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The Meaning of Heroes
Book One: Chapter Nine (10,167 words) 
12th-Sep-2005 10:27 pm
wes/fred/giles OT3!, heroes

Though Fred had hoped the boys would have been able to get some sleep in preparation for what they were going to do once daylight came, none of them were able to. Instead, the three of them spent the entire night awake, holding each other and talking. They discussed their plans for Quor’Toth – what Rupert and Wesley would do when they found Holtz and Connor, coming up with alternatives depending on how old Connor was. They decided they would wait until they returned before getting anything for him, as again, they wouldn’t know until they found him. And they decided that they would head for Sunnydale the day after they returned...whenever that ended up being although Fred prayed that it wasn’t long.

Soon, light started to peek through the curtains, telling them that it was time to start getting ready. Lorne would be back soon, so they needed to get things together, mainly water, food, weapons and anything else they might need to take with them to Quor’Toth.

Glancing back and forth from Wesley to Rupert, Fred took a deep breath, trying to calm her heart. Leaning over, she kissed Wesley for several moments before turning and kissing Rupert the same way. She gave them a half-smile. “Just had to do that before we start getting ready.”

“I’ll bring him back, safe as houses, I swear it,” Giles whispered into Fred’s ear before forcing himself to get out of bed. He smiled down at his two lovers, feeling his heart swell. They had really come through for him last night. It was a gift he didn’t take lightly, and was liable to never forget. “Thank you, both of you. Wes, why don’t you get your shower first. Lorne should be here soon, and you can go over the spell with them while I get cleaned up.”

He wasn’t sure eating would be ideal for him and Wesley this morning, not knowing how the spell would affect their stomachs. “I’ll pack our bags while you’re in there.” He looked toward the living room for a moment before turning to face Fred. “Fred, if you could get those pictures we talked about, I’ll set them out with my clothes.”

She nodded and headed out into the living area, where her bag still sat after a week. After pulling one of her dresses on over her head, she got out the pictures she had taken from the hotel, flipping through to the one of her and Connor. She put the others back and went over to Wesley’s desk, poking around in his drawers until she found the envelope of photographs he said would be there. There were pictures of him with the others – Cordy, Charles...

She stopped for a moment when she saw Gunn smiling and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Charles. I wished we could have stopped them before...”

Sighing, she shook her head and, after wiping the tears from her eyes, continued riffling through the photos. Finally, she found the ones Wes had said would be there – one of him holding Connor and one of her holding Connor while Wesley stood over them. She took a deep breath, hoping that these would work, and took them back into the bedroom, holding them out to Rupert. “Here they are.”

Taking the photos from her hand, his fingers brushed hers gently. “Fred, are you all right?”

He shook his head – that was an idiotic question. Of course she wasn’t all right. She had to be worried sick. He still couldn’t get over how brave she was, not only starting her life over for the second time in less than a year but now sending the two people she had come to depend on to another dimension, one that she knew was beyond hostile. Yet, she was staying strong.

“Fred...” He hated to bring this up now, but it had to be said. “I have to say this, to make certain that all of our bases are covered. Fred, I want you to wait a week, in this time. If we haven’t returned by then, get yourself to Sunnydale. Go to Willow, tell her that you are to move into my flat. Angelus is returning, and I want you as far away from him as possible. At least in Sunnydale, my family can protect you. They know his antics, you’ll be safe there.

“Promise me, one week. Then you’ll go and find Willow. If Lorne can’t get you there, call her and tell her I said to send Xander to come and get you.” He looked at her, hating the sudden flash of fear he saw cross her face. “I’m leaving my cell phone. It’s already programmed with all of their numbers. That being said…we will be back. With Connor in tow,” He wrapped his arms around her, drawing her against his chest for a crushing hug.

Fred clung to him tightly, knowing that he was right in asking her to do that – they had to be prepared in the event that the unthinkable did happen as much as she didn’t want to consider that possibility. She had to think that they were coming back, no matter what because otherwise, she knew she’d probably completely breakdown and never let them go.

“I’ll call them after a week. I promise,” she whispered. “Just take care of each other while you’re there. Please. I love you, Rupert.”

She looked up at him with her eyes shining with the tears she was fighting to keep from shedding. The doorbell suddenly rang, and she turned slightly in his arms to look out the bedroom door.

“That’s Lorne,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I should go answer that...”

She hugged him once more before slipping out from his arms and hurrying to the front door, where she checked to make sure that it was actually Lorne before letting him in. The demon slipped inside and saw Fred standing there, looking like she about to burst into tears at any second.

“Oh, buttercup,” he said softly, opening his arms.

She accepted his embrace, letting out a shuddering breath. “I’m scared about this, Lorne. I’m scared for them.”

“I know, sweetie pie. I know.”

Giles wanted to reach out to her, wanted to comfort her. Best leave it to Lorne, he thought to himself. He closed his fist, frustrated with his inability to offer comfort to the woman he loved, but forced himself back to the task at hand. Making his way to the living room, he offered Lorne a wan smile.

“Morning, Lorne,” he uttered softly, adding the new short sword to his own weapons bag. He grabbed another bag out of Wesley’s closet and began packing food, as well as bottles of water. They would have to travel as light as possible, only wearing the clothes on their backs. Weapons and food were the immediate necessity, given what they had read about Quor’Toth. He packed a few herbs from Wesley’s stock for a few spells he knew that could be handy in a pinch. Looking toward the door when he heard the water shut off in the shower, he forced his gaze over toward Lorne and Fred. “If you want to go next, I’ll get the texts ready for Wesley.”

Slipping out of Lorne’s hug, she shook her head as she crossed over to stand next to Giles. “That’s okay. I can take one later after—you and Wesley need to be ready for this, so you should go next.” Reaching out, she took his hand, wanting to say something to him but not knowing what. Instead, she indicated to the items that he had packed. “Is there anything else you need me to get ready for you while you’re doing that?”

“No, and since Wesley’s our language expert, he can help the two of you prepare for your parts of the return spell better than I can.” He looked up as he saw Wesley emerge from the bedroom, fully clothed. “I’ll just…go get ready,” he said, giving Fred’s hand a reassuring squeeze before releasing it. He felt the ache immediately flare up while he went to retrieve his clothes before disappearing into the bathroom.

“All right,” Wesley started, removing the Word of Valios from his pocket. “Lorne, the two of you will need this. Both of you have to be touching it at the same time as you chant the spell.” He reached over for the two pieces of paper from the table and passed each of them their perspective parts as well as handing the Talisman to Fred. “I wrote out the pronunciations phonetically to make it easier for you to practice. According to the book, Rupert and I will have a phrase from our side to let you know we’re ready to come home. I don’t know what it will be, the book didn’t say. But once you get the signal, we’ll need the two of you to open the portal for us from this side as soon as possible.”

Fred nodded as she read over the piece of paper. She could figure out the syllables she had been worried about thanks to Wesley’s phonetic spellings beneath the original words. It was the signal she was worried about now – she hoped that it was something she’d recognize because she didn’t want to miss it and have them trapped in that world.

Lorne, meanwhile, read over his part of the spell out loud. “I think I got this,” he said after Wesley corrected a few of his stumbles. The words weren’t really that hard – it was just that he was a bit nervous that he’d get it wrong when Fred and Wesley and Giles were depending on him to help them. He fixed his red eyes on his friend. “You two be careful, okay? We want you coming back.”

“We will,” Wes smiled, ducking his head slightly. “We have to. I owe it to Connor to get him out of that hell hole.” He heard the shower turn off and glanced over before turning his attention back to his green friend. “I know it’s not L.A., but when we get back, I want you to consider following us to Sunnydale. I don’t want you here alone with Angelus about. Sunnydale sits on a Hellmouth, so I doubt people will bat an eye at another demon in the ranks. Once Angelus is dealt with, you can return here if you like. I know you love it here, but Fred and I will be staying with Rupert. We want to raise Connor with our family.” He hoped that regardless of the size of the town, he would follow.

Lorne considered this for a moment. L.A. had been his home ever since he had come here from Pylea – he had never been anywhere else, at least not for any long period of time. He had been out to Vegas a time or two, but this had always been his home.

Of course, with Gunn gone and Wes and Fred moving away with Giles and the possibility of Angelus coming back and Caritas long now rubble, it felt like his home was no longer such. Going up to Sunnydale so he could be closer to Wes and Fred and Connor sounded like the best he was going to get. And besides, if he decided to open up a new club, he was sure that his clientele would follow. It wasn’t that far, really. Might open up a few new options as well.

“I have some things I need to deal with here before I do,” he finally told him, “but I will. The home I had here is gone. I want to be with my friends.”

Fred smiled and walked over to him to wrap her arm around him and rest her head against his arm. “We want you with us too.”

Wesley nodded in agreement with Fred’s statement. He knew Lorne had a life here. Out of all of them, he had to the most to give up, a life outside of their work. The fact that he was willing to give it all up for them, to be close to them, gave him a warm feeling.

“Wherever we end up calling home, you know that you’ll always be welcome,” he reminded his friend. “I also want to go over this with you without Connor here. This is the story we’re going to be using with him and everyone else who doesn’t know what we do. Fred was a physics student at UCLA. Daniel Holtz was her professor, and I was a new professor for Ancient Civilizations. Holtz became obsessed with Fred and went insane when she chose me. Fred and I planned to marry, but after our son Connor was born, those plans were put on hold when Holtz took our son out of revenge. We’ve spent however many years searching for him – we’ll fill in the blanks when we find him. This story will be corroborated by legal documents provided by the Watcher’s Council. Those should handle any legal issues regarding Connor. But I’m not worried about legalities, I’m worried about Connor. He’ll need the stability that story will offer. For all intention purposes, I’m his father, and Fred is his mother. Cordelia and Angel are just friends of ours that we had a falling out with. No mention of Angel as his father will be uttered. We have to stick to this if we hope to keep the stability of this family intact for Connor. There can’t be any slip-ups.” He looked at Lorne seriously. “I know it’ll be hard, but Connor deserves the chance at as normal a life as we can give him.”

Lorne nodded, taking all of the information in. He felt bad that they had to do this, that they had to spirit Connor away without Angel knowing, but after what had happened to Gunn, he knew that they couldn’t take any chances. Maybe they would be able to stop the prophecy from coming true, but they had to get Connor to safety before they could even think about stopping that.

“I think I can handle that story,” he said with a nod, looking down at Fred. “But what about...?” He looked toward the closed bathroom door for a moment, indicating what he was trying to say.

“We’ll deal with that when the time is right,” Fred said softly. “He’s going to be a part of our lives, no matter what legal papers we have to get, but for right now, he’s Wesley’s and my best friend, who’s been helping us look for Connor since he was kidnapped.”

Giles emerged from the bathroom dressed in his jeans and a pullover. “Wes, it’s time,” he stated, trying to keep his voice even. After picking up both bags to move them to the center of the living room, he gently pulled the green demon to the other side of the room. “Why don’t you set up for the spell while I have a word with Lorne.

“We’re trusting you with her,” he then told him, his voice serious. “She’s more precious to Wesley and me than you can fathom. I’ve already discussed this with her. If we don’t return within a week’s time in this dimension, she has my phone. I want you to get her to Sunnydale safely. My family there will protect you both.” He passed an envelope to Lorne. “And if, for some reason, we don’t return, I want you to see that Fred gets this. You mean a lot to her. If the worst happens, she’ll need you. Do right by her,” he told him, his voice edged with steel.

While Wesley set up for the spell and Giles spoke to Lorne, Fred walked over to the desk and pulled the pad sitting on his desktop over. Quickly, she dashed off a couple of notes – one for Wesley and one for Giles. She wanted them to have something from her even though she had to stay behind to reopen the portal for them, and she wanted them to know how much she loved both of them. Once she finished, she folded up the notes and wrote their name on the one belonging to each. Then she hurried over to the bags Rupert had left in the middle of the floor just as he handed Lorne something and stuck the notes into with their food, knowing that they would definitely find them there. Once they were tucked away, she got up to see if Wesley needed any help.

Lorne looked down at the envelope in his hands, able to guess what was probably inside without Giles telling him. “I’ll watch out for her with everything I have,” he promised as he tucked the envelope into his pants pocket. He loved Fred too, but he knew that his love for her was nowhere near that of these two men. “And I know saying this is probably unnecessary, but you know how I am – I have to say it. Just...please...come back.”

“Rupert, we’re ready,” Wesley called over to him. He saw Giles give Lorne a nod before joining him.

Giles picked up the food bag and passed it to Wes. He also handed over the shortsword and withdrew his own katana from the weapons bag before shouldering it. Taking the paper from Wes, he looked down. As he heard the younger man begin to chant, he joined in with his part with Wesley tossing herbs into the chalice in the room. Giles felt the air thicken and crackle before a tearing sound began in front of his eyes. But still, he continued to chant. When they finished their parts, he looked up to see a rip large enough to admit one through at a time. Dropping the paper, he turned toward Fred and opened his arms. He grunted with the impact of her throwing her body against his and felt Wesley’s arms close around them both.

“Just be ready, and I’ll bring them home,” he whispered into her ear before pressing his lips to her forehead.

“I will,” Fred said softly, her voice catching, the lump in her throat making it hard for her to say anything. She looked up at Rupert and reached up to cup his face in her hands before kissing him. After several long moments, they parted, and she turned around to face Wesley. He was the one that cupped her face this time when they kissed while Rupert kept his arms around both of them.

Lorne then saw Giles look his way and tip his head slightly toward Fred. Getting the signal, he walked over and gently drew her away from the two men. “Come here, rosebud. They need to get going.”

“I love you both,” Fred told them as she allowed herself to be pulled out of range of the portal. “Be careful. Please.”

“We’ll be back soon,” Wes promised. “I love you, too.”

He could see Rupert steeling himself for the mission and stood back, allowing him to go ahead of him. He was stronger but still not fully healed, so it was best Giles go through first. Once the other man had stepped through to make certain it was safe, Wesley turned around and gave Lorne a smile.

“Take care of our girl,” he instructed before casting a serious glance at Fred. “There is one part of the story I want to make true. When we get back, and after we head to Sunnydale, I want to marry you…if you’ll have me. Sunnydale has two dozen churches, I’m sure we can find someone to do the ceremony.”

He then shook his head before she could respond. “Don’t give me your answer now. Tell me when we get back,” he told her before stepping through the portal. He was shocked when it instantly closed behind him. He sighed softly and looked over at Giles. “Well, let’s find my son.”

*****

Tears in her eyes, Fred watched the portal close in the living room as soon as Wesley was through. “The answer’s yes,” she whispered. “Just come back with our son.”

Raking a hand through her hair, she looked over at the piece of paper with the spell on it and the Word of Valios, which were sitting on the desk where she had left them while writing the notes to Giles. Collecting them, she put them on the dining room table instead.

“Here, sweetie. You probably want to keep them together,” Lorne said, handing her his piece of paper as well.

“Thanks. I should...” She looked around the flat. It seemed so quiet. The chalice was the only evidence of the spell that had just been cast, and without the guys there, it just didn’t seem the same. “I should call Cordy. Tell her about—what happened to Charles and warn her about Angelus. We saw her yesterday but didn’t get a chance to...”

Walking over, she picked up Wesley’s cordless and started to dial the hotel while Lorne watched her, praying that Wesley and Giles returned soon. He didn’t want to see her reverting to writing on the walls again; although, he had a feeling if they didn’t return, her reaction would be even worse than that.

*****

As Giles led the way through the set of caves Wes had spotted, he flexed his hand, grimacing at the slice across his forearm. Not even here eighteen hours, and they had already faced three creatures. The last one had been a bit of a brute and had gotten in a lucky shot when he had got distracted by it shoving Wesley down. Bloody thing would have taken off his head if Wes hadn’t regrouped quickly and killed it.

Wandering farther into the cave, he directed his torch toward the back and smiled when he saw something hanging near a sharp rock. “Wesley, look.”

He grabbed the tattered piece of cloth and held it up, shining the light on it. Wesley’s eyes widened when he saw what it was Giles was holding – a man’s tattered brown jacket.

“They were here,” he commented, giving Wes a big smile. Now they had confirmation that they were on the right track. “Let’s keep moving. We’ll go another few hours before we make camp.”

*****

Fred set the cordless down with a sigh. She hadn’t been able to get through to Cordy at the Hyperion – no one had been answering, in fact – so she had tried calling her apartment instead. Again, no one had answered, but her machine had picked up, so she had left a message.

“Cordy, this is Fred. Please don’t erase this without listening. Dennis, if she does, please make sure you somehow tell her what I said. It could mean her life and I know you don’t want anything to happen to her as much as we don’t. Cordy, listen...Charles is dead. He’s been dead for months – since sometime in the week after Lilah Morgan shot Billy and we were in such a bad state because of what happened because of him. Someone at Wolfram and Hart kidnapped him and stuck a parasite in him, and it killed him and was controlling his body, and they were using it to try to break up the group so they could get to Angel, and we can see how well that worked now. They want to turn Angel back into Angelus. We have proof that Wesley translated the prophecy correctly, and they’re making sure it comes true. You need to get away from there, Cordy. Please. Warn Angel if you have to, but get away from there. Charles is already dead because of this, and the parasite already tried to kill me and Rupert. We don’t want you dead too.”

She wasn’t sure what to do with herself now. Read? Get cleaned up? Clean the apartment? It all seemed so trite. A part of her wished she had been able to go with them. At least then she would be doing something.

“When was the last time you talked to your mother, honeysuckle?” Lorne asked.

“What?”

“Your mother. When was the last time you called her? You have to look of a girl who needs to badly speak with her mother.”

“I—over a week ago. When we first brought Wesley home from the hospital.”

Lorne picked up the cordless and handed it to her. “Call her.”

“I don’t...”

“Call her. Talk to her about whatever. You need this, sweetie. Believe me.”

Nodding, she turned on the phone again and punched in the number for her parents’ home.

*****

Trish Burkle sat back on her heels, wiping the sweat off her brow. She hated detail cleaning, but she had been so worried about Fred and Wesley in the last week that she needed something to try and take her mind off of them. Not that it had worked although Roger had joked that the house had never looked cleaner. Now she was on her hands and knees, scrubbing out the oven. Or at least had been. Standing slowly, she groaned when her knees popped.

“I’m getting to old for this,” she said to herself before heading to the sink to wash her hands. Grabbing the towel from its place on the fridge handle, she dried them just as the phone rang. Her heart immediately leapt in her chest. “Fred,” she whispered, before picking up the phone. “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me.”

While Fred collapsed on the couch, Lorne slipped out of the room into the kitchen, deciding that he would make some tea for them. He desperately wanted a Sea Breeze, but drinking right was probably not the best idea in the world, no matter how much it would have calmed his currently jangling nerves. They needed to be ready for whenever the signal came through, so he was going to be a good demon and lay off the rough stuff until then.

“I—I didn’t interrupt you or anything, did I?” Fred continued to her mother. “I...I just...I need someone to talk to right now.”

“Don’t be silly, sweetheart. I doesn’t matter what I’m doing. I always have time for my baby,” Trish chastised her gently. “As it is, I was just cleaning. Scrubbing out the oven, actually.” She looked out the door and smiled when her husband waved. “How’s Wesley doing? Did you...did you want me to go get daddy? He’s just out in the yard,” she offered, not sure if this was a mother/daughter call or a father/daughter call.

“I...I sort of wanted to talk just to you at the moment. I—Wesley’s been healing fine, and he’s talking again.”

“Good,” Trish breathed in relief. She had been worried. “He’s talking already? But he’s doing okay?”

“Yeah, but he and Rupert...” She took a breath, not even sure where to start. “He and Rupert went after Connor to get him back from the guy who kidnapped them, and I’m sitting here really worrying about them, and...”

She swallowed and looked up at the ceiling. She didn’t like keeping secrets from her mother. The time during which she had cut them out of her life after returning from Pylea had been as painful as the time she had spent as a slave and a runaway – in some ways even moreso because she had been pretending that they didn’t exist in the life she was hiding from so she wouldn’t have face reality.

“Momma...have you...? Have you ever thought about whether it’s possible to love two people at the same time?”

Trish had arched an eyebrow when Fred mentioned this Rupert. He had to be Wesley’s friend, the one she had mentioned before. Her surprise went up exponentially, however, when her daughter brought up the issue of love. She knew Wesley loved her daughter, and if Fred allowed herself to, she could love Wesley just as easily. Her daughter was estranged from Angel and Charles, which only left one man. This Rupert. He was the only possibility; there was no way she would desert Wesley while he was healing. This Rupert was the only other man.

“Fred, baby, are you...are you developing feelings for Wesley’s friend?” she asked, wondering where this would leave Wesley until something made her backtrack. She said two people. Good Lord. She knew Fred had a lot of love to give, but she was taking this a little too literally.

Fred took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “More than just developing,” she said hoarsely. “I...Wesley and Rupert and I...we...” Oh God, now that she had started the conversation, she didn’t know how to continue it even though her mother had figured out the part about her feelings for Giles. “I don’t know how to say this without it sounding...wrong to you or something, but...we’ve fallen in love...the three of us. Rupert and Wesley have had feelings for each other for a long time, and I love Wesley, and Rupert...somehow, I found myself falling in love with him too, and him with me, and the three of us, we’re together now. I never intended for this to happen. It just did, and now I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

“I know Wesley is a good man, but is Rupert?” she asked, knowing it was a ridiculous question. She couldn’t imagine her daughter giving her heart to someone who wasn’t a good man, but it was a mother’s prerogative – she had to ask. She had to be sure, friend of Wesley’s or not, that this man wasn’t using her baby.

“Rupert’s a wonderful man, Mom. You’d like him. He’s like Wesley. Smart and amazing and protective.” She shifted to lean her head against the arm of the couch. “But now both of them are trying to get Connor back, and I’m scared out of my mind that they might not come back and I’ll lose both of them.”

Hearing the fear in Fred’s voice, she closed her eyes. “Oh, baby, you have to believe that they’ll come back to you,” she told her, trying to keep her voice soft. “Wesley loves you, so he’ll come back to you.” She added this last part with a little more strength because of that she was certain of.

She knew her mother was right – that Wesley would fight to get back to her if he had too. Just like Rupert would. They had promised her, and she believed them even though it didn’t stop the fear.

“Do you...do you have anyone there with you?” her mother continued.

“You met Lorne when you were here to find me, didn’t you? Wesley’s demon friend who ran the karaoke club? He’s here with me at the moment, so I’m not alone. Neither Rupert nor Wesley wanted me to be by myself.”

“I remember him, the green fellow in the bathrobe,” Trish remarked, at least happy that Fred didn’t have to go through this alone. She liked that this Rupert was protective of her daughter. It was a definite point in his favor.

“Lorne was actually the one who suggested I called.” Fred bit her lip in thought for a moment. “Mom, I should tell you...when Wesley and Rupert get back with Connor...we’re planning on claiming him as my and Wesley’s son. For his safety.” She went on to explain what had been happening and the story they were planning on using when they returned. “We’re going to need you and Dad to play along with this.”

While listening, she nodded. “So Wesley was right? Angel is really a danger to the boy?” she asked, already suspecting the answer. They knew the Angel they met was a good guy, but while they were visiting last, Wesley had taken the time to explain the clause in Angel’s soul. Nice or not, he was still a vampire, and vampires meant death. So she could understand their precautions. “All right,” she agreed. “I’ll get Daddy on board with the right story.”

“Good...because there’s something else. Wesley and I are getting married.”

Trish’s eyes widened at this. “Married? You mean…Wesley asked?” She was so excited – her baby was getting married. “Oh, Fred, you can’t expect me and daddy to miss that. Just tell us when and where, and we’ll be there.”

“Of course, we will once we have the date and everything worked out,” Fred promised.

She could still hear the worried edge in her daughter’s voice and decided to just get her talking. “So….why don’t you tell me about Rupert? Is he attractive?” she asked in a mischievous voice that said they were just two country girls talking about a boy.

Fred couldn’t help but smile at her mother’s tone. She knew exactly what she was trying to do, and she loved her for it. “Rupert’s definitely attractive. Green eyes that could stare through you, just like Wesley’s, and wonderful hands.”

“Green eyes and blue eyes? You couldn’t just pick one?” Trish teased her daughter. “But then again, you never did anything the expected way.”

That made Fred laugh. “He keeps going on about how he feels so old around us, but I don’t think so. He’s just being self-deprecating, really.” She shook her head, thinking that Rupert could probably run circle about most of the guys she had met in her life. “And his voice... He’s also British, Mom, and a Watcher. Remember I explained about them in one of my letters? He makes me feel all warm and gooey and appreciated. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more wanted for who I am than I have since I’ve been with both him and Wesley.”

Trish smiled, shaking her head. “I can’t say Daddy is gonna be happy about this, but as long as you’re being treated like a Princess, he’ll come around,” she promised. She then frowned when a thought occurred to her. “I’m happy you and Wesley are getting married, but I have to ask…what about Rupert? You think he might feel a bit like a third wheel in all this?” She hoped that by pointing it out, Fred would make certain that that never happened. She didn’t know the man, but the smile in her child’s voice when she talked about him spoke volumes.

“Rupert will never be a third wheel,” Fred assured her. “We need to have the wedding for Connor, and I want it too, but Rupert’s always going to be a part of us. I know the three of us could never get married officially, but we’ll figure something out after we get to Sunnydale.”

And they would. Rupert had already made it clear that he wanted this between the three of them to be permanent, so while she and Wesley would have the legal ceremony, she would talk to them about having something between the three of them, something to show their commitment that would show Rupert that he would always be a part of their lives, no matter what.

Trish nodded at her daughter’s response, smiling slightly at hearing the determination in her voice. She knew Fred well enough to know that she was completely serious – she wouldn’t give Wesley, or this Rupert, up for anything. She had to admit that it was an unusual situation, though; one society wasn’t likely to look kindly on. But she sounded adamant. In a way, she was proud of her daughter for that. Even with all the hardships they might face, she sounded ready for it. “Good. Now where’s this Sunnydale?”

“Sunnydale’s about three hours north of here. Rupert’s lived there for several years with his Slayer, and the people he considers his family are there. We think we’ll be safer there than staying here. I’ll let you know exactly where we are as soon as we get up there, I promise.”

“Kind of a home field advantage, huh?” she asked. Rupert was definitely showing promise. If Angelus was coming, getting Fred and the others out of his city was a good first step.

“Yeah,” Fred said with a nod even though her mother couldn’t see it. “Giles and the others know Sunnydale. It’s also a much smaller town, which would make it harder for Angelus to hide for long, unlike here.”

“Well, as soon as you get there, give us a call, and we’ll head out. I’ll make sure your daddy and I are packed and waiting,” she promised. “Bob isn’t going to be happy about losing me right now, but I don’t care. I’m not missing my daughter’s wedding for the world.”

Privately, there was another reason she wanted to be there as well. They had seen the Hyperion, met the people that had been looking after their daughter at that time. She knew Roger would agree with her, but she wanted to see Sunnydale and meet Rupert and his friends. They would be trusting the man with their most precious possession. They wanted to see if he could do the job.

Fred sat up, feeling much better for having this talk with her mother. Lorne was right that she had needed this. At least she knew that she supported her in her relationship with both Wesley and Rupert, even if she was still a bit worried about telling her father. “I’m glad that you’ll come for the wedding.”

“Of course, we’ll come to the wedding, sweetheart. Our only daughter gets married and you think we’d miss it? A crowd of vampires couldn’t keep us away,” she protested, slightly annoyed that Fred was acting like going was doing her a favor. “We love you, and we want to see you happy.”

“I know, but...I’m not sure how Dad might take this – me and Wesley and Rupert, I mean. I want to tell him, but...” She trailed off, not sure how to explain it any better than that.

Trish’s brow furrowed at the hesitant tone in her daughter’s voice. Why would she be so scared of telling her daddy about this? It couldn’t be because of there being two men. Roger, more than anyone, understood that their daughter had an incredible capacity to love. “Fred, honey, is there something about Rupert that you’re not telling us?”

Fred looked up at the ceiling. If they came out for the wedding, they were going to find out anyway. It was better that her mother knew – at least then, she could help her figure out how to break the news to her father as well. “Rupert...he’s....well...you know how I said he says he feels so old around me and Wesley?” She heard her mother make a noise to indicate that she did. “The thing is he is older than us. He’s about twenty years older...than me at least. More like fifteen years older than Wesley.”

“Oh, Fred,” Trish whispered. That would mean this Rupert was only a few years younger than they were. She knew her husband was not going to be happy about that. “You know I have to ask, before your daddy does – this isn’t—do you know he loves you? This isn’t some kind of mid-life crisis for him, is it?” Even as the questions came out, she was already wincing at the indignation she expected from her daughter.

“It’s not a mid-life crisis, Mom,” Fred told her, rolling her eyes at the idea of that. She had to try to remember that her mother and father had never even met Rupert, so of course they didn’t know, but it still made it a bit difficult. “And I know he loves me. I know he loves us.”

“If you’re sure, honey, I’ll try and soften the blow with your daddy, but we both know he’s gonna have some things to say to all of you,” she pointed out. “I’ll make sure he leaves the shotgun at home.” She said that in a lighter tone, trying to brighten her daughter’s mood.

Fred had to laugh. Daddy and his shotgun had long been a running joke in their household, ever since she had been little and Tommy Francisco had made fun of her for being so smart. She didn’t want her father to dislike Rupert, however, just because he was older. Age didn’t mean anything – at least not in this case. Not to her and Wesley.

Oh, lord, she suddenly thought. She hoped that they weren’t in Quor’Toth long because if both he and Wesley came back years older, they’d have even more problems. “He may be older than us, but we still love him, and he loves us, and that’s all that matters. I just want Dad to understand that. We were—Wesley and I were the ones who...invited him into our—who wanted him to be part of our lives. He didn’t chase us, and once you meet him, you’ll see that he’s not like that.””

“You invited him into your bed,” Trish finished the thought, knowing that Fred was trying to spare her the discomfort. No parent liked to know that their child was sexually active – and now her daughter was confessing to being with not just one man but two. “Fred, I trust you, baby. I’m just being a momma. My girl has a lot of love to give. I just gotta be sure Rupert is worth it,” she explained in a gentle tone of voice before sighing when she thought about her husband. He wasn’t going to like this one bit. “I’ll see what I can do to soften the blow. But you know your daddy. There’s gonna be some fallout on this. I hope your Rupert is everything you say he is ‘cause Daddy is gonna hit the roof.”

“I know,” Fred said softly, “but he’s worth it. He’s gone into hell with Wesley to find Connor. He’s done everything for us. And he’s loved us like...it’s been amazing, Mom.”

She shrugged her shoulders, not sure what else to say. Given how her mother agreed that her father probably would have difficulties with her and Wesley’s relationship with Rupert, it would probably be better to tell him once they were face to face. She did hope, however, that her mother would be able to help when the blow came.

“I can’t stay on much longer, Mom – I don’t know when Rupert and Wesley are going to be back, and I need to be ready. I love you. Talking to you helped a lot.”

“I love you too, baby. And you know anytime you need to talk, it doesn’t matter what time it is, you call,” Trish told her. Her daughter was worrying herself sick. Perhaps she might call in tomorrow, just to be by the phone if Fred needed her. “I’ll be here. I’ll keep my cell phone on in case I have to step out for a minute. Thank God Daddy twisted my arm to get it.” She was relieved that she would be able to connect with her child no matter what. “I’ll let you go, Fred. Call me if you need me.”

“I will, I promise.” Part of her wanted nothing more than to curl up in her mother’s arms like she used to when she was a girl and something bad had happened, but she was a grown woman now, living her life almost 1500 miles away and getting ready to become a mother and a wife and a partner. It was nice to know, though, that her own mother was there when she needed her, no matter when and where. “I’ll have this phone and my cell back on too...unless Angel’s cut the service. Bye, Momma. Tell Dad I love him.”

Once they had ended the call, Fred sat back for a moment with the cordless nestled in her arm against her stomach. Lorne stuck his head out of the kitchen to see she had finished and came out with the tray, the tea pot and two cups sitting on it.

“Hey, peach pie. Everything okay?”

Leaning forward, she put the phone on the table. “Yeah. Talking to her did help. Not sure about how badly my dad’s gonna react to Rupert when he finds out about our relationship, but at least Mom’s supportive.” Restlessly, she rubbed her hands against her dress.

“Why don’t you go get cleaned up now,” Lorne suggested. “By the time you get done, the tea should be cool enough it won’t burn your tongue. I’ll let you know if the signal comes.”

Nodding, she pushed herself off the couch and headed into the bathroom.

*****

Three weeks they had been there, tracking Holtz and Connor.

Giles was tired and hurting, but he would die before he quit on Wesley and the boy. Besides, he promised to bring both back to Fred. The whole damn place was hell, but some spots were worse than others, and Wesley had figured out a way to keep to areas habitable by weaker species. They were close now; he could feel it. Looking up through a crag of trees as they circled around the bottom of a hill, he gasped.

“Wes, look,” he said quietly, pointing. At the base of the tree, there was a small dark-haired boy tied to the trunk with vines.

“Connor,” Wes called, starting to run toward the boy. Giles put his hand on his arm, however, to hold him in place.

“Wes, Holtz is still around. We have to be careful,” he reminded him.

He had originally come across Daniel Holtz’s record when he had first researched Angel’s history years before. The man was a brilliant strategist and quite dangerous, especially when he felt he was being threatened by a perceived enemy. But Giles had a few ideas of his own. Drawing his katana, he approached in the defensive position. As they drew closer, Giles smiled warmly when the boy looked up at him.

“Hello there,” he greeted softly, his senses hyper aware for any unseen danger. He chuckled when the boy seemed confused, his little brow furrowed in concentration.

“What kind of demon are you?” Connor asked. Both men couldn’t help but smile.

“We’re not demons, Connor. We’re human, like you. We’ve come to take you home,” Giles explained to the little boy.

“My name is Stephen, and my father said there were no more humans here,” Connor scowled though a part of him was happy to see more people like him here. He had never met other humans. At least that he could remember.

“You’re talking about Holtz. Con—Stephen, that man is not your father. He took you from your real father as a baby,” Giles explained gently. After taking a knife from his boot, he withdrew the photographs Fred had given him from his pocket. Connor started squirming when he saw the weapon. “Easy, I’m just going to cut you loose, then I want you to look at something – pictures, of your real parents. They’re the people Holtz took you from.”

He moved slowly so as not to any further spook the boy, who looked to be four, possibly five. He handed over the picture of Wesley first, smiling when little fingers brushed his as Connor took it.

“That’s your dad. His name is Wesley. You have blue eyes, just like he does.” He saw Connor’s eyes widen in surprise.

“That’s me? I was a baby,” he whispered, touching the picture.

“Yes, you were. We’ve been looking for you for a long time,” Giles told him, slowly passing him the other photos. “The woman – her name is Winifred. We call her Fred...” He smiled when the boy giggled.

“Fred is a boy’s name.”

It is, but it’s her nickname. She’s your mother. Look. That’s your blanket you’re bundled in there, the same one you’re wearing now.”

Connor looked down at the faded material he had draped across him liked a tunic and held up with a length of animal hide. Sure enough, it had the same pattern as the blanket covering the baby in the picture. “That’s my mother...?” he gasped. “But my father said she was dead.”

“No. That man is not your father, and your mother is very much alive. She misses you terribly. She’s a wonderful woman that has a lot of love to give. She’s just waiting for you,” Giles told him.

“Who are you?” the boy asked curiously.

“Everyone calls me Giles. I’m a good friend of your parents. I’ve been helping them look for you,” he whispered. “We want to take you home – to your parents and toys and kids your own age. We want to take you back to a world that has things like this.” Still taking things slowly, he reached into his pocket to withdraw a chocolate bar, which he broke it into several small pieces. He took a piece for himself, biting into it so Connor could see it was all right to eat. Once he had swallowed, he smiled and passed the chocolate to him. He chuckled when the boy’s blue eyes lit up after taking a bite.

“They have things like this at home?” Connor asked excitedly.

“Yes, they do. And I have a feeling your mum will spoil you beyond your wildest dreams.” He waved Wesley forward. “Connor – that’s what your parents named you. Connor, I brought someone important for you to meet. I brought your father, and he’s very excited to see you.”

Stepping back, he allowed Wes to come forward, watching Wesley step forward and crouch down so that he was on the same level. Giles’ heart was racing, wondering if the boy would buy their story.

Connor was confused. He looked down at the pictures in his hand then back up at the dark-haired man before him. It was the man from the photos. Giles was right – he had blue eyes, just like this man. And he liked Giles; he had been nicer to him in five minutes than the man who said he was his father. But why had he lied? Giles had pictures and sweet treats that he had never had. And he brought the man in the photos. He looked up, unsure. If Giles was right, he had a mom and a dad who loved him, who had spent years looking for him.

“Dad?” he asked, his little lip trembling with emotions. His dad had come for him. Suddenly, he saw his dad open his arms and dashed forward, throwing himself into Wesley’s arms.

*****

Crouching in front of the fire he had built in the safe cove he had found for himself and Stephen, Daniel Holtz glanced up at the sky to gauge how much time had passed – since there was no visible sun in this God forsaken place, he had had to learn to judge time from the differences in the sky color. Several hours had passed since he had left Stephen. Normally, his son had freed himself and was back at camp by now. He had never before taken this long, not even the first time he had played this “game” with him.

After making sure that the fire would not go out or burn out of the pit he had dug, he placed the shell of the demon he had killed several weeks ago over the flames so their light would not attract any demonic poachers. He then picked up his weapon – a spear-like sword he had crudely fashioned from another beast’s bone – and headed back to the grove where he had left Stephen.

As he reached the spot, he started to realize that something wasn’t right. He heard voices. Not demonic voices in the languages of Hell but human voices. Stephen was speaking to someone. Picking up speed, forgetting everything he had taught the boy about surviving in this place, he crashed through the underbrush and came to a stop in the grove, his spear-sword brandished to take out whatever was there.

Stephen was in the arms of a man...no, not just a man. Holtz couldn’t believe his eyes. He was supposed to be dead. Justine said she had killed him as instructed. How in the hell had he got here? Did this mean Angelus was here as well?

It didn’t matter. Whoever else was here, they weren’t taking Stephen from him. The boy was his now.

“Let my son go,” Holtz demanded. “Now.”

“He’s not your son,” Giles growled, brandishing his Katana and moving himself in between Wesley and Connor and their main obstacle in taking him home. “He knows that now. Your son is dead, Daniel, and as sad as that is, I will not allow you to continue to use this boy in your revenge. He doesn’t belong here. He belongs home, with his family.”

“Who the hell are you?” Holtz demanded of this stranger from his homeland while eyeing his katana wearily, knowing that his spear sword would never stand up to the metal of a well-made weapon like that. His name really didn’t matter, however. Whoever he was, he wasn’t going to take Stephen away. He just had to wait for the right opportunity to strike and disarm him.

Without taking his eyes off of Holtz, Giles got an idea. “Connor, look at the scar on Wesley’s neck. This man – Daniel Holtz – did that to him. He cut his throat and left him to die. He took you from Wesley’s arms. Years ago, his own son died, so he took you from your father to replace the boy he lost and to take revenge on your parents.”

“I never touched Wesley! Justine was the one who slit his throat and took Stephen for me—.” Suddenly, he realized what the man had done. He had managed to get him to admit his part in taking the boy as a baby. “Oh, very good.”

“You lied to me!” Connor shouted at Holtz from the safety of Wesley’s arms. This man had tried to kill his father, to take him away forever. He looked at Wesley with sad eyes, reaching out to touch his neck gently. “I’m sorry. He hurt you because of me,” he whispered as a tear slid down his little cheek.

“Shhhh,” Wesley whispered back, hugging the boy tightly. “It doesn’t matter anymore. You’re safe, and we’re going home.” he rubbed Connor’s back soothingly.

Turning his attention back to the boy, Holtz stepped forward a step, holding a hand out as if trying to reach out to him. “I lied for your own good, Stephen. Your father is an evil man, and your mother no more than a whore. I saved you. I never meant for us to end up here, but this is better than the life you would have had.”

“It’s over, Daniel,” Giles interrupted. “I know who you are. The man you were would have never done this to a child. Connor was always innocent, but in your thirst for revenge, you condemned him to hell. That makes you no better than the creatures you used to fight. Don’t make me kill you. Regardless of what you do, we are taking Connor home.” As he finished his warning, his body coiled in anticipation for the strike he knew was coming.

Holtz suddenly turned on him, a wild look in his eyes, everything that he had learned in his years as a vampire hunter deserting him in a moment of desperation. “His name is Stephen! And whoever you are, you’re not taking him from me. I will not lose him the way I lost—I will not lose him!”

“I am a Watcher, and we are taking the boy where he belongs,” Giles told him, a little startled when Connor let out a little growl.

“My name is Connor!” the boy shouted at Holtz, his voice breaking through his tears. “And you are evil! Not my dad! You brought me here! I don’t belong here!” He buried his head in Wesley’s chest and sobbed.

“Wesley, take Connor over that ridge and send the signal, I’ll be along shortly,” Giles instructed, his own voice tight in anger. He knew Holtz would have to die, but he refused to kill him in front of the boy. Connor had been through enough.

At the sight of Wesley taking the boy away through the trees, all thoughts of a carefully planned attack flew from Holtz’s mind as he raised his weapon and threw it at the man before launching himself at him to try to take the katana away in the confusion.

When Holtz lunged at him, Giles easily deflected the sloppy attack, however, knocking the man to the ground. The man kept coming, lost in his frantic need to hang on to his revenge. Giles would grant him one last bit of peace before he sent him to meet his maker, though. Once he was certain Wesley and Connor were far enough away, he struck hard and fast. Kicking out, he buckled the other man’s legs, knocking him to his knees. Then with a strong forward swing of with his katana, he sliced through Holtz’s torso. He knew the action was fatal. He intended it to be.

Kneeling next to Holtz as he lay dying on the ground, he sighed. “You know it had to be this way, but I will grant you your peace,” he told the dying man. “The prophecy was true. Angelus is returning, and he will harm the boy if we return him, so Angel will never see his son again. Connor will be raised by Wesley and Winifred Burkle with me and my family protecting them. My name is Rupert Giles; I’m a Watcher, and until recently, my Slayer and I, along with some friends, protected the world from the Hellmouth. Connor now thinks Wesley is his father, and the Council will provide that history.”

Despite the fact that he couldn’t move, that his body was growing heavier with each passing moment, Holtz listened to him. He—the prophecy was true? That hell-sent, hell-marked demon had double-crossed him with the truth? He wanted to laugh, but of course, his body betrayed him, and instead all he was able to do was cough, the taste of blood on his tongue. He was dying. At last, he was dying, and he would finally and forever be able to rest after all Angelus had done to his family.

At least Steph—Connor would never go back to the vampire. He had cared for the boy, grown to love him. The man above him may not have understood it, but he did love him.

“Your revenge is still intact without subjecting that innocent boy to this hell for the rest of his life,” Giles continued. “You were a good man, a man who had something despicable happen to him as a result of Angelus. Where you made your fatal mistake is you let him win. You let your revenge change who you were. I didn’t. I hope God has mercy on your soul because I doubt that boy will never forgive you.”

With that, he stood up and, not waiting for Holtz to die, walked away. It was time to piece this family back together –for Wesley’s sake but mostly for Connor’s.

When Giles—he had known a Giles family in his time...when Giles walked away, he wanted to call after him, to tell him to take care of the boy. But again, he couldn’t speak; now he was too weak. He felt like he was spinning into oblivion, his hearing ringing, his sense of touch fading away. He knew he’d be dead soon, and the blood flowing from him into the ground would attract every beast of Satan within one-hundred leagues.

Take care of the boy.

Yes, he had known a Giles family. They had been good people. They had fought the darkness as well.

And now darkness crept into his vision, swallowing him whole, and he felt like he was sinking into the ground.

It’s over, my darling Rebecca. It’s finally over.

*****

Back on the other side of the hill, Giles saw them waiting, Wesley still cradling a crying Connor to his chest. The boy was practically asleep. Poor thing had cried himself into exhaustion.

“Is it done?” Wesley whispered, still stroking the little boy’s back with soothing circles. He was dead on his feet as well, but he would endure. Once they were home, he could relax.

“It is. Come on. Let’s go home.” Giles smiled, knowing Fred and Lorne would be overjoyed to see all three of them.

He was hurt and exhausted, but there would still be a lot of work to do when they returned. He wanted them out of LA as soon as humanly possible. Seeing that Wesley hadn’t had a chance to cast the signal spell, he took the paper from his hand and began chanting. A surge of power passed through him, telling him the signal had been sent.

“Now we wait,” he said, placing a warm hand over Wesley’s on the sleeping boy’s back.

*****

Comments 
(Deleted comment)
13th-Sep-2005 04:43 am (UTC)
*grin* Glad you guys are enjoying this. I'm Jess, the other person responsible for this monstrosity :P But Lara is right, this is turning out to be a lot of fun to write. Even if it has kind of taken on a mind of its own.
13th-Sep-2005 02:40 am (UTC)
WooHoo!!
Get those boys home to their woman and get that wagon train to Sunnydale!!
It's comming a fight and we can't wait for more..
Thank you for writing this!!
Mel
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