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Chapter 6: Knowledge of Weird

Brown leather encased Buffy’s cocked ankle as she thrust her leg out, in front of her seated form and looked over the boot currently covering her from rounded toe to mid-calf. Her lips twisted, bottom lip tucking between her teeth before she stood and took a few hesitant steps in the three inch heels. Her hips slipped into a familiar roll as she walked down one of the narrow halls created by the racks upon racks of shoes before she spun, easily, on the heel and made her way back toward her bags.

With a smile she unzipped the sides of each boot, which were a definite necessity, and placed them in the box, arranging the tissue paper around them before replacing the lid. A familiar rumbling voice had her straightening, eyes widening as a tall teenager entered the store wearing a Sunnydale High letterman jacket. Buffy ducked her head, flipping the hoodie of Faith’s sweater up to cover her hair and face and shifted the bag filled with several new pairs of jeans onto the seat beside her.

Her next breath lodged in her throat as she waited, listening to the guy, apparently named Percy, according to the register clerk’s greeting, make small talk before heading back towards the wall of sneakers. Buffy exhaled slow and steady before tugging on Willow’s Doc Martins and snatching up her bags and soon to be purchases. She twisted her body to keep an eye on the far wall while paying and ignored the clerk’s curious stare as she handed over Dormer’s credit card.

Buffy’s smile of thanks was forced as she accepted the large bag to add to her collection and made her way out of the Sketchers store without incident. She made it three clothing and one jewelry store down before a voice called her name and she tensed, tightened her grip on the bags incase she needed to dip out quick before turning around. Green eyes widened and then narrowed when she saw Cordelia making her way leisurely towards her holding an oversized Macy’s bag.

Resisting the urge to remind Cordelia that shouting her name when she was supposed to be dead probably wasn’t the wisest, or sanest, thing to do and instead she waited till they were side by side before stating, “I thought off the rack gave you hives.”

Hazel eyes blinked, a line appearing between perfectly arched brows as Cordelia paused in her easy stride and shot Buffy a dirty look. “It does.”

The taller girl was already off and moving toward the escalator, leaving Buffy to stare at the vacant space beside her before shaking her head and following. Her arms tensed, lifting to ensure the bags didn’t drag as she stepped on the black stairs moving down and frowned at the high ponytail holding Cordelia’s dark hair back. She took a few steps down, putting herself closer to the brunette before prompting, “So what’s the what?”

“What?” Cordelia turned, glanced back and up at Buffy who looked pointedly at the bag and she gave a graceful shrug. “Oh, this? It’s for you.”

White sneakers hopped the ledge swallowing the flattened stairs and lead Cordelia away from the escalator. Buffy winced and swore, nearly missing her own moment to step and stumbled forward, past Cordelia who snorted, “Graceful, super chick,” and slipped past her, heading for the food court with the declaration, “I want mochas.”

A sigh dropped Buffy’s shoulders and she paused a moment, adjusting her grip on the bags before following the powder blue dress through the throng of people. Her stride slowed when she saw Cordelia slip into the line at the Starbucks kiosk and she rolled her shoulders, releasing some of the tension after the near brush with someone who could recognize her and would more then likely scream about it.

She glared at Cordelia’s ponytail a moment longer before stepping forward and into line behind her. “Hey.”

She turned, glanced down at her and Buffy resisted the urge to adjust her hair and instead met Cordelia’s critical stare with blank expression. “What’s with the popped hood? It’s less incognito and more look at freak-little-me.”

Her eyes closed and Buffy counted to three before opening them and fixing Cordelia with a glare, but a hand released the bag holding her new boots and shoved the hoodie back and off. “Almost ran into someone who might’ve known me.”

A brow arched. “Please, anyone who would have recognized you is already in the know about your return to the land of the living.”

“Thanks for that,” her tone was dry and Cordelia’s brows tugged together, but before she could comment she was next and Buffy was glancing around the food court. She followed Cordelia to the pickup area and was quiet a moment longer before prompting, “So what’s in the bag?”

Cordelia turned, gave the counter her back before lifting the khaki-colored bag by the hanger at the top and snagged the knot at the bottom. Her manicured nails worked it over a moment before untying and lifting the bag up to reveal a fitted thigh-length leather coat. The coat Buffy had been eying, but had been leaps and bounds out of the budget Dormer had set for her.

“Cordy, I don’t know what to say…” she trailed off and looked up at the other girl who shrugged away her startled look.

“How ‘bout thank you?” Her brows arched high as she adjusted the bag back over the coat and turned to accept two frozen mochas before turning back to Buffy. “’Sides this was one of the few things you looked at that wasn’t completely heinous.”

“Thank you.”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed with the sarcasm laced gratitude, but instead of commenting she simply turned toward the tables and began to cut her way through the crowd. Buffy watched her go and ducked her head to cover the smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth. The smile turned grateful when she noticed Cordelia took a table nearby and placed the mochas in front of two seats across from each other before draping the coat over one of the free chairs. Buffy sank down into a seat with a mocha and let the bags fall to rest around the table’s center leg.

Cordelia settled herself across from Buffy and fixed her with a curious look. “Did you get those scarves I showed you?” Off her nodded she smiled, “Good, purple looks decent on you and the teal,” she paused, “well, just wear the teal with the coat and it’ll look okay.”

Buffy shook her head and lifted the mocha, taking a quick sip before setting it back down and stating, “Thank you, for the coat and taking me out today.”

“No big.”

Her head cocked. “Does everyone say that now?”

“What?” Cordelia sent her a confused look before shaking her head. “Whatever. So are we Bronze’ing it tonight?”

Buffy blinked, frowned. “Well, since I shouldn’t go anywhere I could be noticed I’m gonna go with no.”

“Bummer,” she paused, glanced from side to side before leaning forward and whispering, “Are you sure someone would notice you?”

“If they did I’d be sure to tell them about the time you changed in a mop-closet.”

Cordelia jerked back, eyes wide. “You wouldn’t.”

“Try me.” Hazel eyes narrowed and Cordelia sat back, snagging her mocha and sipping it as she studied Buffy and tried to decipher fact from freak.

Buffy rolled her eyes and brought her own mocha up to take a sip and glanced around the food court, tracking the movements of the teenagers and families surrounding them. Her teeth clenched around her straw as a shiver traced its way down her spine and her next breath expelled outward as a cloud of vapor. Buffy lowered her drink and looked across the table at Cordelia who shivered and sat forward. “What’s going on?”

“Hey, Summers.”

Her hand clenched around the mocha and Buffy’s next breath shuddered outward, the cold intensifying as she turned her gaze to the side and it traveled up a pair of black slacks, over a monochrome stripped shirt and up further to traced a strong jaw before settling on a pair of familiar brown eyes set beneath low lying brows. Buffy swallowed painfully past the lump in her throat and whispered, “Ford.”

She pushed slowly to her feet and those angry brown eyes followed her movements as his mouth twisted into a smirk. “You do remember me. Good. I admit I was a little nervous.” His image shuddered, snapped in and out of focus. “It wouldn’t be as much fun if you didn’t remember.”

“Ford, I’m sorry.” Buffy motioned Cordelia back and the brunette rose, slipping away from the table with one last concerned look sent toward her.

“I know you are.” Ford’s image flashed, disappeared and Buffy flinched, drawing herself up straighter. “You should be.” His quietly whispered words had her spinning even as his cold fingers wrapped around the base of her neck and brought her downward, into the table and it toppled, spilling her forward and onto her side.

“Buffy!”

She scrambled to her feet, placing herself in front of Cordelia who stumbled back a step and glanced around as Ford lifted the table and tossed it away from them with a flick of his wrist. “You saved everyone that night, but me, Buffy. Everyone!”

His angry accusation had her backpedaling and Buffy ignored the startled looks and the cries of the crowd surrounding them. Instead she shouted to Cordelia, “Salt shaker!”

“What?”

Buffy turned her head, took her focus off Ford for a moment to growl, “Salt shaker, now!”

“Okay, okay.”

She ignored Cordelia’s mutterings about people yelling at her when she wasn’t deaf and instead focused on Ford as he dissipated. “Dammit,” her muttered swear was accompanied by an explosion of misted breath and she ducked, barely dodging his next swing and spun away from him. “Ford, listen to me. This isn’t you.”

Ford’s head cocked, brows rising. “Is that right?” He was suddenly in front of Buffy, invading her space, cold fingers wrapping around her biceps as he dragged her forward and whispered, “You left me there to die.”

She caught movement out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia making her way back to them and her jaw thrust forward, nostrils flaring as she ground out, “You were already dieing.”

Brown eyes widened, anger darkening into uncompromising rage and his forehead snapped down into Buffy’s and she dropped back. Wrenching herself free of his grip and caught the glass, thankfully, shaker Cordelia tossed her. She met Ford’s glare with tired eyes and whispered, “I really am sorry,” before lobbing the shaker at the tile floor directly beneath him. It shattered, spraying the air and Ford, who cried out and dissolved into black smoke.

Buffy pushed herself back onto her feet and began to gather her bags, ignoring the shocked crowd. She caught Cordelia’s confused frown as she asked, “Why is it whenever I go somewhere with you, it always ends in violence and terror?”

“Just lucky, I guess.”

With a snort of either humor or annoyance Cordelia bent and helped her finish collecting her purchases before they both moved with a hurried stride out of the food court. Buffy paused only long enough to grab another salt shaker and smiled when Cordelia followed her example. It wasn’t until they were in the parking lot and Buffy was scanning it for restless spirits did Cordelia speak.

“What’s up with your new and improved knowledge of weird?” She hesitated, searching her purse for her keys as she jogged toward her car. “Wait, if it involves your vacation in hell I don’t want to know.” They reached the car and she slid behind the wheel as Buffy tossed her bags into the trunk and made her way to the passenger side without incident and got in.

Cordelia glanced at before putting the car in drive. “Well?”

Buffy tugged on her seatbelt as Cordelia cut the turn out of the parking lot a little too quickly before she replied, “Knowledge of weird obtained in hell.”

“Never mind then.” Buffy glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, smirking before she was forced to palm slap the dashboard as Cordelia finally noticed a stop sign.

~*~

A sudden jolt locked the seatbelt, snapped Cordelia back and held her immobile a moment as she glared at the back of Dormer’s sedan and wondered why she always parked so close. Her eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, a quick check over the smoothness of her ponytail before she shut off the running engine and waited for the click before pulling the key free of the ignition. Ignoring the fine trembling of her hand was easier when she used it to grab her purse up from the floorboards and ignored the slow opening of Buffy’s eyes—as if a non-driver had room to talk.

Putting shoulder to door and muttering, “C’mon!” she stepped out into the warm afternoon sunlight spilling through the trees that lined Dormer’s property. She straightened and stepped back, slamming the door with a sharp bang that seemed to wake Buffy from her stupor as she began to open the passenger door.

Cordelia frowned as a cold breeze slipped down the back of her dress and spine, spilling goosebumps over the exposed skin on the back of her neck. A frosty mist expelled past her lips and she stiffened, turned slow and precise away from her car and her eyes widened behind oversized sunglasses as a familiar, but über-dead, person took up the space beside her.

“Hey, Cordelia.”

She swallowed, wondered where the hell Slayer-girl was, and kept her hands and purse low as she unzipped it. Her voice catching as she tried to cover the sound. “Jesse. You-you look good,” she frowned, added hastily, “For a dead-guy.”

“Cordelia, still the same.” He shook his head, image shadowing for a moment, becoming transparent before he snapped back into focus just inches away from her. She flinched back as his hand lashed out, palm slapping the car’s hood and her brows dipped when she saw the freaky symbol on the inside of his wrist. He leaned closer, the cold intensifying as he stated, “Still don’t know when to shut your mouth.”

Trembling fingers, whether from the cold or fear Cordelia didn’t entirely know, wrapped around the salt shaker buried in her purse and she shrugged, kept her voice nonchalant as she struggled to remove the metal topper. “Oh please! As if your opinion—”

“Shut up!” He flickered, vanished from sight and she lunged away from the car and spun, saw the same guy from the food court tossing Buffy around—fantastic. She was going to be an utter lack of help.

“Cordelia.”

A light wind ruffled her ponytail, pushed at it as gently as someone’s breath would and she shuddered, teeth chattering as the temperature dropped lower and she dropped her purse. Held the topless salt shaker in one hand and spun, eyes narrowing on the complete nothingness behind her. “Great. Just great.”

There was a crash and she turned, watched Buffy slide down the side of her car and winced. “Watch the paint!” She’d just gotten it fixed after the last run in her car had with the nasties. With a muttered curse she started forward, toward Buffy and her, would have been cute if he hadn’t been dead, attacker and suddenly Jesse blocked her path.

Her head cocked and she used her free hand to flip her sunglasses to the top of her head before offering him a livid snarl of, “Move.”

“You still think you’re in control? You still think you have the power, don’t you?”

A brow rose, left arm tensing as she flicked her hand and the glass shaker. Salt arched outward, raining down on him and his head threw back, a cry of rage cut short as he dissolved into black smoke. Cordelia’s mouth turned up at the corners. “I never lost it. Loser.”

The front door opened behind her and she turned, watched Faith barrel her way out of the house and over the porch toward her. She took a step to the side, directly in Faith’s path to Buffy and her eyes widened, boot heels digging into the soft grass as she struggled not to ploy her over. The brunette Slayer opened her mouth to snap at her and Cordelia thrust the shaker and what was left of the salt at her. “Here, works like a charm.”

Dark brows sloped downward, brown eyes flicking from the shaker to her and over her shoulder to Buffy before she grunted a ‘thanks’ and snatched the glass container from Cordelia’s hand. She didn’t bother to watch Faith save Buffy’s ass, she knew it was inevitable, and instead grabbed her purse on her jog toward the porch steps and up them, past Dormer who stood waving her inside.

She stepped over the threshold and was met by Xander, his mouth set in a grim line and his funny-shaped brows pulled low. Brown eyes rose to meet her gaze and she swallowed the waspish comment about the friends he kept that she’d been about to make and instead moved forward, past him and the pained look thinning his mouth. She glanced around the interior of Dormer and Faith’s well-spaced home, looking for more unfriendly Caspers, as she made her way down the hall leading past the living and dining rooms and toward the training room.

They always had their meetings—or whatever—in the training room. It was the largest room of the house and more then once had acted as base of operations and Cordelia paused when she stumbled across Willow sitting cross-legged on the matted floor, her face tear-stained. Not in any particular mood to deal with that train wreck she ignored the redhead who bowed her head to wipe at her tears and took a spot against the wall. She settled herself, leaning her shoulders back and crossed her arms as she waited for Faith and Buffy to finish up.

The knot in her stomach loosened when the front door slammed followed by Xander’s entrance into the room. He glanced at Cordelia and her chin lifted motioning him towards Willow. He caught the movement and its meaning, moving to the redhead’s side and laid a hand on his best friend’s hunched shoulders.

Dormer swept into and through the high-ceilinged room, heading toward the den and she stated simply, but with conviction. “Follow.” Cordelia’s brows rose with the order, but she pushed herself from the wall and followed the Watcher into the den as Buffy and Faith took up the rear. The two Slayers stayed near the door as Dormer moved toward her desk and turned, faced the room with a frown.

Buffy probed at the bit of blood seeping from the corner of her mouth and winced, shaking her head. “Wouldn’t happen to have any stockpiles of salt handy would you?”

Dormer blinked, frowned and Cordelia glanced back at Buffy as the Watcher responded, “Of course. In the garage.”

Faith nodded and took a step forward, further into the room. “B and I’ll grab the salt while you all sit tight.”

Cordelia frowned and tossed her purse on one of the chairs in front of the desk dominating the room before asking, “How long will we be sitting tight?”

“Till I’ve figured out what exactly is going on.”

Before Cordelia could comment on Dormer’s answer, Buffy called from behind her, “Iron. We need iron.”

“Upstairs there’s a broadsword made of it.” Cordelia turned, arched a brow at Xander’s readily supplied answer and he shrugged. “I think.”

Dormer nodded. “There is and I have a fireset upstairs as well. I doubt the brush or coal turner will be of much help, but the rack and pokers should do.”

Buffy smiled. “Yeah, they will,” she turned to Faith, “Ready?”

“Wait!” The room tensed, turned toward Willow who stiffened, wiping away more of her tears and Cordelia sighed, suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, and moved to take one of the seats beside Dormer. “The satchels we made,” she looked to the Watcher, eyes wide and pleading, “they could use those for protection, couldn’t they?”

The Watcher smiled faintly and shook her head. “Not against unrest spirits. Those were created to ward off demonic influence.”

Willow’s shoulders sagged as she stated stubbornly, “We can’t let them go out there unarmed.”

“Hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but this room isn’t protected till we get that salt.” They turned to Buffy, who raised her brows in response and continued to show off her new knowledge of weird that so didn’t sit right with Cordelia. “The iron bars are a big plus, huge even, but there’s nothing stopping them from coming through the door.”

The loud clap drew the room’s focus back to Faith who rubbed her hands and stated simply, “So let’s motor’vate.”