DISCLAIMER: Part 1
When Cordelia stepped back into the Recovery Room, she noticed that Faith was still asleep. The colour had returned somewhat to her face and she appeared to be resting comfortably. According to Angel, there had been no trouble at all during the night, the only people to enter Faith's room being the nursing staff who performed regular observations on the girl. The tall Seer peered at the chart at the foot of the hospital bed and tried to make sense of the figures and graphical representation but it meant nothing to her. It was enough to see the steady rise and fall of the dark slayer's chest and see the regular trace of her heartbeat on a monitor high up on a nearby wall.
Angel had left quickly to avoid a toasting in the new morning's sun and hurried back to the Magic Box to see if he could be of assistance with the research into destroying the artefacts. Buffy had stayed outside the room, not wanting to see the rogue slayer in her present state but telling Cordelia that it would be easier for her to remain on guard outside the door. The ex-cheerleader hadn't bought the excuse for an instant but did not want to enter into conflict with the blonde slayer when she could make better use of her time watching Faith.
She sighed as she sat down in the hard plastic chair that was positioned at the side of the Bostonian's bed. She had gone to the rest-room as soon as she had arrived at the hospital to reapply her make-up, wanting to look fresh when Faith finally woke up again but she knew that no amount of concealer or foundation would be able to mask the ravages the last few hours had inflicted on her face. Cordelia knew that she looked terrible and could practically feel the bags under her eyes grow by the second due to lack of sleep, but being in Faith's presence, even if she was unconscious, somehow invigorated her. The taller girl relaxed into the chair, trying to ignore the way it dug into the back of her legs and settled down to wait for Faith to open her eyes again.
The brunette ran her mind over the last night's events and, more specifically, the kiss she had planted on the renegade slayer's lips. Was Tara right? Could she be in a relationship with Faith? She certainly wanted it. Cordelia also knew all about Faith's reputation for being a 'get some, get gone' girl. But she had seen no evidence of that part of her character since her release from prison. Faith had certainly never flaunted any sexual conquests in front of her in L.A. Cordelia quickly dismissed the notion that Faith might just be trying to get into her pants. Though the way she felt at the moment, Cordelia was unsure whether she would be able to stop the girl if that actually was the case. She had never felt so charged by someone else before. She couldn't deny that there was a chemistry between them. It had been slow to emerge, developing from the initial mistrust and uneasy truce between them when Faith was first released, becoming more concrete as their friendship blossomed and they began to trust each other, till now. The thought of having a substantial, long-term relationship with Faith frightened Cordelia. Her last long term partner had been Xander and he had cheated on her with Willow, of all people. Xander wasn't anywhere near Faith's league and the ex-prom queen knew that her feelings for the dark-haired girl ran far deeper than she had ever experienced before. But somehow that made it worse. For if she were betrayed, Cordelia didn't think that she would have the strength to get over it.
The tall Seer sat up suddenly, annoyed for wallowing in such negative thoughts and she shook her head slightly, as if to remove them from her brain. She returned her focus to the sleeping woman before her and allowed herself to openly appreciate the girl's beautiful features, from the wide dark eyes, the long wild tresses of rich brown hair and slim, perfectly proportioned nose to the full lips, her bottom one being slightly dimpled in the centre.
Once again, Cordelia recalled the kiss she planted on Faith's lips. She brought her fingertips up to her own lips as she remembered the tingling sensation that seemed to last long after the kiss had ended. The girl smiled to herself ruefully as she mentally scolded herself once again. How could she have a reaction like that and doubt where she was headed with Faith. She knew it wouldn't be easy. They were both far too prone to masking their feelings and displaying only what others expected of them. They were also both compulsive and quick to anger. Cordelia sat back and wondered if they would have blazing rows. Perhaps, she acceded. But surely the making up would be worth it. As that thought crossed her mind, she couldn't help a lascivious grin show across her face. It was at that moment that Faith chose to wake up.
"Hey C, keep lookin' at me like that and I might not be able to hold myself back." She wiggled her eyebrows impishly and mirrored Cordelia's smile with an equally rakish one.
The ex-cheerleader rolled her eyes, even as she felt her heart pounding. "Oh, please! Last time I kissed you, you fell asleep on me," she retorted, amazed at how she still had the ability to speak when her mouth was pulled into the biggest grin she had ever displayed.
Faith looked at Cordelia as she remembered the fleeting caress from the night before. "And here was me, thinking that I'd dreamt it," she whispered. Before the older girl could react, Faith shot an arm out and grabbed Cordelia's wrist. She pulled the girl from the chair and towards her.
To her chagrin, Cordelia let out a squeal at the sudden movement and as she was yanked closer to the prone girl, had to put out her free hand to steady herself and prevent her body from careering into Faith's. Somehow, she ended up face to face with the renegade slayer, just a few centimetres apart, with her balancing hand on one side of Faith's head, the other hand still clasped in the slayer's and wedged between their bodies that were now touching. She could hear her own breathing coming in rapid gasps that had nothing to do with the unexpected exertion. Her heart rate soared as she could sense a similar reaction in the woman who lay underneath her. "How the hell?" She began, barely having the breath to form the question.
"Slayer healing," Faith interrupted, equally softly. She looked deeply into the hazel eyes of the woman, noticing tiny flecks of gold in her irises even as they gave way to the dilation of Cordelia's pupils. "Tell me I wasn't dreaming," she murmured.
Cordelia brought her lips down and brushed them softly against Faith's. The same tingling sensation flooded through them as she continued the pressure and Cordelia felt desire course through her body, making her body hypersensitive and feel more alive than she had ever felt before.
Faith closed her eyes as she felt Cordelia's lips on hers and relished the sensation. This was a kiss that demonstrated love and desire, not a prelude to a meaningless fuck with a faceless, nameless person using her as much as she used them. She was in deep. So deep, she thought she was drowning, and yet the more it frightened her, the more she wanted to cling onto it. This *thing* she had with Cordelia was more important to her than anything in her life and she was not going to ruin it or let it go. Not without a fight. She moved her lips slowly, kissing Cordelia's upper lip and then lower lip in turn, tugging on it slightly as the kiss grew.
Cordelia deepened the kiss, running her tongue over the full lips of the Bostonian, and then pushing it into the slayer's mouth as Faith parted her lips to accommodate her. She groaned as she tasted Faith's tongue on hers and relished the sensation. The Seer felt Faith's free hand cup her cheek tenderly before it drifted back to play with the thick tresses of her hair. They explored each other's mouths slowly and sensuously, neither rushing the other as they revelled in the sensations their tongues and lips shared.
It was only the burning sensation in her lungs indicating a desperate need for oxygen that pulled Cordelia away from her exploration. She gasped and opened her eyes as she rested her forehead on Faith's. For a moment they just gazed at each other, unwilling to say or do anything that would break the spell they were under. But as Cordelia heard the door handle moving she sat back and settled herself on the edge of the bed, allowing her hand to remained captured by Faith's. "That was no dream Faith," she assured the slayer, amazed that she was still capable of coherent speech, and used her thumb to wipe away a smudge of lipstick that had smeared across the younger girl's lips.
The door opened to reveal a middle-aged man in a white coat with a bright blue stethoscope slung around his shoulders, standard garb to indicate his status as a doctor. The man's eyes danced jovially behind the large glasses he wore as he took in the scene. He had spent his whole career hiding his sexuality. He was fortunate enough to be in a relationship where his partner understood and respected his decision, knowing that had they revealed their relationship, it would have been virtually impossible for him to have gone so far in his profession despite the public stance of the hospital. To see such an open display of affection delighted him no end and he was also smugly satisfied that his gaydar had been correct the night before. "I do hope Miss Chase, that you're doing nothing to overexcite my patient. She needs rest."
Cordelia could feel every part of her face scorch with embarrassment at the comment. Even her ears felt hot, yet she made no attempt to release her hand from Faith's. Then the ex-prom queen felt her embarrassment reach dangerous levels as she realised that the man was the same surgeon she had spoken to last night, looking very different now that he was no longer wearing scrubs. She had thought that he was much younger last night. Perhaps it was lack of sleep that aged him and she wondered briefly if she looked much older today. The Seer snapped her head round and turned her gaze furiously on Faith as she heard her very unsuccessfully try to hide a snigger.
"What?" The dark slayer asked innocently, earning a slap on the arm. She laughed again.
"And if I find out that you were the instigator, I may find cause to keep you in hospital for longer," the doctor continued, enjoying himself at their expense.
Faith's laughter stopped instantly and she looked in horror at the tall man. Cordelia laughed at the expression on her face and squeezed the girl's hand reassuringly. "I think we've been played," she confided, glancing up at the Doctor who now had a wide smile on his face. She was surprised by his attitude but supposed that not everyone would automatically object to them being together.
"I see I've been found out. I must apologise if I've offended," the Doctor smiled at both girls sincerely.
"I'm only gonna be offended if I have to stay here for long," replied Faith, her face still serious at the idea. "Er, no offence Doc," she added as an afterthought.
"None taken," the tall surgeon replied affably. "Now if you'll excuse us Miss Chase, I need to examine my patient and make a decision on the length of her sojourn here at Sunnydale Memorial."
"Huh?" Faith crumpled her brow in confusion.
"How long you have to stay here," Cordelia explained gently. She squeezed the dark slayer's hand reassuringly before she rose from the bed. "I'll be outside," she told her.
The doctor smiled as the tall brunette strode through the open doorway and he shut the door behind her. "I suspect that despite my previous knowledge of your powers of recuperation, I am going to be surprised at the progress of your healing," the surgeon told Faith conversationally as he drew back the covers and gestured for her to lift up her gown.
"I feel pretty good Doc. I think you did a good job." Faith began her battle for early release immediately. The surgeon merely looked at her with his eyebrows raised before looking carefully at the bandaging covering Faith's abdomen.
The dark slayer allowed the man to unwrap her wound and tried to look over his gentle hands as he carefully examined his work from the night before. To her surprise, his movements were careful and delicate and instead of the pain that she had braced herself for, she only felt a general discomfort as her abdomen was palpated.
The doctor supplemented his perusal with several "U-huhs" that seemed to be directed at no one in particular. Despite his gentle manner, Faith found herself getting irritated by the examination and started to fidget, hoping that he would get the hint and finish.
"Would you mind trying to stay still for just a while longer?" he mumbled absently, not in the least put off by her movement.
The dark slayer sighed loudly but complied, shaking her head slightly as the man continued.
The surgeon stood back up and looked down at the brunette. "I need to send you for another set of x-rays and get some more blood tests done," he began and couldn't help but grin as Faith rolled her eyes and groaned loudly. "Finished?" He asked, raising his eyebrows as the Southie slayer stared at him balefully.
"Just as I was starting to like you," she protested sarcastically.
"I'm touched. Especially as I can see how much you adore being in places like these."
Faith narrowed her eyes at the middle-aged man but couldn't help grinning at him. He just didn't act like a normal doctor, which was perhaps the only reason she was still lying in bed. "So, how long do I have to stay here?" She cut to the chase.
"Well, depending on how quickly the results come back *and* if I'm satisfied with them," he emphasised his words clearly, "I am prepared to release you this afternoon on the strict proviso that you rest."
"Hoo-fuckin'-ray!" Faith exclaimed, at the same time wondering if she could survive another hour in the hospital, let alone make it all the way till the afternoon.
As if reading her mind the surgeon looked at her carefully as he picked up the note board that had been clipped at the bottom of her bed. "I shall be telling Miss Chase of my recommendations. I suspect that she has a greater ability to persuade you to stay put than I do. I will also ask her to ensure that you *do* rest if I decide to release you." He grinned at the look of horror on the young girl's face. "I see that I'll be leaving you in safe hands," he smirked as he began to scribble across one of the sheets on the clipboard.
"What about patient confidentiality?" The Bostonian asked.
"She doesn't need to know anything confidential, just my recommendations for extra tests that require my inspection this afternoon," the surgeon retorted smoothly.
Faith suspected that the doctor might well have had experience in dealing with difficult patients before. She had no comeback to that last comment and realised that he had won convincingly. The young brunette flopped back on her bed and groaned again. She might have been able to get away with self-discharging herself this morning but there was no way that was going to happen once Cordelia knew the score. The Seer was the only girl she knew who was more stubborn than she was. Grudgingly, she had to admit that had the tables been turned and it was Cordelia lying in a hospital bed, Faith would ensure that she left the hospital only when the doctors said so, and she'd probably grill the doctors just to make certain that they were sure. There was no point in even attempting to persuade Cordelia that she could leave early. She would just have to wait it out and hope that the doctor saw nothing to extend her stay past this afternoon.
Willow stretched languidly and took in her surroundings as she woke up. The initial confusion of her location receded quickly as she recalled snuggling down onto the sofa with Tara a few hours ago. She sat up and rolled her shoulders, trying to work out the stiffness and smiled as Tara looked up from the book she had been immersed in. "Hey."
"Morning, sleepyhead," Tara smiled back.
The red-haired wiccan frowned slightly. "Why are you up so early?"
"It's not that early," Giles called across from the counter.
Willow turned to face him and realised that everyone else was already awake. "Wow, I must have been tired. Why didn't you wake me?" She returned her gaze to Tara.
"You just answered your own question," returned her lover softly. She got up and poured the girl a large cup of coffee and then made her way over towards the sofa.
"Buffy and Cordelia have gone back to the hospital. Angel is here and we've been doing research. You obviously needed to sleep so we left you to it."
Willow was grateful that there seemed to be no residual tension from the night before and yawned before sipping at her coffee. "How have you done so far?"
"Not so well I'm afraid," supplied Wesley. He had awoken in the morning annoyed that Gunn had not called upon him to take watch during the night. However, when the dark man explained that he could grab a few hours rest while everyone else was up to their necks in books, the young Englishman had to acknowledge that he had made a good decision. "As much as we've researched the wording of the spell, we just can't seem to say it fast enough."
Willow frowned in confusion. "Fast enough?" She echoed. "Why should speed make a difference.?"
"The incantation must be evoked whilst burning certain ingredients. They must be spoken before the embers cool," Tara explained.
Her curiosity piqued, the red-haired witch got up from the couch and went over to the table where many books were scattered. "That doesn't make sense," she murmured to herself, her mind ticking away rapidly at the problem.
"I know," Giles agreed readily. "As of yet though, I can find no way round the problem." He polished the lenses of his spectacles to emphasise his frustration.
"There's something simple that we're missing," Wes supplied. Both Willow and Giles looked up at him in surprise. "What?"
"Sorry Wesley," Giles apologised. "Not used to you admitting that you're not infallible, that's all." The older watcher smiled to take the sting from his words.
Wesley raised his eyebrows at the comment before replying. "A fair comment. I've had three years outside of the council influences now though. I tend to take a broader outlook on life."
"The simple thing everyone's missed is the *way* the incantation is spoken, not how long it takes," Willow spoke up, leaving her fingers part way down the page of an open tome in front of her so that she didn't lose her place.
"What do you mean?" All eyes were on the flame-haired girl now.
"Well, according to this, the invocation must be recited by the three witches holding the three artefacts," Willow began, glancing at the page for reassurance.
"We got that far honey," Tara pointed out.
"But they don't all repeat the whole incantation together," Willow returned. She was met with looks of confusion all round.
"What do they do then, gossip over a cup of coffee?" Xander's first attempt at humour for the day fell on deaf ears but he was quite used to that happening.
"They each recite part of the incantation concurrently." Willow looked round as if the answer was totally obvious and was surprised to find that the looks of confusion remained etched on her friends' faces.
She shook her head and tried again. "Each part of the spell is broken down into three parts and given to a witch to perform. Each witch recites their own part at the same time as the others so the time taken to complete the whole incantation isn't nearly so long. There should be plenty of time to complete the spell before the embers die."
At last she was met with understanding. Well, from the watchers and Tara at least.
"That's brilliant Willow," Giles enthused eagerly. "All we have to do now is work out where the division in the incantations are."
"And that is going to be far harder than you think," Willow told him assuredly. "There's no way these witches would have made it this easy for the incantation to be found if it could be sectioned without any problems."
"Pessimist," accused Tara good-naturedly but she sat down next to Willow heavily. "Best we get to it then," she prompted. Her words spurred the others into action and the other occupants of the Magic Box busied themselves once again with the research.
Unfortunately, Willow's words were well founded and the team struggled to find out how to separate the spell into its correct component parts. They tried splitting it down into equal numbers of words, approximately equal recitation lengths and used the obvious verse breaks but had no point of reference to determine if they were correct in their assumptions.
Anya surprised everyone by finding out that the spell had to be recited by witches of a similar age and the same sex. This ruled out Angel, Giles and Wesley to take the place of the third witch and neither Willow or Tara felt confident about approaching any of their associates at the Wicca circles they often attended. Bringing in someone new was too risky at this important stage. It also meant that it would be down to Anya or Cordelia to learn the third part of the incantation. Willow and Tara couldn't decide who would be the more suitable, the ex-vengeance demon who was predisposed to distraction and her own personal safety, or the ex-cheerleader with whom they'd had no contact with for the last three years but who was remembered as a fashion-absorbed, egocentric sarcastic bitch. In the end, Giles decided that both girls should learn the spell, if and when they finally broke it down correctly and the one who proved the most adept at its recital should take part in the destruction of the artefacts. Willow took great delight in telling the ex-watcher that as it was his plan for both girls to learn the spell, he could have the honour of telling Cordelia what was expected of her when she returned from the hospital. Giles then spent the next few hours uncomfortably anticipating the Seer's reaction to his idea.
The Scoobs and LA gang worked ceaselessly well into the afternoon, determined not to be defeated by the ancient invocation. Xander fulfilled his duty by doing the donut run for them and was glad to get out of the shop for a while and at least contribute something to the operation.
When the door opened again, none of the shop's occupants looked up, expecting it to be Xander returning. Buffy looked round quickly before speaking. "Wow. Totally overawed by the welcome here guys."
Her voice had the desired effect as everyone looked up from their work. "Buffy," Willow exclaimed, glad to see her friend. "How's the psycho?" She frowned as she asked the question, posing it more to gauge the reaction of the blonde slayer than any real genuine concern for the Bostonian.
"Still alive Red," Faith answered as she stepped through the door, followed closely by Cordelia. "You'll have to hate me for a while longer."
The two girls exchanged looks of mutual dislike as Willow stood up. "That won't be a problem," the flame-haired witch retorted. Tara rolled her eyes as she realised that Willow was back at square one regarding her opinion of the dark slayer.
"Willow, I think that Faith has at least done enough for us to give her a chance. If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have any of the artefacts," Buffy reasoned, approaching the table where Willow had been at work and totally oblivious to the looks of astonishment both Faith and Cordelia were directing at her.
"I can't trust her, Buffy. You're asking too much," her best friend told her candidly.
"I'm not asking you to trust her. Just work with her," explained Buffy carefully. "Angel's explained that Cordelia's vision involved *all* of us. I think we have to go with that and see what happens."
Willow sat back down in her chair heavily. "Just keep her away from me," she muttered darkly and returned to the open reference book in an effort to switch her train of thought. She felt betrayed by Buffy. Her best friend had let the psycho slayer back in their group and now everything would fall apart again.
Buffy turned back to where the two brunettes still stood. "Are you going to be okay now or do you need to rest?" She asked.
"I'm five by five B," Faith replied easily. "It only hurts when I laugh."
"And there's not much danger of that happening round here is there?" Cordelia interjected sarcastically as she tugged the dark girl towards a vacant couch.
Unfortunately, her comment provoked a stab of laughter from the dark slayer that was promptly followed by a sharp intake of breath as she winced at the pain. "See?"
Cordelia looked round at the girl with concern. "Sorry," she apologised. "Sit down and rest," the Seer ordered, switching to a more authoritative tone.
"Cordy," Faith protested at the instruction.
"Sit!" The Seer accentuated the command with a pointing finger.
"Yes Ma'am," Faith retorted, flipping a salute at the taller girl before obeying her and sitting on the couch. Cordelia had been fussing round her ever since speaking with the doctor that morning and Faith was secretly enjoying both the attention and the proximity of the ex-cheerleader.
Cordelia noticed the insolent look Faith gave her and crossed her arms defensively. "Oh well, perhaps it would be better if you spent another night in the hospital as you obviously don't want me bothering you."
"No, no. It's fine. I'll just sit here and shut up." Faith shook her head at Cordelia as the older girl raised her eyebrows at her and grinned triumphantly. "Bitch."
"I know. And you love me really, so I win on all counts," Cordelia returned and she sat down next to Faith on the couch. The slayer surprised her by grabbing her hand and entwining her fingers through hers. Cordelia looked at the girl expectantly.
"Don't suppose you've got a nurse outfit have you?" Faith asked, lowering her voice suggestively.
Before Cordelia could respond, Giles cleared his throat loudly, attracting their attention. "Well, I for one, am grateful that you're recovering well. But there is still a lot of work to be done I'm afraid."
Faith groaned and laid her head back on the sofa. "Oh, no. Research."
"We've been doing it all day, think yourself lucky," Willow interjected acidly.
Faith levelled her stare at the witch. "Sorry Red. I was excused this morning's class on account of how I was nearly gutted last night." She smiled coldly at the girl and refused to look away as she saw her squirm uncomfortably.
"Er, yes well. It was more Cordelia I was thinking of," the ex-watcher explained.
"Me? What have I got to do?" The Seer was instantly suspicious.
"I need you to recite part of the incantation." Giles thought it would be better to come straight to the point.
Cordelia narrowed her eyes at the Englishman thoughtfully. "I haven't got to do any yucky things with frogs eyes or bat wings have I?" She pulled her face into a delicate moue of disgust at the thought.
"No, no, no. Not at all," the older man hastily reassured her. "All you would have to do is incant the spell. But you need to learn it exactly." He emphasised his last comment carefully.
Cordelia looked at Faith and then at Angel questioningly. He nodded his support before speaking up. "We need three witches of the same sex and similar age to perform the spell."
"I hate to point out the obvious but I'm not a witch," Cordelia replied.
"It doesn't matter in this case," Tara interrupted. "W-willow and I hold enough p-p-power to invoke the spell but it t-t-takes three spell casters to actually perform the ritual. As long as you say the incantation w-word perfect, we can destroy the artefacts."
Once again, Cordelia looked at Faith. The Southie slayer smiled at her reassuringly. "Go for it," she encouraged and released her grip on the Seer's hand.
"You'd better show me what I have to learn then," Cordelia told Giles as she stood up.
Giles winced slightly. "That's where we're having trouble. We're not exactly certain how to divide the incantation up."
The tall ex-cheerleader rolled her eyes. "Great. Does this mean I've got to learn the whole spell?"
"No, I don't think so," Wesley answered. "We were getting closer to a solution when you entered. I think I've finally deciphered where the breaks in the incantation are."
Cordelia crossed the room to join the others but stiffened suddenly. She clutched her head as she felt the vision crash upon her and her legs buckled as agonising pain enveloped her.
Faith was on her feet instantly and caught Cordelia before she fell to the floor. "Come on Cordy, I'm here." She lowered the girl gently to the floor and cradled her head in her lap, pushing a strand of hair behind the Seer's ear. She held onto Cordelia protectively as she continued to deal with the image and pain, stroking her cheek and continuously murmuring words of reassurance to the woman. Instinctively she felt Angel's presence and looked up. "Hey big guy, can you get a glass of water and C's bag?" He nodded and hurried to the task.
By the time he returned, Cordelia had opened her eyes and was breathing shakily. Faith dug around the ex-cheerleader's bag and located her pillbox. She popped a tablet out of the blister pack and handed it silently to Cordelia.
The Seer took the painkiller and swallowed it gratefully. It took a few more moments for her to gather her wits and overcome the pain. She looked round at the concerned faces that crowded her. "It's tonight," she whispered. "He returns tonight."
There was a moment of silence as the others absorbed her shaky words. Then Willow frowned and shook her head slightly. "How can that be? We're destroying the artefacts, not raising Varos."
Giles seemed equally baffled. "There must be more to the vision. Describe exactly what you saw," he told the brunette Seer.
Cordelia stared ahead, eyes unfocused as she relived the vision in her mind, not hearing the Watcher's instruction.
"Hey C," Faith gently shook the girl. "You Okay?"
Cordelia pulled her gaze back to the room and looked at the last voice she heard. She flinched when she saw Faith and pulled away slightly.
"What's up Cordy?" Faith was surprised by the ex-cheerleader's reaction to her. She had seemed almost scared of her.
"Nothing, nothing." Cordelia mumbled a denial even as she averted her eyes away from the renegade slayer. "I just need to rest a bit I think."
Faith nodded, trying not to make too much of the taller girl's reaction. She got up off the floor and extended a hand to help Cordelia up.
Cordelia looked at the outstretched hand and followed the limb up to the face of the Bostonian. She stared at the girl for a moment before hesitantly taking Faith's offer of help and rising unsteadily. As soon as she was upright, she extricated herself from Faith's grip and shifted slightly away from the brunette slayer.
Faith frowned and took a step back herself, realising that the girl was uncomfortable about her presence but not understanding why. "Cordelia, what did you see?" She asked slowly.
"I told you what I saw," the older girl snapped back. She sighed and then swallowed in an effort to steady her voice. "I saw all of us in one of the cemeteries. I didn't recognise which one it was." She hesitated and blinked as she tried to find the words to describe her vision. "There was a flash of light or an energy beam. Something like that." The girl shook her head in frustration at the inadequacy of her description. "I saw the demon. He's huge and he's ugly." The Seer swallowed and then looked at the others without managing to look at Faith. "That's all I saw," she insisted. Cordelia swayed slightly as the pain from the vision washed over her again. As the rogue slayer reached out to steady her, she pulled away slightly and instead rested a hand on Angel, who was the next closest to her.
Faith dropped her outstretched arm slowly, unable to stop a look of hurt pass across her features. She noticed the puzzled look from Angel and willed herself to say nothing until Cordelia was ready to say more. There was obviously something the woman was unprepared to share with them, and it quite clearly involved Faith in some way. Judging by Cordelia's reaction so far, the Southie was convinced that her part was not good.
The tall prom-queen leant on Angel as he led her towards the couch. Without instruction she sat down and then swung her legs up on the couch, cradling her head in her arms as she closed her eyes. Faith stood and watched her mutely before staring at Angel helplessly. He shrugged his shoulders, equally confused by the Seer's reaction and exchanged glances with Wes.
"Does this mean that she gets out of having to learn that spell now?" Anya chimed in, oblivious to the atmosphere in the Magic Box.
Wesley stared at the ex-demon incredulously. "You really have no idea what she goes through, do you?"
"Don't bother, Wesley. She had two hundred years of demon activity to mould her character. It's taking time to get Anya to see the more tactful side of life." Giles explained quickly, not wanting to set off a potentially futile exercise in explaining Anya's actions. The younger watcher frowned but accepted Giles' interjection with a nod.
"Cordelia will learn the incantation as well Anya," assured Angel softly. "She just needs some time to rest up."
"Has she ever reacted that way before?" Buffy asked, confused by Cordelia's treatment of Faith.
Angel shook his head. "No, usually she grabs a pad and paper and writes every detail down in the hope that there's a clue in the vision to help us."
"So why not this time? And why was she suddenly so frightened of Faith?" Wesley mused, the crease across his brow deepening. Faith looked at him uncertainly, uncomfortable that he had voiced what she too had picked up on.
"She probably saw her betray us all and join forces with Varos," Willow supplied nastily.
Faith clenched her fists convulsively but did not look at the witch. She returned her gaze towards the woman now lying on the couch with her eyes shut. She had noticed Cordelia react minutely to Willow's statement. "That's what I'm afraid of," she breathed, her lips barely moving.
Buffy was the only one close enough to pick up the comment and she studied the dark slayer carefully, unsure of how to handle her. Faith was hurting deeply. The blonde girl hadn't realised how deep Faith's feelings toward Cordelia were. Initially she had been surprised, believing that the rogue slayer was incapable of any emotion other than hate since coming round from her eight month coma. Her four year absence had quite clearly had a profound affect on her. The older slayer swallowed as she recalled her treatment of Faith since her arrival in Sunnydale. Any offer of help now would surely be rejected. Buffy had hardly been holding out the olive branch of peace since the younger slayer had arrived. If she suddenly started, Faith would become immediately suspicious and Buffy would get nowhere. But Buffy needed to offer her support somehow. Cordelia apparently no longer trusted Faith after seeing *something* within the vision. After a few moments of indecision, Buffy resorted to a tried and tested method of assistance. "Are you up for some training?"
Faith switched her glance to the older slayer instantly. Initially, she had thought that the offer was a ridiculous one. She had just been released from hospital. When she looked at Buffy's face and saw genuine concern, Faith realised that Buffy was finally giving her some leeway and letting her back in. She smiled wanly at the shorter girl. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea B," she replied carefully, noting the look of disappointment flash across Buffy's face. "I think I'd forget that I ought to be resting," she explained.
Buffy rolled her eyes at her own stupidity. "I'm sorry. I just thought..."
"No, it's okay," Faith interrupted, astonished that she had illicited an apology from the girl. "Maybe we could just do some set routines. Nothing strenuous." She listened intently, waiting for a murmur of objection from Cordelia and tried to stamp down the anguish she felt when she realised that there was none forthcoming. Buffy's voice broke through her reverie and she forced herself to focus on the words being spoken to her.
"No' you're right. You shouldn't be training. It might do some more damage." Buffy kicked herself for not thinking.
Faith looked disappointed for a moment and then turned to look back at the couch where Cordelia still lay. "I don't know what to do," she confessed.
"How about getting out of here for a while?" Buffy suggested. "Give yourself a bit of space to sort your head out."
The rogue slayer shrugged disconsolately. "Yeah. I suppose it's best if I get out of everyone's way."
The older girl shook her head, realising that Faith had misunderstood her. "Come on, let's go for a walk. It'll do you good to stretch those muscles after all that lying around."
Faith looked at the blonde slayer in surprise. She had thought that Buffy had wanted her out of the way until she was needed again. It came as a shock to discover that Buffy was offering to go with her. She nodded her agreement before looking at Cordelia once more. The Seer remained still with her eyes closed, a pale look of pain ghosting across her features and Faith felt her fists clench again in frustration. There was no way she could do anything to resolve the situation until she knew what the problem was. And for the moment, Cordelia was not talking.
Feeling a hand placed gently on her upper arm, she turned and saw Buffy gesturing towards the exit. With a resigned sigh, the Bostonian followed the shorter girl out of the Magic Box, hoping that the time away would help her come up with a solution to the deadlock she was in.
Cordelia stirred and groaned as she woke up. She opened her eyes and gazed round the shop carefully. Her head was still pounding despite the painkillers she had taken but it was more tolerable now. The Seer sat up slowly and rubbed her temples in an effort to disperse the remaining tension that sat across her head but it didn't really help. She looked up as her peripheral vision caught movement and she saw Angel approach with a steaming mug of coffee in his hand. He offered it to her silently and the ex-cheerleader took the vessel gratefully, allowing it to warm her hands before taking a tentative sip.
"How are you doing?" Angel asked softly, taking a seat next to his secretary.
"I'm not sure. The vision pretty much took everything out of me," Cordelia confessed. She stared at the contents of her cup, unable to look directly at Angel.
"Are you going to tell me what it's all about?" The dark vampire probed gently.
"I'm not sure that I can," the brunette supplied miserably, her hands tightening convulsively.
"It might help," Angel suggested, pushing a bit more.
Cordelia straightened and sighed before looking round the Magic Box. The witches, Xander and Anya were seated round the table engrossed in one of the many open magic books while Giles and Wesley were up at the counter deep in conversation. Buffy, Faith and Gunn were nowhere to be seen. Satisfied that she wouldn't be overheard, Cordelia stole a quick glance at the brooding vampire and saw the concern etched on his pale features. Coming to a decision, Cordelia took a deep breath and explained. "What I described was all true. I saw Varos rise and huge bolts of energy or something zap round him. You, Buffy and Faith were fighting him physically and Willow and Tara were with me. We were all chanting." The tall girl stopped and swallowed, reluctant to voice the next sentence.
"But you saw some more didn't you?" Angel was careful not to sound too demanding but he felt certain that Cordelia needed a nudge to continue.
Cordelia nodded mutely and stared at her coffee. In a broken whisper she continued. "The next thing I saw was Faith attacking me. She leapt at me and stabbed me." The Seer's voice broke and she felt a hot stream of tears run down her face as she relived the image. "Oh Angel, what am I going to do?" With that she leant into him and began to sob, the anguish taking over her emotions at last. She was dimly aware of a strong arm pulling her in tighter as she continued to cry and Cordelia gripped the vampire's shirt roughly as she clung onto the only bit of support she thought she had.
Angel held the girl in his arms and his mind raced, even as he murmured nonsense words of comfort to the stricken woman. He stroked her hair soothingly as he contemplated what she had revealed. Cordelia's visions were always accurate but they were always open to interpretation. If Faith stabbed Cordelia in her vision then that was going to happen, unless there was a way of preventing it. But it made no sense. Angel knew how much Cordelia meant to Faith and he was even more certain of how Cordelia felt about the slayer. There was no logical reason as to why this would happen and that meant that it would be harder for him to prepare and prevent the events from occurring. He simply refused to believe that Faith would return to her old ways voluntarily. And then suddenly, he leapt to an assumption. Perhaps it was Varos who influenced Faith in some way into behaving irrationally. The demon might be able to put a spell over her or hypnotise her. Faith might have no idea what she was doing. Encouraged by the thought, he sat Cordelia up and wiped the moisture away from underneath her eyes.
"What?" She asked. Her breath was coming in heaving gasps still but she was starting to control it more now that the peak of her emotions had subsided.
Angel quickly surmised his thoughts to the Seer. Cordelia looked at him sceptically but nodded that his explanation might certainly be plausible but then deflected him before he continued. "I have other things to be thinking about."
"The spell. In the vision, it was me who was chanting the third part of the spell. I need to sit and learn it."
"Are you sure? Anya seems to be doing okay." Angel looked over to the table in time to see Willow bang her head on the table in frustration and the ex-vengeance demon to push back her chair and storm off towards the back of the shop.
"You were saying?" Cordelia teased. She felt better now that she had heard a number of reasons that could explain away Faith's actions but she was not convinced. However, she couldn't shake the fear the vision had stirred up inside her. Deciding that it would be better to try and concentrate on something else, Cordelia rose unsteadily and moved over to the table. "Have you worked out each part of the spell yet?"
Tara looked up and smiled warmly at the taller girl. "How are you feeling?" She asked.
"I'm not sure at the moment," replied the brunette honestly. "The headache's eased off a bit though."
"Glad to hear it. And in answer to your question, yes we have found the way to divide the incantation," Willow provided. "Unfortunately, Anya has the memory span of a retarded goldfish."
"Willow," Tara remonstrated. "She's just having trouble remembering the exact phrasing," the blonde witch expanded.
"Yes, but paraphrasing the sentence could potentially alter the incantation radically." Willow was unable to keep the scathing tone from her voice.
"Well I hope you can show a little more patience with me," Cordelia returned as she sat down in the seat recently vacated by Anya.
"I've been patient for an hour and a half. There are limits," Willow justified before grinning ruefully at the brunette Seer.
"Have I been asleep that long?" Cordelia was horrified. "What time is it?"
"Nearly 5 o'clock," Tara supplied. "Did your vision give you any clue to what time this is all going to happen?"
The Seer shook her head. "It was dark and it felt late. But it could be any time after night fall sets in."
"Damn, that doesn't leave us much time at all. You up for some learning then?" Willow prodded.
"I don't think I've got a choice," replied Cordelia in a monotone. "Be gentle with me."
Willow grinned. "Would I be anything else?"
Both Cordelia and Tara shook their heads at the red-haired wiccan before settling into learning the incantation.
For the first hour of their walk around Sunnydale, Faith remained silent, allowing her own thoughts to rage through her head, uncomfortable with the idea of sharing her insecurities with the older slayer. Buffy walked with her and did nothing to break the silence, not wanting to push the Bostonian into anything she did not want to do. The two women walked some areas slowly but went through the parks at a gentle jog, easing down to a fast walk as Faith began to feel her muscles pulling around the site of her injuries. The second time they slowed down, she glanced at the blonde girl. "So why are you with me B?"
"Thought you could do with some company," returned Buffy honestly, before adding, "and I didn't want you getting your ass kicked again."
Faith snorted mirthlessly. "Damn that thing was one tough bitch. I'd love to get my hands on her and return the favour."
"I'm sure you'll get the chance."
"Hope so." Faith hesitated and stopped walking. "What if Willow's right?" She asked suddenly.
Buffy looked steadily at the younger girl. This was crunch time. If she didn't supply the right answer, Faith could well run again. "I don't know," she answered candidly. "But until Cordelia tells you exactly what she saw, all your thoughts are just supposition."
"You saw how she reacted to me B," Faith returned. "She sure as hell didn't see me setting up a picnic did she?"
"Something's spooked her, that's for sure," agreed the shorter girl. "But until we find out what it is, we can't deal with it. Maybe she saw something and interpreted it wrong. We just don't know."
"Yeah, but it's all this not knowing that's driving me crazy." Faith looked and saw a sudden look of concern flit across the blonde slayer's complexion. "Figure of speech B," she explained, realising how her words could be misconstrued.
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, but see how I just took that? Supposing it's the same for Cordy?"
"We're going round in circles here girlfriend," Faith reminded Buffy but felt strangely comforted by Buffy's words.
"Just hang in there Faith. You care about Cordelia and she obviously cares about you. This could all just be a stupid misunderstanding and I'm sure we'll get it sorted."
Faith nodded. "I hope so B," she confided. "I just don't want to lose her without knowing the reason why."
"You won't," the blonde girl reassured. "Ready to go back yet?"
"Nah, I'd like to do a bit more if that's okay."
"Fine by me. The longer we're out here, the less time I have to stare aimlessly at a book." Buffy smiled.
"Now that makes sense. Come on," Faith urged and they began to jog through the next park.
Cordelia proved to be surprisingly adept at learning the words but was more faltering at saying them in the correct sequence or at the same tempo as Tara and Willow. However, they continued to practise, taking random chunks of the incantation at a time in order not to inadvertently recite the whole spell when they weren't ready to. Cordelia was able to recite her part parrot fashion within an hour.
The girls sat back and looked at each other in satisfaction. "Impressive Cordy," Willow complemented.
"Thanks, I wasn't sure I could do it myself," the brunette admitted.
"So it's just a question of finding out when this all happens now then," Tara supplied.
"I think it's rather down to us," Giles commented from the counter.
"What do you mean?" Willow asked.
"According to this tome, the destruction spell is a continuation of the summoning spell. I rather suspect that we have to raise Varos before we can destroy the artefacts."
"Were those witches totally insane?" Wondered Tara.
"Probably," concurred Wesley with a wry smile. "Although it's more likely that they used a similar spell as they simply didn't have time to come up with an alternative. Besides, the power from the summoning is immense. The final part of this incantation is a channelling of that power so that the artefacts can be destroyed."
"In other words, once we start the incantation, we can't stop otherwise we summon Varos ourselves." Tara frowned as she contemplated the gravity of the situation.
"Bummer of a second prize," supplied Xander gloomily. He had given up on trying to console Anya, who now seemed content on counting out the profits from the till for a second time that day.
"We just have to be prepared to ensure that you aren't interrupted once you begin," Angel told the girls confidently.
"So," Willow turned to Cordelia. "Are you going to tell us why you went all freaky on Faith?"
Cordelia blinked at the sudden change of topic. "It doesn't matter now," she replied carefully.
"Yes it does," refuted the redhead. "I don't want you losing your concentration and ruining the incantation," she justified her probing.
Cordelia rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I just saw something that I'm a little uncomfortable about that's all."
"I knew it. She does betray us," the wiccan crowed triumphantly.
"No she doesn't," Cordelia denied vehemently. "It has nothing to do with you."
"Well, come on Cordy. What was it?"
Cordelia squirmed uncomfortably but remained reticent.
"Does it have something to do with Faith?" Tara asked gently. The tall Seer nodded but stayed silent.
"Well don't you think that she at least ought to know what you saw? If she's in danger she should be told," Tara's compassion animated her words.
"It wasn't Faith who was in danger." Cordelia was beginning to feel a little cornered.
"Then who? You've got to tell her Cordelia. It wouldn't be fair of you not to," Tara pointed out.
Cordelia looked at the blonde witch sharply. "Fair? How can I be fair? How on earth can I tell her that I saw her attack and stab me?" She blurted.
"You just did."
At the sound of Buffy's voice, Cordelia span in her chair and looked towards the door in time to see Faith turn and walk back out.
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