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Fatherhood

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Sometimes Nick Parker feels like the caricature of a bad father; he can't even tell his children apart. Never mind that neither can anyone else, not their mother or their teachers or their doctors (well, not without fingerprinting or a blood test, at least); somehow none of that seems to mitigate the sense of failure he feels when he looks at a daughter of his and just doesn't know which one she is.

"Hey, Hallie," he greets one of his daughters as she enters the room, and he can't quite read the expression on her face to know if he's guessed right or not. He supposes it doesn't matter; if he did guess right, it's probably only because he had a one-in-two chance of not being wrong.

"Hey, dad," Annie-or-Hallie says in the in-between accent that the twins use when they're not actively pretending to be one or another, when Nick gets the best view of what his daghters really are like as he ever does, as she sits down in the chair across from him. Annie and Hallie aren't people so much anymore as they are roles, to be put on or taken off like a change of clothes, so even when it really is Annie who is playing Annie or Hallie who is playing Hallie, they're still pretending—he knows his kids well enough to know that much, at least—and it bothers Nick that he basically has no idea what his children are really like.

Because Annie and Hallie were different people before they met each other (again); after all, the personae they now use, the exaggerated caricatures of Annie the prim British clean freak and Hallie the casual American slob, once had their basis in some sort of reality, and it kills Nick not to know if they're still like that deep down, or if they've changed--how they've changed, because they're teenagers now; they've changed--to no longer have any idea of any of the ways his daughters might be different. In his most dark moments he even wonders if either of them even has enough sense of self to have tastes or desires or habits apart from her sister anymore.

He knows it is his fault, or at least he can't keep himself from believing it is. If he had followed after Liz that first time, if he hadn't angered her enough to make her throw that iron, if the two of them hadn't conspired to keep the girls apart from each other, then maybe they wouldn't have decided it had to be the two of them against the world, unable to show their true selves to anyone but each other, needing to scheme and lie and manipulate even to keep their parents from separating them again.

Nick lost Hallie's trust that summer when she was eleven, and he would give anything, anything, to get it back again, but he doesn't know how, doesn't know if it even can be done.

"I love you, you know," he tells her. "I don't tell you that enough."

"I know," she answers back. "I love you, too, Dad."

He nods. "Sometimes I think I don't even know who you are anymore."

His daughter smiles, but it's a sad smile. She gets up, walks over to him, places a hand on his shoulder. "I'm Annie," she tells him firmly, then walks, slowly, out of the room.