Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Shells (A Parenthetical Remix)
Battlestar Galactica
Horatio Hornblower
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

Connor thinks about Illyria sometimes. He got the story from Spike, who he bumped into on the sidewalk on his way to Wolfram & Hart after he talked to Angel but before the fight with Hamilton. Yeah, that’s how it went: Talk, hour of angsting in front of a rerun of The Price Is Right, insane drive to LA, run into Spike, talk, hour of angsting alone in a parking lot, burst into the building and distract the man in the suit. A nice clean sequence of events for the last day of the intermission in his life.

Anyway. He and Spike bought Slurpees at a 7-Eleven that wouldn’t have been out of place in Baghdad (honest to God bullet holes in the walls, and how cool was THAT? shouted the part of his brain that was an eighteen-year-old American kid, while the part that was an eighteen-year-old Quor’tothian warrior looked upon the mark of a coward’s weapon with scorn), and they sat on the curb, and Spike told him about Fred and Gunn and Wesley and his father and what had happened to them over the year since Angel killed Connor and let Connor live.

When he thinks about it, he and Illyria are a lot alike, only they’re negatives of each other. He’s a delicate shell of humanity and papier-mache memories (memories of papier-mache; when he was in first grade he made a model of the Earth in art class and couldn’t explain why he painted all of the oceans blood-red, except that that never happened at all) over a vast interior emptiness. She is a deceptive shell of fragility that covers up multitudes.

“Bloody strong bitch,” Spike had muttered, crushing his Slurpee cup in his hand and throwing it in the gutter. Some people might say the same about Connor. He picked up the cup after Spike sauntered away for the last battle, and put it properly in the trash can. Connor’s mother taught him not to litter, and to always recycle. (Connor’s mother was dust before he drew breath, and her ghost couldn’t save him because she was an archetype and not a soul.)

He thinks Illyria probably survived the big battle in LA, or what the rest of the world thinks of as the opening of a freak sinkhole that collapsed several city blocks. (He knows better because he could smell the demons on the wind. Half of him wanted to go fight them. Half of him wanted to go buy the new Eminem CD and see if there were any more The Price Is Right reruns on TV.) Illyria is infinitely strong, under the Fred-shell. Hell hath no fury like her. (What his dad told him after he cheated on Terri Leonard his sophomore year, and she ran over their mailbox with her dad’s car- his third dad, that is, his human dad who lived a human lifespan and didn’t bridge centuries.)

He thinks Gunn probably didn’t survive. Gunn was not infinite, he was jarringly painfully alive, and even when Connor was Stephen and half-mad (he sees it in retrospect), Gunn hurt his eyes. Gunn was not destiny and purpose and holy sacred duty of the kill; Gunn was practicality and making do and a senseless ugly death in an alleyway.

Spike almost certainly didn’t survive, but perhaps he did, because Spike was never the point, never the center, always and forever a satellite to someone else’s story. Spike was the counterpoint, the foil (and isn’t it nice that he remembers all the terminology from the music and literature classes he never took in the high school he never attended), and sometimes the foil gets to walk away, if his death isn’t needed to make a point.

There’s no chance that Angel survived. The tale of a hero’s fall is meaningless if a trapdoor opens at the last moment and he doesn’t hit the ground. (Cartoons he never watched in the childhood that didn’t happen.) Stephen is glad that Angel’s dust, although Stephen is the chasm inside of Connor and chasms cannot be expressed as long as the boy-shell holds.

He quits school in the fall without telling anyone, takes a Greyhound bus to a tiny town in Nevada and finds a job at a gas station. His parents must be worried sick. He doesn’t mind. They are tough and adaptable; they must be, to withstand the spinning of his shell from their memories. (His other parents are all dead, so they aren’t worried. As a general rule, the dead take very little interest in the educational trajectories of constructed realities named Connor.) He grows his hair out and washes it less often. The greasy feel against his skin is a sop to Stephen, making him more comfortable in his chasm. It keeps him from flinging himself at the boy-shell like a dog on a chain.

He takes another name, because he’s done some research and it seems to be a family tradition. (Liam-Angelus-Angel, William-Spike, unknown-Darla, unknown-The Master, Connor-Stephen-Connor-Richard, the name he pulls out of the air at random and never uses in his mind.) He sells cigarettes and prepackaged apple pies (Stephen’s nose confirms there is no actual fruit there). He makes small talk with truckers and watches children run around the parking lot until their mothers shoot a worried glance at him and hurry their little ones back into the protection of the minivan. The owner of the gas station keeps a shotgun under the counter. A coward’s weapon, but also a useful tool. The dichotomy makes him itchy.

He wonders if one day Illyria will walk through the glass door he wipes down with Windex twice a shift. (He imagines that she has no use for vehicular transportation; what kind of car could hold the vastness she carries inside? He thinks perhaps a brand-new cherry-red souped-up Mustang, the kind of car he wanted when he sat to take the test for the driver’s license that never got issued because he didn’t exist.) She’ll drag him off somewhere to fight demons, and he’ll protest that his father (Angel-his-father, not Angelus-his-father or Holtz-his-father or merely-mortal-man-his-father) specifically wanted him to avoid that life. Where a human would roll her eyes, she’ll merely stare at him, and Stephen (who isn’t human either, he’s a chasm, an emptiness, an open well) will like that. Illyria won’t lecture about the Mission, or being a Champion, or any of that other stuff that his boy-shell likes but Stephen knows is a lie woven by Satan’s honeyed tongue. She’ll take him to kill the demons because it’s fun to hear their necks snap, and when did Angel ever really have the power to enforce his words anyway?

She’ll tell him that it’s about power, and that will echo nicely in the boy-shell’s mind.

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