A/N Set in the future, written after Season 5.
My Best Friend
"Who we going to see, Mom?"
"It's 'who are we going to see', bozo. And I told, you we're going to see my best friend."
The little boy with dark brown hair scrunched up his face, and raised an eyebrow, in an expression that made overweight aunts coo about him being the spit of his beautiful mommy. "I thought Daddy was your best friend…"
From the driver's seat his mother grinned, and swatted him on the leg. He loved it when he made her laugh. She was pretty all the time, but lovely when she laughed. And he loved the way her voice sounded. Twangy and tangy and like the sweetest lemon in a bunch of bitter fruit.
"Liam, you crack me up. Daddy is my best friend? Nice try…you've been working on your sappiness."
He grinned proudly, and leaned back in the chair, satisfied. "I made my lip go all quivery too."
She ruffled his hair, eyes back on the road. "You are so much better at all this stuff than I was. My kid, wonder actor." He didn't mind her calling him that. All his life, Liam had wanted to act. Seeing people in the films, people having adventures and living out exciting dreams…that was what he wanted. Life was so boring. And dull. And all those other words. His Mom wasn't, though. She was like electricity. When she came into a room, everyone lit up. They couldn't help it.
When his Dad had left, Liam had cried. Then he'd got very, very angry, and locked himself away for three whole days. Now it was four years later, and he was ten, not some stupid little child, sad because his parents split up. Everyone's parents split up. When it had happened, they'd moved to California. He thought California was about twenty million times better than living in New York.
It was sunny there, and he could feel the warmth in the air long after the stars came out. Sometimes his Dad called him up, sometimes he forgot. Liam didn't care much, anymore. He got the impression his Mom didn't care, either. That was understandable. Liam had never really known why she'd married his father in the first place, they were so different. He'd asked her once.
Sitting at her make-up table, the one framed in soft glowing lights, just like a movie star. Her bedroom was a fairy queen's arbour, warm and inviting, filled with the irresistible smell of lingering perfume, lipstick and silk. He remembered nights when they would sit at her window and count the stars, drinking hot chocolate from foaming cups.
Small feet sinking into soft carpet, he scrunched up his toes, and ran childish fingers over the painted walls. She looked up, and smiled, face half done. Stained mouth the colour of berries, and eyes darkened with expensive mascara.
"What d'you want, little guy? No more cookies, because you so don't want to end up like Elvis. Although Elvis was actually more a hamburger guy, I'm sure cookies contributed."
He scrambled into her lap, and she hugged him, happy at the sudden affection. They sat like that for a while, and she carried on applying her make-up, while he stared into the mirror. Two faces, so alike. He always wondered why he didn't look more like his Dad, because he was a boy, and he thought that boys should resemble their fathers. Tracing the shape of his eye with a finger, she smiled again, and he decided to ask her the question he never dared to ask. The question that rose in his mind almost every day.
"Why…" he paused for a moment, then pressed on, speaking carefully. "Why did you marry Dad?"
She stopped mid-blush, and he later realised that it was ironic he should have been furiously twisting the cap of her Vamp lipstick at that moment.
"I…because…" she stopped completely, then shook her head in admiration. "Well, wow. You know what you just did?"
"You just made me speechless! That deserves some sort of award…maybe one for Duties to the Public…" her eyes flickered to her wrist and she stood abruptly, shooing him away. "C'mon, small fry. I'll be late! And go wait for Mrs Jonnson downstairs, or she'll probably miss the doorway and end up upside down in a flowerpot or something…go on!"
And the door closed, and she never did answer.
"So, your best friend. Your best friend ever?" he asked, incredulously. All the friends that ever visited were just…just people, who came and went. Some stayed around longer than others. No-one stayed long enough to remember his birthday, or look after his Mom when she was ill, or to help him do his homework. A best friend was something new, something different. Something she'd never talked about before.
Like LA. She never told him about Los Angeles, or about the town she grew up in. Liam would say that he and his Mom were as close as anyone, but he realised he didn't know much about her past. Whenever he asked, she just distracted him, or told him some silly story to make him laugh.
Then there was the time she went silent mad. He didn't want to think about that.
Clearing out the attic, full of boxes and dust. Liam fought back the urge to sneeze, and reminded himself that he had to do this before he could go and play with Jason and Kyle. They were waiting for him at the park, and it wouldn't take him too long. She'd just told him to make some space up there, and above all, not to open any of her stuff. It would take too long that way, she said.
He pushed some of the smaller things out of the way, and noticed a few bags that had 'Baby Clothes' scrawled on them in her untidy handwriting. An even smaller pile had 'Daniel' labelled in bold, red letters. Those were the things that reminded her of Dad.
A sudden flare of anger made him pull the 'Daniel' pile away from underneath some heavier boxes, and throw it violently across to the other side of the attic. Panting with the sudden exertion, Liam leant against a heavier box. When he stood up, his hand came away wet. Frowning, he turned around and pulled the offending item away from its counterparts.
It was large, and looked brand new. The corners were clean and crisp, as though the contents had been packed, stored and forgotten. The wetness had seeped through the cardboard, and Liam could see the damp patch spreading. Panicking, his Mom would kill him if he damaged something important, he ripped away the brown tape and opened the flaps.
Glittering glass, refracting the dull, autumnal light into winking eyes, stared up at him. About ten small bottles were haphazardly strewn on some bubble wrap, and he saw that one had smashed, probably from the pressure he'd applied. Relieved that the bubble wrap had saved anything else from destruction, he lifted out the other bottles and placed them on the floor. Hoping the smashed one hadn't been too expensive, he gathered up the bubble wrap and broken glass before placing it in the plastic bag he'd been using as a temporary bin.
With the translucent layer gone, he could see everything. And he stared.
Wooden crosses, crucifixes like the ones he saw outside the church on his way home from school. A framed picture, which on closer examination showed his Mom and four unfamiliar people sitting on a red and white checked picnic blanket, smiling happily at the camera. He picked it up, and noticed that the black haired boy had his arm draped loosely over her shoulder. She looked different, somehow. Very young, of course, and with long hair. There was something else, something about her smile.
It was innocent.
Disturbed, he lay the photograph face down, and investigated further. Asides from the crosses, he found a locked book, which could only have been a diary. 2000 – 2001 proclaimed the faded golden numbers on the cover. She'd married his Dad in 2004; he'd been born 2005. So this had been written 13 years ago, more than his entire lifetime.
There were some neatly folded clothes, layered one on top of the other, and he wondered why she hadn't just thrown them out. Old papers, yellowing at the corners proved to be less of a find, simply outdated receipts and bills. Something caught his eye, and he frowned again. What had his Mom wanted with 'An Almanack of Thee Other Worlde'?
Last was a small box, a jewellery box. Curious, Liam tried to open it, and found the hinges were stiff. Tugging furiously, he turned around to gain better leverage, and saw.
She was standing at the top of the ladder, mouth slightly open. Their eyes met, and she shook her head slowly. He dropped the box as though it were red hot, and tried to explain. It was hard, seeing her like that, with all her stuff soon the floor. Violated.
"Go. Go to the park."
"But…I…" he gestured helplessly at the mess he'd made, and in two liquid movements she was up the ladder and grabbing his wrist. Her nails dug in slightly, and she made him look at her.
"Go. To. The. Park."
He went. And when he came back, the box was gone.
"Yep, my best friend ever."
"Why haven't I met her already, then? Why don't you always see her?"
"Okay, first thing? Gender bender, her is actually a he. And second thing, we…we had a fight. A long time ago."
"Was it when you married Dad?" he ventured, digesting this new information. A he. Well, that was different.
She turned around to look at him, and narrowed her eyes. "Actually, it was just before I married him. Good guess," she added, in a tone that made him know she didn't think it had been a guess at all.
"Where does he live?"
"LA," she answered, shortly. Liam felt a small spark of adrenaline. This was someone from her Past, then. Past with a capital 'P', because Liam knew his Mom had secrets. He knew that when she told him never to ever invite anyone into the house, she meant it. He knew that when she told him to be aware all the time, because there were bad people in this world, she didn't just mean the ordinary sort of bad. She had seen things, and done things. It was written in her eyes, in the way she held herself, the way she only ever seemed to let her guard down around him.
Los Angeles was the key.
"LA?" he inquired with a false air of innocence. Trying to make his tone causal was proving very hard. "You don't like it there, do you?"
"What makes you think that?"
"'Cause you never talk about it," he said reproachfully.
"That's so not true!" she exclaimed. "I tell you about it all the time. Never…"
"Never, ever go to LA. Ever. Not even when you're eighteen. I know," he finished.
"So you must think I'm crazy, taking you there."
"No. You always have a reason."
"I do, don't I? Cordelia Chase, woman of responsibility and reason. Who woulda thunk it?" she said aloud to the troll hanging from the steering wheel, flicking it with one manicured nail.
"Tell me," Liam begged. "Please?"
She took a deep breath, and sighed. "It's complicated. We…me and he…weren't speaking for a long time. Now…things've changed." Another secret glance in his direction, and for a second, he felt a small knot of terror start to unravel in the pit of his stomach. Fighting the desperate, irrational urge to reach over and hug her, Liam swallowed.
Things have changed.
"Things have changed."
Hiding but not hiding, he sat in the large, comfortable armchair. She couldn't see him, and so what if he overheard what she was saying? It was his home too, he could sit wherever he wanted. Pulling his knees up to his chest, Liam suddenly decided he didn't want to hear. So he started the wish list, to take his mind off things. His tenth birthday next week, and she'd told him to start thinking of presents.
"Thanks. You don't know what to say. That's a real comfort – sorry. I didn't mean…it's just harder, now. Everything's harder."
"He's upstairs, playing. I haven't told him yet. I'm not going to."
A pocket knife, with 37 attachments.
"Hey, it's my decision, remember…I don't care what you think. Sorry, sorry…"
Some music discs.
"A little thinner. At least that's one good thing...no more worries about my girlish figure."
"Three different kinds, every day. I'm coping…I just had to call, y'know? Yeah. It sure has been a long time…I don't mean to sound so cold."
New trousers, with pockets.
"I can't…I can't help it, I just get so…so scared…oh, god, now I'm all weepy."
"I don't know if that would be such a good idea…I just thought you might like to know. Ang…I am not being stupid! We were best friends, past tense."
A kick-ass party.
"You…you do? No…no, I totally agree. I have things I need to say to you in person, too. Okay. Okay…the Hyperion. I guess you won't have changed much. I will. Bye."
To never have gone in the bathroom, opened the cupboard, and found all the pills.
"Where does he live?"
He stared fixedly at her hand clutching the wheel. Clutching, grabbing at everything now, with fingers so brittle he was afraid that they'd snap in the winter. He'd bought her gloves with his pocket money, purple and pink stripes. She liked purple.
"In a hotel."
"A whole hotel?" He tried to inject the enthusiasm into his voice and concentrated on keeping a dry face. No tears, no tears, no tears. Staring at the thin, pale hands and forcing himself to be strong. Don't be stupid, Liam, don't be stupid. You're making it up, you're exaggerating things, you're getting carried away.
The familiar lies established once more in his head, and he knew they were lies, with the certainty one feels at times like these. Some things are wrong, some things are right. A comfortable lie that he could believe in, to help hold off the tears. He hadn't cried yet, and he didn't intend to. Ever. There was no reason to cry, no reason.
"Yep, a whole hotel. By himself." She screwed up her face. "He likes to have a few handy dark corners around. For brooding."
"Oh," Liam said, nodding wisely.
"Look," she said suddenly, pointing at something from the window. "We're here."
The City of Angels.
"Okay, God. I know I don't hold much with you, and I've never been one of those religious type people, but if I've learnt one thing so far, it's to believe in the un-believable. I've seen demons, and I've lived as close to Hell as an alive person can get, so I guess it makes sense that there'd be something better. Like, the anti-Sunnydale. Where everyone likes you for who you are and not how long it takes before you max out your cards. Where nobody dies, and nobody gets all broken hearted, and Buffy would be some sort of redundant sweeper, or whatever."
She paused, then carried on, re-clasping her hands, closing her eyes.
"So this is a prayer. Just in case. I hope I've done enough good stuff in my time to make up for all the bitchiness…and I know I'm a good person inside. I don't want to ask you for a place in…in Heaven, or to let me stay here, 'cause I know that's a lot. I just want to ask if you could keep the people I love safe. Let them…"
A hacking cough, that seemed to last forever, and another, longer pause. She leant against the side of the bed, then straightened up again, wiping her mouth. Stared at the blood, black silver in the moonlight, then carried on.
"Let them be okay. Let them take care of each other. And most of all, my two angels. My Liam, and my Liam. I really, really love them, and I know that one knows it…make sure that the other does, okay? Send him some sort of message, or something…and I guess that's it. I'm done. Say hey to Doyle, and if any of the Scoobies are up there…tell them to watch out, 'cause I'm coming to see them."
She stopped, as if listening to some distant voice, and Liam strained to hear.
"About three months. I'll see you then."
My two angels. My two Liams. He wondered if this best friend could possibly be the other she was talking about, and as the car pulled to a slow stop, he craned his neck to see shapes in the darkness.
LA was never truly dark, however, and reflected light from the garish attractions illuminated a face. One shaking hand squeezed his own, and he looked up. Mom was staring. Eyes bright in their hollow sockets, and she pulled her hat down over her thin hair.
"You stay here, sweetie."
"Is that him?"
"That's my angel."
She walked towards him over the wet street, and Liam watched intently, winding down the window. Every move, every nuance of speech, every turn of the head. He wanted to remember this.
The man was tall, and well-built. This angel wore a black coat that swept the floor, and had features chiselled from stone. They melted when he saw her. The angel's mouth opened, and the angel's eyes shone. He covered the distance between them in two steps, and for a moment Liam thought his mother would pull away. She seemed instead to fold into those massive arms, her head drop to his shoulder, and Liam saw her face.
She was sobbing.
It was loud in the relative silence of the street, and coughing followed. The angel held her even more tightly then, and after what seemed like forever, they stood back.
"Thanks. I needed that," she said hesitantly. Angel smiled, the saddest smile Liam had ever seen. "Why?" His voice was level, deep. As though he hadn't spoken for a long, long time.
"Why did you leave me?"
"I…" The answer trailed away, and Liam saw the fresh tears on Angel's face. She cupped her face in her hands, he grimaced at her thinness. A muffled response, and gently, so gently, he pulled the hands away and held them in his own. Liam fancied that however cold the night was, she would be warm now.
"I loved you," and it was so true that every word burnt. "I loved you, and I knew you'd never love me…" the angel looked as if he wanted to interrupt, but she silenced him with a trademark glare. "Let me finish. I knew you'd never love me the way I wanted you to. You wouldn't let yourself. We could never be together…look, Angel! Just look!" her shouts rang off the buildings, and she dropped his hands.
"Look at me! Look at you! I'm thirty…I'm thirty four years old, and I'm…" she lowered her voice, so Liam invented the words. "I'm dying. You can see my bones. I don't tell my son, because I don't want him to be scared, but he's terrified. When he hugs me, he thinks I'll snap. When he hears me being sick, he cries himself to sleep."
Her voice raised again, she gestured violently, as violently as she could, at Angel. "Look at you! You're hundreds of years old, and yet I'm older! I'm living! I'm dying! And you can't…you and me could never…and it killed me. So I left. And I did all the things I was supposed to do, and it didn't work. Is it some sort of punishment? For leaving you? For ignoring love?"
Another embrace, and he spoke into her hair. Liam opened the car door so he could hear.
"Cordy…my Cordelia…how could anyone ever punish you?" And she sobbed louder, and she coughed, and then he took her by the shoulders and spoke directly to her. "You know I love you. You know I'd love you now. Just say the word, and I would love you. But you won't, will you?" She shook her head dumbly. "So leave me again. I knew you would. That saying…if you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's yours. You came back."
"Is that enough?"
"We're how we always were. In love, and impossible. But I know that you…"
Are my best friend.
"And I know that you…"
He leaned down towards her, and she shut her eyes. Liam screwed his tight shut, and waited for what seemed like forever. A hand suddenly touched his shoulder, and he jumped.
It was her.
"Back in the car."
"Are we going? Are you okay? Did you…did you get what you wanted?"
"Three nods. Now let's go! I hate this city." A backwards glance, and Liam looked in the rear view mirror, so she wouldn't see him turn his head. No-one was there. "Sometimes I hate it."
They drove in silence which was only broken once.
"Did you need to see him to tell him goodbye?"
"Don't be dumb. No."
Angel ran his fingers through his hair, and excused himself from the table. Shaking his head at Cordelia's so-called friends, he walked through her house. It would never be home for him. Home was Dennis passing him a cup filled with blood. Home was laughing at some stupid movie they'd rented. Home was trying to wash demon slime out of Wesley's hair while researching all night.
Dark corridors, and he came to the room they'd all left some hours ago.
He was sitting there with the coffin.
Looked up, and Angel almost started crying again when he saw those eyes. Almost.
The boy turned back to the coffin, and resumed his quiet vigil. Angel sat down next to him on an empty chair.
"You knew my Mom?"
"You could say that."
"I know you. You're her angel. She said so. I saw you in LA. I was in the car."
The sharp, staccato sentences of someone in shock struck a chord with Angel. He was in shock, too.
"We…we were best friends."
"I know. I knew about that, too." He pointed at the coffin, and Angel nodded.
"I thought she should tell you."
"I know." The boy inhaled deeply. "I read it up, in the library. Leukaemia. And she didn't have any brothers or sisters, and they must've looked for bone marrow matches but there weren't any. So she got real sick, and she died."
Angel nodded. He couldn't think of anything to say.
"She was the greatest."
"My name's Liam." The boy…Liam…stuck out a hand, and Angel resisted the sudden, insane urge to smile. At least she hadn't called the poor kid Angelus…
Liam looked surprised, and then hid it by turning away.
"What'll happen to me now?"
"I'm your legal guardian."
"What about Dad?"
"Your Dad…he understood about me and your Mom, a little."
"Understood what?" He raised the volume a little, and Angel heard Cordelia. "What is it that's so secret? Why won't anyone tell me? About the crosses, and the little bottles of water, and the pictures of people I don't even know…about…about…"
"What? What is it?"
He was staring at something behind Angel, and the vampire turned around. It was a picture of her, hanging on the wall, taken in the Hyperion. He loved that picture. Wes had been messing around with a camera, and she'd been posing. Stupid poses, pretending to be some sort of model…she could've easily been a model. She was beautiful. Looking up at him from underneath cheap sunglasses, pouting, messy hair…gorgeous. He longed for her.
"It's a picture of Cor…of your Mom."
Liam stood up, and pointed with a shaking finger. "You don't have a reflection."
With one last look at the coffin, Angel stood up, and walked out of the room. He thought for one terrible second that the boy wouldn't follow. Curiosity seemed to run in the family, and Liam came out uncertainly, into the less black dark.
"You…what are you?"
"I'm a vampire."
And Cordelia Chase smiled at her best friend before she sighed, and finally slept, knowing that her prayers had been answered by an angel.