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After his hunt with Faith, Connor can't sleep, so he spends the remaining hours of the night reading and watching the DVD Cordelia has given him for Christmas. He has seen videos of himself as a baby before; Mom and Dad used to show them at the most embarrassing times possible. Suddenly, he wonders whether these videos ever existed at all, and if so, if Vail conjured them up as well. Connor watches Gunn, Fred, Cordelia, Wesley - with glasses, always with glasses - and Angel play with a baby, watches Lorne croone for it, and maybe it's the lack of sleep or the dead children and the prolonged exposure to his parents, but he starts to wonder whether this DVD exists as well. Maybe the life he's currently living is the result of yet another alteration Angel has somehow made through a bargain with some powerful entity. Maybe he was that child everyone is currently making a fuss about on the screen of his laptop, and maybe he wasn't. It's just as likely that everyone was freaked out by the baby of two vampires and as awkward as they were when he came back as a teenager.

He watches Angel's expression when he's holding the baby, which Connor has seen only very, very rarely - once when telling Angel he was awesome in the blissful state of mindwiped ignorance, and once or twice when teasing Angel about his werewolf girlfriend and his handwriting - and decides it doesn't matter. What is true in all incarnations is that his father loves him, and wants reality to have been one where Connor has been a baby beloved by everyone else as well. It probably is the best of the possible worlds to believe in.

Watching the flickering pictures of six people he has never seen at peace with each other be happy and endearingly dorky around an infant, he feels something salty in his throat. Angel is handing him over to Wesley and the tiny hands grasp at Wesley's glasses, and Connor suddenly remembers something like this was on the Riley home videos as well. But hadn't it been Mere, baby Mere, who had grasped at Lawrence Riley's glasses? Or had it been baby Connor? The knowledge refuses to come, and suddenly he is afraid that the more he engulfes himself in the memories of one life, the more he's going to lose the memories of another, and hastily stops the DVD.

Then he checks on the internet, and finds the accounts Angel and Cordelia have written about his birth. They are so different from what Angelus had claimed. His father - Holtz - had not gone into details at all, had just said Darla had died during the birth. No other soulless vampire Connor has heard off had given up her or his life so a child could live, and again, he has that sense of simultanous joy and horror that often strikes him in the presence of his parents.

When he comes to the house, this time after breakfeast because of how it went on Christmas Day, Kara is in her room for some reason, and Angel has gone to sleep again - keeping daylight hours all the time does not come naturally to him, after all - so Connor and Darla are alone in the living room for a while.

"Did you ever regret it?" he asks, without preliminaries, because one of the things that are eerie about Darla is this sensation she evokes of being without skin when with her. As if she could see every little artery and every mess in his head. "Staking yourself? When you saw how I turned out?"

He means when he dragged that girl to her death, that girl that in the end wore Darla's face, but when she replies, her answer refers to another thing altogether.

"Don't go all self-pitying on me," Darla says sharply. "And don't expect a pat on the back. I'm freshly out of patience. You know damm well I wouldn't regret it even if you had screwed Tucker Wells and Warren Mears in addition to Harry Osborn. I love you. That doesn't mean I don't blame you for thoroughly ruining Kara's life in the last three months."

Stung, Connor says:

"I know it's my fault."

"I don't think so," Darla says, and lights herself a cigarette, which he hasn't seen her do so far. The cigarette case is something she fishes out of Angel's leather coat, which is another surprise. "You're doing this general blame thing which men are so good at. Accept guilt for everything under the sun, but oh no, not specifics. The specifics were somehow unavoidable."

Now he's getting defensive and pushes back, because all good resolutions to the contrary, that mechanism is too seductive when being with his biological parents not to sue it.

"So tell me," Connor says, glaring at her. "What would you have done differently, specifically, at which point? I always wanted to hear that from someone who took what she wanted for centuries."

There is a tiny flicker of amusement in her cool, assessing glance, which doesn't make it easier. She inhales, then replies:

"Mmmm. After realizing that what you wanted from Harry and what he wanted from you wasn't just fun trips through the forest of Arden? I'd have gone for two options, depending on my feelings for Kara. If I, in your place, hadn't cared for her, I'd have used those strange things called discretion and common sense. People have been managing to have well-managed affairs for centuries, you know. Without spreading melodramatic declarations around. And frankly, we both know dear Harry is used to that kind of thing and does what he's told if one orders him strictly enough. So I'd have told him to keep it quiet and be a prince to Kara otherwise."

Connor looks at her, appalled.

"Now if I in your place had cared for Kara? I'd have stopped the manly bonding altogether before it grew into something more. Don't tell me you needed him as a friend. You had other people. That girl you made me promise not to harm even if she tried to kill me, for starters. And you had us. You could have had her, too - Kara is a great friend. So. Cut of Harry Osborn at the first sign that this relationship, even as a friendship, upsets Kara. Which it did long before you two did more than hold hands."

"Oh, you would have done that," he says angrily. "Sure. Guess what, Mom, I doubt that. I don't see you stopping to be friends with your immortal boytoy because Angel can't stand him."

She leans forward. Something of the ash of her cigarette falls on the skin of his right hand, which is clasped with his left between his knees so he doesn't lash out at her, and he's pretty sure it is deliberate. He feels the burn, but he doesn't move.

"Angel," Darla says, "isn't a sixteen years old girl. But if you want an example that works - when I first met Kara, I wasn't sure quite what I wanted from her. But it was soon clear what she wanted from me. She didn't need someone to mess with her head or seduce her. She needed a mother. So that is what I tried to become. It's called self discipline and having your priorities straight, Connor. Or, to use an overly sentimentalized term, it's called love."

She rises, and puts out her cigarette in one quick move between the palm of her hands. It has to burn her as well. He makes no move to stop her.

"It was good to have you over for the holidays," Darla concludes. "Time to wake up your father."

And she leaves the room.
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It wasn't exactly the week from hell, but a hell of a week. The strike meant everyone had to walk, and okay, I'm faster than most people, but not if everyone is blocking the roads because they need to walk as well. Everyone except for Spider-man, that is. Guess who was the only student arriving punctually at college that week? Webslinging is unfair.

On the other hand, Faith was in town. Which was awesome. Seriously, I was kind of surprised she wanted to talk to me at all because last time I saw her she was saving everyone's butt by taking Angelus down without killing him and I was busy freaking out and trying to stake him, so I figured she wouldn't have the time of the day for me, but she did. We even got to spar a little and patrol, and okay, it wasn't much of a patrol because even the vamps figured New York sucked as a hunting ground, no pun intended, but it was still good.

And then Faith, Harry and I went dancing. Which wasn't good, it was the fun kind of torture. I so wanted to kill Harry at times, but I guess finding out how many times you can have sex standing in a dark corner of a club afterwards made it all worth it. Top secret confession: looking back now, I'm sort of relieved Faith didn't go through with it. I mean, yeah, sure, she is incredibly hot, and okay, so I did have some fantasies now and then ever since she wiped the floor with me in Los Angeles. And Harry did say he was open to threesomes. Only I'm not sure I am. Fantasies are one thing, but if you have had sex with someone, things are different. You look at them differently. And I don't know - it probably makes me sound like a prick or a hypocrite because I started falling for Harry when I was still with Justine - but well, having sex with someone is special. It's not like a handshake. Or dancing, for that matter. So I'm glad the only one I ended up having sex with that evening was Harry.

I think Faith is still cool with me, because she came to the OsCorp Christmas party the next day as my sort of date because Harry was sort of going with Claire Davidson. Some guy named Griffin came over and wanted to dance with her, but she turned him down, and he glared at us for the rest of the evening.

On Friday, the strike was finished which was good because I wanted to take the train to Boston. Both because Phillip shouldn't work the day before Christmas Eve and because I just like going by train. I remember Mere and I thinking it was something out of the movies, like with Butch and Sundance. She'd like the East Coast, Mere. And the snow. Mom would hate it, though. I mean, she did hate it. She went to college here and told me she was always glad to return to California during the winter because of the cold, and even if she never told me because I was a child when she did and in Quortoth, she still must have disliked the weather. Father - Father would feel at home, because of England. It's so odd, because he described Utah to me and only now do I know it was England he described and not Utah at all. Utah was different.

(I'll never go there again, because it belongs to Justine and me, and going with someone else would be a betrayal. But sometimes I still dream of the heat, and of her.)

So now I'm in a Boston hotel that's not too far away from where Angel, Darla and Kara live. Their presents lie on the bed - oil and pastel and water colors and some Japanese brushes for Angel, the locket with the portraits for Darla and the concert tickets for Kara. I already sent the magazine Peter Parker made for me to Cordy, and MJ has the Italian shoes for Harry. After that quiz, he wanted a letter, so I wrote one, which was - well, after I had finished, I suddenly realized it wasn't just the first attempt at writing something sex-related, it was the first love letter I ever wrote. Since everything between Harry and me basically started with emails, it's sort of fitting.

Time to make a phone call, and then go over and - it's so weird writing this - visit the family. I kept practicing what to say to Kara in the train. Also to Darla. Less so to Angel, because I know I won't be able to remember it at the right moment anyway and because we're better at improvising.

Perhaps the best and weirdest thing is that I'm looking forward to this.

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abetterlie

July 2010

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