“So you’re really going to LA?”
“Like anybody would want to stay here,” Cordelia shrugged nonchalantly as she rolled up another shirt for her suitcase. “Sunnydale is full of losers and wannabes. LA has winners and queen bees. Like me. You know, people who actually matter.”
Buffy rolled her eyes and wondered for the hundredth time just why she’d come to help Cordelia pack. Temporary insanity, she groused to herself, picking at a loose thread on the satin comforter. You heard she was leaving now, and you got all nostalgic for high school, like when everyone was signing yearbooks, and you decided, hey! Why not go get bullied one last time by Queen C of Sunnydale High? One for the road.
That hadn’t really been it, of course. Buffy had wanted to talk to Cordelia for weeks, really, ever since the whole thing with the Mayor. Ever since they’d left high school with a completely literal bang.
Ever since Angel had left. Twenty-three days, to be exact. Not that she was counting.
Except that of course she was counting.
Of course she was.
But anyhow, something Cordy had said when they’d been having their celebratory hey-we-averted-the-Ascension pizza had stuck in Buffy’s head, and she hadn’t been able to let it go, not even with her heart all broken, not to mention all the stupid paperwork that going to college seemed to require.
They’d been talking about college, actually, and Willow had said something mock-jealous about Stanford, which was where Cordelia had planned on going to major in… pre-law? Or business. Something that would have her wearing pantsuits and shoes that cost more than Buffy’s entire yearly clothing budget, attending cocktail parties and probably taking up golf.
“Stanford?” Cordelia had sniffed. “Like anybody goes there any more. I’m going to LA, to become an actress.”
“Really?” Willow frowned. “I thought you hated the drama club. Remember, you--”
“What does the drama club have to do with acting?” Cordelia snapped.
Willow had looked like she wanted to argue, but Xander, of all people, had shushed her. “Leave it,” he’d said in an odd, quiet voice, and then looked seriously at Cordelia. “I hope it works out the way you want.”
“Oh, I’ll have an Oscar in no time,” Cordelia breezed. “I mean, who wouldn’t cast this?” She’d stood, gesturing down at herself, and then grabbed her bag, heading for the door. “Anyhow, I’m out of here. You guys can all stay here in Sunnyhell with the vampires and the giant snakes and the bizarro lameness.” She’d paused in the open doorway and looked back. “I don’t belong here.”
That had been it. Something about the look in her eyes, the tone of her voice when she’d said that, had struck Buffy as… not right. I don’t belong here.
Here, in Sunnydale? Or here, celebrating with the Scoobies? Or here-- well, it had stuck, was all. And even if most of their shared time in high school had been spent sniping at each other and hating each other and being rivals, there had been moments when Cordelia had been a real friend. Like when Giles had been all stabbing her in the back, Buffy had asked Cordelia for a ride home. And Cordelia had said yes, no questions asked, even though she and Xander hadn’t been a thing any more. And when they’d needed her, really needed her, she’d pitched in -- not without complaints, of course, she’d complained the whole time, but she’d helped. She may have been the bitchiest Scooby, but she’d been a Scooby. Buffy couldn’t just let her leave without saying goodbye.
Not without knowing what she’d meant with that weirdly-vulnerable parting jab.
Though looking at Cordelia as she surveyed her overstuffed closet, it was hard to believe there was any vulnerability hiding inside her at all.
“Have you got an apartment all picked out?”
“Of course,” Cordelia said lightly, hands on her hips as she glared into her closet. “A small condo on the beach in Malibu. It’s not a private beach, but….”
“Wow!” Buffy flopped onto her side, propping herself up on her elbow. “Maybe I should stay with you next time I come visit my dad. He’s way up in Sherman Oaks, no beach in sight.”
“No!” Cordelia said quickly. “I mean, it’s really, really small. Like a postage stamp. A really expensive, glamorous postage stamp. You don’t want to sleep on my itsy-bitsy couch.”
Buffy blinked, nonplussed. “Huh. I thought you said you’d sent all that furniture from downstairs ahead with the moving van.” They’d had a leather sectional that was the size of Buffy’s whole living room, but now Cordelia’s front room was practically empty.
“Oh. Um, not that sofa. I took the, um… it was a different couch. A loveseat. From the family room. Really tiny. And hard, too.”
Cordelia closed her still-full closet decisively. “Well. I’m all packed. Time to hit the road and--”
“You’re leaving your shoes?” Buffy sat up sharply. “Cordelia, what’s going on?”
“Oh, I don’t want those….” Cordelia sighed. “Oh, goddammit. Buffy, can you keep a secret?”
Buffy nodded slowly, watching as Cordelia’s face crumpled.
“I can’t take the shoes. They’re… they’re not mine any more.” She gestured bitterly around the room. “None of this is mine. Or none of it that has any resale value. My dad… well, he made some mistakes. Some big mistakes, on his taxes. The IRS says it’s… the F-word.”
Buffy’s mouth fell open. “Wait, the IRS said fu--”
“No! God!” Cordelia laughed sharply. “Fraud. Fraud is the F-word when you’re the IRS. So Daddy’s in a whole lot of trouble, Mom’s already filed for divorce and shacked up with some guy from the country club, and I…. Well, I don’t get any of the things I was supposed to get. No Ivy League college, no designer clothes, no Louboutins, no leather-upholstered furniture, no connections taking me to the top.” She patted her suitcase. “This is it.”
“Cordelia, I…. Wow.” Buffy stood and hurried around the bed to give Cordelia a hug. Which felt really weird. She hadn’t ever hugged Cordelia before, had she? Of course not. Why would she have? And why had she never noticed how tall Cordy was?
“Hey, no pity!” Cordelia grumbled, even as she hugged Buffy back. “I am totally going to turn this around.”
“I know you will,” Buffy said, feeling weirdly sniffly.
“Ugh.” Cordelia wriggled out of the hug. “Stop crying. You’re going to get snot on this sweater and I can’t afford the dry-cleaning.”
“Sorry.” Buffy sat down beside Cordelia on the bed. “Not just about the runny nose. I mean, I’m sorry I didn’t notice--”
“Well, you had some stuff on your mind. The mayor thing, that Faith chick, your vampire boyfriend….”
“Ex-boyfriend,” Buffy said quietly, feeling the sniffles rise up again. Like they had every one of the twenty-three nights he’d been gone. Not that she’d been counting.
“Angel left. He’s, um, not coming back.”
“Ever? I thought you and Angel were, like, destined or something. I mean, he even rejected me. For you. ”
“Well, I guess destiny’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Buffy said, trying for lightness. “He said… he said I should find someone normal.”
“Well, that’s stupid,” Cordelia said forcefully. “I mean, I’m the most normal person you know, and look what happened to me, just because I sometimes was in the same room as you. I got stabbed, and almost eaten, I dated Xander…. I’m lucky I’m still alive.”
“But he has a point,” Buffy earnestly replied. “I mean, I’m a vampire slayer. I shouldn’t be dating a vampire, even if he does have a soul.”
“Soul, schmole. Buffy, can I give you some advice?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “I guess.”
“You need to stop being a doormat for guys. Angel just spent the last -- what, more than two years? -- leading you on, being all I’m-your-destiny, taking you to the Prom, and then he just bails? I bet you’ve been crying every night, huh?”
Buffy nodded, feeling tears welling up in her eyes again.
“Well, stop it. If he’s not willing to fight for you, then who needs him?”
I need him, Buffy thought, but she nodded.
“Ugh. Seriously, Buffy. Like I told you, when it comes to dating, I’m the slayer. You can’t let some guy just play you like that.”
“He wasn’t playing me,” Buffy protested, stung. “If we’re together, if we, um… you know, then he’s going to lose his soul again. That’s why he left.”
“So he left because you guys couldn’t have sex.” Cordelia’s eyes narrowed.
“No, because--” Buffy broke off. “It’s not like that.”
“It’s exactly like that. Buffy, if I had a dollar for every guy who left because I wouldn’t put out for their pimply behinds, I could afford to buy back all my shoes.” She frowned, calculating. “Well, most of my shoes.”
“He loves me,” Buffy insisted, feeling queasy.
“Not enough to figure out a way around that stupid curse. I mean, here you have Willow, who’s, like, super-witch, and you had all those books and stuff, but nobody ever figured out a way to fix that? Sounds fishy to me.”
Suddenly it sounded fishy to Buffy, too. “I never, um, never thought about that. But, um, maybe there isn’t a way?”
“How do you know? Has he even suggested someone look into it? Or doesn’t he even want to try? Believe me, Buffy, there are ways and ways to be together. If he didn’t even bother looking, that’s on him.”
“I’m sure he tried everything he could,” Buffy insisted, ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach.
“All right.” Cordelia turned on the bed, taking both Buffy’s hands in hers. “Looks like nobody ever gave you The Talk. So I’m going to do you a solid here.”
“Mom gave me The Talk,” Buffy laughed nervously. That hadn’t exactly gone too well.
“Not that talk. Here’s what your mom didn’t teach you -- or if she did, it didn’t stick.” Cordelia squeezed her hands. “Buffy, no guy anywhere in the world is worth three weeks of tears when he dumps you.”
Buffy looked down at their joined hands, Cordelia’s pristine manicure -- had she done that herself? She must have, if she had no money -- and her own neatly-trimmed but sorta-ragged fingernails. “I love him.”
“So? He’s gone. You need to get over it and move on.”
“Do or do not. There is no try.” Cordelia dropped Buffy’s hands with a gasp. “Oh, god, I just quoted one of Xander’s stupid movies. I have got to get out of this town!”
“I’m moving on,” Buffy said stubbornly. “When college starts, I’m totally going to date.”
“And you’re going to make the same mistake all over again if you don’t listen,” Cordelia snapped, grabbing her hands again. “Buffy, guys are like… like shoes. Would you spend even a day walking around in a pair of shoes that didn’t fit? Even if you totally loved them, and they were, like, the most gorgeous shoes ever? And you’d found them on a killer sale?”
“No,” Buffy grudgingly admitted.
“And if you try on a pair of shoes that don’t fit, do you spend three weeks crying about them?”
“Depends on the shoes,” Buffy joked.
“No, you don’t,” Cordelia steamrollered on. “You put those shoes back on the shelf and you try on another pair. And then when you find a pair that do fit? Maybe you don’t even buy those. Maybe you keep trying, until you find just the perfect pair, and then even if you buy those shoes, it’s not like you don’t have another three dozen pairs of shoes at home in your closet that fit you just as well. Well, unless your daddy is a total stupid fraud, but that’s beside the point.” She squeezed Buffy’s hands again. “Buffy, you can’t just go off to college and throw yourself into loving the first guy you think is a good fit. You have to try on a lot of… guys, see how they fit, and then make sure they’re not secretly total losers before you hand over your Visa.”
“I’m not sure that’s… me,” Buffy said slowly.
Cordelia rolled her eyes. “I’m not saying you have to sleep with every big man on campus, Buffy. I’m just saying… don’t fall in love with some jerk who’s not right for you. And believe me, if they’re not willing to put in minimal effort, they’re not right for you.”
“I’m not going to fall in love.”
“Why not?” Cordy blinked, then sighed. “Oh. Because you still love Angel. Buffy, you’ve gotta wash that man right out of your hair. Believe me, he does not deserve your tears. If I were you, I’d be furious. I mean, here you devote your prime high school dating years to this one guy, and then he just leaves? And then he has the gall to tell you what sort of guy you should date? That’s some nerve.”
It did sound kind of infuriating when she put it like that. “I’m sure he’s just trying to help.”
“More like he’s trying to keep you on the hook. Tell me, did he give you some line about how he’s always going to love you? How you’re the only one for him, but he just can’t be with you?”
“No. Well, yes. I mean, sort of, but he was just trying to… trying to….” What the hell had he been trying to do, saying that? Buffy felt anger start to simmer.
“Well, that’s bullshit. That’s the sort of crap guys say when they want to keep you on the line while they’re off playing the field.”
“He’s not--” Buffy stopped short. Was Angel off playing the field? What was he going to do now? Find some other girl to be his destiny?
“I bet he shows up every now and then, just to make sure you’re still his girl.”
“I doubt it. He said he wouldn’t ever come back.” And suddenly that did make her angry. He had said it was his destiny to help her. How was he going to do that now? Not that she needed the help, of course, but it was the principle of the thing.
“Sounds like he said a lot of things. You know what I would do?” Cordelia bounced on the bed a little in vicious excitement. “I would go out and find exactly what he said I should find. Find someone super normal, someone who’s everything he’s not. And then when he comes strolling on back into town, thinking I was still hung up on him? I’d totally rub the whole thing right in his face. That would totally piss him off.”
“You mean, get revenge?”
“Well, not like mafia-revenge or anything. But you know what the best revenge is, when some jerk guy does you wrong? Being totally okay without them. Moving on and living the dream. That’s totally what you need to do. That’s what I always do.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Except it sounded… weirdly good. Not nice, but certainly a lot better than moping around like she had been. Like punching her grief in the face. She’d always been good at punching. And right now, she really wanted to punch something.
Cordelia was still going, on a vengeful roll. “Seriously, Buffy. You lived for this guy for more than half your high school career. You gave him your virginity, gave him your prom, gave him all your good memories of the best part of your life. God, you even tried to kill Faith to save him! And he just leaves? I think you need to teach Angel a lesson.”
Buffy nodded sharply, anger boiling up inside. Cordelia was right. She’d given up everything for Angel, and he’d just walked away -- in the most dramatic way possible, even. Why was she even wasting her time crying? “I think… I think you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right,” Cordelia grinned.
Buffy squeezed Cordelia’s hands back, suddenly resolute. “Cordelia, when you said you didn’t belong… what did you mean?”
Cordela laughed faintly. “Well, you know. Um, I was only… only one of the group because I was dating Xander.”
“No, you….” Buffy trailed off. “Okay, maybe at first. But, I mean, you were one of us there at the end. Fighting the good fight.”
“Well, you know how it is with a divorce. Everything that the IRS doesn’t take gets divided up.” Cordelia shrugged casually. “Xander got you guys. You were his friends first, after all.”
“Well, that’s not how it’s going to work this time,” Buffy said stoutly. “You were a good friend to me, when you weren’t being a total bitch.”
“Really, Buffy? I could say the same thing about you.” Cordelia grinned. “Especially the bitch part.”
Buffy laughed. “So we’re still friends. You may be moving to LA, but I want us to stay in touch, okay? Xander can just deal. You have my phone number. Use it.”
“And you have my cell phone number. Don’t use it, because it’s going to get disconnected any day. Daddy didn’t pay last month. But I’ll let you know when I get a new one.”
“And I’m going to sleep on your tiny, hard couch when I come to LA, because it’s still going to be better than Dad’s place.”
“You mean my nonexistent couch? Turns out that had resale value, too.”
“The floor, then.”
“Okay. But only if there’s not an apocalypse going on. I am so done with apocalypses, and snake demons, and especially vampires.” Cordelia stood, briskly zipping up her suitcase. “And you totally have to let me know how your revenge-dating is going. I expect weekly reports.”
“You got it.” Buffy stood and gave Cordelia one more hug. It didn’t feel weird this time. “You know what? I think I’m going to miss you.”
“Of course you are,” Cordelia said regally. “I’m Queen C, after all. What would Sunnydale High have been without me?” She fumbled awkwardly with her suitcase. “I’m going to miss you, too. But don’t tell anybody. It would ruin my legend.”
“I won’t. Need some help with that suitcase?”
“No, I’ve got it.” And she did, wrestling it down the stairs and into the trunk of an unfamiliar car sporting Cordy’s vanity plate, which looked weirdly out of place on the rusted beater.
“Nice car,” Buffy said, deadpan.
“Last of my wages,” Cordelia shrugged. “Should get me to LA, at least.”
“If not, you know who to call.”
“Triple-A. I still have a few months of that, I think.”
“Yeah.” Buffy stepped forward for a final hug. “Drive safe.”
“Are you kidding? I’m going to drive as fast as I can. Shake the dust of Sunnydale off my feet and move on.” Cordelia tossed her keys into the air and caught them. “But… I’ll call you.”
“I’ll be here.”
“And no more crying!” Cordelia whirled around and got into her car, quickly. The car sputtered and revved, and finally rumbled on down the road.
“Yeah,” Buffy said softly, watching the taillights fade into the distance. “No more crying.”
Not when she had revenge to plan.