Title: Wild Women Don't Get the Blues
Fred had been working on her plan to get the two girls together for a week when she realized that, well… she just wasn't coming up with any good plans. So, absent any stunningly brilliant ideas for luring her two best friends into professing undying love for one another, she decided to do one of the few things that she did well. Actually, perhaps well wouldn't be the correct term for it. She was going to do something that she had lots of practice with… talk.
Faith usually slept until after lunch. Long nights spent killing off the City of Angel's undead population left her a little tired, so she usually didn't rise until mid-afternoon. That left Fred alone with Cordelia all morning, and she'd decided to take full advantage of their time together.
"…and she's really, really wonderful. I mean, she's not at all like I thought she'd be, you know, based on everything that I'd heard. Sure, sometimes I can see where maybe she'd occasionally get a little out of control, but for the most part she seems like a perfectly normal girl. Oh, and she's teaching me all kinds of wonderful things." Fred had been babbling on about Faith for about a half-hour now, and Cordelia's polite smile was beginning to slip. Nonetheless, she just didn't have it in her heart to be mean to the girl sitting across from her, so she continued to provide the appropriate listening noises in the appropriate places.
"I noticed that you've been spending a lot of time down in the basement with her. Just what exactly do you two do down there?" She'd actually been wanting to find that out for a while. Every time she thought the coast was clear for her to sneak down and see what was going on, someone would come in or Wesley would want her to research some new demon and by the time she finished it would be too late to spy.
"Oh, she's been teaching me all kinds of neat things. At first she was just teaching me how to fight. Self-defense, you know, like hand-to-hand combat with a little bit of martial arts thrown in like that Jackie Chan guy does in the movies. I really do love his movies. You know he does all of his own stunts don't you? Anyway, lately she's been teaching me all kinds of other things. We moved on to sword fighting the other day, just like you and Angel do, and yesterday she even taught me how to kiss," the physicist replied dreamily.
It had actually been rather nice. Though it had taken her a long time to work up the guts to ask, Fred had finally managed to stammer through her request. Faith had merely stared at her with those amused dark eyes until she'd thought she was going to melt into a puddle of embarrassment, but finally the other girl had smiled gently at her and nodded her head. At first they'd just talked through it, going over the basics like timing and what felt good and what felt like a moray eel was attacking you, but when Faith noticed that the other girl didn't seem to be comprehending everything, she'd decided to show her first hand.
The first press of soft lips on hers, and Fred was lost. She hadn't kissed anyone for a long, long time… well before Pylea actually, and even then it had only been awkward adolescent fumblings. This had been the kiss of a woman, someone who was experienced and knew exactly what she was doing and possessed the skill to do it well, and it'd taken her a little while to remember that it wasn't just for fun. Hard as it had been to keep her mind focused, Fred was now completely sure that she had acquired the necessary skills to knock Wesley's socks off, and was even more confident with Faith's seal of approval. The other girl had said she was a natural, and Fred beamed just thinking about it.
Unfortunately, while she was taking a happy trip down memory lane, Cordelia was growing increasingly agitated. From the beatific smile creasing the other girl's features at the moment, she surmised that Faith was up to her old tricks, this time taking advantage of their poor defenseless unsophisticated Fred, and she just wasn't going to let it happen. The young physicist was no match for the Slayer's seductive powers, and Cordelia felt the rage inside her grow as she pictured scenes of a used and bitter Fred, of a Fred left with a shattered heart when Faith decided that it was time to move on, of Fred with dried tear tracks on her face and two dirty faced kids hanging onto the tattered tails of her ragged skirt. Okay, well maybe the last was going a bit far since she sincerely doubted that Faith was in possession of the ability to impregnate, especially in light of her own lack of a Lifetime movie of the week single teenaged mother past, but nonetheless she was certain that things wouldn't end up well for Winifred "Fred" Burkle in this situation. The dreamy little romantic expression on the other girl's face only added fuel to her fire, and with a belly full of conviction, she jumped out of her chair and stalked over to the elevator.
"Uh, Cordelia," Fred ventured hesitantly, somehow aware that her plan to talk the Slayer up had gone horribly awry.
"Not right now, Fred," Cordelia snapped back, nearly jumping out of her skin when a loud ping announced the arrival of her car. Pressing the button for the 5th floor, she was soon on her way up, Fred's confused and anxious face the last thing she saw as the doors closed.
"Tramp. Whore. No good womanizing bitch," she muttered, using the character assignations to build up a full head of steam for the coming confrontation. There was no way that she was going to let Fred be used by a heartless, lying, manipulative Faith. They should have known that a leopard couldn't change her spots, no matter how much everyone spouted off about the benefits of rehabilitation and all that other neo-hippie-esque bullshit.
It wasn't long before she was off the elevator and in front of the door to the room Faith had claimed as her own. Not even bothering to knock, she slammed the thin wooden barrier open, marching inside the poorly lit dwelling in a fervor of righteous conviction. Propping her hands on her hips, she tapped her foot angrily against the floor and waited impatiently. Luckily, she didn't have to wait for long.
"Cordelia?" Faith asked, her voice foggy from sleep. She wasn't sure if the girl was really there or if she was simply a dream induced apparition, though if she was a dream, she was certainly a lot angrier than the Cordelia she preferred to have in her dreams. Lots and lots angrier, as a matter of fact.
"How dare you? How dare you take advantage of Fred like that? And under this very roof!" Cordelia fumed, giving up her position of outrage to stomp across the room. Unfortunately that brought her in close contact with the bed and she suddenly became vividly aware that Faith still preferred to sleep in the nude. Not that she could afford to be distracted by the full curve of breasts and the teasing pucker of berry red nipples contracting in response to the flow of cool air she'd introduced to the room. No, no time at all for anything like that.
"Take advantage… What the hell're you talking about?" the other girl growled, her voice scratchy from sleep.
"Seducing her, that's what I'm talking about. How dare you play your games on her. God Faith, its like corrupting a child." She had the nagging impulse to beat the Slayer on the head with some heavy object, but there weren't any in the near vicinity that were light enough for her to wield easily yet still heavy enough to do some damage, which only increased Cordelia's level of frustration.
"Seducing who?" Faith, meanwhile, was completely confused. She wasn't quite sure what it was that she'd done to invoke the other girl's ire, but whatever it was, she'd obviously done a damn good job of it. "Fred?"
"Yes, Fred," Cordelia shot back. "I knew you hadn't changed, knew that it was just a matter of time before you once again fucked us all up the ass, but Fred? Even I didn't think you'd stoop that low. God, you disgust me."
"Look, Princess," suddenly Faith was on her gloriously naked feet, one finger poking into the Seer's chest to emphasize her words, "I don't know what the fuck you're talking about, but I'm not doing anything with Fred that she doesn't want to do. If you all hadn't been treating her like a half-wit invalid for so long, you might have noticed that she's a pretty wicked cool gal, and much more competent than you give her credit for. As for you, you have no right, absolutely none, to come barging in here talking to me like I'm some… some… I don't know…"
"Whore?" Cordelia offered helpfully, flashing the irate Slayer a bright smile.
"You know what… fuck you, Cordelia Chase. If you can't get past this petty bullshit and see who I really am, then I don't need you. Get the hell outta my room." Dark brows were pulled down in a scowl and one hand was pointed firmly at the door and Cordelia decided that she didn't have to stay there and be subject to such verbal abuse any longer. So, with one final outraged huff, she turned and stalked back out the way she'd come in, shoulders still stiff with indignation, where she promptly ran into a breathless Fred.
"Oh, sorry," the Seer muttered, then looked down to see who it was that she had played bumper cars with. "Fred, its you. Look, you don't have to worry about her bothering you anymore. I took care of it for you."
With a jerk of her head, Cordelia made it perfectly clear just who she'd taken care of for Fred. Taking the girl's hand, expecting her to follow her back down the hallway to the elevator doors, she was surprised when the slim limb was pulled from her grasp. Looking up, she saw something etched across the physicist's face that she'd never had the occasion to see before - anger.
"If you don't mind, I think my friend might be upset, and I'm going to go and see her," Fred said softly before heading into Faith's room, and Cordelia could do nothing more than stand there, dumbstruck, in the middle of the hall as the sound of the Slayer's door closing behind the petite brunette echoed through her mind.
"Her friend?" she repeated, trying the words out. "Her friend Faith… What the hell does that make me, then?"
The crumbling walls didn't answer, and with a sigh of consternation, Cordelia moved slowly back to the still open elevator doors.
"Of all the… accusing you of seducing me," Fred ranted, pacing back and forth across the limited confines of Faith's room, pushing her glasses back up her nose repeatedly in a nervous gesture guaranteed to wear away a good bit of skin. "And then, coming up here to confront you. Like I couldn't take care of myself. Like I didn't manage to survive for six years without anyone to count on but me. Like I didn't escape forced enslavement all on my very own until that unfortunate recapture. Like I'm a helpless two year old that you have to watch over so they don't burn their hand on the stove or stick their finger in a light socket. Accused you of seducing me… me!"
Faith was sitting calmly on her bed, the sheet that had fallen absently to the floor when she'd arisen to confront Cordelia wrapped around her torso in an attempt to make herself decent. Not that Fred was bound to notice whether she was naked or not, she realized, watching as the girl moved jumpily from one side of the room to the other, only to turn around and do it all over again. Honestly it was making her dizzy, but the novelty of having someone this outraged on her behalf was just too great for her to do anything to disrupt it. She'd let her own anger over the undeserved allegations come later. Right now, well… right now was the time to bask in the knowledge that she had a friend who was willing to stick up for her.
"Where she got that crazy idea, I'll never know," Fred continued, unaware of the mental machinations of the girl sitting on the bed. "I mean, not that I'd really mind if you did, not that I want you to or anything since I'm working on my Wesley plan right now, but you are a good kisser and you're pretty too. I just don't understand why she had to go off half-cocked like that, marching up here like she was some sort of divine protector of my rights. I can take care of myself, thank you very much, and don't need a second-rate actress to do it for me!"
At that Fred stopped, clamping her hands over her mouth and shooting a wide-eyed look Faith's way before doing a lot of major backtracking. "Not that Cordelia couldn't protect me if she had to. I mean, just because she's an actress doesn't mean that she's not strong or capable or anything like that. And its not necessarily that she's not a good actress. She just hasn't had the right role come along yet. One day she'll work her way out of doing sunscreen commercials and bit parts as the third prostitute on the left because she's got real talent. Really she does…"
Fred was nodding her head in conviction, apparently trying to convince Faith of Cordelia's genuine acting abilities only seconds after haranguing her over-protective gesture, but the dark Slayer didn't really feel like making the physicist aware of the contradiction at the moment.
"Anyway," Fred continued, mostly deflated now that her initial burst of outrage had passed, "its probably all my fault. I was just trying to… well, get her to change her mind about you, but I don't think I helped. Well, I know I didn't help, what with the little flying off the handle thing and all. I was just trying to make her see that you'd changed, and I told all about how you've been helping me learn to defend myself and how you… how you taught me how to kiss."
With a snort, Faith turned amused dark eyes toward the girl standing sheepishly a few feet away. Well, no wonder Cordelia had done an Al Sharpton impersonation. But, she decided to ignore that for the moment and move to the more important matter, that of Fred's ill-fated determination to see her relationship with Cordy rise from its ashes like the phoenix that it certainly wasn't.
"Fred, Cordelia and I… well, there is no Cordelia and I, you understand. There never is going to be a Cordelia and I and as much as I appreciate you going to bat for me, ain't nothing gonna change that." Faith was slowly coming to the realization that she had made a few major life changes while in the pen. Had something like this happened four years ago, there was no way that she'd be sitting calmly, an odd sense of acceptance settling over her instead of the all too familiar comfort of rage. It was almost like she didn't care… actually, the sudden realization that she didn't care made itself known. She didn't care, didn't care that she was living here, didn't care that she was doing good now, didn't care that Cordelia hated her guts and thought that she was putting the moves on Fred, didn't care that Wesley still couldn't stay in the same room with her for more than 15 minutes at a time. Nothing really mattered. Even Fred and this newfound friendship, as cool as it was, didn't really matter. She was empty, hollow, the shell of a human walking around with no significant emotions to speak of to bother her.
Or, at least, that's what she decided had happened. She told herself that it didn't hurt her when Cordelia told her she was trash, when she reaffirmed the fact that she didn't matter. Faith Spenser didn't matter. Never had mattered, was nothing more than talented hands and lips and a powerful, attractive body. Nothing but the aggregation of parts meant to satisfy others with no intrinsic worth. Of less than no worth to Cordelia, not even important enough to merit a page in the mental scrapbook of the other girl's life.
"She's just in denial or afraid or something like that," Fred was saying, and Faith pulled herself out of the dark recesses of her wanderings, refocusing her attention on the slim figure of a girl in front of her. The physicist had positioned herself on the foot of the bed, knees pulled up to her chin as she spoke. "You're meant to be together. I can just feel it, you know. But Cordy's, well, sometimes she's stubborn. We've just got to work on a plan. You know, to win her back."
After having had minimal to negative success with her own plan, Fred was now willing to enlist the aid of one of the parties it was meant to target. Besides, Faith had managed to win Cordelia over in the first place. Surely her insight would be invaluable in this endeavor.
"Fred, I think you're not understanding what's going on here." She'd kept the full details of what had happened with Cordelia from the other girl before, though the reasons weren't quite clear to her. Maybe she didn't want her seemingly naïve new friend to know the truth about her or to know things about Cordy that she apparently didn't already know. Now, though, it appeared that it was time to fess up. "There never was some grand big romance between Cordelia and I. We fucked and that was about it. Hell, we didn't even really talk all that much, just found some deserted spot and banged one another until she got tired or I got tired or we found something else to do. We never dated, never declared undying love… we didn't even ever really like one another all that much I don't think. She was convenient, I was easy, and we had some fun. That was it, ya know. 'Love Story' it was not."
"But I've seen the way she looks at you," Fred protested, eyebrows drawing together in confusion.
"If she's looking at me its probably because I used to could make her scream so loud the neighbors at the motel would bang on the wall," the Slayer muttered, running a hand over her face. She didn't know what she'd been thinking, either then or now. No, then was easy to figure out. She'd been thinking that she had a wicked hot girl in her bed who was good to go for some no-strings-attached fun fucking, bonus points added on top of that because during the rare times when they actually did talk, she found the other girl funny. And bright. And interesting. But, it hadn't been any more than it was and there was no sense in trying to change that through some carefully engineered selective mental editing.
Besides, did she really and truly want to get something going with Cordy now? It was best to just move on, to forget about that time in her life and all that went with it. Her affair with the ex-cheerleader was wrapped around everything that had happened then and seeing one necessarily brought to mind the other. For mental health reasons, not even taking into account the other girl's hatred and disgust, it was just the best possible route to take.
"But I really think…"
"It doesn't matter what you think, Fred. Ain't nothing there."
Cordelia had read through her new copy of Cosmo, researched an Angori demon for Wesley, rearranged the collection of business cards on display at the counter, and repainted her fingernails. All of that meant that she was now bored to tears, with nothing better to do than surf the internet reading Hollywood gossip. The only problem with that was that she didn't even find that interesting at the moment, which meant that there was something very wrong going on with her.
No matter how her mind tried to avoid thinking about it, she knew exactly what was wrong with her. Faith was what was wrong with her. It had been close to a month since their little confrontation over the seduction of Fred which had never really materialized. In fact, she'd stumbled in on the normally sedate physicist pinning Wesley to the wall of his office, her lips attached rather firmly to his. With that bastion of her anger overthrown, she'd found herself left rather adrift on the sea of potential reasons to hate the Slayer.
She knew she should hate her… knew she did hate her, but for some reason she couldn't help thinking about her. Even with as little substance as their pre-incarceration interactions had contained, she'd still developed… something for the girl. Feelings maybe, but of what type she wasn't sure. All she knew was that they were there, slipping about unidentified through her consciousness, and it was making her uneasy.
Add to that the fact that she was fairly sure that Faith was depressed, and she didn't know how she was supposed to act. The whole full of rage and homicidal intentions side of a mentally unbalanced Slayer was one she was well familiar with, having had a first row seat to the decomposition of the dark girl's sanity the first time around, but this was different. This was more like a girl without much life to her, just skulking around, gliding through the day with little notice that it was actually moving past her. It was hard to pin down the changes, but they were there and they were far more pronounced than they had been before she'd accused Faith of trying to corrupt Fred. If she really thought about it, though, she realized that something had been amiss ever since the other girl had reappeared. She'd seemed so… well, vulnerable. Vulnerable and Faith weren't words that melded together well in the Seer's psyche, which is probably what had kept them from being connected in the first place.
Of course, just because the girl was sporting early warning signs of some sort of breakdown didn't mean that Cordelia had to step in, but then again she felt like she had to. Despite herself, she cared for the other girl. At first she'd told herself that it was the leftover remnants of attraction, that it was unsettled emotions over their rather fractured past together, but those explanations didn't really fly when put to the test. Sure she was still attracted to Faith. She'd have to be blind not to be, and for someone gifted with the Sight, that just wasn't a viable excuse. The emotions part didn't sit well with her either, for reasons that she just couldn't quite chase down, which left her with the vague notion that there was something that she had to do, if only to assuage her own discomfort.
Cordelia had thought about it for a while, not really coming up with much. Sympathy, empathy and all of those other pathies weren't things that she came by naturally… well, in relation to her current subject, which left her at the end of an already short rope.
So, deciding to do what she was most skilled at, she planned an outing. Caritas was waiting, and she'd wrangled Angel, Wesley, Gunn and Fred into going with her. Fred had convinced Faith somehow, and tonight was the night.
Which actually might mean, though she refused to admit it, that her boredom was really nervousness in disguise.
She'd been shanghaied into this somehow. Fred had been the culprit, looking at her with those wide innocent eyes and begging her to go with them, and now here she was sitting in the middle of a bunch of demons, sipping on a drink that actually had a bright pink umbrella in it. It was humiliating, it was demoralizing… it was actually more fun than she had anticipated.
Demon karioke was something that she'd never run across before. Hell, she hadn't even ever contemplated it, which was saying a lot since she'd had a plenty of time to amuse herself during her unfortunate incarceration. But, it existed and here she was, sitting here amongst a crowd of people that she never would have envisioned herself with, watching Cordelia and a snazzily dressed green demon with bright pink horns discuss Donna Karen's fall line as a grayish-brown monster with two heads and four mouths sang Madonna's 'Like A Virgin' in the background. He was doing a good job, right down to a near perfect reenactment of the Blonde One rolling around on the stage touching herself, which was more than a little disconcerting.
"So, broody, tough, and angsty one, what are you going to bless us with this evening?" It took Faith a minute to realize that the question was directed at her, but soft pink eyes were looking at her expectantly in anticipation of an answer and she searched her mind for a hint of what it might be.
"Pardon me?" It was the politest thing she could muster at the moment. When they'd first gotten there, she'd been somehow convinced that this was a test that she had to pass and had immediately swung into action, grabbing the very first demon that she saw, immediately preparing to break its neck. It wasn't until Fred's desperate pleading broke through her consciousness that she realized that everyone was staring at her, and she'd let the disgruntled and disheveled demon go. Lorne, as she'd learned soon was the green guy's name, hadn't been too pleased with the original outburst of violence, and things had been a little chilly between them since.
"Singing, sugarpea. Everybody's got to do it, and since its your first time here that means its your debut." He was smiling at her, the expression on his face so wide open that it almost caused his hooked nose to nearly bump into his chin, and she immediately pushed down the impulse inside her that told her to lunge across the table and rip his cute little horns off and shove them down his throat. She was in nonconfrontational mode at the moment, mainly because of the superior holier-than-thou smirk Cordy had thrown her after she realized that killing these demons was a major party foul.
"I don't sing," she replied flatly, lips pursing around a frown.
"Here you do, doll. Either you pick the song or I do, but it's the way we break all the newcomers in." She had the distinct impression that the neon demon was enjoying himself at her expense, which didn't bode well for the future of her nonconfrontational status.
"Oh, how exciting!" Fred, well aware of the tension slowly descending on the table, took the opportunity to break in. "I mean, I think it'll be great, don't you Faith? What do you want to sing? I'm afraid that I don't know much about music, so I can't really help with the selection. Oooh, unless maybe you want to do some Patsy Cline?"
"Yeah, Faith," Cordelia added in, her voice fairly oozing challenge and sarcasm mixed together in a deadly cocktail of taunting, "what are you going to sing? You are going to sing, aren't you? I mean, you're not afraid, right?"
"Of course I'm not afraid," the Slayer tossed back, then winced internally at the words. She'd let her competitive nature get the better of her, automatically responding to the slight to her ego, and now she was going to have to go up there and wail away for a bunch of drunken demons and a table full of people that she'd either tried to kill or sleep with at one point in time or another.
"Great," Lorne beamed, clapping his hands. "You can go up next. What should I cue up for you, sweetheart? Lets see… I'm guessing you're a Def Leopard kind of girl. Eighties rock big hair bands really get your engine revving? All that leather just screams 'I loved Bon Jovi'."
"I'll pick it out myself, you overgrown grasshopper," Faith growled, pushing back from the table. They all watched her go, half afraid that she was going to snap and take out the bar's patrons while the other half just settled in in anticipation of the show.
"Me-ow. Somebody forgot to sheathe her claws," Lorne murmured, looking down at his lovely bright yellow suit. "I don't look like an overgrown grasshopper, do I guys? Come on… do I?"
Unfortunately, no one was really paying attention to the battered and bruised ego begging for some stroking. Instead, all eyes were turned toward the stage, focused intently on Faith. She'd taken the microphone out of its holder and appropriated a stool from the bar, which she was currently sitting on, her booted feet hooked on the bottom rung. She looked a little nervous, and her brown eyes kept flashing back and forth from the table of her somewhat friends to the rest of the crowd.
The lights seemed to dim somehow as Faith's head dropped down so that all that could be seen was a fall of glistening chestnut hair. Cordelia tensed as her voice came through, low and smoky and seductive, instantly drawing the interest of everyone in the room.
"I'm gonna do a little song. Its called 'Love Is Like a Ball and Chain'," she murmured, and all of the table's occupants turned to look at one another in confusion.
"Isn't that…" Cordelia started, her words fading off as the first few twangs of a guitar rumbled through the speakers, instantly throwing the club into the haze of the blues.
"Janis Joplin," Wes finished for her, his brow wrinkled in confusion.
"Well, technically Willie Mae Thornton sang it first, but I think she's going with the Pearl's version," Lorne said thoughtfully, his head tilted to the side. The soulful guitar intro had been joined by the lazy beat of a drum, and he could barely see the heel of the Slayer's left boot dipping in time to the music. Intriguing…
Head still down, Faith began to sing, her torso swaying slightly as the words rasped past her throat.
"Sittin' down by my window,
Just, lookin' out at the rain.
Oooh hmmmm, sittin' down by my window,
Just lookin' out at the rain."
Cordelia sat, transfixed, as the woman before her somehow transformed into a blues goddess, her normally low, scratchy voice teasing past the words to the song in a rumbling cascade of hurt.
"Somethin' came along, honey, grabbed a hold of me,
And it felt like a ball and chain."
"Is everyone else seeing this?" Angel whispered, ducking his head down low as if to hide his observation from the girl on the stage. A few hesitant nods were his only reply, and he straightened back up, once again returning his focus to Faith.
"And I say, oh, oh, whoa, whoa, honey, tell me why,
Why does every thing go, go wrong ?
I said yeah it all goes wrong, yeah.
I wanna know
And I say, oh, oh, whoa, whoa, honey tell me why,
Why does every thing go wrong.
Everything goes wrong."
"She sounds so sad," Fred sniffed, automatically feeling herself tear up in sympathy for her friend.
"That's because it's the blues, Fred," Cordelia hissed across the table, refusing to let herself be drawn in by the pain she could hear in the girl's words. "Its supposed to be sad. Otherwise it wouldn't be the blues, now would it?"
"Hey, here you gone today, honey won't you love me,
Honey, I just wanted to hold you, I said, for so long."
"Damn, she's pretty good for a white girl," Gunn said suddenly, drawing the glares of the rest of the tables occupants. Holding up his hands in self-defense, he qualified, "Hey, no offense. Its just that I've heard the rest of you sing."
"Love's got a hold on me, baby,
And it feels just like a ball and chain."
"And just what does that mean?" Angel shot back, only to be shushed by Lorne.
"Now, now, now, now, love's got a hold on me baby,
Feels like a ball and chain.
Honey I don't know why the woman I love yeah,
Wants to go on and leave me here in so much pain."
"Could you guys be quiet? I'm trying to work here," he complained, waving his hands in an attempt to get the others to shut up.
"I don't quite think that Janis sang that in her version," Angel murmured, his brow scrunching in confusion. No, he'd heard this before, and it definitely didn't say woman on his CD.
Wesley nodded, concurring with Angel's observation while Cordelia merely glared at them.
"And I say, oh, oh, whoa, whoa, now hon', tell me why,
Baby, sugar wanna tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me why, yeah.
And I say, oh, oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, baby tell me why,
When I ask you I want to know why, now baby."
Faith was really getting into the song at this point, her whole body swaying from side to side, jerking with the occasional emphasized passage, and Cordelia wondered if she was actually somehow channeling Janis Joplin. It wasn't that far-fetched. They were in Caritas after all.
"Here you've gone today,
I wanted to love you, love you, love you
Till the day I die."
The song broke out into a cascade of aching, echoing guitar rifts, and for a moment Cordy wished that she smoked, wished that she had a cigarette that she could light up and suck down because somehow the heart-rending sound of a blues guitar made her crave nicotine and the far away tease of serenity and the elusive sugary-sweet comfort of absolution. Of course, none of it made sense, was nothing more than a vague feeling, though she couldn't help but wonder just how much of herself Faith was pouring into this song, into its words. Was each tortured, raspy syllable some part of her soul brought to light and laid out there for everyone to see, or was she just a better actress than the Seer herself?
Pulled out of her reverie by Faith's voice, the slow, dark, thick honey of her tones reaching out to settle over the crowd once more, Cordelia shook her head to clear it of the conflicting thoughts.
"And I say oh, oh, whoa, whoa, no honey
It ain't fair, it ain't fair what you do, honey what you do.
I say honey, what you doin' to me.
And I say oh, oh, whoa whoa now baby
It ain't fair, it ain't fair what you do
I tried to tell you.
You went and broke my heart,
Honey it didn't belong to you."
Wesley leaned back in his chair, raising his beer bottle to his lips for a quick swig before looking around in disbelief. "She really is very good," he whispered, consternation coating his words.
Fred nodded, transfixed by the sight of her friend onstage.
"Sittin' down by my window,
Lookin' at the rain.
Out at the rain,
Lookin' at the rain, see the rain."
The Slayer was building to a crescendo, and for the first time since she started singing, she looked up, her dark eyes blank. She wasn't looking at anything, wasn't focusing on any person in particular, and yet Cordelia felt like the girl could see straight through her. What she was going to see the ex-cheerleader wasn't sure of, but she imagined that somehow those lifeless eyes would ferret out some truth about her that she didn't want realized.
"Sittin' down by my window, just looking out at the rain,
Somethin' came along, honey grabbed a hold of me,
Baby, and it felt like a ball and chain."
Moving to stand, planting her booted feet on the stage so that their spread was a vee as wide as her shoulders, Faith put both hands on the microphone as if to control it, to somehow leash the power of her words. Her hair tangled about her shoulders, its dark luster highlighting the porcelain paleness of her face, and Cordelia was immediately struck by her beauty. She'd always imagined it, always remembered it, as being strong, cutting, in your face. When she thought of Faith she though of confrontation, and her looks had seemed to echo that. Now though, she was suddenly hit by how fragile the other girl was, with her slim willowy build and her fragile, exotic features. Still stunning by any definition of the word, yet somehow made more real, a bit more human, in the harsh glow of Caritas' spotlight.
"And I say oh, oh, whoa whoa, now baby
Honey this can't be, no this can't be in vain,
And I say no no no no no no no no!
And I say whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa
Now now now now now now now now now no no not in vain
I know there is somebody that could tell me
Why, oh honey why,
Hon', tell me why love is like
Why love is like,
Like like a ball
Baaaaaaalllll and chain."
As she wailed out the last few lines of the song, Faith once again dropped her head, almost as if she couldn't bear to see how people would react to her. She shouldn't have worried, though, because immediately the place burst into cheers, the loudest of those probably originating from the normally demure Fred, and with a small grin and a light blush, Faith thanked her benefactors before hopping down off the stage.
The transformation that Cordelia saw on the Slayer's walk over was amazing. In those few short steps she shed any hint of fragility, any slight whisper of anything other than a brash strength, letting the hard shell of her usual attitude fall firmly into place. It was with a swagger that she made her way back to the table, and when she plopped back down in her chair, it was a cocky grin that met the bemused looks on her companion's faces.
"So, didn't think I'd do it, did you?" she teased, smirking. "Didja like it?"
No one said anything until Lorne, looking from Faith to Cordelia and back again, broke out into laughter.
"What the fuck's wrong with you, grasshopper," the disturbed Slayer sneered, not at all anticipating his reaction. It was quite discomforting. Surely she'd hadn't been that bad.
"Oh, honey, save your strength. You're going to need it for that one over there," he said by way of reply, cocking his head in Cordelia's direction.
"What do you mean by that?" the Seer in question demanded, a scowl descending on her own usually unperturbed brow.
"Don't try to play innocent with me," the Host intimated, wiggling his brows. "Trust me honey, it doesn't fit."
"Look," Faith was growing increasingly upset, "I don't know what's going on here, but I don't like it."
"Whoa, calm down there, Ms. Potentially Deadly. Didn't they tell you?"
Several slightly chagrined faces told him that the Slayer hadn't quite been brought up to speed, so with a sigh he ran through it.
"I can tell your future. You sing, I see… get it?"
"You mean to tell me that you're some kind of Mistress Cleo wannabe psychic hotline staffer specializing in karoke?" Faith snorted, not quite sure whether to be amused or outraged.
"Hey there, missy. I'll have you know that I'm the real deal, not some ganga smoking, incense burning tarot card hack." Lorne was getting a bit upset himself now, and Wesley, ever the mediator, decided to step in.
"Honestly, Faith. He can see into your future when you sing. His predictions are usually quite accurate." The ex-Watcher still hadn't gotten over his unfortunate nervous habit of fiddling with his glasses whenever he was in her vicinity, but he was doing a lot better now.
"So then what'd you see?" Though not entirely convinced of the veracity of the green man's claims, she was a little bit intrigued, especially since it seemed that whatever her future held, it seemed to include one currently irate brunette.
"Uh-uh. I can't give it all away. Where's the fun in that?" Reveling in his role, Lorne leaned back against his seat, the hint of a smile playing with one corner of his mouth. "Needless to say, you'll get what you want, and sooner than you think."
"What I want," Faith echoed, her eyes shooting unbidden over to where Cordelia sat.
"You got it, sister."
Cordelia was fuming. After picking up on the not so subtle insinuation that Lorne had seen something about a future between herself and Faith, she'd resolved to drag the girl off at the earliest possible convenient moment and disabuse of her of the notion. Unfortunately that hadn't occurred quite as soon as she would have liked since the rest of her companions had apparently been more than happy to sit around and drink for a few more hours.
Having finally convinced the group to pile back into the Caddy and head for the Hyperion, she'd realized that she wasn't quite sure what to say. Still convinced that she needed to say something, despite her lack of an idea as to what that something might be, she'd dragged Faith up to the Slayer's room, pushed her back onto the bed, and was now pacing a line back and forth in front of the patiently waiting girl.
"I don't care what he saw, its not going to happen," she said finally, stopping her trek to turn and face her nemesis.
"Look, I'm not the one who said he could read the future. You believe whatever you want to. I could care less," Faith shrugged, watching with satisfaction as her apparent disinterested only increased Cordelia's anger.
"Yeah, well, I'm glad you realize that," the Seer said threateningly. Actually, it was more like she attempted to say it threateningly, but the number of strawberry margaritas that she'd consumed after Lorne's little insinuation took a bit of the sting out of the words.
"I'm not the one who's all upset here, Princess," Faith noted idly, leaning back lazily on her bed. She was amused by the show being put on in front of her. Hell, she hadn't believed that the outrageously clad green guy could actually see into her future, nor had she allowed herself to take heart in what he said he saw. She didn't need Cordelia, didn't want her in fact. Not after she'd so clearly expressed just what exactly she thought about the Slayer. No, didn't want her at all…
"Don't call me Princess," Cordelia ground out, her jaw clenching in frustration.
"Because… because you used to call me that before." Once the words were out of her mouth, Cordelia immediately wished that she could take them back. She didn't want to bring up anything that had to do with their time together, especially not now, and from the gleam she could see in the other girl's eyes, Faith was more than eager to take the opening that she'd been given.
"And that bothers you?" Faith asked, intrigued.
"No," Cordelia denied, well aware that Faith was aware that it was a bald-faced lie. Otherwise why would she have protested its use in the first place?
"I don't believe you," Faith commented blandly, tilting her head to one side as she surveyed the lanky brunette. "I think you've got issues regarding it."
"And I think you've been watching too much Oprah," Cordelia shot back, nostrils flaring.
"Come on, C… I thought you told me that you didn't think about that anymore, that you'd forgotten about it. Shouldn't bother you if it wasn't important, should it?" Faith wasn't sure who that was meant to hurt, herself or the girl standing in front of her.
"I never said I'd forgotten it, and I never said it wasn't important," came the muttered reply, and Faith's gaze sharpened.
"Yeah, that's right. You just said that I wasn't important."
Cordelia grimaced at the reminder. Wounding the other girl that way wasn't one of her fondest memories, and she took the opportunity to try and fix that. "Look, I didn't mean that…"
"Sure you did," the Slayer broke in, her tone bitter. "You know as well as I do that I didn't mean a damn thing to you. Hell, you couldn't even come and fucking see me when I was in jail. You don't want me here. In fact, I doubt you woulda minded all that much if I hadn't ever woken up from that coma."
"Faith, that's not true," Cordelia protested, stepping forward, unsure what she wanted to do but somehow needing to comfort the other girl.
"Save it, Princess," Faith sneered, emphasizing the epithet. "Just because it wasn't the nice thing to want doesn't mean it wasn't true. You don't have to pretend to be perfect here."
"Damn you, I didn't want you to die." Faith's presumption that she would ever think such a thing was unsettling, and Cordelia felt her anger grow. "Yeah I was mad at you, yeah I was hurt and upset and confused, but I never wanted that."
"Maybe not, but you wanted me to go away. Just like you want me to go away now, don't you? You don't want me here, interfering with your precious little settled life, always a constant reminder of your dirty little secret. Well, maybe not so secret anymore." The memory of Cordelia shouting that they had been lovers flashed through her mind, and Faith smiled briefly.
"You don't know a thing about me," Cordelia hissed vehemently, her jaw tightening.
"Oh, I know a lot about you, Princess." Suddenly Faith was on her feet, advancing on Cordelia like a hunter with its prey, her movements smooth, feline. When they were only inches apart, the Slayer leaned forward, her eyes tracing over the slim column of the other girl's neck, over the sharp line of her jaw and up to her troubled hazel eyes.
"That doesn't mean you know me," Cordelia stressed softly, reading the intent in Faith's eyes, "and I'm not going to let you fuck me over again."
"So you don't want me anymore. Is that what you're saying?" Faith wasn't sure why she felt the need to drive this point home to herself, to have the other girl confirm what she already knew.
"I… I don't know what I want anymore," the Seer confessed brokenly, suddenly aware that it was the truth. She'd spent months telling herself that she didn't want anything to do with Faith, ignoring the little trickles of arousal the other girl's presence initiated, refusing to let herself consider the possibility of learning more about what the Slayer was like as a person, outside of the confines of naked bodies and exchanged moans and sex without emotion. It hit her that she hadn't managed to avoid the issue by hiding from it. Her feelings, or whatever they were, were still there, still waiting on her to get past her fear and take a closer look at them.
"You think I just want to use you. Like before." Dark chocolate eyes were burning into hers, and Cordelia realized that she didn't have the answers, wasn't even sure of the questions.
So, she didn't answer, not sure what to say, and was shocked when Faith reached up with one tremulous hand, running the soft tip of a finger down her jaw.
"You were always different," the Slayer whispered, her eyes following the path her finger had made. She wanted to lean forward, wanted to capture those soft lips with her own, but held back. There was too much between them - bitterness and hurt feelings and confusion and anger and awkwardness - and she wasn't going to put herself back in the same place she'd inhabited before.
"It didn't feel like I was different," Cordelia rasped, trying to ignore the trail of fire the other girl's touch had caused. "It didn't feel like I was different when you slept with Xander, when you betrayed me, when you forgot about me."
"I did a lot of things that didn't make any sense," Faith whispered helplessly, her finger still moving across that soft skin. "But I promise you, you were…"
"I didn't treat you much better," the Seer admitted, fighting the urge to turn her face into the warmth of the other girl's touch.
"Yeah, well, we both did a lot of things wrong."
They were quiet for a moment, each lost in thoughts, in remembrances, in regrets. Suddenly the Seer realized that, whatever had happened between them, that it had been a long time ago. They'd both been different people then, both been slaves to their own agendas and fears and that she shouldn't run the risk of ruining the same opportunity twice.
"What about…," Cordelia started, only to pause, running her tongue over suddenly dry lips, "what about forgetting about all that. What about starting over, clean slate."
She wasn't sure what had prompted her to make the offer, but once the words had passed through her lips she was sure that she had done the right thing. It felt so right, so natural, to be standing there looking down into dark eyes, to have the familiar scent that seemed to be some part of Faith herself drifting up to tease her with its elusive sweetness, to feel the hot tease of the other girl's breath burning her lips.
Faith's eyes searched her face, looking for clues until it appeared that she was satisfied with what she saw, with the sincerity of the offer. Unable to help herself, she leaned forward, pressing her lips gently against Cordelia's, the touch so light that it was almost non-existant.
"Yeah," she murmured, smiling brightly. "I think I'd like that."
Tremulous as it may have been, it was a start.
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