An End of Days
The telephone call from Angel, his voice ragged and strained, had sent them out into the dusk, searching. But they had ended up back at Giles' apartment empty-handed.
They'd faced demons, monsters, rampaging vampires and final exams with jokes and kibbitzing. But when Xander tried for a few jokes, to lighten the tension, they were weak enough that he was thankful when nobody laughed, and attempts at conversation after that spluttered into silence. Anya had fixed her one culinary skill, pasta with sauce from a jar, and they all picked at their late dinner.
Full dark fell, and still they sat there. The dishes had been cleared away, the five - Willow, Xander, Buffy, Anya and Giles - forming an unconscious circle on the sofas and chairs, circling the wagons against an unknown enemy.
A few hours later, Angel burst into Giles' apartment, startling them with his sudden entrance despite the expectedness of it. For some reason, they all tended to forget that he once again had free entrance into the ex-Watcher's home.
"Nobody remembers to knock any more?" Giles asked rhetorically.
"Angel?" Buffy got up to greet him.
"Have you found her?" Angel touched the Slayer on the shoulder, then nodded an apology to Giles, but was clearly not focused on anything but his mission. Buffy stepped back, a little affronted. He didn't see her for months, and this was the greeting she got? Okay, shallow, but a girl had some pride…
Willow shook her head. "No, we haven't seen her. Nobody has, not even her folks. Angel, what's up?"
"Yeah," Xander said. "What's with the APB? She's not in trouble or anything?"
"No. I don't know. I told you. I don't know where she is, and I thought, maybe, she'd come back here. She's…she's pretty upset."
Xander snorted, relieved that it was just another Cordelia Chase hissy fit, and not something dire. "Sunnydale's not exactly the first place Cordelia's gonna show if she's upset."
Willow frowned at him. "Xander.." Then she turned to the vampire. "What happened? I mean, she isn't the kind to just cut and run. Well, she is, but not like that. "
Angel started to pace. "I thought, maybe, she'd be acting on instinct. Sunnydale's familiar to her, maybe…"
"Why not just ask Doyle where she tripped to? They seemed to be pretty..." Buffy's voice trailed off as Angel turned to look at her --really look at her --for the first time since entering. His eyes were wide, and bleak, his skin pasty and worn. "Angel?"
"There was a demon....there's always a demon, isn't there?" Angel made a self-deprecating gesture. "He was looking for me. Cordelia was in the office, I guess he was...hungry. Doyle…we were checking out a lead, and he got a vision…"
"And he ran back to play the hero." When everyone looked at Buffy, she shrugged. "He seemed like that kind of guy where Cordelia's concerned. Half-guy. Whatever."
"Half guy?" Xander asked.
"Doyle was...his father was a demon. His mother was human. It's...complicated. But it was enough to distract the demon. I guess. I wasn't there. I wasn't... I don't know how he got back there before I did, don't want to think about how many laws he probably broke." Angel stared blankly at the wall, the faintest suggestion of emotions rippling across his face. "I should have been there. Damnit, I should have --"
"Guilt noted, and filed," Giles said sharply. "Doyle died, I assume messily -- in front of Cordelia?"
"Yeah. I thought -- I got her back to her apartment, made sure Dennis was taking care of her -- Dennis is another long story. But she was okay, sleeping, and then she wasn't. Gone." He got up, pacing again across the length of the room.
"So, what?" Xander said. "She comes back here to feel sorry for herself? It's not like she hasn't seen demons die before."
Angel turned on Xander, his face demotic. "Shut up!" he snarled. "Just...shut UP!"
Xander recoiled, and Giles reached for the nearby crossbow, in instinct. Buffy put her hand on her Watcher's arm. "They were friends," she said to Xander, who had the grace to look ashamed. They were all on edge, knowing the things that could happen to someone out alone at night, in Sunnydale or not, and Angel's barely-contained anger was only making it worse. Why was he so concerned…
Then she blinked, and pieces fell into place. "Angel? Cordy and Doyle...?"
His face shifted back, and he nodded, his shoulders sagging. "Yes. Only...they'd only just... I should have been there. I should have stayed with her, done something..."
"You went hunting the demon?" Willow asked.
"Yeah. It was all I could do. Something violent."
"You killed it?" Anya asked. "Revenge is good."
"Revenge is useless," Angel said, sounding all of his years. "He's still dead."
There was a sound at the still-open door, and everyone looked up. Cordelia stood there, her arms wrapped around herself. Her hair was tangled and dry, and her eyes were rimmed with red. But the most frightening thing was the total stillness in her face.
"Cordelia!" Angel sounded relieved, but apprehensive as he started towards her. Then he stopped. "Cordy?" His voice was gentler. "I was worried. You should have told me you wanted to come home."
Cordelia looked straight past him, as though there were only two people in the room. "Does it ever stop? The ringing in your ears?"
Angel stopped, looked back to see who she was talking about. His gaze fell first on Willow, who was in his line of sight. Willow was looking at Buffy, so he looked at Buffy.
Buffy was looking at her Watcher.
"Like the sudden absence of noise you didn't know you were hearing?" Giles said in response. His voice was thick, his accent -- not heavier, really, but more noticable. It felt like all the air in the room had settled on the floor, leaving not enough at mouth-level to breathe. "The dark harrow where your soul used to be?" Buffy let out a sound that might have been a sob, and tears were running silently down Willow's face, unnoticed.
"Cordelia?" Angel tried again, trying to break the staring contest the two of them seemed to have established. It couldn't be healthy -- Cordelia was a venter, not a… whatever this quiet-voiced, withdrawn woman was. She needed to scream, and rant, and throw something really valuable. At him, even, at this point he wouldn't mind so much.
As the tension grew, Willow tugged at Xander, who started, then nodded and reached for Anya. The three of them slipped out past Cordelia, through the still-open front door. Buffy followed, touching her Watcher once, ently, on the arm as she passed.
Angel hesitated, looking at Cordelia, then at Giles, then back to Cordelia again before finally following the others.
"Yeah," the brunette said, not taking her eyes from his face, even as Angel passed by her, close enough to touch. "That. Does it stop? 'Cause I can't hear anything. I can't feel..." Her voice broke, but her eyes remained dry. "I can't feel him any more. That stupid Irish bastard went and got himself killed, and that's all they wrote, and I can't feel, I'm so cold..."
Then Giles stepped forward, and she went to him, shuddering with dry heaves. His arms closed around her, and they rocked there, silently.
Feedback would be such a kind thing…