A/N: All right everybody, here's the chapter you've all been waiting for. Probably not quite who you were expecting. Please let me know your thoughts on this chapter and the story in general.
. . . and the one who decided to take matters into her own hands.
1. Helen Belden
Matter-of-factly observing Dan's continual rebuffs of her vivacious niece, the gears in Helen's brain continue turning, formulating a course of action. She has subtly encouraged Hallie to approach Dan, in both hopes of distracting him as well as testing his interest in the feminine sex. Helen has seen him flirt with other women multiple times before, but he appears to be somewhat uncomfortable around Hallie.
Perhaps it's her age; Dan seemed interested enough in her until Mart inquires when Hallie's fourteenth birthday will, at which Dan did a double take and moved slightly away from her. Helen doesn't fancy herself a detective as her daughter does, but even she can deduce that the freshly fifteen-year-old feels that he's too old to be interested in some girl from Idaho who's barely a teenager.
Now, he seems increasingly more disgusted as Hallie parades around in her halter top and Daisy Duke-style shorts. Really, Helen ought to let Harold know he shouldn't be allowing his daughter to dress like that when she's still so young.
So her distraction didn't work. Dan is taken aback by Hallie and immediately runs to her son when Mart so much as calls his name. One might mistake the two for friend, but in Helen's opinion, they're much too friendly for her liking. When she worried that the juvenile delinquent might be a negative influence on her children, a sinful, unnatural bond with her middle son wasn't quite what she imagined.
Well. This simply won't do.
She waits in the kitchen while the Bob-Whites and Hallie rove around the property surrounding the farm on some sort of evening walk. Dan, seemingly immune to the cool evening breeze, has left his jacket at the kitchen table, and will certainly remember to grab it before returning to his own home. Helen will have the perfect opportunity to discreetly speak to him and clearly communicate her feelings to him about his feelings for her son.
Some people may peg her as anti-feminist and dismiss her as submissive for her lack of career and choice to operate as a mere housewife for the rest of her family, but Helen knows the cost of keeping her family's image ideal. And as far as Dan's concerned, she's prepared to cut her losses.
A chorus of laughter, chatter, and shouts alerts her to the return of the teenagers, and Helen poises herself by the kitchen sink under the pretense of rinsing off dishes.
The screen door at the front entrance opens and quietly shuts. Dan, then. Any of the others will thoughtlessly let the storm door to just clatter into its place. But Dan moves with a fluid, cat-like grace, slipping through the shadows to avoid notice.
His even, paced footsteps grow closer and she waits with her back turned to him, doing her best to maintain a rational demeanor and not allow her inner vexation at him to show -her anger for corrupting her son when she's worked so hard to ascertain her children remain the epitome of the All-American family.
"Hello, Mrs. Belden," he says upon arrival in the kitchen. His voice, though distinctly male, isn't particularly deep, but it's smooth, low, and pleasing.
Carefully maintaining the smile on her face to appear friendly and wholesome, she turns in Dan's direction. "Why, hello, Dan," she says. "How are you?"
A smile flickers across his features. "I'm all right," he says. "I'm enjoying the company your family provides to me."
Oh, I bet you are, Helen thought grimly. But she moderates her tone so her voice seems normal. "Actually, I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Dan."
He studies her expectantly, saying nothing.
Helen makes certain that the smile on her face is "pleasant" and "innocuous" to avoid revealing the true depths of her anger and frustration. "The families in this area accepted your arrival in Sleepyside because your uncle promised that he would prevent you from corrupting their children," she begins delicately. "And later, you earned their approval by rescuing Bobby and Trixie. I realize that my family owes you a debt for helping us, but I won't allow my son to pay you back for that."
He gazes at her with black eyes, deep but ultimately soulless. "I don't understand." But he knows enough to on the defensive; his tone is clipped.
There's nothing to do here but cut to the chase. Helen doesn't particularly care for circumlocution in the first place, but she's certainly not going to waste it on some delinquent heathen. "I know about what you're doing with Mart."
He barely reacts to her statement: as usual, he's very difficult to read. Dan's obsidian eyes search her face, undoubtedly looking for some clue to her emotions.
"Mart and I are friends," he replies tonelessly.
"Your relationship goes beyond that," Helen states in a low tone. She pauses for a moment as lively voices outside pass near the door, but no one else enters the house.
The air between them crackles with tension, and Helen is sure that she sees something akin to strong dislike surfacing in Dan's gaze. His coal-colored eyes smolder like the dying embers of a fire.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he reiterates, his tone flat rather than insistent.
"Stop playing the fool," Helen snaps, on the last vestiges of her patience. "You know what I'm referring to. Whenever you're in the room, Mart can't take his eyes off of you. But when you're not there and Diana is, she's all he can concentrate on."
Dan absorbs this with his arms folded loosely over his chest and an impatient expression adorning his handsome face. "If you're done," he begins, but Helen cuts him off.
"I'm not finished," she says tersely.
He stares at her with disdain.
Helen continues. "I've seen you with girls. I know that you're attracted to women, even if my niece doesn't appeal to you. And before you became involved in his life, Mart was only interested Diana. So, the two you have a specific chemistry that makes you gravitate towards one another. With one of you removed from the equation, both of you could return to healthy, heterosexual interest."
"What are you saying?" Dan's voice is hoarse.
Helen leans forward conspiratorially. "I'm asking you, for the well-being of both of our families, to forget about Mart. Move on. Find a nice girl and invest all your time and energy in your relationship with her, so long as you let Mart go and convince him that he needs to do the same."
Dan gazes at her in shock as comprehension dawns on his face.
"Hello there, Helen," a loud voice from the kitchen entrance says pointedly. "Hey, Dan."
It's Peter. He sends Helen a look of disapproval before focusing on the dark-haired teenager. "Dan- "
"I have to get going," Dan states abruptly. "Thanks for having me, Mr. and Mrs. Belden." He strides past Peter into the hallway, then out the front door.
Neither of them speaks for several moments.
"That's odd," Peter comments.
"He's an odd person," Helen says lightly, ignoring Peter's quizzical look.
Mere days later, Dan is suspected of trying to steal Juliana's wedding ring and running off to join his former gang. Helen is not overtly surprised, but her children are devastated by the news, especially Mart. She had no idea that the others were so attached to him as well, or she would have done something sooner.
While her children bemoan Dan's disappearance, she inwardly wonders, on apurely academic level, how firmly he took her words to heart. Is he doing this all because of what she said to him?
Her family is worried after that radio broadcast which announced Dan a suspect, so Helen speaks with carefully constructed pity in her voice. "Dan could be in Timbuktu, and people would still suspect him after that report. They won't remember that he was a victim when he was in trouble. First impressions aren't easily forgotten."
Later that night, while she and Peter are reading in bed, he inquires about the conversation between her and Dan.
"What were the two of you discussing so intently?"
"The same thing that bothers you about him," Helen responds. "His relationship with Mart. I told him that he couldn't endanger our family."
Peter looks at her seriously. "Helen, you had no right to tell the boy what to feel. Mart is just as involved in this . . ." he searches for the right word but seems unable to find it, "connection as well."
"I'm a God-fearing woman," Helen says long-sufferingly. "I had every right to warn him away. Leviticus, chapter eighteen, verse twenty-two: 'Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.'"
"John, chapter eight, verse seven: 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,'" Peter ripostes.
Helen looks up from her gardening catalogue in exasperation. "What would you have me do, Peter? That sort of stuff can't go on. I know that you didn't like it, either, so don't pretend that you did."
"You may have played a part in driving him away from here," Peter says quietly.
Unperturbed, Helen flips the page in her magazine. "So be it if I did, Peter. But at least I did God's work, and I protected my family."
When Dan is found, he has been beaten and starved, with his arms ravaged by switchblades- the gang members making good on their threats to Bobby. Dan's in the hospital for over a week, and after he's released, he goes out of his way to avoid the other Bob-Whites, either out of shame or anger.
Helen feels sorry for him and muses over it while setting the table. Really, it's not that she dislikes him; she only wants to do what's best for her family. But she takes just a hint of satisfaction when Dan brushes off Mart or pulls away from his touch.
The only son-in-law Helen wants is Trixie's husband. And now, her entire family's lives are back on track, and very little effort from her was necessary. Dan's old gang practically did the job for her.
Dan is on the outside again. Where he belongs.
And Mart has pretty Diana Lynch in his arms. A girl.
And a boy belongs with a girl.
Helen surveys the dinner table proudly. All plates, silverware, and napkins are neatly arranged.
Everything is as it should be, in its natural order.
A/N: I realized that I villified Helen in this chapter, but I'd rather take this version than the caricature of a '50's housewife that she was in the books.
I realize that in this story, both she and Hallie were depicted as in the wrong. I have nothing against women in general, and I don't believe in tearing down heterosexual women to promote slash. I'm just not overly fond of the Belden women.
Reoccurring themes throughout this story:
Everyone describes Dan as "cat-like" at least once in each chapter.
Everyone sees Dan with a different eye color. Seriously, go back and check. This was to emphasize that each person sees him differently.
Is anyone interested in more of this pairing? Feel free to request something.