Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.

:: H a z a r d P a y ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }

Cordelia looked at her watch for what felt like the thousandth time in 10 minutes. Where were they? How long did it take to beat an answer out of a demon?

She sighed then crossed her arms. After a few seconds she uncrossed them. It was just after sunset on the night before Halloween – her first in Los Angeles – and she was stuck alone in the car in the lot at Griffith Park, waiting for Angel and Doyle to finish their "interview."

Sure, the view didn't suck, but really, shouldn't she be home figuring out her costume for tomorrow? She'd wrangled invites to two of the hottest parties of the year. It was gonna be her big chance – she could feel it.

There were a couple of joggers coming down the nearest trail talking about where they were going to dinner after their run. On the other side of the lot, a guy wrestled his mountain bike into the rack on the bumper of his JEEP.

Cordelia glanced at her watch again then shrugged. Angel and Doyle could be another hour for all she knew, so she got out of the car and started up the sloping trail the joggers had just abandoned.

She walked a few feet into the woods. It was darker than it was in the parking lot, where twilight still reigned.

There was a rustle in the bushes and she turned, feeling mildly alarmed. A cute little face poked out from under a bush near her feet.

"Well, hi, kitty," she said, squatting down to get a better look. "Are you lost?"

The cat blinked and started toward her. It was so pretty, with its white stripes on black fur. "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty." Cordelia stuck out her hand and waggled her fingers.

"Cordy? Cordelia?"

She turned toward Doyle's voice. "Over here."

Doyle ran up behind her, skidding to a halt on the dirt trail. "Where have you been? We got back to the car and Angel totally freaked."

He looked like he'd been running a mile, instead of just 20 feet. "Are you sure it was Angel who freaked?"

He made an embarrassed face. "Hey, out here in the dark, you never know –" His eyes zeroed in on the cat. "Er, Cordelia?"

She snapped her fingers at it, but it backed away. "Doyle! You're scaring the kitty."

"Well, first, you don't snap at a cat, like you do a dog – and second –" He took a couple of stumbling steps backward.

"What?" Her brow furrowed. "What is it?"

Angel ran up the trail, coat billowing. "Cordelia! Where have you—"

His voice boomed through the night air and the cat jumped, turned and a mist jetted out from under its tail. The smell hit her at the same time the scalding pain in her eyes did. She jumped up, screaming and fanning her face with both hands.

When she could open her eyes without screaming in pain, she realized she was in the back of the convertible – alone – with Angel and Doyle riding up front.

Angel had the top down and the vents blaring full blast. The wind whipped her hair into one, ginormous tangle, and the smell, like burnt rubber or rotten eggs, was so strong it gagged her.

Doyle peeked over his shoulder. "She's back."

Cordelia shivered in the early November chill. Then it hit her – she'd been skunked. "Oh, my God," she gasped. "That – that thing sprayed me!"

"I tried to tell you," Doyle said.

"My clothes are totally, oh, God, I just got this." She pinched the cabernet-colored shirt between her fingers, the shirt she'd literally paid her last $20 for. "And tomorrow night's Halloween! I'm on the invite list for two vital parties --"

This was possibly the worst thing that had ever happened to her, barring homecoming and the time Russell Winters tried to eat her.

"What do we do?" Doyle sounded like he was holding his breath.

Angel turned off the 5 and headed through town toward his apartment. "Tomato juice."

Doyle's brow crinkled. "I heard that was a myth."

"It's always worked for me."

"Oh, my God! I'm getting the vampire cure?"

In the rearview mirror, Angel looked like he was moving a point up the irritation meter. He pulled up by the Safeway closest to the office. "Go get all the cans of juice they have – the big cans, too."

"What?" Cordy yelped. "I can't drink that much!"

Angel shot her a look. "No, you have to bathe in it."

She dropped her head in her hands.

"Go," Angel said to Doyle.

Doyle patted the pockets of his plaid sports coat. "I don't know about you, but last night's race didn't go so well for me, so I'm a little short on the green."

Angel let out a grumpy sound, then reached into his pants pocket and handed Doyle a wad of cash. "We'll pull into a parking spot away from the door. I'll pick you up when you come out."

As he maneuvered the car into a space near the edge of the lot, Cordelia lay down in the seat. "God, this is my worst nightmare," she moaned.

"Hey, don't lie down – you'll get the smell all over the leather."

She glared at him. "Please tell me you didn't just say that."

His brow wrinkled. "But – the leather…."

She sat up, crossed her hands over her chest and gave him the freeze-out. The smell was like a green cloud hovering over the car. The Safeway lot was crowded with people shopping on their way home from work.

Cordy saw several people make an "Oh, my God" face when they caught a whiff.

Angel cast around for something to say and settled on, "Once, when I was in the forest outside Brno, I ran into a shaman who used skunk bones –"

"Stop." She held up her hand. "Don't heap some boring historical story on top of all of my trauma."

She thought of her apartment, where she had to sweep the sheets before she slept to get rid of roaches. Of the one dress hanging in the closet. Of the fact that she was looking forward to the parties as much for the meal she'd get out of them, as for the networking possibilities.

Los Angeles was so not turning out like she'd planned.

Angel slid the dial up and down the radio and finally settled on some station playing Clapton.

"Can't you find something from this decade?"

"You know, for someone who's wreaking total havoc with my extra-sensitive sense of smell, you're incredibly demanding."

"What? It's your fault I got sprayed! If you hadn't come up, all over-hang-y brow and billowing coat, and scared that thing—"

He muttered something as he looked across the lot. His fingers drummed on the car door.


His fingers drummed louder.

"What did you say?"

"At least I didn't think it was a cat."

Doyle yelled, "Hey! Angel!"

Angel put the car in gear and pulled out of the space.

Doyle dropped three shopping bags with over-sized cans of tomato juice into the foot well next to Cordy's legs and got into the car. "Cleaned 'em out."

"My change?"

He got in and closed the door. "Yeah, there's not much left."

"I gave you nearly a hundred dollars!"

"What can I say? Juice is expensive." Doyle looked over his shoulder. "How you holding up, Princess?"

"Just drop me off at home." She glared at the back of Angel's head.

"Uh oh. What'd you say to her?"

Angel didn't answer; he just pulled out into traffic and drove toward the office.

"Turn around and take me home!"

Angel kept driving.

Cordelia closed her eyes and counted to 10. When she opened them, she'd wake up in a lounge chair next to her fiancée's swimming pool, waiting for the cute pool boy, Pablo, to bring her a fresh flute of champagne.

But when she opened her eyes, they were pulling up in front of the office. "My life sucks," she said.


She'd thought her life sucked before. But now she felt like a celery stick in a very cold Bloody Mary. Her entire body was soaked in tomato juice. It clung to her hair, stuck between her fingers and was drying in a sticky mess on her back.

She hadn't even known Angel had a bathtub until he pushed her into the bathroom, threw the cans and a can opener in behind her and closed the door. "Don't come out till the smell's gone," he'd yelled.

Or as much as Angel ever yelled. It was more like a slightly louder version of his normal voice.

She smacked the juice with her hand. How'd she ended up with Angel, of all people? Some luck she had. Surviving graduation only to hook with the world's first vampire with an identity crisis.

You'd think he could at least have brought in some candles. A drink? Was something warm too much to ask for? The juice was tepid. The tub was made of old porcelain and without water to warm it, it was like sitting on cold cement.

That was it – she was taking a shower, even if the stink wasn't gone.

Cordelia cranked up the hot water and showered until it ran cold. Then, since she didn't have anything else to wear she took Angel's robe off the back of the door.

It was heavy cashmere, almost the same color as her shirt. It wrapped around her nearly twice and she had to cuff the sleeves three times to find her hands. She opened the medicine cabinet and there sat his comb and brush, side by side on the bottom shelf. On the self above an army of hair products marched in tight rows. Her brows rose – she'd known he was hair-obsessed, but this was crazy.

Cordy squirted a handful of Claiborne for Men hair gel into her palm and finger-combed it into her hair. Then she worked the comb through, breathing the scent of the expensive gel.

When she opened the door, she could barely smell skunk. In fact, her clothes were the only things still wafting up parfum de Pepe Le Pew.

Angel met her in the hall and handed her a garbage bag. "Put your clothes in there."

"But – I just bought –"

"Everything, Cordelia."

She tried not to think of that $20 she'd spent on the totally cute shirt. Not to mention the fact that she was losing one of her last pairs of Lucky jeans. She picked up the clothes using just her thumb and two fingers and handed him the bag. "What're you gonna do with them?"

"Doyle's going to take them outside and burn them."

She bit her lip. "But…."

"Sorry. You can't get the smell out." His eyes narrowed. "You used my gel."

"And your robe. Thanks, by the way."

Doyle walked into the hall, stopping abruptly when he saw her in Angel's robe. "Sorry. Didn't realize you were, um…" He looked at her wet hair, her hands on the belt of the robe, the corner where wall met ceiling. "Um…"

"It's okay, Doyle. I wear less on the beach." She swept past them both and went to the kitchen.

When she got there, there were three cups of tea steaming on the table. An open tin of shortbread sat waiting, crumbs trailing to a half-eaten cookie on one of the two plates.

She sighed, sat down, and took a slurp of tea. Coffee would have been better, but when you were stuck with two Irishmen, all you ever got was tea.

Angel came in, sat in the chair next to her. She heard the elevator door slam and the whir of the motor. "I guess he's going to get rid of my clothes."

"Yeah." He handed her a cookie. "I'm sorry. I know you loved that shirt."

"It was cute and it was me." She couldn't seem to keep her defenses up any more. "I mean, that was my last $20 and…well, we've had exactly one paying client, and…"

Angel slipped his hand into his pocket and counted out $40. "There. Consider it hazard pay."

She stared down at the money. Even over the slightly lingering scent of skunk, she could smell it. "I thought you gave all your money to Doyle."

His grin was slightly wolfish. "I got it back." He nudged the money toward her.

She took it, thinking she could buy another shirt and enough Ramen to get through two weeks, if she only ate two meals a day. "Thanks."

"I try, you know." He brushed cookie crumbs into a pile next to the tin. "I'm just not used to –"

"Skunks? People?"

His eyes were warm and amused. "Yeah, that."

She took a bite of the shortbread. It was buttery, rich and sweet. Her stomach growled. She tried not to gobble it, but she was so hungry. "Sometimes, I just wish…."

Angel didn't say anything, just watched her.

"I wish things were different." She imagined herself in a totally wicked dress, signing autographs and waving at adoring fans.

Angel's gaze slid to the far corner of the room. "Yeah."

The elevator whirred again and the door slammed and then Doyle walked into the kitchen. "Okay, that's taken care of."

The $40 took most of the sting off the loss but she still winced at the thought of her clothes going up in smoke.

Angel stood. "Let me find you something else to wear." As he passed, he put his hand on her shoulder.

She glanced up at him.

"I think things are getting better for us all," he said.

"I think he's right," said Doyle. He tucked his hands in his coat pockets.

"What," she asked, "the Powers told you?"

Doyle tapped his temple. "Hey, I have a direct line, ya know."

Angel came back into the kitchen with a rigorously folded stack of gray sweat clothes. "Here. And you're not taking a cab. I'll drive you."

"But your car –"

"Has been de-skunked."

"Okay, but only if you feel good about it."

He almost smiled. "I do."


Cordelia slammed the apartment door three times before it latched. Then she went into the bedroom that was so small the bed took up nearly all the space.

She pulled out her meditation book and lit one of the votives on the crate that passed as her bedside table. After her usual bug-patrol of the sheets, she climbed in and started her mantra.

"My life is getting better and better all the time," she whispered.

A floor above, the neighbors screamed and a door slammed. In the kitchen, the fridge made a sound like squeaky hinge.

She crossed her legs under her and put her hands on her knees, palms up. "My life is getting better and better all the time," she said, a little louder.

On the positive side, her hair was super-silky and it smelled great. She gotten free cookies and tea and she'd scored hazard pay.

Maybe her only friends in LA were a vampire with an identity crisis, and a guy who acted like a retard, but they counted.

After the rebar incident, she'd learned that what counted wasn't the surface-y stuff. It was decent stuff, like Xander paying for her prom dress, or Angel giving her a ride home tonight or Doyle taking care of her clothes for her.

Her life wasn't what she'd thought it would be, but it was getting better, a little bit at a time.