Woo Hoo! Just shy of ten days, and liliaeth and I have the next chapter of Beloved, hopefully for your reading pleasure. We’re still about a week or so shy of six months into William’s captivity. This takes place immediately following the last interlude. Please follow the Warning Alert System.
2014 - November
William is ten and a half years old.
We return our focus to Will and EJ for the moment, interspersed with a handful of other characters demanding to make their presence known. Time continues to pass, albeit very, slowly. Maybe a moment or two of uh oh, hence the plus in the warning.
Please, as always, read and comment! The muse now has access to the rest of the house. The shackles have been put away for the moment, since she seems to be responding well to a little kindness and the varying offers of virtual chocolate from her fans. Feedback is always welcomed.
Goddess bless willa_writes - my very busy girl and beta-supreme, and gillo, for her blue Word bubbles of doom and culture/speech adjustments, and just_sue, for keeping me company in the wee small hours and offering suggestions when I get stuck.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go Here.
Full-sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut.
Beloved – Chapter 20 – In Loco Parentis
Nathaniel Chalmers stopped abruptly just as they entered the building, bringing the children up short.
“Perhaps we need to reconsider the outing this weekend,” he said, pulling out a small Filofax from his pocket and rapidly thumbing through its pages. “I’d almost forgotten we have your Latin exam coming up in less than a week’s time. Your time would be better spent studying.”
“Pactum factum, Sir (a done deal).” Will dismissed the suggestion with a wave of his hand, eliciting an eye-roll from EJ.
“So you’ve studied then, William? Should I test you and your companion now, instead?”
EJ shook her head and pushed Will out of the way. “Nullo modo (No way),” she insisted, ignoring the glare from her friend at his rough treatment. “Labre lege (Read my lips). You promised us this weekend, Sir. You said: ‘the relaxation would be good for our stress management, good for our morale, good for our ability to absorb and synthesize what we had learnt’.”
Will quietly snickered at EJ’s nerve. If he’d spoken that way to Mr. Wyndam-Pryce, the man would have locked him away in the demon pit, for sure.
The man looked stumped. “Nescio quid dicas (I have no idea what you’re talking about),” he teased. Using Latin idioms had become almost second nature as their studies progressed.
“Id quot circumiret, circumveniat (What goes around, comes around),” Will chimed in with his own two cents worth. “If you make us take that test now, and we fail, you’ll also miss out on that barbeque you promised us. And the concert. So, who would you really be punishing?”
Mr. Chalmers smiled, and ruffled Will’s hair, destroying the hold the gel had on his curls. He really wanted a haircut. With his hair long and loose, he looked like a girl.
“I do believe that you two would be the ultimate losers should you fail.” Chalmers tilted his head, absently tapping at his chin. “I had several hours riding practice set aside each day. And time with the crossbow. The qualifying round for that marksmanship tournament is coming up rather quickly.”
Even as his wife silently packed his bag, Angel could tell a fight was coming by the set of her shoulders… and the way she threw his clothing down. He tried to fend it off by speaking first.
“I know you want to be there for the boy, Nina, but I need for you… and Hugh… to stay here. As Buffy once told me – to be a second front. If something happens to me, I need to know that Will’s got loved ones on the outside still trying to get him home.”
Angel looked over the contents of the envelope he’d received from Giles: two first class airline tickets, a scrap of black material from a… t-shirt? and a map denoting a private lot where he would be met.
His demon was unsettled, whispering of traps and betrayals. Reminding him that the man had once set up his grandchilde for murder in much the same way. However, when he’d mentioned his uncertainty to the others, Charlotte rolled her eyes, Nina said he was just being paranoid, and Hugh wisely kept his opinion to himself.
An unseen smack to the side of his head made him stumble.
“Hey!” An odd look crossed his face. “Buffy? Is that you?”
“Angel, are you all right? Perhaps we should get Charles to go instead if the stress is…”
Damn, he must’ve said that out loud. So far he’d managed to keep all references to Buffy sightings to himself, since nobody else could see or hear her.
He stopped her from completing that line of thought with a kiss. “I’m fine, Nina,” he murmured against her lips. “And we’re taking apart enough families, don’t you think? Gunn and Anne have three children who need them. I won’t take on the responsibility for possibly destroying one more home than I have to.”
“Then be careful.” Nina returned her husband’s kisses gently, and then wrapped her arms around his waist. “Just bring our boy home safe and sound.”
Tilting her chin upwards, Angel gazed into his wife’s tear-filled eyes and knew he would dust trying. As if he needed any added impetus!
“We’ll bring him home, Nina,” he murmured. “I swear it. And everyone else, as well”
The tingle he felt on his shoulder that denoted Buffy’s presence reassured him that he was doing the right thing
They walked past the Chalmers’ bedroom suite just as Charlotte kissed her husband and hugged her daughter to her chest.
“You be a good girl for Daddy and Auntie Nina now, Bethy-roo,” she said with a final hug before she handed her over to Hugh. “Mommy’s going to help bring Will back. We’ll be back as soon as we can. I promise.”
Charlotte hurried down the stairs without a look backwards, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “C’mon, Angel,” she shouted over her shoulder. “We still have to pick up Connor on the way to the airport. And he has to pick up his ticket. We can’t afford to be late.”
“Has he heard anything more from Dawn?”
Hugh shook his head. “Unfortunately, no… just the one email, and then nothing – he’s rather frantic on her behalf, as well as Will’s.”
Angel’s fists clenched. He should have pulled Dawn back years ago. He never should have lied to her in the first place. Yet another way he’d let Buffy down.
He stumbled slightly on the way to the door, but he didn’t bother mentioning that he’d been kicked in the shin – they thought he was crazed enough already without him proving their suspicions.
We’ll find her, too, Buffy, he thought, wondering if he was really insane, talking to someone currently residing as a statue in one of the empty rooms upstairs.
Walking towards Mr. Chalmers’ office, they noticed their instructor hadn’t followed. He stood back a-ways, brow furrowed, talking into his mobile. Retracing their steps, Will caught snatches of the discussion: “…complaint… bodies… warehouse… doll’s tea party,” only to have Mr. Chalmers hold up his hand to keep them at a distance.
Both Will and EJ fell silent, not wanting to interrupt what looked like a very intense phone call. Will could tell that the person on the other end of the call was agitated… though he couldn’t actually make out the exact words.
He knew his hearing was sharper than most folks. Part of his demon, he guessed, and supposed he should be grateful that it wasn’t any better.
Holding down the mute button, Nathaniel Chalmers beckoned to his charges. “Will, Emma Jane… I must take the rest of this call. Why don’t you go wait for me in my office – perhaps start your Latin prose? I’ll be right along.”
With a slight shove to his shoulder, EJ challenged: “Last one there’s a rotten egg,” and she took off quickly, Will only a moment behind her. She kept the lead, but Will caught up, fast. In a sprint, EJ had the advantage, but in an all out race, Will was more than likely to keep up with her as not.
Charlotte closed her eyes, trying to block out two of the most morose-looking men she’d ever seen. Here they were – on a rescue mission – and it felt like a funeral. One thing for sure… nobody would ever take Angel or Connor for anything other than father and son.
She relaxed further into her seat shutting out images as well as sounds and focused inwards. She’d taken up meditation as a way to handle the daily stress of an exuberant daughter, occasional forays into the law, both demon and human, and the hell that came from watching her family ache for their missing child.
William was just as much hers and Hugh’s as the Dowells. Charlotte conjured up the image of his sweet baby face; laughing blue eyes, cupid’s bow mouth and the softest golden-brown curls framing his head. In her head he aged, quickly, as if she were watching a flicker-book. Will changed from chubby cheeked baby, to inquisitive toddler. From a first-time schoolboy to the way she last remembered him – a loving, energetic fifth-grader with a good word for everyone he met.
Whose absence ripped the heart out of his two-hundred-and-sixty-year-old vampire father, his werewolf mother, his older brother and all of his aunts, uncles and cousins.
Charlotte came to with a start. The last image in her head had morphed into a refugee from an Oliver Twist novel. She couldn’t allow herself to go there. Will would be fine. He had to be.
Positive thoughts equal positive action
She turned to find Angel staring at her.
“You’re breathing heavily and your heart is racing. What’s wrong?” Angel’s deep brown eyes were full of concern.
“I’m okay, Angel. It’s just… it was a bad dream, that’s all. I’m worried about Will, of course.” Charlotte toyed nervously with her hair as she ducked his gaze. “What if… if he’s changed? If he doesn’t want to leave with us?”
Angel looked at her as if she were a madwoman.
“He’s my boy,” he hissed, as if that explained it all. “How could he not want to come home?”
“Not that it would be Will’s fault,” Charlotte backpedaled somewhat, not wanting to cause an incident mid-flight. “But you have to remember he’s been gone for a long time. We have no idea what line of bull they’ve been feeding him, or what he’s come to believe. You have heard about Stockholm Syndrome, right?”
“Yeah, but…” The vampire was at a loss for words. The thought that his son could be turned against him was too horrifying to consider.
“Will’s still a child, and they adapt easily to new situations. In order to survive he’d have no choice but to start listening to his captors. From his phone calls…”
At that, Angel kicked at the empty seat in front of him, loosening it from its moorings.
“Sorry, leg cramp,” he said by way of explanation to the flight attendant rushing towards them. “An old football injury – makes the leg act up without warning.”
An arched eyebrow and a barely-disguised look of disdain were proof that the man had not been impressed. However, he walked back to the front of the cabin after trying to snap the seat back into place and failing, willing to let the matter drop. At least for now..
“You okay, Dad?” Connor settled back into the seat behind his father, having been awakened by his fit of temper. “No more plans for re-arranging the seating?”
“He just got angry at something I’m trying to prepare him for,” Charlotte interjected. “I know he doesn’t want to believe that Will may be afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome. I think we’re gonna have to be very careful as to how we approach him, no matter how badly we want to scoop him up and hug him to pieces.”
“Don’t know why you’d give it a second thought, Charlotte,” Connor smirked, the irony of the moment sharp and painful. “I mean, who would believe a son could be kidnapped and forced to turn against his father? Sounds unbelievable to me.”
The rest of the trip was made in silence; anxiety and personal hells keeping interaction to a minimum as the plane began its final descent.
EJ reached Chalmers’ office first, though Will wasn’t far behind and, despite the twinkle in her eyes, decided to exercise a little decorum and not kick the door down. She might have been the ‘teacher’s pet’ but that hadn’t stopped Mr. Chalmers from ordering her to add another fifty laps of the track after her usual workout the last time the door went flying.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, EJ seemed to vanish.
Not sure how to interpret what his eyes told him, Will barreled on into the office, intent on challenging her to a rematch. He was unprepared for the sight of his friend struggling in the arms of a huge security guard, and was caught out when his arms were pinned behind him by a second guard. He struggled in vain as he tried to free himself from the guard’s painful grip.
The boy watched, trembling with fear, and wide-eyed as EJ managed to flip her attacker over her shoulder, bringing the man crashing to the floor.
“William, Emma Jane… what’s wrong?” Mr. Chalmers’ voice rang out from the hallway, the noise probably catching his attention and his hurried footsteps announced his arrival.
“Ah, Nathaniel,” came the familiar voice from Will’s night terrors as the desk chair swiveled around to reveal its occupant. “How nice of you to join my little party.”