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Pu Pu Pu, but the muse seems to cooperating with me lately.

Here we have an important chapter in the Beloved saga.

Took us long enough to get here, for sure.



The ride home from the airport was silent, although there was a twitchy element of unease and desperation juddering through Will. Not unlike the ride home from the airport after Will had been rescued from the Watchers all those years ago.

Angel was grateful that Lorne had called ahead with their flight details. Will had been too agitated to speak at the time, but had called from the plane. He’d insisted that he was fine, and just needed to get home as quickly as possible.

Will had asked about Buffy, which struck Angel as odd. Normally she was his constant companion, and it never boded well for his son when she vanished. Disappeared. Went missing? Angel shook his head. Buffy’s presence was hard to quantify even at the best of times.

They still hadn’t given up looking for a way to free her, but it had been eighteen long years, and they seemed no closer to a solution than they had been when they started. Except for the Immortal’s message, which mentioned some nebulous time for her release. Of no help, whatsoever.

Angel had pre-warned Nina that Will would be headed to Buffy’s room as soon as he got home. Nina had promised to alert Bethany. Maybe she would sense something that they couldn’t about Buffy’s condition. Dawn would also be on high alert, which of course meant Hugh and Connor would be right by her side.

A noise to Angel’s left caught his attention. “Will. Will!” he called out, nudging the young man’s leg with his knee. “You’re banging your head against the window. What’s the matter with you?”

Will looked startled, unaware he’d been doing any such thing. “Sorry, Dad. I didn’t realize… I just… can we go any faster?” he begged, practically vibrating out of his seat with anxiety. “We have to get home. Something’s really, really wrong.”

“We’ll be home in less than twenty minutes, boyo,” Angel said calmly. “I’m sure everything’s fine, or your mother would have called me.”

The answer didn’t satisfy Will, but since there was nothing he could do, he settled back against the seat, drumming his fingers against the door.

*****

Nina, Dawn and Connor, Charlotte and Hugh, were waiting impatiently in the lobby of the Hyperion. Nina was swamped with the déjà vu-edness of Angel bringing their son home. She’d already aired out his room, changed his sheets and made sure his favorite toiletries were stocked in the bathroom.

Dawn tried to calm her distress. “Nina,” she said, “you need to stop pacing. You’ll wear a trench in the floor. I’m sure Will’s fine. They’re due home any moment now, and you’ll see for yourself.”

“I can’t,” Nina replied. “So much has happened to my son that I can’t imagine the gravity of what he’s feeling – of what he felt to make him leave his Grandfather and run home so abruptly. He’s my baby,” she murmured, shaking her head. “Even if he’s a grown man of nineteen.”

Charlotte rubbed her shoulders. “I get it, sweetie,” she soothed. “Bethany’s no longer a baby, and I still fret when she’s out of my sight for more than an hour.” Looking around the assembled adults, she turned to her husband. “Hugh, speaking of Bethany… where is our little darling? I know she wanted to be here to welcome her cousin home.”

Hugh smiled, not worried in the slightest. “She’s upstairs in Buffy’s room. She knows Will’s first questions will be about her, and she wanted to feel out the situation before he got home. She’s fine, love. No worries.”

Before another word was spoken, the door opened, and Angel strode in with a harried Will following right behind. Will dropped his luggage and turned towards the assemblage. “Sorry, you guys, I need to get upstairs right now. We’ll talk later, I promise.”

He turned and sprinted up the stairs, two at a time. Everyone else followed at a more sedate pace.

Will burst into Buffy’s room – and stopped dead in his tracks.

“Mummy’s Dark Prince has finally come full circle,” Drusilla cooed, swaying back and forth with a frightened Bethany held tightly against her chest. Game face to the fore, she snapped her fangs near the girl’s neck. “Time for the party games to begin and the favors to be decided.”

“Drusilla!” Will spat. “Let Bethany go.”

“Dru!” Angel entered the room, slowly circling his mad childe. “Put the girl down. She’s nothing to you.”

Drusilla’s amber eyes glowed with delight at the arrival of her Sire. “Daddy! Come to join us for tea and jam?” she asked, pulling Bethany closer and tighter, until the child squeaked from the pain.

“How the hell did she get in here, Angel?” Dawn was livid. “This place is warded to the teeth.”

Charlotte was close to passing out, and pressed closer to Hugh for support. Hugh scrutinized the room, looking for a spare crossbow. He wasn’t going to fail his family without a fight.

“This has got to stop, Drusilla,” Will insisted, walking closer to the insane demon. No matter what you do, I will never, ever be with you. Buffy has my heart and soul – something you should know by now.”

Drusilla became incensed, and tossed Bethany halfway across the room, without care for the damage she might suffer. “No more talk about bloody Sunshine! She’s not even real, just a stone dolly to taunt and tease.”

“She’s more real than you’ll ever be,” Will shot back, as Angel continued to move closer.

“Will, don’t!” Nina cried out. “Don’t make her angrier.”

In a rage, Drusilla began tossing the room. Chairs and Will’s guitar went flying to shatter into pieces. “Now this is the prize for which you pine,” she cried, tearing the cloth off the statufied Buffy. “I shall make an end to all this nonsense and you will come with me. Only room for one Princess.”

She grabbed the marble and hefted it above her head. “Here’s what comes of trying to take my place. Nothing but ashes and dust.” Before anyone could make a move, she tossed the marble to the floor.

“No!” Will screamed out in panic.

“Oh my god,” Dawn’s cry echoed in the small room.

Will fell to his knees with the crack of the marble hitting the floor; a howl of anguish ripped from his throat.

Bethany managed to regain her voice as she was held in her mother’s comforting arms. “Look!” she insisted. “Look what’s happening!”

Instead of shattered pieces of stone, a haze of sparkly dust settled over where the statue had fallen.

“Will! Look!” Dawn cried out, moving closer to her fallen sister. “This is just like the last time. It’s Buffy! For real! She’s back.”

Dru’s tortured wail rang out. “Out, out, damned Sunshine! I vanquished you.” She started to rip the hair from her head in her grief. She was so distracted that she hadn’t noticed Angel’s approach until he grabbed her from behind.

“I’m sorry, Dru. I should have done this a long time ago,” he said, softly, as he wrapped his fingers in her hair, and twisted with all his might. Drusilla vanished in a cloud of ash, her reign of terror ended at long last.

Will crawled on his knees over to Buffy’s naked form. “Someone get me her robe,” he murmured, as he took her into his arms.

A softly spoken “Will” was an absolute symphony to his ears. Her hazel eyes fluttered open, spotting his face. “Is it over?” she asked, softly. “Am I free?”

Will could feel his family gather closer, wanting to see their Buffy back, finally. He could also feel Buffy tense in his arms.

“Can you all just back the hell off and let the woman get her bearings? She needs air and space to find herself right now – not a circus.”

“Oh, Will,” Dawn murmured, even as she backed away.

He would not feel sorry for anyone right now. He had the culmination of a lifelong dream in his arms, and she was his first priority. He did make an internal promise to apologize for being so gruff, later. They’d just have to understand.

He scooped Buffy into his arms and stood. “I’m taking Buffy to my room,” he said, daring anyone to reproach him. There was no way in hell he was going to lay her down in his father’s bed, that’s for sure.

Buffy kept quiet – her eyes closed – as she wrapped her arms around Will’s neck.

*****

Once again, everybody had gathered in the lobby. Dawn solemnly addressed the group. “I get it, I do,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “We’ve been here before, the last time Buffy was resurrected. Spike was trying to tend to the wounds on her knuckles, when the Scoobys stormed in, imposing themselves without any regard to Buffy’s feelings. They crowded her with their own happiness at her return, never noticing all she wanted to do was hide, and chasing away her only form of comfort. I won’t take this time away from Will. They’ve both been through so much, they need some time to decompress. I’m sure he’ll let us know when Buffy’s ready to see us.”

Connor held his wife, there were no words necessary at this time.

Angel and Nina spoke quietly for a moment, before the hostess in Nina came to the fore. “Anyone in the mood for coffee or tea? Something to eat? Anything to distract ourselves from rushing up the stairs and crowding Will and Buffy?”

Charlotte looked like she wanted to pass out. She and Hugh sat on the couch, Bethany wedged tightly between them. “We’re good, thanks,” she managed, hugging her daughter once again. “This could have been so much worse.”

Dawn turned to Angel, sympathy in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Angel. I know you’ve avoided dusting your childe for many years, but it had to be done. She’s been a constant threat to Will, and everyone else in this family for far too long. Not to mention the hate she had on for Buffy.”

Angel sighed deeply, the affectation showing the amount of stress he’d been under. “It – it had to be done,” he agreed. “Drusilla was always my responsibility, and I’d shirked it long enough. Nobody comes after my family and gets away with it.”

In a show of support, Connor hugged his dad. There was nothing else he could do for him.

All eyes focused on the stairs as Will came down into the lobby. “She’s good. We believe she’s stable. No fevers, no chills… nothing to indicate she’ll be returned to marble. Buffy said to tell you she loves you all, but she’d rather wait until tomorrow for the family gathering. She’s exhausted.”

With warmth and deep affection in her expression, Nina gathered her son in her arms. “She’s home, and she’s safe, baby. Details can wait. Can I fix her a tray? Water, something easy to digest? Does she need anything?”

Will kissed his mother on the forehead. Water will be just fine, Mom. Maybe some ice cream. It’s been a long time since she’s had anything to eat at all.”

“What about clothes?” Bethany piped in.

“She’s already wearing a pair of my sleep pants and a tee – she’s settled.” Will smiled, the happiness radiating off of him in waves. “Buffy’s good for now, I promise. We’ll deal with everything else starting tomorrow.” Taking a small tray from his mother, Will turned before heading up the stairs. “And before anyone can ask, I’m not leaving Buffy alone. I can sleep on the floor if I have to, but…”

Dawn hugged Will gently, so as not to slosh the water onto the tray. “At least we don’t have to worry about earplugs tonight, right kiddo?” She winked, pinched him on the cheek and laughed as he blushed crimson.

He walked up the stairs, back stiff, not looking back once.

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