Nine


A fireside chat.



He hadn't been lying; he wasn’t sleepy. His leg hurt and he was hungry and cold, and if there wasn’t going to be any play he didn’t want to loll about staring at the ceiling. And there wasn’t any play. He’d had a little flicker of hope about that, coming up the stairs, especially when he realized that Dru had gone down the hall with Darla and Angelus, and all three of them were settling into an enormous four-poster in a much larger chamber.

Angelus was lying on his back between the women, his eyes closed and his arms outflung. “Boots off,” he said when Will came in, without bothering to open his eyes. Will shucked his boots and crawled in between Angelus and Drusilla. He put his hand on Dru’s thigh, but she shrugged him off. She was staring at the ceiling, smiling, her lips moving soundlessly. He tried again and she bent his finger back.

He gave up on her, turned and pressed his face to Angelus’s body. After a moment Angelus sighed and shifted and brought his hand around to rest on the back of Will’s neck. Will smiled and breathed in the good Sire smell, but instead of making him sleepy it made him want to be kissed. He lifted his head and rubbed his cheek along Angelus’s jaw.

Angelus stroked the base of his skull softly, but didn’t kiss him. Will paused, then made bold to put his palm on Angelus’s belly. There was no response, so he moved it a little lower.

The grip on his neck tightened slightly. “Stop that. Go to sleep.”

Will drew his hand back. “I’m not tired.” It came out a bit of a whine.

Angelus opened his eyes halfway and looked at him. “You won’t heal if you don’t sleep,” he said. “You should have learned by now, sleep when you have the chance.”

“Shut up,” Darla said muzzily from Angelus’s opposite side. “Both of you.”

Will rolled back and stared at the ceiling in frustration. The bed had had a canopy once, but it had rotted to scraps and now there was only stone to look at. Would have been nice if Darla had had her pet villagers keep the place up a bit.

After a minute Angelus’s hand came back and knuckled gently over his shoulder and neck. He turned his head with renewed hope, but Angelus’s eyes were closed. Will turned back and stared at the ceiling, and after a while the hand stopped moving and simply rested against his cheek.

Even Drusilla was silent and motionless now. The only sounds were the tiny ticks and bustlings of little animals reclaiming space in the dark. That, and the occasional faint settling sound from the fire downstairs.

He lay there for a long while, waiting to see if he’d ever get sleepy. He didn’t. At last he sat up and started to work his way cautiously out at the bottom of the bed.

“What are you doing?” He looked back; Angelus was regarding him with dopey annoyance.

“Can’t sleep,” Will said. “Going to walk around a bit. Sir.”

Angelus stared at him, then closed his eyes and let his head fall back. “Don’t fight with her,” he said. “If I hear even the slightest—“

“No sir,” Will said quickly, and slid the rest of the way out of the bed. “I’m just going to walk around, that’s all.”

Angelus snorted, and Will gathered up his boots and padded out in his stocking feet. He thought his leg felt a little better already.

It was cold and dark in the passageway, and he didn’t feel like stopping to put his boots on. He went silently down the stairs and along the hall, and came out into the main room without a sound.

Caitlin was asleep on the hearthstone. He walked up to her, his boots still in his hands, and she didn’t stir. She slept like a child, balled up on one side with her hands tucked between her knees. There were traces of mud still on her neck and her hair was a sight, but he noticed her face had healed. Darla was right; even if she didn’t like the taste of the blood, it wasn’t doing her any harm.

He sat down and spent a few minutes just soaking in the warmth of the fire. He’d been cold for days. He edged as close as he dared, only shifting now and then as parts of him got too hot.

After perhaps half an hour the fire started to die down. There was a coal scuttle a few feet away—the men must have brought it—but he didn’t feel like moving. Also, he was bored. He put his foot out and shoved Caitlin.

“Gerrup, you.”

She lifted her head and squinted at him.

“Go on,” he said. “The fire wants tending.”

She looked at him blankly, then looked at the coal scuttle, a few feet away. When she turned back to him her face was incredulous.

“Tend it yourself,” she said, and put her head down.

He shoved her again. “That’s your job,” he said. “You’re the minion.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh, Angelus’ll like that,” he said. “Two nights ago you were on your knees begging, and now you’re too good for him.”

She gave him a weary look, then seemed to resign herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to be allowed to go back to sleep. She sat up slowly and ran her hand through her hair. “No,” she said. “Not because I’m too good. Because he didn’t accept me.”

Will opened his mouth, then closed it. It was true; Angelus hadn't agreed to take her on.

Caitlin yawned and rubbed her eyes, then prodded her cheek a few times, experimentally.

“Good as new,” he said. “Just in time for Angelus to crack it open again.”

She gave him a sideways look. “Do you get that from him?”

“What?”

“The bullying.” She flaked some mud off her neck. “I realize I’m unwanted here, William. You needn’t remind me at every turn.”

Again he opened his mouth and then closed it. He felt oddly chastised, although he’d said nothing that wasn’t true, nothing that Angelus wouldn’t have said himself. To cover his discomfort he picked up one of his boots and spat on it, buffing it with his sleeve.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said. “We were all right before you turned up. Now we’re squatting in a bloody folly, feeding off cottagers and waiting for the Slayer to arrive. If you hadn't come tripping—“

“But I did,” she interrupted flatly. “And if I hadn't, the Slayer would have caught you unawares.”

“Would not.”

She shrugged.

“You don’t know Angelus,” he said. “Or Darla. They know everything that happens—“

“So did Rebecca,” she said. “And we were surprised.”

“Rebecca sounds like a stupid tart,” he said viciously. Without thinking much about it, he hoped it would provoke her enough to start a fight. She only shrugged.

He gave it a moment, then went back to polishing. She pulled her knees to her chest, crossed her arms on top, and watched. The silence grew.

“You going to make up the fire?” he asked without looking up. Her only answer was a yawn. “Shall I thump you, then?”

She sighed and hooked his other boot from where it lay on the hearthstone. He looked up sharply, but she only held it and ran her finger down the stitching.

“Nice.”

He took it from her and dropped it out of her reach. “Hands off.”

“In France they say that English shoes are made as if by people who have heard shoes described, but never seen them. Those aren’t bad, though.”

He spat on a new section and started rubbing it clean. His shirt cuff was a wreck. “You get a better class of shoe in France?” he asked.

“Better shoes, yes. Especially for women. Lise had some lovely pairs, like goblets.”

“Who’s Lise?”

“My sister.” She rested her chin on her forearms, her eyes fixed on his hands. Her voice was neutral.

He watched her for a moment, then went back to the boot. “Human sister? Or family?”

“Oh…family.”

“She was in Lille?”

“Yes.”

Drusilla had said none of the others had escaped, but sometimes she was wrong. He held the boot up to see it gleam in the firelight.

“She’s gone?”

“Yes.” There was a pause. She didn’t seem affected by the mention.

“Didn’t like her much?”

She didn’t speak or move; just watched his hands as if he hadn't said anything. After a minute he went back to polishing.

“How long did you live in Lille?” he asked.

“We didn’t,” she said. “We were only passing through, on our way back to Paris. We’d been in the Netherlands.”

“The Netherlands,” he repeated. “What the hell is in the Netherlands?”

She shrugged. “Amsterdam. Rebecca had calls to make. And she liked the countryside.”

“Holland. Soggy little cheese wheel, if you ask me,” he muttered. To his surprise, she laughed.

“Typical English,” she said, when he looked at her.

“What?”

“Have you ever been there? To Amsterdam?”

He frowned, picked a little mud from the toe of his boot, and changed the subject.

“Just you three, then? You and Rebecca and—what’s her name again?”

“Lise.” She was still smiling slightly, but her gaze had shifted away. “No, I had two brothers. Both older. Jewel and Colin.”

“Jewel? What kind of a name is that?”

“What kind of a name is Angelus?”

He put the boot down and stared at her, and she smiled again, raising her hands in mock self-defense. “Forgive me.” Her tone wasn’t completely sincere, but he let it go. “He was named by his master.”

“By Rebecca.”

“No, his human master. He was American, a slave.”

Stupidly, it took him a moment to understand what she meant. “He was an African, you mean.”

“An African born in Georgia, yes. I suppose so.”

“Black,” he said, just to clarify.

“Yes, black.” She yawned again and stretched her shoulders. He thought about that—a black man in the family—and found he couldn’t picture it.

“What about Colin?” he asked, trying to find a clean patch left on his cuff.

“Colin was Irish,” she said.

“Like Angelus.”

“Like Angelus,” she agreed, but without any force. He had the impression that Colin had been nothing at all like Angelus.

“Both gone?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Minions?”

“No, we didn’t travel with them. They’re in Paris still, I suppose. Very likely staked by now.”

The boot was clean enough, so he dropped it and picked up the partner. “You’re the only one left,” he said. “You must have been very lucky.”

There was a lengthy pause, and then she said quietly, “Lucky, yes. I suppose so.”

The fire settled a bit more and he glanced back at it. He could prod her again, but she’d just refuse, and since she wasn’t a minion he couldn’t see how to make her obey. Short of beating her, that was; and while he didn’t mind the thought, he’d get thumped for it by Angelus.

He shifted a little closer to the flames and went back to the boot.

“Slayer’s young this time,” he observed casually, after a while.

Caitlin nodded. “Thirteen, they say. Which likely means fifteen. Vampires love drama.”

“She look thirteen?”

“Perhaps. She’s very small. I didn’t see much of her.”

“Because you were hiding.”

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t they find you?”

She shrugged. “I was—we were in a district called Esquermes. There’s a burial site, some tunnels. Rebecca hid me in them.”

He stopped polishing and looked at her.

“Just you? Not any of the others?”

“There was only room for one.” She wasn’t looking at him; her eyes were on the fire.

“And why did she pick you?”

She shrugged again.

He studied the sole of the boot and prised a little mud from the heel. “Because you were the youngest?”

“No. Lise was only eight months.”

He knocked the boot against the hearth to get the mud out, and she started. He studied her closely.

“Because you can’t fight?” He made his tone heavily mocking.

“Perhaps.”

“But you gave Dru a decent tap.”

She said nothing.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten that.”

“I don’t.”

He let the pause stretch out, and she stared at the fire and sighed. Finally he went back to the boot.

“So she hid you, for reasons unknown, and told you to come to London and find Angelus if you lived.”

“Yes.”

“Funny thing to do, don’t you think?”

“I didn’t think about it at the time.”

“How’d she know Angelus?”

“I don’t know. She was only a little younger than Darla, she traveled a great deal. She knew a lot of families.”

“She ever mention him before?” He kept his tone casual, to hide the fact that the subject interested him greatly. He’d never had the chance to talk to a vampire from another family, to get a first-hand notion of Angelus’s reputation. What he did know was only from the few strays who wandered into their territory, and all they had to offer was disorientation, terror, and then dust.

“Sometimes.” She didn’t continue, and he lowered the boot in exasperation.

“Well, what did she say?”

She looked at him with a slight, tolerant smile. “That he’s very strong. That most families are afraid of him, that he’s held one of the largest territories in Europe for decades, that he protects his family. That he kills anyone who annoys him.”

He felt the little hairs on the back of his neck rise up, and smiled. “Maybe she wasn’t such a stupid tart after all.”

“No,” she said, and then leaned forward to speak in a low, conspiratorial tone. “A word of advice, William—when you next taunt someone, be sure you’re not sitting in front of an open fireplace. Unless, perhaps, you’re fire-proof?”

He stared at her, then dropped the boot and went to game face. She laughed.

“Come now—I’m not threatening. I’m not an idiot, to pick a fight with Angelus’s childe in his own house.”

“I should break your arms,” he said.

“Why?” she asked calmly. “I’m only telling you something useful. Believe me, being burnt is extremely unpleasant.”

He stared at her for a minute, then fell back into human face. “Angelus is going to—“

“Break my bones, tear my skin off, paint the walls with my blood, yes. I know.”

“You don’t seem concerned.”

She laughed again, but bitterly this time. “Oh, I am. I am currently trying not to increase my load of pain by dwelling on what’s in store for me. I’d be grateful if you’d let the subject lie.”

He paused, then reached slowly for the boot. “Fair enough.”

“Thank you.”

He regarded his ruined sleeve, then pulled the tail of his shirt out to use instead. “How were you burnt?”

“They fired the tunnels.” She wiped her hands over her face, then examined the palms for dirt. “I was in a very small space. Not a proper tunnel, just a part of the wall that had broken through. There was no room to move.”

“You just stood there?”

“As I said, there was no room to move.”

He considered that. “Why didn’t you die?”

She gave a short, bitter laugh. “Poor workmanship. They used oil to make the place burn, but it didn’t come all the way in where I was.”

“You looked pretty black when you got to London.”

She grimaced. “Partly it was the sun. I was caught without shelter the first morning.”

“Bad—“ he said, then cut himself off. He’d been going to say, Bad luck. He’d just had two dawns, or near-dawns, out in the open, and hadn't cared for it. It was unpleasant enough with Angelus there to rely on; how would it be if Angelus were gone?

“I had to go down into the drains,” she said. She didn’t seem to have noticed his lapse; she was staring fixedly at the fire with a look of disgust. “They’re canals, really. Foul toxic things. You don’t know filth until you’ve slept in a factory sewer.”

“Yeh, well,” he said, and spat on his boot.

She went back to pawing mud out of her hair, and for a while they just sat there, working at their separate tasks in silence. Will let his hands do the job mechanically, while his mind wandered back to London and then to France, with a brief uncertain foray into the Netherlands. A nice landscape, whatever that meant. He’d always imagined it as a series of swamps under a heavy yellow sky.

He was just finishing the boot when the fire crumbled again, and this time it was either make it up or let it die. They both looked at it without moving. The little orange flames trembled.

“Now look—“ he started to say in an authoritative tone, though he was not at all convinced that this would go well. He was interrupted by a boom at the great front door.

He jerked upright and fumbled for his boots, but Caitlin shook her head.

“It’ll be the boy,” she said. She got up and disappeared down the hall, and came back in a minute leading a skinny rabbit-faced lad in his father’s coat. He was clutching their few remaining satchels to his chest, the ones Angelus had strapped to the horse, and carrying a larger bag on his back.

Will sneered at the boy, then sat back down and pulled his boots on. “Put them on the table,” he said, stamping to get his heel down properly.

The boy walked over the table and set the bags down, as if unwilling to let go of anything he could use as a shield. Then he turned and caught sight of the fire, and his eyes instantly showed the disdain of the practical for the effete.

“You’ve let it go almost out,” he said, and hurried to the scuttle.



Ten



Coquette

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