Summary: Cordelia comes back to Sunnydale after tragedy strikes, and finds out the truth about Dawn.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and intensity.

Time Frame: A few days after "The Body." (spoiler warning!!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


ASSOCIATIONS


The rental car pulled up to the curb, and after a moment Cordelia got out. She wore wraparound sunglasses and a black dress. For several seconds, she hesitated, not wanting to go into the house. . .she had strong memories of this place, some good, some bad, but she had the distinct impression that she would remember this day more than all of the others. She took a deep breath, walked to the door, and knocked.

After a few moments, the door opened, and Giles was standing there. His expression was calm, but Cordelia could see the telltale signs of lack of sleep and general stress in his face, and was gratified to see the look of relief in his eyes as he recognized the visitor and greeted her softly, "Hello, Cordelia. . .please come in."

Cordelia smiled in thanks and walked into the living room. Willow, who she had spoken with the most of the people in the house during the past year and a half, stood up immediately and gave her a firm hug, which Cordelia returned, before turning a taller, blonde woman and saying, "Cordelia. . .this is Tara."

Tara smiled softly, and Cordelia-who knew from experience how tough it could be to be the newer member in this little group-took the initiative, extending her hand, then shaking Tara's hand firmly and commenting, "Nice to finally meet you. . .Willow has told me just about everything about you over the last few months. . .glad you're here for her."

Tara looked back at Willow, who looked even more tired than Giles did, then replied, "Thank you."

Cordelia nodded, then turned to her ex-boyfriend, who was standing quietly by waiting for her. Cordelia could see that he was trying to project an aura of comfort and confidence for the other occupants of the room, but she knew him well enough to sense the frustration and anger hiding just under the surface. Without another word, she walked up to him and hugged him tightly, and Xander returned the hug. She looked into his eyes, and knew that she had read his emotional state correctly, and that he had really needed that hug.

Anya, looking uncomfortable, piped up, "Hello, Cordelia." Cordelia tensed: she had never felt comfortable around the former demon, and hearing that Xander had apparently fallen head over heels with her, and vice versa, had not been great news. Seeing the expression on Anya's face diverted her immediate attention, and she asked, "Are you all right, Anya?"

Anya shook her head and whispered, "No. . .none of this makes any sense. . .it's stupid."

Xander flinched and seemed about to say something, but Cordelia nodded and replied, "Yeah, it is." She closed her eyes and remembered Doyle kissing her, then going off to his death. She blinked, then concluded, "But we're stuck with it." Anya looked over at her and smiled with apparent comprehension, and Cordelia turned towards the kitchen doorway, and saw Buffy.

Cordelia had seen Buffy crying, furious, and even utterly devastated before, but the numb look on the Slayer's face was one of the most frightening things she had ever seen. She walked up to Buffy, causing her to look up and smile slightly at Cordelia, then whispered, "Anything I can do, Buffy. . .you know I'll stay as long as I need to."

Buffy nodded slowly, and asked softly, "Are Angel and Wesley coming up tonight?"

Cordelia nodded, then amended, "Angel is. . .Wesley's going to stay with Gunn to hold down the fort while Angel and I are gone." * Kate too, but Buffy isn't a big fan of hers * "Wesley sends his best, and so does Gunn."

Buffy nodded absently, then began, "Maybe you should talk to-" There was a sound on the stairs, and everyone turned to see Dawn standing there, staring wide-eyed at Cordelia. Buffy began to say something, but Dawn dashed up the stairs, sobbing, and a few seconds later the slam of a door was heard. Buffy cursed loudly, then snapped, "Damn it. . .I forgot in all of this mess-"

Cordelia, who had more than a little affection for Dawn going back years, forced down her hurt feelings and asked, "What. . .did I make her mad? What is it?"

Buffy's eyes went dead again, and she turned to Giles and whispered, "Giles. . .can you tell her, please? I just can't deal right now." Giles nodded gently, and Buffy went upstairs, going into her room and quietly closing the door.

Cordelia blinked, and turned on Giles, deeply upset: "O.K., I get enough of the cryptic with Angel. . .what's going on?"

Giles smiled sympathetically, and motioned Cordelia to a chair, commenting, "This is going to take some time-"


* * * * *

Cordelia walked slowly up the stairs, stunned at what she had just heard. She walked over to a certain door and knocked softly. Dawn's voice came through the door in a low snarl: "Go away."

Cordelia frowned, then glared at the closed door and threatened quietly, "If you don't open this door in five seconds, Buffy is going to find out who put the jello in her bikini top the summer after Graduation."

There was a moment of silence, then a muttered, "Come in." Cordelia entered, and saw Dawn lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. She looked over at Cordelia and commented, "I don't know why I let that scare me. . .it never really happened anyway."

Cordelia felt a chill down her spine as the reality of what Giles had just told her sank in, then regrouped and replied, "Funny, because I seem to remember a solemn oath shared over lattes at Starbucks that the matter would not be brought up again. . .and it seems pretty real to me." She sat on the bed next to Dawn and patted her on the shoulder, "Dawn. . .I'm so sorry. Joyce meant a lot to all of us, but I can't imagine what you must be feeling."

Dawn sat up, then moved over to the side of the bed next to Cordelia before hunching down in silence. Cordelia reached out and squeezed Dawn's hand, then prodded, "If you want to talk about anything, I'm not going anywhere."

Dawn brightened, remembering times when Cordelia had said something similar to her, then flinched and blinked, tears appearing in her eyes as she whispered, "That's just it, Cordelia. . .I look back, and I remember you and Angel talking to me, doing stuff with me. . .I can remember every detail, and they just didn't happen. . .none of them." She locked eyes with the former May Queen and stated flatly, "Cordelia. . .I've never met you before."

Cordelia blinked, and there were tears in her own eyes as she replied, "That may be true, but Giles told me everything that has happened since those monk guys cast their whammy, and you've had a pretty busy time of it. . .including keeping your cool in a room alone with something that could kill all of us in an instant if it really put its mind to it. Wherever you came from, Dawn. . .you are Joyce's daughter, as much as Buffy is. . .and I DO know you, even if I've never really met you before." She squeezed Dawn's hand again and concluded, "I'm damned proud to know you, too. . .and I don't even need to ask to know Angel will feel the same way."

Dawn blinked and looked at Cordelia, looking less distraught but still unconvinced. Cordelia smiled sadly, then asked, "Dawn. . .do you know how we found out about your mom?" Dawn shook her head, and Cordelia continued, "I got one of those nasty mind-numbing headaches that I spend so much time complaining about. . .I saw what was happening here, and felt it. . .all of it." Dawn looked appalled, thinking of all of the horrible emotions swirling around that day and shuddering that anyone should have to deal with all of it. Cordelia nodded in thanks at the concern on Dawn's face, then continued, "Yes, all of you. .. not just Buffy and Giles, not just Willow and Tara, not just my ex and his seriously strange new girlfriend. . .but you too, Dawn. . .a bright, beautiful fourteen year old girl who just had the center of her universe kicked down. . .not some thing without a past." She pointed up, then concluded, "That's the way that the Powers That Be saw it, and I'm not inclined to argue with them."

Dawn blinked again, and the tears started flowing freely. Cordelia leaned over and embraced her, and they held each other for several minutes before Cordelia pulled back and asked teasingly, "Now what's this I hear about you having a crush on Xander? I thought I taught you better than that. . ."


* * * * *

The others were sitting silently in the living room when a door opened upstairs, and Dawn and Cordelia walked quietly downstairs. Buffy, seeing that Dawn looked far more composed than she had before, asked, "Are you all right, Dawn?"

Dawn nodded, then moved over to hug Buffy fiercely. Buffy held Dawn while mouthing "Thank you" at the silently watching Cordelia, then led Dawn to a seat and asked, "So what did you guys talk about?"

Dawn began to speak, then hesitated. Cordelia noticed the hesitation and answered the question: "Memories, Buffy. We talked about memories and about good friends. . .the ones we have, and the ones we'll miss and remember."

Buffy nodded, and for the first time since that awful day she smiled genuinely. The room remained quiet, but some of the gloom seemed to lift as the friends awaited Angel's arrival.




As always, comments are welcomed and desired