Oedipus Paradox

By Sophia Prester

Disclaimer: "Angel" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and all associated characters are the property of Mutant Enemy and the creation of Joss Whedon.

22 February, 2002

I have devoted my entire life to doing what is right. There have been times, I admit, when my own feelings have blurred my perception, making me think that wrong was right, or perhaps even causing me to believe in those mythical creatures known as "shades of gray."

Do I think any less of myself for these moments? No. They are part of what makes me human. I may have a reputation for being cold, stern, humorless, and perhaps something of a bastard, but I am comfortable enough with what I have become. Why on earth should I change simply because others think I should conform to some arbitrary standard of emotional health? I may not be perfect, but I am content.

I am distracted by a knock on my office door. Quentin Travers lets himself in, unbidden as always.

"Hello, Quentin. Please have a seat."

"Stephen." Travers eases himself down into a leather armchair, and I think I see him wince a little as his knees bend. Neither of us is young any more. We must now fight vampires and demons through wit and cunning, using the younger generation as our hands and feet.

Sometimes, I wish I had known of the Slayer before I fell in with the Council. If I had, things might be very different now. Would they be better, I wonder, or worse? It's just as well that I shall never know.

"You look like a man with something on his mind," says Travers, with no preamble.

Odd that *I* am the one more often accused of not knowing the social niceities.

"Yes. I have work on my mind. That is the proper thing, when one is at work," I tell him. I wish he would simply get to the point and let me get on with the business at hand.

"It's nearly March, you know," he says, giving me what he no doubt thinks is a significant look. "Are you certain you're all right with all of this?"

I cannot help but sigh. What is it about this century, that people think that you can cure the ills of the soul by--how do they put it?--"opening up." One does not cure an intestinal ailment by "opening up" and "letting it all hang out." Perhaps, however, it would be kinder to poor Travers if I were to tell him a few of the things that had been occupying my mind of late. Who knows? It might get him to leave me alone.

I look up from my papers and stare directly at him. Dear Lord, when did he become so stout? I hope I haven't aged so poorly.

"Quentin, in less than a fortnight I will have no more insight into the future. For the first time in thirty-three years I will wake up in the morning with no more knowledge of coming events than any other human being."

"You're valuable to us in other ways, Stephen." These days Travers seems to get winded as he speaks, and he is constantly mopping at his brow with a handkerchief. "Thanks to you, we've had the best trained Slayers we've had in centuries."

"Perhaps. It still doesn't change the fact that one Slayer is in a maximum security prison, and the other..."

"I have only myself to blame for the Summers girl," Travers says quickly. "She caught us over a barrel with that whole Glory incident."

Ah, yes. Buffy Summers. I had thought it a good idea to send Rupert Giles to train that one after Merrick had been so inconveniently killed. Giles's dabbling in dark magic had given him a proper respect for the things that one might encounter on the legendary Hellmouth. Unfortunately, he had not learned a proper respect for authority.

I had also not figured on how clouded his judgment had become. Had he been clear-minded, he would have put a stop to the girl's involvement with Angelus at once.

Ironic, isn't it, that the current bane of my existence should have taken up with the being who is most responsible for my present situation.

My next remark is direct to myself as much as to him. "I suppose we should be grateful that Slayers are not, in fact, immortal. Something is bound to happen, by our hand or by someone else's, and another girl will be Called."

"That's rather...pragmatic...of you," Travers grumbles. I do believe that he is becoming soft in his old age.

"Quentin, Quentin. You make it sound as if it were a *bad* thing." I smile at him. "Now let's not argue. Shall I pour you a cup of tea?"

He nods. I know he would prefer something stronger, but I do not care to indulge him. Whiskey only makes him sentimental. I take a moment to run the china cups under some hot water. The others think I am somewhat affected for keeping china cups in my office, but I absolutely refuse to use styrofoam. I don't care what they say, it does something odd to the flavor of the tea.

He hems and haws. I wonder what it is he's afraid to tell me. Oh, I'm fairly certain that it's about the events happening in Los Angeles and the vast drama that's unfolding there. I'm merely curious about which aspect of it is gnawing at his vitals. The ensouled vampire? The innocent child that was so improbably born of two dead creatures? That interfering law firm? The time-shifting demon?

Maybe he's concerned that the girl with the visions has seemingly disappeared. Hmm. Does he even know that I'm aware of that? It should be interesting to see what happens when and if she returns to Los Angeles.

"Stephen, I know that you don't like to talk about that hell-dimension you were in..."

"It wasn't a 'hell-dimension,' Quentin. It *was* singularly unpleasant, but there's no need for hyperbole."

"...but given what will happen over the next ten days, I couldn't help but wonder about your son."

And then it hits me. That numbing chill in my heart. I felt it when I found that note from Angelus. I felt it again when I saw my daughter cowering in the corner, afraid to go near the sunbeam that cut through the room. I nearly shattered from the cold when I tossed her into the sunlight, praying to all that was holy that I was wrong and that she would run into my arms, only to see her burst into flames, her face changing so that I will always remember her as a foul demon.

"What *about* my son?"

"I know that he has some involvement in what is about to happen..."

No. Dear God, no...

He takes a deep breath. "I know that you've been very careful not to...influence...the events surrounding your jaunt back in time, but do you truly think that it would hurt anything to warn him?"

The relief I feel is almost worse than the fear. I know that the Council is curious about the 'miracle child' born to Angelus and Darla. I also know how they treat curiosities.

"Perhaps I'll give him a call. I appreciate the suggestion, Quentin."

"I can already tell that you're breathing easier, Stephen." He pushes himself out of the chair. "I wasn't sure if should say anything, but I know that underneath that cold exterior..."

"He's my son," I say. "Nothing will ever change that."

Travers smiles, nods, and lets himself out.

No, nothing will ever change that. I will not *let* anything change that. I may disapprove of what he has done with the life I've given him, but he is still my son. Mine.

The Council believes that he is my natural son, born to me and my wife in this century. Only Diana and I know that the boy is not hers. It is a measure of her love for him that Diana has never told anyone on the Council about his origins. Her family has been with the Council since before the Wars of the Roses.

Maybe it is wrong for us not to tell. Maybe our emotions have blinded us to the truth. Whatever it is, I don't care. A man is allowed to have a few secrets in his life.

Not much else is secret from the Council. They know that I was once a demon- hunter named Holtz. They know that I traveled forward in time, only to be sent back thirty-three years when I leapt into that interdimensional portal.

They believe that Connor Angel was lost during my journey through that red and burning land. After all, who would expect an infant to survive such a thing?

I'm not sure what I did expect when I made that desperate leap with Angelus's son--my son--in my arms. I had told the babe, half in jest, that I was his father and that Janet? Justine? Julia? was his mother. I never expected that I would grow to love the son of my worst enemy. I'm not even sure I expected to return from that dimension whole and sane.

In a way, I did get my revenge on Angelus, and better. Angelus now knows the despair of losing a child. As for me, I had the joy of watching my boy grow up, a joy that was denied to me as Daniel Holtz.

True, I tell myself, but Angelus will also never have to taste the bitter disappointment that our children can sometimes be.

Still, I hope. Things are not easy between my son and me, and perhaps they never will be, but that does not change the fact that I care about what happens to him. We may never be "friends," which modern parents seem to feel is a laudable goal, but he is still dearer to me than my own self.

Travers probably thinks that I will call my son and warn him. I am not worried.

I am terrified.

We know so little about time and time travel. How much would it take to change the events I remember from thirty-three years in the past? (Or do I remember them from ten days in the future? The convolutions are staggering.)

A butterfly could beat its wings, and everything might change. I might snap my son's neck. That female lawyer might order her minions to shoot. Sahjahn might prevent me from leaping into the portal.

So many variables.

I have been careful, of course. I changed my first name. I took Diana's family name in place of my own. That, of course, suggested the child's new name. At the time, I simply thought it to be an amusing irony. Would things have been different if I had chosen otherwise? It is just as well that I did not give him the new name I had originally chosen. For all I know, Jessica? Josephine? might remember and draw the right conclusions.

(I do wish I could remember her name. Many of my best training methods were first tested on her.)

Damn Travers for coming in here! If he had not been so solicitous of my feelings, I would not now be thinking of these things! Now all of these worries and terrors are preying on my mind, and there's no point in even pretending to get any more work done. Perhaps I shall go home and see if Diana might like to go to the British Museum and then to dinner. Maybe we could even take in a play. Yes, that is what I shall do.

It doesn't take long to put my desk in order. The telephone sits there mutely, almost daring me to pick it up and make that call.

I look out the window. It's raining again. I think I remember that the weather in Los Angeles was pleasant. If only I had been in the frame of mind to enjoy it. It is just as well that the weather is foul. I would find anything else to be unbearably ironic.

As I gather the last of my things together, I try to tell myself that there is nothing I can or should do, but it is only human nature to try to "fix" things. Once again, I am grateful for my classical education. Who knows what I would have learned had I been schooled in the twentieth century? Thanks to that Viennese charlatan, the whole world now thinks of Oedipus Rex as nothing more than the tawdry tale of a young man who lusts after his mother. The truer, darker meaning of that tale has been all but lost.

A king, trying to outrun the prophecy that foretold his death, set into motion the chain of events that led to its fulfillment.

A young man, trying to outrun the prophecy proclaiming that the father would kill the son, may have sealed his own fate and hastened the prophecy to its fulfillment.

You cannot outrun fate.

I call Diana, who is delighted that I am coming home early. It should be a pleasant evening. I do not call my son. It would serve no purpose, except perhaps to make things worse.

On my way out, I stop in the library, where my secretary is finishing up some research I had assigned her.

"Melinda, I'm heading home. If anything important comes up, send a message to my home e-mail."

"Certainly. Have a nice evening, Mr. Wyndham-Price."

"I shall do my best."

The rain is coming down rather hard by now, but I decide to walk rather than hail a cab. There is too much going through my mind right now. Diana would suspect something.

The father will kill his son. That is what Wesley told me all those years ago and ten days from now. He is a competent translator. Even if he did not get the precise translation, he almost certainly got to the core meaning.

I wonder if he suspects that it was his own life he was so desperate to save.

Prophecies are tricky, and they are inevitable. That is what makes them dangerous. You try to outrun them, only to find them waiting for you on your front step.

I can recall my last orders to Joanna? Jean? She was to take the child from Wesley, and she was not to flinch from killing the young man should it become necessary.

She cut his throat. At the time, I was content with that outcome. But now...

The father will kill his son. My hands were not the one holding the blade that cut his throat, but that makes no difference. I am a Watcher. It is my will that directs young women to fight and to slay. That girl in California was merely the first of many I have trained. The first of many who have been my hands.

I take some comfort in the fact that she admitted she hadn't been able to cut very deep. There was a chance that he might have survived. Will survive.

But will he survive what will almost certainly happen next?

The father will kill his son. I saw the regard that Angelus had for his child (I will not call it love) and I saw the agony on his face when he agreed to let me take it. Once he finds out that Wesley was the one who kidnapped the babe, I fear that the demon inside will once again escape, and in a fit of rage he will unknowingly kill that which he is trying to avenge.

I pray I am wrong. I pray that Wesley was right in his judgment of the beast. I pray that someone is able to get him to a hospital in time. I pray that in ten days, all of this will be over, and my son can go back to loathing me as he always has. I see no point in telling him the truth.

Ten days. If I chose to interfere, there is much that I could do, but I will not. I will not even consider it.

I will not let my judgment be clouded.

A few days ago, I purchased a plane ticket to Los Angeles. The flight leaves a fortnight from now. By then, I should know what has happened, but in my mind I have accepted the inevitable. I have mourned my son.

I will do what must be done. I will do what is right.

If Wesley dies (by either father's hand--it doesn't matter) then I will finally finish what was started all those centuries ago.

It doesn't matter to me whether I kill Angelus or if he finally manages to kill me--all I want, to fully complete my revenge, is the chance to properly introduce myself.

At last, sick of the rain and of listening to my own thoughts, I hail a cab and head home to spend a pleasant afternoon with my wife.

* * *

Author's notes: Yes, I know I should be working on "Empire of the Sun," but after this week's "Angel," this idea wouldn't let me go.