The Beholder Part Five

Summary: Puck's thoughts during "The Gathering, Part II."

Author's Note: I'm not too thrilled with how this came out, but here it is. Feel free to criticize.

Stupid stupid stupid!

What was he doing back here?

The Puck was not a hero.

The Puck was not a savior.

Most importantly, the Puck was not a moron.

Oberon was powerful. More powerful than Puck had ever been or ever would be. He had no chance of defeating him.

But here he was, back at the castle.

The city had been deathly quiet, save for the sound of pouring rain. Oberon had put all the humans to sleep. Puck had wondered the streets in the mortal form he'd created, letting the rain soak him, chill him, not caring.

He'd just watched.

Watched as Oberon grew to monstrous size, punching the barrier around the building, the force field he'd so carefully helped to construct. Watched as the gargoyles – the gargoyles! – flew towards the Eyrie Building, apparently on the way to aid Xanatos.

Who had told them what was happening, anyway? He couldn't imagine …

In any case, they proceeded to do battle against the Lord of Avalon, all for the sake of their enemy.

Meanwhile, you couldn't even be bothered to stay …

"Shut up! What is this, do I have a conscience now? Is Jiminy Cricket going to show up and burst into song?"

It was good all the humans were asleep. That wasn't a very Owen thing to say.

Oh, but he'd tried. He'd tried not to care. He'd tried to make it funny. He'd watched and waited and inwardly trembled, all the while trying to crack jokes to himself.

Look, it's KING KONG Oberon!

Look, a giant blue smurf is attacking the Eyrie building!

"Anger clouds my judgment…" Look, Oberon quotes Star Wars, just like me!

And then his lord had brought the freezing rain, and Renard's airship went down, and … Oberon had gone beneath the building.

He hadn't anticipated that. The force field stopped at ground level. So much for his security measures. Before he could even blink, the field was gone.

Also before he could even blink, his feet had been carrying him towards the building. He'd stopped mid-stride and looked down at them, scowling.

Stupid feet.

But as soon as he'd looked back up again, the forward motion continued. He sighed.

So much for not looking back.

When he arrived, gargoyles and humans lay strewn about the ground, including David in his new iron armor. Oberon's handiwork.

And Oberon himself looked … gaunt. Withered. Weakened. Someone must have got him with iron really good.

The thought left Puck simultaneously discomfited and relieved.

"Finally," Oberon said. "All the nuisances have been eliminated."

"I'm afraid my lord, there's one nuisance left." Owen strode in, and rolled up his sleeve.

"Do you really think a stone fist will stop me, human?"

The Lord of Avalon couldn't even see through his mortal guise. He could still leave. Still run away, and Oberon would be none the wiser.

"Owen," Xanatos said, "I knew you'd come back."

Oh bullshit, David. You knew no such thing.

"It was against my better judgment, Mr. Xanatos, I assure you." It was my feet. They seem to have developed a mind of their own. "Nevertheless …"

And he tucked his glasses safely in his shirt pocket, just as he had when he'd revealed himself to David, years ago. He spun and spun and spun, and he let his magic come back to him, all the wild, thrilling power of it at his fingertips.

This was going to be foolish. This was going to be futile.

This was going to be fun.

"Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Puck!"

No one applauded, sadly. No one even gasped. He wished he could spare a glance for Goliath's reaction, but for the moment, Oberon held his gaze, and he could not look away.

"So, my servant Puck ignores our summons to serve a human." His voice dripped with contempt.

"I know what you're thinking: how the mighty have fallen. But I can explain."

"I am uninterested in your explanation. Stand aside, or suffer the consequences."

Not scared. I am not scared. "But it's such a good explanation. And I brought visual aids!"

Let me tell you a story. My stories have always amused you, my lord, have they not?

And from the castle rubble, he magicked up the figure of Oberon's wife.

"Once upon a time … I spotted Queen Titania, posing as the human, Anastasia." Said figure than proceeded to kick him to the ground. Oberon glared at him.

"You dare attack me?"

Eep. Not scared, not scared! "Don't interrupt. I'm on a roll." And the stone figure held onto Oberon, giving Puck a captive audience, as he danced about like the jester he was.

"I was intrigued. What was so special about these mortals that would make the queen tarry among them?" A stone figure of Halcyon appeared. "I decided to join the employ of Anastasia's husband Renard in order to find out." Rocks fired at Oberon, and he winced and groaned at the blows.

I can't believe I'm doing this!

"But who to be? What role should the Puck play?" He tapped the tree, and let his magic wash over it, molding it into the shape he wanted. Oh, oh, just wait, you're going to love this part, you're going to think it's funny, I promise! "And that's when I noticed one Preston Vogel, the stiffest and – ahem – most wooden mortal on the face of the earth."

Get it? Wooden? Get it? No? No laugh? Not even a smile? Not even a twitch of the lips? Come on! Everyone loves a bad pun!

Very well then …

The large wooden figure grabbed Oberon and threw him. If Puck was going to piss his master off, he might as well go for broke.

"The trickster has played many parts over the millennia, but never that of straight man. I determined to out-Vogel Vogel and created Owen Burnett!"

And the wooden figure took on the shape of the solid, dependable man, the part he'd so happily created for himself, so wonderfully and completely contrary to his own capricious nature.

"Owen" held fast, and the mighty Lord of Avalon could not break free.

Owen was just like Vogel. Only smarter and stronger.

Not to mention better looking, if he did say so himself.

"I loved being Owen! But I hated working for Anastasia and Renard. Sweet kids, but boring." He patted the stone figures, and they quickly took on the forms of Alex's parents.

"I much preferred their daughter Fox and her then-boyfriend David Xanatos." Look at them! Look at how cool they are! "They were many things, but never dull. The truth is, we made quite a team. I couldn't resist revealing myself to Xanatos and offering him this delightful choice. One wish from the Puck … or a lifetime of service from Owen. He chose Owen."

He couldn't keep the wonder out of his voice. It still amazed him, even now.

Oberon, the Lord of Avalon, was on the ground before him. He scowled, and as he spoke, his withered visage healed. "I can see his choice impressed you, Puck." He stood up. Now he was at his full strength, and Puck could feel the power emanating from him, and the rage. "So much so that you side with this human against your lord and master."

"Not if you don't make me!" For the first time, Puck let some of his fear seep through. "Can't you forget about the kid and put off the Gathering for a few more centuries?" I know at least one other person who doesn't want to go back yet... "I'm sure we'll be happy to report to Avalon by then."

Oberon glared at him. His gaze was cold and hard. Just like Mab's. The one small comfort he took was that his features did not twist into a cruel smile, as hers would have done.

"Oberon does not compromise. Oberon commands!"He roared the last word, theatrically loud. It would have been funny … if the force of his lord's magic hadn't knocked him over, obliterated his statutes, and sent him, Goliath, and Xanatos sprawling.

Owie!

He got up, with difficulty.

"We have to get to my son!" David was frantic.

For some reason, Puck's eyes fell on Goliath, who looked grim but determined. He scowled at Puck, but also nodded.

Yup, we're on the same side right now. No, I don't believe it either.

So Puck transported them all downstairs, and they burst through the door –

And were promptly frozen in place by Titania.

Well, so much for going out in a blaze of glory …

All this, all this fuss and fighting, over such a little thing …

Such a little thing …

And there was Fox, sprawled on the floor … poor, dear, little halfing … how could Titania do this to her own daughter?

Lord Oberon leaned over the baby's crib. Alex began to cry.

And jealous Oberon would have the child/Knight of his train to trace the forests wild…*

But this was different. This one wasn't his to take.

This wasn't fun anymore. Puck felt sick.

And then …

He heard Fox scream out "No!"

And he saw magic glowing in her eyes, streaming from her hands. Power she'd never known flowed through her, and struck Oberon, and sent him careening through the wall.

It was magnificent.

"You hurt him with that one. Do it again!"

"I can't, I'm trying."

"How did you do that?" Titania asked eagerly. It was then that Puck began to realize what he should have seen all along.

It wasn't his game. It wasn't David's game, or even Oberon's game.

It was hers. It had always been hers. No matter her name, the most powerful piece on the board was always the Queen.

"I don't know, I don't know." Fox stammered. "I just couldn't let him take my baby."

Oberon burst through the wall again, roaring that he'd had enough – but at this point, it seemed terribly anticlimactic.

"Wait your majesty," Goliath said. "This changes everything." Titania, of course, immediately released them from her spell. David and Goliath moved away, but he stayed where he was.

Time to let the game play out.

The big gargoyle bowed before Oberon – a surprisingly wise move on his part. "Fox's outburst renders this battle unnecessary. If she can tap a talent so woefully underdeveloped, the child can certainly be taught to harness his powers here. He needn't go to Avalon to realize his full potential. He can stay with his parents. Frankly, it would be less trouble for you."

"Hmm. But the Gathering has begun. Who would train the boy in the use of his powers?"

"What about him?" Goliath pointed in his direction, and he smiled.

"Yes," Oberon said, in a tone that made Puck more than a little bit nervous. "What about him?"

"I've got a sunny disposition and I'm always kind to animals," he offered quickly.

"Puck would make a fine teacher," Titania chimed in. "He wishes to stay, and he is already protective of the boy."

He transported himself over to the Xanatos family. "I suppose I could give the little tyke a few pointers," he said, ruffling the newborn's hair. He really was such a cute little thing. Teaching him could be greatly entertaining. When Puck thought of the mischief they could get into …

Oberon advanced on him, and he immediately backed away.

"Very well, Puck. You have made your choice. And now you shall live with it. Forever."

Forever?

"You are eternally banished from Avalon, Puck. Never again will you sample its paradise."

What?

"No, wait, not eternally!"

"We hereby strip you of all your powers, save when you are teaching or protecting the boy. Such is your punishment. So speaks Oberon!"

Puck cried out then. He couldn't help it. It hurt. Oh, it hurt. Like nothing he'd ever felt before, it hurt. To have Avalon denied to him, to have his magic drained from him like this, it was … unnatural.

He fell to the ground. "No," he gasped. "Please, my lord. Please reconsider. I'll do anything."

I am your little Puck, your good Puck, your gentle Puck. I was always your favorite, wasn't I? Please, please, it was only a game. It wasn't even my game. Please don't hate me. Please don't take it all away. Not forever. Please please please …

For just a moment – perhaps he simply imagined it – he thought Lord Oberon looked stricken. But then his face hardened, and he spat out a single word:

"Pathetic."

He bowed his head. He wanted to shout. He wanted to cry. He wanted to throw a fit about the injustice of it all. But he couldn't.

So he did the only thing he could do; he turned back into Owen. He stood up and put his glasses back on. "Forgive me, my lord. You must do as you see fit. I will stay here with young Alexander."

This isn't fair this isn't fair this isn't fair!

Somewhere inside him, the Puck screamed and raged and howled. But Owen was calm. Stoic, even.

He should have known better. He really should have. He'd just defied and humiliated the Lord of Avalon. Did he really think there wouldn't be any consequences?

If he had pulled a stunt like this with Queen Mab, he'd be dead by now.

He walked over to where the Xanatos family was, and stood behind them, saying nothing as Titania approached. He didn't pay much attention to the exchange between the Queen and her daughter, as it confirmed what he'd already realized.

He did notice, however, that Titania whispered something to her. And as she left, while David still stood scowling, Fox's lips quirked in the barest hint of a smile.

The leaders of Avalon faded away. After that, without even looking at any of them, Goliath left the room.

"What did she say to you?" David asked his wife, but she shook her head.

"Not now," she whispered, and nuzzled her son.

"I'm going to find Goliath before he leaves," David said. "There's something I need to say to him." He turned to go, but stopped in his tracks when his gaze fell on Owen. For the first time since he'd known him, David Xanatos appeared to be at a loss for words.

"Owen?"

"Sir?"

" I'll … I'll be right back."

"Of course, sir."

And then there were three …

Fox stayed where she was, holding her son tightly. When she spoke, she did not look at him.

"I'm not human." It wasn't a question.

"No, madam. Not entirely."

"And you always knew."

"And I always knew."

"It felt … good." Fox said, her voice barely above a whisper. "I mean, I was angry, and scared, and desperate, but when I struck him, I felt ... like someone had taken the blinders off. Like I'd been sleeping, and had finally woken up … that sounds stupid…"

"No, my dear little halfing, it sounds right. You have more power than you know."

She finally turned to look at him. He'd never called her that, at least not out loud.

"You couldn't … teach me?"

"I am afraid not. Lord Oberon's decree about the use of my magic was quite specific." Her pale face twitched at that, whether in sympathy for him or in disgust for Oberon, he could not tell.

"Owen, I'm sorry. David and I, we never meant … are you … are you going to be alright?" She asked him because Xanatos couldn't.

I don't know.

"Of course I will, madam."

How long is forever?

*From Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I.