liliaeth and I finally have the next chapter of Beloved for your reading pleasure. We’re well into the fourth month of William’s captivity. Please follow the Warning Alert System.
William is 10 1/3 years old.
As the chapter title indicates, things seem to have changed for William. The question becomes: Are people and situations really as benevolent as they seem? Is William better off for all the changes that have been made? Heightened warning for a slightly unpleasant flashback scene.
Please, as always, read and comment! The muse is being a tad obstinate. She’s taken to instigating staring contests, and the little minx wins most of the time. Feedback is always welcomed.
Goddess bless willa_writes - my cheerleader and beta-supreme, and accolades to gillo and just_sue for giving this a thorough read-through and offering up some lovely ideas. I now fear Word’s bubble-comments of doom.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
Full-sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut.
Beloved – Chapter 18 – Change of Pace
Four Months Into William’s Captivity
Nate held a stopwatch, checking the lad’s progress as William performed his laps in the Olympic-sized swimming pool. Buoys strung on nylon rope delineated the lane he was to keep in, and a pacing duck raced along the left side, silently urging the child to keep up. His easy stroke and calm expression showed the lack of strain on his part. Either they would have to up the number of laps, or increase the speed to push William closer to his potential.
Building a heated enclosure around the pool had been his father’s idea when Nate, himself was a child, and all the Chalmers children had enjoyed many a cold winter’s day swimming like seals. Nate enjoyed a small, private chuckle, remembering some of the happier moments of his childhood.
“Look at him, Father… he’s setting a faster pace than he was two weeks ago. The lad’s at forty laps now and showing no sign of lagging or struggle.”
“Yes,” the elder Chalmers agreed, setting up a round of drinks as he watched William’s progress from one end of the pool to the other, over and over again. “It is truly amazing. Such potential, and he’s yet so undeveloped. One can only imagine what he’ll be capable of at maturity.”
“This only proves my point,” Nate said. “Wyndam-Pryce had the wrong approach. Little more than a month has passed with proper food, exercise, and incentives and the lad is positively thriving.” Bringing his whistle to his lips, Nate blew three sharp blasts to catch William’s attention.
“Five more laps, boy, then cool off for a bit. Your drink will be waiting for you.”
William nodded, and then resumed his workout.
“He does seem to respond well to the reward system,” Nathaniel agreed. “I told you – give the lad a bit of what he’s asking for, and he’ll think you’ve given him the moon. He’s bright enough to contrast his prior treatment to what he has now.”
“He’s certainly less of a stroppy brat than before. Hardly ever mopes about his old life anymore. I think the diary you gave him was a brilliant idea. It provides a major insight into his thought processes,” Nate mused. “Even his studies are going at a better pace now that Wyndam-Pryce has been removed from the equation. I just don’t understand what that man had been thinking.”
Nate remembered that fateful day – the presentation of William to the full ruling board, minus Giles, of course. The lad’s schedule had been brutal, and he was exhausted. Still, Wyndam-Pryce had insisted it had been the proper time.
He, himself, had wanted to keep William sequestered until the presentation of materials and statistics was finished, letting him nap in the wings. Roger, however, wouldn’t hear of it. No matter how he argued his case, the old man was dead-set on having the boy watch it all… even the films.
The Council footage was truly horrific. The massacre at the orphanage. Spike and his paramour, Drusilla – covered in blood – and the screams of the children as they died. Upsetting enough for the adults in attendance, but for a child – a child who knew that he was one of the monsters on the screen before him… the image of Spike handing a squalling infant over to his lover for a quick snack… was too much.
And it had been just what Nate needed
Throughout the presentation, the boy was taunted and prodded by that damned stick of Wyndam-Pryce; trying to provoke a hostile reaction, yet he sat there – eyes wide – looking more and more queasy as the film went on.
Whenever William tried to close his eyes or look away, Roger would grip his hand hard, and squeeze. Nate knew he wasn’t the only person to have seen it. The boy was silently crying before the film was half over.
Wyndam-Pryce had saved the worst for last – his contribution to the presentation. The films of Angel and Connor. The child broke, then, watching his father slit his brother’s throat. He sobbed, crying out and calling Wyndam-Pryce a liar.
“But he did, boy,” the old man had sneered, eyes ablaze with venom. “That monster you call your father taught you everything you knew about being a monster. And if we hadn’t taken you from him, he would have done it to you all over again. See how easily he disposed of his child? It just proves how little the beast cares for family connections. You’re better off with us, boy. Better, by far.”
Instead of becoming violent as Wyndam-Pryce had intended, to show the board that they had been right in trying to leash the beast within and contain him, William went silent. More than silent; the child was virtually catatonic.
From the lectern, there was little that Nate could do to reach the boy, and the situation still needed to be pushed just that little bit further. He stood his ground, holding onto the wood in front of him, trying to maintain his own control. His eyes never left those of his one-time mentor, watching as the anger mounted in the man’s eyes.
Sure enough, Wyndam-Pryce dragged the child up to the lectern and began to rant – to ram his points across where finesse would have sufficed. He pulled and shoved the unresisting boy around the stage, grabbing his head and forcing him to look towards the screen from time to time. When no reaction was forthcoming, he slapped the boy across the face to the sharp gasps of the audience. Before he could raise his arm a second time, Nate had interfered, hauling William over his shoulder and taking him out of the hall.
A meeting had been called the next day, and Roger Wyndam-Pryce had been removed from the project. He’d been given enough rope and had hung himself.
Nate had known that even the Council, even with all its harsh adherence to structure and guidelines in order to achieve its goals, would not condone the mistreatment of a child in its presence.
“Hey, Mr. Chalmers!” Will had emerged from the pool, his laps completed. “Sorry if I woke you,” he laughed, shaking himself all over; shedding water like a puppy. “How much longer before lunch?”
“About half an hour of free-play, William. Just make sure you have your drink, first,” Nate said, pushing a fruity concoction towards the edge of the table. “You must keep your strength up.”
Will drank the contents of the glass down, no longer noticing the strange mineral taste of the dehydrated blood mixed with nearly everything he ate or drank. He wasn’t getting ill from the supplement; the now-weekly blood tests confirmed the child to be the very picture of perfect health.
Wyndam-Pryce had been insisting drinking the blood in its normal form would be more fitting for a vampire-child, but Nate couldn’t see it. William might very well have a demon residing in his body, but it was sublimated deeply. Everything had to be adjusted and made palatable to its human host. After all, it was that very humanity that had to be carefully manipulated into working with and for the Council.
Subtle changes in the lad’s speed, strength and stamina had begun to manifest, and additional repetitions were added to his workout to push him further each week. Nate wondered how long it would take for William to catch on. He was not a stupid child, as his acumen with languages had proven. All it had taken was a firm hand with actual lessons and the boy had picked up both Latin and Greek with startling proficiency.
William’s physical prowess was slayer-like, only slow-forming instead of all at once. His eyesight and hearing had sharpened slightly as well. Nate wondered if the changes had been brought on by the blood supplementing his diet, or simply a matter of advancing maturity. Either way, it would be carefully monitored and recorded.
Shaking Nate from his thoughts, the elder Chalmers said: “Last night’s phone call to Hugh seems to have lifted the boy’s spirits. Does he still insist on speaking with the demon and his wife?”
“Perfunctorily, Father. However, I do believe I noticed flecks of amber in young William’s eyes when his request was refused last night, even though he held his tongue and let the matter drop. There might still be a little wellspring of hope that he’ll be allowed to leave. Time will eventually disabuse him of that notion.”
Nathaniel nodded sadly. “Perhaps it would be beneficial to let him talk to the mother figure? To use it as another reward for reaching a difficult goal?”
“Maybe in the future,” the younger Chalmers acquiesced. Nate didn’t tell his father that this was a request he never intended to grant. The bond with his ‘mother’ was too strong to risk reconnecting. Allowing William to speak with her could destroy all they’d managed to accomplish with the boy.
Once more his eyes turned to the pool, watching as William frolicked in the heated water. Every day there were more rumors of Slayers gone bad. Soon, though… soon they’d have the perfect weapon. A vampire/human hybrid with the instincts to kill rogues, and none of the weaknesses that would keep his kind at bay during daylight hours. Time would tell, he thought. There were years ahead of him in which to mould the lad into his image.
Nathaniel stood as his daughter slowly and carefully approached the pool area, carrying luncheon from the cook’s serving area.
William wasted no time in rushing past the elder man, taking two heavily laden plates from her hands and setting them down on the table.
“Thank you, kind Sir,” Lydia said, stiffly bowing as low as her aching spine would allow. “Nice to see someone with proper manners.”
The boy smiled, which only seemed to make Lydia happier. It was one of the few reasons they were now allowed to interact. The look on Lydia’s face when William was around; the way he seemed to ease her worries and make her forget her pain… there were precious few things capable of creating those reactions, and Nate valued them all.
“Lydia,” her father chastised. “You know we have servants for this sort of thing. There was no need for you to tire yourself out.”
“I may be a cripple, Father, but I am no longer an invalid,” she shot back, stiffly settling her aching body onto one of the webbed chairs. She smiled at William, and patently ignored the younger Chalmers. She’d obviously not forgiven him for the lad’s predicament, no matter the change in his day-to-day circumstances.
Despite the intended insult, Nate smiled. The boy had shown an inordinate fondness for his sister, perhaps latching onto her as a mother substitute. With a little luck, Nate would work out how to exploit it sometime down the road.
Lydia didn’t mind William’s help. He and her young assistant, Gayle, were the only two allowed to ease her burdens without risking her wrath.
William bit into his burger with gusto. There was nothing that perked up the boy’s appetite more than a bit of American-style food. They were trying to broaden his palate with heartier British fare – more meat pies and blood puddings – but burgers, hot dogs and chips won out, hands down.
“So, William. Did Mr. Chalmers keep his promise and let you call Hugh and Charlotte last night?”
The boy paused and nodded silently; his mouth still stuffed with food.
“Good.” Lydia smiled, sneaking a glance at her older brother. “I find that keeping promises is of the utmost importance.”
All eyes turned towards the elder Chalmers.
“Father!” she retorted. “It’s one of the first tenets you taught us all as children. To follow through with what you’ve promised, or to expect what has been promised to you. Do you have a problem with that now? Or doesn’t it apply to the lad, here?”
“Of course it does, my dear girl. I just find it inappropriate to start this sort of conversation during the meal. Tends to cause all kinds of indigestion and the boy….”
“The boy isn’t stupid, Father. I believe he should know exactly how we feel about certain things. There’s no need to lie.”
William was used to being the focus of attention and continued to eat, trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible. Nathaniel shoved a hot dog in his direction, silently urging him to keep his mouth occupied and let the adults argue amongst themselves.
“No worries, then,” Lydia smoothly continued. “William, when you’ve finished, why don’t you go to your room? I’ve left a present for you on your bed.”
The boy’s eyes brightened. He still wasn’t used to being treated pleasantly. Roger Wyndam-Pryce had left his legacy in his psyche.
“It’s an old favourite of mine, by C.S. Lewis… called: The Screwtape Letters.”
Nate fought the urge to complain about his sister’s choice of reading material. Fanciful tales of the Devil… more muck to muddle with the Council’s teachings. He never would have permitted the child access to this type of material, but there was no way he could rationalize taking away a gift from his sister. As it was, blackmailing her into accepting the child’s incarceration was difficult enough. Nate loved his sister, but he and the Council had a goal, and no one could be allowed to interfere with it. She did understand that if she meddled or pushed things too far, he would be left with no choice but to return William to the austere conditions at the Council, proper. To allow him the freedoms he now enjoyed, and her access to his routines… to see for herself that he was blossoming and happy… that was all she really wanted, and she was easily kept in line.
Lydia had so few things in her life that gave her pleasure anymore, Nate was loath to take this one away… but he would, for the sake of the project. If she caused trouble.
At least he had the pleasure of knowing the vampire wasn’t further contaminating the child’s innocent soul by his continued demonic presence. And if the fact that the boy now spoke with the youngest Chalmers, weekly, caused the demon to suffer? Nate could admit to being petty enough to enjoy it.
William trusted him now. To the child, Nate was saviour – the man who had rescued him from the hellish treatment of Roger Wyndam-Pryce. The bountiful provider of weekends of relative leisure and pleasure. This made it so much easier for him to ask William to go that one step further. To work harder. To believe in new and different concepts. And when the nightmares struck, he turned to Nate for comfort.
Amazingly, the fact that Nate Chalmers had been key in removing William from his home and parents had been forgotten. A few kind words – an occasional smile – children were so easily manipulated. They’d got to the boy none too soon. A few years later, and he’d have been much too strong-willed for the project to be effective.
“So, brother dear…” Lydia’s sarcastic tones cut through Nate’s meanderings. “Now that William is safely out of the way, perhaps we can talk freely? I’d like to know why you summoned me here this afternoon.”
Nate looked around. Sure enough, young William had finished his meal and scampered off to his room for the aforementioned gift.
“Isn’t it possible that I just wanted to see my only sister?” he asked, amused at her annoyance.
Lydia nodded, then turned on him with her eyes blazing. “Oh yes, indeed. For that matter, I could be the Duchess of York, but as it happens, I’m not.”
“Lydia…” Nate tried, but he could see she wasn’t willing to drop the matter. “Very well, then. I suppose we might as well get down to it. Have you any news on Mr. Giles’ condition?”
“I’ll answer your question if you’ll provide me with information. Where is Miss Rosenberg? Last I heard you’d sent her out to retrieve some artifact that would free Miss Summers from her marble imprisonment. The witch hasn’t been heard from in years.”
“Miss Rosenberg is ensconced in the Tieng reality. As you know, one week there is equivalent to a year in our time.”
Lydia was shocked. “You sent her to the Halls of Wisdom?”
“Yes. I gave her the portal coordinates. In fact, she was due back two months ago, our time. We received word that her return was unavoidably delayed.”
“You received word… from Miss Rosenberg, directly? Do you even know if she’s all right? Does she…” It took Lydia by surprise when the other shoe dropped. “Did you ever bother to tell Miss Rosenberg of the time differential between our two planes of existence? Does she have any idea how long she’s actually been gone?”
Nate scratched at his neck, looking uncomfortable for the first time. “It is possible that those exact words might have slipped my mind.” He could see her fists clench before she calmed herself down. The rage passed quickly, and would have been missed by anyone not well-versed in Lydia Chalmers’ body language.
“Bastard,” she muttered.
Calmly sipping the tea brought out by an unobtrusive servant, Nate tried to counter his sister’s anger. “I fail to see the harm, here. Wyndam-Pryce wanted her out of the way so she couldn’t interfere with the project. The information I gave Miss Rosenberg about the enormous mystical archives was true. It is possible she could find an artifact to free her friend. There is no place in the multi-verse where she stands more of a chance. And, she’s free to return at any time. We do not have her locked away in a prison cell somewhere, Lydia,” he insisted. “Not everything has a nefarious scheme behind it.”
“And if she decided to stay away for a year? Fifty two years, Nathaniel! Everyone she knew would have died by the time she returned.”
“If she finds nothing, nobody will have been hurt by her absence. If she finds what she was looking for, then Miss Summers will be saved and all will be worth the time lapse.”
Lydia smacked the table with her hand, her ire becoming more pronounced. “You haven’t answered my question.”
Nate hesitated, as if trying to wrestle the proper answer out of a tangle of vipers without getting bitten. “If she doesn’t return within the next few weeks, we’ll send someone in after her. Will that soothe your conscience?”
Her obvious indignance said it wasn’t enough. “She’s been gone for over four years, already! How dare you play God with that young woman’s life?”
This time it was Nate’s turn to beat on the table. “Do you know how many Watchers would beg for the opportunity Miss Rosenberg was given? To be that close to so much wisdom… so much knowledge?”
“And each and every one of them would have gladly made the choice! Been given the proper information and time displacement schedule. Those very things you withheld from Miss Rosenberg before sending her off on a wild goose chase.”
“I gave the woman the information she needed to know.” Nate was adamant. “She was eager to go. Very enthusiastic.”
“We are just never going to agree, Nate. I find your ethics to be shaky, and you will never convince me that what you have done to either Miss Rosenberg or young William is moral or upstanding. Not in intent or actuality. And as for Mr. Giles…”
Finally! “What about him?”
“Mr. Wyndam-Pryce came a few glasses of absinthe shy of committing murder.”
“Roger? How is he responsible?” Nate was truly curious. “I thought old Rupert had merely let himself go. Wasting away like a common drunkard and poor excuse for a Watcher.”
“He was mourning!” Lydia yelled, her face growing blotchy in her anger. “Miss Summers was as close to a daughter as he was likely to have. He’d watched her die before, and the last attempt to free her obviously broke the man further than anyone suspected. Mr. Wyndam-Pryce took advantage of a grieving man and put him over the edge with that blasted illegal potation.”
“Lydia,” Nate soothed. “I understand your attachment to the man, but even you would have to admit what a sad excuse of a Watcher he was. Unorthodox… refusing to follow the rules. It was only due to the skills of his Slayer that he’d risen to the position he holds now.”
“Don’t make me laugh, brother dear. You hold no respect for Miss Summers’ tenure as Slayer. You’ve agreed with your superior when he called her a vampire whore for aligning herself with two of history’s most infamous beasts, and then abandoning the Council.”
“That’s where you would be wrong, Lydia. I believe her lapses in judgment to be the fault of a weak Watcher. If Rupert had been doing his job properly, Miss Summers would never have been in the position to become sexually involved with demons.”
“And the world would have been destroyed many times over,” Lydia sneered in triumph. “I don’t understand your stance against Spike… why you are so determined to control William and bend him to your purposes. His demon chose to retrieve his human soul. He fought for and on humanity’s side, giving up his existence so that we might all survive. Where is the evil you rail about? What gives you the right to…”
Both Chalmers siblings turned towards their father.
“Do you realize how asinine this whole discussion is? Did I bring up my children to be petty and argumentative?”
Like recalcitrant children, they hung their heads in shame.
“You two are Watchers! We do not insult our own, Nathaniel. Rupert Giles might not have been the perfect Watcher, but he did his job like any true Watcher would have done. To be gleeful over his fall is distasteful in the extreme. And Lydia… while Nathaniel’s deception might not have been the best solution, do you have any doubt that Miss Rosenberg would have made any other choice had she known the entire situation?”
Nathaniel remembered his father’s own Slayer… Molly Black. She’d come from a working class background – father was a coalminer, mother a seamstress. She’d held the position for less than two years before being killed whilst on patrol.
He would never forget his father’s tears… or the year it took before he’d managed to pull himself together and return to the Council in a research capacity.
“I believe the question remains, Lydia. How is Mr. Giles doing?”
Properly chastened, Lydia replied: “He’s getting better. I’ve hired round-the-clock supervision for his detoxification, and a nutritionist to ensure his body gets what it needs to rebuild itself. Also, a psychiatrist is on call to help lift his depression.” She looked into her father’s eyes, deeply upset at relaying the man’s condition. “Last I saw him, Father, Mr. Giles was shaking. His hands… so unsteady. The poor man couldn’t even hold a pen to annotate his own diaries. It’s so hard to see such a strong man brought so low… and by a colleague.”
“Wyndam-Pryce was… troubled. It’s not easy being a Watcher. You know that, Lydia. It wears on you day by day. What you sacrifice… “
Nathaniel sighed. “In the end, his estrangement from his son didn’t matter – he lost him to that vampire’s cause. The Council is now his entire life. Is it any wonder that he would have done anything to protect what little was left to him?”
“What he did was wrong.”
“Yes, it was. But I can’t help pitying him for all he’s lost.”
Lydia stood up, turning away from her family. “I can’t pity him, Father. I won’t,” she said, and walked away.
Nate turned towards his father. “She’ll come around. You’ll see… in time.”
“I hope so, Nathaniel. This project… it’s important. It might well save the Council, itself.”
“I can handle it,” the younger man insisted. “I have William completely under my control.”
He stood off to the side, hiding behind a wall… out of sight of the arguing Chalmers clan. William was steaming mad. They were talking about his Grandpa. The one they’d said was too busy and uncaring to see him. It wasn’t true! He was sick. He was almost killed. How could they lie to him like that?
Will felt the cool tickle of a hand on his shoulder. “You can’t believe everything they tell you, William. Remember that.”
He needed to remember who his friends really were. One day, he’d escape and go home. He’d see his parents again, and his friends. Things would go back to normal… and he’d make them pay. All of them.
“Thanks, Wesley. It’s hard to remember, sometimes.”
Lydia appeared from around the wall, making her way back to the main house. She smiled, holding out her hand.
Will hesitated, even knowing she couldn’t see his ghostly friend, but a slight push from behind told him that she could be trusted to keep his eavesdropping a secret.
And he added one more true friend to his list.