Two Days Later
Wesley's mother had called. She'd said that she had heard about the fire and wanted to know if Wesley, thanks to the nature of his job, was all right. He remembered being silent for close to two minutes before the clipped imperious voice demanded: "Well?"
"I'm... I'm sorry, Mrs Wyndham-Price-"
"What are you trying to tell me?"
There it was. That edge of panic in her proper and cultured voice. A mother picks up on these things. They always do.
So he told her. Sorry, your son's dead. She went silent. Then the phone went dead. He sat at the reception counter after that, hoping that she would call back but she didn't. He wondered whether she would be making funeral arrangements or if she'd decided to let him do it instead.
"No open casket? Okay, our cremation-"
"There's no body. The fire-" he said quietly.
"Oh...I'm so sorry. Of course," the undertaker said politely.
Gunn sighed, closed his eyes and gripped his knees, as if it would make his job easier.
After a respectable silence, the undertaker quietly told him about the memorial services the funeral home ran. Respectable, quiet ... something 'I'm sure, Wesley would have liked.'
He blinked, wondering what kind of funeral Wesley would've liked.
"I think he'd like that," Gunn answered, not very sure of himself.
The undertaker gave him a small smile. "I'll have it arranged, sir."
Cordelia nodded and gave Buffy a weak smile. Giles had called her immediately after Fred left. Thought that perhaps she could "settle things" at AI. She did, a little. Angel was coming out of his room now at least.
"Yeah." She took the leather-worn book from Buffy's hands and placed it in the box. "Do you think the Council would want these ... or does he have a close cousin who would love to have it?"
Buffy looked uncomfortable at the question. "How about his dad?"
Cordelia wrinkled her nose. "He wasn't very super with his dad. He, like, mentioned him five times the past four years and they were not usually very good mentions."
She sniffed, blinking away tears. "He's gone. I just don't get it. But I should," she quickly said before Buffy could interrupt. "I mean, we were a mess last year and we thought he was a traitor and we cast him aside."
"Cordy. You can't go blaming yourself for Wesley's death."
"Believe me, I'm not strong on the blaming myself part. I'm just thinking on logic here."
"No. He had a choice. And he chose to do what he did. Nobody else was responsible for what he did."
"At least we could've been there."
"No point going back there," Buffy said, her voice firm. Cordelia flinched at her words. "But you tried in the end. You were there with him before he died. He didn't die alone, Cordelia. And that's important."
"Yeah, it's a biggie," she laughed through her tears. She placed the book in the box. AS she closed the flaps of the box shut, she asked Buffy quietly. "Do you have some tape? I have to seal this up."
"Are you sure this is what you want to do?"
Fred nodded behind the glass panel and gave Angel a weak smile. "I can't reverse things. But ... I can admit I've done something. I can't hide what I've done, Angel. I can't live with the lie that my life would become."
Angel looked at her grimly and closed his eyes. "I could-"
"No," she said firmly. She knew what he suggested - breaking her out. "Besides, I have Faith for company. I mean, I think she's nice and all, despite being a former rogue slayer and everything."
She nodded. "I told her. That I killed him. And she just stared at me. I think she didn't know what she wanted to do with me. Then she said that killing me would be too melodramatic. Then she walked away." She shrugged. "You think I have a friend there?"
"She knows that she's not in the position to judge. Give her time," he said. It sounded lame to his ears. Everything sounded lame these days.
"I heard that you're going to do a memorial for Wesley," she tried to sound as natural as she could but her tearing eyes betrayed her emotions.
"His parents refuse to come. His mother wanted to but ..." he trailed off. "I think she is taking it hard."
Tears fell. They made her smile look grotesque.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered.
Angel let his forehead fall to the glass. Fred reached out to touch the glass in return.
"Me too," he said softly.
The thing about being a socialite is that every time you want to do something good, your daddy's press secretary will make sure that the whole world knows about it.
"Here, here - that's a good picture isn't it? Homeless guy getting food? Huh? Cliched, maybe, but it gets the point across-"
Lola Briston rolled her eyes and tried to ignore her father's pet weasel as best as she could, but he was making things hard by coming to her side every five seconds for a photo op. Lola told herself that the next time he came to her side, he was going to give him a photo op that would make daddy proud - a big slap across the face.
She had tried to be discreet, even sneaking out at night to make sure no one saw her. However, the weasel did and arranged all the media circus around them now. She was acutely embarassed by it, but she knew that for the mission it was perhaps a good thing. Maybe people would notice and come by to help.
The burning down of Avarice had left hundreds homeless. The people of Avarice - all they had were their homes, and even that was a small comfort as the high rate of crime there prevented it from being a truly welcoming one. When the fire razed Avarice, hundreds came running towards neighbouring Onasko, and the middle-class folk tried their best to accomodate the ragtag refugees, but it was clearly not enough. Half the refugees had severe burns, some were obviously traumatised. A warehouse was opened up as a temporary shelter and Lola spent the past two nights there listening to their tales. A woman lost her son in the apartment fire. A man is trying to find his wife and son - had they seen her? Then there was this man, who was so traumatised that he seemed almost catatonic. He spent most of his time huddled in the far right corner of the shelter, his blue eyes staring at nothing. Whenever anyone tried to approach him, he would freeze up and wedge himself deeper into the corner. Only Lola had any success in approaching him.
They had found him wandering in just an hour ago. His shirt was matted with old blood, and he stank of something rotten. They tried to get him changed, but he kept flinching whenever anyone tried to approach him. So they placed a clean sweatshirt and pants a few steps away from him. He stared at it for a long time. Then he took the bundle up and hugged it to his chest, the vacant look back in his eyes.
So, here she was, back in the corner, hoping that the Weasel would not find her here and scare him away.
"Hi," she said softly.
The man cast a tentative look at her.
"Are you hungry? I have some bread-" she opened the container she had in her hands. The man flinched, his arms cradling the bundle in his hands protectively.
"I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help you ... see?" she slowly let him see the contents of the container.
He seemed to be considering something ... then hunger apparently won out as he reached towards the piece of bread and snatched it away. He gobbled it down frantically, as if afraid she'd snatch it from his hands.
The flash of a camera going off startled both of them. It startled the man more as he shrieked and buried his head under his arms.
Lola knew who it immediately. With a growl, she got up and swiftly gave Louis Pencker one between the eyes.
"Ow! What the hell was that for?!" he squealed. The camera man beside him slowly removed his eye from the lens and stared at her.
"Do you have any idea what you've just done? Get out of here before I tell daddy to fire your ass!"
Pencker knew that was no idle threat and scuttled away, dragging the reluctant camera man away.
Sighing, Lola returned her gaze to the man ... but he was gone.
"Oh shit," she cursed. She ran out of the shelter, looking frantically about for him. Yes, she decided, if he was gone, Pecker would get his ass on the unemployment lines.
Then she saw him, standing in middle of the crowd of refugees, looking at the commotion around him as if it he only just noticed it.
She approached him catiously, like how she would approach a cornered cat. she whispered softly, "Hey ..."
He turned slowly to look at her, and she saw, instead of the terrified looks he had given her the past hour, confusion. Then confusion gave way to despair.
"Where am I?"
His voice - he had an English accent - was soft and gentle, hardly what she had expected. Right now it was trembling with fear, yet she found herself frowning at the fammiliarity of his voice. A name danced in her head, but she couldn't grasp it.
"You're at a shelter. At Onasko."
"I'm not in hell?"
For a moment she didn't know what to say to that, then she quickly said: "No. You're safe." He was traumatised. Who knows what had happened to him back in Avarice? She heard some wild tales from some of the people back at the warehouse - something about vampires, a burning man and green fire. Avarice could be hell in his mind.
He shuddered suddenly and would have fallen if she had not reached out to support him. "Are you okay?"
Stupid, Lola. Does he look okay to you?
"Yes, you are," gentle voice, but don't speak to him like he's retarded.
"I wasn't. They killed me."
He's traumatised, Lola. But it made her look at the big bloody stain on his shirt. "Are you hurt?" she asked worriedly. Dumb, just dumb - he could be bleeding to death!
He hesitantly unbottoned his shirt. Not a scratch. Where did the blood come from?
Then he whispered, "I'm scared."
That's when she remembered who it was, and it floored her how much he had changed. The last time she saw him, he was a dapper man who stood at Virginia Bryce's side. Always immaculately groomed, proper to a T.
Now he looked like a man on the verge of a breakdown. Or maybe he had a breakdown already.
"Wesley. Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, right?"
He looked startled at the name, then slowly nodded. Then he hugged himself as if he was freezing.
"Why don't we get you into those clothes, huh?" Then I'll call Virginia, she thought.
She swore later that she just turned around for a second to ask Maurice, a fellow helper, if the showers were available. When she turned back next - he was gone.
Wesley hugged the bundle to his chest. He didn't know why he did it, but it made him feel safe. He walked and walked, until everything changed around him. It wasn't grimy anymore, but people stared at him a lot. He observed from the corner of his eyes, well-heeled executives sipping lattes whispering and pointing, a man in a sports car, openly gaping at him.
Flashes of thoughts and memories floated in his head, but it was too much to think about right now. He was alive. Did that make him happy?
Maybe ... some part of him was glad that he had escaped death. Another part was howling with terror ... he remembered something terrifying, about being trapped in something rotten. Like being buried in maggots. He shuddered at the memory.
"I don't know what I want," he murmmured. He sat down against a wall of a building and vaguely heard someone say, "Hey, you can't stay here!"
Angel. Fred ...
Something sharp going into his back. Angel's anguished face before everything went black. The beeping of the monitors. Everything going cold.
He shuddered again.
He was in Angel's arms, and he remembered how badly he wanted to say sorry for the mess he had caused, that he didn't want anyone to get hurt. It was his fault that the Green Elemental gained control, he didn't blame anyone for trying to stop him. But it hurt to know that he would die at Fred's hands. It seemed poetic, to be pierced by the person you loved.
"Hey. You okay?"
A tentative voice. Wesley lifted his head from his knees and saw a girl staring down at him, her face worried. "Did you come from Avarice? Do you need help? Are you okay?"
He wasn't sure what question to answer first ... then he said softly. "I think I'm okay now."
He was alive again. He knew that he had died, but somehow he was back again. And this time ... he do things differently.
"Do you have friends? Family? Someone I can contact?"
Wesley considered that. Then slowly, he said: "No. I'm alone."
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