Other girls were smart. Other girls were beautiful. Other girls were athletic. But Cordelia Chase was all three. Or at least she had strived to be for most of her life. Shopping at the Gap and the Limited and keeping Lancome in business. Being head cheerleader.
But then she'd started hanging out with Buffy and her loser friends. Her funny, goofy, world-saving loser friends.
But then her family had lost all their money. And Dad had virtually shoved her out the door, knowing he couldn't handle her expensive tastes *and* Mom's ups and downs with Epstein-Barr.
And here she was. . .one of a million fresh faces in L.A. trying to make it big. Just another smart, beautiful, athletic girl staring into a mirror and looking at her life.
Wondering what the Hell she was doing living above a two-bit detective agency with a sexy, brooding vampire who hated her guts.
Cordelia sighed, rubbing her temples. Was that Xander's voice echoing through the bathroom? Laughing? *"You moved to L.A to take dictation from Dead Boy? Bravo, Cordy."* Or maybe. . . *"I've been checking the porn shelf at the video store, Cor'. Can't wait to see your first big release."*
She closed her eyes, leaned forward against the sink. Letting the chipped porcelain cool her bare midriff. "I have to make it. I *have* to."
But she'd all ready been out here two months. And she hadn't even gotten a commercial. Instead, she'd been chasing demons into warehouses. . . tearing her stockings climbing down fire escapes. . . answering a phone so Angel could go out and save people.
Her hands closed around the rim of the sink, the pink nail polish on her nails just as chipped. He came into the small apartment every morning. . . went into his room, and shut the door. Sometimes she heard sobs coming through the thin wall. Most of the time she heard nothing at all. They didn't really talk. Not that they had back in Sunnydale either. But here, it was different. Long silences stretched between them. And only Doyle bothered to break them, with his half-assed comments and case information down at the Agency.
He didn't say anything if she played music loud. If she chose to paint her toenails on the overstuffed couch and lip sync while he read in his chair. He didn't even complain when she hogged the bathroom. She almost wondered if he was still a man. Or if he'd just loved Buffy so much that no other woman existed on any level.
But if that was the case. . .why had he bothered to save her two months ago? Her stomach lurched. And her knees began to buckle but she held on defiantly to the edge of the basin. No, *not* this time. This time it wasn't going to break her. She shivered, remembering being pushed up against a brick wall. The sounds of cloth ripping. The smell of bourbon, hamburger, and stale cigarette smoke. All the slaying she'd helped with back home had meant nothing. Had vanished in the face of that. . .that *creature* as he tore at her. As his meaty hands bruised her waist and her breasts. And then he'd been gone. Tossed away into a pile of trash.
She'd looked up and seen Angel. Dressed all in black. Handsome face impassive. Looking like absolutely stunning Death. He'd said her name then. No, actually only half. As if it was all he could manage to form. *Delia?* Arms had surrounded her, lifted her, and carried her someplace where she would be safe and warm. Here.
But she wasn't safe or warm. Just frozen. Stuck in one place. A failure. And a nobody. Walking through every day like a shadow. Smiling. Nodding. Typing. Making inane chat. She was just as dead as he was. Except that the blood in her veins was her own.
Smart? Beautiful? Athletic?
This time her knees did give out. And she sank to the cheap, mismatched tile. Wrapping her arms around her waist. Fingers instinctively caressing the white line of the scar that crossed her stomach. The harsh sobs that she'd been holding for eons came bubbling forth. Scalding tears slid down her cheeks as she rocked back and forth. $4 Maybelline mascara dribbled from the corners of her eyes like even blacker agony. And she rubbed it off on the knee of her faded Target jeans.
"I have to make it," she whispered.
And then she looked up.
The bathroom doorway was filled with his presence. His damn, lifeless, brown eyes. His hands in the pockets of his damn black pants.
"What? What do you want, Angel?" she snapped, wetly. A throwback to the Bitch Queen.
"What do *you* want?" he returned, dropping into a crouch, cocking his head. More than he had ever said to her before.
*I want to die.* And she opened her mouth to say it out loud. To let the declaration bounce off the walls because at least this one dream had the chance of coming true. "I. . .want. . .to. . ."
His eyes were so dark. And so deep. And she couldn't help but plummet nine stories. Into the depths of something hidden. His hand reached out and the cool pads of his fingertips traced where hers had only moments earlier. Across her stomach. The line.
"I wanna live," she gasped.
God, he was like fire. Burning her skin as he hauled her against his shaking chest. His face heated her hair. Anything but cold and lifeless. "So do I." His lips soothed her forehead. "So do I, Delia."
She buried herself in his arms and let the last of the sobs come. Finally warm. So warm that she was tingling. And anything but safe.
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