Title: A Lifetime of Waiting
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Rating: M (language, themes)
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: It took awhile- months, maybe- before Piper stopped looking twice at every six-foot forty-something blond man that passed her by. 2500 words.
Spoilers: Drive Angry (2011); Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)
Notes: I can't believe it took another B-level supernatural Cage movie to break my writer's block. *facepalm* I might as well just make a series of these: Balthazar Blake investigating the wind-torn branches of his family tree. (Starting with "Originating Agent", of course.)
It took awhile- months, maybe- before Piper stopped looking twice at every six-foot forty-something man with receding blond hair that passed her by.
Webster did it, too, she noticed; she never asked about the braced knee, but the way he massaged it after every near miss, she knew it had something to do with the bad business behind them. Webster had said they'd got in over their heads, and John had gone off alone without him to try and get them out of it. She figured that injury, whatever was done to his leg, was probably why John hadn't let him go along. They'd threatened John's family and hurt his friend, so John had hurt them- and put hisself six feet under getting it done.
There hadn't been a coffin when he'd gone after the man that killed his daughter, but otherwise the story rang all too familiar. That last moment, him fading again, slumped against that half-assed altar- the memory of it still locked her throat up tight when she least expected it. Webster asked her once how come she was so willing to adopt little Suzy when she'd only known Suzy's granddad over a couple crazy days, and all she'd been able to think of was the softening lines around those mismatched eyes when John told her he'd picked her because he knew how fierce a mother she'd make. Didn't make much sense, not even to her, so it didn't surprise her that Webster didn't get it. The man had wrenched her life off-track without even a good fuck to repay her, and left her with two dead cops and a shot-up car to her credit. But there was just something about him...
Hellbound or not, John Milton had been- was- a good man; a better one, at least, than any man she'd ever dated or any boss she'd ever worked for. Which, all right, might not be saying much, but it was still God's honest truth. And Webster, carrying his own griefs though he was, was cut from the same sturdy cloth. He didn't burn quite as bright- the passion in him all banked down to ash- but that was all right with Piper. She had a baby to look after, now; one who'd already seen enough excitement for one lifetime.
Webster took her down to the judge to claim her and Suzy under his own name, then set her up with decent work without ever demanding repayment for it. Didn't quibble, either, when she went out to find a cowboy type to paint her toenails for her every now and again- just told her to be careful, for her and her daughter's sake. And in return, she'd come to love the man, just a little. More as father than husband- but enough to call his place a home like she hadn't had in years.
And more than that, she'd fallen in love with John's baby girl: with her smiles, her soft laughter, even the nights spent walking the floors with her wails and all the spit-up staining Piper's best shirts. Suzy was hers. She would fuck up anyone who so much as looked at that baby cross-eyed, and she made sure every single person who came within sight-range of Suzy knew it. If it cut into Piper's social life some, well- anyone who'd balk at a kid weren't worth looking twice at anyway.
She hoped she was making John's existence boring, wherever that creepy motherfucker of an Accountant took him when they'd disappeared. That cell John talked about, that screen he said he'd been watching- she was damned well determined it would be blank for the rest of Suzy's life. If all Hell's Warden ever showed his inmates was the suffering of their loved ones, then there would sure as fuck be nothing for John to see, if Piper had anything to say about it.
Still, she caught herself smiling in off moments, a tingle working up her spine like eyes watching from a distance. She'd rub her face in Suzy's tummy when that happened, telling her daughter her Papaw was looking in to say hello... hoping, just a little, that she wasn't really lying. A fancy, maybe, but one that surely couldn't hurt; she liked the idea of giving John pleasant memories to outweigh the bad ones.
There was never any sign, one way or the other- until one day the feeling came again, and Piper slid out from under the car she was working on to see someone in a patchwork coat bending over the playpen where Suzy reached up in greeting. She laughed at him like he was someone she knew- and Piper saw red, snatching up the nearest wrench and advancing on him with intent.
Then he turned. Six foot or so, dark blond, weather-beaten around the edges; hair too long, and clothes more like someone escaped from a circus than what she remembered, but his face-
"Milton!" she cried, the wrench falling unheeded from her hand as she threw herself at him, clattering on the smooth concrete floor.
John staggered backward a step or so, arms coming up awkwardly to catch her. "Whoa, hey," he said, half-groping her as he settled her weight against him. "I gather I've come to the right place?"
"Of course you've come to the right place, you unbelievable asshole!" She sniffled, enjoying the solid shape of him against her for the space of a few breaths, then let go of his coat and pushed away, giving herself just enough room for a solid punch to his breastbone. "I thought we were never gonna see you again! Did you escape again or something? Tell me you're not back on the run from that guy."
He looked a little surprised at the blow, and his eyebrows flew up as he lifted a hand to rub at the bruised spot- a hand covered in rings, she suddenly noticed. And his eyes- his eyes matched again, which unexpectedly threw her; the one he'd been shot in had been paler than the other when it first healed. More reality bending, she supposed- just like whatever ability he had that let him escape Hell and ransack Satan's office in the first place, never mind take a bullet in the side and another in the face and still keep going 'til Suzy was saved. A shiver ran through her, and she rubbed fretfully at her upper arms.
"Look," he said, a little awkwardly- another strangeness, after the never-faltering intensity of before. "I get that I must look a lot like my, ah, nephew, but-"
"What?" she blurted, taken off guard yet again. She hastily looked him over again: yeah, the clothes were all wool and leather and layers over pointy shoes, nothing like the usual jeans and cotton and boots, but Piper would never forget that face, or the lean whipcord shape of him. There was no way it wasn't him.
"You are shittin' me, John Milton," she said, anger brewing in the pit of her stomach. "What is your problem? You are not going to pretend you don't know me, not after everything you put me through!"
He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I should have known when he looked just like me he'd turn out to be one of the gifted ones," he muttered. "Trouble, every last one of them." Then he opened his eyes again and tried on a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "As I was saying. John Milton was my nephew. But we were never exactly close, before he died- and I was a little, ah, unavailable when his daughter got into trouble. By the time I was free to come looking for her, all the leads had gone cold- including the body of her killer."
Piper crossed her arms, furrowing her brow at John- no, at the man who claimed to be John's uncle. Milton hadn't exactly been what she'd call sane, though he'd had good reason not to be; she wasn't sure whether she wanted to believe what he was spinning, or just assume he'd lost a few more screws on his way back up again. "Let's say I believe you. Then how the hell did you find us?"
John's expression flattened a little, going remote the way it had when she'd been pressing him for answers he hadn't wanted to give yet, before. For a moment, she thought he'd refuse to tell her, and she clenched her fists, watching him through narrowed eyes. Then he glanced down at Suzy again and sighed.
"I don't suppose you know the name 'Anubis'?" he asked.
Piper started, remembering iron hands holding her close as a shield against John's vengeance; the cool amusement in Satan's tally counter as they watched John stomp down the cultists taking the dark one's name in vain; what that thing said to her when she'd stolen the godkilling gun back from him. Was that the other name John had called him?
Her stomach quailed a little; then she tipped her chin up and stepped forward, giving him a shove. "If you're not Milton, and you ain't dead, then just back the hell away from Suzy. No one on speaking terms with Satan's Accountant should be anywhere near my baby girl."
He let her push him back a few steps, then dug his heels in. "I wouldn't call it speaking terms, exactly," he said, then nodded toward the playpen. "Suzy, huh? Is that short for anything?"
"Susanne," she said firmly, giving him another few paces worth of shove back through the garage door. "Susanne Jane Webster. For my momma, and her Papaw, and her new step-daddy. And what do you mean, 'not exactly'?"
"That's a fine name," he said mildly, still refusing to react to her manhandling. "And I mean, it's more that he hates the sight of me- he and his opposite both think of me as, well, let's call it 'unfinished business'. Though they should really take their quarrel up with Merlin, not me. But he was in a good mood the last time I saw him, and I thought it strange enough to ask a few questions."
Gifted ones, he'd muttered earlier. And now this. Merlin? Piper blinked, disbelief warring with the crazy things she'd seen John do. He never had explained any of it, not really. "And his answers brought you here?" she asked sharply, wondering what it all meant for her daughter.
The not-John lookalike- she was pretty convinced he wasn't lying about that now- relaxed a little at the question. "Sure did," he said. "I never knew John had the family legacy, before; but since he did, and since the cult wanted Suzy so badly, I figured she did, too." He gestured with one hand as though to punctuate his sentence, and a bright blaze of greenish-yellow light sparked off one of his rings. "I wanted to see for myself that she was safe."
Before she could blink twice, movement drew her eye back to the playpen. Suzy floated up off her blankets, giggling as she waved all her perfect little limbs, and another cold wash of fear swept through Piper. She made an abortive move forward, then froze again, hands held up in front of her. "Don't- don't hurt her," she couldn't help saying. "She ain't done nothing to you."
John's uncle held his arms out in a kind of sling shape, and Suzy drifted right into his careful grip. He chucked her under her chin with one beringed finger, then gave Piper a cool, almost offended look. "I would never dream of hurting your daughter," he replied. "She's an innocent; and my blood; and a very, very special little girl besides." He stroked an absent thumb over Suzy's soft cheek, then finally- finally- held her out toward Piper.
She didn't hesitate, instantly snatching her daughter from the familiar stranger's arms and cuddling her close enough Suzy made a disgruntled noise and started to squirm. "Yeah?" she challenged him.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Look- I can see you're not in the mood to talk about this now. But I'm going to leave a ward on your house- and I'll keep coming back, until she's ready to learn and you're ready to trust me."
"Learn what?" Piper frowned. "And what the hell is your name, anyway?"
He flashed a grin at her then- sudden, wide and a little bit crazy, and her breath caught with remembrance. "I've been rude, haven't I? Can't have that. Call me Balthazar Blake."
"Balthazar?" she replied, skeptically.
He smirked at her. "Let's just say naming conventions were a little different, when I was born."
"And when was that, exactly," she said, flatly. She'd told John she didn't believe in the little superstitions that plagued people, but she did believe in demons. Was this all a trick? Had something- else- escaped and come to them in John's shape?
He tilted his head, then made another gesture- and the scraggly wild rose growing up against the outside of the garage flowered to life, stretching up the wall in out-of-season bloom. "A long time ago," he said. "But you don't need to worry; I serve life. I had nothing to do with Jonah King's cult."
Piper jiggled Suzy against her shoulder to calm her, eyeing the vine a little wildly. "You can do something like that and tell me you don't worship the devil?"
"Profane ritual is only one possible source of power," he shrugged. "And not a very good one, at that. My ability was something I was born with, just like John and Suzy, not something I made a pact to get. You can call it magic, or quantum physics, but it's not inherently evil; there are more wonders in this world than the men who wrote the Bible knew how to describe."
The whole thing was just crazy enough it might be true, but she still didn't like it. "We'll see about that," she replied, warily. He'd have to prove it before she'd trust him.
He nodded, slowly. "I'll bring my wife next time," he said. "She explains it better. I probably should have today, but I wasn't expecting to actually find you."
So like a guy, Piper thought, and finally relaxed a fraction. "You do that, then," she said.
He smiled. Light blazed from his hand again; then the air wavered, and he was gone.
Piper shivered, then stepped back through the garage door and shut it behind her.
"What the hell did you get me into, Milton?" she murmured, nuzzling her cheek against Suzy's where Blake had touched her daughter.
The hair on the back of her neck prickled at that; and she sighed, wondering if she'd always doubt that feeling in the future. "Don't worry, though," she added, feeling ridiculous. "I'm still in it for the long haul."
The prickling feeling subsided, and Piper set Suzy back in her playpen with a weary sigh.