DISCLAIMERS: Joss is god. He made the world and everything in it, and thus owns it all. Except the lyrics to "Wind Beneath My Wings" which is copyrighted to Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar. Don't ask.
SUMMARY: Faith gets out of jail and needs a little help revitalising her life.
DISTRIBUTION: Knock yourself out. I'm not possessive.
Guarana and B Vitamins
Faith didn't know how long she had been standing there, squinting up at the sun. She could feel the warmth seeping through the thick material of her jacket, the heat rising from the bitumen through the soles of her sneakered feet. A soft wind caressed her face and tugged at the dark strands of her hair, bringing with it the smells and sounds of the bustling city.
It shouldn't have felt different, but it did. The sensations were real and concrete in a world where everything else suddenly stretched into an uncertain future.
She glanced back at the grey shape of the prison building. Faith felt the brief urge to scream, to shout, to do something memorable to say goodbye to that fucking hole where she had wasted more than a year of her life. But the feeling went as quickly as it came and it was almost like it belonged to someone else.
Instead, Faith pulled her jacket tighter around herself and pondered what she would do next. It suddenly occurred to her that this - not jail - was her big test. It was easy to think that she was keeping on the straight and narrow inside there. Do what the guards said, keep out of the power struggle between the other prisoners. But out here, she was the only one making the decisions. Judging if what she was doing was good or bad. Right or wrong.
She didn't know how she was going to make it.
"Hey psycho case."
That voice. It was unmistakable, cutting and slightly harsh, a reminder of a time, a place, a girl that she wanted to forget. She turned around to see Cordelia Chase behind the wheel of a black Plymouth, watching her through dark glasses.
"Cordelia?" Her voice cracked slightly over the other girl's name. She wet her lips before speaking again. "What are you doing here?"
The actress shrugged. "Angel paid me time-and-a-half to come pick you up."
"I'm guessing he couldn't do it himself because he didn't want to spontaneously combust as soon as he stepped into sunlight. And for some reason, Wes still acts funny whenever your name is mentioned. Oh! I think it might have something to do with that night you spent sadistically torturing him." Cordelia reached up to take off her sunglasses, neatly folding them away. But she never took her gaze off the slayer and Faith couldn't help flinching back from the hostility that the other girl radiated. "I guess Angel thought that the black eye you gave me doesn't qualify as grounds for severe mental distress."
Faith swallowed again, and made herself step closer to the parked car. "If it's any consolation, it healed up real nice."
Cordelia glared at her.
Faith looked at the ground, forcing herself to stop fidgeting under the weight of that flinty gaze. Her first act out of jail, and she'd already fucked up, she thought with an inner sigh. Dark eyes lifted again, meeting the other girl's gaze. "Look, C... I'm real sorry about..."
"Don't!" Cordelia's sharp voice hit her like a slap in the face.
"I might be your ride but I'm not gonna listen to your BS. You're not gonna convince me that you're a different person just like that, and I'm not gonna accept your apology just so you can feel better about yourself. Now get in."
Faith stared at her incredulously for a moment. "Forget it," she finally muttered, jamming her hands into the pockets of her jacket and starting off down the pavement. "I'll walk."
"Boy, I see that you've really changed after your time behind bars." Cordelia called out after her.
Faith turned back. "Why are you doing this? Why are you begging for some deep pain? You know who I am. What I did. What makes you think that I won't gut you, take the wheels and drive to Mexico?"
Cordelia still pinned her with that unnerving gaze. "I said I didn't believe you had changed. It's up to you to prove that I'm wrong." She sighed, her tone softening. "Get in. You don't know where the new offices are. And Angel said that I get the rest of the day off if I bring you back in one piece."
The slayer hesitated for a moment more. Cordelia was right. Angel had told her that he had gotten new digs at a place called the Hyperion, but she didn't know in which part of town it was. It would take her a few hours to find out, but she knew that she would have gone there eventually. There was nothing else for her in LA There was nothing else for her in the rest of the world, in fact.
Her mind flashed briefly to Sunnydale, and a certain blonde-haired green-eyed girl. But she pushed it away into the farthest corner of her mind, not ready to deal with that yet. Not certain if she ever would.
She forced herself to focus again because right now before her there was an angry-eyed brunette, waiting for her answer. If she didn't go to Angel's now, the only other thing she could do was to punch out some Joe in the street so she'd have some cash and a place to crash. And strangely, she just didn't have the energy to even want to go down that path anymore.
With a sigh, Faith opened the door and slid into the front seat. Cordelia glanced at her again, before she started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot, the sight of the prison fast dissolving behind them into the distance.
Faith was staring at the building that they pulled up at. She wasn't sure what she had been expecting, but she knew that a big-assed fancy hotel wasn't it. "This is your new office?"
Cordelia shrugged as she turned off the engine. "He likes grand gestures. And making me do the dusting."
The slayer looked up to see Angel coming down the steps of the hotel, carefully keeping out of direct sunlight. She smiled up at him, a genuine smile, albeit a little weary. "Hey."
"How are you feeling?" The vampire had a studied look of concern on his face.
Faith shrugged. "Pretty good. At a bit of a loose end when I first got out. But thanks for sending Cordy to come pick me up."
"Remember, you said double pay." Cordelia called out as she locked the doors to the Plymouth.
"I thought I said time-and-a-half."
The actress shrugged again as she walked past them and through the door of the hotel. "It was worth a shot."
Once the door closed behind her, Angel turned to face the slayer again. "So..." he began, a little awkwardly. "Have you got anything that you want me to bring in?"
Faith shook her head, smiling a little. "Y'know, it's strange how they don't give out gift bags when you get out from prison."
"Oh." He nodded, his face carefully blank. "Yeah. Huh."
The slayer gave him an odd look. "Joke, big guy. Feel free to laugh." She glanced up at the impressive facade of the hotel. "So is this the new place? Thought you would have gone for the office sort of feel, but this is wicked cool."
Angel crossed his arms, as he looked up at the building as well. "It serves our needs. We've been here for about six months, and we're still chasing out the old ghosts."
Faith looked at him.
"Not literally," he reassured her. "Well... not after the first time, anyway."
They walked up the steps together, and Angel held the door open for her. But Faith paused when she noticed Cordelia talking to a guy that she had never seen before. The actress glanced at her when they appeared and reached out to lay her hand on the guy's arm. "This is Gunn. My boyfriend."
Faith didn't miss the meaningful emphasis on the final two words. Her eyes widened. The dude was a hottie, of that there was no doubt, but he wasn't the type that she expected Queen C would go for. She eyed the former cheerleader thoughtfully.
But she didn't have time to think about it too long, as Cordelia's boyfriend greeted her with an easy smile. "Hey, hey." He held his hand out to her, and she shook it, a little hesitantly. "Besides the fly tag of being Cordelia's man, I also help Angel out on a case-by-case basis. And I've been looking forward to meeting the infamous slayer. The big man here can't stop talking 'bout you."
They all looked up at the silent vampire.
"Ok, that ain't a line that will ever work." Gunn muttered. "But Cordy has been talking about you non-stop for the past week."
"It was all a variation of the "God, I hope she doesn't kill me" theme, so don't get too excited." Cordelia cut in, as she walked behind the counter in the lobby.
"I'd listen to your girl." Faith said to Gunn, her voice quiet.
"It took me six months to figure out how not to listen to her. I ain't gonna be slippin' back now."
In spite of herself, Faith suddenly laughed. The dude was all right. He reminded her of the guys she used to hang with back in Boston, but she could already see that there was more to him than the pricks she used to know. A maturity, a sense of responsibility, maybe... or maybe he just wasn't looking to get into her pants. Whatever it was, Faith resolved right then not to put any moves on him. Tangling with Queen C just wouldn't be worth it.
Angel suddenly interrupted them. "Gunn, why don't you take Cordy out to lunch?" His eyes were fixed on the slayer. "I'd like to talk to Faith alone."
But Gunn shook his head. "No can do. I've promised some of the kids down in my hood that I'll help run supplies for a party they got organised."
"Yeah, and skinny white beauty queen doesn't blend too well." Cordelia chimed in, as she checked for new email on her iBook.
Gunn laughed, already halfway out the door. "You know it, sweetheart. See you tonight?"
"Pick me up at eight." Cordelia called out in reply, not looking up from the computer screen.
The door swung closed behind him. Angel glanced at Faith, then looked uneasily in Cordelia's direction. "Cordelia, I did give you the rest of the day off," he reminded her. "Isn't there somewhere else you want to be... maybe hit the stores at the Plaza..."
"Nah... I maxed out my credit card for this month already." She closed the notebook with a snap and gave them a bright smile. "I thought I could hang out with you guys. Make sure that she doesn't try to kill you again."
"Cordy..." Angel shot another look at the slayer. "That really isn't helping."
But Faith didn't look like she had even heard the insult. "I don't mind if she stays," she said quietly.
"Great! I know exactly where we can have lunch." She picked the car keys off the counter top again. "I'll drive."
"Cordelia, this is not a good idea."
"What? They have a great lunch menu."
"You know that's not why you came here. Look, it's just too soon. I want to have a chance to talk to her myself, before I bring her here."
"Hey, if you want to know whether psycho-bitch-killer-from-hell has really reformed, what faster way is there than to get a reading from a big ol' gay karaoke demon?"
Faith studied the outside of the building that they had pulled up in front of, letting the argument that Angel and Cordelia were having wash over her. It was a simple place, a little dark, with the word Caritas hanging above the door in a bold, pink neon script. The door suddenly opened, and she saw a hunchbacked demon with folds of skin hanging off his face, come shuffling out the door.
"What the fuck..." Faith began to struggle with the clasp of her seatbelt. "What is this place?!"
Cordelia glanced at her through the rearview mirror. "Down, impulse girl," she admonished, almost indifferently. "Not all demons are evil."
But Angel was studying the creature thoughtfully. "We might want to keep an eye out for Durthock though. We're gonna have to take him out, if he ever gets his powers back."
"What is this place?" Faith demanded again.
Angel looked at her over his shoulder. "Demon karaoke bar."
Faith blinked. Then hurriedly began to fumble with her seat belt again. "Woah, wait, woah. No way am I gonna sing Barry Manilow in front of a bunch of other people. Not on my first day out from prison, not this early in the day and not without several drinks inside of me."
"It's not just a karaoke bar. The demon who runs it, he reads souls, sets people on their paths."
"But he can only do it when they're singing karaoke." Cordelia supplied.
"Faith." Angel gave her a long look. "It's up to you whether or not you want to do this. It might help."
Faith clamped down the instinctive urge to bolt, forcing herself to think about what they were suggesting. A demon who could read her soul and tell her what path she was meant to walk. It sounded too simple and too fucking sweet to be real. To know that some higher power had already set your future out for you, and to know what that future was so that you could do everything to make it happen...
So did she want to know?
What if all she was ever slated to be was the right-hand girl for some demon who was going to bring about the Apocalypse? What if he told her that she was going to wake up dead in the gutter tomorrow? Did she even want someone telling her what she was going to do, what she was going to become?
She waited for the familiar rage to boil up at the thought. But she couldn't even summon it, no matter how hard she tried. All she felt was a great weariness; she was tired of not knowing what she was going to do next, of not knowing if she would last through another day. Right now, she wanted nothing more than for someone tell her what was going to happen so that she could sit back and take it like a drunken monkey.
On the other hand, she was gonna have to sing.
"You sure this guy is for real?"
Angel shrugged. "He hasn't been wrong yet. He's come through for us several times. I trust him."
Cordelia was still watching her through the mirror. "So if you don't go in..." Her voice was almost taunting. Definitely a challenge.
Faith immediately made up her mind. But she didn't show it, letting a lazy smirk cross her lips as she held the actress' gaze. "Why not? I've got nothing to lose."
Continued in Part 2