Thank you so much for the lovely reviews once again, especially those I cannot respond directly too.
Despite grumbling about it the whole way back to the room, Virgil couldn't get Scott to open up about what he had said to Oscar. His curiosity was only fuelled further when they had met the boy in the corridor, but he had only pushed past, deliberately bumping into Gordon as he did so, but doing nothing else. When Virgil had glanced towards his big brother, he had seen a self-satisfied smirk on the older boy's face, and redoubled his efforts to find out what had happened.
Somehow, Scott had fended him off all the way up to the rooms. They went straight into Virgil's room, but Scott clamped his hand over Gordon's mouth the second they stepped through the door. John was curled up on the bed with their father, but whilst Jeff may have been gazing into space, his hand was stroking through John's hair methodically and the child had fallen asleep. Gordon pulled away, but the point had been made and he stayed quiet, causing Scott to ruffle his hair. Virgil found himself frozen, watching the scene with wide eyes. When he had gone to fetch his father, he didn't know what he had been expecting. Scott might have forgiven the man for all but abandoning them, but John was always so much harder to read. Virgil had honestly had no idea how his brother would have reacted to their dad being the one to try and sort out their problems again, but seeing the sight in front of him... No self-respecting ten-year-old would ever admit to crying, so Virgil just sniffed in the opposite direction.
When his father's phone had beeped, he had thought that John would awaken and they would be back to a scene that was more familiar to the boys. Considering Virgil knew he had pulled his father away from a meeting when he had declared something was wrong with John, he was expecting the man to say that his time was up, to act as if the boys were just clients again, that he had done his time and now had other matters to attend to. Virgil's arms folded and he glared in the opposite direction as Scott handed the device over. Virgil had to admit to strongly resisting the urge to just grab it and throw it out of the window. Why was it so much more important than...
His thoughts had died right there as his father had simply switched it off, announcing that he had wanted to do that for the last hour but hadn't been able to move in case he woke John up. Scott had smiled, sitting on the chair and pulling Alan onto his lap whilst Gordon wandered out to the balcony, craning his head up. Virgil knew without having to be told that he was thinking back to what Jack had said about climbing around the hotel using the railings on the edge of the balconies.
Virgil, however, hadn't had the chance to decide what to do before his father had gently woken John up. The entire family went down to dinner together and, for the first time since they had arrived, it went peacefully. There were no uncomfortable silences, no rows or even glares, unless Scott glaring at Gordon for stealing a spoonful of pie counted. The most eventful thing that happened was Alan almost falling asleep, but considering the day they had had, it was not surprising. Even Gordon fell quiet by the end of the meal and Virgil was desperately trying not to yawn out loud.
For his part, John was wide awake. Seeing that Scott, too, was more relaxed than he had been for a long time now that it was apparent his immediately younger brother was alright, Jeff had granted the two of them permission to stay up later and had taken the younger three to bed. Virgil was so worn out that he couldn't even find it in himself to protest. Normally, he would have fought against his father, claimed that he wanted to stay with the olderones, but he had promised that he would try and do his part towards patching up their relationship. If he was honest, though, that was just the excuse he was going to use if anyone asked. In reality, Virgil was just tired.
But it did mean that he got the best night's sleep he remembered having for a long time. Everyone else had been tired as well and the boys slept late into the next morning. Jeff had to go out for a business meeting, but considering how much he had put on hold over the last few days, even Virgil couldn't find a reason to complain as Scott led them all down to breakfast. Still half-asleep, Virgil only grunted his understanding that they were going their separate ways after they had eaten. He had already decided that he wanted to go back to the beach again. Not only was his picture beginning to take form properly now, but the rest of his small group of friends were down there as well. They had all agreed to meet there during their afternoon's fun in the pool the day before. As soon as Vicky had said she would be there, Virgil had agreed, not even thinking that his family might have had other plans.
Fate, however, was on his side for once, and it wasn't long before he had the sun on the back of his neck and the sand scrunched between his toes. The seven of them had all positioned themselves together. Most of the time, they were quiet, absorbed in what they were doing, but when comments were made, they were normally those of an artistic nature. For his part, Virgil couldn't remember the last time he had felt this relaxed. He had no younger brothers ruining what he was doing, no father pretending to care whilst doing something else, just people who truly understood what he was talking about when he casually made a remark about a brush stroke. Vicky was particularly eager with her praise, and Virgil knew the red tinge that kept gracing his cheeks had nothing to do with the sun.
"But it's stupid!"
Virgil shut his eyes with a groan. He knew that voice. Why hadn't Scott's threats done more to keep Oscar away? Blowing out a long breath, he slowly turned around, only to blink in surprise. Initially, the first thought that had crossed Virgil's mind was that Oscar was here deliberately, trying to make more trouble for him. But considering a large man – Virgil was sure he had seen him hanging around Swinger, almost like a bodyguard – had the boy's arm in a tight grip and all but flung him at a stool at the back of the group, Virgil had to frown. It didn't look like Oscar wanted to be there anymore than Virgil wanted him there.
"If you aren't here when your father has concluded his talks, you know the consequences."
Virgil was sure that his mind was playing tricks on him, that it was the change of the lighting as he finally looked away from the bright sunshine. But for a split second, the young artist could have sworn that Oscar paled slightly. With one final glare, the man strode away, and Oscar turned, catching Virgil's eye.
"What are you looking at?" he spat, anger and vindictiveness in his voice. Virgil simply shrugged and turned back around, immediately engaging the others in conversation to try and block out the burning glare he could feel boring into the back of his head. If Oscar didn't want to be here, that was fine by Virgil. He wasn't going to let it be his problem, not when he was having fun.
For a long time, he managed to ignore the bitter boy behind him. It didn't matter how many grains of sand ended up down his back, nor how many drops of paint landed on his neck - Oscar seemed to be spending his whole time flicking things at Virgil. But Virgil knew that Scott would be proud of him when he didn't so much as turn around, didn't rise to Oscar's baiting in the slightest because he knew that was what the other boy wanted. After an hour or two, Oscar finally seemed to get bored of not getting a rise out of Virgil. Eventually glancing over his shoulder, Virgil had to smile softly at seeing him with a paintbrush in his hand, actually looking like he was concentrating on something.
Of course, whilst Virgil might not have been reacting, some of his new friends had, and Oscar was as filthy as Virgil. Not realising this was just proving what Scott had said the day before, Virgil couldn't find it in his heart to make them stop. It wasn't as if he was doing anything, therefore his father had no reason to be cross with him, plus it meant that Oscar wasn't simply getting away with what he had been doing.
"Virg, that's awesome!" one boy – Ben – exclaimed, leaning over Virgil's shoulder to watch as the brunet put a few finishing touches to the part he was working on. Virgil simply shrugged, not able to keep the small smile of pride off his face. It was nice when someone actually meant what they said rather than just knowing they had to say it.
"I've done better."
Ben let out a whistle of disbelief.
"You shouldn't go to school, you should just sell all of these. How old are you, dude? Ten? Imagine what you'll do when you are grown up if this is what you can do now! Guys, c'mere, you have to see what Virg has done!"
Virgil went bright red as half of the class suddenly seemed to be gathering around his easel, and he squirmed, trying to push himself as low in his seat as possible. He was half-expecting some scathing comment to come from behind him, Oscar, claiming that he could do twice as well and that he had already sold hundreds of paintings, but all was silent. When Vicky had finally stopped pointing out everything she liked about it (not that Virgil was in any mood to stop her - in fact, as soon as she started talking, he found that he was sitting up straight again, attempting but failing not to look too pleased with himself), Virgil finally looked around at Oscar.
The boy wasn't even looking at him this time, instead hunched over his own canvas and glaring at it. But the glare Virgil was used to receiving from the boy was not the one his picture was getting. This seemed to be a look of sheer frustration, anger at the world for him having to be here. Virgil started slightly, ignoring Ben and the others as they began to go back to what they had been doing. It was the same look he had been giving everything that his gaze had fallen on recently, believing that the entire world was responsible for taking his mother away and for making his dad forget about him. Oscar's glare wasn't directed at anything in particular, but at everything. He truly did not want to be there.
Biting his lip, Virgil came to a decision. He couldn't deny that he felt almost a flicker of understanding for Oscar. Not that it by any stretch of the imagination had made him warm towards the boy, but he did know how it felt to be angry at the whole world. Considering the words the bodyguard had uttered before, Virgil also had a feeling it was the boy's father's fault that he was feeling like this. It was another thing that Virgil could appreciate, and he found that he couldn't just let it go. Ignoring Vicky as she asked where he was going, he slowly crossed over to Oscar. It took a moment for him to work up the courage to do this, but he stepped forward until he was standing next to the other boy. Virgil couldn't help wincing at just how bad Oscar's painting was. It seemed all the flicks of paint that he hadn't managed to throw at Virgil had landed on the canvas in front of him instead. There was certainly no talent there.
"You know, twist your hand slightly on the brush, it will give you a smoother stroke," Virgil muttered quietly, watching as Oscar moodily stabbed his brush at his painting again. The other boy froze, throwing down the brush in a way that made Virgil flinch and turning to face him, eyes burning.
"Who asked for your help?"
"I just thought..."
"You're sogood, you thought you would show everyone else up, is that it?"
"You know what? Fine." Virgil took a step backwards. All he had tried to do was help. Art was the one thing that he was confident enough in to be able to do so. But if Oscar was going to take it that way and just carry on being his usual self, then Virgil wasn't sure why he'd bothered. He thought that he had recognised something in Oscar, but it appeared not. The boy was simply pushing everyone and everything away. If this had been their first meeting, Virgil might have pressed on, determined to try to get through Oscar's defences. But he knew what the child was like, knew what he was capable of. He might not have known precisely what had happened between John and that other man, but he did know that if Oscar hadn't acted the way he had, events would not have unfolded in such a way that allowed that confrontation to happen. In Virgil's mind, Oscar was not only responsible for pushing him in the lake, but for John being hurt as well. That meant he had no patience with the boy.
"Be like that, I really don't care anymore." Virgil turned away and stalked back to his own friends, kicking slightly at the sand as he did so. He was determined that the event was not going to spoil his good morning, yet he just couldn't understand it. If Oscar stopped being such a brat, he could actually enjoy things. Ben had no talent with a brush either, but that hadn't stopped him having a good time, laughing with his friends. Virgil simply didn't understand why a ten-year-old boy would deliberately try to alienate himself. It went against everything that Virgil tried to do, and it was the same with all of his friends. They tried their hardest to blend in, not stick out.
Ignoring the fact that he could feel Oscar's stare on him again, Virgil didn't turn around for the rest of the session. He was not going to let Oscar ruin any more of his morning. The time went too quickly for Virgil's liking, though, and it wasn't long before they were packing away for lunch. Most of the others were doing things with their parents that afternoon, so Virgil knew that if his brothers wanted to continue on their own separate ways, he would probably end up on his own. Not that it really bothered him - he would be able to get a lot done alone - but whilst his friends sped off for lunch, talking excitedly amongst themselves, Virgil took his time packing away. He didn't want to be the first one there and have to wait on his own for the rest of his brothers to arrive.
By the time he had finished packing away, taking care to check that everything was dry and clean in case he did want to use it again that afternoon, Virgil was the last one left. Or so he thought. Turning around, he could see that Oscar hadn't moved.
"You have to clean the brushes up properly," Virgil said softly, knowing that he was probably going to get snapped at for even thinking of opening his mouth, but not wanting the equipment to get damaged through Oscar's sulking. "You won't be allowed back if you don't do it properly."
"Good. Don't want to come back here anyway, it's stupid!" Oscar practically snarled, and Virgil almost took a step back at the sheer bitterness in the boy's voice. But then something stopped him. Oscar's voice might have been fuming, but there could be no denying that there were tears in his eyes. Virgil didn't know what to do – somehow he didn't think Oscar would like the fact that he had noticed.
"Why did you stay then? You were so happy to tell me about how you had control over the whole place before," Virgil sniped back, trying to keep his temper but finding that it was becoming harder and harder every time Oscar opened his mouth.
"You've got your father to thank for that," Oscar growled, glaring at something over Virgil's shoulder. The artist could only suspect that it was because of the tears still lingering in his eyes that Oscar would not look at him directly. He hadn't known what Jeff had said to Oscar's father, but he had seen the look of indignation on the man's face when he had interrupted. It was clear Jeff had said something about him not being able to control his son, or that Oscar needed to do as he was told or there would be consequences. The look on Oscar's face seemed to imply that his own father had had words, and the child was not happy about being put in his place. Virgil couldn't help but wonder whether the man who had escorted Oscar over had only been there as a result of that conversation. After all, it was clear Oscar had been allowed to go wherever he had pleased before this.
"You mean to say that you actually do what your dad tells you?" Virgil mumbled, a slight smile on his face. Even Scott didn't always do what Jeff told him, despite the consequences normally meaning that it wasn't worth it. The last time Virgil had been caught out at home, he hadn't been allowed pudding for a whole week - it had been hell. Yet sometimes, the thrill of being a rebel was too much to resist. Considering how confident and arrogant Oscar had been before, Virgil found it hard to believe that he did as he was told simply because it was his father who told him to. Oscar, however, didn't answer, but looked away, his hand rubbing over his arm. His eyes drawn to the action, Virgil gasped, stepping forward.
"Who did that?" Just noticeable under the sleeve line of his tee-shirt, was a red mark on Oscar's arm. Unbidden, Virgil suddenly remembered the way the bodyguard had pulled Oscar along to the class and his threatsabout him knowing the consequences if he wasn't there when the man got back. "Was it that man?"
But despite Oscar's voice being a growl, Virgil still stepped forward. "He's not allowed to do that. Scott told me, no adult is allowed to hurt a child. No matter what the situation, they simply aren't allowed."
"Get lost, Virgil, nothing happened." It had to be one of the first times Oscar had used Virgil's name, and the artist found himself taking another step closer, his heart thudding hard. Oscar lashed out, his hand colliding with Virgil's chest and throwing the boy to the floor. Gasping, Virgil just sat there, but he didn't look away from Oscar. This explained so much.
"You should tell my dad."
"And what is he going to do about it?" Oscar spat, folding his arms and glaring in the opposite direction. Virgil jumped to his feet, angry.
"You know, if you weren't so rude, we could have helped you. My brothers would have let you hang around if you weren't so nasty. But every time you act like this, you are only hurting yourself. Do you think it bothers me how you talk to me? I have four brothers; I've heard it all before. But it does bother me when you upset them, or when you make my father think that I can't be trusted because you are a horrible little liar."
Turning on his heel, Virgil walked off. He was still going to tell his dad what had happened, but if Oscar wasn't prepared to do anything about it, then that wasn't Virgil's problem. He had experienced firsthand what happened when the child didn't get things the way that he wanted, and was not going to risk another family argument, not when things were finally settling down again. But a small noise from behind made him stop and twist his head back. Oscar had finally got off his stool, scuffing his feet in the dirt and looking everywhere but at Virgil.
"Can he really help?"
Virgil smiled, turning back again. He walked softly over to Oscar and put his hand on the other boy's shoulder.
"Yes," he said simply. For the first time in however long, he had complete faith and trust that Jeff Tracy would know what to do. The mark itself wasn't bad - he had received worse from Gordon over the years - but Virgil knew it was the principal of the matter. The man might work for Swinger, but it didn't mean he could do that. Virgil knew this was a matter way beyond him, and even beyond Scott. Once again, he would have to go straight to Jeff and, this time, he didn't mind.
"Don't touch me." Oscar pushed Virgil away angrily and began walking off. "And hurry up, I haven't got all day."
This time, Virgil couldn't help but laugh. It seemed even the idea of getting help wasn't enough to stop Oscar being a brat, and wondering what might do it only made Virgil laugh even harder. Somehow, he knew precisely what would stop the other boy being so mean. No one stood a chance against his grandmother, no matter how tough they thought they were. Virgil had no doubt that even that bodyguard wouldn't be able to get so much as a word in if she had anything to say about it. As he jogged to catch up with Oscar, Virgil wished that she was here - she would know what to do.
There was an uncomfortable silence between the two boys as they all but ran. Every time one of them quickened their pace, the other would match it or go slightly faster. Neither of them wanted to be in the other's company for any longer than they had to, regardless of the fact that they were heading towards the same place. Oscar was still bitter, occasionally bumping into Virgil deliberately as they hurried along, just to make the other boy lose his balance. Virgil, however, didn't say anything or retaliate in the slightest; he just regained his footing and carried on. Now was not the time for taking it further, he knew that.
They had reached the hotel once more and were running down the corridors, when Oscar shoved him again. This time, Virgil hit the wall, wincing as his shoulder collided with it, picking himself up and glaring. Sighing, he swiftly ran after Oscar, not wanting to have to be the one behind. He didn't make it very far though. It only took him a few steps before he was almost level with Oscar, but a door to his left suddenly swung open. The boys jumped separate ways in order to avoid being hit by it, and Virgil stumbled slightly as he lost his footing, hitting the door and falling over. Trying to climb to his feet again, Virgil twisted his head around to see who had opened the door so abruptly, and gasped.
It was a man, of that much Virgil was sure. But he was wearing some sort of mask, one that didn't have any defining features on it, but which seemed to just be all black. It obscured the man's face and made his breathing sound heavy, almost laboured, and Virgil felt shivers run down his spine as he tried to get back to his feet again.
"Right on time, boys." The voice was horribly distorted and muffled from behind the mask, and Virgil shuddered.
"Run!" Not even thinking about the fact that he had spent all morning arguing with Oscar, Virgil could only think about getting them both away from there. Just as he made it into an upright position, a hand grabbed his arm.
"Stop!" There was a commanding note in the voice this time, but Virgil wasn't about to listen.
"Go!" Finally tearing free, he made to run off again when the hand caught him by the back of his collar. Choking as he was pulled back, Virgil scrambled desperately, trying to get the figure to let go. But then he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye and fell still. He didn't even need to turn his head in order to see properly, for he could feel the cold muzzle of the gun being pressed against his throat.
"I said stop."
Virgil shivered, not only in fright, but just at how the voice came out. It was obvious that this was not how the man truly sounded, yet it was nothing short of terrifying.
"Get my..." Virgil was yelling again, but then there was a hand over his mouth, muffling the sound. Biting down hard, Virgil struggled. "...Dad! You have to get my...mph!" This time, the hand covered his mouth firmly, and it didn't matter what Virgil did, it wouldn't let go again. Virgil tried yelling out, struggling against not only the man, but the urge to burst into tears as he was pulled backwards into the room. The man pushed him away as suddenly as he had grabbed hold and Virgil fell, landing on the floor hard. The man was between him and the door, but this time, the ten-year-old couldn't bring himself to get up again, not considering there was still a gun being pointed at him. Biting down hard on his bottom lip, Virgil tried to hide the fact that he was shaking.
"Come here." The voice was addressing Oscar again, and Virgil realised in a split moment of clarity that this wasn't random. Why on earth would whoever this was make sure that he had both of them if it was just a spontaneous act? It wasn't as if either of them knew who it was. Rather than running whilst he had the chance, Oscar had clearly frozen, locked to the spot and unable to move.
"Please, I'll do whatever you say, don't hurt me. Please, please, I'll be good. Please..." Oscar had done what Virgil had fought not to do and had immediately burst into noisy sobs. Despite himself, Virgil found himself rolling his eyes as he tried to push himself up off the floor, only to wince as his wrist suddenly throbbed. Clutching it to him with a soft cry, he realised how red it already was. He must have landed slightly awkwardly on it.
"Shut up." The man reached out as soon as Oscar had taken a step closer and pulled him in. Pushing him over to where Virgil was struggling to keep himself sitting up, he waved the gun at them both.
"And do exactly as I say."
"Please, I don't want to die. Please just let me go. Keep him if you want, I won't tell anyone, just... Please..." As Oscar stood there and sobbed, Virgil managed to lift his chin defiantly. Ignoring the cries coming from the boy next to him, he locked eyes with the man...or at least, with where he thought the man's eyes were.
"My dad," he said slowly, defiance pouring from him. "Is going to kick your ass."
There was a hitch in Oscar's sobbing as he stared at Virgil. For his part, Virgil was just trying not flinch as the man bent down. He didn't even have time to push himself backwards before there was the sharp scratch of a needle. He just about heard Oscar's high-pitched scream as their attacker then turned on him, but Virgil didn't see anything after that. Instead, a warm and sleepy filling flooded him, and he didn't even have time to register that he should be fighting it before he slumped.
Dum de dum...