What happened to Cordy and Buffy the Summer after Graduation? Prequel to ‘Making the Quota’. Pairings:
None at present Disclaimer:
I don’t own Buffy the Vampire Slayer Notes:
This is set between the third and fourth seasons of BtVS.
Many thanks to Vidicon for his helpful suggestions. Sunnydale Police Department, Sunnydale, California – 29th May 1999
Cop movie cliché, Cordelia thought in disgruntlement, surveying her surroundings. A plain wooden desk, wooden floor, hard wooden seats, and a wooden interrogator. It was only three days since the events of Graduation and she was still mentally recovering from their showdown with the Mayor. After all, even Queen C could be affected by such extreme events, though she preferred not to show it. In any case, she certainly hadn’t expected to be dragged into Sunnydale’s so-called finest donut-ridden domain for yet more questioning about her fugitive parents.
“You are aware, Miss Chase, that any attempt to mislead us could lead to serious consequences for you,” the IRS agent folded his arms and fixed Cordelia with his most intimidating stare.
Cordelia stared back, utterly unfazed. There were a lot of things in Sunnydale that might intimidate her, even make her run screaming, but they didn’t include IRS agents in cheap suits. She was as mystified as the authorities and her parents hadn’t left any clues. They’d simply driven off, leaving her standing on the sidewalk, without so much as a backward glance.
Agent Silver was reluctantly beginning to accept that, most likely, the girl knew nothing about her parent’s whereabouts, given that they seemed to have left her subsisting on next to nothing. On the other hand, she might just hold a few clues, maybe even without being aware of the fact. A little pressure couldn’t do any harm, he told himself.
“Sheesh!” Cordelia exhaled, shaking her head. “Can you say slow on the uptake? How many times do I have to tell you guys? My parents didn’t leave as much as a note. And the way they dumped me on the street, d’you really think I’d think twice about snitching?”
It was the third time she’d been interviewed by the IRS since her parents quit Sunnydale in a hurry. Just over three weeks since years of cheating on their taxes finally caught up. And just because her father had made a ‘mistake’ on his tax returns for twelve years, this annoying suit kept dragging her into Sunnydale Police Headquarters for questioning – as if she was Buffy Summers – on the off-chance that she might know something.
Of course, given the hovel that she currently called home, it might actually be less embarrassing to be interviewed here. Even if Agent Silver was making her feel like a criminal.
“Look at it from our point of view, Miss Chase. It seems slightly strange that an eighteen year-old girl, only weeks from graduating, should suddenly be abandoned by her wealthy parents. Especially since they had no history of such behaviour towards you,” the agent persisted. “On the contrary, you always seemed to benefit considerably from their wealth.”
Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. She would dearly have liked to tell the IRS agent exactly what sort of mentally and physically abusive bastards her parents actually were, but it might be best to keep that in reserve, just in case the Feds tried to charge her with something. What were the half-threatened charges he’d vaguely waved around? Aiding and abetting fugitives from justice. Her parents had always raised her to believe that the IRS were Satan’s own instrument, but she’d quite happily point them in the right direction, if only she knew where. A little satanic treatment might be just what the Cordy ordered, even if she couldn’t – unfortunately – arrange for them to burn in a real Hell.
It had been a very long time – if ever – since she’d had any positive feelings for her parents. Positively hated them and positively feared them at times, but that was about it. No one really knew the depths of that fear and loathing, only seeing the apparently mini-clone of Gregory and Virginia Chase. Only Cordelia really had any idea what went on behind the closed doors of the former Chase mansion.
Nevertheless, for all her seething dislike, the abandonment still hurt badly. She found that both odd and also annoying, having expected to feel free and somehow liberated, after all the years of mistreatment and attempts to mould her in their image. Of course, the sudden exposure to poverty and a very precarious existence weren’t exactly helping her frame of mind.
“Yeah, ‘cause I’m living so well right now… My parents, Agent Silver, left me with just enough money to rent a one-room ‘roach-pit for one month and emptied my savings accounts and my College Fund. Worse, they dumped most of my clothes and sold my car – then tried to make me think you people had impounded them. And to keep the roof over my house-roaches’ heads, I have a job in a store I wouldn’t have set foot in a year ago, and can’t even afford a single one of the designer label rip-off dresses they sell there. So if you think I’m covering for them, you’ve got one major malfunction,” Cordelia growled.
“The car was registered in your name, Miss Chase. And even the IRS can’t raise much money from the sale of a teenager’s used clothing,” Silver confirmed dryly.
This, unfortunately, was just about as far as he could investigate for the moment. The FBI had apparently asked his agency to back off questioning anyone else in town for the moment, as they were currently working on a long-term investigation, aimed at nailing Gregory Chase – and possibly his wife – for something much worse. Agent Silver wasn’t convinced. In his view, there was nothing worse – from serial murder to anal rape – than defrauding the nation of its rightful taxes.
“Do you have any idea at all? Is there anywhere your parents are particularly fond of?” Silver knew he was grasping at straws now, but just maybe they had a favourite hideaway within IRS jurisdiction.
Cordelia shrugged. “My mother loved Rio… You might want to check there.”
Not that the bitch had ever taken her with them, she reflected.
Silver suppressed a sigh. If the Chases had, indeed, fled to Brazil, it might be a long time - if ever – before they were brought back to face charges. The Brazilians had far higher priorities, in their book at least, for extradition than tax evasion charges.
“So can I go now? Or are you planning to waste another three hours asking the same questions? I’d kinda like to get myself to work, while I’ve still got a job… It’s not much, but all that’s keeping a roof over my head right now,” Cordelia fumed.
In the past, threatening people with her father’s high-priced lawyer had often worked when faced with any problems from authority. It had even been effective when Principal Flutie tried to give her detention one day, though she’d quickly discovered that the late and well-chewed Snyder was made of sterner stuff. Of course, the smarmy attorney clearly hadn’t been able to chase away the IRS vultures, despite all the money he’d earned from the Chases in previous years. Cordelia actually found that vaguely comforting and definitely fitting.
“You can go, Miss Chase,” Silver replied, not without some reluctance. “But you will call us if you remember anything, or if your parents make any attempt to contact you?”
“In a second, Agent Silver,” Cordelia told him. “But you might have to lend me a few quarters for a payphone, ‘cause I can’t afford a cellphone anymore…” Joyce Summers’ Gallery, Sunnydale, California – 29th May 1999
“This the file you forgot, mom?” Buffy bounced into her mother’s gallery, carrying a file she’d dug out from a pile of others her mother kept dragging back and forth from the Gallery to their house, every single day.
Normally Joyce would have had to do without it for the day, but as her daughter was free for the holidays, a phone call, not too early since Buffy did like to sleep late when she got the chance, and a detailed description had resulted in Buffy finding it and bringing it by.
Her mother looked up from her computer, accepted the file and leafed through it to check it did indeed hold the customer data she needed.
She smiled. “That’s the one. Thanks for bringing it along, dear.”
“Courier girl, that’s me,” Buffy responded breezily.
“Any plans for the day?” Joyce asked, when Buffy made no move to leave just yet.
“Not so you’d notice, mom,” Buffy replied. “Go home and do a few chores. Maybe watch some old movies in the afternoon…”
There was a distinct lack of enthusiasm in her voice, Joyce noted.
She studied her daughter for a moment. “At a bit of a loose end?”
Buffy flung herself into one of the studio’s white leather chairs, but a pointed look from her mother prevented her from hanging her legs over the armrests.
“I’m bored,” she pouted. “Xander has gone to do America and Willow and Oz have left and even Giles has gone…. And there really are no vampires here in the summer and I really never noticed there is absolutely nothing to do here!” she finished on a near wail.
Joyce smiled. Buffy’s life had revolved around friends and skating and then friends and shopping and now, apparently, friends and Slaying. Now the friends were gone, hopefully just for a bit, and the slaying had thankfully lessened for the summer. That did leave Buffy bored and likely lonely. Joyce knew from experience that was a bad, even potentially dangerous, combination.
There was still a lot of tension between them because of the way Joyce discovered about her daughter’s unwanted so-called calling, and the running away that came after. A great deal of worry, too. Maybe it was time to see if they could mend some fences.
She tentatively made her offer. “Would you like a job for the summer? Working here with me?”
Buffy blinked in surprise. “Are you serious, mom?”
“Completely,” her mother replied.
“Uh, doing what, exactly?” Buffy asked cautiously. “’Cause what I know about art, you could draw on the back of a postage stamp. Show me some famous paintings and the only one I’d recognise is the Moaning Lisa.”
She’d only held one job in her life so far, serving in an LA diner, and hadn’t enjoyed the experience one little bit. On the other hand, her mother’s customers probably didn’t include assholes who pinched her butt. Hopefully.
“Whatever I need to be done,” Joyce shrugged. “Answering the telephone, updating my computer files, making the coffee, helping me move displays, mailing catalogues… You took that Comp Sci class with Willow didn’t you? I’m sure you’re better at a lot of that stuff than I am with her as your teacher. I’d need you four or five days a week, Monday to Friday - especially Fridays - and maybe five hours a day.”
“I guess, so,” Buffy answered. “But why now? You’ve been, like, pretty much assistant-free since you set up in Sunnydale. And will I get paid for this?”
Joyce hesitated for a second about what she would say. Then she took the plunge. “Two reasons, Buffy. I’m quite well established now, with a good customer base, both local and more distant. So I’m expanding the business, but I don’t want to hire someone permanently for a few months yet. My main problem has always been a shortage of display space, followed by one of storage space.
“But the mall owners are pretty desperate to rent out the units next door, so I was able to get a pretty good deal. One I’ll eventually turn into a display area, but it needs to be fixed up first, and I need to think how exactly I want to do that. The other unit is smaller and doesn’t have a very large display area but I can use it right now, as storage space. Means I won’t have to use the spare bedroom quite so often,” her mother said.
“Wow mom, that’s great!” Buffy grinned. “I didn’t realise you were doing so well. I’m really happy for you. And not at all because it wasn’t always only the spare bedroom that got used for the overflow.”
Joyce smiled. “That wasn’t overflow, as you very well know. That was vengeance for leaving that demon head I found on the kitchen counter the day before.”
Buffy winced. “A girl makes one teeny-tiny mistake and she gets a really disturbing African fertility idol in her room? No fair!”
Then she frowned slightly. “But that’s only one reason?”
Joyce rose and nervously straightened a small, expensive piece of Mesoamerican carved jade on its black velvet background.
“Mom?” Buffy asked. “What’s the second reason?”
Joyce sighed. “You and me Buffy. I think it would be good for us. To see each other, to talk about things not related to slaying. To get to know each other again-”
She was cut off by Buffy’s massive hug. “I’d love to, mom. Thanks.”
Joyce laughed and hugged her daughter back. Then she sat back down.
“Well then, to answer what might be the most important question – so far as you’re concerned, anyway – yes, I’ll pay. On an hourly basis, considerably more than you’d make working at the Doublemeat Palace. Even with the usual deduction to pay for my car repairs,” Joyce added, with a smile.
Buffy’s eyes lit up. The accident hadn’t really been her fault and she’d been driving the car with her mother’s permission, after all, even if the latter had been high on Band Candy. Besides, she wasn’t the one who’d caused the accident, which in Buffy’s mind just proved that passing her driving test was seriously overrated. At least her mother hadn’t made her pay for anything like the full cost, only taking a token amount from her monthly allowance as a reminder to be more careful. Especially since Buffy knew very well, and had known when she’d taken it, that in her right mind her mother would never have let her near the car.
“When d’you want me to start?” Buffy asked.
Having the job wouldn’t only allow her to grow closer again to her mom, it would be a great financial boost, and it would also keep her occupied, and fill the long summer vacation. Her friends hadn’t been gone very long, but Buffy was already bored. Xander had left first, the morning after Graduation, on his road-trip.
Buffy had seen his car and privately wondered how far he’d actually get, but she wasn’t about to spoil his expectant and jubilant mood.
Oz and Willow, meanwhile, decided to leave the following morning. Buffy hadn’t been expecting that and she suspected that the couple hadn’t, either. However, both seemingly wanted time to further repair their relationship after their brief break-up, and a few months travelling together, just the two of them in Oz’s van, seemed as good a way as any. Besides, even as the Mayor had been poised to snack on the whole population of Sunnydale, Willow had been discovering the joy of sex for the first time, and was looking forward to furthering her education. Buffy suspected that the Rosenbergs, who already didn’t wholly approve of either Oz or their road-trip, were completely unaware of the last part. Otherwise they might actually have found out how badly werewolves could be hurt by bullets.
Even Giles had departed for the summer, after Buffy assured him that she could handle the quiet months without help. He wasn’t officially her Watcher, after all – in fact, she no longer had an official one, having quit the Council – so the Slayer didn’t feel aggrieved that he was leaving her until mid-August. Apparently, he was also touring the US, at least part of the time in the company of a British friend. Someone called Olivia, Buffy recalled, with just a hint of jealousy. It wasn’t that she thought of Giles in any kind of romantic way, but her former Watcher with another woman brought on just the slightest trace of green-eyed monster.
Actually, when she thought about it for a moment, Buffy really didn’t want to know what Giles was doing. The slightest passing thought of the possibilities led to a need for brain bleach, in industrial quantities, especially if any of his Ripper persona remained. She involuntarily recalled her mother’s memories of being taken roughly over the hood of a police car, twice, shuddered, and tried to think of just about anything else.
Still, Buffy knew she couldn’t grudge any of them their well-deserved vacation. The last few years had been hard on the whole Scooby Gang, not least this last one, and they could all use some respite. Buffy knew she’d miss them, but she’d at least have a chance to spend time with her mother. Perhaps too much time, if they were working under the same roof, she grinned to herself.
She loved the idea of regaining her former closeness with her mother, but she knew that they were both strong-willed and they had the occasional argument that shook the rafters, mostly about dating and curfew. Sometimes ending across her mother’s knee, though hopefully for the last time now she’d graduated High School. The internal grin faded, as she realised that her summer evenings might be devoted to dated chick flics with her mother, rather than socialising at the Bronze, since all the friends she did that with were gone, or worse.
At least, the Slayer in her reflected, she could always use the next few months to polish her skills, given that live – or undead – targets were usually in short supply over the summer. Training space might actually be a real problem, Buffy suddenly realised. Sunnydale High library was now a ruin and even if it hadn’t been, she hadn’t previously given much thought to the fact that, as an ex-student, she’d have to find another venue. She’d never spent a summer in Sunnydale before. Had the Campus even been open during the holidays before the school went kablooie?
Suddenly Buffy had an idea. What was the word Giles had sometimes used? Serendipity, that was it. Buffy wasn’t nearly so bad at remembering or mispronouncing words as she made out to the world in general, and the long-suffering Englishman in particular, but pretending to be a dumb valley girl had its benefits in all sorts of ways.
This was particularly serendipitous, she decided. Her mom wasn’t using some of the new gallery space for a while, so it seemed wrong to waste it. She would, however, work up to that. Her mother obviously wanted to bond with her, and she with her mom, and despite how hard Joyce tried to accept her daughter being the Slayer, it was still the greatest bone of contention between them. Buffy smiled internally. Another term she was sure Giles didn’t think she knew.
“There’s no rush, honey,” Joyce offered. “School just finished, so I thought you might want some down-time. Especially since you say this is a quiet time for Slaying.”
Her own frayed nerves had barely recovered from Graduation. Firstly, Buffy had actually almost physically chased her from the town, in a frantic attempt to keep her out of danger on Graduation Day. That hadn’t really helped, as Joyce’s imagination had simply run riot with the possibilities of the horrors her daughter might be facing. Secondly, she’d been pacing a motel room, only-half-hearing the radio in the background, when reports of Sunnydale High’s destruction, with an undisclosed number of dead and injured, hit the news desk. The authorities had blamed a gas leak, but Joyce knew better, and could only marvel that she hadn’t been pulled over by the Highway Patrol, as she floored the accelerator all the way back to Sunnydale.
Maybe that was really why she’d offered Buffy a job, Joyce mused. Though her daughter and her friends had – almost miraculously - all come through the ordeal with only a few cuts and bruises, it must have been a close run thing. Some of their classmates hadn’t been nearly so fortunate and Joyce wondered how long it would be before the proper authorities stepped in. Surely they could better deal with all the vampires, demons and monsters, instead of a group of old men manipulating a young girl, upon whom the safety of the world depended.
Despite Giles patiently explaining the Council’s reasoning – those bastards who’d callously thrown her helpless daughter, on her 18th birthday, against a crazed vampire – Joyce thought the whole thing was obscene. The fact that those glorified librarians’ actions had also led to her being kidnapped by the same insane vampire only made her dislike them even more.
Buffy was of course fortunate enough to have incredibly loyal friends, who fought alongside her in the face of unspeakable danger, but no matter how much her mother tried to avoid the reality, a little voice always reminded her that it had to be a precarious existence. If anything ever happened to Buffy, she wanted to have been there for her, to have been close. To be able to say that she’d given support when needed and strictures when required.
Buffy shrugged. “I can start tomorrow mom. Not like I’ve planned a fun-filled summer vacation…”
“Of course, your friends are all away doing –uh – whatever it is they all plan to do…” Joyce uncomfortably recalled a post-school road-trip of her own, one where her parents remained blissfully unaware of the more embarrassing details.
“Willow, Oz, Xander, even Giles… Couldn’t you and dad have given me a big sister – even a little sister – to torment? Mighta passed the time a bit,” Buffy joked.
“Isn’t Cordelia still here?” Joyce ventured.
She knew the two girls’ relationship had fluctuated over the years, admittedly from generally bad, to a grudging acceptance with a side of bitchiness but, like the others, Cordelia had shared a lot of the most terrifying times. Personally, and admittedly on only brief acquaintance, the girl had always been polite enough. The one exception was after Xander’s love spell, but that was understandable. Joyce herself still cringed at her actions, even if she claimed not to remember anything.
“We don’t tend to hang and braid each other’s hair, mom,” Buffy reminded her dryly. “Don’t even know how long she’s staying in Sunnydale. Think she’s accepted a place at Colombia after the vacation.”
Her relationship with Cordelia Chase had been a complex one almost from the day they met. On one level, they were perhaps too much alike. Cordelia was the Sunnydale version of what Buffy had been at Hemery, except that the Slayer wasn’t sure she personally would have risked her life for anyone back in those days. Buffy wondered how much her own dislike for the other girl had been coloured by a slight yearning for carefree days of popularity she could never get back. Of course, Cordelia had also been ostracised by her so-called friends for dating Xander, and somehow managed to blame Buffy for that, at least in part. The Slayer also knew that part of Cordelia blamed her for all the Hellmouth dangers and disruption to her life, even if it was utterly illogical.
Cordelia nevertheless at least had some depths. Commiserating with each other in the aftermath of Trick’s SlayerFest and their combined defeat in the Homecoming Queen competition, they’d shared some quite friendly hours, with the cheerleader finally understanding some of what it meant to be a Slayer. For a few weeks at least, they seemed to getting along reasonably well, until Xander and Cordelia’s split, over Willow and Xander’s infidelity with Buffy finding herself caught in the crossfire between her best friend and Cordelia, and her own indignation that said best friend had been cheating.
In short, she didn’t know what her feelings about Cordelia were. The other girl was brave and honest – sometimes too honest – but also selfish, bitchy and irritating as Hell at times. Or, as Giles put it, ‘tiresome’. Still, if Xander and Cordelia could part as friends, as seemed to be the case, what was her excuse?
“You could call her,” Joyce suggested. “Try and part as something approaching friends, or at least not enemies.”
“We’re not real enemies, mom. Enemies don’t save each other from being eaten, or burned at the stake…” the Slayer’s voice trailed away – her mother was still horrified by that incident.
“Sorry, mom. Wasn’t your fault,” she winced.
“Still feels like it was, dear,” Joyce also made a face. “But returning to Cordelia, if you’re not enemies, what are you?”
“Not friends… As in, from day one at Sunnydale High. Still, Cordy put her neck on the line, with the rest of us. Means she isn’t nearly as shallow as everyone thinks. Maybe if I see her around, we’ll go to the Bronze and try to bury the hatchet,” Buffy replied.
Even the cheerleader would be better company than none in the Bronze. Besides, after everything the group had been through – and despite their differences, the Slayer usually still thought of Cordelia as a Scooby – perhaps she owed it to the other girl. Given what they’d all faced on a regular basis, it actually seemed slightly dumb and immature to harbour a grudge, for such trivial reasons.
“Hopefully not buried in each other’s heads,” Joyce muttered. Outside Joyce Summers’ Gallery, Sunnydale, California – 29th May 1999
Buffy didn’t notice the anonymous grey station-wagon parked opposite her mother’s business, nor the two men watching her intently.
“You lucky sonofabitch!” Forrest Gates whistled, watching the little blonde leaving and making her way along the street. “You get to tap that, in the line of duty!”
“Duty can be a bitch at times…” Riley Finn smirked. “HST captures begin in six weeks, but I have to wait ‘til she starts college, before I make my move.”
He’d passed top of his class in Honey Trap training and his assigned target wouldn’t know what hit her. Finn would sweep her off her feet and she’d soon be putty in his hands.
“Doesn’t look anything more than your average Valley bimbo,” Gates noted.
“The footage says something different. You’ve seen her kill stats on HSTs over the last three years,” his superior replied.
“So some kind of mutant, with superior strength and speed,” Gates said.
Finn nodded. “There’s a lot of mystical crap about her origins – the Slayer, one girl in all the world, blah blah – I can give you the file. You know that Maggie doesn’t put much credence in most of that and neither do I, though there’s a lot of stuff goes on here that we can’t yet explain. Doesn’t mean it’s magic. Still, the laws of physics seem to break down with this girl. I mean, she’s like five foot two…”
Current thinking amongst the Initiative personnel was that demons – or Hostile Sub-Terrestrials – were simply a range of hitherto unrecognised, if also dangerous, wild creatures. Vampires, one subset of the category, were merely the result of a virus or mutation.
“Almost seems a pity…” Gates shrugged.
“Could be we’ll get away with a simple cloning, but if she has to end up on the Professor’s table, then it’s for the good of the programme,” Finn replied.
The Initiative Programme had been several years in the making. After two years of intensive reconnaissance and surveillance of Sunnydale, the main secret complex under UCS was finally ready to go online. The primary target was still to find a means of controlling the demon population, ultimately for use as a weapon, but the appearance of the Slayer in Sunnydale had caused Professor Walsh to open another line of research. If the Slayer’s powers could be duplicated, then a super-soldier army became a tantalising prospect, indeed.
“Do we know what went down at the school?” Gates asked.
“Authorities blamed a gas leak, but far as we can make out from the footage, someone – probably Summers – blew it up, to kill that giant snake. We aren’t sure where it came from. One minute, the Mayor’s giving his address, next moment no Mayor and a big snake. And all the kids were ready for it…” Finn really wanted the back-story, but he’d soon weasel it out of his target, once they started dating.
The Professor had a squad ready to comb through the ruins of the school ten minutes after it happened, but the local authorities were still conducting their own investigation – at least ostensibly - so she was hesitant to risk blowing their cover.
“Mayor was into some pretty dubious business,” Gates said. “His own personal HST hit squad, for one thing…”
Finn agreed. “Town’s better off without him. Who knows, maybe the local cops might clean up their act, too.”
“Not too much, I hope,” the other soldier replied. “Kinda still need them to be blind, so we can do our job.”
Finn’s eyes followed Buffy down the street. “Nice little butt. Wouldn’t mind a chance to tap that in all good ways…”
“And the way she throws HSTs around? I’ll bet she’s got some stamina, too. Oh man, I’d really like to know how you snagged yourself that assignment… Said it before and I’ll say it again. You and the Prof? Mamma’s pet little soldier!” Gates sniggered. April Fools Boutique, Sunnydale, California – 29th May 1999
“You’re late,” Mrs Finkel declared sternly, as Cordelia hurried into the store. "Three hours late to be exact. Hardly worthwhile coming at all..."
Arriving late for work at April Fools, even with a valid excuse, wasn’t a good idea at the best of times. It was ten times worse if your name was Cordelia Chase. She didn’t know why, but the owner had very quickly taken a dislike to her, without any apparent reason. Cordelia did everything she was asked to the best of her ability, without her trademark snark and smart-ass comments, but the woman seemed to cut her much less slack than her fellow workers.
“Sorry Mrs Finkel, but I had to go to the Police station and…” Cordelia began to explain.
The boutique owner’s lips pursed. “I’m not really interested in whatever trouble you may be in, Chase.”
“I’m not in trouble. They just wanted to ask me a load of questions, part of an investigation they’re running…”
Cordelia wasn’t about to tell her it was an IRS investigation. She wasn’t ready to tell the world – and certainly not her unpleasant boss - that her parents were fugitives from the law. Not so much to save their reputations, which Cordelia could have cared less about, but it was just too personally embarrassing.
Mrs Finkel waved a dismissive hand. “It doesn’t really matter. With the end of Prom season, business is slowing down, and I don’t really need the extra help. So I’m afraid I’ll have to let you go.”
Cordelia stared at her in dismay. “But you can’t fire me! It wasn’t my fault I was late! I can give you a number to call and…”
What had started out as merely a bad day, with the inconvenience of the IRS interview, was rapidly approaching catastrophic. Without a job, even this poorly paid one, she couldn’t afford to pay rent on the fleapit that was currently home, or even to eat. Not only that, jobs weren’t easy to find in Sunnydale during the summer vacation, with plenty of High School and college students for every vacancy.
There was also the indignity of being fired. That sort of thing happened to other people, not to Cordelia Chase.
Her boss cut her off. “Nothing to do with your tardiness - or even your general attitude. I just don’t need, want – or even really like – you. I needed help in a hurry, which is the only reason you were hired. Usually I wouldn’t touch little rich girls, who just want to pretend to work, with a ten foot pole. Besides, I’ve met your mother and I’m thinking the fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree.”
All at once, Cordelia saw red. This morning, she’d already had the IRS agent figuratively, if unintentionally, rubbing her nose in the fact that her parents didn’t want her. Her – former – boss’s blunt declaration just added insult to injury. Queen C was no stranger to bluntness and on a good day could probably flay the hide from Mrs Finkel, with a few well-placed put-downs. Today, however, wasn’t anything like a good day and being compared to her mother was just the final straw.
An enraged Cordelia tended to produce an eldritch screech, vaguely similar to an angry alley-cat in a fight, and this was no exception.
“Want to know something? You can go screw this job! And go screw yourself, too! ‘Cause from where I’m standing, you probably don’t get many offers… God knows why anyone would want to buy this line in cheap rip-offs anyways. I’m thinking you make Sears look classy,” she yelled, in rather more coarse terms than she normally used.
It was unacceptably sub-par for her usual sarcasm and she hated losing her temper – measured snark-downs were so much more Cordelia’s style - but at least part of her suddenly felt slightly better. Even if she was now amongst the ranks of the unemployed.
“I think you should leave now, Chase,” Mrs Finkel glared.
“Not before you pay me for last week,” her former employee snarled, holding out a hand, and invading the older woman’s body space.
Mrs Finkel blinked nervously, reached behind the counter and gingerly passed over an envelope. She’d never been on the receiving end of a Queen C icy stare and it was decidedly unnerving.
Without another word, Cordelia snatched her wages from her ex-boss’s hand, turned on her heel, and marched towards the exit, head held high. The toughened glass almost smashed from the sheer force with which she slammed the door. Cordelia’s Apartment, Sunnydale, California – 29th May 1999
Sprawled listlessly on her narrow bed, Cordelia bleakly considered the events of the day. Being fired wasn’t only a financial disaster, it was also personally humiliating. Still, the embarrassment had to take second place to impending homelessness, when her landlord asked for the next month’s rent. It didn’t help that Cordelia was convinced she was being grossly over-charged, either. The so-called apartment consisted of a cramped single room, functioning as kitchen, bedroom and living room, and a tiny bathroom. The furniture was tacky and held together with spit, there was a all-pervading smell of stale tobacco from a chain-smoking former resident, and more than a few unwelcome insects. She’d already killed a few cockroaches and each night, the bed bugs left an unpleasant itchy reminder of their presence. Just to make the place liveable, she’d had to spend hours with household cleaners and a scrubbing brush, for the first time in her life. Cleaning the bathroom had been the worst and Cordelia wondered exactly what sort of unhygienic pig had lived here before. No doubt, there were a lot of people who – if they’d known – would have seen the whole situation as Queen C getting her just desserts, she mused sardonically. Perhaps they might even be right.
Staring at the shabby and peeling paint on the ceiling, Cordelia tried to look for a silver lining in the situation. On the plus side, her parents were out of her life, almost certainly for good. That meant no more regular beatings for the slightest of transgressions, or most often none at all, and an end to their attempts to mould them into a clone of her. She wouldn’t have to pretend to enjoy those social functions where she had to play the part of the happy, contented daughter. Nor would she again have to listen to her parents’ constant disparaging of her abilities.
On the minus side, Cordelia had lost the basic security of a roof and regular meals her parents provided, even if they were abusive to the nth degree. In the short-term, if she didn’t find a job very soon, even this dump would only be a fond memory and she might be living on the streets. Her last pay cheque from that bitch Finkel would help buy a little time and she also had a small reserve, which had been squirreled away in a box under her bed, undiscovered by her parents. That had been Uncle Bob’s idea, the only decent relative she had, until he died. Given that her thieving parents had taken every cent from her savings accounts – and Cordelia was pretty sure that had been illegal – she was grateful for his advice. Now, in fact, she was regretting having only stashed away a small amount.
Her feet hurt from walking the streets of Sunnydale all day, searching for a job and coming up empty handed. Too many people her age, chasing too few jobs, and for many it wasn’t even a matter of survival, just the chance of making some money over the vacation. Cordelia was trying hard not to appear too desperate to outsiders – the old Chase habits died hard – but she was willing to take on just about anything, short of selling herself on a street corner.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone to help. Her parents had long since alienated their few relatives, none of whom lived anywhere nearby, in any case. In Sunnydale, Harmony’s parents had always been kind to her, but that wasn’t an option right now. She’d started to rebuild the damaged relationship with her friend since childhood just before Graduation, but Harmony was amongst those listed as missing. Officially, the authorities thought that the half-dozen or so missing students bodies might be trapped under the wreckage of the school, but Cordelia knew better. No one had been close enough to be buried, so the missing students had almost certainly been taken by vamps. She fervently hoped that Harmony had been killed quickly, rather than being turned. Her friend wouldn’t even be a very good vampire, she thought wryly.
Either way, there was no way she could approach the Kendalls now, not when she knew what had most likely happened to their daughter but was unable to share it. And Cordelia had helped plan the fight, and even helped convince some doubters to fight, which made her feel guilty about all those who had been wounded or worse. Besides, Cordelia didn’t want to have to admit that she needed help. Having fallen so far in Sunnydale society, it was still too bitter a pill to swallow. No, she wasn’t ready for anyone’s charity, not yet.
Looking at the longer term, her prospects admittedly didn’t seem any better. Her parents had also raided her college fund, so the excellent schools who’d accepted her – USC, Columbia, Colorado State, Duke – were now all out of reach. And to think she’d taunted Buffy about having no future. Though the Slayer might be tied to the Hellmouth, she could at least afford to attend UC Sunnydale, which actually had a good reputation in some areas. Education as an exit route from Sunnydale was, however, no longer an option for Cordelia.
Not that she didn’t have some plans, if only she could survive the coming summer months. With the college option now closed, acting was her next career choice. While Cordelia knew she was self-confident – at least outwardly – and physically attractive, she was also aware that wouldn’t be enough. But she’d also been acting pretty much all her life – either for her parents or her peers at school – and given time, was pretty sure there was a perfect niche somewhere in Hollywood for her. After all, Los Angeles wasn’t so far away. Still, she needed a job here in Sunnyhell, so that she could save a little and still survive there, while waiting for her big break.
Tomorrow, Cordelia reminded herself, was another day. She’d be up with the birds and walking the sidewalks until dusk, every day, until someone offered her employment. This, she told herself sternly, watching as another roach scuttled under the fridge, was only temporary. After all, she was Cordelia Chase and a few setbacks wouldn’t be enough to keep her down for long. Riverside Cemetery, Sunnydale, California – 31st May 1999
Buffy wasn’t expecting much, if any, vampire action tonight. The Summer vacation in Sunnydale usually tended to be quiet where the supernatural, of any kind, was concerned. Giles had never been able to satisfactorily explain the reasons, but noticeable Hellmouth-related activity generally seemed to start around mid-August, then gradually increased in intensity until apocalypse season, towards the end of May. Buffy didn’t have any clues, either. Perhaps the vamps moved to the southern hemisphere for the summer, where the days were shorter.
Still, it was difficult to break out of the usual patrol schedule, and it wasn’t as though she had an active social life right now. Though a few more boring evenings and she might even be tempted to follow her mother’s suggestion and call Cordelia. There was a limit to how many Rom-coms and chic-flics she could watch with her mother. Heck, the woman still harboured that unfortunate crush on Cary Grant, who had been dead for years. And she’d complained about Angel.
As Buffy rounded the corner of an unusually plain and crumbling tomb, her Spidey Sense abruptly kicked in. It was a fairly strong sensation, which either meant one powerful vamp, or a number of weaker ones. Slayer vamp-sensing powers – including hers, which had taken a while to develop properly – weren’t precision detectors, not to that extent. She simply had an indication of a vampiric presence and, by moving, could usually figure out the general direction. Whatever the direction, however, Slayer Sense also only functioned fairly close to the target.
Drawing Mister Pointy, Buffy dutifully followed her early warning system around the corner of the mausoleum. A bit of standard Slaying would be a nice change of pace, she decided. Until a few days before, the Scoobies’ main concern had been the Mayor and his Ascension. Vampires were much easier for her to deal with.
There were four of the undead, one just clambering out of a fresh grave. With the help of the Scoobies, Buffy generally tried to keep track of likely risings, but she’d been too busy of late. Not that it mattered. One newly-risen vamp was much the same as another, Buffy reflected, as she began to stalk her prey. Four vamps definitely meant that a stealthy approach, rather than a full frontal assault, was the best option.
So far unnoticed, the Slayer moved into cover behind a particularly large and ornate memorial, topped with an angel statue, only a few feet away from the vampires. She’d judged the slight evening breeze perfectly – downwind of the vamps, they couldn’t even smell her. A loud conversation, interspersed with laughter and centred on their blood-draining plans for the evening, probably meant that they wouldn’t hear her approach, either.
“I want something young – early teens. Maybe have a little fun before I drain her. Might even turn her – make a little pet for myself,” the nearest vampire declared to his companions, as they wandered away.
Buffy swiftly stepped out from cover and promptly staked him from behind.
“Now that’s just so wrong… Not just a vampire, but a pervert,” she declared, as the vampire exploded into dust.
“Slayer!” the next vampire whirled around to face her, eyes flashing yellow as it moved into a fighting stance.
“Nice to be recognised,” Buffy noted, punching the creature in the face, kicking its legs from under it, then following up with the stake.
Odds of four – now two - to one meant there was no time to play around and the last pair were already on top of the Slayer, a punch to the stomach knocking her backwards, winded. She bounced off a headstone, staggered momentarily, then recovered her equilibrium, just in time to avoid a brutal kick from the smaller and faster of the two vamps. Buffy responded by planting her foot hard between its legs then, as it doubled up in pain and cursing a blue streak, followed up with another kick to the jaw.
“You’ll take a long time to die for that, Slayer…” the vampire snarled, its companion also circling for an opening.
Another petite Buffy-sized foot to the face cut it off in mid-sentence. “Gonna talk me to death? ‘Cause heard this one before.”
Mister Pointy plunged home an instant later, leaving only one vampire. This one was much larger than the others, well over six-foot tall and built like a footballer. And now rapidly closing on her.
“Summers?” the vampire stopped in its tracks.
“Uh, yeah…” Buffy took up a defensive stance.
“Billy Carroll. Quarterback for the Sunnydale Razorbacks…” the vampire began.
Buffy processed that in an instant. One of the half-dozen students missing after Graduation, who’d been part of Angel’s team of Jocks during the battle. She hadn’t known him too well, but he’d always been nice enough to her. At least she knew what had happened to this one. Hopefully those other students still listed as missing had been drained quickly, rather than turned.
“Sorry, Billy…” the Slayer grimaced, then pounced.
Big or not, the fledgling didn’t stand a chance. As the dust settled, Buffy shook her head sadly and sighed. While they’d saved the town and most of her graduating class, the plan – her plan - hadn’t been without its cost. Almost without exception, her classmates had fought bravely and there wasn’t a single name she’d ever forget from that list of killed and missing. Buffy also had an unpleasant feeling that the late Billy Carroll most likely wasn’t the last casualty of the battle she’d have to dust. It was all very well giving others the speech about ‘it’s only a demon wearing a friend’s body’, but that often didn’t help. The quarterback might not have been one of her personal friends, but she’d still known him.
Buffy forcefully reminded herself what Giles had often told her, namely that she couldn’t save everyone, and tried to focus on her surroundings. After all, the next one might not be anywhere as easy as these fledglings. Sunnydale Bus Station, Sunnydale, California – 1st June 1999
Home sweet home, Tucker Wells thought sardonically, as he stepped off the Greyhound. He was a man with a mission and nothing was going to come between him and the object of his revenge. That little blonde bitch had run him out of town, like the bad guy in some dumb Western movie. Humiliated him, killed his pets and destroyed his cleverly-wrought plans for revenge. Hellhounds instead of a semi-automatic rifle, it would have been the perfect mass murder, with the same outcome. And given how things worked in this town, the joke that was Sunnydale PD would blame the whole thing on a wild dog attack.
Now Tucker Wells was back in town, Buffy Summers was going to pay. Too bad that she hadn’t had the stones just to kill him, because now she’d never get another chance. He’d have to watch his ass, of course – it hadn’t taken too much research to figure out what she was – but Slayers were still human and could be killed, even if it required careful planning. Besides, Hellhounds weren’t the only thing he could raise, given the correct rituals and spell ingredients. And Wells was pretty sure that the demon he planned to summon would rip off her pretty little head and crap down her neck.
Now he needed a place to stay. Returning home wasn’t really an option. Wells couldn’t handle another round of lectures from parents, about how he needed to find a job and stop wasting his life. In addition, there was his little brother, Andrew. The kid might be showing some promise in demonology, but the constant movie references were practically unbearable after any length of time. Andrew just didn’t seem to recognise where his precious fantasy and sci-fi ended and real life began, and that older kid he’d started hanging with wasn’t helping matters. Maybe it was time to have a word with Warren Mears…
Wells shook his head. Making sure Andrew didn’t sink any further into the depths of nerddom was a job for his parents. Revenge, pure and simple, had to be his first and only concern, at least until Buffy Summers was six feet under.