| Disclaimer: "ANGEL" is a trademark of Twentieth Television © 1999. |
Author's Note: This story is set before "I Will Remember You."
by Tara O'Shea
1st draft: 16.02.00
2nd draft: 27.03.00
"I don't see why Angel had to actually go to Sunnydale." Cordelia Chase leaned back in her office chair, and spun around slowly. "I mean, all he had to do was pick up a phone and say 'Buffy—there are some Koosh Ball Indians—"
"Chumash," Doyle corrected from the green vinyl couch where he was studying the racing form, a pencil tucked behind one ear. Sunlight streamed through the windows of the office, dust motes dancing in the golden squares. Angel's connection to the Powers that Be (in the form of dark-haired Irishman) hadn't had a vision since his painful flash of blonde Slayer that had sent their vampiric boss scurrying back to Cordelia's hometown, and Doyle was apparently using the lull to catch up on some much needed useless laying about.
"Whatever." She glared at him, and then propped her feet up on the desk. "'There are these nasty indigenous ghosties after you, so be extra careful.' But no—he up and took off, possibly never to return, while he goes and stalks his ex. Which, by the way, in no way actually earns any income for his start-up business—which just happens to support us—"
He dropped the paper beside him and leaned forward, gesturing to the empty "in" box on her desk. "I doubt we'll get much in the way of clients. It is a holiday. Folks will be home, with their families."
She kicked off from the desk and rolled across the linoleum toward him, laughing at his naivetÈ. "Oh, please. And you think bad things don't happen to good people when they're in the bosom of their families?"
"Well, speaking of bosoms—" he let his eyes travel, and she whacked him with the magazine she was reading. "—why aren't you headed home to yours?"
She was saved from answering by the phone ringing. "Oooooh—it's the special line. Wonder if the bossman forgot to turn the oven off, or whatever... " she muttered as she picked up. "Angel? Oh—I'm sorry. Can I help you?" She gave the phone a funny look, and picked up a pen to take a message. "Alan? I'm sorry, I don't—"
Doyle leapt to his feet and started waving at her frantically.
"Oh, Doyle." Cordelia said, apparently mistaking the international sign for "I'm not here." for the international sign for "Wouldn't it be wildly entertaining if you gave another hit man my home address?"
He mouthed "no" at her, pointing to a message pad and handing her a pen. "Oh, he's right here." She held the receiver out to Doyle, evil shining in her hazel eyes. "It's your Mom."
Doyle made the international sign for "I wish it had been another hit man," as he put the phone to his ear. "Mum, hi!" Doyle glared daggers at Cordelia. "How did you—oh. And how is Harry?" he was silent for a moment, listening. "I was gonna call and tell ya... Yeah, well, had to happen sooner or later, with us. I'm fine... No, really."
Cordelia squirmed in her chair at the mention of Doyle's recent gutwrenchingly painful divorce from his wife Harriet, suddenly feeling slightly guilty.
"Here? Will Mike... oh, business? That's a crying shame. Dinner.... that sounds brilliant. No.... absolutely. My place? I don't know... "
"Go on," Cordelia whispered, patting his arm. He looked at her, and then smiled.
"No, we'd be happy to have you. Honest. 412—"
"Hey!" Cordelia lunged across her desk, but Doyle moved deftly out of her reach.
"—Oak Terrace, apartment 212—"
"HEY!" She started pulling the phone back by the cord toward her desk.
"Around seven? That sounds great. I'll see you then. Bye, Mum—" he hung up the receiver just as Cordy got her hands on the phone.
She rolled up the Cosmo she had been reading and took a swing at him, which he ducked easily. "That's my apartment ! You call her right back—"
"Well, Princess, if you'd taken a message instead of putting me on the spot like that—"
"Doyle..." her hazel eyes darkened in fury, and he held up his hands in capitulation.
"C'mon—you've seen my place. I can't exactly have a family dinner there." He turned the charm up to eleven. "Your place is perfect, and it would only be for a couple of hours. And it's not like you had any plans." he paused. "You, ah, didn't have plans, did you?"
She hesitated at the reminder that she wasn't exactly the social butterfly she had once been in the halcyon days gone by living on the Hellmouth. "Okay, so maybe my plans consisted of a turkey TV dinner and fighting Phantom Dennis for the remote control," she admitted, having come to grips with the fact that she had spent more evenings with her invisible dead roommate than she had corporeal suitors with Porsches. "But that doesn't mean you can just muscle in on my house just to impress your mother."
"I'll owe you."
"You already owe me," she reminded him. "I lent you twenty bucks yesterday, which you blew on—I'm guessing— that shirt. And if you did, I'd say you were robbed because I wouldn't have paid more than—Hey, wait a second—you said 'we.'"
Doyle didn't even blink at the segue. "I beg your pardon?"
"You said 'we'd be happy to have you' thus implying plural, as in you and someone else. As in, who else does your mother think is going to be there?"
"Erm... my girlfriend?" he said, hope shining in his eyes.
"Your mother thinks you have a girlfriend?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Forget it."
"I am not turning over my apartment so you can play house in my house with some stripper you get to pose as your—"
"Well, I was actually thinking that perhaps, I dunno, you —"
Her mouth dropped open, and she laughed incredulously. "No way. No way. And have I mentioned, no way?"
"There is nothing you could ever do for me that would get me to say I will spend three hours pretending to be your girlfriend in front of your mother."
"Cordelia, please. I will do anything."
"Anything?" she asked, a cat-like smiling playing across her lips.
He dropped to his knees in classic begging posture, hands clasped as if in prayer. "Anything, you name it. I will be your man-slave."
"Eew. Okay, that is so not helping your case." Cordelia crossed her arms, and looked deep into his eyes, which were pleading with her in a very pathetic, puppy dog kind of way. The kind that might be persuaded to do things involving Gucci shoes if she played her cards right, later on. "But... this place could use a little sprucing up—since Angel's too cheap to spring for maid service, and well... I am more suited to international super stardom than domestic service—"
"Well, you'll get no arguments from me there—I've seen the way you do windows."
"—and my place could definitely use some work. I mean, they told me it was a no-wax kitchen floor, but it's pretty grody. And the bedroom—"
"The bedroom?" He raised an eyebrow, and she whapped him with the rolled up magazine.
"Okay, if we're going to do this, there are some ground rules. No touching, ogling, or otherwise mentioning my girl parts. No pet names. I don't cook, and I don't do dishes."
"You drive a hard bargain."
"Hey—take it or leave it."
"Do I really have a choice?"
"Sure. You can take mom to the soup kitchen, and then on a scenic tour of the dog track."
Doyle rang the bell promptly at six, exactly as he said he would be. Cordelia opened the door and her eyes widened in shock at the apparition on the other side. He had forsaken his beloved scuffed leather coats and wide-collared rayon monstrosities, instead opting for black slacks, and a raw silk grey knit shirt that made his eyes seem almost blue.
"Oh my God. You almost look—hey, isn't that one of Angel's shirts?"
"He'll never miss it." Doyle stepped inside with a rakish smile, and turned back to take in Cordelia Chase in all her glory.
"You like?" She spun around, showing off her new Capri pants, satin top, and Gucci sandals.
"Wow, you look...." Doyle appeared at a loss for words. "I mean, really—Do you have anything maybe less super-model, and more kindergarten teacher?"
"Well, you see... ah... Mum has a certain idea of—"
"She thinks I'm a kindergarten teacher?"
"Maybe a nice sweater set? Something a little..." he struggled, looking for just the right word, "...dowdy?"
"Okay, dowdy so not in my vocabulary."
"You're an actress, right? So for a few hours, just pretend."
"You know, you could have told me this earlier. I could have had time to rent some movies with kindergarten teachers in them, or something. I need time to prepare and research."
"I have enormous faith in you." He dropped the paper bag on the couch, and pulled out several framed photographs which he set on the mantle. Cordelia made an indignant squawk of protest as he took her Queen of the Winter ball statue and chucked it into the bag.
"Fine. I'll just channel Willow Rosenberg for the evening." She took one of the photos down and peered at it. It appeared to be a shot of Doyle with his arms around her, her head tucked under his chin. They were both smiling, in a photo she had no memory of posing for. "Hey, where'd you get this?"
"I have a friend who did it up for me. Normally he does passports, the odd fake ID, that kind of thing. But he owed me, so—"
"Okay, this is majorly creepy."
"Well, we have to make it look like I live here too, right? He's a wizard with computers, this guy. You can't even tell that he put your head on Ha—someone else's body."
"I so can. My upper arms are much more developed, thank you! And what is up with this peasant blouse thing that makes me look like a Partridge Family wannabe—"
"Cordelia, it's just for show, remember?" he chucked the bag full of high school trophies behind the couch, and sat down. She sat down next to him, hands folded in her lap, an earnest expression on her face.
"Right. Okay, so—what do I need to know?"
"What do you mean?"
"I've seen Green Card. Shouldn't I like, know stuff? Like, what kind of toothpaste do you use?"
Doyle laughed. "Cordelia, we're talking about my mum here, not the INS."
"So? It's pretty obvious by the fact that she thinks I'm Laura Ingals Wilder and madly in love with you, that you haven't exactly been straight with her."
"A few little white lies, that's all. I just didn't want her to think, after Harry and I split up, that I was... I didn't want her to worry about me, you know? So maybe I invented a few tall tales—"
"—are living in a dream world."
"— used a bit of hyperbole so's she would think I've made a bit more of myself than I have, and haven't completely loused up everything in my life," he shrugged.
"So, I'm assuming she doesn't know about the whole working for a vampire thing?"
"I told her I tutor rich kids from the valley."
"And she believes this?"
"Hey, I've seen Clueless. Most of it. Anyway, how hard can it be? I recycle some stories from way back when, and tell her it's the Olsen twins or that kid from Jerry Maguire."
"When Harry told me you taught third grade, I was, like 'Doyle? No way.' I mean, it's just really hard for me to picture you...."
"As anything other than a complete loser?"
"Yeah." She watched his face fall, and winced. "I mean, I don't think you're a complete loser."
"Gee thanks, Cordelia. You sure know how to lift a guy's spirits." He got up and started toward the dining room, checking the flatware for spots.
"That's not what I meant. I just... what happened?"
"It's a long story, Cordelia."
"Hey, we have a whole hour, right?"
"Is the food here?" He deftly changed the subject.
"In the kitchen." She followed him to the small kitchen, where the counters were covered with aluminium foil catering pans that had been delivered that afternoon. "What is all this stuff, anyway?"
He lifted the lids, inspecting the contents. "I had them send around her favourite dinner—lamb with mint sauce, potatoes, some fancy French veg. First class, all the way." Using the blue tea towel hanging threaded through the drawer handle as a make-shift oven mitt, he transferred the pans to the oven to warm.
"What's the matter with turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie—what normal people eat on Thanksgiving?"
"Cordelia, you do know that Thanksgiving is something that only happens in America, right?"
"And Canada! And they're practically English, aren't they?"
He stared at her, trying to gauge whether she was serious. He decided he couldn't tell, and that frightened him vaguely. "About that sweater set—"
"Fine," she sighed dramatically, and turned toward the bedroom. He sat down on the bed as she opened the drawer and pawed through the folded clothes. She pulled out a lavender cashmere top, and he gave her the thumbs up.
"So, what's she like?" Cordelia asked when she emerged from the bathroom looking a bit more Laurie Petrie than she had when she'd gone in.
"Mum? She's the strongest woman I know," he said, scooting over as she sat down next to him on her bed. "She was just a kid when she had me, and she raised me nearly all on her own. I mean, we lived with my Uncle Kevin for ages. He's her older brother, and raised her after their folks died. But for a long time, it was just me and Mum."
"What about your father?"
"Never met him. He, ah... wasn't the marrying kind."
"Sorry," she patted his hand awkwardly, and Doyle smiled ruefully.
"Don't be—I'm not. Anyway, Mum got married about a few years ago to Mike—he's American. I don't know him all that well. I mean, I was at university when they got married. And when I came here to the States, me and Harry... well, I just never got the chance to really get to know him. But he makes her happy, and that's all that matters, right?"
Cordelia was pensive. "I don't know. I don't think my parents ever made each other all that happy. Mostly, my dad just gave my mom jewellery."
"That explains a lot, actually," he said under his breath.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, just that... from the stuff that you've said, or haven't said. I just assumed..." he flushed beneath her steady glare. "I should stop, shouldn't I?"
"I think that would be wise," Cordelia agreed. "So you and your mom get along really well, huh?"
"We did. And then, then... you know how it is. We had a bit of a falling out a couple of years ago."
"Why?" she asked, genuinely curious.
"It was complicated, Cordelia," he stammered, and was saved from continuing by the buzzer. "Showtime!"
Doyle took a deep breath as they stood before the heavy oak door, and Cordelia patted him on the shoulder affectionately.
He nodded, and reached for the doorknob.
The woman on the other side of the door was in her late forties, with thick dark hair cut short and curling over her ears and collar of her blouse. Her eyes sparkled as she pulled her son into a fierce hug.
"Good to see you, Mum," Doyle said into her shoulder.
"Look at you!" she laughed as she held him at arm's length, and then pulled him back into a hug. "You're too thin, Alan."
"Mum—" Doyle blushed slightly, casting his eyes downward, suddenly reduced to the age of eight in his mother's presence.
"Isn't the boy too thin?" she turned to Cordelia, who was enjoying Doyle's discomfort enormously.
"C'mon in, Mum." Doyle ushered her into the living room. "This is Cordelia."
"I've heard so much about you." Cordelia smiled her most charming smile, and offered her hand, only to be pulled into a rib-creasing hug.
"Mary Margaret McGinnis, but do call me Peg." Dressed in comfortable slacks and a nubby sweater that looked like it would be soft if you rubbed your cheek against it, Peg looked like the sort of mother that would bake pies in the summer with berries she'd grown herself; the sort of mother Cordelia had never once admitted to fantasising about when the own mother was lying down in a darkened room with a cool cloth pressed to her forehead, a scotch and water in her hand.
"Peg," Cordelia repeated with what little breath she had, and patted her awkwardly on the back.
"Oh! I must get a photo!" She excitedly dug a camera out of her purse. "I finally got one of those silly point-and-click eijit boxes."
"Oh now, Alan don't be that way. Right here, in front of the fireplace." She waved him into place. "Cordelia, dear, do get in the photo."
Cordelia joined Doyle, who smiled nervously.
"Put your arm around the girl!" Peg ordered, and Doyle casually put his arm around her. She stiffened and then, remembering her role, relaxed.
"Watch those hands," she whispered through her smile, and his eyes lit with a genuine grin as the flash went off.
"Would you like something to drink?" Cordelia offered as they settled down on the couch. "I've got diet soda, um..."
"I picked up some nice wine," Doyle added, but his mother waved him away.
"I'm fine." Peg waved their concern away, and opened up the paper shopping bag at her feet. "Now, I've brought you a care package—"
"Mum, you know I don't need—"
"Don't be, now. Kevin brought me enough tea to last me until Doomsday. I've got two packets of Barry's, crackers for the holidays, and three of those Black Magic bars and wine gums—"
"You know, Americans have candy too—"
"—you love so much. I would have brought you bangers and rashers, but they wouldn't keep."
"Bangers?" Cordelia mouthed, confused. Doyle ignored her, a frown creasing his features.
"Uncle Kevin was here?"
"Only for a bit—your cousin Niamh's getting married to some American boy she met on holiday. Kevin and the girls came over so they could meet the family. I would have invited you up, but that answering service of yours—"
"And how is Uncle Kevin, then?"
"You know Kevin. He's been here half a dozen times since Michael and I got married, and still expects Americans to either be cowboys or gangsters. And he's always after the girl in the shop down the road for pub food. He knows she's no idea what he's on about, but you know he doesn't care."
"Chicken, chips, and peas!" they chorused, laughing.
Cordelia was beginning to wonder if Ireland were another planet.
"So, how did you and Alan meet?" Peg asked as they sat down to dinner.
"Blind date," Cordelia replied at the same instant Doyle said, "Workshop."
"It was a workshop on how to have better... blind dates," Doyle scrambled to cover.
Cordelia forced a laugh. "You know, the singles scene these days—brutal. You need every edge you can get, right? And we are in Southern California. Would you like more beans?"
"I'm fine, thank you. So, Alan tells me you're studying to be a teacher?"
"Oh yes, kindergarten. It's my passion. I just love children. I mean, except for the screaming, and throwing up, and not listening or obeying their elders thing. But I just... love the little darlings."
"So how did you decide that you wanted to teach?"
"I mean, why does anyone really become a teacher right?" She laughed nervously., and swallowed a forkful of lamb. "I, um, I wanted to get summers off. That was a major thing—"
Doyle choked on a swallow of wine.
"—and I looked at the degree requirements and thought 'hey, I can do that!'"
He began coughing, and she rubbed his back with one hand. "Are you okay, honey?"
"...wrong ... pipe... darling ," he managed to get out.
"And then I met Doyle, and he just inspired me."
"My goodness, you're quite focused for your age. Good heavens, when I was nineteen...Well, I had himself here to keep me busy."
"Wow. I can't imagine... I mean, I can. I just don't know if I'd be any good at it. The Mom thing, I mean."
"Oh, I was a wild woman when I was your age. My walls were covered with Thin Lizzy records, and I must have seen every single concert they ever played in Dublin. My brother, Kevin, despised it—every last bit of it," she turned to Doyle. "He's a Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem man, your uncle. He was born old, I always used to say. I think every cent I made, I spent on records, or trips over to England to hear this band play, or that band."
"I once drove all the way to Santa Barbara to go to Lilith Faire when I was a sophomore," Cordelia said, wanting to contribute. As if on cue, the stereo in the living room began to blare Sarah MacLachlan. "Dennis!" Cordelia barked out of habit, and the raucous din was silenced.
Peg was mystified. "Who—?"
"Neighbour," said Doyle, quickly, just as Cordelia said "Poltergeist," matter-of-factly.
Doyle froze, and then forced a laugh. "That's my Delia—what a sense of humour, eh? These walls are paper thin, we hear just everything from downstairs through the air vents. Can you me a hand in the kitchen, pet?"
"What?" Cordelia asked in a fierce whisper.
Doyle took a deep breath. "Look, you're doing a fantastic job—tremendous, in fact. But ix-nay on the oltergiest-pay."
"Tell that to Dennis."
"I thought you said he was good with company?"
"Since when do I ever get company? He was good with the Merry Maid. At least, she said she would come back, so I just assumed he didn't do anything ghost-y."
"Well, can you keep him from doing anything ghost-y tonight?"
"I think he's just jealous. Your mother is so way nicer than his mother." Cordelia neglected to mention that Peg was also way nicer than pretty much any mother she had ever known, perhaps barring Mrs. Summers—who (admittedly, under the influence of a demon disguised as two dead children) had in fact attempted to burn her daughter at the stake which almost put her out of the running.
"His mother buried him alive," Doyle reminded her. "Joan Crawford was nicer than his mother."
"You two all right in here?" Peg poked her head into the tiny kitchen.
"I was, ah..." Doyle opened the oven and peered inside, "just checking on desert—"
"—which is in the fridge, darling ," Cordelia smiled sweetly. "I made that fruit tart you like so much, remember?"
"It was all the talk of pumpkin pie earlier that confused me," Doyle covered as best he could.
Cordelia waited until Peg had walked back out to the dining room before leaning in close to whisper "Would you just relax? Jeez, don't be so nervous."
"I can't help it—I want everything to be perfect."
"It's going fine," she assured him.
She favoured him with a radiant smile. "Just remember—Gratitude is expressed best by either something in Italian leather, or platinum."
"So, are you still into the whole music scene?" Cordelia asked as she poured Peg a cup of coffee.
"Oh, there was no time for gadding about after musicians once this one entered the world," Peg's eyes twinkled as she indicated Doyle with a tilt of her head. "Though my husband Michael did get us tickets to Elton John for our anniversary."
Cordelia' s brow wrinkled in confusion. "That's that old guy who plays the piano and was married to that model from the eighties, right?"
"That would be Billy Joel, Cordelia," Doyle sighed. There were times when he wondered if they put something in the water in Southern California.
"Oh. The other old guy who plays the piano?"
"The one from England, do you mean?" he asked, all innocence.
Doyle's sarcasm was lost on Cordelia, who smiled brightly as she began clearing away the dinner dishes. "I always mix those two up."
Peg chuckled as she sipped her coffee. "So, how's work, then, Alan?" she asked as she handed Cordelia her plate. "You haven't said word one about it since—what? Last fall?"
"Work? Oh, it's fine—great, actually. Really great. You know, no lack of kids in this town what need tutors, what with all the kids in the business and all."
"You know, every time I see those twins from that television show, I think of you."
"They are bright girls, that Ashley and Mary Ann."
"Mary Kate ," Cordelia corrected him from the kitchen.
"Thanks, love," Doyle called back.
"Do you think you'll ever give up teaching, Alan? Maybe go in for something a bit more... exciting?"
"What could be more exciting than shaping young minds?"
"Working in a detective agency with a vampire?"
Doyle could hear the sound of breaking glass from the kitchen.
Peg's smile was gone now, and Doyle turned to see Cordelia standing in the doorway. "Can you leave us alone a moment?" he asked her, his face a mask. Cordelia nodded, gave his shoulder a squeeze, and then disappeared into the bedroom, making sure he could hear the door click shut. Doyle turned back to face his mother, and the proverbial music.
"Alan Francis Doyle, I am your mother. And I love you more than anything in this world. But if one more lie comes out of that mouth, I don't know what I'll do. Did you really think Harry wouldn't have told me, Alan?"
"How much did she tell you?" he asked, wary.
"They'll be none of that. She told me enough. In six years, I've seen my only son, what? Four times? You send me letters with no return address, or from post office boxes. You give me phone numbers for answering services, if you give me a number at all. Why on earth do you think you have to lie to me?"
"Gee, I dunno, Mum—maybe I didn't want you to know I was living in a slum, drinking myself half to death, running from gombeen men both human and not so human. Funny—I just figured there are some things a mother just would not want for her child." Doyle's voice was thick with bitterness. "But then, we've never exactly been straight with each other, have we, Mum?"
Peg paled, anger warring with guilt in her pale eyes. "I was going to tell you, you know that—"
"When?" Doyle exploded, anger held in check for years spilling out from behind the walls he'd built when he'd first learned the truth of his parentage. "When, exactly ? When I was old enough? When I could 'handle' it? When I got married? 'Cause I don't remember the subject coming up. When Harry got pregnant? Were you gonna tell me then? Were you gonna tell me that my son or daughter might be born with blue and green spikes, or were you just going to wait and see if the child could 'pass' for human—just like you waited to see if I could pass? You'd have never told me. You'd have let me live a lie for the rest of my life."
"How can you say such a thing? I'm your mother—"
"And I was your son! You lied to me for twenty years."
"Don't judge me, Alan. You don't know—you weren't there. You don't know."
"Know what? That you got yourself knocked up by a—"
"I loved him ," she cried. "I loved him more than anything—I thought we were gonna be a family. I thought... I was so young, and so stupid, and so in love..." Her voice was tinged with a terrible bitterness. "He didn't laugh at me—I had been so afraid that he would, you know? For getting myself 'up the pole.' I'd seen what had happened to my girlfriends. I knew there was a chance of it—that I'd just been a nice ride, 'thank you very much, have a nice life.' Is that just the thing? Truly the most idiotic, childish, stupid... Of all the things that I could have been afraid of— that he'd be furious, think I was trying to trap him, or say the baby wasn't his, I was most afraid that he'd laugh at me. But he didn't. I almost wish he had, now."
She pushed away from the table, and Doyle followed her into the living room. She walked up to the mantel and stared at a photo Doyle had set there hours earlier. In the fuzzy black and white snapshot, Peg was in a mod grey suit, her long dark hair parted in the middle and fell straight over her shoulders. With his arm around her shoulders, a tall man in a hat and coat that looked like it belonged in a gangster movie smiled at the camera. The marquee on the cinema in the background read "A Clockwork Orange." She turned back to her son with eyes bright with tears.
"Do you think it was easy for me, Alan? Easy to go crawling back to my brother—who always knew I'd amount to nothing?" She blinked the tears away impatiently. "To go back to Kevin and Sheila, nineteen years old, not two pennies in my pocket, and pregnant? And your Uncle Kevin—your holier than thou Uncle Kevin, do you know what he did? He was going to put me on a boat to England. To get an abortion. Once second, he's going on about how this country was falling down around our ears, and England was Soddam and Gomorrah—but his hippie baby sister shames the family, and he's writing out a goddam cheque."
"Why didn't you? You were carrying—" his voice dropped to a whisper that wouldn't carry to the bedroom, "a demon's seed—"
"Because I could never do that—I could never kill my own child. And you were all I had. You were all I had of him. But more than that, you were my chance. My chance to do something right." Peg set the photo back on the mantle and ran her finger along the frame of the photo of Doyle and Cordelia. "She doesn't know, does she."
Doyle flushed. "Do you blame me? I fancy the girl—and she's made it quite clear that she doesn't go much for hellspawn."
"Unlike me, you mean?" Her eyes were chips of ice, and Doyle coloured again, but his anger wouldn't let him go. She could see it in him, the same as she knew he could see it in her; the anger and the pride that shook them like a terrier with a rat in its jaws. They were victims both, and too foolish to give it up. "Your da and I—we both of us knew it wouldn't work. But I think he might have tried to make a go of it. I was the one who left. Me. Not your Da. Me."
He stared down at his hands. "You never told me that. I always thought..."
"And I let you. Because I didn't want you to hate me. I couldn't bear it if you hated me. I can't. She softened, some of the fire leaving her. "I just thought... Your da looked human. He never showed me, not until I told him about you. He never showed me. He said that you might... He had some human blood, you see. So, I thought... I'd wait. And nothing ever happened. Every doctor's appointment, I was terrified that they'd find something—but you were normal. A normal, healthy, baby boy and after a while, I started to think maybe I'd dreamed the whole thing."
"Nightmare, more like," he muttered darkly. "If you'd just told me... If things been different, then maybe, you know... Things would have been different."
"But they weren't, Alan. Things happened the way the only way they could. I can't turn back the clock." She reached out and took his hand, and he saw her own was shaking as she did so. "I never meant to hurt you, Alan."
He folded her into a hug, eyes stinging with unshed tears. "I know."
She pulled back and held his face in her hands for a moment, before pressing a kiss to his cheek. "So, Cordelia...?"
Doyle sighed. "Just friends. We work together."
"She's a nice girl, and obviously does care for you, to go to all this trouble. A good friend."
"Better than I've had in a long time, that's true."
"If you really do fancy this girl, then you have to tell her. Don't start out on a lie. Don't make the same mistake I did, that your father did."
"I'm gonna tell her. Someday. When the time is right."
"That's what I always told myself, too. There is no perfect time, Alan. All you do is waste what time you have, waiting."
He started down at the toes of his boots.
"A detective agency—that's a bit of a departure for you, isn't it?" she changed the subject.
"Yeah, well, I got into it a while back. The job chose me, you might say. It's a long story."
"It's a story I'd like to hear, pet. And no embellishing. Why don't you go get the young lady, and we'll make tea and have some of that fruit tart?"
When he knocked on her bedroom door, Doyle found Cordelia playing solitaire with Dennis. She was stretched out on the bed, propped up on her elbows, her chin in her hands. "So, was she really mad?" she asked as the ghost laid a jack atop the queen she had just turned over.
He sat down on the edge of the bed. "Yeah. And then I got mad. And then we talked stuff out."
"Stuff about her and my da. Stuff she'd never told me. Stuff I wish she had... But you can't change the past, ya know?"
"Is she still here?"
"Are you okay?"
"I'm actually relieved, you know? It was getting hard, keeping track of all the lies."
"Well, duh," she said, tossing her dark hair back from her face.
"Feel up to desert?"
"Maybe a little piece." She bounced off the bed, and slipped her shoes back on. "I am, after all, watching my figure."
"I thought that was my job—Ow!"
"And then I said 'Hey, you're a vampire!' and then he was, like, 'No, I'm not.' And then I was all, 'I'm from Sunnydale, we had our own Hellmouth, I know a vampire when I—" Cordelia's anecdote was cut short by the doorbell.
"Oh, that will be the taxi!" Peg said as Cordelia got up to ring the driver in. "Now, Alan, I expect regular telephone calls—birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions."
"I promise, Mum," Doyle said solemnly as he gave her a quick hug.
"And it was so lovely to meet you, pet!" Peg threw her arms around Cordelia, who returned the hug with equal affection.
"It was totally great to meet you too," Cordy said once she got her breath back.
"I expect you to keep an eye on this one for me, and make sure he gets up to none of his tricks—I mean, the Olsen twins, for heaven's sake!" Peg frowned at her son.
"Oh, yes ma'am," Cordelia grinned.
"How foolish do you think your old mam is, then, eh? Eh?" She reached over to ruffle his dark hair into disarray.
"Mum." Doyle coloured, and stuck his hands deep in his pockets.
Peg laughed as she tugged on her jacket. "So Michael and I will be seeing you at Christmas, then?"
"You know, with work and all—"
"Of course, Mum."
"There's a good boy." She gave him another hug and then slipped out the door.
Doyle watched from the window as she got into the cab, which pulled away from the curb and disappeared into the night.
"I like your mom," Cordelia said as she locked up.
"I think she likes you, too," he said, moving from the window to the fireplace, where he began replacing Cordelia's awards and statuettes. As he placed the photo of his parents back in the paper bag, he paused, staring at the man he'd never met—the man he'd only thought of as the demon who'd gotten his mother pregnant and then abandoned her— with new eyes. "Cordelia, if I told you that there was stuff about me that you didn't know..."
"You mean other than, like, while you've been hitting on me since the day you met me, you were already married?"
"Harry and me were separated —" he began, and then stopped. "Yeah. Like that. Would you hate me?"
"What, you've got another wife out there?"
"You're really a multi-millionaire who's only pretending to be a dirt poor drunken gambler with a penchant for polyester?"
He smiled; he couldn't help it. "Alas, no."
"Okay, but should that change any time in the near future—"
"—then maybe—just maybe —I'd actually go out in public with you. Like where people could actually see us."
"Hope springs eternal."
"Why do you ask?"
Doyle hesitated. He could tell her. Right now—this second. Whole truth, right there, all the cards on the table. No more lies. So what was stopping him?
Pure, abject terror. As he looked into her hazel eyes, fear stole his breath and let ice into his veins. His mother's words of wisdom faded away, pushed aside by the panic. "No reason." He shrugged it off, and dropped the framed photos back in the bag, crumpling it shut and dropping it next to the couch.
She gave him one of her patented You're such a weirdo, I don't know why I hang out with you looks, and rolled her eyes. "Come on—there's still dishes to do, and then there's the little matter of payback—as in, there is this to die for pair of Prada boots that could be mine, with just a teeny weenie loan ..."
Doyle smiled as he followed her toward the kitchen. "Hope springs eternal," he repeated softly.