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Author's Chapter Notes:
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the Series, and Firefly belong to Joss Whedon.
Dedication: Written for Cdybedahl in the femslash_santa exchange.
Spoilers: Both the shows, but not Serenity
Source: The Chinese is written phonetically, taken from the Firefly-Serenity Chinese Pinyinary. I chose to write it phonetically because it is all from Cordelia's POV and all she knows about it is how it sounds.
Cordelia opened her eyes to pure, unbroken blackness.

What, no more white light?

It wasn’t until she blinked and could feel her eyelids move that she realized she wasn’t floating in some higher state, waiting to be processed or for a messenger from the Powers to reassign her.

She was actually, physically awake, and she was shut up in a box. There was no padding and the metal was cold against her bare arms, lower calves, and feet, chilly even through the clothes covering the rest of her body.

Can’t a half-demon oracle get a better burial?

Cordelia rolled her eyes, though no one else was around to appreciate the movement, and she couldn’t really be certain her eyes were actually open for it anyway. They felt open, but the darkness was so unrelieved she could have been staring at the insides of her eyelids for all she knew.

She’d never realized just how strong her other senses could be when one was taken away. She had a fairly good idea how large—or rather, how small—the box—coffin? Container?—was, and only part of it was because she could feel it along both sides of her body and underneath her back. She knew without moving she would hit the lid right away if she lifted her arms; though she couldn’t see, its presence pressed too close.

For a long minute, it was difficult to breathe, the oxygen weak where it filled her lungs, and her chest constricted. She was already supposed to be dead, she didn’t want to suffocate and die again in this unknown place.

Then logic—or something close to it, her version anyway—prevailed and she calmed. Immediately the air became cool and crisp, and she could feel it move along her skin. She was in no danger of oxygen depravation.

Cordelia reached up, and she was right, the top of the crate was less than an inch away from her body. She pushed against it, a half-hearted attempt because she was certain it was locked; it lifted easily, as if it rose on hydraulics, and she was able to move it out of the way and sit up.

Wherever the box she was in was being held was lit by dim lights high overhead. Just like she’d known the container was tight, she knew the ceiling was far away, and the room was much taller than it was wide.

She put her hands on the sides of the crate and used them as leverage to stand. Her body didn’t hurt, didn’t feel as if she’d been dead and now wasn’t, didn’t feel as if it had been shut up in a coffin for days—months—years maybe? She had no way to know.

It moved as fluid as ever—which wasn’t always so elegant—and she spent too many minutes bending and stretching and marveling in the feel of being whole and strong and concrete in her body, not floating in the ether somewhere, looking down on everyone she loved.

It was about then she realized there was a small window in the closest wall.

Cordelia clambered over the edge of the box and headed for it. The floor was metal, too, but not nearly as chilled against her bare feet as the container she’d been in.

There was a light over the window, and it cast just enough of a glow against the glass to provide a decent reflection. She stopped and preened a minute; though, after death, it was probably less preening and more self-exploration, she decided.

Things were mostly the same, eyes and nose and mouth all how she remembered. Her hair was darker and longer than she’d worn it since high school ended, and when she shook her head, the ends swirled back and forth somewhere below the small of her back, but it wasn’t dirty or tangled.

Cordelia leaned closer, sure she’d see something different, something to show everything she’d gone through in her far-too-short, what-have-I-gotten-myself-into life, but as soon as she did, the reflection disappeared—faded rather—and she could see through herself to the outside.

Outside was a great big black nothingness speckled with white stars. It stretched out, as far as she could see even when she tilted her head up or down, left or right. The stars were big, larger than she’d ever seen, and they were everywhere, thick and dangling right outside the glass, and undeniably solid and real.

There was more universe, more space, than she’d ever thought had existed, and it looked like it was all laid out right in front of her.

It took a second for anything to pierce the haze, her attention was focused so completely on the outside—of the ship? Was she on a space ship? Why else would the stars be so close, right there, next-door neighbors in this crazy world of cold metal boxes and waking up from death—but she did recognize the sound of footsteps and then something she thought might have been the safety on a gun, though it wasn’t quite right—could just be the echoes of such a strange room.

“Now where’d you come from, darlin‘?”

The voice was female, breathy, soft, and sweet, but when Cordelia turned to look at her, she found herself staring down the barrel of a serious handgun—not that she could recognize it, she was much more familiar with stakes and crossbows—held by a pretty woman.

She’d be beautiful with a little more make-up, or a little less dangerous-weapon-pointed-at-me. Not quite as lovely as me, but I’m looking damn good for a dead girl.

“Didn’t you hear me?” The woman shook the gun a little, but it never moved more than millimeter from its position pointed directly at Cordelia’s face. “Where’d you come from? How’d you get here anyway?” She scanned the room, her eyes the only part of her body which didn’t fit the sweet and innocent act she was trying to pull off. “What’d you do to my cargo? Are you trying to steal my loot? I stole that first, fair and square.”

Cordelia glanced over at the box, then at the window, and finally looked back at the woman.

She was dreaming. Had to be, dreaming she was alive and flying and talking to a pretty—faux gentle Southern lady space pirate?—woman. It made sense, she’d been many things in life—high school A-list, starving actor, administrative assistant with a side of demon hunting, part-demon with visions, pure higher power—so her death would be full of unnatural things, like dreaming up space ships and metal prisons which weren’t actually locked and—really, with the gun and all, the woman was more like a space cowboy.

Whatever. The important thing was this was a dream, hello, and dream meant no matter what she did she couldn’t get hurt. So while if everything had been real, she might have worried about the gun and the fact she was stuck somewhere she didn’t even know she could be, much less where, instead she was liberated.

The woman stood halfway down a small set of stairs—also metal, did dream-builders know anything else existed?—and Cordelia hadn’t even noticed there was another level overhead, at least over half the room, but it did explain the echoes and the weird lighting. She didn’t back up when Cordelia started up the stairs, and Cordelia was able to come close enough to reach out and touch the gun, if she’d wanted, and then the woman’s arm, and then her face.

“I came from that box, so I think I’m your loot.” Cordelia touched her fingertips to the woman’s skin. “You shouldn’t threaten to shoot something you’ve worked so hard to get.”

“What’s your name?” The woman didn’t lower the gun, and it pressed uncomfortably into Cordelia’s chest when she leaned in even closer, but the lines at the corners of her eyes softened, and she didn’t look quite so fierce.

Cordelia stopped and thought about it for a second; she could be anyone she wanted, she’d been dead and this was a death-dream. She could be any of the people she’d ever known; she could be dangerous, like Faith—and it seemed like dangerous was something the woman would understand—or a little crazy like Fred—and even more likely a little crazy was what the woman actually was—or high-class, ditzy snob like Harmony had been in high school. She could be someone completely new, someone she’d never met, never imagined.

“Cordelia.” Or she could be herself, dead and dreaming and all. “Who are you?”

The woman was prettier when she smiled. “Mallory.”

She was lying, she was too amused at herself to be telling the truth, there was too much laughter in her eyes, but Cordelia didn’t care.

“Do your friends call you Mal?”

The smile shook, just at the corners of her mouth. When it solidified again, there was something cold and dangerous to her, something predatory Cordelia associated with vampires, even the cuddly, teddy bear kind like Angel.

“Suppose they would, if I had many,” she said. She lowered the gun, and stepped down until she was on the same level as Cordelia. “Do you wanna call me Mal?” Her tone was sweet and her touch light and soft when she put her hand on Cordelia’s arm.

“I’m not looking for new friends.” She didn’t say she’d had bad luck with friends and family and children and she’d wake up eventually, or at least properly die and stop dreaming, and making friends just meant it would hurt when she left.

“Me neither,” Mallory kneaded her arm. “Not ‘friends.’”

She leaned forward and kissed Cordelia, her mouth open, lips firm. Her lipstick was thick and sweet, slicked across their mouths.

Cordelia hadn’t kissed hardly anyone over the years in Los Angeles, and she hadn’t kissed very many women at all throughout her life. Involuntarily her hand slid from Mallory’s cheek into her hair. Despite everything, she hadn’t forgotten how to do it, and this was a good one.

The world spun, and at first she thought it was a good thing, just a reaction to the kiss and being touched for the first time in so long. When she pulled back and opened her eyes, darkness ate at the edges of her vision and she started a long, slow fall, down the stairs and into unconsciousness.

I don’t like this dream anymore.

~~*

“What the guay?”

Mallory’s voice was the first thing Cordelia heard when she woke up. Before she opened her eyes, she was afraid she was back in the box, and it was sure to be locked, but instead she was in a chair, hands tied to the arms.

She was turned to face Mallory’s back, and Mallory was bent over something she couldn’t see. A man’s disembodied voice came from whatever it was.

“Sorry, Saffron, but I sent you to get the goods, not some woman. Can’t pay you for what you don’t got.”

“Hoetze duh peegoo!” Mallory—Saffron—whatever the hell her name really was—stabbed something and sat back. Cordelia could see she’d been looking at a screen, but it was already black.

She turned her chair and looked at Cordelia. “Oh good, you’re awake.” Once again her voice was soft and sweet. “Now why don’t you tell me who you are, where you came from, and why you’re in a box marked with Alliance goods.”

“Why would I tell you anything, you knocked—”

“Hoo tsuh!”

“What?”

Mallory jumped up and leaned over Cordelia. “Shut up,” she said, each word precise. “You tell me what I want to know, nothing else. I don’t have time to play this game of yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mallory tilted her head, pursed her lips, and raised her eyebrows, all of which Cordelia took as signs to continue. She considered being contrary, but even dreams were boring if all you did was wait to find out more about them. “I told you, I’m Cordelia Chase—and it’s the truth, not like what you said, Mallory-Saffron-whoever—and I used to live in Sunnydale and then Los Angeles until I died. I helped save the world a lot—not as much as some people I know, but I did my part. And I don’t know who the Alliance is, so how could I know why I was in their box?”

“Wuh de ma, you expect me to believe you’re the only person who doesn’t know the Alliance?” Mallory grinned wider and pinched Cordelia’s cheek, hard enough it ached when she let go. “I told you, I don’t have time for this. What world did you come from?”

Cordelia reassessed the just a little crazy she’d given Mallory earlier. “Earth, of course.”

Mallory snorted. “Yeah, we all go back to the Earth That Was. Where did you come from?”

“I think I’d like to wake up now.”

“Honey, you are awake.” Mallory slapped her across the face. “See?”

“Don’t hit me again.”

“Just trying to help.” She stroked Cordelia’s hair. “And I don’t think you’re in any position to tell me what to do.”

If it was a dream, all she would have to do is think about it, and the ropes would fall away so she could hit Mallory, so she could show her just what happened when you upset a former higher power part demon who was really quite dead.

Cordelia flexed her arms and tested the bonds.

“Don’t be yu bun duh,” Mallory pulled out a gun and tapped it against Cordelia’s forearm. “Even if you get free, you ain’t goin‘ anywhere.”

Cordelia felt the ropes give and smiled up at her, just as kind and gentle as her expressions had been.

Then she jerked both arms free, shoved one hand against the gun, pushed it out of the way, and hit Mallory as hard as she could square in the face. Mallory stumbled backward and collapsed; her nose bled freely and Cordelia leapt on her before she could move.

“Tzao gao!”

“Shut up.” Cordelia grabbed her wrist and smacked it against the floor until she released the gun. “Now it’s your turn. Who’s this Alliance? Where am I? What language do you keep speaking? And who are you really?”

“You caught me out.” Mallory’s smile was as wide and kind as ever. “My real name is Saffron, I’m married to this no good piece of lan dong shi—that means garbage, sweetie—named Mal Reynolds. That’s why I called myself Mallory when I got away from him. He’s a bad man, Cordelia, a thief and a liar, you have to believe me.”

“So far he sounds a lot like you.”

“He’s a killer too, and I just take what I must to get by.”

“You’re skipping the important questions. Language? Alliance? And the major one, where am I and why am I here?”

Mallory—Saffron, Cordelia amended—started to speak, but choked. Cordelia tried to take a deep breath before she started yelling, but she couldn’t. All the oxygen was just gone, suddenly, and she wobbled a little on top of Saffron.

The screen flickered to life and Cordelia turned to look at it. “Hello, Yolanda. I’ve overridden your system and pulled all the oxygen just long enough to make sure you’ll be unconscious when we take you into custody. Your husband wants to have a little talk with you, and this time we’ll make sure you don’t get away with the garbage.”

“Thought you said your name was Saffron,” Cordelia gasped. Her eyelids grew heavy and she blinked, slower each time. “Where will they take us?”

“Jail,” Mallory-Saffron-Yolanda whispered. “Least ’til I break free.”

I’m really getting sick of passing out.

Cordelia fell sideways and landed hard against the chair. She hit her head, but the pain faded fast, and she was unconscious again before she continued to the floor.

When she woke up again, she didn’t remember being Cordelia, or a part demon oracle, or even a higher power. She thought she might have once been called Mallory, and no one would tell her why she was in jail.

End


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