Title: Best Laid Plans
Author: Christie (aka ficbitch82/angelicgal82)
Summary: Xander decides to throw a dinner party in Cordelia’s honour when she gets out of hospital following the rebar incident. As with all things on the Hellmouth, things go…awry.
Spoilers: Everything up to Lovers Walk – after that it breaks off into my so-AU-it’s-not-even-funny-‘verse.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Just ask.
Notes: This was a challenge given here at my favourite Purple Haven by Luckylyn… 3 years ago. So, yes, three years later? And this fic has developed into a monster 69-page friggin’ NOVEL that almost squeezed a sequel out of me. Until I resisted. And posted. And hoped, perhaps in vain, that it was decent, lol. *headdesk* Anyway, the challenge:
This fic would take place in Season three BTVS after Lover’s Walk but although the rebar happened Cordelia never caught Xander and Willow together. Feeling guilty and conflicted about his attraction to Willow, Xander goes overboard when taking Cordy home from the hospital. He decides to throw a dinner party celebrating her recovery. So Buffy, Angel, Willow, Cordelia, and Xander have to spend the evening at an awkward dinner unaware until it’s too late that they are all in danger.
The very last thing Cordelia remembered about that night was running down the stairs of that factory, hearing Oz give a short, sharp gasp and *bam*, down she went.
She only just registered when Xander had crept down next to her, had no idea where she was, only that her clothes were going to be 19 shades of uck and that there was a sharp pain in her side that was so not going away.
What she didn’t expect was to wake up in hospital almost a whole day and a half later, the light hurting her eyes. She squinted up at the ceiling, trying to block the damn thing out and wondering why she’d left it on in the first place when Xander’s worried face came into view.
“Xander?” She whispered groggily.
The relief on his face was palpable, even through the fog. He breathed her name like he hadn’t seen her in weeks, his gaze sweeping over her face, hand clenched tight around hers. “You’re in the hospital,” he murmured.
“What happened?” She asked, knowing for certain now that there was something wrong. You didn’t just wake up in a hospital, your boyfriend hovering above you like you might die for nothing.
“Y-you don’t remember?”
Cordelia shook her head. “Oz… We were coming to get you guys… He could smell you and then!”Nothing but that sharp pain in her side, the one that had dulled to an almost constant ache – like toothache, only worse.
“The stairs in Spike’s factory, they weren’t safe and you… You fell… You landed on a rebar.”
Cordelia’s eyes widened. A rebar?! Realisation flooded back in and with it came a dull, painful throb at her side. She remembered oh-so-clearly now, could hear Oz gasp, Xander’s cries as he’d worked his way down to where she lay. She could still see Willow’s face, streaked with tears as they’d watched Xander try to help.
“I’m gonna be out of bikini’s now forever,” she murmured, noting the look on Xander’s face with a stab of alarm, “Okay, what? Did someone die?”
Xander looked like he was gonna throw up. “You really don’t remember.”
She frowned. Hadn’t they covered this? “Nothing from getting into that factory. Xander, what’s going on? You’re really freaking me out here.”
“I-Nothing,” he shook his head again, “I-I bought you flowers.”
She glanced upwards, gazing at the flowers lined wall-to-wall in her hospital room. She got that it was etiquette or whatever to bring gifts to the sick – she’d learned that last year when Little Ms Likes to Slay had come down with the flu and nobody had thought to clue her in on the little loop- but this? Cordelia liked flowers, really she did, but could he not have spent that money on something else? Like… Like maybe a necklace or something? Flowers died. What was the point in a gift if they didn’t last longer than five days at most?
“I-I just wanted to, y’know, show you… How much I-“
Cordelia glanced at him, her heart flipping in her chest. He’d broken off, palmed the back of his neck uncomfortably and was staring at his shoes. Had he been about to tell her he… loved her?
She got that the near death experiences made you want to tell people stuff. Had she not herself been at the mercy of some red-neck idiot vampire and almost let it slip to Buffy that she… Well, loved him too?
Cordelia’s breath caught. How?! How was it possible when it had just started out as some stupid fling and now… Now…
Oh God. Did she love him too?
She thought back to last night, parts coming in hazy as she listened to the things around her – almost lucid, but not opening her eyes. Xander holding her hand, telling her how sorry he was and that she was okay, she was getting better. Whispering, that if she just got better he’d make it right.
That nurse with the painkillers – oh, those painkillers were definitely something she liked – telling her that her parents had called and they were… On some other continent, she couldn’t remember which.
They’d sent flowers or something. And their love, of course, because they were such the doting parental unit. Her gaze immediately sought out the biggest bunch in the room and darkened for just a second. The flowers, themselves, were pretty much a surprise – usually her father would’ve sent a credit card and been done with it.
She was still thinking of something – anything – to say when the door opened and Cordelia glanced up, finding Giles smiling in her direction. “You’re awake.”
“I figured it was time I joined the land of the living again,” she murmured, not pointing out the obvious ‘duh’ moment.
“Am I intruding?” He asked, shuffling a little further into the room.
“God no,” she smiled, all too eager to have someone interrupt those particular thoughts, “Especially not if those are for me.” She nodded towards the basket of fruit in Giles’ hands, watching the corners of his mouth quirk upwards again. “Xander was just telling me how much he loves me,” she told him, trying to diffuse the tension somewhat, “Like I didn’t know.”
Giles glanced at him, puzzled to find him looking rather ill at ease and busied himself setting the fruit basket beside her bed, “You have enough flowers to open your own florist,” he observed.
“I think Xander took the whole ‘say it with flowers’ thing a little too literally,” she said, trying to move herself up in the bed and make herself not look like a total wreck in front of her visitors. As she did so she yelped, the pain causing her face to blanch.
Giles cast a worried look at her, sitting down beside Xander in one of the hard, plastic hospital seats, “How do you feel?”
“Kind of like I got impaled on a rebar,” she muttered, feeling particularly icksome, knowing that a few beads of sweat had suddenly developed on her forehead. Jesus, that hurts… “But I’m getting better, I think.”
“The doctor said you could go home in a few days,” Xander confirmed.
“And your parents?” Giles pressed.
A black look passed across her face and, for just one moment, Cordelia wondered what it would be like for them to give a crap. “Still on their vacation. They send their love though… And those.” She pointed to the largest bunch of flowers, the distaste on her face plain.
“Ah, I see!”Said Giles, feeling a flash of irritation. Cordelia could, at the best of times, test your last bloody nerve, but to leave your child in a hospital, alone… He shook his head, wondering if his lamentations of how he’d do things differently as a father would ever be proven more than that. “Do you need somewhere to stay once you get out of hospital?”
“I’m going home,” she answered firmly, “I’ll be fine.”
“And I’ll be there to look after you,” Xander smiled, squeezing her hand.
“Or drive me crazy,” Cordelia conceded, “Whichever comes first.”
Driving her crazy was definitely the closer analogy of the two, Cordelia found, after spending three days with Xander non-stop. The doctors had sent her home after five days in the hospital, armed with enough painkillers to start her own drug-store and Xander, predictably, had taken up residence in one of the guest bedrooms.
The fact that he talked non-stop through the programs she wanted to watch didn’t bother Cordelia. The fact that he still liked to watch dumbass cartoons was fine with her. What wasn’t fine with her was that he insisted on doing every single little thing for her and she’d had enough pandering to last her a lifetime.
She snapped when he offered to help her to the bathroom for the 80th time that day. “Jesus, Xander, would you quit it?! I didn’t die, unless you haven’t noticed, and I still have the use of my legs.”
He looked as he always did when she snapped at him – a little forlorn and really kind of pathetic – but this time, Cordelia couldn’t find it in herself to feel sorry for him. He was driving her insane.
“What’s gotten into you?” She demanded, folding her arms across her chest and ignoring the pain slicing through her midsection. She was at her most formidable when she was like this and she wasn’t about to forgo the posture for anybody, “Shouldn’t the guilt trip have ended a couple of days ago?”
Something was different, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. It was like all the things they had maybe been about to say in the hospital were just hanging there between them and neither wanted to bring it out into the open.
It was also different there just being her and Xander. In the hospital there’d always been someone else there. Buffy, Giles, Willow – hell, even Angel had stopped by for a visit, though that had been kind of uncomfortable and really, really weird. The only one missing, ironically, had been Oz but when Cordelia had asked about him, Willow had just looked down and mumbled something about the Dingoes playing a few gigs out of town.
“I-it’s not a guilt trip, I was just!”Xander sighed, finding a spot on the polished hardwood floor of Cordelia’s living room really interesting, “I-I planned something. For when you’re better.”
Her curiosity piqued, Cordelia stared at him, “It’s not another bowling trip right? ‘Cause I don’t think my doctor’ll like me doing anything that strenuous. And after the last one…”
“Not bowling,” he shook his head, “I sort of organised something. With Angel and Buffy and-Sort of a ‘Welcome Home, Get Well Cordy’ thing.”
“A party?” She grinned suddenly, her mood lightening despite Xander’s complete oafishness. Maybe he did have some redeeming qualities after all.
“Well, kind of… A dinner party. At Angel’s place.”
“The mansion?” Cordelia’s nose wrinkled. It was a little creepy on the outside, sure, but the right decorations and a few throws… It could be kind of fun. Maybe.
“I’ve been trying to keep it secret for days,” Xander admitted, “Angel’s cooking.”
“Angel’s cooking,” she repeated, “Angel, the vampire who doesn’t eat food is cooking?”
Xander looked back at that spot on the floor, “I wanted it to be a surprise, but I wanted you okay enough to be there and have fun, I mean…”
Feeling a rush of warmth towards him that wasn’t uncommon these days, Cordelia smiled and leaned over to kiss him, “Sounds like fun…”
Fun, it turned out, was stretching it a little.
She’d turned up fashionably late in her Corvette, alone because Xander’d had to help Angel prepare or whatever, and had knocked on the heavy wooden doors.
Angel had answered after a way too lengthy pause, cloth over his shoulder and with a strained smile that had told Cordelia exactly how it was going to go tonight, despite hoping it would go well. And she was suddenly left wondering if there was some other etiquette she didn’t know about that said she should have brought something.
Of the two couples who’d actually shown up tonight (Oz was still gigging with the Dingoes) she and Xander were clearly the happier of the two, strained glances and conversation all round.
Determined to try though she was – and still secretly kind of pleased at how sweet Xander had been organising this – Cordelia enforced a lot of the conversation herself, noting that Willow seemed edgy at the lack of Oz and Buffy edgy because of whatever demon was invading Sunnydale that week (or maybe Angel and the whole let’s play martyr’s and not be together stuff they were trying on for size).
Xander, his usual jittery self, was bouncing back and forth between the helplessness of his two best friends, leaving Cordelia to look around the mansion a little more, marvel at the old ass dÃƒÂ©cor that seemed to just kind of fit, and wind up talking to Angel in the kitchen once it seemed everyone had disappeared to other parts.
“So how come Buffy talked you into this?” She asked as she came up behind him, watching as he chopped something against an ancient chopping board and wondered at the fact that a vampire who didn’t actually eat knew how to cook.
He glanced up at her, smiling tightly, and not for the first time Cordelia found herself wishing that people would lighten up. Was this not a party of sorts? And where was everybody, anyway?
“Talked me into it?”
“Please,” Cordelia grinned, thankful that he’d taken her little opener into an actual conversation, “It’s not like you’d have just let Xander organise all of this. I’m thinking that there’s blackmail involved. Heavy blackmail.”
He glanced up and out into the main area of the mansion, his gaze darkening slightly, but when Cordelia turned it was just Xander and Willow talking, coming back from wherever they’d been.
“Lack of smoochies?” She pressed, wishing she hadn’t when the kicked puppy look passed across Angel’s face. “Oh. Right. No smoochies since you went all evil. I remember.”
Angel looked pained, “Me too.”
The conversation threatened to stall then too and Cordelia, needing someone to talk to because nobody else was trying, used a different tack, “So how come you can cook? I mean it’s not like you eat food, is it?”
“I don’t eat,” he shook his head, “Well, I can but it doesn’t keep me alive.”
“Right,” she nodded, “That would be the Blood McShakes.”
Angel laughed, surprising Cordelia greatly at the fact that he may have had a sense of humour without her ever noticing. “I read a lot,” he told her, putting something that smelled way too appetising in his old-ass industrial stove, “I’ve never really had chance to cook for people before.”
“So we’re your lab rats?” She asked, feigning mild-outrage, “Need I remind you that I just got out of hospital?”
“No food poisoning,” he smiled again, “Well, I hope not.”
“Not exactly a dinner party kind of guy, huh?” Cordelia grinned, “I get that. My parents host one every so often but there’s only so much ass-kissing-of-her-parents a girl can take. I tend to avoid them now.”
And wasn’t that the truth? The last time Cordelia had attended one was B.X (Before Xander) – God, had it been almost a year? – mostly because her parents had wanted her to bring a guest and Xander, even on his best ‘Dressed By Buffy’ day, wouldn’t have lasted a minute with her father.
She drummed her fingers impatiently on the counter, waiting for Angel to pick up the threads of the conversation where she’d left them. He didn’t. “Still not much of a talker, huh?”
Angel looked at her helplessly. Buffy, he knew how to handle. He could be alone with her and sit in perfect silence and it would be just that. Perfect. But Cordelia wanted to talk all the time and with talking came confessing and after what he’d witnessed tonight-
“If we had something in common, I’d know what to say,” She continued, making him smile even when he didn’t really feel like it, “But I don’t think high fashion and new Prada shoes are the things to set your conversational loins on fire.”
He laughed again, finding it coming much easier this time, and started preparing dessert, “Shoes aren’t exactly my forte.” He admitted.
“Allow me a duh,” she grinned, noticing how meticulous he was with his cooking and wondering if he was like that with everything else in his un-life. “Besides, it’s not like demon killing is really my idea of a good chat, either.”
He smiled slightly, “I guess not.”
“And yet this is probably the most normal conversation I’ve had tonight. How does that work?” She glanced over her shoulder to where Xander and Willow were now arguing and rolled her eyes.
“Xander’s been on edge all week,” she admitted, turning back, semi-surprised to find she was actually telling Angel. Maybe it was his whole ineptitude at continuing a conversation. She just… Felt obliged to continue it herself, that was all. Even if that did mean babbling. “I mean… I totally get that I’ve been much with the snippy on account of the whole sucking stomach wound… And he’s been nothing but sweet but he’s just…”
Really, really annoying, at times? She felt a pang of guilt at that and tried, unsuccessfully, to shake it off. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s kinda nice that he’s all care-giving and stuff!”And a few times he’d been on the verge of telling her he loved her, she was certain and…
Okay, time to start acting a little grateful. “And this is great, isn’t it? What he’s doing, I mean!”She turned back to look at her boyfriend, to the heated conversation that had now sort of dulled and watched for a moment.
She realised Angel was saying something a second after he’d said it and she turned slightly, gasping as a stab of pain shot through her stomach, “Jesus,” she hissed, feeling a little woozy and annoyed at the fact that she’d taken extra painkillers so that this didn’t happen. It hadn’t even taken the edge off.
“Are you alright?” Asked Angel, by her side so fast that Cordelia would have jumped, had it not been for his hand on her elbow.
“I’m fine,” she ground out from between her teeth, clutching the counter to keep herself upright and shrugging Angel’s hand away, “Just… Not that used to being Little Ms. Physically Impaired, I guess.”
“What happened?” Xander’s voice from the doorway annoyed her even more than the lack of working painkillers, his tone almost accusing.
What’d he think, Angel had bit her or something? “I moved a little too quickly,” Cordelia frowned, “That’s all. Would you stop panicking already?”
He wouldn’t look at Angel. He took Cordelia’s arm and led her away from the kitchen, asking if she needed anything.
Cordelia glared at him in answer and excused herself to the bathroom, gingerly lifting the black silk of the halter-top she’d chosen to wear tonight, wincing at the spots of blood darkening the white bandage beneath. She felt hot and sick, unable to splash a little water on her face because she’d totally ruin her make-up, and unable to take more painkillers because she’d took her quota for the night in one go, hoping this very thing didn’t happen.
All in all, she felt pretty miserable. Her party ‘guests’ weren’t even trying, the most normal conversation she’d had tonight was with a freakin’ vampire and she felt sick enough to throw up whatever wonderful concoction Angel was actually brewing in his kitchen.
She was beginning to wish she hadn’t come, that she’d told Xander that she wasn’t really feeling up to it and could he please make it another night… But he’d have fussed over her even more and at least this way she could prove that she was semi-okay.
Sighing, Cordelia steeled herself, glancing around Angel’s bathroom for a non-existent mirror. Figures, she thought with a small frown and a shake of her head, leaning against the wash basin.
When she went back out, Angel was busy at his big ass dinner table, putting dinner plates and things down. And Cordelia, surprised to admit that it looked kind of good, headed towards him instead of Xander who had sprung apart from Willow as if he’d been burned when she came out of the bathroom. “Y’know, if you didn’t have that whole history with Buffy? I’d be kind of worried,” she told him, leaning against a chair.
“Worried?” Angel repeated, glancing up.
“About you being gay,” she grinned, “You cook, you dress kind of well for a guy who spends most of his life inside a creepy-ass mansion and you set a dinner table like the gay guy my parents hire for an extortionate amount of money. Is there something you’re not telling me?”
She wasn’t quite ready for the flash of anger that passed across Angel’s face, was about to hold up her hands in apology (not that she apologised a lot but seeing how he was the only one talking kind of normally to her today, she’d do it just this once) until Angel spoke.
“Like I said, I read a lot,” he smiled, looking uncomfortable.
For a moment – an incredibly icky and eww moment – Cordelia wondered if she’d hit a nerve, if maybe there was something in Angel’s past that he wasn’t quite telling them all but… Why would he? He had 200 plus years of doing things he regretted and, since Cordelia was no bigot, having sex with a guy probably ranked way below going evil and killing and torturing a few thousand people.
Confused and completely not understanding what everyone’s deal was tonight, Cordelia sat down at one of the chairs, glancing up as Willow, Xander and Buffy edged their way into their own seats.
Angel poured them all drinks – water for Cordelia on account of the whole ‘Mass Taking of Painkillers’ thing – wine for the others since this was a dinner party and he was affording some creative licence.
Willow, Xander and Buffy sat chatting amongst themselves about nothing, really – the fact that Xander wasn’t a great fan of wine, or Sunnydale’s even hotter climate that week – Cordelia only joining in when she really felt like it and wondering if the painkillers had set her on edge or whether she was totally imagining the atmosphere.
Xander’s arm was round her shoulders, his finger stroking slightly at the expanse of skin left uncovered by her shirt. Once or twice she’d catch Angel looking, glaring at Xander and then skulking away as he caught her looking back, until he was dishing dinner at the table and Cordelia could feel the tension from a mile off, so thick she could have cut it with a knife.
“How about a toast?” Xander offered, raising his glass and clearing his throat nervously, “To Cordelia… And a speedy recovery.”
Even when she raised her glass, it seemed to Cordelia like her heart wasn’t in it. She was all for the speedy recovery, really, but the nagging feeling that something was vastly wrong was getting worse.
Buffy mumbled something inaudible, smiled nervously at Cordelia and stood to help Angel dish the meal he’d prepared, knocking over her glass as she did so.
They both excused themselves, leaving Cordelia to wonder why it was Buffy couldn’t clean up a smashed glass on her own and turning to Willow and Xander who completely would not look at each other. Which was about the time she realised she’d officially had enough.
“Okay, what’s going on?” She demanded.
Xander almost leapt a foot in the air, removing his arm from around her shoulders, “What?”
“This is supposed to be a party,” she pointed out, “My party. And so far, it’s not so much party-like as it is wake-like. Every time I try to talk to you guys you find a way to edge out of the conversation. I’m having more fun talking to a dead guy who I have zero in common with and to be honest? This is really not fun for me.”
At the start of the evening, she’d felt a little sorry for Willow. Alone at an intended coupl-y party (even when one of said couple’s weren’t exactly together), she’d even welcomed her into the conversation way more times than she really had to – and this was it. Her whole party. The entire guest list acting like the other shoe was waiting to drop or something.
The big ball of dread was growing in her stomach and Cordelia was 100% certain that it had nothing to do with the rebar, “There’s something going on with you guys and I want to know what it is.”
Buffy and Angel had exited the kitchen at that point, both frozen on the spot to the left of Cordelia. She frowned, watching them, and turned back to Willow and Xander, arching an eyebrow. “Well?”
She didn’t get much farther, the light from the lamp went out and the room was plunged into darkness, the heavy drapes across from them shielding most of the moonlight from outside.
Even in the presence of a slayer, a vampire and a witch who could more than hold her own, Cordelia’s stomach turned violently, “Xander?”
She heard a scuffle, a groan, and the sounds of Buffy trying to hit something that was about seventeen sizes too big for her to reach. She stood quickly, hearing her chair scrape against the floor and let out a scream as an altogether inhuman arm closed itself around her stomach.
She almost dropped to the floor there and then. Spikes in that very arm pressed against her wound and Cordelia’s eyes crossed. She could barely see now, bright spots of light dancing in front of her eyes and the pain… Oh God, the pain.
She felt sure she was going to pass out. The smell alone from the demon was bad enough, all rotted flesh, burning the inside of her nose. The arm scraped against her and Cordelia didn’t need light to see that the wound was open; bleeding into the white bandage she’d dressed herself with that morning.
She flung her head back, feeling the back of her skull connect with bone and the thing that had her in its grasp roared, dropping its arm. Using as much momentum as she could muster, Cordelia flung herself forward, stumbling in the process and landing on something soft.
“Oh God, Xander!”she whispered. The body beneath hers was soft, warm and not moving. Panic rose in her throat, along with a good chunk of bile and acid from her stomach because this could not happen, not like this. He couldn’t be dead for crap’s sake, not when-
She froze as the sounds of fighting behind her grew louder, Buffy’s last cry colliding with what sounded like an almighty snap of bone. She hardly dared to breathe, heard Angel growl and Willow trying to yell something. She couldn’t even run. It was too dark to see a way out, too dark to find something to help them – anything.
A hand closed around her mouth and Cordelia screamed into it, the sound muffled. She struggled, trying to bite down, and when the thing started dragging her backwards, Cordelia lashed out.
Behind her, there was shouting – instructions to each other, maybe, Cordelia wasn’t sure. She lashed out again, connecting this time, and pushing herself forwards and away. For one moment, she thought she’d done it. Relief outweighed any terror, until pain came crashing back in and her wound, open and bleeding now, caused spots to dance in front of her eyes.
She stumbled again, her head spinning, and when Cordelia crashed this time it was head-first into the stone walls she’d been admiring earlier.