Chapter 1: Prologue
If everybody had just listened to Harmony, everything would have been far easier, but what else was new? Naturally, Angel didn't. When he told her that Cordelia was dead, that she never woke up, that what they had seen and talked to for an entire day had been some bizarre kind of ghost, Harmony was really considerate. By all rights, Angel should have been consoling her. She was Cordelia's oldest friend here, after all. Cordy had been her idol. She and Cordelia had tried out new diets and scared the hell out of all the losers at Sunnydale High when Angel had still been chasing rats somewhere and Wesley had been learning useless stuff at some Watcher Academy. She didn't even know what Fred and Gunn had been doing then, and didn't care, either. The point was that she had real grief, and nobody even thought of that. No, Angel was in his full broodathon mood which meant he expected everyone to act all consoling and considerate towards him, which just showed you how selfish he was. Still, Harmony did her best. She limited herself to a single becoming tear and even delayed asking whether this meant all of Cordelia's clothes that were still stored somewhere would be hers. Well, they certainly wouldn't fit Fred, would they?
Instead, she did her job and pointed out to Angel that Wolfram and Hart had several funeral homes among their clients – well, naturally – and some weren't even necromancers. They could give Cordy the kind of funeral Paris Hilton would die to get, though if you looked at Paris, it might already have happened. Was Angel grateful? He was not. Instead, he glared at her and pronounced that Cordelia would never, ever, be buried by anyone even remotely connected to Wolfram and Hart. Harmony knew at once what that meant. Horrible work in her time of grief. For she would have to go through all the relevant files to check out which funeral homes had never worked with Wolfram and Hart. Angel was such a selfish bastard sometimes.
Several hours later, she had succeeded in unearthing some dreary firm that had somehow managed to be so insignificant, so totally loser-ville, that Wolfram and Hart with its generous supply of corpses had never considered sending some of those its way.
"Fisher & Diaz," Harmony said. "Formerly Fisher & Sons. I guess they ran out of sons, or something."
Angel said they would do, and was about to do his dramatic swirling coat exit when Harmony, remembering he signed her paycheck which he couldn't as a pile of dust, pointed out to him that no Wolfram and Hart connection meant no necroglass in daytime, and no visits in the middle of the night, which it now was. Someone would have to go in the morning; Fred, Wesley or Gunn, but certainly not Lorne. They probably didn't have a clue about empathy demons, either.
Harmony didn't envy them, though she thought it would be fitting. Gunn had improved since his upgrade, but Fred and Wesley were so utterly lacking in style that those losers at the funeral home wouldn't even clue in about how much money they could make off this gig.
Then she thought again about how Cordelia would have hated being buried looking less than her best, and for some reason burst into tears. Not good tears, the kind that looked cute and made guys raise a fuss about you. Ugly ones that left her eyes swollen. Angel didn't make a fuss, either. Instead, he gave her a hankerchief. Which just went to show, once again, how cheap he was.
The least he could have done to console her would have been to promise a salary raise.
Chapter 2: Meet the Bereaved
II. Meet the Bereaved
There had been a time, Nate Fisher knew, when he had excelled at this kind of thing. Talking to grieving people, providing them with a shoulder to cry on, sometimes literally. These days, he mostly looked in their smug, plastic faces and wanted to slap them. He had never intended to return to this. He wouldn't have if his sister Claire hadn't point-blank blackmailed him by pointing out that David needed him.
Unfortunately, David needing him didn't translate into getting David to finally open up about what had happened to David earlier this year, no, it translated into standing around with Rico in the funeral parlour, having to listen to Rico's tales of woe about his marriage troubles and into somehow being the one who ended up giving the new arrivals the guided tour to the coffin models and questioning them about the deceased. There was something about the Texas twang of the woman he found extremely irritating. Or perhaps it was her big, brown eyes and long brown hair. He listened to her babble about some ballet she had visited with her friend Cordelia and how Cordelia had shown her how to get good dresses for this and wondered whether she was a veggie, and whether she believed in reincarnation.
Well, after having seen his late wife in a dog, this probably qualified as progress.
The man who had come with her was English, or at least pretended to be. Nate could have told him to stop bothering. Nobody in Los Angeles was impressed by accents anymore; they were cheaper than a dime a dozen here. When Nate asked about the religious affiliation of the dead girl, he cleared his throat and said:
"I'm not sure. It has not - for some reason, it never came up."
"We offer services without any particular clergy present as well," Nate said, ignoring the old, buried instinct that told him to go for a kinder response and to give the guy an opportunity to talk about his dead friend. It wasn't as if it would do any good. To pretend any of this could help anyone get over the reality of death was the worst kind of hypocrisy, he knew that now.
"Well, Angel is Catholic," the Texas girl said anxiously. "At least, he used to be, right? I mean, can't we pick…"
"He had a fondness for convents," the wannabe Brit said. "It is hardly the same thing." Then he sighed, and in a gesture that looked as if he wanted to take non-existent glasses off to rub them, raised his hand to the level of his eyes, only to let it sink again. "I'm sorry, Fred," he said in a soft voice. "I still haven't… it was so sudden."
"If you really want a Catholic service," Rico, who up to this point had mostly been staring silently into space, undoubtedly pondering whatever went on between him and Vanessa, interjected, "I can recommend Father Geraldo."
"I just think that Cordy would want - well, some opulence, you know?" Fred said miserably. "And Catholics… it was just an idea."
"Maybe you'd like to decide on a model for the coffin first," Nate said in an effort to get on with the programme. Maybe that was the secret. Just get on with the programme. He hadn't been able to, back when he still cared about the people coming to them. They stood in front of the samples, and he remembered how excited David had been when they had bought this addition. Then he wondered whether he'd ever see David happy about something again, and the pang was unexpectedly sharp. To hell with this, Nate thought. What he should do was leave those two to Rico, go downstairs, and get David drunk, drunk enough to finally talk about the carjacking and whatever else had happened then.
"This one," said the man whose name had sounded as fake and overdone as his accent, for too British to be real, so Nate had promptly forgotten it. He pointed at the Eternal Night 2B model, and sounded so utterly sure and decisive that Nate was impressed, against his will. Normally, customers needed at least two or three attempts before they made up their minds, especially if they didn't come alone. Fred didn't argue, either, she just looked at the smooth ebony and nodded. Great. This meant Nate couldn't leave after all. They had just picked the most expensive model, and if he just dumped them on Rico, they might change their minds. David wouldn't like that at all. And they could use the money.
He checked the model on his sheet and guided them back to the sofa. The girl whispered:
"How did you…"
"You learn how to choose coffins as a Watcher," her companion replied, and Rico, who had heard him, too, gave Nate a look as if he wanted to make a remark about how they had ended up with a crazy cultist again. Nate shrugged.
Once everyone had sat down again, he said: "We will of course deal with the announcements and invitations to the service, if you provide us with a guest list."
"Harmony made one," Fred said, and pulled a neat computer print out from her purse, handing it over. Nate forbade himself to remember that Lisa had flirted with the idea of calling herself Harmony for a brief while when he had first met her in Seattle. He wasn't very successful.
"We also need your authorisation so the hospital in question will release the body to us," he said, jaw clenched, and presented the necessary document. This time, both Fred and the pseudo Brit looked at each other, unsure.
"Maybe Angel should…" the girl began, then bit her lip, took the document and signed it herself. Rico asked whether they had decided on the nature of the service as well, and repeated his recommendation of Father Geraldo. They gave in.
"But it should take place after sunset," Fred said, and Nate was surprised enough to let his face show it.
"Our employer and some of Cordelia's friends are somewhat allergic to light," Mr. Fake Double-Name said, apologetically. Rico gave Nate another look that clearly said "cultists". But he remembered burying what was left of Lisa in the desert, all through the night, and nodded.
After setting a date and taking them to the door, he returned and found Rico studying the list.
"Hey," Rico said. "These people know David Nabbit. That explains everything. Half of them will come to the funeral in Dungeons and Dragons outfits, wanna bet?"
The only thing Nate knew about David Nabbit was that the guy had invented the cell phone or something, but he remembered the last geekish funeral they had all too clearly, and hoped Ms. Chase would not come complete with a first edition comics as well.
"We should get those invitations posted right away," Rico continued, peering at the list. "Some of these guys live in Europe, and one in Africa. And one has to be a porn star."
Against his will, Nate took a closer look, but couldn't find any name he recognized.
"I mean, why else would anyone be called Buffy?"
Chapter 3: Notifications
Fred blamed herself for not thinking about it right away. She should have. Everyone else had some sort of hang-up about their parents, and after meeting Wesley's father, in a manner of speaking, she understood this somewhat better, but Fred was on the phone with her folks in Texas on a regular basis, and she should have thought about Cordelia's parents. As it was, the idea struck her in the middle of going through Cordelia's clothes for something Cordelia could wear for the funeral. The tiny Hispanic funeral director had pointed out to her this was necessary, which was another thing she was embarassed about not thinking of first. .
"Oh God," she said to Lorne, who had gone with her to the Hyperion where Cordelia's things were still kept in boxes and cupboards. "We can't - someone has to tell Cordy's parents in person. Do you know where they live?"
"Fredikins," Lorne replied, "I don't have the slightest idea. Besides. The fact that they didn't visit during all her months in a coma seems to hint at a certain lack of interest, wouldn't you say? Or it could be worse. Her mother could be like my own dear parent and be preparing a dance of celebration right now."
"You don't mean that," Fred said in Pylean, though she knew he did. Still, not telling Cordy's parents seemed wrong on every level.
Lorne sighed and said, pointedly using English: "Pretty in Pink might know. Didn't she put them on the list anyway?"
"I haven't looked at the list," Fred said, feeling worse by the minute. "I couldn't. It - it made it so real, you know? All that time Cordy was in a coma, I knew she'd wake up again. I just knew it. It wasn't right, her lying so still and all. Not her. And then she woke up, and then she didn't, and now she never will…"
Lorne put his hand on her shoulder.
"I'll find something for her to wear," he said quietly. "Go back to the belly of the beast and ask Harmony."
"Are you sure?"
"As if I would let anyone else dress our Princess for the last time," Lorne said. "Hush."
Fred could have taken a taxi or called a limousine, but she decided to walk back to the Wolfram and Hart building, trying to figure out what to say to Cordelia's parents if Harmony did indeed have their address or at least their telephone number. Then she remembered the last time she had seen Cordelia before the visits to the hospital began. They had cut her skin to use her blood against Jasmine, and it had cured Lorne, Wesley and Gunn, just as Fred had surmised it would, but the memory of the smell of scented candles everywhere and Cordelia's blood dripping still made her feel sick. There had been something else there, someone, but as soon as the idea came it left her again. It was one of the dark areas her mind shied away from on instinct.
She should have figured out a method to wake up Cordelia. That was what she should have been working on all this time. Why was it that she had found a way to materialize a ghost because she had felt sorry for Spike, who had been little more than a stranger, but couldn't find a way to help one of her dearest friends?
The rational part in her pointed out to Fred she was neither a doctor nor a magician, but Fred didn't feel very rational right now.
When she arrived at Wolfram and Hart, Harmony was busy drawing unicorns on the sheet in front of her, so Fred figured she'd have the time for a chat.
"Cordy's parents?" Harmony said. "Sure they're on the list. It wasn't easy to find them, because her father totally went underground after getting out of jail."
"Cordelia's father was in jail?"
Harmony sniffed. "Yeah, and she always acted so secretive about it. Big deal. Like, my father got banned from his golf club, too, when they thought he cheated. He almost wouldn't let me have my car after that, you know? Anyway, I tracked them down. Don't worry, those Fisher guys will deal with them. That's what Angel is paying them for, right?"
"I don't think we should let Cordelia's parents know from strangers," Fred said.
"You never met them," Harmony said matter of factly. "Like, Mrs. Chase never stops talking. And some of us have work to do, you know? But if you want to, call them. Hey, you could call Buffy and the others as well."
"You put Buffy on that list?" Angel's voice interrupted. He was standing in the entrance of his office, staring at Harmony in disbelief. She nodded eagerly.
"Every arch nemesis Cordy ever had," she said proudly. "Even stupid Xander Harris. He completely ruined her life and brainwashed her, you know? He was, like, the Angelus to her Drusilla. But she would want all her enemies to be there and see how she's drop dead gorgeous for the rest of eternity while they start with the beer bellies and the withered boobs and all. I got all the addresses from Tucker's loser brother when he was here the other week."
Fred had seen that look on Angel's face when Spike first showed up via mail. It made her mentally prepare to stop him from staking Harmony. But as soon as it came, it was gone and his face was blank again.
"Angel…" she began.
"I'll go to the funeral home and sort this out," he said. "It's dark now, so that shouldn't be a problem."
"About Cordelia's parents…"
Angel hesitated. Then he said: "Call them."
"You don't want to?"
"Believe me, Fred," Angel said, and there was something in his voice she couldn't identify, "I'm the very last person to tell anyone about the death of their child."
Chapter 4: The Deceased
IV. The Deceased
When Rico brought the body, David Fisher knew he could handle this one on his own. Rico was an umatched artist in reconstructing battered faces, true, but Cordelia Chase, 24, had died in a coma. There wasn't even a wound anywhere. Besides, he was only too aware he had dumped a good deal of the business on Rico and Nate; contributing what he still could made him feel slightly less guilty about it.
A non-violent death. David found the idea soothing until he remembered the woman who had died in the middle of a happy anniversary with her husband. The woman whose body he had dumped somewhere on the road while a madman held him at gunpoint. Of all the violations of that day, this one somehow had felt the worst. There was little David took more seriously about being a funeral director than being entrusted with the dead. Treating them with respect, doing what he could to give them dignity, no matter how they died. He still felt he had failed that woman unforgivably.
"You'd better not dump me in the garbage, Mister," said the newest arrival at Fisher & Diaz, whose still, nude body was lying in front of him. "I'm Cordelia Chase. And while we're at it, can you do something about my hair? It's had a horrible time these last years, but I want to be buried as a brunette without curls, thank you very much."
"You will," David assured her, putting all the instruments and fluids he'd need on the table next to him, and the young woman squinted.
"Wow," she said. "Detached much? Aren't you even a little freaked out that a ghost is talking to you?"
"They do on a regular basis," David said matter of factly. "Of course, this is all a fantasy I started to have in order to cope with the loss of my father several years ago. Or maybe it is some kind of projection of my inner issues. I don't know, and I don't care. They're my fantasies. I didn't even tell the therapist Keith and I were going to last year about them."
The Cordelia Chase his imagination had produced was dressed in designer jeans and a t-shirt that showed off her figure. This unfortunately reminded him of Keith and Celeste. He had assumed things would be better once Keith returned; that the panic attacks and the endless hollowness would cease. Instead, hearing that Keith had decided on a one night stand with a woman had added a new kind of panic to the multitude. David tried not to stare at the dead woman's cleavage, but he couldn't help it. She wasn't the thin, anorexic type so common in Los Angeles. He could imagine Keith wanting a woman like that, if Keith decided to try more of the straight life, that was. If Keith decided he'd had enough of David and his neediness and his inability to get over what had happened.
"I'm not your fantasy," the late Cordelia Chase said crossly. "It's so weird, talking to an outsider after all this time. I'm a ghost, okay? And anyway, aren't you gay? You are, right? Even though you're staring at my breasts, and sure, they're great, but hey, enough already, okay?"
David blushed. It was an annoying habit he had not been able to get rid of. Keith used to find it endearing, but these days, there wasn't much left to blush about. He focused on the dead body in front of him instead of the imaginary one pacing through his place of work and was relieved to have some professionalism kick in. Examining it, he found matching scars on her back and stomach.
"I fell on a rebar that one time," she informed him. "After watching my boyfriend maul his best friend. Can't tell you which sucked worse."
"Do you want me to cover it up?" David asked politely, trying not to imagine watching boyfriends kissing their pals.
"No," she said. "No point. I'll be wearing clothes anyway, right?"
He also saw stretch marks on her stomach, and looked at the sheet with the personal details Rico had handed him again. Confused, he said:
"There is nothing about a child here. But you were pregnant."
"Twice," she said, sounding somewhat brittle for the first time. "I'm a real ad for why safer sex is a good, good thing, buddy."
Lifting her right arm, he saw a scar on her wrist. The tissue was well-healed; it wasn't a recent one. Still, he wondered whether she had tried to kill herself at some point.
"You didn't want children?" David asked, unsure. "I always did. Keith and I were thinking about adopting one before… well, before."
"Wanting them wasn't the point," Cordelia replied, looking at the embalming fluids and wrinkling her nose. "Nobody asked me. I thought getting tortured with visions was bad, but you know what? Getting hijacked by some freak on a power trip is worse."
At that, David stopped his preliminary examination and stared at her.
"Yes," he said. She clicked her tongue.
"And you know the thing that would make me throw up if I still had, like, a body? At some moments, I enjoyed it. Not most of the time, most of the time I was furious and scared and helpless, and I hated every second, but sometimes I went in the other direction because it was so bad, and I got off."
Professional to the last, he made it to the sink in time to throw up. Afterwards, he stared at the flowing water and imagined being cleaned away right with the puke.
"David," said Nate's voice from the stairs, and David turned around. Nate had shouldered Maya, and they both looked down at him. So far, David had seen Maya as resembling Lisa more than her father, but right now, her expression was entirely Nate's. She was a Fisher, God help her.
"I'm fine," he said, mustering his smile for clients he didn't talk to anymore.
"That's bullshit, David," Nate said angrily. At that moment, the bell rang. Normally, David avoided going to the door, but right now, he would have done anything to get out of a conversation he didn't want to have, so he pulled his coat off while walking and went upstairs. When he passed Nate, Maya stretched out an arm, and he could feel her tiny fingers briefly touching his shoulder. It made him speed up his steps.
"David, you're…" Nate began, following him, but David, ignoring him, opened the door. It probably was one of Claire's friends, though they all seemed to have a key these days. In any case, it was someone who couldn't ask him for anything important.
The man standing outside actually made him blink. It wasn't so much that he was tall, dark and handsome, or even that he wore a leather coat and looked suspiciously like a fantasy David had had as an adolescent. No, it was his skin.
David had lost confidence in almost all other things, but if there was one thing he knew inside out, it was his trade. And that man wasn't just pale. No, he had the skin of a corpse.
"I'm Angel," the stranger said, and David turned around to make sure Nate saw and heard him, too. Nate just looked irritated, which wasn't that unusual. Maya chose this precise moment to start crying.
The apparition at the door looked at the baby and kindly suggested:
"Maybe you should try making her listen to vacuum cleaners. That always helps."
Chapter 5: Counselling
Angel hadn't intended more than a brief conversation. He'd set the record about the lists straight and then vanish as quickly as possible. Somehow, this truly simple plan unravelled into debating the best ways to calm a toddler with one Nate Fisher while being ushered into the living room with his younger brother, until the older Fisher exclaimed: "Fine, put your money where your mouth is", handing his little daughter over.
He remembered the smell. That smell of milk and baby food and skin lotions and powder and, inevitably, some urine. That smell of blood, a baby's blood, sweet, so sweet, and more addictive than anything else. He remembered the taste.
For that alone, he could have cheerfully watched every single lawyer at Wolfram and Hart die. Locked them all in a cellar again and stayed to watch, this time. Instead, he found himself working with them, and sometimes he suspected he only did so to wait for the inevitable day when he would finally get his wish.
With one hand supporting the little girl's head while his arm carried her weight, he noticed how much hair she had already. He had never seen Connor at this age. But he had held him, felt the weight of his head, after delivering the cut that started what first Lilah and then Eve had quaintly called "the deal".
"You're good," Nate commented, sounding both impressed and ungracious, when the baby grew quiet.
"She's a sweet girl," Angel said, and tried to get back to what had originally brought him here. Somehow, he forgot to return the child to her father. "I'm sorry to bother you at this hour, but I think there was a misunderstanding with the list my co-workers brought earlier. Well, with some of the names."
"No way," Nate said. "I typed every single one of those invitations this afternoon and sent the European ones first, via email, just so that the people can make it to Los Angeles in time. And now you're telling me some names were wrong?"
The younger brother, David, looked vaguely offended, not at Angel, but at Nate. Obviously, this reaction didn't fit with his idea of professional decorum.
"Nate," he said, with just a hint of reproach.
"Sorry," Nate said, not sounding contrite at all. "I guess I need some supervision, after all the weeks of actually trying to have a life. Maybe if you came upstairs more often…"
"Sir," David said to Angel, blushing just the slightest bit, "of course we understand. If you'd take a look at the guest list, we'd be happy to accept any corrections."
Nate raised an eyebrow, but stood up, went to a desk and produced the guest list. It was an interesting byplay that reminded Angel of the days when he used to run an actual detective's office. Of Cordelia who had made just such comments in front of Doyle, Wesley and whichever client was present. He could hear her voice, clear and sharp. He could hear it tell him he was being a doofus, as usual.
The baby in his arm drooled a little, and he looked at the list. Why shouldn't they all come, in the end? What Andrew had told him about Buffy and his orders still smarted, but it paled now in front of the reality of Cordelia's death. They had been friends in Sunnydale, of a sort.
"I was wrong," he told David Fisher. "The list is correct."
There was an awkward moment of silence; then Nate said with an undertone of what sounded suspiciously like understanding, which caused his brother to look at him: "Must have been one hell of a week."
"A hell of a week," Angel repeated. More like a hell of a year. A hell of a couple of years.
"Ms Chase was a lovely woman," David said unexpectedly, and for the first time, it registered with Angel that there were traces of Cordelia's scent clinging to this man. He must have been working, working to transform her cold, still body into something that could be presented and shown in the kind of ceremony that… what had been the last burial he had attended?
The memory of finding Darla buried in earth came, unbidden and as powerful as always. Of hesitating that fatal moment, as he would do with Cordelia when he could have killed her just before Jasmine was born. Of Darla opening her eyes, those familiar eyes, blue, the same eyes that looked at him from her son's face when Connor asked him: "So what are you going to do about it?"
"She should have a wake," Angel said abruptly.
The Fishers looked nonplussed. "A real one," Angel clarified. "Not that kind of thing where everyone is whispering. She'd have hated that. An Irish wake."
David caught himself first. "Well," he said. "We can… we can certainly organize that…"
"One of my co… one of my friends specializes in - he's good with parties. I'll send him over. Cordelia would have - "
He remembered hiding in the kitchen while she sparkled and flitted through the guests in her apartment. There hadn't been any parties for her even before she fell into a coma, before Connor, before the Groosalug. Suddenly, it seemed monstrous that she had given up this part of herself, and he knew she had given it up for him. For the mission.
"Hey," Nate said. "We'll get it done. And could I have my daughter back now?"
His arms felt empty when the small warm body had left them. Angel looked at the Fishers. They were an odd pair, David smelling of death and embalming fluids and Cordelia, and Nate of his daughter, of cigarettes, and some quite recent sex with a brunette. Of life, in short, and yet Nate seemed the more detached of the two.
But then again, there was nothing so deceptive as detachment.
"Thank you for taking care of Cordelia," Angel said, and only when he had already left the house behind did it occur to him that he had said that exact same phrase to Connor during what passed for one of their more peaceful conversations during that horrible, haunting year.
At least neither of the Fishers had replied by telling him Cordelia was hogging the covers.
Chapter 6: Decorations
Claire had not tried to use the bodies as objects for her photography since David had made his opinion on the subject quite clear, and she certainly wouldn't dream of doing it now, but nonetheless, she took a look at the newest body downstairs. To be fair, she had really planned on checking on David after Nate had told her that David had finally talked to a client again yesterday. But the late Ms. Chase caught her attention as well.
For starters, the woman was gorgeous. Claire wondered whether she saw female bodies differently now, after the fuck-up with Edie, and decided she didn't; this was an aesthetic judgment. Secondly, the juxtaposition of that kind of beauty with what David was using to pump stuff into her just screamed for a photo. But a promise was a promise. In order to avoid temptation, she postponed her chat with David and went outside for a joint. Which was where she encountered someone who looked like he could have been attending one of Aunt Sarah's parties, carrying a parcel.
"Cool make-up," Claire told him, in lieu of a greeting. "But the eyes are overdoing it. What's that supposed to be, red or orange?"
"Molten gold. Everyone is a critic," the green person said with dignity.
Claire shrugged. "Hey, they're making us have a go at each other on a regular basis at college. You should have heard what my friends called my series of self-portraits."
Holding her joint, she looked for her lighter, but the green guy was faster.
"Allow me, Rita Hayworth," he said, and pulled out a lighter of his own with one hand, holding on to his parcel with the other. "Look, sweeting, anyone who can't see those flowing red tresses frame a delectable face is too benighted to count anyway."
"You're gay, aren't you?" Claire said, unimpressed, but she led him light her joint. "Care to share?"
"Labels are so 90s," he replied, and accepted the joint after she had taken a puff. She took in the morning view of the garden, regarded, not for the first time, the utter mess George had made of her birthday tree and spent her daily minute of hating her mother's husband. It started to feel old, so she turned to Mr. Green again.
"So," she said, "let me guess. You're the guy supposed to organize the wake."
"Actually, I'm here to deliver the wardrobe for Cordelia Chase, honeykins. But you're right. I'm Lorne. Trust me, none of her other friends would be remotely capable of throwing a decent party."
"Claire Fisher, and it's a cool idea anyway," Claire commented. "I'd say that's what I want when I die, but Mom and David are too repressed." When he didn't reply, she looked at him, curious. "You're supposed to protest that I'm too young to die before the rest of my family, or something," she said, mildly impressed that he didn't.
"I wouldn't know," he said, passing the joint back to her. "I haven't heard you sing yet. And I don't believe I'd want to."
"My voice isn't that bad," she said with a crooked smile.
"That isn't the point, Clarissima," he said, and the sadness mingling with his flippancy convinced her that she didn't want to know. She inhaled instead.
"Wait a minute. Did you say you were Claire Fisher? Aren't you one of Olivier Castro-Stahl's students?"
"Yes," Claire confirmed with a decided lack of enthusiasm. It was nice to be recognized, but she'd have preferred it to be for her own work. Granted, her own work so far had not had an exhibition devoted to it yet, and hadn't really sold in the group exhibition last year, but still. She eyed Lorne and wondered whether Olivier had fucked him as well. Sometimes it seemed there wasn't anyone in the entire city of Los Angeles who hadn't been screwed by Olivier, one way or the other.
"I'm not a fan, either, lambkins," Lorne said, reading her expression with an accuracy that was starting to get eerie. "But I head the artist division at Wolfram and Hart, and we do represent the guy. He needs lawyers on a regular basis, you know."
"No kidding," Claire said, and hoped she wouldn't be pathetic enough to ask whether this "artist division" of one of Los Angeles' most prominent law firms was any good at organizing exhibitions for young unknown artists.
"You wouldn't want the kind of contract he has," Lorne said, and Claire decided enough was enough.
"Are you reading my mind or what?" she demanded.
"Nah. I told you. I haven't heard you sing. But you have an expressive face, Claire," Lorne said, taking the joint from her again.
"My mouth is too large and I look like some kind of human duck drawn by Disney," Claire said bluntly. "So what kind of contract does Olivier have which I wouldn't want?"
"The eternal kind," Lorne said after having inhaled himself. "I think you should stay… flexible. You are too young for the belly of the beast, darling."
"I was too freakin' young all of my life," Claire shot back, annoyed. "That's what you get with two brothers who are way older."
This caused Lorne to look nostalgic and mutter something about someone named Numfar, and she decided to change the subject. When they talked about old boyfriends or family, you knew you had to.
"Do you think your friend would have been okay with me photographing her?" she asked. "Not that I did," she added hastily, since she didn't want to get David into trouble.
"Cordelia would have been thrilled," Lorne said crisply. "She was one of nature's queens. But take my advice, my dear, and save your artistic talents for the wake. I promise there will be worthy subjects aplenty."
The last bits of the joint glimmered in his gesticulating hands and fell to the ground, and she decided she might as well ask. "Was that an official commission?"
He confirmed it had been, picked up his parcel again and said farewell. Watching him enter the house, Claire decided to take any fit either David or Nate would throw over this as a welcome sign that her brothers were returning to normal.
Chapter 7: The Wake
Footnote for non-SFU watchers: the character of Celeste was played by Michelle "Dawn" Trachtenberg
VII. The Wake
When he had not been trying to believe in the reality of Cordelia's death, Wesley had been afraid it would fall to him to deal with Mr. and Mrs. Chase once they had arrived from what appeared to be not that much of a destitute retirement in Florida. After all, he would not be able to gainsay Fred if she asked him for his help in this.
As it turned out, his help was not necessary. For this reason alone he felt gratitude towards Harmony for having invited Buffy Summers. If he was honest with himself, Wesley had never liked Buffy very much. In Sunnydale, she had frustrated and intimidated him with her youthful dismissal and scorn for everything he tried to be, and his increasingly desperate attempts to make her accept him as her Watcher had left him with a bitter taste in his mouth whenever he thought of the time. Later, she had become one of the two women with the power to take away all reason from Angel, and he could not even classify her as evil. Hearing she would come to Cordelia's funeral had made the prospect that much worse, especially since he anticipated childish behaviour from Spike as well. But Spike hadn't been seen or heard from since the Lindsey affair. With any luck, he would not return until the funeral was over and the Sunnydale expatriates had left again. Wesley had given up hoping he would be gone altogether.
Be that as it may, his feelings towards Buffy changed somewhat when she promised to chaperone the Chase couple and was as good as her word when Mrs. Chase discovered her in the lobby of the Hyperion where all the out of towners would stay.
"It's Buffy Summers!" Cordelia's mother exclaimed, apparantly grateful to finally spot a familiar face. "Why, I remember how Cordelia resigned from the race for Homecoming Queen to make you feel better about your inevitable loss. How have you been, Buffy?"
"Travelling," Buffy said, and actually stayed with Mrs. Chase and her husband until the limousines arrived. When Mrs. Chase changed her mind about the dress she was wearing at the last minute and raced upstairs, Wesley felt obliged to thank the Slayer. She shrugged.
"I had practice with Xander's parents at his wed-, well, at his not-wedding. And that way, they're not bothering him."
Xander Harris, who had come with Buffy after meeting her en route from Africa at the airport in Rome, looked very changed from the boy Wesley remembered. One of his eyes appeared to be artificial, and he had gained weight, but the change went deeper than that, or maybe the sadness did. Before Harmony had brought it up, Wesley had almost forgotten that Xander had been Cordelia's boyfriend once. He had been aware that something of the sort had been going on in Sunnydale shortly before his arrival there; the boy's jealousy had been obvious and the only hostility he had not minded. Still, it had not been something he ever considered in regards to Cordelia, having assumed that her Sunnydale past was something she would rather forget, much as it had been for himself.
But she had kept her High School Year-book, Wesley suddenly thought, and all those photos. And she had been so eager and welcoming when Harmony had first shown up.
Harmony had been prevented from picking anyone up at the airport or elsewhere by the promise she would be at both the wake and the funeral. She had sniffed and declared: "As if I'd want to go anywhere near the Slayer anyway. I'm not a pervert like some people here." She'd meet them with Angel at the Fisher Funeral Home, brought by a special Wolfram and Hart limousine, and Wesley sincerely hoped the Chases would survive the experience.
It was easier to think about all of this than to think about Cordelia, and to wonder whether the reason why her death had been so surprising to him, who tended to expect the worst, was because it felt like he had said goodbye to her a long time ago, not just last week. It had been like the delivery of news that one believed had already arrived eons ago. He tried to think of any significant conversations with Cordelia in the year before she fell into her coma, or any ones that contained the lighthearted bickering that once had been their daily bread to nourish them through monster fights and apocalypses. But there was nothing. Nothing after the ballet evening, and he could not understand it. There was no reason why he and Cordelia should have become estranged before her possession that he could think of. It was a puzzle Wesley could not solve, and so he rather contemplated Buffy's sister Dawn, who had come with her but mostly kept at Xander's side while Buffy distracted Cordelia's parents. Intellectually, he knew he had never met Dawn before, and that she had not been born to human parents at all. But he still had the memories of a girl which opened the door of the Summers house to him during the occasion when Buffy had been overwhelmed by telepathy, looking anxious and disdainful at the same time. He still recalled Faith taking Dawn hostage at the Mayor's orders, even though he knew it had never happened. The divergence of realities was something that kept him occupied for a while, until Dawn, who rode in the same limousine as Xander and himself, turned towards him and said: "Wow, you haven't change a bit, Wesley. Stalker much?"
For a second, he did not know what she was talking about. Then he realized he had been staring at her silently this entire time and recalled how his awkward flirtation with Cordelia must have looked to everyone else. He felt impossibly embarassed. Unexpectedly, he was saved by Xander who asked:
"So, how did that start? The coma? Head wound or something like that?"
"A mystical pregnancy," Wesley explained, feeling the odd comfort questions of his expertise provided. "A fallen power possessed her and gave birth to itself."
I'm sorry, she had said, apologizing for killing Lilah, and Wesley wondered whether it was Lilah's death that had left him with that odd sensation of estrangement from Cordelia, even though he knew, of course, that she had not been to blame, not really.
"I hope someone kicked its fallen backside and ripped it into pieces afterwards," Xander said fiercely.
"Quite," Wesley said a bit helplessly. He wanted to add what had happened, but for a second, it escaped him. Then he remembered again. Angel. It had been Angel who had killed Jasmine.
"I can't imagine her like that," Xander continued, looking through the window of the passenger door as the limousine turned into the road that led to the funeral home. "Just lying there, silent. She was - she was always so…"
"Yes," Wesley said, not wanting to hear it again, and the awkward silence returned for another moment. Then the limousine stopped, and even before Dawn opened the door, they could hear the reverberations of Lorne's voice and a piano. It seemed Lorne had taken Angel's idea of an Irish wake and interpreted it as a license to sing U2 songs, at the moment The Ground Beneath Her Feet, as a way of welcoming the other mourners.
"None of you asked for a singing demon, right?" Dawn asked, sounding worried, exchanging a glance with Xander. "Like, through a talisman or something?"
"Lorne does not require talismans," Wesley said a bit bemused, but that did not seem to help, so he added: "He was a dear friend of Cordelia's, and Angel asked him to organize the wake together with the funeral directors."
Looking for them, he found Mr. Diaz and Mr. Fisher at the door, welcoming the guests. Mr. Fisher looked less irritated and more confused, which Wesley could not blame him for. There was a third man with them, around thirty, rather good looking and, like them, somberly attired, but as soon as he spotted Wesley, Dawn and Xander, he grew very pale, turned around, and promptly vanished downstairs.
"Shit," said Mr. Fisher, rather unceremoniously, and followed, which left Mr. Diaz alone with the business of welcoming the mourners. Passing through the parlour to the room which had been reserved for them, Wesley heard Dawn mutter:
"At least nobody started dancing yet."
Hearing Lorne belch out more Bono lyrics from inside the room with the coffin, Wesley, who had never attended an Irish wake but had heard dire tales in his youth, wondered whether this was just a temporary reprieve.
"David," Nate said, determined not to let his brother regress to locking himself up in the basement again and catching up with him before David reached the bottom of the stairs, "come on. You almost did it. Those guys may be nuts, but you're safe here, okay? None of them wants to pull any kind of crap, and even if they did, we…"
"It's not that," David said to his surprise. Both of his fists were clenched, and there were red angry spots on his cheek.
"I can't believe she's here. That she came here. This is my home and she just…"
"She who?" Nate asked, honestly confused.
"Celeste," David hissed, and sounded like he pronounced the vilest name on earth. Nate, who had been absenting himself from both business and family for much of the year, needed a while before he dimly recalled Keith had just returned from his job as bodyguard of teen pop idol Celeste. He needed a while longer to recall what the hell Celeste looked like, given that his musical tastes did not include her, and then it finally clicked. That coltish girl, the brunette. Yes, come to think about it, she did look like…
"Come on, David, do you really think that's Celeste?" Recalling what Rico had said about these people knowing David Nabbit, who had indeed arrived a while ago, it wasn't completely out of the question, Nate had to admit. "Anyway, why is that such a big deal? Because she fired Keith? He's still with that agency, right?"
"She fucked him," David said. "Or he fucked her. I don't know. But they did. Fuck."
Then he sat down on the stairs, looking profoundly miserable. Nate didn't quite know what to say. It did occur to him that this was already the longest conversation he had had with David in a while, and definitely the first time David had told him something confidential in a longer while.
"Shit," he said again, sat down next to David, and wondered why the hell it was so easy to get into the not talking routine in their family and so hard to get out of it again. Just the other day, he had told Brenda he didn't know who was more fucked up, her family or his, and she had laughed and said: "David hasn't tried to kill you yet, and I think your mother won't ever do it in front of you, so I win."
Yet freaking Billy was doing well these days, one heard, not just out of an instution but having a regular job. Teaching. Whereas David, who had never harmed anyone, had basically locked himself up these recent months. Life was a bitch of epic proportions.
"Look," Nate said, "I know too well how that feels like to give you any Hallmark speeches. But if I were you, I'd still go upstairs and show her she's nothing to you. Just a silly little girl." Suddenly, an idea hit him. Later, he blamed it on thinking about Brenda and her brother, because it was just the kind of crazy stunt either of them would pull. But it definitely sounded better to him than going back to the bodies. "No, really. Know what you should do?"
After he had finished explaining, David looked at him as if he was insane, and didn't say anything.
"Or you could let her gloat while you're brooding here," Nate said, hoping the challenge would do it.
"Sure I am. I'm also right."
David didn't react, so Nate stood up. He hesitated, then he put his right hand on David's shoulder, briefly. Briefly, he felt David reach up and touch it.
"See you upstairs," Nate said.
"…and that is why Cordelia Chase was my role model and always will be," Harmony concluded, standing in front of the guests, next to Lorne, who played the piano. "Except for her taste in men, obviously. I mean, no way would I ever date a loser like Xander Harris! Okay, so I dated Spike and got treated like dirt, but he's so hot even Buffy couldn't keep her mits off him, right, Buffy? Plus then Cordelia had this gooey-eyed thing going on with Angel, and hey, dating Angel is just the worst thing ever. Either he goes nutso after you boink him, or he doesn't and then it's totally humiliating. So why bother? But other than that, she ruled. So, Cordy, this one is for you."
She nodded towards Lorne.
"Are you sure, honey?" he asked, and she pouted.
"What, Elton John isn't good enough for you? He was totally good enough for Princess Diana!"
"As you wish," Lorne said, sighed, and started to play Candle in the Wind. After Harmony started with "Goodbye, Sunnydale's Rose", Xander tuned out. In other circumstances, he might have come up with a crack about the fact Angel ended up with Harmony as a secretary and some green guy with horns as a - whatever that one did; after being assured he didn't get people to burn inside out, Xander didn't care. As it was, he was trying to figure out why the news that Cordelia was dead, via email from "Fisher & Diaz, Dignified Service Since 1941" had hit him the way it had done. It wasn't like he had spent the years since their breakup pining for Cordelia. The last time he had heard from her had been via a post card from Mexico which had been co-signed by someone named Groo, whoever that had been, about two years ago. The last time she had heard from him, if she had before that coma happened, had been when he had sent her a post card from London where they had gone after Sunnydale had become rubble and before they had all split up. He had never phoned or made any attempt to find out whether it had arrived.
But after reading the email in an internet café, he had sat very still, and had felt tears burning in his non-existent eye. Figured. Phantom tears, phantom pain for a phantom girl who had been lost years ago. He hadn't cried for Anya that day she died. Hearing Andrew tell his story, he had known that if he cried, if he did, it would all become real. So Xander had done what had served him ever since he figured out making jokes about his father's drunken fights with his mother would show anyone else that it didn't hurt, not a bit, not a bit.
Anya had never had a funeral. He wondered who would have come, if there had been a body to bury. Halfrek was dead, and the other people who had attended what should have been the happiest day of her life might not have cared anymore because she had died a human. He knew nobody of his family would have shown up, and stole a glance at Mr. and Mrs Chase, who had puffy red eyes and were currently looking as if they were trying to hide behind Buffy's tiny body before Harmony had finished her song and could come over to say hello.
Maybe what made him decide he had to come was if he never saw Cordy again, just as he had not seen Anya after they had split up in the High School he helped build, he would never stop wondering whether she truly was dead, whether it hadn't all been a misunderstanding, whether she wouldn't show up one day and tell him she had been alive all this time.
Or undead, he thought, watching Harmony finish, and thinking of Jesse, thinking of the Cordettes, remembering watching those heartless, beautiful princesses glide by in school every day with his pal, his friend who would become the first person he ever lost to death. Or that.
Man, I hate those bitches. God, I wish I could make out with them.
Jesse had crushed on Cordelia when Xander had still been treasurer of the We-Hate-Cordelia-Chase-Club. Undead Jesse, staked Jesse. One of them should stake Harmony before all of this was over. When had they stopped staking soulless vampires? But he already knew he wouldn't, and that Buffy wouldn't, either. That was different, he had told her when they had fought about Anya and she had reminded him of Angel, and he still could hear her reply. It is always different.
Before he knew what he was doing, he rose and passed Harmony on his way to the front. He still had no idea what he was going to say, only that he wouldn't sing. He hadn't sung since that duet with Anya in Sunnydale, and he couldn't bear to think of doing it now. When he arrived next to the open coffin and saw her lying there, he almost forgot to breathe.
"That dress," Xander whispered, not caring who heard him, or didn't. "Why is she wearing this dress?"
There she was, her beautiful long hair cut short, but otherwise looking like she had done on the day of the Prom, in the silver dress he had bought for her upon finding out her parents had lost their money, the dress she had never asked about and he had never admitted to.
"It was among dresses in her wardrobe and I didn't recall her ever wearing it, compadre," Lorne said from his place at the piano. "So I figured it was new. She would have wanted to be buried in something stylish and dazzling and new, and it suits her so well."
"I know," Xander said, and then he didn't say anything any more. He couldn't. He felt the weight of the glass eye more heavily than ever, and then he cried for her. For make-out sessions in the closet and behind library shelves, for the way she had taken his hand in front of all her friends after dressing Harmony down and walked away with him, for her laughter when she had sat on his lap during lunchbreak, for the lightning quick way she found a retort for each of his quips and cracks. For her telling him she'd stay with him even if he was a fish, and for a rebar that had nearly killed one girl he knew too late he'd loved, and had brought another to Sunnydale he'd loved too late. For both of them, and when Buffy and Dawn rose and came to him, his remaining eye, furiously blinking, wondered for a moment whether all his suspicions were true, and they were still alive. Anya and Cordy both.
"Come on," Buffy whispered.
"She kept it. She kept it all these years," Xander wanted to say, pointing out the dress to her, but for some reason he, who never was at a loss of words, not when faced with the direst peril, couldn't get another syllable out. So he took what he had bought at the airport instead, and put it around Cordelia's neck. A trinket, just a trinket. Something you buy in High School for your girlfriend, even if she's rich enough to afford a lot of genuine jewelry of her own. A small silver heart. When he didn't flinch at touching her utterly cold, utterly hard skin, he understood.
We're doing morgue time at the Scooby Gang.
It was Cordelia, it was Anya, it was Jesse and Larry and gorgeous, intimidating Ms Calendar and warm, generous Mrs. Summers. Perhaps it was even Xander Harris, that very young boy who had thought, on a long ago Valentine's Day, that getting dumped by the girl you just discovered you might have more than hormonal feelings for was the worst thing which could happen to you. He felt the grief consume him as Buffy and Dawn guided him back, and wondered whether the fact that this was supposed to be an Irish wake meant he could take the beer currently offered by another Sunnydale expatriate, Willy, who apparently had moved to Los Angeles after the Hellmouth closed shop. By the time someone named Gunn had taken the stand, he stopped wondering and started to drink.
Gunn said something like "when I first met her, I thought she was some skinny spoiled white girl" which to Xander's mind proved he must have been blind, because no way Cordy was skinny, and went on to describe how she saved his butt "in her own way, every minute every day". Then he told Lorne to play "Were Are the Champions", and said, "this one's for you, Cor", Lorne obliged, and to Xander's surprise good old Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, the stiff Brosnan-knock off who had shamelessly let high school girls drool over him, joined with Gunn in a truly horrendous rendition of the Queen song. At least now he wasn't the only one crying anymore.
A flash of red caught his eye, and for a heartbeat Xander thought Willow had finally made it after all, but then he recalled she was taking care of some Brazilian Slayer whose family had reacted to her new powers by calling a priest for exorcism, a girl who had, according to Will, taken very long to trust anyone again and couldn't be left alone when she had just started to open up. No, the red hair was long, far longer than Willow had ever worn hers, and belonged to a girl Xander didn't know who had a camera in her hand and was taking pictures. She had very pale skin, and he wondered whether she was a vampire, but Buffy didn't seem to mind her when they crossed paths. Out of habit, Xander looked around for Deadboy, and found him watching Gunn and Wesley from across the room but not joining them in their song. Thank God. Now Angel singing, that was a truly scary prospect.
Xander contemplated whether or not he should go over and thank the guy for killing that thing which had put Cordelia into a coma and cost her her life, or whether he still wouldn't get out anything but croaks, when the door opened and the third of the funeral directors, the one who had backed away when Dawn, Wesley and he had entered the house, showed up. Xander blinked as the man strode to the front, walking like some Western hero. When the guy shot a glare at Dawn, Xander suddenly lost the choked up feeling in his throat and moved in front of her. Nobody messed with his girls if he could help it.
But then the man turned towards Lorne and said something in a low voice Xander didn't catch. The green demon looked something between stunned and amused, but shrugged and started to play.
"I did not know Cordelia Chase," the funeral director said. "But during these last days, I have come to feel almost as if I did. So I would like to dedicate a song to her, too, one which I hope represents a part of her." Again he looked at Dawn. "And other things."
He cleared his throat, and, with Lorne now hammering into the keys at a rapid pace, started with "I'm too sexy for my shirt…"
For a solid minute, the entire assembly, standing or sitting, drinking or, like the Chases, clinging to each other, gaped at him in silence while they listened. The red haired girl actually stood there with her mouth open. Then she took up her camera again, and Harmony, whispering, "wow, that's so Cordy and me," started to join in with the song. By the time the guy was finished, more than half of the guests had followed suit.
"David," said the funeral director with the stubble, applauding from the back of the room, "you rock."
"Not a bad voice," Lorne said. "Let me guess. Choir practice?"
"Yes," the madman said, and for some reason gave Dawn another look before marching towards the exit again, where Mr. Stubble received him with a clap on his back. Buffy was already moving towards the coffin to tell a story about Cordy and some spatula when Dawn, utterly bewildered, turned to Xander and asked:
"What was that all about?"
Chapter 8: Epilogue
"I still can't believe David did that," Claire said while spreading out the first bunch of photos on what she still thought of as George's table.
"David can't, either," Nate replied ruefully. "He's down in the basement again after spending the entire night cleaning up once they had left. Wouldn't let me and Rico do a thing."
He was feeding Maya; when he saw her swallow spoon after spoon, he was startled to realize her mouth moved exactly like Lisa's had done when tasting something. The automatic swell of guilt the thought produced felt numb, instead of the aching cancer it used to be. Or perhaps it was just too early in the morning.
"Speaking of Rico," he continued after having taken a look at Claire's photos, "I don't think you should use that one."
He pointed at a picture that showed Rico with the blonde who had sung Candle in the Wind, and not even the original version, either.
"I'm sure he was just shoved by someone behind him, but that one makes it look like he's grabbing her tits. He's in deep shit with Vanessa as it is. He doesn't need that. And I don't need him telling me about it."
"Men. You're all the same," Claire said, but she tore up the photograph in question.
"Some wake," she said. "The funeral was almost an anticlimax, wasn't it? I mean, they just listened to Father Gerado do his thing, and nobody even flung himself on the coffin. I thought that puffy guy with the fake eye would after the way he acted at the wake, but no, he was holding hands with Celeste instead. Hey, do you think she has a trademark on her likeness or something? Because I can't afford that."
Nate shook his head, and Claire took a picture that showed Lorne the piano player and held it at a distance, trying out various angles.
"Well, Rico was right about half of them coming in D& D outfits," Nate said, and looked at one of the few photos that showed the now buried girl instead. Then, rather too late to be of any use, it hit him.
"Wait," he said. "I think I've seen her before. In some bikini commercial or something. She must have been an actress. I guess some of the truly weird ones were her fan club."
"No," Claire said absent-mindedly, chewing on her lower lip while still regarding Lorne's image. Maybe she should have focused more on the eyes, but they just looked so fake. "No, I think they were all her friends."
Given that some burials organized by Fisher & Diaz never had any other attendees than himself, David or Rico, Nate thought one could have worse epitaphs.
"Good for her," he said. "Still, I hope that was it, and we won't see them again. We've got enough craziness of our…"
The bell rang, and Claire gave him a mischievous grin.
"You jinxed it," she said, and he grimaced at her while leaving the kitchen in order to go to the front door. As it turned out, the kid standing on their porch did not belong to the Chase funeral party. In fact, Nate was reasonably sure he had never seen the boy in his life. At first Nate thought he was a teenager, but when the guy started to talk, he revised his age estimation. More like eighteen or nineteen.
"I'm looking for an internship for the summer," the boy said, holding up a newspaper. Nate had almost forgotten that they still had an ad running in the hope of finding a replacement for Arthur.
"And your name is…?" he asked.
"Connor," the boy said and smiled at him. "Connor Riley."