Title: A Face You Could Learn To Love
Author: Amy

Summary: Cordelia's pov in the last few minutes of Heroes, and beyond...  The mourning period. It kind of splits off there, into my version of the story. <g>
Spoilers: Written after Heroes, before Parting Gifts.
Disclaimer:  Joss made the characters.  He killed Doyle.  Evil, evil man.
Rating: PG
Distribution: Just ask.  I have a habit of saying yes.  :)
Feedback:  It's a perfect yum.
Thanks to Tracy, who is a genius in beta and whom I adore.
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I saw it all lay out before me, like something certain-- definite-- and like something I knew I wouldn't be able to stop.  Angel was going to die.  He was going to give up everything, give up the world he had known for centuries, to save these demons... And his friends.  Angel's like that.

I *have* thought about these things before.

So he gripped Doyle's shoulder, a sad goodbye, and Doyle talked about fighting the good fight, talked about how Angel would never know what he was made of until he tested himself.  But it wasn't acceptable to me.  *We* all knew what Angel was made of... We didn't need him proving it and dying in the process.

But I was silent, not knowing what to do, if there was anything that I could do.  And I waited; waiting for something to happen, waited for what was coming.

Instead, Doyle sent Angel crashing to the floor, hitting him squarely in the jaw.

And *then* I knew what was really going to happen.

Doyle turned to me after looking down at Angel's still form, and in two strides reached me, pulling my face towards his, wasting no time.  He kissed me-- Something that, a few days ago, I would have died rather than admit I wanted him to do, but now... Now I would rather die than have him stop doing it.-- and I felt something pass between the two of us, something hot and secret and alive.

I wanted to believe that I wasn't feeling a goodbye in that kiss, that it was just an amazing, wonderful thing that we were finally getting to share.  But I felt the goodbye.  And I also knew, without needing to be told, that it wasn't-- most importantly-- our first kiss.  It was our last.  He gave my ponytail a little tug as he pulled away, and I watched him, wanting to tell him something, anything, that would make him change his mind.

I didn't want him to leave me.

He smiled, sadly, and I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears.  Those pretty blue eyes, eyes that had been in my dreams since I met him...

"Too bad we'll never know..." He trailed off, looking at me seriously.  Then he smiled, and his face morphed into a demon's face.  But it wasn't really a demon's face.  It was *Doyle's* face, and that was important.  I wanted to go back to the kiss, back to that morning, back to the first time we met.  He continued, softly, "If this is a face you could learn to love."

It was, I tried to say.  It was a face that I was *already* falling in love with, after having seen it for two seconds.  It was a part of him, of who we was, and since I was in love with that person, however much I knew, shouldn't I let myself be in love with all of him?

But I couldn't say it.  I couldn't tell him that I loved him, I couldn't let myself get so close, when I knew that he wouldn't be with me in a year, a day... In a minute.  He would be gone forever.  And I wanted him to know that I loved him, so I tried to say it with my eyes, except that no one ever knows how much that really works.  But I think-- Or, like to think-- that he understood, because he turned away and walked toward the broken rail where Angel had fallen.

I distantly heard Angel yelling Doyle's name, telling him not to do it.  I heard Angel clamber up the ladder and reach me, but I didn't take my eyes off of Doyle's back as he leapt from the platform to the demon-killing weapon, wishing that things would work out for the best.

They always had before, after all.

But my wishes were just that, and only that, and I finally knew that they would never come true.  These last few moments, I finally understood what I hadn't before; that I wasn't a child anymore, and none of your dreams came true when you wished on a star.

I watched Doyle's hands burn, and saw him pull apart the cords right before he became... Thin air.  That's really all I remember of those seconds.  It's too hard to think about it for any length of time, anyway.

I cried and cried, until I wasn't sure if I would ever have any more tears to shed, and felt Angel take me gently in his arms as I wept.  He was crying too.  He had lost a friend.  In some ways, I think that that was worse than all that I had lost in Doyle.  Angel had so few friends.  But then, so did I.  And even less people who really loved me.

I put my arms tentatively around Angel, laying my head against his chest, and sobbed.  He led me out of the ship like a broken woman, listening to my tears all of the way home, commiserating with me, crying with me.  He was my friend.  I was his.

And we both really needed one right then.
*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Days slipped into weeks.  I didn't come out of my apartment.  After the first week, Angel called daily, and tried to get me to come to work.  But grief robs you of the desire to do anything but wallow, I guess.  I didn't want to see anyone.  After that night, the night Doyle died, I didn't even want to see Angel, even though he had been there for me when I needed it.  Because he represented what I wanted to forget.

I wanted to forget that I *was* someone who could care about someone else.  I wanted to forget that so many things had ended up mattering to me.  I wanted to forget that everytime I gave my heart to someone, everytime I let myself get even a little vulnerable, I got hurt in the end.

Dennis tried to cheer me up, bringing me breakfast in bed, bringing me the paper every morning.  But having Angel and Dennis around so often, having them *there*, caring for me, and about me, didn't help at all.  I just wanted to be alone, to not feel.

And then one night Angel came to my house.

It was about three weeks after Doyle died.  I had noticed the date on the newspaper that morning, and was surprised that I had been in a cocoon for so long, without even realizing it.  It seemed a fine place to stay; all by myself.  I would work out the how-to-pay-my-rent problem later.  Maybe I would become an independent... something.

I sat thinking all of these things, listlessly flipping the stations on television, when Angel came slamming into my house.

I looked up, and our eyes caught.  I found pain in him, too.  It only convinced me further that if you open up to someone, you'll get hurt.

"Go away," I finally whispered.  I didn't need him.  And he certainly didn't need me.

He stalked over to the couch, a growl starting in his throat.  He yanked me up by the arm until I was standing, and looked me in the eye.  I saw a gold flash there, and was suddenly afraid.

"Shower," he commanded, surprising me.  "Wash your hair and face.  Change your clothes.  How long have you been wearing those sweatpants?  Your apartment is filthy.  Clean it."

"I don't look that bad!" I protested, angry at him for barging in on me like that, and then ordering me around.

"Oh no?"  His mouth curled up in a sneer, and he dragged me, still holding my arm painfully, into the bathroom, shoving me in front of the mirror and holding me there.  "Look at yourself."

I didn't want to, but Angel jerked my arm again, so I obeyed.  And I saw that he was right.  My hair looked worse than I had ever seen it before, greasy and tangled, and my skin was pale and sickly looking.  I had food stains on my T-shirt, and horrible bags under my eyes.  Everything I had ever teased someone about was now true about me.

I tried to stand up straight, to stand up to him, but my voice came out sounding shaky and scared.  "I can take care of myself.  I don't need you, Angel."

 "Oh no?" he said again.  "Because the way I see it, you need anyone right now, and I happen to be the only one around here who cares enough about you
to do something.  Get up, get clean, and be Cordelia again."

"Lots of people care about me," I argued, blinking back the tears that came to my eyes.

"Who?" he said archly.  "Your agent?  Someone you met on an audition?  Even if they did care about you at one time, you've been at home for so long that they've probably forgotten.  Doyle cared about you.  He loved the way you looked, and how you constantly turned him down in that way that you have, and  how you took care of yourself.  And I'm pretty sure he admired what good hygiene you used to have.  Think he would have wanted this?"

I opened my mouth to talk, but he kept going, effectively silencing me.

"Or Xander, if that's who you want to talk about.  Do you think Xander would just *love* how depressed you've gotten, how you don't care whether or not you live or die?  Or Buffy, or Giles, or Oz, or even Willow?  What about me? Do you think I like seeing you like this?" he half-yelled.

I tore my eyes away from his, ashamed.  He was right.  But that didn't mean he had the right to say whatever he wanted to me, to take control of my life.  I told him that.

The sneer was back.  "Then *you* take care of your life!"  He let go of my arm, and I saw his eyes drop in regret as he noticed the red mark that would turn into a bruise there.  "I'll be back in three hours," he muttered quietly, turning to leave.  "And when I am, I hope I'm going to see something different."

It wasn't a threat; I knew he would never threaten me.  It was a plea, rough and angry as it sounded.  And again I felt sorry, for everything.  I turned to look at my reflection again.

When I turned back to agree to Angel, I saw that he was gone.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

I showered for what seemed like forever.  I used shampoo, and conditioner, and shampoo and conditioner *again*, and all of the skin lotions and soaps that I had in my house.  When I got out of the shower, my fingers and toes were pruny and soft, but my skin and hair smelled fresh, and I knew I was clean.

I stood in my towel, blow-drying my hair, and watched as the transformation took effect in the mirror.  Soon my hair was smooth and dry, silky, and I twisted it into a neat knot at the base of my skull.

I didn't bother with make-up, but I took care in choosing my clothes.  I found some black jeans that I hadn't worn in a while, but that were clean. When I put them on, I noticed that they were at least two sizes too big, because I had lost at least fifteen pounds in the recent weeks.  I belted it at the waist and put on a black tank top.  I checked myself out in the mirror.

The lack of color didn't surprise me.  It seemed fitting, which was why I had chosen that outfit.  What surprised me was that, after all of that, everything that I usually do except for make-up, I didn't look at all better.

 Oh, my hair looked clean and tidy.  My clothes were clean, too, and they didn't smell strange.  I didn't have any remnants of food on my face, which
is always nice.  But I still looked lonely, and too-thin, and scared and sad.

I went out to the living room to clean up, and just as I was putting the last soda can in a garbage bag, Angel knocked gently on my door.

I tied up the bag, taking my time, and then went over to the door and opened it.

His eyes were apologetic, tearful, when he saw me.  They fastened on the bruise that was already turning an ugly black, and he whispered, "I'm sorry, Cordy."

I sighed.  I had been ready to yell at him for his treatment of me, but I suddenly didn't have the heart.  Anyone who said that vampires couldn't be as sad as lost little kittens obviously had never met Angel when he was penitent for something.  With a shaky smile, a smile that I didn't feel, I opened the door wider to let him in.

He placed his hands in front of him, shaking away my offer.  "No, thanks.  I can't stay."

I could feel my face getting red with fury.  "WHAT?"

"Someone else wants to talk to you," he explained quickly, hearing my anger.

"What do you mean?" I hissed.  "Like a psychiatrist or something?!  Angel, did you get a psychiatrist for me?!"

"No!  No."  His voice was low.  "But I think it's... someone that you need to talk to."

"Who?" I tried to ask, but Angel had already vanished from my doorway.  I looked after him for a few seconds, angry and mildly curious, and was about to shut the door when a hand blocked me from doing so.

"Hey Cordy."

I opened the door again.  My eyes bugged out.  "Xander?"

He smiled, sort of sheepishly, in that charming way he's always had.  He thrust his hands into his pockets.  "Can I, uh... Come in?"

I held the door open, and Xander smiled gratefully, slipping inside.  He walked over to the couch and sat down nervously.  I sat across from him, in a state of shock.  "I haven't seen you since..."

"Since you didn't say goodbye," he observed tightly.  Then his face relaxed, and he exhaled.  "But that was a long time ago, I guess.  Right now, I just wanted to come by and say... Well... Sorry about your friend.  Angel tells me that you two were close."

"Angel put you up to this?" I asked incredulously.  "You and Angel don't get along."

"Yeah, but we both... I mean..." He trailed off, his hands fidgeting.  "We both, you know, care about you, Cordelia.  And I think it means a lot to him that you get better.  I know it means a lot to me."

I stood up, nervously playing with the knot in my hair until it fell out and my hair splayed messily past my shoulders.  "And why is that, Xander?  Why, exactly, should I get over this and 'keep trying,' or 'get back on the horse.'  Are there other fish in the sea, is that what you're saying?  Is there someone who won't cheat on me the night I had planned on making love with them, or someone who won't die right after our first kiss?  Because if so, please tell me.  I'd like to meet him."

Xander's mouth sagged open at my angry confession, and then he stood too.  He walked over to me.  I realized that I was trembling.

Xander smelled and looked so familiar.  He was clean and had those eyes that sparkled brightly whenever he was feeling something very strongly.  Love?  I hoped not.  At least not for then.  I searched his face as he approached me, and all I could find was concern.  And friendship.

It was enough.

He reached me, and folded me in his arms, stroking my back.  "It's okay, Cordelia.  I know you want to cry, and it's okay."

I was stiff against him at first, not wanting to let go.  I didn't want to let myself feel anything, not after the last thing that I had felt was sorrow, and loss.  I didn't want to be that person, who cried over everything, or even over anything.  I was strong and Cordelia, and I didn't need Xander or anyone.

But he kept holding me, touching my hair and my back, whispering soft things in my ear, making me feel safe and loved and needed and less alone.  And he smelled like Xander, and his arms were Xander's, and so I let go.

I cried.

For a long time, I cried.

I wasn't sure, after the first few minutes, what I was crying *about*.  I just knew that it ached inside, that it hurt to lose so many people that I had loved, or trusted to never leave or hurt me.  I knew that if I didn't let go, even for just a moment, it would stay hurting until I died from the pain.  But one tear became twenty, and then twenty became a thousand, and....

Xander stayed with me through the night.

He held me, and talked to me when I would stop crying for a while, and then held me again when the tears started over again.  We talked about everything, from Buffy and Angel together-- I told him what Doyle told me, knowing that he wouldn't tell Buffy because it would hurt her-- to him and Anya, and my budding relationship with Doyle, and how scared I was when he died.  How scared it made me for any sort of future with love or any kind of specialness with anyone.

He comforted me, cared for me, stayed with me, even made me smile and laugh a couple times, and let me fall asleep in his arms.  It had been a long time
since I had experienced anything that felt like home.  But that did.

When I woke up in the morning, I saw him staring at me quietly.  I blinked, then smiled.  "How long have you been awake?"

"A few minutes."

I saw that familiar glimmer in his eye, and it warmed me, though I knew I wasn't ready for it.  And, anyway, he was in a pretty steady relationship. But Xander, despite our constant fighting, always knew how to make me feel good when he wanted to.  Or even when he didn't want to, like now, when just his stare was doing the trick.

I yawned then, and broke the spell, and he slipped his arms from around me. "I was thinking...  You know how you asked how you could have fallen in love with Doyle?  How you let yourself?"

"Yeah?" I asked cautiously.

"Well, if you could learn to love this face," he grinned, gesturing to himself, "Then I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be impossible for you to love any other."

I laughed.  Silly as he was, Xander always knew how to make a point.

When he went home later that day, things were looking brighter.  I opened my curtains for the first time in three weeks, and put away the tape of Doyle that I had watched until it made my eyes blurry.  I put it in the drawer by my night stand because though I wasn't going to dwell anymore, I wanted my reminder of him to be in a place where I kept everything special to me.

I got up, and dressed, and I brushed my hair and washed my face.  I even ate breakfast.

And when I got to work that day, and saw Angel look up at me in shock, I smiled.

Because I knew that things were going to get better.

The End