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Surviving Sunnydale Series

3. She's Your Cocaine

"She says control it,
then she says don't control it,
then she says you're controlling,
the way she makes you crawl."
Tori Amos 'She's Your Cocaine'

***

*Thump*, *thump*, *thump*

Cordelia Chase, walk-on actress extraordinaire threw punch after punch, pummelling the bag suspended from the ceiling even though her knuckles were bruised and her lungs were burning. She kept going because the face she envisioned instead of the inanimate cylinder of stuffing and padding kept changing and she wanted to pin it down to just one face. Faith, her father, Harmony, Buffy, Faith, Xander, Willow - did she mention, Faith? - all morphed before her eyes. The same girl who was watching her, arms crossed, from the relative safety of the couch in Angel's lounge which was passing as a makeshift gym. And these weren't just girlie punches either, because the slayer was teaching her to fight and Cordelia was a quick study.

It wasn't that she'd decided to become butch overnight or anything, far from it, but she actually had a job. Like, an acting job. She was to play a supporting role in a pilot for a TV show. She was going to be Midnight Matinee, a wisecracking, all-action girl, clad head to toe in black PVC whose special abilities were her hypnotic gaze that could induce any man to tell the truth (while simultaneously making her clothes miraculously fall off) and a special laser gun gizmo in the heel of her thigh-high boots. She'd be fighting crime and Iraqi terrorists with her sisters Trixie and Peaches. Okay, it wasn't going to win anyone any Emmys but it had a good chance of being picked up by one of the networks, if the wobbly sets and cheesy dialogue didn't deter the viewers.

So Faith had offered to help her get into shape for the role, after teasing her solidly for two days. Angel, of course, had kept quiet but she was sure she could see that little smirk on his face, the minute upturn of his lip that betrayed his amusement. As for Wesley, he'd made a sarcastic comment or two before immersing himself in one of his demonology books because they were on the trail of some slime demon or something. Well, whoever said working for a vampire would be glamorous? Or well-paid with good benefits, for that matter? And she was still rooming with the phantom Dennis... although he did remind her to take her vitamins. Sometimes, she just wished she'd never discovered that the things that went bump in the night weren't just a made-up ploy by parents to freak out their kids and keep them in therapy for the rest of their lives.

"C."

*Thump*, *thump*, *thump*

Faith had told her that the secret was to tap into some hidden source of aggression and just let rip. Which Cordelia was doing now, driving every bitter thought she'd ever had into that bag, every hurt that had ever been inflicted upon her, every piece of expensive clothing ever ruined, every dork or loser she'd ever dated, every audition she'd lost out on, every secret angry tear shed, every time she lost someone she cared about - yes, surprisingly there were a few. Queen C wasn't entirely made of stone, after all. There was more to her than insults, one-liners and the face of a supermodel but only a few select people knew that. Most were still happy to write her off as some airhead Valley girl, which she never really was. It'd just been the first role of her career and she'd played it damn convincingly.

"C."

"What?" she snapped, turning to face Faith abruptly. "I was just finding my motivation there! I'll bet Demi Moore never has to put up with this."

Faith leered slightly. "Now I'm thinkin' if you'd been in Striptease it woulda been a whole lot better."

Cordelia gave an actressy roll of her eyes because, well, she was an actress and she was working on perfecting the diva's temperament that she'd first established in high school. "Well? Don't just interrupt my flow for nothing, Miss Attention Span."

"Jus' I don't think Trixie and Pixie," Faith said this with a verbal smirk, "are gonna appreciate you beatin' the bad guys to death. And, I gotta wonder now, what did that punch bag ever do to you?"

"First off it's Peaches not Pixie," Cordelia said, hands primly on her hips, or as near as given that she was wearing boxing gloves," and, secondly, this was your idea. Remember? But then, I guess you just wanted to see me in Lycra."

"Damn, you saw right through me," Faith said with heavy sarcasm, hand over her heart. She swung her leather-clad legs off the couch and stood. "Okay, just imagine if you were takin' on a vamp or some demon," she said as she approached Cordelia. "You keep throwin' everything you got at him, you're gonna wind up dead or worse. I mean, he doesn't get worn down but you do. And sooner later you're gonna mess up and before you know it," Faith smacked her fist into her palm, "bam! He's gotcha. That's one thing I learned from B, the quick, easy kill - course, that was mostly a lesson I chose to ignore. "

Cordelia had stopped listening by this point, or more accurately at the 'B' word. "Can you not mention Buffy Summers for five seconds?" she muttered darkly, turning back to the punch bag and jabbing it viciously. It wasn't like she needed to be reminded on a daily basis that Faith once had a thing for Buffy, no, wait, obviously continued to have a thing. "God, if you weren't so infatuated with her..."

"I'm not," Faith said sharply, then frowned. "I wasn't..." Faith must've caught the harsh look that Cordelia shot over her shoulder because she faltered there. It seemed like this truth kick was lasting, for the moment, the actress noted coolly. "Look, I hate to go and state the obvious but if it wasn't for Buffy we never woulda met." The slayer took a few steps closer and laid her hand flat on the punch bag, stilling its erratic swing.

"Aaaand... that's a bad thing, how?" Slightly taller than the other girl, Cordelia brought herself up to her full height, peering down her nose into that unbelievably cute heart-shaped face. It might've worked on someone other than Faith. All the little tricks she'd honed over the years were frustratingly obsolete. All the barbed comments and the bitchy remarks, Faith was immune to and gave as good as she got. It was a quality that had attracted her first to Xander, trading insults and kisses, and then to Faith. There was nothing like a good put-down to make you feel good about yourself and nothing like receiving one to get you all worked up. All that unresolved tension was pretty potent stuff and had fuelled more make-out sessions than she cared to remember.

Faith tilted her head slightly, the faint trace of a smile on her dark red lips. "You've really moved on there, C. I'm so proud of ya."

"Fuck you," Cordelia returned spitefully and had the irrational urge to punch the other girl in the face. Back in high school she would've slapped instead. Was that the measure of how far she'd come?

The slayer was apologetic almost instantly, eyes large and dark and solemn. This weird sincerity thing in Faith, she was having difficulty getting used to because outright hostility was currency she could deal with. "I didn't mean that. I'm just being an asshole."

Cordelia wasn't going to let it drop. Once a teen bitch always a teen bitch, right? "Then why say it? Why open your mouth at all?"

Faith's smirk was only half-hearted and never reached her dark eyes. "You know me. Why be all mature when I can crack a cheap joke?" *Buzz* Wrong answer.

The actress gave her best frosty glare (the result of hours spent in front of the mirror practicing), taking off the boxing gloves and shoving them into Faith's hands. "Whatever. Just call me when you decide to act your age and not your shoe size." She made it all the way to the top of the stairs before she realised that she was sweaty and icky and in urgent need of a change of clothing. So she descended the stairs regally, head held high. She caught the expectant look in the other girl's eyes and she'd never felt so triumphant. "I'm going to take a shower and *then* I'm going to storm out again."

A pang of guilt pulled at her when she watched Faith's face fall but, overall, satisfaction won out. Maybe the bitchy Queen C part of her wasn't as dead as she thought, just exiled temporarily.

***

The phone rang and Cordelia picked up the receiver on the third pulse. It wasn't that she'd been sitting by the phone for the past two days, or that she'd been waiting for Faith to call, or that she wanted to hear the sweetly husky voice that made her want to nibble on Faith's burgundy lips. Okay, so she was more hot for the other girl than ever, but wasn't she allowed to be in denial about it? Wasn't she, in fact, entitled to nurse her pet grievances?

"Cordelia?"

A masculine voice. "Angel," she responded flatly, not even attempting to conceal her disappointment. Really, like Faith was the type to call after a bust up? After the last one, Faith had gone straight to the Mayor and into a coma.

There was a brief pause at the other end of the line. "Have you seen Faith recently?" he asked, no pretense of smalltalk. It was one of the things she liked about Angel. He had no need for conversation and she had no need for tact so they got on pretty well.

"Not since we had a huge fight." Cordelia was silent for a moment, reconsidering that. "Actually, it was a pretty one-sided thing."

"Right," Angel said noncommittally. "Well, if you see her, give me a call. I need to talk to her about her probation."

She nodded absent-mindedly, forgetting that he couldn't see it and put the phone down. There was a chill that passed beside her and she knew that Dennis was making his presence felt, trying to comfort her. For a poltergeist, he was sweet-natured. She smiled a little, just for him. "Look at me," she muttered, half to herself, half to Casper the friendly ghost, "I must be the world's biggest glutton for punishment."

A few ornaments rattled in response. "It's okay, this is something I have to figure out for myself. But thanks."

There was a knock on the door and Cordelia dismissed it as Dennis becoming more agitated on her behalf. But then the knocking became more insistent. She approached the door cautiously, not taking the chain off the hook. "Who is it?" she asked in what she hoped was her best don't-fuck-with-me-demon-of-unknown-origin voice.

The voice that came from the other side was muffled but unmistakable. "It's me, C. Dammit, open the fucking door." This was said with a clearly discernible groan of pain.

Cordelia didn't hesitate and quickly unlocked and opened the door, only for Faith to stumble through, kicking it shut behind her with her heel. She lurched forward a few steps and slumped to the floor, clutching her stomach.

"Faith?" Cordelia all but shrieked, flying to the slayer's side. "Ohmygod, what happened?"

"Vamps," Faith hissed, rolling onto her back, giving Cordelia a good view of a bloodstained T-shirt as her denim jacket fell open. "Whole freakin' gang of 'em."

Cordelia's mind immediately went into panic mode because, hey, she was no doctor but that looked like a pretty serious wound. Okay. Think, focus, act. "How bad are you hurt?" she asked anxiously, not wanting to inspect the injury herself because the sight of all that blood was making her feel queasy. And, ew, Faith was bleeding all over the carpet...

The slayer squinted down at herself, pulling her hand away to reveal a deep cut, obviously made by a crude, serrated knife. "Sonofabitch," she croaked, "Just where B gutted me too." Her shaking hand came up to move a strand of hair away from her mouth leaving a dark smear of blood on her cheek.

"Just... don't move, okay? I need to call 911," Cordelia said with relative non-hysteria, reaching for the phone and having to concentrate on hitting the right digits.

"Not goin' anywhere," Faith said and bit down on her lip as another surge of pain passed through her. As soon as the call was made, Cordelia was back at the slayer's side. The prone girl looked a wacked out as she peered up at Cordelia. "Can't believe they finally got me." She coughed slightly and there was blood on her lips. "Aw, crap on toast."

Cordelia swallowed the lump that had appeared in her throat. She wasn't an expert but she knew that coughing up blood was a bad sign. "Don't say that, don't go all profound on me... the fatalistic part, I mean, not the cussing." She reached out and cupped Faith's cheek, brushing her thumb along the smooth cheekbone. "You're gonna be fine, the paramedics are gonna be here any second." She stared down fiercely into those large, dark eyes that she wanted to immerse herself in forever and shook her head. "You're not leaving me again." A hot tear slid down her cheek, splashing onto Faith's T-shirt.

Faith turned her head slightly, closed her eyes and smiled into Cordelia's palm. She felt a kiss pressed into her skin and the spasm of pain that went through the slayer. "You can't leave," she said, more an exhalation of breath than actual words.

"Don't wanna," Faith whispered back, her lips buzzing against Cordelia's palm.

"I love you," Cordelia said suddenly and it came out like a question. She blinked back her tears and Faith just smiled at her in a really creepy way, the blood mingling with darker lipstick.

There was a rap on the door, the paramedics, she realised dimly. And the rest of it seemed to pass in a haze. It was as if someone was controlling her limbs, making her get up and open the door. The next thing she knew she was in the rig with Faith and the paramedic was tending the injured girl as best he could. When they arrived at the E.R. it was pandemonium, doctors and nurses rushing around, shouting all that medical jargon that was enough to make her head hurt. She barely had the presence of mind to give Faith's details to the receptionist - she only just now realised that she didn't know Faith's surname, date of birth or anything - and allowed herself to be ushered to the waiting area. She accepted the lukewarm coffee that was thrust into her hand, gaining some vague comfort from the heat that seeped through the polystyrene cup. At some point she called Angel from the pay phone, he and Wesley would be there as fast as they could, the vampire assured her.

Eventually a doctor came to speak to her, some harassed intern who looked like he hadn't slept in twenty-four hours. Which was probably the case. Ruptured kidney, grazed lung, contusions, a few minor cuts. He'd inquired about the circumstances behind Faith's injuries and Cordelia put her acting abilities to good use and told him it was a gang fight. It was near enough the truth for him to accept it readily. She pretty much switched off after he said that Faith was in surgery now and had a good chance of pulling through. Soon after that Angel and Wesley arrived, looking slightly rumpled from interrupted sleep and intense worry. It occurred to her what a strange menagerie they were; a vampire with a soul, an ex-Watcher and a former cheerleader. The poster children for weird. Never once in high school had she imagined her life would be mapped out this way...

They barely talked as they waited, just sat together on the cheap plastic chairs. Four hours passed. She could tell Angel was getting restless, it was only a couple of hours till sunrise but he wanted to remain. It was Wesley that told him to go, that assured Angel he would call if there was any news. Reluctantly, Angel agreed and Cordelia watched his coattails disappear down the corridor that had that institutional reek that plagued all hospitals. Finally, a surgeon clad in scrubs approached them. Her expression seemed positive so that had to be a good thing, right?

The surgeon gave a wan smile. "Faith's surgery was successful, she's expected to make a full recovery. She'll have to be kept in for observation for a few days, however."

The relief between Cordelia and Wesley was almost palpable. "Can we see her?"

"Briefly, yes. She's just coming around from the anaesthetic but I'm afraid only one of you can visit."

Cordelia looked hopefully towards Wesley and he nodded, a faint smile on his lips. "I think she'd rather see you than me," he said with only a little irony.

At that moment, Cordelia wanted to throw her arms around him, instead she just smiled and followed the surgeon up to ICU. She wasn't really prepared for the sight that met her, the assortment of tubes and wires that were sprouting from Faith's body. She looked so small and pale hooked up to all those machines that beeped importantly. Just looking at Faith made the tears well up in her but she fought it because she had to be strong now.

She approached the bed and gingerly took the seat beside it. She covered Faith's pale hand with her own and was glad to feel the warmth of skin. Slowly, Faith's eyelids fluttered open, dark make-up still intact and all the more striking against the whiteness of her skin. The slayer looked like one of those Goth kids that Cordelia and her friends used to prey on in high school - killed any small animals lately, Freakoid? It all seemed so long ago now, so trivial.

Faith's dry lips parted in an attempt at a smile. "C? You look like shit."

Cordelia smirked and brought the other girl's hand to her lips, dusting tiny kisses over the knuckles. "You won't be winning many beauty contests yourself." She tightened her grip on Faith's hand minutely. "You had me worried there. How are you?"

"I'm..." Faith grinned slightly, "'bout two and a half by five. Doc says it's gonna leave me a big scar. Guess that means my days of sunbathing nude are over."

Cordelia hoisted one eyebrow. "I don't think I want to know..."

There was a short silence and the smile slipped gradually from Faith's face, like a light snuffing out. "What you said, back at your place, you meant that, right? I mean, I wasn't trippin' or anything?" The slayer fidgeted, bunching and twisting the bedsheet in her free hand.

"I don't say stuff that isn't true," Cordelia said, squeezing the other girl's hand. "You should know that by now."

Faith nodded, relief loosening her knitted brow and the white sheet in her pale fist. "Long as you want me around, I'm good."

"You think I'm gonna let you leave without paying for my carpet to be steam-cleaned? As if," Cordelia said and the other girl rewarded her with a wide grin of Faith-like proportions. Looking at Faith now, holding her hand, the ease that had settled between them, it just felt so... right. And those all important three little words had slipped out so quickly and painlessly that she had to believe, just had to believe that this was going to work. She couldn't even manage two days without seeing Faith without becoming a total wreck. That had to be true love, right? That or she was turning into a basket case. Either way, she'd never been happier.

A sale at Versace had nothing on this.

Continued in 'Try and Try and Try Again'