Because It's What She Does, Part Three: Closure
Well, we've reached the last chapter, in which two major twists are revealed! I plan on eventually writing a sequel to this, but probably won't get around to doing it any time soon. Thank you to all who read and reviewed, even to those who didn't agree with my story choices. I hope you enjoyed!* * * * *
Cordelia couldn’t meet their eyes, though she knew all of them were regarding her with shock, horror, disbelief, and rage. The cacophony of emotions was so profound and stultifying, she was unable to discern which was coming from whom. And if it was this difficult for her, she didn't even want to imagine what Lorne was going through. Given the sheer amount of repressed emotions which had been released during this meeting, she was surprised he had managed this long. Of all of them, however, it was Willow who in that moment frightened her the most, as she sensed the potential of another Kingman’s Bluff episode, one for which she had no time.
All of this had taken much longer than she had anticipated, time taken from that which could have been spent with Xander. Too, she knew that more than any of them it was Willow who would understand what that child would have meant to Xander, and she was terrified the witch’s rancor would spark her own. Thus, she had to put off Willow and the others, if only for a time, so she changed the subject slightly.
“I know you all have regrets about Anya,” she began, her gaze resting firmly on her hands in her lap, “and I’m not here to absolve you of them. She has her regrets, as well, I know. There were mistakes made on both sides, but what’s done is done and can’t be changed.”
“A baby,” Buffy quietly repeated, her mind spinning with the revelation.
Cordelia ignored her and chanced a glance at Willow, only mildly surprised to see nothing but devastating sadness reflected back at her. “I know. I know what the baby would have meant to you, as well as to him. I know you feel powerless and ashamed and an ache so deep you could never qualify it.” She paused. “But that baby is gone, and it’s not your fault.”
“No,” Willow easily agreed. “It’s Anya’s fault for being there. It’s Buffy’s fault for putting her there.”
“Now wait just a damn minute, Red,” Faith snarled. “Who the hell are you to be assigning blame?”
Willow flushed, but her anger didn’t abate.
“You’d blame a dead woman so that you can feel better over a loss that’s hers and not yours?,” Gunn sneered.
“You don’t understand,” Willow seethed.
“Oh, but we do,” Fred snapped. “We lost Connor twice. We lost who Cordelia’s child could have been, given the chance.”
It was only after she said the words that she recognized how true they were, and how she should not have spoken them in anger. Her eyes filled and she looked to the floor.
“I’m sorry, Cordy,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” the other woman quietly said.
“No it ain’t,” Gunn hissed. “We had no right.”
“You have every right,” Cordelia insisted. “You did
lose Connor. And while that loss wasn’t the same as mine, or as Angel’s, you feel what you feel. As for…the other…”
“It is all right, Cordelia. Some things should not be discussed until their proper time,” Wesley said kindly.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
“But this is the time, isn’t it?,” Dawn asked. “Sort of? Because you understand what Xander’s going though in a way none of us ever could.”
Cordelia swallowed and nodded. The anger Willow felt dimmed considerably.
“Xander didn’t know, did he?,” Dawn continued. “About the baby, I mean. Not until after.”
“Wait,” Faith said slowly, her features gathered in a frown. “I remember him reading something on the bus, after I took over driving for Woody.” At Cordelia’s nod, her anger reignited and was now aligned with that of Willow. “You’re saying that chick left him a fucking note
telling him about his own damn baby? What the fuck is that?”
“That,” Cordelia coolly replied, “was Anya’s choice.”
“Some choice,” Willow seethed.
“Whatever,” the other girl snapped. “It wasn’t your choice to make, and you don’t have the best track record for making decisions under pressure, so you better just calm down and know your role here.”
“Which is what?,” she barked.
“Which is shutting the hell up and letting me finish!”
“Why would she do that?,” Fred wondered. “Why would Anya put herself in that position?”
“Because she knew she was needed,” Cordelia immediately responded. “And she was. She wasn’t going to shirk her duty because she was pregnant, and it’s not our right to pass judgment on her. Her choice saved lives. She knew going in what could happen, and she went anyway, not because she was reckless, but because that’s who she was.”
“Did you see her?,” Kennedy breathed. “Did you watch what happened to her?”
Pain marred Cordelia’s face; she wouldn't inflict them with the agony that was Anya's final moment. “Yeah.” Righteous indignation took over. “So I know what I’m talking about.” She glared at Willow. “And you don’t.”
She forced herself to breathe. “What none of you know is what she did that day, how many people she saved, because she made a sacrifice no one should ever have to make.”
“What do you mean?,” Gunn asked.
“I mean that on the outer perimeter of the school, one girl, one mortal girl who was no longer a demon and had no powers, armed with only a sword almost too heavy for her to lift, managed to take out a Turok Han and a dozen Bringers on her own. That’s what I mean.”
“Dear Lord,” Wesley murmured, as Faith and Buffy gasped.
She looked at Buffy. “You understand what a feat that was, because without your scythe, you were almost as powerless against the übervamps as Dawn or Giles or I would have been.”
Her glaze flitted toward Faith. “You know what would have happened if even one
of those things had gotten past Anya and escaped into the sewers before Sunnydale was contained, of the damage they could have done.”
She paused to gather her thoughts.
“Anya knew the score to this going in, which is something for which none of you has ever given her credit.” She threw up her hands. “The woman was over a thousand years old! She’d seen more demons and vampires than any of you could shake a stake at. She’d seen legions of Slayers rise and fall. She was around when the Council was nothing more than a handful of men hidden in the basement of an abandoned church.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand you when it comes to her. She could have left; she did, before graduation, but she came back.”
“Because it’s what she knew,” Willow charged.
Cordelia raised a brow. “Are you really stupid enough to believe that? If we’re going to talk about what Anya knew, let’s start with the fact that she was all too aware that living on the Hellmouth meant she could die at any moment, but she came back and she stayed and she helped you fight. She had no powers, no real stake in what happened, but she was out on patrol almost every night simply because she knew it was the right thing to do. Hell, she was out there when Buffy was…gone…just like you, Xander, Oz, and I were the first time, after Angel died.”
“What!,” Buffy shouted. “You kept patrolling?”
“Well of course we did!” She rolled her eyes. “What, we were supposed to let people die needlessly just because you weren’t there?” She blew a raspberry. “Please. Let me tell you something, Buffy: we stuck it out because that was a choice we
made, to see this through regardless of whether or not you were there. Xander and Willow signed on before they ever really knew you and it wasn’t just because of Jesse. If being your friend was a prerequisite to being a Scooby, then how the hell do you explain me? We sure weren’t friends. Didn’t mean I was going to leave you and Giles unconscious on the library floor with that half-witted hilljack vampire who was trying to kill you during Homecoming.”
Buffy chewed on her lip and at last nodded.
“Well, it was the same with Anya,” Cordelia continued. “She came back because she wanted to help, wanted to make a difference, wanted to be better than the person she had been. She didn’t have to, she had connections. She could have made a life for herself anywhere in the world she wanted, safe from the violence.” She snorted. “You think she came back just because Xander gave her a tumble on Prom night? You think Tara stuck around because she liked Willow’s shiny, shiny hair?”
“That’s uncalled for,” Kennedy chided.
“Bullshit. You don’t know anything about us or what we’ve been through, other than what you’ve been told. I respect that you’re Willow’s girlfriend, but stay out of it.”
Kennedy was about to protest, but was silenced when Willow held up a hand.
“She’s right. Let her say this.”
Cordelia nodded. “The problem you two have always had,” she said, gesturing to Willow and Buffy, “is that you think you’re better than us.”
“That is not true,” Buffy protested.
“Yes, it is. When you came to Sunnydale, you had barely a year of Slayer experience under your belt and you made a lot of mistakes, including one that actually did
cost you your life. When Kendra showed up, you were jealous and obnoxious, even though there had been Slayers before you who, at that time, were much more accomplished. The same happened when Faith arrived.”
She turned to Willow. “As for you, you’ve always thought you were better than everyone else, Xander and Jesse, and especially me, because of your intelligence.” She shook her head. “People are smart in different ways, honey, and in some things, Xander and I left you in the dust a while ago.
"Then it became about the power of your magic. Well, here’s a newsflash: Tara had a lot more power than you, but she knew how to use it, while it took you a while to figure it out.
“I know that both of you have learned humility over the years - so have I - but that doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t hold our resentments, and that includes me and Xander, and it definitely included Anya. Both of you have your resentments against us, and you're entitled, but that's not the issue here.
"We’re no more amateurs than you are, and we each have our own special roles and unique talents. Maybe they’re not as showy and grandiose, but they’re just as worthy of respect. And until you can come to me and say that you’ve never made a mistake or a choice you regret, don’t pontificate. Anya’s choice saved lives, quite possibly yours included, and you have no right to sit in judgment of her.”
She then glared at Willow and Faith. “So don’t you ever speak her name again without reverence on your lips. Don’t you ever think or speak of her as anything less than a hero, because that’s exactly what she was.”
They held her eyes until shame forced them to look away.
“Are you saying she chose us over her baby?,” asked a skeptical Dawn.
“No. I’m saying she chose to save the world.”
“It was still a selfish choice,” Buffy said.
Cordelia raised a brow. "Really? And was it not a selfish choice you made when you jumped from that tower?" She held up a hand. "Don't even bother to deny it, Buffy. I saw that scene act out over a thousand different realities. I know
what you were thinking. Yes, you wanted to save Dawn, and I admire you for that, but you were also ready for all of this to be over.
"I don't blame you for it. I even respect how well you managed to hang on for so long. But don't sit there and tell me that you've never put your friends or your sister before what you knew to be right. And you very well know that when you fought with Giles before your battle with Glory that he was right. You took an incredible chance, one that could have had very serious consequences for the ones left behind. Luckily, it worked. At least as much as was possible.
Cordelia turned toward the others. "Let me ask you something, all of you who were there: going in, did you expect to survive?”
“Fuck no,” Faith blurted.
“No,” said a nonchalant Dawn.
“I hoped,” Kennedy said, “but no.”
Cordelia’s gaze narrowed on Buffy and Willow, both of whom fidgeted.
Finally, Willow sighed. “Not at all,” she admitted. “I didn’t think I would be able to pull off the spell.” She paused. “Even after it worked, I don’t think I expected to make it out alive or with my magic intact. Not even after we’d been on the bus for three hours.”
Buffy looked away and then looked back down at her hands. “No.”
Cordelia nodded. “Neither did Anya. Sure she could have left. And then what? Everything she had would have been gone, including all of you, and especially Xander. What were her alternatives?”
When no answers were forthcoming, she continued. “She knew Xander wouldn’t leave. Buffy, you had to know that he planned on dropping Dawn off with Angel and then immediately coming back to you, right?”
The Slayer said nothing, averting her eyes.
“She still could have left,” Willow argued, though her voice was uncertain.
“And gone where? Done what? With help from whom? By then, the Council was in a complete shambles, and I can't even imagine what some of the Old Guard would have done to a former vengeance demon who was an integral team member of the Slayer they believed to have abandoned them.
"Who else? Angel? Anya had no love for vampires, and she agreed with Xander that Buffy's relationship with Angel was obscene." She rolled her eyes. "And no
, we're not going to debate the merits of that
particular argument. I'm certainly neither going to defend nor prosecute their actions. I'm not a hypocrite. Bottom line, Anya didn't know Angel or our team, and had no reason to trust us. She wouldn't have been comfortable around a vampire, or around me, especially with Xander's child. Even if I was
Twilight Zoning at the time.
"See, it’s really easy to say that she had options, but if you’re honest with yourselves, you’ll acknowledge she had very few. Not to mention her conscience would never have allowed her to flee, leaving you all to die, wondering for the rest of her life whether she could have been able to help you, trying to explain to her child why he had no father.”
Buffy and Willow looked at each other. They didn't like it, but Cordelia's logic was sound. As easy as it was to insist that Anya had been in the wrong, they both knew that they would have made the same choice had they been in her shoes.
“But if she had told Xander, he would have left with her,” Kennedy said.
“See, this is what I meant,” Cordelia sighed. “You don’t know us at all. There is no way that Xander will ever leave Buffy by choice, his relationships with Willow, Giles, Anya, me, or anyone else notwithstanding. He just won’t, not even for his child. Would he have insisted Anya get out? Absolutely, even if he’d had to drug her and ship her to Abu Dhabi. But would he have left? No way.”
She turned to Buffy. “I’m about to say something which will probably hurt you, and for that I’m sorry, but they need to understand this.”
Buffy grimaced but nodded.
“Buffy’s not had an easy time of it, and I don’t think anyone, not even Willow or Giles or Dawn, really get that.” She fell quiet for a moment. “Not even Joyce.”
She cleared her throat. “As much as we bitch about her power trips and dueling inferiority and superiority complexes, those aren’t the issues. Buffy operates from a deep sense of abandonment, and she has cause. She believes that those who love her will eventually leave her, so she pushes them away first. And the one who loves her the most, who has always loved her the most in a way no one else ever has or ever could, was pushed the hardest.”
Buffy swallowed and her eyes filled.
Cordelia forced herself to get through this so that she could then get to Xander. She was on a timetable, after all.
“Merrick, Pike, her father; Giles, Wesley, the men of the Council; Angel, Riley, and Spike. In one way or another, despite the circumstances, each of them has abandoned her. Some she drove away, some passed away, and some chose to leave so that she could see she could survive on her own.
"But Xander never left. Ever. And that more than anything, more than any vampire or Big Bad or failed relationship, terrifies her. She’s scared to be alone, but she’s terrified that the one who never gave up eventually will, or that her presence in his life will almost certainly guarantee his death.
"Xander will never leave Buffy as long as he's alive. It doesn't matter if she dies; he'll just find a way to bring her back. Because as much as she needs him, he needs her even more. He's lived for her for so long, he doesn't know how to live for himself."
Buffy doubled over and sobbed into her hands.
Willow and Faith looked at her in detached wonder as, finally, the missing piece fell into place: what drove Buffy toward her greatest triumphs and deepest failures was not power or arrogance, but loneliness.
Fred looked on in sympathy while most of Gunn’s disdain thawed. Wesley, now more than ever cognizant of his past mistakes, hung his head; he had not served well either of his Slayers, and it was only now that he realized, in Buffy’s case, even his brief tenure as her Watcher had caused her more harm than he had ever realized.
“But you said you were here to take Xander,” a sour Kennedy charged.
Cordelia nodded. “I am, because this is his time. And I’m not taking him from Buffy, not for good, and I’m not being selfish. When I said I was here for Xander, I don’t mean just as his friend or as an ex. There’s a greater plan for him. There always has been.”
Buffy looked up sharply and Cordelia nodded once more.
“His place in your life wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a random convergence of Hellmouth wonkiness or anything else. It was fate. He was led to you so that you could lead him to his own Calling.”
“Which is?,” Dawn demanded.
“None of your business. Not yet. A time will come when you’ll know everything, but it’s not here yet. What you all have to decide is whether you trust me to help him get to this place. Whether you trust him enough to allow him, finally, his own life.”
“I don’t want him to go,” Willow rasped, her breath hitching.
Cordelia was surprisingly sympathetic. “I know, and, at first, he won’t want to either, but he needs to. He deserves this; he’s earned it.” She rolled her eyes. “And it’s not like he’s being taken from you, not really. Nothing could do that, not even me.” She raised a brow. “Though if anyone could, I suspect it would be me.” She nodded to herself. “He’s not moving away, he’s just moving on.”
“To be with you?,” Fred gently asked.
The other woman looked down. “If he wants. And if he doesn’t, that doesn’t change anything. He can’t go on this way. He’ll die if he does.”
“How do you know he won’t die anyway?,” Faith barked.
“He might. We all might. That’s the risk we take.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re going to give him much choice.”
“Oh, I’m not. See, there’s no reasoning with Xander when he’s like this. I’ll have to force him to get on with his life. He won’t like it, he’ll probably resent me for it, but that doesn’t matter as long he chooses to live.”
She shrugged as if it were all a fait accompli
, which, the others assumed, it probably was.
“About Anya…,” Willow warbled.
“Anya made the hardest choice anyone will ever have to make, but she made it, and it’s over. Second-guessing that choice or judging her now won’t bring her or the baby back. The only reason I’m telling you this is so that you understand why Xander has to leave. You can’t help him with this one. The more you try, the more he resents you, and he’ll never tell you. He’ll just keep fading away, taking riskier assignments, distancing himself from you, until he’s gone.”
Willow sighed. “Is she okay?”
“She is. She’s happy, and she’s not alone, and she never will be. She loves you, all of you, and she wants you to be happy. You’ll see her again. Everyone we’ve loved and lost, we’ll see again. Including Xander's child.”
“Do you really believe that?,” Buffy whispered.
“Of course I do. I don't lie. I told you about those I saw, and they’re waiting for us, when our time comes.”
She stood. “Fortunately, that’s not now.” She smoothed her shirt and fluffed her hair. “I need to get going. I’m leaving my friends in your hands and I know you’ll take care of them.”
“Wait a minute,” Gunn protested.
“We’ll see each other tomorrow,” she promised, “but right now, I have a destiny to deliver.”
She walked over to Kennedy. “I don’t know you, but I think I like you. Remember this: you’re not Tara, and no one expects you to be, especially not Willow. Just love her. Everything else will work itself out.”
Kennedy regarded her for a moment. “There’s something more, something you’re not telling us.” She frowned. “I…I can almost sense it, but then it slips away.”
One corner of Cordelia’s mouth turned up. “There’s one more surprise, but I’m saving it for last. I believe in fashionable entrances and
exits. Always leave them wanting more, you know?”
The other girl smirked. “Thanks.”
Cordelia nodded and went to Faith. “When the time comes, go to Angel. He’ll need you more than he ever has, but he won’t ask because he wants you safe.”
Faith growled. “Safe sucks.” She bit her lip. “How will I know when?”
“Don’t worry. A little birdie will give you the skinny.”
She nodded. “Well, it’s been…something. Thanks for dropping in, Queen,” she grinned.
“Hey, us coma gals have to stick together!”
She trotted over to Dawn, got down on her knees in front of the girl, and took her hands in her own. “Thank you, Dawnie, for helping to get me here. For saving Xander.”
The girl launched herself forward, and Cordelia scooped her up into a hug.
“Don’t worry about anything; I promise I’ll take care of him,” she whispered. “And your sister’s going to be okay.”
“Vision?,” Dawn mumbled.
“Common sense. Which is what you people need a lot more of. After I left, it fell to Anya, and now that she’s gone, it’s up to you. Tell them what you think, tell them what you feel, and don’t be afraid to tell them off.” She paused and smirked. “Not that you ever would be. They need you, Dawn, and they haven’t begun to realize just how much. If you ever need me, all you have to do is call.”
Dawn nodded tearfully and released her.
Finally, Cordelia made her way to Buffy and Willow, each of whom stood and looked nervous.
“Well,” she began, “this is it. Tomorrow, Xander and I will be leaving. I’m not sure where we’ll be going, but we’ll let you know. We’ll never be out of contact. I think we’ve all had enough of that.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Buffy said.
“You don’t have to. That’s the good thing about knowing each other for as long and as well as we do. Words aren’t needed.”
“I don’t think I realized until just now how much I’ve missed you these last few years, of what you added and what we lost by not having you.”
Cordelia bit her lip, determined not to cry. “That’s one of the nicest things you or almost anyone else has ever said to me. Thanks.”
She leaned over and gave the girl a quick hug, distressed at how thin and gaunt the Slayer had become. She’d later have to call down to room service and send up a cart of waffles.
“I wonder who we’d have been had you stayed,” Buffy sniffed.
Cordelia regarded she and Willow with solemn eyes. “Better dressed, that’s for sure.”
Witch and Slayer burst out laughing.
She shrugged. “I had my own Calling. I answered it, and now I have another.” She paused. “I meant what I said before, Buffy: if you want to be with Angel, go to him. You have my blessing.”
“I’ll think about it, but I’m not ready. Not yet.”
Cordelia nodded. “You’ll know when you are.”
She turned to Willow. “There’s something I need to say, something I never thought I’d say, but I can’t leave without saying it.”
Willow braced herself and nodded.
“I’ve never liked you, but I never hated you either, and I want you to know that. I need
you to know that.” She swallowed heavily. “There are things in this world that happen for whatever reason, and I’ve learned over the years to accept them. What happened with you and Xander…I’m not angry anymore; it’s over now.
"I don’t know if Xander and I would have made it then, but I don’t think so, and I wouldn’t trade my time with Angel for anything, nor would Xander his with Anya. In a way, you led us to the people we were supposed to become, to the people we were destined to love, no matter for how long. So. Thank you.”
Willow’s eyes spilled over.
“The fact of the matter is,” Cordelia struggled to continue, “that I’ve known you my entire life, Willow. There’s almost no memory I have that doesn’t include you.” She drew the stunned and flustered girl into a fierce embrace. “For better or worse,” she said, pressing a quick kiss to the witch’s cheek, “I love you.”
A raw sob was torn from Willow’s throat as she clung back and buried her face in Cordelia’s neck. The Seer allowed it for a moment, but then gently extricated herself.
“One more thing.”
“Is this the big surprise?,” asked a bemused Kennedy.
Cordelia nodded and turned back to Willow. “I need to thank you for something else.”
“What?,” the girl asked.
“For bringing me back. Without your nifty spell I wouldn’t be here.”
Willow frowned. Bringing her back? What spell? “But…Dawn?”
Her return was, as she had told Angel and the Fang Gang, primarily due to Xander's need for her, but Willow and Buffy didn't need to know that, and without Dawn and Willow, she would have remained stuck in the Higher Realms, rolling her eyes, shaking her head, and hoping for the best.
“Oh, Dawn helped, absolutely. She surrendered herself completely to her power and created a door for me back to get back into this world, but you're indirectly the one who allowed me to walk through it.”
Willow stared. “What? How? What
Cordelia smirked, leaned forward, and gave a long, slow wink.
“That new calling of mine?" She smirked. "Say hello to the newest Slayer.”* * * * *
Out of all of them, only Buffy was unsurprised by Cordelia’s announcement; indeed, the look on her face suggested that, for her, the final piece of the puzzle had finally been laid down.
She nodded to herself, her smile growing with each movement of her neck, until she looked up and beamed at Cordelia, who returned the gesture.
“Holy shit,” Faith breathed.
“Are you sure about this?,” Wesley asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Cordelia answered, her voice exhibiting both anxiety and awe.
Dawn raised an eyebrow. “Xander was always meant to be a Watcher. We just never imagined he’d be yours,” she mused. “Cool.”
“But in order for Cordy to be a Slayer,” Fred said slowly, “doesn’t that mean she had to have been a Potential?”
Wesley nodded, the confusion plain on his face.
“That’s right,” Cordelia said.
“So if not for the spell,” Willow reasoned, “you wouldn’t have been Called?”
“No,” she quietly said. “I would have been Called after Buffy died the second time.”
Buffy’s smile died as her throat filled.
“Then the Line indeed passes through Buffy,” Wesley said.
Cordelia shook her head. “No. The Line goes through both of them. It was always meant to.”
“But that would mean that Buffy was meant to die and come back the first time, in the Master’s lair,” said a confused Willow.
“Exactly. Everything happens for a reason. We all had our parts to play.” Her eyes met those of Willow. “Xander especially.”
“He was meant to twin the Line?,” Buffy asked.
“Yes. Kendra was meant to be Called. So was Faith. Those weren’t accidents.”
Faith’s breath hitched. In the space of one night, one of her greatest fears had been dispelled.
“Wait,” Gunn spoke up. “If I got the timelines right, after Buffy died, that was pre-coma; you weren’t even half-demon yet. So why didn’t you become a Slayer then?”
Cordelia sighed. “Because as powerful as the Call is…,”
“It can’t cross dimensions,” Lorne softly finished. “The Slayer is unique to this world. And we were on Pylea at the time Buffy died.”
“That don’t make sense, either!,” Gunn barked. “Why didn’t it just happen when we got back?”
“Willow was meant to resurrect me, wasn’t she?,” Buffy whispered.
“Yeah,” Cordelia said, nodding. “The Slayer…it waited for you.”
Cordelia cocked her head. “Why?”
“Because if you had been here, then you wouldn’t have had to become…what you are.”
She threw her head back and laughed. “And what am I? Okay, so I’m half-demon and now I’m a Slayer. Big woo. Fate won’t be denied, Buffy, especially by geography.” She shook her head. “See, this is something we’re all guilty of: feeling bad that bad stuff happens to ourselves and each other. It was all meant to happen this way!”
“Sorry if we can’t take comfort in that,” Willow murmured.
“You’re not meant to,” Cordelia replied, shrugging. “I don’t either. It’s just the way it is. I’ve learned to accept it because there’s no other alternative but insanity. You know that. Faith knows that. Buffy knows that.”
Buffy and Faith nodded, albeit reluctantly.
“And Xander?,” Dawn demanded. “Where does he fit into all of this?”
Cordelia smiled. “He doesn’t fit in. That’s the whole point of his existence. That’s why he’s so special. See, the Powers have control over all of our destinies, but it’s limited. Like I said, fate won’t be denied; it’s its own force, and it’s beyond the reach of the Powers. We’re their pawns. But Xander? They’re his.”
“He brought me back and twinned the Line,” Buffy said slowly, “creating a second line of defense.”
“He saved me and stopped fuckwitted zombies from opening the Hellmouth,” Faith added.
“He saved you again when Warren shot you,” Dawn said to her sister.
“He stopped me from ending the world,” Willow whispered.
“He saved my life,” Kennedy said.
“So, what’re you saying?,” Gunn asked. “The Powers are this guy’s bitches?”
“Pretty much,” Cordelia nodded.
“Xander was created to defy the prophecy which dictated Buffy’s death,” Cordelia continued. “That single act changed everything. Not only us, but the world, forever.”
“Well, damn,” Faith said.
The others began debating the ramifications of Cordelia’s revelations, but the Seer locked eyes with Buffy.Can you hear me?
Buffy pulled a face and nodded. How…?
Cordelia smirked. Well, I didn’t want to show my hand all at once, but I don’t need Willow to do this. Call it Slayer mojo, demon powers, Seer stuff, whatever. I had a vision.
What did you see?
Willow’s in some serious danger, Buffy.
Buffy tensed. From what?
Not what. Whom. Amy. She’s got a major hard-on for Willow, and that bitch is coming for her.
Buffy rolled her eyes. No big. Amy can’t match Will for witchy stuff.
Cordelia raised a brow. She doesn’t need to. How can she hurt Willow the most?
Her eyes slid toward Kennedy. By making history repeat itself.
Buffy clenched her fists at her side. Well, fuck that.
Exactly. Which is why you’re going to send Kennedy to Angel. Willow’s already going to take care of something yucky, and you’re going to lie to Kennedy and tell her you had a Slayer dream and Willow’s in danger, that she needs to go to Los Angeles with her. It’s up to you whether or not you want to go, too.
Buffy frowned. What can Angel do? He works for the bad guys. Amy is a bad guy. Or girl.
Angel’s a tool, in more ways than one, but he controls that office. There are enough other witches and superhuman things which can keep Kennedy safe.
Buffy sighed. Did you see how it all turns out?
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. No. I only saw that if Willow stays here or returns to Rio, Kennedy is dead, and Willow goes nuts. And I don’t mean all veiny; I mean catatonic. Permanently. And if that happens, Amy becomes the most powerful witch in the world.
“Understand what?,” Willow asked.
“Why Xander needs to go,” Buffy quickly said. “He’s done all he can for us, and we can’t do anything more for him.”
“I know,” Willow sighed.
“After I see Xander, I’ll work out with Giles arrangements for you,” she told Wesley, Fred, Lorne, and Gunn.
"I ain’t agreed to nothing yet,” Gunn complained.
“Charles, do you want to go back to Angel?,” Fred asked. “Because I don’t.”
“Me neither,” Wesley said quietly.
“I don’t know nothing about training Slayers,” Gunn grouched. “How I’m gonna be a Watcher?”
“By watching out for them,” Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. “Duh. Just like you did for the kids in your neighborhood before you came to the agency.”
He looked unconvinced.
“Look,” Faith interrupted. “We got more Slayers than we know what the fuck to do with. The First decimated all of the best Watchers. What we got now is eggheads who are untested and haven’t seen a vamp or a demon outside a lab. We need help, Chuckles.”
“Girl, what you call me?,” Gunn demanded.
“You got a beef? Good! That’s what we need. People who’ve seen the evil shit and know it needs fighting not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we got no fucking choice.”
“She’s right,” Kennedy said. “Just because we’re knee-deep in Slayers doesn’t mean the balance has shifted. The First almost unleashed hell on earth. Yeah, we stopped it, but there’s a lot of cleanup left.”
“Whatever,” a bored Dawn interjected. “Just do it, okay?” She clapped her hands, eyes alight with mischief. “Now, I wanna see Buffy fight Cordy! Or Faith can fight her. Let’s see some action!”
“Fuck that,” Faith said, eying Cordelia. “We ain’t talking about no newbie Slayer. Not only is Vision Gal half-demon, but she was trained – as a mortal – by Angel.” She shook her head. “I’ve fought Fang before. No fuckin’ way.”
“Ditto,” Buffy quickly said.
“I know you’re not looking at me,” Kennedy squawked at Dawn, who pouted.
“I need to go.”
As one, they turned to Cordelia, who gave them a half-smile. Willow was the first one to reach her.
“Thank you,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around Cordelia. “Look, I know you’ll take care of him. I know that. But if you hurt him? Slayer, demon, whatever; nothing will stop me from getting to you.”
“I’d be pissed if it did.”
Willow was dislodged by Dawn, who wanted her own hug. “I’m so glad you came, that you’re okay. He needs you so bad, Cordy. It’s…it’s breaking my heart to see him like this.”
“Dawn, you brought me back to help him. It’s not even a question.”
The girl nodded and released her.
Cordelia looked at Faith. “Angel will call you again. When he does, you need to take it."
She shook her head. “I don’t need one. He has nothing left. He needs someone to kick his ass, like I’m going to do to Xander.”
“I can do that.”
“I know.” Cordelia waved to Kennedy, who smiled and nodded, before turning to Buffy.
do this without him.”
Buffy offered a sickly smile. “I guess I’ll have to.”
“No, you won’t. He’ll always be there when you need him. Always. You need to learn to trust yourself the way he trusts you.” She paused. “After they brought you back, it wasn’t Giles who should have left. But Xander knew he couldn’t, not then. He won’t want to now, but he has to. If he doesn’t, he never will, and he’ll die.”
Buffy nodded. “I know.” She blinked and cleared her throat. “So. Did you get your handbook?,” she grinned.
Cordelia smiled. “I don’t need one. I learned from the best.”
Buffy clenched her teeth and breathed through her nose. “You didn’t have to say that.”
“I know. Doesn’t change the fact it’s true.” She shrugged a shoulder. “Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter. Kendra, Faith, the others. They’re good, but they’re not you. At the core, it’s you, Buffy. Always was, always will be. You’re the best. And everyone here knows it. It’s time you did, too.”
Cordelia gave her a quick hug that was over before it had begun.
“This isn’t goodbye,” she said to Fred, Lorne, Wesley, and Gunn. “Not by a long shot. I didn’t come back to lose you now. I just need some time, to help Xander and…to help myself.”
Wesley nodded as Fred quietly cried.
“This Xander,” Gunn said gruffly, “you really love him? He loves you? Like you deserve?”
Cordelia beamed. “That’s the thing about Xander. He loves everyone like they deserve, whether or not they feel they do.”
“He hurt you once.”
“And it almost destroyed him,” Willow whispered. “It won’t happen again.”
Cordelia nodded over her shoulder at the witch, and again looked at Gunn. “If you’re lucky, you get one true love in your life. I’ve had two, and I wouldn’t trade either one. I wouldn’t give up my time with Angel despite all the pain it caused both of us. But I’ve loved Xander since I was five years old, Gunn. From the moment he stole Willow’s Barbie and gave it to me so I would have a friend.”
He nodded. “Got it.”
“And if he pisses me off, I’ll dropkick him into Peru.”
“That’s my girl.”
“You gonna sing for me, Princess?,” Lorne asked.
“Please, god, no,” Buffy whined.
“Hey!,” Cordelia snapped. “You’re one to talk. I saw your solo number in the cemetery. Between that and cookie dough, you shouldn’t be throwing stones.”
Cordelia turned back toward Lorne. “I can’t.”
He tilted his head. “Sleeveless, I know, but you’ve got something else up there, somewhere. You told Angelcakes you were on a mission, that there were plans for your boy.”
“Don’t want to spoil the surprise,” she smirked.
He nodded. “Then give us a kiss, Dorothy, before you click those snazzy boots.”
She leaned over and wrapped an arm around his neck, kissing his cheek, as another arm snaked around Fred. Wesley and Gunn closed ranks and draped their arms over each other’s shoulders, holding Cordelia in place for as long as she would allow.
“Demon Slayer Seers still need to breathe,” she said after several moments.
Reluctantly, they pulled away. She began walking toward the doorway, stopping just before it. She refused to look back.
“I love you all. Take care of yourselves.”
“You too,” several whispered back.
“And keep Xander out of trouble,” Dawn added.
Cordelia snorted. “You've met him, right?” * * * * *
She stood before his door, arms at her sides, clammy fists clenched, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do, to say, how to help him. For all her talk, for as much as she thought she knew what he needed, it was nothing but guesses. He had lost the woman he loved, the baby they had created together. His grief was hard won and he deserved to indulge it.
Squaring her shoulders, she shook her head. It had been too long; he needed to get over this before he reached the point of no return. She knew how to deal with him, always had, and had a plan all in place, but knew it was risky; that it might cost her whatever feelings he still had for her. But it had to be done.
She hoped he would forgive her.
She wasn’t going to announce her presence by knocking, knowing he would ignore it or proclaim her voice a trick perpetrated by Willow. She wasn’t going to walk in there and beg him to listen to reason; he never had, and there was no reason to start now. She wasn’t going to explain everything she went through – her own losses, her own baby – because this wasn’t about him trading his mourning for hers.
A blitz attack was the only way to go.
She tried the door. Locked.
She forced it.
The door was blocked.
She pushed and sent the bureau behind it flying into the opposite wall.
“Not now, Faith. I said I wanted to be alone.”
“Oh, well excuse me, Garbo, but there are things to do.”
A pause. “Cordy?” Shock. Disbelief. Hope.
The last touched her. Deeply.
She heard the tears. “Always.”
“I’ve lost everything. And I deserved to. Zeppo.”
She bit her lip and cursed herself. “Not the Zeppo. The hero.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, Xander.”
“My love kills people.”
“What would you have named the baby?”
Sorrow poured off him. He didn’t question how she knew.
Her heart broke. “And if it was a boy?”
“Not Jessica? For Jesse?”
“That was my mother’s name.”
Ah. “Joyce is perfect.”
“She was. Both of them.”
“How much longer are you going to do this to yourself?”
“Until it stops hurting.”
“It never will.”
“And the others?”
“I can’t. I’m too tired. Too broken.”
“Then you need to put yourself back together.”
“I don’t know how.”
And in the next second, she was at his side, clutching his face in her hands. She knew he felt her strength, what it meant, what she was. And there was no fear, no confusion, no pain or regret. She delighted in it.
And the time was now. This was the moment that would change everything, both of them, the world, forever. This was the rebirth of the hero.
She had waited so long for this, longer than she had imagined, and she didn’t mourn for what she was about to lose, for what she had once fought so zealously to defend, defying the Powers themselves to keep close to her.
She kissed him.
His lips felt as they always had, as if fashioned to fit her mouth alone. And in that instant, Angel and Anya didn’t fade, but were remembered and honored, because she and Xander were better souls for having loved them.
She pulled back and rested her forehead against his own. “I love you.”
“It took you long enough to tell me.”
“You’re such a jackass.”
“That’s why you love me.”
“Which suggests something deeply disturbing about me.”
“Ah, which is why I love you. Why I always have.” He paused. “Are you sure?"
“For once, there’s not a doubt in my mind.”
He wrapped his arms around her, feeling himself tethered to something once more, something familiar and yet new, something he had never realized how much he had missed, and forced the fear to recede though doubt remained.
“Are we going to be okay?”
“We’re going to be okay.”
Tomorrow they would go wherever his first vision took them.