Did It Again

 

It's not my fault that Buffy waltzed in here, believed what she wanted to, and flounced out again. And I don't feel bad about slapping her -- except that my palm is still stinging -- because in a very mean, immature way, she deserved it. Something inside me just snapped because she crazed me, just like she used to back in Sunnydale.

Okay, so we weren't all dating the fanged undead, or saving the world on a nightly basis, but we all had problems then. Even I had issues that went deeper than which shoes accessorised well with my Prada bag. Everything was about her; she called and we all came running -- always certain tacit expectations. And, now, she still has them of Faith. Even though Faith has been out of her life for an entire year.

A lot can happen in a year.

So, yeah, Buffy drew her egocentric conclusions and Faith is sitting in Angel's office and she hasn't moved or spoken for over an hour. She's just staring at the wall with hollow eyes and I've run out of pep to talk. I haven't seen her like this, so defeated, since Angel harboured her from the cops last year. She just sat watching TV all day -- endless lame talk shows, re-runs of old monochrome sitcoms and Angel's modest collection of Hong Kong martial arts movies.

The difference is: back then, I didn't care.

And, yeah, never mind that Buffy's assumptions are so far wrong. Faith and I are close -- more than I've ever been with other girls, including Harmony. The Cordettes were all about belonging but we never actually trusted each other, and, if I'm completely honest, didn't even like each other. It was all about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Air-kissing and gossiping about why Trey on the football team was dating that *skank* Melanie from varsity hockey, hanging out at the Bronze every Friday night,
bitching and being *seen*. The petty politics of popularity. Two-faced, yes, but teenage rich girls are scarier and more destructive than any demon out there.

So, no, I'm not about to change my name to Ellen overnight. I'm not gay. . . at least, I'm not with anyone else.

What am I thinking? I don't know. It's just that these past few weeks, months even, I've been there for Faith. Buffy hasn't. Buffy hasn't seen her near-comatose those days when the guilt hits her in black, desperate waves. Buffy hasn't seen her curled up against my shoulder as we slouch on the sofa, telling me with stark eyes about growing up alone in Boston. Buffy hasn't seen the good times either, like when Faith and Gunn arrive back covered in all kinds of unmentionable goo, doubled over with laughter from the banter between them. Or when it's just the two of us and she smiles at me and I wish I could take back every unkind comment I've ever made about her.

Those moments belong to *me*.

So forgive me if I'm a little resentful when some little blonde comes down here thinking she has the monopoly on feelings for Faith.

It's funny -- I used to boast about my fabulous and glittering social life. Mainly parties that college boys invited me to because they thought I'd put out. Not so glittering really, finding yourself lying on coats in a darkened room with fumbling hands pushing up the hem of your skirt and stubble grazing your chin. . . That was pre-Xander, pre-the insanity that is my life. After that, the bottom pretty much fell out my social world. Until Faith came along, I used to sit at home at weekends watching old movies with only Phantom Dennis for company. I was hardly the aspiring starlet around town. God, even Wesley is more showbiz than I am, now he dates Virginia.

But, lately, Faith is reminding me of what I used to be like. Before visions and headaches punctuated my life.

What Buffy saw was me and my best friend goofing around. Nothing more, nothing less. Faith has never made a serious move on me but the longer I know her, the more disappointed I am by that. I know, this is the Girl-Formerly-Known-As-Queen-C talking, I should be wigging out right about now but . . . I'm not. Increasingly, I wonder what she would say if I just turned around one day and said 'alright, Miss Hungry and Horny, drop your pants.' Probably, she'd laugh it off. After all, I've always been the pin-up girl for 'straight' -- May Queen, cheerleader, everything she's never been, and everything that doesn't count for anything in the real world.

Except I'm doing it again, aren't I? Repeating old mistakes because this pattern is so familiar. Falling for someone and realising, too late, that it 's not good for me, that I should just forget it and it's too damn late. Am I a glutton for punishment? When he was with me, Xander had been fixated on Willow and this sudden non-Willowness that seemed to come out of nowhere. No longer as dorky since she'd done something with that shapeless hair of hers, and, of course, he'd always loved her. It still hurt though. I wasn't used to being second best when it came to dating.

Injured ego aside, I'm not exactly filled with cheer about being second to Buffy now.

Faith still loves her. I'm not blind. But I can't help questioning why she didn't go after Buffy and explain things. In the past I would've just
re-enacted the Spanish Inquisition because my burning curiosity knew no tact.

Now I do all I can do. I reach out and place a warm hand on her forearm. She turns her eyes to me and gives this very brief, very small, and very blank smile. And I'm sure she doesn't know how it hurts me and that I would dearly love to kill Buffy Summers.

"I'm sure she'll come around," I tell Faith, returning that smile, kicking myself all the same for saying it.

******


But Buffy doesn't come around and she doesn't call. She won't even take Angel's calls and Giles is getting concerned. He wants to know what happened; he says Buffy is unfocused and becoming careless. Ha. He should see Faith - moping around like . . . well, like Angel. But, still, she goes out every night like a little clockwork Slayer and comes back grubby and tired. Sometimes there's blood mixed with the grey ash on her jeans and I have to resist the urge to grab her and run my hands all over her to check for damage.

And then I try to tell myself that it's just concerned friendship. That I don't really want her to come over here and push her lips against mine, that I really just need to go on a date and get laid. I think about how easy it would be just to respond to the way Gunn looks at me, a coy smile here and there, some mild flirtation. He likes me -- you don't get to be queen of the crop in high school without learning a thing or two about wrapping boys around your finger and men are just that: bigger boys. But I don't see him the way he sees me. He's like Wesley. We squabble and we love (though we never say it) and we're always *there*. Family.

Angel. . . is something else. Not exactly part of that bond. He cares about us and we care that he doesn't go losing his soul again and sometimes the cracks don't show. Wesley expects too much sometimes, whereas I keep my expectations low. That way it'll be easier if I ever have to force a stake through his chest.

But I think I understand Wesley's reluctance, because I feel the same way about Faith. I've seen the way he watches Angel when he thinks that no one is looking. I honed those observational skills back in high school too -- how do you think I got all my scoops? And like me, Wesley will always be second best to Buffy Summers.

How can that one girl still affect our lives from so far away?

*******


A letter arrives one day, a missive from everyone's favourite crusading blonde. From the lobby I watch Faith pacing in the courtyard as she reads it, a curtain of dark hair shielding her face from view. It can't be good news because she leans against a pillar and her entire body slumps. That's when I venture outside.

She doesn't look up at the sound of the door or my footsteps as I approach her. The letter is scrunched up in her fist, the envelope skittering around in the breeze on the ground. So I put my arms around her. She doesn't speak or make any move except to rest her hands lightly on my waist and press her forehead against my shoulder.

"It's over," she mumbles finally into the fabric of my shirt.

I want to say something comforting but all my mind can come up with are words of relief. Instead I stroke her hair -- mentally noting that she could do with a good conditioner - and savour the proximity. I can't even remember the last time I held someone this close. Have I ever?

Faith is the first to pull away and she clears her throat.

"I hope Miss Self-Involvement knows what she's throwing away," I say acidly.

Faith looks away, fixing on some point on the wall. "I'm hardly a catch, C." She shrugs almost imperceptibly. "She's better off without me."

I wish she could see herself through my eyes and see how far she's come in such a short space of time. "That's bull. You're worth ten of her."

She turns her face back to me, an indulgent smile on her lips, and reaches into her back pocket for her cigarettes. "What's this? My own personal cheerleader?" She taps a cigarette on the packet and brings it to her mouth but my hand comes to her wrist to stop her.

Then she looks at me properly, dark eyes questioning, and I see the unshed tears gleaming. Her eyebrows are drawn together in a frown and I don't think I've seen her look cuter. That has to be the only explanation for me leaning forward and brushing my lips against hers. She doesn't jump away but she doesn't respond either.

I draw back slowly, feeling like I've made an idiot of myself. But I stand tall because Cordelia Chase is made of stronger stuff. I've faced demons and vampires so I can face a little rejection. "She's not the only girl in California. And she's not that pretty anyway," I blurt and move to make my escape but she steps in front of me, blocking my way.

"Cordy?"

"What? What do you want me to say?" I say, unable to mask my irritation. Doesn't she know the script? She's supposed to let me walk away with my dignity intact. Or at least, not with abject humiliation.

She gestures between us. "What *was* that?"

I open my mouth to respond and it hits me. A vision. Hard and fast. And the next thing I know I'm in the circle of Faith's arms and her hand is cradling my skull as I continue to convulse in pain. "Better get Angel," I say through gritted teeth.

******


A matter of hours later and I'm covered in demon goo. Again. We'd despatched some cult of worshippers who intended to invoke an Opylosh demon. Big, toothy, slimy thing. Needless to say, they did, and we had to clean up their mess, yadda, yadda, yadda. Instead of going back to the hotel, I opt to go home and Angel drops me off. I'm surprised when Faith gets out as well.

"I'll see you guys later," she says, slamming the door and Angel drives off without question.

There's a knot in my stomach that's only partly to do with the fight and mostly to do with Faith hovering so close as I unlock the door to my apartment. "Hey Dennis," I greet the room and the lights switch themselves on in response.

I drop the keys on the end table in the hall. "You want coffee?" I ask Faith.

"You got a beer?"

I nod and make my way to the kitchen, watching her watch my every move from her place on the couch. Returning with two bottles of beer, I hand one to her and sit at the other end of the couch.

She takes a long swig and I match it with one from my own bottle. My eyes focus on the label, reading the minuscule writing on it. "I'm sorry about earlier. Which was, by the way, a spur of the moment thing," I say, somehow managing to maintain a completely blasť tone.

"I liked it."

I look at her sharply and my incredulity must be obvious because she smiles slightly. "I was kinda spun out by it." She shifts on the couch, pulling one leg under her. "I mean, I never woulda figured you like chicks."

The part of my old self that remains is horror-struck. But I clamp down on it. "I don't."

She looks confused. "But --"

"I like you, Faith." 'Like' can't even begin to convey what I feel for the girl sitting opposite me. Even if she *is* covered in foul-smelling demon goo. The smile that spreads over her lips slowly unravels that knot in my guts.

She places her bottle on the coffee table and takes mine from my hand before sliding closer. There's a slight flutter in my stomach that's firmly of the good as she looks at me. Those eyes are so dark so close up, I dimly realise, and then all rational thought quickly leaves my head when she kisses me. Her lips are full and sweet and I can't get enough of her. And for the moment I can forget that I'm her second choice.

When we break apart for air, my nose crinkles in disgust. "We reek."

She looks down at the tiny space between us, at the slime on our clothes, and lets out a throaty chuckle. "We do."

With one hand, I gently push her back and stand. "I should start invoicing Angel for dry-cleaning," I sigh and shirk off my jacket, making a face. "I'm gonna take a shower."

Faith stands, her eyes dancing. "I could join you. . . save time *and* water."

Common sense tells me this is moving too quickly but one look at her and I know I can't resist. I reach out my hand and she takes it, squeezing my fingers. Maybe I'm not second choice after all. Maybe we're choosing each other.

.

The End