Okay, here's the drill. No money is being generated off this, and no rights are being infringed upon - I have no claim to the characters. The scenario is mine, tho. The joke is too, sadly.

by suricata

"I think I know what the problem is." Angel said it slowly, as though debating whether or not to get involved.

"What problem? What do you mean, problem?" Cordelia flung the script onto the desk and sank down on the chair, a graceful example of total hopelessness. "I'm a failure. A disaster. I'll never get any job, anywhere. You were right. Or Angelus was. Whatever. I suck."

"You're not showing to your best here," Angel agreed cautiously. "You're not believable in the role. That's always your problem."

"Gee thanks," she responded. "I so needed that bit of encouragement. Not."

"But you're a good actress," Angel went on as though she hadn't spoken. "When you were bluffing me --Angelus -- about the holy drinking water, I believed you, even though I knew that you hadn't done any such thing."

Cordelia was watching him now, her eyes narrowed. But it was in concentration, not anger.

"You were incredibly passionate, full of energy and anger. You could have convinced an Eskimo to buy a freezer, if you showed that kind of talent on stage."

"So why can't I?"

She was listening now, which was better than the self-directed temper tantrum of a moment before. Angel barely noticed, working it through in his own mind. His talent used to be getting into his prey's mind, finding what he could use against them. It was the same skill now, that he was using on Cordelia. Only for her benefit, not pain.

"Well?" Her foot was beginning to tap. Patience was not Cordelia Chase's strong suit.

"I think... I think maybe you're too comfortable on stage. You're used to reciting lines, pretending you're someone you're not. It's too easy for you. But when you're really scared, when you've got your adrenaline pumping, and your brain in overdrive, that's when you shine."

He looked up at her, and she leaned away from the devilish look in his eye. "You need to be frightened."

(several days pass)

"I can't do this."

"Yes, you can." Angel gave her a not-so-gentle shove between the shoulder blades and she stumbled forward, catching herself with an automatic agility. The spotlight came on, and she moved towards it without thinking. But when she got to the mike, she turned, stared out across the audience, and blanked. Her heart was beating fast enough for her, and an entire army of vampires. Her skin was clammy, and she knew for a fact that her hair looked awful...

"Every comic's got a shtick," she heard herself say. "I figure, I'll just get up here and talk about dating in L.A."

A faint roll of laughter went through the club's audience, along with a few playful "ooooohhhhssss" from a group at the back tables.

"Yeah, scary, isn't it? An entire comedy routine in those four little words. Dating in Los Angeles. You know, I think there should be a law; you can't come to L.A. unless you're already in a relationship. That way, if you break up, at least you've brought another single person with you."

The laugh was louder now, not a few people poking their friends in the arm, meaningfully. Cordelia wiped some of the sweat off her face, and took a sip of the water left out on the stool for her. And in the stage wings, Angel leaned back, crossed his arms, and smiled in satisfaction. All it took was a little terror, every time.