She thought it the moment she even saw Willow, before she opened her mouth, before anyone opened their mouth. Because Willow was Sunnydale, and Sunnydale meant bad news in some form or another – for them, for Angel, for the world.
So oh no, she thought, because if they were needed to save the world, Cordelia personally wanted to change her clothes first, and maybe get a couple hours of real sleep. And was about to say as much, but then she saw Willow’s face.
“Willow?” said Angel, sounding confused. Cordelia looked frantically at Wesley, at Gunn, but both of them seemed oblivious and unaware of the gigantic train hurtling toward them. Wesley was blinking like an idiot, Gunn seemed to be trying to ask who this person was, and Fred hung back behind the rest of them.
No, she wanted to say, no, not now, let’s get Fred upstairs and get me into clothes and then we can tear everything down, okay? But the words stuck in her throat.
Willow seemed lost for words. Angel saw it, though. After she did, but he still saw it.
“It’s Buffy,” said Angel. And his voice was level and calm, but there was something underneath.
“Fred,” said Cordelia, as quietly as she could, and then stopped. “Gunn, could you take Fred upstairs and find her a room?”
This time, when she looked at Wesley, she knew he understood. His eyes were wide and he was just managing not to look scared. He did look horrified. “What,” Gunn said, and then looked at both of them, and Angel’s back broad and solid and suddenly like a wall, and just nodded. “Yeah. Got it.”
There was silence until they were gone. Cordelia saw Willow swallow. She seemed taller than Cordelia remembered, more confident, but right now she was…shrunken. Cordelia stepped forward very carefully. “Maybe we should,” she started to say.
“Is she dead?” Angel asked, and his voice was still so…quiet.
It’s going to be too much, Cordelia thought, desperately. With Darla and everything and now this… She turned her head to look at Angel, but there was nothing visible but his profile, inexpressive, inscrutable. She looked desperately at Willow, who made a small sound like a hiccup.
“Yes,” she whispered, and then swayed. Angel moved like he did when Cordelia had a vision, and caught her before she fell, replaced her on the couch.
“Are you all right?” he asked, then shook his head. “—no. I mean…how long have you been here?”
“A couple days,” Willow said. “We thought…I thought we should tell you in person…”
“Thank you.” He might have been offering gratitude for small services rendered, for all the feeling in his voice. Cordelia didn’t understand. She could feel her own tears welling up.
“Buffy’s really...” She glanced at Angel, and couldn’t say it. His face was as blank as his voice, now that she could see the rest of it. He was watching Willow, who rubbed her nose clumsily with her sleeve and glanced up. She looked lost, confused.
“I know,” she said. Cordelia shook her head.
“It’s not – I would have had a vision. Or something!”
Angel’s eyes blinked just once. “Cordelia,” he said, and nothing else. She stopped talking, but couldn’t stop her own hiccupping noise. She descended into the lobby and sank down next to Willow, her former nemesis, and hugged her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Willow quivered.
“It was a God,” she said, into Cordelia’s shoulder. “It was either her or Dawn, and she…”
Angel nodded, very slightly. “Of course,” he said, as though this were the most rational thing in the world. “Of course. She would. She wouldn’t be Buffy otherwise.”
It was wrong. It was wrong wrong wrong and she could see it brewing in his eyes, under the blankness and this careful, calm attitude as false as anything. Cordelia glanced at Wesley, who looked awkward and uncertain.
Angel blinked again. And seemed to focus. “Thank you,” he said again, “For thinking of me, Willow. For coming.” He turned and started to walk toward the stairs.
“Angel.” It was Willow who called out, and he paused, and glanced back. Cordelia could see the mask slipping and wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what would be right and what would be wrong. “I’m…is it all right if I stay? Just for tonight? I’ll catch the bus tomorrow.”
Angel’s smile was a strange thing, and it jangled on Cordelia’s nerves when she’d so recently seen the real one. “Of course,” he said. “You’re always welcome here.”
Then he was gone, and neither she nor Wesley had said a word to stop him.
Willow sagged against Cordelia. “I was expecting…I was expecting it to be worse,” she said, in a small voice. Cordelia closed her eyes.
“I think it is.” She opened them, looked at Wesley. “Do you think…”
“I don’t know what he’ll do.” Wesley seemed at a loss. He wasn’t crying, but his face had gone oddly slack. For just a moment, Cordelia had never hated Buffy Summers more. We were making something, she wanted to say. We were just getting better. He was just getting better.
The thought was petty and she crushed it at once. She should have known. Better meant nothing, really. Better just meant something new (and probably worse) would come up. Mend your friendships, lose a friend to a demon dimension. Become princess, monks try to kill everyone. Get back safely from a demon dimension, love of your life is dead.
Willow took a shuddery breath. “Maybe I should go and talk to him,” she started to say, and Cordelia cut her off.
“No,” she said, and then gentler, “No. I think…I think one of us had better do it. You look…terrible. And I mean that in the nicest way possible. Go find somewhere to sleep, we’re not exactly lacking in rooms…”
“Are you going to be okay?” Willow asked as she stood up, looking between Wesley and Cordelia. Why are you asking us, Cordelia thought, we weren’t the ones who loved her. Why did you have to come, why did you have to-
“I don’t know,” Cordelia said honestly. Wesley looked at her sharply, but she ignored it. The hotel was so quiet. No screams, no heart-rending sobs. Just silence. Like a grave. She swallowed, and asked, “The funeral?”
“Already…already happened,” Willow said, and her voice cracked near the end of the sentence. “We didn’t…”
“Didn’t think of us. Right.” Cordelia felt bad the moment the words were out, and looked away. “Sorry. That’s unfair.”
“No,” Willow said, “No, it’s…it’s fair. We should have...”
Willow hadn’t even, Cordelia realized, asked about the outfit. Wesley stepped forward. “Willow,” he said, carefully, “Let me…help you find a room. Get settled. Cordelia, if you would…”
“I’ll see what I can do.” She tried not to let her glance convey how little she thought that would amount to – after all, how much had it amounted to before? – but it was hard.
She looked up the stairs, took a deep breath, and ascended.
The door was closed. Cordelia stared at it, wondering if it would be better to knock or just go straight in without giving Angel the chance to a) collect himself b) flee or c) lock the door and refuse to talk to her. She decided that giving Angel any chance to duck out of a conversation was probably a bad idea, and opened the door.
For a moment, she didn’t see him, and very nearly panicked; shoot, he’s gone off somewhere, he’s going to stake himself or something, but just as she said, “Angel?” with a shred of fear he moved and she glanced to the right, found him sitting on the bed.
“I’m here, Cordelia.”
She breathed out a sigh of relief and groped for the light switch, turning it on. “Wow,” she said, “You really are just sitting up here in the dark,” and then regretted her stupid mouth going without her brain. Angel didn’t even glance at her. His hands were clasped between his knees and his head was bent forward.
“Wesley’s looking after Willow,” he said, not really a question, but Cordelia nodded anyway. Angel started to say something else, but Cordelia cut him off.
“Don’t think you can tell me to just leave. It’s not going to work.”
“And if I told you you might want to change your clothes?” Angel said, his voice so…gentle. She didn’t understand it. Cordelia kept expecting him to scream, to cry or rage. It made her skin crawl, this…calm. It couldn’t be real.
“Will you still be here when I come back?” she asked, and didn’t realize until she heard her own voice how small and quavery it sounded. Scared. She was supposed to be strong, here! She was supposed to be holding it together.
“I’ll still be here.”
Cordelia wasn’t sure if she was supposed to believe him, but she was starting to feel cold, and the soft jingling of the coins on her outfit seemed…out of place. “I’ll be back soon,” she said, standing slowly. “I think I…have a change of clothes downstairs.”
She felt better, in her old clothes. Better, and also worse. The hotel lobby felt big and empty (a little like Angel must feel right now she thought, and regretted it) and Cordelia squeezed her eyes closed, wondering if the Powers heard her talking back.
“You might have said something,” she said loudly. “Aren’t I supposed to hear about the important things?”
“Bad time?” she heard, and spun around. Gunn had his hands in his pockets and looked as awkward and uncertain as Willow had. “Can I ask what happened now?”
Cordelia breathed in and rubbed her face. “Buffy’s dead,” she said bluntly and simply, and then burst into tears. Gunn blinked at her once before opening his arms and hugging her gently.
“Hey,” he said, and Cordelia realized with horror that she couldn’t stop herself, choking on her own tears as she tried to talk.
“I shouldn’t even be – I didn’t even like her that much! And I’m c-crying and Angel’s just – just-”
Gunn breathed out through his teeth and said, “Oh Christ. That Buffy? The one you said…”
Cordelia took a snotty breath. “Yeah. Great big forbidden forever love. That Buffy. I don’t know what to do, what if it’s not enough, what if he – leaves, or w-worse…”
“He won’t,” said Gunn, solidly. Cordelia sniffled, trying to get her tears under control.
“You don’t know that,” she said, “You’ve never seen…you don’t know what it was like with them. And now I’m just scared…I need to go back. I told him I’d be back.” She pulled away, wiping her face on her sleeve like some kind of little kid. “It’s like he hasn’t even realized, yet,” she said, looking toward the stairs. “And I’m just…what happens when he does?”
Gunn looked at a loss. Cordelia looked away and wiped her eyes again. “You should go find Wesley,” she advised, trying to keep her voice from wobbling. “I think…he looked a little bit freaked out.”
“You’ll be okay, Cordy,” Gunn said, stepping back, and she pressed her lips together.
“I just hope okay is enough,” she whispered, finally, and fled back up the stairs.
He hadn’t moved at all when she got back to his room. Was still sitting perfectly still, and she realized part of it was that he wasn’t even pretending to breathe. Just…sitting there.
“Angel?” she said, as gently as she could, sitting down next to him. He turned his head and looked at her, and lifted one hand to touch her cheek.
“You were crying,” he said, as though slightly surprised.
“I know,” she managed after a moment. Angel pulled his hand down and returned to the same posture as before, eyes lowered and face in shadows.
“I’m sorry,” he said, after a moment. “This should have been…a homecoming for you.”
Cordelia thought for a moment that her rib cage was going to open and her heart was just going to fall straight on the floor. “You don’t need to apologize,” she said, her own voice strained and awkward. “It’s not your fault.”
He didn’t answer. Didn’t move. She felt a quiver of fear run down her back and wasn’t quite sure if it was for or of him. “I’m trying to think if I felt it,” Angel said suddenly.
Cordelia blinked. “What?”
“If I felt it happen,” Angel said. “I always thought I would. Except I didn’t, because I thought I would die first.” He made a strangled sound that she supposed was supposed to be a laugh. “I’m immortal and somehow I still thought…”
“Oh, god, Angel,” Cordelia said, because everything she’d thought of suddenly seemed so hopelessly inadequate.
“This is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Angel’s voice was still so calm, so…calm. “To know what I’m feeling? I don’t know. I don’t know because I can’t even understand that she’s …gone at all.”
Cordelia felt a sob catch in her throat and didn’t understand why she was one the one crying when it should have been him. She almost needed it to be, because that she would – it would be hard to see, but it would be somehow better than this, she was sure, whatever this was. “Let me help you,” she said, thickly.
“Every time,” Angel said distantly, sounding like he was drawing away from her with every moment, “There’s always a little further to fall.” Cordelia could feel herself starting to cry again, things that wanted to become desperate, heaving sobs.
“Angel,” she managed to say, just a little bit desperately. “Please…tell me how I can help you.”
“We are no greater than the least of our regrets,” he said, turning his head very slightly to look straight at her, and there was something fathomless in the soft dark brown. “Or so I sometimes think. I’m sorry, Cordelia.”
“Sorry for what?” Cordelia said, almost desperately. No, don’t, don’t you dare, she thought, but couldn’t say it. “You don’t…”
“I’m going to need to leave…for a while.” His shoulders shuddered once, his face turning further away from her. “I don’t know where yet. But I can’t stay here. Not right now.”
“You just came back,” Cordelia heard herself say, and then felt a little angry with herself, because wasn’t she supposed to be supportive and understanding? Wasn’t that what she was supposed to… she tried again. “I just think – maybe you shouldn’t be alone right now.”
“I don’t think I can be anything else.” Angel straightened and looked at her, and the mask was gone, and this time she was sure that her heart was out of her chest and on the floor. His eyes were so…
She had to look away. “You should be here with us,” she tried again. Angel stood and moved like an old man to the closet, staring at the doors.
“I’ll come back, Cordelia.”
“What if you don’t?” she demanded. “What if something happens, what if you get yourself killed and we’re not there to help? You won’t come back then, will you?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You’re not fine now!” Cordelia cried, and then cringed. Angel’s shoulders slumped.
“No,” he said. “I just need some…time. I won’t go until tomorrow night. I need to…I should talk to Willow.” He moved toward the door, turning his back to her.
“Don’t abandon us again,” Cordelia said, and only hated herself a little for the way he flinched. Whatever weapons she had, whatever she had to use…but she already knew it wouldn’t be enough. Knew if he stayed, it wouldn’t get better. “I’m sorry,” she said, after a moment, when he paused. “I’m just…worried about you.”
“I’ll survive,” Angel said, but there was something dull in his voice. “I have to.”
He turned and started down the hall. Cordelia watched him go, then went to find Wesley.
Wesley was at his desk with a bottle of brandy and a small, empty glass. Cordelia stared at it longingly until he produced a second and poured her just a bit.
“Angel’s leaving,” Cordelia said finally. “He says he needs time.”
“I expected as much,” said Wesley lowly. Cordelia glanced sharply at him.
“You think this is okay?”
“I don’t think we can do anything,” Wesley said, sounding heavy and resigned. “He’ll do what he wants. What he needs.”
“And what if what he thinks he needs is to get dusty?” Cordelia said, hearing her own voice go up a few octaves. “What about that?”
Wesley dropped his head into his hands as though it were too heavy to carry. “He won’t. Or at least…I don’t think so.”
“Don’t think so? And if you’re wrong?”
“I don’t know,” said Wesley. “I don’t know…”
She left the office and stormed back up the stairs. She heard the sound of muffled sobs from down the hallway and turned to follow it, thinking of Fred, or Willow. There was a door slightly ajar at the end of the hall and she paused before approaching.
“It’s – well, it’s not okay, I know it’s not, but…”
Willow’s voice was slightly bleary and muffled with tears, but she wasn’t the source of them, wouldn’t be speaking through the wrenching, keening sound she was hearing. Cordelia sidled forward and to the right.
“I should have been there. I should have…” Choked by tears and overpowering grief, with a touch of Irish around the edges. She knew that voice. And could see them now, at the end of the bed, Angel’s head on Willow’s shoulder as he rocked back and forth, choking on his own quiet wailing. Willow with her arms around Cordelia’s vampire without a trace of uncertainty, her own face blotchy and red and tears leaking from her eyes.
“I don’t blame you. Nobody – well, maybe Xander. But nobody else blames you. It’s not your fault. It’s not anybody’s f-fault but – Glory’s.”
Angel didn’t seem to hear her. “I’m sorry,” he said, near desperately. “I’m so sorry. Please.”
Willow looked up and found Cordelia’s eyes. She looked lost and scared and unsure. Angel’s shoulders heaved and his whole body shuddered. “Oh god,” he said. “She’s dead. She’s really –”
She couldn’t watch. Cordelia fled, but she lay in her bed unable to sleep hearing the sounds anyway. Buffy’s best friend and her ex-boyfriend grieving together. She had no place in that.
Oh lord, thought Cordelia, I have to let him go.
She cried into her pillow, and didn’t really know why, unless maybe it was for their little family, because Angel still had them, but he’d lost her, and Cordelia wondered if he thought it was a fair trade.