Disclaimer: The characters/situation belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I'm just playing with them.
Author's Note: This story exists for a very specific reason. It always made me sad to know that Cordy never kept in touch with anyone, particularly Xander, after leaving Sunnydale. Since I obviously can't change the canon, this is my attempt at making peace with it. I hope it helps you like it helped me.
It was a simple plan, really.
Step One, survive the Ascension.
Stretching out her aching limbs, she winces as her back snaps, crackles and pops against the unyielding plastic bench. Sitting in the bus depot at the crack of dawn, waiting for the first ride out of town is hardly the glamorous exit she had imagined for herself, but she's down with noble sacrifices these days.
'Dear Cordelia, thanks for the flaming arrows!'
Step Two, pack up her few remaining belongings. Failing to get any more comfortable, she puts her feet up on her (depressingly small) suitcase and flips another page in her yearbook.
'Cordelia, homeroom was fun. Too bad it burnt to the ground!'
Step Three, take the money she would have used on her prom dress, and get the hell out of dodge before something tempts her to stay.
"Y'know, I expected the whole dark, broody I-leave-without-saying-goodbye schtick from Angel… but you?"
"Go away, Xander."
He flops down onto the bench seat next to her, all gangly limbs and flannel overshirt. "You cut me to the quick. 'Go away.' I will so miss these verbal sparring matches."
"Xander…" she mutters, rolling her eyes, then trails off when she realizes she has no idea how she wants to finish that sentence. What are you doing here? How did you find me? Why can't you leave me alone, just this once? She settles for a nice non-specific "What the hell?"
"What, a guy can't go on a leisurely 6 AM stroll to the bus depot?"
"Guy? Yes. You? No."
"Well, you bolted last night, so…"
Last night. After all the mayhem and death, when the five of them had collapsed from exhaustion and Oz had let it really sink in, for the first time… "We survived… No, not the battle. High school." And, just… for the briefest of moments, it had seemed like old times. They'd all walked off together, their feet guiding them to the Bronze automatically. Oz had his arm around Willow, and Xander had fallen in step next to her, like it was the most natural thing in the world. For a second, his hand had brushed up against hers.
And for a second, she'd considered holding on.
Obviously, throwing around a few barbed comments and then being elsewhere had been her only option.
"So you followed me here like a creepy stalker guy."
He's glad he found her on a bench and not at a table. It's easier, somehow, that she's next to him. Looking at straight her is a bit like looking at the sun; he finds she's much less dangerous out of the corner of his eye. "I didn't follow you here. I've been looking for you all night."
"Right. Because you care deeply about me, as a person."
He makes a frustrated noise in the back of his throat, running his hands through his hair. "Is that so—? I didn't come here to fight with you. I just… I wanted…" he falters, resorting to wild, incomprehensible gesticulation.
"My Neanderthal sign language skills are a bit rusty. Use your words."
He sighs heavily. "Look. It's not like I thought you'd stick around Sunnydale forever and we'd have a Guess Who Didn't Go to College Club. But come on. You slip away silently on a bus to L.A. before the blood on your diploma's even dry? That's not you, Cordy."
They sit for a few moments in a silence she hates for not being awkward.
"Angel had the right idea," she says after a while. "Goodbyes suck. You're expected to get all sentimental and lie about how much fun you had and how hard you'll miss everyone… I'm not interested."
"Yeah, well I am," he says simply, dropping his yearbook unceremoniously in her lap and taking her own for himself.
She closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose. "What am I supposed to write, Xander? 'Remember that time I broke up with you and you almost got everyone killed using a love spell? Gee, it was a real blast when you cheated on me and I wished us all into a hell dimension?'"
He grins his stupid, lopsided grin. "Good times."
And she wants to glare, but the harder she tries to cling to the pain of a rebar through the torso and a knife in the heart—("Stabbed in the back, in more ways than one!" she'd later snarked to Wesley)—the more it all seems to slip away, her memory instead coming up all holding hands and fish stick skits, skipped fifth periods spent joking in the cafeteria about their impending doom and how right it had seemed, in the end, that they'd sat together at the graduation ceremony.
"You could write 'Have a good summer,'" he suggests dryly.
She chokes, not sure if she's suppressing a laugh or a sob. "Shut up. Y'know, it's awful. In a sick, twisted way, I think I'll miss you most of all, Scarecrow."
He doesn't look at her; he's busy scribbling away on a blank page. "You say that like you're never coming back here."
"Nothing gets past you. That's kind of the plan, dorkwad. I'm done with here."
His pen pauses. Neither of them move as her bus pulls into the station.
"I'm not an idiot, Xander. We're not friends. I did the Scooby thing because, hey, didn't want to die. But I can put that all behind me now. Be normal again."
"Please. You were never normal."
"I was plenty normal before—"
"—you started dating me," he finishes, so she won't have to.
"Don't take it personally. I never wanted to be a superhero, okay? And it isn't a crime to want to be adored. We both know I'll never get away if you guys are updating me on how the latest patrol went and what nearly killed you any given week. Once I go, I'm gone."
"It's nice to know you care."
"Don't be like that, Xander. This isn't about you."
"Right. Because, as always, it's about you."
She bites her lip to keep from saying "duh" and blinks at him, at a loss. Not knowing what else to do, she stands.
"I get what you're trying to do," Xander murmurs, getting to his feet as well, "but there are healthier, saner ways of going about it than skipping town and pretending like the first 18 years of your life went kablooey with the rest of the high school."
"Oh, right," she scoffs. "Like your driving to all fifty states plan is totally healthy and sane."
A smile. "How did you—?"
"Why is everyone always so shocked that I listen when they talk?" she complains, genuinely offended.
She looks up at him and is surprised to see that he's gazing at her with what could only be described as unbridled affection. Without a word, he smushes her against his chest, wrapping her in a hug.
She breathes deeply, and he smells like basement mold and too much fabric softener and… Xander. And she suddenly knows, more certainly than she's ever known anything, that when she thinks of high school, she isn't going to remember the after-school cheer practices or slumber parties at Harmony's (had Harmony even survived the Ascension? Had any of the sheep she used to call friends? She should probably feel guilty for not knowing) or even late nights researching in the library. Not like how she'll remember him.
"You know what sucks hardest?" she mumbles into his t-shirt. "I meant what I said, before. Pathetically enough, you're pretty much my favorite thing about this place."
"You always mean what you say. It's one of the things I hate most about you," he grins into her hair.
She laughs, and gives him an extra squeeze before pulling away. He doesn't quite let her go.
"You could wait a few days. I mean. I could give you a ride. Modify my trip route. L.A. isn't that out of the way."
"Because I'm really jonesing for a road trip in that death trap you call a car. Thanks but no thanks. I've already bought my ticket, Xander."
He waits for her to say that she'll write to him, that she'll call when she finds an apartment, that she'll be home for the holidays.
"…You're serious. You're really not gonna keep in touch, huh."
"I'm really, really not."
He kisses her forehead, then takes a step back. "Well, I'll tell you one thing. I'm totally done with brutal honesty. From now on, I'm all about the quiet, shy types."
She hands him his yearbook, accepting her own in return. "And may I be smote where I stand if I ever date another fixer-upper."
He grabs her suitcase before she has a chance to, and swings it easily into the luggage compartment.
"Take care of yourself, Cordelia." I loved you.
"I always do." I loved you, too.
The windows are all open on the bus, a sad attempt at encouraging a little ventilation in the rising summer heat. She leans her head back onto her seat as the driver starts the engine, and almost doesn't hear him calling out to her.
"When you finally achieve that inevitable stardom—" he yells, waving his yearbook around—"I'll make a killing selling your signature on eBay."
She sticks her head out of the window and shoots one last million megawatt smile at him as the bus pulls away. "That would require for me to have actually signed it!" she shouts back.
As goodbyes go, she'll reflect later, …it didn't suck.