The same goes for the kind of writer I am, too. I've been tempted, by a number of blows to the confidence, to give up on Soul Searching but have pledged to finish whatever I start. So without further ado, and with my thanks to my betas on this one calove and bogwitch (hard task mistress that she is - but she's mostly, nearly always right.) -
Illyria watched the end of the blind cord swinging against window frame, caught in the slight flow of evening air blowing into the office behind the Hyperion's reception desk. Silence hung heavy in the room and, despite the small breeze, stillness pervaded the small space, as though time was holding its breath.
The early afternoon had witnessed a flurry of activity following Whistler's evaluation of the hotel as a location for the joint-headquarters. A series of phone calls to Giles instigated the swift evacuation of the injured to a 'safe' wing of the local hospital; they also brought disappointment for Buffy when Giles told her he couldn't leave Cleveland any time soon.
Spike's remark "Good thing too," had resulted in a shouting match that exhausted itself only when Angel steered the debate about Giles' merits as an ally around to possible alternative accommodation. Illyria knew that Spike wasn't ready to offer his basement flat, not yet at any rate. She judged he couldn't bear the thought of being cooped up in a small space with The Slayer until the turmoil in his mind had settled into something less traumatic.
Buffy glanced at Angel, opened her mouth to speak and closed it again swallowing hard. Only Illyria noticed the way she flexed her fingers, extending and curling them into her palms, regaining the control she'd lost in her argument with Spike.
Buffy returned to the maps that she’d been studying, piecing together information Whistler had given her with Angel’s knowledge of the sewers and new intelligence from Giles. She was searching for a route that would take Angel, Spike and Illyria from the Hyperion to the ruins of Wolfram and Hart with minimal risk from whoever, or whatever, had followed Willow from the airport.
Illyria shifted her attention to Angel. He sat beside Buffy, motionless and expressionless since his diplomatic diversion of Spike's ill-timed outburst. He hadn't mentioned his own pressing desire to begin searching for Connor. Illyria was intrigued by his restraint.
A moth flew in through the open window, and battered itself ineffectually against the lampshade in an attempt to reach the light. Illyria inclined her head towards it and listened to the rustling of the wings. "I still hear the song of life," she mused, "in the movement of living things and in the passage of linear time" She turned her head towards Lorne. "But no longer the sound of the green. That has passed to another."
Lorne’s eyes flicked towards Illyria. He gave a small nod of acknowledgement before grimacing in recognition of his new role.
The moth veered away from the light and made its way back towards the open window. It faltered for a moment before negotiating its way across the window box full of dandelions and chickweed. Lorne watched the insect's progress. How swiftly the weeds had colonised and dominated the tiny space, once tended by his own hands, bent on bringing order and light to the darkest corners of the city that had adopted him. Fear and uncertainty pulsated from the former Karaoke Host as he wondered if he was really cut out for the task with which the Forces of light had entrusted him.
A sudden movement from Spike broke the stillness. He tapped his fingers rapidly on the desk in front of him, before jumping to his feet. He began to pace. Like a caged animal, his loping, feline stride measured the breadth of the office again and again, impatient for escape from its confines.
"Haven't they finished up there yet?" he asked jerking his head in the direction of the upper floor. "You'd think Glinda and Head Boy could have worked something out by now. How long've they been at it?" He grasped Angel's wrist and peered at his watch.
Angel snatched his arm away. "Quit complaining, Spike, they'll be finished when they're finished."
"Well, why can't we go do something while we wait?" Spike shot a glance at Angel. "What about that boy of yours. Doesn’t he need finding before Evil catches up with him? You finished that route, Slayer?"
Angel stiffened and looked across at Buffy. She rose wearily to her feet and moved towards the door. “I need to check something with Giles before . . .”
A loud crash from the upper floor was followed by the sound of splintering glass. All eyes swung in the direction of Fred's room directly above their heads, bringing to an abrupt end to what Buffy was about to say.
"Sounded like the window," observed Spike.
"Uh - do you think someone should go . . .?" Lorne asked rising from his chair.
"Wesley said they'd call if they needed help," Angel replied. He cocked his head, straining to hear for any signs of distress through the ceiling.
"Sorry!" Willow grimaced at Wesley. "The opening spell kinda rebounded on the window."
Wesley sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Not to worry," he said kindly, "I have every confidence . . ."
"This is not the kind of stuff I'm used to dealing with," Willow said solemnly. "There's more here than just concealing magic. There's some kind of manipulation of time going on. This is big, cosmic stuff. I don't think I'm going to be able to break through by myself. I'm not even sure I should try." She cast a sympathetic glance at the former watcher as he sank forlornly onto the bed. He clasped his hands together on his knees.
Willow sat down beside him and touched his shoulder gently. "I know what it's like," she said softly.
Wesley raised his eyes and looked at her for an instant before staring at the floor once more.
"To lose someone, just when you’ve found them again," Willow went on. "It's the most terrible thing in the world. And you'd do anything, even go against the forces of nature, anything to get them back. But you can't . . ."
"Fred wasn't taken by natural forces." Wesley cut Willow off and looked at her steadily this time. "She died horribly, and slowly, and . . . bravely, by the design of a merciless mystical being."
Willow examined the walls again. "I can sense something there," she conceded, "but the way through is blocked. I need more to go on." She paused, unwilling to broach a subject that had once been so painful between her and Buffy. "Do you know where you went," she asked finally, "when you were dead?"
Wesley reached for the book that lay beside him on the coverlet. "I was only gone a little while," he answered. "It was dark. There wasn't a sense of being in any particular place," he gazed at the walls, "more a sense of not being finished, of having something that needed doing, if only I could remember what. A voice called me into the light, naming me 'Heimedall', telling me my work was not yet done." He gave his head a small shake and sighed again. "And then I was here, in this room, clutching this manuscript."
Willow twisted her head trying to read the cover. "May I?" she asked holding out her hand.
Wesley handed her the leather-bound tome. "Watcher's Diary," Willow read aloud. "Observations of the Soul named Heimdall - crossed through - Wesley Wyndam-Price - substituted." Willow blinked slowly. "Interesting. Do you remember writing any of it?"
"I haven't had time to go through it all yet," Wesley replied holding his hand out for the book's return. "The final sections are in my handwriting; the research I undertook at Hamilton's suggestion, just before Angel decided to take out the Circle of the Black Thorn." Wesley opened the volume at the first page. "But there are many more contributions by many different hands, beginning with Heimdall's own; the one I read aloud on the staircase."
Willow squinted at the archaic print Wesley held before her. "It's not in English!" she cried. "Why is it never in English?"
Wesley gave her a lop-sided grin. "A cynic would say it's the Powers' way of leaving us open to being misled, but I rather think it's because the writer wasn't an Englishman."
"Wyndam-Price is so easily deceived." In an upper room in City Hall, Rutherford Sirk looked down at the Eleanor Chambers fountain in the square below. "There really was no need to remove him from Wolfram and Hart to mislead Angel about the Shanshu. Price would have misinterpreted the text we provided himself if his previous track record is anything to go by." Sirk turned round and addressed the figure seated at the table behind him. "What do the cards reveal about the other vampire with a soul, now that the Senior Partners have shown a renewed interest in gaining his services?"
A thin, lace-clad hand turned the first card in the centre of the Celtic cross pattern. "The King of Cups. My naughty boy, what have you been doing since I lost you?" Drusilla smiled vacantly up at Sirk. "I lost three Daddies. Did you know?" She swayed in her seat, moving to an unheard song. "Three Daddies," she intoned. "The second one killed my first Daddy. And then I lost the 'Our Father' to the darkness." Drusilla picked up the next card. "Hm - mm," she giggled, "then I lost my boy." She turned the card. "Queen of Swords. Naughty girl, she stole both my boys away. The Father, the son . . ." she paused. "I forget what comes next."
A flash of rainbow-coloured light from the square below caught Drusilla's attention and she wandered away from the table to look out of the necro-tinted window at the fountain. It formed a dandelion-clock pattern in the centre of the marble circle, throwing rainbows into the sunlit spray. Drusilla clapped her hands excitedly. "Oooh, such pretty flowers! I used to play with the dandelions when I was little," she said. "Me Mum told me not to bring 'em indoors; they'd make me pee the bed, she said." Drusilla laughed and began to sing "Piss on Lee, piss on Lee. Dunno why she called me Lee though, my name was . . ." she stopped again, staring into Sirk's eyes until he was forced to drop his own and turn from her. "I forget, " Drusilla continued brightly. "Daddy made me forget so many things. Grandmother says it's 'cos he was jealous. Jealous of what I could see. But that's not why." She began to sway again to the soundtrack in her head. " I used to play ever so many games with flowers, with my Sweet William." She began to sing again. "Mummy had a baby and its head popped off." She raised her thumb quickly and snapped the flower head off an invisible dandelion with her nail. "And now all the family is lost, and Princess is all alone.”
Sirk frowned and appealed to his colleague. "Remind me again why we need this lunatic's help," he murmured.
"The body that has commissioned the rebuilding of Wolfram and Hart's operation here in LA is in receipt of intelligence that suggests William the Bloody is in a vulnerable state at present and she," the speaker gestured at Drusilla, " is best placed to take advantage of that vulnerability."
"In other words, you're not telling me," Sirk said haughtily.
"Mr Sirk, you are here as caretaker until a suitable replacement can be found to the former CEO. Your job is to oversee operations, temporarily, without asking questions. You will be suitably rewarded, and, believe me, you are much better off not knowing certain things."
"Oh, I believe you, Councillor," replied Sirk. "I just don't know if I should trust you."
"Better not," was the enigmatic reply.
"It's not that I don't trust you.” Buffy glared at Spike. “Giles can cope without me. He's got Andrew."
Spike snorted. "Just because the little squirt found the balls to double cross us once, doesn't mean he kept them. Giles is right, if there's trouble in Cleveland, you should be there."
"Oh so all of a sudden Giles is right? What happened to ‘That Wanker’? Or ‘Mr Needs-Someone-Else-to-Do-His-Dirty-Work’
Angel stepped between the combative couple. "We can't stay here," he said evenly. "The team needs organising somewhere else. Giles suggests Cleveland."
Buffy turned her scorn on Angel. "When did you get so reasonable about agreeing with Giles?"
"When you got so blinkered about the difference between what you should do and what you want to do!" Angel shot back at her.
Before he realised what he was doing, Spike sprang to Buffy's defence. "That'd be round about the time you sold everyone out for Connor," he said, spinning his Grandsire round to face him. "Yeah," he sneered at Angel's look of surprise, "Lorne filled me in on a lot of things."
Angel's shoulders slumped in defeat. He glanced at Buffy from under downcast eyes. "I'm sorry."
Buffy reached out and touched his arm. "It's OK. I understand. If it had been Dawn . . ." she trailed off and cleared her throat of the emotion that had built inside her. "That's why I understand that you have to stay and look for Connor."
Illyria plucked a dandelion flower from among the majority that had run to seed. She examined the petals. "Dents de Lion," she announced. "The flower is well named." She turned towards the three figures standing before the open window. "My Wesley will not leave the room until the riddle of the walls is solved. The Red Witch has pledged to help him. I will remain alongside my guide to this world."
Lorne levered himself from his chair and approached the former God King. "And I should stay 'til the last curtain call," he said, his voice trembling a little, "and as long as the hooch lasts in the bar, I'll mix up the best bunch of cocktails to see me through the run." He threw an arm over Angel's shoulder. " Why don't we send Whistler and the slayers over to Giles? Whaddya think, Big Guy? "
"Once he's told us where we can find this 'mysterious one who will make a difference'." Buffy picked up Lorne's lead eagerly.
"In the meantime, what say we go sift through the wreckage of the offices formerly known as Wolfram and Hart, as planned, and see if we can pick up a lead on your boy?" Spike offered Angel the only sort of apology of which he was capable. "'Sides, I need to replace the coat," he indicated a heap of leather in the corner waste bin. "Seem to remember a promise of ten from our Italian friend with the double helping of bountiful assets."
"I marked the route on this." Buffy handed Spike a sheet of paper. "I’ll make a start on Whistler while you guys are across town,” she said opening the door. “Bountiful assets?" she whispered to Angel as he headed for the rear exit.
Angel shrugged "Search me."
Back in Civic Hall, Drusilla turned the next two cards in the cross. "The Ace of Cups - Love! My sweet William told Daddy ours was a forever love." She gazed wistfully out of the window. "It was 'til she came and stole him away." She pressed her hand to her heart as she looked at the second card. "Seven of swords." She sighed and ran her hand along her cheekbone and across her brow. "My poor boy. Someone's stolen away his love, tisk, tisk. How will he live?" She turned the next card and gasped with pleasure. She clapped her hands with delight. "The Devil! Oh joy, my Spike will come home, back to the dark, to Princess.”
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