AN: Yet again another 'Xander is told of Cordelia's passing' story. Sorry to beat this one to death (there's at least a dozen variations of this theme), but I was listening to this song again the other day, and couldn't get it out of my mind.
AN2: This was originally a songfic, with embedded lyrics. FFnet policies prevent them being included here. I don't know if the story will have quite the same impact without them. You can find the original version, with lyrics,on the "I Need A Parrot" site. In the meanwhile, perhaps you can hum the tune as you read. I encourage anyone and everyone to buy a Nat King Cole album. It's money well spent.
Sung by Nat King Cole
Words and music by Irving Gordon
The cell phone rings eight times before he manages to pick it up, having fallen down twice crossing the room in the dark. Hardly anyone calls. When they do it's usually pretty important.
They never call this time of night.
His first reach misses. "Goddamn depth perception!" he mumbles as he tries again, succeeding.
"Yeah, what is it? It's..." he flips his other arm up to look at his watch. It's not there. He forgets that the time is also displayed on the phone, "...really fucking late. And I'm really fucking tired!" he growls.
For a few moments, all he hears is the long-distance hiss. A few electronic chirps. A slight coughing sound, he's not sure. The voice he finally hears is feminine, soft, sad.
"No! Idi Amin. I've taken over his body for another try on Uganda!"
"Xander?" The voice is softer, and he detects a distinct tremor. This time he recognizes it.
He pinches himself very hard to force himself more awake. Buffy never calls.
"Buffy! Sorry about that. Why're you calling?" He's glad to hear from her, it's quite a pleasant surprise.
"I, uh..." he hears a shuddering intake of breath over the crackles and hiss. "I," another deep breath. "I have bad news, Xander."
He snorts. Figures. When's the news ever good? He tries hard to remember the last time he smiled at good news. Nope, can't. A wistful depressed sense envelopes him, because he's sure he used to hear good news somewhere in the past. He picks up the cheap plastic pen he keeps on the counter.
Fuck it. Get it over with. Move on. Next!
"What is it?" he demands.
"She's dead, Xander. Cordelia's dead."
The pen he'd been twirling in his hand keeps on twirling, catching reflections from the streetlights outside. Get it over with? Move on? Who says stupid things like that?
He's about to ask her something and opens his mouth to speak. Air drawn in. Lips part. Tongue moves.
He takes a deep breath, still spinning the pen in his fingers, noting how it's nearly run out of ink. He's going to have to get another one soon.
"When?" he hears someone ask. The store around the corner sells nice pens, he thinks.
"Last night. Umm, California Time. A day ago for you, I think."
"Okay." They also have paper pads. He needs a new one of those, too.
"There's going to be a service, Xander.
"Do you want to be there?"
Xander clears his throat past a constriction. The pen stops spinning, now gripped in his fist, thumb tracing along the smooth plastic surface. He supposes Buffy deserves an answer. Maybe that other voice will do it for him.
The barrel of the pen suddenly snaps in two, small plastic shards flying.
"We'll arrange the flight from here, okay?"
"Okay." He pauses a moment before adding, "Thanks."
"Where are you now?"
He looks out the window, seeing the low shapes of the industrial parts of the city, the Indian Ocean in the distance. He likes seeing the water. It's not a pretty part of the city, but he likes the view.
"Durban. I'm in Durban. South Africa." He's not sure why it hurts his throat so much to talk. Maybe he's getting a cold?
"Okay, we'll get back to you." She pauses, the hiss making its presence felt again. It's the most excruciating, painful sound Xander has ever heard.
"I'm really sorry, Xander," her voice hitching.
"You going to be alright?" he hears genuine concern through all the distortion.
"Yeah." He knows she knows he's lying. His hand closes the phone slowly.
He's not sure what he's feeling now. Maybe he's feeling very, very bad. This shouldn't be any worse than all the others that were close to him. Jesse, Jenny, Joyce, Tara, uncounted others. Anya.
After Anya, he'd been numb for weeks. He really had loved her, after all.
It occurs to him he loved Cordelia just as much. He truely did. Just never told her that. Had never admitted it to himself. Until now.
In these last five years he can't recall a day when, at least once, perhaps only as a stray whisper, some thought of her wouldn't occur. Sometimes he wonders how her life in LA is.
She'd gone to be a movie star, someone for the world to admire. It hadn't worked out that way. She'd become a hero, known to a bare handful. He smiled when he realized that that must have been one of the special things he'd seen in her, back then.
He admired her.
He sits there, looking at the moonlit reflections off the distant water. Did she ever think of him, after graduation? he wonders. He doubts it, Probably better that way, they'd only be unpleasant memories.
The ring of the cell phone jerks him out his reverie. It's only a flunky to give him the flight details. Durban to Cape Town, Cape Town to New York, New York to Los Angeles. It's an evening service, so Angel can attend. And he'll probably be late for it, the schedules just not quite cooperating.
A few clothes shoved into a duffel, including his cleanest pants and his best sweater. He doesn't own a suit anymore, not needing one for the job he does here. Likely he'll be be the worst dressed person there. She'd appreciate that. The thought makes him laugh a little.
The trip itself is a blur. Literally. He manages to get through all the airports, past security and border controls, into and off of planes, but nothing is sharp. He's not sure why his one good eye is so blurry and he keeps wiping at it. Makes it damn difficult to get around the crowded terminals.
The taxi stops at the cemetery entrance late in the evening. The driver takes the offered wad of bills, ready to make change, but the passenger has already walked away from the vehicle.
They're gathered on a small rise in the near distance.
He recognizes some of the people in the cluster up on the hill, under a tree. Buffy, Willow, Giles. A tall, unknown black man is standing next to someone he thinks might be Wesley, he's not sure. Another girl he doesn't recognize. Someone else in a Fedora.
There's no priest, or any clergyman. Instead it appears that Giles is saying something. He spots Angel next to Giles. It's curious, but he's never seen Angel that somber before, which is really saying something.
The marker is just that. A small stone. He knows that at one point in her life she would have wanted a huge stone, an obelisk maybe, or something grand, bigger than anything else in view. But he knows she'd changed from when he knew her, expects Angel knows her tastes better than anyone.
Simple, classy. Unforgettable.
He can't make himself walk up the incline. The others haven't noticed him yet. This was a mistake, he really shouldn't have come. If his feet would only obey he could turn and leave.
The others still don't see him. After awhile they cry and hug, and cry some more. They disperse, going in the other direction, holding each other. A couple of Mexicans begin to fill in the hole, using a small tractor. Sod over the dirt. Eventually they too go away.
It's quiet, except for the faraway traffic noise. His legs start to walk of their own volition toward her. Standing in front of her he tries to remember the good times they had together.
He hates how he hurt her, back then. Still doesn't understand why he did. Does being eighteen count as a valid reason? Probably for the best though. He didn't deserve her, just would have made things worse for her.
He senses a presence behind him.
"I knew you'd come," Angel quietly says. "Why didn't you join us?"
Xander doesn't turn to face him, still looking at the gray granite stone. "I wanted to be alone with her." He doesn't see it, but he knows Angel is nodding his head in understanding.
White-hot anger, lava erupting from a volcano, explodes in him, boiling up from deep down. It pushes aside whatever he's feeling. It feels better. Here was someone who should have been able to protect her! Not a loser, but a real champion.
"Angel." he growled out, twisting to face him.
Angel looked up from the grave to return his glare, finding he really did have to look up, from a sprawled position on the ground. A pain blooming in his jaw where Xander had connected. Harder than he would have thought possible for the boy. Man, now, he sees.
"You should have protected her! That was your job! Where were you?"
Angel's own anger evaporates. This was nothing he didn't beat himself up for, every day. Everything Xander said merely echoed his own thoughts. "I failed," he replied simply. "I failed."
Xander's anger, not cleansing, left him. He turned from Angel.
A bottle of Bushmill's, nearly empty, stands between them, on a low table.
"I'll never forget how beautiful she was, you know? Not physically. I mean, yeah, there was that. But inside. She was just so... amazing, so...," he knows he's not a word-smith. "Just so... alive!" He's incapable of expressing how he feels, so he rambles, the single-malt loosening his tongue.
"And that smile. The million watt one, but mostly the little one she does when she scrunches her nose. And you know you're lucky to be alive too, to be with her."
He looks down at the pale yellow liquid sloshing in his glass as he swirls it around. "It's weird. I haven't seen or talked to her in over five years. And I couldn't forget her. Not once."
"She would sometimes talk about you." Angel slurred his words. Who knew a vampire could get so drunk?
"Nothing good, I imagine," knocking back the last drops, craving the burn on the tongue, in the throat, the gut.
"Yes, how you hurt her. That came up once or twice." He pauses. "Mostly, though, she talked about how you'd try and protect her, jumping in the way like an idiot. How you could make her laugh, even when things were as dark as they could be. How you helped her find herself."
He raises his own glass for a deep draught.
"She didn't forget you either, Xander."
For the first time since the phone call, Xander cries.