This fic was a challenge. I've wanted to write a 'redemption' fic in which Dahlia gets a better resolution for a while now, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. Dahlia is such an evil character that I honestly couldn't see a way to 'redeem' her.
It sort of came to me at 11:00 Saturday night, and I had to write it. I'm not sure if it worked, but here's hoping it's good. Note that this fic is not attempting to excuse Dahlia's crimes. It's trying to explain her mindset, why she committed the crimes (she committed them for evil reasons. They were terrible crimes.), and how she could possibly be redeemed. I hope you enjoy :)
She is pushing Iris on the swing in the backyard. She laughs, and the wind dances with her bright red hair. Iris smiles. Her mouth barely moves but her eyes crinkle up and you can tell she's happy. And then they make daisy chains.
And then Daddy takes Iris away.
Dahlia realised later that Iris was not a good person, because nobody was. Iris was selfish, and helped Dahlia because she was selfish, and also failed to help Dahlia because she was selfish, and that the sweet person that she appeared to be was just a selfish way to make people love her. Dahlia had never felt like a good person, although once she had worried about hurting people. Once, the sweet smile she wore had been genuine. But as she became more and more diffident to pain, yet more and more angry and filled with hate, she learned to fake the smile and snarl inside. Iris was better at it; she had never once let the façade slip, but Dahlia knew it was a façade because nothing else made sense. It couldn't be genuine. No one is a good person. There is no justice, she thought. Just us.
It takes her quite a while to realise that she has lost.
She screams and shrieks and sobs. She lashes out at nothing. She is nothing. The world is nothing. She's dead. Nothing matters. But she refuses to lose to death.
She's never given in, not once in her too-short life. And she had still lost. She never had been able to win. Her life, her whole existence and mind and world, a failure! No! She would not lose! She would not…
When that bitch Mia Fey had died, Dahlia had tried to hurt her, torture her, kill her over and over and over but the spirit world wouldn't allow that kind of thing. Her taunts were ineffective and all she had been able to do was scream as Mia Fey smiled and waited, smug in the knowledge that she had won. And now THIS. THIS THIS THIS. You've lost, you're a failure, you've never won! I'll always win, Dahlia Hawthorne…
When Mia Fey returns to the spirit world, instead of cornering and taunting her, hoping to gain some small measure of victory, Dahlia flees. And in some forgotten corner of the Other Place, her essence curls up and weeps.
I was better than them! I am! I was - I am - stop it! NO! But I lost. Why am I better? Why did they deserve to die? They were less important than I was-am-was – Why? Why did I kill and hurt? I did it because my needs were more important than theirs! Why should they matter? Stop! Kill to get ahead. This is how to win.
Is it? Too late…
I lost because of this…I was wrong about justice-the law- they catch you in the end…
She had never really considered herself bad or despicable or evil. She knew she was not good or kind or moral. But that was because morals didn't exist. There was no black or white or grey. There was no justice, just you. And you were the only thing that mattered. She had learned not to care about anyone else. Collateral damage. They died because they got in the way. Kill if necessary. There was no justice, whatever it was, and those idiots over in the Law department of Ivy University had always been foolishly, blindly chasing an ideal that didn't exist. An idea that didn't matter and would never succeed…
Of course, the lawyer, pursuer of justice, had won in the end. And Dahlia had lost. She sneers at herself in contempt.
For the first time, she truly admits that she can't win. And then pauses to think about the implications of that. And then she realises that Mia's essence is sitting –
"Screw you! Piss off!" Dahlia wails. "I hate you! I HATE YOU! GO AWAY!"
"I – "
"You've WON, okay? FINE. GLOAT. I LOST and I'll always lose. I'm a FAILURE!" She ends the sentence with a shriek.
"I sensed your feelings when I returned," Mia says. "I just…"
"Bitch. I don't want to see your face ever again."
"You've admitted to yourself that you can't win. I find that very interesting."
That shuts Dahlia up.
"And you know why."
"Because you've been going about it the wrong way all this time. You thought that justice and morals and relationships with other people were all fake and trite. You thought –"
"-you thought that you mattered most, and that you'd get away with anything you did."
Dahlia clenches her ghostly teeth.
"You've just admitted to yourself that your whole life has been wrong," Mia says gently. "I'm here for you."
Dahlia is silent. Mia waits.
Well, justice had caught up with her, hadn't it? The law had won. And if she had been right, if she had been right, she'd have had her revenge beyond the grave, because she had believed that people were basically selfish and liars and they'd proved her wrong. She'd lost because some people were fundamentally good.
She forgives Iris in that moment.
She stands up.
"No," she says. "Screw you. I don't need your pity."
"Dahlia…" Mia looks crestfallen. Dahlia delights in it. And then remembers that Mia is just as important as her.
"You're not my friend, Mia Fey. And I utterly despise you," Dahlia tells her. "You can't help me."
"Are you sure –"
"I've just admitted to myself that I've been wrong all my life," she says. "I am an evil person. Justice exists. And I lost."
"So let me help you! The higher spirits can do something for you, if –"
"Stupid lawyers," she mutters. "Trying to help someone whether they want it or not. Look," she says, giving Mia's face a hard stare, "this is something I have to do myself. I don't need anyone to redeem me."
Dahlia Hawthorne looks back at the roiling clouds of the Spirit Realm, red and gold and purple and silver. "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm so sorry."
And then she smiles, truly and genuinely, like she hasn't since she was five or so, and then she begins to laugh.
Silver, insubstantial tears spill from her eyes and roll down her cheeks and she's sobbing and laughing and holding her hands out and spinning around, her beautiful red hair fanning out behind her like flame, and then for a millisecond she thinks it's flashed midnight black. But that's just her imagination, of course.
"Dahlia Hawthorne," says Mia fiercely. "You killed so many people. And you killed…" – she swallows – "you killed Diego. An apology isn't good enough. Did you think it would be good enough to bring them back?"
Love. Dahlia knows that love doesn't exist. It's selfish people clinging onto people they think are theirs. Who had loved Terry Fawles, Valerie Hawthorne, Doug Swallow…Diego Armando? No one, if love doesn't exist. They weren't important. The people who clung to them weren't important. They were in the way.
But if she's been wrong all this time…
Dahlia doesn't think she can love, not with all the hate inside her. She never has and never will love. And she still hates Mia Fey, who had loved Diego Armando, who had died and was replaced with Godot…but…
"I'm s-sorry," she says again, and hisses in anger. She hasn't been able to keep the tears in. She's always been very good at calling tears up at will, making her eyes glisten in hurt bewilderment. This time, strangely enough, she can't control the tears.
And she begins to weep in earnest, and when Mia puts her arms around her and rocks her, comforting her, Dahlia buries her head in Mia's shoulder and cries.
"It doesn't make it better," Mia whispers. "But we can make a start."
Dahlia looks up and wipes the tears from her transparent face.
Mia gives a gentle, weary smile. "I forgive you."
She's skinned her knee, running down the front path, and her dress is crumpled. Her mother looks at her and sighs in exasperation, telling her to just smile and wave and forget about it. And smooth down her dress. That's what one should do with pain and anger -such unseemly things!
Iris comforts her, instead of her mother. But that had always seemed too much like self-pity.
"…Thank you. Mia Fey."