She Will Remember You
She Will Remember You
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.
If you don't want him any more, may I please have him?
Spoilers for: "I Will Remember You"
Summary: Angel is more badly hurt by the demon in "I Will Remember You" than Buffy realizes. This was supposed to develop into a Buffy/Doyle/Cordelia triangle, but Cordelia is throwing a fit, and won't let me write it that way.
So.....just consider it an alternate timeline from IWRY onward.
Disclaimer: All things Buffy and Angel belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, Warner Brothers and/or Twentieth Century Fox.
"It's Buffy. She's calling from the .... hospital?"
Cordelia handed me the phone.
"Uh, hi. Angel's in the hospital. Our friend did some damage. I'm just standing around here waiting, would you -?"
"I'll be right over, which hospital?"
She paused a moment. "Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, believe it or not. At least now I don't have to worry about the wall decorations, only about what blood type he is. I don't think they'll buy that he didn't have one, except maybe as a preferred flavor, until today."
I chuckled softly. "I don't think so either."
"Not to mention things like a Social Security number, or health insurance, or...."
"Take it easy, gal. I'm on my way."
Cordelia frowned. "Going over to the hospital to hold poor Buffy's hand?"
"And what of it? Having her man be human, someone who can be hurt, well, it's going to take some getting used to, I expect."
"Don't drool too much when you look at her. It makes you look like even more of an idiot than usual. "
"Jealous now, are we?"
"Dream on. Just, you know, getting hurt and Buffy? They go together. Like...."
"Love and marriage?" I started to whistle the tune a bit, and she pretended to hit me.
"In her case, maybe slime and demons? I just wouldn't want to see another friend get all Buffy-fluffy all over the place, even if it's only you. I might have to throw up."
"Why, Cordelia, I'm truly touched. See ya later."
Yeah, I was going to have to tell her soon, wasn't I?
When I arrived at the Emergency Room, a frowning nurse-type with a clipboard came forward as soon as I started asking about Angel. "Are you family?"
"No, just a friend."
"We need to get in touch with this man's family. The young woman who brought him in -"
"His girlfriend, yeah."
"His girlfriend can't even give us a full name, much less a medical history. This man is going in for surgery and we know absolutely nothing about him."
"Well, he's in good health other than these injuries, far as I know. Parents are dead, no siblings alive that I know of."
"The girlfriend says she doesn't know of any allergies. Do you?"
"Don't know of any, maybe holy water? That's just a joke," I added hastily.
"I wouldn't joke," she said darkly.
I went ahead into the waiting room, where Buffy was sitting forlornly on a couch.
"Hey there, kid."
"Hey." She smiled wanly. "They say he needs surgery, it's just too bizarre."
"I hear ya."
"Can't you just see me explaining to some doctor that, well, yeah, there might still be some demon blood or venom in his system somewhere, and no, I'm sorry but I don't know how that reacts with anesthesia?"
"You're pretty worried, aren't ya?"
"Getting there. I'm glad you could come over. I was going crazy not being able to tell anybody why I couldn't come up with the information they wanted."
I sat down next to Buffy, and we waited.
We didn't talk much, though we tried to pass the time a bit.
"So, once the big guy's out of the woods here, are you goin' back to Sunnydale, or staying here?"
"I don't know yet. If Angel wants to stay in L.A., I can transfer here. I'd like it if he would come back to Sunnydale with me, but we haven't really had time to talk about it yet."
"Gee, can't imagine why."
"I'm glad he has a friend like you, Doyle. Now that he's going to have to learn how to be human, he can use all the friends he can get."
"And what makes you think I can help him with being human, eh?"
"Well, if you can teach Cordelia how to be human, you must be getting something right!"
We both laughed. And we waited some more.
"Getting comfy and cozy, are we?"
I looked up. Cordelia had walked in to the waiting room, and was glaring at me.
"Did ya close up the office, then?"
"Might as well. No more supernatural services to offer to any would-be clients who might call, not unless the slayer here," and she emphasized the word "slayer," "decides to switch to a new line of work."
"Hello to you too, Cordy," Buffy said calmly. "No, there's no news on Angel yet, thanks for asking."
"Well, you would tell me if there was."
"True," Buffy responded with mock thoughtfulness. "Why waste the voice that you could better be using to complain?"
"Gals, no cat fights in the waiting room, please," I admonished with a wagging finger.
Buffy and Cordelia started bickering back and forth about things and people from Sunnydale. None of it meant anything to me, since I didn't know any of the folks they were talking about, so I pointedly ignored them. Letting my attention drift away from the conversation, I got up to stretch and wander around the waiting area.
That's why I was the first one to notice the doctor coming in, wearing that standard, professional "I'm-so-sorry" face that they must teach in med school or something, and I went cold all over.
"Buffy," I whispered, and gestured.
Cordelia saw my face. "What?"
"I think it's bad news."
"You're friends of the man you call Angel?"
Buffy was on her feet and had her hands on the man's shoulders before I even saw her get up. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I'm sorry," he started, and she gripped him too hard, so that he winced and cried out. I hurried over and put my hands over Buffy's.
"Let the man go, darlin'."
Cordelia's head snapped up and her eyes narrowed at that. I noticed, but filed that one away to be dealt with later, not now.
Buffy took a deep breath, and stepped back. "What happened? You have to tell me."
"I'm sorry," he began again, rubbing his shoulder. "Your friend had a severe reaction to the anesthesia. He had already suffered extensive internal bleeding, and there were some unusual test results that we couldn't account for without a proper medical history, but we've been doing all we can."
I heard Cordelia gasp behind me, understanding.
"No," Buffy whispered, and then cried out, "He will be all right, won't he? You pulled him through it, didn't you?"
She saw the answer in his face.
"No, no, this can't be happening, not now, not when everything was going to be right. No!"
Her voice seemed to ring off the walls of the hospital, as she howled her protest.
After all his years as a vampire, Angel died as a human. And so it was that, instead of dust, we had a body to wish farewell, and to bury once he was gone.
That's always been a comfort to most people. It didn't seem like that much of a comfort now.
We had a fine old-fashioned wake for him, and some of the folks from Sunnydale came over to L.A. to see the man out in proper style. Some of them had been treated rather badly when he was Angelus, but they didn't hold it against the man who was Angel, like that Giles fellow who gave such a moving speech about mortality and time. Too bad I didn't write any of it down.
Cordelia's way of dealing with the whole thing was to be angry. All the time. The first few days I never saw her cry, but she was raging at anyone who got in her way. Most of the time, that happened to be me.
She and I had been having the same conversation over and over again, until the repetition nearly drove me mad.
"It's just not fair. They didn't even get a whole day."
"What are we going to do now?"
"Why couldn't he have been more careful? Why did he have to keep trying to be a hero when he was supposed to be just a regular guy? How could he do this to us?"
"How could you let him go after that yucky demon thing when he was just human?"
"Couldn't stop him."
"Didn't you try?"
"Didn't do any good."
"You should have tried harder, then."
I had nothing new to say after the first half-dozen repetitions or so.
More often than not, when she looked at me, she seemed to be hating me just for living.
She didn't say much. She didn't let us see her cry much, either.
Ah, just looking at the girl was enough to cut out your heart.
One thing was good to see. She did have friends. The little redhead, Willow, who sat by her, and that gawky guy that Cordelia kept glaring daggers at, who had the good grace to ignore her, they were right there with her when she needed 'em. That Giles, too. They all had their stories to share, and you could tell all the while that there were some they weren't telling, for all that they could.
Some big blond guy who looked like a basketball player showed up late for the wake, and couldn't take his eyes off her, but he wouldn't get close 'til Willow went to him and led him up to her. When she finally saw him and let him give her a comfort hug, you knew, just looking at him, that he wasn't busy being happy and trying to hide it, like some guys might have been.
Even her parents showed up at Angel's burial, just to be with her, although I'm sure neither of those two shed a tear over him at all.
It had struck my mind from time to time that I might be picking dust off the floor of the office someday, but it had never occurred to me that we would be putting Angel in the ground.
And then it was over, and Cordelia and I were left with the putting away. When everyone was gone, and it was just us, we were left standing there in the middle of the wreck that we used to call our lives, with nothing much to say to each other.
It wasn't until then that Cordelia looked at me with something more than anger in her face, and said, "I guess that's going to be it, then. Back to the Hellmouth I call home. No more auditions, no more apartment, no more.... Dammit, I promised myself I wouldn't do this."
We sat down quietly next to each other on the couch in an office that had never seemed emptier.
She sighed. "So, what are you going to do?"
"Not a clue," I answered, honestly enough.
"No plans? Because even you should have some."
"Not a one. Unless you count closing the bar down the street, that is."
"Is that all it's going to be? I go crawling back to my old life like some kind of a beggar, and you go back to pouring yours down the drain, like it didn't matter to anyone? What was all of this for, then?"
"I haven't the vaguest idea, princess. I'm sorry."
And then, finally, she grabbed hold of me like she would never let go, and she started to cry at last, fighting it with every breath and pounding the couch with her fist, outraged at the tears. "It's not fair," she kept saying, over and over again, "It's not fair, it's not fair."
I held her, and I tried not to cry myself, and I thought of another girl on her way back to Sunnydale, with her heart shattered in a million pieces.
And what was there left here for me really, after all?
"Well then," I said softly after she had quieted down, "If you must go back, then tell me, is there a decent pub to be found in Sunnydale?"
The UC Sunnydale course catalog hit the desk between us with a thump.
"So, here's the deal." Cordelia was in full Queen C mode today. Mine but to listen and obey, I suppose.
"We are not, repeat, not going to talk about what didn't happen with my acting career, okay? I just decided to study drama at UC Sunnydale to improve the quality of my performances, that's all."
"Fine, no problem."
"This teaching thing you did. You still have the license, right?"
"No, it's lapsed now, but I can take a course or two, get caught up." I reopened the catalog and pointed out to her the section that I'd already seen on graduate school. "They've got what I need there. It won't take long."
"I just can't see you as book-man, somehow."
"Oh, I did all right." No need to tell her any more than that, now, was there?
"And as far as you and me, I think we can do okay, we can fake it." She looked hard at me. "Do you think you can handle it?"
"I can handle it," I assured her. "And as for yourself, well, consider it acting practice then, princess."
"And if we absolutely have to share an apartment, it will be a two bedroom apartment. I don't mind Xander thinking I'm involved with you, because I am so over him, you know? They don't need to know it's just because we're both flat broke, and I will not do dorms. I absolutely draw the line at dorms. But you are sleeping in your room, and I am sleeping in mine, is that clear?"
"Clear as crystal."
Actually, it hadn't been all that clear until that moment what our living arrangement would be, but I wasn't going to push my luck by asking any questions. Now, if I could only make sure that the place is not too dusty....
"And from now on, I pick out your clothes, so I don't have to be embarrassed to be seen in public with you, especially on a college campus There may actually be some people there with some sense of style. I won't have everyone thinking that I'm slumming with Leisure Suit Larry. "
And so it came about that in order to save face for Cordelia, she returned to Sunnydale with me as her arm decoration, to brave the horrors of university. I decided to settle for that, for now; and if I suspected that her loneliness had something to do with the game that she was playing, I kept it to myself.
Ah, but it was hard for her to leave that apartment, she loved it so. She kept sighing as we went through it, packing up her things. I think she was even going to miss Dennis.
But then all the packing was done, and we were off to Sunnydale, where I would dutifully pretend that the two of us were together, in order to protect Cordelia's ego.
Oh, well. It wasn't as though I had a great deal of choice in the matter.
I hadn't told her about the last vision I had. I was alone at the time, and when I picked myself up off the floor, I was glad of that.
I hadn't seen my own death quite so clearly in a vision before, and I will tell you, it did shake me, but even worse than that was the other part of the vision.... Cordelia's body, torn in ways no human being ever should be.
You see, if either Cordelia or I stayed in L.A., we were going to be dead within the year. Angel had made quite a few enemies, and he was no longer around to keep them from taking their revenge on us. First one of us, and then the other.... it didn't even matter which one first. The second wouldn't last long after.
We couldn't stay here, separately or together, not without Angel. Leaving L.A. was our only chance of survival.
I didn't plan to tell her. I wanted her to think that going to Sunnydale was strictly her decision, and that I followed her there for no other reason than the fond hope that our little charade would become real someday.
I wouldn't want her to know that saving my own sorry backside was also part of the deal.
By the time we arrived in Sunnydale, the sun had gone down. That was our first mistake.
Cordelia pulled in to a convenience store so that we could each grab a cup of coffee. We were heading back out to the car when a pretty girl with long, blonde hair came up to Cordelia with a squeal of delight.
"Cordelia! I didn't know that you were back in town."
"Harmony?" Cordelia looked puzzled. "I thought you were -"
Something prickled at the back of my neck. Cup of coffee in one hand, I searched my pocket with the other.
"Is this the hunk you found in L.A.?" the girl Cordelia had called Harmony asked, giving me an appraising look.
"Oh, him? Yeah. That's Doyle." Cordelia was frowning at Harmony, and I didn't flatter myself that it was for the way she was checking me out. "Uhh, Harmony, not to be rude or anything, but aren't you dead?"
"Well, actually.... yes."
I managed to whip out the stake just as her face changed. "Whoops, fangs off the gal."
"Oh, I wasn't going to bite her," Harmony grumbled, changing back as soon as she saw the stake. "Blue eyes here, on the other hand... He's not quite human, is he? Is he as tasty as he looks?"
"All right, all right, I'll go now."
As she melted away into the shadows, I asked Cordelia, fast, before she could say a word: "Are you on a first-name basis with all the vamps in Sunnydale?"
"We are not leaving this car until you tell me."
I sighed. Being trapped in a car with Cordelia doesn't sound like too horrid a fate, but then again...
"I've been meanin' to tell you, but...."
"Well, then, spill already. You know what Harmony meant, so what was it?"
"You see, my father was.... ummmm. I don't know quite how to say this."
"How about a really radical idea? Why don't you just -" she snapped her fingers - "say it?" She crossed her arms and scowled. " Who was your father? Some alien or what? Are you somebody's clone or something? Somebody famous?"
"Let me guess. Some Kennedy? Are you one of those Kennedy clones they're always writing trashy novels about?"
"I'm not a clone, Cordelia, and I'm not an alien."
"Well, what are you then?"
Deep breath. "My father was a demon."
"Oh," she said in a very small voice, and for a few moments, said nothing more.
Then, tentatively, she asked, "What kind of demon?"
Breathe, man, breathe. "A Bracken."
"And is that..."
"They're trackers, of sorts. The bloodhound of demons, ya might say."
"Not a big evil?"
"Not a big evil, no. Fairly harmless as demons go."
"Oh." She was silent for another long, agonizing moment. "Well, I guess that's all right then.... I suppose...."
She didn't sound very certain.
"Look, Cordelia, if you want to back off on this living together thing...."
"We are not living together, we are just roommates. Let's keep that straight. And absolutely not, you don't think I'm going to have Xander and the Dork Squad snickering all over town that Cordelia's big-city boyfriend couldn't hack it staying even one night here in Sunnydale, do you? Although if Harmony starts talking 'demon' around town...."
She looked at me for a long time, and I could not read her expression at all.
"Are Brackens strong?"
"For demons, not particularly. Stronger than humans though."
"And what's your deal, demon-wise? Powers and stuff, I mean."
Talking about this was about as much fun as chewing on glass.
"If I take on the.... demon form, I'm stronger," I said reluctantly. " But I don't do that."
"Why not? Is it, like, really bad? I mean, would your head poke through the roof of the car or something?"
Despite myself, I laughed. "No, I don't get any taller. Sorry to disappoint you."
"Well, taller would have been a plus."
Whoa, she was actually joking about it. Maybe there was hope yet.
"Not taller. Just a lot uglier."
She hesitated again. There was an awkward silence, while she waited for me to offer, and I waited for her to ask.
"Well, are you going to show me, or what?" she finally blurted out.
"Here in the car in the parking lot?"
"This is Sunnydale," she informed me with grand condescension. "Unless the car blows up, nobody will notice. The car isn't going to blow up, is it?"
"No, I'm not a fire-demon, Cordelia."
"How's the slime factor? I mean, you won't make a mess on the upholstery, will you?"
"No," I said miserably. But I still couldn't bring myself to do it.
"Look," she snapped, "I don't want to sit here all night. I'm tired, and we have a lot of unpacking to do, and if I stumble over something in the dark on the way to the bathroom, I think I ought to know what you might look like. So, let's get this over with, show me already."
Finally, bracing myself for a scream, I made a really quick transition to demon-face and back.
"What's that? Blink and I miss it? Coward, much?"
Stung by the challenge, I went back again, and held it this time, waiting for her to... what? I wasn't sure what I expected her to do.
Whatever it was I did expect, it wasn't ....
"Agghkkk!" That wasn't her, it was me.
I couldn't believe it. She actually reached out and....
"That sensitive? Sorry. I didn't know it hurt that much."
Returning to my normal face, I shook my head, unable to say anything for a moment. When I could speak, I said, "No. I was just surprised, that's all."
"It didn't hurt?"
"Well, that's okay then, isn't it?"
I opened my mouth, and then shut it again. There weren't any words.
She was still looking at me, and in the shadows inside the car, her face seemed to be swimming. Maybe it was my eyes.
"It's all right," she said softly. "This is Sunnydale. Slayers, witches, werewolves, some of my best friends are vampires, and my ex is dating a demon, so you'll fit right in."
I looked down, and away, still unable to speak. She reached over to me briefly, and touched my hand.
"Still friends, OK?"
I nodded, and she put the car back in gear, and headed out of the parking lot.....
I was awakened by the sound of arguing. One voice was Cordelia; the other one I didn’t recognize. I pulled my pants on in a hurry, headed to the bedroom door, and peered out into the living room.
“If I see you hanging around him -”
“You will what? Turn me into a toad? Puhleeze. You can’t even summon up a toad these days. No powers, no threat, capeesh? Besides, I have zero interest in your little boy toy.”
The girl confronting Cordelia at the door looked human, but listening to their argument, it didn’t take much to figure out who this must be. Since Cordelia’s attention was thoroughly occupied at the moment, I took the opportunity to shift form briefly and take a sniff.
Unfortunately, the other girl happened to glance in my direction just as I did.
“Who’s the Bracken?” she interrupted Cordelia in mid-tirade.
I shifted back quickly as Cordelia looked my way. “Good morning, darling,” she said with exaggerated sweetness, and even though I knew the performance was for the benefit of the audience, I felt a little flutter, just the same.
Cordelia turned back to the other girl. “You can tell Xander that I have so totally moved on, it is to laugh that you should even worry. You can tell him I’ve found someone who is three times the man he’ll ever be.”
“Man?” the other girl sneered. “You go all the way to L.A. hunting for a man and all you bring back is a pathetic little tracker demon? That is so lame, Cordelia! If you were going to go the demon route, you could at least have brought back something that can kick a little butt.”
“You wouldn’t know from a good man if he fell on you naked, Anya. I’ll have you know that Doyle and I have faced down Spike, no less.”
“Oh, yeah? I’ll have to ask Spike about that, next time Xander and I visit Giles.”
Anya smiled triumphantly at Cordelia’s startled look. “You didn’t know that Spike was in town, did you? So I can check out your little story, and I will, too.”
“What would Spike be doing -?”
“He’s been sort of neutered. He’s staying with Giles, drinking pig blood out of a little plastic cup. It’s quite cute, really.”
“Are you out of your freakin’ mind?” I burst out, advancing into the living room. “Spike is in town and no one has staked him yet? I’d say you need us bad around here.”
“Back off, Bracken,” Anya said contemptuously. “We have the situation under control. Keep your bitch on a short leash, and we’ll all do fine.”
Cordelia slapped her. If she hadn’t done it first, I might have.
Anya just laughed. “Go visit Giles if you want to check it out, but not when Xander’s there, because I’d better not see you touch him. Ever.”
“I’d say that Xander is not your biggest worry right now, Anyanka,” Cordelia hissed.
“Anyanka? The vengeance demon?”
Anya looked at me with a proud grin. “The very same. So glad you’ve heard of me. It’s good to know that my name still strikes terror in the hearts of males everywhere.”
“Oh, grow up,” Cordelia groaned. “Doyle, did you have to encourage her?”
“Encouragement is not at all what I had in mind. You’ll be leaving now.”
“Oh, I’m so scared,” Anya mocked. “I’m leaving because I’m done here. Don’t flatter yourself. I’ve done worse to men in my day that Spike ever has, and for much longer. Neither one of you is going to make me lose a moment’s beauty sleep. You, on the other hand, Cordelia, have obviously missed a few nights. Tsk, tsk, how the mighty fall,” she taunted as she slid out the door just ahead of Cordelia’s upraised fist.
Cordelia slammed the door behind her. “Ooohhhh! I would so like to make that woman bleed.”
“Well, other than deliverin’ her warnin’ to stay away from that Xander, sounds like she’s done us a small favor. I wouldn’t have liked to run into Spike when I wasn’t expectin’ him.”
“Does Giles even know that Spike had Angel tortured? I don’t think so! Well, then again, maybe he wouldn’t mind,” Cordelia mused aloud.
“Oh, yeah. When Angel was Angelus, he tortured Giles pretty bad, after he’d killed his girlfriend. I forgot, you wouldn’t know about that. Oh well, doesn’t matter any more. I think we’d better visit Giles and find out what Spike’s deal is. Agreed?”
“Agreed. Oh, and thanks for the good word, there.”
Cordelia looked blank for a moment, then smiled sheepishly. “Don’t let it go to your head.”
“Too late for that,” I muttered, as I went back into my bedroom to get dressed.
Less than an hour later, each of us fully outfitted with stakes in various strategic places, the two of us were knocking on the Watcher’s door. When it opened, I peered past the somewhat haggard-looking gentleman who had given the eloquent speech at Angel’s wake, searching the shadows behind him for Spike.
“Cordelia! What a pleasant surprise.”
“Save it, Giles. Where’s Spike?” she snapped.
Giles’ eyebrows rose, and a small, appreciative smile lit his tired face. “Your time in L.A. has served you well, Cordelia, but kindly refrain from staking my houseguest quite yet. Would you and your friend care to come in?”
“Depends on where Spike is,” I said.
“He’s just a bit tied up at the moment. With chains, in the bathtub, actually. He was becoming a bit too rambunctious.”
“Oh, goody,” Cordelia exclaimed. “Why can’t I stake him now? Because I owe him a little wooden payback.”
“Patience, Cordelia. I realize that has never been your strong point, but do try.” Giles gestured toward his couch, and we entered cautiously. I checked my inventory once again before we sat.
“Thank you,” Giles said, amused. “Doyle, isn’t it? I believe we met at Angel’s funeral.”
“That’s right. Sorry to be rude, man, but this Spike —”
“I know Spike’s capacity for mayhem quite well, thank you. We’ve all experienced it, first-hand.”
From another room, I heard the rotter’s voice call out, sounding highly amused. “It’s you lot again, is it? I should have done you both while I still could, and saved a lot of trouble.”
“Silence, Spike,” Giles called back, quite unruffled.
“Well, if you’re going to talk about me, can’t I at least come out there to defend myself?” Spike said plaintively. “Doesn’t a fellow get any rights around here?”
Cordelia jumped off the couch. Giles reached out a restraining hand, but she moved too quickly. Heading toward the bathroom, she yelled, “You bastard. You threatened me, you threatened Doyle, you tortured Angel. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t stake you right now.”
“Because he’s defenseless, Cordelia,” Giles interrupted, following her. “He’s been rendered unable to harm any living creature.”
“Huh? I don’t get it.”
“We don’t fully understand it yet, either. That’s why we are keeping him around, so that we can determine exactly what was done to him, and by whom.”
“He won’t tell you?”
“Would you stop talking about me like I’m not bloody here? I don’t know myself, luv,” the blond vamp said calmly from the bathtub, where he was well and thoroughly chained up. As I reached the bathroom door, he nodded to me, with a sneer. “You would have liked it, mate. Zap! And when I woke up, couldn’t bite a soul to save my own, not that I have one. Too bad your pal isn’t around to share the joy.”
“I wouldn’t act too happy about that, if I were you,” I said, conspicuously fingering one of the stakes I’d brought. “You surely wouldn’t want to make me lose my temper with ya right about now.”
Spike snorted. “Save it for the girlfriend, bub. If this crew had the stones to stake me while I can’t fight back, I’d have been dust long ago. But no, you hero types are all too freakin’ pure. What a laugh, eh?”
“You are so pushing your luck, Spike.” Cordelia scowled. “If you ever threaten me or mine again, you’re toast.”
In answer, Spike grinned widely. “Oh, I’m so frightened, come close and feel my pulse racing. Whoops! No pulse. By the way, mate,” turning to me, “I guess congratulations are in order. If I were you, I might rather like the way this bitch says ‘mine.’ Where’s the collar then, the one with ‘I’m Cordelia’s pet demon’ on it? It would complete your wardrobe so nicely.”
Giles, who was standing directly behind us, cleared his throat inquiringly.
Spike went on, “There’s a fine addition to your motley crew, now. Didn’t you already have your token demon? Oh, right, Xander’s little tart is retired from the business these days.”
“Shut up, Spike,” Giles said without heat. “You two, with me.” He gestured, and led us back out to the living room.
Before I could say anything, Cordelia was reassuring Giles. “It’s okay, he’s not evil. I’ll vouch for him.”
“Mmmm. The two of you do seem quite close.”
Cordelia gave the older man her most enchanting smile, and lowered her voice. “Well, as far as Xander’s concerned,” she went on in a conspiratorial whisper, “We’re officially together, okay?”
“Truth?” She spoke softly. “He’s the best friend I’ve ever had.” She put one proprietary hand on my arm, and the warm affection in her voice and the possessive gesture made up for what was missing in the words.
Giles gave me a long, thoughtful look. “That’s actually a higher compliment than you might think.”
I nodded slightly, picking up his meaning. “I can assure you, I will never let any harm come to Cordelia, nor anyone she cares for, if I can help it.”
“I am quite satisfied with that.”
Pain slammed me awake, although at first I wasn't certain if this were a vision or just an old nightmare. I had been here before.
Part of this was memory... my distant kin, lying there slaughtered, because I had refused to help. But there were new faces on the victims now.
It didn't matter. They died anyway.
I must have awakened screaming, because my throat was raw, and the door of my bedroom was being thrown open, as though they were coming for me, too.
But it was Cordelia who rushed over to the bed.
There was a sound that couldn't have come from my throat, and yet somehow it had. I was hanging over the edge of the bed, gagging and retching, though mercifully nothing was coming out. I couldn't have gotten up to save my life or hers, as the whole room whirled around me.
Her hands were cool against my face and shoulder, as she helplessly murmured my name. Without intending it, I found myself seizing her hand and holding onto it for dear life. When my mind cleared enough to notice, she was sitting on the bed next to me, with one arm around me, and it would have felt so sweet, if it hadn't hurt so much.
"Is it over?" she asked anxiously. I didn't know how to respond, and I wasn't going to move my head one inch more than need be, so all I did was squeeze her hand.
I meant it to be reassuring. I doubt it was, though.
"It's not fair that you should still have to suffer like this. Angel's dead now, why don't they just leave you alone?"
I still couldn't speak, but I could begin to notice how close her body was pressed against mine, not that I could have done anything about it in this state. I don't think that she was even aware of the way her fingers were stroking mine, as I gradually came up to full clarity.
"It will be... all right... princess," I managed finally.
She snorted, scornfully tossing back the hair that had fallen over her face.
"Yeah, sure. It's not supposed to be like this. Why can't they just let you live a normal life now, for once? And me! I'm not even supposed to care! I'm not supposed to hurt when you hurt. It isn't fair."
Then she abruptly stopped, as though realizing she had confessed too much, but she still didn't pull her hand away from mine.
"I haven't.... finished with them yet.... I guess."
"Well, I don't know what they expect you to do! We can't go around rescuing everybody any more. We're only human... well, mostly, anyway... and we can't go save the world for them."
I managed to smile just a little, although it still hurt. "Mostly, eh?" I echoed. "Thank you."
She looked at me, hard, in the half-darkness of my bedroom, and the hand not still trapped in mine reached out for a moment to touch my cheek. Then she seemed to think better of it, and pulled back.
Ah, how I wished that I could tell Angel. How I wished Angel were here to tell.
Instead there's only us, and what good are we against the Scourge?
"I'll have to... talk to your friend... Giles again, and soon."
Cordelia nodded. "Good idea. Maybe he can figure out a way so you won't get these visions any more."
"Not what I meant."
"Well then," she snapped, "Let him send Buffy after whatever the big bad monster is this time, because there's nothing we can do about it, is there? Listen, are you gonna be all right?"
"Not sure," I answered honestly.
"Well, I'm staying here with you, but don't get the wrong idea, okay? And don't think you can try anything."
With an impatient sigh, she repeated, "Staying. With you. Want me to spell it? Nothing groiny here, okay? Just worried about you, that's all."
"I'll try.... not to misunderstand."
"Good, because I'd rather not have to slap you when you've already met your pain quota for the next decade. So, make some room."
Slowly, still having some trouble moving, I tried to rearrange my reluctant body along one side of the bed. I still didn't have the ability to respond to the nearness of her body to mine, but I wished that I did.
Then again, maybe it was better that I couldn't, quite yet. Because when we settled down in bed, and Cordelia was lying next to me, it was way too close to heaven for me to ruin it now.
Besides, I might never get another chance to be this close to her.
And, if I hadn't just been pounded into jelly from the inside, I wouldn't be smelling the delicious fragrance of her hair next to my face.
By the time she let out a little sigh and turned into my shoulder, putting one arm over me, I was more or less recovered.
I wouldn't have moved for the whole world.
In the silence broken only by her soft breathing, I spent the rest of the night very much awake, and wondering if the Powers really expected me to go back to L.A., even though I already knew that it would be the end of me.
For what? Even if I died, what could I accomplish? What could I do against the Scourge that would be worth leaving Cordelia forever, leaving this sweet promise behind?
It wasn't hard to find the opportunity to phone Rupert Giles while Cordelia wasn't around. To my surprise, it also wasn't as tough as I expected to tell the man what was going on. Maybe a Watcher learns to be a good listener, as well.
From what bits and pieces I'd heard so far, I would guess that the man had learned most of his lessons the hard way. Something we have in common, I suppose.
"Don't do anything yet, and certainly don't go back to L.A., until we've all met to discuss this. I will be inviting Xander and Anya to join us, since Anya has quite an extensive knowledge of demon lore."
"Yah, I hear she comes by it honestly, if you can call it that."
Giles chuckled. "Over a thousand years as a vengeance demon does have its advantages."
I couldn't help wondering what sort of conversation my ex might have with that one, if those two should ever meet.
Then again, the only likely place they might meet would be at my funeral.
"Now," Giles went on, "I gather you haven't yet told Cordelia what would await you both if you return to L.A."
"You've got that right."
"Tell her. If you don't, I assure you, I will. She has the right to know."
"I just can't."
Giles sighed. "Doyle, I've known Cordelia for a long time, most of which, I must say, I didn't care for her much. But she has been changing and growing up quite a bit these days. She can handle what she must. Besides, it's quite obvious that the only one who doesn't know that Cordelia has fallen in love with you is Cordelia herself. She needs you more than she's ever likely to admit, and I would strongly suggest that you plan to survive, for her sake if not for your own. Now I'm going to call Buffy."
By the time we arrived at Giles' place, I still had not found a way to tell Cordelia. As we positioned ourselves on the couch, with Cordelia sitting close enough to me to make me more than a bit uncomfortable, Giles caught my eye with an inquiring look.
I shook my head slightly, feeling miserable, and he frowned his disapproval.
"Cordelia," he said mildly, "I will expect you and Anya to refrain from quarreling during this meeting."
"Wouldn't dream of it," she responded brightly.
"Now, before Buffy, Willow, Xander and Anya arrive, I believe we have a point which needs to be clarified. Doyle?" He raised an eyebrow. "Shall I, or will you?"
"Er, ah, well -"
I was still stammering when we all heard a knock on the door, and I jumped to my feet in relief. "I'll get it."
I heard Giles "hmmmppphh" behind me as I went to the door, and opened it. When I did, I caught my breath.
I'd forgotten how beautiful Buffy was. The sadness in her eyes as she recognized me only made her lovelier.
"Hello, Doyle," she said quietly. "Have you met Willow?" She indicated the pretty redhead by her side, who shot me a somewhat bashful smile. "Willow, Doyle.... Angel's friend."
The way she said it gave me chills. It was like she was giving a knighthood. The tenderness that was still there when she spoke his name was like the most melancholy music I had ever heard.
Giles called out from behind me, "Come on in, sit down."
I returned to my place beside Cordelia, who put a proprietary hand on mine as Buffy and Willow found seats, nodding at each.
"Now then," Giles began, only to be interrupted by a stagey throat-clearing from behind him.
"Don't I get to join this meeting, then? Buffy, Willow, Cordelia. All looking perfectly edible, as usual." Spike gave me a brief, dismissive glance.
"What's this one doing loose?" I demanded.
"I've been behaving myself like a good little boy. Have you?"
"Spike, I warned you last time. Back off," Cordelia snapped at him, her hand tightening protectively over mine. Giles caught the movement, and gave me a look pointed enough that if I'd been a vamp, I would be dust.
"Spike, sit down and be quiet," Buffy said, and although her voice carried little inflection, it was enough for Spike. He found a chair, pulled it around and sat in it backwards.
This was just great. Now I'd have to tell my tale in front of Spike, of all people (and to use the term loosely). A coward's comeuppance, that was.
"Well," Giles said with a sigh, "We might as well wait for Xander and Anya then, and just go over this once. Tea, anyone?"
Mercifully (or not, depending on how you looked at it), the other two arrived soon after. Cordelia merely inclined her head regally at the newcomers. "Xander. Anya."
"Hi, Cordy," Xander greeted her with considerably more warmth. Suddenly I understood why Anya had made her early morning visit. Xander still gazed at Cordelia with a certain softness on his face, a mixture of yearning and regret. Not for the first time, I wondered about the unfinished business between those two.
Hadn't I heard somewhere that Spike had been somehow involved in whatever happened between them? I suddenly found myself wishing I'd paid more attention to the details.
"Now then," Giles began. "Spike, Anya, have either of you ever heard of a group called the Scourge? As I understand it, there's some fairly massive mayhem ahead."
To my surprise, Spike, who had been slouching on his backward chair, sat bolt upright, and Anya reacted much the same.
Giles went on, "Yes, I can see that you have. Anya, let's begin with you, shall we? Would you share with us what you can about this group?"
"All right, I suppose. They go way back, a bunch of pure-blood demons who want to wipe out everything that isn't them, starting with the half-breeds and moving on from there."
"Half-breeds?" Willow asked.
"Human-demon hybrids," Anya supplied.
As I 'd known he would, Spike put in his own helpful little word. "Like Cordelia's pet mick, there."
Cordelia scowled, but said nothing. How does anyone keep secrets in Sunnydale, I wonder....
"Spike, kindly limit your contributions to this discussion to what is useful," Giles chided.
Buffy said, "Well, wait a minute, it may be. Doyle, you fall into their prime target category then, right?"
I nodded. "Too right."
Anya went on, "The half-breeds are only their first target, though. Eventually they intend to eliminate all of humanity as well. Even among pure demons they are nobody's friend, since none of the rest of us are pure enough for them. I remember hearing that one or two of their leaders spent the thirties in Germany, learning how to organize their movement more effectively."
Spike added, "They consider vampires half-breeds, same as your lot," waving his hand toward me. "Can't imagine why."
"So they kill vampires, too?" Buffy asked thoughtfully.
"Don't bother thinking of an alliance, pet. They don't tolerate humans well."
"It wasn't an alliance with them I was thinking about, it was an alliance against them."
Spike nodded slowly, with an appreciative grin. "Slayer, you never stop surprising me. Just might work. With my help, of course."
"Of course." Was that a hint of a smile?
There was something odd going on between those two. But before I could make much progress on figuring it out, Giles was back at me again.
"However, there is an additional problem. Their current base of operations is in L.A." He looked at me again.
"And this is a problem, why?" Cordelia asked.
Reluctantly, my fingers closing over Cordelia's, I spoke. "If either Cordelia or I go back to L.A., we'll be killed."
Cordelia gasped. "That was in your vision, and you didn't even tell me?"
She pulled her hand away from mine for a moment, staring at me, and then put both of her hands on my face. I felt her fingers trembling.
"Promise me," she demanded. "No more secrets."
"I - uh -"
"I am not going to lose you, do you hear? Do you hear me? It is NOT. GOING. TO. HAPPEN," she enunciated slowly and with great distinctness, and then, to my complete astonishment, before the amused faces of all in the room, she leaned in and kissed me fiercely. She didn't break off until we both heard Spike comment snidely, "You two want to use the bedroom?"
Even then, she moved aside from my mouth only enough to say, "Shut up, Spike, or I'll stake you," and then kissed me again, hard enough that my lips would probably be sore for hours.
I couldn't say that I minded much.
"Now then," said Giles, "Since we have that out of the way...."
Buffy said decisively: "Cordelia and Doyle will stay here. We're not risking either one of them."
Spike complained, "Now wait a minute, since when are we so tender-hearted here?"
"Since those two were Angel's friends, that's since when. I'm going to protect his friends, Spike. I owe him that much, and there's been enough dying." Buffy stood up and walked toward Spike, and I could see how effortlessly her every gesture spoke volumes to him. "And, Spike? Don't think you're so useful to us that you won't still be dust if you cross me."
"Cross? Not a word I'm fond of, come to think of it." He met her gaze levelly, without flinching, but it was clear that he understood.
"That's settled, then," Buffy announced calmly. "Now, let's see what we can do about developing our little alliance. Doyle, when is the Scourge going to do whatever it is that they're doing?"
"Don't know. Soon, though."
"Any more details?"
"Just bodies. Lots of 'em."
"Humans? Any fresh kills with the blood still in?" Spike asked eagerly.
This time, it was at least three voices in unison.
"Shut up, Spike!"
"Hey, uh... Doyle."
"Got a minute?"
Cordelia's ex sat awkwardly next to me. I moved over a bit, uncomfortable.
I suppose I shouldn't be. Cordelia met Harry, after all, and I had actually married the woman.
Other than Spike, who was conspicuously ignoring us, Xander and I were alone in the living room for the moment. Buffy and Giles had gone out to shop for weapons, while Willow was doing research, preparing to go to L.A. Cordelia and Anya had called a truce and were in the kitchen, although I'm sure I wouldn't want to touch whatever resulted from that little adventure, and I was preparing for... what? To stay here in Sunnydale like the coward I am.
"Look, uh, Doyle?"
All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the boy blurted out: "Did Cordy ever tell you about the time she thought I was a fish?"
"Guess not." The kid fidgeted, and smiled in an embarrassed way. What was he trying to tell me?
"Think I'd remember that one," I said dryly.
"Hey, it's Sunnydale, stuff happens here." He shrugged. "Swim team, some of us got turned into these scaly things, y'know?"
"Yep, swimboys 'r' us. Back when, Cordy and I, y'know? Anyhow, she thought I'd gone all underwater man for good."
"And you're telling me this because?"
"Because this funny thing happened, when Cordy thought she was talking to fish-me, except I wasn't fish-me, I was me-me, if that makes any sense to you. So she's looking in the pool, at what she thinks is me gone all aquatic-man, and she starts saying it was all her fault, 'cause I joined the swim team to impress her. Which I did, by the way. And then she says...."
His voice dropped to a soft, affectionate tone, quoting words he obviously remembered by heart.
"I want you to know that I still care about you, no matter what you look like. And... and we can still date. Or, or not. I mean... I understand if you wanna see other fish. I'll do everything I can to make your quality of life better. Whether that means little bath toys, or whatever...."
Xander shook his head, smiling at the memory. "I never forgot that. As you can tell."
I sat in stunned silence. Xander looked at me, and seemed satisfied by my reaction.
"So, this demon thing you've got going? Don't let it get in your way."
"She... must have cared a lot for you," I finally managed.
"She did, once," he agreed.
"What happened? Xander Harris, screw-up, happened. When I break a girl's heart, I don't just go halfway, you know. ."
"I get that she's been hurt," I said quietly, still not quite sure why he was telling me this.
"That's a pretty massive understatement," he admitted. "But the point is, it makes me feel a little better knowing that just maybe, she might've found somebody who won't do anything really stupid to hurt her again. Like, for example, sneaking back to L.A. to die."
"Bad move, huh?" I looked at him with sudden respect.
"Yeah. 'Cause, you know what? She's crazy about you. I know her better than anyone, and I can tell. So, do her a favor and try to keep to the alive side of the street."
"I owe her one," he said.
He stood and walked into the kitchen, leaving me to my thoughts.
"Sweet little story, that."
I looked up, to find Spike smirking at me.
"And what frickin' business is it of yours?"
"Actually, you should be thankin' me, Paddy. If I hadn't thrown Red and the boy together, the lovely Cordelia wouldn't have had the slightest interest in you."
"What d'ye mean?"
"Well, I was only in on the first act, mate. I missed the grand climax, so to speak, just heard about it later."
I was silent. He shrugged, enjoying himself too much not to go on, even without any encouragement from me. He even sat down next to me, to my discomfort.
"I nabbed the little witch last year, needed her for a spell. Tossed her and the boy together, locked 'em up, and headed out on my merry way. Turns out, while the two of them were together and thinking they were gonna die, they got a little frisky. Hormones tend to go into overdrive when you think you're about to die, ever noticed that?"
He laughed out loud at what must have been the stone-cold expression on my face.
"Now here's the best part. Wish I'd been there for this, but I didn't get the privilege, had to get it out of the boy when he was in one of his woe-is-me moods."
The vampire smiled maliciously. "Well? Going to ask me?"
"I'm not asking. Tell or not, your choice."
"Not going to beg me then, eh?"
"Not on your unlife."
Spike chuckled. "I see why she moved on to you, Irish. You and the boy have a lot in common."
I waited. I knew that he was going to tell me, simply because he was having fun, but I wasn't going to ask.
"Seems after the boy and the witch got too cozy with each other while they were waiting to die, your Cordelia and the wolf went looking for their squeezes."
"Same bloke that saved your tails in L.A., when I would have had you all for dinner."
"The way I hear it, Cordy and Oz found the kids goin' at it hot and heavy, and your gal ended up setting a new fashion trend in full body piercing. Only wish I could have been there to see her wearing an old iron bar through that pretty midriff of hers. Must have been a delicious sight."
The world went red in front of my eyes. I lost it. Next thing I knew, I was in full demon-form, smashing a fist into Spike's face and knocking him halfway across the room.
He laughed triumphantly, and dimly through my rage, I realized that I had given him exactly what he wanted.
"You just stay in that form, laddie-o, and we'll have ourselves some fun," he crowed, as he leaped to his feet and went after me.
He was quick. Before I could avoid him, he had landed one full-on in my face.
Strong sucker, too. I went flying.
Lucky for me, his bragging was enough to penetrate through my haze of anger. After I hit the floor and rolled, I managed to change back, just before he was ready to kick me in the vitals.
"Damn! Change back again, you bleedin' coward, so I can hit you some more."
I heard a shriek of pure fury. Cordelia, Anya, and Xander were running into the room, and before Xander could stop her, Cordelia had launched herself at Spike.
"I am so going to stake you now. I warned you!"
"Cordelia. I threw the first punch," I said wearily.
Xander looked at me, bewildered. "What just happened here?"
Picking myself up off the floor, I hissed at him, "How did Cordelia end up with an iron bar through the belly? Or was Spike just making that one up to get me to hit him?"
Xander looked stricken. "He wasn't making it up."
Spike laughed derisively. "Why don't you hit him now, then? I'll watch. If I can't make you idiots bleed myself, at least I can have the pleasure of watching you do it to each other."
"Spike, you talk too much," I dismissed him. I was far more interested in hearing Xander's explanation than his. "Well?"
Anya moved protectively between me and Xander. "Don't hurt him."
"Whoa, tomcats!" Cordelia stepped forward, seeing how Xander and I were staring at each other. "Immature much? Do I need to throw cold water on you two now?"
"Sounds like fun," Spike put in, and she responded without looking at him, "I'll make it holy water if you promise to get in the way."
"And on that happy note..." Spike muttered and withdrew to the far side of the room.
"So what's with the testosterone party?"
"Spike's been telling tales out of school," Xander told her. "Unfortunately, true ones."
"Such as what happened to you after he kidnapped Willow and me."
She went very still all of a sudden. "Oh."
"Wait a minute," Anya interrupted. "If your lover didn't know, what story did you tell him about your scar? It must have been a good one!"
Cordelia's face closed down. "None of your business," she said harshly. She whirled, spotted her purse on a chair, grabbed it, and made a break for the door.
"Cordy!" Xander called out.
"'Delia, please, wait!" I said at the same time.
Ignoring both of us, she fled.
Without pausing to wipe off the blood that I could feel collecting under my nose, I followed her out the door.
She was already at her car before I could catch up with her. I was still sore from hitting the floor, but I could move quickly when need be. I had my hand on the passenger side door as she turned the key in the ignition.
She glanced at me, and almost threw the car in gear anyway, but then I saw her face crumple. She couldn't do it. I rattled the handle of the locked door until she finally relented and hit the unlock button.
"Leave me alone," she said weakly.
"Never happen," I said, climbing in beside her.
"I should have just driven off and left you hanging from the door."
"But you couldn't do that."
"You know why?"
"Because I'm not a total spazz who likes dragging people down the friggin' street?"
"Because you didn't want to hurt me."
"So? Your point?"
"I think y'know it, princess," I said gently. "Want to tell me what our friend William the Bloody was talkin' about?"
"Wipe your nose," was her only response. "It's bleeding. There are tissues right over there."
I reached for one and dabbed it to my nose, blotting up some of the blood. She sat behind the wheel, staring straight ahead.
"You can look at me now. All cleaned up."
"Maybe I don't want to look at you."
"Maybe it's the other way round. Maybe there's something you don't want me to see."
Still not meeting my eyes, Cordelia reached around and pulled her shirt partway up, twisting her body around. I caught my breath.
"Go ahead and look. You'll never want to touch me again, but what does it matter anyway."
The scar was wicked, front and back.
"I was going to have plastic surgery. Then Uncle Sam hung Daddy out to dry, no plastic surgery for me. Ever wonder why I don't model? Do you really think I don't know there are better actresses out there? But an actress doesn't have to wear bikinis. A model..."
"So, how ugly am I?"
I was speechless, but for once in my life, my body did the right thing for me. While I sat there, trying to figure out what to say....
"Damn." Never could stop that change when I sneeze. By the time I changed back again, Cordelia's expression had changed, too.
"Then again," she said slowly, "there's ugly and there's.... really, really ugly."
Before I had the faintest idea what was happening, she was lunging at me, much like she'd thrown herself at Spike a few minutes ago. Much like, but not quite the same, after all.
Not the same, because she was grabbing my face with both hands and kissing me like her life depended on it.
Maybe it did.
My arms went around her, and I felt her shoulders shake. She was crying and kissing me at the same time, and I could taste my blood, and her tears.
"Shut up, just shut up and kiss me."
Next thing I knew, I heard Anya's voice dimly, as though from a long distance away.
"It's okay. They're making out in the car. Nothing to worry about."
I ignored her.
After all, I had more important things to do.
When Buffy and Giles returned, they had assembled an impressive cache of weapons. I'd thought Angel's collection was about the ultimate, but maybe not.
Buffy kept glancing at me, as though she was expecting me to say something. I wasn't quite sure what she had in mind.
In a quiet moment, watching her fingering a large and wicked knife, I moved to her side. Giles and the others had cleared a bit of space, as though they knew we needed to talk.
Problem was, I had no idea what I was supposed to be saying.
She spoke first, one hand brushing hair away from her face in a little-girl gesture that didn't match the knife under her other hand.
"You miss him too."
"I keep wanting to ask him questions. Sometimes I almost do, you know? And then I remember."
"I know what you mean."
"You see this knife?"
"Can't miss it."
"It belonged to one of my best friends, or at least she was. Then she tried to kill Angel."
I wasn't looking at the knife. I was looking at Buffy.
"I used it on her. Left her in a coma."
"And you feel guilty?"
"She made her choice. I made mine. But, yeah."
"Like it wasn't worth it if he was going to die anyway?"
She caught her breath sharply, then nodded slightly, almost imperceptibly. "Somehow I thought you'd understand."
"You did what you had to do. That's all we can do."
"Sometimes we have no choice. Other times, we do."
I wasn't sure where she was going with this, so I kept silent. I figured she just needed someone to listen, right now.
"You were his only friend, you know."
"I'm not too sure about that. Looks to me like he had friends here."
"Not really. In all the years since he was turned, as far as I know, you're the only real friend he ever had."
"We didn't know each other very long."
"It didn't take long."
Very softly, I said, "I could be of some help to you in L.A."
"How long have you been having your visions?"
"Four years, give or take a bit."
"Have any of them ever been wrong?"
"No," I admitted reluctantly.
"So, you know for sure that if you come with us, you don't come back. Tell me, then, why are you asking?"
"Because stopping the Scourge, that would be worth dying for."
"And what if, because you're there, and because you were Angel's only friend, I'm so busy trying to keep you alive that they win?"
"Simple answer to that. Don't bother trying. Like you said, I'm going to die anyway."
"The difference is," and this time she looked me straight in the eyes, "You have a choice."
She gestured slightly with the knife, and I stepped back a bit. "I would have killed, and almost did - or died, and almost did - for Angel. Cordelia would do the same for you if she could."
"I doubt it."
"I don't." She smiled briefly. "Once she had to pretend to be a slayer. The same slayer who later owned this knife. She pulled it off, too. Cordelia's full of surprises. Sometimes there are only a few things that make life matter. Having somebody who loves you the way she does..... That's one of them."
"So what you're saying is?"
"There's one thing left that you can do for Angel. And for me."
I was silent. This time I knew what was coming.
"You don't think you're coming back, do you?"
"You haven't had any visions about that, have you?"
"Not since Angel died."
"That means you did before?"
"Just before you came to L.A., yeah. I saw you fighting."
"Well, that's like seeing me breathing. Anything else?"
"Nothing I could make out. But I didn't see you die."
She shrugged then, like it didn't matter any more.
"Whatever happens, it happens. If I die, another slayer is called. Can you say the same?"
"Someone else would get my visions, I suppose."
"Would someone else be there for Cordelia the way you can?"
"Don't count on it. Would you like me to tell you how it feels?" She looked at me again, and the echoing pain and emptiness in her eyes felt much like that knife must have, when she used it on her friend.
"You don't have to tell me."
"Would you like her to feel the way I do?"
"Of course not," I said softly.
"So, you have a choice."
From the depths of my lapsed-Catholic memory, from the days of my youth, a half-remembered quote teased at the edge of my mind. "This day I set before you life and death..." I murmured, trying to recall the exact words.
"Yeah, something like that." She looked at me, and it was almost as though Angel were looking at me through her eyes.
"So, choose to live, okay? Because somebody around here has to do that."
"Even if you don't?"
"I was supposed to die when I was sixteen years old, Doyle. I've survived longer than most slayers ever do. I don't plan to throw my life away, though. If I go, I'll go down fighting, and I'll take as many of them with me as I can. That's my job."
She smiled again, a slow, melancholy smile.
"Let me work out my destiny my own way, okay? You take care of yours. Maybe you and Cordelia can get to be happy, maybe not, but you can try."
I met the knowledge in her eyes with mine. "So, then, if my going to L.A. and dying there just might save your life?"
"That wouldn't necessarily mean that it's the right thing."
"No. Maybe it's my time, maybe not. One way or the other, though, I know that my life isn't what it was, when I had Angel. It never will be like that again. But you and Cordelia, you can have that, if you don't rush off to play the hero."
"You don't think the role suits me?" I tried to lighten the tone.
"Actually, it suits you well enough. But Angel would have wanted you to live. Do you think you could you do him that one last favor?"
"And what would he have wanted for you?"
"Something that I can't ever have again. But you still can, and don't try to distract me."
"Oh, and was I doing that?"
"You tried. I want your word, Doyle, because I know that if you give it, you will keep it."
"How do you know that? You hardly know me at all."
"I know that Angel trusted you completely."
"I never knew that m'self," I said softly.
"I know it. Will you give me your word that you won't go to L.A.? So that I don't have to keep looking over my shoulder when I should be fighting these things and wondering if you're going to show up and try to pull a fast one?"
"Who, me?" I gave her my most innocent grin.
"Save the charm for Cordelia. Will you give me your word?"
I hesitated. Buffy picked up the knife and started playing with it, waiting.
Stalling, I asked, "What was her name? Your friend."
"The one I stabbed with this, and put in a coma?"
"That one, yeah."
"Her name was Faith, and I'm waiting for your answer."
"Faith, eh? What'd she do to Angel?"
"Poisoned him. Only the blood of a slayer could save him, and I'm still waiting."
"Aha. That was when...."
"That was when." With her free hand, she pulled her collar aside, so I could see the mark left there by Angel. I'd known about that already, from a vision, but it was different seeing the scar for myself. "Still right here waiting." She shifted the knife impatiently from one hand to the other, back and forth.
It was almost mesmerizing, watching that shining blade.
"If I promise, will you agree that you'll try to survive?"
"I'll agree. I don't plan to go down easy, and if I can survive, then I will. Now will you promise?"
"As long as you agree to try to live through this, I'll agree not to go to L.A."
She started to reach out to shake hands, then realized that the knife was still there, and put it down.
Our hands clasped. Her grip was strong and warm.
"We have a deal, then?"
"We have a deal."
She smiled, and then moved away.
I stood staring after her, and thinking of Angel.
Chapter 9 (The Conclusion)
Angel: "What happens to the Slayer when these soldiers come?"
Woman Oracle: "What happens to all mortal beings. Albeit sooner in her case."
(I Will Remember You)
Someone had to die, to defeat the Scourge.
It should have been me. But, it wasn’t.
I made that girl a promise. I’ve broken so many promises in my life.
Why did I choose that one to keep?
Just a few minutes before she left for L.A., with all her weapons and all her friends, ready to fight, she reached out to clasp my hand, and I saw that she was wearing Angel’s claddagh ring again.
When he died as a human, he’d been buried with the other.
I touched it lightly with one finger, and she gave me a sad smile in return, then gestured toward the ring that I wore myself, still in the “free and unattached” position.
“So, when are you going to turn yours around?” she whispered.
“When Cordelia’s ready to deal with it,” I answered quietly.
“She may be more ready than you know. Remember your promise.”
“It’s not like I could forget. You made a promise too, darlin’. Don’t you dare lose track of that.”
She nodded. “I remember. But if I don’t come back, I’m trusting you to keep on keepin’ on, okay?”
I shrugged, and she squeezed my hand tightly, letting me feel just a little of that slayer-strength, until I winced.
“Okay,” I finally relented.
“If I don’t come back,” she whispered, “Don’t you think the new slayer might need some help?”
“Come back, and we won’t need to find out just yet.”
This time, when the vision came, I already knew what it would be. I had been waiting for it, sitting alone in a darkened apartment. I’d sent Cordelia off shopping because I didn’t want her to be there when it happened.
I knew that it would be soon.
I know that Giles is past the point of being able to go through this again. A man can only be asked to lose so much, only so many times, before someone else is called to take their turn.
I’m not a Watcher, never will be, but I am a teacher. Trying to drop out of life didn’t change that. I know that now.
What we are, we will always be.
But, how many fallen warriors is one messenger expected to survive? How many times will the Powers ask me to be the seer for someone who will go out and fight and die, all on my word?
When the pain came at last, a few hours after they’d all left, I saw what I knew I’d see, and I almost welcomed the pain.
Angel, Buffy, I will do what you would have wanted. I will be what you wanted me to be.
It’s a lot harder than dying would have been, but it’s what I have to do, and I’ll do it, for both of you.
I only hope that you’re together somewhere now, laughing in the sunlight.