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Beloved – Chapter 3 – No Vampire is an Island
Arm-in-arm and hip-to-hip, Nina and Angel stared down at the misshapen little cake on the table. Dark chocolate cake covered with whipped cream. Mounds and mounds of whipped cream, slathered on in an attempt to even out the lopsided layers.
Angel sighed. “I’m sorry, Nina.”
“Sorry for what, exactly?” Nina refused to let the blanket apology stand. I would be too easy to let her man get away with it again.
“Sorry for not realizing just how important this little celebration was to you?” he tried.
Nina tapped her foot, not so patiently waiting for more.
“… or f-for William.” He almost made it through smoothly.
As she sighed., Angel brushed his fingers through Nina’s hair, their faces almost touching. “I know I haven’t exactly been…”
His answer was nothing more than a subtle nod of his head. Angel pulled a chair away from the table and slumped down onto it, trying to compose his thoughts and having a miserable time of it.
“It’s just… it’s just that it’s Spike!” As if that wasn’t explanation enough for anyone.
Nina’s expression hardened. “Get over it, Angel. You’re an adult, and Will is a baby. An innocent in this world – something you’re supposed to cherish.”
“I know,” he finally admitted. “It’s just hard to break the habit of a lifetime.” He reached out for the proffered cup of coffee, complete with sugar and milk, and picked up a spoon to stir.
“Does this have to do with Connor,” Nina offered, holding up her hand at the signs of his immediate denial. “Maybe you’re feeling disloyal to your biological son if you show any affection towards your adopted son. Honestly Angel, there’s more than enough love in your heart for both boys. Why don’t we call Connor and let him know about Will? I’ll bet it will be a load off your shoulders.”
“But what if he thinks…?”
Again, Nina stopped him from speaking, by placing a finger on his lips – a finger covered in whipped cream swiped from the little cake.
He suckled her finger into his mouth, purring around the cream covered digit. “Way to take my mind off all of this non…”
With a growl that had Angel’s demon sit up and take notice, Nina pulled her finger out of his mouth. “Damn it, Angel!”
“Come on now, Nina. Just a little playtime?” he pouted, nearly crushing the spoon in his grip trying to tamp down his frustration.
“I’ve had enough of this. I’m leaving. It’s obvious you’re not taking this matter seriously.”
“Nina! No, please,” he begged, only releasing her when he saw her wince in his grip. “I can’t do this without you.”
The panicked look in his eyes was almost enough to undo her anger… but not quite. “I love you, Angel,” she soothed. “And it’s been very easy to fall in love with that little boy. It just breaks my heart that you won’t open up to him. I can’t stay here and watch you leech the joy out of his little face.”
“I don’t hate Spike, I just… I don’t know what I feel about him.” If Angel had to be honest with himself, he never had. He’d forced himself to hate the younger vampire for so long, that it was hard to admit that he didn’t.
From the time Drusilla first brought the boy home, he’d felt an attraction for William that bordered on the obsessive. Darla was none too happy about it and threatened to dust the younger vampire every other day until it waned. The hatred made it easier, and over the course of time became habitual. William merely had to walk into the room for Angel’s hackles to rise, and that course continued unabated until just before the fight in the alley.
“Will takes his cues from you,” Nina pushed. “He needs feedback, Angel. He smiles and laughs when he looks at you, and all he sees is the great stoneface. Pretty soon, he’s going to stop trying to make you happy.”
Like William had the first time around, over a century ago, even as far as losing his name. It’s my fault all over again. I’ll destroy another innocent soul. “Please stay, Nina. In fact, why don’t you move in, full time? Not for William… not just for the boy. I hate to watch you walk out the door when the weekend is over.”
“Angel, I… I can’t. What about Amanda and Jill?”
“I’m not asking you to move to Outer Mongolia. Your family is welcome here anytime. It’ll be our home; yours and mine. It’s just,” he paused, trying to keep his thoughts straight. “We’re going to be married next Spring. Why don’t we get used to being a family twenty-four/seven a little early?”
“Are we, what?”
“Still getting married. What with her…” Nina looked through the door, at the Buffy statue.
Taking Nina’s hands in his, Angel stared at her with concern. “Of course we are. How could you think otherwise?” He led his fiancée over to Buffy, sitting them both down on the round sofa. “Buffy is my past, but it doesn’t mean I’ll abandon her plight when she’s in trouble. I want to help her if I can. Yes, I still love her. But you? You’re my future. I’m in love with you.”
Nina settled into his arms. Always a strong woman, one who rarely needed someone to coddle her, let him hold her in support. Just be there for her.
“This could be so perfect, my love,” she sighed. “If only…”
This time it was Angel’s turn to silence his future spouse with a kiss. “I know. It’s wrong to keep her inside the hotel.” For Nina as well as Buffy. To force his wife to live with the other woman in her home – to keep Buffy locked inside, banished from the sunlight as he, himself was. “We could place her in the garden. That way, she’d be safe, and out in the sun.” And you would have the sanctitiy of your own home.
Nina touched his cheek with a tentative gesture. “The garden is a nice spot for her,” she agreed. “But I was thinking more along the lines of you and William. I don’t want to be a single mother.”
“You won’t be,” Angel swore. “I’ll do my best. I promise I will.”
“Your best had better be a far cry from what you’ve shown so far,” Nina grumbled.
Angel took a few steps away from her, picking up some of Will’s toys and tossing them back into the playpen. “I know I will.” He swallowed, nervously. “I’ll send a letter to Connor in the morning, telling him about Will. I promise.”
She turned quickly, enfolding him once more within the circle of her arms. “Don’t give me any of your lip, buddy,” Nina whispered, rocking gently against his broad frame. “It’s been easy keeping the information from Connor so far because he’s been out of the country. But he’ll hear about your new son sooner or later, and it had best be from you. It took so long for him to trust you again and you wouldn’t want to lose that now, would you?”
“I guess with him working on that internship at the Council, it’s only a matter of time before someone spills the beans, huh?” Angel looked up, puppydog eyes to the fore. “Maybe he’d take it better if you called him?”
“Oh no you don’t. This is your son. They’re both your sons. Actions speak louder than words, and coming from you would be the best possible course of action. We’ll… well, why don’t we sleep on it and see what tomorrow brings?”
“You mean you’ll stay? Move in with me… us?” Hope leapt into Angel’s heart.
“Was there ever any doubt?” The kiss she bestowed on his lips was certainly a clear enough message. “You wouldn’t by any chance know of a large, soft bed we could rest our weary bones on, would you?” Nina batted her eyelashes like an over-the-top coquette. “We’ve had a long day, and Will is sleeping like a log.”
“There might be a place on my, um – on our bed, upstairs,” Angel corrected himself swiftly, with a certain twinkle in his eye.
Wiggling out of his embrace, Nina pulled the love-struck vampire along behind her, towards the staircase. “Lights out, then,” she whispered, flicking the switch, settling the room into a warm, comforting darkness.
They left the little cake behind them in the kitchen, untouched but for the trail left by Nina’s finger.
In the lobby stood the statue; silent. Still. Unmoving. But inside the young woman known as Buffy Summers was crying. It wasn’t the slayer who watched the vampire and his woman leave, it was the girl. And she wished she could just close her eyes and forget what she’d seen.
Such comfort wasn’t granted to her.
She stared straight ahead of her – towards the stairs – where she’d originally been placed, wondering…
Did he call the baby, Spike? No, he said he was Will. Will… William? Oh my God, could it be…?
Several Days Later
Morning found Angel all too soon; trying to write that thrice damned letter to Connor as promised, while trying to keep an eye on William and surreptitiously glancing outside at Buffy in the garden.
Will crawled about on the floor, playing with the various toys strewn about. He tried to capture Angel’s attention and was rebuffed at nearly every turn. Gradually he found his way to the door leading to the outside garden. He pulled himself up, slapped his hands against the glass, shouting: “Da!” As he slapped the door again, his calls increased in volume and intensity. “Da! Dada!”
Angel tried to ignore the ruckus at first, then pulled Will away from the door when he feared the boy might break the glass panes. However, no amount of bribery would keep him still for long. Toys and sweets held no appeal, and Angel wasn’t willing to hold the boy and play with him.
He couldn’t wait for Nina to come home.
The latest missive found it’s way into the garbage and Angel stomped his way into his office to retrieve yet another stack of clean stationary.
“Won’t you lay off that damned racket already?” he yelled as he passed the boy. “You keep hitting that glass and you’re gonna hurt yourself.”
“Da!” *bang* “Da!” *bang* “Da!” *bang*
Would that boy never learn to talk? There were other words than ‘Da’ he could use.
Angel tossed the paper onto the desk and grabbed Will around the middle, sweeping him away from the door. “Look, boy. I’m having a hard enough time with this damnable letter – trying to explain all about you to my son. The least you can do for me is be quiet.” He practically threw the child into his playpen, determined to ignore his pitiful sniffles when Angel walked back to his task.
The sounds of the playpen squeaking as Will shook the sides of his prison reminded Angel of the days when the newly fledged vampire had been held in restraints – tied to the bedpost and gagged. Eventually he turned his inner ear away from the noise, confident that the situation was under control.
By the time he’d finally finished the letter, he’d sensed something very wrong about the silence. Turning to check on Will in the playpen, he was met with a shock – the playpen was empty and the boy nowhere to be found.
Angel twisted around in panic. Where the hell had the little hellion gotten himself to? Had some demon slipped in unannounced and kidnapped him? How had he gotten out of the playpen by himself? Nina was going to toast his balls over an open fire if he didn’t find the kid before she came back.
Running around the room like a chicken without its head, Angel looked under the tables and desks. “William! Get over here, boy. Scaring your Da is not a good thing and...” Spotting the open door to the garden stopped him cold. It couldn’t be!
He ran to the door and froze one step away from bright sunshine, and watched as Will clambered over the little fence separating Buffy from the rest of the garden and curled up at her feet, resting his little head against the statue’s base.
“William Pratt!” he yelled, half in relief and half in anger. “Get the hell back in here this instant!”
The child didn’t even raise his head in Angel’s direction. He simply wrapped his arms around Buffy’s feet, closed his eyes, and seemed to drift off to sleep.
There was nothing Angel could do but stare, hoping the boy would remain safe until Nina came home from shopping to pluck him out of the sunlight. Today was one of Gunn’s days at the shelter. There was nobody else to back him up.
He’d left the week old fledgling manacled to a hook in an isolated closet, ignoring his whimpers as the door slammed shut; five days to reflect on the dangers of walking out into the sunlight no matter how tasty the scullery maid looked as she tried to escape… Angelus furious at the boy’s lack of self-preservation. The childe he’d released was contrite and obedient for weeks as he’d tried to glut on blood from the pantry to make up for being starved in the early days of his bloodlust, lesson at least temporarily learned.
Angel refocused on the playpen, noticing how the mesh bunched where William had obviously made little toe holds when he’d escaped. Really, things were so much easier when manacles were the answer for keeping humans immobile.
He tensed as a sudden sense of danger sent him barreling towards the door.
A loud caw broke the silence as a large black raven swooped over the garden, circling several times before settling on Buffy’s head. It stared at Angel, as if daring him to chase it away, then fluttered down to the ground, walking close to Will.
The child showed no fear whatsoever. In fact, he stood on shaky legs and stutter-stepped his way to the bird, almost as if he’d been enthralled.
Thrall! The thought snapped Angel out of his lethargy. “Will!” he shouted. “Come here, buddy. Come to Daddy! Stay away from that bird.”
The bird’s head swiveled as it broke it’s gaze from the boy momentarily. Caw! Caw! It seemed to mock Angel’s attempts to call the boy in towards safety.
Will was unresponsive to his father’s entreaties. He held out his little hand to stroke the bird’s feathers.
“Stop, Will! Get in here, now!” Angel knew he was screaming, but it was to no avail. The boy’s hands were holding black feathers as the bird turned its wide open beak towards its target.
Will started to cry, unable to look away from the bird, and Angel lost control. He grabbed the antique handmade quilt Nina’s grandmother had made off of the couch, and tossing it over his head, dashed outside and lunged for the boy, chasing the bird away.
Angel prayed he wouldn’t ignite with the boy in his arms. Holding him closely to his chest, Angel’s head and hands began to smolder with exposure to the sun. They stumbled into the lobby. Angel quickly dropped William to the floor, beating on the comforter and himself to put out the small flames flaring up on the fabric and his hands. It had been a very close call, but they’d made it inside in safely.
Dropping to the floor, Angel broke into tears and sobbed, holding his head with his burnt hands. Will climbed into his lap, hugging his father around the neck.
When Nina returned a half hour later laden with shopping bags, she found her grandmother’s quilt smoldering on the floor, Angel sitting on the floor with both hands bandaged, and Will, wearing a child safety harness tethered to the column in the center of the couch , playing quietly next to Angel.
Discretion being the better part of valor, Nina brought her bags into the kitchen, hung up her sweater, and sat down on a chair opposite Angel and Will before saying a single word. “So, Angel,” she asked as she toed off her shoes. “Did anything interesting happen while I was at the market earlier?”
Angel hadn’t moved from his spot on the floor; head downcast, seemingly unaware of the people around him.
Trying another tack Nina pressed onwards, needing answers. “Would you please explain to me why Will is tied up like a dog? I’ve only been gone for a couple of hours and… what’s that smell?” Scanning the immediate area, she noticed the smoldering quilt several feet away. “And why does my grandmother’s quilt look like you started a barbeque in the middle?”
“Yeah, well… seemed the special of the day was Angelburgers,” he muttered. “Your precious little one over there managed to climb out of his playpen and open the door to the garden.”
Nina didn’t look impressed. “How could he, Angel? He’s just a little boy?”
“Don’t look at me like I’ve got three heads, Nina,” he demanded, huffy at being called a liar. “I’m telling you Will got out and was attacked by a giant bird. I grabbed the nearest thing I could find and brought him back inside, and all I’m getting is grief from you. I suppose you think I should have let the little bastard get pecked to death to protect your damned quilt?”
Nina smiled and picked Will up, releasing the catch on his harness. “You’re a bad boy, William Pratt. Such a bad boy to be playing with a big, bad, bird and getting your Daddy all burned like that.”
Her pretense at castigating the boy was ruined by the giggles she tried to muffle against Will’s neck.
“Very funny, woman. Ha ha. You go ahead and make fun of the injured vampire who risked unlife and limb for that kid.”
Looking properly contrite, Nina placed a kiss on Angel’s head, wrinkling her nose from the stench of burnt hair. “Sorry, babe,” she soothed. “You were a mighty brave vampire to rush out into the noonday sun. However…” Casting mockery aside, she looked thoughtful, noticing that Will was once again standing by the now latched garden door. “…this does seem to have presented us with a real weak link in childcare.”
Angel hesitated before answering. “I know,” he finally said. “If he’d gone any further. If the threat had been anything worse than a bird, Will would have been helpless out there. And I…”
“You know, it’s nice seeing a little protective streak in you towards your son. Maybe there’s hope for you after all.”
“Nina…” Angel was tired of the constant knocks against his not so paternal feelings. It’s not like he wanted the kid to get hurt. Not even like he’d had to take the boy in in the first place. There had been other options. It’s just that he couldn’t leave his own family to someone else. It wasn’t in Angelus, and it wasn’t in Angel to abandon what was his, and Will was that, at least. Family. In some convoluted way or another.
“That’s enough, Nina.” Angel’s words were clipped and harsh. “I know you’re concerned for the kid, but he’s my family. I might not be the perfect father – somehow my only experience in child rearing was cut short, but I wasn’t about to let Will come to harm. Hell, if I managed to restrain myself from killing him as the vampire bane of my existence, do you really think I would…”
Nina was taken aback. Angel had never spoken to her that vehemently before. “I-I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have implied that. It’s just, sometimes it feels as if you hate him.”
“I did, mostly.” Angel frowned. “I tried to, anyway. This past year reminds me so much of when Spike was newly turned. He could charm the pants off of anyone he set his sights on, and drove me to distraction whilst doing so. He only wanted to please me, and yet I… Angelus, ended up breaking his heart and spirit. I don’t want to do that to him again.”
She listened as Angel slipped between blaming himself, then his alter-ego, for sins of the past. “Then don’t,” Nina murmured, soft and low. “Don’t think of him as a changed William the Bloody. Think of him as William Matthew Jamison Pratt. Your son. Our son.”
“Our son, huh?” Angel sighed, glancing around at the happy child playing at Nina’s feet. “It’s easier said than done, but I’ll try harder.”
“That still leaves us with the question of what to do with Will during the daytime. Unless we want more fried Angel moments, I think we need to hire someone.”
“I was thinking about hiring a secretary. Think anyone would be interested in a double job? Part office work/part babysitter?”
Nina nibbled at her lower lip, contemplating the situation. “Well, I could always check the boards at the university. There’s always someone looking for work, and we can offer them room and board, too.” She smiled, ruffling Will’s curls. “As you said, he’s a little charmer. And someone could do both jobs with ease. It’s not like we’re inundated with calls.”
Angel grabbed Will as he attempted to crawl by and dropped him into his lap. “Think we’ll find someone who won’t mind working for a vampire and a werewolf, me boyo?” He smiled as Will grabbed for his nose.
“Maybe we won’t put that in the job description just yet, lover,” Nina laughed. “You know, let them acclimate first before we scare them off?”
“You mean get them used to diapers before they find the bloodbags in the fridge?” he grinned.
“Or the cage in the basement,” she fired back, taking his bandaged hand gently in hers.
“Or the hairballs you tend to leave in the shower?”
“Or the sticky red rings you leave at the bottom of your mugs.” Nina giggled as she hit his back with one of the balled up pieces of paper lying about.
“Da!” William squealed with glee, the happiness of his family infectious. “Dada!” he yelled, right before he belted Angel in the nose with his little fist.
Angel groaned, gently grabbing Will’s hands and kissing the boy’s nose. “Ah, boyo. There’s still some of yer old self in there, yeah?”
In response, Will kissed him back, if opening his mouth wide and slobbering all over Angel’s nose constituted kissing.
Hugh Chalmers’ once crisp white shirt was soaked with sweat by the time he walked into the Hyperion’s lobby. He’d been sent in unannounced by Rupert Giles, under the guise of being a research assistant.
Angel tagged him as a spy right off, showing his disdain unguardedly. In other words, he totally ignored the Brit. He didn’t offer him tea. Didn’t offer to help him find a place to stay. And he most certainly didn’t bother with any extraneous conversation. He might not be able to put the man back on a plane to England if he didn’t want to lose what little help Giles offered, but there was no way he was going to be nice to the bastard placed in their midst.
By comparison, the arrival of Charlotte Abigail Winterbourne was treated like incoming royalty. The pretty black woman seemed stunned as Angel offered to take her coat and fluffed the pillows on the chair before he offered her the seat.
Hugh sat there, uncomfortable and mute.
“Welcome to Angel Investigations, Ms. Winterbourne. Can you tell me what you know about the job offered before we talk further?”
Charlotte smiled at the man’s easy manner, and wondered why the gentleman sitting in wait looked like he’s been through the Inquisition.
“The notice on the bulletin board said something about a mix of secretarial work and childcare,” she began. “I’ve helped look after my twin sisters, Emily and Anne, so I’m not unfamiliar with little ones.”
“Charlotte, Emily and Jane? Your parents were…”
“Oh yes,” she laughed. “Very into the literary world. We were indeed named after the Brontes.”
“That’s just nifty.” Angel relaxed a bit in her presence. She seemed to be a sweet, old fashioned girl with family values and a background that included more than television. “My son’s just turned one year old, and I need someone in the house during daylight hours when my fiancée isn’t home. I’ve got this… sun allergy, and it’s not fair that William be forced to stay indoors all day long.”
Hands in her lap, Charlotte looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and nerves. “But I’ll still be working as your secretary, right? And perhaps if we can tie it in some way to my major? I’m pre-law, and any experience I can pick up will only help my future.”
“Oh, yeah,” Angel reassured. “Angel Investigations isn’t the busiest firm, but we have a demanding clientele. They tend to have rather eccentric hours, and… well, we tend to give them our undivided attention whatever time they drop in.”
Worried that he might be losing her by her perplexed expression, he rushed on. “It’s all sorts of relaxed here, but there are regular things to be done – paperwork and such… and of course, the phones and reception. It’s all easy stuff, I promise.”
“I’m not worried about working hard, Mr. Angel. It’s just that I’m pre-law, as I mentioned before, and I would love to have a job that I can sort of intern at,” she smiled.
Angel frowned. There really wasn’t much by way of normal legal services offered, unless… “We have an associate who’s a lawyer. He works for the local shelter. I’m sure he’d love to have an assistant with his funding contracts and other things.”
He could clearly see the light shining in her eyes, and it was clear her interest level had more than doubled. It was understandable. Having been the CEO of Wolfram & Hart, he knew how important previous hands-on experience in the law field would look on her resume.
“That’s just wonderful,” Charlotte exclaimed. “You did say room and board were included, right?”
“Um, do you think I might actually get to see the little one I’m supposed to be taking care of before we both make a final decision?”
“Of course.” Angel stood, and offered Charlotte his hand. She accepted his help and followed him into the kitchen. Nina was busy feeding Will, and for a change, the boy was on his best behavior. Not a single bit of mashed potatoes had found its way to the floor, table, or Nina’s hair – a minor miracle that Will was allowing himself to be fed.
“Charlotte, this is my fiancée, Nina, and my son, William.” He planted a kiss on Nina’s cheek, and chucked the boy under his chin. “And this is Ms. Charlotte Winterbourne. I’m hoping she’ll agree to take the job.”
“He’s adorable!” she cried, squatting down to make eye contact with the boy. “Hello, Will. My name is Charlotte. Wanna be friends?” she asked, holding out her hand.
Will looked at her for a moment with inquisitive blue eyes and slapped her open palm. “Chir!” he said, before slapping her hand again.
Charlotte seemed like a nice, innocent young woman. Angel hoped that his first impression was right, and they she wouldn’t end up being some shape-shifting demon out to slip in under their guard and kill them while they slept.
He also hoped she wouldn’t turn tail and run when she found out just who she would be working for. With any luck, they’d be able discuss their true natures before it smacked her in the face.
Angel watched Charlotte’s interaction with Nina and Will. She reminded him so much of Fred, in her manner. He liked the way he felt human in her presence. It was so much easier to pretend when there was no option of her considering he might be anything but.
He almost hated to take her innocence in that way, but she would have to be told the facts of life and unlife fairly soon if she accepted the job.
“That’s just so cute! I’d love to take the job, if you’ll have me.”
And just like that, with a nod from Nina – she was hired.
Angel left the women to talk about the care and feeding of Master Pratt and walked back into the lobby; anger slowly building with each step. Unfortunately, the Council’s spy was till here, waiting.
“So, spy-boy. Why are you really here?” No trace of Angel’s previous good humor remained. “Giles convinced himself that I’m doing terrible things to debase his Slayer’s statue?”
Hugh protested. “I’m not a spy, Sir.”
An indelicate snort was Angel’s only reply to what he viewed as an all too obvious lie.
“Mr. Giles just thought I might…”
“What? Keep an eye on me and see what I do with her?” Angel finished for him.
“If you’d only let me finish my own sentences,” the young Watcher sighed. “H-he sent me here strictly to be of assistance to you, Mr. Angel. My forte is research, and my time is yours,” he offered lamely, extending his hand in a peaceful gesture.
As if! Well, you’re not staying here with me and mine. This place is for family and those people we trust. Until you prove yourself satisfactorily to me, I don’t want to see you except between the hours of nine and five, unless otherwise requested.”
Hugh startled, a deep pink blush colored him from neck to the tips of his ears with his embarrassment. “I would never presume to live in your home, Sir. Especially uninvited. I will find a place and be back here within the next few days to assist you as I can.”
Angel glared, unwilling to soften his stance in the slightest. “If you want to be of help,” he said, grabbing the letter from his desk. “Then post this for me and get out of my sight.” Flashing a bit of fang, Angel turned and stormed out of the room.