Faith is regulated by routine - call it a by-product of her stint in jail - and it brings a perverse sense of order and proportion to the infinite nights that stretch out before her.
At four pm she rises, eats two day old leftovers deposited in the fridge, trains for three hours, showers, dresses and heads out to patrol, returning to her apartment shortly before dawn with junk food, nursing a few cuts and bruises. She kills five or six vamps a night, sometimes more, and the occasional demon of unknown origin.
There's this tome on demonology that she bought from a second-hand bookstore. It sits on the table beside her bed and she swears that she's going to start reading it, little chunks at a time, because she's determined to be something more than a brainless clockwork Slayer. They're dime a dozen since Willow awakened all the Slayers to be and Faith is no longer the prototype Slayer With Attitude. It seems every girl with a penchant for leather pants and a chip on her shoulder thinks she's queen badass bitch of the universe these days.
She sees other Slayers now and again but she actively avoids them, keeping to the shadows, losing herself in crowds when they try to speak to her or follow. She isn't down with being a role model really. On the rare occasions that she ventures out for fun, she goes to a bar or club - the grottier the better - just to remind herself of who, and what, she is.
A shrink who once tried to pick her up in one such bar told her she was probably suffering from Post Traumatic Stress. She'd mentioned she'd recently fought in a war, keeping the details sketchy. Joe Public wasn't exactly ready to hear that a portal to one of the dimensions of Hell had opened up in an otherwise average suburban town. The kind of town where he probably lived with his wife - yeah, she'd seen him slip the wedding ring into his pocket.
So that was his diagnosis, just before he attempted to cop a feel of her breasts. Faith had socked him on the jaw and inadvertently started a brawl. After that she decided to stay away from mental health professionals. It makes for a quieter life.
Angel calls her from time to time. She has a whole catalogue of his stilted phone messages. Since he took over Wolfram & Hart, she isn't entirely sure how to take him. They say that power corrupts and Angel isn't exactly spurning the perks that accompany the top job - helicopter, penthouse apartment, fleet of vintage cars - but he's still Angel. You don't spend 150 years in abject misery and remorse and sell out for a nice convertible. Or so Faith used to think.
She's heard rumours about Cordelia, locked away somewhere in that building, and that nobody except Angel and her doctor is allowed to see her. It's too creepy and she's half inclined to break in there and get Cordelia out for reasons she can't articulate, especially since they have a long-standing mutual aversion.
Then one morning Cordelia shows up on her doorstep, apparently wide awake. Her hair is long and sleek, like it was the first time Faith really took an active and healthy interest in Cordelia Chase breezily strutting up and down the halls of Sunnydale High School. Back when Cordelia represented everything that Faith was not: rich, popular, and completely convinced of her own importance. How the mighty fall.
Hundreds of questions circulate around Faith's morning-fogged brain but the one that trips out is: "how'd you find me?"
"There's a hefty file with your name on it on Angel's desk. Wolfram & Hart have quite the excellent Research department. I mean, never would've guessed your middle name is Barbra."
"Mom was a Streisand fan. What can I say?" Faith deadpans.
Cordelia looks her up and down and Faith remembers that she's just stumbled out of bed with not very much on - just a white camisole and a pair of hipster briefs. "Mind if I come in?"
Faith's arm is braced against the doorframe and Cordelia ducks underneath and walks into the apartment without waiting for an invitation, taking in the decor with unconcealed disdain. She's painfully thin, tailored clothes hanging off her bones but she's still Cordelia Chase and therefore effortlessly beautiful. Faith thinks back to the time that she considered taking Cordelia instead of Wesley to utilise those five main torture groups and realises just how truly sick she was back then.
Shutting the door, Faith eyes the other girl like a wary animal as Cordelia looks around. She's completely alien to this scummy apartment and Cordelia's obvious displeasure at the squalor rankles Faith. Her next logical question is less than polite: "Mind telling me what the hell you're doing here?"
Cordelia shrugs but her nonchalance is unconvincing. "I had to escape. Angel has me cooped up in there with all these doctors. They're always watching me. Everyone is always watching me. Like I might, I don't know, have a relapse or something."
Grabbing a pair of jeans hanging over a chair, Faith pulls them on. "Look, I don't mean to be rude but what's the deal here? You and me, we're not bosom buddies so I don't know why you're telling me this. Isn't there someplace else you can go, or someone else you can talk to?"
"I woke up to find my friends are now in charge of the law firm whose sole agenda has been fucking with our collective heads for the past four years. And they don't seem to have any major cognitive dissonance over it either. I'm sick of Fred enthusing about the resources available to her as head of the Science department, Wesley is still lusting after a dead woman - hello, necrophilia, much? - Gunn's inexplicably creepy new-found Zen-ness and sudden expertise in law is freaking me out, and Angel won't shut up about that fucking helicopter. Don't even start me on Spike and as for Lorne, he's having the time of his life. He's practically on first name terms with every celebrity Wolfram & Hart represents. He's Liza Minelli's new best friend and well on the way to being husband number four. So excuse me if I want to get the hell out of Dodge."
"Okay," Faith says through gritted teeth, wishing she hadn't asked. "I get it."
Cordelia sighs and sits on the couch with a dust sheet over it. "I just can't be part of that." She covers her eyes with her hand. Always the fucking drama queen. "I've lost the visions and I'm just so tired of it all. God, I'm just a girl from Sunnydale. I never asked for any of this, it was thrust upon me. I'm not stoic, I'm not a hero, I'm not even that special." When she glances at Faith, Cordelia looks much older than her twenty two years. "The people I thought I knew are turning weird on me and, strange as it may sound, you're the only person who seems remotely sane around here. How screwed up is that?"
"Thanks," Faith says, only mildly offended.
"Sorry. You know what I mean. So I was wondering..." Cordelia says, quickly changing the subject, "if I could ask you a favour. I figure you owe me since you cost me a few auditions, that time your elbow collided with my face. I need to lie low somewhere while I work out what I want to do, and since we at least have a coma and a mutual one-time dislike of Buffy in common, I thought you might be willing to accommodate me."
"You wanna stay here. With me," Faith says flatly.
"Believe me, if I had a choice " Cordelia mutters, eyes scanning the room once again and noting the cigarette butts discarded on the floor, the peeling paintwork and the fact that everything is covered in a thick layer of dust. "This place reminds me of my first apartment in L.A. Even the cockroaches were slumming it."
Faith folds her arms. "No."
"Just for a couple of days, I promise."
"What part of 'no' dont you understand, twinkie? This is my place, and I like my living arrangements just fine."
"I guess you can take the girl out of solitary confinement..."
Faith's eyes flash. "Last time you made me angry, I gave you a black eye. Let's not repeat our mistakes."
Cordelia snarks back: "Last time I heard the LAPD still had an APB out on you. Couldn't swallow your pride and ask Willow to hack the files?" She's starting to look a little desperate, or perhaps pained. She clears her throat and gives a wide, fake smile. "Would it help if I said please?"
Faith almost laughs.
"This is gonna sound crazy but I trust you more than I trust my closest friends."
There's a long silence following that admission. Faith wants to say no and let that be the final word but instead she says: "You can sleep on the couch. Two days, max."
This is so going to throw her routine right out of whack, she realises with dismay.
Cordelia jumps up and claps her hands together. "I could so kiss you right now."
So she does.
At first it's just a quick press of Cordelia's lips on Faith's cheek, accompanied by an exaggeratedly loud smooching noise. But when they step away from each other and Faith looks into the other girl's eyes, she feels like every pornographic thought she's ever had about Cordelia Chase - and there's been plenty - is writ large on her face for the world, and the girl in question, to see. Faith expects rejection, possibly disgust, but what she gets is another kiss. Uncertain, a little awkward, and very soft.
It's been weeks since Faith has been touched outside of combat. She isn't much for kissing, normally, but then she isn't often kissed by gorgeous women. Not lately anyway, not really since Lilah Morgan and the back seat of a limousine. Her fingers, of their own accord, tangle into Cordelia's hair and suddenly Cordelia's kissing her like she's come alive, with forceful open mouthed kisses and tongue pushing inside. For a moment it feels like being savaged by a wild animal until Cordelia breaks it off, gasping for air.
"Sorry," Cordelia whispers after a minute, "I just "
That angers Faith. "Don't apologise. I'm sick to death of girls who apologise or make excuses for wanting sex. If you want me, don't pretend it's some kinda repressed, experimental straight girl one-off shit."
Faith's all about the road less travelled now and she's already been down that particular path with Buffy Summers. She stares at Cordelia, hair mussed and lips swollen from kissing, and shakes her head.
"Thats not what I'm sorry for," Cordelia says with an irritated glare. "God, you broody champion types are all the same, always so fucking defensive. I was going to say that I'm a little out of practice here and the girl-on-girl thing is a certainly... new and daunting. Believe it or not, seducing you wasn't part of the original plan. Guilt tripping and possible grovelling, yes. I mean, you probably saw a lot of hairy-legged action in jail but -- "
"Are you done?" Faith interrupts and, on Cordelia's nod, she comes closer. "Good because you're really starting to bug me."
"Hey, mmf!" Cordelia's protest is smothered by Faith's mouth on her own. She tastes of sweet waxy lip gloss, Faith realises dimly, as her leg slips all too easily between Cordelia's. All her thoughts now focus on the way Cordelia's hips are pushing and pressing insistently against her thigh, all insults apparently forgotten.
Part of Faith is unable to suspend her disbelief that Cordelia is doing this. It reminds her of the daydreams she used to have, graphically bringing daddy's girl down a peg or two at the Downtown Apartments. The reality is so much better. "We're supposed to hate each other," Faith says in a lust-thickened voice as Cordelia's head dips to cover one nipple with her mouth, despite the thin barrier of cotton.
Cordelia's response is muffled. "I haven't had sex in like a year. It's an obstacle I'm willing to overlook."
They're on the couch now, Cordelia on Faith's lap, rapidly shirking items of clothing. Freed from the confines of a bra, Cordelia's large, full breasts are oddly out of proportion to her marked thinness. Faith's always wondered whether those boobs are fake, and she's still none the wiser. She wastes no time in touching them, thumbs making a sweep at stiff plum coloured nipples before dropping to the apex of Cordelia's thighs to feel soaked underwear.
"A *year*, Faith," Cordelia all but growls, flexing her hips for emphasis.
Faith takes the hint and pushes aside the sodden material, sliding one finger down the length of the moist cleft then back up. She repeats this action, up and down, letting her thumb graze the other girl's clit for the briefest of seconds. Cordelia squirms, trying to direct Faith inside, but Faith holds back, just teasing the entrance with the tip of her finger until eventually she relents, gently pushing upwards. It's so slick and warm and wet there that Faith thinks *she* might come before Cordelia even touches her.
"God, C, you're so fucking hot," Faith says huskily as she adds a second, then a third finger, sliding slowly, relentlessly in and out. She cant take her eyes off Cordelia, who was always something untouchable, and here Faith is, with fingers deep inside her.
Cordelia moves with her as Faith works her hand, meeting thrust for thrust, her guttural, incoherent moans filling the otherwise silent apartment. Faith's mouth latches onto a tantalisingly close nipple, sucking, biting down on the hard nub of flesh. A cry of surprise and arousal escapes Cordelia's throat and she bucks harder, faster against Faith's fingers until finally Cordelia's body goes rigid, orgasm ripping through her and tearing a shrill wail from her throat.
Exhausted, Cordelia slumps forward and rests her forehead on Faith's shoulder, breath teasing already sensitive skin there. They sit there like that for a long time, goose pimples rising on their skin as it cools to the air. Faith's fingers are still inside and beginning to tingle so she withdraws carefully, making Cordelia's breath hitch.
"Crash here as long as you need to," Faith says, her lips against Cordelia's ear, earning a shiver from the girl on her lap. "I could use a break from routine."
Cordelia draws back, her expression unreadable. She kisses Faith on the mouth, almost tenderly. "Don't forget we totally hate other. Right?"
A smile edges across Faith's lips as Cordelia's hand travels down her stomach. "Can't stand you."
Cordelia smirks. "Just so we're clear."
Two days later, Cordelia decides that she wants to leave L.A. and she persuades Faith to go with her. It's surprising to both of them just how little resistance Faith puts up. As half-assed attempts at putting down roots go, this was never going to work anyway. How long could she really go on avoiding streetlights and patrol cars?
Before they leave, Cordelia makes a phone call to Angel. They bicker some, Cordelia pacing the floor while Faith sits tensely on the couch.
"I need time away," Cordelia snaps down the line, then schools her voice to barely maintained civility. "Don't fuss, Angel. I can take care of myself."
Cordelia looks at Faith and rolls her eyes in exasperation. "Yes. I promise. Okay, bye."
"He says we can take the Plymouth. He's sending a courier round with the keys. Can't tell me he doesn't enjoy having a corporate mailroom at his beck and call," Cordelia says with a sudden bright smile as she flops down on the couch beside Faith.
"You sure he's okay with this?" Faith asks, obliquely referring to something other than borrowing Angel's prized car. She can't help but feel a little shut out when it comes to Angel and Cordelia. Which is ridiculous because it's not like she's been waiting all her life for Cordelia Chase or whatever it is that's happening here. Normally she's accustomed to a strictly "get some, get gone" arrangement but this? Whole new territory.
Cordelia gives a dismissive wave. "He's fine. He's happy."
Faith just looks at her doubtfully.
"Whatever feelings there were for him are firmly of the past," Cordelia says, meeting Faith's eyes. She pulls Faith towards her for a leisurely kiss. "I'm very much enjoying the present right now."
It's enough to dispel those doubts for the moment and when the kiss ends, Faith watches the other girl. "I got one question for you: not that I'm not jonesing to see Seigfried and Roy but why Vegas?"
A dark blush creeps up Cordelia's cheeks. "I thought I could try out as a dancer. I always wanted to do that more than acting. And the money's good. Lorne gave me a couple of numbers, said he has a few contacts he could set me up with. You should see me -"
"I did see you. You think I went to football games to see Sunny D's losing streak?" Faith grins. "There was this particularly hot girl on the cheerleading squad, went by the name of Queen C, and she had all the right moves."
"You don't say," Cordelia remarks dryly.
Faith stands and offers her hand. "C'mon, girlfriend, can't keep Vegas waiting."
Hours later they're nudging 90 on the interstate, top down and dry heat blasting them full in the face. Cordelia Chase was born to ride in convertibles. That's what Faith decides as a spray of dust obscures the windshield. She flips the wipers on for a minute and presses her foot down harder on the gas.
The other girl's fussing with the stereo, skipping through radio stations, and all she can find is prehistoric rock music from before they were born and plaintive country and western. Neither option is appealing to Cordelia's disposable pop sensibilities. Eventually she clicks the radio off, folding her arms with a bored expression.
"Road trips are so overrated," she sighs.
Faith takes in Cordelia's flawless profile in a sidelong glance and thinks she looks like a movie starlet with the sun glinting off her too-large sunglasses and headscarf billowing in the breeze. Certainly has the attitude at least.
This is crazy, Faith knows. It won't be easy. They'll get on each others nerves. It probably can't last. Plus Cordelia most definitely falls into the category of high maintenance. Then again, she's just about the most gorgeous thing Faith has ever seen. So she ignores the little voice in the back of her head, the one that always sounds suspiciously like self-righteous Buffy, telling her that it's dangerous to think like that, because it's too late.
This woman, this wannabe Vegas showgirl of sharp words and sharper stares, is it - a shot at something more than a life lived in darkness. Because there has to be more to it than sex and slaying.
Faith smiles at the other girl. "We'll be there soon,