Adelard was... nervous , to say the least. As he drove through the long, twisting roads traveling into the secluded forest, a thousand scenarios raced through his head. He prayed to God that the future would choose one of the good ones. It wasn’t like this was the first time he had done something potentially dangerous; rather it was what he had accidentally specialized in. That never stopped him from being nervous though, especially when other people were involved.
“Adelard,” A voice from the passenger side called, which snapped him from his racing thoughts.
“Huh?” Adelard asked with a tilt of his head.
“Keep your jaw unclenched,” the voice finished.
“Oh,” Adelard said, not having realized how hard his teeth were pressing against each other. “Thanks,” Adelard added. She often did notice those things he did when he was nervous. That, or everyone did and she was just the one to not shy away from telling him.
Her name was Jessica McHale Stevenson, and she was sort of the main reason Adelard was even going where he was. She was a contact he had found in one of Lucy’s old notebooks, and happened to be a social worker as well as knowledgeable about The Powers. She was particularly focused on keeping children away from dangerous situations involving the different Entities, and there was no surprise she had been the one to originally tell Lucy about Agnes and The Cult of the Lightless Flame. Despite her rather abrasive personality, Adelard found a lot of comfort in her initial company.
As always with life though, Agnes was not the last child to be victimized by The Powers or their servants. Jessica had become aware (through means Adelard was almost certain involved threatening and/or some kind of illegal activity) of a very powerful family in society who was almost certainly tied to The Lonely, yet had somehow been skipped over by law enforcement for the obvious mistreatment that would come with raising their children. It’s obvious the Lukases were bribing any officials who had thought to investigate, and it made bile rise to his throat. He trusted no officer.
But Jessica was no cop, and she wasn’t intimidated by the Power of the Lukas family. “They’re all too scared of confrontation to stop us,” she had said while they were first planning their mission. While they had no police with them, Jessica was a government official with documented permission to seize any children suspected to be victims of abuse, and they certainly could threaten police interference if need be. So, they set out to enter the twisting road leading to the Lukas estate, and Adelard did keep a pistol in the glove box if worst came to worse. He prayed it didn’t.
They arrived at the sprawling mansion in the middle of the country, and Adelard was impressed at the size of it. He knew the Lukases had money, but even still, the impressive building was rather intimidating. Adelard parked his car in the round drive in front of the entrance, and took a deep breath as the car died and his key returned to his pocket. He turned to look at Jessica, and pressed his hand against hers which was resting on the console between them.
“No turning back,” Jessica said simply. Her expression was still stern and unrelenting, but Adelard felt her hand squeeze back softly. She was just as nervous as he was. Swallowing his fear, Adelard let go of Jessica’s hand, and she opened her door and exited the vehicle. Adelard went to leave, but paused for a moment, his eyes glancing at his glove box. Quickly, he opened it and retrieved the pistol, sliding it into the holster attached to his belt. Better to be safe than sorry, he reasoned.
Adelard stepped out onto the gravel of the drive and shut his door behind him, going over to Jessica and then following her as she approached the double doors of the Lukas estate. Adelard gave a final prayer for safety as Jessica banged the door’s knocker loudly and confidently. After a minute or so, the door was pulled open slightly, and a man’s piercing gaze began to stare them down.
“State your business,” The man said coldly, no hint of emotion present in his voice. Jessica did not falter.
“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Jessica Mchale Stevenson, and I’m the social worker assigned to this particular case. It would appear that the last one assigned to your case never properly closed their investigation, so I've taken it upon myself to see it through.” Jessica stared down the man with such an intensity that Adelard could have thought it’d kill him. The man behind the door narrowed his eyes at her.
“Where are your credentials?” The man asked sourly. Jessica swiftly retrieved the manila envelope tucked under her arm and pulled out several papers.
“Sir, this residence has had three outstanding warrants for the seizure of the children living on this property. Someone had apparently tried to cover that up, and the judge I showed this evidence to was not pleased. I have a new warrant allowing for entrance into the property and seizure of any and all children within your care. If you attempt to resist or stop us in any way, law enforcement will come and you will be arrested.” Jessica spoke with such cool conviction, and the man behind the door seemed agitated as he flipped through the paperwork.
“There was no notice prior to this,” The man said, his brows furrowed in clear anger.
“There was no requirement to give one,” Jessica responded confidently. “Please step aside, sir. It will be easier for you to not resist. The man glowered at her for a few more moments before he opened the door completely and begrudgingly stepped aside to allow them inside. As Adelard entered, he couldn’t help but notice how empty the place was. There were no decorations on the walls, and not another person in sight. Adelard ignored how utterly lonely it all felt. Adelard took another look at the man who closed the door behind them, and he felt fear because of the look in the man's eyes. His hand found purchase against Jessica’s back.
It took a surprisingly long time to retrieve all the children within the home. There were five in total, and Adelard had to thank himself mentally for owning a station wagon with third row seating. Adelard felt a pain in his heart when he noticed the children seemed to barely recognize each other. He couldn’t imagine what his life would have been like growing up without his own siblings. As soon as all the children were piled into his car, they had left. Neither Adelard nor Jessica were very keen on getting sent into The Lonely while their backs were turned. The ride back from the country was strangely quiet for being a car filled with five children. Only two of them ever spoke a word.
The challenges after the initial seizure were a lot less daunting than Adelard considered the first. The two younger children who had actually spoken in the care were both adopted rather quickly, while the two other girls followed after. The only one who hadn’t been adopted yet was a little four year old boy, which surprised Adelard. While he knew the youngest children would have gone first, he didn’t understand why this child in particular wasn’t seen as ‘adoptable’ by eager parents.
“I’m worried, Adelard,” Jessica said one day to him as he sat in her office. “Peter isn’t being adopted, and I fear that the longer he goes without a family the closer he’ll become to following the path of The Lonely despite being away from his parents.” Jessica ran a hand through her hair in stressed consideration.
“Are you sure there’s no one out there who’d take him?” Adelard asked. “Surely there have been parents who’ve met with him.”
“Oh, well of course there have been. He was fostered by two separate families for a week each, but both of them gave him back because of how ‘abnormally quiet’ he had seen. One of the mothers even admitted they had forgotten he was there for an entire day. This isn’t good, Adelard.” Jessica sighed and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms in frustration.
Adelard considered the options that were left for them. If they were to let the young Lukas continue on in the system, he was likely to stay there, passed around from family to family as people struggled with his antisocial-ness. He would be lost, and alone, and The Lonely would surely consume him and the efforts they had done to stop that would have been for naught. Peter Lukas needed a family full of love and life to teach him how to enjoy the company of others instead of dreading it. To Adelard, there was only one decision left to make.
“I’ll take him,” Adelard said very suddenly. Jessica looked up in surprise.
“Are you sure?” Jessica asked in disbelief. Adelard nodded strongly.
“If there’s no one else who will, then I’ll raise him. He needs someone who understands how The Lonely threatens to consume him. I can watch to make sure he isn’t falling to it’s lure.” Adelard said confidently.
“What about Agnes?” Jessica asked with concern. “Do you think she’d be able to get along with him? You know how careful you have to be with her around other children, especially a young one like Peter.”
“Agnes is fine,” Adelard contested. “She’s a good girl, and even though I can see her power growing stronger as she ages, so does her control over it.”
“What about finances? Can you even support another child on your own? I’d try to give you all the help I can, but...there’s only so much I can do, Adelard.”
“Jessica,” Adelard said sternly, but not harshly. “Peter needs a father. He needs a family . I would be proud to give that to him.” Jessica searched Adelard’s eyes with her brows furrowed as she searched for any signals of deception. He didn’t blame her for being so protective over the child, even if it was against him. He knew he’d do the same if their roles had been switched. Finally, Jessica closed her eyes and sighed.
“I’ll start filing the papers,” Jessica responded after a few minutes. “I’m going to set this up as a foster situation first, and if Peter responds positively, then I’ll get you the adoption papers. You can take him home as soon as all the paperwork is filled out.” Adelard smiled softly. Soon enough, there were papers set in front of him, and Adelard signed them all neatly before he pushed them back across Jessica’s desk.
“How do you think Peter will take it all?” Adelard suddenly asked. He began to worry that Peter would feel sad going to yet another family. He didn’t want Peter to feel like they’ll just give him back later.
“It might be hard at first, but I think he’ll adjust. You just have to keep reaching out to him. He’s going to keep trying to withdraw, but you have to keep reaching for him. Don’t force him, but keep that line of communication open.” Jessica answered, and Adelard nodded in understanding. All he wanted was for Peter to be safe and happy.
“...Well, I suppose the children should meet each other, then.”
Agnes took it in stride, of course. Adelard was proud of the kind girl she was growing up to be. Her personality was just as warm as her soul. Once Adelard took Peter home, leading him through the doorway of the small home, Agnes was nearly bouncing with excitement to meet the other boy. Jen had been there watching Agnes, and she sat on the recliner in the living room watching with interest.
“Hello, Peter,” Agnes smiled wide, bowing down a bit to look Peter in the eyes. Peter looked up without making a change in his expression, then cast his eyes back down. Adelard ruffled his hair encouragingly.
“Hi,” Peter said, his voice barely above a whisper. Adelard had told Agnes early that Peter would be a very quiet and shy child, so she made no reaction.
“I’m Agnes,” She said as she continued to smile. “I’m excited to get to know you.”
“Yeah,” Peter replied despondently, turning his head to look absentmindedly at an aloe plant up on a table. Adelard smiled kindly at Agnes.
“Come on Peter, let me show you where you’ll sleep.” Adelard led Peter deeper into the house with Agnes following them on their heels. Once Adelard showed Peter where all his things were going to be, he let Peter sit alone in his room to let him process it all, and he came back out into the living room.
“You weren’t kidding when you said he was a quiet kid,” Jen said casually. Adelard huffed a laugh at her.
“Don’t worry,” Agnes piped up. “He’ll start talking once he realizes how nice all of us are,” She grinned, and Adelard couldn't help but smile back at her with pride. He patted her head supportively, and he could feel her lean into it fondly.
“Well,” Adelard said in the tone that meant you were ready to move on to do something else. “What do you want for dinner, Ness?” Adelard looked over to Jen and added, “You can stay for dinner if you like.” At that, Agnes shot her fists up into the air, and Adelard took a step back in reaction to avoid colliding with them.
“Yes! Jen needs to stay for dinner!” Agnes shouted, grinning. Jen smiled and let out a small laugh.
“Hey, I’m not turning down a free meal,” Jen replied as she crossed her arms and relaxed back into the seat of the recliner. Adelard smiled once more.
“Then hey, c’mon kiddo, let’s see what we have to make,” Adelard said and teasingly grabbed Agnes head and shook it a bit before walking into the kitchen. Agnes followed behind him just like she always did.
Agnes pouted in confusion. It seemed like no matter what she tried to do, Peter didn’t want to play with her at all. She offered to teach him how to play marbles, play her board games, and play catch, but it seemed no matter what game she tried to play, he didn’t really seem to care. He just stayed by himself, either fiddling with a toy by himself or sometimes watching the television.
“I don’t get it!” She had squeaked in frustration to Adelard with her hands crossed against her chest. “I try and try, but he just says no no matter what. I’m tired of tryin’ to do stuff for him when he doesn’t care!”
“Oh hun,” Adelard sighed wearily. He brushed his hand over her head. It had been a couple of weeks now since Peter had joined them, and Adelard expected that it’d be a matter of time before Agnes got frustrated with Peter’s antisocial nature. He was surprised she had been patient this long; he knew not many kids her age would have been. “I’m sorry he refuses, but we can’t change that.”
“Well why even bother inviting him anyway if he’s just going to say no!” Agnes exclaimed and pouted fiercely. Adelard watched as the tips of her red hair began to grow lighter in hue, and Adelard began to self the faint smell of char.
“Agnes honey, you need to calm down,” Adelard said calmly, and he took a knee so he could be on Agnes’ level. Agnes looked down at herself and seemed to notice her rising temperature, and a bit of panic flashed over her face. Slowly she closed her eyes and took a deep breath in, then a deep breath out. “Good girl,” Adelard praised kindly. “Now listen, Peter is probably going to take a long time to open up. We need to be there when he is. We’re his family now, and if we don’t offer, then he’ll never open up to us.” Agnes looked down at the ground with resignation. Adelard patted her head comfortingly. “Hey, if Peter doesn’t want to play your games, why don’t you ask Peter what he wants to do? Maybe you don’t have to play games, but you can do something else with him instead like reading a book to him or something.”
Agnes hummed and then said, “Okay, I’ll try.” Agnes replied. She turned and walked away, a bit more of a spring in her step than before. Adelard sighed wistfully as he watched her go.
Adelard was worried. Slowly but surely, Peter had started to socialize with them more. Agnes found that what Peter loved most were books. She read many to him, and they began to spend more and more time together. It was a slow process, but they improved, and soon enough Peter had lived with them for a year and turned five. Once Adelard had told Peter he was going to have to begin going to school however, Peter’s attitude had completely reverted to his old shut off self. Adelard was stressed because he could tell Peter was hurting, yet he had no clue how to help him get comfortable with the idea of going to school.
Adelard had known from the beginning he was going to send Peter to public school once he was of age. Agnes was homeschooled--for fear of anyone finding out about her flaming soul--but Adelard knew what Peter needed the most was connections with many of other children his age to ground him out of the lonely’s grasp. Adelard knew Peter wasn’t going to be particularly happy about that, but he hadn’t expected the level of distress Peter had gained. Adelard desperately wanted to help him, but he also knew he shouldn’t smother him, so he had been trying to keep himself from pushing Peter too much. Eventually, he decided that enough time had passed, and he went to go talk to Peter to try and help him out from his solitude.
“Peter?” Adelard called softly as he walked out onto the back porch. Peter was sitting on the steps and gazing out into the backyard, when he heard Adelard call his name. He turned his head slowly to look up at Adelard with a frankly pitiful expression. Adelard felt a pang of sadness in him, and for the thousandth time in his life he swore bitterly in his head at the Powers for daring to lay their hands upon a child. Adelard moved next to Peter and sat down next to him, leaving enough space between them so Peter wouldn’t be uncomfortable. Adelard waited for Peter to say something, but it was quickly clear to him that he wouldn’t hear anything.
“Is something the matter, Peter?” Adelard asked, tilting his head to try to look more on Peter’s level. Peter stayed silent and avoided his gaze. Adelard furrowed his brows and tried again. “Listen, I know what I had told you a few days ago upset you. I want to help you with this because I know it’s hard, but I can’t if you don’t talk to me.”
“‘It's not fair,” Peter mumbled while still looking away, his arms crossed.
“What isn’t?” Adelard asked
“Well how come Agnes gets to do school with Jen and I don’t ?” Peter replied, much louder and with clear anger. “I don’ wanna go to school!”
“Oh, Peter,” Adelard sighed tiredly. “Listen, Agnes has school at home because that’s better for her. You know how she’s...different from us. If she went to school with other children, there might be an accident because they don’t understand her, and someone could get hurt. Besides, she still has to learn all the same things with Jen that the other children learn at the school.”
“I don’t care about learning,” Peter grumbled and pouted. “Learnings’ not scary.”
“Then why do you fear going to school so much?”
“People are scary!” Peter replied in frustration. Tears started to prick at the corners of his eyes. “I don’ get ‘em. I don’t know how to talk to them. I-I don’ know what I’m suppose’ a do,” Peter cut himself off as he started to cry, and Adelard simply scooted himself closer and then pulled into his side as a hug. Adelard let him cry for a few moments, and when Peter started to calm his sobs, Adelard spoke.
“Can I tell you something, Peter?” Adelard asked and looked down at the boy. Peter looked up into Adelard’s eyes inquisitively. Adelard leaned his head down to be closer to Peter’s level. “I don’t understand them either.”
“You’re old though! And you have a job!” Peter protested. Adelard snorted at that.
“I’m only in my twenties, you know. That’s not that old.”
“I’m five!” Peter exclaimed in response, and Adelard chuckled.
“Okay, okay, I’m old. But yes, I don’t understand other people either. And want to know a secret?” Adelard gave a conspiratorial smile and leaned down further to be closer to Peter.
“What?” Peter asked with wide eyes.
“I don’t think anyone knows how other people work.” Adelard winked, and Peter continued to stare with big eyes, as if in wonder. “I promise you, all the worries you have about people in your head are things other people think all the time, especially the children who you’d be in school with. It will be their first time at school too, and they’ll be just as scared as you are. Sometimes we just have to accept that we’re not always going to know what the right thing to do is, and that’s okay. Just talk to them like you would to us, and you’ll be fine.” Peter sniffled quietly and wiped his eyes with little balled up fists. Adelard ruffled his hair until Peter pulled away and suddenly wrapped his arms around Adelard.
“I’ll try,” Peter said softly, his voice muffled from his face being pressed into Adelard’s shirt. Adelard smiled fondly and wrapped his own arms around Peter. They sat there pressed together for a few minutes, before finally Peter was ready to let go and return inside.