Title: A Girl's Guide to Apathy and Angst
Archiving: I've got the neatest little place at http://www.realmoftheshadow.com/harper.htm. Well actually I don't have a place. Kim has a place, but she lets me use it. To the lists that auto-archive, welcome to it. Anyone else, please ask.
Spoilers: Anything up to the third season of Angel, though I'll freely admit that I've played fast and loose with canon, only adding in that which fit with what I wanted to do. Additionally, this is particularly spoiler-heavy for "Birthday", so be forewarned if you don't want to know any 3d season secrets. Oh, and thanks to Tif for clueing me in.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I also don't own much of anything in general, so please don't sue. Actually, I don't even have a job. God, my life sucks.
A/N: This is un-beta'd so there will inevitably be mistakes. Please skip right on past those and pretend like I didn't make them in the first place. Its better for my ego that way, trust me. This is a stand alone, so its not related to any other C/F fics I've put out lately. If you'd like to send feedback, I'd love to receive it. You can reach me at Xfjnky2@yahoo.com.
“I hate my fucking life.”
The words were followed by a long drag from the smoldering cigarette resting loosely between her fingers. Menthol, because she hated the taste of pure smoke. Somehow it seemed more palatable with the somehow artificially imposed minty overtaste. Of course, in the morning it’d still feel like she’d licked an ashtray.
The beer didn’t help either. Normally Cordelia didn’t drink beer. She hated the taste of it actually. If she wanted to drink something that tasted like what was in the bottle currently resting between her thighs, she could recycle her own urine. Both were equally as tasty, she was sure. But, it was all part of it, the mystique or whatever you wanted to call it, so she choked the brew down.
She called it depression, and every once in a while she liked to wallow in its depths.
Her birthday was in a week. She’d be 22. That meant that she’d been an inhabitant of this world for close to a quarter of a century, and what did she have to show for it? All across the nation there were 16 year olds starting up multi-million dollar businesses out of their basements or training ten hours a day to be in the Olympics, and here she was, sitting out on her balcony with a bottle of Shiner Boch seeping condensation into the fabric of her jeans and a half-empty pack of nearly stale Camel Menthol Lights resting to her left. Yeah, a real winner, that’s what she was.
The problem was, that was only half of it.
Times like this reminded her of how completely and utterly alone she was. It would be nice to have someone to talk to, to call up and chat about nothing in particular, but who was she going to dial? She saw Wes, Gunn, Angel and Fred every day and didn’t particularly want to share with them her after-hours psychoses. They owned enough of her life, from the time spent behind the counter at the Hyperion to the mind-numbing sent from above visions. Again though, the problem was that aside from them, there wasn’t anybody. Yeah, she could phone up Willow or Xander or Buffy and pretend that she’d been looking through old pictures and seen them and thought that she’d just call and say ‘hi’, but that felt even more pathetic to her than the complete and total lack of an alternative available option.
She was young, she was beautiful. She should be out in the world, having a grand time and basking in the reflective glow of her glory, not sitting hunched over against the cold night air in a plastic chair on her little balcony, the phone sitting beside her thigh, mocking her with each and every second that it didn’t ring. This was Hollywood, after all, or at least close enough to it that she should feel some of that vitality seeping into her, but there was nothing. Nothing at all.
Maybe she should get a hobby or maybe she should volunteer at some random charitable organization. Anything would be better than skulking about alone cursing her lack of a life. After all, the current methods weren’t really doing anything to cheer her up. She’d chain-smoked her way through six cigarettes in a row and managed to choke nearly all of her beer down, but still she didn’t feel any better. All she’d have to show for it in the morning would be the grappling fingers of a hangover and the beginnings of an upper respiratory infection. Life wouldn’t be any better. The excess of celebration at her very own self-pity party wouldn’t lift away any of the reminders of why she threw it in the first place. They’d still be there, and she’d have to deal with them with a headache and draining sinuses, which could undoubtedly only add to the magnificence that was her life.
A glance over the railing of her balcony reaffirmed the fact that it was a fairly long way down to the sheer mass of concrete below. Maybe she should just jump, should end it all. Wouldn’t that be better than continuing on into a life of nothingness? In the grand scheme of the cosmos, what would her absence matter? Every day in this city more people than she could even fathom walked around, going happily about their lives with an absolute and complete total lack of knowledge of who Cordelia Chase was. For years they’d been living in quiet contentment, even without the opportunity to bask in her grandeur. If they saw the blurb on the late night news about her plunge into obscurity, they wouldn’t blink. Hell, she probably wouldn’t even make the news. It wasn’t as if there weren’t far more exciting things to report on than her final swan dive.
Then she’d be what? A distant memory, a headstone taking up space in a world that was one day going to run out of room for its dead. People would move on, and some of them would probably cry for a little while at the thought that she wasn’t around any more, but it wouldn’t take them long to get over it. If there was one thing that she’d learned these past few years, it was that life went on. Its flow didn’t stop for anybody, and those few who managed to divert the current for a moment would only find that things smoothed back into perfection just a few feet downstream.
So was that the answer then? Should she put down her beer, crush out her cigarette? Should she climb up on the less than sturdy wooden railing, throw her arms out wide and simply let herself fall? No suicide note, no nothing, just a small group of people scratching their heads and asking themselves why until it didn’t matter anymore. Until she faded.
No, it wasn’t for her. The fall would undoubtedly smash several of the bones that she’d need to keep intact in order to be a good-looking corpse, and she refused to die ugly. Her funeral was going to flaunt an open casket, so that everyone could walk by and murmur that it was a shame, that she was so young and vital and pretty. The five or so that attended, that was.
It was a foolish idea anyway. She was too afraid of the physical pain to do something like that, and somewhere in the back of her mind lay the fear that she’d fuck it up. Just her luck that she’d been one of the lucky few that couldn’t even kill themselves and do it right. Then she’d have to deal with eyes full of questions and pity and she didn’t want that.
With an immediate tragic death eliminated as a possibility, she was back to square one… waiting for the inevitable tragic death. She wasn’t sure when it was going to be, but it was coming. The headaches were steadily getting worse, the PET scans were showing increased neural degeneration. One day she’d probably just slip into a coma and never come out of it, they’d said. Her doctor had put her on every single medication that she could think of, half of them for the pain and half of them useless attempts to stop her brain from slowly dying. She took the ones for the pain. As for the others… she doubted that conventional modern medicine was any match for the machinations of The Powers That Be. Might as well save that money and buy a nice pair of shoes. At least the shoes would be useful.
She hadn’t told anyone about it, this inevitable slip into oblivion. The guys at work would freak out. There would be a frantic search for some other-worldly resolution to her problem. Somewhere along the line there would probably be martyrdom, undoubtedly undeserved or grandiose or completely useless heroic gestures would be performed, resulting only in more suffering. Eventually it would become clear that things were going to progress as they were going to progress. Fate would leave her with no other choice than to hope that death would be swift and painless, and that she’d manage to simply drift off into a comfortable sleep and wake up to something more pleasant on the other end.
In the interim, though, she’d see pity, and people would pamper her and treat her as if she were only a shell of a human, as if the threat of impending death meant that any little exertion would automatically trigger that final descent, and Cordelia didn’t want that.
Her pride wouldn’t let her accept it.
So, that left her a divided person. There was the Cordelia that chased after demons and joked around with the guys and bemoaned her lack of acting prospects. That Cordelia was the happy Cordelia, the upbeat Cordelia, the ever-constant pillar of continuity and strength in a world that changed far too often. Then, there was the Cordelia who let all her shields down, who sat at home and thought about her own mortality, about her failure to make a meaningful mark on the world. That persona felt more comfortable to her, more familiar. More truthful.
With a sigh, Cordelia gathered up her things. The remainder of the beer found itself circling the drain of her kitchen sink, the cigarettes found themselves once more in the darkness of her junk drawer. A quiet beep heralded the return of the phone to its cradle, the muted gleam of the green light at the base letting her know that it was recharging. Light after light flicked off in the apartment until it was dark, nothing but the filtered soft glow of street lamps seeping in to drape across furnishings with its dim luminescence.
Pulling the thin covers up to her neck, body instantly warming her sheets as she lay there, unable to do anything more than look up at the outline of her ceiling, she tried to sleep.
A surprise party. They’d thrown her a surprise party, complete with a cake and balloons and noisemakers, though she imagined that the last was more for the boys than it was for her. She should have expected it, or at the very least known that they were up to something, from the sly grins that they’d been shooting one another all day. Proud that they’d managed to pull one over on her, she supposed.
It was a nice gesture, and she smiled and thanked them for their gifts and planted a sweet kiss on each proffered cheek, but as soon as it was polite for her to go, she took the option. The air inside the hotel lobby had been stifling, full of life and energy and their good wishes and her lies, and she had found it hard to breathe. Found it hard to celebrate yet another year gone by, yet another year closer to the end. What life was she honoring? The one of her youth, full of vanity and shallowness and callous cruelty? The one she’d lived since coming to LA? Was she celebrating a time spent scrabbling after the elusive tail of a non-existent acting career? Visions that left her with massive headaches and a one way ticket to her very own casket? The realization that she was looking fruitlessly for some meaning that she wasn’t ever going to find?
She wasn’t different, wasn’t special, wasn’t unique. One might opine that the visions made her these things, but they were a gift, an initially unwanted one, and if there was one thing that she’d learned from Doyle it was that they merely needed a vessel and would continue on whether or not she did. Continue on, that is, so that she could be humiliated by sunscreen lotion commercial producers and spend all of her time chasing demons and vampires only to return home to an empty apartment.
She didn’t want to drink alone tonight. After all, it was her birthday. That thought was depressing enough on its own without adding anything else to it. So, she’d found a bar. Any bar would have done, but this one was close enough to her apartment to assure her that she’d be able to stumble home at the end of the night. It was an important consideration, especially in light of the fact that she’d decided that she preferred her eventual heroic death to a more mundane immediate one.
It was a good bar. Not good in terms of full of polished oak and brass railings, comfortable leather seats and the quiet clink of glasses. No, it was a real bar. It had a real bar smell, that combination of old liquor and the musk of everyone who’d ever wandered past its doors. A comforting smell. The bar itself was old and scratched, the stools serviceable but not necessarily pretty, and the bottles lined up along the back wall let her know that they had a good selection. Not that it really would have mattered, she supposed, if they had only had two choices. Either would have been fine by her.
But, they did have more than two choices, which left her with a dilemma. What to drink?
“What can I getcha?” The words were punctuated by the toss of a little cardboard coaster, and Cordelia looked up at the row of bottles as she pondered her reply.
The bartender didn’t appear to be in a hurry. In fact, everything about him screamed laid back, from the long, unruly salt-and-pepper hair currently pulled back into a loose pony tail to the lazy strength hidden under the contours of a very old, very worn Grateful Dead tee shirt. Bright green eyes looked back at her impassively, his jaw set in a study of boredom, and she imagined that he had probably gotten tired of meeting up with indecisive customers about 20 years ago.
“What’s your best shot?” she asked by way of answer, leaning forward so that her arms were resting on the bar.
“I’m thinking a girl like you wants something kinda sweet, but with a definite kick. That right?” the man drawled, and the Seer tried to place his accent. It had a MidWestern twang to it, and she wondered if she’d see boots on his feet if she popped over the counter to check.
She nodded, not at her conversational best, and watched as his hands disappeared beneath the bar, gathering together the tools of his trade.
“I’ll take care of you then, sugar. You try this and tell me what you think.”
Her eyes followed his movements, trying to figure out what he was fixing her, but it was too dark, and before she expected it, he was pouring his dark concoction into a small plastic cup that had appeared before her. She took a tentative sniff, though the action didn’t really provide her with any information, and so with a shrug of her shoulders decided to throw it back.
Her throat bobbed once, twice, and then the empty cup found itself resting on the bar once more. The bartender cocked an eyebrow her way and she nodded, affirming his unasked question. Seconds later a newly filled cup appeared before her, and it too met its fate at the back of her gullet.
“What’s in that?” she asked finally, unable to piece together the collection of tastes. Normally she was fairly good at things like that and had a pretty good idea what the mystery shot might contain, but this time wasn’t completely sure.
“Tequila, amaretto and Coke,” the bartender grunted, seeming somehow satisfied by her apparent approval of his mixture.
“Interesting,” the Seer drawled, her tone a whisper above monotone.
The exchange fell away to silence, and after a few moments the bartender ambled off to serve other customers, leaving Cordelia to contemplate the wet rings that condensation had left on her thick cardboard coaster. The circles darkened the mustard yellow to brown, which only faded seamlessly into the Camel logo. They were trendy little chips of paper, no doubt an attempt to prod a drunken mind into the realization that alcohol and nicotine seemed to be somehow intrinsically linked. She wondered idly how successful it was, this seemingly simple marketing ploy. Did someone, after perhaps their fourth or fifth beer of the night, catch sight of the picture out of the corner of their eye and feel an inexplicable need for a cigarette? Not just any cigarette either, but a Camel Light just like the one being advertised beneath the spilled liquor left by an increasingly less steady hand.
What kind of world had humans built that created the need for people to sit around and think up these things, these marketing ploys. Rising up from scattered cave roots to such heights... really, it was quite the achievement of arrogance and ambition. The advent of fire allowing for longer lives, giving the option of remaining in one place. The primordial man, no longer a homeless nomad with his warm caves, managed to scrape together the knowledge that allowed him to build tools. Tools allowed him to farm, to hunt, to create for himself a permanent settlement. Permanent settlements led to communities and communities to some sense of structure, of organization, of a hierarchy. This hierarchy eventually set forth for itself a governing body of laws, determined that trade would be a sufficient substitute for complete self-sufficiency. Trade and regulations led to specialization, which led to man creating jobs for himself and for others. Economic prosperity brought about by this new access to income allowed for wants to be met in addition to needs. This new market for the fulfillment of wants created more jobs until it was an industry. Industry impacted firmly with technology and brought the myriad of products straight into home. With this invasive industry came competition, so now all of the people hawking products that were never really necessary to begin with had to come up with ways to make their product more attractive, and men and women whose ancestors roamed the land scavenging for the necessities of life now sat in little cubicles staring at market reports and sampling data in an attempt to find out which colors and which slogans received the best response. Food sells better when your sign is yellow. That was somebody’s fucking life.
Fascinating, yet somehow absurd, to think about.
The voice breaking into her contemplation of the rise and eventual commercial bastardization of civilization was familiar, a mix of cockiness, arrogance and supremely haughty attitude, and as Cordelia swung around lazily on her stool, the face that she had been anticipating came into view. Glossy near black hair pushed back behind the delicate shell of petite ears, the lazy droop of chocolate eyes, the exotic slash of winged brows, the sultry pout of lush red lips… “Faith.”
This was intriguing. She hadn’t seen the rogue Slayer since the night of their unfortunate confrontation and before that hadn’t really known her that well. Other than as a psychotic murderer to be avoided, that is, but the fear of a barely restrained sanity wasn’t really an issue anymore. Such things no longer troubled Cordelia.
“Thought that was you I saw coming in here.”
Faith had apparently decided that she wanted to sit because the next thing Cordelia knew, the dark girl was sliding onto the seat beside her, propping her elbows up on the bar.
“Bartender,” Cordelia said coolly, cocking her head back in a move designed to elicit the man’s attention, “how about a drink for my friend here.”
A surprised huff and an arched brow let the Seer know that her offer hadn’t been anticipated, and Cordelia took a small measure of satisfaction in that.
Pausing for a minute, undoubtedly expecting her companion to rescind the gesture, Faith finally shrugged her shoulders in a practiced move of indifference before turning a wide grin on the patient figure of the bartender. “Just water for me.”
“Surely you can do better than that,” Cordelia scoffed immediately, canting her head to the side so that she had a clear view of the expressive face peering back at her.
A smug grin flashed briefly across the Slayer’s face. “Fast metabolism. I’d have to drink a gallon of whatever you’re downing just to get a buzz, and its not worth the effort. Water’s fine.”
“Water it is then,” the Seer said magnanimously.
Cordelia was certain that Faith didn’t know what to make of her non-reaction. Grand entrances like the one the other girl had made, tinted with a hint of drama and anticipation, practically screamed out for some kind of confrontation. Faith was looking for something from her, but she wasn’t ready to provide it yet. Until she was ready, the Seer was going to take advantage of the situation. Nothing better to spice up the dreary existence of the soon-to-be dead than a colorful figure like the one sitting beside her.
Faith was perturbed. She’d expected something, anything, from the ex-cheerleader. Instead of hysteria and recriminations, she was getting an almost bored acceptance.
“So whatcha doing here, C?” she asked finally, unable to put up with the silence any longer. It had been an impulse to follow the other girl in, one that she’d realized was born from an itching desire to have someone remind her of why she never wanted to go back to little Hellmouth hole in the wall Sunnydale, to drive home the point of why that life and those people and their opinions of her didn’t matter, to reaffirm her existance as she knew it. Which, she acknowledged, was a rather weighty burden to drape on the shoulders of an ex-cheerleader, but it was all she had at the moment. Unfortunately her target wasn’t being cooperative, and the Slayer felt herself start to fidget. She hated fidgeting.
“Drinking,” Cordelia answered simply, amused by the flash of frustration that her brevity induced. “What, exactly, are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be nearing lights out in your little six by six right about now?”
Finally, a little sarcasm. That elicited a grin from the dark Slayer. “I’m a free woman now, Queen C. Paid my debt to society, been rehabilitated, served my time… doesn’t matter to me which one you choose. I’ve been out for a few weeks now and am quite enjoying my time as a fine, upstanding citizen.”
“I can only imagine,” Cordelia muttered. She was feeling the beginnings of a plan form, the pieces falling together slowly until the hazy shape of an idea appeared. “Tell me Faith, if you were going to kill me, how would you do it?”
For a moment the Slayer was taken aback. The sip of water that she’d been taking diverted itself down the wrong pathway, and it took a few seconds for Faith to clear the unwanted liquid out of its new, incorrect resting place.
“I’m not looking to kill you,” she replied cautiously, eyes narrowing down to slits. “I don’t play that game anymore, C.”
With a sigh of frustration, Cordelia rolled her head from side to side, attempting to clear away the hint of tension that was gathering at the base of her neck. “Then think hypothetically. You do know what that means, don’t you?”
Her jaw tightening as she worked to push back a tide of rapidly rising anger, Faith thought about it. “I guess it depends on how angry I was. If you’d really pissed me off and it was a heat of the moment kind of thing, I might snap your neck. If I was planning it, I’d probably slice through your femoral artery. You know, the one right here.”
Her words were accompanied by a demonstration, and Cordelia suppressed the immediate startle response that shot through her, telling her to jerk away from the slim hand sliding up the inside of her thigh.
“So you’d steer clear of the face, is that it? Something quick. A snap of the neck, a quick slice through some random artery?” Cordelia questioned, trying to ignore the heat of the other girl’s palm burning through the thin layer of her pants.
“Yeah, I guess so. It’d be no problem for me to break your neck. They do it on TV and make it look easy, but that bone’s tougher than you’d think. Of course, its no match for me or anything. And yeah, I think the femoral artery’s really the way to go. You’d be less likely to get blood all over me. The pulses would be strong, of course, but you wouldn’t get as much spray as you would with a jugular cut. Why, you looking for a Slayer assisted suicide, C?” Faith asked guardedly, running her tongue over the edge of her teeth as she contemplated the other girl’s profile.
“Just curious, that’s all. Where are you living, Faith?” Flipping the cardboard coaster over only revealed the same design on the other side, this time in navy blue, and with a grunt of frustration Cordelia reached over the bar, pulling a pristine white napkin from the top of a waiting stack. A pen appeared seemingly out of nowhere, her thumb clicking it decisively into readiness.
Faith studied the other girl’s impassive face closely, not at all certain of what to make of her strange behavior. This wasn’t the Cordelia that she remembered, full of cutting comments and a vitality that came from knowing that she was the biggest, richest fish in a relatively small pond. There was an odd air to this Cordelia, one of mixed resignation and utter unconcern, and it both fascinated and confounded the Slayer.
“At the Y,” she replied hesitantly, not at all sure where this was leading.
The sound of the pen’s ballpoint scratching across the surface of the napkin drew her attention down to the little white square. It looked like Cordelia was writing an address, the letters and numbers appearing in her bold script. For some reason Faith imagined the other girl as one of those who wrote in soft, flowing letters with a lazy, expansive, definitely feminine scrawl. The sharp, rigid lines of her characters didn’t fit at all into that picture but somehow, at that moment, seemed completely right.
“Go get your things and meet me here,” Cordelia instructed, sliding the scrap of paper over in front of the Slayer.
Faith studied the address for a moment, her expression wary. “And just what am I going to find here?” she asked, the tip of her finger connecting squarely with the block of words.
“Something far better than the Y.”
At the sound of the heavy knock, Cordelia counted to ten and then crossed the expanse of her foyer, sliding back the bolt and swinging the door open wide. There, in the dim illumination filtering down from the hallway light, stood Faith. In one hand she had a duffel bag, no doubt issued to her when she left prison. It was only half-full, and apparently now housed the entirety of the other girl’s possessions. The Slayer herself was still clad in the tight black leather pants that she had been wearing before, but now a matching black leather jacket was draped across her shoulders, the flash of white from her skin-tight tank top the only splash of color that the outfit offered.
Faith stepped easily into the apartment at the words. She’d been a bit unnerved by Cordelia’s dispassionate perusal of her form, but certainly wasn’t going to let the other girl know it.
Letting her duffel slide to the floor, the Slayer looked around the apartment curiously. She wasn’t quite sure why she’d done what the other girl had asked of her, why she’d taken Cordelia’s demand and that scrap of paper and cleaned all of her stuff out of the Y with no further explanation. Perhaps she’d been intrigued, seeing something in the ex-cheerleader that definitely hadn’t been there the last time they met. No, there was something about her unconcerned tone, her barely reflective near dead eyes, that had intrigued Faith, and now she found herself standing in the middle of a strange apartment. It was warm, cheery, and though it might not have been decorated with the most expensive home décor trinkets to hit the market as of late, it definitely had a classy elegance that bespoke a refined taste on the part of the decorator. Everything was crisp, with straight lines and cool, comforting colors, and Faith felt that it should have been somehow warmer than it was. The furniture looked comfortable, the art looked inviting and yet it was still detached, disinterested almost.
“Nice place. You live here?” she asked finally, striding further into the living room. Her boots clomped heavily on the hardwood floor, the sound echoing back into the apartment, and she wondered just how big the place was. Certainly far more than she’d expected Cordelia would be able to afford… maybe she had a sugar daddy paying all her bills. Faith could imagine that scenario with little problem.
Cordelia looked around the room as if to reassure herself that she was, indeed, still in her apartment. “Yeah, I live here. Tell me something, Faith.”
The quick transition brought a guarded look to the other girl’s features, and as she flopped down on the couch, slumping back into the soft cushions with boneless ease, she nodded her assent.
“Did you ever want to fuck me? Back in Sunnydale, that is.” Cordelia watched the Slayer’s reaction closely, extremely pleased by the hints of surprise and confusion that she saw battling for dominance.
For a long moment Faith didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, until suddenly she stood, shucking off her leather jacket and throwing it across the room. It smacked into the wall and fell limply to the floor and for some reason Cordelia was fascinated by the rumpled pile of black that it made on her living room carpet. But, somewhere in the back of her mind she realized that Faith was still moving, and when she looked back it was to see that the other girl had kicked off her shoes, that she had shimmied out of the thin tank, leaving her only in her cheap lacy white bra, fingers of both hands resting on the tabs of leather holding her pants together. She’d paused there, hooded dark eyes slitted, burning with a combination of arousal and predatory intent. “Is that why I’m here, C? That what you want?”
Cordelia pursed her lips, hazel eyes tracing down the lean figure half-bare in front of her. The cocky attitude was firmly in place, outlined by the seductive slump of Faith’s spine, the one that somehow allowed her to thrust not only her breasts but her hips forward at the same time, a double barreled attack on the Seer’s remaining scant few strings of reason. Her skin was like silken ivory, marred occasionally by the thin silver sliver of scar tissue from some random battle or another, one a bit more pronounced than the rest… the one Buffy had left her with. She had full breasts, the firm skin barely held in check by the meager confines of the lace attempting to hold it, and the faint outline of pink nipples was visible through the thin fabric.
Her stomach was lean, muscled, and disappeared seductively into the confines of those low-slung tight leather pants. That black covering obscured the specifics of her legs, but Cordelia imagined that they were leanly contoured, as was the rest of the girl. Faith was a study in elongation, from her long torso to the stretch of her legs, and the Seer traced her eyes down until she met slim, bare feet.
It was an alluring package, a seductive one, and Cordelia really didn’t want to resist what was being offered. She wasn’t sure if this was the result that she’d been intending to provoke with her earlier question, though she imagined that she was only hiding the truth of her intent from herself with lies and half-formed obfuscations. In a life that had turned, for the large part, into nothing but a grainy film of black and white, she’d managed to bring in a slash of violent, almost painfully bright red. Faith… she held the potential to make things interesting again, to take the Seer’s mind off of her lack of a life and the reality that even the little that she did have left would be taken from her at an as of yet undetermined but frighteningly soon date.
Faith was still looking at her, a question in her dark eyes, and it took a moment for Cordelia to realize that she needed to answer, that she needed to take some forward step that would make this happen.
Instead of speaking, she merely extended her hand, long fingers stretching out in a gesture of invitation, and after looking at the limb for a few seconds in contemplation, Faith took it, her fingers and palm almost blazingly hot against Cordelia’s cool skin. A sharp tug got them moving, and the Seer lead their way back to her bedroom, not bothering to flip on the light when they finally crossed the threshold into her inner sanctum. They didn’t need the extra light, not with the garish glow from the phosphorescent street lamps that managed to filter in through her closed blinds.
Once there she swung around, her hands finding the tabs to Faith’s leather pants, ripping the fabric apart and tugging down violently until it was past slim hips, baring the length of long legs and the other girl was stepping out of the pool of leather. That left the Slayer in only that flimsy piece of lace. She left it on the other girl, her hands reaching up past it to grasp warm shoulders instead, and with a gentle shove Faith was sprawled out on her bed, her body automatically curling up so that she was leaning on her elbows, watching from under heavy lids as Cordelia reached down to her jeans, as she popped open the line of five buttons.
The Seer watched as Faith removed her last remaining garment herself, watched as the lace fell away to bare the heavy curve of her breasts even as her own hands pushed down the soft denim clinging to her hips, taking the little scrap of silk that served as her underwear with it. That left only the tight shirt and the undergarment beneath, and with both hands attached firmly to the hem of the stretchy top, she pulled it up and off. Reaching behind her, she snapped open her bra, letting the silk fall to the floor, leaving herself as naked as the woman lounging in her bed.
Seconds later she was kneeling, the mattress giving slightly beneath her weight, and as she fell to her hands, crawling up the expanse between them until she was hovering over Faith, Cordelia felt the last of any inner resistance that she might have been feeling fall away. Now was the time to enjoy, to indulge in actions without consequences. Well, not completely without consequences, she supposed, but somehow those didn’t matter much to her anymore.
There was something about the spill of dark hair staining her pale sheets, about the warmth emanating from the body underneath her, that seemed to make all thought unnecessary, and so Cordelia gave it up in favor of feeling, of reveling in the glide of skin and the bubbling tickle of pleasure shooting through her abdomen.
“I want you,” she said slowly, reaching down to wrap her hand around one slim wrist, bringing Faith’s hand up to her headboard, curling her fingers around one of the spindles she found there, “to hold onto this and not let go.” A second hand joined the first, and Cordelia settled her weight firmly on Faith’s belly, bracketing her torso with the silken skin of her thighs as she straddled the supine Slayer. Pulling back, looming over the figure stretched out below her, arms above her head and breasts straining in the pale artificial light sifting in from outside, the Seer smiled.
All of this was hers, even if it only belonged to her for the next hour or half hour or however long she could manage to keep control of it. She harbored no illusions about the extent of her control, however. Well aware of the muscles that were currently relaxed beneath the veil of soft skin covering them, that all it would take would be a quick move from the girl beneath her and all of her domain would be sacrificed, Cordelia nonetheless resolved to enjoy her time as self-proclaimed Conqueror.
Leaning forward, hair sliding across the tops of her shoulders to hang around her face like a cowl, she let hazel eyes trace over lean cheeks, the barely visible groove of parallel dimples, the straight line of an elegant neck. Faith’s chest was moving up and down with rapid regularity, her nostrils flaring on each indrawn breath as she let chocolate eyes trace over the figure hovering above her. This dance had intrigued her, and she let herself get caught up in the web of seduction that Cordelia was spinning with relative ease, deciding to see where it took her. Why not? She’d spent her life living in the moment, glorying in the joys to be had ignoring the rigid rules of a society that was far too concerned with propriety and order and appearances.
The warm touch of fingers trailing over her jaw, down her throat, across the fluttering plane of her collarbone and down to cup her breasts pulled Faith back into the moment. Thumbs were teasing her already taut nipples, bumping over the aroused flesh as they brushed back and forth, and she shifted her body slightly, pressing up against the wetness currently resting on her belly.
The move elicited a moan from Cordelia, and in response she brought her forefingers up to meet her thumbs, pinching the nubs of flesh she had been caressing, feeling the skin and tissue compress. A shuddering heave of the Slayers chest was her reply, the breath pushing those full breasts up further, offering themselves to her, really. So, she took them, swooping down until her mouth had latched onto one firm tip, pulling as much of the soft skin in as she could manage. There was the hard press of a nipple against her tongue and as she began to suck it moved rhythmically over the velvet softness of the organ.
When she finally moved to the other straining tip, she left the one she’d been nursing raw and aching, the skin an irritated red that bespoke a heated mixture of pleasure and pain. Faith tensed as she felt Cordelia shift her attention, her biceps straining as she maintained a death grip on the headboard. She couldn’t help the way her hips were writhing, the way her knees had bent and her heels had pressed into the bedding, pushing her closer and closer to the mouth that had devoured her. It was a delicious sensation, to be enclosed, encapsulated, consumed, the be the sole focus of another’s intensity, and as that same concentrated energy was directed, finally, down her torso to the cradle of her thighs, she couldn’t help the way her body pushed upward, begging shamelessly even without her words.
Cordelia didn’t pause, didn’t do anything more than wrap her arms around the slim length of strong thighs and pull the Slayer’s body down the bed, stretching her out once more as she moved her hands under the flexing expanse of Faith’s buttocks, lifting the girl’s body up to meet her mouth.
One long swipe of her tongue and then another and another and soon Faith was mumbling incoherently, words and invectives rolling out of her mouth as Cordelia teased her, tracing each and every millimeter of her flesh. It was near torture to her painfully aroused flesh, just that light teasing hint and the promise of more to come, the sweep of velvet softness delving mockingly into her core only to retract once more and she heard the wooden spindles of the headboard creak under the pressure she was putting on them, some part of her nearly crazed mind realizing that if she tightened her grip any further she was going to rip them from their moorings, but she didn’t care. All she wanted was relief, an end to the torment.
“God, Cordelia, please,” she finally gasped out, her body curling upward as a softened tongue once again brushed over her aroused clit, as it sent a bolt of fire curling up her body. Her heels were slipping uselessly against the soft fabric of the sheets in their quest to lift her up against the lips teasing her, the muscles in her thighs were tensed so tightly that they ached, and the tendons in her neck flexed and jumped without her consent.
Her plea was answered. Without warning Cordelia moved up, taking the aroused bit of flesh at the apex of strong thighs into her mouth, her teeth scraping harshly against the aching nub seconds before a lapping tongue soothed it. Faith nearly screamed out her relief, her stomach contracting wildly as the sensation roiled through her, and as the Seer began to suck, she felt her long-denied climax finally come to a head, ripping up her spine until every inch of her froze, from the strained pull of her forearms to the burning soles of her feet, and when it finally passed through her she fell to the mattress, exhausted.
It took a minute to actually pry her fingers loose from the spindles, to calm her erratic breathing, but when she did, she reached down, wrapping her fingers through Cordelia’s thick hair, and pulled the other girl up her body. She pressed their lips together, tasting herself on the other girl’s mouth, for their first kiss.
It was more the harsh meeting of tongues and the bump of teeth and the heavy pant of breath into one another’s mouth than anything else because Faith didn’t have it in her at the moment to be suave, to use her normally consummate skill at things like that. This was more of an outlet for her pent up aggression, but she realized quickly that it wasn’t enough.
A quick surge of her hips and their positions were reversed. She lay easily in the vee of Cordelia’s thighs, her body stretched out along the other girl’s, her weight balanced on her forearms. Pulling her lips away from the Seer’s, she kissed and bit her way down the other girl’s neck, her movements rough, bordering on painful, slightly out of her control.
“My turn now,” she panted against an erect nipple before taking the flesh between her teeth, tugging on the aroused flesh before soothing it with the harsh scrape of her tongue.
Cordelia’s fingers had wrapped themselves around the very spindles she’d directed Faith to, the muscles in her arms straining against the feelings rocketing through her. There was an almost uncontrollable need to hang on to something, anything, to anchor herself against the sting of sharp teeth and the delicious press of a body on hers.
Fingers were slipping through the soft hair guarding her sex, sliding between inflamed lips and past the clench of strong inner muscles until they were filling her, stretching her. Her hips pressed up against the luscious fullness, the pleasing burn of accommodating flesh and the blinding, nameless feel of being possessed that always came with this, with the knowledge that she was impaled, was connected in the most intimate of ways with another human being.
“You’re so wet,” Faith moaned, sounding absurdly pleased at her observation, but Cordelia didn’t care. Yes she was wet, yes she was aroused, yes she was writhing shamelessly beneath this other girl’s body, her hips bucking up wildly against the three fingers buried deep within her. It didn’t matter though… nothing mattered beyond this moment and the spectre of escape that she could feel curling in her belly.
Faith propped herself up on one arm, her thigh bracketing the hand pressed inside the other girl. Dark eyes took in the arch of Cordelia’s back, the tension in her shoulders, the flex and play of the tendons in her throat. There was the flash of white as her teeth bit down harshly on her lower lip and the flutter of closed lids and the clench of surprisingly strong biceps, and as the Slayer began to thrust, began to move her thigh and her fingers and surge forward only to slip back once more, she delighted in the knowledge that she had caused all of that, had been the impetus that had brought forth the thin sheen of sweat on light caramel skin, had caused the jagged beat of the pulse she could see beating at the base of the other girl’s throat.
And then Cordelia’s eyes popped open, one hand leaving its post at the head of the bed to wrap around Faith’s neck, pulling the other girl down until their lips clashed again, bodies meeting with a light slap of skin on skin, and as the Slayer swallowed Cordelia’s moan of release, as tight muscles clamped down on her fingers, holding her still, she tasted the bitter iron of blood from where the Seer had bitten her own lip moments before.
Even as the other girl’s rapid breathing was finally calming, she pushed herself up, rolling to the edge of the bed. Her feet came down hard against carpet as she ran her hands through her hair, slicking back the sweat dampened mass. She was still keyed up, her body at once both soothed and aroused from her previous passion, and nearly jumped off the bed when cool fingertips skimmed across her back.
“Where’re you going?” Cordelia murmured, rolling up on her side so that she was stretched out behind the taut figure hovering on the edge of her bed, tense shoulders and a rapidly stiffening spine filling her view.
“I don’t know,” Faith husked, realizing at that moment that she really didn’t know. She’d forgotten, in the heat of passion, that Cordelia had directed her to pack up all of her things and that, for some reason, she’d actually done that. She didn’t know what she’d expected from the other girl and didn’t know what she’d do now. Maybe the woman currently tracing the indention at the base of her spine had planned on carting her off to Angel’s. The vampire had offered before when she’d gotten out of jail, but she’d refused. In fact, she’d asked him to keep quiet about her release, wanting to find some place for herself in this world before old enemies that might once have been friends came after her, looking for their revenge or their closure or their retribution or whatever piece of her hide that they could get.
There was a rustle of sheets, the rasp of wood sliding against wood as a drawer was opened and closed and then the warm press of a body along the length of her back, a tanned arm wrapping itself around her waist, palm up. Something silver glinted in the light, and as Faith squinted to see what it was, the form shifting from amorphous to starkly clear, she realized it was a key.
“What’s this?” she asked, taking the sliver of metal for herself. It was still cool to the touch, not a trace of warmth having been imparted to it by the skin it had rested on so briefly.
There was a moment of silence and then Cordelia’s voice beside her ear, low and gravelly soft. “Its yours. You live here now.”
“Live here?” she echoed, wrapping her fist closed around the key.
“With me. If you want,” Cordelia elaborated, the words drifting past Faith’s ear on a teasingly warm breath.
The Slayer felt her jaw tense against the thoughts racing through her mind, the uncertainties, the accusations. “So what was this then?” she asked, glancing back briefly over her shoulder to catch luminous hazel eyes. “An audition? I make you cum hard enough and I get to stay? I warm your bed and you take me in like some stray?”
Her voice was hard, the words harsh, and she felt the tension in her body grow. She was angry, confused, and uncertain, all things which melded together to form an uncomfortable brew of clashing emotions, and Faith fought against the urge to lash out at something, to break something just to feel the comfortingly satisfying familiar heat of unleashed rage.
“No,” Cordelia said softly, her words devoid of entreaty or comfort. “This was what it was. You stay if you want, you leave if you want. You do what you want, no expectations or demands from me. You sleep here if you want, you fuck me if you want, you pick up your clothes and get the hell out of here if you want.”
Faith thought about it for a moment, letting the words play across the expanse of her mind. “Sounds like I get anything that I want,” she observed finally. “Just what do you get?”
“I get to be not alone.”
In the end it had been a ridiculously easy choice, and for the first time in longer than she could remember, Faith was waking up with her arms wrapped around someone else’s body, with the tease of warm breath feathering over her skin and the soft rustle of sheets echoing her movements.
It wasn’t as hard as she might have imagined it would be. Times past she wouldn’t have let herself relax, wouldn’t have let down her guard long enough to fall into the comfort of limbs teasing against her own while she slept, to the tickle of someone else’s hair against her cheek as she climbed back into awareness. For some reason, though, she was comfortable here, in this strange room that she was just now seeing clearly for the first time, soft trickles of ambient sunlight illuminating a half open closet and the disorderly spill of girlish accoutrements and various knick-knacks covering the top of a nearby dresser.
Her key lay on the stand beside the bed, glinting in the early morning sun, and she looked at it for a moment, somehow reassured by its solidity. It meant that she had some sort of a home to come back to, that instead of some random bed at the cheapest place she could find, tonight she’d be sinking into the softness of a mattress covered in soft, sweet-smelling sheets in a room that didn’t reek of poverty and stale sweat and dead dreams.
The fact that that bed came with the over five and a half feet of gloriously sweet skin pressed teasingly against her at the moment was another plus. It was one that she didn’t even begin to claim to understand, but she’d accept it nonetheless. Cordelia’s motivations weren’t at all clear to her, but that didn’t particularly matter. She’d learned a long time ago that people had their reasons, that sometimes they made sense and sometimes they seemed to be of value only to their owner, but everything was done with some goal in mind. Since persecution or revenge or any number of other unpleasant things that she could imagine didn’t seem to be that goal, Faith didn’t really care why Cordelia had brought her here, why she’d shared her body and her bed and her apartment and her life.
“Why are you awake?” The words were muffled by a pillow, but the cranky early-morning displeasure of one who didn’t want to be conscious was clearly evident.
“Just enjoying life, C,” Faith replied before she had time to consider the words.
Hazel eyes peeked up from their hiding place, bracketed by an adorably mussed mass of golden-brown hair as Cordelia pushed herself up. “Enjoying life,” she echoed, a tinge of melancholy wrapped around the words. Its what she’d brought her here for, though, wasn’t it? To breathe a little life into an existence that had become stale, meaningless, empty, and far too alone to be enjoyable. Faith managed to do that thusfar, letting Cordelia bury her pain and her hurt and her scared anticipation of an uncertain future in the Slayer’s body.
“Don’t ever stop doing that Faith,” she said slowly, unable to keep the sadness out of her voice. “It’s far more important than you realize.”
The Slayer merely nodded, vaguely aware that Cordelia was telling her something far more important than the words alone seemed to convey.
As Faith opened up the cupboard, scanning lazily past the boxes of cereal awaiting consumption, she mused that being a kept woman wasn’t all that bad of a thing. She’d been living with Cordy for a month, and her life probably hadn’t ever been as good before as it was now. She had a great apartment, even if it wasn’t really hers. True, she had to share it with a ghost, but the fringe benefits more than made up for that. Like an apparently free and unfettered access to the body of the woman who shared her bed. Every night wasn’t like that first night, full of passion and heat and unrestrained carnality, but every night did bring with it something new or something comfortingly familiar, and Faith was quickly becoming addicted to that. Even if they only wrapped themselves around one another and drifted off to sleep, it was still nice to have someone there.
Well, not that she really drifted off to sleep. She’d stay until Cordelia did, though, whether it was from exhaustion after a long day or exhaustion after an intense session of lovemaking. It soothed her somehow to feel the other girl’s body relax, feel it slip into oblivion, and she wouldn’t leave until she’d listened to the soft, gentle rasp of the other girl’s breathing evened out in slumber for at least ten minutes. Then, satisfied that the other girl was truly in the grips of deep sleep, Faith would slip out of Cordelia’s grasp, moving silently through the room, gathering together the hunting clothes she had laid out earlier. Usually she’d dress in the living room, not pulling on her boots until she was outside of the apartment in the hallway so that the loud clomp of the heavy soles wouldn’t wake Cordelia up.
Once dressed it was off into the night to do what she’d been born to do… slay. LA had as many vamps and demons as did Sunnydale, and there was more than enough to do to make her feel useful. She liked that, feeling useful. It fit right in with the knowledge that she was needed. Cordy needed her, though she still wasn’t completely sure why, and the satisfaction that knowledge brought with it started to heal long festering wounds.
Usually she’d finish up just before the sun started to rise, which left her enough time to slip back into the apartment and get a quick shower before Cordelia woke up. Sometimes they’d share breakfast before the other girl headed off to work. Sometimes they’d make love, but no matter what they did it was all part of the comforting routine that Faith realized she’d begun to crave.
The sound of the door opening pulled her out of her reverie, and the Slayer glanced at the microwave display in confusion. The digital numbers there read that it was 3:30 in the afternoon, far too early for Cordelia to be getting home. But, the sounds were the same, from the thump of her purse hitting the floor to the clip of her heels against hardwood, and Faith spun around in confusion just in time to see the other girl moving down the hallway to the bedroom.
By the time she returned the milk she’d set out earlier to the fridge and moved back down the hallway to see what was wrong, Cordelia had shucked all of her clothes in a sloppy trail that stopped just short of the bed and was laying there, her body curled in on itself, arms wrapped tightly around a pillow. She’d turned the lights out and was facing away from the windows, and Faith traced her eyes over the tight line of her lover’s body.
“C?” she asked hesitantly, not at all certain what was going on.
“No talking,” Cordelia rasped, turning her face even farther into the pillow. Faith got the impression that the other girl hadn’t come home for an impromptu session of lovemaking, despite her currently naked state, and treading uncertainly across the room until she was standing over the bed, the Slayer worked to puzzle together the meaning behind Cordelia’s return.
The other girl’s brow was furrowed, her shoulders held stiffly in a gesture that Faith soon realized was pain, and moving slowly, carefully, so as not to upset Cordelia’s position, she slipped into bed behind her, wrapping an arm around the other girl’s waist. The Seer relaxed back into her warmth a bit, and Faith rubbed her hand soothingly up and down the expanse of the other girl’s belly until Cordelia finally slipped off into an uneasy sleep. Without even meaning to or realizing that she was, Faith followed her.
When she awoke it was dark and she was alone. Rolling out of bed, she followed the sounds of traffic and the muted chatter of voices out through the open doors to the balcony, heedless of the fact that she was wearing only a pair of panties and a thin cotton undershirt. Cordelia was standing with her back to the door, her elbows braced along the edge of the railing as she leaned into the wooden barrier. The wind was ruffling her hair, blowing it back over shoulders that stiffened at the sound of Faith’s feet padding over to her.
“You want to tell me what happened?” Faith asked, pressing her body along the long length of the other girl’s back, wrapping her arms loosely around Cordelia’s slim waist. For a moment her only answer was the honk of car horns and the slamming of doors as tired occupants crawled out of their cars and headed for the apartment building until finally she felt Cordelia tense, felt her begin to move, and she waited patiently while the other girl turned, watching warily as hazel eyes slowly traced up her body to catch on her own.
“I’m dying,” Cordelia said finally, her words whisper soft, almost carried away by the breeze currently cooling their skin. Lowering her eyes away from the dumbfounded look on Faith’s face, she continued, “I get these visions, mostly about people who need our help. Angel’s help, and Gunn’s and Wesley’s and mine. Sometimes afterwards I just need to get away from everything, sometimes the pain is a little worse than the last time, so I come back here where no one can see me and pretend like its not really happening. But, I can’t get away from it because whatever it is that lets me see things is killing me. The doctors don’t know why and they don’t know how to stop it, so each time it happens I die a little more. I haven’t told the others yet. No one but you…”
Her words faltered away into nothingness, the clipped sentences delivered in an unemotional voice that finally refused to continue working.
With a sharp hiss of breath Faith stumbled back as if burned, immediately wrapping her arms around her stomach in an unconscious gesture of self-protection. “Dying?” she echoed, her voice full of disbelief.
Still Cordelia didn’t look at her. Instead she turned her head to the side, unfocused eyes staring off into the distance at nothing in particular as a silver tear traced a path down her cheek. “You can leave if you want. I won’t make you stay…”
Vividly aware of the rapid pant of her breath but unable to stop it, Faith ran her eyes up and down the other woman’s taut form, taking in the barely discernable pallor of her normally dark skin, the lines of tension dividing her brow, feathering out from the corner of her eyes. It didn’t make any sense to her, this talk of visions and dying when she stood there looking at Cordelia, at long slim muscles and soft skin and the silky fall of her hair. This wasn’t the face of a sick woman, of a dying woman, despite the little markers that indicated otherwise. This was the face of someone who was alive, full of vitality and promise and… and life.
“Is that why you brought me here, then? To watch you die?” she asked finally, not quite sure why her voice sounded so rough, so hoarse, but unable to do anything about it.
At the words Cordelia’s head snapped around, dull hazel eyes finally reconnecting with confused chocolate orbs, something in them pleading with Faith to understand. “No, not to watch me die. To make what’s left of my time feel like a life. To have someone to fall asleep with at night. To be able to pretend that I’m normal and that my life is normal and that I’m not alone. To feel alive, because I haven’t felt that way in a long, long time. Not like I do now, when I’m with you. You’re alive. So very, very alive, and you don’t worry about death and you don’t care about how the future is going to turn out and you don’t wonder what you’re missing because you’re not afraid to go after what you want. So when I saw you, I went after what I wanted. It was my birthday and you were my present, handed down from the fucked up cosmic forces that had taken everything else away, and I wasn’t going to die having missed all those things that I wanted. That’s why I brought you here… but, I won’t make you stay.”
Brows furrowed, eyes narrowed, Faith felt her anger and confusion mix with a tinge of despair, and she couldn’t help but lash out. “So that was it? You saw me and said to hell with the past, I’m going to take her home and fuck her and feed her and keep her around like some fucking house cat so that I won’t be lonely? You figured that at the very least maybe one day I’d turn on you and gut you and steal all your shit and then you wouldn’t have to worry about wondering when you were going to die because I’d have taken care of that little problem for you? Is that what you want, me to slice you open so that you can lay there in a pool of blood and pretend like its better than just fucking checking out one day? Or were you just so desperate that anyone would have sufficed and I happened to be the lucky trick who walked through the door?”
“Why’d you think you were here?” Cordelia lashed back, upset and angry now herself, partly because she didn’t have any neat answers, any pat explanations for her actions. She’d done what had felt like the right thing at the moment, and up until today, it had worked out just like she’d wanted it to. Only now Faith was angry and she could see it all crumbling around her, the cozy little façade that she’d built, her comforting bed of lies disintegrating in the heat of the other girl’s indignation. “Did you think it was some kind of community outreach program?”
“I didn’t know why I was here,” Faith countered acidly. She didn’t understand what was happening. It had all transpired so quickly and the words and their meanings hadn’t had time to be processed yet. They were still swimming around inside her brain in a jumbled mass with only the impressions of emotions breaking through the surface, throwing everything into chaos. “I just thought that maybe for once something had happened for no reason, that whoever is up there pulling the strings thought it was time to give me a break, to let me be happy. I thought that it was my turn to have things work out for me.”
The words brought with them silence as both girls contemplated their meaning, the unspoken sentiment coloring the bitter statements. After a few seconds of thought Cordelia spoke, her voice soft, “Then let it be your break. Let it work out for you. Stay here if it makes you happy, no strings attached. I know I’d like that.”
“Why me? Why not Wes? Why not some random someone that you met at the movies or in a club or at the mall?” The question carried far more with it than what was said. Why had Cordelia looked past everything that had happened between them, why out of everyone that she could have chosen had she picked the one person who seemed most inappropriate.
“Because. No other reason than that. You were there and you make me happy, make me feel more like I’m living each day instead waiting for the last one. Because you’re not afraid.”
Bitterness filled her own tone as Cordelia muttered those last few words. She was afraid, was well aware that she was afraid of so many things. Afraid of dying. Afraid of not having truly lived. Afraid of being meaningless, a temporary blip on the radar of life leaving nothing behind but a faint echo. Afraid of being alone.
For a long moment Faith was silent. Closed eyes left her with nothing but the cool fingers of night air on her bare skin, the subtle hint of Cordelia’s perfume drifting over to her across the expanse that separated them, and the slow rasp of her own breathing. She could either cut and run right now, giving up her cozy bed and her shiny key and all of the comfort that went with knowing that she had somewhere to come home to because of some intrinsic need to separate herself from the potential for more pain, or she could stay. Stay and enjoy all of the things that she’d grown accustomed to, stay and try to forget that one day it’d all come screeching to a halt, stay and pretend that it all would be there for as long as she wanted it. In the end, this second choice was as ridiculously easy as the first.
“We’re out of ice cream,” she murmured finally, watching as comprehension spread across Cordelia’s face, as she took in a deep breath, the muscles in her throat working rhythmically as she looked for something to say. In the end the other girl gave up on the effort, instead choosing simply to sweep across the space between them and catch Faith’s lips with her own in a kiss meant to reassure herself more than anything else.
“Can’t have that,” the Seer rasped in reply long minutes later, twining her fingers with Faith’s and pulling the Slayer through the open doors and down the hall to their bedroom.
That night, long after Cordelia’s breath had evened out, long after her body went slack and her mind filled with the jumbled dreams of undisturbed sleep, Faith remained awake, nose pressed tightly against the back of the other girl’s neck, breathing in the warm sleepy scent of her lover.
“Did you always eat this much?” Cordelia asked, thanking her lucky stars, not for the first time, that they’d wandered into an all-you-can-eat buffet. It wasn’t something that she normally would have picked for herself, but Faith’s eyes had lit up and she’d turned that adorable smile the Seer’s way and the next thing you know they had picked up their trays, found a table, and perused the selection of luke-warm vegetables, slightly overcooked meats, and wide variety of salad greens available at the bar.
Faith was on her third helping, and the first two hadn’t been small by any means. After picking through a salad, the only thing that she could bring herself to actually eat, Cordelia had merely sat back against the red vinyl back of her half of the booth and watched in amazement as the other girl worked her way methodically through more food than Cordelia had ever seen anyone eat in one sitting, Gunn included.
“Nah, not always,” Faith said, reaching for her Coke. A quick pull on the straw drained nearly half the glass, and Cordelia watched in amusement as their harried server rushed over to pour what had to be at least the seventh refill of the night. “Its just that I eat a lot more now, you know. I figure it’s the metabolism.”
“I can feel your arteries hardening from all the way over here,” the Seer said with a shudder, watching as yet another huge bite of meatloaf disappeared into the bottomless pit.
“Funny,” Faith drawled. Then, narrowing her eyes as a thought hit, she smiled seductively.
Looking to her left and then to her right, trying to discern what had earned the mischievous yet alluring look on her companion’s face, Cordelia finally gave in to her curiosity. “What?”
The grin spread a little bit wider, and Cordelia felt a frissom of excitement shoot up her spine. “Know what I want to do tonight, C?”
The excitement blossomed at the low tone, and the brunette leaned forward unconsciously, wanting to be closer to the source of her focus. “What do you want to do tonight?” she husked, a sly grin sliding across her own face.
“I want to be sexy,” Faith replied, running her tongue lazily over her bottom lip, gratified by the way the other girl’s eyes followed the move with rapt fascination. “I want to go back to the apartment, pull on the tightest pair of pants I own and go dancing with you. What do you say?”
It wasn’t exactly what Cordelia had been expected, but the idea definitely had some appeal. Faith in tight leather pants, bodies grinding together, a slight glean of sweet glistening on that pale ivory skin… yeah, she could do dancing.
“I think you’re going to have to finish eating sometime soon or the clubs will be closed by the time we get out of here.” She threw a pointed look at the pile of food still covering Faith’s plate only to be surprised when the other girl immediately dropped her fork and slid out of her seat.
“If you’re waiting on me, you’re backing up,” Faith replied, already moving toward the door.
Throwing a couple of bills on the table, Cordelia followed her.
Two hours later they walked through the doors of a club that Faith was familiar with, and Cordelia immediately felt her body settle into rhythm with the pounding bass of the nearly deafening club music.
“You want a drink?”
One of the things the Seer loved most about places like this was that to be heard you had to be very, very close to the person you were talking to. It wasn’t as if she really needed an excuse to wrap herself around Faith, but there was something innately seductive about leaning into someone, about placing your mouth by their ear and speaking only for them.
A quick negative shake of the head was her only reply, and before Cordelia even had time to pull back, she was being led out to the center of the dance floor. The gyrating mass of bodies seemed to part magically before them, no doubt due to Faith’s imposing presence, and soon they found themselves in the middle of a throng of swaying bodies.
The Seer took a moment to take it all in… it’d been a long time since she’d been out like this, the flashing rainbow of strobe lights painting everyone with their glow, the music so loud that it seemed to beat from within her body, the hot press of bodies and the delicious freedom to be had when she gave herself over to the fervor of the nearly primitive urge to move, her limbs gliding smoothly in tandem with the body in front of her or behind her. This time though she knew exactly who her partner was, knew the curves currently teasing her intimately and somehow that made it all that much more exciting.
Faith had kept her word and was currently wearing a pair of pants that looked as if they’d been painted on, the supple flex of leather highlighting strong muscles and the gentle curve of her hip. She’d decided to top the outfit with a plain black cotton tank, the hem of which was currently raising ever higher, baring a strip of soft pale skin, and Cordelia licked her lips at the sight, remembering exactly how that skin tasted.
Dark eyes were calling to her, beckoning her closer, and Cordelia gave in to the urge to close the distance between them, to press their bodies together. Strong arms reached out, jerking her forward until her belly was pressed tightly against Faith’s taut abdomen, and she smiled down at her lover, letting her arms snake over the other girl’s shoulders, one hand winding through the hair at the Slayer’s nape, sliding through the hint of dampness that had already gathered there.
“You don’t mind if I keep you close, do you?” Faith husked, her lips millimeters away from the other girl’s ear. The words were followed by the quick trace of her tongue along that sensitive rim, and Cordelia tightened her hold.
Their hips were rocking together, clashing in time with the beat of the music, and Cordelia felt the heavy lethargy of arousal sweep through her, catching her in its intoxicating web. “Not at all,” she murmured in reply, nipping at a soft earlobe in retaliation.
Arching a brow at the liberty, Faith let her hands slide upwards from the other girl’s waist until they palmed full breasts, and Cordelia’s eyes widened in surprise. Looking around to see if anyone was watching, she realized that even if they were it really didn’t matter. Not only would they not be able to see much, but it wasn’t even the worst display of public affection currently being indulged in. So, baring her teeth in a feral grin, she let her hands slide down in answer, slim fingers worming their way under the impossibly tight waistband of Faith’s pants to tease the bare skin beneath, blunt fingernails digging into the shifting muscles of the other girl’s buttocks.
Unwilling to be outdone, the Slayer let her hands trace a path down from Cordelia’s chest, trailing past her taut abdomen and over her hips to slide down her outer thighs. As Faith lowered her body sensuously, following her questing hands, the Seer felt her heart jump. Warm fingers slid briefly up under the confines of her short skirt, teasing the soft skin of her inner thighs before moving again, all the way down the back of her legs to her ankles, and she struggled not to sway forward into the solid comfort of the other girl’s body. She looked down, hooded eyes drooping even further at the sight of dark hair pressed against the red satin covering her abdomen, but then those hands were moving upwards again, teasing her sensitive skin, catching on the hem of her short skirt before circling back to cinch around her waist, pulling Cordelia hard against Faith’s body once more and it was all she could do to keep from tackling the Slayer to the ground.
Heedless of the people moving around them, Cordelia captured Faith’s lips with her own, her tongue sweeping inside the other girl’s mouth to capture its counterpart in a long velvet stroke. She could almost feel Faith’s moan, and with one of her own she pulled free, wrapping her fingers through the Slayer’s strong digits. Seconds later they’d made their way off of the dance floor and back out into the cool night air.
“I was tired of dancing,” Cordelia purred when questioning chocolate eyes met hers.
The trip back to the apartment seemed excruciatingly long, and as soon as she’d swung the door closed behind them Cordelia pinned Faith back against its expanse, her lips once again covering the other girl’s. It was a kiss of pure desire, of slashing tongues and the harsh rasping pant of breath, and she didn’t break it until some part of her brain realized that she couldn’t pull off Faith’s shirt unless they moved apart.
They made it down the hallway awkwardly, alternately struggling out of clothes and pinning one another to the wall until finally Faith growled low in her throat and bent down, hoisting Cordelia over her shoulder, ignoring the other girl’s squeal of protest. Pushing her way into the bedroom, she lowered her burden to the bed gently, distractedly pulling off the last bit of fabric clinging to her before falling on top of the other girl, her lips immediately finding purchase on a particularly appealing stretch of neck.
Much to Cordelia’s surprise, instead of the demanding press of a thigh between her legs and the deliciously rough slide of hands across her skin, she felt instead the suckling gentle, felt the weight on top of her lighten a bit as Faith braced herself on her forearms.
“What’re you doing?” she asked breathlessly, her hands coming up to wrap through silky chestnut tresses. Faith’s mouth was tracing a path up her throat, sharp teeth nipping gently at the soft flesh, making thought nearly impossible. But, there was something different about the Slayer’s touch tonight, something intriguing, and Cordelia couldn’t suppress her curiosity.
Lush lips pressed against hers for a second, the velvet flick of a tongue teasing against her, before the mouth pulled away. Dark eyes appeared above her, inches away, hypnotic in their intensity.
“Just slowing things down, C. Taking my time. You okay with that?” The scratchy rasp of Faith’s voice melted into her, gathering in her belly like the sweet burn of whiskey, and Cordelia nodded her head slowly.
“Good,” came the murmured reply before those lips were claiming hers again, parting in a slow, lazy, wet caress. Faith’s hands slid under her shoulders and the dark spill of her long hair fell over them like a shroud and then there was nothing but the two of them breathing the same air and moving together with the languid slowness that comes with knowing that there’s no need to rush. Plenty of time to savor the sensation, the slip and glide of soft lips and velvet tongues and the gentle wet sounds of long, satisfying kisses.
The thought filtered in through the hazy reaches of Cordelia’s mind that this was somehow more intimate than anything else they’d ever done, this indolent indulgence in the taste and feel of one another, this single-minded intensity, this bubble of the sweet smell of another’s skin and the sound of harsh breath panting amid the soft sucking noises of two mouths clashing and parting and clashing yet again.
She needed something to distract herself from the sensory overload, but there was no respite, no break from the overwhelming presence of the girl draped over her. Her hands had skated down silky smooth skin to rest in the dimpled indention of a strong, straight spine and her thighs were parted, bracketing the long length of their counterparts. Soft, fine hair tickled her abdomen and the teasing hint of silky wetness burned into her flesh. Hard nipples bumped teasingly against her own, and it grew increasingly more difficult to tell where she ended and where Faith began.
“Please,” the Seer whimpered, not sure what she was asking for but knowing that if something didn’t happen soon she’d either explode or burst into tears, neither of which were attractive options.
She soon learned, though, that having those lips slide down her neck to nuzzle against the side of her breast, to feel that warm cavern descend on an aching nipple, to feel the flick of that talented tongue between her legs did nothing to break Faith’s hold over her. In fact, with her fingers twined tightly through silky dark locks and her legs wrapped around the contours of a strong back and the fiery pant of breath burning into her intimately, she was nothing more than a collection of senses, an aggregation of feelings, a being existing solely to struggle up the sheer face of a cliff that would drop her into nothingness, into a vacuum of solitude and aching deprivation and resounding silence.
The climax that ripped through her was almost painful in its intensity, and as she sobbed out her release she couldn’t stop the violent contractions that wracked through her body, the tensing of muscles and the unbidden strength in fingers that desperately needed to pull that dark head up, needed to be able to see chocolate eyes and taste herself on swollen lips.
Faith tried to pull away, murmuring something about being too heavy, but Cordelia wrapped her arms around the other girl’s body and pulled her down. She wanted the satisfying pressure of the solid form on top of her, wanted the soft tickle of now unruly hair to tease her skin, wanted to fill her lungs with the scent of the two of them together. So she did, her chest rising as she sucked in air, realizing as she did so that it had been a long time since she’d felt this kind of satisfaction in simply being alive. And that, she mused, was the crux of it, that satisfaction, that invigorating feeling of aliveness, the sweet taste of the one thing she’d been missing for far too long.
She needed to return the favor, needed to show Faith what this felt like, this energy that made each touch electric and each in-drawn breath satisfying and each pull and flex of muscle burn through her with the ecstasy of a well-earned exhaustion.
“You,” she murmured, reaching up to catch a drop of sweat sneaking its way down Faith’s neck, “are amazing.”
A gentle nudge reversed their positions, and now Cordelia enjoyed the position of supremacy. It gave her the ability to look down at the alluring slash of dimples, the slightly cocky elevation of one delicate brow.
“And unbelievably beautiful,” she continued, this time letting her tongue trace a line up the other girl’s jaw.
“Incredibly sexy.” A gasp of pleasure followed this pronouncement and Faith’s eyes fluttered closed as she gave herself over to the feel of the fingers moving deep inside her.
“Intensely desirable,” the Seer murmured around the tip of a turgid nipple, her words nearly drowned out by a low guttural moan of satisfaction as her body shifted into Faith’s with long, slow, powerful thrusts.
As she moved further downward, the wet drag of her tongue caused tight stomach muscles to contract, bringing sharp lines of delineation into view. “So very strong… should I continue on?”
It took Faith a moment to realize that she’d been asked a question, but as the words registered, she managed to struggle up onto her elbows, curving her back so that she could see the hint of a taunt in Cordelia’s eyes.
“Most definitely,” she growled, the air leaving her lungs in a hiss moments later when she felt the soft pressure of the other girl’s tongue slide along her wetness, hazel eyes still fastened on her own.
“You’re so wet,” Cordelia marveled, nostrils flaring around the warm scent of arousal surrounding her. “So hot…”
Faith watched as long as she could, fascinated by the occasional teasing glimpse of a soft pink tongue and the sizzling focus of hazel eyes locked with her own, but eventually she couldn’t stop her eyes from fluttering closed, her head from dropping to the pillow as her back arched and she struggled to bring her hips closer to the source of her pleasure until finally the tension in her unleashed itself in a violent flood of rhythmic contractions and waves of feeling.
Long minutes later as her ragged breathing finally started to even out, Faith rolled over onto her side, affixing dancing eyes to the sharp lines of her lover’s profile.
“Feel free to list my virtues any time you want,” she husked, drawing a surprised snort of laughter from Cordelia.
“And here I thought I’d thoroughly besmirched your virtue,” came the honeyed reply as Cordelia rolled up to face the other girl.
“I wouldn’t say its quite reached thorough besmirchment yet,” Faith countered with a wicked grin. “But, you’re more than welcome to keep on trying. I’ll let you know if you ever get it right.”
“Why you…” Cordelia snarled playfully, eyes narrowing. “I’ll show you thorough.”
And, much to Faith’s delight, she did.
“What do you mean, we’re going shopping? Where’s the we’re part of this? You go shopping and I stay here. You’re the shopper, I’m the… non-shopper,” Faith finished, somehow aware that she hadn’t managed to chose the strongest terms to support her argument but not really caring about that at the moment.
“I mean, we’re going shopping. You live here so its your duty to help me pick out a new coffee table,” Cordelia replied, hands planted firmly on her hips in a gesture meant to show that she most definitely wasn’t taking no for an answer.
“But you broke the last one,” Faith shot back, sincerely hoping that it didn’t sound like she was whining. “I don’t see why I should have to go and pick out a new one. Besides, I’m sure that anything that you like’ll be fine with me.”
She nodded her head up and down in what she hoped was a convincing manner, completely sure that she had better things to do than spend her Saturday traipsing through furniture stores. Ritual body scarification popped to mind immediately.
“First of all, it isn’t entirely my fault that the coffee table is now a pile of splinters. Some people, who shall remain nameless, weigh more than they look like they weigh, and when you add the body weight of another person traveling at a high rate of speed, you apparently can’t count on fine quality craftsmanship anymore. Besides, I told you not to sit on the coffee table in the first place.”
“Trust me though, C… I’m not good at these kinds of things. You should go on without me. I’d only slow you down.”
Dark eyes were looking at her pleadingly, but Cordelia refused to give in. “I’d say its in your best interests to come with me,” she said simply, then turned on her heel and snatched her purse up as she headed for the door.
Faith thought about that for a second, mulling through the various meanings that particular statement could have. None of them looked like they were in her favor, however, so with a long-suffering sigh she pushed up off of the couch, trudging after the now triumphant figure in front of her.
Two hours later she was sure that Cordelia would have been hard pressed to come up with a more devious form of torture for her. Apparently there were furniture stores in the mall, which meant that after they’d picked out a replacement for the unfortunate coffee table she’d found herself doubling as a human shopping cart. Five stores and three purchases later, she found the one bright point in an otherwise sad, sad day.
“I think you need one of these.”
Cordelia turned her head to the side, cocking an incredulous brow at the scrap of fabric currently hanging from her lover’s finger. From the little that she could see, it appeared to be black.
“Uh-huh. Or I could just wear nothing and it’d not only serve pretty much the same function but also be a lot cheaper,” she replied archly, fingering the silky strap of a lovely ice blue silk bra.
“But I can’t take anything off of you if you’re not wearing anything,” the Slayer pouted, carefully working her prize back into the display that it had previously occupied.
“I’m still failing to see where the problem is…” Cordelia started to say before a flutter of activity to her left broke her concentration and she trailed off.
“Cordelia? Is that you?” Both girls turned, and Cordelia felt her polite smile automatically slide into place at the sight that confronted her. Great, the stalker.
“Emily, what a surprise,” she muttered seconds before she was engulfed in a hug almost strong enough to send both her and the table full of lingerie behind her flying. Reaching around to gingerly pat the newcomer on the back, she waited patiently until the foreign limbs retracted themselves and the girl stepped back.
“Wow. I haven’t seen you in a long time. You’re looking great,” the petite blonde murmured, and Cordelia smiled nervously, her eyes flitting over to catch on Faith’s still form, praying silently that the other girl would keep out of this particular confrontation.
“Yeah, well, you too. How have you been?” She hated having to slip into the pretense of polite conversation, especially when she wanted to do nothing more than summarily dismiss her unwelcome companion. Hoping that the other girl would move on after a few seconds, she felt a jolt of despair when the other girl cocked her hip to the side and crossed her arms over her chest, the stance one that indicated an intention to stay for a while.
“I’ve been doing good. Could be better, but couldn’t we all. Hey look, its been a while. Why don’t we go grab some lunch or some coffee or something and catch up?” Emily asked perkily, nodding her head as if to will Cordelia into agreeing by subconsciously tricking her into copying the gesture.
Faith wasn’t sure what to make of this Emily girl. She was cute in that all-American girl next door way with her light blonde hair and her cornflower blue eyes and her flat little belly. She had an infectious smile and a bubbly personality and after thinking it over for a few seconds, the Slayer decided that she didn’t like her at all.
“Cordelia, honey, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” Faith asked, slipping up behind the Seer, sliding her arm around the other girl’s waist. She could feel confused hazel eyes cutting over at her but ignored them, instead offering Emily a wide smile.
“Uh, Emily this is Faith. Faith, this is Emily.” Cordelia watched as the petite blonde took Faith’s proffered hand, somehow sure from the slight grimace that crossed her elfin face that the Slayer had undoubtedly put a little of her much greater strength into the grip.
“We live together,” Faith added helpfully, unable to keep from throwing that bit into the mix.
“You… oh, well, I, uh, just saw Cordelia and thought that I’d say hi. It was nice to see you again Cordy. Nice to meet you Faith.” Emily was backing away from the couple now, a look of distress and embarrassment coloring her features, and Cordelia wasn’t sure whether to feel relief at that or irritation at the way Faith had insinuated herself into the situation. “I guess I’ll see you both around.”
“Nice to meet you too,” Faith replied with a wave, and Cordelia couldn’t help but stare at her lover as if she’d grown another head.
She managed to wait until Emily had cleared the front door before turning on her companion, arms crossed firmly over her chest. “And just what exactly was that?”
Wide innocent brown eyes stared back at her, and Cordelia fought down the urge to growl in frustration. “What was what?”
“Hmmm, let’s see. How about the Cordelia honey, or maybe the we live together part,” the Seer elaborated impatiently, head tilting to the side in anticipation of an answer.
“We do live together, don’t we?” Faith challenged, deciding to ignore the first query and instead go on the offensive.
“Well yeah, but…” Cordelia managed to get out before Faith cut in.
“But what? You didn’t want her to know for some reason? Is it a big deal that this chick now knows that you’re co-habitating with me? Did I mess up some plan of yours? Scare away some play-time fun companion? Or you just afraid that it might get out? Or wait,” the Slayer said acidly, cocking her head to the side and looking at her taller companion speculatively, “is it that you didn’t want her to know you were with me with me. Not good enough to meet the friends?”
Faith wasn’t completely sure why this suddenly seemed like a big deal, but she’d realized, in those few seconds when she concluded that Cordelia didn’t have any plans to let the interloper know exactly who she was, that it just didn’t sit well with her. The Seer had planned on standing there and chatting away with a girl that she’d clearly been involved with in some capacity in the past, all the while not even bothering to introduce the girl she was with now. Faith had felt like some dirty secret, like she wasn’t good enough, and she didn’t like it. No, she didn’t like it at all.
Cordelia blew out of frustrated breath, then closed her eyes in an attempt to tamp down the irritation she could feel rising through her. “No, I just didn’t think it was any of her business.”
Emily had been a fling. A short fling, and when Cordelia had realized that there was just no way that she could be involved with someone that infernally perky no matter how well that enthusiasm might transfer over to other things, she’d broken it off. Unfortunately Emily hadn’t taken it well at all, going so far as to wait for her outside of her apartment every night for almost two weeks, tears streaming down that cute little face. Somehow the prospect of introducing her to Faith had seemed a bit like rubbing her nose in the fact that she’d definitely moved on with her life.
“Whatever,” came the angry reply, and Cordelia pondered exactly how to handle this situation.
She was fairly certain that Faith was pouting. She knew that the Slayer was upset… if the fake nonchalance that she’d adopted hadn’t given it away then the slightly bitter tirade would have. What all of that signified, she didn’t know.
“Look, it’s the truth. We went out for a while and when I broke things off with her, she didn’t take it well. I just thought that she’d probably be better off not knowing. That’s all.”
Distrust colored Faith’s gaze as she ran her eyes up and down Cordelia’s long form as if the full body perusal would somehow generate the truth for her. Then, tightening her jaw and shrugging her shoulders in a practiced gesture of unconcern, she flippantly replied, “Yeah, like I said, whatever. Doesn’t matter to me.”
“Liar,” Cordelia shot back before managing to censor the statement. But, now that it was out there, she wasn’t going to back away from it, despite the fact that not only did she not want to get into this conversation with Faith, she certainly didn’t want to do it in the middle of Victoria’s Secret with half a dozen surreptitious gazes tracking their every move with avid interest.
Faith’s shoulders stiffened at the word, her countenance evincing a combination of outrage and confusion, and Cordelia was extremely tempted, despite her earlier resolve, to let the matter drop completely. Her motives for not introducing Faith hadn’t been completely pure in nature and some part of her just didn’t want to know why the other girl was so upset about her lack of disclosure.
“Look, why don’t we go get some ice cream, okay,” the Seer said finally, following the words with a tired sigh. “It’s the least I can do to repay you for dragging you out here in the first place.”
Faith thought about that for a moment. If she said yes to the offer then it would mean walking away from their previous conversation, something that wasn’t completely without appeal. She wasn’t happy with the way Cordelia had decided to handle the situation, but as unhappy as she was, Faith was equally perturbed with her reaction to the slight. The feelings roiling namelessly through her belly at the moment felt suspiciously like jealousy and hurt, and the Slayer definitely didn’t want to take the time to examine them in depth. Getting into a conversation about them fell even further down on her list of things to do as soon as possible, so she did the only thing that was really viable at the moment. She bent down, scooped up their bags, and gave Cordelia her best smile.
“Its going to take more than one measly ice cream cone to make up for this,” Faith said gruffly, trying to ignore the flood of relief that rolled through her when the words were answered with a bright smile.
“Maybe we can work out some kind of repayment plan then,” Cordelia said with a mischievous grin, consciously putting out of her mind any of the doubts or uncertainties or nasty suspicions that had bothered her only moments before.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, C. You’ll definitely pay up. Trust me on that.”
“How can you watch that?”
Faith looked up distractedly as Cordelia’s disembodied voice floated out to her from the kitchen. Not finding the source of the question, she turned back to the television with a grunt, eyes once again glued to the flash of colors speeding by on the screen. At the very least it was a convenient outlet for her anger.
“Your brain is dying, one little cell at a time,” the Seer teased, making her way through into the living room, balancing a pair of plates in her hands. The words only earned her a scowl, however, and a few seconds later the irony of her statement hit full force. Faith was no more killing herself off slowly watching cartoons on television than she was the one to whom that statement could more appropriately be applied.
“Speaking of,” Faith said, her words low and serious as one outstretched hand clicked off the television and she turned in her seat to focus her undivided attention on the Seer, ignoring the steaming plates of pasta that were resting on their newly delivered coffee table, “Dr. Wallenstein’s office called today to remind you about your appointment tomorrow. I told them that it must have slipped your mind because I certainly hadn’t heard anything about it.”
“You answer the phone here?” Cordelia asked, eyes narrowing. She wasn’t sure why she’d never really considered the possibility before, but the knowledge that Faith was going around talking to her telemarketers was disconcerting.
“Yeah. But don’t worry, I don’t tell them my name. Just ‘Hello. You’ve reached Cordelia Chase’s personal fuckbunny. She’s not here right now, but can I help you?’” Faith sneered, pulling back against the arm of the couch, putting a little more space between herself and the other girl before adding bitingly, “Actually no, I don’t answer your phone. I do check the caller ID though, and when the doctor calls here and I get a little worried about why exactly it is that the doctor’s calling in the first place, then yes, I’ll pick up the phone.”
“Faith,” Cordelia said plaintively, leaning forward slightly to close the gap that had suddenly appeared between them, “I didn’t mean it that way.”
Jumping nervously off the couch at Cordelia’s approach, Faith moved away from the piece of furniture jerkily, eyebrows lowered in anger. “You know what, save your little explanations. I’m tired of hearing them. I’m going out, so don’t wait up.”
“Faith…” the Seer tried again, only to be cut off by the flash of furious dark brown eyes. Faith’s hands were extended out before her, palms forward, almost as if she could physically stop the other girl’s flow of words.
“No,” the Slayer said simply, backing away toward the door. She spun around halfway there, presenting Cordelia with the angry set of slim shoulders.
The Seer sighed, realizing that there wasn’t anything she could say to make up for the words she’d already spoken. “At least tell me what time you’ll be home,” she called out, only to be answered by a slam hard enough to knock a picture off the wall.
“Fuckin’ hell,” she muttered to no one in particular, scooping up Faith’s dinner. Moving mechanically into the kitchen, she scraped the pasta into a bowl with the rest of the left-over noodles before sliding the whole mess into the fridge. Returning to the living room, she picked over her own food sullenly before sliding the dish back onto the table, most of the pasta still safely in place.
Faith could be so irritating at times. She was so incredibly sensitive that it seemed like one wrong word would set her off, and then there would be brooding and some kind of inevitable apology on Cordelia’s part, and the Seer was beginning to wonder if it all was worth it. Then, with a self-deprecating laugh, she admitted that not only was it worth it, the few arguments that they did have were probably her fault. Pride was something that the both of them had in spades, and she seemed to have a particular knack for pricking Faith’s already overly fragile ego.
It wasn’t that she meant to hurt the other girl… it was just that she’d lived a life half full of secrets and lies for so long that it seemed somehow natural to neatly slide the other girl into that part of it. Faith was a secret that was hers and hers alone, not for the delectation of the entire world, not for scrutiny from her friends and not as a bit of grist for the gossip mill comprised of the web of liaisons and acquaintances that she’d built up over the past few years. The dark Slayer’s presence in her life was so intricately entwined with everything that she chose not to think about that sometimes, when that thinking thing was especially important, she forgot to do it. Like, for instance, when dealing with Faith’s perception of her place in this life that she’d crafted. Cordelia was well aware that the other girl wasn’t entirely happy with the role that she’d been relegated. Oh, she was happy enough, but there was something about the clandestine nature of their arrangement that bothered the Slayer.
In all honesty, Cordelia could fully understand that. She could also appreciate the way she compounded the irritation brought by that particular sticking point when she said things like what she’d just said. Of course, nothing she could do about it now, not when Faith was off in parts unknown doing whatever it was that she did these days to alleviate her anger.
Faith hadn’t returned by the time Cordelia went to bed, and she didn’t return for the rest of the night either. The Seer could attest to that, because she hadn’t gotten a single minute of sleep. She tossed and turned, laying first on one side and then the other, but nothing felt comfortable. Though she was aware that Faith didn’t stay with her all through the night, it was the rare occasion when she was left to fall asleep on her own and the even rarer one when she did so because the other girl had stormed off in anger. In fact, this was the first time that they’d been apart at bedtime other than the few instances when Faith had been otherwise engaged with the city’s ghoul population, and Cordelia found that she didn’t like it, not one bit.
She’d taken the morning off, and waited around as long as she possibly could until she realized that she was going to be late for her appointment if she didn’t get going. Of course, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if she was late because the office was packed, as usual, and as she sat there flipping through an issue of Cosmo that had seen better days about two years before, she realized just how much she would have liked Faith there. Cordelia hadn’t told the other girl, of course, because she was used to hiding this, used to making up excuses that would give her reasons to be away from the office. It hadn’t seemed like that big of a deal, though when she looked at it from Faith’s perspective, she could seem how it might seem to the other girl. Like she was cutting her out of her life, maybe. Like she was relegating the Slayer to one position and one position only.
“This seat taken?” The husky voice surprised her, and Cordelia looked up from her magazine with a bright smile, surprise etched across her features as she surveyed the lean form standing in front of her. Faith had on a pair of relatively conservative jeans, the pockets of which were currently filled with her hands as the Slayer stood there somewhat awkwardly, and Cordelia rushed to empty the seat next to her of its varied contents.
“I’m so glad that you came,” she whispered as Faith settled uneasily into the hard plastic seat, unable to keep the words in. “I was just thinking about how much I wished you were here.”
“I wasn’t sure,” the Slayer murmured uncomfortably, dark eyes cast down to her lap in an apparently avid study of her knuckles.
“You didn’t come home last night. I was worried about you,” Cordelia said by way of reply, reaching over to tilt Faith’s head up, ducking down until the other girl’s eyes had no choice but to focus on her own.
“I can take care of myself.”
Cordelia sighed at that, then leaned back against the seat of her own chair, rolling her eyes at the recalcitrant figure next to her. “I’m well aware of that, but it doesn’t mean that I still wasn’t worried about you. I don’t want you to do that again. Run off like that, I mean.”
“Yeah look, about that… I’m sor…” Faith started, only to be cut off by the booming voice of the nurse seated behind the desk.
Rolling her eyes at the interruption, Cordelia pushed herself up out of the chair. She was a bit confused when Faith didn’t follow her, but realized quickly from the hesitantly shy look in the other girl’s eyes that it was because the Slayer wasn’t quite sure if she were welcome or not.
“You coming?” the Seer asked, extending a hand down to her companion. With a wide smile, Faith reached up and took it, allowing the other girl to pull her to her feet.
The examination rooms were sterile in that way that all doctor’s offices have, with the crimson vinyl patient’s table covered with a length of crisp white paper. A sturdy chair sat at the end of the long counter, and Cordelia glanced over at the collection of jars by rote. She always looked at them, eyeing their contents as if she were afraid that they’d somehow change from q-tips and cotton balls to scalpels and probes even though the contents were exactly the same every time she was here.
“Is this Dr. Wallenstein nice?” Faith asked somewhat nervously, shifting in the chair that she’d settled into. She wasn’t overly fond of doctor’s offices, and it showed in the tense lines of her face.
“Yeah, she’s great. Hey Faith… is that my shirt?” Cordelia asked, narrowing her eyes in contemplation of the short crisp white button-down shirt that Faith was currently sporting.
“Uh, yeah,” the other girl replied somewhat hesitantly. “I didn’t think you’d want me showing up here in what I usually wear.”
For some reason, that made Cordelia smile. Faith must have gotten back to the apartment not long after she left because that long chestnut hair was shiny and clean and her clothes were apparently freshly pressed. The fact that the Slayer had even considered it at all made her belly warm a little, and suddenly Cordelia wished that they were anywhere but the waiting room of her doctor’s office.
The door burst open in a flurry of activity, breaking into Cordelia’s less than chaste thoughts, and she looked up in time to see the whirlwind that was her doctor bustle into the room. The Seer had yet to figure out if the woman always sported that slightly harried air because she was a busy doctor or if it was something that was just innately her.
“Cordelia, how’re you doing today?” Dr. Wallenstein asked, pulling the stethoscope that had been hanging loosely around her neck off, slipping the ear plugs gently into place.
“I’m doing alright. Dr. Wallenstein, I’d like you to meet Faith Spenser. She’s my… girlfriend.”
As soon as she said it, Cordelia glanced over hesitantly at Faith, anticipating a negative reaction to the term. Surprisingly the other girl’s face was remarkably calm, and Cordelia breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t been quite sure how to introduce her companion to her doctor, and after the gesture that Faith had made, joining her here, she certainly wasn’t going to trample any further on that already damaged ego.
“Faith, nice to meet you,” the doctor said, pausing in what she was doing to turn and focus warm gray eyes on the girl sitting anxiously in the chair reserved for her patients’ guests. Her outstretched hand was engulfed in a warm, firm handshake, and the doctor fought back the urge to wince.
“Pleasure to meet you too, Dr. Wallenstein. Cordelia certainly speaks highly of you. I’m certainly interested in hearing what you have to tell us today.”
Cordelia stared for a moment in shock at her uncharacteristically verbose companion. She hadn’t known Faith to devote that much time to pleasantries since she’d known her.
“Indeed,” the older woman replied a grin, a twinkle in her eyes as she looked at the earnest face of the impossibly young girl looking up at her. But then, remembering why exactly it was that they were in her office, she felt her smile slip a little. “It says in my notes that your headaches have been getting worse recently, Cordelia. On a scale of 1-10, with one being the least amount of pain you can imagine and ten being the worst, where do you think they’d rate right now?”
The brunette felt her brows furrow as she thought the question over. On the one hand, the headaches were certainly far worse now than they had been only six months ago, but on the other hand, she didn’t want to give them the power over her that giving voice to the pain seemed to represent. It was, of course, a self-defeating thought and one she quickly discarded.
“I’d say about a seven or a seven and a half,” she finally answered, deliberately refusing to look in Faith’s direction as the words settled over the room. Dr. Wallenstein appeared perturbed at her pronouncement, and Cordelia swallowed nervously as she contemplated what that might mean.
“I want to run another set of scans on you,” the petite doctor said finally, tapping the edge of Cordelia’s medical file with her index finger.
Cordelia grimaced, shifting uneasily on her perch, the sound of the paper beneath her crinkling filling the air. “Another one?” she moaned.
Seeming to break free of her trance, the doctor stepped forward, taking the base of her stethoscope between her palms to warm it. As she slipped the instrument up under the back of Cordelia’s shirt, she nodded. “Yes. I’d like to see if there’s been any further deterioration. I’ve been in consultation with a colleague of mine, and he seems to be as stumped as I do. I’m just not sure what to do, Cordelia, other than to keep monitoring you. I’ve tried almost every drug on the market, and you know as well as I how well they’ve been working. Breathe.”
Cordelia unconsciously obeyed the command, her chest rising and falling as she took in a series of deep breaths, feeling the still slightly cool press of metal moving across the skin of her back.
“Lungs sound fine,” Dr. Wallenstein murmured quietly before moving to stand in front of the Seer, her slim fingers absently palpating the skin around Cordelia’s neck.
The room grew silent as the doctor continued her exam, and Faith felt herself grow increasingly nervous. Nothing that she’d heard thusfar seemed designed to inspire hope in anyone, and that couldn’t bode well for her lover’s future.
“Other than the headaches, you’re as healthy as can be,” the older woman said finally, stepping back to survey Cordelia, a hint of confusion and uncertainly clouding her eyes. It was one of the most baffling cases she’d ever run across. There was no real medical reason for the deterioration currently ravaging the young woman’s brain, and she couldn’t pinpoint either a trigger or the mechanism the body was using to slowly destroy its own tissue. It was tragic, really, and a quick glance over to the stark features of the beautiful young woman who’d accompanied her patient in that day only seemed to make the situation that much more depressing. All that potential, and it had all been stolen away without explanation.
“I think I’m going to try you on…” the doctor started to say, only to be interrupted by the harsh rasp of her patient’s voice.
“No, no more medicines. No more scans, no more anything. There’s nothing you can do for me, Dr. Wallenstein, other than write me out a prescription for those pain pills you gave me last time and send me on my way,” Cordelia said harshly, well aware that each one of these visits had done nothing but raise a false hope that somehow, for some mysterious reason, things would change.
“But Cordelia…” Faith began to reply, pushing out of her chair.
“No, Faith. Don’t argue with me about this. It doesn’t matter any more.”
“Bullshit,” Faith shot back, her eyes shooting briefly to catch on those of the doctor’s, offering a silent apology. “You’re giving up, is what you’re doing, and you want me to stand around and watch you do it.”
“And I told you that you didn’t have to stay,” Cordelia sneered, then stopped, remembering that they weren’t alone in the room.
“I know I don’t have to stay,” Faith replied softly, consciously disregarding the dark figure of the older woman watching them with a curious, detached interest from the corner of the room, “but until you kick me out, I’m not going anywhere. And I don’t think that you should just quit either. Its not your style.”
Cordelia’s jaw tightened as she considered Faith’s words. The other girl was wrong, wasn’t she? It was her style to quit, to give up. She’d done that months ago when she’d accepted that there wasn’t anything that she could do, wasn’t any way that she could change the path that her life was on. So she had, essentially, given up, had stopped fighting and decided that the only thing to do was make what was left of her life worth living.
“Faith,” the Seer said on a sigh, hazel eyes melting as she took in the look of mingled anger and despair on the other girl’s face, “I could come here every day, let Dr. Wallenstein examine me and get yet another stupid scan, and its not going to change anything. You know that. There’s nothing we can do…”
“God,” Faith replied, her voice barely above a hiss as she realized, finally, just what Cordelia was saying. “You don’t even want to try, do you? You’ve been coming here all this time for nothing. Just going through the motions, not really caring one way or the other.”
“There wasn’t anything to try for,” Cordelia said softly, unable to keep the bleak tone out of her voice. “No real reason.”
Faith stepped back slightly, air hissing through her nostrils on a harsh indrawn breath. “Oh, I see.”
“No, wait,” Cordelia protested, instantly painfully aware that she hadn’t said that the right way. “That’s not what I meant. Not that it really matters, though. Even if there is something maybe a reason now, its still not going to make a difference. Its not going to change things…”
“Not that you even care,” Faith shot back bitterly, vaguely aware of Dr. Wallenstein slipping out of the room, giving them a little privacy in which to finish their discussion… what little was left of it anyway.
“Yeah, well, its my life, and this is what I want.” There was a finality to her tone, a stubborn set to her jaw that let Faith know that nothing she could say would change the other girl’s mind.
“So sorry I tried to intrude.”
The sound of the shower rings screeching across the metal bar holding them up brought Faith out of the near-trance that she’d been in, and as a cool waft of air drifted across her backside, raising a trail of goosebumps in its wake, she shook off the bit of melancholy in which she’d been wallowing completely.
“Want me to do your back?” Long arms slid around her waist and a low, husky voice sounded right by her ear and Faith leaned back into the slim form behind her, her back sinking softly into full breasts.
“Sounds kinda kinky, but I’m up for anything.”
Cordelia laughed at the words, then let one of the hands currently resting on a flat belly slap at the skin playfully.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she growled, nipping at a soft earlobe as the fingers of one hand trailed even further down, brushing past damp curls to dip into a wetness that had absolutely nothing to do with the shower.
Faith arched gently against Cordelia’s questing fingers, reaching forward with one strong arm to brace against the front of the shower, closing her eyes against the stream of water coursing down over her head. “Feelin’ frisky this morning, C?” she asked needlessly, the words catching on a gasp as a bolt of pleasure shot through her.
The fingers moving over her apex were circling faster and faster now, and Faith had to stifle a laugh when she heard Cordelia’s wrist bones pop and settle into place, no doubt realigning themselves on account of all of their current early morning activity.
“Me frisky?” Faith could hear the light overtone of laughter in Cordelia’s voice, and a little part of her that had been uncomfortably tight loosened at the words. Ever since the trip to the doctor’s, the Seer had been a little distant, a bit aloof. She hadn’t said much, and certainly hadn’t laughed much, and Faith realized just how much she’d missed that. “Nah, I just wanted to start the day off right.”
The pleasant burning between her legs was increasing, and Faith let her head drop forward as she placed more weight on her outstretched arm, struggling to maintain her balance. The warm fall of water running down her back felt good, but not nearly as good as the searing heat of Cordelia’s lean frame pressed up against her, and the Slayer knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer before those lean fingers achieved their goal.
“Then shouldn’t… oh fuck, yeah… just like that… shouldn’t we be doing this… God yes, don’t stop… the other way around?” Faith finally managed to hiss around gritted teeth, and she imagined the grin sneaking across her companion’s face at the words.
“I kind of like where I’m at just fine,” Cordelia replied lightly, intensifying her attack. The short little unconscious jerks that Faith’s hips were making let her know that her lover was close, and the Seer refused to back down, to give the other girl time to catch her breath.
“I kinda like it too.” The words were barely audible amidst the harsh pants of breath currently searing through Faith’s lungs, and her free hand reached back blindly, looking for some small amount of contact with Cordelia. She managed to wrap her fingers around the back of the other girl’s thigh, and digging those strong digits into the soft flesh she found there, Faith let herself go. Her head snapped back and her lover’s name keened past her lips as she convulsed, warmth flowing out from her abdomen to encompass her entire body.
When she finally got her breathing back under control, Faith turned slowly, one hand coming up to wipe away the fall of slick hair plastered across her forehead. Catching sight of warm hazel eyes, she grinned. “Good morning.”
The words were followed by a light kiss, before Cordelia returned the softly spoken sentiment. “Good morning to you too.”
“Anything I can do for you this morning?” Faith asked, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. A sharp slap to her buttocks brought about an arched brow, and she chuckled silently at Cordelia’s satisfied smirk.
“Come to think of it, there is. Blueberry pancakes would do nicely, I think. I mean, you are finished with your shower, aren’t you?” she asked, an innocent expression crossing her face.
Faith scowled for a minute before reaching out and grabbing the shower curtain, pulling it open sharply. Cordelia yelped as cold air invaded the warm stall, and Faith returned the smirk she’d gotten moments before. “Just for that, I think I actually will fix those pancakes.”
Cordelia watched with a small smile as the other girl absently toweled herself dry before disappearing through the bathroom door. As the sound of pots and pans clanging reached her ears, she reached out for the shower curtain, drawing it closed once more.
“Ah, life is good,” she murmured contentedly.
She felt like such a fucking hausfrau. The apartment was clean, fresh sheets were on the bed, and she was sitting there in nothing more than two little scraps of see-through black silk she’d painstakingly picked out at Victoria’s Secret, waiting on Cordelia to finally get home and hoping that it’d be sometime before the break of dawn.
It was Cordelia’s birthday, which meant that it was kind of their first anniversary. First anniversary of what, she wasn’t quite sure, but Faith had felt a compunction to make something special out of the day. She knew that Dennis was planning his own little surprise welcome for the Seer, but Faith had something much, much more personal in mind. Which would explain, naturally, why she was lounging around their bedroom in her seduction-geared outfit.
Though it may have made sense to her on some level that Cordelia would have other things to do, no doubt have a celebration offered her way by her friends at work, Faith still didn’t know why she wasn’t home yet. She’d been waiting for an hour now, which was making her increasingly angry, because she’d specifically instructed her lover to return back to the apartment by no later than 9:30. It was going on 11:00 now, and since she still hadn’t seen hide nor hair of the other girl, Faith’s party mood slowly deflated. It felt like all of her preparations were mocking her, laughing at the fact that she’d gone through all that effort to make everything perfect and Cordelia couldn’t even show up on time to see it.
Even the little gift was taunting her, sitting as it was in its wrapped pristine glory.
It had taken a while to manage to perfect the art of pick-pocketing vampires before she staked them, but Faith didn’t see any need to let their belongings develop in a puff of ash along with their bodies when that cash was needed so much more by her here. And, after scraping together all the money she could muster from that particular venture, it had taken almost as long to pick out the pair of simple diamond and platinum earrings currently resting inside the box.
Cordelia was a hard girl to buy for, and Faith was no consummate shopper. She’d finally decided that jewelry would probably invariably go over much better than a brand new Elmer Fudd Chia Pet, but that didn’t mean that the narrowing down of the focus made her selection any easier. There were bracelets and there were necklaces and there were rings and there were earrings and she probably could have even gotten some kind of sapphire encrusted belly chain if the whole concept hadn’t sounded ludicrous to her. So instead she’d thrown herself on the mercy of the kind saleswoman who had patiently taken her through her various choices until Faith finally decided on what she’d brought home. Everything else seemed too difficult… rings were laden with meaning and necklaces and bracelets lead to a contemplation of just exactly what kind to buy because they came in all shapes and colors and configurations. The earrings were a classic though, the lady had assured her, and Faith had nodded her head in agreement and silently let the woman ring up the purchase. They looked nice enough to her and seemed like something Cordelia might appreciate, and that was all Faith had to go by.
Now she felt like taking them back. If Cordelia couldn’t even manage to come home when she was supposed to, then perhaps she didn’t deserve them. Perhaps all of her effort had been wasted picking out something so beautiful for someone who probably wouldn’t even appreciate it. Or maybe she was simply in a snit, nursing hurt feelings, and found it easier to lash out than to determine what all that might mean.
Keen slayer hearing picked up the sound of a key rasping in the lock, the sound of Dennis doing his little celebratory birthday thing, and then dead silence for a few seconds until unfamiliar voices started talking. That made her a little uneasy, and rising cautiously from the bed, Faith made her way over to the drawer where she kept her favorite knife, pulling it from its sheath as she made her way into the living room.
“Who’re you?” she asked coldly upon catching sight of the slim brunette and big bald man standing in her foyer, apparently chatting away about Dennis.
Gunn looked up, his mouth moving to answer but unable to do so because of the all of the blood in his brain had abruptly left for places further South. There was a beautiful girl in Cordy’s apartment, and she was currently wearing sheer almost non-existent black panties and a tiny little matching black bra. In addition to the prodigious amount of gorgeously toned flesh she was revealing, the girl also had a firm grip on what had to be one of the wickedest looking blades he’d seen in a while and a less than happy expression on her face, and as embarrassed as he might be by it, he felt the front of his baggy trousers get a little tight.
“Uh, I’m Fred, and this is Gunn,” the slim brunette said nervously, pushing her glasses back up her nose as she took in the menacing figure glaring at them. “We’re, uh, friends of Cordelia’s and we came here…”
Fred trailed off, not quite sure to frame her next words. They were really there to search through Cordelia’s personal belongings in order to find a clue that might help them figure out how to rouse her from the coma-like state she’d drifted off into, but she didn’t think that telling the scary looking girl with a really big knife that they’d broken in to snoop was quite the right thing to do.
Faith felt her heart start to be a little faster at the lost expressions on the intruders’ faces. She was familiar with the names, having heard Cordelia talk about her co-workers on numerous occasions, and their presence here didn’t seem to portend anything good.
“Oh, well, you see, she’s not feeling well right now and so we’re here to look for something that might help her,” Fred answered, smiling to herself. That sounded much better than any of the other stories that she’d been tossing around in her head as possible reasons for their impromptu visit.
Faith distantly registered the clatter as the knife in her hand fell to the floor, and stepping more fully into the living room she came to stand before the two near strangers.
“What’s wrong with her,” she whispered, dark eyes suddenly wide as she contemplated what the little brunette’s words could mean.
“Well, that’s what we’re here to figure out,” the guy replied, and Faith turned to look at him, dimly remembering that his name was Gunn.
“Is she… I mean she’s…” She was having trouble asking what she desperately needed to know, and the somewhat bleak looks she was getting didn’t offer Faith much hope.
“Who the hell are you anyway?” Gunn asked suspiciously, just now having worked around the shock he’d felt upon finding this vision slinking around Cordelia’s home to compose himself enough question her.
“I’m Faith,” the Slayer rasped. “I live here. I… you… you’ve got to take me to her.”
Gunn looked over her scantily clad figure skeptically, and Faith finally pulled herself out of her frantic nervousness long enough to shoot him an evil glare. “After I change,” she added, then quickly disappeared back into the bedroom.
“I think Cordy’s got more than one secret she ain’t shared with us,” Gunn murmured to Fred, his eyes surreptitiously following the barely clothed girl until she disappeared, one brow raised in what would have been humor had the situation not been so dire.
Fred nodded, eyes wide in an expression of naïve innocence that she couldn’t seem to shake. “Do you think its safe to take her with us? I mean, we don’t really know who she is.”
Gunn chuckled for a moment, then flicked his eyes toward the doorway through which the girl had disappeared. “Anybody who’s laying around the apartment in the get-up she was wearing is definitely someone that Cordy’s well acquainted with. I guess we’ll have to trust her, uh… judgment on this one.”
As the words passed his lips, Faith reappeared in the living room, and Gunn and Fred’s conversation on the wisdom of letting this stranger accompany them died away in the face of the ferocious determination written across her features. She’d pulled on a pair of tight, faded jeans, a black tank top and her leather jacket, and with the hard soles of her heavy boots marking her agitated path across the living room floor, she was definitely not someone that the duo felt it would be beneficial to argue with.
All three were piled into Gunn’s rickety truck moments later, the tense silence between them so thick that you could have cleaved it with a battle-axe had one been handy. As much as the amiable Fred wanted to get to know this newcomer better, the tight set of her jaw and the stiffness of her shoulders warned the petite brunette that her questions would most undoubtedly be unwelcome, and so she had to content herself with several semi-oblique looks in the stranger’s direction.
The girl was pretty in a way that didn’t diminish her ‘don’t fuck with me’ air, and Fred couldn’t quite wrap her mind around this Faith’s presence in Cordelia’s apartment. She and C were fairly good friends, or so she’d thought, but she’d never heard the other girl make mention of anyone named Faith. As unworldly as she might be on occasion, Fred had to believe that anyone who would be skulking about someone’s apartment in their underwear, someone who in fact claimed to live there, would have to be someone that the Seer hadn’t just met the night before and brought home like a stray. That meant that Cordelia had been lying to them, or if not outright blatantly telling them untruths then at least shielding them completely from a major part of her life.
It saddened Fred to learn that their friendship hadn’t been as close as she’d assumed it was. After all, if they were truly friends, then she wouldn’t have been surprised to have met Faith that night. Come to think of it, if they’d truly been friends, she would have met Faith a long time ago, or at the very least have seen a picture or heard Cordelia speak of her. Because, and going from context clues alone here, she was betting that this Faith was someone very close to the Seer. A six year hiatus from the world didn’t mean that she was completely ignorant of the things that could go on in it, and she was betting that anyone who planned on meeting Cordelia at the door in a set of see-through lingerie was a little bit more than just a friend.
“Home sweet Hyperion,” Gunn exclaimed, his voice unnaturally loud in the silent cab. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Faith was out of the door and sprinting for the hotel’s entrance, not even pausing long enough to wait until the truck rolled to a complete stop.
The front door to the hotel flew open under her palm, and she skidded down a short flight of stairs to screech to a halt in the middle of the lobby. She had no idea where Cordelia was and no clue as to where to begin her search, but that didn’t stop her from looking around wildly as if she’d somehow be able to find a clue as to her lover’s location by the sheer dint of her will alone.
“Gunn, did you find…” Wesley walked out of his office, head buried in a folder, only to stop short when he caught sight of the figure standing with barely caged agitation in the middle of his floor. “Dear God, Faith. What are you doing here?”
“You’ve got to take me to Cordelia,” the Slayer replied quickly, nearly bounding across the hotel lobby until she was standing in front of the ex-Watcher. Wesley scrambled back uncertainly, not sure what was going on but quite positive that he wasn’t comfortable with the rogue Slayer approaching him at such a high rate of speed, especially with her dark eyes glittering with near maniacal intent.
“Hey, Wes, see you met Faith,” Gunn called out from the door, having come in just in time to see the last of the British man’s desperate attempt to clamber away from the intense girl in the black leather jacket.
“Met Faith?” Wesley squeaked, pushing his glasses back up his nose before turning confused eyes in Gunn’s direction. “Did you bring her here?”
“Well, yeah. When we found her at Cordy’s, she insisted on us bringing her over here. She looked pretty comfy there, so I figured that she’d have some info that might help us out. Bad idea, boss?” There was something about this that he was missing, Gunn realized, but until someone clued him in, he was going to go with that cool ‘I know exactly what’s going on’ attitude that had worked well for garnering him information in the past.
“You’ve got to take me to her,” Faith broke in. She didn’t have time for this chit-chat. She needed to get to Cordelia, to see her, to somehow make things better.
“Faith, I don’t know if now is a good time,” Wesley stuttered, swallowing deeply when the obsidian eyes burning through him narrowed.
A quick lunge later she had Wesley pinned against the wall of the hotel, her arm pressed casually against his neck. It was hard enough to keep him in place but not hard enough to do any real damage, though by the look of panic on the man’s face one might have thought that she was literally choking him to death. “Take me to her now,” she growled, using her free hand to easily push away Gunn, who was trying his hardest to peel her off of Wesley.
“Right then. She’s up the stairs. I’ll lead the way,” the ex-Watcher said brightly, squirming against the strong hold pinning him to the wall. At the words he was released immediately, and, with Faith watching him expectantly, he moved across the lobby to the stairs, followed closely by the Slayer, a fascinated Fred, and Gunn, who was currently attempting to stitch together the rather large hole the girl had left in his manly pride.
Seconds later they were there, standing in the doorway of an unexceptional room, and Faith saw her, saw Cordelia laying there motionless, her chest moving up and down fractionally with each shallow breath, and she was across the room before the others could even register the move. Sliding onto the bed, she scooped her lover’s inert form up in her arms, one hand lightly ghosting over her features, stopping briefly to feel the weak flow of air from her nostrils, touching on firm lips to reassure herself of their warmth.
“Cordelia, C… baby… you’ve got to wake up now. I’m here now, and you need to wake up. I love you, baby. You can’t leave me… can’t leave me,” she murmured fiercely as if convinced that she could draw Cordelia from her apparent coma by the sheer strength of her words alone.
“Faith?” Angel had been sitting beside the bed keeping watch on Cordelia when the Slayer had made her sudden and quite unexpected appearance, and now he was looking at her with confusion written plainly across his face.
“When… how long ago did it happen?” she rasped, not taking her eyes off of the blank face cradled in her lap.
“Just a little while ago,” Angel replied calmly. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but obviously Faith and Cordelia were a little more well acquainted than he’d realized. “Do you know what’s wrong with her?”
“It’s the visions,” Faith answered him, her voice soft as her fingers continued to trace over the sharp lines of Cordelia’s face, drifting up occasionally to run through her silky chestnut hair. “They’re killing her. She’s been going to the doctor, but there’s nothing they can do. They give her pills for the pain and take scans, but it just keeps getting worse. They say she’s… dying.”
Faith’s voice cracked on the last word, and she bent down to kiss her lover’s forehead as if trying to reassure the unconscious girl that she wouldn’t let it happen.
“How long,” Angel prodded gently, his eyes glancing up to catch on Wesley’s. The ex-Watcher nodded, then stepped closer.
“At least a year. Longer than that, but I don’t know how long,” the Slayer replied distractedly. She didn’t like the way Cordelia felt, so limp in her arms. Unmoving, completely still, as if she weren’t even inside her corporeal form any longer.
“Have you spoken with Cordelia about this before?” Wesley queried cautiously, still not quite comfortable being this close to his one-time tormentor, but somehow aware that Faith wasn’t in any condition to do him damage at the moment.
“Yeah. We’ve… I mean… its… its kinda our anniversary,” she said shortly, finally glancing up from her companion at the surprised hiss that accompanied her pronouncement.
Angel tried to keep the shock out of his voice, but didn’t quite succeed. “Uh, what did the doctors say?”
“I don’t know. Neural degeneration? That sound like something they’d say?” Faith responded testily. She was growing tired of the questions, even though she knew that it was in her best interests to answer them.
“She never said anything,” Wesley murmured faintly, a deep scowl settling across his brow. They’d known, of course, that the visions were taking a physical toll. Apparently, though, they hadn’t known just how much it was hurting Cordelia to receive messages from the Powers That Be, and some part of him chafed at the knowledge that she hadn’t told them what was going on with her. Actually, she’d apparently been keeping most of her life hidden from them, if the rogue Slayer on the bed claiming that it was their ‘kinda anniversary’ was any guide to the depth of her secrets.
“She didn’t want anyone to know,” Faith whispered in reply, then decided that she’d devoted enough time to these interlopers. She wasn’t answering any more questions, she wasn’t going to indulge in any more casual conversation. No, now her attention was fully focused on the girl that she hadn’t realized had come to mean so much to her until the spectre of her death, something that had always seemed to loom hazily in the far distant future, was brought home with startling immediacy.
“Alright guys, lets take what we know now and hit the books again,” Angel said decisively, trying not to let his heart contract at the intimate scene being played out between the Seer and the Slayer. He didn’t want to examine the feelings shooting through him, knowing instinctively that they were of an ugly, jealous nature that didn’t have any place intruding on this moment. What he needed to do was look for an answer, to feel like he was somehow working toward fixing this, to do something, anything, to purge the image of Faith cradling Cordelia’s head gently in her lap from his mind, so with that objective, he herded everyone out of the room. Well, everyone except Fred, who had faded in with the shadows, wide eyes fixated with curious interest on the two figures on the bed.
Faith gently laid Cordelia’s head on the pillow once more and then, after shucking off her thick jacket, stretched out beside her. Rolling over onto her side so that she was facing the other girl, one hand going down to idly rub the familiar contours of a flat belly, she began to speak softly, her voice so low that Fred had to strain to hear the words.
“You can’t leave me now, C, you just can’t. I need you here. I love you, and if you don’t wake up then you’ll never hear me say it. Come on baby, don’t die. Don’t give up. Come back to me. Please C… please.”
It was a decidedly intimate moment, and Fred realized that she was watching something that should have been reserved for the two girls alone. So, in the quiet way that she’d learned during her time on Pylea, she slunk from the room, silent footsteps leading her through the hall and down the stairs.
“Faith, why don’t you take a break. Stretch your legs, use the bathroom. I’ll watch Cordy,” Angel said softly as he came to stand at the side of the bed facing the Slayer’s back.
“No, I don’t want to leave her,” came the dull reply, and he sighed.
“I’ll call you if anything changes. I promise.”
Faith thought this over for a moment. As much as she really didn’t want to leave Cordelia’s side, she did have to go to the bathroom. Somehow she reasoned that if the Seer did wake up, she wouldn’t want to do so to wet sheets.
“You promise you’ll come get me,” she said fiercely, rolling over so that she was facing the vampire, trying to avoid the compassion shining down on her from strangely warm eyes.
“I promise,” he said sincerely, and with a muffled groan Faith rolled out of the bed, stretching her arms above her head and arching her back in an attempt to provide relief to muscles that were protesting their enforced inactivity.
It took her a few minutes to find the restroom, but had to acknowledge after she did that getting up had been the right choice. She did feel marginally better now. Well, at least she felt as much ‘better’ as she could under the circumstances. The sight of Cordelia laying there, so abnormally still, was seared into her memory, and the knowledge that she hadn’t ever really told the other girl just how important she was in her life was eating at Faith. She’d never felt like she belonged before, not until Cordelia took her in and slowly opened up her life to include the Slayer. Not that her motivations had been pure or self-sacrificing by any means, but that didn’t matter. What did matter was that Faith felt like she had a place that was her own, a place that didn’t belong to anyone else, and that place was with the Seer. She liked that, liked the knowledge that someone came home to her at night, that she came home to someone. She liked knowing that her clothes took up half of someone’s closet, that she had a grocery list that she could add items to when they ran out of something, that there was a key in her pocket that opened the door to her apartment. Her apartment with Cordelia. Her apartment with her lover, with the woman that she’d just now gotten the guts to admit that she loved.
She hadn’t said it before, not to herself and not to Cordelia, but for some reason she couldn’t let the other girl leave without telling her, even if it did fall on unconscious ears. Love wasn’t something that Faith had ever imagined was in her future, something that she hadn’t gone looking for and something that she certainly hadn’t been expecting, but now that she’d found it, it felt strangely right. Comforting in an undeniable way, and she wasn’t quite ready for that comfort to be taken away.
They were all in the room when she returned, and for a minute Faith stood at the doorway, observing these people that shared half of her lover’s life. Her friends, her co-workers, the people that she spent her days with. They cared for Cordelia, that was obvious. Each wore the slightly unsettled frown of someone who feels powerless to stop something horrible from happening, even as they have to watch it occur before their reluctant eyes, and Faith wished that she could feel sorry for them. She couldn’t though, because all of her pity was currently reserved for herself.
There was a flutter of eyelids, a soft groan, and suddenly Faith froze. Cordelia was moving, was opening her eyes and looking around, was checking to make sure that all of her parts were intact, and the Slayer wanted to scream with the joy of it, but she held herself in control, forcing her breathing down from the near hyperventilative state she’d entered to a more manageable level. She didn’t want to Cordelia to see her, not when she was so upset, and so she held back for a moment, letting the knowledge that everything would be alright spread through her, carrying with it the dizzying warmth of relief.
When Cordelia finally spoke, Faith was sure that the Seer’s voice was the sweetest thing she’d ever heard. Until, that is, she realized exactly what the other girl was saying.
“Angel?” Cordelia called out immediately, looking around for the vampire frantically. Then, finally spotting him, she jumped up, wrapping her arms around him in a fierce hug. “Angel!”
Faith watched the scene, her eyebrows scrunching as an unpleasant possibility swept through her. There had been something about the way Cordelia had called out for the vampire, the way her eyes had widened and her features had softened as she leapt out of bed and into his arms, practically ignoring everyone else in the room. The hug she’d delivered was almost like a caress, and as it continued long past the time when it would have been proper to let go, Faith felt herself grow increasingly uneasy. Moments later, Cordelia still hadn’t pulled away, was still stroking Angel’s short hair and murmuring in his ear and the Slayer nearly gasped with the sudden realization that Cordelia felt something for Angel. Something more than she felt for Faith herself, obviously, because all of her attention was focused on the stoic figure of the vampire to the exclusion of all else. The touch between them seemed almost familiar, and as Cordelia pulled back to place a light kiss on a pale cheek, Faith turned on her heel and fled, unable and unwilling to watch any more.
“You’re you… you’re really you,” Cordelia babbled, running her fingers over the vampire’s face as if reassuring herself that this Angel wasn’t the one that she’d seen in the other realm she’d been momentarily inhabiting. This Angel wasn’t curled in on himself with the sketchy tremors of insanity racking through his body, wasn’t frightened, wasn’t just a shell of a being. This Angel was her Angel, and Cordelia felt an immense relief at that.
But then she stepped back, caught in the throes of a vision. Only this time it was different. This time there was no skull cracking pain, nothing but a litany of facts and sights, and as she threw them out for consumption by the stunned group of people watching her, Cordelia felt not only an intense wave of relief wash through her but also a tinge of empowerment. She was different now in a way that made her tingle with awareness, and that was a very, very good thing.
“Uh, Cordelia,” Gunn muttered, eyes rounded in surprise. “You’re floating.”
And so she was, Cordelia realized, a wide grin splitting her features.
It was only later, after Wesley and Gunn had been dispatched to take care of the monster that she’d seen, that Angel looked around quizzically, finally noticing that something was missing. No, not something… someone was missing.
“Where’s Faith?” he asked no one in particular, but definitely drew the attention of the two females currently digging into Cordelia’s forgotten birthday cake.
Cordelia nearly choked on the bite she was swallowing, and took a quick swallow of her Coke to clear her throat before asking, “Faith?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, uh,” Angel stuttered, not quite sure that he wanted to be the one to convey to Cordelia the details of how her little secret had come to light, “when you, uh, you know, passed out, Gunn and Fred went over to your place to check and see if they could find anything useful. You know, to help us figure out what was going on. They, uh, did find a little something.”
“Boy did we find something,” Fred said with a little giggle, lowering her head to cover the grin currently spreading across her face, remembering the look on Gunn’s face when the beautiful girl in the almost non-existent lingerie had appeared in the living room.
Cordelia felt her face burn with the beginnings of a blush, realizing uneasily that all of her secrets had apparently been revealed that night. “So you, uh, found Faith.”
Fred nodded emphatically, her voice taking on a dreamy quality. “As soon as she heard that something had happened to you, she demanded that we bring her here. Of course, she was only wearing her underwear, so we had to wait until she put on some clothes, but Gunn and I drove her back to the hotel. She was out of the door before we’d even stopped, and she, uh, convinced Wesley to take her up to your room. It was the most romantic thing that I’d ever seen… she cradled you in her lap and begged you not to leave her and told you over and over how much she loved you,” the petite brunette finished with a sigh, her eyes hazy, remembering the warmth of the moment.
“She, uh, mentioned that it was your first anniversary. Well, kind of your first anniversary,” Angel added helpfully, ignoring the little frissom of pain the words caused.
Shit, shit, shit… Cordelia chanted to herself, suddenly realizing several things. The foremost, of course, was the knowledge that she’d completely forgotten, in the aftermath of all of the excitement and with the thrill of her newfound power rushing through her, that Faith was waiting on her. Well, she had been waiting on her, though at the moment, Cordelia wasn’t quite sure that she still was. The second realization came as a shock, one so strong as to almost be unpleasant, and the Seer couldn’t help but talk out her confusion aloud, puzzled features searching the faces of her companions.
“She… she said that… that she… loved me?” Cordelia asked, her voice hoarse as the words pushed their way out of a suddenly dry, uncooperative throat.
Faith had come here, had rushed to her side apparently, and had said those things. Said them in front of Angel and Wesley and Fred and Gunn, and Cordelia didn’t know what to think. Faith loved her? For some reason the idea seemed surreal. Faith couldn’t love her… things just weren’t like that between them, were they? Their relationship was about comfort and security and sex, not love. Or, at least that’s what Cordelia had thought it was because as fond as she was of the dark Slayer, she hadn’t ever really considered the possibility that she entertained any emotions even vaguely related to love.
“Uh-huh, and she held you and talked to you the whole time. Well, until Angel told her to take a break,” Fred said with a scowl. She hadn’t seen Faith since then.
“I need to get home,” the Seer said jerkily, letting her fork fall to her plate. She needed to work this out, needed to work everything out. She’d completely forgotten about Faith… well no, she hadn’t forgotten, she just hadn’t given it any thought. Now, however, Faith was all she could think about.
She needed to think. She needed to think and to see Faith. She needed to see Faith and work this out, find out what it all really meant. First though, she had to find the other girl and could only hope that her first stop would be her last.
Faith took another long draw from the cigarette hanging loosely between her lips, lunging striving furiously to bring the comforting anesthesia of nicotine to a bloodstream that had been without for so long that it had begun to fear it would never feel that particular high singing through it again. They were Cordelia’s cigarettes, Virginia Slims Menthols… a pansy-assed cigarette if ever she’d seen one. Unfortunately, it’d been her only option, the single unopened pack in a drawer filled full of crumpled up boxes. Interestingly enough, each of the other packs was more than half-full, and some had no doubt been there so long that it would take a butane torch to light them. There was probably some significance there, some revelation that Faith could have stumbled across had she put her mind to it, but the Slayer was far too preoccupied with other things to make any startlingly perceptive assumptions.
The night air was cool, and as she sat, legs swinging and heels bumping back against the wood of the deck railing, Faith shivered. She was cold, from the inside out, and that was something that the leather of her jacket couldn’t protect her from.
It was a fairly long way down to the asphalt below, but she figured that even if the wind pushed her from her perch, the fall wouldn’t kill her. She was the Slayer, after all, and experience had taught her that she was fairly indestructible. Wounds that would be fatal in normal humans just kept her in comas for a little while, and at the moment that thought didn’t really seem to bother her. Perhaps another nice eight month nap from the world was what she needed.
She’d been a fool. She knew it now, had seen it in Cordelia’s face when she looked for Angel, had seen it in the familiarity of their touch. She was nothing more than what Cordelia had said she was… someone to keep away the loneliness, someone to make death a little more bearable. A crutch, a diversion, a sideshow, that’s all. Living in some little fairy tale dream, with her pretend apartment and pretend life and pretend girlfriend. All of it just an illusion, of course. She didn’t belong here, didn’t deserve the quiet, comfortable, happy life that she thought she’d been living, didn’t get to keep the beautiful, witty girlfriend who had never been hers to begin with. She had been here to serve a purpose, and now that purpose had come to an end. Something deep inside told her that, told her that whatever had happened to Cordelia tonight had changed everything, had made her usefulness in this situation disappear.
Now it was just a matter of moving on. It was time to get her shit and leave, time to pack up the duffel that had brought her here and disappear into the night. Alone, dependent on no one… just like it had always been. She shouldn’t have expected anything else. Things like this didn’t work out for girls like her… never had. If she’d been smart, she’d have learned that lesson a long time ago, and she wouldn’t have had to face up to the painful reminder right now.
It would be harder now, though. She’d had it all, all of the things that she’d never told anybody she always wanted. A home, a warm bed, a lover… a normal life. Well, as close to normal as she was ever going to get, and as far away from the dingy interior of a lonely Boston slum as she could manage. And, that was what was funny. Here she was, dreaming of the quiet boredom of suburban mediocrity. That was her American Dream, the green light at the end of her dock. Fuck money, fuck power, fuck fancy cars and expensive clothes… all she wanted was what she’d deluded herself into believing for a year that she’d had. It hadn’t ever really been hers though. Girls like her, from the wrong side of the tracks and with nothing but bad luck and prison rap sheets to their names, didn’t get to live in nice, comfortable apartments like this. They didn’t get to wake up to the sleepy warm smell of their lover, didn’t get to read the Sunday paper over Honey Nut Cheerios, didn’t get to know what it was like to stay in on a Friday night and watch a video because they actually had someone who was comfortable sitting with them in silence. Those things belonged exclusively to people who were the antithesis of Faith Spenser and she shouldn’t have ever forgotten that.
“Those’ll kill you.” The words startled Faith out of her reverie, and she cursed Slayer senses that had left her in her time of need, allowing Cordelia to sneak up behind her.
“Yeah, well, we all gotta go some time,” was her bitter reply. She flicked the cigarette away anyway, watching with detached interest as it fluttered down to the ground, joining the rest of the litter that had gathered there.
Cordelia didn’t know how to follow that. Actually, she wasn’t at all sure what she wanted to say, and it didn’t help that she couldn’t see Faith’s face, couldn’t read the other girl’s mood. The only clues she had were the stiff set of her shoulders, the defiant ramrod straightness of her back, the white-knuckled grip she had on the railing. The cool wind had ruffled the Slayer’s long dark locks, leaving them in a tangled mass around her shoulders, and Cordelia wanted to reach out, wanted to comb her fingers through hair she knew to be the texture of silk, wanted to smooth everything out. She didn’t though because there was an air around the other girl that told her in extremely unequivocal terms that her touch wasn’t exactly welcome at the moment, so with a sigh she instead chose to lean back against the railing, her shoulder brushing lightly against the tense tendons of the other girl’s forearm.
“I heard that you came to the hotel tonight,” the Seer said softly, chewing nervously on the inside of her lip. There was an odd taut tension fluttering across her belly, making her uneasy, and though she tried to ignore it, Cordelia found that she couldn’t. It was anticipation, frustration… fear. Actually, mostly fear.
Faith tilted her head to the side, eyes staring off blindly into the distance. “Yeah, I did.”
When she realized that nothing more was forthcoming, Cordelia sighed again. This was difficult, whatever this was, and she felt like she was flying blind. When it came to emotionally charged moments, she was out of her league and knew with a certainty that she was going to bungle this one horribly.
“Why didn’t you stay?” There was a lot that they weren’t saying, using a modicum of words to avoid the unwieldy weight of excessive emotions. The unspoken sentiments hung heavily in the air though, perfuming the interaction with the sickly sweet scent of their importance and for a moment Cordelia felt impotent, felt useless. Why bother dancing around one another, using this intricate system of feints and jabs to test each other, to search for firm footing on irrevocably unstable ground? Because they were afraid, or at least she was afraid, and it was easier to leave the important things unsaid than it was to put them out there… to put herself out there, hanging over a precipice with no safety net there to catch her when she fell. If she fell…
Faith’s jaw clenched tightly shut at the question. It was an involuntary response, one that quickly caused her temples to ache. “I didn’t belong there,” she answered finally, searching for the words that came closest to the truth that she’d realized standing there in that doorway. Her world and Cordelia’s world didn’t mesh. She didn’t have a place out there, didn’t have what it took to be a suitable partner. They were too different, came from the opposite polar ends of the spectrum, and she’d been too preoccupied before to notice it, to realize just how badly she didn’t fit.
Cordelia was vividly aware of the fact that she was missing something vitally important in this exchange. She felt at a loss, swimming in the morass of her own confusion and doubts. Well, drowning was actually more like it, without a lifeline in sight. If she was going to do this though, better to be hung for a lion than a lamb. Well, maybe an especially meek lion, but a lion nonetheless.
“Fred told me what you said.”
Her tone was starkly honest, even if the words were somewhat vague. Really though, there could be only one conclusion to be drawn, only one thing that she could have meant.
Faith didn’t know what to say. Of course she was all too aware of what Cordelia was alluding to, but she certainly wasn’t going to reveal her heart again, not after the painful realizations that had slammed their way home during the time that she’d spent in introspection. She might love Cordelia, might want this life and all that it offered, but the other girl didn’t want her. That was painfully clear, here in their awkward interaction. So, she decided to do what the other girl couldn’t. She’d end this, saving them both the trouble of half-hearted excuses and weak apologies.
“I’m leaving,” she said roughly. For some reason she felt the urge to cry, something that she most certainly didn’t do, and it was imperative that she get out of there before she added embarrassment to disappointment.
Cordelia sucked in a breath at the harsh words, stunned. It wasn’t what she had been expecting to hear, though she wasn’t quite sure what she had expected. This… leaving… well, it certainly wasn’t it.
“Where are you going to go?” It wasn’t what she wanted to ask, but it seemed the be the only thing that she could force out of the tight confines of her throat. She wanted to wrap her arms around the other girl’s waist, to beg her not to leave, but something held her back. Fear of rejection, of looking like a fool, of not being wanted. Those words, the ones that she hadn’t realized until this second that she wanted to hear, the ones that Faith had uttered back at the hotel but that she was very clearly withdrawing with this act, had obviously been spurred more by fear than by truth. Faith didn’t love her, and the part of her heart that had been secretly rejoicing ever since Fred had repeated the sentiment to her cringed in pain. Of course Faith didn’t love her. Wishful thinking was all it had been. Or, perhaps just stupidity.
Faith rolled back, dropping over the edge of the railing and back onto the hard wooden deck so that she was standing, back still turned so that she was facing away from Cordelia. She didn’t want to look at the other girl, to have Cordelia look at her. “I don’t know. Somewhere…”
“You can stay here. You don’t have to leave,” Cordelia said, too quickly for it to be anything other than pleading. Her voice had cracked on the words and she felt an embarrassed flush creep up her cheeks at the desperation she’d heard in her tone.
Faith turned slowly, eyes downcast. “Yes I do,” she whispered brokenly. “I don’t belong here.”
Didn’t belong here? Cordelia didn’t understand… there wasn’t anywhere else in the world that Faith belonged more. This was their life. That necessarily meant that the two of them were together. After all, with no Faith to go along with a Cordelia, there was no ‘their life’, and the Seer didn’t understand why Faith would insinuate that anything else was appropriate. Sure, she hadn’t really admitted to herself just how she felt about this whole situation until this moment when the suddenly very real danger of having it slip away stole her breath, but now she knew. It was so painfully obvious, so startlingly clear. They were a they, a pair, a couple, a together, all those things that meant far more than the mere combination of vowels and consonants might suggest.
“I don’t understand.”
It was too late though. The words floated away as Cordelia watched Faith’s retreating back. The other girl had turned from her, had given her a wistful, crooked smile and then disappeared back into the apartment. It didn’t make sense. Why now? Was the prospect of being here with her so repulsive? Did the knowledge that she might not be facing imminent death take her outside of the realm of charity cases, make her no longer a viable subject for Faith’s altruism? But Faith didn’t know that yet, did she? Cordelia hadn’t told her the news, and she didn’t think that the Slayer had stuck around long enough to catch the announcement.
Five minutes. That was all the time it had taken to pack up her life here. Of course, she was leaving with only scant more than she’d arrived with, and since she’d come with virtually nothing, there simply wasn’t much to take with her. Clothes, shoes, a few toiletries and the picture that she’d stolen a long time ago, the one of a laughing carefree Cordelia. All of it fit nicely into her duffel, and the knowledge that her departure wouldn’t even really make a dent here, wouldn’t take away anything substantial, was perhaps even more depressing than the fact that she was leaving.
Cordelia was waiting in the living room, standing just slightly inside the doors leading out to the balcony. The wispy curtains there billowed slightly, catching on gusts of cool air, and Faith thought that the other girl had never looked more beautiful.
“I’m not going to die anymore.”
The words were muttered in a voice so low that Faith could barely hear it, but the impact was clear regardless. Fighting back the urge to slump in relief, Faith merely hitched her duffel up a little higher on her shoulder, one quick sniff and the barely perceptible tightening of her lips the only evidence that she’d even heard the statement.
When she didn’t garner the reaction that she’d been hoping for, Cordelia decided to try another tact. Anything, really, to keep Faith from walking out of the door.
“I don’t want you to go.”
She couldn’t say it any more clearly than that. Even if she wasn’t quite sure what had prompted this sudden decision to leave on Faith’s part, she was sure of one thing… it was most certainly not what she wanted.
Faith shook her head slightly, a wry smile tugging at her lips. “You don’t need me any more, C. Besides, I’m no good for you really. Things’ll be better this way.”
And you won’t be able to hurt me, the Slayer added silently. Won’t be able to hurt me like you did tonight when you wrapped your arms around Angel, when you kissed him.
Cordelia felt the need to cry in frustration, to pick up the nearest object and hurl it at Faith in an attempt to knock some sense into her since nothing else seemed to be working. “I do need you, Faith. You’re the best thing I’ve got, and I don’t see how things can be better if you leave.”
The heartfelt protest was, she realized, the truth.
Unwilling, unable to hear any more, Faith closed her eyes for a second, pulling together the tattered shreds of her self-control. She needed to get out of the apartment, needed to get away from the cloying air of confusion and desperation blanketing her, needed to find somewhere she could clear her head.
“Good-bye, Cordelia Chase.” She wanted to say more, but couldn’t find the words. Eloquent speeches had never been her forte, and besides, she’d heard once that simple was better. So, that was it then, her final words, her departing sentiment… the best she could offer.
It seemed like she reached the door too quickly, that she was standing there with her hand on the knob much sooner than she should have. This was it, then, the end of her tenure here, the completion of her foray into a world that didn’t exist for her.
Cordelia felt panic settle over her, felt things slipping away with the deft ease of fine sand through her fingers. So, she did the only thing she could.
“I love you, Faith.”
There, it was out. The secret that she didn’t even know she’d been keeping, laid bare before the other girl, a last ditch effort to hold her life together. It didn’t seem fair, here on the eve of actually reclaiming what she’d long ago accepted as stolen from her, that the main reason she’d actually wanted to stick around was leaving.
The Slayer’s slim form froze momentarily, the hand that had been turning the door knob halting instantly, and Cordelia felt a surge of hope run through her. It had been worth it, then, to say the words, to put out into the open what she’d only just realized.
But something was wrong. The door was opening, was pulling back to reveal the light from the hall, and then there was the soft snick of it closing again, leaving her facing the dark plane of a slab of stained oak. Leaving her alone in an apartment suddenly devoid of oxygen.
She’d still left, had still walked out, and Cordelia collapsed to the floor, tears streaking down her face. Everything had fallen apart and no one had taken the time to explain the reason why, and suddenly the new chance at life that she’d been offered didn’t seem like quite the gift it had been only hours before.
She didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there drowning in her own sorrow, but when the sound of the door creaking open penetrated her consciousness, she didn’t even bother to look up. If someone had come to steal her stereo system, then they were more than welcome to it. Cordelia had more pressing things on her mind.
“Did you mean it… what you said before?” The words, spoken by a voice that she recognized easily despite its current strangled state, completely captivated her attention. Snapping her head up, wiping furiously at the tear tracks on her face, Cordelia struggled up from her position on the floor.
“Yeah. Did you mean it? Back at the hotel, I mean.”
“When I said that I loved you?” Faith didn’t really need to clarify. She just wanted to say it, to hear the words and know that Cordelia was hearing them too.
A tentative nod was her answer, and a broad smile spread across the dark Slayer’s face. “Yeah, I meant it.”
Cordelia bit her lip, holding back a relieved grin. “I really don’t want you to leave.”
She said it a little more strongly this time, backing up her words with actions. Several long steps brought her to a spot directly in front of Faith, and she reached out, tugging the battered duffel from the other girl’s shoulder. Once it was in her possession, she tossed it blindly back in the general direction of the bedroom, hazel eyes glowing in the dim room.
“I don’t want to leave either. I mean, this is my home.”
The words burned through Cordelia, lighting her up from within. Pulling Faith to her for a quick kiss, the merger more of reassurance than of passion, she grinned.
“And you’re my woman,” she said lightly, laughing with delight when Faith scowled at her.
But, after a second the Slayer decided to smile too. It wasn’t that she was particularly upset by the prospect, after all.
“Think you can take the night off?” Cordelia was tugging at her hand, pulling her gently back toward their room, and Faith grinned lasciviously, dark eyes glowing as they read the Seer’s intent.
“Hmm… I don’t know. I’d have to have a pretty compelling reason. What’d you have in mind?” she teased, twin dimples slashing down her cheeks.
Cordelia leaned forward, nipping the Slayer’s lips with her own. “I was thinking that I’d take my woman to bed,” she murmured against Faith’s mouth, one brow arching in expectation. “Is that compelling enough?”
Faith appeared to contemplate the idea for a moment, drawing satisfaction from the increasingly annoyed look spreading across Cordelia’s face. “Yeah, I think that’ll suffice,” she tossed back teasingly.
She felt lighter, freer. Happy didn’t seem strong enough to cover what she was, but for the lack of a more appropriate synonym, Faith decided to stick with it. No wait, maybe ecstatic. Yeah, that sounded good.
“Maybe you can put on that hot little number that I’ve heard so much about. You know, the one Fred and Gunn got to see before I did,” Cordelia said encouragingly.
“I don’t know. I think you’re going to have to work pretty hard to deserve that one,” Faith shot back, shedding the last of her worry. Whatever she’d imagined before had been simply that, her imagination. The woman looking at her with a combination of love and lust wasn’t a woman who had reserved her heart for anyone else.
“Oh, I think I’m up to it,” Cordelia retorted saucily.
And, much to her enjoyment, Faith soon learned that she was.