TITLE: The Very Best Time of the Year
DISCLAIMER: Joss and ME own Wes, and all things Angel. I'm only playing with them. I promise not to hurt them. Much.
NOTES: Chap 5 of 5. You see, I promised to finish before Christmas and I did (only just!) This has been so much fun to write and I really appreciate the feedback you've all given me. I have to admit, I'll miss mini Wes, but I'm a good girl, and I always put my toys back when I've finished playing with them. Usually in the right place…
Hugs to Lonely Brit for her fantastic beta work, and a merry Christmas to all you mini (and full size) Wes fans out there!
Chapter 5: A Strange Enchanted Time
'That very best time,
That strange enchanted time,
That shining magic time of year.'
'What the hell were you thinking?!'
Norman eyed his boss warily. The tall and comfortably plump white bearded man was pacing back and forth across his office, his cheeks ruddy with anger rather than the more customary jollity.
'Good Grief, Norman, you used Wish Magic! Do you have any idea of the problems you've caused?' He lifted a large manila file and thrust it under Norman's nose. 'This is a memo from the Powers that Be, listing the damage which has already occurred to the time line.'
The folder appeared to be rather thick. The boss threw the file onto the desk theatrically and gestured to the phone on the desk.
'And I've already had a call from upstairs warning that our wish license will be revoked, unless we sort this mess out pretty damn quick!'
The large man slumped into his chair, and covered his face with his hands, shaking his head in disbelief.
'Honestly, Norman, what possessed you? I could understand if it were Dave, big-hearted softie that he is, but you? At this year's AGM, you were the one who suggested we leave turnips in the Naughty list stockings.'
He waited for the tirade to peter out, then chewed his lip nervously.
'Felt sorry for the kid, Nick. He was having a really crappy Christmas.'
The other rolled his eyes heavenward.
'Did you even bother to find out who he was when you granted the wish? What part he would have in future events?' He slapped his palms down on the manila file, hard, making Norman jump. 'That's what files and records are for, Norman. To check out the Powers' plans, make sure we don't do anything to upset the equilibrium.'
He leaned down and pulled open a deep drawer in his desk. Removed another document, this time bound in gilt-edged leather.
'Congratulations, Norman. You have single-handedly managed to meddle with two major prophecies in as many days. And you picked the very best time of the year to play fairy Godfather.' His voice positively dripped sarcasm. 'I mean, the night before the night before Christmas – were you intentionally trying to piss me off?'
Norman was beginning to wonder if he would ever stop. Okay, he would admit that he hadn't thought about the full implications of his actions, but it wasn't as if he'd done it on purpose. The boss was flicking through the prophecy file absently, as a light on the desk intercom flashed.
'I've got D'Hoffryn for you on line one, sir.'
The boss rolled his eyes heavenwards, pressed a button on the phone.
'Put him on hold, Glenda. I just can't listen to him gloating.' He groaned softly, rested his head in his hands, rubbing his temples lightly. 'You know what D'Hoffryn would do in this situation, don't you?'
'Skin me alive, I shouldn't wonder,' Norman answered, reasonably confident that Nick was too much of a nice guy to do that.
Nick looked hard at him, and he felt himself turning a deep crimson.
'I think for an elf in your situation, a flippant attitude is rather ill-advised.' His tone was colder then the arctic wind outside, and his usually kindly eyes were icy blue.
'He'd make you mortal.'
Norman just stared at him. He'd heard the rumours of course, about the vengeance demon who had been condemned to live as a human for failing in her duties. Norman could imagine no worse punishment then to lose his immortality, be forced to live among petty humans.
'Nick, come on… think about this…' He was mortified to realize that he was almost begging.
The older man sighed softly.
'It's okay, Norman. I'm not in the vengeance business. Besides, I've far too much to do before tomorrow – thanks to your little wishcapade.' He rose from the desk and gathered the files and papers, shuffled them and looked pointedly at Norman. 'You did remember your list, I hope?'
Norman reached into his pocket and pulled out his battered notebook, handed it sheepishly to his boss. He pulled on his thin-rimmed half moon spectacles and surveyed the list.
'Hmm. Well, everything seems to be in order, although you do have a rather sizeable Naughty list… '
Norman shrugged diffidently, as the man slipped on a dark red velvet jacket, trimmed with pristine white ermine. He moved out from behind the desk and made his way to the office door.
'I want this mess sorted out, Norman.' Again his voice was tinged with steel. 'I want the boy returned home, and the time line restored.'
'And the boy is to have no memories of this whole episode. Am I making myself clear?'
He exited the office, shaking his head in disbelief. 'You better pray the fairies don't get wind of this, Norman.
He stood quietly in the centre of the room. It could have been worse, he supposed, although short of carrying out his threat to make him human, he wasn't sure how. He was about to leave the room, when he realized that the boss had left one of the files behind. It was the leather bound prophecy he had produced earlier.
He lifted it, intending to follow the boss and return the document He wasn't sure why he glanced down at the open book, and scanned the page briefly.
What he read there made him catch his breath.
He dropped the book as if it were red hot and hurried out of the room.
He placed a hand under the boy's arm, supporting the weight of the crossbow a little, as the tension in the muscle became an almost imperceptible tremble.
'That's it. Hold it steady.'
He could hear the hurried rhythm of his heart, felt it beat in the muscle bed, and realized that the quickening of his pulse had as much to do with nerves as physical strain.
'It's okay, Wes. You can do this,' he reassured him.
The little boy swallowed audibly. 'I'm not sure…' he whispered, his voice soft, hesitant.
'Trust me, Wes; you're good at this. There's a reason no one in the local ex-pat pubs will play darts against you. You are an incredible shot.'
Again the child's heart rate accelerated, his face flushed pink at the unexpected compliment, a shy smile hovering near his lips. He loved to see that little half-embarrassed smile, the self-conscious joy at a word of praise, not quite hidden behind the quiet self-deprecation.
It was clear now where that came from. Angel was all too aware of the power of a negative paternal influence. For him, his father's oft expressed dissatisfaction with his behaviour had simply made him more determined to disobey, to disappoint. He understood that he could never be what his father wanted, so he had given up trying. Whereas Wesley had never stopped. Always trying to live up to impossible expectations, and meeting with scornful criticism when he failed. And if you get told that you're not good enough, often enough, you start to believe it.
He shifted his weight onto one knee, and continued to steady the crossbow.
'Now, take your aim, nice and easy…' He waited patiently as Wesley levelled the weapon, focused on the target. 'Now take a breath, let it out completely, then fire.'
The child obeyed, exhaled fully, and released the bolt. It flew across the lobby, embedding itself in the centre of the target Angel had set up. As it struck home, Lorne appeared through the double doors that lead down to the kitchen.
'Guess I should be glad you're such a good shot, my little demon hunter.'
Immediately Wesley was contrite.
'Gosh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you there.'
Angel looked over at the demon, sighing peevishly.
'Lorne. You knew we were practising.'
The green demon winked conspiratorially at Wes. 'I knew I was safe as long as it was Wes behind the bow.'
The little rosy-cheeked smile that Wesley sent Lorne made Angel bite his tongue; prevented him from challenging the demon's poorly hidden criticism of his crossbow skills.
'So was there a reason for your little brush with impalement, or did you just come up here to insult me?'
'As tempting as that option now seems, that was not my original intention.' He winked at Wesley, who tried very hard not to smile. 'Had to get away from Hell's kitchen. She's down there doing unspeakable things to a defenceless turkey.'
As he spoke, the doors swung open, and Gunn ran through, clutching several bags of mini marshmallows. He dived into the inner office and began twisting the dial on the combination safe. A moment later, Cordelia appeared through the doors, wearing a pink PVC apron, rather inappropriately decorated with cherubs and harps. She, however, was looking far from angelic. Her face was pink with fury, unintentionally matching her apron; although the light dusting of flour which reached past her hairline concealed the full intensity of her anger. She was wielding a small but incredibly sharp vegetable peeler, which she waved ominously in Gunn's general direction.
'Give them back!' she hissed.
Gunn stayed behind the counter, showed her his empty hands. 'No marshmallows in the sweet potatoes, Cordy. It's against the laws of nature. Or at least taste.'
'It's traditional!' she screeched, making Wesley jump a little.
Angel laid his hand on the little boy's shoulder, very lightly, and was relieved when he did not flinch, just moved a bit closer to him. Immediately all Cordelia's anger evaporated.
'Oh, I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean to yell. I just want this to be a perfect Christmas.' Here she threw a daggered look at Gunn. 'One that you'll always remember.'
A look of unadulterated adoration shone out of the child's eyes.
'It already is,' he whispered, sending her that shy little half-smile.
Angel drew him closer, gave the thin shoulder below his hand a gentle squeeze.
'There's just one thing missing.' There was a mischievous quality to his voice now.
'What's that, sweetie?' Cordy was all concern. Angel truly believed that if Wes asked for the moon on a stick, Cordy would book a seat on the next shuttle flight to get it for him. Hell, they all would. Mini Wes had them wrapped around his little finger.
The child gestured to the Christmas tree. 'We don't have an angel for the top of the tree.'
'He's right, you know.' Lorne lounged against the counter, eyeing the child with curiosity.
Wesley slipped out from under his arm and scooted over to the couch; retrieved something from under the cushions. Gunn grinned broadly, and came out from behind the counter, lifting Wes into his arms, keeping whatever it was hidden between them. He carried him over to the tree, and Wes reached up and placed the object in the uppermost branches.
It was the toy that Gunn and Cordy had bought for him, an action figure dressed all in black, holding a crossbow. Angel glanced down at his own attire, eerily similar to that of the toy; the small crossbow that Wes had just fired still in his hand.
Wesley was grinning widely, his eyes positively gleaming with wickedness.
'There,' he announced triumphantly. 'An angel for the top of the tree.'
Angel leaned back in his chair, stretched out his legs, viewing the scene before him with satisfaction. Cordelia was settled on the small couch; Wesley curled in her lap, glasses slightly askew. He was fast asleep. Gunn and Lorne were both sprawled in chairs, pleasantly stuffed from the surprisingly edible Christmas dinner Cordy had prepared.
Angel laid the book to one side, and Lorne protested softly.
'Hey, I was enjoying that!'
Angel raised his eyebrows and tossed the demon the book. Lorne caught it and pouted a little. 'It's not fair. No one ever read me a bedtime story…'
'Yeah, your mother didn't strike me as the type to read fairytales. Star in them, yes, but…'
Lorne smiled ruefully. 'Actually now you come to mention it, I think she might have inspired the one about the goats and the troll.'
Cordy shushed him gently. 'Don't wake Wes!'
She shifted the sleeping child on her lap, and Gunn made a move to stand. Angel was on his feet first, gathering Wesley in his arms and lifting him easily. He was surprisingly light, even after the mountain of food Cordelia had piled on his plate.
'I'll carry him up; you sort out the presents, okay?' He nodded to the stocking they had placed under the Christmas tree.
Cordelia nodded, then stood up and removed Wesley's glasses carefully, brushed her hand across his cheek very lightly. Angel carried him out of the office, and was almost at the staircase when the lobby door opened.
'I'll be with you in a moment,' he said softly to the rather small, strangely dressed man who had just entered the hotel. 'Got to get the kid to bed before Santa comes.' He winked conspiratorially at the man, who for some reason looked quite upset.
'It's funny you should mention him…'
'So you see, he's got to go back. And all memories of this,' Norman paused and gestured around him, 'will have to be erased.'
Cordelia gave a tiny half-sob. 'Couldn't you just let him remember a little? He was so happy...'
The elf shook his head sadly. 'I'm sorry. I wish I could, but it's not possible. The timeline would be distorted if he knew what his destiny was.'
Angel watched the elf closely as he spoke. He did seem genuinely sorry, and from what he had told them, it wasn't his choice to send mini Wes back home. Gunn was pacing back and forth across the office, his arms folded over his chest, clearly trying to control his anger.
'You cannot send Wes back to that house. Do you know what that man did to him?'
If possible, the elf looked even more shamefaced.
'Why do you think I granted him the wish in the first place?' he said softly. 'Look, we all agree that the situation is, well, far from perfect, but we know that it turns out okay. He turns out okay.' He paused, clearly uncertain of their reaction to his next suggestion. 'Perhaps your friend is the man he is because of his childhood. You know, out of life's school of war…'
'What does not destroy me, makes me stronger,' Angel finished, and gave the elf a sardonic look. 'Not sure I want to test Nietzsche's theories on a seven year old.'
Norman sighed. 'I know. But we have no choice. I have to send him home, and it has to be tonight.'
'What about us?' Lorne spoke for the first time. 'Do we get to remember what happened?'
'Um, I don't know. The boss didn't say anything about erasing your memories.'
'Then we can tell him what happened!' Cordy was almost happy again.
Angel and Norman said it simultaneously, then looked at each other.
'The strain on the memory wipe would have serious repercussions for future and past events.'
'It wouldn't be fair to Wes. If he knew that we know about his childhood. It's not as if he's shared it with us intentionally.'
Cordy opened her mouth to protest, then sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly. Gunn nodded in resignation, his lips pressed together. He moved to stand in front of the elf, looming over him deliberately.
'Okay, but he gets to keep the presents, understand?'
Norman rubbed his hands over his face, massaging his temples. Angel thought he heard him whisper 'Bloody mortals', but so quietly that he might have imagined it.
'One present, that's all I can manage. Do you people know the trouble this could cause?' It sounded as if he was quoting someone else's words, as if he didn't really agree with it himself.
Angel walked to the tree, no doubt in his mind which present they would give Wes. He reached up to the highest branch and removed the black-clad action figure from its pride of place there. The others nodded solemnly, and he handed the toy to Norman.
The elf slipped the toy into the pocket of his coat, and pulled out a bright green holly leaf. He sprinkled a handful of glittering dust over the tiny sprig, and it shimmered as if frosted by a winter's morning. He closed his eyes briefly, whispered a few words that Angel did not recognize, then clenched his palm tight over the holly. The brittle bright leaf crumbled easily, and he opened his hand, blew gently onto the contents. The crystalline powder floated as if suspended in the air, then was swept towards the doors, swirling as if carried by a soft breeze. And suddenly was gone.
Norman heaved a sigh, and began to button up his overcoat. 'It's done. Your friend will be back to normal now.' As he fastened the final button, the air around him became hazy, and he began to fade out of sight.
'Listen, for what it's worth, I am sorry. I wish things could have been different.'
And the irony of his words was not lost on them.
Wesley Wyndham-Pryce stretched out on his sofa, and took a sip of the Lagavulin he had poured for himself after he had finally persuaded the others that he was fine, thank you, feeling much better and all he needed was a bit of a lie down and some peace and quiet.
Which he was not going to get while Cordy rather uncharacteristically fussed around him, continually demanding if he wanted tea, coffee, or, quite bizarrely, chocolate milk.
And Angel and Gunn were almost as bad. They had gone into raptures over the fairly ordinary Christmas presents he had given them; to the extent of hugging him so hard that he was having trouble breathing.
And they had been doing that a lot. Hugging him. Not that he really minded, of course, but his ribs were beginning to ache a little. They had explained it to him, how he had fallen under a spell after opening an enchanted Christmas present, and Angel and Gunn had discovered him unconscious on the floor of his flat three days ago. They had brought him to the Hyperion, while they searched for an antidote for the spell, which Lorne had come up with. Exact details of the spell and its antidote were rather sketchy at best, but then again, research methodology had never been his friends' strong suit. He was just glad they had managed to wake him up.
He let a mouthful of the smoky liquid slide down his throat, creating a pleasant burning sensation in his chest. There was something familiar about the taste, a wonderfully hazy awareness of having done this before, a vague feeling of déjà vu.
He set the glass down abruptly and stood up, was drawn to the hall cupboard, for no reason that he could fathom. He clicked on the light, and felt on the top shelf, until his hand came into contact with the box he didn't know he was looking for. He lifted the long white shoe box down from the shelf, took off the lid carefully. The contents of the box made him catch his breath.
Nestled within the dark tissue paper were a number of childhood treasures. A small set of beautifully painted tin soldiers, a dog-eared copy of 'Biggles' which he had managed to keep hidden from his father, and one of his favourite toys, a Commando Action Man, dressed all in black, complete with a tiny perfect crossbow. He wasn't exactly sure when he had been given it, and then suddenly he remembered.
A Christmas many years ago, he had been perhaps seven or eight. He had been locked under the stairs for some childish error in his translation of a protection spell. His father had been very angry with him, had left him there all night to teach him a lesson. The longest night of the year, in more than one sense.
The next morning, when the door finally opened onto the semi darkness of a winter's dawn, he had been shocked to find his father almost contrite. It had been a mistake; he had been working on a difficult translation, lost track of the time, and had forgotten to let Wesley out. His voice gruff with unaccustomed kindness, he did not apologize, asked Wesley why he had not called out, for goodness sake? Wesley had known enough to keep silent, to enjoy this unfamiliar concern from his parent. And on Christmas morning a few days later, he had received the Action Man toy in his stocking, took it as an unspoken apology from his father.
He rubbed his thumb over the trigger on the back, and the tiny bolt flew from the bow, landing in the bottom of the shoebox. Wesley reached in and pulled out a white envelope in which the bolt was embedded.
It was pristine white vellum, with his full name written in black copperplate script on the front. Now this, he had no memory of receiving. He turned the envelope over, slid his thumbnail under the flap, breaking the seal deftly. He pulled out a card which featured a picture of a rather grumpy looking elf, opened it, and read the message inside.
To Wesley James Wyndam-Pryce,
Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
A word of advice:
Never trust a talking hamburger.
He pulled the coat around him tightly, peering into the apartment. The tall Englishman stood up and carried the card over to the desk by window, rubbing his hand over his chin rather thoughtfully. Norman watched him intently. If they found out about this at HQ, all hell would break loose. He looked into those soft blue eyes and smiled to himself.
What the hell, he'd heard there was some good skiing in Siberia at this time of the year.