Love's Labours Renewed


A Daria fanfic by E. A. Smith



Legal Blather:  Daria and all associated characters are the property of MTV.  The story is my own


Note:  This story is the third part of the trilogy that began with "Love's Labours Lost?" and continued with "Love's Labours in Ruins".  Better read those first.



I walked into Chemistry Tuesday morning with a mission.  My weekend had been torture; all I had been able to think about was the hurt on James's face as he had turned and walked away from me at the theater.  I had done little studying and even less sleeping; a guilty conscience is a more effective stimulant than anything you can buy on a street corner.  If I was ever to sleep well again, or at least for the rest of the semester while we shared the same class, I had to do something to patch things up with James.  The problem was, I had no idea how to start.  I had little experience with reconciliation.  The only serious fight Jane and I had ever had took a whole summer to clear up, and I was not willing to wait that long again.  I had even tried to get some motherly advice, but I was only ever able to get as far as Marianne.  Left to my own devices, the only thing I could think of to do was to get him to sit down and talk with me, and hope that the two of us together could work this out.


His usual seat was empty, confirming my worst fears.  He wasn't planning on seeing me any time soon, and so it was probably not going to be easy to get him to agree to my proposal.  Still, I couldn't give up.  Giving up on people had for too long been a habit with me, as I was just now starting to fully realize, and I was determined not to let that habit sabotage this effort.  The lecture room was large, and the class was filling up; but with James's colorful hair, he wasn't too hard to spot, seated about halfway up.  He saw me, too, I'm sure, but to his credit he didn't move as I walked up to him.


He looked horrible.  His face was pale, which was only emphasized by the fiery brilliance of his hair, which was quite disheveled.  There were huge dark circles under his eyes; the eyes themselves were tinged with red.  On the whole, he looked about ten times worse than I felt.  His gaze on me, as I walked over beside his desk, was accusing, unforgiving.  I wanted to sink into the floor, but I stood my ground.


"James," I said simply, needing to get straight to the point before he had a chance to leave or attack me, "I think we need to talk."  He turned and looked towards the front of the classroom, his face now a total blank.


"I really don't think that would be a very good idea," he said in reply, his voice flat.


"James, please," I reiterated, trying my best to sound conciliatory and not whiny.  "I want to work this out.  You have to at least give me a chance to apologize, to explain."


"No, I don't," he replied, words clipped.  I hadn't anticipated that it would be this hard; he'd never before been anything less than reasonable about anything.


"Class is starting soon.  You'd better get to your seat before it's taken."  It was a blatant lie - no one ever took my seat - but as an effective a dismissal as I had ever heard.  After his initial glare, he hadn't looked my away the whole time.


Unfortunately, I did have to take a seat soon, and since sitting near James would probably do more harm than good, I headed back down to my wonted place.


I barely noticed the lecture; fortunately, my note-taking hand was on autopilot.  I spent the entire class time trying to conceive some notion of how I could get around James's new-found spite, how I could slip pass those defenses and convince him to give me another chance, give us another chance.  After all, I was not the only one at fault here.  Never in my life have I wished that I was Quinn, but I had to admit, this was one time I envied her abilities.  Would I have been willing to suffer bouncy hair if it would convince James to listen to me?


The ninety minutes crept by, each one stretched to an eternity, and yet when the professor dismissed the class, it was still too soon for me.  Which is why it was so much of a shock when I stood up and turned to leave, only to find James standing there, waiting for me.


"Fine, we can talk over lunch," he said, then turned and walked away without another word.  I took a few quick steps to get a pace behind him, then matched his speed.  I didn't feel quite comfortable walking where we could make eye contact.


A few minutes later, we sat down at a table in the dining hall, neither of us with any food on our trays, neither of us feeling any real desire to eat.  The air around us was filled with voices, but it was as though we were surrounded by a bubble of oppressive silence, neither of us sure how to break it.  James just sat there across from me, trying to look in every direction but my own; it soon became obvious that he wasn't going to end the silence.  And it wasn't his responsibility, anyway; I had asked him here, I had demanded that we talk, so it was my role to break the ice.  But now that the moment had come, I felt a strong reluctance.  I felt so much weight on my words that I feared to utter one, afraid that the wrong opening could condemn my effort before it had even started.  But as the silence stretched longer, I knew that if I didn't say something soon, everything would come crashing down on my head anyway.  I had to start simple, so I started with what seemed to me to be the heart of the matter.


"I'm sorry . . . " I started, and then didn't know what else to say.  Everything that followed would depend on his reaction to those words.  At first, there was no reaction, except that he began to look straight at me instead of everywhere else.  After a few seconds, he raised his eyebrows, but kept silent.  Finally, he spoke.


"Sorry . . . sorry for what, exactly?"  His voice was hard, demanding.  It was a shock to hear it like that; until today, I had never heard him so much as raise his voice in annoyance, and now it was hard with anger.


At first, I thought he was mocking me; surely he knew what I had to feel guilty about.  But then I realized that he wanted more than a vague apology; he wanted specific confession.  Get every little gory detail out in the open.  And as painful as the thought was, I realized that he was right.  We could only deal with our problem if we were able to talk about it, no matter how much it hurt.


"I'm sorry that I overreacted, sorry that I shut you out.  Sorry I didn't give you a chance to redeem yourself."  Those were the easy admissions; I knew my faults here, and I had been berating myself with them for days.  I was used to saying the words by now, if only in my own head.  And I thought that I knew James well enough to know that eventually I would be forgiven all these failings.  It was the last that truly scared me, since I didn't know how he would react to it, whether he would be capable of forgiveness for it.  "I'm sorry that I can't be what you want me to be."


"I see," he replied, eyes now fixed on the table before us, the hard edge of his voice partly eroded away by a hoarse swallow.  He rested his hands on the table, and wrung them together so hard that their edges turned white, but he didn't say anything more.  James had never been taciturn, and his silence now was more punishing to me than any words could have been.  Finally, I tried to prompt him to a response.


"Do you accept my apology?" I prompted, thankful that I had so much practice at keeping my voice rational and nearly monotone.  I didn't want to sound as desperate as I was beginning to feel.  "I promise you; I truly am very sorry for all the pain I've caused you."


"Oh, I have no doubt of that," he replied, still not looking me in the eye.  "I know you don't lie, Daria.  I believe you when you say that you are sorry for all those things."  Now he looked up, and I could see that though his voice may have calmed, the anger was still there.  "I believe your apology, Daria, but I don't accept it.  Not yet.  I need to hear something else first."  This worried me.  I was willing to apologize, willing to accept what blame I felt was my due, but no more than that.  I would not be humiliated, I would not take all the blame, and I would not be made to beg.  Of course, at any other time, I would not have thought James capable of such a demand, but then again, I had never before seen him in such a state.


"What?" I asked, warily.


"I need to know why," he said, and to my surprise, he didn't sound like an angry man making a demand, but like a hungry man asking for bread.  "If you couldn't be what I wanted you to be, if you aren't interested in me, then why did you go out with me in the first place?"


This was the question I had dreaded most.  The whole time this weekend when I was anticipating this very conversation, I had hoped that, somehow, this one issue would not come up.  It was ridiculous to think that, I knew as much, but I could think of no way to answer this question honestly without hurting him, no matter how much time I spent trying to.  I was briefly tempted to lie, to try to think of some pleasant deception that could defuse this whole matter, but that kind of dishonesty was not in me.  I could only offer the truth, and hope that it didn't destroy the entire effort right then.


"I needed to see if I could."


His reaction was about what I had feared.


"What the hell does that mean?!" he exploded, catching the ears of several of the surrounding diners, who turned to look briefly in our direction.  "What was I to you, some experiment?  I know you can be distant and reserved at times, but I never before thought you were cruel.  God, Daria, I'm a person, my feelings are real, not some laboratory for your amusement!"  He jumped out of his seat, face aflame, and looked ready to run out.


"James, please," I said, my voice surprisingly loud, and my arm instantly shot out to take hold of his.  OK, apparently I wasn't above a little begging after all.  But I had no time at that moment to be disgusted with myself; that would have to wait until later.  "Please, sit down."  Thankfully, the second time my voice and manner were something approaching my norm.


"Why should I?" he asked, and I knew that this was no rhetorical question.  He needed a real answer, or I was going to lose him then and there.


"I did not mean it the way that you think," I said, and then had to clarify, "at least not only the way that you think.  I wanted to like you in that way; I wanted it to work out.  I thought that since we got along so well as friends, that if I tried, we could be more, in time."


Several tense moments passed.


"And I didn't give you that time, did I?" he said, the anger draining from his voice, replaced by realization and despair.  His shoulders slumped, the tension left his body, and he collapsed back into his chair.  "You weren't ready, and I pushed it, and I blew it.  I even knew it then, but sometime over the past few days I passed the blame from me to you.  I guess I couldn't handle having the heat on myself like that.  All the more credit to you; you were willing to admit it.  I'm sorry, Daria."


"I think that there is more than enough blame for both of us to share," I said, relieved that he had given me the chance to explain myself, and that he was willing to acknowledge his own role in this affair.


"Yeah, but you weren't the one who started the whole thing," he responded, then shook his head and laughed ruefully.  "And after all the effort I took to make sure that everything went well.  I even called my mother to ask her advice on what to do while on a date."


"You called your mother?" I asked, surprised.  Of course, there were times when I had gone to my mother for help as well, but it was usually only when all other avenues were closed to me.  When I could get in contact with her, that is.


"I wanted the female perspective," James said, rather defensively.  "I'd never actually been on a date before - my life in high school just didn't work out that way - and I was scared.  I didn't want to screw things up."  Bitterly, he added, "How ironic."


"What did she say?"


"Oh, the usual things.  Be polite and respectful.  Show interest in her; don't just talk about yourself.  Treat her like a lady and act like a gentleman.  Dress well.  All the expected things a mother tells her son in those kinds of situations."


Dress well, I thought.  That's one mystery solved.  Still, he should have known that it wasn't necessary.


"Don't blame my mother, though," James continued.  "The handholding idea was mine alone.  I told you, I'd never been on a date before; I was just doing what I thought one did on dates."


"So you didn't actually want to hold my hand?"  I didn't know what to make of this news.  Despite everything, it seemed almost insulting.  Was I not worthy of even the desire?


"Oh, no," he said fervently.  "I definitely wanted to.  I can understand how you could have accepted just to see if it might work out, but I knew that I liked you.  You were all I could think about, all I could talk about.  My own parents got tired of hearing about you."


"I had no idea."  I felt like such a fool.  I'm not exactly skilled in the ways of Eros, but if he was truly that smitten with me, how could I have missed it?


"I didn't intend for you to, not at first.  It took me forever to get up the courage to ask you out; I was terrified you would say no.  You seemed so above it all, so far above me, that I was afraid you would just laugh at me, or be insulted, if I tried.  I've seen your scorn; I didn't want to be on the receiving end of it."


Insulted?  No.  Scared out of my wits?  That's a little closer to the truth.  James had bared his soul to me, shown me his throat and had trusted me not to tear it out.  Which I had, gruesomely.  And yet, here he was, doing it again.  Whatever his faults, I knew James was not a fool; he knew what he was doing.  I didn't feel worthy of such trust.  The only way I could think of to even everything out and start to make this better was to bare my soul to him as well.  I could only hope that I would survive it.


"James, it's just as well that things didn't work out between us," I started, leading in to the matter slowly, trying to give myself time to adjust to the idea of what I was about to do.  I was going to breach the wall around my heart, which I had allowed only Jane to see through.  But that was the problem, wasn't it?  All my little self-defense mechanisms, designed to keep people at bay, to keep me from being hurt, were the very things that had led me into this pain.  They were the things that were hurting me, and those around me.  If James was to be the final victim of my hedge of thorns, I had to start tearing it down.  Now.  No matter how much blood I might draw from myself in doing so.  "I'm not ready to be in a relationship.  You've heard me talk about Trent and Tom . . . "


"Are you still in love with one of them?" James said, almost jumping at the thought.


"No!" I responded, a little too emphatically, annoyed at being interrupted and surprised at the idea.  "I don't think I ever was in love with either of them.  I doubt I even know what that kind of love is.  The very idea is frightening to me.  But, you see, that's part of the problem . . . "


And, slowly, with much difficulty, I told him everything.  I told him about growing up in a household where my little sister was always looked upon with more approval than myself, because she was cute and my parents understood her better than me.  I told him about the problems I had had in school when I was young, where the other children bored me and there was no one I could talk to.  I told him how, unconsciously, I had withdrawn behind self-righteous walls, looking upon the world with scorn, allowing no one near who did not measure up to my standards.  Walling myself off from disillusion, rejection, and pain.  And then I told him how this had hampered every attempt I had made at both friendship and romance, how it took only the smallest error on the part of the other person for me to back away.  About how Jane had been the only person to make it all the way past this wall, because she had been the first person I had met who understood the way I felt about the world and all the idiots I saw in it; and by the time I realized that even she could fall short, I needed her - loved her - too much to let her go.  Then I told him of Trent, Ted, and Tom, how in each case they had failed me, and how in each case I had left them for it.  I told him that the only reason that Tom and I had been together long enough for our relationship to die a natural death was because he was the only person I had met, besides Jane, who was not willing to take my "no" for an answer.


"It's the circle of my life, James," I concluded.  "You just happened to be unfortunate enough to be caught up in the latest iteration.  And until I can learn to break this cycle, no relationship I have is going to last.  I just wish I knew how to do it."  I felt utterly drained, on the brink of tears that I never thought I would shed.  And yet, it was almost, very nearly, a pleasant feeling.  Like after the few times I went running with Jane, when I would lie nearly immobile, every muscle exerted to its fullest and then recovering, the dull ache that was almost like pleasure.


"I can be persistent, too," James said desperately, earnestly.  "If that's what it takes, I'll never stop chasing you . . . "


"No, James," I said, touched and yet panicked by the thought.  "In the end, Tom and I weren't right for each other, but at the beginning, I did feel an attraction.  More than I should have, actually.  With you, that's just not there."  James closed his eyes, and gently lowered his head to the table, face down.  His body quivered silently.  A passerby might have thought he was laughing, but I knew better.  I didn't know what I could do to help him, so I just sat there quietly, observing the consequences of my indiscretions.


Finally, he raised his head, and though his cheeks were wet, no more tears flowed.  He swallowed a few times, and then, in a croaking voice, asked, "So, what is there left for us?"


"I still want us to be friends," I said.  "We were before, we can be again."  But James shook his head.


"No, we can't," he said, sinking my own heart, "not yet, not for a long time, maybe not ever.  I don't see the same thing when I look at you now.  I don't see a friend; I only see my own pain.  In the future, possibly, that might not be the case, but I can't imagine the future right now.  All that is real to me is the present, and in this present, being around you puts me in agony."


"You hate me," I said, my voice sounding hollow to my own ears.  I didn't think I had ever been hated before.  Ignored.  Mocked.  Criticized.  Misunderstood.  All of these, yes, but never hated.  Not even by Jane at our lowest point.  I felt like a speck.


"No, I don't hate you," he said, shaking his head sadly, eyes downcast, and despite the dismal circumstances I felt my spirits rise a little, spared an even worse fate.  "That's the problem.  If I hated you, I wouldn't have had any qualms about rubbing your nose in my misery, giving you the finger, and then walking off without a second thought.  If I hated you, than this wouldn't hurt so much.  But I don't hate you; I still like you, a lot.  I may even be feeling some small twinge of what could possibly one day become love for you."  He raised his eyes to look into mine, and it was like a physical blow.  "I can't allow myself to fall in love with you if you don't return it; I can't live much more of my life the way I have lived the past few days.  And if we keep seeing each other, even just as friends, I'm afraid that's exactly what will happen."  He stood up, and stepped back from the table, his gaze never leaving my own.  "So I really think I should go now."


"James, wait . . . " I said, jumping up from my own seat, but I had nothing more to say.  I didn't want to see him go, but what could I say to him to convince him to remain?  There was nothing more that I could honestly offer him than what I already had, and he had already turned it down.  So my voice trailed off into a whisper of muttered sounds, my lungs and vocal cords taking a few seconds to shut down after my brain had already ceased its message.


We stood there silently.  It felt like an eternity, but it was probably just a few seconds.  But in those seconds, the face of every person I had ever walked away from flashed through my mind.  Trent at Pizza King, after our failed collaboration.  Ted at the video arcade.  Tom.  And, in another way, Quinn, when she was a baby, perpetually cute and stealing the attention and approval of my parents.  My parents themselves, when they had started comparing me to Quinn, refusing to accept me for being myself.  I had turned my back and walked away from most of my world, rejecting them before they could further reject and disappoint me.  It was the only way I had known to defend myself; erect a wall and let no one pass who was not worthy.  And now the same thing was being done to me, not from spite or hatred, but from simple self-preservation.  Was this cosmic justice, karmic revenge?  If so, it felt magnified a thousand fold.  Did I really deserve this retribution?


"I'll really miss you, Daria," James said, and for a moment, he smiled, and there was joy in it as well as sadness.  "You may not believe me, but I'll never regret the time that we spent together, and I hope that one day we can pick up where we left off."


"I hope so," I responded, and even though I had doubts that it would ever happen - after all, doesn't everyone say things like that in situations like this? And how many actually go through with it? - I sincerely believed it, nonetheless.  "I'll be waiting to be your friend again, when you're ready.  You still have to meet Jane, after all."  He had often expressed a great deal of interest in meeting my oft-mentioned but never-present best friend.


James chuckled, then suddenly became serious.  Hesitantly, he took a step towards me, but then abruptly stopped and looked down at the floor between us.  He took a couple of deep breaths, then asked simply, "May I?", and raised his hand slightly.


For a moment, I was confused, unsure of what I was being asked.  Then, somehow, maybe by instinct alone, I knew what he wanted.  I felt a surge of panic, not wanting to stir this pot again, but this time, the rational part of my brain prevailed.  I can give him this.  I nodded once, and closed my eyes.


A moment later, I felt his hand upon my cheek, and his lips pressing lightly against mine.  The kiss was brief, but I did not go unaffected by it.  It did not stir me to passion, but it made me wish that it had.  It made me wish that I could give him what he wanted.  But then it was over, and the situation had not changed.


I opened my eyes to see James had already backed away from me.  He was shaking, and his chest rose and fell heavily.


"Goodbye, Daria," he said, his voice unsteady.  He turned and walked out of the dining hall.  He walked out of my life.


I don't yet have all the answers, but at least now I know the questions.  It's still a couple of months before Jane joins me here in Boston, and until then, I'll have a lot of solitary time to think over all the issues that have brought to my attention.  I think that's a good thing; I think I need that solitude.  If the proper study of mankind is man, than the proper study of Daria is Daria, and I'll spend the time that I have in that pursuit.  It's time to break the pattern of a lifetime, to finally opt out of the cycle.  If I don't, I may eventually lose everyone, even Jane.  She'll understand that; she'll help me.  And maybe, eventually, James will be there to lend a hand as well.


For now, I walk alone.  But, hopefully, this is the last time.



The End






Author's Note:  Whew, the trilogy is over, and I'm exhausted.  That's what a week's worth of non-stop writing (interrupted only by school and a few social engagements)  will do to you.  I've been an avid Daria fan for years, and an amateur writer for much longer, but this was my first attempt at fanfic.  Telling a story from Daria's perspective has been one of the most difficult and rewarding challenges I have ever undertaken as a writer, and it's given me new respect for the writers of the series, who managed to bring her to such vivid life over the course of five seasons.  I don't have any plans right now to write more stories, but if inspiration strikes I'll be glad to go at it again; I don't know that I would keep the first-person perspective, though.


I'd like to thank everyone who read all the way.  I hope it was worth your time.  If you have any praises, constructive criticisms, questions, or general comments, or if you would just like to chat about Daria, feel free to e-mail me at


I would also like to thank all the fantastic fanfiction authors whose works I have enjoyed over the years - Roger E. Moore, Renfield, Galen Hardesty, Greystar, Robert Nowell, and many others.  Your hard work and talent has not gone unappreciated.


And, finally, a huge thanks to the creators of Daria.



Update:  I might be back to Daria fanfic earlier than I originally thought.  I've got what I think is a pretty good plot concept for a crossover between Daria and the American movie version of The Ring (meaning I have the beginning, the end, and an idea of what goes on in the middle).  It's still in the "percolating in my head" stage, and I'll probably wait until The Ring 2 comes out in March before I finalize the story line, but I'm pretty excited about it.