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16 August 2008 @ 08:44 pm
FIC: Not Really Closure  
Title: Not Really Closure
Pairing/Rating: Elena and Elena, R
Prompt: Elena Bothari and Elena Visconti's meeting on Escobar.
A/N: I'm not actually satisfied with how this turns out, and am not positive about its adherence to canon. Rating for discussion of Bothari, but most probably is on the high side.

The two women who sat across from each other were so obviously related. Despite the differences in hairstyle (one’s hair was cropped, the other’s cascaded in waves) and clothing (one wore understated civvies with impeccable military posture, the other flaunted and reveled in the bright colors and patterns of life unconstrained by uniformity), their similarity was unmistakable.

And yet, the stiff reserve each bore, the awkwardness with which they interacted, the long silences neither knew how to fill, these all contradicted the impression that the two might be mother and daughter.

“I’m … glad you agreed to meet,” Elena said quietly. “I wanted to achieve some sort of closure.”

“Yes, you had mentioned,” the other Elena said brusquely. “How far along is it?” she asked, polite but disinterested.

“Three months.”

Another awkward silence.

“What exactly do you want to know?” Elena finally asked, looking her daughter in the eye. “Make yourself clear, so this can be over with.” She’d only agreed because something the little man said had stuck with her through the years.

“I’ve … talked it over with Aunt Cordelia-”

“Aunt?” Elena asked, a little sharply.

“Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan. She ... says she remembers you, a little, that she shared a cell with you,after.”

“I don’t … I don’t really remember much. Didn’t she kill Vordarian? I remember being surprised when I heard she’d married the Butcher.”

Elena considers defending the Count and Countess, and discards the idea. This isn’t about recriminations or defense. And it’s not about them. “She thought I should know … know the whole of the whole. She ignored security clearances and told me the truth of the matter, which so few know. Because it concerned me, you see, and she thought knowing was my right.”

“So you learned about the nature of your Barrayaran perversions?” the other Elena asks, bitterly. Is that all her daughter had wanted to discuss?

“No, she presented me with a sort of justification for my father, perhaps the only one anyone will ever speak. And she didn’t sugarcoat it. But I wanted to hear a little of it from you, so as to finish this investigation into the past. So then I can close that chapter of my life.”

“You don’t want to hear,” Elena shook her head. “You think you do, but you don’t. And the past won’t bother you less or more because of this.”

“I need to know-”

“What you want,” Elena said shrewdly, “is to defend your father to me. Because maybe, in the course of defending him to me, you can defend him to yourself.”

“Mayhaps,” Elena said finally. “I don’t really know, myself. I just felt like I needed to settle the past before I moved on with the future.”

“Tell me, then. Tell me the pretty little story your precious aunt concocted for you, and see if you can sway me. And sway yourself.”

“Really?” With hope in her voice. “But, I do need you to … to give your word not to repeat what I tell you, because parts of it are classified, and parts are not, and parts …”

“Parts would be disrespectful to repeat, you mean?” Elena said scornfully. “Go ahead. I don’t know how much my word is worth, but I do know better than to go and stir up the past when it is over and done with. And dead.” Perhaps that was a low blow.

The other Elena wanted to defend herself, she could tell, wanted to say something about laying the past to rest, she was sure.

“My … my father was born in a bad part of town,” she began, and then laughed nervously. “Until today, I hadn’t called him my father for over ten years,” she admitted. “But I thought that I should confront the fact, if I was going to confront the past.”

She saw the other Elena’s impatient expression, and hurried on.

“His mother was a whore, who sometimes rented him out to customers. He grew up in a whorehouse. He …” She was telling it out of order, she realized. It was becoming fragmented and disjointed. “Suffice to say, he had a host of psychological problems as a result of his childhood, not least of which was deriving pleasure from pain, and delighting in causing pain.” That part was hard to say. “And possibly schizophrenia.”

“A poor childhood and traumatic past full of psychological issues do not constitute a good defense. Is a man not guilty for murder because his parents were careless when he was a child? That monster committed horrific acts -- his past does not make his actions any less horrific.” She shouldn’t have agreed to this, not when the memories had been more or less dormant. Until now.

“He joined the army, so that someone else could tell him when killing was a good thing, and when it was bad. Except, the army isn’t necessarily the best decisionmaker about that, sometimes. My Aunt Cordelia met him then, and I think she said he seemed a monster, but seemed to do … do something resembling the right thing when called upon. He was, then, not quite so monstrous.”

Did Elena want to hear this? Hear her villainous violator’s sordid descent?

“And then Vorrutyer found him, and found his mental weaknesses, and exploited them. And used him. You know how.”

“You won’t make me feel any sympathy for him.”

“No, but perhaps pity will do. He became mentally unstable, as you know. And … with you, I think, he created a delusional world in which he was sane, and happy. The life that could have been.”

“It disgusts me,” Elena spat, “that he used me in his delusion to assuage his conscience. That he had such a perverse fantasy.” She shouldn’t have come, shouldn’t have listened to this. But this part, she had known, had heard from the little admiral. It was easier, hearing it the second time around.

“He was monstrous,” Elena agreed. Her face revealed conflicting emotions. “It was not his fault, for it was Vorrutyer who turned him into a monster, but that does not make him any less of a monster. And then, I don’t know if you know, Vorrutyer obtained Au- Cordelia. Cordelia Naismith, she was then.”

“I had heard that, yes,” Elena said cautiously. The stories of Cordelia Naismith were many. She had singlehandedly killed one of the greatest monsters of contemporary Barrayaran history, and then married another.

“Vorrutyer ordered … well, he wanted her to go through much the same as you had.” Elena could not finish this story. It was too hard to vocalize it, and hear the hard, cruel, monstrous facts pile up, as if by speaking it, they became more true. “And he summoned m- my father. Who Aunt Cordelia recognized. And because she had met him before, she told him she forgave him, because she realized what he must have gone through. And then, in his madness, he recovered a little sanity. And he said he would not do it, because … well, because of an obscure bit of honor having to do with their previous visit.” It’s not like Elena would understand the Barrayaran concept of honor, especially when she had been prisoner of war during a period when none had held to that code of honor.

There was a silence, while Elena regained her breath.

“And then my father killed Vorrutyer. That would be the state secret.”

The other Elena did not startle, did not flinch. “So you would I forgive one tormenter because he killed another? Or perhaps you expect me to feel guilt because I am not as magnanimous and forgiving in my grief and my trauma as your precious Aunt? Because I won’t try to understand the psyche of the man who raped me repeatedly?”

“No,” Elena shook her head. “That’s not what I meant at all. Aunt Cordelia is ... extraordinary and had an entirely different experience from you, so ... she could afford to forgive him in that instance. I only bring it up because … Aunt Cordelia said that Bothari was a monster, but he was a monster that recognized his … monstrousness, I suppose, and sought others to be his keeper. And in that, he showed strength of will. Vorrutyer was a bad keeper. But he found, eventually, a good keeper. I suppose.” Elena found her thoughts getting muddled in her head.

“Your little admiral?” Elena could not help but ask.

“The admiral’s mother,” Elena said, almost absently. Then flinched. But the other Elena did not make the connection. More quietly and knowing that she was being disjointed again but needing to get it out, Elena added, “Miles says that my father must have let you kill him. Because his reflexes were too fast for any other explanation.”

“No. You will not take that victory, that vengeance away from me,” Elena said fiercely.

“Miles could be mistaken,” Elena said cautiously. When the other Elena said nothing, she went on. “Miles owes a lot to my father, so he was … hardest hit by his death. Moreso than me. At the time, I ... was reeling from the revelations.” She wasn't sure what to say now - she'd reached the end of what she meant to say.

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Almost. I know that you hate and despise my father, which I understand. It was a monstrous thing he did. And I’m sure I am nothing more than a reminder of … the past.” Elena almost faltered, but she forged on. “But I hope one day you will be able to see your granddaughter differently. And perhaps come to visit her now and again.”

More silence.

“It will be a girl, then?”

“Yes. Her name will be Elena. Elena Jesek.”

“You’re not naming her Bothari-Jesek?” the other asked snidely. “If you’ve truly accepted your father as you claim, you wouldn’t have second thoughts about passing on his name.”

“Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I haven’t completely dealt with the past on an introspective level yet. But I’m trying.”

The silence was a little more loaded this time.

“Whatever her name will be, she comes out of the replicator in six months. We’ll send you an invitation – please come, if you’re free.” In a smaller voice, "Do you think you will be?"

More silence, and tension.


_infinite_enemy_infinite_enemy on August 17th, 2008 02:31 am (UTC)
Interesting--that's not how I would see the meeting, but maybe I'm just more forgiving of Bothari myself. I like how it ended with hope though.

The only thing that really bothered me is when you suddenly switched to present tense near the beginning of the story.
laleialaleia on August 17th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for pointing out the tense change -- I have fixed it. (Tense changes are what happens when I stop paying attention -- I also have an unfortunate habit of wandering out of first-person POV into third the moment I stop paying attention.)

I myself am more forgiving of Bothari as well, but I also didn't think I could ask the (fictional) victim to forgive her rapist. I confused myself as to where I was going with this (I kept on changing my mind). Thanks for the feedback!
ricardiennericardienne on August 17th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
I actually thought this was really good.

I loved the way some of Young Elena's language clearly came straight from her talks with Cordelia (e.g. "Perhaps I haven’t completely dealt with the past on an introspective level yet."), and how she was clearly still very much conflicted about her father, but trying to present some sort of unified acceptance when talking to her mother. And how unforgiving Elder Elena was, and how much of a cultural divide there was between them: from how much each could accept/forgive, to how they interpreted Cordelia.

Oh, and having Elder Elena call Miles "your little Admiral" was a perfect mix of "you and your crazy idol and your mutual inability to accept that this guy was a monster" and maybe a little remembered affection for Miles. (Or was I reading too much in?).
laleialaleia on August 17th, 2008 04:05 am (UTC)
Thanks! And yes, the "your little Admiral" was supposed to convey exactly that! (Only a little less eloquently, so I'm glad you read so much into it!)

I wasn't too sure about whether this piece had enough plot, consistency, cohesion, or progression to make it a fic rather than simply a random response to a prompt with no actual point. A beta reader would probably have helped ...
gramina on August 17th, 2008 04:23 am (UTC)
I think this is bang on, in all its tensions. It can't have been easy to write; I'm glad you did.
laleialaleia on August 17th, 2008 06:14 am (UTC)
Thanks. I wasn't sure whether this was polished enough to post for a while.
Lolaidancewithlife on August 17th, 2008 05:25 am (UTC)
I also believe you did an excellent job with this conversation. It would have been awkward as hell for both of them. Elena the younger probably would not have had this conversation with her mother without Cordelia's influence (and all the time she spent with Cordelia during Mirror Dance would certainly show in this conversation-and I think you nailed it). I can also see Elena wanting to settle this before she became a mother. Great job!
laleialaleia on August 17th, 2008 06:37 am (UTC)
Thank you. I had more lines referring to whole mother-daughter thing originally, but cut them because they weren't subtle enough.
lilyoftheval5lilyoftheval5 on August 17th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
Tough cookie to write; I think you did very well. I'm happy I got to read the 'reunion' of those two. Their situation is an unresolved itch for me.
laleialaleia on August 19th, 2008 02:43 am (UTC)
And thanks for the review.
capplorcapplor on August 17th, 2008 02:17 pm (UTC)
I wonder if
Elena would ever dare to have a son.
laleialaleia on August 19th, 2008 02:48 am (UTC)
Re: I wonder if
I imagine so.
jetta_e_rus aka Жоржеттаjetta_e_rus on August 17th, 2008 07:59 pm (UTC)
It seems me that Elena Visconti is a badly revengeful woman. Ten years passed since she killed Bothari but she still considers this as her main victory and feels hatred against anything Barrayran. She hasn't found her soothing.

Thank you for her character.
laleialaleia on August 19th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)
I tried to see it from her point of view -- I think if I were her, I might still be bitter. Thank you for your feedback!
VorWombatwombathouse on August 28th, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
You're right! I would be interested in your response to my comment on this fic, posted below. Thanks!
coalboycoalboy on August 19th, 2008 03:36 am (UTC)
Is this the second baby? The first is named Cordelia in Winterfair Gifts.
laleialaleia on August 19th, 2008 06:12 am (UTC)
I hadn't known the first one's name (read: hadn't thought to look it up in Winterfair Gifts), but this is meant to be the first one, though that can really be left up to the reader. Considering all the canon impossibilities of this conversation (the security breaches, for one), I will stand by this (yet another) inconsistency with canon.
emma_in_oz: Waterhouseemma_in_oz on August 22nd, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
intersting scenario
laleialaleia on August 23rd, 2008 01:51 am (UTC)
VorWombatwombathouse on August 28th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Wow. I wouldn't have touched this prompt with a ten-foot pole: too hard and too painful. You did an excellent job. I like very much the tension, the disjointedness in the conversation and in their feelings about the subject matter, and the ending, with just the teeniest ray of hope.

Re: comments above about Elena Visconti's bitterness: it is certainly possible for a victim of violent crime, torture, rape etc. to get therapy or some other type of help, and to come to a resolution and get rid of the bitterness and hate (or most of it.) It is equally possible, and I think more frequent, for a person to "freeze" their emotional response to the events and the perpetrator at a certain point. You move on, if you're lucky. You don't think about it every day, maybe almost never. But when the subject arises, you're right back there at that same emotional point, often anger, hatred, condemnation of the perpetrator. It hurts.

It would be nice if we could all evolve and forgive those who hurt and violate us. But we often don't.

Uh, yeah. I think I'll stop now. Excellent fic. Thank you.
laleialaleia on August 28th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
This fic was hardest to write. When I started out, I had really wanted the focus to be on Elena-daughter realizing that her father was not a bad person, but that was hard to do if she was a having a conversation with her mother of all people. I didn't think there was any conceivable way I could have Elena-mother forgive Bothari, or Barrayar, and the nature of this conversation got more and more delicate and difficult through each rewrite. I'm glad you liked it -- and thanks for the feedback!
VorWombatwombathouse on September 4th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC)
Well, now I'm a liar. This discussion with you provoked me to write a short fic to the same prompt after all. Not sure it shows any forgiveness, as such, but it's certainly a different slant on a meeting between them. Thanks to your info, I got the LJ cut button to work for me when I posted my other fic, but now for some reason it hates me again, so I posted this fic on my journal & put a link to it on the main fic page.

I'd surely be interested in your reaction to it when/if you have time.