completed: December 25, 2013
Categories: post-col, Christmas
find the rest of my Christmas fics here
Summary: The couple who'd asked Will to stay for Christmas was nice, and he wanted to trust them, but he knew instinctively that he couldn't replace the child in their hearts.
Author's note: written for The Nursery File's This Christmas challenge
Outside the wind whistled, and it wasn't all that surprising that the bedroom he shared with three other boys felt chilly, not when there were small cracks in the wall to let the cold air in. Most of the time it was easy enough to shrug this off: generally speaking all four boys were grateful that they had a bedroom to sleep in, even if it was a drafty one. There had been times in the last year where this wasn't the case.
For a while after their parents died, most of the kids had lived in a tent city with other refugees. That had been bewildering, depressing, and an entirely more miserable type of cold given that in Will's case, at least, his parents had died when winter bleeds into spring, leading to muddy days and frigid nights. Things had gotten better after that, much to Will's disbelief, and by late summer kids who'd been orphaned like he had been had mostly been gathered up by well-meaning adults and given homes. Sure, there were ten boys in the house, and Mrs. Ogden wasn't their mom, but it was much better than the days of cots and hunger that had marked the first half of 2013.
Downstairs someone had put on a Christmas CD, but he wasn't really listening to it. Christmas music had grown negative associations in his mind, ever since the year before. The doctor that Mrs. Ogden insisted that the boys speak to said that it was normal to feel that way, especially considering how he'd lost his parents. Will had listened carefully to what the man told him, and nodded, but he didn't tell the doctor that he was also worried that he didn't deserve to feel as bad about what had happened to his folks as the other kids did.
After all, his parents had sat him down when he was six and explained to him that he was adopted, and the rest of the kids had lost their real parents. So did that mean that he didn't have as much a right to grieve as the other kids? The only person he'd ever talked about it with was Mrs. Odgen's twenty-year-old daughter, Kelsey, who'd left college after everything happened and moved home to help her mother with the kids. And Kelsey had immediately asked him if his "real" parents were dead. Puzzled, he'd just said he didn't know and asked why that mattered. Kelsey had replied that if they were dead too, then he'd have even more of a right to be upset than the other kids, because he'd lost twice as many parents. He knew that this had been said to make him feel better, but it didn't, really. Instead it just left him wondering why he hadn't been good enough for his first parents to keep. That was something that hadn't bothered him much before March.
''They're here," Kelsey said as she poked her head into the room. When she noticed that he was doing nothing, she asked, "Geez, haven't you packed?"
Will just shrugged and shook his head.
Sighing, Kelsey grabbed his bag and began yanking his dresser drawers open. She didn't ask his opinion of any of the items she scooped into the bag, probably figuring if he cared, or deserved to have an opinion, he would have already picked things out. It took her less than two minutes to fill the bag and hand it over to him.
"Thanks," he said grudgingly.
Kelsey stared at him, expression slightly less disapproving. "Why don't you want to go? You don't like the Addisons?"
"Then what's the problem? You wouldn't be up here moping if you wanted to go with them."
Will had to bite his tongue to keep from acidly asking if she'd learned that in her intro to psych class. Kelsey was usually nice to him so he shouldn't be rude, even if he thought she hadn't returned to college yet because she couldn't cope with it anymore. So, looking up at her he said instead, "I don't think they really like me."
Kelsey blinked. "Will, they invited you for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Usually people only do that sort of thing when they're thinking about adopting one of you guys. Why on earth would you think that they might not like you?"
He knew that she wasn't wrong because he'd seen several boys leave after weekend and holiday visits, and yet... He didn't want to tell her about the picture, so he didn't. "I think they just feel guilty."
"Guilty for what?" she asked sharply.
He couldn't figure out why she instantly seemed upset, at least until he realized that she was worried that he might be implying that they felt guilty about something they'd done to him. "For not having had as bad stuff happen to them as happened to me." He looked her in the eye so she'd understand that they hadn't done or tried anything funny. "Because my parents died, and my house is gone, and I live here, but their lives are pretty much the same."
It wasn't hard to come up with this explanation because it was also true. The woman had looked pretty damn guilty when she said that they'd lived in the same house for seven years.
"Oh, Will." To his surprise, Kelsey hugged him, reminding him of his mom, even though she was less than half as old. "Just promise you'll give them a chance, okay?"
He swallowed hard before nodding. She wasn't someone he could lie to easily, so he had to talk himself into honoring her wishes before he could answer. "I'll try."
"I'll do my best."
"Well, that's all you can do." she let him go. "Hurry on down, they're waiting."
Smothering a sigh, he slung the bag over his shoulder and headed out of the room. Kelsey followed as far as the hallway, but didn't go down stairs with him. No doubt she had another boy to cajole and encourage to go; being Mrs. Ogden's daughter more or less forced her to play big sister to them all. As he moved down the hall he heard her speaking to Timmy, and he wondered what his problem was. Maybe he could ask when he got back... assuming Timmy came back. Kelsey wasn't wrong, a lot of boys got adopted after extended visits. Once there'd been seventeen boys, and now there were fewer without any of them dying like had happened before. All the kids who were gone had been taken in by families, and the general attitude was that this was something to be happy about.
Will just didn't know how he'd feel if the Addisons came back after the holidays and told Mrs. Ogden that they wanted to take him home with them permanently. And he didn't know how he'd feel if they didn't, either.
Although he was grateful that Kelsey had taken over the task of packing for him, Will found the bag awkward to move. It was a bit too big for a kid his size, and it bumped against his hip and left knee with almost every step. That served to make him feel like he was about to pitch over at any second, and he wasnít looking forward to getting down the stairs. Heíd watched a TV show on Netflix with his mom, some soapy night time show about married women, and he was reminded of the episode when one of the women was pushed down the stairs and lost her baby. Nothing that tragic could happen to him, of course, but didnít people in movies sometimes fall down the stairs and break their necks? These thoughts were so distracting that he forgot to wonder what the couple had been doing while heíd been doing the moping that Kelsey had accused him of.
They were waiting at the foot of the stairs, which was something he hadn't mentally prepared himself for. His stomach rolled queasily and he had difficulty forcing himself to look at their faces. He really didnít want to see them looking back at him with pity, or even worse anger that heíd left them waiting. Thinking of the latter left him feeling a little ashamed. Even if he did have reservations about their motives for having him at their home for the holiday, it was wrong of him to drag his feet over getting ready. It hadnít really been fair to leave them waiting downstairs while he listlessly watched Kelsey pack for him. Then he began to feel a little bad about that, too...
But when he finally dared to look at them, they didnít look like they pitied him or were mad. Instead they seemed a lot happier to see him than he was to see them again. The woman looked at him and asked, "Really to go?"
Will nodded, and shifted the bagís strap. He hadnít meant to draw attention to how uncomfortable it was, but the man reached for the bag and took it off his shoulder. In the manís large hands the bag looked lighter somehow, or maybe smaller. Either way he carried it off easily, not struggling at all like Will had been all the way down the stairs. Glancing over his shoulder, the man asked, "Do you have a hat?"
He blinked, not expecting that sort of question. "Um, yeah," he muttered, hurrying over to the coat closet.
"Good," the man called after him. "Itís snowing. The ears are the first place to freeze."
"Well, amongst the first, David," the manís wife corrected. It sounded like she knew what she was talking about, and her husband didnít argue about it.
Or at least not that Will noticed, but once he ducked into the closet the sheer mass of coats muffled things so much he probably wouldnít have heard them unless they were shouting. To his dismay he didnít see his hat immediately, and he was tempted to just grab one of the ones he could see, but he didnít want it to seem like the kids didnít have their own stuff, because they did. Mrs. Ogden made sure that they all had their own clothes, probably because communal clothing seemed a lot sadder and desperate. Living in a group home wasnít the most fun thing in the world, but it wasnít Oliver Twist or Annie there either.
Will finally spotted a familiar black hat with dark blue stripes and picked it up, jamming it on his head even as he backed out of the closet. Eying the couple he wondered why they weren't annoyed that he was taking so long. Maybe they weren't eager to reenter the teeth of winter, either.
This seemed likely because snow blew in as soon as the door was opened, and Will blinked it out of his eyes. Some landed on his cheek, cold enough to sting.
Somehow he hadnít realized that it was snowing, even though he thought that he had looked out the bedroom window. There was an even white blanket of snow on the ground, and that suggested that it had been snowing for quite a while.
The snow crunched under foot as they made their way to the car. Will had always liked the sound. Not as much as the sound of hooves on pavement, but there was something comforting about the noise. Soon enough, though, they were at the vehicleís doors.
Without any commentary, they all got in and closed the doors. Without being asked, Will put on his seatbelt. Heíd heard of adults who got tickets for not putting theirs on, but after a decade of watching his parents buckle in as soon as they got in the car someone minding it seemed like an alien concept.
As they pulled onto the Addisons' road, Will half expected Maddie Addison to announce "We're here," but she didn't. Staring out the window at the trees in the yards they passed, he supposed she didn't want to insult his intelligence. It had been less than a month since he'd visited them at Thanksgiving.
The car slowed as they approached their driveway. Will found himself thinking back to the morning of Thanksgiving. They'd showed up at Mrs. Ogden's and asked to meet the boys, which was something several other couples had already done that day and the three before. He and the other kids had all seen the TV ads suggesting that people remember the war orphans, so he wasn't too surprised that a bunch of couples took this as a prompt to do something nice for the kids who had been left behind after the invasion. Especially now that the invasion was over and it seemed like humans had won the war.
Mrs. Addison had smiled and gathered the boys who didn't already have a place to go. There were just a few of them, and Kelsey told them all that they needed to smile more, and be more pleasant when they had adult visitors. This of course only made Will scowl all the harder: it didn't amuse him at all to feel like a kitten hoping to escape the pound. It really wouldn't have bothered him to stay with Mrs. Ogden and Kelsey, so he really had no desire to impress anyone.
But the Addisons had smiled when they saw him, and then whispered to his guardian, so he knew before he was told that he wasn't staying for dinner with Kelsey after all. This left him curious and suspicious, wondering why they would have picked him instead of one of the boys who had put on company manners.
They were so nice, though, that he began to forget that he'd been concerned about that in the first place. And for most of the visit things had gone pretty well. There had been a turkey, and it was the first that Will had tasted in a year. He and his parents would have had one on Christmas night, if the aliens hadn't landed and began blowing things up a couple of days before that. (instead they'd eaten spam in the dark because the invaders had already disabled the power by then). Everything else too, including rolls, cranberry sauce and a pie that Maddie had let him help fill with pumpkin filling. For a little while it was possible to pretend that it was just a normal holiday, not the first major one since the invaders had been driven off and fled the world, going back to wherever it was in the universe they'd come from.
After a pleasant meal he'd asked to go to the bathroom, and then his nice feelings fled. It had been such a simple thing that shattered his peace. A photograph on the dresser of the couple's bedroom.
He hadn't meant to spy, but their bedroom door had been open, and as he walked past it to get to the bathroom he couldn't resist the urge to look in. It looked a lot like his parents' room, which left his heart aching vaguely, but it was the photo that really did him in.
The baby was small and bald, and lovingly held by David and Maddie. They looked like they adored him, even though he couldn't have been more than a few days old. They adored each other too, quite plainly, though that at least wasn't something that had changed as best as he could tell.
After he washed up in the bathroom, he'd found himself slow to return to the kitchen, and he realized that he was looking for signs of the other little boy. But he couldn't find any. A super quick peek into the other rooms on that floor only revealed an office and a spare room, no child's room, no nursery. There were no other photos around, not there or down in the living room either.
And they never mentioned him.
He thought that bothered him the most. The boy wasn't there, so he was sure that something bad had happened to him. From the way the happy people in the photo looked at the baby it was clear that he was theirs, not a nephew or a friend's little boy. Will was pretty sure he was dead. He just didn't know if the boy had died recently, or as a baby. As a baby, he leaned towards, given that empty spare room. If he'd been the one to die, not his parents, he was pretty sure his stuff would still be there after a year.
Almost a month later, he was still bothered by the fact that they'd once had a little boy, and now they wouldn't talk about him. People who were over things talked about their loved ones even after they were gone, didn't they? This was on his mind as David finally parked in their driveway.
"We have a surprise for you, Will," Maddie announced as they took off their seatbelts.
"What?" he asked cautiously.
"Come see," she invited, walking towards the front door. He and David had no choice but to follow after her.
He expected her to lead him to the tree since he could see boxes and bags under it, reflecting the Christmas lights he'd been sure for a while that no one would ever use again, but instead she headed for the stairs.
Her journey through the house ended outside the door he'd once cracked open in his hunt for signs of the other boy. "Go ahead and take a look," David told him, also clearly aware of what was in there.
Will turned the knob and David reached past him for the light switch. There was now a bed where the space had just been empty before, a full size one with a blue plaid comforter and matching cases on the two pillows. A dresser made of the same sort of dark wood as the bed's headboard stood between the windows, and David walked in and placed Will's bag on its surface.
Maddie smiled. "We wanted to do something nicer than an air mattress or a cot. How'd we do?"
"Good," Will said, forcing himself to speak up. It was hard to because something was clotting up his throat.
Her smile faded, and he realized that he hadn't sounded as cheerful as he'd hoped. "Thanks."
He thought about trying to say it was really nice, but that'd just come out hollow, so he didn't bother to. Not when it wasn't going to make them feel better.
"We should work on heating up dinner," David said, and they both nodded.
Will trailed behind them, thinking about the room. It was just a bed and a dresser, not a whole, decorated room like he'd had at home. Maybe they were hoping to make more use of the room as a guest room. It didn't necessarily mean that they'd ask him to stay. Or would they even ask him his opinion if they decided to keep him? Maybe it didn't work that way.
Dinner was pretty subdued, and he knew it was his fault but he couldn't do anything about it. They seemed tolerant, though, and he sensed that they just figured the holidays without his parents were hard.
After dinner they went to the living room, and David fished a long box out from under the Christmas tree. Then he added a smaller package to the top before handing both to Will.
When Will looked up at him questioningly, David explained, "In my family we had a tradition of always opening a present on Christmas Eve. Maddie's indulged me over the years, and I'm hoping you will, too."
"This is two things, though," Will blurted out, semi-horrified by his own lack of manners.
Maddie tapped the box. "This one doesn't count."
"Go ahead and open them," David said, a hint of cheerfulness back in his eyes.
Not wanting to kill their cheer dead again, Will forced himself to smile and opened the box first. The pajamas were just his size. "Thanks." Glancing at them, he asked, "How did you know what size to buy?"
He'd been hoping that David would say that he remembered his own sizes from when he'd been Will's height, but Maddie said, "Oh, we asked Mrs. Ogden to check for us. We didn't want to leave it to chance that they'd need to be returned."
David's mouth quirked. "Maddie'd rather face down a tornado than go shopping Christmas Eve."
"Huh." Will looked at the pajamas, not the couple. They'd been talking to Mrs. Ogden about him, and he didn't really feel comfortable with that. What else had she told them? What if she'd told them about...
"Now the other one," Maddie demanded playfully. Will blinked, shocked to have been pulled out of his thoughts so suddenly. His fingers fumbled a little as he plucked at the paper, trying to find a place to tear it.
When the paper finally came away, he found himself looking at the cover of a book. It was by Stephen King, but the dragon on the cover made it seem like fantasy, not horror. He hadn't realized that the author wrote anything in other genres.
"Have you read it?" David asked, sounding oddly eager.
"No, I haven't," Will replied, shaking his head.
"Well, I hope you'll like it."
"Thanks." Will traced the dragon with the tip of a finger. "This looks good." Maybe he should have read the book jacket before saying that, but it really did look good.
"You can start it before you go to sleep," David suggested. "But I was thinking we might watch a Christmas movie before we hit the hay, though. Sound okay?"
Will knew that he should simply say "yes" but he couldn't. "What movie?" he asked cautiously.
"I was thinking of The Santa Clause," David said, and he sounded like he was afraid that the suggestion was going to upset Will.
"Okay," Will replied, relaxing. He'd seen the movie a couple of times before, but it wasn't a family favorite. If David had suggested watching The Christmas Carol, any version of it, he probably would have freaked out a little. It was his mom's favorite Christmas tale, and there were years when they'd rented a bunch of versions of it to have a marathon on Christmas Eve.
"Great." David looked calmer too, a lot like a person who thinks they narrowly averted a disaster does. It made sense because in a way he had.
Before they began the movie, David started a fire, and Maddie offered Will a throw blanket. It was a bit chilly, less so than at the home but it still was December and they were lucky to have any heat and power in so few months since the invasion, so Will accepted it gratefully.
It was soft and warm. Somehow, despite these characteristics, it still reminded him of the scratchy horse blankets he and the other kids had been given the day they'd been piled into the back of a truck to be taken to the various homes that had been set up for the orphans of war. At the time he'd been grateful for that blanket too, because the wind was sharp and the short sides of the truck offered little protection from it. It was much nicer to be curled up in an easy chair a few yards from a fire, that was for sure.
On the couch David and Maddie sat close together, and Maddie draped a second blanket over their laps. They looked very content together, and while this should make Will happy for them, it didn't. How could they be happy when their little boy was gone? How could they not miss him as desperately as he missed his parents? It had probably been a very long time, he reminded himself. They were all told that grief lessens in time, but he was still finding that hard to believe.
After the movie's opening credits, Will found himself getting absorbed in the fantasy. It had been about three years since he'd last believed in Santa himself, but he liked the idea that it might still be possible for the jolly old fellow to be real. Still, though, as fun as the movie was, it still didn't address one question that always bothered him about movies that involved Santa being proven to be real: if the adults didn't believe that Santa was real, where the heck did they think the presents they didn't buy came from? Black out shopping? A reverse Robinhood? Some random stranger stalking them and breaking into their house? It seemed to Will that having it be Santa would be the most innocuous option, and the one that people would want to believe. Yet it never got explained in any movie he could think of.
"That never gets old," David said, sounding pleased as the movie ended. Looking at will, he said, "so, did you like it?"
"Sure. It's pretty funny."
David gave him a sidelong look. "I suppose that we don't need to leave out cookies for Santa, right?"
"Not unless you want to eat them yourselves," Will said with a grin. "I haven't believed in a while."
A strange look crossed David's face. "Well," he said at last. "I guess you are too big for that."
This left Will feeling like he did something wrong. He wished that he could say something that would make it better, but he didn't know what.
Maggie looked at the clock. "Will, you don't have to go to sleep yet, but I think it's about time to head up to bed. David and I have both had a long day."
"Okay." Will gathered up the book and the pajamas. "Good night," he said shyly.
"Good night, Will," David said, waving at him.
Will put the new book down on the bed, and decided to change into his new pajamas. There was nothing wrong with keeping his regular clothes on, not when Maddie told him that he didn't have to go to sleep yet, but he felt like he would be more comfortable in the pajamas.
Before he did that, though, he went into the bathroom that he had been shown the last time, and brushed his teeth and his unruly auburn hair. The Addison's bedroom must have its own en suite bathroom, because none of their stuff was in this bathroom. He shut the light off, thinking about how it would be nice to have a bathroom of his own, like he used to, and not one shared amongst many boys.
Back in the guest bedroom Will was still pulling on the new pajamas when he became aware of a noise intruding in the darkness. Going to the room's window, he cracked it open a couple of inches so he could hear what was going on a little better. He'd thought that he'd heard voices, and he wasn't wrong, but it wasn't a conversation going on outside. It was singing. A group of about eight people stood outside the house directly across the street, and they were holding song books, although most of the singers weren't looking at them. The homeowners stood in the doorway, but they were too far away for Will to determine their facial expressions. He figured that they were pleased, though, because they hadn't slammed the door on the carolers.
There was a soft rap on the door, and he wasn't surprised to note that the doorknob was being turned. Maddie looked in on him. "I thought you were still awake because of the light under the door."
"Uh huh." He tugged at the shirt, glad that the singing hadn't happened two minutes earlier. He knew that not wearing a shirt was acceptable for boys in a way that it wasn't for girls, but still, he was too shy to be half dressed around people who were practically strangers.
Outside the group of carolers seemed to be crossing the street so they could next sing to the people next door. It made Will wonder if they were next after that, or if only certain houses would get a serenade.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Maddie nodded towards his window. "Amazing, isn't it? I never thought I'd hear Christmas carolers again."
"Me neither," Will said, but unlike her, he would have been happy never to hear them once more.
Silent night, Holy night
When he looked at her, he realized that his unhappiness about the Christmas carols must've shown on his face. She looked concerned, and like she was afraid that she had upset him somehow. "Well, sleep tight." Maddie went to the window, and shut it firmly.
"You too," Will said faintly as she left the room.
Alone in the guestroom once more, Will buried his face in his pillow and began to cry quietly.
In March he and his parents had been forced out of their house by hunger. It had taken them three months to go through nearly all of their canned goods, and they weren't sure where they could turn to in order to get more food. The local stores had been picked over, that much they had heard through the grapevine, not that either of his parents had engaged in looting themselves.
Rumor also had it that there were places in the country that were not as thoroughly infested with the invaders as the town where they lived. So it had become his parents' plan to take Will, a couple of suitcases, and the two bags of food they still had left and flee for one of those places.
At first it almost seemed to work. They had gotten into the car, driven away, and were three miles down the road before disaster struck. They came to the first checkpoint. It turned out that it would be the only checkpoint. At least for them.
In the driver's seat Will's father looked panicked as soon as the invaders stepped into the road. Whispering to Will's mother, he said "do I stop?"
"Yes, stop," she said frantically.
The car began to slow, but as soon as they could clearly see the invaders' weapons, Will's father inexplicably put his foot on the gas. The car shot forward, and almost made it past the invaders. Almost.
For as long as he lived, Will would never forget the screams. His mother yelped, first in surprise, and then in pain. There were flashes of hot light, and his father made a grunting noise just before he slumped forward over the steering wheel. Still screaming, now in terror, his mother grabbed the wheel, and jammed her foot over her husband's on the brake. Will himself had been too terrified to make a sound.
The car coasted to a stop, and Will expected the invaders to come and pulled them out. But they didn't. Instead, the creatures watched impassively from the side of the road. Somehow, his mother managed to put the car in park.
Leaning over the back seat, Will started to say, "is dad o-" but his question dried up in his throat. Where the back of his father's skull had been at one point was now a red, pulpy mess. "No, no, no," he chanted, putting his hands over his eyes.
To his shock, his mother slapped him. He took his hands away from his eyes, blinked at her. She gave him a grim look. "Will, we have to get him into the backseat now."
He moaned in horror, but gingerly grabbed his father's arms and helped haul him into the backseat. A panicky part of him began to gibber about being forced to sit with a dead man, even as the rest of his brain insisted that the wound was pretty bad, but it didn't necessarily mean that his father was dead.
His mother slid herself into the driver seat, and then looked back at him. "Climb over the seat," she demanded.
Will did so without question. Anything to be away from the death in the backseat.
For a long minute she stared out the windshield, looking at the three invaders who stood there, watching them too. Then, she slowly put the car in reverse, and turned around.
"Where are we going?" Will demanded to know.
"Home," she said shortly.
He wanted to ask what they would do at home, considering they were nearly starving there. Considering that his father was probably dead. But he didn't. Instead he just watched out the rear window, hoping that their vehicle wouldn't be shot at again.
They made it all the way home, and somehow that felt like a miracle. Or maybe, half of one. His father didn't miraculously tell them that his head sure hurt but he would be okay. Instead, he lay slumped where they had put him. Will couldn't help but look at him in the rearview mirror. With everything that had already gone wrong over the past three months, he had never prepared himself mentally for something like this happening too.
His mother parked, and they both sat there for a moment, neither of them seemed to quite know what to do. They would have had to been quite cold, and as inhuman as the invaders, to instantly have a clue.
It was only when they looked out the window that they realized they weren't alone. More invaders, not the ones that had killed his father, at least Will was pretty sure, were standing in their yard. He wondered faintly if they had somehow communicated with the others, and had been sent ahead. The police could find their address from their license plate number, no doubt they could as well.
"Do we get out?" Will whispered, feeling panicked.
It was a shared panic, he could tell that from her expression. "I think we had better," she said at last. "It will probably go easier on us if we don't resist," she added.
Will stared at her. Resist? Like being under arrest? What if those things were here to kill them? To finish the job they started at the checkpoint?
Feeling like the end was nigh, they both got out of the car, and waited to see what would happen. And what happened was not what Will expected. They completely ignored him and his mother, and instead went the car. While they watched the aliens open the back door of the car, and began to prod at the dead man. Will wanted to scream at them to leave him alone, but he realized that was foolish. They couldn't hurt his father anymore, but they could turn on him.
So he said nothing as they dragged the corpse out of the car. And he said nothing when one took out a strange looking device and aimed it at the body. The body instantly dissolved into ash, and Will's mother screamed.
The being with the device turned at the sound of her yell, and looked at her with large expressionless dark eyes. It didn't have facial expressions, at least as well as Will could tell. But something seemed different about the way it looked at her. It wasn't hatred, for some reason he thought that. Bending, it took out what seemed to be a metal container, and before Will could quite figure out how, it got the ashes into the container. Then it held it out to Will's mother.
Will felt faint, when he watched his mother walk over to it, and with shaking hands take the container. They had cremated his father. He couldn't tell if it was because they were attempting to do something less-than-inhumane for his family, or because it was simply more hygienic to burn the body, and let them dispose of the sterile ashes rather than do something with them themselves.
He was still waiting to see what would happen to them, when they all left. Will was seized by an urge to yell at them, to demand to know what they'd all had meant, but his mother put her hand on his shoulder, and again he said nothing.
It was only after the aliens had left, and he and his mother went inside, that he realized that she had been injured as well.
Infection burned through her in just a few days, and Will had no way of helping her. There was no doctor to turn to, because the only one who lived nearby had also been killed, and he didn't know how to cure an infection himself. So the only thing he could do was watch her burn.
The last day or so, his mother spent in a hallucinogenic haze. She babbled and complained, and nothing she said made much sense to him. Will himself felt numb, and certain that he would lose her too before very long. Some part of him wished that his mother had been killed outright, like his father had, because it would have been kinder to her. As horrible as his father's murder had been, at least he hadn't had time to suffer. And she was suffering.
Will decided that she must have been cold at the end, because she said something about snow to him. And it wasn't snowy, not anymore, it was muddy. It could snow again, but he didn't think it would.
Just before she died, she had the strength to grab his wrist, shocking him. "Silent night," she mumbled.
Leaning towards her, trying not to react to the smell of the festering wound in her shoulder, he asked, "What? What mom?"
Her eyes got wide, and she looked past him before saying "everything's gone silent, hasn't it? Like that song, I swear I hear it now."
"It's okay," he said, clumsily patting her hand. What she had said made no sense. You couldn't hear silence. There wouldn't be a song in silence.
"I think it is," she said, throat sounding sore. "He's coming for us, I'm pretty sure."
"Who?" Will demanded to know, before telling himself that it was stupid to waste her energy on that conversation.
"Oh, I think he's here."
Her fingers slipped away from his wrist then, and Will began to cry. Not so much for her as himself. It didn't hurt her anymore. But he was alone. What would happen to him, his brain demanded to know. He had no answers for it.
Less than two weeks later the invaders were forced out. There were a lot of explosions, and other noises, and he actually heard them scream too. They didn't like it when humans fought back, and soon they were suffering a great many casualties themselves. So they retreated.
Two weeks alone wasn't enough to make Will turn feral, but he did wander the neighborhood, looking for what food he could, occasionally finding some so he wasn't hungry all the time. In another time, and under other circumstances somebody probably would have taken him in, but the casualties had been heavy where he was, and people had their own problems.
Will had been welcoming of the idea of being taken in by the people gathering orphans. He hadn't managed to starve to death, but he did know by then that he was still too young to take care of himself. At least adequately.
In the guest bedroom, Will tried to shove all of these thoughts away. There wasn't any real sense to dwelling on the past, not when there was nothing that could be changed. Maybe that was a lesson that the Addisons' had already learned, and that is why they were more at peace with their loss than he was.
Sighing, Will turned over his pillow, and put his face on the dry side. He fell asleep almost instantly after that.
December 25, 2013
When Will came downstairs the next morning, he was surprised to see that there were stockings hung from the mantle of the fireplace. They bulged, obviously filled. One of them say "Will" in a metallic embroidery. The other two lacked names.
He was captivated by the sight of the stockings, so he didn't realize that David was sitting on the floor by the tree until he said, "Merry Christmas, Will." It seemed as though he'd been looking for something amongst the packages. His hands were empty, so he probably hadn't found it.
"Merry Christmas," Will said back, on autopilot. He didn't really expect that it'd be all that merry but you said it back regardless, like saying you're good when asked how you are.
David stood and gestured towards the stockings. "Go ahead and take yours. I'm going to go see what's keeping Maddie."
"Okay, thanks." Will watched him go before pulling his stocking off the hook it was held on. They must have put them out before they went to bed because they hadn't been there the night before. That was kind of a shame because the holders were kind of fancy, each designed to look like a large glittering snowflake.
He sat in the armchair, stocking on his lap, thinking about the other Christmas mornings over the past few years. Not last year, he was careful not to stir up that memory, but the others before that since he realized that Santa didn't really come to everyone's houses. His parents had never had stockings, and they'd always insisted that Santa had filled his. Somehow it had still come as a surprise the following year when his parents didn't remind him to put out his stocking. He hadn't, and they hadn't either. It had almost made him wish that he hadn't confessed that he didn't believe any more.
But now he had a stocking again, and it hadn't been filled by Santa or his parents. Instead it had been filled by people who barely knew him, and most of its contents showed that. He didn't hate any of the things inside it, not the candy, baseball cards, or other assorted trinkets, but none of them were things that he really liked either. Not like when "Santa" took care to realize that his favorite candies were fruit flavored, not chocolate, and "Santa" had known that he liked Pokťmon, not baseball.
Still, he was grateful that they'd tried to make an effort. So, this in mind, he tried to summon up a lot more enthusiasm before they came back, which would be important because a few of the presents under the tree were labelled "Will" in what was probably Maddie's neat script.
"Hey," a sleepy voice called from the stairs. Will turned and saw Maddie in her robe. David was still wearing his pajamas too, which amused Will on some level. His parents had never cared if he'd spent all of Christmas morning in his, but they'd always gotten dressed and had coffee before they'd done anything else, 365 days of the year.
"Merry Christmas," Will called back, pleased when she smiled. For once he felt like he'd done the right thing.
"Since we're all too old for Santa, is breakfast first okay?"
"Sure," Will replied with a shrug. Nothing he wanted most was going to be under the tree, so he wasn't bursting with eagerness.
"I hope you like cheese danish..."
It only took them a few minutes to eat, and Will enjoyed it because the danish was good and no one expected him to talk. He could see out the windows and noted that it was snowing lightly. This reminded him that it was a darn good thing that the power was back because a white Christmas with no heat might have been really dangerous to people otherwise.
"Shall we?" David asked after he gathered their plates, forks, and juice glasses and put them in the dishwasher.
Will didn't bother to reply, he just followed them back to the living room. The next half hour passed with polite appreciation. Maddie and David gave each other a bunch of things that Will wasn't interested in but could see were typical things adults enjoyed. And they gave him a bunch of things too, clothes in his exact sizes, a teddy bear half his size that Maddie said she hoped he wasn't too old for, and a few things that were generically fun for boys ages 10-13. In a way it wasn't hard to shop for a boy who had nothing, Will figured, but on the other hand no one had ever asked him what he wanted so they didn't have the joy of knowing that they'd bought just the right thing.
Once all the gifts were unwrapped, David suggested that they get dressed and have some hot chocolate. Will had figured that they'd watch more movies after that, so he was a little surprised to see them sitting by the fire with mugs a few minutes later. When they both turned their heads to look at him, something lurched in his stomach but he walked back to them anyway, rather than run away like he wanted to.
David looked as awkward as Will felt, and had trouble meeting his eyes. Still, he gamely began to speak to Will. "Hey, so we've been thinking, you've been here for Thanksgiving and now Christmas. It's been nice, right?"
"Right," Will cautiously agreed. It had been nice, more or less, that much was true. He of course knew where the conversation was going to go, and was already frantically trying to think of what to say when the big question arose.
"That's good. Maddie and I have both really enjoyed having you here," David told him. He was beginning to look more confident. "We...we were wondering what you thought of the idea of coming to live with us. I mean, we'd like to tell Mrs. Ogden that we want to adopt you."
Will stared at them, now at a loss for words. All the things he might have said, things he thought he would, fell away. "I can't replace him," he said tightly, surprising himself.
David and Maddie looked disappointed and confused. He supposed that they were expecting a "yes, I want to live with you" or "no, I don't want to be your kid" rather than what he'd actually said.
They exchanged a look, apparently wondering if the other understood, before Maddie finally spoke up and said, "Who?"
"Your son," Will said with a sigh. "I know you lost a little boy. I saw his picture, even if you won't talk about him. I'm...I'm not him. I can't be him."
"Yes you can," David blurted out. He looked shocked by his own words, and like he wanted to take them back.
"No, I can't," Will said, wanting to leave the room. His feet wouldn't go, though. "You can't just replace one kid with another one. I'm sure you miss him a lot, and I'm not even going to ask you how he died, but I can't just be him for you. I'm me."
"Will, you don't understand..." David said before trailing off.
"I guess I don't." Without realizing it, he pulled the stuffed bear into his lap and hid half his face behind it.
Maddie offered him a fragile smile. "Will... we have a lot to talk about."
"Like what?" he asked feeling guarded. He didn't like her tone. It made him feel like there was going to be quite a lot said soon that was going to be even more upsetting. Maybe they were going to tell him that he didn't have a say after all. Things went that way a lot when you were a kid.
David sighed and looked away. "That photo you saw? You're right. That is our son. But he didn't die. Will, the baby in that photo is you."
All at once Will felt dizzy and confused. "No," he stammered. "My biological parents' names are Dana and Fox. They're probably dead now, like my mom and dad." Will hadn't supposed to have ever learned the names of his biological parents, but the adoption agency had only been a mile from Mrs. Ogden's house and after the invasion finished up...no one had time to notice an orphan breaking into an abandoned building.
"Those are our real names," David said quietly. "Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."
"No," Will said, shaking his head. "You lie. You're lying." But even as he said it, he realized on some level that they shouldn't know the last names too. It wasn't something they could simply guess at.
"We're not lying," Maddie told him. Her expression was unreadable. "We're your biological parents."
"Why didn't you come find me months ago?" Will yelled. All of his resentment came bubbling up at once. "My parents were murdered in March. I was alone. And you justÖ Did what? You didn't find me." He had difficulty keeping in the angry tears that were threatening to leak out. He wasn't sad. And the fact that he was on the verge of tears made him even angrier. He didn't want to be mistaken for sad, not when he was furious.
David, or maybe he should refer to him as Fox, gave him a long look. "We couldn't look for you while the invasion was going on. There was more at stake-"
Outraged, Will asked, "What could be more important than your kid?"
Dana's lips thinned. "Everyone's children. We had to fight for everyone, not just you, no matter how badly we wanted to drop everything and look for you in December of last year. We had to trust that your parents would continue to keep you safe...I'm sorry that they couldn't."
"Not as sorry as I was," Will snapped. He did wonder, though, how his parents would have reacted if these people had shown up the night that the ships came and told them that they were going to take him back. Not well, he supposed.
Feeling slightly less angry, he realized that they probably hadn't known that his parents had died until long after it had happened.
"We looked for you as soon as we could this fall," Dana told him. "Your house was empty... a neighbor told us that you'd been taken away, but had no idea where."
"As soon as you could. What were you doing before then?" Will demanded to know. "If you didn't start looking for me until after my parents got killed you had to be doing something all those months before the invasion was over."
"We led the resistance," the man who claimed to be his father said. "As desperately as we wanted to find you, we had to find a way to make them leave, so you could be safe. So everyone could be safe."
"You ledÖ?" he started to say, finally feeling uncertain that he deserved to maintain his righteous indignation.
"Your mother and I separated to keep you safe, just after you were born. And just after she had to give you away I found out that the invasion was going to happen. We tried desperately to keep it from happening, but it did. And where we had failed in that, we succeeded in stopping it."
"That was eight months ago," Will said mulishly. "And you didn't begin looking for me until the fall. You admitted that. So what were you doing between March and when you finally decided to come look for me?"
"Helping to get things restarted," Dana said evenly. The look on her face said that she was refusing to feel guilty. "If you were still alive, at least we knew that the grays would no longer be a threat to you. But cold and starvation could be. And not just you, of course. But to everyone. Once the infrastructure was working again, we were free to find you. And it took us a long time. We didn't know where you were until five weeks ago."
"But you said you lived here for seven years," Will said petulantly.
She shrugged. "Obviously, that wasn't true."
"But why lie?"
His father looked at him. "Are you aware that people helped them?" he asked abruptly.
Will shook his head. He hadn't heard anything about human beings helping the invaders. It almost seemed beyond comprehension that anyone would, but then he thought about how greedy some people were. There probably were people who would eagerly help if they thought that it would gain them something. Even if it cost almost everybody else.
"Well, there were people who did help them. And we had to be sure that the woman who'd taken you in wasn't one of them."
"You were worried that Mrs. Ogden was working with the aliens?" Will asked, aghast.
"They didn't all get away," Dana explained. "And since they didn't, we worried that they might go looking for you."
Will mulled this over for a moment. "To punish you?"
"Mrs. Ogden doesn't work for the aliens," he insisted.
"No, we don't think she does," Dana agreed. "But you have to understand that we needed to be sure, and that's taken time."
"And then there's you," Fox added.
"We wanted to get to know you a little before we told you everything. Obviously this morning hasn't gone as smoothly as we might have liked, but how would you have felt if we showed up the day we figured out where you were and announced that we were your real parents and you had to go with us right that minute?" he asked.
Had to? Will thought, wondering if they would now insist that he had to stay. For all his protests, he really couldn't see why he wouldn't be made to stay with them, now. If they were really his parents, he did belong with them. Will already had accepted this as a forgone conclusion, but it didn't mean that he couldn't still get some answers from them before giving in.
"I guess I would have freaked out," he admitted.
"Exactly. We wanted to give you the chance to get used to the idea of us before we threw all of that at you. Hopefully, as un-fun as this conversation is now, it's less scary than that would have been." David gave him a wry look. "I hope you'll forgive a bit of well-intentioned deception designed to make things easier on you."
"I'll think about it."
Will waited to be peppered with more questions, but they didn't say anything and he realized that they were giving him time to think. So he did.
What was the alternative to living with them? Will wondered. Would Mrs. Ogden keep him? Would he want to stay even if she did?
Looking out the window, watching the snow fall, he realized that his biggest fear would have been for them to try to make him into someone he wasn't. But he really was the person that they'd been missing all along. There was no other boy that left a hole in their hearts - it was him. He wasn't a replacement, they just wanted to reclaim what they had lost. He couldn't, but they could. Or maybe he could too, not his parents, but he'd lost Fox and Dana too, in a way. It sounded like they hadn't ever wanted to give him away, so he no longer had to worry about why they didn't think he was good enough. He'd been good enough for four people to love, and that had to mean something.
Turning to them, he said, "I have a question."
"What's that?" Dana asked, looking as wary as he must have several minutes earlier.
"When I live here do I have to call you mom and dad?"
In spite of himself, he couldn't help but grin when they looked shocked, and then joyful. It didn't come as a surprise when Dana threw her arms around him. "You can call us anything you want, Will."
Fox babbled something about getting his things from Mrs. Ogden the next day, but Will didn't really listen. Nothing could bring his parents back, but he realized now that he was still here and could still have a real life of his own again. He didn't have to dwell on the past, not when he had two people who wanted to help him make a future. Things were still far from all right, but he could feel that they were on the verge of getting better if he let them. Hugging Dana back, and Fox too when he joined in, he decided to let things get better. A future was the best gift any of them were going to get.
From the outside of the house, to anyone glancing through their window they would have looked like they were just an average family celebrating Christmas. That was a good start.
Read the sequel, Them
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