City Of Women
Only an idiot would go to Los Angeles to stop being attracted to women, and I am she.
There I was sitting in my one room somewhere not especially near Malibu, with cockroaches drilling around, under and sometimes on my couch, waiting for the phone call that would change my life or at least mean I ate that week. Sitting, listening to motivational tapes, waiting for auditions, or dates, or something.
Every day, I would try and have a fantasy about some cute boy movie star. Every day, his co-stars would come sashaying into my mind.
I did not want this; girls and my imminent stardom so utterly did not mix. Oh sure, there's always about to be a moment somewhere where someone thinks lipstick lesbians are totally wonderful and cool, and there I'd be, and the wind would change and I'd be stuck. I want a career, not a moment, I kept telling myself, but there were times then when a moment would have been nice.
Yet all the time, I would find myself trusting women just because they were women and I felt something for them, something I was not ever about to talk about. I went to Margot's parties because I needed the canapés and because there were agents like Oliver and cute boys clustered round him, not all of whom were gay, surely, not even in LA. But mostly I went because Margot seemed to be this cool sophisticated woman I wanted to grow up to be, even if I didn't get to be a star.
Sometimes, I daydreamed about her, and women like her. We would sit around, in ten years time or so, and I would be as rich and successful as they were. And I would say 'You know, when I was first in LA, I had a little bit of a crush on you' and she would say 'Oh, darling, you really should have said' and jump my bones, in a sophisticated way that somehow did not make either of us dykes. Or if it did, it didn't matter.
Afterwards, I waited a couple of weeks and went to another of her parties. Same party, different faces.
I was going to be dramatic and denounce her, like a masked avenger or something - the woman she betrayed. But the canapés were smoked salmon rolls with cream cheese and seaweed quiches, and you can't denounce with a mouthful.
I did wander over and gesture hi! and try and swallow to a point when I could hold a conversation without unbecomingly spitting crumbs. She acted as if nothing had happened, almost.
'Oh,' she said. 'Hi Cordy. Glad you could make it. You know you're always welcome.'
'Why, thanks Margot,' I said, smiling like a shark. 'I'm afraid things didn't work out with Russell.'
'Oh well, ' she said. 'He's out of the picture; there are new players now.'
'How totally cool,' I said.
She pecked me on the cheek and turned to walk away.
'Margot,' I said. 'What sort of monster are you selling girls to this week?'
But she continued to walk away as if I hadn't said anything.
The waiter with the stuffed dates looked at me.
'Good reading,' he said. 'Can I use those lines in class next week?'
I didn't go to any more of Margot's parties.
Of course, she was just a pill-popping pimp for rich vampires, and nearly got me killed, but I still had my dreams. Somewhere in the city of dreams I would find a way to get everything I wanted and not have to make choices, but I was not there now, had not found that way.
That's one way of looking at it: another is that I was still suffering from Graduation hangover and Faithsickness and was being careless almost as a way of life. I was so desperate to get my break that I let Margot talk me into going to see Russell Winters and I should have worked that one out without even trying.
Even if he hadn't been a vampire - and I might have guessed that - he was obviously going to be a creep; people who don't go to parties and order you up from the video, that has just got to be weird.
So anyway, I nearly died, and this time it was from trying to play straight, only Angel got into the act - not planning to save me specifically but over some other girl he failed to save, and so there I was, back in the game. It was obviously meant that I work with him and Doyle, because they were my chance not to be hungry all the time and I didn't want ever to be hungry again - which is from that movie, or is it a song?
I was so not going to discuss personal stuff with Angel because the last thing I wanted was to have him feel entitled to mope at me about Buffy and how he had had to do the right thing and his curse and no happiness and - you know the story. You hang out with Angel, you cope with brooding - but you don't go looking for it.
Besides, it had been eeww! enough getting Giles' back story, though sort of interesting; I really did not want to get two and a half centuries of Angel mess-ups. The women were going to be bad enough - but after Giles, I had learned not to assume anything.
Men come onto Angel all the time - and I refuse to believe that gaydar isn't operating at least a bit there. He has such good taste for one thing, and pretty much a girly name. And when you have walked in on him and Spike having interesting conversations involving red-hot pokers, your imagination has got to start working.
That blond boy is awfully mad about something, and maybe it is just Drusilla, or maybe it is something else. I really do not want to know - boys play such ugly games sometimes.
And apart from anything else, ages later, someone told me that Spike dated Harmony, when they bothered to tell me that my former best friend was now playing for the other other team. I really was not surprised about her and Spike - she was always the biggest fag hag...
And then there was Doyle, the man with the bad habits and the worse than Xander clothes and some big secret that I didn't know, but gathered was there from the way he and Angel kept going into huddles. 'Please, please, my friend really really likes you' is even less dignified when it comes from someone several centuries old and never actually gets said, just conveyed through a different sort of brooding.
Oh, and the 'maybe a little attracted' crush on Angel, whose butt he watched almost as much of the time as he watched my breasts, with just a hint of drool.
I did like Doyle, in a way; he was my first little puppy dog since Xander and that is always good for the ego. I even sort of thought about him in a flesh way on slow fantasy evenings; he was neat and compact and had those big unreliable droopy eyes.
You knew he'd make you miserable and you'd make him miserable and it wouldn't be tragic, just sort of irritating and embarrassing. Besides, sooner or later, he would want to come up with his secret whatever it was, and I would feel obliged to come up with mine.
The difference is, he says 'Honey,I'm half demon' and you say 'Yukk' and walk away, or 'That's OK' and throw your arms around him with big smoochies. You say, 'Honey, I'm actually mostly a dyke' and instantly he wants you to let him meet all your girlfriends, or worse, wants to introduce you to all of his. So tacky, so eighties.
And all the worse because actually I did meet his ex, and she was a total sweetie. And not my type at all, thank god, because she totally knew about me.
We had bonded more or less over her asking me to her shower, and I relaxed a lot around her, because what was not to like? She was demonologist gal, but managed to do it all with a certain beach-girl flair; she wore her clothes like they had history, that every darn and tear was the mark of a journey. Which is not how I choose to live my life, but Harry had inalienable marks for style in spite of blonde curls that screamed drag queen or country singer - or maybe drag queen country singer..
'This evening has reminded me that I need to protect Francis' she said in the cab after the non-eating of his brains. 'Don't hurt him.'
'I would never hurt Doyle,' I said. 'Well, I would never mean to.'
'He doesn't know about you and women, does he?' she said.
I tried to look blank and innocent.
'I noticed the two seconds you took to check me out,' she said.
'That was mostly a clothes thing,' I said.
'Whatever,' she said. 'So, when are you going to tell Francis that he isn't in the running.'
'Oh, that,' I said. 'It's, you know, a bit more complicated than that.'
'So tell me,' she said. 'I'm an ethnodemonologist; I do field work; I get complicated.'
'I was in love with a Slayer; she was in love with the other Slayer, who was in love with Angel; it got messy. He and I came to LA.'
'Hang on,' she said. 'There are two Slayers now; I thought that didn't...'
'Long story,' I said. 'Complicated magic get-out prophesy clause thingy.'
'And my impression was that Angel is a vampire,' she said.' Though there is the not evil thing.'
'Yes,' I said. 'You got it; Slayers dating vampires. No standards left anymore. Slayers not dating each other - big evil triangle mess with Cordelia left holding the coats.'
'So, are you over her? Because I'm thinking single beautiful woman in LA who wants to date women, pretty much gets to write her ticket.'
'Not exactly over,' I said. 'Not planning to date women any time soon. Career issues, there.'
'Sweetie,' she said. ' That is so very much not how to run your life.'
'Plus,' I said. 'I don't know what it is. I seem to be doomed to be Dates-Evil gal. Faith, evil slayer OK, and then sort of crush on evil hostess lady. The closest thing I've got to anyone's showing interest recently were some 'open to possibilities' remarks from scary police woman, and she is so much more interested in Angel.'
'Poor dear,' she said, letting me out at the Pearson Arms. 'Just mind you don't hurt Francis.'
We used to go for coffee, and every so often, she would tell me about women in her post-doc class that she thought I ought to date. I liked that she and Doyle were entirely over, but that there was still love there; it was how things ought to be.
Then he got killed and there was hardly anything left to bury.
We buried him anyway, Harry and me. We didn't tell Father McCloskey about the half-demon thing, but I think Doyle's being Irish was all that counted. The Father wanted to do a whole elaborate Requiem thing, but we told him that there would probably be just the two of us.
'But what about your other friend?' he said. 'Francis's employer.'
Harry and I looked at each other.
'Angel's not really a churchgoing man.' I said.
I wrote to his mother's cousins, but none of them came; a few of the gambling chums showed up, hung around the back of the church, left flowers on the pathetically small casket, lit a couple of candles each and then left.
There had been just enough of them that they organised a crap game, in Doyle's memory.
There were the two of us at his graveside, wearing black veils and holding hands.
'He'd have loved this,' she said reaching under her veil with a tissue. 'Beautiful women wailing over his remains.'
Then we didn't say anything and watched the casket be lowered.
'I'm leaving town.' she said. ' Nothing to do with this - new clan of rat demons in Sumatra. Huge, some of them.'
I pulled my sorry-to-lose-you face.
'It really wasn't my fault,' I said. 'He just decided he had to be the hero.'
'Oh well,' she said. 'Francis was never going to be old.'
We air-kissed past the veils and I never saw her again.
She was probably the only real woman friend I made in my first year in LA, the only real friend. Kate was not someone I wanted to spend time with, even before she decided that Angel was evil and had to die; every so often, I would see her in the street and she would stare at me as if there was some sign of corruption on me.
She was scary even when she wasn't nuts; and of course, if you thought of her without the compulsive staring eyes pulling out guns side, she was very beautiful. Yet more reason to stay well away.
Being twenty in LA really sucks; you are older than all the kids who have been acting since they were five, and you don't know how any of it works, not really. You latch on to people who seem to get it, but they don't, not really.
Sarina got pregnant and Stepford-crazy with the rest of us; OK so this time I was crushing on someone who wasn't actually evil, and so were Emily and the others, and they were straight, far as I know. Still, I did the sex with a guy thing, which was sort of OK at the time, which was a piece of options information I needed, even if he did fill me up with demon spawn.
When I talk it through, it is a big list of big misery. Let's not forget my first starring role - what was I thinking of? Ibsen? A complete nightmare; luckily Angel and Wesley only came the once and weren't there when Rebecca Lowell came along.
She was by herself and came to my dressing room afterwards.
'I was really bad, wasn't I?' I said.
'Well...,' she said, searching for something to say.
'Yes,' she settled on, which lead to an even more awkward silence.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'For everything. Is he OK?'
'Yes,' I said. 'We chained him up for a day, so as to be sure. But he's still good - no permanent damage. And Wesley didn't break anything that mattered.'
'I can't even begin,' she said,' to say sorry to him. He was right; I'm a self-involved little bitch who never thinks about anyone but herself.'
'Actually,' I said. 'That's pretty much just his type.'
'And I was so cruel to use you like that,' she said, staring at me with those intense eyes I had dreamed of all the way through my teens. 'I could at least have seduced you rather than buying you lunch.'
She reached out and put her hand on my shoulder.
'I still could, you know', she said. 'You could come away with me when I move to New York.'
I thought long and hard, for a moment or two, then I kissed her quickly on the cheek and held her shoulders for a few seconds.
'I came to LA to be a star,' I said. 'Not a star's girlfriend. But thank you all the same.'
'You live in a nightmare,' she said. 'He's a lovely man, but he could become that thing again and...'
'Well,' I said,' nobody's perfect.'
'You know why you won't be a star,' she said.
'Because I suck.' I said resignedly.
'No,' she said. 'You are so into being occult private eye's comedy girl Friday. I mean, it's a dream part - you do all the bits of it so well. How can you be Norah when playing Cordelia takes everything you've got?'
She smiled at me wistfully.
'You'll only love someone who comes to you as part of the job' she said. 'You wanted me when I was an unreliable broad with revelations to come in Act Three, but I can see - now I'm last week's file, last week's script.'
It was such a good exit line.
She wasn't right, of course. Not mostly anyway.
Because, as it happened, last year's girl turned up for our twelve-o'clock, with a crossbow. She doesn't write, she doesn't call. She just kept shooting at Angel, and missing - which was so not plausible it had to be some complicated psycho game; if she could hit him from the other end of Sunnydale Main Street, she could hit him across a room.
Also, she looked worse than when I saw her last, and then I thought she was going to die; she was almost stripped-down-to-the-bone Faith, like a hungry ghost. And she only had eyes for Angel; she was avoiding looking at me even in passing.
This was very very bad; it was like being faced with some terrible choice, except that there was no choice here. I had sometimes thought of what it would be like to get my Faith back, in bed, with pizza, but my Faith was gone and all that was left was skin and bones and haunted eyes that had seen too much and been up too long.
So I had no thoughts about not leaving town; Angel thought it a good idea, and yes, so did I. In this one, Wesley and I were bystanders; Angel might be the one she wanted to kill, but we were the ones she might decide to hate.
What I hadn't thought about was how little she knew of what had happened while she was in a coma.
She came out of my bedroom and hit me in the face with her elbow; then she started doing complicated things to Wesley with her feet while I lay on the floor, partly dazed and mostly freaked.
A bowl came whizzing across the room at her head and she caught it in mid-air.
'Try it, ghost-boy', she said,'and she loses a major organ.'
Wesley was not even moving and she came over to me, putting the bowl on the table as she passed. She sat down beside me, and stroked my bruised forehead.
'Poor baby,' she said. 'All these boyfriends and no-one to save you. How do you do the wild thing with a ghost, C? Must be wicked weird; can he go through you, or just all the way round?'
'Dennis is just a friend,' I said.
'Oh, sure, C,' she said. 'Like Angel is just a friend and Wes is just a friend. I'm not blind, you know. You started making up to Wesley even before we were completely through. So you made a go of it with him - kind of sweet. How do you two get off with each other - talk about what a bad girl I am?'
She was building up to doing something. She was not sitting beside me any more, but sort of crawling around on top of me, holding me to the ground and whispering in my ear.
'How could you, C? After what we had? How could you go to the gutless wonder?'
I looked up into mad eyes that had no love or pity in them.
'Faith, Wesley is not my lover. We dated for a few weeks a year ago, but it didn't come to anything. We are not what the other needs.'
She sighed, almost as if relieved, but I wasn't going to leave it there.
'And, Faith, Wesley isn't whoever you think he was. Not anymore. He's strong and brave; he even fought Angelus the other week, and won.'
'Cool.' she said. 'So the old guy turns up from time to time. This is so very much better than what I planned; and a brave Wesley is pretty much what I need as well. Thanks, C; you always help me out in the clinch.'
'So,' she went on, 'not the ghost and not Wussley. Surely not the boss - suppose no perfect happiness pretty much guaranteed with you, but even so. I know how you hate being number two to B, or did you get over that?'
'That's not my problem, sweetie,' I said. 'Projection, much.'
She did something with her right hand, somewhere in my wrist, and it hurt me until I squeaked.
'No,' I said. 'I have only one problem, Faith. And it's you.'
'Spoiled you for others, did I?' she said.
And then she screeched in my ear.
'Liar!! I've seen the list. They watch you, you know. Lilah went over it with me and said what very good taste you had. 'All those months I was in a coma. And all you did was slut your way around LA.'
She pulled away from me as if she were disgusted at the thought of touching me, then a teasing glint I knew well came for a moment into those dead staring eyes.
'She said she wouldn't mind taking your leavings, and I think that included me.'
'Oh please,' I said, sitting up a bit. 'Like anything evil lawyer lady says is to rely on. And how typical of you to lower your standards from me to Buffy to her.'
'Lilah Morgan can afford the good stuff,' I said. 'But somehow she is always drawn to flash and trash.'
'One day,' Faith said. 'Someone is going to cut that tongue right out of you.'
'I might as well,' I said, 'get full use of it until then.'
She hurt my arm some more.
'So,' I said. 'Being Buffy didn't work out for you then. I still don't like the girl much, but you've got to admit she always wins - especially against you.'
'Not about everything,' Faith said. 'Slept with her boyfriend and the stupid piece of meat didn't even notice.'
'So that's a victory,' I said. 'Don't you think tagging around after her boyfriends is, well, kind of pathetic.'
'Still,' I said. 'Nice to see Giles protecting your reputation by not telling us that one.'
'I don't think Giles knew,' she said.
'You'd be surprised what Giles knows,' I said. ' He knew all about us, for one thing, and told me that I'd get over you eventually. You know, I never really believed him until now.'
'No-one ever gets over me', Faith said and held my head back and pursed her lips.
'Shall I kiss you? Or shall I break your slut neck?'
'Whatever,' I said. 'It's no big deal.'
'How's that?' she said.
'I lost you,' I said.
'Who's pathetic, now?', she said.
I looked up at her gaunt mad face.
'I said, I lost you.' I said. 'I did not say, I would take you back.'
'I always knew you had a pair somewhere, C' Faith said. 'Gotta go now - people to kill'
She pinched something else and I passed out from the pain. When I came to, Angel was in the room and Wesley was gone.
I got so out of there, next day; beaten, wants-to-die one minute, wants-to-be-redeemed the next, how very much not the Faith I wanted to deal with right now. Let alone get involved in her and Angel doing a support group thing around being evil.
As it happened, Buffy hits town, followed by Watcher hitmen and I was right to be out of town. Faith ends up in jail, saving Angel from scary cop lady; Angel and Buffy have the great eternal row of all time; Wesley gets to do higher and better thing; and I won five thousand dollars on a slot machine. I think I got the good deal.
Sometimes, the last thing you need is time to process. There was the David Nabbit thing - and I realised that there are some things I wouldn't do to be rich, poor David - and the Gunn thing, and the briefly not evil Lindsay thing; there are times in your life when things speed up and times when they slow down and this was one of those hamsters spinning the wheels so fast you can't see it moments.
In the middle of which, I am buying artist's supplies because Angel needs a hobby and someone comes up and touches me on the wrist. I mean, I don't even see him, though from what Angel says, no loss - maggots not favourites with me - and suddenly my brain is exploding.
There's a boy with a needle in his arm in Reseda and he thinks it's just junk but it is something grey and shiny and demonish, but I don't get to find out what because there's an old lady round the corner from me in Silverlake who is being pinned to her sofa by six vampires who are pulling out her hair and playing wishbones with her cat and then there is a hooker on the Strip who is getting into a car and a tentacle comes out and round her and a shop in Koreatown where there is nothing any more but a big growing pool of green slime.
And there are creatures in pain as well; vampires who are just hungry, but also vampires who are being processed in like a blender thing and their dust packaged in sachets and vampires that someone is trying lasers on to see if it's like sunlight. There are demons whose whole being is pain - whose skin is some other being that wants a divorce and perpetually has to be pinned in place, or whose skull perpetually shrinks against their brain because they can't find some element they need and so they eat glands out of people to get it and I can feel them screaming and the people screaming and the yukkiness is all over it.
There are more people, more creatures, suffering in LA than I had ever begun to imagine, and part of what happens to me for the next days is the sheer pain of that and part of it is that they are all there all of the time except when one dies and there is always something to take its place and I cannot tell the difference between human pain and vampire pain any more.
And every day it has been the same and every day I failed to help and every day nothing I could have done would have added up to remotely enough.
And then there is her, supernatural being in supernatural pain. You know how you always think you could never spot a friend in a crowd and somehow there is a crowd thousands strong and you look and you wave and suddenly you see them.
It was like that - all of Los Angeles screaming into my head and her high clear note of pain is there above the rest.
I knew I had never known the whole of Faith, and now I did; pain for her childhood and pain for her drunk mother and pain for her dead Watcher - and, like she said, words don't exist for what Kakistos did to her - and pain for Buffy, so much pain for Buffy who wanted to kill her and not even think about why, and sort of a thing about Xander and sort of a thing about Wes and galumping great guilt about Buffy's soldier and, and oh god! pain and guilt and lust and jealousy and irritation and cutesiness over me that was so much less than the Buffy stuff yet I knew it all from the other side and some of it was my fault and she forgave me for that and most of it was hers and she couldn't let it go. But every moment she thought about me, she thought about Buffy too, and the two thoughts bounced in and through and round each other.
Surely I am not that much like Buffy Summers; sometimes in Faith's head, I couldn't tell us apart.
It went on for an eternity - I have more respect for Angel even than I ever did, because apart from his saving me, he had something like that for centuries in hell, on top of all his usual brooding which hey! he must have taken there with him.
But I got better and it faded. Though I hope I learned from it and will be new improved Cordelia forever afterwards. You are usually better for the things you learn.
Because most of the time they are what you already knew. But now you know you know them.
Sometimes, I think I ought to go and see Faith and then I go and buy some new shoes instead. Whatever could I say to her? Hi Faith, I understand and I forgive you; she is going to spit in my eye and quite right too. Faith, I still love you - well, in a way that's true, but in a way it really is not; she has no mystery left for one thing, no new things to find out except what happens next. Faith, I'll let you moon over Buffy as long as you're sweet to me - been there, done that.
No, it is best as it is; not seeing her, not speaking to her, not letting her know I know all that I know, is not just about pride, my pride and her pride, but pride is the bit of it I can understand. Pride is most of what I have left, is all of what she has, and I won't lose it or take it away from her. When you're in love, when you're in pain, love and pain are there, but in the end it is all about pride.