Rice Paper

by Stormysprite

Pairing: Wesley/Dru
Rating: PG
Summary: Wesley searches for Angel, and mysterious paper cranes keep appearing.
A/N: Black Goddess Ficathon for bookishwench (Meltha), whose criteria were: Dru/Wesley; Set while Angel is sunk underwater in Connor's pseudo-coffin; origami; a shadow; no Justine; no child killings. I hope the layers come across. There is more going on here that I was hoping was hinted at enough to be obvious without lobbing it at the reader in a huge fist-to-the-face sort of way (including the title—but that may only be obvious to people who use paper artistically—which I have). I realize that it also comes across as a more Wesley-centric fic, but Dru is incredibly important—and that's just one of the things I hope everyone picks up on. Please comment with any constructive criticisms, as always.

Fred walked into the lobby of the Hyperion to find Gunn concentrating intently on something he was turning in his hands.

"What're you doing Charles?"

"Oh, nothing," he said, and with a couple of quick twists, he set a small…something on the coffee table.

Fred smiled, and gave him a curious look as she reached out to pluck the object from its resting place.

"What is it?"

"A crane, I think. I mean, it's a bird. But I think it's supposed to be a crane."

She laughed, and holding it by the teeny tail, turned it over and back several times.

"Did you make it?"

"Nah. But I was tryin' to figure out how," he said, and leaned down on the floor to retrieve a small handful of bits of folded paper which looked, in varying degrees, nothing like the little bird Fred held between her fingers.

"Like that dude in Blade Runner. Always leavin' little animals everywhere."

"You found this?"

"Yeah," he said distractedly, and concentrated on trying to mend one of the less mangled mini paper figures.

"Where did you find it?"

"On We—in the office. On the desk. I found it in the office," he finished quickly.

"Oh," Fred said softly. She set it gently on the table. "I didn't know he could do that."

Gunn shrugged. "Me neither," he said.

Fred didn't reply, just turned and left the room.

Wesley opened his door, clothed in pajamas and dressing gown, shod in soft leather slippers. He closed the door behind him, locking it tight, and descended the stairs to the semi-dark of the lobby of his apartment building.

Still bound tightly by yellow plastic straps, the stack of newspapers laid in the same damp spot on the thin carpet covering the cement floor. The water seeped up from the cement and soaked the carpet more or less constantly, and if he didn't want the wettest copy of the paper, he had to get his before all the dry copies were illicitly removed from the stack hours before delivery.

He lifted a jackknife from the pocket of his dressing gown and used his thumb to flip the blade out. Two quick snicks and the papers were freed. He dug under the first two copies which were torn on the folds and slid out a clean copy. He snapped it straight with one hand, and glanced at the headlines. Nothing particularly eye-catching, but not all the important stories were front-page news. In fact, in his experience, the important stories were never front-page news.

He slowly climbed the stairs, trying to keep the paper together as he scanned its innards. As he reached his door, he tucked the paper under one arm and fished his keys out of the other pocket of his dressing gown. He shook the door key loose and as he leaned forward to insert the key into the lock, he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

In bright contrast to the dark carpeting, a small white object laid on the floor in front of his door. He bent down to examine the object.

It was a delicate little bird, its form folded from a single piece of paper. He reached out and picked it up, straightening to stand. He pressed his lips together pensively, and transferred it to his other hand, finally unlocking his door and pushing it open.

From the hallway, a shape silhouetted against the wall watched as he tossed the newspaper carelessly onto the table by the window, but then ever-so-gently placed the paper bird on top of it.

But before he turned to cross the room again and close the door, the shadow moved down the corridor and around the corner, out of sight.

Bright green fish-shaped blips moved across the sonar screen. He'd been out here for weeks, pinging off of everything from large-mouthed bass to steel-toed boots. His closest hit so far was a rusted VW convertible. He supposed it used to be red, but was now a rusty orange-brown. He knew exactly where it was, had marked it on his map, but his breath still caught when he heard that particularly loud and constant indicator of a large, submerged metal object.

Wesley walked out of the cabin and onto the deck. It was moving from sunset into night, and the atmosphere was just the right combination to turn the sinking star a dark red-orange.

He leaned on the railing and watched as the water parted to the sides and rippled gently against the bow as it plowed slowly against the current. He was hypnotized by the soft rolling waves, and closed his eyes against the wind that suddenly gusted across the deck, spinning loose bits of paper and plastic in little tornadoes. He opened his eyes as the wind died, but then one more small breeze lifted leaves and bits of plastic off the deck and out onto the water. He swore that one of the bits which now floated past but then got sucked into the wake was another origami bird.

He had drunken himself into a stupor, and his heavy lids were just connecting when there was a soft knock on the door. He dragged himself out of the wooden stiff-backed chair and unchained the door.

There was no one in the hallway, just the parting breath of satin as puddled crimson tucked its trail around the corner. For a moment, he was his old self again, and wanted to go after whatever it was, to find out who it was. But then his apathy returned, and he realized he didn't care. His eyes dragged from the corner back to his own threshold, and there was another bird, left by his visitor. He stood up and began to close the door, a small smile trying its level best to tug the corner of his mouth, but it was stopped short by the eerie cackle which echoed up the stairwell.

He shut the door and chained it slowly. He knew his way in the dark, did not even have to click on a lamp, as he set the bird next to its half-dozen other fellows in his window sill.

He didn't know who she was.

He had established it was a she from the brief flashes of dress and single glimpse of black hair of his secret admirer. He didn't know anyone in his building, but he had a feeling it wasn't any of them anyway. He liked to think she was exotic. Someone with no idea of the sort of world he had been brought up in—someone to take his mind off…everything.

He fell asleep in the hallway outside his door, waiting for her. And it was with his head tipped back and his mouth open, unconscious with the totality that only accompanies heavy drinking, that she found him.

"Daddy has been drinking again, little one," she cooed to the small paper bird cupped between her palms. "Bad Daddy. Drinking is the Devil's work," she warned the bird, opening her hands to shake a finger at it.

She set it on the floor next to the bottle which was loosely clutched in his fingers. "Now don't wake him. He'll be mad if you wake him," she admonished the figurine. She stood to walk away, but then whirled around suddenly, casting her finger towards the bird.

"Shh! I can hear you chattering! If you're not quiet, you'll wake him, and he'll be very angry, and I won't be to blame if he beats you!" She was harsh, but tried to keep her voice low. Wesley jerked in his sleep and let out half a snore, which startled her.

"Now see here. If you wouldn't drink, the children wouldn't worry," she whispered, and this time the finger shaking was directed at Wesley's prone form.

She stood in the hallway, staring at him, her head turned partially away, as though to disbelieve his very existence. Then she leaned down close to whisper in his ear.

"They won't forgive you. You're not their real father," she revealed, and looked angry at him for a moment, daring him to wake, but then a giggle rose up from her belly, and she covered her mouth to stifle it.

Wesley could smell her in his sleep, his exotic princess, come to take him away, but by the time he opened his eyes, she was gone. He was alone, again, and all he had left of her was another bird. He swallowed hard, and letting the bottle fall from his fingers, lifted the bird off the floor like it was a bubble. He considered it for a moment, and the words she had whispered in his ear came back to him, but this time the timber of the voice was his own.

They won't forgive you.

No, he thought. No one would forgive him. Not unless he proved he was worthy of forgiveness. And he wouldn't be worthy of forgiveness unless he found him, unless he rescued him.

And the only way he could find him would be to devote all his attention to the task. Thinking of being whisked away by feminized knights-in-shining-armor was only hindering his concentration.

He looked down at the bird in his hand, and slowly closed his fingers around it, the points of the paper digging into his palm, crushing its perfect folds.

Leaving the bottle where it lay, he went back into his apartment.

In a dream, Drusilla watched as he took all the paper birds from the windowsill and placed them in a bowl. Then he struck a match and watched it burn halfway down before letting his hand fall and touching it to the pile of paper birds. He watched the flames catch the points and lick beneath the folds, curling and blackening the perfect, severe lines.

Outside of her dream, she screamed, and tore away a layer of epidermis where her fingernails scraped from her eyelids to her chin.

- fin -

« Back to Index