Cordelia stepped through the doorway of her apartment, murmuring a quiet thank-you to Dennis as he lifted away her purse and scarf. He patted her hair by way of reply, and Cordelia smiled absently towards the empty air. Her resident ghost been more demonstrative lately than usual, but no more than expected; he'd always been jealous of other men in her apartment, and Groo had stayed here longer than most.
Had stayed. Cordelia winced at the thought, then sighed and sank onto the couch, dropping her tanned face into her hands. She'd meant to tell the others about it, but after Wesley's news no one had been in the mood to talk about anything else.
"Go home, Cordy. I'm sure Groo is waiting." Angel's dismissive words still echoed in her mind.
She hadn't even bothered to correct him. What was the point? One of his best friends had betrayed him, had stolen his son; then through some bizarre quirk of fate, the two turned out to be one and the same. Angel's problems were much bigger and more important than his seer's love life.
And Cordelia had really thought that it was love. The weeks she'd spent on vacation with Groo had been more relaxing, and more fun, than anything else that had happened since she'd moved to L.A. He had worshipped her with his body, said all the right things, and she had soaked it all up like a sponge. It had been like an extension of Pylea, where the Groosalug and the Princess were destined for each other, no questions asked.
Just like Pylea, however, sooner or later Cordelia had to come back to reality. And when she did...
The first thing she had done when they got back to town was to drop in at the Hyperion, with baby gifts for Connor. That had all gone wrong, of course. Only Lorne had been there, with a headache and a baseball bat, and her entire world had tilted askew. Groo had watched her with concern in his dark eyes, offered Mocklah and neck-rubs, and followed everywhere she went over the next few days.
Had it really only been a few days? It felt unreal, as if years had passed since Monday, when Connor disappeared. It was only Friday today, the day Groo had slipped out of bed early, packed what few things he had brought from Pylea, and sat here on this couch waiting for Cordelia to wake up.
She could feel the tears coming again, thinking about that conversation. She took a deep, ragged breath, then pulled up her feet and curled against the armrest. After a moment's pause, a throw blanket came floating out of the bedroom, and Dennis tucked it around her as gently as he could.
"He left me, Dennis," she said, softly. The ghost already knew, of course; obviously he was here during that last conversation. But she needed someone to talk to, and Dennis was the only one nearby.
"I mean, I knew I was spending a lot of time trying to calm Angel down or worrying about Connor, but I'm Angel's seer! I've known him for what, almost six years now? That doesn't mean I'm in love with him. I mean, really. And it's only been three days."
Groo had listened to her protests with a sad smile, and shook his head. "It has been more than three days," he'd said, taking one of her hands in his. "I did not want to believe it, but it is true. The way you speak of Angel, the way you held his son then and grieve for him now. I have only been... convenient."
Truthfully, Groo had a point. Cordelia did tend to act as though the people of Angel Investigations were her only concern, especially Angel and his son. She'd tied her fate to Angel's with irrevocable choices, and it seemed only natural to support him in more ways than just his work. But this? Romance?
Well, there was evidence to support it. She had dressed Groo up and trimmed his hair, making him resemble the brunet vampire more closely. She had tried to integrate him at work, setting up direct comparisons between his prowess and Angel's. She had even, to her embarrassment, wondered if the elixir that kept her from losing her visions would work on Angel, too, to keep him from losing his soul.
But all that shouldn't matter. "You were the one I chose," she'd said to Groo, trying to understand why he was leaving her.
Groo was supposed to be the one who taught her what love was meant to be like. She'd never had that before, a guy who was only hers, who didn't put anyone else first, who stayed and praised and comforted. The closest she'd ever gotten before was Xander, and that had been a disaster. Besides, Groo had always seemed so much safer, easier than Angel.
Not this morning. There had been something in Groo's downcast eyes and serious expression as he considered her words. It was a side of him she hadn't seen before, all serious and intelligent, that usually hid behind his earnest eyes and adoring expressions. It was a side of him that she really didn't know how to deal with.
"It is not enough," he had answered, rubbing his calloused thumb over the back of her hand, still making with the soothing touch even while he rejected her. "Angel is still the first of your concerns. I know this. I have accepted it."
"What do you want me to say?" she had asked, bewildered.
"Tell me that you love only me," had been his quiet ultimatum. "Tell me that you are my Princess, and I will never leave you."
She hadn't been able to answer.
A quiet tear slipped down Cordelia's cheek as she remembered his expression when he gave up, letting her hand slip free of his grasp. "He looked so sad," she whispered to Dennis. "And then he left. Why didn't I say anything? Me, the girl with a comment for every occasion. I wanted to say something. I wanted..."
She trailed off with a sigh. She hadn't known what she wanted, this morning. She hadn't had time to think. She hadn't thought about a lot of things in a long time, and the space between breaths was not enough for her to catch up. "Oh, Dennis."
Something moved in the air. The ghost must have gotten tired of only listening; a pair of pictures floated into Cordelia's range of vision and came to a halt in front of her. The first was a recent one, taken on vacation, when another tourist had snapped a photo of Cordelia and Groo walking down the beach. The second was an old one, a small framed snapshot of Angel and Cordelia and Wesley taken over a year ago.
She reached automatically for the second one, and was surprised when Dennis danced it away, then back up close. "What do you want me to see, here, Dennis?" she asked him quietly, and watched as he twirled the photo around so the end with Angel was uppermost.
"Angel, and me, and Wes," she said, with a touch of the old Cordy sarcasm in her voice. "I've seen the picture before, you know."
Then it hit her; it was a picture of her family, the very reason Groo had left. Not that Dennis knew about Wes' change in identity yet, but it certainly didn't hurt the ghost's point. At her "Oh" of recognition, Dennis moved the photo away and pushed the other up close, and the rest of his meaning became clear.
"My choices?" she asked, mildy irritated with her unseen friend. "What, you think I still have one? Dennis, Groo left. He walked out the door, he's not coming back, and I have no idea where he's going. Angel wins by default."
He floated both pictures closer again, more insistently, and let her take one in each hand. The "family" photo was full of warmth and camaraderie; it reminded her of the early days, when things had been easier. When both Angel and Wes had been safely in the "ex-crush" category. Now there was a weird thought; three years ago, she'd lusted after a man whose diapers she was changing three weeks ago. Ew.
The "vacation" photo was brighter, all light and motion. She and Groo looked happy together, walking hand-in-hand, with the breeze in their hair and the waves lapping at their feet. The camera had caught her laughing at something Groo said, looking up at his face, and he was smiling back, utterly content with his place at her side.
Cordelia sighed. "I get it, Dennis, really. I should have tried. I should have said yes. I was stupid, okay? But he's not here, and he's not going to be here, and..."
There was a knock at the door, then, and Cordelia blinked, startled. She sat up straighter, hastily pushing the blanket aside, and dropped the photos on the couch. "Oh God. Don't tell me ..."
The door drifted open at Dennis' invisible touch. There, on her doorstep, was quite possibly the last person she'd expected to see.
The rogue Slayer raised one dark eyebrow and smiled at her. She looked as deadly as ever, all leather clothes and dark hair and red lipstick against prison-pale skin, but there was a nervous edge in her smile and the way she kept clasping her hands.
"Hey there, C," she said. "I, uh, I was just trying to find the new offices, you know, and I ran into this guy ..." She waved a hand off towards the right side of the doorway.
Footsteps; Cordelia held her breath waiting for Groo to appear in the doorway. After all that floating of pictures, Dennis better have been trying to tell her something!
She didn't have to wait long. He edged into the doorway, carefully avoiding contact with Faith, and nodded at Cordelia.
"Princess," he said, greeting her without a smile. "I know I said I would not return, but I overheard this lady asking for directions, and I could not let her continue unescorted."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Some chivalrous guy you've got. He said the office was closed today, but he'd bring me here to wait for you. So..."
Cordelia barely heard her; she was still watching Groo, really seeing him for perhaps the first time. "Groo...?" she said, tentatively.
He bowed slightly. "I shall be going."
"No!" she said, leaping off the couch and beckoning to him. "No, don't. I have to talk to you. Please."
He shook his head. "There is nothing else to say."
Faith interrupted, clearing her throat. "Is this a bad time? 'Cause I could just go and look for Wes. I mean, it's him I need to talk to, about the Watcher thing, and..."
"No" Cordelia cut her off, making a quick decision. "I mean, it is a bad time, but, no. Just, just stay here." She pulled the confused Slayer into the apartment, then joined Groo in the hall.
Unsurprisingly, Dennis slammed the door shut as soon as her heels cleared the threshold.
--END INTERLUDE 4--