liliaeth and I offer the hopefully long awaited next chapter of Beloved. It takes place at the same time as the last chapter. Please follow the Warning Alert System.
Of note: It’s come to our attention that labeling the last interlude 25/26 might have misled some readers into thinking that the story is one chapter away from being complete. Never fear (or be very afraid). There’s loads of story left to go!
2014 - November
Will is 10 ½ years old
Alonna is 9 years old
Bethany is 5 years old
At long last, our boy comes home (as you might have guessed from the chapter title). We hear from a new voice and gather the clan. One day we’re gonna learn to write stories with either one or two characters in it. Beloved’s cast has become unwieldy. By the way? You might consider this your friendly tissue warning alert.
Please, as always, read and comment! Buffy!Muse swears we’re giving her a complex, and demands something light and fluffy to work on next. I believe she’s been looking in the directory for psychiatric help. Perhaps it’s time to leave chocolate and warm, fuzzy slippers by her bed?
Feedback is always welcomed.
Goddess bless willa_writes - my prime-time read-through buddy and Ringo connection, gillo, whose enthusiastic cheerleading and love for our characters won’t let us give up the struggle to see this through to the end, and just_sue, for hanging in there with me when times get rough, both in real and fandom life.
To read Beloved from the beginning, go to simply_beloved, our official home, or Here.
Full-sized banner by liliaeth beneath the cut.
Beloved – Chapter 26 - Homecoming
Bethany sat on the circular couch in the lobby and wiped the tears from her eyes. She’d been banished from the kitchen after getting underfoot one too many times. Auntie Nina and Alonna were putting sprinkles on the big Welcome Home cake for Will and she’d wanted to help. It wasn’t her fault that the chair had tipped away from the counter and the sprinkles flew all over the place.
She pouted, twisting her hands in her lap for lack of anything else to do. Uncle Gunn had brought her a new coloring book and the largest box of Crayolas she’d ever seen, but for some reason the empty outlines of fairies and butterflies didn’t hold her interest.
A couple of games of War would make sitting on the couch easier. Will had taught it to her before he went away. He was so proud when she remembered which numbers were higher and lower and slapped her cards down at the right time. She couldn’t wait to show him how much better she’d gotten.
Ben would have played with her, but he and CJ were home with Auntie Anne. Daddy had told her that Will would be too tired to play with so many little kids in the house. She’d offered to play with Uncle Gunn, but he was too busy doing grown-up stuff in Daddy’s office.
Thoroughly bored, Bethany cast a longing look towards the kitchen and hearing nothing but the busy clatter of pans and utensils, she slipped off the couch and headed up the stairs. Past the family’s floor, up another flight to the quiet room. The one with the white stone lady curled into a circle.
She looked unhappy.
Nobody knew how often Bethany would visit the sad lady. She’d never been told not to go inside, and she made sure to close the door quietly behind her so as not to draw unwanted attention. She and the stone lady kept each other company, and even without words, Bethany never felt alone in that room.
Best of all, she could talk about Will without everyone making that wrinkled prune-face at her. Most grownups she knew were funny that way. They’d keep everything inside and feel terrible. Auntie Nina’s eyes would crinkle up and she’d cry and run upstairs to her room. There was a monster she and Daddy used to watch when Mummy wasn’t around... Gozilla, or some such? Sometimes Uncle Angel stomped off just like him, but his teeth went real big and his eyes went all yellow. Uncle Angel was so sad since Will was gone.
Bethany was glad he’d be home tonight.
“Hello, lady.” The little girl patted one claw-like hand and sat down beside the stone lady. “All the grownups are running around like chicksens and no heads. Mummy always says that. Sounds icky to me.”
She smiled, hoping it would cheer the lady up to see a happy face.
“When Will comes back, I’m gonna show him how big I getted.” She stood and stretched to her full height, then pirouetted, preening in her pretty clothes. “And look,” she said, showing off her white tights, Mary Janes, and pink denim Oshkosh dress. “Auntie Nina made me dress up and now I can’t even go outside to the garden. She’d be so mad if I got all dirty before…”
The sharp double-blare of a car horn stopped Bethany’s monologue in its tracks. She went to the window and leaned out just the slightest bit, careful to heed her mum’s strict warnings about danger and open windows.
“Oh!” she cried, startled as the first person stepped out of a big, black car. “It’s Unca Connor! He’s back! Bye lady,” Bethany called over her shoulder as she sped out of the room. “Will’s back an’ I’m gonna go give him a hug.”
Down the stairs she flew, practically tripping over her own feet as she headed for the landing and her returning family.
“Unca Connor! Unca Connor!” she shouted, running into the man’s legs. In her enthusiasm, nearly knocking down a strange lady at his side. “Where’s Will’um?”
“Hey there, cherub. Missed you lots.” Connor knelt down, gathering Bethany into his arms and mussing up her nicely brushed hair.
Bethany shook her finger sternly at her uncle. “No, no… not the hair. Never the hair,” she said in a near-perfect imitation of her Uncle Angel.
Connor grinned. “You’ve learned well, bratling.” He twirled her around to face the woman she’d nearly knocked down. “Bethy, this pretty lady is your Aunt Dawn. She’s come home to stay with us.”
“Cool. Now where’s Will?” Bethany spared no more than a glance at her new aunt before craning her neck towards the door. “Why didn’t he come in with you?”
When her uncle didn’t answer, she turned to look at him again, and wondered why he looked like he’d swallowed sour milk.
“Listen, cherub,” Connor finally spoke, tilting Bethany’s face to look into her eyes. “Will’s still in the car. It hasn’t been easy… bad things happened and he was hurt. We’re just going to have to be really patient and let Will take his time to get comfortable being home again.”
“I can go get my Princess bandaids if he’s hurt,” Bethany offered as she wriggled out of Connor’s arms and headed towards the stairs.
“No, sweet girl. It’s not the kind of hurt you need bandaids for.” Connor stood stiffly, opening his mouth as if to speak, then shutting it again, silently. “It’s like… remember when Ben took your favorite Barbie and cut off all her hair?”
Bethany nodded, a grim expression on her face.
“And even though Uncle Gunn bought you a new one, you still felt bad about it?”
She nodded again, understanding blooming in her warm, brown eyes. “So you mean that even if Will’s home now, he’s gonna be sad about being away?”
“You’re a very smart girl, Bethany,” Aunt Dawn said, kneeling down to the little girl’s level. “Will’s been through a lot, and it won’t be easy for him to forget what’s happened. We’re going to have to let him tell us what he needs.”
“Oh!” Bethany’s face lit up. “I know what he needs. A great big hug. They always make me feel better when I’m sad. And a kiss. Both should make him feel extra better.”
Dawn hugged the little girl convulsively, then turned away to embrace a weeping Auntie Nina. Bethy turned to Connor in confusion.
“Will may not want to be hugged,” Connor offered gently.
“Why not?” Bethany couldn’t even begin to grasp the idea of not wanting a hug. Even Uncle Angel loved it when she wrapped her arms around his big neck, no matter how ‘broody a git’ he was, like her Daddy said. “Would it be okay if I asked him, first?”
Uncle Connor nodded, not even looking at her. “Sure, Bethy. That would good.”
Bethany’s attention was drawn to the sound of multiple voices. While she had been busy with Uncle Connor, others had come in. A lady with red hair, an old man with gray hair and a cane… they were all hugging Auntie Nina and crying. Uncle Connor and that Dawn lady had joined them.
Why weren’t they happy if Will was home? And if he was home, why didn’t he come inside?
Unable to wait any longer, Bethany silently headed towards the lobby doors. It was important not to draw attention to herself – she wasn’t allowed to go outside on her own. Her mum had warned her not to many times, but she wasn’t here right now, was she?
Bethy pushed open a door just in time to see the black car pull away. She noticed a second car pull up into its place.
“Mummy! Mummy!” The happy youngster flung herself at her mother’s legs the moment Charlotte cleared the open door. “Will’s inside, right?”
Charlotte flinched as a loud growl sounded from the car’s interior, and grabbed her daughter before she could climb onto the seat.
“Wait, Bethy,” her mum shouted, scooping the girl into her arms. “Let’s go inside and surprise daddy. Mummy wants to have a few words with him about letting you outside all on your own, too.”
“Didja bring me a puppy, Mummy?”
But Mummy was silent, and hugged her a little too tight. With a little squeak of discomfort, Bethany thought twice about hugging Will. She wouldn’t want to hurt him, even by accident. Mum and daughter hurried away from the car and back into the hotel, leaving the growling thing in the car behind.
As soon as the doors closed behind them, Bethany remembered something important: “Daddy went to pick up Will at the airport… is that why he’s not here yet?”
“Of course he did. My sweet guy.” Charlotte’s smile quickly faded as her daughter’s statement hit home. “Shoot! I have to call him and tell him that everyone’s home before he drives all the way there for nothing.”
“Can I call Daddy? Please, Mum? I know all the numbers to push.”
“Sure, Bethy-roo.” Charlotte opened her handbag and handed over the small phone. Bethany wondered why her mum’s bag was so much neater than Auntie Nina’s. Mum could find anything in a flash; Auntie Nina always took forever to find whatever she was looking for. Even if she did always have a hidden chocolate bar or a bag of cookies to give a hungry snack-monster, she thought with a giggle.
Being careful to push the correct numbers, the little girl held the phone to her ear, anxiously waiting for her daddy to answer.
“Hi, Daddy,” she chirped, bright and cheery, and squawked with indignation when mum grabbed the phone out of her hands. “Hey!”
“No time to play, baby. Hugh? They’re home. Everyone’s at the Hyperion. Hurry back.” She returned the phone to her handbag and gave Bethany a little jiggle on her hip. “Soon, baby. We’ll have our family back together real soon.”
“I wanna go play with ‘Lonna, Mum. We can wait for Will, together.”
Charlotte shook her head, once more adjusting Bethany’s weight in her arms. “Sorry, Bethy. I’ve missed you so much, I don’t really want to give you up right now. And Alonna’s with her daddy so let’s just wait together until Will comes inside, and your daddy comes home. And besides,” she said, brushing an errant bit of hair behind Bethany’s ear, “You haven’t told me about pre-school, yet. Have fun?”
“Uh huh. I fingerpainted! Made lots of handsprints with all the colors. They’re hugs for Will. I showed ‘em to the… Ms. Susan, an’ she said they were pretty.”
“I’m sure he’ll love it, Bethy,” Charlotte agreed. “He always did like the pictures you brought home.” There was a strange hitch in Mummy’s voice that made Bethany’s tummy feel bad.
Startled by a kiss on her cheek, she turned around to find Auntie Nina looking very worried.
“Charlotte, what’s keeping my son?” she asked, standing behind Bethany and her mother. “He’s…. he did come back, didn’t he?”
“Oh, Nina… I’m so sorry,” Charlotte murmured, hugging the now frightened woman. “Of course Will’s back. He’s in the car with Angel. But… he’s had it rough. And perhaps this discussion shouldn’t happen in front of little ears.”
Bethany rolled her eyes. Grownups really did have a funny way of dealing with things. Hiding them always made it worse. Made you worry more when they sent you out of the room. You knew it had to be awful news when they sent you out of the room.
“Please, Mummy,” she begged. “Please don’t make me go. Will’s here. You said so. I want to see him now.”
It was no use, however, and soon Bethany found herself herded into the kitchen with her coloring book and the box of crayons.
Stupid fairies! She wasn’t any more interested in coloring them now than she was earlier on the couch. She grabbed the black crayon and slashed angrily at the first page, ripping holes in it. After obliterating the outline, Bethany tore the offending page out of the book, wadded it up into a ball and tossed it across the floor.
They weren’t going to hide things from her. She wasn’t stupid. Silently, Bethany made her way back to the lobby, hugging the walls so she could listen in without being seen.
She nearly cried out when someone tapped her gently on the shoulder.
“Hello there, pumpkin. Who’re you trying to hide from?” Connor whispered.
“You… you… sneaky!” Bethany scowled, unhappy at having gotten caught so easily.
He gave her a look with one eyebrow raised that seemed to say: “Who, me?”
The little girl gritted her teeth, not in the mood to play games. With her hands on her hips, she turned her impatience on her uncle.
“Where is Will?” she demanded, stomping her foot in frustration. “What’s the big secret they won’t tell me? Mummy sent me out of the room like a baby and it made me mad!”
Uh oh. Mummy only used her real middle name when she’d done something naughty, and she certainly didn’t look pleased as she knelt down in front of her.
“What did I tell you about staying in the kitchen?”
Bethany used her best pout – the one that almost always got her what she wanted. “But I don’t wanna color. I wanna see Will.”
“But Will doesn’t want to see you!” Mum hissed angrily in her ear. “He doesn’t want to see anybody.”
She gasped in shock. Her mother never spoke to her like that. Never!
“I’m so sorry, baby girl,” Charlotte sighed, hugging Bethany close. “I’m not angry with you. It’s no excuse, but Mummy’s very tired, and it’s been a very hard few days for everyone.” She stood up and straightened out her clothing. “Will’s just not feeling very well, and won’t be in the mood to play with anyone for a while. I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to see you when he’s had time to settle in.”
“But I want to see him now!” Bethany stomped her foot, feeling heat creep into her cheeks.
“Bethy…” her mum warned.
“Mummy…” she shot back.
“Don’t talk back, young lady. You know better than that.”
“I don’t care!”
“Bethany Rose Chalmers! Go to your room this instant.”
Hmmph. Seemed Mummy could only be pushed so far.
Bethany stalked off towards the stairs, glancing back only once. When she saw her mum’s finger pointing up towards her room, her shoulders slumped. She quietly gripped the handrail and went on her way.
A half hour later, a commotion downstairs drew her out of her room, and once more she cautiously headed downstairs, stopping halfway and sitting on a carpeted step. Uncle Angel was at the door, trying to pull something inside. Maybe it was the growling puppy from the car?
No… not a puppy. A kid wrapped in a large, leather coat. Uncle Angel’s coat. Will? Couldn’t be. He was taller than Will, and didn’t want to come into the lobby at all. He was hurting so badly, he shook from it. Waves and waves of pain.
Bethany clutched her tummy. Feeling someone else’s pain made her sick. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. She wondered what had happened. And still, above all else… where was Will?
“Will, please. You’re home. You’re safe now.” Uncle Angel tried to be gentle. Bethany could see that even from her perch on the stairs. He finally gave up and in a very fast move, got behind the cringing boy and pushed him inside the building, slamming the door shut behind them.
Nobody in the room moved. They were as still and quiet as the stone lady upstairs, until Auntie Nina cried out: “Will!” The stranger – could it really be Will? – stumbled to the floor from the force of Uncle Angel’s efforts. The woman ran towards him, arms outstretched to grab onto the boy and help him up.
Surprisingly, the kid evaded Auntie Nina’s grasp and jumped backwards, sending another wave of cramps through Bethany’s tummy. The little girl watched as the kid inched slowly away from the grownups, not even seeing Alonna crying as Uncle Gunn held her.
Bethany barely had time to plaster herself against the wall as the kid ran up the stairs. He was in agony; mouth shut and screaming inside.
He tore past her without a single glance, and ran straight into Will’s room, slamming the door so hard it bounced open again.
She was torn as to what to do next.
The grownups downstairs all started talking and crying at once. Bethany picked up bits and pieces from everyone from her perch on the stairs:
“My god, Angel,” Auntie Nina cried. “I have to go to him. He needs his mother at a time like this.”
Uncle Angel disagreed. “He’s home, Nina, and he’s safe. Let him deal with it in his own way… at least for the moment.”
“Gonna take Alonna home, folks. Glad you brought the little dude home, but I think it might be better for us to give him some space.” Bethany heard a loud noise. Uncle Gunn must have slapped Uncle Angel on the back. “Call me if you need anything, man. Me, or Anne.”
“Me, too,” echoed Alonna. “Tell Will… tell him I missed him?”
“Of course, honey,” Auntie Nina agreed. “Tell mom I’ll call her in the morning.”
Bethany couldn’t hear more than a mumble from Uncle Connor and the Dawn-lady had a fuzzy green glow that followed her everywhere. She hadn’t seen it when she was close to her, but it was easy to spot from far away.
With the grownups all busy, Bethany decided to check out the kid in Will’s room. Not making a sound, she managed to push the door open a little wider and saw him standing in front of the mirror, staring. She finally managed a good look at him. He was taller than Will, and his hair had these funny white bits at the ends. There was also a strange white mark going through his left eyebrow… it looked like a spider. And he felt funny. The tummy-upsetting pain was still there, but something else… kind of made the hairs stand up on her neck.
“Who are you?” she whispered. “And what are you doing in Will’s room?”
The kid whirled around, having heard the softly spoken words, and glared at her.
Bethany couldn’t stop from backing away – the force of the pain still coming from him was staggering. And she could have sworn she saw flecks of gold in the kid’s blue eyes.
She was frightened.
He looked away from her and sat on the bed. Head in his hands; the force of his pain so great, Bethany found herself inching towards the door to escape.
As soon as she realized what was happening, she fought against the impulse to leave. Nobody was going make her do anything she didn’t want. Not when it was this important.
When the kid kicked at the puzzle lying half completed on the floor and scattered the pieces around the room, she was moved to action.
“No!” she cried, stepping between him and Will’s toys. “You can’t break stuff up. It’s not yours. Go away, you meany.”
Books flew off the headboard shelves next, and the night table crashed to the floor.
Allowing her fury to overcome her fear, Bethany slapped the kid’s legs. Once. Twice. Before she could smack him again, he grabbed Paddy Bear off the bed and threw it at her, striking her in the face.
Bethany’s lower lip wobbled and tears sprang to her eyes. She wouldn’t let him see he’d hurt her. Wouldn’t cry in front of a stranger. She picked the bear up and ran towards the door, turning at the last minute to face her assailant.
“Downstairs, Uncle Angel called you Will,” she sniffled, trying hard to keep up a brave front. “I think he brought home the wrong kid. You’re not my Will’um. You’re not!”
By the time Bethany hit the door, her tears were falling fast and furious. She felt it graze her back as it slammed shut right behind her. The sound of grownup voices grew louder, and she ran into her room to avoid having to talk to anyone right now.
Sobbing, she sat on her bed, kicking off her new shoes.
“Don’t worry, Paddy,” she cried into its worn fur. “You can sleep with me until the real Will comes back.” Not bothering to take off her clothes, she settled herself and the bear under her covers and was asleep within moments, her now silent tears soaking into her pillow.
She never heard the ragged sobs coming from William’s room as he, too, fell into a troubled sleep.