: In the interest of full disclosure, I felt it best to address some concerns readers have sent me via email. First, this is, foremost, a Cordelia story. Once the worlds of Buffy and HP collide, the action will shift drastically to the HP verse, and only Cordelia will be involved, though she will be checking in on her respective gangs from time to time. Second, some are wondering just when those worlds will collide. The answer is, not for a while yet. I'm setting things up carefully so that Cordelia has reason
to find herself in the world of Harry Potter. Well, more like she'll be invading it. But she needs a purpose for being involved.Notes for this Chapter
: Willow is handed some very harsh truths here. Please note that I am not
bashing the character. She is very insecure where Cordelia is concerned, and for good reason. Characters are
allowed to dislike one another and to call one another out on their ridiculousness without it being construed as "bashing." There's no drama without conflict! :) Still, if you feel this might bother you, it's best you refrain from reading this.* * * * *
Angel slipped silently into Cordelia’s hospital room. Xander was sitting at her bedside, holding her hand, staring at the wall above her head. Anything not to look at her. The vampire received a curt nod in greeting from Tara, who otherwise said nothing.
“Hello, Angel,” said a somber Xander
The vampire paused, his surprise evident, though only Tara was witness to it. “I thought I needed a bell?”
“After a year of having Spike sneak up behind me trying to scare me, my senses have become a little more attuned." He offered a wan smile. "Go me.”
Spike. Angel didn’t like to think of him, and certainly didn’t want to consider that he now seemed to be an integral part of Xander’s, and therefore Buffy’s, life.
“Tara,” Xander continued, “this is Angel.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” the witch said quietly.
“Likewise,” Angel replied. “Xander...”
“Buffy’s fine. She’s still with Riley and they’re happy. Tara and Willow are happy together, too. Dawn’s doing well in school, but I really wish she and Spike weren’t so close. Anya is working in the Magic Box with Giles." He paused a looked down and his and Cordelia's joined hands. "Joyce is very sick.”
Angel blinked. He had no idea what was wrong with Joyce but, were it serious, it certainly didn't bode well for Buffy and her friends. Joyce was not just loved, but beloved. He then realized that he had filled him in on everyone but Xander himself.
“And how are you?”
“I’ll be okay.”
“That’s not what I asked, Xander.”
The boy laughed mirthlessly. “Don’t pretend you care, Angel. We’re not friends. We never will be. The only thing we have in common now is her,” he whispered, eyes roving over Cordelia's face in search of any trace of consciousness.
Angel sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I wish I understood why you hate me so much. I used to think it was Buffy, but now I don’t believe she ever had anything to do with it.”
The boy quietly seethed and both Angel and Tara’s eyes widened at the sheer amount of rage rolling off him. Angel could smell it, Tara could sense it, and both waited for the inevitable explosion.
Xander, however, was not about to do anything which might upset Cordelia, whether she was unconscious or not.
“I hate you because your sire killed my best friend,” he hissed. “I hate you because you distracted Buffy from her Calling and it cost people their lives, kids from my school and Jenny Calendar. You killed Jenny.”
Angel flinched harshly.
“I hate that Buffy always chose you over her friends; not just me, but over all of us: Cordelia, Willow, Kendra, Oz, and Giles. Even her own mother. You meant more than we did, though we’ve done more for her than you ever have or will. I hate you because it was your existence which brought Drusilla and Spike down on our heads. I hate you because you were inadvertently responsible for Kendra’s death. I hate you for not taking better of Cordelia.”
“Is there anything else?”
“Yeah. I’m grateful for every time you saved my life. I’m grateful to you for leading me to Buffy that night, even though I had to force you to do it. I’m grateful to you for all the times you’ve saved the world, both with my group and with your own. I’m grateful for all you’ve done to help Faith, because even though I was the first person to know she could be redeemed, I wasn’t who she needed.”
Xander blinked furiously as his voice became more raspy with each word.
“I’m grateful to you for taking Cordelia under your wing in a town which swallows and then spits out the carcasses of smart, beautiful girls every single day. I’m grateful to you for giving her a place in which she belongs, instead of the one I gave her, where she was only tolerated.”
The vampire slumped against the wall, stunned. He couldn’t believe those words had just escaped Xander’s mouth, couldn’t believe the boy had allowed them to be uttered.
It wasn’t an apology; it was better
It was acknowledgment, something Angel thought he’d never have from Xander, something he never even thought he had wanted. And it was only now, after those words had been freely given, that Angel realized how much he had craved them. He didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. He doubted Xander was looking for acknowledgment; indeed, the boy sounded so weary of life, Angel didn’t wish to upset or alienate him further.
This was why Cordelia had chosen him, the vampire realized. Xander always saw the Big Picture, he wasn’t afraid to make the Hard Choices, and he was willing to feast on crow when those he loved were in danger. He never let anyone intimidate or rush him, or make up his mind for him. As much as Cordelia was her own person, so too was Xander Harris. That was what had attracted them to each other in the beginning, and it was what bonded them still.
“What do we do for her?,” Angel whispered.
Xander cleared his throat and stood. “The doctors told me she’s stabilizing. Once she no longer needs the ventilator, we will take her home, to her apartment, where we will wait. If she’s going to die, it’s not going to be in here.”
Angel nodded weakly, a gesture Xander couldn’t see, but one which the vampire was sure he felt. The boy was right. This would not be where Cordelia spent her final moments.
“Tara, seal the door,” Xander softly said.
The witch’s hand flew up and the door blazed with golden light.
Xander turned to Angel, and the vampire saw the determination of the boy he had once so casually dismissed as Buffy's White Knight. It was rare that Xander got so fired up about something, but when he did, people stood up and took notice, because he was usually right.
“I have Anya looking for answers,” he said. “We can’t take the visions from Cordy; she would never allow it and we can’t battle the Powers, but there has to be something out there that can help.”
Angel nodded cautiously. He sensed a change coming, and for the first time since Cordelia had succumbed to the prison of her own body, he felt hope.
“Anya knows more about this world, and every other, than anyone I know. More than any vampire, witch, Slayer, or Watcher. If there’s information out there, she’ll find it." He inhaled sharply. "What I need to know right now is if you’re willing to do what’s best for Cordelia, even if that means losing her.”
“What do you mean?,” the vampire asked, eyes narrowing.
“Are you willing to let her go to save her?”
“Even though you’ll no longer have a Seer?”
“I’d rather lose myself than her.”
“At last. We finally have something in common.”* * * * *
Xander soon announced that he had an errand to run but would be back in a couple of hours. He offered to call a taxi to take Tara to the hotel, but she preferred to stay with Cordelia, knowing that was what Xander would want, even though he would never ask. If he couldn’t be there, then she would be his proxy, and she knew better than to pry about whatever he had planned.
Angel, however, was not as astute and wanted answers. Xander instantly shut down and his voice adopted that cold, malevolent edge with which Angel was all too familiar, and the vampire knew the boy was not going to reveal anything.
Xander crossed the room to Tara, who cast a shield around them so that they could not be overheard by Angel or Wesley, who had just entered the room.
The former Watcher glared menacingly at Xander, who sneered once in dismissal and turned back to Tara. He told her where he was going, why he was going there, and that he would also be checking in with Anya.
She inwardly marveled at his ability to form a plan and cover every contingency. She briefly wondered, and not for the first time, why Buffy and Willow were unable to see him as she and Riley did. It sometimes seemed as if Giles got a glimpse at how truly competent Xander was before allowing himself to be subsumed by his self-imposed paternal instincts, falling into his pattern of overlooking his surrogate son for the boy’s ‘own good’.
As one, Tara and Xander turned their eyes on the now-arguing vampire and ex-Watcher. Wesley was gesticulating wildly with his hands, pointing first at Cordelia, then at Xander, and finally to Angel himself. For his part, Angel glared viciously, and whatever threats he was growling were so soft, the boy and the witch were unable to determine their nature. At last, Wesley relented, though he was still obviously reluctant to trust Cordelia’s care to Xander.
Xander and Tara kissed each other’s cheeks, and then he was gone from the room. Angel followed, presumably to skulk around the hospital in self-pity.
Tara looked hard at Wesley and crossed her arms beneath her chest, silently challenging him to utter one disparaging word about Xander in her presence.
He never did.* * * * *
Faith the Vampire Slayer had been stunned when the night guard announced she had a visitor. She naturally assumed it was Angel, but that particular day wasn’t the vampire’s usual pattern. As she was escorted to the waiting room, she frantically worried that it was Wesley who had come to see her, as he had asked several times for an audience, but was always patently refused. Faith just wasn’t ready to confront her former Watcher’s righteous anger or, even worse, listen to him offer his forgiveness.
She walked numbly through the halls and allowed the guard to seat her at one of the desks, separated by a shield of plexiglass from the Visitor’s Area. Exhaling forcefully, she finally roused enough courage to raise her eyes, and was horrified to see Xander Harris looking back at her.
He gestured to the phone and she hesitantly picked hers up. Before he said one word, Faith beat him to the punch.
She blinked. “What?"
“I know, Faith. I knew before you did. Before Angel did. Before anyone did.”
“You tried to help me,” she whispered, tears threatening, though she wouldn’t give in. She never did.
He nodded. “You weren’t ready, and I wasn’t the right person.”
She sighed. “Sometimes I really wish you had been.”
He ducked his head. “Sometimes, I do too.”
She said nothing, lost in her thoughts.
“Faith, something’s happened.”
Swiftly, she raised her gaze. “Fang?”
“In a way,” he began, struggling how best to phrase what was to come. “It’s Cordelia.”
Her eyes widened. Now it made sense. Xander might have forgiven her, but he wouldn’t have come to Los Angeles just to see her, and he certainly wouldn’t be here for Fang or Wes. She should have guessed immediately that something had happened to the Queen.
“What’s the deal?,” she barked.
“You know about the visions?”
“They’re destroying her brain, Faith. She’s in a coma.”
The Slayer began shaking. She might not quite have understood it, but Queen C was a major player in all of this. Angel needed her to balance him in a way Buffy never could, because, with Cordelia, he couldn’t get away with the shit for which Buffy let him slide. Cordelia kicked his ass and made him grateful for it. That was pretty damn cool. Kind of like what Xander did for Buffy. She didn’t want to see what would happen to Angel were Cordelia to die. She couldn’t lose him, not even to himself. He was all she had left.
Xander allowed the girl to process the news before continuing. He then quickly outlined Cordelia’s diagnosis and prognosis, his plans to remove her from the hospital, that Tara was with him and was dealing with Angel and Wesley, and how Anya was searching for answers.
“What do you need?"
“I need you to be there for Angel if I have to take Cordy away. He can’t do this on his own, Faith, and I think we both know that Cordelia’s absence will most likely destroy him. He’s going to be lost without a Seer: first Doyle, now Cordy?” He shook his head. “Knowing that she’s out there somewhere getting help will go a long way, but if he’s to continue this fight, he needs someone standing at his side who has more power than a bookworm.”
A giggle erupted. She knew he blamed Wesley in part for her downfall, and while she remained unconvinced of that belief, she recognized the veracity of his argument. Angel would need help that Wesley simply couldn’t provide. As a Slayer, Faith often had precipitous dreams when the Big Scary was looming over the world. It wasn’t the same as Cordelia’s abilities, and it wasn’t as strong as Buffy’s sense, but it was something, and it would help. Also, there was her ability to sense demons, which was greater than Buffy’s. Sometimes it still surprised Faith just how different the powers of two Slayers could be. Of course, there had never before been two concurrent Slayers. She then remembered Kendra and winced.
She took a long appraising look at Xander. Kendra had been Called because of him; she herself had been Called because of him. She had been thinking a lot about him lately: how she had treated him; how she had used him; how she had bought too easily into Buffy’s dismissals, which she hadn’t realized were subtle warnings to stay away.
And now here he was, asking her for help, not for himself and not for Buffy, but for Cordelia and thus indirectly for Angel, a vampire whom she knew he loathed. She understood there was no way Angel could go back to Sunnydale and deal with Buffy and Riley, as well as with Giles. Apparently, Xander knew it as well.
Still, he had come to her. That took guts, and she owed him.
“But I’m stuck in here,” she said helplessly.
“Well, I’m just going to have to do something about that, aren’t I?"* * * * *
After leaving Faith with the promise of returning tomorrow, Xander stood outside the prison and called Anya. “Hey, baby.”
“Hey, you,” she replied, and he could hear both the smile and the relief in her voice. “How’s Cordelia?”
Luckily, she had gotten pretty good at Speaking Xander and let it go.
“Where are you?,” she asked, trying a different tack.
He quickly filled her in.
“Xander,” she began hesitantly, “are you sure this a good idea?”
“Probably not,” he admitted, “but it’s the only solution I have right now.”
“Well,” she sighed, “it’s got its flaws, but I think it might work.”
“Is there a spell?"
“Not as such, but I think I can find a way.”
“Any progress on what we discussed before I left?”
“More than you can imagine,” she replied, clutching the freshly-delivered scroll to her chest.
Xander stood there listening, jaws agape, stunned at what she had managed to pull off in only a few hours. “You’re a genius!"
“Should we tell the others?"
“Are you retarded?”
“Damn. No wonder you remind Buffy and Willow of Cordy.”
He could hear her grin through the phone.* * * * *
“So. You’re a witch.”
Tara eyed Wesley skeptically. If this was his opener, she couldn’t wait for the main event. She nodded.
“And you and Miss Rosenberg are...”
“Of course.” He then fell silent.
“Is that all?”
Wesley blinked. “Sorry?”
“Is that all you wanted to know?"
He paused only briefly. “What are Mister Harris’ intentions toward Cordelia?”
She gave an indelicate snort. “That’s really none of your business.”
“Now see here...”
see here. I’m sure it’s very upsetting for you, after all you’ve been through with Angel and Cordelia, to see her care now entrusted to Xander of all people.”
His eyes widened.
She nodded. “I know you knew them when both you and Cordelia were still in Sunnydale. And I also believe that this has more to do with worry about Cordy than it does jealousy of Xander. But Xander was picked by Cordelia herself to take care of her, so you just need to suck it up and deal with it, or I’m going to have Buffy, Willow, Joyce, Dawn, Giles, Riley, and Anya all down here on the next broom, just so they can shove it up your ass. We probably wouldn’t even have to pay Spike to help with that.”
“Well, you certainly are direct."
“I’m whatever I need to be where my family is concerned.”* * * * *
Xander met up with a pacing Angel in the hallway outside of Cordelia’s hospital room.
“Are you going to tell me what you’re up to?,” Angel angrily demanded.
The boy paused and considered the question. “No.”
Angel snorted. “You are the most insufferable, arrogant, annoying, bratty...”
Xander began feeling the planes of his face. “Did I turn into Spike?,” he asked, aghast.
Angel stared at him for a moment, and then burst out laughing. “Okay, I get it now."
“Why they keep you around. You are
Cold fury descended upon Xander’s face and he meant to stalk away.
Realizing how his words could be interpreted and castigating himself for it, Angel grabbed Xander’s arm.
“Wait. Just...wait. Please?”
Xander said nothing, but stilled.
“Xander...hell. I don’t know what to say to you. I never have. I wasn’t trying to make fun of you, Xander. I guess...shit, this is usually where Cordy comes in and decodes my words for people.”
The boy allowed a small smile.
“I just meant,” Angel continued, “that I’m finally seeing in you what was obvious to so many. You’re a good man, Xander. You’re a good friend.”
Xander hesitantly looked up into the vampire’s eyes, searching for any trace of mockery, and was surprised to find none. “Thanks,” he whispered.
And that’s when Angel lost it, willing to show just how scared he was, trusting that Xander’s love for Cordelia would make him understand.
“What if she dies?,” he asked brokenly. “How am I going to make it without her, Xander? I came here and I thought everything from Sunnydale was left behind, and she shows up out of the blue and before I knew what hit me, she had wormed her way into my office, into my life, into my heart. And if she doesn’t make it, I don’t think I will either." He shook his head. "Not after Doyle. I can’t lose her, too.”
Xander stared at the tears rolling down Angel’s face and, in that moment, the boy realized just how much Angel loved Cordelia, in the same way he himself loved Willow and Buffy. They might fight, exchange words, indulge in silences, but at the end of the day, there were few comforts greater than knowing your best friend in all the world would always be there for you. And it was this knowledge which allowed Xander to push away temporarily five years of hatred, disgust, and uncertainty, and to embrace the vampire.
A whoosh of surprised and unneeded air was expelled from Angel as Xander pulled him into his arms. The demon faltered a fraction before burying his head in Xander’s neck and clinging to the boy like a lifeline. Xander held him a moment, letting him sob out some of the fear and anxiety, while struggling to remember what Anya had said to him before he departed from Sunnydale.
“We’re going to do everything we possibly can, Angel. We’ll exhaust every avenue, upturn every rock, and dig through every moldy book until we find something. If...if Cordy dies, she’ll die knowing that we did absolutely everything possible to save her and that we will always love her. Some things are ultimately out of our hands, but we can’t stop fighting just because we’re afraid we might lose that for which we fight. We’ll get through this, no matter the outcome. I promise you that.”
Angel was silent for a moment. “This is what you do for Buffy, isn’t it?,” he finally asked.
The boy offered a mild shrug. “When she lets me.”
Angel drew himself up and looked down at him. “Thank you.”
Xander wiped away a few of the vampire’s tears before standing on his toes and chastely kissing his cheek.
Angel was so stunned, he just stood there, staring stupidly at the former bane of his existence, who took the opportunity to reach up and muss his hair.
“Always wanted to do that,” he smirked.
Angel rolled his eyes and cuffed Xander on the arm. “Which one? The kiss or the hair?,” he leered.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?"
Tara and Wesley stood silently watching from the observation window in Cordelia’s room.* * * * *
Willow had finally stopped worrying a path in the rug of her dorm room, gritted her teeth, and picked up the phone.
“Who are you calling?,” Buffy demanded.
“Anya. I’m hoping Xander has called her by now, since neither he nor my girlfriend
have seen fit to pick up the damn phone and check in.”
“What?,” Buffy snickered. “Are you afraid Xander and Tara have run off together?”
Willow said nothing.
“Wait a minute. Are
The redhead shook her head. “No. No, of course not.”
“Then what’s the problem, Will? Isn’t Tara allowed to take two steps without giving you a full itinerary?”
She whirled on Buffy, eyes ablaze. “You don’t know anything about me and Tara. You never wanted to know, so why the sudden concern for our relationship?”
Buffy winced. “Will, I’ve told you over and over again how sorry I am for my initial reaction to you and Tara. I don’t know how many times I can apologize, but if it will make you feel better, then I’m sorry, okay?”
The witch sighed. “It’s not that, Buff. I know you’re sorry and I know you’ve tried to make amends.”
“Then what the hell is going on?,” Buffy asked lightly, but with conviction.
“I don’t know!,” a frustrated Willow roared. “I don’t know why I’m so upset. I don’t know why I’m acting like this. I know Xander and Tara would never do anything behind my back, but I admit I was surprised when he asked her to go with him and she so readily agreed.”
Buffy frowned. “I thought you wanted Tara to be friends with everyone in the gang.”
“I do. It’s just...I’m so afraid she’s going to leave me. I think about it all the time. I’m terrified I’m going to do or say the wrong thing, and she’s going to leave me just like Oz did.”
“So...is that it? You’re not having any trust issues with Xander or Tara, are you?”
“No! No way, Buff. Tara would never cheat on me!”
“I notice you left Xander out of that statement.”
“Well, how could Xander cheat on me? We’re not together,” a flummoxed Willow answered.
“Oh, maybe by him racing off to Los Angeles to be with Cordelia?”
The witch couldn’t help it. She scowled. “I don’t know what he ever saw in her.”
Buffy sighed. “At last, we finally get to it."
“Get to what
“To the fact that it doesn’t matter, that it never
mattered, what you thought about Cordelia, or about Cordelia and Xander as a couple. At every opportunity, you wormed your way into their relationship and made your feelings for her clear, both to her and to Xander.”
“He’s my best friend and I was concerned!,” Willow protested. “Cordelia was a bitch, Buffy, to both of us, or have you forgotten?”
“Have you forgotten all the horrible and vile things we said about her, both behind her back and to her face? Cordelia obviously grew up, Willow. I’d like to think I have, too. Don’t you think it’s time you did as well, as far as she's concerned?" She shook her head. "I just don’t get it. I’ve never seen anyone affect you the way Cordy does. It’s utterly bizarre.”
Willow huffed. “You have no idea what it was like growing up in her shadow, Buffy. All of the potshots she took at me. At every opportunity, she was in my face, calling me names, pushing me around, ridiculing what I wore, who my friends were, how well I did in school. All of the horrible things she said to Jesse and Xander. How could Xander just put all that aside and be with her?”
“And not with you?,” Buffy asked sharply. “Isn’t that
what this is really about?”
“You’re not listening to me at all!”
“I’m listening to and hearing you just fine, Will, but be honest with me about something. Were you really ever Cordelia’s victim? Did you never once say anything about her or against her, either to her face or to other people? Were you not the founder of the ‘I Hate Cordelia Club’? Did you, Jesse, and Xander not attack Cordy and her friends at every opportunity, as well? Are you telling me Cordelia always instigated the fights? Because, sorry, I find that extremely hard to believe.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You know what I’d like to know? When they were dating, of whom were you more jealous? Xander? Or Cordelia? I had thought it was all about Xander, that he had found someone who wasn’t you, but now I’m wondering if you were jealous of him, because he finally won Cordelia’s respect and approval.”
Willow said nothing.
“What do you even know about Cordelia?,” Buffy continued. “Do you know what her home life was like? Do you know anything about her parents? Have they stayed in contact? Last I heard, her father was in jail, and her mother had taken off without another word. Still, Cordy had enough guts to pack up whatever she had left after the audit and head off to Los Angeles to try and make a new life for herself. At eighteen years old
. And once she got there, she hooked up with Angel, has been continuing to fight, has saved countless lives, and what has it gotten her? A coma from which she might never awaken. Possible brain damage. And you want to stand there and whine about high school?”
The witch looked abashed but still doubtful.
“And why the hell do you care if Xander takes off to be with her? If Anya doesn’t have a problem with it, why should you? You are not Xander’s girlfriend, Willow, and I think you really need to accept that once and for all. It cost him his relationship with Cordelia, was a big part of why Oz left the first time and, if you’re not careful, it’s going to come between you and Tara. So sit down, breathe, think about what I said, and I’ll
call Anya.”* * * * *
Anya was surprised to receive a phone call from Buffy, but that surprise quickly turned to annoyance when the Slayer’s cadence changed from curious to interrogative.
“I already told you, Buffy!,” she shrieked. “Xander and Tara arrived in Los Angeles a couple of hours ago.”
“Well, then why hasn’t he called to check in?,” Buffy barked.
She knew she was being contrary to everything she had just said to Willow, but she couldn’t stop herself. She was worried about Xander; she was worried about his emotional state after being confronted with a comatose Cordelia; she was worried Angel would be harassing him; and she was worried there might be some demonic attack and she wouldn’t be there to protect him. Buffy understood all too well what Angel was going through; if Xander had been in Cordelia’s condition, she probably would have been admitted to the psych ward for observation.
call to check in,” Anya retorted. “What you really mean to ask is why didn’t he call you
. I don’t know. Maybe he decided calling his girlfriend
with whom he lives
Buffy bristled, internally warring with Anya’s tone while recognizing the truth of her charge. “Then why hasn’t Tara called Willow?"
“Am I Tara’s keeper?,” Anya countered. “It’s not up to me who Tara does or doesn’t call. I suppose she’ll call when she’s ready. Maybe she doesn’t want to leave Xander alone, and I know he doesn’t want to leave Cordelia.”
“But he left her long enough to call you?,” Buffy questioned, voice dripping with sarcasm. The Slayer could almost hear the ex-demon’s shrug.
“Well, I don’t know Buffy. I’m not as close with Tara as I’d like, so I don’t know what she would or wouldn’t do. I do, however, know Xander, and he knows I would be worried, so he called me. What is this really about? Why not tell me what’s got you so pissed off?”
She faltered, unable to answer the question.
“When you figure it out, let me know,” Anya sneered, before disconnecting.* * * * *
Angel placed a hand on Xander’s shoulder. “Why don’t you take a break? You and Tara have been here for hours and haven’t even left to go to the bathroom. Well, except for wherever you went before. Which I still want to know about, by the way. Get something to eat or drink. Wesley and I will stay with Cordy.”
Xander offered a tired smile in reply before exchanging a glance with Tara. Myriad expressions flitted across their faces, while the vampire and the Watcher stood mystified, trying to discern what laid behind the raised brows or slightly widened eyes. At once, the boy and girl nodded and slogged from the room, leaving behind two very confused men.* * * * *
“Did you see Faith?"
He nodded and placed a guiding hand on the witch’s elbow. “Let’s head to the cafeteria. I could use some coffee and we can get some hot water for your tea.”
“How do you know I even have tea?,” she demanded.
He smirked. “You mean there’s not two emergency bags of Irish Breakfast in the zipper compartment of your wallet?”
She huffed. “You don’t know me.”
He laughed.* * * * *
“What do you think is going on between them?,” Wesley quietly asked.
“I think Xander has finally found someone who will let him be Xander,” Angel replied.* * * * *
“You’re really going to do this?,” asked a skeptical Tara, once he had filled her in on the whole plan.
He shrugged. “I know it’s not the best, but it’s the best I can come up with.”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean. It’s a good plan, and I think it will work, but it requires you to keep a lot of secrets, Xander. I’m just worried about you.”
He reached across the cafeteria table and took her hand. “And I appreciate it, but I think it’s best for everyone involved. If it will save Cordelia, it’s worth it.”
“I can’t believe Anya managed to do all this."
He grinned. “I know. She’s something, my girlfriend. I just wish the others would take the time to notice.”
“Does it really matter what they think?”
He was silent a moment, and then sighed. “It shouldn’t, but it does. I don’t want their approval to matter, Tara, especially since they don’t give two shits about mine, but I want them to like her. I want them to see how happy she makes me.”
“You want them to care,” she finished. “Like they refused to do when you and Cordelia were together.”
“It’s not that they don’t. It’s that, well, they’re jealous, Xander.”
“It’s true,” she insisted. “I don’t understand why you can’t see it. They were jealous of Cordelia, they were jealous of Faith, and they’re jealous of Anya. They’re even jealous that Riley and I are your friends. It doesn’t matter who you’re with, Xander, they’re never going to like her because they feel whoever it is will try to take you from them.”
“But that’s not fair!,” he protested.
The witch smiled sadly. “No, it isn’t, but it’s true. I don’t think you understand what you mean to them. You’re the man who will always love them, who will fight and die to protect them, who will never leave them. You really are
their White Knight.”
He raised his eyes sharply at the remark. “Then why do they treat me like this? Why are they always pushing me away? Why do they ignore me until the very last minute, or until they need something? Why do they ridicule my choices and try to make me feel so worthless? I’ve done nothing but be a good friend to them. I’ve done so much. Why is it never enough?”
“Do you really want to know?”
He nodded impatiently.
“They believe if they continually ignore you and try to exclude you, that when they finally drive you away, when you finally give up and leave, they won’t be hurt as badly.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I never said it was smart.”* * * * *
“What do you mean?,” Wesley asked Angel.
The vampire smiled wanly. “I don’t expect you to understand. You don’t know him like I do. Sometimes I think I know him better than Buffy, Willow, or Giles ever will. Xander has many facets, Wesley, and he’s very careful about which ones he shows in company. Willow and Buffy see him as their best friend; the one who makes inappropriate comments and dark quips, but who always sees the light in the darkness. For them, he’s become that light, and they use him as a beacon to find their way home.
"For Giles, Xander is the son he never had, but he gets frustrated by Xander’s lack of ambition; he tries so hard to make Xander into a mini-Rupert, that he doesn’t allow the boy any respite to be himself. I don’t really know Anya, but I’m assuming that she sees those parts of Xander which he is too afraid to show anyone else, but he still probably manages to conceal the darker aspects of his personality.”
“But you think that Tara understands Xander better than his best friends?”
“I think Tara has many facets of her own."
“No one will ever understand Xander or Cordelia in the way they understand each other.”* * * * *
Cordelia, though still unconscious, was nonetheless steadily improving. An hour after Xander had returned to the hospital, the doctors had agreed, per his instruction, to remove the ventilator tube from the Seer’s throat, and she continued to breathe on her own. Her physicians refused to allow her to be released, remarking that Cordelia needed further evaluation and observation to determine whether she would continue to stabilize. Still, her Glasgow score was low and her Babinksi reflex was good; she responded to painful stimuli.
The results of the CAT and PET scans were inconclusive: they definitely indicated that there were areas of Cordelia’s brain which had shut down due to some kind of nebulous neural pathology, but other areas, previously unused, had taken up the slack in response, and thus there was no discernible loss of motor skill and function. While the medical staff refused to state explicitly that Cordelia had suffered no brain damage, they indicated that, if she recovered from the coma, it was likely to be without impairment. However, they cautioned that it was more than possible that she would awaken with changes to her personality.
Angel and Xander nearly burst into tears at that assessment. While they desperately wanted Cordelia to live, would the price to be paid mean that they would lose the woman they so loved? They had argued to stay at Cordelia’s side, but the doctors insisted that her condition was not going to change in the next twelve hours, and sent them home.
Angel offered Xander and Tara use of rooms at the Hyperion, but they declined. He was somewhat perturbed that this bothered him. He didn’t know Tara, and while he and Xander had made temporary peace, he couldn’t count on it to last. It didn’t matter that he still had Wesley, or Gunn, who was out on patrol, or that none of his staff lived in the hotel with him. He just didn’t want to be alone.
“Xander, I understand,” the vampire said softly, “but would you do me a favor and stay at Cordelia’s apartment? I’m sure Dennis is worried about her.”
Xander thought about it for a moment before finally nodding. He reached out and took the proffered key from Angel’s fingers.
“Dennis?,” Tara asked.
“Phantom Dennis, Cordy’s roommate,” Xander said.
He snorted. “Well, at least she’s not alone. From what Willow’s said, Cordy claims he’s the only man who’s ever really understood her.”
At that, Angel snorted as well. They looked at each other and grinned.
“Do you know how to get there?,” the vampire asked.
Xander shrugged. “I have the address, and Tara’s my personal OnStar system.”
The witch beamed widely.
“Do you want us to pick you up tomorrow, or meet you here?,” Xander asked Angel.
“I’ll meet here. I need to check in with Gunn and see if anything turns up on patrol tonight.”
“Gotcha. Look, Angel, can you do me a favor?”
“Call Buffy? Let her know what’s going on?”
“I...guess,” Angel said slowly. “Is there any particular reason you can’t call her?”
Xander stared at him.
“Oh, so I’m supposed to suffer her wrath in your place?”
The boy smiled, threw his arm around Tara, and the two sauntered off. Angel could hear Tara snickering softly.
“Brats.”* * * * *
In a place outside of time and space, Cordelia Chase found herself standing before Oracles.
“Well,” she huffed, tapping her foot, “it’s about flipping time!”* * * * *
The air was tense in the dorm room of the witch and the Slayer, but was momentarily lessened when the insistent chirp of their phone loudly squawked. They raced to answer, and Willow reached the instrument first. She gave Buffy a smug, triumphant grin, which was answered by a roll of the eyes.
“Hello?,” the witch demanded.
Buffy was able to discern that whoever the caller, it was not someone with whom Willow wished to speak. Indeed, the redhead held out the phone toward the Slayer, saying nothing. Sighing, Buffy crossed the room and snatched the receiver from her roommate’s hand.
“Yeah?,” she barked.
She paused, allowing herself to register the surprise of hearing his voice, before answering. “Hi, Angel. How are you?," she asked, deciding to take a page from her Watcher’s book and extend the appropriate greetings.
“Uh, fine, thanks,” he answered, thrown. “Listen, Xander asked me to call.”
to call me
,” Buffy slowly stated, as if she couldn’t possibly have understood him correctly.
Willow raised her brows.
“Yes,” Angel replied, rather testily, which further stoked her annoyance. “He and Tara arrived a few hours ago. We all just left the hospital.”
“How is she?"
He sighed, and she heard a world of heartbreak in that simple exhalation. “The doctors say she’s improving. It was weird, Buffy. It was like, as soon as he showed up...”
“Yeah,” she softly murmured.
Angel cleared his throat and continued. “They’ve taken her off the ventilator.”
“Ventilator?,” she gasped, as the crushing reality of the situation again washed over her.
Willow turned her head and bit her lip, and Buffy could sense that despite the witch’s blustery anger, she was actually quite concerned for the Seer. She had never really thought about it before, but Xander, Willow, and Cordelia had all grown up together, had always been a presence in each other’s lives. Granted, said presence hadn’t always been welcome, and familiarity often bred contempt, but they were and always would be a part of one another. She briefly regretted coming down so hard on Willow. Perhaps the witch simply knew no other way to express her fear for Cordelia’s health, so entrenched in their past relationship that she was baffled by trying to relate to Cordelia as anything other than Queen C.
“Xander and Tara are staying at Cordy’s apartment for the night,” Angel continued. “As soon as she’s able to be moved, we’re taking Cordelia home. Xander was quite adamant that, if...if she d-dies, it won’t be in the hospital.”
She swallowed heavily and said nothing. Finally gathering her wits, she launched into her interrogation.
“Angel,” she began, “what the hell is going on down there? Why weren’t we told about how serious these visions were?”
She would have sworn at that moment that ice coated the telephone line.
“What happens here is none of your business,” the vampire quietly seethed, “or did I not make that clear during your last visit? Your concern for Cordelia is a little late, wouldn’t you agree?”
Her eyes lighted with fury. “You listen to me,” she snarled, “I’ve known Cordelia for five years, and for the first three, you had almost nothing to do with her. She might not be my best friend, but she fought at my side, even though she didn’t have to, so you’re damned right that I’m concerned. I understand what you’re going through, Angel. If this had happened to Xander, well, I’d probably be committed for my own protection and the safety of others, but that doesn’t change the fact that I care about Cordy and that I’m worried for her, for Xander, and
A tense moment of silence followed, in which she found him as inscrutable and frustrating as ever.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “This isn’t your fault, and I don’t mean to take out my anger on you.”
“Like I said, I understand,” she replied, “but would you please tell me how Xander is doing?” She looked to Willow. “And Tara, too?”
“They’re both fine. Xander...has certainly changed."
She frowned. “Changed how? Are you really going to start complaining to me about Xander?"
“Of course not,” he soured. “Maybe it’s me who’s changed. I finally see in him that which you always have.”
“He kissed me."
“Xander kissed you.”
“What!,” Willow exploded.
“Yes,” Angel explained. “He actually hugged me and tried to comfort me when I cried.”
“You cried?,” squeaked the flummoxed Slayer.
“He’s a good man,” the vampire softly added. “It makes me wish I had tried harder to be his friend when I was still in Sunnydale, instead of constantly baiting him over you.”
She said nothing.
“At any rate,” he went on, “Xander and Tara are here, they’re fine, and they’re safe. I’m sure they’ll call you and Willow tomorrow. Tara looks exhausted, and so does Xander.” He paused. “He’s up to something.”
“What do you mean?,” she asked warily.
“I have no idea,” he confessed, “I just know that he’s got some master plan, and he won’t tell me what it is until he’s ready.”
She smiled. “Yeah, that sounds like him."
“He left the hospital for about an hour, but wouldn’t tell me where he was going. Tara knows, but she wasn’t talking either.”
Buffy was silent for a moment, contemplating this information. Where would Xander have gone in Los Angeles?
Insight crashed over her and she swallowed heavily. When Xander called her, and he had better, she was going to demand answers. And if he didn’t give them, she’d be making her way down to the big city.
For the moment, she wasn’t going to say anything to Angel. If Xander didn’t want the vampire informed, it must have been for good reason. Likewise, she’d refrain from speaking of her assumption with Willow; that was a can of worms no one wanted to open.
“Well,” he sighed, “I should go. I need to meet Gunn and talk about patrol. Like I said, Xander just wanted me to call so you wouldn’t worry.”
He hung up without saying goodbye.
She wasn't surprised. He had never learned how to say goodbye to her.* * * * *
“I just realized I don’t have the key,” Xander blinked, standing in front of the door to Cordelia’s apartment and patting his pant pockets. “I don’t know where I put it. I hope it’s in the car.”
“I know a spell,” Tara shrugged.
He paused and considered, but at last shook his head and began knocking.
“What are you doing?"
“Dennis? My name’s Xander Harris. I’m a friend of Cordy’s? My friend Tara and I just left Cordelia at the hospital, and Angel asked us to stay here to keep you company. Would you please open the door?”
There was a moment of silence before the door quietly unlatched and opened. The young man and the witch cautiously crossed the threshold and looked around.
Tara whistled low. “This is nice. Especially for L.A.”
He nodded. “According to Will, Cordy’s very...proud to live here. Especially after her last home was stolen out from under her,” he savagely added, silently cursing Cordelia’s father, the fool. “Can you feel Dennis?”
She closed her eyes and opened all her senses. “I feel...something. A presence, some kind of energy.”
“Dennis? Tara’s a witch, but a good one, so if your ghostly senses are firing, that’s what you’re picking up on.” He turned to face her. “You really are Glinda.”
Dennis’s reply was interesting. The bags which Xander and Tara had laid inside the door were levitated and began floating toward the living room. The boy and girl looked at each other, shrugged, and Tara made her way further into the apartment. Xander quietly shut the door.
“Cordy’s getting better, Dennis,” Tara announced, a little too loudly. “They’ve taken her off the ventilator and she’s slowly coming out of the coma. In fact, she started improving as soon as Xander arrived.”
“Let’s not get carried away,” he protested. “Any progress Cordy’s making is all her own doing. The girl’s a force of nature.” The only response was that he was pushed into the armchair as the ottoman slid over and underneath his legs. “I could get used to this,” he smiled.
Tara threw a pillow at him, for which she was rewarded with an icy Diet Coke.
“I win,” she smugly grinned.* * * * *
Gunn bounded into the Hyperion. “Barbie?"
“Steadily improving,” Angel grunted. “Xander and his friend, Tara, are staying at Cordy’s apartment. Wes is still at the hospital.”
The other man frowned. “What are you saying? Vision Girl started getting better once her ex-honey rolled into town?”
Gunn blinked. “After all the spooky shit I’ve seen, how can something like that surprise me?”
“It wouldn’t, had you ever seen them together.”
“But she hates him.”
“No. He completely devastated her, but she never hated him.”
Gunn thought about that and finally nodded. “Oh.”
“I just called Buffy,” the vampire continued. “She’s upset and worried, and I wouldn’t it put it past her to come down here and check up on things.”
“Hey, cool. I finally get to meet the love of your life. Or unlife. Whatever.”
“It won’t be pretty. Buffy and I...don’t get along these days.”
“Because of the other one? The felon?”
“Yeah.” And then Angel put it together. “Oh, shit.”