Let The Lonesome Whistle
by Harper Masterson

As soon as she got out of here, she was going to kill Angel. She was going to chain him to the floor of that skanky hotel that he had commandeered and slowly raise all of the blinds and watch him sizzle to death right there in front of her desk. Hopefully he'd scream and beg and plead as he crackled, and she could simply stand there, looking beautiful and refreshed as usual in a new outfit purchased especially for the occasion, resting back against her desktop with her legs crossed at the ankles, calmly drinking her latte, and watch him suffer.

I'll take care of it, he had said. Don't worry, I've got connections. Yeah right. If he had such big connections then what the hell was she doing standing here wearing this God-awful outfit and staring down a narrow hallway that ran in front of a row of cells, hmmm? One of which she was soon to inhabit.

Attempted robbery. As if she, Cordelia Chase, would rob a bank. It was the damn visions. She'd seen it so clearly, a demon and a young homeless girl, and she wasn't sure what the connection was but Angel had paled when she described the creature if ever a vampire could pale. So, they'd gone off hunting, finally finding the scene of her vision behind some random bank that she hadn't even known was there. The scuffle was quick and the demon ran, forcing Angel to give chase and leave her there alone. So, she'd pulled out a nail file and prepared to practice one of her many skills... patience.

Unfortunately an undercover officer had been working nearby, trying to bust hapless johns looking for a little fun with a randomly picked and paid for boytoy, and had been drawn by the sounds of the scuffle. He hadn't gotten there in time for the fight, but he had gotten there just in time to see Cordelia emerge from the shadows of the bank's back entrance. During the melee, the demon had raked some rather large gashes in the thick metal door, and even though she had possessed no breaking and entering tools of any kind other than the nail file, they'd hauled her away. Security cameras don't catch battles between vampires and demons, but they do catch the actions of a furtive human looking for cover in a doorway. And honestly, a nail file? As if she was going to turn into some type of superspy and be able to pop open the elaborate locking mechanism on the door with a 97 cent nail file? And really, was it even possible to cut through a steel door with a nail file? Science and engineering might not be her forte, but Cordelia was going to go with a great big no on that one.

They had actually put her in a holding cell with three prostitutes and a drunk. She'd had to deal with the smell of alcohol and cheap perfume and old sex until Angel had gotten together enough money to bail her out. He'd told her then not to worry about it, that they'd be able to make the charges go away, but an overzealous ADA had kicked the case into Federal court, and there'd been nothing that Angel could do. So now she was a convicted felon, looking at a sentence of three years, out in one or less with good behavior. Despite the conviction in federal court, they had sent her to the state penitentiary because of rampant overcrowding, which had just made things completely perfect. Maybe she could share a cell with Faith.

It was hard to ignore the leering gazes, the rude taunts, and the suggestive gestures thrown her way, but she tried her best. Squared shoulders, an upraised chin, and the no-nonsense glare in her eyes were the only weapons that she had here. Her few talents weren't going to be of much use in this foreign environment, but hopefully she could at the very least out-bluff anyone who thought she'd be an easy mark. But, beneath that rather shallow veneer, she was frightened. Who in their right mind wouldn't be? This was prison, after all, and you just didn't hear people coming out with lots of fun tales to share around the campfire.

"This one's yours." Keys clanked and the heavy slide of steel bars echoed through the hallway as the guard she had been following stopped abruptly, tilting her head to the left to indicate that this was Cordelia's new home. "Breakfast's at 6:30, lunch at 12:00 sharp and dinner's at 6:00. Someone will assign you to your work placement tomorrow. Yard time's in the afternoon. Anything else you need to know, Miss Mary Sunshine here can tell you."

Taking the last few steps that would lead her to the front door of her new home for the next several months, Cordelia had to stifle a groan. Of course. Why should she have expected anything else.

"Faith." It was a statement, and the tone of her voice told the other occupant of the cell that it wasn't a very nice one. Apparently the dislike and censure didn't bother the dark girl lounging on the thin mattress however, because she just grinned lazily, drawing one knee up so that she could wrap her arms around it.

"Queen C... what was it this time? Allegations of prostitution, hmm?" Faith taunted, thoroughly enjoying the other girl's obvious discomfort.

"Fuck you."

"Don't worry... we'll have plenty of time for that later," Faith leered, drawing perverse pleasure in the dark red flush that swept up the other girl's cheeks. It was a combination of embarrassment and frustration, and it made Cordelia so furious that she couldn't even find words to speak.

"Look, I hate to break up this charming little reunion, but I've got better things to do," the guard droned, her mouth scrunching up in an impatient snarl. "We're still on lock-down for at least another 2 hours thanks to yesterday's little playtime fiasco, so you two girls have plenty of time to catch up, do each other's nails, whatever. Now, in."

With a scathing glare, Cordelia pranced lightly past the scowling guard, turning to watch as the door slid shut with a resounding clang, the sound reverberating through her skull like a death toll. She didn't want to turn, didn't want to see the gloating countenance of her cellmate and wondered briefly if nails could be filed to such sharpness as to be able to slice through arteries. It might just be better to go ahead and end it all right now if recent events were any indication of exactly how her life was going to progress.

"We need to talk." The low voice broke into her musings, strangely serious now, and for a moment she entertained not turning around. Perhaps if she tried hard enough to imagine that she wasn't here, she could be magically transported away from the Hell that her life was rapidly becoming. That's it... a nice beach somewhere in the Caribbean, with soft white sand and the sound of waves lapping lazily against the shore while a cute little cabana boy named Manuel brought her fruity cocktails and flirted shamelessly.

"Fine then. If you want to pretend like I'm not here, go ahead. I'm gonna talk anyway. Took a lot of doing to get you moved in here with me," Faith drawled, her eyes tracing down the rigid back in front of her. She felt sorry for Cordelia, honestly she did, and when Angel had told her C was coming, she had made it her responsibility to help the other girl even if that help wasn't wanted. So maybe she hadn't opened the conversation on the right ‘I'm here to help you' foot, but that was habit more than anything else.

"You mean you arranged it so that I'd be forced to share a cell with you?" Cordelia turned finally, one chestnut brow arching in question. "Why in the hell would you do that? Running out of sadistic amusements to occupy your time?"

Ignoring the last question, Faith went straight to the heart of the matter. "Why? Because you won't make it three seconds in here without me, Princess. This ain't like the movies, where the women's pen is some hokey commune where everybody sits and braids fucking everybody else's hair. Some of these girls would just as soon gut you as look at you, though when they get a look at your pretty face and hot little body, its more likely that you'll wind up as a communal playtoy. Of course, you may be into that pain and abuse stuff. Never can tell just by looking what gets a person off," the dark slayer added with a smirk.

"I don't need your help," Cordelia said stiffly, hazel eyes narrowing at the prospect. The last thing she wanted was to be in any way indebted to Faith. The implications of the rest of what she had said were consciously blocked. Besides, the dark slayer was probably just trying to scare her. Get her jollies by terrifying the new girl, added bonus points tacked on because the new girl just happened to be her, Cordelia, someone with whom she shared a definitely antagonistic history.

"Whatever you say, sugar. Just remember later that I offered and you turned me down," Faith replied noncommittally. There wasn't anything she could say right now that would convince the other girl that the time would come when she'd need her help. It was best to wait and have it shown to C the hard way.

The next few hours passed in terse silence. Faith had long since claimed the bottom bunk of the bed, forcing Cordelia to have to climb up and over her. There was nowhere else to sit in the small enclosure, unless she chose to rest on the toilet, and she certainly wasn't going to do that. Besides, even though she had to suffer through knowing that Faith's eyes were watching her every movement as she stretched her long frame up and onto the top bed, once she got there she could imagine that the other girl didn't even exist. If it weren't for the faint rasp of the dark slayer's breath she wouldn't have known she was there at all.

Faith, for her part, took the quiet time to do something that she had done a lot of since coming to the pen... think. It had taken her a long time to realize just how fucked up her life had been, but the events leading up to her surrender to the police had spelled out, in terms even she couldn't misunderstand, just how out of control she had gotten. While out of control could be a good feeling sometimes, you could only run for so long before you got too tired to keep it up, and she had reached that wall. So, taking the self-imposed restrictions on her life as a time for introspection, she'd come to several conclusions.

The first thing she had come to realize was that she was tired. Tired of pretending, tired of running, tired of pulling on her badass attitude like the armor it was. Life had never been too kind, and she'd developed an array of self-protective mechanisms that had suddenly become far too draining to maintain. She didn't want to fight all the time, didn't want to define herself by out of control behavior and bad judgment, a sneer and a sarcastic comment. All that time she'd only been looking for attention, for someone to stand up and let her know that they saw her, saw her for who she really was, and liked her in spite of it. For a while, she'd thought that her Slayer powers would bring that to her. No longer a victim, she became one of the powerful. For the first time in her life, she was special, in a position to control not only her life but also the lives of those around her.

It hadn't worked out that way though. Her watcher died, and she ran, just like she always had, straight to Sunnydale this time. Where she found her redemption once again, or so she thought, in the form of a petite little blonde who knew exactly what she was going through. Or, at the very least, she was supposed to know. She'd fancied herself in love with Buffy, slowly trying to carve out a place for herself in the other slayer's life, to make herself somehow indispensable. What she'd made was a royal mess of things. Buffy didn't love her and never would, and after a time she came to realize that she didn't really want that anyway. It had all been an illusion, and she wanted what Buffy had much more than she could have ever have wanted the other girl. It was all taken away from her even before she could truly experience it, though, and all because of one stupid mistake, someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She felt bad about that, really she did. It was the censure that really did her in though. All that time trying to find her place, to fit in, to do what was right in her own unique way, and they'd turned on her quicker than a newborn vamp.

What followed was a mixture of anger and retaliation, tempered with a good deal of confusion. By turning from all that she had striven for before, she found the one thing that had always proven elusive... love. The mayor might not have been perfect, but he never asked her for anything that she couldn't give and didn't demand that she become someone she wasn't. And what did she do? Screwed him over, that's what. Yeah, so it was for the greater good, but that didn't make her feel any better about it.

There was a lot more to it -- poisoned arrows, knife fights that left scars that even Slayer healing couldn't erase, comas -- but those were the salient facts. Everyone had said she was insane, psycho, and maybe she was, but what did you expect? You can't take a baby lion that's known nothing but pain all its life, let it suddenly realize the extent of its own powers and not expect to get bitten. And that was what she had been, wild, untamed, feral. No one had ever taught her to be anything else, or cared enough to tell her that the path she was on would cause nothing but hurt. Not that she felt sorry for herself or anything. This wasn't fairy princess land, and bad things happen. Suck it up and deal, was her motto. No sense in crying over things that you can't change. You've just gotta accept it and move forward.

She'd gone over the top though. Torturing Wesley wasn't a memory that she recalled with any fondness, and was probably the largest indicator in a string of indicators that she needed to stop, needed to re-evaluate herself and her life. So for once, she'd done the right thing. She'd turned herself in, finding it somewhat ironic that her one good act couldn't even be completely good because she wasn't even held accountable for all that she should have been. But, then again, spending the rest of her life in jail wasn't going to make things better either. She had a mission in life, a higher calling that she was just now beginning to understand, and once she'd done her penance, she was going to see to it that her life was more right than wrong.

After all of that had come into focus, she'd realized just how much of a blessing her exile was. Coming to grips with who she was and what she'd done had given her an inner peace, one that she had decided to extend. Thus she'd started exploring, finding what things made her happy, what things had a value that, while only intrinsic in nature, would help her retain her newfound balance.

Angel had started visiting her. He was, surprisingly, very good at helping her work through things. For once, she felt like she had someone on her side. After a while, she'd enlisted him in her plan for self-enlightenment, asking him to bring little odds and ends on his visits. Of course, she'd sworn him to secrecy. No need for anyone to find out about her newfound interests. He'd laughed at her that last time, a definite smile on his face as he'd watched her glee, watched her run long fingers over the smooth cover on the thin volume of poetry she'd requested like a small child with a coveted new toy. Sending a glare and a growl his way, she'd ignored him, refusing to let the fact that he took humor in her seemingly uncharacteristic behavior keep her from enjoying herself. She was nowhere near talented enough to express her feelings, either verbally or on paper, but she'd found that other people must have gone through some of the same things she had because they'd already hashed them out. Reading about it, knowing that she wasn't alone, was soothing. Besides, she was a closet bookworm, had always been. Fantasy was always more alluring than real life, and she'd learned early on how to use it to escape. Of course, as she'd grown older she'd used that avenue less and less, choosing instead to fight her way into something that she thought was better. Life had looped back over itself though, and the rediscovery of the potential solace to be found in words was a welcome diversion.

Which brought her full circle and back to the problem at hand. Cordelia was not made for a place like this. She'd heard the ridiculous tale of her capture and conviction from Angel when he'd come to ask her to watch out for the other girl. Even then she'd known that this was going to present a problem. On the one hand, she had to make a choice. Revert back to the old Faith, throw those barriers firmly back into place and present the person that C was expecting to see, or let someone in on her little changes. Not that she was a completely different person or anything. Faith would always be Faith, prone to speaking before she could think and acting before she spoke. Violence was a part of her, one that she couldn't shake no matter how hard she tried, and one that she didn't especially want to get rid of anyway. There was a certain primal satisfaction in knowing that she could protect herself. But still, those changes were there and it wouldn't be long before they became noticeable.

That decision hadn't really been that hard to make. She didn't want to go back to who she had been before. There was a sense of calm, of happiness, surrounding her now that she enjoyed, and she wasn't going to give that up simply because her old self might be embarrassed by some of her new features. C could deal with it, or not.

Of course, that lead to the other problem inherent in Cordelia's imminent arrival. The girl was going to need protection. There was no way that she would be able to survive in here and maintain any semblance of a life, and no matter what might have gone down between them before, Faith certainly wasn't going to make her fend for herself. The only plan of action that she could conceive of wasn't one that C would like, but it wasn't as if this was a problem that they could simply walk away from. Concrete walls and barbed wire fences made that option pretty impossible. That said, alternate methods were going to have to be taken. It was simply a matter of letting Cordelia realize that.

The clang of the door sliding open with an automatic hiss pulled her from her reverie, and Faith rolled out of her bunk with a grunt, stretching muscles that had tightened up while she rested. She could feel Cordelia's eyes on the back of her head as she raised her arms upward, feeling twin pops in her shoulders, and turned around slowly to face the other girl, well aware that the malice she saw there wasn't all her fault. A lot of things were not right about this situation, and she was merely a convenient vessel into which C could pour her hate and frustration and anger. She was okay with that, really. The other girl needed it and it wasn't going to hurt her any.

"I would recommend that you sit by me during dinner, but that, of course, is up to you," she drawled, mentally berating herself for being unable to keep out the little hint of taunt that crept into her voice.

"How kind," Cordelia gushed, her voice full of faux sincerity. "Unfortunately, I don't make a habit of dining with psychotic murderers, so I'm afraid I'll have to decline."

"Have it your way," Faith replied with a shrug of her shoulders. "You just remember, when it comes time for you to make a choice, that I'm the best thing you've got going for you in this place."

And with those cryptic words, she left. Falling easily into the line of prisoners headed toward the dining hall, she made sure that all of her Slayer senses were tuned to alert, ready to respond should she hear that C was in trouble. It was hard, over the babble of rough voices, to keep track of what was going on, but she wasn't about to lose her reluctant charge on the first day.


Dinner consisted of something that she'd rather not think about, as usual, and Faith accepted it with a sigh before heading over to her usual solitary corner. Her first few weeks in prison had been less than relaxing, with each resident bad-ass trying to up her status by teaching the new girl a lesson. Not that any of them had actually succeeded, and after a short time spent roughing up the major players in the general population, Faith had finally been left pretty much alone. The reputation she garnered then had continued to serve her well, protecting her from unwelcome advances and minor power plays, especially when everyone learned that she didn't attack unless provoked. As long as they left her alone, everything was fine. And, since making new friends wasn't particularly high on her list of things to do, she had found herself, for the most part, alone. Those who ventured over to her little corner of the world with kindly intentions were soon turned away by her decidedly surly disposition, which was as she liked it. Of course, there was Cordelia now, who would eventually realize that all Faith had said was true, and when that happened she'd have to expand her solitude to contain two.

Cordelia chose not to think about what was on her tray. Head held high, she made her way through the maze of tables, choosing one that was empty. Settling onto the cold metal seat, she picked up her spoon, poking at the casserole of undetermined origins, wondering if she really was expected to survive off of this swill. Completely caught up in her investigation, she failed to notice the ring of women surrounding her, all scowling in her direction.

"You're in my seat." The words broke through her haze, and she squinted up, catching sight of a rather large, rather unattractive woman. Frizzy red hair and deep set, small eyes combined with a thin, cruel mouth and slightly bulbous nose to give the woman the appearance of a gene pool experiment gone horribly awry, and Cordelia barely managed to repress a shudder.

"I wasn't aware that there was assigned seating," she shot back before thinking, only realizing that it might not have been the best thing to say when the other woman slammed her tray down on the table, bringing her scowling countenance even with the brunette's.

"You've got a smart mouth," she hissed, sending a speck of spittle sailing through the air.

"How very perceptive you are," Cordelia replied before she could stop herself, mentally smacking herself on the forehead as she heard the words. Antagonizing the local wildlife was probably a very bad idea.

"Why you little..." the red-head started, her body lunging forward, only to be held back. With a curse, she turned around to see one of her posse with an arm wrapped around her waist.

"Guards looking," the other woman said, her voice low. "After the trouble yesterday, you don't want to do anything public or it'll be solitary."

Cordelia, seeing her chance for escape, took it gladly, smiling at the assembled crew brightly as she picked up her tray. "Look, I'm really very sorry that I sat at your table, and won't make the same mistake again, okay. In fact, I'll let you have it now."

She didn't look back as she walked away, though she was still aware of the dark gazes following her every move. Dumping the contents of her tray in the garbage can, she made her way out of the dining hall and back down the corridor to her cell, feeling the sudden and intense urge to bathe away the stench of the other woman.

One of the few things that she'd been allowed to bring with her, and that currently rested on her bunk, was her bath kit. Jail was horrible in and of itself, but the thought of being forced to use communal soap was horrifying. So it was that, armed with shower gel, loofah, and designer shampoo and conditioner, she made her way to the showering area. The locker room was empty, no doubt because everyone else was eating, and she quickly disrobed, grabbing a towel as she headed toward the open shower area.

As she turned on one of the line of showerheads, she realized that she was going to have to shower with other people. She was going to have to be naked with a cadre of other females, all of whom were delinquents of some kind. Shuddering, rushing through her ablutions in order to minimize her exposure time, she suddenly realized that she was no longer alone. Turning slowly, instinctively knowing that she was most definitely not going to like what she was going to see, Cordelia came face to face with the red-head from the dining hall. She was backed by the same four women that had been with her earlier, all of them standing with arms folded over their chests and menacing smiles on their faces.

Smiling weakly, Cordelia looked around furiously for an exit. Realizing quickly that the only way out was through the wall of human flesh in front of her, she gulped. "I'm all finished here," she said, her voice bright. "Shower's all yours. I'll just be leaving now."

The human wall snickered, and as a whole moved forward. Backpedaling furiously, the brunette soon realized that there was nowhere to go. Her back hit the cold tile surface of the shower wall with a loud smack, and she watched in horror as the women fanned out to surround her, effectively hemming her in. Unable to do anything more than cover herself with her hands, the protection provided by those appendages less than substantial, Cordelia felt herself start to panic.

"We didn't come to use the shower," the red-head replied, baring crooked teeth in the silhouette of a smile. "We thought you needed a lesson, needed to learn your place around here real quick, and we're just the girls to teach it to you. Aren't we, ladies?"

The cohorts all nodded, moving closer until their shoulders were touching and Cordelia couldn't see anything but them. She felt herself start to tremble, vividly aware that she wasn't going to be able to talk herself out of this particular predicament, and wished, not for the first time, that she had never moved to LA in the first place.

"I really am sorry for that little misunderstanding in the dining hall. No need to resort to violence though," she babbled, looking around furiously at the wolfish faces surrounding her. "I mean, honestly, I've apologized. No need to hold a grudge, right? We can move past this."

"Althea, why don't you shut her up," the red-head drawled, shooting a significant look at one of her compatriots. The dirty blonde stepped forward, her hand shooting out to catch Cordelia on the cheek hard, snapping the girl's head to the side.

"Now, this is what's gonna happen," the red head said as the babbling stopped, obviously glorying in her role as ring leader. "We're each gonna get a turn at your sweet little pussy, but I get to go first, get to make sure that you're plenty stretched out and ready for all the other girls. And when we're finished, we'll let you use that little tongue of yours for something other than making me angry, you understand?"

Cordelia whimpered. The red-head was approaching her, moving in closer and closer until she felt like she couldn't breathe anymore. Hands were on her shoulders, holding her back against the wall, and she wanted to scream, wanted to make it all stop, but she couldn't find her voice. She could feel her world start to go a little black at the edges, and wondered briefly if she was going to faint.

And then, suddenly, the woman was gone. Looking around furiously, struggling against the hands that still held her, she saw why. Faith had the red-head on her knees, her fingers laced through one of the other woman's hands, pushing her wrist back until it was on the verge of snapping.

"I know that you weren't about to touch my property, now were you?" the dark-haired slayer snarled, and it took a moment for Cordelia to realize that she was talking about her. Biting back the urge to protest, she went still, eyes fixed on the scene in front of her.

"Who? Her?" the red-head squeaked, trying desperately to maneuver so that the pressure on her wrist abated.

"Yes, her. I thought you knew better than to mess with something of mine," Faith taunted, squeezing her fingers a little, rewarded by a piteous moan.

"I didn't know she was yours, honest. You know I wouldn't touch anything of yours. I swear it, swear I didn't know," the other woman babbled. She'd been among one of the first to test Faith when the other girl had arrived and had ended up with a broken rib and a bruised kidney to show for it. She hadn't even gotten in a good blow on the other girl either. Just felt the rush of air right before the knee to her ribs, heard the sickeningly loud crack of bone and the other girl's casual laugh as she fell to the floor.

"Then why do your goons have their hands on something that belongs to me?" Faith asked calmly, silently willing Cordelia to just go along with her for the moment.

"Let her go!" the red-head shouted, tears flowing freely down her face now. "I swear, we didn't know."

The hands disappeared, and Cordelia jumped away from the wall. With a growl, Faith let the red-head go, pushing her down to the ground. Grabbing Cordelia's waist as the other girl approached, she pulled her up against her body hard. After planting a short, searing kiss of possession on the other girl's lips, she turned to face the now cowering five-some.

"Now that you do know, I expect you to pass the word around for me. If somebody else lays a hand on my girl, I'll come looking for you after I take care of them. You got that?" Faith's body radiated danger, every taut muscle in her slim body on edge, wanting nothing more than a little provocation.

"Yeah, yeah," the red-head stuttered, and for a minute Cordelia thought about gloating, extremely gratified to see the woman groveling on her knees. "We'll take care of it for you."

"I really do appreciate that," Faith murmured. Then, taking Cordelia's hand in her own, she gave it a quick tug, "Come on baby, let's go. You know how I get after a fight."

The other girl followed dumbly along behind the slayer, slipping into her regulation prison outfit distractedly. The whole thing was just beginning to sink in, and Cordelia was in a bit of a state of shock. She'd never forget the feeling of being trapped, of being helpless. Not that she hadn't felt that way before due to her job, but this time was different. This time, she had felt completely vulnerable, naked and alone in the midst of strangers who were quite obviously stronger than her and who wanted to... she didn't even want to think of what they wanted to do to her. And then Faith had shown up, like an avenging archangel from Hell, terrifying everybody involved and easily laying a claim to her that she couldn't, at that moment, deny. The words had irked her. Cordelia Chase belonged to no one, much less slut psycho murdering slayer Faith, but what could she do? When choosing the lesser of the two evils, it seemed infinitely preferable to go with the known enemy. After all, there was a certain comfort in already being acquainted with the psychotic murderer claiming to own you.

But then Faith had kissed her. Just a short little kiss, no doubt for the benefit of the cowering bullies, but it had seared its way into her brain. She could remember every moment of it, from the rough drag of the dark slayer's clothes across her bare skin to the surprisingly soft lips moving commandingly over hers. Kissing a woman was completely different, in many ways, from kissing a man, and even that act of overt possession had been tempered with a seductive softness. And then it had been over, and Faith had taken her hand and made some suggestive comment, and for the first time Cordelia really thought about the implications of it all. While not completely up on prison lingo, she was fairly certain that Faith had just claimed her as her ‘bitch', and the implications of what went along with that pulled her to a dead stop.

Faith, whose fingers were once again entwined with Cordelia's, was brought to a stop as well. She'd been giving the other girl time, letting her process it all and work through the exact ramifications of that little scene in the shower. Watching covertly out of the corner of her eye, she'd been amused to see the expressions flit across the other girl's face. Shock, confusion, something that looked vaguely like lust, and then, finally, comprehension. Comprehension heralded the return of shock, and that was when their little trek had been brought to a screeching halt.

"I will not be your bitch," Cordelia ennunciated, fixing flashing hazel eyes on her companion, apparently fully recovered from her harrowing encounter in the showers.

"Oh yes you will," Faith countered, wishing that C's thought processes could have at least taken long enough to ensure that they were back in their cell before this little confrontation occurred.

"No way," the other girl replied, shaking her head vigorously. That upset Faith just a little. Honestly, what was so horribly wrong with her that the thought of being her bitch was apparently so distressing. Well, so okay... it wouldn't be something that she would have wanted ever either. Not that she would have minded all the implied nocturnal activities that came along with the title had their positions been reversed, but she supposed that she could see where the other girl was having trouble. After all, she had left her sporting a rather nasty bruise and attempted to torture to death a good friend before heading off to the pen. Not to mention that whole Sunnydale ‘I'm-going-to-help-the-Mayor-kill-everyone-you-know' fiasco. Still though, when compared to the gang that she had left whimpering in the shower, clearly she was the better choice.

With a sigh, she pushed Cordelia against the wall, a forearm pressed loosely against her chest, doing nothing more than holding her in place. "I don't think that you understand. Get this through your apparently impossibly thick skull, C... If I don't protect you, then next time there won't be anyone to stop whoever decides to corner you in the showers from doing exactly what they want. You didn't seem to be enjoying the attention before, though I suppose my imagination could have been playing tricks on me. If everybody knows that you belong to me, then no one will touch you. Look, its not like I'm going to force you to fuck me or anything. Just sit by me when we eat, stay close by in the yard, appear at your solicitous best, alright. Think about it C... this is only your first day here. How much longer you got? At least a year, right. You want to spend that whole time looking over your shoulder, praying that you don't get caught alone in some corner? You want to run the risk that your smartass attitude will get you gutted? Or is all of that worth it so that you don't have to fucking sit by me at lunch?"

"I don't have to... to touch you?" Cordelia asked hesitantly, brows drawn together in a scowl.

"Exactly when did I transform from psycho murdering bitch to rapist in your mind?" Faith growled, exasperated.

"Okay, okay... look, I'll play along with this little charade, but I don't have to like it," the other girl grumbled, pushing away from the wall, surprised when she easily broke Faith's light hold.

Stifling a sigh, Faith once again started walking toward their cell. Apparently she'd been wrong. Prison was her penance and Cordelia her incredibly heavy cross to bear.


"The library? You work in the library?" Cordelia asked, shock and disbelief coloring her tone.

"Yeah, the library. And now you work in the library too." Not that she was going to tell C exactly how she'd managed to wrangle that one.

"I knew something was different about you," C mused, and Faith wanted to scream. Already the deconstruction of her nice little life was going to begin.

"Yeah, and what's that?" she challenged, hoping that the other girl would back down. As if. Should have known better than that. Cordelia never backed down. Well, almost never, and she'd decided not to let this apparently kinder, gentler Faith scare her.

"The way you talk. Before your speech was gutter rough, harsh... but now, I don't know. Not as much slang now, a little less of the impossibly horrific grammar. Its almost like conversing with a normal human being. And honestly, working in a library? Really, how completely full circle can you come. Back in high school you used the classics for footrests. Now, you apparently shelve them. Just wait until I can tell everybody..." she started, trailing off when the slayer moved quickly, invading her personal space, their faces scant inches apart.

"You'll tell no one," Faith bit out. "There will be no show and tell time, you got me. I've finally got something good going for me and you are not, I repeat NOT, going to fuck it up. It took me almost four years to get here, and I am not going to let some little pampered self-styled queen bitch mess with that. Understand?"

"Whoa, down Sparky," Cordelia drawled, unable to take her eyes away from the blazing dark chocolate orbs burning into her. "No harm, no foul. I'll keep the shocking secret of your apparent literacy close to my heart, zealously guarding it from all who might actually be interested to learn that yes, Faith can read."

"You're amazing," Faith scoffed. "You possess absolutely no self-preservation instincts whatsoever, do you? Ever considered that it might not be a good idea to taunt the ex-homicidal maniacs, C? That maybe, just maybe, you should actually screen what you're going to say before the words cross your lips? Or maybe you've forgotten just how easy it would be for me to kill you. Superhuman strength and all that, added to an admittedly short temper makes me someone that you want to get along with."

"Oh please, like I'm really supposed to walk on eggshells around you for the whole of the next year simply because your fragile little ego can't take a little teasing," Cordelia shot back, shooting Faith a look of disgust.

With a look of disbelief and an exasperated groan, Faith turned on her heel and stomped off, putting as much space between herself and the other girl as the limited confines of the library would allow. Cordelia was seriously messing with her newly discovered more pacifistic side, and she was not going to allow herself to be goaded into a constant stream of little petty arguments. Taking deep breaths, running through all of the calming meditative chants that she had ever come across, Faith willed herself to calm down.

"I never thought I'd see the day when you would run away from me," Cordelia taunted from the other side of the library, and Faith gathered together all of her peaceful thoughts and calming chants and chucked them well out of a mental window. Eyes narrowing and nostrils flaring, she stalked back across the empty room, not stopping when she got to her cellmate. Instead, she continued to press forward until Cordelia was forced to retreat, and soon the taller brunette found herself with her back pressed firmly against the wall, one highly irate slayer pinning her there by the press of a lithe body, hands on either side of her head.

Jesus, Cordelia mused, people sure did seem big on pinning her to walls here.

"You just don't know when to quit, do you?" Faith asked, her dark eyes twinkling malevolently. Cordelia might have pushed all of her buttons, but she knew exactly how to strike back in this little war. Tilting her head forward, she let her lips nuzzle the other girl's flesh, gratified by the sharp gasp the move elicited. Tracing her way up the slim column of Cordelia's neck, she pulled on tender earlobe between her teeth, flicking it with her tongue.

"I say leave it alone, but you keep on... I warn you, but you don't listen to me," she murmured, insinuating her thigh between the taller girl's legs, drawing it up so that she pressed firmly against the warm juncture between Cordelia's thighs. Rocking her hips slowly, teasing the other girl with each thrust, she was rewarded with a whimper. Apparently, Cordelia wasn't as immune to her as the other girl would like her to believe.

"Faith," Cordelia whispered, not sure exactly what it was she wanted to say. She hated the girl, truly she did, and certainly didn't want to be subjected to this kind of treatment from her. But, a tiny little part of her mind whispered, it felt good in a way that she hadn't ever felt before. Faith was a slim bundle of animalistic sex appeal, and all of that intensity was currently directed at her. It was one thing that had always been oddly appealing about the other girl, her unabashed delight in the pleasures of the flesh. Cordelia hadn't been free to do that, to act with the near impunity that Faith enjoyed. Of course, that impunity resulted not because the slayer's actions didn't hurt people, but because she simply didn't care. Just as she didn't care about Cordelia now, was simply trying to scare her, to intimidate her into silence. And, she decided, suppressing a shudder as she felt soft breasts slide over her own, she wasn't going to allow it.

"What?" Faith asked, her tongue tracing a path over the sensitive skin behind the other girl's ear.

"I'll win this battle too," was the reply, and, consciously willing herself not to think, Cordelia moved quickly, capturing the surprised slayer's lips with her own. But, to her own surprise, the kiss wasn't harsh, as she had intended it to be. Instead, it melted into a long, slow, lazy, wet caress. Velvet tongues slid against one another and hot breath panted against tender, sensitized lips, and for a moment Cordelia completely forgot that she was supposed to be making a point.

When she pulled away, she looked down into heavily lidded dark brown eyes, ignoring the warm, moist pant of breath against her throat. Pushing away from the wall and stepping forward until Faith had to decide whether to let her pass or keep her pinned there by force, she smiled the contented, lazy smile of someone who is convinced that they had just triumphed over a worthy foe.

"Cordelia," Faith called out, running her tongue over her lips to recapture the other girl's elusive taste, "if you ever do anything like that again, be prepared to finish it. Next time, I won't let you walk away."

The words carried with them a dark promise, and Cordelia had to suppress a shiver of anticipation. Despite herself, she never had been able to back down from a challenge, and this certainly was one.


During the three weeks that had passed since their initial confrontation in the library, Cordelia and Faith had slipped into a semi-comfortable rhythm. Meals were now shared, as were occasional touches that reinforced to all looking that there was definitely a physical connection that shouldn't be infringed upon, and Cordelia spent much of their afternoon time in the yard trailing after Faith. Since it was the only real time that the slayer had to work off some of the spare energy that she had, no longer able to use slaying or sex as an outlet, she took full advantage of it. Cordelia had been amused the first day, watching the smaller brunette move through the selection of free weights available to them with frightening speed and ease. Unwilling to merely stand there, she'd picked up one of the tinier barbells, pumping it up and down until she thought she was either going to die from boredom or her arm was going to fall off.

Faith had noticed her listless stare, and suddenly, before she knew what was happening, the one time slayer had started channeling a personal trainer. She had Cordelia doing all kinds of exercises, biting out instructions and assessing her form critically. Confused by the other girl's actions but willing to go along to escape the mind-numbing repetition, she soon found herself with what Faith called a ‘circuit', moving through the list of exercises that the other girl had given her. Sometimes they would jog too, and though Cordelia hated that more than she thought she could ever hate anything in her life, there was no way that she was going to let Faith get the better of her. So, she'd run in stupid little circles, trying hard to regulate her breathing and glaring at the other girl, who didn't even seem to break a sweat.

She'd received another surprise the other morning as well. Waking earlier than usual, she had slowly become aware of the sound of limbs moving through the air. Rolling up on her side, she had caught Faith standing in the middle of the cell, one leg raised and both arms curved at awkward angles out to her side, making her look like a deformed human pretzel.

"What're you doing?" she had asked, surprised when Faith nearly jumped out of her skin at the words.

"Shit," the other girl had cursed, glaring up at Cordelia, who was supposed to be sleeping. She'd been so far into her routine, her body lost in the soothing rhythms, that she didn't even know the other girl was awake.

"No, I'm pretty sure that's not what you were doing," Cordelia had remarked, looking at Faith appraisingly. "Mind tell me why you felt the need to experiment with interpretive dance before dawn?"

"Its Tai Chi," Faith had replied through clinched teeth.

"As in funky Eastern-Oriental semi-religious let me balance my mind, soul and body Tai Chi?" Cordelia had scoffed.

"Would it be asking the impossible for you to shut up and go back to sleep?" Faith had asked, resigned to the fact that yet another aspect of her life was now being invaded.

"No, please, continue on. I'm fascinated, really, just dying to watch a bona fide Tai Chi master at work, right here in my very own jail cell," the other girl had replied with a yawn.

Her only reply had been a frustrated growl and the sound of Faith's body connecting heavily with the thin mattress on the bottom bunk. Cordelia's entreaties and weak attempts at apology had been rebuffed as the other girl continued to lay there and pout, even though she did feel kind of bad about teasing Faith in the first place. Well, maybe she didn't feel bad about teasing her, but she did feel bad that it had been taken so hard.

The library had been another revelation. She'd been surprised, at first, to see the way the dark slayer had handled the women coming through looking for reading material. If they were new, she'd ask them a few questions, find out what kind of books they liked, and automatically have a few that she could suggest off-hand. Others were apparently regulars, and Faith would usually be ready with a new book for them to check out, throwing it across the counter with a grunt. Most of the time the inmates would read the dust jacket and nod affirmatively, indicating that it seemed to meet their approval.

The whole process fascinated Cordelia. For one thing, Faith apparently knew what she was talking about. It didn't take her long to find exactly what she was looking for once a tome popped to mind, and for the most part, the women were happy with her recommendations. That meant that Faith must have actually have read those books, or at the very least took enough time in the past to get those women who did read them to offer critiques. Since long, drawn-out conversations of that nature seemed slightly impossible considering the potential participants, she was left with no other conclusion than that Faith actually had read them.

Not that she should be surprised. Every day Faith would pull a book out of somewhere, burying her nose in it for long periods of time, completely ignoring her. It alternately amused and frustrated Cordelia. If Faith didn't pay her any attention, she was left with nothing to do but peruse the library shelves, occasionally picking out a book but quickly discarding it because honestly, most of them were just as insufferably boring as the ancient texts that had seemed to so fascinate Wesley. And, for some reason they just didn't keep the latest fashion magazines on hand here, completely knocking out her normal reading fare.

The book that Faith was reading today, though, was different. It was a slim volume, one that she had noticed before in the tiny corner of their cell that Faith had appropriated for herself and her things. >From what Cordelia could tell, it was well worn, the hardbound edges bent and ragged, the once shiny cover now dull and scratched from the repeated grip of fingers. She'd tried to get a glimpse of it before, but somehow Faith had always managed to catch her before she could, growling for her to keep away from her stuff. That, of course, pricked C's curiosity even further, and made her more determined than ever to see what was so special about that otherwise unassuming little book.

She'd noticed earlier that Faith would tuck it into the waistband of her pants at the small of her back whenever someone would come by. So, she waited patiently, idly wondering if it usually took this long for someone to decide that they desperately needed something to read, when finally an inmate appeared. Cordelia didn't know who she was, but Faith apparently did, because she stood up, fluidly tucking the book away behind her, and moved over to one of the shelves. Approaching slowly, as if she was only interested in observing the proceedings, Cordelia maneuvered herself into position carefully, standing to Faith's side, her body turned toward the other girl. And, as the inmate took her book and departed, she pounced, her hand snagging the thin volume even as she was running to the other side of the room. For a moment, the slayer stood, dumbfounded. Then, with a yell of outrage, she took off after Cordelia, catching her easily. But, not before the other girl managed to catch a glimpse of the title.

"Poetry? This is what you wouldn't let me see? Poetry?" she repeated, staring dumbly at Faith as the other girl snatched the volume away from her.

"Just give it back," Faith growled, her much quicker reflexes allowing her to swipe the book from Cordelia's hands.

"I don't get it," Cordelia continued, muttering. "Here I thought it was some great secret. What kind of secret it could be, I didn't know. But you mean to tell me that all this time you've been acting like this book contains the recipe for the annihilation of all mankind and its just freaking poetry? Of course, knowing you, it probably does contain the recipe for the annihilation of all mankind."

"You know, it wouldn't bother me too much if I accidentally broke your jaw and they had to wire it shut," Faith growled menacingly, scowling when Cor only laughed.

"Uh huh, big words coming from the girl who reads poetry. Now, gimme," Cordelia demanded. "I want to see what's so special about this book that you keep tighter security on it than they did the Manhattan project."

"Is it completely necessary for you to invade every single aspect of my life? Ever heard of the concept of privacy? I realize that it might be a stretch for you, being such a big word and all, but it generally means that you leave other people the hell alone," the slayer shot back, her eyes narrowing in a glare.

"You know I'm just going to keep on bugging you until you can't take it any more and have to give in. If you surrender quietly now, it'll save us both a lot of trouble," Cordelia said rationally, enjoying the stubborn pout on her companion's face.

"Fine, take the fucking book and leave me alone," Faith replied with a huff, shoving the small volume into the taller brunette's hands before turning and stalking back over to her usual resting place, shooting a baleful glare over at the object of her anger.

Cordelia couldn't help but notice the worn, smooth cover, the ragged pages. Edna St. Vincent Millay it said, and she racked her brain for a spark of recognition, finding none. Oh well, literature never had been a burning passion of hers. Flipping open the cover, she started turning pages, her eyes flitting past the words. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Faith watching her, back tense and eyes narrowed as if waiting for the next round of taunting. The jagged edge of a page caught her attention, and she looked at the corner, noting the small triangular fold used to mark the place, the crease so deep that the bit of paper was about to fall off. It was obviously a favorite, and she couldn't help but read it.

//Pity me not because the light of day At close of day no longer walks the sky; Pity me not for beauties passed away >From field and thicket as the year goes by. Pity me not the waning of the moon, Or that the ebbing tide goes out to sea, Or that a man's desire is hushed so soon, And you no longer look with love on me. This have I always known: Love is no more Than the wide blossom which the wind assails, Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore, Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales. Pity me that the heart is slow to learn What the swift mind beholds at every turn/

"Never figured you for a romantic," she said softly.

"Yeah, well, even semi-illiterate Southies can appreciate beauty," Faith grunted, heaving herself up out of her chair to move back across the room, reclaiming her book.

"Is that how you really feel? Is love that elusive, that cruel?" Cordelia asked, intrigued now. Sure, she'd teased Faith before, loving the way the other girl squirmed under her amused hazel gaze, but something seemed so oddly vulnerable about her now, standing there with her shoulders hunched and her fingers hugging the book in a death grip. For just a moment, she forgot that she didn't hate her.

"Transient, not elusive. But anyway, ain't no such thing as love," the other girl proclaimed, her chin lifting, her eyes hardening.

"I see," Cordelia said, a hint of laughter winding through her voice. "Even though there's no such thing as love, you keep as your prized possession a book of poems, and let me stress here the poem aspect of this, about love. Seems like if you really thought that was true, then reading about it would be a monumental waste of time."

"Then I suppose it's a good thing that its my time to waste then, isn't it?" Faith snarled, retreating back behind the counter. Cordelia could get under her skin quicker than anybody she'd ever met before. She didn't quit burrowing once she got there either, just trying to crawl her way further until she'd managed to shred Faith into little more than a ball of agitated nerves.

"Whatever tough girl," C said with a smirk. "People who've never had their heart broken don't read about it."

"Oh really. And just who do you think has broken my heart?" Faith smirked, drawing herself up on her elbows as if impatiently awaiting a revelation.

"Only everybody you've ever loved," Cordelia shot back, the smirk goading her into saying things that even her normally tactless self wouldn't. "How about we start with your mother? Didn't think I knew about her, did you? Of course I do. Between Angel's brooding over your trip down the path of redemption and Wesley's trying to explain away all that you did to him, I know your whole sordid little life story. Your mother drank too much, did drugs. So what, you run from her and latch on to your watcher, but your love couldn't save her, could it? You had to watch her die, helpless to do anything about it. And what do you do then? Here's where my own version of events picks up. You run again, to Sunnydale, to Buffy. But Buffy doesn't love you back so you try to hurt her as badly as she hurt you but you lose that one too. If trying to kill all her friends and her undead boyfriend doesn't scream ‘I Love You' like a big cheesy FTD bouquet, then I don't know what does. And uh-oh, that brings up the Mayor, now doesn't it. You loved him too, I'll bet, and a lot of good it did him." Faith was in front of Cordelia in a flash, a strong arm lodged squarely against her neck, pressing back firmly until she was trapped against the wall, struggling for breath.

"You don't know what the fuck you're talking about," Faith spat, her chest heaving with emotion. "You don't know shit about me, and from now on I'd advise you to keep your psychobabble bullshit to yourself, cause if you don't, then I'll personally fucking feed you to all the bitches out there waiting to get a piece of you. You understand that?"

Cordelia nodded furiously, gasping for breath. With one more final tiny shove, Faith let her go. Immediately bringing her hands up to rub away the pain of her bruised flesh, C regarded the other girl warily. For all of her bravado, there was a lost, haunted look in the other girl's eyes. Maybe, just maybe, her little diatribe hadn't been too far off the mark. And maybe she was a colossal ass for saying it in the first place.

"Faith, I'm sorry," she croaked, hazel eyes truly repentant.

"I don't want to hear it," the dark slayer muttered, moving back to her corner of the room, her thin body seeming to curl up around itself like a protective shield.


Faith had remained quiet for the rest of the day, her body tense and her eyes wary. A dark cloud of malice and depression seemed to settle over her shoulders, the two a volatile mix, and Cordelia was afraid that she'd finally pushed the other girl too far. She'd tried a few times to draw Faith into conversation, but stony silence met each attempt, and after a few tries simply gave up the endeavor as useless.

They'd been laying in their respective bunks for an hour now, the dark interior of the cell forcing them into intense awareness of the sound of each other's bodies moving on the sheets, a symphony of uneven breaths and restless grunts. Cordelia was fairly certain that Faith was still awake. She knew that she couldn't sleep, her mind's eye constantly returning to the sight of the other girl sans her protective shield, shoulders seemingly suddenly frail as they hunched over her body.

"I really am sorry," she finally murmured, unable to bear the oppressive silence any longer.

"No reason to be sorry," came the bitter reply, and she was shocked that Faith had even replied. "Its not like it wasn't all true. She called me a mistake, and I guess I was. Anyway, it seems like they're the only things I make. Every life I ever touch goes to hell, all of it pretty much because of me. I thought that it'd get better when I found out I was the Slayer. At least something about me would be special and maybe I could make somebody proud. And if I made them proud, then they'd have to love me, right? Except I fucked that up too, jealous because some skinny little blonde had a mother who loved her, had friends that cared enough to actually risk their lives for her, had a Watcher that would do anything for her. And what did I have? Nothing. Nothing about me to love though, so I don't really blame them."

Sliding off the top bunk smoothly, coming to rest on her knees besides Faith's mattress, Cordelia struggled to see the sharp planes of the other girl's face. Her eyes had slowly become accustomed to the dark, but still she could only make out the vague outline of features, just enough to realize that Faith had turned away from her. Reaching out to pull her face around, Cordelia was shocked to feel her fingers come back wet, the hot scald of Faith's tears burning her fingertips.

"Don't cry," she whispered helplessly, crawling onto the tiny mattress, easily tugging Faith into her arms.

"Going all maternal on me now, C?" the slayer joked weakly, letting Cordelia pull her atop her longer body, her face nestled in the curve of a smooth shoulder.

"If you tell anyone about this, I'll rat your stupid little poems out," the other girl replied, but the heat that had infused her voice earlier was gone.

"Always playing nasty little tricks on me," Faith replied, nuzzling her nose along the strong column of Cordelia's neck. She preferred this slightly playful banter, preferred anything to the emotional scene she'd been stuck in before. Self-pity wasn't something that Faith liked to indulge in, and it was the rare moment that caught her off-guard. Of course, Cordelia seemed to be a master of catching her in exactly that position.

"There's absolutely nothing nasty about me," the ex-prom queen said huffily, but Faith didn't really hear the words. She did feel the soft exhalation of breath move through her hair, felt the slight tightening of the arms around her that accompanied the proclamation, and couldn't help turning her head a little more, letting her lips trace down that smooth skin. It had been a long, long time since she'd had any real, meaningful contact with another human being. There were always willing women here, but she refused to use them, refused to let herself be used. This soft contact, the first in what seemed like forever, was like a balm on her broken soul.

"Faith?" Cordelia whispered brokenly, the feel of those impossibly soft lips against her neck stealing her breath.

"I'm sorry," the slayer muttered, pulling back slightly, realizing what she'd done. Making a move to roll off of her perch, she was surprised when the arms around her prevented the movement, holding her close instead.

"What are you doing, C?" she asked hesitantly, feeling long-fingered hands begin to stroke slowly up her back.

"I don't really know," was the reply, and truthfully, Cordelia meant it. She didn't know what she was doing, didn't know why it suddenly felt so right to have Faith's weight pressing down on her body, to have Faith's silky skin trailing underneath her fingertips. All she knew was that it did feel right, and that she wanted more.

Faith pulled upward slightly, eyes luminous dark pools in the night as they looked directly into their hazel counterparts. "If you don't want me to touch you back, you're going to have to stop touching me," she husked, resisting the urge to flutter her eyes shut as warm fingers stole under the thin nightshirt she wore, branding her flesh.

"Maybe I do want you to touch me back," Cordelia replied, suddenly emboldened. It seemed so surreal here, in this place, that she was able to imagine that the outside world didn't exist, that her actions wouldn't have consequences. As it was, she wanted nothing more than to feel, to lose herself in the flesh of another, to pretend that she didn't exist beyond the confines of skin and sweat and the sticky-sweet smell of sex.

"I'm going to kiss you," Faith whispered, her head dropping down slowly until her lips were almost touching Cordelia's. She stopped there, and the lanky brunette realized that this was the other girl's way of giving her another out. Disregarding it, she brought her head up, her lips unerringly finding their target.

For a moment she simply luxuriated in the silky glide of skin on skin. But then a soft tongue flicked out, drawing along a moist bottom lip, and Faith was lost. There was no turning back now, the desires long banked in her body now stoked into a roaring flame, and it would be easier at that moment to sprout wings and fly than it would be for her to stop.

With a moan she deepened the kiss, drawing Cordelia's velvety tongue into her mouth, sucking on it gently. She loved that, had missed the taste and feel of another person against her lips, and suddenly there was so much that she wanted to do that it became almost overwhelming. Breaking away from that tempting mouth, she kissed her way down a long neck, her teeth alternately nipping and her lips sucking bits of flesh that caught her fancy. Before long she had managed to slide her hands up under the skimpy nightshirt separating her from her soon to be lover's flesh, letting the trace of her fingers smooth over ribs before coming to rest on full, warm breasts. She'd forgotten how a woman could feel baby powder smooth, how the crinkles of skin around taut nipples could tease her palm, but it all came back to her in a rush at the touch.

For a moment she was content to do no more than feel, her fingers tightening rhythmically on their prize, her lips blindly searching for Cordelia's mouth once again. The time the kiss was a little rougher, a little more feral as C grew more aggressive. There were strong fingers on the back of Faith's head holding her in place as she pressed into the lean body beneath her, her hands flexing against tender flesh, and she barely resisted the urge to growl at the delicious confinement.

Letting her short nails trail down lightly until she could feel a firm nipple resting between each thumb and forefinger, she squeezed gently, inordinately pleased when the motion drew a groan from Cordelia's lips, an arch from her back. Suddenly she wanted to see the other girl, wanted to bare curves and valleys of flesh to eyes that hadn't seen the flush of passion rise through another's skin in so long that she wasn't sure that she remembered what it looked like. Long arms raised to help her accommodate her goal and the wisp of fabric disappeared, leaving Faith free to indulge her senses.

She'd seen Cordelia nude before. In this environment, that was something that was practically impossible to escape. While her eye had objectively noted the tight stomach, the high firm breasts, the delicate pattern of her collarbone beneath silky soft skin, now the other girl became something different. Now the rapid rise and fall of her breasts, the flutter of skin over her pulse point, the emerging sheen of sweat were all manifestations of Faith's passion, of her very existence. It was her lips closing over the hard peak of a nipple, her tongue rasping across the tender flesh. The moans flowing past the taller brunette's lips were sounds that she had caused, and in that moment in time, she was finally doing everything right.

The taste of the other girl's skin was a mixture of the expensive shower gel she insisted on using, a trace of detergent from her bedclothes, and the barely salty tang that was naturally her. And perhaps Faith was overindulging, her lips and mouth paying tribute to the sensitive flesh until Cordelia's arousal became almost unbearable, but she'd denied herself for far too long to rush things now.

A gasp, a muttered please, strong fingers on her shoulders and Faith became aware of the frenzied squirm of the body beneath hers, of the pressure of long thighs wrapped around her own, of the essence of heat seeping through two layers of cloth to warm her belly. She made short work of Cordelia's sleep shorts, kicking them to the side before tracing her fingers down the smooth concave of a tight belly, letting them feel the tease of curly soft hairs. Propping herself up on one arm, letting the strong limb carry her weight, Faith drew forward, letting her mouth hover above the one below, hot breath searing past her lips in pants before dipping down for a gentle kiss. Cordelia was so caught up in the languid move that the first glide of fingers through her wetness was unexpected and she gasped loudly, almost as much from surprise as from arousal. Breaking off the kiss, Faith pulled back slightly, her obsidian eyes reflecting what little light there was in the cell as she searched Cordelia's face worriedly.

"Are you alright?" she whispered, her voice tender, the words ghosting past the other girl's lips in a hot rush of air, dark eyes looking into her own as if trying to divine all of her secrets.

With a nod, Cordelia assured her partner that she was fine, thinking for a moment that if it had been anyone other than Faith expressing the gentle concern that she had heard in the barely audible question, she might just have fallen a little bit in love at that.

Relieved, Faith let her forehead drop down to rest on Cordelia's, her eyes closing and her face contorting in pleasure as she let her fingers be swallowed by moist warmth. With a whimper, she pressed deeper, entering the other girl, feeling slick walls close around her digits like a velvet vise. Beginning a slow rhythm, her thumb inching up to tease the sensitive bundle of nerves at the apex of her partner's thighs, Faith absorbed Cordelia's shudders of pleasure, answering them with ones of her own.

"So good," she whispered, suddenly desperate for the comforting reassurance of Cordelia's lips on hers. Blindly finding them in the dark, she opened her mouth, letting her tongue thrust into the other girl in rhythm with her fingers. Cordelia responded by wrapping long arms around her, sneaking her hands under the shirt Faith still wore and pulling her closer until the other girl was almost on top of her once again. As her climax neared, she unconsciously dug short nails into that soft flesh, and as she peaked, she left vivid red marks across its expanse, a tribute of her pleasure.

Faith collapsed against the other girl, her body delighting in the shivers that continued to wrack through Cordelia's body. Her head fell to the crook of a shoulder, and she nuzzled into the warm, slightly damp flesh, finding a safe haven there.

"You're still wearing your clothes," Cordelia drawled lazily long moments later, the distraction of her nails raking absent patterns up and down the slayer's arm having nearly lulled her into blissful unawareness.

"They didn't seem important at the time," was the muttered reply, the words rumbling against hyperaware skin.

"Perhaps so, but they're in my way now," the seer said with a smile, one hand dipping down to sneak beneath the waistband of loose pants, teasing the flesh it found there. With a sigh, Faith pulled away from her perch, dark eyes finding hazel once more, this time unreadable.

"Cor, you don't have to feel like you have to touch me," she whispered. "This, touching you, is enough for me."

The hand that had been drawing lazy circles on the small of Faith's back moved suddenly, sliding around to cup her swollen wetness. "It doesn't feel like its enough," she murmured, excited by the way the slayer's hips had instinctively pushed against her palm, by the tease of moisture against her fingertips.

"God," Faith hissed, though exactly what she hoped to accomplish by invoking the Almighty wasn't completely clear. Drawing herself up on her forearms, raising her body up until the cloth of her shirt barely teased the still sensitive tips of Cordelia's breasts, she couldn't stop herself from pressing against the fingers moving lightly over her highly aroused flesh.

The sight above her was intriguing. Faith's eyes were closed tightly, her bottom lip drawn between her teeth as the skin over her cheeks stretched in the pantomime of a grimace. Dark hair fell around her shoulders like a curtain, and brows lowered in a study of concentration as the dark slayer gave herself over to the touch. The feel of those hips rocking against her fingers was intoxicating, and as Cordelia watched Faith's nostrils widen and contract furiously in an almost futile attempt to draw more oxygen into her lungs, she realized that she never really had paid attention to just how beautiful the girl was before that moment. The hint of dimples creasing her cheeks in parallel, the eyes that couldn't be described as anything less than soulful, the exotic winging of thin brows, the lush fullness of dark pink lips, the cut of sharp cheekbones... all of it came together to form a natural, effortless beauty.

She felt the tiny quivers indicating orgasm, heard the gasp cut short and felt the tightening of strong muscles against her own before Faith collapsed once more, and this time it was the aftershocks of her passion that traced through them both. For a long time they laid there in silence, their breath finally evening out, the light coating of sweat slowly drying.

"I don't want to talk about this," Cordelia said finally, her voice decisive, drawing Faith once again from the brink of sleep.

"Huh?" the other girl replied, not at her communicative best.

"I don't want to sit around and overanalyze this and try to explain it away. I want it to just be," the seer elaborated, trying to explain.

"Okay," Faith drawled in a sleep soft voice. "It'll just be. Tomorrow morning it'll just be. Will it just be tomorrow night as well?"

"That's the beauty of just being," was the reply, long fingers coming up to sift through soft chestnut locks. "There's no need for planning, no need for explanations. All you've got to do is just accept it and let it happen."


Despite her pledge to not analyze, Cordelia was doing just that. She couldn't help it though. Every time she glanced over, her eyes coming to rest on the top of Faith's dark head, she wasn't able to not think about the night before.

If she'd really stopped to give much thought to it, she wouldn't have expected Faith to be so gentle, so almost vulnerable in her passion. She'd heard the slayer's ‘want, take, have' philosophy, and as far as she could tell, it wasn't conducive to near hesitant touches and whispered words of concern.

That bothered her. If it had been nothing more than a quick coupling, a release of sexual tension through the only means convenient, then she would have been fine. But, it hadn't been that at all. Instead it had been tender and achingly beautiful, and when Faith had fallen asleep, arms wrapped tightly around her waist, Cordelia hadn't been able to find the strength to untangle herself from the embrace and slip back into the comfort of her own bed. That meant that this morning she had awakened to the heat of another body pressed tightly against her own, to the lazy flutter of long lashes over seductively dark, half-opened eyes, and the faint curl of a smile teasing the corners of kiss swollen lips.

Faith had murmured a quiet good morning, her body arching in a feline curve as she stretched before rolling out of bed, her bare feet padding softly against the hard concrete floor as she walked over to the sink, cupping her hands under cold running water so that she could take a drink. Cordelia had been left lying there, feeling almost unbearably vulnerable in her nakedness, the scent of the other girl seemingly burned into her skin. A soft thump against her chest revealed that Faith had recovered her pajamas, and she slipped into them hastily, wanting to restore a sense of equality between them.

True to her wishes, Faith hadn't said a word about the happenings of the night before, remaining as resolutely quiet as ever. For once, Cordelia found herself wishing that the other girl would talk, that she would open her mouth and that patented sarcasm would return, because as soon as it did, she'd know that she was dealing with the same old Faith she had always known and not some new, unquantifiable entity. But no, there she was, calmly leafing through some book or the other as if she didn't have a care in the world. After watching her lazily flip through page after page, Cordelia decided that she was fairly certain that she just might be completely furious.

Deciding that any argument would have more of an impact at close range, the seer pulled herself up out of the chair she had been occupying, stalking across the room until she was standing across the small table that served as a counter. Leaning down on her arms, she waited for Faith to look up and see what she wanted, and when the other girl didn't, she felt her anger grow.

"Why didn't you just fuck me?" she finally hissed. Faith's dark head jerked upward in surprise, her eyes coming to focus warily on the apparently irate ex-cheerleader standing across from her.

"I was under the impression that I had," she replied slowly, tilting her head to the side as she examined her counterpart closely, trying to ascertain what exactly had prompted this sudden attack.

"No," Cordelia enunciated, "you didn't. Fucking is hard and fast, you cum and that's it. Fucking is not you touching me like you're afraid I might break and most certainly not you asking me if I'm alright."

"I see," Faith drawled, feeling slightly more in control of this conversation. Of course, that still left her approximately 90% confused about it, but at least she was slowly feeling a little more certain. "So you're angry at me because I didn't treat you like shit?"

"Yes," Cordelia said happily, slapping her hand down hard on the table to punctuate her point. "That's it exactly."

"And you want me to treat you like that?" Faith asked slowly, eyebrows scrunched in confusion.

"Well... no, but I don't want you to be nice to me either," the other girl replied, now somewhat deflated.

"Why the hell not?" the slayer almost shouted, her eyes narrowing in annoyance. If anything, this emphasized the usefulness of her ‘get some, get gone' philosophy. If you rolled out of the door just as soon as you rolled out of the bed, you could completely avoid dealing with the more off-kilter aspects of your partner's personality. Like the unreasonable anger she was getting right now. You'd think that, if anything, the other girl would be mad because they'd slept together at all, but that didn't appear to be bothering her. The fact that Faith had been a solicitous partner was apparently far more upsetting.

"Because if you're nice to me, I might involuntarily start liking you, and neither one of us wants that to happen," Cordelia retorted, her back straightening as she stood, doing her level best to glare down haughtily at Faith.

"Oh well, of course," Faith snarled sarcastically, "now it all makes perfect sense. Why spend the next year actually getting along when we could be hating each other's guts and fucking each other's brains out? I mean, honestly, what good is the ability to have a civil conversation when you risk losing all of that? And God forbid that the first time I touch someone in four years, I want to enjoy it, or that I actually maybe consider your feelings and try not to hurt you. What was I thinking, not behaving like the psychotic murdering bitch that I so obviously am, messing with your perfect little scheme of how the world should be. Of course, its so clear to me now. I should have just used you to get off and then kicked you out of bed, because that's who I am and I'm not allowed to change that, am I? Of course not, because any time I try, you and everybody else is standing right there to remind me that its impossible."

"Four years?" Cordelia repeated, slightly shocked. "The whole time you've been here, you've not had sex even once?"

"Fucking-A... out of everything I say, is that the only thing you heard?" the slayer growled, wishing desperately that there was something, anything, in the near vicinity that she could stake.

"Well, it is pretty shocking," the seer insisted, wide-eyed.

"That's it. You are going to sit over here," Faith said, leaping over the counter and grabbing Cordelia's shoulders to march her over to the most distant point in the small library. "You're not going to say another word, not one, or maybe I will fuck you, right there on that table so that anyone who comes in or anyone who passes by can see. And this is what I'm gonna do. I'm going to go back over there and sit down and calmly read my book. I don't want to see you or hear you or even have to think about you for the rest of the day. Do you understand that?"

"Jesus. Temper much?" the seer retorted, and Faith felt her body primed to jump, to do something, anything, to make the girl realize that she was serious.

"Faith, visitor." The words cut through the room, breaking into the haze of tension. With a scowl, the slayer backed away from Cordelia slowly, her muscles jumping against the self-restraint she was using to keep herself from pouncing on the girl anyway, despite the presence of the guard at the doorway. With a growl of frustration, she finally turned, glaring back once more as she followed the guard out of the doorway.

Moments later, she found herself in the visitation room, looking across the broad wooden table at the ever-quiet Angel, still seething.

"To what do I owe the honor, deadboy?" she asked, unable to keep the rancor from her voice.

"Uh, just came to check up on you," he said hesitantly, picking up on the obvious tension in her body. "And, uh, see how things were going with Cordy and all that."

"With Cordy? See how things are going with Cordy? She's a fucking nutcase, that's how things are going," Faith exploded, unable to keep up the semblance of calm anymore. "Either you get her out of here or you get me out of here, because I swear to God, one day, I'm just not going to be able to take it anymore. And when that day comes..." She trailed off, unable to think of a threat vile enough to appease her at the moment.

"Wow. So she's managed to do all of that," he said, gesturing vaguely at her aggressive posture, "in only three weeks, huh."

"I was happy before she came here. I was in prison, but I was happy. Maybe that's it... my life can never be peaceful. I finally manage to find some calm, and the powers that be see fit to send her in here to wreck everything that took years to build in less than a fucking month. She's my penance. I always thought that I'd find it after I got out of here, but apparently that wasn't good enough. It had to come to me. And a hell of one it is, too." Finally she was beginning to breathe normally again, some of the tension draining from her shoulders.

"You don't think she'd come and talk to me, do you?" he asked, almost meekly. "Maybe I can get her to back off a little."

"Hell no, deadboy. You're number one on her list of people to hate at the moment," Faith said with a laugh. "Definitely a persona non grata in Cordelia-land, my friend, and I wouldn't be looking for that station to change anywhere in the near future. She's mightily pissed off at you. And come to think of it, maybe I should be too. After all, if you hadn't screwed up and let her get arrested, then she wouldn't be here, now would she? Wreaking havoc on my once normal life."

"I'm sure that once she adjusts, things will get better," Angel offered hopefully, not sure that he quite believed it, but trying to reassure Faith nonetheless.

"I just don't understand her, not at all." For a moment, the slayer was tempted to tell him about the night before, about the rather absurd argument that she had just been pulled from, but she held back. Some things just weren't meant for common consumption, and Faith had a feeling that there were some secrets that the vamp just didn't need to know.

"She's not that bad, not once you get to know her," Angel replied, squirming uncomfortably in his seat. While he agreed with Faith that much of Cordelia was likely to remain a puzzle unable to be solved by normal human mental processes, he still felt a sense of loyalty to the seer that prompted his defense of her, half-hearted though it was.

"You spend every moment, waking and non-waking, with her and then we'll talk about this some more." The words were delivered coldly, the look in Faith's dark eyes conveying very clearly just how stupid she found him in that particular instance. Like hell, not so bad. The girl was psychotic, and this came from somebody who understood in intimate terms just exactly what that word meant.

"So, uh, aside from Cordelia, how are things?" he asked finally, hoping to bring a little bit of levity into the conversation.

"There is no aside from Cordelia. My life is now saturated with Cordelia. She's the sixty-foot monster who ate my life," Faith muttered, her head dropping down to rest on the hard wooden tabletop, arms splayed out in front of her.

"Actually, she'd probably be pretty flattered to hear that," the vampire mused, a small grin creasing his face. "Tell her that I'm coming to see her next week. Is there anything you want me to bring you when I come?"

"Earplugs," she replied, her voice muffled by the table.

Angel just laughed.


"What, I get no visit from His Royal Highness?" They were the first words Faith heard as she reluctantly made her way back into the library. Cordelia was occupying usual spot, long legs stretched out in front of her, feet propped on the table in a careless pose.

"He's coming to see you next week. Just testing the waters this week, wondering if you'd even talk to him," was the curt reply. Faith found herself looking around, searching for another spot to occupy, but unhappy with any of the ones she came across. Finally unable to take it anymore, she growled, "You're in my seat."

"My seat now," was the distracted reply.

Putting a hand to her forehead, thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of her nose as if to ward off a headache, Faith stood, looking in disbelief as the other girl continued to sit, calmly inspecting her nails as if she didn't have a care in the world.

It was becoming of sublime importance that she come up with a plan. Right now C thought that she was holding all the cards. She'd managed to upset the balance of power and was building on that. How to upset back?

Suddenly Faith grew still, her mind racing. Her previous shows of anger and aggression hadn't been as successful as she'd like because they'd all been spur of the moment, fits of rage type displays. She'd also backed away from each and every single one, not doing any damage. Well, except for the sore neck she'd left Cordelia with yesterday afternoon. Not even that really made an impact, though, because it was wiped away by the events of last night. The other girl simply wasn't fully appreciating the havoc she could wreak. You'd think that memories wouldn't be so short, that conspiring to end the world, that leaving C with a nasty shiner, that torturing almost to death her former Watcher all would be events that melted together in the ex-prom queen's psyche to form a great big mental billboard reading "Caution. Danger Ahead." Instead, she was apparently disregarded as non-threatening. Or, at the very least, as not enough for Cordelia Chase to have to worry about.

Faith realized that she was still standing, her gaze still focused lazily on Cordelia. She also realized that the plan had apparently already started without her, because she could almost feel the nervousness rolling off the other girl in waves, though she tried hard to look cool and nonchalant. It must be disturbing, though, to be stared at so thoroughly for what, a half an hour? Is that how long she'd been standing there, contemplating the other girl's lack of good sense?

"Time to close up." For once, the harsh words didn't break through the layer of tension between them, and Faith turned slowly, her eyes catching on those of the bored looking guard lounging in the doorway. It had been a relatively uneventful afternoon patron-wise, and so there wasn't really anything more for them to do than flip off the lights and wait for the guard to lock the door.

She managed to make it through the rest of the evening without talking. Not as if that was actually a first for her. Cordelia could babble on for hours without any input whatsoever, and sometimes she thought the other girl pretended to talk to her just so she could hear her own voice. It was easy enough to tune her out, which Faith did. Tonight, however, unlike all the nights that had proceeded this one, she didn't break eye contact. Usually she'd refrain from looking at C, figuring that to do so would be to give the other girl the impression that she gave a damn about what Hollywood hunk was rumored to be dating which starlet. This time, she locked eyes with the other girl and refused to look away, even when Cordelia faltered, when her head dropped and her eyes focused on the contents of her tray.

After dinner, she joined Cordelia as she headed for the shower. Faith was usually a morning shower kind of girl, so C was alarmed when the other girl fell into step beside her, small packet of bath supplies clutched in her hand. Even though she'd had three weeks to accustom herself to the strangeness of showering when other people were around, the seer still wasn't quite comfortable with it, preferring to pretend that she was alone, that she wasn't surrounded by ribald jokes and bare skin and the splash of water on other people's bodies.

She couldn't do that tonight, because Faith was there, standing right beside her, lazy half-lidded eyes watching her intently. Fighting the urge to scream, Cordelia hurried through her routine. The slayer still finished long before she did, choosing to lean up against the wall, a slight smirk teasing the edges of her mouth as her eyes traced over C's body with a mixture of lust and possession.

Faith, for her part, was thoroughly enjoying this section of the plan. Cordelia had a great body, all lean, long limbs, tanned skin, and a hint of sinewy muscle. Her breasts fit her body well, just on the verge of being overpowering on her slim frame but not quite going over that edge. They were real, of that Faith was sure. Actually, she vaguely remembered C telling her that they were during one of her long rants bemoaning the dearth of quality acting roles available. She'd muttered something about her boobs, apparently thanking her lucky stars that her natural ones were as good as they were, because Angel sure didn't pay her enough money to get them fixed. Faith had rolled her eyes at the comment before, but had to secretly agree with the wannabe actress now. Her natural endowments were quite sufficient indeed. Especially when offset against her flat, taut belly.

"Enjoy the show?" Faith was slightly startled by the words. She'd been so caught up in her appraisal of Cordelia's attributes, that she'd completely missed the look of growing irritation spreading across the other girl's face. In response, she let a lazy grin spread across her own face as she let her eyes once more trace over the expanse of bare flesh in front of her, from head to toe and back again. The look of outrage on the C's face would have been reward enough, but when coupled with her near frantic attempts to keep her eyes from traveling the same path over Faith's body, it was all the Slayer could do to keep from laughing.

Spreading her arms out to her sides, Faith invited C to look at her, goading her into it with her eyes. She knew she looked good in almost any circumstances, her compact build managing to be lithe instead of stocky, graceful limbs hiding the power that resided in them in gently sloping, smooth muscles. She knew that with her long dark hair slicked back off her face and the water droplets that were still beading on her flesh, her more exotic features would be emphasized, a long buried hint of Gypsy blood resurfacing in the slash of her brows, the angular sharpness of her cheekbones. Her attributes were nothing to sneer at either, and when she saw hazel eyes hesitate, fixing on the upturned curve of her breast for a lingering minute, Faith felt her smile widen.

Deciding that show time was over, she turned on her heel, padding off abruptly, leaving a rather shocked and confused Cordelia standing in her wake. Having never had the full force of the other girl's sensuality directed toward her during the light of day, she found that it left her slightly off-balance and highly aroused, two things that made her more than uncomfortable. The only way to make it through the rest of the year with Faith was to keep the upper hand, and for some reason, it felt like a battle she was suddenly losing.

By the time she made it back to the cell, Faith was already there, lounging lazily in the bottom bunk, seemingly napping. Hoisting herself up on the top bunk, Cordelia tried to trace the events of the day to find out exactly where she had gone wrong. Images of Faith, her skin glistening through a light coating of water kept popping up, however, distracting her from the task, and long after the lights had gone out and the doors had clanged shut, she was still trying to puzzle it all apart, trying to understand the low hum of arousal currently coursing through her veins.

She wasn't even sure why she'd slept with Faith in the first place. It wasn't the first time that she'd done something that felt good simply for the hell of it, but after those little indiscretions she'd been able to get up and walk away afterward. That was what had appealed to her about them, actually. Her life was complicated, to say the least. A vampire for a boss, mind-numbing, drool-inducing visions that hit without warning, a ghost for a roommate. All of these things had to be explained away in relationships. Luckily, or unluckily as the case may be, she hadn't had a relationship yet that had lasted long enough to make their explanation necessary, and ensuring that the "relationship" didn't last past twenty-four hours was a great way of maintaining that.

So did that explain it? Had she merely been horny, taking the first, and only, option available to her to remedy that? No, that wasn't entirely it. Had she been sharing a cell with pretty much any other inmate she'd met, she wouldn't have even considered doing with them what she'd done with Faith. So she found the Slayer attractive. That didn't mean anything, really. A lot of people had thought that Ted Bundy was attractive, but that didn't mean that he made suitable bed-partner material. Maybe it was all because of the moment. She'd felt sorry for what she'd said, and then there was Faith crying because of it, and she'd only meant to comfort her but she'd felt so good, her body pressing down into Cordelia's, soft in all the right places, and she just had stopped thinking altogether.

A soft rustle broke into her train of thought, and suddenly Cordelia wasn't laying in her bed anymore. She was on the ground, stumbling forward until she collided lightly with bars, her hands grabbing them tightly as she tried to regain her balance. And then Faith was there, behind her, and her sleepshorts had disappeared and those hands were tracing up her belly to her breasts, fingers teasing her nipples into hardness and clamping down hard, sending a jolt of arousal searing down to settle between her legs. She could feel the warm wetness of a mouth against the back of her neck, hard suction and the scrape of teeth teasing the skin there into awareness.

"Is this what you wanted, Princess?" a low voice from behind her growled, and one of those hands was tracing down her belly, past silky curls to bury strong fingers in her wetness, and she couldn't answer, couldn't do more than whimper and clutch her hands even more tightly around the bars.

"Have you been thinking of me? It sure does feel like you have," the voice growled again, fingers moving in hard circles around her clit, and Cordelia wondered how it was possible to be this aroused, this quickly.

Then those fingers were gone, and she almost cried until she felt them again, felt soft, silky hair against her abdomen, and realized that Faith was kneeling between her legs, back against the bars. But then those fingers that had been stroking her were burying themselves inside her, and the hot flat of a tongue was pressing against her and she could feel her head jerk back, hear what had to be a raw cry ripped from her throat echo down the hall, and her body was exploding.

Her knees gave out, but thankfully Faith was there to catch her, lowering her to the floor. Rough hands pulled her thighs up, draping them over strong shoulders, and suddenly she was nearly suspended in mid-air, only her back and upper shoulders resting on the hard, cold concrete. Faith's head was between her legs again, that luscious mouth feeding on her once more, and she beat at the floor with her hands, sure that it was too much, the pleasure so intense that it was pain.

She was begging, pleading, though for Faith to stop or for release, she wasn't sure. Her head thrashed wildly on the cold stone, her hips bucked and jerked almost without control against the relentless mouth and tongue teasing her until she felt her body tense once more, her back arching until she was afraid it might break, and she screamed Faith's name as her climax hit her, fingers digging helplessly into the concrete floor, looking for purchase and finding none.

She was gasping for breath, trying to recover, her legs having dropped down from their perch on Faith's shoulders to sprawl out lewdly around the other girl's kneeling body. Forcing her eyes open, she caught sight of the dark slayer, her hand idly wiping away the traces of Cordelia's passion from her lips, heavy eyes focused on her, a single tear tracing a silver path down her cheek.

"That what you wanted, Princess?" she asked hoarsely, her voice raw with emotion.

Cordelia struggled to sit, her body almost boneless, heart slowly starting to calm. Reaching out gently, she laid a hand on Faith's cheek, startled when the other girl flinched, jerking her head away.

"That is what you wanted, isn't it? Wanted to use my body to get off, let me be just some faceless fuck. Hope you enjoyed the performance, cause there sure as hell ain't gonna be no encore." Her voice was cold, hard, belying the swirl of emotions chasing through her dark eyes, and Cordelia felt her stomach clench.

"Faith, I..." she started, but then trailed off, not sure what to say. It had never occurred to her that she could hurt Faith. Annoy her, irritate her, infuriate her maybe, but not hurt her. But she had, and suddenly, she desperately needed to do something to fix it.

Faith was silent, watching Cordelia's mouth open and close soundlessly, her eyes conveying her helplessness and confusion. The plan, she now realized, had been a bad plan. All that time spent trying to get away from this, from letting people use her just as much as she used them, and all it took was one infuriating brunette to strip away everything that she had gained. She felt angry, and dirty, and above it all was a tide of self-loathing threatening to drown her. For a moment, Faith was afraid that she was going to be sick, that the acid rumbling through her stomach would force her to embarrass herself even further in front of the girl watching her intently.

She wanted to get away, to run, but there was nowhere to go. The cold steel bars mocked her, teased her wordlessly with their very permanence, and suddenly everything about them seemed to represent her life. Everything she ever was or had been was locked in this cell, the smell of sex coating the air with her, existing unsatisfied and unhappy, deep in its midst. An object, a means to an end. That was all she was, just a toy to be used for the enjoyment of others. It didn't take much for her to outlive her usefulness, to be carelessly tossed aside. All her life, that's the way it had been, and she wanted to laugh at herself for being so foolish, for thinking that she could change that, for being under the mistaken impression that maybe this time things were different.

"I can't explain things to you that I don't understand myself," Cordelia said hesitantly, her soft voice breaking into the deepening silence. She'd watched Faith's face, been amazed by the look of revulsion that she'd seen in the other girl's eyes. It wasn't until she noticed that the look wasn't directed at her, that the eyes were staring off blindly, the hatred directed inward, that she'd understood the perfect stillness that had overtaken the Slayer's body.

"Get up." The hoarse words were her only reply, the raw tone making her cringe.

"No, Faith, I want you to... Look, I don't know what exactly this is," she tried again, her hand gesturing between their bodies, "but it's definitely something. Maybe I'm tired of being alone and maybe you're... you're... I don't know what you are. All I do know is that I was wrong to say what I did before. I was frightened and I didn't know how to explain things away and I lashed out at you. You didn't seem bothered at all, and I wanted you to feel like I did, and you didn't deserve that."

"It doesn't matter." Cold eyes looked at her appraisingly, bitter words breaking into her explanation.

"It does matter. Look, I don't want whatever this is to stop because of me," Cordelia replied, shocking herself with the words. She didn't want this to be over? That would certainly be far easier that entering into whatever it was she was starting.

Faith snorted. "Never knew you were so hard up for sex, C."

"That's not what I mean, and you know it," the seer snapped back, unable to stop herself.

"I see. And just exactly what do you mean? What you want? A relationship? You wanna be my girlfriend? Is that what you want? You wanna hold hands with me and spend arts and crafts time making little gifts for one another? Or do you just want me to be here to fuck whenever you feel like it? Your own convenient little whore," the Slayer taunted. She was angry, angry at herself and, by extension, furious at Cordelia. "Pretty big drop for you, isn't it Queen C? You used to rule the world, and now you've had to resort to fucking trash like me. Not that you seem to mind crawling around in my gutter."

"The only person who hates you in here is you, Faith," Cordelia hissed in return. "I'm going to be waiting for you over there in your bed, for reasons that currently escape me, and when you once again rejoin civilized society, feel free to come and join me."

For a long moment, Faith stayed where she was, unwilling to accept the comfort clearly being offered, until she forgot why she didn't want it in the first place. When she finally slid under the covers once again, long arms reached out to wrap around her, and she snuggled down into the comforting warmth, an odd sense of security enveloping her as she drifted off to sleep.


She hadn't had the nightmares in so long that she had thought that they were gone. Clearly they weren't though, and even though some part of her subconscious mind told her that this was just a dream, she couldn't help but feel the fear course through her, just as it had before.

The room was small, with the inescapable dinginess that came with time and mistreatment. She'd always kept it as clean as she possibly could, all of her meager belongings stowed in their proper places, the thin comforter pulled up on the bed every morning. There were never any clothes littering the floor, never any spare scraps of paper that needed to be picked up or schoolbooks thrown in a careless pile. If she didn't have anything else, she could at least have her pride.

She'd known when she gotten in from school that afternoon that tonight would be a bad night. Her mother was already drunk, some stranger lounging on their couch as if he owned it, and she'd tried to move about quietly, not wanting to draw attention as she moved to her room, closing the door and hopefully barring the rest of the world from entering. When her stomach began to rumble, to protest the fact that she hadn't had anything to eat since the less than substantial lunch at school, she'd ignored it, knowing that it was better to go hungry than to go out there.

There had been a fight, with yelling and the sound of shattering glass, and when she heard the door slam behind whoever it was that had been sitting on their couch when she got home, she knew it didn't bode well for her. Pulling herself into a tiny ball in the far corner of her bed, wishing desperately that she could simply become a shadow and vanish into the darkness, she'd listened intently for the sound of footsteps, each minute dragging slowly by until finally the slow scrape stopped at her door, the rattle of a knob letting her know that they weren't going to continue on tonight.

Feeble light from the hallway lit her mother from behind, making her look as if she stood twenty feet tall. The thick leather belt was in her hand, and Faith could feel the scar on her back twitching, reminding her of what happened last time. Dark hair stuck out in spikes, eyes rimmed with smeared mascara looked out at her with an almost unholy glow, and she could see the fine tremors that ran through that almost painfully thin body, signaling withdrawal.

When the spector finally caught sight of her small form, she rushed forward, swinging the thick strip of leather wildly, uncaring. She railed at her, her screeching voice telling her just how worthless she was as the blows continued to rain down, thin arms trying to shield a small, dark head. Somehow, Faith knew she was stronger than this, that she didn't have to take this, and as she felt the belt slice into her repeatedly, she grew angry. There were hands on her, trying to hold her down, and she wasn't going to take it, wasn't going to submit. Lashing out blindly, she smiled in satisfaction at the solid feel of flesh on flesh, hoping that it would give her enough time to escape.

Cordelia had been jerked into consciousness by the barely restrained twitches, by the helpless whimpers and soft, pleading cries. For a moment, she looked around blindly, not sure where she was or what was going on, until the warm body thrashing beside her pulled her back to the present.

It was Faith, her body shivering uncontrollably, hands raised in a defensive posture as she begged and pleaded with her nocturnal visitor in a small, weak voice. Hoping to draw her from her nightmare, Cordelia leaned over, placing strong hands on the Slayer's shoulders and shaking her, only to be rewarded by a blow to the jaw that left her momentarily dazed. Grimacing, tasting blood on her tongue, she leaned over again, placing her mouth next to the curve of an ear.

"Faith!" she yelled, barely moving back in time as the Slayer, now instantly awake, snapped her head around.

"Huh?" she grunted inelegantly, eyes narrowing to focus on Cordelia's concerned visage.

"You were having a nightmare," the other girl said matter-of-factly. "A pretty bad one, if I had to venture a guess."

And then Faith remembered, could smell the old apartment in her nostrils, could feel the cold bite of leather against her skin. She stiffened, pulling away from Cordelia's hold as she rolled up, sitting on the edge of the bunk. Her feet slapped down on cold concrete as her chest heaved, drawing in huge shudders of breath, and her head dropped down to rest in her hands.

"Sorry I woke you up," she muttered, ashamed that the other girl had seen her that way.

"Wanna talk about it?" Cordelia asked, trying not to choke at the bitter tang of copper on her tongue. She could feel the slight split in the soft flesh inside her mouth, the flap of skin that had broken over the edge of her teeth when Faith lashed out in her sleep.

"I'd rather not," was the droll reply, and Cordelia sighed.

"Then let me up," she said, pushing past Faith's reclining form. Moving quietly across the cell, she turned on the tap, cupping her hands under the water before bringing them to her mouth. Swishing around the faintly metallic water for a few moments, she spit it back out, running her tongue along the insides of her teeth. She repeated the process a few more times until finally, she couldn't taste the blood any more.

"What are you doing?" Faith was watching her warily, dark eyes suspicious.

"Just a bad taste in my mouth," Cordelia replied, her voice airy. For some reason, she didn't want the other girl to learn about the blow, knowing that Faith would blame herself for the lack of control. She'd forget about the demons that she'd been battling in her dreams and know only that she'd hurt someone once again.

"Uh-huh," the slayer drawled, disbelieving.

"You know," Cordelia began, hoping to change the subject, "I never did get to return the favor last night."

"I thought that we'd established that I hadn't done you any favors," Faith shot back, vaguely aware that Cordelia was trying to be evasive.

"Be that as it may, I still didn't get to touch you." She was beside Faith now, her hands tugging at the hem of the thin shirt the Slayer was wearing, and Faith decided to let her be elusive. A healing touch would be good right now, and early morning had stolen away her resolve to keep her barriers firmly in place. Besides, those soft hands had managed to divest her of her clothing before she even realized it, and when she looked up, she saw that C was bare as well.

Pushing back gently against strong shoulders, Cordelia guided Faith down to the bed, her body stretching out over hers. For a moment, she was content to feel the slide of flesh on flesh as she held herself slightly above the other girl, her body rocking back and forth. But then it became too much, and her lips descended to touch sleep-warm flesh, ignoring the twinge in her jaw as she licked and sucked a path down Faith's neck.

Nipples pebbled under her tongue as fingers wrapped in her hair, holding her close. She could feel the wet smear of Faith's arousal against her belly, lean calves wrapping their way around her upper thighs, heels pressing firmly against her buttocks. It was a wonderful feeling, and she spent long minutes at her perch, mouth alternating between the two ample peaks, until she heard Faith's breath start to speed up, felt the fingers in her hair become rougher, more careless. Pulling her body upward, she slid a hand down, her fingers moving easily into place, three straining past a tight ring of muscle, her thumb resting easily on a hard bundle of nerves. Moving so that her thigh was braced against the back of her hand, she began to thrust slowly with her body, letting her weight and momentum do all the work.

The position placed her slightly to the left of Faith, and she was able to watch, through half-lidded eyes the results of her efforts. The graceful arch of a long neck, the impatient thrash of a dark head, and the tightly closed eyes combined with a string of soft, senseless words and encouragements until finally she saw the dark Slayer freeze, her body still in that one perfect moment before she fell back heavily against the thin pillow, tremors still shooting down her body.

"Cor," Faith finally said, her voice soft.

"Yeah?" the other girl asked, rolling up on her side, looking down at the peaceful face beneath her.

"You aren't gonna go all psychotic on me again today, are you? Because I'm feeling pretty damn good at the moment, and I was just wondering if you were once again going to manage to find some way to fuck that up for me."

"Huh, well... can't make any promises." She wasn't going to lie. Psychotic episodes often surprised her as much as they did the person to whom they were directed.

It seemed like only moments after their eyes had closed for the second time that night that morning arrived. Neither girl was too incredibly sharp in the early morning, both usually just stumbling out of bed, through a quick brushing of the teeth, and down the hall to breakfast without barely cracking open an eye. This morning proved no different. In fact, both were probably a little worse than usual, eyes focused blearily on the trays in front of them until a little food perked them up.

Faith was the first to pull herself from the stupor, emitting a jaw cracking yawn as she stretched, feeling her shoulders pop refreshingly. Taking a moment to scrub the sleep from her eyes, she finally looked over to gauge Cordelia's level of awareness. What she saw when she did so gave her pause.

"Did I do this?" she asked, gentle fingers reaching out to trace over the livid purple bruise covering the other girl's cheek. Cordelia flinched away from the touch, the place a little more sore now than it had been right after it had happened. Dismayed, she caught the look of sadness that spread across her companion's face at the move.

"It was an accident," she said in her best soothing tone, noting that Faith had let her hand drop lifelessly to the table. "You were having a bad dream, and I shouldn't have grabbed your shoulders like I did..."

"Don't make excuses for me," Faith ground out, both of her hands coming to rest on the table, fingers curled into loose, useless fists.

"I'm not making excuses," Cordelia replied, this time her voice a little sharper. "I'm telling you what happened. You were having some kind of nightmare, and instead of just yelling in your ear or poking you in the side, I leaned over you and grabbed your shoulders and shook. You probably thought that I was whatever you were dreaming about. Jesus Faith, you were asleep. Its not like you meant to do it."

"Were you planning on telling me about it?" the Slayer asked, arching a brow. Cordelia's behavior made more sense now. Rinsing her mouth out, evading Faith's questions, making love to her... making love to her. "Or were you just going to screw me until I forgot."

"Could you two keep it down over there," a new voice broke in, and distracted from their argument, both girls looked up. "I mean, all night we hear it. ‘Faith, that's it, oh God Faith... harder Faith, harder, please Faith, harder, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes... FAITH!' Can't we at least have breakfast in peace?"

A few snickers erupted around the room at the amazingly good rendition of Cordelia's cries of passion, and Faith watched the other girl flush hot red in embarrassment.

"And about time you showed her who was boss, Faith," another voice called out, spurred on by attention of her peers. "I always did think that one was a little uppity."

"Uppity? Uppity!" Cordelia screeched, embarrassment quickly morphing into fury as she jumped up from the table, spoon clutched fiercely in hand as she surveyed the faces around them, trying to discern just who exactly had been foolish enough to say that about her. "Who said that?"

"Cordelia," Faith said calmly, watching the lanky brunette wave her spoon threateningly at a likely group of suspects. While she had no doubt that she could protect them both if the need arose, there was no need to fight a room full of potentially violent convicts if it wasn't completely necessary.

"What?" she snapped, not sparing Faith a look as she continued to glare at the now smirking inmates.

"Cordelia, honey," Faith tried again, hoping that maybe endearments would calm down the obviously irate girl.

"Don't you honey me," the seer said fiercely, dropping her spoon to the table in disgust. "I'm leaving."

With a sigh, Faith scooped up both of their trays, ignoring the amused chuckles floating through the room, and went off after the indignant figure of her new lover. Outrage was sketched clearly in the stiff set of Cordelia's shoulders as she followed her down the hallway, and Faith soon realized that it was going to take valuable time to calm her down after this so that they could return to their original, and much more important in Faith's estimation, argument.

Thankful that the other girl chose to stalk off to the library for sanctuary, preventing her from having to scour the prison for her and incur the wrath of the guards, Faith steeled herself for the apparently requisite daily confrontation.

"Cordelia," she said calmly, catching sight of her quarry leaning stiffly against the small table that Faith usually claimed as her own, back taut with tension.

"Don't talk to me," was the hissed reply, and Faith rolled her eyes. Clearly it was going to be up to her to set things straight so that they could return to more important issues.

"Don't tell me that you're actually letting what they said get to you." She tried to inject a fair amount of incredulity into her voice, hoping at the very least to goad the other girl into a response.

"Faith," Cordelia said finally, her voice an agonized whisper, "they could hear us."

Okay, she wasn't exactly following. "Who could hear what?"

"They," Cordelia said, gesturing expansively all around her, "could hear us," she finished, pointing between the two of them, "when we... you know."

"Oh," Faith nearly snorted, completely unsuccessful in keeping the amusement from her voice. "Actually they could hear you, not me. Besides, is that all that's bothering you? Hello, far more important issues to deal with here, namely the rather impressive bruise you're sporting this morning, courtesy of me."

"That," the other girl spat, waving carelessly, "is nothing compared to this. Did you know that they could hear us?"

"Well yeah, Cordy. Sound can travel through bars, you know. They don't quite have the insulating quality of a few feet of concrete," Faith drawled, shaking her head in amazement.

"First of all, don't call me Cordy. Reminds me of that kid with Down's Syndrome on that stupid TV show. Secondly, why didn't you tell me?" Cordelia's voice was getting progressively higher as she continued to speak, and Faith was fairly certain that soon she'd hit a register that only dogs could hear.

"What kid with DS?" For some reason, it seemed important to go ahead and clarify that now.

"You know... Corky. He was in that show with Rob Lowe's younger brother, who had AIDS and everybody was scared of him," Cordelia replied, irritated that her rant had been interrupted to provide unnecessary background details.

"Everybody was mad at some poor retarded kid with AIDS?" Faith was highly confused now. Who the hell put that kind of thing on TV?

"Rob Lowe's brother had AIDS, not Corky. And don't call him retarded. It's not nice," she replied haughtily.

"Well excuse me for not being politically fucking correct in the middle of what has to be one of the stupidest arguments that I have ever engaged in. Do you mind if we return to the main topic now?" Faith was almost shouting herself at this point, and took a moment to back down and take a calming breath.

"The fact that you knew that other people could hear us and didn't tell me does not qualify as stupid," the seer countered, her rage back at full throttle now that it had been redirected to the main point of her aggravation.

"Jesus, C. Did you think that the bars magically prevented all sound from escaping?" Faith asked sarcastically.

"I... I... And why did she just make fun of me. You were making the same noises later on. Oh Cordelia... please... please, oh please fuck me... yes, like that... God yes..." the tall brunette taunted, irritated beyond measure when the only reaction her little diatribe provoked was a seductive little smile.

"Yeah, but I was quiet when I did it. No need to put on a show for the whole cell block, unlike some other overly-dramatic Sunnydale natives that I could mention," Faith teased because, well, it was just so damn fun.

"I am not overly dramatic," the accused screamed, pounding a fist on the table in anger.

"Then I suppose I'm just that much better at making girls scream than you, then," was the lazy reply.

"Oh, I see," Cordelia replied quickly, a hint of tears in her voice.

"Ah fuck," Faith muttered, realizing quickly that the situation had just spiraled from bad to worse. She now had to move quickly from confrontation stage to comforting stage, and it was one that she never really had been good at. "That's not what I meant C, and you know it. Come on baby, you're wonderful, really you are. You know just how to touch me, just how to drive me crazy."

"Really?" Cordelia whispered, looking up with teary hazel eyes.

"Really, I promise," Faith assured her, eyes serious.

"So you're not gonna be mad at yourself for that little accident that you were upset about earlier, are you? Because I don't think that I could handle going through that discussion right now, okay," the other girl said, her voice wheedling.

"No way. No way that you're getting out of this that easily," Faith protested, trailing off as sad hazel eyes caught her own.

"Please," Cordelia prompted, pouting a little for extra measure.

"Well, fuck," Faith muttered, rolling her eyes and letting loose a long sigh. "Fine then. We won't talk about it."

"And you won't get all dark and broody, right."

"Yeah, whatever. No dark and broody," Faith conceded, breaking out in a full-fledged pout of her own that put Cordelia's fake one to shame.

"Wonderful," the other girl replied with a bright smile, chuckling inwardly at Faith's adorable expression. "While we're getting dark and broody problems out of the way, there's something that I wanted to ask you."

Faith cut her eyes suspiciously at an expectant Cordelia, mentally debating whether or not a fragile continued peace was worth sharing and caring time. "You can ask, but I can't guarantee that I'll answer."

"Fair enough. That scar, the one that runs from your shoulder, across your back and ends right under your ribs on the other side," and suddenly Cordelia was tracing the thin line through her shirt, the questioning finger burning against her skin, "doesn't have anything to do with your nightmare, does it?"

Faith grew painfully silent, trying to forget the gentle touch, trying to block out the almost concerned sound of Cordelia's voice, but she found that she couldn't. Voice hard, bitter, she turned to the other girl, her features dark. "I thought Angel and Wesley told you all about my sordid little tale," she taunted, imagining their fragile peace shattering in front of her eyes, but unable to keep herself from lashing out. "Shouldn't you already know the answer to that one? Or is there some specific reason why you might want me to spell it out."

"I'm beginning to think that they didn't know everything." Faith was shocked at the lack of rancor in the reply. Just a calm statement of the facts, and that exploring finger still tracing across her flesh, and it felt like her skin was tightening, cutting off the flow of her breath. She didn't want to talk about this, talk about her weakness and her shame, and she sure as hell wasn't going to bare her soul to Cordelia, who had proven herself less than trustworthy when it came to the careful handling of Faith's admittedly often fragile psyche.

"Whatever." Shrugging away from the light touch, Faith moved quickly around the table, reclaiming her usual seat with a loud thump. Studiously ignoring Cordelia's expectant gaze, she reached for the book that she had started earlier that week, flipping determinedly through the pages until she could focus her unseeing gaze on the blurry words, pretending that she actually cared what they said.


Angel was coming today, and that was definitely a very, very good thing. Faith had been less than communicative since the fragile détente had been reached a week ago, choosing to spend her time alternating between moping, brooding, and pretending that Cordelia wasn't there. To top that off, she had apparently lost interest in the more base aspects of their relationship, which meant that C was very, very frustrated at the moment because she'd found that time didn't seem to lessen the other girl's attractiveness or her suddenly overactive libido. Neither did the brooding either, which actually shocked her. In fact, it just made her want the other girl more, which was surprising because she'd never had that reaction before, and she'd worked with the man who wrote the book on how to be a proper brooder.

Of course, Angel wasn't brooding now. Actually, he was sitting there, squirming uncomfortably under the force of her glare, mouth opening occasionally as if he wanted to say something to break the silence, but each time a hesitant glance at her stern features sent his eyes back down to the table, words unsaid. Growing even more annoyed as the minutes passed, she finally drew in a deep breath to speak.

"What are these?" The words were sharp, and Angel cringed slightly, giving her that kicked puppy dog look that he wore so well.

"Uh, they're for Faith. I thought you could, you know, take them to her," he said hesitantly, gathering from the storm clouds brewing in the seer's eyes that he had somehow made another mistake.

Faith. Cordelia's nostrils widened and her brows lowered as she surveyed the small stack of comic books. Something else to take up the other girl's time, something else she could hide behind instead of talking, something else that Angel was doing for Faith. Nothing but Faith, Faith, Faith, everywhere she turned.

"You come to see me and bring presents for her?" Displeasure was clearly woven through her words, and Angel floundered helplessly.

"She seemed kind of down when I was here last. I thought she might like something fun, you know, to perk her up..." the words trailed off as he noticed that his current situation didn't seem to be getting better.

"She seemed kind of down," Cordelia repeated, her voice slightly incredulous. "Maybe, just maybe, you could use the time and money that you spend trying to cheer her up for something slightly more productive. Like say, oh I don't know, getting me out of here. You know, that whole little ‘Cordelia's in prison for some jackass crime that she didn't even commit and Angel, who promised that he'd take care of it, failed miserably' situation that we've got going on here."

"I know," he said defensively, hands raised in a placating gesture. "We're thinking about how to fix that."

"Thinking about how to fix it? This is how you're going to fix it. You're going to fire the idiot lawyer you hired, find someone else who actually seems to know what the hell they're talking about, and make this go away. I'm a felon now," she stressed, hazel eyes shooting sparks at him as he continued to slump down further in his chair. "A felon. Do you know what that means? It means I can't register to vote, can't carry a firearm, as if I ever would, and that I'll probably never work in this town again. How many ex-cons do you see getting acting jobs, hmmm? Oh, and that's not to mention the communal showers, the decidedly unflattering outfits, and shared playtime with the other inmates."

"Sure you'll work again. What about Charlie Sheen? Robert Downey, Jr.?" he offered, trying to look on the bright side.

"You... you..." she fumed, so angry that words escaped her. "You know what? I'm gonna go now. Give my regards to Fred and the boys."

And with that she stomped off, snatching the comic books up off the table with a violent swipe, the sound of low insults and muttered expletives trailing her out of the room.

"Well," the relieved vampire said on a sigh. "That went well."

Faith was waiting nervously for Cordelia's return. She knew that Angel had planned to visit today, and had seen the tension in the other girl's shoulders grow as the hours had passed until finally the guard came to get her. Whatever happened, she hoped it was good, because she was going to have to be the one to deal with the fallout, and if the increasing agitation that she'd noticed in the other girl this past week didn't find an acceptable outlet in Angel, she had a feeling that she would find herself on the receiving end of a full scale tantrum.

"Here." Suddenly she was there, the sharp slap of something hitting the table echoing through the room, and Faith worked to stifle a groan.

"Have a nice visit?" she ventured hopefully.

"Angel thought that you might need cheering up, so he brought you a gift," Cordelia said scornfully, eyes narrowing. "Because you know, he was coming to visit me, for the first time I might add, but he was a little worried that you seemed kind of down the last time he was here, so he thought he'd get you a little something. Not me. No, I'm just the one whose life has been completely ripped apart here, all his fault by the way, but hey, a slightly depressed Slayer is obviously far higher on his list of priorities. And you should be happy. He brought you ten more reasons to ignore me. So you know what, I'm just gonna go back over to my little corner and sulk, and you can continue to pretend that I'm not here. Not that you needed any additional incentive, mind you, because it seems to be a skill that you've mastered completely on your own, but I imagine that even you get bored after flipping through the same book three times."

"Cordelia," Faith started, holding back a sigh, "I'm not ignoring you. Its just that... well, you know... I've been..."

"Ignoring me," Cordelia broke in helpfully.

"I wasn't ignoring you. I just didn't want to talk," the dark Slayer protested, knowing full well that she actually had been ignoring Cordelia. It might not have been the best way to avoid answering questions that she didn't want to, but it was the only one she could think of.

"You were ignoring me. Not that I should complain about that as being a new development, since you've really been ignoring me since I first got here," the ex-cheerleader said flippantly, hoping that an even tone would mask the slight twinge of hurt she was feeling. It was all coming together, Faith, Angel, jail... and the weight was oppressive.

"That's hardly true," Faith scoffed, her mind flitting back over several instances when she quite clearly hadn't ignored Cordelia.

"Of course it is. You're the only person I've got here, you know. If you don't talk to me, then there's no one, , for me to talk to. Do you know how completely and utterly lonely I am? Maybe it doesn't sound like such a big deal to you, but even though I may have been alone on the outside I at least had people there who pretended to listen to me. You don't even do that, just bury your nose in a book or tune me out. Like I didn't know you weren't paying attention," she said bitterly at Faith's incredulous look, rolling her eyes. "Its not like I was asking for the impossible, just a little attention every now and then. And then, I finally do get your attention, but its not really me you're paying attention to, just my body, and you take even that away because I ask one stupid question that you don't really like. Its been a week, Faith, a week since you even really looked at me. And today was supposed to be about me, supposed to be someone who was coming to see me, and you took that away too."

Faith didn't know what to say. She'd seen several sides of Cordelia, but not this one, not the bitter, angry, hurt side. Not the side that sounded like she didn't even care anymore, not the side whose voice was full of self-pity and self-loathing, and suddenly she felt ashamed. It was hard to see others when you were so wrapped up in your own troubles, but she should have known, should have remembered how she felt when she first got here, when she realized just how absolutely alone she really was, and should have known that it would be worse for the other girl. But despite that, she couldn't help feeling a little twinge of hurt.

"So that's all I was? Just a little bit of attention? Would anybody have sufficed if I hadn't been there?" God, she was so selfish, but it just felt wrong to think of what had gone on in those terms. It was a slight to both of them.

"I don't know what you were, but it doesn't really matter anymore anyway, does it. You've apparently decided to take sole responsibility for the termination of that little thing, whatever it was." Her voice was bitter again, but Cordelia couldn't help it. It had hurt when Faith turned away from her, reinforced to her just how little the whole thing had apparently meant if it could be thrown away without the blink of an eye. Not that it should really matter, right. This was Faith, after all, and deep down, she really didn't care what Faith thought, what Faith felt. Did she?

That might have been true if she had found the Faith she was expecting, but she hadn't. What she'd found instead was someone different, someone who was an intriguing mix between a powerful woman and a frightened little girl, with much more depth to her than Cordelia had ever imagined or anticipated, and she couldn't cling to the hate that she had held onto for so long because the person that she hated just didn't exist anymore. Where that left her, she wasn't sure, and that made her uncomfortable.

"What if," Faith started, taking a deep breath, breaking into her train of thought, "what if I made a mistake? What if I had done something really stupid, something that I regretted? Like, say, ignoring you for no good reason. Would you let me fix it? Would you let me start all over again or make it up to you or whatever it takes to help you forget?"

"What are you saying exactly?" Cordelia asked, her expression guarded.

"What if I put my book down, and talked to you for a little while. What if you let me hold you tonight, just hold you, so that maybe for once we can both be not alone," she finished quietly, head tilted slightly downward, unable to meet Cordelia's eyes.

"I think," the seer replied, her voice hitching, "that I might just like that."


If anyone had told her three years ago that she'd find herself in Faith's arms every night, spilling out her secrets in the darkness, Cordelia would have laughed at them. But she had, and she was, telling the other girl things that she never would have imagined. From the pain of her father's downfall, which was really more about pride than it was about money, to the visions. Faith knew all about what it was like to feel different, to feel like no one could understand you because of who you were, and when Cordelia talked about the relationships cut short and the insular quality of her life, Faith understood. She understood that sometimes Cordelia wanted to be normal, to be free to go out and meet somebody new or find a friend that didn't have anything to do with demons or vampires, but that it just wasn't that easy. How do you explain the unexplainable aspects of your life, and if you find someone that you really and truly like, how can you ask them to assume that burden with you knowing that it comes part and parcel with the very essence of who you are.

That wasn't the only piece of herself that Faith found in the other girl. She'd slowly come to recognize that the Cordelia that she'd known back in high school and the Cordelia that had been rubbing her nerves raw since that first day almost four months ago were just as much for show as was her own ultra-hyped up attitude. All of it there, the defense mechanism automatically thrown into place to guard against anything or anybody who might have the potential to hurt you, because you've been hurt so much already that you just don't have the energy to keep on taking the hits.

And, despite the vow she'd made to just hold her, things had once again quickly moved beyond that. It was somehow natural, somehow right for them to turn to one another, to seek the comfort of physical satisfaction in each others' arms. Not always gentle and loving, but not always quick and fierce either, just the freedom that came with being able to touch someone and the undeniable sense of ease that arose from the knowledge that there was going to be someone waiting for you at night.

She even found herself opening up, telling Cordelia in a halting voice about her childhood, about watching the only person that she had in the world to love slowly destroy herself, though she hadn't been able to bring herself to divulge all. She told the other girl about making a name for herself on the streets of Boston even before she'd become a slayer, about fights that made her reputation, about the fear that she'd wind up as a statistic, one more kid from the wrong side of town dead in a dark alley. And, after a long time, she found herself talking about the events that had precipitated her flight from Sunnydale, her conflicting memories of the mayor, her sense of betrayal and the pangs of regret that she still felt over the episode with the Alan Finch.

Of course, not every conversation was emotionally laden. Like everyone discovering someone knew, they spent time learning the basics... favorite foods, favorite books, favorite childhood cartoons. Spending almost every second of the day together provided ample time for self-disclosure, and it wasn't long until Cordelia felt like she knew Faith as well as she had ever known anyone before.

And that, well, that was scary because it turned out that Faith was someone that Cordelia could really, really... like. Not that she hadn't tried not to. Even after she'd agreed to break down the walls, to let the other girl into her life, no restrictions this time, she'd still kept in the back of her mind a little bit of bias, a little part of herself that swore that no matter what, she wasn't going to forget what had happened. But it turned out that she didn't have to forget, because suddenly she understood, and with the advent of understanding, she felt her animosity slip away. Faith had been a kid when all that happened, a confused, scared, lonely kid, and her screw-ups might have been rather big ones, but ultimately that's all they were. Screw-ups, not evidence of a deep-seated evil, not indicators of a fundamentally misogynistic personality, just mistakes that she'd been too embroiled in to fix.

One of the worst things that she'd realized was that with Faith, she could just have fun. She could be herself, no fronts for the satisfaction of others. She'd finally succumbed to the lure of the comics that Angel had brought, and found, surprisingly, that they were actually quite interesting. And, there was a certain satisfaction in knowing that she could have frivolous conversations about which X-man character was the biggest hottie, because Faith wasn't going to look at her like she'd lost her mind. No, the other girl would just pick someone else, discussing his or her relative merits with the seriousness that Wesley would afford a new species of demon. There was another part of her that relished the fact that she knew that Faith had always had a crush on Jean Gray, or that if she could have any mutant power, she'd want unbreakable claws and a metal reinforced skeleton like Wolverine, because things like that, little tidbits that seemed to have no value at all, were really what defined a friendship... a relationship.

She also enjoyed the fact that Faith could understand what it was like to be in her shoes. The Powers That Be had obviously decided that it was useless to send her visions when she wasn't in a position to do anything about them, but even absent that, she didn't have to present a brave face round the clock like she felt she had to do with Angel and the others. Not that she was a sniveling coward by any means, but Faith didn't expect her to be the one to hold everything together, to coordinate everything smoothly despite what might be going on in her life. Gunn and Wesley didn't know what that was like, each too wrapped up in the hunt and the chase to really see how the visions set her apart, put her just barely on the outside, forever doomed to be looking in at a world in which she didn't completely belong. Fred was, well, Fred was Fred, and there wasn't really much more she could say about that, and Angel had his own set of problems to deal with. Even though one might think, from a superficial examination, that Angel would have the insight that Faith possessed, he didn't. So for the first time, she'd found someone who not only understood her and accepted her, but who didn't expect anything more out of her than to be who she was, no apologies necessary.

What all that added up to was the fact that she had more in common with the dark Slayer than she would have liked to admit. The differences were there, obviously, but deep down, they were the same animal, complimentary foils to one another despite apparent disparities. And it was that realization that made Cordelia examine the other girl in an entirely new light, eyes finally seeing things that her mind didn't want to accept.

The summons to the warden's office had been unexpected. She hadn't seen the slim, meticulous man since her first day there, and wasn't sure what she might have done to warrant his attention. But, she followed the guard dutifully, shooting a confused look back over her shoulder at a suddenly apprehensive Faith. She'd had to wait to see him, sitting with her back ramrod straight on a couch outside his office, a secretary shooting her nervous glances every few seconds despite the fact that the guard had decided to take the opportunity to get off her feet and was currently propped up in a wingback chair, reading an outdated, ragged copy of People magazine.

She hadn't been surprised by the neatness of the office. After all, Warden Buckley was a neat man, slightly shorter than her with close-cropped silver hair, an orderly, manicured beard, and a collar with so much starch in it that she was surprised that he could turn his head. Taking a seat nervously in the burgundy leather chair he indicated, Cordelia waited, watching as his fingers templed under his chin, as he turned warm brown eyes toward her.

"I've got good news, Miss Chase." His voice was light, yet false in a way that told her that he was long-tired of his job, and that he didn't really give a damn about the supposedly good news that he was about to convey.

"Yes?" She couldn't sit passively, idly waiting on him to decide to move forward. Whatever it was that he had to tell her, she wanted to know now.

"The appellate court has reviewed your case, and due to certain errors made by the trail judge in regards to the admission of certain evidence, have decided to overturn your conviction. I've spoken with the ADA, and he has no plans at the moment to retry your case," the Warden said cheerily, looking at Cordelia expectantly. When she didn't say anything, didn't move, he felt compelled to add, "That means you're a free woman, Miss Chase; your record is expunged, and if you are never brought to trial and convicted again, it will be like this never happened. We've called the contact listed on your paperwork, and someone should be by to pick you up shortly. A guard will escort you to your cell, where you can gather together any personal effects that you might have."

"I... I'm going home today?" she croaked, throat suddenly dry. Not now... not yet...

"You most certainly are. And, I might add, with the sincerest apologies of the California judicial system, though it is reassuring to know that justice is fair after all, isn't it Miss Chase?" She needed to get out of there, needed to be away from the fake kindness of his voice, from the eyes that seemed disappointed at her lack of enthusiasm. It was too much, all at once, too soon...

She must have made an appropriate response, because she was once again in the custody of the guard that had taken her to the Warden's office in the first place, once more walking down the narrow hallways, eyes suddenly aware of just how bleak the gray stone was. There were going to her cell, but that's not where she needed to go. She needed to go to the library, to go to Faith, to tell her what had happened.

"The library," she said, her voice sharp, turning on her heel and expecting the guard to follow. When she saw Faith's face, she wondered if somehow the other girl knew, somehow sensed, that something was happening. If she hadn't gotten to know her so well, Cordelia wouldn't have seen it, but it was so clear now, in the minute tightening of the skin around her eyes, in the stiffening of her shoulders and the barely perceptible raise of her chin, that Faith was nervous.

"Were you hiding contraband or something and didn't tell me?" She tried to joke, but the words sounded flat, limp.

"They're letting me go," Cordelia said blankly, eyes watching Faith intently. "Some kind of procedural thing. I'm not really sure what it is, but they tell me I'm leaving this afternoon."

"This afternoon, huh." She tried to sound unaffected, but she wasn't sure if she pulled it off. There was a sudden pain in her gut, almost like someone had landed a solid blow, and it took everything she had not to double over, to keep the low keen of animalistic pain behind her teeth.

"I'm supposed to be packing my stuff as we speak." Why was Cordelia still talking, why was she still standing there, calm words spilling past her lips as if she weren't tearing Faith apart.

"Then I guess I should tell you good-bye, seeing as how you're going to be a free woman, and all that." Was that her voice, the tone unwavering, the words light with an enthusiasm that she didn't possess?

"I guess you should," Cordelia said slowly, the three feet between them three miles for all she could read Faith now. Everything had been packed up, shuttered eyes and tense body the only signs that this was affecting her at all.

"I... Its... Good-bye, C." It was all that she could offer.

"Good-bye Faith." And then she was turning, was walking out of the room and Faith wanted to call out to her, to make her stop, but she couldn't do anything more but watch helplessly as she walked away.

I can leave, Cordelia told herself, feeling those eyes burning into her back. I can walk away from this place and put it all behind me. I can get my normal little life back, and this'll all be just like a dream.

But then there she was again, her feet having changed course, bringing her back to stand in front of Faith, those liquid chocolate eyes boring into her as if trying to memorize her features, her walk, the way she stood.

"I think... I think I'm in love with you." Oh my God, had she actually said that? Had she put voice to the words that she hadn't even really admitted to herself. The sharp intake of breath from her companion seemed to indicate that she had, and in those few seconds she understood what people meant when they said that time stood still.

"I thought I told you there ain't no such thing as love, C," Faith rasped, her voice raw, harsh, her head falling forward, eyes focusing blindly on the floor.

She heard the gasp cut short, the long moment of silence, and then the sound of agitated footsteps. When she looked up finally, twin tears burning their way down her cheeks, she was alone.


Who knew that a month could feel like a year? The top bunk had been claimed by a newbie, one who was slightly frightened by her silent, moody cellmate. No one had been assigned to the library, which was just as well because it took a lot more effort to pretend like you were alone than one would imagine. She'd never known that a bed that had always been far too narrow to comfortably hold two could seem so impossibly wide and empty when she had it to herself, and she'd forgotten just how long sleep could be in coming when you had only yourself and your demons to keep you company.

Not surprisingly, no one had been to visit her. Or actually, no one had been to visit her yet, but here she was now, following the broad back of a disinterested guard down to the visitor's waiting room, the sharp pull of nervousness twinging through her guts. She knew it wouldn't be her, knew that she wouldn't see that familiar dark head when she rounded the corner, but some part of her continued to hope even as her mind told it to be quiet.

She was right of course. It was Angel, shifting uncomfortably on the hard metal seat, looking as pale as ever underneath the unforgiving harsh florescent lights. He didn't smile when he saw her, for once not greeting her with the tinge of warmth that she was accustomed to as she slumped down bonelessly into her seat.

"How have you been?" Perfunctory, empty words.

"Fine." Her reply was sharp, her tone harsh. They sat in silence for a few minutes after the exchange, each glancing at the other and then away, two non-communicative souls in search of the beginnings of a conversation.

"So how's Cordelia adjusting to life back on the outside?" There, she'd asked it, unable to keep the question in any longer.

"She got a new tattoo. One of those white ink ones that are apparently all the rage now. Right here," he said, pulling his sleeve up. The spot he pointed to was about an inch below the bend of his elbow, a patch of milky white skin on the inside of his forearm. "Five little letters, all about one centimeter high. F-A-I-T-H, and if you didn't know it was there, you wouldn't be able to see it. I asked her what it meant, and do you know what she said. She said that there were some mistakes that you should never be allowed to forget, that you should have to look at every day and remember. Have any idea what she's talking about?"

"Fuck," she muttered, one hand coming up to rub at the back of her neck, futile against the hard knot of tension gathered there.

"You're in love with her." A statement, a fishing expedition... whatever it was, she wasn't going to grace it with a reply. Those weren't his words to hear, and she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction. When he got no reply, he continued on, his voice monotone. "I've been in contact with somebody at the Board of Paroles. You're going to have a hearing in about two months."

"A hearing?"

"Yeah, you know. One of those things where they review your file and decide whether or not to let you out early. Generally used because prison overcrowding has become such a problem, and they need to dump old prisoners out on the street to make way for new ones."

"Sarcasm doesn't suit you," Faith said coldly, pushing back from the table, the screech of her chair scraping across the floor echoing loudly in the room. "Tell... everyone that I miss them, will you?"

She made it all the way back to the library without consciously thinking about taking a single step, one lone thought chasing its way through her head. Cordelia hated her. A year ago, she would have laughed had anyone told her that those three words would have the power to take the long, jagged tear in her heart and rip it a little further. Not that she shouldn't have expected it, really. Most people didn't respond well when their declarations of love were thrown back in their faces, and Cordelia certainly had more pride than most. But she couldn't say it back, couldn't trap her lover in yet another prison just as she was leaving the first. What good was she, in here? C had enough problems in her life without Faith bumping herself up to the front of the list, and had she admitted that she returned the sentiment in those hesitantly offered words, it would have been the height of unfairness on her part. It was easy to remain steadfast to someone when there weren't any options, but had she given Cordelia reason to believe that she would expect the same, it would have precluded the girl from finding someone who might be able to offer her comfort, a commodity scarce enough in the seer's life without her adding further restrictions.

It still hurt though, to have proof that she had reclaimed her post one rung beneath pond scum. If anything, she could add Cordelia's name to the ever growing list of people for whom she'd only proven to be a mistake. But, she didn't want to think of it like that, didn't want to take everything that had passed between them and reduce it to generalities. Instead, she wanted to revel in the particulars, the long nights spent in each others arms, the secrets and memories shared with a blush, the random bits of trivia that she eagerly collected and jealously guarded as little bits of the other girl that belonged exclusively to her.

She hated this, hated the self-pity, the self-recrimination, the what-ifs and should-have-beens. She hated feeling weak, and powerless, hated feeling as if time was slowly stealing chances from her as she was forced to sit idly by, unable to halt its inevitable progression and the distance that came with it.

But most of all, she hated the fact that beneath her mental excuses and objections, it all really came down to the fact that she was a coward.


She didn't remember the city being this big. The rumble of the old truck seemed abnormally loud, the passing scenery raced by in a blur, and the stiff figure of the near stranger sitting behind the steering wheel was making her nervous. Or actually, was making her even more nervous than she already was.

For two months, she'd been the best damn prisoner to ever move through the California Corrections system. If there was a rule, she followed it. She was in bed at lights out, in her own little corner of the yard during their daily time outside so that no one would bother her... hell, she'd even done her damndest to memorize the Dewey Decimal system. Sitting in a chair across from the three people who held her fate in their hands, she'd been repentant, demure, and full of promises that her life had made a 180. She was worth the risk, her eyes pleaded, while her hands lay folded calmly in her lap and she gave voice to reassurances that she was rehabilitated. They'd believed her.

After four years of institutionalized living, she found herself suddenly on the verge of freedom. A meeting with her parole officer, a long list of rules that she had to follow, and suddenly she was standing in front of the prison gates, the new pair of blue jeans that they had offered her sticking to her flesh in the blazing California sun. The clothes that she came in with were in a crisp paper bag, neatly folded. She planned on letting them stay that way. Bits of fabric could hold bad memories just as easily as anything else, and today was a happy day, not to be marred by their presence.

Angel had promised to send someone to pick her up, but it had still taken her a while to realize that the rickety truck and its bald, friendly owner were there for her. He said his name was Gunn, and he smiled and opened the door for her, and she eagerly scampered into the cab, sliding easily across the ripped vinyl seats of her ride out of this place. Conversation had flowed easily, at least on his side, until he realized that she wasn't listening. It might have been the death grip she had on the top of that poor paper bag, or the way that her throat kept working as she swallowed convulsively, or the fact that she was wound so tightly that it was a wonder that she didn't implode, but he got the distinct impression that small talk just wasn't on her mind at the moment.

He'd heard the rumors, the stories, and wondered for a moment if he'd accidentally picked up the wrong girl because the chick sitting beside him, eyes twitching with barely restrained nervousness, didn't quite match up with the mental picture that he was carrying around. For someone who had once conspired to end the world, she seemed a bit high-strung. Of course, he imagined that he'd be nervous too if he'd just gotten out of a four year stint in the pen and was headed back to live among folks that he'd tried to off last time he'd been sans hand-cuffs.

"Where are we going?"

The words had been said so fast, jumbling together in a rush of barely recognizable consonants and vowels, that he almost had to ask her to repeat herself.

"Uh, I figured the hotel. Don't reckon you have a place to stay yet, and Angel's certainly got more than enough room."

"Will Cordelia be there?" Please, please, please, she begged.

"Nope. I think she took the day off," he offered, dividing his time equally between her tense features and the road.

"Will you take me to where she lives?" She hated to sound like this, so needy, almost begging, but she had to see Cordelia, had to try and set things right. The fact that the other girl had taken the day off wasn't in the least heartening, but she wasn't going to back down from this without at least trying. It was all she had been thinking about since Angel had given her a tiny spark of hope that she'd get out, and she had to do it before she lost her nerve.

"I can do that. You wanna give her a call? Make sure she's gonna be there?" he asked, holding out a cell phone.

"No," Faith replied stiffly, head jerking out a quick negative, afraid that if given warning, Cordelia would flee. "I'd kind of like to surprise her."

"I'm not so sure that's she's big on surprises." He sounded wary now, as if he wanted to back down.

"Please..." He could tell by the way she said it that it wasn't a word that she used often, and despite himself, Gunn found that he wanted to give her this gift, whatever it was. Maybe it had something to do with the way she looked, so lost, clutching at that bag as if it were a lifeline, every line in her body taut, foot tapping nervously on the floorboard, eyebrows flinching inward as if she were thinking of something that worried her. Or maybe, he thought objectively, it was because a pretty woman had asked him with a please, and there was no sense in denying her.

"If she ain't happy about it, I'm expecting you to divert the wrath away from my hide. I'm just an innocent bystander here," he joked, throwing her an easy smile. It seemed to work, to calm her down a little.

"Don't worry... if there's any wrath involved, it'll all be directed squarely at me," she replied, feeling the tension in her shoulders loosen a little as she turned her gaze once more to the window. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a bright explosion of color, and with palm outstretched, ordered Gunn to stop.

"What is it?" he asked, feeling slightly out of breath as he searched the road in front of him frantically. He'd expected to see a kid dart in front of the truck, or a dog, or an old lady, or a demon, or something. There was nothing though, just the irritated honk of horns behind him, and Faith beside him on the seat, digging frantically into her little bag of possessions.

She'd entered jail with exactly $6.23. It was still there, tucked away in the pocket of her leather pants, and she jumped out of the truck, ignoring the shouts of outraged motorists as she headed for the front door of the small florist's shop.

She didn't really have enough money for anything, but the owner felt badly for her, the pull of those dark eyes prompting him to offer her a bouquet of wildflowers, the riotous colors loosely bound together with a thin, white ribbon, and she smiled at him before bounding out of the store once more, hopping back into the truck.

Gunn shot her a confused look, eyes trailing down to the flowers and back up to her face, but she shot him a withering glare and refused to say anything, until finally, with a snort and a shake of the head, he restarted the truck, merging back into traffic. And then, before she was ready for it, he told her they were there, giving her an apartment number and letting her know that he'd wait in the truck.

Cordelia wasn't sure why she had agreed to this. It had been three months since what she'd come to call the rejection. For the last two of those, she'd been dodging invitations from her upstairs neighbor Kevin. Dating was definitely not the first thing on her mind at the moment, but earlier this week she'd found herself saying yes. Maybe it was because she knew that Faith was getting out today, and she didn't want to sit in her apartment alone, with nothing but her own bitterness and painful memories to keep her company. Maybe it was some sort of useless revenge, or maybe it was a misplaced attempt to prove to herself that she was over Faith. No matter what it was, she was dressed for it, her lithe body encased in a soft blue sleeveless dress, her long legs accentuated by the boost of heels.

The knock at the door brought her to her feet with a scowl. He was early, and since she didn't want to be going out with him in the first place, that made her unreasonably angry. The agitated tap of heels on hardwood echoed through the apartment, and with a jerk of the chain and a hard twist of the knob, she flung the door open, fully intending to hold onto her bad mood. But it wasn't Kevin, and her hand came up to cover her lips, lungs collapsing on a gasp as she stared at the figure in front of her.

Faith, a small bunch of wildflowers clutched firmly in hand, shifting nervously from foot to foot and staring at her with expectant, shy eyes. And, oh God, she was achingly beautiful, standing there in front of Cordelia, with her hair tucked behind her ears and her teeth closing over her bottom lip as she pressed the little bouquet forward, and all of the emotions that had taken three months of pushing and denial and self-imposed blindness to subside came rushing back to the fore with a force that left the seer breathless, and for a moment, she hated Faith for that. It wasn't fair, wasn't fair that she could stand there with a look of hesitant hope, a tentative smile and a bunch of flowers as if they might absolve her, and Cordelia refused to let the raw, ugly streak of pain that had been pulsing just beneath her skin for so long go that easily.

"Can we talk?" She couldn't do anything but nod, but push the door away and step back far enough to let the other girl enter. Moments later, she found herself firmly ensconced on her couch, Faith having deposited her bundle of flowers on the coffee table before settling down next to her, hands clasped together tightly in her lap. They were turned slightly, facing one another across the length of a cushion, and it was all Faith could do to keep her hands in her lap. She wanted to reach out, to just let her fingers brush along that agonizingly soft skin, to draw courage from the warmth of the other girl under her fingertips.

"I wanted to apologize to you." She'd practiced this hundreds of times, but here, when it mattered, it all came out so awkward, the words forced. Cordelia wasn't helping, just sitting there in silence, wide hazel eyes watching her intently.

"When you told me... when you said that you... loved me, I didn't say it back." Well duh Faith, she thought, mentally slapping herself on the forehead. Why don't we bring up a painful memory that she's already quite aware of, just to break the ice.

"I wanted to." There, that was better. Or at least, it was supposed to be. But the harsh ragged breathing coming from the other girl, and the stiff, almost unnaturally still set of her body didn't necessarily provide the gleeful reception to her declaration that she'd been expecting. Maybe she didn't believe it. It certainly wasn't as if Faith had given her much to indicate that this was so the last time they'd talked. So, taking a deep breath, she pulled out the one thing she had to offer, hoping it was enough.

"When I was little, my mother used to get drunk, get stoned on whatever she could wrangle out of whoever she brought home with her. When she'd get wasted, she'd get violent, and sometimes... well, a lot of the time really, she'd hit me," she started, pausing a minute to see if Cordelia was listening, if she had realized the import of these words. It was everything that Faith had refused to share before, everything that she kept locked up and hidden away from the world, and for the first time, she was offering it to someone freely. Not for compassion, not for pity, but because so much of her was wrapped up in the terse words, and she wanted to give it to the other girl, to give herself. "Usually it wasn't so bad, just maybe a few bruises or a little cut or two, but she came to me this one time, and I don't know what I'd done to set her off, or what she'd been taking that day, but she was so, so very angry..."

She caught herself trailing off, felt her eyes unfocus as she went back to the moment, and pulled herself in, determined to get through this without expending any more messy emotions than she had to. "She had this belt. It was made out of the thickest leather that I'd ever seen. My Dad left it behind when he cut out on us, and I think she got some sort of perverse satisfaction out of using it to hurt me. Anyway, the buckle had one of those curved, spike-like pieces of metal that would slide down into a hole in the leather, and when she came into my room that night, I guess she wasn't paying attention because when she started to hit me I could feel the sting of that buckle. Usually she was careful about stuff like that, not leaving any real marks that might get her in trouble, but this time she was out of control." She shivered slightly remembering. The wild look in her mother's eye had been scary, as if she weren't really inhabiting her body, as if she were in another time, another place in her mind. "I was curled up in the corner, just wanting it to stop, when she got me in the shoulder. The spike got caught in my flesh, and when she pulled back it ripped through the skin all the way across my back down to my ribs."

The scar twitched, as it always did when she thought about this, one of the many wounds that Slayer healing couldn't fix. "When you asked me about it I just... I... didn't want you to know how pathetic I'd been, how weak, how I'd let her treat me like that, how I didn't fight back. And it just... I don't know. I never did tell anybody about it back then, just stayed out of her way until it healed up and then tried like hell to forget about it. And once it had, I could pretend that it wasn't there, that it had never happened, that my mother... my mother had never done anything to hurt me. But then you came along, and you looked at me like you actually cared about me, and I wanted so badly to tell you... I was still scared though, afraid that if I gave you that power, that I'd only get hurt again."

Pausing to take a deep breath, she continued on nervously, eyes searching Cordelia's face for any hint of a reaction. "It wasn't supposed to happen. I wasn't supposed to love you back, but I did. And when you told me... well, what did I have to offer you? A convict with a less than pristine past, no real assurances that the future is going to be any better, and I thought that you deserved better than that. You do deserve better than that. You deserve to be free to find somebody who can give you all the things I can't. But see, the only thing is, I don't want you to find somebody else. I want you to love me. I don't have much... well anything really, to offer you. Just myself, that's all, and I can certainly understand if I'm not enough. I just wanted you to know, though, that you're the only person I've ever trusted enough to let see just how weak I was... and still am. You're the only person I've ever loved enough to throw my stupid pride away and beg them to love me back, and if you'll forgive me for being a fool, then you'll be the only person that I'll ever offer those things to."

Strong fingers reached out, no longer content to be that close to the flesh they craved without touching. Cupping the other girl's jaw, bringing her eyes even with dark brown, Faith opened her mouth to say the one thing she hadn't been able to before, "Cordelia, I..."

The sharp rap of knuckles on wood cut through her words, and with a startled jerk, Cordelia pulled her head free, inwardly cursing whoever it was. The plea had been so utterly Faith, raw, with a hint of inelegance, but nothing less than her heart, ripped out of her chest and laid bare in front of her, a painful offering of all that she had. And Cordelia didn't think she was weak, had never thought she was weak, and cursed the insensitive bitch who had done that to a child, who had made the other girl ashamed of something that wasn't ever her fault. Part of her wanted to pull Faith into her arms and hold her until all the bad memories were just phantoms, wanted to protect her somehow, this girl that was physically stronger than three of her but still so fragile when it came to anything else. But that annoying little tap, tap, tap at her door made it hard for her to think, and she jumped up from the couch, intent on making it go away.

Pulling open the door with a jerk, she was surprised by a bundle of dark red roses, and over six feet of blond, blue-eyed, khaki-clad annoying neighbor Kevin, who hadn't once crossed her mind since she'd opened the door the first time to find Faith.

"Hello, beautiful," he said, in what she imagined he thought was a sexy voice, but it rankled down her spine, making her even angrier at his intrusion.

"You ready to go?" he asked, and she looked back over her shoulder. There she saw Faith, her velvety eyes looking from the doorway, and the man who probably represented all of the things that she told herself that Cordelia deserved, to the impressive and beautiful dozen long-stemmed roses that he held out, putting her own pitiful offering to shame, and stood, her movements slow, as if her joints refused to work, refused to accept that this was how things were.

"I think," she rasped, somehow making her way to the door, somehow sliding between the well-matched couple, "that I shouldn't have come here. It was good to see you, C. Have a nice time tonight. I won't... I won't bother you again."

She made it all the way to the truck, had managed to pull the door open and was ready to climb in so that the man looking at her with curious eyes could take her away from here, when she felt the clamp of a strong hand on her shoulder, felt herself being turned until she was facing the woman that had just broken her heart, and her eyes dropped down, focusing on the tips of her shoes scuffing against the dirty pavement.

"Don't you dare do this to me again," Cordelia said, her voice rough with emotion, her fingers hard against Faith's chin as she pulled her head up, catching her eyes and refusing to let go. "Don't you dare sit there and tell me all of those things and then get up and leave without even putting up a fight. I tried so hard to hate you, but I just can't... just can't do it, and you have no right to come back into my life, make me believe that you love me too, and then just run away. No right, and I swear to God, if you get in that truck and drive away, then there won't be any more chances."

When Faith didn't answer, she continued on, pretending that she didn't see Gunn's interested face peering over Faith's shoulder, that she wasn't standing out in the middle of a parking lot with her emotions on display for all to see. "You don't know what you did to me. God Faith, I hurt so much, and for so long, and it was just now getting to where I could wake up in the morning without that dull ache in my chest. Do you know what that feels like? To open yourself up completely, to be vulnerable and exposed, and to get, as your reward, a kick in the gut and cold eyes telling you that your feelings are worthless?"

"Apparently you somehow managed to move on." They were the first words she had spoken since Cordelia had caught up to her. Bitter, angry words that the hurt deep inside of her threw out.

"I choose you, and you walk away from that right now, you walk away from it forever." Hard words, hard eyes, the tight grip of fingers on her chin, and Faith stopped listening to all the voices in her head that kept reminding her how much it had hurt to see Cordelia open the door for someone else.

"I love you," she said simply, shoulders straightening, chest heaving as she tried to pull air into lungs that seemed to have stopped working.

And then those lips were on hers, burning into her, and she could feel the wetness of what she assumed was tears on her cheeks. It was a short kiss, one of reassurance and reintroduction, a visceral need to know that it was all really happening, and when Cordelia pulled back, shaky fingers reaching up to trace over the lush line of Faith's bottom lip, the Slayer wrapped her arms tightly around the figure in front of her, desperately needing the calming reassurance on that familiar flesh on hers.

"I'm so sorry." She mumbled it over and over again, her lips buried in the crook of a shoulder, the tease of fingers lightly stroking her back.

Cordelia reached out, catching hold of the door frame and swinging it shut. She jerked her head to the left, a delicate brow arching as she silently asked to be left alone, and Gunn complied. A wide smile broke across his face as he started the truck and a hard swipe of the hand put it into drive before he sped away, eager to return to the hotel and claim the throne as king of hot gossip.

Disentangling herself from Faith's tight grip, Cordelia pulled back slightly, her eyes taking in the sight of her lover standing there, the hint of a smile teasing the corners of her lip. Reaching out with one hand, catching Faith's fingers in a tight grasp, she gave a sharp tug, sweet words that she had never anticipating using spilling past her lips.

"Let's go home."