Xander's Job, Chapter 13: Goodbye, Cordy
It was close to midnight when Xander reentered the chapel, and a glance at his watch told him it had been thirty-six hours since he learned of Cordelia’s death. A day and a half. That night before the final battle with The First had seemed pretty long, but this was giving it some stiff competition.
He was surprised to see a small group of people still there, standing in the area between the lines of chairs and Cordy’s now closed coffin. He recognized most of them as the crew of Angel Investigations, and as he watched each person reluctantly broke away, heading toward the exit.
Gunn nodded at Xander, then kept going. Lorne, his cheeks wet, reached out to clutch Xander’s shoulder as he passed. Then Fred stopped in front of him, taking a deep breath before she spoke.
“You came back to say goodbye, too?”
“Yeah.” Wanting to change the subject, Xander nodded toward a teenage boy who was just passing, a devastated look on his face. “Who’s that?”
Fred glanced at the boy. “Conner, a client of ours.” For a moment she paused, as if trying to extract a lost memory from her mind. “I didn’t think he knew Cordy, but he seemed pretty broken up at the funeral. Maybe there’s some history there I don’t know about.”
She turned back to Xander, and reached out to touch his arm. “We’re all going out for coffee -- would you like to come along?”
“No, thanks; I’ve got something to do.”
“Well … I’m sorry. I hope … this is going to come out wrong, but I hope she’s the last of our friends that we have to say goodbye to.” She paused, looking embarrassed.
“It’s okay, I understand. We’ve seen too many deaths. I don’t want one of the people I’ve seen here today to be the next one.”
“Yeah.” With a last look back at the casket, Fred walked on. Almost immediately Wesley replaced her, as if he’d been waiting for Xander to be alone.
“Xander, my condolences again. I had thought Mr. Giles would be back tonight …”
“He’ll be here shortly. We talked about it back at the hotel, and we’re going to hold a wake.”
Wesley blinked. “A wake?”
“Well, I told them to go on back to Chicago, and I was going to spend the night here, but my friends wouldn’t let me stay alone.” Xander noticed a certain amount of edginess in his own voice. Buffy, Willow and Giles had been surprised at his decision to spend one last night with Cordy, and he suspected they still had trouble grasping how torn up he’d been about her death.
But none of them ever fell in love with her, after all. He was still a bit mystified about how tuned in Faith had been, and he suspected she’d have stayed with him if the original Scoobies hadn’t insisted they would, instead. It was for the best that Faith head back to Chicago: She still wasn’t all that popular with the local police.
“I think you should know …” Wesley looked back, where Angel stood with a young woman who’d been at the funeral. “Angel already made plans to stay with Cordelia tonight.”
“He did?” Xander got that strange feeling again, as if there was a part of this story he wasn’t getting. That puzzle piece. Still ... Giles might not like this, but Angel probably had as much right to attend the wake as anyone else did. “Well, Angel’s going to have some company.”
Wesley smiled. “He just kicked all of us out of here.”
“He won’t have that kind of luck with me.”
“Very well. Anyway, about Giles …” Leaning forward, Wesley lowered his voice. “If you could pass on a message for me: Please let him know I must again decline his offer to rejoin the watchers.”
“He suggested it before, just after the potentials were called. It was more tempting then; now I believe I’m needed here. Buffy has informed me a new challenge is rising, here in Los Angeles.”
“What kind of challenge?”
“I don’t know. She was very vague, and wouldn’t tell me where she got the information. But I think Mr. Giles will be secretly pleased I stayed, so I can keep an eye on the situation with Angel and his new – position.”
“Ah.” Xander had to admit being disappointed. They could use all the watchers they could get, and by all accounts this Wesley, as opposed to the one they’d known in Sunnydale, would be a good one. “Heaven forbid anyone should hear me say this, but I don’t think Angel’s going over to the dark side.”
“I would have said that once.” With a sigh, Wesley shook his head. “But since we came to Wolfram and Hart, I’m not so sure. The temptations are great.”
“Well … we’ll just have to depend on you, won’t we? Oh, and keep Spike out of trouble.”
This time Wesley’s sigh was much more world-weary. “The challenges just keep on coming, then? I’ll arrange for you to have more comfortable seating.” He shook Xander’s hand and took his leave.
That left Xander alone with Angel and a pretty young woman who was talking quietly with the vampire. When he approached them, Angel looked up, then gestured toward her. “You didn’t get a chance to meet, earlier. Xander Harris, this is Nina, my …” He paused, and Nina gave him a sharp look. “My girlfriend.”
Say what? Xander gave the girl a closer examination. She looked so … normal. “Um, glad to meet you.”
“And you. Angel’s talked about you once or twice.”
“Nothing good, I’m sure.”
She considered it. “No, nothing good. You’re older than I pictured.”
“Some of us age.” Xander gave Angel a pointed look. “Speaking of which, does she know –“
“And does she know – the rest?”
“I’ve got it covered,” Angel said, through gritted teeth.
Smiling, Nina checked her watch, then kissed Angel on the cheek. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Angel nodded, then watched until she was gone.
“She looks happy,” Xander told him. Angel nodded again. “I hope she’s the only one.”
Angel turned to glare at him, but his attention was taken when workers entered, hauling comfortable looking upholstered chairs from the funeral home’s lounge. “What’s this?”
“Some of us have circulation.” After doing some quick math, Xander added, “But it looks like there’s one for you, too.”
“I don’t –“
“There’s room for all of us.” Xander gave Angel a challenging look. “We’ve come a long way.”
Angel opened his mouth, but closed it again when Harmony entered, carrying a pot of coffee. “I’ve got your first pot, boss. I’ll come back in a few hours with another pot and some blood –“
“We’re going to need one of those big, industrial strength pots,” Angel said, without taking his gaze from Xander. “More cups, and some human snacks.”
She stopped short, looking hopeful. “Human snacks?”
“Snacks for humans.”
“Donuts would be good,” Xander suggested.
“Donuts,” Angel repeated. “And maybe cookies. Nothing that crunches, crunches wouldn’t be appropriate.”
Harmony stared from one to the other. “But you wouldn’t let anyone –“
"Change of plans."
"But you wouldn't let me --"
“She was my friend too!”
Angel stared at her, looking as if he’d never considered that. “You’re right. But – look, you’ve been up making arrangements, taking care of things ever since Cordy passed away. Why don’t you have someone else send the rest of the stuff, and go get some rest? You can come back in the early morning to say goodbye.”
“Well …” Harmony faltered for a moment, and before Xander’s gaze her energy fled, and she looked like an exhausted little girl. “Well, I am an evil vampire and all, so I wouldn’t be expected to stay the whole night.”
“Right,” Angel said quietly. “Go get some sleep.”
Setting the coffee down, Harmony shuffled toward the exit. Angel glanced at Xander. “Keeping her busy keeps her out of trouble.”
Which might be true, Xander thought, but Angel sounded like he felt guilty about it.
Xander wondered, again, about the nature of vampires. Harmony hadn’t been resouled, and he had no doubt that she’d be drinking blood from living people, given the chance. But she really did seem to care about Cordelia, even though in his experience vampires delighted in killing their former friends. He wondered if someday the idea that all vampires were alike would be just as out of date as any other general prejudice.
Not that he would ever be caught pushing vampire emancipation.
Buffy, Willow and Giles entered, so preoccupied with discussing the tradition of wakes that they didn’t even notice Angel standing there, at first. Apparently Willow’s family had never discussed or participated in wakes before – whether because of Jewish tradition or because they weren’t really very religious at all, Xander wasn’t sure.
Then Buffy stopped short, staring at Angel. “Oh.”
“Wakes started as a way to make sure the dead hadn’t been turned,” Angel told Willow, ignoring the Slayer. “Most people don’t know that.”
“But Cordy hasn’t been turned.” Giles sent Angel a challenging look. “Right?”
“Right.” Turning, Angel pointed out the chairs, placed in a circle by the coffin. “If she had been, she’d have risen by now.”
There was a silence, as the Scoobies counted in their heads. “You’re staying?” Giles finally asked.
“It seems we all had the same idea.” Walking to one of the chairs, Angel sat down – although he hardly looked comfortable.
The others exchanged glances. Then they also moved to the chairs, but Willow paused to deposit a small stone on the coffin before sitting. Giles, Xander noticed, took the chair directly across from Angel. Buffy sat where she could see the coffin.
“So,” Willow said after a long, quiet moment.
“So,” Buffy repeated.
It was, Xander decided, going to be a long night.
Three hours later, Xander was more certain of that than ever, although for entirely different reasons.
“It’s called Irish coffee,” Giles explained patiently, as he poured another cup from the pot Angel handed him. “And yes, it’s perfectly legal for you to drink. You’re all over twenty-one, after all.”
“I’m substantially over twenty-one,” Angel said as he took a sip.
Giles handed a cup to Willow, who sniffed it suspiciously. “But, is it moral for us to drink?”
“Quite. It was invented for wakes, you know.” Giles stabbed Angel with a gaze and added, “That way people can stay awake while making sure their loved ones don’t rise up and eat them.”
“Exactly,” Angel said agreeably. It was his third cup.
To Xander’s dismay Buffy took some, although she treated it like nitroglycerin. “How much is coffee and how much is Irish?”
“Don’t worry, it’s mostly coffee.” Still, Angel looked worried. “Buffy, be careful; Spike says you’re a lousy drunk.”
As if she’d been dared, Buffy took a swallow. “Bleugh. Just how much do you two talk about me?”
“It’s what you wanted,” he reminded her.
“Yeah.” Buffy’s face wore a mixture of relief and melancholy.
“We’re trying to … move on.” Clearing his throat, Angel turned expectantly to Willow. “Are Wicca allowed to poison their bodies with alcohol?”
“Okay, fine. As long as it’s not a Bloody Mary.” She drank. “Not bad. Like coffee, with – wow. An aftertaste.”
“The technical term is ‘kick’.” Giles waved a cup toward Xander.
“No thanks. When I want kick, I’ll get a can of Jolt from the soda machine outside.”
“Right, well … skoal.” Giles finished his off, and reached for the pot.
Buffy cautiously took another drink. “Bleugh.”
Xander had an uneasy feeling that by dawn he’d be reliving pretty much all his family reunions.
Willow giggled, which Xander took to be a bad sign. Then her smile faded, and she craned her neck to look at the casket. “Did Cordelia ever get drunk?”
They all looked at each other. “Not that I remember,” Angel said. “Doyle and Lorne were the drinkers in our group.”
“In high school she was too cool to drink,” Buffy added.
Sitting back, Xander allowed himself to relax a bit. The Irish coffee had turned out to be a good idea, and he wondered if that idea had been Angel’s or Harmony’s. It had enough kick to it to relax the group a bit, but not so much to have them reenacting his thirteenth birthday party.
“She was very cool,” Willow agreed, looking morose.
Uh-oh. Maybe he’d relaxed a bit too soon. Crying jags could be just as bad as throwing furniture. Hoping to avoid that, he blurted out, “She mentioned that Doyle liked to drink. She made fun of him sometimes, but I think toward the end she genuinely liked the guy. And she said Lorne without a glass in his hand was like a designer purse without matching shoes.”
It took a moment before he realized Angel was giving him a long, contemplative look. “She said that? When?”
Xander blinked. They didn’t know, he realized; none of them. Well, he couldn’t blame Cordelia for that -- now that he thought about it, he’d never mentioned their correspondence to anyone, either. “Cordy and I wrote letters back and forth. Not regularly; we’d lose touch once in awhile, then catch back up again. The last time I stopped hearing from her, I figured she’d just gotten busy with her new life ... turns out it was kind of the opposite.”
“You exchanged letters?” Willow wrinkled her nose. “What did you talk about?”
“You know … stuff.”
“Fashions?” Buffy speculated. “Were you trying to get her into Hawaiian shirts?”
“No – we just kept each other up on the goings-on. Who’s dating who, the latest apocalypse – stuff like that.” Xander shrugged. “We talked on the phone some, too. She was pretty open – well, you know Cordy. Sometimes I’d go through the letters, and realize how much she’d changed over time. She really did become a better person, toward the end.”
“Indeed she did,” Giles agreed. “My L.A. sources were quite impressed with her.”
Angel shook his head. “Was there anyone from Sunnydale who wasn’t spying on us?”
“I don’t think so,” Willow told him. “Dawn even got on a bus for L.A. once, after she and Buffy got into one of their fights right after you left, but we were waiting for her at the station.”
“Bleugh.” Buffy rested her cup on the floor beside her. “I’ve had enough.”
“But you only had one cup,” Angel said, smiling at her.
“No, not enough of that – enough talk about people spying on you, Mister ‘Don’t let Buffy know we’re sneaking into Rome to rescue her from her boyfriend’. Um, but yeah, I’ve had enough of the Irish coffee, too.”
“Buffy, seriously, The Immortal is –“
“Talk to the hand.” Buffy demonstrated, speaking at her own palm. “Seriously, hand, Buffy doesn’t know how to take care of herself.”
Willow giggled. “Buffy, hands can’t talk.”
“Actually,” Giles interrupted, “The hand of a Soloh Demon has a fully functioning --”
“Wait!” Xander had begun to enjoy the show, and now he started laughing. “Hand Soloh?” The others also broke into laughter, until even Giles and Angel joined in. “Yeah, we’ve all had too much – even me, and I haven’t had any.”
When they’d settled down, Angel turned to Buffy. “You’re right. After all, you didn’t come to L.A. and attack my girlfriend just because she’s a werewolf.”
The smiles died abruptly.
“You’re dating a werewolf?” Buffy asked, her eyes wide.
“Bloody hell,” Giles muttered. “In all this fuss, I hadn’t thought of what that might mean ...”
Nina sure hadn’t looked like a werewolf, Xander thought, and musing on that kept him from thinking before he spoke again. “Wait a minute. What if she gets too enthusiastic while you’re – I mean, bites you during – um – you know ... why doesn’t somebody stop me?”
“I’m immune.” Angel’s voice was cold, making it clear he didn’t want to discuss how he knew he was immune.
Then Buffy spoke in a small voice. “Does she make you … happy? Have you – I mean, how happy are you?”
Giles was very still, his face pale.
“Not …” Angel cleared his throat. “Yes, we have … but … no. Not that happy.”
Buffy sat back, a strange combination of relief and smugness on her face.
But Giles stayed tense, as if ready to spring out of the chair. “It’s a dangerous game you’re playing, Angel.”
“I understand your concern, but –“
“Lives are at stake. One moment is all it takes, then we –“
“Giles, no.” Angel looked not at Giles, but at Buffy. “The curse was very specific. That one moment – perfect happiness -- just doesn’t come along every day, not with – just anyone.”
Buffy, lips downturned, met his gaze evenly.
“I know what happened before. Just knowing that – remembering – keeps any moment of my life from every being perfect, ever. No matter how I might feel about Nina or anyone else, that will never change. I can never be perfectly happy again.”
Giles removed his glasses and started rubbing his temples.
“Giles …” Angel faltered, then started again. “There aren’t many people I’ve hurt more –“ His gaze flicked to Buffy, then away “—than you. Nothing I could ever do will fix that, and I don’t think you can possibly know how sorry –“
“Yes, I know.” Xander had expected Giles to lose his temper at the thought of Angel expressing regrets, but the watcher spoke quietly. “I do know, Angel, I do understand. It’s not about forgiveness; it’s about fear. You see, every night I see Jenny lying there, her eyes staring sightlessly, her lifeless body arranged to cause me the greatest pain.”
Angel took a deep breath, but said nothing.
“And every night I wake up in a cold sweat, experiencing the same nightmare. I dream that you become Angelus again, and begin to murder everyone I love, one by one. Every night I dream that, Angel. Every night.”
A tear trickled down Buffy’s cheek. Willow had drawn herself up, hugging her knees as she gazed in horror at Giles.
“I hold nothing against you, Angel, not anymore. I know what it’s like to regret the actions of your past, to feel responsible for the lives of others. But there’s a monster inside you, desperate to get out again, and I’ll fear that monster for as long as I live.” Giles slipped his glasses back on, and poured himself another cup of Irish coffee with unsteady hands.
Silence reigned, broken only by ragged breathing, and quiet crying from Buffy and Willow. After a long moment Xander passed a box of Kleenex to Buffy, then Giles set the cup aside and handed his handkerchief to Willow.
Willow wiped her nose, then forced a smile. “It smells like glasses.”
“You may keep it,” Giles intoned. “You’ll be surprised to learn it’s not my only one.”
Okay, Xander thought, that’s my cue to lighten the mood. “You probably buy them by the case, don’t you, G man? I’ll bet they wear out in no time, the way you scrub those glasses.”
Buffy swallowed. “I bet he has a hamper marked ‘handkerchiefs only’, and washes a load of them on the delicate setting every week.”
“Come to think of it,” Willow added, “he probably has a fresh supply of glasses standing by, too.”
“Good point. All that polishing probably changes the prescription.” Thank God, Xander thought, We’re back to keeping it light and easy.
Then Angel spoke, as if the forced jokes had never even happened. “You all need to know something.”
“I wasn’t going to mention it, but it’s only fair that you understand all the reasons why I think being with Nina won’t send me … down that path again.”
Giles picked his cup back up and took a swig.
“Cordelia and I fell in love. It was interrupted, but it was real. And it never came close to triggering the curse.”
“Cordelia!” Willow gasped. “Cordelia Chase?”
Giles drained the cup. Buffy just stared, hurt plain on her face.
Almost like a physical thing, Xander finally felt that last jigsaw piece fall into place. The way Angel took charge of the funeral, the way he personally flew across the world to tell Cordy’s friends. And, of course – of course – the bleak, devastated expression Xander kept seeing on the vampire’s face. The same expresssion Xander saw after Anya’s death, every time he looked into the mirror.
Of course Angel fell for Cordy. Who wouldn’t?
“I’m sorry.” Angel’s gaze flicked between Buffy and Xander.
After a moment – a moment in which Buffy seemed to be suppressing an emotional outburst – she gave him a thin smile. “You don’t owe me an explanation. I happen to know you weren’t thrilled with a couple of the people I dated, after all.”
“Yeah.” Angel turned to Xander, with a look that might have been hopeful.
He respects me – worries about my feelings. I’m not “Boy” anymore. Wow. “I already suspected. I just didn’t know that I suspected.”
The others looked puzzled, but Angel nodded as if it made perfect sense. “There’s something else you need to know; something I hadn’t planned to tell you.”
“Wow,” Willow murmured. “Something else.”
“I was losing my way … starting to think I’d screwed up beyond repair. I wasn’t sure what I should do about it. But then, just last week, Cordelia came to me. She saved me. Saved my life, helped me defeat my demons – without and within. She set me back on track again.”
“That’s my Cordy,” Xander whispered, before Angel’s words sank in. “Wait a minute. Just last week? I thought Cordy never came out of her coma.”
“But then –“ Willow stopped in mid sentence. “Oh.” She glanced over her shoulder, toward the casket.
“So.” Giles also turned toward where Cordelia’s body rested, and after a moment Buffy did, too.
Xander exchanged an understanding look with Angel, possible the first time they’d seen completely eye to eye. There was no point in looking at the coffin – the body had nothing to do with this discussion.
“Well,” Giles said after a moment, “we already knew spirits were watching over us. I don’t believe anyone ever told you, Angel, but not long after Sunnydale was destroyed we encountered the spirits of some old friends – including Jenny Calendar.”
Angel’s eyes widened. “You did? What did she say?”
“Not to blame myself. That it was Angelus who killed her, and no one else.” He shrugged, looking embarrassed. “The same thing everyone told me.”
“Tara was there that day,” Willow added quietly. “And again, just before you got to our room in Star’s Hollow. If Tara’s spirit can still be around, why not Cordelia’s?”
“Cordelia’s spirit is still around.” Buffy’s voice was just as quiet. “She called me – just before you got to my apartment.”
“Called you – on the phone?” Willow frowned. “Just before --?”
“Yeah – a lot of coincidences there, Wil. She told me things were going to get bad in L.A., and that I needed to get back to work.”
Giles nodded, in sudden realization. “She’s the one who told you all those things – and just before we arrived. No wonder you were still upset.”
“Yeah, I had to get it from a dead person. You want to tell me what’s going on in L.A.?”
But Angel could only turn his hands upward. “Honestly, it’s no worse there than usual – which granted, isn’t saying much. I can’t imagine what’s coming that’s worse than what we’ve already handled. Wolfram and Hart is still a threat, but we’re trying to change things from within.”
“Good luck,” Giles murmured.
Buffy shook her head. “We’ll talk about it later. The point is, Cordelia was clearly there with us, all along.”
“Our guardian angel.” Willow looked at Angel. “So to speak.”
Xander remembered that moment in the plane, when he thought he saw Cordy’s reflection and turned to see the seat beside him had been moved. In that brief glimpse she’d seemed so relaxed, so … happy. He accepted the Kleenex box that was being passed around, and dabbed at his eye.
“Almost dawn. It’s time.” Angel rose to his feet and walked to an alcove along one wall, then emerged with a champagne bucket. “I don’t have any glasses, so drain your Irish coffee.”
Buffy immediately did so. “I needed that. Bleugh.”
Angel filled each glass. “Cordelia wouldn’t have wanted blood, or coffee, or even Irish coffee for her send off. This is her favorite brand of champagne, some of the rarest and most expensive – which I think is why it was her favorite. I never saw her drink any … she’d just talk about it, the way some people would talk about a priceless antique.”
Xander smiled, and felt the day’s tensions flow out of him as he sank back into the cushions. “She not only watched over us, she made sure that by the time we gathered here, we’d have no reason to be sad.”
They raised their glasses. “To Cordelia,” Giles said. “Her sharp wit and her sharp tongue.” They drank.
“To Cordy,” Willow offered. “She grew on you.”
“To Cordelia.” Buffy sent a sly smile toward Angel. “She had great taste -- in men.”
“To Cordelia.” Angel’s hand trembled, just a bit. “She helped the helpless.”
Xander’s throat tightened, and for a moment he didn’t think he could get it out. But he held his cup high. “To Cordy. She loved, and was loved.”
As one should at a wake, they stayed until morning. All six of them.