I think I was pretty much dazed for most of the bus ride. I tried to do all of those mind exercises that my first watcher taught me. Pictured beaches and forests and mountains and all that other crap that I was supposed to. Did breathing exercises, just like I was taught.
But I’m starting to think that her methods were crap, cos there’s pretty much one thing that’s been on my mind. Yeah, you guessed right . . . Buffy.
I picture the beach, and I see me and her and I playing a game of tag before I tackle her down in the sand and tickle her silly. I picture the mountains, and I see us camping together in a tent made for two. I picture a forest, and . . . well, that one actually made me picture that Forrest Gump guy, and that little girl, Jenny. ‘Run, Forest, run!’ Fuck, the thought almost has me laughing, but then I realize that it’s the same thing B was tellin’ me to do just a few hours ago.
Run. Run away.
See, this is where I’m gettin' twisted up. Running away from a situation would normally convey cowardice. But, I don’t think I’m wrong for leaving. I think I had to. Staying in Sunnydale to be Buffy’s security blanket; staying there cos it was a ‘safe’ choice for me . . . fuck, I think that woulda been the more cowardly thing to do.
I took a stand.
I didn’t run cos I was scared . . . I ran because I was . . . it was . . . hmm. I’m not sure what I wanna say there. I think maybe it was just me reverting into a state of self-preservation.
If I stayed there, there would be nothing of ‘me’ left. Just a pawn looming quietly in Buffy’s shadow.
And I’m not about to fuckin go out like that. No way.
I don’t even realize that the bus has come to a stop until I see a bunch of the other passengers getting up from their seats and taking their baggage down from the overhead racks.
Normally, I’d be hoppin’ off the bus so fast, bags in hand as I barreled down the aisle and towards the cool fresh air of the night. But my ass kinda seems to be stuck to the seat. Not physically, of course. The bus is gross, but it’s not that bad.
It’s just me, being scared and unsure and a bit hesitant about what I’m gonna do when I step off the safety of the bus.
I know what you’re thinking . . . . ‘yeah right, a public bus in LA is not a safe place’. I’ve seen the movie Speed.
But as fucked up as it sounds . . . I think maybe being on the bus stopped me from breaking down after I walked away from B. I was allowed to be caught up in my thoughts, but couldn’t freak out cos I was in a confined space.
I dunno know to explain it, really.
And now that I actually have to step off the bus and into the unknown . . . yeah . . . ass planted firmly in seat.
When I finally manage to catch the annoyed glare of the bus driver in the rear-view mirror 5 minutes later, I finally decide to just get on with it. I stand up and grab my bags before hesitantly making my way down the aisle and down the steps, hopping with both feet onto the black pavement.
Yeah, that’s definitely me: always jumping in with both feet, failing to test the waters before I make my move. That’s always my downfall.
I make my way outta the bus depot, wandering pretty aimlessly cos it’s the middle of the night and I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here.
Sure, I’ve been to LA before. Was one of the pit-stops I made on the way to Sunnydale. Lotsa demons, lotsa vamps, and lotsa bad. But, even for a big city, it’s not really as bad as Sunnydale. No Hellmouth to get them all rowdy and grrr.
The more I think about it, the more I think that LA could probably use a Slayer to make sure things don’t get too bad to spill over onto the Hellmouth. Fuck, maybe I could make a temporary home outta this place.
Then again, it’s still pretty damn close to Sunnydale. And let’s not forget that B’s ex, Angel, is probably roaming around here somewhere too. I gotta watch my back twice as much . . . partly to make sure that B doesn’t pop up around me, and partly to make sure that Angel doesn’t find me. If he does, he’ll just tell B I’m here, and then I’ll just have to pull up anchor and take off again.
See? Gotta be doubly careful.
I walk up towards a small diner that seems to be one of the only places still open on the darkened street that I’ve been wandering down. My clothes are still wet and I’m looking completely like a drowned rat, so it’s probably a good thing that I don’t really know anyone around here. Can’t let them see me like this.
I make sure to stand outside the diner for a moment and use my slayer tingles to make sure that I can’t feel any vamps or threats around.
Cos, yunno, all I need is to walk into the place and find Angel sittin at the counter, eating pie and listening to Manilow on the jukebox.
When I’m pretty sure that the place is clear of any big nasties, I peak through the glass door before pushing it open and walking slowly in towards the lunch counter.
The place seems pretty clean. Better than most of the joints that I’ve eaten at while on the road. I try to ignore the squishy-squeaky sound that my boots are making on the linoleum floor, but the place is so quiet that it draws the attention of the few remaining patrons.
I look from person to person, giving them all a menacing glare so they know that it’s just not a good night to mess with me in any way, shape, or form.
The old man and woman in the corner booth just turn back to their bowls of soup and crackers. The three young guys at the table against the window leer at me lustfully, but turn back to their food uncomfortably when lift up my hand and pop them the finger. The cute brunette girl waiting for her order at the counter is just staring at me, mouth open, and . . .
I quickly glance back over my shoulder as my body remains temporarily frozen, almost as if I don’t move, she won’t see me.
I pan my options out in my head . . . the door isn’t too far behind me if I just wanna take off . . . or I can just pick up a salt-shaker and chuck it at her head, hope it knocks her out long enough for me to run and for her to forget she ever saw me . . .
“Hellllllo?? Slay-girl! Deaf much?”
. . . or I can just give in to the inevitable.
Slumping my shoulders in defeat, I turn my head back to the perfect form of Cordelia Chase and make my way towards the stool next to her.
Fuck. I forgot that she was in LA. Next time that I walk into a place, I’ll have to put out my ‘cheerleader’ sense as well as my spidey-sense.
And before you ask, yeah, I can detect a cheerleader from a mile away. Call it a hidden talent. Proved to come in handy back in my less love-whipped days.
I plop down on the stool next to her and try to avoid the annoyed and surprised that she’s giving me. Like, the kinda look that says, ‘What are you doing here, and why do you look like a wet rat?’ I reach down and grab a menu, making sure to look as unaffected and unreadable as possible as she keeps staring at me.
“What are you doing here, and why do you look like a wet cat?” She asks, her eyebrows furrowed at me in that cute, kinda annoyed way that I’d only let her get away with without reacting in some kinda child-like manner.
Oh, and wet cat? Bonus. That’s definitely a step up from a rat. See? I knew that LA would turn out to be good for me.
“Hey, Cor. Nice to see you, too. You lose some weight? You’re looking good as ever.” I say, artfully dodging her questions as I glance down at the menu. It’s gotta work. Cordelia Chase is one of the most vain people in the world. I’ve baited the trap. Let’s see if she bites.
She opens her mouth to say something, but then pauses, distracted.
“Actually, I have been trying this new work-out regime. I started doing these squat thrusts for my gluts, and . . .”
I’m vaguely aware that she’s still speaking as I shift my gaze from the menu down to her perfectly sculpted ass, which she has actually turned to face toward me.
It only takes a second for me to realize that she has actually stopped talking, and that she’s now staring down at me over her shoulder with a little self-satisfied smirk on her face.
And there is the eye-contact that I was avoiding.
Ooh, she’s a sneaky one, that Cordelia Chase. She knew exactly what she was doing. Round one goes to her.
“I thought that might get your attention.” She says, still smirking. She turns back so that she’s facing me full-on again, leaning against the counter as she looks over me with a critical eye. “So, you gonna fill me in on your little detour from the Hellmouth?”
I keep quiet, not able to tear my eyes away from her penetrating gaze. She’s trying to look inside of me . . . to see if she can find what I’m not telling her.
I wonder if she can tell that my heart is broken just from looking into my eyes, cos she suddenly has a little concerned look on her face.
Instead of probing me further, she grabs the bag of food that the waitress placed on the counter in front of her and stands up, walking towards the door. She spins around to face me, smiling.
“It’s your first night in LA. How about I take you for a cheap drink in a dank bar?” She asks.
Yeah, I could use a drink. But then I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and realize that I’m looking pretty rough. Just as I turn back to her to refuse her offer, I feel a hand on my leather jacket pulling me up and tugging me towards the door.
“Yes, you’re welcome, Faith, it WAS nice of me to ask you. And sure you can open the door for me. How chivalrous of you.” She says with a grin on her face, giving me a light poke in my side with her elbow to let me know that she was just being silly.
I open the door for her, still silent, but liking the distraction from the thoughts that had been swimming throughout my head the whole night.
We walked for about two minutes before ending up in a small, dark bar about a block and a half away.
I’m lookin pretty rough, but still look better than most of the schleps in this place.
Cordelia pulls back the chair at a table in the corner and sits down, waiting for me to do the same. She looks up at the bartender and holds up two fingers before looking back at me, watching me sit down.
“So, what exactly did little miss perfect do to you this time to make you run?” She asks, and before my ass had even settled down on the seat, I was standing up and getting ready to walk out.
“Nuh-uh, you sit your ass down!” She orders, and I’ll be damned if I don’t like her even more for being take-charge gal.
I groan as I sit down, knowing fully well that she’s gonna make me do a ‘share and grow’ kinda thing here. Copying her move, I look towards the bartender, holding up four fingers instead this time.
Cordy looks down and fumbles through her purse as she sarcastically mumbles under her breath, “Right, because large quantities of alcohol help with depression.”
“Hey, I am NOT depressed.” I state defiantly.
“And I’m not gorgeous.” She answers back, pulling her lip-gloss from her purse and applying a light layer over her lips.
I grin. “Hell yeah you are, Queen C.”
I know she’s gorgeous. She knows she’s gorgeous. But something about hearing it from me made her blush a little. It’s kinda cute.
“That’s kinda the point, tough-stuff. I’m gorgeous. You’re depressed. This much we can tell just from looking at each other. My question is . . . what was it that Buffy Summers did to depress you so much that you ran away? You told me before that she’s the only person that has ever affected you, and, well . . .” she lifts her hand and waves it in my general direction, “. . . you’re looking kinda . . . well . . . affected. And sloppy.”
I exhale and chuckle at the same time, shaking my head at her bluntness.
“Thanks, Cor.” I say, keeping my eyes planted on the table, raising them only for a second to acknowledge the waitress and knock back a shot of whatever Cordy had ordered for us.
“You know what I mean.” She says, annoyed.
I can feel her studying me as I play with the shot-glass in my hands, tapping it lightly on the table and spinning it a bit.
After a minute of silence, she finally breaks in again.
“She broke your heart, didn’t she?”
And I try to think of something to say that’s gonna hide the truth or make me look less affected. That will make me look like less of a fool and more like the old Faith that never woulda let herself get into a situation like this. But there’s no use in hiding it. Cordy already knows.
I nod my head so subtly that I’m not exactly sure if she’s able to see it.
But the way I hear her exhale the breath that she had been holding in . . . almost as if she was disappointed . . . I’m pretty sure that she saw it.
She takes a long, slow sip of her shot, shuddering ever so slightly as it burns across her tongue and down the back of her throat.
“And here I was almost starting to think that she’d finally start to see the good thing that was right in front of her face this time.” She says quietly, and I can’t help but notice that she sounds so disappointed in Buffy . . . like she had really expected us to have a happily ever-after together.
“I was hoping she’d come around too, and trust me, I fucking gave her all the time and space that she could ever hope for. Too much, even. And that’s how the story ends: I couldn’t hang around there and watch the Buffy Show anymore. So here I am.” I respond.
And now we’re both just sittin here, lookin kinda sad.
It feels too awkward . . . I don’t like to feel pitied, and she is really giving me a little pitty party here with her little sad face and furrowed eyebrows.
I can’t take it anymore, so I try to change the subject.
I grab another shot-glass and hold it up, as if to make a toast.
“But hey, no worries, Cor . . . I’m moving on to bigger and better things. New town, new friends . . . new life. Cheers.”
I nod my head before bringing the glass to my lips, emptying the contents down my throat without thinking about it.
It should burn . . . but I just don’t feel it.
Just as I swallow the liquid down and put the glass back on the tray, she opens up her mouth to speak, her eyes locked down on the table.
“You have to go back.” She says matter-of-factly.
“Aww, fuck, Cor!” I whine out angrily, slamming my hand down. “There is NO going back . . . don’t fuckin say that to me, man, I’m trying to mellow out and move the fuck on here, yeah?”
She lifts her eyes up to mine and speaks gentle words to me.
“You can’t make it better if you’re here in LA.” She says, and her voice is completely serious. I’ve never quite seen her like this before. I think LA has maybe changed her a little.
But I’m not ready to hear it.
“No, there’s nothing to make better. The ball was in Buffy’s court, and she just let all of her chances slip by. So, I just packed up and moved to a different court, simple as that. I’m NOT going back, and I’m done trying to fix it.” I blurt out, antsy in my seat as I feel her gaze on me.
My clothes are still damp and clinging to my body, and I’m just getting irritated now.
“What happened for it to get this bad . . . for you to run away from the one thing that ever made you want to stay? I know ‘coward’, Faith, and that’s not you. That’s Xander, on a good day.”
And maybe it’s the kinda thing I would share with her some time, cos she’s a cool girl and I think that we get along together pretty nicely. But I’m not gonna get into it . . . not right now. I’m damp, I’m getting pissed off, I need a shower, and I have no place to stay. She’s not gonna get anything outta me tonight.
“Yunno what, Cor? I’m not real keen on the sharey-ness right now. Thanks for the drinks . . . I owe ya one. But I need to find a place to stay and a hot shower.” I stand up from the table and pick up my bags, about ready to turn around and walk out when I feel her hand on my shoulder, stopping me from running out.
“You’ll stay with me. I’ve got a big cushy couch with lotsa pillows, a huge shower, and a ghost that will scrub your back for you if that’s your kinda thing.”
I get caught up on the last part of her sentence and don’t even realize it as I feel myself get led out of the bar.
I could probably fight her on it and find a cheap motel for the night, but honestly . . . . I just wanna shower and sleep. At the moment, I could really care less.
After about a 10-minute walk, we finally end up at the door to Cordelia’s apartment. She knocks four times and the door comes swinging open. I was just about to comment about not wanting to disrupt her roommates, but then I notice that there’s actually no one behind the door.
“Bet you thought I was kidding about the ghost, huh?” She says with a grin as we walk in. “Faith, this is Phantom Dennis. Phantom Dennis, Faith the Vampire Slayer.”
Confused? Fuck yeah.
I unload my bags onto the floor and take a quick glance around before saying, “Umm . . . hey, Denny-boy.”
I feel a slight breeze move across my back before I see my bags being mysteriously lifted up and carried into Cordy’s bedroom.
“Phantom Dennis! That is MY bedroom! Guests stay on the couch! We really need to work on your bellhop skills.”
I crack a small smile at the scene, cos . . . come one . . . it’s just kinda funny and weird. Cordelia Chase, trying to teach her ghostly roommate some manners.
She groans before turning to me, putting on a friendly smile to hide her annoyance.
“That’s the living room and the couch, where I, apparently, will be sleeping. Kitchen is off the living room, and the bathroom is at the end of the hall near my bedroom. There are fresh towels in the closet, so . . . go do your thing. I’m gonna eat some of this high-quality, room temperature diner-food and fight off the bacteria it’s collected.”
And before I can thank her or say anything, she’s making her way to the kitchen with her bag of food.
“Thanks.” I mumble under my breath before making my way down the long hallway and stepping into the bathroom, closing the door behind me.
I peel off my damp clothes and drop them in a pile by the door, standing naked and staring at my reflection in the mirror.
I blink my eyes hard and shake my head, pulling myself away from the thoughts of ‘you’re dirty’ and ‘you’re not good enough’ and ‘you’re such a waste’ as I step towards the shower and turn on the water, letting it heat up before stepping in.
I let the hot water flow down my back, tilting my head back to dip my hair under the powerful spray. My cold and clammy skin is quickly heating up and turning beat red, getting scorched under the water that I hadn’t even realized was on such hot temperature.
I reach toward the handles and turn some cool water on as well, letting the temperature even out just a bit.
After a few moments of just letting the water pour over me and refresh my body, I reach for the shampoo bottle and squeeze a dollop into my hand, not even looking down at it until I have it lathering up in my long hair.
And then it hits me . . . the scent. Surrounding me, engulfing me, covering my body as the water carries the suds from my hair down towards the drain.
It’s the same shampoo Buffy uses.
I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to feel . . . I don’t want reminders of it all around me. It’s too much.
I reach back out towards the handles and turn the cool water off, letting the hot water pour out and scald me again.
My skin is tingling everywhere, from the top of my scalp down to my toes that are in the pooling water. I grab the bar of soap and feverishly run it all over my body, hoping to wash away the scent of her, the memory of her.
I’m pretty sure that I’m crying now, but I can’t be bothered to fret about it.
I keep scrubbing and washing until the hot water turns warm, and then finally cold.
When I find myself shivering against the cold tiles, I know that it’s finally time to step outta the shower and forget about it all again.
I step out of the tub and grab the soft cotton towel, wrapping it around my body and holding it tight. It’s both a blessing and a drawback at the same time. I’m so cold that I need the warmth of it around me, but I’ve chafed my skin so much from the hot water that each little cotton thread feels like a razor against my skin.
But hey . . . if I can’t be numb, at least this is the next best thing.
After I dry off just a bit, I wrap a second towel around my hair and quietly walk out of the bathroom, hoping to go unnoticed. I look out through the dark kitchen and into the living room, where I only see the dim light of the TV. I’m pretty sure that I’m safe, so I creep into Cordy’s room and close the door quietly behind me, kneeling down to get a shirt out of my bag to sleep in.
I stand up to put it on and just before I’m about to pull my towel off, I hear a voice behind me.
“I heard you crying.”
I jump and turn around, surprised to see Cordy sitting on the end of the bed.
“Thin walls.” She explains.
“Ah.” I answer, averting her gaze.
She leans over and turns on the bedside table and then turns her gaze back to me, and it only takes a moment for her to make that little shocked noise and appear at my side.
She’s looking over me in a panic, the hot water from the shower having made my skin all beet-red and chafed.
“Jesus, Faith.” She says as she touches my skin, and I start shivering again. My skin is burning hot, but I’m still freezing from that last few minutes under the cold spray. “We . . . you . . . I need . . . here, get under the blankets.” She says as she leads me towards the bed, setting me down gently on the one side.
I hiss as I lay down and the sheets scratch against my skin.
But even more poignant at that moment was the way I could smell the shampoo on the pillows. Cordelia’s shampoo.
And just like that, the tears are falling again. I just can’t help it.
God, I’m such a weak fucking little baby.
Cordy hesitates for a moment, not really knowing what to do. She takes a deep breath before saying,
“Bare with me for a minute here, cos I’m not exactly an expert in Comfort Techniques and the Art of Faith, but . . .”
. . . and just like that, she crawls down next to me on the bed and ever so gently wraps herself around me from behind, careful not to bother my aching skin.
“It fucking hurts, Cordy.” I say.
I’m not sure if I’m talking about my skin or my heart, but I think she gets the picture.
And I just hear her sigh sadly before holding me a little closer and saying, “I know.”
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