I stood there, my… daughter hugging me hard enough to crack a tree (she was strong) and I was just slackjawed.
My life has officially passed from straaaaaange to… I don’t even know to what.
Still, despite the… sensation of mentally running into a wall, over and over, this girl here was my daughter, I was sure of it. That the monkey did not urge me with dark suggestions was proof enough, as were her eyes. And she had obviously been looking forward to this reunion for quite some time. No reason to make her feel unwanted.
So I put my arms around her, slowly. She only hugged me harder in response.
“I’ve dreamed of this day, you know?” she whispered.
“I see.” What was I supposed to say? I’d already been completely out of my depth with Hennessy. The situation may have been different now (I wasn’t getting smacked around, for one – though that could still happen) but… I had nothing. I had no idea what to say or do.
Less than four hours ago, I’d been out to find my ex-girlfriend, maybe hoping to get a second chance with her… now I had two teenage, almost grown-up daughters, one a severely damaged superheroine, the other an active supervillain with a lot of clout and they were supposedly archenemies.
Fun times. Stars above…
I pushed her back a bit so I could look down (even with her substantial heels, she was still way shorter than me) at her face.
She was biting her lower lip, looking insecure.
God, she looked like a child, all of a sudden.
“Don’t take this the wrong way – I know you’re my daughter – but how? I know I used protection the one time I slept with your mother.” Please don’t take this as a rejection.
She bit her lip harder, for a moment, looking away as if ashamed.
I saw her shadow – it looked like it had been circling us – rise from the ground, filling out into a three-dimensional, solid black copy of her. A perfect reflection, but there was no distinction between her clothes and her body, and her face, though perfectly detailed, was empty, emotionless, her eyes as dark as the rest of her.
Something about that shadow just creeped me out.
“Um,” the Matriarch – I so needed to know her name, no way I was calling my own daughter ‘Matriarch’ all the time – tried to speak up, commanding my attention again. “We shouldn’t… shouldn’t discuss this here. Come, let’s go somewhere more private, alright?”
Taking a step back, her hands grabbed my own and tugged, gently. Still insecure.
I nodded and followed her, nodding towards Cartastrophy, who managed to look depressed despite his costume. I gave him a look, and he nodded slightly. He knew not to talk about Chayot. That was not for him to share. I wasn’t even sure if I had the right to share it.
Followed by her now very physical shadow, my daughter pulled me past her divan and through a barely visible door in the wall behind it, then through the hallway beyond the door.
The room at the end of the hallway was far less… ostentatious than the hall. It was circular, with a large circular table, big enough for a group to have dinner together, small enough to still feel private and homely.
It was pretty much the only piece of furniture left in the room from the time I’d last been here. There were new, more modern cupboards along the walls, a large flat screen television and a lot of other stuff. Last time I’d been free and in America, we’d just gotten the first three dimensional screens for home use (they’d sucked). I idly wondered if the technology had taken off or just faded away again.
My attention was pulled back to more immediate, more important matters when my daughter turned around and hugged me again. Hard.
Is this normal? Or is there a special reason for why she seems so… desperate?
I hugged her back, still not sure how to react. Waiting for her to let go once she felt ready.
After a while, she relaxed and stepped back. “Thank you,” she said with a soft voice.
Now I was really confused. “What for?”
That got a weak giggle out of her. “You didn’t push me away. I mean, I’m just a stranger to you, and I just told you I’m your daughter – no proof, nothing – and you still let me hug you. That was nice.”
Well, I had the advantage of the monkey at least considering her a non-target, so I knew there was something special about her.
“To be honest, I just know that there is some connection between us. Can you answer my question now?”
Suddenly, she was all nervous again and walked over to the table, sitting down on a chair her shadow pulled out for her.
I sat down on the opposite side of the table, trying to look more confident than I was (no idea if it worked).
“You… remember that night? With my mother?” she asked, avoiding my gaze.
“Yes… she’d hired me for a caper – needed some muscle in case the heroes showed up, which they did – and after we got away… barely, and all the others got caught… we kind of… ended up back here. We were both euphoric, half-dead from the beating we’d both taken and really… in the mood,” I said, quite uncomfortable with discussing this with my daughter. “We both celebrated a little… right here… with some drinks and then…”
I looked over to the door opposite the one we entered. “Yeah, we went in there. But… I know I used protection, I remember making sure of it.”
She looked down, fidgeting on her seat. Opening her mouth, she almost started to speak, then went quiet again – and then her shadow poked her shoulder… and everything poured out of her.
“It was a setup,” she began. “All of it, the job, you two being the only ones to get away, the drinks, everything. She even… well she sabotaged the… the protection.”
“She even made sure it all happened while she was… ovulating. And she took some kind of contriver stuff to make herself extra… extra fertile,” she finished, looking ashamed.
“Why?” Did she know about…
Her shadow put a hand onto her shoulder, making her look at it. I heard something, a whisper I couldn’t understand.
The girl looked back at me. “She… she never did tell me. All I ever heard was that blood was thicker than water, which is just amazingly unhelpful.” She rolled her eyes, or at least I thought she did.
She knew, dammit. No oth-
My eyes fell on her shadow. Standing behind her, its shoulders were shaking… it was laughing, silently and, somehow, smugly.
It knows, I’m sure of it.
I looked back at the girl. She was still avoiding eye contact, but I could also tell, from her face and her eyes, that she was annoyed at the lack of an answer she got from her mother.
Throwing the shadow a suspicious glare – it had stopped moving and was just… well, I was pretty sure it was looking at me, but it was hard to tell… anyway, I was pretty sure that it knew, but she didn’t.
And it knew that I knew that it knew. Because it put a finger to its lips, as if to hush me.
The bottom fell off my stomach, and I felt my heart – and other assorted organs – drop down into my shoes.
She was in the same boat as Hennessy, if in a different way. Her power had a mind of its own, and it could keep secrets from her.
And now I knew, beyond any doubt, that she was my daughter. Even without the eyes, and her mother’s manipulative nature (she’d been famous for it, even without factoring in her power), which when coupled with her legendary lust for power certainly made such a plot probable, I’d always known that having children might be a bad idea. One of the few advises my father gave me, which I actually was thankful for (most of them were just… creepy to give to your child) was that I should be extremely careful about having children… that I should be absolutely sure that I wanted a child, and that I should make sure to be present for it… because they were likely to have issues with their powers.
Though, as usual, he hadn’t explained why any of my children would have issues with their powers. He was an asshole about that.
And now both my daughters… I remembered the figure I’d seen inside Hennessy’s head (or wherever the hell we’d been), and that thing had certainly been alive, though it had not been as overtly distinct from her as this girl’s shadow was.
“Huh?” I looked up. She was staring at me, worried.
I noticed that I’d been brooding. “Sorry, I spaced out, didn’t I?”
“Uhh, yeah, you could call it that…” she replied, sounding shaken.
“I know this is a lot to drop onto your lap all at once, and I know you don’t owe me anything, but…” She stopped, staring to the side. Her shadow whispered something, again, but she waved it off.
I waited for her to continue, folding my hands in front of my face and looking at her over them. I wasn’t the most… savvy person, especially regarding the feelings of others, but I could tell that she was, for some reason, close to a breakdown.
And I had no idea how to deal with it.
Wrapping her arms around herself, she gave me a longing look. “I… If you want, we could… I mean, you probably want to reestablish yourself here, and if you want, you can work with me… or I can work for you, I mean, you’re way more experienced… and it would be really useful for both of us, if…”
Her shadow put a hand to its forehead, shaking its head while she continued babbling.
I just rose from my seat and walked around the table. She only sped up, trying to throw more good arguments at me for why I should join her, or she join me, or… well, she certainly was no smarter than I was, it seemed.
Stopping next to her, I grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her up into a hug, lifting her off her chair and off the ground, her feet dangling in the air as I buried my face in her rich hair.
“What’s your name?”
She choked, then answered: “Elouise. Elouise Luviere.”
“I’m Kevin Paterson. Call me Kevin, or papa if you insist.” I hugged her close, but not hard enough to risk hurting her.
“Are you… do you mean it? I mean, you never wanted me, and my organization isn’t that great an-“
“Oh, shut up.” I hugged her harder. “I don’t give two shits about any organization or power or money or political advantage. Don’t need any of that, as far as I’m concerned, anyway.” I tried to put as much… how to even call it… you know, that fuzzy tone fathers can put into their voice when they want to reassure their children? I hadn’t exactly gotten much of that, in my time (though I’ll admit that my father tried to be like that), so I didn’t exactly know how to call it. But I tried a fatherly voice, going by what I’d heard from others over the years. “I don’t know you… but I’d like to change that. Try to be a family.”
And I wish I could have just said that to Hennessy. Why didn’t I get my act together back there?
She shuddered, then hugged me back. I thought I heard her crying, but I don’t think she’d have appreciated me commenting on it.
I held her. Don’t ask me how I felt for the year or so we spent like that, because I honestly can’t tell you. It was intense, but that’s all I can put into words.
* * *
After some time – don’t ask me how long – I felt her grip relax. Slowly, more reluctant than I’d thought I’d be, I let go, lowering her onto the floor.
She took a step back, turning in the same motion, right into the handkerchief her shadow was holding, and which it used to clean up her face before I could see it.
I resisted the urge to spout some pun and just waited for her to feel up to talking again.
Maybe I’ll be up to it by the time she is.
Once her shadow was done, she turned around. Her eyes were a little red, and her nose too, but otherwise she looked fine.
“Thank you,” she said, again.
I smirked. Then I reached out with both hands for her mask. She tensed up for a moment, but didn’t resist when I pulled it off.
Underneath she was… surprisingly cute. I mean, she was as beautiful as her mother had ever been, even more so. But where her mother had been gaunt and sharp-featured, she was just… soft. She looked younger than her eighteen-odd years, and I realized that her mask was designed specifically to make her look older. Pair that with her dress and she could pull off twenty-one years, I guess.
“Elouise… do you have a nickname you prefer?” I asked while putting the mask aside on the table.
“Uhh, Lise is fine, I guess,” she said. “Never had a real nickname, to be honest.”
“Really? With a name like Elouise, I’d have thought your friends-“
She laughed out loud – but it wasn’t a happy laugh.
“Friends? You really didn’t know my mother,” she said. “I had peers, rivals, sure. People I could measure myself against. But friends? They would have been a weakness. So she made damn sure I never made any.”
And I thought my dad’s an asshole…
“No friends at all? Even after… when did she die, anyway? How?”
Her face fell, again.
“Oh, uh… did you hear about the whole incident with the Ascendant, five years ago?”
I had to restrain myself not to show the sudden surge of rage I felt at being reminded of him. Her shadow seemed to notice, taking a step closer to her. Ready to protect her.
At least it keeps her safe, huh?
Somehow, that movement calmed me down. Reminded me that I needed to be on my best behaviour.
“I’ve heard of it. What exactly happened to her? She was not a frontline fighter, so…”
She looked away, again. “The boy… they call him Jabberwocky… he had some kind of danger sense and tracking, or maybe a strange kind of precognition. Could tell where the biggest threat to himself was, went right after it. So, the first thing he did was attack the base where the hero and villain superminds were. The precogs, the super-strategists, the data-analysts. It faked out the fighters, faked out even the superminds, came up in the middle of them… and started killing. They didn’t stand a chance. Mom was there because of… well, she had a slew of perception powers, as you probably know. Some low-level precognition, some enhanced awareness, empathy, and so on. A little bit of most. But… Jabberwocky could somehow resist perception powers, if he was close enough to their users, and he took almost all of them down.”
She said all this in a strangely calm voice. I couldn’t tell how she felt about it.
So I decided to just ask.
“How do you feel about that?”
Her mouth clenched up, as did her fists, and it took her a while to respond.
“I hated her, you know? I mean, I loved her, still do, but I also hated her. Still do. I’m just…”
Again, her shadow reached out, pulling her around to face it. It spoke in that incomprehensible whisper again, and she relaxed.
Turning around again, she faced me as her shadow put its arms over her shoulders, letting them dangle limply as it put its head next to hers.
“Sorry, I’m a little… emotional today,” she said.
God, she takes way too much after me. “I can tell.” I took her hand and sat down, pulling her down onto my lap. Thankfully, her shadow melted away, sinking back into the floor.
Maybe it doesn’t see me as a threat anymore?
“Look, Lise, there is a lot I want to talk to you about, but I think we both need some time to really let this sink in, alright?” I certainly do. “Also, I did come here for some business that is quite… pressing. Sorry for bringing it up.”
She shook her head, snuggling against my chest. Damn, she was young, younger than I’d been at her age. “It’s alright. I guess reestablishing yourself after eighteen years – by the way, you really need to tell me what you’ve been doing – is quite a chore.”
She thinks I want to be a supervillain again. I didn’t think that I wanted that. To be honest, my plans consisted of three points. Find the Ascendant. Kill him slowly and painfully. Take care of your daughters, moron!
Three simple points, no overarching plot or anything. Not that I’d ever been prone to those.
“Look, I heard the Ascendant is back in town. I need to find him. Preferably before he pulls any large or small operation.” I managed to restrain the hatred in my voice, and I prayed to God her shadow wouldn’t pick up on it and tell her. It seemed to be… sensitive.
“What for? Do you want an in with him? You’d have all the heroes around after you, if you did. Especially that bitch Chayot and her pals.”
Now I felt like slapping her for using that kind of word in regards to her sister. But she didn’t know. And I wasn’t comfortable with complicating things even more right now.
“Let’s just say there is some old, unfinished business between us. And it’s really urgent. If there is any way for you to get me an in? Just an audience?” Her organization may be diminished, but she is the heir of one of the old guard.
She nodded, never parting from my embrace. “I’ll see what I can do.” Her shadow slithered out of the room. “But it’ll probably take a while.”
“Sure thing, sweetie.”
She giggled and snuggled closer.
This is actually nice. And the monkey hadn’t even tried pissing me off for a while.
* * *
After a while, Elouise had to take care of some business. She put on her mask, aging by at least three years with it, kissed me on the cheek (I kissed her on both, and on the top of her head, which for some reason made her giggle) and went off to work, inviting me to make myself at home.
I told her I wanted to visit my old house and gave her my address and my phone number, both of which she took gleefully in exchange for her own (she lived at the casino, but she had a private cellphone number).
Then, me and Cartastrophy left, taking his car back home.
“Damn, now I’ll lose the other poster, too,” he grumbled.
Thinking about it, I actually said: “Dude, she gave you that one herself. It’s alright, keep it.”
He shook his head. “No way pal. You know why I like those posters. No way I’ll have my friend’s daughter on one of those posters.”
I grunted in affirmation.
We reached the block next to the one I lived at, and I got out of the car to walk the rest of the way.
Merlin Street hadn’t changed at all in the last eighteen years. The houses still looked like they came out of a cheap horror novel, all faux-victorian stonework and stuff. Really gloomy, but with way too much colour in the flowerbeds and on the roofs to feel depressing.
My house was unchanged, too. Someone (probably Dad) had been taking care of it.
I stepped into the old, almost fortress-like building, and was immediately assaulted by the smell of old books, musty wood and carpet.
And there was someone there. The monkey wasn’t smelling anyone, but I could hear someone riffling through my bar. The bottles were clinking against each other.
Without hesitation, I stormed into the living room, half-ready to manifest my monkey hand-
A man stood behind the bar, clad in a dark blue robe with a hood and wide sleeves. As I entered, he turned around, unconcerned, with two glasses and a bottle of seventy-year-old scotch in hand.
“Want a drink?” the most powerful man in the world asked in a thousand and no voices. I could barely see his mirror-like, featureless facemask. It was more of a helmet, really, but almost skintight and shaped so at least a nose and some basic facial lines were suggested by the mirror.
Not that anyone ever paid attention to the mirror itself, because the images it showed usually commanded all of your attention.
Though, seeing how they never made any fucking sense, I’d just gotten used to not paying them attention.
“Hello Journeyman. What have you been up to?” I sat down on a stool in front of the bar counter.
He filled the two glasses, then held out one for me. I took it, we knocked glasses and drank. His glass moved through his mask like it wasn’t even there.
Ah, life gets immediately better once you drink a scotch that’s twice as old as you are.
“Journeying around the world, of course. And then some,” he answered in his freakass voices, his mask showing… images of countless people. Some of them looked like heroes, or villains, or people out of a fantasy novel.
“Anything in particular?”
“Spaceworms,” he said. “Godlike spaceworms, and dancing. But in the end it came down to a little girl with serious control issues.”
“You still don’t make any sense.”
He chuckled, which was really creepy, because it was like a whole opera house was chuckling all at once.
“I pride myself on that. I hear you’ve had some… interesting experiences?”
I took another swig. “Did you know about my daughters?” No use trying to keep a secret from this guy.
He shook his head, his mask flashing through images of Hennessy and Elouise, from childhood to now. Some of them scared me, a lot.
“Had I known, I would have brought you back here immediately. Alas, even my knowledge is limited.”
I snorted and took another drink (Journeyman always knew when to fill up and when to stop).
“I need a break. Got any funny stories to tell?”
“Well, there’s this one about magical lost romans who fight naked elves on giant sloths.”
“Sounds like my kind of story. Shoot.”