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CHAPTER 1: The Gamble

Broken Hearts Litter the Floor

Once upon a time she'd have been bawling her eyes out. These days she just felt empty. Cordelia sighed as she eyed the empty spot next to her in the bed. Sunlight was gently filtering in through a gap in the cream-colored curtains, as if trying to comfort her.

She rolled over, uncomfortable in the sheets that still carried the scent of her previous partner. Should've laundered them yesterday. Didn't because she couldn't motivate herself to deal with the task. She reached for her phone and blocked his number, making a mental note to delete his contact information the week after. Too many of them who'd tried to reach her after the breakup, mostly to yell at her.

It would have ended anyway. He'd been up to something, that much was obvious. She sighed and craned her neck to look at the painting hung over her bed. Bit of a mess that too, as was the painter according to the articles she'd read. Yet it calmed her at times like this. Abstract art didn't have to make sense. Didn't have to be anything in particular. The chaos gave it beauty.

A bit like her life. At this point she was under no illusion that she would be able to form a lasting relationship with anyone. Things would go smoothly for two or three weeks, then she'd sense that something was amiss. Cue a nasty breakup, perhaps with a side of revenge thrown in, then a day or two of moping before she decided that she didn't like being alone.

She rolled over and ran a hand over the spot where he'd been sleeping. What would her next partner smell like? Would it be a man? A woman? Not that it particularly mattered. In time they were all forgettable.

Oh, she'd had some good runs. There were memories that made her smile when they crossed her mind, although facial features were often blurry. What small details had once caught her attention? She had long forgotten. In the past she'd had aspirations of something more, occasionally even pondered whether she might marry someday. Nowadays she accepted that she'd just be repeating the same dance over and over.

Pick someone up, have several nice dates, nasty break up. Cruel? Maybe. The issue was that she didn't know how to do it any other way by now, if she ever had known.

She forced herself to get out of bed. There was work to be done. Plenty of airing out and a thorough clean to get his scent out of the house. Throwing away any items he might've forgotten. And of course wrapping herself in a blanket and eating chocolate as she felt sorry for herself.


Come evening, Cordelia was feeling well enough that she'd dressed for a night out on the town and on the way to her car. She'd chosen a black dress that ended short of her knees, simple but classic. Custom made, like most of her wardrobe. She wore high heels matching the color of her dress.

Which place was she in the mood for this time? She put on some soft music as she spent her drive pondering the question. Different locations had different clientele, which in turn affected the type of relationship she was going to be in for. She decided on a high-end club this time. Her last date had been an elementary school teacher. He'd been nice enough for most of the run but she wanted a chance of pace from dinner dates at cheap pizza places.

She was greeted by dark walls lined with potted palms. At the center of the locale was an illuminated fountain, and behind that was the bar where most seats already were taken up. Music played at a volume that made it possible to still carry a conversation without shouting. She looked around the locale, checking out her available options. There were quite a few lookers. A woman with stunning black hair arranged into an elaborate updo, several people who would have no problem making a living as models, and a bunch who showed off expensive status symbols. Cordelia's attention eventually settled on a blonde man wearing a shirt and vest combo with a black bowtie.

She moved closer, pretending to have a different objective. Being noticed without needing to speak to the other person first was always the most satisfying. She lingered in his general area, careful not to accidentally meet his gaze as she ordered a drink and did her best to look lonely but approachable.

The corners of her lips curled upward when he eventually walked over to her, showing a smile. He looked just as good up close as he had from a distance. She quickly forced her expression back to neutral, keeping up the act of pretending not to notice him. Only when he spoke did she turn her head.

"I couldn't avoid noticing that you seem to lack company for the evening. I'm Chad Morris. What might your name be?"

Cordelia chuckled softly in response. "Cordelia. I take it you're seeking companionship as well?"

"Indeed," Chad confirmed. "But perhaps my search could come to an end here, if a lovely lady such as you would have me?"

"I'm not entirely opposed," Cordelia smiled. "You're quite the looker."

"That isn't all," Chad said as he pulled out his wallet. "Barkeep, a drink for the lady over here." He turned to Cordelia. "Take your pick."

"Seeing how you're offering it would be rude of me to refuse," Cordelia chuckled. She opted for an expensive one, paying close attention to Chad's reaction. Or more like the lack of it. He didn't bat an eye at her pick and instead followed up with a similarly pricy order. A ploy to impress her or the usual order of business? Time would show.

Two enjoyed their drinks and spent some time exchanging flirty comments.

"What do you say we take this somewhere more private?" Chad eventually suggested. "My home isn't far and frankly I think you'll like what you see," he winked at her.

Cordelia tapped her nearly empty glass as she considered the offer. She wasn't looking for a one night stand. "Are you sure you want to rush it?"

"Aw, c'mon. You're a gorgeous lady, so can you blame me?" Chad asked, giving her a quite convincing charmer look.

Cordelia suppressed a smirk. This man was clearly used to playing the game. However, she knew better than to fall for that. "So that you can run off after one night of fun?" she challenged. "I was hoping for something a little more long-lived."

Chad mimicked taking a blow to the chest. "Ouch, my pride. I'm not that much of an animal, give me some credit. I know a keeper when I see one."

"Mm, is that so?" Cordelia said, raising an eyebrow. "Do I want to gamble on you being truthful, I wonder?" She didn't entirely hate the prospect of leaving this one up to chance. A little gamble didn't hurt… most of the time. But that risk was what made it interesting in the first place.

"Simply discarding a beautiful woman such as you would be a crime," Chad said, meeting her gaze all the while. When he finally broke eye contact it was in order to place a kiss on her hand.

Cordelia chuckled. He was laying it on thick but he had already managed to prove himself to be more interesting than her previous date. "Very well. I'm in."


"Well, do you like it?" Chad asked her with an impish smile.

Cordelia was still taking in the place. As soon as they approached Chad's neighborhood she knew he wasn't her average date. She'd landed a rich one this time. The building itself had a sleek modern look that still conveyed an air of refinement, and by the looks of it the place had one of the best views of the ocean in the entire neighborhood.

"It's certainly something," she responded.

"Just wait until you see the inside," Chad smirked and guided her along.

The interior felt similar to the outside, an expensive kind of sleek. It was uncluttered and simple, but in no way was Chad allowing any doubt about his position as a wealthy man. The large windows overlooking the ocean drove the point home solidly. At the same time she couldn't help noting a lack of artwork and decorations. The furniture could be considered design pieces in their own right, she supposed, but it was still odd for someone as rich as this. She made a mental note to keep alert.

"It's not bad," she responded.

Chad burst into laughter. "Not bad? What's it going to take to impress you, a castle?"

Cordelia turned to regard him once more. She smiled and shook her head. "No, that's not it. It's just… while I can get some idea about your characteristics based on your space it's you as a person that I'm interested in." Or at the very least, she was interested in his intentions. Would he provide the intimacy and affection she craved, or was this an entirely different game?

"Me as a person, hm?" Chad said. There was something about his expression when she said that which Cordelia couldn't quite pin down.

"At any rate, you didn't bring me here to watch me gawk at the place," Cordelia pointed out. She placed a hand on Chad's arm, testing the waters. "Why don't we continue where we left off?"

"I'll be more than happy to," Chad smiled. "Fancy a glass of wine?"

Cordelia nodded, sharply focusing her attention on Chad's face and body language. The more information she could glean, the better. "I'd like that."

Chad lead her to a seating area that was no less carefully curated than the rest of his space. He offered her the choice of several wines, to which she had to admit that his collection far outweighed her expertise in that area. She ended up letting Chad make the call, making sure that he poured both their drinks from the same bottle and took the first sip.

"I have no complaints," she commented after trying the wine.

"Didn't think you would," Chad chuckled. "It's all good stuff."

Once they had finished their wine the focus was all on the other. It was quite obvious that Chad was intending to bed her, but Cordelia headed him off every time, redirecting to standard flirting. He kept a good handle on his expression but his body language betrayed impatience. When she announced that she'd be going home and they still hadn't gotten anywhere he was visibly miffed, at which Cordelia chuckled softly. Seemed like he was safe enough to be around for the time being.

"We decided to make a game out of this, remember?" she smiled impishly. "It wouldn't do to discard my entire hand in the first round. I want to see more of you."

"Is that so," Chad responded. "I suppose I have only myself to blame for this. Perhaps our next encounter will inspire more trust in me."

"I'll look forward to it," Cordelia said.

Chad handed Cordelia her jacket as he showed her out, then kissed her on the cheek. They had come by his car so he drove her home. A quick embrace and a few kisses later Cordelia was on her own again, but with a future date marked off in her calendar. What remained to be seen was whether Chad was going to show or not. Based on the evening's events she expected he would.

CHAPTER 2: Games

What's his deal?

Cordelia looked over her apartment once more. Everything was neatly put away and she'd given the place a clean, but she still felt apprehensive. She sighed and sank into the couch. Their homes had a similar color palette and they both preferred minimalist design, but the similarities ended there. Chad's place was so much more of everything.

She jumped when the doorbell rang, adjusting a couch pillow on her way to the front. It had to be Chad. They were meeting at her apartment this time, a suggestion she now regretted.

Her eyebrows rose at the sight that greeted her. Chad stood on her doorstep, smiling and holding a large bouquet of flowers. It wasn't simply a bundle of two or three varieties of flower tied together, no, this was the carefully arranged extravaganza one would see at a wedding. As if that wasn't enough he raised his other hand to offer her a box of fine dark chocolates.

"My… I didn't expect this," Cordelia said breathlessly.

"I hope that's in a good sense. Wouldn't want all my hard effort to go to waste," Chad quipped.

"The best," she confirmed. Once she recovered from the initial surprise she leaned forward, placing a quick kiss on his cheek.

"My lovely lady deserves no less," he said, giving a small bow as he handed her the flowers.

Cordelia couldn't help smiling as she accepted them. This was the sort of relationship she had been hoping for. Probably too good to be true, but she'd enjoy the fantasy for a while longer.

"I'll have to see if I have a vase that's big enough for these," she chuckled as she headed inside.

"If you don't I'll turn back and buy you one in a heartbeat," he offered.

She beckoned for Chad to follow, carefully watching him for a reaction as he took in the surroundings. If it counted for anything, she had far more art on the walls than he did. Somehow she got the feeling it wouldn't.

Still, Chad's response ended up being a smile.

"Not too fancy, and not too shabby. Exactly what I'd expect from such a lovely lady." Chad nodded his approval.

Cordelia let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding in.

"I'm glad it's to your liking," she responded as she led him to the living room where she had prepared wine and some snacks. Her three-seater and the garden-variety view from her windows suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. She hurried to find a vase for the flowers, then rejoined Chad.

By this point she was even more nervous. He wasn't her first rich date. Some of them found the change in environment refreshing, others never showed up for the next date or decided to host every subsequent one themselves.

"It's nowhere near what you have over at your place, but I hope you'll enjoy it," Cordelia said gesturing to the wine.

Chad lifted the bottle and had a look at the label. "Appears decent enough to me. Variation is the spice of life, isn't that what they say?"

Cordelia smiled wryly. "You're just saying that for my sake, aren't you?"

"Maybe, maybe not? Didn't you say you enjoyed games?" Chad replied with an impish grin. "Either way, I'll have a glass."

While he already had been acting flirty, the wine served to make Chad more pushy. A not uncommon reaction and not one Cordelia minded.

"My, someone sure is eager today," she smiled when Chad placed an arm around her. Responding in turn, she moved closer to him. "You're quite the charmer. You must be popular with a lot of women."

"But none of them shine as bright as you," Chad responded without missing a beat.

"Oh? That's a bold claim," Cordelia chuckled. He was obviously exaggerating, but it felt good to be flattered. She decided to fish for some more. "So, how does my shine compare to theirs?"

"Blinding," Chad answered. "You put everyone else to utter shame."

"I suppose we can't have me disappointing you in that case," Cordelia chuckled and leaned in for a kiss. It would be interesting to hear whether he would make the same claim after a week.

They continued flirting and this time Cordelia allowed the transition to the bedroom. He was surprisingly gentle and attentive to her.

"Hey," Cordelia spoke softly once the deed was done and they were relaxing on the bed. "How about we make this official? I think we'd be a good match." She enjoyed his affection enough even though she didn't expect it to last.

Chad's eyebrows rose in response to the question and Cordelia cursed herself for getting too eager. However, the next thing Chad did was to wrap his arms around her.

"I'd like that," he smiled. "You'll be my shining star."

Cordelia sighed with relief.

"Seems like I was right to take the chance on you." She caressed his cheek.

"And I'm glad you did," he said.

She eventually drifted off to sleep in his arms.


"You're gorgeous as you are, but I do find myself wondering what you'd look like with a different hairstyle," Chad commented after taking a sip of his coffee.

They were out on another date, this one at a classy cafe by the seaside. It was early evening but mild enough for neither of them to need a jacket.

"You do?" Cordelia raised an eyebrow. This wasn't Chad's first suggestion of this nature, but it was the most drastic of its kind. She had noticed small but gradual changes in his demeanor. It seemed that he had different intentions than simply getting her into bed a few times.

"Indeed," Chad confirmed with a nod. "A haircut can transform people. Surely you'll not blame me for being curious?"

"I suppose I'll see what I can do about that," she smiled.

She'd decided to play along for the time being. Chad had a knack for spoiling her and she enjoyed the time spent with him in spite of his nitpicks. He generally made an effort to disguise them, and some of his comments were quite clever. She actually found the situation intriguing - which probably meant that she was messed up in some capacity. But what could you do? There was a reason she simply told people she worked in the mental health field. "Psychiatrist" came with too many preconceptions and tended to scare certain people off right away, while it made others visibly awkward.

Cordelia chuckled softly and regarded Chad. She wondered where he was planning to take this. Of course she'd get out the moment she sensed any signs of actual danger.

"I'm so glad I met you," she told him. A little flattery of her own didn't hurt, and she wanted him to think that she suspected nothing. "We'll surely have many wonderful times ahead."

"We will," Chad responded with a confident smile.

"Hey," a man called out in the distance. Cordelia sighed softly. Some people just had to be annoyingly loud.

"Hey," the voice called out again, louder this time. "Don't ignore me! Cordelia!"

Cordelia's breath caught in her throat as she recognized the voice. It was him, Lennart, the grade school teacher she'd dumped not even a week ago. She pretended not to have noticed, focusing her attention on Chad instead. Perhaps Lennart would think she was just a lookalike and go away.

"I'm right here, the least you could do is acknowledge me," Lennart snapped, his voice getting closer.

Chad was turning his head. Cordelia sighed and followed suit. There Lennart was, wearing his orange jacket and a t-shirt featuring a cartoon hedgehog. Worlds apart from Chad, then again that had been the point.

"It's not even been a week and you're already with some other guy? Classy, real classy," Lennart said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Insulting the lady won't do you any favors," Chad responded. "I recommend you back off now."

Lennart gave a choked laugh. "Lady? I assure you she's anything but. You should've seen what she sent to all my contacts. She's just out to bleed you dry and then she'll dump you, but not before having a laugh at your expense. She's the worst kind of person."

Cordelia opened her mouth in order to talk back, but Chad was quicker.

"If you know what's good for you I recommend you leave right now," Chad said in a hard voice. "I won't take kindly to you speaking ill of my girlfriend."

"Girlfriend!" Lennart balked. "You know what, I- Just forget it. Have fun getting your heart broken." He turned away from them and hurried off.

"Sorry about that." Cordelia sighed heavily. "He's someone who has difficulty recognizing his own failings. Of course he'd blame me for us not working out."

"Is that so?" Chad raised an eyebrow. "What about that message he spoke of?"

Cordelia smiled wryly. If Chad knew the details he'd probably dump her right away. More lies were in order.

"Oh, you know how it is," Cordelia waved her hand. "Small mistake happens, bigger mistake happens, big mistake happens. Only he still couldn't see it. I figured his network might help remedy that if I brought the issue to attention."

"So you're saying you'll take action if I do wrong by you?" Chad's eyebrow rose further.

Cordelia winced internally. Not the direction she'd intended to go. Time to remedy that. She put on her sweetest smile.

"You? There's no way you'd wrong me," she said. "You've been nothing but sweet to me."

"I'd hope so," Chad smiled. although he still didn't appear quite at ease. "I trust you'll be loyal to me?"

"But of course," Cordelia smiled. "You're completely different. I suppose I let my standards slip… it's been a while since I had any remarkable dates." A lie, but she'd do everything to butter Chad up about now. She didn't want to lose him to something like this. It was too early for that.

"Mm," Chad responded, not looking entirely convinced.

"You want me to prove just how loyal I can be?" Cordelia asked. "I might be able to do something if we head to your place once we're done here," she winked.

"I like the sound of that," Chad chuckled and placed his hand on Cordelia's.

CHAPTER 3: Cracks

Most fantasies come to an end

"Say… Who do you think is responsible for you being the person you are now?" Cordelia asked, leaning forward.

She was with Chad again, this time on a dinner date. He'd brought her to a high-class restaurant, the complete package with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and a star rating that matched the fancy interior. It was a good thing for her that Chad insisted on footing the bill. She had chosen her most formal dress for the occasion while Chad still wore his bow tie and vest combo. As far as outfits went he appeared to follow the logic of not fixing what's not broken.

"Well?" Cordelia followed up when she wasn't receiving an immediate answer to her question.

"I'm sorry?" Chad looked up from his meal, appearing confused. "What do you mean?"

"Most of us have someone who was an influential figure in our life," she explained with a smile. "I figured someone taught you to be such a gentleman." She went for another bite of her dinner, creating an opening for Chad to deliberate the question.

Chad scratched his head. "I'm not sure… I suppose my father was a prominent figure, though that might be too generic of an answer."

"I don't think that's generic," she said. "Our parents contribute a lot to who we are, whether through their presence or through their absence."

"You sure are quite analytical of other people," Chad commented. "Are you a shrink or something?"

"Uh-oh." Cordelia jokingly put her hands up in a defensive gesture. She couldn't exactly deny it when asked so directly. "It appears that my secret has been exposed," she laughed. Looked like she had more defusing to do. She leaned closer to Chad, batting her eyelids at him.

"I mean, isn't it natural to ask? Don't you want to know about the person you love?" She asked, hoping to catch him off-guard.

Chad laughed. Did she detect some nervousness in there? Was it because she'd used the word love or did he have second thoughts after learning her occupation?

"I suppose," he said, flushed. It took a moment for him to return to his usual relaxed demeanor. "Tell me who your influential figure is, then."

"Mm…" Cordelia put a finger to her lips, considering whether to actually tell him. After a moment of deliberation she decided that she might as well. There wasn't much he could do with the information and it should make for a tasty piece of bait if he was trying to manipulate her. "My father was absent a lot. I could get rather desperate in my attempts to get his attention the few times he actually was around."

Chad's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Oh my. At least you don't have to fight for my attention much," he said in his usual flirty tone. "All you have to do is ask, you know."

"I'll be more than happy to," Cordelia smiled. And she would. She very much enjoyed his affection while it lasted. "To think I'd meet someone as kind as you."

Chad smiled slightly. "You know what, I'm glad I met you, too."

Glad for what reasons? Cordelia was curious, though she obviously couldn't ask him straight out. Instead she placed her hand on his. "I can't wait to spend lots more time with you."

Once again Chad smiled, but it lacked the ease of his usual smiles. What might he be thinking?

"Me too," he said.

Cordelia smiled back at him. She supposed she'd find out what resided behind his mask eventually. Here was hoping it would be interesting.


"I'm so lucky to have a lovely lady such as you around," Chad told Cordelia with a smile.

Once again she was on a date. They'd kept things simple this time - by Chad's standards at least. He was still offering her exquisite gifts and going strong on the flattery but they were spending the evening at his house. She was sat on the couch in his living room, sipping on a glass of wine. The sun was currently setting in the ocean, bathing the room in vivid hues.

"Am I not the lucky one, being showered with presents as well as fine food and drink?" Cordelia said, tilting her glass ever so slightly in Chad's direction. She had no doubt that this wine was more expensive than anything she would normally get.

"Oh, but anything less would be criminal," Chad told her with his usual flirty smile. "If I may?" He took her hand and looked up at her expectantly.

Cordelia couldn't help giggling in response. She smiled back at him and nodded. "By all means."

When he received the go-ahead Chad bowed his head and placed a gentle kiss on Cordelia's hand. It amused her that he would make such a show out of it given that they'd done far more intimate things already. Then again it didn't strike her as out of character. Chad liked to put on airs.

"I'm truly blessed," Chad smiled up at her. More flattery, of course.

Cordelia giggled again and went along with it. "Oh my. Chad Morris, I surely cannot be the only blessing you've ever received."

"You're by far the most magnificent one," Chad said as he leaned closer. "I see you made the requested changes to your outfit… for the most part." His lips quirked upward for a split second, leaving Cordelia unsure as to whether he was amused or trying to hide irritation at the fact that she hadn't complied to the letter.

"No matter," Chad shook his head. "I must admit that this probably suits you better."

Cordelia had to resist quirking an eyebrow. A concession? Now that was unexpected of him.

"Perhaps you'd like some fashion advice from me next?" Cordelia joked. Was she pushing it? Maybe, but these things were no fun if there was no risk involved.

Chad's brows rose. "Oh? And what would your suggestion be?"

"Get a shirt that's easier to unbutton, or perhaps get rid of it entirely," Cordelia snickered.

Rather than words, Chad's initial response was to flush. "I- That's not what I was expecting… It seems I forgot just how bold you can be."

"Not a bad thing, is it?" Cordelia smiled.

His expression returned to the usual flirty one and he shook his head. "Not at all. You're so lively."

Probably his way of conveying that he found her entertaining, Cordelia guessed. She didn't take offense because her reason for sticking with him was pretty much the same. This little game of influence was a nice change of pace and she knew not to get sucked into it in any serious capacity. It was all fun and games and at some point they'd go their separate ways. She would probably miss his affection for a while but such was the way of life. She'd move on and pick up someone else.

"Cordelia, is something the matter?" Chad asked. "You seemed a little distant there."

"Oh," Cordelia chuckled, realizing that she'd gotten caught up in her own thoughts. Luckily for her an excuse was easily available. "Sorry, I was too busy imagining you shirtless."

Chad flushed again and Cordelia broke into a laugh.

"Aw, why are you being so shy today? This isn't like you," she commented.

"Does it matter? You're my shining star and that's all I need," Chad replied, placing an arm around her and pulling her close.

Deflecting the question. That was curious, then again it seemed to Cordelia that Chad might have a general resistance to talking deeply about personal affairs. Was it because it would reveal the truth underneath the facade? She decided to not press him on the matter for the time being.

Cordelia snuggled up against Chad, enjoying the warmth of his embrace and his by now familiar scent. It wasn't bad for being make-believe.

They spent some time cuddling during which Chad made some of his subtle jabs again, although Cordelia found them to be unusually weak. She concluded that he either had an off day or that she'd somehow managed to lead him off track with her remarks. Might as well just enjoy the affection for now. She figured Chad would be back to his usual ways soon enough.


Cordelia smiled as she turned and inspected herself in the mirror of the fitting room. Her new top and the accompanying pair of pants were a perfect fit.

She'd placed an order for them at her local tailor's some time ago. She figured that she deserved it and it would make a good impression on Chad. She'd taken some of his suggestions on board, seeing how he was still covertly attempting to mold her. Sure, he'd gone easy on her last date but he'd surely return to his usual ways soon enough. She chuckled at the thought. How little could she get away with changing and how long would it take before he caught on? Would he confront her about it or stick to subtle jabs?

She elected to wear the new clothes out and went to pay the rest of her commission fee before she returned home. Chad would be visiting her this time.

The doorbell rang and Cordelia smiled when she opened the door. Chad had brought her lavish gifts yet again. The bouquet he offered her outdid the previous - which was a tall order at this point - and he'd brought high-class confectionery and a purple silk scarf to go with it.

"Matches your eyes," Chad offered as he handed her the items with a humble bow.

There was nothing to be said for his manners, at least on the surface level. Cordelia chuckled softly.

"You're going to spoil me rotten at this rate."

"Is that not the entire purpose of having a boyfriend?" Chad smirked.

"Mm, perhaps," Cordelia agreed as she ushered him in.

As soon as they were inside and Cordelia had set down the gifts Chad embraced her. He held her so tenderly that her heart probably would have melted if she were less experienced. She noted that his face was flushed when they pulled away. A worrying sign, but it was too early to jump to conclusions.

She led him to the living room where they sat down and had a drink and continued their affectionate gestures. Cordelia waited for the next sneaky jab at her self-esteem, but it didn't come. Odd. Perhaps he was going a different route today and saving it for the end of the date? He still kept flattering her but it felt somehow different today. Probably just a question of time, she told herself. For now she told herself to enjoy his affection.

She did manage, for a time. At some point her annoyance took over. She'd rather been enjoying the game they had going. Now this date too was taking a turn for the dull.

"Are you feeling unwell?" Chad asked. He must have picked up on a change in her demeanor.

Seeing how he was offering her a convenient excuse she decided that she might as well run with it.

"I must have caught something while I was out and about," she said, faking an apologetic smile. "Perhaps we should cut this short so you don't have to catch whatever bug this is."

"Ah," Chad said and let go. "Want to try again in a few days?"

"Yes, let's do that," Cordelia agreed. Perhaps she'd be able to calibrate her expectations by then. She'd normally be okay with this sort of relationship… but Chad had intrigued her. This version of him was boring.

She accompanied Chad to the door, where he placed a soft kiss on her forehead before he left. It was a gesture that was uncharacteristic of the Chad she knew. Cordelia saw it as a confirmation that he, for whatever reason, had gone dull.

CHAPTER 4: Ultimatum

No turning back

Cordelia sighed softly. She was at home, trying to relax on her couch but finding it difficult. On the table were a few modern art magazines she'd tried flipping through, but she struggled to enjoy them like she usually would. Alongside them sat a pack of half-eaten biscuits, her evening meal for the day. She hadn't contacted Chad yet and knew it was only a matter of time before he was going to reach out. Her phone buzzed. She ignored it for a moment before she reluctantly picked it up to have a look. It had to be Chad.

Except it wasn't. The number was an unknown one, but she'd received a photo of Lennart who was giving her the finger and holding a sign that said "screw you Cordelia". By the look of him she guessed he was drunk. He was flushed and his cartoon character shirt was tied around his head. She rolled her eyes. He must've borrowed a friend's phone. She blocked the number and deleted the message.

When her phone buzzed shortly a second time after she expected a second message from Lennart. If he was drunk enough he'd probably keep it up until he ran out of friends to borrow phones from. She tensed up when she saw that the message was from Chad, and he was asking her on a date. Not just that, but the tone of the message felt different from before. She pulled up Chad's older messages to confirm that she wasn't just overthinking.

Her gut feeling turned out to be right. The wording of his most recent message noticeably differed from the previous ones. He'd been offering her plenty of pretty words all along, but she'd always gotten the sense of an ulterior motive. His recent message seemed… tender, heartfelt. Not like Chad.

She should've been happy but instead felt disappointed. It was dull. Just the same as all the others. They weren't sparring anymore and she was wondering what point there even was in meeting up. Sure, he knew how to satisfy, but that seemed unimportant in comparison to the battle of intellects. The way they'd sneakily try to figure out the other while revealing their own true intentions. The sense of risk, knowing that something would snap if she pushed too far. Treading that line until, until-

Cordelia heaved another sigh and rolled onto her back. Here she was, considering cutting a man off for genuinely having feelings for her. She chuckled dryly. Why were her relationships always such a mess? Why was she such a mess?

She put the phone away and directed her gaze at the ceiling.

After a lot of deliberation Cordelia decided that she would go on the date after all. There was still a chance that this was just Chad setting up for something bigger. A ruse so good that she failed to see through it. Wishful thinking? Probably, but she was going to place one last bet.


Cordelia nervously fidgeted with the chunky metal bracelet on her right wrist. It was the day of the date. She'd thought about cancelling several times, but in the end she hadn't. Chad should be on the way by now and she felt a growing sense of unease. Today was the final gamble. The odds were not in her favor. She checked her makeup in the mirror one last time. It was probably her fifth last time by now.

What could she expect of today? Probably the same as from any typical date, just more extravagant. The thought made her tense up with frustration - both at Chad and herself. She ended up pacing back and forth in the living room until she heard the sound of a car. She threw a glance out the window to confirm that it was Chad before she went to put on a light jacket.

The weather was mild, although partially cloudy. According to the forecast there was a chance of rain later in the evening. Typical Wittholm weather. It could change from sun to rain and to anything in between in a matter of hours.

She forced a smile when she saw Chad pulling up in her driveway. He got out of the car and approached Cordelia, offering her a bouquet and an elegant necklace.

"For you, my shining star. You look as dazzling as ever," he told her with a handsome smile that lacked any trace of deceit.

"I suppose I'll have to try this on then," Cordelia said, referring to the necklace. As chance would have it the only jewelry she was wearing that day was the bracelet. Chad offered to hold the bouquet for her in the meantime.

Once she'd finished putting on the necklace Chad nodded in approval. "It looks good on you. Although… is it to your liking?"

"I suppose so," Cordelia said, her irritation growing. Chad wasn't supposed to care about what she wanted. He was supposed to offer honeyed words that veiled an ulterior motive, verbally poking and prodding her to act like he desired. Meanwhile she'd pretend not to notice and attempt to find out as much about him as she could. They were supposed to keep going until one side outed the other.

"I'll replace it if you don't like it," Chad offered.

"No, it's fine," Cordelia shook her head. "Let's just get going."

Chad aborting the game felt like a betrayal of sorts. She knew that was a ridiculous notion but still failed to shake it.


She hadn't thought it possible, but Chad brought her to a restaurant that was even fancier than the last. Reservations were probably needed months in advance unless one was a VIP. Had he planned on doing this all along or was he trying to compensate for her sour mood?

A waiter led them to their table, which was in a secluded area designed for two. The room featured intricately detailed carpeting, as well as ornate wood carvings lining the walls, but her annoyance dimmed the enjoyment of it all.

"Order anything you want," Chad offered. "It's all on me. I'll gladly recommend some wine if you'd like me to. I know you're not familiar with this price range."

Cordelia forced a smile. He was really trying, so why was all she could feel frustration? She almost wanted to tell him to take a sneaky jab at her, but of course that wasn't going to work. She settled on some dishes and resolved to see the date through.

Chad complimented her and told her how wonderful she was while they waited for their food to arrive, while Cordelia barely acknowledged his efforts. The food eventually arrived, looking gorgeous. It was clearly prepared with the highest skill but she failed to appreciate it in her current frame of mind. After having a few bites she found herself listlessly poking at the food with her fork.

"Cordelia," Chad eventually frowned. "Are you still unwell? You didn't have to force yourself, you know. I can bring you back home and we can return here another day."

Yep, utterly uncharacteristic. The old Chad would have attempted to somehow guilt trip her under the guise of caring.

"Let's say you signed up for one thing and the reality turned out to be very different from what you expected," she said. "How would you feel about that?"

"Mm." Chad took a moment to think. "That could be either good or bad depending on the situation. Is that what this is about? Did something happen at your workplace? I could cover your living costs, you know, and I'd gladly offer you a generous allowance as well."

Cordelia shook her head. It was a generous offer but she wasn't going to stay with someone just for the sake of money.

"No, that's not it," she said. "I suppose I was expecting something different from this relationship."

Chad's eyebrows shot up. "You were? Surely that can be remedied. Simply tell me what you wish for and I'll arrange for it. I trust you'll find that none of your dreams are too pricy for me to realize."

Cordelia smiled sadly. He wasn't getting it at all. She sighed deeply as she rose from her seat.

"Chad, I've thought this over." She decided to get straight to it rather than tiptoeing around the subject. "I want to break up."


The expression on Chad's face looked like genuine shock. Just like so many other of her previous lovers. She couldn't suppress a wry smile at the thought.

"This just isn't working for me anymore. I'm sorry," Cordelia said.

In her terms this was actually one of the kinder breakups. Usually she would wind up doing something that left the relationship in shambles and beyond any sort of recovery. This time she felt more apathy than anything else. What was she supposed to make a scene for anyway? He hadn't done anything wrong.

Chad slightly lowered his head and smiled sadly. "…I'm sorry this wasn't what you wanted after all."

"Well, thank you for the time we spent together," Cordelia said. She regarded him one last time before she turned and left. "Goodbye, Chad."

On the outside rain had started to fall. She realized that she'd have to hail a cab, seeing how it was Chad who had driven her here. The entrance to the restaurant offered shelter, but Cordelia opted to stand and wait by the curb even though it meant getting drenched. Her and Chad's world diverged at this point, and she wasn't turning back.


I beg of you

Cordelia took a deep breath and did her best to focus her attention on the singing of some nearby sparrows. A few days had passed since she broke up with Chad, but everything still felt slightly off-axis. She'd skipped the usual moping phase and found herself questioning if she actually wanted to keep dating.

Right now she was at the park not too far from her workplace, essentially just a small lake surrounded by some trees and greenery. She was hoping the movement would help clear her head. What did she want at this point? The answer still eluded her. If Chad had just been genuine to her up front, would she have stayed? Of course he'd still betray her in the end and she'd blow the relationship up, but-

She caught her mind wandering and chided herself for losing focus so soon. Once again she tried to listen to the sparrows with her full attention, but her ears picked up on a voice that sounded suspiciously like Chad's. What were the odds? Curiosity got the better of her and she went to look for the source of the sound. She approached slowly - she wasn't about to wander straight into his line of sight if it actually was him.

Turned out she was right. It was Chad, his pose conveying resignation that felt utterly at odds with his personality. Sat next to him was a blonde man in a fancy suit. She found herself unable to resist the temptation of sneaking up on them. They weren't looking her way and if she played her cards right she would be able to eavesdrop without being spotted.

There, she'd done it. She was in position, ridiculous as the whole endeavor was.

"Come on," the blonde man huffed. "You've been acting weird all day. What's going on? Out with it already."

"I'm saying it's nothing," Chad snapped.

"And I'm saying that's nonsense," the other responded. "It's not your business, is it?" he asked, a hint of nervousness creeping into his voice.

"No," Chad replied, his tone flat this time. "There's no need to worry about your loan, Leonard."

So they knew each other from before and Chad had given the guy a loan? The fact surprised Cordelia. Judging by the casual way they were talking to each other they likely had for a while too. She hadn't taken Chad for the type to maintain serious long-term relationships.

"Then what is it?" Leonard demanded. "If this isn't about business then what would it be?"

"I'm capable of other pursuits as well, you know," Chad said.

"No way. Absolutely no way. This isn't about a girl? You don't do love. You never did-"

"Shut up!" Chad demanded. "The last thing I need is you broadcasting it to everyone around…"

"Okay, okay, I get it. But seriously? You of all people falling in love?" Leonard said. He lowered his voice, though still spoke loudly enough for Cordelia to overhear.

"Believe what you want, Leonard," Chad snapped at him. "I’d like to remind you that you still have outstanding debts and things would quickly become were unpleasant were I to demand their repayment now."

"Yeah right. I know you’re just trying to change the topic," Leonard said. "I know how you've treated your women in the past. None of them ever mattered to you, so why would this one? Did you hit your head?”

"Whatever reason I have for pursuing a woman is none of your business," Chad frowned. "And who are you to say shit about my relationships? Your marriage is held together with duct tape."

"Shut it,” Leonard growled. "It doesn’t change who you are. The Chad I know would never allow some silly emotion like love to dictate his actions.”

Now this was a strange turn of events. Chad had actually fallen for her? Cordelia decided to listen in for a little while longer.

"You've had tons of girlfriends, but they only ever were playthings to you. Just like that Lillith girl you kept around," Leonard said.

"Don't you dare badmouth Lillith," Chad snapped.

"What?" Leonard's pitch rose. "Don't tell me you were into her too?"

"What's it to you?" Chad said angrily. "You'd better start minding your own business." He huffed and crossed his arms.

"That woman really messed you up, didn't she?" Leonard sighed and shook his head. “You sure she didn't open up your skull to muck around in your brain while you were asleep? Whatever, this better blow over soon…”

Leonard and Chad bickered for a while longer before they parted ways. When the conversation ended Cordelia decided to move out of the way before either of them could spot her.

What a strange turn of events. She sighed and continued her walk in the opposite direction. It would be the last she'd see of Chad for a while, she supposed. From this point on they'd probably just politely ignore each other if they met in public. It would be a lie to say she wasn't at least somewhat intrigued by the situation, but he'd already let her down once. What was the point of repeating that?


The days passed but still didn't feel quite right. Cordelia found herself thinking about her relationship with Chad more often than she liked. Recollections snuck up on her while she was just going about her day, be it walking to her car in the morning, packing groceries into the fridge, or having a quiet moment at work. What-ifs and other questions soon followed.

It was annoying and she eventually took on an extra shift in an attempt to make it stop.

The strategy worked reasonably well and she returned home thinking of case reports, patient progress and the shortcomings of the journal system. She had just gotten back home from work and made herself comfortable on the couch when the thoughts resumed. So much for a relaxing evening.

She groaned in frustration. There wasn't even any point to thinking about it, so why did it keep happening? She had already ended the relationship. Would she attempt to look for someone with similar traits later on? Cordelia stretched and looked up at the white wood ceiling. Being deprived of the opportunity for closer study of a manipulator still vexed her. Sure, she ran into the occasional patient with such tendencies, but the dynamics differed from those of two lovers. She sighed, half wishing she'd never met Chad.

She startled when the doorbell rang. Who could it be at this time? She didn't have much in the way of friends, nor had she resumed dating yet. She rolled onto her side and pushed herself off the couch. Better not let whoever was at the door wait for too long. Perhaps it was a delivery worker with a package for her neighbor? It wouldn't be the first time one of them came to the wrong door.

When she opened the door and saw who it was, Cordelia found herself struggling to speak. It was only after a moment of stunned silence that she managed to at least say his name.


To boot, he was offering her several gifts.

"I can't bear to be without you. I promise I'll treat you better," Chad pleaded. "One more chance is all I ask for."

Cordelia blinked several times, eventually taking the gifts off his hands and ushering him in. Not necessarily accepting them, but it

wouldn't do to have an extended conversation while he struggled to not drop anything. She figured that she at least owed him a chance to talk about what had happened. It would take a lot for his type to beg this openly. Which was kid of interesting.

Once again she silently cursed her sense of curiosity.


Cordelia motioned for Chad to take a seat on her couch and went to find something to snack on. Dinner would have to wait. Chad showing up and begging her to take him back was the last thing she'd expected. What in the world had she done to him to make him shed his pride in a matter of days? She sighed and settled on a bag of chips. Not exactly high-class, but Chad wasn't here for the food.

She returned to the living room and sat down, leaving space between herself and Chad. A wry smile hushed across Chad's features and then his gaze dropped to the floor. It appeared that he was very much aware of how slim his chances were.

"I… I've treated my girlfriends badly for a long time," Chad confessed. "I wouldn’t even see them as people. They were just things to be toyed with for my own amusement. I'm truly and deeply sorry for any discomfort I've caused you. I know I have no right to ask forgiveness and am utterly undeserving of you, but…"

Chad trailed off and chuckled dryly. "I'm still enough of a fool to try, it seems. If you wish to reject me I will respect your decision and I won't contact you again. However, if you would allow me the chance I'd do anything for you. Before I met you I didn't know that it was possible to feel this way about a person. To lose that warmth… it seems unbearable now."

Cordelia listened, allowing Chad the time he needed to find the right words. Once Chad was done speaking she sighed and leaned back. It was time for her to come clean.

"Listen. The time I asked about influential figures in your life I already suspected what you were. I wanted to know more about that, but I couldn't be straightforward about it lest I accidentally chase you off."

Chad's eyebrows shot up. "You were… aware? In that case why did you stay, knowing full well what a rotten guy I was?"

Cordelia smiled wryly. "I was curious to learn what made someone like you tick. Not merely in a textbook manner." She shrugged.

"A case study then?" Chad sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. "It seems oddly fitting that such is all I was to you."

"Well, it wasn't like they were bad times," Cordelia admitted, rubbing her cheek. "But then you started acting decent all of a sudden. Can you imagine my disappointment?"

"Frankly, no," Chad replied right away. "I thought I was doing what I had to in order to be able to remain by your side. After all that would be the normal thing to do, wouldn't it?"

"I suppose so," Cordelia said. "I guess I'm not your average date," she chuckled wryly. "Dumping someone for being kind to you… that's pretty messed up, isn't it? Anyway, I think you should know that my relationships always end in failure. So even if I did give you that chance… it won't last."

Chad emitted another dry chuckle. "So one garbage human with relationships meets another… normally I wouldn't be at all affected by you leaving but… I don't understand how you were able to capture my heart. It's pathetic, I know."

"I'm just as clueless as you are," Cordelia admitted with a sigh. She hadn't done anything special. "I suppose you'll be moving on now, knowing the full story? There's nothing for you here."

"I would still try," Chad said, actually meeting her gaze this time. "I love you and I meant it when I said that I'd do anything for you."

"So," Cordelia hesitated for a moment. The cruelest question was floating around in her mind, but perhaps this was the one time it was appropriate. "How will you make it interesting for me?"

Chad's eyes went wide with surprise at the question, but his features soon drew into a look of determination. "View it as a gamble, or a game if you need to. How long will this pathetic fool fight for you? Ask me anything you'd like about my… prior tendencies if that is your inclination. I'll be your case study if it means you'll stay with me."

"Hmm." Cordelia went silent as she pondered the proposal. Instead of seeing how long it took before he caught on she'd see how far he was willing to go for her sake. For a person with his background that was utterly unheard of. "I suppose you have my interest now."

Chad sighed with relief. "I'm glad. I'll do my utmost to ensure you won't regret this."

Cordelia couldn't help smiling weakly. Such high hopes, and here she knew it would all come crashing down in a month or two. "Very well. You're free to try."

"If it allows me to stay by your side I'll endure anything," Chad proclaimed. He paused for a moment. "I don't exactly have a good track record, either." He flushed, a nervous chuckle escaping him. "I've never actually fallen for anyone before…"

"Also, more specifically I'm a psychiatrist," Cordelia said. Might as well bring it up now that they were on a roll.

"I suppose that explains a few things," Chad said. "And I work in… information brokering, if that doesn't bother you too much."

Cordelia raised an eyebrow. "My, you're certainly forthcoming. As long as it's nothing overly illegal I imagine we'll be fine."

As if this relationship was going to last in the first place.

Chad smiled, wrapping his arms around Cordelia and holding her tight. "You're beautiful."

"And you're hopelessly in love," Cordelia snickered. "For the time being at least." She leaned in for a kiss. Might as well.

Chad eagerly reciprocated. He asked if he could spend the evening at her place, which she agreed to. They spent the time snuggling on the couch and Chad kept reiterating how glad he was to have her back. She was more interested in asking Chad about his thought processes than getting into bed with him at the moment. He was eager to please and answered her questions in depth, interspersed with flirty remarks and kisses.

Cordelia had to admit that this new dynamic didn't seem half bad.

CHAPTER 6: Reasons

Riddler, riddler...

Cordelia smiled as she regarded herself in the floor length mirror. Yes, the purple dress she'd chosen was going to be perfect for a high-class dinner date. Chad had asked her out and this time she actually looked forward to it. Through some warped logic she felt satisfied about the fact that Chad would treat other women as means to an end while he'd singled her out as special. It was a new puzzle for her to solve.

The doorbell rang and she opened up to see Chad, once again carrying gifts for her.

"You look dazzling today, my shining star," Chad commented right away. "I hope these will be to your liking," he said as he handed her the presents. He'd gone simpler this time, a few small boxes - wrapped - and no bouquet. A curious change of pace, though she suspected the contents of those boxes would compensate for the lack of extravagance.

Cordelia chuckled softly and Chad took it as encouragement to come on even stronger. Things got to the point where she had to lightly push against his chest and create some space between them.

"We have a dinner date planned, remember?" Cordelia pointed out. "We can continue this later on."

Chad blushed at that.

"Ah yes, of course we do… Do forgive me for getting carried away."

"We'd better hurry so we aren't late for our reservation," Cordelia smiled.

"Naturally," Chad quickly responded. "Although I made sure to set aside a comfortable amount of time for our dinner. There's yet time for you to open your gifts."

"You're that curious?" Cordelia chuckled softly and obliged. Her eyes went wide when she saw the contents, a prohibitively expensive necklace and the matching bracelet. "I hope you don't plan on keeping this up," she responded after a moment of stunned silence.

"You don't like them? I thought they'd be a good fit but if-" Chad began but Cordelia cut him off.

"No, they're gorgeous, I just don't want you to go broke for my sake," she explained.

"Then there's no problem." Chad winked. "You needn't worry yourself over how deep my pockets are."

Cordelia sighed softly. So he hadn't completely abandoned his strategy of throwing money at the problem.

Once again Chad had selected an exclusive place. This one seemed to be all about gourmet seafood. Chad continued flirting over dinner and Cordelia was more than happy to respond in turn. It wasn't half bad, knowing that she'd get to ask him about all of his past manipulation once they were in a private space. When they were done eating Chad suggested they spend the rest of the evening a this house. Cordelia saw no reason to decline.

She held to his arm as they walked up the steps to the front door.

"I trust you'll allow me to pick your brain this evening as well?" she smiled.

"I'm not sure why you find my thought process to be so interesting,” Chad said. “There’s not all that much to it.”

"Of course, your thoughts would appear normal to yourself," Cordelia chuckled. "But I promise you that they're intriguing to me."

"If that is your wish I'll oblige." Chad unlocked the front door and motioned for Cordelia to step inside.

She already knew the way by now and made herself comfortable on the couch in the living room. The ocean view remained stunning. Chad took a moment to prepare snacks and wine, during which Cordelia's gaze wandered idly across the room. What was the total cost of the interior? She wasn't sure whether she wanted to think about it.

Chad saved her the trouble of wondering.

"Here you go," he smiled as he returned with a fancy bottle of wine and some chocolates in a bowl. He down set the bowl - clearly expensive as well - and poured her a glass of the wine. "Only the best for you."

"My, you're going to spoil me rotten," Cordelia snickered.

"Wouldn't that be a good match? A rotten girlfriend for a rotten man," Chad chuckled.

"Indeed. Now why don't you tell me a little more about your deviousness? I'm all ears."

“It would… help if you had more specific questions,” Chad said, clearly somewhat bothered by the prospect, although he was attempting to maintain a neutral expression.

"Well," Cordelia thought it over for a moment. There were so many possible approaches to take. "For starters, what compels you to manipulate your lovers?"

"I… couldn't tell you for certain," Chad grimaced. "It sounds odd for someone like me, I know."

"But you did it, and you liked it," Cordelia reasoned. "Who was the first one? How did you get the idea?"

Chad huffed. "The first one, huh… Who knows?"

Chad initially had difficulty answering her questions, but once Cordelia got him talking she asked all sorts of follow-up questions. When had he first had a certain thought? How had he reached his conclusions? Had someone taught him certain forms of logic or did he put the pieces together for himself? Just what went through his head when he was actively manipulating someone? It was all fascinating to her.


"Don't you think this is enough questioning for now?" Chad asked eventually. "You're so thorough, it's sort of exhausting."

Cordelia chuckled softly at that. "You think so? I suppose I can understand, but… Can you promise me that you'll allow me to ask more questions another day?"

"Of course," Chad responded without hesitation. "Anything to keep my shining star happy." He moved in for a kiss.

"What a smooth transition," Cordelia snickered.

She wished that she could've kept up the questioning. Chad had offered her many interesting answers already, but she wanted to know so much more. The mystery of how his brain worked only seemed to deepen the more she learned. She sighed softly. At least this served to deepen the suspense, and thus her interest in him. Adding to that, he wasn’t bad looking, so this alternative was hardly a terrible one. She snuggled up against him and they shared an occasional kiss. She eventually suggested they move to the bedroom. Chad of course had no objections.

After they were done Chad snuggled up to her under the covers.

"I'm still surprised you actually came to beg me for a second chance," Cordelia chuckled. "That being said, offering you one clearly was the right decision."

"Well, my world felt empty without you," Chad said. "It was like you took my heart with you when you left…"

"A dramatic statement," Cordelia remarked. She rubbed her chin in thought. "I wonder why I had such a strong effect on you."

"I don't know," Chad sighed. "All I know is that I'd do anything for you. I know you don't feel quite the same towards me but… I still want to be with you."

"I think I like being with you," Cordelia said, and it was the truth. "Although I'm not sure whether that extends beyond physical aspects. I suppose I'm just detached, seeing how none of my relationships ever last."

"Let me ask you a question." Chad moved closer to her. "You said that your relationships always end. What actually happens? There usually are patterns to things like these."

The question gave Cordelia pause. Sure, she had wondered about it many times she sat crying in her apartment after a breakup, but she'd not found a good answer. Her first impulse was to move on to a different topic but she'd feel bad brushing Chad off after he had answered all of her questions in painstaking detail. She bit her bottom lip.

"Give me a moment to think on it."

"Of course," Chad smiled, placing an arm around her. "Take all the time you need."

Cordelia pondered the matter for a while, meeting Chad's gaze once in a while. Eventually she sighed heavily. Cordelia sighed. "Truthfully, I don't have a good answer for you." She rubbed the back of her neck. "It's not like I want it to end. But then I start seeing… signs. Cracks."

Then she'd strike a lethal blow and tear it all apart. Because that hurt less than facing the imminent betrayal. She bit her lip, pondering whether to be honest about that part with Chad. He'd probably just tell her that he wasn't going to betray her. As if.

She settled for a half-truth. "I suppose I… end up testing them. Sometimes I go too far."

"So you take enjoyment in pushing people you're with, even thought it might lead beyond the point of no return?" Chad asked. He chuckled softly. "Who'd have thought… I've been shitty in my relationships but I had to manipulate people to stay."

"No." Cordelia shook her head. "Enjoyment is the wrong word. I just," she trailed off and heaved another sigh. "It doesn't make sense, I know."

"So why do you enter relationships to begin with?" Chad asked, his eyebrows raised in surprise.

"I enjoy being with someone," Cordelia smiled faintly. "Making memories and sharing physical affection… don't you also find those to be pleasant things?"

"I do," Chad smiled softly. He ran his fingers through her hair. "It just makes me wonder why you'd deliberately push people away."

"It's not like that," Cordelia said. "I don't get that urge until after a while, and even if a relationship ends I can still relish memories I've created in the past."

"Is it a trust issue or have you always found it difficult to maintain relationships with people?" Chad asked.

Cordelia frowned and averted her gaze. "Who knows? I've been doing this for a long time…"

"You didn't test me before you dumped me," Chad pointed out. "And I don't think your dumping me was meant to be a test. Did I misunderstand something?"

"Your case was different. I dumped you because you lost your edge and I grew bored of you," Cordelia explained. "But the developments that followed sparked some hope after all."

Chad smiled wryly. "Most people dump me because of that. Who would've thought the one I'd fallen for would leave because I tried to be decent."

Cordelia snickered. "I suppose that's a testament to the mess you got yourself involved with."

Chad smiled. "A mess I'm more than happy to call my girlfriend."


A special moment