Rating: PG-14. If you can watch the show, you can read this.
Character: Cordelia
Spoilers: Offspring
Disclaimer: I donít own Cordelia or Darla. Joss does. Oh, well.
Summary: Cordeliaís thoughts after being bitten by Darla.

Two Strikes
By Matt

This is the second time this has happened to me.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

So shame on me.

It takes weeks and a truly massive peace-offering to get me back on civil terms with Angel, but Harmony and Darla both sucker me right in. I mean, Angel deserved every bit of anger and distrust I gave him. He abandoned us and bullied us and otherwise acted like a cosmic-level jerk but he did those things like a person does them: he got messed up, then he messed up, then he got his head straight and now heís trying to make up for it. Darla and Harmony were of the soulless persuasion, and itís in their nature to feed on humans and betray anyone they happen to be standing next to.

I know that. And they still suckered me. Both of them. Itís not because theyíre wearing the faces of friends, like Angelus did back in the day. Darla was never my friend. Neither was Harmony, really. But I donít think Iíd let my guard down if Gunn or Wesley came toward me with a mouthful of fangs.

It was because they were women.

I think of some of the things I said earlier tonight, and I cringe. "Stop it, youíll hurt her!"óSheís crushing him, and Iím worried heíll hurt her. "I didnít go dark" "No, you just went male."

"Just went male." Like it was a place to fall to from Ďdecent human being.í

Itís a good thing that Billy didnít have a sister. Wilhelmina? Well, thatís another reason itís a good thing. But the primary reason is that I donít think Iíd leave a man in LA alive. Hell, Wesley never showed a sign, and he hasnít since, but he turned out to have this bubbling cauldron of sexism and hatred inside.

Me? One of the first things I say to Angel and Wesley after they saved me from the Hacksaw beast was "Men are evil."

I said it as a joke, but itís really not funny when I look at it now. I think itís time for me to take this clarity of sight and unflinching honesty Iím so proud of and look into myself. Time for me to acknowledge whatís bubbling up inside me. Sexism? I think you can call it that. Hatred? Maybe even.

Iíve heard people call attitudes like mine "male-bashing" and "sexism" and my response was always "What-ever." I figured it was like calling me a vicious bitch. People just couldnít deal with a strong woman. Which they often canít. But thatís beside the point. The point being that sometimes they were right, and just dismissing it was pride that almost led to a fall tonight.

Or sometimes, when people said things like that, Iíd think: "What the hell? Men are the ones in powerótheyíre the ones who can enforce their sexism. I think they can deal with a little name-calling. Maybe they even deserve it." In other words, itís okay for me to be sexist, Ďcause Iím a woman.

Well, itís not okay. Questions of justice aside, it created a blind spot that almost got me killed. Us vs. Them, sisterhood is powerful, "We-are-family-Iíve-got-all-my-sisters-with-me" it almost got me killed!

Is this how Wesley felt? After Billy? Realizing that he had something really ugly inside him that he didnít like to deal with? Only, so appropriate, he dealt with it like a man, while I dealt with it like a woman. He tried to destroy someone else while I just nearly destroyed myself.

Where did it all come from? What screwed up my sense of perspective so badly that Iím more willing to trust blood-drinking demons, as long as theyíre female, than men? I wasnít molested as a child or anything. Not that I can remember. Maybe it was from my father who showed up at home every third month, sent money on special occasions and slept with more women in a month than he slept with my mother in their whole marriage? Thatíd probably do it on its own. The whole tax-prison-weíre-now-poor thing was just the icing on the cake.

I remember seeing Grease for the first time. When I saw that scene where Frenchy tells Sandi that the only man a girl can trust is her daddy, I just thought "Bullshit." Not that I thought I could trust other men, but because I didnít even trust my daddy.

Of course, my mother herself might have had something to do with it. She taught me from a very young age the lessons of how to get things from men, and how to eventually marry one so you can get things from him for life. Or until you divorce him, at which point you get half of what he has and move on to another man who can give you more and better things.

Itís hard to have any kind of affection or respect for someone when youíve been taught to think of him as somewhere between an opponent and an ATM. If it hadnít been for Maria, I wouldnít know that there were women in the world who loved their husbands and had sex because they enjoyed it and had children because they wanted themónot because it was the final, almost-inescapable desperation strategy to "close the deal" (as my mother said) and catch a man.

I sure wouldnít have known it by my own introduction to boys. I was dating seniors in eighth gradeósomething my mother was proud of and my father didnít know about. The endless parade of momentarily-popular pawing, drooling jocks got pretty old pretty quick, though. Dates pretty much consisted of trying to keep their hands off my tits long enough to eat the ridiculously expensive meal Iíd wrangled out of them. Maybe itís the blood loss talking, but I donít even remember the name of the guy who popped my cherry. What I do remember is that he was the starting quarterback the year Sunnydale went to States (looking back, I think the coach might have done some kind of deal. He disappeared not long after), he took me to the most expensive restaurant in town, and gave me a beautiful diamond necklace, which was repossessed by the IRS as part of my familyís assets.

I was in ninth grade.

Whatever else I can blame Xander and the Hacksaw Beast Bastards for, I donít think I can blame them for this. They didnít help, but I think things were pretty much poured and set by the time they even came into the picture.

Xander might have been able to help. I even think he did a little. But he hurt almost as much. I canít think about him and our time together without getting a bad taste in my mouth.

And that so could be taken the wrong way.

Okay, so, looking back, I have a reason to feel like I do. Doesnít make it any less wrong. Itís a wrong way to treat other people, yeah, but thatís never stopped me from anything else before. But itís self-destructive, too.

One way thatís so is: when you open your mouth and let your prejudices pour out, you have a tendency to look like a moron. I still remember the Shroud of Rahmon incident: "This is all about dominance, buddy. You can bet if someone ordered a male body part for religious sacrifice, the world would be atheist like that."

Wesley didnít say anything, but the next day I found a book about human sacrifice on my desk, and the parts about Aztecs and druids and prisoners of war were bookmarked. There was also a Bible, marked at each story of the Crucifixion and the place where the Hebrews are commanded to circumcise their boy babies. I donít suppose they do it because they like how it feels.

Did I feel stupid? Not then. Then I just thought he was being a wiseass. Now? I feel like I was just using grownup language to say Ďboys are ickyí.

Still, there are a lot of people who make it through life sounding likeóand beingóidiots. But not us. Not here. For us, there are penalties for every weakness.

Did Darla play me tonight? Oh, I know she sensed my concern for her pregnancy and her health and she played on that to get a meal. Thatís a given. But did she sense myÖgo ahead, Cordy. Say it. My sexism, my she-is-my-sister-weíre-on-the-same-side siege mentality in the first few things I said to Angel and use it to create a rift in the group, isolate Angel so she could play him some more? WellÖshe played me, no question. But I was several different kinds of pissed at him tonight. Knowingly taking a chance on going evil deserves a bit of yelling-at. Hard to say which ones she played on, and how much.

I think part of the reason I was so mad at him was that Darla showed up, and he went into denial. I thought: "Just like every man in the history of the world, leaves her knocked up then tries to duck his responsibility."

But let me try to be fair here. Okay. Trying to be fair. Cutting some slack. Resisting the knee-jerk reaction that almost got me eaten and trying to really analyze the situation.

Okay. Angel looked like an asshole tonight. Thereís no denying it. And there are some men, maybe a lot of them, that really are genuine assholes. But even the good onesóand Angel is one of them, I really believe that when Iím not furious with himóare only human. WellÖyou get the idea. A woman finds out sheís pregnant, andóif this isnít a planned, happy eventóshe starts crying and panicking and denying. Once she canít deny anymore, she goes to tell the man. Now, of course, heís going to want to panic and deny, too (not allowed to cry--that would be unManly). But if he does thatóor anything but be instantly and totally supportiveóhe looks like an asshole.

With Angel, it was a couple more steps up the ladder of panic and denial because itís supposed to be impossible, and he had to deal with the whole situation in front of us.

I guess Iíll judge him when I find out what his final decision is, not his initial panic.

So what do I judge him on?

He lied to me. I can still be angry about that. Of course, I still havenít gotten around to telling Wesley that Angel visited him in the hospital. Which isnít an active lie, of course, just kind of a lie-by-omission. And I wouldnít buy that weak-ass argument from anyone else for a second. Besides, my lie made it so that Wesley was a lot angrier at Angel, when Angelís lie was just because he was really ashamedóas he should beóand he really thought that it was a done deal, no longer an issue.

Um. Not finding any ground to stand on, here.

He had sex with Darla. That could have turned him evil. Angelus could have been running around loose. He did something that he was almost sure would destroy his soul.

Oh, my God.

Where do you have to be to do something like that? I hope I never go there. Maybe I should ask him about it, but I donít think I want to know.

Looks like Iím a bit manly after all. I managed to hurt someone else.

And thatís just the kind of thought Iím going to have to try to stop.

Maybe Iíll try a really radical idea. I think Iíll let him off the hook. Forgive him. Maybe itís kind of a new thing for Cordelia Chase to forgive someone without being bribed.

Itís one of the last parts of the old me thatís left. But I think itís a part that Iím better off without.



Matt Fic