Circle in the Sand 6

Part 6

She wasn’t sure if she could do this, her heart was racing and her hands felt clammy as she clung onto Dennis’ jewelry box. Cordelia shifted her weight from one foot to the other and knocked again, “Please be in” she uttered under her breath, “Don’t be in” she contradicted quickly. “Don’t be in so I don’t have to do this. I can’t do this; I don’t know what to say”

“No” she knew she had to pull herself together for this but she couldn’t seem to, she’d never had to tell someone that their friend had died. It was hard enough coping with the knowledge herself but she didn’t know what to do if Angel started to get all guilty and stuff. “I have to do this” Cordelia stated, her voice shaky but stronger, “It’s happened, Angel has to know it’s as simple as that. Nothing I can do about it”

“Cordelia?” Buffy asked whoever she was expecting to be there it certainly wasn’t Cordelia. The surprise she felt was showing clearly on her face as she looked the brunette over and watching the brunette mutter to the box she held and fidget on the spot. It wasn’t hard to spot a nervous person, and from what Buffy could tell either Cordelia was highly nervous or she had lost the plot.

The last person she ever expected to show up in Sunnydale had showed up, so she asked her thoughts. “What are you doing here?”

Cordelia looked at Buffy standing in the doorway wearing a robe and her hair mussed up, the obvious came straight to mind and she decided she didn’t want anymore information so she pushed it aside. Like she said in her car, this was a get-it-done situation, so she got directly to the point. “Buffy, is he here?” much to Cordelia’s surprise, her voice came out less shaky and much stronger than before. She didn’t mean to sound bitchy but politeness and ‘how-do-you-do’s’ could come later.

“Angel?” Buffy questioned for confirmation that Angel was who Cordelia asked for. The slayer didn’t miss the fact that the other girl had evaded her original question that left her still wondering what Cordelia was doing in Sunnydale and not in L.A. with that other man. For the most part, the brunette looked good, but then she always had, but there was something not right with her. The other girl was fidgeting nervously, shifting her weight from one foot to the other and then Buffy noticed the tears Cordelia was trying to blink back.

A familiar feeling of dread began in Buffy’s stomach; whatever her friend-come-nemesis had to tell Angel, wasn’t good in the least. “Yeah he’s here, please come in” she urged and stood aside, frowning as the brunette edged past her and watched her fidget in the living room. “I’ll just get him for you”

Clutching tightly to Dennis’ box, Cordelia fought against the tears gathering in her eyes knowing that she needed to do this. To see this through. Glancing at the door behind her, she simultaneously considered bailing on the idea. If only she could get Buffy to give Angel the news. Then she wouldn’t have to look him in the eye. “If he’s busy just tell me. This can’t wait, Buffy.”

Buffy’s initial reaction was to tell her that she might have to wait, but she swallowed back her words once again noticing the glistening eyes and white-knuckled grip on the oak jewelry box. The urgent strain in Cordelia’s voice suggested that something was very wrong. Whatever little comment Buffy was about to make got swallowed back when she noticed the other girl blinking back tears and the white-knuckled grip she had on the oak jewelry box. Nodding, “I’ll just get him for you, sit down” she gestured to the sofa before making a move to get Angel.

She didn’t want comfort. Not here. Not now. She wanted to say what needed saying and get the hell out. “No thanks, I’ll stand because I’m not staying long. If you could just get Angel” her voice was now desperate and shaky as she continued to think about what the hell she was going to say. What was she going to say? Her thoughts were getting all jumbled up in the rapidly rising panic caused her breath to choke up in her throat, she used her free hand to waft air onto her face in an effort to cool down some.

Buffy frowned in concern and hurried upstairs towards Angel’s bedroom; keeping her voice as quiet as possible she rushed into the room, calling for Angel. “Angel, are you finished in the shower? Cordelia’s here and I think something’s wrong”

Angel came out of the shower completely naked and toweling his hair dry, “What? I missed that”

“Cordelia’s downstairs, I think something’s wrong with her” the Slayer repeated.

“Cordy’s here?” he stated in surprise, he knew that she’d rather have her teeth pulled out by an amateur dentist then come back to Sunnydale. The fact that Buffy had said something was wrong had deep concern showing in the form of a frown. “Did she say what was wrong?” he asked.

Buffy shook her head, “No, she just said that this couldn’t wait, but she looks really upset”

That made Angel’s frown and concern go deeper, had Doyle done something wrong? Had something happened? Then his stomach started to churn, had something happened to Doyle? “Can you tell her I’m just getting dressed and I’ll be right down?”

“Sure, I’ll try to find out what’s wrong” Buffy gave him a quick kiss on the lips and headed back downstairs only to see Cordelia talking to the box she held. Concern for the other girl increasing and offhanded thoughts questioning her sanity began to form. “Why are you talking to a box?” she asked, not knowing who Dennis was or the fact that he was in the box made her inquiry sound like she had voiced her concerns for Cordelia’s sanity.

Startled, Cordelia turned to look at Buffy “Dennis is inside so I’m not going crazy”

“I wasn’t implying that you were” she insisted calmly, if it hadn’t been for Cordelia’s obvious panicked state, Buffy would have been a little more firm with her.

“Where’s Angel?” Cordelia demanded, while Buffy had been gone she had a small chance to get her scattered thoughts together and decided it was best to get this over and done with. So she had sucked up her grief and thoughts as best she could with full intentions of telling her ex-employee straight. Though she had just done that, panic was still making her nerves rattle and she shook slightly.

“He’s getting dressed and he told me to tell you he won’t be long” Buffy replied tightening the belt on her robe. “Just a wild shot in the dark here, but is there something wrong?” trying to get whatever it was out of Cordelia might help to calm her down somewhat.

“I just need to talk to Angel” Cordelia replied defensively, her eyes and tone of voice telling the blonde that it was clearly not something she wanted to talk about with her. Sneaking a glance of anticipation at the stairs, she waited for Angel to come down and wished he would hurry up because she didn’t know how much longer she could hold it together.

“Alright, I was only asking” Buffy held up her hands before giving Cordelia a look that said she wasn’t being nosey, the slayer then disappeared into the kitchen to make some coffee. Seeing by now that she wasn’t going to get anything out of her, Buffy decided to let Angel handle her and let the matter go.

Hurriedly buckling his belt as he walked to the stairs, Angel had been going over and over in his head what it was that had brought Cordelia back to Sunnydale and hoping it wasn’t what he thought it was. Even without his vampire senses, he could see the tear stains on her face, he could see the way her lithe body trembled slightly and saw the way she held herself. Shoulders squared, head held high and her chest rising and falling with forced ease, she looked like she was going into battle.

“Cordy?” the old nickname came with ease, although his voice was laced with concern as he waited for her to actually focus on him. Angel knew just as soon as Cordelia locked her gaze onto his.

A choked whimper bubbled up and spilled from her throat, Cordelia’s lower lip wobbled as she tried to hold it back. But the care, friendship and concern in Angel’s brown eyes were all it took for her world to crumble and fall around her. One minute she had been standing tall, the next she was crying into his safe embrace and clutching his shirt with her free hand.

Buffy watched as Angel had enclosed the other girl into a deep, swallowing hug and let her cry. The feeling of dread turned to sadness at the heartbreaking tears that fell from Cordelia’s eyes. She had a feeling it was something to do with the man who had worked for Angel. It wasn’t right that things happened to the good guys, it wasn’t right at all. Though she had never known him, it didn’t make it any easier that a fighter had been lost.

Catching her boyfriend’s gaze, Buffy gave a quick, acknowledging nod and left them alone by quietly slipping out of the back door.

***

Handing Cordelia a cup of hot coffee, Angel sat opposite her at the kitchen table and waited patiently for her to tell him what happened. Not that he didn’t already know the outcome but he thought it would be better for both of them if she talked. Guilt was ever present, feeling as though Doyle’s death was his fault for leaving the fight though he realistically knew he couldn’t have done anything. But even if he couldn’t, Cordelia wouldn’t have been alone to deal with this tragedy.

The hot, hazelnut colored liquid burned her throat but it also soothed her panic somewhat. A humorless smile flirted at her lips, “Nice coffee, maybe you should have given me lessons”

“I doubt it would make any difference, for me to give you lessons that would mean you have to listen to me” Angel gave her a tight smile back at her little attempt to make this easier on both of them.

“For me to listen, you would have to talk with some sense” Cordelia gave back, it amazed Angel how she could be so lost and still give a good comeback. Then it really shouldn’t surprise him, he’d always known that she was stronger than she looked.

“Do you feel…”

“I should prob…”

After a few moments silence, they had both spoke at the same time leaving them both a little tongue tied. Angel conceded, “You go first”

“Okay” Cordelia took a deep, encouraging breath and told him what had happened. “There was a group of pure blood demons that had plans to kill everything with humanity inside. Half-breed demons especially. They had this light that burned the humanity from the outside in and Doyle had to shut it off.” As she told him how it happened, her voice became distant as recent, tormenting memories escaped that place at the back of her mind. The place where things she didn’t want to immediately deal with were put safely.

The horrors of what she saw flashed past her eyes, the sound of Doyle screaming out in pain stung her ears and the deafening silence that had followed haunted her.

Not even trying to imagine it, Angel simply nodded and placed his hand on top of hers, gripping lightly. He knew she would be alone if she went back to L.A and he doubted she had anyplace else to go or anybody else to turn to. “I’m sorr…” he began to say but was instantly cut off when Cordelia held up her hand.

“Don’t” she said a little too sharply, “There’s no point in being sorry, I don’t need or want it because it won’t do any good. It’s happened, nothing can be done about it and no amount of sorry can make it any different so please don’t”

Lowering his eyes, Angel felt guilty for being sorry but she was right what was the point in being sorry? What good would it do now? “I just wish I could have been there for you” he rephrased gently and kindly.

“Well you weren’t” she snapped without meaning too. Taking another deep breath, Cordelia apologized for the way that must have sounded. “I’m sorry but I’m just a little bit stressed right now. I have a lot going on what with Doyle’s death and moving to…”

“Moving where?” Angel asked curious concern filtered through his grief he wondered if Cordelia had any family anywhere besides Sunnydale. He carefully gauged her reaction; feminine, well manicured hands started to fidget with the oak box again, her eyes diverted from his and hair got flipped over her shoulder.

“Since the acting gig didn’t turn out, I started looking to break into modeling” Cordelia embellished a little. “I found an agent in New York who’s more than interested so that’s where I’m headed. The Big Apple”

“Who are you staying with?” he asked next, already knowing she would fib some more. Angel wasn’t sure whether he should be angry at her for lying to him or admire her for her independence. She might not like it but Sunnydale was her home, she had friends and people who cared about her here. She wouldn’t be alone in a place like New York where anything could happen to her and he wouldn’t know about it.

“I have enough money for a hotel until I get settled in my own apartment” Cordelia continued to fib. She wanted to stay in Sunnydale with Angel; he was all she had now well, apart from Dennis. She wanted to stay where she wouldn’t be alone but at the same time she didn’t want to admit that she couldn’t be by herself. “And I’d get another job obviously, that would help”

“What would you do?” Angel inquired next, he didn’t like the fact she didn’t feel as though she could come to him. He could feel the loneliness coming from her, could see the sad acceptance in her tear-glazed eyes and witnessed who she was behind the hair, make-up and clothes.

Underneath the womanly guise she created, Cordelia was lost, alone and scared of being that way. He’d never really gave much thought to her when he became human, sitting here now and seeing her like this he wished he’d kept better care of her. Angel might not know her all that well, but he knew better than to show her pity or sympathy because those were things she didn’t need right now. What she needed was a friend and if she’d give him the chance, he could be that friend.

The more Cordelia spoke the more she realized how silly she sounded, biting her lip to keep from crying again she tried to fathom in her own head exactly what she would do. “I have retail experience so I could easily start a career in retail management. I have secretarial experience so I could go into administration if I wanted” she answered too brightly.

“Cordelia, please just stop okay” Angel halted her next words before they had begun, “You can’t just pack off and leave, not yet”

“I’ll be fine Angel, really I will” she turned pleading eyes on him, even if she didn’t realize it the plea was for him to help her not be alone. She just didn’t want to be alone anymore, once over it would have been fine but not now. Not after she knew what it was like to be accepted for who she was and liked because of who she was. Doyle had given her that; he had given her acceptance and she was sure he would have given her love.

“Do you really want to leave?” not beating around the bush, Angel asked her directly since he figured that was the way he’d get more than fibs out of her.

Lower lip wobbling, tears making the hazel irises shine like jewels and hand grasping his strongly. Cordelia shook her head softly. “What do I have here? I don’t have any real friends…”

“Thanks” Angel commented wryly, clasping her soft hand back and subconsciously taking note of just how soft her skin was and how neatly her nails were manicured. Short, practical and still feminine; even in a crisis she could carry off still looking her best.

“I didn’t mean you” she sniffled through a laugh, “But I don’t have anything of my own, my parents are in jail for tax fraud and my…”

“You have me” he told her firmly and cutting her off again “Until you get yourself back on your feet you can stay with me.” He didn’t want to see her go it alone and in a sense, he owed her.

Shaking her head in denial, Cordelia declined his invitation to stay with him “No, I can’t do that Angel, I have to learn to depend on myself sometime and I may as well start learning now”

“You can learn while you stay here, just for the time being” he tried to make her see that she would be better here with him than going things alone.

To Cordelia, staying with someone she trusted and counted as a friend sounded like heaven but still, she would lose what independence she had gained. “You could come and go as you please, no rules and you could keep a pet beagle if you wanted too” Angel didn’t know if she was a pet person but she could have one if she wanted.

“I wouldn’t be any trouble?” it wasn’t so much a question as it was a statement. Cordelia’s eyes started to fill with hope when Angel denied she would be any trouble. “I wouldn’t get a pet beagle, so don’t worry about that”

“That’s a relief” he replied dryly making another sniffled laugh escape from her, a little more seriously now Angel, still holding her hand, asked her if she was going to stay. “Does that mean you’re staying?”

Nodding her answer, she felt as if a weight had been lifted off her chest and immediately, her world became better as hope shone through the dark cloud. Then Cordelia realized she hadn’t mentioned she had Dennis with her, she was sure that wouldn’t make a difference but he might not want his home haunted.

“You know what I said about not getting a pet beagle?” Cordelia inquired her once-teary eyes now full of innocence, sweetness and light. Although he was glad he had taken away a part of the sadness, Angel found himself grow cautious at that look.

“Yeah…” he said slowly, watching her carefully.

“What about a pet ghost?”

***

Later that evening, Cordelia found herself stood outside of Giles’ apartment, half hidden behind Angel. She wasn’t sure if she could face any of the others just yet, she could just hear their questions, thoughts and little comments behind her back. Well, if they didn’t like the fact she was back then that was their problem because until she got herself back on her feet, she was staying right here in Sunnyhell.

Once again sucking up her guts, Cordelia pushed so she stood in front of Angel and found herself knocking on the door. Refusing to let her nervousness or sorrow show, she pasted the biggest, brightest welcome-me-home smile on her face. The door opened revealing Anya who looked her over once or twice.

“You can’t have him back” was the first thing said to Cordelia who blinked once or twice before recognition set in.

“You’re wish girl” Cordelia said loudly and pointed at her, “You’re dating the guy I wished revenge on?”

“Yes and you can’t have him back” Anya stated again not even moving aside to let Cordelia and Angel into Giles’ apartment until Cordelia firmly said she wasn’t there to get Xander back. “You can’t come in unless you tell me you don’t want Xander” she said as much.

Angel moved his eyes from Anya to see how Cordelia would react to the ex vengeance demon. He didn’t really know what had happened between her and Xander, all he knew was that she had ended up in hospital the same night he and Buffy broke up.

“Believe me when I say I really, really don’t want Xander back” the brunette stated very firmly. “You’re more than welcome to him. Can we come in now? I don’t want to spend all night on the doorstep, knowing my luck somebody would throw quarters at me”

Why had he thought she would be any less than who she was? Angel shook his head lightly, greeted Anya and followed Cordelia into the apartment. If it wasn’t enough that he was still getting the stares from the group, it seemed Cordelia was subjected to the stares now.

“Cordelia, you’re here” Willow exclaimed with wide eyes though Buffy had informed them she had come back she wasn’t expecting her so soon. “You’re in Sunnydale”

“Not really, I’m just a figment of your imagination” Cordelia replied her tone just a little sarcastic. After the last few days the last thing she need was the Scooby gang form of the Spanish Inquisition. “It’s good to see you too Willow”

“I didn’t mean it wasn’t good to um, see you but it’s just, well…” Willow found herself just getting in deeper the more she talked and was relieved when Xander spoke up.

“What Will means is it’s a surprise to see you here again, after all wasn’t it you who said she would rather suffer a thousand fiery deaths than come back to Sunnyhell?” Xander pointed out with a welcoming smile on his face. Though it hadn’t been quite a year since he had last seen her, she hadn’t lost her presence and was as beautiful as ever.

Looking at her first steady boyfriend, Cordelia could see the changes in him; his face showed a little more maturity, he had filled out and developed shoulders, and he held a kind smile on his face. “It’s good to see you too, Xander” she replied with an amused smile on her face.

“But not too good though right?” Anya immediately questioned, looking suspiciously back and forth between them.

“Not that good trust me. He still has the awkward limb thing going on” Cordelia assured her with a grin at Xander that showed him Queen C was still in there.

“Yeah and her brains haven’t yet migrated to her head yet” Xander commented, “So no, not that good”

“Well, it’s good that it’s that good to see each other” Anya nodded with a beaming, friendly smile in Cordelia’s direction now that she was satisfied she wasn’t after her Xander. “If you need more vengeance I can recommend…”

“No!” Cordelia quickly exclaimed, holding up her hands to stop Anya there and then, “No, I had enough of vengeance in high school”

“Well better late than never” Giles calm voice floated into the living room, with Spike closely behind him. “How are you Cordelia?” Buffy had warned him the brunette was in somewhat of a bad way when she arrived at Angel’s mansion earlier.

“I’m fine, it’s nice to see you again Giles” she greeted back a little shyly, she had always thought him a handsome man for his age. Well educated, good natured and very well spoken, and although he dressed in tweed it suited his persona. “Still wearing tweed I see”

“Never bloody changes” the blonde muttered, looking the brunette girl up and down. “Hello pet, still looking smashing I see”

“Thanks…Hey! You did this before” Cordelia half yelled, looking around in question. “Why isn’t anybody killing him? He’s Spike! Evil vampire! Why isn’t he dead? Angel?” turning frightened eyes up to the silent ex-vampire next her, she asked silent questions.

“I’ve asked myself that very same thing” Xander spoke up in glee, “Well, that’s an extra vote on my side”

“Spike’s harmless Cordy” Angel reassured her, “He can’t hurt humans anymore” he gave a smug grin in Spike’s direction. “He can’t perform”

“Steady on mate, don’t go telling the little lady about my performance” Spike glared at Angel before addressing Cordelia. “I perform just fine pet, better than that bloke next to you”

“Ew and will you stop talking to me as though we’re friends?” Cordelia demanded hotly with an equally hot glare. “Last time I saw you, you had Angel chained up and had him tortured. Give me one good reason why you think you have the right to talk to me” she challenged the blonde.

“You know what?” Xander spoke up happily, “I’ve missed her. Welcome back Cordy” the old nickname slipping in easily which earned him a stern glare from Anya.

“Yeah, welcome back” Willow piped up at last after berating herself for her earlier comment. “I didn’t mean to sound weird before, it’s just…” she shrugged helplessly with a small smile.

“That’s okay, I know you didn’t. Believe me, I didn’t want to come back here because hello! Hell hole” Cordelia remarked. Looking around now, she saw everyone apart from Buffy and Oz; she guessed the blonde was off fighting something and she didn’t know where Oz was, but she hadn’t noticed a full moon tonight. “Where’s Oz?” she inquired after a moment or two.

“He left” Willow answered, not looking at the brunette or anyone else; none of them really seemed to care that he had left her. So she figured why tell them anything.

“Oh, wow. Um, sorry things didn’t work out” Cordelia responded a little softly, she could sympathize with the red head. After all, in a way Doyle had left her but it wasn’t as if they had ever been high school sweethearts or even a couple.

“Thanks. Buffy should be back soon, I think Riley’s coming with her” Willow told the group before flinching when she remembered Angel was still in the room. Risking a sideways glance at the man standing silently observing them, she saw him look at her with familiar eyes. The witch recognized those as questioning eyes and waited for the interrogation to follow.

“Riley? That’s the T.A right?” Angel looked at Willow and waited for her response with crossed arms. The timid witch gave a small nod in confirmation and explained in more detail than what Buffy had.

“He’s also part of the Initiative, they’re like this secret government facility that…” Willow began the explanation before being cut off by Spike.

“They’re a bunch of little boys with toys that go around ruining vampire’s lives is what they are” the blonde vampire voiced with undisguised hatred.

“Let me guess” Cordelia asked in an amused manner, “They’re the ones who made you fangless. How’d they do that anyway? Did they hand you over to a vampy dentist to have your fangs removed?” this elicited a chortle of laughter from Angel.

Spike just glared at her, his piercing blue eyes showing how much he wanted to hurt her right then but as usual, as soon as the violent thoughts entered his head the warning bells went off. “No, they put a damned behavioral chip in my head” he growled “Can’t even think of hurting you bloody humans, much less anything else”

“Well, that’s a good thing right? Not for you of course but for the rest of man and womankind it’s a good thing” Cordelia replied with a humored smile. She had expected things to be awkward but she had been pleasantly surprised. In a way, she had Anya and her bluntness to thank for that. “Also good for the ex-vampires of the world” she turned her attention back to Angel. “Can you imagine the carnage if Spike had been able to play get-your-own-back on Angel?” Cordelia stated ruefully. “You’d be in serious trouble mister”

“I can handle Spike, vampire extras or no vampire extras” Angel told her, a little put out by her wording.

“Sure you could” Cordelia relented, patting his shoulder soothingly in an aid to pacify his childish outburst of I’m-tougher-than-he-is malarkey. “So Buffy’s with G.I Joe and Oz is off in the blue yonder somewhere. Wow, here’s me thinking things would never change”

As if to realize she might have unknowingly hurt Willow’s feelings, the brunette turned apologizing hazel eyes on her. “Sorry, I got a little carried away there”

“S’okay” Willow replied meekly, why should she expect anything else? If her best friends didn’t care about her torn and broken heart, how could she expect someone who had only come back to be sympathetic? One day, they would all have broken hearts and they would turn to her for advice but she would be darned before she gave it to em.

“Now that we’re all reacquainted” Giles commanded their attention with a cough and a statement. The Englishman shuffled a few sheets of paper, pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose and looked at them all, Cordelia’s smiling face in particular. “We all have research to be getting on with…”

“Not me mate, I got to get me some violence” Spike made his excuse, giving Cordelia a quick wink that unnerved both her and Angel. His blue eyes twinkled and the little smirk that flitted his lips gave him a devilish, almost irresistible charm that Cordelia refused to find likeable.

Sauntering past Angel Spike paused, raised an eyebrow before whacking his ex-grandsire across the back of the head.

“Oww!” they yelped at the same time, Angel curled his hand into a fist, ready to hit back but when he saw the vampire holding his head he stopped before his fist made contact. Cordelia stepped forward, whacking Spike on the back of his head, adding to the pain he was already feeling. In turn, Spike snapped his head up, growling at the brunette who was smirking at him and looking at him as if to say nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah.

“That’s what you get” Angel stated smugly instead of hitting him.

Shaking the vestiges of pain away, Spike rubbed his chiseled jaw and grinned, “Bloody worth it though. See you folks later, don’t fancy wading through musty books and waiting for G.I Jane to show up”

“Bye Spike, happy growling people to death” Cordelia said in a sickly sweet voice that had the vampire giving her a tight, sarcastic smile in reply. Sighing to herself, she found herself smiling from ear to ear, “I never thought I’d say this but I’m glad to be back” and she got smiles in return.

Unfortunately, Angel was the only one not really smiling. He was too busy thinking about the reasons why Buffy had never given him details about the Initiative and her involvement with them. Or how deep her involvement with Riley actually was. He would have a chance to talk to her when they went out on patrol later that evening and they could talk. That was another thing, why did Buffy keep insisting that she patrol alone?

Angel made a vow to himself to find all this out when they went on patrol.

Part 7

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