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He's on the way back to the penthouse after a long day at NYU, backpack full of the notes of this day and the copies from Peter Parker, plus the present for Harry he has finally finished, when he spots someone vaguely familiar in the subway. Not very familiar, just vaguely. An elegant, bronze-skinned woman holding on to some shopping bags with one of those labels Cordelia and Harry are so fond of, so for a moment Connor wonders why the woman takes the subway at all, instead of having her own limousine. Then memory catches up with him.

It's the shop owner. N. Sadat. The one who sold Darla the doll.

She recognizes him, too, and despite her shopping bags moves towards him through the other people without missing a beat.

"Well, well, well," she says, in her cultured, accented voice, "look who I find on my trip to the big city. If it isn't the miracle child."

He doesn't say anything. She did kill that crazy dollmaker of hers, so he figures she really hadn't known what the doll would do to Kara, but there is something old and deeply dangerous about her, something which he recognizes as not human. I should know, Connor thinks, and though Emily has changed the way he regards his nature somewhat, some of the old self-loathing is still there.

"I still owe you," the Sadat woman says. "For your rather impolite behaviour towards myself. And I always repay my debts."

Automatically, Connor tenses. This isn't the ideal place to fight, with all the witnesses, but he can do it, no problem. She notices his reaction and laughs.

"Ah, no," she says. "Not this way. The ways of the Red and Black countries are far subtler. And you have offended me."

With a lightning fast move, she tears out a single hair.

"Sleep well tonight, child of Angelus and Darla. Sleep well."

****

After that, he's tempted not to sleep at all, but that would be cowardice, not to mention that Thursday is going to be an important day, and following the truce with Parker he has just arranged to spend Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night patrolling, so sleep makes sense.

Connor doesn't have to wait long. He's in one of the desert plains on Quortoth, and thirsty as he is, he knows they haven't found a drinking hole for quite some time. "Stephen," the low, beloved voice of his father says, "Stephen. Look at me."

Daniel Holtz is holding papers in his hand. They're the sketches Angel sent for Thanksgiving, the sketches showing Emily. Connor had spend a part of the evening holding them and letting his hand trace the lines.

"Tell me again, Stephen," his father says. "You know the story. Tell me how I found my daughter."

"You found her hiding, and then she came out and smiled at you, and you saw the wounds on her neck," Connor says, as he has done a hundred times. He knows the story. It never loses its power. "They had not been content with killing her. They had made her into an abomination."

"And I found my wife and son," his father says. Dutifully, Connor continues:

"Your found your wife violated and dead, and your little son drained."

"Was that the last time I saw them?" his father asks. "Any of them?"

"No," Connor whispers. "You saw them a few weeks later. Angelus had made sketches of all of them. Of your daughter and himself and Darla draining her, changing her. Of your son. Of your wife. He left them for you to find at every place you tried to track him down, him and Darla."

His father looks at the sketches of Emily, then at Connor, and the expression in his face is unbearable. All the old horror, guilt and shame rush back. Connor tries to cling to what he has learned since, but it makes for a flimsy, faulty reasoning in the face of his father's disgust and pain.

"He did all this," he tries, "and she did, but they did other things as well. I did. They gave me life, they gave me life twice over, and I can't..."

"Stephen," his father says, cutting through these justifications, "I sent you to him so you might discover what of him is in you. So that you might fight it. But you did not. Look at you. Pride, envy, lust, sloth, gluttony, anger, greed. Each of the seven deadly sins were his, and now they are yours."

His father turns to the horizon, and points towards seven huge mirrors, mirrors as they never were in Quortoth. Each of them shows Connor. Killing the farmer, insulting Kara during the drinking game, showing off against Parker in a silly contest, letting Harry drink from him at Halloween, having sex in the library, it's like being turned inside out, and none of these things wever ever something he could bear Daniel Holtz to see.

"The demons who gave you life might have broken my heart," his father continues relentlessly. "But you broke my soul."

The two punctured wounds on his father's neck, the ones Justine made, start to bleed, all over the sketches that show Emily and were so painstakingly crafted by Angel. And what is visible under the blood doesn't show Emily any more, either, it shows the girl he has never seen, Sarah.

"The first of the sisters you betrayed,"

his father says.

And the last trace of Emily and Angel's gift is swallowed up whole.
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Meeting Angel again was the usual disaster. But at least it gave me an idea of what to do about Kara. Something that's actually making a difference, I mean. I hope.

Months ago, back when we had actual conversations now and then, she told me she wanted to go looking for her father. And that was what she was doing in California when I tracked her down in Monterey; she had found her father. There was something about an appointment the next day she mentioned in the jet. So here's what I thought: I'll find the man, and use the money Harry gave me for the exorcism which I was going to throw away to buy him a plane ticket and book a hotel room for him in Boston. Convince him to go there to be there for his daughter. Of course, given that he hasn't been so far, I knew he wasn't exactly a prince, but she loves him, and you never get over your fathers anyway. I know.

The airplane ticket buying and hotel booking went fine, the tracking down part was not that difficult, given the material I had from trying to find Kara. Patrick Keating. Married, children. Great. That was sort of limiting the options, because obviously he hadn't told them about Kara. On the other hand, it offered possibilities. So what I did was to pretend to be one of the Wolfram and Hart guys (Tucker Wells, who else) asking for a business meeting in Los Angeles. He showed up, and I made my "go and visit your neglected daughter NOW, I'll even pay you to do it, or suffer the consequences" spiel. That's when he said a lot of crap about me obviously being a schoolmate of Kara's and that this was a stupid trick of her to pull, that she was just an attention-seeking bitch like her mother and so on and so forth, so I had to illustrate the "or else" part. Beating up the guy would have been great, because, what a jerk. Even if he thought it was some prank, he should have tried to find out whether what I said about Kara being in trouble and needing him was true or not. But like Harry said when this whole thing began, airports have all the security checks and they probably won't let someone who is covered in bruises on the plane. The great thing about meeting in a skyscraper, though? You can let people dangle out of the window. I mean, the windows are constructed in a way that sort of prevents opening, but that's where superpowers come in handy. I still have the cuts from the glass, and smashing it was a good start with finally making an impression on Mr. Keating. The dangling did the rest, well that and breaking his little right finger, which is the kind of injury you can cover up easily. He went on that air plane anyway. And took the confirmation from the Plaza Hotel in Boston where I had booked him a room.

So. I hope it works out, and he plays the perfect Dad for Kara in Boston for a few day, and tries his best with return visits after. I told him not to say anything to Kara about who made him go, but if he blabs anyway, she'll think it was her idol Wells and won't be bothered. The downside is that I'm not sure the guy is worth Kara's time, but, see above. You never get over your parents. So a jerk forced to behave well is better than no one, and at least he's not Norman Osborn. All in all, I still think it was a good idea. But that is what I thought about going to New York last week, too.
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not locked anymore; I'm just sick of pretending, okay?


The first time I saw the sea, it horrified me. Which hadn't been the intention of the people who brought me there; they wanted to show me something beautiful. They also wanted to distract me. You could say there is a context. Anyway, the sea, at night. I thought it was utterly empty and smelled wrong and sounded wrong with its waves, and in between I heard Fred and Gunn, who were strangers to me then, whisper about how Angel wanted me out of the way so he could "deal" with Holtz. I started to run then, but it was too late. A day and a night later, I had seen one of my fathers being eaten by flames and the other drown in the sea, and in both cases it was because of me.

The first time I saw a woman, she was getting attacked by drug dealers, though I didn't know what they were then. A few hours later, she had kissed me and killed herself. I wondered whether there was a context as well, because, well. The first time I saw Justine, she held the dead body of my father in her arms, and it wasn't until much later that I found out she had been the instrument of his death, at his request. The first time I saw Cordelia, she told me she was part-demon and I tried to kill her, and she calmed me down by going all glowy on me. (Which probably means this was the first time Jasmine used that power of hers through Cordy.) The first time I saw my mother Darla, I was busy preparing a murder which I thought was a sacrifice, and that's when she decided to talk to me, and it ended with me dragging a girl to her death who had Darla's face. The first time I saw Jasmine was soon after, with the blood of that girl still on my hands.

You know, I didn't realize people saw Jasmine different from me until Fred - no, that's not true. I didn't get it then, either, not until Fred infected Angel with Jasmine's blood, and I looked at him looking at her and saw his face change. Not the way it had done the first time we both saw her, when we both knelt down. That's when I knew he had originally seen something different, and so had everyone else, and that the truth horrified and disgusted them. And it made me incredibly angry. Still does. I mean, yes, I get now that what Jasmine did was wrong, well, the eating people part anyway, and I wish that girl was still alive, and the ones Jasmine killed later. But why did it matter so much to people what she looked like? Why did that make a difference?

So, the first time I saw Jasmine, and all the other times after, what did I see? I saw my daughter, and a miracle. I saw a reason for me to exist that wasn't because the dead were screwing each other, or because there needed to be vengeance on them. She took the emptiness of the sea and filled it, and the blood on my hands and made it into something different, and when I saw him kneeling down in front of her, I thought it was finally okay not to hate him anymore. Because all the vengeance was over, and there was peace now, for everyone. She really wanted that, I could see it gliding from her in waves like the green light that was her first form.

It was a lie, of course. Not that she wanted peace, but that the blood was truly changed, or the sea. It all came back, when he looked at her in the bookstore, and saw her as I had always seen her, and hated the sight of her.

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abetterlie

July 2010

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