Disclaimer: Cordelia Chase and Angel aren't mine (waaaah!), and neither is this story, really. All belong to Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt. I just borrow them for fun.
Cordy, Queen of L.A.
At one time, I had my life all planned out. My parents were rich, I ruled my high school from the time I was a sophomore, I had the clothes, the car, the rich friends, everything. I figured I'd go straight from my parents' house to a super-expensive college, and from there to a rich husband. We'd have the house, the cars, the boat, maybe a private plane, the friends (politicians, celebrities, the ultra-rich), the parties, anything and everything we wanted. Life would be good, and it would be good because I was Cordelia Chase and no one else.
That was before everything fell apart. Bad enough I was living on a Hellmouth, bad enough I caught my boyfriend making out with another girl, bad enough I fell and got impaled—turns out my daddy wasn't paying his taxes. You know, the IRS really doesn't like it when you do that. Short story—we lost everything. I was reduced to working retail in order to afford a lousy prom dress. Oh, and the mayor turned into a demon at graduation. Did I mention about my life sucking?
I didn't hang around Sunnydale long after that. The boss at the dress shop where I was working had it in for me and made up some stupid reason to fire me. As if she didn't so deserve every word I said about her.
That was when I knew I had to make it on my own. Everything I'd had working for me before was gone. Well, most of it. I still had some things—some clothes, a little jewelry, my computer, just—stuff. I also had a little money left. Not much, but with a loan from my grandma, I managed to find myself a used car. Very used. The thing was older and crappier than Giles' wimpy little Eurowagon. But it was running, so I packed everything I owned into it and headed for the big time: Los Angeles.
My plan was to hit L.A., take the city by storm, and take over the world from there. I would be a model and an actress. It couldn't take long for all kinds of directors and producers and other movie-type people to see my perfection and beg me to touch them with my magic.
L.A. is full of people. Big people, little people, fat people, skinny people, ugly people, and beautiful people. I was just a face in the crowd. Don't get me wrong—I managed to get some gigs. I got a job working as a sassy waitress in a dinner theater production. Then I got sick of trying to keep track of my employer's hands whenever he was around me. Scratch job number one.
I landed a local commercial, which led to a director noticing me. Not a big director—just some guy making what he called an "indie art film." Not what I'd hoped for, but hey, I thought, it's something I can say I was in. Then he showed me my wardrobe, which consisted of a few strategically-placed strips of leather, and introduced me to my costar, Big Butch Annie. At least, I think that was her name. I didn't stick around long enough to get to know her better. Scratch another job.
I figured I had to have a job to pay the bills while waiting for my inevitable superstardom to take effect. That led to more interesting times. Most of the places I went to had hours that would have interfered with all the shmoozing I was obliged to do as an actress. Others just had cranky managers. I swear, what is it with dress shop owners? I mean, do they want customers buying dresses that look completely horrible on them? Hello! How does it reflect on the shop when a wrinkly old cow is seen at a party wearing a strapless?
Anyway, I made enough money to keep my flea-ridden, cockroach-infested apartment. My car still worked (occasionally), but I ended up taking buses more often than I'd have liked. I kept my utilities bills down by using the lights as little as possible—not a problem, since the electricity was out every other night anyway—and by cutting my time in the shower. I still didn't have enough money to eat, though, so I had to cut other things, too. For the first time in my life, I entered a Wal-Mart. No, I don't want to talk about it. But hey—you can actually make yourself look pretty good with Cover Girl. Even if you are more of a Lancome person.
Sometimes, in the evenings, I'd hit the party scene. I had enough contacts in the acting world by now to get at least an unofficial invite to the actor/agent mixers, and I'd put on one of my salvaged dresses (including, by the way, the one I wore to Prom), fix myself up, and stand around hoping to be noticed. You always hear the stories about how some guy got pulled off the street by a manager while walking his dog, and poof! He's on a hit show. Let me tell you: it just doesn't happen.
Anyway, at one of these parties, I was talking with a few of my fellow actors when the last person I ever expected to see again appeared: Angel. Yeah, that's right, Mr. Dark, Brooding Vampire (with a soul) himself. The guy I didn't trust as far as I could throw.
But for one, tiny second, all I could think about was how much I wanted to hug him. I know it sounds corny, but he was someone who actually knew me in Sunnydale, where I ruled supreme. And he was here and looking . . . really, really good. Too good. I mean, Angel's always been pretty high on the hottie scale, but I've gotta say—even in a room full of actors and models, he stood out. Way too much.
See, at these parties, you need to surround yourself with people uglier than yourself. Not really ugly, just people who make you look good by comparison. That way, you get noticed.
Not that Angel's better looking than me. No way! If I was a guy, I'd be way hotter than him. That was the problem. There are always more girls than guys at these parties; ergo, guys get noticed more. And a guy who looks like Angel . . . let's just say I didn't want to get killed by comparison.
He really looked happy to see me, too. Maybe he thought I had news from Buffy or something, or maybe he was just glad to see a familiar face, I don't know, but he actually smiled. You know, he's got a really cute smile when he uses it. More bad.
All the time this was occurring to me, I was making small talk with him. Or what passes for small talk among ex-residents of Sunnydale. I asked if he was evil again. And if he was still a vampire. Foot, meet mouth. Then I told him the story of my fabulous life with some small exaggerations. I finally blew him off and walked away. Effective, if not subtle. But, then, Cordy and subtle never did mix. Just can't pull it off.
The party itself was a near-total bust. I made with the shmoozing, I talked it up to people who looked important, but mostly, I ate. Free food at parties always equals good. Especially when my food budget allows only for canned soup, Top Ramen, and breakfast cereal in bags. Makes even star-shaped watercress sandwiches look edible.
I stayed at the party as long as I could without seeming desperate. See, what you're supposed to do is find an agent or manager who looks important, talk to them just until they're interested, then act like you've got someplace else to be and give them your phone number. Works every time.
Unless no one notices you. Then, big problem.
When I first came to L.A., I found a manager: Bernie Smalls. Total doof, but hey—manager! He's the one who got me auditions (both of them) and introduced me to Margo, who was hosting tonight's party. Unfortunately, he was a bit small-minded about me paying him, so he stopped sending me work. I found a message on my machine telling me not to call him when I got back to my apartment after the party. At least I ate that night. I mean, I know Hollywood starlets are supposed to starve themselves, but that should be a personal choice.
So, I was not in the best mood when I got up the next day. The electricity had gone out during the night yet again, and when I tried to fix myself some breakfast, I discovered that my milk had gone bad—after I'd already poured it on my generic-brand wheat flakes. Major ick factor. Worse yet, my food supply was dwindling way too fast, and my money from my last job was almost completely gone. I decided to forget breakfast.
I did have a meditation tape. It was something Bernie had given me while we were still on speaking terms. After I did my daily crunches, I listened to the tape again, trying to believe that I was in the right place and that I would make it.
Thing is, I'd never really doubted it before L.A. Even back in Sunnydale when we lost everything, I just knew all the problems were temporary. The world would come through for me because I was Cordelia Chase. It had to.
My growling stomach drowned out the tape, finally. I fixed some Top Ramen and ate it slowly. Weird—I never even tasted the stuff before L.A. It's not that bad.
My apartment, on the other hand—it was bad. My neighbors, for instance. On one side there's the drunken slobs who have screaming fights that involve throwing things and, occasionally, the use of firearms. Above me, there's the couple that holds nightly shag-a-thons. On the other side I've got the Sisters Three, a trio of prostitutes. One of whom keeps trying to recruit me.
Thing is, I found out they came to L.A. just like I did. They thought they could find work as actresses. Eventually, the rent and eating caught up with them, and . . .
I kept telling myself I'd die first, but starving to death? Not a real good way to go. Day after day, I'd look at my options and see where my next step should be. I was running out of steps.
Sometimes, at night, I'd think back to Sunnydale High. I'd think about being Winter Queen and May Queen and being on the Homecoming and Prom court, lettering in cheerleading and dating the cream of Sunnydale's finest. Not that they were all that fine, but they were mine for the taking.
I'd also think about all the people I stepped on on the way to the top. Kids I used, abused, or just shunted aside. Willow Rosenberg, Jonathan Levinson, Annie "Supervirgin" Vaughn, Tricia Howell, and a lot more. They never did me any harm—well, okay, Willow, but that was later—but because I'd decided they were losers, I acted like I had every right to treat them like crap. Then there were the girls I pulled down on my way up. I started vicious rumors about Vivian Westwood, reigning Teen Queen before me. I was good at it, too, keeping the rumors just close enough to the truth that she couldn't deny them outright.
Did it mean nothing that I'd gotten impaled, been humiliated by my boyfriend, and lost everything? Did I still have a deeper place to sink? Just how long did I have to pay for everything I'd done?
When the phone rang and Margo told me that Russell Winters wanted to see me, I thought it was the end of my bad-luck stretch. I got dressed up, anticipating a full meal and help with my career. Then I started wondering just what I'd have to do.
I'm not naïve. You give nothing in L.A., you get nothing. What might a rich, powerful man like Russell Winters want from a beautiful young woman? Hmm, let me think.
Yeah, I knew. And I still got into the limo. Don't judge me until you've been there.
Anyway, Russell Winters. I arrived at his house in style. He seemed very much the gentleman, escorting me to the living room, giving me champagne, and asking about my career. I started to cheerfully lie, but suddenly, it all caught up with me. I actually started crying. I told him about how bad it was and how desperate I was getting, and then I kind of let him know that I was willing to do . . . anything for help.
That was when I realized there was something weird. The windows were heavily curtained and there were no mirrors in sight. Something had been bugging me at the back of my mind ever since I'd entered, like the place reminded me of something. Then it hit me: Angel. He'd lived in that old, abandoned mansion with heavy curtains on all the windows and no mirrors. I was in a vampire's house, and I was on the menu.
He tried to deny it at first, but I'm from Sunnydale. I know the vibe vamps give off, and he had it in a major way. Of course, then I realized that confronting him probably wasn't the best idea. Too late. He vamped out.
Funny thing: no matter how much your life sucks, looking at a vampire makes you realize that you'd prefer it to being dead. Russell Winters wasn't getting an easy meal out of me. I grabbed a lamp and hit him, then ran. Would you believe the man had, like, no wooden furniture? That is so unfair.
When he caught me on the second level, I suddenly realized I might not get out of this. That's irony—get out of Sunnydale without one vamp bite, only to get sucked dry in L.A. I was fighting him when the lights went out.
I have never been so happy to see anyone as I was to see Angel when he walked in. I didn't know why he was there, and I didn't care. All I knew was that he was going to save me. Don't ask me why I thought that, after not trusting him for so long; I just did. I stood back to watch the ass-kicking of Russell Winters.
Angel was doing a pretty good job of it, too. Then they started with the goons and the guns. Bad. Angel took a bullet for me, and then suddenly we're making like a bad B movie with him scooping me up and jumping off the balcony. Let me tell you, I did not like his inhuman elevator impression.
I helped him out of the mansion because he'd been shot and all. The guy's heavy. I remember thinking something about him giving new meaning to the term "dead weight." Okay, so I was a little hysterical. His car was waiting outside, complete with driver.
"Cordelia, Doyle. Doyle, Cordelia," Angel said as I helped him in. Doyle, the dweeb doing the driving, barely waited for me to get in before screeching out of there.
Actually, I think Doyle's driving might just have been the most frightening thing about the whole night, Russell Winters, guns, flying over a railing in a vampire's arms, and all. I was too busy trying to hold onto the car to listen to whatever he and Angel were talking about in the front. Still, we made it back to Angel's Bat-Cave.
Angel stripped out of his shirt as soon as we were inside. The bullet in his shoulder made for a gross view, even with his build.
"I need someone to get this out," he said.
Doyle looked sick and tried to pass it off on me, saying that it needed "a woman's touch." I wasn't having any of that, and Angel finally told Doyle to "have a little chivalry" and fetch the tweezers. I got treated to the sight and sound of Doyle clumsily digging a bullet out of Angel's shoulder, and I would have thrown up if I'd eaten anything. I came through with a gauze pad in the end, though.
As I taped it on Angel's shoulder, I realized I was shaking like a leaf, and not just from hunger. I was babbling about Russell Winters, practically begging Angel to tell me it would be all right and he wouldn't come after me again. Angel just looked at me with those intense eyes of his for a second, then covered my hand with his.
"It'll be all right, Cordelia," he promised. "I'll take care of it."
I guess I chose to feel better about that. Angel told me I'd be safest in my own apartment, since Winters couldn't get in, and he told Doyle to take me home. Doyle jumped at the chance a little too quickly. I was forced to brave more of his driving.
There was some good, though. Doyle asked me if I was hungry.
"You buying?" I asked.
"Sure," he said.
"Then I'm hungry."
He took me to an Irish pub that was too loud, too smoky, and too greasy, but I was so hungry that even their food looked good to me. While we ate, Doyle yammered about the visions he had and Angel's quest for redemption. He was just trying to impress me. The food impressed me more, which isn't saying much, and I had to stop him from getting drunk by reminding him that he was driving me.
Still, it stuck in my head. Doyle dropped me off at my apartment (and finally left after I blew him off five different ways), and I went in, did my usual bedtime stuff, and went to bed thinking it had actually been a pretty good day.
That was when I started with the hysterical sobbing. I mean, I nearly got eaten by a vampire. The only good in the day was that Angel stopped that from happening, and I got a free meal. If that was a good day, I had to face the fact that my life needed an overhaul in the worst possible way.
I laid awake the rest of the night thinking about everything that had happened. As I did, I suddenly realized a plan was forming that would allow me to a) stay in contact with someone who was a lot better equipped to deal with the ooky in life than me, and b) pick up a steady paycheck.
Which brings me to the now. Angel called about an hour ago to tell me that Winters is dead, and I'm going to pay him back for the help. He needs somebody to run things for him. I mean, I realize the man's got money coming from some source, but judging by what I saw of his apartment, it won't last forever. He's got to pay for his blood and electricity somehow, not to mention his wardrobe really needs help. Besides, being a superhero is all very well and good, but they need secret identities, too. Some sort of cover. And a Girl Friday, whatever that is.
So I pack up my computer and a few supplies and call Doyle to take me to the building Angel's apartment's in the basement of, since my car's deciding not to work. Again. There's a pretty good office close to his elevator. Needs some work—okay, a lot of work—but it would be as good as anyplace to set up his cover. "Angel Investigations—Bringing Help to the Hopeless." Cool, huh? Or maybe "Bringing Hope to the Helpless." One or the other. I'll ask Angel what he thinks.
"Cordelia! This is an unexpected pleasure," Doyle says in that Irish-type accent of his when he sees me. "You're lookin' great."
Duh, geek-boy. "Help me with these things," I tell him. He loads my computer into the Angel-mobile while checking out my back, my front, and everything in between. Get those eyes back in your head, Little Irishman. You may be kind of cute in a Xander-ish way, but I am not going there again.
"What's all this for?" he asks.
I explain my plans while he drives. He agrees with me on just about everything, which either means it's a great plan or he's got a crush on me. Or both. When we get to the building, I start setting things up while Doyle goes to disturb Angel's mid-morning brood.
A huge cockroach scuttles across my shoe, and I scream. Doyle and Angel come running up like a couple of heroes.
"Cockroach! I think it was a bantam-weight," I tell them. Angel's looking all bewildered. He has no clue what's about to hit him.
So I tell him my plans. He'll go undercover as a private investigator, and I'll be his office administrator. We'll charge clients who can pay while I work for a flat fee.
As I'm telling him all this, it suddenly occurs to me that Angel might not want me. After all, we weren't exactly friends in Sunnydale. After I found out he was a vampire, I barely even spoke to him. Now he's standing there giving me that look that says I'm an unwelcome addition to his life. He got along without me for 240 years, after all.
"That is . . . if you think you can use me," I hear myself saying.
It takes a second, but he finally gives me that cute little grin I never realized he had and hands me one of my boxes to keep unpacking.
Yeah, he needs me. After all, who's going to keep him from brooding his life away? Or keep that Doyle from drinking all the profits? I strongly disapprove of Doyle, but I guess Angel thinks he's necessary. As long as the little troll keeps his hands to himself, I'll put up with him too.
I'll be fine. I hit a bad spot, but my life's going to work out okay. Hey, I'm Cordelia Chase. It wouldn't dare not to.
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