Five


In which French is spoken.



They had to travel even more slowly than before, because no matter how they kicked and whipped the horses, there was no forcing them to go faster. Will and Dru’s was making a sharp high-pitched wheeze when it breathed, which made Dru smile.

“It’s singing to us,” she said fondly, and Will wondered, not for the first time, how the world must seem to her. It must be a happy place, where a dying horse sang arias.

She was still wearing his coat on top of her cloak, bundled up like a Gypsy, but since all of it was soaking wet it couldn’t be helping her much. He pressed close to share some of Angelus’s warmth with her. After feeding, he hardly felt the cold at all. His leg ached a little, but apart from that he felt better than he had in days.

“We’re keeping on,” she observed, and he pulled the back of her collar open and blew warm air down it. “We’re keeping on but we’ll reach the hedge soon enough. Then we’ll be out of the enclosure.”

“No hedges here, love,” he said. “It’s a bloody wasteland.”

“But there’s a hedge,” she said. “Or a snake. I’m not sure. I’m hungry, Will—when do we get the policeman?”

“Soon as I catch him,” he said, rubbing her hands between his own.

The horse stumbled and he grabbed the reins in a hurry, afraid it was going to fall and take them down with it. Worse, afraid it was going to fall and not get up again, and then what would they do? He was all right except for his leg, but Dru was half-stunned with cold and hunger. If the horse died now, they’d have to beg the extra from Angelus, and that would be unpleasant.

It didn’t fall, but its head hung low and it weaved from side to side. It had slowed almost to a walk. Darla and Angelus were making slightly better time, probably because their horses hadn't been carrying two all the way. They were just dim shapes ahead in the darkness.

Will raised his eyes and stared up at the stars, trying to guess how long they had till morning. That was one of the first things Angelus had tried to teach him—how to read the night sky, how to tell time without a clock. He’d gone through the motions of learning it, but it had never really sunk in. He was a Londoner; there was always a clock. If there wasn’t a clock, there was a watch, sometimes with an owner still attached. He was busy learning more important things, like how to bite without getting sprayed in the face, how to do up Drusilla’s stays when Darla was busy elsewhere, how to stand still while Angelus broke the smallest finger of his right hand because he wasn’t paying heed to his lessons.

Of course, if he’d learnt the bloody sky in the first place, he might not have had to study that last bit so much.

But he hadn't learnt it, and it was a pity, because it would be useful at the moment. He knew some of the constellations and even the myths that went with them, and that made nice luncheon chat, but was no help just now. He sighed.

“How long till morning, Dru?”

She squinted upward briefly. “Days and days, I should think.”

“It can’t be days till morning, Dru. I mean this morning. How long till the sun comes up?”

“Blow down my back again.”

He blew and she shivered happily.

“You smell like Daddy,” she said. “And you’re warm now, at least a little.” She paused. “I wish I’d had some too.”

He shifted guiltily. “I know, pet. Sorry.”

“It’s hours yet,” she said. “There’s the hedge, and then…we’re in the outside. There’s a house and it’s full of mice. More than one apiece this time.”

He put his mouth behind her ear and breathed while he thought. “Have you been here before?” he asked after a moment.

She shook her head. “There isn’t a policeman, though,” she said. “We’ll have to go back home to find one of those.”

“I expect so,” he said, and kept breathing. His breath steamed just a little in the air. Funny, when Angelus’s didn’t.

They went on like that for a while, Darla and Angelus ahead, the horses limping more and more pathetically. The pitch of their horse’s wheeze increased, and Drusilla petted its neck with cold-clumsy fingers. Will breathed and let his mind wander.

He’d been dead four years, and he thought he’d got the hang of it. It was simple, really: love Dru, obey Angelus, keep out of Darla’s way. Simple.

But of course it wasn’t simple at all. The first time Angelus kissed him he almost fell over from shock, and then he took a swing without thinking, and after he picked himself up off the floor he went straight back to be kissed again. None of it was simple. Sometimes Dru laid her head in his lap and told him long stories full of delightful, amusing details—and sometimes she hardly seemed to know him. Sometimes he was old enough to escort Darla, do reconnaissance, brawl reliably. And sometimes he was just four.

For several months, he’d been feeling accomplished. He knew the ground rules and nobody was teaching him more than that, so he’d started to think he knew enough to survive. Never mind that the house was Angelus’s, that the captives were Angelus’s, that every time they hunted they followed Angelus’s lead. Never mind that Angelus sometimes quizzed him—That man, what’s his trade? How many at the table behind you? How long till dawn? Look at the sky, not the clock.—and he rarely knew the answers or cared. It was just a whipping, and if he couldn’t see the point in learning something, no whipping could make him do it. He was four years old and he could tear a navvy’s throat out in the blink of an eye. Simple.

And here he was, one night and a hundred miles from home, soaking wet, his hair frozen to his head, hoping the horse he was riding wouldn’t die under him just yet. Needing Dru to tell him the time. Needing Angelus to feed him. If he were alone out here, running from the Slayer, would he even have made it this far?

If he were alone, he would have gone south.

The thought of the Slayer raised a fine, uncomfortable edge along his spine. This one was French, apparently. He’d heard almost nothing about her, partly because she was very new and partly because he rarely spoke to vampires outside the family. Angelus only mentioned Slayers in strategy, but Darla would sometimes wax nostalgic about the three she’d killed. This new French one was un peu faible, she’d said recently, in passing. Si jeune, et laide aussi.

He shifted his aching leg and imagined the ugly little French girl somewhere in the darkness behind them, probably with an entourage of bloated French Watchers—what did they call them, les vigilants? Their satchels full to bursting with stakes, crucifixes, water from Lourdes. Following the tracks that were so plain now that the snow had stopped and a crust had started to freeze; four horses, two heavily burdened, traveling steadily north from the bloody roadside wreck of the coach.

It put a tickle in the base of his spine, and he honestly wasn’t sure if it was fear or excitement. Yesterday he would have known. Yesterday he’d said he wasn’t afraid of the Slayer, and he’d meant it. If he’d been let, he would have fought her in a minute, and—he was just realizing this now—quite likely would have been killed. He was four years old. Old enough for navvies, whores, and children. That was all.

Still, he wasn’t sure he was afraid. He had Angelus’s blood in his veins, and some insane part of him wanted to slip off the horse, turn around, and start back the way they’d come. Just follow their tracks until he got to the river, and wait there until the little girl arrived. He knew he was too young, but he felt light and strong and hard, like he’d been cast in metal. Besides, this new Slayer was weak.

He kicked the horse with his good leg, nuzzled the back of Dru’s neck, and didn’t go anywhere. He never would, of course; not as long as Dru needed his chest to lean against or even just his breath down her collar. And because if he tried a stupid trick like that, Angelus would run him to ground, beat him till he bled, and tie him back onto his horse. Still, it was an attractive thought. He imagined plucking the stake out of the girl’s hand as she brought it down, tossing it up, and sinking it in her chest. A Slayer’s heart would be a lovely gift for Dru.

He began thinking of other ways he could kill the girl—rising silently up behind her in the darkness and breaking her neck, draining her, picking off her vigilants one by one until she was alone and terrified—and was lost in pleasant reverie when Dru sat up.

“We’re at the hedge,” she said.

He peered past her shoulder and saw that Angelus and Darla had stopped just ahead. There was something low and bulky in front of them, and for a moment he thought Dru was right—it was a bloody hedgerow, in the middle of the moor. Then things slipped into place and he realized it was a wall. It was made of heaped earth and stone, four or five feet high. He looked left and right; it extended each way as far as he could see.

Angelus and Darla were both smiling, looking annoyingly pleased with themselves. His horse drew up even with theirs and stopped with a moan.

“That’s a bloody wall,” he said.

“Yes Will,” Darla said. “You’re quite correct.”

No one said anything for a minute, and his patience expired. “Well, how do we get over it, then?”

Darla glanced at Angelus, and Will quickly added a “Madam.”

“We don’t,” Angelus said. “Unless you’d like to see if your horse is a jumper.”

“Not bloody— No, sir.” He dropped his chin onto Dru’s shoulder and tried to look blameless.

“We go around,” Angelus said, and kneed his horse back a step so he was even with them. He put his hand out and touched Drusilla’s cheek gently. “What’s on the other side, Princess?”

She smiled and leaned into his palm. “Oh, lots of things. Tame mice, and some very bright lights in the hallway. And the little girl with blood in her hair.” Her smile turned hopeful. “Will said I might have a policeman, Daddy. May I?”

Angelus frowned at Will, and Will looked away. That was the problem with Dru, she could never hold her tongue.

“Maybe someday,” Angelus said, and Will realized with relief that he wasn’t going to pursue it now. “Give me a kiss, and we’ll be off.”

He leaned over and Drusilla kissed him on the mouth, while Will looked in the opposite direction and tried to pretend he wasn’t there. It went on far too long. Dru gave a little sigh and Angelus leaned away smiling.

“You look sour, Will,” he said, and laughed. “Should we trade ladies? Dru can ride with me, and you can take this lump.” He prodded Caitlin, who was still draped over the horse’s neck in front of him.

“Ooh, yes please,” Dru said, and Will tried not to let his face show anything. I just drowned for you, he thought. But probably he would have drowned anyway, and Dru just happened to be there.

She turned around and touched his cheek appeasingly. “Don’t be cross, Will. Only, Daddy’s warmer than you.”

He kept his mouth shut, knowing that Angelus was watching him.

“You’d prefer to shift, then, Dru?” Angelus asked, his voice elaborately polite.

“Oh, yes.”

“You’d be more comfortable if you rode with me?”

“Yes, please.” She was gathering her skirts together, getting ready to jump down. Will just sat watching her.

“Well, let’s put it to Will, shall we? That seems to be the trend.” Will turned and saw that Angelus was giving Darla a conspirator’s look. She looked impatient and annoyed, but Angelus was grinning. Suddenly, for no discernible reason, he seemed to be in a baiting, almost boisterous mood.

As Will watched, Angelus turned a friendly smile back on him. He leaned forward, propping his elbows on Caitlin’s back as if she were a desk, his forearms crossed loosely. Teacher’s pose. Will’s shoulders tightened reflexively.

“All right, lad. How many hours till dawn?”

Will just sat there, trying to keep fury out of his face. Angelus waited a moment, then made a show of surprise.

“What’s this? Surely you can tell us—you’re so big and old and fierce. Yesterday you were going to fight the Slayer.”

Will looked down at the back of Dru’s neck. Her cloak was still pulled open a bit, and he patted it closed without thinking.

“I know how long—” Drusilla said.

“Hush,” Angelus said. “I’m asking Will. Come on, boy, you’re four years old. You can tell time by now, can’t you?”

His tone was exquisitely needling, and Will clenched his jaw and said the first thing that came into his mind.

“Three hours.”

Drusilla squeaked and gave him a little round of applause. “That was very good,” she said. “Well done, Will.” Before he realized it, she’d turned and kissed his cheek.

He smiled and put his arms around her to take the reins again, and Angelus said, “Get down, Will, and give her your hand.”

He turned and stared. Angelus wasn’t smiling anymore. His face was cold and dangerous.

“I got it right. I get to keep her.”

“You guessed.”

“That doesn’t—“ He stopped short, realizing that he’d just confessed. Angelus’s face didn’t change.

“Your sister is a lady, Will. Get down and give her your hand.”

He hesitated a second longer, trying to think of something to say. Drusilla looked over her shoulder at him, a hesitant smile on her lips.

“He’ll be angry in a moment,” she whispered. “And Darla wants to leave.”

He slid down, favouring his bad leg, and held his hand up to her. She took it and came down light as a bird, with much more grace than he had. She didn’t need the help, of course—it was Angelus who insisted on these things.

“Lovely Will,” Drusilla said. She kissed him again lightly on the cheek, then disappeared around the other side of the horse. Her arms came up to Angelus, supplicant, and he smiled fondly.

“Come and take this one,” he said, putting a hand on Caitlin’s shoulder and shoving her off the horse. She hit the ground with a thud.

Will took advantage of his position behind the horse to let game face come through momentarily, then collected himself and went around. Angelus was lifting Dru up with an arm around her waist—she gave a girlish shriek and giggled. He put his face in the crook of her neck and she cooed with her eyes closed.

Will hauled Caitlin up and slung her over his horse’s back.

“And Will,” Angelus said, gathering his reins. “When I next ask you for the time, you’ll want to know it.” His gaze was black.

“Yes sir.”

As soon as Angelus looked away, Will pulled himself up behind Caitlin, not scrupling to let his boot clip her along the way. It didn’t make him feel any better.

“Have you finished?” Darla asked. Angelus grinned and nodded. “Well then, perhaps we might carry on.”

“The horses wanted bating,” Angelus said easily, turning his horse to follow hers. “And the change in riders will do them good.” He ducked his head and nipped at the back of Dru’s neck, and she gasped and giggled again.

Darla sighed and clucked to her horse, and Angelus did something to make Dru moan, and Will brought up the rear with a burning heart. Dru was still wearing his coat, and he was starting to feel the cold. Caitlin stank like river muck. They all did, but she didn’t have the good underlying scent of family to make up for it.

They were riding alongside the wall, about ten feet away from it, and he glanced at it to distract himself. Some ambitious farmer’s sheep fence, no doubt. There was a ditch a few feet from its base, bottomed with slush and mud. Bloody stupid thing to build, out in the middle of nowhere.

He hated the wall, hated the time they were wasting, hated everything that stood between them and the safe place. All he wanted now was to get where they were going. He wanted off the wretched horse, he wanted away from the stinking little stranger. He wanted Dru back. He wanted Angelus to sod off and die. He wanted to sleep.

The cold crept slowly back into his body, and he shook his head and brushed the ice out of his hair and generally tried to ignore it. He wouldn’t ask for his coat back, not now. He’d rather freeze solid and let them chip him off the horse.

They kept following the wall and he kept his eyes on the tail of Angelus’s horse, until finally they stopped. When he looked up he saw that they’d come to some kind of building in the wall. It was made of square ruined stones and looked old. On its far side, the ditch was filled in and there was a gap in the wall.

They sat for a moment in silence; then Darla kneed her horse and went forward without a word. She disappeared through the gap.

Angelus turned and smiled at Will. He had only one hand on the rein; the other was hidden in Dru’s skirts. Her head was tipped back against his shoulder, her face pressed against his chest.

“Do you know what it’s for, Will?” he asked conversationally.

Will stiffened and shook his head. He couldn’t trust his voice to say No sir, but Angelus didn’t seem to notice the lapse.

“To keep the barbarians out,” he said, and his smile widened and showed the tips of his fangs.

Will just looked at him.

After a moment, Angelus’s smile dropped. “You’re beginning to try my patience,” he said. “Mooning like a calf whenever you don’t get your way.”

“I’m sorry sir,” Will said automatically, when the silence had gone on for a moment.

Angelus regarded him with narrowed eyes.

“Come here.”

He made his horse walk over, and when he was close enough, Angelus reached out and grabbed the reins. He used the hand that had been under Dru’s skirt; it smelt of her. Will could see now that her eyes were closed and dreaming.

“Who am I?” Angelus said.

“My Sire,” Will replied. It was familiar territory.

Angelus reached out quickly with his other hand and caught hold of Will’s chin. He held Will’s face still and stared at him.

“You never learned to tell time,” he said. “You think I didn’t know that?”

Will stared back silently. If they were anywhere else, he’d be about to get a whipping, but he didn’t think Angelus would do it now. Later, maybe, but not now.

“You thought you could lie about it,” Angelus said. “You guessed, and thought I wouldn’t know.”

Another pause, while Will tried to think of what to say.

“Do you think I was unfair?” Angelus asked. “Was I wrong to take Drusilla?”

“No sir,” he said at once, and Angelus frowned.

“Don’t say what you think I want to hear, you idiot. Tell me the truth. Do you think I was unfair?”

Will tried to pull his chin free, but Angelus’s fingers dug in and held him. If he said it was unfair, he’d get clouted, but he didn’t think he could lie convincingly. And Angelus was always going on about Will’s lies.

“Yes,” he said, readying himself to be hit.

“Why?”

“Because you would have taken her anyway. It was just a game.”

“Yes, I would have taken her anyway. But it’s not a game, Will. That’s the problem with you—you think I’m playing.” His fingers dug in a little harder, and Will flinched. “I took her because you can’t tell time. You can’t even tell time and you want to fight the Slayer.” He gave Will’s head a shake and let go. “Where do you think you would have washed up, if I hadn't dragged you out of the river?”

Will stared at his hands and said nothing.

“We’re not in London now,” Angelus said. “We may not be again for years. How many languages do you speak?”

“What?”

“Last night you said we should go south, and cross to the continent. You speak French, I suppose?”

“A little.”

Assez pour paraître natif? Ou rien que ‘la plume de ma tante’?

He didn’t catch all of it, and grimaced.

“Enough, yeh.”

“And Italian, and German, and Spanish? You speak enough of those as well, I imagine.”

Will said nothing.

Angelus stared at him as if trying to find words for something, then dropped his gaze to Caitlin.

“You should thank her,” he said. “If you live through this, she’ll have done you a favour.”

Will couldn’t keep surprise and disdain out of his face. “I’ll thank her,” he said. “I’ll tear her back off and nail it to the wall.”

Angelus raised an eyebrow, and he added, “If I’m let.”

“You won’t be.” Will opened his mouth and closed it again quickly. “Clever, Will. You’re learning after all.”

Dru gave a little quiver, and he glanced away and patted her leg. When he looked back his face was softer.

“You’re not a coward,” he said. “You’re not afraid to be hurt, but that’s part of the trouble.” He stroked Drusilla’s leg absently, and Will watched in silence. “We’re going through the wall now, and in a little while the Slayer’s going to come through after us. We’re going to have to fight her. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes sir.” It meant a fight, is what it meant. Angelus looked at him, then shook his head and turned away.

“You have no idea. You’re still lying.” He gathered up his reins.

Will realized the conversation was over, and felt a sudden panic. Angelus had said he wasn’t a coward. And he’d been trying to explain something, which he almost never did.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “Look—I’m trying, but I either don’t see the point or I get it all wrong. I’m not trying to be stupid.” It came out in a confused tumble, and he clamped his mouth shut abruptly, as if that would take it back.

Angelus gave him a look that might have been surprise. Then he reached out and grabbed Will’s jaw again. Will tensed, but Angelus just leaned in and kissed him.

He closed his eyes and let Angelus’s tongue part his lips, and the taste of his Sire’s mouth filled him. It was a rare pleasure, so rare it always felt new, and he wanted it to go on forever.

It didn’t, of course. Angelus bit his bottom lip lightly and pushed his face away, and he sat back in a daze.

“You’ll thank her, I promise you,” Angelus said, pointing at Caitlin. Then he put his arm around Dru and kicked his horse forward.

Will sat for a second, until the ringing in his ears stopped. Tonight Angelus had fed him and kissed him, both. Will couldn’t remember the last time he’d done either.

He stared down at the limp sodden body in front of him, and felt his hatred of it slightly diminished. They were here because of her, because she’d brought the Slayer to them. Angelus had kissed him, in part, because of her.

He mused there a moment longer, then realized he was alone, and kicked his horse as hard as he could to make it follow Angelus’s through the wall.



Six







Coquette

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