In which there is a drowning.
They got the horse with the superior attitude again, and again he had to fight the reins to keep it from bolting. The woman—Caitlin, she’d said her name was—got up on the extra horse with some difficulty and a look of distaste. It sidestepped nervously, trapping her leg against the side of the house, and Will almost felt affection for it.
“Keep up,” Angelus said, and they were off.
It was pitch black now, a clear cloudless night without any moon, and the air was like cold iron. The horses’ breath made white plumes, and after only a few minutes Will’s hands were frozen on the reins. None of them had eaten enough to be out in this weather. It was still, but riding pushed cold air up his sleeves and down his collar, and made his ears ache. Drusilla huddled against him, shivering.
They shouldn’t be here. Drusilla shouldn’t be trembling against his chest, reaching up now and then to touch her bottom lip. She should be in a warm house, the big house in London with plenty of fireplaces and a larder full of captives. He should be there with her, reading something aloud to keep her quiet, or polishing boots, or being thrashed by Angelus.
Well, he enjoyed the reading aloud, anyway.
None of them should be out here, riding pellmell across the moors in the middle of nowhere, hungry and cold and homeless. There was no good reason for it. All he’d had to do was lie on the couch, smoke his cigarette, and not answer the door.
He looked to his right and there was Caitlin, riding with her hand wrapped tight and bloodless in the rein. The side of her face was bruised and swollen. He recalled the feeling of his knuckle popping as he broke her nose, and smiled.
“Daddy’s disappeared,” Drusilla moaned, and he tightened his arms around her.
“No, he hasn’t, he’s right up there. Stop bothering that.” He pushed her hand away from her mouth and she buried her face in his chest.
“Just think, luv,” he said. “All the fun we’ll have when we get there, playing with the cuckoo.” He said it loud enough that Caitlin could hear.
Drusilla pushed her forehead against his neck and said nothing, and he squeezed her. His stomach hurt with hunger. Angelus and Darla were dim shapes up ahead in the darkness.
“Just think of all the fun,” he said again, and kissed the top of her head.
After about an hour, it began to snow.
The horses were slowing down, still panicky but close with exhaustion now, their nostrils flaring red. Will’s kept trying to drop to a trot, and he kept kicking it in the belly, a little harder each time, but with less and less result.
“Outrun Satan indeed,” he muttered, snapping the reins against the horse’s neck. “Couldn’t outrun bloody Gladstone.”
“It’s bright now,” Drusilla said. “Bright and turning, everything is milk.”
He knew she was talking about the snow, but he didn’t bother to reply. His hands were searing with cold and he was furious with everything. What was Angelus thinking, leading them north? It was a frozen wasteland, nowhere to hide, and if the Slayer was really after them she wouldn’t have trouble following their tracks. They should have gone south right away, to Dover, and crossed to France. Then they could have gone anywhere in Europe and either gone to earth or fought where they liked. Angelus had haunts in Italy, Hungary, probably in bloody Russia. Darla must have even more.
It made no sense, and he was cold and hungry and wet with snow, and the horse tried again to drop to a trot. He kicked it savagely and it surged forward with a ragged sigh.
“We shouldn’t have wasted the angry man,” Drusilla whispered. “I’m hungry, Will.”
“We shouldn’t have killed him in the first place, probably,” he said. “Not like nobody’ll notice that, and our trunks still in the coach.” The horse started to slow again and he kneed it. “But yeh, I wish we’d eaten him too.”
“How long until Angelus finds dinner?” she asked, and he had to smile with bitterness. She could be—well, she could be frozen on horseback in the middle of sodding Yorkshire, nobody in sight for miles, and still she never doubted Angelus. She probably thought he could conjure up a meal out of gorse and heather.
“Dunno, luv,” he said. “But if this goes on much longer, maybe we’ll eat the cuckoo.”
Drusilla made a face and touched her lip again—it had healed already, and there was just a tiny lick of rust where the wound had been.
“Nasty cuckoo,” she said. “When we get there, we’ll play with her for hours.”
“We certainly will,” he said, but his attention was taken by the fact that Angelus and Darla had suddenly fallen back. It only took a moment to catch up to them, and then he smelled the water and realized they were at the bank of a river. The snow was starting to catch on the ground, and the far bank was a pale haze in the darkness.
They all reined in and sat there, staring through the veil of snow at the broad black road of water. The horses dropped their heads and stood motionless.
“That looks sodding cold,” Will said. The river was quiet, but it was moving fast. That meant it was deep.
“It’ll hide our tracks,” Darla said. “And it takes us where we want to go.”
“Which is where?” he asked. His voice was sulky and angry, and Angelus gave him a look, but he didn’t care.
“We told you,” Darla said. “A safe place.” She smiled at him over her shoulder, then swung to the ground. “The horses are tired; we’ll swim beside them.”
Will stared at her. “I’m not getting into that water,” he said. “We’re bloody frozen already.”
Angelus dropped off his horse and gave him a rare smile. “When did you turn into such a woman, Will?” He pulled off his coat, bundled it up, and tied it to the horse’s back. “We’re cold, we’re hungry, we want to go home. There’s nothing to you.” He turned to Darla and accepted her cloak, then tied it beside his own. “I don’t hear Drusilla complaining.”
“I don’t want to go in,” Drusilla said, eyeing the river fearfully. “I don’t, Daddy. I’ll wait here instead—I’ll be good.”
Darla and Angelus looked at each other.
“Sweet mother Mary—“ Angelus said in a despairing tone.
There was a quiet thump, and they all looked over to see that Caitlin had got down off her horse. It looked to have been half dismount, half tumble. She was pulling her coat off and folding it into a neat bundle.
“See—look at that,” Angelus said, pointing. “She’s a miserable cripple and she knows we’re going to tear her hide off when we get there, but she doesn’t hesitate. Now get down, Will, before I pull you down myself.”
Will paused a moment longer, watching Caitlin fumble to stuff her coat among the bundles on her horse’s back. He had a vision of his boot cracking into her face, and that made him feel a little better.
He lifted his leg and slid off on the wrong side, which was graceless but got the job done. Drusilla made no motion to follow.
“I don’t want to go in,” she said again. “There’s no bottom to it—you just fall and fall. It’s so cold.” Her voice was cracked and panicky.
“It’s only water,” Angelus said. “It won’t hurt you.”
“Daddy—no, it’s cold—“
“For Christ’s sake, Drusilla, you’re a vampire.” Angelus was getting frustrated now; in a minute he’d yank her down and toss her in. “Get down and take off your cloak.”
She shook her head, her eyes wide and white, and Will took his own coat off and handed it up to her.
“Let her be,” he said. “She’s freezing cold and frightened.”
“I didn’t ask for your view, boy.”
“Let her stay,” he said, knowing he was walking a fine line, but not caring. “She hardly weighs a thing. I’ll swim with the reins.”
Angelus looked at him for a moment, then turned away. “Fine. If the horse drowns, you can go the rest of the way on foot.”
Bloody fine, Will thought, but didn’t say. Without his coat, the cold was like a vise. Snow settled on his shoulders and neck without melting. He rubbed his arms and turned to Drusilla.
“Put my coat on overtop, luv.” She pulled it on awkwardly and watched as he took the reins.
“No, Will, I don’t want to go in—“
“’s all right, luv. Just sit still and think of…” He couldn’t think what to say. “I don’t know, think of a nice helpless policeman. With a broken leg. In an alley.”
Her eyes widened. “Daddy says we can’t have policemen, Will, they’re liable to be missed.”
“Well, this one you can have. We won't tell Angelus about it.”
She stared at him a moment longer, then smiled slightly. It wasn’t often that she appreciated a joke, and when she did it was always the feeble ones. Still, her smile gave him heart to face the water.
Darla was already wading in, and Angelus was right behind her. The horses snorted and tried to refuse, there was some panicked splashing as the current took them, and then they were all gone together.
That left him and Dru and Caitlin, who was looking at the water with as much dismay as he felt. She was wearing practically the same clothes as he was, although hers were in worse repair. They were pale and threadbare, made of coarse linen, the kind a poor young workingman would wear. She stood holding the reins of her horse just as he held his, and he was struck for a moment by a strange consciousness of how alike they must look.
“Will, Daddy’s gone—” Drusilla said, her voice frightened and surprised.
“And so are we,” he said, and without stopping to think about it walked down the bank and straight into the water.
It came up over his boots and soaked his trousers in a second, cold as a knife, and then the current was tugging at his feet. The horse at the same time was pulling back on the reins, and he had to lean his whole weight forward to make progress. There was a reason Darla and Angelus had gone in so fast; you couldn’t give the horse time to react. He plunged forward and the cold water hit him in the chest with a hammer, and he thought, If I were alive, my heart might have stopped just then.
The horse was still struggling, and his feet weren’t on the bottom anymore. He was afraid it would pull him back onto the shore. Then he realized that it, too, was in the current, and that they were being swept quickly through the darkness. The horse blew and squealed, and its hot panicked breath hit the side of his face. His hands were going numb. While he could still feel them, he knotted the reins tightly around his left wrist, because the worst thing he could imagine was losing his hold and letting Drusilla disappear into the night.
“Will, where are you?” She’d drawn her legs up and was clinging to the horse’s mane with white fingers.
“Right here,” he replied, and got a mouthful of near-frozen water. He coughed it out and the horse kicked his leg with one flailing hoof, and that sent him under the surface. Everything was silent and dark and frozen for a moment; there was icy water in his ears and mouth. He fought back up, but his leg wasn’t working properly now.
”Fucking hell—“ he spat, and Dru gave a terrified whimper. “’s all right, luv, think about the policeman—“
She didn’t reply, and the horse blew water in his face again, and he barely restrained himself from punching it.
How far are we going like this? They were out of the snow now, and stars were coasting past like lights on a carousel. He couldn’t feel his feet, or anything but a dull throb in the leg that had been kicked. If his leg was broken he was going to rip the horse’s throat out as soon as they got there. Wherever there was.
A safe place, Darla had said. Floating with his head barely above water, realizing that he’d lost feeling in his hands now and could only trust that the rein was still there, he wondered what safe was going to mean. Knowing Darla, it could mean anything. But then again, anything was better than this.
You can’t drown, he told himself. You can’t drown and you can’t freeze to death. You can get bloody cold and wet, but you can’t die of it.
The current had pulled his shirt loose and it was tangling around his neck. His teeth were chattering. It was funny, in a way. He hadn't known his body could still do that.
Drusilla moaned and then started to laugh quietly, a laugh of pure terror and despair. He turned his head and squinted to see the bank. It looked very far away, like a line of pale fog in the distance.
Some floating piece of trash hit the side of his head and he struck out at it in fury, which frightened the horse. It tried to rear and he was pulled under by the rein. Again, everything went black and frozen. This time he didn’t struggle. He stared down into the darkness and thought, Dru was right, there’s no bottom to it. It occurred to him that perhaps this was what death was like—silence, darkness, a queer sensation of placeless motion. Then he remembered his own death, and realized it had been nothing like this at all.
He pushed back up to the surface and Dru’s hand came down on top of his head. He could just barely feel it.
“Don’t go like that,” she said. She was weeping. “Will, don’t go away like that.”
“Sorry,” he said, and tried to smile. He wasn’t sure whether it worked; he couldn’t much feel his face. “We’re almost there now, luv.”
But they weren’t. He forced one wooden hand through the horse’s harness and let himself be dragged along without a fight, and it went on and on. The banks rose and fell, and occasionally something he couldn’t see would thump into him and spin off in the current. The horse made vague swimming motions with its legs and nothing more. Drusilla’s tears turned back to low laughter, and then back to even softer tears. Finally she was silent, and they were all senseless and dumb, and the frozen black water led on without end.
He was thinking again, slowly—his thoughts were coming slower and slower now—that she had really been right, and he’d been a fool to try gallantry. Perhaps he couldn’t die, but he could faint, and then they’d both be swept away until the morning came and burnt them into cinders. The thought lit a spark of panic in him, and he opened his eyes. He hadn't realized they’d been closed. He should strike out for the shore. They had to get to land, and shelter.
He flung his free arm out and started pulling, though it felt like he was using a dead branch. He yanked the horse’s rein and it gave a faint sigh and let him pull its head. The bank looked to be a mile away.
“Are we there now?” Drusilla asked sleepily, and he didn’t waste breath on replying. Darla and Angelus might have gone to the bank anywhere; they might have missed each other completely. He hadn't seen them at all. He was an imbecile not to have thought of that sooner. He and Dru could be alone, and that meant he’d have to take care of her—find shelter, find food, find their way on from here.
He realized, with a terrible sinking feeling, that he wasn’t sure he could do that.
In London he could make shift well enough—Angelus had taught both of them enough about hunting and fighting and going to earth that he knew they could survive. They knew London, they could lose themselves in it and come up wherever they wanted. He’d lived his whole life there, after all, and stayed on after he died.
But this wasn’t London. It was—God knew where it was, it was some wretched blasted heath, possibly Scotland by now, and he didn’t know where the hell they were or where they were meant to be going. A safe place, Darla had said. Not a great help.
He struck out harder with his dead arm and tried to quell the panic in his gut. When did you become such a woman, Angelus had asked, smiling as he almost never did. Looking for the first time like Darla was right, like it was a grand adventure. Looking delighted and eager and scornful. He’d gone into the river without flinching, without a word.
Will kept pulling and tried to kick as well, but the horse was in the way. The progress was so slow it made him want to weep with rage. The panic was spreading up to his chest—what if he couldn’t make the shore? What if they were caught in the current until morning? He’d have killed Drusilla.
The thought wrapped a cold chain around his neck and he felt something fold inside him. Sire, he thought. Christ, I want Angelus. I want my Sire. Please.
The water slapped him cold across the face and he gasped out of old habit, then had to cough it out again. It burned and choked him.
“Daddy—“ Drusilla moaned, and he tried to turn on his back so he could speak. He’d have to tell her to get down off the horse, and they’d abandon it. There was no way he could drag the animal to shore. He tried to say it, but the water came up over his face again and he went down into the darkness.
Bloody fucking hell, he thought, and something big hit him and forced him further down. He pulled away but the rein held him, and then something walloped him in the chest. He couldn’t see, but in a moment he realized it was the horse’s hoof, and he was somehow, disastrously, half-underneath it. It kicked him again in the side, and he tried to yank his hand out of the rein. If it kicked him in the head he could be knocked out, he thought with horror.
The horse was swimming properly now, damn it to hell, and again it kicked him, this time in the shoulder. He was being pulled further down into the current. The horse’s shoulder hit his face and knocked his head back, and he was dazed for a moment. Then his wits settled and he was fighting, lashing out as hard as he could in pure panic and fury.
He yanked the rein and kicked the horse’s neck, then braced his feet against its side and pushed up. He should be able to make the surface—but he didn’t. His left arm was pulled back down into the darkness, his shoulder flaring, and he realized with a kind of sick, otherworldly calm that the rein had gone under the horse’s belly.
He had to get his hand out, but he couldn’t see or feel, and the horse was jostling him, pushing him back down. It was ridiculous, unfair, unthinkable. He wanted to turn and sink his teeth into its neck. He’d gone to game face at some point, though it couldn’t do any good.
He was fumbling numbly at what he thought was his left wrist when something closed on his shoulder from above.
It startled him so much that he took in a lungful of water, and now he was full of it, inside and out. It tasted like dirt and burnt like fire. He tried to cough and could only convulse.
He was transfixed by the pain in his chest, but suddenly his hand was free and he was being drawn up to the air. It happened so quickly he could hardly understand it. His only thought was for the lost rein, and Drusilla, and then he was coughing up black water while something held him at the surface.
“Drusilla, let go the rein.” It was Angelus’s voice, and Angelus’s hand holding his shoulder, and he couldn’t understand that either. Drusilla was making a high keening sound, and he turned his head painfully and saw that she was holding the loose rein in her hand.
“He’s gone, Will’s gone—“
“He’s here, Dru. I’ve got him. Let the rein go now.” His voice was sharp and angry, and Drusilla dropped the rein. Will twisted and tried to free his shoulder, but Angelus didn’t let go.
I’m fine, he tried to say, but his throat was swollen closed. He supposed he’d drowned.
They were closer to shore now than he’d thought, and the horse was still swimming. He put one hand in the gear and let himself be pulled along in a kind of daze. His throat wasn’t working properly; it felt as though it had been crammed with mud.
“Daddy’s back, Will,” Drusilla said. “He came back again for us.”
I know, he thought, but he just nodded and tried again to shake off Angelus’s hand. It tightened.
The bank came closer, and he could see Angelus’s horse standing soaked and motionless on the shore. Neither Darla nor her horse was in sight. The air was clear and silent and cold as a knife.
Something hit his legs and at the same moment the horse gave a leap forward, and he realized they were on land. He tried to make his legs work and would have fallen if Angelus hadn't been holding him up.
The horse surged out of the water with a sudden energy, and he tried to grab its harness as it went by, thinking I don’t have the rein, Dru’s still on it, but his fingers wouldn’t close. It didn’t matter; the horse took only a few steps and then stopped and stood with its legs splayed and braced, shivering.
Angelus hauled him up onto the bank and held him while he tried to make his legs work.
“Did you hear me call?”
He shook his head dumbly. His shirt was half off, and he was covered in river mud. Something shifted in his belly and he leaned forward and coughed up another gout of cold water.
“He was down under it,” Drusilla was saying. “He was down underneath with the horse.”
“I know,” Angelus said. He was still holding Will’s shoulder, keeping him more or less upright. “I called you twice, boy. What were you playing at?”
Drowning, he thought, and wiped his mouth.
“I want to get down now,” Drusilla said. “Please, Daddy—I don’t like it up here.”
“Stay there,” Angelus said. “We’ll not be here long.”
Some feeling was coming back to Will’s legs, and he tried again to pull away. This time Angelus let him go. He stood for a moment, swaying, then dropped sideways into the mud.
Angelus crouched down beside him. “Can you swallow?” he asked.
Will ignored the question and tried to push himself upright with his hands. His left leg was numb and throbbing, and he remembered the horse kicking it. It could be broken. He was going to murder the horse.
Angelus watched him for a moment, then lifted his shirt away from his chest. They both looked down at the marks where the hooves had struck him.
“Anywhere else?” Angelus asked, and without meaning to, Will looked at his leg. Angelus ran his hand down it and the throb went white. He jerked away and hissed a curse, and Angelus rummaged in his pocket.
“If you can curse me, you can swallow,” he said, and produced a pocket knife. Will’s eye fixed on it, and he licked his lips like a child. It was humiliating, but he couldn’t help it.
Angelus drew the blade across his wrist without any ado, and held it out. For just a second Will held back, remembering the taunt—There’s nothing to you—and knowing that Angelus was right. If he were strong, he wouldn’t need this. It was only a little water, after all.
Then the smell of his Sire’s blood hit him, and he leaned forward without another thought and fastened on.
His throat was raw and swollen and it hurt like hell to swallow, but after the first mouthful it didn’t matter. The blood hummed through him and filled his head, brought feeling back to his body, made his brain work again. The panic in his belly melted away. The pain in his leg didn’t matter. He felt light and buoyant and indefatigable, ready to run miles through the light warm snow, ready to hunt or fight or fuck. His skull was full of stars. He had only one real thought, grazing his mind like a wing: Sire.
He wanted it to go on forever. He wanted to be drunk on his Sire’s blood, the way he’d been a few times before, his senses a delightful shambles, his body loose and soporific and amenable to whatever Angelus wanted. He wanted to be curled in the bend of Angelus’s arm, wanted to feel a loose possessive hand on the back of his neck, wanted to fall asleep there and not wake up for nights.
But some part of him knew that couldn’t be. He was kneeling in muddy slush on the bank of a frozen river, gulping his Sire’s blood like an infant. It was late, and there was still some ways to go before they would be safe. And there was, after all, something to him.
He pulled his head away and wiped his mouth, and the bright clean thrumming in his head fell away. It made him want to cry.
Angelus was looking at him with narrowed eyes, his wrist still bare. “You’ve had enough?” he asked.
Will nodded and pushed back on his knees, away from the smell of Angelus’s blood.
“Yes sir,” he said, and stood up. The world tipped for just a minute, then righted itself. His leg didn’t hurt so badly now.
Angelus crouched for a moment longer, gazing up at him with an appraising look. Then he folded the knife closed and dropped it into his pocket. He lifted his wrist to his own mouth for a moment, then let it fall. It would be healed in a minute or two, Will knew.
“Me too, Daddy,” Drusilla whispered, without much hope.
“No,” he said shortly, and turned away to look down the bank. He was as soaked and muddy as Will, but somehow it made him look even bigger, more formidable. He looked savage and wild, like he’d been fighting for his life, and while it was unsettling in a way—Angelus was never dirty—it also gave Will a strange thrill.
Angelus glanced at him and frowned. “Button your shirt, boy.”
Angelus looked down and his frown deepened. “You heard me.” He buttoned his own shirt and wrung out the tails, then tucked them in.
Will started buttoning, noticing as he did so that the rein was still tied to his left hand. Angelus had cut it to free him, and the end dangled a few inches from his wrist. He had to go to game face and bite it off.
“Where’s Darla?” he asked, spitting out a shred of leather.
“Bringing in the cripple,” Angelus said. He’d pushed his hair into place and was staring down the bank again. “Here she is now.”
Will followed his gaze and saw something move in the darkness. In a moment it resolved into two horses, trotting wearily side by side. The rider on the left was slumped forward over the horse’s neck; the one on the right was Darla, sitting easily upright with her soaked traveling skirts tucked into her belt. When they got a little closer he could see she was smiling.
“Fledges are feeble nowadays, my love,” she said, reining in her horse and reaching out to stay Caitlin’s. “Will, you look like a drowned cat.”
He didn’t think he looked any worse than Angelus, but he knew better than to say it. Caitlin looked honestly dead. She was either unconscious or almost so, one white hand dangling limp by the horse’s leg. He wondered how Darla had managed to bring her in.
“You fed him,” Darla said, sniffing slightly and looking from Angelus to Will. “You’re prodigal, darling. In my day we would have whipped him about the ears and thrown him back in.”
Bitch, Will thought, studying the slush.
Angelus pulled his shirt cuff down. “He’s young,” he said briefly. “He wouldn’t have been able to go on.”
“Drusilla’s older. And she didn’t swim.”
Caitlin started to tip to one side, and Darla reached out absently and pulled her upright again. “I wouldn’t call it swimming,” she said. “The river did the work.”
Angelus frowned and pointed at Caitlin. “Can that one ride?”
“I hardly think so.”
Angelus walked over to Caitlin’s horse. It tried to retreat, and he took the rein from Darla with an irritated expression. “Bloody animal.” He jerked the rein and the horse stood its ground, its eyes rolling.
“Girl.” He snapped his fingers beside Caitlin’s head, then pinched her ear. “Wake up.”
She didn’t move and he put his hand on the back of her neck and squeezed. Her eyes flew open and her whole body convulsed. Watching, Will couldn’t help a wince of sympathy. Then he thought of Dru’s poor lip, and his sympathy disappeared.
“Can you ride?” Angelus was still holding onto the back of her neck, and she stared at him in confusion and pain. He did something that made tears come to her eyes. She nodded, then remembered the earlier lesson, and opened her mouth.
“Yes—sir—“ Her voice was just a thread, and Angelus let go of her with disgust. As soon as he did, her eyes rolled back and she started to fall off the horse.
“She comes and goes,” Darla said placidly.
“I can see that,” Angelus said. He heaved the woman back into place, then got up behind her. “I’ll ride with her. Will, get up with your sister. We have a way to go yet.”
“Where are we now?” Will asked, grabbing hold of the harness and swinging up. The horse’s sides were trembling ominously.
“Nowhere,” Angelus said. “We’re exactly nowhere now, and we need to be somewhere before dawn.”