Temporary Sweetener by Janine

Disclaimer: All the characters, Buffy, Cordelia, Dawn, Anya, Willow, Giles, Xander, etc. belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Inc., and Warner Bros (and now UPN). I'm just borrowing their brilliant creations. I intend no copyright infringement from my use of their characters, and will receive no monetary or any other compensation for their use, in any form, of the story that succeeds.
Paring: Buffy/Cordelia
Rating: R/NC-17
Summary: Cordelia has a vision that forces her to return to Sunnydale. [S6]
Email: jbstories@hotmail.com
*NOTE* I apologize for any spelling mistakes/missing words. The only editor I've had for the fic so far is me, myself, and I and as an editor of stuff I've written I tend to suck. Hard.

| Part 1-4 | Part 5-Conclusion |

Temporary Sweetener

PROLOGUE

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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.


 

PART ONE

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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.

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"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."

"Yeah?"

"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 conspiratorial 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?"

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"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."

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"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."

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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 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 I 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�"


PART TWO

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"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, hopping 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.


PART THREE

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"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."

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"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 berate 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 creature's 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.

"What?"

"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.


PART FOUR

------------------

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 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.


Continue to Parts 5-Conclusion

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