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Xander thinks it’s funny that he never made it past Oxnard when he fully intended to drive around the world, and yet he’s here in Sudan swatting away flies in the boiling mid-day sun. The people around him look at him oddly, and he’s mostly grown used to it. At least there’s a sense of reverence or fear or something resembling respect for the black hole that was once his eye, as opposed to just the gut wrenching “eeeeew” he’s grown used to back in the states.

They know why he’s here, why he’s invaded their tribe. The girl is waiting for him, ready to be called. She’s had the power for a long time now; it came to her long before Willow endowed all the potentials with it. She’s been training with sticks and weapons native to her land and no one fears her, though they fear for her life. Like Kendra, her people know what she’s been chosen to do and they have no issue with letting her leave with some strange, one-eyed man in a questionable Hawaiian shirt.

They’ve probably seen stranger things.

The jeep ride is dicey, as he’s still a bit off on his depth perception. Still, they don’t sideswipe any trees and she remains stoic through the whole thing, though he knows she’s going to have some serious pain in her hand for a while from where her nails are cutting into her flesh. Her knuckles are pale, despite her dark skin and he knows he’s scaring her, knows he’s probably a complete jerk for taking satisfaction in the fact that he can scare someone. Anyone. Maybe especially a Slayer.

“We know of you.”

“You know of Buffy,” he assures her as they reach the dilapidated hotel he’s using as a base. There are four other girls sharing two rooms already, all of them itching to take the last trip to the nearest airport and wing their way to the training ground Giles is busy building or having built on some ancient hallowed ground the Watcher’s Council apparently used to own. The thought of “ancient” and “hallowed” makes his skin crawl, but he managed to make it through most of his life on “hellmouth”, so it can’t get much worse than it ever was.

There’s a message for him at the desk when he stops the jeep, directing the girl to her room. He knows her name, but he tries not to remember it, tries not to associate it with her. They’re just girls, bodies, faces. He knows that makes him more like the Watcher’s Council than he likes, but he doesn’t know that he has the strength to watch another friend die. They think they know what they’re getting into. He knows what they’re getting into. They aren’t even close.

Xander. Cordy’s dead. Buffy.

He almost laughs but catches himself, knowing if he starts he won’t stop until the laughter dissolves into tears and he’s crumpled in a heap in the murky dust on the ground. It’s not Cordy’s death that hits him hardest, just the matter of fact way Buffy announces it. He can almost hear her voice, tired of so much death.

Tired.

They’re all tired.

He thanks the clerk and shuffles off to his room, nodding to the four girls introducing themselves to their new companion. His room is dark and he doesn’t bother with the lights, doesn’t need to see to make his way to his suitcase and find the bottle buried in his clothes. He calls it his medicine, but he knows that it doesn’t cure anything. At least not for any of the men in his family. But that doesn’t stop him from breaking the seal and downing a good portion of the stuff in one long swallow.

Cordelia. Dead. Hmmm.

He doesn’t remember the first time he saw her, doesn’t remember what made him hate her so long ago. He does remember seeing Willow in tears over something Cordelia and her friends did or said, so that might have been the beginning of it, but he doesn’t know anymore. He wonders if any of them ever knew what started it all, what fated them to be the ones that survived for so long.

Another long swallow doesn’t help him remember. Doesn’t make him forget. Instead, he remembers the first time he kissed her. God, they hated each other. He felt guilty afterwards, not just because he was consorting with the enemy – in much more mundane terms than say, Buffy sleeping with Angel – but because he knew, even though he sort of stopped caring, how much it would hurt Willow if she ever found out.

Cordy and Willow are always tied up together in his head, always tangled in ways that make him feel uncomfortable and comforted all at the same time. Willow would have made the telegram gentler, softer. She would have known, or maybe cared, how the news would hit him. Of course, Buffy’s one-tw…no, just one punch to the gut seemed pretty effective as far as getting the news across.

Cordelia is dead. Cordelia, who he’d loved and hated in equal measure, who he’d lied to and cheated on. Cordelia who had made him hate himself and who had, eventually, forgiven him. Cordelia who had left them all behind and become something more.

Cordelia is dead.

He finishes off the bottle and sets it down, surprised that his hand is shaking. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, surprised at the tears painting his face. Surprised he can cry.

He thinks about calling Buffy, but he’s not sure what to say to her. “Give my regards to Angel”? “Was it natural”? “Did someone have to stake her? Decapitate her? Burn her into ashes?” Buffy would give him rote answers, no doubt gleaned from Giles via Wesley. Willow would be no different, afraid to hurt him further.

He looks down and notices he’s rubbing the spot on his abdomen where the rebar impaled her years ago. It aches, like a phantom pain, familiar like when his eye itches or burns and he goes to rub it and there’s nothing there. He thinks about calling Giles, who won’t lie or sugarcoat anything, but then he realizes there’s really nothing to say.

Cordelia is dead.

Life goes on.

And there are still more Slayers he needs to find.