abetterlie: (Default)
Ever since the thing with the van, it feels like he's waiting for something.

His parents for sure are. They can't stop freaking out on Connor. Okay, granted, being run over by a van and getting up without a scratch is something to freak out about, but he feels they should give it a break already. Chill. It's good, isn't it? This stuff happens. Some people fall from a third floor balcony and survive, too. Perhaps he's just waiting for them to calm down. Or maybe not. It was weird, though: that moment when the van hit him, that was one of those "you're about to die and your life flashes before you" moments, right? Except it wasn't. He didn't see anything. No memories of Mom and Dad in the supermarket or Mere getting sick and puking all over him in Disneyland or making out with Tracy or breaking up with Tracy. Nothing of that.

He's nineteen, and sure, most people would describe his life as pretty boring. But it's a life, and he likes it. And yet, at that moment, when he thought he was about to die? Not only were there no memories, but there wasn't any sense of loss or regret, either. And that freaks him out somewhat, just as the surviving does his parents, so he tries not to think about it.

Maybe that's what he's waiting for, though. To finally feel the fear, the whole "oh god oh god I don't wanna die" thing, or even the "I'm alive, woo hoo!" thing. Delayed shock reaction and all that. Though he figures shock should feel different.

He's somewhat stunned when his parents go to a law firm, ostensibly to set up a trust fund for him, because that's such an obvious excuse to see through. What is he, twelve? If these Wolfram and Hart people are expected to figure out why he survived being run over by a van, though, Connor thinks he should be present, instead of waiting somewhere like a toddler, so he follows them to the executive suit and runs straight into the CEO. Who takes one look at him and kicks the lot of them out. Wow. Okay, that was definitely not Connor has been waiting for.

Next thing you know is that they get mugged by some LotR extras and the Wolfram and Hart boss jumps in and beats them into a pulp. At which point Connor guesses things finally start to make sense, because he's read superhero comics and watched Star Wars. He half expects the man to tell him that he's strong in the force and is supposed to be a Jedi. Okay, not really, because the guy is so damm serious and humor really doesn't seem to be his strong suit. There is something about him, though. Well, other than than the whole superpowers thing which apparently is more of a vampire thing, and hey, how cool is that?

No, the something is more the way he looks at Connor. Which, weirdly enough, is exactly the same way he looked just before he kicked Connor and his parents out, only now he keeps it up and it doesn't lead to kicking out but getting shown around in the building and being presented to everyone, including a truly awesome butt-kicking woman in blue and some white-haired weasel. The look doesn't disappear when he explains about an evil sorceror and having to kill some sort of genie for him, either. Connor tries to figure out what it is, because nobody in his life has ever looked at him this way before. It's not friendly, it's not hostile, it's not like the guy wants dinner, which is the first explanation Connor reaches for when he hears about the vampire bit. It's not until they're in the sorceror's lair - and really, not much of a lair, that, there weren't even evil minions or heads on a stake or stuff like that around - and Angel reaches out to straighten Connor's collar, his hand lingering, cool, inhumanely cool skin touching his cheek and neck, that Connor has pinned it down. He couldn't before because the look is a mixture. Angel looks at him as if Connor is simultanously the worst and best thing that ever happened to him. There is a hunger there which has nothing to do with blood or wanting a protegé for superheroing, or anything, and there is a sense that Angel is waiting, too, waiting, and what does it mean?

"Dude, you're freaking me out," Connor says and pushes it away. He has to go save his family. The rest can wait. Angel lets him go and very soon, he finds himself talking to a demon named Sahjahn who keeps bringing up names with no meaning, like "Quortoth", and proceeds to make mincemeat out of Connor. Sahjahn has him pinned down on the table, his death looks him right in the eyes, and again, there is no panic and no sense of loss, surely there should be something, right? He wants to live, after all. So what is he waiting for?

Then the world falls to pieces and resurrects itself in his head, and Sahjahn is dead before Connor can even begin to process what just happened. Figures that the first thing to come alive about Connor-that-was should be his killing instinct. When Angel approaches him, he drops the axe and desperately goes for the tones of Connor Riley. It's not a lie, not really. He just needs to get out of there, or he won't be able to be either Connor ever again.

Something other than Sahjahn died in that room, though. Which isn't something he understands until much later, and then it fits. Perhaps that was what Connor Riley had been waiting for ever since the van hit him; for death to really, truly show up, instead of faking him out.

Connor turns around and looks at Angel, who is death and life at the same time in a way nobody else is or ever will be. You, he thinks. I was waiting for you.

Hindsight

Jan. 27th, 2007 10:46 am
abetterlie: (Default)
Father,

today is your birthday. I don't think anyone knows except for me; you probably didn't tell Justine, because you didn't tell me, either. After I got my memories back, I did some research, because I knew you were a tax-paying citizen of England once, living in Yorkshire. It took a while, but I finally found it, your birth year. Your birthday. I don't know why I wanted to. I guess to make sure I wasn't crazy. That I didn't dream you, that you existed. It was a weird time, trying to make all the different memories make sense, and I couldn't face Angel yet. Sometimes I thought I must be schizophrenic and should see a psychiatrist or something. Then there were times when I woke up and couldn't understand why I was at Stanford, and looked at the photo with Mom and Dad and Mere and didn't know any of them until I remembered.

Anyway. I keep thinking about those last days. Everything you said, everything I said. Angelus later told me I killed you, and I did. At first I thought that I did it by being weak and not managing to stake him the first time I saw him, though I tried. Then I realized that was an excuse because I didn't want to admit my true offense, which happened the third time I saw him, not the first. The offense you watched, in that alley behind the club, as you told me later. And there is no excuse for that. Even now, when things have changed so much between him and me. Because it will always remain true that back then, all I knew of him was what he did to you and your family and countless others. Weighed against that was the exhiliration of a shared fight during which I saw him kill some other vampires, and that dammable curiosity which you had spotted. All the other things that have made him different to me, I learned later. I didn't know them then. So I betrayed you in that alley, I betrayed you by that laughter I shared with your enemy. Seventeen years against a single day, and I betrayed you. No wonder you thought that the only way to make me keep to my path was a lie. That unspeakable lie in which you died.

"If your right hand offends you, cut it off." You quoted the bible a lot to me when I grew up, Father. But you did not cut your right hand off, because who was your right hand, if not me? Instead, you used your left hand to cut your throat. And yet she wasn't the one who killed you. I was. I understood that as soon as Angel told me about Justine and kicked me out of the house, and I should have understood it sooner, because I knew you knew I had betrayed you in that alley. How else did I expect you to react? I knew you would never, ever surrender. You weren't weak, not like me, and you never had been. Believing you when you sent me to him so you could set your plan in motion, that was my second betrayal of you. It must have strengthened you in your resolve. If I had been less of a betrayer, I would have seen through the pretense and said: "Father, I will not leave you, no matter what you order me to do."

I betrayed so many other people since then, Father, I failed them in various ways. But you were the first. And with the others, I'm usually able to tell myself that I couldn't have known this, or that what happened was necessary because of that. Or that I tried to make it up to them later, or that I tried to be better afterwards. Not with you. And there is no way I can atone for what I did to you, how I failed you, because the only way that would mean anything to you and give you peace in the hereafter is through a stake in his heart, and I won't do it. Can't, won't, don't want to, no matter how you put it.

And so I continue to betray you to him, day by day, every day we both live. I'm not asking you to forgive me, Father. I don't forgive you for being strong where I was weak, either. I went to one of the local churches today, to light a candle in honour of your birthday, and I wonder: if Judas had survived, had his mind wiped and survived and gotten cured with fake memories, would he have done this, too? It's not blasphemy, Father. You have to realize that if you live in a world of two, with everything else hell, one has to be God as well as everything else to the other.

But that, as opposed to knowing I betrayed you, is something I only figured out with hindsight.

Stephen
abetterlie: (Default)
Actually, I never thought I'd say a couple of things over the years, so I'll just get them all out of the way:

- sometimes trusting magic really pays off (and sometimes it screws things up even worse and gets your family killed, but right now, I've got to go with the former)

- "Angel is/was right." (No immediate reason, I just never thought I'd say this for most of my life, and I did a couple of times, because, well, he is/was.) (About some things.)

- "I miss....": insert Quortoth/Los Angeles/New York/Savannah here; I didn't exactly grow up attached to places, so this keeps surprising me, but sometimes I do (yes, even home sweet hell dimension, sort of, very sometimes, but it happens)

- "fighting isn't for me" (never expected to say it pre-mindwipe, said it post mindwipe and post memory recovery and meant it; the months afterwards were the longest time I consciously quit; I was wrong about that for a lot of reasons, but it does qualify as something I never thought I'd say and did mean anyway)

- "I wish I didn' have enhanced good hearing" (four words: Velvet Underground. On Repeat.)

- "Sorry about the tiles." (Don't ask.) (I am, though.)

- "Thank you" to a couple of people who weren't exactly the usual suspects (this started with Angel the second time we met; most recent additions to the list include Lindsey McDonald and some Arkansas cops)

- "Harry, your old girlfriend showed up with a child."... actually, there are still some things I don't think I'll say; I'm working on the phrasing and the timing, I guess
abetterlie: (Default)
Um - didn't we already have to write about this?

Twice?

No way I'm doing it again.
abetterlie: (Default)
Not Mandy, that's for sure. Though singing that one as "Jasmine" is still one of the best memories I have of that year. Before I died and got mindwiped - anyway, before - when I still had just one set of memories, I'd have gone with Numb by Linkin Park. It pretty much describes how I felt - before - and yeah, it's addressing Angel in my head. Back then, it was all about him. Still is, sort of, only in a different way. If it wasn't about Cordy or Jasmine.

When I was just Connor Riley and didn't remember all the madman stuff, and then got my memories back, and the time immediately after? Mad World, the Gary Jules version. Everything was normal and wasn't, and I was still trying to figure things out. Mostly how to be new Connor and old Connor and Stephen all at the same time.

Now? This is so going to make people gag, well, the first part of it anyway, but I think it's a cross between Bring me to life by Evanescence and Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen. No, I'm not going to elaborate on that. It just is.

Mun's note: never mind him. Mun's firmly convinced Beautiful Disaster by Kelly Clarkson is the Connor theme song, but that wasn't the question.*g*
abetterlie: (Default)
It's one of my favourite memories that aren't. I think it must have happened, because why would Vail make up something like that? Or maybe it didn't. At this point, I don't care.

But what I remember is this: Mom and Dad - Colleen and Lawrence Riley, if it needs to be clearer - went through a bad time when I was ten and Mere was six. They tried to keep it from us, but you notice stuff. At least when you're ten you do, and when most of the other parents of the guys you go to school with are divorced. This was when I started to have this idea of running away to the circus, or something. Anyway, Christmas came, and a visit from my grandmother - Dad's mother - and of course she picked up on something being wrong, too, and made these comments to Mom where she was saying one thing but you could hear in her voice she meant something else. And after a while, Mom just about exploded, said "it's none of your freakin' business", took the car, and drove away. She didn't come back for hours, and there was supposed to be a party for Dad's collegues at our house - every year, someone else hosted the Christmas office party, and this year it was Dad's turn. Nobody was telling Mere and me anything, still, except Dad saying I should keep Mere busy, would I do that? So I tried. And I kept imagining Mom going away, or whatever was wrong turning out to be that either her or Dad was deathly ill or something, and felt more rotten by the minute.

Mere wanted some more of the cookies, though we weren't supposed to eat any more before Christmas dinner, but I didn't care about that anymore and went down to get some. The party had already started, and nobody would notice. So I went down the stairs, and there she was. Mom. Back. And she was kissing Dad. Not a peck on the cheek kiss or a good morning darling how are you kiss or something like that - it was the kind where you feel embarassed watching when these are your parents. Except I didn't, not this time. I was just so relieved. She was glowing, and so was Dad when he came up for air, and I knew whatever the bad thing had been, it was over now. They'd stay together. Nobody was sick. Best Christmas present ever.

You can't keep track of seasons or a calendar at Quototh. My father was always frustrated about this, because he wanted to obey the holidays and teach me how to. When I first came here, Fred tried to work out how many years had passed and how old exactly I was and what happened when, but math genius or not, she could only come up with estimations. But I think I can guess what happened in Quortoth when I was ten. I nearly lost him. He was aging, you see; he hadn't been a young man when we arrived there, and now he was starting to be old. Too old to be just fast enough, strong enough to beat every creature there on his own. They nearly got his leg that one time. It had been one of our tracking exercises, that's why I wasn't with him, and when I showed up, he was already bleeding, couldn't run anymore because of the leg would, and the smell attracted even more enemies. It took me nearly two hours to kill them all. Later, I realized I was now strong enough to carry him, and we got to a cave where we could rest for the night. He was furious. Not with me, with himself, because he knew it wouldn't be the last time his body betrayed him.

"I don't need any more tracking games," I told him, which was my way of promising I'd take care of him, just as he had of me when I had been too weak to kill for myself, and that I wouldn't leave him. That he'd be safe.

"No, I don't think you do," he agreed. I was happy then. There is no kiss involved, but it's my other favourite memory of that year.
abetterlie: (Bedroom by Ithica)
I put the people I love in danger, pretty much on a regular basis. Sometimes I wonder whether we shouldn't all stay single - I talked with Peter a friend who has the same problem about this - but I guess it comes down to that being together or not is a choice both make, not just one. Plus I remember what "being send away for your own good" feels like. It sucks, and that's an understatement. Or maybe I'm just telling myself that and it's plain old self justification bullshit for not being selfless, I don't know.

Anyway. "Worst quality" probably means a real character flaw, so I should add that I don't see this constant-danger-thing as inevitable or nothing to do with me as a person. Or noble. Least of all that. Because sure, I do want to help people, but I could do that by becoming a fireman or a doctor or something. Same principle, and it wouldn't endanger anybody. The reason why I go out and fight instead is because I want to. I tried not to, for a while, after I got my memories back and knew again that I could, I mean. That didn't last, obviously. So I'd say yes, that is my worst quality - needing to fight and making me and anyone with me into danger magnets because of it.
abetterlie: (Default)
If you had asked me that back when I was Stephen and had just arrived in this world, I'd kept it pretty simple: get rid of all the demons. That's how I saw things then. Of course the only two humans I knew while growing up were my father and myself, and I had figured out by then that if I was spawned by demons, I couldn't be really human myself, not the way my father was, no matter how much I wanted to be. But he was, and he was good, and demons were things that tried to kill us on a regular basis, so, yeah.

Then I got here, and the first humans I met, other than Angel's friends whom I ran away from, were some guys about to beat up a girl, and a day later I met Cordelia for the first time, and she was half-demon. And Lorne. Anyway, you could say I got a crash course in things being more difficult in this dimension.

If you had asked me that when I was mindwiped, a year later, and being Normal And Happy Connor, I'd have said I wanted to change the fact that networks always cancelled the cool series and put stupid game shows on instead. Something like that. I mean, if I had thought about it I would have gone for some serious reply about wishing poverty or war away, but first I'd have brought up the tv thing, because I'd have still been pissed off they cancelled Farscape.

(Now I wonder whether Cyvus Veil liked that show when he made my Connor Riley memories, or whether that came from someone else. Maybe Wolfram and Hart owns a share of Jim Henson's company?)

Now? Well, I was in a couple of organizations back at NYU because I think some things need change, and some society rules I just don't get and I still do what I was raised to if it's necessary, but I can't wish all demons away. Or all human killers, for that matter. And not just because I belong in the club, either way.

But here's one aspect I so would change. No, not the tv stuff, though seriously, what is Sci Fi thinking, switching BSG to Sunday night? That totally ruins my patrol and job schedule. It's the beauty thing people have when they look at other people. Or maybe I should call it the ugliness thing. What I mean is: there once was this person. And okay, she did some terrible things, but the point is, she also managed to make things better for a while. If you were in Los Angeles at the time, you know what I mean. Go on. Tell me it wasn't amazing. No one was hating anyone else and there was peace. Joy. The whole enchilada they use to describe paradise, and it was there, for a brief while. And everyone claimed to love the one who had made that possible. But when they saw her without whatever made her look beautiful to them before, when they saw how she looked like, they turned against her. Sure, yes, like I said, she had done some terrible things, but they didn't know that, did they? Nobody knew except for five people. All everyone else knew was the good she had done, that she had given them paradise for a while. And they still hated her and went right back to hating each other the way they had done before. Just because they saw her as ugly.

And maybe if that had not happened, she could have

So that is what I would change, if I could. People giving and taking their love away from someone just because of the way they look.

But the only one who could have made such a change come true for everyone is her, and she is gone.
abetterlie: (Innocence Drowned by Marciaelena)
Things were easy in Quortoth. You had to keep your hair short; too many enemies could use it to grab you otherwise. His father used a knife, with quick, decisive cuts. Stephen had some dim memory of fidgeting early on, impatient for it to end. He could not have been older than three; later, he knew better.

"Don't move," his father said in this vague memory, but did not explain why. But there was so much hair, and it seemed to take endlessly. So Stephen stirred, turned his head, and promptly felt a sharp pain at his neck. The blade of the knife had cut him.

"I told you not to move," his father said quietly, not stopping with his cutting, and Stephen held still. He wanted to cry, but didn't. Moving had been stupid and a mistake, and he didn't want to make another. When his father was finished, he showed the blood drops to Stephen before he cleaned the blade.

"It will not happen again, will it, Stephen?" his father asked, and the boy nodded, earning a rare smile in return. "Very good. I will show you how to do it yourself in a brief while."

Stephen wanted to ask why, if he was going to hold still in the future; whether this was in some way a punishment. His father seemed to read his thoughts and sighed. His fingers with their weathered skin touched Stephen's neck.

"You should not let an enemy hold a knife at your throat, my son," he said softly, and grew silent.

****

During the summer he spent with Fred and Gunn, his hair grew and grew. He could have cut it, easily; nobody ever took his knife away, and there were so many other sharp blades in the Hyperion. Connor had no idea why he did not. Perhaps it was simply because he didn't want to waste time that way. At first, he still expected to be found out, any minute of any day, and later, there were too many other things to explore.

"Looks like a girl's," Gunn once said, after Connor had pissed him off by disappearing and returning unannounced again, with that tone that meant he needed a joke to express his anger with.

"No, it doesn't," Fred hastily interjected. "But you should use a comb more often, Connor. Oh. Oh, I'm sorry. You don't know how, right? Here, let me show you!"

After the first stroke, he jumped up and declared he could do it himself, and she smiled indulgently, saying something about "adolescent boys and their pride". He had no idea what she meant, but pride wasn't the issue. Caution was. It had felt oddly soothing, her hand on his head, and for a second, he had forgotten that she and Gunn were not really his friends. They were the undead monster's minions and would turn against him if they ever found out the truth.

Besides, one look had shown him a comb could be used in many ways. Stabbing out one's eyes was just one of them. He couldn't permit an enemy to hold a weapon so near his throat, could he?

His father had taught him well.

****

Cordelia had given him a list of the things she needed most urgently from the hotel, and combs (several), brushes (several) and scissors (one large pair, one for nails) were among them. After delivering them, he watched her covertly as she handled brush and comb as expertly as a warrior his weapons. He didn't quite see why she needed them - her hair looked fine to him just the way it had been when she had woken up next to him - but he admired the elegance of her movements.

"You know, what you're doing right now? That's stalking," she said, but there was no anger in her voice, just amusement. "I don't need any help with brushing my hair, Connor."

"I do," he said impulsively. She raised an eyebrow, but examined him and nodded.

"Looks like," she said. "Come here."

They were nearly the same size, so he knelt down in front of her to make it possible for her to reach his head at her leisure. It was all the forbidden things at once: turning your back on someone, allowing sharp tools at your throat. Closing your eyes, as he did when she parted the mass of strands shielding him, with her knuckles brushing his bare skin.

But she wasn't his enemy, and besides, he wanted her to.
abetterlie: (Default)
He had not been alone with her very often; come to think of it, only once, when she told him to stop feeling unworthy, that all his evil deeds were forgiven, that he was her champion. All the other times, all the others were with her. Connor was okay with that, more than okay: they finally were a real family. No one was fighting anyone else. He could look at Fred without seeing the memory of tazers and three months turning to ashes in her eyes, at Gunn without hearing the accusation of being in league with the beast, at Wesley without wondering the forbidden thing: what would have happened if Wesley had not been God's instrument in delivering him to his father. Most of all, he could allow himself to love Angel without feeling the shame of it fueling the rage inside. Jasmine made all that possible with her presence.

All the same, when he walked past the suite Lorne had filled with flowers and spotted her alone, he couldn't help but feel a pang of - something. He stopped walking, at any rate, and hoped she would call him in, which she did.

She was so different from what he had expected. No baby, for starters, but that made sense; she would not be able to help anyone else for years to come if she had allowed herself to be born as a baby. But in those few weeks he had known about Cordelia's pregnancy, he had been so scared and filled with joy at the same time, imagining what he would do for the baby, and now he could do none of those things. It made him feel oddly useless, unless he was fighting for her, cleaning the earth from evil.

"There is something you could do for me, Connor," Jasmine said. He didn't know whether she had read his thoughts or just guessed, and that didn't matter. His face lit up.

"Anything," he said. She laughed. Her low, musical voice was so different from anyone else's, and suddenly he didn't wonder what a baby's gurgles would have sounded like; it could not have been more beautiful.

"Nothing as encompassing as that. But there are so many things I want to experience, now that I am among you in body as well as spirit. And I will. There is one thing in particular I always wanted to try."

She switched on the cd player Lorne had given her, and he recognized the tune because Lorne had hummed it quite often. Something from some guy named Sinatra.

"Dance with me, Connor," she said.

He felt ashamed again. "I can't," he said, face burning. "I mean, I watched people in clubs and stuff, and Fred and Gunn, but I - well, I didn't learn it, so - I'm sorry. I'll call Lorne or Gunn, they - "

Jasmine came to him and cupped his chin in her hands.

"They aren't my father," she said. "You are. And I want my father to teach me how to dance."

The warmth of her fingers burned a little, like always when she touched him, and it seemed to spread in him, sweeping his embarassment and sense of inadequacy away. What harm was there in trying? He had observed the others, and it couldn't be more difficult than learning new fight moves. Rhythm and balance. He could do it.

So Connor put his arms around her, closed his eyes, just for a short moment, and concentrated. Then he stepped sidewards, forwards, backwards, following the song about strangers in the night, and she followed suite with the perfection and grace she did everything. When he made a mistake and stepped on her toes, she laughed. With anyone else, and in earlier times he would have assumed she was laughing about him; at this moment, he understand she was laughing with him, because he joined her, and soon they were back making small steps and swaying gently to the sounds coming out of Lorne's treasured loudspeakers.

"I knew you could do it," Jasmine said. Connor didn't reply anything, focusing on the movement. He knew it would end soon, and there would be work to do. The others would come back, claiming their share of the wonder that was her. He'd check on Cordy, who would still be sleeping, unable to wake up until earth had become truly paradise, so Jasmine said, and then he'd go to sleep, dreaming of dead fathers fallen into ashes and whiteclad girls splattered with blood, because his dreams, rebellious to the last, did not seem to understand what she told him: that the past was over and done with and only she was the future.

Right now, he could believe it. Right here, right now, doing nothing but teaching his daughter how to dance.
abetterlie: (Default)
If you had asked me last week what I wanted most right now it would have been for this trip to bizarro world to be over, both for Harry and me. That the cops would somehow realize they made a mistake, or something.

(Okay, so I wanted to break some people's bones as well, but not as much.)

Now half of that has come true. And I haven't felt less like celebrating. Guess that makes me the most ungrateful whiner ever, but here are the facts:

1.) Last week I broke out of jail. There were reasons. Det. Yoon showed me some photos of Harry and what they did to him in prison. After I dealt with them, I came back. I sort of hoped that would prove I was - welll, that I hadn't done what they thought I had anyway. Didn't exactly work. I got back into solitary again.

2.) Today, they told me a few days ago some guy named Vernon Pritchard who is already serving time for drug possession, robbery and homicide confessed to having killed Lawrence, Colleen and Mere Riley. My family. They probably didn't believe him at first, but he sticks to his story. So today, they told me I was free to go but should stay in L.A. for a few more days, "for formalities".

3.) The hell?

Because I know how they died. I mean, I found their bodies. Nobody shot them or knifed them or - well, okay, that's not what this guy Pritchard says he did. He worked in a hospital at the time, so he had access to narcotics and said he just wanted to render them subconscious while robbing the house and misjudged the dose, or something like that. No way. Not the way I found them. Plus I have a pretty good idea what killed them, and it wasn't Pritchard.

Except why would he say he did? And now I'm wondering about two possibilities. One is that I was completely wrong back then about the cause, that I just freaked out because I found them all dead. I was completely wrong about why my first father died as well. And that this Vernon Pritchard did kill them. Actually, I want to believe that. And that makes me a bit sick, because the reason I want to believe it is that it would mean I didn't cause it with my request about the memories, that it wasn't my fault. I'm so good at believing lies. Lies that make everything easier. I want to.

The other possibility is that Pritchard says it because it gets me off the hook. He doesn't know me, so there's no reason why he should feel all self-sacrificial except if someone is making him to. The way they tried to make me confess. Or maybe some other way. And there is a sort of limited circle of people who'd do that. Either way, he's now in for life with no chance of getting released, and is damm lucky if they don't retry him with the death penalty in mind. For something he didn't do.

My parents and my sister - the dead ones - they lived. They existed. I'm sure they were pretty happy and would have been for the rest of their lives if I hadn't completely screwed up and Angel hadn't needed a perfect family to place me in. Then they got their brains messed with, and then I screwed up some more. And this guy Vernon Pritchard, he lives. He exists. Okay, so he was in jail before for something he did do, but that doesn't mean he should be the next one to pay the price for me.

But if he did it. If by some crazy chance he did it.

Last week I just wanted this to be over. It was so good to be out of jail again, even for a few hours, and I wanted the open sky back and to fight again, don't care whom my life back. Except I forgot my life comes complete with lies and at other people's expense, and anyway, it's just half my life until Harry can go where he wants to as well and if someone did fix this, why didn't you do it for him instead?

Guess that proves you've got to be careful what you wish for. Especially if you're a hypocrite who still hasn't figured out how to run his life without causing damage left, right and center.

I need to find out more about Vernon Pritchard.
abetterlie: (Default)
He tends to associate people with places and the way they felt to him. It is one way to keep some certainties in an ever changing world. Angel is the Hyperion, always, the sensation of being backed to a wall, rooftops and the city underneath, and the far too bright light of a shopping mall. Cordelia is and always will be a makeshift home in an abandoned building, sitting in a window frame, watching her sleep. Harry, oddly enough, is Griffith Park before he is rave clubs and balconies and a variety of cities: Griffith Park, hiking, sunshine and dust, and what turned out to be, in retrospect, his last perfect Californian day. The road though, just the road and riding a car, listening to music, eating fast food, and being in no particular hurry to arrive at what is almost impossible to find - this will always be Justine.

When he saw her again for the first time after burying Angel in his watery grave, he hadn't intended more than not failing her the way he had failed Daniel Holtz, had not managed to give Holtz reason enough to live, and to stop her from her intended revenge on his parents when he went with her. What followed was a road trip, sure, but it became more than that. It was Utah, the Utah they both had been promised at different times by the man they had lost - had killed, each in their own way - all the Utah they would ever have. Justine once had said, before they really knew each other, that she should have been his mother; on the road, they became comrades; and then, inevitably, he fell in love with her. Sometimes he wonders whether there is something wrong with him, because he can't seem to manage friendship without love. At other times, he's afraid it's not friendship but family he can't manage that way, but he tries very hard not to think about this at all.

Better to think of the good days; of her red hair in the wind because she couldn't stand being locked up for too long, so they had the windows of the car open, of the Donna Reed tapes she played again and again, of that car which miraculously survived impossible roads (though not of the time when he smashed the window because they had argued and she had struck him, and at the last moment he remembered if he struck back she would end up seriously injured or dead, and hit the car instead), and the odd peace they had in an endless series of motels. He thinks about being Stephen and how hunting vampires again had been blessedly simple, without ambiguities. The scar on the back of her hand, and the letter he carried, last physical reminders that a man named Daniel Holtz had existed. They never had remained in one place for longer than four days, a week at most, and far more often just one night, not knowing, really, where and when they wanted to stop for good, and by keeping on the move, the reality of his parents and divided loyalties and past lies had been kept at bay.

For a while. Then, as all road trips must, it had ended.
abetterlie: (Default)
You know the thing about memories? You can rewrite them. All the time. So sure, a summer memory. As it should be. So it's summer, 2006, and Lawrence and Colleen Riley celebrate together with their daughter Mere. Mere just finished high school. She's their only child, which means they're a bit over anxious about her, but she managed to persuade them to let her make that cross country road trip with her boyfriend anyway. Her grades are good, save math, because Mere always sucked at math, but who needs math later in life anyway?

They're all sitting around the table, with Colleen's sister come to town to celebrate her niece's graduation, and Mere is on to her second pizza (getting cold, because Mere is talking all the time). Colleen wanted to cook something extra special and couldn't believe Mere wanted pizza instead, but it was her daughter's big day, so, pizza from some Korean with a fake Italian name it was. Lawrence is printing out the pictures of Mere in her robes which he took earlier and she says she'll confiscate them, because she looks so dorky, which isn't true, and Lawrence pretends not to understand a word of her babble anyway. Her boyfriend thinks they're all insane, in a good way.

None of them ever met a single employee of Wolfram and Hart. None of them ever saw a demon. They remember everything just the way it happened, and nobody ever brainwashed them into believing they had another child.

It's a perfect summer's day, and they have many more of those ahead.

That's my summer memory.
abetterlie: (Default)
I don't think cavemen could take astronauts. If, you know, both were fighting.

Seriously. First week in Stanford, you hang out with some guys, and there is this argument. Don't know why or who brought it up, but now I figure it's sort of a virus infecting everyone, because that day before I got my memories restored, when I was at Wolfram and Hart, and Angel was introducing me to everyone, there were two secretaries arguing about that as well and they looked way guilty when Angel caught them at it - I guess he really was the boss from hell, but hey, they signed up for that!. And when I came to New York and started college there? Same thing. First week, I swear.

Now I'm in Savannah. Guess what the first topic of conversation was once they got over the "so how old are you again?" and "dude, what did you do to get kicked out of Stanford?" stuff at college? Right. And the thing is, I have a kind of survival policy about that argument. Because nobody wants to hear an astronaut would win, not really, because nobody believes that. I mean, it's like saying you believe in Santa Claus or something. Back in L.A. someone told me there is a Santa Claus, only he's actually a demon into eating children. But he has a raindeer and a sled. Hunting him would be awesome, so I hope that's true. So what you say is "caveman, all the way" because otherwise everyone believes you're nuts, and you're off to a bad start, and it's really not worth it.

But it's a complete lie.

It's not a matter of guessing, you know; when Father arrived in Quortoth with a baby, he was the closest thing to an astronaut meeting cavemen you'll get. Your avarage Quortoth demon is more vicious than any caveman, and he beat enough of them to survive for years with me as a drawback, before I was old enough to help. So? Astronauts. All the way.

If you were waiting for something deeper, no way, Jose. Important stuff I lie about I lie about for a reason.


OOC and ETA: the entire conversation with Kara ensuing is locked after Connor realized where it was going...
abetterlie: (Default)
Rebellion was not something that came naturally to Connor.

Given that before he got mindwiped, he never did anything Angel told him unless this was preceded by a fight, either against Angel or with Angel against someone else, some people might have debated this assessment. But the truth of the matter was this: he did not recognize Angel as an authority because he could not believe in him. Obedience, to Connor, was connected with unquestioning faith. He felt a lot of things for Angel, some of which he never acknowledged, but they were all riddled with questions.

On the other hand, you could count the number of times he did not do what Daniel Holtz had told him to on two hands, and that was including his childhood. Holtz, to him, was not just his father but the closest thing to the all-knowing, all-wise God Holtz had told him about Connor could imagine. To act against Holtz' commandments was to sin against both. It also meant to affirm the demon blood in himself. It wasn't that he feared Holtz; on the contrary, by the time they left Quortoth, Connor had known for years he was far stronger than the older man. But Holtz was his father; he loved his father; disobedience would imply distrust and lack of love, which was only something a demon spawn would be capable of; therefore, it was unthinkable.

When Holtz told him to go to Angel, Connor came closer to rebellion than ever before, but eventually, he decided it was meant as a punishment for having lied about Angel. Then one father died and he sank the other into the sea, and for a long time, rebellion wasn't a question because there never was obedience anymore to begin with.

Until Jasmine.

Jasmine was his daughter, but she was also his goddess; it seemed good and right to obey her in everything, just like everyone else did. He had done terrible things, he knew that; Jasmine put everything right, though. She wasn't just the justification for all the preceding horrors by the peace she created, she was family, at last, and for a brief time, so was everyone else. Because of her. Then Fred infected Angel, and everything began to fall apart.

"You've no idea what she is," Wesley told Connor when Connor had finally hunted all the betrayers down. Wesley didn't get it. None of them did.

"Yes, I do," Connor said. "She's mine."

It was the last certainty he clung to; he loved Jasmine, Jasmine loved him, Jasmine was all-wise and all-knowing, therefore, obeying Jasmine as he once had obeyed Holtz was right. It was a matter of faith. Unquestioning faith. You did not rebel against this.

But then he did.

It wasn't so much what Wesley said about Jasmine that made the difference, it was that Jasmine had not told him of her own what she had done with Cordelia. It was as if she didn't trust him. Which implied that there was something she did not wish to trust him with.

"Has it become necessary to explain my wishes to you?" Jasmine asked, amazed, and he denied it, but he knew he was lying to both of them. Because the past year with Angel had changed him; he wasn't Stephen any longer, and insidious doubt had become part of his nature. He wanted to give Jasmine the kind of unquestioning faith he had given Holtz, he truly did. But he wasn't whole anymore; he wasn't even wholy hers. A part of him belonged to Cordelia, and Cordelia didn't have anyone else left. He hadn't thought it possible that loving Cordelia and loving Jasmine might mean two different things, might demand two very different actions.

He tried to talk with Jasmine about it. She was her gracious self, but there was confusion in her eyes and bewilderment in her soft smile, and this only served to disturb him more. Because she was supposed to have all the answers, wasn't she? To be all-wise, all-powerful.

"I could never hurt Cordelia Chase, any more than I could you. You're my parents, my tether to this world. It was your love that brought me here. I understand. You miss her," she said, and of course he missed Cordelia, but that wasn't the point. Why didn't Jasmine just tell him where Cordelia was? Why did she keep secrets from him?

"It doesn't matter," Jasmine said benignly. "Just know she's alive."

And that was that. Something broke in him, irrevocably.

It had taken him a while to understand that everyone else obeyed Jasmine because they felt compelled to, and because they saw her somehow differently than Connor did. Connor never found out what exactly it was they saw before their disenchantment. What he saw was his daughter throughout, but she did not understand the difference, didn't even know there was one. He couldn't obey her any longer. When he closed the door behind him and started to search for Cordelia, he knew he would never obey anyone ever again.

After all, he would have to love them first.

Revenge

Sep. 9th, 2006 10:58 am
abetterlie: (Default)
One would have thought that being raised as an instrument of revenge would give Connor a good understanding of the topic. But in retrospect, he doesn’t think he truly grasped it as long as he was still Stephen.

He thought he did. It was his purpose of existence, it was what God owed his fathers, both of them. He knew the wrongs Angelus had committed by heart before he was six. By the time he was ten, he had already made and discarded several childish and not so childish plans of how he would finally avenge Daniel Holtz and his family when, according with God’s plan as explained by Daniel Holtz, he would leave Quortoth and encounter the monster. Most of them began and ended with staking the creature, of course. Sometimes he imagined telling Angelus who his executioner was, and sometimes he did not. Sometimes he killed Angelus in front of an amazed and grateful Holtz, and sometimes he did this without any witnesses but the earth which had soaked up all the blood Angelus had shed.

When the time came, at last, he stuck to the most essential of plans. He greeted the creature, so Angelus would know who he was, and aimed his stake at the monster. But his aim was not true, partly because it was confusing him that Angelus had recognized him even before the greeting. He wanted to know why. Surely it was not more than that, no greater curiosity than that, which made him fight at less than his best, and then flee.

Then things derailed even more. He found himself fighting side by side with Angelus, and smiling at him, and lying to his father, and the shame about it held equal balance to the hunger that had driven him to seek out the thing that sired him for reasons other than to kill. No, he had not understood revenge at all.

He would always remember the moment he finally did. After hearing of Angelus’ treacherous plans for his father from Fred and Gunn, he ran, ran faster than he had ever done, and yet not fast enough. He found Daniel Holtz in the arms of a woman he had seen only once before, briefly, at that den where he had betrayed his father by fighting as Angelus’ companion. The smell of blood, his father’s blood, familiar from many wounds gained in Quortoth, was overwhelming. He knelt down and tried to stop it, but it was too late, far too late. There was no pulse anymore, no breath escaping his father’s lips. Daniel Holtz was gone, and the last of his blood mixing with the tears of the boy he had raised took Stephen with him. Stephen had been unreliable, and stupid. Stephen had been seduced by the devil, despite his father’s warning. He had been thoroughly inadequate.

But then, Stephen had been the son of a man. What was needed now, obviously, was the son of a monster.

“It’s my fault,” he said to the woman, who would later explain she was called Justine, and his father’s lieutenant. “He’ll pay.”

He didn’t just mean Angelus.

“I’ll help you kill him,” she replied.

“No,” he said, for he finally understood.

“You don’t want to kill him?” the woman asked. “After what he did?” He looked at her, and he could see that she, too, was beginning to understand. “What do you want to do?”

Later, during his masquerade, he made Angelus happy by proclaiming his name was Connor, not Stephen. It was necessary to lure his prey, but it was also the truth. Revenge, true revenge, was something you could only go through with if you had held your dead family in your arms, not through description, but in deed. If you knew that the reason why they were dead wasn’t just because a monster had taken them but because you had let that monster take them. You had not been good enough.

Revenge, finally, was something you could only succeed in if you become part of the monster first. Stephen had not known that.

But Connor did.
abetterlie: (Default)
*locked from Kara*


Before I got mindwiped, upgraded, personality-changed, however you want to put it, I pretty much sucked at it. In the "didn't make any, though some made me" sense. There was this girl, Sunny, and she was the first person who was nice to me in this dimension. I guess she was grateful because I had helped her against the guy who was bullying her, but she didn't just say thank you, she took me to the place she was staying and gave me something to eat, and we talked. Mostly about fathers and how they deserved to die when they were evil. Also, she kissed me. So you could say she had made me her friend, except that she died an hour later, and friendship takes longer than that, so I don't know what to call her. I later went back there, but the cops must have taken her body away, and I didn't even know about morgues and stuff then, so I never found out where she's buried.

My first real friend was Cordelia. Fred and Gunn had taken care of me in the summer, but that was because I was Angel's son, plus they didn't know what I had done. I told Cordy pretty much right after we met, and she wanted to stick around anyway. That was how she was, and I don't care whether you all think it was Jasmine in her, she didn't remember anything then, including Jasmine; it was Cordelia. She had lost everything and knew I was this guy who had pulled a knife on her once and had dumped his father in the sea, and she still gave me a chance. But again, that was her doing. She made me her friend. I probably would have blown it otherwise. Or maybe I did blow it anyway by falling in love with her. But the thing is, when she came back, she still wanted to be my friend. So that was real.

After I got mindwiped, I suddenly had a lot of friends. Okay, not a lot, but some. Complete with memories of hanging out and meeting and what movies they liked and what concerts we went to and what girls we had talked about. Sometimes I still miss those guys, but honestly, we didn't even see a lot of each other before my memories came back - the college thing, I guess. Or reality. Or something. I had two friends at college plus a couple of people I hung out with, but when my memories did come back, I kept having to lie to them all the time. What kind of friend does that? So, end of friendship, more or less, though it took a couple of months.

Then I met Justine again, and we were comrades before we became lovers, but I don't know about "making friends" - it was more like some cross between battle veterans and family meeting each other after some long time apart. I hardly knew her, and yet I knew her, and she knew Stephen because she knew Father. I didn't think of her in terms of making a friend - it was always a different thing. When Harry and I started to write to each other and hang out, I did think "we're becoming friends". No big friends-making skills on my part, though, I probably wouldn't done what he did after that first meeting, write an email to apologize. That impressed me, and he was so serious in that mail that I thought he had to lighten up, so I wrote a sort of joking reply, and that's how it started.

Except with Harry, too, it ended up by falling in love. Which makes three out of three people I met with complete knowledge of my past and became close to and then fell for. (Kara is a category of her own, because I screwed her over before we could become friends - we hardly knew each other then - but then she became family. And family is always different.) So that probably means I still can't make friends, because if you can't befriend someone and be selfless and unattracted or at least just mates with, you're sort of deficient, aren't you?

Spirit

Aug. 7th, 2006 10:36 am
abetterlie: (Default)
Daniel Holtz regarded himself as a faithful son of the Catholic church. This had caused him some disadvantages early in life, given that being Catholic in 18th century England made him the member of a minority who would never have the same rights as his Majesty's other subjects, but given that he regarded the destruction of vampires as his main calling in life, being unable to vote was something he could live with.

A demonic pact and centuries later, the rules and doctrines of his religion were still with him, though he had abandoned all which dealt with mercy. He tried to keep track of the days in Quortoth so he could at least observe Easter and Christmas, but had to give it up soon. He did, however, teach the child in his care the Pater Noster and Ave Maria - in Latin, as Holtz during his few months in the 21st century had not found about about Vatican II and would have disregarded the concept anyway - and tried to teach him the quintessential doctrines of the church as well. This sometimes proved very difficult. A hell dimension was not a place to illuminate the concept of the trinity.

"Father, son and the holy spirit," Holtz said.

Stephen understood about the father and the son. He always thought of God as his father anyway; stern, unyielding, knowing everything. And he understood about the son, the son who had to fulfill his father's will and atone the sins of his kind by bringing judgment on them, one day. He just could not grasp the idea of the spirit. There were all kind of demonic creatures in Quortoth, but not ghosts, and at any rate, Holtz would have regarded a ghost as a poor reflection on what the holy spirit could be.

"The three in one," he said. "The Holy Spirit is what unites father and son, and yet a part of the. It is what came to the apostles in their time of despair and gave them courage."

"But what does it look like?" Stephen asked.

"It has no shape, no more than Our Lord does" Holtz explained. "Though the apostles saw it as tongues of fire, once upon a time."

This was not helpful. At any rate, God did have a shape, for Stephen. That of Daniel Holtz. Stephen nodded and pretended to understand, but gave up on the concept of the "Holy Spirit". Years later, in another dimension, he saw fire rain from the sky, and he recalled his father's explanation, but this fire brought no courage in the hearts of men. He thought there was nothing holy in it at all, until Cordelia kissed him. Then he revised his opinion. He still didn't understand how this was supposed to unite father and son, though.

It took the sight of his dead mother for him to understand. Not because she was dead. Because she claimed to be a part of him, to share his soul, and yet there she was, demanding he should make his choice, telling him that murder was too high a price to pay for the safety of Cordelia and their child. It did, in the end, strengthen him. That was what Holtz had never told him; that the spirit, as opposed to the father, left you the freedom to decide against it.

A child was born that day. Father and son were united in adoration. And the spirit which brought forth everything, uniting them, bled in silence.
abetterlie: (Default)
He wakes up with a slight headache. Well, that's natural, he partied the night before. Graduation, family celebration, and all that. It had been a big day for him, one of the best in his life. And his life had been a good one. After all, Connor Riley was a boy untouched by grief in any way.

The outpouring of confusion, bereavment and anger that hit Los Angeles the moment Jasmine's hold on people broke had caused the night with the highest crime rate in fifty years. They were still counting the bodies. "Jesus," said one of the assistants in one of the many morgues when a female body came in whose skull had been smashed to pieces. What was left of the face could not be recognized, and the limbs looked as if someone had covered them if flesh-eating insects. "What kind of sick freak..."

His girlfriend, Tracy, who had been his high school sweetheart in an endearing, old fashioned way that made his parents and hers beam in approval had laughed about his idea of climbing on the roof of the highest building in the area, which happened to be a bank, but she had gone along with it. Connor brought a radio along, and they danced to some Robbie Williams song he managed to catch. Though he would never admit it, he was a bit queasy about the roof thing; after all, he had never done that well with heights. But this was a special night, and Tracy didn't notice anyway, so it was everything he had imagined it would be.

By the time he left the roof, not looking back, not bothering to climb all those stairs, just jumping in the way his unnatural genetics allowed him to, the cop he had wanted to save was lying still, not moving anymore. There was blood on his hands, blood and pieces of brain and bones. Hers, the cops, all mixed up. He knew then what he would do, but he had to wash his hands first. He couldn't bear the idea of touching Cordelia with these hands. Not when it would be the last time.

There isn't a drop of blood left on his skin when he fastens the explosives on her.


There was a lot of teasing during family dinner, and everyone from Aunt Jenny to Mere had a go at him, especially after he made the toast. That was how family life had always been; everyone was so secure in their love for each other that kidding could never lead to misunderstandings, just laughter. The ongoing chaos of people talking all at once, knowing that even if you miss a sentence or two because it overlaps with Mom chatting with Aunt Jen at the same time, you get the essence. Family. He can't imagine ever being without it.

"You tried to love me," he tells his father, and though the mall is full of people, there is utter silence. Except for some girl crying. Why doesn't her father take proper care of her? He should. "At least I think you did."

"I still do," his father says, and seems to think that is the solution, that this makes everything better, seems to think that Connor hasn't figured it out yet. In the end, there is just one thing you can do for people you love, for everything else is a lie. He has to go through another fight before Angel gets it, but then Angel finally does, and raises his arm with the knife.

"I do love you," his father says and strikes, and this time, Connor believes him.



He's nearly nineteen years old and still doesn't need to shave. Which is sometimes an advantage and at others a bit embarassing. This particular morning, he examines his chin for any signs of hair, but no. Nothing. Zilch. Ah, well.

There is a tiny scar at his neck. He has no idea how it got there, and after a beat, he stops wondering. He has so many other things to wonder about. After all, his entire life is still ahead of him.
abetterlie: (Default)
I've been thinking a lot about my father lately. No, not him. (Though him, too, he's sort of a permanent fixture on my mind.) The one who raised me. Daniel Holtz. Because here's a funny thing: both memory sets I have make me believe in nurture versus nature, with nurture winning. At least it should. And he raised me for seventeen years. I loved him. I still do. But if you ask me about his legacy, about what I inherited from him, about what is still there?

There is the entire destiny thing, obviously, aka the task I failed at doing and won't do now, let's be honest. The whole reason why he went to such lengths to get me. He came to love me later, I know he did. But. As a child, I never wondered about the details, how that whole "God gave you to me" went down exactly, but I know now, and I know my father. What he must have thought first when he saw that baby who wasn't me yet, because it was not yet his son, was that finally, here was his chance to having vengeance, true vengeance.

Despite what his enemies thought, my father wasn't all about vengeance, though. He taught me his beliefs. There was good, there was evil. A man's task was to strive for good, protect the weak, fight against evil. Since we were in a hell dimension, striving for good meant trying to survive, protecting the weak meant first him protecting me and then me protecting him as I grew older and realised I was stronger than he was, physically, even though I was a child, and fight against evil meant fighting against anyone else. Easy. Then I left Quor'Toth, and everything turned upside down. Who was good and who was evil kept changing and was harder and harder to see. I still wanted to fight, but even I had to clue into the fact that might have been more about violence being in my nature - that word again. Though maybe as well because that was always the thing I could rely on being good at. As for protecting the weak, well, he died within forty eight hours of our arrival in Los Angeles, and he died because of me. I could protect the occasional victim a vampire was after, but my track record always was better with strangers. People I cared about? Usually followed suit and either died or went through hell because of me.

My father believed in discipline and patience. Which was one big reason why he survived in a hell dimension stuck with a baby. He had those virtues, and he tried to teach them to me. It worked, in as much as I used them when hunting and trapping my quarry. Or in the tracking game, when he tied me to a tree and disappeared so I could practice my skills and find him. But my father was also patient and disciplined when it came to other people, and well, we all know I wasn't before the mindwipe. I try to be now, but again, not exactly with great success.

So what part of his legacy haven't I betrayed is still there, with me, in me? Life, first of all. He kept me alive against all the odds, and nobody who hasn't lived where we did can really understand how heroic that was. He did not have any superpowers, he didn't have any magical gifts, and he wasn't young even then. He had no one to help him at all until I was old enough to fight. But he didn't just survive himself, he kept me alive. It's because of him that I'm still walking around these days, just as much as it is because of my other parents.

And he knew living and fighting wasn't enough. That's another thing his enemies don't get about him. He always knew you have to hope for something more than win the next fight, live another day, or even the utter defeat of the one you hate. That's why there was one story all through my life with him which wasn't about Angelus and Darla, or about his dead family, or about duty and destiny. It was my favourite story, and it was about where we were supposed to live. In a place called Utah, on a ranch. Together. My father had never seen Utah, and nor had I, then; later I found out Utah had been Justine's choice, but I hadn't know that then. He might as well have called it Oz. Or just "home'". The name didn't matter. What mattered to me was that this was the place where you could go after fighting the monsters, with the monsters staying outside. Where you'd just be with the person you loved, and they would be with you. You wouldn't share struggles for survival, you'd share breakfeast, and when you listened to their breathing and their heartbeast, it wouldn't be because you're afraid they would die, but just because.

My father had that dream, and he gave it to me. It was the best of his gifts, and I have it still.

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