by Queen Mab

Buffy Summers wandered leisurely along the Decumanus Maximus, the main street of Ostia Antica. Italy resembled the fresco's she'd seen in the Blank Museum, lush and wet. She was supposed to be locating a potential that Willow had detected, but had gotten distracted by the vibrant countryside and soon found herself outside the ruins of Ostia Antica. She remembered reading about them in school and her curiosity got the better of her.

Following a trail of butterflies she passed through the Roman Gate and stopped first at the Baths of Neptune. A trio of water nymphs splashed in fragrant water. They beckoned her to join them.

"No, I don't have time. Perhaps next Tuesday, Tuesday's are good for me now."

A red-headed nymph stuck her tongue out and the others mimicked her actions, causing Buffy to giggle.

"What's so funny?" Asked a familiar voice from behind her.

She turned to find the smiling face of Cordelia Chase. She tilted her head and smiled, pointing at the nymphs.

Cordelia laughed, a chorus of sounds and reached for Buffy's hand.

"Why are you here?" Buffy asked, clasping Cordelia's hand tightly.

"Promises to keep and..."Cordelia said.

"Miles to go..." Buffy intoned.

"Before I sleep," they finished together.

"Is it the end, then?" Buffy questioned.

Cordelia smiled at that, looking very wise (which was very odd indeed). "The beginning."

"I wasn't sure. I mean, you're being very cryptic."

Cordelia smiled slyly. "Well," she said, pointing up. "I learned from the master."

Buffy looked up and saw a man dangling from an olive tree. "This cheese is on sale," he said, his head turning left, then right. "For one night only," he whispered conspiratorially, looking directly at her. He held out a piece of cheese and she took it. He held a finger to his lips and she nodded and did the same.

She looked at the cheese and saw that it was embossed. L-I-F-E

"The cheese is the life," the Cheese Man said and gave her a "thumbs up ."

She nodded sagely and Cordelia pulled her along and gently shoved her up against a stone wall.

"Now, I have something to tell you, and you mustn't forget it like you forgot the FOIL method in Algebra."

"I won't forget," she promised.

"She got it wrong, about it being death, I mean. It's funny how the words life and death mirror each other. The translation isn't always right, you hear me? The Watcher who can't dance got it wrong the first time around and so did she."

Clarity. Instant, white-hot, clarity smacked her upside the face and for an instant she saw. Saw her past, present, and future in Cordelia's kaleidoscope eyes. She gasped in wonder - mygoditsfullofstars - and then everything was in sharp focus - the nymphs splashing in the distance, the stone wall behind her back, and Cordelia's smiling face moving further and further from her.

She still held Buffy's hand and Buffy gripped her hard, in an attempt to tether her, to bind her.

"Uh-uh, golden girl, that's all for me."

"Thank -" Buffy started, but trailed off as Cordelia shook her head.

"Thank you, Trigger - spark that set the flame."

And then there were no more words, only the ivy on the stone wall winding its way around her, squeezing her tight, pulling her into darkness. It was all very comforting, nurturing, like mommy's arms, except for the shrill ringing sounding in her ears. Louder and louder it got until...

Buffy jerked up, gasping. Lost only for a moment, she realized she was in her hotel room and the phone was ringing.

She fumbled through twisted sheets and clumsily reached for the phone.

"Hello?" she answered, her voice thick with sleep.

"Buffy, it's Xander."

"Xander? It's like way early here. Willow gave you and Dawn Italy clocks, remember? To help you distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate times to call? Well, this would be inappropriate as the little hand is on the three and the big hand is on the twelve."


A chill ran up her spine. "Xander," she asked, knowing that something was wrong. "What is it, what happened?"

Xander sighed. "Buffy, it's...Angel called." His voice was weary and raw. "Cordelia, dammit, Cordelia died last night, Buff."

Her eyes closed and she sunk back down onto the bed, the phone cradled against her ear.

"She never woke up, did she?" Buffy asked, somehow knowing the answer.

And she barely heard anything else. She made the appropriate noises to what Xander was saying and when she finally hung up the phone, she sat there for a long while. Long enough for the sun to rise over the city of Rome. She went to the window and looked out over the old city, smiling through tears at the memory of Cordelia Chase.


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