I finally left the confines of the room that had entrapped Wesley and myself with the sorcery of Fred's entity, finally able to breathe, as I made my way slowly through the hotel. Everyone seemed occupied, concerned with their own insignificant troubles. I stopped and closed my eyes, seeking out Wesley's energy that spoke to me somehow although it was as broken as I had been once.
My eyes snapping open as the song whirled towards me, I followed it, seeking the man who had died in that room once he had watched his beloved leave him again. Yes, he still longed for her, aching, crying, all the pathetic human emotions that had destroyed him. Made him a piece of the earth to be trampled upon and forgotten soon after.
I found him speaking to the air when there was nothing dancing on the winds to speak back to him.
Crouching before him once more, my hands rested upon my thighs as my eyes watched, fascinated. "You feel as though you have no purpose." Strange, for this was the first time that I, myself, had felt a belonging somewhat to these mortals. "You pull your emotions away and hold them within, prisoner," I accused.
How our roles had reversed was incomprehensible to me. I should not be the one to pull a mortal back from the brink of insanity when my own human emotions still troubled me.
"Speak. Now. For I shall not stand by and watch you destroy yourself."
As talks go, I guess the one I had with Faith hadn't gone all that badly. Sure, we were in just about complete disagreement when it came to Spike, but like I'd told her, that wasn't the point of talking to her. Unfortunately, the real point had been to find out anything she remembered about her fight with The First that would give us any kind of help.
That part, well, it didn't go so well. Faith hadn't been able to share anything that we didn't already know. And we knew just about nothing.
And out of everything, that was the worst part. With almost everything we'd gone up against, there was something that we could find out about it. Most things, except maybe Illyria, weren't so old or so rarely seen that there was next-to-nothing written about it in the kind of books we had. And we had been able to find Illyria in one of the more ancient volumes we had.
But The First came before everything and was almost always acting through intermediaries. There was so little recorded about the goddamn thing that every move we made was just flailing in the dark.
Speaking of flailing, though, I start to wonder just when The First was going to take another swing at us. I couldn't reember ever being this willing to see the big bad on our doorsetp, but it had been way too long since any of us had scene the thing. Time was not our ally.
Right now, we were huddling together, circling the wagons and waiting for the rain of fire-- scared, timid and confused. As I walked back up into the lobby, all I could think about was wondering when it would finally all come down around us.
I hate guilt. It's nagging and constant, and no wonder it makes Angel so broody. I feel like I threw in the towel a little too soon on the research. I do not apologize in any way for the fake yawns and loud sighs of frustration, because if I'd have had to stare down at those dusty pages for five more minutes, I probably would have ended up with some kind of impaired sense of vision. The physical kind--not the mental pictures. Now I'm starting to think that we should have kept going for a while longer. Illyria's not the best source of information; but that has to do with her being creepy and mentally unstable. The point is, she thought that those books were useful, and who knows, maybe she has a sense about these things.
Her "sense" was my logic when I went downstairs to pick up another book to read over. It has nothing to do with me trying to help pick up the slack now that Fred's gone; even though I do make an effort not to mention science related things around Wesley. I don't want to do more damage, especially with our Fred version of Violet Beauregarde running around. She's a perfect reminder of everything that Fred wasn't. Cold, empty, confused--Illyria is nothing like the warm, intelligent little sister who was determined to keep fighting.
I wish I could find a way to hate her for it.
I'd never tell Wesley my opinion on this, but I think Illyria is just as much a victim as the rest of us are. She's trapped, and probably scared. On top of being scared, I doubt that she understands anything about fear.
I think I pity her, and I hope to God that Fred wouldn't mind.
I canted my head as I watched Wesley's movements carefully. They were uncontrolled, so unlike the mortal I had grown to know. I wondered at the experience we had shared with The Shell thanks to the witch's sorcery, yet laughter filled my ears.
"Wesley." I was confused. What was humorous?
"Yes, I learned quite a bit from that experience..."
Then he was gone in a movement of blur and I was left alone again in this world which no longer had a need for me save to fight, to kill...to stand besides the supposed heroes in a battle that would drench my hands with blood and...
And would make me...valuable.
I realized, then, that Wesley did not value me, would never value me. His mutterings and incoherent ramblings as he fumbled for kisses from a dead woman were proof enough. But now? Now he appeared lost in his thoughts of her, as I had once been.
Where I had been broken and repaired, he was my mirror.
I could bide my time - God-Kings had all the time in the world! It slipped through my fingers as dust once! - and I waited for him to return.
I ran down the hall maybe a dozen steps or so before I realized I didn't know where I was going. While a 'dozen' steps might not be the most accurate obsevation I had ever made, after all I hadn't been counting during my flight, it was still somehow the thing I was surest of at this exact moment.
When I looked behind me, I could see it. Twelve feet or so from what was now my bedroom stretched between the door - and me. A dozen steps, or very close to it. There was truth there.
It was a clear picture, and when I looked back I could see it all. The floor, the walls, and all the rooms spaced just so. It was as painless as the motion could ever be.
Looking back was never easy anymore, if only because it felt like most of what I was lay behind me. My absolute best friend, my absolute best love, my absolutle best moments. Did I have any of my bests left to give? Or was I just best at remembering now?
I looked at the door to my room again and my cheeks colored with guilt. Illyria and Wesley were trapped in there with a different kind of memeory, and it was all my doing. I had connected to Illyria downstairs, and because of that spark I might have done something rash. She was trapped in the memories too, caught in looking back. Only she didn't know what she was holding on to, or have enough of the peices to find comfort in what she was seeing. The best of Illyria would be found in the present and future tense. I was sure of it.
I didn't know how really. It was just there.
Just like I was still standing in a hallway by myself, looking back. Doing what I was best at again. I realized I wasn't sure where to go. This wasn't my home, so my body wouldn't mindlessly move itself to a place it could find comfort in. I didn't have a favorite chair, or a kitchen stool near some afternoon light, or a pet to curl up with. I was going to have to make a decision of where to go.
My room was out of the question, and the idea of just sitting in another empty one somehwhere depressed me. I took measured steps down to the lobby where I stood more a moment staring at the couches that were scattered about the room. Finally I looked through the side door to the garden that sat just outside them.
Yes. I could handle that.
I slipped through the doors quietly, and sat down on the low stone wall of the fountain. I looked back at where I had just come from for a long moment, then stopped and glanced at the water that danced in front of me.
Then I concentrated on not looking anywhere at all.
I stayed in the smaller kitchen after Angel left for a couple of reasons.
One, I really liked my coffee.
Two? I didn't want to have to go out there and face everyone, telling them that after all this talking, Angel and I had come up with...nothing. No big plans, except for the whatever-spell he'd mentioned we could put on the hotel. Nothing. Sure, Xander was supposed to be talking to Cordelia to see if she'd had visions, but I hadn'r talked to Xander so...no clue there. Willow was supposed to be talking to the blue girl to see what she knew since Angel said she was all old or something. Dawn was supposed to be with Connor - which I actually hoped was going well, seeing as how Angel was right. They were the only kids in the hotel and sometimes, I'd bet, we left them out of things. Not on purpose, but y'know how it goes.
Wesley was our research guy and I hadn't seen him around...Gunn? No clue...Lorne was maybe in his room? Or possibly dead, for all I knew since I wasn't moving.
Which, of course, brought me to my two least favorite people at the moment.
Ok, so here I am TRYING to wrap my mind around the weirdness that is Spike and Faith. After all of my time with Faith recently, I'd thought we'd come to some sorta agreement. Or truce, or whatever. But, no. She comes in with Spike - who, HELLO! Last time I'd seen him he was dead! - and they are now a psuedo-couple.
I didn't know who I was more angry at. Spike, Faith, or myself.
Maybe The First was really a good guy, and that was the reason it had chosen to beat them up. Like, a special Buffy-gift or something.
Angel talking to Faith would be good, since I just could NOT bring myself to talk to her yet. And Spike? Ok, so sooner or later I'd have to talk to him and everything, but...it hurt. I wasn't sure why, but it did.
At least I wasn't this messed up when I talked to Angel, but I think he was. Y'know, with having a son and whatever it was he had or didn't with Cordelia. Yeah, I'd given my stupid little speech to him, yeah, he'd come to Sunnydale, like, VERY recently to help me out and kissed me and...yeah. Tall, dark stranger waltzing in to help save the day when you least expect it. Must be part of his job description in his whole "I will redeem myself" thing.
Ok, back to The First. Cuz I so needed to stop thinking about Angel. And I would. Right now.
I took another sip of coffee and stayed right where I was.
The long white fistwrap tightened around my clenched hand and I glared at the heavy bag hanging from its iron post as though it were challenging me. The silent words it used to taunt me, though, came from voices in my own pretty lil' head. Spike's, Soulboy's, even fuckin' B.. it was like they were all swirlin' into one big circle jerk. "Fuck!" I hissed when I slammed a fist against the hard cushion which turned out to be the same hand I punched the wall with. It fuckin' hurt let me tell you, but it made the whole workout more intense. Pretty fuckin' wicked. The music I had blarin' from the radio sure didn't help the scene.
I began kickin' and punchin' away like there was goin' be no tomorrow for me and that THIS was gonna be the only method I had to get the fustrations out of me. As the workout stretched my mind lingered more, wonderin' exactly where the hell I was going. The look Soulboy gave me when I arrived in the hotel was pasted in my head like a pretty little polaroid and I pushed myself harder.. the moistoned sweat already buildin' all over my form.
Good thing I made a small retreat. Had to have a little time to myself to get my thoughts back together. I was one confused bitch with issues and that's somethin' that won't help everyone kick The First's ass. In fact, I think that's what made 'im get me. Yeah, that was fuckin' it. I gave the bastard that opportunity the moment I saw him wear Woody's face and let the emotions take control over me. I really needed to learn some self control.
I had to get ahold of myself so I stopped to regain my breath, my eyes waverin' over the radio which was now playin' "Easier To Run" by Linkin Park. Hilarious. Half the songs I was able to hear from them basically described my life, the entire mess I'm in. It'd be easier to ditch this joint and head my merry own way.. didn't understand what was stoppin' me. What WAS stopping me?
That's when I saw the amulet. Same one good ol' Willy popped out of.
A sigh left my lips and I shook my head, returnin' back to my workout when I felt the emotions pump through me again. Don't know what the hell was goin' on with that. I guess Spike was right in a way, I didn't know what the hell I wanted. It was nice for once to just be accepted by someone who didn't know much about the messy trails I had behind me... fuck, right now, it was just nice to be with someone period. Yet again, I still feel like I'm livin' within B's shadow. How'm I supposed to know who he was thinkin' of while we were doin' the horizontal mambo?
Did I care if he did or not? I don't know. I still don't like the idea though I'm always second place when it comes to her.. maybe that's what gettin' to me. Yeah, that's it. A breath was takin' in as I realized I was only confusin' myself more. Great.. fuckin'.. dandy. I was one hell of a piece of work.
The wounds upon my fist were beginning to open again but I really didn't give a shit.. I think the pain upon it was the only reminder to me that I was still real.
Illyria's words stayed with me several hours I had finally freed myself of her grasp and made my way up to the room I had been given. No, not several hours - all the hours. From the moment I made that offer, to the next moment as I was walking back down the stairs, she was with me.
Funny how many people lived in that one word. She. And maybe not as funny, how between the moment that I left and the moment I returned? That was just another single moment. Hours, stretching and living together as I came to fully understand just what I was about to do. No, that wasn't funny at all.
I was going to do this, help Illyria. But that didn't sound right. Now that I am away from that conversation, and all the things that were said, who am I to know what would help her? And that isn't because she was some kind of God, after all...I had weilded that kind of power once. I knew what Illyria saw when she looked at me. I knew, and a part of me hated...
It wasn't because I couldn't relate to her that I had second, and third, and thirtieth thoughts about what I was about to do. It was because I could relate. I read the grief in her features, and that is where my heart wavered. Who am I to presume that I can teach her how to deal with grief?
It isn't something I had done very well on my own.
Buffy and I broke up our little micro-strategizing session with every intention of getting back to business. She had some of her people to talk to and make sure they knew the full extent of what The First might be springing on all of us, particularly them. I was determined to find out just how much information Wes and the others had been able to glean about our new/old enemy.
Of course, once we got downstairs, the few people we did manage to find were all in pretty intense or closed-off conversations. There was a weird, kind of disconnected feeling to being a leader and not really seeming to have anything to do at the moment.
When it became apparent that there really was nobody around who was free or inclined to do any talking. Buffy and I just sort of shrugged at each other, and went looking for someplace else to have a seat other than the floor in a hallway. We found ourselves in the small kitchen, the one we used instead of the massive industrial-sized kitchen that served the hotel's old banquet rooms.
It wasn't exactly a gourmet's dream, but all of the mortal members of Angel Investigations had insured that the place had the very finest-- and very strongest-- coffee we could manage, even on our paltry budget. So, I fixed two mugs of the stuff, wrapping my hands around my mug just to feel the warmth and smell the aroma, and sliding the other to Buffy.
"Well," I said, smirking, "I'm feeling pretty superfluous at the moment, how 'bout you? Seems like we're just gonna have to wait to hear back from our people, huh?"
Gunn held true to his word after parting ways with Angel. With all of the new houseguests, there was a lot of work to be done. Someone else would have to be put on laundry duty... there weren't many household chores Gunn wouldn't do, but he absolutely refused to handle other people's dirty sheets or scrub toilets. Everything else was easy. His first stop was the kitchen, hoping to find it empty so that he might take a quick inventory of their food supply. Food, he thought, was their number one priority. Once he knew what they had and what they needed, he'd round up a few others to accompany him on a food run.
Luckily, the kitchen had been abandoned by the time he got there. Having grabbed a small notepad and a pen from the front desk on his way in, he quickly began to appraise their food supply, stooping down and starting with a low cupboard that served as a dry pantry for cereal and a wide variety of canned foods. Unfortunately, he found that the cabinent was almost empty upon inspection. "Cereal... check," he said with a sigh, scribbling on his pad.
He reached back and began to rummage through what little was left in the cupboard, freezing when his fingers touched on a box of empty taco shells. Those had been bought especially for Fred, he remembered. He grimaced, getting back to his feet and moving on to the next cabinent.
He felt pathetic, unable to take a simple inventory without thinking about Fred. It was a fresh wound, and it still stung. He'd never thought Fred would be the first of them to go... he'd always thought she would be around long after the rest of them. She was too smart to get herself killed, too cautious... at least, that's what he'd believed. But now she was gone, leaving a gaping hole in her stead. That demonic shell did nothing to fill it. She only made the pain worse.
Sighing again, he leaned back against the counter and rubbed at the back of his neck, fixing his gaze on his feet. Fred had been so much more than their resident brain... she had been a source of strength, courage. Gunn wanted to go on fighting, he knew he had to, but without Fred to cheer him on... it was going to be hard.
((Open to anyone who feels like talking to a melancholy Gunn.))