DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the characters in this story except for Hopie and Anni; everyone else is the property of Joss Whedon and company.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: For anyone who has not read Only Hope, let me catch you up to speed. Angel and Cordy found Hopie, a four year old with an incredible power and destiny tied to a magic so ancient that it was governed by The Powers that Were, not The Powers that Be. Hopie, the Shanshu child, embodies the essences of Buffy, Cordy, Angel, and Conner, she has adopted Angel and Cordy as her parents, and she has a deep affection for battle. Hopie's Champion, Faith, is now out of prison and is living in the Hyperion, along with Lindsey and the rest of the Fang Gang. Just a heads up, this story is Angel/Cordy, Buffy/Spike, Dawn/Connor, Faith/Lindsey, Wesley/Lilah, Fred/Gunn, Xander/Anya, and the whole Connor-Cordy sleeping together thing NEVER happened.
Please read and review, even if you just make a smiley face! I'd like to know if you're reading/enjoying this fic. Constructive criticism is also appreciated, and I honor most requests in the way of plot.
Le Bella: Chapter One
The girl slipped through the crowd unnoticed, even though she was remarkably pretty for a child on the edge of her teen years. She had a solemn look: brown hair, wide set blue eyes, and light skin. She walked briskly towards the Hyperion Hotel. She was a girl-woman on a mission.
Inside the hotel, a battle of epic proportions was in the midst of being waged between the forces of good and tiny. Tiny (and stubborn) was winning by far.
"Hopie," Angel said sweetly, "honey, please come down before Momma sees you up there." Hopie, perfectly content with her perch twelve feet off the ground, simply stared at Angel, her face free of any trace of fear.
"I like it up here," Hopie told him seriously. "I'm taller than you are and jumping would be fun and then maybe I could just stay here and not go to school." Angel's non-beating heart raced nonetheless.
"Don't jump," he instructed firmly. Hopie shrugged.
"Okay," she said. "I'll stay here." Angel sighed. He was being outwitted by a four year old.
"You'll like school, Hopie. You'll learn, and there will be other children to play with, and you'll look so pretty in the dress your momma bought you." Angel was starting to doubt the aforementioned dress was ever going to get any use. Hopie was still wearing a white nightgown, and from the stubborn set of her jaw, she had no intentions of coming down.
"Kids to play with?" Hopie asked. "Will we play battle?" Angel smiled encouragingly at the child, not wanting to lie to her. Hopie was too sharp to fall for that. "No one will play battle with me and the teacher won't like me and there will be boys. I don't like boys."
"You like me," Angel reminded her. "And Connor."
"My Connor is not a boy," Hopie said, with all of the conviction of a small child. Angel tried not to smile. Hopie's Connor would probably take offense to that statement. He couldn't help it, he grinned at the little girl, completely using any credibility he had as the stern daddy.
"She still up there?" Gunn asked, coming into the room. "Cordy will be down any second and your name is mud if the kiddo up there isn't all dressed and ready for kindergarten." Hopie giggled. Angel groaned. The kid had Cordelia's twisted sense of humor.
The young girl paused outside the door of the Hyperion, preparing herself mentally. She was in perfect control of everything. Everything would be fine. Wes would know what to do. She opened the door and took in the sight of a two-hundred and forty-seven year old vampire pleading with a four year old munchkin, who clearly had the upper hand, being firmly out of the reach of any of the adults.
The girl cleared her throat. "Excuse me," she said, keeping the British accent out of her voice due to force of habit. "Can any of you tell me where Wesley Wyndham-Price's office is?" She was infinitely polite. Angel and Gunn turned around, startled that they hadn't heard the girl enter the room.
"He doesn't work here anymore," Gunn replied, giving the girl a once over look. She looked about thirteen, but she could have been younger or older, with a polished innocent air about her that made Gunn want to smile.
"Oh," she replied. "Can you direct me to his current place of residence, or possibly his current employer? It would be a great service to me, and perhaps I could do you a favor as well." She approached Angel, keeping her eyes locked onto Hopie's.
"You want to know a secret?" she asked the child. Hopie looked at her suspiciously.
"Not if I have to come down," she replied firmly. "I'm staying up here forever, or at least until the next demon comes." Angel blanched, wishing the child would remember not to talk about demons with strangers. The strange girl didn't so much as blink.
"This is a secret about a demon," she said. Hopie considered the girl's words.
"Can I kill him with my crossbow?" Hopie asked, thoroughly intrigued.
"Oh no, crossbows are fair useless against Shekorith demons. There's only one thing that can be used to kill one, but if you're just going to sit up there, I guess you'll never ever know what it is." The girl, noticing Hopie's shift in position turned to Angel and conversationally commanded, "Catch her." Sure enough, Hopie had launched herself off her perch. She landed in Angel's arms, giggling. He put a stern look on his face.
"Hope, that wasn't funny," he said seriously. Hopie frowned. He wasn't very happy with her, and she hated having anyone mad at her almost as much as she hated the thought of going some place where she couldn't talk to anyone about demons or vamps or anything interesting at all.
"You have to cut off its toes," the girl whispered in Hopie's ear. Hopie giggled. Cordelia entered the room and took in instantly that Hopie wasn't dressed yet, Angel had his do-I-really-have-to-scold-the-baby look on, and a girl of about twelve, with impeccable fashion taste, was standing just to Angel's left.
Cordy crossed the room and took Hopie from Angel's arms. "Upstairs. Clothes. Now please, munchkin." Hopie, recognizing the voice of authority, quickly scampered off. Angel sighed. Strangely, parenthood was coming naturally to Cordy, whereas the kid clearly had him wrapped around her little finger.
"Rough morning?" Cordelia asked him. He nodded. Cordy turned her attention to the girl at Angel's side. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Bella," the girl replied, carefully omitting her last name. "I'm looking for Wesley Wyndham-Price. Do you perhaps have his forwarding address?" Cordy's mother instinct kicked in.
"I don't think you should be going there," she said. "I don't know that it's safe." The girl arched one delicate brown eyebrow. The girl simply stared until someone gave in, giving her Wesley's address. She thanked them and left quietly, realizing perfectly well that someone was tailing her, but not really caring.
Faith turned to Lindsey. "Tell me again why we're following some teen when today is Hopie's first day of kindergarten." Lindsey pressed a quick kiss to Faith's lips. He had watched the scene in the hotel from the stairs, amused when Hopie had refused to listen to Angel and fascinated by something he saw in the other young girl. Faith, consumed even by a small kiss from Lindsey, let the question hang in the air.
"Let Angel and Cordy have Hopie's first day of kindergarten," Lindsey said softly, drawing back from the kiss. "You can take her with you patrolling tonight." Faith sighed, wishing for a child of her own. Lindsey, knowing what she was thinking smiled. He wouldn't mind having a little Faith himself.
Bella knocked on the door to Wes's apartment. A woman dressed in a business skirt suit opened the door. Her hair was still slightly mussed. Bella ignored it. "Is Wesley here?" she asked. Lilah looked speculatively at the girl.
"Wes," she called. "You have a visitor." She turned to Bella. "Aren't you little and cute?" she asked. Bella stared at her, unperturbed.
"Sure," she replied. "What, pray tell, are you?" Wes entered the room, pulling a shirt over his head.
"What's going on?" he asked. He didn't generally have visitors who weren't Lilah or looking for some reluctant source of help. He stared at the girl in the entryway. She looked very familiar. He raised his eyebrow at her. "Hello," he said in a low, mild voice that didn't match at all with the tauter, higher-pitched voice Bella remembered.
"Don't tell me you don't recognize me," she said, slipping into her natural British accent at the sight of her brother. "I can't have changed all that much."
Wes opened his eyes wider. "Anni? My god, Anni, it is you. What in the world are you doing here? Are mother and father here? Look at how grown you are."
"No one has called me Anni since you left," Bella said softly. "No one but you ever did. And no, mother and father aren't here. They don't know that I am here, and if you plan on telling them, then I'll walk right back out this door, and you'll never see me again."
"Don't threaten me, Anni," Wes said in a low voice. "It isn't becoming." His voice became lighter with the last phrase. "You took a transatlantic flight by yourself? You could have been hurt." She ran to her brother, thinking that she really wouldn't mind being Anni all of the time now.
"If it makes you feel better, you can yell at me," she said, hugging him tightly. Wesley hugged her back, pushing back the feeling that he was somehow too dirty to touch her.
"I probably will," he replied. "Later." Lilah pursed her lips, quite sure that whoever this girl was, she was taking a part of Wes's heart, a part of his mind, that she would never have. Lilah Morgan didn't like to share.
"And you'll share with the other kids, right?" Cordy asked as she tied Hopie's long black hair into a ponytail. Hopie nodded. "And you won't talk about…" Cordy paused for Hopie to answer.
After a petulant pause, Hopie said, "Demons or battle or Daddy being a vampire or my visions or nothin' good." She dug her foot into the ground to show her disapproval. "Momma," she said finally, and Cordy's heart warmed as it always did to hear her adopted daughter use that name. "Do you think maybe I can stay home and you can go to kindergarten?" Cordelia laughed.
"Tell you what," she said. "If you're really good today in school, I bet Aunt Faith will let you go out with her tonight." Hopie smiled. Aunt Faith was one of her favorite people.
Faith and Lindsey listened carefully outside of the apartment. "I didn't know English had a sister," Faith said.
"I don't think Lilah did either," Lindsey said, "which concerns me. Wolfram and Hart knows everything. Lilah should know Wes's second grade teacher's name, and here this Bella, or Anni or whatever her name is has existed beneath their radar. She has a secret, that girl, and there's no doubt she's running."
"Running away from someone else or to Wesley?" Faith asked. Lindsey shrugged.
"Honestly," he replied, "I think it's a little of both." They both knew what it was like to run, and Faith realized that that was what Lindsey had seen in the girl, the desire to get away. She felt a sort of pull towards the child, nothing like the incredible connection she felt to Hopie as her Champion, more along the lines of feeling like a kindred spirit. It wouldn't, Faith decided, hurt to keep her eyes out for this one as well.
"Hopie," Cordelia said in a warning voice. "Give it to me."
"What?" Hopie asked, batting her innocent eyes. Cordelia didn't fall for it. She held out her hand. Hopie sighed, taking the small sword out from behind her back and placing it in her mother's open hand. Now she was quite certain that kindergarten wouldn't be any fun at all. What kind of fun could you have without a crossbow or a sword or any cool toys?