With one hand steadying the wheel, Cordelia lowered her dark glasses to the glare of the sun. The wind was pushing fingers through her hair and she wanted to close her eyes, to picture herself as a screen starlet cruising down Rodeo Drive in her top-down convertible. Okay, so the reality was that the car belonged to Angel and she'd just pulled out from the hospital, driving down some no-name street and it was doubtful that she'd ever grace the silver screen as anything more than Crack Addict #6. But, still, a girl could dream. And, anyway, hadn't Michelle Pfeiffer started out as a checkout girl? So there was hope for her yet.
Not that her passenger cared about any of that. Not so long ago Cordelia would've gabbered all that stuff out loud, just to fill the silence, just to make herself the centre of the universe. Now she didn't feel the need. Out the corner of her eye she glanced at Faith. The slayer was staring ahead, squinting against the sun, her dark hair lit to a burnished brown. For the first time Cordelia noticed the chestnut in the other girl's hair and almost remarked on it but she stopped herself then wondered why. Probably because it seemed so trivial. Ironic, considering she was once the Queen of Trivial Things; makeup, boys, clothes. Sometimes she was so angered at her teenage self, now that she knew about the real world, the depth of suffering that went on day after day. She'd been so wrapped up in her own existence that she hadn't cared or even noticed when her classmates started to go missing, or that Sunnydale had been plagued by all kinds of vampires and demons right under her nose. Other times, when she wanted to wallow in self-pity, she missed that ignorance.
She watched surreptitiously as Faith squirmed in her seat, against the binding wrapped around her ribs under her T-shirt. A tiny smirk came to Cordelia's lips at the pot belly that the bandages gave the other girl. But when she remembered how Faith was injured in the first place, her amusement quickly faded. The thought of Faith being hurt made her ill, so she just tried to avoid thinking about it all. Was this how it was going to be? Worrying about Faith every time the girl left her sight? Now she knew why her mother always wanted her to marry a doctor or lawyer, they weren't exactly life-in-peril occupations. Except for their patients or clients, of course. But a slayer put her life on the line every night and Cordelia didn't know if she could stand by and watch her girlfriend be brought home in a body bag. Giles or someone had said sometime that slayers rarely live beyond twenty-five, which total killed any chance of getting insurance or a mortgage, not least because of the lack of salary. And it didn't really help that she couldn't picture Faith meeting a mortgage advisor in the first place...
"We need to talk," Cordelia said decisively, her own voice sounding alien to her in its volume.
She could almost sense the shift in Faith's mood, the walls shooting up. "Wanna let me out here? I think I wanna walk," the slayer murmured, turning her head to stare at the blur of run-down stores as the car passed them.
Cordelia chose to ignore that smart-ass comment. She drove past the turn-off to Angel's new hotel-cum-bat cave and pointed the car in the direction of the ocean. She saw Faith look at her questioningly, studying her profile. For a brief moment she wondered if Faith found it as eternally fascinating as she found Faith's. Still with the vanity, Queen C. "So talk," the slayer prompted impatiently.
Cordelia shook her head. "Not here," she said and kept driving. It could've been ten minutes, could've been an hour before she pulled up and turned off the engine. The only sound was the tide lapping at the sand, teasing before coming back for more, bolder each time. The sun was setting now, throngs of bikini-clad girls with towels tied around their waists were heading for home. A game of volleyball was winding up further down the beach, surfer dudes were beginning to emerge from the water, boards under their arms, a few older couples were strolling along, pant cuffs rolled up to their calves, as they walked hand in hand.
"I never understood why you Californians love the ocean," Faith said with only a little sneer. "It's only water." She drew her leg up and winced, the action obviously pulling at her stitches. Sixteen of them. Cordelia remembered by heart how each felt against her fingertips as Faith slept in ICU.
The actress smirked. "That's just 'cause it's way too cold to wear a bikini in Boston." She took off her glasses and folded them, placing them on the dashboard carefully. They were Gucci and she didn't want them scratched. Okay, so she still enjoyed the finer things in life, so sue her. They were reduced in the sales anyway. "Why, Faith?"
Faith stared at her a moment, confused or at least with some approximate stab at confusion. "Why what?"
Cordelia placed both hands on the wheel, stretching her long fingers. "Why did you help the Mayor?" She didn't look at the other girl as she said this but she heard the sigh that Faith let out. A year and a half, she'd waited to ask this question. She wasn't going to accept any evasive answers now.
Faith studied her fingernails, her chin dipped. "A lot of reasons, and no reasons at all."
"Oh, that's lame, even for you," Cordelia snapped, before she could bite her tongue.
Dark eyes slowly rose to her own. "Yeah, so I have this bad-ass streak but B had it too," Faith said and Cordelia wanted to scream. Why did everything always have to come back to Buffy? Why couldn't Faith actually accept the responsibility here? "She just had way more control than I do. She had the whole fan club; friends, Watcher, mom." The slayer shrugged. "I know that doesn't justify what I did but it explains some of it. With the Mayor, it was just a job at first. It was something I could *do*, fuck, it was something I was good at. But I just got so far in, I couldn't get out."
Cordelia pursed her lips. "That's it?"
"Look, it was real convenient for B and her pals to paint me as the villain in this. But she tried to kill me, remember? She isn't a saint either," Faith said angrily because rage was her only defense after all.
"And I suppose you're gonna blame her for sticking a big old stake into the nearest Deputy Mayor?" Cordelia asked, folding her arms. She'd heard, secondhand from Xander, how Faith had gone to Giles, implicating Buffy in the murder. She couldn't even begin to imagine what had been going through Faith's mind during *that* one.
Faith looked away, glaring at the sky that was turning a deepening shade of orange. "That was an accident."
"Which part?" Cordelia asked, continuing to needle the other girl. "The actual killing or the fact that you were so high on the rush of slaying that you couldn't distinguish the live people from the undead variety?"
Faith shook her head. "I couldn't know," she said, voice low and full of anguish. "You got no idea what it's like, C."
"That's right, I don't. So tell me." The accusation was gone from Cordelia's tone now, she just wanted Faith to open up to her. She watched the other girl chewing on her lip and she wanted to kiss it, to take it between her own lips. She blinked. God, her libido was really getting out of hand lately. No, it wasn't just about sex. If that was the case, she never would've looked back, she wouldn't be so hung up on something that happened well over a year ago.
"I can't," Faith said softly. "Jesus, I can't."
Cordelia reached out and grasped the other girl's shoulder, feeling the flinch that went through her and hating it. "Try."
The slayer turned her head to look at Cordelia. She just stared for the longest time, dark eyes eating up the light, the remainder of the day, everything. "Alright," Faith said finally. "Think of the most wicked intense orgasm I ever gave you and triple it. Then you're halfway there."
Cordelia let out the breath she hadn't been aware she'd been holding. She rolled her eyes and Faith smirked slightly. "Still full of yourself, much?"
"Still turn you on, much?" Faith mimicked and broke into a full grin.
The actress released her grip on the other girl, and huffed. "Oh, please. That routine is *so* passe, even for you. I guess it was too much to expect you to use your time in jail to reflect and grow."
Faith brought her eyebrows together. "Damn, I'm hurt. Guess it's true what they say, you can take the girl outta the Valley..."
It was Cordelia's turn to smirk. "Actually, that's *Southern* California, but I wouldn't expect someone from Boston to understand. Besides, you don't know me anymore."
Cordelia shrugged. "Fine. We're strangers. So why are we even talking?"
Faith rose one eyebrow a fraction. "Uh, 'cause you suggested it?" The actress opened her mouth to respond but Faith clapped a hand roughly over her mouth. "Alright, let me lay it out for you. Freaky as it seems, I wanna be with you but all I seem to get from you is abuse. So why are you here?"
Slowly, Faith took her hand away to let Cordelia speak. "It isn't your winning personality, that's for sure."
The slayer snorted. "Who's doing a routine now? C'mon, C, you tellin' me you don't mean what you said anymore?"
"No, I meant it. But I was nearly over you. I mean, you never take the easy option do you? You don't even care about sparing other people's feelings. No, you just swagger back into my life, all 'I'm wicked hot, drool over me,' and you don't give a damn about the mess you make."
"Yeah, don't hold back, girlfriend," Faith paused, an incredulous expression on her face. "And 'drool over me'?" At this Faith actually laughed and, a moment later, despite herself, Cordelia joined her.
Soon their laughter dissipated and the slayer glanced at Cordelia. "You feel better now?"
Cordelia nodded. "Yeah, a little."
Faith smiled. "Me too." There was a long moment of silence, not quite comfortable but not exactly awkward either. Almost like it used to be but back then they'd hardly known each other. The whole thing was over as quickly as it had started - they dated and argued and fucked, not necessarily in that order, for a sum total of seventeen days. There had been so much going on during that time that it seemed much longer. She'd never told anyone about it but Angel and Wesley had guessed, though it wasn't something they'd discussed. Maybe it was time.
"Mm." The slayer was obviously drowsy, from the medication and fatigue. Her head was tilted back, watching the blue sky fading into purple now and the scattering of stars barely visible through the smog and bright lights of LA. Eventually she turned to look at Cordelia and gave a tired smile.
Cordelia wanted an image of this moment in her mind, a picture that would always be clear in her memory. She wanted to always remember this, from the salt smell of the ocean, to the way strands of Faith's hair were floating like they had a will of their own, the exact angle of the upturn of the slayer's lips, the arch of her brow, down to the clothes she was wearing. Leather, always leather. God, suddenly sharp memories of tugging those pants down slim hips, her knuckles brushing against the soft skin of Faith's thighs, the tangy scent of leather and, beneath that, Faith's lust. So vivid. Lips distracting on her neck, hands urgent on her shoulders, pushing her downwards. "Move in with me?"
Dark eyes that could only be described as soulful, even though that was such a terrible cliché, widened. "You mean that?"
Cordelia just nodded in reply.
"In that case... hell, yeah!"
On impulse, Cordelia leaned forward and kissed Faith. Maybe it was just an overspilling of relief or happiness or... maybe she jus felt like doing it, what with all the mental gymnastics of moments before. She pulled back a little, enough to look into the other girl's eyes. She had to know that this was right. It was Faith that closed the minute distance between their lips, resuming the gentle touch, her fingers coming to trace Cordelia's ear and playing havoc with her nerve endings. She let Faith deepen the kiss, opening her mouth willingly to a confident tongue and, ooh, she'd forgotten just how good the slayer was. There was a hot palm on her thigh now, massaging circles through her thin cotton pants, moving upwards in a dangerous pattern. Cordelia brought her hand to Faith's wrist, stilling the motion and she gently (and reluctantly) broke off the kiss.
The slayer looked worried, as if she'd messed up. Cordelia smiled and kissed the tiny frown away from the other's girl's pillowy dark lips. "Let's go home," she said softly, with far more bravery than she felt. She knew she could be making the biggest mistake of her life here, but it didn't feel that way and if it felt good then how could it possibly be wrong? Okay, so her logic was a little skewed but, right now, she really didn't give a damn. She wanted Faith, Faith wanted her; it was as simple as that.
And when Cordelia Chase made up her mind, well, that was the end of it.
Continued in 'State of Emergency'