Author: gleefulmusings (formerly xanzpet)
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series, Seasons Six and Three.
Warning(s): Spoilers for Hell's Bells.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Snippets of dialogue may be incorporated from the original canonical episode(s) and belong to their respective authors/creators. The original characters and plot are the property of the author(s). The author(s) is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended, nor should any be inferred. No profit is being made.
Summary: After abandoning Anya at the altar, Xander heads south for a dose of tough love - Cordy style. Things happen.
"Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless!"
"You sure are. Did you justfigure that out? I thought I covered it three years ago. Of course, you always were a little slow."
He sighed. "I really messed up."
"Where are you?"
"PCH, heading south," he morosely offered.
She heard tears and they unnerved her. He didn't cry. Ever. After all, he wasn't a whiny Slayer or a brooding souled vampire. "Tell me what happened."
"I left her."
"You moron! Get your ass down here."
She hung up the phone, left the office with nary a word to anyone else in the hotel, and set off for her apartment.
Xander Harris sped his way to Los Angeles to drown his misery in the most miserable person he knew.
It didn't matter that they had once fought with a passion which was as terrifying as it was exciting. It didn't matter that he hadn't seen her for three years or that their last meeting had been strained, if otherwise relatively amicable. It didn't matter that he had been too scared to call her all of this time, even though a part of him ached from her absence.
As much as Willow Rosenberg had been a constant in his life, so too had Cordelia Chase. When she had left Sunnydale after graduation, there had been a hole. Not like when Jesse had died, but there was still a vacancy, and no matter who moved in or out of their little group, no one had ever been able to replace her, simply because she was irreplaceable.
He probably should have told her that before.
She breezed into her apartment and put on a pot of coffee, announcing to her ghost roommate that they were to have company.
Cordelia realized that she had never told Xander her address and it only now registered that he must have already known it, since he never asked and she knew he would never have set foot into Angel's home.
She was annoyed at her primping for the arrival of an ex-boyfriend, even if he was the only serious boyfriend she had ever had.
It was Xander Harris, after all. What did she care how he thought she looked?
She didn't care, she told herself repeatedly while changing her outfit half a dozen times and perfecting her makeup.
Didn't care at all.
Not. A. Bit.
It had been three years, and it wasn't like she and Xander had been lovers or anything. It was just a brief high school flirtation. Nothing more.
It didn't mean anything that every potential date since she had arrived in Los Angeles had deep, dark eyes and black, floppy hair, or that they had a great – if quirky – sense of humor, or an offbeat grasp of fashion. It was all a coincidence.
And Angel didn't know what he was talking about, comparing Doyle to Xander and proclaiming that was why she had never gotten involved with the fallen Seer. Doyle had had green eyes, so that just tossed the vampire's whole theory right out the window!
"Right!" she affirmed with even more conviction.
Xander was seriously involved with another woman; engaged, even! Or, at least, he had been.
"What the hell did you do now, Xander?" she muttered, raking her fingers through her hair and regretting cutting her long locks. "I wonder if Saint Willow has reared her big red head yet again?"
Dennis was peculiarly silent as Cordelia readied herself and she frowned. It was ridiculous how jealous a ghost could be.
Xander roamed three blocks in search of a parking space, half praying that someone would steal his truck, thus stranding him in Los Angeles and providing a good excuse not to return to Sunnydale. He flipped open his cell phone and saw the forty-seven voicemails demanding his attention. A few from Dawn, most likely, as well as several from Buffy, but the majority he was sure were from Willow.
He couldn't talk to them. He didn't want to, not about this. Not about Anya, because they had never wanted to talk about her before, and it was now too late. Just like they had never wanted to talk about Cordelia, or how Buffy no longer wanted to talk about Joyce, or Willow about Jesse. Xander envied them their denial, their declarations that they had moved on. As for Giles, hell, he couldn't even bother coming back to the States for the wedding.
"Surrogate son, my ass," he savagely mumbled. "When it's convenient, sure, but not when I wanted him to be my best man. Didn't matter that I fought with Anya about that, because she wanted him to give her away. Oh, no, but he can come for Buffy. Couldn't stay to help with Dawn, but I'm sure when Willow has her crisis du year, he'll come running. But not for me. Never for me."
Okay, he was bitter. Nothing new there.
He wondered if Cordelia would have come to the wedding had he invited her. He had declined to send the announcement out of respect for Anya's feelings, despite her insistence that she didn't care. As far as his fiancée was concerned, one more guest equaled one more present, and one from someone with the taste of Cordelia Chase, a welcome present it would have been indeed.
"So why am I here now?" he wondered aloud, sitting in his idling truck after at last discovering an available spot.
He still couldn't quite believe that he had called her, had dialed the number from memory. That he had bothered to purloin it from Willow almost three years ago.
It wasn't just a simple matter of not having anyplace else to go. He had money now, and reliable transportation. He could have stayed in a hotel or charged a ticket to Saskatchewan. Instead, he had called her, knowing what would await him when he spilled the beans.
"Might as well get it over with," he sighed, hauling himself out of the vehicle and trudging toward the apartment complex.
She heard the doorbell and ignored the flutters, because all they meant was that at last someone from Sunnydale would see her amazing apartment and tell everyone how fabulously she was doing in the big city.
She gave herself another once over in the mirror, not because Xander was on the other side of the door, but because you just never knew when a celebrity with a broken-down car might be knocking to use your phone and would offer a supporting role as a thank-you.
Cordelia charged over to the door and threw it open.
They stared at each other for what felt like hours, registering the tiny little changes only they would notice.
"You cut your hair," he lamented.
"You've gained weight."
He kept his eyes downcast and said nothing, though he involuntarily sucked in his gut.
She sighed and stepped to the side, not granting him an implicit invitation, despite the fact that the sun was shining brightly in the courtyard. You could never be too careful.
He hesitated, and then finally entered. "It's beautiful," he noted, knowing she would expect such a compliment.
"Not as nice as yours."
His confusion was obvious.
"Willow emailed pictures."
He nodded and continued looking around.
"Have a seat."
He did, and she sat next to him on the sofa, giving him a wide berth.
"Why are you here, Xander?" she asked with a gentleness which was, surprisingly, unforced.
"I don't know," he whispered. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have come." He stood and then winced when she pulled him back down. "You're strong!" he barked. He looked at her even more closely. "What's happened to you? It's more than just the hair. You're different."
"It's been three years," she said evasively.
He shook his head. "I've known you for your entire life, Cordy. I was there the two days in fourth grade that you had to wear glasses before you could get fitted for contacts. I was there the first time you had your hair highlighted. I was there when you started growing the boobs that would launch a thousand drools."
"Only a thousand?" she smiled, peeking at him from beneath her lashes.
"That's just my own personal count," he grinned. He paused, unsure as to how or even if he wanted to continue. "I've missed you," he said softly. "I don't think I even realized until this moment just how much."
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
He gripped her hand in his, and was flooded with a sense of warmth that he didn't know how he had survived the past few years without.
"Tell me what happened."
So he did, starting with the events after she had left Sunnydale. He outlined the beginnings of his relationship with Anya, how Willow had met Tara and chosen her over Oz, how Buffy had lost Riley, and how they had defeated Adam. He told her about Dawn, her origins, and Glory. They cried together briefly when the discussion turned to Joyce.
He then told her about Buffy's death and his wish that he had died with her, about Giles leaving, and about the resurrection spell in which Willow had convinced him to participate. He told her about Willow's scary descent into magic; how she had raped Tara's mind, causing the blond to break up with her; and how Buffy had been torn not from a hell dimension, as they had thought, but from heaven.
"Jesus," she whispered. "Willow sure did leave out a lot of stuff." She paused. "So did Angel," she finished darkly.
"How could you call Willow all these years and not me?" he suddenly demanded, the hurt in his voice apparent.
She quirked a brow. "The phone works both ways, you know."
He sighed and at last nodded. "Your turn."
She glared at him before complying. She told him about Doyle's death and becoming the new Seer. About how Wesley had then joined she and Angel, and then Gunn, and about how they had rescued Fred from Pylea, and thus completing their strange little family. She told him about Wolfram and Hart, about the pain the visions caused and what they had been doing to her brain, information which she had yet to tell Angel and the others, but knew was only a matter of time before it was discovered.
"Are you in love with him?" he asked softly. The name didn't need to be uttered.
"Part of me is," she acknowledged, "but not in the way I was in love with you. And he doesn't love me like he did Buffy. I think more than anything we're just incredibly good friends and, if I'm being honest, and I always am, I think I now better understand your connection with Willow."
"That connection's gone."
"You can get it back."
"I'm not sure I want to."
She let that statement hang in the air for a while, contemplating the new dynamics of the Scooby Gang, and wondering just how close Xander had become to Tara.
"She's not Willow anymore," he whispered. "She frightens me, Cordy. Not in the way Buffy's power once frightened me or Faith's psychosis frightened me, but in a whole new, terrifying way. It's like I can see her on the edge of an abyss, looking down into the darkness. And I know part of her wants to jump."
"Then maybe what she's needs is a net."
"Maybe I'm tired of being everyone's net. I'm just…so tired."
"What happened with the Evil Fairy?"
He released a harsh peal of laughter. "I can't believe you still call her that."
He sighed again and then told her how he had proposed, convinced they would all die before a wedding could ever take place. How his fear and doubt kept gnawing at him as the day grew closer. How he knew that Anya had her doubts and fears, too, but ignored them, preferring to lose herself in preparations. He told her how Giles hadn't put in an appearance and how much that had hurt everyone, not just he and Anya.
"This is all very interesting, and surprisingly on point, but it still doesn't answer my question."
Exhaling forcefully, he reiterated his experience with his wedding day visitor, the visions he had been shown, how he was destined to hurt Anya the way his father had hurt his mother, and how he had fled Buffy's house and abandoned Anya at the altar.
She appraised him for a minute and he fidgeted under her unwelcome gaze, feeling as though she was searching his soul. At once he understood why the Powers had chosen her to receive Doyle's visions. Finally Cordelia had a nifty visual aid for her lifelong talent.
"You're such a coward. I'm so disappointed in you."
He stared at her with huge, wounded eyes.
"Don't give me the eyes," she scoffed, curling her lip.
"I left for her!"
"No. You left for yourself. If you were a real man, you would have gone to her and told her what you had seen and then discussed your doubts, but oh no. You reverted to typical Xander Harris behavior and left her to figure things out on her own. You left her to wonder and to blame herself and to sob hysterically and question if she deserved this. You couldn't hack it, so you left her to deal with the fallout. With the guests and the food and the decorations and the gifts. Not much has changed in three years, Xander. You still don't what or who you want, and you leave a trail of bodies in your wake."
Furious at her candor and insight, he stood up. "I didn't come here for this!"
She rose from the sofa and put her hands on her hips. "The hell you didn't! You came here for exactly this! I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I'm telling you what your so-called friends don't have the guts to say to your face. This has always been your problem, Xander. You act before you think! Who's to say these visions were real? Maybe this guy was just some random demon that Anya pissed off a couple of centuries ago and he wanted a little payback on the happiest day of her life. You honestly believe you would ever raise your hand to a woman? You think Willow or Buffy would let you? That Anya wouldn't kick your ass if you tried? That I wouldn't steal Angel's car and come up to Sunnydale to beat the hell out of you?"
She furiously shook her head. "This is bullshit! You're not any more your father than I am my mother. We're different people and we've worked our asses off to be good people. And you are a good person, Xander, but you make some really lousy choices."
"I know," he whispered. "I always choose the wrong girl."
Her eyes grew wide. "Don't," she warned. "Don't do this. Don't do it to yourself or to me. That was a long time ago, Xander, and a lot has happened to both of us. You love Anya. I know it, and so do you."
"But I love you too. I never stopped," he insisted. "Do you still love me?"
"That's irrelevant. My life is here in Los Angeles with Angel. Yours is waiting for you back in Sunnydale. It's where you belong, and there are people there who love and are waiting for you."
"Do you ever wonder?" he asked, inching as close to her as he dared. "Do you ever wonder what would have happened if I hadn't kissed Willow that night in the factory? If you hadn't fallen through the floor?"
"What difference does it make now?" she asked, exasperated.
"Would it have made a difference if I had fought harder for you?"
She averted her gaze and was silent for a moment. "I honestly don't know," she finally said.
"I do love Anya," he whispered, "but not the way she deserves. Not the way I loved you. The way I love you still."
"No. That's enough. You need to go, Xander."
"Why?" he pressed. "Why do I need to leave, Cordy? Because you've missed me as much as I've missed you? Because you regret the way things ended? Regret that they ended at all? Because you're scared what might happen if I stay?"
"Nothing would happen."
"You don't believe that any more than I do."
"Why can't you just let yourself be happy?" she groaned. "You have a woman who loves you. You have good friends. You have a job, a nice place to live, and a car that doesn't break down every other mile. Why can't you be happy with that? I swear to god, you're worse than Buffy!"
"What does that mean?" he frowned.
"You always want what you can't have! Buffy, a Slayer, wanted Angel, a vampire. People died for their love, and still they couldn't get past their own selfishness!"
She rolled her eyes. "You didn't lose me because of Willow, Xander. You lost me because you lied."
He blinked owlishly. "What?"
"Do you honestly believe that I didn't know how conflicted you were about her?" she continued. "The closer she got to Oz, the further she withdrew from you. I didn't say anything because I was glad to see her go. I don't like her and I never will. I can tolerate her because she has proved useful on occasion, but I still think she's a manipulative bitch and her recent escapade of using her own lover as a voodoo doll only serves to reinforce that belief."
She heaved a sigh. "You had me, Xander. I gave up everything for you and it still wasn't enough. In fact, after we broke up, I wondered if that was the reason you turned to her: because I had finally chosen you over everyone else and the challenge was gone."
"That's not true!" he screamed. "I loved you more than I've ever loved anyone. I was confused and I was scared. I was always so sure you would leave me!"
They stared at each other, the unspoken admittance pregnant between them. Xander, scared Cordelia would leave him, had left her first by cheating with Willow. Years later, scared Anya would eventually see him as Xander saw himself, he had left her as well.
"What else did I have to do?" she finally bellowed. "I defied my parents! I let my friends rag on me! I stuck it out with Willow and Buffy to help save the world even after we broke up! What the hell did you want from me?"
He raced forward and grabbed her. "I wanted you to love me the way I loved you. I wanted to be enough for you!"
"And you were!" she raged, pushing him back. "I was the one who wasn't enough for you!"
"You were always enough," he hissed, "but you kept me at arm's length. You opened up to me maybe more than you ever had to anyone else before or since, but you always kept a part of yourself closed off from me."
"You don't own me," she seethed. "I'm so very sorry that I couldn't give you everything you needed, but instead of talking to me about it, you turned to someone else. I guess some patterns are just destined to repeat themselves."
He deflated and released her. "That's not what this is about."
"Then what is it about?" she whispered, hugging herself and wondering why she felt so empty.
"I didn't run from Anya to you. I didn't leave her because of you. I don't know why I can't let myself be happy. All I know is that I'm not happy, that I haven't been happy since you left me."
"And whose fault is that?"
"Not yours," he admitted. "I'm sorry, Cordelia. I shouldn't have come."
She sighed. "I didn't say that. I'm glad you're here. I've missed you, too, Xan, but I'm not the answer to your problems."
"And you're not the cause of them, either," he whispered, "and I didn't mean to imply that you were."
"You didn't," she smiled. "I love you, you dork. It wouldn't still hurt if I didn't."
They now avoided the other's gaze, their discomfort growing with every moment which passed in silence.
"I…I should go."
"I don't want to," he added quietly.
"I don't want you to either."
So he stayed.
He aimlessly wandered down Revello Drive, not consciously heading toward Buffy's house, but also not surprised that he had almost arrived at that destination.
"Xander!" a cry came from his left.
He turned and saw Buffy racing toward him. In a moment, he was trapped in the embrace of an anxious and overwrought Slayer.
"Where have you been?" she screeched. "Do you have any idea how worried we were? Tara's still out searching. Willow's calling everyone! Dawn is baking things! Have you been back to the apartment? Have you seen…"
"No," he answered, cutting her off. "I'm not ready for that yet, and I doubt she is either."
"I want to know right now what happened."
They sat down on one of the neighbor's retaining walls, Buffy keeping his hand in her own, more of a measure designed to keep him from running than of comfort. She listened patiently as he explained about the visions. She sighed, groaned, crooned, and cried in all of the appropriate places, and for the first time since they had brought her back, Xander felt as if he actually had her attention. It made him sad to realize that all it took to accomplish this was him destroying Anya's world.
"Where have you been?" she repeated, hissing. "We've been going crazy! Are you okay? Why didn't you call me or Willow? Where did you go?"
"L.A.," he replied, averting his eyes.
Her own eyes grew to the size of saucers as she considered the implication. "Oh."
"How…how is she?"
He grinned. "Still as Cordelia as ever."
Buffy snickered, her nose scrunching cutely.
"She told me a lot of stuff," he continued. "Stuff I needed to hear and which none of my friends would tell me."
She looked down. "Maybe because none of us were paying attention."
He shrugged. "Maybe, but my mistakes are my own, and she made me realize and accept that."
"That's kind of her thing."
"It is," he agreed, nodding and smiling again.
Her gaze narrowed. "Do I want to know everything that happened between you two?"
"Probably not," he confessed. "Not anymore than I really want to know about whatever's going on between you and Spike."
She startled and began sputtering.
"I'm dumb, Buffy, not blind. I'm not going to push you, even though I desperately want to. I was wrong to do it the last time. With Angel, I mean, not with Riley. I wish I had pushed you sooner with Riley. But whenever you're ready to talk, I'm here."
"You always have been," she whispered, eyes bright.
"I think we've both cried enough," he noted, standing and pulling her with him. "Let's go tell Willow to call off the dogs."
"She's going to kill you, you know."
"Not this time." He shook his head. "Willow has her own mess to clean up, and it's time she started dealing with it."
"What's happened to us?" she whispered, resting her head on his shoulder as she had countless times over the years. "It used to be so much easier."
He laughed mirthlessly. "It was never easy. We just have a different set of problems now."
"Do you think we can solve them?"
"I think we can do anything, as long as we're together. We're Bander."
"Buffy plus Xander equals Bander. We're awesome, and it's time we let everyone know it."
She nodded. "True." She gave him the side-eye. "What else did Cordy say?"
"I could tell you, but then she'd probably have to kill you."
She patted his shoulder. "You'd just bring me back. That's what you do."
"I also fix things. And you fight with weapons."
She nodded but fell silent for a long moment. "Can you fix this?"
He winced. "Maybe. Maybe not. Hope you've got some really nifty weapons."
Six weeks after Xander had returned to Sunnydale, Cordelia was pacing in her living room in Los Angeles, very much not on the vacation she had told Angel she was going to enjoy.
"Crap," she muttered, clutching the small stick whose tip was a shock of bright blue. "Crap, crap, crap."