I don’t care about Spike or any of it,” Xander insisted. “To me it’s just more of the usual weirdness. I just want to see Cordelia. Willow said she was sick.”
The others all looked at each other uncomfortably, guilt and compassion rendering them speechless.
“Oh, bugger this,” Spike finally intervened. “Come on, Harris, I’ll take you to her.”
Spike leaned in the doorway as Xander crossed to the young woman lying in the hospital bed. She was dressed in a silk nightgown and fashionable bed jacket, her hair and makeup meticulously done. The leads monitoring her heart rate and respiration were barely noticeable. But six months in a coma, trapped with nothing but fluorescent light, had leeched all the color from her skin, leaving her sallow and wan in a way makeup couldn’t hide.
Xander sat quietly on the stool next to her, reaching out to lightly touch her hand. “Hey, Queen C,” Spike heard him say softly. “Long time, no see.” He just sat there watching her for long moments as though communing with her silently. Finally he asked, “What happened to her?”
Spike shifted out of the doorway to sit on the windowsill within Xander’s limited line of vision. “Don’t rightly know.” He pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth unlit. “Can’t get a straight answer from any of this lot. She got sprogged up with some kind of god spawn, near as I’ve been able to tell. Something about the delivery destroyed her conscious mind. Beyond that I can’t find. I start digging and everyone gets very vague.”
“Like they’re hiding something?”
“Like they don’t remember. Which is strange enough to keep me watchin’. Doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing you’d easily forget.”
Xander went quiet again, unfurling Cordy’s fingers to hold her hand in his.
“She was my high school sweetheart, you know.”
“Yeah? Wouldn’t have figured you for her type.”
He smiled. “Yeah, me neither.” He turned to look at Spike narrowly. “Now that I think about it, you’re responsible for us, beginning and end.”
“Hey there now! Can’t hold me responsible for everything, Harris.”
Xander grinned and turned back to Cordelia. “The first time I ever kissed her, we were trapped in the basement at Buffy’s house by one of those Taranta assassins you sent after her. You remember the bug guy?” Spike nodded. “Anyway. We were hiding and fearing for our lives and arguing and all of a sudden we were kissing.”
“Romantic. And the other end?”
“Was the time you knocked me out and locked me and Willow in the factory until she fixed things for you and Dru.”
Spike looked confused. “What did that have to do with you and the cheerleader?”
“More bad kissing decisions. She caught Will and I at it.”
“Okay, mental note. Never get locked up with you during a life or death situation.”
“Yeah. It was always Anya’s favorite time, too.”
Spike dropped his head, giving privacy to the other man’s pain.
“You’d have liked Cordy. She was kind of like you. Very in your face, not afraid to tell it like she saw it. She and Buffy had a lot in common, too.”
“Now that I find hard to believe.”
“Cordy was fierce and totally determined. She’s like what Buffy was before she was chosen.” He chuckled in memory. “They actually went head to head once.”
Spike tried to picture the beauty queen and the Slayer in a pitched brawl.
Xander seemed to read his mind. “No, not like that. They went at it hammer and tongs for homecoming queen our senior year. For about a week we all wanted to go into hiding. Nothing intimidates Giles more than girls doing girlie things. I think he suffered the worst of it.”
“So who won?”
“Would you believe neither of them? They cancelled each other out and a couple of other girls took it.
Spike chuckled softly, propping his foot up on the sill.
Xander studied Cordy’s waxen face. “I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t our fault. If we hadn’t brought her in, showed her what was out there, if she wouldn’t be somewhere else now.”
“If you hadn’t, she’d have probably ended up as some nasty’s tasty morsel. The rest was all her own choices, and you aren’t at fault for that.”
“What do you know about it?”
“Met her once.”
Xander turned in surprise. “You did? She never told me.”
Spike quirked his eyebrows and shrugged. “I’d come to the watcher’s sanctum, lookin’ for you lot. Well, lookin’ for the Slayer, at any rate, but that always meant finding the whole mob of ya. But all I find is a leggy slip of a girl, studyin’ away at I have no idea what. And she looks up at me all business like and says ‘Can I help you?’ Well. What red blooded male could resist an opening like that? Even if it wasn’t my red blood. I decide to find out what all she knows and then have me a juicy snack after.”
“So this is a feel good story, then.”
“And again I remind you, evil here. Or I was then. So I turn on the charm . . .”
“You have charm?”
“I turn on the charm,” he glared half-threateningly at Xander, “and start chatting her up. Apparently no one had given her even the most basic description of me, which I take very personally by the way. For much to my surprise, she starts flirting back. You all must have gone off on some white hat outing and left her, because she was more than a mite pissed at you. We talked about you lot, and about her being cheerleader and May Queen and rot like that. Not sure what I did to give myself away. One minute we’re having a friendly conversation, and the next she’s got a crossbow pointed at my heart and a cross in her hand. Never even saw her hands move, and I was sittin’ on the table right next to her. Must be all that cheerleader training. The Council ought to look into adding it to the curriculum.”
“I’ll be sure to mention it to Giles,” Xander said sarcastically.
“So she’s holding me off,” he continued with his tale, “Only she doesn’t look scared of me, she just looks royally brassed off, tells me to get the hell out of there, that Buffy was on her way back and she’d stake me right and proper as soon as she got there. I vamp out and point out to her that I could kill her long before the Slayer showed. Crazy bint didn’t even blink. Just said, ‘Go ahead. Might be hard with a stick in your chest.’”
“So what did you do?”
“Oh, I could have killed her, yeah. She was holdin’ the crossbow right, but I was fairly sure she hadn’t fired the thing more than a time or two. There was a good chance that even if she got a shot off, the recoil would bollix up her aim enough to put it in my shoulder and not my chest. But she’d been good conversation and she impressed the hell out of me with her balls. So I left.”
“That’s our Cordy. It always took a lot to scare her, and being scared only got her mad.”
“So I’ve heard.”
They sat quietly, each lost in their own thoughts. Suddenly Xander rounded on Spike. “Why are you here?”
“Sorry, mate, thought you wanted the company.” He rose to his feet with an angry flick of his coat. “I’ll just get out . . .”
“No, I mean why are you here. In LA. Why aren’t you still dead?”
“Oh, I see.” He leaned back against the wall, crossing his arms in front of him. “What you’re really asking is why am I here and Anya isn’t? This isn’t a reward, Harris. I’m not here because I want to be, I’m here because someone thinks old Spike makes a fun chew toy. Somebody’s playing me, and we don’t know who and we don’t know why. You think I’d stay anywhere near Angel by choice? I’m stuck here until we figure out what’s going on. You want that for your girl? Want her at the mercy of someone else?”
Xander sagged, the anger all drained out of him. “No,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know. That’s why you haven’t asked about Buffy, isn’t it?”
Spike took out another cigarette, and this time he lit it. “Won’t be used against her again.” He glared at the nurse that came to investigate the smoke. She took one look at his grim face and quickly turned on her heel. He took another drag. “I keep up on things through Fred. She and Willow have become chums.”
“They’re both still mourning you, you know,” Xander said simply.
Spike didn’t have to ask who he meant. “They’ve mourned before. They’ll get through it.”
“Dawnie’s taking it worse, I think. She feels guilty about not having patched things up with you.”
“She didn’t have any patching to do. Not her fault.”
“She loved you, Spike. And she’s still alive. So of course she feels guilty.”
“Dammit.” He tossed the cigarette on the floor and ground it out.
“Buffy’s sad a lot. Don’t suppose Willow told Fred that?”
“I guess she found some kind of closure with you. Most of the time she’s resigned to you being gone.” He thought a moment before adding with a puzzled expression, “Although every once in a while she gets really pissed off at you over something that happened towards the end there. What did you say to her?”
“Something to piss her off, apparently. Nothing new there, eh?”
Xander just looked at him seriously.
“Come on, this is way too much confession to be going at sober. Let’s go get Charlie and Lorne Green and go out and get snockered.”
Spike reached into the pocket of his jeans to pull out a platinum Amex card embossed with someone else’s name. “Angel.”
Xander snorted. “My kind of drinking party.” He started to rise from the stool, then paused to squeeze the cool hand in his grip and lay it across Cordelia’s stomach. Then he kissed her lightly on the forehead. “I’ll come back tomorrow. Maybe you’ll wake up long enough to kick me out.”
Spike watched her as Xander passed him. “Come on back to us, princess. We all need a good ass kickin’. If I did it, should be easy for you.”
But she didn’t move, her monitors maintaining their slow, even rhythm.
Miss Chase would not be receiving visitors today.