Temporary Sweetener
by jbslayer

Pain. Well dressed feet. Blue pant legs. Billows of smoke. A gasp of pain. Buffy. Buffy moving, side to side, round and about surrounded by clouds of smoke. Someone's yelling, it's Buffy's name. Head turns to side, an image is caught on the reflective surface of a piece of metal. The face reflected is Cordelia's. Cordelia's hands on Buffy's shoulders. The smoke dissipates. Bright light.

"Arrrrrrrgh," Cordelia moaned grasping her head in pain as she felt the contents of her stomach begin to rise up into her throat and her legs begin to totter. She felt herself beginning to fall over only to be grasped around the waist by two strong hands before she began to feel herself being lifted into the air moments later.

"Ugh," she groaned again, blinking rapidly as her head began to clear and it didn't hurt to think anymore. She could hear hurried footsteps and then felt a depression on whatever surface it was she was laying on. A voice, Angel, was asking if she was alright. "I'm fine," she managed to choke out in the general direction of the hazy blob in front of her she assumed was the vampire.

"What'd you see?" Angel asked softly reaching out his hand to accept the cool compress Fred was holding out for him.

"Buffy," Cordelia responded struggling to sit up. The terror she felt in the vision still lingered inside of her keeping her somewhat off kilter.

"What do I have to do?" Angel asked trying to keep the alarm he felt out of his voice. He didn't like this, a message from the powers so soon after she'd come back, when she clearly wasn't up to anything let alone saving the world once more. "What was it?"

"I don't know," Cordelia responded truthfully her head finally clear as she sat up and rubbed at her temples. "But I have to go, to Sunnydale. I saw myself, in the vision. I'm there with her when whatever it is happens."

"We'll leave as soon as you can pack," Angel replied, standing up and offering his hand to Cordelia.

Cordelia grasped his hand allowing him to pull her up easily, before preparing to object to his use of the word `we'. She hadn't seen him in the vision anywhere. "Angel I ..."

But before she could get another word out, her hands flew to her head once more and she fell to the ground, her eyes screwed tightly shut as another vision overtook her mind. Rocking and battering her until she felt a deep ache in every part of her body.

"Buffy?" Angel asked gently picking Cordelia up and resting her on the couch once more, his free hand dragging the hair strewn across her face to the side.

"No, young kid, maybe 13. In a warehouse near the Boulevard. He's surrounded by Pylorian demons. And there's a sign on the wall with a giant egg on it," the brunette related as she rubbed at her eyes tiredly.

"Wesley, Gunn," Angel started to say looking over at the two men on Cordelia's other side.

"No," Cordelia stated firmly.

"What do you mean no," Angel asked looking over at her with that charmingly confused look on his face.

"I mean you stay, I go," Cordelia responded standing up. "Whatever is happening in Sunnydale, you're not suppose to be there. You're needed here, at that warehouse. Whatever that kids involved with, it's more than a night's work," she continued placing a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry," she went on in softer tone. "I'll look out for her. After all, she is the only one of you dunces who can appreciate my shoe collection...be it a dwindling one," she continued now standing. "I'll call if anything pops up," and with that she headed for the door before they could stop her, or she could stop herself.

Back to Sunnydale, home sweet hell.


Cordelia slowly made her way up the steps onto the Summer's front porch, until both of her feet came to rest on the bare straw mat that lay in front of the door. She looked down in-between her feet and smiled, people in L.A. still had ones that read: Welcome. Looking back up, she confirmed that the doorbell was indeed in the same place she'd last seen it and extended her hand to ring the bell. But just before her finger reached the black button, she stopped, her arm merely hovering centimeters away. It had been so long since she had been there, not that she used to be at Buffy's house everyday braiding the Slayer's hair and helping her carve stakes, but even she could tell it felt different. It had only been a few years, but they hadn't been short and so much had changed. And, as her hand hovered by the bell, she wondered if anything would be the same.

"I can't answer the door if you don't ring the bell," said a soft voice from behind Cordelia. The brunette turned her head around slowly recognizing the voice immediately as Buffy's. Her tone was flatter, softer than Cordelia was used to hearing from the blonde, but it was unmistakably Buffy.

Now facing the blonde she looked at her intently, and with a slight smile moved her finger the last centimeter, pressing down on the black button, filling the silence of the porch with a faint buzzing.

"You cut your hair," Buffy said making her way onto the porch and reaching for the door handle.

"You've grown yours out," Cordelia responded eyeing the blonde as she pushed through the now open door, only looking back briefly to make sure the brunette was following her before continuing further into the house.

"Can I get you something to drink?" Buffy asked carelessly tossing her jacket over the back of one of the chairs around the kitchen table as she made her way to the sink. "We've got every pop known to mankind, and...apparently soy milk."

"I'm fine," Cordelia responded softly, unconsciously matching Buffy's tone. "Thanks," she continued observing the blonde as she nodded to indicate she'd heard the brunette then reach for a glass for herself.

The brunette hadn't really been sure to expect when she saw Buffy for the first time, but from the way she was feeling having finally met her again, she knew she hadn't been expecting this. She supposed that considering all that had happened to Buffy over the past year, hell over the past couple of weeks, that the blonde seemed to be doing rather well. Sure she wasn't exactly a ray of shine, but logically one couldn't expect her to be. She had lost her mother, nearly lost her sister, died, was banished to a hell dimension, and then suddenly brought back to life. That was pretty rough deal; it would've left anyone feeling a bit out of sorts. It would have been insanity to expect her to be the same old Buffy. But as Cordelia watched her pour herself a glass of water, she realized that she had secretly been expecting to see the old Buffy. That somehow she had just assumed that Buffy would've bounced back like always, and when they met they would've insulted each others clothing and it would have been like the good old days. But the moment she arrived at the house, and saw the unkempt lawn, the shoddily patched up window, and the overhanging tree branches she knew. She knew that it wasn't going to be like the good old days, and standing in the center of the Summer's kitchen watching the Slayer watch her; she suddenly realized that she had no idea what to do.

"Have we run out of small talk?" Buffy asked snapping Cordelia out of her thoughts.

"Where's Dawn?" Cordelia asked ignoring the blonde's question. The fact was that there was plenty to talk to about, too much to talk about, and there was no way that they would talk about it. They could talk about how Buffy looked like shit, they could talk about how the house looked like it had been ransacked, they could talk about how she had mind numbing visions, or how she was no longer able to sleep through the night. They could talk about what hell was like, about how it felt to feel like the powers that be were punishing you for trying to do your best. They could talk about what it felt like to have no life, to feel like a plague that would infect and destroy anyone who got close to you. They could talk about how they would sigh in relief as night fell. They could talk about having no parents and being on their own. They could talk about a lot of things, but they wouldn't.

"School," Buffy responded. "Apparently the teacher's LIKE her. Heard that's what happens when you attend," she continued pulling out a chair and sitting down. "You can sit down you know, we don't have a lot of chairs left but the ones that are here are fully functional."

"What happened? To the house I mean?" Cordelia asked pulling out a chair and sitting down gingerly, still uncertain of the structural soundness of the object in question.

"Crystal eating, fish demon," Buffy responded nonchalantly. "Why are you here?"

"I had a vision," Cordelia responded settling onto the chair more securely. Buffy's segue into finding out what the hell she was doing back in Sunnydale hadn't exactly been subtle, but she was glad for the change of subject. She could talk business. "I know that sounds like I eat granola and sleep on bubble wrap, but two years ago..."

"I know about the visions," Buffy interjected cutting Cordelia off. "Angel told me. He said you almost died from them."

"That was different," Cordelia, responded both surprised and not surprised that she had come up during any conversations the two of them had had. "Most of the time they're just excruciatingly painful, not lethal."

Buffy let out a bark of dark laughter. "Don't you love being special?" she asked looking up and over at Cordelia, her lips twitching upwards, but not quite smiling.

"Doesn't all suck," Cordelia responded seriously meeting her gaze. "But," she continued smiling slightly, "when it does decide to bend you over it works you with a ten foot pole."

Buffy's lips twitched again at this, this time forming what could be recognized as a smile, but her expression reverted back to the mask of indifference that it had been since Cordelia first turned on the porch to face her.

"What could you have possibly seen that would bring you here?" Buffy asked resting her elbow on the table boredly and propping her head in her hands.

"Me. Here," Cordelia responded, blinking rapidly in surprise when Buffy started to laugh. "That's funny?" the brunette asked wondering if perhaps she should have asked Angel to go into a bit more detail about Buffy's mental state before entering a confined, deserted space with her.

"Strangely, yes," Buffy replied standing up and heading for the door. "Feel like taking a walk?" she asked looking back at Cordelia briefly.

"I guess so," Cordelia responded seeing Buffy pick up her jacket and knowing that Buffy was going for one whether she went or not.

"I'm not really a fan of confined spaces right now," Buffy continued as Cordelia stood up to follow her. "Can't imagine why," she went on as they stepped out of the house and she closed the door. "Must have had something to do with the coffin I used to play in as a child."

"Morbid much?" Cordelia asked as they stepped down the steps.

"Seems so. But, I'm getting the impression that `being re-animated from death' humor has kind of jumped the shark," Buffy responded turning off of the driveway and onto the sidewalk.

"I think it has a certain charm to it," Cordelia responded sticking her hands in her pockets as they made their way down the street. "I get a lot of drop dead's in L.A. ... you know, from cabbies, and after my so close to death I knew what he had lunch experience, I liked to respond, been there done that still waiting on the rain check," Cordelia continued glancing over at the blonde. "But you're right, I think that it really is an acquired taste."

Buffy smirked but said nothing as they cut across the street and headed downtown.

"You know," the Slayer started a moment later. "If I wasn't so sure that you were here to tell me something's going to kill me again, I'd say that it was good to see you." Cordelia smiled and shook her head. Now that the extreme awkwardness had worn off, she found herself thinking that it was kind of nice to see Buffy too.


"They didn't really give me much with this one. I don't know, maybe I couldn't see more because it has to do with me, or maybe they were just feeling particularly bitchy last night, I don't know. So, what I'm trying to say, apparently taking the scenic route to it, is that I don't know what's coming; I don't when it's coming, or what it wants. All I know is that it is coming, it'll be here sometime, and when it finds you I'm there with you," Cordelia related moving the spoon around her coffee, watching as the brown liquid swirled around and around in the hideously oversized cup.

"You do realize that you've been of absolutely no help," Buffy replied staring out the window. Ooh, another mysterious evil, that was unexpected. The blonde sighed and brought her hand up to rub at her temples tiredly. Another threat to the survival of the world, how May of the powers, twice in one year wasn't she the lucky lass.

"I hoping that more will come later," Cordelia related finally placing her spoon on the saucer. "That happens sometimes, like a mini-series only usually without Joanna Kerns."

"Usually?" the blonde asked glancing at her companion.

"Yeah, she sometimes pops up. After Growing Pains ended she sold her soul to Kalshar and tends to pop up in ritual sacrifice visions," Cordelia responded. "I love her robes though, it's always a surprise."


"It's Calvin Klein, he's Rashtazar's servant on earth and Rash and Kal are really tight, so Joanna's got a whole specialized line of bloodstain resistant poly-cotton blend, doubled stitched robes," Cordelia continued. "Martha's really bitter about the arrangement, she has to wear smocks."

"What you just said," Buffy responded once Cordelia had finished.

"Yeah," Cordelia responded watching with a frown as Buffy pushed her untouched plate away.

"That was more depressing than dying," Buffy continued with a sigh.

Cordelia watched Buffy for a moment after the Slayer spoke. She wore weariness over her face like glitter make-up, the dark bags under hers eyes only accentuating the hollowness of her eyes, and the gauntness of her cheeks. She was getting the impression that right now Buffy would have considered pretty much anything more depressing than dying, and that confused Cordelia as much as it worried her.

"You're wrong you know," the ex-cheerleader responded a moment later, her tone completely serious. "If you think that's more depressing than dying, then you need to see Fred's wardrobe," she continued in the same tone. "Everyone thinks that chiffon went out of style with asbestos, but the bitch is back and I have to work in the same building as it. I mean, imagine trying to convince the bank that you actually live in Spain so that they won't foreclose on everything and your shoes, with the knowledge that mere meters above your head lives a sea-foam chiffon chemise."

"You're right," Buffy said looking over at her. "That is horribly depressing."

And as Cordelia looked over at Buffy she could see that the woman seemed to look even worse, and realized that her little story hadn't helped matters. "Of course we have to look on the bright side," the brunette continued a moment later.

"What? Even chiffon disintegrates with time?" Buffy asked quirking an eyebrow at the brunette.

"No," Cordelia replied shaking her head. "Maybe that's why I was sent here, to tell that story, so that when our mystery monster arrives, all we have to do is throw a chiffon camisole over it, and it'll die of shame," she continued in a conspirital whisper, pleased to see Buffy smile and shake her head in response.

"Come on," Buffy said standing up a moment later. "I have to go pick up Dawn."

"Why, are her legs broken?" Cordelia asked standing up nonetheless.

"No," Buffy responded as they headed for the door. "It's just that... before...well before when Glory was loose I got used to picking her up and...it feels normal," she continued pushing out into the sunlight.

"Normal," Cordelia repeated as she joined Buffy on the sidewalk. "What's that again?"


"This is it," Buffy said as they stopped just outside the doors to The Magic Box. Dawn had been ecstatic to see Cordelia, for some reason the younger girl had always thought that Cordelia was all that and a bag of chips, and much to Buffy's relief Dawn had immediately begun to engage the other brunette in conversation from the moment they saw each other.

"Fresh coat of paint," Cordelia said turning around to face Buffy. "That's new for this part of town," the brunette continued. Buffy had been silent since they'd picked Dawn up and while she had been entertained by the smaller Summer's girl, she couldn't help but worry about Buffy at the same time. Despite the blonde's statement that she had wanted to pick Dawn up because it seemed normal, and the amazing sacrifice she had made the girl, from what Cordelia could see Buffy didn't seem all that interested in her. She'd barely greeted the girl when they arrived at the school, and as soon as Dawn had started talking to her Buffy had moved ahead of them, seemingly unaware of their presence for the past twenty minutes.

"Anya's in charge of the shop now...even though Giles is back," Dawn interjected into the silence that followed Cordelia's statement. "The place has got a lot of cool stuff in it, but Anya employs a strict `you break it, you bought it' policy, so I'd be careful about what you touch," the younger girl continued. "Xander's still paying off the Hhasperas hide he spilled Coke on."

"You know what they say," Cordelia responded smirking at Dawn as Buffy opened the door to the store. "Retail, it's not a profession, it's a way of life."


"No really, they're glad to see you," Dawn whispered to Cordelia as the occupants of the shop continued to stare at her blanketing the room in an unnatural silence. The moment they had spotted her all activity immediately ceased and everyone began to stare at her like she'd just burned a Harry Potter book. All except for the blonde girl sitting beside Willow who just looked confused. Cordelia looked over at the youngest Summers' girl unconvinced. "Really," Dawn insisted. "We just don't get a lot of visitors."

"It's a shop," Cordelia replied with a sigh, watching as Dawn turned and looked at the rest of them imploringly. "Well," Cordelia muttered walking further into the shop. "This is going to be a horribly awkward afternoon," she continued coming to a stop at the bottom of the stairs, watching idly as Anya stepped closer to Xander and Willow whispered something to the confused blonde girl.

"Oh," Tara gasped a moment later in understanding. "She doesn't seem evil," she whispered to Willow in a voice that wasn't quite as soft as she thought it was.

Cordelia turned around and smiled at the shy blonde girl before turning her attention to the redhead sitting beside her. "Willow I'm hurt," the brunette began. "If this is because I inadvertently called you a big `ol lesbo, I didn't mean anything by it."

"You can't have Xander back. He's mine now, I've carved our initials into various objects and surrounded them by hearts," Anya said speaking up before Willow could respond to Cordelia's comment.

"Okay," Cordelia responded clapping her hands together. "With that taken care of why don't we just skip any and all attempts at small talk and I'll just get straight to the point."


Cordelia slipped out of the living room quietly making her way to the kitchen. Peeking inside and seeing that the room was empty she turned back around to head up the stairs when she noticed that the front door was ajar. Walking over she nudged the door open a fraction more and saw who she had been looking for.

She had noticed that Buffy had disappeared from the gathering some half hour before but hadn't been able to get out of the room before then. She had noticed the blonde get increasingly quite and pensive as the day wore on, and by the time the Slayer had removed herself from the company of her friends Cordelia would have been forced to describe her behavior in the afternoon as positively cherry in comparison.

Closing the door behind her she moved to sit next to the Slayer, her mind still trying to wrap around all that she had witnessed today. Sunnydale had become a far more complicated place since she had left, and they had all become far more complicated people. Everything was tense and off-kilter, dull and gray. They talked to each other without saying anything, they frowned at behavior but looked the other way, they smiled but it never reached their eyes. She felt like she had entered some kind of bizarro world where everyone looked the same, and sounded the same, but there was something just a little wrong about them. Their hair was parted in the wrong way, or one of their arms was shorter than the other. These were the people that never ran, that bit their thumb at death, that mocked the undead. They were the humble heroes. And now, well now they weren't.

"When I woke up, after the incident with the never-ending visions, I told Angel what I had seen. And he sat there quietly, looking pensive and doing that thing with his brow. You know, the furrowing thing that makes them go all scrunch-y. And I asked him if hell was like because I couldn't see how things could possibly be worse. And he was pensive for a minute; you know high octane brooding, before telling me that there weren't words in the English vocabulary to describe what hell was like. He said that on earth there was good along with the bad, and that once you had been to a place where good was distant echo the earth was like ... well he was glad to be back," Cordelia finished finally taking her eyes off of her shoes and turning to face Buffy who was staring out into the dark of the street in front of them. "You're not."

"I'm not what?" Buffy asked her attention still focused on something in the distance that Cordelia couldn't see, that Cordelia wasn't even sure was there to see.

"You don't seem glad to be back," the brunette responded keeping her eyes trained on the side of the Slayer's face. That had been bugging her since they had first seen each other, a feeling that had gotten worse throughout the day. Buffy was miserable, she could see it, and she knew that the Scoobies could see it too. Everybody saw it, but nobody talked about it. It didn't make sense, she was out of hell, she should have been getting better but she wasn't and everyone was afraid to ask why.

"I was tortured for months in an unimaginable hell dimension, surrounded by nothing but fire and agony. The only human sounds that I heard were my own tortured screams, and the only way to bare the pain without going complete insane was to shut down, to stop feeling and lose the pain in nothingness," Buffy began, her monotone voice soft and hollow. She had practiced these words and they fell out of her mouth effortlessly. "I don't seem glad because I'm not...I'm learning how to feel again," she concluded with a deep sigh. She was so tired, but she knew she couldn't sleep. To sleep was to remember so it hurt too much to sleep.

"That was almost convincing," Cordelia responded a moment later, turning her gaze out into the darkness as well. She wondered how many times Buffy had practiced that to make it sound so effortless. The words they raged, but there was no fire. Who says they want to feel with no feeling? "There's just one thing," the brunette continued, "if you want to be warm again, why are you are you running away into the dark?"

Buffy brought her head into her hands, rubbing her temples slowly. Of all the people to call her out, she hadn't thought it would Cordelia. But now that the brunette was there, it seemed to make perfect sense, why not Cordelia. Hadn't the woman always called people on their shit before? "It hurts less out here," the Slayer said finally turning to face the other woman. "It's not warm in there," she continued letting her gaze drift back into the darkness. "It's suffocating."

Cordelia turned her head to face Buffy once more upon hearing the blonde's response. She couldn't say that she was surprised by the blonde's answer considering what she had seen throughout the day. It was a curious statement to be sure, but these were curious circumstances.

"I don't expect you to get it," Buffy continued in Cordelia's silence. And she meant it, how could the brunette possibly know what she was talking, how could she expect another to know when she barely understood herself. How could Cordelia whom she hadn't seen in three years, had barely interacted with on anything more than a superficial level, and who had only been in town for eleven hours possibly understand what she meant when the people that lived with her, the people that loved her, hadn't figured it out.

"You don't feel like you can be yourself," the brunette said softly as she watched the Slayer, images and sounds from the day flooding back to her. The Scoobies furtive glances towards the blonde, the strained jokes and smiles, the constant inquires about how Buffy was feeling, the worried and somehow guilty glances sent her way when they thought she wasn't looking. "You're trying to be okay for them, but you're not okay."

"They brought me back, they were so happy. I can't be happy and I can't tell them that," Buffy responded looking at Cordelia with a touch of surprise. A touch of surprise was all she was able to get into her expression, but in reality she hadn't expected Cordelia to say anything half as insightful as she had. "The only person I've been able to talk to since ... coming back is Spike, and it's not at all possible to be happy about that," she finished her head tilting back lazily so that she could see the stars above her.

"I know," Cordelia started a moment later. "I know we were never bosom buddies, and that there was a time when I actively tried to make your life as difficult as a could in my own little way...but since then, I've come to understand a fraction of what it is that you have to deal with and how amazingly strong you really are...and always have been. And if you'd like someone to talk to besides The Neutered Dead, I'd be more than happy to listen. I'm good at that, and of course also giving my opinion afterwards," Cordelia finished offering Buffy a friendly smile before standing up. From her numerous chats with Angel she had learned that this was the best time in a conversation to let the subject ruminate over what had been said, therefore allowing them to come to the conclusion that she, as always, was right. She had, after all, gotten quite good at having these types of chats with the emotionally retarded. Hell, if she could get Angel to open up, one more talk with Buffy and she'd have the girl spilling her guts in a good, and helpful way that is.

"Cordelia," Buffy said softly looking up at the brunette, surprised at the tightening she felt in her stomach when the brunette had stood up to go. Anxiousness, that was old, she hadn't felt that it quite some time.

"Yeah?" the ex-cheerleader responded looking down at the blonde.

"I'm sorry to inform you," Buffy began desperately trying to think of something to say that would get the brunette to stay for a while longer, "that you didn't make anything difficult. In fact I found you rather refreshing in an extremely annoying sort of way," the Slayer went on, her lips twitching up a little as she anticipated the brunette's offended and hopefully protracted response.

"Really?" Cordelia asked moving to lean against the porch railing before returning her gaze to Buffy's. "So you were just pretending to hate my tell it like it is policy?"

"No, I really did hate it. I'm just a big enough person to admit, that it came in handy from time to time," Buffy responded watching the other woman pushed off of the railing as if preparing to go once more. "And," she continued taking a deep breath, "to ask, that is to say that if you're wouldn't be totally opposed to the idea ... or in other words if you think that it might be agreeable to you..."

"Do you want me to stay out here with you?" Cordelia asked cutting the blonde off with a knowing grin. "Normally I would've let you finish, but I want to get to bed sometime before the sun rises so I thought it best to take charge of the situation."

"I see you still haven't signed up for those tact lessons," Buffy replied smiling as Cordelia settled back down beside her on the steps. It was strange feeling for her lately to want any company at all, and an even stranger feeling to want Cordelia's. But it was a feeling that didn't immediately feel like it was shredding her heart, so she meant to hold on to it for as long as possible.

"Of course not," Cordelia exclaimed proudly. "I wanted to be an actress," she continued in a grand tone before smiling depreciatively. "You'd be surprised how much social consciousness doesn't help you in the `Wood. If you think Sunnydale's bad, you haven't seen anything until you've been to a meet and greet mixer."

"Horrifying?" Buffy asked with a genuine touch of interest that didn't go unnoticed by Cordelia.

The brunette smiled. "Let me tell you a story..."


"You know, I never thought the day would come that I would see this," Buffy said not trying to hide the smile that covered her face upon seeing Cordelia holding up two packages of Kraft macaroni. The brunette had the microwavable stuff in one hand, and the original in the other and seemed to be thinking very carefully about which would give you the most for your dollar.

"Yes, how the mighty have fallen," Cordelia muttered placing the microwave stuff back on the shelf and tossing the other box in the shopping cart. "You know, it's really in poor taste to beg me to accompany you to the grocery store and then insult me for price comparing. I only had your best interests at heart," the brunette continued as they began to make their way down the isle. " `Oh Cordelia, we have no food, for I was searching for my monetary place amongst men and had not time to clip coupons. Oh Cordelia shopping alone is ever so boring and I've been so very lonesome since my return for hell. Oh Cordelia my piddly little legs cannot reach the high shelves, if you don't come with me whatever shall I do?'" the ex- cheerleader continued reaching up as the entered the next aisle pulling down a can of soup. "I gave up tanning at the beach for you, the least you could do is mock me behind my back."

Buffy was silent for a moment, and as Cordelia looked over she could see that blonde was making a great show of looking deep in thought. "After carefully considering what you just said," Buffy began as they entered the cereal aisle and began scanning for sugary goodness. "Of course ignoring mostly everything after `yes, how the mighty have fallen', I feel that I have to say, MY LEGS ARE NOT PIDDLY!"

"You're like one of those computer generated midgets from that Ring movie," the brunette replied smiling as the Slayer tossed a box of Corn Pops into the shopping cart and shot her a nasty look. "Awww, look at her pout," she continued in a baby voice as Buffy began to move further down the hall.

"You know, I'm beginning to remember why we hated each other," the Slayer muttered hoping in the air slightly to grab a box of hot chocolate. She had decided that she wasn't going to give the ex- cheerleader the honor of collecting items from the high shelves anymore.

Cordelia smiled to herself watching the blonde's little display, deciding to hang back for a little while to give the appearance of being shamed. The blonde was actually quite amusing when she was angry so Cordelia didn't really mind.

"We never hated each other did we?" the ex-cheerleader asked finally making her way back beside the Slayer. "I never hated you," she continued as the Slayer glanced over in her direction. "I know that the moments when I didn't have my bitch on, were few and far between, but I never treated you any worse than I did my friends."

"I hated you," Buffy responded as Cordelia reached for a jar of peanut butter. "For about a minute and a half in 10th grade."

"Oh?" Cordelia asked looking at Buffy briefly before continuing on ahead of the blonde. She needed the moment it would take Buffy to catch up with her to collect herself. When the first part of Buffy's statement had reached her ears she felt as if her heart had stopped, no matter how briefly, and it shook her. She hadn't realized before then that she cared what Buffy Summers had thought of her.

"It was a couple of months after we had moved here. I was cold, and hungry and probably had dirt clinging to various parts of my body," Buffy continued quickening her step until she was beside Cordelia once more. "We were at the Bronze, and I looked across the room and I saw you, you were dancing with Owen and I hated you for the next few minutes."

"Why? He left looking for you," Cordelia responded ceasing her movements and looking over at the Slayer. Of all of the moments for Buffy to choose, of all of the times they had crossed paths, and traded insults, for Buffy to have chosen a moment she wasn't even aware of to hate her seemed confounding.

"Because when I looked at you I saw everything that I could've had but wouldn't," the blonde responded quietly. "And I don't mean Owen," she continued with a small smile. "I meant friends, respect, a social life, ignorant bliss, possibility. You were what I could've been with taller shoes and darker hair, and for a moment I hated you for having it."

"I never knew," Cordelia responded a moment later, her voice barely a whisper. She wasn't quite sure what to make of what Buffy had just told her, or what to make of the fact that she had been told at all.

"It was only for a moment," the Slayer replied eyeing the brunette before allowing a cheerless little smile to dance briefly across her lips. "Besides," she went on in Cordelia's silence. "It was silly. You were never really that girl I hated anyway, were you?"

"Maybe I was," the brunette replied as they started down the aisle again. "Maybe not. Maybe sometimes. I don't know. I was a mystery unto myself."

"Weren't we all?" Buffy asked glancing down at the list in her hand. "Aren't we still?"

"That's gloomy," the brunette responded turning her head to observe the woman beside her.

"That's life," Buffy responded with a sigh tossing a carton of orange into the cart carelessly.

"That's even gloomier," Cordelia replied before glancing over Buffy's shoulder and heading towards the next item on the list. Surveying the cheeses in front of her Cordelia frowned, no wonder the blonde wasn't glad to be back. Not knowing, not caring to know, not believing that knowledge was possible. With an outlook like that life on earth could as well be hell.


"Does she do this a lot?" Cordelia asked looking over a Dawn. Willow was sitting in the middle of the floor, hovering above the ground slightly with her eyes closed and her hair whipping around like she was surrounded by her own private funnel cloud. "Because it has an extremely high creep factor."

"Sometimes," the younger brunette responded. "Mostly we try and ignore it, which is surprising easy...you know as long as things don't start flying at your head ... and the Emus stay away."

"Well I personally miss Fred's gadget's and I hate Fred's gadgets," Cordelia muttered to herself. There was just something very off- putting about the entire display and she'd be glad when it was over.

"Who's Fred?" Dawn asked starting to get the ignoring and denial off to a start.

"She's like Professor Peabody, only from Texas," Cordelia responded shaking her head. "She followed us home from another dimension and despite my warning Angel insisted on feeding her...and well the rest as they say is..."

"Buffy!" Willow called out her eyes opening wide exposing her darkened pupils to the occupants of the room. "Something new is town. I think it's Cordy's demon."

"It's not my demon, I didn't even get a good look at it. It's everybody's demon really," the ex-cheerleader interjected but nobody seemed to paying attention to her besides Dawn who seemed to feel as if being ignored brought them closer together in some way.

"It's stalking a group of kids out by Chatterley Park," the redhead continued turning to face the blonde. "I don't think that it's planning on asking them for directions."

"Kids in trouble," Buffy muttered standing up. "It must be a weekday," she continued heading for the door. "Come on," she said turning around to face Cordelia.

"I don't fight the monsters, I just tell people where they are," the brunette responded.

"I need you to tell me is this is the thing you saw in your vision," Buffy responded flatly. "Besides, you said you were there so obviously I'm going to convince you to come sooner or later, so you could as well just save my vocal chords the strain and grab your coat."

"Well when you put it like that," Cordelia started, "I really just want to hit you," she continued walking towards the hallway nonetheless.

"Works for me," the Slayer responded picking up her own coat. "Shall we."


"What the hell were a bunch of kids doing out here anyway?" Cordelia asked as they exited the park. They had found evidence that a group of people had been there recently but there was no sign of them now. "There's nothing to do out here. They didn't build a Wal-Mart around here did they?"

"No Wal-Mart," Buffy responded smiling though she was somewhat distracted looking for any clues that would indicate the direction the kids had taken off in. "But there is an abandoned house about a mile away that backs into the woods," Buffy continued her voice slowing as an idea started to form in her mind.

"You think?" Cordelia asked looking over at Buffy.

"The mushrooms," Buffy said looking behind at the park remembering the pieces of mushroom they had found scattered around the bench.

"This town really, REALLY needs a community center," the brunette replied making a face. "So we follow the shrumes?"

"Could as well," Buffy replied shrugging. "I don't have any better ideas."


Cordelia dodged to the side as the trashcan lid went flying by her head. Turning back around quickly she looked at the terrified kids frozen in front of her. "GO!" she yelled waving her hands towards the end of the alleyway. However, all this seemed to so was cause them to blink and stare at her blankly. "GO!" Cordelia yelled again. "Run. Away. Flee!" she continued beginning to push them in the correct direction. "Fly away little birdies."

Sighing in relief when she saw them finally begin to take off she turned around to find Buffy. They had been on their way to the house, when they'd heard a muffled scream come from one of the side streets. Needless to say, one thing led to another and once again they were in a potentially lethal situation.

"Buffy!" the brunette yelled as the creature threw the blonde against a nearby brick wall, and Buffy slid down bonelessly. "Good one Cordy," the brunette muttered to herself as the beast turned its attention towards her at the sound of her voice. "Next time you should wear a t-shirt that say's `kill me' and avoid all the confusion."

However before she could beret herself anymore she suddenly felt herself being squeezed about the torso and hoisted into the air. Kicking out with her legs she could feel her feet coming into contact with the creatures flesh but it didn't seem to phase it. Using her hands to try and pry the creatures hand loose also seemed to be having zero effect, so while her insides were still inside Cordelia cast her gaze beyond the beasts hulky form where she spotted Buffy once again on her feet.

"Buffy!" Cordelia called out in a voice she was proud to admit was panicked. "Buffy!" she yelled again when the girl didn't move. She could see them, Cordelia was sure of it, she was looking directly into the Slayer's face, but it was like nobody was home. Buffy was just staring without seeing. Cordelia started to struggle harder, but it was getting increasingly difficult as the creature tightened its hold on her. She was having trouble breathing. "BUFFY!" she yelled again.

Cordelia was about to yell out once more, but she found that her view of the Slayer was quickly becoming impeded. Focusing on the beast in front of her, her mouth opened soundlessly in horror. It had just detached its jaw, opening up its mouth so that it was now big enough to... "BUFFY!" Cordelia yelled with a renewed vigor. "BUFFY!!!" she called again unable to see if the woman had begun to move or not. And then she heard a sickening crunch and was falling to the ground as the creature's hand released her. And she was crouched down on the ground gasping for air with a pained middle section watching as Buffy raised a broken off piece of metal bar above her head and slammed it down against the beast over and over and again, until it stopped moving. And then she was dragging herself into a standing position as the Slayer grabbed a hold of the creatures' mangled body and struggled to drop it into one of the alleys many dumpsters.

"Where were you!?!" Cordelia yelled as Buffy turned away from the dumpster to face her once again. Her heart was still pumping wildly in her chest and she was feeling decidedly uncivil at the moment.

"Here. Saving your ass. Just like old times," the Slayer responded somewhat surprised by the anger in the other woman's voice. What the hell did she have to be angry about; she wasn't the one that had just been used as a punching bag.

"No, I don't think so," Cordelia accused glaring at Buffy as she began to pace. Sure Buffy had been physical present the enter time, but for a moment there she had disappeared, zoned out or something, and in that moment Cordelia had nearly gotten her head bitten off!

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Buffy asked impatiently, seriously beginning to become unimpressed by Cordelia's tone. Perhaps if the brunette's visions hadn't been so lame she would have been able to kill the thing faster. You're breathing aren't you?"

"Barely," Cordelia shot back rubbing at her neck possessively while staring at Buffy in a decidedly hostile manner.

Buffy stared at the other woman, expecting anger to overcome her at any time as a result of Cordelia's gross ingratitude. But the longer she waited the more she came to realize that it wasn't going to happen, and the wearier she became. "I don't have to take this," the Slayer stated softly but firmly, turning to leave the alleyway.

"Fine, run away. Again, like always," Cordelia shot towards Buffy's back. She had seen this before from Buffy and more than a few times from Angel. These people were so strong, so gifted, so terrified of themselves. "You don't have to take anything do you, everyone else just has to deal with it when you leave," she finished in a softer tone, running a hand through her hair.

Buffy stopped moving as the woman's words reached her, halting her where she stood. "You think you know? What I'm going through??" she asked incredulously whipping around to face the brunette. The woman's audacity astounded her.

"I'm Cordelia, I don't think I know. And I KNOW that you need to snap the hell out of it!" Cordelia responded meeting the blonde's increasing fiery gaze, realizing that this conversation had the possibility of going horribly wrong...or perhaps wonderfully right.

"Snap out of it?" Buffy asked with a humorless bark of laughter. "Do I look like Cher!?! I can't catchy quote my way out of this!" she continued, yelling in the brunette's direction. Ah, there was the anger, she thought to herself. Long time no see old friend.

"I see you," Cordelia responded standing her ground. "I see what you're doing, and it's going to get you killed. Or one of them killed. You don't care, but you have to," she went on taking a step towards Buffy. "You can't just go through the motions, walk through the part. What's it going to take to get through to you, what's it gonna take to penetrate your heart? For god's sake Buffy, you're alive!"

"And what if that's the problem!?!" the Slayer shot back unthinkingly. "What then oh great sage? Tell me what to do. Tell me how I'm supposed to snap out of knowing I'm in hell!"

"This isn't hell Buffy, it's life," Cordelia responded somewhat thrown and more than a little disturbed by the blonde's previous statement. Sometimes life could resemble hell, but they weren't the same entity. Buffy used to know that, and the fact that she had ceased making the distinction worried Cordelia greatly.

"And that's supposed to make it better?" Buffy responded stepping back from Cordelia and hanging her head down. The anger was gone leaving nothing in its wake. "Fortune cookie wisdom," she muttered under her breath. "I was happy goddammit!" she continued spitting out the words like they were ash in her mouth. "For the first time in as long as I can remember I was happy. And now..." she trailed off shaking her head dismally. She ran her hand through her hair, tugging at the strands forcefully pacing back and forth.

"You weren't in hell..." Cordelia practically choked out. Like a wave crashing over her, the truth of the situation came to her, chilling her deeper than bone. It was the only explanation, Buffy wasn't in hell.

"I have to get back to Dawn," the Slayer said upon hearing the brunette's response. She couldn't do this, she had to leave. She needed to walk, she needed to find someplace quiet and just sit.

"You weren't in hell," Cordelia repeated, more firmly this time. And thinking about it she realized how ludicrous it had been to think that Buffy had been. Because if this girl, who sacrificed everything she was, and everything she could have been for the people of the world couldn't make it to the good place, then what chance did anyone else have. Buffy wasn't in hell, there was no way she could have been, she's Buffy.

"I have to go," Buffy repeated. She didn't want to think about, she didn't to think about thinking about it. She couldn't help thinking about it, but she didn't want to think about it on purpose.

"Oh god. Buffy," Cordelia whispered in a strangled voice as the horror of the situation settled in her mind. "You didn't want to come back, they ripped you from..." and she let the sentence hang there merely tilting her head up towards to the sky.

"I have to..." Buffy started again beginning to wake away from Cordelia once more. She couldn't say it, she couldn't talk about this.

"Buffy," Cordelia breathed out in a voice so pained that it was almost inaudible. She took a step towards the blonde, reaching out for her and grasping her about the shoulder. "You can't keep this inside."

"They can never know," was all Buffy said in response. She was painfully aware of the weight of Cordelia's hand on her shoulder, of the warmth. She felt as if she was going to collapse from it.

"They have to know," Cordelia told her, moving around so that she was standing in front of the Slayer, her hands still resting on the woman's shoulder. This silence, this play she was putting on for them, it was helping to kill her.

"No! They can never find out." Buffy responded her body shaking slightly. "How? How can I tell them?" she continued as tears escaped from her eyes and her small frame continued to tremble. "I can't," she continued her voice quivering. "How can I tell them that I'd rather be dead?"

"You can't go on like this," Cordelia stated gently, placing her hand on Buffy's check and stroking the skin of her cheek lightly as she ducked her head down to get a better look at the blonde's face.

"I know," Buffy breathed out, her head tilting towards the hand Cordelia had placed on her face. "But...how do I make the pain go away?" she asked her voice helpless and beaten as the tears that had been damned behind her eyes for weeks suddenly broke loose.

Cordelia closed the last remaining distance between herself and Buffy upon seeing the Slayer's breakdown, wrapping her petite blonde girl in her arms. She knew that she was the one that was trying to tell Buffy that life didn't suck completely, but at the moment she wasn't so sure about that.


"Why do you superheroes think that you always have to be strong?" Cordelia asked looking down at the Slayer as the blonde tried to pulled out of her arms. They had only remained standing for a little while after she had brought Buffy into her arms, then gravity and Slayer strength directed in a downwards direction had pulled them down to the ground where they settled in a heap. The truth was that Cordelia wasn't against getting off of the filthy ground per say, she just didn't think Buffy was trying to get up for the right reasons.

"Dawn," Buffy said, uncomfortably aware of the large wet patch on the front of Cordelia's shirt, and of the fact that she was still nestled in the other woman's arms and really didn't want to leave them.

"Dawn will be fine. She's got three mommies, she's not going to miss one for another couple minutes," the brunette related with a small smile. "Breathe Buffy. Soak in the total lack of atmosphere."

"I have to..." Buffy started again, but was interrupted by Cordelia.

"You have to what?" Cordelia asked craning her neck around so that she could see Buffy's face. "What is it that you're going to do?"

Buffy met Cordelia's gaze for moment before turning away again. What was it that she had to do? Where was she going to go? Anywhere she realized, she just had to move, she had to do something or else she would go insane if she hadn't already.

"I have to move. I can't stay still," she told the brunette using her strength to break the girl's hold on her this time.

"It's not all bad," the brunette said standing up as well.

"What?" Buffy asked straightening her jacket as she prepared run far away.

"The world," Cordelia responded dusting herself off. What was it with her and alleyways in Sunnydale?

"How can you of all people defend it?" Buffy asked momentarily distracted from her plans of retreat. "They wire the pain directly into your brain. All you see is hell."

"Not quite," Cordelia responded, her gaze on her boots. "I've never told them this, I've kept it too myself since the visions came to me," she continued figuring that if she expected Buffy to bare her soul, she should ante up as well. "Sometimes, when I see things... they're not bad. Most of the time it's blood and demons, and sacrifice this, cut off that. But sometimes, sometimes I'll see a kid on a soccer field chasing down a ball. Or a thirteen year old getting their first kiss. It's not all bad. There's beauty, it's just that people like us have to look a little harder for it. That's why we to do, so that other people won't have to."

"How am I suppose to find the answer when I don't even know the question?" the blonde asked looking over at the brunette. Sure their little crying session had provided a bit of a catharsis, but there was still the rest of her life to deal with. She could hardly spend her days crying on Cordelia's shirt.

"You know the question Buffy. We all do," Cordelia told her shoving her hands into her pockets. "You've just been finding the answer lacking."

"So how do I change that?" Buffy asked thinking Cordelia had just hit the nail on the head. "How do I change that it's not enough."

"Look harder," the brunette responded with a helpless little shrug. What else could you do?

"When did this happen?" Buffy asked a moment later shaking her head.


"When did you become the voice of reason?" the blonde explained.

"September 31st, 1999 at 9:03 pm," Cordelia responded in perfectly serious voice. "It was a vindicating evening."

Buffy smiled shaking her head as they headed out of the alleyway. She was actually glad to have Cordelia Chase back in town, the world was a strange and unusual place.


Buffy awoke with a pained groan grabbing the side of her head and wincing. Being thrown against walls really did nothing to improve her disposition upon waking up. Seeing that it was dark outside she glanced at her clock 7:30 pm, she and Cordelia had left at 10:00. She'd been asleep all day. She couldn't be sleeping in all day, she had things to do, she had a sister to take care, and she had a household to run and guest to entertain. She felt more rested than she had in probably like a year or something and decided to just focus on that.

As she made her way down the stairs she could hear voices coming from inside of the living room and slowed her step, listening to the sound of her friend's voices, trying to let them wash over her. Leaning against the staircase she tilted her head to the side so that she could see into the room yet remain unobserved. Dawn seemed to be acting out some sort of vignette, her back hunched over and her hand moving in front of her face in a dramatic manner as she her mouth parted and little sounds started to come out of her throat. Her eyes were twinkling and Buffy wished that she had a camera with her so that she could keep that image with her for the rest of time. So that she could keep it in her pocket and take it out when the darkness came and threatened to blind her.

And she looked at them all one by one and she saw Xander's excited motions, and Anya's furrowed brow, and Willow's amused smile, and Tara's serene visage. And she saw Cordelia bathed in light watching them all with a soft smile on her face, that would at times be replaced by a smug grin, or an amused smirk, or an eyes twinkling smile. She heard the brunettes smooth voice echoing her in mind "look harder", and she did. And she felt, she felt something inside when she watched the woman. She felt something inside as she traced the elegant lines of Cordelia's tanned skin with her eyes, down her throat, across her shoulders, over her breasts, sliding further down to her hips to long tapered legs. She felt something inside as she watched the brunette's lips curve and pout; she felt the need to get some fresh air.


Cordelia heard the back door close softly in a moment of relative silence in the room and knew that the lady of the house had arisen and snuck out. Mumbling something that was probably intelligible to anyone in the room, the brunette stepped out secretly glad for the distraction. She liked the Scoobies well enough, and they were nothing if not entertaining, but she was finding it increasingly hard to keep her upper lip stiff as the day wore on. It gave her a whole new appreciation for what it was Buffy had been going through trying to keep the truth hidden for so long, and strengthened her belief that the blonde needed to tell them if she ever hoped to feel sane again.

"Hiding again?" Cordelia asked settling herself on the steps of the deck.

"Not at all," Buffy responded turning her head to the side so that she could make Cordelia out. She had slumped down in one of the lawn chairs and was looking at the stars when she heard the brunette come out.

"Why didn't you come in?" the brunette asked. Everyone had been badgering her all day about what had happened the night before and she was sure it would have pleased the Scoobies to see that fearless leader was up and about.

"I was busy," the Slayer responded her eyes still trained on the brunette.

"What?" Cordelia asked standing up and moving towards Buffy. She couldn't see the Slayer's face and she couldn't talk to Buffy like this without seeing her. She'd miss something, and knowing both of their luck it'd be something that shouldn't have been missed. "You have to practice being anti-social?"

"No," Buffy said following Cordelia with her eyes until the girl came to rest in the chair beside her. "I was looking."

"Looking?" Cordelia repeated leaning towards Buffy as if the answer to her question were written on the blonde's face. "Ah, looking," she continued a second later as the answer came to her. Somebody was actually following her advice. How novel! "What'd you see?"

"I saw them," Buffy said turning her head in the direction of the house. "I saw you," she continued turning her attention back to Cordelia. "And I thought that it looked nice in there."

Cordelia watched as a smile began to spread across Buffy's checks after she finished speaking. A shy one that caused her to dip her head down and look off to the side shaking her head a little. Cordelia could almost picture the inevitable blush across her cheek's, and found herself thinking that she thought the entire display was only marginally less cute that a sack of puppies. It was charming, and for a second it felt like three years before when the sun always shone and nothing existed in the world that could hold them down for the count.

"When I was there, watching you," Buffy started up again, her head still tilted downwards but her voice strong, and carrying without a falter, "I felt excited for the first time since coming back," she continued glancing up at the brunette. "I mean, something came over me," she went on upon the seeing the other woman cock her head to the side questioningly. "Something warm...and I felt a genuine desire to do something. Not because I didn't know what else to do, but because I wanted to do it."

"What did you want to do?" Cordelia asked unconsciously leaning towards Buffy, her voice lowering intimately. She knew that she probably shouldn't have asked, that whatever it was Buffy had felt was personal and probably a rather private desire, but she wanted to know. She tried to justify this need by telling herself that she wanted Buffy to make a break through so that the Slayer would be well on her way to being on her feet when it came time for them to face down the beast again. She kept telling herself that, but she knew that it wasn't true. The truth of the matter was that she just wanted Buffy on her feet again, she wanted to see the blonde smile at her before she left and mean it. She wanted to look at the woman and see that old mischievousness behind her eyes. She wanted Buffy to be better, and she wanted this because she just plain liked the girl. And, she thought to herself, if you weren't such a stubborn jackass you'd just admit it.

"What happened last night," Buffy began carefully. "You're sure that wasn't the vision you had?"

"Positive," Cordelia responded equally as carefully. "Same bat time, wrong bat channel."

"So that means you've gotta be around here at least another night," the Slayer stated though it came out sounding more like a question.

"Another. A couple other. Yeah," Cordelia responded looking at Buffy carefully. The woman wasn't doing much to inspire her confidence.

Buffy nodded as spoke, slowly easing herself out of her chair as the brunette finished up. "The great thing about residing at rock bottom," the blonde began taking a step towards the ex- cheerleader, "is that you've got no place left to fall," she went on, watching Cordelia watch her. "So, when I started to feel this... thing," she breathed out, her voice no more than a soft rasp. "I just decided to roll with it."

"Roll with what?" Cordelia asked forcing herself to ignore the nervous energy that began to course through her body as Buffy closed the last of the distance between them.

"Wanting to do this," Buffy responded and with that she leaned down closing the remaining distance between them as she pressed her lips against Cordelia's lightly, her hand coming to rest on the brunette's face, her thumb stroking her cheek lightly. She had felt Cordelia tense at the first touch of their lips, but almost as soon as she had become aware of the reaction it was gone and the brunette was relaxing and opening her mouth to the Slayer.

"Oh," Cordelia breathed out as Buffy leaned back breaking the contact between their lips, her eyes searching the blonde's face though for what she wasn't certain. "I see."

Buffy stood there looking down at Cordelia and her virtual non- reaction then closed her eyes. "And now that the gates have been opened, other emotions are starting to surface, like guilt and mortification," she muttered softly taking a step back from Cordelia while mentally berating herself for the stupidity of her previous action. She always had to push it didn't she. It wasn't enough that she just actually wanted to do something, she had to be a jackass and actually do something about it. "And the instinct to flee," she continued turning around and heading for the house. How was she suppose to look this woman in the eye for the rest of her visit? They were suppose to face death together now?

"Buffy," Cordelia called out seeing the woman turn to run again. "I wasn't, I'm not..." she continued standing up and walking over to the Slayer, "upset." Coming to a stop directly in front of the blonde she dipped her head down slightly before continuing. "More knocked completely off my feet. I...I just haven't been kissed for longer than my dignity allows me to admit."

"What are you saying?" Buffy asked, her gaze trained on Cordelia's neck not willing to look the girl in the face yet. She'd been so numb since coming back and for the first time since that god awful night she was feeling something, feeling human for the first time in weeks and she was terrified at the thought that Cordelia might take the warmth away.

Cordelia watched the woman in front of her for long moments trying to come up with a response to her question. What was she saying? How could she tell Buffy when she didn't even know herself. She shook her head as the answer came to her, it's simplicity amusing her slightly. She couldn't tell Buffy anything, so she'd so what she had been trying to get Buffy to all along. She'd feel. So smiling ever so slightly Cordelia leaned forward pressing her lips against Buffy as her hands came to rest on the side of the blonde's face.

And soon they were leaning into each other, their bodies pressed against each other tightly as they strained to increase the contact between them. Their hands roaming each other bodies and tangling in each other's hair as they sought to consume each other, overcome by a desperate hunger. And as they stayed together, in that warm embrace, Cordelia wasn't thinking about whether the next vision she received was going to knock her out or praying that it wouldn't be a child that she'd see. She wasn't thinking about the isolation she felt as a result of knowing what other people chose not to know. And she wasn't thinking about the fact that this is the first moment in longer than she could remember where she hadn't been a little afraid. And as their tongues danced with each other in that age old ballet, Buffy wasn't thinking about how cold it was, or how everything seemed so dull and muted, and she wasn't thinking about how she has to smile when she really just wanted to collapse. All she that she was aware of was that for the first time since coming back she was glad to be exactly where she was.


Buffy carefully closed the door to bedroom before turning around to be ensnared in Cordelia's arms once again, the brunette immediately leaning forward bring their lips together once more. By the time they had made it back inside of the house the gang had decided to call it a night, and for this a certain Slayer and diviner were extremely grateful. After their adventures in the Summers' backyard the last thing either one of them wanted to have to do was make small talk.

"We have to be quiet," Buffy managed to mumble, her eyes closing as Cordelia kissed her way down her neck, and began to work her hand under the Slayer's shirt. "Dawn and Willow are just across the ha ... ha ... hall," she continued feeling Cordelia smile against the skin of her shoulder as her breath hitched in her throat and she struggled to get the rest of her words out.

"Okay," the brunette whispered back a moment later, her hands settling on the blonde's hips, her lips attaching themselves to the spot behind Buffy's ear working the soft skin with her tongue, her heart skipping a beat at the sound her actions caused to erupt from the Slayer's mouth. "Is there anything else?" she continued, her mouth hovering beside Buffy's ear.

"Yeah," the Slayer responded a smile of her own now spreading across her face. "Take off your shirt."


How they found their way to the bed neither of them would later be able to remember, and how the rest of Cordelia's clothes were shed, to be quickly followed by Buffy's, without them ever breaking contact, they could only contribute to divine intervention. But somehow, someway they did end up spread across Buffy's bed, their clothes discarded, Buffy's body draped over Cordelia's, covering her like a blanket, moaning softly at the first contact of their naked bodies as the Slayer rubbed her body along the brunette's lithe frame. And then the Slayer was kissing her, her hands resting on the ex-cheerleaders hips as the brunette trailed her own hands over the smooth expanse of Buffy's skin, desperately tugging and clawing, trying to draw the Slayer closer to her. Because everywhere they touched, every place where their bodies were in contact with other they felt fire.


"Uhhhh," Cordelia moaned, biting down on her lip as the moan started to erupt from her throat. Her heels were digging into the mattress as Buffy's mouth captured one of her already painfully erect nipples and began to suck, her other hand manipulating Cordelia's other breast as the brunette's hands bunched themselves in fists around the bed sheets. The brunette's mouth flew open, a long drawn out moan that she just couldn't contain tearing from her throat as the Slayer's lips, teeth, and fingers continued to attack her nipples. Freeing themselves of the bed sheets, Cordelia's hands came to tangle themselves in Buffy's hair holding her head in place as her chest arched up into the blonde's mouth, begging for more of whatever she was willing to give.


Buffy pressed her lips to Cordelia's pulse point sucking on it hard as her hand caressed the inside of Cordelia's thigh. Her nails ran lightly across the tanned skin of Cordelia's leg as she pressed herself closer to brunette even though there was no place left for her to go. Cordelia arched up into Buffy, blindly seeking out her lips, which Buffy gladly gave over to her, groaning as the brunette sucked her tongue into her mouth, kissing her fervently.


The only thing that Buffy was aware of was the sound of Cordelia's voice the soft sounds she was making in the back of her throat and the sound of her name coming out of her mouth in ragged, desire filled gasps and the sound of her own breathing. The body beneath hers was now moving in a frenzy, a blur of activity as Buffy continued to move her hand in and out, her lips and her free hand caressing and exploring every and all available patches of skin. And then she felt it. Cordelia's body tensed, her breath hitching one last time before wave after wave of pleasure ripped through her body, taking her breath away. And as Cordelia surged against her, forcing her further in, Buffy pressed herself down onto the brunette one last time before she too lost the ability to make sound all together.


Buffy watched her hand as her fingers slowly trailed up and around Cordelia's abdominal muscles, raising and falling with the brunette's gentle breathes. "That tickles," she heard the woman say a moment later, her hand coming to rest on top of Buffy's, flattening the Slayer's hand down so that it was merely resting on her stomach instead of playing with it. "Can I please have some of the blanket now, or were you planning to molest me all morning too?" she continued as Buffy tilted her head up to look at her.

"Molest?" the Slayer asked quirking an amused eyebrow at Cordelia. "That's funny. Last night I could have sworn you were saying `yes, YES'," she continued removing her hand from underneath the brunette's and dragging the sheet up so that it covered the other girl mid-section.

"At least I was saying it quietly," Cordelia responded a moment later, a smile beginning to work it's way across her face as she remembered what exactly it was that Buffy did to her to make her agree so vigorously. She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised though, Buffy had demonstrated numerous times in the past that she was in possession of an impressive amount of imagination.

"So what does this mean?" Buffy asked laying her head down on her pillow and staring up at the ceiling. She supposed that she should have been feeling rather freaked out. She had, after all, just slept with another woman. Moreover, that other woman had been Cordelia Chase of all people, Cordelia. Yep, that was definitely material for freaking out, yet she found that she was oddly calm.

"Couple more nights of good sleep?" Cordelia suggested, her eyes idly roaming around Buffy's bedroom. She could've addressed the question on a deeper level, made it a poignant study about life, about love, about loving in life and journey's in and love and a bunch of other shit, but she didn't particularly feel like taking stock of how what happened between them last night would effect her as a person or whatever. She wanted to concentrate on the fact that once she had actually fallen asleep it had been a fitful one that she hadn't woken from once. She wanted to concentrate on the fact that just laying there she felt more relaxed than she had since her first day as the Pylean Queen. She just wanted to concentrate on the fact that whatever it was that happened, it was good.

"I can deal with that," Buffy responded turning her head to side so that she was looking at the brunette. "Yeah," she continued, "a couple more good nights sleep," she went on hovering above Cordelia's face as the woman turned to look at her. "I can definitely deal with that," and with that Buffy leaned down bringing their lips together once more. She couldn't remember the last time dealing had been this much fun.


"What's your secret?" Willow asked making her way over to the table where Cordelia was sitting. The gang plus a Cordy and minus a Buffy and Dawn were congregated as usual at the Magic Box, with a cornucopia of books surrounding them. Buffy had taken off for a Parent-Teacher conference at Dawn's school which had left Cordelia wondering around the house aimlessly until Willow had dragged her to the shop to try and see if she could find anything in the texts about the creature she had seen in her vision even those Cordelia insisted that she hadn't really seen anything.

"Huh?" Cordelia asked turning to face the redhead. At the moment she was desperately missing Wesley and Fred and their insane yet effective research methods. She had gotten out of practice and didn't really care to get in practice again.

"With Buffy," Willow clarified brushing an arrant strand of hair away from her face. "She's been talking to you," the redhead continued her face falling slightly. "She hasn't talked to me, not really, not since..." she paused there, still not liking to think about what had happened those few short months ago. "What's your secret?"

"I haven't been here," Cordelia replied in a kind of half sigh after a moment. There was no secret really, Buffy wanted to talk, it would have been impossible for her to not want to talk. You just had to ask her the right questions, the tough questions, and nobody but her seemed to be willing to do it. She knew they had to have figured it out, Buffy was a stubborn jackass, she always had been, and if you let her get away with saying nothing she would just keep on doing it. She knew they knew that and she also knew that they would never be able to ask her, because making her talk about it would hurt her before it would help her and they couldn't bear to do anything that would hurt her. "Sometimes it's easier to talk to strangers."

"You're not exactly strangers," Willow responded turning her head to the side to get a better look at the brunette. Even when Cordelia and the Scoobies actively hated each other so many years ago the brunette could hardly have been referred to as a stranger. Willow knew that she certainly felt like she saw a lot of the brunette than she cared to back in the day.

"True, nearly being eaten by evil snakes together, tends to bring people closer," the brunette agreed with a rueful smile. "But we were hardly friends," she continued shaking her head thoughtfully. "Not like she was with you and Xander anyway."

Willow nodded in understanding, before letting out a loud sigh. "It's just that it's so..."

"Frustrating? Irritating? Makes you want to beat them with a shovel... ing?" Cordelia asked smirking at the redhead and her expression. "Don't' forget, I too know the friendship of a taciturn avenger."

"Angel's like this too?" Willow asked though she wasn't really surprised. She heard that he had lightened up a bit, but with the excessive brooding that he'd done in the past, him lightening up would probably still have left him in the charcoal gray area of the colour spectrum.

"I think he's the one she got it from," Cordelia answered shaking her head. The truth was that even though she was the one who brought him up, she didn't really want to think about him at the moment, or at any moments coming up. The events of the night before were still fresh in her mind, and even though she knew that Angel and Buffy were forever more going to be a past tense, and even though she could semi- justify things by saying that she had no idea that anything like what happened was going to happen...ever...in life, she was feeling slightly... what was that word...not quite the opposite of pride but close to it... guilty. Yeah, she was feeling somewhat guilty and wanted to ignore it.

"I just...I wanna see her happy, you know," Willow responded sighing dramatically.

"Yeah," Cordelia responded. She wanted the same thing. "But you can't gift wrap happiness and courier it to someone," she continued. "Buffy has to want it."

Willow nodded. Cordelia wasn't saying anything that she hadn't already thought of herself; it was just that the answer seemed to be part of the problem. "But Buffy hasn't seemed to want anything lately," the witch finally replied in a despondent tone. How could wanting something be the answer to not wanting anything? If someone wanted something there would be no problem to begin with.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Cordelia replied with a droll tone, not quite able to keep the huge smiley face she was making on the inside stop from showing on the outside, as images of Buffy wanting and taking came to her unbidden.

"What?" Willow asked not quite sure what to make of Cordelia's tone or expression yet oddly encouraged by them nonetheless.

"Nothing," the brunette responded quickly straightening up in the chair as she struggled to get her features back under control. "Sorry. Yeah," she went on shifting in the chair uncomfortably. "So. How's Amy? Still a rat?"


Sensing a presence beside her Cordelia turned her head to the side slowly cracking her eyes open. She hadn't seen Buffy since the Slayer had taken off earlier that day to attend the meeting at Dawn's school, and feeling rather tired and not wanting to be presumptuous she had taken up her spot on the Summer's couch again and settled in. "Home a little late aren't we?" the brunette asked looking up into Buffy's face. "Either that or extremely early."

"I got distracted by a song and dance number," the Slayer responded her eyes focused on Cordelia intensely.

"Excuse me?" the brunette asked wondering if it had been wise to leave the blonde alone for so long.

"Nothing...I just had the strangest night," Buffy responded shaking her distractedly. "I'll tell you about it tomorrow," she continued taking a step back and offering her hand to the brunette.

"Ummm," the brunette responded grasping the blonde's hand allowing herself to be pulled into a standing position. "I'll remember," she said turning her head to the side to watch Buffy as the Slayer began to lead them up the stairs.

"Of that I have no doubt," Buffy responded softly a small smile drifting her across her face as she opened the door to her bedroom allowing Cordelia to enter the room. "I'll just have to do my best to occupy you until then," she continued, her smile growing as she watched the brunette lift her shirt over her head and fling it to the side.

"Promises, promises," Cordelia mumbled turning around to face Buffy.

They turned out to be the last coherent words she was able to emote quite some time.


"Good morning, Buffy," Giles greeted as the blonde woman entered the shop.

"Oh hey, did Dawn get off to school alright?" Willow asked looking up as the Slayer entered the shop. Buffy had been late getting down that morning for some reason and the young brunette had been worried about getting to school to time.

"What?" Buffy asked turning distractedly to face Willow. "Oh, uh, yeah. I think," she continued, the redhead's question finally registering with her as she scanned the store for a certain brunette. One who wasn't at all happy with her for hurriedly taking off earlier and thus avoiding the conversation she had promised to have with her if the brunette let her have her way the night before.

"Respect the cruller. And tame the donut!" she heard Xander chanting from her side.

"That's still funny, sweetie," Anya told him encouragingly on her way to the counter. However as Buffy turned her attention to Xander's side and saw Cordelia staring at him sternly, she realized that Anya was probably the only one who still found it amusing and that if she didn't distract everyone with strange happens soon, Cordelia was going to be looking at her with that expression.

"So, uh, no new research?" Buffy asked making her way into the middle of the store. "Nothing new going on? Monsters or whatnot?" she continued, ignoring the look Cordelia sent her as the others shook their heads no. "Good!" she declared upon seeing their reactions. "Good," she continued less certainly as the events of the night before came back to her. "Uh, so, did anybody ... uh ... last night, you know, did anybody, um ... burst into song?"

"Merciful Zeus," Xander cried dropping his donut back onto the plate, as the rest of the room's occupants rushed over to the table.

"We thought it was just us!" Willow stated excitedly looking over at Tara.

"Well, I sang but I had my guitar at the hotel..." Giles responded glancing at everyone else.

"It was bizarre. We were talking and then it was like-" Tara interjected animatedly.

"You were in a musical!" Buffy said finishing Tara's sentence.

"Oh, that's what it was," Cordelia said looking over at the two girls. "I'd heard noises but figured that what two people choose to do in the sanctity of their own bedroom is..."

"Yeah," Tara responded nodding in Buffy's direction. "And hey!" she said looking at Cordelia who suddenly found the seam of her pants extremely interesting.

"That would explain the huge backing orchestra I couldn't see and the synchronized dancing from the room service chaps," Giles added looking rather pleased at the turn the conversation had taken since it meant that he wasn't going completely nutty.

"We did a whole duet about dish washing," Willow related. "And Cordelia accompanied us, no matter what she says."

"It was catchy, that's all," the brunette responded, even as she thought back to the incident and realized that her participation had been rather involuntary if highly amusing.

"And we were arguing and, and then everything rhymed and there were harmonies and the dance with coconuts," Anya said jumping in not liking the fact that Cordelia was speaking more than her. Men liked women who could speak.

"There was an entire verse about the couscous," Willow went on shaking her head.

"Oh god the couscous," Cordelia muttered shaking her head.

"It was very disturbing," Xander said with a touch of bewilderment in his voice.

"At least you didn't get couscous," the ex-cheerleader responded to which Xander nodded. That was very true.

"What did you sing about?" Giles asked looking at the Slayer. This discussion of couscous was getting them nowhere.

"I don't remember," the blonde replied, "but i-it seemed perfectly normal."

"But disturbing. And not the natural order of things," Xander added in after Buffy finished speaking. She probably just forgot to mention that part, and he was nothing if not a helper. "And do you think it'll happen again?" he continued with a touch of dread in his voice. He really had more of an alone in the shower kind of singing voice, definitely, but if this continued there were going to be mountaintops and all that stuff and he just really wasn't up for that.

"I don't know," Giles said glancing down. "I should look into it."

"With the books," Willow supplied.

"Of course with the books," Cordelia said shooting a look at Willow. Like there was anything else with these people.

"Do we have any books on this?" Tara asked thoughtfully. She'd never come across a musical section before.

"Well we just gotta break it down," Xander said firmly. "Look at the factors before it happens again," he continued, "because I for one..."

"I've got a theory/ That it's a demon/ A dancing demon! / No something isn't right there," Giles began to sing, sitting down and taking his glasses off in consternation.

"I've got a theory/ A kid is dreaming/ And we're all stuck inside his wacky Broadway nightmare," Willow piped up as Tara accompanied her with some jazz hands.

"I've got a theory we should work this out," Xander contributed.

"This isn't Fosse/ What are the jazz hands all about," Cordelia sang shaking her head. This was going to be a long, long, long, long, long, long, couple of days. And she didn't even need to have visions to divine that.


"Don't think that I've forgotten," Cordelia said coming to a stop beside Buffy and reaching up to place the book in her hand back on the shelf.

"How could I with the death rays you've been sending me all day," Buffy muttered in a rather petulant tone. First she has deal with the entire town suddenly going Disney, and then Spike becomes Mr. Even Worse Attitude after admitting to spying on her and Cordelia while they were in the backyard the other night somehow making it sound like he had suffered a great injustice and kicked her out of his crypt while singing that dumbass song, and now Cordelia was giving her attitude.

"I think death rays is tad strong," Cordelia started with a frown. "Perhaps icy...uh....ah...Buffy," she trailed off clutching her head as her eyes closed painfully. "Buffy," she repeated one last time before the images began to flood into her brain, slamming into her and causing her to stumble backwards.

"Cordy!" Buffy yelled moving around the brunette just in time to catch her before she hit the ground. "Giles! Giles...Cordelia, something's wrong!"

"Dawn. At the Bronze. Crazy Tommy Tune like guy's holding her. He's the one. Buffy's dancing ... for him?" Cordelia choked out her eyes still closed even though the pain was lessening now.

"Are you okay?" Buffy asked worriedly as the brunette began to struggle into an upright position. "I mean, god ... are they always like that?" the Slayer continued wondering if Cordelia had been putting up with whatever that was for over two years now.

"I'm fine," Cordelia said struggling onto her feet with Buffy's help. "It's okay. Really. The demon that's got Dawn, it's the same one from my vision in L.A.," she continued. "I..."

However, as Cordelia was about to continue the door to the Magic Box came flying open and Spike walked in dragging what looked like a super-sized Chucky doll behind him. It was, to put it mildly, exceptionally creepy.

"Lookie, lookie what I found," the vampire stated flinging the thing inside of the shop.

"Is this the demon guy?" Tara asked eyeing the odd looking creature. Somehow she thought that it really looked more comical that evil. And he in no way resembled Tommy Tune.

"Tara," Willow said happily seeing the girl come up behind her. She'd gotten the impression that Tara had been avoiding her, and as the blonde ignored her she realized that she had been right on the mark with her earlier assessment which meant that something was seriously wrong.

"Works for him," Spike responded. "Has a nice little story for the Slayer, don't you? Come on then," she continued giving Chucky a none to gentle shove. "Sing."

"My master has the Slayer's sister hostage at the Bronze because she summoned him and at midnight he's going to take her to the underworld to be his queen," Chucky stated calmly.

Spike glanced at the Scoobies who seemed be perfectly contended with the dolls answer irritably. Not only was Buffy wrapped around the bloody cheerleader like she was a candy bar, no one in the room seemed to give a ruddy damn that they didn't know anything about what the dancing bad wanted. "And what does he bloody well want?" the vampire asked jerking the doll around again.

"Ah Spike," Buffy interrupted as the vampire raised his hand to hit the hostage. "We kind of already know that."


"Cordelia had a vision," Tara replied taking a step back when the vampire's lips curved upwards in a snarl.

"Well Cordelia's just bloody well got all of the answers doesn't she," he muttered tightening his hold on the doll. "What's next, turning water into wine?" he asked tossing the doll out of the door.

"Did somebody get caught cheating at kitten poker again?" Cordelia asked in a suedo-sympathetic voice. "Uh ah," the brunette continued as the vampire wiped around to face her. "You don't want to hurt yourself."

"Um, if Cordelia and Spike are finished re-introducing us to kindergarten, do you think that we could maybe move on," Buffy interjected stopping the vampire from retorting. "Like onto maybe forming a plan."

"Plan, schman. Let's mount up," Xander said taking a step forward. He had a thing for the Summers girls. He just liked them, and there was NO way Dawn was getting married before him!

"No," Giles said glancing over at Buffy sadly. He had hoped to see her begin to show some kind of interest in her life, to see her begin even if slowlyto take charge once more. But, here she was again, simply waiting for orders, unable or unwillingly to think for herself.

"Uh, Dawn may have had the wrong idea in summoning this creature," Anya began at Giles statement. "But ... I've seen some of these underworld child bride deals and, and they never end well," she continued. "Well, maybe once."

"We're not just gonna stay here," Willow said adding onto Anya's unique critique of Giles' noninterference policy.

"Yes we are," Giles responded looking intently at Buffy. "Buffy's going alone."

Spike left out briefly disgusted laugh at that. "Gah! Don't be a stupid git. There is no..." the vampire began. Buffy may have been messing around with Skipper for now, but she was still his girl whether she knew it or not, and he'd look out for her until she realized that they meant for each other.

"If I want your opinion, Spike, I'll..." Giles began before pausing briefly to consider his words. "I'll never want your opinion," he concluded looking hard at the vampire.

Willow watched the proceedings with a growing unease. "A little confusion spell could..."

"No!" Tara interjected cutting Willow off. A little anything spell was the last thing any of them needed. "I mean I don't think it'll help."

"Look, forget them Slayer. I've got your back," Spike said stepping forward. He liked the little bit and didn't want anything to happen to her, plus it couldn't help but win him brownie points with Buffy. It was really a win, win situation.

"I thought you wanted me to stay away from you?" Buffy responded rather militantly, unconsciously leaning towards the warmth of Cordelia's body. "Isn't that what you sang?"

"Spike sing a widdle song?" Xander asked smiling at the idea.

"Would you say it was a break away pop hit or more of a book number?" Anya asked edging her way into the circle and the conversation.

"Let it go, sweetie," Xander responded shaking his head. Sometimes the woman just tore the ass out of subjects, she had to learn to let bygones be bygones gee golly.

"Fine," the vampire responded angrily as she noticed the Slayer's motions. If she wanted the bitch she could have her. The brunette was going to leave, just like all the others and Buffy could rot away alone and miserable for all he cared. "I hope you dance till you burn," he spat at her. "You and the little bit," and with those parting remarks he huffed his way out of the shop.

"You're really not coming?" Buffy asked turning her head to look at her Watcher. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. They were just going to abandon her now? They couldn't be bothered anymore? She hadn't asked for them to bring her back, but they had, so that what? They could stay home at night and carve fertility statues?

"It's up to you," Giles responded walking over to Buffy. He could see the hurt in her eyes, but he knew that it was for the best.

"What do you expect me to do?" the Slayer asked clearly upset.

"Your best," the older man responded.

Buffy clenched her jaw. Her best. Whatever.


Buffy shoved her hands into her pockets as she stalked down the darkened streets of downtown Sunnydale. She was overwhelmed, she was hated, she was alone, and she was numb. "I touch the fire and it freezes me/ I look in to it and it's black," she began to sing, her heart contracting painfully. Had it ever been warm? Was it that along ago? "Why can't I feel?/ My skin should crack and peel," she continued passing by an open fire and feeling nothing. "I want the fire back!"

"Now through the smoke/ She calls to me./ To make my way across the flame/ To save the day," she sang her move forming a sorry excuse for a smile, "or maybe melt away/ I guess it's all the same," she continued shoving her hands into her pockets. It didn't matter anyway, whatever she did it was never enough, there were always more and always death.

"So I will walk through the fire," she continued making her way down the street. "'Cause where else can I turn? I will walk through the fire/ And let it..."


"I hope you dance till you burn," Cordelia repeated. Spike's words swirling around in her mind like endless dark clouds. Images from her visions flashing in mind, disjointed but pieces that could be put together. "Buffy surrounded by smoke," she continued. "I hope you dance till you burn...oh god!" she said whipping around to face the others in the room.

"Will this do a thing to change her?/ Am I leaving Dawn in danger?/ Is my Slayer to far gone to care?/" Giles sang looking thoughtfully into the distance.

"What if Buffy can't defeat it?" Xander sang looking around the room.

"Beady eye's is right," Anya joined in.

"We're needed," Cordelia continued.

"Or we could just sit around and glare," the ex-demon went on staring at Willow and Tara.

Immediately they all rose, striding purposefully towards the door.

"We'll see it through/ That's what we're always here to do," they sang together as they strode down the street. "So we will walk through the fire..."


"Showtime!" Buffy heard from in front of her as she kicked the door to the Bronze down and walked inside. "I love a good entrance," the demon continued.

"How are you with death scenes?" the Slayer asked looking up onto the stage to make sure her sister was alright.

"You got a name?" she continued ignoring the creatures amused laughter.

"I've got a hundred," Sweet responded with a smile.

"I ought to know what to call you if you're going to be my brother in law," the Slayer continued taking up a relaxed stance against one of the room's pool tables.

"Buffy, I swear I didn't..." Dawn started wondering why she constantly had to be the damsel in distress.

"Don't worry, you're not going anywhere," the Slayer said interrupting her sister. "I am."

"What?" Sweet asked leaning forward. This was an unexpected, though not totally unwelcome change.

"Deal's this," Buffy said meeting his gaze. "I can't kill you...you take me to Hellsville in her place," she continued her voice almost as flat as she was feeling.

"What if I kill you?" Sweet asked intrigued by the Slayer's response to the whole situation.

"Trust me. Won't help," the blonde deadpanned meeting the demon's gaze.

"That's gloomy," Sweet responded.

"That's life," Buffy replied checking her instinct to frown at the feeling of dj vu that came over her.

"Come on now, is that really how you feel?" Sweet asked. "Isn't life a miraculous thing?" he continued in a teasing tone.

"I think you already know," Buffy replied pushing off of the pool table. "Life's a show/ And we all play our parts/ And when the music starts," she sang, opening up her jacket as she went along. "We open up our hearts," she went on moving forward as her jacket dropped to the ground. "It's alright/ If some things come out wrong/ We'll sing a happy song/ And you can sing along," she continued grabbing a pool cue and some of Sweet's minions approached her from the sides.

"Everywhere there's life," she sang hitting one of the minions with the cue. "There's hope/ Every day's," she continued elbowing one, "A gift. Wishes can," kick, "come true/ Whistle while/ You work/ So hard/ All day," she continued impaling the last of the minions.

"To be like other girls," she continued as the Scoobies arrived. "To fit in to this glittering world," she continued wistfully. "Don't give me songs/ Don't give me songs," she continued as Anya and Tara began to dance behind her.

"Give me something to sing about..." she cried desperately. Make it enough; she needed it to be enough.


"All the joy/ Life sends," Buffy continued working herself up into a frenzy, wanting to stop but not knowing how. "Family/ And friends/ All the twists/ And bends/ Knowing that/ It ends/ Well that/ Depends," she continued wishing that her mouth would shut yet at the same time becoming oddly glad that it wouldn't. "On if they let you go/ On if they know enough to know/ That when you've bowed/ You leave the crowd," she went on walking up onto the stage, her gaze shifting between the others and Sweet.

"There was no pain/No fear, no doubt/ Till they pulled me out/ Of Heaven," she continued noticing Giles and Xander's shocked faces. "So that's my refrain/I live in Hell/ `Cause I've been expelled/From Heaven/ I think I was in Heaven," she went on softly. "So give me something to sing about..."


Cordelia watched as Buffy looked out at them desperately before flipping off of the stage. She turned to look at the Scoobies who were standing by in some sort of stupor as Buffy began to dance and dance and dance. Faster and faster she moved, spinning wildly until smoke began to curl off of her.

"Buffy!" she called out stepping forward, her shoulder colliding with something. Turning her head she spotted Spike beside her. She hadn't realized when he had shown up, but apparently he had the same idea she did.

They watched each other for the briefest of moments, then eyes blaring with some emotion the brunette didn't have the time to identify, the vampire stepped back allowing Cordelia access to the Slayer.

"Life's not a play," Cordelia sang grasping Buffy's shoulders, slowing the Slayer's motions down. "It isn't bliss/ It's just this," she continued as Buffy stared at her. "It's living," the brunette went on. "You'll find a way," she sang, brushes a stray strand of the Slayer's hair away. "Those feelings of pain/ Only you can repair/ By living. You have to go on living. Believe in living," Cordelia continued as Buffy stared at her.

Buffy stared into the brunette's dark eyes, the shimmering, dark orbits anchoring her as emotions churned inside of her like the sea during a storm. She didn't want to feel like this anymore. She couldn't take feeling like this anymore.

"The hardest thing in this world...is to live in it," she heard her sister say from behind Cordelia. Her voice quivering slightly as she recalled the Slayer's words.

And Buffy remembered then. She remembered what love felt like. She remembered loving Dawn so much that she died for her, and how beautiful and terrible an emotion it was. She remembered how happy she was to see Giles when he returned and how she was unable to convey to him just how glad she was to see him. She remembered the endless comedy that was kitten poker, and she remembered Cordelia trying to chase her down with the shopping cart at the grocery store. She remembered the way the brunette's lips felt against hers, and how wonderful it felt to feel Cordelia's warm body sliding against her own, warming her in places that had been so cold. She remembered that cartoon they always used to show after Care Bears where the little boy shared his double scoop with his sister after she dropped hers and how it always made her feel warm and fuzzy inside. She remembered how much fun it had been trying to teach Willow to skate until the redhead had decided that sitting on the ice was more her speed, and much more fun it had been meeting with Xander for hot chocolate after. She remembered that things could be good...if you'd let them.

So, remembering this, Buffy leaned into the brunette's arms allowing the other woman to pull her into a tender embrace. And lying her head against Cordelia's chest, her eyes closing as she sighed softly, she let it feel good.


"So everything's alright?" Angel asked, his relief clear even through the muffled tones of the receiver. He'd been getting increasing agitated as the days had worn on and he hadn't heard anything from her.

"Yeah, everything's fine. She's completely alive ... and, dare I say it, finally on the mend," the brunette responded. "How did the stuff at the warehouse go?"

"You know, slash. Kick. People running away in a blind panic. Consult the books. Swords. Methane tanks. The usual," the vampire responded trying to sound nonchalant. The truth was, though it had taken a couple of days, they hadn't had much trouble dispensing with the small group of demons that had kidnapped the boy. But, it just hadn't been the same without Cordelia there. He didn't know quite how to explain it, but things just seemed off somehow with the brunette gone, and the others had felt it too. The fact was, that he'd be glad when she came back. "So, when can we expect the pleasure of you're company?"

"Tomorrow morning I guess," the brunette responded. It had been a couple days since the musical incident ended, and while things with Willow and Tara seemed a little tense, and the Scoobies interactions with the Slayer were still rather strained, Buffy seemed to be taking whatever epiphany she had at the Bronze that night to heart. She wouldn't have minded sticking around a little more to see how things turned out, to maybe help Buffy ease back into life a bit more, but she knew that if she didn't leave soon she was going to be sucked into something bigger than whatever it was that had been going on between her and Slayer, and she couldn't wait for that. She had responsibilities to get back to in L.A. "Everything here is slowly getting back to normal ... so, no more Cordy."

"We'll all," the vampire started pausing, then sighing. "I'll be glad when you're back. The hotel has been missing a certain ... Cordyosity."

"You mean horribly bad coffee?" the brunette asked. "Of course," Angel responded. "We've been able to drink it for the last week. I don't think that Fred has been able to get to sleep for the last three days."


"So," Dawn began looking at her sister dubiously. "What you're saying is that the Bretton Woods project was a task undertaken by the world's leading thinkers in cracker technology to create a new and better biscuit?" she went on. "And that this all became possible because of amazing discoveries that Gen. Poncho Villa made during the invasion of Normandy?"

Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her chair as her sister summed up the conversation they had just had into a few very compact, very incredulous sentences. It had seemed a lot better when she was making it up.

"Buffy did ever even GO to school?" Dawn asked shaking her head. She may not have read the homework, or paid much attention in class, but she knew that Poncho Villa didn't have anything to do with the invasion of Normandy, and was willing to bet her `No String's Attached' cd that Bretton Woods didn't have anything to do with crackers ... even though Bretton crackers were very yummy with spread.

"I did," Buffy replied huffily looking over at Dawn. "Occasionally I did," she continued playing with the scone on the plate in front of her. "Once or twice," she went on glancing over at Dawn.

She held her sisters gaze for a moment, each of them staring at each other intensely, before they both began making little hmph-ing sounds in there throats which quickly led to full out laughing.

"I seriously fail to see how writing a history paper could be this much fun," Cordelia stated walking into the kitchen eyeing the two laughing Summers girls with a touch of amusement and concern. What could possibly be that funny?

"It is if Buffy's the one giving you source material," Dawn replied cracking up again. "Poncho Villa," she continued shaking her head. "Ass."

"Hey," Buffy responded. "He was very important to development of commercially marketing the hooded sweater jacket!"

"Was this before or after he personally defeated Dr. No in his island fortress of extremely stupid evil?" Dawn asked smirking at Buffy. She'd missed this, them just sitting around snarking at each other in the way only sisters can do and still love each other in the morning. She'd missed Buffy.

"Oh go to bed," Buffy replied pointing at the door. Dawn stuck out her tongue. "No seriously," Buffy continued. "Go to bed. It's past midnight." "I would so kill to get my hands on one of your old papers," the brunette stated with a smile sitting down across from the Slayer.

"I hear they're actually handing them out to the kids now as warnings, skip class and this could happen to you," Buffy responded shaking her head with an exaggerated sigh. "My personal favorite was `Nuts to the Middle Ages'. I based the whole essay on five minutes of a documentary I saw on PBS one night. It would've been good, it could've been good...you know if the documentary had actually been on the Middle Ages," she continued smirking at the brunette. "And if I had left out the little rant about genetically engineered, super intelligent monkey's surviving us icies on the moon."

"You're a strange girl, aren't you Buffy?" Cordelia asked the other woman, her eyes twinkling with amusement.

"Professionally," the Slayer responded with a grin, before becoming pensive as she regarded the brunette. "When?" she asked finally her eyes drifting about the kitchen.

"When what?" Cordelia responded, not surprised but still confused by Buffy's abrupt subject change.

"When are you leaving?" the Slayer asked looking back over at the former debutante.

"Oh," the brunette replied with sigh, slumping down in her chair slightly. "Tomorrow."

"I bet the business is crumbling without you," Buffy commented, suddenly finding the tabletop very interesting.

"You have no idea. I really wonder about those people. The only thing I don't have to schedule for them are bathes," Cordelia responded in a fond tone though she shook her head as if it were an absolutely exasperating experience just thinking about them.

Buffy was silent for a moment as she considered what had been said. The truth was that she had become quite fond of the brunette and she didn't at all want her to go. In fact she would have been quite pleased with Cordelia staying with them, with her indefinitely. But she knew that it couldn't be that way.

"I should give you a proper send off," the blonde began moments later, pushing out of her chair and standing up.

"What did you have in mind?" the brunette asked looking over at the Slayer questioningly.

"Follow me and I'll show you," the Slayer responded, a truly lecherous grin spreading across her features as her eyes raked themselves over the brunette's body, before she turned and headed for the door.

"Different cork than I was expecting," Cordelia mumbled to herself standing up. "But it works for me," she continued with a grin. Oh, sweet Sunnydale.


Cordelia stood looking out of the Summers bay window. The Scoobies were congregated outside on the lawn with her luggage talking about something or the other, probably wedding plans from the look on Willow's face. They'd been inside moments before saying their goodbyes, but had left after the hugs and the `good to see yous' to wait for Cordelia's cab. As for the brunette herself, she was waiting for a certain Slayer to make her appearance so that they could say a proper goodbye to each other. A private goodbye, worth of the bond formed between them over the past week.

"I didn't say it the first time you left...you know, because I wouldn't have meant it," Buffy started with an impish little grin as she stepped off the last stair. "But I'm going to miss you," she continued coming to stop in front of the brunette who was now facing her. Her voice dropped intimately as she looked at the other woman and she had to struggle to suppress the urge she was feeling to stroke the brunette's cheek.

"Hmmm," Cordelia responded looking down at the Slayer thoughtfully. "You're temporary sweetener," she continued a ghost a smile making it's way across her face. For some reason she was feeling an intense desire to wrap the smaller woman in her arms and squeezing her as tightly to her as she could without injuring either of them.

"No," Buffy stated taking a step towards the other woman. "No Sweet ' n ' Low, just you," she continued softly. "If things were different," she went on dropping her head down not quite sure that she should be voicing the thoughts that were running through her head. "I don't' know, if things were different I guess that things could be different."

"You'd join the parade with Kim and Kerry over there," the brunette asked flickering her head towards the window indicating Willow and Tara who were waiting outside with the others and her luggage. Truthfully, she never considered that she would consider considering herself one of those women who wore shirts saying `I'm not gay, but my girlfriend is'. But she had never considered considering that she might end up working for a vampire, while getting visions from a higher power that helped her be a champion of justice, before becoming a Queen in an alternate dimension. So all things considered, what she considered considering didn't really mean that much.

"Well, I already march to my own drummer," the Slayer responded grinning at the brunette. She should have figured that the brunette would've been able to figure out what she was getting at.

"And I step to my own tune," the ex-cheerleader responded seriously before pausing for a second, then leaning down and brining their lips together. Drawing the blonde into her tenderly as her hands came to rest of the Slayer's hips, deepening the kiss as they stayed locked together in that sweet embrace for long moments.

"I've gotta go," Cordelia whispered reluctantly, taking a step back from the blonde in an attempt to collect herself.

"You will call, won't you?" Buffy asked as the brunette opened up the front door. "I may be reanimated tissue but I'm a still a lady," she continued trying to make herself sound only half as demanding as she was feeling.

"I..." Cordelia started to say turning around to face Buffy. "I will," she continued softly smiling at the Slayer before turning back around and heading down the steps. The cab had just pulled into the driveway, and she wouldn't look back.