Part IV: Piled Higher and Deeper...


Meanwhile, still at the Sunnydale High Sentinel, at the beginning of Seventh Period...

Freddy Iverson looked at her. Faith looked back at him. "I'm going to kill you," he said. "You're dead. Gimme my camera back."

Faith resisted the urge to clutch her play pretty to her chest while shooting him a wounded glare.

"Dude," she said. "My camera now. I confiscated it fair and square."

"No it isn't! I paid for that camera! It's mine!"

"Shouldn't be handin' it out to perverts, then," Faith said.

"And get your feet off of my desk!" Iverson yelled, half standing. Leaning forward, he slapped Faith's hikers and sent them swinging to the floor.

Faith stared at him, incredulous. He stared back at her, looking kinda shocked at himself.

And very slowly looking as though it was dawning upon him that that might not have been the very brightest thing he'd ever done.

"Dude," Faith said, very slowly and quietly, "I'm gonna let that slide, since you're obviously all distraught and shit. But do it again, and I'm gonna turn you into a pretzel."

"I'm sorry," Iverson said, very quietly and looking all earnest and shit. "I don't know what came over me."

"Overdose of Roderick Snyder, I'm thinking," Faith said, her lips starting to twitch at the corners.

"That's got to be it," Iverson agreed.

A few seconds later they were both snickering, and then holding their stomachs laughing hysterically. Finally, Faith hiccuped, gasping for air.

"Dude. You shoulda seen your face," she said, shaking her head and laughing.

"I thought I was doomed for a minute," he said, wiping at his eyes.

"You very nearly were."

"I know. That's what makes it so funny."

That set both of them off again. Long minutes passed.

Finally, Iverson wiped at his eyes again, subsiding to raspy chuckles. "Man. Okay... you don't really go to Grant High School. And you don't work for the non-existent Grant High Clarion. Which isn't doing a Homecoming Special Edition covering all three schools."

"Wow. You really are an investigative reporter, guy," Faith said.

"I get by," he said, nodding. "I also know the editor and staff of the Grant paper, and the Fondren editor."

"Caught me, you did," Faith agreed, nodding.

"Pervert?"

"Huh?" Faith blinked at him, then rolled her eyes, looking disgusted. "Oh, yeah. Take it that Goth Geeklet didn't say what he was shooting when I swiped his toy, huh? Or your jock buddy?"

"No. Percy didn't really say much that I caught," Iverson said, shaking his head. "I was too busy running and he was too busy bellowing until I cut through the library and lost him in the stacks."

"Bet that made Giles' day," Faith said, snickering.

"And Buffy Summers', I'm sure." Iverson's eyes narrowed at her. "Uh, Goth Geeklet? You mean Dwayne? Dwayne Morriseth?"

"That his name? We didn't get introduced."

"Uh huh," Iverson said, nodding. "So, pervert?"

"He was snapping shots through the window of a not quite unoccupied classroom when I came up on him and his buddies," Faith explained.

Iverson mouthed, 'Not quite unoccupied' silently and then a look of comprehension dawned. "Uh... ?"

"Yeah."

"Show me." He reached out a hand, half standing again.

Faith stared at him, clutching the camera to her chest protectively. Iverson blinked at her.

"Oh, come on," Iverson said, "I'm not gonna grab it from you. Are you insane? Or do you think I am? After seeing you bench press Percy West?"

"Was that his name?" Faith sighed, shook her head, and stood. Looking down, she found the menu thingy and paged back until she got to the beginning of the Cordelia Chase, ah, exposé.

Turning the camera around, she leaned over the desk and held it out to where he could see, hanging on to it firmly. Once he nodded, she hit the button and paged forward through them.

"He's fired. I'm going to kill him," Iverson said, slowly. "No – killing is too good for him. I'm going to feed him to you."

"Dude," Faith said, staring at him. "Chill."

"Chill hell!" Iverson glared at her. "You, he, they, those idiots! If Snyder saw those on a camera on school grounds? A camera belonging to the school paper?"

"Used to belong to," Faith corrected.

"Whatever." Iverson glared at her. "He'd expel us. All of us! And then kill us. And then feed us to our parents. And they'll kill what's left. We'll all end up in juvie as teen sex offenders!" He peered more closely at the display and then his eyes bugged out. He leaned forward, looking more intently –

– And then exploded.

A full five minutes later, he wound down finally. Faith was impressed. Man – serious profanity there.

The door flew open and the brown haired, studious looking girl from the outer office burst in, looking alarmed. "Freddy! Is everything all – "

Both of them turned on her, glaring. "We're fine," followed by, "Out!" and "Get out!"

She gaped at them, and then vaporized.

"And shut the door!" they both yelled.

Reaching back in, she slammed the door shut.

"That's Cordelia Chase," Iverson hissed out, his eyes wild.

"Wow. Uh, don't you think you're overreacting a bit?"

"I- over... I- you- they- we- they! Those... idiots!" Iverson's eyes practically bugged out again and he turned pale. "That's Cordelia fucking Chase in those pics! And that means... oh, God. Holy crap! That's Xander freaking Harris in there with her!"

"Good eye," Faith said, smirking at him.

"Good... " Iverson gulped, turning even paler. "We're dead. All of us are dead. Gimme that. We gotta delete those things, now!"

Faith gave him a horrified look and yanked the camera back. Cradling it protectively, she turned it away from his grasp, out of his reach. "Dude."

"Are you insane? That's Cordelia Chase... and she's ah... " Iverson spluttered, looking at her wide eyed.

"Getting her brains fucked out by Xander in living color?" Faith smirked again.

"Yeah!" Iverson grabbed a handful of hair in each hand, his eyes practically bulging. "Arrrgggghhhh! You... That's Cordelia Chase! She destroys people. And that's when she's not even really mad at them! If she sees those, ever, she'll detonate. There'll be a smoking crater radiating out from this office!"

"Not be happy, huh?" Faith said, leaning back.

"Not be... " Iverson blinked. "You obviously don't comprehend the full magnitude of the fucked we're in. And Xander! Xander Harris will kill us. No! He'll ask Buffy Sum- no, she wouldn't. Rosenber- oh, hell no. Larry Blai- no- No – he'll ask Tor Hauer and Heidi Barrie to do it! And they will. Barrie will do it slow and painfully."

"Seriously?" Faith blinked at him again, and then arched her eyebrows.

"Seriously." Iverson shook his head slowly, his mouth working, apparently unable to form real words. He finally found some: "Xander backed down Percy this morning with just a look just for asking about him and Cordelia!" He spluttered for a moment, then continued, "Harris and Chase hang out with Buffy Summers and the others. They fight things like, uh, hyena people. And those monsters that attacked Parent Teacher Night last year! Zombies. Cultists. And fish people!"

"Fish people?"

"Fish people. It was a thing," Iverson said, slowly. "I've seen it, like the zombies. I was there. We have files. I have files."

"You know about that stuff? And you don't publish this crap?" Faith gave him a hard look... okay, so the school newspaper guy was in the know?

Iverson gave her an incredulous 'Oh come on' look. "Dude. Snyder would crucify us. And shut us down."

"Snyder is in the know?" Faith blinked at him. Okay, she was suddenly getting an education here. Hadn't expected that...

"He knows something!" Iverson gave her his best earnest look. "You've got to delete those pics. Please?"

Faith scowled at him. "I was going to, jeeze. I know Cordy and Xan – no way were these ever getting out." She sighed and looked down at the back of the camera. Dammit. Glancing up with her thumb on the delete button, she looked up. "Can I get some prints first?"

"No!"

"Just askin', jeeze. Don't have a herd, guy."

Faith huffed, looking back down. A minute later, she turned the camera around, feeling like she'd just strangled her own puppy.

"There, all gone. Happy now?"

"Ecstatic." Iverson leaned back, wiping his brow. "Sheesh."

He straightened back up suddenly, leaning forward, and aimed an index finger at her. "You! You picked up Percy like he was nothing and set him back down again! You're another one – like Summers."

Faith smirked, arching her eyebrows. "Guilty as charged. Man, you really are a reporter."

"Bite my ass."

"Tempting."

They both stared at each other, and then both started snickering. Which started another laughing fit that took a few minutes to die down...

"Okay, man... you hang out with the library gang too, huh?" Iverson said, eying her.

"Caught me," Faith said, nodding.

"Uh... do you really have a photo spread of Snyder in there?"

Nodding again, Faith said, "And a bunch of other stuff."

"Let me see?"

When she arched her eyebrows at him, Iverson rolled his own eyes at her. "I'll give it back. I promise. I just want to see."

Warily, Faith slowly handed the camera out across the desk to him, and then watched guardedly while he turned it around and began scrolling through the pics. What the hell – she could always snatch it back before he could blink.

After several minutes, he grunted once, and then again, nodding. He paged back a few times, and then forward again, slower.

A bit later... "These are pretty good," Iverson said, blinking.

"Really?"

"Yeah. Kinda rough, a few, and your focus is off in some, but... you have a good eye for framing. And subject matter," he said, nodding. "The ones of Harmony are cherce. Especially the one where she's half turned and looking like someone stole her brain."

"I liked that one," Faith said, grinning and nodding at him. "My personal favorite is the blurry one of my left foot, though."

"You're really a photographer then?" he asked, giving her a curious look.

"Naw. But I slept with one once. Repeatedly."

"You obviously absorbed a lot through osmosis," Iverson said, smirking.

"Is that fancy talk for eating a cream pie?" Faith smirked back, arching an eyebrow.

"Something like," Iverson said, snickering.

Faith shrugged. "He talked, I listened and ooohed and ahhed. Obviously, I picked up a few things. Some of them stuck."

"Yeah. And not just your panties to the wall."

"Never wear 'em. They just get in the way."

They exchanged smirks for a minute, and then burst out laughing again. After a minute, sighing, Freddy handed the camera back while nodding.

"You're hired."

"Cool, I- uh, what?" Faith blinked at him. "Huh?"

"You're hired," Iverson said, again. He cocked his head. "Thanks to you, we have a full special edition to do and put to bed in less than two weeks for Homecoming elections. And a regular edition that week that needs to be completely redesigned. I need a new photographer. You're it. You're hired."

"Great."

"You sound overjoyed." He smirked across the desk at her.

"I am. Whelmed, really," Faith said, smirking back. She sighed. "Yanno? I started out just trying to divert Snyder from finding Xander and Cordy sprawled out asleep post sex in ah... "

"Flagrante delicto?"

"Yeah, that." Faith laid an index finger alongside her nose while pointing at him.

They both grinned at each other, and then Iverson added, "Oh – and you're doing the interview and write up on Snyder."

"I what huh?" Faith blinked at him.

"Michelle Lane, Girl Reporter." Iverson smirked again. "It's all yours. What the hell is your real name, anyway?"

"Faith. And I don't know shit about writing. Jesus Christ, dude – I barely made it through the ninth grade."

"Get Rosenberg to help you," Iverson suggested. "Go all puppy eyed and tell her that she's the only one you can think of that can do it, and she'll melt."

"Damn, you're good."

"It's a knack." Iverson grinned nastily at her, adding, "And by the time she's done, you'll know how to write."

"You really are good," Faith said, slightly awed.

"I'm telling you."

Faith grinned at him, and then looked past his head. She bolted upright, standing hastily. "Is that clock right?" she asked, pointing?"

"Yeah... ?"

"Shit – I gotta go," Faith said, turning. "Gotta spell Oz on Harris and Cordy sitting."

"Oh-kay... uh, come back. We gotta talk."

"I will. Later bye!"

The door closed on her ass as she bolted out through it.


Back at the door to the Chamber of Lust...

Oz spotted her as soon as she came pelting up the stairs and rounded the corner into the hall, naturally. Faith rolled her eyes and shook her head exaggeratedly, strolling up to him with her hands in her new jacket's pockets.

"Sorry, guy," Faith said, coming to a stop in front of him. "Ah... " she made a vague gesture, and jerked her head toward the other end of the hall. "Snyder."

"Got kinda involved?" Oz said, eying her curiously.

"Oh, you have no idea," Faith said.

"You in trouble?"

"Define trouble."

Both of Oz's eyebrows went up, and Faith shrugged, sticking her hands back in her pockets. She elaborated, "Meet the new Ace Staff Reporter and Photog for the Sunnydale High Sentinel."

"But you don't go to Sunnydale High," Oz stated the obvious, blinking at her.

"I'm transferring over from Grant, apparently."

"You don't go to Grant, either," Oz pointed out.

"You noticed that, didja?" Faith gave him a disgusted look. "Snyder waylaid me coming by the office on my way here. Apparently, the Principal at Grant is overjoyed to be getting rid of me and is expediting my transfer."

"There's a story behind that, I'm thinking." Oz had a faint smile lurking at the corners of his mouth by now, and his eyes were dancing.

"No doubt," Faith said, grinning back a bit sourly. "It's all arranged. By email."

"Modern technology," Oz said, nodding. "It's a beautiful thing."

"I'm agreeing with you here," Faith said, nodding back. "In the way that's kinda not agreement."

"Gonna be a shock to the real Michelle Lane," Oz observed.

"Whoever she may be," Faith said, nodding again. "When she gets here, she can attend classes for both of us while I do the photogging."

"It's a plan."

"Always wanted to be able to be in two places at once."

They exchanged grins, and then Oz shook his head slightly. "So. Can you actually Photog?"

"Freddy Iverson says I can," Faith allowed, her grin going lopsided and her eyebrows arching up at him.

"He would know." Oz nodded seriously.

"So... " Faith gave the door behind him a significant glance, and looked at him curiously.

"There was stirring for a short while," Oz said, "And moaning."

"Ah."

"Then snoring."

"Man," Faith said, rolling her eyes, "I really need to get laid."

"Don't look at me like that," Oz said, both his expression and tone completely deadpan.

Faith shot him a startled look, and then they both burst out laughing quietly. "I wasn't," Faith gasped out, finally, "I promise. I really need to be on your girlfriend's good side right now."

Both of Oz's eyebrows went up again.

"She's going to be helping me interview Snyder," Faith explained, "And then write it up. And learning me how to write and shit."

"Does Willow know this?"

"Not yet."

"Puppy eyes. Sincere flattery," Oz suggested, "And a quivering lower lip."

"So I've been told," Faith said. Their eyes met and they both broke up again.

"I should get to the class that I'm skipping," Oz said, shrugging.

"Sorry," Faith said. "And thanks."

"No problem. You tried covering for me," Oz stated. "Owed you." He jerked his head toward the door, adding, "Owed Cordy and Xan also."

"Most guys wouldn't remember that... " Faith started, and trailed off when Oz gave her a look. "And you're not most guys, so I'm gonna smother that line of convo in the cradle before it gets all insulting and shit."

Oz nodded, the faint smile coming back. "Later."

"Yup."


Deep inside the Chamber of Lust, a bit less than twenty minutes from the end of Seventh Period...

Xander Harris woke with a start, feeling, ah... pretty damned gruntled for the first time that day.

Hah. For the first time in several days, as a matter of fact.

Wow. Zonked out on a classroom desk with a mostly disheveled and half undressed Cordelia Chase in his arms. And no pants. And...

Aw, crap.

Xander peered at the wall clock, blinked, and peered harder at it.

Yup. It really, really did say that. The big hand really was almost on... Xander groaned and let his head fall back into the hardwood desktop. Thunk.

"Hrmm... ?"

"Hey there," Xander said. He raised his head slightly so he could meet Cordelia's barely open eyes, and smiled slowly. "Do all angels have rumpled bed hair like yours?"

"Wha... ?" Cordelia's eyes opened wide, and her free hand automatically flew up to her head to check. It touched her hair, patted around, and found yup – rumples and tousles. "Oh, crap."

"Aww. You look gorgeous," Xander said, his smile going all lopsided.

"I look like an unmade bed," Cordelia said, grumbling.

"Nope," Xander said, slowly, "I'm pretty sure you were made. At least once."

"Snerk," Cordelia shook her head, giving him a tolerant look. "So. Do we have bones yet?"

"We'd better have."

"Huh? Wha?" Cordelia blinked at him, and then raised her arm to where she could look at her wristwatch. Her eyes widened and took on a slightly panicked look. "Crap! We missed Sixth Period? And almost all of Seventh?"

"I'm thinking yeah."

"Oh, God. We're going to get expelled," Cordelia said, her eyes squeezing tightly shut. She let her head drop, landing forehead down with a thump on Xander's chest.

"Naw. Just flunked," Xander said. Cordelia's head came up and she glared at him. "Which I'm thinking doesn't help, so I'll be shutting up now."

"Good plan," Cordelia said, her voice dry. "Because my parents will kill me. Both of us!"

"They can kill me twice. I'll take the bullet for you," Xander said, nodding.

"Aww. You're so sweet," Cordelia said. Sliding up, she leaned forward and captured his lips in a long, scorching, and agonizingly slow kiss. Then she pulled away and sat up. "Give me my underwear, doof," she said, yanking her panties off of his hand. "And where is your shirt? And your t-shirt?"

"Ahhh... " Xander blinked up at her. He honestly had no idea. He didn't even remember taking them off.

"And where is my other shoe?"

Cordelia froze lying on her back with her legs up in the air and her panties on over one ankle, staring at her other, bare stockinged foot.

"Uhhh... " Xander shrugged helplessly. Cordelia met his eyes, and then fell back on the desk with her arm across her stomach. They both howled with laughter.

.

They found Xander's shirt draped over the corner of a desk nearly at the other end of the classroom. The t-shirt was under another one, toward the other side and about halfway down. Cordelia's shoe was hanging by one heel from the top of the classroom's whiteboard.

Neither of them were sure when the bolero jacket thing had come off, either. Or Cordelia's vest. They were a lot easier to find, although they did have to rescue the vest before it plunged to its doom from the windowsill and down to the first floor sidewalk...

They found her bra dangling from the spiky thing on top of the globe, hiding Africa. Neither of them could figure out how it managed to get off of her without her blouse coming off first, much less how it traveled to the dark continent.

The black t-shirt was a total loss. One of them had torn it in half somehow while getting it off of him. The shoe was salvageable.

After examination and some discussion, they decided that Cordelia's bra wasn't.

It got a decent Christian burial in the corner trashcan, along with the tee shirt.

.

"Oh, God," Cordelia said, shaking her head. She was still attempting to rearrange herself into some semblance of shape that would pass for, uh... well... at least if not decent, then fit to be seen amongst other humans.

And not looking like something your pet coyote dragged in from the desert.

After chewing on it for a week.

Xander, of course, kept both of those little observations to himself. Hey – not suicidal.

Besides, he had a pretty good idea that Cordelia shared the opinion all on her own, judging by the way she kept shaking her head sorrowfully, rolling her eyes, and sighing heavily.

Xander wasn't even gonna bother trying, beyond maybe washing his face and combing his hair. He figured it'd take more than a trip to the little boy's room for repairs to put himself back together.

Like a trip to the nurse's station for stitches. And... no way in hell.

He just flat was not gonna describe to the school nurse how come he staggered in looking like the losing end of a fight between two tomcats. No.

"Well, okay. Come on, Lover Geek," Cordelia said, sighing heavily again. "I badly need a trip to the girl's for repairs so that I'll look presentable when we – "

" – show up on time for our next free period?" Xander said, his lips starting to twitch.

Cordelia stared at him in incomprehension for a long minute, and then blinked at him. "Oh. Right."

Nodding, Xander said, "Eighth period is our free. We can go and hit the broom closet now."

Cordelia stared at him again, her eyes widening slowly. Then she snickered, and fell forward into his arms, howling with laughter. He collapsed forward himself and they held each other up while going into hysterics.

"Oh, Gods... come on, Dork Boy," she said, hiccuping and finally recovering enough to disengage and stand on her own. "Let's get out of here."

"Let's."


Back at the door to the Chamber of Lust, not long before the end of Seventh Period...

Once again, Faith was bent over biting down on the knuckle of her balled fist, trying to stifle nearly hysterical laughter.

Oh, God. Those two were something else, Jeeze.

Even their post sex conversations were worth the price of admission...

She heard the shade on the window rustle and hastily straightened and slid down the wall so neither would see her before deciding the coast was clear. After a long moment, the doorknob rattled and then the door opened and a rumpled looking Cordelia and a disheveled looking Harris slid out through it.

Good God. Faith gaped at them, open mouthed.

Harris looked like someone ran him through a weed eater. He had rents and blood spots all over that gawd awful shirt. And no tee shirt. And a nearly silver dollar sized patch of hair missing from the back of his head.

They both looked in both directions after stepping out into the hall – fortunately not back toward the wall directly behind them, which was where Faith had silently slipped forward to after they came out.

Arms around each other's waists, they boldly stepped forward, preparing to –

Faith raised the camera and said, "Ahem!" from directly behind them.

Harris said something that sounded an awful lot like "Bleek!" and caught air. Cordelia made a strangled noise that was somewhere between a gasp and an "Eep!" and levitated.

They both came down about three feet apart, and all the way across the hallway flattened against the opposite wall, looking wildly in all directions with their hair flying and their eyes wide.

click pssshew! click pssshew! click pssshew!

"Say cheese!" Faith said, grinning like a loon.

click pssshew!

"Faith!" two voices practically howled at the tops of their lungs.

click pssshew!

"Will you stop that?" Harris said, giving her his very best outraged glower.

Day-um. Faith now could see what Iverson had meant. No wonder that Percy kid came unglued and backed the hell off from him.

click pssshew!

"Can't," Faith said, grinning merrily, "I'm on the clock, guy."

"Faith!" Cordelia had a pretty good death glare too, now that one mentioned it. "Don't you even... "

"Too late." Faith threw both of them, especially the cheerleader, her best cheeky grin. "You're both immortal now."

"Oy... " Xander said, shoving his hands deeply into his pockets and rolling his eyes.

"Don't just stand there, Dorkus!" Cordelia said to him, "Do something!"

"What? Wrestle her for the camera?" Xander blinked at her. "Cordy? Her Slayer. Me normal."

"Oh." (beat) "Right. Dammit."

"Faith... " Xander gave her an exaggeratedly patient look, and a deep and put upon sounding sigh. "What are you doing with a camera? Here?"

"I'm on assignment," Faith said, grinning for all she was worth. She was dimpling so hard they felt like they were going to come out the other side of her head. "For the Sunnydale Sentinel. And the Grant Clarion."

Cordelia blinked at her. "But Grant's paper is named the Beacon."

"Not any more."

Shaking her head and obviously giving up on it, Cordelia said, slowly and carefully, "Why do you have a camera, Faith?"

"It was a donation," Faith said, dimpling even harder.

"From?" Xander's eyebrow went up, and then was joined by the other one. Obviously a two eyebrow job. "Sounds like... ?"

"Ah. A group of geeklets that were playing Tom Peeper when I wandered up on 'em and scared 'em outta thirty years growth," Faith explained.

Cordelia made a strangled sound deep in her throat. "Oh. My. God." She blinked, starting to look horrified. "At us? In there? Ah... ?" she made a vaguely curving and undulating motion with her hands, her eyes widening.

"Making the sign of the two humped whale?" Faith suggested, her own eyebrows going up. "Yeppers. That'd be the one."

"And they had pictures?"

"Operative word being had," Faith said, waggling the camera.

"Oh. My. God."

If Cordelia's eyes got any wider, Faith would be able to pick her eyeballs up off of the floor and take 'em home. Harris looked to be in only slightly better shape.

"Relax, cheerleader," Faith said, probably way too cheerfully for Cordelia's peace of mind. "Deleted 'em. All gone. I was gonna get prints made first, and then decided, nahhh... "

No point in explaining the whole sordid story behind the deletion. It probably wouldn't help.

"Deleted?" Harris was looking torn between horror and the kind of fascination most people regarded NASCAR pileups with.

"Digital," Faith explained, waving the camera.

"Uh huh. Okay." Cordelia nodded slowly. After a long moment, she turned toward Xander and let her head fall forward and land with a thump against his chest. He put his arm around her and began patting her hair with his other hand.

"Umm... " Harris shook his head and visibly decided to move on to hopefully safer lines of questioning. Faith couldn't wait to hear what came out. "How long, uh... "

"Have I been here?" Faith paid off her mental bets silently and grinned at him. "Since shortly after Cordy there threatened to beat you to death with a desk and call out for the football team."

"Oh, gawd," Cordelia said, shuddering all over. Her head came up and thumped back down into Xander's chest again. "You heard that?" she said, with her voice muffled into Xander's shirt.

"Girlfriend," Faith said, giving the back of her head an incredulous look. "I heard that down at the bottom of those stairs on the first freaking floor."

"Oh, God."

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"I like to of fell back down 'em and rolled to the bottom when you hit, 'Get. Your. Pants. Off. Jerk. Wad. And fuck me.'" Faith said, in a fair to middling imitation of Cordelia's voice and inflections.

"Oh, God." Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

"Faith!"

"What?"

"Will you please quit breaking my girlfriend?" Xander said, glaring at her.

"Oh. Right," Faith said, nodding vigorously. "Sorry. Kinda."

"Thank you."

"No problem, guy."

"Why have you been standing outside the door all this time?" Xander asked, his expression like that of a rabbit eying a rattlesnake and his voice gone incredibly mild and curious.

"Haven't," Faith said, grinning merrily. "Got diverted for a little while trying to keep Roddy from walking in on you guys."

Cordelia's head came up slowly and she turned to stare at Faith. "Roddy?" she asked.

"Principal Snyder," Faith said, dimpling at her. "How I got my new job."

Thump. Thump. Thump.

"I don't think that helped, Faith," Harris said, looking kinda green around the edges.

"I'm afraid to ask," Cordelia said, speaking between thumps, "But what is your new job?"

"Ace Photographer and Girl Reporter for the Sunnydale Sentinel, like I said."

Cordelia's head came back up and she stared at Faith, right along with Xander. "Do I even want to know how that happened?"

"Nope, probably not," Faith said, shrugging. "Had to divert Snyder. It got convoluted. And then it took on a life of its own."

"I see," Cordelia said, very quietly in a very small voice.

"Oz guarded the door for me while I was off with Roddy," Faith volunteered helpfully.

"Did he now," Xander said, in an equally small and kind of strangled sounding voice. Harris' eyes were almost saucer wide.

"Yup." Faith eyed Cordelia carefully, and said, "Guess this would be a bad time to ask you about shooting a full photo layout with you for the school paper, huh Cordy?"

"Maybe later, yes," Cordelia said, sounding kinda faint.

"Cool." Faith nodded, dimpling again.

Cordelia thumped her head down again, once or twice more, and then pulled back and stood on her toes to kiss Xander deeply and hotly. Then she pushed back from him with her hands against his chest.

"I think I need to go visit the little girl's room and make repairs," Cordelia said, shaking her head slowly, "Before the bell rings."

"I'll join you," Faith said, nodding. "I gotta pee."

"Yeah. I better hit the little Xander's room," Harris said, nodding slowly, "And see if I can stop the bleeding."

Cordelia's head snapped around and she stared at him, one hand coming up to cover her mouth and her eyes going wide. "You're still bleeding? Still?"

She looked and sounded kinda mortified.

"That jump, yelp, and landing may have opened them back up again," Xander said, shifting uncomfortably.

"Dude," Faith said, her own eyes widening. "I'm so sorry about that."

"Ahh... don't sweat it," Xander said.

"Oh, God."

Xander grinned, and leaned in to kiss his girl on the forehead. "It'll be okay, Cordy."

Cordelia's expression was still mortified. And a bit awed. "Good God. I can't believe we slept through Seventh. And Sixth." She flushed from the collar up. "Uh, most of Sixth."

"Obviously, we were tired," Xander said, his lips twitching at the corners.

"Ya think?" Cordelia tossed her hair, her own lips twitching slightly. "We have got to stop burning the candle at both ends, Doofus."

Sliding his hands up over her shoulders, Xander leaned in and kissed her gently. "I'm thinking you are not wrong."

"Awwww."

Both voices snapped out in unison, "Shut up, Faith."

"Shutting up now."

Harris cut her a sidelong look, his eyes dancing merrily, then looked back at his girlfriend. "We need longer nights," he said, "I'm putting in a requisition." He paused, then added, "So, library next?"

"Oh, sure," Cordelia said. "Buffy has a class for eighth period. We can relax there for awhile."

"Yup." Xander grinned again, and said, "I'll just head there after. Unless you want me to wait?"

"Oh, please. I can find my way to the library on my own, geek," Cordelia said. "But thanks... that's sweet."

"Awww."

"Bite me, Faith."

Xander winked at Faith and looked an inquiry at her.

"Huh?" Faith blinked at him, and then shook her head. "Naw. Gotta get back to the Sentinel. We have a Special Edition to plan."


Not too long after, in the second floor guy's bathroom, just before the end of Seventh Period bell...

A quick washup and long overdue relief of the bladder, and then Xander was standing in front of the mirror at the sinks scowling at himself.

Damn.

Xander shook his head, half scowling and half smiling into his reflection. And he'd thought Cordelia had looked like coyotes chewed on her for a week. He looked like...

Hah. Losing end of a fight between tomcats was a lot closer to the mark than he'd thought it had been.

Thank God he didn't wander into the school nurse's office.

Shaking his head, he unbuttoned and pulled off his shirt after running some water over his hair and dragging a comb through it. Shook out the shirt and stared at it in shock for a moment, and then at his reflection.

Good God.

Oh-kay...

He now had incontrovertible proof that none of the jocks who'd ever bragged about nailing Cordelia Chase had ever done the deed.

None of them had ever bled out in the ambulance on the way to the emergency room. Holy claw marks, Batman.

Xander was kind of vaguely aware of the bathroom door swinging open while he was poking a finger through one of the rents in the back of his shirt. It didn't really register fully until –

"Good God, Boss," a shocked sounding voice said from behind him. "The fuck happened to you?"

Freezing in place momentarily, Xander looked up and into the mirror to meet the wide open, dark blue, and shocked eyes of Tor Hauer standing frozen in the doorway.

"The fuck?" Another voice said from behind Tor, sounding annoyed. "Move it, guy."

Tor stumbled forward out of the doorway, apparently shoved by whoever was behind him. Throwing an irritated look over his shoulder, he raked a hand over his hair and said, "Fuck you, Kyle."

"Yeah, yeah. Bite my– " Kyle DuFours stopped dead in the door just like Tor had, his own blue eyes going wide. "Holy fuck."

"What I said," Tor said, nodding vigorously.

"Shit." Kyle blinked hard, running his gaze over Xander's back, sides, and arms. "You got a shotgun in the trunk, Tor?"

"Nope. Dammit," Tor shook his head at the darker haired Kyle. "Day-um. World ending, Boss?"

"Oh, hah hah," Xander said, turning away from the mirror to face the pair of them. "Very funny."

Kyle grinned at him. "If we were joking, it would be, sure enough. Crap, Boss. The fuck, over?"

"What are you two idiots doing here?" Xander asked, eying the pair a bit sourly. "And quit calling me Boss."

He really hadn't had much contact with the two of them following the hyena possession incident in sophomore year, mostly by choice. Heidi or Rhonda either. He hadn't avoided them really, nor them him – they still had classes together and spoke in the halls and such – just... hadn't really gone out of his way to initiate contact. Mutual. In fact, the last time he'd seen the four other pack members outside of classes had been when someone had invited them to Buffy's zombie welcome home party.

Which actually hadn't been a bad thing, all in all, Xander reflected. There were worse people to have around in a brawl than Tor, Heidi Barrie, and Kyle and his girlfriend.

They weren't enemies, exactly. Just not really friends.

"Using the bathroom," Tor said. "Duh."

"What he said," Kyle added, nodding. "And we're meeting the girls up here after Seventh period Ecology lets out."

"Yeah. Have a free for Eighth. We're all heading over to Mel's for burgers," Tor said, looking Xander over critically. The dark blonde senior shook his head. "Man. You need an ER, Boss. Some of those need stitches."

"No," Xander said, shaking his head. "Oh, hell no. And don't call me Boss."

Tor rolled his eyes. "Your funeral, Boss," he said. Glancing sidelong, he said, "Emergency kit?"

Kyle nodded. "I'll get it," he said, moving over to the far end of the bathroom sinks counter.

"Throw me your pack, Kyle," Tor said, giving Xander's partly shredded striped shirt a disdainful look.

Kyle shrugged out of his backpack and tossed it down the counter for Tor to snag out of the air. "There ya go. What for?"

"You still keep an extra t-shirt in here, right? And a shirt?" Tor set the pack on the counter and began rummaging through it as Xander watched with increasing bemusement.

"Uh huh- huh?" Kyle stopped halfway bent over and stared at the other teen. "What? That's my good shirt!"

Tor snickered. "Dude. I've seen it. It ain't that good."

"Fuck you, Hauer," Kyle said, still staring at him. "What's wrong with your spare shirt?"

"You're bigger in the chest and shoulders than I am," Tor explained, yanking a black Nickelback concert tee out of the pack, followed by a dark blue striped white long sleeved dress shirt. "'Sides – I'm three inches taller than Harris."

"So? I'm four inches taller. Give 'im your shirt."

"You're still bigger in the chest and shoulders," Tor said, flashing Xander a broad grin and a wink. "Quit bitching and get the kit, jerk."

"Fine. Bitch." Kyle rolled his eyes and dropped to squat on his haunches in front of the cabinet front. Reaching out, he began working carefully at the front panel.

"Uh... you guys keep an emergency first aid kit in the second floor bathroom?" Xander asked, growing more and more amused by the second.

"Sure," Kyle said, grinning up at him.

"Doesn't everyone?" Tor asked, giving Xander a disingenuous look.

"I give up," Xander said, spreading his hands and rolling his eyes. Frowning, he added a bit thoughtfully, "That's actually not a bad idea. We should put one on every floor."

Tor grinned at him, nodding. "So," he said, shaking out the dress shirt, "What the hell shredded you? Just in the interests of knowing if we need to run when it kills you on the second go, and all."

"Yup," Kyle agreed, rummaging under the opened counter space. "Run now. Beat the rush."

"Very funny," Xander said, rolling his eyes again. He sighed heavily. "My girlfriend," he explained, beginning a mental count in his head. Three... two.. one... yup:

Both of the other seniors froze, staring at him wide eyed, Tor in the middle of laying out clothes, and Kyle half way up with a first aid kit in his hands. Their mouths fell open and Tor fumbled the tee shirt, almost dropping it.

"Day-um," Tor said, finally.

"Explains the screaming," Kyle said.

"Thought that sounded like Cordelia," Tor said, nodding.

"And you didn't go look to see if she needed help?" Xander asked, eying him sourly.

"In this school?" Tor shrugged. "Best to avoid screaming," he said. Grinning, he added, "Besides, it didn't sound like it was those kind of screams."

"We were pretty sure she was doing just fine without our help," Kyle said, finishing coming up to his feet with the kit. "Jesus Christ, Xan." He sounded awed.

Tor raised an eyebrow at Xander. "You came in that thing? Dude – you're braver than we thought."

"Oh, hah hah," Xander said, staring at him. "Thanks for reminding me why I don't like either of you."

"No problem," Kyle said, bringing the kit over. "Turn around, dumb ass."

"Hey!" Xander glared at him sideways. "I have to take that from Cordelia. And sometimes Buffy. You're not even on the long list."

"Yeah yeah," Kyle snorted, rolling his eyes. "Turn around so I can fix those before you bleed out, please sir."

"Pretty please with sugar on it," Tor said. "Spin, Harris. Face forward."

"Yeah," Kyle added, as Xander huffed and turned toward the mirror while feeling put upon, "Now turn your head and cough."

"Hey!"

"I think you need to buy him dinner first, for that."

"You're giving him my shirt. Good enough."

The bell for the end of Seventh period rang while Xander was fuming under his breath.

"Told you that was the Cordy," Tor said, smirking. He glanced at Kyle and added, "Pay up."

"You're giving him my freaking good shirt," Kyle grumbled. "I am paid up."

"You can raid the dumpster out back and get a new shirt. Pay up."

"Oh for... Great bleeding Godfrey," Xander said, giving Tor a disgusted look over his shoulder. "Does everyone in this freaking school have bets on us?"

"Naw," Tor said, way too cheerfully. "I'm pretty sure that the freshmen have no clue what all the fuss is about."

"I think most of these will close with butterflies," Kyle said, tearing off some adhesive tape. "And yeah. But the sophomores, juniors, and seniors are all in a state of stunned and bewildered awe and admiration, Boss."

"Don't call me Boss," Xander muttered.

"And some are in a state of cheerfully homicidal envy," Tor said, ignoring him.

The bathroom doors flung open and teens began crowding in, mostly juniors and seniors. All of them took a long look at a half naked Xander covered in claw marks, Tor matter of factly sorting out clothing, and Kyle with a roll of medical tape and a tube of antiseptic – and visibly decided they really didn't want to know. All of them scattered for stalls and urinals, avoiding the counter.

Great.

Xander didn't even want to think about what the school rumor mill was going to make of all of this.

"God, just shoot me now," he muttered.

"Too late," Tor said, grinning at him.


Meanwhile, in the second floor girl's bathroom, just before the end of Seventh Period bell...

Having peed and taken care of that end of things, Cordelia came out of her stall straightening – or at least attempting to – her clothing.

Faith grinned at her in the mirror from where she was busying herself was touching up her makeup at the sinks. Cordelia sighed and gave her blouse one last tuck, buttoned up her vest, and went over to join her.

Finally, having repaired her lipstick and mascara, Cordelia took out a brush and comb and started in on trying to fix the damage to her hair.

Faith watched her for a moment. Then, setting the camera in the corner of the counter where it was safe, she tossed her own hair and, putting both hands on the edge of it, gave a little jump and hoisted herself up, turning to sit on the edge of the counter. She spread her legs and patted the counter edge.

"C'mon, stand here and let me do that," Faith suggested.

Cordelia gave her a skeptical look, and then shrugged and went to stand in front of the seated Faith, her back turned toward her. She handed Faith the comb and brush over her shoulder.

"So, don't tell me: ace photographer and reporter, and hair dresser too?" Cordelia said, not really all that archly. She sounded honestly kinda curious.

Faith tossed her head, laughing. "Naw. But I dated one once." She paused, then added, "Well... slept with one, once. Or maybe a few times."

Cordelia shook her head, snickering. "I give up."

"It's always easiest when you do that," Faith said, snickering back at her. She began working the comb through Cordelia's long hair, ratting out tangles and stroking it through smooth patches.

"Ummm... " Cordelia leaned her head back, obviously luxuriating in the feeling.

"Like having your hair messed with, huh?" Faith finished with the comb and switched to the brush. Man – the cheerleader had great hair. She could play with this stuff all day.

"Oh, yeah, definitely," Cordelia said.

Faith nodded. "Good hair, girl," she said. "Sexy."

"Ah... " Cordelia's neck stiffened, and then relaxed again.

"Don't sweat it, Queenie," Faith said, laughing softly. "Not hitting on you, honest." She paused, frowning thoughtfully, "Well, not much, anyway."

"I'm, ah, not gay," Cordelia said. After a moment, she added, "Bi, either."

Faith nodded. "Hey, with what you got going on? Can't blame you," she said. After a moment, she continued thoughtfully. "Me either. Gay, that is. Bi? Not so sure about that either way."

"Uh... how can you not be sure?" Cordelia didn't turn her head, but Faith could almost feel the frown, anyway.

Shrugging again, Faith ran the brush through a long swath of silky, slightly wavy dark chestnut hair. "Never thought much about it. I like sex, girl. Guys are preferable, but girls are fun too."

"Ah... uh, but isn't that bi, then?" Cordelia sounded honestly curious.

Faith cocked her head, thinking. Finally, she said, "Not sure it matters. Do it right, and it's all good. Do it bad? Ain't nothing good." She chuckled, and added, "And it – "

"Doubles your chances of getting a date on Friday nights," Cordelia finished, laughing. "I remember."

"Yeah," Faith said, laughing with her. "Not that you gotta worry about that."

"No, I suppose – "

A babble of feminine voices entered the bathrooms, coming closer. Cordelia broke off, stiffening up all over. What the – Oh, yeah.

Faith recognized the one voice. Harmony. Not on Cordy's fave person list, obviously.

"Wow." The blonde stopped as she came around the corner, looking at the two of them with her head cocked to one side and a slightly malicious expression. "Michelle? And Cordelia? What – a photographer and you do hair too?"

"Hey," Faith said lightly, continuing to brush Cordelia's hair. "Girl of many talents, yanno?" She let the Bronx accent flow back in as she spoke.

Cordelia turned her head slightly, shooting her a puzzled frown from the corner of her eyes.

"Oh, please," one of the other girls, the hot looking red head, said as she came up to the mirrors. "All of the best photographers are gay, didn't you know that, Harm? Especially in New York."

She threw a wink in Faith's direction, and leaned in toward the mirrors, examining her war paint.

"Hairdressers too," the stunning looking black girl said, also shrugging. She threw Cordelia a cordial looking nod, and Harmony a mildly scornful look from the corners of her eyes.

Which Harmony missed completely, what with her attention fixed on Cordelia. The other girls dispersed to various stalls, leaving the five of them over by the sinks.

"Oh, really?" Harmony said. "So, you taking a walk on the girl's side now, Cordy? What: Xander's not enough to hold you?"

"Oh, gee, Harm," Cordelia said, her voice light, just as Faith had been about to open her mouth. "I don't know. A little variety never hurt. But considering?"

Cordelia cocked her head slightly, obviously studying the other girl. "Considering that I just finished getting my brains screwed out by Xander, I really can't say that I'm hurting for any variety right now."

The red head made a choking sound next to them, shooting an incredulous look over from the side of her gaze. The black girl grinned from behind Harmony, nodding slowly.

Harmony kind of choked, looking suffused for a moment, and then the malicious smile got a bit broader. "Wow, Cordelia. We figured you were going at it with the geek. But screwed out? That's a lot to accomplish in a whole five minutes."

Faith could feel the eyes narrowing even without seeing them. Uh oh, she thought...

"Oh, I dunno, Harm," Cordelia said, her voice still light. "You can do a lot in five minutes if you're talented. More than you've probably ever managed in front of the entire football team in thirty."

The red head started making choking noises again. So did the black girl. A titter of laughter came from one of the stalls.

Harmony's mouth dropped open, and she gaped at Cordelia.

Closing her mouth, Harmony's eyes narrowed. "And I suppose you're going to say that Geek Boy is talented, huh?"

Cordelia gave an almost theatrical full body shiver under Faith's hands. Her voice dropped down into absolute phone sex registers, all chocolate and honey and silk. "Oh, God yes. Those hands? That voice? I passed out twice, you know that?"

Harmony gaped at her again, and the red head went into a coughing fit next to them. The black girl's eyes glazed over slightly.

Just as Harmony was about to recover and try again, the phone sex tones took on a slight edge... "And it wasn't just five minutes, Harm." Cordelia gave that visible full body shiver again, and continued, "It was hours. And hours. Didn't you wonder where we were during Sixth Period French Two? And all of Seventh?"

Harmony's mouth fell open again. Whatever she'd been about to say came out as, "Guh."

"Oh, God," the red head said, now openly staring at the two of them.

The black girl's gaze flickered down and over Cordelia, obviously suddenly taking in bits and pieces of her state of wardrobe and slight disrepair. Her gaze sharpened abruptly.

Faith shrugged cheerfully. "Seriously. Youse shudda heard the screaming."

"Guh," the black girl said, blinking up at her. "Uh, seriously?"

"Seriously," Faith said, nodding and grinning while running the brush through Cordelia's hair. "Made me wet just listening. I thought Roddy was gonna have a coronary."

"Guh."

"Roddy?" Harmony blinked at them again, completely derailed.

"Yeah," Faith said, nodding vigorously. "Roderick? Principal Snyder? Could hear her alla da way down in his office, sheesh. Good thing he didn't recognize da voice."

"Roderick?" The black girl stared at her. "You're on a first name basis with Snyder?"

"Girl. Visiting photographer. From anudder school," Faith said, rolling her eyes. "Who do ya t'ink invited me here?"

"Snyder?" Harmony blinked at her again.

Faith shrugged again, doing her damnedest to keep her reactions down to just dancing eyes, and her madly twitching lips under control. "Hey, you can ask him about the ungh... ungh... oh! Oh God! serenade while we were designing the Homecoming Edition," Faith suggested. "Watch his blood pressure go up."

"Nooo... " Harmony shook her head with her eyes going wide. "That's okay. No."

"Speaking of," the black girl said, cocking her head up at Faith, "When are you going to finish our shoot?"

"Shoot?" Cordelia asked, her tone of voice going curious again.

The rest of the herd vacated stalls and suddenly there was a bustle and gaggle of girls and voices crowding around them at the sinks and mirrors. All of them curious about the very same thing...

"Ah. Not today, I'm afraid," Faith said, sounding regretful. "Monday. Mark out a free block. And 'ey – bring your best lingerie and undies. We'll shoot in your Quad."

"Really?" Harmony brightened suddenly. "Monday works great! We all have a free just before lunch. And hey, wow, perfect! We can hit Frederic's, Victoria's, and oooh! Just Bare over the weekend."

The bell rang while Faith was staring at her, open mouthed, and Harmony and the rest of the herd piled out, chattering like magpies and making shopping plans.

Cordelia shook herself loose from under Faith's hands and stepped away, turning to stare up at her incredulously. She opened her mouth, closed it, and then opened it again before words actually came out.

"Excuse me?" Cordelia blinked at her. "Did you just arrange a lingerieshoot in the Quad with Harmony and the Cordettes here at school?"

"Uh huh. Apparently so," Faith said, nodding slowly and slightly in shock. "I didn't mean it! I was just yanking Harmony's chain! I swear."

"Uh... " Cordelia shook her head. "You have to be careful what you say around Harmony."

"Apparently so," Faith said again, nodding.

"It's a really good thing you're on such good terms with Roderick," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes and snickering.

"I'm thinking you're right," Faith said, nodding. She met the cheerleader's eyes, and they both broke out laughing.

After the fit had passed, mostly, Cordelia frowned slightly, and asked, "And why did you suddenly have a New York accent I could cut with a spatula when I know your normal one is from Boston?"

Faith picked up the camera from the counter and drew herself up, scowling ferociously. She raised the camera and then lowered it and said, "Hey! You dere! Shawty! Ya wanna get yer little self oudda my shot? Ey! Yeah, youse! I'm woikin' 'ere!"

Cordelia gaped at her and Faith busted out laughing hysterically again. Cordelia's eyes widened, and she said, "Oh no you did not!"

"Did too! Swear to God, Queenie! Big as life," Faith said, practically rolling off of the counter.

"Oh. My. God." Cordelia looked as if she didn't know whether to look incredulous or horrified, and was just settling for cross-eyed instead. "No."

"Yup."

"You're kidding me."

"Nope," Faith shook her head. "Serious as a heart attack. Downside is, now I godda use dis stupid accent any time I'm anywhere dat Roddy Baby might be aroun', yanno?"

Cordelia stared at her, and then slowly closed her eyes and shook her head. After a long moment, she opened her eyes and cocked her head slightly, studying Faith for long minutes.

Faith did her best not to squirm under that suddenly way too intense hazel gaze.

Finally, Cordelia nodded abruptly. "Thanks," she said, simply.

"Huh?" Faith blinked at her. "For what?"

"For me suddenly realizing that you were really making light of things earlier, and that whole business really was a lot more convoluted than you were letting on," Cordelia said, "And a lot riskier. So... thank you. For covering for me and Xander."

"Ah... " Faith squirmed again, and shrugged finally. "Don't sweat it, Queenie. Wasn't no big."

"Uh huh." Cordelia studied her for another long moment, and then nodded again. "All right."


Next! Michelle Lane, Ace Photog, uncovers the naked truth while Cordelia exposes a nefarious plot!

.