Anything For





©2010 The Angst Guy (

Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks



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Synopsis: A Mother’s Day fanfic about a favorite niece who discovers her favorite aunt was more important in her life than she had guessed.


Author's Notes: This fanfic has a curious history of false starts. It was originally a response to Mahna Mahna’s Iron Chef of September 2003, asking for fanfics based on the end-credit alter egos from the Daria show. The opening of this story appeared on PPMB in October 2003, but it was unfinished and went in a different direction. I’d meant for this to be a short follow-on to an earlier fanfic, “Smoking Mirror” (a Jane/Mack shipper), but it mutated and became something else.

       The roots of the tale grew from a challenge by Ruthless Bunny on SRMB, having to do with Jane Lane becoming a cheerleader, but all of those parts of the story disappeared in time, instead spawning the fanfic “Sudden Death Overtime.” Other Iron Chefs pushed the story into different forms, but those paths were dropped. The present tale is in response to a PPMB Iron Chef challenge put out by Angelboy in May 2006, asking for stories in which a cast member tries to do something special for their mother—a challenge that was not met exactly but, hopefully, is close enough.

       The MTV alter-ego picture on which this story is based is the one showing Jane Lane as an African-American basketball player—which here becomes Atalanta Dee Mackenzie.



Acknowledgements: Special thanks go out to Mahna Mahna and Angelboy for their challenges, which guided this tale’s telling most strongly, and to Brandon League, for his error-finding abilities that save me from embarrassment.








       Sheets of gray rain drummed against the kitchen windows, threatening to continue for hours more, but Atalanta Dee Mackenzie’s attention was focused squarely on her poker hand. Her dark brown eyes narrowed as she frowned. Her card hand was quite good, but she wasn’t about to let her opponent know it. She glanced at her favorite aunt, who sat across the table and looked at her own cards with an impassive face. It was just after two o’clock on a dreary Saturday afternoon in May, and nothing would happen until five, when she and her aunt planned to either go out for pizza or order it, then plug in some really bad movies and see which one of them left the room first. Atalanta decided this was as good a time as any to have that special niece-to-aunt talk.

       “I want to change my name,” Atalanta said. “Not the Dee or Mackenzie part, the Atalanta part.” She scratched her brown thigh under her purple athletic shorts, then reached under her purple-and-gold Los Angeles Sparks tee to scratch her lower back. A gold Sparks sweatband ran across her forehead under her short, dark Afro, and a pair of white ankle socks covered by an outrageously expensive pair of white basketball sneakers completed her ensemble.

       “Change it to what?” asked her pale-complexioned aunt. In contrast to her niece, she wore a rust-red sweater and old blue jeans with open-toed sandals. Her auburn hair fell halfway down her back.

       “To anything. I hate it.”

       “Hmm,” said her aunt. She pushed her glasses up on her nose. “Two cards.”

       Atalanta passed two cards from the top of the deck to her aunt, who flipped two cards face down back to her niece. It was funny to think that her aunt, at thirty-five, was half a foot shorter than Atalanta herself. I may be shorter and older than you, her aunt liked to say, but I’ve got guile and experience, and that always gives me the edge.

       “You can change your name in four years when you turn eighteen, I think,” her aunt continued, examining her cards anew. “I’ll have to ask my mom about that, she might know. Did you check the Internet for the laws in this state?”

       “No.” Atalanta glared at her cards. “Why’d Mom and Dad have to stick me with such a stupid name, anyway?”

       “I thought you liked your name,” said her aunt. “You never said anything about it before.” She picked up two poker chips and tossed them to the center of the table.

       Atalanta followed suit with two chips of her own, then tossed in two more. “I don’t like it, and I never did. Everyone calls me Dee at school, or else they get it wrong and call me ‘Atlanta.’ I can’t believe they stuck me with such a stupid loser name.”

       Her aunt sniffed. “If I recall correctly, Atalanta was a famous athlete, not unlike yourself. She didn’t know anything about basketball, but she was the world’s fastest runner, she was very brave, and she was a heroine, too.”

       “But she isn’t real! She’s a myth, just a big lie, and she has a stupid name, too! Why did I get such a stupid name?”

       Her aunt peered over her cards at her favorite niece. “Dear, the truth is that you have two wonderful parents who were unlucky enough to be born into families that specialized in giving offbeat names. Your dad’s father named him for that Chicago Bulls basketball player, as you know, though I’d still have to say his name is quite normal compared to some I’ve seen. And your mom’s name rhymed before she married your dad, but despite that it was mostly normal, too. However, most of your aunts and uncles on your mom’s side have, um, peculiar appellations for which drugs and hippie lifestyles are probably to blame. You didn’t hear that from me. Anyway, your Mom and Dad did their best for you, but you can only do so much against the twin pressures of heredity and environment.” She tossed two chips to the center of the table. “Call.”

       Atalanta grinned and laid down her hand: two kings and two jacks.

       Her aunt exhaled heavily and dropped her cards in a pile on the table. “That’s four wins in a row. I’m out. My family had a thing with quirky names, too, you know. My name and my sister’s name aren’t all that common.”

       “What’s wrong with Daria and Quinn?”

       “Those names sound normal to you because you’ve been around us so long,” said her aunt. “How many other women do you know of named Daria or Quinn?”

       Atalanta pulled in the winning pot of chips and stacked them. “None,” she confessed. “But it still isn’t fair. Mom got a normal name, and so did Dad.”

       “Jane and Michael are pretty normal, as names go, but normal names can fool you. Your parents aren’t anywhere near normal. My humble opinion only, of course.”

       “Of course they’re not normal,” said Atalanta with a grin. “You corrupted them when they were young. It’s all your fault. Let’s play again.” She gathered the cards and began to shuffle them with expert hands.

       “Forget it,” said Aunt Daria, getting up from the table. “You’re killing me.” She walked over to the refrigerator, peering inside. “Our supply of Ultra-Cola isn’t going to last until your parents get back from their ‘intimacy retreat’ tomorrow morning. You like Diet Cola-Blast or One-Calorie Mega-Fizz?” She glanced over and noted Atalanta’s yuck face. “Didn’t think so. Better hit the store while we’re out, then, after the rain lets up. How about that six-cheese pizza left over from last night for an appetizer, before we hunt down dinner?”

       “I’ll warm it up,” said Atalanta, shooting out of her chair and walking over. “You owe me forty bucks.”

       Aunt Daria rolled her eyes. “You’re worse than your mom. You can tell her I said so, too.”

       Atalanta punched buttons on the oven at lightning speed. “How much did she used to bet you?”

       “I think we got it up to a hundred smackeroos a couple times, but she never stuck it to me when she... wait, I’m wrong. She loved sticking it to me when she won. You’re just like your mom.” Daria gave her niece a woeful look. “Sorry about that.”

       “Oh, thanks!” Atalanta said with heavy sarcasm. She shoved the pizza into the oven and shut it, punching in the time. “You’re not my favorite aunt for the next five minutes, maybe six.”

       “Bummer,” said Daria, looking in the refrigerator again. “Sure you don’t want anything diet?”

       “No, and your butt’s not that big,” said Atalanta. “Buy regular from now on.”

       “Smart ass,” said Daria. She suddenly straightened up and put a hand to her right ear, pressing on the skin behind her earlobe. “Excuse me, dear,” she muttered, then looked into space across the kitchen as she closed the fridge door. “Hello,” she said absently. She listened to something that Atalanta could not hear. “Hey. We’re having a snack now, then we’ll mess around a little bit before going out, when the rain lets us. Uh-huh. Oh, really. Jane, you know perfectly well I know everything there is to know about teenage nutrition, and six-cheese pizza has my seal of approval—and yours, too, if I recall correctly. What are you and Mike doing at the hotel?” After a beat, Daria glanced at her niece and then looked away. “That’s nice. Make sure you put on something besides your birthday suit when you go out for dinner, okay?”

       “Oh, eww! Atalanta cried, aghast. “Aunt Daria!

       “What?” said Daria to the air in a deadpan tone. “Oh, nothing. You grossed out my favorite niece again. Hey, I didn’t start it, don’t blame me. Fine, be that way. Okay. Yeah. You two have a great evening. Don’t let that old intimacy retreat. Right. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” A pause. “I don’t think I’d ever do that, Jane. You, maybe, that I could see, but not me. No, I’m not going to tell her what you said. It was disgusting and perverted, and it would just gross her out again. Now, if you’d said I should use a weasel instead of a squirrel, that would have been different.”

       Atalanta shrieked and ran across the kitchen to the table, her hands clamped over her ears. She stood at the glass sliding door, looking out at the roaring rain and singing “Old MacDonald” as loudly as possible.

       Daria smiled a Mona Lisa smile. “See you tomorrow whenever you get back,” she said to the air. “You two have fun. Love you, too.” She tapped the spot behind her right ear and sighed, looking at Atalanta’s back. “I’m off the phone,” she said. Her smile grew broader. “Anything the matter?”

       “You’re disgusting!” Atalanta shouted, looking outside. “I can’t believe you said that!”

       “You want your money, dear?” Daria asked blandly. “Or should I put it in your college fund?”

       Atalanta spun from the window and walked over with her hand out, glaring fiercely.

       Daria kept her smile. Twelve was the start of a difficult age, but Atalanta had been raised well and it made her mood swings more manageable than those that her sister Quinn’s little terrors were currently passing through. “Let me get my wallet, if you insist,” she said, leaving the room. “Be right back. Save some pizza for me.”

       Atalanta dropped her hand and walked aimlessly around the kitchen, listening to her aunt’s footsteps go down a hallway to her bedroom. Daria liked to yank her chain, but she always made their time together fun and interesting—and profitable. Atalanta appreciated her special status as the only child of Daria’s best friend. Too bad Daria hadn’t had any kids with Jane’s brother Trent before he disappeared and they divorced. Her other cousins were either unsociable or lived too far away to visit regularly. Her favorite aunt more than made up for it, though.

       Bored with the wait, Atalanta looked through her aunt’s CD collection (who listened to CDs anymore, besides dinosaurs?), flipped the pages on the 2017 wall calendar (squirrels, why did her aunt have a calendar with nothing but squirrels on it?), then walked over to check on the pizza. It was ready and waiting. She opened the oven and took out the baking tray with her bare hands. The pizza was quite hot, but the tray was only warm to the touch. Walking back to the kitchen table, she picked a crumb from the crust and nibbled on it. It was too hot to eat yet. She looked toward the living room, then decided to see what was keeping her aunt.

       Her sneakers let her move through the living room without a sound till she reached the hallway, where she had to move next to the wall to avoid the creaking boards. Her aunt’s bedroom door was open, but she heard no movement coming from within. Atalanta edged up to the bedroom door a few moments later, feeling very sneaky and pleased with herself, and peeked around the doorframe.

       Her favorite aunt was sitting on her bed, a photo album open in her lap. She had taken off her glasses and was dabbing her reddened eyes on her sweater sleeve.

       Ohmigod, Atalanta realized in shock. She’s crying.

       Atalanta’s foot squeaked on the floor as she tried to back up. Her aunt flipped the album shut and put it aside, then stood and wiped her eyes again before putting her large round glasses back on. “You need work on your ninja skills,” she said dryly. “Come in.”

       Atalanta hesitated, then gave in and went into the bedroom, feeling vaguely ashamed. “Sorry I spied on you,” she mumbled.

       “Quite all right, I forgive you. I was just looking around before I came out. I seem to be allergic to something in the air. Maybe I shouldn’t have restarted my dust-bunny experiment from high school under my bed.”

       Atalanta felt she had wandered into a part of her aunt’s world she had no right to see—but now that she was here, she wanted to see more. “What were you looking at?”

       “What? Oh, nothing.” Aunt Daria was trying to look casual about it, but her voice had a catch in it. “Just some pictures. Let’s go play poker.”

       “Can I see?”


       “The photo album, duh!”

       Her aunt looked down at the bed where the old album lay. “I guess,” she said at last. “Maybe a few of them. They’re just some old... whatever.” She slowly sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the album into her lap. Atalanta sat next to her aunt, and they settled in together with the album between them. The gold letters on the dark brown leather cover read:







       “Is this about me?” Atalanta asked, astonished to see her own name.

       Her aunt groaned. “No, dear, it’s about a poor orphan growing up in the wilds of Iowa. Of course it’s about you. What grade are you in, again?”

       “Come on! What is this? Tell me!”

       By way of an answer, her aunt hesitantly opened the album. On the very first page was a large color photo taken by a professional photographer. It was her Aunt Daria, younger but with the usual round glasses and impassive expression and long auburn hair—but there was more. Daria was enormously pregnant in the shot, wearing a semi-formal forest-green maternity dress with calf-length black boots, standing against a backdrop of autumn trees.

       Atalanta blinked. She had never seen this picture before, but she knew what it was. “That’s you just before I was born, isn’t it?” she said.

       “About a month before, yes,” said her aunt in a low voice. “I decided I wanted my own pictures of you, so I had some made when I could. This was one of the first. Your mom and dad have other pictures of me with you inside me, when we were together at parties or whatever, but this is... this one is just you and me.”

       “Mom said she couldn’t have me because she had something wrong with her plumbing,” said Atalanta, remembering the story.

       “That’s right. She found out she couldn’t have children in the usual way. It upset her very much. It’s kind of complicated to describe, but I could do it if you want to know the details. Anyway, your mom and your dad wanted a baby in the worst way... hmmm, I guess I could have put that differently, but we’ll let it go for now—”

       Atalanta grinned, mostly from relief. “Oh, thanks a lot!”

       “You’re welcome. Anyway, one night they told me about their problem, and we talked it over for a long time, and I must have been drunk or something because I said, ‘Why don’t you let me have your kid?’ They weren’t as drunk as I was, I suppose, so they took me up on my offer, and we did it.”

       “You don’t get drunk, Aunt Daria. You don’t even drink.”

       “Well, I did drink a bit once, like my mom and dad, but I stopped when I realized I’d gotten myself into a jam by deciding to have you. I had no idea at the time what getting pregnant involved, because I hadn’t actually planned to get pregnant. I figured that was for other people, not me. But there was your mother, crying all over me... oops, I shouldn’t have said that part, I think we promised each other not to ever talk about the crying part, but anyway, there she was crying all over me, and I figured, what the hell, anything for Jane. She had been my best friend since—”

       “—since tenth grade, I know, I know.”

       “Sorry if I’m boring you.” Daria stuck out her tongue at her niece, which made the younger girl smile. “Anyway, we went to a fertility clinic in Boston, where we were all living at the time, and slam, bam, thank you ma’am, we did it. Your mom and dad created an embryo, which is to say they created you, smaller than my thumbnail, and the doctors put you inside me, and I was stuck with you for the next nine months and then for the next twelve years thereafter.”

       “Yeah, I can see the damage.” Atalanta knew the story by heart. Her mother had told it to her a number of times, particularly on Atalanta’s birthday and on Mother’s Day—which happened to be the next day, Sunday, when her parents returned from their intimacy retreat. Atalanta reached over and turned the page in the album.

       The breath stopped in her throat as she looked down. In several high-quality black-and-white photographs shot against a curtained backdrop, her favorite aunt was sitting on a plain wooden chair, cradling her huge abdomen in her hands... without a stitch of clothing on. She wasn’t even wearing her glasses.

       Aunt Daria cleared her throat and reached for the next page. “Maybe we should skip ahead to—”

       “No!” Atalanta put her hands on the album pages to keep them where they were. She couldn’t believe it. Her aunt was naked—not just sort of naked, but N-A-K-E-D in huge capital letters, even her boobs showing. Seeing her aunt without her glasses on made it even more astounding. After the initial shock, Atalanta noticed that in every picture, her aunt was looking down at her belly with the most profound look of peace and contentment that Atalanta had ever seen on anyone. In one picture, her aunt was smiling.

       Atalanta couldn’t think of a thing to say. She knew Aunt Daria had given birth to her, but she had never once thought about what it had been like for Daria to carry her best friend’s daughter around inside her for nine months. The images staggered her. I was inside my aunt, not my mom. I knew this, I always knew this, but I never understood it until now. I was inside my aunt. I was inside Daria.

       After a long pause, her aunt began turning the pages again and more photos appeared, photos big and small that Atalanta had never seen, showing her pregnant aunt standing by a door leading into a small apartment; looking out of the driver’s window of a green compact car, barely able to fit behind the steering wheel; frowning at the camera while eating breakfast with a dreadful case of bed hair; sitting at a radio disk-jockey console in a beautiful outfit, speaking into a microphone; leaning over an office desk to read a book with both her hands pressed down on the small of her back; sitting at a picnic table in a park, her auburn hair blowing across her face; walking along a downtown sidewalk burdened with a backpack and a shoulder-strap book bag, seemingly ready to give birth at any moment. Pages and pages of photos that Atalanta had never seen—

       Why had she never seen them before now?

       Atalanta reached out to turn the next page.

       Her aunt held the page down, her fingers clamped like a vice around the rest of the book. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” her aunt mumbled. “I think we’ve gone far enough.”

       “No.” Atalanta gently pried apart her aunt’s fingers and turned the page.

       And saw herself being born.

       “Oh, my God,” she said, her eyes the size of teacup saucers.

       She was born across several pages of color photographs taken in a hospital delivery room with a pocket camera. She had never seen any of these photos before. Her parents had no pictures of her birth, only pictures starting right after, with an ecstatic Jane and Michael grinning at the camera on either side of a sweating, exhausted Daria, with a tiny infant in a pink blanket on Daria’s chest.

       “Five hours thirteen minutes of labor, and no drugs,” said her aunt in a rough voice. “I swear, I thought I was going to die.”

       The images were shocking and miraculous. They were scary but gave a strange comfort. They gave her the truth of what happened, even though she had always known what the truth was. She merely hadn’t thought about it much before now. “Oh, my God,” she gasped. “Oh, my God.”

       Her aunt drew in a deep breath, held it, then let it out. “It was worth it,” she said. “It was worth every moment of it.”

       Atalanta looked at the pages for a long time. Then she reached for the last page and turned it.

       It was a small photo of her aunt sitting up in a hospital bed, looking down at a tiny bundle in her arms. Someone was reaching for the infant, and her aunt was about to give it up—but in the photo she was crying and crying hard, her face screwed up and red and wet with tears. It was a photo that perhaps should not have been taken or saved.

       Atalanta looked up and saw Daria was biting her lower lip, her eyes filled with tears.

       “Were you upset to let go of me?” asked Atalanta, knowing the answer.

       Her aunt nodded wordlessly, her face turning bright red. She closed the album and put it aside on the bed, then took off her glasses and wiped her eyes on her sleeves again.

       Atalanta stared at her favorite aunt as if she had only just discovered her. “You’re like my real mom, aren’t you?” she whispered.

       No,” said her aunt with emphasis. She put her glasses back on over swollen eyes. “I’m not your mother, dear. Jane is. She’s your mother and always will be. Don’t ever say she isn’t. I just helped her out, that’s all. Her and Michael and you. That’s all.”

       “But you gave birth to me, Daria. That makes you my mom!”

       “I’m n—”

       The words stopped. Her aunt lowered her head. Tears ran down her face in streams and fell into her lap.

       Atalanta quickly wrapped her arms around her aunt, who put her arms around her in turn. What’s happening? What’s happening to us? We’re changing and it hurts so much and I’m frightened, but we’re changing because of the truth. It must be right, going through this change, but I never thought it would hurt like this. She pressed her face against her aunt’s, whispering I love you over and over. Her aunt continued to cry. Then a memory came back to Atalanta, one she had never expected to think of at a time like this.


* * *


       Mom? Does Aunt Daria have any kids?

       Her mother peered down at her through jet-black bangs and gave her daughter a half-smile. I suppose you could say so.

       I don’t mean me! I mean other kids, like cousins of mine.

       Her mother sighed and looked sad and disgusted at the same time. I’m afraid not. She always wanted children of her own, but Trent didn’t. I’m sorry sometimes she married him. She hooked up with him right after you were born and became your real aunt, which is why I call her my sister, but Trent didn’t want any kids. I think he ran off and left her because she wanted them so badly, but he said being a dad would interfere with his music. It really pisses me off, what he did to her, even though he did a lot for me when we were growing up. I could never believe he would do this, though. That was just low. Don’t tell Daria I told you that, okay?


       I mean it. It hurts her to even think about it. I’m glad she’s got you, and I’m glad your father and I have got you, too. Daria made everything possible.


* * *


       Atalanta, who would never dream of hurting her favorite aunt, had never afterward said a thing to Daria about Trent, whom Atalanta remembered only as a tall, thin musician with blue tattoos and messy hair who always seemed vaguely uncomfortable around other people. He didn’t play guitar very well, either. She had not been sad to learn he had gone away, though her aunt had been very sad and never seemed to have recovered from it.

       She thought then about the last photo in the album, of her aunt weeping over the only baby she would ever have, about to give her away. “Did Mom want me to see these pictures?”

       A deep sigh. “She was okay with it, dear, but... I was the one who had a problem with it.”

       “What problem? Why didn’t you ever show me these before?”

       “Because Jane is your real mother, your genetic mother. I didn’t want you to get confused about that.”

       “But you’re my birth mother, aren’t you? You’re my mother too, right?”

       Daria swallowed but nodded. “We both are. You’re still your mother’s daughter, even if I carried you. I just helped her out. Your mother’s been the best friend I’ve ever had. I just didn’t want to get in the way.”

       Atalanta couldn’t believe her ears. “You didn’t want to get in the way? Are you serious? You’re with me all the time! Mom even calls you my ‘other mom,’ right?”

       Aunt Daria looked away. “She’s just kidding.”

       “She’s not kidding! Gawd, I don’t even know what to call you now! Are you my mom, or what?”

       Daria forced a smile and looked back at her niece. “I’m Daria Lane, your favorite aunt.” She reached down and took her niece’s hand. “I’ve just had more personal time together with you than most aunts do.”

       Atalanta stared into her aunt’s golden-brown eyes. “You’re not like any other aunt in the world,” she said. “When we move, you move, too. You live only a few blocks away from us, wherever we live.”

       Her aunt’s smile became more genuine. “It’s a funny thing,” she said. “You give birth to someone, you just get an urge to keep tabs on them.” She looked down. “Someone said that to me once.”

       They sat on the bed together, their arms around each other.

       “Every year for Mother’s Day,” said Atalanta, “Mom and Dad take off the week before and go on vacation, and I stay with you. Then they come back on Sunday morning and we all go out for a Mother’s Day brunch, and then you leave and Dad and I take Mom out to dinner. Did you all plan it that way?”

       Her aunt nodded. “We worked it out a long time ago. I get to be a mom for a little while, just you and me together, and then you’re back with your folks for most of the rest of the time—except that I’m not really gone, I’m still around somewhere. My writing keeps me busy most of the time.” She gave her niece a squeeze. “I’m still glad when we can get together.”

       “I am, too. I love you.”

       “I love you, too.” Her aunt cleared her throat. “Sorry about your name, though. That was my idea, not your parents. They took my suggestion for a name for you. Don’t blame them for it.”

       “What? You named me Atalanta?”

       Her aunt looked woeful. “I’m afraid so. Sorry about that. I didn’t know it would be a problem. I was always fond of Greek mythology and—”

       “No, it’s not a problem, okay? I like it! I’m not going to change it, Aunt Daria! I was just kidding, really! That was a joke, okay?”

       “Well, okay, but if you do decide to change it—”

       “I’m not going to change it! I like my name! I was messing with you. Let’s talk about something else.”

       “Uh, okay. Your mom gave you your middle name, by the way. Dee stands for Daria.”

       “Oh. How weird. Okay.” Atalanta leaned over to peer around her aunt. “Can we look at your album again?”

       “I guess. Aren’t you getting hungry, though?”

       “A little, but let’s look at it one more time. I can’t believe you were so big.”

       “I couldn’t believe I was so big, either. I felt some days like I should have a ‘Wide Load’ sign on my front and back.”

       They picked up the album and read it one more time. The pizza was cold when they came back to the kitchen an hour later, but they weren’t hungry and just froze it again. Later, when they went out for dinner, Atalanta paid for it with the money she’d won in poker, and she secretly bought her aunt the largest Mother’s Day card she could find. It was embarrassing to have her aunt cry over it when they got home, but as Daria once said about another event, it was worth it.

       Atalanta hugged her favorite aunt—her other mother—and smiled. Anything for Daria. Anything at all.







Original: 05/27/06, modified 09/11/06, 07/27/08, 10/31/08, 05/06/10