Summary: Xander is devastated by the loss of Buffy, and Cordelia recruits the help of a newer friend to assist him.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Two weeks after the final battle with Glory in "The Gift," and about that long after the second season finale of "Angel." (spoilers).

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.

Dedication: To Victoria P., our beloved Miss July, on the occasion of her birthday.


INSPIRATION



Cordelia felt a chill as she drove past the "Welcome to Sunnydale" sign for the second time in a little over a week: her parents had long moved away in the wake of her father's disgrace, and she had hoped never to see the place again, which had undoubtedly contributed to her being out of the loop for most of the past two years. After Harmony had shown up and created a mess, Cordelia had resolved to change that. . .but there had been no time before their trip to Pylea and their arrival home to the horrible news of Buffy's death.

They had all come for the funeral, of course, which Buffy's father had not seen fit to attend, and the reception at the Summers' house afterwards, where Cordelia's heart had broken to see the state that Dawn was in: even knowing that everything she remembered about Dawn was false, she felt fiercely protective of the teenager. The others seemed to be bearing up well enough under their burden of grief, except for Xander, who seemed to be almost as withdrawn as Dawn. She looked at him with concern, but felt constrained from intervening: Anya was his fiancée, not her. She had shaken her head sadly and turned away.

Upon returning home, she had been preoccupied with helping Angel and Wesley deal with their own burdens, and with helping Fred adjust to the modern world again. Gunn, feeling useless for this particular purpose, had retreated to his old group of friends, though his rapid response to the one call for help that Cordelia had sent to him during the past week proved that his loyalties remained intact. She had unhappily adjusted to this new state of affairs when she had received the phone call that had immediately sent her to pack an overnight bag and drive to Sunnydale

Cordelia pulled up in front of the apartment building and got out of her car. For a moment, old memories overwhelmed her, and she had an urge to get back into her car and drive back to L.A.; however, other memories came to the fore, and she cast a worried look at one of the apartment windows before heading inside.

After a few moments, Cordelia reached the now-familiar apartment door and knocked. There was no answer at first, and Cordelia knocked again, more insistently this time. Cordelia heard faint movement on the other side of the door, then what sounded like a sigh before the door opened and revealed Xander.

Superficially, he looked fine: it wasn't as if he had visibly not been eating, or had stopped attending to personal hygiene. If anything, he looked neater than he usually did, reminding her of the night he had dressed up for Valentine's Day and given her the heart pendant. . .before she had broken up with him and set a rather unpleasant series of events into motion. Cordelia knew that the superficial signs were deceiving, and Xander's face spoke volumes to her. She was used to seeing emotion in those dark eyes, whether it was anger or humor, or any of a dozen other emotions she associated with Xander. The eyes of the man standing across the threshold from her were dull and lifeless: they were the eyes of a stranger.

Xander took a moment to realize who had come to see him, then met Cordelia's worried gaze for several seconds in silence before muttering, "Oh, hey, Cordelia. . .come in." He turned his back to her as he walked toward the kitchen, commenting, "I'm sorry. . .I wasn't expecting any guests. We're short on food, and Anya isn't here. We could grab some stuff and wait until she makes it back, then have dinner if you want to." Cordelia shuddered at Xander's voice: the words were appropriate, but the tone sounded as if Xander was discussing the weather with a stranger rather than greeting an old friend. After a moment, Xander noticed the silence and turned back to see Cordelia staring at him. He looked back at her, then asked pointedly, "What?"

Cordelia shook her head sadly, then replied, "Xander. . .I want you to come with me right now."

Xander blinked, then asked, "Is something wrong in L.A.? Did someone else get hurt?"

Cordelia sighed, then responded, "Not yet. . .but I'm thinking they might soon if we don't do something." She gestured to him, then whispered, "Xander. . .please come with me."

Xander stared at her for several seconds, then shrugged and walked out into the hallway, closing and locking the door after him. They went back to Cordelia's car in silence, and they drove along the quiet streets of Sunnydale for several minutes before Xander sighed and asked, "Cordelia. . .not that I mind going out for a drive with an old friend, but why are we here?"

Cordelia pulled out into a well-lighted area on Main Street, where people were still walking by and where a vampire attack could reasonably be viewed as a remote possibility, then parked before turning to Xander and replying, "I'm here because you're in trouble, Xander, and I know that no one can help you right now, because they've got their own issues."

Xander blinked, then retorted, "Don't the Powers That Be have anything better to do than send you visions about your ex-boyfriend? I'm fine, Cordelia. . .I'm hurting, but I'll live. So you can go home and tell whoever's in charge of your mojo that I don't need them to give you brain-splitting headaches to keep me level."

Cordelia stared at him, then laughed mockingly before replying, "Could you get over yourself for just a minute? I didn't have a vision: I got a phone call." Xander started to speak, and Cordelia cut him off, elaborating, "No, Willow or Giles didn't call me, though I'm sure they would have if they saw what I just saw, if they thought I could have helped. I got a call from the last person I would have expected it from: Anya."

Xander stared at Cordelia in the same manner he would have if he had heard that Cordelia had just bought her new wardrobe at K-Mart. He struggled to speak for a moment, then whispered simply, "Anya?"

Cordelia nodded, then shook her head in disbelief as she remembered her own reaction to Anya's call. Anya had identified herself, then cut directly to the chase: "Xander needs help. I can't help him. Please help him, Cordelia."

Anya had heard silence on the other end of the line for fully twenty seconds before she heard Cordelia's voice: "I'll be there in three hours." Cordelia had heard Anya reply quietly, "Thank you," before hanging up.

Xander still looked unconvinced, and Cordelia added, "Xander. . .when your overly jealous fiancée is calling one of your exes because you're too messed up for her to deal with, that should be a wake-up call for you. Now, I can pass this off to Willow and Giles, and they'll deal with it in their way, or you can be straight with me and try to get you past this before you daydream your way into leaving Anya as an eleven hundred year old widow." She reached out and gently grasped his arm, but her eyes and tone were implacable as she asked bluntly, "What's wrong?"

Xander turned away from Cordelia for a long moment, and she was considering prodding him verbally again when he turned back and replied in a more normal tone, "The last year's been different for me, Cordy. . .yeah, doing Scooby stuff was a big agenda item, as usual, but I've made a life for myself apart from that. I've got a job I'm good at, a woman who loves me for what I am and who's become an absolutely amazing person as I've watched, and I haven't had to put up with my parents' crap any more."

Cordelia smiled, remembering how inadequate Xander had felt at times both during and after their relationship, and feeling good for him. Xander smiled back at her, acknowledging her reaction for a moment before his expression darkened and he whispered, "Then Buffy died."

Cordelia blinked and watched sadly as Xander continued, "It's not so much that I screwed up. . .or that any of us did, for that matter. We did our best, and Buffy gave everything she had, and more. It didn't matter: she died, and I'm not so sure she didn't want to die." Cordelia began to protest, and Xander cut her off and bluntly added, "You weren't there, Cordy. . .everything was getting dumped on her, things kept getting worse, and she just didn't have time to deal. . .none of us did, but it was worst for her." He sighed, then concluded, "Cordelia. . .if someone like Buffy can give everything she has, and still the best option she has in the end is to die so the rest of us can go on. . .what's the point? What does my stupid little job, or my relationship with Anya, or any of it, mean? Why go on?"

Cordelia looked at Xander, and her first impulse to give a glib, feel-good answer to Xander's question died in her throat. She looked down, sighed, then looked back over at him and replied, "I don't have an answer to that question, Xander. . .but I know someone who might." She started the car again, ignoring Xander's puzzled expression as she added, "We're going to see a friend in L.A."


* * * * *

Cordelia pulled over to the curb, and the sight of the relatively unobtrusive entrance to Caritas caused her to smile slightly. It had been nine months since she had first entered the place, and by now it was almost as familiar to her as the Bronze had once been. She left the car and walked over to the entrance, followed by Xander. Xander blinked at the sign and asked pointedly, "We had to drive all the way back to L.A. to get a drink?"

Cordelia smiled mysteriously, but said nothing as she noted the small flyer taped above the staircase: "Grand re-opening: June 20th." Angel's car had done a considerable amount of damage to the bar, and The Host had wanted to make it part of the new décor. Angel had objected, and the subject had become a matter of mild contention until the two of them had discussed it in front of Willow one too many times. The redhead had waved a hand, causing the car to disappear from Caritas and reappear in the street: upside down. She had then stalked off as Angel and The Host shuddered, Wesley and Gunn stared, Cordelia turned pale at the thought of all the times she had tormented Willow in the past, and Fred began asking rapid fire questions about how exactly Willow had managed that.

Cordelia was disturbed from her momentary lapse into memories by the sound of laughing and music from downstairs. She frowned and headed down, Xander quietly following. After a moment, they passed through the doorway, and were immediately transfixed by the spectacle that greeted them.

Xander recovered first, turning to Cordelia and muttering, "It was bound to happen sooner or later. . .I've lost my marbles. Guess you were right to be worried about me."

Cordelia blinked, then swallowed hard and replied, "I was right to be worried about you, but you're not imagining things, Xander."

Xander stared at her, then shook his head and asked incredulously, "So there actually is a Naganis demon on that stage singing 'Achy Breaky Heart?'"

Cordelia considered Xander's words, then looked back at the stage, where there indeed was an eight foot tall demon with green, warty skin and wicked looking talons, belting out Billy Ray Cyrus' greatest claim to fame. The cacophony emanating from the stage assaulted Cordelia's ears, and she noted that most of the demons in the audience weren't loving it much more than she was. She turned back to Xander and saw that he was frantically searching through his pockets. She asked, "What are you doing?"

Xander looked up at her with a grim expression that was far more characteristic of his normal personality than what she had seen the last few hours as he replied, "Looking for iron pyrite dust."

Cordelia cringed at the implied threat to the demon, though a small voice inside her cheered at the prospect of ending the performance, and she was considering how to prevent violence when a familiar voice interjected scoldingly, "No one likes a critic."

Cordelia sighed in relief and turned to The Host, who was dressed in one of his characteristic red suits and giving Cordelia a dirty look as he continued, "You know, Princess. . .I'd think that considering some of the crimes against harmonics that you and your friends have perpetrated here, you'd be a little less quick to be judgmental about someone else's performance."

Cordelia winced, then regained her balance and favored The Host with a cool look. After a moment, The Host sighed and admitted, "All right, he's worse than a six week tour of Jean-Claude Van Damme singing Sinatra's Greatest Hits would be. . .but give the big guy a break: at least he's not out eviscerating coal miners this week."

Cordelia nodded as she inwardly shuddered, then asked, "Why are they all here, anyway? I thought your grand re-opening wasn't until next week."

The Host looked embarrassed, then replied, "The contractors finished this morning, and I needed to test the acoustics. . .the good, the bad-" He turned back to the stage and gave the Naganis demon a quick look before shuddering and turning back to Cordelia to conclude: "-and the ugly." He noticed a disapproving look on Cordelia's face and asked apologetically, "You're not mad that I didn't invite you, are you? This place isn't spruced up yet. . .by the time it re-opens it will be simply breathtaking. . .and I wouldn't dream of not inviting you to the big night."

Cordelia smiled inwardly, feeling warmed by the genuine affection on The Host's face, not to mention the simple fact that he was standing in front of her un-decapitated. * We didn't lose him. . .coming back to Buffy being dead was bad enough * Still, she wanted to make him sweat a little. She looked at him coldly and replied, "I suppose I could forgive the slight. . .on one condition." The Host perked up, and Cordelia leaned in and whispered, "I want the phone number of your contractor."

The Host recoiled and stared at Cordelia with an expression that implied that she had just asked him to sell all of his children into slavery before gasping, "Why don't you just ask me for blood while you're at it? Do you know what I had to go through to get Rudolph's number? You wouldn't believe how many free drinks some people will guzzle down while you're trying to pump them for-"

"Hey!" Cordelia and The Host turned to see a very annoyed Xander glaring at them. "I hate to interrupt your comedy routine, but you dragged me down here because you thought I was screwed up, Cordy. . .and it turns out to be Demon Happy Hour. What in the hell is the place, anyway?"

Cordelia smiled ruefully. * At least he sounds a bit more normal. . .I'm used to hearing him pissed off * She stepped back over to Xander and began, "Xander Harris, this is The-" She paused, then a small, wicked smile flashed across her face as she amended, "This is Lorne. . .he's the owner of Caritas."

The Host rolled his eyes and waited for the inevitable joke, but Xander seemed oblivious. He gave The Host a hard look, then concluded that he wasn't a threat and extended his hand, muttering, "Nice to meet you."

The Host took the offered hand and shook firmly, minutely examining the young man as he did so. He stepped back next to Cordelia and commented, "What is it with you and the tall, dark, and sullen types? I haven't seen a newcomer come in here with such a dark cloud over his head since your boss came in here and told me he didn't sing."

Xander blinked, then remembered a conversation he had with Wesley after the memorial service. He put two and two together and blurted out, "You're that guy who runs the demon karaoke bar!" He turned to Cordelia with a betrayed look on his face and asked, "You brought me HERE to straighten me out? There's no way in hell I'm getting in front of half the demon population of L.A. and making an ass out of myself!"

Cordelia frowned, and was considering how to convince Xander to cooperate when The Host shook his head sadly and commented, "No use trying to push him, princess. . .if he doesn't want to sing, you can't make him." He looked up and met Cordelia's eyes, and she could see the twinkle in the red eyes as The Host concluded, "Remember how adamant Angel was about not singing?"

Cordelia nodded gravely, then added, "Yeah, Angel just wasn't going to have any part of it, until he had to save that pregnant girl and had to-" She noticed Xander's simultaneously annoyed and appalled expression, then added the clincher, lying through her teeth: "He sounded pretty good, too."

Xander glared at Cordelia and The Host, then shot back, "God, Cordelia. . .you think I'm still the same guy you dated in high school. . .do you really think that just because Dead Boy did something, I'm going to want to do it just to prove something? What kind of macho idiot do you think I am, anyway?"

Cordelia remained silent, waiting in the silence that followed the end of the Naganis demon's performance. After a few moments, Xander sighed and seemed to slump a bit, muttering, "When should I go on?"

Cordelia rewarded him with a smile, while The Host perked up and replied, "No time like the present. . .why don't you look over the song list and pick one that suits you. . .just go for what seems right."

Xander, still not thrilled, walked over to the song list book and began leafing through the pages. The Host sidled over to Cordelia and commented, "So that's your ex from Sunnydale. . .you certainly do go for the heroic types, princess."

Cordelia's eyes widened, and a dismissive comment was halfway to her lips when she turned to look at Xander, and memories from the recent past blended with ones from some time back as she realized that one of the things that had drawn her to Groo had been a nagging sense of familiarity that she had dismissed until now. She gave The Host-who was smirking at her-a dirty look as she turned away and walked over to Xander, who was still idly leafing through the song list. She leaned over his shoulder and asked, "See anything you like?"

Xander frowned, then replied, "Music to look stupid by? It might take a few minutes to come up with the right one, if you don't mind."

Cordelia nodded, then commented, "Look on the bright side. . .at least it's pretty certain that you won't be seeing anyone in this audience again any time soon." She smiled wickedly, then added, "Unless you break up with your honey and start dating again."

Xander rolled his eyes and retorted, "Very funny." His eyes fell on a song that he remembered from grade school, and he frowned again as he considered it, then nodded to himself and waved to The Host, who came over and noted Xander's selection, smiling in approval. Xander walked up to the stage, visibly nervous, as The Host stepped up nearby and called out, "Well, that was a rousing performance by our old friend Radgar the Soul Render, wasn't it?"

Scattered applause, accompanied by some muttering, was the response, and The Host hastily moved on: "Next to grace us with his vocal renderings is a visitor from out of town. . .from that little place we all know as the home of the Hellmouth." A few of the demons looked up, and Xander could see the glint of recognition in some eyes. . .he might be seeing some of them in the future after all. Undaunted, The Host concluded, "So let's all give a warm welcome to Xander Harris!"

Again, a brief, scattered burst of applause-mostly coming from Cordelia-was the response, and Xander swallowed nervously as the opening notes began to play. He took a deep breath, then began to sing at the right moment:

Sometimes I wonder how I'd ever make it through
Through this world without having you, I just wouldn't have a clue
'Cause sometimes it seems like this world's closing in on me
And there's no way of breaking free, and then I see you reach for me
Sometimes I wanna give up, I wanna give in, I wanna quit the fight
And then I see you baby, and everything's alright, everything's alright
When I see you smile, I can face the world, oh, you know I can do anything
When I see you smile, I see a ray of light, oh
I see it shining right through the rain
When I see you smile, baby when I see you smile at me


Cordelia had never heard Xander sing before, and she devoted her full attention to him, hearing his hesitant beginning, then smiling as he quickly gained composure and confidence. He didn't have a great singing voice by any stretch of the imagination, but his voice was clear, and the emotion that she remembered seeing in his eyes in times past was there as he met her gaze. She felt a chill down her spine for a moment, then remembered the nature of the song: it was meant to be sung to someone. * That's all it is. . .he needs to look at someone when he sings it * She blinked, then continued to listen:


Baby there's nothing in this world that could ever do
What a touch of your hand can do, it's like nothing that I ever knew
And when the rain is falling, I don't feel it, 'cause you're here with me now
And one look at you baby, is all I'll ever need, it's all I'll ever need
When I see you smile, I can face the world, oh, you know I can do anything
When I see you smile, I see a ray of light, oh
I see it shining right through the rain
When I see you smile, baby, baby when I see you smile at me
Sometimes I wanna give up, I wanna give in, I wanna quit the fight
Then one look at you baby, and everything's alright, everything's alright
So right

Xander paused as the bridge to the final chorus played, and Cordelia took the opportunity to check out the reactions of the rest of the audience. Whether it was the contrast from the prior performer, or genuine appreciation, the mostly demonic audience seemed almost mesmerized by Xander's performance. Shaking her head in amazement, Cordelia turned to see how Lorne was reacting, and noticed a faint smile playing across her friend's face. Cordelia smiled in response and turned back to Xander as he began to wind up the song:


When I see you smile, I can face the world, oh, you know I can do anything
When I see you smile, I see a ray of light, oh
I see it shining right through the rain, yeah
When I see you smile, I can face the world, oh, you know I can do anything
When I see you smile, oh yeah, baby when I see you smile, smile at me


Xander stopped, then uneasily looked away from Cordelia and checked out the rest of the crowd, wondering if heckling in this place could get a bit bloodier than usual. After a moment of absolute silence, the Naganis demon who had preceded Xander onto the stage stood up, and Xander cringed for a moment before the immense creature raised his taloned hands and began deliberately and loudly applauding. Others soon followed, and before long raucous cheering was accompanying the applause. Xander looked uncomfortable at the attention, and The Host came to the rescue, calling out, "Well. . .nothing like a little Diane Warren and Bad English to liven things up. . .let's hear it again for our friend Xander Harris!"

The cheering continued, and Xander managed to smile, wave to the audience, and even exchange more or less friendly nods with the massive Naganis demon before fleeing the stage. He walked over to Cordelia and asked quietly, "So. . .did I do all right?"

Cordelia looked back at Xander, and Xander was unable to interpret the look in her eyes as she replied quietly, "You did fine, Xander." She gratefully accepted the drink that The Host handed to her without being asked, and watched as he led Xander off to the bar, shaking her head as she sipped at the martini.

Xander looked up at The Host, who was quietly studying him, evidently waiting for Xander to say something. After a moment, he started squirming, then asked, "You're not saying anything. . .is that bad?'

The Host held his right hand behind him, receiving a drink that he handed to Xander. Xander sipped it cautiously: it was a Screwdriver, and a good one. Xander took another sip and waited for The Host to say something.

The Host shook his head and asked, "So tell me. . .why that song?"

Xander frowned and thought for a moment, fully aware of Cordelia drifting over into earshot. He looked back at The Host and replied, "I was thinking about Buffy, and it just seemed like the right song when I saw it. When I was singing, I was thinking about Buffy. . .and a few other people." He glanced over at Cordelia for a moment, and noticed her feigned nonchalance before turning back to The Host.

Lorne smiled sympathetically and commented, "Cordelia and her friends have been here often in the last year, and they've had no end of problems, as I'm sure she's let you know in one way or another." Xander nodded absently, and The Host continued, "I never met Buffy, but I've always sensed her in the background. . .she meant a great deal to you all."

Xander nodded again, then elaborated, "It had gotten to the point where I couldn't remember what life was like without her around. . .now we have to, and I'm not sure how."

Lorne nodded, then continued, "Sometimes, we are going along in life with the feeling that we're missing something terribly important in our lives, but without the slightest idea of what it might be. . .then out of the blue it's there, and it's like someone's brought the sun into a dark cave: we can see things that we never imagined were possible, and your life becomes a far more wonderful thing, no matter what else is going on." He smiled at Xander and concluded, "That's what Buffy was to you."

Xander looked down and whispered, "Yes." He shook his head and looked back up at The Host, adding, "But she's gone now, and it feels like the light's gone and I can't see what I need to do to go on at this point."

The Host frowned, then replied, "Buffy showed you things that you never knew about yourself, but the fact that she's gone doesn't change the fact that you know them. . .and you've already done a lot to pass the gift on that she gave to you." Xander looked puzzled, and the Host elaborated, "Xander. . .was Cordelia the brave, generous person I've come to know in the last year when Buffy came to Sunnydale?"

"Oh, God no! Cordelia was the biggest bi-" Xander spoke honestly without thinking, and cut himself off at the last second, turning to see if Cordelia had heard him as he flushed crimson.

"Say it, Xander. . .it's true, isn't it?" Cordelia walked over, spearing Xander with her eyes as she came up next to him. Xander remained prudently silent, and Cordelia smirked at him and added, "I was the biggest bitch in Sunnydale. . .someone who never gave a thought to anything but myself and my popularity. I still am a bitch, but I have a little bit more perspective on what's important, and I owe that to Buffy, to Angel. . .and to you, you big jerk." Xander blinked, and Cordelia frowned at him as she concluded, "Don't think I don't know that, because I do." Cordelia walked back to her seat as Xander stared in abject shock.

The Host shook his head in amusement and commented, "Not a bad endorsement. . .and what about that ex-vengeance demon who's wearing your ring? I suppose she was already a polished businesswoman, already getting in touch with her newfound humanity after a millennium as a demon when she turned an interested eye your way?"

Xander shook his head, seeing no need to comment on what Anya had been like before they attended the Senior Prom together. The Host smiled at Xander again and commented, "That lady has a lot going for her. . .but she's got to be one of the most irritating people on the planet, from what I've been able to read from you. . .how have you been able to put up with it?"

Xander sighed, then replied quietly, "She's been worth it. . .I knew that she'd come around about how things were supposed to work if we gave it enough time." His expression darkened, and he whispered, "I had hoped that things would work out that way for Faith, too. . .guess I dropped the ball on that one."

"Being a beacon of hope is a good thing, but people have to be willing to follow what the light shows them, Xander." The Host's voice was sympathetic as he handed Xander another drink, and he added, "She's been working on getting her own act together, so don't write her off yet. . .time may yet prove that she'll land on a path that is best for her." He reached out and clasped Xander's shoulder as he concluded, "You've done a pretty good job of getting your life on track, Xander. . .don't let losing Buffy take it away from you. She wouldn't want that, and she would want you to continue the fight in her name, because that constipated bunch in England doesn't seem to be up to it, and the Hellmouth isn't going anywhere."

"I know," Xander replied, finishing his drink and waiting for The Host to add something else. Nothing was forthcoming, and Xander shrugged and extended his hand, adding, "Thanks for the perspective."

The Host took the offered hand and shook it firmly, replying, "Come back again if the mood strikes you." He looked Xander over, then added with a smile, "I can just hear you doing some Tony Bennett. . .or maybe some of the King's standards."

Xander paled, then backed off slowly and turned to Cordelia, commenting, "I think I should get out of here and stop pushing my luck, Cordelia. . .are you ready to go?"

Cordelia finished her martini and replied, "Go back to the car and wait for me. . .I'll be up there in a bit." Xander nodded, cast a wary look at the demons who were still looking his way, and disappeared through the doorway.

Cordelia watched him go, then walked over to The Host and looked pointedly at him for a few moments until he looked up from his Seabreeze and asked, "Yes? Was there something else you wanted, Princess?"

Cordelia frowned at him and replied, "I've heard you do your thing before. . .something was different when you did it for Xander this time. You gave straight answers without all of the flowery crap, and you weren't dropping hints about his future. What gives?"

The Host looked at her quietly and sipped his drink, then responded quietly, "I've been where he is. . .finding a great truth about life, then seeing it taken away, and not knowing how to deal with the whole thing. I was fortunate enough to get it back, thanks to a lot of help." He smiled at Cordelia, who nodded to acknowledge the implicit thanks, then added, "Xander won't get Buffy back, but the truth is still there for him, if he's willing to fight for it. I just helped him to see it. . .no need to get fancy about it."

Cordelia nodded, then asked, "And his future?"

The Host shook his head slowly and replied, "Xander's one of those people who just doesn't read well. . .probably why that little prophecy from a few years back didn't say, 'And the Slayer's buddy will bring her back from the dead and cause a second Slayer to show up in Sunnydale, after which wackiness will ensue.'" Cordelia chuckled involuntarily at the comment, and The Host smiled in response and concluded, "Xander doesn't have a destiny. . .he has possibilities, and where they will lead him is something I have absolutely no clue about." He looked earnestly at her and added, "He'll need all the help he can get, though. . .they all will."

Cordelia nodded and responded, "I know." She leaned over and patted him on the arm, then turned to go, calling out, "See you next week. . .and you better have that phone number when I do."

The Host glared as Cordelia left Caritas, then mumbled, "Some days you just can't catch a break." He took another sip from his drink and grimaced before going off to berate his new bartender again.


* * * * *

They drove back to Sunnydale in silence, with Xander stealing a glance at Cordelia every so often, and Cordelia studiously ignoring him. The first light of dawn was becoming visible when Cordelia pulled in front of the apartment building, and she unceremoniously turned off the engine and sat quietly as Xander tried to think of something to say. He was about to open his mouth when Cordelia turned to him and asked simply, "Xander. . .could you remind me again why we broke up?"

Xander blinked, then looked nervously at Cordelia as a pang of shame went through him. He turned away from her and whispered, "I'd rather not, Cordelia. . .the whole thing is nothing I'm proud of, and I thought we were past all that."

Xander felt Cordelia grasp his hand and squeeze it, and he looked back to see her looking at him fondly as she replied, "I know. . .and we are. It's just nice to be reminded that I did have a good reason when I left you, because nights like this make it damned hard for me to remember, you know?" She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, then moved back and concluded in a rather brusque tone, "So get in there already. . .your ex-demon honey is waiting for you, and I hear she's the jealous type."

Xander smiled at Cordelia, squeezed her hand, and whispered, "Thanks, Cordy," before slipping out of the car and going back into the apartment building.

Cordelia watched him go, sighed, then resolved to call in sick after she made it back to her apartment. Of course, there was no guarantee that the Powers that Be would respect her wishes, but it was worth a shot. . .she had certainly earned it. She drove off into the rapidly lightening morning, leaving behind a friend in a far better mood.


Closing Note and Acknowledgement: The lyrics, as noted in the text of the story, are from "When I See You Smile," written by Diane Warren and performed originally by the group Bad English, whose lead singer was John Waite. A great song, and one I associate with a woman I have not seen in over a decade, and towards whom I still occasionally direct a wistful thought or two. . .: - ).


As always, comments are welcomed and desired