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Fan Fiction: Lesser Men
Chapter Ten: Recalling Pandora
Wesley stopped halfway across the lobby to catch his breath. His hands were trembling again, and he wasn't sure whether it was a reaction to his physical state, or his emotional one. Beyond all the difficulties with his friends, his guilt, and his fears about Connor's identity, the very idea of facing down a group of Watchers made his spirits sink. He hadn't spoken to anyone from the higher levels of the Council in person since he had been fired and left virtually penniless on American soil.
An old Buffy-esque phrase came to mind, one that seemed appropriate to the occasion: "This is so not of the good." The girl had a definite talent for butchering the English language. She had certainly helped make his brief stint as an active Watcher lively, if nothing else. Perhaps Wesley could borrow a page from her book, and stare the Council down? No harm in trying; but he had no idea how to manage it.
Footsteps sounded behind him. "Your friends scare me, Wesley."
"Yes, well." Wesley frowned, trying to find some neutral way to explain their behavior to Jonathan. "They're all a little upset just now."
"Yeah, I know." Jonathan appeared at his elbow, looking determined. "I heard some of it from Angel. That's not what I meant. But never mind. Need some help in there?"
"Help?" Where had that come from? Surely there wasn't anything that Jonathan could do? This wasn't his fight, anyway. Wesley raised his eyebrows. "I'm not sure you would be of much assistance in an argument with the Watcher's Council..."
"Not for that, dumbass." Jonathan glared up at him. "I meant like moral support. Or just plain support. We already scraped you off the pavement once today, you know."
Wesley blinked at him. "Did they ask you to help me?" he asked, glancing back towards the courtyard. The thought was like a tiny bright spark in his internal gloom.
"Your friends? No, I think they're too busy trying to stay calm. Besides. They started asking me questions."
Wesley couldn't help smiling at that, despite the sting of dashed hope. "Ah. Of course. An ulterior motive."
Jonathan shrugged. "Anyway. Let's not keep the English guys waiting."
Wesley thought about that a moment, and then suddenly had an idea. "I appreciate the offer, but I really don't need any support; I don't wish to look weak in front of the Council. However, I might be able to use you as a distraction..."
"A distraction?" Now it was Jonathan with the raised eyebrows, sounding faintly alarmed.
"Just stand behind me and glower. You needn't say anything," Wesley instructed him, and smiled. This might not be such an awful interview after all.
"I'm five-foot-two. How am I going to distract anybody?"
Jonathan's confused mutterings just made Wesley's smile widen as the steel crept back into his blue eyes. He now had a plan. Granted, his plans often went wrong, but it was a plan all the same. With some small measure of confidence thus restored, he approached the office door and opened it.
"Wes! Thank God!" Cordelia leapt up from her seat behind the desk and rushed around it to hug him, brushing two hovering Council types out of the way. She gave him a quick squeeze, making him wince in pain and spots dance in his vision, then pulled back and stared seriously into his eyes.
"I'm sure you've already heard it all, or said it to yourself," she said, emphasizing her words carefully. "So I'll just say, ditto. But if you go all Brood Boy Lite because of this and take off again, I'll hunt you down myself. Clear?"
Unaccountably, his throat tightened up again, and he cleared it self-consciously. "Clear," he agreed. "The others are waiting for you."
She nodded, then hugged him again and swept around him in a flash of brown eyes and tanned skin.
She didn't appear to have noticed Jonathan's presence in the room in her hurry to exit, but the Council envoys did. "Mr. Wyndam-Pryce," said the eldest of the suit-clad, stiff-backed trio, as soon as the door shut behind Cordelia. "And Mr....?"
Wesley could see the box Gunn had mentioned held tightly in Travers' hands. It was small and metallic and did not resemble any important artifact Wesley was aware of.
He brushed off the lingering warmth of the encounter with Cordelia, and met the Travers' gaze without flinching. Evenly, his manner cold and aloof, he said, "This is Jonathan Rayne, whose father I believe you are acquainted with?"
Travers' eyes narrowed as he contemplated that. "Ethan Rayne, do you mean? I was not aware that he had any sons."
"The very same. Interestingly enough, they share not only genetic material, but also certain abilities, and certain attitudes towards the Council." Wesley left the statement floating in the air, with a slight smirk on his face.
Apparently Jonathan had taken that as a cue; Latin syllables interrupted the silence, and Travers suddenly turned pale. "Is that a threat?" the man asked, trying to sound belligerent.
Thank you, Jonathan, Wesley thought. He had no idea what the boy had done, but it had had just the right effect. "Funny that you should mention threats," Wesley continued aloud. "I've been told that you were in here threatening my staff in my absence?"
"Of course not, sir," the second Watcher said, hurriedly. "We were merely very concerned as to your whereabouts, and the young ladies may have taken our enthusiasm amiss."
"Ah. Of course. Silly of them." Wesley didn't take his eyes off of Travers. "So why were you so concerned with my whereabouts?"
"You tell us," Travers said vehemently. "This box, which appears to be of other-dimensional origin, turned up on my desk yesterday evening with the message, 'To Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, Regarding Connor.' I was also informed yesterday that Mr. Giles, whom we are aware is still in contact with you, had disappeared from his flat in Bath. Combine these facts with the known appearance of a portal to Quortoth in Los Angeles on Monday, and we have a very interesting puzzle."
"So what does the box contain?" Wesley asked, trying to sound bored.
"We don't know," the third Watcher admitted, casting an apologetic look at Travers. "It won't open, no matter what we do. We think it's keyed to you, specifically."
"Well then." Wesley held out a hand. "If I may?"
Travers glared at him for several seconds, then glanced over Wesley's shoulder and finally stepped forward to place the box on Wesley's outstretched palm.
As soon as the metallic surface touched Wesley's skin, the box began to glow, much as Ethan's mirror had earlier in the day. Then it popped open with a muffled click, exposing the contents.
He'd had a few suspicions on what the box might contain. A letter, perhaps, mocking his failure? A lock of Connor's hair? Or perhaps some kind of trap? The item that rested on the bottom of the box fell into none of these categories.
It was a pebble. A small one, about as large as the end of his thumb, a light grey in color with speckles of amber and aquamarine. The kind of thing a child might pick up and put in his pocket, thinking it was pretty. The kind of thing a child had, in fact, once put in his pocket, about twenty years ago.
Wesley plucked it from the box, barely noticing when the box itself vanished. There was a faint chime in the air, and a flash of light, but all he saw was the pebble, and all he heard was a lady's voice, whispering, amused. "Done."
Ah, yes. He remembered that voice. He knew what she was now, of course, but at eleven, he'd been hurting, alone, and trying avoid thinking about his father's demonology texts. And truthfully, he wasn't sure it would have mattered.
He had found the pebble the day after he'd run into Ethan Rayne. Wesley disliked Ethan, as an adult; he knew perfectly well what Ethan was, and the kind of chaos sown in the sorcerer's wake. But as a boy, he had been impressed by Ethan's casual power, laughing defiance of the Council's wishes, and undeniable strength of will.
Wesley had come back from the errand that had taken him into the Library and innocently mentioned the encounter in the Library to his father. His father had immediately searched out the security director to make Wesley repeat every detail of his meeting with Ethan. Not only had Ethan been severely treated as a result, Wesley had been thoroughly punished for daring to be upset about it.
The next morning, Wesley had run away. It hadn't lasted long. He'd been in his father's office being punished again by nightfall. That morning, however, Wesley had escaped to a nearby village that sat along the banks of a small stream. There had been any number of pretty stones there, sparkling in the water, but Wesley had only taken one.
When the path led him through the centre of town, Wesley had come across an old wishing well. He knew, of course, that most wishing wells were not mystically enchanted, nor did they contain benevolent spirits; his father had lectured him out of most popular childhood beliefs by the age of five. All the same, on that particular day, something had prompted him to make a wish.
While he'd been searching his pockets for something to drop in, a pretty lady had appeared on the path beside him. "Hullo," she had said, "what's your name?"
"Wesley. Just Wesley. I'm tired of being Wesley Wyndam-Pryce."
"Really?" the lady had asked, with a big smile and a tilt of her head. "I'm Halfrek. Are you here to make a wish?"
Wesley had sniffled and mumbled and complained that he hadn't a penny, only this little pebble that he had picked up out of the stream.
"Oh, what a lovely pebble. I'm sure it will work, dear. Now just toss it in, and make your wish. Be sure to say it out loud, or it can't come true." She had sounded so positive; he had implicitly trusted her.
"But I thought they had to be secret?" he had asked, blinking up at her with wide blue eyes.
"Oh no," she had laughed. "Wish-granters aren't mind readers, you know. You have to say exactly what you want."
So eleven-year-old Wesley had thought, and thought, and finally came up with the best wish he could think of, with plenty of and's to link it all together. "I wish that Mr. Wyndam-Pryce wasn't my real father, and that my real father has nothing to do with Watchers and doesn't wear suits and would never tell me I'm not good enough and wouldn't make me always study and that I could go live with him."
The curly-haired lady had opened her mouth to say something, then stopped short and blinked at him in dismay. "Oh, honey," she said. "I didn't realise who you were. I'm sorry. I can't grant that one, although if you wait twenty years I think you might be surprised. Do you have any other wishes today?"
"No! You said if I said it out loud, it would come true!" With stubborn tears in his eyes and a trembling lower lip, Wesley had hurled the pebble into the well anyway... but he had never heard it hit bottom. When he had looked up again, blinking in defiance, Halfrek had vanished.
There was no doubt in Wesley's mind, some twenty years after that day, that it was the very same pebble in his hand, although it looked a little smaller to adult eyes.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.