It took 45 minutes of elbowing and pushing and Buffy was officially convinced that chivalry was as dead as her love life when some guy jumped the queue and right into her first cab.
She directed the second to the offices of Wolfram and Hart and Cordelia breathed out a sigh, worrying a nail between her teeth. Or trying to.
“Like you would not believe,” Cordelia admitted, though it probably wasn’t for the reasons Buffy thought. Every block, every sidewalk passed in a blur – Cordelia barely noticed.
All too soon the ride was over and the rain had thinned into a crappy drizzle once they got out the car at Hell Incorporated. Buffy yanked her bag up her shoulder. “Well, here goes…”
Cordelia glanced at her, “Buffy, wait…” They’d made it out of the cab, at least, before her bleeding heart had won out and she’d realised that maybe, after all of this, she kind of owed Buffy an explanation.
“I need to tell you something,” said Cordelia, just as Buffy was gearing up to march right into Angel’s building of evil and declare holy-hell on his crazy-manpire-ass.
Buffy paused, turned, and looked at the brunette. “Cordelia, really, you don’t have to thank me…”
“I’m not.” Cordelia’s cheeks flushed, “I mean… I am grateful, God, I’m grateful, I just… There’s something you should know first.”
Buffy looked puzzled, “Something else?”
This was it. Her grand rehearsal. Her big step-up to everything she was gonna have to tell Angel, except… Well, she knew Angel better than she did Buffy. She told Angel this and he was gonna do everything that was in his power to stop it (which was nothing) and it would destroy him in the process.
But Buffy–Cordelia weighed up her options for a moment. Buffy was all about the greater good – was she not the person who’d thrown herself off a tower to save the world? Or who’d sent Angel packing off to hell with Acathla for much the same reason?
Okay, so she wasn’t exactly saving the world. But she was saving Angel and that was something that Buffy would absolutely get behind, once she understood.
“I can’t go in with you,” she said finally, meeting Buffy’s gaze.
“Wolfram and Hart. They have some ward around the building or something… I don’t know. I know it’s mystical and I know it’s anti-Cordelia.”
“Oh.” Buffy looked a little nonplussed, as if she’d been used to the fact that Cordelia was just there and would be until she saw this thing through. “Okay, so you’ll wait here?”
“Not exactly.” She explained quickly and quietly that the long-ass trip from Rome had taken it out of her. It was like a store of borrowed mystical energy from the Powers That Be and hers had all but been used up. She had another day, maybe – a day to get Angel back on track and then…
“You can’t be serious,” Buffy whispered, her mouth falling slack.
Cordelia smiled, though it was a little wistful. “How’d you think this was gonna end?”
“Not like this…” Buffy gave her a hard look, “You asked me here to help you die?”
“I asked you here to help Angel,” she clarified. “You’re the only one that can sell this. You’re the only person I can get to that he’ll take this from.”
“Cordelia…” Buffy frowned, trying to stall a little and come to some conclusion where she wasn’t helping a former classmate out of a coma and into a coffin, “We haven’t seen each other in six months. After that? 2 years and then some… I’m not part of his life any more.”
“Maybe not,” she conceded, “But he does love you. And whatever else he says? He values your opinion. Trusts it.”
Buffy scowled, “Still…”
Cordelia held up a hand and thanked God Buffy didn’t care that she looked crazy right now, talking to thin air. When she spoke her voice was soft, careful. “I’m not afraid of dying, Buffy,” said Cordelia, surprising herself with the fact that it was actually true no matter how much she didn’t want it. “You know what I’m really afraid of?”
“Becoming another reason for him to brood in the dark, alone… Alphabetising his past sins and failures and counting me as one of them.”
Buffy frowned. “But this way… You, dying…”
Cordelia knew that face. (You can’t die.) She’d seen it on Angel a billion times. (There’s got to be a way…)
And that face on Buffy was the exact reason that she could never tell Angel the truth about what was going to happen here.
“I don’t want that for him,” said Cordelia, shaking her head, “When I got to LA he–He saved me, y’know? He gave me purpose, a reason to keep on going… All I wanna do is repay the favor.”
“My body is gonna give out on me sooner or later, you know that, right?” Cordelia asked, effectively stalling Buffy’s next argument. Retired or not, this was Buffy’s job, her calling. And it’d been ingrained in her since the get-go – just like it had Angel – that she had to try to save everybody. And as much as Cordelia hated to admit it, this was one body that was past saving.
“Mystical coma aside? There’s only so much damage it can take and I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for three years now. At least this way I get to go out on my terms. I get to wake up and see my friends. And I get to help Angel in the process. Added bonus, much?”
Buffy was shocked to find herself blinking back tears. “God…”
Cordelia grinned suddenly, “Man-up, Summers, this is what you do. You help people, remember? It’s your thing. I got a guy in that building that needs reminded of it too.”
Buffy risked a glance up at Angel’s Casa-De-Evil, and then back at Cordelia. “Do you love him?”
She half-expected her smile to be sad, instead, it lit up her face. “That isn’t covered in the willing-to-die-for-him part?”
It was the kind of humour that cut to the bone and, though expected from its source, still didn’t sting any less.
“Does he love you?”
Her smile widened, “You really have to ask?”
She watched as Buffy scrubbed a hand over her face, trying to compose herself. “Wow.”
“I know,” Cordelia waved a hand between them, “Look at us. Growing as people. Having an actual conversation without name-calling.”
“Or hair-pulling,” said Buffy, smiling, though it was sad.
“Too bad it took one of us dying to make it happen, huh?” Asked Cordelia, surprised to find that she liked this grown-up version of Buffy way more than she had the high-school version.
Buffy sighed, “You know, sometimes? I really hate this fight.”
It took her a moment to speak past the lump in her throat. “Me too. But somehow… I guess I believe it’ll all work out in the end. How can it not with a kick-ass Guardian Angel like me?”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” said Buffy quietly.
“I have one more favor,” said Cordelia softly, placing a ghost-y hand on Buffy’s arm. It went right through, just as she’d known it would, but the sentiment behind it was there. “I need you to keep quiet about all of this. If he knows, he’ll try and fight it… And I don’t think the PTB are giving me much of an option on this one.”
Buffy sighed. “It never ends, does it? This fight, losing people…”
Cordelia gave her a sad smile, “I’m not the first soldier down… And I won’t be the last. At least this way I get to die for something.” Instead of slipping away in a coma or worse. “You promise you won’t tell him?”
Buffy nodded and hesitated just a second before she held up her pinky. “I promise.”
Cordelia laughed, touched by a gesture that she could only half-return, and threaded hers through anyway. “Crazy freak.”
“You know this is airtight, right?” Cordelia nodded towards their fingers.
Buffy did her best approximation of Cordelia’s ‘duh’ look. “I have a younger sister. You don’t go back on a pinky-swear.” She watched as Cordelia seemed to flicker for a moment and both their hands dropped, “I guess that’s my cue… What’ll happen?”
“They’ll call him. They’ll tell him I’m awake, which I won’t be. They’ll tell him I’m pissed, which I will be. I’ll get my only half-real-self out of that hospital, help him and then I’m done. He just needs to find his path, is all, and if I can help…”
Buffy sighed, remembering how it had felt to stand on that rickety tower, to know that she was going to jump and to know why. She’d figured it out – it stood to reason that Cordelia had too. “You get to die for something,” she finished quietly, “I get it.”
Cordelia smiled, “Give my love to the gang? Y’know, once…”
“I will,” Buffy promised, turning to head up the stairs to Wolfram and Hart.
“Buffy?” Cordelia spoke without thinking and when Slay-Gal had turned back, she grinned, “Don’t be too hard on him? Well, be a little hard on him… And… Thanks. I mean it.”
“You’re welcome,” said Buffy with a nod, “I mean that.” She glanced back towards the building, steeled herself, and when she turned back to say goodbye, Cordelia was gone.