Fan fiction based on the WB television series Angel. All characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, Warner Brothers and/or Twentieth Century Fox, including Doyle... but since you don't want him any more, may I please have him?
"The good fight, yeah? You never know until you’ve been tested. I get that now."
I could see it in his face that he didn’t really want to go. He just kept standing there, his face working, breathing hard and swallowing even though he didn’t really have to do either of those things. He didn’t want to die. No matter what, with all that he was turning his back on true love, he wasn’t ready to die.
So I was going to do it for him.
His hand was still on my shoulder as I pulled back my arm. I only had a moment to knock him aside and take his place.
I had forgotten about vampire reflexes, I guess. His other arm came up fast and grabbed my fist before it would have connected with his face.
"No," he said softly, and I could see that he knew exactly what I had in mind.
He held the hand that had almost hit him in a tight grip for a moment. “This is my destiny, Doyle, not yours. I came back in time for this. I gave up Buffy because the darkness was coming. This is why I gave her up, Doyle,” and the gentleness in his voice was breaking my heart. “This is why we’re here. Nobody else can do this for me, not even you.”
I heard Cordelia crying behind me, and it felt like somebody was tearing me into little pieces.
“Thanks for trying,” Angel said. “Take care of Cordelia.”
“I will,” I whispered.
And then he leaped.
I stood frozen, watching, and all that I could think was, It should have been me, it should have been me, it should have been me.
And then Cordelia was in my arms, sobbing hard, and I looked down at her for just a moment, and when I looked back, Angel was gone.
I heard what they said. I couldn’t believe it, but I heard it.
Doyle would have taken Angel’s place. He would have died instead of Angel.
My God, there wasn’t just one hero in our office. There were two.
But that was last night.
Today, there is only one left.
The worst part of it is.... even though he was good to me.... even though he gave me a job and saved me from Russell... if one of them had to go, I’m glad it was Angel.
You see, it wasn’t until that night that I figured it out.
It wasn’t until that night, when I saw Doyle swing to hit Angel and saw Angel block him, that I really knew who would always be my hero, from now on.
I never want to hear a sound like that again.
I was sleeping, dreaming sad dreams of Oz, when I was slammed awake by the most unearthly howl I’d ever heard. At first I thought that it was Oz, in my room, dying.
I sat bolt upright in bed and fumbled awkwardly for the light. “What the ----?”
I turned on the light, and then I saw her. Buffy. She had her hands over her mouth, and her eyes looked like an animal caught in a trap, bleeding its life away.
“What? What is it?”
Her mouth moved a few times without coming out with any sound, and for a moment I thought her voice was gone again, and then she said: “It’s Angel. He’s gone.”
She bent over and began to rock back and forth, and there was this keening sound that turned my whole body to ice, because no creature should ever have to be in this much pain. Not me, not Buffy.
Because, as I stumbled out of my bed and ran over to hold her while she cried, I knew. I knew that she was right.
I knew that he was really gone.
“I know that I should call,” I said for about the tenth time. “What do I say? How do I tell her?”
Doyle and I were sitting side by side at the office. I had finally stopped crying, but I still couldn’t bear to let go of Doyle, especially after he had tried to take Angel’s place tonight. I didn’t want to go home alone tonight.
More than anything else, I didn’t want to call Buffy.
"Somebody else should tell her, somebody who can be kind about it. I don’t know how to be kind.”
“You know, Princess. You may not show it, but you care. Angel always knew that.”
“God, Doyle, you’re going to make me cry again. That’s not fair.”
And then his face collapsed and with an odd, strangled sound, he gasped, “I guess.... I am....”
I wrapped my arms around him as tightly as I could, and he hid his face against my shoulder, and as I felt him shake, my own tears started again. You would think I would have run dry by then, but when I held Doyle next to me, stroking his hair and rocking slightly as I cradled him in my arms, I knew that I had found what Buffy had lost.
And that made it even harder for me to be the one to call.
"Okay, I’ve gotta do this," Cordelia said, for what must have been the hundredth time.
The dawn was coming up outside, and we were both wiped out from crying. I felt so empty, like everything that was inside me had spilled out and there was nothing left.
I sighed and tried to smile at Cordelia, but my face wouldn’t listen.
Her hand tightened around mine as she finally began to dial the phone, and I remembered Angel’s hand catching mine.
If only I had moved just a little faster....
He’d be here, feeling this pain, and I’d be gone. I would be the hero that Delia was crying for.
I think it would have been much easier.
“Buff - oh, Willow, right. Listen, I..... oh..... oh.... I see.”
Cordelia just listened for a few moments.
“Yes. That’s right.” She listened for a little while again, and then slowly, put down the phone.
“She knew. She already knew.”
Cordelia shook her head slowly, with a wondering expression on her face.
“As soon as he died, she knew. She woke up screaming. This is so awful, I can’t believe she knew right away.”
I couldn’t speak any more. I had nothing left to say.
Stroking my hand gently, head down, Cordelia murmured: “I wonder if I would have known.... if I would know... if....”
She didn’t finish the sentence for a long time, and I saw her struggling with something, but I didn’t understand at first what it was. I was too numb, and too exhausted, to figure out why it was so hard for her to say whatever she was saying, or why it was that she couldn’t look at me while she was saying it.
“If.... if something.... if something happened to you....”
It took me a long, long moment to understand what she was trying to say, and then it hit me. It hit me so hard that I must have gasped out loud, because she looked up at me with a terrified expression on her face, like she was scared to hear, herself, what she had said.
“Oh Delia.... oh love...” I said weakly, and held out my arms to her.
As she wrapped her arms around me again, I felt the ice surrounding my heart begin to melt.
For the first time since Angel leaped off the catwalk, I began to think that maybe it was right, after all, for me to be alive.
When I dialed Buffy's number, I thought that was going to be the hardest thing in the world that I had ever had to do.
I was wrong.
The hardest thing came later, looking at Doyle's face and how beaten-down he looked, and knowing that he needed to hear what I didn't know how to say.
The hardest thing was finding a way to tell him, "I need you." I've never been able to say anything like that before.
But he looked so lost, so defeated. I kept thinking about what he almost did.
Angel, thank you for stopping him. Wherever you are, thank you.
Now we have to figure out how to keep each other alive in the world you left behind.
We never left the office that night. Neither of us wanted to go home. Cordelia fell asleep on the couch for a little while, but when I got up, she mumbled a protest.
I couldn't quite make out the words, but I thought she murmured, "Don't leave me."
But was it to me she was talking? Do I know?
Even though I couldn't be sure, I sat back down next to her, and I watched her restless sleep. When I put my hand over hers, she took it and held it tight.
We're like drowning people, both of us, holding on to each other.
Maybe that's all it is, just drowning people grabbing on to whoever happens to be there. I don't know.
How could Cordelia ever love me? I had my one chance, my chance for atonement, to redeem myself, and I failed. I could have saved him, but I didn't. I let Angel die.
After she gets over the shock, she'll be back to laughing at me again (and I could do with a bit of laughter, I suppose), but love?
Not for the likes of me.
And then she opened her eyes, and when she looked at my face, she sat up, like she saw something there she didn't care for.
Then Cordelia spoke again, out loud this time so I couldn't miss it.
"You made him a promise, didn't you?"
"What did he ask you? Say it."
Slowly, reluctantly, I said, "He asked me to take care of you, princess, that's all."
"That's right. And you know what? We're going to take care of each other, whether you like it or not. Do you hear me?"
She sat up, and she was the imperious Cordelia again, despite the rings under her eyes and the tearstains on her face, tossing her hair back, and with the fire coming back into her eyes.
"Neither one of us is leaving. Get that through your head, little Irish man! We're all we've got now. It's you and me, and I'm not going anywhere, so get used to it! Don't you dare even think about running away. I won't have it!"
"Cordelia...." I didn't know what to say. Finally, for lack of anything else, I said:
"Is it all right wit' ye if I just go to the bathroom, then?"
She stared at me dumbfounded for a moment, and then she laughed.
She was always so full of life and light.... except that morning.
It was Willow who came to me first, looking tired, her eyes red and heavy.
"Hey, Willow. Something the matter?"
She nodded, and bit her lip. I felt a tickle of dread starting to grow somewhere.
"Is it... Buffy?"
Willow sat down next to me, with a huge sigh.
"Riley, I think she needs every friend she can get right now."
"What is it? What's happened?"
"When we were in high school, Buffy had this boyfriend.... well, she was really in love. And then he went to L.A. and they did the whole breakup thing, you know.... and you know, she handled it really well, considering...."
"And is he back?"
Willow shook her head fiercely, her eyes beginning to brim with tears again. "Oh, no. He's not back. He's never coming back. He's dead."
I'll never forget the way she looked when Willow let me into the room. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, with her face totally blank, staring straight ahead. She had her arms around her shoulders, and she was rocking slowly back and forth.
She didn't seem to see me at first. I don't think she saw anything, or anyone.
Willow whispered, "She's been like this for hours. I called.... well, some of our other friends, but they weren't there."
"How did she find out?"
"She knew — uh, I mean, a friend from LA called."
"But let me guess, she had a feeling. Right?"
Willow gave me a wondering look. "Yeah. How did you know that?"
"I think Buffy is just the kind of person who would know."
Willow said nothing for awhile, and then, as though she had made a decision, answered:
"Yes, she is. I think maybe, you are just the kind of person who can help her. I'll be right down the hall."
Then, it was just me, and the slowly rocking Buffy.
I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. When I went toward her, it was like going over a cliff, head-first.
Slowly, tentatively, I touched her hair, and brushed my fingers very gently against her cheek.
"Buffy.... I'm here.... if I can help...."
For a long, long moment she didn't seem to know that I was there. Then her eyes seemed to focus, and met mine.
She gasped, as if she were suddenly remembering to breathe, and then began to cry in the roughest sobs I'd ever heard, like each one was tearing away a piece of her soul. But she didn't pull away when I sat down next to her and put my arm around her.
She stayed facing forward while she sobbed for a few more moments, and then she finally turned and threw her arms around me and held on tight, her fingers digging into my arms.
I had bruises for a week after, but it was all right, she was worth it.
She always has been.
I don't know how Buffy survived losing Angel for the third, and last, time.
No, I guess I do know. Even though I helped, and later on Giles and Xander helped, the one who really pulled her through was Riley.
No matter how good they were about it, Giles and Xander couldn't help leaking out a little relief around the edges, you know what I mean? Deep down, they were glad Angel was gone, even though they weren't glad that Buffy was hurting. It's like that book I was reading in psych class about "complicated mourning."
Maybe I leaked a little too, I don't know. It was weird, I kept remembering that day when the other-me was in town, when Angel came into the high school library and said, "Willow's dead." Then he looked straight at me and said, "Hi, Willow."
Now I felt like I was looking at him, you know, like "Angel's dead. Hi, Angel." Creeped me out! Because, you know, he always was dead. He was just more dead this time, more so than when she thought she killed him. Yeah, it gets complicated.
Riley didn't know any of that. He didn't have to know. All that he needed to know was that they broke up, but she still loved him, and now he was dead.
That kept it kind of clean and simple. There's a lot to be said for vampire-free comfort.
I stayed back and kept an eye on them. He stayed around, even when she didn't have anything much to say. And, you know what?
After a while, she started to smile again.
"Still don't feel right about this. It seems, y'know, like robbing the undead."
"Vampires don't leave wills. Creature of the night, gonna live forever, hello? Angel had a lot of stuff here, and I bet some of it is worth serious money. I think he'd want the two of us to have it, and we can't just leave it all here, can we?"
I watched with discomfort as Cordelia went about packing up Angel's possessions. Give the girl credit, she handled them carefully, more so than I expected. I suppose that came from growing up around a lot of pretty and expensive and fragile things.
"The regular antiques I can handle. I know people who can make sure we get a good price. I think there may be some magickal thingies here though. That's your department."
"Magick? Me?" I kept my hands at my sides.
"You know the people who know that kind of people." She turned around sharply, irritation and strain showing in her face. "Get over it already. He's not coming back to claim any of this stuff. We need to move on. We have money issues here, remember?"
"It just feels wrong t'me."
"Look, this is not fun city for me either, all right? Believe it or not, I am not getting any kicks out of going through all this. I don't know how I'm going to be able to keep my apartment. We have to do something."
All I could do was to echo words I'd said before. "We'll manage somehow, princess. We always do."
Cordelia took a deep breath, her expression softening a little. "Let's take a break from this, and make a fresh pot of coffee."
"Do we have to?"
"Funny, funny man."
We went up to the office and Cordelia headed toward the coffee pot, but someone had mercy on my poor long-suffering insides. Before she could get there, she was interrupted by pounding on the office door.
"Anybody there? You gotta help me. Come on, open up!"
"Go away," Cordelia yelled. "We're closed."
The pounding on the door only grew more frantic. "He's after me! I'm gonna get murdered out here! You gotta help me. Let me in!"
Cordelia and I looked at each other for a moment. She wrinkled her nose and twisted her mouth in that appealing grimace of hers, then silently nodded and opened the door part-way.
"What's your problem out there? We're closed."
A short demon, who reminded me one of my very worst hangover reflections, slid past Cordelia into the office. "Quick, close the door! I think he's right behind me."
"Who's right behind you?" Cordelia closed the door, and I moved forward to get a look at the ugly little guy.
"Hey there, pleased-ta-meet-ya, my name is Barney, and I need your help. There's this guy after me, and he wants to kill me. I hear you guys help with this sort of thing? He's been tracking me for months, almost got me once, oh and by the way, just to be straight with you guys, I'm a demon."
With treacly sweetness Cordelia crooned, "So nice of you to share that with us, Barney –"
"Hey, no problem --"
"But we're kind of out of the demon-rescuing business right now. Too high a casualty rate, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, it's true then? There's been talk that your Vampire-Avenger-Guy got crispy-fried. Yeah, I see. I can tell you guys are wearing black in his honor today."
Cordelia looked down at her decidedly non-black outfit with a puzzled frown.
"Actually, I mean wearing black on the inside, not to mention the cloud over your buddy's head, and it's a big one too, I'll tell ya. I'm what they call an empath demon. I pick up on people's feelings. Good in a card game, y'know. That's how I've made an enemy or two over the years, see, but nothing worth killing over. Sorry to hear that your boss really did bite the big one, in a manner of speaking. Anyway, there's this little matter of the guy hunting me. I just need a place to hide out for a little while."
"Not here," Cordelia said firmly.
"Well, how 'bout my place then?" I offered. "Safe as houses. Last place anybody'd look."
Cordelia glared at me. "It's the card thing, isn't it? I should have known that would get your attention." She put her hands on her hips and sighed.
"Well, fine. I don't think you have anything worth stealing at that dump of yours. If you want to toss horny-toad here your keys, that's your problem, but nobody's staying here."
Barney glanced from one of us to the other, and then laughed. "Well, well, well, that's the most backward and inside-out invitation I've ever heard any woman give a guy."
"I'm not inviting you to do anything, you presumptuous little – "
"Oh, not me. Him. One of the nice things with this emotion-reading bit is, you get the subtext. What folks don't say out loud, if y'know what I mean." Barney turned toward me with an ingratiating grin. "You're a lucky guy, my friend. You've just been invited to move in with this lovely lady, and I bet you didn't even notice, did you?"
"Truth t'say, I didn't notice any such thing. Cordy, is that –"
"Between you and me and nobody else? Yeah, right, exactly. Mister Poke-Nose-Man here had better move along before he really wears out his welcome. You want to give him the directions so he can make himself scarce, like, yesterday?"
I scribbled my address on a piece of paper, still a bit stunned by this turn of events, gave Barney the key and was opening the door, when I heard a stranger's voice: "Don't move."
Obediently I froze, and Barney ducked behind me. He wailed: "That's him! He's found me! He's going to kill me now!"
The stranger in black leather shouldered his way in through the partly open door, pointing a perfectly enormous crossbow at Barney, which meant at me, since Barney happened to be using me as a shield at that moment.
"Don't interfere and you won't get hurt," the stranger said to me coolly, in a high-falutin' Brit accent. "I don't know if harboring this fellow allows you to qualify for innocent bystander status, but I'm a gentleman who gives the benefit of the doubt."
"You're no gentleman at all, Wesley, not if you're going to point that stupid thing at innocent people. What are you doing in L.A. anyway?" asked Cordelia, striding forward without a hint of fear.
"Cordelia?" the stranger gasped.
Casually, Cordelia reached over and knocked the crossbow out of the stranger's hands. It fell to the floor with an emphatic thump, while he simply gawked at her. Barney, in the meantime, began to sidle around me toward the door.
"This is my office, at least today, and nobody barges in here threatening people while I'm around, is that clear? Even if the people are obnoxious little demons who don't know how to mind their own business."
While Cordelia was speaking, Barney ducked around me and dashed out the door.
"He's getting away!" cried the stranger, diving toward his crossbow. Cordelia promptly put her foot on it, pinning it to the floor.
"You were saying?" She smiled sweetly.
"Damn it all, Cordelia, he's a killer! That demon has left a trail of maimed and mutilated bodies over several states. How dare you interfere with the work of a demon hunter?"
"And since when has the Watcher's Council taken up demon-hunting, may I ask?"
"You may ask. They haven't, I have. The Council and I have come to a parting of the ways. Cordelia, may I please have my crossbow back?"
"Not just yet. You're going to tell us some more about this dead-body stuff first. Once I figure out which side we're all on, I'll let you know."
Cordelia shot me a quick warning glance, and placed a hand lightly on my arm. "Oh, and by the way, this guy you were pointing your cute little toy at? This is Doyle. He lives with me now," she stated in a firm, "don't-you-dare-even-THINK-to-contradict me" tone. "And if you want your play-toy back, Wesley, you'd better not point anything in his direction again."
The stranger looked me over, mouth pursed with disapproval. "Doyle, eh? Hmmmpph. You don't look at all Cordelia's type."
"Pleased to meet you, too."
Stupid little demon. Well, maybe not so stupid. After all, I couldn't just come out and ask Doyle to move in with me, could I? He might say no.
Not that he would. Why would anybody say no to an invitation like that?
Well, how about somebody so depressed that he'd rather drink himself to death? Duh.
I have to admit, I'm glad Wesley showed up. Even though he annoys me, I think having somebody to dislike will be good for Doyle.
We were sitting around Angel's kitchen table downstairs. I was glad now that we hadn't packed up everything yet. I could still make tea (which is about as domestic as I ever get, thank you very much).
Wesley was explaining his demon hunt in his self-important little way.
"At first I thought I was actually seeking another demon, a much more impressive-looking creature by the way, but not too long ago I discovered that the little snot that you had here was my real target. He's some kind of collector, it seems. He goes after anyone with a special power or gift, and either kills them or has them killed, I'm not sure which. It doesn't seem to matter whether the victim is human or a demon. Either way, some body part supposedly imbued with power is removed from the body, possibly for use in a ritual of some kind."
"Hmmm." Doyle sounded unconvinced.
Wesley lectured on: "His unassuming exterior seems to create an excellent cover for his activities. I'm not quite sure yet what he actually does with the powers he takes, because I haven't seen any indication so far that he has actually acquired them for himself. If he had, he would have been far more successful in eluding my pursuit."
"What if it's the other way around? What if he's the target, not the collector?" Doyle argued. "He does have a power of his own, that might interest such a one."
"Ah yes, this empathy bit. Quite overrated, if you ask me."
"I wasn't actually asking," I said, annoyed at being left out of the conversation.
"Let's suppose we find the squirt for ya. D'ye just kill him outright? Or d'ye you give him a chance to explain, maybe, in case there's another side to this whole story?"
"I don't listen to explanations from demons," Wesley said haughtily. "I kill them."
Accidentally-on-purpose I spilled some hot tea on Wesley's hand. "Whoops! How clumsy of me."
"Owwww!" He put his burned hand instinctively to his mouth, then noticed my look and quickly removed it. "That was a bit painful. Do you have a bit of first aid cream, perhaps?"
"Sorry, Angel didn't keep a supply. It's getting late. Maybe we should call it a night, boys."
Wesley stood. "If you two wish to provide any information about this demon's whereabouts, the information would be welcome. If you don't intend to help, then kindly stay out of my way, or I may not be responsible for any consequences."
Doyle stood up, too, and gave Wesley as scary a look as he could. Sad to say, Doyle doesn't do scary very well, at least in his human face.
"I don't take kindly to threats, man. See that you don't harm anyone who is under our protection."
"Your protection? Don't make me laugh."
I grabbed Wesley by the arm. "Our protection. You heard the man. We're a team. Maybe we'll help you and maybe we won't. If you're not going to be part of the team, then don't mess with us."
"Forming your own little band of … what did those children call themselves? Slayerettes? I don't think you have the firepower, Cordelia, not without Angel."
"You'd be surprised," I said as sweetly as I could. "Shall I see you out? It's been fun. Not."
After Wesley was gone, the moment I'd been putting off was finally here. As soon as I closed the door behind him, my hands started to get cold.
Hey, what was this? Nerves? Why should I be nervous? About Doyle? Puh-leeze.
I walked as slowly as I could back to where Doyle was waiting.
During the time that I was walking Wesley to the door, Doyle had found Angel's liquor supply and had poured himself a glass. I felt my face tighten. Don't start a fight, Cordelia. Not now.
I tried really hard to talk about something other than Angel, or drinking too much, or whether or not he was coming home with me.
"Hey, maybe we should talk about this demon half of yours. Are you, like, extra strong? What kind of powers do you have, anyway? Besides the migraine specials, of course."
Doyle tossed back the glassful of whatever it was. "Your bluff is just a bluff, Cordelia, luv. Sorry, but I can't make it real."
"Well, not everything I said was a bluff."
The distance seemed awfully long as I was crossing the room, kind of like I was walking underwater. My mouth was dry. Why am I feeling scared?
He was looking down into his glass, not meeting my eyes. "Most of it, though, eh?"
"Not the part that matters."
"And what part might that be?"
I put my hand over his. I didn't know what to say, and ….. damn!….. I was getting tears in my eyes again. Not now! Jeez! I had to be calm, I had to be strong right now.
"Let's face it, Cordelia. Without Angel, we're not even players in this game. We might as well give it up. We don't have a damn thing to offer. We can't even protect ourselves, much less anyone else."
"Plenty of people live their lives without running around rescuing everybody. So maybe we can't do exactly what Angel did. So what? We'll find some other way. We'll figure something out."
"There's nothing much to figure out. It's over, girl. I screwed it up, it's blown."
"It's never over! You know those Slayerettes that Wesley was talking about? None of us had any special powers except for Buffy. But, you know what? We made a difference. We helped make the world a little safer. Even the prime dorkosaurus of the known universe, Xander Butt-Head Harris, even he made a difference. You know we still can."
"As protectors of the weak and innocent, we're just a joke without Angel, and you know it. The world would be one helluva lot better off if – "
All of a sudden, I couldn't hold back any more. The tears were taking over again, and I heard my voice rising, even though I hadn't meant to yell at him.
"Stop worrying about everyone else in the world, and stop feeling sorry for yourself for one damn minute, and look at me! Don't you see I'm hurting too? You want to keep on wishing you were dead, where does that leave me? Don't you care about that? Don't you care about us, living OUR lives, our own lives?"
He looked as shocked as if I'd slapped him, which I hadn't, even though I wanted to. "What d'you think you're you sayin' to me, girl?"
"You want to hear me spell it out? You want to make me ask? All right! I'm asking! I need you, dammit! Alive, here, with me, right now! There, are you satisfied? Will it make you feel better to see me b-b-b-beg?"
"Never. I would never ask you that, sweetness. Never," he promised, his voice thickening.
"Then for God's sake put that bottle away, and stop wanting to die!"
He laughed bitterly. "Ah, my darlin', so much easier said than done."
"Then come home with me now, and let's start working on a reason to live."
I hadn't been home since before it happened. After that first, sleepless night when we stayed at the office, and the mega-bizarro day that followed, I was way much in need of a shower and a change. I was starting to look like Anya on a bad day. (Serious ewww factor here.)
There was only one little problem.
If I let Doyle out of my sight, I had a feeling it might be for the last time.
So, some little demon who may or may not be some kind of killer-collector-whatever is staying at Doyle's apartment, which means that Doyle is coming home with me. As roomies go, almost anybody else would be safer than somebody who might be taking Doyle's head for a trophy.
This ought to be, like, a good moment, you know? Taking Doyle home with me for the first time, it should be one of those romantic moments, like you see on the diamond commercials.
So why did I feel like I was walking off a roof?
Yeah, I'll have to admit that when I offered the use of my apartment to whatshisname, I did have the feeling that I wouldn't be needing it any time soon.
I have to say though, this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
Cordelia looked almost haggard, definitely not a good look for her. I didn't have much to say as she drove to her apartment, so I just sat in the passenger seat and kept quiet. For a change, she was mostly quiet too, which for Cordy is not a good sign.
She did say, in a dry and matter-of-fact sort of way: "Until we find out for sure what rock this Barney crawled out from under, don't plan on going back for any clothes. We'll just have to get you some new ones. With your wardrobe, it could only be an improvement."
"Feel free, then."
Time was, I had this fantasy about Cordelia inviting me home. Ah, it was a fine fantasy, where I swept her off her feet, and we rushed over there kissing like mad, eager to fall into bed.
This wasn't a thing like that, not at all.
As soon as we arrived at Cordelia's apartment, she announced abruptly, "I have to take a fast shower. Wait for me in the living room. I can talk better when I'm clean."
"Oh, so that's the problem, is it?"
I tried to smile, she tried to frown, and then she turned quickly on her heel and fled toward the bathroom. I wasn't sure if she was going to cry; I was pretty close to it myself. I found my way to a couch, took off my jacket, and sat down fast, before my legs gave out.
From the bathroom, she called out, "I won't be long. Wait in the living room."
"You said that already, princess. I'm not going anywhere."
Hell can wait, at least a little while.
I heard the shower start up, and tipped my head back, staring at the ceiling. I couldn't be sure how much time passed, just looking up in silent emptiness, hardly even able to think. I knew that my eyes were getting blurry when I started to see a face there.
Then again, maybe it wasn't blurry eyes. I'd almost forgotten about Dennis.
I shook my head a little and the face came into focus, mouthing something.
"Eh? What? Dennis? Huh?"
"Help her," the ghost was saying. "Help her."
Cautiously I got to my feet, and walked toward the bathroom. As I drew closer, I could hear it: the sound of sobbing, only partly covered by the flow of the water.
I stood there frozen, and the ghost face moved across the ceiling and down the wall, to face me. "Help her," Dennis mouthed again, and I knew he wasn't going to leave me alone until I did.
For the first time in a long time, I found myself saying a prayer of sorts: "God help me."
Then I opened the bathroom door.
I didn't mean to start crying in the shower. Doyle was depressed enough for both of us. It just … happened. One minute I was washing my hair, and the next I was sinking down on my knees on the floor of the shower, and the only thing that I could do was try not to be too loud.
The bathroom door opened. I kept my eyes closed. I was supposed to be the strong one, but I just didn't have the strength right now.
I couldn't form words, not right at that moment.
The clothes he was wearing were the only ones he had. I knew that. But there he was, fully clothed, reaching down to me, and I reached up for his hand to pull him down, only set of clothes and all.
He didn't resist. Under the running water, he knelt down behind me, and he put his arms around me. His head was leaning against mine, and his body, in clothes which were now soaking wet, was pressed against mine, but there was nothing else happening there but comfort. I cried, and I felt him start to cry as well, and we just hugged each other.
That's all it was.
For about five minutes.
Then I turned around to face him. He looked like a drowned rat, but he looked so beautiful to me.
"Help you up?" he whispered hoarsely. I nodded, and we rose carefully together, with the shower still going.
"I'm so sorry….. so sorry….." I stammered.
"I've got to get these soaking wet clothes off you," I mumbled.
"Not like this, princess."
"I won't have you dying of pneumonia on me." Fumbling, my fingers clumsy and slow, I fought with the buttons on his soaking-wet shirt. "We've got to get these off and then get you dry."
"I don't have any others."
"I know." I kept unbuttoning.
Softly, he laughed. "Y'know, I had a fantasy like this once, but it felt a bit different. Quite a lot different, in fact."
"I know," I muttered, still struggling. "Me too."
"Is that a fact? I won't say that I haven't thought of taking advantage of you, Cordelia love… but not like this."
Finally, reluctantly, he began to undress. First the shirt, then pants, both sopping.
"Leave the clothes in here till I can wash them. We don't need them dripping all over the house."
"All the clothes."
He caught his breath. Water was running down his face. I tried to keep my eyes there, but I could see he was down to underwear, and soaking-wet as it was, it didn't hide much.
He didn't move, just stood there in his underwear, like he was paralyzed.
"All," I repeated firmly, and tugged at the waistband with an impatient finger. "I'll turn around, OK?"
"Yes, I know you don't have anything else to wear. You can wrap yourself in a towel until I get you something. Now, off." I turned my back to him, thankful that the hot water was holding out so well.
"Stop sounding like I'm strangling you, and take them off."
"It's been…. easier …. to breathe," he said huskily to my back.
I heard the wet, slopping sound of garments hitting the shower floor. Without looking, I extended a hand back to him, waiting, willing him to take it.
After a terrifying pause, his hand wrapped around mine. It was shaking.
I pulled him toward me, still without looking. His arms were limp and heavy; I put them around my waist, and put my own arms over them, trapping them in place. There was still a little distance between his body and mine, just far enough that, although I could imagine the feel of his body as it would be pressed against mine, it wasn't quite there yet.
"Don't forget to breathe," I said softly.
Suddenly, he broke, and all that I could think was, at last! Yes!
With an incoherent, sobbing sound, he finally pulled me tight against him, his mouth against my neck. His body felt… exactly like I thought it would.
I turned around, into his desperate kiss, and didn't think another coherent thought for a long, long time.
It wasn't like my fantasies. Not at all.
In a strange sort of way....
It was better.
I woke up feeling warmer than I had in a long time. It took me a little while to realize why.
Deep in my bed, under my blanket, there was another body pressed against mine.
I tugged at the blanket, and saw Doyle curled up against me, his head hidden all the way under the blanket. He looked like a little boy as he slept.
Yep. Still breathing.
For a few moments, I just looked, and kept on looking. Whoa, the man had a body. I wouldn't get tired of looking anytime soon.
His hand was just close enough to my face that I could move softly, without disturbing him, and brush my lips against it for a moment.
I put my head back against the pillow, and smiled.
Way too short a time later, someone knocked on my door.
Carefully, trying not to wake Doyle, I climbed out of bed and pulled on a robe. While I fastened it, I called out softly to Dennis, "Show me who it is."
Ghosts can be very good roommates. Dennis obediently showed me a picture, on the inside of the door, of the person who was waiting outside.
I quietly closed the bedroom door, and then let her in.
Cordelia didn't look like Cordelia any more.
That was my first thought when I walked in. It was something else to think about, besides the reason why I was there in the first place, and if I thought about that too much, I wouldn't be able to think at all.
She was wearing a robe, and no makeup, her eyes showing the signs of crying the day before, and she hadn't even bothered to fix her hair. That wasn't Cordy, not the Cordy I remembered. Even her face seemed softer, somehow.
"I'm so sorry, Buffy. You came here to find out how it happened, didn't you?"
"Okay. I'll tell you. Give me just a minute, OK? Sit down out here in the living room while I get dressed and put up some tea."
Tea? That was new for Cordelia. She must have gotten that from working for him.
I thought I heard her speak to somebody in another room, but I wasn't sure. After a few minutes, she came back out in a plain blouse and jeans, barefoot, and still not wearing makeup. She put down the two cups of tea, and then let out a sigh.
"He was way brave, Buffy. Be proud."
"Just tell me what happened."
"Okay." She sat down and began to tell me.
"..… So Angel said, if he pulled the cables, maybe he could still shut it off, and Doyle said you can't do that without touching the light, there's got to be another way, and Angel said, It's all right. They were talking about the good fight and never knowing till you've been tested, and then Doyle tried to hit Angel, so that he could do it… do it instead…. Sorry, give me a minute here."
I nodded, my throat too tight to speak, while Cordelia took a deep breath.
"Doyle was going to do it. But Angel was stronger. You know, that old vampire strength."
I nodded again.
"He stopped Doyle from hitting him, and then he was saying goodbye to Doyle, and then he jumped right onto that thing, and started unplugging it. I couldn't look after that, I'm sorry, but I just couldn't look."
"So…." My voice rasped, and I had to stop, and start again. "So you didn't actually see….."
"Just a big flash of light."
"Was there any …. dust?"
"I'm sorry, Buffy, I didn't look."
We sat in silence for a moment, and then she said: "If you want to pick out something to remember him by, you can come by the office. We've just barely started packing up his things."
"Look, would you wait out here for me for a little while?"
I nodded, still having trouble speaking.
Cordelia put down her teacup and went into another room. I heard low voices, murmuring. I didn't recognize the other voice, and couldn't bring myself to care very much.
I closed my eyes, wishing that I never had to open them again.
Finally, the door opened. Cordelia came out, and with her was that other guy from the office, Doyle, with an embarrassed look on his face.
He was wearing what were obviously Cordelia's workout clothes: a pair of sweat pants that didn't fit him very well, and a tank top that didn't really fit him either. He was blushing a little as he came toward me. Like I cared about Cordy's sex life, or something.
"Buffy. I'm really, really sorry."
"I wish –"
"I know," I repeated. "Don't say it, okay? Please don't."
"Well, all right then, I won't."
Cordelia put in, "I told Buffy she could come by the office if she wants to pick out something to keep that belonged to… Angel." The hesitation was slight, but it was there.
Dimly, in the faraway part of me that still noticed things, I realized: She really did care about him.
Strange, that out of all the people who have surrounded me since I met Angel, all the people who were there when he became part of my life, the only one besides me who would really grieve for him would be Cordelia Chase.
Going over to the office with Buffy would have been awkward enough, even if I weren't wearing Cordelia's clothing. I almost couldn't bring myself to come out of that bedroom.
When I finally did, and she looked up at me, she looked like someone whose heart had been cut out and thrown away.
All the guilt and shame that had gone away for a little while, in the sweet warmth of loving Cordelia, was back again. It felt even heavier on me now, seeing Buffy's face, than if it had never left.
I didn't know how we would get through the day, taking her over there, and going through all his things, but when Cordelia told me about it in the bedroom while Buffy waited, I knew that we had to do it. Some things we just have to survive. Somehow.
The drum-beat was back in my ears again.
It should have been me. It should have been me.
OK, I'm spooked now.
Doyle and I were watching Buffy walk around Angel's place. She was moving very slowly, like a sleepwalker, just touching things, and then stopping and staring blankly into space, for what seemed like hours.
It was seriously weirding me out.
Doyle whispered, "D'ye think she could be recoverin' the memories from that missin' day? When Angel turned back time?"
"How? For her it never happened."
"Don't know. Maybe, with him dead, they might've given her the memories back. Who knows?"
"Stop whispering," Buffy said calmly, without looking at us. "I know about the missing day now."
"How could you?" I protested feebly.
She shrugged, still not looking at us. "A dream. I had a dream last night, before I came here. Except I know that it wasn't a dream, after all."
Finally, she met my eyes for a moment, only to look down again. "He was trying to be kind, trying to be brave, yeah, sure. That's all true. But what about my freedom to choose? What about my right to be happy?"
"He made the decision for you," said Doyle, "Same as he did for us."
"And the ring! What about that? Why wasn't he wearing the ring?"
"Buffy, just 'cause we all loved the guy doesn't mean he was perfect," I said gently. "I guess you don't live two hundred and forty years or so, or do the whole 'gotta keep down my inner demon' trip, without becoming a control freak."
Her head snapped up. "Don't you dare – " but then she broke off. "You're right."
"I told 'im he had to care about people, had to let people in," Doyle told her gently. "But he decided t' take it that he had to die for 'em. It wasn't about dyin' though, it was about livin'. He just didn't get that. Somehow, though, he always got one thing straight. He loved you."
"I know. But it isn't enough. It never was." With a sigh, Buffy put her empty hands in her pockets.
"I'm not going to take anything. There's nothing left here that I want any more."
In an uncomfortable silence, we headed up to the office. Buffy wandered toward the window that was still partly boarded up from the demon crashing in. She stood there looking at it thoughtfully for a moment, saying nothing. Then she turned away from it, ready to leave.
"Look out!" I yelled.
Something was coming through the window. Again.
Even with her heart broken, that girl could fight. When demons started pouring in the window, she was on them. Twisting, kicking, jumping in the air – it would have been sheer poetry, if it wasn't perfectly terrifying.
Soon enough though, it became clear it wasn't Buffy they were after, or even Cordelia.
It was me.
Maybe that Wesley toff was right about ol' Barney, after all.
It was over almost as soon as it had begun. Two demons kept Buffy busy, diverting her, while two others went after me. My valiant Cordelia, screaming at me to run, took a stapler from Angel's desk and threw it at one of the green-skinned demons pursuing me, hitting it in the head with a satisfying thump. The stapler wasn't nearly enough to stop it, though. It was still coming for me.
I hit the floor and rolled out of the way as Cordelia rushed at it, brandishing a fire poker, her eyes blazing in fury. If I hadn't been busy running for my life at that moment, I would surely have kissed her.
The demon easily sidestepped Cordelia's headlong rush, backhanding her across the face as she stabbed with her makeshift weapon. Cordelia looked astonished, then slowly crumpled to the floor, with blood beginning to seep from her nose.
"Cordelia!" I cried out, shifting form as I tried to get to her side. I never made it.
Buffy didn't have time to register the fury of Cordelia's attack, or to see her hit the floor. She was fighting like a madwoman herself, as though each blow helped to relieve the pressure inside her.
She sidestepped one demon's punch, and grabbing his arm in an unbreakable hold, twisted it until she heard the satisfying crack of its arm breaking and a piercing howl rising from the mouth of the injured creature. By the time she turned to her next opponent, it was already too late.
I felt something slam into the back of my neck, and I chased the sudden pain down into darkness, wondering, as I spiralled out of consciousness, whether Buffy had even noticed.
The only thing left that I could still do for Angel was to defend his friends. I owed him that much.
I wasn't exactly proud of the result so far.
The larger of the demons who were going after Doyle knocked him out with a karate chop to the back of the neck and, scooping him up as though he were a child, raced towards the open window. I tried to disengage from the demon facing me so that I could block them from taking Doyle, but it parried each of my punches and kicks, slowly backpedaling towards the window, covering the escape of its fellows, and then leaping out of the window itself, disappearing into the night.
I tied the injured demon to a chair, making sure of the tautness of the knots, wanting them to be just uncomfortable enough to cause pain, but not so uncomfortable as to cause it to lose consciousness. As I was seeing to the prisoner, Cordelia stirred and moaned. I shot a quick glance at her; her face was slightly bloodied, but she seemed otherwise intact.
The tone of her voice, heavy with concern and fear, took me by surprise. "Where's Doyle?"
"They took him. I'll find out where. We'll get him back."
"We'll get him back," she echoed. And then the unthinkable happened - Cordelia the strong, Cordelia the unflappable, burst into tears. Tears and blood mingled together on her face as she collapsed on her knees, sobbing. "Nooooo!!! He can't be gone. Don't let him be gone. First Angel dies, and now I've lost Doyle-just when I found him."
"Cordelia!" The crying woman's head jerked up, eyes flashing in momentary anger at my tone of voice. "Snap out of it-we don't have time for that now. Do you have a way of contacting Wesley?"
Cordelia nodded her head weakly.
"Then give that useless idiot a call. Tell him to get his scrawny butt over here yesterday and bring us everything he's got on that Barney."
As Cordelia went to the phone, I added as an afterthought. "Tell Useless that we've got a prisoner and describe him-I want to know its weaknesses, how to cause it pain, and how to kill it." I felt my lips drew up into a tight, cold smile. "He's going to tell us everything we want to know-Aren't you Mr. Demon?"
Although it only took Wesley half an hour to walk through the door, it felt like a lifetime. Rage, worry, and impatience warred with hysterical laughter inside me as I caught sight of the former Watcher and now would-be demon hunter. He had on his leather motorcycle jacket and shades, but was wearing cream colored dress slacks, having ditched his leather pants. Probably because they chafed. Poor baby. Well, at least he hadn't seen me cry.
Wesley dropped the big folio book he was carrying on to the table and went to me. "Are you all right, Cordelia?" He reached out his arms to give me a hug. I shook my head sharply, pointing at the book he had brought with my best imperious glare, forcing him to withdraw, his eyes resembling a puppy that had made a mistake on the floor.
Maybe it didn't make sense, but accepting his hug of comfort seemed like accepting that Doyle would not be coming back.
"Right, then - let's see what we have." He held his head up and squared his shoulders in an effort to establish his authority, an effort which Buffy and I both conspicuously ignored.
Buffy looked at Wesley, and pointed at her captive demon. "Ok, Wesley, what can you tell me about this loser?" A determined look crossed the fired Watcher's face as he looked carefully at the demon and then went to his book, quickly turning the pages to the correct text.
Watching him, I had to admit that where it concerned his books and determining what demon was what, Wesley knew what he was doing. He was no Giles, of course, but at least he did know how to do this part of his job and do it well, and that was what was important right now. We needed all the help we could get to get Doyle back.
"Nothing special about him-he's just a basic soldier demon. His type is generally a mercenary-no real strong sense of loyalty to their employer. He has a high pain threshold, but as you've obviously found out, can be hurt. Cold steel will kill him quite easily." Wesley stammered a little as he finished. He looked nauseated, as though the man who fancied himself a demon hunter couldn't quite cope with the thought of demon blood all over his clothes.
Buffy then turned to her captive audience. "You hear that?" She flashed the demon an icy grin as she fondled an enormous knife. I recognized it, with a sudden start, as the one that Faith once owned.... and the one that Buffy had used against its former owner.
"I can hurt you with this -a lot- and I will- if you don't tell me right now everything I want to know."
I had no doubt, as I listened, that because this prisoner was a demon and not a human being, Buffy would have absolutely no problems with making its remaining minutes on earth a living hell if it didn't come clean with Doyle's whereabouts. It occurred to me that it might be a good move for Doyle's future well-being if she knew his demon face, as well as his human face. I wouldn't want someone I... loved... don't start crying now, Cordelia, not now.... to be on the other side of that knife.
Buffy continued, "If you do tell me where your friends have taken Doyle, how many of them there are, and why they've taken him, then...once we've rescued him and gotten back here all safe and sound-I'll let you go." Running the edge of the knife along the demon's cheek-hard enough to cause the thick skin to give way a little, but not so hard as to draw blood, the slayer smiled once again. "Well, what's it gonna be, sport-the easy way or the hard way?"
Wesley opened his mouth to object to Buffy's offer to free the prisoner, but a withering glare from me stifled his protest before it even left his lips. Instead, he shuffled his feet nervously as Buffy waited for the demon to answer.
"You swear that you will release me?" The demon asked, his voice harsh and scratchy. Buffy nodded her head in silent promise. "Ok, I'll talk. That slimy little empath demon lied to me. He didn't say anything about taking on a slayer. If I'd known that, I wouldn't have taken the job-he's not payin' near enough. They're taking him to the LA Grande Hotel where they're plannin' on auctioning him off in the H. P. Lovecraft Room-'cause he's a Seer, see. Barney figures on him bringin' in a hefty price."
Buffy smiled as she looked at her prisoner. "You're doing a good job, so far. Now-how many bad guys besides Barney? And what time is the auction taking place?"
The demon gulped as Buffy played with her knife. "There's Barney, an enforcer demon, and my three mates."
Wesley chimed in, seeming glad to be useful. "The enforcer's just a bigger version of him. He's vulnerable in the same way as a soldier."
"You're doing a good job so far, keep up the good work." Buffy prodded her captive.
"They're holding the auction at 3."
I looked at the clock. "Buffy! It's already 2 and it'll take at least an hour and a half-maybe longer to make it to the hotel."
The slayer turned. "Don't worry, Cordy. We'll get there in plenty of time. Doyle's not the only item on the block." She then turned back to her prisoner. "Right?" The demon nodded his head. Buffy then turned back to us. "But you're right, Cordy. We've got to get going-now. Did you pack up Angel's weapons?"
Making sure her captive was secure; Buffy led us to the basement. As she hefted Angel's two-handed battle-axe, Buffy looked about the room. I could see the sadness move across her face. Doyle and I had started packing Angel's belongings, but much still remained that belonged to him-memories of over two hundred years. We shared a glance, and I was sure that like me, she was hoping that his sacrifice had finally atoned for all the harm he did. A tear rolled from her eye as she steeled herself for the coming battle. Wesley took his knife, in its sheath-thankfully-and taped it tight to his ankle and then checked his small crossbow pistol.
Despair giving way to purpose, now that there might be something that I could do to affect the outcome, I picked up a large crossbow which looked ready to fire, and hefted it. It was a bit heavy, but it would do for me. I didn't know how to handle a sword or an ax, but I knew that I could point a crossbow and pull the trigger. Armed and ready to go, the rescue team got into Angel's old van and moved out into the night.
We piled out of the van as soon as it parked, led by Buffy, carrying a gym bag that contained many items-all of a lethal nature. I followed, eyes swollen with unshed tears, but willing to do anything necessary to get Doyle back. Wesley was right behind me, trying to look the fearless demon stalker, and failing miserably in the attempt. We pushed their way past an overweight hotel security guard down the stairs to the lower level Lovecraft Room, stopping only long enough to take out our weapons and ready them for action.
Barney flashed a feral grin at me.
"Hey, Doyle! Ten thousand dollars! Not bad. Now, if it were that classy-looking girlfriend of yours who was the seer instead of you, betcha the bidding would have gone a bit higher, don't ya think? She's quite a looker. What do you think your girl would have gone for? Twenty thousand, maybe? Even thirty? I bet some of our customers would have wanted to play with her a bit."
I kept silent, but I knew that he was reading my emotions, and enjoying it.
"Before gouging her eyes out, or after, you're wondering? Well, it depends which customer, I suppose. There's some that might even like you, with eyes or without. No accounting for taste, I suppose. But not to worry, these seer's eyes of yours won't be seeing her pretty face again."
Turning to the professional-looking woman standing behind him, he put his best salesman's smile and turned on the charm. "And congratulations to you, Madam! Wolfram and Hart made an excellent purchase! Now, would you like him whole, or just the eyes?"
The woman answered almost immediately in a crisp voice. "Just the eyes-we don't care what you do with the rest."
"Now, wait a minute, ma'am," I stalled. "These visions I get, y'know, they need my voice to explain 'em, and my poor head to contain the splittin' headaches that bring 'em on. If the eyes aren't attached to the head, or the head's not attached to the body, who is going to tell you what the visions say? A couple of little eyeballs rolling around in a cup someplace? Why would the Powers that Be send their visions to eyeballs rolling around in a cup? How are they goin' to speak to you? They'll just, well, roll around, is all. Nah, you need the voice of a true storyteller to make the visions real for you, to spin the tales that give them meaning, to - to -"
The lawyer interrupted, looking at Barney. "Money back guarantee, right?"
"You've got it. I stand behind my merchandise one hundred per cent. With the clientele I have, I'd be a fool to do otherwise."
"Take the eyes, then. He's annoying me."
Taking from his assistant a nasty looking device that looked like it could scoop my eyes out in a second, he approached me and grinned again. "Just stay still, Doyle. It'll all be over in a second." Barney then looked around at his hench-demons and laughed. "You know, there's no sensation quite like the fear coming from your victim. You soldier boys don't know what you're missing."
As Barney finished his last word, every head in the room turned rapidly towards the double doors as they flew open, revealing the trio-Buffy in the center wielding her battle axe, Cordelia on her left, her crossbow ready to fire, and Wesley on the right, aiming his small, hand held crossbow at one of the soldier demons standing next to me. Wesley fired first, missing his target, but almost hitting me, the quarrel missing my ear by the smallest fraction of a millimeter. I yelled out, relief mixed with outrage and fear, "Wesley! Shoot at the bad demons-not me!"
Barney turned towards his flunkies, and waving at the trio, yelled, "Get them!" As his mercenaries move to attack, both Barney and the representative of Wolfram and Hart took the opportunity to slip out the back way.
Cordelia proved a better shot, fortunately for me, as she fired at the same demon-who at that time was preparing to snap my head off. The bolt from her crossbow pierced the heart of the demon, felling him. She then charged towards me, waving her crossbow like an ax, the ferocity of her charge alone driving back the demon facing her.
Wesley also charged forth, stumbling over a fold in the carpet. In a futile effort to catch himself before he fell, he pushed Cordelia, launching her towards where I was seated, tied to the chair. She landed on my lap, her momentum knocking the chair backwards.
"Fancy meeting you here, sweetheart." I whispered huskily at the beautiful brunette on top of me.
"Hi, yourself." Cordelia stopped to give me a quick kiss, smelling like tears and heaven all wrapped up into one, then rolled off me and started to work on my bindings. As her soft hands worked at my wrists, I watched the fight continue.
Buffy swung her ax at the larger of the two demons facing her. He had drawn a sword of his own and came at her, while his companion maneuvered for a flanking attack on the slayer. Buffy easily parried the attack of the enforcer demon, the mass of her battleaxe breaking his sword. Unfortunately for the enforcer demon, his companion had tripped over the hapless Wesley who was at that time trying to free his knife from his scabbard. Buffy forced her prey back through her superior agility and skill, mixing slashes with her ax with kicks and elbow punches, at one time using a reverse swipe with the ax to decapitate a demon that had come up behind her.
Buffy had finally driven her opponent to the ground and was prepared to deliver the killing stroke when Wesley chose that moment to finally free his knife. As he stood up, one of the demons pushed him into the slayer, knocking both of them on the ground, he on top of her, his face nestled on her breasts, her ax knocked away from her lying on the floor. The demon, with a smirk on his face as he imagined the bonus he would get for killing the slayer, took the ax lying on the floor and lifted it to strike. Buffy, grabbing the knife that Wesley still held loosely in his hand, quickly threw it, hitting her target in the throat. The demon dropped the ax and fell back, yelling in pain. Pushing Wesley off of her, the slayer scrambled up from the floor and grabbing the ax, struck and decapitated the enforcer with one smooth stroke.
If my hands had been free, I might have applauded. But there wasn't time for that either.
Cordelia had just finished untying my hands when, out of the corner of my eye; I saw the last demon preparing to bring down an expensive-looking vase on top of Cordelia's head. Moving faster than I ever have, I pushed Cordelia to the side and threw the sharp implement that Barney had planned to use on me at the demon, hitting him in the eye. The demon staggered in pain as Cordelia got up. After shooting a glance at me that combined irritation at the shove with gratitude at saving her life, she picked up a small statue and clobbered the staggering demon upside the head with it.
Although her blow had driven the demon to his knees, it wasn't enough for my Cordelia.She kept on hitting the demon, turning his head into pulp, using the demon to work out all of her built up anger and stress.
"That's for kidnapping my man! That's for Angel! That's for my father! That's for Xander!"
Finally, I got up and went to her, and grabbing her arm, stopped her. She then turned to him, and looked at me, tears streaming down her cheeks.
"It's Ok, love. We're safe now. We've survived and we're together. That's what he wanted." I held her in my arms, and she hugged me close as she cried.
Catching my breath, I turned around to survey the room, and stopped short, wondering at what I saw.
In the center of a circle of half-shattered treasures, each of which could probably have paid her rent for the rest of her life, Cordelia stood, ignoring the debris scattered around her feet. Her arms were wrapped around Doyle, her face bright with tears and fierce with an expression that I'd never seen on it before.
The sight of it made me ache with emptiness.
I remember how queasy I always used to feel when I caught a glimpse of Cordelia and Xander surreptitiously pawing at each other. This was so different. The tenderness in her hands as she touched his face and his hair... it hurt to watch. She was no longer even noticing that anyone else was here.
Grabbing Wesley, who had a hangdog expression on his face as he stared at Cordelia and Doyle, I pushed him out the door and followed, determined to give them a few minutes of privacy.
While Wesley tried to apologize for falling on me and then tried to talk me out of letting the captive demon go, and while I was conspicuously ignoring him, my thoughts were with the two in the room behind us.
Damn it, love has gotten to her, even Cordelia.
Will I ever feel again the way they feel right now? Or will I walk around for the rest of my life with nothing inside me but dust?
I don't even have that much of him to keep.
The morning light came in slowly, while I lay awake, watching him sleep.
I watched the play of light and shadows on his face. He's older than me, I know, but when he sleeps, his face is as clean and perfect as a child's.
You don't really see how good-looking he is when he's slouching and making faces and trying to be funny, the way he does most of the time when he's awake. Maybe that's why it took me so long to notice.
Buffy had left for Sunnydale, and we were almost finished with closing up the office, but neither one of us was quite sure what to do next. If the two of us were going to stay in L.A., we would both have to work for a living, what a thought! There were things we needed to talk about.
We had both been way too scared even to begin.
He moved a little, starting to wake up, and I slid down close to him. Very, very lightly I started tracing the line of his jaw with one finger, bringing my own face close enough that I could enjoy the special fragrance of his skin.
Already, that particular scent had become something I needed, like a part of me.
I didn't know if I would be able to go without it ever again.
He stirred and murmured, half-waking, and brought an arm invitingly around me. I cuddled close against him, feeling so incredibly lucky to have him here.
After a while, he opened his eyes lazily. "Mornin', princess."
"Good morning, yourself." That jawline was just too appealing to leave alone, so I explored it with light kisses, all the way down to his chin.
He laughed softly. "Ah, tickle me, will ya? Well, I was havin' a splendid dream, but, d'you know what?"
"Waking up is better."
"I'm glad," I said softly, and brought my lips gently to his. Against his cheek, I whispered, "Same here."
His arms went around me, tight, and we didn't talk for a while.
A delicious hour or so later, I was back to touching him again. Somehow I couldn't seem to stop. This time I was playing with his hair, and he chuckled at me.
"Am I your new toy, then?"
"The only one I want."
He sat up, and I put my hands on his shoulders, and began massaging his neck and back. He sighed contentedly, and I felt myself near tears all of a sudden, wondering how long something this wonderful could possibly last.
He must have heard the catch in my breath.
"Something in particular on your mind, darlin'?"
"Mmmm," I responded, enjoying the sensation of my fingers moving against his warm, smooth skin, and the resistance of his muscles under my thumbs.
"I'll try not.... if I can resist."
"I'd like to get to know.... your other face."
The reaction was immediate. I could feel his back go rigid under my hands. All relaxation was gone in an instant.
"Why in the bloody hell would you want that?"
Feeling hurt, I straightened up, my hands falling away. "Well, first of all, so I can recognize you in the middle of a fight."
"Well, there's that," he allowed. "There's been at least once you haven't, and I had some good bruises to prove it, too."
I had heard that story before by this time, and I wasn't going to go there right now. "But that's not the only reason."
"Why else, then?"
"I want to know everything that is part of you. I don't want to be scared of any part of you, whether it's out there in a fight, or right here."
He stared at me for a long moment, and sighed.
"You're a brave woman, Cordelia, considerin' that I'm still scared of it m'self."
"I know," I whispered.
"Harry asked me that, y'know."
"She did?" Absurdly, jealousy overwhelmed me. "In bed?"
"She asked, yes. I wouldn't."
"She was too much into studying demonkind, made me feel like an experiment." In a bitter singsong, he mocked his ex-wife: "How do demons make love?"
Turning around fully to me, he said, "The answer to that was, they don't."
"Oh yeah, some kinds have sex. Not the same thing."
"OK," I said tentatively, "I think I'm with you so far. Go on."
"What else is there to say? I wasn't going to put on a freak show for her entertainment."
I tried not to get angry. "That's not what I'm asking."
"I know you're not."
"I just want to know you," I said again. "Part of it is, I don't want to get scared some time, wondering whether it's you that I'm seeing or not. The other part is, I don't want to be trying to guess if you're still wondering whether or not I can deal with it."
"No need to guess. Of course I'm wondering about that, sweetheart. Aren't you?"
"Sure I am. Only one way to find out."
He stared at me, then looked straight down. "I'm not sure if I'm ready to do this yet."
Feeling hurt, I came back with, "Do which? Show me, or .... what?"
"Showing you, and wherever that takes us."
"I'm not sure what you mean. Do I want to know?"
"Let me try to explain if I can, all right?" He sat on the bed, hugging his knees to his chin. "Y'see, right now, if you get mad at me and call me a stupid, ugly ol' demon, it won't be so bad. You've called me worse things before, anyhow."
I laughed. "True."
"If I show you now, and then you call me a stupid, ugly ol' demon, it's going to be different somehow. Then it won't be just words any more."
"I can't promise never to call you names again."
"I know you can't, Delia," and his voice was warm with affection. "Your temper is one of the most exciting things about ya. I know you'll probably call me more names in a month than most women will come up with in a lifetime. I don't mind much, really, that's just who y'are."
"I want to be able to say that same thing to you, that I don't mind, because it's part of you. I want to get over being scared."
"I know. I want that, too," and he sighed. "It's just.... hard."
We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then he turned back to me.
"I'm going to show ya for just a minute, then, if you still want to see. But please don't ask me to stay that way too long. I don't like it."
"I won't ask you, then."
"Think you're ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be."
"It won't get any easier, will it?"
"No, it won't."
"Then I'm sure."
And... he changed.
Yes, I gasped. I couldn't help it. But I managed not to move away.
"Whew," I said after a moment. "Are those things sharp, or what?"
He laughed, demon-face still on. "Not quite as sharp as they look."
"Awesome. Is it OK to touch?"
"If you want. It doesn't hurt or anything, if that's what you're thinkin'."
"Looks like it would, though. Looks like it would hurt a lot."
Tentatively I reached out. I expected to feel something cold and pointed, like a weapon, or maybe slimy. What I touched felt weird, but it was warm. It was harder than skin, but dry.
"No slime," I said out loud. "That's a big plus."
"OK if I turn back now?"
As soon as his human face came back, I moved straight in and kissed him, hard, just to make sure he got the message.
"Gotta admit, I do like this one better."
"No kidding," he drawled, and I kissed him again.
"But I can cope with the other one, you know. Hey, if I could get used to working as a salesgirl in a dress shop, I can get used to anything. Now that was scary."
"Scarier than a demon?"
"Scarier than anything that's part of you."
He caught his breath. "Oh, Cordelia."
"It's you and me from now on, OK? Even if I do call you names and everything, because I probably will say stuff sometimes, but it doesn't mean anything."
I shook my head. "There's only one thing that means anything, and that's us. That is, if you're with me on this."
"You know I am."
"So, will you forgive me in advance if I ever do get mad and call you a stupid demon? Because you know that's not what I really think."
"I know," he said gently. "And I can't say that it won't sting a bit yet, but knowing, that helps."
"I hope it does. Because, I want you to know."
"I do. You don't have to say the L-word, Cordelia. I'm not asking you for that."
"I want to say it, it's just.... hard."
"Like you showing me the demon face."
"But you did it, because I asked."
"Right again, the lady wins a prize."
"That, I already did." I took a deep breath, struggling to get the words out.
"Will it help if I say it first? Even though you already know it."
"Yeah, it will help."
He reached over and took my hands in his, and leaned close.
"All right, I'll say it first then. I love you, Cordelia."
"I l-l-love you," I finally managed, embarrassed by the tremor in my voice, and then sat back with relief.
"There! That's out! That's done. Whew!" I began to babble nervously. "One big moment, check, over."
"Or maybe, just beginning. Shhh." He bent to kiss me, and I was actually grateful to be silenced. Now, who would have thought that?
We still have a long way to go.
But I don't think he wants to die any more.
I think we're going to make it through.