William is just ten years old
William is not treated well. There is some bloodshed. Graphic is relative, yes? Minor, but upsetting. Violence towards a child.
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Beloved – Chapter 16 – Welcome to the Fishbowl
Lydia closed her eyes, summoning the resources she would need to walk from one of the Council’s downstairs libraries to the main floor dining room. It had taken her more than ten years to regain limited use of her legs, and thoughts of having to unearth her wheelchair from storage gave her the strength to deal with a little pain and weakness.
However, she wasn’t too proud to accept help from one of her favorite interns when it was offered. Young Cunningham would tail her all day long if allowed, carrying her laptop and bookbag. She seemed to be in awe of one of the survivors of the Council explosion in 2002.
“Did you hear, Ms. Chalmers? Do you know what’s going on upstairs?” Gayle whispered. “There’s been rumblings all afternoon.”
“Rumblings?” Lydia asked with as much patience as she could muster. It wouldn’t do to act like a newly appointed intern; all wide-eyed and excited no matter how curious she was herself.
Gayle toned her excitement down a notch or two. “Well, sure,” she allowed. “What with you being so high ranking an’ all. I mean, Assistant to the Head of the Council proper!”
“Honestly, Ms. Cunningham. You know as well as I that my… appointment was merely figurative in nature.”
“You think you’re here because of nepotism? That you don’t deserve your post?” The young intern was horrified. She looked up to Lydia Chalmers as a role model, with respect for all that she’d accomplished in a relatively short time before the bomb blast. “I’ve read your thesis, you know, and the addendums.”
She blushed under her mentor’s scrutiny. “I still can’t believe you got to meet the vampire in your thesis face to face.” The unspoken and lived to tell about it hung in the air.
”Ah, yes.” Lydia smiled, picturing the cadre of Watchers holding up crosses and crossbows as they asked the smiling vampire their questions regarding Ms. Summers. She remembered his pretty blue eyes that sparkled with amusement, then worry, about the answers he gave. Imagine that, a soulless creature trying to protect the Chosen One. But, that’s what’d made her vampire special. “It was something I won’t ever forget,” she sighed, knowing he no longer roamed the earth.
“I’m aware that I’ve more than earned my position with blood and tears. But with Mr. Giles’ current… condition, it’s hardly the seat of prestige it should be. It was meant as a panacea for my boredom more than to enhance my knowledge. It’s also simple enough a cripple can handle it without difficulty.”
Anger flashed in the younger woman’s eyes. “Mr. Giles might not be the most, well… visible Council leader at the moment, but he’s had a dreadful hard time coming to terms with the loss of his Slayer. I’m sure he appreciates all you do for him.”
“I’m sure he does, Gayle,” Lydia soothed the neophyte’s ruffled feathers. Was I ever so young? So loyal? Once upon a time, before the real world intruded, perhaps. She leant against the wall to catch her breath. Anything other than very short distances still winded her.
“Are you all right, Ms. Chalmers? Should I fetch a chair?”
“Just a moment’s rest, girl. Were I a horse, they’d have shot me years ago.”
When they resumed their trek, Gayle’s banter turned back to the mystery of the day.
“The hot rumor going around is the bigwigs are bringing a dangerous demon back here. They’re going to contain it in one of the basement cells.”
“They’re bringing it here? Why?” Their best containment cells were in Hampton. Not to mention the smaller on-site housing facilities. They’d risk far fewer deaths if the demon managed to escape.
“Well, I think it’s a pet project of Mr. Wyndam-Pryce,” Gayle whispered, obviously not wanting anyone to hear the information from her lips.
Lydia rolled her eyes. What stunt would that obnoxious man think of next? Was it wrong for her to feel a twinge of pity for the demon caught in his clutches?
She breathed a sigh of relief as they finally reached the dining room. Lydia made herself comfortable whilst Gayle picked up a couple of sandwiches and bottled water. Midway through their meal, a call went out amongst the dining Watchers, many of whom gathered at the window overlooking the loading bay. What else was there to do but join the throng?
A convoy appeared, led by a dark armored van. It was flanked by three armored cars on each side.
“I can’t believe they’re already here.” Gayle’s eyes sparkled with the excitement only newly appointed Watchers experienced. “Why don’t we make our way downstairs and see for ourselves what all the fuss is about?”
Lydia couldn’t help herself. Her companion’s enthusiasm was infectious. “What do you think they have with them? It must be massively powerful for them to have an escort like that.”
A quick trip in a nearby elevator had Gayle and Lydia right by the scene of the action. A standing guard aimed crossbows as one of the Council’s resident mages muttered a few indistinguishable words, and the warded doors opened.
Surrounded by additional guards and medical staff, a small gurney was wheeled directly into the building from the armored van. Nathaniel Chalmers took point, leading the way down a back ramp.
From the way everyone strained to see above the guarded demon, it must not have been very big. Perhaps it was dangerously strong.
As they passed in front of Lydia, she noted her brother’s stony expression and the creature they were so fiercely guarding – a little boy, strapped down across his ankles, thighs, waist, chest and neck.
Lydia could barely restrain her cry of indignation. Dear Lord! That’s William Dowell. Hugh had sent her enough pictures of the child to identify him by sight. What was the Council doing with Spike’s son?
She ignored the burning pain in her legs and lower back and pushed forward, closely followed by her favorite shadow. Occasionally steadying herself by holding onto the wall, she neared the knot of people surrounding the boy.
“Nathaniel,” Lydia called out. Perhaps he’d give her some explanation for this travesty.
He favored her with a small smile before turning his attention back to the journey.
Lydia was determined to follow the entourage. Her brother didn’t out and out forbid it, which she took as an encouraging sign. At the child’s feet, however, to the left of the gurney, was the head behind the expedition: Roger Wyndam-Pryce, himself. His attention was focused solely on William Dowell.
She found herself unable to withhold a flinch at the look of pure hatred on the man’s face. If someone told her one of the two individuals present was a demon, the child would not have been her first choice. Or second.
It almost made her yearn for the old days under Quentin Travers. He might have been harsh and unrelenting, but he never allowed his emotions to rule his actions. The man was too much of a professional for his choices to be anything but.
Quentin had made no bones about hating the souled vampire, nor would he trust William the Bloody further than he could wield a stake when he started to help Ms. Summers… but he never went about it sideways.
Wyndam-Pryce, on the other hand, was driven by his fury at Angel for very personal reasons unrelated to his vampiric status. It was known throughout the Council that he considered his late son Wesley, a failure. Worse, an embarrassment for working with the vampire he despised. His death under Angel’s watch did nothing to ease his vitriol.
Looking at little William restrained and unconscious, she’d say he’d finally found a way to make the vampire pay.
So lost in her thoughts, Lydia hadn’t realized she’d come to a stop until Gayle crashed into her from behind, almost toppling the already shaky Watcher.
“Be careful, Ms. Cunningham. We don’t dare draw any further attention to ourselves.”
They inched forward slowly as the guards stood aside and the restraints were released. One of the medics carried the boy inside the little suite of rooms as the guards dispersed, leaving him alone with Nathaniel and Mr. Wyndam-Pryce.
Lydia was familiar with their layout. There were many such cells throughout the sub-basements, though they were usually reserved for visiting Watchers needing security for their sensitive research. She could see into the livingroom from her vantage point across the corridor.
The medic took several quick readings – blood pressure and heart rate, before pronouncing him fit and scurried out the door. He seemed most anxious to get away from the Council Elders.
She continued to stare as her brother methodically stripped William of his clothing, and replaced it with Council issue sweats under his Elder’s intense scrutiny. He tossed the child’s own clothing into a trash bag and left it near the door.
They didn’t even bother taking the boy to the bedroom. Wyndam-Pryce left first, followed by Nate with the bag of clothes. Her brother stood outside the door repeating a few words in what sounded like Ancient Sumerian and tossed a handful of powder at the threshold, which flashed.
What the bloody hell would they need to do a barrier spell for? Surely a locked door is sufficient against a ten year old.
As soon as the door was locked and the men were gone, Lydia and Gayle crossed the corridor and looked in on William as he slept.
“This is the demon that had the entire Council in an uproar? He’s adorable,” the younger woman gushed. “I could just pick him up and squeeze him.”
“Ordinarily, Ms. Cunningham, I’d warn you that looks can be deceiving, and it’s highly possible that sweet young thing is indeed a vampire,” Lydia lectured. “However, I want you to look at this,” she said, pulling her wallet out of her backpack. “See that man holding the little boy? That’s my brother, Hugh. The child is a miracle – fathered by my vampire of choice, and adopted by his closest vampire relation. He’s human. One hundred percent human.”
“We’re about to try and find out, my dear.” Giving one last glance to the sleeping William, Lydia pulled out her cell phone and punched in Hugh’s number.
No bars. It was the first thing Will noted upon opening his eyes. He also felt rather nauseous as he sat up. Hastily, he searched the little room for something to throw up in, and finding nothing got off the… couch, and quickly located the bathroom.
He leant over the toilet just in case, but the urge to upchuck disappeared as he became more alert. Which led to the realization of another urgent need, as he lowered his hands to his fly… or apparently where his fly used to be.
These aren’t my clothes, he thought, dropping the sweats and relieving himself. Not that it really mattered, Will supposed. It could have been worse. They could have left him naked.
The door was locked, of course. Will couldn’t resist trying it from time to time, hoping that maybe this time it would give and he’d be free, and when it didn’t, his natural curiosity led him to explore his new space.
It was eight steps from the door to the couch he’d woken up on. Ten steps to the right brought him to a tiny kitchen. There was a fridge; empty; a small table with two chairs; no stove, and a sink. Back to the couch, then. On one side of the door stood a bookcase filled with dusty old books about demons. The other side had a desk.
Heading down the little hallway to the left of the couch brought him to the bathroom – 12 steps. Now that he was alert he noticed a shower stall, no tub, and a sink with a mirror above it. Several steps before the bathroom was a bedroom. It held a bed. It was a room. Pretty unexciting. Oh! And a small closet.
And no windows anywhere. There might not be bars, but he knew he was just as stuck here as he was on that plane. A prisoner of Thing One and Thing Two.
Grand tour over, Will sat on the bed, trying to take his mind off of his stomach. Mom always said he’d be able to eat them out of house and home with the world collapsing around their ears.
Will burrowed under the blanket and sniffled into his pillow. Boy oh boy, did he miss Paddy. He still didn’t understand anything that had happened to him. This morning he’d left for school, same as every other day. This evening… or he guessed it was so…he was stuck in another country. Why had they taken him? What the hell did they want from him?
There was nothing else he could do. No television, of course. Best just to sleep and try not to blubber like a baby. With any luck at all he’d at least dream of being home.
Just as things started to get hazy, and peace seemed within his reach, he heard someone at the door. What were they gonna do to him now? Maybe, just maybe… it was Mom or Dad coming to rescue him.
Looking up, Will saw the dark figure of Thing One outlined against his doorway. He froze, unsure as to what was expected of him. Should he get up and be respectful or stay down and pretend to sleep? Which of the two would be less likely to get him in trouble? Somehow, he didn’t think anything he did would matter.
“G’way,” he mumbled and pulled the comforter over his head.
“Don’t presume you can give me orders, beast.” The man’s voice rumbled throughout the little room.
Throwing off his covers, Will jumped out of bed with his fists raised, ready to defend himself to the best of his abilities if he had to. He wouldn’t just lie there… he wouldn’t.
“What do you want, Mister? I don’t know who you are. I’ve never seen you before. Maybe you stole the wrong kid?” he asked, hopefully.
“No, boy,” Thing One rumbled again. “We have exactly the demon we were after. But then you’d want us to go after someone else, wouldn’t you? Let someone else suffer for your crimes?”
Will squeaked. “No! I didn’t say that.” He could tell that the man wasn’t listening to him at all.
“Do you know what true fear is, William? To a vampire, it’s better than the finest wine.”
“That’s not true. Dad says fear smells bad.”
“He’s not your father, you know. Vampires cannot have children. They make childer… by draining the life from their victims and having them gorge on their dead blood. The demons murder innocent human beings to sustain their foul existence.”
“Angel is too my dad,” Will insisted. “And Dad doesn’t kill people. He’s a good vampire.”
“There is no such thing as a good vampire, and you’d be well off remembering that. They are all demons. Demons by their very nature are unclean, soulless creatures bent on destroying humanity.” The man paused in his diatribe, circling the child before him.
“Angelus was the worst example. He killed for pleasure and tortured his victims. Drove them mad. He relished their fear, drinking down the last of their tainted life’s blood as they lay terrified in his arms.”
“You don’t know him at all! My Dad likes hockey. He likes drawing and… and going out dancing with Mom. He watches old movies and sings Barry Manilow songs in the shower.” On the verge of tears, Will dashed his hands against his eyes. “My Dad eats chocolate cake and drinks blood from the butcher. From animals that are already dead for people to eat. Why are you lying to me?”
Grabbing William unexpectedly by the throat, Roger Wyndam-Pryce shoved him against the wall. “You are the lie, boy. You think you were born ten years ago? You were born in 1855. In this very city of London, for that matter.”
Will gasped, trying to claw the man’s fingers away from his already bruised neck.
“You became recorded history’s second most evil vampire, next to that thing you call a father. “You liked causing pain and fear. They called you ‘William the Bloody’ because of your penchant for sticking railroad spikes through your victims’ heads before you drained them.” Each exclamation was punctuated by another shove into the wall. “They knew fear, boy. At your hands.”
“Not true!” Will croaked. “Not…”
Thing One shook him a final time, tightening the grip of his fingers before finally releasing the choking child, letting him fall onto the bed.
Will’s fingers fluttered to his throat, gasping for breath, as he watched the man pull something rectangular out of his pocket.
“W-what’s that?” he asked, edging back against the wall as Thing One loomed closer. As light struck the object, Will saw a small bladed knife brought closer to his face.
“Do you know fear now, William?”
Backed up against the wall, there was nowhere for the boy to hide. “Yes,” he screeched. “Yes, I’m scared. Very, scared, okay? Keep it away… away from me, please.”
“Again you presume to tell me what to do,” the old man sighed, looking at the blade with fond amusement. “As arrogant a child as you ever were as a vampire, William.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“You hide behind a false face, boy. I’m just going to make sure that in the future, people will see you coming… will know exactly who you are, as I do.” He lashed out faster than Will could predict, flicking the blade once, twice towards his eye.
He was in too much shock to do more than watch as blood dripped onto his white sheet.
In silence, Will found himself being dragged unresisting towards the bathroom. For an odd moment, he wondered if they were looking for a first aid kit, but then thought the better of it.
Detaching the spray nozzle from the shower, Thing One bent Will over the sink and drenched his hair. Pinkish swirls of blood washed down the drain as he struggled to stand upright.
“Keep still, monster,” the man hissed. “It will go worse for you if you continue to struggle. Hold position over the sink.”
Will watched peripherally as Thing One donned a pair of latex gloves and took out a squeeze bottle of some purple stuff from a jacket pocket. He said nothing as it was squeezed onto and rubbed into his hair.
Until the burning began.
Will screamed in agony. Whatever he’d rubbed into his hair had seeped into the cut over his eye and he felt like his scalp was on fire.
“Get it offa me,” he screeched, pulling with all his might to get away from his torturer. “It burns. Oh, God, it hurts so much.” Never before had someone wanted to just plain hurt him. Not even Tommy Geelis, who used to knock him over in the schoolyard for his lunch money.
He was ignored, of course, and pushed over to the toilet to sit down.
“Don’t move, and don’t touch your head,” he was instructed, and Will was too afraid of causing himself more pain, so he listened. He wasn’t told to stop crying, and did that quite freely, until some time later, when the stuff was rinsed off, bringing a blessed sigh of relief as the burning sensation ceased.
The old man took a towel to Will’s head, briskly drying it; paying no attention to the wounded eyebrow, which had reopened with his less than tender ministrations. Once more blood dripped down the side of Will’s face, accompanied by tears and whimpers.
Thing One was silent. He simply slapped Will across the cheek, staring him down, which of course, made the boy sob louder.
With a slap to the other cheek, he made an obvious effort to still his tears and be quiet. He simply didn’t have any more face to be hurt.
“Better,” Thing One retorted. “Maybe you are trainable, after all.” He brought out a small metal container and held it to the still bleeding wound.
William stayed silent, crumpling to the floor when the door slammed shut again and he was finally left alone. He was terrified. What if he moved and that creep came back? He didn’t know how much time had finally passed when he dared to stand and look at himself in the mirror.
He would never have recognized the boy he saw there. White blond hair sticking up every which way. Blood staining one side of his face. The eyebrow puffed up and marked with what looked like an ‘x’ - blood still oozing from the cuts. Scared the shit out of himself, after all the vampire talk. Maybe he was what Thing One said. Evil… a monster.
Will washed his face as best he could, gently dabbing at the cuts so as not to make it worse.
“I’m not a monster,” he whispered to his reflection, desperate to convince himself. “I’m not! I’m… not.”