Of Eye-Dee And Stranger Women
by Jennifer-Oksana

Connor has gotten used to being unable to get into taverns. They employ large men with bad attitudes to glower at him and ask for eye-dee, which Connor cannot procure so far. He has asked around, and after the people finish laughing at him, they point out that he looks sixteen and no matter what his eye-dee said, the bouncers wouldn't believe it anyway. No one has answered his question about what eye-dee is in the first place; to imagine a world without it seems alien to these people.

Therefore, after all the shouting, the only taverns he can enter are ones that cater to the dangerous and low-class. Connor doesn't really mind that. Those are the ones that usually have vampires and demons, prowling on the pathetic drunks and lowlifes that huddle within the tavern. Occasionally, though Connor cannot understand why, there are even 'normal' people in these places, intoxicated and oblivious to the danger they've put themselves in. He does what he can to help them.

Like tall woman swaying to the raucous come-on of the music box. Connor's been keeping an eye on her for an hour now, unable to comprehend why she's come to a place like this. Her clothing, her purse, and her attitude all suggest that she's of a better class, someone who has the right eye-dee. The bouncers wouldn't stop her from going into a tavern, he's quite certain.

But instead, she's here and she's dancing by herself to strange music, the kind that isn't 'oldies' like the patrons here like, nor the kind that the street youth enjoy. This music has too much percussion and strangeness, though Connor suspects it could be danceable if he knew how to dance like people here dance. But the words are blasphemous, even though he's not entirely sure how.

"your own personal jesus--someone to hear your prayers--someone who cares--" over and over and over again. As though someone needed a savior other than Christ, who was a personal savior, who heard all the prayers, and who cared desperately. In fact, he cared enough to punish as well as reward. It was all a conundrum to Connor that no one understood that here.

"So who's she?" he finally asks the bartender, whose name is Mort and who is kind to Connor as long as he sticks to soda and non-violence. "I haven't seen her here before."

"She's a damn nuisance, that's what she is," Mort grunts affably, washing a glass and filling it with Coca-Cola. "Come in looking for her boyfriend about two hours ago. He's not answering his cell and she's gettin' herself pissed in his honor. If you're lookin, I bet she wouldn't mind a substitute boyfriend right about now."

Mort's major flaw is that he assumes Connor would sully himself by fornicating with any woman who'd agree to it. Besides being a mortal sin, Connor is deeply repelled by the idea of walking up to a stranger woman and asking for sex. It would be improper and rude. And also, boyfriend usually means a large, angry, drunken man. Connor has helped a few women in the area and boyfriends usually try to pound him into the concrete for the favor. He doesn't like to think what they'd do for actively trying to pick up their girlfriends.

"That'd be a pity," Connor says, sipping the soda. "Too many women in this area end up molested by substitute boyfriends."

Mort laughs his dry old man laugh. "You ain't wrong, kid. Weird as all hell, but not wrong," he says. "Still, if she looked my way, I wouldn't say no, and I have a wife and two kids. That's all I'm saying. And you are a sixteen year old boy in a bar, come down to it."

During this fascinating exchange, the drunken woman herself sashays up to the bar, not giving Connor a second glance. Her glass is empty and she smiles at Mort with a sickly sweetness that Connor knows is false. He tries not to stare at her, but Mort is right. She's prettier than the usual sort of woman who ends up in distress here and that fascinates him further.

"Can I have another scotch? And another four quarters?" she asks, setting the glass down hard. She catches Connor looking at her and her smile fades. "And what are you--"

Her voice trails off and she starts blinking hard. Connor doesn't quite know what to make of it. What was he what?

"You--I am not--" and she takes the drink from Mort and sloppily gulps a good quarter of it-- "Your dad told me I'm not allowed to talk to you, mister. So get out of the bar before I get in a lot of trouble."

The woman laughs. Connor, bewildered, takes the drink from her so as not to be covered in alcohol in case she spills it on him. The local cop on the beat has agreed not to annoy Connor as long as he stays away from strong drink, and Connor is anxious to keep that agreement intact.

"I don't understand," he says. "My father?"

"Yes, Connor, your father," she says, shaking her head. "Your dear ol' dad who tossed you out of the house and said if I get near you, he does--" her voice drops to a stage whisper-- "very bad things to me. I know your dad."

"Ignore her," Mort advises sagely. "She's so drunk she probably knows Abraham Lincoln. Right, honey?"

The woman turns around and sneers at Mort.

"I'm sorry, you were talking?" she asks in a voice that scares Mort away. "And I do know your father. And Holtz probably would have preferred I stay away from you, too. Who am I to disregard the dead, huh?"

"I still don't understand," Connor says, a little bit apprehensive. "I thought you were here waiting for your boyfriend."

"I was. I am. I will be until Mr. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce sees fit to grace me with his undeniably irresistible presence," she replies with a flash of raw bitterness in her face. Connor understands this to mean that while she is devoted to her boyfriend, he is not nearly as devoted to her. "What, you think boyfriends around here are all big drunken slobs who beat up on girls?"

"I haven't seen much to convince me otherwise," Connor answers honestly. "You're too rich and nicely-dressed and, and--only a scoundrel would keep a woman waiting for two hours in a low place like this."

"I heard that," says Mort. "But don't mind me. I'm just the bartender."

The woman's eyes narrow and it seems that she can make all the drinking go away with a smile, because she leans toward Connor and for a moment, he wants her to ask him to be a substitute boyfriend. Because she is pretty and she is telling him things without lying, and because she smells like scotch and expensive soap. His heart is fluttering the slightest bit and the idea that Mort has been insinuating--fornication with stranger women--is less alien now. If all the women were as pretty as this one--if they did the same things to his stomach--then he could consider it, even though it is a sin.

"What if I like scoundrels, little boy?" she asks, and her voice is frightening in its harsh lilt. Wicked. He wonders if she is making a pass at him. Mort says all the women make passes at him, and he's too dumb to realize. In fact, usually Connor does know, but he's not interested in getting to know them better. "And I do."

"Then I'd--I don't know," Connor admits. "You're strange. And very pretty. Why would you like a villain?"

She laughs and laughs, and neatly steals her drink back from him, her fingers not even brushing his. Just the merest tap and Connor wonders if she'd kiss him if he asked her very politely. The boyfriends never ask politely. He thinks it would be a welcome change of pace. Though if she likes scoundrels, there may be more merit to the rough groping.

"Because I am a villain," she says to the glass of scotch, draining the thing with surprising speed. "And didn't I say your dad told me not to talk to you? Usually I'd ignore him, but he hates me with a passion and I could just see him going for my throat at long last over you. Him loving you and all."

"He threatened you?" Connor asks, getting angry.

"Threatens. Regularly," she corrected, putting the scotch down. "Why do you care? I thought you weren't so fond of the old bastard."

"He's a killer," Connor says assertively. "He's a demon."

"True, but he genuinely cares about you," she says, looking at him with a lopsided smile on her lips and a calculated look in her eye that Connor misses entirely. He's too busy thinking about how to change the subject to kissing and scoundrels. "Not that I would know. Me, I don't believe in much besides today, and the fact that Wesley--you don't know Wesley, you should know Wesley, he's practically your uncle--is three hours late and I'm talking to you. And I shouldn't talk to you. It's not allowed."

She turns away from him unexpectedly, standing up and walking back to her music box. Connor blinks and watches the way her hips sway. He wants to follow her, but he's not sure that would be proper, as she's not allowed to talk to him and he doesn't want Angelus to harm an innocent person.

"Why would she do that?" he asks Mort in a pig's whisper as the woman feeds the machine quarters. "We were talking about my dad and she just walked away."

"Maybe she wants that you should follow her," Mort suggests. "Ask her to dance. She seems to like you. Either that or she was about to go for the jugular. Weird lady, either way. Had a look in her eye I don't quite like."

Connor stands up just as the bar bursts into a squeal of noise that can't be music, and it's not--it turns into music, the same band as the jesus song, he thinks. Less blasphemous this time. She's gone back to a private reverie of swaying and smiling to herself.

She'll kiss him. Of course. He'll ask her about his father, his actual father and not Angelus, and why he wouldn't have wanted Connor to talk to her, and maybe she'll even have a better place for him to sleep. Not that Connor isn't used to sleeping on ground, but he misses the beds and food at the hotel. Someone who knows both of his fathers would have a place for him for a night or two. Of this much, Connor is certain. Tonight there will be a kiss, a bed, and food, and that--.

But then the door of the bar opens and everything turns sour. The woman looks up and she stops dead in her tracks. There's a man standing there and he's smiling at her with a sort of disdainful amusement. Connor suspects this is Wesley, though he can't be sure. Whoever he is, he's the clear master of the situation. He gives the woman a look and she almost flows toward him.

Connor neatly disappears into the shadows at that. If Angelus and Holtz wouldn't want him to talk to her, this Wesley person is just the right mix of commander and boyfriend to really not want Connor talking to his mistress. But he watches them, the way she puts her head on the man's shoulder, the lascivious smile on the man's face as he lifts her chin to stare into her eyes. The words between them are lost in the music.

"this is the morning of our love--it's just the dawning of our love--"

Wesley (if it's Wesley) has the woman by her upper arm so she can't turn away, but she isn't pulling back from him, not like the women with substitute boyfriends who cry and snivel and try to avoid getting hit. There's something defiant in her sneer, as if she knows that Connor can't be seen. Then again, Wesley's not going to hit her, not in public. Wesley is not a man who needs to hit a woman. And she is not a cringing hoyden. Connor's not quite sure what she is--villain? innocent? certainly honest--but she doesn't cringe in fear.

After a moment of mutual glaring, she pulls away, swaying to her song with a look in her eye that Connor wishes was for him. Though now that he's seen the way the look at each other, the way her body moves for that man and how he responds to her, Connor is less inclined to ask for a kiss. Interest or not, one does not interfere with another man's mistress, and not when there is so much obvious passion.

Connor badly wants to talk to both of them, but they're not interested in anything except the other, in a silent and nearly motionless confrontation under and over the music. Finally, she goes to him with a sweet, sheepish smile, relaxing her weight into his while Wesley helps her stand upright. He kisses her and she kisses back, the sort of kiss Connor wanted and didn't get. It lasts a long time, Wesley twining his hand into her hair and bodies pressed close like they're never going to pull apart.

Connor has to stop looking after a while.

Finally, they go, and Connor ambles back to the bar.

"You still here?" Mort asks. "After all that crap your mom babbled at you, I'd have hid, too. I didn't realize your family was--"

"Not my mom," Connor says abruptly.

"No?" Mort asks. "I thought maybe she doesn't have custody and that's why you two were talking like--well, it's not my business, but I wouldn't tell your old man if he comes around asking."

Connor thinks about it, about the way she was looking at him and telling him secrets. He could go track them to Wesley's apartment, but he doesn't particularly feel like being cold and waiting for people to finish fornicating. So he turns to Mort with the same sort of smile the woman had on her face.

"Could you do me a favor? I think she--" he cannot call her his mother, even though it would be easier to curry Mort's pity that way-- "She might come back looking for me. Could I leave her a message with you?"

Mort nods and hands him a pen. When Connor takes it, he wonders what will happen tomorrow when she comes back. Will she understand what he wants? Especially when he doesn't quite know? He wants to talk. He wants to make a little sense of the world. And she is pretty and honest.

At least she doesn't make him want to run.

Connor gives Mort back the note written on a bar napkin and doesn't manage to smile. Then he hops off the barstool and walks back into the city, wondering where, exactly, he's going to sleep tonight.


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