Summary: Buffy isn't the only one who can return from the dead.
Spoilers: Up to BtVS:Choosen, AtS:NFA
Rating: PG-13 (L)
Disclaimers: I own nothing. ME, MGM and all other copyright holders own the rights to their respective works and characters.
The Tinman Passes
The hour was getting on and the weather continued to worsen, the battleship-gray clouds stretching from horizon to horizon. There was still plenty of cold shadowless light to see by, but that wouldn't last for long, and yet the dark-haired man showed no sign ofheading for the parking lot. He continued to wander around the huge stones, fascinated by their alignments and by how the whole structure was constructed to begin with. He knew how he'd do it using modern methods, with mobile cranes and other heavy equipment, but to do it with just ropes and rollers, and maybe A-frames too? Just amazing, he thought to himself, absolutely amazing.
There were no other tourists at the site, since he'd had Giles arrange a private after-hours visit through his contact with the English Heritage Society. However, if any tourists had been around they would have noted a male of above average height, lean but well-built, and immediately marked him as an American by some indefinable characteristic of his attire or how he carried himself.
A pair of jeans were visible below the bottom of a long beige trench coat, his only concession to the weather, extending down to cover the tops of a beat-up pair of boots of the type common around construction sites. The coat was open, flapping in the gusts, and revealed a dark blue sweatshirt emblazoned with a bear-claw logo in gold over the letters 'UCS' on the left breast.
His movements were very deliberate, almost cat-like in their grace and precision, and not at all those of a gawky young man. A close look revealed the face of someone who been to hell and back and was very tired from the trip. The most striking characteristic was a black eye-patch over the left eye, and even closer examination would reveal a nasty looking scar extending from below the right eye back toward his ear. Another smaller scar on the back of his neck was not quite hidden by long hair tied back in a loose pony-tail.
All these things the imaginary tourist would note and realize that he was in fact a rather frightening and dangerous looking character, like a biker-gang member. Especially if one got a good stare from his remaining eye, showing an empty hardness not expected from someone his age. The man had seen and done things that few have ever experienced except maybe in their worst nightmares.
The gusts continued to pick up while the temperature dropped even further. Rain started to fall, softly at first, then with increasing intensity, in big fat drops that made a blatting sound as they hit the ground. He let the rain get his hair wet, rivulets of water alternately streaming down his neck or face. Yet the man did not react at all and actually seemed to revel in the cold bleakness, as if it provided needed balance to his own inner emptiness.
Soon the sky was lit with flashes that arced from cloud to cloud or from cloud to ground. The growing darkness filled with the rolling rumble of thunder from far away, approaching fast. Strangely enough this was the one thing that caused a visible reaction. Despite his time in Africa and elsewhere thunderstorms were something that still really bothered him. Earthquakes were nothing; he'd grown up with them and knew how to deal. But thunderstorms, with their blasting pyrotechnics, he hadn't quite gotten used to. Maybe it was the way he could feel the vibrations deep in his gut. He didn't know.
He just knew he didn't like them. He forcibly shrugged off his anxiety and decided to circle around toward the Heel Stone to get one last look around.
Upon arriving he looked back across the stone, thinking about the purpose of the place. It was far, far more than an observatory. He knew that. But at all started with the stars. He looked up at the lumpy gray sky, imagining the stars that would have started to appear soon, that now wouldn't this night. It was appropriate, he thought,
that they were obscured, that he wouldn't see them now. In particular the North Star-the 'guide star' of ancient mariners.
Where was his own guide? He turned and looked roughly in the direction of North, searching for what he knew he wouldn't find.
He knew he should count himself lucky. He had his semi-friends, acquaintances he could talk to and do things with, even down a pint with. He did all the things he was supposed to do, the things that were expected of him. Making with the lame humor, or fixing what got broken, or just putting on a good face and being strong for those around him. He had other things that kept him busy when people weren't around. Outwardly, he appeared to be fine, not much different than the boy he was just a few years ago.
The good fight continued and though he still felt good about participating, the changes it forced were getting to him. Many of his best friends, his real family, were scattered to the corners of the Earth and he missed them. Phone calls and email helped and were better than nothing at all, but it wasn't the same as being with them, even if only to share a companionable silence.
And so much of his family had been lost. Far too much. He ached with their absence. Two in particular he felt most deeply. And it finally drained him until he was empty. Yeah, the good fight continued, but his heart just wasn't in it anymore.
He used to picture himself as the Cowardly Lion, scared of what he had to do, but doing it anyway because he always had the 'noive'. But now he knew different. I am the Tinman, he mused, thump my chest and all you'll hear is an echo, Jack Haley's words replaying in his mind:
"Well, you're perfect now."
"Perfect? Oh - bang on my chest if you think I'm perfect. Go ahead - bang on it!"
"Beautiful! What an echo!"
"It's empty. The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart."
Blindly staring at the leaden sky he suddenly got angry at his own selfish moroseness. Both his girls would have kicked his ass if they knew the cant of his thoughts. He had it good, he really did, and he understood that in an abstract way. He had seen what true hopelessness was-he'd seen enough of it in Africa and elsewhere-and while he was still alive there was still some quantum of hope left. So what if he felt empty? You go on and do the job anyway.
He just hoped the day would come when he wouldn't feel this way anymore.
He continued looking at the sky for several more moments when he began to feel the hair rise on the back of his neck. A quiet sizzling sound seemed to come from everywhere at once and the fresh smell of ozone permeated the air, tickling his nose. Had he had more experience with thunderstorms he would have known to dive flat to the ground or do anything as long as he wasn't the tallest object around.
As it was he was stunned into incoherence when the gray dusky evening shattered in a blast of blue-white light, reaching from the clouds to a spot several yards away just on the other side of the stone. Almost simultaneously he heard a moderately loud snap followed by a moment of unearthly deadly silence. Then a concussion of sound and heat literally threw him to the ground, knocking the breath from him.
He lay there for seemingly endless moments breathing shallowly, slowly gathering his wits together again. He eventually made it back to his feet but his ears continued to ring from the report and he saw orange after-images every time he blinked. He'd never been that close to a strike before and thanked the stars he was still basically okay, albeit a little wetter where the coat hadn't protected him from the soggy ground-and a whole lot shakier.
He'd seen enough.
He started to ineffectually brush himself off when he thought he heard a moaning sound. It cut off and didn't come back so he shrugged, passing it off as the wind coming up from the valley or the after-affects of his ringing ears. He started to circle around the large stone and head toward the parking lot. He'd just gotten past the stone when he heard the noise again, stopping him short. This time he knew it wasn't the wind, but rather something nearby. Or possibly someone.
Digging out the always-present stake from an inside coat pocket and a cross out of another, he carefully stepped toward the sound, which was coming from very near the stone. Despite the still fairly bright sky it was hard to make out anything in the welling darkness of the ground around the stone. Another flash illuminated the ground all around for a fraction of a second, long enough for him to see the body of a woman lying on her side, facing away from him. She stirred a bit and must have been the source of the sound. He was certain he should have seen her when he had first walked out here some minutes ago, when it was brighter.
Where had she come from? What had happened to her?
Quickly approaching her he put the stake back in his pocket, though still within easy reach, and kept the cross in hand. Getting closer he noticed the woman had long dark hair rapidly being matted down in the rain, and a superb figure revealed by the totally incongruous hospital gown she appeared to be wearing. Who would be stupid enough to come out here dressed like that? he thought. Had she actually been hit by the strike? He figured this would have been about the spot.
He shrugged aside further unnecessary thoughts to concentrate on what was important. He peeled off his coat and got ready to drape it over her.
"Hey lady, are you OK?"
Kneeling down, ignoring the chilling wet suddenly soaking his knee, he leaned over to gently touch her shoulder. Just before he reaches her she rolled over enough to face him, the long wet strands of hair falling to obscure her face.
The woman made a few more groans as she stood herself up on unsteady legs. "Huh, what happened?" she rasped, looking around.
Almost immediately she saw a menacing male figure in front of her, with some kind of object in his hand. Despite the fact he's one of the most dangerous looking people she's ever seen, the concern written plainly on his face softens his features enough that she's not actually scared of him. In fact he's rather good-looking in a bad-ass Hell's Angel wannabe sort of way. She smiles gratefully when he reaches out to drape the long overcoat over her shoulders. However, when she tugs back the hair from her face to get a better look his next reaction is totally unexpected.
Eyes widening in shock in sudden recognition he spasms uncontrollably,
stumbling back a pace or two, loudly exclaiming.
Fear and confusion fight for control of his expression. At first he can't form any coherent thoughts much less words. It couldn't be! Merciful Zeus, there was NO WAY it could be! She's dead!
He rubbed his eye furiously, wiping away the water streaming down his face, hoping it was just an illusion. Then he shook his head violently. But he continued to see her.
NO! No no no no!
A thousand times, NO! It couldn't be!
Right! He'd heard that she died last year, never recovering from the coma.
"C-C-Cordy?" he whispered in disbelief.
But it was her! Something seriously fucked-up is going on here. But what? How could it be her? Was it even really her? Confused thoughts clashed in his mind. He stumbled backward to a kneeling position on the ground and was looking up at her now, mostly in dark profile against the sky. He started to feel light-headed and put his hand down to steady himself. He had to figure out something before he went crazy!
The First, that's it! This must be a manifestation of The First. He scrambled back to his feet and reached forward to poke her in the side as a way to test this, only to be rewarded with a hard slap on the hand.
"Hey! What're you doing, you pervert?" she exclaimed, continuing to slap at his hand, before he pulled it back.
"You're The First!" he shouted, though now he realized that's obviously not the case, which he also now realizes he should have known when he was able to put the coat on her.
"I'll be the first to knock you on the head if you try that again" And remembering this stranger had just a moment ago called her by the knick-name her long-ago ex-boyfriend had bestowed upon her, she demanded, "And just how do you know my name, buster?"
The situation was just too surreal for her. Sure, she'd dealt with bizarro worlds before, and almost everything else the other side of unbelievable. But she was dead...
Those bastard PTBs had told her she was dead when she was with Angel that last time, and that her time was up.
But this did NOT look like the Pearly Gates!...
And that did NOT look like St. Peter!...
And she was cold and wet and NOT at all feeling angelic!
So where was she and WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!
But even with almost mind-numbing confusion and fear trying to overcome her, there was no way she would would meekly give in! She didn't know what the fuck was happening, or who this menacing looking not-St. Peter guy attacking her was, but she did know she was Cordelia Chase (Ha! not amnesia-girl this time! she cheered inwardly), and damned if she'd let someone else take control. She'd had a bellyful of someone else being in control of her. Not this time, bubba! she swore to herself as she started to advance on the man.
A vampire! he thought next. That must be it! He took the cross that he was still holding and whipped it in front of her, waving it before her face. He got nothing back except a really pissed-off scowl from the woman in front of him, followed by a painful kick to the shin.
Wincing almost imperceptibly he shrugged off the pain. The possibility of this impossible illusion being possible was beginning to reach him. He still wasn't quite willing to give in to it. There had to be something else he could try to see if this really was who she appeared to be.
In a moment of inspiration he thought of something. Forcing himself to a calmness he felt not at all, he stood straighter and in the most nonchalant tone he could muster, said "Y-y-you look...great, Cordy, y'know, for a dead person and all, but what's this funny thing here with the hair?" reaching over to pick at an imaginary nothing.
The change in her demeanor was startling only to someone who had never known her. "AAaa!" She quickly reached up to feel around her hair, trying to find out what was wrong, causing the coat to slip from her shoulders and drop to the ground. "My hair? What's wrong? Where's a mirror?" frantically looking about for anything that might let her know what she looked like.
And at that he let go an explosion of laughter, the built-up tension washing away with every frantic gesture to fix her hair.
"Yep, the one and only Queen C, alright!"
Then hesitating only briefly, a huge smile breaking across his face, he took a long stride forward and gathered her up, embracing her in a bear-hug of intense heartfelt joy.
She bawled incoherently and tried to jump away from the onrush of danger-man, confused now not only by her presence in this place and the things this guy had just done to her, but also the big quirky and gentle smile that plastered her assailant's face. This danger-guy apparently knew her. And thankfully, at least for the moment, wasn't trying to hurt her.
She struggled to extricate herself from his grip, but he was not having any. He only hugged her tighter and she soon became cognizant that not all the drops landing on her shoulder were from the rain. She could barely discern his muffled sobs, "You're alive, you're alive" endlessly repeating in her ear.
There was something almost familiar about him but she couldn't think of what. He certainly seemed to know her, and pretty well at that. Was she amnesia-girl after all? What was it that seemed so familiar? Some quality in the timbre of his laugh, or the smile she'd seen just before being engulfed? Was that it?
But she was sure she'd never known anyone that looked like this, not with that scarred face, or the long hair, and most certainly not that eye-patch. Her initial panicked worries about being amnesia-girl dissipated, for she could recall everything as she cast her mind back. From that last hellish year as a victim of Jasmine's plans, to her earlier years with Angel Investigations, to growing up in Sunnydale before that.
Everything. Everything was there. She was certain of that.
Everything but this man who, her mind going off on an wierd tangent, looked vaguely like the no-name stranger in those spaghetti-westerns Xander used to watch. Perhaps the dark hair? The brown eyes-no, checking herself. Just eye. Singular. One rather beautiful, deep brown eye.
Comprehension slowly swept over her like sun breaking the dawn. Oh no,
it couldn't be! But...
Tentatively, tremulously, "Xander? Is that you?"
Finally releasing her from the hug, but taking one of her hands in both of his, he backed a step and just nodded his head, his eye glistening both from the tears and a joy that only minutes ago he hadn't expected to ever feel again. He hadn't really smiled this way in such a long long time and now he just couldn't help himself from grinning like a foolish clown.
Seeing that slightly crooked, gentle smile splayed across the scarred unshaven face she was able to answer her own question, "Ohmygod! Xander! It IS you!"
Looking carefully she could make out the familiar features, the large ears, the way his lips curled, the set of his shoulders when he was a little embarrassed or feeling awkward-which frankly could pretty much be most of the time. And the eye, of course.
"Yeah, it's me. A few extra miles, but it's me," he snuffled, trying to wipe the tears from his face.
A shiver coursed through her as complete recognition dawned on her. Her shivering didn't stop as a cold gust blew across them. Quickly he reached down to gather the overcoat that had fallen to the ground and swept it over her, tugging it down around her shoulders. Although fairly wet and dirty in some places it was far better than the gown she was wearing. She immediately felt better, and grateful.
But the uncomfortable confusion remained as strongly as ever. What was he doing here? What was SHE doing here? WHERE was here? And almost too scared to ask herself...WHEN was here?
She had died, she was sure of it. The PTBs had told her so, and she also had an inner certainty of that fact, a certainty she couldn't explain.
"Damn! Did those lawyers pull a 'Darla' on me? I am gonna kick their asses!" she muttered to herself.
Xander watched her carefully as she looked away, shaking her head slightly as she tried to puzzle out what was going on. He thought he heard her mutter Darla's name, but he wasn't sure.
What do you say? What do you do, when someone you thought dead now suddenly appears like, literally, a bolt from the blue? It's not like he had a manual for this sort of thing! The last time he'd had to deal with anything remotely like this was when they'd ripped Buffy out of hea-
With urgency and despair he cried out, "Were you in heaven? Oh my God,
I'm so sorry, I'm so sor-"
His voice broke through her reverie and she looks back up at him. "What? No! So stop with the whining," she snapped at the interruption of her thoughts.
He blinked in reaction to her tone. She looked around herself at the ground, gesturing with her arms as she tried to piece together what had just happened, Xander watching her in mild consternation, now unsure of what to expect next from her.
She started to mutter. "I was leaving Angel's office. But I was dead" An hysterical edge creeping into voice as she focused back on Xander, eyes getting wider, "I know I was dead!"
She didn't understand why, but looking at Xander's face again had a soothing effect on her. She looked away and continued slowly and more calmly, "Then the next thing I know I'm lying on the ground getting soaked. It can't be, but..." peering around, seeing the large stones behind Xander, the shadow of the forested rolling hills in the distance, "...is this heaven?" she asked incredulously. "'Cause if it is...damn! It's a real fixer-upper!"
And in one of her typical thought-jumps, tilting her head in innocent curiosity, "Are you dead, too?" she suddenly asks.
The initial shock having finally worn off he looks around and, trying to match her now apparent outward calmness, replies, "No, this isn't heaven, and it's not Iowa either. Nor any other mid-western state. What are you doing here, Cordy? What's going on?"
Without even consciously thinking about it, and in spite of the total inappropriateness, they both fell into the virtually ingrained rhythm of their habit of trying to one-up each other, neither to back down.
"I don't know, what are YOU doing here?" Which seemed like a good question to her.
"Sightseeing. Back to you, Jane." he replied levelly.
This was not going like it should, though he ruefully admitted to himself he wasn't really sure how these things were supposed to go. Maybe there had been something for dealing with these ex-paramour-just-returned-from-the-dead situations and he'd missed the memo? He made a mental note to ask Andrew or Giles about it.
If he was going to be flip about it then she could play that game as well!
"I'm certainly not here for the company!"
She was confused, and suddenly angry about being in that position, and Xander was the nearest target, unfair as that may be. "And you know what! Whatever it is, I'll bet it's all your fault!" jabbing him sharply in the chest with her finger.
"Hey, I was minding my own business, just walking around!" Xander replied defensively. "You were the farthest thing from my mind," he lied, "So YOU explain YOUR Houdini entrance," heat rising in his face.
"I don't have to explain anything to a loser who," disdainfully sweeping her eyes across his sodden clothing, "looks like a Salvation Army reject pile."
"Ri-i-i-ght," he sneered. "As opposed to the very fashionable and trendy hospital-wear you've got on!" waving his hand at her skimpy attire.
"Probably part of a pathetic attempt to play 'Doctor', loser!"
He bobbed his head once in insincere acknowledgment and gave a non-committal grunt. She's somehow back from the dead, and instead of being grateful, or whatever, instead we're fighting like little kids! Just plain fucking insane! His joy at seeing her was now overlayed by intense irritation. He knew it was totally irrational. He knew that he should be more sympathetic, more understanding of her situation.
He also couldn't help himself, for he was dealing with a fundemental law of the universe.
This one woman, out of all the billions on the planet, could push his buttons like no other. No one had ever been able to bug him like she could. And it looked like that hadn't changed one goddamn bit in all the intervening years! If anything could erase lingering doubts as to her true identity then this was it. This was without-a-doubt-accept-no-substitutes the Cordelia Chase he had once hated, feared, fought with, fought alongside, loved, and mourned as deeply as anyone.
Now everything was turned on it's head, upside down, bass-akwards and flipped nine ways from Sunday. He hasn't seen or talked to her in at least five years, she pops out of the sky, and what do they do? They start fighting! Shouldn't they be hugging, or cheering, or singing for joy...or...or... ANYTHING else?
Conflicting emotions waged war within, one to stay and hold onto her for dear life, the other to tear into her with nasty gusto. He just couldn't get over how surreal the situation was. It just shouldn't be playing out this way.
"You haven't changed one bit, oh Queen C. It's sure great to see you again, let's do lunch sometime."
He'd gotten used to most things not working the way he wanted. And when it's going this badly it's time for the tough to get going. And knowing it was the wrong thing to do he turned on his heel and started walking away, fervently hoping she wouldn't call his bluff.
At first she was too dumbfounded by his actions to say anything. "WHAT!" she shrieked in genuine disbelief. "You're just going to walk off and leave a girl here in this..." looking around one more time at the wet emptiness all around her, "this...place?"
Stopping and looking over his shoulder, he spat back, "Not just ANY girl, Cordy!"
"Oh, yeah...I'm 'special', I got that." snarling back. How does this always happen to her? And always with this lame-ass tweako! Even now she can still sense that undercurrent of strong attraction for him she once had, a long-forgotten delicious joy and serenity when he's near.
And then BAM! we're ripping each other to pieces. Out of all the billions of men in the world no one could push her buttons like this one-bar none. This wasn't his fault, she knows that. But she she also knows this wasn't her fault. So why is he doing this? Why is SHE doing this!
A fond memory suddenly sweeps through Xander at that 'special' moment and his hard expression softens, the irrational anger toward her vanishing like a vampire being dusted.
Another moment passes, and just like that everything WAS the way it should be.
Now grinning at her with genuine amusement he says in earnest sincerity, "That's right, you are." He holds out his arm in invitation.
Seeing him turn back toward her with an ear-to-ear grin upon his visage rather than the angry one she expected to see, she can't help but smile in return. She pushes aside the already fading remnants of her anger and hurries to catch up with him.
"And don't you forget it!"
"Never have. Never will." still smiling broadly. "Come on, let's get out of here."
As she comes up to him he gently puts his hand on her elbow and guides her to face the direction he originally headed, beginning a slow walk. "Let's first get you out of here and go someplace dry. And see if we can find something better for you to wear." He drops his hand when he's sure she's now going along with him.
Looking around one more time, still confused, "Where is here?" she asks,
"Stonehenge...Ahh, that is, we're in Wiltshire. England."
"ENGLAND?" she yelps, stopping in her tracks, forcing Xander to stop and turn as well.
"You're kidding! Tell me you're kidding!" What was she doing in England!
"Oh, thank God!"
"Except I'm not. This really is England."
"Damn," spoken low and reverant.
One last look around, sighing in resignation, for what could she really do about it. "Wow." She just shakes her head and accepts the situation in that way she had for dealing with stuff of the too weird type. "Looks like a pile of rocks."
"It's a bit more than that but that'll work for now. We can try and figure this out as we go," as he started walking again.
"Where're we going?" her long legs easily keeping pace with his strides.
"I'm parked over there," waving vaguely in the direction they were facing. They both lapsed into silence, each as bewildered as the other. What was he supposed to do? He didn't know, and right now he didn't care all that much. Cordelia was walking next to him and appeared to be genuine and alive, and that's all he needed to know. The rest he would worry about later and just let things go where they would.
They walked along that way for a short while, though he soon noticed she was casting furtive glances at him. He'd seen that look before whenever he walked in crowds of strangers, and he wasn't totally surprised when she finally spoke up.
"Jesus, it looks like you've been through a war."
"Possibly," he answered vaguely.
"But the Snake Plisken look...not working for you." Although it really kinda had, not that there was anyway she would admit that to Xander, she thought with an inward smile.
Chuckling in response, "I first tried for the Bloefeld look. Y'know, shaving my head, and carrying a cat around. But the cat hated me, and I hated it, and I kept getting the worst sunburns. So I decided to try something different. If this doesn't work I'll go for the Captain Hook look next, but without the actual hook part."
Laughing at his well remembered silly and irreverent humor, "Maybe you should lose the eye-patch, it really is a bit too cartoonish." She reached up to flip it off his face.
He stopped and dodged back easily while also warding off her outstretched arm. An unreadable expression crossed his face; not menacing, but not friendly either. He then looked away from her, not saying anything for several moments, visibly pressing his lips together tightly in tension.
She didn't understand his reaction at first. And then it clicked into place. "Oh my God! Xander, it's for real?" exclaiming loudly, not wanting to believe.
He turned to face Cordelia, first looking up over her head then back down, gazing intently into her own beautiful eyes. He slowly nodded his head and said, after a deep breath, "It's for real," finally looking away.
"Oh, Xander, I'm so sorry," with genuine concern and sympathy. This time she slowly raised her hand to his face, caressing the skin around the patch. He was a rock. he never got damaged, or at least not permanently. He had always bounced back as good as new. That's just the way the world worked. But this was real damage, permanent and forever, and it was upsetting her more than she would have expected.
"There's nothing to be sorry about. Just a bad day at the office" Then he resumed walking, making her step quickly to catch up again.
"Xander!" she scolded him. Whatever it was, it was NOT just 'a bad day'!
"Really, it's OK, I'm used to it by now so there's nothing to be concerned about."
Much softer, "What happened?"
He was quiet for a moment and she thought he wouldn't answer.
"From what I gather, I think you were already in a coma when it happened. And it occurred in a fight with this hopped up evangilist bastard of evil working for The First. Guess he was a little jealous of my devilishly handsome self and just couldn't take the competition." To which he received an amused snort from her.
They finished the rest of their walk in silence, making it to the nearby parking lot where, aside from a few other cars that belonged to the staff, his was the only vehicle in sight. Approaching the lot he headed for the lone vehicle on the far side.
Breaking the quiet, she said, "You have got to be kidding me! Is that what I think it is?"
With an amused smirk, "I guess it all depends on what you think it is, now doesn't it?" he said.
"OK, smart-ass," rolling her eyes, "I think it's a beat-up American pickup truck. So perfect for you."
"Then you'd be right," he replied.
"If this really is England like you say, then why on Earth would you drive one of those around here?" pointing at the dented and dirty Ford truck.
"Several reasons," raising his hand to tick of the reasons on his fingers. "One, I like American. 'Buy American!' I always say. I also like the left-hand drive. Y'see, it's not the depth-perception that's a real problem, but the field of vision. It works better for me being on the left side of he car. And, on a more practical matter, it comes in handy when I have to fix stuff around the Council house."
She looked at him skeptically, not really sure if he could be believed or not.
"The only real problem is the price of gas-err-petrol. It's freakin' insane! I've got a twenty-six gallon tank, which around here translates to way over 100 dollars to fill!"
They arrived at the passenger side of the truck and he opened the door for her, saying "hop in." After she climbed in he walked around to the bed of the truck and went to the large toolbox mounted behind the cab. After rummaging around for a moment or two he pulled out a couple of UCS sweatshirts, though a bit worn in places, a pair of sweat pants in slightly better condition, and a couple of heavy blankets, and then jumped down back on the passenger side.
"Here, put these on. I know it's not your style, but it's gotta be better than a soggy hospital gown. Shout out when you're decent again."
She took the pile without a word and he again walked to the back of the truck to wait. He forced himself to turn his back on the cab, and thought about DeWalt vs. Bosch power tools, or anything to keep him from thinking too much about a nude Cordelia in his car.
When she called out he went around and got in on the driver's side. He shrugged out of his own thoroughly soaked sweatshirt and took the extra one from her. She couldn't help but notice the raw maleness of him while he sat there in a damp T-shirt, lean muscles flexing as he re-arranged the dry sweatshirt before finally sweeping it over his head. He'd lost weight since high-school, she saw. He wasn't actually thin but more a sort of lean, like a panther, with whipcord muscles. She couldn't help a quiet but sharp intake of breath, noting how he now compared favorably with that time when he joined the swim team.
She'd also noticed a large number of scars on his arms and hands, mostly on his right side, some almost as livid as the one on his face. She forbore to ask about them for the time being because she didn't think she could stand to hear anymore about how fragile he really was.
"How do just happen to have all this stuff?" she queries as she plays with the hem on the sweatshirt. It's way too big for her but it's dry and it's warm. A thought makes itself known before she can quash it, that it also smells very slightly of him.
"In England? I didn't think they had those here."
"Actually I don't think they do-or at least not that I'm aware of. It's just habit for me."
He leaned forward to key the ignition. The CD player clicked on as he started up the truck, picking up the end of a Jimmy Buffet tune. She cast a 'what-the-hell-is-that' look at him.
"I like Buffet," he said defensively, "And, y'know, with the whole parrot thing."
"Eye-patch," in a didactic tone, pointing at the patch, then at a spot above his shoulder. "Parrot. I once told Willow all I would need is a parrot and then I'd be all set for Halloween. On my next birthday she got me a Jimmy Buffet album."
Shaking her head slowly, "Still not getting it."
"Jimmy Buffet fans are 'Parrot-heads'."
"Ah, Xander-Logic," nodding her head knowingly, "I should have known."
He winked slyly at her and reached to put the truck in gear. However, before doing so he paused and sat back, looking back at her questioningly. "So now what? I was going to head back home. Can I take you anywhere, or drop you off someplace?" He really wanted her to stay with him, but it had been so many years since they had spoken and not exactly on the best of terms even then, and this last hour was just too strange to work out. Even though he'd said they would figure it out together he wasn't really certain how she felt, whether she would want to continue being with him or not.
"Oh, yeah sure, could you just drop me off at Buckingham Palace, please. The Queen is expecting me for tea at four," biting sarcasm now lacing her voice. "Come on, Xander, pretend not to be as dumb as you used to be! I just popped out of nowhere, expecting to maybe be in heaven or something. And instead I wind up here on the home field of the Empire the dreary never set on-with you of all people-so NOT what I was looking forward to." rolling her eyes heavenward. "So, no, I don't know what I'm supposed to do, or where to go. Or anything" Then patting around herself, "I don't have ID, money, makeup, or credit cards." The apparent anger vanished, replaced with a resignedness, "So you've just picked up a wayward hitchhiker, and as much as I REALLY hate saying this," she lied, "I'm going to need your help."
By now he fully appreciated and understood her frustration and this time took no offense at the harshness in her words. In truth he could only admire the way she was handling the situation. All things considered she was just being amazing, although deep down he knew he really shouldn't be surprised by that at all.
"Alright, let's start off with: are you hungry? We'll sort out the rest later. How's that work for you?"
"That works just fine," she said gratefully, putting a hand to her stomach, realizing she was absolutely starved.
"OK, we'll go find a pub in Salisbury. But first..." looking down at her bare muddy feet, blue with the cold, "maybe we should do something about that." He finally put the truck in gear and they headed off to town.
She flinched violently when they encountered the first oncoming car, thinking they needed to get back to the other side of the road. The car safely zoomed by her on the right. Turning her head to watch it go by she whispered, "We really are in England, aren't we?" shuddering as she watched it disappear around the bend. Somehow that simple encounter made it all too real.
"Yup," with a sympathetic smile.
Surprisingly she really wasn't in the mood to shop for clothes so they settled on a JJB sporting goods store in town, where they bought her a pair of socks and sneakers. She perversely decided to stay with the sweats Xander had given her before.
They soon found a pub near the center of town and, after ignoring the looks from the regular patrons, settled themselves in. They both ordered salads and beef stew, he with strong coffee and she with a red wine.
As the waited for the food to arrive he asked her about what she remembered before arriving, trying to get to the heart of the matter of how and why she was here.
She was silent for a few moments, gathering her thoughts before speaking. "It's hard to describe. I was leaving Angel's office-and let me tell you, him being CEO of Wolfram Hart is just plain wrong-and then...then..." her voice drifting away.
Had she been watching his face closely she would have seen a flicker of his eyelid at the mention of Wolfram Hart. There were things he would have to tell her, painful things, which he decided could wait.
She shook her head as if trying to rattle the pieces into place. "Then just nothing, or nothingness, or something like that. I mean, I was aware of myself, and I could think but there was nothing else. Not even blackness because I couldn't see. The next thing I felt was a coldness, but not like cold air, but coldness that began on the inside. Then a flash of light, an explosion that nearly deafened me..."
A small smile replaced the frown of concentration. "...and then I'm getting soaking wet while this Hell's Angel wannabe is trying to tickle me," scrunching her nose in that way she had that used to make his knees weak.
He'd listened to her story in fascination, mulling it over in his head after she stopped. He really didn't know what to say to that except "Wow!"
"Ever the one for overstatement, are you?" she said with a smile.
At point the food had arrived and they both dug in heartily, continuing the conversation between bites.
He moved the discussion to a more mundane and practical subject; the matter of what she wanted to do next. "Speaking of Deadboy, I expect you want to get back to LA, right? You could come back to Saxmundhan with me and we'll get you set up to fly back. Probably take a couple of days to crank out the documentation you'll need. We can give you some cash and a credit card to get you going, at least to start off with-"
"NO!" she exclaimed vehemently, "Just no! Right now...the last thing I want to do is go back to Los Angeles! Too many things got all fucked up there and I don't ever want to see that place again!"
A bit startled by the vehemence of her reaction he started over,
"O-o-oKay, scratch LA. Someplace else then?"
Calmer now, she thought for a moment and then said, "I think I wouldn't mind seeing Sunnydale again, at least to check up on my parents, if they're still there."
This time she did notice the flicker on his face as he winced in memory of their former home town. This was one of the things he had wanted to avoid telling her.
"What?" she immediately demanded.
"Ah, Cor, that's...going to be a real problem."
"You said you would make sure I got anywhere I wanted."
"Yeah, sure. And that still stands, of course. But it has to be a place that exists." Answering her confusion and dismay, "You see, Sunnydale is now a hole in the ground."
She fell back into her chair aghast, unable to say anything. Xander watched her with sympathy and concern. "Wha-" was all she got out.
"What happened?" he softly asked. She mutely nodded her head.
"It was that fight with The First. It was going to open the Hellmouth again and all these super-vamps would come pouring out. So we put together an army of 'slayers in waiting' to fight 'em. And Spike had this necklace that made with the big bright light, killed everything in range. Callapsed the school into the hellmouth. Only it didn't stop there. The entire town fell in. We barely got away." He carefully left unsaid all the losses they'd had in that almost-Pyhrric victory.
She could tell there was more to it than that, much more, as she sensed deep anguished overtones in his voice. Obviously he'd gone through his own kind of hell during the time she was being body-jacked by Jasmine. She focused on something else he'd said.
"Spike! I'd heard he was some kind of big hero but nobody told me what he'd done. Or what happened to Sunnydale." She didn't understand why Angel wouldn't have told her about something as big as that, but she also had to admit she never bothered to ask either.
By unspoken mutual consent they decided to avoid the more difficult and painful topics of their recent pasts, though every now and then some reference would come up unavoidably and one or the other would go quiet or change the topic suddenly.
She started questioning him about his current situation, hoping that would be safer for both of them.
"So where exactly are we going again? You mentioned "home". That means you live here now?"
"I guess so, if there's anyplace I can call home. We've reconstituted the Council, after a fashion, in Saxmundham." At her 'huh' look he continued, "It's a small town northeast of London, near the coast. About a 4 hour drive from here. I've been staying at a flat in town ever since I got back from Africa."
"Africa!" She was starting to get a headache from the never-ending conversational whiplash.
"Long story. Another time," with finality, dodging again an uncomfortable topic. Now wasn't the time to go into the reasons he'd run away to Africa for over a year.
"OK, we'll save Africa for later. So you're living in England now. Can't say I'd ever have imagined that."
He chuckled along with her. "It's definitely not California. You can't find decent fajitas anywhere. And don't EVER ask for iced tea! But there's nice things too. The beer is great and the people are some of the nicest I've ever known. There's a real sense of history here, SoCal always felt so...so...temporary. Like if you close your eyes for 2 blinks it'll all be different. Here you can count on things. There's buildings, castles, that have been standing for a thousand years. I'm not saying I want to stay here permanently; I will go back to the States someday. But for now I like it here."
Something he'd just said a moment before caught up with her. "Wait a minute! The Council? You mean you work for the Watcher's Council now?"
"The same guys that put Buffy through that test? that fired Wesley? that tried to kill Faith? That Council?" Who was he now that he'd work for that bunch of bastards?
"No, NOT the same. Those guys got killed off in the same fight with The First. We've rebuilt it now, but along different lines. So everything is cool."
"I'm sure," somewhat sarcastically, not sure whether to believe him or not. "What do you do for them?"
With a humorous glint in his eye, "Y'know, same-old same-old, still the Zeppo. But I've been promoted! Now that we're in England not only do I fetch donuts but I also get...The Scones!" he said dramatically. "And if I'm real good they'll let me fetch the marmalade too." he finished proudly.
Smacking him in annoyance, "Stop that, Xander! You're not a Zeppo. I knew it even then."
"Then why say it?" suddenly serious.
Sighing in exasperation, "Do you really need an explanation? Would you like a pwitty widdle picture, too?"
Looking away, "No. No, I guess not," remorse and sadness in his voice.
She went on anyway. "I was hurt and angry. Maybe I should've been able to get over it, or past it, or forgiven you, or whatever. But I'd never been hurt like that-and I don't mean the rebar in the gut. Of course I was going to lash out even if it was wrong. But I know you're not a Zeppo, so just stop with the self-deprecation already. It gets annoying really fast."
"Aye, aye, mon capitain!" snapping off a lazy salute, matched with a lazy smirk.
"Just so long as you know your place, which is beneath me...er, I mean, that is-" her face turning red.
Raising his eyebrow quizzically, "Under you, huh? I think I could get used to that."
"Till my dying day."
They finished the meal, still trying to stay away from the difficult subjects, exchanging good-natured banter and insults. Bonds were being rebuilt that, in a strange way, deeper more serious conversation or more physical intimacy could never have accomplished.
Finally, with the bill paid and a last gulp of 'leaded' coffee for him, they returned to the truck. Now dry and stomach pleasantly full and the cab's air warmed up she began feeling very drowsy. She watched through half-lidded eyes as Xander deftly maneuvered the large vehicle through the town's streets and toward the A303 back to home, wherever that was.
The events of this last "day" for her had been exhausting. She was physically tired, but more than that she was mentally and emotionally exhausted, completely spent. Waking up in a hospital room, with her real body still comatose in bed. Then off with Angel to Wolfram Hart. A big fight and a final goodbye.
But not so final it would seem. Leaving Angel to get the phone and walking through the door into...England! And Xander. Somehow, after more turns and twists than a rat's maze she was inside the dry, heated cab of an American pick-up truck, driving down the A303 in England of all places, with Xander. There had to be more to it than mere coincidence but she was too tired to deal with it now. For the moment she was glad she didn't have to deal with it on her own.
Heavy eyelids drooping she tucked the blankets around her, rolling up a loose corner as a pillow against the passenger window. Taking one last long look at Xander she put her head down and immediately fell asleep.
He leaned his head on his fist, left elbow on the window frame as he drove east, tapping the steering wheel in rhythm to the wipers. What would McKenna have called this type of rain he thought idly, as big drops broke on the windshield. Yeah, number 17 for sure. Or maybe 56 verging on a bit of 8.
Glancing over to the right he noticed Cordelia had finally fallen asleep, propped up against the passenger door. In his too-big and unfashionable sweats, still-damp hair plastered down in wild curls, no makeup on, she was the most beautiful person he'd ever seen.
He smiled at that thought until the CD player, which had been softly playing the whole time, cycled back to the song when they first got in at Stonehenge. His frown deepened as he listened to the final chorus, whispering along with the last line, "But I know...it's my own damn fault."
He'd hurt this woman terribly through his own thoughtless and selfish stupidity. Yes, he'd hurt Anya too, but it was different somehow. With Anya he wasn't being thoughtless (though perhaps still stupid. It was a reasoned choice from among terrible alternatives. He would second guess his reasons and thinking from now till the end of time,
having lost the happiness and joy of that last year with her. But he honestly believed he'd done the best he could with the information he had at the time, to hurt her as little as possible.
With Cordelia, however, he'd been just plain stupid. Stupid, careless, selfish, all of it. He'd loved her. And hurt for no good reason he could fathom at all, destroying the best thing that had ever happened to him to that time, not fully appreciating what he'd lost until too late.
A not small bit of him had continued to love her even while he was with Anya. And now she was back somehow, in some way he couldn't begin to explain or understand. He didn't fool himself into thinking the earlier camaraderie over dinner would have much of an influence on any kind of continued relationship with her. She very likely would walk out of his life again as soon as she was back on her feet, that she would want nothing more to do with him. The thought of her leaving again was something he just couldn't bear to dwell on right now.
An unseen pothole in the road suddenly caused the truck to jolt and she grunted and half-awoke. Blinking a couple of times she blearily peered around the cab. She unbuckled herself and, really more asleep than awake, slid across the bench seat and leaned against Xander's shoulder, murmuring incoherently. A small, almost childlike smile graced her face as she settled in against his comforting bulk and promptly feel asleep again.
He glanced down in surprise when he first felt her slide in next to him, the thrill of her touch lighting up his senses like a fireworks display. Looking down at the beautiful soft features of the girl laying her head on his shoulder, memories of happier times came unbidden to his mind. Her eyes that could glint with obsidian hardness when angry, or gently sparkle like sun on morning dew when happy. He remembered the full generous mouth that smiled to rival the sun. The small nose that melted the heart and weakened the knees when she crinkled it in response to one of his lame jokes. He remembered her fiery,
uncompromising nature that made her such a delightful pain to be with sometimes. And most of all he remembered the inner core of sweet strength he was privledged to experience, even if only briefly.
The blankets had fallen away when she moved so he reached his arm around her and pulled them back up over her shoulder, gently tucking them around her as his mood swung around one-hundred eighty degrees.
Yeah, he might never see her again after tomorrow, but suddenly that didn't matter. At this moment he felt better than he had in a very very long time. It was enough to know she was alive, that someone this singularly remarkable, who had made such a difference in the lives of those around her, who'd gotten such a raw deal at the end, was getting another chance.
One thought was paramount above all else: Cordelia was alive!
A rising tide of overwhelming joy at that thought began to fill him. With slow awareness he realized he didn't feel the aching emptiness anymore. The echos were gone. In gentle silence, somewhere in the dark behind them, the Tinman had slipped away, passing on into the night. Xander watched her for a few more moments, a slightly lopsided smile returning to his face, then brought his attention back to the road ahead, illuminated by the bright headlights.
TBC? I dunno. I think the story is good enough to end here. It all depends on time and interest