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Flights of Fancy (or, All the World's a Stage)
by Julie

Author's note: I am having trouble knowing how to classify
this (besides just weird). It's not AU, it's not a
missing scene, any ideas out there?

"Well, it's about time you showed up. Just
because it's my job to escort doesn't mean I wanted to
wait here all day. It isn't like I haven't got better
things to with my time, after all. Plenty of things
to do; plenty of people to see." The young woman
tapped the toe of her boot, placed a hand on her hip,
and with a finely arched eyebrow, exuded a general air
of impatience. "Come on, snap snap." A familiar flurry
of fingers audibly illustrated the words.
Huh? Archie twisted to look behind him, around
him, confused, bewildered. Was it talking to him? No
one else but him was present and those brown eyes did
seem to be staring him down, so it must be. His own
drank in the apparition before him. Soft-looking
brown boots ran up to the knees, covering trews of the
same material, and a dark green shirt, over which lay
a vest, again of that leather. The face was most
impressive, with a nose long and pointed. Above it all
perched a wide-brimmed hat. From his extensive reading
Archie had come across many a description of elves; if
ever a being resembled one, it was this creature here.
The creature in question rolled her eyes at his
obvious scrutiny and, lifting her arms, revolved
slowly to allow him a good look, hearing the surprised
intake of breath as her backside turned. They were
always shocked when they saw her tail. It hung long
and dark, luxuriously sweeping the ground, as if it
had been simply cut from a horse and attached to the
seat of her pants. To tell the truth, *she* had always
been rather proud of it. No accounting for taste, or
so it seemed.
Archie's eyebrows furrowed and he blinked stupidly
at her, dumbed momentarily by the shock.
"Well," she huffed, "and a jolly good day to you
too. Seen enough? Good, let's go." She moved to grab
his hand, but caught up short as it was evident he was
no longer paying attention to her. His eyes slid
through her, looking beyond her, as if she were as
invisible as the air.
At first, he had been so taken by his host that he
hadn't bothered to note his surroundings. He did so
now, and it did nothing to dim the dazed expression
glassing over his eyes. He was almost one hundred
percent certain that mere moments before he had been
speaking with Horatio. He distinctly remembered
Horatio sitting on his bed, they together speaking
quietly, knowing full well those moments were very
likely the last. A life for a life, an opportunity to
return what he himself had been given so freely.
His hands traveled to his abdomen, lifting the
fabric of his shirt, fingers running against skin that
was smooth and whole. He looked up in amazement, eyes
wide and disbelieving. Yet he remembered the pain well
enough, the hot blood pouring out his mouth, out his
side. What had happened? Now there was nothing. The
world was gone completely. Empty space for all he
could see, yet the feel of ground was solid under his
feet. He looked down, and immediately regretted the
action. Eyes closed to steady his head against the
rush of dizziness.
The "thing" as she had been so unjudiciously
referred to, looked on as the cycle of emotions played
their course, with decided boredom. Sighing, she
lifted that nose until it pointed up and spoke
suddenly into that nothingness. "Great, you would have
to go and give me one of those." Dropping to her knees
in front of Archie, she spoke in a kinder tone, which
she hoped sounded soothing. "Look, I know this all
must seem very strange to you. Coming from a realistic
story you weren't prepared at all, can hardly blame
you... but... you've got to trust me, okay? You will
be alright." She hoped anyway. Really, he wasn't
handling this nearly as bad as some had. "Why don't I
try to answer some questions for you. That'll make you
feel better won't it?" All the same, she hated it when
they reacted this way.
Eyelashes, pale against a pale face, fluttered;
Archie stared back, a hard, searching stare, suspicion
burning clearly in his eyes. "Who are you?" he asked
at length.
With a smile and a flourish fit for a circus
ringmaster, she doffed her cap, revealing ears as
pointed as her nose. "Arianna Ap'Aldeb. Nether-world
expert and guide extraordinaire, at your service sir.
Uh, you can call me Ari."
"Am I dead?" the next question was asked
haltingly, yet laced with steel. He was ready to face
what awaited.
"Well, that's a bit more tricky, isn't it? See,
you'd actually have to be alive in the first place to
have died, now wouldn't you? Why don't we discuss all
this on our way. I'm charged with making sure you
arrive safely and she really hates it when I
dillydally. Why don't you tell me about yourself." Ari
stood and began leading the way, but turned back when
her ward showed no inclination to follow.
"My apologies, uh, madame, but where am I suppose
to be going?" Eyes suddenly blazed. "For the love of-
I don't even know where I am!"
"Well, you're nowhere right now," the nymph
replied, exaasperated. "That is why they call it the
Nether-world after all." Duh. "But if you'll just come
with me, I promise to take you where you'll
understand. Of course, you're always welcome to stay
here if you want. I could let you wait around for a
couple hundred years to see if you change your mind.
Hey, no skin off my back. I've got lots of things to
occupy my time. And you?" Humming an airy tune she
sauntered off, casting a subtle glance back over her
shoulder, praying feverently that her threat, idle as
it was, would be believed. Last thing she wanted to do
was chase the boy halfway across the Nether-world.
Archie refused to move, squinted eyes after her,
considering. He struggled in himself whether or not to
believe her. She was a part of the whole ordeal, could
she be trusted? On the other hand, *he* certainly
didn't know what was going on. What options did he
really have? A streak of stubborness welled up. If she
seemed so concerned with his safety then she wouldn't
dare leave him. No, he'd sit right here until she gave
some answers. But as he watched her slowly fading, he
gulped. The idea of spending a hundred years alone was
not a pleasant one. Certainly she was bluffing, but
could he take that chance? Cursing his own
foolishness, he trotted after her. Ari smiled up at
him when he reached her side, but said nothing. "My
name is Archie Kennedy, fourth lieutenant onboard HMS
Renown. Would you kindly explain to me where we are
going?" He hated this, this feeling of helplessness,
this being at the mercy of another's whims. He had
sworn he would never be in this position again.
"As to where we are going, well, better to explain
a few other things first. Then you'll understand when
you actually get there. Otherwise, your first
assumption was correct. You are dead. Sort of. What I
mean is, well...," her voice trailed off. "Oh darn!
This really is the hardest part to explain. It would
be so much easier if - well, I guess the best way is
just to come right out and say it." She took a deep
breath. "Archie Kennedy, you are a character in a
story and I regret to say, you got the chop. Hey wait!
Where are you going?!"
Archie spun on his heel and tried to put as much
space as was humanly possible between himself and Ari.
And he considered Sawyer a madman! The chit was
obviously out of her mind. Dying he could accept, had
known it the moment he felt the hateful bullet tearing
into his flesh. He had prepared himself for what he
thought was coming. But this? An elf telling him he
had never been real, only words in a story? Bullocks!
Perhaps he was dreaming and not dead after all? But
the last sight of his dearest friend; the
breath-taking pain of his life bleeding out of him;
the sorrowful satisfaction of the court martial; those
memories, he had experienced them, they were real! All
the hurt and love and suffering; it wasn't imaginary.
He couldn't, wouldn't believe it. And yet ... a
hollowness as devoid as his surroundings filled him.
And yet here he was.

Panting heavily, Ari arrived at his side as he
slowed. "Okay ... first things first. Don't ever, ever
just run off like that again. You don't know where
you're going, what you're doing. You could end up
disappearing forever, or worse, and then I'd be in
real trouble, wouldn't I? So can we cooperate just a
wee little bit here?" This was it. Soon as this was
done with, she was marching herself right back a
demanding a reinstatement. One little mistake and here
she was pulling search and rescue duty. Again. "Come
on."
"No, I'm not going anywhere until you give me some
answers. And don't give me those lines about me coming
from a story. I know who I am. I demand to know the
meaning of all this." He set his jaw in a firm and
resolute line. He would not yield, not this time.
"Come here, sit down with me." She pulled on him
as she crossed her legs and then stared intently into
his eyes, earth brown on sky blue. "I realize this
comes as a shock to you. You won't believe me right
now, but pretty soon, you'll see. Just because you're
a character - hey, there's nothing wrong with it, I'm
one myself - just because you were created doesn't
mean that all you've been and done hasn't been real.
It has. For you, anyway. And all those who follow your
story. But this reality was engineered for you. And
you existed in it. Until now, that is."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, like I said earlier, you got the chop."
"The what?"
"The chop. You know, cutting room floor. You got
cut, written out of the story. Unfortunate, but it
happens."
Archie shook his head. "How could I be written out
of my own life? And by whom?" None of it made sense.
"Because you were a character!" How many times was
she going to have to tell him this. Her head was
beginning to hurt. "You got written out by the writer.
They decide they don't want you anymore, you get in
the way, or something like that and phwet," she drew
a finger across her throat, "next thing you know,
you're getting axed or shot or any other unsavory
things that could happen. And then you end up here."
Archie shook his head again and looked away.
Impossible. Absurd.
"Look," Ari continued, "you like to read, right?
All those plays and books of yours? What happens when
one of those characters dies? I mean, they're dead,
right, but not really dead. Because to die in the way
you understand, one would have to have been alive in
the first place. The story carries on, but do they
cease to exist simply because of that? No! Because the
memory, the idea of them still exists. That's what's
happened to you."
"And what about the world, that planet earth I was
living on?" Archie asked.
"Your world, not other's," Ari reminded him. "Oh,
your world is still out there, make no mistake about
that; your story is still carrying on, just ...
without you."
Archie raised an enquiring eyebrow at her. "And
just what is my 'story' suppose to be?" See if she
could answer that one. He waited with a triumphant
expectation.
"Horatio Hornblower."
Archie laughed at her. Now he knew she was lying.
His best friend was the story? Ridiculous. However,
his laughter died at her next words, the smile
slipping off his mouth in stages.
"Think I'm joking? Ever wonder why it seemed that
everything always worked out for Horatio, despite the
extraordinary odds? Why it seemed that you were always
playing second fiddle? Because it was *his* story! He
was the main character, you just the supporting role.
You were justified feeling the way you did."
His heart skipped a beat, then fell like a cannon
ball from the sky. How could she possibly know about
that, the mixed feelings of envy he had once
unwillingly harboured against his friend. Looking
back, Archie was ashamed that ever he felt as he had.
It certainly wasn't Horatio's fault that he possessed
a certain precocious talent. Never had Archie
begrudged him that fortune, that talent, not once! But
rather, if only he himself could come by it so
naturally. It was past now, distant memories, yet
memories that still embarassed deeply.
And suddenly he was afraid, afraid that she might
be telling the truth after all.
"If what you say is true, if my life has been
nothing but a story produced from the mind of a
madman, that I have now been written out of, what
happens to all those characters like me? Where do they
go?"
"Here!" Ari looked around. "Well, not right here
specifically, there's nothing here. I suppose one
could wander around here. It's happened to characters
before." For the first time something akin to fear
crept into her voice, brown eyes wide, no longer
mirthful, no longer dancing. "Left to wander in
obscurity, forgotten by all for eternity." She
shuddered, but then rallied to cheerfulness. "But hey,
that's not going to happen to you. From what I
understand you were fairly popular, despite what those
people did to you and everything. Lovely blue eyes,
sympathetic personality, who could possibly forget
about you. Are you beginning to understand more? No?
Doesn't matter really. Does anyone really understand
anything? Perhaps I can clarify a few things on our
way. Please remember, I am on a schedule here."
It was, admittedly, a load to digest, and Archie
followed, absentmindedly, lost in perplexing thoughts.
What about all those he left behind? What about
Horatio? "Ari, what's going to happen to Horatio and
everyone else in what you say is my story. What if
they never die? What if the story just ends without
them ever being written out?"
Her slight shoulders shrugged. "Sorry kid, not my
department. I just finds you dead ones."
They walked along for a few minutes more, Archie
with his head bowed, Ari glancing about the air and
muttering to herself about time and picky writers.
"Hang it all!" Archie burst out suddenly. "What's
the use of doing anything. If I've been nothing but a
character, if everything I've ever said or done has
been scripted out for me, then it's never been me!
I've never been myself! How do I know that right now,
somewhere - out there - there isn't someone putting
these words into my mouth? What is the point, if I
have no control!" Had it really never been him? Then
who was he?
"But you can be yourself. This is your chance."
Ari stamped her foot impatiently. "You're a character,
yes, you were created. But that doesn't mean you can't
take control of your own destiny. It's like thinking
out of the box, you see."
Archie didn't.
"Well, take me for example. My name is Arianna and
I was created for one very specifc purpose: to make
sure you arrive safely. But that doesn't mean I don't
like to have a bit of fun myself sometimes. Sometimes
I like to do things just to prove that the pen isn't
in charge of me." Quite suddenly she grabbed the front
of his shirt and, hauling him close, planted a sound
kiss on his lips. "See, like that. Oh, I wasn't
suppose to do that at all!" She giggled furiously and
glanced around, eyes darting from side to side. "She
really isn't happy with me."
Archie reeled slightly from the force of her pull.
She might look tiny, but was blessed with surprising
strength.
"Oh, I hope I didn't upset you. Nothing personal,
you understand. I just did that to make her mad. I
think she fancies you a bit, so it's my way of
thumbing my nose at her," an action which Ari
proceeded to perform with glee. "I get to do all the
stuff she can't."
"Who is this 'she' you talk on about?"
"The Writer," Ari spoke the word in a whisper,
almost reverently. "She's the one who created me." She
stabbed a finger upward; two heads turned their gaze
that direction. Archie still saw nothing. Then she
continued wickedly. "But don't worry. She doesn't have
nearly the control over me that she thinks she does. I
love to do wicked, wicked things, and there's nothing
she can do to stop me!" she boasted. The majority of
what she just said was true enough. Most of it anyway.
Sometimes, she admitted, she did let her mouth runaway
with her. Unintentionally, of course. Her writer
generally forbore her little indescretions quite
admirably. Generally. Honestly this wasn't the worst
she had ever said. All the same, Ari hunched her
shoulders and willed herself to be invisible, at least
until the 'writer' had a chance to cool off, just in
case she needed to. Maybe she'd hold off asking for
that promotion for awhile, just to be on the safe
side.
Archie only shook his head.

"Are we getting close to where we're going?"
Archie asked when he could stand the silence no more.
"Uh? Oh, yeah. Right here. There should be a door
around here somewhere." Ari stopped, tilted her head
to one side. Then rolling her eyes again, she planted
fists on her hips and called out to that mysterious
writer Archie still couldn't see. "Hey you! We could
use a door down here!" Nothing like trying to make her
life any easier.
A door appeared.
Her hand reached for the knob, but drew back and
laid against Archie's chest as she turned to face him.
"Um, before we go in, I should warn you about a few
things. You're going to meet quite a group in there, a
whole bunch of different characters. Some have
accepted what's happened; others I don't think will
ever understand. But don't worry, you're all in the
same boat, eh? Ready to go in?" She patted his arm
reassuringly, opened the door, and they stepped
through. "Welcome to Cinema Paradisso!"
Archie had taken a deep, steadying breath, but
still was not prepared for the scene that thrust
itself upon him, for the choas of the room, for the
stark contrast. Outside was unnervingly silent,
lifeless. Inside radiated with life, with energy and
vitality, stuffy, innundating. Thousands of people
(and others who did not faintly resemble humans)
milled about, in large groups, small groups, talking,
laughing, running, quarrelling.
With a reflex of lightning, honed from many years
sailing, Archie pulled Ari quickly out of the path of
a well-aimed flying kick.
"Whoa there, princess," Ari glanced over the petit
blonde girl who had intended to make short work of her
skull. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Just what sort of demon are you?" Buffy retorted.
"Hey," Ari sniffed, wounded, for at heart she had
always considered herself very undemon-like. More an
elf, actually. Except for the tail. "No demon here,
little lady."
"Vampire then!" Out whipped the wooden stake.
"Holy mackrel!" Ari threw her arms up quickly.
Aside to Archie, who had mimicked her stance and was
casting a wary eye on the menace, she said: "I forgot
Buffy was here. They did kill her off at the end of
the season." To Buffy she continued. "No, no. No
vampire either, but I do believe I saw one running
off. That direction." They watched as Buffy sprang
into action, intently seeking her next victim. "Phew,
that was close. Thanks. But I'd try to stay out of her
way if I were you. We haven't exactly let her on to
what this is all about, seeing as how she is returning
to her story and everything. Don't think she would
actually hurt you - you aren't a vampire or anything
like that, are you? Good - but all the same..."
A particular phrase caught his ear and Archie
turned to her, almost daring not to hope. A ray of
light broke through the stormy day. "What did you just
say?"
"What? About you being a vampire? I was just
making sure, because in her story-"
"No, no," it was Archie's turn to interrupt
impatiently. "You said that she's returning soon? To
where? You tell me now that it's possible to leave
this place?"
"Well, yeah. Have you been listening to anything
I've said? What have I told you about writers? They
have the power to kill you off. They can bring you
back again. That's kind of one of the perks of being,
you know, the writer. It's really infamous, though,
the way they treat us, if you think about it. Killing
us off, bringing us back, making us go here and there.
Not once do they ask us how we feel. I really ought to
start a campaign."
Archie shushed her before she could continue
further into her littany and managed to regain a
foothold in the monologue. "The only way a character
can leave is if a writer brings them back to their
story?"
Ari decided then that he was definitely an
inquisitive one. She'd normally say that she much more
preferred the ones that just kept quiet and let her do
her job. Find them, deposit them, then take a
well-deserved break until the next one came a-calling.
Strangely though, this one she rather liked, was kind
of growing on her. "Your writer, only your writer, the
one who originally created you, can completely rescue
you from here."
When she saw his eyes light up, for the first time
in her life she felt pity. He looked so hopeful. Now
she had to be the villain again and stamp out that
flickering light. She really hated her job. But what
could she do? To allow him to continue in false hope
day after day was surely much more cruel. Ari shook
her head sadly. "Oh dear, I'm sorry. But word has it
you're a permanent resident." Oh how crestfallen he
looked! Funny how her heart smote for him. Never
before had she felt so terrible. Willing to do
anything to soften the blow, she forced false gaiety
into her voice.
"But remember how I said the idea of you is still
out there? Sometimes, other writers will want to
borrow you, make up their own stories for you. You
won't be free mind you, a part of you will still
remain here, but consider it something of a temporary
reprieve. Even now I bet there's somebody out there
jus cooking up another great story for you. Flying off
here and there, you certainly won't be bored. You'll
see a lot of the others popping in and out all the
time. You just missed Mulder in fact. Now there's a
cutie if I ever saw one. Usually takes his summer
vacation here, when they kill him off in the season
finale."
"Who?"
"Fox Mulder. He hunts- oh, never mind. Come on,
I'll show you around a bit, let you get a feel of the
place like." They began weaving in, out, and around
the talking groups, and she would point out at
intervals various personnages. "Inconceivable!" Archie
heard someone yell as he walked by.
"Now over here is the Hypnotist Club. They aren't
really of course, but they fancy they can force people
to do things by pure suggestion. Run around waggling
their fingers in your face and invoking the Force.
Jedi mind trick they call it. I don't know, never
really worked for me." She lifted a hand and wriggled
her fingers, but soon gave up and merely shrugged.
"See those four guys over there? Pretty interesting
tales they have. All tragedy and blood and killings.
I'm sure they'd be more than happy to tell you about
it. Just watch your step around that one with the
skull. Not quite right in the head, if you know what I
mean. Accuses half the people here of murdering his
father and sleeping with his mother."
Archie was taking careful note of each as Ari made
comments, but stopped suddenly when his eyes passed
over a familiar face. "Mr. Wellerd!" A terrified
Wellerd looked up from the table where he was
surrounded by a gaggle of severe-looking, middle-aged
women. Ari chuckled.
"Yeah, your friend arrived just before you did.
Looks like he's quite a favorite already." Wellerd
nimbly extracted himself from their clutches,
smoothing down his hair and straightening his jacket
from where roaming fingers had been as he practically
flew to Archie's side. The women gave a collective
sigh at his departure.
"Mr. Kennedy, sir!" The poor boy looked nearly
faint from bewilderment.
"Mr. Wellerd, are you alright?"
"Well of course he's alright," Ari interjected.
"Those fine-looking ladies are the Society of Wicked
Stepmothers and Evil Queens. They always did have a
soft spot for brown-eyed beauties. Boys anyway. But
all the same, I wouldn't accept any apples or spinning
wheels from them if I were you. And if you love your
life, you will NEVER answer if they ask you who is the
fairest of them all!" Innocent ignorance like that
could very well start World War Three.
Ignoring Ari (like everyone always did, she
decided, annoyed), Wellerd continued. "I'm f-fine,
sir. But what has happened?"
Archie glared at Ari. "You didn't tell him?!"
"He didn't ask. Just stood there like a scared
little rabbit. Had to practically carry him the whole
way here."
"Mr. Wellerd, I'll explain everything. What I
understand of it anyway."
"Excellent," Ari tugged smartly down on her vest.
"You're here safe, found a friend. Looks like my work
here is finished. Any last questions before I go?"
"You're leaving?" Archie asked.
"Duty calls. Got places to go, people to see. But
I'll see ya around from time to time." She stuck out
her hand, which each shook in turn. Nice boys there.
She was beginning to understand the attraction.
Whistling jauntily, Ari left them, left the room,
enclosing herself in the void once again.
"Are you happy now? Told you I'd make sure he was
safe and sound. Don't see why you care so much anyway.
Not like he's the main character or anything like that
even. Ouch!" She jumped as an invisible hand pinched
her. "Okay, okay. I'll admit it, he's a hottie. All
that with a cherry on top. By the way, about those
things I said earlier ... " Ari continued carrying on
her conversation with her author as she walked away.
But she couldn't help casting back one last, wistful
glance.

He'd be alright, she assured herself.

This was, after all, her story.

The End