Unravel

 

It was late in the day, the yellow lights of LA creating a kaleidoscope of dancing patterns on the wall. The flickering TV set was on mute but it lit one corner of the room with a sickly luminous glow. The channel was tuned to some political party conference and it made Cordelia feel like she was keeping abreast of current affairs without actively making any effort. Just a parade of ageing men in expensive but ill-fitting suits, their mouths opening and closing like sock puppets or something out of Sesame Street. It didn’t matter which party or what the debate was about; they always had the same expression of moral outrage. Like they had anything to be outraged about with their suburban mansions, sleek cars and perfectly groomed - in every sense of the word - wives.

I should know, Cordelia thought, I used to live that life. Her own father had made substantial contributions to the local Republican re-election committee, right up until the IRS caught him out. After that the committee sought to cut all ties to the Chase family. It was like they became public enemy number one and nobody who was anybody wanted to associate with them. She could remember so clearly her mother’s hysteria about being frozen out of the local church fundraising operations and suddenly noticing one time that her mother had finished an entire bottle of bourbon in an afternoon. It became a regular occurrence, and one that was never mentioned or alluded to. When Cordelia arrived home from school to find her mother slumped on the couch, still in her dressing gown, she and the maid would share a look but say nothing. So much for the British being the masters of repression.

When the house was sold to pay off daddy’s debts, they moved into a cheap hotel and Cordelia was forced to pay her own way by working in the boutique. She’d lost everything that defined her: her credit cards, her car, jewellery, the vacation home in Aspen. She became a *name tag* person, which made customers think they had the right to use her name with condescension. And instead of buying clothes and frivolous things, her wages were frittered away on paying the rent, except the ten dollar instalments she put aside every week to pay for her Prom dress. All because no one except Burger King wanted to employ a man who’d cheated on his tax returns. As for her mother, she had a moral objection to working thanks to her heritage as part of the Southern upper class so she stayed home and got roaring drunk. Often, when Cordelia finished work in the evening, she had to put her mother to bed as mommy giggled and cried and swore all at once, cursing the day she married Jack Chase.

So she played the dutiful daughter routine - not like she had a choice – and her parents took her for granted still. She couldn’t remember a time when it hadn’t been this way. No matter how self-assured she felt, she would never be charming, pretty, or amusing enough for them. Ever since she was a small child in pink tutu and leggings, her parents had pushed her into performing. Charity luncheons, evening soirees, schmoozy dinner parties and supposedly relaxed family gatherings. It wasn’t a matter of coercion because there was none involved. Like any beautiful child, she’s soaked up the praise and attention like sunlight. She’d actually believed that she was a princess, daddy’s little jewel.

But that was the crunch. As soon as the guests left, the attention stopped or was taken away and she became just another pretty trinket that belonged to her parents. And when she was young, she couldn’t understand their indifference, and saw it as a punishment so she tried all the harder to impress. At least they were never neglectful in the way that Faith or even Xander’s parents were. They’d never made her live in the basement, anyway, and she’d had the largest clothing allowance of all her friends. So her parents had to care, on some level, right?

At high school her modest achievements had been met with conspicuous disapproval. Only a squad member of the cheerleading team, why didn’t you make captain? We didn’t pay for those dance lessons for nothing, young lady. Or when she scored only above average on her SATs, they wanted to know why she hadn’t aced every test after all that expensive tutoring. With just the slightest of offhand comments, they reminded her every day that she just didn’t meet their high expectations.

So, yeah, just because her mother had called two hours ago and informed – not asked, but *informed* – her that she was ‘coming down to LA for a couple of days, hope y’all don’t mind, honey’ it didn’t mean that anything had changed. Things were still strained after the fact that she had just packed a suitcase and told her parents she was leaving Sunnydale to become an actress. Her father had ranted and stamped his feet and Cordelia saw him, finally, as a weak, bloated man who’d sold his reputation down the river for the sake of a petty few thousand dollars. When she realised that, she also realised that she didn’t need daddy *or* his (lack of) money. Meanwhile, her mother had been passed out on the couch and missed this whole coming-of-age, which was yet another thing that drove a wedge between them.

And there was still the most funsome bit to come…

There was the sound of a key in the lock and the sight of Faith breezing through the door, all creaking leather pants and mane of thick dark hair spilling over her shoulders in unkempt waves. Like every time Faith walked into the room, the actress experienced that tiny yet infinite moment of awe. Just for a second she would forget to breathe or think, and then her senses would rush back to her, overloading her with the scent of the other girl, and the way Faith’s presence seemed to fill a room. There was just this static energy that surrounded her, and it seemed impossible that the room had been so *empty* just moments before.

Cordelia wasn’t surprised to find that she was anxious, because how Faith would react to meeting the in-laws was anybody’s guess. She’d been turning possible outcomes over and over in her head all afternoon to the point that, now the moment had arrived, she thought she was going to be sick. However Faith responded, this was going to be the single most important moment in their relationship because this was about commitment, the ‘this is the person I want spend my days and nights with, deal with it’ speech that would have to be eventually delivered to her mother. She wasn’t entirely sure that Faith felt that way about her and she wasn’t certain whether Faith would run again if she admitted to feeling that way herself.

She disengaged from mind babble mode as Faith slinked up to the couch, swinging one leg over Cordelia’s and settling onto her lap, all in one sinuous movement. "Hey, lover. Miss me?"

Always, she wanted to admit, as soon as you leave the room. Sometimes before. She’d never craved the sight of someone before. Not unless she counted those crushes she had when she was much younger, daydreaming that she was some tragic, romantic heroine and some day some gallant knight would whisk her away from the horrors of puberty and teenage boys. If she’d known back then that the dark, handsome stranger would turn out to be a woman, she’d have freaked.

She smiled back at the other girl. "Duh." She watched, love and anxiety twisting her stomach, as the grin eased over Faith’s pillowy dark lips. "So," she said, changing the subject before she blurted out something incredibly mushy and desperate, "how’d it go?"

"I got my knuckles wicked rapped but it’s no biggie," Faith replied with nonchalance that wasn’t entirely convincing, referring to her two o’clock appointment with her probation officer. "Just have to be an extra good girl from now on." She wriggled her hips suggestively and Cordelia rolled her eyes, concealing admirably well the lust that made her stomach roll over itself. "Plus, I gotta deal with the employment sitch. Prove what a fine upstanding citizen I am, and all."

"Any ideas?"

Faith nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe. Wanna run a few things past Angel." She looked at the other girl with serious eyes. "See, I’m thinkin’ about what I can and can’t realistically do… I mean, shit, I ain’t never gonna be a kindergarten teacher."

"I don’t know. I think you’d be kinda cute with little kids." Cordelia smirked at the incredulous look the other girl directed her way. "I’d like kids," she said after a long pause, before realising the implications. "In the very distant future. Like… so far, I can’t even imagine it."

"Don’t sweat it, C," Faith said with a tiny grin. She brought her hands to the other girl’s shoulders, kneading tense muscles. "Fuck, you’re strung like a bow. Relax."

Letting out a weary sigh, Cordelia tried to follow Faith’s advice but the more she thought about it the harder it became. Her mother was arriving tomorrow, she’d be sitting demurely on this couch where Cordelia and Faith had. . . well, done all sorts of things that her mother should never know about. Not without causing coronary heart failure. And she just *knew* that mommy dearest would spend her whole time criticising; the décor, her clothes, the neighbourhood, her less than sparkling career. That she could accept, but if her mother said one single derogatory or critical word about her girlfriend, well, dammit, she would throw the bitch out, blood relative or not.

"Bet I know how to loosen you up, baby." Faith said, a lazy smirk tugging at her lips as she trailed fingertips teasingly down Cordelia’s throat to the open neck of her blouse.

The slayer tilted her head and her mouth descended slowly, just stopping shy of Cordelia’s lips. There was the faint scent of the peppermint gum Faith had been chewing previously, breath that was both hot and cool in the same instant, and that dark, keen stare in such close proximity. Just musk and leather and bad girl allure. And if Cordelia inched her gaze just *so* she could glimpse the tops of creamy breasts…

Cordelia took a breath, while she still could, as the other girl’s teeth set to work on the buttons of her blouse. God, it was just as well she knew how to use a needle and thread. Otherwise, she would have *nothing* to wear. "Um, Faith, there’s something I have to tell you." She heard a muffled grunt somewhere in the depths of her cleavage and shivered as Faith’s tongue traced her skin. "My mom’s coming to visit."

****

 

"Going down?" the young man asked politely as the tall brunette boarded the elevator with her blonde companion.

The brunette nodded, a faint smirk curling her lips. He recognised her vaguely, he’d seen her around a few times, and guessed she was one of those workaholic litigators that dominated the middle floors of the office building. They often worked ‘til late into the evening, their offices more of a home than their real ones. Not that he ever mixed with the lawyers, he was just a mailroom boy, and more often than not the lawyers deigned not to speak to his kind. All he did was make sure their mail was on their desks first thing in the morning. And what those guys failed to realise was that it was the background people who kept this firm running smoothly.

Out of the corner of his eye, pretending not to look but looking all the same, he saw the brunette pull a cigarette case out of her bag. With long, elegant fingers she slipped a French style cigarette between her lips. She looked to the other woman, and the blonde wordlessly produced a lighter from her own purse.

"Hey, um, you’re not supposed to smoke in the elevator. At all really," he piped up and immediately felt like such a doof. The brunette merely arched her brow and stared at him with glacial blue eyes. Chastised, he shrunk back against the wall.

She exchanged glances with the blonde, some non-verbal female communication that went way over his head. The blonde smiled slowly, as if in understanding. And then he watched her move, almost surge forward like an uncoiling snake and press the brunette back against the wall with one hand.

Shit. That single word bubbled out of his mind, like a gurgle, like this, one of his adolescent fantasies coming true. He watched, in child-like awe as the blonde kissed the brunette, right damn there in front of him.

Fingers crept into his hair, the blonde stroking his skull, cradling it tenderly with her palm, and this was so fucking far out. He reached out to touch her, because, hell, he wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity.

There was this force in her grip and it was beginning to hurt and he was starting to protest but then the wall was just right *there.* In his face. He just felt this almighty pressure in his nose and he knew, without thinking, that it was broken. As his face skidded down the faux wood panelling, he could taste the blood in his mouth and the darkness just descended like a shutter. The last thing he felt before the world tilted and lurched into nothingness was two sharp pricks, like sustained pin pricks, and a searing pain in his neck. . . something like burning. . . blackness.

Discarding the spent body, Darla drew a delicate hand over her mouth, wiping away the last trace of blood on her scarlet lips. "Now, where were we?" she smirked and pressed closely to the other woman, wasting no time in capturing her mouth and forcing her tongue inside.

Lilah could taste the too-sweet, sharp, metalltic tang of blood on Darla’s tongue; both repulsed and turned on at the same time. She had half a mind to ask the vampire to turn her. Just watching Darla sucking ravenously on her prey, consuming that defenceless man and discarding him just as callously… She wanted some of that for herself, that utter disregard for morality, just the ever present hunger, reacting simply to needs and desires.

She felt Darla’s fingers on her inner thighs, caressing the sensitive flesh through her stockings, stroking a dangerous path upwards, and slipping under her business skirt. She watched Darla pull back and bring moistened fingertips to her full lips. Fortunately, Lilah had recently decided to forego underwear; call it forward planning. The vampire smiled slowly, eyes sparkling and almost black.

Suddenly, Darla was at her neck, nipping, and sucking lightly, and Lilah was all too aware of the danger but she felt no fear. She sank her fingers into silken blonde hair and gasped as cool fingers traced her labia. God . . . she grasped the other woman more tightly, rocking her hips encouragingly as Darla continued to caress her intimately. She let out a high groan as one finger slipped inside her, soon followed by a second. There was the whisper of a cool thumb across her clit and Darla’s unrelenting fingers sliding easily back and forth. Smiling lips sought her own again, smearing lipstick and saliva, and tongues entangling. And the knowledge that this elevator was under surveillance and that, more than likely, Lindsey would be taking his own copy home with him for his private enjoyment . . .

"Fuck," Lilah gasped, coming quick and hard as Darla ended the kiss to lick at her neck again, moving up to her jaw, before taking an earlobe firmly between her teeth.

The vampire laughed, soft and girlish. "Now will you find her for me?"

Lilah gazed at the blonde, her breathing harsh and irregular. She nodded mutely. Why not? If it meant the promise of more fucking, more fucking with Lindsey’s head then she was all for it. And if she got a few orgasms out of it, all the better.

****

Faith pressed her nose further into Cordelia’s skin, trying to take her fill of that slightly musky, end-of-the-day scent that she loved and that C was always self-conscious of. She could feel the other girl’s heartbeat vibrating under her lips as she rode the gentle rise and fall of C’s chest. Yeah, this was sanctuary, this warmth that surrounded her and she didn’t ever want to move from this spot. But she didn’t have that luxury ‘cause C was expecting a response to the ultimate mood-killer.

Reluctantly, Faith reared her head and chose to play dumb because it bought her some valuable time. "Say what?"

The room was mostly dark now, lit solely by the TV, illuminating one side of Cordelia’s face and casting the rest in shadow. One visible almost fearful eye peered back at Faith. "My mother’s coming to visit."

"Yeah, that’s what I thought you said," Faith said, blinking. She wondered if this was actually a test. Like in Cosmo - 101 Ways To Freak Out Your Lover. Yeah, C was obviously testing her. She smiled knowingly. "You’re shittin’ me, right?"

Cordelia shook her head. "She’s arriving tomorrow morning."

Silent, Faith slipped off of her girlfriend’s lap and onto the space beside her on the couch. She stared at the wall, watching the silhouettes created by the TV shift and reappear, and she could feel Cordelia’s eyes rooted upon her face. Guess that meant C wouldn’t want her around to make the wrong kind of lasting impression on ‘Mommy.’ Hey, it was no big deal, it wasn’t like this was her place, it was Cordelia’s apartment so… yeah. No biggie. She’d just hang with Angel and Wes for the weekend while C pretended to be het and talked about some guy called Frank she was seeing. Jesus, Faith almost laughed at that one. "Well, I can make myself scarce for a coupla days," she shrugged.

She was mildly surprised when C took her hand tightly. "No, I want you here." Faith turned her head to look at the actress.

"Moral support, huh?" Faith asked with a slight grin. C sure wasn’t alone in lacking that ideal relationship with her mother. Very few people had that, though most of them had the chance to make peace with it. Faith didn’t. It was too much, too late for her when dear old mom was buried six feet under God knows where in Boston…

"Something like that," Cordelia said ruefully, twisting a strand of hair around her finger. There was more there than C was letting on and Faith didn’t know how or what to ask. That was the real downside of a life of not giving a fuck about other people.

Faith ran a tongue over dry, crimson lips. "Does she, uh, know about us?"

"God, no. Are you kidding? She was, like, the chairwoman of the Republican wives club at my daddy’s firm. Talk about the personification of the moral majority."

The slayer withdrew her hand from Cordelia’s grip and stood, leather pants rustling as she moved. "Then she’s gonna freak." She walked over to the open window, listening out for the sound of cop cars and falling footsteps, gazing at the blanket of lights that made up the City of Angels. "Look, C, I don’t know, maybe I should lay low for a while…." Way to go for the easy way out, girlfriend.

"Is that what you want?" Cordelia said flatly, folding her arms.

Faith turned to look at her lover. Was that a trick question? She wanted to say the right thing here, she didn’t want to upset C. This love gig was all about putting someone else’s feelings before your own and that’s what she wanted to do. So, damn, if that meant putting herself through wicked discomfort then she’d do it. She shrugged. "If you want me to stay, I’ll stay. I can make smalltalk."

The actress gave a small smile, placated for now. "Yeah, just don’t mention the naked alligator rassling."

"Right," Faith drawled, taking her place on her girlfriend’s lap again, threading fingers through C’s silky long hair. "And I won’t gab about how great you are between the sheets either."

At this Cordelia giggled and Faith leaned down to kiss her with much more delicacy than the actress had come to expect. "You know I love you, right?" The slayer murmured against her lips, kissing her again long and sweet. And there it was, that all-important admission, said so casually like it was a commonplace. For the first time she felt like she *belonged*, she was Faith’s and screw what that said about her feminist politics. But, more importantly, Faith was *hers*, in as much that the other girl could belong to anyone.

It hardly seemed to matter that they were both so young because nothing could shake this concrete belief that they would always be in and out of each other’s lives. Hopefully more in than out, vampire slaying and occasional flings be damned. Oh yes, Cordelia knew all about those. She may have been self-absorbed for a large proportion of her life but she wasn’t blind to what went on.

Back in Sunnydale, Faith had slept around while they were secretly not-having-a-relationship. Xander was just the tip of the iceberg. It wasn’t necessarily malicious or deliberate on Faith’s part… she was just a girl who couldn’t say no. Much like Cordelia was incapable of saying no to the January sales. Besides, for the most part, it was physical infidelity rather than emotional. One night stands, no attachments, nothing more than anatomy slotting into place. If Faith couldn’t bring herself to care about these people then why should Cordelia?

And this most recent disappearance, well, Cordelia knew when she was being fed a lie. At the best of times Faith was a mediocre liar and there was only room for one actress in this relationship. Because you didn’t spend this length of time breaking and making up with someone without knowing them inside out. Of course, a healthy dose of paranoia helped… The point was, she knew that there was another woman involved, that was the reason Faith had come home with her tail between her legs. And with flowers, no less.

So while she didn’t understand why Faith felt compelled to do these things, she could tolerate it. At the end of the day, it was Cordelia that Faith came back to not these dime a dozen sluts that the slayer picked up in bars. As long as she didn’t see or meet the fodder for Faith’s libido then it was something she could healthily repress all knowledge of.

Living in denial was surprisingly easy, actually, because if she refused to think of Faith with anyone else then she could refuse to believe that someday Faith might meet someone prettier, sexier, funnier, and richer. If it was just sex, there was no danger, no threat to what Cordelia had with Faith. But she was hopeful that those three little words meant that Faith wouldn’t feel the need for any of that anymore. She wouldn’t hold her breath, but she would hope.

****

 

From the comfort of the couch, Faith watched Cordelia rushing around the apartment like a butterfly on crack. She smirked, pleased at her analogy, and turned her attention back to the TV. C had been cleaning frantically since dawn, with the help of Dennis who seemed quite excited at the prospect of another Chase woman coming to stay. So excited that he’d knocked an ornament off the mantlepiece with his frenzied dusting. For her part, Faith had been watching cartoons – Road Runner, X-men, the Powerpuff Girls – her way of keeping cool in the face of impending disaster. She’d lifted her legs once, to allow Cordelia to vacuum the carpet under her feet and that was it.

"Can’t you try and panic a little?" Cordelia said at one point, nibbling on her fingernails and stopping herself because her mother would comment on the state of her manicure.

"Would it make you feel better?" Faith had replied.

"Yes!"

"Okay," Faith had said, flipping the channel to baseball, to the Red Sox having their asses whipped, and adopting an expression of mock terror. C just muttered and threw a damp dishtowel at her before retrieving it from where it landed on the slayer’s shoulder and shoving it in the washing machine. Well, watching her home team always put Faith a little on edge and, to be honest, she *was* wicked nervous about meeting her girlfriend’s mom. She just didn’t want C to see *how* nervous.

Then again, of the few friends she’d had, their parentals had always taken a shine to her. ‘Cause she was always real respectful to her elders, on the surface at least. She remembered B’s mom had loved her, right up until she found out about Faith trying to kill her daughter. Things got a bit frosty from then on out.

Just then the doorbell rang and this crazed looked came over C.

"Ohmygod! She’s early," Cordelia shrieked and rushed over to the door, smoothing down her skirt before taking the chain off the latch. Taking a deep breath, Cordelia opened the door, pasting her best and brightest smile over her face, the one she normally reserved for the bank manager.

"Mommy!" she exclaimed, rather too cheerfully, and gave her mother the prerequisite hug of greeting.

"You’re all skin and bones, honey," Mrs Chase said in a disapproving tone as she held Cordelia at arms length. She turned her attention to the apartment, raising one immaculately plucked eyebrow. She hesitated slightly. "How very… bohemian."

"Well, I *am* an actress, it’s part of the job description," Cordelia replied with a nervous laugh.

"Yes…" her mother responded in an ambiguous tone.

Faith rose from the couch and found her palms were sweating. Quickly wiping them on her jeans, she approached mother and daughter. Mrs Chase looked like an older, plumper version of her daughter but with platinum blonde hair and her roots were showing a little.

"Um, let me get your case," Faith offered, intruding upon the reunion.

"Oh, mommy, this is Faith," C said, suddenly remembering her manners.

"Oh, hello, dear," her mother said with a wan smile, and offered her hand to the slayer. Faith glanced briefly at her girlfriend and shook Mrs C’s hand. "My, that’s quite a grip you have there, Farrah. Are you an actress too?"

The slayer chewed on the inside of her cheek to keep from making a smart-ass comment. "It’s Faith, and no, I’m… kinda between jobs."

"I see," Cordelia’s mom said and Faith knew that the woman had already formed a negative opinion of her. Just meant she’d have to be charming as hell now. Gritting her teeth, Faith carried Mrs C’s suitcase into the apartment. Fuck, she was only staying for the weekend and she’d packed a small mansion into that case.

After giving Mrs C the grand tour of the apartment, all three sat down together on the couch. Faith cleared her throat. "So, can I get you tea, coffee, or…?"

"Something stronger? A scotch, neat. I hate driving on the freeway, so little courtesy." Mrs C smoothed the wrinkles out of her skirt and turned to her daughter while Faith went to pour a drink. "Honey…I feel so bad about taking Frances’ room. I mean, it can’t be all that comfortable on this couch."

Heh, you’d be surprised, Faith thought, then realised where the conversation was going. She looked up from pouring the glass of scotch. "Um, well, Faith doesn’t mind. Really. I guess she could sleep in my room if she prefers," Cordelia said, avoiding the slayer’s gaze.

Her mothered giggled girlishly. "Like a pyjama party? How fun."

Cordelia seemed real focused on her lap as Faith brought over the tumbler of whiskey, handing it to Mrs C. "Yup, a whole heap of perfectly innocent fun…." the actress agreed far too quickly and it was wicked obvious that if anyone was gonna blow the cover on this scam, it was C.

Cordelia’s mother smiled at them both, taking a sip from her glass and nodding approvingly. Oh, sure, this was gonna be fun with a capital ‘F.’

 

Continued in 'Reap What You Sow'