Summary: How was one supposed go about comparison shopping for funeral homes, anyway?
Author's Note: Post "You're Welcome." The poem, "Dirge Without Music," is by Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The elevator was coffin-shaped.
He'd chosen the funeral home out of the yellow pages at random. How was one supposed go about comparison shopping for funeral homes, anyway?
It had seemed so important, before, to take care of everything himself. But now that he was here in this soothingly decorated office talking to this woman with the sensible shoes and plastic name tag, it wasn't anything like he'd thought it would be. Nothing about this was personal or meaningful. It was a business transaction. Like closing on a house, only instead of purchasing your dream home you were burying a loved one.
And then the woman--saleswoman, that's what she really was--suggested they go downstairs to choose the casket. And they followed her into an old-fashioned elevator with a brass gate. It reminded him of the one at the Hyperion, except that this elevator was coffin-shaped, because of course that's what it had been built for. Transporting the dearly departed from the basement mortuary up to the viewing rooms.
On the elevator ride he wondered if Cordy was down there already, or if she was still in the hospital morgue.
Now Angel stood in a display room filled with coffins of all colors, styles and sizes, and he had no idea what to do. Style had always been so important to Cordelia. (You didn't just hurt me, you gave away my clothes.) He was suddenly, desperately afraid of making the wrong choice. They were all so... awful. Every time he tried to picture Cordy's skin against one of these lace-trimmed satin cushions he felt like he was going to vomit.
He looked over at Wes. Their eyes met and he saw his own revulsion and helplessness mirrored in his friend's expression.
"I think perhaps we should revisit the option of cremation," said Wesley to the saleswoman in his smooth, gentle voice.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Orange light slanted in through the windows as Angel fumbled with the buttons on his shirt. His fingers felt thick and unwieldy as they attempted to maneuver the tiny plastic discs through the narrow holes in the fabric.
He'd spent an hour choosing what to wear. Such a simple decision to make, yet he had agonized over it, riddled with self-doubt.
He wished he could remember her favorite color, or whether she'd ever seen him in a tie. (You might want to think about mixing up the black-on-black look.) In the end he had gone with an old, burgundy silk shirt he'd found at the back of his closet. She'd complimented it once, a long time ago, when life had been simpler and full of small joys. He hadn't properly appreciated it at the time.
There was a knock and the door opened. Four sets of familiar footsteps filed in behind him. "It's time," said Wes quietly.
He finished the last button and turned to face the others. The sight of them brought to mind another night when they'd all gotten dressed up to go out together. Memories washed over him: silk sliding over sweat-dampened skin; pent-up desires unshackled. Firmly, he pushed them all away--they would drown him if he let them.
"I'm ready," said Angel, though he didn't feel anything like it.
"Angel--" said Fred hesitantly.
He looked down, wondering what was wrong with it. "Oh." He'd missed a button. Ten minutes just to button his shirt and he'd done it all wrong. (I naturally assumed you'd be lost without me, but this?)
Fred stepped forward and methodically unbuttoned and re-buttoned it for him. "There," she said, smoothing the fabric when she was done. "All better."
She looked up at him, her eyes soft and sympathetic. It was too much. (I am lost without you.) He stepped away from her, a little more brusquely than he'd meant to, and silently cursed his own awkwardness.
"Let's go," he said, heading for the door before anyone tried to say anything else.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
They took the Plymouth, for old times sake. It was Gunn who found it, neglected and nearly forgotten, in a far corner of the Wolfram & Hart garage, under a dusty drop cloth.
Angel drove, hands gripping the wheel tightly, trying not to look at the passenger seat. He didn't want to see that Wesley sat there now, silent and grim, not Cordelia, bright and brassy. (Get over it. I mean that in a sensitive way.)
The night was cold; the silver moon preceding them even colder.
A glance in the rear view mirror brought an image of Fred shivering in the back seat between Gunn and Lorne, and a memory of slender, tanned fingers hijacking his mirror to apply bright pink lipstick.
At the next red light Angel leaned over a vaguely surprised Wesley and snapped open the glove compartment. He rummaged around in the clutter of maps and old receipts until his fingers closed on a small plastic tube. He pulled it out and turned it over in his hand.
"Heart's Desire," the color was called. (Are you gonna become loser pining guy, like, full time?) He put it back in the glove compartment.
The light turned green and Angel drove on.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Cordelia's parents had sent a large funeral wreath to the office rather than risk re-entering the country. The smell of the gardenias had given Angel a headache and he'd made Harmony toss it into the incinerator.
There were only seven people at the service. All the lives Cordelia had touched, and only seven had been moved to pay their last respects. (Oh, and you're welcome.) He might have been surprised, but he wasn't.
Wesley was. Angel watched him pacing back and forth, his footsteps leaving ever deepening imprints in the sand.
"Maybe they didn't get the message," said Fred.
"They got it," said Wes darkly. "They just didn't care."
Uncharitable, perhaps, but not necessarily untrue, thought Angel.
He hadn't even allowed himself to wonder if Buffy would come. She'd never been close to Cordelia herself, didn't understand what Cordy had come to mean to him. Couldn't understand. If she had--well, Buffy certainly wouldn't have come then, would she? (I’m not a sniveling, whiny little Cry-Buffy, I’m the nastiest girl in Sunnydale history.)
The same went for the others, he supposed. Sunnydale was nothing but a ragged hole in the ground, now. The people who had lived there were scattered to the four winds, the bonds that once held them together irreversibly broken.
He had thought perhaps Xander, at least, might come, but then Angel vaguely remembered something about Xander getting engaged.
Obla dee, obla da. Life goes on.
For some, anyway.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave. I know.
But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
"A butterfly lands beside us like a sunbeam," said Lorne, the waves crashing behind him like a symphony. "And for a brief moment its glory and beauty belong to our world. But then it flies away..." Borrowed words. Borrowed time.
Angel had asked Lorne to lead the service, such as it was. Seven people on a beach with a cardboard box of ashes. (Nothing's going to happen to Cordelia. I won't allow it.)
Harmony cried when Lorne sang "Over the Rainbow." Spike stood beside her, flicking cigarette ash into the sand.
When Wes stepped forward to speak Angel averted his eyes and tuned out the words, letting them float away from him like smoke on the wind. Lorne had to nudge him when it was time.
He gripped the box tightly as he stepped into the water. The waves lapped against his legs and the sand sucked at his shoes, threatening to pull him down. He'd been down there once before. There were no seasons at the bottom of those depths, and no death. There was nothing down there but dreams and madness.
"Angel, you need help?" he heard Gunn say, and realized that he'd just been standing there, frozen. They were all waiting on him. (I am lost without you.)
He opened the box and turned it upside down. Cordelia's earthly remains--that was the funeral home's tasteful euphemism--fell into the ocean with a plop. It was less poetic than he had imagined it would be.
Angel stared at the water, watching as the ashes swirled in the surf, dissolving into the sea like sugar.
For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen.
The waves washed in and then out again, bearing her away with the tide. Away from her home. Away from her friends. Away from him.
In the sky overhead, unseen, a lone star plunged through the cold heavens.
(I'll be seeing you.)