When I Was Bad
I had a dream that night.
Since then, I've had the whole vision thing Doyle passed to me - visions are different - pain that makes you go blind, and worse pain from the people that the demons are hurting. It hurts - it hurts as bad as anything, but when it goes, it's gone.
Dreams, though; they're your own pain and everything rotten you've done coming back at you. Normally you forget them, but they are always hiding in there, and they never go and they never stop hurting.
I was in the water, wrapped in black plastic that sucked at me with little mouths of sticky wetness and smelled like the smoke of something icky burning. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't see. All I could do was flail around and scratch my way free and never mind if I broke a nail and pull the plastic from my face until I could see clearly. And suddenly weights dropped loose from my feet and I was free.
I shot to the surface and into the air and I could breathe and I was in the air, so high up that breathing was like fire and like song. Somewhere below me, Buffy and Faith were bitch-slapping each other in a rhythm like the waves of the sea in which they were both drowning, but I didn't care, because I was free.
And for a few minutes, after I woke up, I really thought I was.
The bad things, the really bad things, start without your noticing. You put on a dress, or you say something smart and bitchy, and you know somewhere in your brain that everything has consequences, but you never know till later how eeuw! those consequences are going to be.
So, OK. I never claimed to be Forethought Girl, but I wasn't Miss Lack of Impulse Control either. It seemed like such a small thing, a way of getting so many things that I wanted with no comeback I could see.
And it started by accident.
I was feeling scared and vulnerable that morning; nothing like helping drop a dead man in a river to create that sense of unease. Plus, girlfriend suddenly acquired out of nowhere, suddenly sleeps with my ex-boyfriend and announces her intention of chasing one of the two girls he was jonesing after all the time he was with me. I suppose I should have been grateful Faith wasn't pining after Witchyfeatures as well.
Part of the secret of always looking good is, not to try and carry outfits when your mood isn't up to them. That day, I dressed down, which means classic and elegant, and says yes! Cordy has girlparts, but doesn't scream it, and perhaps a little old for me, but who's counting?
And I decided to go to the library and check out abnormal psychology, because first I had an essay to write and, hello!, lunacy was taking over my life right now. And with someone as mega disturbed as Faith in my life, which she wasn't any more but still, bring on those heavy hitters, Mr Freud and Mr Jung.
There, in the library he was, tall and sort of cute in the face and willowy and wearing quality tailoring; Faith had said new Watcher was uptight and a jerk, but she did not say that Giles the Next Generation was worth looking at. Just because I had been jumping girlbones for the last few weeks did not mean Wesley wasn't at least worth checking out. I guess that the words Savile and Row would have no meaning for that girl, so nice that she is not even a bit mercenary.
He did that stammer he does, his eyes goggling a little behind his classes. He thought I was a teacher and Giles got testy with him and Faith was sitting there fuming at him, and at me. It was so neat to see she still cared enough to be jealous that sure, I twirled a bit and played Miss Sexual Control. Queen of dating - needed to know I had not lost my touch.
Besides, just because I wasn't going to hang around warming Faith's motel bed while she chased after Buffy Summers like a little lost puppy, didn't mean I didn't care. I thought, Faith's Watcher yammering at me - I could use this power for good.
I wouldn't ever be mean to her - who am I kidding! Of course, I'd be mean to her, but only for her own good, only till she crawled to me and said she was sorry and I told Wesley to let her off because he liked me. This wasn't Queen C, Bitch of Bitches; this was a kinder, gentler me that wasn't about grinding people absolutely into the dust, as long as they were very sorry.
When there is violence or danger, time stops, and you consider your options; I've been there; I've done this. Being beautiful is kind of the same - you feel the power and you ride it and you know where it is going to take you. Except, of course, when you don't.
Plus, of course, slithering round being seductive was going to give me an excuse for being round the library and round - this is a terrible pathetic admission, of which I am so deeply ashamed- my former friends whom I had started to miss. I wasn't going to forgive them - I don't forgive, right - but there was something to be said for being around them, where it was warm.
And Buffy Summers was looking pale and stressed and so all those things that go with being on Faith's girly list that I had a moment of sheer irrational jealousy before trusting my instinct that that particular great love was always going to be doomed.
But not doomed as in, leading to the end of the world.
As in, doomed never ever to happen. Which also made me feel good, because there is always time in this world for resenting blondes who wander through your life knocking things over, but you have to be fair about it, and not resent what she didn't get to do.
Like I said, insecure, much, and lonely and making a smidgette of mischief. Not a huge deal. Not as gut-wrenching disasters go.
I just loved that long walk out of the library with his eyes tracking me like guilty secrets, and Faith burning up in Glower city. So I swung my hips a bit - well, who's to say whose benefit that was for? No-one got to take me for granted, not any more. You don't get to have much power in this world, and there's a pleasure in taking it for the moments where you find it.
Later, when I left the diner, Faith was leaning sluttily against a lamppost on the other side of the street. I smiled sweetly, waved languidly, and kept on walking towards my car, knowing, just knowing, that she would fall in behind me and catch up with those strong Slayer legs I knew the tautness of so well. Your body has a memory and you know how they pressed tight around you once and maybe will again.
'So,' I said, without even turning around, 'we just can't stay away.'
Her just being there was a mixed message to die for; my not running away screaming the moment I set eyes on her was the biggest mixed message of all.
'We need to talk,' she said, in that voice that said I'm so tough, I'm so frail at the same time.
I had walked away last night, walked away a few nights earlier. I spent my life recently walking away from Faith, and yet somehow I was always there to listen when she wanted me to.
But I tried.
'What's left to say?' I said.
'Cops, C,' she said. ' Someone saw B and me near that alley, and they've grilled both of us.'
'They've not been to see me,' I said. 'I rang my mother earlier and she sobered up long enough to say she'd not spoken to anyone all day and I was a neglectful daughter who didn't make strong enough martinis.'
I stopped by my car, and only then actually looked at her.
'You know, Faith,' I said, 'we're not even known associates, except here, in the bad part of town. Our friends don't know, unless you've told them. Some demons knew, but they're not around any more. Bill the Cook knows, but he doesn't know who you are. Only person who might make a connection is Larry. And I don't think he'll be talking to the police anytime soon.'
'C,' she said, ' I hate it that you're mad at me.'
I looked at her with a softness in my eyes that I hoped was pity or gentle scorn rather than lust.
'You can go around getting some, and getting gone,' I said. ' You can want, take, have as much as you like. You can have Buffy, or Xander, or who ever you want. What you don't get is me. Having me doesn't work that way.'
She looked at me with those dark thief's eyes.
'What about you and Wes?' she said. 'That's about making me jealous, isn't it?'
'Might be,' I said. 'But you don't love me, you love Buffy. So you don't get to be jealous of anything I do.'
It wasn't just Xander I know how to hurt with a word and a look
I got in my car and it started first time and I drove away without looking back. We were so done, I thought, and I got to have the last word.
When you're in love, really in love, things never end, and each time you think they do, each time you think there has been a clean break and you've driven away into the clean night - you're just fooling yourself, and after an hour or two, or a day or two, it comes back, worse than before.
I cried over Xander; I lay in my hospital bed and cried; I sat and home and moped and cried. And I thought I loved him, I really did.
I had loved Faith so much more, I couldn't even cry over her; I just sat and thought of her, and my eyes hurt and hurt but nothing would come, nothing. And the worst of it was not knowing what else was to come, just knowing somehow that we weren't done yet. That there might be good bits to come and there was sure to be more pain.
I managed to hold it together at school - I just walked around being steely-glare don't-mess-with- me and people left me alone. At the dress shop, I did a lot of folding, and went and fetched things from the stockroom, and was more helpful than they had ever seen me, because while I was folding and fetching, I was not thinking. At the diner, well, Bill the Cook knew there were problems and was being understanding, which would almost have been creepier than him trying to touch me, except I needed it.
And he was impressed that I gave him his fifty dollars back unused.
I took food to tables, and I collected money; and I poured glasses of iced water; and I wrote out checks. I got all of these things right; I knew this because no-one said I hadn't and the diner was a place where they would have done. All I could think of that night was when I would see her next and what more could happen to make how happy we had been just a prelude to tears.
She was there, suddenly, sitting at a table; she looked shaken and anxious, and I poured her a coffee almost without thinking about who she was, simply because, people that miserable, you give them a coffee in a place like the diner.
She pulled my wrist so that I had to sit down opposite her; in all the time we had been together, Faith had never used her strength to hurt me and this wasn't exactly hurting me - it was making me do what she wanted and I had no choice in the matter, no choice at all.
'I have to go,C' she said. 'I have to leave town. Tonight.'
'Is it?...' I said, not wanting to mention the dead deputy mayor in a room where there were ears.
'No,' she said. 'It's worse. What have you been saying to your new boyfriend?'
She spat the words as if by saying them like that she could burn holes in things.
'What new boyfriend?' I said.
'Wesley,' she said. 'He knows about us, doesn't he?'
'Not from me,' I said. 'And I only met him the one time. Oh, yes, sure, he's cute, for a guy, but no, all that happened is that I flirted with him, in front of you, because I could, and it made you mad.'
' He knows,' she said. 'Trust me. I could see how wicked much he wanted you the moment he saw you. And he wants a clear field.'
Those dark eyes were looking at me like there was a light out of the shadows that could burn me to ashes.
'They came for me, him and Council guys.' she said. 'They threw a net over Angel and they dragged me out of there in chains. They threw me in a van with chains on like I was an animal, and Wesley said they were shipping me to England. And I got away, but they'll keep on coming. I've got to leave town, go where they can't find me. I came here on the run, and that's how I'll leave.'
I looked at her bruising lips and her hair and her small strong hands, and I thought that I would never let her go.
'I'll come with you,' I said.
'I'm going now, C' she said. 'Jumping a train or a freighter and sleeping rough. It will be jeans and one T-shirt and moving fast; take stuff where you find it and move on fast. Work in bars and fight off johns and sleep where you can.'
'I'll come,' I said. 'To be with you, I'll come, and I'll take what comes. I changed to be with you, and I'll just change some more. If the Council are after you, maybe it'll confuse them if we travel as two.'
Faith looked at me in surprise.
'You're crazy,' she said.
'You should know,' I said. 'Why did you come here, if you didn't want to see if I would come with?'
'You came because you know that I love you,' I said. 'You told me the other night that you don't care that I love you, and I hate it that I have to go on proving it to you. But I'll come with you, and I'll watch your back, and maybe you don't love me, but you'll know I gave up everything for you. And she didn't.'
Faith looked at me as if she was seeing me clearly for the first time
I got up, went in back, shrugged apologies to Bill the Cook and got my jacket.
Bill looked at me, looked out at where Faith was sitting and said 'You'll be needing this after all', and handed me the fifty dollars. He hadn't even put it back, just left it on a shelf with a saucer on top of it, as if he knew I'd need it again. Except, when I looked, there was more than fifty there.
'Hey,' he said. 'I've been around and I read the paper. And you two look like you're in more than fifty dollars worth of trouble.'
I walked over, and I kissed him, on the repulsive stubble where his chins met his not especially clean neck. You don't always get to show that you appreciate your friends.
'How're you leaving?' he said.
'Fast', I said.
'Cordelia,' he said, and it was the first time he ever called me by my name. 'You got to learn to ask for help. I know every tramp captain that docks in Sunnydale, and half of them owe me money.'
He went into the office and mumbled into the phone for a couple of minutes.
'OK,' he said. 'There's a boat at the West Quay. No-one will notice you get on it and no-one will notice you leave it in Mexico. They heard what your friend did to help the Russians; it'll be like you were both my daughters; no charge, no hassle. So go, go already.'
We ran down the long dark streets that led through the bad part of town to the docks where all the streets end. You are now leaving Sunnydale, I thought, and realised how glad I was to be gone.
The boat was where he said it would be, and we walked up the gangplank and no-one said a thing; sailors were around, quietly doing sailory things. I sat down on the deck and smelt the foul tangy smells of the harbour and the salt of sea air coming in over them like something that almost made them clean.
Faith knelt beside me with a sappy smile on her face like someone had hit her with a present. She took me by the hand, and if earlier it was like being pulled by irresistible force, now just the touch of her hand was a caress that made me tingle in every part of me
'I can't believe you came,' she said. 'I can't believe that it's you I'm leaving Sunnydale with.'
The sailors were leaving us alone to our own devices; one after another they were gone like the last few chocolates in a box. It was silent all over that boat, silent all over Sunnydale harbour, except for the click of a pair of heels down one of those empty streets.
'It's her,' Faith jumped up with a bright look on her face that I wished I had seen more often shining for me. 'It's B; she came for me.'
I know almost all there is to know about headaches - how they grind behind your eyes and how they roll like thunder in the back of your skull and how they hurt in every single one of your teeth, even the ones with caps, and how your stomach feels like it was kicked. Betrayal, casual betrayal that comes from deep in the heart - it's like headaches.
I sat there in blind misery as Faith walked to the gangplank and was sultry at Buffy and acted like a bad girl all over again. You give everything and it is never enough.
They talked and every word was like a nail pounding in my skull - I couldn't bear to listen and I couldn't bear to look at them and I hated the idea of spying on them and I was so angry my eyes throbbed harder than ever before.
What did make me look down from the boat was the noise of something heavy falling; they were surrounded by vampires and Buffy was down and dazed and Faith was up and kicking and twirling and being thrown around and striking and turning them to dust. I had seen both of them fight, but never together, never like this; even with Buffy half out of it, it was like an intrusion watching them.
I knew that I wasn't a Slayer; I knew that for Faith I would always be just a girl who helped, no matter how much she some of the time loved me. I never really felt it in my heart before then, watching them together. A large vamp in a suit was poised over Buffy's neck and Faith was in there like a serpent with her stake, dusting him before he could tear into skin. I gave up, in my heart; she got to save Buffy's life, again, and I saw what they had that Faith and I had never had. I could love Faith; I could make love to her and be loved back. What I didn't have was life and death as well as love.
I could give everything I had and was, and it would never ever be enough.
They left, but not together. All that, and they didn't even leave together. And Faith had left me without a word when Buffy came, and never came back to me.
I waited a few minutes and left the boat, and started to walk down the dark street back to the diner and my car.
A few paces down the street, there were some steps and Faith was sitting on them, crying. She had never cried for me.
'I saved her, C,' she said. 'He was that close to draining her, and I staked him, and I saved her. And it counts for nothing. What do I have to do to make her feel anything for me? To make her even notice I exist? It's all Angel with her, and the rest of us are just shadows.'
I wanted so much to shout and scream at her and make her see that she was bitching about Buffy's doing to her what she was doing to me. But I did love her, and if I shouted or screamed, I would never stop, would break down into tears that would make my face look wrinkly and bad, so I said nothing.
I wanted to be cool and beautiful for her, so that if this was going to be how she remembered me, one day, when she remembered to bother, I was at my best. Just sat down and held her, thinking that this really probably was the last time, and not knowing that it actually was.
Suddenly she stiffened in my grasp and wriggled free.
'You're so clever, C' she said, and pecked me on the cheek. 'You told me already what to do; I should have seen it.'
She stood up and raced away into the darkness between the street lights.
I didn't even have a chance to say goodbye, or ask what I had said that struck her. You say something smart and bitchy and the world ends, forever. My world, anyway.