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.
abetterlie: (Default)
When you're hiding in the condo of your best (and right now, only) friend with a little girl whose existence must be kept a strict secret until your friend can arrange for a discreet transport to some private island, it would be smart not to go out at all. But there are... obligations. And not just because Emily needs to eat living things, which leads to the not so fun job of catching rats in the Boston sewers.

There is also Kara. Connor went to see her on Tuesday and returned more worried than ever, but with a few leads to occupy his time with on Harry's computer while Harry was visiting schools and shopped, ostensibly for charity but really for Emily. 138 Myrtle Street, the address Kara had insisted was hers. He had checked it out on his way back to Harry's condo, and found it empty. An nest of vampires, with only one of them still around. Connor dusted him without much effort after making sure the guy didn't know anything about Kara, though he babbled someting about his friend Sidoni coming back any minute now. But checking with the Boston property records turned out the interesting information that the house in question used to belong to a family named Shea (Martin, Paula and Sarah). Next, Connor checked the Boston Globe archive and the other local papers and paid for the access to old articles with Harry's credit card. The family had made it in the papers twice: once when Sarah, age 5, had died, drowned in a swimming pool whose water had not been let out in winter. She had broken into the ice. The picture of the parents didn't resemble Lawrence and Colleen Riley in the least, but he still needed some time to concentrate again.

The other time was several years earlier. Paula Shea was mentioned in a portrait of local artisans as a dollmaker of some renown, one of the few alive who specialized in unique models, not a production line. "But I must admit, my favourite model is my little daughter," she says laughingly was how the article put it. That was all Connor had been able to find out before seeing Kara again, this time with her in full fledged Cordelia-hitting zombie mode and obsessing about a creepy little doll who looked a bit like Darla. It didn't take a genius to see a connection here. At least he made it out of the house with the doll and without encountering either of his biological parents. But things had been said which reminded him that the not-supernatural reasons of why Kara's life sucked right now were decidedly his fault. Becoming a hermit was clearly the right thing to do, even aside from the need to protect Emily, but he could't do it with the knowledge that Kara would end up as a corpse pretty soon. Which was what she looked like.

Briefly, Connor toyed with the idea of trying to find that Willow person who had restored Angel's soul and was a powerful witch, or to track down Chris Halliwell who had helped him once already, but everything that happened recently had just confirmed his old conviction that magic was nothing but bad news. If not for magic, the Rileys would still be alive. If he asked any witch or sorceror to help Kara, it probably would end up getting her killed, too. No, better to try logic.

Paula and Martin Shea had divorced a year after the death or their daughter and sold their house. Martin had left town; there was no more trace of him anywhere on the internet. Paula seemed to have vanished as well, until Connor finally discovered her name again. He had tried all the local toy stores, taking their numbers from the Boston phone book and calling them all while Emily was busy with a puzzle Harry had bought her, but none employed a Paula Shea, even though some of them sold hand-crafted unique dolls. Then one of the people he talked to said: "Well, don't tell my boss I mentioned it, but some of the, well, quirkier boutiques sell dolls as well. Sometimes wearing the same ensemble they want their customers to buy."

It seemed like a long shot, but he decided it couldn't hurt trying. Boutique No.3, belonging to one N. Sadat, said they did employ a dollmaker named Paula Shea on occasion, but that she worked only on commission and for very special clients.

"I think I qualify,"

Connor said, doing his best Philip Marlowe imitation, and the cultured, oddly accented voice at the other end of the phone laughed.

"Do you now? Well, Mr..."

He had never said it before. Never. But he was following a hunch and his gut instincts, and it might be worth it.

"Angel."

The voice at the other end was silent. Then it said:

"Excuse me?"

"Connor Angel."

Emily looked up from her puzzle and gave him a look. Connor put his finger on his mouth.

"Come see me in person,"

the voice said after a few more moments of silence.

"We'll see about the commission then."

"Will Ms. Shea also be there?"

"Come see me," the woman repeated, and hung up.

***

It could be a trap. But Connor didn't see any alternative, and given how Kara had looked like, time was of the essence. So he waited until Harry was back, said he was going to check out a lead on Kara's state, and rushed away before Harry could press for details. Finding the boutique wasn't that hard. It was daylight, but that didn't mean anything, so he had brought his knife and some stakes he had carved from twigs. Hiding them in Harry's expensive clothing was a bit harder than in the old jeans and sweaters he was used to; still, he could improvise.

When he entered the boutique, he couldn't sense any vampires, but the bronze-skinned woman who came to greet him didn't feel entirely human, either. There was something in her eyes, something far older than her form. She said something in a language he didn't recognize, then added in English:

"So this is the prophecy child. You really look like both of them."

"That's what they say,"

Connor returned, trying very hard to sound deadpan instead of speaking between clenched teeth.

"And you are...?"

"Nofret," she said, and regarded him without a smile. "This better be not another prank."

As he had no idea what she was talking about, he brought forth the doll.

"Paula Shea,"

Connor said. "Did she make this? I'd like to talk to her."

Now Nofret gave the impression of being honestly surprised.

"So this is really about...? Well. Yes. I was doing your mother a favour, you know. These things are murderously expensive. But I have no reason to do any favours to you, and neither has Paula. Still, you can ask her."

She clapped her hands together, and called Paula Shea's name. With a mocking tone, she added:

"After all, as you said, you are special. Maybe there are things you could offer."

To hear that Darla had comissioned the doll was a surprise, to put it mildly, but Connor attempted not to show this. He also suspected that if the woman Nofret was behind everything, she'd have pretended not to recognize the doll. Still, everything was possible. The woman coming in from the back of the shop looked years older than she had done on the photo of the newspaper; her pale blond hair was mixed with grey. Her eyes immediately fixed on the doll in his hand.

"That is not yours,"

she said in a disturbed tone.

"No. No, it belongs to my sister. But I think I can inherit it very soon. You know what my sister looks like these days, Ms Shea? Like a living corpse."

Looking from her to Nofret, he added: "And I've seen plenty of those."

He was referring to his parents, but apparantly Nofret took it differently. Her eyebrows drew together. Paula Shea just looked annoyed.

"Your sister will be well again soon," she said cooly. "She's just... it's for her own good. She'll be happier, after. A happy little girl. The way she should be."

He exploded then. Nofret was a potential threat of unknown quantities, so he took her out first, with a single punch, rendering her unconscious. Before Paula Shea could react to this, he had her pinned against the wall.

""She's dying,"

Connor said harshly.

"Make it stop. It's you who's doing this, isn't it? You and your doll. Make it stop."

"Not dying," Paula whispered. "Living. Living again. The others died. But this one is holding out, and so it will work this time. My little Sarah will come back to me."

Tears started to run down her face.

"You don't know what it's like," she said, "to loose a child."

He stared at her.

"Yes, I do."

"Then you must know. There isn't anything you can do to me. Not now. I'll die before I'll let you take her away again. She will come back. This time, she will come back."

The hell of it was that he did understand. He would have protected Emily even if she had sprouted green horns and golden locks and sounded like Britney Spears, because no child should be abused and killed. But the increasing conviction that she was, in some way, Jasmine returned to him made him ready to do just about anything for her.

This time, the woman had said. So she had tried it before. Bringing her daughter back by letting that doll give its owner her memories, and take the memories of the original person. Since Paula had tried again, the earlier attempts couldn't have worked out, and given the state Kara was in, he suspected the previous owners weren't among the living any more. Kara was a Slayer, with increased healing abilities. Normal girls would...

"No, she won't," Connor said. "I'll kill her myself before I let that happen. I killed my own daughter. Do you think I'd stop at yours?"

Paula's eyes were very wide. The tears did not stop.

"Didn't you say she's your sister?"

"My sister is dead," Connor said flatly. "My sister is dead, and my parents, and my daughter. Look at me. You know it's true. I killed them. I killed them all. Kara is just one more, and we can't even stand each other much of the time, and your daughter is less than nothing to me. If Kara stops existing, I have no problem killing Kara's body. So think. If you tell me how to break the spell, you can try again. With another girl. In another city. If you don't, Kara dies, one way or the other, and whatever is left of your daughter inside her. "

The grief and determination in her face mingled with dawning fear and disgust, and a horrible, familiar greed. He knew then that he would have to kill her at the end of it, no matter what happened. She would try again. And he had broken the rule of sparing humans before. He couldn't be more dammed than he already was.

"The doll," she said at last. "The doll has to go the way Sarah did. To sink in water, cold, cold water, and when this is done, the girl will be herself again."

Connor let her go. It could be a lie, a distraction, or it could be the truth. Behind him, he heard a noise; Nofret was coming towards.

"Demon child," Nofret said, "you will pay for this."

"Did you know? Did Darla know?"

"No," Nofret said coldly. "But nobody comes into my shop and violates my hospitality like this."

"But working in your shop and stealing bodies is fine?" Connor asked, not taking his eyes of Paula Shea. He made a decision. Theoretically, he could try and abduct the woman, holding her somewhere while he sunk the doll to the bottom of the river Charles and checked whether this had any effect on Kara. The downside of this plan, however, was that there was nothing to stop Nofret from getting the police on his case, for starters, and he couldn't use any attention right now. Besides, he didn't think Paula had lied, not this entire time. She had to be more than half mad to do what she did anyway, or she would have denied it. She believed him about killing Kara, and she believed she could just try again. Start over with a new girl.

"No," Nofret said, regarding Paula Shea speculatively herself. Paula started to say something, but Connor didn't pay attention anymore. He bolted out of the store. He had found Paula Shea once, he would find her again once this was all done with, and deal with her. Right now, he had to check whether he had found a method to save Kara, or whether he had been a complete idiot all over again.

***

The doll, bound to some iron weights stolen from the harbor, sank at a rapid pace. He felt the wind coming from the sea in his face. Always the sea, the terrible blank nothing, and the doll sank the way Angel had. Maybe it even had an eternal life of its own and would be found by someone in the future. It occured to him that the dead girl, Sarah, was only one year older than he had estimated Emily to be.

Connor didn't know that Paula Shea was undergoing a transformation of her own while the doll, made out of her daughter's hair and some magically endowed material, sank deeper into the Boston harbor. Nofret did not take kindly to being made a fool of, and Paula wasn't the only Mummy who had her ways. Tomorrow morning, the Boston police would find the corpse of a woman who had lost her entrails and was dry as if the desert itself had taken every fluid out of her. And then Nofret would turn her attention to ways of teaching her old friend Darla's child about courtesy.

If he had known, it would not have mattered, not truly, safe for some numb relief he didn't have to kill the woman himself. Right now, the only thing that mattered was whether or not Kara was free.

When the water was still and completely placid once more, he turned away and left to find out.

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