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Rescue

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Summary: Xander's desire to let go brings Cordelia back, and she knows just what he needs: a swift kick in the butt.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Romance > Cordelia/Xander(Past Donor)gleefulmusingsFR13541,1594712124,6349 Aug 1013 Aug 10Yes

Because It's What She Does, Part One

Cordelia paced restlessly about the garage under the watchful eye of Angel and the others as they waited for Eve to show.

All of this was happening a little more quickly than she had planned, but the sooner it was over, the sooner she could get to Xander. She commanded her brain to ignore the butterflies swirling about her stomach at the thought of seeing him again, forcing herself to accept the fact that he was no longer the boy she had known. She had changed as well, of course, but not to the degree he had.

At her core, she was very much the same person she had always been, just a little older and even more fabulous. Things had happened to her - terrible things - and while she would never be able to divorce herself completely from what Jasmine had done while in her body and after, part of her still felt removed from it all. She knew that separation was tenuous at best, and would erode further the longer she remained in Los Angeles.

She needed to put distance between herself and the city, and especially between she and Connor. He was due to show up within several weeks at the most, and that was a family reunion in which she had no interest in attending. If only she could force herself to stop loving him, to stop picturing the baby she had held in her arms.

She absently rubbed a hand over her stomach, over the scar from the rebar, behind which no uterus now laid. She would never have children of her own thanks to Jasmine, and because of that bitch, the child she had considered hers was lost to her forever. Her furor instantly reignited.

Angel and Spike recoiled at the rage she was silently releasing and eyed each other before shrugging. They didn’t see why they needed to wait for Eve, but Cordelia didn’t feel like explaining, so the vampires decided to follow her lead. Neither was anxious for her to focus her wrath on them.

As Gunn and Fred anxiously watched Cordelia, wanting to go to her but sensing she would consider their good intention an intrusion; they held back. Wesley, meanwhile, was watching Angel, desperately wishing he could take back what he had done, that he could return Connor to his father and give Cordelia back her son; indeed, give her back the part of her life he inadvertently played a part in stealing. There was nothing he could do, however, and the bitter regret made his mouth taste like he had just used it to rinse a load of gym socks. Lorne stood and impassively watched all of them.

“What’s the plan, Princess?,” he asked.

“First we deal with Lindsey, as soon as his bitch of a girlfriend sashays her flat ass down here. Then we kiss Wolfram and Hart goodbye and leave it to these two yokels,” she said, gesturing to the vampires.

“And then?,” Lorne prompted.

“Then, we’re off to Rome. Xander’s left Africa only for a short time, so the window is small.”

“What the rush? We could just go to Africa," Gunn said longingly.

She smirked. “Because I have business with the Good Witch of the North.”

The others looked blank, but Angel and Spike warily eyed each other.

“Er, Seer,” Spike began, “you do know that Red is All Powerful Whatsit now, right?”

“Please. She was defeated with a yellow crayon.”

Flummoxed, he was poised to ask for clarification, still in the dark about much of the events surrounding Willow's meltdown two years previous, when the elevator dinged and Eve stepped out, her heels clacking loudly on the pavement. Her jaw set and shoulders squared, she angrily stalked over to them and defiantly crossed her arms.

“What’s all this about?,” she demanded.

Cordelia ogled the woman’s heavily bandaged nose and two black eyes. “That’s definitely an improvement to your looks,” she said sweetly.

Eve grimaced and gingerly touched the end of her nose, eliciting a sharp whine and a pained wince.

“We’re going to see the Singing Cowboy,” Cordelia continued, “and then Angel is going to help you and the shyster skip town.”

“He is?”

“I am?,” Angel asked.

“Duh. You don’t want her and Lindsey hanging around and causing trouble.” She glared at the other woman. “Not that they’re capable of much, but they’re annoying and would get in your way. Besides, getting rid of her means one less spy for the Senior Partners.”

He slowly nodded. He didn’t want to assist Lindsey in any way, but all things considered, it would be best to have him gone. He still had trouble reconciling that he was to have asked Lorne to dispose of the lawyer. If Lindsey could be dispatched with nonviolent means, it was in everyone's best interest to do so.

“He won’t leave,” Eve warned. “He has an agenda, and he hasn’t told me what that is.”

“But I know what it is,” Cordelia smiled, “and I have a plan.”

“The world is doomed,” Spike drawled.

Her eyes flashed. “It just might be if you don’t shut up and know your role here.”

“Which is what?,” he barked.

“Which is doing exactly what I tell you, or I’ll stake you here and now, soul or not. I didn’t create you, I was never in love with you, I don’t find you funny, and peer pressure is not going to coerce me into letting you live in my basement. That Buffy allowed you to live after the Initiative chipped you is proof of her idiocy. That Angel continues to put up with you is proof that he’s a dumbass who desperately needs me to kick his.”

“How am I supposed to do this without you?,” Angel quietly asked.

She sighed, ignoring Spike’s sulk.

“It’s a little late to be asking that now, isn’t it?," she asked, not unkindly. "This is your mess, and you’re going to have to clean it up yourself." She sighed. "I can’t help you anymore, Angel. I’ve done everything I can. The rest is up to you.”

“So you’re just going to leave.”

“There comes a time when it’s necessary. I can’t pretend that everything that happened just…didn’t.”

She cocked her head. “The biggest mistake Xander and Willow made was that they never got away from Buffy for any considerable length of time. We all signed up, but that was our decision, just like it’s our decision when we choose to walk away. I’ll continue to fight, but in my own way and on my own terms. I’m not choosing Xander over you, Angel, nor does my leaving mean I love you any less.

She met his eyes. "I just love myself more. And this time, for the right reasons.”

He nodded as her words registered, but it would be a while before he could accept them. "I never thought it would come to this.”

“I never thought I wouldn’t trust you.”

He dropped his eyes. “Ouch.”

“Truth hurts.”

“It does.” He smiled sadly. “I’d forgotten how much, and it’s only now I realize how badly I've needed to hear it.”



* * * * *



The driver followed the directions provided by Cordelia, and she was the first to vault from the limousine when it pulled in front of Lindsey’s downtrodden motel. She strutted up to the entryway and didn’t bother waiting for the others; if they wanted to follow her, they could, and if they didn’t, she didn’t care.

She was searching the lobby in vain for an elevator as the others filed in behind her.

“What kind of tool lives in a ten-floor walkup without an elevator? Lame.” She sighed and trudged toward the stairs, Eve hot on her heels. “Do the world a favor and invest in a stick of gum.”

Eve ignored her, anxious to get to Lindsey. She was followed closely by Angel, and was filled with disbelief that she was counting on Cordelia Chase to protect Lindsey from him. Fred trailed Angel, staring daggers into his back, flanked by Wes and Gunn. Lorne was next, while Spike brought up the rear.

Cordelia strode up the only door without a number, which only made it stand out all the more. Shaking her head, she poised her hand to knock, but thought better of it and kicked the door open. She sauntered inside, sized the place up, deemed it barely a step above Roach Motel, and looked around for Lindsey.

“Yoo-hoo!”

Fred snickered and pushed her way past Angel, whose entrance was blocked due to lack of invitation. Eve hesitated a moment and then followed suit, as did Wesley and Gunn. Lorne and Spike remained with Angel and waited to see how Cordelia was going to play this.

“Well,” came the soft, amused drawl, “look who’s alive and…kicking?”

“Witty,” she sneered. “How are you, Lindsey? All finished with the OT? Can you finally jack off once more?”

He glared at her over the slender shoulder of Eve, who had rushed into his arms. “To what do I owe this displeasure?”

“Well,” she sang, inclining her head, “just thought I’d drop in on my way out of town to say hi and nice knowing you. Oh! And also to give you a heads-up that the Senior Partners know all about your gross tattoos and don’t care. They’d love nothing more for you to sneak into the firm and harass Angel."

She bit her lip. "Gee, I wonder why? It couldn’t be because you won’t walk out alive.” She tilted her head, looked up at the ceiling, twirled a lock of hair around her finger, and cocked a hip. “Could it?”

His glare deepened to a glower. “Too bad Angel can’t come in, if only for your safety.”

Cordelia clucked. “And here I was thinking that as evil as you are, you have standards. So women and children are expendable when the situation demands. I bet Darla knew that, too.”

“Don’t you speak her name."

“Or you’ll, what? Hit me? Run me through with that sword in your knockoff Kenneth Cole duffel by the door? Mojo me with your creepy ink?” She snorted. “As if. I’m sure your puny lawyer mind is trying to work out how I’m back, but what you should be considering is why and what other tricks I might have up my sleeve.”

“Sleeveless,” Wesley reminded her.

She grimaced, disbelieving of how easily she had walked into that one. She chalked it up to the coma and shrugged.

“Point is, I’m not scared of you, Lindsey. I never was. And I really don’t think you want to hurt me, so why don’t you tuck your dick back into your pants before I cut it off, and listen to what I have to say?”

Spike and Gunn snickered and then scowled at each other.

“Do I have a choice?,” Lindsey asked.

“There’s always a choice,” she said blandly, “but I thought you were too smart to make a move without having all the facts. I guess I overestimated you. I’m sure I’m the only who ever has.”

She turned on her heel to leave.

At Eve’s harried prompting, he called for Cordelia to wait.

She turned back to face him. “Your soul is forfeit; you know this. You still have a life to live, so don’t waste it trying to best Angel. If you want, I can get out a ruler and we can settle it once and for all.”

“Just say what you have to say and get out,” he snarled.

She raised a brow. “Fine. Angel will kill you, Lindsey. That’s not a prophecy; it’s a proclamation. Those tattoos are worthless other than for getting you into the firm undetected. So if you’re ready to die, just walk over to Angel and say hi. I’m sure he’d be happy to oblige.”

The vampire grinned. “More than."

“I’m not scared of you,” Lindsey hissed.

“This isn’t about being scared, you moron!,” Cordelia barked. “This is about staying alive!” She shook her head. “Look, if you died in the next ten seconds, I could give a crap. The only one here who does – the only person in the world who would mourn you – is standing next to you. I know you love her, Lindsey, so answer me this: what happens to her after you’re killed? Do you care? If you don’t, I’m out. If you do, suck it up and listen.”

He fell silent for a long time, debating her words, and finally replied with a nod.

“Get out. Take Eve and leave Los Angeles today, while you still can.” She paused. “This is it, Lindsey. This is your only chance. After I leave here, I’m leaving town and will forget all about you and your concubine, and if Angel wants to kill you – and he does – he’ll do so, and no one else is going to raise a hand to stop him.”

Gunn nodded. “Word."

Spike appeared gleeful.

“Why do you care?,” Lindsey demanded of her.

“I don’t. At least, not as far as you’re concerned. If Angel killed you right now, I’d do nothing other than point and laugh. What worries me is what killing you would do to him. And, really, you’re pretty much useless to both sides, since you're incapable of picking one. So why would you want to go out like a sniveling bitch when you could take all that money you embezzled, hop on a plane with the…person…you love, and try to live?”

He stared at her, his eyes narrowed. “What are you?”

A cryptic smile was her only response, and the others looked at her in confusion.

“I’m beyond you,” she finally said. “Don’t trouble that pretty head trying to figure it out, because you won’t."

He smirked. “You think I’m pretty."

“Aside from the crow’s feet etched into your skin from all the sneering, you’re all right,” she conceded. “Even after Darla, I was willing to give your taste in women the benefit of the doubt, but I see now what a mistake that was.” She sighed. “So what’s it going to be, Captain Hook? Are you going with Eve, or jetting downtown to keep Lilah company?”

He pursed his lips. “I have to think about it.”

“No you don’t. This is a one-time offer, and it expires the moment I step over the threshold. Make your decision now, while you’re still able to make one at all.”

He curled a lip and then looked down at Eve. “What do you think?”

“Do it,” she urged. “Let’s just leave. Who cares why she’s doing it?” She grabbed his arm, her nails like talons. “I don’t want to die, Lindsey.”

He searched her eyes for what seemed like minutes, before he slowly nodded, a look of defeat on his face.

Cordelia nodded with satisfaction. “Good choice. There’s a second car waiting downstairs to take you both to LAX, where you’ll find two tickets waiting at the Lufthansa terminal. You can pick your destination once you get there, and the tickets are untraceable by the firm.”

“How did you manage that?”

“I have many skills.”

“You don’t expect me to thank you, do you?”

“Not at all.”

She crossed the room in two quick strides, threw Eve aside, grabbed Lindsey by his neck and hauled him into the air, amused by his feeble kicking.

“If you ever try to use Doyle’s memory again – if you even dare speak his name – I will know, and I will find you, and you will pray that Angel had killed you.” She smiled. “I’m not going to ask you if you understand me, because I know that you do.”

She gave a contented sigh. “Well, I can’t say it’s been fun, but it’s been real.”

With that, she threw him back six feet, where he crashed through the wall and landed in his dingy bedroom.

“Later.”

She stormed out.



* * * * *



Wesley, Gunn, Lorne, and Fred had left them standing on the tarmac to make last-minute changes to the flight plan, alternating their course to ensure anyone following them would have difficulty discerning their final destination. Spike finally moved away after Angel detailed in creative ways his plan to dismember the other vampire.

“Effective,” Cordelia noted, watching Spike slink away.

“He’s never been one for subtle.”

“Apparently.”

Silence descended and they looked at everything but each other.

“I do love you,” she finally whispered.

“I know.”

“I have to leave, Angel. If I stay, I’ll be destroyed, and I don’t just mean killed.”

His jaws flexed as he gritted his teeth. “How did this happen?”

She laughed, but it was brittle. “We both made some extremely bad choices. Now we have to deal with the consequences.”

He shuffled his feet, pleased yet guilty that she wasn't placing the blame squarely on his shoulders, though he knew he bore the brunt of the responsibility. “Connor?”

“He’s coming. I don’t know when, precisely, but it will be sooner rather than later.” She hesitated. “You need to decide if losing your son is worse than never knowing him.”

She was yet unsure when she would be ready to make the same decision, but knew that time would eventually come.

“He could never forgive me.”

She smiled. “You’d be surprised what’s forgivable. Five years ago, I couldn’t get over that Xander kissed Willow." She shrugged. "But life keeps happening. Buffy couldn’t get over that you were a vampire. Faith was just a murderer cooling her jets in prison, and Willow tried to destroy the planet. Yet, here we all are.”

He nodded absently, looking at the others who were waiting for Cordelia at the top of the stairs to the plane. “You’ll take care of them?”

“I don’t need to. That’s really the whole point, Angel: they can take care of themselves if given the chance.”

He ducked his head, abashed, before finally nodding.

“I’ll talk to Giles, make some inroads,” she continued. “This rift is stupid, and it’s hurting both groups more than it’s helping. Even with all the new Slayers, we’re still small. It’s retarded to alienate ourselves from each other.”

“Thanks,” he whispered.

She saluted him. “Ambassador Cordy, at your service.”

He swallowed heavily. There was so much he wanted to say to her, but words had all but fled as the plane powered up. “Did you mean what you said before? That this isn’t the end?”

She reached up and caressed his face. “There is no end.” Her eyes became hazy. “If I’ve learned anything, it’s that. Nothing ends, Angel. We go on, we learn, and we become better.”

He gave a jerky nod. “If you ever need anything…”

“I’ll call,” she promised. “And if you ever…”

“I'll know just who to ask for.”

She grinned. “It’s about time.”

He leaned down to kiss her, and again she offered her cheek before throwing her arms around him. He was amazed at the strength she now possessed, in addition to how well she controlled it. He buried her face in hair, memorizing her scent, and was unsurprised that she was the first to pull away.

“I love you.”

She rolled her eyes. “Duh.” In the next moment, all mirth left her face. “I love you, too.”

She turned, but abruptly halted. “Oh. And you’re welcome.”

Then she was gone.

He watched her walk away and took a small measure of comfort when Spike came to stand beside him.

“That’s a hell of a bird, Angelus.”

“She always was.”



* * * * *



Cordelia walked quickly towards the plane and, as much as it pained her, repressed the desire to turn around and offer one final goodbye.

She was done looking back.



* * * * *



Cordelia had settled onto one of the posh leather couches lining either side of the aircraft, her legs tucked primly beneath her, and frowned, still debating the sagacity of acquiescing to Angel’s request that they use one of the firm’s jets to travel to Rome.

It was convenient, yes, and traveling by private plane was a luxury to which she could not only become accustomed, but infinitely deserved.

Still, there might be repercussions, and she was positive that Wolfram and Hart were most likely tracking her movements, none too pleased that she had blown several of their lame-ass schemes out of the water. She had all but guaranteed that when she had confirmed Connor’s imminent return.

That had been a risk, but a calculated one. If her proclamations and admonitions hadn’t been enough to penetrate Angel’s ridiculously thick skull – though she couldn’t imagine how that could be possible, and she would be mortified if he had the audacity to ignore her warnings - the realization that the Senior Partners were still a looming threat to his son was sure to shock the stupid out of him.

Whatever; she wasn’t too worried. It was doubtful that the firm would detract their attention from Angel to focus on her other friends, and any attention she might draw to the Scoobies was insignificant; they had never before been targeted by the Senior Partners and it was unlikely they would be now.

She only vaguely listened to Fred’s excited squawks about the Eternal City, Gunn’s fretting over not being able to bring his weapons cache, Lorne’s rendition of Three Coins in the Fountain, and Wesley’s droning lecture on the current state of the European nation.

She had missed them, their quirks and foibles, and they were safe for the moment, now that they were free of Angel’s idiocy and the firm’s machinations. She had no intention of abandoning them, but she couldn’t afford to make them her first priority. And she still had to deal with Buffy and Willow. Oh, but that was going to be a pleasure.

Her lips curved into a feline smile as she savored the possibilities.

In truth, she held no ill will toward Buffy, who had lost more than any one person should ever be made to endure; Cordelia not only understood that but respected it. Once free of Sunnydale, she had been able to view Buffy’s triumphs and failures with more objectivity, and a grudging admiration for the Slayer had surprisingly emerged. No, she didn’t like the way Buffy had behaved toward Xander, Angel, Giles, or Joyce; for that matter, the girl’s treatment of Willow and Faith was also obnoxious. She found herself resentful of the pity for them inspired within her by an unwitting Buffy.

Buffy’s primary problem, as Cordelia saw it, was that she acted not out of malice, but thoughtlessness. Losing her mother and then her own life, however, as well as being brought back from the dead, had cured Buffy of most of that, but she still jumped on the dictator bandwagon a little too often. Cordelia well understood the need to have a clearly designated leader who could get things done, but she was also intimately familiar with the consequences which resulted when that leader believed themselves omniscient and infallible.

She narrowed her eyes, still pissed off that Angel once had the audacity to fire her. Her!

She shook her head to clear it.

She was untroubled by Buffy, because she knew the girl’s worry for Xander would override the instinctive desire to challenge her for control; if anything, she was betting Buffy would be grateful to her for coming in and relieving her of having to make decisions where he was concerned. Besides, she well know that any opposition offered by Buffy would be met and dealt with by Dawn. Willow, however, was an altogether different case.

Willow was a basket case.

She closed her eyes and behind them unfolded the events of Kingman’s Bluff.

It would be so much simpler if she could still resent Willow, but she couldn’t, nor had she ever blamed her exclusively for what had happened that night in the factory.

God, had it really been almost seven years ago?

Whatever. Willow had made her choices, but so had Xander, and she herself had then been forced to make her own. Of course, neither did she forgive Willow for chasing a boy whom she knew to be happy with someone else – which had truly been just pathetic, anyhow. The only thing more pathetic was two women fighting over the same man, which was the singular reason she hadn’t beaten Willow into the ground.

Well, that and the rebar through her stomach.

Cordelia Chase had no need to compete with any woman, and certainly not for the love of a fickle doofus. What was most galling, however, was that she had honestly expected better of Willow, which, to her, suggested that she herself was truly the superlative woman, not that she had ever questioned it.

Of course, it all would have played out very differently had Xander been the innocent victim of Creepy Redheaded Stalker Person, but that wasn’t the case; if it had been, she would have drop-kicked Willow’s ass into orbit and happily skipped off with Xander to the mall.

Alas.

He had been attracted to Willow, and rather than just coming to her and admitting it, he had gone behind her back and lied to her face, which was what she had been unable to forgive. It still grated, which was surprising given all that had happened to her in the years since, but she supposed the first cut of betrayal never completely healed. She had forgiven him, but she would never forget, and she would never again underestimate Willow’s capacity for treachery – a competency which was later and more ferociously illustrated by the girl's rape of Tara’s mind.

Cordelia knew Willow was the only valid threat standing between she and Xander, but she had a plan for the witch as well.

The others were too in awe of Willow’s abilities to realize that the girl in fact knew very little about the forces of the universe, and while Willow might now be, as Spike had said, All Powerful Whatsit, she was in for a rude awakening if she thought Cordelia would roll over and bare her belly in submission just because her eyes bled that gross black ichor.

She swallowed heavily and forced herself to breathe, to remember what Willow had endured these past years.

Nothing the girl had done – had ever even thought of doing – was cause for her to be punished in the way she had. She recalled Willow’s face, fixed in horror, when Tara was shot before her.

What a waste; what a tragic waste of a life which had all but shone with goodness. It was no surprise that Willow had gone batshit, just as there was no mystery about Xander cresting the bluff to confront her. He had known she could and would easily have killed him, but he hadn’t cared, for he had understood her rage.

Buffy hadn’t, too entrenched in a renewed sense of morality which had resulted from her resurrection, one which whispered to her that Willow was being held accountable for violating the laws of nature and man, though she of course never would have imagined or wished for that justice to be delivered in the form of Tara’s assassination. Ever since her return, Buffy had been preoccupied with keeping a firm grasp on her tenuous control of her own life, only to realize in the end that control was merely an illusion thrown over the eyes of mortals by the Powers to keep them docile.

Willow had at last torn that veil away; Xander had done so years before. He understood all too well personal rage, but had accepted the worthlessness of allowing it to best you, so when he walked towards Willow on that cliff, he had been fully prepared to die. In fact, Cordelia was sure that a part of him had even welcomed it, and that its appeal had never released its hold upon him. That’s why she needed to get him away from the others while she still could, before he scampered back to Africa and got his goofy ass killed because of a careless mistake or a general disinterest in life.

Well, fuck that. If she could come back from two comas, being transformed into a half-demon, an Ascension, a Descension, some vague incest, and giving birth to an Antichrist wannabe, Alexander Harris could just suck up his drama and get on with life.

She kept her eyes closed and dozed lightly as Wesley regaled an enthusiastic Fred with tales of the Coliseum, mad Emperors, and Christian martyrs, with Lorne chiming in on occasion about Roman nighttime hotspots which they simply had to explore. A bored Gunn had slipped on a pair of earphones a while ago and was watching the latest Steven Seagal.

Cordelia resolved to discuss with him later his atrocious viewing habits.



* * * * *



As the limo sped past the Pantheon, Cordelia was still lost in thought, and she was aware the others were now more carefully observing her, unused to her silence for any significant length of time. She couldn’t be bothered with offering half-hearted reassurances, however.

She loved them as one could only love their family, but she honestly hadn’t given them much consideration beyond getting them out of Wolfram and Hart. She knew the boys would protect Fred at all costs, but she was also aware that there was a rancor now blossoming between Wes and Gunn from seeds of distrust sown long ago. Both of them were in love with Fred, who wasn’t interested in either of them. If she had been in love with anyone, it had been Angel, even if only on an subconscious level, and Cordelia knew the woman was still reeling from the realization that he had manipulated and betrayed them all, despite his best intentions.

It would be a long time before Fred recovered from the knowledge that the one person in whom she had invested the totality of her trust since her return from Pylea had thrown it away in favor of protecting his son, although she was sure that Fred understood Angel’s need to shield Connor.

Cordelia doubted it would take a year before Gunn and Wesley started fucking each other. Perhaps that would be best, although it was a little too reminiscent of Spike and Buffy for her tastes. Rage therapy via violent sex was all kinds of yuckness.

She was unsure what to do about Lorne. He had never fully embraced his position at Wolfram and Hart, and had no desire to return to Pylea. He was at loose ends and still mourning Caritas.

Cordelia frowned. Now that she thought about it, Lorne’s former nightclub had served a very real purpose, and as its proprietor, Lorne had been completely fulfilled, ensured that he had a place in this world, one in which he would always belong and where he had no one for whom to answer save himself.

“Caritas is Latin,” she nonchalantly announced.

Fred, Lorne, and Gunn looked askance at her.

“It is,” Wesley agreed, his brow raised.

She turned to look out the window and nodded. “Latin was the language of ancient Rome.”

For a moment, all were silent.

“Duh?,” Gunn finally said.

She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “Seems like Rome would be a good place for a club called Caritas.”

She smirked and ignored Lorne’s excited squeak, returning to worrying over how Xander would react to her arrival.

It was that confrontation which slid a sliver of fear into her thoughts and plans. She had been all but dragged out of the Higher Realms – though she was so not complaining about that – and had a new mission of her own choosing, but she was banking on his wanting to see her, on his willingness to accept help.

Well, okay, she was going to help him whether he liked it or not – his permission wasn’t required and never had been – but it would be nice; she didn’t want to have to fight him, too. But she would.

She wasn’t even sure from where this renewed sense of love for him had come, but she welcomed it. Perhaps it had always been there, waiting to be rediscovered, but she had pushed it aside in favor of Angel. Not that she regretted her love for Angel in any way; she would always love him. But now she realized that she had never stopped loving Xander, and that put into clearer focus Buffy’s own Angel troubles with Riley and then Spike, as well as Willow’s with Kennedy.

It was possible, though untenable, to be in love with two people simultaneously.

Still, after almost five years of absolute silence, of no communication, of other loves and significant deaths, could she really expect to waltz back into Xander’s life and be welcomed with open arms?

Of course she could!



* * * * *



Willow was patently ignoring yet another squabble which had erupted between Buffy and Faith, once again over Xander.

“He don’t need you telling him what do to!”

“Faith, he has to do something! He just sits in that room and stares at the wall for days on end!”

The other girl sniffed. “Well, he’s going back to Africa in two days, and he gets his shit done. What the fuck do you care how he spends his time till then? Stay the hell out of it.”

“Aren’t you worried?,” demanded an exasperated Buffy.

“Not my business,” Faith curtly replied, “and it ain’t yours, either. When X wants help, he’ll ask. Until then, I’m making sure no one’s bent nose gets in his way.”

They continued going back and forth as Willow shared an eyeroll with Kennedy.

She had come around – reluctantly – to Faith’s way of thinking a few days prior. Despite her best efforts, including an incredibly tasty batch of cookies, Xander was uninterested in discussing the state of his life or lack thereof, and any mention of Anya turned him cold so quickly, it was like trying to figure skate down Mount Everest.

She couldn’t blame him. She had never connected with Anya the way Xander had with Tara, and that he was unwilling to share his pain with her was no surprise, though it hurt. In the end, Anya had died for them all, and she deserved to be recognized and remembered for it. The marker in the courtyard of the New Council was thoughtful, but insufficient. The people who would view it would never understand who Anya had been, in all of her absurd, tactless, wonderful glory.

She blinked away the tears which threatened to emerge.

She glanced over at Dawn, who was curled up in a chair in the corner, chewing on a tendril of hair in lieu of stomping over to her sister and beating Buffy to within an inch of her life, content to let Faith take the reins for a while. Willow knew that Kennedy shared Buffy’s opinion – in itself a supremely rare occurrence – but she loved and respected Xander too much to interfere in his grieving process, remembering with vivid clarity that he had lost an eye so that she would not lose her life; wisely, she kept her mouth shut and stayed out of it.

Still, it was curious how listless Dawn had been all day, all but sitting on her hands so that she didn’t throttle everyone so that Xander might be left alone, as if she possessed some secret knowledge that it would all work itself out. At once, Dawn caught her eye and abruptly looked away, which set off warning bells in Willow’s head. She narrowed her eyes before closing them and concentrating. Two seconds later, she rose to her feet, and when her eyes opened, they were black.

Immediately, Buffy and Faith stopped squabbling and Dawn sat upright in her chair.

“Will?,” Buffy prompted.

“Something’s coming.”

Faith looked around the room in anticipation, as Buffy withdrew Mister Pointy from her waistband.

Kennedy stood and crossed the room, taking the hand of her girlfriend. “What is it?”

“Demon.”



* * * * *



As the limousine lurched to a stop in front of a nondescript apartment building, Cordelia once again all but threw herself from its confines and began charging up the walk as the others scrambled to follow her.

“What do we know?,” Gunn panted.

“Three Slayers, a witch, and a Key,” Cordelia snapped.

“Er, Buffy and Faith, Willow, and Buffy’s sister, Dawn,” Wesley translated. “But the third Slayer?”

“Kennedy, Willow’s lover.”

He blinked. “Ah.”

“And Xander?,” Fred asked.

“In another room. That’s later. I have to deal with these people first.”

“Biggest threat?,” Gunn asked.

“Willow. At least, she thinks she is.”

“You’ve got something up your sleeve,” Lorne observed.

“Sleeveless,” she and Wesley reminded him.

They packed themselves into the joke of an elevator, and Cordelia restlessly tapped her foot as the lift began its agonizingly slow climb.

“There’s much more going on here than what you’ve told us,” Wesley quietly said.

“Of course there is, but don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough. And it’s nothing bad!” She grinned. “I just want it to be a…surprise.”

“This is going to be good,” squealed an excited Fred.

The door opened, and Cordelia careened out into the hall, and began storming toward its end.

“Are you gonna knock, Princess?,” Lorne asked, already knowing the answer.

She smirked. “That’s no fun.”

“Another grand entrance?,” Gunn snickered.

“They’re the only kind I do,” she said sweetly.

She halted before a nondescript door, sizing it up. Two seconds later, it was kicked open and hanging from a hinge. The more doors she kicked in, the fonder she grew of the activity. She strolled in and gave a royal wave, her eyes landing first on a stunned Buffy and Willow, and graced them with her best toothpaste smile.

“Guess who!”
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