When Buffy came to L.A., Glory hard on her heels, Angel saw her coming and the Hell that came with her. He saw her face split into two, and the shadow of death that hunted her. Dawn was a blind spot, a worrisome splinter in his eye. He called her Buffy and kissed her softly.
Buffy reached for her sister, pulled her back and stepped into the space that she had left.
"Angel, this is my sister, Dawn. Do you remember Dawn?"
"I've missed you," he said and pulled Buffy close.
On her birthday, Wesley and Gunn took Cordelia to an exhausted mess of a house on the outskirts of Downtown L.A. It hunched near a freeway overpass, dead, yellow grass stretching from the front porch to the leaning chain-link fence that bordered the yard. Dirt blew up with the breeze that drifted down from the passing cars. Cordelia choked on it, waved her hands in front of her face and wondered how she'd ended up here, in this part of town, and how much weirder could the day get.
"The kind of day I've been having is just ... not quite one for the record books, I mean, we literally blew up the high school because," and her eyes went Cordy-wide, expressive and sparkling as if there had to be one more reason for why the entire world loved the stupid half-hour of television named after her, "demon, you know."
Wesley pushed open the door to the house and Cordelia's voice trailed off, the smile on her face collapsing. She took in the faded, run-down furniture and the pizza boxes, the chest near one wall with its heavy padlock, probably full of weapons or books that could read themselves.
"Sorry about the mess." Gunn nudged her inside and made a beeline around her for the coffee table. He stacked the pizza boxes and then dropped them on the floor, nudged them under the coffee table with the toe of one boot. "You know how guys are."
"Yeah." She smiled. "Sure..."
And then a voice from years gone by, a voice she hated, but loved, had run away from because it was everything she never wanted to be. Important, but in the shadows. Overlooked, worried, wearied, sometimes dead. Surprising, that.
"Cordelia knows exactly how guys are, right Cordelia?"
Cordelia turned and Buffy stood leaning against the arched doorway that separated the kitchen from the living room.
"Buffy," she said and stepped back. Bumped into Wesley who put one hand on her shoulder to steady her. So much of Sunnydale all at one time, Wesley and the promise of Angel that drew her like a lodestone. Now this and Cordelia glanced over her shoulder and smiled tightly at Wesley. "Buffy," she said again, pushed the name through the clenched teeth of her smile. "Wesley didn't mention that you were here in L.A."
Older, blonde hair chopped to just below her ears and thin as a razor blade, Buffy stared distantly at Cordelia. "It's good to see you."
"It's good to see you, too." Cordelia smiled again. Hands spread wide as her smile, palms up, empty. "You look great."
Buffy nodded and stepped forward, reached and Cordelia flinched within the sudden curve of arms around her shoulders. The hug was tight, a breath away from cracking her ribs. Cordelia hugged Buffy back, her arms tentative and then tight as Buffy relaxed into her. Cordelia turned her face into Buffy's hair and squeezed her eyes closed. Buffy felt ... small ... somehow, fragile. And the thought was an odd one. Threw the world off its axis and for a moment everything spun.
"Cordelia?" Wesley's quiet, serious voice anchored her. Something to grab hold of, more familiar than she cared to admit. For some reason, unknown reasons that scratched at the back of her mind. An itch she couldn't quite reach to scratch.
Unsmiling, Buffy, with her wounded eyes and serious mouth, held Cordelia by the shoulders. "You okay?"
"Fine." Cordelia smiled again, face aching from all of the sheepish grins. "You know, it's just a really weird day and now seeing you guys after so long. I think I'm just really tired. If it's okay, I'd just like to see Angel."
"Angel?" Buffy glanced at Wesley and then back at Cordelia, her eyes bright and sharp. "Why?"
Cordelia tried to pull away from Buffy's tightening grip."I don't know. It's just ... I-I just ... I need to see him." She said it in a rush, all lumped up and crowding her throat. The indescribable need to see Angel. A longing that she hadn't even known that she had until Wesley had said his name.
"He's different now," Buffy said. She let go of Cordelia suddenly, with a jerk. "Everyone's different."
The wards around the house didn't last for very long. They didn't need to. Angel saw Glory on a tower with the gold and red sunrise blazing behind her and Buffy dead at her feet. He screamed and the manacles bolted into the ceiling were not enough to hold him still. Wesley and his books and Xander were not enough to hold him still.
They held him back, crosses up and stakes in hand as he called for Buffy. She had gone, searching for Glory. Willow, Spike, Giles and Gunn at her back.
"You," he snarled at Dawn hovering at the edge of the door. Peering into the room, afraid to be alone and terrified to walk in."You are not real. Not here. Not her."
Xander's death was quick. He looked away and Angel broke his neck, a quick, careless, casual twist of his wrist. Dawn screamed and Wesley loosed a stake from the crossbow he carried. Angel dodged, fast and clear-eyed, more like himself than he had been in months. He grabbed Wesley by the throat and hesitated.
"Wesley," he whispered. "I ..."
Wesley's hand came up to wrap around Angel's wrist.
"Wesley," he said again and shoved him away. Wesley's body thudded heavily against the wall and he slid into a crumpled heap in the corner of the room. Angel left him there, left him to follow the scent of Buffy tangled with the demon scent of something ancient.
Cordelia pushed the door open to see Buffy crouched on the floor, knees drawn up and resting on her heels. She stared at the man curled into the corner. Angel squeezed up equally as tight, knees to chest. He muttered and finger painted numbers on the wall, ignoring them both. "One seven one Oak drive, do you hear me? I feel better now. I can be alone here. I won't run away, Buffy."
"Oh my God," Cordelia said and knelt beside Buffy.
"This is one of his good days," Buffy whispered. "It's like a dream. Or a nightmare and it doesn't end. It never ends. I died, you know."
Startled, Cordelia gasped. "Again!"
The tiniest smile curled across Buffy's mouth. "Again. Angel saw it in a vision. Isn't that funny? Isn't that just the stupidest thing you could ever imagine? It's always Angel. First with the prophecy and the Master, and then with the vision. He went crazy, wouldn't let me leave. Had to be chained, but I couldn't let Glory ... I had a sister, you know."
"I remember ..." and then Cordelia paused, titled her head like straining to hear something far away. "You had a sister?"
"Yes. Only not really. She was me. A piece of me. A key that was dressed up and inserted into my life so that I would protect it. But she was my sister and I loved her. And then she died."
"Buffy," Cordelia laid a hand gently on Buffy's shoulder, scooted closer and slid her arm around Buffy's shoulder. "I am so sorry."
"It was just a spell." Buffy shrugged, her eyes never leaving Angel. "It shouldn't have mattered. But it did, in the end it really did. I jumped off a tower to save her. I died to save her."
Wesley stepped into the room, a bag of blood in his hand for Angel."We all believed that Dawn was real. Angel was the only one who could see the truth."
"Dawn," Angel shouted. "Dawn. Sunrise. Key. Girl. Key girl. Buffy. Buffy?"
"I'm here, Angel." Buffy rose, took the blood from Wesley then knelt beside Angel. She cuddled close to him, held up the blood bag, held it steady as he wrapped his big hands around hers and brought it to his mouth. Angel bit into the bag and Buffy leaned her head against his shoulder.
Cordelia stared at the two of them, wanted to move closer and to walk away at the same time. "What happened," she asked.
"He killed her," Gunn said. "Killed Dawn. Broke the spell. Re-set everything."
"Yes," Wesley whispered. "But it was too late. Buffy had already died. She died to save the world and her sister. But Dawn died, anyway. Willow brought her back because with Faith incarcerated she thought we needed the Slayer."
Cordy looked away, tilted her head down. "Of course she did," Cordy whispered softly, her voice uneven with tears. "Then Buffy came back to find that her sister was gone and there was only Angel." Everything about the day came flooding back and Cordelia thought about going to the Hyperion and finding Wesley and coming here. She thought of how happy she was, but how everything felt different, felt wrong and incomplete. How something was missing and she couldn't quite put her finger in it. "This isn't right. This is so, so not right."
Cordelia crawled over to the two of them, Buffy huddled against Angel, Angel feral and lost. "Angel. - Do you remember me? Cordelia?"
Angel drew further back into the corner, pushed his body against the wall as if there was any place else to go. "I'm afraid," he said. "I'm afraid. I'm afraid."
Buffy watched them both with cold, steady eyes.
"Shh. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. It's okay, Angel," Cordelia said. "It's going to be okay." She stroked the short cap of Buffy's golden hair. Pressed a kiss to her forehead. Then Cordelia leaned in closer and curled her hand over Angel's over Buffy's. She leaned in close and she kissed him.