelia stepped forward, placing her hand on his arm. He started, pulling his arm away violently. "Don't." He warned her.
"Doyle." I said, moving forward. He shook his head, his eyes clouded with pain as he backed up the stairs. Slipping inside the door, he shut it firmly behind him, leaving us standing alone.
I climbed the first step, and stopped. Pushing him wasn't getting us anywhere, at least not tonight. I turned to Cordelia, reaching out to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "We'll talk to him again tomorrow."
"Yeah." Cordelia agreed sadly. She reached out her hand to mine as I stepped off the steps. "Reiff thinks he listen to us. We just have to give him time." She smiled, seeming to take more comfort in the boy's words than I could make myself.
"Time I've got." I muttered as we began to walk away from Doyle's house. Reiff walked on the other side of me, his young face full of sorrow.
Cordelia laughed softly. "He's going to listen to us eventually Angel. There isn't any other option." Her voice was clear, the sound lingering in the air.
I nodded into the darkness. She was right; there weren't any other options. Doyle had to listen to us. He had too.
The confidence I felt after talking to Reiff faded over the next few days. Doyle spent every waking moment avoiding us, and because of us, the other members of the village. About the only thing I know he's still doing is teaching his classes. I've started picking up Belina everyday in the hope of seeing him, but he must sneak out through a back window.
I can't make myself hunt him down. I know I could find him, if I really tried, corner him in his house, or his classroom, but I can't do that to him. I keep thinking that he's going to appear any minute, that he's just taking time to get used to the idea of letting us back in his life.
But he's not. He's just running away from us as fast as he can without going anywhere. And there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to stop it. Dryan suggested that we just wait, and Angel seems to agree, so I'm going along with them. Even if every nerve in my body is begging me to find him.
"Cordelia?" I looked up from my book, leaning back against the tree that was sheltering me from the noonday sun. Keidan stood casually, his hands shoved deep into his pockets. I smiled, lifting a hand to shade my eyes from the sun that peeked through the branches.
"Hey." I murmured, folding a leaf that had fallen into the book to mark my page. I was slightly shocked at my own actions. I didn't usually read anything that wasn't about fashion, or gossip. But I had asked Bydel for something to read, and all she had to offer was a book on Javaran healing. Strangely, I was fascinated by it, at least in the few minutes of the day that I wasn't thinking about Doyle.
"We're planning a celebration for Reiff. He will be sixteen next week."
I arched an eyebrow, waiting for more of an explanation.
"In our culture, sixteen is the age of adulthood. There's a ceremony, followed by a feast of welcoming." He trailed off, his normally serene face shining with pride. "It will be the first such celebration in our new home and we would like for you and Angel to take part."
"There's no eating of brains involved, is there?" I asked, only half joking. I climbed to my feet, smiling at his confused look. "Bad joke."
"We'd love to take part." I said, reaching out to pat his arm. "Can I help?"
"Actually..." Keidan began, his face flushing slightly. I smiled reassuringly at him. "We do need a female to...welcome him into manhood."
I took a step backwards, my eyes narrowing. "And exactly how welcoming do I have to be?"
Keidan's slightly pink cheeks turned into a full out blush as he answered me. "It's purely ceremonial. You would recite a verse, and lead him into the circle of elders."
"I can do that." I grinned in relief. The Javaran had been so good to us, and to Doyle, I would hate to refuse them anything.
Keidan relaxed, letting out a slow breath. "Good." He nodded, "Bydel will help you make your dress." He turned, walking quickly back to the village now that his mission was accomplished. I followed slightly behind him, wanting to be waiting outside when Belina finished school.
Classes were just letting out as I arrived at the schoolhouse. I slowed, enjoying the excitement of the children as the scampered past me. A few stopped to say hi, their smiles brilliant as they greeted me. Belina was the last one out, as always. She was waving a piece of paper as she threw herself into my waiting arms. "Cordy." She squealed. "I got a A."
"Wow." I squeezed her tightly before setting her down. "What was it for?"
She grinned, holding the piece of paper out to me. I took it from her, turning it over to a picture of the main fire at night. It was amazingly well done, especially considering her age. I grinned back at her, leaning over to plant a kiss on her cheek. "This is wonderful Beli. You're very good."
"That's what Mr. Doyle says." She answered, her small form bouncing with excitement. "He says I'm an artist."
"You definitely are." I agreed, my eyes slipping up to the door of the schoolhouse. Doyle stood there, his body hidden in shadows. I smiled at him, pointing down to the picture in my hand. "She's very talented." I held my breath after speaking; praying that he would at least answer me.
"She is." He concurred, the slight lilt in his tone making me want to laugh and weep at the same moment. I stepped forward, moving to the bottom of the steps. Belina trailed after me.
I stopped at the steps, grateful for the small hand that slipped into mine. "How are you?"
"I'm fine." He answered shortly. His body was tense, I could feel his desire to run floating in the air. "And you?"
I bit my lip, fighting back the always ready tears. It didn't seem right that we were talking like strangers, like two people who never really meant anything to each other. "I miss you." I whispered finally, knowing it was the wrong thing to say as soon as I said it.
He backed up slowly, the outline of his body disappearing into the school. "Please." His voice drifted out, washing over me. My stomach clenched as I climbed the first step to the building.
"Doyle." I called into the room, my voice breaking slightly. "Can't you at least spend some time with me and Belina. I won't talk about anything. I promise. Just spend some time with us."
"I can't." He whispered, his voice agonized. I flinched at the pain in it, feeling my heart shatter again. "Please don't ask me."
I nodded, unable to make myself chase after him. Gripping Belina's hand tightly in mine, I stepped back from the school. "I'm not giving up." I whispered to him, not knowing if he could hear me. Then I let Belina lead me away.
I was barely listening to Belina as she chattered away about school, and her friends, and Reiff's upcoming ceremony. All I could hear was the echo of the pain in Doyle's voice, the pain that I wasn't helping, no matter how much I wanted to. He wasn't getting better, in fact, from some of the things the others had told me, he was getting worse.
Because of me. Because he couldn't believe that I could accept him. Because every stupid comment I'd ever made had made him believe I couldn't. I haven't felt guilt a lot in my life, in high school, I never stopped to worry that other people had feelings, and even after that, I just said what I thought without worrying what it did to others. But I feel guilt now. For Doyle, for everyone I ever hurt without knowing it.
And guilt hurts. It burns and it aches, and it doesn't let you go. It makes me want to go to Angel and hug him so tightly that he can't feel anything else. It makes me want to throw myself in front of Doyle and plead with him to forgive my thoughtless words. And at the same time, it stops me from doing anything. That's the hard truth about guilt, the truth that Angel's finally getting past, and the truth that has me firmly in its grasp. I don't know how to do anything but feel bad.
I can smile for Angel, and for the others. I can laugh at their jokes, and hold their children. I can listen to stories about Doyle, and share my own. But I can't feel good. It's always there, a tightness in my chest, a burning in my eyes, a knot in my throat. It's part of me now, like it's part of Angel. Like Doyle's self-hatred is a part of him.
The worst part of it is that I crave it. It's better than the emptiness I had when I believed Doyle was dead.
"Cordy?" Belina's hand tugged at me, and I shook my head, surprised to see that we were already at her home.
"I'm sorry." I pulled her closer, hugging her to me. "I was daydreaming."
"S'okay." She forgave me easily, untangling herself from my arms and dragging me into her house behind her.
Bydel was sitting at the table, a large swath of white fabric in her hands. "Cordelia." She greeted me warmly before turning to her daughter. "How was school Beli?"
"I got an A." She announced, taking the paper I still held in my hand and handing it to her mother.
I smiled at Bydel as she raved over Belina's picture. "I'm going to check on the day sleeper in there." I said, grinning at the face Belina made at me as I walked towards her commandeered room. Beli was slowly trying to convince her mother and I that she was a better roommate than Angel.
Bydel nodded, motioning to the material in front of her. "I'll need to take your measurements later."
"No problem." I said, "I've never been one to refuse new clothing." I opened the door to the room and slipped inside, closing it softly behind me.
Angel stirred as I settled onto my bed, his legs twitching as he settled back into sleep. I leaned back against the wall, closing my eyes. "Do you think we're doing the right thing?" I asked him, knowing he would wake at the sound of my voice.
It took a minute for him to reply. "The right thing?" He questioned sleepily, pulling the covers from his head to look at me. "And why do you always want to talk when I'm sleeping?"
"Cause you sleep in the middle of the day." I answered quickly before returning to my question. "Do you think staying here is the right thing? Are we just making it harder for him?"
Angel's eyes opened fully, and he dragged himself into a sitting position. "Maybe." My eyes widened, and he clarified himself quickly. "But sometimes it has to get worse to get better." I relaxed again, nodding in agreement.
"I don't like it." I said, wanting to talk about how guilty I felt, but not knowing how to form the words.
"I don't like you waking me but I deal." Angel answered, his lips curling up in a half smile.
I let him jostle me into a brighter mood, wondering exactly when it had switched from me trying to lighten him up. "How much sleep do you need exactly? You're usually up by this time when we're home."
"It's not like there's a lot to do here during the day."
"I guess not. If you're sun challenged anyway." I answered him, trying to keep my voice light. It's funny, I thought I would be the one bored here, after all there aren't any stores on the island. Or hairdressers, or manicurists... But there's always something to do, or someone to talk to.
"Which I am." He slipped back under the covers, his voice muffled as he spoke again. "It's going to be okay Cordelia. I promise."
I nodded at his unseeing form, curling my knees up to my chest. Dropping my head to my legs, I closed my eyes trying to convince myself that Angel was right. Every inch of my body ached for Doyle. My throat was burning, and it hurt to swallow. I'll never get used to pain so bad it's physical. It doesn't seem fair, isn't it enough that my heart hurts?
"Cordelia?" Angel murmured his voice laced with concern as he pulled himself into a sitting position again. "Did you talk to him?"
"For a minute." I admitted quietly. "And don't even bother yelling at me for it. I know we're supposed to be waiting for him." I lifted my head, meeting his worried eyes. "But I don't think he's ever going to come to us."
"He will." Angel said, but there wasn't any fight in his voice. He slipped his legs over the side of the bed, leaning forward so his elbows were resting on his knees. "What did he say?" He asked carefully.
I sighed, moving forward so that I was facing him. "Just that he couldn't be around me." I paused, willing myself to have this conversation without breaking into tears. "It's not what he says Angel, it's how he says it. There's so much pain."
"It's hard Cordelia." Angel whispered. "He has to accept that he's not human."
I flinched, hating to hear it in those terms. It seemed so much simpler to me. He was Doyle. End of story. Except for the part where I said so many horrible things about demons that I convinced him he was nothing if he wasn't human. "I'm afraid he can't."
Angel nodded slowly, his fingers twisting together as he answered. "So am I." He straightened, his hands stilling as he spoke again. "But I'm not willing to give up."
"Never." I echoed. "We'll never give up." I smiled weakly at him, grateful that he was with me, that there were two of us fighting to bring Doyle back to us. I don't know if I would be strong enough to do it on my own.
"And it's only been a few days." Angel said. "He's probably just getting over the shock of us showing up."
"True." I nodded, "And once he's used to us being here, he'll start talking to us."
"And then he'll listen when we tell him how important he is to us." Angel continued, an almost smile twisting his lips.
"And he'll believe us." I added, letting Angel pull me along in a fantasy I don't think either of us had total faith in anymore. "And then he'll come home with us."
"And it'll be the three of us again." Angel finished, his smile fully formed now. I met his eyes, seeing the doubt he was trying to hide from me.
"Except of course, for Wesley." I teased.
"Right. Wesley." Angel muttered, "We can't forget Wesley."
"I can try." I offered brightly, then faded into silence.
Angel was quiet for a moment, before leaning over to grab one of my hands in his. "It will be the three of us again. You, me and Doyle. It is going to happen." His voice was low with emotion, and I felt my eyes welling up.
"It is." I promised him back, pushing all my doubts away, for the minute at least. "After all, I'm Cordelia Chase."
"And you always get what you want."
"Of course." I answered, smiling brightly at him.
Then we sunk into silence, lost in our own thoughts. My smile faded as I crossed my legs underneath me, settling my elbows onto my knees and staring at the wooden floor.
Maybe we were wrong to want Doyle to come back. Maybe I was being more selfish that I had ever been in my 'it's all about me' days. He's free on the island, he has a job, and friends, and he never has to worry about hiding his face. If he came back to LA, he would have to. There wouldn't be a job, other than helping Angel fight evil, and no friends except for Angel and I.
Is it fair to ask him to come back? To ask him to spend his life in hiding just so that I don't have to miss him? It's not; I know it. But, I can't stop myself. I want him in my life; I want him to talk to, and to smile at. I want to share things with him, and I want to know that when I have a bad day, he's going to be there to make it better.
Most of all, I want to make it better for him. I want to erase every last thing I ever said that made him hurt, and I want to see him smile again, really smile, like he used to before.
And I'm afraid that there will never be enough time on this island for that.
They wouldn't leave. I avoided them, turned the other way when I saw them coming, did everything I could think of to let them know they weren't welcome, and they stayed. Except for one moment of weakness, I hadn't talked to them since Angel had taken me for his little nature walk.
But I was always close to them. Every morning I woke up and promised myself that I wouldn't hide in the shadows watching them that day, but I always did. Angel knows I'm there, how could he not? And I know he could find me, if he chose to, but for now, he's letting me hide. I might have been grateful if I wasn't so torn between desperately wanting them to leave and wishing the two of them would gang up on me and force me to talk to them. It was hell, just having them near, hearing Cordy's laughter from across the compound, seeing Angel helping one of the elders repair his roof by moonlight. They seemed to fit in so well, better than I did.
Cordelia really surprised me. Try as I might, I could never imagine her here, blending in with the others, helping with dinner, and sitting around the fire late into the night. She did though, and somehow managed to look like she was enjoying it. Her skin browned from the constant sun, and a splatter of freckles stood out on her cheeks.
I'm not sure if she knows I follow her; that I'm always hiding somewhere nearby, unable to deny myself even one glimpse of her. Sometimes I think she does. She'll stop what she's doing, staring in my direction, her face such a mixture of hope and pain that I have to turn away. I think in some ways, it's a worse punishment than denying myself the sight of her. I watch her laugh as she plays with the children, and see the tears that fill her eyes sometimes when she's talking to Reiff or Dryan. I'm learning more about her than I want to, and everything I learn does nothing but point out how wrong I was.
Like watching her with Beli. The little girl adores her, and Cordy seems to adore her right back. She's always waiting outside when school is out, walking home with the small child for lunch. I hide in the shadows of the schoolroom, watching as they leave me alone again.
I weakened one day, needing to be closer to her than I could be in the shadows. I stepped into the door of the schoolhouse, staring greedily at her as she hugged Belina. She spoke to me then, and I panicked, the need to run overcoming everything else.
I'll admit, I was surprised that she let me. She's not usually one to let things go. But maybe that's her plan, to wait me out, knowing that I can't stay away from her forever. Thinking that eventually I'll have to admit that if she can accept the Javaran, she can accept me.
"Doyle?" Reiff spoke quietly slipping into the cover of trees that sheltered me. "Why don't you join us?"
I shrugged, glancing at him quickly before turning back to watch Cordy. One of the children was curled on her knee; Cordy's hand running absently over the child's back as she talked intently with Dryan and Angel. Her face was turned slightly from me, leaving me wondering if her eyes were lit up with interest, or if she wore a plastic smile on her face as she pretended to be as into the conversation as they were. "What does she talk about?" I asked suddenly, the words slipping past the walls I had built.
"You." Reiff answered quietly. "Mostly. She asks about the village too, how we built it, how long it took, that kind of stuff, but mainly, it's about you."
I closed my eyes as a burst of Cordy's laughter filled the air, the sound echoing through the night. "And it makes her happy? What you tell her?" My voice was bitter again.
"Sometimes." Reiff admitted, coming to stand beside me. "Sometimes it makes her cry."
"Because of how I look." I whispered.
"Because of how you feel." Reiff corrected, laying his hand on my arm. "She blames herself."
"It wasn't her fault." I said, spinning around to look at him. "She can't think it is." I finished, hearing the desperation in my voice.
"Why don't you tell her that?" Reiff questioned. "And then why don't you listen to what she's saying to you."
"Because she's only saying it because I'm her friend. She doesn't really mean it."
Reiff shook his head, his frustration growing. "Do you even listen to yourself? You don't make any sense. You admit she's your friend, you admit she cares about you, but you still think that she doesn't accept you?"
"You don't know her." I muttered defensively.
Reiff blew out a soft breath, releasing his hold on my arm. "I'm starting to think it's you that doesn't know her."
"I know her." I whispered harshly, looking across the field as Cordelia stood and passed the sleeping child she held to its mother. She crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself as if she were cold as the woman walked away. She didn't move for a few minutes, her gaze soft as she stared unseeingly in my direction. Finally Angel stood, his arm going around her shoulder comfortingly as they sat down together. My stomach tightened at their easy companionship, the unspoken way they could communicate, and the comfort they gave so freely to each other. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, and I was full of it. Not that I believed for an instant it was anything more than friendship, more because it was friendship. A friendship that I was supposed to be part of, until my face got in the way.
"Talk to them." Reiff pushed gently. "Let them heal you."
"They can't." I answered blankly, refusing to look away from them for an instant. "It's been too long, I don't know how."
"All you have to do is walk over." Reiff replied. "Let them do the rest."
I took one step before I realized what I was doing and stopped. "It's not that easy."
"Let it be." Reiff implored. "Just for tonight, let it be."
I swung my head around, meeting his eyes. "It won't change anything."
"Maybe not." Reiff admitted. "But it won't hurt any worse than hiding in the shadows."
I didn't bother arguing with him, he may have experienced more than anyone his age should have, but he still didn't understand. Being with them was like being in the sun for Angel, something that you crave more than anything, but will destroy you if you give into it.
I turned back to the fire, watching as the villagers slowly made their way to their homes, leaving Cordelia and Angel alone. Their heads were turned towards each other, the soft hint of their words floating on the air. I took a few steps, almost unconsciously, stepping out of the trees. Angel stirred as I did, his head rising up above Cordelia's to look in my direction. He smiled tentatively, his face welcoming as I took another step.
I was in the middle of the field when Cordy slumped against Angel, her hands clenching her head as Angel held her. I froze, sweat breaking out over my body as I recognized what was happening. And then I was running, my feet flying over the ground until I reached them.
Dropping to my knees in front of them, I reached out for her, pulling her into my arms without thinking about the repercussions. She came willingly, her body curving into mine perfectly. I looked up; my eyes narrow with anger as I met Angel's eyes. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"She didn't want you to feel bad." Angel whispered, his hand reaching out to run soothingly over Cordy's back in the same way she had comforted the child earlier.
"When did she get them?" I asked haltingly, resisting the urge to push his hand away. Cordy snuggled tighter into my chest, her face warm against my body.
"About a week after..." Angel's voice trailed off. His hand slipped from Cordy's back, hanging limply at his side.
"Damn." I muttered, gently tilting Cordy's face away from my chest to look at her. "Are you okay?"
She nodded, her face pale and drawn. "It isn't your fault." She whispered quickly, her arms snaking around my back and holding me tightly.
I couldn't fight with her. Not now, not after she had suffered something that was meant for me. "Shhh." I murmured, reaching up to push the hair off her face.
"What did you see?" Angel asked softly.
She grimaced, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. "Darkness. Water. It's all a jumble."
"Give her a minute." I ordered Angel as I slowly released her. Angel took her from me, helping her back onto the log as I stood. "I'll go see if anyone's noticed anything strange." It was an excuse, and Angel knew it, but he just nodded.
I managed to make it to the nearest house before I stopped, leaning against the walls of the building as my knees weakened. Tears fell from my eyes, and I couldn't stop them. I wanted to do more than cry, I wanted to scream, and yell and hit things. I wanted to find the Oracles and rip the sparkles from their faces. I wanted someone to hurt, like I hurt, like Cordy now hurt.
Most of all, I wanted somebody to take it back. I wanted Cordy's life given back to her, the life she had before I died. No, the life she had before I suggested Angel give her a job. I'd rather she live in a roach infested apartment, stealing food from parties than the life she was sentenced to now. I wanted Cordy to be the shallow girl I met. I wanted her to insult strangers, and look down on anyone who didn't wear the right clothes.
I slid down to the ground, leaning my head back against the house as the tears continued to fall. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. I had done the right thing, and not only did I lose my humanity, I stole some of hers in the process. She was one of us now, a freak. The normal life I had dreamed of her having wasn't anything more than that, a dream. She wasn't going to get it, anymore than Angel and I were.
My tears finally slowed as numbness settled over my body. I climbed to my feet, steadying myself on the wall. I didn't know what to do. How could I apologize for something I had no control over, but that was my fault anyway? How could she ever forgive me?
How could I ever forgive myself?
"Doyle!" Reiff's yell shattered the numbness around me, the worry in his tone sending chills down my spine. I ran quickly in the direction of his voice.
"Reiff." I shouted back as I approached him. He was standing between his parents, Bydel's face red with tears. "What's wrong?" I asked as I stopped in front of them.
"Beli..." Bydel choked out.
"She's missing." Reiff finished for her. "We've looked everywhere. We think she must have wandered into the woods."
I froze, knowing that Beli's disappearance had to have something to do with Cordelia's vision. There wasn't any way it was a coincidence. I swallowed, forcing my face to remain calm as I spoke. "We'll go look for her."
"It's dark." Keidan whispered his face blank with shock. "The woods are dangerous at night. She's so little."
"We'll find her." I repeated, thankful that my voice sounded confident. "I'll get Angel. We're good in the dark."
"We should all go..." Keidan began.
I cut him off, shaking my head. "We don't want anyone else to get lost." I knew I should tell him about Cordelia's vision, but I couldn't do it. It would terrify them.
I know it terrified me.