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The Core of the Apple

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She keeps touching her skin. It really is her skin, now, not a disguise to trick humans into thinking she's one of them. This is her skin, her body, and she really is one of them. Suddenly, after thousands of years, she has skin, skin and hair and bones, that are hers.

"You could try my moisturizer," Cordelia suggests, startling Anya.

"My skin is fine. The human body is 80% water; I don't see why I should have to add more moisture."

"Well, fine. Don't. Whatever. I just thought you might want to, like, relax."

"I can't relax," Anya says, hand on her cheek again. "I'm all jumpy and don't know why."

"Running away," Cordelia tells her. "It's stressful and hazardous to the health, which is why you need a nice, healthy bath with some pore-cleansing oils."

Anya nods and slowly puts her hand down. "So you're saying this is my fault. I want to survive, and therefore, I'm in pain."

"It's not fair," Cordelia says, flipping herself down onto the hard hotel bed. "But it's part of being human. You know, that, and having to moisturize to have great-looking skin. See, that's the thing about vampires? They have the skin they die with. So you figure, if you get vamped, it's probably not the greatest night of your life anyhow, but what if you were about to break out? Then you'd be stuck with that zit forever."

"Yes, I suppose that would be the worst aspect of becoming immortal. And not being able to see the sunshine. I was always glad, when I was a demon, that I was the kind of demon who could see the sun sometimes. I spent a lot of time indoors, of course, but..."

"Sun's good," Cordelia agrees. "But you need to wear sunscreen. You've got great skin; it would be a crime to let it get all burny and gross."

"Okay..."

"Let's go." It's too early in the morning for going, but Anya doesn't exactly have any other plans, so they go. Since they met up with each other, it's been constant -- they drive from sunup to sundown, then get inside where it's almost safe, then drive again. They meant to drive together as far as Los Angeles and then part ways, but Cordelia started heading east about three days ago, and Anya didn't bother to correct her. She thinks they might have a bond of some kind. Cordelia's lonely because all her surviving friends hate that she's poor (and no one's seen Harmony since graduation, which is worrying her), and Anya's lonely because...

Her new skin is awkward and tight on her face, and if she thinks back as far as she can, she remembers that once, demon-skin felt tight like this to a woman named Aud.

"Do you think I'm obsessed with appearances?" Cordelia frowns over the steering wheel as she makes a tricky turn. "I mean, more so than most people? Because I really don't think so. If I were obsessed with appearances, would I be straight? No, I would not, because boys aren't pretty, especially, God, especially not high school boys. They're gross, with the spitting and the burping and the yucky messy, you know -- stuff."

"Men are horrible," Anya says automatically.

"But I like them," Cordelia continues, "so I can't be all about appearances. I mean, okay, Wesley was kind of girl-pretty and all, but he wasn't all that great a kiss -- have I told you this story?"

"Yes."

"Right. Sorry. I'm getting all my stories mixed up... how long have we been on the road?"

"Almost a week."

"We took a wrong turn somewhere."

"I thought you did that on purpose."

"You weren't supposed to mention that," Cordelia says. There are too many new things to remember. "And okay, is there something really wrong with surfaces? I like surfaces."

"They make people attractive," says Anya. "They keep all the organs from falling out."

"Would you eat an apple if it didn't have a skin? Would you? All mealy and yellow and gross. Skin is important. Skin is good."

Anya can't remember when she stopped minding that Cordelia talks at right angles to her.

"People say you should have layers. That you should have hobbies, and interests, do something other than think about work all the time. But you know what happens if you have layers? Then people just peel them away, like you're a potato. Or a carrot, or an apple being baked into a pie. They peel and peel and peel, and all that's left is the core at the center, and it's ugly and wrinkly and wasted and they just throw it out."

"Like if you don't have all the right clothes and your father doesn't have enough money, you're just rotten garbage, right?"

She also doesn't mind Cordelia's habit of believing everything Anya says is about her.

"You know, I should really try to keep my surface polished, if I'm going to continue with this humanity thing. It would be irritating if my skin started to rot."

"Not to mention gross. Try the moisturizer."

"I will when we stop for the night."

"Are you actually eager to find Los Angeles?"

"No."

"Me neither. And until Daddy's credit cards get snipped, I figure we don't actually need to, you know, settle down."

"That's not a very responsible attitude."

"Shh," Cordelia says. "I'm finding us a hotel."

"So we can moisturize?"

"Sure. And then I can show you how to use the nifty free bath salts they give us." She pulls over two lanes and almost crashes into a blue minivan. "Oops."

They drive to the new hotel in silence; Cordelia has to concentrate on not killing them, and Anya is concentrating on evaluating her feelings. Feelings are usually easy to understand; they arise quickly and force themselves to be paid attention to. They are vibrant and frightening and harsh. But now her emotions are complicated, tied in impossible knots in the pit of her stomach. They are as unfamiliar as her new skin, but if she reaches back far enough, she recognizes the squirm in her stomach, the heat in her chest, the sticky, gross feeling at her core. She's feeling human.