Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney
rozk

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Another chunk of fic

Once this is up, I shall go off and put up a post about ID cards, which I have been thinking about for days. It says something very worrying about me that, when there is a big political issue, about which I have thoughts, and know at least one of the players quite well, I finally finish the next chunk of a story on which I have been procrastinating for months.

So, without further ado, and a vague promise that the last chunk will happen almost immediately, here is part four of the five untrue things about Cordelia Chase. Usual disclaimers apply - they all belong to Joss, I own nothing except my genius.

4. Regret

Willow's been irritating since the first day of kindergarten, so I could think of lots of reasons why someone might want to break up with her.

It never occurred to me that magical meddling with memory would be the issue, though, with so many other faults to choose from. I mean, just start with the sweaters for one thing, primary colours and cute animals. And the hats - who needs hats anyway ? But especially not those hats.

So, OK, in that area Tara was no prize either, but surely she must have noticed the self-righteous little digs or the smug little grins when she thinks no-one is looking or the I am so cute and sweet and you boys love me all the more now that I'm gay and you don't ever have to do anything about it except adore me thing or the whole I'm Buffy's very bestest bestest friend, and you're just other ranks thing.

Put up with all of those and the memory thing seems trivial.

I mean, let's face it, most of us lie to our lovers about something or other sooner or later, and magic is just another way of lying, really. Willow's always had a way of fixing the truth so she comes out perfect, and it didn't surprise me at all to find her editing people's life experience a bit.

But, hey, we're none of us perfect when it comes to mind control. Everyone else might have forgotten Tara's whole hide demons from our perception thing that so nearly got us all throttled by creatures with carbuncles and gray faces that, apart from the dying bit, one would have been quite glad not to have seen, but I surely hadn't.

Give me half Willow's power and there are many bad hair days that would be stricken from the public record for good. And can I say, dating Devon? That would so never have happened.

Still, Tara did warn her, and she didn't listen, and then there was the whole everyone stuck in the Magic Shop with amnesia business.

One of those occasions when you get your memory back just in time to want to forget everything.

It could have been worse, of course. Things can always be worse, because we have limited imaginations.

Worse than the person now known again as Anya doing her 'you two are the most attractive people here so I must be dating one or other of you or possibly both' and making me and Wesley reprise the kiss catastrophe, which for a blessed few hours I got to forget about, only with her in the middle. Which also turned out to mean Wesley's well-manicured hand on my left boob. Can I say, scrub out my brain at the idea?

And then she says 'oh, perhaps I don't do girls, though you're very pretty for a lesbian.' She actually likes having Wes drool on her, obviously. Because, dammit, I am a good kisser, with moist lips and nonsmearing glosser, and if she wasn't into girls before, she should have been after that.

It's not, of course, that I actually want to have come back to myself making out with Anya, because, hello!, I may be obnoxious, but at least I'm not oblivious. Imagine going to bed with yourself, only worse.

I just hate anyone preferring Wesley to me, because even if he weren't a boy, he just isn't as pretty. Though he does dress well.

After that, Tara moved out of Ravello, which meant no-one to share getting Dawn to eat a proper breakfast, and a lot of Willow's tissues in the trash, and, for a few days, Amy nibbling every cracker and cookie in the place. Buffy was no help either, for reasons we know about now, but didn't then.

I thought it was just burger-flipping getting to her.

If I'd been the sort of person who gets guilty, I'd have got guilty over the fact that there was nothing new horrible about my life. Joyce was still dead and I still mourned her; the bot was still in bits and I kind of missed it.

Everyone else was brooding about their own stuff and none of them wanted to talk to me about it. Buffy was going off for moonlit trysts; Willow was trying to contact her higher power or her inner child; and Dawn was being a whiny brat, the way teenagers with dead moms and irritating resurrected sisters and arms broken by magic car crashes so often are.

Not that I'm the greatest listener.

Tara and I had never talked much before, because she was Willow's new One True Love and I was Evil Cordelia. And I thought of her as Willow Mark Two, because she dressed like her and made superior little jokes about magic like her.

She'd been sweet when Joyce died, though, mostly to Buffy and Dawn, but she remembered to be sorry for my loss too, which was more than occured to Willow to be.

And every so often, when she was making chaotic pancakes and wasn't aware anyone was watching her, she would have that smile with the turned out lower lip and the look of utter bliss in her wide eyes and I could almost envy Willow for getting to see it every morning the first thing she saw.

Also, if she ever wore jeans, there was something mathematically perfect about the curve of her butt that was all the more best of all possible because mostly it got hidden behind ill-judged velveteen dirndls.

She'd come round for her visitation rights with Dawn. so they could go and drink milk-shakes together, and quite often that meant that we would end up chatting because Dawn would come in and get straight on the phone and squee to all her little friends about Justin and Christina and all those things that I discover myself suddenly too old to appreciate. Or perhaps too in possession of taste.

I couldn't let Tara leave the house without a cup of herb tea - apart from anything else, the herbal tea bags were one of the things Willow bought specially so I wasn't paying for them, anyway. Tara was one of those women who clearly drank them because she liked the taste, which I don't even begin to understand, but at least it wasn't any sort of image statement.

'How's Willow?' , she'd say.

And I'd say, 'Still clean as far as I know.'

It wasn't as if Willow was going to have girly chats with me about whether she had fallen off the magic wagon or not; amazingly, we managed to live in the same house and hardly ever even ask each other to pass the sweetener at breakfast.

She'd say, 'Has Amy been around?'

I'd say, 'Not that I've seen. But maybe she's in the crawl space. Old habits die hard.'

Tara would look up with her eyes dancing and then look down again, ashamed that I had seen her laughing at another's misfortune. On her, I realized, being a goody-goody was really kind of cute.

'Dawn says Buffy seems depressed, and goes out even more than she used to.'

And I'd say, ' I really don't know what's up with that girl. I keep finding her conditioners that would take the smells out of her hair and she never even tries them.'

I really wasn't hinting that Tara should try a spell, because I knew she had principles about these things, principles that were easier if you didn't have to live with GreaseBuffy and the smell of fries over your morning coffee.

And then I'd wonder if Tara thought I was criticizing the way she wore her hair and somehow it worried me that she might think I was being a shallow bitch to her, and I would say something in character but complimentary.

'Poor lamb, since she was dead, her hair just lacks bounce and body. It just isn't shiny like yours, and mine.'

The third evening I said something like this, Tara giggled and said, ' I g-guess Osiris just doesn't care about bad hair years.'

Which was sort of funny even for a magic geek joke.

And then she looked even guiltier, because I laughed, and then she laughed too.

The next week, Dawn had sleepovers and birthday trips to the Bronze and was just blowing Tara off totally, so I just arranged to meet Tara after I finished work and she finished her seminar so we could have coffee and catch up.

It was just fun being with her and I didn't even think of it as a date. We just hung out for hours and said funny stuff and most of it wasn't even about anyone. She was very good for my character.

And a couple of times when I said something funny and not too malicious I got to see that smile over the top of a skinny latte decaff.

Then Dawn insisted on going to see 'Crossroads' and I said I'd go with her because I just didn't feel the Britneylove and felt I needed to make a cultural effort.

On the way to the cinema, Dawn said 'Tara's coming, too'

I said, 'Cool. I didn't know Tara was into Britney.'

Dawn said, ' I so don't think she is' and giggled.

I don't always follow the point of things Dawn says.

'Crossroads' is not the worst film I ever saw.

Afterwards, I said. 'Britney should be prevented by law from putting her whiny little voice all over Joan Jett songs.'

Dawn went, 'Cordy!!!'

Tara said,' No, Cordy, you're wrong, because that would mean that she only ever sang Britney songs, which we don't want any more of either.'

'You've got a point,' I said, ' it's a tough call.'

And then I said ' And such a gay film.'

Dawn said, ' Everyone tells me off if I use gay to mean bad.'

'So they should, Dawn,' I said, in my sort of being a parent voice. ' I meant, such a gay film in that those other two girls are obviously a couple by the end. And then there's Britney's boyfriend.'

Tara nodded a lot and Dawn looked baffled.

'What kind of guy,' I said, 'comes out of prison with a Harley-Davidson logo on his shoulderblade?'

Dawn went on looking baffled - I thought it really sad that she could know all about life and death and the end of the world and still be clueless about sexstuff I'd known when I was twelve.

'Duh. Means he's a good ride,' I said.

'Oh,' Dawn said and then ' sometimes I think you think everyone is gay.'

'Most people we know are,' I said. 'Or at least bi.'

'Oh,' Dawn said, 'that isn't even true.'

'Try me,' I said.

'Giles,' she said.

'Sweetie,' I said, ' we both know he slept with your mother. So what? He obviously did Ethan.'

I turned to Tara. 'Ethan is this faggy sorcerer who knew Giles back in the day and used to show in Sunnydale until Buffy awarded his ass to the US army.'

'Spike?'

'Angel,' I said. 'Betcha he slept with Angel.'

'My sister,' Dawn said.

'Good point,' Tara said.

'Fair enough,' I said, 'but the Faith thing was real intense.'

'Really?' Tara said. 'So the bodyswap thing...'

'Was Faith finally getting into Buffy's pants.' I said.

Dawn choked on her green milkshake.

'You know it's true, sweetie.' I said. 'She was in the bathroom for just hours that morning.'

Tara patted her back and gave me a you've said quite enoough look.

And I gave her a what if I have look straight back in the eyes and she giggled. She was so sweet when she giggled - it was like the smile only in stereo.

And I caught Dawn watching us look at each other and was aware that perhaps someone was being smart and managing in this situation that wasn't me and wasn't Tara. I thought, that child is trying to match-make me and Tara into seeing each other, and then I thought, there are worse ideas in the world.

I so wasn't going to be the person to say anything though. Because I am Evil Cordy and nice girls like Tara don't go out with terrible bitches like me.

Then Tara said, 'We should do this again next week.'

I said, 'What's on?'

Dawn said, with a huge smirk, 'Kissing Jessica Stein - I'll pass, but you two big dykes should go.'

So next week Tara and I got to go to the movies together and that was definitely a date. Not in a necking way, or even a holding hands way, but in a general atmosphere of something about to happen way, and her looking up at me with half-closed eyes and a little smirk that was always on the brink of being a smile. And me thinking I could so be interested in this woman and how could I have been so clueless as not to notice her properly before.

But the movie, though cute and funny, was telling both of us something we kind of needed to hear that evening. It was saying that relationships die, and the ones that die are doomed even before they start, and you have to weigh the heartbreak against the good times.

And for both of us, it was kind of too soon for anything as good as we might have been. Neither of us said this - we made conversation about New York and how it thinks it is the centre of the universe. And Tara told me that before she came to college, her cousins told her that Jews have horns. The mere fact that neither of us said anything about the way we were looking at each other meant that we were both being sensible and avoiding the issue.

Or so I thought, until Tara put her hand very firmly on top of mine and said, 'So, you're coming b-back to my room?'

Luckily I had finished repairing my lip line post latte, because I was left open mouthed which is quite unbecoming enough without clownmouth disasters.

When I had thought about this, and I had - I'm human - I had assumed it would be me that pounced.

She went on, 'I appreciate we can't go back to yours because it would be too awkward and it might upset Dawn. And Buffy has a whole lot of issues of her own right now.'

'Well, duh,' I said. 'And your magic addict ex-girlfriend sleeps in the next room and we really really mustn't hurt her feelings, because that would be the end of the world.'

Who knew?

Tara said, 'You don't care about hurting Willow's feelings, Cordy. Not a bit.'

And I sat perfectly still for a moment and then said, 'It's not that. I guess it's like this. I've been totally horrible to Willow, who has often deserved it, for all of our lives, and it was about her being irritating and smug and wearing pinafore dresses and me being a snarky bitch with too much money and bad friends. It wasn't about her having something I want, or me having something she wants. Except when it was Xander, and for a bit there, we were almost friends, and she betrayed me, and I almost died. I just can't go through that again - the resentment and the sharing and the crying in the bathroom and the tearing up the person we both love. Because you still love her, Tara, and that's all right. And you and I, that's a possibility, but not just yet, or right now.'

Tara bit her bottom lip and shrugged and looked sad and hurt and resigned.

'You know how hard it was for me to ask you?'

'I'm proud of you,' I said. 'Because you're braver than I am.'

'Shit,' she said, which was the first time I ever heard her swear except when she hit a demon with a big axe. 'You're right. And I so want to feel my hands on you and get to look at your smile really close up. And have your skin slide against me.'

'You're the girl with the smile,' I said.

'You're kidding, aren't you?' she said, and blushed and did the smile again. My resolve weakened, but not enough. I held her hand even tighter.

I said, 'I'm not saying no. I'm saying wait. I don't think you and Willow are necessarily done, and I couldn't bear to lose to her again. It's an ego thing - I'm flawed that way.'

And suddenly we laughed and it was all OK.

So this is the story of how I was never Tara's lover, though I was her girlfriend for a while, and that's a word with two meanings and I was sort of both of them. We went to the cinema and we had coffee and that's how it started and how it went on and anything else was just a momentary possibility. What Willow would call a fluke.

She backed Willow up the night we were trapped in the house and Anya wanted Willow to do magic and I should have backed Willow up and didn't because I was scared. I hate being helpless. I guess that all the times I told her how hard Willow was trying and how well she was doing stuck.

Tara was always so brave. She even coped with Buffy when Buffy went nuts and tried to kill us all.

She was also good at keeping secrets, because I realized, once I knew about Buffy and Spike, that Tara had known for ages, and just never told anyone.

The night after we all found out about that, I was at the Bronze. I was just hanging, the way I sometimes did, even without my friends there, because the Bronze was the place of my glory days and I could still hang there, being wistful and looking worldweary.

Finding out you know nothing at all about people you think you know will do that to you, plus I had heard Tara turn up the night before and knew that she and Willow were back together and this was a good thing and I had done the right thing, and why was I feeling sad? And vaguely guilty?

I felt a hand grab me and the fingers were strong, demon strong or vampire strong, and I threw my drink over my shoulder into his face, because that often works and I have had lots of practice.

It's one of the stupidest things about them all - they know, mostly, that you probably aren't drinking holy water from a glass with a cherry and a little umbrella. But they flinch anyway, just to be safe.

He let go of me and I jumped away and banged my hip real hard into the pool table. Or maybe he threw me a bit - I wasn't too sure about that.

It was Warren, and somehow he was demon strong and just as creepy as always.

He had his two little friends with him - I looked appealingly at Jonathan and he shrugged and looked vaguely embarrassed. I should probably have paid him for all those frappacinos he bought me at High School.

'I'm going to enjoy this,' Warren said. 'Show the Slayer what's coming to her. Smash up one of her dyke friends. Just to show I can.'

He did that laugh they always do.

'So,' I said. 'You're a supervillain now. Just like you always wanted. With supervillain bad dress sense, and two tiny Boy Wonders.'

He was always going to gloat, but ideally I wanted to get the intel before he hurt me. I always prefer that order, personally.

'Super strong,' he said,' and invulnerable. You are going to hurt so much.'

'Uh-huh,' I said, and swung at his head with a pool cue.

Warren flinched.

'Listen to me, bitch, or are you deaf as well as a dyke?' he said. 'I just told you. I'm invulnerable.' and tried to grab me again.

'I know,' I said, and danced away from him, swinging the cue at a point precisely two inches in front of his balls. He flinched again. 'The question is, Warren dear, do you know it? Really know it? In your coward's heart, down where you live.'

The thing was, to keep moving and never let him get a grip on me or the cue, because then he was going to kill me. I really wished right about then that I had done some martial arts, but cheerleading taught me swinging sticks with precision and moving really quickly, so not so bad as all that.

I was swinging the cue as much to keep people out of my way, and out of his way, as for protection. If someone knocked into me, and made me lose my rhythm, I was so dead.

He got winded even sooner than I expected.

'Too many pizzas, Warren?' I said. 'Betcha Lex Luthor doesn't eat too many pizzas.'

Jonathan tugged at his sleeve and Warren nearly hit him.

'Leave her alone,' Jonathan said. 'You've embarrassing yourself. Besides, I don't want you to hurt Cordy. I only got two dates in High School and she was one of them.'

Warren laughed out loud.

'Queen Bitch dated Short Round? Now that's just wrong.'

He was an evil-minded malicious son of a bitch, but for a second there, I got why Jonathan and that other kid hung with him. There was a sheer joy in his malice just there, that I know only too well. I guess there is a supervillain in all of us, just waiting the right bad day.

He walked out then and there, and that was good, because I don't honestly think otherwise I would have gotten out in one piece.

By the time I got out, Buffy had gone out on patrol, so I didn't get to share the major insights into Warren's vulnerability that I hoped - but she has the sense she was born with and Jonathan helped out and it all worked out OK.

Also OK were the noises coming from Willow's room - it was, after all, what everyone wanted. I'd shown everyone that I was ethics girl, and their noisy happiness was my bittersweet reward.

I lay in bed, trying not to hear and feeling noble.

Next morning, I took coffee out in the garden and tried to bond with Buffy. I didn't quite understand why she had this thing for dead people, but I'd shagged a robot for months, so was in no position to talk.

Warren turned up, in a rage, with a gun, and suddenly Buffy was on the floor bleeding and windows were breaking and I was ringing for an ambulance and Buffy was dying again and I was trying to stop the blood and keep her breathing.

It wasn't until Willow turned up at the hospital with her eyes all black that I even knew Tara was dead

You think you did the right thing, and that you are in control, and actually you knew nothing about any of what was important. You live your life a day at a time, and the days that matter go past and you are left with - not nothing, but nothing very much.

By now, believe me, I knew all about grief.
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