Rating: Mature Audiences – for content and themes
Summary: Two long time, but very different, friends are caught up in a spell and changed forever. They learn to cope and must rely on each other to survive in their new forms.
Spoilers: None! Definitely AU
Warnings: M/M – if you don’t like boys together, don’t play here!
Disclaimer: Don’t own the characters nor make any money from stories etc, and bow down to their original creators Joss, et al., plus all the wonderful online writers who continue to give the Buffy/Angel verse characters life.
The two ethereal beings took to the forest despite the fatigue of their earthly bodies. Brad carried several small creatures back for assistance before retiring. He and Skye knew what they would find... devastation and death where there had been thriving forest life. The birds had flown, their nests burnt and babies all dead. Similarly the foxes and any creatures with tiny ones underground had been forced to run or die. Some had stayed and the entire family suffocated or burnt as the intensity of the inferno expressed Gaia’s anger.
On the evening that the fires finally abated, it was Will who had taken control of the caring, despite being, judging by his rather grey pallor, still in quite a measure of pain. As Brad and (Lex)ander slept an exhausted sleep, Skye was conscious enough to realize that they were all gently washed and had fresh aloe vera plant from the garden applied to burns, Will splitting the succulent’s leaves down the middle and rubbing the sticky juice onto the damaged skin just as he’d seen Skye do many times. Near unconscious with fatigue Will dressed the deep scratches on her face and hands, and carefully washed her singed hair before pulling the home made bedspread over all his charges as they slept on in Skye and Brad’s bed. The ex owl then took up vigil on the uncomfortable old chair in the room.
In truth Will was reassured. He felt he was finally useful.
He had watched his heroic family exit with the fire trucks each day, leaving him to serve hot drinks and make sandwiches and run simple errands. His obviously pained movement and slow speech (along with the townfolk’s knowledge of his devastating injuries and Skye’s boys’ ‘limitations’) had others on the ‘home team’ treating him like a simpleton, though by no means in a malicious way, but he had still felt… shamed. He did everything asked of him and more, to the point of being openly praised by all on the relief team manning the Town Hall. But for Will, it was not enough. His only solace had been the dear ice cream shop owner, Beth, who never failed to give him a kind word or hug toward the end of the day as they both waited for their loved ones to return.
Though their physical bodies were depleted, Brad and Skye did their best but could do little but observe the devastation in their astral forms. They were able to pinpoint those injured who might be saved and guided those still able to move by themselvesz. (Lex)ander was still too sore but Will headed out, following Skye’s owl form as best he could to collect the small animals and birds identified as needing help.
There was an eerie silence in the still smouldering forest. Animals and birds who could outrun the fire or fly away had done so though many slower animals, babies, eggs and chicks had been killed or injured, trees blackened and earth scorched.
Where it was practical, Will collected the tiny creatures in need of assistance onto a hand made wood cart. Even when a creature was too damaged to be saved, he lifted the small body onto the soft straw, administered a rudimentary painkiller and moved on. The wiccan vet Lottie, at Brad and Skye’s house, was given the sad task of easing those who could not be saved to a painless end. They were all blessed and held with love as the tearful Lottie administered overdose after overdose of anaesthetic to appallingly burnt animals. In total twenty seven had to be eased to their final rest - fur and skin, eyes and breathing passages so damaged that they would never recover.
Six trips in and out of the forest later, the ex Owl was in extreme pain himself. Skye was too exhausted to continue and Brad had already headed for home. One of the last creatures Will had picked up was a little hedgehog. The singed feet and nose needed treatment though the injuries were not life threatening. The tiny creature’s blue eyes identified him unmistakably as the former human – one of the hunters who had wounded Will. The little hedgehog curled up on the straw of his temporary shelter, accepting Will’s kind ministrations as his burnt feet were tended to and wondered at the familiar scent and the kindness of some humans. Feet dressed and nose cooled with salve, he nuzzled the kind hand then ignored the other small animals in the enclosure and curled into a protective ball, falling asleep while licking over the bandages on his injured feet.
Toward midnight on the second night, Skye returned to her body and an exhausted Lottie departed after checking on the worst of the treated injuries a final time.
It would be several weeks before the cottage was clear of injured creatures and things almost back to normal. (Lex)ander and Brad’s burnt skin peeled, and scratches healed. The Mage and family returned home on the second night – all the kittens safe. And two weeks from the dousing of the flames the township held a special celebration to thank the fire fighters and volunteers.
There were drinks and dinner catered for by the group that so wonderfully fed and watered the fire fighters for the duration of their struggle. Will was, again, on ‘bar duty’, as able to pull a perfect beer as serve the elderly spinster, Miss Hass, with tea just as she liked it in an ancient fine china cup. Skye looked over several times, worried that Will might tire, but it seemed he was the darling of the ladies’ auxiliary and recognized by the men as one of their still recovering own.
The many speeches during the evening were made by the local member of parliament, promising more monetary assistance for the community; the mayor, whose daughter’s own property was ravaged by the flames; the local hairdresser whose house had been saved at the very last minute by the swift actions of one fire crew; and the wife of one of the worst injured fire crew (she tearily reported ‘Ron is on the mend’ and thanked everyone). But finally, the regional fire chief stood up, making a point of throwing his yellow fireproof jacket over his large frame before picking up his matching hard hat and moving to the podium.
Peter (Fire Chief McKearn) looked distinctly uncomfortable as he began to speak, clearing his throat twice and clumsily adjusting the microphone at the last minute. “I feel a bit of a fraud standing up here alone. The efforts of all crews, across the whole district was… ahhh… just extraordinary. This is my twenty seventh year in the service – and all but five spent in rural territory and I’ve gotta say, the core team here are damn fine professionals, but it was our volunteers… umm,” the strapping fifty five year old blonde was very emotional as he pointedly looked at many of the faces now clean of the black smears and sweat that had covered them in the previous weeks. “You folks stepped up. We could not have done it without you, and if any of you want a change of career, I reckon just see me after…”
One of the men leaning on against the drinks table raised his half empty glass of lager and yelled out, “Long as we’re paid in beer!”
Peter smiled widely, “I’ll have ta talk to head office on that one!” Before continuing, “Seriously though, I know every one of you deserve a medal but there were some amongst the crews that I, well many of us, really thought at the beginning, would not cut it, and went on to prove us very, very wrong. I’m sure you don’t mind folks if I particularly honour a young lad today who I think you all know, in this town. Is Lexie here?”
Brad gave (Lex)ander a little push but the brunette couldn’t move. As soon as his fire nickname was mentioned, he felt a desperate tightness in his chest. Will was as much the hero, so was Brad and Skye! And any number of others. His panic was absolute until Brad placed a calm hand on his shoulder and he registered the whispered words, “Come on, I’ll take you up, just relax.”
Brad accompanied him as far as the stairs of the makeshift stage in the old rotunda then gave him a little push.
(Lex)ander’s first instinct was to fall to all fours and submit rather than present himself as human to the crowd of several hundred, but he managed to spot Will, still serving at the drinks table, and was privy to a look of such pride and love from his friend that he straightened and walked across the stage, nervous but upright.
Peter nodded his thanks to Brad as ‘Lexie’ graced the stage, and was reassured, as a cheer from the townsfolk and fire fighters alike went up, that the acknowledgement sat well with the community.
(Lex)ander stood silently, head down, toeing the ancient wood of the rotunda as the fire chief read out a number of abbreviated accounts of the new human’s bravery and service during the testing time. He concluded by presenting the brunette with a brand new pair of regulation boots and plaque, before stilling for a photo then handing the microphone over to (Lex)ander.
There was deathly silence for nearly thirty seconds before the ex-dog dared speak, “I….I… I…” a strange almost growl came through the PA before, “Thanks.. But um… *everyone* did it not just…” He trailed off a little but many of the crowd was moved to tears as they heard the heartfelt and very rapid, “me, ‘cause Will helped too but he was too hurt still, and… anyway thanks Chief McKearn.”
Finally the president of the ladies’ auxiliary stood and took the podium, removed her apron and moved to the microphone insisting that all who had assisted with the catering for the crews (and the celebratory night) move to the front of the rotunda. She gave tribute to the workers, the stores who had donated food and services, and the wider community for giving what they could to families who had suffered losses – be it buildings land or stock, and in a fitting end to the night, the local member of parliament surprised them all by handing over a personal cheque for two hundred dollars toward the appeal the auxiliary had running to aide the fire victims.
That night (Lex)ander and Will were again in their own home. Before climbing tentatively up the ladder to the loft, (Lex)ander hid the new boots behind the settee.
He settled behind his blonde friend in a spooned hug before whispering, “I’m sorry.”
Will turned enough to see the genuinely apologetic ‘puppy’ eyes.
“For what Luv?”
“Shoulda given you some boots… and Brad too. You… you… fought!”
Will lifted a turned a little more and kissed the man on the cheek, “Nahhh, never liked ‘em anyway… just weighed me down… Glad you got them though, ‘n ya don’t have ta hide ‘ em OK?”
Will had turned back to his relaxed position on his side but felt the smile of a friend and a tongue began to gently lave the nape of his neck and they both slept.