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.
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.