~~~Chapter 5: Politicking~~~
Maeve’s house and grounds were immaculate. Cordy trailed along behind Rhys and Nicca, Sage perched on her shoulder. They wove their way through a thicket of hibiscus plants around a low stone wall to the pool side. It was spectacular. Maeve had obviously paid her architect well because the pool was like something out of a fairy tale. Then again, everything around here seemed to be fairy tale-tinged.
Rhys turned to regard her with his good eye. “You know, this is the first time we’ve had people here that weren’t approved by Maeve ahead of time. Merry went to talk with her while you napped, and she says it’s fine, but you’ll probably have to go and pay homage one of these days.”
What a peculiar turn of phrase, Cordy thought, but out loud she said, “Oh? Why is that?”
Sage tugged his hands through her hair to get her attention. “Because she was the goddess of springtime, and she’ll never let us forget it.”
Nicca stopped to glare at Sage and shook his head. “Many of us are less than we were, but Maeve has found it hard to adjust. Perhaps that is why she ended up in Hollywood,” he mused.
“Why is that?” Cordy shivered as Sage snuggled up closer to her neck, his tiny wings feathering against her skin.
“All the fey have been diminished- it is part of the deal we made to live among the humans. We’ve given up much to live in their world, but it’s better than fading away completely or being hunted out of existence,” Rhys said. He brushed a branch out of his way as he turned left to follow a ten foot stone wall.
Sage whispered softly, “But now some of them are getting things back.”
Cordy almost asked him what he meant, but the closed look on Rhys’ face made her think better of it. These fey were obviously undergoing something profoundly life-altering, not the least because the Powers had intervened to send her there. If they’d had to give things up before, what could possibly cause them to regain lost abilities?
The afternoon was cooling down, an ocean breeze blowing in from the coast. She wondered where exactly she was, or even if there would be enough common frames of reference to know. It looked like L.A., even down to the smog tinged sunset and dry grass outside the watered area. But it felt different, a peculiar artificiality that made her want to run her hands through lush grass and smell wildflowers fresh from the fields.
She followed Nicca and Rhys along a well-worn path beside the wall. It was obvious that the guards took patrolling seriously, leaving no area uninvestigated. This was a good thing, Cordy thought, though she wasn’t sure she wanted to be on ‘crawl through the bushes’ detail forever. When they reached a small clearing set with a few benches, Rhys stopped and motioned her to sit down.
She did so, shaking her hair back. Sage gave a startled cry and Cordelia cringed. “I’m sorry! I just…well, I’ve never had a demi-fey around before. I forgot…I just…” She trailed off when Nicca sat next to her.
He smoothed the wrinkles out of his pants and said, “No one lets them sit on their shoulders. No sidhe anyway. You would be well entitled to make him leave.”
Behind her ear, Sage hissed, little body trembling on her shoulder. “She shows me courtesy and all you want is for her to get rid of me.”
Cordelia raised her hand to stop any argument. “Let’s just say I don’t know the rules. I don’t give a rat’s ass whether you think butterfly-boy should sit on my shoulder or not: it should be my decision. Honestly, I don’t know what you have against him. If I decide he’s a menace I’ll swat him- otherwise, let him be.”
Both Nicca and Rhys frowned at this, but Sage laughed. “She is a fiery one, isn’t she? Well, boys, looks like you’re outvoted.” He began humming to himself and ran hand down the outside of Cordelia’s ear. It was a disconcerting feeling, but not a bad one.
“Princess, you don’t know what the demi-fey can do. Before we came to Los Angeles, a flock of them wounded Galen badly- very nearly permanently. They’re vicious creatures.” The darker sidhe scowled as he spoke, lines marring the perfection of his features.
Cordelia wondered if being gorgeous was sort of a fey prerequisite. Not that she felt ugly or anything, but the competition here was fierce. Dragging her mind back to the issue at hand- and perched on her shoulder- she said, “How could they wound Galen? Isn’t he…you know, bigger than they are?”
Sage started laughing, but it was Rhys who responded. He pulled a knife from his belt and ran a forefinger down the edge. “They look pretty, Cordy, but they feast on blood and flesh. Those tiny mouths are wicked and can reduce a man to ruin in mere minutes, if he is unable to fight back.” He turned a serious blue eye her way. “Galen was being punished so he could not defend himself. They swarmed over him like locusts, like the insects they are.”
“If I’m so insignificant, why am I here? The Queen would be nothing without my Niceven, and Merry is not so stupid to overlook our skills,” Sage hissed.
Shivering a bit at the open hostility swirling through the air- almost tangible, she realized- Cordy raised a hand. “Wait, you said blood and flesh? You’re a blood drinker?”
Sage flitted from his perch on her shoulder, flying around to face her directly. “The blood of the sidhe is delicious indeed, full of power and life. It doesn’t have to hurt, little princess. I could make it feel wonderful, just a touch of glamour, and you’d be crying out my name in gratitude-and other things.”
His little face was hungry, bright black eyes shining in the dusk. For a moment Cordy thought she could see his true face, like Angel’s game face, burning through the thin skin. He looked like a wild thing, something from a nightmare, but she couldn’t find it in her to be afraid. Whatever he was, he could not compete with the horrors in her head.
She wondered what her life would be like here, forever deciphering old rules and new cruelties. What she would become, this version of the Queen C, and how she would cope? There was a freedom to it all, to reinvent, to be reborn, but she would have to make her own way. If the Powers wanted someone to play by the old rules, they wouldn’t have recruited her now would they?
“You know guys, I appreciate the concern. But one of my closest friends is a blood drinker, remember? Vampires aren’t exactly known for their dainty eating habits. Besides, I’ve gone down that road before, and while it was profoundly gross, at the time I don’t remember thinking it was so bad.” Wishing she hadn’t recalled that particular memory of demon pregnancy and horrid cravings, she gave Sage a gimlet eye. “But just because I’m cool with the iron-rich diet doesn’t mean I want to play donor any time soon, and certainly not without permission.”
Sage fluttered forward, laying a hand on her cheek; his wings beat a staccato rhythm on her eyelashes causing her to blink. “You say that now, but ask Merry what it can be like sometime- you may just change your mind.” Something in his gaze made her breath hitch, just a tiny flutter in time with the beating of his wings, a twinge of carnal curiosity that she quickly squashed.
“I doubt it,” Rhys ground out, his voice full of distain. He ignored Cordy’s faint blush. “I’m sure Cordelia will find that conversation with Merry enlightening, and not at all to your advantage.”
“So you say,” Sage muttered, resuming his place by her ear.
Cordy looked the small clearing, very ready to change the subject. “So what’s with the stopping point? Is there some significance to this little slice of bucolic glory?”
Nicca gestured to a low stone structure, just hidden by low hanging foliage. “You heard about the Lord and Lady earlier? This is one of the altars to them here on the property. The sidhe- all fey, really- have a close relationship with nature. It’s hard to find true wilderness in a city filled with iron and asphalt like Los Angeles, so Maeve built a shrine in as secluded a place as she could find on her property.”
Cordy could just make out the granite step with a bowl and some dried flowers laid atop it. She stood and walked closer, trying with those new found senses to feel the area. She still felt restless and incomplete, but there was a sense of peace here, a bit of tranquility in an overwhelming time.
“It’s lovely here. I guess I didn’t notice it before, but I’m kind of…itchy. Like my skin is on too tight. Do the rest of you feel that?”
“Most of us. Meredith has it easier since she’s part human and brownie- they aren’t as affected by the metal and modern progress as we are. We’re an old race, and we flourished long before humans and their obsession with technology. They would be rare sidhe indeed that could survive in a city like this one for long without renewing themselves.” Rhys sounded sad, as if it cost him something to live here with his spun-ruby princess.
After a moment of silence, the guards readied themselves to move on, Cordelia tromping along between them. They talked as they walked, the bird calls of the late afternoon surrounding them. They moved briskly; Nicca seemed very concerned that she wouldn’t get a chance to meet with Jeremy Gray before sunset. Maeve’s estate was larger than Cordelia had first imagined, but well cared for. Eventually they returned to the guest house, skirting along beside a cabana and gazebo complex. The lights were on and music sounded from a series of inset speakers throughout the building.
Cordy followed her escorts back to the sitting room she’d first arrived in, taking note of the newcomer. The rest of the gang was all there, and the way Rhys glanced at the corner of the room near the potted fichus indicated that Dennis was present as well. A small, neat, grey man sat on a settee. And he really was grey, skin hair and clothing, except for an elegant pink tie. He looked at her with mild curiosity when she entered, and stood, bowing slightly.
“Jeremy Gray at your service.”
Blushing slightly at his look of obvious appreciation, and hoping she didn’t have too many leaves in her hair, Cordy smiled. “Cordelia Chase. It’s lovely to meet you.”
Meredith waved Cordy to sit from her push me-pull me position between Galen and Frost on the couch. Cordy wondered if they would always sit like that. Eventually she’d want to scream- get over it!- or some such. Sliding into the plush upholstery Cordy squashed the urge with difficulty. Less than twelve hours around here and she already wanted to sort out their problems.
“So Meredith says you’re interested in working for us? I hear you’ve had some experience with supernatural investigations in the past?” Even his speech was neat and precise. Cordy was impressed.
She took a deep breath and began to spin her story. “I did. I did some work for a private firm that doesn’t advertise up in the Bay area. You’ve probably never heard of it, but we did good work: some of it security but mostly investigations for wealthy human clients when they didn’t want their business publicly known.”
“So, discretion then? That’s good. We do some security detail, though I doubt that’s where you would be utilized, despite Doyle’s assurances that you’d fare well. We’re not usually comfortable placing humans as bodyguards- and that’s not what our patrons pay for.”
Behind him, Meredith winked. Evidently their rather hastily constructed ruse was working. While she patrolled with Rhys and Nicca earlier, they told her the track Meredith wanted to take with Jeremy. Meredith would fill her former employer in on a basic new back-story then Cordy would appear in her ‘human’ face. They’d see if Jeremy could pick up on her true nature, and if he couldn’t then that would give her a natural ‘in’ for undercover work. So far, all seemed to be going well.
It was tricky, though, because the fey are not supposed to lie to each other. The problem of Cordelia’s origin was bound to pop up, and Doyle was working on a phrasing that would allow her access to the areas she needed. He told Rhys that he was going to ask a sidhe named Barinthus for advice, and that seemed to settle the situation for the one-eyed former God of Death. Cordelia wasn’t quite so sure, but she’d go with the bare bones account of her history until they heard from this infamous Barinthus.
Showtime. Cordy smiled and said, “No, I can well imagine that. Besides, Rhys seemed to think it wasn’t so much bodyguard duty as eye candy detail. But I think you may be a bit surprised with how well I’d do. I’m not exactly your average…human.”
With that she began to slowly glow. She had been afraid she wouldn’t be able to pull this off effectively, but it seemed her inner thwarted-dramatist was finally getting the chance to show off. The glow started slowly, hands first, spreading up her arms until her torso and face shown with a clear, bright light. She felt a bit ridiculous looking like sunrise incarnate, but the way Jeremy’s mouth dropped open made it worth it.
“I never thought I’d see you speechless, Jeremy,” Meredith chuckled. “It doesn’t look good on you. But despite the dramatic presentation, I feel I owe you an apology. With the boys and me out of commission, I felt I should find a replacement of sorts. I know you have more work than you know what to do with and I hated to leave you in the lurch.”
Jeremy nodded slowly, his eyes still on an increasingly disconcerted Cordelia. His stare was intense, but not erotic. He seemed to be trying to peel back her skin with his gaze, trying to figure out what made her tick. Annoyed, Cordy let the glow fade away to her newly standard slight-but-not-really-there look. Youthful glow, she called it.
“Er, quite.” The grey man dragged his attention back to Merry. “This is…”
“Impossible, I know. But here she is, and she’s more than willing to do a bit of detective work. She’s actually here as part of Meredith’s staff, but we’re happy to part with her for a portion of time to help you out,” Doyle rumbled, crossing his arms across his chest.
While Cordy hadn’t been thrilled about that aspect of their little plan, Meredith thought that giving Cordelia an official position with her ‘court’ here in LA would raise fewer eyebrows. The Sunnydale refugee wasn’t all that sure public relations was her forte, but she was happy to give it a go. It seemed that any royal sidhe of note had a publicist. Who knew?
“I think I could find a few uses for you immediately, if you’re interested, Cordelia. I’m not sure how familiar you are with Los Angeles, but I have some people that would work with you to begin with. In fact, if you’re free tomorrow, I would be interested on briefing you on a case dealing with a possible possession. It’s messy, but I’m not convinced it’s real.” He smiled encouragingly, “It would be an honor.”
Grinning, Cordy responded, “That would be fantastic! Possessions were a specialty of mine back with Angel Investigations.” Across the room, she could see the fichus wobble dangerously. Apparently Dennis had quite a bit to say about that claim. Cordy hoped he’d wait until Jeremy was gone.
“It’s all settled then. Have one of the guards drop you off at nine and we’ll get the paperwork started. Have a lovely evening, Meredith, Cordelia.” The small man nodded to the guards and followed Nicca back to the front door.
Cordy let out a huge sigh. “That went well, I guess.”
“I thought so. Jeremy’s a good man to work for- or should I say trow,” Meredith mused.
“Is that why he’s rather spectacularly mono-chrome? Another fey type?”
“There are many types of fey, Princess,” Doyle added, relaxing his stance a bit. “Maybe we should find you a book on them all. If you are supposed to be a native of this land, then we can’t have you making elementary mistakes and misunderstandings. It would incontrovertibly undermine our efforts.”
Softly groaning, Cordy held her hand up for Sage to hop from her shoulder to her palm. “So now there’s homework. Sometimes I wish I’d gone to college- not that I minded the starving actress routine, really- but it was more for the partying and less for the studying.”
The demi-fey gave her fingers a caress and fluttered his wings flirtatiously. He felt strangely heavy against her hand, like he weighed more than he should.
“Are there many different types of fey?” she wondered.
Sage chirped, “Many indeed. And we’re all complicated and difficult in our own way. And just wait until you read the rules.”
“There are rules?”
“Sage is being a bit…literal. The fey exist within a very structured society- and those informal rules are there for a very good reason,” Meredith said.
Rhys chimed in, “Mostly to keep us from killing each other. Blood really is a currency here, whether it’s consumed or spilled. The treaties are complex but necessary. The last war of note was a few centuries ago, though.”
Cordy crossed her unoccupied arm across her waist. She scanned the faces around her and realized something interesting. Most of the sidhe regarded her with a sense of trepidation. While she had done nothing overtly hostile, she was still an unknown. Even Doyle, who knew her far better than the others- which still wasn’t saying much- looked nervous.
And then she understood why: they were afraid she’d leave. That she’d decide this adventure wasn’t worth the bother and take her divinely-sanctioned, completely untested powers and go away. It was reassuring that they were as unsure of this arrangement as she was, and were probably just as afraid for the future. Their lives were wrapped up in their princess, and she was going to alter their future, for good or for ill.
Cordelia decided if she were them she’d be rather nervous too.
She managed a smile, even if it was a few watts dimmer than usual. “Things will work out fine. Yay Team Optimism, right?”
Sage flitted from her palm and she dropped her hand. The yellow haired demi-fey gave her a look she couldn’t decipher and flew off to perch on Dennis’ expressive fichus. Some of the guards smiled back at her, and Meredith looked hopeful.
Cordelia took a breath and decided to just get on with her new life. Brooding was for vampires, after all. She rubbed her hands together. “Might as well get started then, right? How about I get a primer over dinner? It smells divine.”
~~~End Chapter 5~~~