Starting Over (Again)


AUTHOR: CORDELIA’S DESTINY (aka JULIE)
SUMMARY: Cordelia gets a chance to live some of her life over again in an effort to defeat Jasmine
RATING: R/NC17
POSTED: Sep 2003
CATEGORY: Time Travel / Angst / Adventure / Romance
CONTENT/PAIRING: C/A, small bit of B/A, and C/X friendship
WARNINGS: Sexual Content
FICPIC CREDIT:
AUTHOR NOTES: My first serial fanfic was a story called “Starting Over.” I recently reread it and decided it blew major chunks, so I’ve totally overhauled it. The basic story is kind of there, but its much more involved, less cheesy or melodramatic, and much, much better written. If you read the first version, you’ll hardly recognize this one. I hope.


Prologue

The steady rain pounded against the Hyperion’s courtyard windows, coming in sideways up under the overhang and running off the glass in sheets. The storm was violent, tempestuous; a physical manifestation of the volatile emotions swirling around in Cordelia’s heart and mind. She stared sightlessly through the rain-blurred glass at the dim light of the world outside, the pain in her heart so great that she was unable to do anything except simply exist in the small space her body occupied. She breathed. Her heart beat. She blinked, and swallowed, and moved her muscles, but she was on autopilot, despair a shadow that crept into her mind.

This was her anniversary. One year to the day that she left to meet Angel at the bluffs to tell him she was in love with him. One year to the day that her life went to hell in a hand basket. One year to the day that she’d allowed herself to live up to the airhead reputation she’d fought so hard against. Her life, since then, was a sea of “if only’s”; if only she hadn’t listened to Skip; if only she’d told Angel over the phone instead of waiting until she saw him.

if only. if only. if only.

It was her mantra now. Her motto. A funeral dirge that played on a looped tape forever. Whether it was her fault or not, that fateful day one year ago had set her on a course for total annihilation, and she’d walked into it smiling and unaware. For that mistake she would never forgive herself, and she would pay for it the rest of her existence.

The worst part, as if all of it weren’t horrible enough, was that she remembered every second of her wicked existence. She was there, her soul trapped and controlled by a being much stronger and darker than she’d ever imagined. She’d watched in horror as Jasmine used her body in so many devious ways, so many different forms of torture for her loved ones.

Initially, she’d fought against Jasmine’s influence, trying to find some way to contact Angel or Wesley and let them know what Jasmine had planned, but she wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t until Jasmine seduced Connor that Cordelia began to crack, to crumble beneath the heavy load of guilt. She may not have welcomed that innocent boy into her bed, but she felt every touch, every kiss, every caress, and those traitorous actions sentenced her to a burden of remorse that she’d never thought possible. It was in that moment that Cordelia Chase gave up the fight, her psyche huddling in a small corner of her mind, sobbing as she let Jasmine win. And when the coma came, she welcomed the oblivion.

When she awoke, it was to an antiseptic facility that was run by Wolfram & Hart, and she felt as though she’d stepped into an alternate reality. Angel was running the company that had sought to kill him, no one remembered Connor, and the rest of her little family had splintered off into oblivion. Nothing was right in the world anymore, and all she wanted to do was curl up and die.

But she trudged on. Life became a series of automatic actions. Wake up. Eat. Go to work. Go home. Sleep. Occasionally, she’d get visions. Anything else seemed superfluous. She didn’t talk to Angel except when necessary. Conversations with Wesley were short and stilted. Communication with Lorne, Gunn, and Fred was nonexistent. Life was a series of meaningless events that stretched on and on into eternity.

What she wished for more than anything else was a second chance. An opportunity to fix her mistakes and do it the right way. Tell Angel she loved him before he hated her. Save Connor before he hated his father. Defeat Jasmine before she destroyed their semi-peaceful existence.

But second chances weren’t for girls like her. Second chances were for public service announcements and after school specials. Second chances were only for people who didn’t need them in the first place. And Cordelia Chase had long since outgrown her optimism. She’d come to realize that when life gives you lemons, you suck it up and eat them anyway, no matter how bad they taste. Life rarely gives you the rest of the ingredients in the lemonade recipe, anyway.

As she stood here in the lobby of the abandoned hotel that was once her home and stared at the storm raging outside, she weighed her options.

One: Stay in L.A. and hope that someday, Angel would love her again.

Two: run away and start over some place new.

Three: give up and die.

One would never happen. Three required courage and strength she no longer possessed.

Two was her only remaining option.

Unless, of course, a second chance just happened to be sent her way after all.

***

“She has shown herself to be worthy, brother.”

“Indeed she has. But has her spirit been damaged too greatly? Our chosen one needs a strength of character and patience that this one lacks.”

“She possessed it at one time. Misfortune has hidden it deep within her soul, but she will find it once she is given hope.”

“But is it worth the risk?”

“The evil being was cunning, destroying the balance we strive to maintain. We must compensate for our mistake, and she is our hope.”

“Folding the fabric of time is not to be taken lightly, sister.”

“Indeed, brother. But it must be thus. It is the only way to restore the balance. She is essential to the victory of our Champion. We cannot let her continue on this destructive path.”

“Then it shall be so.”

“So it shall. The past will be restored to the proper balance. As we decree, so shall it be.”
Part 1

Los Angeles to New York. Flight 1374, United Airlines.

It was almost unfathomable that those simple, unassuming little words could hold such a mountain of uncertainty. Cordelia stared down at the airline ticket in her hand, the date, tomorrow’s date, seeming to leap off the page and dance accusingly in her face. Okay, so she hadn’t told anyone she was leaving. But would they really care? Somehow, she imagined that she’d get an absentminded hug from Wesley and at best, a shrug and “Nice knowin’ ya” from Angel. Color her totally unexcited about sharing the news of her move with any of her supposed friends.

Determined not to dwell on it, she set the ticket down on her gleaming mahogany desk and swiveled comfortably in the high-backed leather chair. She looked around at her office in distaste, still squeamish that she’d even accepted so much as a square inch of space in the lion’s den. But Angel had insisted, and she hadn’t had the strength to refuse him. All the more reason to get the hell outta dodge while she still had the nerve.

Leaning back and closing her eyes, she was almost prepared for the vision that suddenly came upon her. Relaxing, she let herself float off the chair, the images flashing before her eyes. She reviewed them clinically, noting pertinent information as if she were dictating a memo for her boss. As she drifted back into her seat, she jotted down what she’d seen and placed a call.

Usually, she left the fighting up to the flunkies or Angel and Wes. This time, though, she wanted to go along. It was her last chance to remember the good times, and it would feel really good to kill something today.

***

“So you said this isn’t a normal slime demon, Cordelia?” Wesley asked anxiously, his weapon poised as they stalked along a particularly nasty section of the sewers.

The whole scene seemed hauntingly surreal. Cordelia, Angel, and Wesley were patrolling the underground tunnels in a way so eerily reminiscent of their first year together that it made her want to cry. The differences were subtle: Angel no longer tried to be funny or join in the conversation; Wesley was no longer over-eager, the boyish innocence he’d had then destroyed by bad decisions and unforgiving friends.

But the biggest difference was that both of them treated her like she had leprosy. They kept their distance both physically and emotionally. At least Wesley put up an effort, and for that she supposed she was thankful. A starving person didn’t scoff at crumbs. But Angel acted like she was a window, looking right through her as if she were a nuisance, a barrier to what chance at happiness he had left.

Her resolve to escape to New York strengthened as she answered Wesley’s question. Her tone was light, totally masking her emotional trauma.

“Yep. The vision didn’t really say how it was different, but I saw a whole bunch of blue goo, and I know that slime demons aren’t usually blue, right?”

“The slime can come in several colors, but blue isn’t one of them,” Angel said, his voice echoing in the corridor as he walked some ten feet ahead of them.

Wesley’s face grew grimmer. “If only we’d had more time to research. . .” he trailed off wistfully.

“Looks like we don’t!” Angel said, raising his sword above his head as a bluish-gray demon came barreling out of an access tunnel directly into his path.

Weapons at the ready, Cordelia and Wesley hung back. The stench was awful; Cordelia wanted to retch. The beast stank of rotten fish and something that smelled suspiciously like wintergreen lifesavers, the resulting combination nauseating like nothing before it. Angel, even with his over-sensitive sense of smell, hacked away like there was no tomorrow. The beast was reduced to nothing but a quivering mass of jelly-like slime within a matter of minutes.

Lowering his sword, Angel stepped back and straightened his coat. Amazingly, he had not one ounce of goo on him.

“Huh.” Wesley’s eyebrows where scrunched up together in the middle of his forehead, a look of confusion on his face. “I thought you envisioned a major battle, Cordy, one with explosions and such.”

She was just as surprised. “I did. There was blue goo everywhere.”

Cautiously, she walked up close to the decapitated monster. Gingerly, she poked at it with her small sword, shuddering as the Windex-colored, jell-o like substance giggled. Shrugging, she turned her back on it and faced the two men.

“Wouldn’t be the first time the Powers sent us a message that was off. Remember that—Ahhhh!!” Cordelia’s scream echoed off the walls as the mass of blue slime behind her suddenly erupted, covering the three fighters in the substance from head to toe. From the remains, a smaller demon emerged, lunging for Cordelia’s unprotected back.

That was just the last damn straw. Her life was hell already; she didn’t need a slime demon to add to her misery. Whirling around violently, her eyes narrowing, Cordelia let the little devil have it.

“I do not” HACK “appreciate” HACK “being covered” HACK “from head to toe” HACK HACK “in your freaky” HACK “nasty” HACK “slime!”

“Um, I think you killed it, Cordy,” Angel understated, noting that the only remains of the demon were bite-sized pieces.

“Well, it deserved it,” Cordelia grumbled. She glared down at the mutilated remains, knowing that her companions wanted an explanation for her outburst.

She wasn’t about to tell them the real reason.

“I haven’t bought anything new in ages, and I decide to buy new clothes, white tennis shoes no less, and I get covered in this icky, goopy crap.” Finally looking up at them, Cordelia glared at Angel as this whole escapade was his fault. “It’s dead. I’m filthy, and I’m going home.”

With that, she stalked off, leaving Wesley and Angel behind. She knew she was being a coward, using the slime as an excuse to postpone her news, but she didn’t care. She felt awful, she smelled awful, and she looked like blue shit. She deserved a break here. A big break.

***

“It won’t. come. OFF!!” Cordelia’s cries of frustration went unheard, except by Dennis, as she furiously tried to remove the sticky substance from her new white tennis shoes. Growling in frustration, she threw the shoes violently back into her sink, one bouncing off the edge and hurtling towards the tiled floor. Frustrated and emotionally fried, she braced both hands on the edges of the sink and hung her head, staring into the goo-spattered basin, her eyes blurring with tears.

Tired of crying, Cordelia sniffled and collected herself, raising her head and catching a glimpse of herself in the bathroom mirror. It only served to highlight her misery. What had she done to deserve this? A life where no one wanted her and she spent her hours wondering how she could’ve prevented it all. Despite her best efforts, her eyes slowly filled with tears, finally spilling over and coursing a track through the blue globs on her face. She let them come, enjoying the hot liquid, the pain itself almost soothing in its intensity.

She only let herself wallow for a moment.

Straightening her back, she sniffed and quickly dried her eyes. Bending over, she grabbed up the shoe on the floor with a jerky motion, suddenly anxious to escape. She swayed a bit as she came back up, dizzy from bending over so quickly, and her knuckles scraped hard on the exposed pipe under her sink, breaking the skin.

“Figures,” she muttered, shaking her head. She scrutinized her bloody knuckles and frowned.

Life down the drain. Check.

Covered in blue slime. Check.

Injuring oneself repeatedly. Check. Check.

“What I wouldn’t give for this day, this year, never to have happened,” she whispered to herself.

Grabbing up her tennis shoes from the sink in preparation to throw them away, her knuckles brushed some of the blue substance that now clung to the side of the basin. Immediately, she felt dizzy, but blinked and shrugged it off. She didn’t notice the air wavering behind her, didn’t notice her surroundings blurring as the dizziness overpowered her and she slumped to the floor, unconscious.

***

“Cordelia.” The male voice seemed to come from far away, as if through a fog. It sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it. All she wanted to do was sleep, anyway, so she ignored it.

“Cordelia!”

This time, the voice was more insistent, almost an annoyed hiss, and was accompanied by a shove on her elbow.

“Go ‘way,” she muttered tiredly, raising her hand up and batting against the air. “I’m sleeping,” she whined.

“Guess what, Folks? Contrary to popular belief, she does have a brain!” The snide comment was accompanied by a rude jerk to her elbow, pulling her arm out from under her head, her forehead slamming on the table. “Wake up, Cordelia! Class is OVER!”

Annoyed, Cordelia groaned and pried her eyes open, only to find herself centimeters away from what looked suspiciously like a school desk. And ewww. There was drool, right under her mouth. Slowly, she raised her pounding head in confusion, totally disoriented, and her eyes nearly popped out of her sockets as she recognized the gangly teen standing in front of her.

“Oh, God! Xander?”

He just glared at her in annoyance. “I think you need to get that air in your head replaced.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What the hell are YOU doing here?”

“Hello? Earth to May Queen. I’m here for the same reason you are. The government-sanctioned form of hideous torture that adults give the catchy name of ‘school,’” he said, looking at her like she was nuts.

“What the hell is going on?” she yelled, glaring at him as if he were responsible for this. One minute, she was in her bathroom in L.A., and the next, she’s in her science classroom at the now destroyed Sunnydale High??

Xander rolled his eyes and threw up his hands in exasperation. “Geez! Try to save a drooling ex-girlfriend from total humiliation, and this is the thanks I get? See if I help you next time, Cor.”

With that, he stalked off, leaving her to an empty classroom. Still totally confused, she looked around, gathered up what she assumed were her belongings and rushed after him.

She had to figure out what the hell had happened to her, and so far, her time-warped ex-boyfriend seemed to have the answers.
Part 2

“Hey, Xander, wait up!” Cordelia called, struggling with two binders, a stack of books, and a purse that was constructed more for ornamentation than easy carrying,. Exacerbating her balance challenge were impossibly high platform shoes. Cute shoes, no doubt, but more in the stilt family than the tennis shoe family. Her ankles wobbled as she walked quickly, the shoes clomping heavily on the floor with each step. Geez, how had she ever managed in high school like this? Suddenly, she longed for the more practical, but still haute footwear she’d begun wearing almost two years ago now. Or was it two years from now? Her head was still spinning.

Come to think of it, when the hell was she?

“Xander!” she shouted, indignant and annoyed now. He was ignoring her on purpose. Being in Ms. Fernandez’s senior science class a few moments ago meant that it had to be somewhere in the second half of her senior year. Post rebar skewage, pre Mayor’s ascension. Her muddled brain frantically searched for the problems of the week during those months as she finally caught up to Xander.

He’d actually slowed down a little bit, not turning around or stopping, but at least waiting for her to catch up.

Xander glanced down at her feet, his eyebrows raised. Shaking his head, he looked back at her face with a condescending smirk. “Nice shoes, Cordy,” he said, obviously meaning the exact opposite.

Cordelia suddenly had the overwhelming urge to stick her tongue out at him. “Shut up, dork,” she shot back. “Where are you going?”

“Going?” he said, again looking at her like she’d lost her marbles. “Where else do we of the Almighty Scooby Clan go after school? Okay, I’ll be nice and give you a hint. It’s this place with lots of books. You know, those things with words and information in them. Oh, wait. Hooked on Phonics didn’twork for you, so maybe you don’t know.”

“Funny, Xander,” she sighed, giving in to his snarky behavior. Obviously she wasn’t going to catch one of Xander’s rare glimpses of maturity this afternoon. “What’s going on at the library? Giles’ got some new demon to kill or something?”

This time, Xander stopped dead in his tracks, now looking concerned. She stopped with him, waiting patiently for him to answer. When he didn’t, she shook her head.

“What?”

“Did you eat that toxic waste that was passing for pasta in the cafeteria today?” He asked suspiciously.

She laughed. There was no way in hell she was going to remember what she ate for lunch some random day five years ago. “Don’t think so, no. Why?”

“You’re acting kinda funny. You know, more brain dead than usual.”

“I know,” she sighed, adjusting the precariously balanced load in her arms. “Been kind of a rough day.”

“Okay, now you’re really starting to scare me. Did you just AGREE with me?”

“I guess. So what?”

“You NEVER agree with me. About anything. Ever. It’s against all laws of man and nature.”

Her impatience was starting to get the better of her. She sighed, and rolled her eyes.

“Okay, fine, Xander. I’ll play. You’re a no-good, hideously dressed loser who’s too dumb to find his own ass.”

He smiled brightly. “That’s much better,” he said, nodding as he resumed his trek through the emptying halls towards the library. “We’re researching the mayor’s ascension. Not that you ever care about world-ending apocalypses. Thought you were obsessed with finding a prom dress that would max out even your daddy’s plastic.”

Xander’s latest rude comment didn’t even register as her brain was numbed with shock. Prom dress. She was working to buy a prom dress.

Shit. She was late for work.

She recovered quickly. “So the prom is soon?”

“Are you SURE you didn’t eat that pasta?”

Cordy growled in exasperation. “Yes, dweeb! Now answer the goddamn question!”

Immediately, her comment echoed back in her mind and it scared her. The snark was manufactured, but it still gave her the chills. It was way, way too easy to slip back into the bitchy persona that had hidden her insecurities in high school.

Xander smirked at her again. “Tsk, tsk. Such a potty mouth, Cordelia. You’d think the reigning social queen would at least have the Prom written on her calendar. It’s, like, Saturday. Duh!” He gave that last phrase a slightly higher pitch and just enough Valley Girl intonation to make it authentic.

Finally, she felt like she had her bearings. The Prom. Hellhounds killing people in formal wear. Although I guess they didn’t know that yet, since Xander didn’t know she worked at April Fool’s instead of just shopping there.

She glanced down at her watch, her brain straining to remember her work schedule from so long ago. What was it? Oh, yeah. She was out of school at 2:30, had to be at work at 4:00. Same schedule the entire time she worked at that pretentious little sweat shop. Plenty of time to snoop around in the library, get herself oriented to this decade again.

“Can I help research anything?” she asked, trying not to sound too eager.

“Uhhh, sure,” Xander said, still wary of her attitude.

Ignoring his skepticism, Cordelia followed Xander into the library, the loud clomp of her shoes against the floor announcing her presence.

“Hey, you lucky people!” Xander flung his arms out to the few occupants of the library. “I come bearing gifts and bad news. Gifts: My own lovely self. Bad News: I brought the Fashion Disaster Clydesdales to help us research.”

Xander must’ve noticed the sounds of her accessories, too. Cordelia socked him once on the upper arm. Hard.

“Oww, Cordelia!” Xander whined, clutching his arm and glaring at her.

“You’re such a big baby, Xander,” Cordelia complained, walking over to the table and sitting down heavily. Glad to be off the torturous footwear, she finally let herself take in the eerily familiar surroundings.

And people. Wow. Oz and Willow. The Twilight Zone was definitely of the now.

“Hi, Willow!” Cordelia said brightly, flashing a genuine smile in the redhead’s direction. She was really glad to see her, having patched up, via telephone and e-mail, much of their high-school drama in the years since Cordelia left Sunnydale.

Immediately, she felt waves of guilt as Willow looked at her suspiciously, the knowledge of her current whereabouts—or more accurately whenabouts—rushing back.

“Um, hi yourself, Cordelia,” Willow murmured, inching closer to Oz as if she were afraid Cordelia was up to something.

Some of the light left Cordelia’s eyes at the telling gesture. It was obvious that the rose-colored lenses of hind-sight had dulled her view of herself in high school. She knew she’d been snarky, thoughtless, and self-centered, but she hadn’t remembered causing anyone to quake in her presence. Especially not any of the Scoobies. But apparently, she’d thwacked a few people a little harder verbally than she’d ever intended. If she was truly being given a second chance to live her life, she had a lot of mistakes to correct.

Her last thought seemed like an epiphany. A second chance? Hadn’t that been what she was wishing for recently? To go back in time and change everything that had made her life a living hell? Whether or not she was supposed to be here, Cordelia suddenly took a big sigh of relief and thanked the Powers for this miracle, inadvertent or not. She was not about to squander this opportunity.

She just hoped it was that, an opportunity, and not another cosmic disaster.

Flashing another genuine smile at Willow, Cordelia picked up a book from the stack in the center of the table. “So what’s on the research agenda tonight? New demons? A dangerous master vampire? New angles on the Mayor’s ascension?”

Now even Oz looked surprised, and that was saying something. The couple looked at Xander, their eyebrows raised in silent query.

Xander just shrugged. “Don’t look at me. She’s been weird like this since 8th period. Fell asleep and drooled all over her desk in class. Doesn’t sound like the recipe for a lobotomy to me, but then again . . .”

This time she kicked him, his shin conveniently within easy reach.

“Geez, Cordy, knock it OFF!” Xander shouted, hopping on one foot. She just smirked at him and glared. With some chagrin, she noticed that her behavior relaxed the shoulders of Oz and Willow. Looked like she was going to have to ease into her more mature persona instead of throwing it in their unsuspecting faces.

“Really. I thought you young people would have learned to control yourselves by now.” A hauntingly familiar, uptight British voice came from behind her, and Cordelia froze. It was Wesley.

Trying not to look too freaked out, Cordelia casually turned around and clenched her jaw to keep it from dropping. Her breath hitched and she laughed once, really loud, then tried to cover it up with a cough. It didn’t fool anybody; everyone just looked at her, once again, like her brain was on vacation. She smiled widely, her eyes twinkling, and turned back to Wesley.

Her eyes hungrily drank in his form. Every crease of his somber gray suit was precise, every sandy hair in place. Gold-rimmed glasses were sparkling clean, his face freshly scrubbed. His bearing was stiff, stereotypically British, his hands clasped in front of him. Change his dour suit to a somber uniform and you’d have the epitome of Hollywood’s version of an English butler.

He was so incredibly different; this was definitely not her Wesley.

The Wesley she had seen just hours before in the sewers of L.A. had been through so many character changing events in the last couple of years that he’d almost become a completely different person. This Wesley had yet to experience any of that, and what she was witnessing was the purity of his youth and innocence. He might have been an adult, age-wise, but the events he would face would change and mature him in ways he couldn’t now imagine.

So many things had contributed to his personality overhaul. There was the entire Faith incident here in Sunnydale, which, if her memory served, was just about to royally bite him in the ass. Then there were the rogue demon hunter days, the awkward transition to becoming a part of the agency. The Vocah demon’s attack also greatly influenced him, and then Angel’s entire beige period toughened up his skin even that much more.

But it was the false prophecy and Connor’s abduction that really tore his soul in two. The Wesley she knew, the one from 2003, was a spirit with a million tiny cracks in it, as if his essence had been smashed to smithereens by life’s cruelty and then painstakingly glued back together. He was fractured, disoriented, hardened. A man who’d been beaten excessively by life and showed the minutiae of extra wear and tear.

All of a sudden, she caught herself staring at him and was shocked to recognize the look he was projecting back to her. Shy eyes tinged with just a bit of lustful worship gazed solidly into hers.

Oh, god. She’d forgotten all about that. Inwardly she cringed. She knew that this time was important in establishing the basis of their friendship, but the idea of reliving some of it was not exactly appealing.

She’d flirted shamelessly with Wesley the last few months of her senior year, totally turned on by his propriety and debonair manners. She’d looked at him and seen nothing but the three pillars of existence she’d been force-fed from birth. Every Chase woman worth her salt knew that one’s priorities in life must be in line as follows: 1) Money. 2) Appearance. 3) Connections. Any priorities beyond that were mere frills. To Cordelia Chase’s young, impressionable mind, Wesley Wyndam-Price had spelled exactly that.

But her mother had never addressed how to compensate when the guy kissed like a fish. Can we say “Ewww?” Okay, so the man oozed sweet, sensual, lazy charm, but apparently, no one had bothered to teach him how to properly suck face. And that, in Cordelia’s mind, had surpassed everything.

And now, she had to go through all that again. Sighing, Cordelia smiled at him and turned away.

Wesley didn’t let her off so easily. “Ahem, um, Ms. Chase? Cordelia?” he asked tentatively.

She turned back to him, a smile still curving her lips but her eyes were less enthusiastic. “What is it, Wesley?”

“I wondered if I might have a word with you.” He glanced nervously around the rest of the room. “In private, if I might.”

“Ahhh. . .” She didn’t remember this, and it was throwing her off. But then again, the first time around, she’d probably gone straight to work from school, never setting foot in the library. Shaking herself out of the frantic mental scrambling, she addressed his anxious question. “Sure, Wesley. No problem.”

Taking her elbow, he guided her up the stairs and between the stacks. Nervously, he reached up and stuck his index finger into his collar, loosening it slightly. Cordelia tried valiantly to keep the giggles suppressed. It was beyond difficult.

“Cordelia,” he began formally, his hands now clasped in front of him, his back ramrod straight. “Yesterday we were discussing the Prom, if you’ll remember?”

“Uh, sure. I remember,” she lied, grinning at him.

“Yes. Well, I indicated that I would be attending as a chaperone, but I had hoped that my duties in that capacity would not prevent me from enjoying the evening’s festivities.”

She took a moment to translate his words. It had always amazed her that Wesley used 75% more words per sentence than any other person she’d ever met.

“I’m sure they’ll let you have fun,” she said, still not sure where he was going with this.

“Well, I was wondering if you might . . . if it wouldn’t be too much trouble . . . if you might be interested in . . . a, um, a dance? With me?”

A huge smile broke out on her face at his question. He was so cute! Still so shy and unsure of himself. “Of course, Wesley. That would be fun.”

Relief immediately saturated his features, his shoulders sagging as if Cordelia had just agreed to marry him or donate her kidney to save his life. Obviously, this had been difficult for him.

She reached out and touched his arm. “Thanks for asking me, Wesley. I’ve gotta go, though. I”ll see you, okay?”

He nodded, his smile just a touch more worshipful, if that was possible.

“Very well, Cordelia. I shall see you later.”

Flashing another grin, she turned on her heel and skipped back down the steps, breezing toward the library doors.

“Bye, guys!” she threw back, her cheerfulness uncontained.

The small ensemble just stared at the doors as they swung shut once again.

“That was definitely of the weird,” Willow said after a moment.

Oz just nodded in agreement. Xander was silent, too, having said everything he could think of already. He reflected on what must’ve been the latest evidence of the Hellmouth’s effect on Sunnydale’s populace. Nothing short of the supernatural could explain a nice Cordelia Chase.

Wesley just stared reverently at the closed doors, a dreamy look on his face.

***

Managers in retail deserved their own special torture chamber in hell. Cordelia glared at Mrs. Finkle, her boss at April Fools, and desperately wished for laser vision so that she could put some oomph in her hatred. That woman deserved whatever nastiness the came her way. Reluctantly, she turned back to the mind-numbing task of straightening the formalwear on the racks.

A sparkle not two feet away caught her eye, and she smiled faintly as she recognized what would become her prom dress. Picking it up, she held the dress up to the light, walking across the room so she could look like she was doing something with it, not just dreaming about buying it. She’d forgotten how pretty it was. Spaghetti strapped, v-necked, floor length, straight skirt with a slit up the side. Dark gray with a sparkle, something that showcased her beauty rather than competed with it.

Crossing over to the mirror, she held it up in front of her, lovingly fingering the supple fabric. She had just barely remembered the feel of wearing the beautiful garment when a snippy voice appeared behind her once again.

“Okay, how long does it take you to buy a damn dress?”

She sighed in exasperation. Xander. She’d forgotten this little scene. The one where he finds out she works at the store and has no money. Might as well play it like she remembered.

“Xander!” she sounded surprised, trying to remember her lines. “I’m considering things a little more carefully these days. Don’t want to get stuck with another dud.”

Her double meaning wasn’t lost on her ex-boyfriend, and he lashed back, completely in character.

“Well, this should work for ya!” he taunted, pointing at the dress. “It positively screams ‘nympho’.”

Suddenly, her nosy co-worker Rhonda was at her side, butting in, as usual. She’d forgotten how annoying that girl was. Ms. Goody Two Shoes. Even worse than Buffy, if that were possible.

“Is this a customer, or a friend?” Rhonda asked, giving Xander the once over.

“Neither. Just stopped by for my daily helping of bile,” Xander quipped badly.

Rhonda acted as if he hadn’t spoken. “So you’d better get back to work and quit goofing,” she told Cordelia. “Mrs. Finkle so has it in for you.”

With a frown, Cordelia chanced a look over at her dictatorial boss. Sure enough, the woman’s evil eye was turned in her direction.

Xander finally put two and two together. “You work here?” he asked in disbelief.

“Yes,” Cordelia said, the pain of that moment coming back in full force. Boy, it wasn’t too hard to play this a second time. All those emotions were still so fresh. “Yes, I work here.”

Still confused, Xander gaped at her. “But uh, why?” he asked lamely.

She hung the dress back onto the rack and turned to face him, a condescending look firmly in place.

“I’m trying to buy a dress,” she said, turning away again.

“But don’t you already have all the dresses?”

Whirling around, she shot daggers at him with her eyes. “I have nothing, okay? No dresses, no cell phone, no car. Everything’s gone because Daddy made a little mistake on his taxes for the last twelve years. I’m broke, okay? Are you satisfied?”

She walked past him, then turned back around to face him. “I can’t go to any of the colleges that accepted me, and I can’t even go home, because we don’t have one.”

At his stunned look, she continued. “Are you happy? Now you can go back and tell all your little friends how Cordy lost everything and has to work like everybody else. And how she has to wear a name tag.” She flashed the tag under her jacket. “Oh, yeah. I’m Name Tag Girl. That just gives it a little extra punch.”

In time with her words, a huge crash sounded behind her, a hellhound breaking through the front window. Cordelia sighed. Here they go again. Monsters at the prom. Oh, lovely joy. Well, she wasn’t going to sit back and watch this gore-fest twice.
Part 3

Cordelia scrutinized herself carefully once more in the mirror, patting the sparkly fabric of her dress and smoothing it over her curves. Her long hair was bound up on top of her head, feeling unbelievably heavy. She’d forgotten how it gave her a headache so easily to have it pinned up like this. But still, every time she ran her fingers through it, she smiled. She never should’ve cut it in the first place.

Behind her, Harmony was talking a mile a minute, totally freaking out about some guy she’d sunk her hooks into recently who was unfortunate enough to be her Prom date. Cordelia had remembered after work that she’d been staying with Harmony around this time, having said that her parents were on vacation and she just couldn’t bear to stay at home by herself. In truth, she just needed some time to find a hotel or an apartment. She knew she hadn’t found anything yet, but at least she had Harmony’s place for now. It was its own form of hell, but still, it was a roof over her head.

“Ready to go, Cor?” Harmony said, pushing Cordelia aside to take one last check at her full-length reflection. Her eyes caught Cordy’s in the mirror. “I can’t believe you’re going without a date.” Her tone was unmistakably condescending.

“I told you already, Harmony,” Cordelia shot back, her voice icy. “Wesley can’t go as my date, or he’ll be fired. We have to be low profile.”

“Uh-huh.” It was obvious that her friend was less than convinced.

Frankly, Cordelia didn’t care, but she couldn’t resist goading the girl. “You’re date’s not even picking you up, Harm, so what are you dogging me for?”

Glaring at Cordelia, Harmony snatched up her purse and headed for the door. In a haughty voice, she flung her answer back to Cordelia with her head held high. “Jeremy has a very full calendar. He’s busy at his firm this afternoon, billing $200 an hour. I wouldn’t want to take him away from something so important any earlier than necessary.”

Following her friend out to the limo, Cordelia once again became preoccupied with recent events. After the hellhound had attacked that kid at work, she’d gone back to the library with Xander to show Giles and Wesley the tape. It had been hard not to just blurt it all out, what with her knowing exactly what was going on, but she managed to keep her mouth shut. What had really worried her, though, was seeing Buffy again. She’d actually been afraid that Buffy would see through her, that her slayerness would pick up vibes about Cordelia that would give her away.

She needn’t have worried about it.

Buffy was obviously in serious depression mode. Like being hit by a Mack truck, the entire story from this week all came back. This was the time when Angel finally broke up with Buffy and announced his intention to leave Sunnydale. She felt as guilty as sin, but Cordelia couldn’t help a broad grin at the “sad” news. Oh, she knew she’d have to see their angst-filled dances at the Prom, and the tension-laced week of Graduation, but at least they weren’t officially together anymore. Cordelia wasn’t sure she could stand by idly and watch Buffy fawn all over Angel. There was a very real possibility that Cordelia might just have to claw Buffy’s throat out if she put so much as a hand on her Angel.

This afternoon while researching the hellhound fiasco, Buffy had sat in the library the entire time, curled up on the stairs, her nose buried in a book. She’d speak when spoken to, but only in monosyllables and not much more. Everyone tiptoed past her, wary of starting a conversation that might turn volatile.

The guilt in Cordelia’s heart increased when she realized she was taking some joy out of Buffy’s misery. It was true that she’d always been jealous of Angel’s love for the Slayer, but she thought she’d put most of this cattiness behind her. Apparently not.

Well, it was just something she was going to have to deal with. Unless she came in contact with another blue jelly-filled demon soon, she wasn’t planning to go anywhere. She still had no idea how or why she was reliving her past, but she wasn’t going to look her gift horse in the mouth.

***

It must be an unwritten law that low-rent apartments have to stink like week-old Thai food, leak like a relic submarine, and have lascivious, pot-bellied landlords. Cordelia grimaced in distaste at the fifth one she’d seen this week, the ironically named Paradise Garden Apartments. The ad in the supermarket circular had boasted a pool, weight room, and a fireplace in every apartment. The pool had been drained of all but three feet, the remaining water murky and covered with an inch-thick layer of algae that looked suspiciously like Astroturf. The weight room was nothing more than a very rickety treadmill and an incomplete set of weights, and the much-touted fireplaces were little more than sooty holes in the wall. On top of all that, the carpet in the show unit was badly stained, the ceilings were low, and the motif was mid-seventies modern. Somehow she didn’t think what little furniture she had would go with avocado green and tangerine orange.

Hurrying back out to her borrowed car, Cordy buckled herself in and groaned, resting her head on the steering wheel. This place had been her last hope. It was better than the rest she’d seen, certainly, but the next choice was three hundred more a month, and it would have been stretching it to even pay for this one. It didn’t help that she knew she’d be leaving Sunnydale in a matter of weeks, but she couldn’t stay with Harmony for that long. Her parents’ “vacation” was supposed to be over on Monday, and Harmony would demand an explanation if Cordelia wanted to stay for longer. Not to mention that Harmony was the worst roommate anyone could ever imagine.

Her first time around, Cordelia had stayed in a run-down motel off the old highway, one of those places that rents by the month, or, if you want, by the hour. It had given her such the creepy crawlies that she swore up and down that she’d never live in a place like that again. Her first apartment in L.A., even as bad as it was, had been at least two stars above the Golden Crown Inn of Sunnydale. Cordelia absolutely refused to go back to that hovel. There had to be another answer.

Suddenly she gasped, then hit her forehead with the heel of her hand. Here she was, trying to do things just like she had the first time, and she didn’thave to do it that way. She could just go to L.A. on Monday, and it probably wouldn’t make any difference. Who says she had to wait a few weeks?

Turning on the engine, Cordelia pulled away and began driving slowly toward the school, knowing that somebody would be there working on preparations for Graduation tomorrow. She’d only been here for a week, but it seemed like time had really flown.

The Prom had been surreal. She’d danced with a very nervous Wesley, thanked Xander for buying her Prom dress, and watched Buffy get the “Class Protector” award. She’d also seen Angel come in and stare with broody dark eyes at Buffy, gathering her into his arms as they drowned together in their own pool of despair. She’d watched them with tears in her eyes, not for what they were losing, but for how much time she had to wait before she could expect to be in his arms like that. It was way, way too far away for her. The closest event, if she didn’t change history, was the kiss she’d given him after Doyle died. And that was at least eight months away.

Even now, her stomach fluttered with a million butterflies as she thought about talking to him again. Keeping her distance from him at the Prom had been hard enough. All she’d wanted to do was run up to him and throw her arms around him, kiss him until she gasped for air and beg him to make love to her for the rest of her life. But of course, she hadn’t. Not with Buffy there.

Suddenly, the weight of spending the next two years waiting to approach him romantically had her stomach tied up in anxious knots.

Shaking off the sad memories that had cloaked her since the prom, Cordelia turned her mind to her destination. She pulled into the school parking lot and walked purposefully toward the library, certain that she was about to do some good this time. After all, she knew exactly what was going to happen. Maybe she could drop a few subtle hints and speed the process along.

For all her sudden confidence, nothing prepared her for the sight that was waiting for her in the library. She pushed through the swinging doors, coming in on the middle of a conversation between Buffy, Giles, and Wesley. Angel was sitting in a chair next to Buffy, grimacing. Cordelia scrunched her brow in confusion, trying to remember what the hell was going on.

Damn, she was going to make sure she took some of that ginko biloba stuff now. Her memory sucked.

She melted into the shadows and listened in.

“A demon?” Angel was asking, his expression worried. Buffy knelt in front of him on the floor, looking back at Giles and Wesley as they thought about Angel’s question.

“Well, yes,” Giles said, removing his handkerchief from his pocket in preparation for cleaning his glasses. “That would definitely be something the mayor would want to keep a secret. If it’s the same kind of demon that he’s turning into and it’s dead, well, it means he’s only impervious to harm until the ascension.” The glasses came off and he began scrubbing the lenses absentmindedly.

Cordelia wondered vaguely if it helped him think. He was always doing that.

“In his demon form, he can be killed,” Giles continued, looking excited that they’d finally found some useful information.

“Great!” Buffy said, rising from the floor and reaching for Angel. “So all I need is a hundred tons of burning lava. We’re saved.” Her sarcasm was thick.

“Well, it’s a start,” Angel added.

Buffy grasped Angel’s elbow and helped pull him to his feet. Again, Cordelia was puzzled. Why would Angel ever need help from Buffy like that? He usually heals so quickly. And when did he get injured now?

It hit her like a ton of bricks.

The poison. Faith shot him with a poisoned arrow.

Cordelia’s eyes widened and she choked back a gasp as she watched Angel wobble as he stood.

“Okay, you have been a real klutz today,” Buffy said, holding him steady. “You need to—”

She cut off mid-sentence as Angel grimaced, then swayed as an astonished look came over his face.

“Damn,” he said breathlessly, then looking down at his shirt-covered wound. A moment later, he toppled to the floor.

It was all Cordelia could do to keep from rushing frantically to his side.


…TO BE CONTINUED…

THIS FIC APPEARS TO BE UNFINISHED


 

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