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St. Theresa's Nail Polish Shrine
by Jennifer-Oksana (
rating: PG-13
spoilers: S2 Angel
summary: Wesley and Cordelia have a talk.
archive: list archives, others ask.
disclaimer: Whedon, Greenwalt, Minear, Mutant Enemy, WB, FOX have big fat honking rights to these characters, and I don't.

Cordelia doesn't wear nail polish any more. I can't remember when she stopped--no, actually, that's not true. I remember exactly when she stopped painting her nails. It was after she was betrayed by that repellent Harmony-creature. I remember watching Cordy's toenails, painted a precious, slick shade of lavender, crack and fade and chip into bare unvarnished nail. She's never bothered to paint them since.

I suppose there are reasons. Harmony was, in Cordy's memory, part of her beautiful, glamorous, half-fictional youth. With Harmony's betrayal, the memories must seem somewhat poisoned now, less attractive, less likely to be called upon in times of need.

Or maybe she just doesn't have time anymore.

I think about this, because tonight, standing here, I know I'm going to hurt Cordy a little bit more. And Cordy doesn't deserve it, but there's not much else I can do.

"I've never understood how you can do that and still come up with a clean room," I say, watching her take piles of clothes, books, and other ephemera off the floor and stack them with great gusto on her bed. "It seems like a waste of time to me."

"Well, I can't clean with crap on the floor," Cordy replies, clearing off her dresser vigorously. Cordy's dresser is covered in bottles and candles and small trinkets that resolve themselves into a shrine of sorts. "It does something to my head and I get stuck staring at a mess if it's laying on the floor."

I notice that the candles Cordelia uses are not the typical shapely, aroma-enhanced candles that are so popular with girls her age. Instead, they're round pillars, made of cheap, soft wax. On closer inspection, I notice that more than one of them are saints' candles--gaudy, tacky things that I never would have pictured Cordy owning.

"So what movie are we going to see?" she asks, pausing at the dresser. It's then I realize that there are a good two dozen bottles of nail polish in various bright colors staring me right in the face. "I don't really want to see much that's out, and I'm just not in the mood for that Nicole Kidman movie tonight."

She starts arranging the nail polish bottles, staring out at the space in front of her with determination. I watch as one bottle after another are set into neat, precise rows. The pale purple bottle is missing. After a moment, I realize I'm staring at her and go back to looking at her bed.

"I suppose Hedwig is right out, too," I say.

"Go find someone else to watch that one with, Wes," she says, finishing her methodical arranging and going back to the bed. "So not in the mood for rock opera. How about--oh, hell, I don't know."

While she thinks aloud, I pick up the closet candle and start reading the prayer on the back. They're in Spanish and English, the cheap blue paint already chipping off.

Why does Cordelia own a St. Theresa candle? I don't believe she's even Catholic, let alone religious. But then, there are parts of Cordy I don't know at all.

"Do you have any movie ideas at all?" she asks, standing over me with her hands neatly placed on her hips. I look up at her, holding the candle delicately. Then I look down at St. Theresa again, carrying her roses and crucifix with no expression whatsoever. "Wes?"

Bendita Santa Teresita, protectora y abogadamia--

"Cordelia, I'm sleeping with Gunn."

I look at her again. She's wearing St. Theresa's expression, blank and mild.

"That's not a movie I'd heard of," she says. "Is it any good?"

"Cordy--" I say. "I don't know what to say. I thought you should know. I didn't want you to find out months later in some horribly awkward way."

She smiles now, but there's this weird bitterness in the smile, something that makes all the words I'm trying to say fade into silence.

"No, that's cool of you," she says. "I'm just trying to, like, picture this in my head. You and Gunn, you're like, an item? Let me guess, you're not making a big thing about it or anything, right?"

"Well--yes," I say. "We didn't mean for this to happen, Cordy."

"Well, yeah, considering that you're both pretty straight from everything I knew," Cordy says. "What happened?"

"First of all, if we have to use labels, I was always sort of bisexual," I say uncomfortably. "The bleached blond, for example, was not a woman."

Cordelia's face pales. "I didn't know that," she says matter-of-factly. "But Gunn?"

"He's not so much into labels, either," I say. "But yes, you're not wrong about him being 'pretty straight,' as you so tactfully put it. I don't think either of us realized that we were falling for each other until--"

"Until what?"

"It was right after we came back from Pylea," I admit. "We went out to play pool and have a couple of pints, when he rather--"

The memory still brings a smile to my face. There's something about breaking a kiss and realizing that this is your comrade in arms who just stuck his tongue down your throat--and something else about realizing that you don't care.

"I get the picture," she says dryly. "Does anyone else know?"

"No, Angel doesn't know," I answer. "I--we--thought it best to tell you first. Because we want our friends to know, but--"

"But what?" Cordy asks. "Who do you think's going to freak out? Angel's three hundred years old, or whatever. He's seen guys kiss before. Hell, he's probably kissed guys before. And it's not like Fred knew Virginia or anything--"

She eyes me knowingly.

"Wes, did you guys think I'd freak out?"

I look down at the damned candle again. It doesn't know what I should say, either.

"I wasn't sure what you'd think," I admit to the floor. "After all, this is a strange enough situation for us, let alone our friends--"

"No fucking kidding," she says bluntly, reaching down and taking the candle away from me. "You and Gunn? Really?"

"Yes, really," I say, looking up at her again. She has the candle cradled in her arms, like a doll or something precious and fragile. "I had planned to be a little less blunt telling you."

"I should have seen it," she replies. "You guys are all buddy-buddy and fighting hip-to-shoulder and all that. I--"

Cordy realizes that she's cradling a candle and very quickly sets it down next to the rows of nail polish, creating a bizarre image of the tiny, ridiculous bottles worshipping the cheap, pathetic candle.

"Cordy, why do you have that thing?" I ask, unable to stem my own curiosity.

"What, St. Theresa?" she asks.

"Yes. I didn't know you were Catholic," I say. "Are you?"

"No," she says. "I just like them. I found St. Theresa one day when I was in this religious supplies store, buying holy water and stuff. There was this whole wall of candles, staring at me. I thought they were really cheap and sad and tacky, but I just kept looking at them. There were so many of them and they were all staring at me from the same glass cylinder."

Her expression is distant and quiet. I realize she's almost forgotten that I'm in the room.

"So why her?" I ask.

Cordelia jumps.

"I like her roses," she says slowly. "And when I asked the lady at the counter, she said that St. Theresa was the Little Flower. I liked that. I kinda felt for her, so I brought her home."

"And all the others?" I ask.

"Same kind of thing," she says. "You're changing the subject."

"I wanted to know about the candles," I say, knowing that she's right. "They're a part of you I didn't know about."

Cordelia nods, a small, tolerant smile crossing her face.

"Apparently there are many, many parts of you I don't know anything about either," she says tartly. "So--do you love him? Does he love you?"

I feel a strange, embarrassed emotion in the pit of my stomach, but I tell the truth anyway.

"I think so," I say, the smile coming to my lips of its own accord. "I really think so."

She shakes her head. "The world is a fucking weird place, Wes," she says, sitting down on the floor and crossing her legs Indian-style. "I don't think we should go to the movies tonight."

"There's nothing good out anyway," I say. "I'll order us something to eat. How does Chinese sound?"

"Sounds good to me," Cordy replies. "Angel is going to be so confused when you tell him, unless he can smell the love on you."

My eyes widen. "Cordelia!"

"Just saying," she says. "You know, I'm starting to hope there are saints, you know? Or something out there that can hear us calling for help against all the beasts and demons. It's--comforting, you know?"

It's the little things that keep us safe, that keep us sane. This is what Cordelia's telling me. Nail polish and saint candles and kisses after long, rambunctious games of pool are the key to happiness.

"Yes, I do," I say, sitting down on the floor next to her. "Cordelia, why don't you paint your toenails anymore?"

She tells me, but only after lo mein and giant styrofoam containers of iced tea. The reason has nothing to do with Harmony or time, and by the time the story's over, I'm picking out a shade of nail polish for her to paint my toes with.

"Gunn's going to be weirded," Cordy says, a smile crossing her face. "But hey."

"Exactly," I say, smiling back. She laughs and everything in our world is promptly resolved for now.

So then we talk about nothing (nothing being everything) under St. Theresa's empty face, surrounded by the trinkets of everyday life and breathing in the heady smell of nail polish fumes and lo mein.

The End

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