Title Graphic by Kimber
Illustration by Quindo Ma

Story By: Patrick Kelly & Series By: Joss Whedon

| Ch. 1-3 | Ch. 4-5 | Ch. 6-8 | Ch. 9-10 | Ch. 11 | Ch. 12-End |



Walking out of the Bronze, Buffy was satisfied. Well, satisfied in one area, at least. She had driven Angel crazy by dancing with Xander. She didn't know why she did it exactly, but part of the reason was because vampires weren't exactly her favorite things right now. It was funny how dying could really screw with your mind. Especially when your death was at the hands of a vampire like the Master. She couldn't get his ugly face out of her head.

When she was gone, she didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel, or feel a comforting presence around her; it was dark, it was cold, and it was scary. And she didn't want to let things get close enough to send her back there. Even Angel.

She lost control whenever he was around. When he kissed her, when he was near her...it was like magnetism, sexual and overwhelming. But when she was dancing with Xander, she had shown Angel that she could do all that, too; that she could be in control. She cared for Angel, even loved him in a way. He had saved her life, and those feelings were bound to come up.

But she couldn't get lost in him, because then she'd fall hard without being sure of anything, convince herself that he was the center of her world, and never be over him. Love was a dangerous thing, and she didn't want loving somebody to be dangerous. That kind was. Though she knew, despite her efforts and probably her better judgment, things would happen contrary to her original plan. It always worked out that way.

It wasn't time for any of this now, though, because she was confused, pissed off, and incredibly stimulated. She knew she was going to regret that dance from a friend standpoint later, but she was experiencing a whole different type of regret at the moment.

"Buffy." Cordelia said from behind her. The slayer stopped walking. This wasn't going to help. "You're really campaigning for 'Bitch of the Year,' aren't you?"

Turning to the cheerleader, she had a smartass reply ready, regardless of her other...'distractions.' "As defending champion, you nervous?"

"I can hold my own. You know, we've never really been close, which is nice, cause I don't really like you that much, but...you have on occasion saved the world and stuff, so I'm gonna...do you a favor."

It was amazing how quickly Cordelia could bore her. Though she did look good. That was one thing the brunette could be repeatedly consistent with.

"And this great favor is...?"

"I'm gonna give you some advice. Get over it."

Sure, that made sense.

"Excuse me?"

"Whatever's causing the Joan Collins 'tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it. Cause pretty soon you're not even gonna have the loser friends you've got now."

Buffy stepped up to her, clearly displaying her anger. "I think it's about time you start minding your own business."

"It's long past." Cordelia smiled.

What was this? A clique cease-fire or something? The Queen of All Things Popular was expecting the Leader of the Freak Patrol to accept the white flag? She couldn't believe it. Cordelia's timing was really, really bad, and she felt like telling her to take her good advice and shove it up her...but, she did have nice lips. Damn hormones. Lips that were nice and...


She stared at her, like she had done with Xander moments ago. Intensely. Pulling off 'sexy' was easy, she was finding out. And it was making Cordelia uncomfortable. She only wanted her to shut up, but this was great. Where did she get the nerve to offer her a white flag after all she had done to them, anyway? Especially now of all times? Talk about insensitive. She'd just have to put her in her place.

Buffy ran her hand along Cordelia's cheek.

"Are you feeling okay?" The cheerleader stammered.

"Never better."

She kissed Cordelia Chase, and went all out for it, too. Long and hard, possibly longer than she intended, but then broke it off. The sudden loss of contact caused the brunette to let out a small, inaudible to the majority of human beings who didn't have slayer hearing, whimper.

"Leave me alone."

She faced away from her, and started walking the other direction. Cordelia, on the other hand, brought her hand to her lips, felt the smudged lipstick, and tried to get her bearings.

"What the hell was that?"

"Consider it...returning the favor. A thank you for your advice." Buffy flipped up the hood of her jacket, and kept going.

'Okay, that wasn't so bad. And it...made things worse.'

Before the frazzled cheerleader could yell any kind of response, a hand was clamped over her mouth, and two vampires were dragging her across the alley into a building.


This was great. This was just perfect. The Anointed One and his group of vampire cronies had unearthed the Master's bones and were going to bring him back to unlife. As if she wasn't freaking out enough already. He would come back, which was not fair and very, very wrong, and he would make sure the next time he killed her, it would be a lot more permanent.

She needed to stop them. She needed to hit something. And sitting in the library while everyone was being calm and researching this slowly and carefully, made her want to scream. Her fear of the Master had taken over so much that she was only partially aware that she was a step or two away from losing her friends, and the only support base she had.

Cordelia was right. Cordelia. Buffy hadn't seen her since last night, and that memory was not going away. But just like everything else lately, she didn't know what to make of it, and preferred not to think about it. She did wonder what was going through Cordelia's mind, however. Wait. She hadn't seen her since last night. Hadn't she been in school?

She looked to the top of the stairs, as Xander started to say something.

"Well, is there anything on when the ceremony might take...?" A rock came crashing through the window, and Buffy caught it easily from her spot on the table. "Whoa!"

She saw a piece of paper on it, which was held in place by a nice-looking bracelet.

"This is Cordelia's." She said, removing the jewelry and proceeding to read. "'Come to the Bronze before it opens, or we make her a meal.'"

'Damn it! They must've grabbed her right after I...damn it! I'm such a...I'm gonna get her back.'

(Why? Her rational side wondered.
Cause we're friends. And it's my job.
Her bull...her less than truthful side answered.
You're friends? When did this happen? I think you -

"They're gonna cook her dinner?" Xander asked in a worried tone, halting the internal discussion. The gang stared at him. "I'll pretend I didn't say that."

"What do we do?" Willow asked.

Buffy exhaled and hopped off the table. "I go to the Bronze and save the day." She started for the doors.

"I don't like this." Xander told her.

"Nor I." Giles said, for once in agreement with the young man.

She turned around. "Yeah? Well, you guys aren't going."

(You're not handling this right. Her rational side argued, starting again.
It's for their own good.
Her not so rational side chipped in.
Where do you get off making that decision?
It's my mistake. I'll deal with it.

"What do you mean?" Willow questioned, interrupting the debate this time.

"I can't do it anymore. I can't look after the three of you guys while I'm fighting."

(Yeah, that's a *great* excuse. You're only pushing them away.)

"Well, what about the rest of the note?"

"The rest of the note?"

"The part that says, 'P.S. This is a trap'?"

(She's a smart one.
Shut up!

"You'll be playing straight into their hands." Giles said, removing his glasses.

"I can handle this." Buffy said.

"Stop saying that! God, what's wrong with you?" Willow asked, nearly yelling.

"Cordelia may be dead." Xander said, flat out.

"She's *not* dead. Don't say that. She'll be fine." She paused. "This is my fight."

Grabbing her coat off the counter, Buffy hurried out of the library.


"It's entirely pointy. I was a moron. I put my best friends in mortal danger on the second day of school." Buffy was telling her watcher the next morning as they walked through the quad.

She had indeed saved the day; everyone was rescued. And there was that part where she smashed the Master's bones with a sledgehammer, thereby getting closure and allowing her to release a summer's worth of pent up emotion, crying into Angel's chest, while everyone looked on. It was quite the spectacle. This thing with Angel wasn't going away.

"What are you gonna do? Crawl inside a cave for the rest of your life?" Giles asked her.

"Would it have cable?" She asked in a small voice.

He smiled at her. "Buffy, you acted wrongly; I admit that. But believe me, that was hardly the-the worst mistake you'll ever make." He had to think about that. "Uh, that wasn't quite as comforting as it was meant to be."

"Well, points for effort." She gave him a tiny smile as the bell rang. "See ya."

Then she saw Cordelia walking with Miss Calendar. The thing with her wasn't going away, either. She had to say something. After the cleansing, the guilt and realization of what she'd done to everybody hit her, and she felt terrible. She had been a royal bitch, and Cordelia was at the top of her list of guilt. They hadn't spoken, but they were going to now.

Buffy ran up to them. "Hi, Miss Calendar. Um, I need to talk to Cordelia."

She grabbed the cheerleader by the arm and dragged her over to a quiet corner of the quad. It wasn't the most polite way to go about it, but it was the only way she'd ever get her attention.

"Hey! Enough with the manhandling." Cordelia wrenched her arm free. "I'm gonna be late for class."

"Since when did you start caring about being punctual?"

"Since about ten seconds ago." She tried to leave.

"Wait. Please." She stopped. "I just wanted to say that, I'm...sorry. For *everything*."

"Keep your voice down!" Cordelia snapped. Buffy raised her eyebrows. "I'm trying to block it out, so could you please not mention it? Ever?"

"I don't normally...I'm not usually like that. I wasn't thinking straight and I was -"

"Horny?" Buffy flushed. "I guess if I was a slayer, and I was killed by an ancient vampire, and I was brought back to life only to find out that he was going to come back to do it all over again...I'd be a crazed, pain in the ass, too."

"It's always about you, isn't it?" Buffy smirked.

"Of course." Buffy began to open her mouth. "Don't. You're forgiven, okay? Let's just show a little maturity...and move past this. As long as we have a mutual understanding, I don't see any reason why -"

"You didn't like it?" The slayer's confidence level was dropping.

Cordelia had to think this over. Lie or be honest? She was usually good at lying, but Buffy could read people. She was trained to. At least Cordelia thought she was. There was no other option; honesty it was, then.

"No, I did. That's why I'm trying to forget it." Buffy smiled. "So you're done being 'Miss Sexual Predator' and you're sorry. Got it. Going now."

The cheerleader started to head inside.


"What?" The brunette sighed, turning around.


Cordelia didn't want to smile at her, but did anyway, and continued walking.

(That kiss wasn't the only thing you liked. You like the whole -

Shut up.)

It was going to be a long year.




Cordelia moved through the lunch-line slowly, as she had to inspect every offered food-like product cautiously and carefully, before she could decide whether or not she wanted to risk her life and actually eat it. And it had nothing to do with her figure, either. She was not one of those girls who stuck to salads and emptied her stomach after every meal, but she knew people who did. It was disturbing.

No, she was just afraid Sunnydale High was seriously breaking FDA regulations.

She made her selection, went to the cash register, paid the buck sixty, and scanned the cafeteria. It was pathetic when the only thing that looked remotely appetizing was two-day old pizza. There they were. The trio. Xander, Willow, and...Buffy. It was one damn kiss, but she couldn't let it go. She had had her fun with guys before, and never had any trouble dropping them like a bad habit. That was her specialty.

And it wasn't like they had done anything else. It just kept nagging at her. Staying in her memory for more than five minutes. Buffy. No one had ever accomplished that before. The thing was, it didn't make any sense. She didn't like her, for one. Then again, Buffy kept saving her life, which made it harder and harder to hate her. Could she have grown and not known it? Just the other week, she had been rescued from a reanimated Daryl. Who told Buffy she wanted to be saved?

Well technically, she did when she was screaming, but that was beside the point.

There was *brief* physical contact, okay, but so what? She didn't even know who Buffy was, really. But maybe she wanted to know her. Maybe she saw herself in the slayer, yet unlike her, Buffy was comfortable with her place in high school. That was something Cordelia wished she could do, but the possibility of becoming an outcast scared her too much. Even though she didn't want to think she was shallow. All her 'friends' were sheep; she wasn't stupid.

She was different, but she couldn't escape. Popularity was too cushy. When she hung around with 'the gang' on rare occasions, she felt like she was a part of something. If she researched, she had a purpose. Everyone thought it was just charitable pity time, and she allowed them to think it. It was easier. Illusion was easier than reality, and the reality was that things were crossing her mind that she hadn't ever expected to cross her mind.

Purely for argument's sake, because she was someone who looked at all sides of an issue, if she were willing to give up her social standing to turn alternative and risk everything for Buffy, which she wasn't, Buffy was all over Angel. Angel didn't glance at her with interest once, and that was simply wrong. Though she did see why Buffy was the only thing he seemed to be able to think about, because she seemed to be doing the same thing. Though there was an upside.

She wasn't saying this aloud and boosting the other girl's ego.

Oh, and what ticked her off the most? Buffy was sitting there, at the table, completely fine and not bothered. She even tried to use Angel to get her jealous during the 'Daryl thing,' and couldn't tell if she'd been successful or not. It made her mad. That's why she was going to head over, sit down, and see if the slayer was the least bit shaken up.

Moving to their location, she silently asked herself why she cared.

By the time she considered changing her mind however, it was too late - she'd been spotted.

"You've been forced into doing hard labor with Sheila the Schitzo, huh? Snyder must have some twisted, 'I'm a little man with a head too big for my body, with no appeal to either sex, so I have to be a pervert' fantasy about you two or something." Cordelia parked herself down in the free seat.

"First, gross. It explains a lot, though." Buffy made a face. "Second, I think Sheila's more a psycho than a schitzo. But believe me, I'm in no hurry to get back. Gonna make lunch stretch for as long as possible."


"So...?" The cheerleader trailed off.

"Yeah...so...how come you aren't with your groupies?"

Cordelia narrowed her eyes. "They cut last period cause some store in the mall is having a sale, I think. I don't know; I wasn't listening."

"And you didn't go?"

"Oh please. I order direct from the catalogs, or I go out of town to a place with class."

"I should've known." The slayer smiled.

Cordelia looked at Buffy's tray. "You got French fries? They were out when I went up."

"Do you want some?"

"Can I?"

"Be my guest."

It was at about this point, as Cordelia started snagging fries, that Willow and Xander reminded the two girls that they were still there, and cleared their throats.

"Buff, the enemy's at the table. The *Enemy*." Xander said, concerned about his friend's...lack of concern.

"She's aware." Cordelia told him. "It's called keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, Xander. It's a valid strategy. Look it up."

"Actually, it's from the Godfather movies." Willow pointed out. "Though if you rented them, I guess you could technically look it up...with the fast-forward and rewind buttons and all."

"Cordelia can quote the greatest films of our time? No...no, this isn't right at all." Xander was rather unnerved. "I'm just gonna resume quietly plotting your death."

"You do that." The brunette said.

"Uh, the guys are gonna make stakes tomorrow before the Parent-Teacher Night of Hell, cause there's some big vampire attack happening on Saturday. Night of St. Vegetable...and...do you maybe, wanna help?" Buffy asked, almost shyly.

"K." Cordelia replied, shrugging.

"You...but...you do?" Willow asked in disbelief.

Snatching another one of Buffy's fries, Cordelia knew she had her answer.


"So, what did you and Principal Snyder talk about, anyway?" Buffy asked her mother as they walked outside of the school.

What a night. What a way to narrowly avoid her mom seeing what she did for a living. Spike, the new vampire in town, chose not to wait until Saturday to attempt to kill her. He attacked the school during the parent-teacher conferences. Couldn't he have attacked a few minutes before Snyder went into share-mode with her mother? The troll had put his own spin on her behavior, and now she was in trouble.

It wasn't fair. Something told her she was going to come to hate Spike with a passion. Her friends were safe, so that was good, but her mother had saved her. That was embarrassing. She prepared herself for the incoming tirade.

"Principal Snyder said you were a troublemaker." Joyce answered, watching her daughter hang her head. "And I could care less." Buffy looked up. "I have a daughter who can take care of herself. Who's brave and resourceful and thinks of others in a crisis. No matter who you hang out with or what dumb teenage stuff you think you need to do, I'm gonna sleep better knowing all that."

The slayer wore a suspicious expression on her face. "But how long till this wears off and you start ragging on me again?"

"Oh, at least a week and a half."

"Very cool." Buffy smiled.

Wow. She wanted to question how she had managed to keep her freedom, but decided not to look a gift slaying in the mouth. Maybe Spike deserved a 'thank you' card instead of an ass kicking. All in all, yep, it had turned out all right. Giles and Miss Calendar got the majority of the people to safety, Xander and Angel bonded...err...perhaps bonded was the wrong word.

Hold up. How come it felt like she was missing something? She halted, going over the night's events in her head.

"Oh crap."

"Buffy?" Joyce asked questioningly.

"Be right back, mom. I...I forgot something inside."

Like Cordelia and Willow. They had run out of the lounge, and then gotten separated. She hadn't seen them come out, which meant they had to be in the building still. Alone. They could be dead, and not necessarily because of vampires. This was bad, very bad.

She ran into the school, careful to stay out of sight of the cops, who were clearing out. They probably wanted to do the protocol stuff when it was a little lighter out, and she didn't blame them. Entering the lounge, she frowned when she saw a chalk outline on the floor. She said a silent apology to whomever the victim had been, and continued her search.

See, this was the bizarre thing she was discovering. Cordelia was a person with a lot more going on than she showed people, and the cheerleader could be sensitive as well as polite. As was evidenced by their cafeteria discussion the other day. It was on her mind, too. Good. She wasn't the lone wolf then.

Her dislike of Cordelia had come about because everyone else appeared to dislike her, but she really hadn't shown any outward hatred towards her. Until that night obviously, and they both knew how that had ended. Cordelia had a strength and a resilience that Buffy didn't think she was even aware of. Buffy wanted to know her, to find out what else was hidden.

But what should they do? They'd talk for awhile, but eventually, *it* would have to be dealt with. When that time came, would they act on...whatever it was that they had developed? She had definite leanings as to where it would go, and Buffy couldn't visualize that ever happening. Even if feelings were to mesh, Cordelia wouldn't go for it. This was high school. There were invisible boundaries and unstated rules that were supposed to be followed.

If they weren't, which they would be, Buffy suspected that initially there would be the struggle of dealing with a new lifestyle choice on a family and friendship level, and then there would be the wider circle of peers forcing them to cope with ridicule. It wasn't like she had a problem with that. If happiness was going to be the result, it didn't matter. But that was one of many paths, and of all of them, the most blocked off.

And Angel. She definitely had to pick a stance where he was concerned. He did have a talent for making her swoon, and she was grateful for his presence in her life, him watching her back and all that. Though usually the swooning came to an end, and she fell flat on her face. The hardest thing was that she knew he loved her. There was a time when she could break hearts with ease if the need arose, but that time was long gone.

Cordelia didn't make her swoon or gush, no. Cordelia...well, she wasn't sure exactly what she did to her. And maybe not knowing was a good thing. However, the bottom line was that she had two, potential - dare she think it? - Love interests, and she had to pick a course of action soon, and stick with it. Heavy thoughts didn't change the fact that Cordelia eating her fries was adorable, though.

The 'C' word and adorable in the same sentence. Who knew?

Buffy was about to call out names when she heard voices down the hall. The closer she got, the clearer they were, and she could tell that the voices were coming from inside the janitor's closet.

"And if you get me out of this, I swear I'll never be mean to anyone ever again. Unless they *really* deserve it. Or if it's that time of the month, in which case I don't think you or anyone else can hold me responsible -" Cordelia was saying.

"Ask for some aspirin." Willow interrupted her in what sounded like a tired voice.

"And can you please send some asp..." There was a pause. "Hey!"

Buffy snickered and then opened the door, causing both girls to scream.

"Geez, Buffy! Knock much?" Cordelia was close to hyperventilating.

"Is it safe?" Willow asked.

"As houses. Vamps cleared out, but Spike's still alive." The slayer told them, trying hard not to get too angry over that.

"You're not hurt or bleeding internally then?" Cordelia wondered.

"Don't think so. Why, were you concerned about me?" Buffy grinned slightly.

"As if. It's just now I won't feel bad about screaming at you for not coming to get us sooner! Do you have any idea what I went through?"

The redhead practically groaned. "I have to get out of here. I can't take it anymore. I try, I really do, but every single time it's..." Willow continued babbling to herself as she quickly made her way to the outside world.

Buffy and Cordelia watched her go.

"Nice dress." Buffy complimented.


She'd been meaning to say that the whole night. They started leaving.

"Why do you always do that?" Buffy asked.

"Do what?"

"Try to constantly annoy Xander and Willow."

"I don't try; it comes naturally." Cordelia smiled enigmatically. "If they didn't make it so easy..."

"And as the Ruler of Loserdom, I guess that's my fault, right?"

"Nah, they were easy long before you came. And anyway, you're not the Ruler of Loserdom; you're the Rejected Step-Sister of the Princess of Loserdom. Which is, believe it or not, that girl that's on Ritalin," She made quote marks with her fingers, "in the back of History class."

She got a laugh.

"I stand corrected, Your Majesty." Buffy mock-bowed, and she was smacked for it. "All I'm doing is showing the Queen some respect."

"Well stop. I don't deserve it. Really." Cordelia said quietly. When they got to the doors, the conversation resumed. "We're not enemies. You know that, right?"

"This is coming from...?"

"Yesterday. That thing about keeping enemies closer than friends. I only said it cause I hoped it would explain why I was there, and get them quiet. One out of two wasn't bad."

"I know." The brunette had left her with a question that needed to be asked. "Why...did you sit down?"

Cordelia stretched her arms behind her back with a sigh. "Honestly? I don't have the energy right now. And even if I did come up with an answer -"

"Hey, don't worry about it; it was a long night." Buffy assured her. "If it's any consolation, I think we're in the same boat here." They shared a smile. "You need a ride? My mom could drop you off."

"Got my car. But I appreciate the offer." She smiled again.

"Oh, I'm glad you're not dead."

"Me too." Buffy eyed her. "And that you're still living, obviously."

"How sweet." The slayer said sarcastically.

"You know me." She gave a quick wave. "See ya tomorrow, Buffy."

Buffy knew bits and pieces, but not the big picture that was Cordelia Chase. That intrigued her day in and day out.

"Yeah, good night, Cordy." They split up, going off in different directions, and Buffy called over her shoulder. "Call me."

Had to start somewhere.




Slowly bringing her foot over the sill of her bedroom window, Buffy quietly entered her house after an extended patrol. Reaching out and grabbing her bag of supplies from where she had hooked it on the tree branch, she brought it inside, breathing a sigh of relief. When the vampires were track team stars in life, it made her job substantially harder, and left her winded beyond belief.

Closing the window, she glanced at her clock. Just after one. Meant she'd have to shower before school. Unless she wanted her mother up, asking her an endless string of questions that would finish with a grounding. Nope, she'd rather not. But it was a shame, because she smelled extra stinky tonight. She took off her jacket, and tossed it on her chair, when her phone began ringing.

Correction. It was a half of a ring. The instant she heard the noise, she shot over to the phone and picked it up so fast that she'd give the speed of light a run for its money.

"Figures." It was Cordelia.

They had conversed almost nightly for the past two weeks, so hearing her voice wasn't exactly a surprise, but she had never called this late. Staring at her door in fear, if Buffy could, she would've reached into the receiver and strangled the brunette. Her mother was a dangerous woman, and not very forgiving about curfew breakage. Especially if she was awoken in the middle of the night.

"Are you trying to get me locked...?" Buffy yawned, and her anger faded away. "What figures?" She kept her voice low and started taking off her shoes.

"That the exchange student you end up with is a five-hundred-year-old mummy. It's like fate has it in for you twenty-four-seven."

"Do I have to tell you how much that *didn't* brighten my mood? And that was what? A week ago?"

"Popped into my head. I knew you'd probably be done the graveyard shift by now, seeing as you have no social life, so I thought I'd share."

Buffy rolled her eyes, going to her dresser. "Don't make me bring up your one-hundred percent Swedish guy."

She could picture the scowl. "Okay, okay."

"You at home?"

"Uh huh. My parents went to one of their weekly, 'we can show off how rich we are' parties, and I didn't feel like going."

"Why not?"

"And waste my best fake smiles on fat guys and their anorexic wives? No thank you. I'm not as stuck up as people think."

"I didn't mean..." She looked at the tank top she had pulled out. "Everybody hides."

"Anyway, it's pretty much guaranteed that my father's gonna get loaded, and my mother doesn't drive, so I'm waiting for her to call and tell me to come get them. That's the reason I'm up." She exhaled into the phone. "God, I can see the bags already."

"What does your father do? I always wondered."

"He invests. According to him, his father was rich cause of an oil well somewhere, and we inherited everything when my grandparents died. One day I swear he's gonna pick the wrong stock or whatever." She paused. "What about yours?"

Buffy thought as she was getting changed. "Something with numbers." Cordelia laughed. "I have no idea. And that's sad, cause I spent an entire summer with him. We're not as close as we used to be."

"It had to be tough. The divorce, I mean."

"Oh yeah. Plus, unlike most kids who only *think* they had something to do with their parents' divorce, I *know* I helped it to happen."

"I'm sure you didn't." Buffy was silent. "I've never been close to my parents. They gave me a credit card when I was eight, bought me what I wanted, but no hugs or signs of affection of any kind. I didn't realize I was missing out, though. Money means love in my family."

"I've been there." She told the brunette sadly. "My mom didn't start doing the parenting thing till we moved here. She reads 'How To' books."

This was fun.

"Am I the only one getting depressed?" Cordelia questioned after a moment.

"I'm about ready for a new topic." She rubbed her face.

"New topic it is. What're you doing?"

"Currently? Getting in bed." She wasn't receiving a response. "Cordy?"

"So the whole time we've...?"

"I've been changing." Buffy grinned.

"And why wouldn't you?" Cordelia got quiet again. "Right. Yeah. I know what I wanted to ask you. Um, I met this guy at the Pump yesterday. He's a senior at Crestwood, and...he invited me to a party tomorrow night. At his fraternity."

"A frat guy?" 'Don't be jealous...don't be jealous...'

"That a problem?"

"No!" She cringed. That was loud. "Just...what does this have to do with me?"

"I'm allowed to bring, and I quote, 'a female guest.' I want you to come with me, cause I've never been...and...what if..."

"Things get outta hand?"

"Could you?"

Buffy's door opened then, and Joyce came in.

"Buffy?" Her mother saw her lying in bed, phone in her hand. "Who are you talking to at this hour?"

"Uh...Cordelia." Joyce's eyebrows raised. "I couldn't sleep, and we have a project to do for, uh, a class that we're in, so I thought we should...discuss it?"

"Nice one." Cordelia said sarcastically.

"Oh." Joyce said. "Well...say good night in a few minutes. You have school in the morning."

"Sure thing, mom."

With that she left, and Buffy couldn't decide whether to laugh or to groan.

"Good thing she's not very with it, cause that was the lamest cover story I've ever heard." The slayer narrowed her eyes. "Don't think I don't know what you're doing."

She smiled. "I should tell you to go to hell, but yes, I'll tag along. You're too attractive to die."

"Thank you! I've been saying that for a year and a half now. I didn't think anyone was paying attention."

Both girls stayed on the phone with each other for about thirty minutes more, but didn't say a word.



"Hey, reptile boy!" Buffy yelled to Machida, a giant half-man, half-snake.

Eyes glued to the creature, the slayer had to recap. She and Cordelia had come to the Zeta Kappa house, and the cheerleader had found the guy she'd met, Richard. It started out all right, until Buffy had to watch them dance. She didn't particularly enjoy the view all that much. Truth be told, she hated the view. She had wanted to be blind.

This caused her to drink a little. Which probably hadn't been the brightest idea. Fortunately, no, that was unfortunately now, another frat brother had come up to her. He had introduced himself as Tom Warner, and then sweet-talked her well enough to get her to dance with him. It made her feel better; she didn't have to look at Cordelia any longer.

After that point, things had become blurry. Why? Because her drink had been drugged. They had apparently gotten Cordelia the same way, and together, they were taken to the basement. Which was a big, cave-like area for ritual sacrifices to a snake-god named Machida. Human girl sacrifices.

They were chained up next to another girl, where they watched the frat boys/psycho cultists call Machida to dinner, so that it could give them more wealth and power. Tom had been nominated leader. He was not a nice guy, and Buffy knew that some minor intoxication was the most likely cause of her slayer senses fouling up, though she preferred to point fingers at Tom's imaginary hypnotist powers. But she had to free herself.

Couldn't she ever go out and have a normal night of underage drinking?

"No woman speaks to him!" Tom warned her, holding a sword, decked out in his cult robe.

"You don't want her. Look at her. She's all skin and bones. Half an hour later you'll be hungry."

"If I didn't depend on you to get me the hell out of here, I'd be so -" The brunette began to say.

Cordelia was the first course.

"I didn't give you permission to talk!" He prepared to backhand her.

"Touch her and you'll regret it." Buffy threatened.

"Speak again and I cut your throat." He walked away.

Cordelia smiled, and did her best to whisper. "I've been thinking, and considering that we're having 'special bondage time,' it's not like I had much of a choice." The slayer coughed. Unique wording. "It's all making sense now. Must be because I'm about to die. Hey! You know what? The universe is pretty damn unfair. But isn't there a name for...? Moment of clarity! That's it, right?"

Buffy was mouthing 'shut up,' as now wasn't the time for a revelation, but Cordelia wasn't comprehending.

"Forget it, doesn't matter. Cause this is the important part. I have an idea about how we should start to handle this...thing. You know, this *thing*. I can do denial if I have to, but we should face it. If we survive."

"His hunger is at its greatest!" Tom turned around, and Cordelia got quiet. Two brothers then unchained, and held her. Noise was coming from upstairs. "Something's going on. Go. Go!" Several guys ran up, while Buffy continued to work on breaking her chains. "Feed, Dark Lord!"

Machida rose above Cordelia, and she screamed at it while struggling desperately. Buffy tugged hard at her chains one final time, and they snapped loose from the ceiling. She stepped over to Machida, who had lowered to grab his meal, and she punched him. The creature pulled away, holding the side of his face. Buffy started fighting the frat guys as Tom took a swing at her with his sword.

"You bitch! I'll serve you to him in pieces."

He lunged, but she caught him between the blades of her chains, looped it around his neck, and choked.

"Tom, you talk too much." She said, shoving him into a table.

Machida grabbed Cordelia and started to drag her, as the gang, led by Giles and Angel, came down the stairs. Angel had discovered a bracelet with blood on it near the south wall of the cemetery, and the college happened to be behind it. He went to the school looking for Buffy, and Willow and Giles told him where she was. The librarian hadn't been too happy about it.

Xander was already there, having gone to protect her. He had an...interesting time.

Sooner or later they had figured it out, and here they were, watching Buffy pick up Tom's sword and jump onto the edge of the well that the snake had exited from.

"Let her go, wormy!" The slayer yelled.

It ignored her, so Buffy lifted the sword and drove the weapon into it. Machida dropped Cordelia and reared back, screeching in pain. A moment later he collapsed to the ground, dead. Willow came down the steps and went over to help the other girl, and Buffy helped Cordelia to stand.

"What I tell ya? Fate has it in for you." The brunette said, brushing herself off. "But I'm okay with that. At least your life's not dull."

"Nice to know you approve." Buffy smirked.

"Well, just be glad a small part of me likes you, or I'd never take you anywhere again."

"You *wanted* me to come, remember?"

"This isn't the time to get technical, Buffy." Cordelia sighed. "People will really do anything to get rich, won't they?"

"It's creepy."

"It's sick."

"But luckily, you're one of the privileged few. You don't have to feed a demon man-snake to avoid welfare." Cordelia frowned slightly. "That was supposed to be..." Buffy felt like an idiot. "Sorry."

"Have a nice night, ladies?" Xander asked, coming over after looking down at the snake and grimacing.

"Wonderful." Buffy said sarcastically, studying his face. "Is that -?"

"Lipstick?" Cordelia finished, shaking it off.

Xander laughed nervously. "Did somebody hit the sauce? We all know men don't wear makeup. Come on, think of the craziness! Society would crumble!"

"Unless you're a -"

"I'm a man! The manliest!" He insisted. "Aren't I, Giles?"

Giles came up to them, shooting Xander a look. "Are you all right?"

"We're fine. But could you spare us the irresponsible speech? We've learned our lesson, really, so you don't have to worry. College can wait." Buffy told him.

"Boy, can it ever." The cheerleader agreed.

"I'm pleased to hear that." He smiled.

Buffy looked at their fellow ex-prisoner, who was supported by Willow. "I'm sure she's got people wondering where she is."

"I'll make sure she gets home."

"And I'll make sure the police get him." Angel picked up Tom by the collar on his robe.

"Thanks." She smiled gratefully.

Cordelia tried not to look. "They better put him away. For fifteen-thousand years!" Her eyes widened. "That reminds me. My idea."

"If we survive?" Buffy repeated the brunette's earlier words. "There was doubt?"

"No...I just, wasn't ruling anything out, that's all."

"Uh huh." She huffed. "And what was with, 'special bondage time'?"

Cordelia gaped. "There's no way I'm answering that." She grabbed Buffy by the arm, and began dragging her upstairs. "Enjoy the gutter?"

Willow stared after them, oddly. There was something she didn't know.


Halloween. It was a time of costumes, candy, and principal-enforced trick-or-treating. The gang was among the many number of students 'asked' to chaperone groups of little kids while they got the townspeople to give them candy. Buffy was getting ready in her room, putting on the earrings that would complete the 17th century gown and black wig ensemble that she had purchased from a new costume shop, Ethan's.

Her friends had gotten their costumes from there, too. Willow picked a ghost outfit, and Xander, a toy gun. He had military fatigues at home. Well, not all her friends had. Cordelia bought a cat outfit from PartyTown. Buffy hadn't seen it yet, but the cheerleader had made sure to describe it in very detailed terms on the phone yesterday. If she didn't know better, she would've thought Cordelia was flirting with her.

But she didn't say anything. She was just going to go along with her idea, they were going to figure things out in the meantime, and she wasn't going to picture Cordelia in a skin-tight cat suit. Right now, they were friends. They had definitely achieved that.


Willow was in the bathroom getting changed. After the redhead had gotten the ghost, Buffy had a flash of inspiration. She took Willow to another place and made her choose something that would show off just how appealing she could be. Willow was not ugly, and the slayer thought it was about time she knew that. She'd have people lining up to take her out if she just had confidence in herself.

While there was more to a person than just their body, once someone was okay with him or herself physically, everything else would fall into place. That was Buffy's theory anyway, and that's what she hoped she could do for Willow.

"Where're you meeting Angel?" The hacker asked.

"I'm not, actually. I turned him down." Buffy said slowly.

"Why?" Her tone was one of surprise.

"Um...all we had planned was eating the candy that's downstairs, and...I heard vampires don't like chocolate?" She waited. "You're not buying it, are you?"


Buffy resigned to fate. It was bound to happen. Telling someone was the next step, and since they were cautiously moving out of denial land, who better to tell than her best friend?

'Here goes.'


Willow opened the door and rushed out, shaking her finger. "I knew it! I knew it! Well, not 'knew it' in the sense of having the slightest idea, but I knew there was something I didn't know."

Buffy looked her over and smiled. "Wow. You're a dish. I mean, really."

Her friend was wearing boots, a short, black leather skirt and a burgundy, long-sleeved, V-necked, midriff-baring top. She quickly grabbed her ghost sheet off the bed and held it in front of her.

"Don't change the subject, Buffy. It won't work."

"See? More confident already." She wasn't backing down; the resolve face was staring at her. "You're right. And I'm gonna tell you, but you have to promise not to freak." Willow nodded. "I like her; I'm just not sure how much yet."

"Cordelia? Like? Those words don't go together. They hate each other."

"Yes, Cordelia." Buffy smiled, thinking. "Maybe the beginning would help."


Buffy proceeded to give a brief synopsis of the past couple months, which left her friend, slack-jawed.

"Whaddaya think?"

"I think...I think I need to sit." Willow sat on the bed. "Cordelia. Cordelia? That's not rational. That's as irrational as you can get, in fact."

"I know, believe me. But...I don't know. She's...there's more to her than she lets on."

"To Cordelia?" She nearly choked.

"Will..." Buffy sighed. Apparently sixteen years of dislike was hard to break through. "We talk almost every night. For hours, sometimes. About personal stuff. I was just like her once. Worse even, but somewhere, I did have layers. Hidden ones, but they were there. So why can't she?"

"Because she's Cordelia. She's mean, she's rude, she's evil..."

"She's defensive and afraid, too. And hasn't she been nicer lately?"

"Well, when she comes around, she doesn't really make fun of Xander like she used to...and when she does, they're not as good..." Willow gasped. "How much do you like her? How much does she like you?"

"We're working on that." She paused. "Listen, Xander's told me about the club. He was even willing to cut me a deal on the membership fee. I understand that she's not your favorite person, and that you're not fond of her, I do."

"She hasn't given us much of a reason to be." Willow's eyes bugged out. "Does that mean that you're...? And that she could be...? Cordelia? I'm not saying I'm against it...I'm not...that's wrong and narrow-minded and stupid...if you are, then that's...great. Really great. Yay for you. I'll still be your friend and all, don't worry, cause I'd never do...just cause...I've heard things, read things...I even watched a-a documentary once. It had a little bunny in the corner." Her babble came to a stop.

"Uh, Will? I don't think that was a documentary."

"It wasn't?" The hacker reddened as it hit her. "Why would my dad have...?"

"This was...I shouldn't've said anything." Buffy was realizing that.

Willow frowned. "No...I mean, yes, you should've. You shouldn't keep secrets, and I'm glad you told me, honest. It's just...a lot, you know? And what if Cordelia's lying to you? She's the master at manipulating people. She could be trying to trap you. Then she'll humiliate you..."

"That's crossed my mind, but I don't think she is. And we still like guys."

"So you're that thing where you like boys and girls?"

"Or I'm just me." Buffy smiled.

"Sorry." Willow smiled back awkwardly. "This is new."

"When we went to the frat house, I got jealous when I saw her dancing with somebody. I mean, *jealous*. And she got jealous of me when I did. That's what she said to me after we left, and I knew she was telling the truth. Then she said that until we decide exactly how far whatever we're feeling goes, we should stay dateless. She thought of it while we were chained up waiting to be demon chow. It was a big moment for her."

"That was the idea she was in such a hurry to tell you? That you two shouldn't date anyone so you won't get jealous?" Willow had to smirk.

"Think about it, Will. Cordelia not having a guy attached to her at the hip? For her, that's a big deal."

"Yeah, I guess it kinda is." It was starting to sink in. "Wow. She must be serious."

"She needs to be totally doubtless though, and I get that. If she decides that she loves me," Hearing the word out loud was strange for both girls, "that means she pretty much ceases to be popular. On a whole bunch of levels. It's a hard thing to let go of. I'm as clueless as she is right now, but loving Cordelia is sounding less and less like a bad thing. Which is why, until I don't have a doubt, I'm not gonna lead Angel on."

The doorbell rang.

"Oh! That's Xander. Are you ready?" Buffy asked, getting excited.

"Yeah. O-o-okay." Willow was automatically nervous.

"Cool! I can't wait for the boys to go non-verbal when they see you!"

"Gimmie time, okay, Buffy?" Willow asked. "But I hope that you and...that it goes whatever way'll make you happy."

The slayer hugged her. "Thanks, Will."

"I'll-I'll be down in a minute."

Buffy walked out, and Willow took a deep breath. Definitely the sheet.


Continue to Chapters 4-5

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