Movies and Research

 

She sits on the couch, lights dimmed, having rented the seminal works of the Molly Ringwald oeuvre from the video store two blocks away. The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. She can always take comfort in the heinous fashion mistakes of a decade she was too young to remember, a safe time when she was too young to be responsible for the sartorial disasters that lurk in the family photo album, and in some repressed corner of her mind. When she never gave a thought to demons beyond bedtime stories. Monsters under the bed, huh? It almost makes her laugh.

So she's home alone on a Saturday night and she wonders how her life came to this. She's twenty. Her life is supposed to be a constant whirl of dates and parties. And sex, yes, that thing she did, like, sometime last century. Doesn't know whether to be irked or depressed at this non-life of hers, or whether it even matters anymore. At this, the old Cordelia would have flicked her hair in disgust, fired off a cutting remark, before slinking off to the dancefloor in search of cute boys. Queen C was a veneer she'd had, painted on every morning with her lipstick and her nails. Although sometimes she'd believed her own propaganda. Sometimes she still does.

The instinct to be social, to leave this apartment of her own choice, is being ground down by headaches, and hard-to-shift demon goo, and her friends being chock-full of issues that can't be eased by tea or a cup of blood or whatever. She wonders if they notice that she has problems too. The fact that sometimes she can hardly get out of bed because she *hurts* all over. That she covers the rent every month with not much else to live on. That she hasn't had an acting job in months.

And it's not that she misses the money - though she does, terribly - but more the attention it brings. The status, and the hangers-on. She took it for granted and then it was gone. There's probably a moral in there somewhere.

She casts a withering glance towards the window, watching the sky unleash another downpour and isn't there supposed to be some no-rain clause in Hollywood? Eternal sunshine, eternal beauty, eternal youth, all immortalised in the Tinseltown dream. Just sign on the dotted line. Reminds herself that she chose this. Well, not the mind-numbing visions, but they're so much a part of her now that when push came to shove she couldn't give them away, not even for a guy with really amazing eyes. In fact, she has to ask herself: who would she be without the visions? Just another audition-hungry nobody. Debilitatingly painful as they are, the visions make her special. Sometimes she has these vague daydreams of going back to Sunnydale and showing them all that Cordelia Chase is important and necessary in the grand scheme of things. How many of them can say they're the link to the Powers That Be?

Not that she's prone to boasting anymore but she wants them to know that she's changed. The vacuous egotist bitch routine was always a means to an end, a cushion against indifferent parents, and the very real horrors of living in a town where you were lucky to live beyond graduation day. She wants respect not fear nowadays. Still, she remembers with a strange fondness the way the pretty, the popular, and the athletic used to hang on her every word. A walking study in intimidation with her height, her beauty, her social stature. Boys wanted her, and girls wanted to be her. Some even wanted her too, like Willow and Faith. Okay, a geek and a psycho-slut aren't the greatest of examples but she's beginning to wonder if there isn't some invisible sign on her forehead: 1-800-Loser-Magnet. Certainly, her track record isn't any comfort. Xander, Sunnydale's answer to Tom Hanks in 'Big'; Wesley, before he grew a backbone; Devon, whose brains were in his pants, and all those other guys who sort of wound up, well, dead or maimed.

Perhaps Willow has got it right. At least being with a woman means you can double your wardrobe.

She sighs into the tub of popcorn on her lap and Dennis sympathetically passes her the family size slab of chocolate. She breaks off a chunk and lets it melt blissfully on her tongue, ignoring those crucial calories for the moment. Yeah, who needs a date when there's chocolate? The only limitation being that chocolate can't give good neck rubs or listen to you grouse about your lousy day.

It's not like she knows any single women anyway, even if she conceivably wanted one. You can't simply go to a store and choose one, complete with 14 day free trial and money back guarantee. The only people she can think of are Kate and Fred and she's really not in the market for an unbalanced ex-cop lady with bad hair and a whole family of personal demons. Even if Kate does have nice eyes and looks at her oddly sometimes, like she's checking her out... and, okay, so not going there.

Fred is, well, Fred is Fred. Crazy taco girl. Obviously so hung up on Angel that she only emerges from that room when he's around. And it was kind of creepy the first time Cordelia saw those formulae covering the walls in magic marker. More so because none of it made sense to her. Guess that's what Post-Traumatic Stress does to a girl. Personally, Cordelia would've shopped it out of her system. Now there's an idea to bring Fred out of her shell. That geek chic is so 1996. A makeover is long overdue.

Now she has these fantasies of Fred in a little black dress, cute strappy sandals, and matching purse. More 'Sex and the City' than city librarian. Contact lenses are a must, if not designer frames.

When she considers it, over another mouthful of popcorn kernels, Fred is actually pretty cute, and sweet, and adorable. And Cordelia tries not to think about her apparent predilection for being attracted to brunette dorks, a fact she's conveniently ignored until now. Not only cute but uber-smart and that accent is really working for her.

Cordelia remembers when Wolfram and Hart tampered with her visions, forcing that literally blistering pain on her, remembers Fred perched shyly on her bed, dabbing her forehead with a cold compress, repeating nonsense words in a honeyed voice. It actually helped, soothed even, on some level as Fred babbled about the time her cousin in Dallas ran a high fever and everyone was convinced he wouldn't last the night. But he survived and Cordelia would survive. She'd wanted to tell Fred to shut up, had had this urge to trample all over Fred because she was timid and eccentric, the way Queen C would've done without a second thought. Because there's something in Fred, something small and indefinable that she variously wants to nurture or break. Maybe she's just jealous of the way Fred clings to Angel when it was Cordelia who made first contact, who had her face ground into supremely gross stable dirt, who took Fred to a Mexican restaurant the day after they got back from Pylea when everyone else was in a state of paralysis about Buffy. It was Cordelia who took charge of getting Fred settled, buying her clothes, toiletries, making sure she ate, while Angel mourned and eventually left. So she feels like she has some kind of ownership of Fred's affection.

Which is all ridiculous, because, hello, resolutely heterosexual here. Or she was. She isn't quite sure when exactly she got curious about the 'other side.' Probably around the time when she was convinced Harmony was coming onto her and she found out Willow was gay, which confirmed a lot of suspicions. Like that time at parent/teacher night when she and Willow were stuck in the closet together… But maybe it's about time the gayness caught up with Cordelia, what with Wes and Gunn making gooey eyes at each other all day and Angel's ambiguously bi past. Not to mention the one demon gay pride parade that was Lorne.

Ugh. Why is she even thinking about this? Why isn't the movie-and-comfort-food schtick working? This was supposed to be a no-brainer evening.

She stands, rubs her eyes, and wanders over to the rain-streaked window. She's so close to picking up the phone, so close to just calling Fred up and saying… what? "Get your cute ass over here and make me forget that I'm straight?" It's not even like she picks up any kind of gay vibe off Fred anyway, what with the Angel worship and the shy little smiles she directs at Wesley. God, most of the time Fred won't even look Cordelia in the eye.

So it's stupid contemplating this at all. Fred is Fred, and Cordelia isn't gay.

*****


Fred's sitting by herself in the courtyard, nose buried in one of Wesley's tomes.

"Hey," Cordelia says, as casually as possible.

"Oh, hi," Fred says, peering over the edge of the book and giving a slow smile. "Did you know that an Arachnor demon reproduces by shooting spores at its victim, which hatch and bore under the skin then…"

"Yeah. It took forever to get that goop out of my clothes."

Fred giggles a little too high and loud but Cordelia smiles nonetheless. For a moment, she stands there awkwardly while Fred's attention returns to the demonology book, eyes roaming the pages voraciously. There's so much more to her than cuteness, Cordelia realises, watching the sun bathe her.

"Mind if I sit?" Cordelia asks when silence becomes unbearable.

"Oh, sure," Fred says, a little startled by the question. She gestures and scoots across the bench.

Cordelia lifts the book out of Fred's hands to read the cover. 'Pitcher's Almanac of Daemyns.' "So… doing a little light reading, huh?"

"I wanna be able to help you guys. I - I can't fight but - "

Cordelia touches Fred's arm. "You do help. A lot."

"Well," Fred shrugs, her gaze rooted upon Cordelia's fingers resting on her wrist.

Cordelia looks up to see Angel hovering in the lobby like a pale ghost, watching. For a big dumb guy, he's actually pretty perceptive about people and Cordelia wonders if he's noticed what's going on with her. She knows she's been acting weird, like a teenager with a new crush, all "Fred, can I get you tea? Fred, can I get you tacos? Fred, I'll start babbling obviously whenever you walk in the room." Normally, she's in control. She doesn't lose her head over a guy, so how come she's losing it over a girl?

The corner of Angel's mouth turns up in that semi-smile of his and he's gone. Guess that means she has his blessing. She looks at Fred, whose eyes are still fixed on her hand. "Hey, I was thinking - do you wanna, maybe, come over to my place and watch a movie?"

Fred's mouth hangs open. "Now?"

"I was thinking around 7 tonight. If you're not doing anything else."

Fred just looks at her, wide-eyed.

"Fred?"

A smile spreads over Fred's face and she nods. "Sorry. I - I'd like that."

*****


When Fred arrives at the apartment, she hands Cordelia a foil-wrapped packet. "I brought tortilla chips."

Cordelia smiles, taking the chips and Fred's jacket. She returns from the kitchen with a chilled bottle of wine and two glasses. There's an awkward silence as they perch at opposite ends of the couch and Cordelia uncorks and pours the wine. Phantom Dennis helpfully dims the lights.

Fred pushes her glasses up her nose. "Last movie I saw was Sense and Sensibility, I think," she says in an attempt at starting conversation. "I didn't really… Well, I didn't go out a whole lot."

"Believe me, Kate Winslet's come a long way since then. Like, an Oscar nomination for Titanic. Great movie, by the way, you should see it. Although Leonardo DiCaprio still looks around twelve years old."

"Maybe… we could rent it sometime?"

"Hey," Cordelia says suddenly, "we should have regular movie nights. Think of it as Modern Popular Cinema 101 or something."

Fred laughs. "And you could set term papers and, no, okay, that would just be silly. I'm being a big nerd again, aren't I?"

"Uh-huh." Cordelia gives Fred's leg a playful shove. "Dork."

Fred just smiles that sweet, dopey smile of hers and all Cordelia can think about is what it would be like to kiss her, to slide across the couch, remove those unfashionable glasses, and just kiss her. She imagines the little gasp of surprise, the tremble of Fred's lower lip, and, okay, Cordelia's been reading far too many cheap romance novels lately.

She becomes aware, gradually, of the fact that she's staring and that Fred is looking right back at her. Part concern, part trepidation in dark eyes. "Aren't you gonna put the movie on?"

Cordelia blinks. "Oh, yeah." Reaches over, snagging the stem of her glass, and takes a big gulp. She makes a face. Cheap wine on special offer at the supermarket. "The movie. Right."

She knocks back the remainder of the wine and refills the glass, while Fred takes dainty sips, watching her. The movie passes in a deliciously slow haze. All Cordelia can concentrate on is Fred's breathing, and the palpable distance between them. In the corner of her eye she watches Fred lean forward to top up her own glass, bringing it to her lips and giggling as she misses her mouth, some of the liquid sloshing over the side onto her chin.

Cordelia laughs, and goes to the kitchen to get a tissue. "I think I'm a little tipsy," Fred says when Cordelia returns.

"No kidding. Lightweight." She sits beside Fred, and instead of handing her the tissue, Cordelia lifts the other girl's chin and wipes away the wine spillage.

Fred grins widely and Cordelia finds herself smiling too. A long moment passes as they look at each other, as the VCR whirs in the background as the tape rewinds. Then Cordelia feels the almost not there brush of Fred's fingertips against her cheek.

"You're so pretty," Fred says, all Southern whimsy in the warm glow of alcohol.

And it must be the wine gone to her head that makes Cordelia lean in and cover Fred's mouth awkwardly with her own, pulling back when she hears the sharp inhalation of breath and Fred's hand covers her mouth. Not exactly the suave move Cordelia had envisaged as wide, dark eyes stare back at her.

She waits for the inevitable freak-out, for Fred to grab her coat and run, but Fred just sits there with large, round eyes behind her glasses. "I - I never thought you'd notice me," Fred says finally, in a small, awe-struck voice. "I mean, you're beautiful and courageous and - and - "

"Shut up, Fred."

Fred flinches, eyes downcast. "Okay."

With marginally more grace, Cordelia cups Fred's cheek and kisses her again, tasting wine-sweetened lips that part ever so slowly for her. She feels herself drifting, losing herself in the kiss, and it's the first tentative touch of Fred's tongue to her lips that brings her back with a jolt.

Kissing Fred. On the couch. Her brain can't quite reconcile those two facts and she's so numb with the knowledge that all she can feel is this vague tingling in her fingertips. And Fred's unsure hand on her breast. God, how long has it been since someone touched her like this, tenderly, and not the lewd pawing that happens in clubs? She arches towards the gentle touch.

Cordelia pauses to discard Fred's glasses carelessly, and pulls her down with her, claiming long drawn out kisses, her tongue pushing through Fred's lips. She feels Fred shaking against her, a full body tremor, and knows that this is moving too quickly for both of them, even as their hips meld together, hands moving restlessly over the swell of curves.

Reluctantly, Cordelia ends the kiss. "Okay. Really need to stop now. Clothing fast becoming an issue."

"Yeah," Fred agrees breathlessly, sitting up.

Suppressing the urge to grab Fred again, Cordelia puts a little distance between them. She looks at Fred, lips bruised from kissing and hair mussed. Or more so than usual. Think clearly, lust-girl. "Maybe I should call you a cab?"

"Okay," Fred says softly, replacing her glasses and straightening her clothes. She looks hurt and Cordelia just wants to throw Fred down on the couch, responsibility be damned. Instead, she touches Fred's cheek.

"I didn't mean it like that. I mean, I want to… you know. Believe me, I do." God, could this speech be any more embarrassing? Still, Cordelia rushes on. "I just think we should get to know each other better first. Plus, this whole girl-girl thing is new to me."

Fred nods, relief draining over her features. "I think that's a really good idea."

"I have them occasionally. And now I'm having another one." Closing the space between them, Cordelia traces Fred's lips with her thumb before kissing her again. Just for research, of course.

 

- fin -