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Between Harry in California to see Kara and Evan in New York with his mother, Connor had a lot of unexpected free time at his hand during the weekend. Talking with Cordelia about the Lex issue helped a bit, but he still found himself somewhere between anger, disappointment and renewed attacks of self loathing.

It wasn't that he was in a position to judge. Between sending Angel under the ocean to avenge Daniel Holtz and bringing an innocent girl to be sacrificed so his daughter could be born, he understood the motivation all too well. But that was just it. He understood because he was tainted the same way.

Connor found himself wandering through the house Harry had bought after discovering he had a child, and coming across various toys left from Evan's last visit. A little truck, a bear, a plush penguin. The texture of plastic and artificial vibres on his skin when he picks them up and holds them is alien, utterly alien, all of a sudden. Perhaps because Vail didn't include artifiicial tactile memory of toys, or because it somehow sums up what's at stake.

After putting the toys on shelves, Connor decides to go to Bullock's office. The man won't be there, but a staple of bills and letters will, and he can do some unpaid overtime work, which means he will stop thinking what he's thinking right now.

Last year, Harry lost a friend and nearly died himself because of a vampire playing games with Connor. This year, he nearly lost another friend because Connor's mother wanted payback. It was all very well to rant about responsibility to Darla on the phone, or to Cordelia on livejournal, but what would be the truly responsible thing to do? Now that the stakes were so infinitely higher because there was a child involved?

Remove the taint, of course.

Perhaps that was what those dreams of killing Kara had been about, too. To show Connor something. No, it's not that he's the only one responsible for Kara's state, though he guesses in the end, he bears more responsibility than Lex Luthor, but maybe he's the one who can end it, only not in a lethal way. Kara told him more than once she wished she could cut him out of her life, but she couldn't, because of Darla and Angel.

Consider this: can anyone reasonably say Harry and his son would not be better off without Aurelians in their lives? And: if Connor was out of the picture, how long before Harry would get back together with Kara? And he would not dump her again. He loves her. She's not sixteen anymore. He'd know what's at stake. Kara would finally have what she wanted, a devoted boyfriend/husband, a family of her own.

And don't have any kids yourself. That Larkin poem. They fuck you up, your mum and dad...

How long before Natalie figures out that Harry's boyfriend is a lightning rod for all kind of trouble in addition to being someone with a psycho family and a bona dide sociopath, endangering her son? And if she figures it out, won't she do the responsible and sensible thing and deny Harry any more access rights, and won't that be the worst thing, worse than the death of Harry's father, because no pain is worse than losing a child, and won't Connor be the one responsible if he stays?

He's relieved when he arrives at Bullock's shabby little office. But the stench of cigars is fresh. The man himself is there. Drunk, as it turns out.

"What the hell are you doing here, Riley?"

Spare time and some more work, Connor says, and Bullock looks at him with bleary eyes.

"Shouldn't you be with your girlfriend, kid? What kind of retard spends Saturday at the office?"

"It's boyfriend," Connor says, "and I'm just following your example, boss."

"Watch your mouth," Bullock grumbles, but when he lights up a new cigar, he offers one to Connor as well.

"I don't smoke."

"God, your generation is so wasting being young," Bullock says, and then remains silent while Connor starts typing. After the third page, the former cop says:

"Did I ever tell you about saving Jim Gordon's life?"

It turns into an afternoon of tales about the Gotham police department and getting fired not for something that deserved firing, of which Bullock apparantly has done plenty, but for something he doesn't regret. By the end, Bullock is so drunk he can't talk anymore, and can't go back to his place, either. Connor can't bring himself to leave the man in his office, not in this state, so he takes him home, puts him under a shower which the drunken Bullock nonetheless manages to sleep through, and lets him sleep in the guest room.

Sunday morning arrives, and he has an overweight 40something with a hangover to deal with.

"How come you could carry me anyway?" Bullock asks suspiciously. "You look like you couldn't carry anything that's heavier than those pansy pamphlets you read when you think I'm not looking."

"Vitamins," says Connor, and makes breakfeast. If he's honest, the whole caring for the boss thing is very much due to this helping him not to ponder that possibility which is ever more clearly on his mind, but not exclusively. It feels comfortable, caring for grumpy elder men; familiar.

"Listen, Riley, whatever I said yesterday, I was drunk, okay? I make up stories when I'm drunk."

Connor can't resist. "You mean that whole part where I'm making you consider switching teams wasn't true?"

Bullock looks so horrified that he can't keep it up and apologizes for the crack.

"You're lucky I don't fire you," Bullock says, but he eats all his breakfeast, and after putting on his coat, he turns to Connor and remarks: "Just one thing, Riley. You won't get a raise for this. And for God's sake, get a life next weekend!"

After he left, Connor realizes that the house is full of cold cigar smoke now, and out of bagels. He spends the next hours with all windows open and a vaccum cleaner, and in between comes to the conclusion that vacuum cleaners double nicely as weights to lift for training. Something still lingers afterwards, so he takes out the dogs for a run. By the time it's early evening, he comes back, feeds the dogs, orders a pizza and starts a book. The temptation he doesn't want to think about is still there, but he's waiting for Harry to come home, which he supposes is a kind of answer.

Endgame

Mar. 8th, 2007 10:26 pm
abetterlie: (Default)
ooc: after Darla arranged for revenge on Lex Luthor because of Kara's suicide attempt, Lex became increasingly apathetic and lost bit for bit of his self under the spell, until
Harry noticed and colled Connor for help



All the way to Metropolis, Connor spent half of the time hoping he was wrong and half of the time hoping he wasn't. If he was wrong, it meant he wouldn't have to think further about just what his suspicion implied, but it also would mean that he had no idea what to do about the Lex Luthor situation, and would have to start from scratch. He thought about Kara taking pills and ending up in a hospital, and who was responsible for that; and then he thought about who was really responsible, and who had spent a good deal of the last months dreaming about killing her, instead of getting his soul sucked out by a doll.

What you did to me was unspeakable. Now the question is, what do you deserve?

By the time he arrived at the Luthor penthouse, he was back to hoping he was wrong. The penthouse itself struck him as an emotional freezer, not as off-putting as the Osborn penthouse had been the first time he had visited New York, just very cold with all the shades of blue. Lex' younger half-brother was arguing with a doctor about something and Harry was this side of frantic when he took Connor to see Lex. Who was indeed wearing fuzzy slippers and doodling flowers on paper. And humming "Mary had a little lamb". Lex ignored both of them, being happily lost into the song.

Well, well, well, said the inner voice which always sounded like Angelus, because anything else would have been unbearable. You've got to admit it's elegant. And funny. You've got to admit it's funny. Come on, son. Lex Luthor as a little girl because he was the jackass that broke our little girl.

He tried to focus on Lex helping to track down the dealers in Gotham. On the fact Lex wasn't, ultimately, the one to blame for Kara's miseries. On the knowledge of what it felt to be locked up, and that nobody, nobody deserved being locked away in their own body, a lesson Connor had learned too late.

Still, it could be something else, something else entirely. Could.

During the flight, he had gone through everything he remembered about the doll maker and her dead daughter. Which wasn't much that could prove anything, but he had to try. The girl had drowned, he remembered that much, broken into the ice.

"Sarah," Connor said sharply to Lex, "Sarah, the ice is right ahead of you!"

At that, Lex stopped humming, and looked up, blind panic in his eyes. "No," he screamed, and his voice didn't sound anything like the self-assured young man Connor had met before. "No, not the ice!"

So much for reasonable doubt. Harry's entire face was a question. "It's a spell," Connor said, without going into details. "I have to find something. If I'm right, he'll snap out of it suddenly, so stay with him and keep an eye on him all the time."

As opposed to Kara, Lex Luthor didn't have a doll collection; any doll located anywhere in the open would stand out as alien and would have been discovered by the servants a long time ago. On the other hand, it had to be at a place someone who had only a short time available would have access to. Connor went from room to room, trying to figure out where he would hide it, and getting a lot of irritated and suspicious looks from Lucas, the doctor and the remaining staff while he turned over books and investigated artificial plants and their pots, until he finally came to a stand still and listened. Something was off, ever so slightly off, and you heard it only if you paid attention and drowned out all the other noises, including questions like "what the hell do you think you're doing?"

The air conditioning. As with virtually every house in America, the Luthor penthouse had air conditioning in every room. But it did not sound the same everywhere. In one of the rooms, the master bathroom, in fact, it sounded as if there was an obstacle blocking part of the air.

Half an hour later, he held it in his hand; not nearly as well-crafted as the last one, but unmistakable. This one had to be an early attempt, or an unfinished work, but it was definitely crafted by the late Paula Shea, and the look in the barely painted eyes wasn't a doll's look. Connor left the penthouse as fast as he could, before anyone could ask any more questions, and spent the next hour looking for weights and water. Metropolis wasn't a harbour town the way Boston had been, but it did have several decorative lakes in the town parks. Drowning a doll the second time felt no less bizarre than the first.

Afterwards, he didn't go back to the Luthor penthouse to check whether or not it had been of any use. Instead, he used his cell phone to call Darla on hers. Not the Hyperion; he didn't want to risk talking to Kara. But he had to be sure.

"Did you ask your friend Nofret to use a soul-sucking doll on Lex Luthor?" he asked when he heard his mother's voice, without greeting.

"Yes, I can use my arm again, Connor," Darla said wryly. "Thank you for asking. Your father is well, too. And Cordelia has that special secret-affair-with-great-sex-glow."

He refused to be distracted. He wasn't 18 any more. Besides, Harry already had left those tabloids featuring Cordelia and Lindsey MacDonald rather pointedly on the bed.

"Did you?"

She sighed. "I'd ask you to be sensible and leave it where it was," she replied, "but I'm sure you already returned our Mr. Luthor to his senses before calling me. Tell me at least you're not anywhere near where he can hear you."

Despite half a day of increasingly firm suspicions, hearing them confirmed in such a flippant and unrepentant manner felt like a punch in the gut. Before he could stop himself, he said:

"How could you?"

Immediately, he felt stupid for asking, so he did what he always did when either of his parents made him feel this way. He lashed out. "He was an absolute jerk towards Kara, I know that. But this -"

"Nobody fucks with my children," Darla said icily. "Unless, of course, my children fuck them back. You didn't see her in the hospital."

"No, because you made it very clear you didn't want me there. And leave Harry out of it. This has nothing - "

"Oh, but it has," she said in her deceptively soft voice. "And you know it has. But he is family now. Lex Luthor, on the other hand, is nothing but a menace. Again, thanks to your efforts. Tell me, Connor, is there any good reason why he shouldn't have spent the rest of his life making a lot of nurses and doctors rich and happy?"

Arguing abouut the individual's right to life without being lobotomized with her seemed incredibly pointless. Telling her Lex Luthor in that condition would have broken Harry's heart might have been something she understood, but she would have used it against him in that way she had, and besides, it would have negated that Lex had a right to his own mind whether Harry cared for him or not. Connor took a deep breath. Then he asked:

"Did Angel know?"

For the first time, his mother sounded hesitant.

"Well..."

"Did he?"

"Yes," she said. "But I very much doubt he gave it another thought after I told him. He's focused on being there for Kara and making things better for her, not on..."

"Helping the helpless?" Connor finished. It had taken him until now to identify the bitter taste in his mouth. Darla, well, finding out what Darla had done had been a shock, but she had never claimed to be anything but a former mass murderer, or to care for anyone but a very limited circle of people. But Angel had been the one to tell him about being a champion.

Daddy has not finished talking.

He had hated Angel then, hated and resented him, but he had believed him. Had believed what Angel had said about responsibilities, about the harshness of the world meaning that anyone with the power to affect and change needed to protect those who couldn't. It hadn't been that different from what his other father had taught, in this regard at last.

"Angel let you put a spell on someone, a spell that was meant take a man's soul away and lock him up inside a doll for the rest of his life. And because that someone had dumped his daughter, he didn't care," Connor said tonelessly.

Unspeakable. What you did was -

He had always known Angelus was his idea of the worst of beings. He hadn't known how much he had come to see Angel as a hero until just now.

"Connor," his mother said, and for the first time since Justine, she sounded pleading, "it was my decision. Your father -"

"Didn't stop you. Or did anything about it. All those weeks. While Lex Luthor rotted from inside out."

"Neither did Cordelia," Darla said, irritation supplanting the pleading. "And I gave her at least a strong hint about my intention. She seemed to approve wholeheartedly. Connor, Lex really hurt Kara. If he were a demon or a vampire, you'd have killed him yourself. I don't believe in humanity as some kind of immunity from punishment."

And he had thought the feeling of shock and disappointment couldn't grow stronger. Cordelia? Angel and Cordelia both?

"No. You don't believe in humanity at all," Connor said, and hung up.

Afterwards, he slowly walked towards the Luthor residence. Other than wanting to know that the guy was, indeed, recovered and himself, he didn't want to see Lex Luthor again. Ever, if possible, which it probably wasn't because of Harry. And for one of the few times in his life, he didn't want to see Harry, either. They didn't lie to each other, but now he probably would have to. If he told Harry the truth about the doll, Harry would either insist on going to California to confront Darla, or at the very least would tell Lex. Which meant Lex Luthor with a cause for vengeance set on his parents. No. Just no. He was furious with both of them right now, and he didn't want to see them, either, but there was no way he'd let them be threatened by someone who had the power and the money to do serious harm in retaliation of what they had done to him.

Then there was Cordelia. Cordy, who knew, none better, what it felt like to be possessed, to have one's soul draining away. How could she stand by and...

That's why there is us. Champions. You're not a part of that yet. Some day, I hope you will be. I love you, Connor. Now get out of my sight.

"Young man," said a voice, and Connor, looking up, noticed that there was a cop coming his way, "that hydrant is public property."

Somewhat bent public property right now. He hadn't even noticed striking and kicking at it. There were some scrapes on his knuckles, but they were already healing. Better to get away. He had a bad record with cops in this state.

Connor ran, and wished, right now, there was a way never to arrive anywhere at all.
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Gunn and Fred swore there was a ghost in Cordelia's apartment. Connor, who helped them move all the boxes Fred packed with Cordelia's belongings to the Hyperion, never saw or sensed anything. Granted, he didn't try very hard. Both because he needed to focus on keeping up the lost-son-hoping-his-father-will-return facade for Gunn and Fred, and because he didn't really want to.

He didn't understand how that many clothes could belong to one person. He didn't understand a lot of things.

"Cordy told me his beast of a mother build a wall to keep poor Dennis there for the rest of eternity," Fred said. "While he was still alive. Can you imagine doing that to your own child? I can't understand how anyone can be so cruel."

Connor tuned her out, and really didn't want to look for the ghost after that. After all the boxes were at the Hyperion, he didn't have to go back to the apartment again, and was grateful.

***

There were no pictures of Darla at the Hyperion. Not among the many photos that he retried for Cordelia, not among the papers in Angel's office he sometimes went through in secret. Nobody ever mentioned her; not Fred and Gunn during the summer, not Angel after he had come back from the sea, and not Cordelia after her memories had returned. You'd think Connor had sprung from Angel's forehead, fully formed; even when seething with anger at his deception, Fred referred to him as "Angel's son", half sobbing, half shouting.

If it had not been for his other father, his true father, as he still tried to tell himself, he would not have known Darla's name at all, or anything about her. As it was, he knew enough. She had been as vicious as Angelus, perhaps more so because she had given birth to that monster to begin with, just as she gave birth to Connor. Holtz never specified how she died, though. "God meant you to bring justice to the demons who spawned you," his father said, "and to Darla, you already did. That should be enough for you, Stephen. Let us not talk of it further."

Fittingly, it was Angelus who finally told him more about Darla. Angelus said her name, the first time anyone did in Connor's hearing, his tongue relishing the two syllables.

"Darla," Angelus said, "Darla felt the same way. It made her sick, you squirming inside her. So, she jammed a stake in her own heart, just so she wouldn't have to hear your first whiny breath."

"You don't know anything," Connor returned before he could stop himself, and the hatred inside, for the both the monsters Darla had given birth to, was overwhelming. He shouldn't care. She had been a demon, mass murdering demon; he should be glad she was dead because of him. But he did care, and now Angelus, smiling, knew it.

Perhaps that was why nobody had mentioned her. You do not mention the victim in the murderer's hearing, did you? It could bring back her ghost.

***

She was dressed in white, like the girl sobbing in the corner. Staring at her face, Connor wondered whether it was this that his fathers saw, both of them, when looking at him.

"You can't be my mother," he whispered, and when she talked about memories and feelings, he said it out loud, because if he knew anything, he knew this: "My mother is dead."

Her dust had to be what he first breathed in. Perhaps this is why he still took a breath, every time, when staking a vampire. But here she was, and he couldn't smell her. Even vampires had a scent. He couldn't hear her heart beat, either, but that was normal; he didn't expect her to have one. Perhaps the dead did come back. Why her, though? He had never known her, after all.

"Why did you leave me? Did you hate me that much?"

Weak, weak. And yet of all his parents, she was the only one he could ask that question. Of course, she answered by swearing she did not want to abandon him, but then, none of them did, did they? The girl in the corner didn't stop crying and wishing for her own mother, and the apparition in white kept telling him he should know better than murder, that he was better than a murderer.

"You've been gone a long time, Mom," Connor said, wearily. "How would you know?"

"Because we shared a soul," she replied simply. Perhaps that was what she wanted, why she was here; to reclaim that soul, to form him anew or discard him as damaged goods. Perhaps he should allow her; he owed her a life, after all.

So he started to let the girl go, and then Cordelia returned to renew her own claim on him. Cordelia, pregnant and alive, brought up the ultimate argument, the one Darla had not been able to refute with all her claims of sharing his soul.

Are you going to let them kill our baby?

The girl didn't stop screaming until Cordelia raised the butcher's knife she had found in the old slaughterhouse they were hiding in. Then, at that last moment, her face changed, and she grew utterly silent. Her face was Darla's, now, looking up at him, and Connor wanted to yell that this was the wrong choice. Not his, hers. If she could do that, why did she not take her due, why did she not enter his own body, took back the life he had taken and threw away the soul which obviously had not been of use to anyone?

Her blood splattered all over him. It was an answer of sorts. Perhaps, in the end, that was all ghosts could do: make the living repeat their actions, again and again.
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After this

"Anger and hate," Justine said to him once. "Severely underrated. Keeps you going. Well, not you."

But then, she hadn't known him when hate kept him going, save for those two days between the death of one father and the imprisonment of another. Then Wesley had captured her and locked her up. In a closet. He's thinking of Justine a lot these days, and how she hated closed rooms afterwards, how they drove with open windows whenever they could. He also thinks of Angel under the sea, and the question of who deserves what.

Until Darla comes, and suddenly the fact his cell is neither a closet nor a coffin under the sea and that he does have blood on his hands doesn't provide him with the same resignation any more. He wants to breathe air again, any air, even some of the more toxic fumes from volcanos back in Quortoth would do, he wants his life back, and no matter whether Harry is really okay back in Gotham or not, he wants to see that for himself.

He also wants to hurt someone for this entire situation. And there are no demons around.

(Save for himself.)

Ironically, his general passivity so far, after the first day and assorted knocked out inmates, and the fact solitary didn't cause him to confess have persuaded the administration to a change of tactics. He's put in a cell with another murder suspect awaiting trial. As opposed to many a prison movie, the man in question is neither an oversized gorilla interested in rape nor an innocent who somehow ended up in detention. He's mostly complaining about how his lawyer screwed things up and didn't get him bailed out, and otherwise looking forward to visits from his wife. The person he killed was his son's math teacher.

"She was gonna let him fail," he explains. "Bitch." Hastily, he adds: "But of course I didn't do it."

The next day, Connor is offered a more or less blatant deal. Instead of having to watch the photos of his burned family yet again, he gets to watch photos of Harry Osborn, severely beaten up.

"Now Detective Fitzgerald, she figures the two of you were in it together, for a joyride," the policeman pushing the photos to him says. "But me, I can see another scenario. Maybe the Osborn boy just had bad luck and bad timing. But not you. Look, son, I know a killer when I see one. Bet no one would get the idea of putting your pal Harry into general population again if you confessed to all the murders. I'm just sayin'."

It takes all the will power he has not to move and react until the policeman shrugs and is about to signal the end of their conversation to the guards. Then he takes a page from Faith's book. He has crossed dimensions. He can do this. The main thing is not to look back.

There are glass splinters in his hair and there might be a bullet somewhere in his shoulder, at least that would explain the blood and the stinging pain there, but half an hour later he's on the road. Another hour later, he's confronted with his first demon. Only the demon turns out to be a costume, and not qualified for painsharing. Connor is hiding in one of the many underground tunnels beneath Los Angeles, far too familiar from the past, when it hits him.

He had forgotten. It's almost Halloween.
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The last time Connor had spent alone with his mother had been a rather uncomfortable Christmas chat. The truth was he never quite knew how to handle her. Angel, he got, whether he was angry at him or not, but he never knew what Darla was thinking, and was secretely convinced she knew what he was thinking all the time.

But when Angel, who had been his anal-retentive self about the schedule he had made, reached the "alone time with Kara" point, Connor was actually glad to take the opportunity, and for several reasons. He had successfully managed to keep the New York Times society page away from Kara and his parents, though it had taken hunting down every single copy of the dammed paper in the Pyramid hotel and tearing said page out to do so. Which had been quite cathartic, in its way. But it still left him ashamed he hadn't handled the news better, and determined to somehow find a make to make it up to Harry. Atonment, they said, happened through suffering. Though the reconstructed and on occasion slightly schizophrenic person Connor was thought suffering should not be pointless and result in something Harry would actually enjoy. These deliberations led him to one inevitable result: shopping for clothes, which he really, really, hated to do. Finding something which Harry would enjoy wearing was difficult when you considered fashion brands strange aliens from another planet. Hence the urgent need of maternal advice. Darla might have been the bloodthirsty nightmare of centuries, but even Holtz had always described her as elegant.

"Don't tell Angel and Kara, though," he implored while they headed off to the next boutique. "I mean," he said, embarassed, when she regarded him with a raised eyebrow, as if to ask what kind of fool did he believe she was, "we have to find something to tell Angel and Kara about where we were."

"No, dear boy, we don't," Darla said wryly. "Angel thinks we're off to watch the Chippendales."

By now, thanks to a lot of posters, Connor had actually figured out the Chippendales had nothing to do with furniture and stared, then was unable to prevent himself from using a Kara term.

"Gross!"

Not strippers per se, though really, Harry always excepted, the idea of guys stripping did nothing for him. But going to a strip bar, no matter who stripped, with one of his parents in tow was just wrong.

"Don't worry," Darla said amused. "I wouldn't dream of wasting the boys on you."

Yes. Atonment was suffering.

Darla suggested the Venetian, which would offer the opportunity for a gondala ride while visiting the shops there. He had never been in Venice, or Italy in general; that brief time in Rome, courtesy of being abducted for an insane ritual, didn't really count. For a moment, while helping his mother in the gondala, he remembered the sight of her in Galway, a ghost from the past made flesh, similar and yet different. But she looks at him, and her smile is a human smile, eyes crinkling with what soon will remain signs of age, and for another moment, he loves her without being ashamed of it.

"So," Darla says, while they sit in the gondola, gliding on a canal between art galleries, restaurants, apparel and jewelry shops, "first you ask your father to torment you and now it's my turn. There are easier ways to handle your love life and deal with those jealousy issues, you know."

So Angel had told her about Wednesday. Well, he would. Connor bites his lip and avoides looking into her eyes which are identical to his own. At least she doesn't know about this morning, and the papers.

"It's not about that. Not only about that. I need to take out..."

"One Tony Chilton," Darla interrupts, and her voice, usually soft and whispery, sounds rather steely. "Yes, so I gathered. And I have no doubt that you will."

This was actually encouraging.

"And what then? When the next enemy comes along? Because there always will be one. You don't always get consultation time. You certainly don't the next time Hal decides to branch out his social circle, because really, darling boy, be a little realistic and a little grateful. If you two were stuck with only each other and no one else, it wouldn't be an idyll. It would be the final five minutes of Dead Ringers, and trust me, you wouldn't pull it off as well as Jeremy."

"I already know I screwed up," he says in frustration. "Tell me something new."

Darla signals for a halt, and they exit the gondola near a shop called "Lior's".

"You'll never have an entirely peaceful relationship, not with him, not with anyone," she says. "You're your father's son. But here's the new part, because apparantly someone has to spell it out for you. You'll always be able to make him want you more than anyone else, no matter how much a shining hero the someone else is to him. Because you're my son as well." She looks at him, entirely serious. "We may never get the Madonna position in their lives, Connor. But trust me, we're the one ones they bloody well can't do without. Now let's go shopping."

Three hours of severe atonment later, during which Connor stumbled across the strange fact he had not the slightest idea what Harry's size was but that his mother didn't even hesitate to make a guess, he found himself carrying bags David and Goliath and Banana Republic in addition to Lior's, filled with what Darla had declared to be Harry-suitable casual wear for the summer. He desperately hoped she was right and figured he'd have to get rid of the bags and boxes and hide the actual shirt and trousers in his duffel before Angel and Kara returned to the hotel. He also hoped that he'd make it through the next six months or so with complete serenity, taking everything in stride, never making a single mistake in his reactions to anyone in Harry's life, because Darla had shamelessy exploited the opportunity to blackmail him into trying out some items for himself as well. It was difficult enough to distract Harry from doing that all the time, without giving his mother the opportunity to join the act.

Between carrying bag and storing them in various gondolas, between waiting in shoe stores while Darla tried on new shoes and staring at the children's toys section in a speciality shop, wondering whatever became of those legos Harry had given to Emily, he did have another idea. They were sitting in their final gondola when he cleared his throat, pulled something out of one of the bags and handed it over to Darla.

"And what's that?" she asked, sounding surprised for first time.

"A thank you," he said, blushing. He had thought about it. What would be suitable. Jewelry would probably be too much, and besides, his budget was pretty much blown apart by this trip, and he really didn't want to ask Harry for money. And he didn't want to just say thank you, he also wanted to make her smile and show her he got it, at least some of what she had meant about herself and him. So, thinking about certain recent journal entries made by Angel and ramblings made by Kara, he came up with what was hopefully just the right symbol.

The small package he handed over to Darla, beautifully wrapped up, contained a chinese laque box, and in the box, filled to the maximum, tea.

Mother

May. 13th, 2006 08:14 pm
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*locked from Darla*

He didn’t mention her as often as Angelus. I guess because she was dead, and so he didn’t need to prepare me regarding her. But he did tell me about her. I hadn’t gotten the timeline right then, the whole part where he had been born centuries ago as well, and so when he had me repeat the story of the murder I called his wife Caroline mother. I just figured she must have been. Someone must have been. With all the beasts around us, you did catch on the whole reproduction thing pretty quickly. Anyway, when I said “…and they killed Mother as well..”, he drew a sharp breath and corrected me, gently, but as clear as always in his phrasing.

“My wife,” he said, “was not your mother, Stephen, and I am most sorry for it. You know whose child you are. I never kept it hidden from you.”

I knew, even then, but I still wanted at least a human mother. The one he had loved who was A Saint And Much Too Good For Me, Or Any Man, My Angel Caroline.

“You know,” he said. “Tell me again.”

“No,” I said, because I was still a child then and sometimes did not heed my lessons, and was stupid enough to yell and cry about things I could not change, and ran away. He didn’t come after me. He knew I’d be back. And so I was, with some fresh meat of a beast I had killed.

“I am the bastard child of two demons,” I whispered, and he nodded and accepted the meat. That evening, he told me more about her. She was a demon as vile, that I had already known, but now he added details. She was unpredictable, he said, which had made her more difficult to hunt; you never knew when she would ditch Angelus and when rescue him, but the one thing you could count on with her was that as long as Angelus still existed, she would return, sooner or later.

“She created him,” he said. “She brought that monster into the world and revelled in no other deed as much as that.”

“So she was his mother as well?” I asked. The whole “siring” concept was a bit difficult to grasp, if you were seven and no actual vampires were around.

“In a manner of speaking,” he said, probably coming to the same conclusion. “And his whore. Everybody’s whore, if she wanted to lure victims to their doom, and even before that, I’ll wager.”

“What is a whore?”

“You will understand later,” he said. “But fear not. She is dust now, and whatever there is of her in you you will govern and defeat. Cleave to the good and remember God’s will, Stephen, and you will be safe.”

He said she died when I was born, but not how. When I was ten, I asked whether Angelus had killed her, having grown finally tired of her. After all, he had told me Angelus loved nothing more than to drink family blood.

“Oh no,” he said. “You were her death, my son. When I saw you in her ashes, I knew God had meant for us to be together, even then.”

“Good,” I said, and never asked him about her again. I didn’t ask Fred and Gunn, either, when I was living with them at the Hyperion, and they never mentioned her to me. When Wesley came back during the reign of the Beast, he brought his chronicles along, and I don’t know why, but I kept going through them when I thought everyone was out or asleep. That was when I finally saw what she had looked like, because he had an old photo of her there. He also had made notes on her, and they confirmed that she had been everything my father had said she was. Both in the past and in that year before my birth. There was also a lot of stuff about Angel being “obsessed with her” and kicking his friends out.

I didn’t get it, because Angel never mentioned her now. I mean, we weren’t exactly having many chats, but still, he never mentioned her, so I figured either he was ashamed of her when he had his soul, or maybe since I had been her death, he blamed me for that and didn’t want to talk to me about her any more than I wanted to talk about Daniel Holtz with him. Then eventually he did talk about her, when he was Angelus again. He told me just how I had been her death. She had hated me so much, he said, that she couldn’t bear it, the feeling of me squirming inside her, and so she staked herself.

So that was what I knew about her. And then she came back. Just before Jasmine was born, she came back to me, out of thin air, so exactly the opposite to Angel that it was like someone had invented them – small where he’s tall, blonde where his hair is dark, and with a soft voice. She told me she loved me, that she had died because she wanted me to live, and that I had a choice. That we had shared a soul once, and I looked into her eyes and knew that part at least was true.

But I also knew my father had been wrong, and so was she. I could not govern and defeat what of her there was in me, and I didn’t have a choice. If what she said was true, if she had died for me, she had to understand. It was the baby’s life at stake, Cordy’s and mine.

Except that didn’t stop it from being murder, and I knew that when I saw that girl looking at me with her face when Cordy brought down the axe. Her blood was all over me.

That was when I at last believed I was really her son.
abetterlie: (Default)
Childhood Ambition

Stephen can’t remember the first time he heard the story. It was always there, told in his father’s low, calm tones, part of his life as the clouded sky or the bite of any creature one let come too close. His reason for existing, the point and purpose of his life, told back to his father during endless days of trekking, over fire that warmed them or in caves that gave shelter.

“…God gave me to you.”

“So that I could bestow on you all the love I could not give my first children.”

“Because he took them from you.”

Stephen knows the names before he knows much of anything else: Sarah and Daniel. Daniel had been “an innocent babe” and Sara “her mother’s joy, my own delight, the sweetest little girl there was”. He knows the colour of Sarah’s hair and her favorite song, because his father sings it to him as well. He knows the demons Angelus and Darla did worse than drink her blood; they made her into one of their own, and left her for his father to kill.

It is hard to imagine vampires, because they are not any in Quortoth. He points at some of the foulest beasts early on, asking whether these resembled the monsters, but his father shakes his head each time. Stephen does remember when he stops asking. His father is a patient, disciplined man, but one afternoon, when he’s bloodied from battle and worn out by the demands of a child, he makes Stephen kneel at the well that serves as their resting place for now and gestures at the reflection in the water.

“Like that,” he says. “When they do not kill, when they fool the innocent as they must have done to gain entrance to my house, they look like that.”

Sometimes, he dreams about it. Sometimes, it is himself the demons kill and feed while they wear his own face, and that is bad enough. Far more often, he watches them kill LittleSarahAndDaniel, who do not look like Stephen at all but are small, perfect versions of Father. This is worse, because Stephen watches and is glad before he wakes up with burning shame in his heart.

At last, he arrives at the obvious conclusion.

“I will find Angelus for you,” he tells his father. “Find him and destroy him.”

That is the part of the story his father withheld, the demand he never made, because Stephen had to figure it out for himself, and finally, Stephen has. His father’s face is sad and proud at the same time. There are no shadows of other children in his eyes when he regards Stephen now.

“Yes,” he says. “One day, you will.”
abetterlie: (Default)
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.
abetterlie: (Default)
One sent:

Darla and Angel )

One unsent:

Kara )
abetterlie: (Default)
*private*


I can't believe they told him. And I'm not sure why that's so - why that feels like a betrayal. I mean, neither of them can do magic, so it makes sense they'd need someone else's help. I should have thought of that. I don't know what I thought would happen. And yes, it could be worse - they could have involved Wolfram and Hart again, or Tucker Wells.

But it feels like this was something between us. And now it's not. Plus I wonder whom else they told. And I don't trust Todd Campbell anyway. Okay, he's helped out a couple of times, but that's just that - he had no reason to, except for his thing with Darla. And he and Angel have been enemies. So call me paranoid, but maybe that's his angle. Maybe he's like a human Wolfram and Hart and wants to trap Angel so he can have Darla for himself. (But how does that Piper chick figure in then?)

Anyway. Maybe I never should have asked them. Maybe I should have gone to Wolfram and Hart myself and asked directly. No, that would be stupid. Last time I did that, they wanted to dissect me.

I wish I could talk with Father or Justine about this, but they hate Angel's and Darla's guts anyway. Kara is already a member of the Darla fanclub and has just joined the Angel fan club, and Cordy - if I talked with Cordy, I'd have to tell her about Mom and Dad as well, and I just know what she'd say.

Sometimes I miss Quortoth. You always knew whom you could trust there. (Nobody, except Father.) And there were no secrets.

ETA: And now I find out they told Kara, too. Great. Just great.

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