Cordelia was inconsolable. Angel watched as her body shook uncontrollably, the sometime reprieve of shutting her eyes not evident here, for all she could do was cry and sit, her upper body hunched over in her lap.
What she’d seen was enough to terrify her beyond belief. But what she’d felt. She’d felt as that tight feeling in her chest had started. She’d felt realisation and then panic sweep over her when she found she was stuck. And then soil… Wood… She could taste it.
And then her first breath of sweet, comforting air as it attacked her lungs. And then confusion. Cordelia was a firm believer in ‘what didn’t kill you made you stronger’ – everything except this. How could it make you stronger, going through the experience of pulling yourself from a grave?
How could you be stronger, feeling a former friends confusion as she looked down breathless at her own grave? The one she’d just clawed her way out of.
“Cordy, please. Tell me what you saw.” Said Angel, desperately. He didn’t care about the vision, only what it was doing to her right now.
“You need to get to her.” She whispered hoarsely, “She was so scared. They just… They just left her there…” She said quietly, “They just left her there to pull her way out and… She’s scared… She doesn’t know what she’s doing…”
“Who?” Asked Angel gently.
“B-Buffy…” She whispered, “Oh, God… Angel, she had to…” Cordelia stood, trying to walk over to the bathroom, when Angel grabbed her arm, “Cordy?” Angel was stunned and shocked and everything in between, but not so much that he’d run off and leave Cordelia here.
“You have to go.” She said gently, “It’s okay, I’ll be alright… I mean… Dennis is here…”
Angel frowned, “I’m not leaving you, not like this.”
“No but’s Cordelia, I mean it. I’m not leaving you like this.”
“But Buffy… Angel, she was scared. And… I don’t want her to be scared…” She whispered, sadly.
Riley looked at Angel, “She… Maybe we should…” For once, the soldier who was used to giving out orders was at a loss for words. “What do I do?”
“Call Willow… Or someone, let them know what’s happening. Tell them we’ll be there tomorrow if they need us.”
“We?” Said Riley, quizically.
“All of us. You, Cordy and I.”
“But shouldn’t we…”
“We can’t crowd her right now, call the gang, see what’s happening. See if they know what’s going on.”
Riley obediently dialled Buffy’s number, waiting to see if maybe Giles or Willow would answer.
“Hello?” Riley sucked in his breath as he heard the voice, so familiar, the one he’d longed to hear for an entire year.
“Yeah, it’s me.” She sounded so weary on the phone, like she was tired of even talking for a second. “Xander, there’s something wrong with the phone line, it sounds a little muddled.” She said gently.
“It’s not Xander…”
“Oh, then… Who?” Asked Buffy.
“Buffy, it’s me, I…”
“Me, who?” She asked puzzled, “I can barely make out your voice.”
“Riley… It’s Riley… And you’re… You’re alive?”
Buffy gasped, “Riley?”
He’d finally got her calmed down enough to close her eyes and get some sleep, when a sob that made his heart twist in his chest emanated from her lips. Rushing back towards her, Angel looked down, “Cordy?”
“I keep seeing it…” She whispered, “I see her… I feel it when she… Angel, make it stop… Please?” She begged, tears streaming down her cheeks.
He took her in his arms, rocking her back and forward like he would a child, resting his chin on top of her hair. “Ssshhh…” He whispered, “You’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Cordelia buried her face in his chest, her hands clinging to his upper arms like she was afraid to let go. “They left her there…” She cried, “They just left her there…”
Angel winced, stroking her back, “It’s okay… It’s okay…”
I can’t breathe… Where am I?
Cordelia’s head was pounding. When she closed her eyes, the soil came pouring back in, taking her breath. Her hands felt like they were on fire…
“Angel, we need to get to Buffy.” She whispered.
“Tomorrow.” Said Angel, gently but insistently. “You need to rest.”
“I can’t.” Whispered Cordelia, “Everytime I close my eyes, it’s there. I just… I need to see that she’s okay.”
Angel nodded, “Okay… I’ll call Wesley, let him know what’s happening…” Reluctantly, he let Cordelia slip from his arms and onto the pillow where she lay, staring at the wall, wide-eyed and afraid. Going into Cordelia’s living room, he glanced at Riley who sat with his head in his hands. “Riley?”
“She’s alive.” Said the soldier, quietly. “She was… We talked and… I’m going back to Sunnydale for a little while… Uhm…”
“We’re coming too.”
“Like Hell you are!” Said Riley, standing up, “One boyfriend going back is bad enough, I think two’s a little much.”
“I’m not going back to rekindle an old flame.” Said Angel, frowning, “I’m going back because Cordelia needs to see that Buffy’s alive, okay…”
“Then I’ll take her…”
“Not a chance.” Said Angel, “If Cordelia goes, I go too. Besides, as I recall you aren’t the boyfriend.”
“Neither are you…”
“I know that. Do you?”
Riley sighed, “Yeah, I know that but…”
“Look, I’m worried about Buffy, yeah. But I also know that she’s got some of the best friends she could wish for, the best support group I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t need me crowding her… I’ll go and if she needs me, I’ll be there. But I’m not there to start anything. Buffy and I, we’re not… We’ll never be…” Angel sighed, “I love her. I’ll always love her. But we lead different lives.”
Riley sighed again, “I think that might be my problem.”
As the Sunnydale sign approached, Angel glanced at Cordelia who lay on the back seat, just staring up at the dark, night sky. “Cordy, are you…”
“I’m fine.” She said softly, “Just… Drive.”
“We’re almost there.”
Cordelia nodded, turning away from him as tears welled up in her eyes. Closing her eyes meant seeing it again, she could still taste the soil, could still taste the air as it attacked her lungs as Buffy had pulled herself from her grave.
What seemed like hours later, the car came to a stop outside a house. A very familiar house. Riley had explained to Buffy some, if not most, of what had happened with Cordelia and the vision.
Buffy still didn’t understand some of it but… There it was, they were outside of her house and she had to deal.
Great, both of her exes arriving together. And a girl she’d considered a nemesis for most of her Sunnydale High School life. But when Cordelia got out of the car, Angel holding her to support her, Buffy realised she looked different, almost frail, like she were afraid to lift her head.
Buffy opened the door and stood awkwardly, watching as Riley came up the steps. When he wrapped his arms around her though, Buffy leaned into him and hugged him. “Oh God, Buffy…” He whispered.
“Yeah.” She said softly, pulling back and looking up at him.
When Angel came up the steps, Cordelia lifted her head and Buffy saw that tears were streaming down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry.” She whispered softly.
Buffy was puzzled, “About what?”
“I saw… What happened… I felt it…” She didn’t say that she still did, but Buffy knew what she was talking about and put her head down,
“I’m sorry too… Sorry you had to see that… or… Feel it…”
Cordelia shrugged, “All part and parcel of being Vision Girl… You look… Tired?”
“Jet lag from Hell is really… Jet lag from Hell…” Said Buffy, gently. “It’ll do that to you…”
When she looked up, Angel’s eyes were on her. “Did you… How do you…” He sighed, “I really don’t know what to say.”
“Yeah,” Said Buffy, “At least when you came back you were attacking me so conversation wasn’t necessary.” When Angel winced, Buffy sighed, “Sorry, bad joke… Uhm… Come on, inside…”
Angel nodded, still holding Cordelia around the waist to support her and stepped inside the house.
Riley went to do the same when Buffy pulled him back, “Riley? Can I… Talk to you for a second?”
Stunned, the soldier stopped and nodded, “Sure, what’s up?”
“I just… I wanted to say I was sorry.” She said quietly, “Before I di…” She winced, “Before I died, I… It was like… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for never telling you I loved you. I’m sorry for not treating you better. I’m sorry for not running faster…”
“The night you left.” She whispered, “I saw you, I ran and… I thought I’d catch up with you. I thought that because I loved you, I could make it better. I screamed and screamed but… You never heard and I’m sorry.”
Riley looked at her, sighing, “I never thought you’d come.” He whispered. “I never thought that…” Reaching out, he touched her cheek and shook his head, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you… When your Mom… And everything. Maybe I could’ve made it – “
“No.” Said Buffy, “You couldn’t have made a difference. What happened, when I died it was for a reason. And now I’m back. I’m happy.” Said Buffy.
“You don’t look it…”
Buffy sighed, “We should go inside.”
When they did, Cordelia’s body was thrashing on the floor as images poured into her head, Angel kneeling next to her, trying to calm her or at least sate some of the pain she was feeling.
Buffy looked at him, “Vision?” She asked gently. They looked painful to say the least…
“Something’s after you…”
Cordelia’s voice came out weak as her body stopped thrashing, “I don’t know what but… Something’s after you.”
“So, just another Tuesday night on the Hellmouth, huh?” Said Buffy, shrugging her shoulders…