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Siren Self

by Jennifer-Oksana

To me (oh me, foolish me, pretending to be all better and coping with my fantastic plastic demon-haunted world me), it doesn't become Something to Notice until Charles takes me by the arm (gently, so gently, he's got almost-innocence lingering behind his hunter eyes) and asks without pausing for breath:

"Fred, baby, what are you doing with Connor?"

And oh, that's the Question with a million answers, none of them entirely false, all of them without the absolute truth, but the one I decide sounds the best and most Fred-like is the one that slithers its way out of my mouth.

"We're bonding, Charles. He's been through hell and I'm trying to be there for him."

This is not what Charles is talking about at all, very much not at all (of course he understands bonding, two refugees coming back to the dimension that spawned us, cuz that makes sense, good old-fashioned Sense), but he won't press the issue. Some of the answers to the Dangerous Question are answers that won't do anyone any good.

I know what he's talking about, what brought on the worry. It had been so silly of me, running around the hotel calling after the Sunday paper wearing just my bra, a pair of dryer-soft, perfectly worn blue jeans, and girly underwear underneath all those clothes. Besides that, I was naked.

So of course I ran smack-dab into Connor mac Angel at the end of the hall, Connor looking very uncomfortable in jeans and t-shirt and just as you were about to collide, there was a simultaneous realization that Fred's a girl and Connor's and boy and so.

Oh, he's so very much like his father (I'm over that crush, except for the part where any girl'd be crazy not to have a crush on Angel and Connor's cuter--he doesn't have the caveman brow) and I blink at him, half-blind for no reason because I only need glasses to read and sometimes see.

"Eek," I say, standing there without even being able to cover up for some reason. It's not like I'm naked, but this isn't dressed, either, a tart little voice replies and OH, not that. I'm not hearing me answer me. That's the way back to caves and madness and instability. "I'm sorry. I'm silly. My shirt's in the dryer."

Because I only have one shirt, right? Real smart thing to say, genius girl.

"It's all right," Connor says. "I have the paper. It wasn't where it was supposed to be. Would you like it?"

He's staring (he was staring, Fred baby, this happened, this was my happening and it freaked me out even while I kept standing there in jeans and a bra for Angel's baby son to admire) at how a front-hook white cotton bra closes.

Walk away, Fred. Grab the paper, walk away. This is Connor and not Angel, he's sixteen, Fred, grab the paper and go. I can't believe I'm just standing here.

A familiar voice broke the spell.

"Yo, Fred, Connor musta got the--"

And this is why Charles had to ask me the question. The Question for which I have no Answer, the quest that sends me running to a private corner of a larger and empty hotel to think about what exactly is going on in my head.

Between me and Connor. Between me and Angel's ghost. Because he must be dead or lost or trapped because Angel wouldn't just leave us behind. Simply impossible to imagine that Angel and Cordelia would run. Besides, Cordelia's dead. No one survives a car crash like that. Between me and Wesley. Between me and Charles.

Most importantly, what is going on between me and Fred? There's a splinter (in your brain, driving you mad, hiss hiss hiss) of schizoid behavior starting to emerge in your mind, twisting and turning and making it hard to sleep at night or speak about dangerous thoughts in your head during the day.

Dangerous thoughts, the thoughts that make you lay in your bed at night and wonder, breathing stuffy air, if it isn't time to try sex again. Fred had had enough of dangerous sex and dangerous desire in Pylea, but I'm starting to have those sorts of thoughts again with no baggage other than the feeling that I'm dreaming about the wrong man.

Most of the hot thoughts start with how sweet Connor's lips must taste, like fruit salad at a Fourth of July picnic in South Texas after a day of hot dogs, hamburgers, pork and beans, chili, cherry pie, potato salad, apple pie, potato chips, soda pop, and beer. Like strawberries and blueberries, cherries and oranges, with a hint of stale ketchup and long-forgotten carrots from the veggie platter in the morning before the barbeque got going. That's how Connor would taste.

I dream about him the way Fred used to dream about Jake Leary in tenth grade. About the two of us on the scratchy outside blanket Jake brought that was ugly green polyester. It's leaving green fuzz in your hair as you look up into the stars while the fireworks go off.

It's less pervy (maybe more pervy, I'm not sure) when it seems like a teenaged crush remembered. Never mind that I should be thinking about Charles. I've even had the same dream about Charles, except Charles is nicer. He never tries to get in my pants the way Jake and Connor do.

There's something very wrong with my dreams.

There's something very wrong with me.

I don't want to dream these dreams, but there's no way to just stop (stop dreaming? You must be joking, little girl, dreams are wishes, your heart makes the wish, daytime makes the dreams come true) and at least dreams remind you that there are still lines left to cross. What can't be real, what isn't fake, what you have to do to be a good person. There's much to be learned from dreaming.

When I look up, Connor is standing there, looking at me. I must look a sight, hiding in the corner, thinking so hard that I've curled into a ball. I am going to go crazy again. I didn't realize how much I needed my new family until they were all gone, until they all ran away from us.

"Gunn was looking for you," Connor says. He's just looking at me, no emotion in his face. Not a hunter today, not his daddy's son, not either daddy's son. He's a boy today. And I have twelve years on him, almost thirteen. "How are you? You seem a little disquieted lately."

Holtz taught him such funny words. It's like talking to a history book sometimes. I pull my arms around me closer, watching Connor close.

"I've had a lot to think about," I say. "Things are different these days. I don't like it."

"Because Angel's gone?" Connor asks. "And Cordelia?"

"Yeah," I say. "And Wesley."

Connor looks confused and I realize (oh terrible realization! Why can't I slowly come to conclusions? Why can't it be organic and natural?) that we've never explained to Connor exactly who Wesley is and why he's as lost to us as Angel and Cordelia.

"Who's Wesley?" Connor asks slowly, blinking heavy-lidded eyes. He's so pretty, I think, resting my chin on my arms. I could eat him up with a spoon and then have to lick my lips to get every last trace of him.

"He used to be in charge," I say. "But then--then a very bad thing happened and he's not with us anymore."

It's not Angel's ghost that's haunting us. It's Wesley's. My stomach aches. Gunn and I, we haven't been able to handle Wesley being gone. Angel was always our hero and he was always going to go into the sunset with Cordelia. I think in time we could handle Angel and Cordelia leaving us. But Wesley was our normal friend and he was the one who kept things running. Your regular friends shouldn't leave.

"Is he dead?" Connor says. I want to lie and say yes, tell him that Wesley died that night trying to protect Connor from his father. But I can't lie to Angel's son.

"No," I whisper. "He took you to Holtz. And your father paid him back by cutting his throat."

Connor laughs and it makes you cringe. What's wrong with a boy who thinks a cut throat is funny? "No, he didn't!" he says. "My father told me the story. Justine tricked him--he didn't hand me over."

"No, that's not--" but what do I know? Holtz had plenty of reasons to lie to Connor, but not about that. "Really?"

If that's the truth, I think I feel even worse. Because it means Gunn and I have completely and totally betrayed Wesley. Wesley who might be dead, who might be alive, who will never speak to us again.

"Really," Connor says. "Is it comfortable?"

"What?" I ask.

"Sitting like that," he says. "You look very uncomfortable and guilty when you sit like that."

"It's safe," I say irrationally, unfolding and starting to stand up. "Whenever I was scared, in the old days, I'd crouch in corners and try to make myself as small as possible."

"What are you afraid of here?" Connor asks, helping me stand the rest of the way up. He's smiling at me, like he can't imagine what's scary about this world. I suppose Quortoth and Pylea were scarier than here in some ways, but really! "I mean, Gunn is always there to protect you, and me. I'd like to see someone try to hurt you."

Oh, Connor, why do you have to smile like that at me? Why do your eyes have to be so blue? Why do I keep wishing you'd shut up and kiss me?

"There are worse things than demons," I say, pulling away from him. "At least the ones outside you can see."

Connor nods, slow and steady. "What's inside you that's worse than demons?"

"I didn't say--" but I don't care anymore. "Thoughts. Things I don't get to say. There are things in my head that are more dangerous than vampires."

He doesn't laugh or smile now. Instead he looks intrigued, and I know he wonders what could be worse than a vampire. Sweet Connor, I forget he's so young and sometimes so silly.

"Tell me what," he says, his voice intense with curiosity. "I want to know."

"I think that everyone leaves me," I say, swaying back and forth. "Everyone I love goes away."

"I won't," Connor promises.

"Oh, Connor," I say, the words catching in my throat. "It's because you left us that everything's gone wrong."

"But I came back," he says, coming closer. Oh, he's going to come too close and I'm going to make a mistake because all of this trauma's too much for fragile sanity and he smells good. Like Angel would smell if he'd been alive. "It's not the same. I don't break promises. If I say I'll stay, I'll stay."

"You're sweet," I say, clinging to the wall, something looming in my mind that I don't want to acknowledge. "But it's not the same. You're not Angel."

"No," he says, with that little bit of temper. "I'm human."

I want to kiss him a thousand times. I want to scold him for being such a brat. I don't know what I want. I want things to be simpler, and I want to escape here before things get worse. But not alone. I can't go out there alone.

"I'm human," I echo, remembering an old quotation. "And nothing human is alien to me."

Connor tilts his head. "What's that mean?"

"It means that it's a weird world, kid, and sometimes the best thing to do is accept that it's weird," I say in a voice that sounds not like my voice. I shrug. "You want to go somewhere?"

"Go somewhere? You mean go out to look for vampires?" Connor asks. I laugh, but it's not my laugh and I think that maybe the splinter has succeeded and my me has successfully dissociated from me and it's someone else entirely using my tongue.

"No, silly," I say. "I mean, you know how I got that new car, the little junker Gunn found for me? My Honda?"

Connor nods. He still isn't used to cars. I think he thinks they'll come to life and eat him when he's not looking. He's such a little boy. I want to give him a hug.

"You want to go somewhere in the car? Maybe for food?" he asks. I roll my eyes and grab him by the t-shirt, pulling him right up against me and he smells so good and before I know it, I've given him a good hearty kiss and I know that I'm dreaming because the lines are all undrawn.

This is what I hear while I'm kissing him, over and over until my mouth is satisfied:

Delirium used to be Delight and she has her butterflies so she can't quite forget. I used to be a cow and I still have my instability so that I can't ever stop remembering.

"Come on," I say, releasing him at last from my evil clutches, all the butterflies twirling in my stomach until they get dizzy. Maybe Charles will go talk to Wesley if he finds us gone. Maybe he'll find out what I know about Wesley's innocence. Maybe he'll bring Wesley home to us and by then the craziness will be gone and we'll come back and together we'll find Angel and Cordelia.

But tonight, we have to go, me and Connor. I know it, the deep-down knowing that only comes from being crazy.

"Where?" he asks, and the boy, the poor boy, he only has eyes for me and oh, I will go to hell for this, but I'll have all my friends to keep me company when I finally go.

"We're going north," I said, taking his hand and leading him out of the room, out of the hotel, out of my dreams and into my car. "And, boy, I'll show you things you've never seen."

He kisses my hand. I give him a smile, stick my keys into the ignition and then we drive. I don't know we'll be back once things get better. Until then, me and Connor?

We're going to drive. We're going to drive and never stop.


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