**pets the muse** The little darling has been singing in our ear, lately, and liliaeth and I present the next chapter in our saga. This takes place immediately after the last chapter. Hugh and Charlotte receive an unexpected visitor bearing gifts. Angel realizes just what he’s gained in his assistant. Little William shows what stuff he’s made of.
Please, as always, read and comment! Our sweet muse is accepting donations of virtual chocolate and praise, as always.
Goddess bless willa_writes just because. It should be a national pastime.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
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Beloved – Chapter 11 – Family Matters
Andrew Nathaniel Chalmers the tenth paid an unannounced visit to his younger brother and his expectant wife. He bore gifts from the family for Hugh and Charlotte’s little one. From their parents? A hand-sewn antique satin and lace christening gown; worn by countless generations of Chalmers infants. Lydia sent an entire layette set in pale shades of yellow and green. And Nate, as his brother called him, had set up a trust fund and invitation to the Watcher’s Council when the child came of age.
Angel and Nina sat politely alongside the expectant parents. Angel tried hard not to let his brood ruin the mood. Every now and again his wife would not-so-gently shove her elbow into his ribs to refocus his attentions. The rest of the time she held his hand whilst Charlotte ooh’d and aah’d over the pretty outfits and luxurious bedding her brother-in-law had brought.
He couldn’t put his finger on exactly what it was that caused his foul mood. Nathaniel Chalmers hadn’t uttered a single discourteous word since he’d arrived. To be entirely truthful, he’d not said a direct word to Angel since entering the Hyperion. A bow of his head sufficed as a greeting. He had taken the vampire’s proffered hand, unlike another member of a different Council family. However, his grasp had been fleeting and the subtle use of his handkerchief afterwards made Angel feel like a slobbering dog.
When the conversation strayed from Charlotte’s health, or itty-bitty baby clothes, it became somewhat stilted. Nathaniel kept making veiled references to Council business; how Hugh was food for gossip working for that vampire on a hush-hush project for Rupert Giles. There were concerns brewing about the lack of information over the past four years and some talk about sending in additional help.
Angel knew he was only moments away from dropping his human mask. The last thing he wanted were Council snoops interfering in his family life. Hugh might have panned out well despite all his skepticism, but it wouldn’t happen like that a second time.
Like a good watch dog, Nina responded with a sharp elbow to an already tender rib, and he backed down.
As much as he’d come to care for Hugh as part of his expanded family, Angel didn’t like him enough to put up with his brother for much longer. Mr. Chalmers the tenth was a dyed in tweed blowhard.
If nothing else, the afternoon had been a revelation. Hugh was a party boy compared to his older sibling. And Angel was extremely grateful that Natty-boy the Watcher didn’t have a clue as to his family’s true background. He shuddered to think what the man would do with that kind of information.
Suddenly Hugh felt like a favored younger brother. There was no façade to the man – he knew that, now. Nathanial, on the other hand – all surface. As smug and two dimensional as Hamilton at first… and second glance.
Angel heard the sound of kid-feet on the stairs before anyone else and turned to see the two boys coming out of the kitchen. Something elusive ticked at the back of his mind. He took a quick mental inventory of the basement’s contents, but couldn’t think of anything dangerous they might have gotten their hands into.
The boys ignored the adults, opting instead to head straight for the television. Sure enough, it was time for Will’s favorite show; the current remake of Dark Shadows.
He couldn’t help but snarl as the show’s theme music drifted over their conversation. Of all things, why was the boy drawn to a blasted vampire soap opera?
Nina reached up to kiss her husband’s cheek. “Let them be, Angel. It’s only a television show. If Will has any questions about the nature of vampires, he can always ask us.”
“I know,” he mumbled. “It just that we can’t have the boy thinking all vampires are fluffy romantic fools.”
“Oh my! Aren’t we being Mr. Sarcastic today?” Nina teased.
Hugh shifted on the couch, eyes trained on his brother. Nate flashed a momentary sneer before he could school his face into that perfect Council façade he’d long ago perfected.
“Yes,” Hugh agreed. “There’s little wonder America’s youth has such an unhealthy fascination with vampires these days, what with the drivel being force-fed to them by the media.”
“Yet you allow young children access to an electronic babysitter where such rot is perpetrated. And you sit by and do nothing,” Nathaniel sneered, reaching for another cup of tea. “I don’t understand how American parents have such disregard for their offspring’s welfare that they leave them with that idiot box as a babysitter.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you’d ever tried to grade papers, cook dinner and keep watch over an active five year old all at the same time,” Nina muttered.
“No offense meant, Ma’am,” Nathaniel back-pedaled smoothly. “How about introducing me to your little one and his friend? What with our Charlotte about to bring a new life into the family, I’d like to become acquainted with the boy. I’ve not spent much time around children, myself, other than my younger siblings.”
“Will!” Angel called. “Come here for a few minutes. I’d like to introduce you to someone.”
Quick as a wink, Will clambered into his father’s lap, leaving his friend standing somewhat awkwardly behind the couch.
Nathaniel gasped. “He’s Rumpari! How can you allow that creature in your house, much less near your son? Why haven’t you killed the creature?”
“Daddy, why does that man want Whistler to be dead?”
Whistler? Guess it’s as good a name as any.
Will’s tearful eyes nearly caused his father to come undone. When had he become such a sap towards his boy?
“Yes, Nate,” Hugh interjected. “Explain to the boy why you want his friend murdered.” He walked over to the couch, standing next to Whistler, who’d begun to keen softly.
“That’s not a child! That’s a demon,” Nathaniel insisted. “Rumpari eat people, therefore it’s our imperative to remove the threat before any more humans are killed.”
“Adult Rumpari occasionally partake of a human meal as a celebratory feast. This one hasn’t even gotten his teeth in. After his association with humans, he may never partake in the tradition.”
Nate shook his head in disagreement. “Yes, he’s an immature specimen, but he’s small and easy to take out with a minimum of fuss and danger. I thought you were taught better than that, Hugh. Surely you’ve not forgotten all of your Watcher’s teachings by working here?”
Angel watched in fascination as the two brothers sniped at each other. How he could ever have taken Hugh for a Council stooge was beyond him.
“But I’m not a Watcher, as you and everyone else has been fond of pointing out ad infinitum since I failed my field test… twice,” Hugh shot back, trying to hide his embarrassment at being exposed in front of his wife and chosen family.
Whistler’s keening grew louder, and he’d begun to quiver unmistakably with fear. Hugh produced his little whistle and blew several trills, and the boy noticeably calmed. “There, there, young one. We’ll keep you safe,” he murmured.
Will glanced from adult to adult, and the bitter, angry faces they each wore now. He scrambled from his father’s lap and grabbed Whistler’s hand. “Gonna go play in my room now. You make my ears hurt.”
The little Rumpari warbled something to Hugh, who responded in kind before he and Will headed to the stairs.
“Care to share with the rest of the class what that little beast just said, brother?” All traces of Nathaniel’s earlier benevolence and good humor had vanished, leaving behind the cold façade of an old fashioned leave-no-survivors Watcher.
“No, I don’t believe I care to, brother,” Hugh sniped back, standing tall against his elder for a change. “You have no interest in knowing what he said, or how he feels. You just want him eradicated.”
“And what’s wrong with that? With wanting a dangerous demon taken out before he has the chance to harm the populace?”
The adults looked towards the stairs, where both Will and Whistler had retrieved their respective bears.
“That dangerous demon as you’ve defined him told me you scared him, and he wanted to go home. Who do you think he considers to be the monster here, Nathaniel?”
“It’s not about being a monster, Hugh. It’s about being responsible. It’s about making the hard choices for the good of mankind.” Nathaniel stood there, so calm and righteous – completely sure in his convictions.
“You’re not hurting Whistler!” Will hurtled towards the elder Chalmers, with all the bravado the little five year old could muster. For a small child, he did his damnedest to appear intimidating. Standing in front of the Watcher, he planted his fists on his hips and glared upwards.
“He’s a good boy, mister. He colors on the paper and not on the floor, and he like peanut butter an’ jelly sandwiches.”
“Mr. Chalmers,” Nina cut in frostily, pushing her son back and out of the way. “This is my house. You are here as a guest. True enough, you’re Hugh’s family, but Hugh is ours as well, by choice. Whistler is here until his family comes for him. He was probably orphaned during the wedding massacre between the Rumparis and…” she looked to her husband for help.
“Thpazial,” he offered, stroking her back gently to lend his support.
“Right,” she continued. “Between Thpazial and Rumpari demons. Angel and Hugh did the responsible thing and saved as many of the humans as they could. To leave this child alone to be prey to whatever else lurks in the sewers would have been reprehensible. Any parent or parent-to-be would have done the same thing. As you can see, our son knows enough to take an individual at face value… no matter what that face looks like.”
“Yes, he would, wouldn’t he, Mrs. Dowell. What with a vampire for a father.”
Will shoved his way in-between his mother and the angry man. “My daddy is a good vampire. He helps all kinds of people.”
Nathaniel smiled coldly; the look in his eyes calculating and unpleasant. “Yes, boy. That’s true. Once he stopped killing people and eating sewer rats.”
Angel sat stiffly on the couch, unwilling to come to his own defense.
“That’s enough! You need to leave… now!” Nina picked up her son and shoved Nate in her anger. “Surely the Council recognizes the good my husband has done over the past few decades.”
“And is that supposed to negate the thousands of human lives he’s responsible for taking over the past two and a half centuries? The Council has a long and unforgiving memory, Mrs. Dowell.”
Charlotte stood then, looking a little green around the gills. “I’m sorry, love. I can’t be here anymore. The baby’s kicking up a rumpus from all this yelling and stress, and it’s not good for Will or Whistler, either. Let me take the children upstairs to play.”
Hugh’s concern shifted immediately to his wife. “Are you okay, Pooki? Do you need…”
“I’m fine, hon. I just need to lie down for a bit. Will can come and get you if I need anything.” She turned to her brother-in-law with a stiff formality she’d never shown around anyone before. “Nate, it had been a pleasure to see you, until you let your prejudices get in the way. Until you can tone down your hostilities, you’re not welcome here. I’m sorry if I’m overstepping my bounds, Nina, but I don’t think any of us needs to deal with this.”
“It’s time I take care of my family, Nate.” Hugh turned his back on his brother, taking Will and Whistler by the hand. “We have nothing more to say to each other at the moment.”
Gathering his coat, Nathaniel stared at his younger brother. “Don’t think this is over, Hugh. I see we need to have a serious discussion about what is and isn’t appropriate in dealing with demons.”
“You don’t see anything, you wanker,” Hugh spat, pulling his whistle out of his pocket and blowing two sharp blasts, causing the little Rumpari to trill behind his own hand.
“Why do I think you just said something not meant for little Rumpari ears?” Charlotte asked, shakily as she leant back into her husband’s embrace.
“Because it was something I shouldn’t have said in front of anyone, of course.” Hugh sighed. “Let’s go upstairs and put you to…”
A shrill whistle came from the front door. Angel immediately leapt into a defensive stance in front of the humans, as two seven-foot tall Rumpari entered the hotel.
Hugh moved to his side, whistle at the ready. “Don’t make the first move, Angel. Let’s see what they have to say for themselves.”
Nathaniel took two shaky steps backwards, closer to the full-sized demons than anyone else before pulling two long knives from his coat’s lining. It was clear he knew how to fight. A true Watcher, trained in the art of killing demons. And deeply out of his depth in this situation.
“Get the children upstairs,” Angel called over his shoulder.
Shrugging out of Hugh’s grasp, Whistler ran towards the larger of the two demons chirping happily.
“He… is mine.” With a voice like broken glass, the Rumpari pointed an accusing finger towards Angel. “You kill parents. You take boy. We take… back.”
A barrage of short whistles and long trills followed between the younger Chalmers and the three demons. Hugh fished a small pad out of his pocket and tried to transcribe the dialogue onto paper. High, low, melodic, shrill – it was giving Angel a headache and he stopped trying to make sense of it early on.
When it suddenly ended, Hugh looked like he was gearing up for a long-winded explanation.
“Have mercy on a poor vampire and make it ten words or less.”
Hugh looked stunned. “Ten words or…” he blustered. “How…?” At Angel’s glower, he relented. “Fine, then. Arranged marriage. Sister survived. Uncle will raise… both,” he said, counting off on his fingers as he looked mighty pleased with himself.
Angel was impressed. “And they say Council-folk can’t keep things simple,” he smirked.
“Well, as I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not a Watcher.”
“That’s for bloody well sure,” Nate grumbled. Why didn’t his brother understand he only had his best interests at heart? The sight of a demon next to his pregnant sister-in-law set his teeth on edge. Nate had never bought into the ‘souled vampire as reformed’ camp and wasn’t happy about Hugh being assigned to him. If he’d only complete his task, Nate would be happy to find another appointment closer to home.
Whistler clung to his elder’s hand, obviously happy to be back amongst his family again, but as they headed towards the exit, the little demon pulled back – running first to Angel and Nina, bowing his head. “Tinks,” he said, reaching for their hands. “Tinks ooh.”
He waved at his friends still standing on the stairs. “Bhy bhy. Bhy We-il.” A long, smooth whistle followed, and the demons were gone.
Nathaniel spluttered with indignation. “You’re just letting them leave? Those two definitely kill and eat humans, even if their spawn doesn’t yet.”
“That’s part of what I needed to explain,” Hugh said, pointing to his scribbled notes. “They promised to try and convince their clan to change over to eating cats instead of humans for their future ceremonies.”
The women glowered in disgust as if his suggestion was just as despicable.
“It’s a common meat amongst demons. They tend to control the feral cat problem in large cities. It’s also the best compromise they’d accept. The Rumpari are indebted to you, Angel, for taking their youngster in and treating him well. They take great pride in their children, like another species we’re all familiar with,” he murmured, tenderly rubbing Charlotte’s expanded belly.
“But kitties, Hugh? Does it have to be harmless furry animals?” His wife’s teary-eyed expression almost made him stumble.
“Would you prefer they stick with humans?”
“You’re fools!” Nathaniel’s words cut through the tender scene.
“Maybe we are,” Angel said defensively, standing in front of the agitated Watcher. “And maybe we’ve just gained an ally in the fight against true evil in this city. From whatever source it comes, additional help is always welcomed.”
Nathaniel didn’t seem to be convinced.
“The wedding we interrupted was a coming together of two demon species that up until that point had nothing but enmity between them. If we’d killed the boy, those two clans would more than likely have joined together against humanity. A race like the Rumpari with no real reason to attack humans one way or the other, could have joined the Thpazial in their retribution.”
Angel turned to Nate, willing him to understand “Because we were ‘fools’ enough to keep the boy safe and happy, a possible uprising was prevented.”
“They will turn on you in the end,” the Watcher insisted. “You can’t trust demons. Any demons,” he spat pointedly and walked out the door.
Several Days Later
After the disaster of Nathaniel’s visit, the little family relished the peace and quiet of a lazy Sunday afternoon just spent together.
Angel opened the front door. Mindful of the sun’s rays at that hour of the day, he reached down for his newspaper; glad for once to have a chance at the crossword puzzle before Hugh got his little hands on it. That man could be sneaky when it came to his love of word puzzles.
Instead of the paper, however, his hand came in contact with an old-fashioned, two flap wooden picnic basket. Cautious in the face of their many enemies, Angel unhinged the latch and let lose with an unmanly scream as the little furry creatures leapt towards freedom.
Will ran to see what the fuss was all about. “Kitties!” he yelled, happily dropping to the floor to play with the mewling bundles. “Mommy, come look. Daddy got kitties.”
Nina simply raised her brow.
Angel held out a painstakingly written note as an explanation.
Thank you. Cats good. Enjoy.