Look! Time has finally passed, and liliaeth and I have the next chapter of Beloved for you – Little William’s turning TWO! Please, as always, read and comment! It’s like non-caloric chocolate binging - no consequences (and hopefully good taste).
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
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Beloved – Chapter 6 – Shuffle Forward
The Hyperion’s lobby rang with childish glee as Charlotte and Connor chased after the children. William tore through the place as if the hounds of hell were after him, and little Alonna Gunn alternately crawled and toddled after him, trying to catch up.
It brought to mind older times, when Cordelia’s strident shrieks would echo through the room, alternately complaining about demon slime and the high price of dry cleaning, or giddy about a shoe sale. Hell, he missed her so much.
Gunn’s presence confused him if he didn’t focus. He’d been around through all of it. The early days when distrust was evident in every word and movement. The camaraderie of actually being out in the streets, saving people on a one-on-one basis. Those horrid days at Wolfram & Hart, when the group splintered. And the aftermath… the hours he’d sat in the hospital, hoping his friend would survive his wounds. Ceding his place to Anne. Watching them grow closer and marry. Bring a child into the world.
And now he’s joined their ranks. Part of the world after existing for over two hundred and fifty years. Two sons that looked up to him – one miraculously born of his flesh and blood, the other a gift, albeit exasperating at times, from the Powers That Be. Newly married and home from his honeymoon just this past week.
A week spent in a flurry of activity, from inviting everyone important in his boy’s life, to arranging for a real themed bakery cake. Nina, Charlotte and Will voted for Cookie Monster, in shaggy frosted shades of blue, while he put in a bid for a nice hockey rink with a big number two on a centered Oreo puck.
Old blue and smirky sat on the kitchen counter, awaiting its grand entrance. Angel swore it was laughing at him.
What a difference a year makes.
The walls and columns were festooned with bouquets of multi-colored balloons and hung with crepe paper garlands. The kids from Anne’s shelter hand painted a Happy Second Birthday, William banner they’d taped up on the wall over a table laden with brightly wrapped gift boxes.
This year, Angel was bound and determined to please both Nina and his sons with Will’s second birthday celebration. He made damned sure he’d be sharing his wife’s bed and good graces. The sight of his sons’ happy faces was a bonus. Connor and William had grown close, and were damned near inseparable when they got together. Connor had been more than pleased to help with the party arrangements. He, Nina and Charlotte would spend hours pouring over catalogues and advertisements to pick out just the right decorations and toys. After the planning sessions, more often than not he could be found spending some vigorous playtime with his little brother – acting out stories of monsters and mayhem, giving him piggyback rides and airplane spins. Hunting for bugs in their little garden. It all boiled down to a strange feeling in his chest.
He was happy.
Not perfectly happy, of course. Angel still had Buffy to worry about, and William’s identity to keep secret. And the final millstone around his neck – Hugh. Deep in his heart, Angel could admit that Wesley had been just as uptight and priggish when they’d first met, but the passage of time had softened the memories. Having Hugh up close and personal ripped the bandages off of barely healed wounds, and Angel couldn’t handle the constant reminder of his missing friend. Even after…
Could have been worse, Angel sighed, shaking his head in resignation. Giles could have sent Andrew. There wasn’t a court of law in this dimension or any other that would hold him responsible if he’d simply drowned the little pup.
At least the bane of his existence wasn’t around for the time being. Some family thing or another. Angel was truly grateful.
He smiled as Charlotte ran by, hunting after Alonna again. She’d been running after the kids for the past hour – neither of them much inclined to nap before the guests had arrived. Charlotte was a true godsend. Not only was she good with clients and phones for Angel Investigations, but Will adored her, and would mind her at times when he wouldn’t either Nina or himself. As for Alonna Kate Gunn? Charlotte loved watching after her when Charles or Anne dropped her off for a playdate. She was always surprising the little one with hair do-dads or small stuffed animals. Thanks to her ease with the children, Angel found Gunn easing his way back into his life. His fear of losing the last of his friends still standing subsided each time he heard the children’s happy laughter.
Walking through the room, Angel batted several of the balloons as he passed by, smiled as Connor swooped by with a giggling William. He couldn’t deny the boy was growing on him day by day. Nina adored Will. Having been around the boy so early on in his life, there were no problems with biological clocks ticking, for fear of passing on the werewolf genes. Nina was William’s mother in every sense of the word. And he was the boy’s father, as simple as that.
As Angel reached up to refasten a fallen garland by the front door, he heard familiar voices arguing as they neared. He opened the door, surprising both Willow and Giles, who seemed to school their features as they greeted him and entered the building.
“Hello, Angel.” Willow planted an exuberant kiss on his cheek. “Mistletoe,” she said, pointing out a large sprig above the door. “And how’s the new groom doing?”
“I’m happy.” Noticing Giles’ rather intense stare, he added, “But not too happy, thank you very much for being so concerned.”
“Stupid vampire,” Willow snorted, punching him in the arm as she looked around. “Now, where’s the birthday boy? I have a little giftie for him,” she said, waving her present around before she walked off in search of the child.
Giles just sighed, shifting his own wrapped package from hand to hand before offering one in greeting. “I suppose congratulations are in order, though I never thought you’d fall in for the convention of marriage.”
Still has a stick up his ass when it comes to me. Hard to blame him with our past, I guess. Angel shrugged his shoulders, an enigmatic smile gracing his lips.
“Is there someplace I could put this down, Angel? Or do I need to stand here like a statue for the rest… oh bloody hell, man. I didn’t mean… well, you know.” Color rose in the man’s cheeks as he avoided the vampire’s gaze.
Angel stared at the open garden door, unable to keep his thoughts from wandering to Buffy. Not a clue had been found in the past year as to her condition, and he’d begun to wonder if it hadn’t been a bad idea to insist on keeping her here as a reminder of his failure to protect her. If it weren’t for the fact that Will seemed enamored with the statue… always running outside and showing off his favorite toys to her. Sitting under her shadow and babbling to her for hours. It was almost… eerie. There were days Angel was sure she was answering him back when he cocked his head in a startling imitation of his previous self.
He shook his head, rapidly dismissing his foolish ramblings. Will talked to everything he came across, even the toilet, which had never answered him back as far as Angel knew.
Turning back to Giles, his thoughts were interrupted by a semi-naked Alonna toddling rapidly in their direction, followed by a gasping Charlotte.
“Sorry, Angel,” she laughed, grabbing hold of the wriggling child. “This little tickle beast made a daring diaper change escape.”
“Where’s Will?” he called after her, not having seen the boy in awhile.
Before she could answer, he heard a crash and a yelp coming from the direction of the downstairs bathroom.
“Best be off then, Angel,” Giles smiled, the ice finally broken. “Seems as though you’re now dealing with demons in the daylight hours. This time they’re little ones. Must be how you’ve kept your girlish figure.”
Angel growled as he raced to the bathroom in search of his son, wondering why nobody else was looking after him.
“Nina!” Angel’s roar could be heard throughout the hotel, bringing his wife running from the kitchen and the rest of the crowd closed in, worried about little Will.
“Oh my God!” she gasped, clutching her blouse as she collapsed against the wall. “Somebody get a camera, now!”
Gunn took up the call and headed for the door when Angel stomped out holding the boy at arm’s length, his little head covered in a mess of honey blond spikes and curls. And his hands… dripping with Angel’s very expensive hair gel.
“Now that is rich, dude. He’s still callin’ you on your product fetish.” Gunn chortled, barely holding the camera steady as he clicked away. “You wouldn’t be havin’ none of this mess if you’d just shave off all that hair.”
“Spikes, Daddy. I make more spikes.” Will rubbed his gloppy hands in Angel’s hair, the excess gel dripping down his face.
A hush broke out over the entire room. Angel’s well known predilection for keeping his coiffure intact had everyone on full alert status in case he overreacted with the child in his arms.
Angel tried his damnedest to keep his cool. He glowered. He growled. And in the end he just giggled. “Spike… you want spikes, huh? All right, big boy. Just remember, you asked for it.” He grabbed the child by the ankles and held him upside down, allowing the weight of the gel to pull Will’s hair into points as it dripped onto the floor.
“Plane, Daddy. Make me fly like Connor,” Will squealed, wriggling about like a little worm on a hook.
Charlotte grabbed for the boy under his armpits, laughing when Angel spun him out of her reach. “All right, all right. Enough now, you guys. Time for Lotte’s big boy to take a quick bath, and we’ll be right back for food, cake and prezzies.”
She sidled up to the grinning vampire, smiling apologetically. “I’m really sorry, Angel. I couldn’t be in two places at the same time, what with chasing after Alonna. She’s a slippery little thing.” Charlotte held out her hand for Will to jump into.
“Bye, Daddy,” he said, with a sloppy kiss to Angel’s even sloppier forehead. “I go with Lotte now.”
“Oh, no you don’t, boyo. I think it’s time we share the birthday joy with our friend Giles.” With a maniacal grin worthy of Angelus, he shoved William at the startled man, causing him to drop his gift to the floor.
Giles held the dripping child at arm’s length. “H-hello, William,” he stammered uncomfortably. “Happy birthday, lad.”
The little boy’s bright blue eyes lit up with joy. “It’s my birfday, man. I’m this many years old.” Will held up two fingers, fascinated as the gel continued to drip down his arm as it warmed to his body temperature.
Angel tried hard to restrain his laughter. He’d lose his broody credentials for sure if he burst out with the belly laugh he was trying to hold in. “That’s right, Will. And he brought you a present. Why don’t you give Giles a great big thank you hug?”
Unable to deny the little boy in his arms, Giles allowed the hug. He felt the warm goop as it dripped down his neck and into his shirt.
“I wanna go with Lotte now.” William hugged Giles again, wiping his hands on the front of his jacket. “Bye, man.”
“Um, yes. Bye now, William.” He handed the child over to Charlotte, then retrieved the present from the floor where he’d dropped it.
“Sorry, Mr. Giles. I don’t know what got into Angel.” Charlotte glared mildly at her employer. “He gets cranky when he misses his nap.” She snickered, settling Will on her hip. “You can put your gift over on the table with the others. And there are plenty of fresh towels in the bathroom so you can try to mop that stuff off with.”
With a growl, Angel stomped up the stairs – desperate to get his hair and his laughter under control.
“Those scowls don’t fool me, Mister,” Nina called up after her husband. “Ya big baby.”
Anne wiped the tears from her eyes as Alonna’s head drooped on her mama’s shoulder. “I’m still amazed that this is the same vamp who couldn’t be bothered with Will’s birthday last year. What did you threaten him with?”
Nina snickered. “It wasn’t what I threatened him with, kiddo. It was more what I promised him without. He’s still a long way from perfect, but it’s getting better. There are times when he’s genuinely fond of the boy, like just now. And then sometimes… I don’t know what it is but he’ll pull back. You can see that nothing Will does rates attention, and then they’re both miserable.”
“Well, you must be doing something right. Will’s a happy little kid and sweet as pie.” Anne shifted her now sleeping daughter into a more comfortable position. “Alonna loves her play dates here.”
“I just adore Will. After the whole ‘becoming a werewolf’ thing, I never thought I’d get to experience motherhood. He just makes me all kinds of happy.” Nina sniffed the air, then checked her watch. “Kitchen duty calls. Time to take the lasagna pans out of the oven. Lunch is about to be served.”
One year ago Buffy thanked her lucky stars for the freedom of traipsing about in the little garden – spiritually freed from her stone prison. Today it choked her as she made yet another circuit around the small enclosure.
Almost everyone she cared about was inside the hotel literally feet away from her, The open door tormented her. They could pass through and back, while she was stuck leaning up against the invisible barrier like a starving child against a pastry shop window. Buffy banged against it ineffectually. She cursed at it like a sailor on leave, using some of the more colorful phrases Spike had taught her over the years. Nobody saw or heard a thing.
Happy birthday, Spike. Two years old today and you’re still not exactly following the rules, are you? No Little Bad for you, I bet. Buffy felt an answering giggle and flushed with the imaginary warmth of the boy’s feelings.
Something brushed past her as Angel’s laughter rang throughout the room, drifting out towards Buffy through both the open door and her connection with the little boy. Looking around, there was nothing to be seen but swirling leaves, and she turned her thoughts back towards the party.
Buffy had never heard Angel laugh out loud before. Not old Broody Pants. It was a wonderful sound, and even if she’d never heard it directed at herself, at least it was aimed at William. She’d seen the changes in their relationship over the past year. Well, heard mostly, and felt the happiness of a well loved child.
She felt a sudden empathy with Spike… vampire Spike. To be unable to enter a home even with its door flung wide open. To stand on the outside and just watch – never one of the group – as she and the Scoobies had done to Spike and to a lesser extent, Anya over the years. Right now, she’d have given anything to be able to join in the festivities.
Buffy wondered what it would have been like if the thrice damned Immortal hadn’t done this to her. If she’d been able to leave him as she’d attempted. Would Angel have turned her away out of jealousy or spite? Would he have kept her away from Spike? Maybe she’d have become the weird Auntie who visited from time to time. Or, even more wiggy, she could have been Spike’s mother by now, instead of Nina.
Oh god! Changing Spike’s diapers and coming face to face with little Spike! After coming face to face with big Spike! Too wig-worthy to even think about.
As the shiver-inducing images flashed through her brain, Buffy felt it again – the strange brush of something against her incorporeal body. It sparked against her skin like static electricity.
“Who are you?” She’d not realized until the words were spoken aloud that it was indeed a ‘who,’ not a ‘what.’ Her mind had known it before she did.
A quick pivot around the garden to check for some sign of the entity there with her proved fruitless, until out of the corner of her eye, Buffy spotted a black haze duck behind her statue. It was gone by the time she got there. As if in answer to her query, her hair fanned out behind her – caught in a non-existent breeze.
“Who are you?” she repeated, more curious than frightened. A touch to her chin was accompanied by a chuckle. Still, nothing she could see, just feel. Even the laughter was more felt than heard. And yet, it was more than that. It evoked a feeling of understanding, as if it knew what she was going through. The isolation. The need to connect. Very, very strange, but not unwelcomed.
The presence felt stuffy, like the old school library. Calm and dusty, filled with the feel of ancient knowledge. It was as familiar as a second skin.
With an intuitive flash she asked: “Do I know you? Have we met before?”
More soft laughter and another brush of something at her back.
Buffy knew it couldn’t be Giles trying to contact her. After all, he was right inside with Willow. Neither one had even bothered to see if she was still standing.
Think, Buffy, think! Old, moldy paper smell, patronizing laughter…no, it couldn’t be, could it?
More laughter. This time she watched as a deck of cards materialized on the ground in front of her. They were as insubstantial as she was; grass showing right through the pack.
“What’s with the cards? It’s not like you can make a killing betting on the outcome here. Ghostie with no cash here.”
“Same here, Miss Summers.”
Buffy stood, mouth agape, as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce slowly materialized before her eyes.