by Dolores

And the living is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich
And your momma's good-lookin'
So hush now, baby
Don't you cry

It was the sort of day that reminded her of that song. So hot that everything was sticky, and a sheen of perspiration glistened across the top of her chest, darkening the navy blue material of her tank top at the neckline, making her loose white shirt cling to her shoulders. There was air conditioning on the bus but it was ineffectual, and the passengers were reduced to wafting at the humid air with glossy magazines that became slippery from sweaty palms.

The song in turn reminded Cordelia of her mother. On hot summer nights when little CeeCee couldn't sleep and twisted and turned in her cot, Mommy would softly croon to her daughter this affirmation of the Chase family's superiority. After all, Daddy was rich, and Mommy was good lookin'; it was only a matter of time before Cordelia would rise up singing.

She considered her performances at Caritas and the irony of that particular lyric. She couldn't sing, but then her Daddy was no longer rich and years of illness and prescription drug abuse had robbed Mom of her good looks. There was still a faded glamour there, but it was more Baby Jane than Liza Minnelli. Not that she could talk: the way she was going through painkillers she wouldn't be far behind her mother before long. As it was she was already older than her years, the lines on her face much deeper than they should be for a 21-year-old. The price of her gift.

At least she was still alive, which is more than could be said for Doyle, or Ms. Calendar, or Mrs. Summers - or Buffy. Never forget Buffy. It was why she was on this stupid bus in the first place.

She'd cried when Willow had told them. She could tell that Willow was surprised by that, either believing that Cordelia disliked Buffy or would be too heartless to react if she did. Truth be told, Willow wasn't far wrong - she wasn't crying for Buffy. Well, alright, maybe a little -- but mostly she was crying for Angel, who'd taken the news with the sort of reaction normally reserved for coma patients, sinking to the floor and staying silent for three hours before crying for days.

If he hadn't asked her to do this, she wouldn't have done it. Someone needed to go; but volunteers were unsurprisingly thin on the ground. Angel was too much of a mess to make the trip and Wesley steadfast in his refusal, so Cordelia had reluctantly agreed. At the funeral, Giles had given her a message from the Council to deliver, telling Cordy that they had even arranged a private room so secrecy could be assured. How thoughtful.

The bus squealed to a halt outside the imposing walls of the prison. The sidewalk was dusty and the road shimmered in the sunlight as Cordelia stepped off the bus and strode up to the front gates, sliding sunglasses on to tired eyes as she did so. Mention of her name got her special attention, and two prison officers in brown uniforms whisked her past the small queue of those waiting to see other inmates and straight into the prison building. She made a mental note to find out if the Council could get her into some showbiz parties as easily.

It was remarkably cool inside the main prison building, and as they walked along the magnolia corridors she pulled the blouse closed because she was sure her nipples had gone stiff and she wasn't wearing a bra. Not that her companions seemed to pay any attention. When they reached room 44A her escort of two stocky guards halted, and the one with the mustache turned to her.

"She's in there," he said, twitching his facial hair. "If she gives you any trouble just holler."

"How long do I have?" she asked, pulling off the glasses and glancing at her watch.

"As long as you need."

With that he fished out a set of keys from his pocket, and selected one that was long and silver. A twist in the lock and the door swung open. From her corner of the room Faith looked up and stared right in Cordelia's eyes. "Who's dead?"

The door shut with a clank. Cordelia broke the gaze, and looked at the wall. "Buffy."

There was a pause. Then, "Well, shit. What got her?"

Clutching her arms across her chest, Cordelia appraised the room for a moment, then slowly moved her head until she was looking at Faith. "Nothing. She killed herself."

Faith blinked. "Buffy didn't strike me as the 'Goodbye, cruel world' type."

"Actually, she did it to save the cruel world, because unlike some people, she didn't think it revolved it around her."

Faith's eyes narrowed. "Throwing stones in glass houses, C? You oughta watch that."

Cordelia chose not to dignify the comment with a retort.

The room's only furniture was a wooden table and two chairs, neither of which Faith had chosen to use. Cordelia placed her bag on the table then took a seat. She kept her eyes on Faith throughout.

"So, are you going to ask how Angel is, or do you just not care?"

That stung, just as Cordelia intended. Faith looked uncomfortable, and her gaze dropped to her shoes. "How is he?"

"Strangely, he's pretty much devastated, what with Buffy being the love of his unlife and all." Faith continued to look pathetic: a small, thin person in a grey prison uniform, and Cordelia's mood softened a little. "He's... he's doing okay. Furniture was broken, there were tears, he's brooding worse than ever. He did punch Spike after the funeral though; I think that helped."

Faith snickered in her corner, then choked on a sob. Looking anywhere but at the other woman, Cordelia made a fuss of rifling through her bag before producing a slim white envelope. She placed it on the table.

"This is for you. From the Council."

Faith looked up, wiping one traitorous eye with her sleeve. "What does it say?"

Cordelia shrugged. "I don't know. I don't tend to read other people's mail. Much."

It sat there for a moment, pristine on the tabletop. Then Faith slowly got to her feet, sliding her back up the wall. A step forward and she was at the table, and using one trembling, pale hand, picked up her letter. The envelope was ripped in half, and its fragments fluttered to the floor. Faith scanned the expensive white paper with its silver letterhead.

Sitting back in her chair, Cordelia regarded Faith with mild interest, raising an eyebrow when Faith crumpled the letter in her hand and tossed it to one side. "Let me guess: you were lucky enough to be one of only five thousand psychos to be selected for the Watchers' Council Prize Draw..."

"Shut up." Faith was breathing heavily, and her chest heaved with the effort. Cordelia looked askance. "They're not letting me out," Faith said, almost in a whisper.


Faith's stare bored into Cordelia. "There's only one Slayer left now, right? Me. Buffy is playin' her harp so it's my job now. And they aren't gonna let me out to do it." Screwing her eyes shut, she slammed a palm onto the table in frustration, and the wood splintered with the impact. "Fuck."

"I'm sorry; you thought there'd be a get out of jail free card in that letter? Like, why?"

Faith turned her back on Cordy. "They're the fucking Council! They can do it."

"Sure, probably. But, why would they want to? You didn't get in here for jaywalking."

Faith barked in harsh laughter, turning to face Cordelia again. "Don't you get it? I need to get out! I need to, for her! I can't -- couldn't ever have fixed things with me an' B, so the only way to make up for all the things I did is go out and be the Slayer I should have been all along. And they won't fucking let me. Still assessing my danger to the public my ass. Letting me rot more likely."

"So, what, you have a mystical destiny and that means you get to bypass justice? It doesn't work like that, Faith."

"What happens the next time the apocalypse comes, huh? Some use I'll be, folding sheets in the laundry whilst demons eat New Orleans."

Cordelia didn't seem to be moved. "The Council didn't put you here."

"Maybe not, but they can get me out."

"Why? So you can run off, kill some demons and feel better about yourself?"

"It works for Angel."

Cordelia recoiled from Faith, curling her lip. She got to her feet and snatched up her bag, then turned on her heel and made for the door without a second glance.

"C! No, don't, please..."

She paused at the door, and folded her arms. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't go."

In a small voice Faith replied, "Cuz I don't want you to. Please."

As Cordelia turned around a fat tear slid down Faith's cheek, dropping on to the charcoal material of her blouse. The Slayer was staring into space.

"I have to do this, C. I loved her. In my own sick, twisted way, but I did."

"Tell me something I don't know."

Faith's eyes darted to Cordelia. "You knew?"

"You were never the most subtle girl. Besides, I remembered Angelus. Hatred that deep? Gotta be love. Also? Oz said he could smell it."

Faith laughed for an instant then cried a little more. There was no violence, no hysteria. Just small hiccups and more tears. Feeling awkward, Cordelia embraced her, and held Faith tight to her.

Cordelia didn't recall when the crying stopped and the kissing started. She remembered thinking that Faith tasted faintly of sweet tobacco, contemplating this for a moment, then pulling back in shock.

"OK, that did so not just happen."

Faith smiled. Not a sassy grin, or a predatory expression. Just a smile. "If you say so. Thanks either way, cuz it helped." She dragged a sleeve over her eyes.

Cordelia looked uncomfortable. "I have -- I should go. I need to get back to Angel." Before Faith could stop her she knocked on the door, and it opened after a few seconds to reveal mustache guy.

As Cordelia stepped out, Faith called after her, "Tell him I'm thinkin' of him."

The other woman nodded, turning her head back and hesitantly asking, "Will you be ok?"

Faith shrugged. "Eventually. One of these mornings."

Cordelia gave her a weary smile.

"Tell me about it. And Faith? Glad I could help."