Vampire Stories, story 4
BtVS / Buffy/Willow/Xander
Summery: Cordelia? There are many questions that arise. Some truths are revealed. And everyone has choices to make.
Love and Loyalties, part 5.
Disclaimers and warnings are listed in part 1 and still apply.
Willow stretched out beside Buffy on the bed. She let herself rest for a few moments, a few minutes, just let the time pass a little as she recovered. It wasn’t that she was so drained that she was weak. They didn’t let it get to those points any longer, learning when to end and how to resist the compulsion to consume and be consumed. The strengthened bond strengthening control. But after the intensity of the experience, it felt good to relax with Buffy; even if Buffy couldn’t share this moment with her. Buffy lay still and lifeless beside her. No breath, no heartbeat. Willow still marveled at it all. She could feel their connection, faint but crackling as she smoothed Buffy’s hair out from around her face and stroked her cheek. Not even an eye twitch. Willow leaned over and quickly kissed Buffy’s lips. She got up off the bed and dressed for the day. There were a couple things to get started on.
* * *
Xander craned his neck and watched Willow come down the stairs. “Hey there, sleepyhead. Where’s Buffy?”
“Sleeping.” Willow smiled at Xander’s puzzled look. “We got a little carried away this morning. She fed from the vamp that bit her.”
Xander smiled and returned to watching the TV. “I made ya a pot of coffee.”
Willow stopped at the bottom of the stairs and stared suspiciously at the back of Xander’s head. “Well aren’t you the sweet one this morning.” As she made her way to the kitchen, she looked around for Cordelia. “Xander, what did you do with Cordy?”
Xander laughed. Easily bored with the TV, he shut it off and quickly joined Willow in the kitchen. “What do you think I did with her?”
Willow could tell she was being teased and relaxed, deciding to just play along. “I don’t know, that’s why I asked.” She leaned back against Xander and into his arms as she cradled the hot cup of coffee. “Just let me get in at least one cup of coffee before you tell me.”
Xander wrapped his arms around Willow and held her tight against him. He smelled the scent of the recent shower in her hair and kissed her head. Memories tumbled into the empty spaces of his existence; sparked to life by this physical link. His arms shook a little as the landslide of who they were settled to the depth of who they were now. Willow’s fingers stroking his arm settled him and the dust. He smiled and started rocking her slowly. “Remember in fourth grade when Cordelia got herself elected to be in charge of the classroom supplies? And we kept plotting ways to lock her in the supply cabinet?”
“Xander! You didn’t!” Willow slapped his arm and looked over to the closet and laundry room doors beside the elevator.
Xander laughed again and relented. “No. But a part of me now wishes I had remembered and thought of it. No, Cordy went out shopping of course.”
Willow left Xander’s arms and wondered if she could have just brought him with her the few steps to the counter to get some more coffee. She turned to face Xander, refill in hand and leaned against the counter. “Oh yeah, food shopping. It’s not like we have anything here except this,” she emphasized by raising the mug.
“And clothes shopping,” Xander merrily warned.
“Clothes? Well sure, she doesn’t have anything.” Willow continued to drink her coffee, warily certain by the way that Xander was grinning that she didn’t understand everything yet. “What?”
“Buffy sent her clothes shopping for us as well,” Xander filled in. “Now do you wish I had thought to lock her in the closet?”
“Cordy’s going to be picking out clothes for us?” Willow snapped.
“She promised to be nice,” Xander tried to console Willow. “And you have been complaining about the clothes we can find in the stores that are open all night long.”
“It’s just the principle of the thing,” Willow stated but conceded. “She has changed a lot since the schoolyard bane of our existence.”
Xander smiled and deemed it was safe to join Willow at the counter. He leaned against the counter beside her and put his arm around her. “That was a little dramatic.”
Willow tilted her head onto his shoulder. “Well, she was. At least for me.” Her voice held a slightly petulant tone.
“Me too.” Xander kissed the top of her head. “All the way until she was my girlfriend. Maybe even during that.” He chuckled. “But you two ended up friends, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Willow admitted. “At least friendly.” Willow gave Xander a quick kiss on the lips. “And none of us are anything like what we were in school now anyway. It’s just… buying clothes for us. I’m gonna kill Buffy.”
Xander laughed. “I think you need some more coffee. You’re still not quite awake.”
Willow laughed as well. “Okay. I guess a lot of the ‘oomph’ is gone now from that threat, huh?” One of her own chores for the day came to mind. “What is Cordy using to pay for all this?”
“Oh, I gave her Buffy’s purse.” Tired of watching everyone drink alone, Xander crossed over to the fridge and got himself a beer. “ID, credit cards: it should be alright. They never actually look too hard if at all.”
“Good thinking,” Willow praised with a smile. “Still, I’m gonna set her up with her own ID and account.”
“Told her you probably would.” Xander leaned against the counter next to the fridge and drank his beer. He watched Willow as her mind began to work out how and sort out in what order to accomplish the task. He loved watching her mind work. It was something you could experience viscerally as an aura of energy and possibility hovered around her until coalescing with a snap into sharp focus and purpose.
After just a few moments of sipping her coffee, Willow finished the last of it and placed the cup in the sink. “I’m going to the office area to deal with that now. I think I have an idea.”
“Okay.” Xander watched her cross to the other side of the loft and toasted her back with his beer.
* * *
Buffy woke with a stretch and took a moment to orient herself; remember why she was in the bed alone. She smiled and spread herself over the covers as the taste of Willow’s, her Sire’s blood came back to her mind. Then she recalled her planned amusement for the day. Buffy got out of the bed and instead of getting dressed, slipped into a short silk black robe. She closed the robe but tied the sash loosely. It wasn’t a raincoat. She didn’t have one. But this would work just as well. With the bottom of the robe caressing across her bare thighs, Buffy descended the stairs.
Willow was seated at the desk in the office corner of the loft just beyond the stair landing. For a moment, Buffy thought she was so engrossed in her work at the computer that she would slip by unnoticed. But just as she reached the bottom of the stairs, Willow looked up, her eyebrows arched as she took in what little Buffy was wearing. Buffy held a finger to her lips in the ‘silence’ gesture. Willow remembered then their earlier conversation of high school fantasies. She swiveled the chair for the best view and leaned back. With an unrepentant grin, Willow gestured Buffy to continue with a sweep of her hand. Buffy rolled her eyes and continued stealthy over to Xander.
Xander was at the other end of the couch on the TV side playing a video game. Something military and violent with guns and explosions. She could never remember what it was called or even which was which. He had promised her she’d like it and they had spent many hours wasting a day with them and frustrated that their reaction speed was greater that any game’s capability. Still, she had to admit, they were fun and much better than the supposed martial arts games that just drove her crazy. She could never fight the way she wanted to with those things. Xander was lost in the game but she knew he wouldn’t mind this kind of interruption. She stepped in front of the TV. “Xander, I can think of a better game to play.”
It was sudden. It took a moment to catch up. Xander stared stupidly at Buffy, at the short silk robe that covered her suggestively rather than modestly, at the game graphics that exploded behind her. He turned off that last distraction. “What?”
Buffy smiled. “Xander, come with me.” Buffy reached for Xander’s hands and pulled him to his feet. She led him back to the staircase and positioned him to sit on the second stair. He stayed still: waiting, wondering. Buffy took a moment to remember how it went. The memory was faded, either by spell hangover or by time’s passing, but she thought she remembered enough. She remained just below where he sat and placed one foot up next to him then leaned forward and with a hand on his shoulder bent him back until he was laying on the stairs. The robe hung open at her chest and invited his view. With her raised leg and bent knee, the lower half just draped across her upper thigh and barely claimed any modesty. The sash, loosely tied, seemed it would fall apart at a mere suggestion. Buffy remained arched over Xander and held his gaze in her own. “Remember high school?”
“High school?” Xander repeated and glanced again at the ‘V’ in her robe.
Buffy laughed a little and tilted his chin so she could look into his eye again. “Stay with me here. You’ll like this game, I promise. Yes, high school. Your spell to make Cordy love you and instead all the women lusted after you. Remember when I came to you in the library wearing nothing but a raincoat and wanting you to undo the sash?”
Xander remembered alright. The thoughts firing through his mind at the moment were a lot like the video game he had just been playing: seemingly random shots and explosions. How Buffy didn’t want him then, could never want him, now wanted him, she was his Sire, chose him, rejected him, just the spell, lovers, just friends, bonded… It all crashed and burned through his mind. He wanted to see where Buffy was going with this, so ignored them all and let it continue. “Yes, I remember.”
Buffy watched as his gaze lost focus for a moment and his face tightened, hinting at an unexpected storm inside. There were times, miscellaneous times when Xander’s memories and current realities mixed and combusted. Maybe this wasn’t going to work out as such a good idea. She bent forward and kissed his lips, softened her tone. “I’ll always love you and respect you more than you’ll ever know for what you did, or rather didn’t do then.” Buffy started running her hand through his hair. “But that was then and I just thought it’d be fun now to find out what would have happened if you had undone the sash.” She smiled down at Xander. “I know you must have thought about it.”
“Oh god.” It suddenly crashed into Xander’s mind what she wanted clearing away all the other debris. Out of the wreckage rose beautiful gently held secrets. “You won’t be mad?”
“I promise.” Buffy ran her fingers down his chest then leaned back a little. “What happens next?”
“There’s a few ways… I can’t…” Xander was still stunned and a part of his mind was yelling at him to snap out of it.
Buffy laughed. “Pick one. Pick the first one. That earliest just after it happened high school one.”
Xander stared at her for a moment longer trying to gauge the sincerity and validity of this moment. He could still slide past this with an offhand suggestion and any secrets would be safe. It was there now though, between them, between all of them: that openness, trust and permission within their bond. “You undo the tie.” Buffy smiled, did as instructed and waited. Xander swallowed as the robe opened, sliding across her thigh to hang behind her. “Then…” Xander remembered the fantasy well. Simple, basic, it was one he used to return to often. He looked around him, saw Willow behind Buffy seated in the office chair trying not to be noticed, her rapt attention making him smile. He looked again at Buffy. It wasn’t going to be exactly the fantasy. But he could tell her the fantasy. And he could enjoy it. “Then you undo my pants and give me a blow job.”
Buffy raised her eyebrows at the suggestion but did as instructed. She didn’t tease or play. She simply undid the button and lowered the zipper. Pulling his jeans a little more open and a little lower, she slipped his cock past his boxers and wrapped her lips over the tip. He was semi-soft but as her hand gently coaxed increasing length and her tongue and lips promised more he grew rigid and pulsed with seeming impatience. Finally she bent over him and slid his cock into her mouth. Her head moved up and down; mouth and throat open. Rudimentary cock sucking. Deep throat 101. Her hand moved to slip inside his boxers and gently hold his balls. Simply hold them. She listened to the appreciative but mostly incoherent sounds above her.
Xander’s hands tangled in her hair but did nothing more. He didn’t push her. He didn’t direct. He was barely thinking. At one point his head flew back and hit the stair above him. The pain reminded him to sit up a little, to watch this, to pay attention. Just as everything else in his life now: it was a lot like and nothing like the original fantasy. It didn’t matter. Just revealing it to Buffy and having this response as a reaction was more erotic than the fantasy itself. He tried to hold out. Then he looked up and saw Willow. Saw Willow’s hand was inside her jeans as she watched. He came: without warning and hard.
Xander rested back on the stairs and stared at the ceiling. He felt Buffy sit beside him and glanced over. Her robe was still hanging open and closed, resting across her body wherever it fell in a revealing and concealing tease. Her thumb swiped the remains of his climax from her lips and chin then disappeared into her mouth. She smiled at him. “So I’m still not in trouble?” Xander needed reassurance.
“No trouble,” Buffy confirmed. “I’d say you got the better deal in this game.”
“I took the most risk,” Xander pointed out. He smiled, leaned over and kissed Buffy. “Thank you.”
“Thank you for playing,” Buffy gave him another kiss back. “And you’re right, you took all the risk. Thank you for trusting.”
“Always,” Xander vowed, still in a post climactic haze.
Buffy’s eyebrows rose and her eyes focused on Xander’s. “Always?”
Xander took a moment to examine the statement. He felt it’s truth but could understand her incredulity. The connection throbbed between them and he took her hand in his own to steady its pulse, settle the memories. “Yes, always. Buffy, there might have been many parts of me that yelled and screamed, but when it came down to it I always trusted you. How do you think you got so close to me that night in the motel? After all those years in Sunnydale, I knew something was wrong. Every alarm I had in my head was telling me to fight and run. But it was you. And it was Willow. And…” He left off the confession with a shrug and a grin.
Buffy knocked him back onto the stairs and leaned over him. She kissed him deeply and possessively. Her fingers ran through his hair and over his chest before she pushed herself up and ended the kiss. She remained arched above him, gazing into his eye and smiling. “And it was always the three of us.”
They looked over to Willow. She was still in the office chair, rocking back and forth and smiling. The scene was much more distant for her. She regretted she couldn’t feel the warmth of the affirmations. Couldn’t delve into the depth of their recollections or touch the current of their reconnection. But the visuals of the scene were erotic and the afterglow intense. She enjoyed watching. It was ending now though and she still had a brand new Cordelia to create. “That looked fun. I have a tricky part coming up, so if you two are done playing for a while, I’m gonna listen to some music now so I can concentrate and get back to work.” With that, Willow turned the chair back towards the desk and placed some headphones on. Quickly she was lost to the computer and the task at hand.
The disconnect between how they were currently feeling and how Willow reacted wasn’t lost on Buffy and Xander but wasn’t commented on. They shared a quick look of pained loss; a momentary acknowledgment of grief. The pool of remembrances shimmering back a reflection of what once was and was now lost. The three of them: always and never again like it was. They let it go as easily as it came. They were adjusting. Their own pulsing current that was jump started from the linking of old events to the present had calmed and slowed. They were at the point where they could notice how uncomfortable the stairs were. “Xander,” Buffy suggested, “let’s move this to the couch.”
Xander stood, refastened his jeans and followed Buffy. She decided to settle on the side of the couch that faced the large window. “Here?” he asked, glancing at the window.
Buffy smiled and removed her robe altogether. “I like to live dangerously.” Then she pulled Xander’s shirt over his head and off. “The curtain’s closed. It’s perfectly safe.” She pushed Xander onto the couch cushions and forced him to lie down then settled on top; her head rested on his shoulder and her fingers played across his chest.
“You know it makes me nervous,” Xander accused but relented at her smile. He started running his fingers up and down her spine, just enjoying the feel of her stretched out over him. “Did you have a fantasy from that moment in the library?”
Buffy kissed his jaw then settled back. “No. That whole thing was me under a spell. I didn’t let myself.”
“But you did have fantasies,” Xander pressed.
“Yes,” Buffy readily admitted.
“Tell me one,” Xander insisted. His tone was easy and warm. The mood was lazy now; the intent comfort. Still, he needed reciprocation in details if not actions.
Buffy sifted through her memories for something that would be better if it didn’t happen in the loft anyway. She remembered a time near the beginning of all the insanity. When she was first starting to get to know them. First starting to get to know herself. Something happened that made her first start to think about what she liked and why she liked it. Thoughts she kept to herself for all these years. Just as secret was that one momentary flash of desire that sparked that day and the nights she imagined it all going a different way. Buffy snuggled in tighter with Xander and held him close. “Remember when you ingested that spirit of a hyena? And you found me alone in the faculty room?”
Xander thought he knew where this was going. He smiled. “Well, I didn’t exactly eat the thing, but ya, I remember.” He watched Buffy’s eyes narrow and felt her fingers trail over his belly and across his chest. “Ow!” he protested as she pinched his nipple: hard.
Buffy smirked when she noticed Xander’s smile grew bigger. “We knew you remembered it! It took a while to figure it out, but you kept giving little things away.”
“Okay, I remember it all,” Xander confessed finally. “But it still wasn’t my fault.”
“Finally.” Buffy kissed the other nipple in conciliatory triumph. “Now do you want to argue about this or hear about this?” She felt his arms tighten around her and he kissed the top of her head in answer. “Okay. For the record, you really did piss me off that day. But there was one moment, when you had me up against that snack machine, I’ll admit started to turn me on.” Buffy stopped talking and stared at the closed curtain. She let the cloaked window, her naked body, his lack of heartbeat under her ear remind and anchor her to the present. They rarely let themselves fall so deep into the memories of their life before. “This is hard,” Buffy admitted. She felt his fingers start to run up and down her spine. “But I trust you.” Buffy closed her eyes and recalled the details of her secret. “Sometimes, as I went to sleep, I rewrote that part of that day. You calmed down; kissed me. We ended up fucking up against that snack machine. That’s about as far as I got with the rewrite. That was usually enough to get me to sleep.” There. She said it.
The following silence pressed on as Xander let himself imagine the scene. He remembered the back and forth tumble on the floor that led up to that moment. He knew he should say something. What came to mind probably wasn’t the wisest thing. “I was right; you did have a thing for monsters. A normal guy never had a chance.”
Buffy sat up over him like a shot and held him pinned down on the couch. She stared hard into his eye. There was hurt and anger. But she could see the realization of what he said in his eye and heard his “I’m sorry” apply a balm across the old wound. The truth was she had thought about all this herself over the years and had just never shared the answers she found. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t know. “No. And yes.” Buffy sat up. She was straddled over his waist; her hands released his shoulders and rested on her thighs. “I’m going to tell you something I figured out that I haven’t ever told anyone. So I want you to really listen.” When Xander nodded she continued. “It took years… why Angel and not Riley. Why… Anyway, the monsters as you kept calling them, they were just callous enough that they didn’t feel like they had to protect me: from my job or from myself. And I didn’t feel like I had to protect them from my life. It’s cold. Maybe it’s not fair. But it’s what I figured out.” When she saw that Xander was going to interrupt she stopped him with a finger to his lips. “It’s not that I wanted violence. And I didn’t want monsters,” Buffy stressed the last word. “I think you missed the key part of my fantasy with you. That you calmed down. That you stopped being such a hyena’s ass.” Buffy finally smiled again and ran her fingers down Xander’s chest. She recalled another memory of Xander. Not a firsthand account; a confession Angel made one night. “Angel told me about the time you stared down Angelus when I was in the hospital with the flu. He said you scared him away with nothing but the look in your eyes. He was still a little afraid of you; of what would happen if you ever became that passionate and determined again. That is what I was attracted to. I just didn’t want it to get you hurt.” She trailed off as she ran a finger around the eye patch.
Xander grabbed her hand and kissed her fingers. “I don’t regret staying to make sure the girls got out okay. Buffy…” He made sure he had her attention. “I don’t regret it.” He pulled her back down to lay on top of him and she settled again on top and to the side against the back of the couch. His arms held her close as her head nestled onto his shoulder. “I don’t regret the good fight. Parts of it, but not the whole of it. I am glad it’s done. Of course, we were all supposed to be alive for the happily ever after, but think about it; those poor suckers are still fighting. They’re trying to build the next Council or something, finding the next hellmouth. Giles, Faith and Dawn are probably going crazy.”
Buffy smiled at the thought. “Are you saying we should have turned them as well? Can you imagine it? All one big happy Scoobie vampire family?” As Xander started chuckling another thought came into Buffy’s mind. “I bet you just want a vampire Faith around as well.”
Xander felt Buffy’s hand inch up toward his nipple again. “Uh… you’re the one who suggested it. Did you keep any naughty bedtime thoughts of Faith from before?”
Buffy smirked at both his nervousness and the misdirection. “Yes.”
By this point, Xander was heedless of the danger. “Did you and Faith ever…?”
Buffy cut him off right there with a smirk. “No.” She decided to simply flip it back. “Now fess up. Did you imagine Faith and I? Can you imagine it now if they were turned?”
Given the permission, he decided to chance it. “Yes.” He rolled with the return of the easy relaxed banter and mood. “To both.”
Buffy laughed even as she pinched his nipple lightly in retaliation. “I bet you just want vampire Giles around…” she trailed off suggestively. “Wait. Did you have any bedtime thoughts of Dawn?”
Xander was saved then when Willow came bounding over and sat on the both of them. Her smile was triumphant and a little mischievous. “I have it all set up. New past, new accounts. New everything.”
Xander welcomed the interruption. “Great. So, what’s the new name?”
“Cordelia Banks.” Willow just grinned as Buffy and Xander groaned.
* * *
Jenny sat at the counter facing the window. Her sandwich was long gone. The book she found was interesting, but it wasn’t the type of fiction story you could get lost in. Instead, she had found a book that Giles might also enjoy; a raucous folk tale account of the history of the area. It was quite a western frontier tale: complete with gold rush, rum-running, gambling ways. The mix of whore houses and politics was especially entertaining. Those frontier women had a lot of control for many years. Jenny couldn’t fall into the reading though. She was constantly interrupted with long moments of just staring at the square brick building where she knew Buffy, Willow and Xander were sheltered for the day. A large roll up warehouse door faced the street. It was the smaller door off to the side she saw they used as an entrance and exit. There was a large window above the roll up door for what she guessed was the second floor. It was curtained off and she wondered if that’s where they were. All the other window spaces had evidence of being recently bricked up. She just kept staring at it. There wasn’t any movement. She knew she wouldn’t see any. She kept wondering what she was doing there.
Finally, Jenny put the book aside and bussed her area clean. She’d wasted enough of her time, her day and this part of her new life on this. If some link compelled her to see Cordelia in the daylight, then fine, she did that. But she wasn’t going to spend this second chance at life mindlessly stalking vampires, whatever purpose bound her. They might have thrust her into this, but she would do it her own way. She had her own plans for the day and it was time to return to them. Then it was time to tell Rupert about all of this.
* * *
Buffy and Xander were laying in each other’s arms on the couch. Xander had shed the rest of his clothes at Buffy’s insistence. Her complaint about his jeans against her skin a ready enough excuse to return to daytime habit. Willow was seated at the desk again; already preoccupied with her next project. Books were stacked and scattered on the surface: some opened, some waiting. A notebook was positioned at the ready with a pen on top and neatly inked notations already listed. The research had begun.
Buffy looked over to the desk then looked up at Xander questioningly. When he shrugged in answer, she got up and walked over to the office area. Buffy stood behind the desk chair and pushed her hands under Willow’s shirt to caress her breasts as she peeked over her friend to read what had her so engrossed. “Hell Reigns: The Age of the Old Ones. The Dawn of the Vampire. Well that’s a stupid title. A Chosen One is Born. That’s just a lie. The Rise and Fall of Atlantis: Mystery or Myth? Willow, what are you doing?”
Willow leaned back in the chair and bent her neck so she could look back at Buffy. She tried to offer her a smile, but with the answering look of concern of Buffy’s face she wasn’t sure it was received. “Nothing bad. Nothing like what we used to do. I’m just researching for myself. Knowledge girl, remember? I just want to know the truth about where vampires came from.” She sat up and gestured to all the books on the desk. “These accounts, their dates, they don’t add up. The Watchers lied about everything else. I think they made it up. The story about vampires. The story about Slayers.”
Buffy removed her hands from under Willow’s shirt and came around the chair to lean on the desk and face her instead. “You think they lied about where Slayers come from? Willow, I was there remember? The portal?”
“You were there through a spell, Buffy,” Willow gently reminded her. “A device of the Watchers opened a portal.” She paused a moment; took Buffy’s hand in her own. “I don’t know anything yet. I just want to research it for myself.”
Buffy squeezed Willow’s hand. Love Willow and trust they’d get through whatever comes of her curiosity. After all, without it… “Okay. But what does Atlantis have to do with all of this? You’re not gonna rename me again, are you?”
Willow laughed and there was more than a little relief hidden in it. “No. Buffy, I wasn’t naming you after a city… oh, never mind. I don’t know what Atlantis has to do with it yet. It’s just a hunch. And all the other stuff I’ve read so far really doesn’t add up or make sense.”
“Well, it never made sense to me,” Buffy admitted. “I mean, if vampires were half-breeds like everyone says, why were they always trying to bring back the old ones? Wouldn’t those demons just turn around and kill them? I mean, why try to bring back something way more powerful than you? But, I just thought vampires were stupid anyway.”
“Hey!” Xander stood up and entered the conversation. “You do remember we’re vampires now, right?! And we’re not stupid. Hell, thanks to you guys look at all the stuff we have. I know, I know…” Xander waved away the incredulous looks from both Buffy and Willow, “I was a bit against it at first. But I like it now. I admit it. That’s my point. We can do anything. We’re the top of the food chain, the kings of evolution.”
Buffy laughed. “What? We’re gonna have to march in the Vampire Pride Parade now?”
Willow was momentarily stricken. “Oh, that’s right, I can’t march in Pride anymore,” she regretted softly.
Buffy heard her and turned to her, smiling. “It’s okay. You can join them after dark.” She turned back to Xander. “Here’s my point. You don’t want to bring any old ones back, do you?”
“No,” Xander conceded. “I did before, sort of. When the calling at night was stronger. There was this need to open this world to a consuming darkness. I just didn’t have any focus to it. If there was a hellmouth nearby, there would probably be a focus. It’s the best I can describe it. I know you guys didn’t…”
“No,” Willow jumped in. “We didn’t. But that we didn’t and you did, that’s interesting and important. It’s okay you did. Or still do.” Willow trailed off, suddenly feeling like her natural excitement and curiosity was going to upset him.
Xander crossed the distance between them and bridged the emotional chasm with a kiss. He placed his hand on her shoulder and kept it there, running his thumb gently over her collar bone. “It’s okay, Willow. Whatever you find out in those books doesn’t really matter. We’re together. We are what we are and that’s all that we are.”
“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy suddenly cut in singing to the tune of Popeye the Sailor Man; a big terrible grin on her face.
“Buffy!” Xander protested while groaning.
“And kinda literally true now,” Willow wondered out loud, tilting her head and looking at Buffy.
Buffy took a bow then launched herself from the desk. “I’m going to get a drink. Any requests?”
* * *
Cordelia sat at a food court table. She already had a few bags resting on the chairs around her. After lunch, she would drop them off in the car and then go back in and continue. The mandarin orange and chicken salad on her tray was fresh, the space was airy with a greenhouse worth of windows and skylights to let in the sunlight… still, it was all so disappointing somehow. She had to stop comparing it to the malls in L.A. Stop thinking about L.A. Even if she could get the place from her mind and learn to settle for this smaller mall with its fashion starved stores, she didn’t think she could ever chase the people from her thoughts. She didn’t think she wanted to. Not yet. She needed to remember them. What happened to them. What they did for this world. A sudden burning guilt turned her stomach and Cordelia pushed away the tray of food. The room was too bright. The noise of the increasing lunch crowd too loud. She closed her eyes and took a couple of steady breaths. She knew this. When it was just Angel Investigations and they were helping people, she studied some basics in trauma counseling. Survivors guilt. She just never imagined it felt like this.
Cordelia gave up on the salad and placed the bags she had so far in the car. Xander was right; no-one really checked her ID. She took a deep breath and headed back in, this time ignoring the faint hope of finding that inspired outfit in one of the smaller stores and headed to the anchor department store. Ordering from catalogs or online was looking more and more like the way to go out here.
Cordelia almost gave up when she judged even the Macy’s in this small northern mall to be pedestrian. Back in the halls, she treated herself to a pretzel and wondered what bubble tea was. When she wandered over and took a closer look, she wondered how or why anyone would do that. Though, everyone was buying them. Maybe later. When she felt strong enough to want to eat, to want to try things, to want to be a part of this world again. Maybe then she’ll try some tapioca in her fruit tea. Cordelia realized this was probably big in L.A. as well. She had lost touch. It wasn’t just the time in the coma. It started before that. Everything else possessed and took over her life and she lost the one thing that was always a part of her. She had always kept up with trends; knew what was happening in the social and entertainment world. Cordelia realized she was woefully behind. For all she knew, what she saw here was the height of fashion. Okay, she wasn’t going to go that far. She headed to the bookstore she kept passing; intent on building a library of the latest magazines, compilations and biographies.
After dropping the bookstore purchases in the car, Cordelia headed one last time into the mall. She reminded herself they only needed the basics. Jeans, shirts, underthings… only slight variations on that theme. Stick to the basics. She headed to the final place she was going to try before calling it a day: Nordstrom’s. She remembered in L.A. liking the store and loving the service. Surely, in its own state, even a store up here would be well stocked. Cordelia wasn’t exactly disappointed even if the kinetic thrill of shopping hadn’t returned to her yet. She went slowly through the motions. Not methodically. There was enough here or it was good enough that she simply began to check for size and make a small pile for each at the register. She began to tune out and by the time she was in the dressing room trying on a pair of jeans, her thoughts had wandered again to everyone and everything that was lost. The jeans fit. She loved the jeans. And she didn’t care. Quickly, she stripped out of them and just stared at herself in the mirror. She noticed some scars. Remembered what had happened to her body. Imagined scars appeared and Cordelia wrapped her arms around herself and crumbled to the dressing room floor. Tears streaked her cheeks as she choked back sobs trying desperately to stay quiet; to not be discovered; to hold it together. Finally, she gave in and let herself cry helplessly; only hoping at some point it would end on its own.
When she was gasping for breath and her eyes cleared enough to see again, she realized she had survived. And no-one had knocked. She dried herself with the jeans she planned to buy and got redressed; making sure to avoid looking in the mirror again. It was over. As she took stock, she realized she did feel strangely better. Weaker, tired, but somehow a little relieved. All she wanted to do now was go home. Home. That was something else that wasn’t quite right yet. But it was a place where she wasn’t judged, nothing was expected and she wasn’t alone. And right now, that was enough.
By the time Cordelia made it back to the loft with an elevator full of purchases she was feeling much stronger. She had remembered to pick up some dinner to go from the food court. A plus mark she gave herself in the returning to life column. She forgot to go grocery shopping, but all things considered, gave herself a pass and promised to do it the next day. She wasn’t yet hungry enough to know what she wanted to buy anyway. When the elevator door opened, she started shoving bags out and then exited. Looking around, admitting she wasn’t sure what to expect, she was still surprised at what she saw. Buffy, Willow and Xander were all stretched out on top of the center back of the oval couch. She guessed the flat, raised space in the center was supposed to act as a coffee table of sorts while providing a back for the seating. Instead, it now served as a bed to lounge on while the three of them watched TV. Naked.
“Okay, you three, I bought clothes. Get dressed.” Cordelia wished she had her own room already to run to. But as the three of them untangled and wandered over to the bags to see what she got, she had to admit it was a little fun and a little funny to watch. “This is ridiculous.” Cordelia grabbed the bags she had sorted her own clothing into and, not knowing where to place them exactly, opted to just leave them in the bathroom.
“No, this isn’t that bad,” Buffy countered as she held up a shirt from one of the bags.
“How do we know which is which and whose is whose?” Willow wondered as she held a pair of pants to herself. They were a little short on her. “Never mind,” she amended as she handed them to Buffy.
“Well, this is probably for me,” Xander proudly held aloft a stylized version of a bowling shirt. “But I’ll share if you want to wear it.”
Buffy made to grab it only to have him pull it back. She laughed. “I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Unless you want to tell us exactly who you bought what for?” She looked over to Cordelia.
“Oh no,” Cordelia waved off the suggestion. “I picked it out but if you want to swap I’m not getting into the middle of it.” She watched them bring the bags to the kitchen table and lay out all the clothes. They were sorting, ooohing and ahhhing, but not putting any of it on. “Oh my god. I know you told me… I just didn’t think…” She was too tired. The day was too much. She gave up and wandered over. “So, how’d I do?”
“You did great. Thank you.” Buffy walked over to Cordelia and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Hey!” Cordelia backed up. When Buffy just laughed, she covered her eyes with her hands. “Will you guys just please get dressed now that you have some decent clothes?”
“The sun has set.” Willow pointed out. “And, uh, no offense Cordy, but your heartbeat is making me really hungry.”
“That’s my Willow,” Xander kissed her soundly. “She’s right. Maybe we should get dressed and go.”
Buffy was already halfway dressed by then. “Well come on.” She turned to Cordelia. “You going out or staying in?”
“Staying in,” Cordelia almost sighed. “I’m beat.”
* * *