Twelve


In which a man is marked for death.



He hung the shirt up and went back downstairs to keep Dru from eating Henry. She was speaking in a lilting singsong voice, but she stopped when she heard his footsteps in the hall. When he reached the kitchen he found her sitting by the fire with a belladonna sheen in her eye. Henry was pulled into the corner like a snail into its shell, his face white and damp.

“Come on, Dru,” Will said, and held the door for her.

He sat her down in front of the fireplace in the main hall and ran his fingers roughly through her hair until she purred. Upstairs, Darla and Angelus were still going at each other. He couldn’t make out the words, but he could hear the tones, and it sounded as though Angelus was getting angrier.

“Daddy’s going to have his ears boxed,” Dru murmured, and Will glanced uncomfortably at the door to the stairs. He felt sick. Part of him wanted to go back upstairs and say he’d changed his mind—they should take a couple of the villagers tonight. They could do it carefully, hide the bodies, say they’d sent a couple of men on a sortie, or to scout, or on a bloody picnic. It didn’t matter—if the rest revolted, they could kill a few more to set an example. It was ridiculous to beg like this.

He gripped the back of Dru’s neck and felt the light fragile bones beneath her skin. He’d tried to give her the cuckoo, but that hadn't worked out. If he’d answered differently upstairs, he’d have given her a proper meal, at least. And he might not feel so ill, thinking of how Angelus had looked at him over Darla’s shoulder.

He ran his nails over Dru’s skin and she arched her neck and tipped her head back against his knee. Her hair was still muddy and tangled, and she smelled of sex. He sat back and stared at her, feeling a strange mix of lust and desolation.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, looking up at him. She spoke so frankly it startled him. He’d almost forgotten that she could have lucid moments, when the madness seemed to lift like fog, and he could see quite plainly the wise sane landscape of the mind she used to have.

“Nothing, darling,” he said, and reached out to pull her up into his lap. She came readily enough, and sat still with her eyes fixed on his face.

“You’re sad,” she said. “You get that wrinkle when you’re sad.” She touched his forehead, between his eyes. “What’s the matter?”

He caught her finger and kissed it. “Nothing,” he said. “Only—“ Only, I wish you were like this more often. I wish I hadn't just had to hear you in bed with him. And I wish we were never here in the first place.

“Only what?”

“Only, I wish they wouldn’t ask me questions all the time,” he said, flicking his gaze toward the staircase as something upstairs hit the wall and broke.

Drusilla glanced toward the stairs too, and shook her head. “Don’t worry, Will,” she said. “You were right to answer as you did.”

He paused. “How do you know?”

She smiled and touched the mark on his forehead lightly. “Because you’re my chevalier,” she said. “You’re clever and proud and bloody-minded, as Angelus says.”

“He says I’m clever?” he asked, then blushed. “I mean—“ He couldn’t think what to say, and it just hung there.

Dru smiled and stroked his throat. “Very clever,” she said, and leaned in to run her teeth along his neck. “I’m hungry, Will…”

He closed his eyes and breathed in her heavy dark sweet smell, and wished he could feed her. Perhaps if she didn’t take much, Angelus wouldn’t notice. He tipped his head to the side to feel her teeth better.

“Dru,” he said softly. She was in demon face now, and her fangs raked a cool gentle line over his throat. One of her hands was in his lap. She sighed and settled, and her fangs caught his skin, tugged, then moved on.

“Dru,” he said again, even more softly. “You could—you could take a very little bit.”

She paused, then sat back. They stared at each other.

“I can’t,” she said. She didn’t sound convinced.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “If I could, I’d give you all you wanted—you know that. But he’d thrash us both.”

Dru gave a little shiver and studied his face. Her eyes were golden and unhappy. “I can’t,” she said again, more quietly. “It’s a rule.”

“I know. But we’re not exactly—we’re in a place where the rules don’t really apply, love.” He paused and tried to recall what she’d said. “We’re on the other side of the hedgerow, remember?”

She smiled. “Outside of the enclosure,” she said.

“That’s right. And it’s hardly fair, he’s fed me twice—“

“Twice!” she said, and he felt a surge of guilt.

“Yeh, after—“ He stopped and put his hands on her shoulders. “Look, you’re hungry. I’m not. It’s only sensible.“

“But Daddy,” she whispered.

“The hell with him,” he said. “Come on, do it quickly and he’ll never know.” He tipped his head back and pulled her down, and she didn’t resist. She put one cool hand under his chin and the other on his shoulder, and he closed his eyes and breathed in. Her fangs were cold needles on his throat.

Angelus coughed politely.

She jerked back as if she’d been yanked, and Will’s eyes snapped open. They both looked at the door to the staircase.

Angelus was standing half in the lamplight, looking at them. He was wearing his shirt again, Will noticed automatically—and some part of his mind informed him that the stain was hardly visible.

“Pardon me for interrupting,” Angelus said.

Drusilla got quickly up out of Will’s lap and walked away a few paces. She stood with her back to them both, as if she’d decided they no longer existed.

Angelus gave her a bemused glance, then started forward, pulling his braces over his shoulders. Will swallowed and rubbed his palms along his legs. It was on the tip of his tongue to start lying, to say We were only kissing, we weren’t doing anything, but the look on Angelus’s face stopped him. It was a very dark look.

Angelus reached him, and motioned for him to turn his head to the side. Will obeyed. He stared at the floor and waited in silence while Angelus examined his throat.

“Drusilla.” Will looked up. She twitched a little at the sound of Angelus’s voice, then looked over her shoulder and smiled brightly.

“’lo, Daddy,” she said. Her voice was cheerful and terrified. Angelus crooked his finger and she turned away again, then abruptly spun on her heel and came over.

“What’s this?” Angelus asked, pointing at Will’s throat. Drusilla gave Will a panicked look, then sealed it over with a smile and turned to Angelus.

“It’s Will, Daddy.”

“Yes. And whose is he?”

“He’s yours, Daddy.”

“Very good.” He reached out and pushed Will’s chin to the side. “You’re lucky, Dru. You didn’t make a mark.”

“I didn’t,” she said, in a tone of surprise and relief. Then, with more confidence: “I didn’t make a mark.”

“No. But you would have, if I hadn't stopped you.”

She took a little step away and eyed him with a frightened smile. “Will says you fed him twice, Daddy—“

“What I do with Will is no concern of yours. And it doesn’t matter what he tells you. He’s not your Sire.”

“No,” she said, and giggled, momentarily distracted by the notion.

“Drusilla.”

“Yes, Daddy?”

He slapped her once, with his open palm, across the side of her face. It wasn’t very hard, but it took her by surprise and she gave a little cry.

Will started to get up, and Angelus pushed him down without looking at him.

“That’s all, Drusilla,” he said. “You won’t do it again, will you?”

“No,” she said, holding her cheek and staring at him.

“Then go up and help Darla with her hair.”

She rubbed her cheek, then dropped him a curtsey and started out.

“Drusilla.”

She turned back warily.

“We’ll have visitors again soon. The same as yesterday. They’ll feed you.”

She touched her cheek again, smiled, and went out.

Angelus turned away to the fire, and Will got out of the chair. He could clearly imagine taking a swing at Angelus; just stepping up behind him and driving a fist into his neck.

He’d only hit Angelus once; almost four years ago now, when Angelus had first kissed him. Angelus had granted him a little grace that time—because he was so young—and had only knocked him down. Since then, he’d thought about hitting his Sire many times, but he hadn't ever done it.

His fist itched to do it now, but there was a faint acrid smell in the room, so slight he could hardly make it out. It was just enough to keep his hands at his sides.

“Well, that was bloody cruel,” he said, when it seemed Angelus wasn’t going to speak. Angelus turned and looked at him with half-lowered eyelids.

“Pardon me?”

“You didn’t have to hit her. She didn’t do anything.”

Angelus gave him a slight, incredulous smile. “There must have been a misunderstanding. I thought she was going to bite you.”

Will sneered. “Well, she’s hungry. She hasn’t been leeching off of you all this time.”

“That doesn’t give her the right to bite my childe.”

“Then feed her. You can’t starve her and then thump her for being hungry. Bastard.”

Angelus’s expression didn’t change, but the bitter smell grew stronger. Will paused and took a step back.

“You shouldn’t have hit her,” he said. “It wasn’t her fault. I told her to do it.”

“Yes, I heard you.”

Will stared at him. “What—and you hit her anyway?”

“She was willing to do it. She would have, if I hadn't stopped her.”

“But I told her to. It’s stupid—it’s unfair, for you to—“

Before he could move, or even see it coming properly, Angelus’s hand fastened on his throat. It hurt as much as a blow, and forced a yelp of surprise and pain out of him.

“Don’t worry,” Angelus said. “I’ll hit you too, and then it’ll be fair.”

He brought his free hand up and smacked Will hard across the face. Then he let go, and Will was left staggering, with his eyes watering down his cheeks.

“Whose are you?” Angelus asked.

“Pitt the Elder’s,” Will gasped, staring at the floor with his hand at his throat.

Angelus knocked him down, and he got up again with a smarting elbow and one ear ringing.

“Don’t be stupid,” Angelus said. “We don’t have time for games. Whose are you?”

“I don’t know,” Will said. “I’m such a blockhead.”

He turned away with his hands firmly at his sides, but Angelus hit him anyway, and he went sideways into the chair and knocked it over with a clatter.

“That reminds me,” Angelus said. “Stay out of the chapel. Whose are you?”

“Sod off,” Will panted, and found himself on the floor again.

He started to get up, but Angelus dropped down on top of him, a knee on either side of his chest, his full weight on Will’s belly. Will made a pair of fists and Angelus looked at them mildly.

“Are you going to hit me?” he asked.

Will bit his lip and dropped his hands. Angelus nodded.

“Good. Now, answer me properly, and we’ll save the thrashing for another day. Whose are you?”

Will said nothing. He stared up at Angelus and didn’t move.

Angelus frowned and smacked him. “I’m not playing, Will. I don’t have time for it. Answer me.”

Will was silent, and Angelus smacked him again, and then a third time. His face stung and his eyes ran, and when he saw Angelus’s arm go back a fourth time, he went to demon face and showed his fangs.

“Oh, William—“ Angelus said in a pitying tone, and belted him so hard his head cracked the stone. He lost track of things for a minute, and came back with blood on his tongue.

“Open your mouth,” Angelus was saying, and he did it automatically. He felt Angelus’s fingers on his fangs, touching each one in turn. It occurred to him, vaguely, that he could probably take those fingers off, if he wanted to.

“None broken,” Angelus said. “You’ll be all right. Now come on, boy—whose are you?”

“Yours,” he mumbled, still half in a daze. Immediately, Angelus’s weight was off him, and he was being heaved to his feet. Angelus kept a hand on his shoulder as he steadied himself and looked around.

“Good. We’re done for now, we’ll deal with the rest of it another day.”

“The rest of it?”

“Telling Dru to bite you. Forgetting Darla’s combs. And you have a habit of disrespect when you speak to me, Will.”

Will stood swaying for a moment, then cleared his throat and spat into the fire.

“Oh,” he said.

Angelus felt the back of Will’s head briefly. “Just a knock,” he said. “Where’s the boy?”

“The—“ Will shook his head. “Oh, Henry. He’s in the kitchen. Sir.”

“Good. Don’t show true face again unless you’re told. We don’t want to frighten them unnecessarily.”

He was back in human face, he realized, although he hadn't thought about the shift.

“Pick that chair up,” Angelus said. “And do something about your hair. You look like an urchin.”

Will ran his hand mechanically over his head. There was a sore sticky spot at the back of his head. He picked up the chair.

Angelus went to the table and began sorting through the satchels. “Did you remember to clean up our visitor?”

“Yes sir.” Will wetted his hands in one of the basins, and ran them over his scalp. His ear was still ringing, and things looked alternately close and far away. He splashed a little water on his face as well. “But I don’t think she’s fit for company yet.”

“No, she won’t be joining us tonight. There’s not enough to go around anyway.” Angelus pulled a rumpled waistcoat out of the satchel and held it up between his finger and thumb. “Did you pack this bag?”

Will glanced over and then away, quickly. “I think it was the servants, sir,” he said, and went back to plastering down his hair.

He could feel Angelus giving him a look, and pointedly didn’t raise his eyes. After a minute Angelus sighed and shook the waistcoat out with a crack that made Will jump.

“I don’t want her frightening the help,” Angelus said. “Not that he should be anywhere near her in the first place, but if he wanders about as you do—“

“I cleaned her up,” Will said. “She looks all right. Except for the hole in her neck. Sir.”

Angelus smiled slightly to his buttons. “Put a necktie on her then,” he said, and laughed.

Will shook water off his hands, then wiped them on his trousers. Angelus caught the gesture and frowned, but didn’t say anything. Upstairs, a door opened and Darla and Dru’s footsteps came out.

Will glanced at the door to the stairs, then at Angelus. He rubbed his aching jaw and opened his mouth, then closed it.

“What?” Angelus asked, without looking up.

“Nothing,” Will said. He paused a moment longer, while the women’s footsteps came down the stairs. Then he quickly said, “I’m sorry I disagreed with you before. Upstairs, I mean. I think we should take a couple of them tonight, as you said.”

Angelus paused and looked up with an unreadable expression. “Why?” he asked.

“Because we’re hungry, and we shouldn’t be begging. You were right.”

Angelus looked at him and didn’t say anything. Will fidgeted and glanced at the door to the stairs—the women were almost down. He looked back at Angelus and realized, with a sinking in his belly, that the look on Angelus’s face was disappointment.

“I mean—“ Will started to say. There was an echoing boom on the great front door.

Darla came into the hall with Dru just behind her, and they all stood there for a moment. The sound of the knock faded to silence.

“The door won’t open itself,” Darla said after a moment, looking from Angelus to Will.

Henry came in from the kitchen and stood by the wall, smelling frightened.

“Go and let them in,” Angelus told him, and he half-ran down the corridor.

Darla’s hair was fixed as neatly as it had ever been in London, and except for the water stains on her dress she showed no signs of having recently been doused. She’d pulled Dru’s hair up, too, so the mud and knots were hidden. She gave Angelus and Will a look of angry impatience.

“You two look like common thugs,” she said. “And why is Will all wet?”

Angelus finished buttoning his waistcoat and Will wiped his neck dry, and Dru smiled behind her hand.

“You manage Drusilla,” Darla said to Angelus, and he held out his hand wordlessly. Dru smiled and skipped over to stand beside him. The door clanged shut and footsteps started coming down the hall. Will counted four men, and his stomach began to clamour.

“Get behind me, you idiot,” Darla hissed, and it took him a second to realize she was speaking to him. He stepped back quickly and watched her smooth her skirt and square her shoulders. She was thinner than he’d ever seen her.

Henry came in leading the men—all short and pale and high-browed, and all smelling of sweat and dirt and rebellion. John Maitland wasn’t among them.

“Good evening,” Darla said.

There was a general shuffling, and for a moment none of the men spoke. Then one of them—fiftyish, stout, with wide shoulders and a drinker’s nose—said with false heartiness, “Good evening, Lady. We’re… honoured to come.”

The other men pressed their lips together and looked down at this, and Will shot a sideways glance at Angelus. Darla didn’t move or speak.

The silence grew, and the men began to smell less resolute. They had begun to sweat, although it was cold in the hall. One man, who’d left his hat on so far, took it off and held it humbly in front of him.

The bearded man looked round at his fellows, then gave a nervous laugh and waved a hand at Henry.

“I hope the lad’s been a help,” he said. “He’s solid Purwall stock, he is.”

Darla turned to look at Henry, who was lingering close to the men. “Go and make up the fire in the master bedchamber,” she said. “Stay there until you’re called. And don’t wander.”

Henry blinked and glanced at the bearded man, who wiped his lips and nodded. They all watched Henry collect the scuttle and go out, with a last backward look. His footsteps went slowly up the stairs into silence.

The bearded man tried to smile.

“Very wise, Lady,” he said. “It’s not for a child to see this, after all.”

“Where is John?” Darla asked, as if he hadn't spoken.

“John—“ The bearded man paused and glanced at his fellows again. They were all staring at the floor. “John is ill, Lady. He’s sleeping—his missus can barely get him up to feed him.”

One of the men raised his eyes from the floor, just as Will happened to be looking at him. The man’s face was tight and fierce. He looked down again immediately.

Will gave Angelus another glance, but Angelus was ignoring him. He had Drusilla’s arm in one hand, and was standing with his body interposed between her and the men. His expression was cold and thoughtful.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Darla said. “You’ll convey my best wishes for his health.” She lifted her chatelaine and began sorting through it. “In the meantime—“

“Ah—“ the bearded man said, grinning with nervousness. “Ah, yes, Lady, well—the thing is, we’ve… We’re meant to ask—on behalf of all, not on our own account, you understand—we’re meant to ask…” He trailed off.

Darla stood waiting. The bearded man coughed and wiped his lip. “The thing of it is—“ he started to say, and one of the other men cursed and raised his head.

“We want to know how long you’re going to stay,” he said. He was a little taller than the others, rawboned, with angry eyes. “John Maitland’s weak as a lamb in his bed, and the others aren’t well either. They’ve all got an ague.”

Darla’s back had stiffened slightly as he spoke. “My sympathies to all of them,” she said. Her tone was still calm and gracious, but there was an edge to it that Will recognized. It gave him a chill in his neck, as if he were waiting for a blow to fall.

“We want to know how long it’s going to be,” the rawboned man said. “How long we’re to host you here, and how many men are going to come home sick like John.”

Darla said nothing. She had taken the knife from her chatelaine, but hadn't opened it. She simply stood without moving or speaking, and let the silence grow.

“We’re poor folk,” the bearded man said hurriedly. “And the winter’s hard.”

For a moment Darla did nothing. Then she turned halfway and looked at Angelus. Her face was clear and composed, if a little pale. She raised one eyebrow, then shook her head minutely. Angelus lowered his eyes and looked at the floor, his lips pursed.

“I quite understand,” she said in a clear businesslike tone, turning back to the men. “It’s a difficult time of year, of course.”

The bearded man smiled apologetically. “The worst, Lady. And there are so many of you—“

“Yes,” Darla said. “Four is a large party, I quite agree.”

The man paused. “It was—I thought five, Lady.”

Darla took a little breath, as if bracing herself. “Five, yes. And now, four. I sent one back last night, on a sortie. I think—“ She hesitated, then raised her chin. “I don’t expect him to return.”

There was a small silence. The bearded man wiped his lips and blinked. “Ah, Lady,” he said. “We didn’t know—we never saw a rider.”

“The horses are spent,” Darla said. “I sent him on foot.”

The bearded man glanced uncomfortably around at his fellows. “We could have spared a horse for the lad,” he said.

“He was fast enough afoot. I only meant him to lead them off, and give us time to rest.”

The men were all looking at each other now.

“Who, Lady?” the bearded man asked after a moment.

Darla was gazing at the far wall with an expression of abstracted grief, and didn’t seem to hear him. He waited, then tried again.

“Lady—who did you mean him to lead off?”

She shook herself and looked at him. “What is your name?”

“Thomas, Lady. Thomas Cooper.”

“Thomas, did you think I returned to Purwall on a whim?” Her voice was sad and gentle, as if she were still half in a reverie. He coloured slightly.

“No, Lady.”

“We made a stand in London, and were beaten. Purwall is my last redoubt.”

“Lady, is it—?” He didn’t finish, but his eyes searched her face anxiously. She smiled.

“No, Thomas. I defeated him once before, and he won’t show his face again. But he has his servants.”

“Servants?” one of the other men repeated, and Darla let her gaze run over the group.

“They are French,” she said simply.

The men’s faces darkened.

“Like that Napoleon,” one of the men whispered to his neighbour.

Darla nodded. “They’ll be here in a day or two,” she said. “No longer. My boy can’t slow them down more than that.”

The bearded man’s eyes were damp. “That poor lad,” he said.

Darla took a little breath. “He was…my favourite,” she said softly.

Angelus shifted slightly, and Will looked over at him. He was staring hard at the floor, biting his lip, with a strange expression on his face.

Darla brought her chin up again and smiled. “Thomas—thank you. Thank you all for coming, and for speaking so plainly to me. I must apologize for not being as open with you about my reasons for returning. We were…we came so quickly, I was beside myself, and I didn’t want to alarm you—“

“It’s no matter, Lady,” Thomas said. “No matter at all.”

“You’re very kind,” she said. “And now you must excuse us. We need to rest and build our strength.” She began to return the knife to her chatelaine.

Thomas raised a hand. “Lady, wait a tick. I mean—“ He frowned and turned to face the other men. “We didn’t see how matters stood, before. We didn’t see that sacrifices were being made.”

“Or that there were frogs,” one of the men muttered. Thomas nodded.

“I think of that poor lad, out there in the snow and cold—“ He broke off, shaking his head. Then he began to roll up his sleeve. “I’m ready, Lady. You go ahead and…take what you need.”

Darla smiled. “You’re gallant, Thomas. But you’re right, it’s a hard season to ask this. I can’t—“

“Oh, it’s no matter,” he repeated. “I’m a sturdy bugger—I mean, I’m strong enough. Pardon me, Lady. I’m at your service.”

She paused a moment more, then nodded, opened the knife, and cut him. He winced a little, but held firm, and she dropped her head and drank.

The smell of the blood seemed even stronger this time, and Will had to fight to pull his eyes away from the wound. He stared at the chandelier and counted the candles clockwise, then counterclockwise. The red scent got into his mouth and throat and he swallowed reflexively. The candles were burnt almost out, and they’d made an awful mess on the floor below. All of the men smelled like blood to him now.

Darla lifted her head and Thomas pressed his hand over the cut.

“Funny,” he murmured. “It doesn’t hurt a bit.”

“Did you bring bandages?” Darla asked. The rawboned man shook his head, and Darla turned to Will. “Tear up some of that bedding,” she said, nodding at the bag Henry had brought.

He went over and tore a sheet to strips, then brought them back and handed them to the rawboned man. Thomas was still holding his wrist, staring at it with a kind of wonder. The rawboned man bound it for him, then sighed and rolled his own sleeve up.

“Well Thomas,” he said, “we’ve ever done the same, since we were tots together. I won’t stop now.” He held his arm out, and Darla cut it.

Will looked for her to give him a signal, but she motioned to Angelus instead, and he brought Dru forward. He didn’t let go of her while she fed, and again Will counted the candles and tried to ignore the itch in the roof of his mouth. He must have fidgeted, because Darla shot him a cold look.

When Dru was done, she wiped her lips and turned to smile at him, and he gave a little smile back.

The third man came forward without a word and put his wrist out, and in a minute there was more blood on the air, and Angelus was feeding. He still kept a hand on Dru’s arm.

Will swallowed again and stared at the wall, then let his eyes settle on the men. The fourth man was the one whose eyes he’d met earlier—the one with the fierce tense expression. He was small and stocky and clean shaven, with a chapped throat. He hadn't stepped forward to offer his wrist, and he hadn't said a word so far. He was staring at Will with a look of almost vicious dislike and distrust.

Will stared back. I could snap your head off like a peony.

The man’s mouth twisted, and he looked down.

Angelus finished and pulled away, and Thomas began to bind the third man’s wrist with fumbling fingers.

“St. John—“ he said, when the fourth man didn’t step forward.

“I’m not inclined,” St. John said.

“Don’t be daft,” Thomas said. “It’s not much to ask. It won’t hurt.”

“Doesn’t hurt,” the third man confirmed dreamily, holding his bound wrist.

“It’ll hurt tomorrow, when you’re stuck abed,” St. John said. “Thank you all the same, but I’m not inclined.”

Will’s stomach tightened, and Darla and Angelus looked at each other.

“You’ve been very kind already,” Darla said. “We wouldn’t compel you.”

“No,” St. John said. “You won’t.”

Thomas stood for a moment, looking woozily back and forth between Darla and St. John. “Oh come along, St. John,” he said. “You’ve always been a hard beggar—pardon me, Lady—but it’s not the time now.”

“Think of the frogs,” the third man said.

“On our doorstep,” Thomas added. “A host of ‘em. D’you want Jenny and Meg to meet them?”

St. John shifted slightly and said nothing.

“Well, then I’ll go another round,” Thomas said, and started to roll up his other sleeve.

Darla raised her eyebrows, but before she could speak, St. John stepped forward. His face was grim.

“Put your cuff down, Thomas,” he said. “I’ll do it, since I have to.” He yanked his sleeve up and held his arm out, and Darla motioned Will forward.

“You’re very kind,” she said ritually, and made the cut. St. John stood with his body turned away, his arm straight out as if he were holding the hand over a flame. He flinched a little at the cut, and pinched his lips together.

Will’s stomach leapt at the sight of the blood, but he hesitated a moment. The man’s gaze was black, and he smelled of fury and fear. It felt wrong—stupid and vulnerable—to drop his head, lose track of things, and feed from the man’s wrist. The proper thing to do was break his neck, so he couldn’t be a nuisance.

Blood was running down the man’s wrist and collecting in his palm, and a few drops hung on his shaking fingers. Will looked at Darla, who was staring at him with barely concealed anger. He gave a quick glance at Angelus, who had turned away and was walking Drusilla back to the table. Then he thought, Fuck it, and dropped his head.

It was rich and hot and melting, and he could barely keep himself from sliding his fangs into the wound. The taste of salt and metal filled his head. He thought, I’m eating you, you little peasant bastard. How do you like it?

Then there was a shudder and a jerk, and the arm was pulling away. It had been only seconds—Darla hadn't signalled him. He didn’t think about it; he just took hold of the man’s elbow and kept drinking.

Then there was something cold against his forehead, and he looked up in confusion.

With his free hand, St. John was pressing something against Will’s head. It was something cold and metal, and it took an instant to resolve in Will’s vision.

That’s a gun, he thought.

Somewhere he couldn’t see, Drusilla made a little noise. Everyone else was silent.

“Let go my arm,” St. John said. Will let go. Then, without thinking, he wiped his mouth. He was still bent over, and he stood up slowly with St. John pressing the barrel to his forehead.

“St. John—“ Thomas said in a low voice.

Will looked at the gun. It was a flintlock pistol, quite large and very old. There was some silver furniture halfway back along the barrel, and down the stock. Flowers, it looked like. He could smell a slight tang of powder beneath the blood.

He’d seen a maimed vampire once, when he was two years old and Angelus was teaching him to hunt trollops in Cheapside. It was male, perhaps thirty when it was turned, with a ragged beard and clothes that had once been fine but had since become torn and soiled. From one side it looked normal; then it turned and revealed the ropes of thick shiny puckered scars over its ear and neck.

They found it feeding on a street urchin, with the child’s sister screaming and beating it the while. It knew what they were; it smiled cravenly and offered them the girl.

Angelus broke the girl’s neck, then had Will scavenge a stick of wood from some broken crates in the alley. He let the creature finish feeding before he staked it.

“What was wrong with it?” Will asked, and Angelus shrugged.

“Probably it was shot. It’s a good lesson for you. Even without a stake, they can do you quite a lot of harm if you’re not careful.”

Will stared at St. John’s finger on the trigger and wondered if he was faster than a spark. How would it feel, when the ball tore into his skull?

No one had moved or spoken except for Thomas, and it seemed a very long time he’d been standing there with the barrel biting his forehead, although he knew it must have only been a few seconds. He shifted his gaze to the side, and found he could see Angelus, ten feet off by the table. Their eyes met and held.

Angelus’s face was frozen, hard and angry and shocked. The smell of rage was back, but so was the strange unfamiliar smell of Angelus’s fear—and that was awful. It put a wretched ache in Will’s belly, and he had to fight to keep it out of his eyes.

Tear his head off, he thought, setting his jaw and staring at Angelus. It was stupid, of course—Angelus was too far off to do anything. Still, it was all he could think. Come on, you bastard. You’re my Sire. Take this fucking toy away from him and break his neck.

Angelus didn’t move. He raised his gaze and looked over Will’s shoulder at Darla. There was a question in his eyes.

Darla made some slight movement, and Angelus dropped his eyes back to Will’s. His face was rigid, and the smell of anger grew a little stronger.

“St. John,” Darla said. “You’ve brought a weapon into my house.”

“I have, Lady,” St. John said. His voice was almost steady.

“St. John—“ Thomas said again, and raised a hand to St. John’s shoulder. It was shrugged off.

“Bandage me up, one of you,” St. John said. “I’m sorry, Lady, but I’ve no taste for this.”

“I understand,” Darla said. “But I can’t have you injure my companion.”

“I wouldn’t,” St. John said. “But I won’t be leeched off. And I don’t take to the way he grabbed me just now.” His wrist was still bleeding freely, and he gave it a quick, disgusted shake. A few drops flew out and hit Will’s boots. “Will you bandage me, Thomas, or not?”

Thomas came forward with a strip of sheet and began wrapping St. John’s wrist.

“Put down the pistol,” he said, casting a nervous glance over Will’s shoulder at Darla. “Come now, St. John, be sensible. You weren’t compelled.”

“I don’t take to being grabbed,” St. John said again. The pressure of the gun on Will’s forehead seemed to ease a little bit, though.

“You won’t be harmed,” Darla said. “I promise you.”

“Thank you, Lady,” St. John said. “I know I won’t.” Thomas tied a knot in the bandage, and he flexed his wrist experimentally. Then he looked straight into Will’s eyes, and pushed the gun forward. Will let his head be pushed back, squinting at the cut of metal in his brow.

“I don’t know what you are,” St. John said, “that you should leech on us like this. But I know lead and powder can put a stop to a wide range of tricks.”

“St. John, that’s our Lady—“ Thomas said.

“Hush. I know it is. But I won’t be leeched on.”

He gave the gun a final push, and Will was forced back a step to stay upright. Then the barrel was off his forehead, and St. John was holding the pistol loosely at his side, studying him with an expression of disdain.

Will turned and looked at Darla. She gave him a quick glance that told him exactly what he’d expected: No.

“Go on,” she said, gesturing him out of the way.

Angelus was holding a hand out to him, and he headed that way numbly. As soon as he drew close Angelus caught hold of his shoulder and pulled him around, so that Angelus’s body was between him and the men. Drusilla was sitting at the table behind him, staring at Will with huge eyes. He gave her a little smile.

“Lady—“ Thomas began, and Darla held up a hand.

“St. John,” she said, “you brought a weapon into my house. How did you plan to use it?”

“Exactly as I did, Lady,” he said immediately. “To defend myself.”

“I see,” she said. “Your father—he had the same Christian name, I believe?”

St. John paused and looked at the other men. “He did,” he said after a moment.

“Yes, I thought so. I remember him. He was one of the men who fought alongside me, I think.”

“He was,” St. John said quietly.

“And died, I think,” Darla pressed gently.

St. John said nothing. Without thinking about it, Will leaned his head close to Angelus and breathed in. He smelled blood and rage, no fear. His stomach loosened a little.

“It was his gun,” Darla said. “I recognize it.”

St. John lifted the pistol from his side and gazed at it as if he’d forgotten he held it. “Yes,” he said. “They found it later, and brought it to my mother.”

“It’s a handsome device,” Darla said, and her admiration sounded sincere. St. John half-shrugged.

“Lady, perhaps we should be going,” Thomas said cautiously. “You need rest, and—“

“You’ll leave it here, of course,” Darla said, and though her voice was quiet, the fine edge was back in it.

St. John blinked, then looked at the gun. “I will not,” he said immediately. “It’s my own father’s gun, and I won’t be robbed of it.”

“I won’t rob you,” Darla said. “I ask you to leave it as a sign of good faith.”

“I have no faith,” St. John said.

“No?” Darla said.

There was a silence.

“St. John,” Thomas said. “Leave it as she says. There’s been enough trouble already.”

“I won’t,” St. John said, tightening his grip on the stock. “I didn’t bring it here to lose it. And if there’s a French force coming—”

“Leave it,” the rawboned man said. “Our Lady’s here, she’s our defense.”

“That’s not enough for me,” St. John said. “I’ll keep it, thank you.”

“You’ll leave it,” the third man said. “You’re a fool, St. John. A stubborn doddy fool. Turn it over and we’ll be going.”

“I won’t—“ St. John said, and the rawboned man took a step toward him. “What—you’d attack me?”

None of the men said anything. St. John stood still for a moment, while his face worked and he changed his grip on the stock several times. Then he abruptly took hold of the gun’s barrel and handed it to Thomas.

“Thank’ee,” Thomas said, and handed it to Darla. She nodded and held the gun carefully in front of her, in both hands.

“I’ll keep it safe,” she said. “And return it when you have need of it.”

St. John stared at her, then at the gun, and for a moment it looked as though he might be about to lunge forward and grab for it. The other three men tensed. Then his face fell bitterly and he turned away.

“Let’s go then,” he said, and started out of the hall without another word.

Thomas turned to Darla and gave her a weary, anxious smile. “With your permission, Lady—“

She nodded. “Thank you, Thomas.”

The men left, and their footsteps went away down the hall. In a minute the great door boomed shut.

They all stood in silence. The fire slumped and cracked.

Will took a step back—he’d been hanging close to Angelus, he realized—and leaned on the edge of the table. There was a little wax on the table too, from the candles. He picked at a lump of it and looked up at the chandelier. Three of the candles were out entirely now.

Drusilla put her hand on his waist lightly, as if he were an animal she were afraid of startling.

“Will?” she asked, and he smiled at her.

“Yes, pet,” he said. She was staring at his forehead.

“I didn’t see any of that,” she said. “It was all new.”

“What—that show?” he asked. “Silly. A bullet won’t kill me, love.”

“It might,” she whispered. “Pop—just like that!”

“Not like that at all,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it. He was beginning to feel a strange rushing sensation in his ears, and all of a sudden he was quite warm. He let her hand go and stepped away. Angelus had turned around and was regarding them both.

“I’ll go and set the bolt,” Will said, and walked quickly away without meeting Angelus’s eyes.

He got halfway down the hall, then stopped in an alcove and vomited up the few mouthfuls of blood he’d got down.

He stayed there for a moment, his face pressed against the cold stone, wondering why he felt hot. When he touched his cheek with the back of his hand, his skin was cool as always. He was sweating slightly, though, which he almost never did. For some reason he couldn’t stop thinking about the wax on the table, and how careless it was to let the candles drip.

“It probably wasn’t even loaded,” he told himself, and got up. It was a waste of perfectly good blood, vomiting like that. Stupid. He set the bolt and started back, avoiding the spot he’d fouled.

Angelus was standing in the darkness just outside the main hall, waiting for him. Will stopped a few feet away and studied the wall.

“Come here,” Angelus said. Will rubbed his neck and walked over, and Angelus took hold of him and pulled him tight, so they were pressed together toe to shoulder. Will stood it for a few seconds, then pushed free. Angelus let him go, but didn’t let him pass.

“I’ll kill that one,” Angelus said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“’course,” Will said. He realized he was rubbing his forehead, and dropped his hand self-consciously. “Yeh, I know that.”

Angelus put his hand out toward Will’s head, then dropped it when Will pulled away. “All right,” he said after a moment.

He stepped aside, then followed Will back into the room.

Darla had put the gun on the table, and was sitting in front of it with her hands laced under her chin. She looked up as they entered, then stood.

“Come here,” she said, and Will bit his lip and walked over. She looked at him with a slight frown, then touched his neck lightly.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

Her voice was softer than he’d ever heard it. He ducked his head and pulled away, aware he’d begun to shake.

“Fine, Madam,” he said to the floor.

There was a small silence.

“That fire is almost out,” Darla said in a moment. “Where’s the boy?”

“Hiding upstairs,” Angelus replied. “Will, go find him.”

“Yes sir,” Will said, and walked quickly out.

He went up the stairs trembling, his shoulders and jaw suddenly aching, his hands numb. Henry wasn’t in the master bedroom. He went back and tried the smaller room where Angelus had fucked him. The door was closed, and when he went in it smelled like sex—like Angelus mostly, but also like himself and Dru. The fire had crumbled to a low red glow, and the bed was a tangled mess of linens. Henry wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

He turned to go out, then found he didn’t care about Henry right now. He closed the door and stood for a moment watching his hand shake on the knob.

The fire made a comfortable sound of decay, and he turned around and went to the bed. The smell of Sire was rank and soothing. He sat gingerly down on the edge of it, plucked at the sheet, and laughed a little at nothing in particular. Then he sighed and said, “Oh, fuck,” and buried his face in his hands to cry.





Coquette

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