In Her Wake by Christie Baird
Summary: After Buffy dies, Cordelia, Angel and Wesley attend her wake.
Spoilers: Buffy S5, some of S6 and S3 of Angel.
Distribution: My site.
Nothing Fancy. Anywhere else, just ask and ye shall receive, I'm sure...
Notes: C/S Friendship, C/A love-ish. To all my Pods - because I just can't do without the Pod love... lol...
"Let me guess," said Spike as he heard the door
open, "the great poof is regaling them with tales of their romance, how
much he loved *his* slayer."
The bitterness wasn't lost on her. The twisted irony that someone who'd tried to kill said slayer so many times should be sitting here now, mourning her death, crying into a bottle of Scotch over the love that never was.
"No," She replied softly, coming to sit next to him on the porch step, "He's not saying much to be honest. Willow tried to get him to be share my pain guy but... No such luck. He's brooding. Again."
Spike harumphed and shook his head, taking a swig from the bottle. "Figures. Peaches never was one for conversation."
Cordelia smiled and looked down, fiddling with an imaginary piece of lint on her skirt, "Something I guess you never shared with him, huh?"
"Me?" Spike shrugged, "We don't get on. Blind man on a galloping horse could see that. If he wasn't such a prick, we'd probably be the best of friends." Yet another blatant lie. He'd been doing that a lot lately, lying. Well, more precisely, making promises that he hadn't been able to keep. Like... Promising to look after Dawn, promising to take care of her to the end of the world.
Some promise that was. Buffy had died because of it. "Then again," He continued, "Probably not."
"It won't work, Spike." Said Cordelia, shaking her head.
"What you're doing. Trying to get a rise out of me so Angel will bite. It won't work."
"Pfff..." Off in the distance a crash resounded, making Spike's head snap up. "You really think that's what I'm doing?"
The conversation stilted for a moment, Cordelia looking at Spike - Spike looking anywhere but.
"I'm thinking of getting a job in Vampire Counselling," Cordelia finally settled on, wrapping her arms around her knees. "I mean, I spend the first half of my year with a vampire who brooded for California, then decided on going back to his evil roots and getting jiggy with the darker side of vampdom. Now, I'm counselling another one on the death of someone he loves, who thinks that sitting out here crying into his bottle of Scotch is better than being where she quite probably would have wanted him to be - celebrating her life with her friends."
Spike snorted, turning his head to glare at Cordelia, "Who are you kidding? I'm not Angel, luv. I don't need you to tappy-lap around me and tell me something nice just because you think I'm upset."
"Hey," She frowned, going back on her 'you won't get a rise out of me' speech, "For a start, I know you're not Angel. For two, tappy-lap around you? Are we in the 15th century? I think not. And at last count, I don't tappy-lap round anyone - I think it? I say it, that's my way..."
"I know there's a three," Groused Spike, suitably chastised... And mildly drunk. "Give it to me."
"I know you're upset," She stated, "I saw you crying through the window."
Grumbling, Spike turned away from her. Just who the hell did she think she was, coming down here from LA when she'd never seen Buffy in the better part of two years? That went for Angel too. Was he here when she died? No, he was off partying in some other dimension, so Spike had heard - hadn't given a toss about Buffy... And it was time someone said that.
"So I was crying, big deal," He snapped, "At least I was here which is more than can be said about *him*..." Spike jerked his thumb wildly in the direction of the Summer's house, watching as a frown slipped across Cordelia's face.
"Which him?" She asked, her eyes dark, "There are at least 3 hims inside I know of and that doesn't include the one I think you're thinking of."
"Are you trying to confuse me?"
"Are you intentionally being a bastard or does that come naturally?"
"You weren't here!" He growled, turning on her in full vamp face, "Don't pretend you know what it feels like."
Barely flinching, Cordelia stared at him for a moment, "What, to lose someone you love? Actually, I do know what that feels like... Remember half-Irish demon-boy that you met? Sacrificed himself, just like Buffy to save everyone else only -- Well, he didn't get the wake like this. He didn't get the funeral, or the remembrance or the flowers. He got nothing. The only things we had left of him were a drawing and head-splitting visions that on occasion make me feel like my brain's going to fall out and an office that got blown to smithereens when unlawful Law Firm Number 1 decided that messing about with Angel's feelings was really top of their agenda. With Buffy..." Cordelia sighed, "You got a houseful of memories. You got a sister and memories from her friends and--"
"You think that's enough?" Spike stood, eyes flitting wildly over the garden as he paced, face slipping back into its human guise. "Look around you, luv, I'm the only one who's sitting out here. The only reason they had the sodding funeral at night time was in honour of him, the love of her life. Meanwhile, the people who were here, the people who actually had it in them to care about her and not be in another dimension are left to rot. Namely, me. They couldn't give two hoots that I'm out here, because God forbid that the Big Bad can actually have real feelings for someone. For her. The farther away I am the better as far as they're concerned."
"That's not true and you know it." Cordelia's eyes raised to his, the smell of stale Scotch attacking her senses again. She'd liked to have bet Spike had been drinking ever since it happened, pushing himself farther and farther away from her friends just so they couldn't do it first. "Dawn, Willow, Tara, Giles - they all know what you did, what you promised and why you're here. Just because Xander has a mild case of bone-headedness doesn't mean that you have to suffer for it."
"Bone-headedness? That's a bit mild, isn't it?" He slurred, "Sometimes I think he was born without a bloody brain."
"Always a possibility." Said Cordelia, softly. He had cheated on her, after all.
A moment's silence passed between them. Spike staring morosely at the bottle of Scotch in his hand. If he believed her to be right, then he was setting himself up for the fall when it came to light that she was actually wrong - that no matter how much pain and despair she'd seen in that head of hers, some things just didn't matter to people like them.
"It won't be enough, y'know," said Cordelia, matter-of-factly. Her gaze shifted to his and when puzzled, Spike raised an eyebrow, Cordelia continued. "It won't ever be enough. Room full of flowers, people crying - it won't ever make up for what you've lost. In her own way, Buffy was special to you - whether it was because of the slayer or something else, she was something special. It might never be enough, but it's yours. You get to keep that with you."
"When'd you get so bloody sensible?" Spike frowned.
"September 15th, 1999." She grinned, "It was a cold day."
"Hell freezing over?"
"Touché." She laughed, eyeing Spike. "I guess I deserved that."
"So why are you here, luv?"
"No, out here. Sitting with the lovelorn and the depressed."
Cordelia shrugged, glancing round Buffy's back garden. "I just... I thought maybe you could use a friend."
"Don't have many of those. Reasons for that though."
"Oooh, big bad vamp. Scary." Cordelia admonished, rolling her eyes. "Y'know, you don't always have to make it so hard on yourself."
"Me?" Spike laughed then. He'd always made it hard on himself. Back with Dru, he'd been the one who'd alienated her so much that she'd left him. Falling in love with a slayer - another of his spectacular decisions. Rubbing a hand over his face, Spike shook his head, "One thing you should learn about the bloodline you're involved with pet. We never make it easy on ourselves."
"You're telling me? Hello, I work with Broody McBrooderson. Now there's a guy who doesn't know the meaning of the words lighten up..." She felt a twinge then, almost like she was betraying Angel by saying that. At times, he was kinda happy - especially lately. Or at least, before...
"You love him?"
"He's my friend." She smiled, "Of course I love him."
"Not always that simple though, is it?" He asked, gently, gaze swinging round to meet hers.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Cordelia looked away, "Uh, hello. Who's the therapist here?"
"Sometimes, even the therapist needs a kick up the arse to remind her what's real, luv."
"And you're giving me advice?" She laughed, "Give me a break."
"Always the one doling it out and never the one to take it. Bet you drive Peaches to distraction sometimes."
"That's... Pretty accurate."
"It's in him too."
"What, stubborn? Believe me, you don't have to tell me."
Spike shook his head and looked away from Cordelia, "Read him the right way and he's like an open book. Never was too good at hiding his feelings."
He didn't have to tell her that. She could read him better than anyone and Cordelia knew it. It was one hell of a cliché but sometimes, Angel's eyes really were the windows to his soul.
"You're not such a closed one yourself..." Spike continued, after Cordelia hadn't spoke up a while. "Other people mightn't notice things but... You stay here long enough, you learn to watch people."
"Watch people? Spike, if this is getting perverted..."
"Ever watched someone when they don't know you're looking?" He interrupted, "You see things in those moments. Emotions that no one else gets to look at, stuff that no one else sees."
"I see." Said Cordelia gently, so quiet her voice was barely a whisper. "I see those things every day."
"I know you do, luv. And that's why you more than anyone should know that life's too short to waste it on technicalities or unspoken feelings. You see the hardships of this world right there in that head of yours and when it comes down to it, you're scared of opening up to someone 'cause you know that letting someone in means sharing some of that pain."
"What, you're saying I'm a pain junkie? Believe me, I don't get off on the pain!" Cordelia snapped.
"I'm not saying that. I'm saying you're too bloody stubborn to let anyone know how much those things hurt. I'm saying you're scared of opening up because you think the world's gonna think you're some kind of enormous freak-"
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."
"You just seem to forget that you don't have to carry your burden alone. There are people who want to help."
"That's rich, coming from Mr. Drink Alone in the Dark."
"Yeah, well," He smirked, "We have issues. Both been burned too many times I reckon to know a good thing when we see it."
"When did you get so sensible?" Asked Cordelia softly, turning his own question back on him.
"May 29th, 2001," Spike smiled, reaching over and gently picking up her wrist, "Approximately 8.15. About what, 20 minutes ago?"
Cordelia raised an eyebrow, "Really?"
"Yeah. Same time a pretty girl sat on a step next to me and told me in not so many words that what I got now, mightn't be much but... It's a start."
Smiling, Cordelia placed her hand over his and gave a gentle squeeze, "Doesn't always have to be as hard as we make out, does it?" She asked softly.
"No luv." Said Spike, shaking his head. "It doesn't..."
* * * * *
"I can't believe it. I mean, she's so... So..."
"Is that a word?"
Watching as Cordelia talked with Giles, the remaining Scooby Gang were huddled in the kitchen, waxing lyrical over the fact that Cordelia was so... Un-Cordelia, as Xander had offered. She seemed nice now, less shallow and bitchy - definitely a good thing.
"It's only a temporary solution," Said Giles from the other room, "But up until then, we have to consider what's best for Dawn under the circumstances."
Cordelia nodded, taking a sip of her tea. After coming in from the garden with Spike, she'd cornered Giles, officially not sure how to act around Angel right now, not after Spike had put notions into her head. "Y'know where we are if you need anything, right?"
From their place in the Summer's living room, both Wesley and Angel backed that up with a nod of the head. "We're only too happy to help." Wesley added, smiling.
"I'll keep that in mind," Giles acquiesced, his gaze flitting over to the group of young adults huddled in the kitchen, Tara standing a little way away, a small frown on her face. It occurred to him briefly what they might be talking about. Not just Cordelia, but Angel - the change in them both remarkable. Their personalities seemed to bounce off each other. A smile lighting up Angel's eyes slightly when the girl came in the room. Right now, she was sitting as far away from him on the couch as she could get - Spike and Wesley both wedged in between, her hand playing nervously with what Giles noted as an imaginary thread on the hem of her skirt.
The silence grew for a moment until it reached unbearable heights and Cordelia stood, "Anyone for more tea?"
A couple of affirmative answers and a mumbled 'no' from Angel and Cordelia was on the move, trying to get out of the tension spot she'd been sitting in for ten minutes. She knew Angel's deal - pretty soon, he'd be getting hungry and there was no way on this earth he would feed in front of Giles and the others. Maybe if they could slip out for ten minutes and...
"Hey Cor-- OW! What was that for?!"
Anya frowned, eyes narrowing in Xander's direction, "You're not supposed to talk to her."
"Because... Ex! Exes shouldn't talk because they catch up, they reminisce - and before you know it, they're having the orgasms again."
Bursting into surprised laughter, Cordelia met Anya's eyes, "Trust me, I'm not having-- What do you mean, again? I've never had any orgasms," She hissed, "Not with Xander." Not with many other people either, added her conscience, but Cordelia chose to ignore it.
"You." Anya nodded, "You were Xander's first. Nobody forgets their first."
"Woah there, back up here... His first? His FIRST?!" She growled, turning to Xander, "You and me? Not once did we have the... Groin pressing."
"I never said that, did I say that? Nooo..."
"Yes! You said that..."
"No I didn't, what I said was..."
And so began the argument. At first, Tara slapped her hands over her ears, drowning out the din. Cordelia followed suit a second after only to find that another connection was breaking into her head - this time internal, out of her control. No amount of plugging her ears was going to make this go away.
Cordelia screamed as a burst of white hot pain slammed between her eyes, her body bowing backwards at the force of the vision. She was aware of hands holding her up but nothing else as pictures danced in her head, pain bursting behind her eyelids.
Damn, this hurts... Ok, a... A grave site. And... Oh, there's not enough eww in the world...
Lightning... Big with the lightning... Oh God... They're going to kill us all... Buffy...
When finally the vision was over, Cordelia's head was bowed, her face partially covered with her hair as she battled to breathe. "Angel..."
"I'm here." He murmured, arms locked around her securely, "What'd you see?"
* * * * *
"I didn't realise these visions of hers were so severe." Giles admitted quietly, having just come back from checking on Cordelia, who lay in Buffy's room. Blinds and drapes both shut.
Wesley nodded somberly, taking a drink of his tea. "She braves it all with a smile and a couple of words that generally mean 'I'm fine' but... When she's alone..."
His voice faltered, making Giles taking up the end of that comment. "She's certainly not the girl I remember."
"She's not the girl any of us remember." Said Willow, legs curled up underneath her on the couch. Tara sat next to her on the floor listening to Giles and Wesley as they spoke, smiling as she felt Willow's fingers playing gently with a lock of her hair. She'd listened to what they'd been saying about Cordelia - had heard Willow talk about her before. It was hard to believe that it was the same girl that they all said was so... Well, awful.
A small burst of pride surged through Wesley. He'd known that this, of all things, wasn't the way Cordelia had imagined coming back to Sunnydale. They'd talked quietly in the car on the way down here - how she'd expected to be this glittering glamorous movie star, sweeping in with her entourage of helpers just to show those who'd doubted her that she could make it. He'd mistaken her words as being bitterness, a sense of longing for a life she'd had little taste of.
Cordelia had surprised him by saying this was better. That she didn't care what these people thought of her, and really, never had. If they couldn't see she'd changed, she didn't care - because she was Cordelia Chase. And she knew different.
"Is she a demon?"
Anya's voice startled Wesley out of his reverie and the Watcher bristled, "No, she's not a demon. The visions were passed down from a demon, but..."
"I didn't mean it like that." She frowned, "I remember the last girl I dealt with who had visions, she was human too. Wanted me to wreak vengeance on a man who she'd loved and told the entire town she was a witch because of the visions. She died before I could carry out her wish. It was a good one too, she wished that his penis would--"
"Anya?" Prompted Giles gently, noting the look on Wesley's face.
"You said she... Died?"
"The visions. They blew out the back of her head. Humans aren't supposed to shoulder a burden like that, they... Oh." Somehow, Anya got the feeling she wasn't supposed to say that. Wesley looked more tight-lipped than Giles right now and that was saying something.
It was Xander who spoke up, trying to pave over what his wife-to-be had just said. "Wouldn't there be a lead up to something like that though? If the visions were this bad, she'd have told you guys. I know Cordy, and she's not the type of person to be non-vocal about her feelings."
"That's just it though." Wesley frowned, "You don't know Cordelia. None of you do."
* * * * *
"Slayer's not been dead five minutes and already there's someone wanting to come along and steal her body..." Spike frowned, flicking his cigarette butt across the cemetery. He wasn't impressed having to work alongside Angel like this, teaming up like some cheesy cop movie, that had two mortal enemies working together for the greater good.
He'd have rather stayed back home and helped Cordelia drink herself into post-vision oblivity. Glancing over at Angel, Spike nodded, the movement slow and lazy. "Brooding, as always. Cordelia was right."
Angel frowned, "Right about what?"
"You, brooding. Although she said lately, you'd found things to smile about." Said Spike, testing the waters with a toe (or in his case, a whole leg), see how hot it was for his little plan to be shunted into action.
"Not finding a whole lot to smile about today." Replied the elder vampire, tersely. Cordelia had been right, lately there had been things to smile about. He'd gotten his friends back, no longer felt the entire world was out to get him - but today, today had been the day where he'd finally had to lay rest to all those feelings about Buffy that he'd never wanted to admit had died down. When he'd left, he felt like he'd cut a chunk out of his life - he hadn't wanted to admit that it was slowly but surely being replaced by something else. Friendship... And more, though he hated admitting it on a day like today.
"Not a lot of us are." Spike replied, eyes casting downwards. He was trying to tell himself that this, right here, was a good thing he was doing. It wasn't selfish, not now. Buffy was gone, was never coming back - it couldn't be said that this was for his own gain.
"Why are you doing this?"
Then again, if it were Angel speaking, it probably could be said that Spike was doing this for his own gain. His gaze swivelled to his companion and Spike frowned, "What, you think I have something to get out of all this? That showing you that you've got something else to live for right back home in Sunny LA is going to bring me something? Come off it, Angel. Not everything's as clear cut as you'd make out. Not as evil as I once was." He nodded, "Girl changed all that. Just like it did with you."
"I got a soul," Angel growled, "Tell me how that's the same."
"Well it's not that bloody different either, is it? She was my soul. Bloody light in the dark, whichever way you want to paint it. She made me want to be a better man." Spike breathed in slowly then, though he didn't need to, eyeing up Angel, trying to gauge his reaction. In the end, he didn't have time - what little breath Spike had drawn into his lungs was knocked out again with a blow that made him growl out, his face changing instantly.
The source, rather surprisingly, wasn't Angel. He'd been taken down around the same time as Spike, a group of vampires surrounding the pair, each one dressed in a ceremonial robe.
"Well," Wheezed Spike, "Looks like we were late for the party."
"Not like you were invited," snapped one of their assailants.
"That's a shame. Angel there's quite the party animal once he gets going... Right Peaches?"
Angel didn't answer, he was too busy pummelling his attacker.
"Or maybe not the party animal," Spike muttered, clamouring to his feet and launching himself at the nearest wanker. Just what I need, he thought dryly. A good spot of violence.
* * * * * * *
"It's over, right?" Asked Dawn, looking at both Angel and Spike as they stood in the living room. "No more robed guys trying to bring Buffy back?"
Spike nodded and smiled tiredly, "It's done, Niblet. No more robed guys." In his eyes he held a certain amount of respect for his grand-sire, which... Odd. When that vampire had pulled a stake, Spike had thought it was curtains down for him - until Angel had hauled the vampire backwards and slammed its stake through his own heart. He'd never thought in a million years that he'd stop him from being staked - it just went to show that sometimes, people could surprise you.
Taking a look at the small group in the room, Spike frowned, "If it's over, why all the gloom?" He bristled as soon as he said it - of course there was a reason for the 'gloom' as he so aptly put it, they'd just finished burying perhaps the biggest part of their lives but... There was something else, something Spike couldn't quite put his finger on.
"Angel, Wesley's in the kitchen, I believe he wants to talk to you." Said Giles, his voice strained. Ever since Anya's words, the entire group had been plunged into silence. Wesley had requested the use of the phone and some privacy.
Angel didn't question it. Leaving the small group, he moved through into the kitchen, hearing Wesley on the phone, his friends frustration evident.
"I don't care what the signs say, find something..." He snapped, slamming down the receiver. He'd gone through every contact he had that could even remotely help him and all he'd been left with was this boiling frustration. They'd all said the same - that humans couldn't carry the visions without it doing irreparable damage.
The voice from behind him made him turn. "Angel."
"What's going on? Did Cordelia have another vision?" He frowned instantly, "Is she all right?"
"Somehow, I think not..." Wesley sighed. "Angel, I... Perhaps you should sit down."
"Wesley," He growled, "Just tell me..."
"It's... The visions." Wesley's face was pale, drawn. "We knew they were getting worse but I don't think any of us realised how bad..."
"How bad?" Angel was used to a certain amount of denial. Not once, but perhaps a thousand times he'd told himself that if Cordelia could deal, he could deal too. Only lately, Cordelia hadn't been dealing that well. That light he'd loved had gone out of her eyes - he'd pretended it hadn't and for her part, she'd managed to smile, still look like everything was relatively okay. Only it wasn't. And this was exactly what Wesley was telling him right now.
"Human's..." Wesley frowned, "They can't shoulder the visions. I spoke to Anya, she knew a girl who had the visions. Angel, she died. I've been speaking to some of my contacts and they all say the same..."
Tight-lipped and taut with fear, Angel drew in an unneeded breath, "What are you saying, Wesley?"
"I'm saying... I'm saying that unless we find a way to take the visions from Cordelia, or at least some of the burden, she's going to die."
Angel could feel anger welling up in him - anger that the Powers That Be would knowingly do this to Cordelia. If someone had died before her, then surely they knew what a strain it was putting on her, hell, anyone could see that, even him.
"She's not going to die. I refuse to lose something else that I love." Angel spun on his heel then, walking out of the room and up the stairs.
Behind him, Wesley sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "That's just it," He murmured quietly, "I'm not sure we get a choice in this..."
* * * * * *
Was she always such a light sleeper? thought Angel sadly as he watched her stirring from sleep, the minute he opened the door. He couldn't remember... He remembered smiles and laughter, something that had been lacking in the Hyperion these last months. That was mainly because of him - because getting in touch with his dark side had been more important to him than caring about the mission she'd still been working for, suffering the visions for.
A pang of guilt tugged at him and Angel sat down in the chair next to Buffy's bed, glancing round the room sadly for a moment. He remembered being in here all those years ago with Buffy, the first time they'd kissed and she'd screamed, right by that window. That night she'd looked upon their reflections and had only seen herself.
When his gaze turned back to her, she had her eyes open. "It's over." She said softly.
Angel nodded, once, keeping his gaze on her. He knew that the reason she knew was because of the lack of pain. Well, the head-splitting kind that required a dark room for her to lay down in after every vision. He found himself wondering if the pain ever truly went away but... How could it? Cordelia was dying - there was a reason for that and the reason? His mission. His redemption that would mean absolutely nothing without her in it to share.
"Are you okay? You look kinda beat up."
"I'm fine." He replied, tersely, hating the fact that he sounded so angry with her. Damnit, he was. If the visions were worsening, why hadn't she told him?
"So what's up? You have something face." She probed, gently. The light in the room hurt, hell, talking hurt - but something was wrong. Even through vision pain, Cordelia could see that. He didn't speak and usually, that meant bad. "I know it's not the vision," She cautioned forward, "It's over. Or at least... It feels like it is. So what's up?" Forcing a tone of lightness into her voice, Cordelia sat up, "Another big sucking evil?"
"Why didn't you tell me about the visions?" He hadn't meant to blurt it out like that. Really, he hadn't. Right now though, Angel was at a loss for words. She was so damned independent, so damned convinced that she had to deal with this on her own. The question didn't even phase her and that annoyed Angel.
"What about the visions?"
"Stop lying to me."
"Lying to you? I've never lied to you..." She snapped, "You're the one who's quite adept at that, remember, Mr Sharing-My-Pain-Is-Not-An-Option?"
"Okay then," He frowned, "Stop omitting the truth. Stop dancing around the fact that the visions are..."
"That the visions are what?"
A pained look bled onto Angel's face and he looked down, suddenly quiet.
"That the visions are WHAT?" She asked, folding her arms across her chest. Whatever was going on? She didn't like it, not one little bit.
"For months I've convinced myself that if you looked fine, you were fine. Every time you said you were, I believed you and... You're not, are you?"
"What, fine? Right now, no. I feel like that Irish jig guy is tap-dancing in my head, but it'll pass..."
Angel sighed, "It won't though, will it?" He asked, looking up. Now, she looked uncomfortable. Now, she looked like he'd taken away her safety net and left her high and dry with no place to fall but down. He'd scared her.
"I-I... Of course it will." She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Cordelia... I need to know the truth."
"What truth, Angel? The visions are painful, yes, but I can deal."
"No, Cordelia, you can't." He snapped, "God, why couldn't you for once just tell me what was happening? Why couldn't you let me deal?"
"Because this isn't YOURS to deal with. What the hell's got into you? Look, I know you're upset about Buffy but taking this all out on me is NOT the answer. The visions..."
"The visions are killing you." She stayed silent then, looked away when Angel looked up at her. "You knew about this?" He asked.
"You kinda catch on when five billion doctors are telling you that your brain is like mush." She told him quietly, "How did you know?"
"Anya." His voice was taut with suppressed tears. "She knew a girl..."
"Someone always knows a girl." Cordelia laughed, but there was no emotion behind it.
"Wesley's working now. Trying to see if--"
"You're not taking my visions, Angel." She said immediately. "Part of the reason I didn't tell you how bad they were was because I knew you'd do this. I knew you'd go all Angel about it and do the noble thing and... And try to take them away."
Angel frowned, "Cordelia..."
"No. They're part of who I am. Taking them away from me would be like... You're just not, okay?"
"You can't expect us to sit around and do nothing, Cordelia. We're talking about your life here. We're talking about you..."
"You're right. We are talking about me and I don't expect you to sit around and do nothing. I expect you to do the same thing you both do every day. Worry incessantly, occasionally bicker between yourselves. I'm not dying today Angel. I'm not dying tomorrow or next week or the week after..."
"How can you be so sure?"
"I can't. I just... I know. I feel like I know. I've still got time."
Angel frowned, "You're 20 years old. That's no life."
"You are so wrong," Said Cordelia, finding herself smiling, "Look around me, Angel. I have a family, I have friends that love me and will do anything to make sure I'm still in their life and that's..." She faltered, tears welling up in her eyes. "I didn't have much of anything when I came to LA. I had a crabby apartment and a non-existent acting career. And then suddenly, I found out I had friends. A family. When Doyle died, it almost killed me. I worried so much about losing you but it felt like if I still had the visions, I'd never be away from you, not for long. The visions were just as much a part of you as they were me. It didn't matter that they hurt..."
"It matters now," Angel frowned. "Cordelia, the visions... If we can stop this..."
"It would never be the same." She said softly. "I couldn't go back to being Cordelia Chase Boy Slayer, just because you took the visions away. Angel, you need me..."
"I do," He nodded, "But not for the visions. I need you..." Angel flinched at how unbelievably selfish that sounded. Still, it was the way he felt. Losing Buffy had shown him that the things he held dear to him now, family, the people he loved - those were what mattered. His redemption had to come a close second to the people who helped him fight every day. "I can't lose you."
"And you're not." She said softly, "Not today. Not ever. Death doesn't always mean it's over, Angel... You know that better than anyone."
* * * * * *
It was four months to the day that he'd sat in that room, had that very conversation with her. Four months to the day that she'd looked upon him and told him she'd be in her life always, no matter if he could see her or not.
Four months ago, on this day, Cordelia had still been in his life.
It was different, somehow, to that day - but then, it would be. Things had changed after that. She'd accepted her fate quietly, never burdening anyone with the weight of the visions - each one but her wondering if this one would be her last.
She'd stopped wondering that. Told Angel that life, her life, was too short and that worrying would only make it shorter.
A week ago and Cordelia had admitted a weakness on her part. "Do you think I'll know?" She asked him one night as they lay side by side on his bed. She'd slept there a lot lately. "Do you think... Before it happens, I'll know?"
"I didn't." Said Angel, softly. He knew that was different. His death hadn't exactly been a noble one - it had been a way out of the life he hated.
Cordelia sighed and met his eyes, "I don't think I will. I don't remember coming into this world - I probably won't remember going out of it. It'll just be like any normal vision."
In that moment, he wondered if it was him she was reassuring, or herself. They'd never talked about it, not so openly. "Are you scared?"
"A little." She conceded, "But... Hey, benefits of doing the things we do. There's a multitude of people waiting to greet me on the other side." She laughed, but it was sad. "Do you hate me?"
"What?" Asked Angel, stunned, "Why would you ask that?"
"For taking the easy option. Keeping the visions, even knowing what was coming?"
"No." He said certainly, "I've never hated you. I might have disagreed with you on occasion, but... I love you Cordelia. Not just because you're my friend, but because I love you."
"I love you too." Cordelia smiled then, her fears sated for now. Yawning slightly, she looked at Angel, "I meant what I said you know. I'll be here even if you can't see me..."
"Is that a threat?" He smiled.
"No, Broody, that's a promise."
She'd drifted off to sleep then. He spent so much of his time watching her that at times, Angel almost forgot to sleep. She accused him of being drowsy during the day - then every so often, poked him gently with a stake to make sure he wasn't going 'evil on my ass again'.
He smiled at the memory, glancing upwards. It was night-time and behind him the hotel buzzed with a quiet intensity, the people who'd attended her funeral gathered in the lobby, reminiscing - talking about the Cordelia they'd used to know and the one they'd known after Buffy's death.
It was Spike who came outside first. "Figures that it'd be you sitting out here this time." He said, coming to sit next to Angel. "Her parents left a while ago, don't think they bought the sun allergy excuse."
Angel nodded but didn't speak. For both Angel and Spike to attend the funeral, it had had to be dark - he hadn't expected her parents to believe his excuse. They wanted answers for their daughter's death. Answers that right now, Angel couldn't give. What was he supposed to say that the biggest mistake of her life was picking up a box that day in their old offices and asking if he thought he could use her?
A large part of him wished that he hadn't drawn her into this, hadn't made her make sacrifices that no woman of her age should have to. But another part of him knew that whether Cordelia was here or not, her presence in his life was one he'd cherish forever.
"Was she scared?" Spike's voice broke into Angel's thoughts, the younger vampire taking a draw on his cigarette.
"Sometimes. Others, she just shrugged it off. Wesley and I kept looking but..."
Spike nodded, "Pointless. Willow said the tea helped?"
This time, it was Angel's turn to nod. Willow had sent some tea for Cordelia - stuff that had helped her with the less conventional kind of headache. For a while it had worked better than the drugs - until that last week.
"She called me. Last week." Spike admitted, "Wanted to see how everything was going with uh... Everything. Ended up speaking to the bricklayer. He said she sounded odd..." Risking a glance into the lobby where Xander was telling a very not-interested Summers Girl about his weekend at work, Spike rolled his eyes. At that rate, she'd be dead again before she knew just what'd hit her.
Giving a sigh, Spike braced his hands on his knees. "You should come inside, they're all still in there, all her friends..."
Angel watched him get up but didn't say anything. It was a fact that the only time anyone's family were all together, was at funerals. Half of the people in there hadn't even bothered with her, until they'd found out she'd died. Angel gave a sigh and turned away, knowing full well that Spike was still behind him.
"You know what she used to say Peaches," Said Spike, noting the way his sire bristled at the use of that word. "Death doesn't always mean it's over." He took a look back in the hotel again, eyes settling on Buffy who was picking at the hem of her skirt, eyes drawn downwards and away from what Xander was boring her with.
A moment later when Spike had gone inside, Angel let out an unneeded breath and felt a warm, gentle breeze wrapping itself around him. His eyes closed and for the longest time, Angel just sat there.
In Buffy's death, Angel had been given the clarity of love, the clarity of friendship - and the knowledge that within a few months, he was going to lose both those things from the place he craved them the most.
And in Cordelia's wake, he'd learned that death truly never would be the end, not for them and most certainly not for her.