As William ages, so will our banners. This new piece of art was created by banner_grab. Hmm… now to break down the chapter. Takes place a couple of days after the battle in the sewers. Several recently missing characters come out of the woodwork. Angel's been keeping a secret in the... dare we say it... basement?
Please, as always, read and comment! Our sweet muse seems to have her hands full trying to juggle all these people, but we think she’s acquitting herself nicely.
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Beloved - Chapter 10 – Playtime at the Hyperion
Buffy jogged quickly down the hallway, giggling as she passed first one child or the other. Will adored a good game of tag even if he couldn’t get the satisfaction of smacking her out. The little demon boy had finally been convinced to chase after Will even if he was unable to see her at all.
She might have been a bastion of good in the ‘olden days’ but she wasn’t above taking advantage of her latest power and poking the boys’ shoulders as she flitted by.
“You got me, Buffy,” Will squealed as he twisted his upper body in an attempt to avoid her tag. The Rumpari didn’t fare as well. He froze each time she tapped his shoulder before taking off again.
“Time to take this show on the road, buckaroos. Follow me, Will, and your friend will follow you.” Buffy headed down the main staircase, waiting patiently for the children, then headed into the kitchen and the basement stairs.
She watched Angel and his little family as they passed by. They still couldn’t see or hear her and it annoyed the hell out of her. One of these days she’d develop enough concentration to pull out the heavy books and do her own damned research. If she didn’t have an important stake in the outcome, nobody did.
Nina called out as the boys ran towards the kitchen. “Where are you off to in such a hurry, Will?”
“We’re playing tag with Buffy, Moms.”
Her eyebrow arched at the unusual moniker; she’d always been ‘Mommy’. Buffy’s name however, didn’t ruffle a feather. “Just make sure you two don’t get into any trouble,” she admonished. “Don’t touch anything in boxes, and make sure you hold onto the banister if you go up or down stairs.”
Will agreed. “We’ll be good,” he yelled, taking off with a trot and pulling his friend behind him.
Buffy met them in the kitchen at the top if the staircase. “I promise I won’t run again until you and little devil eyes gets down to the bottom.”
So much space to run in, she noted. Four years later and Buffy still couldn’t believe her good fortune at not being stuck inside that statue all the time. It almost felt like a hunt, albeit a rather lame hunt what with her being insubstantial and the little hunters being only young children. And yet, after so long, it felt good.
Will nodded, holding onto the handrail and stepping carefully. He stopped every couple of steps to see if his friend would follow after him.
The Rumpari whistled once; the high tone at the end indicating a question.
Walking back up to the top of the stairs, Will took hold of his friend’s sharp-nailed hand and they took the stairs together, one at a time.
“Is everything okay, William? We could stay upstairs if this is too much trouble,” she offered to make things easier on the youngsters. She shouldn’t have worried, though. Soon enough they were sure-footed and determined, and were soon ready for her to lead them on a merry chase again.
She played games – walking through walls every now and then – popping out to say boo and causing Will to shriek with delight. The Rumpari didn’t laugh so much as warble. It was melodic and pleasing, and Buffy reveled in the sound. It was almost easy to forget he wasn’t human, if you didn’t note the patterned scales and the pretty red eyes. As far as she was concerned these days, there couldn’t be enough laughter in the world – on either side of the fence.
Running at full tilt down a long, empty hall, Buffy made a sharp turn into what looked like a storage room… and ran smack into Wesley. The resulting collision shocked them both.
Buffy was up on her feet first, reaching down to help an incredulous Wesley up from the floor. “Wes?” she murmured, touching his face in awe. “What is this? Are you unghostified? Am I free?”
Patting down her body, she was immensely glad that she’d figured out how to manifest fully dressed. The naked thing turned out to be rather inconvenient when a child could see you. Not to mention her ex-Watcher. Showing off her goodies was so not on her list of things to do.
“I – I don’t know. It’s just so odd to be feeling anything after all this time.” Pointing to a large stone sarcophagus leaning against the wall, he whispered: “I do believe it has something to do with this.”
The pitter-patter of thundering kiddy feet broke into their reverie.
“Tag, Buffy,” Will shouted, poking at her backside with his fingers. “Oh!” The look of shock on the boy’s face was priceless as he realized he’d made contact with her solid tush.
The Rumpari started to trill excitedly, and reached out to touch her. He shook his head up and down, acknowledging that Will had been seeing her all along.
Buffy knelt down on the floor, gathering first the demon youngster in an embrace, and then scooped Will up into her arms, amazed that her body parts didn’t pass right through the children.
“Oh, Spike,” she murmured, nuzzling into the little boy’s neck, somewhat surprised and saddened at the lack of leather and smoke she half expected to scent, so attached in her mind to the vampire he used to be. “My sweet Will.”
Wesley, however was in no mood for this reunion. “I really think you need to send the children to safety, Buffy. We need to talk. Now. And alone, if you don’t mind.”
“About what?” She wasn’t willing to let go of the boy. Holding him in her arms felt so right.
“Pretty gold-hair Buffy.” Will smiled, running his hands through the silk of her long hair. “I tagged you good!”
“Yes you did, cutie pie… but as much as I don’t want to let you go, I think you and your friend need to go back upstairs. Go find Mommy and Daddy. Wes and I will come find you as soon as we can, ‘kay?”
Will nodded without argument, letting Buffy herd them both towards the stairs. He hugged her tightly before she swatted him on the butt and watched them climb upwards. “Hurry back, Buffy,” he called before closing the door to the basement behind him.
With a sigh, Buffy retraced her steps to the storage room and Wesley, who laid against the sarcophagus, his ear pressed to the surface as if listening for something.
“So, ex-Watcherman-ghostie… what’s the sitch with the stone box here?”
Paying her no mind, Wes hummed quietly into the stone, giving Buffy pause. Could he be nuts?
“Wes, you’re scaring me. What’s going on with that stone thing? Is it another Acathla? ‘Cause I’ve been there, done that and I’m really out of practice sending people I care about to hell with sharp, pointy things.”
“She’s lost, you know,” Wes whispered. “All of her is gone.”
“Who’s lost?” Buffy’s expression softened, resting her arm around his waist. She’d never take the comfort of physical touch for granted again. “Do you know whose coffin this is?”
“She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face,” he began to speak. “It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time.”
Buffy stood still, staring at him as he recited the words with obviously restrained emotion. She recognized the beginning of The Little Princess right away. Most people would be surprised to know how much she’d enjoyed reading as a young girl… before the mantle of Slayerhood swallowed her life.
“Please, Wes. Talk to me,” she begged. “Was she a little girl? How did she die? Who was she to you? Was she your daughter?” There was so much about the man she didn’t know.
“She was the most beautiful being in the world, both inside and out,” he whispered as he stood up and backed away from the cold stone coffin. “Her kindness noted by anyone she had dealings with… even your vampires.” His voice turned cold, and emotionless. “And then she was gone.”
Not always the sharpest crayon in the box, Buffy had a flash of intuition. “Oh! Was this the woman Angel called Giles about helping?”
“And was turned down flat over.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t find out about this until way later, from Davide… um, the Immortal.” Buffy hung her head in shame. “We didn’t find out until it was too late that he’d been hiding information from us all… enthralling top members of the Council to further his personal agendas.”
Davide had told her not to get sucked into Angel’s games. Not to listen to his lies. Right now, she wondered why she ever listened to him in the first place.
Wes laughed aloud… a bitter, ugly sound that sent shivers down her spine.
“No longer matters, does it? She’s lost to us now. Lost to the Old One most child-like.”
Buffy worried for the man… for the ghost. She might be able to touch him now, yet he’d never felt as empty or hollow as he did right now. Like a shell.
“What are you talking about? Look, Wes,” she tried to reason. “I don’t mean to be an insensitive bitch here, but I don’t know how long we’re gonna be solid, or visible. Maybe we should go upstairs and talk to Angel about…”
“Can you feel it, Buffy?” Wes murmured. “It radiates from the stone in waves – the power is still inside.”
“What power?” she asked, even as she began to sense… something. An aversion. A fear. As if she were faced with the very thing she’d been created to go up against.
She ran her hand over the lid, pausing over one of the embedded stones. Before she could touch it, however, Wesley grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the sarcophagus.
“Don’t touch it,” he yelled, panic edging his voice. “I-I don’t know what it’ll do this time.”
Huh? This time? What did it do last time?”
“This was the not-so-final resting place of Illyria, the God-King,” he choked out, voice as rough as cut glass. “It infected Winnifred Burkle – Fred, killing her from the inside by hollowing her out and taking over her body.”
He laughed again – a wet, sickly sound. As if it was his pain’s way of escaping.
“And then it walked around, wearing her face, using her voice… her hands. A mockery of all that I loved, and I couldn’t do anything but follow her to hell. Because it was her. And it wasn’t.”
Angelus! flashed through Buffy’s mind and she caught his stare. In that one brief moment, she and Wesley bonded irrevocably. Though Buffy’d gotten lucky and had her once forever love returned intact, she remembered what it was like seeing that bastard run around town wearing her beloved’s face.
“I’m sorry, Wes. I know words don’t… they aren’t… I guess we put our faith in the wrong people,” she finished lamely.
“And that’s supposed to make it better?” Wes’ quiet rage felt like a smack across her face. Calm and disturbing as hell. “She was the best of us. The best…”
They stood together, silently, until the lack of sound grew too heavy to bear.
“Again with the being insensitive… but if you died fighting the good fight, which I assume that LA mess was with the evil empire, then why are you still here? How come you haven’t you moved on?”
Tears slid down Buffy’s cheeks as she watched her companion shudder with the weight of his grief. There was nothing she could offer this man. Nothing that would ever make it better for him. Just empty words, but it was all she had.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Wesley. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. It sounds like the world lost a good woman.”
“I don’t know why I’m still here, Miss Summers,” Wes allowed, reverting to his stiff and proper patterns hearkening back to their first meeting.
“Cut the ‘Miss Summer’ shit, Mr. I used to be so important I had two last names. We’ve come too far for that. As for why we’re both here… why we can see and talk to each other? I’m just grateful for the company. You saved me from going mad.”
“I know,” he said, dismissively.
“No, you don’t know. Not if you think that I’ll let you just leave me before we’ve talked this all out. I’m sorry. I don’t want to have to hurt you. I just need to know why a good man such as you didn’t move on to heaven. I mean, I’ve been there, and…”
“Not good enough,” he mumbled, unable to meet her eyes. “I’ve done some horrible things in my past and apparently been judged not worthy of being granted that final rest.”
Buffy’s laugh was sharp and loud. “You’ve got to be better than me, bucko. I boinked the soul out of a vampire, and still managed to make it into heaven. What could you have possibly done that’s so bad?” At his silence, Buffy pushed harder. “Tell me,” she insisted, knowing by now what a driving factor guilt could be. Dealing with Spike taught her that – on both sides of the equation.
“Oh, Miss… um, Buffy. The things I did. I meant well, truly I did. I loved… felt things… for Angel. He was my friend. My father. My mentor. I would have done anything to keep him from pain. Bloody prophesies,” he growled, banging his fist against the wall.
“I-I stole his son. Kidnapped Connor from right under his nose and lied to everyone in order to pull it off.”
“Why, Wes? You must have had a very convincing reason to steal his baby.”
“There was this prophesy…”
Buffy snorted her displeasure. “When isn’t there a prophesy? And we all know how well they turn out. Sorry,” she demurred.
“No, you’re quite right. And I was a bit more arrogant in those days; more trusting of ancient scrolls.” His hands fluttered with agitation, unable to stay still as he recalled the most horrid period of his life. “It was falsified… The father will kill the son. A total manipulation by a time hopping demon with a personal grudge against Angel. I was willing to risk Angel’s wrath and hatred to keep him from the agony of killing his child.”
“You tried to do the right thing, Wes. The Watcher way.” She remembered Giles – the way he’d gone behind her back trying to kill Spike – also for her own good.
Wes shook his head. “No, sweet girl. I tried to be his friend. He repaid me by trying to strangle me in my hospital bed. As thanks for trying to save the child and his father, I had my throat slit and nearly bled out in the park.”
“Verbose, aren’t we?”
Buffy laughed, trying to shake off the dread she felt. “How about we head up to see Angel? You may be dead, and God only knows what I am, but I’m not gonna let that stop either of us.”
Halfway up the stair she felt faint. Her body twisted as she stumbled up the stairs. “Oh, damn,” she muttered as her hand sank into the handrail. Whatever clemency she’d – they’d – been granted had been repealed.