Part 12:

And so the world was restored. The change of history that caused all of humanity to go to Hell was undone. Everything returned to the way it should be.

Most people would remember nothing of what had occurred. Not surprising, really. Without any frame of reference for such a monumental event, the human brain went the path of least resistance, discarding all memories of things that weren't possible, could never have happened, and went on from there.

Some people would remember fragments of this strange, warped version of history. They would see it in their nightmares, sometimes during the waking hours. Some would go insane from it, unable to cope with the images their brains could not let go. Those people would be few and far between, though.

And a very few people, no more than a handful, really, would remember. Their minds, accustomed to the strange and supernatural, would not push the memories aside so easily. Their lives would not be the better for it.

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It was a sombre group of people that assembled in the Sunnydale High School library that afternoon. Outside the sun was shining brightly. They could hear the easy chatter of students just outside. Inside the library, though, there was very little chatter. Just stunned silence.

"I can't believe all that really happened," Buffy whispered, shaking her head. "I... I only remember... God."

Her voice trailed off, her body curling in on itself. Buffy had made a brief visit to their apartment to see Angel. She would not say what had gone down, but Angel had not returned with her. Not surprising, really. If Angel remembered even a fragment of what had happened, of the century he had ruled in Hell as Angelus... it was too horrible to contemplate.

Cordelia looked around the circle of her friends and just managed to stop herself from crying. Her brain was telling her that none of this was her fault. That she could not possibly have known about Anya or what a few uttered words would cause. Her heart was telling a different story, though.

Giles and Oz remembered almost nothing. A few flashes of nightmare, nothing more. Come to think of it, she never had found out how Giles had fared in that other world. Maybe he had died from his injuries before the world was swallowed, making him one of the lucky ones. And Oz, well, spending most of his time in werewolf form had probably made sure that he retained only very few clear impressions.

Buffy clearly remembered things, though she would not talk about it. Same with Faith, another whom Cordy had no idea about. The two Slayers had both fallen into a deep funk the moment the world had returned to normal, giving Anya time to run away. Cordelia had no idea what her state of being was and found that she didn't much care right now.

The only one pretty much unaffected seemed to be Willow . Small wonder, really. If Spike had told the truth about her, if she'd really been the only one who somehow managed to escape from that Hell, even through death, she'd really been the lucky one.

As for Cordelia herself, well, she remembered quite clearly, at least those parts she had consciously taken part in. The memories of that other Cordelia, the one who had been tortured at Angelus' hands for God alone knew how long, were no longer trying to overwhelm her. There were some remnants there, images and feelings she was sure she was going to see the moment she fell asleep tonight, but they didn't bother her right now.

No, there were quite a few other things on her mind.

"This is extraordinary," Giles mumbled, leafing through a book. Cordy suspected it was more to calm himself down than to actually research anything. "I've read of vengeance demons and the power of the Wish, but that they could change the very fabric of time and space to such an extent..."

"She said it was the Hellmouth," Cordelia added. "Something about it intensifying the Wish or something."

"And... and you broke her power centre and rescinded the wish?" he asked, making notes on a small pad. His hands were a bit shaky.

"Pretty much. I feel... I don't know. It seemed too easy, you know? The whole world in hell and all you gotta do is break a stone and all is well again. But I guess it worked."

Looking around the circle of sombre people, Cordelia was quite aware that "all is well again" was not the correct choice of words.

"Well, we should definitely try and do our best to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again," Giles said.

"And how do we do that?" Faith asked, her first words since the world was restored to normal. "If a few words can send the world to Hell..."

"Well, for starters, I would advise everyone to refrain from using the word 'wish' in the future, especially here on the Hellmouth. And furthermore...," he paused, thinking. "Furthermore..."

Faith looked at Cordy. "Furthermore, the next time we tell you that the new girl gives off a funky vibe, maybe you should listen to us instead of chatting her up and making stupid wishes." With that she stormed out.

Buffy rose, walking toward the exit as well. Stopping at Cordelia's side, she put a hand on her shoulder. "She didn't mean it that way, Cordy. You did good today. It's just..."

"Yeah, I know," Cordy said. She wasn't exactly feeling like a hero, either, right now.

The group soon dispersed, leaving but Giles and Cordelia behind. Giles looked at the young woman with a thoughtful look.

"I realize you never said exactly what you wished for exactly," he remarked.

That was true. She had only told the others that she had uttered some nonsense about the whole 'Buffy and Angel go to Hell' thing and that Anyanka had gone on from there.

"Yeah," she simply said. "I didn't."

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Cordelia found Xander wandering outside the school, clearly lost in though. Falling into step beside him, they enjoyed the silence for a few minutes before he looked at her.

"It was because of me, right?" he asked. "I... I don't remember exactly what happened. Most of it is a blur, but... we were in some kind of dungeon and that demon chick said... something about you resenting me and wishing some kind of icky thing to happen to me."

Cordelia sighed. She had dreaded finding out exactly how much Xander remembered, seeing as he was the only one who had been there for the whole exposition scene with Anya. Clearly he remembered something.

"None of this was your fault, Xander," she said. "For once." That managed to bring out a small smile.

"So are you gonna tell me how exactly it came down?"

She looked at him for a moment, then shook her head. "No. No, I think if I did, there'd be too many 'what if's and 'maybe's flying around and we got more than enough angst in our group already, don't you think?"

He seemed poised to argue the point for a moment, but then deflated and simply nodded. "Probably."

"Just one thing," Cordelia added after a moment of silence.

"Yes?"

She looked at him, thinking over the last few months. The last year, actually, ever since they had become a couple. All the things that had gone wrong, starting with a love spell and ending with a brief trip to Hell for the entire world.

"We're okay, Xander," she said. "You and me. We're okay."

For a moment he didn't understand her, but after looking into each other's eyes for a long moment, he did. They were okay. They weren't a couple anymore and probably would not be again, ever. But she was not resenting him any longer, nor was she hating him. Forgiveness was probably the wrong word. They were okay, that summed it up the best.

"So now what?" he asked as they kept walking.

"How would I know? Two weeks to Christmas. Knowing our luck, Santa Claus will turn out to be a child-eating demon or something."

Xander managed to laugh. "Like that would ever... oh God, I just jinxed it, didn't I?"

"You probably did."

THE END

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Excedo Inferi continues in: Silent Night, Holy Night

After everything that went down recently, the gang tries to put together a happy, apocalypse-free Christmas Eve for all involved. What are the odds of all the big bads in Sunnydale taking time off to enjoy the season? Surprisingly good, actually.