Title: Chapter Eight: On Deciding How to Die
Rating: R, for like, one bad word.
Category: vignette, angst
Summary: There’s something in the turning of squiggles into an innate knowledge of cannibalism – something that carries a deeper meaning. Only she’s too tired to try and figure it out.
Spoilers: Everything up to Season Three, “Birthday”.
Disclaimer: The characters in the Angelverse were created by Joss Whedon & David Greenwalt. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Distribution: Ask, and ye shall receive.
Notes: Hi, this is in lieu of a proper introduction. It’s Cordelia’s thoughts before the events of “Birthday”. Yes, it’s been done one hundred times. This is one hundred and one!
Feedback: Is yummy, and eaten up with a spoon.
There’s this thing Cordelia wants to say. Yes, there’s this thing bubbling inside her, only she’s never been good with words.
Okay, that’s not true. That’s just an excuse. She’s brilliant with words. They’re like fabulous peacock feathers, blooming around her, firing from her, circling and defending and glorifying her. They’re her gift and burden. She uses words like Angel uses his sword and Wesley uses his books.
Only, the real words, she’s not good with them. She’s good with humour and misdirection, and okay, she’s good with real words too. She’s good with hard, metallic, sword-like words that cut and bite and say something true. Words that nobody else likes, and for that reason, Cordelia has been alone most of her life.
But this thing she’s trying to say now, she’s not good with those words.
Cordelia lives with many things that seem impossible – death, pain, blood, screaming, whimpering, people pleading for their lives, the metallic taste of fear in the back of her throat. Failure, uncertainty, and the fear that one day her boys will be hurt or killed or judged and found lacking. She lives with not being who she wants to be, but being who other people need her to be. Angel’s Girl Friday, Gunn’s Barbie, and Wesley’s Best Friend, Fred’s Idol, Connor’s Mommy – the organized, strong, determined Cordelia who takes everything in her stride and stomps on it with her pencil-sharp stilettos. Nurse Cordy, who fixes all wounds, inside and out. Cordy of the Honest Answer and the Good Advice. They all need her to be that, so she is.
It’s comforting to wear that skin. Comforting to have a place inside you that other people have made, a place you can retreat to. A persona to pull on in the mornings like clothing, when you aren’t sure who you are, or what you want anymore. But sometimes, she’ll walk past a shop window, and catch sight of her reflection, and think, Who is that?
It’s her, of course. The person she doesn’t recognize anymore is her.
She lives with all of this – these Cordelias, these versions of her self, the clothes she pulls on, the personalities she takes off. She knows – because she’s inside too many other heads – that most people live like this. That there is no one true version of a person. That there are many versions, all for different occasions, different dinners, and friends, and boyfriends and lovers. That people have nothing to hold onto because nobody is real, so they find the next closest thing – money, power, fame, beauty, violence, sex, drugs, and knowledge, the worst drug.
There are a million and one vices and devices for forgetting, all of them crawling under Cordelia’s skin. She sleeps next to them, because they’re inside her now. All those people parading through Cordelia’s mind, like it’s a free-for-all, like they have a right to take her over and invade her and push her out. All of them have left something behind. Some sound, image, feeling, thought, like Cordelia Chase is the Archive for the Pain and Suffering of Los Angeles.
And she’s tried so damn hard not to complain.
God, she’s getting the Buffy-martyr complex, right?
Cordelia lives with the person she’s become: she answers the phone, picks up blood from the rank abattoir at four in the morning, patches up a man with no heart, knows where to get parts for a 1967 Plymouth, and can read fluently in Ancient Babylonian. Wesley taught her. Once those squiggles were just squiggles, but now she can half-heartedly glance at a page from the Hieromancy Chronicles and immediately transplant every last part, about the still-beating hearts ripped from the bodies of virgins and fed to young men.
There’s something in that – the turning of squiggles into an innate knowledge of cannibalism – something that carries a deeper meaning. Only she’s too tired to try and figure it out.
She’s exhausted. But this thing she’s trying to say – she works for the Powers that Be. And that’s the first clue, really.
She doesn’t work for the Good that Is. The Shiny White Hats Inc. No, she works for the Powers that Be. They aren’t good. There. There it is. They’re not good. They’re not evil, either.
Wesley once tried to explain Nietzsche to her, and Cordelia pretended to blank out after twenty seconds, and then went and bought a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. There’s something in her that loves Wesley, desperately, without reservation, without thought. Oh, not the Watcher Wesley. He couldn’t kiss, and didn’t know one damn thing about real life.
No. She loves her rogue demon hunter Wesley, who’s shared four a.m. battles with her, shared an apartment with her, and shared his wounds and his love and his fears with her. The Wesley who keeps his crème fresh next to Angel’s pint of blood, and Cordelia’s low-fat yoghurt. Wesley, who, occasionally, and for no particular reason, buys Cordelia flowers. Wesley, who has taught her things beyond teaching, has shown her worlds beyond imagining, all with his deep English accent, his beautiful eyes, and his hope for better things.
She’s not really Cordelia if she doesn’t love Wesley. She has to hide that from Angel, though, because he couldn’t understand that in another world, another time, if she was another Cordelia, and he was another Wesley, she could love him properly. She could be with Wesley, trace his body with her mouth, trace his mind with her heart. But she’s not that Cordelia and he’s not that Wesley, and if they ever had a boat, it’s certainly sailed now.
But, because she loves Wesley that way, she went and read Nietzsche. It was hard work, and she felt stupid every time she finished a sentence. But the powers are almost the embodiment of what Nietzsche was trying to say, and she gets it now. They’re not good. They’re not evil. They’re just powerful. Really, really, in-your-face, I-can-so-I-will, watch-me-slap-you-down powerful.
But the thing she’s trying to say is that all these people, walking, running, driving, cycling around – they’re all looking for this extraordinary thing. A meaning. A truth they can yell loud and clear across the wasteland of the twenty-first century. Something they can pull from beneath the rubble and hold up, and brandish in the face of a life that just sucks.
But Cordelia gets it. There’s no meaning. There’s no good. There’s no evil. There’s nothing extraordinary. There’s nothing ordinary. Moral people, amoral people, immoral people are all facets of the same idea. That everything just is. It is, and it is, and is, and it keeps on being. It’s oceans, and rivers, and skies and suns and stars – it just is, and it keeps on the face of your limited life.
They’re all looking for this thing, and Cordelia works for the Powers, and she knows it doesn’t exist.
But it doesn’t matter to them. They keep looking for their truth, they keep making choices that have no meaning, they keep laughing and crying, and waking up and sleeping. They have the freedom to do whatever the fuck they want. They can fight for the noblest cause, they can choose to hurt people, they can choose to make money or give it away; love people who live alone; have children or admire them from afar. They can choose to live life, or opt out of it. They possess an amazing freedom that Cordelia no longer has.
And she’s getting to what she really wants to say. The other stuff was just other stuff, things that other people have already said. Maudlin depressing things. Complaints and problems, and God knows, Cordelia Chase has never really kept her mouth shut about how unfair her life is.
This though, is not just stuff: Cordelia is special. So special, that the Powers rule her life. They can flip to the end of the book and read the final page, whilst Cordelia still in the middle of Chapter Six: How I Became a Seer and Learned to Live with Debilitating Migraines.
Or maybe she’s in Chapter Seven now. On Loving Vampires Who Brood and Wear Too Much Black.
Or perhaps she’s still in Chapter Five: How to Tell the Difference Between a Babylonian Dagger and a Sumerian Knife, How to Get Bloodstains Out of Clothes, and Other Domestic Secrets of a Vampire’s Secretary.
Or, maybe she’s way back in Chapter One: How I Came to be Born and Grow Up.
Oh, who the hell knows? And who the hell cares, sometimes?
Sure, Angel and Wesley and Gunn and Fred, they all care. They love her. Gunn loves her for being sassy. Fred loves her for being capable. Angel loves her for being herself, and Cordelia still can’t get over that. Wesley loves her for being – and not being – everything she can be.
They do love her. She’s not going to be a true martyr and pretend she’s alone in this. She’s not. Angel understands some of what she’s trying to say. The way her life is controlled, finite; the way her life is rigged.
And it is. So the choices Cordelia makes are irrelevant. The every day acts and indecisions are pointless for her. Somehow, the Powers will put her where she needs to be; make her do what she’s supposed to do; take from her what they need when they need it.
Apparently, they’ve already decided that her time is up. That she’s outlived her usefulness.
The others know. How could they not?
The back of her head just about blows out whenever she has a vision. Her whole body shakes and strains. Her vision becomes blurry, she can barely walk, she vomits three or four times, and it puts her out of the game for almost a whole day.
They’d have to be blind and dumb not to see that every two or three days she loses her grip on life. How, every time she saves someone else’s life, part of hers is taken away.
But not one of them asks how she is anymore. Cordelia spends her time looking after them, but they don’t ask about her anymore. Because they all know that they couldn’t live with the answer. So, here’s another thing Cordelia has to live with, because nobody else can.
She’s dying, and she can’t change it; she can’t fix it; she has no choices, and the knowledge of her impending death is her burden alone.
So, what do her decisions matter? She’s been asking herself that for weeks, and she’s finally found an answer the question. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. She shouldn’t worry about it. She should just be Cordelia.
This power isn’t good, it’s not evil, but it’s hers. It makes her real. It makes her important. It makes her somebody. And it’s hers. Her name is finally in lights somewhere: on a scroll, in prophecies, the Underworld. People know who she is – the Seer of Los Angeles. And she’s going to let it kill her because there are worse things than this. Cordelia should know.
And there are all these things she thinks she should have been, but instead, she reads Ancient Babylonian and talks to a ghost, and has vivid sexual fantasies about a dead guy who used to snap people’s necks for fun.
But this thing she’s trying to say about herself – well, it’s nothing. It doesn’t matter what she’s trying to say. Even if she articulates it, it won’t change anything. She can’t pin herself in place and hold herself there. She’s going to die, and she’s made the decision to do that. She’s decided to die; that’s her choice.
So, there are things she’s going to do before then. She’s going to take lots of photographs, clean out her cupboards, go get chilli dogs with Gunn, and take Fred shopping. And she’s going to sit under the moon with Connor and Angel, and discover, for the hundredth time that you can love somebody, and they can love you without a single word, a single gesture, a single look. She’s going to love Angel with all of her silence, so that he doesn’t ever doubt it.
She’s going to let Wesley touch her, and she’s going to touch him, and think of the line from The Wizard of Oz, about missing the Scarecrow most of all.
Cordelia is going to let the others live in their fantasy-world. She’s going to pretend everything’s okay. She’s going to pick up Angel’s blood every second day, keep the filing up to date, keep their agency financially solvent, continue with her Clean Up the Hyperion project, love Connor every second of the day, and let the dye grow out of her hair until she’s a brunette again.
She’s going to do all of this, and she’s going to make sure that when she’s gone, the others mourn a woman who lived. A woman who lived and loved, and maybe, once or twice, said something true. She’s going to make sure that they mourn, but not linger on her memory.
There are so many things Cordelia thought she could have been, and it comes down to this: She couldn’t have. She was supposed to be right here. In love with a man who isn’t a man, pretending to be somebody for all these people who depend on her, friends with an anagogic demon with green skin and horns, living in an apartment inhabited by a ghost who has a crush on her, mother to a boy she didn’t given birth to, wise beyond her years, old beyond her time, with a bad hair-dye job and no money, dying from a miraculous gift.
She’s supposed to be right here. Uncertain and unhappy, living with other people’s pain and death and fear and their totally fucked-up lives, living with her own pain and fear and death.
Sometimes, Cordelia walks past a shop and sees the reflection of a woman in the window, and thinks for a moment, Who is she?
Then she realizes she’s looking at herself, so she shakes her head and walks on.