The Truth
by Tracy (girlie)
Cordelia leaves for LA and stops to say goodbye.

Disclaimer: These Characters do not belong to me. They are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, WB Network, and whoever else that has rights to BTVS.

NOTE: Thanks to Laura and Amy, my beta readers and goddesses. :)

I'm not used to being alone. Being an outsider was never my deal. I was always the center of attention. Always adored, worshipped, respected. Things change. I'm an outsider now. Ostracized from every group. I'm alone.

And as I stand on tiptoe, peering into the small round window of the library door, I realize that I do actually miss them. I mean, I can see them any time, jump in and help with whatever threat there is at that moment, but nothing is the same. They see me differently again. I've brought it on myself, I know, with all my biting comments and sarcastic remarks. I'm not a part of the group anymore. Just when I need to be. The dethroned Queen of Sunnydale is now a pauper, with no one to turn to. Once, I could've taken comfort from these people. Amazing how pride can screw things up so badly. Now, I'm on the outside looking in. I used to be inside. I used to be a part of the unit. I used to be wanted.

And I miss it. I miss the way Xander will say something inappropriate at the exact wrong time. I miss Buffy's quiet strength and the way she smiles. I miss Oz's little comments that put everything into perspective. I miss Giles' clucking noise when he's angry or confused. I miss the look Willow gives Xander right before she explains something to him *again*. I miss how he always misses the look. Curiously enough, I don't miss Wesley, who left for England yesterday.

With a small sigh, I turn away from the window and kick the suitcase at my feet half-heartedly. Weird how the truth deserts me now. It's always been my ally, my weapon, and my tool. Now I stand here and try lie to myself, desperately pretending that I don't want to be in there with them. That I can walk away from this. But they're the only friends I've ever known. I've wandered all around Sunnydale today, saying a silent goodbye to memories. And this is the first time I've had second thoughts.

I yelp a little as the door opens unexpectedly behind me, and I try to recover my cool before I notice who it is. Oz.

"Hey," he greets me, with that quiet smirk of his.

"Hi," I reply, suddenly nervous. I have no idea where my normally sarcastic tongue has gone. I just don't feel like being that girl today. Can I face them unarmed?

He nods his head in the direction of the library. "You goin' in?"

I shake my head, slightly alarmed at the suggestion. I don't belong there anymore. I've insulted my way out of that haven. It wouldn't be right for me to invade what I worked so hard to put behind me - no matter how much I regret it now.

He spots the suitcase by my feet. "That yours?" I nod again, not sure how to explain. "Moving in?" he asks.

"No. I - " I can't think of the right thing to say. First the truth, now speech. What else will desert me today?

Oz steps forward, closing the space between us as he eyes me critically. "You look a little pale. Wanna come in and sit down for a minute?"

There it is! An invitation to join them.

"Maybe for a minute," I allow, a small smile lifting my lips. It seems like I can only smile around them and mean it. How sad.

He picks up my suitcase without a word and opens the library door. I step in, surveying the room quickly. Giles is drawing a diagram on the board - it looks like a map of the park. Willow is attached to her keyboard - again. Xander is flipping through books at the table. Buffy is sharpening some long knife. Everyone in the room looks up and notices me, mumbling distracted hellos before going back to what they were doing. Dismissed again. I sigh a little as Oz puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me to a chair at the table.

I sit nervously, aware that my posture is too tight, but I feel like a coiled spring. Oz plunks my suitcase down on the table, bringing everyone's attention back to me.

Xander raises his eyes to mine. "You taking a trip? A post-Ascension kind of celebration?"

I shake my head, my eyes never leaving his. "I'm leaving." My voice is barely a whisper, and it's a marked contrast to the bedlam that breaks out a second later. I'm suddenly surrounded by people, questions being fired at me in rapid succession. I put up my hands to ward off the attack.

"I'm leaving. I just came by… to say… goodbye." My eyes unexpectedly fill up with tears. I look to the ceiling, knowing that they all can see the tears and still insanely hoping they don't.

"Why?" Willow asks the question. She's materialized at my shoulder, and she puts her hand on my arm. I realize that it's the first time she's touched me in months.

I shrug, trying to think of a way to put my reasons into words. "I don't belong here anymore."

"Of course you do!" Buffy rushes to disagree. "You help a lot!"

"No, that's not it," I answer, sighing in frustration. How do I explain that I'm so ashamed of the way I've treated them that I have to go until I can face them again? Until I feel worthy to face them again. Until everyone's forgotten who I used to be, and I can come back and be myself.

My eyes meet Giles', and his slight smile tells me he grasps it. He nods at me, a gesture of understanding. "We'll miss you, Cordelia." My eyes spill over as the voice I'd always thought of as cold and removed suddenly washes over me with undisguised warmth.

I am abruptly engulfed in a hug between Buffy and Willow. It feels good. I hug them back, wishing that I could stay. But this is something I have to do for myself. I have to find out who I can be without being the May Queen, without being rich, without being hated or adored. Oz, standing between Buffy and Willow, puts his hands on my shoulders and drops a soft kiss on my head,. The displays of affection touch me more than I could ever express. When they finally pull away, I'm surprised to see both of them crying too. We all take in our pinched, red, teary faces, and share a laugh. "I'll miss you guys," I admit softly.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Xander asks, disrupting my thoughts.

I stand and nod, glancing at Giles for approval before heading into the quiet of his office. Xander closes the door behind me. "Cordy, you don't have to go." His shoves his hands deep into his pockets, a sign that he's nervous. "We just won. Can't you stay for the summer? Just, hang?"

"No. It's too hard to be here."

"But we don't want you to go!" He rakes his hand through his hair in frustration. "*I* don't want you to go. We just got back from being enemies after everything. You could stay for a while, we could get to be friends again."

I smile and envelop him in a soft hug. "We're already friends again."

He holds onto me, and I can feel his chest heave against mine as he breathes raggedly. "Don't go." His voice is so low I wonder if I heard him or imagined it.

"I have to. I need to be somewhere where no one knows that I fell from grace and landed with a thud. I need a new start. Where no one knows that I was rich. Somewhere where people won't whisper behind me that I got what I deserved."

"Cordy, we don't think that you deser-"

"I know," I interrupt, "And that means a lot to me, but there are other reasons too." There's a pause as we break apart. "I will come back and visit. And you guys can visit me when I get settled."

"Where are you going?"

I reach into my pocket and wave the cash from my meager paycheck at him. "Wherever this'll get me. Probably LA."

"What are you going to do?"

I weigh answering him, hoping he won't laugh. "I've --- I've acted pretty much my whole life. Being the Cordelia my mother wanted, the one my father wanted, the Cordy my friends wanted. I thought I might try getting paid for being someone else."

"Acting?" His voice isn't incredulous, just surprised. A slow smile spreads across his face. "Which Cordelia did we get?"

"The real one, I hope."

"Your parents know you're going?"

I sigh. "Ironically enough, no. I'll tell them where I am when I'm ready. I left a note. There's still… issues… there."

"Can I drive you somewhere?" he offers.

"I - I think it's best, if I make a clean break."

He nods, and then reaches forward to hug me again. "God. I'm going to miss you, Cordy."

My throat works overtime to swallow the lump of tears there. "Me too," I squeak, my eyes beginning to water. I have no idea how long we stood like that, but when we separated, I felt sad, but stronger. I'll still have their support if I ever need it. I like knowing that.

I wordlessly opened the door and went to the table, reclaiming my suitcase. I hugged each of them in turn, even a flustered Giles, and lingered slightly in my hug with Xander. He inadvertently bought me a membership into this precious circle by accepting me fully. No matter what else happened between us, I'm grateful for that. I hope it can happen again when I get back.

I head for the doors, stopping and turning around to glance back one last time. I can't believe I'm actually going to leave. It's something I have to do for myself. I have to find out who I can be without all the labels. The word is on my lips, but it freezes. I can't say 'goodbye'. I still can't lie. I wouldn't mean it. I smile, a heartfelt smile, and say what I really feel. "I'll miss you guys. But I'll see you all again when I've got it figured out."

They nod at me, and I turn to go, when Giles' voice stops me. "Cordelia! Um, just, be careful."

I smile at him, knowing that he's talking about night-time danger. "Got it."

I push the door, and this time it's Xander's voice that stops me. "Cordy! Wait!" He jogs over to me, and I put my suitcase down, propping open the door. I think he's going to hug me again. And I'm right about that. What surprises me are the words that tumble from his lips. "You know we love you, right?"

Suddenly everyone erupts from their positions and I'm surrounded by them. We all indulge in a group hug, laughing and crying and talking.

And there it is. The truth -- shining like a beacon in my heart. "I love you guys, too."

Looking For It

I'll bite the hand that feeds the pain
I'll lay my life down for love
I lost the truth, I lost my way
But I am looking for it
Oh I am looking for it now
I am looking for it
Oh I am looking for myself

A savior sent to save the world
An Angel has no armor
Now torn and bent, no wings unfurl
we are looking for it
Oh we are looking for it now
we are looking for it
We need to find but one thing good

And under every star (I'm finding Heaven)
In every breath of air (I'm finding Heaven)
In everything I have (I'm finding Heaven)
In everything I am...oh

The world is big, the world is bad
But I will find the beauty - I see a vision in
my head. I am looking for it
Oh I am looking for it
Oh I am looking for myself.
I am looking for it - I am looking for it now
I am looking for it
Oh I am looking for it now
Oh I am looking for myself

[Written by Jann Arden Richards and Robert Foster. Copyright 1994 PolyGram Songs (Canada)/Girl On The Moon Music (SOCAN) Controlled by Songs of PolyGram International, Inc. (BMI)/Pannal Ash Publishing (SOCAN)]

The End