This chapter takes place about two months after the previous chapter. William is still 17, Alonna is 16, Benjamin is 13, CJ is 11, and Bethany is 12. The big day has arrived at last, and Will is pampered by his parents Of course, Buffy keeps a well-practiced eye on him.
Please, as always, read and comment! Buffy!Muse is doing her part to work towards the end of this story, and we’re gonna do everything we can to help her.
Feedback is always welcomed.
Goddess bless Willa, my first and foremost mentor, gillo, for reminding me that she’s they hyphen queen, celesteavonne for always being eager to read through each new piece of the puzzle, and just_sue for always supplying a ready ear.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go to my Live Journal Here or to simply_beloved: chapter 1.
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Beloved – Interlude 34/35
The early morning light actually woke Will from his slumber for a change, about ten minutes before his alarm had been set to go off. With a full-body stretch that cracked several vertebrae in his back and neck, he unsettled Oreo from her spot on his belly. She was about four years old now, a large, stuffed pillow of a cat who enjoyed sharing his body heat as he slept.
“Don’t give me that face, fat cat,” he said fondly, ruffling the fur along her back. “Today’s a big day for me – I’m graduating from high school!”
Oreo meowed twice, loudly, and bumped her head against Will’s chin.
“That’s my sweet girl,” he said, fingers paying homage to her furry throat, feeling the deep vibrations of her purrs. If this were any other day, he’d be content to stay in bed with Oreo. Cuddling with her made him mellow and sleepy. But… it wasn’t any other day, it was Graduation Day and he had things to do before the ceremony.
A nice, leisurely shower came first, followed by the ritual of blow-drying the curls until they behaved and lay somewhat flat. Comfy black jeans and a royal blue button-down shirt made up his outfit for the day. It really didn’t matter, since his clothes would be covered with the long, navy robe. The matching mortarboard had a navy and white tassel.
He started at the knock on his door and smiled when Mom peeked her head in.
“My goodness, you are a handsome sight,” she said, watching as he held the robe up against his body. “I’m so proud of you.”
“Dunno why,” Will answered with a self-deprecating smile. “I missed Valedictorian by a mile.”
“First of all, it was only by a few grade points,” Nina defended. “Secondly, my pride has nothing to do with your standing in your class. You’re my son, and you’ve survived so much, not to mention high school, itself. How could I not be proud of you?”
Will couldn’t deny the light shining in his mother’s eyes. She was happy… for him. In a rare move these days, he put down the graduation robe and grabbed Nina around the waist, hugging her tightly. “I love you, Mom,” he murmured, before kissing her on the cheek.
“I love you, too, baby,” she said, returning his kiss with one of her own. “Now, how about something special for breakfast? A cheese omelet? Apple pancakes? Blood pudding?”
“Very funny, Mom.” Will smiled. He still needed to take his supplemental blood, but it was down to once a week now instead of three times a day as it had been when he was younger. He was much more at ease with himself than he was way back then; at least enough to joke about it now without tasting the bile of self-hatred. “Apple pancakes sound wonderful. With plenty of cinnamon?”
“Of course. Is there any other way to make them?”
Fifteen minutes later found Will at the kitchen table, devouring a huge stack of apple pancakes, sweet breakfast sausage, orange juice, and a tall glass of milk.
“Hey, boyo,” said Angel as he entered the kitchen, hair still wet from showering after a long night’s patrol. “Are ya nervous about tonight?”
“Are you kidding me?” Will’s eyes opened wide over his plate as he finished stuffing the last of the pancakes into his mouth. “What’s left to be nervous about? Classes are finished, all the grades have been registered, college acceptance letters have been received. No more surprises!”
Angel turned to Nina and smiled, a move not unnoticed by Will.
“Da-ad… what did you do?”
“Who me?” Angel held his hands up in a conciliatory manner. “Now your mother, on the other hand…”
Nina thwapped the back of Angel’s head with a dishtowel. “Thanks, Angel,” was all she said.
Angel looked at Will in such a way, that he knew his father was preparing to say something ‘deep’. Remembering how Buffy called it his constipated look, Will had to stifle a chuckle.
“All right, all right,” Angel conceded. “Since I’ve already let most of the cat out of the bag, we might as well show you your graduation present just a little bit early.”
Will followed his parents, his breath quickening as they entered the garage. Angel and Nina stepped apart, showing Will a bright, shiny red convertible with a black leather interior.
“The car isn’t new, son,” Angel began, watching Will’s reaction warily. “But a mechanic I saved from several P’tyon demons was willing to do me a favor. It’s totally refurbished and the engine purrs like a kitten.”
Will wasn’t paying any attention to his father. He ran his hands over the car’s exterior lovingly, kneaded the soft, supple leather seats and took a deep breath of new car smell. “This is the best present ever!” Will declared, torn between hugging his parents and keeping his hands on the car. The sound of jingling keys made his mind up for him, and he snagged them from his mother’s fingers.
“The red must have been your choice, Mom,” Will said, kissing Nina on the cheek. “If it were up to Dad, I’m sure it would have been black, like his.”
“Hey! Black is good,” Angel defended.
Nodding, Will gave his father a teen’s regulation “there, there, you’re not old and out of step with reality” look. “Thanks, Dad. This…” he said, pointing to the car, “is totally beyond anything I expected.” He gave him one of those manly hugs, slapping his father on the back.
Angel grasped Will’s biceps and held him at arm’s length. And here it comes… the deep! “I wish I had the words for this… to tell you what this means to me. What you mean to me.” The look in his father’s eyes was over-bright and intensely focused. “You know I never got the chance to raise your brother from infancy, right?”
“I was sure that was it – my one and only shot at being a father. And then there was the fight with the Black Thorn. I lost almost all of my friends and never expected to survive. But I did… and then there was you. It was hard, having known Spike for so long and basically losing him like the others. I didn’t see you for so long. But your Mom helped. I lost my heart to you, boyo.”
“Aw, Dad. Now you’re just being girly.”
“It’s my right, Will. You changed me, for the better. Learning new tricks wasn’t easy for an old vampire. You taught me how to live in the now, not the past.”
“Even with my obsession about my – Spike’s – past?”
“Especially with. You’re Spike, reborn. All bright, shiny and new, with none of his past sins on your shoulders. Proud doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about you, son.”
Will couldn’t push any words past the lump in his throat. He simply thumped his dad on the back again and stepped towards the car.
Angel’s arms encircled his wife’s waist and they walked out of the garage, leaving their son with his graduation present and his thoughts.
He wasn’t alone for long.
“Wanna go for a spin, big guy?”
Will turned, a smile on his face. “Buffy! I was wondering if you’d show up.”
“I waited until your folks left. I can’t believe the change in Angel,” she marveled, shaking her head. “In all the time I’d known him, he was never as open with his feelings as he just was with you. You’ve been so good for him. Your mom, too, of course.”
“We don’t usually get so touchy-feely, you know. It’s just today…”
“I know. Today you graduate from High School!” Buffy laughed, ghosting her hand over Will’s on the car’s door frame. “At least you don’t have to blow up your school like I did.”
“Really? I’m so impressed.”
“I wasn’t an anarchist, or anything. The Mayor turned into a giant snake demon, and it was the only way to kill him. My friends and I loaded tons of dynamite into the library and I made Mr. Snakey follow me through the halls until…”
“I always knew a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.” Will smirked and Buffy was taken aback for a moment.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. I mean, I always knew who you were. I should have realized that as you grew up, you’d look more and more like the… William… I knew. It’s different actually seeing it on you – that smirk was just classic Spike.”
“Funny you should say that – my ex-therapist, Lorne, said pretty much the same thing. I’d sort of put it out of my mind, too. I saw film of Spike in his heyday when I was a kid, and thanks to Illyria, got treated to the Spike and Buffy movie, but I never put two and two together about my face before. Even though I see myself in the mirror every morning.”
“But it doesn’t make you him,” Buffy insisted. “You’ve made yourself your own man, Will. Don’t forget, I knew Spike… probably as well as any human ever knew a vampire. I knew his bad side and his good side. While you have physical similarities, of course, you’ve had an entirely different upbringing. William Pratt was born in the Victorian era. His sensibilities are not yours, no matter how well he adapted to the different time periods he lived through.”
“I have to ask you something, Buffy… and there’s no easy way to do it.”
“Just go for it. It’s not like we haven’t dealt with the hard things before.”
Will nodded. “When you look at me, who do you see?”
Swallowing hard, Buffy looked him straight in the eyes. “I see William Matthew Jamison Dowell.”
“Aren’t you forgetting the Pratt? The part of me that’s Spike?” Will’s hands curled into fists at his side, anxiety riddled his face.
“I will never forget Spike as long as I live, Will. He deserves to be remembered for being the most unique vampire ever to walk the earth, among other things. And yes, you have his face, and his body – though I think you’re actually a little taller already – but I’ve watched you grow up from a baby to a young man, and I think I know you better than I ever knew Spike.”
Eyebrow cocked, Will silently challenged her to be more specific.
“I know you like peppermint ice cream, especially around Christmas time and I know that you wear silk boxers because they breathe.” Will blushed, but she went on without missing a beat. “You put yourself out there for your friends, and you put poetry to music when you write love songs. You get off on playing with your band, but have a hard time with the admiration that comes with it.”
His eyebrow crawled almost to his hairline, and Will felt somewhat discomfited. He did ask, however, and he nodded his head for her to continue.
“Your favorite color switches on and off from red to blue. If you could eat anything you wanted, you’d have chicken cutlet parmesan with fettuccini alfredo. You’re not fond of any kind of math, but English and reading warms your soul. You’ve got a terrific sense of right and wrong, and understanding for the grey area. You…”
“Okay, okay!” Will couldn’t take any more. “So you look at me and actually see me, not Spike, I get it. I can’t help what I look like, and I’ll just have to deal with the fact that I wear your dead lover’s face.”
“That’s a little harsh, isn’t it?”
“It’s the truth, Buffy. I’ve had to come to terms with being the physical embodiment of Spike the vampire. And I won’t deny you your memories. It’s just good to know I don’t have to worry about competing with myself.”
“Oh, Will,” Buffy murmured. “I wish I could hug you and let you know how much I adore you. I love you on so many different levels. The fact that I’ve learned to actually say the words means I haven’t spent all this time in limbo for nothing. I’m still hoping that one day I’ll actually be free to be with you.”
“It’s what I want more than anything in the world, Buffy. Aunt Dawn and Uncle Hugh are still heavy into research and talk with Grandpa Giles all the time. They’re really trying hard. With any luck, it’ll be before I’m back in diapers.”
“Don’t you say the sweetest things?” Buffy laughed.
“I do my best, ma’am. And now it’s time for me to head out to school and practice for this evening’s ceremony. Will you be there?”
“If I had my way, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll talk to you later tonight. Have fun – and remember… no destruction of school property.”
Will smiled, and headed inside the house.
The hall was warm and buzzing with the chatter of the hundreds of people in attendance. Lorne was already seated when everyone arrived, and was greeted with delight and warm embraces from Gunn. He was wearing a beige suit with a peacock blue shirt, and his horns were covered with a jaunty hat perched rakishly on his head. Dark glasses completed his camouflage. Most people didn’t look long enough at him to notice his emerald-green skin.
“Cutting it a little bit close, aren’t you, Angelcakes?” Lorne handed copies of the program to both Angel and Nina as they sat beside him. “They’re about to start the processional.”
Sure enough, they’d barely settled in their seats when the first stirring notes of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance were played by the student orchestra on stage. Students began to walk down the three aisles in the auditorium, straight-backed and proud, uniform in their navy-blue gowns and mortarboards. There were serious faces and smiles; some waved as they spotted their parents.
“Someone poke me when you spot Will,” Nina asked, holding the camcorder steady.
All eyes were focused on the aisles when Alonna patted Nina on the knee. “He’s in the middle aisle, Aunt Nina. Just coming in the door now.”
“Thanks, baby,” Nina replied, swinging around to capture her son’s shining moment. He walked in rhythm with the rest of the students – walk, step together, walk, step together – eyes staring straight ahead as he followed his friends to their seats in the front of the auditorium. They stood until all the students had entered, and the music faded away.
The conductor turned from the orchestra and raised her baton. When she dropped her arm, the students sat, en masse. Mrs. Reinhardt, the principal, stood center stage and began to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to honor our children as Chelsea Clinton High School’s 2021 graduating class. Inasmuch as we have many guest speakers here today, I won’t add to the number by being long-winded. Let me turn over the lectern to the Honorable Sarah Brennan, Mayor of Los Angeles.
Angel turned to his wife at the start of the Mayor’s speech and said, “I remember the last time I went to a high school graduation – Buffy’s – and the Mayor spoke there, too.”
“Boring?” Nina asked, petting her husband’s arm in sympathy.
“Um, if you call a solar eclipse, the Mayor turning into a giant snake demon , a vampire attack and the blowing up of the high school boring, then yeah… same old, same old.”
“It’s really not smart to tease the werewolf so close to a full moon, Angel.” Nina’s eyes sparkled with mirth as she smiled at Angel’s tales of yore.
“It’s the truth, honey,” Angel insisted. “My unlife has always been a bit ‘lively’.”
“Then let’s hope for a little boredom today,” she replied, smiling warmly.
“This is boring, for sure,” said Alonna. “Speech, speech, after boring speech. When is Will gonna get his diploma?”
“That’s enough out of you, young lady,” Gunn admonished his eldest daughter. “Next year we’ll all be sitting in these same seats, waiting for you.”
“Well, then it won’t be boring for me, will it?”
“Since when did you grow up to be such a smarty-pants, young lady?” Anne said with a laugh. “You never used to talk back to your father.”
“Not when you were listening,” Benjamin snorted.
Alonna shoved at her younger brother. “Thanks, bro. Always knew you had my back… not.”
Carolyn Jane said nothing, just fidgeted in her chair, waiting for all this to be over so they could all go out to eat. She was looking forward to the prospect of dinner without washing dishes afterwards.
Lorne just sat back and soaked in the ambiance. This was more than he ever dared hope for. Reconnecting with old friends – people he’d gone to hell and back for – with nary a trace of the old baggage and tensions weighing any of them down. Not only were they all family, they each had their own family; a spouse and children to protect and nurture. And in his heart, Lorne accepted them all ashis family. Maybe not blood of his blood, but definitely of his soul.
He never felt more human than he did at that moment.
One speech blurred into another until the principal took the stage again. “Our commencement ceremonies are drawing to a close, and before our students parade across out stage for the last time to collect their diplomas, I’d like to introduce the 2021 Class Valedictorian, Miss Camilla Bowen.”
A polite round of applause preceded the happy hoots and whistles from her fellow classmates, as Camilla took center stage.
“Honored guests, parents, teachers and fellow students, welcome to Chelsea Clinton High School’s graduating class of 2021. What can I say to sum up the last four years of our lives? Simply put, I quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. ”
“It really does explain a lot about high school life and teenagers. We experience things full measure – nothing affects us halfway, be it the epiphanies revealed in a classroom discussion or the relationships we form. We tend to see things in black and white, but are beginning to accept that there are shades of grey.”
“As we exit the doors of this institution, we have our entire futures ahead of us. There are those goals that we’ve set for ourselves, some of which have been achieved, some of which will be achieved in the future, and those of which will change as time and circumstances modify our lives. Our actual achievements, however, are not as important as the fact that we strive to achieve, for we are the future of this world. To blindly follow along in our parents’ footsteps is to stall progress. We must put forth our best efforts in spite of the adversity we are sure to face, for surely our paths will not be smoothly paved.”
“One thing I know for sure, is that nothing is written in stone. Reach for the stars, but if you fall short, find a bright spot wherever you land. Be grateful for the people who’ve influenced your lives so far, and consider paying it forward to the generations coming after you. We can do great things, large and small – we just have to try. Thank you for listening, everyone!” Camilla Bowen bowed, clearly enjoying the massive applause and waved to her fellow students before stepping back, allowing the principal the spotlight once again.
A table was rolled in with the scrolled diplomas, each tied with a navy ribbon. The orchestra once again began to play Pomp and Circumstance very quietly, so the students’ names could be heard as they were called. Row by row, the seated students stood and faced the aisle to their right. As their names were called, each student ascended the stairs to the stage, accepted their diploma from the principal, shook her hand, and walked back to their seats.
Buffy sat on the edge of the stage, eyes shining brightly. As Will passed by, she managed to catch his eye and blew him a kiss. He winked, standing a little straighter as he passed by and walked off the stage.
After the last diploma was given out, and the student returned to his seat, the principal turned to the audience and said, “Congratulations, graduates of the class of 2021!”
A great roar of approval rang out through the auditorium as the graduates flipped their tassel from one side of their mortarboard to the other. Many were tossed in the air in an exuberant display, to the orchestra’s raucous rendition of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” for their Recessional.
“Finally,” sighed Alonna, standing and stretching her cramped legs. “Could they have dragged it out any longer?”
“Honestly, Alonna, it wasn’t so bad,” Nina said, laying a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Aren’t you happy for Will?”
“Of course I am, Aunt Nina,” Alonna replied. “But now that this is over, we can get to the restaurant and really celebrate with him.”
“Hungry, baby?” Gunn asked, knowing his daughter’s appetite, and fondness, for Italian food.
“Well, duh,” she said, having the good grace to blush. “And you know that Will’s looking forward to ordering his favorite meal, too.”
Angel laughed. The girl was right – there would be no hesitation in giving the waiter Will’s order. “All right, you guys. Let’s head for the parking lot. We’ll give the graduate time to take pictures with his friends, and he’ll meet us by the car.”
Standing in the school’s doorway, Buffy watched wistfully as friends and family filed out to the parking lot. Dawn, Connor and little Liam, Charlotte, Hugh and Bethany, Gunn, Anne and their brood, Angel, Nina and Lorne. So much time had passed since she’d been statuefied… people going on with their lives, growing up and growing older. She wondered if this is what Spike and Angel felt like as everyone aged around them and they remained unchanged.
She laughed bitterly at that. Unchanged. Once again, Spike had done the unexpected and totally changed. Not only becoming human, but becoming a human infant given the chance to grow up all over again. And here she was, stuck at age twenty five for the past seventeen years, though Illyria was prone to de-aging her when she appeared before Will.
With a sigh, Buffy watched as Will met up with everyone, smiling and happy as they all got into their cars and headed out for a family celebration. Would that she could join them all. Since it was not to be, Buffy hoped she’d be able to spend some alone time with Will this evening. All she knew was her freedom couldn’t come soon enough.