Glamourous Rags


All that summer, Connor dreamed of their faces and woke screaming.

The peaceful dead face of the man he thought of as his father as Connor set the torch to his pyre, and the loving, tortured face of the undead thing that thought of itself as his father as Connor plunged it and the coffin where it belonged into the depths of the ocean. He stared at the torn white throat of the one and the deadly white teeth of the other and realized that there was a completion between them of which he was hardly even the smallest part.

They both stared at him with dead, undead, living loving eyes, and his father would say 'Stephen' and his other father would say 'Connor', and he woke screaming.

To find Justine sobbing in her sleep beside him, calling on Holtz and calling on her sister.

He would say, 'Justine', softly, and then again 'Justine', a little louder, and then she would wake and say 'Stephen' and smile at him.

They slept through the days in a darkened room and at night they fought and won and killed.

One night, she was slow and he had to be faster for her.

Next morning, when they returned to the apartment, she waited until she thought him asleep and went to the places where her bottles were hidden. And found them gone.

'Justine,' he said, from behind her.

'Stephen,' she said.

'The bottle makes you slower than you need to be,' he said. 'It is a weakness. And we are strong.'

'Stronger than death,' she agreed.

He clasped her hand and they looked at their reflections in her great mirror and then he took her to where he had put the bottles, and stood, looking away to prove his trust, while she poured each of them away, and smashed each bottle to pieces.

'Stephen,' she said. 'You are your father's true son' and smiled that he looked out for her.

After that, she became faster again.

At times, he loved her and at times he thought that she was his father's lover. He knew that there was a word for this and that it was a bad thing. He noticed her constantly and hated that he noticed her; she was his comrade and all that was left of his father and his ally against his other father.

He noticed that she looked at him with a look like his own, of regard and pain and confusion.

Most of the time, they never spoke; they sparred until their movements were those of mirror and mirrored.

And she always called him Stephen, which was right, because it was his father's name for him, and because Connor was the name the other thing had given him.

A vampire with a knife wounded his shoulder before they could dust it. Neither had been too slow or too weak, just unlucky.

Afterwards, they limped back to her apartment where they dressed the wound. Along the way, they had discarded and burned his stolen clothes so that nothing could follow the blood trail.

'You need something to wear,' she said.

She went to the wardrobe she always kept locked and came out with a white t-shirt like the one she was wearing, a leather jacket just like her own.

'These were Julia's,' she said. 'She would want you to have them.'

The new clothes fit him, but were tight in different places; as they sparred, he adjusted to the tightness and found his movements and Justine ever more mirroring each other.

As the summer wore on, he screamed less and she sobbed less and at night, they hugged tight until screams and sobs were driven away.

As the summer wore on, his hair grew longer and one day he said, 'My hair is long and in the way, and I should cut it short.'

'That would be a pity,' she said. 'It is such beautiful hair.'

'Not as beautiful as yours,' he said.

'Quite as beautiful as mine,' she said, 'and mine is not in the way. It is just a matter of the cut and the style.'

And so she trimmed and styled it for him and showed him in the mirror how it looked.

'It is beautiful,' she said,' but it would look better dyed.'

She was right.

A demon's sharp tongue took the side out of his trainer, the heel from her cowboy boot, before they could sever the tongue, sever the head it lived in. After that, they wore heavy work-boots, that rang on the pavement with steel. As they sparred in the mirror, the sparks of the boots against each other added flashes of light to their dance.

They hunted one area clear and then moved to the next; they were bonded remorseless warriors that caught constant sight of each other mirrored in each other's eyes.

As they danced a vampire to its dust and death one night, it looked at the pair of them and said,'Huh, Slayer wannabes', with a sneer that faded into nothing a second later.

'What's a slayer?' Connor said.

'It is what vampires call an especially strong fighter against them, Stephen' Justine said.

'Ah,' said Connor.

Every so often, he caught her looking at him speculatively as if there were something of which he were ignorant, and he thought about what it might be.

One night, when he woke screaming, and listened as if for the first time to the incoherency of her sobs, he realized with compassion what with compassion she had kept from him. He had seen his other father with his beast face on and seen the torn neck of his father - and they simply did not match.

He crept from their bed and went to her armoury; there was a thin knife there that matched his father's wounds. He sat on the floor looking at it.

'He told me to do it,' she said coming up beside him after he had been there for some hours.

'I needed to be reminded of my duty,' he said.

'He needed me to do what needed to be done, and I needed to obey his will,' she said. 'Can you forgive me, Stephen?'

'He needed you to do it, because I failed him and wavered,' Connor said. 'Can you forgive me?'

'We are one,' she said.

'One in the strength of death,' he said.

'I loved him,' she said.

'He was my father,' he said.

'He was like my father, too,' she said. 'I thought I would die when I lost my sister, and I think I died when I put the knife in his throat.'

'I think I died then too,' he said.

'And yet, here we are,' and there was not a second's break in the unison with which they said it.

They sat until nightfall, clasping their hands and staring at each other in the mirror.

That night, they fought and won until their bones ached with tiredness. Each fight was an action of their love for each other as much as the way they clasped hands and linked their leather-jacketed arms on the way home and sat by the mirror, brushing each other's hair before sleep.

That night, he dreamed again, and still woke screaming to the sound of her sobs.

'Justine' he said, and then more loudly 'Justine.'

She rolled over, smiling in her sleep, stroked his soft cheek and kissed him on the lips.

'Julia,' she said out of the depths of near-waking.

I'm not Julia, he thought. I am Connor, and then, with a pang of guilt, no, I am Stephen.

And then, as Justine snuggled against him in relief and warmth, he realized that neither Connor, nor Stephen, was anyone she wanted to be any more.

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