The tale of William’s second birthday continues, and for the first time, there’s a hint about The Immortal’s beginnings and his dastardly deeds regarding Buffy. liliaeth and I hope you enjoy this next chapter of Beloved. Please, as always, read and comment! The collection box is all wrapped up in shiny new paper for your thoughts. **smiles**
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
Full-sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut.
Beloved – Chapter 7 – On the Right Path
Everyone gathered around for a slice of birthday cake. There were two to choose from; apparently Nina felt sorry for her beleaguered, outvoted at every turn husband, and bought a sheet cake decorated like a National Hockey League rink, complete with plastic nets, licorice ice markings, marzipan players, and the Oreo hockey pucks he’d seemed so fond of.
Will and Alonna sat in their respective high chairs, side-by-side, impatiently awaiting their treat. Angel brought over both pieces, laden with shaggy blue ‘fur.’ While Alonna drew delicate patterns with her fingers in the gooey icing, Will attacked his piece with gusto in the typical two year old fashion – face first.
Angel slowly bit the head off one of the goalies as he watched the children. Even though most of the other guests were content to take chunks out of Cookie Monster, he didn’t mind. It left more of the other cake for him. Chocolate with whipped cream frosting. Ever since their wedding, Angel had developed a taste for it. Might have been the way Nina fed him their wedding cake in bed that revitalized his interest in human food.
Unable to keep his distance from the undeniably cute sight of his son and frosting, Angel knelt in front of Will, scooping up a dollop of the rapidly melting sugar. “Have you seen the cake monster, Will?” he teased, waving his finger in front of the boy’s face.
“Me! I be cake monster,” Will shrieked, grabbing his father’s finger with both hands and bringing it to his mouth. “I eat you up.” He bit down hard, surprising Angel with just how strong his jaws were. He wasn’t really hurt, nor had Will broken skin… but Angel promised himself he’d speak to the boy about not biting in the future. It was an ironic bit of, well… irony.
Will brought his hands down on the food tray with a splat, sending cake crumbs and frosting globs everywhere, including Angel’s head.
Several flashes went off, capturing yet another moment for posterity.
“Geeze, kid. That’s the second time today you’ve messed with the hair. What’d I ever do to you?” One look into the bright blue eyes before him had Angel turning away first.
Nina sidled close to the highchair, kneeling down to lick a dot of icing off of Angel’s temple. She’d cut a slice of the hockey cake, and brought a forkful up to her husband’s mouth. He turned it around, slipping the bite of cake between her lips, instead. Gods, how he loved to watch his woman swallow…
A quick dab of her lips with the washcloth she’d brought for William to remove the cake crumbs, Nina winked at her husband and busied herself with cleaning off her boy’s hands and face, leaving Alonna to her mother’s tender ministrations.
“Time for presents, little man. Are you ready?”
He wriggled down from the seat, running over to the gift table without uttering a single word.
Angel smiled, secretly proud of himself. He’d been awaiting this moment for months. All the hours he’d spent looking for the most popular toy for little boys were about to pay off. Not even Nina knew what he’d decided on. He pulled the large box out from under the table and set it before his son, tearing a little corner of the paper to make it easier to open.
Will didn’t disappoint. He wasted no time in decimating the pretty paper to reveal a child sized battery operated Hummer Ride On car.
With a deft bit of maneuvering, Angel lifted the already assembled car from the box and set the boy inside, buckling the seat belt and showing him how to turn on the ignition.
“Mama!” Will’s frightened wails drowned out the sound of the car’s motor, followed by a loud chorus of ‘awwwwws’ from their audience.
Angel dropped to his knees trying to soothe the boy, but no amount of coddling would keep Will in the car. He maneuvered himself out of the seatbelt and launched himself at Nina, wiping his tears away with the back of his hands.
“It’s okay, sweetie.” Nina soothed her husband’s ruffled feathers. “Some kids are afraid of little stuffed animals. I’m sure Will’ll be tearing around the lobby in no time at all.” She turned to her son, brushing away the last of his tears. “All right, sunshine. Show Mama which present you want to open next.”
Safe in his mother’s arms, Will reached for a gift hastily wrapped in model airplane paper. Ripping off the card he laid waste to the thin paper.
“Look, Mama.” He waved the stuffed animal in her face. “A bear and hat and coat.”
“His name is Paddington Bear, Will. And he’s got a lovely red hat and a shiny blue rain coat. Almost like your yellow slicker.” She read the card to see who the gift was from. “That was very kind of you, Rupert. It looks like he’s taken quite a shine to old Paddington already.”
Sure enough, William held the bear tightly to his chest, Eyes closed, lips murmuring endearments, it looked as if he were communing with the thing, and it didn’t please Angel one bit.
“All right, boyo,” Angel practically growled with resentment that Giles’ obviously last minute gift was so well received and his own diligently researched present was left on the sidelines. And feared. “Give Daddy the bear and let’s open another…”
“My bear, Daddy. Paddy bear wants to help.”
Angel couldn’t help hearing the self-satisfied snerk from the Watcher. Vampire hearing wasn’t always a blessing. When he looked up, however, Giles’ face was the very picture of composure; no hint of mockery to be seen.
Gruffly, he dug into the pile and shoved the next gift into Will’s free hand. A little help from Nina and Charlotte’s gift of toddler sized crayons and several pads of paper were applauded by their friends. Will clapped Paddington’s hands together in imitation.
Present after present was treated in the same manner. A red cable knit sweater and a pair of Oskosh b’Gosh overalls from Willow were summarily tossed over his shoulder as he clung to the bear. Interest in the Weeble Fortress from Anne and Gunn lasted a little longer as he showed the roly poly figures to the bear, and made Paddington inspect the building, itself. A farm set of toddler Lego’s from Alonna had Will making animal sounds as he paraded the figurines in the air. At no time did he let Paddington go. Not even when faced with big brother Connor’s gift – a four foot tall stuffed beast of undetermined origin.
Selfishly mollified at the short shrift the other presents received, Angel huffed as the last of the garbage was picked up and stuffed into a trash bag before putting the children back down on the floor.
“Don’t take on so, Angel. He’s just a little boy,” Nina murmured to her husband as Will held out the bear to Alonna and made growly sounds. “Most kids his age would have shown as much interest in the box as he’s showing towards the bear. At least you didn’t come in second to a bit of cardboard.” She grinned, nudging him gently in the ribs.
“Not helping, Nina,” he growled as he slipped his arms around her waist. With a gentle nip to her earlobe, Angel allowed himself to relax back into the party mode he’d tried to engender earlier. “I’m not upset. Much.”
“You’re acting like a big old grizzly beaten to the honey tree,” she snickered, her face aglow with adoration.
“You know I love you, right?” Angel tipped his wife’s chin up, seeing the love in her eyes. “I know I don’t say it often enough, but I cherish you. I, Liam Dowell, love you, Nina Dowell, with all my heart.”
“That’s Nina Ash-Dowell,” she corrected gently. “And I love you, too.”
He grumbled, before kissing the crown of her head. “Modern women.”
“Seventeenth century men,” she whispered back.
“Eighteenth century, if you please! Don’t make me old before my time.”
Their little love-fest was interrupted by Will.
“Gonna show Paddy bear to Buffy lady,” he shouted. “Her not be alone.” Will headed towards the garden door, Paddington gripped firmly in his arms. He climbed onto the base of the statue to show off the bear, only to scramble back down with a puzzled look on his face.
Angel watched from the door, an overhang providing the smallest bit of protection from the sun. He was glad there were plenty of other people to rush out after the boy at the slightest sign of danger. Worried about his son’s baffled expression, Angel made ready to call him back inside when he did the strangest thing.
Will sat down in the middle of the garden, holding out the damned bear and started talking – into the air. Then he turned slightly to the left and held out his hand as if to shake someone else’s.
Is the kid cracked? Having hallucinations? Angel worried, calling Nina over to check out the situation.
“Don’t be such a worry-wort, Angel. Imaginary friends are healthy.” She patted him on the behind, before heading back to their friends.
“Maybe,” he muttered. “And maybe he’s seeing spirits.” Tales of Boggarts and dark elves from his childhood made him shiver, and more alert, yet he could see nothing unusual in the garden near the boy.
Angel knew he was being foolish. Just because he was a vampire married to a werewolf, raising his former grandchilde as his now human son didn’t mean he always had to be on the lookout for the strangest possible explanations.
He heard the dry, hated tone of his Council enforced nemesis enter the building and called to his boy. “C’mon, Will. Time to go play with Alonna and join the rest of your guests.”
Will ran up to him, still holding the bear. He wouldn’t let go of it at any time, even as Hugh gave the boy a small toddler’s heavyboard book of London’s landmarks. He watched dispassionately as Alonna played with his new toys without protest. Will clung to it as Nina and Anne shepherded both children over to an air mattress in a quiet part of the lobby for a nap.
At Angel’s menacing glower, Hugh retreated to his desk. Charlotte mirrored his attitude with a frown of her own.
“Don’t you think it’s time you stopped this nonsense, Angel? The poor man’s been here for a year and you’re still treating him like a pariah.”
“I don’t want him here. I never wanted him here. And he hasn’t been of any help in the entire year he’s been here,” Angel growled. “…except to be the Council’s spy.”
Charlotte backed away slowly. This was the first time her boss… her friend… had raised his voice to her in anger, even though it had been directed at someone else.
“I-I’m sorry.” Angel backtracked quickly. He felt as bitchy as Cordelia at her finest. “I didn’t mean to yell at you, Charlotte.”
“It’s not me you need to apologize to, Angel. Hugh might be able to do his job better, if you’d stop handicapping him and give him access to the books he needs.” She looked over at Hugh, sitting with his head in his hands, trying to make himself as small as possible without leaving. “Then he wouldn’t have to have his sister ship him books all the way from England.”
Giles appeared at Angel’s shoulder. “I take it there have been no changes with Buffy? And nothing new with research into her predicament?”
“No thanks to Mr. King of the Castle, here,” Charlotte snorted, walking back towards the party.
Hugh rose, looking as if he were about to say something, but was cut off by a wave of Angel’s hand.
“No. Things are still status quo.”
This time Hugh ignored the evil glare and stood firm, pushing away from his desk. “No! That’s not quite true. I told both of you that I’d found something about the Immortal’s origins and neither one of you has bothered to respond or investigate it further.”
“You what? I’ve heard no such thing!” Giles insisted, whipping off his glasses in agitation.
“But I sent you both emails.” Hugh looked genuinely disturbed. “Don’t you both check it on a daily basis?”
Giles huffed. “Of course I check my email.” He turned to the computer on Hugh’s desk, logged on and checked his account. “See? Not a single email from you.”
Angel smirked when it was clear there was no such email on the docket. There were several emails touting the benefits of Viagra and enlarging your penis, however.
“This is the only place you looked?” Hugh shook his head in disgust. Edging past the elder Watcher, he maneuvered the mouse and clicked on the Bulk Mail folder, Sure enough… sitting amongst even more emails declaring they could save your sagging sex life, was one from firstname.lastname@example.org, dated two weeks prior.
“Sometimes mail gets shifted to the Bulk folder,” he explained with infuriating calm. That’s where ads and unsolicited emails usually end up. And sometimes,” he pointed out with relish. “Sometimes things get sent there in error. You have to check both your Inbox and Bulk folders.”
Giles stared at the computer, looking for all the world as if he wanted to take a sledgehammer to the plastic casing. “Blast these infernal machines. Whatever happened to the bloody post?”
Once again, Angel smiled as Giles dressed down his least favorite person.
“For heaven’s sake, man. Haven’t you heard of telephones? For something as important as this, you should have pulled Angel out of his bloody bed!”
“Hey!” The vampire in question was no longer amused.
“Yes, I have heard of telephones,” Hugh said. “But I’ve also heard of wire taps and even computer hackers. The Immortal is a cagey creature and not adverse to using the modern tools of daily living to further his own agendas. The email I sent was merely to set up a meeting. The Immortal cannot find out we know of his true background. He’s killed before to keep it from becoming common knowledge, and it’s only with the purest of luck and the diligence of my sister hunting around in private archives that we were able to find it.”
“Why the hell didn’t you give me this information directly?” Angel growled.
“Because for the last three weeks, as you’ve done for the past year I’ve been here, you’ve avoided me. And not just because of your wedding and honeymoon, or even the little boy’s birthday. You can’t even stand to be in the same room with me. This whole working together wasn’t my ideal posting either, but I’d discovered the first break in the case, and couldn’t get close enough to let you know.” Hugh’s shoulders sagged with the understanding that he’d once more failed at his task. “I emailed you, as well,” he whispered softly.
Giles rested his hands on the man’s desk, looking directly into his eyes. “Well, rest assured that we’re both listening now. What did you find out?”
“I take it you’ve heard of Michaelangelo Buonarroti? Arguably one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance age until his death on February 18th, 1564. Also, a well-known lover of men. Legend has it that he created a statue for his own pleasure; one so stunning that even he could not keep his eyes from its perfection. In his later years he declined commissions, sometimes quite rudely or created sculptures with a less than flattering eye. He angered one such potential patron – a local woman of means who fancied herself a great beauty.”
“Get to the point already, will you?” Though he knew the information was important, Angel was furious that it intruded upon his son’s birthday. His annoyance with Hugh grew with each passing moment, and he barely managed to keep his gameface in check.
“Michaelangelo got as far as sketching the woman prior to sculpting. The lady was so displeased she accused him of hating women in general, and dishonoring her. All but one of the sketches were destroyed in a mysterious fire. She raged around the village for weeks to any and all that would listen to her, trying to turn away the rest of the master’s commissions.”
“One day the woman disappeared, and Michaelangelo began to keep company with an extraordinarily handsome man. It’s not known how long their relationship lasted. After the master’s death a statue of the missing woman was found in his workshop closet. She, herself, had never returned to her family. The infamous statue that had so captured Michaelangelo’s heart was never found, but there were rumors. Some say the scorned patron called for vengeance before she vanished.”
“So the bastard’s done this before…… and probably many times throughout his history. Is there no word on how to reverse this? Any mention of a vengeance demon granting the wish responsible?”
“Indeed, sir. One I’m sure you’re familiar with. The patron saint of scorned women, known as…”
“Anyanka,” Giles whispered. “Good Lord, I’d forgotten how long she’d been around.”
“The nature of the wish was unknown, but it’d been said that the sculptor’s beloved statue still walks. What does not live, cannot die. They say it is immortal. The Immortal.”
“And we’re just supposed to take your word for this?” Angel fumed. “An entire year that had the Council working its finest Watchers to the bone, and you come up with the only clue? You and your sister? Who the hell is she, and why do you have her messing around in things that don’t concern her? Why am I hard-pressed to believe a word out of your mouth?”
“Angel, please calm down,” said Giles, in an obvious effort to knock back the volatile situation. “We may be one step closer to finding Buffy’s freedom if you’ll give the lad a bloody chance. And as for whom Lydia Chalmers is…”
The vampire closed his eyes, a headache of massive proportions threatened to overwhelm him. “Don’t tell me she’s the twit who wrote that paper on William the Bloody? Spike told me about it and all its misinformation during one of his more spectacular drunken binges.” He turned to Hugh, shaking his head from side to side. “And this is the crack team I’m supposed to put my faith in for answers?”
Giles took pity on the young man, and answered for him. “It doesn’t matter who was responsible, or even how the information was found., Angel. The demon who caused this – who apparently created The Immortal – that demon is dead. She died in the battle against The First on the Hellmouth three years ago. She was… a friend. Her name was Anya.”
That stopped Angel in his tracks. The sorrow in the Watcher’s voice was palpable. “How about another vengeance demon? Or why not go straight to the top and get the big guy… what’s his name?” For an insane moment, Angel could hear Buffy’s voice in his ear, with her fractured California-speak calling him Dorito. “D’Hoffryn, I believe is his name.”
“Out of luck there, too, Angel. Buffy slayed D’Hoffryn with The Immortal’s help some two and a half years ago.” Giles shook his head with new understanding. “Right after she met him, The Immortal brought her evidence of D’Hoffryn’s foul intentions towards humans – he would play an increased part in their torment. – so he helped her take to demon out. My God, we should have known something was wrong.”
“And I’m just finding this out now, Giles? This could have been important!”
Giles sneered, as unnervingly arrogant as Angelus at his best. “First and foremost, we don’t answer to you, Angel. I didn’t think it was important. He helped Buffy fight many demons over the course of their relationship. It’s how he gained her trust in the first place. How he wormed his way into our inner circle. I didn’t even think he could be as foul and manipulating as…”
“Like you never told me about Spike fighting all those years with you, or that debilitating chip. Geeze, Rupert. You hoard all this news to yourself and then wonder why it comes back to bite you on the ass.”
“And then, after I finally… finally get used to having Spike here with me…”
“Daddy! Paddy bear play computer now?” William appeared by Angel’s side, pulling on his pants leg to gain his attention; surprising him.
“Weren’t you supposed to be sleeping?” Angel let out a mock sigh, ruffling the boy’s hair affectionately.
“Too much noise. Wanna play now.”
“Daddy’s busy, Will. Can’t you go play with Charlotte?”
Will pouted and stamped his foot. “No Lotte. Wanna play here. Show Paddy bear the computer. Now!”
Angel rolled his eyes. “Did anyone ever tell you what a pain in the ass you were boyo? Go away and find your Mama and let me do what I have to.”
The pout on the child’s face was so familiar; almost as if he’d refused to give Spike the keys to the old Viper. Those beautiful blue eyes were the same that kept the young fledgling from being dusted a hundred times over back in the day of the Scourge of Europe.
“Really, Angel,” Giles admonished gently. “He’s just a little boy. If he’s that much trouble for you, I can always take him back with me to England, where I’m sure…”
“You don’t dare lay a hand on him!” Angel hadn’t realized he’d dropped his human mask until he saw the two Watchers backing off. He hadn’t realized he’d been shouting until he saw Will cringing at his feet. He quickly pulled the boy into his embrace. Hugging him. Protecting him. Remembering…