"So, the princess really came through, huh?"
Buffy nodded, her ponytail bobbing rather hypnotically. "Yup. Don't mess with Cordelia Chase. Especially when she's armed with a spatula."
Cordelia waited, hugging her knees to her chest, to hear what other lovely things Buffy had to say about her, but that seemed to be it, at least for the moment. Disappointed, she swallowed the rest of her drink, and looked around for more. Faith saw what she was doing, took her cup, and refilled it.
They'd gone to Faith's motel room, the three of them, following the disaster also known as Homecoming. Willow had wanted to come, her big brown eyes anxious and entreating, but Buffy – to Cordelia's surprise – had said no.
"You've got a date, Will. Have fun with him."
She'd said it nicely.
"I have a date," Xander had said, coming up behind Willow. "I had a date. Oh, look," he'd said, pointing at Cordelia, who'd rolled her eyes, "there she is now. Please, can I come?"
Faith had linked arms with Buffy and Cordelia. "Sorry, Xan. Just us girls tonight."
"I'll be a silent observer - please," Xander had said, and Willow had grumbled, "I'm a girl."
"I noticed," they'd heard Oz say softly as they turned and walked, still arm in arm, down the hallway, dresses swishing about their shins, heels clicking.
Faith's motel room turned out to be every bit as icky as Cordelia had imagined, but that was strangely all right tonight. After being chased through dark forests, attacked by vampires and yellow fish things, and almost getting blown up by creepy German twins, Cordelia decided she could deal with cigarette burns in the carpet, a chipped bathroom mirror, and stains on just about everything. For tonight, anyway.
They sat on Faith's floor in their homecoming gowns and drank rum and coke out of plastic cups. Faith made them pretty strong and it wasn't long before Cordelia was buzzing.
"A spatula, huh?" said Faith, refreshing her own drink and sitting back. She frowned. "Funny, I don't quite see how that would hurt 'em too bad."
"I think it was more the element of surprise," Buffy said. "Unless you're fighting monster pancakes." She sighed. "Why don't I ever get to fight monster pancakes?"
"I wouldn't mind," said Cordelia. "Why does it always have to be blood and teeth and – yellow fish things?"
"It isn't always," said Faith. "Some vamps are easy on the eyes."
"Right," said Cordelia. "Then you sleep with them and they try to eat your friends. Um, wow," she went on, without pausing for breath, "I'm really thirsty." She took a huge sip. "Really thirsty." And another. "These are really good, Faith." Actually, the coke was flat and warm and there was way too much rum.
Cordelia peeked over the rim of her cup.
Buffy was pale, her wrists limp in her lap. Her lashes drooped.
Cordelia's gaze was drawn to Faith's right hand, which was stroking Buffy's ankle. That's sweet, she thought. Someone cares about Buffy. Sure, it's a crazy, naked alligator wrestler from Boston, but Buffy takes what she can get.
As she watched, Faith's strong fingers tightened and loosened around Buffy's bony ankle. Squeeze, release. Squeeze, release. Then they moved a little higher.
Something in Cordelia's belly squeezed, then released.
After that, things got a little strange.
Faith said, "Think of it this way, B. I never laid eyes on the guy, but if it'd been me or the princess here, people would've been dead a lot sooner."
Buffy's mouth started to become a smile, but sagged. "Are you complimenting me or calling me a prude?"
"Little a both." Faith stuck her tongue out, gave Buffy's shin another squeeze, this time playfully.
"Um, hello?" Cordelia raised her hand. "Was I just called a whore?"
Faith glanced at her. "What, like you don't put out?"
"Well, I don't."
"Sure, princess. I seen you strutting around in your little skirts."
"I strut," said Cordelia, rolling her eyes. "I'm not a slut."
"That could almost go on a bumper sticker," said Buffy. "Or in the yearbook. Cordelia Chase: strutty, not slutty."
"You don't put out," Faith said incredulously, letting go of Buffy and moving a little closer to Cordelia. "Not even for Xander."
"Not even," said Cordelia, tossing her hair, "for Brad Pitt." She thought for a moment. "Well, okay, there are circumstances under which I would totally do Brad. Like, if he showed up one day. But anyway," she huffed, "Xander and I have something weirdly special. And we're young, and at this point, I think it pays to be good and—"
"You say that," cut in Faith, "'cause you don't know how good bad feels." She leaned over and kissed Cordelia full on the mouth.
Faith's lips were full and smooth, like a plum. Her breath was sweet from the rum-laced coke. She kissed lightly, but Cordelia had the feeling that if Faith wanted to, she could have forced her lips apart with a flick of her tongue.
Cordelia wondered, as Faith pulled away, grinning impishly, if she'd have minded the tongue.
"See?" said Faith. "Pretty good, huh? C'mere, B."
"Hum, who, what?" said Buffy, looking from Cordelia to Faith.
"I wanna show the princess something." She clasped Buffy's face between her palms and yanked her close.
Their lips met with an audible smack. "Mmf!" said Buffy.
To Cordelia, it seemed more like a blow than a kiss. Buffy's shoulder twitched, and her fingers curled. But instead of shoving Faith away, she clasped her waist, and, together, and without breaking the kiss, they rose to their knees.
A haze slipped down over Cordelia's eyes right about then. Through it, she watched Buffy and Faith paw at each other. They were hip to hip, breast to breast, and it seemed to Cordelia that although one girl was dark-haired and wearing black, and the other blonde and in hot pink, they were two halves of something.
Something that tugged at her, drew her irresistibly.
It wasn't because they were ignoring her, and that was just something you didn't do. It didn't have anything to do with generally preferring boys, even though, objectively speaking, Faith and Buffy were sexy girls.
Tonight, she'd been hunted. She'd been chased. She'd almost been killed. But she'd prevailed. There was vampire dust on her beautiful satin dress. She'd earned some inclusion. She wasn't being unfaithful to Xander, she reasoned, because it wasn't Buffy or Faith who attracted her, but their power.
She'd take it all back, she knew, once she'd had some sleep and sobered up, but for now…
One of Buffy's straps had fallen off her shoulder. Cordelia wasn't aware of moving forward, but suddenly she was there behind Buffy, fumbling with the zipper at the back of her dress. She got it down, and then Buffy wriggled, and the bodice of her dress opened like a flower. Buffy sank back and Cordelia leaned toward her, and then Buffy's head was on Cordelia's shoulder and Cordelia's hands were on Buffy's breasts, and they were full and soft, the nipples candy-hard.
Faith looked up from kissing Buffy's mouth and her eyes met Cordelia's. There was a hungry, possessive gleam in them that thrilled and frightened Cordelia, made her feel like she was trespassing.
"You ain't one of us," said Faith, her voice rough and low.
"I'm a Slayer," Cordelia protested. "I mean – I slayed. Slew. Whatever."
"Just for tonight," Buffy said. And then, "More, please?"
Faith's eyes narrowed. She batted Cordelia's hands away from Buffy's breasts and lowered her own mouth to them.
Cordelia felt the breath that hitched in Buffy's throat as if it were her own. She should be angry with Faith, she knew. If she were truly a Slayer, even just an honorary one, then she should fight.
But then Buffy moaned and arched her back and the bile slid back down Cordelia's throat, became something quite different as it made its way to her belly, where it pooled, hot and thick. She was aware of a dull, throbbing ache between her legs, and of Buffy's left hand, fumbling blindly at her thighs. Cordelia took Buffy's hand, guided it under her own skirt. She bit her lip when Buffy's nails grazed her inner thighs, choked when Buffy's fingers found the lace of her panties. Then Buffy's fingers slid under the lace and Cordelia let go a moan that rocked them both.
Later, after she caught Xander kissing Willow, and Faith switched sides, Cordelia convinced herself that it had all been a dream, made more vivid by adrenaline and alcohol. She hardly saw Faith after that, and Buffy never said a word. Sometimes, when she was alone in an oil-scented bath and had candles burning around her, or when she was in the changing room at Victoria's Secret, admiring herself and a new lacy bra in the full-length mirror, flashes would come back to her: Faith's narrow, almost boyish hips, Buffy's fingers, small, slender, callused from clutching wooden stakes. And she'd feel a desolate hunger.
But she dismissed it.
Until the morning she left Sunnydale.
She got up at dawn, grabbed her suitcase, and headed for the bus stop, reasoning that it was much too early for anyone she knew to be out and about. She could be in LA in time for lunch. She'd find a hotel, grab a bite to eat, then get to work. She had her looks, she thought, and a couple of slinky dresses – enough to attract some director's eye. Once she was a star, she'd forget about her father's financial shenanigans, and the fact that she'd had to work retail. Maybe she'd meet some A-list celebrity, who'd feed her caviar and champagne and drive her around in his—
She blinked. Buffy was jogging up the block toward her. Her hair was disheveled, her cheeks smudged with dirt, and she had a stake in the belt loop of her jeans. She'd obviously just finished a patrol.
"Wow," said Cordelia when Buffy was closer, "you should really get some cucumber slices. You're all pasty and you have these dark circles under your eyes."
Buffy yawned. "Vampire. Just kept running. Forgot to turn and fight so I could stake him." She spotted Cordelia's suitcase. "Where're you going?"
"Away from this stupid, loser town. Since I can."
Cordelia's barb seemed to bounce right off Buffy's forehead. She blinked stupidly, and yawned again. "Well, I'll miss you." Then the glazed look left her and she said, "No, really. I'll miss you, Cordy. You should've told us."
"Why? So you and Xander and Willow and Oz could throw me a lame-ass going away party? Yaaay, the bitch is leaving!"
"Well." Buffy frowned. "Yeah."
"Thanks," said Cordelia, "but no thanks."
"If that's how you feel…" Buffy scratched at her hair. "It's just…I kind of hate it when people leave without saying goodbye. Especially people I really like."
Cordelia lowered her eyes slightly. "Oh, please. Yeah, okay, maybe we could have been friends, like maybe if you hadn't been so weird and—"
Buffy touched her wrist, very lightly, but it was enough to make the hairs on the back of Cordelia's arm stand up. "No, really," Buffy said. "I—"
Cordelia looked up. The sun had risen above the palm trees that lined the street, and the sky had gone from the dusty purple of dawn to a cornflower blue. Buffy's sweat had dried, but Cordelia could smell it, mingled with her honeysuckle body lotion and that strange, cold, almost coppery scent that hung about Buffy whenever she came back from killing something.
"I'll miss you," Buffy said again, and, knowing it would waken the memories and the hunger, knowing that they would never talk about it, with each other or anyone else, knowing it was the last time forever, Cordelia bent to kiss her.