Mine Eyes Dazzle
by Victoria P.

Xander hates the smell of hospitals. You'd think a guy would get used to it -- antiseptic failing to cover the scent of fear, blood and death -- but he never has, never will. Never wants to.

He smiles awkwardly at the nurse and says, "Cordelia Chase. She's in a coma?"

"I'm sorry, sir, but Miss Chase is no longer with us."

The nurse is cheerful and efficient, and it takes Xander a moment to process what she's said. "No longer with us as in, she woke up and walked out? Or as in 'Marley was dead as a doornail?'"

The nurse's brow furrows, then clears. "I'm so sorry."

Xander nods and turns away, biting his lip.

First Anya, now Cordelia.

Another name to add to the list of dead loved ones. Jesse, Jenny, Joyce, Tara.

Somehow he knows they won't be bringing her back; they've learned that lesson all too well (even so, a small voice in his head insists, if they had to do it all again, they'd do the same).

After Jesse died, Xander began keeping a list of all the students who followed. By the end of sophomore year, it had been too long to keep in his head; he'd been too afraid he'd forget someone, so he'd started writing them down in a little spiral notebook with Snoopy on the front, a gift from Willow in happier times, before they'd put a name to the darkness stalking Sunnydale.

Sitting in the parking lot, waiting for his cab to arrive, Xander pulls out the notebook -- cover now tattered, dingy tape attaching it to the metal spiral -- and adds Cordelia's name in shaky script. His eyes burn and his breathing hitches, but he doesn't cry. His hand tightens on the strap of his backpack.

When the cab pulls up, instead of saying, "LAX," like he'd planned, he says, "Wolfram and Hart. You know where that is?"

The cabbie nods, and they join the rest of the cars on the road.

Almost ninety minutes later -- nobody does traffic like Los Angeles, though Cairo during rush hour is a definite contender -- he's paying the cabbie an exorbitant amount of money (thank God for Giles's access to those secret Watchers' Council bank accounts) and pushing his way through smoked glass doors.

"Can I help you?" a security guard asks, not threatening, not yet, anyway, but with scorn on his square, meaty face.

Xander thinks the eye-patch should merit more respect.

"You can let Dead Boy know I'm here," he replies, dragging out the old nickname, walking to the elevators. The doors slide open and he gets on.

"And you would be--" the guard says as the doors closed.

"He knows me."

He has no idea where he's going, really, figures Angel must be up on the top floor. Isn't that where executive suites usually are?

The doors open again with a ping and a whoosh, and he steps out, into the steady stream of people walking back and forth, looking important and purposeful.

It reminds him of Sunnydale High, except everyone's in suits. And evil.

Maybe not so different, after all.

He saunters over to the receptionist, a pretty redhead with lacquered lips and nails. "I'm here to see Angel," he says, going for confidence.

"And you are?" Her shiny red lips twist a little; he hasn't quite pulled it off, but he's pissed and grieving and he's not going to be outfaced here.


He whirls, stake slipping out of his sleeve into his hand when he sees the bright blonde of Harmony's hair swaying as she leans toward him, arms extended.

"Is that any way to greet an old friend?" she asks, easily disarming him. "I wasn't going to bite you, just hug you."

"You're an evil bloodsucking fiend who made my life miserable for years. And that was before you got vamped. Why would I want to hug you?"

"Oh, can't we just let bygones be bygones?" she says, twining her arm around his. "I'm Angel's secretary now." She pulls him toward a door and he goes, turning only to smirk at the smug receptionist, who appears to have forgotten his existence in the thirty seconds Harmony's been speaking.

A horrible idea occurs to him. "You don't have a soul now, too?"

"God, no!"

"So you're still evil."

"Technically. Mostly I just steal office supplies, though."

Xander processes this as she drags him down a hallway. In the grand scheme of things, not staking Harmony seems like the least of his problems at the moment.

The double doors at the end of the hall swing open, and Angel stands there, looking the same as ever.

"You could have called," Xander says, voice only shaking a little.

"After Andrew's visit, I didn't think any of you wanted to hear from me."

Xander just stares at him, feeling tears rise in the back of his throat. "I don't care about you, Dead Boy," the old resentment rises to the surface easily, for all that the reasons for it are long gone, "but Cordelia--"

Angel drops his gaze, turns his head to the left, and puts his hands in his pockets. "I loved her too, you know."

Everything's a little blurry now, because he's crying, but he swings hard, and feels a shock of pain as his fist connects with Angel's jaw. Angel's head snaps back, but Xander's more concerned with his stinging knuckles.

He curls his hand against his chest, muttering, "Ow, ow, ow." He can feel the tears rolling down his cheek and he hates them, hates that he couldn't hold them off for just a few more minutes.

Angel pulls him into an awkward embrace for a moment, but he can't do this, can't take comfort here, not from Angel, who didn't know Cordelia before she was Queen C, before she called him a loser and made his life miserable. Not from Angel, who maybe knew how sweet she could be, when she wanted to, and how good she could be, when you needed her, and how her smile could light up the world, when she was happy. Not from Angel, even if he'd loved her, too.

He pulls away, sniffling, wiping his cheeks with the back of his hand.

"'Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle: she died young,'" Angel says, and it rings a distant bell with Xander, but he's too busy trying to stop crying to identify the quote.

"Too young. We all die too young," Xander says, thinking of Anya -- over a thousand years old and just learning to be human again; and Joyce -- not killed by a demon but by her own traitorous body; Jesse, who didn't even make it to graduation; Larry, who didn't make it past graduation; Amanda, who got her Slayer mojo and died anyway... He looks at Angel, who died young as well. He's never made the connection before, and he doesn't want to make it now, but the thought's in his head, and he knows he won't be able to stop thinking it.

Another name to add to the list, which is already too long.

They don't look at each other in the few minutes it takes Xander to get himself back under control.

"I gotta go," he says finally.

"Be careful," Angel replies.

"Always am." He holds out a tentative hand, knuckles aching, and Angel shakes it gingerly.

"Harmony, call Xander a cab."

As he sits outside in the warm sun, waiting for his ride, he pulls the notebook out again, and scribbles "Angel" in the margin.

Angel was human once, just like him.

Willow and Buffy deserve to hear the news in person, and Xander wants to be there to hold them when he tells them. He thinks maybe it's time they all got back together, anyway, because it's too easy to let the time slip by, and then they'll all just be names on a list in a tattered notebook.

As his cab slides into the evening traffic jam, he pulls out his cell phone and calls Giles.

"Another soldier down," he says when Giles answers. "I think you should call everyone home."


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