Getting to Know You 16

Part 16

Back to School…

The face staring back at her was bare of the obligatory make-up. Fresh from a long, hot shower, Cordelia stared critically at her reflection.

Even after the summer vacation with her parents, lazing around on the beach most of the time, she still felt –and looked, on edge.

True, the dark, unflattering shadows beneath her eyes had almost faded away, but her face was a touch thinner emphasizing, a little too much, in her opinion, her cheekbones.

Full lips were drawn a little too tight for her liking. Taking a deep breath, Cordelia stretched her lips into a wide, humorless smile, and held it until her face ached.

“Great! Now I look depressed,” she muttered, frowning at her reflection. But at least the pinched look had eased off.

Sighing disconsolately, she traced her fingers across the now-reasonably faded scar on her throat, before reaching for a kingfisher blue choker. The collection had grown from two to about twenty in the last month. A variety of colors to mix and match.

Resentment tugged as Cordelia was reminded of the changes she’d had to make to her wardrobe because of those horrible scars.  Chokers and scarves for her throat, and girl-shorts instead of thongs when she opted for skirts or dresses.

Thinking of the ones she’d bought to wear with her Cheerleaders outfit caused a scowl- which then twitched into a smirk. By the end of the week, most of the squad would be wearing them too. She’d bet her Jimmy Choo’s on it.

Catching the time on her bedside clock abruptly wiped the smirk off her face as she hurriedly applied her make-up.

The much needed break from Sunnyhell was officially over.

********

If looks could kill, Cordelia Chase would now be surrounded by Police tape cordoning off the murder scene.

Not ten minutes into her first lesson of the day, she’d literally felt the burning gaze biting into the back of her neck. Glancing behind her, Cordelia assumed irritably that it had to be Xander Harris; jolting when hazel eyes locked with cold stormy blue.

So the Prodigal had returned. And judging by the laser beams headed her way, it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Half listening to the Teacher droning on, Cordelia silently fretted; a mixture of fear and growing anger churning in her gut. As the lesson ended, she watched as everyone scraped back chairs and quickly exited the room.

Everyone except herself and Buffy Summers.

**

Taking a deep breath, Cordelia rose from her seat and slowly turned towards the Slayer, who stood there with her arms folded tightly across her chest.

“I don’t know how you’ve the nerve to show your face after what you did!” Buffy tilted her chin up, all righteous indignation bristling from every pore.

“Oh? What did I do?” The brunette mirrored the Slayer’s stance; a fine dark brow lifted in faux interest.

“Don’t play dumb,” Buffy retorted through thinned lips. “Have you any idea what you put everyone through when you disappeared without a word to anyone?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Have you?” A tight smile graced Cordelia’s face when the arrow hit its target. Glass houses

Buffy recovered quickly, taking a short step closer. “Difference is, I saved the World first.”

“Well, duh, you’re the Slayer,” Cordelia replied acidly. “It’s your job. Now if you’re done, I’ve got more important things to do than talk to you.” Turning round she grabbed her bag and got half way across the room before being roughly jerked back.

“I seriously thought you’d changed.” Shaking her head Buffy’s lip curled contemptuously, taking in the blank expression staring down at her. “But Leopards and stripes come to mind.” Cordelia opened her mouth, ready to mock, then stilled at her next words.

“I killed him.” Buffy released her arm and stepped back.

“I put a sword through A-Angelus and sent him to Hell”. Her face hardened; “I did my job, as you so nicely put it, Cordelia. Don’t you think I deserved a break after that? What’s your excuse, huh?”

*****

Things continued downhill after that. Her heartfelt “Thank God” at finding out Angelus was truly gone – and snarking “it took you long enough,” followed by “get used to disappointment” probably wasn’t the response Buffy was after, but if she’d expected Cordelia to tell her what had really happened… last time she’d looked, Hell hadn’t frozen over.

And since that revelation was the only thing that would possibly change their opinion of her, they’d pretty much hit stalemate.

Not that it bothered her much; being an outsider did have its benefits.

You can’t lose friends you’d never had in the first place.

****

Later that Afternoon …

A lot had happened while Cordelia had been on vacation.  With an AWOL Slayer, Willow, Xander and Oz had taken over her patrols armed with walkie talkies -and the Grace of God – as the redhead had lamely joked. Surprisingly they’d managed not to get themselves killed. Rupert Giles, still in a wheelchair, became at-home ‘Research Guy’. Nothing really different in that.

Smiling nervously in obvious discomfort at being the only one actually doing the talking, Willow perched on the edge of the facing couch in the tastefully decorated drawing room of Cordelia’s home. Now wondering why she’d even considered coming here a good idea?

After half an hour of rambling,  Cordelia finally asked why Willow had decided to show up at her house. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d come here. Kindergarten probably?

Did Buffy talk her into coming? Not like the redhead didn’t know about their earlier confrontation, Cordelia thought, more than mildly irritated. She’d seen them huddled around a table in the cafeteria at lunch.  Peering up with fish eyes when she’d walked past.

Which made this unexpected visit set off several alarms.

Did they really think the little Witch would get anything out of her? Her lips tilted, allowing a small tight smile. Probably thinking of that one time Cordelia had -surprisingly, turned up at her house. That could have led them to think she was more disposed towards the girl. As if!

Willow hesitated, the weak attempt of humor disappearing at the sound of Cordelia’s slightly bored tone. She glanced at her feet as if they possibly had the answer before looking up; young face pensive..

“Remember when I told you about finding the Gypsy Curse?” At Cordelia’s confused expression, she continued with a frown. “I thought I’d told you we’d done the ritual.” Completely oblivious to the other girl’s stunned face, she prattled on. “I could’ve sworn it worked. I was absolutely positive … but Buffy said she killed Angelus.”

 “Are you Insane? Why would you do that? And Why tell me? ” Cordelia asked, ice coating every syllable. she couldn’t believe the girl had been so stupid…  and Thank God it hadn’t worked! Also? What was the point of talking about this stuff anyway?  The vampire was gone and she could finally get on with her life.

She said as much to Willow who defended her decision.“We had no choice at the time. Hello, end of the World?” staring at her as if it was obvious. Then she deflated. “It’s just… well… I felt it work. But it couldn’t have if he’d already gone to Hell.”

“So, what? You think she lied and killed Angel? By the way: still a vampire” No difference in the brunette’s mind. A Slayer hooking up with a demon she was meant to, well, slay. Gross. As far as Cordelia was concerned, it was as much Buffy’s fault as it was his. A thought occurred and she abruptly leaned forward, her eyes wide with growing anxiety. “Or maybe it worked and… they ran off together?  And now he’s hiding out somewhere?” Just the thought took every scrap of color from her face.

The redhead hesitated, for a moment unsure- then shook her head firmly. “No. If you’d seen her when she came back…” Sadness flickered in her wide eyes.  “I…I guess I was wrong. The Doctor did say I had concussion. Maybe it messed up my head,” she sighed disconsolately.

An uncomfortable silence stretched and filled the room for a while, then:

“It wouldn’t have made any difference, anyway.”

“Huh?” Confusion clouded Willow’s face for a moment before she clicked. “Oh, … I definitely think it would’ve.”

“You’re kidding right?” Cordelia tightly folded her arms, staring in open disbelief.

“No. think of it from Buffy’s side” Willow replied defensively. “For a start, she wouldn’t have had to, err, kill him,” looking at the other girl with a saddened gaze “They were soulmates.”Her tone softened. “They could have had a second chance.”

Cordelia’s mouth dropped open. “Oh My God! What’s wrong with you?” she asked, sickened by the tender expression on Willow’s face. Anger grew as she contemplated the other girl.

“Ooo, let’s forget what he did- so long as Slutty is happy!”  Willow’s face flared with with color . She obviously hadn’t thought this through. Nothing new there, the brunette thought contemptuously. “Then what?” she asked. “All would be forgiven?”

Willows mouth opened in shock. Xander had said the exact same thing.“No! No, of course not! Corde-“

Cordelia interrupted, her voice raising higher as she continued on “Giles accepting him back in the fold- conveniently forgetting the evil psycho killed his girlfriend, and nearly tortured him to death?”  ignoring the horrified expression on the girl’s face. “And you think I’ll ever forget what he did to me?”  Her lip curled.

“I can’t believe you thought everything would, like, go ‘back to normal’!” Willow stared, mesmerized by the way the  girl’s pupils dilated, emphasizing the growing pallor of her face. She honestly hadn’t meant it the way it came out. Never one to have a clear pathway from brain to mouth.

“It was A-Angelus that did those horrible things not Angel!” she pointed out, “He would never -“

“Suddenly you’re a Vampire expert? You always act like you know everything, but you’ve no idea what you’re talking about!” Cordelia lurched to her feet and began pacing around the room, Willow stared mutely noting the spiralling tension in every line of the girl’s body.

All Cordelia could see right now was the beautiful face of the vampire; cruel smile twisting his full lips… “It could happen again!”

“But-But it wouldn’t have” Willow stood up and took a tentative step forward. “I changed the curse- left out the lose-your-soul bit. He’d have Permanent soul. I thought I’d told you.” She reached out in an attempt to pacify. “Anyway, he’s..gone. It’s a moot point. It’s ok…”

“No, it’s really not!” Cordelia ground out angrily, jerking away and turning her back on the redhead. Stalking to the wide bay window, she gazed out with blind eyes. By degrees the the grip blind fear had on her loosened, her fingers absently fiddling with the neckline of the silken turtleneck top she wore. Mortification soon replaced it on belatedly realizing her over-the-top reaction.

Flaking – in front of the motormouth of all people!

Crap!  Cordelia cursed under her breath and vainly wished she’d never invited her in. I bet she can’t wait to tell the others!  How could she have let her guard down like that? So much for thinking the worst was over. That she was strong and dealing with it.  Yeah, right!

Willow hovered uncertainly behind her, not quite sure how do deal with the situation. Although pretty much immune to the older girl’s acid tongue, this reaction felt a bit like she’d just jumped into a Twilight Zone episode. She was in no doubt that it was all her fault. she should have kept her mouth shut.

“I.. I’m really sorry. I should have known you’d still be upset.” Though not as upset as this. She thought to herself, unable to prevent the slightest tinge of irritation along with the sympathy. It was only one night– and she’d gotten off lightly compared to the others.

I was nearly vamp chow myself, you know! She knew better than to say it out loud. A few bad nightmares, true- but she’d managed to put it behind her quite quickly, considering. Feeling a bit mean thinking such thoughts, she reached out to touch Cordelia’s shoulder. “Are… you okay?” she asked tentatively.

Cordelia’ straightened up, her back stiffened, before abruptly spinning round to face her. Willow had cringed at the sudden movement, taking in the now hardened lines of Cordelia’s face.

“I was fine until you opened your big mouth!” She responded icily. “Why did you come here, anyway?”

“I-I wanted to…” swallowing hard, “to-to apologize.”

Bitter eyes pinned the quailing girl in place, watching the guilt redden her face. “You just did.”

“No, that one was, um… I was really horrible to you when you came to see me.”  Willow explained weakly, pulling her gaze to her feet, painfully aware that she’d outstayed her welcome a zillion times over. “And… and I really needed to get the whole spell thing off my chest,” she looked up with an embarrassed expression. “Can’t really talk to Buffy about it. She doesn’t know we tried again.”

“Well, I don’t think she’d be happy with you telling me about it.” The brunette did have a point.

“But it seems you can talk to her about me, huh? Thanks for that, by the way.” The flush staining Willows cheeks deepened. “I don’t want you coming here again.” she stated coldly.  “We’re not friends.” Ignoring the tinge of hurt feelings on the girls face.

Running her hands down slim grey slacks, Cordelia paused to pluck an invisible piece of lint from the soft fabric before glancing back up. Her face now sported a dismissive, almost bored smile. “We’re done.  It’s getting late and I’ve a ton of important things to do, so can you let yourself out? ” Without waiting for a response she turned to go.

Willow silently watched the other girl walk out of the room and disappear around the corner. Still shaking a little with embarrassment and not a little hurt, she went over their conversation with a fine tooth comb.

Cordelia Chase was the ultimate b.i.t.c.h.  Her tongue sabre-sharp and many times mean. Add selfish and shallow to the list and that was her in a nutshell. But… the deep emotions she’d witnessed were so…Real. Known to dramatize (badly) even the smallest paper cut and demand attention, she’d practically fallen apart in front of her and then somehow pulled herself back together. Acting like it’d never happened minutes later.

This was so not like the girl she’d grown up with.

Thinking of her spurt of irritation earlier caused Willow a pang of guilt- especially when recalling the level of fear that had paled Cordelia’s face.  She swallowed a hard lump in her throat. The more she dwelled on it, the more certain she was that Cordelia Chase was hiding something.

Something more than she’d let on must have happened that night. Something so very, very bad, that the thought of even Angel, the soulled version possibly surviving the whole thing had freaked her out.

But what? And why hide it? It didn’t compute.

Although knowing Cordelia expected her to, Willow decided not to tell the others about her impromptu visit. But at the same time felt she just had to tell someone.

Just not Buffy- or Xander.

It was too confusing, and possibly even important not to keep it to herself.  Her own faux pas though, would be kept to herself. She still blushed every time she recalled what she’d said. And honestly? At the time she hadn’t even considered the consequences, and Giles hadn’t been available, what with being kidnapped and all…

“Eureka!”

Grabbing her book bag off the couch, she practically ran out of the room. Pausing briefly after opening the front door, she glanced up the curved staircase, her brow furrowed with concern. With a heavy sigh Willow finally stepped out and quietly closed the door behind her.

Part 17

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