Surviving Sunnydale Series
2. I Turn To You
"Angel told me where to find you," were the first words that Faith said to Cordelia. She eyed the bar-room carefully, as if she'd never seen the inside of one before, taking in the framed prints of bygone World Series, the sporting paraphernalia that comprised the décor. Certainly, not the kind of bar Cordelia Chase, high school teen dream would've been seen dead in only a year ago.
The actress wasn't really surprised that Faith was out of jail so early. The murder charges had been written off long ago – the documents that cleared her name mysteriously surfaced, courtesy of the Mayor's office in Sunnydale. Most of the assault charges were inexplicably dropped too so that Faith was left with two cases of aggravated assault and a reduced sentence on account of her age, her voluntary arrest and her agreement to undergo therapy. So six months later, here she was.
Faith looked different somehow under the muddy orange ambient lighting of the bar. Paler. Dark circles below her eyes gave her a haunted look, one that made her appear even younger than her seventeen or eighteen years. She resembled one of those street kids huddled in shopfronts at night in downtown LA, expecting nothing from anyone except a blind eye to be turned. She still wore the gang-girl outfit; the leather pants and dark jacket that showcased her trashy prettiness and had men, young and old, drooling over what was barely legal.
It must've been the alcohol to blame for all these thoughts that were sliding through Cordelia's brain. God, she almost felt sorry for Faith but there was a certain cruelty to her sorrow. She wasn't even remotely sorry enough to forgive Faith for that shiner that had cost her more than a few auditions. Funny, domestic violence chic just wasn't this season's hot look for casting directors. Only, she and Faith were over a long time ago. Faith's turning to the dark side, Darth Vader routine had put paid to that. Maybe it just went to prove what Cordelia had long believed, maybe she really was a loser magnet. Raising a silent toast to herself, she took another sip from her gin and tonic.
The brunette ex-slayer shifted with something approaching nervousness, digging her hands into the back pockets of her dark jeans. Reunions with ex's were always messy - in high school Cordelia used to pretend that ex-honeys were invisible, they were beneath the acknowledgement of Queen C. But that kind of denial was difficult to maintain when her ex was a (reformed?) psycho who'd terrorised her entire circle of not-quite-friends and tortured a genuine one. Well, she certainly knew how to pick them.
"I'm not real good at apologies," Faith began, letting a clump of dark hair curtain one side of her face.
"No kidding?" Cordelia replied, her inner bitch only half-heartedly rearing it's immaculately coifed head.
Faith soldiered on regardless. "But, for real, I'm sorry. About your face and all." The slayer cocked one finger at Cordelia, in some vague approximation of the Fonze or something.
Cordelia just stared at the other girl for the longest time, making Faith shift uncomfortably under her gaze. It was a fearsome look she'd used to keep Harmony and her former clique in line more than once. At this moment, Faith looked anxious to get the hell out of here. "You think that's all I care about? My face?" Well, actually, that was true to some extent - her looks were her ticket to fame-ville, after all - but she wasn't going to give Faith the satisfaction. "God, do you really think I'm that shallow?"
The slayer's lips twitched as if she was about to make a joke. "C, I didn't mean..." She shrugged and snagged the veil of dark, wavy hair behind her ear. "You know what? Forget it. I came to apologise and now I'm done." She turned to go but Cordelia's voice stopped her.
Something, call it a grudge, stopped Cordelia from letting Faith walk right out of her life, Scott free. "What did you expect, Faith?" she demanded roughly, "That I'd welcome you back with a big friendly hug? You betrayed us, all of us, but most of all me." She could see Faith flinching but she wasn't about to stop yet. She'd waited over eight months to vent her feelings and Faith was damn well going to listen. "I trusted you, I thought there was something between us. Could I have been any more wrong?"
"For what it's worth..." Faith stopped herself. She smiled slightly and Cordelia was annoyed that she still found Faith beautiful. Guilt suited her. It hung around her like an enticing, impenetrable shield. Now she understood why Buffy found the whole tortured soul thing so hot in Angel. Deciding the better of it, Faith shook her head.
"What?" Cordelia asked evenly, torn over whether she really wanted to hear the other girl's lame excuses or not. Right now, her masochistic streak was winning out.
"Back then, everything I said, I meant it." Dark brown eyes slid up to Cordelia's own. "I fell for you. Big time."
A deep frown creased Cordelia's brow. "Then why?" That was the sixty four thousand dollar question, wasn't it?
Faith's eyes settled on the jukebox in the corner, playing Bruce Springsteen at the moment. She listened to the listless beat of 'Streets of Philadelphia' and Cordelia wondered if Faith was going to answer anytime soon. The slayer shrugged eventually. "'Cause I don't know when I'm onto a good thing. I had to go and screw it all up. I didn't think I deserved what you and B and the others were offerin' me. Guess I was wicked fucked up. Always will be."
Cordelia's smirked slightly. "Well, you've got the self-pity down to a T. But you really need to work on the remorse part."
Faith met her eyes again and she almost flinched at the hurt there. "Look, I don't blame you for bein' all like this…"
"Like this?" Cordelia said angrily. "I'm entitled to be like this. After all, you aided and abetted the Mayor in trying to kill me and the entire senior class."
The dark slayer hung her head, clearly stung by the venom in Cordelia's words. Her eyebrows knitted together. "I don't know what to say to make it up to you. I mean, I can't make this right again." She lifted gleaming brown eyes back to the wannabe actress.
This deflated Faith was just as oddly compelling as the old badass one but in a different way. She possessed the same intensity that similarly hung around Angel, that sense of hidden depths that no one could ever hope to reach, but everyone wanted to try all the same. It inspired that selfish belief that, just maybe, you could be the one to reach them. Only Faith wore her pain closer to the surface, a vulnerability so profound that Faith was patently unaware of it. What surprised Cordelia was that it had always been there but everyone had chosen to ignore it. Everyone believed that Faith was invincible and when she proved not be, nobody wanted to know.
Cordelia was silent. She wasn't going to make this any easier for Faith. She had her own pain to deal with here. Seeing the other girl had dredged up so many feelings that she wasn't sure she could distinguish one from the others. She wanted to touch Faith, to comfort them both but she held back. It was only now that she realised how *not* over the other girl she was and that just piqued her anger.
"Let me try," Faith said, her voice smoky. She took a step closer and Cordelia felt herself shrink back, to keep a safe distance between them because she was in danger of succumbing to Faith all over again.
"Why should I? So you can hurt me again?" She wasn't just referring to that friendly elbow that had connected with her face. She shook her head and tightened her grip on the glass in her hand, as if she could draw strength from it. "I don't think so."
Faith visibly hesitated, licked her glossy, dark red lips. "Cause I can't stop thinkin' about you and the way it used to be." Closer now, only a couple of feet away from the bar stool Cordelia sat upon. She was thinner, the actress noticed now, the dark denim jacket practically hung off bird-like shoulders, hips jutting in their leather confines. It made her heart catch, inexplicably. "We were good together, C. I... miss you."
"Don't," Cordelia warned, barely above a whisper.
Faith's eyes were warming her skin from the inside. Those eyelids drooped in a provocative way that made every stare look vaguely obscene. Faith always looked like she was undressing you with her eyes. The thing you could never be sure of was if she really was. "Tell me you don't feel the same. I swear, you won't see my tail for dust. Just tell me."
Cordelia pinned Faith with her own stare. "I hate it." She swallowed the lump in her throat. "I hate that I still care about you."
The slayer's eyes were wide and every emotion passed so clearly through them. Surprise, elation, regret. Cordelia could feel her tightly-held grievances slipping slowly out of her grasp with every second that Faith remained. She wanted to rail against it, to close her mind and heart to the other girl forever because, dammit, it was exactly what Faith deserved. At the same time she was grateful in her misery that she'd been as constant on Faith's mind as the brunette had been on her own.
There was a slow clunk and whirr as the jukebox changed discs, filling the sharp silence that hung between them. A new song began, one that they both instantly recognised. The first song they'd made out to – in Cordelia's car no less. She remembered Faith groping her in the backseat, crooning Tracy Chapman's 'Fast Car' into her ear and laughing breathlessly, sending all sorts of shivers down her spine that had everything to do with where Faith's hands were roaming. Well, Faith hadn't exactly been one for classy dates – her idea of a good night out was for them to hang out in the local cemeteries, Faith slaying while Cordelia put those years of cheerleading practise to good use. She found herself smiling at the memories and saw that the slayer wore a similar expression.
Faith gave a little grin, lifting her eyebrow. "Wanna dance? For old time's sake?"
The refusal came to Cordelia's lips but somehow it never left her mouth. She didn't know why she did it but she nodded. Faith held out her hand and, tentatively, Cordelia took it.
They danced closely, shuffling together, barely moving at all. The patrons of the bar were staring and whispering but Cordelia didn't care. She wasn't in high school now, what other people thought couldn't hurt her anymore. She sank her nose into the soft mass of Faith's hair, inhaling the generic, unremarkable shampoo-y scent that, at this moment, was her favourite smell in the world. Really, who needed Chanel No. 5? She remembered, with a faint smile, that Faith had never been big on expensive perfume, probably something to do with the fact that she couldn't afford it. The slayer made do with roll-on deodorant and glared when Cordelia had teased her about it.
Secretly, Cordelia always preferred the tang of Faith's perspiration after a workout to any man-made scent – though she would never have admitted that. It wasn't exactly a fashionable peccadillo. She had a suddenly sharp memory of licking sweat off Faith's collarbone beside the domestic science shelf in the library one day after school. The rest of the gang had been at the big desk researching some demon or other – from where they stood, they could hear Wesley lecturing Buffy, and she and Faith just kissed each other like there was no tomorrow. Which, in Sunnydale, was often an impending possibility...
She felt the buzz of Faith's lips beside her ear, the gentle breath on her skin doing really indescribable things to her nerves. The slayer was nuzzling her neck, pressing kisses down the edge of her throat and Cordelia didn't have the presence of mind to stop Faith because she was too busy wondering at how long she'd gone without this. She'd been on dates – so many disastrous, mind-numbing parodies of dates that she'd worried that she was turning into Ally McBeal (Angel, of course, was hardly reassuring: "Ally who?" – but she was so indifferent to the whole process. There was no excitement, no dazzling of her expectations, no hint of danger. Not even any sign of witty repartee. No Faith, in other words. And that was a frightening realisation because that meant that she really did want someone who didn't fit into the rosy little picture that she'd imagined for herself.
Once, she'd been a debutante and, though jaded by the whole Xander episode, she'd still envisioned a rich husband, a large house, servants, and children. In that order. After her brief *thing* with Faith – she still wasn't sure what exactly it was – she'd only clung onto that ideal more fiercely. Then came her father's bankruptcy, well… that's when her world had fallen apart. But if Cordelia Chase was anything, she was a survivor. So she picked herself up and headed for LA to become an actress. It wasn't a matter of talent, she had her looks, and she had determination and that was enough. What was good enough for Madonna was good enough for her…
So here she was, surviving, a struggling actress, working for a vampire and still wanting Faith. Oh, and not to mention lumbered with those damn premonitions, courtesy of Doyle, that felt like her head was being squashed in a vice. Was this what they called suffering for your art? Now she knew why Doyle was driven to drink. All of these things seemed strangely unimportant under Faith's lips – just like her sudden loss of popularity did back in high school – everything just seemed to wash away.
"Hey, girls, you need a man to show you a good time?"
Cordelia opened her eyes to stare at the man at Faith's shoulder. His face was mean; eyes flinty under the shade of his baseball cap and a grubby beard framed his crooked smile. For good measure he grabbed his crotch suggestively.
Faith glanced over her shoulder but didn't turn. "Sure. You wanna give us heads-up when one shows up?"
"Funny." The man snorted. "I like you." His black eyes tracked up and down Cordelia's body and she failed to suppress the shudder of disgust that slithered through her. "And your friend. She looks like quite a ride. How much?"
Faith's lips were still right next to Cordelia's ear and she both heard and felt the hiss that the slayer swallowed. "Fuck off, asshole."
The guy's eyebrows came together in a Neanderthal-like monobrow. "You gonna make, little girlie?"
At this, Faith pulled away from Cordelia and slowly turned to face the man. She had that trademark dangerous smirk on her face and Cordelia felt a sense of foreboding deep in her stomach. She tried to shoot a warning glance at Faith but the other girl wasn't paying any attention to her. "Trust me, you don't wanna make me angry."
He actually laughed. Showing several gaps between his teeth, Cordelia noticed with a critical eye. "Oh yeah? Come and show me what you got," he said through a belly laugh.
Faith shrugged. "Alright, you asked for it. Chump." Before the man even had time to get his guard up, Faith threw a right hook at him, connecting solidly with his face. He stumbled back a few steps but managed to regain his balance. He took a few futile swings at Faith which she easily avoided. With a roundhouse kick to the chest, she sent the guy flying backward over the pool table, scattering the balls all over the floor. Grabbing a cue, she rounded the table and broke it over the prone man's back, snapping it in two with the sheer force.
She grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. "Now, say you're sorry." The splintered end of the cue was pressed into his throat. The guy's wide stare flickered from the cue to Faith's shining eyes. "I've killed two guys already. You really wanna be number three?"
It was obvious that the guy was crapping himself, he was so petrified by the look in Faith's eyes that he couldn't even speak. It was then that the barkeep intervened, a shotgun pulled from under the bar and levelled at Faith's head. "Put it down," the barkeep said roughly, indicating Faith's makeshift weapon.
The slayer's eyes swivelled to stare down the steel barrel. Very slowly, she placed the cue on the ground and backed away from the man. "Now get the fuck outta here before I call the cops," the barkeep said.
"C'mon, C, let's go," Faith said with narrowed eyes. Cordelia didn't have to be told twice and quickly followed the other girl out of the bar.
The slayer was rapidly walking away and Cordelia hurried to keep up with her. "You wanna tell me what that was all about back there?" she demanded peevishly.
"That dude had it comin'," was all Faith would say.
"You could've been killed!" Cordelia said, exasperated.
Faith looked at her, smirking. "I'm touched by your concern but it was no biggie. Bein' a vampire slayer and all, I think I can handle the average scuzzball." Dark eyes returned to the sidewalk. "'Sides, I don't like hearin' guys talkin' about you like that, y'know? No one says that kinda stuff about my girl."
Slightly amazed by Faith referring to her as 'her girl' (and, in turn, by what that meant) but nonetheless resolute, Cordelia griped the slayer by the arm, stopping her. "I don't need anyone to defend my honour. I'm an actress, its part of the territory," Cordelia added wryly. "I can't have you beating up every guy that says something derogatory about me."
She watched an eyebrow climb Faith's forehead. "You talk like I'm gonna be around for a while." It was a question but Faith had too much pride to ask it outright.
Similarly, Cordelia had too much pride to answer it. "Well, I'm not stopping you. If you wanna stalk me, the least I can do is provide you with an itinerary," she replied and Faith caught the humour in her eyes and smiled. God, what wouldn't she give to see a thousand more of those smiles? As they walked in fairly easy silence down the street, she silently contemplated the answer to that question.
Continued in 'She's Your Cocaine'